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Chapter Five.
Again preserved—Charley’s account of himself—A night at sea—The West Indies—A hurricane—Ship on fire—Again on a raft—Look out for help—The happy relief—The breaking out of war—Pursued—Endeavour to escape—Captured by friends—The man-of-war—Our mate pressed—Duty on board—Mr Merton’s gallantry—Old England at last—A bitter disappointment—Friends gone—Miss Rundle—She tells me what has become of Aunt Bretta—Visit my grandmother’s grave.

My last thoughts had been, before I lost all consciousness, that death was about to put an end to my sufferings. I remember then hearing a rush of waters—a confused sound—rattling of blocks—human voices—cries and shrieks. I looked up—it was night. A dark object was lowering above my head. I fancied it was a huge black rock, and that it was going to fall down and crush me. “To what strange shore have we drifted?” I thought. I cried out with terror. “Never fear, my lad,” said a voice. “It’s all right.” I found myself gently lifted up in the arms of a person, and when I next opened my eyes, I discovered that I was on the deck of a large ship and several people standing round me. The light of a lantern fell on the face of one of them. I looked hard at the person. Was it only fancy? I was certain that it was the countenance of Charley Iffley. I pronounced his name. He had not before recognised me.

“Why, Will Weatherhelm, how did you come out here?” he exclaimed, in a tone of surprise. But a gentleman, whom I found to be doctor, told him that he must not now talk to me, and that he would find out all about it by and by.

I was then carried below, and placed in a berth, and very kindly treated. In a few days I was sufficiently recovered to go on deck. I was glad to see old Captain Stunt there also, looking well and fresh. I found that we were on board a large West India trader, the Montezuma, belonging to the firm to which I was apprenticed, Messrs Dickson, Waddilove, and Buck. I little knew what additional cause for gratitude we had for our escape, for the ship coming on the raft at night while Mr Stunt was asleep, we were not observed till she actually grazed by it. The noise awoke him, when he shouted out, and the ship being close-hauled, and having little way, was immediately luffed up, and without difficulty we were taken on board.

“Well, Charley, how did you come to be on board the Montezuma?” I asked.

“That question is very simply answered,” said he. “When I got home I found that my uncles and aunts and all my first cousins looked upon me as a very troublesome visitor, and hinted that the sooner I took myself off to sea again the better. It is not comfortable to feel that everybody is giving one the cold shoulder, so I begged to have a new kit, and offered to look out for a ship. It was wonderful how willingly everybody worked, and how soon my outfit was ready. My eldest uncle hurried off to Mr Dickson, and as they were just sending the Montezuma to sea, and had room for an apprentice, I was immediately sent on board, and here I am. Now you know all about me. I thought I was going to change and become a better character. I was sorry for many things I had done, and if my relations had treated me kindly at first, I think they would have found me very different to what I was. How ever, give a dog a bad name and it sticks to him like pitch.”

“But I am afraid, Charley, from what you have told me, that you gave yourself the bad name,” said I. “You should not blame others.”

“I do not,” he answered. “All I blame them for is, that they did not soften their hearts toward me, and try to reform me. They might have done it, and I could have loved some of them tenderly; but others are harsh, stiff, cold, very good people, who have no sympathy for any who do not think like themselves, and make no allowances for the follies and weaknesses of those who have not had the advantages they have enjoyed.” And Charley put his head between his hands and burst into tears.

I was very glad to see this. It made me like him more than I had ever before done. I have since often thought how very different many young people would turn out if they were spoken to by their elders with gentleness and kindness—if sympathy was shown them, and if their faults were clearly pointed out.

Our owners were very respectable people, and understood their business, so they were generally well served. Captain Horner, of the Montezuma, was a good sailor. The crew consequently looked up to him, though he kept himself aloof from them. He was what the world calls a very good sort of man, but as to his religion and morals I was not able to form an opinion. It may seem strange that I, a young apprentice, should have thought at all on the subject. Perhaps, if those in command knew how completely their conduct and behaviour are canvassed by those under them, they would behave very differently to what they do. Our second mate, Josias Merton by name, was a man worthy of remark. He was a very steady, serious-minded person, and yet full of life and fun. He prided himself on his knowledge of his profession in all its details. His heart was kind and gentle, and he was at the same time brave and determined, active and prompt in action. He never undertook what he did not believe, after due consideration, he could accomplish, and therefore seldom failed in what he undertook. Both Charley and I owed him much, for he spared no pains to improve us and to instruct us in our profession.

As soon as I was well, I was placed in a watch and had begun to know and to do my duty. The Atlantic afforded me the sight of many objects to which I had been unaccustomed in the Mediterranean. I remember one night coming on deck, and after I had looked to set what sail was set, and how the ship was steering, I cast my eyes over the calm ocean. It was very dark. There was no moon, and clouds obscured the stars. I gazed with amazement. The whole surface of the deep, far as the eye could reach, was lighted with brilliant flashes. I bent over the side. The sea was alive with fish of every size and shape. Some were leaping up, ever and anon, out of the water; others were chasing their smaller brethren through it; others, again, rolled over in it, or lay floating idly near, as if looking up with their bright eyes to watch the ship, the invader of their liquid home. People talk of the lack-lustre of a fish’s eye. They are acquainted only with a dead fish. Did they ever remark the keen, bright, diabolical eye of a shark watching for his expected victim? I know nothing in nature more piercing, more dread-inspiring. Here were collected sharks, and pilot-fish, and albicores, bonettas, dolphins, flying-fish, and numberless others, for which old Mr Stunt, to whom I applied, could give me no name. The very depths of the ocean seemed to have sent forth all their inhabitants to watch our proceedings.

