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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Will Weatherhelm » Chapter Six.
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Chapter Six.
First introduction to Miss Troall—Happy evening—Return on board—An expedition planned—Attack on privateers—The boat sinks under me—Meet an old friend—Follow his advice—Join an American vessel—Chased again—The action between the British and French ships—Land our passengers—Loss of our vessel—Get on shore at Guernsey—La Motte and his family—Sail for Portsmouth.

And so at length the dream in which I had so long indulged was realised. Once more I trod my native shores. Once more I had visited the home of my childhood. What a blank I had found! My lot has been that of thousands of seamen—of thousands of poor wanderers over the face of the globe, of every rank and in every clime. It is the tale which many and many a shipmate has told me in our midnight watch:—“I got back to the place where I was born. I thought to find it a home, but most of those I left were dead! the rest removed. All were gone. The spot which once I knew so well, knew me no more; so I fell in with an old messmate. We had a jovial spree on shore, and then, when all our cash was gone, we went to sea again.” Such was not my lot, though. Had I been inclined for a spree, which I was not, I had not time to indulge in it. I took a walk through some of the beautiful green lanes about Plymouth, and filled my hat full of wild-flowers, and then came back to the old lady’s house to take my tea, as I had promised. I opened the door without ceremony, for I forgot entirely that it was not my own home, and walked into the parlour, expecting to find the old lady. Instead of her, what was my surprise to see seated at the tea-table the very young woman who had been watching me in the churchyard. I was regularly taken aback, and stammered out—

“Beg pardon, Miss, I didn’t know that there was anybody here but the old lady who asked me to tea.”

“You need not offer any excuse; my aunt told me you were coming,” she answered, in just such a voice as I should have expected to hear when looking at her.

In a very few minutes she made me quite at home, and her aunt came in, and we soon were talking away just as if we were old friends. I will not say that I forgot my grandmother and aunt, but I should be wrong if I did not confess that my sorrow was very much soothed, and what is more, that in some respects I felt happier than I had done for a very long time. Tea was made, and I began to talk to them about my adventures and my shipwrecks.

“The most dreadful,” said I, “was the first, when I and all my companions nearly lost our lives aboard the Kite.”

“The Kite!” exclaimed the young lady, “the Kite! What do you know about her? Oh, in mercy tell me, young man!”

I saw she was very much agitated, but as I could not tell what part of the narrative to pass over or to touch on slightly, I told her all about the vessel from the time we left Plymouth till we got aboard the French brig; especially I could not help speaking of Seton and his bravery, and how he was wounded, and how he entreated me to bear his dying messages to his family, and to the girl to whom he was to be married. She seemed almost breathless as I proceeded with my story, but every now and then she would say, “Go on—in mercy go on.” So I continued with my story to the end; “and,” said I, “the first time I have freedom on shore, I will, please heaven, go and fulfil my promise to poor Seton. I remember the young lady’s name—Margaret Troall.”

“You have fulfilled it already,” said the young lady, with a faltering voice, and bursting into tears; “I am Margaret Troall. And oh, believe me, I am most grateful to you.”

I was astonished, I found that the rest of her family in England were dead, and that she and her aunt had come to live at Plymouth just as my aunt and her husband had left the place, and they had taken my grandmother’s house, which was then vacant. At first, after all this, the young lady was very sad, but by degrees she recovered her spirits, and we talked on very pleasantly till Miss Rundle came in.

She wasn’t half as stiff as at first, when she saw how well I was received by Mrs Sandon (that was the name of the old lady) and her niece, and she promised to write to my aunt to tell her that I was alive and well, and that she might expect to see me some day.

“When you see her, as I hope you will soon,” said she, “remember to tell her that I am looking well, and that you knew me at once.”

“That I will, Miss Rundle,” said I; “I’ll tell her that you look as young and handsome as you ever did, and for that matter younger to my eyes,—and that’s the truth.”

