Scanned by John Edward Heaton in Guatemala.
Tom Cringle's Log.
Michael Scott (1789—1835).
The Launching of the Log.
Dazzled by the glories of Trafalgar, I, Thomas Cringle, one fine morning in the merry month of May, in the year one thousand eight hundred and so and so, magnanimously determined in my own mind, that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland should no longer languish under the want of a successor to the immortal Nelson, and being then of the great perpendicular altitude of four feet four inches, and of the mature age of thirteen years, I thereupon betook myself to the praiseworthy task of tormenting, to the full extent of my small ability, every man and woman who had the misfortune of being in any way connected with me, until they had agreed to exert all their interest, direct or indirect, and concentrate the same in one focus upon the head and heart of Sir Barnaby Blueblazes, vice—admiral of the red squadrons a Lord of the Admiralty, and one of the old plain K.B.'s (for he flourished before the time when a gallant action or two tagged half of the letters of the alphabet to a man's name, like the tail of a paper kite), in order that he might be graciously pleased to have me placed on the quarterdeck of one of his Majesty's ships of war without delay.
The stone I had set thus recklessly a—rolling, had not been in motion above a fortnight, when it fell with unanticipated violence, and crushed the heart of my poor mother, while it terribly bruised that of me, Thomas; for as I sat at breakfast with the dear old woman, one fine Sunday morning, admiring my new blue jacket and snow white trowsers, and shining well soaped face, and nicely brushed hair, in the pier glass over the chimney piece, I therein saw the door behind me open, and Nicodemus, the waiting man, enter and deliver a letter to the old lady, with a formidable looking seal.
I perceived that she first ogled the superscription, and then the seal, very ominously, and twice made as if she would have broken the missive open, but her heart seemed as often to fail her. At length she laid it down—heaved a long deep sigh—took off her spectacles, which appeared dim—wiped them, put them on again, and making a sudden effort, tore open the letter, read it hastily over, but not so rapidly as to prevent her hot tears falling with a small tiny tap tap on the crackling paper.
Presently she pinched my arm, pushed the blistered manuscript under my nose, and utterly unable to speak to me, rose, covered her face with her hands, and left the room weeping bitterly. I could hear her praying in a low, solemn, yet sobbing and almost inarticulate voice, as she crossed the passage to her own dressing—room.—"Even as thou wilt, oh Lord—not mine, but thy holy will be done—yet, oh! it is a bitter bitter thing for a widowed mother to part with her only boy."
Now came my turn—as I read the following epistle three times over, with a most fierce countenance, before thoroughly understanding whether I was dreaming or awake—in truth, poor little fellow as I was, I was fairly stunned.
"Admiralty, such a date.
"DEAR MADAM, It gives me very great pleasure to say that your son is appointed to the Breeze frigate, now fitting at Portsmouth for foreign service. Captain Wigemwell is a most excellent officer, and a good man, and the schoolmaster on board is an exceedingly decent person I am informed; so I congratulate you on his good fortune in beginning his career, in which I wish him all success, under such favourable auspices. As the boy is, I presume, all ready, you had better send him down on Thursday next, at latest, as the frigate will go to sea, wind and weather permitting, positively on Sunday morning."
"I remain, my dear Madam,"
"Yours very faithfully,"
"BARNABY BLUEBLAZES, K.B."
However much I had been moved by my mother's grief, my false pride came to my assistance, and my first impulse was to chant a verse of some old tune, in a most doleful manner. "All right—all right," I then exclaimed, as I thrust half a doubled up muffin into my gob, but it was all chew, chew, and no swallow—not a morsel could I force down my parched throat, which tightened like to throttle me.
Old Nicodemus had by this time again entered the room, unseen and unheard, and startled me confoundedly, as he screwed his words in his sharp cracked voice into my larboard ear. "Jane tells me your mamma is in a sad taking, Master Tom. You ben't going to leave us, all on a heap like, be you? Surely your stay until your sister comes from your uncle Job's? You know there are only two on ye—You won't leave the old lady all alone, Master Thomas, win ye?' The worthy old fellow's voice quavered here, and the tears hopped over his old cheeks through the flour and tallow like peas, as he slowly drew a line down the forehead of his well—powdered pate, with his fore—finger.
"No—no—why, yes," exclaimed I, fairly overcome; "that is—oh Nic, Nic you old fool, I wish I could cry, man—I wish I could cry!" and straightway I hied me to my chamber, and wept until I thought my very heart would have burst.
In my innocence and ignorance, child as I was, I had looked forward to several months preparation; to buying and fitting of uniforms, and dirks, and cocked hat, and swaggering therein, to my own great glory, and the envy of all my young relations; and especially I desired to parade my fire—new honours before the large dark eyes of my darling little creole cousin, Mary Palma; whereas I was now to be bundled on board, at a few days warning, out of a ready—made furnishing shop, with lots of illmade, glossy, hard mangled duck trowsers, the creases as sharp as the backs of knives, and—"oh, it never rains, but it pours," exclaimed I; "surely all this promptitude is a little de plus in Sir Barnaby."
However, away I was trundled at the time appointed, with an aching heart, to Portsmouth, after having endured the misery of a first parting from a fond mother, and a host of kind friends; but, miserable as I was, according to my preconceived determination, I began my journal the very day I arrived, that nothing connected with so great a man should be lost, and most weighty did the matters therein related appear to me at the time; but seen through the long vista of, I won't say how many years, I really must confess that the Log, for long long after I first went to sea in the Breeze, and subsequently when removed to the old Kraaken line—of—battle ship, both of which were constantly part of blockading squadrons, could be compared to nothing more fitly than a dish of trifle, anciently called syllabub, with a stray plum here and there scattered at the bottom. But when, after several weary years, I got away in the dear old Torch, on a separate cruise, incidents came fast enough with a vengeance—stem, unyielding, iron events, as I found to my heavy cost, which spoke out trumpet—tongued and fiercely for themselves, and whose tremendous simplicity required no adventitious aid in the narration to thrill through the hearts of others. So, to avoid yarn—spinning, I shall evaporate my early Logs, and blow off as much of the froth as I can, in order to present the residuum free of flummery to the reader—just to give him a taste here and there, as it were, of the sort of animal I was at that time. Thus:
Thomas Cringle, his log—book.
Arrived in Portsmouth by the Defiance at ten, A.M. on such a day. Waited on the Commissioner, to whom I had letters, and said I was appointed to the Breeze. Same day, went on board and took up my berth; stifling hot; mouldy biscuit; and so on. My mother's list makes it fifteen shirts, whereas I only have twelve.
Admiral made the signal to weigh, wind at S.W. fresh and squally. Stockings should be one dozen worsted, three of cotton, two of silk; find only half a dozen worsted, two of cotton, and one of silk.
Fired a gun and weighed.
Sailed for the Fleet off Vigo, deucidly sea—sick was told that fat pork was the best specific, if bolted half raw; did not find it much of a tonic passed a terrible night, and for four hours of it obliged to keep watch, more dead than alive. The very second evening we were at sea, it came on to blow, and the night fell very dark, with heavy rain. Towards eight bells in the middle watch, I was standing on a gun well forward on the starboard side, listening to the groaning of the main—tack, as the swelling sail, the foot of which stretched transversely right athwart the ship's deck in a black arch, struggled to tear it up, like some dark impalpable spirit of the air striving to burst the chains that held him, and escape high up into the murky clouds, or a giant labouring to uproot an oak, and wondering in my innocence how hempen cord could brook such strain when just as the long waited—for strokes of the bell sounded gladly in mine ear, and the shrill clear note of the whistle of the boatswain's mate had been followed by his gruff voice, grumbling hoarsely through the gale, "Larboard watch, ahoy!" The look—out at the weather gangway, who had been relieved, and beside whom I had been standing a moment before, stepped past me, and scrambled up on the booms "Hillo, Howard, where away, my man?" said I.
"Only to fetch my"—
Crack!—the main tack parted, and up flew the sail with a thundering flap, loud as the report of a cannon—shot, through which, however, I could distinctly hear a heavy smash, as the large and ponderous blocks at the clew of the sail struck the doomed sailor under the ear, and whirled him off the booms over the fore—yard—arm into the sea, where he perished, as heaving—to was impossible, and useless if practicable, as his head must have been smashed to atoms.
This is one of the stray plums of the trifle, what follows is a whisk of the froth, written when we looked into Corunna, about a week after the embarkation of the army:—
MONODY ON THE DEATH OF SIR JOHN MOORE.
Farewell, thou pillar of the war, Warm—hearted soldier, Moore, farewell, In honour's firmament a star, As bright as ere in glory fell.
Deceived by weak or wicked men, How gallantly thou stood'st at bay, Like lion hunted to his den, Let France tell, on that bloody day.
No boastful splendour round thy bier, No blazon'd trophies o'er thy grave; But thou had'st more, the soldier's tear, The heart—warm offering of the brave.
On Lusitania's rock—girt coast, All coffinless thy relics lie, Where all but honour bright was lost, Yet thy example shall not die.
Albeit no funeral knell was rung, Nor o'er thy tomb in mournful wreath The laurel twined with cypress hung, Still shall it live while Britons breathe.
What though, when thou wert lowly laid, Instead of all the pomp of woe, The volley o'er thy bloody bed Was thunder'd by an envious foe:—
Inspired by it in after time, A race of heroes will appear, The glory of Britannia's clime, To emulate thy bright career.
And there will be, of martial fire, Those who all danger will endure; Their first, best aim, but to aspire To die thy death—the death of Moore.
