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“ I am very glad, Mr. Percy," said the captain, approvingly, “to see you so attentive to your duty. No doubt you went up of your own accord to count the convoy ?”
“ Indeed, sir,” said I, with a great deal of humility, “I did not."
“ What-how? I thought when I came on deck I heard you singing out.”
“ I was mast-headed, sir."
At this question revenge, with her insidious breath, came whispering her venom into my ear ; but a voice, to the warnings of which I have too seldom attended, seemed to reverberate in the recesses of my heart, and say, “ be generous.” If I had told the truth maliciously, I should have assuredly drawn ridicule and perhaps anger on the head of the lieutenant, and approbation to myself. I therefore briefly replied, “ For impertinence to Mr. Silva, sir."
And I was amply repaid by the eloquent look that, with eyes actually moistened, my late persecutor cast upon me. I read that look aright, and knew from that moment that he was deserving of better things than a continued persecution, for having unfortunately misapplied an expression. I immediately made a vow that I would read the “ Tour up and down the Rio de la Plate" with exemplary assiduity.
“.I am glad,” said the captain, “ that you candidly acknowledge your offence, instead of disrespectfully endeavour to justify it. I hope, Mr. Silva, that it is not of that extent to preclude me from asking him to breakfast with us this morning ?”
By no means,” said Silva, his features sparkling with delight; “he is a good lad. I have reasons to say, a very good lad.”
I understood him, and though no explanations ever took place between us, we were, till he was driven from the ship, the most perfect friends.
“ Well,” said the captain, as he turned to go down the quarter-deck ladder, “you will, at the usual time, both of you, pave your way into the cabin. I am sure, Mr. Silva, you won't object to that, though I have not yet made up my mind as to the propriety of the expression, so we'll have the purser, and talk it over in a friendly, good-humoured way." And saying this he disappeared, with that look of merry malignancy that no features but his own could so adequately express.
The scene at the breakfast-table was of the usual description. Authority, masking ill-nature under the guise of quizzing, on the one hand, and literary obstinacy fast resolving itself into deep personal hostility on the other.
We now had the usual indications of approaching the land. In fact, I had made it, by my reckoning, a fortnight before. The nonnautical reader must understand that the young gentlemen are required to send into the captain daily, a day's work, that is, an abstract of the course of the ship for the last twenty-four hours, the distance run, and her where-abouts exactly. Now, with that failing that never left me through life, of feeling no interest where there was no difficulty to overcome, after I had fully conquered all the various methods of making this calculation, to make it at all became a great bore. So I clapped on more steam, and giving the ship more way, and allowing every day for forty or fifty miles of westerly currents, I, by my account, ran the Eos high and dry upon the Island of Barbadoes, three good weeks before we made the land. Thus, I had the satisfaction of looking on with placid indolence, whilst my messmates were furiously handling their Gunter's scales, and straining their eyes over the small printed figures in the distance and departure columns of John Hamilton Moore, of blessed (cursed?) memory, in a cabin over 90 degrees Farenheit, that was melting at the same time the youthful navigator, and the one miserable purser's dip that tormented rather than enlightened him with its fickering yellow flame.
As we neared the island greater precautions were taken to preserve the convoy. We sailed in more compact order, and scarcely progressed at all during the night. The whippers-in were on the alert, for it was well known that this part of the Atlantic was infested with numerous small French men-of-war, and some privateer schooners.
That morning at length arrived, when it was debated strongly whether the faint discolouration that broke the line of the western horizon, as seen from the mast head, were land or not As daylight became more decided, so did the state of our convoy. The wolves were hovering round the sheep. Well down to the southward there was a large squarerigged, three-masted vessel, fraternizing with one of our finest West Indiamen. The stranger looked tall, grim, and dark, with his courses up, but his top-gallant sails and royals set. The white sails of the merchant vessel, and she was under a press of sail, were flying in all directions ; she was hove to, with her studding-sails set, and many of her tacks and sheets were flapping to the wind. Both vessels were hull down from the deck, and we well understood what was going forward. Right astern, and directly in the wind's eye of us, was a flat, broad schooner, running before the wind, with nothing set but her fore staysail. As she lifted to the sea, at the edge of the horizon, her breadth of beam was so great, and her bulwarks so little above the water, that she seemed to make way broadside on, rather than sail in the usual position. There was no vessel particularly near her. Those of the mercantile navy that most enjoyed her propinquity, did not seem, by the press of sail that they were carrying, to think the situation very enviable. However, the Falcon, one of our men-of-war brigs, was between this schooner and all the convoy, with the signal flying, “May I chase?"
