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hundred yards of the _Palisadoes_. The surf, at the particular spot we
steered for, did not break on the shore in a rolling curling wave, as
it usually does, but smoothed away under the lee of a small sandy
promontory that ran out into the sea, about half a cable's length to
windward, and then slid up the smooth white sand without breaking, in a
deep clear green swell, for the space of twenty yards, gradually
shoaling, the colour becoming lighter and lighter until it frothed away
in a shallow white fringe, that buzzed as it receded back into the deep
green sea, until it was again propelled forward by the succeeding
billow.

"I say, friend Bungo, how shall we manage? You don't mean to swamp us
in a shove through that surf, do you?" said Mr. Treenail.

"No fear, massa, if you and toder leetle man-of-war buccra only keep
dem seat when we rise on de crest of de swell dere."

We sat quiet enough. Treenail was coolness itself, and I aped him as
well as I could. The loud murmur, increasing to a roar, of the sea,
was trying enough as we approached, buoyed on the last long undulation.

"Now sit still, massa, bote."

We sank down into the trough, and presently were hove forwards with a
smooth sliding motion up on the beach - until grit, grit, we stranded on
the cream-coloured sand, high and dry.

"Now, jomp, massa, jomp."

We leapt with all our strength, and thereby toppled down on our noses;
the sea receded, and before the next billow approached we had run the
canoe twenty yards beyond high-water mark.

It was the work of a very few minutes to haul the canoe across the
sand-bank, and to launch it once more in the placid waters of the
harbour of Kingston. We pulled across towards the town, until we
landed at the bottom of Hanover Street; the lights from the cabin
windows of the merchantmen glimmering as we passed, and the town only
discernible from a solitary sparkle here and there. But the contrast
when we landed was very striking. We had come through the darkness of
the night in comparative quietness; and in two hours from the time we
had left the old _Torch_, we were transferred from her orderly deck to
the bustle of a crowded town.

One of our crew undertook to be the guide to the agent's house. We
arrived before it. It was a large mansion, and we could see lights
glimmering in the ground-floor; but it was gaily lit up aloft. The
house itself stood back about twenty feet from the street, from which
it was separated by an iron railing.

We knocked at the outer gate, but no one answered. At length our black
guide found out a bell-pull, and presently the clang of a bell
resounded throughout the mansion. Still no one answered. I pushed
against the door, and found it was open, and Mr. Treenail and myself
immediately ascended a flight of six marble steps, and stood in the
lower piazza, with the hall, or vestibule, before us. We entered. A
very well-dressed brown woman, who was sitting at her work at a small
table, along with two young girls of the same complexion, instantly
rose to receive us.

"Beg pardon," said Mr. Treenail, "pray, is this Mr. - - - 's house?"

"Yes, sir, it is."

"Will you have the goodness to say if he be at home?"

"Oh yes, sir, he is dere upon dinner wid company," said the lady.

"Well," continued the lieutenant, "say to him, that an officer of his
Majesty's sloop _Torch_ is below, with despatches for the admiral."

"Surely, sir, - surely," the dark lady continued; "Follow me, sir; and
dat small gentleman [Thomas Cringle, Esquire, no less!] - him will
better follow me too."

We left the room, and turning to the right, landed in the lower piazza
of the house, fronting the north. A large clumsy stair occupied the
eastermost end, with a massive mahogany balustrade, but the whole
affair below was very ill lighted. The brown lady preceded us; and,
planting herself at the bottom of the staircase, began to shout to some
one above -

"Toby! - Toby! - buccra gentlemen arrive, Toby." But no Toby responded
to the call.

"My dear madam," said Treenail, "I have little time for ceremony. Pray
usher us up into Mr. - - - 's presence."

"Den follow me, gentlemen, please."

Forthwith we all ascended the dark staircase until we reached the first
landing-place, when we heard a noise as of two negroes wrangling on the
steps above us.

"You rascal!" sang out one, "take dat; larn you for teal my
wittal!" - then a sharp crack, as if he had smote the culprit across the
pate; whereupon, like a shot, a black fellow, in a handsome livery,
trundled down, pursued by another servant with a large silver ladle in
his hand, with which he was belabouring the fugitive over his
flint-hard skull, right against our hostess, with the drumstick of a
turkey in his hand, or rather in his mouth.

