Nights at Sea by the Old Sailor
THE CHASE.—THE FORECASTLE YARN.
"Not a cloud is before her
To dim her pure light;
Not a shadow comes o'er her,
Her beauty to blight:
But she glows in soft lustre—
One star by her side—
From her throne in the azure,
Earth's beautiful bride."
A cheerless and disheartening spectacle is a dismasted
ship, with all her mass of wreck still clinging to the hull, that it once
bore proudly over the billows! 'Tis like the unfortunate abandoned by his
friends, who, however, continue to hang around him, though more to
impede his way than to retrieve his fortunes! And there lay the
Spankaway, with her long line of taper spars reversed, their heads in
the water, and their heels uppermost; and, as if in mockery of the
mishap, the beautiful bright moon showed their diminished shadows
on the again smooth surface of the ocean. The squall had passed far
away to leeward, and was dwindling to a mere speck of silvery vapour,
whilst all besides was still, and calm, and passionless.
Now it was no pleasant sight to Lord Eustace Dash
and his officers to witness the dismantling of the craft they loved; and,
as the chief, it may be naturally supposed that the chagrin of his lordship
far exceeded that of his subs: but there was one amongst them almost
affected to tears, and that was old Will Parallel, the master.
"Smack smooth to the lower caps, by ——!" said
his lordship, as he surveyed the havoc made in his dashing frigate;
"not a rope-yarn above the lower mast-heads, and—"
"Not a bit of canvass abroad big enough to make a
clout for a babby," chimed in the old master; "spanker, jib, topsels all gone
to the devil, as 'll have no more manner o' use for 'em than
a serjeant of jollies has for a hand-bible."
"Where's Mr. ——?" shouted his lordship, and the master's
mate who had had charge of the deck stood before him. "How came all this, sir?"
"It was a white squall, my lord," returned the young man
addressed; "not a soul saw it till it caught the ship, and the topmasts went
over the side immediately."
"I shall inquire into the fact presently, sir," rejoined his lordship,
excessively vexed and mortified. "Turn the hands up—clear the wreck!"
"Hands up—clear the wreck!" shouted the first lieutenant.
"Hands up—clear the wreck!" repeated the master's mate.
"Boatswain's mate, pipe 'Clear the wreck!'" reiterated
the midshipmen. "Twhit! twhit!" went the call; and, "Clear wreck,
a-hoy!" vociferated Jack Sheavehole, in a voice resembling the roar
of the bellows of an anchor-forge. The summons, however, was
hardly necessary, as every soul had tumbled up at the moment the
frigate righted; and all turned to with a hearty goodwill to repair
damages, every officer and man using his best exertions.
"The squall spoilt our fun, master," said the first lieutenant
to old Parallel, as the latter was superintending the preparations for
unrigging the old, and rigging the new spare topmasts.
"Ay! ay! 'twas an onfortunate blow to the harmony
of the evening; but it will do for an incident for Nugent," responded the
veteran. "Where's his fine lady curtcheying to herself in a mirror
now? If he had stuck to plain matter-of-fact, mayhap the spars would
have behaved better; though, arter all, it's a marcy they were so
carroty, or mayhap her ladyship might have curtcheyed so low as to
have gone to the bottom."
That night was a night of arduous but light-hearted toil;
no man shrunk from his task; and, when they piped to breakfast next morning,
the frigate was once more all ataunt'o, with royals and studding-sails
set, in chase of a large ship of warlike appearance that was seen
in the north-west, running away large, apparently bound in for Toulon.
"Foretopsel-yard, there!" shouted Lord Eustace, from the
quarter-deck. "What do you make of her, Mr. Nugent?"
"She's nearly end on, my lord," responded the young lieutenant,
as, steadying himself by the topsail-tie, he directed his glass towards
the stranger; and then, in a few minutes, added, "She spreads a broad
cloth, my lord; and, from the cut of her canvass, I should most
certainly say——" and he paused to take another look.
"I'd take my daffy on it, Mr. Nugent," said the look-out
man, "her topsels are more hollowed out than ourn; her royals never came
out of a British dock-yard; and I'd bet my six months' whack again a
scupper-nail that she's a Frenchman, and a large frigate too."
"Well, what is she, Nugent?" shouted the noble captain.
"Can you see down to her courses!"
"Yes, my lord," responded the lieutenant; "we shall,
I hope, have her hull in sight before long, as I have no hesitation in
saying—that is, my lord, I think she's an enemy frigate."