“I suppose that it is the shining copper on the ship’s bottom attracts them,” said the old man. “They take it to be some big light, I conclude.” Whether he was right or not I have never since heard any one give an opinion.

The first place at which we touched was Bridgetown, in the island of Barbadoes. I thought the Bay of Carlisle, with the capital Bridgetown built round its shores, and the fertile valleys, and rich fields of sugar-cane, altogether a very lovely spot. The West India Islands are divided into what are called the Windward and Leeward Islands. The wind, it must be understood, blows for nine months of the year from the east. The most eastern islands are therefore called the Windward Islands, and those in the western group the Leeward Islands. Of all the Caribbean Islands, Barbadoes is the most windward, and the Havannah the most leeward. We had to land cargo and passengers, and to take in cargo at several islands. We commenced, therefore, at the windward ones. In that way I became acquainted with a considerable portion of the West India Islands, and very beautiful places I saw on them. The Montezuma was not long in getting a full cargo, and then she prepared to return home. The last place at which we touched was Kingston in Jamaica. At length, I thought to myself, I shall once more see Old England, and satisfy my kind grandmother and Aunt Bretta that I am still alive. I hope that I may leave this vessel without her being shipwrecked, as has been the fate of every one I have yet been on board. Just as this idea had crossed my mind the captain sent for me, and said that he was going to leave Mr Merton in charge of a small schooner, which was to be employed in running between the different islands to collect cargo to be ready for the return of the ship, and that he wished me to remain.

“You will be soon out of your indentures, and if you behave well, as I have no doubt you will, I will promise you a mate’s berth,” he added.

This was indeed more than I could have expected; and though I was disappointed in not going home, I thanked the captain very much for his good opinion of me and kind intentions, and accepted his offer. The Montezuma sailed for England, and I found myself forming one of the crew of the Grogo schooner. We had a very pleasant life of it, because the black slaves did all the hard work, taking in and discharging cargo, and bringing water and wood off to us.

I might fill pages with descriptions of the curious trees and plants and animals I saw in the West Indies. There is one, however, which I must describe. I was asking Mr Merton one day the meaning of the name of our schooner. He laughed, and said that grogo is the name of a big maggot which is found in the Cockarito palm or cabbage tree. This maggot is the grub of a large black beetle. It grows to the length of four inches, and is as thick as a man’s thumb. Though its appearance is not very attractive, it is considered a delicious treat by people in the West Indies, when well dressed, and they declare that it has the flavour of all the spices of the East. These maggots are only found in such cabbages as are in a state of decay. The Cockarito palm often reaches fifty feet in height. In the very top is found the most delicate cabbage enclosed in a green husk, composed of several skins. These are peeled off, until the white cabbage appears in long thin flakes, which taste very like the kernel of a nut. The heart is the most delicate, and, being sweet and crisp, is often used as a salad. The outside when boiled is considered far superior to any European cabbage. One of the most important trees in the West Indies is the plantain tree. It grows to the height of about twenty feet, and throws out its leaves from the top of the stem so as to look something like an umbrella. The leaves when fresh are of a shining sea-green colour, and have the appearance of rich satin. When the young shoots come out, they split and hang down in tatters. From the top grows a strong stalk about three feet long, which bends down with the weight of its purple fruit, each of which is in shape like a calf’s heart—a considerable number form one bunch. Each tree produces but one bunch at a time. The plantain, when ripe, forms a delicious fruit, and when boiled or roasted, it is used instead of potatoes. It forms a principal portion of the food of the negroes. The cassava forms another important article of the food of the blacks. The plant grows about four feet high; the stem is of a grey colour, and divides near its top into several green branches, from which spring red stalks with large leaves. There are two species, the sweet and bitter cassava. The bitter is excessively poisonous till exposed to the heat of fire. The root is like a coarse potato. It is dried and then grated on a grater formed by sharp pebbles stuck on a board, and the juice which remains is then pressed out by means of an elastic basket, into which the grated root is stuffed. The farina thus produced is made into thin cakes and baked. Tapioca is the finer portion of the farina.

I might, as I was saying, fill my pages with an account of the wonderful productions of those fertile islands, of the value of which I do not think even now my countrymen are fully aware. One curious circumstance I must mention in connection with them and my paternal country, Shetland, though I did not hear it till very many years afterwards. It shows how intimately the interests of distant parts of the world are united. The slaves in the West Indies were supplied by their masters with salt-fish, which fish were caught by the Shetlanders off their coasts. When the slaves were emancipated, they refused any longer to eat the description of food which they had been compelled to consume during their servitude, and the Shetland fish-dealers had not thought in the meantime of looking out for fresh markets. The consequence was, they were ruined; the herring boats were laid up, and the fishermen had to go south in search of employment.

However, that has nothing to do with my story. The Grogo was very successful, and we were looking forward every day for the return of the Montezuma. I could not help telling Mr Merton one day of my rash oath which I had made in the presence of my grandmother, and how I had been wrecked in every vessel I had sailed in from the time I came to sea. He tried to reason me out of the belief that I was the cause of the loss of the vessels. He said the oath was wicked, there was no doubt of that, but that others had lost their lives and some their property, while I each time had suffered less than anybody else. I saw the strength of his reasoning, but still I was not convinced. I felt that I had deserved all the hardships I had endured, and I fully expected to be wrecked again. What followed may seem very strange. All I can do is to give events as they occurred. Two days after this we lay becalmed about ten miles from the land off Port Morant, to the eastward of Kingston in Jamaica. We had an old man of colour, who acted as pilot and mate on board. He had been below asleep. At last he turned out of his hot, stifling berth, and came on deck. He looked round the horizon on every side.

