The Privateersman, or One Hundred Years Ago/Chapter IX
On our arrival, Captain Levee and I, as soon as we had got rid of the dust of travel, called upon the owner, who informed us that all the alterations in Captain Levee’s vessel, which was a large lugger of fourteen guns and a hundred and twenty men, were complete, and that my vessel was also ready for me, and manned; but that I had better go on board and see if anything else was required, or if there was any alteration that I would propose. Captain Levee and I immediately went down to the wharf, alongside of which my vessel lay, that we might examine her now that she was fitted out as a vessel of war.
She had been a schooner in the Spanish trade, and had been captured by Captain Levee, who had taken her out from under a battery as she lay at anchor, having just made her port from a voyage from South America, being at that time laden with copper and cochineal,—a most valuable prize she had proved,—and as she was found to be a surprising fast sailer, the owner had resolved to fit her out as a privateer.
She was not a large vessel, being of about a hundred and sixty tons, but she was very beautifully built. She was now armed with eight brass guns, of a calibre of six pounds each, four howitzers aft, and two cohorns on the taffrail.
“You have a very sweet little craft here, Elrington,” said Captain Levee, after he had walked all over her, and examined her below and aloft. “She will sail better than before, I should think, for she then had a very full cargo, and now her top hamper is a mere nothing. Did the owner say how many men you had?”
“Fifty-four is, I believe, to be our full complement,” I replied, “and I should think quite enough.”
“Yes, if they are good men and true. You may do a great deal with this vessel, for you see she draws so little water, that you may run in where I dare not venture. Come, we will now return to our lodgings, pack up, and each go on board of our vessels. We have had play enough, now to work again, and in good earnest.”
“I was about to propose it myself;” I replied, “for with a new vessel, officers and men not known to me, the sooner I am on board and with them the better. It will take some time to get everything and everybody in their places.”
“Spoken like a man who understands his business,” replied Captain Levee. “I wonder whether we shall be sent out together?”
“I can only say that I hope so,” I replied, “as I should profit much by your experience, and hope to prove to you that, if necessary, I shall not be a bad second.”
And as I made this reply, we arrived at the house where we had lodged.
Captain Levee was a man who, when once he had decided, was as rapid as lightning in execution. He sent for a dealer in horses, concluded a bargain with him in five minutes, paid his lodgings and all demands upon him, and before noon we were both on board of our respective vessels. But, previous to the seamen coming up for our boxes, I observed to him, “I should wish, Levee, that you would let me know, if it is only at a rough guess, what sum I may be indebted to you; as I may be fortunate, and if so, it will be but fair to repay you the money, although your kindness I cannot so easily return.”
“I’ll tell you exactly,” said Levee. “If I take no prizes this cruise, and you do make money, why then we will, on our return, have another frolic somewhere, and you shall stand treat. That will make us all square, if I am not fortunate; but if I am, I consider your pleasant company to have more than repaid me for any little expense I may have incurred.”
“You are very kind to say that,” I replied; “but I hope you will be fortunate, and not have to depend upon me.”
“I hope so too,” he replied, laughing. “If we come back safe and sound, we will take a trip to Bath—I am anxious to see the place.”
I mention this conversation, Madam, that I may make you acquainted with the character of Captain Levee, and prove to you how worthy a man I had as a companion.
It required about ten days to complete my little schooner with everything that I considered requisite, and the politeness of the owner was extremely gratifying. We were, however, but just complete, when the owner sent for me in a great hurry, and having taken me into a back room next to the counting-house, he locked the door, and said—
“Captain Elrington, I have been offered a large sum to do a service to some unfortunate people; but it is an affair which, for our own sakes, will demand the utmost secrecy: indeed, you will risk more than I shall; but at the same time I trust you will not refuse to perform the service, as I shall lose a considerable advantage. If you will undertake it, I shall not be ungrateful.”
I replied that I was bound to him by many acts of kindness, and that he might confide in my gratitude.
“Well, then,” he replied, lowering his voice, “the fact is this; four of the Jacobite party, who are hotly pursued, and for whose heads a large reward is offered, have contrived to escape to this port, and are here concealed by their friends, who have applied to me to land them at some port in France.”
“I understand,” I replied; “I will cheerfully execute the commission.”