This annunciation was heard fore and aft; for, during the
time of his lordship hailing, every whisper was hushed, and scarcely even a
limb moved, lest the listener should lose the replies. Expectations
had been raised that the vessel in sight might be a French transport,
from the Egyptian coast, or perhaps a merchantman; but the chance
of an enemy's frigate was indeed joyous news. Breakfast was hastily
despatched; the mess-kits were speedily stowed away,
and the boatswain's shrill call echoed amongst the canvass as he piped
"Make sail, ahoy!" In an instant every man was at his station; every
yard of cloth that could catch a breath of wind was packed upon the
Spankaway, who seemed to glide along through the water just as
easy as when she first started from the buttered slips. Indeed, Jack
Sheavehole declared that "she wur all the better for the spree she'd
had the night afore."
An exciting period is the time of chase, and it is extremely
interesting to observe the anxious looks of the officers as they eye the
trim of the sails, and the ready attention of the tars as they execute
the most minute command, as if everything depended on their own
individual exertions. The usual routine of duty frequently gives place
to the all-absorbing stimulus which actuates every mind alike; and,
as the seamen group themselves together, they spin their yarns of
battles and captures, and calculate their share of the amount of
prize-money before they engage the enemy, totally regardless of the advice
in the "Cook's Oracle," viz. "First catch an eel, and then skin him."
But what have they to do with the "Cook's Oracle," when every man
is by rotation cook of the mess in his own natural right, and "gets the
plush (overplus) of grog?"
All day the chase continued; and the Spankaway overhauled
the stranger so as materially to lessen the distance between them: in
fact, her hull could be plainly discerned from the deck, and there was
no longer any doubt of her national character. In the afternoon permission
was given to take the hammocks below, but not a man availed
himself of it; they were therefore re-stowed in readiness for that
engagement which all hearts were eager for, all hands itching to begin.
Evening closed in, and keen eyes were employed to keep sight
of the enemy. The men lay down at their quarters; some to take a
nigger's sleep,—one eye shut and the other open; some to converse
in good audible whispers; some leaning out at the ports, and watching
the moonbeams reflected on the waters, whilst the hissing and
chattering noise made by the progress of the ship was sweet music to
It was a lovely night for contemplation,—but what
did Jack want with contemplation whilst an enemy's frigate was in sight?
The breeze was light enough to please a lady,—it would have scarcely
vibrated the cords of an Ĉolian lyre: but this was not the breeze for
our honest tars; they wanted to hear the gale thrilling through the
harpstrings of the standing rigging, with a running accompaniment
of deep bass from the ocean, as their counter, set in sea, trebled the
piping noise of the wind. Yet there was one satisfaction; the Frenchman
had no more than themselves, and they carried every fresh capful
along with them before it reached the chase. The full round
moon tried her best endeavour to make her borrowed radiance equally
as luminous as that of the glorious orb which so generously granted
the loan, with only one provision, that a certain rate of interest
should be paid to the earth; but the old girl on this night tried to
sport the principal. The waters were lucidly clear, and the mimic
waves on its surface would scarcely have been a rough sea to that
model of a Dutch dogger—a walnut-shell. Yet the Spankaway was
stealing along some seven knots an hour, and the sails just slept a
On the forecastle—that post of honour to a seaman,
where the tallest and the best of Britain's pride are always to be found—men
who can take the weather-wheel, heave the lead, splice a cable, or
furl a foresail,—the A. B.'s of the royal navy,—on the forecastle,
just in amidships, before the mast, sat our old friend, Jack Sheavehole,
Sam Slick, the ship's tailor, Joe Nighthead, Mungo Pearl, a negro
captain of the sweepers, Jemmy Ducks, the poulterer, Bob Martingal,
a forecastleman, and several others, who were stationed at the foremost guns.
"I just tell you what it is, Jack," said Bob Martingal,
continuing a dispute that had arisen, "I tell you what it is; some on you
is as onbelieving as that 'ere Jew as they've legged down so much again,
and who, they say, is working a traverse all over the world to this
very hour, with a billy-goat's beard afore him as long as a chafing
mat. But, take care, my boyo, you arn't conwincetecated some o'
these here odd times, when you least expects it."
"Onbelieving about what, Bob?" responded the boatswain's
mate. "Onbelieving 'cause we don't hoist in all your precious tough yarns
as 'ud raise a fellow's hair on eend, and make his head look a mainshroud
dead-eye stuck round with marlin'-spikes?"
"Or a cushionful of pins," chimed in Sam Slick.
"Or a duck with his tail up," added the poulterer.
"Hould your precious tongues, you lubbers!—what
should you know about the build and rig of a devil's own craft? retorted
Bob, addressing the two officials. "My messmate here, and that's ould
Jack, has got a good and nat'ral right to calculate the jometry of the
thing, seeing as he has sarved his life to the ocean, man and boy, and
knows an eyelet-hole from a goose's gun-room, which, I take it, is
more nor both on you together can diskiver either in the twist of a
button-catcher or the drawing of a pullet. But I'm saying, Jack, you
are onbelieving,—else why do you misdoubt the woracity of my reckoning."