To return. On the evening of the second day, we were off Falmouth, and then got a slant of wind that enabled us to lie our course.
Next morning, at daybreak, saw a frigate in the northeast quarter, making signals;—soon after we bore up. Bay of Biscay—tremendous swell—Cape Finisterre—blockading squadron off Cadiz—in—shore squadron—and so on, all trifle and no plums.
At length the Kraaken, in which I had now served for some time, was ordered home, and sick of knocking about in a fleet, I got appointed to a fine eighteen—gun sloop, the Torch, in which we sailed on such a day for the North Sea—wind foul—weather thick and squally; but towards evening on the third day, being then off Harwich, it moderated, when we made more sail, and stood on, and next morning, in the cold, miserable, drenching haze of an October daybreak, we passed through a fleet of fishing—boats at anchor. "At anchor," thought I, "and in the middle of the sea,"—but so it was—all with their tiny cabooses, smoking cheerily, and a solitary figure, as broad as it was long, stiffly walking to and fro on the confined decks of the little vessels. It was now that I knew the value of the saying, "a fisherman's walk, two steps and overboard." With regard to these same fishermen, I cannot convey a better notion of them, than by describing one of the two North Sea pilots whom we had on board. This pilot was a tall, raw—boned subject, about six feet or so, with a blue face—I could not call it red—and a hawk's—bill nose of the colour of bronze. His head was defended from the weather by what is technically called a south—west, pronounced sow—west,—cap, which is in shape like the thatch of a dustman, composed of canvass, well tarred, with no snout, but having a long flap hanging down the back to carry the rain over the cape of the jacket. His chin was embedded in a red comforter that rose to his ears. His trunk was first of all cased in a shirt of worsted stocking—net; over this he had a coarse linen shirt, then a thick cloth waistcoat; a shag jacket was the next layer, and over that was rigged the large cumbrous pea jacket, reaching to his knees. As for his lower spars, the rig was still more peculiar;—first of all, he had on a pair of most comfortable woollen stockings, what we call fleecy hosiery—and the beauties are peculiarly nice in this respect—then a pair of strong fearnaught trowsers; over these again are drawn up another pair of stockings, thick, coarse, rig—and—furrowed as we call them in Scotland, and above all this were drawn a pair of long, well—greased, and liquored boots, reaching half—way up the thigh, and altogether impervious to wet. However comfortable this costume may be in bad weather in board, it is clear enough that any culprit so swathed, would stand a poor chance of being saved, were he to fall overboard. The wind now veered round and round, and baffled, and checked us off, so that it was the sixth night after we had taken our departure from Harwich before we saw Heligoland light. We then bore away for Cuxhaven, and I now knew for the first time that we had a government emissary of some kind or another on board, although he had hitherto confined himself strictly to the captain's cabin.
All at once it came on to blow frorn the north—east, and we were again driven back among the English fishing boats. The weather was thick as buttermilk, so we had to keep the bell constantly ringing, as we could not see the jib—boom end from the forecastle. Every now and then we heard a small, hard, clanking tinkle, from the fishing—boats, as if an old pot had been struck instead of a bell, and a faint hollo, "Fishing—smack," as we shot past them in the fog, while we could scarcely see the vessels at all. The morning after this particular time to which I allude, was darker than any which had gone before it; absolutely you could not see the breadth of the ship from you; and as we had not taken the sun for five days, we had to grope our way ahnost entirely by the lead. I had the forenoon watch, during the whole of which we were amongst a little fleet of fishing—boats, although we could scarcely see them, but being unwilling to lose ground by lying to, we fired a gun every half hour, to give the small craft notice of our vicinity, that they might keep their bells agoing. Every three or four minutes, the marine drum—boy, or some amateur performer,—for most sailors would give a glass of grog any day to be allowed to beat a drum for five minutes on endi—beat a short roll, and often as we drove along, under a reefed foresail, and close reefed topsails, we could hear the answering tinkle before we saw the craft from which it proceeded; and when we did perceive her as we flew across her stern, we could only see it, and her mast, and one or two well—swathed, hardy fishermen, the whole of the little vessel forward being hid in a cloud.
I had been invited this day to dine with the Captain, Mr Splinter, the first lieutenant being also of the party; the cloth had been withdrawn, and we had all had a glass or two of wine a—piece, when the fog settled down so thickly, although it was not more than five o'clock in the afternoon, that the captain desired that the lamp might be lit. It was done, and I was remarking the contrast between the dull, dusky, brown light, or rather the palpable London fog that came through the skylight, and the bright yellow sparkle of the lamp, when the second lieutenant, Mr Treenail, came down the ladder.
"We have shoaled our water to five fathoms, sir—shells and stones.—Here, Wilson, bring in the lead."
The leadsman, in his pea—jacket and shag trowsers, with the raindrop hanging to his nose, and a large knot in his cheek from a junk of tobacco therein stowed, with pale, wet visage, and whiskers sparkling with moisture, while his long black hair hung damp and lank over his fine forehead and the stand—up cape of his coat, immediately presented himself at the door, with the lead in his claws, an octagonal—shaped cone, like the weight of a window—sash, about eighteen inches long, and two inches diameter at the bottom, tapering away nearly to a point at top, where it was flattened, and a hole pierced for the line to be fastened to. At the lower end—the but—end, as I would say there was a hollow scooped out, and filled with grease, so that when the lead was cast, the quality of the soil, sand, or shells, or mud, that came up adhering to this lard, indicated, along with the depth of water, our situation in the North Sea; and by this, indeed, we guided our course, in the absence of all opportunity of ascertaining our position by observations of the sun.
The Captain consulted the chart—"Sand and shells; why, you should have deeper water, Mr Treenail. Any of the fishing—boats near you?"
"Not at present, sir; but we cannot be far off some of them."
"Well, let me know when you come near any of them."
A little after this, as became my situation, I rose and made my bow, and went on deck.
By this time the night had fallen, and it was thicker than ever, so that, standing beside the man at the wheel, you could not see farther forward than the booms; yet it was not dark, either,—that is, it was moonlight, so that the haze, thick as it was, had that silver gauze—like appearance, as if it had been luminous in itself, that cannot be described to any one who has not seen it. The gun had been fired just as I came on deck, but no responding tinkle gave notice of any vessel being in the neighbourhood. Ten minutes, it may have been a quarter of an hour, when a short roll of the drum was beaten from the forecastle, where I was standing. At the moment I thought I heard a holla, but I could not be sure. Presently I saw a small light, with a misty halo surrounding it, just under the bowsprit.
"Port your helm," sung out the boatswain,—"port your helm, or we shall be over a fishing—boat!"
A cry arose from beneath a black object was for an instant distinguishable and the next moment a crash was heard. The spritsailyard rattled, and broke off sharp'at the point where it crossed the bowsprit; and a heavy smashing thump against our bows told, in fearful language, that we had run her down. Three of the men and a boy hung on by the rigging of the bowsprit, and were brought safely on board; but two poor fellows perished with their boat. It appeared, that they had broken their bell; and although they saw us coming, they had no better means than shouting, and showing a light, to advertise us of their vicinity.
Next morning the wind once more chopped round, and the weather cleared, and in four—and—twenty hours thereafter we were off the mouth of the Elbe, with three miles of white foaming shoals between us and the land at Cuxhaven, roaring and hissing, as if ready to swallow us up. It was low water, and, as our object was to land the emissary at Cuxhaven, we had to wait, having no pilot for the port, although we had the signal flying for one all morning, until noon, when we ran in close to the green mound which constituted the rampart of the fort at the entrance. To our great surprise, when we hoisted our colours and pennant, and fired a gun to leeward, there was no flag hoisted in answer at the flag—staff, nor was there any indication of a single living soul on shore to welcome us. Mr Splinter and the Captain were standing together at the gangway—"Why, sir," said the former, "this silence somewhat surprises me: what say you, Cheragoux?" to the government emissary or messenger already mentioned, who was peering through the glass close by.
"Why, mi Lieutenant, I don't certain dat all ish right on sore dere.'
"No?" said Captain Deadeye; "why, what do you see?"
"It ish not so mosh vat I shee, as vat I no shee, sir, dat trembles me. It cannot surely be possib dat de Prussian an' Hanoverian troop have left de place, and dat dese dem Franceman ave advance so far as de Elbe autrefois, dat ish, once more?'
"French!" said Deadeye: 'poo, nonsense; no French hereabouts; none nearer than those cooped up in Hamburgh with Davoust, take my word for it."
"I sall take your vord for any ting else in de large vorld, mi Capitain; but I see someting glance behind dat rampart, parapet you call, dat look dem like de shako of de infanterie legere of dat willain de Emperor Napoleon. Ah! I see de red worsted epaulet of de grenadier also; sacre! vat is dat pof of vite smoke?"
What it was we soon ascertained to our heavy cost, for the shot that had been fired at us from a long 32—pound gun, took effect right abaft the foremast, and killed three men outright, and wounded two. Several other shots followed, but with less sure aim. Returning the fire was of no use, as our carronades could not have pitched their metal much more than halfway; or, even if they had been long guns, they would merely have plumped the balls into the turf rampart, without hurting any one. So we wisely hauled off, and ran up the river with the young flood for about an hour, until we anchored close to the Hanoverian bank, near a gap in the dike, where we waited till the evening.
