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Chapter Three.
Voyage in the boat continued—Gale blowing strong—A sail in sight—Will she pass us?—A French brig—Life on board—Reach Smyrna—Sailors’ friendship—Our pranks on shore—The plague—Charley’s fears—Sent on board the Fate—Once more afloat—Homeward-bound.

A look of blank, sullen despair was stealing over the countenances of most of the crew. Charley Iffley sat with his hands before him and his head bent down, without saying a word, and seemingly totally unconscious of what was taking place. When I spoke to him he did not answer or look up. I suppose that he was thinking of his father, and grieving for his loss, so, after two or three trials, I did not again attempt to rouse him up. La Motte and I occasionally exchanged remarks; but when the wind again got up and we expected every moment that the boat would founder, we felt too much afraid and too wretched to talk. The captain was the only person who kept up his spirits. Once more he rose from his seat, and stepped on to the after-thwart, holding on by the mainmast. I watched his eye as he cast it round the horizon. I saw it suddenly light up. “A sail! my lads, a sail!” he exclaimed, pointing to the westward. Not another word was spoken for some time. We kept on our course, and we were soon able to ascertain that the stranger was standing almost directly for us. The captain at once resolved to try and get on board her, whatever she might prove, rather than run the risk of passing the night in the boat. He on this put the boat about, for had we continued on the course we were then steering she might have gone ahead of us. Our great anxiety was now to make ourselves seen before the night closed down upon us. We had a lantern, but its pale light would not have been observed at any distance. Just before the sun sank into the ocean we were near enough the stranger to make out that she was a large brig, apparently a ship of war, and by the cut of her canvas, and her general appearance, she was pronounced to be French. Though all my younger days we were at loggerheads with them, there happened just then, for a wonder, to be a peace between our two nations, so there was no fear but what we should be treated as friends.

The sun sank ahead of us with a fiery and angry glow, while the clouds swept by rapidly overhead, and every now and then a flash of lightning and a loud roar of thunder made us anxious to find ourselves on board a more seaworthy craft than the frail boat in which we floated. We had no firearms with us, for the pirates had carried away or thrown overboard all they found on board the schooner, so we had no means of making a night signal. However, as there was still a little light remaining, we lashed two oars together, and made fast at one end an ensign, which had fortunately been thrown into the boat. The captain then stood up and waved it about to try and attract the attention of those on board the brig. I felt inclined to shout out, under the feeling that far off as she was my feeble voice would be heard. On we flew through the water at a rate which threatened every instant to tear the canvas off the boat’s bottom, while the seas at the same time constantly came on board and nearly swamped us. Time passed away; the gloom of evening thickened around us. Our hearts sank within our bosoms. It seemed too probable that the stranger would pass without observing us. We were again almost in despair, when the boom of a gun came rolling over the water towards us. To our ears it was the sweetest music, a sign that we were seen, and a promise, we believed, that we should not be deserted. On stood the man-of-war directly for us; but it had now grown so dark, that though we could see her from her greater bulk, we could scarcely hope that those on board her could see us. We had two serious dangers to avoid. If we stood directly in her course, so rapidly was she going through the water, she might run over us before we could possibly make ourselves heard; while, if we kept too much out of her way, she might pass us, and we might miss her altogether. Fortunately we succeeded in getting our lantern lighted, and the captain sent me to hold it up forward as soon as we drew near her. On she came; another minute would decide our fate; when we saw her courses hauled up, her topgallant sails furled, and coming up on the wind, she hove-to on the larboard tack, scarcely a cable’s length from us. We stood on a little, and then putting the boat about, we fetched up under her lee quarter and ran alongside. A rope was hove to us, and lights were shown to enable us to get on board.

Our captain spoke a little French, though it was of a very free-and-easy sort, I suspect. The brig proved to be, as he had thought, of that nation; and such a jabbering and noise as saluted our ears I never have in all my life heard on board of a man-of-war. However, they wished to deal kindly by us. They at once sent us down ropes with which the wounded men were hauled up, though there was great risk of getting them hurt in the operation. When this was done, the rest of us set to work to hand up all the more valuable things we had in the boat,—not that the pirates had left us much, by the by. While we were thus engaged, a squall struck the brig, and almost laid her on her beam-ends. We had just time to clamber up on board, when a sea swamped the boat, which was directly afterwards cut adrift; the helm being then put up, the brig righted, and off she flew before the wind. The squall was quickly over (we had reason to be grateful that we had not been compelled to encounter it in the boat), and the brig was once more brought up on her course. We found that she was the Euryale, of eighteen guns, and then bound for Smyrna. Though we would rather have been put on shore at Cephalonia, we were certain of their finding a vessel to carry us to Malta, if not home direct to England.