"'Cause you pitches it too strong, Bob," answered the
boatswain's mate; "your reck'ning is summut like ould Blowhard's, as keeps
the Duncan's Head at Castle-rag,—chalks two for one. Spin your yarns
to the marines, Bob; they'll always believe you. Cause why?—they
expects you'll just hould on by their monkey-tails in return."
"Monkey-tails or no monkey-tails arn't the question,"
returned Bob with some warmth; "it's the devil's tail as I'm veering away
"I'm blessed if it won't bring you up all standing with a
roundturn round your neck some o' these here days," uttered Jack,
"Never mind that," returned Bob with a knowing shake
of the head; "I shall uncoil it again, if he arn't got the king's broad
arrow on the end on it. But mayhap, then, you won't believe as there is
such a justice o' peace as ould Davy?"
"Do I believe my catechiz as I forgot long ago?" responded
old Jack. "Why, yes, messmate, I wooll believe that there is a consarn
o' the kind; but not such a justice o' peace as you'd make of him,
rigged out in one o' your 'long-shore clargy's sky-scraper shovel-nosed
trucks, leather breeches, and top-boots! I tell you it won't do, Bob,
in the regard o' the jography o' the matter. Why, where the h—is
he to coil away his outrigger in a pair of tight leather rudder casings
over his starn? Ax the tailor there whether it arn't onpossible.
And how could he keep top-boots on to his d—d onprincipled shanks,
as are no better in the fashion of their cut than a couple of cow's
trotters? And what single truck would fit two mast-heads at once,
seeing as he al'ays carries a pair of horns as big as a bull's. No, no,
Bob; you wants to make a gentleman of the picarooning wagabone,
when everybody as knows anything about him knows he's a thundering
blagguard, as my ould captain, Sir Joseph Y—ke, used to say in
one of his beautiful sarmons, 'he goes cruising about seeking to
devour a roaring lion,' and that's no child's play anyhow! But,
howsomever, a yarn's a yarn, ould chap; so lather-away with your oak
stick: I'll hoist in all I can, just to confar a favour on you; and, as
for the rest, why I'll let it go by the run."
"I must crave permission to put in a word, since I have
been professionally appealed to," said Sam Slick with becoming gravity,
and smoothing down the nap of his sleeping-jacket. "With respect to the
breeches,—wash-leather, after they have been worn for some time,
will give and stretch, and——"
"Come, none o' your stretching, Sam," chimed in Jemmy Ducks.
"What you've got to show is, whether you can stow a cable in a hen-coop."
"Not exactly," returned Sam; "for I'm sure Mister Sheavehole
must allow that the capacity and capability of a pair of leather breeches——"
"I shan't never allow no such consarns as them 'ere!" exclaimed
Jack. "Do, Bob, get on with your yarn, and clap a stopper on the lubber's jawing-gear."
"Well, since you've put me upon it by misdoubting my woracity,"
said Bob, "why, I'll up and tell you a thing or two.
Which on you has ever been down to Baltimore?"
"I have," returned a forecastleman, impatient to wedge
in a word or two. "I was there onest in a ship transport, and our jolly-boat
broke adrift in the night, and went ashore without leave; and so, next
morning, we sees her lying on the beach all alone, as if she'd been a
liberty-boy hard up in the regard o' the whiskey. And so the second
mate and a party goes to launch her: but some wild Ingines, only
they warn't quite black, came down, and wouldn't let us lay a finger
on her till we'd paid summut for hauling her up, which was all nat'ral
in course; but the second mate hadn't never got not a single copper
whatsomever about him, and so he orders us to launch her whether or
no, Tom Collins; and, my eyes! but they did kick up a shindy, jabbering
in a lingo like double Dutch coiled again the sun; and says
one on 'em, seeing as we were man-handling the boat, says he, 'Arrah,
Tim, call to de boys to bring down de shticks—— '"
"You means Baltimore in Ireland," uttered Bob, with some
degree of contempt, "and I means Baltimore in the United States o' Maryland,
where the river runs along about three leagues out of Chesapeake
Bay,—and a pretty place it is too of a Saturday night for a bit
of a John Canooing, and a bite of pigtail, letting alone the grog and
"Which you never did, Bob, I'll be sworn," said Jack laughing.
"Never did what, Jack?" asked the other, apparently surprised at
the positive assertion.
"Why, let the grog and the gals alone, God A'mighty bless both
on 'em!" replied the boatswain's mate; "but heave a-head, my hearty."
