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Chapter Eleven.
Old Jerry’s report of Iffley—Fears of the pressgang—Resolve to go inland—Commence our journey—Seized by men-of-war’s men—Iffley’s treachery—Find myself aboard a man-of-war bound for India—Iffley’s conduct—A gale—Fall overboard—Saved—Punishment aboard—Accused of stealing—Sentenced to be flogged—Iffley’s triumph.

Several days passed by, and I heard nothing of Iffley. The fears of my dear wife in consequence at length subsided, and she began to see that, after all, she had probably thought worse of my old shipmate than he deserved. We agreed that he must have been somewhat astonished at seeing me alive, and the husband of one whom he had hoped to marry himself, and that chiefly through bashfulness he had not been able to bring himself to come up and address us.

“Bashfulness!” said Aunt Bretta, when she heard this remark; “I cannot say that I should ever have given Charles Iffley the credit for a superabundance of that quality. However, strange things happen. He may have picked it up at sea, or among his associates on shore; but I doubt it.”

So did I, on reflection. Still, I was glad by any means to calm my wife’s apprehensions, which were the more painful because they were so very indefinite. In the evening there was a knock at the door, and old Jerry Vincent walked in.

“Sarvant, ladies; sarvant all,” said he, pulling off his hat to Aunt Bretta and my wife, who handed him a chair.

“Have you heard anything of that young man we told you of?” asked my wife. It was evidently the question she was most anxious to put.

“Yes, I have, marm, and not much good either,” was the answer. “I’ve found out that he is aboard the Royal William; she’s the flagship just now at Spithead. He doesn’t often come ashore, and that made me so long hearing of him.”

“What is he on board? Is he an officer?” asked Aunt Bretta.

“An officer, indeed, whew!” exclaimed Jerry. “Well, he is a sort of one, maybe. Not a very high rating, though. He’s neither more nor less than a boatswain’s mate. What do you think of that, marm?”

“Charles Iffley a boatswain’s mate!” said my wife in a tone of pity. “I thought he was an officer long ago.”

“Well, marm, I made inquiries on board, and among several people who knew him on shore, and from what I could learn, he would have been an officer long ago if he had conducted himself well. He was placed on the quarter-deck, for you see he has plenty of education, and knows how to act the gentleman as well as any man. But there are some men who never get up the tree but what they slip down again, and never can keep a straight course long together. Charles Iffley is of that sort. For something or other he did, he got disrated and dismissed the service; but he entered it again, and, from what I am told, I shouldn’t be surprised but what, if his early history isn’t known, he’ll work his way up again. The thing that is most against him is his extravagance. Every farthing he makes in prize-money or pay he spends on shore, in acting the fine gentleman. People can’t, indeed, tell how he gets all the money he spends. Of course, if it was known on board the pranks he plays on shore, his leave would be stopped; but he is so clever that he humbugs the officers, and they think him one of the most steady and best men. You see there’s another thing which brings him into favour with the captain and first lieutenant; he has a knack of finding men and getting them to join the ship, by making her out to be the most comfortable ship in the service, and there’s no man knows better how to ferret out seamen, and to lead a pressgang down upon a score of them together. I learned all these things from different people, do ye see, but putting this and that together, I made out my story as I tell it to you. To my mind, Charles Iffley is a man I would stand clear of. Depend on’t, he’s a deep one.”

Jerry Vincent stayed with us some time, and then he said he had an engagement and must go away. As he did so he beckoned me out of the room, and I accompanied him to the door.

“I’ll tell you what it is, Mr Weatherhelm,” said he, “you have been bred a seaman, and the pressgangs are very hot at work just now. They take everybody who has been at sea, no matter what his present calling—whether he has a wife and family depending on him or not. Now Iffley knows that you have no protection, and he has the power of getting hold of you. From what I hear, he’s just the man to use it. If you was his bosom friend, he’d do it; but if he owes you a grudge, depend on it he’ll not let you slip out of his gripe. He’d have been down on you before now, but he got a broken head the other night, in attacking the crew of a merchantman just come home from a three years’ cruise round the Horn, and had no fancy to be sent off to sea again when they had only just put their foot on shore. However, he is now on his legs again. If you stay here, you’ll hear something of him before long; but take my advice, just rig out as an old farmer, or a black-coated preacher, or something as unlike yourself as you can, and take your wife and go and live away somewhere up in the country. It’s your only chance. If you stay you’ll be nabbed, as sure as my name is Jerry Vincent.”