But this was not all; as a whitish haze cleared up to the northward there was a spanking felucca, with her long lateen sails brailed up, and sweeping about in the very centre of a knot of dull sailing merchant vessels, four of which, by their altered courses, had evidently been taken possession of. Reversing the good old adage, first come first served, we turned our attention first to the last appearance. We made the signal to the other man-of-war brig, the Curlew, to chase and capture the felucca, she not being more than two miles distant from her. No sooner did the convoy generally begin to find out how matters stood, than like a parcel of fussey and frightened old women, they began to pop, pop, pop, firing away their one and two pounders in all directions, and those farthest from the scene of action serving their guns the quickest, and firing the oftenest. It seemed to them of but little consequence, so long as the guns were fired, where the shot fell. Now this was a great nuisance, as it prevented, by the smoke it raised, our signals from being distinguished, even if these belligerents, in a small way, had not been so occupied by these demonstrations of their valour from attending to them. Indeed, the volumes of smoke the popping created, became very considerable. I do not now know if there be any convoy signal in the merchant code, equivalent to “cease firing." If there were at that time, I am sure it was displayed, but, displayed or not, the hubbub was on the increase. We were at last compelled to fire shot over these pugnacious tubs to quiet them, and there was thus acted the singular spectacle of three vessels capturing the convoy, whilst the artillery of its principal protector appeared to be incessantly playing upon it.
Having our attention so much divided, there was a great deal of activity and bustle, though no confusion, on our decks. We were hoisting out the boats to make the re-captures, and dividing the marines into parties to go in each. In the midst of all this hurry, when Mr. Farmer, our gallant first lieutenant was very much heated, a droll circumstance occurred, the consequence of the indiscriminate firing of the convoy. A boat pulled alongside, and a little squab man, with his face all fire, and in an awfully sinful passion, jumped on the quarter-deck, with something rolled up in a silk handkerchief. He was so irritated, that whilst he followed the first lieutenant about for two or three minutes, he could not articulate.
“ Out of my way, man. Mr. Burn, see that all the small arms are ready, and handed down into the boat in good order. Out of my way, man—what the devil do you want ? Muster the pinnace's crew on the starboard gangway—move all these lubberly marines. Mr. Silva, if that stupid fool don't cease firing, send a shot right into him. Man, man, what do you want-why don't you speak ?"
“ There, sir,” at last stammered out the little angry master of a brig, unfolding his handkerchief, and exhibiting a two pound shot in a most filthy condition, “What—what do you think of that, sir? Slap on board of me, from the Lady Jane, sir-through, clean through my bulwarks into the cook's slush tub. There's murder and piracy for you on the high seas—my slush tub, sir-my bulwark, sir.” " D-n
your slush tub too-out of my way. Sail trimmers, aloft, and get ready the topmast and top-gallant studding sails."
“ Am I to have no redress, sir ? Is a British subject to have his slush tub cannonaded on the high seas, and no redress, sir ? Sir, sir, I tell you, sir, if you don't do me justice, I'll go on board and open my fire upon that scoundrelly Lady Jane."
Now this was something like a gasconade, as our irritated friend happened to have but three quakers (wooden guns) on each side, that certainly were not equal to the merits of that apocryphal good dog, that could bark, though not bite-however, they looked as if they could.
“ You had better,” said Captain Reud, “ go on board the Lady Jane, and, if you are man enough, give the master a hiding."
“ If I'm man enough!” said he, jumping with his shot into his boat, with ireful alacrity. Shortly after, taking my glass, I looked at the Lady Jane, and sure enough there was a pugilistic encounter proceeding on her quarter-deck, with all that peculiar goût that characterizes Englishmen when engaged in that amusement.
In answer to the signal of the Falcon, which was astern of all the convoy, and between it and the gigantic schooner, “ Shall I chase ?” we replied, “ No.” By this time we had thrashed our convoy into something like silence and good order. We then signalled to them to close round the Falcon, and heave to. To the “ Falcon, to protect convoy."