"Top, you tief! - top, you tief! - for me piece dat," shouted the pursuer.

"You dam rascal!" quoth the dame. But she had no time to utter another
word, before the fugitive pitched, with all his weight, against her;
and at the very moment another servant came trundling down with a large
tray full of all kinds of meats - and I especially remember that two
large crystal stands of jellies composed part of his load - so there we
were regularly capsized, and caught all of a heap in the dark
landing-place, halfway up the stair; and down the other flight tumbled
our guide, with Mr. Treenail and myself, and the two blackies on the
top of her, rolling in our descent over, or rather into, another large
mahogany tray which had just been carried out, with a tureen of turtle
soup in it, and a dish of roast-beef, and platefuls of land-crabs, and
the Lord knows what all besides.

The crash reached the ear of the landlord, who was seated at the head
of his table in the upper piazza, a long gallery about fifty feet long
by fourteen wide, and he immediately rose and ordered his butler to
take a light. When he came down to ascertain the cause of the uproar.
I shall never forget the scene.

There was, first of all, mine host, a remarkably neat personage,
standing on the polished mahogany stair, three steps above his servant,
who was a very well-dressed respectable elderly negro, with a candle in
each hand; and beneath him, on the landing-place, lay two trays of
viands, broken tureens of soup, fragments of dishes, and fractured
glasses, and a chaos of eatables and drinkables, and table gear
scattered all about, amidst which lay scrambling my lieutenant and
myself, the brown housekeeper, and the two negro servants, all more or
less covered with gravy and wine dregs. However, after a good laugh,
we gathered ourselves up, and at length we were ushered on the scene.
Mine host, after stifling his laughter the best way he could, again sat
down at the head of his table, sparkling with crystal and wax-lights,
while a superb lamp hung overhead. The company was composed chiefly of
naval and military men, but there was also a sprinkling of civilians,
or _muftees_, to use a West India expression. Most of them rose as we
entered, and after they had taken a glass of wine, and had their laugh
at our mishap, our landlord retired to one side with Mr. Treenail,
while I, poor little middy as I was, remained standing at the end of
the room, close to the head of the stairs. The gentleman who sat at
the foot of the table had his back towards me, and was not at first
aware of my presence. But the guest at his right hand, a
happy-looking, red-faced, well-dressed man, soon drew his attention
towards me. The party to whom I was thus indebted seemed a very
jovial-looking personage, and appeared to be well known to all hands,
and indeed the life of the party, for, like Falstaff, he was not only
witty in himself, but the cause of wit in others.

The gentleman to whom he had pointed me out immediately rose, made his
bow, ordered a chair, and made room for me beside himself, where, the
moment it was known that we were direct from home, such a volley of
questions was fired off at me that I did not know which to answer
first. At length, after Treenail had taken a glass or two of wine, the
agent started him off to the admiral's pen in his own gig, and I was
desired to stay where I was until he returned.

The whole party seemed very happy, my boon ally was fun itself, and I
was much entertained with the mess he made when any of the foreigners
at table addressed him in French or Spanish. I was particularly struck
with a small, thin, dark Spaniard, who told very feelingly how the
night before, on returning home from a party to his own lodgings, on
passing through the piazza, he stumbled against something heavy that
lay in his grass-hammock, which usually hung there. He called for a
light, when, to his horror, he found the body of his old and faithful
valet lying in it, _dead_ and cold, with a knife sticking under his
fifth rib - no doubt intended for his master. The speaker was Bolivar.
About midnight, Mr. Treenail returned, we shook hands with Mr. - - - ,
and once more shoved off; and, guided by the lights shown on board the
_Torch_ we were safe _home_ again by three in the morning, when we
immediately made sail, and nothing particular happened until we arrived
within a day's sail of New Providence. It seemed that, about a week
before, a large American brig, bound from Havana to Boston had been
captured in this very channel by one of our men-of-war schooners, and
carried into Nassau; out of which port, for their own security, the
authorities had fitted a small schooner, carrying six guns and
twenty-four men. She was commanded by a very gallant fellow - there is
no disputing that - and he must needs emulate the conduct of the officer
who had made the capture; for in a fine clear night, when all the
officers were below rummaging in their kits for the killing things they
should array themselves in on the morrow, so as to smite the Fair of
New Providence to the heart at a blow - _Whiss_ - a shot flew over our
mast-head.

