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But I learnt a great deal more of my profession ; Bramble explaining to me the sails, rigging, and names and uses of the ropes, and the various manœuvres practised, all of which he would catechise me in afterwards, to ascertain if I was perfect, and had remembered what he told me. I was, therefore, under excellent tuition. Whatever port we entered, Bramble would point out the landmarks to me, state the distances from point to point, and the dangers to be avoided. Those I could not so well retain perfectly, and required occasional reminding, but altogether I gave him satisfaction. It was on New Year's day, 1800, that we boarded a large homewardbound Indiaman, which had just struck soundings. She was a thousand ton ship, with a rich cargo of tea on board, and full of passengers, besides more than one hundred invalids from the regiments out there, who had been sent home under the charge of two officers.
What a difference there appeared to me to be between the In. diaman going out and this one coming home : the first so neat and clean in her decks, and this so crowded and so weatherworn by her long voyage. What with troops in old jackets, which had once been scarlet, Lascars with their curly black hair, and dark handsome features, yellow men, sickly women, and half-cast children, with their Hindoo Ayahs, tigers, lions, turtles, cows, sheep, goats, and pigs, on the booms and main-deck, the vessel was in a strange motley of confusion.
As soon as we were put on board, the captain, officers, and passengers crowded round to inquire the news. Bramble, according to pilot custom, had brought off one or two late Plymouth papers (one of which, I recollect, gave the account of the cutting out of the Hermione by Captain Hamilton); but the people on board were eight months behind hand at least as regarded what had passed : they had not even heard of Sir Sydney Smith's defence of Acre against Bonaparte, or any thing else which had subsequently occurred; so that as soon as Bramble had taken charge, and put the ship’s head the right course (for the wind was fair), there was no end to question and answer. And while Bramble was questioned by the captain and passengers, I was attacked by the midshipmen, or
Guinea pigs, as they are called. Having a fair wind we ran right for the Downs, where we arrived on the morning of the second day. Here the purser of the ship went on shore with his despatches, and the ship anchored to await orders, by the next post, to go up the river.
“ Tom,” said Bramble, as the vessel anchored, “ I cannot quit the ship, but you may; so just get on shore in one of the boats, and see how little Bessy is, and poor old Mrs. Maddox's leg; and, Tom, take our dirty linen on shore and bring off clean."
I was glad enough to obey his orders, for I was very anxious to see dear little Bessy again ; so I dropped into a boat that was going on shore for fresh beef, taking with me two or three little presents for Bessy, out of the many which I had received when on board ; fo- the officers and men were very kind to me, and had given me miny things, which they did not value, but which I did very much, as they were quite new to me.
The custom officers at Deal were not very particular at that time. I was not searched; and arrived at the cottage, where I found Bessy sitting at her needle: she threw down her work and ran to me, and as I kissed her the tears ran down her cheeks.
“ Where is father, Tom ? I'm so glad to see you ; but where is father ? I've been so frightened, the winter has been so rough."
“ He's on board of the Indiaman, but being in charge he cannot come on shore, so he sent me."
“Oh! I'm so glad - you have been away so long; and we have had nothing but gales of wind; and do you know that Williams and Steers are both drowned ?” ,
“ No, indeed, we know nothing; but father will be sorry to hear of it, for they were friends of his.”
“ Well, Tom, it's not fair to leave a little girl like me alone here, for Mrs. Maddox has kept her bed ever since you left. Her leg is better, but she has pains in her limbs, and groans' so all night, and here I am left by myself, to hear her groan and the wind roar."
Here Bessy began to cry, and I to console her as well as I could, although I did feel that it was hard that such a child should be left
so lonely. The presents I brought her made her wipe away her tears, and she was very soon as lively and joyous as ever.
“ I heard father say, Bessy,” (I always called Bramble my father, as he had said I might,) " that he had picked up something this winter, for he has had none but heavy vessels ; and you know pilotage is paid by the draught of water."
“ Well, he may have made money, but I'm sure we haven't spent any to matter; for I have hardly been once a week to Mrs. Maddox for money
gone. She eats hardly any thing, and I can't eat my meals, when I'm alone down here. Will father come home after he has been up the river ? ”
“ Yes, Bessy, he said that we should take a spell on shore.”