“Captain,” said he, “I wish we were safe in port. There’s something bad coming.”

“What is it, Billy?” asked Mr Merton.

“A hurricane!” was the answer.

The hurricane came. The spirit of the whirlwind rode triumphantly through the air. Earth and ocean felt his power; trees were torn up by the roots; houses were overthrown; the water rose in huge waves—hissing, and foaming, and leaping madly around us. Our topmasts had been struck; every stitch of canvas closely furled, and everything on deck securely lashed. The fierce blast of the tempest struck the little vessel; round and round she was helplessly whirled. Away we drove out to sea, and we thought we were safe; but our hopes were to prove vain. Once more we approached the shore with redoubled speed; the frowning rocks threatened our instant destruction; we could do nothing for our preservation. To anchor was utterly useless. We shook hands all round; on, on we drove. A yellow sandy bay appeared between two dark rocks; a huge sea carried us on; safely between the two rocks it bore us; up the beach it rolled. The schooner drew but little water. High up the sea carried us stem on. We rushed forward, and springing along the bowsprit, leaped on to the sand, and before another sea could overtake us we were safe out of its reach. We fell down on our knees and uttered a prayer of thanksgiving for our preservation. In ten minutes not a fragment of the schooner held together. We had truly reason to be grateful.

“Another time wrecked,” said I to Mr Merton.

“Yes, Will; but another time saved,” was his answer.

We got safe to the village of Morant Bay, where we were very kindly received, and the next day were forwarded over land to Kingston, there to await the arrival of the Montezuma. She came into Port Royal Harbour in about a week, not having felt the hurricane. As the agent had a full cargo for her, she only remained a short time, and at length I found myself on the way to the shores of old England.

“There is no fear now but what I shall get to Plymouth at last,” I thought to myself as I walked the deck in my watch the first wight after we had got well clear of the land, and were standing out into the broad Atlantic. Then I remembered my rash oath, and in spite of all Mr Merton’s reasonings, I could not help believing that its consequences would still follow me. “Home! home! with all its endearments, is not for you. The time of your probation is yet unfulfilled!—your punishment is not accomplished!”—a voice whispered in my ear. I could not silence it. Still I thought that it was only fancy. Just then Charley Iffley joined me in my walk; we were in the same watch. Hitherto I had never told him of my belief that a curse was pursuing me. I should have been wiser not to have mentioned the subject to him; still I thought that he was so much changed that he would sympathise with me. I told him all that had occurred from the moment when I first expressed my wish to go to sea to my grandmother and aunt, and reminded him of all the sufferings I had endured, and the number of times I had been shipwrecked. Instead, however, of treating the subject in the gentle, serious way Mr Merton had done, he burst into a loud fit of laughter.

“Nonsense, Will,” he exclaimed, “you’ll next accuse me of being your evil spirit, and of tempting you to sin. Many a man has been shipwrecked as often as you have who has been sent to sea against his own will; and if he swore at all, it was that he might speedily get on shore. Get that idea out of your head as soon as possible.”

I was anxious enough to follow Charley’s advice, but do all I could, the idea came back and back again whenever I found myself during my watch at night taking a turn by myself on deck.

Charley was already out of his indentures, and as he had become a steady fellow and a good seaman, he hoped to be made mate on his next voyage. At last the day arrived when the term of my apprenticeship expired, and I was to be a free man, able to take any berth offered to me. My only wish, however, after I had paid my family a visit, was to be employed in the service of my present owners. To commemorate the event, Charley proposed having a feast in our mess, and he managed to purchase from the third mate, who acted as a sort of purser, various articles of luxury and an additional bottle of rum. We were very jolly, and very happy we thought ourselves, and blew all care to the winds. The passengers and the captain were making merry in the same way in the cabin, drinking toasts, and singing songs, and making speeches, and telling funny stories, so the cabin-boy told us as he came forward convulsed with laughter. The wind was fair and light, the sea was smooth, and no ship floating on the ocean could have appeared more free from danger. Suddenly there was a cry—a cry which, next to “Breakers ahead,” is the most terror-inspiring which can strike on a seaman’s ear. It was, “Fire! fire! fire!” Who uttered it? A man with frantic haste—horror in his countenance—rushed up from the after hold. “Fire! fire! fire!” he repeated. In an instant fore and aft the revellers in dismay sprang from their seats and hurried on deck. The captain was calm and collected, had he lost his presence of mind, who could have hoped to escape? With rapid strides he reached the after-hatchway, out of which streams of smoke were gushing forth. He summoned the passengers and some of the crew to provide themselves with buckets, and to heave water down upon the spot whence the smoke seemed to come, while the rest of the crew were employed in pumping water into the hold. Wet sails and blankets were brought, and, led by Mr Merton, some of the more daring of the men leaped down with them, in the hopes of stifling the flames before they burst forth. I followed the second mate; I knew the risk, but I resolved to share it with him. “More blankets! more sails!” we shouted. They were hove down to us; but in vain we threw them over the lower hatchway. Thicker and thicker masses of smoke came gushing forth, and we were obliged to cry out to be drawn up, and were almost overpowered before we reached the deck. Two of our number had been left behind. Mr Merton and I were about to return, when a loud explosion was heard. Part of the deck was torn up, and flames burst fiercely forth through the hatchway. It was very evident that some of the rum casks had ignited, as was afterwards ascertained, by a candle having been carelessly left burning in the hold.

