小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Will Weatherhelm » Chapter Eighteen.
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Chapter Eighteen.
The ship made snug—Visitors come on board—Jerry Vincent—News of my wife, and home—How my uncle became indignant—Jerry wishes me to take French leave—I refuse, I ask for and obtain permission to go ashore—Meeting with Uncle Kelson—Jerry prepares my wife for the interview—Tempted to desert—A happy time—Jerry’s recollections—On board the Arethusa—Yarns—A ghost story—A slippery deck—The pirates’ heads.

The Nymph under all plain sail, our prize following in our wake, glided on past Southsea Castle—the yellow beach, the green expanse of the common, the lines of houses and cottages beyond the Postdown hills rising in the distance, the batteries of Gosport and Portsmouth ahead, the masts of numberless vessels of all sizes seen beyond them.

I waited at my station in the fore-top for the order to shorten sail I cast many a glance towards the shore, where she whom I loved best on earth was, I fancied, gazing at the two ships with thousands of other spectators, little supposing that I was on board one of them. As we entered the harbour, we heard with joyous hearts the order given to shorten sail. The boatswain’s pipe sounded shrilly; the topmen flew aloft. Never did a ship’s crew pull and haul, and run out on the yards, with greater alacrity to furl the canvas.

The water was covered with boats, the people standing up and waving and cheering. It was no easy matter to steer clear of them as we stood up the harbour. When rounding to off the dockyard, the anchor was dropped, the cable running out like lightning, as if eager to do its duty and help to bring us safe home. The prize then massing us, brought up close under our stern.

Scarcely was the cable stoppered, and the ship made snug, than hundreds of boats pulled up alongside, those on board anxious to hear all about the victory we had gained.

Among the first was a somewhat battered-looking wherry, with a little wizened old man and a boy pulling. The former, catching sight of me as I stretched my neck through a port, throwing in his oar, uttered a shout of astonishment, and then, with the agility of a monkey, quickly clambered up the side by a rope I hove to him.

“What! Will, Will, is it you yourself?” exclaimed Jerry Vincent, wringing my hand and gazing into my face. “We all thought you were far away in the East Indies, and Mistress Kelson made up her mind that you’d never come back from that hot region where they fry beefsteaks on the capstan-head.”

“But my wife—my wife! is she well? Oh, tell me, Mr Vincent,” I exclaimed, interrupting him. “She expected me to come back.”

“She’s well enough, if not so hearty as we’d be wishing; for, to say the truth, the roses don’t bloom in her cheeks as they used to do.”

I cannot describe the joy and relief this reply brought to my heart. The gratitude which I felt made me give old Jerry a hug, which well-nigh pressed the breath out of his body.

“Why, Will, my boy, you are taking me for Mrs Weatherhelm,” he exclaimed, bursting into a fit of laughter. “You’ll soon see her, and then you can hug her as long as you like, if you can get leave to go on shore; if not, I’ll go and bring her here as quick as I can pull back to the point and toddle away over to Southsea.”

“Oh, no, no; I wouldn’t have her here on any account,” I answered as I thought of the disreputable characters who in shoals would soon be crowding the decks, and who were even now waiting in the boats until they were allowed to come on board.

“Tell me, Jerry, about my uncle and Aunt Bretta; how are they both?”

“Hearty, though the old gentleman did take on when you were carried away by the pressgang. If ever I saw him inclined to run a-muck, it was then. We had a hard matter, I can tell you, to prevent him from posting off to London to see the First Lord of the Admiralty, to grapple him by the throat if he did not send an order down at once to have you liberated. I don’t know, indeed, what he’d have done; but at last we persuaded him that if he made up his mind to proceed to such extremities, the First Lord would either laugh in his face or order the porters to kick him down stairs. He in time came to that conclusion himself, and so quieted down, observing that you would do your duty and bear yourself like a man.”

“I must try and get leave from the first lieutenant. He could not refuse me, when I tell him I was torn away from my wife, and I will promise to be back again at any time he may name.”