I thanked the old man very much for his advice, and replied that I had no doubt, on consideration, I should follow it.

“Oh, there’s a good lad! Don’t be waiting and considering. There’s no good comes of that. When a thing is to be done which must be done, go and do it at once.”

“Well, I will, Jerry, I will,” I answered, shaking him by the hand. I waited at the door, and while I watched him down the street I considered what course I would pursue. I was unwilling to tell my wife what he had said, because I knew it would agitate her very much, and I hoped that Jerry thought worse of Iffley than he deserved. Of course, however, I determined to consult Uncle Kelson, and to abide by his advice. It was a serious consideration whether I would, on the mere chance of Iffley’s being able to get hold of me, give up my occupation, in which I was succeeding so well, and go and live, for I knew not how long, in comparative poverty, without anything to do. I made an excuse for stepping out of the room to talk to Jerry, and my wife did not appear to suspect that he had had anything more to say about Iffley. As soon as she and my aunt had gone upstairs, I told Uncle Kelson all that I had learned. He looked graver than usual while he listened to the account.

“Well, he must be a scoundrel if he could do it!” he exclaimed at last, clenching his fist. “Still, such things have been done, but I did hope that no seaman would be guilty of them.” He was silent for some time, and lost in reflection. “I’ll tell you what, Will,” said he at last, “you must follow old Jerry’s advice. It’s sound, depend on it. That old man has more wisdom in his little finger than many a man has in the whole of his head. Go to your work to-morrow morning, and I’ll look down in the course of the day and see your employer, and explain matters to him frankly. He, I have no doubt, will give you leave of absence for a few weeks, and when you come back you can work double tides. If you stay, you see, you’ll be lost to him probably altogether.”

So the matter was arranged. I was rather ashamed, however, at the thought of having to go into hiding, as it were; but still I felt that my wife’s mind would be relieved from apprehension when once I was safe away out of Portsmouth. Uncle Kelson had a sister married to a farmer living in the north of Hampshire, and there we resolved to go.

The next day I went to my work as usual, and my uncle came down and had a talk with my employer, and the whole matter was arranged to the satisfaction of all parties.

“Come,” said Uncle Kelson, “you had better at once take your places by the coach, and start to-morrow. There is no time to be lost.”

We found on getting to the coach-office that all the coaches were full. At that time there was an immense traffic between Portsmouth and London. A post-chaise was somewhat beyond our means, but we found a light waggon starting, which took passengers, and Uncle Kelson and I agreed that this would prove a convenient and very pleasant conveyance, as we were in no hurry, and would not object to being some time on the road. It was to start pretty early in the morning. My dear wife was delighted at the thoughts of the journey, and speedily made the necessary preparations. We sent on our trunk by a wheelbarrow, while we followed, accompanied by Uncle Kelson. Even at that early hour the High Street was astir,—indeed, in those busy times, both during day and night, something or other was going forward. We passed several gangs of men-of-war’s men. Three or four men evidently just pressed, and who showed a strong disinclination to go and serve their country, were being dragged along by one of the gangs. I could not help pitying the poor fellows; so did my wife.

“Oh, Willand,” said she, “how thankful I am that you are not among them!”

Our waggon was a very nice one, covered over with a clean white tilt, and our waggoner, I saw at a glance, was an honest, good-hearted chaw-bacon. He was dressed in the long white frock, thickly plaited in front, which has been worn from time immemorial by people of his calling. Our trunk and bags were put in; we shook hands with Uncle Kelson, and having taken our seats just inside in the front part, with plenty of straw for our feet to rest on, the waggoner whipped up his four sturdy horses, and we began to move on. My dear wife pressed closer to my side, and we began to breathe more freely; she thought I was safe from the pressgang. We were just clear of the fortifications, and were getting into the open country, when I saw the waggoner turn round once or twice, and look over his shoulder behind him.

“What can they be after?” I heard him say. A minute more passed. “Hillo, men, what does ye want here?” he exclaimed suddenly, as half a dozen or more seamen sprang forward, and seized the horses’ heads, while others leaped up into the waggon.

“We are looking for a deserter,” cried two or three of them. “Turn out, my hearty; where are you stowed away?”

I felt, the instant the seamen appeared, that they had come to press me, but these words revived my hopes of escape.