All hopes of saving the ship were now abandoned. The boats could not carry the entire crew and passengers. They were, however, instantly lowered into the water with a boat-keeper in each, while the rest of the people were told off, some to get up provisions and water, and others to construct a raft. I was engaged on the raft, but remembering what I had suffered on former occasions, I urged the people to take an ample supply of water in each of the boats. Scarcely was the long-boat in the water than the flames burst forth through the main hatchway, and had not the captain been prompt in his orders, the boat itself would have been lost. Provisions for the raft were put into the long-boat, while we were working away at its construction. Every moment we expected to see the flames burst forth from under our feet. We worked with might and main; with our axes we cut away the after-bulwarks, so as to launch it overboard. We had crowbars in our hands. It was barely finished.

“Heave away, my lads, heave away!” shouted the captain. “Now, gentlemen; now, my men; those told off for the boats, be smart! Get into them! No crowding, though.”

The orders were obeyed, for everybody had learned to confide in the captain’s judgment. We meantime were urging the raft over the side. “Quick! quick!” was the cry. With reason, too. The flames burst forth close to our heels. With mighty efforts, by means of our crowbars, we prized on the raft, it being balanced over the sea, yet the flames almost caught it. One effort more. It plunged into the water. A rope brought it up. Almost before it again rose to the surface we were compelled by the devouring element behind us to leap on to it. The deck gave way with a crash as we left it, and two more poor fellows sank back into the flames. The painter was cut, and as the ship drove slowly away from us, another loud explosion was heard, and fore and aft she was wrapped in flames, which rose writhing and twisting up to her topgallant masts.

“And there’s an end of the fine old Montezuma. Well, she was a happy ship!” exclaimed a seaman near me, passing his hand across his brow. “You know, Weatherhelm, I’ve sailed in her since I was a boy, and I have learned to look upon her pretty much as if she was my mother.” I never heard warmer praise bestowed on a merchantman.

Thus was I once more floating on a raft in the middle of the Atlantic. “I thought it would be so,” I muttered to myself. “My oath, my oath?”

While watching the conflagration of the ship, we had had no time to think of our own condition. The boats had pulled off to some distance from the burning ship, and we were left without oars, or sails, or provisions. Night, too, was coming on. The dreadful idea occurred to some of us, that those in the boats with their eyes dazzled by the glare of the burning ship might not see the raft. The captain, by the urgent request of the people, had gone in the long-boat. Mr Merton had remained with us. We shouted—but in vain—the boats were too far off to allow our voices to be heard. The night came on, but still we could see the burning wreck, and we felt sure that while that beacon was in sight, the boats would not give up their search for us. We forgot how fast the wreck had been drifting away. Ours seemed a hard fate. Without food or water, unless picked up we must evidently soon perish. Mr Merton addressed us in a spirited, manly way. He told us not to despair—that many poor fellows had been much worse off than we were, and that certainly by daylight we should be seen by our shipmates in the boats, and be supplied with what we wanted. If not, we were exactly in the track of homeward-bound vessels coming from America, and that we should be certainly fallen in with.

It was a very dreary night, though. All we could do was to sit quiet and watch the burning wreck. Gradually the flames burnt lower and lower. Then a huge glowing ember appeared, and that suddenly sank from sight. In spite of our position, I had fallen asleep, when I was aroused by a loud shout from my companions. It was in answer to a cry which came floating over the water from a distance. We waited eagerly listening. Again the far-off cry was repeated. Loudly we cheered in return, for we were very hungry, and had not yet had time to grow weak from hunger. In less than twenty minutes the boats came dashing up round us, and we found ourselves amply supplied with provisions, which we discussed with no small appetites. The captain then addressed us all; he told us that we must husband our provisions and water, as we could not tell when any vessel might fall in with us. He then urged the people in the other boats to remain by the raft, and suggested that in the day-time they should extend themselves about ten miles on either side so as to have a wider field of observation, but in the night that they should come back and hang on to the raft.

I ought to have said there were four boats, and thus we were able to command a range of vision of at least fifty miles. That is to say—the raft being in the centre—the boats were twenty miles apart, and from each boat a sail of fifteen miles off could at all events be seen. The plan was agreed on. We had secured a long spar, which we set up as a mast in the centre of the raft, with a flag at its head, so that the boats could always have us in view; besides which, several compasses had been saved which would enable them to find us even in thick weather. All we had now, therefore, much to fear from was bad weather and a long detention, when we might run short of provisions. The day passed away, and no sign of a vessel was perceived. The mate kept up our spirits by every means in his power. He encouraged us to sing songs and tell stories to each other, and to give an account of our adventures, and then he told us some stories, and some of them were very funny, and made us laugh, and I must say that I have passed many duller days than were those which I spent on that raft. “And now, my lads,” said he, “as we cannot steer our course across the ocean without a compass, no more can we our course through life without principles to guide us. Now the only book which can give us right principles—can show us how to live—the port we are bound for, and how to gain it, is one I have in my pocket.” We all wondered what he was aiming at, and he was silent for some little time to allow our thoughts to settle down after the joking we had had. Then he pulled out of his pocket a Bible, and took his seat on a cask in the middle of the raft. “I am going to read to you from this Holy Book, my lads, and I hope that you will listen to what I read—try to understand it—think over it—and do what it tells you.” I’ve often since heard the word of God read to sailors, but never more impressively; never to better effect, I believe, than I did on that raft in the Atlantic.