So it was, for a boy always thinks an oldish woman older than she really is. Miss Rundle drew herself up, and looked quite pleased, and smiled and smirked, and I saw that my joking had gained me a place in her good graces which I never enjoyed in my boyish days. Well, I was very sorry when the time came for me to get up and return on board the frigate. I put my chair back against the wall, and shook hands with all the ladies round, and they charged me to come and see them without fail when I returned to Plymouth. Somehow or other I found myself shaking hands twice with Miss Troall, and she again thanked me for bringing her the message from him who was gone; and I heard Miss Rundle remark as I went out, that I was a very well-mannered young man, though I was a common sailor.

It was rather later than I intended. I hurried down to the harbour, jumped into a wherry, and promised the waterman half-a-guinea if I got on board before dark.

“Why, lad, there’s no great hurry, I should think,” said he; “the frigate won’t sail without you.”

“No; but a shipmate pledged his word for me that I would be back, and I must not let him break it, you know.”

“Well, we wasn’t so particular in my time,” said the old man. “But as your gold is as good as that of any other man, I’ll do my best to put you on board.”

The wind was against us, so his mate and I took the oars while he steered, and by dint of hard pulling we got on board just about ten minutes before my time was up. I told Mr Merton how it was I had run the time so short, and gave him an account of all that had happened to me. He was very much pleased with me at finding that I had been so anxious to come off in good time, and urged me on all occasions to make every sacrifice, rather than break a pledge of any description. Charley and I were in the same watch, and he was very anxious to hear how I had fared on shore. Of course, he could not care about my grandmother’s death, but he was very much amused with my account of Miss Rundle, whom he remembered well.

“I must go and pay her a visit the next time I can get on shore, and if I can take her some wonderful present from the other side of the world, I expect to cut you out in her good graces,” he said, laughing. I asked him what he proposed taking. “An alligator, or a shark, or a mermaid, or an orang-outang, or something of that sort—stuffed, I mean,” he answered.

I remembered Charley’s love of a practical joke in our younger days, and I did not wish to interpose between him and the venerable spinster. I thought that he would not do anything really to annoy her.

Our captain came on board the next morning in high spirits. He had got leave to go to Teneriffe, in company with his Majesty’s sloop-of-war Talbot, to cut out the two West Indiamen taken by the French privateer. No sooner, however, did we get out of the Channel than we met with strong westerly winds, which nearly blew us back into its chops again. However, not to be daunted, we kept hammering away at it, and though we in the frigate made tolerably fine weather, those on board the sloop had wet jackets for many a day. We had been out about ten days when two sails hove in sight, running with canvas set before the wind. One we made out to be a large brigantine, the other was a ship, evidently an English merchantman. The ship stood on, and when we fired a gun to make her heave-to, let all fly, while the brigantine hauled her wind and tried to make off. We sent a boat aboard the ship, and found that she was an English merchantman belonging to Bristol, which had been captured by the brigantine. The privateer herself belonged to Saint Malo, and was the very vessel which had taken the two West Indiamen we were going to cut out. The Frenchmen taken in the prize gave us some useful information as to where the two West Indiamen were lying.

The Talbot meantime was proceeding in chase of the privateer, and very soon coming within shot, knocked away the head of her mainmast and brought her to. She was an important capture, for she had committed a great deal of mischief, and, to our no small satisfaction, she had a considerable sum of money on board her, which she had taken from various captured vessels. Prize crews being put on board the two vessels, we proceeded on our course, thrashing away in the teeth of the south-westerly gale. However, at last, in about three weeks, we sighted the island of Teneriffe, and hove-to that we might make arrangements for the attack. This was on the 8th of December. At about four o’clock in the afternoon, all the boats assembled round the frigate under the command of our first lieutenant. We had four boats, and there were three belonging to the corvette. I was in the boat with the first lieutenant. She was a very fine, fast boat, pulling six oars. Merton, who had volunteered, was in one of the other boats, under the command of one of the master’s mates of the frigate, and Charley Iffley was with him. When all was ready, the signal was given, and with three hearty cheers we shoved off from the frigate’s side. We acted as a sort of whipper-in to the other boats, and we kept pulling about among them to keep them together, our lieutenant dropping a word to one and then to another, just to make the people laugh and to keep them in good spirits. It was some hours after dark, and nearly ten o’clock, as we approached the harbour of Santa Cruz. We then had all our oars muffled, and in perfect silence we entered the harbour, all keeping close together. As we got well in we lay on our oars for a minute, to make sure which were the two ships to be attacked. We made them out through the darkness. Four boats were to attack one ship, under the command of our lieutenant, while the three others pulled away to the second ship. The signal was given, and dashing off at full speed, we were alongside in a moment.

