Will Weatherhelm, The Yarn of an Old Sailor, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is quite a long book, estimated to take sixteen hours forty minutes to read. It was also quite difficult to transcribe, since the type was probably a bit old. Certainly it was a rather small typeface, and was broken up in places. Nevertheless we think we have got the text to better than the prescribed 99.95% accurate, with an expected error rate of less than eighty words in the 164,896 of the text.
The action takes place at the end of the eighteenth century, and ends at the Battle of Trafalgar. Will's family originate from Shetland, a group of islands to the north of mainland Britain. Kingston mistakenly believes that they speak Erse on Shetland, which is not the case: Erse is spoken in Ireland, being similar to the Gaelic spoken in parts of Scotland.
The story moves along well, and is well-written. The most outstanding part of the story is the number of times the hero is in a ship-wreck of one kind or another, so much so that it is muttered that he must be some kind of Jonah—an opportunity used by the author to put the religious view of such a string of coincidences.
I think you'll enjoy the book. I know I have enjoyed transcribing it for you.
WILL WEATHERHELM, THE YARN OF AN OLD SAILOR, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
MY FATHER'S LAND—BORN AT SEA—MY SCHOOL LIFE—AUNT BRETTA—SPOILT BY OVER-INDULGENCE—ENTICED TO SEA—THE KITE SCHOONER—CONTRAST OF A VESSEL IN PORT WITH A VESSEL AT SEA—MY SHIPMATES—MY NAME FIXED IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE—A GALE—REPENTANCE COMES TOO LATE—SUSPICIOUS CUSTOMERS—A NARROW ESCAPE—NAPLES AND ITS BAY.
My father, Eric Wetherholm, was a Shetlander. He was born in the Isle of Unst, the most northern of those far-off islands, the Shetlands. He loved his native land, though it might be said to be somewhat backward in point of civilisation; though no trees are to be found in it much larger than gooseberry bushes, or cattle bigger than sheep; though its climate is moist and windy, and its winter days but of a few hours' duration. But, in spite of these drawbacks, it possesses many points to love, many to remember. Wild and romantic, and, in some places, grand scenery, lofty and rocky precipices, sunny downs and steep hills, deep coves with clear water, in which the sea-trout can be seen swimming in shoals, and, better still, kind, honest, warm hearts, modest women with sweet smiles, and true, honest men.
Once only in my youth was I there. I remember well, on a bright summer's day, standing on one of the highest of its lofty hills, sprinkled with thousands of beautiful wild-flowers, and as I looked over the hundreds of isles and islets of every variety of form, grouping round the mainland, as the largest island is called, I thought that in all my wanderings I had never seen a greener or more lovely spot floating on a surface of brighter blue; truly I felt proud of the region which my poor father claimed as the place of his birth. I knew very little of his early history. Like the larger proportion of Shetland men, he followed the sea from his boyhood, and made several voyages, on board a whaler, to Baffin's Bay. Once his ship had been nipped by the ice, whirled helplessly against an iceberg, when he alone with two companions escaped the destruction which overwhelmed her. Finally he returned home, and, sickened of voyages in icy regions, became mate of a merchantman trading out of the port of Hull round the English coast. On one occasion, his brig having received severe damage in a heavy gale, put into Plymouth harbour to obtain repairs. He there met an old shipmate, John Trevelyn, who had given up the sea and settled with his family on shore.
John had a daughter, Jannet Trevelyn, and a sweet, good girl I am very certain she must have been. Before the brig sailed my father obtained her promise to marry him. He shortly returned, when she became his wife, and accompanied him to Shetland. But the damp, cold climate of that northern land was a sore trial to her constitution, accustomed, as she had been, to the soft air of her native Devonshire, and she entreated that he would rather take her with him to sea than leave her there. Fortunately, as he considered it, the owners of the brig he had served in offered him the command of another of their vessels, and he was able to fulfil the wishes of his wife, as well as to please his own inclination, though for her sake he would rather have left her in safety on shore, for he too well knew all the dangers and hardships of the sea to desire to expose her to them.
My father had very few surviving relatives. His mother and sister were the only two of whom I know. His father and two brothers had been lost in the Greenland fishery, and several of his uncles and cousins had been scattered about in different parts of the world, never to return to their native islands. When, therefore, he found that Shetland would not suit my mother's health, he tried to persuade my grandmother and Aunt Bretta to accompany him to Devonshire. After many doubts and misgivings as to how they could possibly live in that warm country far away to the south among a strange people, who could not understand a word of Erse, they at length, for love of him and his young wife, agreed to do as he wished. As soon as he was able he fetched them from Shetland to Hull, whence he conveyed them to Plymouth in his own vessel, and left them very comfortably settled in a little house of their own in the outskirts of the town. Though small, it was neat and pleasant, and they soon got accustomed to the change, though they complained at first that the days in summer were very short compared to those in their own country. This was the year before I was born. My mother, though she had now a home where she could have remained, was so reconciled to a sea life, and so fond, I may say, of my father, that she preferred living on board his vessel to the enjoyment of all the comforts of the shore. On one memorable occasion, a new brig he commanded, called the Jannet Trevelyn, in compliment to my mother, was bound round from Hull to Cork harbour in Ireland, and was to have put into Plymouth to land her, seeing that she was not in a fit state to continue the voyage, when a heavy south-westerly gale came on, and the brig was driven up channel again off the Isle of Wight. During its continuance, while the brig was pitching, bows under, with close-reefed topsails only on her, with a heavy sea running, the sky as black as pitch, the ocean a mass of foam, and with the wind howling and whistling as if eager to carry the masts out of her, I was born. My poor mother had a heavy time of it, and it was a mercy she did not die. But oftentimes delicate, fragile-looking women go through far more than apparently strong and robust persons. She had a fine spirit and patient temper, and what is more, she put a firm trust in One who is all-powerful to save those who have faith in him, both for this life and for eternity.
The brig was hove-to, and though more than once she narrowly escaped being run down by ships coming up Channel, she finally reached Plymouth, and my mother and I were landed in safety. Thus I may say that I have been at sea from my earliest days. Old Mrs Wetherholm was delighted to receive my poor mother and me, and took the very fondest care of us, as did Aunt Bretta, while my father proceeded on his voyage.
Soon after this I was christened under a name which may sound somewhat fine to southern ears, Willand Wetherholm; but, as will be seen, I did not very long retain it.
My mother had another trial soon after this. My grandfather, John Trevelyn, who had for some time been ailing, died and left her without any relations that I ever heard of on his or her mother's side of the house. Thus she became more than ever dependent on my father and his mother and sister. She had no cause to regret this, however, for kinder, gentler-hearted people never existed.
Two years more passed away, and I throve and grew strong and fat, and what between grandmother, and mother, and aunt, ran a great chance of being spoilt. My father had been so frightened about my mother before, that he would never take her to sea again; but he often said that he would endeavour, when he had laid by a little more money, to give it up himself and to come and live with her on shore. It is a dream of happiness in which many a poor sailor indulges, but how few are able to realise! He was expected round at Plymouth, on his way to the Mediterranean, but day after day passed and he did not arrive. My mother began to grow very anxious, so did my grandmother and aunt. A terrific gale had been blowing for some days, when the Eddystone was nearly washed away, and fearful damage was done to shipping in various parts.
At length the news reached them that the brig had put into Salcombe range. It is a wild-looking yet land-locked harbour on the Devonshire coast. Black rocks rise sheer up out of the water on either side of the entrance, and give it a particularly melancholy and unattractive appearance. One of the owners had come round in the brig, but he had landed and taken a post-chaise back towards London. In the morning the brig sailed, and by noon the gale was blowing with its fiercest violence. In vain my poor mother watched and waited for his return; from that time to the present neither my father nor any of his crew were again heard of. The brig with all hands must have foundered, or, as likely as not, been run down at no great distance from Plymouth itself. My mother, who had borne so bravely and uncomplainingly her own personal sufferings, sunk slowly but surely under this dispensation of Providence. She never found fault with the decrees of the Almighty, but the colour fled from her cheeks, her figure grew thinner and thinner. Scarce a smile lighted up her countenance, even when she fondly played with me. Her complaint was incurable, it was that of a broken heart, and I was left an orphan.
Most of my father's property had gone to purchase a share in the brig, which had been most fatally uninsured, and thus an income remained barely sufficient for the support of my grandmother and aunt. They, poor things, took in work, and laboured hard, night and day, that they might supply me with the food and clothing they considered I required, and, when I grew older, to afford me such an education as they deemed suitable to the son of one holding the position my father had in life Aunt Bretta taught me to read pretty well, and to write a little, and I was then sent to a day-school to pick up some knowledge of arithmetic and geography. Small enough was the amount I gained of either, and whether it was owing to my teacher's bad system or to my own stupidity, I don't know, but I do know that I very quickly lost all I gained, and by the time I was twelve years old I was a strong, stout lad, with a large appetite and a very ill-stored head.