As soon as the night fell, a boat with muffled oars was manned, to carry the messenger on shore. I was in it; Mr Treenail, the second lieutenant, steering. We pulled in right for a breach in the dike, lately cut by the French, in order to inundate the neighbourhood; and as the Elbe at high water is hereabouts much higher than the surrounding country, we were soon sucked into the current, and had only to keep our oars in the water, pulling a stroke now and then to give the boat steerage way. As we shot through the gap into the smooth water beyond, we once more gave way, the boat's head being kept in the direction of lights that we saw twinkling I in the distance, apparently in some village beyond the inner embankment, when all at once we dashed in amongst thousands of wild—geese, which rose with a clang, and a concert of quacking, screaming, and hissing, that was startling enough. We skimmed steadily on in the same direction "Oars, men!" We were by this time close to a small cluster of houses, perched on the forced ground or embankment, and the messenger hailed in German.
"Qui vive!" sung out a gruff voice; and we heard the clank of a musket, as if some one had cast it from his shoulder, and caught it in his hands, as he brought it down to the charge. Our passenger seemed a little taken aback; but he hailed again, still in German. "Parole," replied the man. A pause. "The watchword, or I fire." We had none to give.
"Pull round, men," said the lieutenant, with great quickness; "pull the starboard oars; we are in the wrong box; back water the larboard. That's it! give way, men."
A flash—crack went the sentry's piece, and ping sung the ball over our heads. Another pause. Then a volley from a whole platoon. Again all was dark and silent. Presently a field—piece was fired, and several rockets were let off in our direction, by whose light we could see a whole company of French soldiers standing to their arms, with several cannon, but we were speedily out of the reach of their musketry. Several round shots were now fired, that hissed, recochetting along the water close by us. Not a word was spoken in the boat all this time; we continued to pull for the opening in the dike, although, the current being strong against us, we made but little way; while the chance of being cut off by the Johnny Crapeau, getting round the top of the embankment, so as to command the gap before we could reach it, became every moment more alarming.
The messenger was in great tribulation, and made several barefaced attempts to stow himself away under the stem sheets.
The gallant fellows who composed the crew strained at their oars until every thing cracked again; but as the flood made, the current against us increased, and we barely held our own. "Steer her, out of the current, man," said the lieutenant to the coxswain; the man put the tiller to port as he was ordered.
"Vat you do soch a ting for, Mr Capitain Lieutenant?" said the emissary. 'Oh! you not pershave you are rone in order de igh bank! How you sall satisfy me no France infanterie legere dere, too, more as in de fort, eh? How you sall satisfy me, Mister Capitain Lieutenant, eh?"
"Hold your blasted tongue, will you," said Treenail, "and the infantry legere be damned simply. Mind your eye, my fine fellow, or I shall be much inclined to see whether you will be Legere in the Elbe or no. Hark!"
We all pricked up our ears, and strained our eyes, while a bright, spitting sparkling fire of musketry opened at the gap, but there was no ping pinging of the shot overhead.
"They cannot be firing at us, sir," said the coxswain; "none of them bullets are telling hereaway."
Presently a smart fire was returned in three distinct clusters from the water, and whereas the firing at first had only lit up the dark figures of the French soldiery, and the black outline of the bank on which they were posted, the flashes that answered them shewed us three armed boats attempting to force the passage. In a minute the firing ceased; the measured splash of oars was heard, as boats approached us.
"Who's there?" sung out the lieutenant.
"Torches," was the answer.
"All's well, Torches," rejoined Mr Treenail; and presently the jollyboat, and launch, and cutter of the Torch, with twenty marines, and thirtysix seamen, all armed, were alongside.
"What cheer, Treenail, my boy?" quoth Mr Splinter.
"Why, not much; the French, who we were told had left the Elbe entirely, are still here, as well as at Cuxhaven, not in force certainly, just sufficiently strong to pepper us very decently in the outgoing?"
"What, are any of the people hurt?"
"No," said the garrulous emissary. "No, not hurt, but some of us frightened leetle piece—ah, very mosh, je vous assure."
"Speak for yourself, Master Plenippo," said Treenail. "But, Splinter, my man, now since the enemy have occupied the dike in front, how the deuce shall we get back into the river, tell me that?"
"Why," said the senior lieutenant, "we must go as we came."
And here the groans from two poor fellows who had been hit were heard from the bottom of the launch. The cutter was by this time close to us, on the larboard side, commanded by Mr Julius Caesar Tip, the senior midshipman, vulgarly called in the ship Bathos, from his rather unromantic name. Here also a low moaning evinced the precision of the Frenchmen's fire.
"Lord, Mr Treenail, a sharp brush that was."
"Hush!" quoth Treenail. At this moment three rockets hissed up into the dark sky, and for an instant the hull and rigging of the sloop of war at anchor in the river glanced in the blue—white glare, and vanished again, like a spectre, leaving us in more thick darkness than before.
"Gemini! what is that now?" quoth Tip again, as we distinctly heard the commixed rumbling and rattling sound of artillery scampering along the dike.
"The ship has sent up these rockets to warn us of our danger," said Mr Treenail. "What is to be done? Ah, Splinter, we are in a scrape—there they have brought up field—pieces, don't you hear?"
Splinter had heard it as well as his junior officer. "True enough, Treenail; so the sooner we make a dash through the opening the better."
By some impulse peculiar to British sailors, the men were just about cheering, when their commanding officer's voice controlled them. "Hark, my brave fellows, silence, as you value your lives."
So away we pulled, the tide being now nearly on the turn, and presently we were so near the opening that we could see the signal lights in the rigging of the sloop of war. All was quiet on the dike.
"Thank God, they have retreated after all," said Mr Treenail.
"Whoo—o, whoo—o," shouted a gruff voice from the shore.
"There they are still," said Splinter. "Marines, stand by, don't throw away a shot; men, pull like fury. So—give way, my lads, a minute of that strain will shoot us alongside of the old brig—that's it—hurrah!"
"Hurrah!" shouted the men in answer, but his and their exclamations were cut short by a volley of musketry. The fierce mustaches, pale faces, glazed shakoes, blue uniforms, and red epaulets, of the French infantry, glanced for a moment, and then all was dark again.
"Fire!" The marines in the three boats returned the salute, and by the flashes we saw three pieces of field. Artillery in the very act of being unlimbered. We could distinctly hear the clash of the mounted artillerymen's sabres against their horses' flanks as they rode to the rear, their burnished accoutrements glancing at every sparkle of the musketry.
We pulled like fiends, and being the fastest boat, soon headed the launch and cutter, who were returning the enemy's fire brilliantly, when crack—a six—pound shot drove our boat into staves, and all hands were the next moment squattering in the water. I sank a good bit, I suppose, for when I rose to the surface, half drowned and giddy and confused, and striking out at random, the first thing I recollected was a hard hand being wrung into my neckerchief, while a gruff voice shouted in my ear.
"Rendez vous, mon cher"
Resistance was useless. I was forcibly dragged up the bank, where both musketry and cannon were still playing on the boats, which had, however, by this time got a good offing. I soon knew they were safe by the Torch opening a fire of round and grape on the head of the dike, a contain proof that the boats had been accounted for. The French party now ceased firing, and retreated by the edge of the inundation, keeping the dike between them and the brig, all except the artillery, who had to scamper off, running the gauntlet on the crest of the embankment until they got beyond the range of the carronades. I was conveyed between two grenadiers along the water's edge so long as the ship was firing; but when that ceased, I was clapped on one of the limbers of the field—guns, and strapped down to it between two of the artillerymen.
We rattled along, until we came up to the French bivouac, where, round a large fire, kindled in what seemed to have been a farmyard, were assembled about fifty or sixty French soldiers. Their arms were piled under the low projecting roof of an outhouse, while the fire flickered upon their dark figures, and glanced on their bright accoutrements, and lit up the wall of the house that composed one side of the square. I was immediately marched between a file of men into a small room, where the commanding officer of the detachment was seated at a table, a blazing wood fire roaring in the He was a genteel, slender, dark man, with very large black mustaches, and fine sparkling black eyes, and had apparently just dismounted, for the mud was fresh on his boots and trowsers. The latter were blue, with a broad gold lace down the seam, and fastened by a strap under his boot, from which projected a long fixed spur, which to me was remarkable as an unusual dress for a Dire, the British army being, at the time I write of, still in the age of breeches and gaiters, or tall boots, long cues and pipeclay—that is, those troops which I had seen at home, although I believe the great Duke had already relaxed a number of these absurdities in Spain.
His single—breasted coat was buttoned up to his throat, and without an inch of lace except on his crimson collar, which fitted close round his neck, and was richly embroidered with gold acorns and oak leaves, as were the crimson cuffs to his sleeves. He wore two immense and very handsome gold epaulets.
"My good boy," said he, after the officer who had captured me had told his story—"so your Government thinks the Emperor is retreating from the Elbe?"
I was a tolerable French scholar as times went, and answered him as well as I could.
"I have said nothing about that, sir; but, from your question, I presume you command the rear—guard, Colonel?"
"How strong is your squadron on the river?" said he, parrying the question.
"There is only one sloop of war, sir"—and I spoke the truth.
He looked at me, and smiled incredulously; and then continued "I don't command the rear—guard, sir—but I waste time—are the boats ready?"
He was answered in the affirmative.
"Then set fire to the houses, and let off the rockets; they will see them at Cuxhaven—men," fall in—march—and off we all trundled towards the river again.
When we arrived there, we found ten Blankanese boats, two of them very large, and fitted with sliding platforms. The four fieldpieces were run on board, two into each; one hundred and fifty men embarked in them and the other craft, which I found partly loaded with sacks of corn. I was in one of the smallest boats with the colonel. When we were all ready to shove off, "Lafont," he said, "are the men ready with their couteaux?"