“There is no one here, my men, besides my wife and me that I know of,” I observed. “You have made a mistake, I suspect.”

“Well, we must look,” said the men; “we are not quite so green as to take your word for it.”

“You may look as much as you like, measters,” said the waggoner; “you’ll find no one among my goods, unless he’s stowed hesself away unknowest to me.”

The seamen began to poke their cutlasses in between the packages, and would undoubtedly have run any one through who had been inside them. While they were thus employed, three or four other men came up.

“What are you about, mates?” exclaimed one of them, whose voice I felt sure I knew. “The man you want is sitting in the front of the waggon!”

On hearing these words my poor wife uttered a piercing shriek, and fell fainting into my arms. She, too, had recognised the voice, though the speaker had kept out of her sight; it was that of Charles Iffley. The seamen instantly sprang on me, and seized me by the arms.

“Hillo, mate, you were going to give us the go-by,” said one of them as they passed a rope round my elbows before I could lift an arm in my defence.

They literally dragged me from my poor wife. She would have fallen, but the waggoner humanely scrambled up into his waggon, and placed her securely at the bottom of it. She was still, I saw, completely insensible. I scarcely regretted that she was so, for I did not at the moment foresee the consequences. The honest carter was in vain expostulating with the seamen for seizing one whom he considered placed under his especial charge, to be delivered safe at the journey’s end.

“I don’t think as how you have any right to take that gentleman; he’s no more a sailor nor I bes,” I heard him say.

“Not a sailor! Why, the man has been at sea all his life till the last year or so,” said Iffley, now coming up, and throwing off all disguise; “he’s, moreover, to my certain knowledge, a deserter from his Majesty’s ship Brilliant, so attempt to detain him if you dare.”

These words had a great effect on the honest waggoner, who did not attempt to make any further efforts to detain me.

Generally speaking, the most ruffian-like and least scrupulous of the crew were employed in the pressgangs, for they often had very brutal work to perform. The men into whose hands I had fallen were as bad as any I had ever met. They seized me with the greatest ferocity, dragged me out of the waggon, and would not listen to my prayers and entreaties to be allowed to wait till my wife came to her senses; and before even I had time to speak to the waggoner, in spite of all the violent struggles I made to free myself, they hauled me off along the road as if I had been one of the worst of malefactors. In this they were encouraged by Iffley, who seemed to take a malignant pleasure in seeing me ill-treated, though he did not himself attempt to lay hands on me. When I tried to cry out, I found a gag thrust into my mouth, and thus I was rendered speechless as well as in every other way powerless.

My captors hurried me away, and with a feeling amounting to agony, I lost sight of the waggon. At first it occurred to me that Iffley had gone back for the purpose, as I dreaded, of speaking to my wife, and perhaps adding to her misery; but had he entertained such a thought, he had not dared to face her, for I saw him directly afterwards following close behind me, encouraging the other men to hasten along.

Though I made all the resistance of which I was capable, in the hopes that something or other might occur to enable me to free myself, we soon reached the entrance to Portsmouth.

Instead, however, of proceeding down the High Street, Iffley led the way down one of the by-streets to the right. Just as we were passing under the ramparts I looked up, and there I saw walking up and down, as if to enjoy the breeze, a person whom I recognised at a glance as Uncle Kelson. The moment I saw him, hope revived in my breast. I could at all events tell him to go in search of my wife. Perhaps he might even find means to liberate me; but when I tried to sing out, the horrible gag prevented me speaking. I could only utter inarticulate cries and groans.

In vain I shrieked. He did not even turn his head; the sounds were too common. He thought, probably, that it was only some drunken seaman, who had outstayed his leave, dragged back to his ship.

At length, for a moment, he looked round. I struggled more vehemently than before. I fancied that he must recognise me, but, urged by Iffley, my captors dragged me on faster than ever, and turning a corner we were hid from his sight. My strength was now almost exhausted. I could offer but a faint resistance. Hope, too, had abandoned me. Still I tried to make myself heard, on the possibility of some one knowing me and undertaking to carry a message to my uncle and aunt. People stopped and looked, but the same idea occurred to all—my frantic gestures made them believe that I was a miserable drunken sailor.

