小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Will Weatherhelm » Chapter Thirteen.
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Chapter Thirteen.
Overpower mutineers—A suspicious sail—Chased—Captured by French privateer—Carried into Saint Malo—Plan for escaping—Carouse of privateer’s crew—La Motte’s dangerous expedition—Escape from harbour.

The moment I saw the heads of the Frenchmen, I handed out a musket from the companion-hatch, and gave it to Thompson, while I took one myself and levelled it at them. “Ah, my friends, understand that I will fire at the first man of you who steps on deck!” I sang out. “Return to your beds, if you are sick, but on deck you must not venture.”

Thompson imitated my example, and we both stood with our muskets levelled and ready to put our threats into execution. At first the Frenchmen popped down again very quickly, but gaining courage, they all five put their heads up again at the same moment.

Looking round and seeing only Thompson and me on deck, they sprang up as if they were about to make a desperate rush towards us, thinking of course that they could easily overcome two men.

Telling Thompson to aim at the blacks in the rigging to keep them there, I covered the foremost Frenchman with my musket. I could have killed him on the spot, but I was most unwilling to shed blood except in the very last necessity. Once more I sang out. He continued advancing.

“I have given you ample warning!” I cried out. My finger was on the trigger.

At that moment Mr Randolph, followed by Andrews and the other men, sprang on deck, and seeing the state of affairs, each of them grasping a handspike, they ran towards the Frenchmen.

The latter soon saw that their opportunity was lost. The negroes, for the sake of being more out of the way, as they fancied, of Thompson’s musket, had climbed as high as they could up the rigging, so that he was able to hold another Frenchman in check. The Frenchman nearest to me, seeing my resolute bearing, and having no fancy for throwing his life away even for the sake of his companions, very wisely backed against them, and they seeing Mr Randolph and his party advancing from forward, to avoid getting their heads broken, leaped precipitately down the hatchway, whence they had but just before emerged.

Leaving Thompson to keep the blacks aloft with his musket, I sprang to the hatchway and sang out, “We do not want to do you any harm, but if you attempt any trick, for our own sakes we must shoot every one of you!” I said this because I saw one of them striking away over a tinder-box, with the intention, I had little doubt, of trying to set the ship on fire.

Mr Randolph highly applauded me for what I had done. On looking below and seeing what the Frenchmen were about, he and Andrews, with Jones and another man, leaped down among them, and seizing the first they could lay hands on, lifted him up crop and heels to me. The move so much astonished his companions, that they did not come to his assistance; and another being treated in the same way, we had their forces divided, and very speedily brought them to terms. We first lashed the hands of the two we had on deck behind them, and made them sit down with their backs against the bulwarks on the starboard side, and then we got up the other three one by one, and placed them, bound in the same way, on the opposite side. Next we called down the blacks, and arranged them round the mainmast.

“Now, my friends, by all the laws of war you ought to be shot!” said Mr Randolph. “We treated you very kindly; we gave you of the best of everything on board, and in return you have attempted to knock us on the head, and to take the ship from us. However, it was natural that you should wish to recover what was once your own, so that if you will promise, on the honour of Frenchmen, not to make another attempt of the sort, we will allow you your freedom during the day-time, on certain conditions. Three of you must remain forward, and never come abaft the foremast unless I call you; and two must never go before the mizzen-mast; at night we must shut you all up. I warn you, also, that as surely as any one of you attempts to infringe these regulations, I will shoot him. We are very good friends; I do not bear you the slightest enmity, but our own safety demands this.”

Our prisoners shrugged their shoulders. “C’est la fortune de la guerre,” was the only answer they at first made. They most of them understood pretty clearly what Mr Randolph had said; besides, one, who understood English the best, interpreted to the rest.

Mr Randolph waited a little time. “Do you agree to my terms?” he asked.

“Oui, monsieur; oui, oui,” was answered by all of them simultaneously.

“If I grant you your freedom at once, will you give me your honour to act as I desire?” asked Mr Randolph. “I do not wish you to do so while you sit there bound like slaves.”

The idea seemed to take their fancy amazingly, and as soon as we had unlashed their arms, by Mr Randolph’s orders, they got up, and all together, putting their hands on their breasts, swore solemnly not again to attempt to retake the ship. It is impossible to describe their manner, or the air with which they uttered the words.

They did not seem, however, much to like being kept separate from each other, but Mr Randolph very wisely would not abate in any way the regulations he had formed. He allowed one of them at a time to go into the caboose to cook, for they did not at all approve of our style of cooking, and one of them, who spoke English, remarked that it was only fit for bears and wolves. We laughed, and observed, in return, that people have different tastes, and that we had no fancy for the kickshaws and trifles which satisfied them. (Quelque chose and troufles, perhaps I ought to have written.)

When a Frenchman is asked what he will have for dinner, he begins by saying quelque chose au troufles, and then goes on to enumerate all sorts of things, just as an Englishman replies, a mutton-chop or beefsteak, and finally orders turtle-soup, salmon, and a venison pasty; not that I can own to having ever been guilty of such a proceeding.