Though I had not picked up much information at school, I had some companions, and they were generally the wildest and least manageable of all the boys of my age and standing. The truth was, I am forced to confess, my grandmother and aunt had spoilt me. They could not find it in their hearts to deny me anything, and the consequence was that I generally got my own way whether it was a good or bad one. I should have been altogether ruined had they not set me a good example, and instilled into my mind the principles of religion. Often the lessons they taught me were forgotten, and years passed away, when some circumstance recalled them to my mind, and they brought forth a portion, if not all, of the fruits they desired. Still I grew up a wayward, headstrong boy. I heard some friends say that my heart was in its right place, and that I should never come to much harm, and that satisfied me; so I did pretty well what I liked without any qualms of conscience or fears for the consequences.
I am not going to describe any of my youthful pranks, because I suspect that no good will come from my so doing. If I did not reap all the evil consequences I deserved, others might fancy that they may do the same with like impunity and find themselves terribly mistaken. One of my chief associates was a boy of my own age, called Charles Iffley. His mother, like mine, was a Devonshire woman, and his father was mate of a merchantman belonging to the port of Hull, but trading sometimes to Plymouth, and frequently to ports up the Straits of Gibraltar. Charley and I had many tastes in common. He was a bold dashing fellow, with plenty of pluck, and what those who disliked him called impudence. One thing no one could deny, that he was just the fellow to stand by a friend at a pinch, and that, blow high or blow low, he was always the same, merry-hearted, open-handed, and kind. These qualities, however, valuable as they are, if not backed by right principle and true religion, too often in time of temptation have been known miserably to fail. On a half-holiday, or whenever we could get away from school, Charley and I used to steal down to the harbour, and we generally managed to borrow a boat for a sail, or we induced one of our many acquaintances among the watermen to take us along with him to help him pull, so that we soon learned to handle an oar as well as any lads of our age, as also pretty fairly to sail a boat. When we returned home late in an evening, and I went back to supper, my poor old grandmother would complain bitterly of the anxiety I had caused her; and when I saw her grief, I used to promise to amend, but I am sorry to say that when temptation came in my way I forgot my promise and repeated my fault.
At length the schooner to which Charley's father belonged came into Plymouth harbour. I went on board with my friend, and he showed me all over her; I thought her a very fine vessel, and how much I should like to go to sea in her. The next day he appeared at our house in great glee, and told my grandmother and Aunt Bretta that he had come to wish them good-bye, that his father had bound him apprentice to the owners of the schooner, and that he was to go to sea in her that very voyage. I was sorry to part with him, and I could not help envying him for being able to start at once to see the world. When he was gone, I could talk of nothing else but of what Charley was going to see, and of what he was going to do; and I never ceased trying to persuade my grandmother and aunt to let me go and be a sailor also. Poor things, I little thought of the grief I was causing them.
"Willand, my dear laddie, ye ken that your father, and your grandfather, and two uncles were all sailors, and were lost at sea,—indeed, I may well say that such has been the hard lot of all the males of our line,— then why should ye wish without reason or necessity to go and do the same, and break your old grandmother's heart, who loves ye far better than her own life's blood," said the kind old lady, taking me in her arms and pressing me to her bosom. "Be content to stay at home, laddie, and make her happy."
"Oh, that ye will, Willand dear," chimed in Aunt Bretta; "we'll get a wee shoppie for ye, and may be ye'll become a great merchant, or we'll just rent a croft up the country here, and ye shall keep cows, and sheep, and fowls, and ye shall plough, and sow, and reap, and be happy as the day is long. Won't that be the best life for Willand, grannie? It's what he is just fitted for, and there isn't another like it."
I shook my head. All these pictures of rural felicity or of mercantile grandeur had no charms for me. I had set my heart on being a rover, and seeing all parts of the world, and I believe that had I been offered a lucrative post under Government with nothing to do, without a moment's hesitation I should have rejected it, lest it might have prevented me from carrying my project into execution. Still for some time I did not like to say anything more on the subject, and the kind creatures began to hope that I had given up my wishes to their remonstrances. Had they from the first taught me the important lessons of self-denial and obedience, they might have found that I was willing to do so; but I had no idea of sacrificing my own wishes to those of others, and I still held firmly to my resolution of leaving home on the first opportunity.
I was one day walking down High Street, Plymouth, when I saw advancing towards me a fine sailor-like looking lad, with a well-bronzed jovial countenance.
"Why, Will, old boy, you don't seem to know me," he exclaimed, stretching out his hand, which seemed as hard as iron.
"Why, I scarcely did, Charley, till I heard your voice," I answered, shaking him warmly by the hand. "You've grown from a boy almost into a man. There's nothing like the life of a sailor for hardening a fellow, and making him fit for anything. I see that plainly."
"Then come to sea with me at once," he replied; "I can get you a berth aboard our schooner, and we'll have a merry life of it altogether, that we will."
I liked his confident and self-satisfied way of talking; but I said I was afraid I could not take advantage of his offer, though I would try and get leave from my grandmother.
"Leave from your grandmother!" he exclaimed with a taunting laugh; "take French leave from the old lady. You are far better able to judge what you like than she is, and she can't expect to tie you to her apron-strings all your life, can she?"
"No, but she is very kind and good to me, and I'm young yet to leave her and Aunt Bretta. Perhaps, when I am older, she will not object to my going away," I replied.
"Pooh, pooh! feeds you with bread and milk, and lollipops; and as to being too young—why, you are not much more than a year younger than I am, and fully as stout, and I should like to know who would venture to say that I am not fit to go to sea. I would soon show him which was the best man of the two."
These remarks, for I will not call them reasons, had a great effect on me. I thought Charley the finest fellow I had ever known, and I promised to be guided by him entirely. I did not consider how ungrateful and foolish I was. How could he really care about me, or know what was for my best interests? He only thought of pleasing himself by getting a companion whom he knew from experience he could generally induce to do what he liked. I forgot all the love and affection, all the tender care I had received from my grandmother and aunt since my birth, and that I ought on every account to have consulted their feelings and opinions on the most important step I had hitherto taken in life. Instead of this, I made up my mind if they should say no, as Charley expressed it, to cut my stick and run. Many have done as I did, and bitterly repented their folly and ingratitude every day afterwards to the end of their lives. It stands to reason that those who have brought us up and watched over us in helpless infancy or in sickness, instructed us and fitted us to enter on the active duties of life, must feel far greater interest in our future welfare than can any other person. We, as boys, are deeply interested in a shrub or a tree we have planted, in a dog we have brought up from a puppy; and we may be certain that our parents or guardians are far more interested in our welfare, and therefore I repeat, do not go and follow my example, and run counter to their advice and wishes.
I spent the afternoon with Charley Iffley on board the Kite schooner, of which his father was mate. She was a fine craft, with a handsomely fitted up cabin. She had been a privateer in the last war, and still carried six brass guns on deck, which were bright and polished, and took my fancy amazingly. She also had a long mahogany tiller bound with brass, and with a handsomely carved head of a kite which I much admired. These things, trifles as they were, made me still more desire to belong to so dandy-looking a craft. The captain was on shore, but Mr Iffley, the mate, did the honours of the vessel, and talked largely of all her good qualities, and finally told me that for the sake of his son, who was my best friend, if I had a mind to go to sea, he would make interest to get me apprenticed to her owners. I did not exactly understand what that signified; but I thanked him very much, and said that I left the matter in his and his son's hands.
"All right, Will, we'll make a sailor of you before long!" exclaimed Charley, clapping me on the back.
