The Captain's Cabin
For the purple Nautilus is my boat,
In which I over the waters float;
The moon is shining upon the sea.
Who is there will come and sail with me?—L.E.L.
Of all the craft that ever swam upon salt-water give me the
dashing forty-four gun frigate, with a ship's company of dare-devils who
would board his Satanic Majesty's kitchen in the midst of cooking-time,
if they could only get a gallant spirit to lead them. And pray,
what would a ship's company be without leaders? for, after all, it is
the officers that make the men what they are; so that, when I see a
well-rigged man-o'-war, in which discipline is preserved without
unnecessary punishment or toil, that's the hooker for me; and such was
his Britannic Majesty's frigate, "the saucy, thrash-'em-all Spankaway,"
for by that title was she known from Yarmouth Roads to the
Land's End. Oh, she was a lovely creature! almost a thing of life!
and it would be outraging the principles of beauty to give her any
other than a female designation. Everybody has been in love some
time or other in the course of his existence, and the object of affection
was no doubt an angel in the eyes of the ardent lover:—just so was
the frigate to me—an angel; for she had wings, and her movements
were regulated by the breath of heaven. She was the very standard
of loveliness, the most exquisite of graceful forms. At anchor she
sat upon the water with all the elegance and ease of the cygnet, or
like a queen reclining on her downy couch. Under weigh she resembled
the pretty pintado bird skimming the billow tops, or the fleet
dolphin darting from wave to wave. Then to see her climb the rolling
swell, or cleave the rising foam, baptising her children with the
spray, and naming them her seamen—Oh, it was a spectacle worth a
life to witness!
And who was her captain? the intrepid Lord Eustace Dash; a
man more ennobled by his acts than by the courtesy which conferred
his title; one who loved the women, hated the French, and had a
constitutional liking for the rattling reports of a long-eighteen. His
first lieutenant, Mr. Seymour, knew his duty, and performed it. The
second lieutenant, Mr. Sinnitt, followed the example of his senior.
The third lieutenant, Mr. Nugent, obeyed orders, touched the guitar,
and was extremely anxious to become an author. Then there was
Mr. Scalpel, the surgeon; Mr. Squeez'em, the purser; and Mr. Parallel,
the master; with the two marine officers, Plumstone and Peabody.
Such were the Úlite of the frigate; but it would be unpardonable—a
sort of sea-sacrilege—not to notice Mr. Savage, the boatswain;
Mr. Blueblazes, the gunner; and Mr. Bracebit, the carpenter,
all good men and true, who had come in at the hawse-holes, and served
through the various gradations till they mounted the anchor-button
on their long-tailed coats. As for the mates, midshipmen, and
assistant-surgeons, there was a very fair sprinkling,—the demons of the
orlop, each with his nickname. Her crew—but we will speak of them presently.
Hark! it is four bells, in the first dog-watch; and there rolls
the summons by the drum, calling the brave to arms. See how the hatchways
pour forth the living mass! and in three minutes every soul fore
and aft is at his appointed post. The gallant ship lies almost slumbering
on the fair bosom of the waters, and the little progress she
does make is as noiseless as a delightful dream; like the lone point in
the centre of a circle, she is surrounded by the blue waves, and nothing
intervenes to break the connected curve of the horizon. Upon
the quarter-deck, his right hand thrust into his waistcoat, and his feet
firmly planted on the white plank, as if desirous of making the bark
feel his own peculiar weight, stands her brave commander: near him
Mr. Squeez'em and two young imps of aides-de-camp take up their
allotted stations; the former to note and minute down the details of
action, the latter to fly to the infernal regions of the magazine,or
anywhere else, at the bidding of their chief. The lieutenants are
mustering their divisions through the agency of the young gentlemen; the
surgeon and his assistants, happily having nothing to do below, appear
abaft the mizen-mast; whilst Mr. Parallel holds brief consultation
with the veteran Savage, whose portrait is affixed to each cat-head.