The Frenchmen little expected us, but they flew to their arms and made a stout resistance. Some were cut down—others were hove overboard—the cables were cut—our men flew aloft to loosen sails, and as quickly almost as I take to tell the story the ship was under weigh and standing out of the harbour. The other three boats were not so fortunate. The noise we made in attacking the first ship, our shouts, and the cries and curses of the enemy, aroused the people of the second ship, so that they had time to man their guns, of which she carried ten, before the boats got alongside. Our commanding officer, seeing this, ordered one of the midshipmen to take charge of his boat, in which I was, and of another in which was Mr Merton, to go to the assistance of our shipmates. With hearty cheers, to show that aid was coming, we pulled away towards them, but as we advanced we were received with a hot fire of musketry and round shot. The officer in the other boat, which was close to us, was killed, but Merton sprang to the helm, and cheering on the men, they pulled up towards the ship. Just then a round shot struck our boat, cutting her right in two, killing one man, and wounding two. Instantly she began to fill, and very soon we could not move her through the water. She was sinking under us. The shot came round us thick as hail. I could not see where the other boats were, or what had become of my shipmates, but I caught a glimpse of the ship standing out of the harbour. I thought I heard Mr Merton’s voice shouting out to the people, and I was pretty certain he was doing something; but what with the darkness, and the firing, and the confusion and noise, it was some little time before I could decide in which way to strike out. What became of my companions in the boat I could not tell. Looking up, I saw a vessel not far off from me, and so I swam away with all my strength towards her. I got hold of her cable and rested myself, hoping to see some of the boats, or perhaps the second ship; but when I looked found I saw that there was little chance of our people taking her, for she mounted, as we knew beforehand, ten guns, and that a strong crew had been put on board her was evident from the hot fire she kept up.

The Spaniards had aroused at last, and the forts were blazing away at the boats which were pulling with all their might down the harbour. All hope of regaining the frigate must therefore, I saw, be abandoned. The vessel I was hanging on to was a large schooner. Her people were all on deck, and, to my great satisfaction, I heard them talking English. By this I knew that she was an American, and I determined to trust to their kindness. I therefore hailed, “Schooner, ahoy! Just heave me a rope, will you, to save me from drowning.”

“Well, I don’t mind if I do,” said a man, looking over the bows; and he heaving me a rope’s-end, I quickly hauled myself up on board.

I found myself among three or four of the schooner’s crew. “You must come along aft to the mate,” said one of them.

I accordingly accompanied them aft, where we found the mate, who asked all about me, and I told him how we had come into the harbour to cut out the two West Indiamen.

“Well, small blame to you, my man,” said the mate. “We don’t wish you ill, but we must see what the captain has to say to you.”

The captain was on shore, but as soon as the firing was over he came on board. Meantime I watched as far as I could what was taking place, and I had the satisfaction of seeing one of the ships get out of the harbour, and I hoped the boats had reached her also. The American crew seemed inclined to treat me very civilly; and when the captain came off, and I told him all that I had told the mate, “Well, my man,” said he, “I am sorry for it, but I am afraid that I must take you before the Spanish governor to-morrow morning; because if I do not, I may get myself into trouble. However, go below, and get your wet clothes shifted. You shall have some food and a glass of grog, and we’ll see about it in the morning.”

I went below. I was soon rigged out in warm, dry things, had a jolly hot supper, and I must say was never more kindly treated in my life. When I turned in, I felt that I ought to be thankful that I had not been killed like some of my shipmates. But still I could not help thinking, “The curse is still following me—the boat I was aboard was the only one destroyed.”

The next morning, when I went on deck, I saw one of the officers doing duty. I looked at him hard. I was certain I knew his face. I put out my hand. “La Motte,” said I, “do you know me?”

“I should think I did indeed, Weatherhelm,” he answered, laughing, and shaking my fist warmly; “it is a good many years since we saw each other.” I told him that the captain said he would have to take me to a Spanish prison. “Oh, that is all nonsense,” he answered; “I’ll soon manage that. All you have to do is to join this craft, and we can protect you. I’ll just say that you are an old shipmate of mine, and I’ll soon make it all right.”