“I thank you, Captain Elrington; I expected no other answer from you. I would not put them on board Captain Levee’s vessel for many reasons; but, at the same time, he knows that he is to sail to-morrow, and he shall wait for you and keep company with you till you have landed them; after which you may concert your own measures with him, and decide whether you cruise together or separate.”
“Captain Levee will of course know that I have them on board?”
“Certainly; but it is to conceal these people from others in his ship, and not from him, that they are put on board of your vessel. At the same time, I confess I have my private reasons as well, which I do not wish to make known. You can sail to-morrow?”
“I can sail to-night, if you wish,” I replied.
“No; to-morrow night will be the time that I have fixed.”
“At what time will they come on board?”
“I cannot reply to that till to-morrow. The fact is, that the government people are on a hot scent; and there is a vessel of war in the offing, I am told, ready to board anything and everything which comes out. Captain Levee will sail to-morrow morning, and will in all probability be examined by the government vessel, which is, I understand, a most rapid sailer.”
“Will he submit to it?”
“Yes, he must; and I have given him positive orders not to make the least attempt to evade her or prevent a search. He will then run to Holyhead, and lay-to there for you to join him, and you will proceed together to the port which the people taken on board shall direct, for that is a part of the agreement they have made with me.”
“Then of course I am to evade the king’s vessel?”
“Certainly; and I have no doubt but that you will be able so to do. Your vessel is so fleet, that there will be little difficulty: at all events, you will do your best: but recollect, that although you must make every attempt to escape, you must not make any attempt at resistance—indeed, that would be useless against a vessel of such force. Should you be in a position which might enable them to board you, you must find some safe hiding-place for your passengers; for I hardly need say, that if taken with them on board, the vessel will be confiscated, and you will run some danger of your life. I have nothing more to say to you just now, except that you may give out that Captain Levee sails to-morrow, and that you are to follow him in ten days. Your powder is on board?”
“Yes; I got it on board as soon as we hauled out in the stream.”
“Well, then, you will call here to-morrow morning about eleven o’clock, not before, and (I hardly need repeat it), but I again say—secrecy,—as you value your life.”
As soon as I had left the owner, I went down to the wharf, stepped into the boat, and went on board Captain Levee’s vessel, which, I have omitted to state, was named the Arrow. I found him on board, and very busy getting ready for sea.
“So you are off to-morrow, Levee?” said I, before all the people on the deck.
“Yes,” he replied.
“I wish I was, too; but I am to remain ten days longer, I find.”
“I was in hopes we should have cruised together,” replied Captain Levee; “but we must do as our owner wishes. What detains you?—I thought you were ready.”
“I thought so too,” I replied; “but we find that the head of the mainmast is sprung, and we must have a new one. I have just come from the owner’s, and must set to work at once, and get ready for shifting our mast. So, fare you well, if I do not see you before you sail.”
“I am to see the owner to-night,” replied Levee. “Shall we not meet then, and take a parting glass?”
“I fear not, but I will come if I can,” I replied; “if not, success to the Arrow!”
“And success to the Sparrow-Hawk!” replied Levee, “and God bless you, my good fellow.”
I shook hands with my kind friend, and went over the side of the lugger into my boat, and then pulled for my own vessel. As soon as I got on board, I sent for officers and men, and said to them—
“We are to shift our mainmast for one that is three feet longer, and must work hard, that we may be able to sail as soon as possible. I cannot allow any of you to go on shore till the work is finished; when it is done, you will have leave as before till we sail.”
That afternoon I sent down the topsail-yard and topmast, unbent the mainsail, main-topsail, and gaff—sent down the topmast and running-rigging on deck—cast loose the lanyards of the lower rigging, and quite dismantled the mainmast, so as to make it appear as if we were about to haul to the wharf and take it out. The men all remained on board, expecting that we should shift our berth the next day.
On the following morning I laid out a warp to the wharf; as if intending to haul in; and at the time appointed, I went on shore to the owner, and told him what I had done.
“But,” he said, “I find that you will have to sail this night as soon as it is dark. How will you get ready?”
I replied that at nightfall I would immediately replace everything, and in an hour would be ready for sea.
