« AnteriorContinuar »
“ All's right,” said Bramble. “ Now, Tom, give me the paper: if you know them to-night, you ought to know them to-morrow morning. I'll hear if you do, after breakfast.”
I went to bed, was tapped up as before by Bessy, assisted her to clean every thing, taking off her hands all the heaviest of the work; indeed, what I have narrated of the first day may be taken as a sample of my life on shore, at Deal. After breakfast I repeated the points of the compass correctly.
“ Well, Tom, you have a good memory, that's certain : all the better for you; for pilots carry every thing in their heads, as you will find out. Now then, look here :” Bramble took the glass off the top of the compass box, lifted up the card, and then showed me the needle below, which pointed to the north. He then showed me the north point above, and then the other points, making me repeat them as he put his finger on them. As soon as I understood them, he would put the stem of his pipe to one, and ask me which it was. When I was perfect with the points, he explained the half points and quarter points. In two days I had gained them all by heart. “ And now,” says he,
we must try you. This iron skewer is the ship's head, recollect, and I shall stick it into the table : when I do so, you must tell me what point of the compass stands to it, and then that will be the direction of the ship's head. Do you understand? Practice makes perfect, and you must work at this all the time that you are ashore. When you know the compass well, then I'll teach you something else. Now, then, how's her head, Tom?”
“ North-half-west,” said I, after a little time.
“ Yes, very true; but you see, Tom, that wouldn't do aboard ship; that's just the way most of the seamen would puzzle at it. I must have the answer in a moment, and that's why you must practise.”
In the evening, when Bramble was smoking his pipe, I was seated
him ; and every minute he would change the place of the iron skewer, with “ How's her head, Tom ?”
“We must get your prentice papers signed before we go afloat
again,” said Bramble ; " for they pick up boys as well as men for the king's service, and you're a stout boy for your age.”
“ Were you ever pressed, yourself?" inquired I.
“ No, but I had a narrow chance once; and had not our captain been a smart fellow, I and many more would have been serving the king at this present moment."
“ Tell me how that was,” said I.
“Well, as soon as Bessy has done rattling with the cups and saucers, I will."
“ I've done now, father,” said Bessy, taking her seat on a stool close to Bramble's feet.
“Well, then, before I passed for pilot, just after the breaking out of the war, I took it into my head to try my chance at privateeringthere was plenty to pick up at that time, and some of the Deal men had been very
fortunate so I went on board of a 12-gun lugger, commanded by Captain Shank, fitted out in the river, with a crew of sixty men. The press was very hot at that time, and our men were kept at the crimps' houses until all was ready, when we started, and got off clear into the Channel without being overhauled.
“We had been out a fortnight, keeping well on the French coast, and had picked up two good prizes, when one morning, as the fog was cleared up with a sharp northerly wind, we found ourselves right under the lee of an English frigate, not a mile from us. There was a bubble of a sea, for the wind had been against the tide previous to its changing, and we were then about six or seven miles from the French coast, just between Boulogne and Cape Grisnez, lying to for the fog to clear away. As soon as we saw the frigate, we knew that she would board us, and we were all in a terrible fright.”
Here Bramble shifted the skewer, and said, “How's her head, Tom?" I replied ; and he proceeded :
“ The frigate hoisted her colours, and of course we did the same; she then fired a gun as a signal for us to remain, hove to, and we perceived her boats lowering down. Now, my lads,' said our captain, 'if you don't mind a shot or two, I think I will save you from
impressment this time. We all declared that we would stand a hundred, rather than be taken on board of a man-of-war. Very well,' says he — starboard a little, and keep her a little away, so as to let her go through the water; but keep the fore sheet to windward, so that we may appear only to have fallen off.' By this plan we gradually increased our distance from the frigate, and got more on her bow. All this while the boat was pulling towards us, rising and tossing on the sea, but still nearing us fast. As she came nearer to us, we let the lugger come up in the wind again for a short time, that we might not appear to be dodging away; and then, when the bowman was almost ready to lay in his oar, away we let her go through the water, so that she was left astern again. They could not well perceive this on board of the frigate, although the officer in the boat was very savage; for at one time he had his bow oar in, and his boat-hook out. At last the frigate, perceiving that we were apparently slipping away, put her helm up, and fired a shot across our bows. Now's your time, my boys,' said the captain ; 'let draw the sheets, the breeze is strong; she must wait to pick up her boat, and that will give us a mile at least.' Up went the helm, and we made all sail right for the French coast. How's her head, Tom?" I replied; and Bramble resumed:
“ The frigate ran down to her boat, and then rounded to, to boist it up: the sea was heavy, and she was delayed a minute or two, although, to do them justice, they were very smart on board of her. As soon as the boat was up, she made all sail, and came foaming after us, as if she were in as great a rage as the captain and those on board of her. Every now and then she yawed to throw a shot at us from her bow-chasers; but that we didn't mind, as the yawing checked her way, and it's not very easy to hit a low vessel like a lugger in a toppling sea. Well, very soon we were not four miles from the French coast, so we hauled down our English colours and hoisted French. The frigate gained on us very fast; but we continued to steer on, and she in pursuit, until we were within gun-shot of the batteries. What the Frenchmen thought, we did not know; at all events they did not fire; and we steered right on as if we were chased, and the frigate followed after us, until we were within a
mile and a half of the batteries, when the frigate thought proper to haul her wind; then the battery opened upon her, and we could see that she was hulled more than once; and as she kept her wind along the shore, the other batteries opened upon her, and she got a good mauling. We saw her shift her fore-topsail yard as soon as she went about again, and we afterwards heard that she had several men hurt, which was a pity.”
“ And did not the batteries fire upon you ?”
“ No, for we kept the French colours up, and hove to within a mile of the coast. It was a lee-shore, and there was too much surf and sea for them to send off a boat and ascertain whether we were a French privateer or not; so there we lay till dusk, and then made sail again, and, being so close into the French shore, we picked up a good prize that very night. When the cruise was over, I was satisfied. I got my prize money; and then, as I knew our own coast well, I passed for pilot, and have served as one ever since.- How's her head, Tom ?”
“ S.W. almost.”
“S.W. almost won't do, Tom. It's not quite S.W., quarter-south; 80 you must say S.W. southerly. D’ye understand ?”
When Bessy knocked at my door the next morning, she cried out, laughing, “ How's her head, Tom ?” and those words made me jump up like lightning.
IN WHICH BRAMBLE POINTS OUT TO ME THAT SINGING IS PART OF THE
PROFESSION OF A PILOT.
In about a fortnight from the time that Bramble commenced his tuition, I was quite perfect with the compass : his method certainly was very good, for, by such reiterated catechising, what you had to learn was graven on your memory. All day long the same system