Accordingly he took me to the captain, who was too glad to get an able seaman on board his vessel, and he promised me if I would sign the articles that I should have thirty dollars a month. I had not much difficulty in balancing this offer against the prospect of a Spanish prison. Now I honestly believe, that had she been a privateer, and I should have had to fight against my own countrymen, nothing would have tempted me to accept the offer. However, I decided at once. “I’ll join you,” said I, “and am ready to sign the articles whenever you like.”

That evening I found myself, like many other British seamen, converted suddenly into an American. La Motte told me that he had been wrecked on the American coast, and having been kindly treated, he had joined one of their merchantmen, when shortly afterwards he was made a mate. The schooner was called the Skylark, and was a remarkably fine and fast vessel. At that time, while all the rest of the world were at war, the Americans remained neutral, and their merchantmen made a great deal of money by becoming the carriers for all the belligerent parties. This was a wise policy in all respects, but still wiser would they have proved themselves had they adhered to it. While it brought wealth and prosperity to their newly established republic, it laid the foundation of that naval power which enabled them to contend for a time even with England herself, and has since enabled them to take an important part in the transactions of the world. The schooner had been employed to bring out a new governor for the islands from Cadiz, and she was waiting to convey the former one back to Spain. He, however, was not ready, and the schooner was detained a long time. Still I had no reason to complain. Teneriffe was a very pleasant place; the captain and first mate of the schooner were very kind sort of men, and La Motte, for old friendship’s sake, did his best to make my life agreeable. Perhaps, had we been less idle, it would have been better for us all. The great difficulty the officers had, was to find work for the men. We painted and polished, and scrubbed and used up every particle of rope-yarn, and turned in all the rigging afresh before Se?or Don Longwhiskerandos announced that he was ready to take his departure.

The voyage was not to be without danger, for there were English cruisers watching all the Spanish and French ports; and though they could not have touched us on the high seas, they would have made prize of us, had they caught us trying to enter an enemy’s port. I never heard the real name of the governor. We called him Don Longwhiskerandos just for shortness’ sake, for it was fully three times as long as that. He looked a very important personage, and awfully fierce, and did little else than smoke cigars, and let a black man attend on him as if he was a mere baby. We had fine weather, and the Don sat on the deck in great state, when a sail was made out on our weather quarter. As she drew near there could be little doubt from her appearance that she was an English frigate. I borrowed a glass from La Motte. I took a long, steady look at her, and I felt certain that she was my old ship the Brilliant. Meantime our helm was put up, and off we went before the wind to endeavour to increase our distance. She made sail of course in chase, and I began to consider whether it would not have been better to have gone to a Spanish prison than be taken as a deserter, and cruelly flogged, if not hung. I pictured all sorts of dreadful things to myself, and earnestly prayed that the schooner might escape the frigate. If I was in a fright, Don Longwhiskerandos was in a still greater. He tore his hair and wrung his hands, and walked about the deck uttering all sorts of extraordinary expressions, calling on I don’t know how many saints to come and help him—while blackie followed him with his snuff-box and a handkerchief, and seemed trying to console him. La Motte, however, laughed at my apprehensions. He said that of course it was known that I had not willingly left the ship, and that I had a right to save my life in the best way I could. Still I was not satisfied. On came the frigate. We pressed the schooner with all the canvas she could carry. She walked along at a great rate, and so did the frigate. A stern chase is a long chase, but I had very little expectation that we should escape. If we could keep ahead till night, then we might have a better chance.

It was well on in the afternoon when we saw two sail ahead. From the whiteness of their canvas and the squareness of their yards, they were evidently men-of-war. If they should prove English cruisers, we were fairly caught in a net, and Don Whiskerandos would have very little chance of seeing his wife and family for a long time to come. Still our captain was a resolute man, and one who would never give in while a prospect of escape remained. The helm was put down, and we kept up five or six points towards the French coast, thinking that we might keep clear of them all till night set in, and might then escape in the darkness. The officers kept their glasses on the strangers. One was a frigate, the other a corvette. They made sail when they saw us. Evening was closing in. “Hurra, my lads,” shouted our captain, “up go the French colours. I thought by the cut of their canvas they were Frenchmen, and our friends!” How strangely those words sounded in my ears! To be glad to fall in with Frenchmen, and to call them our friends!