After we had settled with the Frenchmen, we allowed the blacks to come down, and ordering them into the waist, told them to keep there on pain of being shot, and on no account to communicate with any one else. They, grinning, pointed to our muskets, and assured us that while we kept those in our hands they would most implicitly obey us.

These matters being arranged, we each of us stuck a brace of pistols in our belts, and hung cutlasses to our sides, while a musket was placed so that the man at the wheel could get hold of it in a moment. The rest of the arms and powder were locked up in the after-cabin.

These precautions were, I am convinced, not greater than were necessary. When the Frenchmen saw that we had taken them, and that we were wide awake, they did not dream of breaking their word; but had we exhibited any carelessness, or any undue confidence in them, the honour they had pledged would not, I suspect, have resisted the temptation which they would have felt again to try and take the ship from us.

As it was, all went on very quietly. We soon got once more into the way of joking and talking with the Frenchmen, and apparently were on as good terms as ever, but Mr Randolph every now and then gave us a hint to be on our guard.

“Don’t trust them, my men,” said he. “The more they laugh, and chatter, and smile, the more they are inclined for mischief, depend on that.”

He was right, and I think, considering his youth, that he deserved great credit for his discretion and judgment; for I believe that many an older man might have been deceived by the plausibility of their manners and their apparent cordiality.

Fortunately we had very fine weather, and a fair wind, and in about a week after the occurrence I have described we struck soundings in the chops of the Channel. Our difficulties and dangers, however, were not over; we had to keep a stricter watch than ever on our prisoners, for they could tell by the colour of the water that we were near home, and that if they did not at once regain their liberty they must give up all hopes of so doing. We had likewise to keep a constant look-out for strange sails. The enemy’s privateers abounded, we knew, in the mouth of the Channel, though their men-of-war were not so fond at the time of showing themselves in those latitudes where they were very likely to be picked up by British cruisers.

With the few hands we had on board, we could scarcely hope to make a successful resistance against any armed vessel; still, when Mr Randolph asked us if we would stick by him should we fall in with an enemy, we promised to do our best.

“Never fear, then,” said he; “though we might not be able to beat them off, we’ll try and frighten them away. As we cannot expect the Frenchmen to help us, we’ll make their clothes serve some purpose at all events.”

We had discovered some chests of clothes in the ship, and most of the prisoners had more than one suit; these we instantly set to work to fill with straw, and in a short time we had manufactured a crew of forty men at least. We rigged out some as officers, and put spy-glasses in their hands, and, knocking out the flints of some of the muskets, we put them into the hands of others, and stuck them about the ship. We then loaded all the guns and ran them out, and got ready also all the remainder of the firearms.

“Had the Nautile stuck by us we might have put a very good face on the matter, whatever craft we might have fallen in with, if she had done as we have,” Mr Randolph observed to me as I stood at the helm.

“It is a pity, sir; but I hope we may still run the gauntlet of our enemies and get safe into port,” I answered; and earnestly, indeed, did I pray that such might be our lot.

As I drew nearer home, still more intense had become my anxiety to ascertain the fate of my beloved wife. I will not here dwell on the subject. Sometimes the thought of all she must have suffered on my account and on her own became almost insupportable. I felt that it was wiser not to dwell on it, and yet I could not cast it from me. My only, my great resource was prayer—great and supporting it was. Let any one, placed as I was, try it, and they will find that I in no way overrate it. Whenever I felt the miserable depressing feeling coming on, I fled instantly to that great source of comfort, of all true happiness, and it never failed me.

However, as I say, I will not dwell on that subject now. I may be inclined thus to write, but all who read may not be in a proper frame of mind to reflect on the matter, and thus I may perchance do more harm than good.

As I was saying, we had been keeping a bright look-out, even before we struck soundings, both day and night. If the wind should hold fair, in two or three days we might hope to be in Plymouth Sound.

All hands were talking of home, of those they expected to meet, and of the delights of a run on shore. The night was very fine, but towards morning a thin mist settled down over the sea, and though it did not obscure the bright stars which glittered overhead, it prevented us from seeing to any great distance around. However, we every now and then hove the lead, and we were convinced that we were in the fairway up Channel.

At length, when daylight slowly broke, the mist assumed a white, silvery appearance, the smooth water close alongside could clearly be perceived, and the mist was seen as it were skirmishing round us, broken away, it seemed, by our coming against it, and then it grew thicker and thicker, till the eye could no longer penetrate through it. We might have been, for what we could tell, in the centre of an enemy’s fleet. I made the remark to Mr Randolph.

“Should such be the case, the mist will prove our best friend,” he answered. “I only wish that it may continue till we get abreast of Plymouth; it may help us to run the gauntlet of our enemies.”

We glided steadily and swiftly on for about an hour or more after this, with everything set alow and aloft, and studden sails rigged out on either side, there being a light air from the westward.

