« AnteriorContinuar »
very good sort of fellow, and my messmates liked me, because I was always happy and cheerful—and lent them money.
The crew, to a man, would have done any thing for me, because(it was very foolish certainly)-I used, for some months to cry heartily when any of them were tied up. And afterwards, when I got rid of this weakness, I always begged as many of them off from the infliction of the lash, of Mr. Farmer, the first lieutenant, as I could. With him I could take the liberty, if I found him in a good humour; though I dared not with the captain; for, though the latter had some attachment for me, it was a dreadfully wayward and capricious feeling.
The longer I sailed with him the more occasion I had to dread, if not hate, him. The poor man had no resources—it is not therefore surprising, that he began to have recourse to habitual ebriety. Then, under the influence of his wine, he would be gay, mischievous, tyrannical, and even cruel, according to the mood of the moment.
Yet, at the worst, though his feet faltered, when in his cups, his tongue never did. He even grew eloquent under the vinous influence. It sharpened his cunning, and wonderfully increased his aptitude for mischief. It was a grievous calamity to all on board the ship, that we could not give his mind healthful occupation. I said that he was fond of me, but I began to dread his affection, and to feel myself as being compelled to submit to the playful caresses of a tiger. As yet, not only had we not had the slightest difference, but he had often humoured me to the detriment of the service, and in defiance of the just discipline Mr. Farmer wished to maintain. If I presumed upon this, who shall blame such conduct in a mere boy? And then, Captain Reud was necessary to me. I found that I could not avail myself of my too ample allowance until he had endorsed my bills of exchange.
However, the concealed fang of the paw that had so often played with and patted me into vanity, was to wound me at length. It came upon me terribly, and entered deeply into my bosom.
I was learning to play chess of the purser—the game had already become a passion with me. It was also my turn to dine in the wardroom, and, consequently, I was invited. The anticipated game at chess enhanced the value of the invitation. That same forenoon, the captain and I had been very sociable. He gracious, and I facetious as I could. I had been giving him a history of my various ushers, and he had been pleased to be wonderfully amused. I was down in the midshipman's berth ; a full hour after I had received the wardroom invitation, the captain's steward shoved his unlucky head within the door, and croaked out, “Captain Reud's compliments to Mr. Percy, and desires his company to dinner to-day."
I answered carelessly, rather flippantly, perhaps, “ Tell the captain I'm going to dine in the ward-room." I meant no disrespect, for I felt none. Perhaps the fellow who took back my answer worded it maliciously. I had totally forgotten, as soon as I had uttered my excusal, whether I had or had not, used the word “compliments," or “respects," perhaps—thoughtlessly, neither one nor the other.
I dined in the ward-room, enjoyed my chess, and good, easy youth, with all my blushing honours thick upon me, of having given mate with only trifling odds in my favour, the drum beat to evening quar
ters. I was stationed to the four aftermost carronades on the quarterdeck. I had run up in a hurry, and at that period, straps to keep down the trowsers not having been invented, my white jeans were riddled a good deal up my leg. I passed the captain, touched my hat, and began to muster my men. Unconscious of any offence, I stole a look or two at my commander, but met with no good-humoured glance in return. He had screwed up his little yellow physiognomy into the shape of an ill-conditioned, and battered face on a brass knocker. He had his usual afternoon wine-flush upon him; but a feeling of vindictiveness had placed his feelings of incipient intoxication under complete mastery.
“So you dined in the ward-room, Mr. Percy ?"
“ Yes, sir," my hat reverently touched, not liking the looks of my interrogator. “ And
did not even condescend to return the compliments I sent you, with my misplaced invitation to dinner.”
“ Don't recollect, sir.”
“ Mr. Percy, in consideration of your ignorance, I can forgive a personal affront—damme-but by the living G-d, I cannot overlook disrespect to the service. You young misbegotten scoundrel, what do you mean by coming to quarters undressed ? Look at your trowsers, sir.”
“ The captain is in a passion, certainly,” thought I, as I quietly stooped to pull the offending garment down to my shoes.
“Mr. Farmer, Mr. Farmer, do you see the young blackguard ?" said the commander. “ Confound me, he is making a dressing-room of my quarter-deck—and at quarters too, which is the same as parade. Hither, sirrah ; ho-ho--my young gentleman. Young gentleman, truly—a conceited little bastard !”