Mr. Bracebit is sounding the well, and old Blueblazes is skimming
about wherever circumstances require his presence. The marines,
stiffened with pipe-clay, and their heads immoveable from what the
negroes appropriately call "a top-boot round de neck," are parading
on the gangway—their thumbs as stark as tobacco-stoppers, and their
fingers as straight as a "hap'orth of pins." What a compound of pomatum
and heel-ball, pipe-clay and sand-paper!
And now the officers give in their reports to the captain,
who walks round the quarters to make a personal inspection, and, as he looks
along the frowning battery, his lordship is proud of his bonny bark;
whilst, as he gazes on his gallant crew, his heart exults in beholding
some of the finest specimens of Britain's own that ever made their
"home upon the deep."
"What think you of the weather, Mr. Parallel?" inquires his
lordship, on returning to the quarter-deck. "Will it be fine to-night?"
The old man scans the horizon with an eye of professional
scrutiny, and then replies, "I have my doubts, my lord; but at this time o'
year the helements are beyond the ken of human understanding.
I've been up the Mediterranean, off and on, man and boy, some five-and-forty
years; it is to me like the face of a parent to a child, but I
never could discover from its features what was passing in its heart,
or the fit it would take next; one minute a calm, the next a squall;
one hour a gentle breeze that just keeps the sails asleep, the next a
gale of wind enough to blow the devil's horns off."
Lord Eustace well knows the veteran's peculiarities; indeed
he is the only privileged talker in the ship, and so much esteemed by all,
that no one seeks to check his loquacity.
"Beat the retreat, and reef the topsails, Mr. Seymour," cries
the captain to his first lieutenant, and the latter despatches one of the
young gentlemen to repeat the orders.
Rub-a-dub goes the drum again; but before the sound of
the last tap has died away, the twhit-twhit of the boatswain's call summons
his mates to their duty; a loud piping succeeds, and "Reef topsails
ahoy!" is bellowed forth from lungs that might have been cased with
sheet-iron, so hoarse is the appeal. And see! before you can slue
round to look, from the tack of the flying-jib to the outer clue of the
spanker, the lower rattlins of the fore, main, and mizen shrouds are
thronged with stout active young men, who keep stealthily ascending,
till the first lieutenant's "Away aloft!" sends them up like sparks from
a chimney-pot. The topsails are lowered, the studding-sail booms are
triced up, the topmen mount the horses, the earings are hauled out,
the reef-points tied, the sails rehoisted, and the men down on deck
again in one minute and fifty-two seconds from the moment the halliards
first rattled from the rack.
"Very well done, Mr. Seymour!" exclaims his lordship, as he
stands near the wheel, with his gold repeater in his hand; "and cleverly
reefed too: those after-points are well taut, and show as straight
a line as if it had been ruled by a schoolmaster."
"Natur's their schoolmaster, my lord," says old Parallel, with a
pleased and business-like countenance; "and, consequently, they have
everything well taut."
"Very good, master," exclaimed his lordship, laughing, "you get
more witty than ever."
"It's strange," muttered the veteran, surlily, "that I can't
speak a simple truth, without their logging it down again' me for wit. For
my part I see no wit in it."
"Pipe the hammocks down, Mr. Seymour; give them half an hour,
and then call the watch," orders his lordship.
"Ay, ay, sir!" responds the first lieutenant.
"Stand by the hammocks, Mr. Savage."
"Twhit-twhit!" goes the boatswain's call, followed by a
voice like a distant thunderclap, "Hammocks ahoy!" and away flies every man
to the nettings; but not a lashing is touched till the whole have
found owners, (the occupation of a minute,) when the first lieutenant's
"Pipe down!" draws forth a lark-like chirping of the calls, and in a
few seconds the whole have disappeared; even the hammock-men to
the young gentlemen have fetched their duplicate, and the cloths are
rolled up for the night. The gallant Nelson had his coffin publicly
exhibited in his cabin; but what of that? the seaman constantly sleeps
in his coffin, for such is his hammock should he die at sea.