Suddenly, I felt a puff of wind from the northward just fan my left cheek as I stood at the helm. Again it came, and I had to keep the ship away to prevent her being taken aback. We, however, got a pull at the lee braces, and again kept her on her course without taking in the studden sails; again the wind came from the nor’ard of west, and most reluctantly we had to take in all our studden sails, one after the other, and to brace the yards up on the larboard tack. Scarcely had we done so when the breeze increased still more.

I was looking to leeward trying to pierce the mist, when, as if by magic, a wide rent was made in it. Upward it lifted, rolling away rapidly on either side, and revealing in the space thus made clear, a long, low craft floating in the water, without a stitch of canvas set on her short stumps of masts. I pointed her out to Mr Randolph.

“I am afraid that she is mischievous, sir,” said I. “There’s a wicked look about her which does not at all please me. She is more like a French privateer than any other craft I know of.”

“She is not a big one, at all events,” he answered. “We ought to be able to tackle her, and our dummies may do us good service by keeping her at a respectful distance. However, she may be a Jersey or a Guernsey-man, they have many lugger privateers. What do you think, Andrews?”

“She may be a Jersey-man, but, to my mind, that craft was built and fitted out in France, whoever now owns her,” answered Andrews. “Weatherhelm ought to know, he has served aboard some of them.”

“I am afraid she is French, sir,” said I, after I had taken a steady look at her. “And whatever she is, there is up sail and after us. If the fellow has a quickish pair of heels, he’ll very soon cut us off.”

While I was speaking, the square-headed sails of the lugger were run up on her short, stumpy masts. Above them quickly appeared their topsails, almost as big as the lower sails, and away she came bowling after us, at a rate which gave us not the slightest hope of escape, if she should prove an enemy, unless some bigger friend might appear to assist us.

Now we more than ever felt the desertion of the Nautile. Had she remained with us, we two together might have been able to give a very good account of so small an enemy,—indeed, we should probably not have been attacked. Our only resource was, however, to put as bold a face on the matter as we could. The Frenchmen had not yet come on deck, so Mr Randolph ordered them to be kept down below that they might not make any signs to the enemy. He took the helm, and ordered us to stand to our guns. Each of us had a musket by our sides, and he ordered us first to let fly a volley, and then, without a moment’s delay, to fire a broadside.

We hoped thus to prevent the enemy from discovering the smallness of our numbers, and we trusted that we might by chance knock away some of his spars and prevent him from following us. I could not help admiring the gallant way in which the little craft dashed on towards us. It looked as if we might have run over her, and sent her to the bottom without the slightest difficulty.

“Be ready, my men,” shouted Mr Randolph, as she got within musket-shot of us. Leaving the helm, he sprang on the taffrail, and, cap in hand, waved the lugger off, pointing to his guns as if he was about to fire.

We had meantime hoisted the English ensign to our peak. The lugger paid not the slightest heed to his signals, but stood on edging up to us. Again he waved. A musket-ball came whizzing by and very nearly knocked him over. Had it been sent from a rifle his moments would have been numbered. I never saw a cooler or braver young man.

“Give it them, then, my lads, and with a will,” he shouted. “They think, perhaps, we are not in earnest.”

We each of us took steady aim, and, as the men were exposed on the decks, we believed that we had knocked several of them over. Some of us had a couple of muskets, and as we fired one after the other as rapidly as we could, we hoped that we had given the enemy a respectful idea of our numbers. Mr Randolph had three muskets, and as soon as he had fired them he began to reload, tending the wheel at the same time.

“Now give them a taste of the big guns!” he shouted out. With a shout we let fly our whole broadside, but the way in which of necessity we ran the guns in again to reload might have betrayed us.

We had hoped that after the hot reception we had given the lugger she would have sheered off, but not a bit of it. On she came as boldly as at first, and before we had time to run one of our guns out again she had come alongside, and hove her grappling-irons aboard us.

To hope to defend ourselves was useless, so retreating aft we rallied round Mr Randolph, while we allowed the enemy, who swarmed in numbers up the side, to expend their rage on our dummies. They seemed highly amused at our trick, for loud shouts of laughter broke from them when they discovered the enemy to whom they had been opposed. As we made no further resistance, they did not attempt to injure us. Their officer came aft and put out his hand to Mr Randolph.

“You are a brave young man,” said he, in very fair English. “You have defended your ship nobly, and had I not before perfectly known the number of people you had on board, and your means of defence, you would have deceived me, and I should have sheered off.”

Mr Randolph took the hand offered to him, and thanking the captain of the French privateer (for such he was) for the good opinion he entertained of him, inquired how he came to know anything about us.

“I took your consort, the Nautile, three days ago, and have ever since been on the look-out for you,” was the answer. “They told me on board when to expect you, and how many you were in crew. When, therefore, I saw the figures you had dressed up, I watched them narrowly, and seeing that they did not move, suspected a trick. But what have you done with my countrymen? You have several as prisoners.”

Mr Randolph assured him that they were safe, and that we had shut them up that they might be out of harm’s way, and might not interfere with the defence of the ship.