Bob gave a self-satisfied grin, and proceeded. "Why, d'ye
mind, I'd been fool enough to grease my heels from a hooker,—no matter
whatsomever her name might be or where she sailed from, seeing as
she carried a coach-whip at her main-truck and a rogue's yarn in her
standing and running gear. But I was young and foolish, and my
brains hadn't come to their proper growth; and one o' your land-sharks
had got a grip o' me; and there I was a-capering ashore, and
jumping about like a ring-tail monkey over a hot plantain; and so
I brings up at the sign of the General Washingtub, and there used to
be a lot of outrageous tarnation swankers meet there for a night's
spree,—fellows as carried bright marlin'-spikes in their pockets for
toothpicks, and what not, and sported Spanish dollars on their jackets
for buttons. They belonged to a craft as laid in the harbour,—a
reg'lar clipper, all legs and wings: she had a white cherry-bum for a
figure-head; ounly there was a couple o' grease-horns sprouting out
on the forehead, and she was as pretty a piece of timber upon the
water as ever was modelled by the hand of the devil."
"Why, how do you know who moulded her frame, Bob?"
inquired Jack provokingly. "It might have been some honest man's son,
instead of the ould chap as you mentions. But if any one sees a
beautiful hooker that's more beautifuller nor another, then she's
logged down as the devil's own build, and rigged by the captain of the sweepers."
"Wharra you mean by dat, Massa Jack?" exclaimed Mungo
Pearl, who held that honourable station, and felt his dignity offended
by the allusion; "wharra you mean by dat, eh?"
"Just shut your black-hole," answered Jack with a knowing
look; "don't the ould witches ride upon birch-brooms, and sweep through
the air,—and arn't the devil their commander-in-chief? Well, then,
in course he is captain o' the sweepers. But go along, Bob. I'll lay
my allowance o' grog to-morrow she was painted black."
"Well, so she was, Jack," responded Martingal, "all but
a narrow fiery red ribbon round her sides, as looked for all the world
like a flash o' lightning darting out of a thunder-cloud; and her name was
the In-fun-oh (Infernaux), but I'm d—d if there was any fun in the
consarn arter all. Well, d'ye see, the hands were a jolly jovial set,
with dollars as plentiful as boys' dumps, and they pitched 'em away
at the lucky, and made all sneer again. The skipper was a civil-spoken
gentleman, with a goodish-sized ugly figure-head of his own,
one eye kivered over with a black patch, and the other summut like a
stale mackerel's; but it never laid still, and was al'ays sluing round
and round, 'cause it had to do double duty. Still he was a pleasantish
sort of a chap, and had such a 'ticing way with him, that when
he axed me to ship in the craft, I'm blow'd if I could say 'No,'
though I felt summut dubersome about the consarn; and the more in
regard of an ould tar telling me the black patch was all a sham, but
he was obliged to kiver the eye up, 'cause it was a ball o' fire
as looked like a glowing cinder in a fresh breeze. He'd sailed with
him a voyage or two, and he swore that he had often seen the skipper
clap his cigar under the false port and light it by his eye; and one night
in a gale o' wind, when the binnacle-lamp couldn't be kept burning, he
steered the ship a straight course by the compass from the brightness
of his eye upon the card. Howsomever, I didn't much heed to all that
'ere, seeing as I knowed how to spin a tough yarn myself: and then
there was the grog and the shiners, a sweet ship and civil dealing;
and I'll just ax what's the use o' being nice about owners, as long as
you do what's right and ship-shape? 'Still, messmate,' thinks I to
myself, 'it's best not to be too much in a hurry;' so I backs and fills,
just dropping with the tide of inclination, and now and then letting go
the kedge o' contradiction to swing off from the shore; and at last I tould
him 'I'd let him know next day.' Well, I goes to the ould tar as I mentioned
afore, and I tells him all about it. 'Don't go for to sign articles
in no such a craft as that 'ere,' says he in a moloncholy way.—'Why
not?' says I, quite gleesome and careless, though there was a summut
that comothered me all over when he spoke.—'I mustn't tell you,'
says he; 'but take my advice, and never set foot on board a craft
that arn't got no 'sponsible owners,' says he.—'You must tell me more
nor that,' says I, 'or you may as well tell me nothing. You've been
to sea in her, and are safe enough; why shouldn't I?'—'I advise you
for your good,' says he again, all fatherlike and gently; 'you can do
as you please. You talk of my safety,' and he looked cautiously
round him; 'but it's the parsen as has
done it for me.'—'Oh! I see how the land lies,' says I; 'you're a bit
of a methodish, and so strained the yarns o' your conscience, 'cause you
made a trip to the coast o' Guinea for black wool.'—He shook his head:
'Black wool, indeed,' says he; 'but no man as knows what I knows would
ever lay hand to sheet home a topsel for a commander who ——' and he
brought up his speech all standing.—'Who what?' axes I; but he
wouldn't answer: and so, being a little hopstropulous in my mind,
and willing to try the hooker, 'It's no matter,' says I, 'I'll have a shy
at her if I loses my beaver. No man can expect to have the devil's
luck and his own too.'—'That's it!' says he, starting out like a dogvane
in a sudden puff.—'That's what?' axes I.—'The devil's luck!'