Lord Eustace has retired to his cabin, and the officers
are pacing to and fro the quarter-deck, conversing on
"Promotion, mess-debts, absent friends, and love."
The glory of the day is on the wane; the full round moon
arises bright and beautiful, like a gigantic pearl from the coral caverns of
the ocean; but there is a sort of sallow mistiness upon the verge of
the western horizon, tinged with vermeil streaks from the last rays of
the setting sun, that produce feelings of an undefined and undefinable
nature: yet there is nothing threatening, for all is delightfully tranquil;
no cloud appears to excite apprehensions, for there is a smile
upon the face of the heavens, and its dimples are reflected on the
surface of the clear waters as assurances of safety. Yet, why are
there many keen and experienced eyes glancing at that sickly aspect
of the west, as if it were something which tells them of sudden squalls,
of whirling hurricanes, like the unnatural flush that gives warning of
"The captain will be happy to have the company of the gun-room
officers, to wind up the day, sir," said his lordship's steward, addressing
the first lieutenant.
"The gun-room officers, much obliged, will wait upon his
lordship," returned Mr. Seymour; then, turning to Mr. Parallel, "Come, master;
what attracts your attention there to windward? The captain
has sent us an invitation to take our grog with him. Are you
"Ay, ay!" responded the old man, "with pleasure; his
lordship means to make Saturday night of it, I suppose; and I must own it
has been a precious long week, though, according to the log, it's ounly Thursday."
The cabin of Lord Eustace had nothing splendid about it; the
guns were secured by the tackles, ready for instant use, and everything
was plain and simple; the deck was carpeted, and the furniture,
handsome of its kind, more suited for utility than show. The baize-covered
table was amply supplied with wines, spirits, and liquors,
which his lordship prided himself in never having but of the best
quality; and a jovial party sat around to enjoy the invigorating cheer.
"Gentlemen," said his lordship, rising, "The King!"
Heartily was that toast drunk, for never was monarch more
affectionately served by his royal navy than George the Third. Other
toasts were given, national and characteristic songs were sung; the
relaxation of discipline loosened the restraints on harmony, and that
kindly feeling prevailed which forms the best bond of union amongst
the officers, and commands respect and esteem from the men.
"Come, Mr. Nugent, have you nothing new to give us? no fresh
effusion of the muse?" enquired his lordship.
"As for any thing fresh," said old Parallel, "I know he puts
us all into a pretty pickle with his 'briny helement,' and in his 'salt-sea
sprays,' everlasting spouting like a fin-back at play; what with him
and the marines' flutes I suffer a sort of cable-laid torture."
"You've no taste for poetry, master," returned the young
officer: "but come, I'll give you my last song; Plumstone has set it to
music;" and with a clear sonorous voice he sang the following:
"Hail to the flag—the gallant flag! Britannia's proudest boast;
Her herald o'er the distant sea, the guardian of her coast;
Where'er 'tis spread, on field or flood, the blazonry of fame;
And Britons hail its mastery with shouts of loud acclaim.
Hail to the flag—the gallant flag! in battle or in blast;
Whether 'tis hoisted at the peak, or nail'd to splinter'd mast;
Though rent by service or by shot, all tatter'd it may be,
Old England's tars shall still maintain its dread supremacy.
Hail to the flag—the gallant flag, that Nelson proudly bore,
When hostile banners waved aloft, amid the cannon's roar!
When France and Spain in unison the deadly battle close,
And deeper than its own red hue the vital current flows.
Hail to the flag—the gallant flag! for it is Victory's own,
Though Trafalgar re-echoes still the hero's dying groan;
The Spaniards dows'd their jaundiced rag on that eventful day,
And Gallic eagles humbly crouch'd, acknowledging our sway.
Hail to the flag—the gallant flag! come, hoist it once again;
And show the haughty nations round, our throne is on the main;
Our ships are crowns and sceptres, whose titles have no flaw,
And legislators are our guns dispensing cannon law.