Altogether, the French captain was so delighted with his success in capturing us and the rich prizes he had obtained (for we found that he had already taken several other vessels besides the Nautile), that he promised we might depend upon being treated with every courtesy. He then went below and released the other Frenchmen, who were so overjoyed at their escape from the English prison in which they expected in a few days to be lodged, that they rushed into the arms of their countrymen, and such a scene of hugging, and kissing, and shouting, and jabbering I never before beheld. We could not tell what they might say of us, and we were afraid that the tide which had been in our favour might turn, but they apparently gave a fair report of the way we had treated them, and our captors were as friendly as before.

No longer time than was necessary was lost. We Englishmen were transferred to the lugger, and a few more Frenchmen were sent on board the ship, and together we stood away before the wind for Saint Malo, on the French coast.

I need not say that, independently of having to go to a French prison, how wretched I was at finding in a moment all the hopes I had entertained of once more returning home completely blasted. I could have sat down and wept bitterly, but tears would not come to my eyes. I thought my heart would indeed break.

Mr Randolph had been invited into the captain’s cabin, and was treated with every courtesy. Some of the men had gone forward, but I felt no inclination to leave the deck. I sat down on a gun-carriage, turning my eyes in the direction of the shore on which I had hoped so soon to land, and which now I might not visit for many a day. I cannot picture my wretchedness. I only hope that none of my readers may feel the same. I rested my head upon my hands in a vain endeavour to drive away thought. It was truly a dark moment of my existence. I felt even as if I could not pray. I had sat thus for some time, when I felt a hand pressed on my shoulder.

“Willand, is it you—you indeed, lad?” said a voice, in a kindly tone which I felt I ought to know.

I looked up. Before me stood a fine, sailor-like looking fellow. I scanned his countenance narrowly, and then springing to my feet put out my hand. “La Motte, my dear fellow, it is you yourself, I am sure of it!” I exclaimed. “Where did you come from? How did you find yourself on board here?”

“I have been to, and come from, all parts of the world since we parted, and I’ll tell you all about that another time,” he answered. “And as to being on board here, I am a prisoner like yourself. The craft I belonged to, of which I was first mate, was captured two days ago and sent into Saint Malo. I have no greater reason to be happy than you have. However, the Frenchmen treat us very civilly on board, and that is a satisfaction; we might have been much worse off.”

We might indeed, for very often the French privateers treated their prisoners with great cruelty, robbing them of their money and clothes, and half starving them. They were then sent on shore, and thrust into some wretched, dirty prison, where they were allowed to linger out their days till the end of the war. Such we had expected to be our fate.

The Frenchmen believed that the English did not treat their prisoners any better. They had a story written by one of their countrymen, a French officer, who had broken his parole and got back to France, to the effect that French prisoners were fed in England on horse-flesh and beans. He declared that on one occasion the inspecting officer of prisons rode into a court-yard of a prison, where he left his horse, and that as soon as he had disappeared, the famished prisoners set upon it, and tearing the horse to pieces, devoured it and the saddle also; and that when the officer got back, he found only the stirrup-iron and the bit in the horse’s mouth.

Whatever we may think of the digestibility of the morsels carried off by the hungry prisoners, the tale seems to have been eagerly swallowed by the countrymen of the narrator.

La Motte endeavoured to cheer me up, by talking of old times and of our adventures in the Mediterranean and elsewhere,—indeed, I felt his presence a very great comfort. He was of a most cheerful, happy disposition, and allowed nothing to put him out.

“I was on my way home from the West Indies in a fine brig, the Ann, and I had a little venture on board of my own, with which I hoped to make a good addition to my fortune, and perhaps, before long, to settle down and marry. Well, it’s all gone; but what’s the use of sighing? What has happened to me has happened to a thousand other better men much less able to bear it. So I say to myself, ‘Better luck next time.’ I never can abide those people who sigh, and moan, and groan if any mishap overtakes them, as if they were the only unfortunate people in the world. To everybody they meet they tell their woes, as if nothing else was of so much consequence. You are not one of those, Weatherhelm, I know, nor am I. Everything comes right in the mill at last, if we will but wait patiently till the mill turns round.”

La Motte rattled on in this way till he talked me into better spirits again. At all events, he prevented me from dwelling on my misfortunes.

“Now, in reality, we ought to consider ourselves very fortunate,” he continued. “We might have been captured by a set of ruffianly fellows, who would have robbed us and ill-treated us in every way. Instead of that, the crew are the best sort of privateer’s-men I ever fell in with. The captain and first mate are very good, kind-hearted men. They have both of them been made prisoners themselves, and have spent a year or more in England. They tell me that they lore the English, for that they were treated with the greatest kindness all the time they were in England, and that they wish to repay that kindness, though I must say they take an odd way to show their lore by fitting out a vessel to go and rob them on the high seas; but I suppose that is their profession, and they cannot help it.”

While La Motte was speaking, a fine-looking man came up, and, taking him by the arm, addressed him as his bon ami, and told him that dinner was ready.

La Motte thanked him, and then told him that I was an old shipmate, and hoped that he would extend the same kindness to me that he had done to him.