Mr Iffley was not a person, from his appearance, very well calculated to win the confidence of a young lad. He was a stout, short man, with huge, red, carroty whiskers, and a pock-marked face, small ferretty eyes, a round knob for a nose, and thick lips, which he smacked loudly both when speaking and after eating and drinking. However, Charley seemed to hold him in a good deal of respect and awe, an honour my friend did not pay to many people. This I found was owing much to the liberal allowance of rope-end which the mate dealt out to his son whenever he neglected his duty, or did anything else to displease him; but of course Master Charley did not confide this fact to me, but allowed me to discover it for myself. In the evening I went back to my grandmother's. I wanted Charley to accompany me, but he said that he thought he had better keep out of the way, or out of sight. This I have since found the Tempter—that great enemy of man—always does when he can. He does his best to hide the hook with which he angles for souls, as well as to conceal himself; and we may justly be suspicious of people who dare not come forward to explain their objects and intentions regarding us. Even in a worldly point of view, the caution I give is very necessary. It was not, however, till long, long after that I found all this out. I had not been seated at the tea-table many minutes before I opened the subject which lay nearest my heart. My kind grandmother and Aunt Bretta used all the arguments they could think of to induce me to stay at home, and so powerful and reasonable did they seem, that had I not been ashamed of facing Charley and confessing that I was defeated, I should, at all events for the time, have yielded to their wishes. They pictured to me all the horrors of being shipwrecked and being cast on a barren island, or tossed about at sea on a raft, or having to live among savages, or being half starved or parched with thirst,—indeed, they had little difficulty in finding subjects on which to enlarge. They also reminded me that, as I had no friends and no interest, if I went to sea they could do nothing for me, and that though Mr Iffley might be a very kind man, he could not be expected to care so much for me as he would for his own son, and perhaps I might have to remain before the mast all my life. All this I knew was very true, but I could not bear the idea of being laughed at by Charley and his father, and in my eagerness I swore vehemently that go to sea I would, in spite of everything they could say; and I declared that I didn't mind though I might be cast away a dozen times, or go wandering about the ocean and never come back,—indeed, I scarcely know what wicked and foolish things I said on the occasion.
My poor grandmother and aunt were dreadfully shocked at the way I had expressed myself. They had too much respect for an oath themselves, even though it was as rash as mine, to endeavour to make me break it, and with tears streaming down her face my grandmother told me, that if such was my resolution, she had no longer the wish to oppose it. There was something very sad in her countenance, and the words trembled on her lips as she spoke, I remember. It was not so much, however, because of my wish to go to sea, as of my rank ingratitude and want of tenderness.
"Oh, Willand! ye dinna ken what harm ye have done, laddie," said Aunt Bretta, as I parted from her to go to roost in my little attic room, which she had fitted up so neatly for my use.
At first I was inclined to exult at having made the first step towards the accomplishment of my wishes, and I was thinking how proud I should be when I met Charley the next morning, to be able to tell him that I had triumphed over all difficulties and was ready to accept his offer; but then the recollection of what Aunt Bretta had said, and a consciousness of the nature of my own conduct came over me, and I began to be sorry for what I had done. In the morning, however, before breakfast, Charley called for me, and when I told him that I had got leave to go, he said he would come in and comfort the poor women. This he did in a rough kind of way. He told them that we were going to make only a short summer voyage—out to the Mediterranean and back; that if I liked it I might then be apprenticed, and if not, that I might come on shore; that I should have seen a little of the world, and that no great harm would be done.
The matter once settled, no people could have exerted themselves more than did my two kind relatives to get me ready for sea. They knew exactly what was wanted, and in three or four days my entire kit was ready and stowed away in a small sea-chest, which had belonged to some member of my family who had escaped drowning. It received no little commendation when it was hoisted up the side of the Kite.
"That's what I like," said Mr Iffley; "traps enough, and no more. It speaks well for your womankind, and shows that you come of a sea-going race."
I told him that I was born at sea, and that my father was drowned at sea.
"That's better than being hung on shore," he answered with a loud laugh; and I afterwards found that such had been the fate of his father, who was a noted pirate, and that he himself had enjoyed the doubtful benefit of his instruction for some time.
While we lay at Plymouth we received orders to call in at Falmouth, to carry a cargo of pilchards, which was ready for us, to Naples, in the south of Italy. The people in that country, being Roman Catholics and having to fast, eat a great quantity of salt-fish. They have plenty of fish in their own waters, but they are so lazy that they will not be at the trouble of catching them in sufficient quantities to supply their wants. Falmouth was a great fishing place in those days, and full of vessels going to all parts of the world. There had been some heavy rain in the night, and as they lay with their sails loosed and the flags of all the civilised nations in the world flying from their peaks, I thought that I had never seen a more beautiful sight.
Mr Tooke, our captain, was a very good sailor. He was a tall, fine man, with black hair and huge whiskers, like his mate's, and a voice, when he liked, as loud as thunder—a quality on which he not a little prided himself. I thought when I went on board that I was to live in the cabin and be treated like a young gentleman. Charley had not said anything about the matter, but he had showed me the state rooms, as they were called, and I had sat down in the cabin and taken a glass of wine with him there, so I took it for granted that I was to be a sort of midshipman on board.
The first night, when the middle watch was set, and I began to grow very sleepy, I asked Charley in which of the cabins I should find my bed. He laughed, and told me to follow him. I did so, and he slipped down a little hatchway forward, just stopping a minute, with his head and shoulders above the deck, to tell me that I must not be too squeamish or particular, and that I should soon get accustomed to the place to which he was going to take me. He then disappeared, and I went after him. I found myself in a dark hole, lighted by a very dim lantern, with shelves which are called standing bed-places, one above the other, all round it, and sea-chests lashed below. In the fore part were two berths, rather darker and closer than the rest.
"That's where you and I have to sleep, old boy," said Charley. "I didn't like it at first; but now I would just as soon sleep there as anywhere else. But, I say, don't make any complaints; no one will pity you if you do, and you will only be laughed at for your pains."
I found that he was right with regard to my getting accustomed to the place, though sheets were unknown, and cleanliness or decency were but little attended to. Not only were the habits of many of the crew dirty, but their manners and ideas were bad, and their language most foul and obscene; cursing and swearing went on all day long, just as a thing of course. It might seem strange to some who don't know much about human nature, that I, a lad decently brought up by good, religious people, and fairly educated, should have willingly submitted to live along with such people. At first I was startled,—I won't say shocked,—but then I thought it fine and manly, and soon got not only accustomed to hear such language, but to use it with perfect indifference myself.
We are all of us more apt to learn what is bad than what is good I have mentioned Captain Tooke and our first mate. We had a second mate, old Tom Cole by name. He was close upon sixty years of age. He had been at sea all his life, and had been master of more than one vessel, but lost them through drunkenness, till he got such a name that no owners would entrust him with the command of another. He was a good seaman and a fair navigator, and when he was sober there wasn't a better man in the ship. He had been to sea as first mate, but lost the berth through his besetting sin. I believe Captain Tooke engaged him from having known him when he himself was a young man, and from believing that he could keep him sober. He succeeded pretty well, but not always; and more than once, in consequence of old Cole's neglect of his duty, we very nearly lost our lives, as many lives have been lost before and since. The two mates messed with the captain, but the apprentices lived entirely with the men forward. Besides Charles Iffley, there was another, Jacob La Motte, a Guernsey lad. He was a far more quiet and steady fellow than either of us. In my wiser moments I learned to like him better than Iffley; and perhaps because I was better educated than most of the men, and, except when led away by bad example, more inclined to be rational, he associated more with me than with them. The best educated and the most steady among the hands forward was a young man, Edward Seton. He was very well-mannered and neat in his person, and I never heard him giving way to profane swearing or any other gross conduct, and he tried, but in vain to check those who indulged in it.
I had not been long at sea, though time enough to have any pride I might have possessed knocked out of me, when I was accosted by old Ned Toggles, one of the roughest of the rough hands on board, and generally considered the wit of the crew, with, "And what's your name, youngster? Did any one ever think it worth while to give one to such a shrimp as you?"
"Yes," said I, firing up a little; "I should have thought you knew it by this time."
"Know it! How should I know whether your name is Jack, or Tom, or Bill? Any one on 'em is too good for you, I should think, to look at you," remarked old Toggles, with a grin and a wink at his companions.
"Thank you for nothing," said I, feeling very indignant at the gratuitous insult, as I considered it, thus offered to me. "If you want to know my name, I'll tell it you. It is Willand Wetherholm." The last words I uttered with no little emphasis, while I looked at my shipmates as much as to say, "There! I should like to know who has got as good a name as that!" I saw a grin on the countenance of old Toggles as I spoke.
"Will Weatherhelm!" he ejaculated. "A capital name, lad. Hurrah for Will Weatherhelm. Remember, Will Weatherhelm is to be your name to the end of your days. Come, no nonsense, we'll mark it into you, my boy. Come, give us your arm." What he meant by this I could not tell; but after a little resistance, I found that I must give in. "Come, it's our watch below, and we have plenty of time to spare; we'll set about it at once," said he, taking my arm and baring it up to the elbow. One of the other men then held me while Toggles procured a sharp needle, stuck in a handle, and began puncturing the thick part of my arm between the elbow and wrist. The operation cost me some little pain; but there was no use crying out, so I bore it patiently. When he had done he brought some powdered charcoal or gunpowder, and rubbed it thoroughly over the arm. "There, my lad," said he, "don't go and wash it off, unless you want a good rope's-ending, and you'll see what will come of it."