Once more then hail the gallant flag! the seaman's honest pride,
Who loves to see it flaunt the breeze, and o'er the ocean ride;
Like the genius of his country, 'tis ever bold and free;
And he will prove, where'er it flies, we're sovereigns of the sea."
"Very fair, very fair, Mr. Nugent," said his lordship; "and not
badly sung, either."
"Ay, ay, my lord, the youngster's well enough," chimed in old
Parallel; "but, what with his poetry and book-making, I'm half afraid
he'll forget the traverse-tables altogether."
"And pray how does the book-making, as the master calls it, get
on, Nugent?" inquired the captain: "have you made much progress?"
"I have commenced, my lord," returned the junior lieutenant,
pulling out some papers from his pocket; "and, with your lordship's
"You'll inflict it upon us," grumbled the old master, and
shrugging up his shoulders as he perceived his messmate was actually about
to read, whether the captain sanctioned it or not.
"Now then, attention to my introduction!" said Nugent, holding
up the manuscript, heedless of the nods and winks of his companions;
"I'm sure you'll like it. 'The moon is high in the mid heavens,
and not a single envious cloud frowns darkly upon her fair loveliness;
there is a flood of silvery light; and fleecy vapours, with their hoary
crests, like snow-wreaths from the mountain top, float on its surface
to do honour to the queen of night. The winds are sporting with the
waters; the amorous waves are heaving up their swelling bosoms to
be kissed by the warm breeze that comes laden with perfumes from
the sunny clime of Italy. There is a glow of crimson lingering in
the west, as if departing day blushed for her wanton sister. Hail,
thou inland sea, upon whose breast the gallant heroes of the British
isles have fought and conquered! Ancient history recounts thy days
of old, and the bold shores that bind thee in their arms stand as
indubitable records of the truth of Holy Writ. The tall ship, reflected
on thy ocean mirror, seems to view her symmetry in silent exultation,
as if conscious of her grandeur and her beauty, her majesty and her
might. The giantess of the deep, her lightnings sleeping and her
thunders hushed, dances lightly o'er thy mimic billows, and curtseys
to the gentle gale.' There, my lord, that is the way I begin: and I
appeal to your well-known judgment whether it is not a pretty picture,
and highly poetical."
"A pretty picture truly," grumbled old Parallel: "it ounly
wants a squadron of angels seated with their bare starns upon the wet
clouds, scudding away before it like colliers in the Sevin, and in one
corner the heads of a couple o' butcher's boys blowing wooden skewers,
and then it would be complete. Why, there's the marine
a-laughing at you. Talk about the winds kissing the waves, indeed.
Ay, ay, young sir, when you've worked as many reckonings as ould
Will Parallel,—and that's myself,—you'll find 'em kiss somat else,
or you'll have better luck than your neighbours. Why don't you
stick to Natur, if you mean to write a book? and how'll the log
stand then?—Why, His Majesty's ship Spankaway cruising in the
Mediterranean: and if you've worked your day's work, you ought to
know the latitude and longitude. Well, there she is, with light winds
and fine weather, under double-reefed top-sels, jib, and spanker, the
courses snugly hauled up, the t'gant-sels furled in a skin as smooth
as an infant's, the staysels nicely stowed, and not a yard of useless
canvass abroad. There'd be some sense in that, and everybody would
understand it; but as for your kissing and blushing, and such like
stuff, why it's all nonsense."
"That's always the way with you matter-o'-fact men," retorted
the lieutenant: "you make no allowance for the colourings of the imagination;
your ideas of the picturesque never go beyond the ship's paint."
"But they do, though, my young friend," asseverated the master,
to the great amusement of all present. "Show me the ship's paint
that can compare with the ruby lustre of this fine old port—here's a
discharge of grape."
"That's a metaphor, master," said the purser; "and,
moreover,"—and he seemed to shudder at the abomination,—"it is a pun."