Just at nightfall all the boats came back, and hung on to us during the night, and nearly all the people went soundly to sleep. The captain in the morning proposed that those in the boat should change places with those on the raft, but we said that we were contented to be where we were, and that we preferred remaining with Mr Merton. The next day passed away much as the first, so did a third and fourth. In the evening, however, of that last day, three boats only came back; the whale-boat, commanded by the fourth mate, did not make her appearance. Various were the surmises about her. Some thought that an accident had happened to her; many expressed their fears that the mate had deserted us, and abuse of no gentle nature was heaped on his and his companions’ heads. The only people who made no complaints, and only seemed anxious to find excuses for him, were those on the raft. Why was this? Because, as I fully believe, they were influenced by the principles of Christian charity which the mate had been explaining to us, that principle which thinketh no wrong, until evidence indubitable is brought that wrong has been committed. Although we on the raft did not abuse the first mate and those with him, we could not help feeling anxious for his return. An hour of darkness passed away, and then another and another, and still the whale-boat did not appear. She had gone, I ought to have said, on the lee side of the raft; but the wind was light, so that she could have had no difficulty in pulling up to it. No one this night felt inclined to go to sleep. We were all too anxious about our companions. I saw Mr Merton turning his eyes with a steady gaze away to the south-east. I looked in the same direction. Gradually I saw emerging out of the darkness an opaque, towering mass. At first I thought it was a mere mark in the clouds, and then it resolved itself into the form of a tall ship close-hauled under all canvas. A shout from the boats showed that they had discovered the stranger. Again we shouted, and a cheer came up from her to show us that we were seen and heard. In a few minutes she hove-to, and our own whale-boat appeared from alongside her, accompanied by another boat. The mate explained, as he made a tow-rope fast to the raft to tow us alongside the ship, that he had seen her just before nightfall, and by pulling away to the southward had happily succeeded in cutting her off.

We soon found ourselves on board a large ship, the Happy Relief—and a happy relief she was to us—bound homeward from Honduras with logwood. They were a rough set on board, from the master to the apprentices, but they treated us kindly, as most sailors treat others in distress, and we had every reason to be grateful to them. We had still greater reason to be thankful that we got on board their ship that night, for before the morning a gale began to blow, and a heavy sea soon got up, which would have swept us all off the raft, and in all probability swamped the boats. It continued blowing for several days. The ship laboured very much, and soon all hands were called to the pumps. She had proved a fortunate ship to us, and it was a fortunate circumstance for her that she had fallen in with us; for all hands had to keep spell and spell at the pumps, and even so we were only just able to keep the leaks under. Had she not had us on board, she would very soon, I suspect, have been water-logged. At length the gale abated, but we notwithstanding, had to keep the pumps going night and day. By the time we reached the Chops of the Channel, having a fair breeze, we were looking out every instant to make the land, when a big ship hove in sight, standing directly across our course. The people on board the Honduras ship had told us that a few days before they fell in with us, they had spoken an outward-bound brig, from which they gained the news that war had broken out between England and France and Spain. We made out the stranger to be a heavy frigate, but as she showed no colours, to what nation she belonged we could not tell. Some on board thought we ought to haul our wind on the opposite tack to that she was on, so as to avoid her altogether. She was standing with her head to the north. Our captain soon after gave the order to brace up the yards on the larboard tack, hoping to run into Mount’s Bay or Falmouth harbour. We soon had proof that those on board the frigate had their eyes on us. The smoke of a gun was seen to issue from one of her bow ports, as a sign for us to heave-to, but the captain thought he should first like to try the fleetness of his heels before he gave in. So we continued our course to the northward. The frigate on this braced her yards sharp up, and showed that she was not going to allow us to escape her, and, by the way she walked along, we soon saw that we should without fail become her prize.

All the men who had got two suits of clothes went and put them on, and stowed away all their money and valuables in their pockets, and we all of us began to think how we should like to see the inside of a Spanish or French prison. For my part, I had heard such stories about the cruelty of the Spaniards and French that I began to wish I was back again on the raft in the middle of the Atlantic. One thing is certain,—there is nothing harder than to become a prisoner at the beginning of a war, to an enemy who hates you, with very little prospect of being exchanged. All the glasses in the ship were turned towards the frigate as she drew near, to try and make out what she was. Presently she fired another gun across our bows, and this time she was within shot of us, and at the same moment up went the British ensign. Seeing that there was no chance of escape, our captain hove-to. I thought that as she was an English ship, all was right, and could not make out the reason of the agitation some of the older hands were in. In a quarter of an hour or so, a boat with a lieutenant and a pretty strongly armed crew came alongside. As he stepped on board, he went up to the captain and told him about the war, and asked where he had come from, and whether he had fallen in with any strange ships. “And now, captain,” said he, quite calmly, “I should just like to see your crew. Muster them on deck, if you please. You’ve a large number,” he remarked, as soon as we all appeared. The captain told him how he had picked so many of us up at sea. “Ho, ho!” said the lieutenant; “come here, my lads; you’d be glad to serve his Majesty, I know.”

And he told all the crew of the Montezuma, except the captain and first mate, to get into his boat.

There was no little grumbling at this, but he did not appear like a man who would stand any nonsense of this sort, so it went no further. “But those two are apprentices,” said Captain Horner, pointing to Charley and me, and forgetting that we were both out of our indentures.

“Stout lads for apprentices,” remarked the lieutenant. “Let me see your papers.” Now it might have been said, as we had been wrecked, that we had lost them, but I would not tell a lie to gain any object.

“Please, sir,” said I, “the captain makes a mistake. I was out of my indentures a few days ago. I’ve no protection, and I don’t want any. I, for one, am ready to serve his Majesty and to fight for my country.”

