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Chapter Twenty Three.
A few particulars of the expedition—I learn to be patient—A strange sail—Cheated of a prize—We destroy a French frigate—Chase a brig—Becalmed at an awkward time—Our captain plans a cutting-out expedition—Success of our efforts—Dick Hagger and I with others are put on board a prize under Mr Harvey—Sail for England.

We were now kept actively engaged, but my readers would not be interested were I to give a detailed account of the various incidents of the unfortunate expedition to Quiberon. After taking possession of two islands commanding the bay, we were despatched, in company with the Standard, sixty-four, to summon the Governor of Belle Isle to deliver up the island for the use of the French king.

The boat proceeded to the shore with a flag of truce, carrying a long letter from the captain of the Standard. A very short reply was received, we heard, from the Republican general, who declared that, as he was well supplied with provisions and artillery, we might come when we liked, and he should be ready for us.

I know that we sailed away and left him alone. Soon after this we were joined by the Jason frigate, escorting a fleet of transports, containing four thousand British troops, under command of Major-General Doyle, who was accompanied by the Comte d’Artois and several other French noblemen. The troops were landed on the Isle d’Yeu with provisions, stores, and clothing, and there they remained doing nothing, for nothing could be done. The Republicans, under their clever, daring chiefs, had completely gained the upper hand, and the Royalist cause was lost. We meantime had to enjoy the luxuries of salt pork and mouldy biscuit, either blockading the enemy’s ports or looking out for their cruisers or merchantmen.

Thus we continued week after week, month after month, until my heart grew sick at the long delay. We had occasional opportunities of writing home, and I always availed myself of them, but I got very few letters in return, though my wife wrote frequently. The packet was often carried on to the Mediterranean, or to other more distant parts of the world.

At last, while cruising with three other frigates and an eighteen gun brig, the Sylph, off the mouth of the river Gironde, we one morning made out a French frigate in the south-south-west, standing in towards the entrance of the river, the wind being at the time north-north-west. Our frigate and the Sylph were close in with the land, while our consorts were considerably astern of us. We immediately crowded all sail to cut off the French frigate from the mouth of the river, while our captain ordered several signals to be made, intended to deceive her and induce her to suppose that we were also French. Dick Hagger and I were on the forecastle.

“She’ll take the bait, I hope,” he observed, glancing up at the strange bunting which was being run up at the fore royal masthead and quickly lowered. “See, she’s answering. Well, it may be all ship-shape, but I don’t like telling lies, even to an enemy. Hurrah! I suppose the signals were to tell her to come to an anchor, for see, she is shortening sail.”

Presently the French frigate rounded to and brought up. It was just what we wanted, for if she had stood on, she might have run up the river and escaped us. All we now had to do was to get up alongside her, and we trusted to our guns to make her ours. We carried on, therefore, as we had been doing to reach her.

This probably made her suspect that all was not right, for in a few minutes, letting fall her topsails, she stood away to the southward.

“She has cut her cable, and is off again,” cried Dick; “however, she can’t get up the river, that’s one comfort, and we shall have her before long.”

The French ship was now under all the canvas she could spread, standing to the southward. We had the lead going, for we were running through a narrow channel, with a lighthouse on one side on some rocks, and a sandbank on the other. We had a pilot on board, however, who knew the coast, and our captain was a man of firm nerve. The men in the chains were singing out all the time. For my part, I know I was very glad when we cleared the danger, and once more ran off before the wind, followed by the commodore in the Pomone and the Anson frigate. Meanwhile the commodore sent off the Artois frigate and Sylph brig to examine two suspicious ships seen away to the south-west. Night was approaching, and just before darkness came down on the ocean, we were not more than two miles astern of the chase. We could still see her dimly through the gloom ahead, and we hoped to keep sight of her during the night. Suddenly, however, about nine o’clock, a heavy squall struck us, accompanied by thunder and lightning, with tremendous showers of rain. The order was given to shorten sail. We flew aloft; there was no time to be lost. The thunder rattled, almost deafening us, and the lightning flashed in our eyes. Between the flashes it was so dark that we had to feel our way on the yards, for as to seeing six inches from our noses, that was out of the question. For nearly an hour it blew fearfully hard, and when we came down from aloft and looked ahead, we could nowhere see the chase, nor were either of our consorts visible astern. We, however, continued standing to the southward as before. What had become of the other ships we could not tell.

“The weather seems to be clearing,” observed Dick; “if we keep a sharp look-out, the chances are we catch sight of the chase again.”

The third lieutenant, who was forward peering out with his hands on either side of his eyes, asked if any of us could see her.

“Yes, there she is!” cried Dick immediately afterwards, “away a little on the starboard bow.”