"Ay, ay," answered the veteran, holding up his glass to the
light, and eyeing its contents with evident satisfaction, "we've often met
afore; and as for the pun, I'll e'en swallow it;" and he drank off his
wine amidst a general laugh. "But do you really mean to write a
"I do, indeed, master," answered the lieutenant; "but whether
it will be read or not is an affair for others to determine. I've got as
far as I have repeated to you, and must now pick up incidents and characters."
"A bundle of shakings and a head-rope of wet swabs!" uttered
the old master contemptuously. "Stick to your log-book, Mr. Nugent,
if ever you hopes to get command of such a sweet craft as this here,
of which I have the honour to be the master. Larn to keep the
ship's reck'ning, and leave authorship to the poor devils who starves
by it. There's ounly two books as ever I look at—Hamilton Moore
and the Bible; and though I never yet sailed in a craft that rated a
parson in commission, yet I make out the latter tolerably well,
notwithstanding my edication sometimes gets jamm'd in a clinch, and my
knowledge thrown slap aback: but that's all nat'ral; for how can a
man work to wind'ard through a narrow passage without knowing
somut o' the soundings or the outline o' the coast. Howsomever,
there's one course as is plain enough, and I trust it will carry me
clear at last,—to do my duty by my king, God bless him!—and whilst
the yards of conscience are squared by the lifts and braces of honesty,
I have no fear but I shall cheat the devil of one messmate, and that's
"A toast, gentlemen—a toast!" exclaimed his lordship
in high animation; "'The master of the Spankaway and his lady-mate.'"
"I beg pardon, my lord," interrupted the surgeon,
"the master is not married; he is yet a solitary bachelor."
"True—most true," chimed in Nugent, laughing; "for,
according to the words of the poet,
"None but himself can be his
"You are too fastidious, gentlemen," said his lordship:
"remember, it is 'Wives and sweethearts;' and, as it is a favourite toast of
mine, we will, if you please, drink it standing." The toast was drunk
with all due honours. "And now," continued his lordship, "without
further preface, I shall volunteer a song, which Nugent may hoist
into his book, if he pleases.
"Drink, drink to dear woman, whose beautiful eye,
Like the diamond's rich lustre or gem in the sky,
Is beaming with rapture, full, sparkling, and bright—
Here's woman, the soul of man's choicest delight.
Then fill up a bumper, dear woman's our toast,
Our comfort in sorrows—in pleasure our boast.
Drink, drink to dear woman, and gaze on her smile;
Love hides in those dimples his innocent guile:
'Tis a signal for joy—'tis a balm for all woe;—
Here's woman, dear woman, man's heaven below.
Then fill up a bumper, dear woman's our toast,
Our comfort in sorrow—in pleasure our boast.
Drink, drink to dear woman, and look on her tear:—
Is it pain?—is it grief?—is it hope?—is it fear?
Oh! kiss it away, and believe whilst you press,
Here's woman, dear woman, man's friend in distress.
Then fill up a bumper, dear woman's our toast,
Our comfort in sorrow—in pleasure our boast.
Drink, drink to dear woman, whose exquisite form
Was never design'd to encounter the storm,
Yet should sickness assail us, or trouble o'ercast,
Here's woman, dear woman, man's friend to the last.
Then fill up a bumper, dear woman's our toast,
Our comfort in sorrow—in pleasure our boast."
As in duty bound, this song elicited great applause, and
Nugent declared he should most certainly avail himself of his lordship's
proposal for inserting it in his book. "But you have done nothing, Mr.
Nugent," said the captain. "You say you want incident and character.
You have already taken the frigate for your text;—there's
the master now, a perfect character."
"For the love of good old port," exclaimed Parallel, as if
alarmed, "let me beg of you not to gibbet me in your consarn. But I'm not
afraid of it; book-making requires some head-piece; there's nothing
to be done without a head, nor ever has been."
"I must differ with you there, Mr. Parallel," said Seymour
unobtrusively; "for I myself saw a very difficult thing done
literally without a head.