My new friend was, I found, the mate of the privateer. He said certainly, and begged that I would at once come down and join them at dinner. At first I was inclined to refuse, as I thought Mr Randolph would consider me presuming if I was to go and sit down at table with him; but La Motte, finding that he was a sensible, good-natured young officer, undertook to explain matters to him.

We found Mr Randolph and the captain already seated at the table. La Motte, in a few words, explained that I was an old friend and shipmate of his, and that if I was not, I ought to be an officer, and hoped that he would not be offended.

Mr Randolph laughed, and said certainly not, and I soon felt at my ease.

The Frenchmen were in high glee at the number of prizes they had taken, and, as they had a fair wind, they folly expected in a couple of days, at furthest, to be safe within the harbour of Saint Malo. I knew from sad experience that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, and I hoped that we might yet, before we reached the looked-for harbour, fall in with a man-of-war or a bigger privateer and be recaptured; of course I did not give expression to my wishes, but in such a chance my only hope rested of reaching home.

After dinner I went on deck again, and continued pacing up and down, anxiously scanning the horizon in the hope of discovering some sail coming in pursuit of us. Though I was aware that my presence on deck could not in any way bring about this result, still I could not tear myself away again till night closed down upon us.

La Motte then insisted on my coming below. “I told the Frenchmen something of your story,” said he; “if I had not done so, they would have thought you discourteous, and your conduct somewhat strange. However, they now enter into your feelings and pity you heartily.”

“I am indeed obliged to you, La Motte,” said I. “But somehow or other I do not like to have myself talked about. My feelings appear to me to be too sacred to be mentioned except to a friend.”

“That is very natural and right,” he answered. “But, believe me, Weatherhelm, I did what was for the best, and I am certain you will benefit by it.”

At last I turned in for the night, and, wearied out with anxiety, fell asleep. I was conscious that I was on board the privateer, but I dreamed that we were chased and overtaken by a ship of war, and that just as her boat was boarding us we blew up. Then I found myself, with many of my companions, floating about in the water, without any ship in sight or means of escape.

At length I awoke, and the recollection of all that had occurred came pressing down on my heart like a heavy weight. Feeling that the cool, fresh air might revive me, I dressed and went on deck. It was bitterly cold, with a sharp northerly breeze blowing, the sky was of one uniform grey, while the water, which rose and fell without breaking, was of a dull leaden hue.

No prospect could have been more cheerless and uninviting. The Mouche, under all sail, was bowling on ahead, (I suspected that the French crew would have no little difficulty in keeping her afloat) while the lugger was acting the part of a whipper-in. I cast my eyes round the horizon. Away to the eastward they encountered a sail just rising above the water. I watched her for some time, till I was convinced that she was a large ship, and standing towards us.

At length she attracted the attention of the second mate, who was the officer of the watch. He began to eye her somewhat anxiously, and in a short time he sent down and called up the first mate. They looked at their own sails, and then at the stranger, and then at the Mouche, as if consulting what was to be done, and then finally called up the captain. They evidently could not at all satisfy themselves as to the character of the approaching ship.

I anxiously scanned their countenances; as I observed them falling, so my own hopes rose, that the sail in sight might prove an English ship of war. I tried in vain to conceal my own anxiety by walking up and down the deck, as I had done the day before.

The French officers seemed at length to have decided on some plan which satisfied them. The Mouche had already made all the sail she could carry; she had royals set and studden sails out on either side, while the lugger followed, under her ordinary canvas, in her wake. While I was walking up and down, the first mate joined me.

“Ah, my friend!” said he, in very good English, “you hope the vessel in sight is a countryman. That is very natural. We hope that if she is, we shall escape her. We intend to do our best to get away, be assured of that. If, however, we are taken, you will remember that all Frenchmen are not savages, and that we were kind to you when you were our prisoners.”

“Indeed we all shall,” I replied. “I hope, indeed, whenever Frenchmen fall into the hands of the English, that my countrymen will always treat them with kindness and consideration.”

“That is good; that is the right thing,” said the mate. “If go to war we must, we need not make it more barbarous than it must be of necessity.”

I was surprised to find these expressions proceeding from the mouth of a privateer’s man. However, I believe that there were not many people of his class like him. I certainly hoped that I might have an opportunity of showing him that I meant what I said, and that we should very soon again change our relative positions.

Mr Randolph, and La Motte, and the rest of the English prisoners, soon afterwards came on deck, and eagerly watched with me the progress of the stranger. There seemed to us very little doubt that she would cut us off before we could possibly reach Saint Malo.

As the day drew on, however, the weather gave signs of changing. The wind, which had been blowing steadily from the northward, chopped round to the north-west, and then to the westward, growing stronger and stronger, and very quickly kicking up an ugly sea, while thick rain began to fall, increasing every instant in density.

We Englishmen looked at each other, and as the rain fell thicker, so did our countenances fall lower and lower. The change of wind placed the lugger and her prize to windward, and the stranger far away to leeward, the thick rain almost shutting her out from sight.