“You may try it, Will, but I’m not so sure about the matter. If he doesn’t, why, I’d advise you to take French leave and slip into my wherry as soon as it’s dark. I’ll have a bit of canvas to cover you up, and pull you ashore in a jiffey. You can land at the yard of a friend of mine, not far from the point, and disguise yourself in shore-going toggery. Every one knows me, and I’ll get you through the gates; and if I’m accused of helping you off, I’ll stand the consequences. It can only be a few months in gaol, and though I’d rather have my liberty, I can make myself happy wherever I am.”

“No, Jerry, I would not let you run that risk for my sake on any account; nor would I run it myself, much as I love my liberty and my wife,” I answered. “You stay here and I’ll go and ask the first lieutenant at once; if he refuses me now, he’ll be sure to give me leave another day.”

“Well go Will,—go,” said Jerry. “I’m much afraid that your first lieutenant, unless he is very much unlike others I have known, won’t care a rap about your wife’s feelings or yours. He’ll just tell you it’s the same tale half the ship’s company have to tell, and if your wife wants to see you, she may come aboard like the rest of the women.”

Without waiting to hear more of what Jerry might say, I hurried aft, and found the first lieutenant issuing his orders.

“What is it you want, my man?” he asked as I approached him, hat in hand.

“Please, sir, I’ve got a young wife ashore at Southsea, and I was torn away from her by a pressgang. May I have leave to go and see her, and I promise to be back at any time you may name.”

“A pressed man!—no, no, my fine fellow, no pressed men can be allowed out of the ship. They may take it into their heads not to return at all,” he answered, turning away.

“Pardon me, sir,” I said, “but I give you my word of honour that I will come back as soon as you order me.”

He glanced round with a look of astonishment, muttering, “Your word of honour! Who are you, my man?”

“I am a Shetlander, sir. I have been brought up to keep my word. Though I was pressed, I have done my duty. It was I, sir, who hauled down the flag of the Cleopatra when we took her.”

While he was speaking, a midshipman brought him a letter. He opened it, and glancing over the few lines it contained, his eye brightened. I stood watching, resolved not to be defeated.

As soon as he had folded the letter and put it into his pocket, I again stepped up.

“May I go, sir?” I said.

“Well,” he answered, smiling, “you hauled down the Frenchman’s flag. I am to have my reward, and you shall have yours. You may go ashore, but you must be back in three days. All the crew will be required for putting the ship to rights, to take the mainmast out of her and replace it by a new one,” and he ordered one of the clerks to put down my name as having leave.

I found afterwards that the letter I saw him read contained an intimation that he was forthwith to be made a commander.

In a few days the news was received that the great Earl of Chatham had presented our captain and his brother to King George, who had been pleased to knight our captain, and to make Commander Pellew a post-captain.

No one else, that I know of, obtained any honours or rewards, though each man and boy received his share of prize-money, and with that we had no cause to complain.

However, to go back to the moment when the first lieutenant gave me leave. “Thank you, sir! thank you!” I exclaimed, with difficulty stopping myself from tossing up my hat for joy.

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, I rushed below, and, taking the things I wanted out of my bag, I tumbled into Jerry’s wherry.

The old man pulled as fast as he and his boy could lay their backs to the oars.

“Stop, stop, my lad! wait for me!” he exclaimed as I jumped ashore and was preparing to run to Southsea. “You’ll frighten your wife and send her into ‘high strikes’ if you pounce down upon her as you seem inclined to do. Wait till I go ahead and tell her to be looking out for you. You won’t lose much time, and prevent a great deal of mischief, though I can’t move along quite at the rate of ten knots an hour, as you seem inclined to do.”

I at once saw the wisdom of Jerry’s advice, and waited, though somewhat impatiently, until he and his boy had secured the boat.

“Come along, Will, my lad,” he said at length, stepping ashore; “I’ll show you what my old legs can do,” and off he set.

We soon crossed the High Street, and made our way through the gate leading out of the town on to Southsea Common.

The village of Southsea was but a small, insignificant place in those days. We had not gone far when we caught sight of a person with a wooden leg stumping along at a good rate some way ahead. Although his back was towards us, I at once felt sure that he was Uncle Kelson.

