Mr. Midshipman Easy/Chapter 16
In which Jack's cruise is ended, and he regains the Harpy.
A few more days passed, and, as was expected, the mutineers could hold out no longer. In the first place, they had put in the spile of the second cask of wine so loosely when they were tipsy that it dropped out, and all the wine ran out, so that there had been none left for three or four days; in the next their fuel had long been expended, and they had latterly eaten their meat raw: the loss of their tent, which had been fired by their carelessness, had been followed by four days and nights of continual rain. Everything they had had been soaked through and through, and they were worn out, shivering with cold, and starving. Hanging they thought better than dying by inches from starvation; and yielding to the imperious demands of hunger, they came down to the beach, abreast of the ship, and dropped down on their knees.
"I tell you so, Massa Easy," said Mesty: "d—n rascals, they forget they come down fire musket at us every day: by all de powers, Mesty not forget it."
"Ship ahoy!" cried one of the men on shore.
"What do you want?" replied Jack.
"Have pity on us, sir—mercy!" exclaimed the other men, "we will return to our duty."
"Debble doubt 'em!"
"What shall I say, Mesty?"
"Tell 'em no, first, Massa Easy—tell 'em to starve and be d—d."
"I cannot take mutineers on board," replied Jack.
"Well, then, our blood be on your hands, Mr Easy," replied the first man who had spoken.
"If we are to die, it must not be by inches—if you will not take us, the sharks shall—it is but a crunch, and all is over. What do you say, my lads? let's all rush in together: good-bye, Mr Easy, I hope you'll forgive us when we're dead: it was all that rascal Johnson, the coxswain, who persuaded us. Come, my lads, it's no use thinking of it, the sooner done the better—let us shake hands, and then make one run of it."
It appeared that the poor fellows had already made up their minds to do this, if our hero, persuaded by Mesty, had refused to take them on board; they shook hands all round, and then walking a few yards from the beach, stood in a line while the man gave the signal—one—two.
"Stop," cried Jack, who had not forgotten the dreadful scene which had already taken place—"stop."
The men paused.
"What will you promise if I take you on board?"
"To do our duty cheerfully till we join the ship, and then be hung as an example to all mutineers," replied the men.
"Dat very fair," replied Mesty; "take dem at their word, Massa Easy."
"Very well," replied Jack, "I accept your conditions; and we will come for you."
Jack and Mesty hauled up the boat, stuck their pistols in their belts, and pulled to the shore. The men, as they stepped in, touched their hats respectfully to our hero, but said nothing. On their arrival on board, Jack read that part of the articles of war relative to mutiny, by which the men were reminded of the very satisfactory fact, "that they were to suffer death"; and then made a speech which, to men who were starving, appeared to be interminable. However, there is an end to everything in this world, and so there was to Jack's harangue; after which Mesty gave them some biscuit, which they devoured in thankfulness, until they could get something better.
The next morning the wind was fair, they weighed their kedge with some difficulty, and ran out of the harbour: the men appeared very contrite, worked well, but in silence, for they had no very pleasant anticipations; but hope always remains with us; and each of the men, although he had no doubt but that the others would be hung, hoped that he would escape with a sound flogging. The wind, however, did not allow them to steer their course long; before night it was contrary, and they fell off three points to the northward. "However," as Jack observed, "at all events we shall make the Spanish coast, and then we must run down it to Gibraltar: I don't care—I understand navigation much better than I did." The next morning they found themselves with a very light breeze, under a high cape, and, as the sun rose, they observed a large vessel in-shore, about two miles to the westward of them, and another outside, about four miles off. Mesty took the glass and examined the one outside, which, on a sudden, had let fall all her canvas, and was now running for the shore, steering for the cape under which Jack's vessel lay. Mesty put down the glass.
"Massa Easy—I tink dat de Harpy."
One of the seamen took the glass and examined her, while the others who stood by showed great agitation.
"Yes, it is the Harpy," said the seaman. "Oh! Mr Easy, will you forgive us?" continued the man, and he and the others fell on their knees. "Do not tell all, for God's sake, Mr Easy."
Jack's heart melted; he looked at Mesty.
"I tink," said Mesty, apart to our hero, "dat with what them hab suffer already, suppose they get seven dozen apiece, dat quite enough."
Jack thought that even half that punishment would suffice; so he told the men, that although he must state what had occurred, he would not tell all, and would contrive to get them off as well as he could. He was about to make a long speech, but a gun from the Harpy, which had now come up within range, made him defer it till a more convenient opportunity. At the same time the vessel in-shore hoisted Spanish colours and fired a gun.