“If such be the case, you have done well, Mr. Elrington, and I thank you for your zeal on my behalf, which I shall not forget. Everything has been arranged, and you must come up here with some of your seamen as soon as you are ready to sail. Your men, or rather four of them, must remain in the house. The four gentlemen who are to be embarked will be dressed in seamen’s attire, and will carry down their boxes and trunks as if they were your men taking your things on board. You will then remain a little distance from the wharf in the boat till your own men come down, and if there is no discovery you will take them on board with you; if, on the contrary, there is any suspicion, and the officers of the government are on the watch, and stop your men, you will then push off with the passengers, slip your cable if it is necessary, and make all sail for Holyhead, where you will fall in with the Arrow, which will be waiting there for you. Is the Arrow still in sight?”
“No,” I replied; “she was out of sight more than an hour ago, and from our masthead we could see the topgallant sails of the vessel of war bearing NNW.”
“Keep a look-out upon her, and see how she bears at dark,” replied the owner, “for you must not fall in with her if possible. I think you had better return on board now, that you may keep your people quiet.”
When I arrived on board the schooner, I told my officers that I did not think that we should shift the mast as proposed, and that everything must be got ready for refitting. I did not choose to say more, but I added that I was to go on shore in the evening to smoke a pipe with the owner, and then I should know for certain. I employed the men during the whole of the day in doing everything in preparation which could be done without exciting suspicion; and as soon as it was dark I called the men aft, and told them that I thought it was very likely, from the Arrow not having made her appearance, that we might be sent to join her immediately, and that I wished them to rig the mainmast, and make everything ready for an immediate start, promising them to serve out some liquor if they worked well. This was sufficient, and in little more than an hour the mast was secured, the rigging all complete, and the sails ready for bending. I then ordered the boat to be manned, and telling the officers that they were to bend the sails, and have everything ready for weighing on my return on board, which would be in an hour, or thereabouts, I pulled on shore, and went up to the owner’s, taking four men with me, and leaving three men in the boat. I ordered these three men to remain till the others came down with my trunks and effects, and not, to leave the boat on any consideration.
When I arrived at the owner’s, I told him what I had done, and he commended my arrangements. In the back room I found four gentlemen dressed in seamen’s clothing, and as there was no time to be lost, they immediately shouldered the trunks and valises; desiring my own men to remain with the owner to bring down anything that he might wish to send on board, I left them in the counting-house. The gentlemen followed me with their loads down to the boat, and when I got there the men told me that some people had come down and asked whose boat it was, and why they were lying there, and that they had told the people that the captain had taken four men with him to bring down his things, and that they were waiting for him; so it was lucky that I said to my men what I did.
We hastened to put the trunks into the boat, and to get in ourselves after we had received this intelligence, and then I shoved off from the wharf, and laid about a stone’s throw distant for my other men. At last we heard them coming down, and shortly afterwards we perceived that they were stopped by other people, and in altercation with them. I knew then that the officers were on the alert, and would discover the stratagem, and therefore desired my men and the gentlemen, who had each taken an oar in readiness, to give way and pull for the schooner. As we did so, the king’s officers on search who had stopped my four men came down to the wharf and ordered us to come back, but we made no reply. As soon as we were alongside, we hoisted the things out of the boat, veered her astern by a tow-rope, slipped the cable, and made sail. Fortunately it was very dark, and we were very alert in our movements. We could perceive lights at the wharf as we sailed out of the river, and it was clear that we had had a narrow escape; but I felt no alarm on account of the owner, as I knew that although they might suspect, they could prove nothing. When about three miles out we hove-to, hoisted in the boat, and shaped our course.
All I had now to fear was the falling in with the ship of war in the offing, and I placed men to keep a sharp look-out in every direction, and told the officers that it was necessary that we should avoid her. When last seen, about an hour before dark, she was well to windward, and as the wind was from the northward, she would probably sail faster than we could, as a schooner does not sail so well free as on a wind. We had run out about four hours, and were steering our course for Holyhead, when suddenly we perceived the ship of war close to us, and to leeward. She had been lying with her mainsail to the mast, but she evidently had made us out, for she filled and set top-gallant sails.
I immediately hauled my wind, and as soon as she had way, she tacked and followed in pursuit, being then right astern of us, about half a mile off. It was very dark, and I knew that as our sails were set, and we bore from her, it would be difficult for her to keep us in sight, as we only presented what we call the feather-edge of our sails to her. I therefore steered on under all sail, and, finding that the schooner weathered on her, I kept her away a little, so as to retain the same bearings, and to leave her faster.