“All right!” cried Jerry, “that’s Mr Kelson. He always carries a press of sail. It couldn’t have been better. I’ll go on and make him heave-to, and just tell him to guess who’s come back; but I don’t think there’s much fear of his getting the ‘high strikes’ even though he was to set eyes on you all of a sudden.”

I brought up for a moment so as to let Jerry get ahead of me.

“Heave-to, cap’en! heave-to! I ain’t a thundering big enemy from whom you’ve any cause to run,” I heard him shouting out. “Just look round, and maybe you’ll see somebody you won’t be sorry to see, I’ve a notion.”

My uncle, hearing Jerry’s voice, turned his head, and instantly catching sight of me, came running along with both his arms outstretched, his countenance beaming all over like a landscape lighted up by sunshine. I was somewhat fearful lest he should fall, but I caught him, and we shook hands for a minute at least, his voice almost choking as he exclaimed, “I am glad! I am glad! Bless my heart, how glad I am! And your wife, Will? You’ll soon make her all to rights. Not that she is ill, but that she’s been pining for you, poor lass; but no wonder: it’s a way the women have. Glad I hadn’t a wife until I was able to live on shore and look after her. Come along! come along!” and he took my arm, almost again falling in his eagerness to get over the ground, which here and there was soft and sandy, and full of holes in other places.

“Please, Mr Kelson, as I was a-telling of your nevvy, it won’t do just to come down on the lass like a thunder-clap, or it may send her over on her beam-ends,” said Jerry as he ranged up alongside, puffing and blowing with his exertions. “Just you stop and talk to him when we get near the house, and let me go ahead and I’ll break the matter gently, like a soft summer shower, so that they’ll be all to rights and ready for him when he comes.”

Jerry, I guessed, wanted to undertake the matter himself, suspecting that my uncle would, notwithstanding his good intentions, blurt out the truth too suddenly.

I therefore answered for him, that we would wait till Jerry had gone to the house and summoned us, though I had to exert no small amount of resolution to stop short of the door when we got in sight of it.

Jerry ran on at first, but went more deliberately as he approached the door, when, knocking, he was admitted.

He must be spinning a tremendous long yarn, I thought, for it seemed to me as if he had kept us half an hour, though I believe it was only two or three minutes, when at length he appeared and beckoned.

“Come along, Will! come along, my boy!” cried my uncle, keeping hold of my arm; but, no longer able to restrain my impatience, I sprang forward and, brushing past old Jerry, rushed into the house.

There was my Margaret, with Aunt Bretta by her side to support her; but she needed no support except my arm. After a little time, though still clinging with her arms round my neck, she allowed me to embrace my good aunt. My uncle soon joined us, and Old Jerry poked his head in at the door, saying with a knowing nod, “All right, I see there’s been no ‘high strikes.’ I shall be one too many if I stop. Good-day, ladies; good-day, friends all. I’ll look in to-morrow, or maybe the next evening; but I shall have plenty of work in the harbour, taking off people to see the prize and the ship which captured her.”

“Stop, Jerry, stop!” cried my uncle; “have a glass of grog before you go?”

“No, thankee, cap’en,” answered Jerry. “I must keep a clear head on my shoulders. If I once takes a taste, maybe I shall want another as I pass the Blue Posteses.”

Uncle Kelson did not press the point, and the old man took his departure.

Of course it required a long time to tell all that had happened to me, but I need not describe those happy days on shore. My dear wife would scarcely allow me for a moment to be out of her sight. She once asked the question, “Must you go back?”

“I have given my word that I would,” I answered. I knew full well what her heart wished, though she had too much regard for my honour even to hint at the possibility of my breaking my word.

Aunt Bretta and Uncle Kelson were of the same way of thinking; but old Jerry, who paid us a visit the second evening according to his promise, looked at the matter in a very different light.

“Now, Will, I’ve been thinking over this here business of yours every day since I first clapped eyes on you, and I’ve made up my mind that as they had no right to press you aboard that ’ere frigate, you have every right to make yourself scarce. I’ve got the whole affair cut and dry. There’s a friend of mine who is as true as steel. He’s got a light cart, and we intend to bundle you in soon after dark, and drive away, maybe to Chichester, and maybe to some country place where you can lie snug till the frigate has sailed, and the hue and cry after you is over.