The Frenchmen rubbed their hands, and blessed the wind and the rain, and commiserated us on our prospects of being carried to France. All we could hope was, that it would clear up again before the evening, and that the wind would shift back into its old quarter.

We waited in vain for the change. Hour after hour passed by. The wind blew great guns and small arms, and the rain came down in dense masses, which completely shut out the stranger from our sight. I thought that probably the Frenchmen would alter their course, but we stood steadily on, only keeping up a little to be well to windward of our port, in case the wind should veer round more to the north-west. Evening at length came. It grew darker and darker; and with heavy hearts we prisoners had to abandon all hopes of rescue.

The night passed away, while it was blowing and raining all the time till near the morning. As soon as it was daylight I hurried on deck. The horizon was clear. With what eagerness I looked around; not a sail was in sight! The English ship, if such she was, finding herself so far to leeward, had probably abandoned all hope of overtaking us.

At length the coast of France hove in sight. We looked at it as likely to prove our home for many a weary day. It was past noon when we anchored in the harbour of Saint Malo, and I could not be surprised at the exultation of the Frenchmen, when they found themselves surrounded by no less than five prizes, which they had taken in the course of two or three weeks.

Their friends in numbers came off to welcome them, and brought all sorts of wines and spirits, and provisions from the shore, far more indeed than the crew could by possibility consume. The wine and spirits, however, seemed to be most welcome, and the crew, having an abundance of wherewithal to carouse, sat down to make themselves happy. Never have I heard a set of human beings jabber away at the rate they did; they laughed, and sang, and pledged each other without cessation.

La Motte, who was listening to them, told me that they were boasting of all the deeds they had done, or would do, or had heard of being done, till they were satisfied that their nation was not only the greatest, the richest, the wisest, the most happy in the world, but that none ever had or would come up to her.

Just before dark, the captain took Mr Randolph on shore; but he observed that he could not take us there, and that we must wait on board till the following morning.

The first mate came up to La Motte and me, and observed that he should have to go on shore likewise. “If you go, remember that you will have to be shut up in a prison, and that you will not find very pleasant,” he remarked significantly. He looked aft as he spoke, when we observed hanging on at the stern one of the boats belonging to the prize. “Wise men know how to take a hint. All I can say is, that I feel most kindly disposed towards you; and if you land in France, I will do my best to ameliorate your condition, but that will be but little, remember.”

We thanked him cordially for his kindness, and then he called the only two sober men of the crew, and ordered them to pull him on shore in another boat. Of course there was not the slightest doubt as to what he meant. The means of escape were offered us. The only question remaining was how to make use of them. The boat hanging on astern was about 25 feet long. I had often examined her on board the Mouche. She was in good condition, and not a bad sea-boat, I judged from her appearance. Her sails and oars were in her, and I had little doubt that our good friend the mate had had them put into her on purpose to aid us. Thus far, all was well, but we had many difficulties still to contend with. Our next care was to ascertain who would accompany us in our adventure.

There were altogether fifteen prisoners remaining on board besides ourselves. I knew that I could depend on Andrews, and so I could on Jones. They both eagerly jumped at our proposal, and expressed themselves ready to run all risks for the sake of reaching England. Their only regret was, that Mr Randolph was not on board to accompany us. We concluded that the captain had been compelled to take him on shore, as English officers were always looked on as great prizes by the French, and he might have got into trouble had he escaped.

We went quietly round among all the prisoners, and invited them one by one to join us, with the exception of three or four, who had accepted the invitations of the Frenchmen to drink with them, and had now as little sense remaining in their heads as their hosts.

When La Motte and I went up to them to see what could be done, they could only exclaim, holding up their glasses, “Come here, old fellows! The Frenchmen’s liquor is good, and they are jolly cocks, and we never wish for better companions. Come now, take a glass, you’ll not taste finer anywhere.”

When we declined joining them, they jeered and laughed at us, and called us milksops, so that we soon saw that they would in all probability betray us if we attempted to induce them to join us.

Two men, who were sober, declined, saying that they would rather go to a French prison than trust themselves in a small open boat in mid-winter in the Channel. As they were somewhat sickly, perhaps they were right in their decision. They promised, however, to help us as far as they were able, and vowed that they would rather die than betray us.

The carouse of the Frenchmen continued. First, they made long speeches about liberty, equality, and fraternity, and then they sang till they were hoarse, and then they began hugging each other and shrieking, and lastly, they got up and danced and skipped and frisked about, till tripping up their heels they toppled down on deck, and lay sprawling about unable to move. Now and then one tried to rise, but all he could do was to reach a bottle, and to pour a little more liquor down his throat, which soon finished him off completely, and he, like the rest, lay utterly senseless and inanimate.

It was now night, and time to make our preparations. The privateer’s-men’s friends had brought on board a large supply of provisions. These we set to work to collect, and we calculated that we should have enough to last us for several days. But without water we could not venture to sea. There was none on deck, so we had to grope about below to find it. Great indeed was our satisfaction, therefore, when we suddenly came upon two breakers, each holding nine or ten gallons, and full of water. We soon had them up on deck, and rolled them to the side, ready to be lowered into the boat. We now hauled her up alongside, and got everything we had collected stowed away in her.