We had now been some time at quarters, and every thing was ready for chasing and fighting. But the fun had already begun to the northward. Our second man-of-war brig, the Curlew, had closed considerably upon the felucca, which was evidently endeavouring to make the chase a windward one. The brig closed more upon her than she ought. It certainly enabled her to fire broadside after broadside upon her, but, as far as we could perceive, with little or no effect. In a short time the privateer contrived to get in the wind's eye of the manof-war, and away they went. After the four ships that had been taken possession of, and which were each making a different course, we sent three of the boats—the barge, yawl, and pinnace—under the command of Mr. Silva, in order to recapture them, of which there was every prospect, as the breeze was light, and would not probably freshen before ten o'clock; for however the captured vessels might steer, their courses must be weather ones, as if they had attempted to run to leeward, they must have crossed the body of the convoy.
Having now made our arrangements, we turned all our attention to leeward
upon the large dark three-masted vessel, that still remained hove to, seeming to honour us with but little notice. She had taken possession of the finest and largest ship of the convoy.
Long as I have been narrating all these facts, I assure the reader they did not occupy ten minutes in action, including the episodical monomachia on board of the Lady Jane. Just as we had got the ship’s head towards the stranger, with every stitch of canvas crowded upon her, and the eight-oared cutter, manned, armed, and marined, towing astern, they had got the captured West Indiaman before the wind, with every thing set. The stranger was not long following this example, but steered about a S.W. and by W. course, whilst his prize ran down nearly due south.
I have always found in the beginning, that the size of the chase is magnified, either by the expectations or the fears of the pursuers. At first, we had no doubt but that the flying vessel was a French frigate, as large, or nearly as large, as ourselves. We knew from good authority, that a couple of large frigate-built ships had, evading our blockading cruisers, escaped from Brest, and were playing fine pranks among the West India Íslands. Every body immediately concluded the vessel in view to be one of them. If this conjecture should turn out true, there would be no easy task before us, seeing how much we had crippled ourselves, by sending away in the boats so many officers and men.
It now became a matter of earnest deliberation, to which of the two ships we should first turn our attention, as the probabilities were great against our capturing both. The Prince William, the captured West Indiaman, I have before said, was the largest and finest ship of the convoy. Indeed, she was nearly as large as ourselves, mounted sixteen guns, and we had made her a repeating ship, and employed her continually to help whipping-in the bad sailors. The chase after her promised to be as long as would have been the chase after the Frenchman.
Mr. Farmer, who was all for fighting, and getting his next step of promotion, was for nearing the West Indiaman a little more, sending the cutter to take possession, and then do our best to capture the frigate. Now the cutter pulled eight oars, there were two goodlooking jollies with their muskets between their knees stuck up in the bows, six in the stern sheets, Mr. Pridhomme, the enamoured master's mate, and the Irish young gentleman, who had seen as much service and as many years as myself, with the coxswain, who was steering Mr. Farmer, of course, measured every body's courage by his own; but I think it was taxing British intrepidity a little too much, to expect that nineteen persons, in broad daylight, should chase, in an open boat, and which must necessarily pull up a long stern pull of perhaps two or three hours, exposed to the fire of those on board, and then afterwards, supposing that nobody had been either killed or wounded by the ball practice that would have been certainly lavished upon the attacking party, to get alongside, and climb
up the lofty side of a vessel, as high out of the water as a fiftygun ship. We say nothing of the guns that might have been loaded by the captors with grape, and the number of men that would infallibly be placed to defend and to navigate so noble a vessel.
Captain Reud weighed all this, and decided upon making, with the frigate, the recapture first, and then trusting to Providence for the other, for which decision, which I thought most sound, he got
black looks from his first lieutenant and some of the officers, and certain hints were whispered of dark birds sometimes showing white feathers.
The sequel proved that the captain acted with the greatest judgment. To our utter astonishment, we came up, hand over land, with a vessel, which, we before had shrewd suspicions, could, going free, sail very nearly as well as ourselves. Of course, we were now fast leaving the convoy ; we found that the felucca had worked herself dead to windward, and was by this time nearly out of gun-shot of the Curlew, and that the faineant strange schooner had now made sail, and on such a course as approximated her fast to the other privateer. The large vessel, perceiving our attention solely directed to the ture, shortened sail and made demonstrations of rescue. At this, Mr. Farmer grinned savage approbation, and, not yet having had a good view of her hull, we all thought, from her conduct, that she was conscious of force. We were, therefore, doubly alert in seeing every thing in the very best order for fighting. The bulkheads of the captain's cabin were knocked down, and the sheep, pigs, and poultry gingerly ushered into the hold, preparatory to the demolition of their several pens, styes, and coops on the main deck. All this I found very amusing, but I must confess to a little anxiety, and,