"Galvanised, I suppose," uttered the doctor in a tone of inquiry;
"the power of the battery is wonderful."
"There assuredly was a battery, doctor," responded the lieutenant,
laughing; "and a very heavy one too. But the event I'm
speaking of had no connexion with galvanism: it was sheer muscular motion."
"Out with it, Seymour!"—"Let's have it by all
means!"—"It will be an incident for Nugent!"—"Out with it!"
burst forth simultaneously from all.
"It certainly is curious," said the first lieutenant, assuming
much gravity of countenance, "and happened when I was junior luff of the
old Sharksnose. We were running into Rio Janeiro man-o'-war
fashion, with a pennant as long as a purser's account at the masthead,
and a spanking ensign hoisted at the gaff-end, with a fly that
would have swept all the sheep off of the Isle of Wight. Away we
gallop'd along, when a shot from Santa Cruz, the three-deck'd battery
at the entrance, came slap into our bows. 'Tell him we're
pretty well, thanky,' shouted the skipper; and our jolly first, who
took his meaning, literally pointed the fokstle gun, clapp'd the match
to the priming, and off went the messenger, which struck the sentry,
who was pacing his post, right between the shoulders, and whipt off
his head as clean as you would snap a carrot; he was a stout-made
powerful-looking man, and by sheer muscular motion, as I said before,
his head flew up from his body at least a fathom and a half, and
actually descended upon the point of his bayonet, where it stuck fast,
and the unfortunate fellow walked the whole length of the rampart in
that way; nor was it till he got to the turn, and was steering round
to come back again, that he discovered the loss of his head, when,
according to the most approved practice in similar surgical cases, he
fell to the ground. It was sheer muscular motion, gentlemen,—sheer
"He would, no doubt, have been a good mussulman, Seymour, if
he had been a Turk," said his lordship.
"He couldn't come the right-about face," said Peabody, "having
lost his head. It would have been a comical sight to have seen him
present arms; pray did he come to the present?"
"No, nor yet to the recover, I'll be sworn," observed Plumstone;
"no doubt he grounded his arms and his head too."
"Them chance shots often do the most mischief," remarked
Parallel. "Who would have thought that it would have gone right
through his chest, so as to leave him a headless trunk. Pray may I
ax you whether he was near his box?"
"Well hove and strong, master," exclaimed Sinnitt,
joining in the general laugh; "your wit equals your beauty."
"What have I said that's witty now?" returned the veteran;
"I can't open my mouth to utter a word of truth, or to ax a question,
but I'm called a wit; for my part, I see no wit in it."
"Your anecdote," said his lordship, "reminds me of something
similar that I witnessed, when a youngster, at one of the New Zealand
Isles. Our captain took a party of us to see his dun-coloured
majesty at court. The monarch was seated in a mud, or rather clay
building, nearly in a state of nudity, his only covering being an old
uniform coat and a huge cocked-hat: his queens—happy man! I
think he had seventy—not quite so decently dressed as himself, were
squatting, or lying down, in different directions; several of them with
such ornaments through their lips and noses, as would have answered
the purpose of rings in the decks to a stopper'd best bower cable. I
heartily wish some of our court ladies could have seen this royal
spectacle. We were ushered in through an entrance, on each side of
which was a pile of heads without tails to them, most probably dropped
in their hurry to wait upon the king. His majesty was a man of
mild countenance, and of most imperturbable gravity; behind him
stood a gigantic-looking rascal, with an enormous dragoon's sabre
over his shoulder, by way of warning to his majesty's wives not
to disturb his majesty's repose, or it was amongst the chances of
royalty that he would shorten their bodies and their days at the
same moment,—a sort of summary process to make good women
of them; and I began to suspect that some of those which we saw
at the entrance had once touched noses with his most disgusting
majesty,—for a filthier fellow I never set eyes on. You've, no
doubt, seen some of those curiously figured heads which grow upon
New Zealand shoulders, for many have been brought to England:
our skipper, who was a sort of collector of curiosities, was extremely
desirous of obtaining one, but he was aware that it was only
the head men who were thus marked or tattooed, and he had run
his eye over the samples at the doorway, but could not detect one
chief who had been deprived of his caput. Nevertheless, by signs
and through means of a Scotch interpreter, (for the prime minister
to Longchewfishcow was a Scotchman,) his majesty was informed of
the captain's wish; and in a short time several natives handsomely
tattooed were drawn up within the building: the skipper was requested
to select the figures which pleased him most; and he, imagining
that the chiefs had been exhibited merely by way of pattern,
fixed upon one whose features appeared to have had pricked off upon
them every day's run of the children of Israel when cruising in the
wilderness. The chief bowed in token of satisfaction at being thus
highly honoured; but, before he could raise his head, it sprang away
from his shoulders into the captain's arms, with thanks for the
compliment yet passing from the lips:—the life-guardsman of the king
had obeyed his majesty's signal, and the dragoon's sabre had made
sharp work of it."