"A small schooner lying to right ahead, sir," sang out the boatswain
from the forecastle.

Before we could beat to quarters, another sang between our masts. We
kept steadily on our course, and as we approached our pigmy antagonist,
he bore up. Presently we were alongside of him.

"Heave to," hailed the strange sail; "heave to, or I'll sink you." The
devil you will, you midge, thought I.

The captain took the trumpet - "Schooner, ahoy" - no answer - "D - n your
blood, sir, if you don't let everything go by the run this instant,
I'll fire a broadside. Strike, sir, to his Britannic Majesty's sloop
_Torch_."

The poor fellow commanding the schooner had by this time found out his
mistake, and immediately came on board, where, instead of being lauded
for his gallantry, I am sorry to say he was roundly rated for his want
of discernment in mistaking his Majesty's cruiser for a Yankee
merchantman. Next forenoon we arrived at Nassau.

In a week after we again sailed for Bermuda, having taken on board ten
American skippers, and several other Yankees, as prisoners of war.

For the first three days after we cleared the Passages, we had fine
weather - wind at east-south-east; but after that it came on to blow
from the north-west, and so continued without intermission during the
whole of the passage to Bermuda. On the fourth morning after we left
Nassau, we descried a sail in the south-east quarter, and immediately
made sail in chase. We overhauled her about noon; she hove to, after
being fired at repeatedly; and, on boarding her, we found she was a
Swede from Charleston, bound to Havre-de-Grace. All the letters we
could find on board were very unceremoniously broken open, and nothing
having transpired that could identify the cargo as enemy's property, we
were bundling over the side, when a nautical-looking subject, who had
attracted my attention from the first, put in his oar.

"Lieutenant," said he, "will you allow me to put this barrel of New
York apples into the boat as a present to Captain Deadeye, from Captain
- - - of the United States navy?"

Mr. Treenail bowed, and said he would; and we shoved off and got on
board again, and now there was the devil to pay, from the perplexity
old Deadeye was thrown into, as to whether, here in the heat of the
American war, he was bound to take this American captain prisoner or
not. I was no party to the councils of my superiors, of course, but
the foreign ship was finally allowed to continue her course.

The next day I had the forenoon watch; the weather had lulled
unexpectedly nor was there much sea, and the deck was all alive, to
take advantage of the fine _blink_, when the man at the mast-head sang
out - "Breakers right ahead, sir."

"Breakers!" said Mr. Splinter, in great astonishment. "Breakers! - why,
the man must be mad! I say, Jenkins - - "

"Breakers close under the bows," sang out the boatswain from forward.

"The devil!" quoth Splinter, and he ran along the gangway, and ascended
the forecastle, while I kept close to his heels. We looked out ahead,
and there we certainly did see a splashing, and boiling, and white
foaming of the ocean, that unquestionably looked very like breakers.
Gradually, this splashing and foaming appearance took a circular
whisking shape, as if the clear green sea, for a space of a hundred
yards in diameter, had been stirred about by a gigantic invisible
_spurtle_, until everything hissed again; and the curious part of it
was, that the agitation of the water seemed to keep ahead of us, as if
the breeze which impelled us had also floated it onwards. At length
the whirling circle of white foam ascended higher and higher, and then
gradually contracted itself into a spinning black tube, which wavered
about for all the world like a gigantic _loch-leech_ held by the tail
between the finger and thumb, while it was poking its vast snout about
in the clouds in search of a spot to fasten on.

"Is the boat-gun on the forecastle loaded?" said Captain Deadeye.

"It is, sir."

"Then luff a bit - that will do - fire."

The gun was discharged, and down rushed the black wavering pillar in a
watery _avalanche_, and in a minute after the dark heaving billows
rolled over the spot whereout it arose, as if no such thing had ever
been.

This said troubling of the waters was neither more nor less than a
waterspout, which again is neither more nor less than a whirlwind at
sea, which gradually whisks the water round and round, and up and up,
as you see straws so raised, until it reaches a certain height, when it
invariably breaks. Before this I had thought that waterspout was
created by some next to supernatural exertion of the power of the
Deity, in order to suck up water into the clouds, that they, like the
wine-skins in Spain, might be filled with rain.