Once more we altered our course. In a short time the ships of war made out the English frigate, and allowing us to go ahead, then clewed up their topsails and waited for her. She saw them, and nothing daunted, under all sail stood on to close them before nightfall. Now, for the first time, I felt a little regret that I was not on board my own ship, she looked so proud and bold going into action against so superior a force. Oh, how I wished that I could find myself on her deck alongside my former shipmates, whom I pictured to myself standing at their guns, bared to the waist, with handkerchiefs round their heads, looking stern and grim as became men about to fight with heavy odds, yet every now and then cutting a joke with each other in the exuberance of their spirits. I thought if I could now but jump overboard with something to float me till she came up, and then I would climb up her side, and say that I had come to join them. Still, when I thought again, I knew that she was not likely, even if I was seen, to heave-to to pick me up, and I abandoned the idea as too hazardous. As the frigate got up to them, the two French ships let fall their canvas, and began to manoeuvre to gain the weather-gage; but she was too quick for them, and getting up to the corvette first, gave her such a dose from her broadside as must have made the Frenchmen dance to a double-quick tune. Our captain’s object was to land his passengers, so of course he could not stop to see the result of the action. As we ran out of sight, all three ships were hotly engaged. “Well, if there’s one man on board who will do his duty, and show what real Englishmen are made of, its Joe Merton,” I said to myself.

For some time after nightfall I could hear the sound of their guns borne over the calm waters, and then all was silent, and we continued our course to the French coast. Two days after this we were again chased by an English sloop of war; but the Skylark showed a faster pair of heels than she did, and we ran her out of sight. At length, after being chased away from various ports, we entered the mouth of the Gironde river in France, which runs down from Bordeaux. We were some days getting up to Bordeaux, where we landed Don Longwhiskerandos and his black slave and all his property, and hoped to get a return cargo. But there were no freights to be had; so, as the Don described the schooner as being a very fast craft, the French Government offered a large sum for her, which our captain was too glad to accept. The mates and crew accordingly received their wages, and we were all turned adrift. Now I found that there was a great chance of my being in a much worse condition than ever. Of course I hailed as an American, and if the police had found me on shore without a ship, I should have been seized and sent to serve on board a French man-of-war. On every account I must avoid that, I felt. In the first place, I did not wish to serve with Frenchmen; and in the second, had any ship I might have been in been captured, I should have been looked upon as a deserter and a traitor, and very likely shot.

La Motte, as an English subject, was in the same condition, except that he had never served on board a man-of-war. Accordingly he and I talked the matter over before we left the schooner, and agreed that it would never do to trust ourselves on shore. We saw ahead of us a ship under Hamburguese colours, taking in a cargo of wine for Hamburg, which was a free port. When, therefore, we left the schooner, we pulled alongside, and asked if she wanted hands. The captain said yes; he would ship us at once. He spoke very good English, and the mate we had reason to suspect was an Englishman, as were several of the crew. So much the better, we thought. I at all events was very glad to get to sea. Four or five days afterwards, just as we got into the English Channel, the captain called us aft, and told us that, instead of going to Hamburg, he expected to proceed to London; but that he had received directions to put into the Island of Guernsey first to wait for orders. I was very glad to hear this news, for I thought there was a chance of my seeing old England again sooner than I had expected.

“Yes, that may be very true,” observed La Motte. “But how will you see it? The first night you put your foot on shore you will be pressed to a certainty, and quickly find yourself on board a man-of-war, and a slave as before.”