“It’s all as smooth as oil. There’ll only be one man less aboard, as there would be if a shot was to take your head off; so it can’t make any odds to the captain and officers. And let me tell you, you’ll have a different set over you; for Mr Morris the first lieutenant, has got his promotion, Mr Lake is too badly wounded to allow him to return on board for some time, and the captain is sure to get a better ship; so you don’t know what double-fisted fellows you’ll get in their places.

“Follow my advice, Will; escape from all the tyranny and floggings, for what you can tell, that are in store for you. Run, and be a free man.”

“No, no, Mr Vincent; the advice you give is well meant, but I dare not even ask my husband to do as you propose,” answered Margaret in a firm voice, though she looked very sad as she spoke. “He would not be a happy man if he broke his word, and he has given that word to return. Even I can say, ‘Go back to your duty.’”

“So do I,” said Uncle Kelson, “though, if he had not given his word, I don’t know what I might have advised.”

“We can all pray for him,” said Aunt Bretta, “and I trust that we shall see him again before long, when he is free and can with a clean conscience remain with us.”

“I thank you, Jerry, for your good wishes,” I put in. “It cannot be, you see. I wish I could get away from the ship; but until I am paid off, and properly discharged, though I was pressed, I am bound to remain; so if you care for me, do not say anything more on the subject.”

“Well, well, if it must be, so it must,” answered Jerry with a deep sigh. “Some people’s notions ain’t like other people’s notions, that’s all I’ve got to say; and now I think it’s time for me to be tripping my anchor.”

“No, no, not until you have wetted your whistle,” said Uncle Kelson, beginning to mix a glass of grog.

The old man’s eyes glistened as he resumed his seat, replacing his hat under the chair; and putting his hand out to take the tumbler which my uncle pushed towards him across the table, and sipping it slowly, he looked up and said:

“I forgot to tell you that Sir Edward Pellew, as we must now call him since he got the sword laid across his shoulders by the king, has been appointed to the command of the Arethusa, a fine new frigate which will make a name for herself, if I mistake not, as the old one did. You remember her, cap’en, don’t you! It was her they writ the song about,” and he began singing:—

    “Come all ye jolly sailors bold

    Whose hearts are cast in honour’s mould,

    While English glory I unfold:

    Huzza! to the Arethusa;

    She is a frigate tight and brave

    As ever stemmed the dashing wave,

    Her men are staunch to their fav’rite launch.

    And when the foe shall meet our fire,

    Sooner than strike, we’ll all expire

    On board of the Arethusa!

    

    “’Twas with the spring fleet she went out,

    The English Channel to cruise about,

    When four French sail, in show so stout,

    Bore down on the Arethusa.

    The famed Belle Poule straight ahead did lie,

    The Arethusa seemed to fly,

    Not a sheet or a tack or a brace did she slack,

    Though the Frenchman laughed and thought it stuff,

    But they knew not the handful of men how tough

    On board of the Arethusa!

    

    “On deck five hundred men did dance,

    The stoutest they could find in France;

    We with two hundred did advance,

    On board of the Arethusa!

    Our captain hail’d the Frenchman, ‘Ho!’

    The Frenchman then cried out ‘Hullo!’

    ‘Bear down, d’ye see, to our Admiral’s lee.’

    ‘No, no,’ says the Frenchman; ‘that can’t be.’

    ‘Then I must lug you along with me,’

    Says the saucy Arethusa!

    

    “The fight was off the Frenchman’s land.

    We forced them back upon their strand,

    For we fought till not a stick would stand

    Of the gallant Arethusa.

    And now we’ve driven the foe ashore,

    Never to fight with Britons more,

    Let each fill a glass to his fav’rite lass,

    A health to our captain and officers true,

    And all who belong to the jovial crew

    On board of the Arethusa!”

“I mind,” continued Jerry after another sip at his grog, “that she carried thirty-two guns, and was commanded by Captain Marshall. It was in the year 1778, just before the last war broke out. We hadn’t come to loggerheads with the mounseers, though we knew pretty well that it wouldn’t be long before we were that. We and two other frigates sailed down Channel with a fleet of twenty sail of the line under Admiral Keppel.