"It was quick and dead," said the old master. "Now,
Mr. Nugent, you may begin your book as soon as you please. I'm sure you
have plenty of heads to work upon."
"You talk as if I had no head of my own, master," retorted
the lieutenant, somewhat offended; "and with all your wit you shall find
that I have got a head."
"So has a scupper-nail," returned the veteran, "but it
requires a deal of hammering before you can get it to the leather."
"Good-humour, gentlemen! good-humour!" said the captain,
laughing; "no recriminations, if you please, or we shall bring some
of your heads to the block."
"To make blockheads of 'em, I suppose," observed old Parallel;
"by every rope in the top, but that's done already! Howsomever,
as you are lecturing upon heads, why I'll just relate an anecdote of a
circumstance that I was eyewitness to upwards of thirty years ago.
I was then just appointed acting-master of the 'Never-so-quick,' one
o' your ould ship sloops; and we were cruising in among the West
Ingee islands, but more especially boxing about the island of Cuba,
and that way, for pirates. Well, one morning at daybreak the look-out
had just got upon the foretopsel-yard, when word was passed that
there were two sail almost alongside of each other, and dead down to
looard of us. There was a nice little breeze, and so we ups stick,
squares the yards, and sets the stud'nsels a both sides, to run down
and overhaul the strangers, though we made pretty certain it was a
pirate plundering a capture; and we was the more convinced of the
fact when broad daylight came, and our glasses showed that one of
'em was a long low schooner, just such a one as the picarooning marauders
risk'd their necks in, and certainly better judges of a swift
craft never dipp'd their hands in a tar-bucket. She saw us a-coming,
and away she pay'd off before the wind, and up went a squaresel of
light duck that dragg'd the creatur along beautifully. The other
craft, a large brig, lay quite still with her maintopsel to the mast,
except that she came up and fell off as if her helm was lash'd a-lee,
Now the best point of the ould Never-so-quick's sailing was right
afore it, and so we not only held our own, but draw'd upon the vagabond
thief that was doing his best to slip his head out of a hangman's
noose, when it fell stark calm, the brig lying about midway between
his Majesty's ship and the devil's own schooner. Out went her
sweeps, and out went our boats; but she altered her course to get
in shore, and without a breath of wind they swept her along at the
rate of four knots and a half, whilst our ould beauty would hardly
move; so the captain recalls the boats, and orders 'em to overhaul
the brig. We got alongside about noon, a regular wasting burning
hot noon; and we found a hand cut off at the wrist grasping one of
the main-chain plates, so that it could hardly be disengaged."
"Muscular power!" said Seymour; "the death-grapple,
no doubt! astonishing tenacity notwithstanding."