We reached the water’s edge. I was shoved into a boat with several other men who had been captured during the night. They all were sitting stunned, or drunken, or sulky (or some too probably broken-hearted and miserable), at the bottom of the boat, not exchanging a word with each other or with those who had pressed us. I also fell down stunned and unconscious. Who could have discovered the difference between me and my companions in misfortune? When I again opened my eyes, I found that the boat was almost at Spithead. I tried to sit up to look about me, but I could not, and, after a feeble attempt to rise, I again sank back, and once more oblivion of all that had passed stole over my senses. I had a sort of dreamy feeling that I was lifted up on the deck of a big ship, and then handed below and put into a hammock. Then I was aware that some one came and felt my pulse and gave me medicine, but I had no power to think, to recollect the past or to note the present.

At last, by degrees, I found that I was becoming more alive to what was taking place. I felt the movement of the ship. She was heeling over to a strong breeze. Then suddenly the recollection of my wife, of the way I had been torn from her, of the wretchedness I knew she must suffer, of the uncertainty she must feel for my fate, burst like a thunder-clap on me, and almost sent me back into the state from which I was recovering. I groaned in my agony. I wished that death might kindly be sent to relieve me of my misery. But the instant after I felt that such a wish was impious.

I lay quiet for some time, thinking and praying that strength might be given for my support. No, no, I’ll try to live, that I may get back to comfort her. What joy it would be once more to return to her! The very contemplation of such an idea revived me. “Whatever comes, I’ll do my duty like a man.”

“That’s right, my lad; that’s the proper spirit in which to take our misfortunes,” said a voice near me.

Unconsciously, I had spoken aloud. I turned round my head, and saw a gentleman I knew at once was the doctor of the ship.

“I know your story. You have told me a good deal about yourself while you have been lying there,” he remarked, in a kind voice. “I pity you from my heart, and will do what I can for you.”

“Thank you, sir, thank you,” I answered warmly, and almost melting into tears, for I was very weak. “Where are we? Where are we going? What ship is this? Is Iffley here?”

“One question at a time, my lad, and you will have a better chance of an answer, as a general rule,” he answered, smiling.

He was a Scotchman, and as warm-hearted, generous a man as the north ever produced, though somewhat peculiar in his manners. To a stranger he appeared slow; but, when time would allow it, he knew the advantage of deliberation.

“First, then, I will tell you that you are on board the Albion, and that we have under our convoy a large fleet of merchantmen. We are somewhere to the southward of Cape Finisterre. What you are thinking about is, how you can write home to let your wife know what has become of you. You’ll very likely soon have an opportunity. Let that comfort you.” He said all this that he might break more gradually all that was coming.

“But where are we going, sir?” I asked, in a trembling voice.

“You may perhaps have an opportunity of getting home,” he answered. “But you see, my lad, we are bound for the East Indies, and shall probably have a somewhat long cruise of it.”

“To the East Indies!” I cried, my voice sinking almost to a whisper. “When, when, Margaret, may I ever meet you again?”

“Cheer up, my lad, it’s a long road which has no turning, ye ken,” cried the kind doctor. “Remember your resolution to do your duty like a man. You’ll be well in a few days, I hope.”

He did not reply to my question about Iffley. Somehow or other, I could not bring myself again to repeat that man’s name. I did not forget the command to forgive our enemies, but I felt that flesh and blood—the depravity of human nature—must be struggled with and overcome, before the divine precept could be obeyed.

Once more I was on my feet again, and a man who attended on the sick helped me up on deck. It was a fine day—the sky was blue, the sea was calm, and some thirty ships, with all their canvas set, were grouped close around us. They were huge lumbering tea-chests, as we used to call Indiamen, but they were fine-looking craft for all that. The fresh sea-breeze revived me. Every hour I felt myself growing stronger and better. I looked round for Iffley. I had a nervous dread of meeting him, and yet I felt anxious to ascertain that he was on board.

A person may be on board a big ship like the Albion for several days without meeting another, provided they are not on duty together. Such was my case. I had been for two days on deck, an hour or so at a time, without seeing the man who had proved himself so bitterly my enemy. The doctor told me he thought that in a day or two more I might go to my duty, and that I should be the better for having work to do. I looked forward to work with satisfaction, and begged that I might as soon as possible be struck off the sick list. He told me that I should be so on the following day, and that he would speak to the first lieutenant about me, as he was a very kind man, and would see that I was not sent aloft till I had sufficiently recovered my strength. I thanked him with a hearty blessing for his kindness and consideration.