I waited patiently as I was bid, though my arm smarted not a little, and in three days Toggles told me I might wash as much as I liked. I did wash, and there I found on my arm, indelibly marked, my new name, "Will Weatherhelm!" and at sea, wherever I have been, it has ever since stuck to me.
Note. Weather helm is a sea term. A vessel, when not in perfect trim and too light aft, has a tendency, when on a wind, to luff of her own accord, or to fly up into the wind. To counteract this tendency it is necessary to keep the helm a-weather, and she is then said to carry a weather helm. It is not surprising, therefore, that Toggles should at once catch at my name, and turn it into one which is so familiar to a seaman's ear. Indeed, to this day, I have often to stop and consider which is my proper name, and certainly could not avoid answering to that of Will Weatherhelm.
If one of my old shipmates were to be asked if he knew Willand Wetherholm, he would certainly say, "No; never heard of such a man."
"But don't you remember Will Weatherhelm?"
"I should think so, my boy," would be his reply, and I hope he would say something in my favour.
We had a quick run to the southward till we were somewhere off the latitude of Lisbon, when a gale sprung up from the eastward which drove us off the land, and not only carried every stitch of canvas clear of the bolt-ropes, but very nearly took the masts out of the vessel. It was my watch below when the gale came on, and I was awoke by the terrific blows which the schooner received on her bows; and what with the darkness and the confusion caused by the noise of the sea and the rattling of the blocks aloft, the stamp of feet overhead, and the creaking of the bulk-heads, I fully believed the ship was going down, and that my last moment had come. I thought of my poor old grandmother's warnings, and I would have given anything if I could have recalled my oath and found myself once more safe by her side. "All hands shorten sail!" soon sounded in my ears. I slipped into my clothes in a moment, and hastened on deck. The sky overhead was as black as pitch, and looked as if it was coming down to crush the vessel between it and the ocean, and every now and then vivid flashes of lightning darted forth from it, playing round the rigging and showing the huge black seas as they came rolling up like walls capped with white foaming tops, with a loud rushing roar, as if they were about to overwhelm us. A rope's-end applied to my back made me start, and I heard the voice of old Cole, saying, "Hillo, youngster, what are you dreaming about? Up aloft there, and help furl the topsails." Aloft I went, though I thought every moment that I should be blown away or shaken from the shrouds; and when I got on the yards, I had to hold with teeth and eyelids, as the saying is, and very little use I suspect I was of. Still the sails, or rather what remained of them, were furled, and I had been aloft in a gale. I very soon learned to think nothing of it.
We were many days regaining our lost ground, and it was three weeks after leaving Falmouth before we sighted the Rock of Gibraltar. We did not stop there, but the wind being then fair, ran on through the Gut towards our destination. Inside the straits, we had light and baffling winds, and found ourselves drifted over to the African shore, not far from the Riff Coast. We kept a sharp look-out and had our guns ready shotted, for the gentry thereabouts have a trick of coming off in their fast-pulling boats if they see an unarmed merchantman becalmed; and, as a spider does a fly caught in his web, carrying her off and destroying her. They are very expeditious in their proceedings. They either cut the throats of the crew or sell them into slavery, carry all the cargo, and rigging, and stores on shore, and burn the hull, that no trace of their prize may remain. Charley told me this; but we agreed, as we were well armed, if they came off to us, they might find that they had caught a Tartar.
The captain and mates had their glasses constantly turned towards the shore. The sun was already sinking towards the west, when I heard the captain exclaim, "Here they come! Now, my lads, let's see what you are made of." We all, on this, gave a loud cheer, and I could see six or eight dark specks just stealing out clear of the land. Charley and I were in high glee at the near prospect of a skirmish, for we both of us had a great fancy for smelling gunpowder.
Old Cole heard us boasting of what we would do. "Just wait, my boys, till you see some hundreds of those ugly blackamoors, with their long pikes, poking away at you, and climbing up the side of the schooner, and you will have reason to change your tone, I suspect," said he, as he turned on his heel away from us.
"Here comes a breeze off the land!" exclaimed Mr Iffley; "we may wish the blackguards good-bye before they come up with us." The breeze came and sent us a few fathoms through the water, and then died away and left the sails flapping as before idly against the masts, while at the same time the row-boats came nearer and nearer. The captain walked the deck with his glass under his arm, every now and then giving a glance at the approaching boats, and then holding up his hand to ascertain if the breeze was coming back again. Once more the sails filled, and his countenance brightened. Stronger and stronger came the breeze. The schooner felt its force, and now began to rush gaily through the water. "Hurrah! she walks along briskly!" he exclaimed, looking over the side. "We may wish the gentlemen in the boats good evening."
I was surprised to find the captain so glad to get away from the pirates. I thought it was somewhat cowardly of him, and that he would rather have stopped and fought them. Charley laughed when I told him this. "He is as brave a man as ever stepped," he answered. "He has his own business to attend to, and that is to carry his cargo to the port we are bound for. What good would he have got had he fought the pirates, even though he had knocked them to pieces?"
The breeze continuing, and darkness coming on, we very soon lost sight of the boats. It was nearly a fortnight after this that we made the coast of Sicily, and saw Mount Etna towering up with a flaming top into the clouds. We stood on towards the Bay of Naples. A bright mist hung over the land as we approached it soon after sunrise, like a veil of gauze, but still thick enough entirely to conceal all objects from our view. Suddenly, as if obeying the command of an enchanter's wand, it lifted slowly before us and revealed a scene more beautiful that any I ever expected to behold. On the right was the bright green island of Capri, with Sorrento and its ruined columns beyond it. Before us was the gay white city of Naples, with its castles and moles below rising upwards out of the blue sparkling waters on the side of a hill, amid orange groves and vineyards, and crowned at its summit by a frowning fortress, while on the left was the wildly picturesque island of Procida and the promontory of Baiae, every spot of which was full of classic associations, which, however, the little knowledge I had picked up was scarcely sufficient to enable me to appreciate, and in which even now, I must own, I could not take the interest they deserve. Still the beauty of the scene fixed itself on my memory never to be eradicated.
GREEK PIRATES—A SUSPICIONS STRANGER—MY FIRST FIGHT—DESPERATE ENCOUNTER—OUR FATE SEALED—THE SINKING VESSEL—THE MATE'S DEATH—WE SECURE A BOAT—DOWN SHE GOES—OUR PERILOUS VOYAGE—LOSS OF ANOTHER SHIPMATE—DEATH OF EDWARD SETON—MY PROMISE—A STRONG BREEZE—A GALE SPRINGS UP—A HEAVY SEA.
Having discharged our cargo at Naples, the captain, finding that we could get no freight home from thence at the time, determined to go to Smyrna, where he knew that he could obtain one of dried fruit, figs, currants, and raisins. We spent ten days there, and on our homeward voyage, keeping somewhat to the northward of our course, got among the islands of the Greek Archipelago. At that time a great many of the petty Greek chiefs, driven by the Turks from their hereditary domains, had established themselves on any rocky island they could find, with as many followers as they could collect, and nothing loth, used to carry on the respectable avocation of pirates. Some possessed only lateen-rigged craft, or open boats, but others owned fine large vessels, ships and brigs, strongly armed and manned. Though they attacked any Turkish vessels wherever they could find them, they were in no respect particular, if compelled by necessity to look out for other prey, and the merchantmen of any civilised nation which came in their way had but a small chance of escape.
I observed some little anxiety on the countenances of the officers, and a more careful watch than usual was kept on board at night, while in the day-time the captain or first mate was constantly aloft, and more than once the course was changed to avoid a strange sail. The winds were light and baffling, so that we were detained among the islands for some time. At last we got a fair breeze from the northward, though it was light, and we were congratulating ourselves that we should have a quick run to the westward. We had been standing on for a couple of hours or so, when I saw the master and mates looking out anxiously ahead. I asked Charley Iffley what it was they saw.
"An ugly-looking big brig, which has a cut they don't like about her," was the answer. "When we were out here the last time, we sighted just such another chap. A hundred or more cut-throat-looking fellows were dancing on her decks, and we had every expectation that they would lay us aboard, when a man-of-war hove in sight, and she prudently cut her stick. The man-of-war made chase, but a Thames barge might as well have tried to catch a wherry. The pirate was out of sight in no time."
"But if this stranger should prove to be a gentleman of the same profession, what shall we do, Charley?" I asked.
"Run away if we can, and fight him if he comes up with us," he replied.
