Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

at least twenty passengers on board, and our provisions and water are running rather short. Here's the skipper."

The captain, who now made his appearance, was a tall goodlooking young man, about thirty, dressed rather fantastically, as I thought; having a laced cap on his head, and a party-coloured silk sash round his waist, such as they wear in the Mediter.

ranean.

“Well, pilot, what do you think of the wind ?"

“Well, sir, I expect we'll have a slant which will enable us to fetch well to windward of the Lizard, at all events; and then, when the tide turns in shore, we must stand out again.”

“Mr. Stubbs I turn the hands up to make sail.” “ Ay, ay, sir !" replied the mate.

The men came on deck, but the captain roared out for the idlers; these were the passengers who had agreed to work during the passage: at last they came up, a queer-looking set; and the captain sending down for his speaking-trumpet, sail was made on the ship.

« Why, captain,” said Bramble, "you do it in man-of-war fashion."

“Well, I've not served the king for seven years for nothing," replied he; "and I hope, sir, not heard the bullets whistling about my head like hail in a hail storm, without knowing how to take care of my ship. I like every thing man-of-war fashion, and then one's always prepared. Where's the boatswain ? Pipe to breakfast."

“You've plenty of hands on board, mate,” said Bramble.

“ Yes, plenty of them, such as they are; we've twenty of the ship's company, and twenty-five passengers from Malta."

After breakfast, the captain ordered up the small-arm men ; five seamen and fifteen of the passengers made their appearance with their muskets, which were examined, and they were dismissed. At eleven o'clock, as we neared the land, the men were ordered to quarters ; the guns cast loose, and they were exercised as on board of a man-of-war; the captain giving his orders with his speakingtrumpet. “ Double-shot your guns ! Run out ! Point your

22

guns ! Fire! Repel boarders on the bow! Repel boarders on the quarter !” &c. This continued for more than two hours, when the guns were again secured.

“Well, pilot,” said the captain to Bramble, “what do you think ? do you fancy a privateer could take us in a hurry?"

“Why, captain, if the men fight, I should say not; but, you see, these guns, handsome as they are, won't fight of themselves.”

“I'll answer for the men fighting; they'll have but their choice, - fight, or the contents of my pistol through the first man's head who quits his gun. I'll nail the colours to the mast, and see who will be the man who will haul them down. Why, pilot, this vessel is insured at 30,000."

“Then she'll be a famous prize, if they should contrive to take her, that's all,” said Bramble. “Halloo ! what vessel's that coming down? Tom, hand your glass here."

“I hav'n't got it with me.”

“Well, give me that one on the skylight. I can't make her out - but I don't much like the looks of her.”

“ Heh! what's that?" said the captain. “ Let me look :- oh, she's a square-rigged vessel, a'n't she?"

“Can't tell," said Bramble.

The mate, who had fetched his glass from below, looked at her, and said it was a coasting schooner.

“ Are you sure of that ?" said the captain. “Let me see:well, I don't know what to say — she does look rakish — I'll go forward and make her out."

“Why, it's a coaster, Bramble,” said I, as the captain walked forward.

“ I know that,” replied Bramble, with a wink.

The captain returned, probably satisfied that it was only a coaster, but he did not choose to say so. “Well, I don't know what to make of her; but at all events there's nothing like being ready. She's coming down fast upon us; Mr. Stubbs, we'll beat to quarters."

Again the people were called up and the guns cast loose; the powder was handed up, and all was preparation. I did not think,

R

however, that the passengers appeared at all zealous; but that I was not surprised at: the captain harangued them, calling them Britons, &c., and, hoping that they would show what stuff they were made of; talked about the honour of Old England, and a great deal more, and then examined the vessel again with his glass. “We'll give her the starboard broadside, and then wear round his stern and give her the other. Hoist the colours !"

As soon as we hoisted the colours, the schooner hoisted English colours also.

“English colours, sir !" said the mate, grinning.

"English colours, heh! Very well; but that may be a feint keep to your guns, my lads."

The vessel now ran by us; she was deeply laden, and as broad as she was long

“No privateer this time, captain," said Bramble, laughing.