The very first man on whom my eyes rested when I went on deck returned fit for duty was Charles Iffley. He was going along the deck with his cat-o’-nine-tails in his hand. I knew by this that he still held only the rating of boatswain’s mate on board. My heart turned sick at the sight; in a moment my vivid imagination pictured all I might have to suffer at his hands.

He saw me, but pretended not to know me, and went on his way as if I was a stranger. I was immediately sent for aft, and found that I had been entered in the ship’s books as an able seaman and a deserter from his Majesty’s ship the Brilliant.

“What have you to say to this, my man?” said the captain, looking sternly at me.

“That I am not a deserter, sir,” I answered in a firm voice; and I then gave him a clear and succinct account of the cutting-out expedition in Santa Cruz harbour, in which I had been engaged, and the way in which my life had been preserved on that occasion.

The captain, after a moment’s consideration, sent a midshipman down into his cabin for a printed book. When it was brought to him he turned over the pages and asked me a few more questions. “I find that your account agrees exactly with the description I here have of the affair, and I believe you.”

I saw Dr McCall, who came up at the moment and heard the captain’s words, look evidently pleased. They exchanged glances, I thought. At all events, I fancied that I had just and kind-hearted superiors, and that my condition was far better than I might have expected to find it. Still this reflection could not mitigate the great source of my grief—my sudden separation from my wife and my ignorance of her fate. After this I was placed in a watch, and went regularly about my duty. I did my best to perform it, and quickly recovered my strength.

Ours had always been considered a smart ship, and though our captain was a kind man, he sacrificed a great deal to smartness. The most active and bustling men who could make the most show of doing things smartly, often gained more credit than they deserved.

It was one forenoon my watch below when I heard the cry of “All hands shorten sail!” I had been stationed in the fore-top. I sprang on deck as fast as my strength would allow, but I had not recovered my usual activity. “Fly aloft, there! fly aloft, you lazy scoundrel, or a rope’s-end will freshen your way a bit!” I heard a voice cry, close to my ear. It was Iffley’s. His countenance showed that he was capable of executing his threats. My blood boiled. I could do nothing. I could say nothing. In a moment I understood the bitter enmity which he had allowed to enter and to rankle in his bosom. I scarcely dared again to look at him. I hurried on. A sudden squall had struck the ship—unexpected after the long calms to which we had been subject. She was heeling over to her lower deck ports. The exertion of all hands was indeed required to shorten sail. I found Iffley following close after me. I sprang up the rigging and quickly reached the fore-top. I could not help seeing his face as he came up. It wore the expression of most malignant hatred. “Lay out; be smart about it, my lads!” cried the captain of the top, as the fore-topsail-yard came rattling down.

In an instant the yard was covered with active forms hurrying out to its extreme ends. I made a spring to get out to the weather-earing. I had got it in my hand and was hauling on it, when I saw the countenance of Iffley, wearing the same expression as before, close to me. There was now in it a triumphant expression, as if he hoped that his vindictive feelings were about to be gratified. Still not a word did he utter. No one on board would have guessed that we had ever before met. I still kept to my resolution.

The gale came down on us stronger than ever. The officers were urging the men to greater speed. Suddenly I felt the earing in my hand give way, and before I could grasp at the yard to save myself I lost my balance, and to my horror found myself falling into the seething ocean raging beneath me. A strange, hideous, mocking strain of laughter sounded in my ears as I fell, and after that I knew no more till I discovered that I was struggling in the foaming waters.

I had gone down once, but had quickly come up again. I threw myself on my back till I had somewhat recovered my senses, and then turned myself round and kept treading the water while I looked out to see how far I was from the ship.

Away she flew, close-hauled though, with the foam dancing round her, and already at some distance. “And is this to be my fate?” I thought; “to die thus a victim to the foul revenge of that man?”

I resolved to struggle for life. I looked round me on every side. The Indiamen were scattered far and wide, none of them were coming up on our track. Still I swam on, but I felt how hopeless was the struggle.

Just then my eye fell on a grating, floating not five fathoms from me, and which had evidently been thrown to me by some one on board, when I was seen to fall from aloft. I exerted all my strength, and at length reached it. The time appeared to be very long. It is impossible, on such occasions, to measure it. Moments appeared minutes—minutes hours. I threw myself on the grating in a position to avoid being washed off it or thrown under it; but it required no slight exertion to hold on. As the dark seas came rolling up, and breaking, with a loud, crashing sound, above my head, I felt as if they must inevitably overwhelm me. Still I did not give up hope.