I thought he did not seem quite so anxious about fighting as he had been when we were off the Riff coast. Indeed, from what I could learn, should the vessel in sight prove to be a Greek pirate, we might find a struggle with her no joking matter. That she was so, I found the captain and officers entertained not the slightest doubt. The schooner was brought on a wind and stood away to the southward, but the brig immediately afterwards changed her course for the same direction. The captain on this called the crew aft, and told us that he intended to try and make his escape, but that if he did not succeed, we must fight for our lives, for if overcome we should all have our throats cut. Charley and I, and La Motte, gave a shrill cheer, in which we were joined by two or three of the other men, but the old hands merely growled out, "Never fear; no man wants to get his throat cut, so we'll fight." I was surprised at their want of enthusiasm; but when men have been much knocked about in the world, and have all their finer feelings blunted, that, among other sentiments, is completely battered out of them.
When Captain Tooke saw the brig change her course, he hauled the schooner close on a wind, but the brig instantly hauled her wind also, and we very soon saw that she was rapidly overhauling us. The truth is, that English merchantmen of those days were mere tubs compared to those of foreign nations; and even the Kite, though a fast vessel of her class, was very inferior to the craft of the present day of the same rig. Thus we saw that there was little chance of escaping a fight should the stranger prove to be a pirate, unless a man-of-war or large merchantman, able to help us, might heave in sight.
While we were trying the speed of our heels, every possible preparation was made for fighting; boarding nettings were triced up; our two guns were carefully loaded; the small arms were got up and distributed among the people, who fastened on the cutlasses round their waists and stuck the pistols in their belts. Charley and I had got hold of a pistol a-piece, and purposed committing great execution with them, but I was condemned to help La Motte to hand up powder and shot from below, greatly to Master Charley's amusement, who looked down and asked how I liked being a powder-monkey. As I every now and then shoved my head through the hatchway, I saw that the brig was coming up rapidly after us. I had been down some little time, when just as I came up and was looking about me, my ears were saluted with a loud hissing whirl, and I saw our main gaff shot away at the jaws and come tumbling down on deck. This made the schooner fall off the wind somewhat.
"Fire, my lads! fire!" shouted Captain Tooke, "and see if we can't repay them in kind."
Our lee-gun had been run over to the weather side, and both guns were fired at once, discharged by some of our best hands, old men-of-war's men. Still, as no cry of satisfaction followed, I suspected that they had not succeeded in damaging the enemy. A whole broadside from the Greek now came rattling down upon us. I could not resist giving a look up on deck. Several of our poor fellows had been knocked over, and lay writhing in agony. Some were binding up their wounds, and one lay half hanging over the hatchway shot through the body. Such another iron shower would speedily clear our decks of every living being. As to striking our flag, or crying out for mercy, that was out of the question; we were contending with people who had received none from their oppressors, and had not learned to show it to others. Those not required to work the two guns, began blazing away with the muskets, but in that arm also the pirate was infinitely our superior. Her shot from another broadside came rushing fiercely over us. This time no one on deck was hit, but the effects aloft were disastrous. Both our topsail-yards were wounded, and several braces and much of our standing rigging shot through. Our people fought as well as any men-of-war's men, and our captain showed that though he was a rough diamond he was a brave fellow. A third broadside reduced our rigging to a perfect wreck, and masts, and spars, and blocks came tumbling down from aloft in melancholy confusion. All this time the wind had been increasing, and it now blew a pretty smart breeze. We might have still a chance if we could knock away some of the enemy's spars, and keep him from boarding us. Our hull had received no material injury, and if a gale came on we might weather it out till perhaps some ship might come to our rescue. Having got up all the powder and shot required, I came on deck. I asked Charley what he thought of the state of things. He was looking very pale; his shirt-sleeve was tucked up at the elbow, and there was blood on his arm, which a musket-ball had just grazed.
"Don't ask me, Will," said he. "What can we do against that big fellow? We shall all be food for fishes before long, I suppose."
I looked at the brig, which was twice our size and uninjured in rigging, and was closely approaching us, while I could make out that her decks were crowded with men in a variety of Eastern costumes, mostly such as I had seen on board the Greek vessels at Smyrna. By this time it was blowing fresh, and a good deal of sea had got up. The schooner, having no canvas aloft to steady her, was pitching and tumbling about in an awful way. Our fate was sealed. I remembered all the dreadful stories I had heard, and the atrocities committed by these Greek pirates; but I had little time for thought. On came the pirate; showers of musket-balls swept our decks, and round shot came crashing through our side. In another instant her grappling-irons were thrown aboard, and as a huge spider catches a miserable fly, so did our big antagonist hold us struggling and writhing in his grasp.
We had fought as long as we could; but what could we do against such overwhelming numbers? We did not strike to the villains at all events, for we had not a man by this time left on his legs to haul down the flag, even had we wished to do so. The pirates, with fierce shouts, waiting till the sides of the vessels rolled together, leaped, sword in hand, on our decks. The captain and mates continued fighting to the last, as if resolved to sell their lives dearly. Some were driven overboard, several were knocked down below, and so saved their lives for the moment, while the greater number were unable to lift hand or foot in their defence. I was among them. A shot grazed me, I could scarcely tell where, my whole body was in such agony; but overcome with it I lay without power of moving. This was fortunate, for had any of us shown signs of life, the pirates would have despatched as at once. As it was, they merely shoved us out of the way, while they set to work to get out the cargo. Though I could not move, my eye was able to follow them, and from the expeditious way in which they proceeded about their work, they were evidently well practised in it. Every moment I expected to find my existence finished by having the point of a sword or a pike run into me. I suppose after this that I went off into a swoon, for when I again looked up, the pirates had left the vessel, and I could see the topsails of their brig, just as they were sheering off. My first impulse was that of joy to think that I was saved. I tried to rise, and fancied that I might have strength sufficient to do so; but then I thought it better to be perfectly still, lest the pirates should see me moving about, and take it into their heads to fire and perhaps finish me. My feelings were very dreadful. I knew not how many of my companions might have escaped. Perhaps I might be soon the only survivor left alone on the shattered wreck, for the groans of my companions still alive showed that they were desperately wounded; or perhaps my doom was already fixed, and my hours were drawing to a close. I could scarcely bear to hear those sounds of pain, yet I dared not move to render assistance. I waited for some time, and then I slowly turned round my head, and ventured to look if the vessel could be seen from where I lay. She was not visible, so I crawled to a port through which I could see her about a mile off, standing away to the eastward. I now felt that, provided no one showed their heads above the bulwarks, we should be safe. A cask of water stood on the deck for daily use. I crawled to it, and swallowed some of the precious fluid, which much revived me. I never tasted a more delicious draught in my life. I took the tin cup, and crawled to the nearest person who appeared to be alive. It was the captain. He was groaning heavily, "Here's a cup of water, sir," I said; "it will do you good. The pirates are off, and I do not think they are coming back again."
At first he did not seem to understand me; then he took the mug of water, and drained it to the bottom.
"What, gone, are they?" he at length exclaimed. "Ah, lad, is that you? Well, what has happened? Oh! I know. Help me up, and we'll see about it."
I did my best, hurt as I was, to raise him up. In a short time he very much recovered. Both he and I, it appeared, had been knocked over by the wind of a round shot, and had been rather stunned than seriously hurt.
The captain, as he lay on the deck, bound up my wound for me with a kindness I did not expect from him. As soon as he was somewhat recovered, he told me to come with him and examine into the state of affairs. Many of the crew lay stiff and stark on deck—their last fight over. We carried the water to the few who remained alive, and very grateful they were for it. Among the killed was the first mate; but poor Charley I did not see. I observed another man moving forward. I crawled up to him. He was Edward Seton. I gave him the mug of water. He thanked me gratefully.
"I'm afraid that I am in a bad way, Weatherhelm," said he; "but see what you can do for me, and I'll try and get about and help the captain: tell him."
Under his directions I bound up his wounds as well as I could, and in a little time he began to crawl about, though it seemed to give him great pain to do so. On looking into the hold we found that several men were there. The captain hailed them, and gave the welcome news that the pirate was off, and that they might venture on deck. As soon as they heard his voice they sprang up, but looks of horror were on their countenance.
"It's all over with us, sir," said they. "The villains have bored holes in the ship's bottom, and the water is rushing in by bucketsful."
I accompanied the captain below. Unhappily he found that what they said was too true, and at the first appearance of things it looked as if the schooner could not swim another half hour. On further examination, however, it appeared that, whatever might have been the intention of the villains, they had not bored the holes very cleverly. Some of them were through the timbers, and others were even above the water line, and they had providentially been prevented from finishing their work by breaking their auger, the iron of which was sticking in one of the timbers. When this had occurred they made the attempt to knock a hole through the ship's side; but they had found the ribs and planking too strong for their axes, and had been compelled to desist before accomplishing their purpose. They had, however, effectually destroyed the pumps,—a few strokes of their axes had done that,—so that we had little hope of freeing the vessel of water, as it would take long to repair them. Why they did not set her on fire I do not know. Perhaps because they were afraid that the blaze might attract the attention of any ship of war which might be in the neighbourhood, and bring her down upon them. At all events, they refrained from no tender feeling of love or mercy for us.