Charley hearing me say this, declared himself of the same mind, and wishing Captain Horner and the captain of the Honduras ship good-bye, and thanking them, we went over to the side ready to step into the boat. The lieutenant said he liked our spirit, and that he should keep his eye on us, and if we behaved well he should recommend us for promotion. This was satisfactory, but still I felt that all my prospects of becoming a mate were blown to the wind. The person who felt it most was Mr Merton. From being an officer (and a gentleman he always was) he was reduced to the rank of a common seaman. What was far worse, too, he was engaged to be married, as soon as he returned home, to the daughter of a clergyman, who, Charley told me, was quite a lady. Now, poor fellow, for what he could tell, years might pass before he would be able to return on shore.

“Well, my man, are you ready to go?” said the lieutenant to him.

“I was second mate of the ship, and have private affairs which require my presence in England, sir,” he answered, quite calmly; and his voice showed that he was a man of education.

“That is no protection, I am afraid,” said the lieutenant. “Duty is not always pleasant, but it must be done.”

“Very true, sir,” said Mr Merton; “but let me write a line to send home, and speak a few words to my late captain. I will not detain you.”

“I can give you five minutes,” said the lieutenant, pulling out his watch.

Mr Merton thanked him and hurried below.

Poor fellow! What words of anguish and sorrow did he pour out in that letter; yet, I doubt not, he expressed his own resignation, and endeavoured to encourage her to whom it was addressed to hope that yet happy days were in store for them. He entrusted the letter to the captain, and begged him to go and see and comfort the lady to whom it was addressed. Then with a calm countenance he appeared on deck, and signified to the lieutenant that he was ready to accompany him, I doubt not he felt like a brave man going to execution.

The frigate we were on board was the Brilliant, of forty guns, and, as I looked round and saw what perfect order she was in, I thought her a very fine ship, and except that I regretted not being able to return home, I was perfectly content to belong to her. Men-of-war in those days were very different to what they are at present. Men of all classes were shipped on board, often out of the prisons and hulks, and the sweepings of the streets. Quantity was looked-for because quality could not be got. An able seaman was a great prize. The pressgangs were always at work on shore, and they thought themselves fortunate when such could be found. Now, with such a mixture of men, the bad often outnumbering the good, very strict and stern discipline was necessary.

The very first day I got on board I saw five men flogged for not being smart enough at reefing topsails. I thought it very cruel, and it set me against the service. I did not inquire who the men were. I found afterwards that they were idle rascals who deserved punishment, and always went about their duty in a lazy, sluggish way. However, there was no doubt that our captain was a very taut hand. The ship had just come out of harbour. He had found out that the greater part of his crew were a bad lot, and he was getting them into order. He treated us who had belonged to the Montezuma in a very different way. He saw that we were seamen, and he valued us accordingly. Still I think there was more punishment on board than was absolutely necessary. We had nine powerful fellows doing duty as boatswain’s mates on board, and there was starting and flogging going on every day and all day long. The first time I ever saw a man punished I felt sick at heart, and thought I should have fallen on deck, but I recovered myself and looked out afterwards with very little concern.

The frigate I found was bound on a six months’ cruise in the Bay of Biscay, not the quietest place in the world in the winter season. Mr Merton was very soon made captain of the fore-top, and Charley and I were stationed on the top with him. Owing to him, I believe, we avoided being flogged, for he was always alive and brisk and kept us up to our duty. After all, there’s nothing like doing things briskly. There’s no pleasure in being slow and sluggish about doing a thing, and a great waste of time. Mr Merton soon attracted the notice of the officers, and they used to address him very differently to the way they spoke to the other men. There was in the top with us a young midshipman: he was a fine little lad—full of life, and fun, and daring. He was the son or heir of some great lord or other, and a relation of the captain’s, who had promised especially to look after him. Well, one day the ship was running before the wind with studden sails set alow and aloft and every sail drawing, so that she was going not less than eight or ten knots, when this youngster, with two or three others, was skylarking aloft. He had gone out on the fore-topsail yard-arm, when somehow or other he lost his hold and down he fell. Fortunately, he struck the belly of the lower studden sail, which broke his fall and sent him clear of the ship into the sea. Just at that moment Mr Merton was coming up into the top. He saw the accident. Almost before the sentry at the gangway could cry out, “A man overboard!” he was in the water striking out to catch hold of the youngster, who couldn’t swim a stroke. At that moment the captain came on deck. He was in a great state of agitation when he heard who it was who had fallen overboard. Studden sail-sheets were let fly. No one minded the spars, though they were all cracking away; the helm was put down, the yards were braced sharp up, and the ship was brought close on a wind.

Meantime Mr Merton was striking out towards where young Mr Bouverie had gone down. All eyes were directed to the spot. “Now he sees him. He strikes out with all his might to catch him before the youngster sinks again. He has him—he has him, hurra!” Such were the cries uttered on every side, for the youngster was a favourite with all hands. A boat was instantly lowered, and Mr Merton was brought on board with the youngster he had rescued, both of them nearly exhausted. The midshipman was carried into the captain’s cabin. Mr Merton, when he had shifted his wet things, returned on deck to his duty. The captain, however, immediately sent for him, and told him that he could not find words to express his gratitude. Mr Merton thanked him, and said that he had merely done his duty, and did not consider which of the midshipmen it was he was going to try to save.

“Well, you have prevented a mother’s heart from being wrung with agony, and a noble house from going into mourning,” said the captain. “You deserve to be rewarded.” Mr Merton thanked him, and went about his duty, thinking little more of the matter.

Now, although seamen know how to value a man who has leaped overboard, at the risk of his own life, to save a fellow-creature from drowning, they do not make much fuss about it, because most of them would be ready to do the same thing themselves. Still, it was easy to see that Joe Merton, as he was called by the ship’s company, was raised yet higher in their estimation.