Unhappy as I had thought myself, I desired life that I might return home once more and ascertain the fate of my wife. I prayed that for this object I might be preserved; that we might once more be united, and once again be happy on earth. Even at that moment, surrounded by the boiling seas, with my ship flying fast away from me, I pictured, with all the vividness of reality, the unspeakable joy of once again being restored to her. I remembered the numberless dangers to which I had been exposed, and the merciful way in which I had been preserved from them.

Not for an instant did I think of Iffley. I forgot that he had been the cause of my present position, and thus I was prevented from harbouring any feeling of revenge against him.

As I was saying, I could not judge how long I was clinging to the grating. Tossed about as I was—now lifted to the summit of a foaming sea—now sinking down into the trough—I kept my eye constantly turning towards my ship.

Suddenly I saw the fore-topsail thrown aback—a boat was lowered—my shipmates were coming to my rescue. I felt even then that I was to be saved. I forgot the distance they had to pull and the heavy sea which might both endanger them and hide me from their sight. Still more eagerly did I try to make out the boat, as she laboured among the foaming seas. I caught a glimpse of her as I rose to the top of a wave, but she was not pulling towards me. Those in her could not have seen me.

Then suddenly the horrid thought came across me, that Iffley might have pretended to have seen where I was and to have guided the boat wrongly. Then I blamed myself for thinking even Iffley capable of an act so atrocious. Still, I thought if he had purposely thrown me into the sea, he would be as likely to play the foul trick of which I now suspected him.

Again I sank down into a deep trough of the sea, and could only for a time distinguish the topsails of the ship above the masses of foam which flew around. When I next rose again, there was the boat pulling away from me.

I shrieked out, I raised my voice louder and louder, as if I could by possibility be heard. I might as well have tried to howl down the hurricane in its fiercest mood. This was more trying than all that had gone before.

At length, exhausted by my exertions, I threw myself back on the grating, scarcely attempting to hold on. I was then in the trough of a sea. In another moment I was raised again to the summit of a sea, and, though hopeless, my eyes mechanically turned towards the boat.

Some one on board had seen me—she was pulling towards me. I felt conscious in a moment how wrong I had been to despair. I again exerted all my strength to keep myself on the grating. I saw some one standing up in the bows looking out for me. He pointed to where I floated, that the helmsman might steer the boat aright.

“Hurra! hurra!” A shout reached my ears. I knew that my shipmates had given it to encourage me. A few minutes more, and I found myself hauled into the boat.

The first person on whom my eyes rested was Iffley. He looked, I fancied, conscience-struck and defeated.

“Charley said as how he thought he saw you away to the eastward there; but Tom Potts caught sight of you, and now we know he was right,” said one of the men who were hauling me in.

I was placed in the bottom of the boat, for there was little time in that heavy sea to attend to me, and she pulled back towards the ship. I felt that I was saved. I did not expect to be much the worse for my ducking, and I knew when I got back to the ship that the doctor would look after me. I had now no doubt that Iffley had endeavoured to prevent the boat from coming to my assistance. How bitter must be his hatred to allow me—his shipmate—to die thus horribly, struggling in the sea, when he had the power to save me!

As I was helped up the side, I caught his eye fixed on me, and again I observed that evident look of baffled vengeance which I had before remarked. I felt sure that he would take the first opportunity of giving further proof of his hatred of me. I did not see any means of escaping from it. Had he even spoken to me, I might have expostulated with him; but he kept aloof as if I were a total stranger to him. He carefully avoided even addressing me directly. I felt sure, indeed, that had I spoken to him, he would have stoutly denied all former knowledge of me, and who was to prove it? No one whom I knew on board. I felt as if I were pursued by some monster with supernatural powers, from whom I could not get free.

When I got on board, Dr McCall kindly ordered me to go to my hammock, and he came and gave me some medicine. He said that after the illness from which I had so long been suffering, the consequences might be serious if I caught cold from my ducking. However, I turned out the next morning not in the slightest degree the worse for what had occurred I resolved to be as attentive and exact in my duty as possible; I wished to behave thus, at all events; but I also knew that in that case I should give my enemy less opportunity of injuring me.