“No, not a slave,” said I indignantly. “I’d rather go and serve willingly than be pressed, that’s the truth; but no one has a right to call British men-of-war’s men slaves. They may be pretty hardly tasked sometimes; but they get pay and prize-money and liberty, and if they did but know how to take care of their money, and would but conduct themselves like rational beings, the good men would have no reason to complain.” The truth was, that La Motte had got the notion entertained by most merchant seamen, and encouraged by shipowners as well as masters and mates, that men-of-war were all alike, little better than hells afloat; that all naval officers were tyrants, and all men-of-war’s men miserable, spiritless slaves. Why, even in those times they were generally better treated than merchant seamen, and now the lot of the two cannot be compared. There’s no class of men better cared for, better fed, better clothed, and more justly treated, than the British man-of-war’s man. I don’t want to cry down the merchant service, or owners or officers of merchant ships, but this I will say, that the most comfortable, happy merchantmen I have seen have been those commanded by naval officers.

We were within half-a-day’s sail of Guernsey, and were expecting to get in there next morning, when a heavy gale sprang up from the north-west, and before we could take the canvas off the ship—for we were very short-handed—every yard of it was blown out of the bolt-ropes. We were in a bad way, for we were already too much to the southward. Still our captain hoped, if we could bend fresh sails, to weather the islands; but all that nook of the coast is full of rocks and dangers, and tides setting here and there, so that it is difficult to tell where a ship will be drifted to. Twice we tried to bend fresh sails; but each time they were blown away, before we could hoist them to the yards. Darkness came on. Two of our shipmates were hove off from the lee yard-arm, and their despairing shrieks reached our ears as they drifted away, a warning to us of what might be our fate.

“We have some Jonah on board,” I heard the first mate observe to the second. He was a rough sailor, such as are not often met with now-a-days, though then they were common. “If we could find him, we would heave him overboard.”

I remembered too well what I had often thought about myself, and felt thankful that I had kept my own counsel since I was on board, and had not told my story. The night came on very dark. I do not believe anybody in the ship knew exactly where we were. Several hours of deep anxiety passed away. The ship began to labour dreadfully. All we could hope was that, when daylight returned, we might find ourselves clear to the northward of all dangers, and then with tolerable sea-room we might expect to make sail so as to carry the ship into an English port. Vain were our hopes. Suddenly there was a cry, “Breakers ahead! breakers on the lee beam!” The ship struck, again and again, with terrific violence. The masts went by the board; then she seemed to be lifted over the ledge, and we found her floating in smoother water. We hoped that we were in some bay where we could bring up and ride out the gale; but it was too dark for us to distinguish our position. The captain had just given the order to let go an anchor, when the fearful cry was uttered, “The ship is sinking! the ship is sinking!”

“Get the boats out, my men; no hurry, now!” cried the captain; but it was not quite so easy to obey the order or to follow the advice. The long-boat was stove in; but we had a gig and a whale-boat hanging to the ship’s quarters. We ran to the falls. La Motte and I, with some others, leaped into the whale-boat just as the ship sank beneath our feet. We shouted out to the rest of our shipmates that we would try to pick them up, but we could see no one. Though I said the sea was calmer than on the other side of the reef, still we had no little difficulty in keeping the boat from swamping. We could not tell either in which direction to pull. All we could do, therefore, was to keep the boat’s head to the sea, and wait till daylight, which we knew was not far off. At length it came, as it always comes at last to the weary and the watchful, if they will but patiently wait for it. As the dawn gradually broke we found that we had been drifted into a bay, and that the shore was not four hundred fathoms from us. There was a good deal of surf breaking on it, so that it was necessary to use caution in landing. Waiting out opportunity, we gave way and drove the boat high up on the beach. A sad sight met our view; the sand on each side was covered with portions of the wreck and casks of wine, many of them stove in; but sadder far it was to see the bodies of our late shipmates hove up dead on the beach, while one or two were still washing to and fro in the surf, as if the sea were yet loth to give up its dead. Perhaps there is no more melancholy sight than that for a seaman to behold. We examined the bodies; they were all dead; but as we looked about we came upon some marks of feet in the sand, leading up the beach, and this gave us hopes that some of our companions had escaped. I saw La Motte looking inquiringly about him. I asked him if he knew where we were.

“Yes, that I do,” he answered. “At no great distance from my home. Come along with me, Weatherhelm. My family will be glad to welcome an old shipmate.”