“ Tom, don't you think I might go on board and see him for half an hour?"
“ Yes, I don't see why not: speak to Mrs. Maddox."
Bessy ran up stairs, and came down with the required permission, provided a neighbour's girl would remain in the house, and that she went under my escort. Her bonnet was soon on, and we obtained a passage in one of the Indiaman's boats which was shoving off, for the water was quite smooth, and the ship's boats could lie on the shingle without difficulty. The officer took Bessy under his boat cloak, and we were soon on board. Bramble was not on deck at the time, and when I went down to look for him, Bessy remained on the quarter-deck in admiration of all she saw. But Bramble was not below as I supposed: he had gone into the cuddy with the captain ; and when he came out, his first knowledge of Bessy's being on board was being embraced by the waist with her little arms.
“ Why, Bessy, my child !” said Bramble, just as I returned on deck. “This is Master Tom's doing,” continued he, kissing her ;
have come to see your father?” Why, you would not come on shore to see me, father,” said Bessy, as Bramble took her up and kissed her again.
“ Well, Tom, have you brought the clean things ?" “ No, I must go on shore again with Bessy, father." “ Very true, so you must."
Bessy was taken much notice of by the captain and all on board. No wonder; her fair skin, and clear transparent red and white, were in such contrast with the bilious-looking passengers, that she appeared as if she was not of the same race. She was much ad. mired, and received many little presents; and when she left the ship, after staying on board an hour, she was much delighted with her trip, and still more so with the promise of Bramble, that he would stay ashore for some time, as soon as he came back from the river. I remained with her on shore till dusk, and then, having collected the clean linen, as we were expected to sail early the next morning, I returned on board the Indiaman.
SHOWING THE IMPORTANCE, ON BOARD SHIP, OF A ROPE'S END WELL
The next morning, as we expected, the orders came down for the Indiaman to go round to the river. The wind was fair, but light: we hove up and made sail, stemming the last of the ebb. When the flood made, the wind died away, so that we made but little progress ; much to the annoyance of those on board, who were naturally impatient to land after so tedious a voyage. Towards the evening it fell calm, and a fog bank rose on the horizon to the eastward. There were still two hours of daylight, when, as I was sweeping the horizon with my glass, I discovered the three masts of a vessel with no sails set on them. As she was a long way off, I went half way up the main rigging to have a better view of her, and made her out to be a large lugger. I went down to the poop, where Bramble stood smoking a cheroot with some of the officers of the ship. “ Father,” says I, “ there's a large lugger on our beam, with her sails lowered down. I caught her masts with the glass just now."
“ Then she's a French privateer, you may depend upon it,” replied Bramble," and she means to try to take us by surprise to-night."
The officers went down and reported it to the captain : the glasses were fixed upon her, and there was little doubt as to what
“ Lucky you discovered her, boy, for we might have been surprised, that's a fact,” said the captain ; “ however, now she shall catch a Tartar."
“ She's waiting for the fog, captain,” said Bramble, “ which will come rolling down with the shift of wind in about an hour two, I expect; and then we must allow her another hour to get alongside of us. Depend upon it she has plenty of men, and intends to try to board us in the fog."
Every body was now on the qui vive; the women were, as usual, frightened ; the men passengers looked grave; the Lascars rather unsteady ; but we had forty English seamen, and a hundred invalid soldiers on board, who could all be depended upon. The guns were loaded and shotted ; and the invalid soldiers were mustered ; muskets and ammunition handed up; the bayonets fixed, unfixed again, and then they were ordered to remain on the booms with their accoutrements on and their muskets by their sides. The officers still kept their glasses on the lugger, until at last the fog came down and we could see her no more.
The officers who commanded the invalids, after a consultation with the captain, at which Bramble assisted, told off their men into two parties, one of them being appointed to assist the seamen with their bayonets in repelling the boarders (should the attempt be made), and the other to fire upon them, and into the deck of the vessel, when she came alongside. The Lascars were stationed at the guns, in case they might be required; but no great dependence was placed upon their services.
By the time that these arrangements had been made, the fog had reached the Indiaman, and we were at the same time taken aback with the easterly breeze which brought it down to us: being near to the land, we put the ship’s head off shore. The wind con