Two days after this a man was convicted of stealing on board. He was sentenced to receive fifty lashes. Iffley was one of the boatswain’s mates chosen to inflict the punishment. The crew were mustered on deck, and the man was led forward. He was one of those wretched men who are both rogues and cowards.

Iffley and the other boatswain’s mates stood with their cats, those dreadful instruments of power, in their hands ready for use. While preparations were being made, the miserable wretch looked round on every side, as if seeking for some one who could save him from the punishment he was about to receive. Not a glance of pity did he get from his messmates. They knew him too well. At last he looked towards Iffley. I saw them exchange glances. Iffley, of course, did not speak, but his looks said something which gave the other courage.

“Captain,” said the man, turning round to our captain, “you are going to make the innocent suffer for the guilty. I wanted to shield a shipmate; but he will be found out at last, I know, and I shall only suffer without doing any one any good, otherwise I could have borne the punishment willingly.”

I at the time thought that the man spoke in that whining tone which a person in spite of himself uses when he is uttering a falsehood, or saying what has been put into his mouth by another.

“Cast him loose,” said the captain; “I’ll inquire into this. Bring him aft here. Now tell me at once who is the man who has committed this theft, if you are not guilty of it.”

“I’d rather not say, sir,” replied the culprit. “I don’t like to peach on another. He’ll be found out before the day is over, and then I shan’t be accused of having told of him.”

“That excuse will not serve your turn, my man,” answered the captain sternly. “Unless you can point out the real culprit, you will have to suffer the punishment awarded you.”

“Oh no, sir, I’d rather not. Do not be hard on me. I don’t like to hurt another man, even to save myself,” again whined out the man. “Let me off, sir, let me off, and the real thief will be found—that he will; you have my word for it.”

“Trice him up again,” said the captain to the boatswain. “The true thief is about to be punished, I am very certain of that.”

“I’ll tell, sir, I’ll tell!” shrieked out the wretched man. “He’s one who has been skulking his duty ever since he came on board. I’d rather not speak his name.”

The captain shook his head, and made a sign to the boatswain to proceed.

“Well, if I must tell,” cried out the man, Saull Ley by name, “the thief is Will Weatherhelm.”

I almost fainted when I heard the accusation, and I am sure that I must have looked as guilty as if I had committed the theft.

A triumphant smile flitted across Iffley’s features, and he passed the knotted tails of his cat, as if mechanically, through his fingers, while he cast a glance at me which I too well understood. The captain turned towards me.

“What is this I hear?” he asked. “Do you acknowledge the theft, Weatherhelm?”

“No, sir; certainly not,” I answered, with as firm a voice as I could command, though I felt conscious that it was faltering as I spoke.

“What proof have you that Weatherhelm committed the theft?” asked the captain of the culprit.

“Because two men, if not more, watched him, and knew that it was him,” was the answer; and now the man spoke in a firmer voice than I had done, and I fancied looked more innocent.

“Produce your witnesses,” said the captain.

The man hesitated for a minute, and his eye ranged with an uneasy glance along the lines of men drawn up on deck, as if anxiously scanning their countenances, for he must have felt that they knew him, and that he was not generally believed. At last his eyes rested on two who were standing together.

“Bill Sykes and Dick Todd saw him, sir; they know all about it. They’ll tell you; they’ll prove I am innocent.”

The theft had been committed on the purser’s stores. Some tobacco and sugar and some other things had been stolen. Now Saull Ley, the accused, had been seen coming out of the store-room on one occasion when the purser’s clerk had left the keys in the door for a short time and gone away. The purser, on his return, had missed some tobacco and sugar, and that same evening a small quantity of both those articles had been found in Ley’s possession.

“Stand out, Bill Sykes and Dick Todd, and let me hear what you know about this matter.”

Bill Sykes was a landsman, and had soon shown that he was totally unfit for a sailor. Dick Todd had entered as a boy. He was not worth much, and had become a great chum of Sykes’. Still, from the little I had seen of them, I did not think that they would have been guilty of falsely accusing a shipmate. I had therefore little fear of what they could say against me.

I was, however, somewhat startled when they stepped forward, and Sykes, as the eldest, began in a clear way to state that he had seen a man, whom he took to be me, open the door of the purser’s room with a key, and, after being absent for a minute or more, return and lock it. He at once knew this was wrong, so he watched what the man he took to be the thief would next do. He said that he met with Todd, and told him as a friend what he had observed. The thief crept along the deck, and the two then saw him go to his bag and deposit something which he took out of his pockets. Both the men acknowledged that they might be mistaken, but that they thought that it was me.