"By de powers but we got in the middle of it," cried Mesty; "Harpy tink us Spaniard. Now, my lads, get all gun ready, bring up powder and shot. Massa, now us fire at Spaniard—Harpy not fire at us—no ab English colours on board—dat all we must do."
The men set to with a will; the guns were all loaded, and were soon cast loose and primed, during which operations it fell calm, and the sails of all three vessels flapped against their masts. The Harpy was then about two miles from Jack's vessel, and the Spaniard about a mile from him, with all her boats ahead of her, towing towards him; Mesty examined the Spanish vessel.
"Dat man-of-war, Massa Easy,—what de debbel we do for colour? must hoist something."
Mesty ran down below; he recollected that there was a very gay petticoat, which had been left by the old lady who was in the vessel when they captured her. It was of green silk, with yellow and blue flowers, but very faded, having probably been in the Don's family for a century. Mesty had found it under the mattress of one of the beds, and had put it into his bag, intending probably to cut it up into waistcoats. He soon appeared with this under his arm, made it fast to the peak halyards and hoisted it up.
"Dere, Massa, dat do very well—dat what you call all nation colour. Everybody strike him flag to dat—men nebber pull it down," said Mesty, "anyhow. Now den, ab hoist colour, we fire away—mind you only fire one gun at a time, and point um well, den ab time to load again."
"She's hoisted her colours, sir," said Sawbridge, on board of the Harpy; "but they do not show out clear, and it's impossible to distinguish them; but there's a gun."
"It's not at us, sir," said Gascoigne, the midshipman; "it's at the Spanish vessel—I saw the shot fall ahead of her."
"It must be a privateer," said Captain Wilson; "at all events, it is very fortunate, for the corvettes would otherwise have towed into Carthagena. Another gun, round and grape, and well pointed too; she carries heavy metal, that craft: she must be a Maltese privateer."
"That's as much as to say that she's a pirate," replied Sawbridge; "I can make nothing of her colours—they appear to me to be green—she must be a Turk. Another gun—and devilish well aimed; it has hit the boats."
"Yes, they are all in confusion: we will have her now, if we can only get a trifle of wind. That is a breeze coming up in the offing. Trim the sails, Mr Sawbridge."
The yards were squared, and the Harpy soon had steerage-way. In the meantime Jack and his few men had kept up a steady, well-directed, although slow, fire with their larboard guns upon the Spanish corvette; and two of her boats had been disabled. The Harpy brought the breeze up with her, and was soon within range; she steered to cut off the corvette, firing only on her bow-chasers.
"We ab her now," cried Mesty; "fire away men, take good aim. Breeze come now; one man go to helm. By de power what dat?"
The exclamation of Mesty was occasioned by a shot hulling the ship on the starboard side. Jack and he ran over, and perceived that three Spanish gun-boats had just made their appearance round the point, and had attacked them. The fact was, that on the other side of the cape was the port and town of Carthagena, and these gun-boats had been sent out to the assistance of the corvette. The ship had now caught the breeze, fortunately for Jack, or he would probably have been taken into Carthagena; and the corvette, finding herself cut off by both the Harpy and Jack's vessel, as soon as the breeze came up to her, put her head the other way, and tried to escape by running westward along the coast close in-shore. Another shot, and then another, pierced the hull of the ship, and wounded two of Jack's men; but as the corvette had turned, and the Harpy followed her, of course Jack did the same, and in ten minutes he was clear of the gun-boats, who did not venture to make sail and stand after him. The wind now freshened fast, and blew out the green petticoat, but the Harpy was exchanging broadsides with the corvette, and too busy to look after Jack's ensign. The Spaniard defended himself well, and had the assistance of the batteries as he passed, but there was no anchorage until he had run many miles further. About noon, the wind died away, and at one o'clock it again fell nearly calm; but the Harpy had neared her distance, and was now within three cables' length of her antagonist, engaging her and a battery of four guns. Jack came up again, for he had the last of the breeze, and was about half a mile from the corvette when it fell calm. By the advice of Mesty, he did not fire any more, as otherwise the Harpy would not obtain so much credit, and it was evident that the fire of the Spaniard slackened fast. At three o'clock the Spanish colours were hauled down, and the Harpy, sending a boat on board and taking possession, directed her whole fire upon the battery, which was soon silenced.
The calm continued, and the Harpy was busy enough with the prize, shifting the prisoners and refitting both vessels, which had very much suffered in the sails and rigging. There was an occasional wonder on board the Harpy what that strange vessel might be, who had turned the corvette and enabled them to capture her, but when people are all very busy, there is not much time for surmise.