The word burnt deeply into my young heart, and caused a shock upon my brain, as if an explosion of gunpowder had taken place within my skull, but it passed instantaneously, and left behind it an unnatural calm.
“ Pray, sir," said I, walking up to him deliberately and resolutely, “how do you know that I am a bastard ?”
“Do you hear the impudent scoundrel ? Pray sir, who is your father ?"
“O that I knew !” said I, bursting into tears. “ í bless God that it is not you."
“ To the mast-head, to the mast-head! Where's the boatswain ? start him up, start him up."
The boatswain could not make his way aft till I was some rattlings up the main rigging, and thus his intentional and kind dilatoriness saved me from the indignity of a blow. Twice I gazed upon the clear blue, and transparent water, and temptation was strong upon me, for it seemed to woo me to rest; but when I looked in-board, and contemplated the diminutive, shrivelled, jaundiced figure beneath me, I said to myself, “ Not for such a thing as that.” Before I had got to the main-top, I thought “ This morning he loved me !-poor human nature!”-and when I had got to the topmast-cross-trees, I had actually forgiven him. It has been my failing through life. As Shakspeare expresses it, “to have always lacked gall.” God knows how much I have forgiven, merely because I have found it impossible to hate.
But I was to be tried still more. I had settled myself comfortably on the cross-trees, making excuses for the captain, and condemning my own want of caution, and anticipating a reconciliatory breakfast with my persecutor, when his shrill voice came discordantly upon my ears.
“ Masthead, there !"
I hesitated—the order was repeated with horrid threats and imprecations. There was no rattlings to the top-gallant rigging. It had been tremendously hot all day, and the tar had sweated from the shrouds; and I was very loath to spoil my beautiful white jean trowsers by swarming up them. However, as I perceived that he had worked himself into a perfect fury up I went, and to the top-gallant masthead, embracing the royal pole with one arm, and standing on the bights of the rigging. My nether apparel, in performing this feat, appeared as if it had been employed in wiping up a bucket of spilled tar.
But I was not long to remain unmolested in my stance on the high and giddy mast. My astonishment and dismay were unbounded at hearing Captain Reud still vociferate, “Up higher, sir.”
The royal pole stood naked, with nothing attached to it but the royal and the signal-hal yards, the latter running through the truck. My lady readers must understand that the truck is that round thing, at the top of all the masts, that looks so like a button. I could not have got up the well-greased pole if I had attempted it. A practised seaman could, certainly, and, indeed, those worthies who climb for legs of mutton at a fair, might have succeeded to mount a few inches.
“What !” said I, half aloud, “ does the tyrant mean? He knows that this thing I cannot do; and he also knows, that if I attempt it, it is probable I shall lose my hold of this slippery stick, and be rolled off into the sea. If he wishes to murder me, he shall do so more directly. Forgive him-never. I'll brave him first, and revenge myself after.”
Again that deadly calm came over me, which makes soft dispositions so desperate, and to which light-haired persons are so peculiarly subject. In these temperaments, when the paleness becomes fixed and unnatural, beware of them in their moods. They concentrate the vindictiveness of life in a few moments, and, though the paroxysm is usually short, it is too often fatal to themselves and to their victims. I coolly commenced descending the rigging, whilst the blackest thoughts crowded in distinct and blood-stained array upon my brain. I bethought me from whence I could the most readily pluck a weapon, but the idea was but instantaneous, and I dismissed it with a mighty effort. At length I reached the deck, whilst the infuriated captain stood mute with surprise at my outrageously insubordinate conduct. The men were still at their quarters and partook of their commander's astonishment, but, I am convinced, of no other feeling.
When I found myself on the deck I walked up to Captain Reud, and between my clenched teeth I said to him slowly and deliberately, “ Tyrant, I scorn you. I come premeditately to commit an act of mutiny: I give myself up as a prisoner: I desire to be tried by a court-martial. I will undergo anything to escape from you; and I don't think that, with all your malice, you will be able to hang me. I consider myself under an arrest.” Then turning upon my heel I prepared to go down the quarter deck hatchway.
Captain Reud heard me to the end in silence; he even permitted me to go down half the ladder unmolested, when rousing himself from his utter astonishment, he jumped forward and spurning me with his foot, violently on my back, dashed me on the main deck. I was considerably bruised, and before I got to the midshipman's berth, two marines seized me and dragged me again to the quarter-deck. Once more I stood before my angry persecutor, looking hate and defiance.