The morning after, the weather was clear and beautiful, although the
wind blew half a gale. Nothing particular happened until about seven
o'clock in the evening. I had been invited to dine with the gunroom
officers this day, and every thing was going on smooth and comfortable,
when Mr. Splinter spoke. "I say, master, don't you smell gunpowder?"

"Yes, I do," said the little master, "or something deuced like it."

To explain the particular comfort of our position, it may be right to
mention that the magazine of a brig sloop is exactly under the gunroom.
Three of the American skippers had been quartered on the gunroom mess,
and they were all at table. Snuff, snuff, smelled one, and another
sniffled, - "Gunpowder, I guess, and in a state of ignition."

"Will you not send for the gunner, sir?" said the third. Splinter did
not like it, I saw, and this quailed me.

The captain's bell rang. "What smell of brimstone is that, steward?"

"I really can't tell," said the man, trembling from head to foot; "Mr.
Splinter has sent for the gunner, sir."

"The devil!" said Deadeye, as he hurried on deck. We all followed. A
search was made.

"Some matches have caught in the magazine," said one.

"We shall be up and away like sky-rockets," said another.

Several of the American masters ran out on the jib-boom, coveting the
temporary security of being so far removed from the seat of the
expected explosion, and all was alarm and confusion, until it was
ascertained that two of the boys, little sky-larking vagabonds, had
stolen some pistol cartridges, and had been making lightning, as it is
called, by holding a lighted candle between the fingers, and putting
some loose powder into the palm of the hand, then chucking it up into
the flame. They got a sound flogging, on a very unpoetical part of
their corpuses, and once more the ship subsided into her usual orderly
discipline. The northwester still continued, with a clear blue sky,
without a cloud overhead by day, and a bright cold moon by night. It
blew so hard for the three succeeding days, that we could not carry
more than close-reefed topsails to it, and a reefed foresail. Indeed,
towards six bells in the forenoon watch of the third day, it came
thundering down with such violence, and the sea increased so much, that
we had to hand the foretopsail.

This was by no means an easy job. "Ease her a bit," said the first
lieutenant, - "there - shake the wind out of her sails for a moment,
until the men get the canvas in" - - whirl, a poor fellow pitched off
the lee foreyardarm into the sea. "Up with the helm - heave him the
bight of a rope." We kept away, but all was confusion, until an
American midshipman, one of the prisoners on board, hove the bight of a
rope at him. The man got it under his arms, and after hauling him
along for a hundred yards at the least - and one may judge of the
velocity with which he was dragged through the water, by the fact that
it took the united strain of ten powerful men to get him in - he was
brought safely on board, pale and blue, when we found that the running
of the rope had crushed in his broad chest, below his arms, as if it
had been a girl's waist, indenting the very muscles of it and of his
back half an inch deep. He had to be bled before he could breathe, and
it was an hour before the circulation could be restored, by the joint
exertions of the surgeon and gunroom steward, chafing him with spirits
and camphor, after he had been stripped and stowed away between the
blankets in his hammock.

The same afternoon we fell in with a small prize to the squadron in the
_Chesapeake_, a dismantled schooner, manned by a prize crew of a
midshipman and six men. She had a signal of distress, an American
ensign, with the union down, hoisted on the jury-mast, across which
there was rigged a solitary lug-sail. It was blowing so hard that we
had some difficulty in boarding her, when we found she was a Baltimore
pilot-boat-built schooner, of about 70 tons burden, laden with flour,
and bound for Bermuda. But three days before, in a sudden squall, they
had carried away both masts short by the board, and the only spar which
they had been able to rig, was a spare topmast which they had jammed
into one of the pumps - fortunately she was as tight as a bottle - and
stayed it the best way they could. The captain offered to take the
little fellow who had charge of her, and his crew and cargo, on board,
and then scuttle her; but no - all he wanted was a cask of water and
some biscuit; and having had a glass of grog, he trundled over the side
again, and returned to his desolate command. However, he afterwards
brought his prize safe into Bermuda.