“But we must not go without a compass,” said La Motte, “I remember seeing one in the captain’s cabin. I am sure that he would let us have it. Perhaps he has left it out on purpose.”

Such we had every reason to believe was the case, for in a minute La Motte returned bringing a well-fitted boat compass, which was just suited for our purpose. We also got hold of a lantern and a quantity of candles, and we threw as many greatcoats and blankets into the boat as we could collect, for it was bitterly cold, and we had reason to dread its effects more than anything else.

We should have started at once, but La Motte told us that he had overheard some of the Frenchmen talking of a guard-boat which came round the harbour once, at all events, during the night, somewhere about ten o’clock, and that it would be wiser in us to wait till she had gone by. Accordingly we veered our boat astern, and agreed to wait till then.

We all went below and lay down, hoping to get a little sleep and rest before it was time to start. La Motte volunteered to remain on deck till the guard-boat came round, and as he spoke French like a Frenchman, he said that he should lead the officers to suppose that all the prisoners had gone on shore, and that might prevent them from keeping any strict watch on the lugger. He told me also that he was very anxious on another account. He had observed a fort which we should have to pass close by on our starboard hand on going out. The sentry was certain to hail us, and unless we could give the password and countersign, he would, as in duty bound, fire at us, and then give notice of our escape. In all probability, boats would be sent in pursuit of us, and we should be recaptured. This suggestion came like a blow, sufficient to upset all our hopes of escaping.

“Well,” observed La Motte, “there is only one thing to be done. I must find out the watchword and countersign. There is some risk, but it must be run.”

There was a small boat, a dinghy, belonging to the lugger, which was sometimes carried aft, but she was now placed inside the long-boat on deck. She was so light that two men could easily lift her. La Motte said he must have her in the water, and that he would go on shore and steal up to where any sentinels were stationed, and that he would listen when the patrols came round to relieve them. He should thus be certain to obtain the information he required. Dangerous as I thought the adventure, of course I would not hinder him from going, as, could I have spoken French, I would have gone myself. Accordingly I helped him to get the dinghy into the water, which we did without any noise.

“Now, Weatherhelm, my dear fellow,” said he, “go and lie down and wait patiently till I come back; a little sleep will do you good—you want it.”

I thanked him cordially, and wrung his hand as he stepped into the punt, for my heart misgave me that I should never see him again. As to going to sleep, that was, I felt, out of the question; I could scarcely bring myself to lie down. I watched the little boat with intense anxiety as he pulled away towards the shore. I felt much for him, but I must confess that for my own sake I was still more anxious for his success. I was indeed enduring a bitter trial. May none of those who read my history have to go through the same! The thought of being a second time disappointed in my hopes of returning home, and of learning the fate of my beloved wife, was more than I could bear. My movements showed the agitation of my mind. Sometimes I sat down on a gun; then I rose and walked the deck; then I went below and threw myself on a locker in the cabin; but I was quickly on deck again looking out for La Motte. Then I recollected that he was not at all likely to return so soon, so I once more went below to try and warm my chilled limbs.

Another fear assailed me. I was afraid that if we delayed, some of the drunken Frenchmen might recover from their stupor and find out our project. All of a sudden another idea occurred to me,—if we got the watchword, could we not carry the lugger and all her senseless crew away together? We might handcuff them all without the slightest difficulty. I own that for the moment I forgot how ungrateful such an act would be to her captain and mate, who had treated us so kindly. While I was thinking on the subject, Andrews woke up and looked about him.

“Is it time yet for us to be off!” he asked, in a whisper.

“No, not yet. But I say, Andrews, are you ready to carry a bold project into execution?” I asked in a low voice. I then told him what I had thought of. He jumped at the idea.

“With all my heart!” he answered. “Nothing I should like better. I hate these Frenchmen, and as for the drunken rascals on board, we can soon settle them; if they are likely to be troublesome, as soon as we get clear of the harbour, we may heave them all overboard.”

“What are you thinking about?” I exclaimed, horrified at the cold-blooded way in which he spoke of murdering so many of our fellow-creatures. Suddenly, the proposal I had made burst on me in its true light. Of what black ingratitude should we have been guilty in depriving the men who had trusted us, of their property; and then, had we followed the suggestion offered by Andrews, of destroying in cold blood a number of our fellow-men, who at all events had committed no crime against us!

“No, Andrews, no!” I answered, after a little reflection; “I would rather remain a prisoner than run away with the lugger, even if we could accomplish the undertaking; much less would I injure any of the poor fellows remaining on board. Just consider, what should we say if a set of Frenchmen treated us in that way?”

“Anything is lawful in war,” he answered, not agreeing with my notion. “The Frenchmen should have kept a better look-out after us.”

“You forget that the captain and mate left us intentionally with the means of escape at our disposal, and which they clearly pointed out to us. I am sorry that I even thought of carrying off the lugger, and much more that I mentioned it to you.”