"They are, sir," replied the sergeant.
"Then cut the horses' throats—but no firing." A few bubbling groans, and some heavy falls, and a struggling splash or two in the water, showed that the poor artillery horses had been destroyed.
The wind was fair up the river, and away we bowled before it. It was clear to me that the colonel commanding the post had overrated our strength, and, under the belief that we had cut him off from Cuxhaven, he had determined on falling back on Hamburgh.
When the morning broke, we were close to the beautiful bank below Altona. The trees were beginning to assume the russet hue of autumn, and the sun shone gaily on the pretty villas and bloomin Gartens on the hill side, while here and there a Chinese pagoda, or other fanciful pleasure—house, with its gilded trellised work, and little bells depending from the eaves of its many roofs, glancing like small golden balls, rose from out the fast thinning recesses of the woods.
But there was no life in the scene—'twas "Greece, but living Greece no more,"—not a fishing—boat was near, scarcely a solitary figure crawled along the beach.
"What is that?" after we had passed Blankanese, said the colonel quickly. "Who are those?" as a group of three of four men presented themselves at a sharp turning of the road, that wound along the foot of the hill close to the shore.
"The uniform of the Prussians," said one.
"Of the Russians," said another.
"Poo," said a third, "it is a picket of the Prince's;" and so it was, but the very fact of his having advanced his outposts so far, showed how he trembled for his position.
After answering their hail, we pushed on, and as the clocks were striking twelve, we were abreast of the strong beams, that were clamped together with iron, and constituted the boom or chief water defence of Hamburgh. We passed through, and found an entire regiment under arms, close by the Custom—house. Somehow or other, I had drank deep of that John Bull prejudice, which delights to disparage the physical conformation of our Gallic neighbours, and hugs itself with the absurd notion, "that on one pair of English legs doth march three Frenchmen." But when I saw the weather—beaten soldierlike veterans, who formed this compact battalion, part of the elite of the first corps, more commanding in its, aspect from severe service having worn all the gilding and lace away—"there was not a piece of feather in the host" I felt the reality before me fast overcoming my preconceived opinion. I had seldom or ever seen so fine a body of men, tall, square, and muscular, the spread of their shoulders set off from their large red worsted epaulets, and the solidity of the mass increased by their wide trowsers, which in my mind contrasted advantageously with the long gaiters and tight integuments of our own brave fellows.
We approached a group of three mounted officers, and in a few words the officer, whose prisoner I was, explained the affair to the chef de baton, whereupon I was immediately placed under the care of' a sergeant and six rank and file, and marched along the chief canal for a mile, where I could not help remarking the numberless large rafts—you could not call them boats—of unpainted pine timber, which had arrived from the upper Elbe, loaded with grain: with gardens, absolute gardens, and cowhouses, and piggeries on board; while their crews of Fierlanders, men, women, and children, cut a most extraordinary appearance,—the men in their jackets, with buttons like pot—lids, and trowsers fit to carry a month's provender and a couple of children in; and the women with bearings about the quarters, as if they had cut holes in large cheeses, three feet in diameter at least, and stuck themselves through them—such sterns—and as to their costumes, all very fine in a Flemish painting, but the devils appeared to be awfully nasty in real life.
But we carried on until we came to a large open space fronting a beautiful piece of water, which I was told was the Alster. As I walked through the narrow streets, I was struck with the peculiarity of the gables of the tall houses being all turned towards the thoroughfare, and with the stupendous size of the churches. We halted for a moment, in the porch of one of the latter, and my notions of decency were not a little outraged, by seeing it filled with a squadron of dragoons, the men being in the very act of cleaning their horses.
At length we came to the open space on the Alster, a large parade, faced by a street of splendid houses on the left hand, with a row of trees between them, and the water on the right.
There were two regiments of foot bivouacking here, with their arms piled under the trees, while, the men were variously employed, some on duty before the houses, others cleaning their accoutrements, and others again playing at all kinds of games. Presently we came to a crowd of soldiers clustered round a particular spot, some laughing, others cracking coarse jests, but none at all in the least serious. We could not get near enough to see distinctly what was going on; but we afterwards saw, when the crowd had dispersed, three men in the dress of respectable burghers, hanging from a low gibbet,—so low in fact, that although their heads were not six inches from the beam, their feet were scarcely three from the ground. I was here placed in a guard—house, and kept there until the evening, when I was again marched off under my former escort, and we soon arrived at the door of a large mansion, fronting this parade, where two sentries were walking backwards and forwards before the door, while five dragoon horses, linked together, stood in the middle of the street, with one soldier attending them, but there was no other particular bustle, to mark the headquarters of the General commanding. We advanced to the entrance—the sentries carrying arms—and were immediately ushered into a large saloon, the massive stair winding up along the walls, with the usual heavy wooden balustrade. We ascended to the first floor, where we were encountered by three aides—de—camp, in full dress, leaning with their backs against the hardwood railing, laughing and joking with each other, while two walllamps right opposite cast a bright flashing light on their splendid uniforms. They were all decore with one order or another.
"Whence, and who have we here?" said one of them, a handsome young man, apparently not above twenty—two, as I judged, with small tiny black, jet—black, mustaches, and a noble countenance; fine dark eyes, and curls dark and clustering.
The officer of my escort answered, "A young Englishman, enseigne de vaisseau."
I was no such thing, as a poor middy has no commission, but only his rating, which even his captain, without a court—martial, can take away at any time, and turn him before the mast.
At this moment, I heard the clang of a sabre, and the jingle of spurs on the stairs, and the group was joined by my captor, Colonel——-.
"Ah, Colonel!" exclaimed the aides, in a volley, "where the devil have you come from? We thought you were in Bruxelles at the nearest."
The colonel put his hand on his lips and smiled, and then slapped the young officer who spoke first with his glove. "Never mind, boys, I have come to help you here—you will need help before long;—but how is—?" Here he made a comical contortion of his face, and drew his ungloved hand across his throat. The young officers laughed, and pointed to the door.
He moved towards it, preceded by the youngest of them, who led the way into a very lofty and handsome room, elegantly furnished, with some fine pictures on the walls, a handsome sideboard of plate, a rich Turkey carpet an unusual thing in Germany—on the floor, and a richly gilt pillar, at the end of the room farthest from us, the base of which contained a stove, which, through the joints of the door of it, appeared to be burning cheerily.
There were some very handsome sofas and ottomans scattered through the room, and a grand piano in one corner, the furniture being covered with yellow, or amber—coloured velvet, with broad heavy draperies of gold fringe, like the bullion of an epaulet. There was a small round table near the stove, on which stood a silver candlestick, with four branches filled with wax tapers; and bottles of wine, and glasses. At this table sat an officer, apparently about forty five years of age. There was n othing very peculiar in his appearance; he Was a middle—sized man, well made apparently. He sat on one chair, with his legs supported on another.
His white—topped boots had been taken off, and replaced by a pair of slipshod slippers; his splashed white kerseymere pantaloons, seamed with gold, resting on the unfrayed velvet cushion; his blue coat, covered with rich embroidery at the bosom and collar, was open, and the lappels thrown back, displaying a crimson—velvet facing, also richly embroidered, and an embroidered scarlet waistcoat; a large solitary star glittered on his breast, and the grand cross of the Legion of Honour sparkled at his buttonhole; his black neckerchief had been taken off; and his cocked hat lay beside him on a sofa, massively laced, the edges richly ornamented with ostrich down; his head was covered with a red velvet cap, with a thick gold cord twisted two or three turns round it, and ending in two large tassels of heavy bullion; he wore very large epaulets, and his sword had been inadvertently, as I conjectured, placed on the table, so that the steel hilt rested on the ornamental part of the metal stove.
His face was good, his hair dark, forehead without a wrinkle, high and massive, eyes bright and sparkling, nose neither fine nor dumpy—a fair enough proboscis as noses go. There was an expression about the upper lip and mouth that I did not like—a constant nervous sort of lifting of the lip as it were; and as the mustache appeared to have been recently shaven off, there was a white blueness on the upper lip, that contrasted unpleasantly with the dark tinge which he had gallantly wrought for on the glowing sands of Egypt, and the bronzing of his general features from fierce suns and parching winds. His bare neck and hands were delicately fair, the former firm and muscular, the latter slender and tapering, like a woman's. He was reading a gazette, or some printed paper, when we entered; and although there was a tolerable clatter of muskets, sabres, and spurs, he never once lifted his eye in the direction where we stood. Opposite this personage, on a low chair, with his legs crossed, and eyes fixed on the ashes that were dropping from the stove, with his brown cloak hanging from his shoulders, sat a short stout personage, a man about thirty years of age, with fair flaxen hair, a florid complexion, a very fair skin, and massive German features. The expression of his face, so far as such a countenance could be said to have any characteristic expression, was that of fixed sorrow.
But before I could make any other observation, the aide—de—camp approached with a good spice of fear and trembling, as I could see.
"Colonel——-to wait on your Highness."
"Ah!"—said the officer to whom he spoke,—"ah, colonel, what do you here? Has the Emperor advanced again?"
"No," said the officer, "he has not advanced; but the rear—guard were cut off by the Prussians, and the light, with the grenadiers, are now in Cuxhaven."
"Well," replied the general, "but how come you here?"
