The Privateersman, or One Hundred Years Ago/Chapter III

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On coming to my senses, I found myself stripped naked and suffering acute pain. I found that my right arm was broken, my shoulder severely injured by my fall; and, as I had received three severe cutlass-wounds during the action, I had lost so much blood that I had not strength to rise or do anything for myself. There I lay, groaning and naked, upon the ballast of the vessel, at times ruminating upon the events of the action, upon the death of our gallant commander, upon the loss of our vessel, of so many of our comrades, and of our liberty. After some time, the surgeon, by order of the French commander, came down to dress my wounds. He treated me with the greatest barbarity. As he twisted about my broken limb I could not help crying at the anguish which he caused me. He compelled me to silence by blows and maledictions, wishing I had broken my rascally neck rather than he should have been put to the trouble of coming down to dress me. However, dress me he did, out of fear of his captain, who, he knew well, would send round to see if he had executed his orders, and then he left me, with a kick in the ribs by way of remembrance. Shortly afterwards the vessels separated. Fourteen of us, who were the most severely hurt, were left in the Revenge, which was manned by an officer and twenty Frenchmen, with orders to take her into Port-au-Paix. The rest of our men were put on board of the French privateer, who sailed away in search of a more profitable adventure.

About an hour after they had made sail on the vessel, the officer who had charge of her, looking down the hatchway, and perceiving my naked and forlorn condition, threw me a pair of trousers, which had been rejected by the French seamen as not worth having; and a check shirt, in an equally ragged condition, I picked up in the hold; this, with a piece of old rope to tie round my neck as a sling for my broken arm, was my whole wardrobe. In the evening I gained the deck, that I might be refreshed by the breeze, which cooled my feverish body and somewhat restored me.

We remained in this condition for several days, tortured with pain, but more tortured, perhaps, by the insolence and bragging of the Frenchmen, who set no bounds to their triumph and self-applause. Among those who had charge of the prize were two, one of whom had my watch and the other my ring; the first would hold it to me grinning and asking if Monsieur would like to know what o’clock it was; and the other would display the ring, and tell me that his sweetheart would value it when she knew it was taken from a conquered Englishman. This was their practice every day, and I was compelled to receive their gibes without venturing a retort.

On the eleventh day after our capture, when close to Port-au-Paix, and expecting we should be at anchor before nightfall, we perceived a great hurry and confusion on deck; they were evidently making all the sail that they could upon the vessel; and then, hearing them fire off their stern-chasers, we knew for certain that they were pursued. Overjoyed at the prospect of being released, we gave three cheers. The French from the deck threatened to fire down upon us, but we knew that they dared not, for the Revenge was so crippled in the fight that they could not put sail upon her so as to escape, and their force on board was too small to enable them to resist if overtaken—we therefore continued our exulting clamours. At last we heard guns fired and the shot whizzing over the vessel—a shot or two struck our bull, and soon afterwards, a broadside being poured into us, the Frenchmen struck their colours, and we had the satisfaction of seeing all these Gasconaders driven down into the hold to take our places. It was now their turn to be dejected and downcast, and for us to be merry; and now also the tables had to be turned, and we took the liberty of regaining possession of our clothes and other property which they carried on their backs and in their pockets. I must say we showed them no mercy.

“What o’clock is it, Monsieur?” said I to the fellow who had my watch.

“At your service, Sir,” he replied, humbly taking out my watch, and presenting it to me.

“Thank you,” said I, taking the watch, and saluting him with a kick in the stomach, which made him double up and turn round from me, upon which I gave him another kick in the rear to straighten him again. “That ring, Monsieur, that your sweetheart will prize.”

“Here it is,” replied the fellow, abjectly.

“Thank you, Sir,” I replied, saluting him with the double kick which I had given to the former. “Tell your sweetheart I sent her those,” cried I, “that is, when you get back to her.”

“Hark ye, brother,” cries one of our men, “I’ll trouble you for that jacket which you borrowed of me the other day, and in return here are a pair of iron garters (holding out the shackles), which you must wear for my sake—I think they will fit you well.”

“Mounseer,” cries another, “that wig of mine don’t suit your complexion, I’ll trouble you for it. It’s a pity such a face as yours should be disfigured in those curls. And while you are about it, I’ll thank you to strip altogether, as I think your clothes will fit me, and are much too gay for a prisoner.”

“I was left naked through your kindness the other day,” said I to another, who was well and smartly dressed, “I’ll thank you to strip to your skin, or you shall have no skin left.” And I commenced with my knife cutting his ears as if I would skin them.

It was a lucky hit of mine, for in his sash I found about twenty doubloons. He would have saved them, and held them tight, but after my knife had entered his side about half an inch he surrendered the prize. After we had plundered and stripped them of everything, we set to to kick them, and we did it for half an hour so effectually that they were all left groaning in a heap on the ballast, and we then found our way on deck.

The privateer which had recaptured us proved to be the Hero, of New Providence; the Frenchmen were taken out, and some of her own men put in to take us to Port Royal; we, being wounded, and not willing to join her, remained on board. On our arrival at Port Royal, we obtained permission to go to the King’s Hospital to be cured. As I went up-stairs to the ward allotted to me, I met the French lady whose husband had been killed, and who was still nursing her son at the hospital, his wounds not having been yet cured. Notwithstanding my altered appearance, she knew me again immediately, and seeing me pale and emaciated, with my arm in a sling, she dropped down on her knees, and thanked God for returning upon our heads a portion of the miseries we had brought upon her. She was delighted when she heard how many of us had been slain in the murderous conflict, and even rejoiced at the death of poor Captain Weatherall, which, considering how very kind and considerate he had been to her, I thought to be very unchristian.

It so happened that I was not only in the same ward, but in the cradle next to her son; and the excitement I had been under when we were recaptured, and my exertion in kicking the Frenchmen, had done me no good. A fever was the consequence, and I suffered dreadfully, and she would look at me, exulting in my agony, and mocking my groans; till at last the surgeon told her it was by extreme favour that her son had been admitted into the hospital instead of being sent to prison, and that if she did not behave herself in a proper manner he would order her to be denied admittance altogether; and that if she dared to torment suffering men in that way, on the first complaint on my part, her son should go to the gaol and finish his cure there. This brought her to her senses, and she begged pardon, and promised to offend no more; but she did not keep her word for more than a day or two, but laughed out loud when the surgeon was dressing my arm, for a piece of bone had to be taken out, and I shrieked with anguish. This exasperated one of my messmates so much that, not choosing to strike her, and knowing how to wound her still worse, he drove his fist into the head of her son as he lay in his cradle, and by so doing reopened the wound that had been nearly healed.

“There’s pain for you to laugh at, you French devil,” he cried.

And sure enough it cost the poor young man his life.

The surgeon was very angry with the man, but told the French lady, as she kneeled sobbing by the side of her son, that she had brought it upon herself and him by her own folly and cruelty. I know not whether she felt so, or whether she dreaded a repetition, but this is certain, she tormented me no more. On the contrary, I think she suffered very severely, as she perceived that I rapidly mended and that her poor son got on but slowly. At last my hurts were all healed, and I left the hospital, hoping never to see her more.