The lieutenant, looking again to assure himself that Dick was right, sung out to the captain. Immediately the order was given to make all sail. We were, during this time, scarcely more than a mile from the shore, but the wind held fair, and there were no rocks to bring us up. Thus we stood on until daybreak, when we found that we were about the same distance from the chase as we had been at sunset, while, looking round, we discovered the frigate and brig, hull down, in the north-west.

As the other vessels were so far off, we now fully expected that the Frenchman would make a stand-up fight of it, and that before many minutes were over we should be blazing away at her, for, as far as we could judge, she was as big if not bigger than our ship. All this time, however, she had neither hoisted ensign nor pennant. This seemed strange, as there was no doubt about her being a Government ship. For some time she stood on, edging away towards the land. “Perhaps there is danger ahead, and the Frenchmen hope to lead us upon it,” I observed to Dick.

“We are all right as to that,” he answered. “Our master knows the coast too well to run the ship ashore. I only wish we could see the enemy haul her wind to, and wait for us.”

“She is going to haul her wind, see!” I exclaimed, as I saw the French frigate brace up her yards.

“Yes, she is, but she’s putting her head towards the land; I do think she’s going to run ashore!”

That such was the case there appeared every probability; still there was room enough for her to come about, and as we eagerly watched her, I hoped she would do so.

She stood on and on, and presently what was my amazement to see her mizzen-mast go by the board!

“The Frenchman must have cut it away,” cried Dick. “I was right, then.”

So he was; of that there could be no doubt. Soon afterwards down came her mainmast. On she went, however, until we saw that she was ashore, and then her foremast followed the other masts, and the sea catching her, drove her broadside on to the beach, where she heeled over away from us, so that it was difficult to see what her crew were about. As the seas kept striking her, it seemed that her people must be in considerable danger.

Our men bestowed no small amount of abuse on the French for trying to deprive us of the frigate, when they could not keep her for themselves.

Our captain ordered three guns to be fired at her as we passed within a quarter of a mile of the shore; but though some of hers might have been brought to bear on us, not one was discharged. We then stood off and hove-to. The boats were lowered and manned, our first lieutenant going in command of them, with directions to effect the destruction of the frigate. The heavy surf breaking against her bottom, and sweeping round towards the side turned to the shore, made it difficult and dangerous work to attempt boarding her.

The tide was now falling, and a considerable number of the French crew seeing us coming, in spite of the risk of being swept away, plunged into the water, and partly by swimming and partly by wading, managed to reach the beach. None of them made any attempt to defend the ship, nor did we molest the poor fellows who were making for the land.

At length we managed to get up to the ship, when the captain and several of his officers surrendered themselves as prisoners. We also took off a few Portuguese seamen, who had been taken out of two captured Brazil ships. We were soon joined by the boats of the Artois and the Sylph, which had in the meantime approached. The former was now standing off the shore, while the Sylph came close in to protect the boats should the French seamen venture to attack us.

Having put the prisoners on board the Artois and Galatea, we returned once more to effect the destruction of the frigate. The rollers, however, went tumbling in on shore with so much fury that the boats would probably have been lost had we made the attempt. We therefore had to wait patiently until the rising tide should enable us with less hazard to get up to the ship. Meantime we took the Sylph in tow, and carried her to within seven hundred yards of the shore, where, dropping her anchor, she got a spring on it, and began firing away at the frigate, so as to riddle her bottom and prevent the possibility of her floating off at high water. At last we once more pulled in, the tide allowing us to approach close to the beach, when Mr Harvey, in whose boat I was, went on shore with a flag of truce to tell the French seamen, who were gathering in considerable numbers on the sand-hills, that we were about to destroy their ship, and to advise them to keep out of the way. I was very glad when my young officer came back to the boat.

They did not attend to the warning they received, but as soon as we pulled for the ship they came down, threatening us in considerable numbers. On this the Sylph opened her fire, and soon sent them to the right about. We now boarded the ship, which I should have said was the Andromaque, and having searched every part of her to ascertain that none of her crew or any prisoners she might have taken remained on board, we set her on fire fore and aft, so effectually that even had the Frenchmen returned and attempted to put out the flames they would have found it impossible to do so. She burned rapidly, and as we pulled away towards the Sylph the flames were bursting out through all the ports. The Sylph then got under weigh, and, taking the boats in tow, stood off the land and rejoined the frigates.

We had not got far when a tremendous roar was heard, and we could see the whole after-part of the ship blown into fragments, some flying seawards, others towards the land, many rising high into the air.

We gave a cheer of satisfaction, for since we could not carry off the frigate as a prize, the next best thing was to prevent her doing any farther harm to our commerce.