"Why, Marshal, we were detached to seize a depot of provisions in a neighbouring village, and had made preparations to carry them off, when we were attacked through a gap in the dike, by some armed boats from an English squadron, and hearing a distant firing at the very moment, which I concluded to be the Prussian advance, I conceived all chance of rejoining the main army at an end, and therefore I shoved off in the grain—boats, and here I am."
"Glad to see you, however," said the general, "but sorry for the cause why you have returned.—Who have we got here—what boy is that?"
"Why," responded the colonel, "that lad is one of the British officers of the force that attacked us."
"Ha," said the general again, "how did you capture him?"
"The boat (one of four) in which he was, was blown to pieces by a six—pound shot. He was the only one of the enemy who swam ashore. The rest, I am inclined to think, were picked up by the other boats."
"So," grumbled the general, "British ships in the Elbe!"
The colonel continued. "I hope, Marshal, you will allow him his parole? he is, as you see, quite a child."
"Parole!" replied the Marshall,—"parole! such a mere lad cannot know the value of his promise."
A sudden fit of rashness came over me.
"He is a mere boy," reiterated the Marshall. "No, no—send him to prison;" and he resumed the study of the printed paper he had been reading.
I struck in, impelled by despair, for, young as I was, I knew the character of the man before whom I stood, and I remembered that even a tiger might be checked by a bold front—"I am an Englishman, sir, and incapable of breaking my plighted word."
He laid down the paper he was reading, and slowly lifted his eyes, and fastened them on me,—"Ha," said he, "ha—so young—so reckless!"
"Never mind him, Marshal," said the colonel. "If you will grant him his parole, I."—"Take it, colonel—take it—take his parole, not to go beyond the ditch."
"But I decline to give any such promise," said I, with a hardihood which at the time surprised me, and has always done so.
"Why, my good youth," said the Marshal in great surprise, "why will you not take advantage of the offer—a kinder one, let me tell you, than I am in the habit of making to an enemy?"
"Simply, sir, because I will endeavour to escape on the very first opportunity."
"Ha!" said the Marshal once more, "this to my face? Lafontaine,"—; to the aide—de—camp,—"a file of soldiers." The handsome young officer hesitated hung in the wind, as we say, for a moment—moved, as I imagined, by my extreme youth.
This irritated the Marshal rose, and stamped on the floor. The colonel essayed to interfere. "Sentry—sentry—a file of grenadiers—take him forth," and—here he energetically clutched the steel hilt of his sword, and instantly dashed it from him—"Sacre!—the devil—what is that?" and straightway he began to pirouette on one leg round the room, shaking his right hand, and blowing his fingers.
The officers in waiting could not stand it any longer, and burst into a fit of laughter, in which their commanding officer, after an unavailing attempt to look serious—I should rather write fierce joined, and there he was, the bloody Davoust—Duke of Auerstad Prince of Eckmuhl—the Hamburgh Robespierre—the terrible Davoust—dancing all around the room, in a regular guffaw, like to split his sides. The heated stove had made his sword, which rested on it, nearly red—hot.
All this while the quiet, plain—looking little man sat still. He now rose; but I noticed that he had been fixing his eyes intently on me. I thought I could perceive a tear glistening in them as he spoke.
"Marshal, will you intrust that boy to me?"
"Poo," said the Prince, still laughing, "take him—do what you will with him;"—then, as if suddenly recollecting himself, "But, Mr——, you must be answerable for him—he must be at hand if I want him."
The gentleman who had so unexpectedly patronized me rose, and said, "Marshal, I promise."
"Very well," said Davoust. "Lafontaine, desire supper to be sent up."
It was brought in, and my new ally and I were shown out.
As we went down stairs, we looked into a room on the ground floor, at the door of which were four soldiers with fixed bayonets. We there saw, for it was well lit up, about twenty or five—and—twenty respectable—looking men, very English in appearance, all to their long cloaks, an unusual sort of garment to my eye at that time. The night was very wet, and the aforesaid garments were hung on pegs in the wall all around the room, which being strongly heated by a stove, the moisture rose up in a thick mist and made the faces of the burghers indistinct.
They were all busily engaged talking to each other, some to his neighbour, the others across the table, but all with an expression of the most intense anxiety.
"Who are these?" said I to my guide.
"Ask no questions here" said he, and we passed on.
I afterwards learned that they were the hostages seized on for the contribution of fifty millions of francs, which had been imposed on the doomed city, and that this very night they had been tom from their families, and cooped up in the way I had seen them, where, they were advertised, they must remain until the money should be forthcoming.
As we walked along the streets, and crossed the numerous bridges over the canals and branches of the river, we found all the houses lit up, by order, as I learned, of the French marshal. The rain descended in torrents, sparkling past the lights, while the city was a desert, with one dreadful exception; for we were waylaid at almost every turn by groups of starving lunatics, their half—naked figures and pale visages glimmering in the glancing lights, under the dripping rain; and, had it not been for the numerous sentries scattered along the thoroughfares, I believe we should have been tom to pieces by bands of moping idiots, now rendered ferocious from their sufferings, in consequence of the madhouses having been cleared of their miserable, helpless inmates, in order to be converted into barracks for the troops. At all of these bridges sentries were posted, past which my conductor and myself were franked by the sergeant who accompanied us giving the countersign. At length, civilly touching his cap, although he did not refuse the piece of money tendered by my friend, he left us, wishing us good—night, and saying the coast was clear.
We proceeded, without farther challenge, until we came to a very magnificent house, with some fine trees before it. We approached the door, and rung the doorbell. It was immediately opened, and we entered a large desolate, looking vestibule, about thirty feet square, filled in the centre with a number of bales of goods, and a variety of merchandise, while a heavy wooden stair, with clumsy oak balustrades, wound round the sides of it. We ascended, and, turning to the right, entered a large well furnished room, with a table laid out for supper, with lights, and a comfortable stove at one end. Three young officers of cuirassiers, in their superb uniforms, whose breast and back pieces were glittering on a neighbouring sofa, and a colonel of artillery, were standing round the stove. The colonel, the moment we entered, addressed my conductor:
"Ah,——-, we are devilish hungry—Ich bin dem Verhungern nahe and were just on the point of ordering in the provender had you not appeared."
"A little more than that," thought I; for the food was already smoking on the table.
Mine host acknowledged the speech with a slight smile.
"But who have we here?" said one of the young dragoons. He waited a moment "Etes—vous Francais?" I gave him no answer. He then addressed me in German—"Sprechen sie geldufig Deutsch?"
"Why," chimed in my conductor, "he does speak a little French indifferently enough; but still"
Here I was introduced to the young officers, and we all sat down at table; the colonel, civility itself, pressing my host to drink his own wine, and eat his own food and even rating the servants for not being sufficiently alert in their attendance on their own master.
"Well, my dear——-, how have you sped with the Prince?"
"Why, colonel," said my protector, in his calm way, "as well as I expected. I was of some service to him when he was here before, at the time he was taken so very ill, and he has not forgotten it; so I am not included amongst the unfortunate detenus for the payment of the fine. But that is not all; for I am allowed to go tomorrow to my father's, and here is my passport."
"Wonders will never cease," said the colonel; "but who is that boy?"
"He is one of the crew of the English boats which tried to cut off Colonel——-the other evening, near Cuxhaven. His life was saved by a very laughable circumstance certainly; merely, by the marshal's sword, from resting on the stove, having become almost red—hot." And here he detailed the whole transaction as it took place, which set the party a—laughing most heartily.
I will always bear witness to the extreme amenity with which I was now treated by the French officers. The evening passed over quickly. About eleven we retired to rest, my friend furnishing me with clothes, and warning me, that next morning he would call me at daylight, to proceed to his father's country—seat, where he intimated that I must remain in the meantime.
Next morning I was roused accordingly, and a long, low, open carriage rattled up to the door, just before day—dawn. Presently the reveille was beaten, and answered by the different posts in the city, and on the ramparts.
We drove on, merely showing our passport to the sentries at the different bridges, until we reached the gate, where we had to pun up until the officer on duty appeared, and had scrupulously compared our personal appearance with the written description. All was found correct, and we drove on.
It surprised me very much, after having repeatedly heard of the great strength of Hamburgh, to look out on the large mound of green turf that constituted its chief defence.
It is all true that there was a deep ditch and glacis beyond; but there was no covered way, and both the scarp and counterscarp were simple earthen embankments; so that, had the ditch been filled up with fascines, there was no wall to face the attacking force after crossing it,—nothing but a green mound, precipitous enough, certainly, and crowned with a low parapet of masonry, and bristling with batteries about half way down, so that the muzzles of the guns were flush with the neighbouring country beyond the ditch. Still there was wanting, to my imagination, the strength of the high perpendicular wall, with its gaping embrasures, and frowning cannon. All this time it never occurred to me, that to breach such a defence as that we looked upon was impossible. You might have plumped your shot into it until you had converted it into an iron mine, but no chasm could have been forced in it by all the artillery in Europe; so battering in a breach was entirely out of the question, and this, in truth, constituted the great strength of the place.
We arrived, after an hour's drive, at the villa belonging to my protector's family, and walked into a large room, with a comfortable stove, and extensive preparations made for a comfortable breakfast.
Presently three young ladies appeared. They were his sisters,—blue—eyed, fair—haired, white—skinned, round—sterned, plump little partridges.
"Haben sie gefruhstucht?" said the eldest.
"Pas encore," said he in French, with a smile. "But, sisters, I have brought a stranger here, a young English officer, who was recently captured in the river."