“When off the Lizard, on the 17th of June, we made out two frigates and a schooner to the southward. On seeing them, and guessing that they were French, the Admiral ordered us and the Milford to go in chase. The strangers separated, the Milford frigate and Hector, a seventy-four, following the other ship, which turned out to be the Licorne, and took her; while the Albert cutter pursued the schooner, and captured her by boarding after a sharp struggle. We meantime alone followed the other stranger, which was the French forty gun frigate Belle Poule.

“On getting within hailing distance, our captain, in the politest manner possible, invited the French captain to sail back with him to the English fleet.

“‘No, no,’ answered the French skipper, ‘that it cannot be, seeing I am bound elsewhere.’

“‘Then, mounseer, I must obey orders and make you come with me,’ says our captain just as politely as before, and without further ado he ordered the crew of the foremost main-deck gun to fire a shot across the French ship’s bows. It was the first shot fired during the war. We in return got the Frenchman’s whole broadside crashing aboard us.

“We then began pounding away at each other as close as we could get. It seemed wonderful to me that we were not both of us blown out of the water. Our men were falling pretty thickly, some killed and many more wounded, while our sails and rigging were getting much cut up.

“You see the enemy had twenty guns on a side to our sixteen, but we tossed ours in and out so sharply that we made up for the difference. For two mortal hours we kept blazing away, getting almost as much as we gave, till scarcely a stick could stand aboard us; but our captain was not the man to give in, and while he could he kept at it. At last, our rigging and canvas being cut to pieces, and our masts ready to fall, so that we could not make sail, the Belle Poule having had enough of it, shot ahead, and succeeded in getting under the land where we were unable to follow her.

“The song says that we drove her ashore; but though we did no exactly do that, we knocked her well about, and she had forty-eight men and officers killed and fifty wounded. As it was, as I have said, the first action in the old war, it was more talked about than many others. We lost our captain, not from his being killed, but from his getting a bigger ship, and Captain Everitt was appointed in his stead.

“The old Arethusa, after this, continued a Channel cruiser. We had pretty sharp work at different times, chasing the enemy, and capturing their merchantmen, and cutting-out vessels from their harbours; but we had no action like the one the song was wrote about.

“At last, in the March of the next year, when some fifty leagues or more off Brest, we made out a French frigate inshore of us. Instead of standing bravely out to fight the saucy Arethusa, she squared away her yards and ran for that port. We made all sail in chase, hoping to come up with her before she could get into harbour. We were gaining on her, and were expecting that we should have another fight like that with the Belle Poule, when, as we came in sight of the outer roads of Brest, what should we see but a thumping seventy-four, which, guessing what we were, slipping her cable, stood out under all sail to catch us.

“We might have tackled the seventy-four alone, with a good breeze; but we well knew that if we did not up stick and cut, we should either be knocked to pieces or be sent to the bottom; so our captain, as in duty bound, ordered us to brace up the yards and try to make the best of our way out of danger. We might have done so had there been a strong breeze blowing, but we could not beat the ship off shore as fast as we wanted.

“Night came down upon us, and a very dark night it was. We could not see the land, but we knew it was under our lee, when presently thump goes the ship ashore. Our captain did his best to get her off, but all our attempts were of no use. The saucy Arethusa was hard and fast on the rocks.

“The word was given to lower the boats. I was one of the first cutter’s crew. We had got her into the water, and the master, as good a seaman as ever stepped, came with us, and two young midshipmites.

“‘We’ll not be made prisoners if we can help it, lads,’ said the master. ‘Here, lower down these two casks of bread, and this breaker of water.’

“We had no time to get more, and we hoped the other boats would follow our example, but they would have to be sharp about it. We got round from under the lee of the ship, against which the surf was already breaking heavily, and pulled away to the windward out to sea. You may be sure we pulled as men do who are pulling for their lives and liberty. If we had been a minute later, we shouldn’t have done it. No other boats that we could see followed us. Next morning we were twenty miles off shore.