The weather still continued very rough, but we saw nothing until the
second evening after this. The forenoon had been even more boisterous
than any of the preceding, and we were all fagged enough with "make
sail," and "shorten sail," and "all hands," the whole day through; and
as the night fell, I found myself, for the fourth time, in the maintop.
The men had just lain in from the maintopsail yard, when we heard the
watch called on deck, - "Starboard watch, ahoy!" - which was a cheery
sound to us of the larboard, who were thus released from duty on deck,
and allowed to go below.

The men were scrambling down the weather shrouds, and I was preparing
to follow them, when I jammed my left foot in the grating of the top,
and capsized on my nose. I had been up nearly the whole of the
previous night, and on deck the whole of the day, and actively employed
too, as during the greater part of it it blew a gale. I stooped down
in some pain, to see what had bolted me to the grating; but I had no
sooner extricated my foot, than, over-worked and over-fatigued as I
was, I fell over in the soundest sleep that ever I have enjoyed before
or since, the back of my neck resting on a coil of rope, so that my
head hung down within it.

The rain all this time was beating on me, and I was drenched to the
skin. I must have slept for four hours or so, when I was awakened by a
rough thump on the side from the stumbling foot of the captain of the
top, the word having been passed to shake a reef out of the topsails,
the wind having rather suddenly gone down. It was done; and now broad
awake, I determined not to be caught napping again, so I descended, and
swung myself in on deck out of the main rigging, just as Mr. Treenail
was mustering the crew at eight bells. When I landed on the
quarterdeck, there he stood abaft the binnacle, with the light shining
on his face, his glazed hat glancing, and the rain-drop sparkling at
the brim of it. He had noticed me the moment I descended.

"Heyday, Master Cringle, you are surely out of your watch. Why, what
are you doing here, eh?"

I stepped up to him, and told him the truth, that, being overfatigued,
I had fallen asleep in the top.

"Well, well, boy," said he, "never mind, go below, and turn in; if you
don't take your rest, you never will be a sailor."

"But what do you see aloft?" glancing his eye upwards, and all the crew
on deck, as I passed them, looked anxiously up also amongst the
rigging, as if wondering what I saw there, for I had been so chilled in
my snoose, that my neck, from resting in the cold on the coil of rope,
had become stiffened and rigid to an intolerable degree; and although,
when I first came on deck, I had, by a strong exertion, brought my
_caput_ to its proper bearings, yet the moment I was dismissed by my
superior officer, I for my own comfort was glad to conform to the
contraction of the muscle, whereby I once more strayed along the deck,
_glowering_ up into the heavens, as if I had seen some wonderful sight
there.

"What do you see aloft?" repeated Mr. Treenail, while the crew, greatly
puzzled, continued to follow my eyes, as they thought, and to stare up
into the rigging.

"Why, sir, I have thereby got a stiff neck - that's all, sir."

"Go and turn in at once, my good boy - make haste, now; tell our steward
to give you a glass of hot grog, and mind your hand that you don't get
sick."

I did as was desired, swallowed the grog, and turned in; but I could
not have been in bed above an hour, when the drum beat to quarters, and
I had once more to bundle out on the cold wet deck, where I found all
excitement. At the time I speak of, we had been beaten by the
Americans in several actions of single ships, and our discipline
improved in proportion as we came to learn, by sad experience, that the
enemy was not to be undervalued. I found that there was a ship in
sight, right ahead of us - apparently carrying all sail. A group of
officers were on the forecastle with night-glasses, the whole crew
being stationed in dark clusters round the guns at quarters. Several
of the American skippers were forward amongst us, and they were of
opinion that the chase was a man-of-war, although our own people seemed
to doubt this. One of the skippers insisted that she was the _Hornet_,
from the unusual shortness of her lower masts, and the immense
squareness of her yards. But the puzzle was, if it were the _Hornet_,
why she did not shorten sail. Still this might be accounted for, by
her either wishing to make out what we were before she engaged us, or
she might be clearing for action. At this moment a whole cloud of
studdingsails were blown from the yards as if the booms had been
carrots; and to prove that the chase was keeping a bright look-out, she
immediately kept away, and finally bore up dead before the wind, under
the impression, no doubt, that she would draw ahead of us, from her
gear being entire, before we could rig out our light sails again.

And so she did for a time, but at length we got within gunshot. The
American masters were now ordered below, the hatches were clapped on,
and the word passed to see all clear. Our shot was by this time flying



Online LibraryVariousGreat Sea Stories → online text (page 5 of 24)