At length I brought Andrews round to see the proposal in the light I did, and he promised not to mention it to any one else. Thus conversing, the time passed by much more rapidly than it had done when I was left to my own thoughts. I felt sure it must be getting late. I looked at my watch; it was nearly ten o’clock, the hour at which La Motte had told me the guard-boat made her rounds. I became very anxious about him; I felt almost sure that he must have been seized, and if so he ran a great risk of being considered a spy, in which case he would have been immediately shot. We, however, could do nothing; we must sit still and wait. There is no greater trial for men than this. If we had had any work to do, we could have borne it much better. It wanted but ten minutes to ten.

“Some accident must have befallen your old shipmate,” said Andrews; “if he does not come back, we must make the attempt without him. I marked well the entrance of the harbour. If we muffle our oars, and keep close under the fort, we may slip out without being observed. Are you inclined to make the attempt?”

“Certainly,” I answered; “I would run any risk to be free. Ah! what is that? I saw something moving on the water. It is the guard-boat coming. What shall we reply?”

“We had better slip down below, and let them hail us till they are hoarse,” replied Andrews. “But no; that is not the guard-boat; it is the dinghy.”

In another instant La Motte was alongside. He sprang on board. “I have it!” he exclaimed; “but I have had a sharp run for it, and was very nearly taken. Even now I am not certain that I am not pursued, I have been thinking of an explanation to give for being on shore, if I am found out. I must pass for a Frenchman belonging to the lugger. Do you two go below, and pretend to be drunk, or asleep, like the rest. There will be no fear then. I will call you as soon as the guard-boat has gone away. We must all then be ready to start in a moment.”

Andrews and I immediately followed La Motte’s directions, and going below threw ourselves on the lockers. I heard La Motte’s measured tread overhead, as if he was walking the deck as officer of the watch. I listened for every sound. Presently I heard him reply in a clear, sharp voice, apparently to a hail given from a boat at a little distance. There could be no doubt that it was the guard-boat. The answer satisfied the officers. Another minute elapsed, and La Motte sprang down below. “It is all right, Weatherhelm,” he whispered; “the guard-boat is away, and now is our time to be off. Call up the other men.”

It was quickly done, and all those who had resolved to venture on the undertaking were speedily on deck. We hauled up the boat, and silently took our seats on the thwarts. I pulled the after oar; La Motte steered and acted as captain; indeed, had it not been for him, we could not have made the attempt. It was a hazardous affair, for we might have to encounter another guard-boat, and we had to pass among a number of vessels on our way to the mouth of the harbour.

“If we are seen, I hope that we may be mistaken for the guard-boat,” said La Motte, as we were preparing to shove off. “Now, my lads, shove off, and try and row as much like Frenchmen as you can.”

The advice was not unnecessary, for the steady, measured pull of English men-of-war’s men would have inevitably betrayed us. The night was dark, but not sufficiently so to prevent us from distinguishing the outline of the harbour. Away we pulled, rapidly but with irregular strokes. We had to pass close to several privateers, but their crews were either on shore or drunk, and no notice was taken of us.

More than once it occurred to me, that although we should not have wished to run off with the vessel of the people who had treated us so well, yet that we might be able successfully to cut out one of the other craft brought up nearer the mouth of the harbour; but I reflected that the experiment would be too hazardous. Should we fail, we should in all probability lose our lives; as it was, we might well be contented with the advantages we possessed. We had a good boat, though she was small, an ample supply of provisions, fine weather, and a fair wind from the southward.

We were about half-way down the harbour, when the sound of oars reached our ears. A large ship was near us; we paddled softly in, and lay close alongside under the shelter of her dark shadow. Not a sound was heard aboard her; every one was asleep. The noise of oars drew near; I trembled, lest some of her crew might be returning on board, and if they discovered us, all would be lost. We listened breathlessly; the sound of the oars passed by; it was the guard-boat going her rounds. Had we continued pulling a minute longer, we should have been discovered. I looked up as we lay on our oars; the sky was clear; the stars were twinkling brightly overhead; there seemed every probability of the fine weather continuing. In a couple of days at most we might hope once more to tread our native shores, and be free to go where we might wish.

I need scarcely repeat all the anxious thoughts which crowded on my mind; the joy, the happiness unspeakable I anticipated. I would not, I dared not, dwell on the reverse. The sound of the oars was lost in the distance. La Motte gave a sign to us to shove off, and letting our oars glide into the water, we again continued our course. Out hearts beat quick as we approached the fort. The sharp tones of the sentry’s challenge rung on our ears as he saw us passing. “Liberté!” answered La Motte promptly; another question was asked. “Victoire!” he replied. “We are ordered out by the captain of the port with a despatch to a vessel in the offing, I know no more.”

“C’est bien! you may pass,” said an officer, whom the sentry’s voice had summoned from the guard-room.

We pulled on as before; away we glided; now we hoisted our sail. Gradually the fort was concealed by the darkness from our sight. We were free!


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533