“No, all's right ; secure the guns, my lads. We'd have given her a nice peppering if she'd been a French privateer.”

The captain then went down below to put away his sword and pistols, which the cabin-boy had brought on deck.

“It's my opinion, Tom," said Bramble, “that this skipper a'n't quite so fond of fighting as he pretends to be. I'll see if I can't frighten him a little."

As soon as the captain came on deck again, Bramble said, “We'll go about, if you please."

“What I about already? why, we're good three leagues from the shore."

“ Yes, sir, but the tide has made, and we must now make a long stretch-out towards the French coast. We won't tack again till about dark.”

“ Not tack till dark, pilot ? surely we will do better keeping on the English coast.”

“ No no, sir; if we were not so well manned and so well armed I should do it; but, as we are a match for any privateer, why, we may as well make a long leg we shall be up channel sooner."

« Well, I don't know what to say; I've a heavy responsibility with such a valuable cargo.”

“Well, tack if you please, sir," said Bramble, shortly. “Oh, certainly ;-hands about ship !"

The vessel's head was put off shore, and, with a smart breeze, we walked away fast from the land. At twelve o'clock the captain proposed standing in-shore again, but Bramble refused. At three o'clock he became very uneasy, and expostulated with Bramble, who replied, “Well, sir, I'm doing all for the best; but if you are afraid

“ Afraid !” cried the captain ; “afraid of what, I should like to know? No, I'm not afraid ; but it appears to me that we ought to make the land again before night.”

“I'll answer for knowing where we are, sir, if that is your reason ; at all events, I wish to stand out till six o'clock."

“Well, do so, then, if you choose— I'm sure I don't care if you stand to within gun-shot of the French coast;" and the captain, evidently very much annoyed, went down into the cabin.

About half-past four o'clock the mate came aft and took up the glass, saying that there was an awkward-looking craft on the weather-bow. He ame aft again, and id, “ Pilot, I wish you would take a squint at that craft, for I don't much like the look of her.”

Bramble went forward, and I followed him. “ I say, Tom, that's a French privateer, as sure as we stand here,” said he. “Look at her. Well, now we shall see what these guns are made of.”

Don't put too much trust in them,” said the mate ; “I know what sort of people we have here. Had we only ten good men, I wouldn't care for a privateer ; but I'm afraid that we have not many we can trust to. However, we'll do our best, and we can do no more. I'll go down and tell the captain.”

“It is a Frenchman," replied I, “and no mistake -- every rope and every sail on her are French ;" for the vessel, which was a lugger, was not more than four miles from us.

“Well,” replied Bramble, “it would be odd if we were to be taken into a French port after all, wouldn't it ?-not very pleasant, though."

“We've men enough to beat her off, or two of her, if that's all,' replied I.

“ Yes, Tom, but I doubt the captain; and without example men don't fight well. However, we'll do our best; and if he finches, we won't.”

The captain now came forward as red as a turkey-cock; he said nothing - looked at the vessel — and then turned as white as a sheet.

“She's more than our match, if she's an enemy,” said he.

“ I should rather think not, sir," replied Bramble. “All you have to do is to make your men fight, and nail your colours to the mast."

“ That's very true when there's a fair chance of success, but it's useless sacrificing the men against so very superior a force," replied the captain.

“ But it a'n't superior, nor in guns is she your equal, if I know anything about a vessel. At all events, I suppose you'll have a trial for it? Won't you beat to quarters, captain ?”

“Oh, to be sure ; Mr. Stubbs, beat to quarters. I think it would not be a bad thing to fire off our broadsides now, and let them see that we are well armed."

The men were summoned up to quarters, and very unwillingly did they obey: some said that they did not come on board to fight; others, that they had agreed to work the passage home, but not to stand to be shot at; and some were actually going down below again, when Bramble and the mate spoke to them and persuaded them to remain on deck. Still there was no willingness shown; and although Bramble told them how many privateers had been beaten off, and mentioned particularly the Leith smack having the other day fought with one an hour and a half, and knocked her all to pieces, they still appeared uneasy and wavering.

In the mean time the privateer was within a mile of us, and had hoisted French colours.

“ We'll keep away and give her the first broadside," cried the captain.

« AnteriorContinuar »