After we had been at sea some time we stood away to the westward. One forenoon, a shout from the masthead announced a sail in sight.

“Where away?” asked the officer of the watch.

“On the weather bow,” was the answer. “There are two—three—four—the whole horizon is studded with them,” cried the look-out.

The officers were pretty quickly aloft to see what the strangers could be, for some thought perhaps it was an enemy’s fleet. As they drew near, however, they were pronounced to be merchantmen, and before long we ascertained by their signals that they were part of a homeward-bound West India convoy, which had been separated in a gale of wind, off the banks of Newfoundland, from the ships of war in charge of them. Finding that they were totally unprotected, our captain made up his mind that it was his duty to see them safe into port, and signalling to them to keep together and put themselves under his orders, he invited some of the masters of the vessels near him to come on board to give him the news. Among other things, he learned that a fast-sailing French privateer had been hovering about them for some time, and had already picked off two, if not more, of their number, both heavily laden and valuable ships belonging to London; and the masters were of opinion that she had carried them into Santa Cruz, a harbour in the island of Teneriffe, one of the Canaries, because they had spoken an American vessel, the master of which told them that he had passed two such ships, accompanied by a craft answering to the description of the privateer, steering for that place. This information made the captain in a greater hurry than ever to get back to England, as he had made up his mind, as it afterwards appeared, to go and try to cut the ships out.

A strong westerly wind sprang up soon after this, and carried us in five days, with all our convoy, safe into Plymouth Sound. Now, for the first time after so many years, I found myself back at the place where I had passed my childhood, and where the only relations I had ever known, the only beings whose love I had any right to claim, resided. How eagerly I gazed on the shore, and I thought even that I could make out the little neat white row of cottages outside the town, in one of which my grandmother and aunt lived! But now came the question, how could I hope to get on shore? It was not likely that any leave would be granted, as we guessed that the frigate would not remain more than a day or two in harbour. The captain had gone on shore to we the admiral, and the first lieutenant was also called away, so that the ship was left in charge of the second lieutenant, who had pressed me. I knew that I was not likely to get what I wanted by holding back, so I made bold and went up to him and told him how I had left my grandmother when I was a boy, and had been kept knocking about ever since, and had only once, for a few hours, set my foot on English ground in the London docks, and how I would give anything if I might just run up and see how the old lady and my aunt were, and show them that I was alive.

“I think I may trust you, my lad,” said the lieutenant, looking hard at me. “But who will be answerable for you?”

“Mr Merton, sir. I know he will. He has known me for some time,” I answered earnestly. The lieutenant smiled; he was not accustomed to hear a topman have a mister put to his name. “I mean Joe Merton—beg pardon, sir,” said I, “he was my officer for some years.”

“No offence, my man; I like to hear a person speak respectfully of those above him,” answered the lieutenant. “He is your officer still, I fancy. Well, if you can get him to be answerable for you, you may go on shore for ten hours. I cannot give you longer leave than that.”

“Thank you, sir; thank you,” said I, and I hurried below to look for Mr Merton. I found him hard at work writing a letter to send on shore; but he instantly jumped up, and accompanied me on deck to assure the lieutenant that I would return. So on shore I went with great joy; but my knees almost trembled as I walked up the steep streets towards the part of the town where my grandmother and aunt lived. I had seen a good many strange places since last I walked down those streets on my way to join the Kite, and though, after thinking a moment, I easily found the road without asking, the houses seemed changed somehow or other. They were lower and narrower and less fine-looking than I expected. At last I reached the quiet little house I knew so well. By climbing up an iron railing before it I could, when a boy, look into the parlour over the blind. There wag no necessity to climb now. By holding on by the rail, and stretching myself upon my toes, I could easily look in; I could not help doing so before knocking. There I saw an old lady with a neat white cap and dressed in black, bending over her knitting. Her back was towards me; but somehow or other I did not think that it could be Granny. Her figure was too small and slight for that of Aunt Bretta. Who could it be then? My heart sank within me. It was some minutes before I could muster courage to knock. At last I went up to the door. A little girl opened it. She was deaf and dumb, so she did not understand what I said, and I could not understand her signs.

“Come in,” said a voice from the parlour. “Who is that? what does he want?”

On this I pushed open the parlour door, and then I saw the old lady whom I had observed through the window, seated in an arm-chair, with her knitting in her hand. I looked at her very hard. “I am Willand, your grandchild, Granny!” I exclaimed, springing across the room.

“Young man, you have made a strange mistake,” said the old lady, in a voice which sent a chill through my heart. “I never had a grandchild. You take me for some one else.”

“Beg pardon, marm,” said I, trying to recover myself. “I took you for my grandmother, Mrs Wetherholm, who once lived here. I have been at sea for many years, and have never heard from her or my aunt. Can you tell me where they are gone?”

“Sit down, young man, and let me think. I cannot answer all in a hurry,” said she, and I thought her tone was much pleasanter than at first. “Your name is Wetherholm, is it? and what ship did you go to sea in?” I told her. “The Kite! That is strange,” said she. “I should know something about that vessel. If Margaret were here, she would tell me, but my memory is not as good as it was. You want to know where your relatives are. Now I come to think of it, the old lady who lived in this house before me had a daughter. They came, I have heard, like my poor niece’s family, from Shetland. Wetherholm was her name. Then I am sorry to say, young man, that she is dead.”