This exploit performed, we separated from our consorts, and after cruising about for some time, we one morning, when about twenty miles off the land, just at daybreak, saw, inside of us, a large brig, which, from the squareness of her yards, we knew to be a vessel of war. The wind was from the southward, and she was close-hauled. We instantly made all sail, and stood after her, hoping to get her within range of our guns before she could run on shore, or seek for safety in port. She at once kept way, and was evidently steering for a harbour, though I forget its name, which lay some short distance to the northward. She soon showed that she was a fast craft, for though the Galatea sailed well, she maintained her distance. At length, getting her within range of our long guns, we made sure of capturing her. Two shots struck her, but did not produce any serious damage.

“Never mind, she’ll be ours in a few minutes,” observed Dick, as he stood near me at our gun. We expected in a few minutes to send a broadside into her.

Just then our topsails flapped loudly against the masts, and we lay becalmed. The brig almost immediately got out some long sweeps, and with her boats towing ahead, quickly crept away from us. I thought our captain would have ordered out the boats to attack her, but I suppose that he thought it was not worth risking the lives of the men by boarding a vessel with a crew so strong as she probably possessed. Thus we lay for some hours, rolling our sides into the smooth, shining waters. I heard some of the officers say that they could see through their glasses several other craft at anchor in a small bay protected by a fort. As evening approached a breeze sprang up, and making sail, we stood off the land. As soon as it was dark, however, the ship was put about, and we stood back again for some distance, when we hove-to, and the boats were lowered. The captain then announced that he intended to send four boats in, under the command of the first lieutenant; the third lieutenant taking charge of one, Mr Harvey of another, and the boatswain of a fourth. Dick and I were in Mr Harvey’s boat. The object was to cut out the brig we had chased into port, as well as any other vessels we could get hold of. It was just the sort of work sailors are fond of, though at the same time often as dangerous as any they can engage in. They like it all the better, however, for the danger.

The brig was to be the first attacked, and we hoped to surprise her, as probably some of her officers and crew were ashore. If we could take her, we had little doubt about cutting-out one or two of the others which had been seen at anchor.

The night was very dark, and just suited for our purpose. The first lieutenant took the lead in one of the gigs. The two cutters and pinnace followed close astern, to prevent the risk of separating. In perfect silence we pulled away from the frigate with muffled oars. As yet we could see no light to guide us, but we expected to catch sight of some of those on shore as we drew nearer. To get up to the anchorage we had a point to round. There was the risk, should any sentry be posted there, that we should be discovered. The lieutenant accordingly gave it as wide a berth as he could. Once round it, we could see the masts of the brig against the sky, but there was no light visible, nor was any movement perceptible on board her. We pulled on steadily, hoping to get up to her without being discovered. We fancied that the Frenchmen must be keeping a bad look-out. On and on we glided, like spirits of evil bent on mischief, when, as we were within a cable’s length of the brig, suddenly a flame of fire burst from her ports, with the loud reports of six heavy guns, followed by the rattle of musketry.

“On, lads, on!” cried our commanding officer; and the boats casting off from each other, we pulled away as hard as we could.

The first lieutenant and Mr Harvey in our boat, pulled for her bows, one on either side, while the other boats were to board on her quarters. Our boat was to go round to the starboard side, which was the inner one. The instant we hooked on, we clambered up, Mr Harvey gallantly leading, Dick and I being close to him. We reached the deck without opposition, for the Frenchmen were all over on the other bow, attempting to beat back the lieutenant and his people, so that we took them completely by surprise, and were cutting and slashing at them before they knew we were on deck. They quickly turned, however, to defend themselves, and this allowed the lieutenant and the gig’s crew to clamber on board. United, we drove them back from the forecastle. Some, to save themselves, tumbled down the fore-hatchway, but others, unable to get down, retreated aft. Here they joined the rest of the crew, who were fighting desperately with the third lieutenant and boatswain’s party, but were being driven slowly back.

The uproar we made, the flash of the pistols, the clash of our cutlasses, the shouts and shrieks of the combatants, served to arouse the garrison in the fort and the crews of the other vessels. The guns in the fort had not opened upon us, probably because the Frenchmen were afraid of hitting their friends, not knowing whether we had captured the brig or been driven back.