The French captain and officers treated us very kindly, and the surgeon paid the greatest attention to the wounded; but though I have been on board many a man-of-war since, I must say that I never have seen one in a worse state of discipline. One-half of the officers did not know their duty, and the other half did not do it; and the men did just what they liked. They smoked and sang and danced the best part of the day, while the officers played the fiddle or the guitar, or gambled with cards and dice, and very often danced and smoked with the men, which at all events was not the way to gain their respect. The captain was a very gentlemanly man, but had not been to sea since the war, and could not then have known much about a ship, so he did nothing to keep things right, and the great wonder to us was how he had managed not to cast her away long before we got on board her.

We had no reason to complain. Both the officers and men treated us very kindly, and were thoroughly good-natured. Since those days, too, a very great change has taken place in the French navy. Their officers are, as a rule, very gentlemanly men, and the crews are as well disciplined as in our own service—indeed, should we unhappily again come to blows, we shall find them the most formidable enemies we have ever encountered.

We arrived at Smyrna without any adventure worthy of note. Just as we entered the port, the Ellen brig, belonging to Messrs Dickson, Waddilove, and Burk, the owners of the Kite, came in also, and we at once went on board her. Captain Mathews was her master; he was one of the oldest and most trusted captains of the firm, and acted as a sort of agent for them at foreign ports. Whatever he ordered was to be done. He could send their vessels wherever he thought best, and had full control, especially over the apprentices. Thus Charley, La Motte, and I at once found ourselves under his command. He was a good-natured, kind sort of a man, therefore I had no reason to complain. We found lying there another brig belonging to the same owners. She was called the Fate. It was the intention of Captain Tooke to return home in the Ellen, and to take us three apprentices with him, while of course the rest of the men would be left to shift for themselves; but there is a true saying that man proposes, but God disposes.

We soon recovered from our fatigues and hardships, and got into fine health and spirits. The crews of the two brigs were allowed a considerable amount of liberty, and did not fail to take advantage of it. Altogether we had a good deal of fun on shore. Charley and I were generally together. We had not much money between us, but we contrived to muster enough to hire a horse now and then; and as we could not afford to have one a-piece, we used to choose a long-backed old nag, which carried us both, and off we set in high glee into the country. The grave old Turks looked on with astonishment, and called us mad Giaours, or some such name; and the little boys used to throw stones at us, or spit as we passed, but we did not care for that; we only laughed at them, and rode on. Once we rode into a village, and seeing an odd-looking building, we agreed that we should like to have a look inside. We accordingly tied up our long-backed horse to a tree, and as there was no one near of whom to ask leave, in we walked. It was a building with a high dome, and lamps burning, which hung down from the ceiling, and curtains, but there was not much to see, after all. Presently some old gentlemen in odd dresses appeared at the further end, and as soon as they saw us standing and looking as if we did not think much of the place, they made towards us with furious gestures, so we agreed that the sooner we took our departure the better. When we turned to run, they came on still faster, and as we bolted out of the mosque—for so we found the building was called—they almost caught us. We ran to our horse; while Charley leaped on his back, I cast off the tow-rope, and then he caught my hand and helped me up behind him, and away we galloped as hard as we could go through the village. The old gentlemen could not run fast enough to overtake us, but they sang out at the top of their voices to some men in the street, and they called out to others, and very soon we had the whole population after us with sticks in their hands, heaving stones at our heads, and shouting and shrieking at us. Luckily the hubbub frightened the old horse, and he went faster than he had done for many a day, and amid the barking of dogs, the shouts of boys, the crying of children, and the shrieking of women, we made our escape from the inhospitable community. I had a good thick stick with which I belaboured the poor beast to urge him onward. After some time the Turks, seeing that they could not overtake us, gave up the chase, and we agreed that we had better not enter into their village till they had forgotten all about the circumstance. When we got on board, we were told that we were very fortunate to have escaped with our lives, as many Englishmen had been killed by the Turks for a similar act of folly.

Two days after this, one of the Ellen’s men came on board, complaining of being very ill. In a short time another said he felt very queer, and both of them lay down on their chests and could eat no food or keep their heads up. Before long, Captain Mathews came below, and finding that they both had something seriously the matter with them, sent on shore for an English doctor who resided at the place. After some time the doctor came, and told the men to turn up their shirt-sleeves and to show him their arms.

“I thought so,” said he, turning to the captain; “it is my unpleasant duty to tell you that you have got the plague on board. We have it bad enough on shore.”

I thought the captain would have fallen when he heard the news. “The plague!” he gasped out. “What is to be done, doctor?”

“Send the men on shore; purify your ship, and get to sea as soon as you can,” was the answer.