In an hour we could not make out the ship, and were therefore certain that she could not see us; so as I wanted to get clear of her, and be at Holyhead as soon as possible, I lowered down all the sails and put my helm up, so as to cross her and run to leeward under bare poles, while she continued her windward chase. This stratagem answered, and we saw no more of her; for, two hours afterwards, we fell in with the Arrow, and, hailing her, we both made sail down the Bristol Channel as fast as we could, and at daybreak there was no vessel in sight, and of course we had nothing more to fear from the Liverpool cruiser.
As we now sailed rapidly along in company, with the wind on our quarter, it was high time for me to look to my passengers, who had remained on deck in perfect silence from the time that they had come on board. I therefore went up to them, and apologised for not having as yet paid them that attention that I should have wished to have done under other circumstances.
“Captain,” replied the oldest of them, with a courteous salute, “you have paid us every attention; you have been extremely active in saving our lives, and we return you our sincere thanks.”
“Yes, indeed,” replied a young and handsome man who stood next him, “Mr. Elrington has saved us from the toils of our enemies; but now that we are in no fear from that quarter, I must tell him that we have hardly had a mouthful of food for twenty-four hours, and if he wishes to save our lives a second time, it will be by ordering a good breakfast to be prepared for us.”
“Campbell speaks the truth, my dear Sir,” said the one who had first spoken. “We have lately gained the knowledge of what it is to hunger and thirst; and we all join in his request.”
“You shall not wait long,” I replied; “I will be up again in a moment or two.” I went down into the cabin, and, ordering my servant to put on the table a large piece of pressed Hamburg beef; a cold pie of various flesh and fowl combined, some bread and cheese, and some bottles of brandy and usquebaugh, I then went up again, and requested them all to descend. Hungry they certainly were, and it was incredible the quantity that they devoured. I should have imagined that they had not been fed for a week and I thought that if they were to consume at that rate, my stock would never last out, and the sooner they were landed the better. As soon as they left off eating, and had finished two bottles of usquebaugh, I said to them, “Gentlemen, my orders are to land you at any port of France that you should prefer. Have you made up your minds as to which it shall be, for it will be necessary that we shape a course according to your decision?”
“Mr. Elrington, on that point we would wish to advise with you. I hardly need say that our object is to escape, and that falling in with and being captured by a ship of war, and there are many out in pursuit of us and other unfortunate adherents to the house of Stuart, would be extremely disagreeable, as our heads and our bodies would certainly part company, if we were taken. Now, which port do you think we should be most likely to reach with least chance of interruption?”
“I think,” I replied, “as you pay me the compliment to ask my opinion, that it would be better to run down the Bay of Biscay, and then put in the port of Bordeaux, or any other, where you could be landed in safety; and my reason is this: the Channel is full of cruisers looking after those of your party who are attempting to escape; and my vessel will be chased and searched. Now, although we might sail faster than any one vessel in the Channel, yet it is very possible that in running away from one, we may fall into the jaws of another. And besides, we are two privateers, and cruising off Bordeaux will excite no suspicion, as it is a favourite cruising-ground; so that, if we were boarded, there would be little danger of discovery; but, of course, as long as I can prevent that, by taking to my heels, I shall not be boarded by any one. The only objection to what I propose is, that you will be confined longer in a vessel than you may like, or than you would be if you were to gain a nearer port.”
“I agree with the captain of the vessel,” said a grave-looking personage, who had not yet spoken, and whom I afterwards discovered to be a Catholic priest, “the staunchest adherent to the cause could not have given better advice, and I should recommend that it be followed.”
The others were of the same opinion; and, in consequence, I edged the schooner down to the Arrow, and hailed Captain Levee, stating that we were to run to Bordeaux. After that I prepared for them sleeping accommodations as well as I could, and on my making apologies, they laughed, and told me such stories of their hardships during their escape, that I was not surprised at their not being difficult. I found out their names by their addressing one another, to be Campbell, McIntyre, Ferguson, and McDonald; all of them very refined gentlemen, and of excellent discourse. They were very merry, and laughed at all that they had suffered; sang Jacobite songs, as they were termed, and certainly did not spare my locker of wine. The wind continued fair, and we met with no interruption, and on the fourth evening, at dusk, we made the mouth of the Garonne, and hove-to, with our heads off shore, for the night. Captain Levee then came on board, and I introduced him to my passengers. To my surprise, after some conversation, he said—“I have now escorted Captain Elrington, according to the orders I received, and shall return to Liverpool as soon as possible; if, therefore, gentlemen, you have any letters to send to your friends announcing your safety, I shall be most happy to present them in any way you may suggest as most advisable.”