"An English officer!" exclaimed the three ladies, looking at me, a poor, little, dirty midshipman, in my soiled linen, unbrushed shoes, dirty trowsers and jacket, with my little square of white cloth on the collar; and I began to find the eloquent blood mangling in my cheeks, and tingling in my ears; but their kindly feelings got the better of a gentle propensity to laugh, and the youngest said—"Sie sind gerade zu rechter zeit gekommen:" when, finding that her German was Hebrew to me, she tried the other tack "Vous arrivez a propos, le dejeuner est pret."
However I soon found, that the moment they were assured that I was in reality an Englishman, they all spoke English, and exceedingly well too. Our meal was finished, and I was standing at the window looking out on a small lawn, where evergreens of the most beautiful kinds were checkered with little round clumps of most luxuriant hollyhocks, and the fruit trees in the neighborhood were absolutely bending to the earth under their loads of apples and pears. Presently my friend came up to me; my curiosity could no longer be restrained.
"Pray, my good sir, what peculiar cause, may I ask, have you for showing me, an entire stranger to you, all this unexpected kindness? I am fully aware that I have no claim on you."
"My good boy, you say true; but I have spent the greatest part of my life in London, although a Hamburgher born, and I consider you, therefore, in the light of a countryman. Besides, I will not conceal that your gallant bearing before Davoust riveted my attention, and engaged my good wishes."
"But how come you to have so much influence with the general, I mean?"
"For several reasons," he replied. "For those, amongst others, you heard the colonel—who has taken the small liberty of turning me out of my own house in Hamburgh—mention last night at supper. But a man like Davoust cannot be judged of by common rules. He has, in short, taken a fancy to me, for which you may thank your stars although your life has been actually saved by the Prince having burned his fingers,—But here comes my father."
A venerable old man entered the room, leaning on his stick. I was introduced in due form.
"He had breakfasted in his own room," he said, "having been ailing; but he could not rest quietly, after he had heard there was an Englishman in the house, until he had himself welcomed him."
I shall never forget the kindness I experienced from these worthy people. For three days I was fed and clothed by them as if I had been a member of the family.
Like a boy as I was, I had risen on the fourth morning at grey dawn, to be aiding in dragging the fish—pond, so that it might be cleaned out.
This was an annual amusement, in which the young men and women in the family, under happier circumstances, had been in the invariable custom of joining; and, changed as these were, they still preserved the fashion. The seine was cast in at one end, loaded at the bottom with heavy sinks, and buoyant at the top with cork floats. We hauled it along the whole length of the pond, thereby driving the fish into an enclosure, about twenty feet square, with a sluice towards the pond, and another fronting the dull ditch that flowed past beyond it. Whenever we had hunted the whole of the finny tribes—(barring those slippery youths the eels, who, with all their cleverness, were left to dry in the mud)—into the toils, we filled all the tubs, and pots, and pans, and vessels of all kinds and descriptions, with the fat, honest looking Dutchmen, the carp and tench, who really submitted to their captivity with all the resignation of most ancient and quiet fish, scarcely indicating any sense of its irksomeness, except by a lumbering sluggish flap of their broad heavy tails.
A transaction of this kind could not take place amongst a group of young folk without shouts of laughter, and it was not until we had caught the whole of the fish in the pond, and placed them in safety, that I had leisure to look about me. The city lay about four miles distant from us. The whole country about Hamburgh is level, except the right bank below it of the noble river on which it stands, the Elbe. The house where I was domiciled stood on nearly the highest point of this bank, which gradually sloped down into a swampy hollow, nearly level with the river. It then rose again gently until the swell was crowned with the beautiful town of Altona, and immediately beyond appeared the ramparts and tall spires of the noble city itself.
The morning had been thick and foggy, but as the sun rose, the white mist that had floated over the whole country, gradually concentrated and settled down into the hollow between us and Hamburgh, covering it with an impervious veil, which even extended into the city itself, filling the lower part of it with a dense white bank of fog, which rose so high that the spires alone, with one or two of the most lofty buildings, appeared a bove the rolling sea of white fleece—like vapour, as if it had been a model of the stronghold, in place of the reality, packed in white wool, so distinct did it appear, diminished as it was in the distance. On the tallest spire of the place, which was now sparkling in the early sunbeams, the French flag, the pestilent tricolor, that waved sluggishly in the faint morning breeze.
It attracted my attention, and I pointed it out to my patron. Presently it was hauled down, and a series of signals was made at the yard—arm of a spar, that had been slung across it. Who can they be telegraphing to? thought I, while I could notice my host assume a most anxious and startled look, while he peered down into the hollow. But he could see nothing, as the fog bank still filled the whole of the space between the city and the acclivity where we stood.
"What is that?" said I; for I heard, or thought I heard, a low rumbling rushing noise in the ravine. Mr——-heard it as well as I apparently, for he put his finger to his lips—as much as to say, "Hold your tongue, my good boy nous verrons."
It increased—the clattering of horses hoofs, and the clang of scabbards were heard, and, in a twinkling, the hussar caps of a squadron of light dragoons emerged from out the fog bank, as, charging up the road, they passed the small gate of green basket—work at a hand gallop. I ought to have mentioned before, that my friend's house was situated about half way up the ascent, so that the rising ground behind it in the opposite direction from the city shut out all view towards the country. After the dragoons passed, there was an interval of two minutes, when a troop of flying artillery, with three six—pound field—pieces, rattled after the leading squadron, the horses all in a lather, at full speed, with the guns bounding and jumping behind them as if they had been playthings, followed by their caissons. Presently we could see the leading squadron file to the right—clear the low hedge—and then disappear over the crest of the hill. Twenty or thirty pioneers, who had been carried forward behind as many of the cavalry, were now seen busily employed in filling up the ditch, and cutting down the short scrubby hedge; and presently, the artillery coming up also, filed off sharply to the right, and formed on the very summit of the hill, distinctly visible between us and the grey cold streaks of morning. By the time we had noticed, this, the clatter in our immediate neighbourhood was renewed, and a group of mounted officers dashed past us, up the path, like a whirlwind, followed at a distance of twenty yards, by a single cavalier, apparently a general officer. These did not stop, as they rode at speed past the spot where the artillery were in position, but, dipping over the summit, disappeared down the road, from which they did not appear to diverge, until they were lost to our view beyond the crest of the hill. The hum and buzz, and, anon, the "measured tread of marching men," in the valley between us and Hamburgh, still continued. The leading files of a light infantry regiment, now appeared, swinging along at a round trot, with their muskets poised in their right hands—no knapsacks on their backs. They appeared to follow the route of the group of mounted officers, until we could see a puff of white smoke, then another and a third from the field—pieces, followed by thudding reports, there being no high ground nor precipitous bank nor water in the neighborhood to reflect the sound, and make it emulate Jove's thunder. At this, they struck across the fields, and forming behind the guns, lay down flat on their faces, where they were soon hid from our view by the wreaths of white smoke, as the sluggish morning breeze rolled it down the hill—side towards us.
"What the deuce can all this mean—is it a review?" said I, in my innocence.
"A reconnoissance in force," groaned my friend. "The Allied troops must be at hand—now, God help us!"
The women, like frightened hares, paused to look up in their brother's face, as he kept his eye steadily turned towards the ridge of the hill, and, when he involuntarily wrung his hands, they gave a loud scream, a fearful concerto, and ran off into the house.
The breeze at this moment "aside the shroud of battle cast" and we heard a faint bugle—call, like an echo, wail in the distance, from beyond the hill. It was instantly answered by the loud, startling blare of a dozen of the light infantry bugles above us on the hill—side, and we could see them suddenly start from their lair, and form; while between us and the clearing morning sky, the cavalry, magnified into giants in the strong relief on the outline of the hill, were driven in straggling patrols, like chaff, over the summit—their sabres sparkling in the level sunbeams, and the reports of the red flashes of their pistols crackling down upon us.
"They are driven in on the infantry," said Mr——- He was right but the light battalion immediately charged over the hill, with a loud hurrah, after admitting the beaten horse through their intervals, who, however, to give the devils their due, formed again in a instant, under the shelter of the high ground. The artillery again opened their fire the cavalry once more advanced, and presently we could see nothing but the field—pieces, with their three separate groups of soldiers standing quietly by them,—a sure proof that the enemy's pickets were now out of cannon—shot, and had been driven back on the main body, and that the reconnoissance was still advancing.
What will not an habitual exposure to danger do, even with tender women?
"The French have advanced, so let us have our breakfast, Julia, my dear," said Mr——-as we entered the house. "The Allied Forces would have been welcome, however; and surely, if they do come, they will respect our sufferings and helplessness."
The eldest sister, to whom he spoke, shook her head mournfully; but, nevertheless, betook herself to her task of making coffee.
"What rumbling and rattling is that?" said to an old servant who had just entered the room.
"Two wagons with wounded men, sir, have passed onwards towards the town."
"Ah!" said mine host, in great bitterness of spirit.
But allons, we proceeded to make the best use of our time—ham, good—fish, excellent eggs, fresh—coffee, superb—when we again heard the fieldpieces above us open their fire, and in the intervals we could distinguish the distant rattle of musketry. Presently this rolling fire slackened, and, after a few scattering shots here and there, ceased altogether; but the cannon on the hill still continued to play.
We were by this time all standing in a cluster in the porch of the villa, before which stood the tubs with the finny spoil of the fish—pond, on a small paddock of velvet grass, about forty yards square, separated from the high—road by a low ornamental fence of green basket—work, as already mentioned. The firing from the great guns increased, and every now and then I thought I heard a distant sound, as if the reports of the guns above us had been reflected from some precipitous bank."