But the plague is a conqueror not easily put down. Before night two more men were seized, and the two first were corpses. The captain of the Fate heard of what had happened, and sent his boats alongside to inquire how we were doing, but with strict orders that no one should come on board. No boat came the next day; the plague had paid her a visit, and three of the crew were corpses. The moans and shrieks of the poor fellows were very dreadful when the fever got to its height. One moment they might have been seen walking the deck in high health and spirits, and the next they were down with the malady and utterly unable to move. Sometimes three or four hours finished their sufferings, and the instant the breath was out of their bodies we were obliged to heave them overboard. One after the other, the greater part of the crews of the two brigs sickened and died. We three apprentices had escaped, and so had our captain and Mr Cole. The mate said he was not afraid of the plague or any other complaint, as he had got something which would always keep it away. Charley Iffley and I frequently asked him what it was. It was a stuff in a bottle which he used to take with his grog, and we suspected that he took it as an excuse for an extra glass of spirits. One cause why he escaped catching the plague was, that he never was afraid of it,—either he trusted to his specific, or felt sure that he should not catch it; also, he never went on shore among the dirty parts of the town the men had frequented, and also lived separate from them on board.

At length my companion Charley got ill. We lads had been removed to some temporary berths, put up in the hold, where we could have more air than forward. One day after I had gone on shore with the captain to bring off the doctor, not finding Charley on deck, I went down to look for him. I found him in the berth tumbling about in bed and his eyes staring wildly.

“Oh, Will! I am going to die, and there’s one thing weighs so heavy on my mind that I cannot die easy till I tell it to you!” he exclaimed, in a tone of anguish. “Just for my own pleasure I persuaded you to come to sea, and ever since you have had nothing but danger and trouble. You’ll forgive me, won’t you? That’s what I want to know.”

I told him, of course, that I forgave him heartily; indeed, that I had never accused him of being the cause of the sufferings which I had endured, in common with him and others. Then I told him that he must not fancy that he was going to die just because he felt a little ill, and that as the doctor was on board I would go and fetch him at once.

The doctor came immediately, and, after examining him, applied some very strong remedies. I followed him on deck to inquire whether Charley really had the plague. “No doubt about it,” was his reply; “but if he drops into a sound sleep, I think he may throw it off without further evil consequences.”

Anxiously I watched at the side of poor Charley’s bed. He talked a little—then was silent—and I found that he slept. I did not dare to leave his side lest any one should come into the berth and awake him. Hour after hour I waited, till at last I sank back on the chest on which I was sitting and fell fast asleep. When I awoke the sun was shining down through the main hatchway into the berth. I heard Charley’s voice. It was low but quiet.

“I am quite well now, Will,” he said. “If the doctor, when he comes, will let me get up, I think I could go about my duty without difficulty.”

I was very glad to hear him speak in that way, but I told him that his strength had not returned, and that he must remain quiet for a day or two. From that moment, however, he got rapidly better, and in a week was almost as well as ever. He was the last person seized with the complaint on board the two brigs. On board the Fate, the master, and mates, and half the crew died; and had not we and the other survivors of the Kite’s crew arrived at Smyrna, it would have been difficult to find hands to take her to sea. Captain Mathews, however, directed Captain Tooke to take command of her, and sent Mr Cole as mate, with Charley Iffley and me, while most of our men shipped on board her. I thought that we were to go home, but I found that my summer cruise was to be a very much longer affair than I had expected. Had I gone home then, I think that I should have followed my kind grandmother’s wishes and given up the sea. Instead, however, of returning to England, the brig was employed running from place to place, wherever she could secure a freight. In that way I visited nearly every part of the coast of the Mediterranean. Sometimes we went up the Adriatic; then across to Alexandria; then to some port in Greece, or to one in Italy; then up to Constantinople, and away over to the ports on the northern coast of Africa. I saw a number of strange people and strange sights, but have not now time to describe them.

I wrote home several times to my grandmother and aunt, but, as I was always moving about, I got no answers. I thought very likely that my letters or their replies had been wrongly directed; still I began to grow very anxious to hear what had become of the only two relatives I had on earth, and whom alone I had really learned to love. After I had been out about a year I asked leave, if I could find the chance to go home. The captain on this laughed at me, and reminded me that apprentices were not their own masters, and that I must make up my mind to stay where I was till the owners wanted the brig home.

Three years passed away so rapidly that I was astonished to find how long I had been out in those seas. During all that time no accident had happened, and I began to hope that I was not going to suffer any further misfortunes in consequence of my rash oath. I expressed my feelings to Charley Iffley. He laughed at me, and said that had nothing to do with the matter, that there was no great harm in what I had said, and that, consequently, I could not expect to be punished for it. I thought differently. I knew that there was harm, and felt that I might justly be punished. At first, after Charley had recovered from the plague, he appeared to have become a thoughtful and serious character, but unhappily he very soon fell off again, and was now as reckless as ever. At length the order came for us to return home. Merrily we tramped round at the capstan bars to a jolly song, as we got in our anchor for the last time, and made sail from the port of Leghorn. We passed the Straits of Gibraltar, and with a smooth sea and southerly wind we had a quick run to the Land’s End, while our crew sang—

    “To England we with favouring gale

    Our gallant ship up Channel steer;

    While running under easy sail,

    The snow-white western cliffs appear.”


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