says he: 'don't go for to ship in that craft. She's handsome to look
at; but, like a painted scullerpar, or sea-poll-ker, or some such name,
she's full o' dead men's bones.'—'Gammon!' says I boldly with my
tongue, though I must own, shipmates, there was summut of a flusteration
in my heart as made me rather timbersome; 'Gammon!' says
I, 'what 'ud they do with such a cargo even in a slaver?'—'I sees
you're wilful,' says he angrily; 'but log this down in your memory:
if you do ship in that 'ere craft, you'll be d—d!'—'Then I'll be
d—d if I don't:' says I, 'and so, ould crusty-gripes, here goes;' and
away I started down to one of the keys just to take a look at her
afore I entered woluntary; and there she lay snoozing as quiet as a cat
on a hearth-rug, or a mouse in the caulker's oakum. Below, she was
as black as the ace o' spades, and almost as sharp in the nose; but,
aloft, her white tapering spars showed like a delicate lady's fingers in
"Or holding a skein of silk," chimed in Sam Slick.
"Well, shipmates," continued Bob; "whilst I was taking
a pretty long eye-drift over her hull and rigging, and casting my thoughts
about the skipper, somebody taps me on the arm, and when I slued
round, there he was himself, in properer personnee; and, 'Think o'
the devil,' says I, 'and he's over your shoulder, saving your honour's
presence, and I hopes no offence.' Well, I'm blessed but his eye—that's
his onkivered one, messmates—twinkled and scaled over dark
again, just for all the world like a revolving light, and 'Not no offence
at all, my man,' says he; 'it's al'ays best to be plain-spoken
in such consarns; we shall know one another better by-and-by. But
how do you like the ship?'—'She's a sweet craft, your honour,' says
I; 'and I should have no objection to a good berth on board her, provided
we can come to reg'lar agreement.'—'We shall not quarrel, I
dare say, my man,' says he, quite cool and insinivating; 'my people
never grumble with their wages, and you see yourself they wants for
nothing.'—'All well and good, your honour,' says I; 'and, to make
short of the long of it, Bob Martingal's your own.' Well, his eye
twinkled again, and there seemed to be such a heaving and setting
just under the tails of his long togs, and a sort o' rustling down one
leg of his trousers, that blow me if I could tell what to make on it;
and 'I knew you'd be mine,' says he: 'we shall go to sea in the
morning, so you'd better get your traps aboard as soon as possible.'
Well, messmates, I bids him good morning; but, thinks I to myself,
I'll just take a bit of a overhaul of the craft afore I brings my duds
aboard; and so, jumping into a punt, a black fellow pulls me alongside,
and away I goes on to the deck, and there the first person I seed was
the skipper. How he came there was a puzzler, for d—the boat had
left the key but our own since we parted a few minutes afore. 'And
now, Bob,' says he, 'I suppose you are ready to sign.'—'All in good
time, your honour,' says I. 'You're aboard afore me, but I'm blessed
if I seed you come.'—'It warn't necessary you should,' says he; 'my
boat travels quick, my man, and makes short miles.'—'All's the same
for that, your honour,' says I, 'whether you man your barge or float
off on the anchor-stock—it's all as one to Bob.'—'You're a 'cute
lad,' says he, twinkling his eye, 'and must rise in the sarvice. Go
below and visit your future shipmates.'—'Thanky, your honour,' says
I, and down the hatchway I goes; and there were the messes, with
fids o' roast beef and boiled yams in shining silver platters, with silver
spoons, and bottles o' wine, all in grand style, as quite comflogisticated
me; and 'What cheer—what cheer, shipmate?' says they; and then
they axed me to take some grub with 'em, which in course I did.
She'd a noble 'tween decks,—broad in the beam, with plenty o' room
to swing hammocks; but, instead of finding ounly twenty hands, I'm
blowed if there warn't more nor a hundred. So arter I'd had a good
tuck-out, I goes on deck again and looks about me. She was a corvette,
flush fore and aft, with a tier of port-holes, but ounly six guns
mounted; and never even in a man-o'-war did I see everything so snug
and neat. 'Well, your honour, I'm ready to sign articles,' says
I.—'Very good,' says he; and down we goes into the cabin; and, my
eyes! but there was a set-out,—gold candlesticks and lamps, and
large silver figures, like young himps, and clear looking-glasses, and
silk curtains, and handsome sofas; and there upon one on 'em sat a
beautiful young creatur, with such a pair of large full eyes as blue
as the sky, and white flaxen hair that hung like fleecy clouds about
her forehead,—it made a fellow think of heaven and the angels: but
she never smiled, shipmates,—there was a moloncholy about the
lower part of her face as showed she warn't by no manner o' means
happy; and whilst the skipper was getting the articles out of the
locker, she motioned to me, but I couldn't make out what she meant.