"I did not know that there was any echo here," said the youngest girl.
"Alas, Janette!" said her brother, "I fear that is no echo;" and he put up his hand to his ear, and listened in breathless suspense. The sound was repeated.
"The Russian cannon replying to those on the hill!" said Mr with startling energy. "God help us! it can no longer be an affair of posts; the heads of the Allied columns must be in sight, for the French skirmishers are unquestionably driven in."
A French officer at this moment rattled past us down the road at speed, and vanished in the hollow, taking the direction of the town.
His hat fell off, as his horse swerved a little at the open gate as he passed. He never stopped to pick it up. Presently a round shot, with a loud ringing and hissing sound, pitched over the hill, and knocked one of the fish—tubs close to us to pieces, scattering the poor fish all about the lawn. With the recklessness of a mere boy I dashed out, and was busy picking them up, when Mr——-called to me to come back.
"Let us go in and await what may befall; I dread what the ty"—here he prudently checked himself, remembering, no doubt, "that a bird of the air might carry the matter,"—"I dread what he may do, if they are really investing the place. At any rate, here, in the very arena where the struggle will doubtless be fiercest, we cannot abide. So go, my dear sisters, and pack up whatever you may have most valuable, or most necessary. Nay, no tears; and I will attend to our poor old father, and get the carriage ready, if, God help me, I dare use it."
"But where, in the name of all that is fearful, shall we go?" said his second sister. "Not back to Hamburgh—not to endure another season of such deep degradation—not to be exposed to the Oh brother, you saw we all submitted to our fate without a murmur, and laboured cheerfully on the fortifications, when compelled to do so, by that inhuman monster Davoust, amidst the ribaldry of a licentious soldiery, merely because poor Janette had helped to embroider a standard for the brave Hanseatic Legion you know how we bore this"—here the sweet girl held out her delicate hands, galled by actual and unwonted labour and many other indignities, until that awful night, when—No, brother, we shall await the arrival of the Russians, even should we see our once happy home converted into a field of battle; but into the city we shall not go."
"Be it so, then, my dearest, sister.—Wilhehn, put up the stuhl wagen."
He had scarcely returned into the breakfast—room, when the door opened, and the very handsome young officer, the aide—de—camp of the Prince, whom I had seen the night I was carried before Davoust, entered, splashed up to the eyes, and much heated and excited. I noticed blood on the hilt of his sword. His orderly sat on his foaming steed, right opposite where I stood, wiping his bloody sabre on his horse's mane. The women grew pale; but still they had presence of mind enough to do the honours with self—possession.
The stranger wished us a good morning; and on being asked to sit down to breakfast, he unbuckled his sword, threw it from him with a clash on the floor, and then, with all the grace in the world, addressed himself to discuss the comestibles. He tried a slight approach to jesting now and then; but seeing the heaviness of heart which prevailed amongst the women, he, with the good breeding of a man of the world, forbore to press his attentions.
Breakfast being finished, and the ladies having retired, he rose, buckled on his sword again, drew on his gloves, and taking his hat in his hand, he advanced to the window, and desired his men to "fall in."
"Men—what men?" said poor Mr——-.
"Why, the Marshal has had a company of sapeurs for these three days back in the adjoining village—they are now here."
"Here!" exclaimed——-; "what do the sappers here?" Two of the soldiers carried slow matches in their hands, while their muskets were slung at their backs. "There is no mine to be sprung here?"
The young officer heard him with great politeness, but declined giving any answer. The next moment he turned towards the ladies, and was making himself as agreeable as time and circumstances would admit; when a shot came crashing through the roof, broke down the ceiling, and knocking the flue of the stove to pieces, rebounded from the wall, and rolled harmlessly beneath the table. He was the only person who did not start, or evince any dread. He merely cast his eyes upward and smiled. He then turned to poor——-, who stood quite collected, but very pale, near where the stove had stood, and held out his hand to him.
"On my honour," said the young soldier, "it grieves me to the very heart; but I must obey my orders. It is no longer an affair of posts; the enemy is pressing on us in force. The Allied columns are in sight; their cannon shot have but now penetrated your roof; we have but driven in their pickets; very soon they will be here; and in the event of their advance, my orders are to burn down this house and the neighbouring village."
A sudden flush rushed into Mr——-'s face.
"Indeed! does the Prince really—"
The young officer bowed, and with something more of sternness in his manner than he had yet used, he said, "Mr——-, I duly appreciate your situation, and respect your feelings; but the Prince of Eckmuhl is my superior officer, and under other circumstances"—Here he slightly touched the hilt of his sword.
"For myself I don't care," said——-, "but what is to become of my sisters?"
"They must proceed to Hamburgh."
"Very well—let me order the stuhl wagen, and give us, at all events, half an hour to move our valuables."
Here Mr——-exchanged looks with his sisters.
"Certainly," said the young officer; "and I will myself see you safe into the city."
Who says that eels cannot be made used to skinning? The poor girls continued their little preparations with an alacrity and presence of mind that truly surprised me. There was neither screaming nor fainting, and by the time the carriage was at the door, they, with two female domestics, were ready to mount. I cannot better describe their vehicle, than by comparing it to a canoe mounted on four wheels, connected by a long perch, with a coachbox at the bow, and three gig bodies hung athwart ships, or slung inside of the canoe, by leather thongs. At the moment we were starting, Mr——-came close to me and whispered, "Do you think your ship will still be in the river?"
I answered that I made no doubt she was.
"But even if she be not," said he, "the Holstein bank is open to us. Anywhere but Hamburgh now." And the scalding tears ran down his cheeks.
At this moment there was a bustle on the hill top, and presently the artillery began once more to play, while the musketry breezed up again in the distance. A mounted bugler rode half way down the hill, and sounded the recall. The young officer hesitated. He man waved his hand, and blew the advance.
"It must be for us—answer it." His bugle did so. "Bring the pitch, men the flax—so now—break the windows, and let the air in—set the house on fire; and, Sergeant Guido, remain to prevent it being extinguished I shall fire the village as we pass through."
He gave the word to face about; and, desiring the men to follow at the same swinging run with which the whole of the infantry had originally advanced, he spurred his horse against the hill, and soon disappeared.
My host's resolution seemed now taken. Turning to the sergeant, "My good fellow, the reconnoissance will soon be returning; I shall precede it into the town."
The man, a fine vieux moustache, hesitated.
My friend saw it, and hit him in a Frenchman's most assailable quarter.
"The ladies, my good man—the ladies!—You would not have them drive in pell—mell with the troops, exposed most likely to the fire of the Prussian advanced—guard, would you?"
The man grounded his musket, and touched his cap—"Pass on." Away we trundled, until, coming to a cross—road, we turned down towards the river; and at the angle we could see thick wreaths of smoke curling up into theair, showing that the barbarous order had been but too effectually fulfilled.
"What is that?" said——-.
A horse, with his rider entangled and dragged by the stirrup, passed us at full speed, leaving a long track of blood on the road.
"Who is that?"
The coachman drove on, and gave no answer; until, at a sharp turn, we came upon the bruised and now breathless body of the young officer, who had so recently obeyed the savage behests of his brutal commander. There was a musket—shot right in the middle of his fine forehead, like a small blue point, with one or two heavy black drops of blood oozing from it. His pale features wore a mild and placid expression, evincing that the numberless lacerations and bruises, which were evident through his tom uniform, had been inflicted on a breathless corpse.
The stuhl wagen had carried on for a mile farther or so, but the firing seemed to approximate, whereupon our host sung out, "Fahrt Zu, Schwager—Wir Kommen nicht weiter."
The driver of the stuhl wagen skulled along until we arrived at the beautiful, at a mile off, but the beastly, when close to, village of Blankanese.
When the voiture stopped in the village, there seemed to be a nonplusation, to coin a word for the nonce, between my friend and his sisters. They said something very sharply, and with a degree of determination that startled me. He gave no answer. Presently the Amazonian attack was renewed.
"We shall go onboard," said they. "Very well," said he; "but have patience, have patience!"
"No, no. Wann wird man sich einschiffen mussen?"
By this time we were in the heart of the village, and surrounded with a whole lot, forty at the least, of Blankanese boatinen. We were not long in selecting one of the fleetest—looking of those very fleet boats, when we all trundled on board; and I now witnessed what struck me as being an awful sign of the times. The very coachman of the stuhl wagen, after conversing a moment with his master, returned to his team, tied the legs of the poor creatures as they stood, and then with a sharp knife cut their jugular veins through and through on the right side, having previously reined them up sharp to the left, so that, before starting, we could see three of the team, which consisted of four superb bays, level with the soil and dead; the near wheeler only holding out on his fore—legs.
We shoved off at eleven o'clock in the forenoon; and after having twice been driven into creeks on the Holstein shore by bad weather, we arrived about two next morning safely on board the Torch, which immediately got under weigh for England. After my story had been told to the Captain, I left my preserver, his father, and his sisters in his hands, and I need scarcely say that they had as hearty a welcome as the worthy old soul could give them, and dived into the midshipmen's berth for a morsel of comfort, where, in a twinkling, I was far into the secrets of a pork pie.
The Cruise of the Torch.
Sleep, gentle sleep— Wilt thou, upon the high and giddy mast, Seal up the shipboy's eyes, and rock his brains, In cradle of the rude imperious surge; And in the visitation of the winds, Who take the ruffian billows by the top, Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them With deafning clamour in the slippery clouds, That, with the hurry, death itself awakes— Canst thou, O partial sleep! give thy repose To the wet sea—boy in an hour so rude?