"Howsomever, we did open the fingers," continued the master,
"and found by its delicate whiteness, and a ring on the wedding-finger,
that it belonged to a woman. When we got on board, the
blood in various parts of the quarter-deck, and at the gangways, indicated
the murderous tragedy that had been acted; but no semblance
of human being could we find except a head,—a bloody head that
seemed to have been purposely placed upon a flour-cask that was upended
near the windlass. 'Well, I'm bless'd,' says one of our boasun's-mates,
who had steered the pinnace,—'I'm bless'd if they arn't
shaved you clean enough at any rate; but d—my tarry trousers, look
at that!—why then I'm a Dutchman if it arn't winking at me.'—'Bathershin!'
says an Irish topman, 'it's stretching his daylights he
is, mightily plased to see such good company;' and sure enough the
eyes were rolling about in a strange fashion for a head as had no
movables to consort to it; and presently the mouth opened wide, and
then the teeth snap'd to again, just like a cat-fish at St. Jago's. 'It's
a horrible sight,' said one of the cutters, 'and them fellows'll go to
—— for it, that's one consolation; but ain't it mighty queer, sir,
that a head without ever a body should be arter making such wry
faces, and opening and shutting his sallyport, seeing as he's scratched
out of his mess?' A hideous grin distorted every feature,—so hideous
that it made me shudder; and first one eye and then the other opened
in rapid succession. 'I say, Jem,' says one of the pinnaces to the
boasun's-mate,—'I say, Jem, mayhap the gentleman wants a bit o' pig-tail,
for most likely he arn't had a chaw since he lost his 'bacca-box.'
This sally, with the usual recklessness of seamen, produced a
general laugh, which emboldened Jem to take out his quid, and,
watching an opportunity, he claps it into between the jaws; but before
he could gather in the slack of his arm, the teeth were fast hold of
his fingers, and there he was, jamm'd like Jackson, and roaring out
ten thousand murders. He tried to snatch his hand away, but the
head held on to the cask like grim death against the doctor; at last
away it roll'd over and Jem got clear, but the head stuck fast, and
then we discovered that there was a body inside. The head of the
cask had been taken out, and a hole cut hardly large enough to admit
of the poor fellow's neck; but nevertheless it had been hoop'd up
again, and when we got on board he was in the last convulsive gasps
of strangulation. We released him immediately, but it was only to
find him so shockingly mutilated that he died in about ten minutes
afterwards; and not a soul was left to tell us the fatal tale, though
from an ensign and some shreds of papers we conjectured the brig
was a Spaniard. The pirates had scuttled her. She made water
too fast to think of saving her, and in a couple of hours she went
"Thankye, master, thankye," exclaimed several; "why we
shall have you writing a book before long, and you'll beat Nugent out and
out. See, he's ready to yield the palm."
"Him!" uttered the old man, with a look expressive of
rather more contempt than the young lieutenant merited. "Him!"
"Come, master," said Nugent, "we must
have your song,—it is your turn next."
"So it appears," replied the old man, as the frigate
suddenly heeled over. "You have had so much singing that even the winds
must have a squall." They were rising hastily from their seats,
when in an instant the frigate was nearly thrown on her beam-ends.
Away went Parallel right over the table into the stomach of the
marine Peabody, whom he capsized; and before another moment
elapsed the gallant captain and his officers were scrambling between
the guns to leeward, and half buried in water, amidst broken decanters
and glasses, sea-biscuit and bottles. Old Parallel grasped a decanter
of port that was clinking its sides against a ring-bolt, and, unwilling
that so much good stuff should be wasted, clapped the mouth
to his own; the purser was fishing for his wig, as he was extremely
tenacious on the score of his bald head; the captain and Seymour
were trying for the door; the doctor got astride one gun, and the two
marine officers struggled for the other, so that as fast as one got hold
his messmate unhorsed him again. Sinnitt had crawled up to the
table, and Nugent twisted his coat-laps round him to preserve his
MS. from becoming saturated. The frigate righted again. His
lordship and his lieutenants rushed on deck, to behold the three
topmasts, with all their lengths of upper spars, hanging over the side,
having in a white squall been snapped short off by the caps. We
will leave them in the present to
"Call all hands to clear the wreck."