The skipper did, though; for he turned round in a fury, and stamped
on the cabin deck as he lifted up the black patch, and a stream of
light for all the world like the glow of a furnace through a chink in a
dark night fell upon her. He had his back to me, so I couldn't make
out where the light came from; but the poor young lady gave a
skreek and fell backard on the sofa. Now, messmates, I'd obsarved
that when he stamped with his foot that it warn't at all like a nat'ral
human stamp, for it came down more like the hoof of a horse or a
box; and thinks I to myself, 'I'm d—, Bob, but you're in for it now;
the skipper must be a devil of a fellow to use such a lovely creatur
arter that fashion.'—'You're right, my man,' says he, grinning like
one o' them faces on the cat-head, 'he is a devil of a fellow.'—'I
never spoke not never a word, your honour,' says I, thrown all aback
by the concussion. 'No, but you thought it,' says he; 'don't trouble
yourself to deny it: tell lies to everybody else, if you pleases, but
it's no use selling 'em to me.'—'God forbid, your—' I was going to
say 'honour,' but he stopped me with another stamp, and 'Never
speak that name in my presence again,' says he; 'if you do, it ull
be the worse for you. Come and sign the articles.' My eyes! shipmates,
but I was in a pretty conflobergasticationment; there stood
the skipper, with a bright steel pen in his hand as looked like a doctor's
lanchet, and there close by his side, upon her beam-ends, laid
that lovely young creatur, the sparkling jewels in her dress mocking
the wretchedness of her countenance. 'Are you ready?' says he;
and his onkivered eye rolled round and round, and seemed to send
out sparks through the friction. 'Not exactly, your honour,' says I,
'for I carn't write, in regard o' my having sprained both ankles, and
got a twist in my knee-joint when I warn't much higher than a quart
pot.'—'That's a lie, Bob,' says he; and so it was, messmates, for I
thought I must make some excuse to save time. 'Howsomever,'
says he, 'you can make your mark.'—Thinks I so myself, 'I would
pretty soon, my tight un, if I had you ashore.'—'I know it,' says
he; 'but you're aboard now, and so you may either sign or not, just
as it suits your fancy, my man; ounly understand this—if you don't
sign, you shall be clapped in irons, and fed upon iron hoops and
scupper-nails for the next six months, and I wish you a good
disgestion.'—'Thanky, your honour,' says I; 'and what if I do
sign?'—'Why then,' says he, 'you shall live like a fighting-cock,
and have as much suction as the Prince of Whales.' Well, shipmates,
I was just like the Yankee's schooner when she got jammed atwixt two
winds, and so I thought there could be no very great damage in
making a scratch or two upon a bit o' parchment; and 'All right,
your honour,' says I; 'hand us over the pen: but your honour hasn't
got not never an inkstand.'—'That's none o' your business,' says he;
'if you are resolved to sign, I'll find materials.'—'Very good,' says
I; 'I'll just make my mark.'—'Hould up!' says he to the young lady;
and she scringed all together in a heap, and shut her large blue
eyes as she held up a beautiful white round arm, bare up to the shoulder:
it looked as solid and as firm as a piece of marble stationery."
"Statuary, you mean," said Sam Slick, interrupting the
narrative. "But I say, Bob, do you expect us to believe all this?"
"I believes every word on it," asserted Jemmy Ducks,
who had been attentively listening, with his mouth wide open to catch all
that was uttered: "what can you find onnat'ral or dubersome about it?
The skipper was no doubt a black-hearted nigger."
"Nigger yousef, Massa Jemmy Ducks," exclaimed Mungo
Pearl; "d—you black heart for twist 'em poultry neck."
"Silence there in amidships," said Mr. Parallel: "you
make so much noise that I can't keep my glass steady. Spin your yarns, Mr.
Pearl, with your mouth shut, like an oyster;" and then, addressing
the captain, "We rise her fast, my lord, and the breeze freshens: the
ould beauty knows she's got some work cut out for her; she begins
to smell garlic, and walks along like an ostrich on the stretch—legs
and wings, and all in full play."
"What distance are we from Toulon?" inquired Lord Eustace,
as he carefully and anxiously scanned the stranger through his glass.
"About nine leagues," promptly answered Mr. Parallel; "and
if the breeze houlds on, or comes stronger, another three hours will
carry us alongside of the enemy." "We shall soon have her within reach of the bow-guns," said the
first lieutenant, "and a shot well thrown may take in some of her canvass."
"That's a good deal of it chance-work," responded the master;
"it mought and it moughtn't; but firing is sure to frighten the——"
"Spirits of the wind," added Nugent, who stood close beside him;
"they become alarmed and take to flight,
and so we lose the flapping of their airy wings."