“Dead!” I exclaimed. “Dear Granny dead!” And my heart came all of a sudden into my throat, and I fairly burst out crying as I should have done when a boy. For some time I could not stop myself; but I put my face between my hands, and bent down as I sat, trying to prevent the tears finding their way through my fingers. I hadn’t had such a cry since I was a little boy, and then I felt very differently, I know. The old lady did not say a word, but let me have it out.

“That will do you good, young man,” said she at length. “I don’t think the worse of you for those tears, remember that.”

I thanked her very much for her sympathy, and then asked her if she could tell me anything about Aunt Bretta.

“I can’t tell you myself,” she answered; “but Miss Rundle, who lives next door, knew her well; and I’ll just send and ask her to step in, and she will give you all the information you want.”

The old lady summoned her little deaf and dumb girl, and signing to her, in two minutes Miss Rundle made her appearance. I remembered Miss Rundle, and used to think her a very old woman then, but she did not look a day older, but rather younger than when I went away. I had no little difficulty in persuading her who I was, and at first I thought she seemed rather shocked at seeing a common sailor sitting down in her friend’s parlour. However, at last I convinced her that I was no other than the long-lost Willand Wetherholm. She told me how my grandmother had long mourned at my absence, still believing that I was alive and would return, and always praying for my safety. At length she sickened—to the last expecting to see me. She had died about two years before; “and then,” added my old acquaintance, “the good old lady sleeps quietly in the churchyard hard by. I often take a look at her tombstone. Her name is on it; you may see it there.”

“That I will,” said I. “It will do my heart good to go and see dear Granny’s tombstone, as I cannot ever set eyes on her kind face again.” When I asked about Aunt Bretta, Miss Rundle bridled up a little, I thought.

“Well, she was my friend,” said she; “and she was a very good woman, and I used to have a great respect for her. Nobody made orange marmalade better than she did, or raspberry jam; and as for knitting, there was no one equalled her in all the country round. I have several of the bits of work she gave me, and I value them; but still I don’t see what right one’s friends have to go and demean themselves.”

Rather astonished at these remarks, I asked what had happened.

“Why, young man, she went and got married,” said Miss Rundle, drawing herself up.

“I don’t see any great harm in her doing that,” remarked the old lady.

“No, marm, not in marrying,” answered Miss Rundle, somewhat sharply. “It’s a very lawful state to get into, I dare say; but I find fault with her in respect to the person to whom she got married. I don’t want to offend the feelings of this young man, her nephew; but what was he but a common sailor, and more than that, he had a wooden leg.”

“Aunt Bretta married to a common sailor with a wooden leg!” said I, scarcely knowing what I was saying, yet not thinking that there was anything very shocking in the matter. “What sort of a man was he, marm? and can you tell me where they are gone, and where I shall find them? I long to see Aunt Bretta again.”

“I won’t deny that he was a pretty good-looking man enough, and as we do now and then exchange letters, I can tell you where she is to be found,” answered Miss Rundle, softening down a little. “They live at Southsea, near Portsmouth. Her husband was an old shipmate of one of her brothers—your father, perhaps—and that is the way they became acquainted. His name is Kelson; you’ll find them without difficulty.”

“Aunt Bretta hasn’t any family?” said I. “I should like to have a dozen little cousins to play with when I go to see her.”

Miss Rundle looked very much shocked at the question, and said that as she had not been married much more than a year, that wasn’t very likely.

Well, though all Miss Rundle’s talk had for the moment driven away my sad thought, as soon as we were silent I felt very low-spirited and melancholy. I said that I would go up and have a walk through the churchyard, and the old lady begged that I would come back and take tea with her, when her niece would be there, who would be glad to hear me talk about the sea. Miss Rundle said that she had an engagement, and was very sorry she could not stop; but the old lady signed to the little girl to accompany me to point out my grandmother’s tomb, remarking that I might otherwise have some difficulty in finding it.

The child tripped away before me, and we soon reached the churchyard. She pointed out an unpretending white little slab of stone in a quiet corner, with a number of wild-flowers growing round it, and then, looking up into my face with an earnest, commiserating look, she nodded and ran off. I walked up to the stone and read a short inscription—
“Ella Wetherholm lies beneath.

Hope, if on Me your Hope is placed.”

I felt very sad and grave, but I had no longer an inclination to cry. “She wrote that for herself,” I thought. “I’ll try and hope as she hoped, and perhaps her prayers may lighten, if they do not remove, the heavy curse I brought down on my head.”

With regard to the curse I fancied was following me, I now know that I was entirely mistaken. Our loving Father in Heaven does not curse His creatures, though He permits for their benefit the consequences of sin to fall on their heads.

I will not repeat all the ideas which passed across my mind. I was not nearly so sad as I might have expected. I had met with sympathy and kindness, though from a stranger, and that lightened the burden; and then, though Miss Rundle was an odd creature, I could not help feeling pleased at seeing her again, and hearing from her about my aunt. I had little fear about her marriage, and I had every expectation of finding the sailor she had married, some fine old fellow well worthy of her, even though he had been all his life before the mast. While I was sitting down beside my grandmother’s grave, and thinking of the years that were past, the days of my childhood, and the many strange things which had since occurred to me, every now and then reading over the words on the tombstone: “Hope!—if on me your hope is placed,” and trying to understand their full meaning, and very full I found it, I happened to look up, and then I saw at a little distance a young woman who seemed to have been passing along a path across the churchyard, regarding me attentively. She was dressed in black, which made her look very fair and pale, and certainly I had never seen anybody else in all my life who came up in appearance to what I should fancy an angel in heaven would look like. This is what I thought at the moment. When she saw that she was observed, she drew her shawl instinctively closer around her, and moved on.


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