"Don't give in, my lads," cried the captain, after he had examined the state of affairs. "All who can manage to move, come with me; we may still have a chance of saving our lives. See if any of you can find an axe and wood to make plugs to drive into these holes."
The pirates had of course intended to heave overboard everything of the sort; but fortunately, without loss of time, a hatchet was found under the windlass forward, where one of the men recollected he had left it, after chopping wood for firing, and another discovered an axe in the carpenter's store-room, under a number of things which had been routed out of the chests by the pirates in their search for money. With these two tools we set to work, and as soon as a plug was cut, we drove it into such of the holes as let in the greatest quantity of water. There was no difficulty in finding them, for the water spouted up in jets in all directions in the hold.
It must be understood that what was already inside had not yet got to a level with the sea. Indeed, if it had, we should very soon have gone down. We succeeded in stopping the greater number, but unfortunately two or three had been bored low down, and some of the cargo having washed over them, we could not contrive to reach the places to plug them. I guessed, when the fact was discovered, that all hopes of ultimately saving the vessel must be greatly diminished, though what we had done would enable her to float for some time longer.
I have before been prevented mentioning anything respecting those of my shipmates who had escaped with their lives. The first person I saw below was old Cole. He was unhurt, and seemed to take matters as coolly and quietly as if they were of ordinary occurrence. He had, as I afterwards discovered, directly he saw the pirate brig running us aboard, gone below and stowed himself away. I ventured to ask him, on a subsequent occasion, how it was that he had not remained on deck and fought on like the rest. "Why, I will tell you, Will," said he; "I have found out, by a pretty long experience, that if I don't take care of Number one, no one else will; so, when I saw that nothing more could be done to beat off the pirates, I thought to myself, there's no use getting killed for nothing, so I'll just keep in hiding till I see how things go." La Motte, the Guernsey lad, was unhurt, but we picked up poor Charley Iffley with an ugly knock on his head, which had stunned him. He didn't know that his father was killed. We let him perfectly recover before we told him. I wished to have kept back the knowledge of this fact from him, but of course as soon as he came on deck he could not fail to discover it, so La Motte and I broke it to him gently. I was somewhat shocked to find how little effect it had on him.
"What, father dead, is he? Well, what am I to do then, I wonder?" was his unfeeling observation.
"And this is the person whom I thought so fine a fellow, and by whom I was guided rather than by those who loved me best in the world," I thought to myself. Still, I could not help feeling compassion for my friend, and I believe he really did feel his father's loss more than his words would have led me to suppose.
Having done what we could below, the captain called us all on deck to examine into the state of the boats, and to see if any of them were fit to carry us to the nearest shore. A glance showed us their condition. The spars which had fallen from aloft, and the shot of the enemy, had done them no little damage, and the villainous pirates, before leaving us, had stove in their sides and hove the oars overboard, to prevent any of us who might survive from making use of them. I felt my heart sink within me when I saw this, but none of us gave way to despair. It is not the habit of British seamen, while a spark of life remains in them, to do so. The long-boat was in the best condition, but with our yards gone we could not hoist her out, even had we had all the crew fit for the work, so that we were obliged to content ourselves with trying to patch up the jolly-boat, which we might launch over the side.
The carpenter was among the killed, so that had the pirates left us all his tools, we could not have repaired the boat properly, and the captain therefore ordered us to set to work to cover her over with tarred canvas, and to strengthen her with a framework inside. Thus prepared, there were some hopes that she might be able to float us, provided the weather did not grow worse.
While the captain and old Cole, with the more experienced hands, were patching up the boat, he sent La Motte and me to try and find a spy-glass in the cabin. After some search we discovered one and took it to him. He watched the pirate brig through it attentively. "Hurra, my lads, she'll not come back!" he exclaimed. "She's standing under all sail to the eastward, and soon will be hull down." This announcement gave us all additional spirits to proceed with our work. La Motte and I were next sent to get up some mattresses from below on which to put the wounded men; we also bound up their hurts as well as we could, and kept handing them round water, for they seemed to suffer more from thirst than anything else.
My own wound hurt me a good deal, but while I was actively employed for the good of others, I scarcely thought about it. I found that much progress was being made with the boat. There was plenty of canvas, and a cask of Stockholm tar was found. After paying both the boat and a piece of canvas sufficiently large to cover her over with the tar, the canvas was passed under her keel and fastened inside the gunwale on either side. It went, of course, from stem to stern, and the thickly tarred folds nailed over the bows served somewhat to strengthen them. In our researches La Motte and I had found a hammer and a pair of pincers, which were very useful, as they enabled us to draw out the nails from the other boat with which to fasten on the canvas. As the boat would require much strengthening inside, a framework of some small spars we had on board was made to go right round her gunwale, from which other pieces were nailed down to the seats, and two athwart, inside the gunwale, to prevent her upper works from being pressed in. Besides this, some planks were torn from the long-boat, and with them a weather streak was made to go round the jolly-boat, and this made her better able to contend with a heavy sea.
When we had performed our first task, the captain sent us with the second mate to get up such provisions and stores as we might require, with some small beakers to fill with water. He then came himself to judge how fast the water was gaining on us, and seeing that the schooner would swim some time longer, he had another thick coat of tar put on, and an additional coat of canvas nailed over the boat. It was lucky this was done, for as the tar had not time to sink into the canvas, I do not think the first would for any length of time have kept the water out. We had still much to do, for we had neither oars, spars, nor sails fitted for the boat. In half an hour more, however, we had fashioned two pairs of oars, in a very rough way certainly, but such as would serve in smooth water well enough. We had stepped two masts and fitted two lugs and a jib. Fortunately the rudder had not been injured, so that we were saved the trouble of making one. I felt my heart somewhat lighter when the work was finished, and we were able to launch the boat over the side where the bulwarks had been knocked away when the enemy ran us aboard. She swam well, and we at once began putting what we required into her. The pirates had carried off all the compasses they could find, but the captain had a small spare one in a locker which had not been broken open, and this he now got out, with a chart and quadrant they had also overlooked. Thus we might contrast our condition very favourably with that of many poor fellows, who have been compelled to leave their sinking ships in the mid Atlantic or Pacific hundreds of miles from any known coast, without chart or compass, and with a scant supply of water and provisions.
We had no difficulty in stowing water and provisions for the remnant of the crew to last us till we could reach Zante or Cephalonia, or some part of the Grecian coast; for that, I heard the captain say, would be the best direction to steer. We first put the wounded who could not help themselves into the boat, and the rest were following, when the captain stopped us.
"Stay, my lads," said he. "The schooner will float for some time longer, and we must not leave the bodies of our poor shipmates aboard her to be eaten by the fish with as little concern as if they were animals."
"All right, sir," answered the men, evidently pleased. "We wouldn't wish to do so either, sir, but we thought you were in a hurry to be off."
We set to work at once, for all hands knew what he meant, and we sewed each of the bodies up in canvas, with shot at their feet. "Can anybody say any prayers?" asked the captain. No one answered. Of all the crew, no one had a prayer-book, nor was a Bible to be found. I had one, I knew, which had been put into my chest by my grandmother, but I was ashamed to say it was there, and I had not once looked at it since I came to sea. Edward Seton, however, who had been put into the boat, heard the question. "I have a prayer-book, sir," he said. "If I may be hoisted on deck, I will read the funeral service." The captain accepted his offer. He was taken out of the boat and propped up on a mattress. He read the Church of England burial service with a faltering voice (he himself looking like death itself) over the bodies of those whom it appeared too probable that he would shortly follow.
It might, perhaps, have been more a superstitious than a religious feeling which induced my rough, uneducated shipmates to attend to the service, but it seemed to afford them satisfaction, and it may, perhaps, at all events, have done some of us good. Then the poor fellows were launched overboard, with a sigh for their loss, for they were brave fellows, and died fighting like British seamen. Charley stood by while his father's body was committed to the deep, and he cried very heartily, as if he really felt his loss. Then, slowly, one after the other of us went into the boat. The captain was the last to quit the schooner. For some time we held on. The captain evidently could not bring himself to give the order to cast off—indeed, it was possible that the vessel might still float for some time longer; still it is difficult to say when a water-logged vessel may go down. Had we hung on during the dark, we might have been taken by surprise, and not have been able to get clear in time. I heard the captain propose to Mr Cole to set her on fire, in the hopes that the blaze might bring some vessel down to our relief; but I suspect that he had not the heart to do it. At last, as night was coming on, he gave the order, "Cast off." I suspect he never gave a more unwilling one. Not another word did he say, but he gave a last lingering look at the craft he had so long commanded, and then turned away his head.