Jack's crew, with himself, consisted but of eight, one of which was a Spaniard, and two were wounded. It therefore left him but four, and he had also something to do, which was to assist his wounded men, and secure his guns. Moreover, Mesty did not think it prudent to leave the vessel a mile from the Harpy with only two on board; besides, as Jack said, he had had no dinner, and was not quite sure that he should find anything to eat when he went into the midshipmen's berth; he would therefore have some dinner cooked, and eat it before he went on board; in the meantime, they would try and close with her. Jack took things always very easy, and he said he should report himself at sunset. There were other reasons which made Jack in no very great hurry to go on board; he wanted to have time to consider a little, what he should say to excuse himself, and also how he should plead for the men. His natural correctness of feeling decided him, in the first place, to tell the whole truth; and in the next, his kind feelings determined him to tell only part of it. Jack need not have given himself this trouble, for, as far as regarded himself, he had fourteen thousand good excuses in the bags that lay in the state-room; and as for the men, after an action with the enemy, if they behave well, even mutiny is forgiven. At last, Jack, who was tired with excitement and the hard work of the day, thought and thought until he fell fast asleep, and instead of waking at sunset, did not wake till two hours afterwards; and Mesty did not call him, because he was in no hurry himself to go on board and boil de kettle for de young gentlemen.
When Jack woke up, he was astonished to find that he had slept so long; he went on deck; it was dark and still calm, but he could easily perceive that the Harpy and corvette were still hove-to, repairing damages. He ordered the men to lower down the small boat, and leaving Mesty in charge, with two oars he pulled to the Harpy. What with wounded men, with prisoners, and boats going and coming between the vessels, everyone on board the Harpy were well employed; and in the dark, Jack's little boat came alongside without notice. This should not have been the case, but it was, and there was some excuse for it. Jack ascended the side, and pushed his way through the prisoners, who were being mustered to be victualled. He was wrapped up in one of the gregos, and many of the prisoners wore the same.
Jack was amused at not being recognised; he slipped down the main ladder, and had to stoop under the hammocks of the wounded men, and was about to go aft to the captain's cabin to report himself, when he heard young Gossett crying out, and the sound of the rope. "Hang me, if that brute Vigors ain't thrashing young Gossett," thought Jack. "I daresay the poor fellow has had plenty of it since I have been away; I'll save him this time, at least." Jack, wrapped up in his grego, went to the window of the berth, looked in, and found it was as he expected. He cried out in an angry voice, "Mr Vigors, I'll thank you to leave Gossett alone." At the sound of the voice, Vigors turned round with his colt in his hand, saw Jack's face at the window, and, impressed with the idea that the re-appearance was supernatural, uttered a wail and fell down in a fit—little Gossett also, trembling in every limb, stared with his mouth open. Jack was satisfied, and immediately disappeared. He then went aft to the cabin, pushed by the servant, who was giving some orders from the captain to the officer on deck, and entering the cabin, where the captain was seated with two Spanish officers, took off his hat and said,—
"Come on board, Captain Wilson."
Captain Wilson did not fall down in a fit, but he jumped up, and upset the glass before him. "Merciful God, Mr Easy, where did you come from?"
"From that ship astern, sir," replied Jack.
"That ship astern! what is she?—where have you been so long?"
"It's a long story, sir," replied Jack.
Captain Wilson extended his hand and shook Jack's heartily. "At all events, I'm delighted to see you, boy: now sit down and tell me your story in a few words; we will have it in detail by-and-bye."
"If you please, sir," said Jack, "we captured that ship with the cutter the night after we went away—I'm not a first-rate navigator, and I was blown to the Zaffarine Islands, where I remained two months for want of hands: as soon as I procured them I made sail again—I have lost three men by sharks, and I have two wounded in to-day's fight—the ship mounts twelve guns, is half laden with lead and cotton prints, has fourteen thousand dollars in the cabin, and three shot-holes right through her—and the sooner you send some people on board of her the better."
This was not very intelligible, but that there were fourteen thousand dollars and that she required hands sent on board, was very satisfactorily explained. Captain Wilson rang the bell, sent for Mr Asper, who started back at the sight of our hero—desired him to order Mr Jolliffe to go on board with one of the cutters, send the wounded men on board, and take charge of the vessel, and then told Jack to accompany Mr Jolliffe, and to give him every information: telling him that he would hear his story to-morrow, when they were not so very busy.