“What have you got to say to this, Weatherhelm?” asked the captain. “You are accused by the mouths of two witnesses.”

“The accusation is false, sir,” I answered calmly. “I was not long ago at my bag, and I observed neither tobacco nor sugar in it. If you will send for it, you will find that I speak the truth.”

“Very well. Mr Marvel, take a couple of hands with you, and bring up Weatherhelm’s bag,” said the captain, addressing the mate of the lower deck.

I felt very little anxiety during the time the officer was absent, for I was sure that nothing would be found among my things. He soon returned, bringing the bag. It was placed before the captain.

“Open it,” said he. It was opened on deck in sight of all the officers and ship’s company. What was my horror and dismay, to see drawn forth, wrapped up in a shirt, a large lump of tobacco and a paper containing several pounds of sugar! “Now what have you got to say?” asked the captain, turning to me.

“That I have not the slightest notion how those things came into my bag,” was my prompt answer.

“That is the sort of reply people always give when they are found out,” said the captain. “It will not serve your turn, I fear.”

“I cannot help it, sir,” I replied, with a feeling of desperation. “Appearances are certainly against me, sir; I know not by whom those things were put into my bag. I did not put them in, and I did not know that they were there.”

“You said that another man was a witness of this affair,” said the captain, turning to Ley. “Who is he?”

Ley began to hum and haw and look uncomfortable. “I’d rather not say, sir,” whined out Ley, “if it is not necessary.”

“But it is necessary,” thundered out the captain, evidently annoyed at the man’s coolness and canting hypocrisy. “Who is he? or you get the four dozen awarded you.”

I had watched all along the countenance of Iffley. I felt sure that a plot had been formed against me, and that he was its framer and instigator. I saw that he began to grow uneasy at this stage of the proceedings.

“Who is this other man?” repeated the captain.

Ley saw that he must speak out, or that he would still get the punishment he was so anxious to escape. “There he is; Charles Iffley is the man, sir, who, besides those two, saw Weatherhelm go to his bag and put the stolen things into it.”

“How is this, Iffley? If you saw a man committing a robbery, it wag your duty to give notice of it, sir,” exclaimed the captain, in an angry voice, turning towards him.

“I am very sorry, sir,” replied Iffley. “I am aware of what I ought, strictly speaking, to have done, but I did not like to hurt the character of a shipmate. He always seemed a very respectable man, and I fully believed that I must have been mistaken. It is only now that the things are found in his bag that I can believe him guilty.”

“You are ready to swear to this?” asked the captain.

“Quite ready, sir, certainly,” replied Iffley calmly. “I add nothing and withhold nothing on the subject.”

Even I was startled by what Iffley said, and the way he said it. I could not help supposing that he believed what he said.

“Have you anything more to say in your defence, Weatherhelm?” said the captain.

“Nothing, sir, except that those men are mistaken. I can only hope that they believe what they say,” I answered, with a firmer voice than I had before been able to command.

“I am very sorry for it, and do not just now altogether believe it,” I heard Dr McCall observe as he walked off. “You will expect your punishment—six dozen,” said the captain. “Pipe down.”

Could a painter at that moment have observed Iffley’s countenance, it might have served him as a likeness of Satan when he is assured that Eve has fallen. The officers walked aft, the crew dispersed, and I was placed under charge of the master-at-arms.

Two days passed by. How full of agony and wretchedness they were! The pain I was to expect was as nothing compared to the disgrace and degradation. I who had always borne an unsullied name, whose character had always stood high both with my officers and messmates, to be now branded as a thief! How could I ever face those I loved, conscious of the marks of the foul lash on my back? There was no one on board to speak in my favour; no one who had known me before—and how incapable I was of the act imputed to me—except Iffley; and he, I felt too well assured, would do his utmost to destroy me.

The two days passed—no circumstance occurred, as I had hoped it might, to prove that I was innocent—when the boatswain’s call summoned all hands on deck to witness punishment. This time I was to be the victim.

The boatswain’s mates stood ready. One of them was Iffley. He played eagerly with his cat as I was led forward. “If come it must.” I ejaculated, “the Lord have mercy on me—I will bear my punishment as a man.”


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