Our lugs were hoisted, for the wind had come round to the southward, and away we stood for Cephalonia. It was a beautiful night, the sea was smooth and the wind was light,—indeed, we would rather have had more of it,—the stars came brightly out of the clear sky, and there was every appearance of fine weather. There seemed no reason to doubt that all would go well, if the wind did not again get up; and, as we had just had a strong blow, there was a prospect of its continuing calm till we got to our destination. The night passed away pretty well—all hands slept by turns, and, for my own part, I could have slept right through it, had it not been that the groans of one of my companions, who lay close to me, sounded in my ears and awoke me. I sat up and recognised the voice of poor Edward Seton. La Motte and I, who were closest to him, did all we could to assuage his pain. We bathed his wounds and supplied him with drink, but his tortures increased till towards the morning, when on a sudden he said that he felt more easy. At first, I fancied that all was going right with him; but soon the little strength he had began to fail, and as the sun rose, and fell on his pale cheeks, I saw that the mark of death was already there. I spoke to him and asked him what I could do for him. He was perfectly conscious of his approaching death.
"You have done all you could for me, Will," he answered, in a low faint voice, not audible to the rest. "It is all over with me in this world. I am glad that you are near me, for you think more as I do, and you know better what is right than the rest of our shipmates; but, Weatherhelm, let a dying man warn you, as you know better than others what is right, so are your responsibilities greater, and thus more will be demanded of you by the Great Judge before whom I am about to stand, and you will have to stand ere long. Oh! do not forget what I have said. And now I would ask a favour for myself. I have a mother living near Hull, and one I love still better, a sweet young girl I was to have married. Find out my mother—she will send for her—see them both—tell them how I died—how I was doing my duty faithfully as a seaman, and how I thought of them to the last."
"Yes, yes," I answered, "I'll do my best to fulfil your wishes." I took his hand and pressed it. A fearful change came over his countenance, and he was a corpse. I hoped to be able to keep my promise, for often the only satisfaction a dying seaman has, is to know that his shipmates will faithfully carry his last messages to those he loves best on earth. The body was dragged forward into the bow of the boat, for rough as were the survivors, all esteemed Edward Seton, and no one liked to propose without necessity to throw his remains overboard before they were cold.
At noon the captain took an observation, and found that since leaving the schooner the previous evening we had run about forty miles, which showed that we had been going little more than two and a half knots an hour—for the wind had been very light all the time. Still we were far better off than if it had been blowing a gale. As, however, the day drew on, clouds began to collect in the horizon, forming heavy banks which grew darker and darker every instant. I saw the captain and mate looking at them anxiously.
"We are going to have another blow before long," observed Mr Cole. "If we could have got under the lee of some land before it came on, it would have been better for us."
"No doubt about that, Mr Cole; but as we have no land near us, if the gale catches us we must weather it out as men best can," answered the captain.
The mate was unfortunately right, and somewhere about the end of the afternoon watch a strong breeze sprung up from the southward, which soon caused a good deal of sea. The boat was hauled close to the wind on the larboard tack, but she scarcely looked up to her course, besides making much lee-way. She proved, however, more seaworthy than might have been expected, but we shipped a good deal of water at times, to the great inconvenience of the wounded men, and we had to keep constantly baling with our hats, or whatever we could lay hold of. As it became necessary to lighten the boat as much as possible, the captain ordered us to sew the body of poor Seton up in his blanket, and to heave it overboard. No one present was able to read the burial service over him, and he who had so lately performed that office for his shipmates was committed to the deep without a prayer being said over him. I thought it at the time very shocking; but I have since learned to believe that prayers at a funeral are uttered more for the sake of the living than the dead, and that to those who have departed it matters nothing how or where their body is laid to rest. Of course we had no shot to fasten to poor Seton's body. For a short time it floated, and as I watched it with straining eyes, surrounded by masses of white foam blown from the summits of the rising waves, I thought of the awful warning he had lately uttered to me, and felt that I, too, might be summoned whither he was gone.
The wind and sea were now rapidly rising. In a short time it had increased very much, and as the waves came rolling up after us, they threatened every instant to engulf the boat. She had begun to leak also very considerably, and do all we could, we were unable to keep her free of water.
"We must lighten the boat, my lads," said the captain. "Don't be down-hearted, though; we shall soon make the land, and then we shall find plenty of provisions to supply the place of what we must now cast away."
Some of the men grumbled at this, and said that they had no fancy to be put on short allowance, and that they would keep the provisions at all risks. I never saw a more sudden change take place in any man than came over the countenance of the captain at this answer. Putting the tiller into the mate's hand, he sprung up from his seat. "What, you thought I was changed into a lamb, did you?" he exclaimed in a voice of thunder. "Wretched idiots! just for the sake of indulging for a few hours in gluttony, you would risk your own lives and the lives of all in the boat. The first man who dares to disobey me, shall follow poor Seton out there—only he will have no shroud to cover him. You, Storr, overboard with that keg; Johnston, do you help him." The men addressed obeyed without uttering another word, and the captain went back to the stern-sheets, and issued his orders as calmly as if nothing had occurred.
"The captain was like himself, as I have been accustomed to see him," I thought to myself. "Sorrow for the loss of his vessel and his people changed him for a time, and now he is himself again."
I was not quite right, though. Rough as he looked, he was born with a tender heart; but habit, example, and independent command, and long unconstrained temper, made him appear the fierce savage man I often thought him. A large quantity of our water and provisions, and stores of all sorts, were thrown overboard, as was everything that was not absolutely necessary, to lighten the boat as much as possible. Yet, do all we could, there appeared to be a great probability that we should never manage to reach the shore. The water had also somehow or other worked its way between the canvas at the joints in the fore and after parts of the boat, in addition to the seas which came in over the gunwale. To assist in keeping it out we stuffed everything soft we could find, bits of blanket, our shirt-sleeves and handkerchiefs, into the holes in the planks, though of course but little good was thus effected. In vain we looked round on every side, in the hope that our eyes might rest on some object to give us cause for hope. Darker and more threatening grew the sky, louder roared the wind, and higher and higher rose the seas. Scarcely half an hour more remained before darkness would come down on us. With no slight difficulty the boat had been kept steadily before the seas with the advantage of daylight; at night, with the sea still higher, we could scarcely expect that she could be kept clear. It was indeed with little hope of ever again seeing it rise that we watched the sun sinking towards the western horizon.
VOYAGE IN THE BOAT CONTINUED—GALE BLOWING STRONG—A SAIL IN SIGHT—WILL SHE PASS US?—A FRENCH BRIG—LIFE ON BOARD—REACH SMYRNA—SAILORS' FRIENDSHIP—OUR PRANKS ON SHORE—THE PLAGUE—CHARLEY'S FEARS—SENT ON BOARD THE FATE—ONCE MORE AFLOAT—HOMEWARD-BOUND.
A look of blank, sullen despair was stealing over the countenances of most of the crew. Charley Iffley sat with his hands before him and his head bent down, without saying a word, and seemingly totally unconscious of what was taking place. When I spoke to him he did not answer or look up. I suppose that he was thinking of his father, and grieving for his loss, so, after two or three trials, I did not again attempt to rouse him up. La Motte and I occasionally exchanged remarks; but when the wind again got up and we expected every moment that the boat would founder, we felt too much afraid and too wretched to talk. The captain was the only person who kept up his spirits. Once more he rose from his seat, and stepped on to the after-thwart, holding on by the mainmast. I watched his eye as he cast it round the horizon. I saw it suddenly light up. "A sail! my lads, a sail!" he exclaimed, pointing to the westward. Not another word was spoken for some time. We kept on our course, and we were soon able to ascertain that the stranger was standing almost directly for us. The captain at once resolved to try and get on board her, whatever she might prove, rather than run the risk of passing the night in the boat. He on this put the boat about, for had we continued on the course we were then steering she might have gone ahead of us. Our great anxiety was now to make ourselves seen before the night closed down upon us. We had a lantern, but its pale light would not have been observed at any distance. Just before the sun sank into the ocean we were near enough the stranger to make out that she was a large brig, apparently a ship of war, and by the cut of her canvas, and her general appearance, she was pronounced to be French. Though all my younger days we were at loggerheads with them, there happened just then, for a wonder, to be a peace between our two nations, so there was no fear but what we should be treated as friends.