“We felt very downcast at the thoughts that we had lost our little frigate, but were thankful to have got away from a French prison. We learned afterwards that the captain, fearing for the lives of his people, sent the other boats at once to the shore, and establishing a communication, managed to land the whole crew, who were forthwith made prisoners. It was fortunate that we had the biscuit and water, or we should have been starved to death; for it was a week or more before we fell in with an English homeward-bound West Indiaman, when we had not a gill of liquid left, and not a biscuit a-piece. I learned the value of water at that time, but I have always held to the opinion that a little good rum mixed with it adds greatly to its taste,” and Jerry winked at my uncle with one eye, and with the other looked at his tumbler, which was empty.

Uncle Kelson mixed him another glass.

“Ladies both,” he said, looking round at my aunt and Margaret, “here’s to your health, and may Will be with you a free man before many months are over. Maybe you haven’t heard of the ghost we had on board the old Cornwall, some years before the time I am speaking of? If you haven’t, I’ll tell you about it. Did you ever have a ghost aboard any ship you sailed in, cap’en? Maybe not. They don’t seem to show themselves now-a-days, as they used to do.

“Dick Carcass was the boatswain of the old Cornwall when I served aboard her. He was a tall spare man with high shoulders and a peculiar walk, so that it was impossible to mistake him meet him where you might. He was also a prime seaman, and had a mouth that could whistle the winds out of conceit. If he did use a rope’s-end on the backs of the boys sometimes, it was all for their own good. We were bound out one winter time to Halifax, Nova Scotia. It isn’t the pleasantest time of the year to be sailing across the North Atlantic. We had had a pretty long passage, with westerly gales, which kept all hands employed. The boatswain was seldom off deck, and a rough life he had of it.

“At last, what with the hard work he had to do, and having been in hospital too before we sailed, he fell sick, and one night the doctor came out of his cabin and told us he was dead. Now our captain was a kind-hearted man; and as he expected to be in port in two or three days, instead of sewing the boatswain up in a hammock and lowering him overboard, he gave notice that he should keep him to give him decent Christian burial on shore, and let the parson pray over him, for, d’ye see, we had none aboard. To pay him every respect, a sentry was placed at the door of his cabin in the cockpit. He had been dead three or four days, and we had expected to get into port in two or three at the furthest; so as the wind continued foul, and might hold in the same quarter a week longer, the captain, thinking the bo’sun wouldn’t keep much longer, at last determined to have him buried the next morning. That night I had just gone below, and was passing close to the sentry, when he asked me if I couldn’t make his lantern burn brighter. He was a chum of mine, d’ye see. I took it down from the hook where it was hanging, and was trying to snuff it, when all of a sudden the door of Mr Carcass’s cabin opened with a bang like a clap of thunder, and, as I’m a living man, I heard the bo’sun’s voice, for you may be sure I knew it well, shout out:—

“‘Sentry, give us a light, will ye!’

“Somehow or other—maybe I nipped the wick too hard—the candle went out, and down fell the lantern. I did not stop to pick it up, nor did the sentry who got the start of me, and off we set, scampering away like rats with a terrier at their tails, till we gained the upper step of the cockpit ladder. We then stopped and listened. There were steps thundering along the deck. They came to the very foot of the ladder. Presently we heard something mounting them slowly. The sentry moved on. So did I, but looking round I saw as surely as I sit here, the head of old Dick Carcass’s ghost rising slowly above the deck.

“We did not stop to see more of him, but walked away for’ard. Again we stopped, when there he was, standing on the deck—eight feet high he looked at least—rubbing his eyes, which glared out at us like balls of fire.

“We made for the fore-ladder, and there thought to get out of its way by moving aft as fast as our legs could carry us. Presently, as I looked over my shoulder, I saw the ghost come up the ladder on to the forecastle. The men there saw him too, for they scuttled away on either side, and left him to walk alone. For five minutes or more he kept pacing up and down the deck, just as he was accustomed to do when he was alive. By this time the men were crowding aft, the sentry among them, when the lieutenant of the watch, thinking maybe there was going to be a mutiny, or something of that sort, sings out and axes what we were about.

“‘Sir,’ answers the sentry, who was bold enough now; ‘there’s the ghost of Mr Carcass a walking the fo’c’stle.’