That Captain Levee had some object in saying this, I was quite certain; and therefore I made no remark. The passengers thanked him for his proposal; and, being provided with writing materials, they all wrote to their friends, and put their letters into Captain Levee’s hands, who then bade them farewell, and went on deck with me.
“Of course, you were not serious in what you said, Captain Levee?” I inquired, as we walked forward.
“No,” he replied; “but I considered it prudent to make them believe so. Although Englishmen, they are enemies to our country, so far as they are enemies to our government, and, of course, wish no harm to the French, who have so warmly supported them. Now, if they knew that I remained here waiting for your coming out of the river, they would say so, and I might lose the chance of a good prize, as nothing would sail, if they knew that the coast was not clear. Now, I shall part company with you in an hour, and make all sail for England, as they may suppose, but, without fail, to-morrow night I shall be off here again, about five leagues from the port, with my sails furled; therefore, stay in the river as long as they will let you, as, while you are in port with the flag of truce, vessels may sail out.”
“I understand you, and will do all I can to assist your views, Captain Levee. Now, we will go down again. I will give you a receipt for a coil of rope, which you will send your boat for, and write a letter to the owners, after which you will wish me good bye, and make sail.”
“Exactly,” Captain Levee replied, who then ordered his boat to go for a coil of three-inch, and bring it on board.
We then descended to the cabin, and I wrote a letter to the owner, and also a receipt for the coil of rope, which I delivered to Captain Levee. The boat soon returned from the lugger, the rope was taken on board, and then Captain Levee wished me farewell, and made his polite adieus to the gentlemen, who followed him on deck, and waited there till he had hoisted in his boat, and made all sail.
“How long will she be before she arrives at Liverpool with this wind?” inquired Mr. Campbell.
“She will carry her canvass night and day,” I replied; “and, therefore, as she sails so fast, I should say in five or six days.”
“Well, I am grateful that we have such an early and safe opportunity of communicating with our friends in England; we might have waited two months otherwise.”
“Very true,” replied the priest, “but Heaven has assisted our anxious wishes. Let us be grateful for all things.”
My passengers watched the lugger until she was nearly out of sight. I dare say that their thoughts were, that those on board of her were going to the country of their birth, from which they were exiles, probably for ever: they did not speak, but went down below, and retired to their beds. At daylight the next morning I ran the schooner in; and as soon as I was within three miles of the coast, I hoisted the white flag of truce, and stood for the mouth of the river Garonne. I perceived that the batteries were manned, but not a shot was fired, and we entered the river.
When we were a mile up the river, we were boarded by the French authorities, and my passengers, who had dressed themselves in their proper costume, informed the officer in the boat who they were, upon which he was very polite, and, calling a pilot out of the boat, the schooner was taken charge of by him, and we very soon afterwards, having wind and tide in our favour, were anchored alongside of two large merchant vessels and a French privateer of sixteen guns, which I instantly recognised as our old antagonist off Hispaniola, in the action in which the Revenge was captured, and Captain Weatherall lost his life. However, I kept my knowledge to myself, as the French officer and the Jacobite gentlemen were present. As soon as we had anchored, the passengers were requested to go into the boat, and the French officer and I to accompany them, that I might report myself to the governor, and we pulled away to the town, one of my boats following with the passengers’ luggage.
On our landing, there was a great crowd assembled, and they looked very hard at me, as I was dressed in my lace coat and a cocked-up hat, also bound with broad gold lace. On our arrival in the presence of the governor, we were received with much urbanity; and as I had brought the Jacobite gentlemen in my schooner, it was presumed that I was favourable to the cause, and I was very politely treated. The governor invited us all to dine with him on that day. I made some excuse, saying, that I was anxious to return to Liverpool, that I might fit out for the coast of Africa, in which service I was to be employed by my owners; but the passengers insisted upon my staying a day or two, and the governor added to their solicitations his own.