2 HENRY IV, Ill. 1. 5, 18—27.
Heligoland light—north and by west—so many leagues—wind baffling weather hazy—Lady Passengers on deck for the first time.
Arrived in the Downs—ordered by signal from the guard—ship to proceed to Portsmouth. Arrived at Spithead—ordered to fit to receive a general officer, and six pieces of field artillery, and a Spanish Ecclesiastic, the Canon of——-. Plenty of great guns, at any rate—a regular park of artillery.
Received General——-and his wife, and aide—de—camp, and two poodle dogs, one white man—servant, one black ditto, and the Canon of——-, and the six nine—pound field—pieces, and sailed for the Cove of Cork.
It was blowing hard as we stood in for the Old Head of Kinsale pilot boat breasting the foaming surge like a sea gull—"Carrol Cove" in her tiny mainsail—pilot jumped into the main channel a bottle of rum swung by the lead line into the boat—all very clever.
Ran in, and anchored under Spike Island. A line—of—battle ship, three frigates, and a number of merchantmen at anchor—men of war lovely craft, bands playing—a good deal of the pomp and circumstance of war. Next forenoon, Mr Treenail, the second lieutenant, sent for me.
"Mr Cringle," said he, "you have an uncle in Cork, I believe?"
I said I had.
"I am going there on duty to—night; I daresay, if you asked the Captain to let you accompany me, he would do so." This was too good an offer not to be taken advantage of. I plucked up courage, made my bow, asked leave, and got it; and the evening found my friend the lieutenant, and myself, after a ride of three hours, during which I, for one, had my bottom sheathing grievously rubbed, and a considerable botheration at crossing the Ferry at Passage, safe in our inn at Cork. I soon found out that the object of my superior officer was to gain information amongst the crimp shops, where ten men, who had run from one of the West Indiamen, waiting at Cove for convoy, were stowed away, but I was not let farther into the secret; so I set out to pay my visit, and after passing a pleasant evening with my friends, Mr and Mrs Job Cringle, the lieutenant dropped in upon us about nine o'clock. He was heartily welcomed, and under the plea of our being obliged to return to the ship early next morning, we soon took leave, and returned to the inn. As I was turning into the public room, the door was open, and I could see it full of blowsy—faced monsters, glimmering and jabbering, through the mist of hot brandy grog and gin twist; with poodle Benjamins, and greatcoats, and cloaks of all sorts and sizes, steaming on their pegs, with Barcelonas and comforters, and damp travelling caps of seal—skin, and blue cloth, and tartan, arranged above the same.
Nevertheless, such a society in my juvenile estimation, during my short escapade from the middy's berth, had its charms, and I was rolling in with a tolerable swagger, when Mr Treenail pinched my arm.
"Mr Cringle, come here, into my room."
From the way in which he spoke, I imagined, in my innocence, that his room was at my elbow; but no such thing—we had to ascend a long, and not overclean staircase, to the fourth floor, before we were shown into a miserable little double—bedded room. So soon as we had entered, the lieutenant shut the door.
"Tom," said he, "I have taken a fancy to you, and therefore I applied for leave to bring you with me; but I must expose you to some danger, and, I will allow, not altogether in a very creditable way either. You must enact the spy for a short space."
I did not like the notion certainly, but I had little time for consideration.
"Here," he continued—"here is a bundle." He threw it on the floor. "You must rig in the clothes it, contains, and make your way into the celebrated crimp shop in the neighbourhood, and pick up all the information you can regarding the haunts of the pressable men at Cove, especially with regard to the ten seamen who have run from the West Indiaman we left below. You know the Admiral has forbidden pressing in Cork, so you must contrive to frighten the blue jackets down to Cove, by representing yourself as an apprentice of one of the merchant vessels, who had run from his indentures, and that you had narrowly escaped from a press—gang this very night here."
I made no scruples, but forthwith arrayed myself in the slops contained in the bundle; in a pair of shag trowsers, red flannel shirt, coarse blue cloth jacket, and no waistcoat.
"Now," said Mr Treenail, "stick a quid of tobacco in your cheek, and take the cockade out of your hat; or stop, leave it, and ship this striped woollen night—cap—so—and come along with me."
We left the house, and walked half a mile down the Quay.
Presently we arrived before a kind of low grog—shop—a bright lamp was flaring in the breeze at the door, one of the panes of the glass of it being broken.
Before I entered, Mr Treenail took me to one side—"Tom, Tom Cringle, you must go into this crimp shop; pass yourself off for an apprentice of the Guava, bound for Trinidad, the ship that arrived just as we started, and pick up all the knowledge you can regarding the whereabouts of the men, for we are, as you know, cruelly ill manned, and must replenish as we best may." I entered the house, after having agreed to rejoin my superior officer, so soon as I considered I had obtained my object. I rapped at the inner door, in which there was a small unglazed aperture cut, about four inches square; and I now, for the first time, perceived that a strong glare of light was cast into the lobby, where I stood, by a large argand with a brilliant reflector, that like a magazine lantern had been mortised into the bulkhead, at a height of about two feet above the door in which the spy—hole was cut. My first signal was not attended to; I rapped again, and looking round I noticed Mr Treenail flitting backwards and forwards across the doorway, in the rain with his pale face and his sharp nose, with the sparkling drop at the end on't, glancing in the light of the lamp. I heard a step within, and a very pretty face now appeared at the wicket.
"Who are you saking here, an' please ye?"
"No one in particular, my dear; but if you don't let me in, I shall be lodged in jail before five minutes be over."
"I can't help that, young man," said she; "but where are ye from, darling?"
"Hush!—I am run from the Guava, now lying at the Cove."
"Oh," said my beauty, "come in;" and she opened the door, but still kept it on the chain in such a way, that although, by bobbing, I creeped and slid in beneath it, yet a common—sized man could not possibly have squeezed himself through. The instant I entered, the door was once more banged to, and the next moment I was ushered into the kitchen, a room about fourteen feet square, with a well sanded floor, a huge dresser on one side, and over against it a respectable show of pewter dishes in racks against the wall. There was a long stripe of a deal, table in the middle of the room—but no tablecloth—at the bottom of which sat a large, bloated, brandy, or rather whisky—faced savage, dressed in a shabby great—coat of the hodden grey worn by the Irish peasantry, dirty swan down vest, and greasy corduroy breeches, worsted stockings, and well—patched shoes; he was smoking a long pipe. Around the table sat about a dozen seamen, from whose wet jackets and trowsers the heat of the blazing fire, that roared up the chimney, sent up a smoky steam that cast a halo round the lamp, that depended from the roof, and hung down within two feet of the table, stinking abominably of coarse whale oil. They were, generally speaking, hardy, weather beaten men, and the greater proportion half, or more than half drunk. When I entered, I walked up to the landlord.
"Yo ho, my young un, whence and whither bound, my hearty?"
"The first don't signify much to you," said I, "seeing I have wherewithal in the locker to pay my shot; and as to the second, of that hereafter; so, old boy, let's have some grog, and then say if you can ship me with one of them cowers that are lying alongside the quay?"
"My eye, what a lot of brass that small chap has!" grumbled mine host.
"Why, my lad, we shall see to—morrow morning; but you gammons so bad about the rhino, that we must prove you a bit; so, Kate, my dear,"—to the pretty girl who had let me in—"score a pint of rum against—why, what is your name?"
"What's that to you?" rejoined I, "let's have the drink, and don't doubt but the shiners shall be forthcoming."
"Hurrah!" shouted the party, most of them now very tipsy. So the rum was produced forthwith, and as I lighted a pipe and filled a glass of swizzle, I struck in, "Messmates, I hope you have all shipped?"
"No, we haven't," said some of them.
"Nor shall we be in any hurry, boy," said others.
"Do as you please, but I shall, as soon as I can, I know; and I recommend all of you making yourselves scarce to—night, and keeping a bright look—out."
"Why, boy, why?"
"Simply because I have just escaped a press—gang, by bracing sharp up at the corner of the street, and shoving into this dark alley here."
This called forth another volley of oaths and unsavoury exclamations, and all was bustle and confusion, and packing up of bundles, and settling of reckonings.
"Where," said one of the seamen,—"where do you go to, my lad?"
"Why, if I can't get shipped to—night, I shall trundles down to Cove immediately, so as to cross at Passage before daylight, and take my chance of shipping with some of the outward—bound that are to sail, if the wind holds, the day after to—morrow. There is to be no pressing when blue Peter flies at the fore—and that was hoisted this afternoon, I know, and the foretopsail will be loose to—morrow."
"D—n my wig, but the small chap is right," roared one.
"I've a bloody great mind to go down with him," stuttered another, after several unavailing attempts to weigh from the bench, where he had brought himself to anchor.
"Hurrah!" yelled a third, as he hugged me, and nearly suffocated me with his maudling caresses, "I trundles wid you too, my darling, boy the piper!"
"Have with you, boy—have with him," shouted half—a—dozen other voices, while each stuck his oaken twig through the handkerchief that held his bundle, and shouldered it, clapping his straw or tarpaulin hat, with a slap on the crown, on one side of his head, and staggering and swaying about under the influence of the poteen, and slapping his thigh, as he bent double, laughing like to split himself, till the water ran over his cheeks from his drunken half—shut eyes, while jets of tobacco juice were squirting in all directions.
I paid the reckoning, urging the party to proceed all the while, and indicating Pat Doolan's at the Cove as a good rendezvous; and promising to overtake them before they reached passage, I parted company at the corner of the street, and rejoined the lieutenant.