“‘The ghost of Mr Carcass be hanged! he is quiet enough in his cabin, poor man. What are all you fools thinking about?’ says the lieutenant. ‘Be off for’ard with you.’

“‘He is there, sir! he is there! It is the bo’sun’s ghost,’ we all sung out, one after the other, none of us feeling inclined to go near him.

“‘Blockheads!’ cried the lieutenant, beginning to get angry.

“‘It is him, sir; it is him,’ cried others. ‘He’s got on the hat and monkey jacket he always wears.’

“The lieutenant now became very angry, and ordering us out of the way, boldly steps forward. When, however, he gets abreast of the barge, he stops, for there he sees as clearly as we did the bo’sun’s tall figure pacing the deck, with his hands behind his back, looking for all the world just as he had done when he was alive.

“Now the lieutenant was as brave a man as ever stepped, but he did not like it, that was clear; still he felt that go on he must, and so on he went until he got up to the foremast, and then he sings out slowly, as if his words did not come up readily to his mouth:—

“‘Mr Car-car-car-cass, is that you?’

“‘Sir!’ said the ghost, turning round and coming aft.

“‘Mr Car-car-car-cass, is that you?’ again sings out the lieutenant.

“‘Sir!’ answers the boatswain, and he came nearer.

“The lieutenant stepped back, so did we, all the whole watch tumbling over on each other. Still facing for’ard, the gallant lieutenant kept retreating, and the ghost kept coming on slowly, as ghosts always do, I’m told, though I can’t say as I’ve had much experience with those sort of gentry. At last the ghost sings out:—

“‘Pardon me, Mr Pringle, what’s the matter? have all the people gone mad?’

“‘Who are you?’ asked the lieutenant.

“‘I am Richard Carcass, bo’sun of this here ship, to the best of my knowledge, and was never anybody else, sir.’

“‘What! ain’t you dead?’ says the lieutenant.

“‘Not that I knows on,’ answers the ghost. ‘I was alive when it struck eight bells in the middle watch, and its now only just gone two. I take it it is the morning watch, for I heard it strike just before that stupid sentry put out his light, and for some reason or other I couldn’t make out, took to his heels.’

“‘Why, the doctor said you were dead,’ says the lieutenant.

“‘The doctor, then, doesn’t know a dead bo’sun from a live one,’ answered Mr Carcass.

“‘Well, I wish you’d let him see you, and hear what he’s got to say on the subject;’ and he ordered the midshipman of the watch to call the doctor, who came on deck, grumbling not a little at being roused out from his berth. When he saw the bo’sun he seemed mighty pleased, and taking him by the hand told us all that he was as alive as ever he was, and advised him to turn in again and get some sleep, as the night was cold, and he was on the sick list.

“Well, ladies, that was the only ghost I ever saw. He was not dead either, but had been in a sort of trance, and when he heard two bells strike, not knowing how many days had passed since he had gone to sleep, he called for a light, but not getting it, he dressed in the dark and came on deck, thinking he ought to be there.”

Jerry spun other yarns before he took his leave. He was once, he declared, on board a trader bound out from Ireland to the West Indies with butter and cheese, “The Jane and Mary, that was her name,” he continued. “We were off the coast of Saint Domingo, almost becalmed, when we made out a couple of suspicious—looking craft sweeping off towards us. That they were pirates we had no doubt. At that time those sort of gentry used to cut the throats of every man on board if there was the slightest resistance.

“Our skipper, Captain Dillon, was a determined fellow, and had proved himself a good seaman during the passage.

“‘Lads,’ he sang out, ‘do you wish to be taken and hove overboard to feed the sharks, or will you try to save the ship if those scoundrels come up to us? I’ll promise you we’ll beat them if they venture aboard.’

“We all answered that we were ready to stick by him, for I believe there was not one of us that did not think we should be dead men before the day was an hour older. The mates promised also to fight to the last.

“‘Be smart then, my lads, get up some of the cargo from the hold.’ We soon had a dozen butter casks hoisted up, knocked in their ends, and payed the decks, and sides, and ropes, and every part of the ship over with the butter. We chucked our shoes below, and got the cutlasses, boarding pikes, and pistols ready. In a few minutes the deck was so slippery, that a man, unless without his shoes, could not stand upon it. We were all ready, with our cutlasses at our sides and the pikes handy, to give the scoundrels a warm reception. Meantime the Jane and Mary did her best, as far as the breeze would help her, to keep moving through the water.