I therefore accepted, not only because I was glad to have an opportunity to see so celebrated a town, but because it would meet the views of Captain Levee. We took leave of the governor, and went to an hotel, and I then sent my boat on board for necessaries, and hired a handsome apartment in the hotel. I had not been there half an hour, when the priest came to me and said, “Captain, you are not aware of the rank and consequence of the three gentlemen whom you have been so successful in escorting to a place of safety. I am requested by them to make you a handsome remuneration for your kindness and skilful conduct on this occasion.”
“Sir,” I replied, “this must not be. I am most happy in having assisted in the escape of unfortunate gentlemen; and all the pleasure I feel at having so done would be destroyed if I were to accept of what you offer. It is useless to repeat it; and if you do, I shall consider it an insult, and immediately repair on board of my vessel. You will therefore tender my best thanks and my refusal, with ardent wishes for their future welfare.”
“After what you have said, Captain Elrington, I will, of course, not resume the offer. I will tell my fellow-passengers what you have said, and I am sure that they will, as I do, admire your high sense of honour.”—The priest shook me by the hand, and then quitted my apartment. I did not see the other passengers till it was the hour to go to dine at the governor’s, when they embraced me cordially, and the one calling himself Campbell said, “Should you ever be in distress or a prisoner in this country, recollect you have a friend who is ready to serve you. Here is an address to a lady, to whom you must write, and say that you wish the assistance of your passenger to Bordeaux—that will be sufficient—I trust you may never require it.”
We had a pleasant dinner at the governor’s, and among the people invited to meet us, I perceived the French captain of the privateer. I knew him immediately, although he did not recognise me. We had some conversation together, and he spoke about his cruises in the West Indies, and asked me whether I knew Captain Weatherall. I said there was a Captain Weatherall who commanded the Revenge privateer, and who was killed when his vessel was taken.
“Exactly,” said the captain; “he was a brave man, and fought nobly, and so did all his people—they fought like devils.”
“Yes,” I replied, “they fought as long as they could, but Captain Weatherall was very short-handed. He had but fifty-five men on board at the commencement of the action.”
“More than that, I’m sure,” replied the French captain.
“He had not, I assure you,” I replied; “he had lost so many in an attack on shore, and had so many away in prizes.”
Our conversation had attracted general notice, and a French army officer observed, “Monsieur speaks so positively, that one would imagine that he was actually on board.”
“And so I was, Sir,” replied I, “and have my wounds to show for it. I knew this officer immediately I saw him, for I was close to Captain Weatherall at the time that this officer expostulated with him before the action; and I crossed my sword with him during the combat.”
“You have convinced me that you were on board,” replied the captain of the privateer, “by your mentioning the expostulations previous to the combat taking place. I am delighted to have met with so brave an enemy, for every man on board that vessel was a hero.”
The conversation was then general, and many particulars were asked; and I will do, the French captain the justice to say, that he was very correct in all his statements, and neither vaunted his own success, nor did us less than justice.
The party then broke up to go to the theatre, and afterwards we repaired to the hotel. I remained there two days more, and on the last of these two days I had promised to sup with the French captain of the privateer, who had called upon me, and behaved very politely. The following day, after noon, when the tide served, I was to sail. Accordingly, after the theatre was over, I went with the French captain to his house, in company with two or three more. Supper was on the table when we arrived there, and we went into the room, waiting for the presence of the captain’s lady, who had not gone to the theatre, and to whom I had not been introduced. After a few minutes she made her appearance, and as she entered the room, I was struck with her extreme beauty, although she was past the meridian of life. I thought I had seen her face before, and as she came forward with her husband, it at once rushed into my mind that she was the widow of the French gentleman who had so gallantly fought his vessel, and who fell by my hand—the lady who was nursing her son at the King’s Hospital at Jamaica, and who had been so inveterate against me. Our eyes met, and her cheeks flushed; she recognised me, and I coloured deeply as I bowed to her. She was taken with a faintness, and fell back. Fortunately her husband received her in his arms.
“What is the matter, my love?” he said.
“Nothing; but I am taken with a vertigo,” replied she; “it will go off directly. Make my excuses to the company, while I retire for a few minutes.”