Just as the sun got up we saw several people approaching, and were truly glad to find among them our captain and three of the crew. They took charge of the men who had been saved with us, while I set off with La Motte to his home. It was a large farm-house standing by itself. He looked round the building, and in at one or two of the windows, but could not make up his mind how to announce himself. “I am afraid of giving some of them a fright if I were to appear too suddenly,” he said. At last he told me that I must go in and tell them that I was a shipmate of his, and that he would be there soon. So I opened the door, and an old lady came out and spoke to me, but I could not understand a word she said, and then an old gentleman made his appearance, with white hair, with a long red waistcoat and greatcoat, but he could not help on the conversation. At last they went to the back of the house, and called “Janette! Janette!” and a young girl, with her petticoats tucked up, came tripping in, as if she had just been milking the cows, and she asked me, in broken English, what I wanted; and when I replied that I knew Jacob La Motte, and was a shipmate of his, they seemed very much interested, and not a little agitated. When I saw this, I thought the sooner I told them that he was all right and well the better, and then, to their astonishment, I ran out of the house and called him, and he soon had both them and several other young boys and girls all hanging round his neck, and kissing him and asking him all sorts of questions. I envied him—I could not help it. I had no father or mother, or brothers or sisters, to care for me, so even at that moment I felt very desolate and forlorn. However, they soon recollected me, and then they all did their best to make me happy and comfortable.

The days passed very quickly away. I never had been so happy and merry in my life. Though the old people could not speak English, they understood it a little, and I soon picked up French enough to make out what I wanted to say; and then all the younger people could talk English, though among themselves they always spoke French. As we lived on so quietly and peaceably in that pretty farm-house, no one would have supposed that all the horrors of war were being enacted in the surrounding seas. It might have been supposed that neither of us would ever have wished to leave those quiet scenes, but after a time La Motte began to grow fidgety, and said he must think of getting employment. At last away he went to Peter-le-port, the only town in the island. He was away three or four days, and when he came back he told me that he had taken service on board a privateer, one of the fastest craft out of the island. “She is called the Hirondelle,” he said. “You never set eyes on a more beautiful craft. She is lugger-rigged, mounts sixteen guns, and will carry a hundred and twenty hands, all told, fore and aft. There is nothing will look up to her. I could not resist the temptation of joining her. Her crew will have six months’ protection from the pressgang. That alone is worth something. Now is your opportunity, Will, for making your fortune. Don’t throw it away. By the time you are paid off you’ll have your pockets full of money, and then come and settle down here. That is what I intend to do.”

His reasonings and arguments seemed irresistible. Still I held off. I was balancing between my wish to go and see Aunt Bretta at Southsea and the old lady and her niece at Plymouth, and trying to find my way back to my ship. I had an idea that the latter was the right thing to do. Still, unhappily, I had not always been accustomed to do what was right, and now found it easy to do what was wrong. I told him, in reply, what I wished to do, and what I thought I ought to do; but he laughed at all my reasonings, and before the day was over I had consented to go and enter on board the lugger. In those days not many people thought there was any harm in privateering. Many do not think so now. Still there were some who looked upon it as little better than a sort of lawful piracy, and made but little scruple in running down an enemy’s privateer.

I found the Hirondelle everything La Motte had described her. We had not been out a week before we had taken a couple of prizes, and we recaptured a number of English vessels which had been taken by the enemy and were on their way into French ports. As we were low in the water and had short stumps for masts, by lowering our sails we could lie concealed till we could make out what sort of craft were heaving in sight. We therefore ran but little risk of catching a Tartar, as privateers very often do.

I remained in the privateer upwards of a year and a half, and at last peace came, and the crew were paid off, and she was laid up. Though I had spent my money pretty freely when I was on shore, still I found that, what with wages and prize-money, I had fully four hundred pounds in my pocket. This I might well look on as a handsome fortune to begin life with on shore, and carefully managed it was enough to set a young man up in business. I have known numbers of seamen go on shore with far larger sums, and spend the whole in the course of a few days, but then they have never—poor ignorant fellows!—read the book of Solomon, or, if they have, profited by the wise advice contained in it. I spent a few days with the La Motte family, but the thoughts of Aunt Bretta, and still more, perhaps, that quiet evening spent at Plymouth, were constantly coming into my mind; and wishing him and them good-bye, I shipped myself and my fortune aboard a cutter bound for Portsmouth.


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