The Frenchmen, as they generally do, fought bravely, but they could not withstand the desperate onslaught we made. Attacked as they were on both sides, they were unable to retreat, and those who had been aft leapt down the hatchways, crying out for quarter. Mr Harvey told them that if they made further resistance they would be shot. He then called his boat’s crew away, as had been arranged, to cut the cable, and began to tow the brig out of harbour, while the crew of another boat flew aloft to loose the sails. The canvas was let fall and rapidly sheeted home. The moment we began to move the fort opened fire. One of the first shot struck our boat, which at once commenced to fill. Strange to say, not a man among us was hit. We on this dropped alongside the brig and scrambled on board, just as the boat sank beneath our feet. On this the lieutenant, seeing that the brig had got good way on her, calling his own boat’s crew and that of the pinnace, shoved off, with the intention of taking one of the other vessels, leaving the third lieutenant and Mr Harvey to carry out the brig. The shot from the fort came pitching about us, and we were hulled several times. One shot struck the taffrail, and as the splinters flew inboard, the third lieutenant, who was at the helm, fell. I at once ran to help him, while Mr Harvey took his place. He was badly wounded, I feared; but on recovering he desired to be left on deck, observing that should he be taken below, the French prisoners might, he feared, get hold of him, and hold him as a hostage, until we promised to liberate them, or restore the brig.

Soon after this we got out of range of the guns from the fort. Looking astern, we could see the flashes of pistols, and could hear the rattle of musketry, as if a sharp fight were going on. It was very evident that the first lieutenant was engaged in warm work. Possibly we thought he might have caught a tartar and been getting the worst of it. Mr Harvey proposed going back to his assistance, but the lieutenant feared that if we did so, we should run a great risk of getting the brig ashore, and might probably be captured. We therefore stood on until we were clear of the harbour. Just as we were rounding the point, and looking aft, I made out a vessel under weigh.

“Hurrah, Mr Lloyd has made a prize of another vessel,” I shouted.

Some of the men doubted this, and declared that she was coming in chase of us. I could not deny that such might possibly be the case, but presently the fort opened upon her, which proved, as we supposed, that she was another prize. We accordingly hove-to, out of range of the guns of the fort, to wait for her; still some of the men fancied that she might be after all, as they had at first supposed, an armed vessel coming out to try and retake us. To guard against this, Mr Harvey ordered us to load the guns. We found plenty of powder and shot, so that we felt sure, if she was an enemy, of beating her off. The breeze freshened as she got clear of the harbour and stood towards us. We were at our guns, ready to fire should she prove an enemy. All doubt was banished when, on approaching, a British cheer was raised from her deck, to which we replied, and making sail, we stood on together.

In about half an hour we were up to the frigate, when both prizes hove-to to windward of her, that we might send our prisoners as well as our wounded men on board. Besides the third lieutenant, we had had only two hurt in capturing our prize, the Aimable; but the first lieutenant, in capturing the other, the Flore, had had two men killed and three wounded, besides the boatswain and himself slightly. Not only had the crew of the Flore resisted toughly, but boats had come off from the shore and attempted to retake her, after her cable had been cut. The Flore had, however, escaped with fewer shot in her hull than we had received.

During the night we ran off shore, and as soon as it was daylight the carpenters came on board to repair our damages. The captain had meantime directed Mr Harvey to take charge of the Aimable, and to carry her into Plymouth.

“I have applied for you, Wetherholm and Hagger, to form part of my crew,” he said, on returning on board. “I know you are anxious to get home, as it will be some time probably before the frigate herself returns to port.”

I thanked him heartily, and Hagger, I, and the other men, sent for our bags. As soon as all the arrangements had been completed, we made sail and stood for the British Channel. The Flore, which sailed in our company, had been placed under charge of the second master. We had been directed to keep close together so that we might afford each other support. The wind being light, we did not lose sight of the frigate until just at sundown, when we saw her making sail, apparently in chase of some vessel, to the southward. Our brig was a letter of marque, and had a valuable cargo on board, so that she was worth preserving, and would give us, we hoped, a nice little sum of prize-money.

For long I had not been in such good spirits, as I hoped soon to be able to get home and to see my beloved wife, even if I could not manage to obtain my discharge, for which I intended to try. When it was my watch below, I could scarcely sleep for thinking of the happiness which I believed was in store for me.

We had kept two Frenchmen, one to act as cook, the other, who spoke a little English,—having been for some time a prisoner in England,—as steward. They were both good-natured, merry fellows. The cook’s name was Pierre le Grande, the other we called Jacques Little. He was a small, dapper little Frenchman, and played the violin. He would have fiddled all day long, for he preferred it to anything else; but he could not get any one to dance to him except Le Grande, who, as soon as he had washed up his pots and kettles, came on deck, and began capering about to Jacques’ tunes in the most curious fashion possible.

The rest of us had plenty to do in getting the brig into order, and occasionally taking a spell at the pumps, for she leaked more than was pleasant. We tried to discover where the water came in, but could not succeed. However, as the leak was not serious it did not trouble us much.

As we were so small a crew, we were divided into only two watches. Mr Harvey had one and gave me charge of the other, at which I felt pleased, for it showed that he placed confidence in me. I understood navigation, which none of the other men did, and I had a right to consider myself a good seaman.


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