“ To the mast head, sir, immediately."
“Quarter masters, the signal halyards. Sling Mr. Percy.” Mr. Percy was slung. “ Now run the mutinous rascal up to the truck.”
In a moment I was attached to a thin white line, waving to and fro in mid air, and soon triced up to the very top of the royal pole, and jammed hard to the truck. Is this believed ? Perhaps not : yet no statement was ever more true. At the time when this atrocity was perpetrating not an officer interfered. My sufferings were intense. The sun was still hot, my hat had fallen off in my involuntary ascent, and as the ship was running before the wind under her topsails, the motion at that high point of elevation was tremendous. I felt horribly sea-sick. The ligature across my chest became every moment most oppressive to my lungs, and more excruciating in torture : my breathing at each respiration more difficult, and before I had suffered ten minutes, I had fainted. So soon as the captain had seen me run up he went below, leaving strict orders that I should not be lowered down.
Directly that the captain was in his cabin, the first lieutenant, the doctor, purser, and the officers of the watch, held a hurried consultation on my situation. But the good-natured doctor did not stop for the result, but immediately went below, and told Reud if I remained where I was I should die. Those who knew the navy at that time will anticipate the answer-no others can—“ Let him die and be damned !" The good doctor came on deck desponding. Mr. Farmer then hailed me once, and again, and again. Of course he received no answer—I heard him, but at that moment my senses were fast leaving me. The sea with its vast horizon, appearing so illimitable from the great height where I was swaying, rocked, to my failing sight, awfully to and fro: the heavens partook of the dizzying motion. I only, of all the creation, seemed standing still: I was sick unto death; and as far as sensation was conce
cerned, then and there I died.
Upon receiving no reply, Mr. Farmer sent one of the top-men up to look at me. No sooner had he reached the topgallant rigging than he reported me dead. A cry of horror escaped from all on deck. The captain rushed up: he needed no report. He was frantic with grief: he wept like a child, and assisted with his own hands to lower me down ; they were his arms that received, himself that bore me to his cabin. Like a wilful boy who had slain his pet lamb, or a passionate girl her dove, he mourned over me. It was a long time before my respiratory organs could be brought into play. My recovery was slow, and it was some time before I could arrange my ideas. A cot was slung for me in the cabin, and bewildered and exhausted I fell into a deep sleep.
1 awoke a little after midnight perfectly composed, and suffering only from the wale that the cord had made across my chest. Before à table, and his countenance lighted by a single lantern, sate the captain. His features expressed a depth of grief and a remorse that were genuine. He sate motionless, with his eyes fixed upon my cot: my face he could not see, owing to the depth of the shadow in which I lay. I moved :-he advanced to my cot with the gentleness of a woman, and softly uttered,
“ Edward, my dear boy, do you sleep?".
The tones of his voice fell soothingly upon my ear like the music of a mother's prayer.
“ No, Captain Reud, but I am very thirsty.”
In an instant he was at my side with some weak wine and water. I took it from the hand of him whom, but a few hours before, in my animosity I could have slain.
“ Edward,” said he, as he received back the tumbler, “ Edward, are we friends ?"
“ Oh! Captain Reud, how could you treat a poor lad so, who respected, who loved you so much ?"
“ I was mad—do you forgive me, Edward ?" and he took my not unwilling hand.
“ To be sure, to be sure—but do me one little favour in return." “Any thing, any thing, Edward-I'll never masthead you again.”
“Oh, I was not thinking of that: 1 ought not to have put you in a passion. Punish me—masthead me--do any thing, Captain Reud, but call me not bastard."
He made no reply: he pressed my hand fervently: he put it to his lips and kissed it—on my soul he did ---then after a pause, gently murmured “good night,” and, as he passed into the after-cabin to his bed, I distinctly heard him exclaim, “ God forgive me -how I have wronged that boy!"
The next day we were better friends than ever, and for the three years that we remained together, not a reproachful word or an angry look ever passed between us.
I must be permitted to make three observations upon this, to me, memorable transaction. The first is, that at that time, I had not the power of retention of those natural feelings of anger which all should carry with them as a preservation against, or a punishment for, injury and insult. I know that most of my male and many of my female