"Hairy grandmother," grumbled old Parallel, "hairy wings
indeed; why, who ever seed such a thing? Spirits of wind, too,—rum
spirits, mayhap, to cure flatulency. Stick to natur, Mr. Nugent,
or she'll be giving us another squall, just out o' revenge for being ridiculed."
"Get on with your yarn, Bobbo," said Joe Nighthead in an under
tone; "and just you take a reef in your bellows,
Mister Mungo, and don't speak so loud again."
"Where was I?" inquired Bob thoughtfully: "oh, now I
recollect;—down in the cabin, going to sign the articles. 'Are you
quite ready?' says the skipper to me as he raised the pen. 'All ready,'
says I.—'Then hould up,' says he to the young lady, and she raised
her fair arm. 'Come here, my man,' says he again to me, and I
clapped him close alongside at the table; 'be ready to grab hould o'
the pen in a moment, and make your mark there,' and he pointed to a
spot on the parchment, with a brimstone seal stamped again it—you
might have smelt it, messmates, for half a league—and, I'm blessed
if I didn't have a fit o' the doldrums; but, nevertheless, I put a bould
face upon it, and, 'Happy go lucky,' says I, 'all's one to Bob!' and
then there was another rustling noise down the leg of his trousers,
and his eye—that's his onkivered one—flashed again, and took to
rolling out sparks like a flint-mill; 'Listen, my man,' says he, 'to what
I'm going to say, and pay strict attention to it'—'I wool, your honour,'
says I; 'but hadn't the lady better put down her arm?' says I; 'it
ull make it ache, keeping it up so long.'—'Mind your own business,
Bob Martingal,' says he, quite cantankerously; 'she's houlding the
inkstand.'—'Who's cracking now, your honour?' says I laughing;
'the lady arn't got not nothing whatsomever in her hand. I'm blowed
if I don't think you all carries out the name o' the craft In-fun-oh.'—'Right,'
says he; 'and now attend. If after I have dipt this here
pen in the ink, you refuse to sign the articles—you have heard o'
this?' and he touched the black patch. I gave a devil-may-care sort
of a nod. 'Well, then, if you refuses to sign, I'll nillyate you.'—'Never
fear,' says I, making out to be as bould as a lion, for there
was ounly he and I men-folk in the cabin; and, thinks I to myself,
'I'm a match for him singly at any rate.'—'You're mistaken,' says
he, 'and you'll find it out to your cost, if you don't mind your behaviour,
Bob Martingal.'—'I never opened my lips, your honour,'
says I.—'Take care you don't,' says he, 'and be sure to obey orders.'
He turned to the lady. 'Are you prepared, Marian?' axes he; but
she never spoke. 'She's faint, your honour,' says I, 'God bless her!'
The spiteful wretch give me a red-hot look, and his d—— oncivil
cloven foot—for I'd swear to the mark it made—came crushing on
my toes, and made me sing out blue blazes. 'Is that obeying orders?'
says he: 'didn't I command you never to use that name afore me?'—'You
did, your honour,' says I; 'but you might have kept your
hoof off my toes, seeing as I haven't yet signed articles.'—'It was an
accident,' says he, 'and here's something to buy a plaster;' and he
throws down a couple of doubloons, which I claps into my pocket.
'You enter woluntarily into my service, then?' says he.—'To be sure
I do,' says I, though I'm blessed if I wouldn't have given a treble
pork-piece to have been on shore again.—'And you'll make your
mark to that?' says he, 'and ax no further questions?'—'To be sure
I will,' says I; and I'll just tell you what it is, messmates, I'm blowed
if ever I was more harder up in my life than when I seed him raise
the pen, as looked like a sharp lanchet, in his infernal thieving-hooks,
and job it right into that beautiful arm, and the blood spun out, and
the lady gave a skreek; and 'Sign—sign!' says he; 'quick, my man—your
mark!'—'No, I'm d—if I do,' says I; 'let blood be on them
as sheds it.'—'You won't?' says he.—'Never, you spawn o' Bellzebub!'
says I; for I'd found him out, shipmates.—'Then take the consequences,'
says he; and up went the black patch, and, by the Lord
Harry! he sported an eye that nobody never seed the like on in their
lives; it looked as big and as glaring as one o' them red glass bottles
of a night-time as stands in the potecarry's windows with a lamp behind
'em; but it was ten thousand times more brilliant than the
fiercest furnace that ever blazed,—you couldn't look upon it for a
moment; and I felt a burning heat in my heart and in my stomach,
as if I'd swallowed a pint of vitriol; and my strength was going away
and I was withering to a hatomy, when all at once I recollects a
charm as my ould mother hung round my neck when I was a babby,
and I snatches it off and houlds it out at arm's length right in his
very face. My precious eyes and limbs! how he did but caper about
the cabin, till his hat fell off, and there was his two fore-tack bumkins
reg'larly shipped over his bows and standing up with a bit of a twist
outwards just like the head-gear of a billy-goat. 'Keep off, you bitch's
babby!' says I, for he tried onknown schemes and manœuvres to get
at me; till suddenly I hears a loud ripping of stitches, and away went
the casings of his lower stancheons, and out came a tail as long——"
"Almost as long as your'n, I suppose," said old Jack
Sheavehole; "a precious yarn you've been spinning us, Mister Bob!"