Her husband went out of the room, and after a minute or two came back, saying that Madam was not well enough to return to the room, and begged that they would admit her excuse, and sit down to supper without her. Whether his wife had informed him of who I was, I know not; but nothing could exceed the civility of the French captain towards me during the supper. We did not, however, remain very late, as the lady of the house was indisposed.
I found out, as I walked home with another French officer, that the captain of the privateer had fallen in with the French lady on her return from Jamaica, where her son died in the hospital, and had married her; and that, moreover, unlike most French husbands, he was most ardently attached to her.
I had breakfasted the next morning, and packed up my clothes preparatory to going on board, and had just returned from a visit of leave-taking with the governor, when who should walk up into my apartment but the French captain of the privateer, accompanied by three or four French officers of the army. I perceived by his looks when he entered that he was a little excited, but I met him cordially. He began a conversation about his action with Captain Weatherall, and instead of speaking handsomely as he had done before, he used expressions which I considered offensive, and I at once took him up by observing that, being under a flag of truce, it was impossible for me to notice what he said.
“No,” he replied; “but I wish we were once more on the high seas together, for I have a little debt of gratitude to pay off.”
“Well,” I replied, “you may have; and I should not be sorry to give you an opportunity, if it were possible.”
“May I inquire whether you intend to go home as a cartel, and carry your flag of truce to Liverpool?”
“No, Sir,” I replied; “I shall haul down my flag of truce as soon as I am out of gun-shot of your batteries I understand what you mean, Sir. It is very true that your vessel carries nearly double the number of guns that mine does, but nevertheless I shall haul down my flag of truce, as I say I will.”
“Not if I follow you down the river, I presume?” he said with a sort of sneer.
“Follow me if you dare,” I cried; “you will meet with your master, depend upon it.”
“Sacré!” replied he, in a passion, “I will blow you out of the water; and if I take you I will hang you for a pirate.”
“Not the last, certainly,” I said coolly.
“Look you, Sir,” he cried, shutting his fist upon the palm of his other hand, “if I take you I will hang you; and if you take me, you may serve me in the same way. Is it a bargain, or are you a coward?”
“Gentlemen,” I said to the officers present, “you must feel that your countryman is not behaving well. He has insulted me grossly. I will, however, consent to his terms on one condition, which is, that he will permit one of you, after he has sailed, to make known the conditions upon which we fight to his wife; and that one of you will pledge me his honour that he will impart these conditions as soon as we are gone.”
“Agree to do so—pledge yourself to do so, Xavier,” cried the French captain to one of the officers present.
“Since you wish it, certainly,” he said.
“You pledge yourself to make the conditions known to Madam, as soon as we have sailed?”
“I do, upon the honour of an officer and a gentleman,” replied he, “painful as it will be to me.”
“Then, captain,” I replied, “I agree to your conditions, and one or the other of us shall hang.”
You may suppose, Madam, that I must have been in a state of great irritation to have consented to such terms. I was so, and could not brook such insult in the presence of the French officers. Moreover, as you will observe, in my conversation I did not commit myself in any way. There was nothing dishonourable. I told him that I should haul down my flag of truce, and I also told him that he would meet with his master, which was true enough, as he would meet with the Arrow, commanded by Captain Levee, as well as with my vessel; while he thought that he would have to fight with my inferior vessel alone, and, making sure of conquest, he purposely insulted me, to make me accept such conditions as would administer to the revenge of his wife, who had evidently worked him up to act in such a manner; and I accepted them, because I hoped the fate would be his if Captain Levee joined me, and if not, I was determined that I never would be taken alive.
After I had agreed to his conditions, they all took a very ceremonious leave, and I bowed them out with great mock humility. I then bade farewell to my passengers, who lodged in the same hotel, and went down to my boat, and pulled on board. As soon as the tide served, the pilot came on board, and we got under weigh. I observed a great bustle, and a hurrying to and fro of boats on board of the French privateer, and we had not gone above two miles down the river, before I perceived the men were aloft and lowering her sails. I told my officers that I had received a challenge from the French privateer, and had accepted it, and that we must get everything ready for action. They were much astonished at this, as the disparity of force was so great, but they went cheerfully to their duty, as did the men, among whom the news was soon spread.