The sun sank ahead of us with a fiery and angry glow, while the clouds swept by rapidly overhead, and every now and then a flash of lightning and a loud roar of thunder made us anxious to find ourselves on board a more seaworthy craft than the frail boat in which we floated. We had no firearms with us, for the pirates had carried away or thrown overboard all they found on board the schooner, so we had no means of making a night signal. However, as there was still a little light remaining, we lashed two oars together, and made fast at one end an ensign, which had fortunately been thrown into the boat. The captain then stood up and waved it about to try and attract the attention of those on board the brig. I felt inclined to shout out, under the feeling that far off as she was my feeble voice would be heard. On we flew through the water at a rate which threatened every instant to tear the canvas off the boat's bottom, while the seas at the same time constantly came on board and nearly swamped us. Time passed away; the gloom of evening thickened around us. Our hearts sank within our bosoms. It seemed too probable that the stranger would pass without observing us. We were again almost in despair, when the boom of a gun came rolling over the water towards us. To our ears it was the sweetest music, a sign that we were seen, and a promise, we believed, that we should not be deserted. On stood the man-of-war directly for us; but it had now grown so dark, that though we could see her from her greater bulk, we could scarcely hope that those on board her could see us. We had two serious dangers to avoid. If we stood directly in her course, so rapidly was she going through the water, she might run over us before we could possibly make ourselves heard; while, if we kept too much out of her way, she might pass us, and we might miss her altogether. Fortunately we succeeded in getting our lantern lighted, and the captain sent me to hold it up forward as soon as we drew near her. On she came; another minute would decide our fate; when we saw her courses hauled up, her topgallant sails furled, and coming up on the wind, she hove-to on the larboard tack, scarcely a cable's length from us. We stood on a little, and then putting the boat about, we fetched up under her lee quarter and ran alongside. A rope was hove to us, and lights were shown to enable us to get on board.
Our captain spoke a little French, though it was of a very free-and-easy sort, I suspect. The brig proved to be, as he had thought, of that nation; and such a jabbering and noise as saluted our ears I never have in all my life heard on board of a man-of-war. However, they wished to deal kindly by us. They at once sent us down ropes with which the wounded men were hauled up, though there was great risk of getting them hurt in the operation. When this was done, the rest of us set to work to hand up all the more valuable things we had in the boat,—not that the pirates had left us much, by the by. While we were thus engaged, a squall struck the brig, and almost laid her on her beam-ends. We had just time to clamber up on board, when a sea swamped the boat, which was directly afterwards cut adrift; the helm being then put up, the brig righted, and off she flew before the wind. The squall was quickly over (we had reason to be grateful that we had not been compelled to encounter it in the boat), and the brig was once more brought up on her course. We found that she was the Euryale, of eighteen guns, and then bound for Smyrna. Though we would rather have been put on shore at Cephalonia, we were certain of their finding a vessel to carry us to Malta, if not home direct to England.
The French captain and officers treated us very kindly, and the surgeon paid the greatest attention to the wounded; but though I have been on board many a man-of-war since, I must say that I never have seen one in a worse state of discipline. One-half of the officers did not know their duty, and the other half did not do it; and the men did just what they liked. They smoked and sang and danced the best part of the day, while the officers played the fiddle or the guitar, or gambled with cards and dice, and very often danced and smoked with the men, which at all events was not the way to gain their respect. The captain was a very gentlemanly man, but had not been to sea since the war, and could not then have known much about a ship, so he did nothing to keep things right, and the great wonder to us was how he had managed not to cast her away long before we got on board her.
We had no reason to complain. Both the officers and men treated us very kindly, and were thoroughly good-natured. Since those days, too, a very great change has taken place in the French navy. Their officers are, as a rule, very gentlemanly men, and the crews are as well disciplined as in our own service—indeed, should we unhappily again come to blows, we shall find them the most formidable enemies we have ever encountered.
We arrived at Smyrna without any adventure worthy of note. Just as we entered the port, the Ellen brig, belonging to Messrs. Dickson, Waddilove, and Burk, the owners of the Kite, came in also, and we at once went on board her. Captain Mathews was her master; he was one of the oldest and most trusted captains of the firm, and acted as a sort of agent for them at foreign ports. Whatever he ordered was to be done. He could send their vessels wherever he thought best, and had full control, especially over the apprentices. Thus Charley, La Motte, and I at once found ourselves under his command. He was a good-natured, kind sort of a man, therefore I had no reason to complain. We found lying there another brig belonging to the same owners. She was called the Fate. It was the intention of Captain Tooke to return home in the Ellen, and to take us three apprentices with him, while of course the rest of the men would be left to shift for themselves; but there is a true saying that man proposes, but God disposes.
We soon recovered from our fatigues and hardships, and got into fine health and spirits. The crews of the two brigs were allowed a considerable amount of liberty, and did not fail to take advantage of it. Altogether we had a good deal of fun on shore. Charley and I were generally together. We had not much money between us, but we contrived to muster enough to hire a horse now and then; and as we could not afford to have one a-piece, we used to choose a long-backed old nag, which carried us both, and off we set in high glee into the country. The grave old Turks looked on with astonishment, and called us mad Giaours, or some such name; and the little boys used to throw stones at us, or spit as we passed, but we did not care for that; we only laughed at them, and rode on. Once we rode into a village, and seeing an odd-looking building, we agreed that we should like to have a look inside. We accordingly tied up our long-backed horse to a tree, and as there was no one near of whom to ask leave, in we walked. It was a building with a high dome, and lamps burning, which hung down from the ceiling, and curtains, but there was not much to see, after all. Presently some old gentlemen in odd dresses appeared at the further end, and as soon as they saw us standing and looking as if we did not think much of the place, they made towards us with furious gestures, so we agreed that the sooner we took our departure the better. When we turned to run, they came on still faster, and as we bolted out of the mosque— for so we found the building was called—they almost caught us. We ran to our horse; while Charley leaped on his back, I cast off the tow-rope, and then he caught my hand and helped me up behind him, and away we galloped as hard as we could go through the village. The old gentlemen could not run fast enough to overtake us, but they sang out at the top of their voices to some men in the street, and they called out to others, and very soon we had the whole population after us with sticks in their hands, heaving stones at our heads, and shouting and shrieking at us. Luckily the hubbub frightened the old horse, and he went faster than he had done for many a day, and amid the barking of dogs, the shouts of boys, the crying of children, and the shrieking of women, we made our escape from the inhospitable community. I had a good thick stick with which I belaboured the poor beast to urge him onward. After some time the Turks, seeing that they could not overtake us, gave up the chase, and we agreed that we had better not enter into their village till they had forgotten all about the circumstance. When we got on board, we were told that we were very fortunate to have escaped with our lives, as many Englishmen had been killed by the Turks for a similar act of folly.
Two days after this, one of the Ellen's men came on board, complaining of being very ill. In a short time another said he felt very queer, and both of them lay down on their chests and could eat no food or keep their heads up. Before long, Captain Mathews came below, and finding that they both had something seriously the matter with them, sent on shore for an English doctor who resided at the place. After some time the doctor came, and told the men to turn up their shirt-sleeves and to show him their arms.
"I thought so," said he, turning to the captain; "it is my unpleasant duty to tell you that you have got the plague on board. We have it bad enough on shore."
I thought the captain would have fallen when he heard the news. "The plague!" he gasped out. "What is to be done, doctor?"
"Send the men on shore; purify your ship, and get to sea as soon as you can," was the answer.
But the plague is a conqueror not easily put down. Before night two more men were seized, and the two first were corpses. The captain of the Fate heard of what had happened, and sent his boats alongside to inquire how we were doing, but with strict orders that no one should come on board. No boat came the next day; the plague had paid her a visit, and three of the crew were corpses. The moans and shrieks of the poor fellows were very dreadful when the fever got to its height. One moment they might have been seen walking the deck in high health and spirits, and the next they were down with the malady and utterly unable to move. Sometimes three or four hours finished their sufferings, and the instant the breath was out of their bodies we were obliged to heave them overboard. One after the other, the greater part of the crews of the two brigs sickened and died. We three apprentices had escaped, and so had our captain and Mr Cole. The mate said he was not afraid of the plague or any other complaint, as he had got something which would always keep it away. Charley Iffley and I frequently asked him what it was. It was a stuff in a bottle which he used to take with his grog, and we suspected that he took it as an excuse for an extra glass of spirits. One cause why he escaped catching the plague was, that he never was afraid of it,—either he trusted to his specific, or felt sure that he should not catch it; also, he never went on shore among the dirty parts of the town the men had frequented, and also lived separate from them on board.