"But what became of the lady?" inquired Sam Slick; "and what a
lubber of a tailor he must have been to have performed his work so badly!"
"The lady?" repeated Bob; "why, I gets her in tow under
my arm, and shins away up the companion-ladder, the ould fellow chasing
me along the deck with a boarding-pike, his tail sticking straight out
abaft, just like a spanker-boom over his starn; but the charm kept
him off, and away I runs to the gangway, where the shore-boat and
the nigger were waiting, and you may guess, shipmates, I warn't long
afore we were hard at work at the paddles; for I laid the lady down
in the bottom o' the punt, and 'Give way, you bit of ebony,' says I,
'or Jumbee 'ull have you stock and fluke.' Well, if there warn't a
bobbery aboard the In-fun-oh, there never was a bobbery kicked up in
the world; and 'Get ready that gun there!' shouted the skipper."
At this moment the heavy booming of a piece of ordinance
was heard sounding across the water. Up jumped Jemmy Ducks, and
roared out, "Oh Lord! oh dear!—there's the devil again!—what
shall I do!" and a general laugh followed.
"The chase is trying his range, my lord," exclaimed Mr. Seymour;
"but the shot must have fallen very short, as we couldn't hear it."
"Keep less noise on the fokesel," said old Parallel.
"What ails that lubberly wet-nurse to all the geese in the ship? Ay, ay, he'll
have hould on you by-and-by! Get a pull of that topmast-stud'nsel tack."
The men immediately obeyed; and, as they were coming
up fast with the enemy, excitement and impatience put an end to long yarns.
But Bob just squeezed out time to tell them that he got safe ashore
with the lady; and the "In-fun-oh" tripped her anchor that same
tide, dropped down the river, and put to sea, nor was she ever heard
of again afterwards. The lady was the daughter of a rich merchant
in Baltimore, who had been decoyed away from her family, but by
the worthy tar's instrumentality was happily restored again. Bob got
a glorious tuck-out aboard, the two doubloons were safe in his pocket,
and the father of Marian treated him like a prince.
Half an hour elapsed from the first discharge of the enemy's
sternchaser, when he again tried his range; and, to prove how rapidly they
were nearing each other, the shot this time passed over the British
frigate. There was something exhilarating to the ears of the seamen
in the whiz of its flight. Two or three taps on the drum aroused
every man to his quarters; the guns were cast loose, and the bowchasers
cleared away for the officers to practise. Heavy bets were
made relative to hitting the target, the iron was well thrown, and
every moment increased the eagerness of the tars to get fairly alongside.
The land was rising higher and higher out of the water,—the
French port was in view,—the enemy began to exult in the prospect
of escape, when an eighteen-pounder, pointed by the hands of the old
master, brought down her maintop-gallant-mast; and the Frenchman,
finding it was utterly impossible to get away without fighting, shortened
sail, and cleared for action. Three cheers hailed this manœuvre.
The British tars now made certain of their prize; and, when within
half pistol-shot, in came the Spankaway's flying-kites, and in five
minutes he was not only under snug commanding canvass, but the moment
they returned to their quarters they passed close under the
French frigate's stern, and steadily poured in a raking broadside,
every shot doing its own proper duty, and crashing and tearing the
enemy's stern-frame to pieces, ploughing up the decks as they ranged
fore and aft, and diminishing the strength of their opponents by no
less than twenty-seven killed and wounded. Still the Frenchman
fought bravely, and handled his vessel in admirable style. Six of the
Spankaway's lay dead, and thirteen wounded. Amongst the latter
was our worthy old friend Will Parallel, the master; a splinter had
struck him on the breast, and he was carried below insensible. Sea-fights
have so often been described, that they have now but little novelty;
let it therefore suffice, that, in fifty-six minutes from the first
broadside, the tricoloured flag came down, and the national frigate
Hippolito, mounting forty-four guns, struck to his Britannic Majesty's
ship the Spankaway, whose first lieutenant, Mr. Seymour, was sent
aboard to take possession, as a prelude to that step which he was now
certain of obtaining. Thus two nights of labour passed away, and the
triumph of the second made ample amendment for the misfortunes of
the first; besides enabling the warrant-officers to expend their stores,
and not a word about the white squall.