“The pirates crept up, and kept firing away at us, one on one quarter and one on the other.

“We answered them with the few guns we carried, though each of them had nearly twice as many as we had, while their decks were crowded with men. Presently they ranged up alongside, and both boarded together, a score or more villainous-looking rascals leaping down on our decks, expecting to gain an easy victory; but they never made a greater mistake in their lives, and it was the last most of them had the chance of making. The moment their feet touched our deck, over they fell flat on their faces, while we with our cutlasses, rushing in among them, killed every mother’s son of their number. Others following, shouting, shrieking, and swearing, met the same fate; when the rest of the pirates, seeing what was happening, though not knowing the cause, but fancying, I suppose, that we had bewitched them, sheered off, and the breeze freshening we stood away, leaving the two feluccas far astern. Forty men lay dead on our decks, and not one of us was hurt.

“‘Heave the carcases overboard, and swab up the decks,’ cried our skipper, as coolly as if nothing had happened.

“We had a pretty job to clean the ship afterwards, but we didn’t mind the trouble, seeing that we had saved our lives, and the skipper was well content to lose the dozen casks of batter which had served us so good a turn.

“That skipper of ours had no small amount of humour in his composition, though it was somewhat of a grim character. Before we hove the bodies overboard, he ordered us to cut off the heads of those who had fallen, forty in number, and to pickle them in the empty butter casks, lest, as he said, his account of the transaction might be disbelieved by the good people of Jamaica.

“We arrived safely in Kingston harbour, where the merchants and a lot of other persons came on board. Many of our visitors, when they heard the skipper describe the way we had beaten off the pirates, looked incredulous.

“‘Seeing is believing,’ says he, and he ordered the casks which had been kept on deck to be opened. It was mightily amusing to watch the way our visitors looked at each other, when our skipper forthwith produced the gory heads, among which was that of the captain of one of the piratical craft and that of the first mate of the other.

“Some of them started back with horror, as well they might, for the heads looked dreadful enough as they were pulled out in succession.

“‘There’s the whole score,’ says the skipper, as we arranged them along each side of the quarter-deck. ‘Now, gentlemen, what have you got to say about my veracity?’

“After that, you may be sure the captain’s word was never doubted. The heads were then hove overboard, and it was said that Old Tom, the big shark which used to cruise about between Port Royal and Kingston, got the best part of them for his supper. I’m pretty sure he did, because for many a day after that he was not seen, and some thought he had died of indigestion by swallowing those pirates’ heads. Howsomdever, he wasn’t dead after all, as poor Bob Rattan, an old messmate of mine, found out to his cost. Just about two months had gone by, and Bob one evening was trying to swim from his ship to the shore, when Old Tom caught, him by the leg and hauled him to the bottom. His head was washed ashore three days afterwards, bitten clean off, a certain proof that Old Tom had swallowed the pirates’ heads, and not finding them agree with him, had left poor Bob’s alone.

“Taking in a cargo of sugar we sailed homewards; but I can tell you, till we were well clear of the West Indies we didn’t feel comfortable, lest we should fall in again with the pirates, when, as we had no butter aboard to grease our decks, the chances were, we knew, that in revenge they would have cut all our throats and sent the ship to the bottom.

“You see, ladies, that a man may go through no end of dangers, and yet come scot free out of them. So I hope will our friend here, and have many a yarn to spin, and that I may be present to hear them, although I don’t think he’ll beat mine; and now, as it’s getting late, I’ll wish you good evening;” and Jerry, taking his hat from under the chair, shook hands with all round.

“You won’t take my advice then, Will?” he whispered, as he came to me. “Well, well, it’s a pity. Good-night, lad, good-night, I’ll see you aboard the Nymph;” and he hurried away across the common towards the beach where he had left his boat, intending to pass the night under her, as was his general custom in the summer.


欢迎访问英文小说网http://novel.tingroom.com

©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

鲁ICP备05031204号