The Baldwin Library
THE CRUISE OF THE COMET
was as if both broadsides were discharged at same instant."
CRUISE OF THE COMET
The Story of a Privateer of 1812, sailing from "Baltimore, as set down by Stephen "Burton
author of "the boys of fort schuyler," "jenny wren's boarding-house," etc.
Illustrates fig A. B. SHUTE
BOSTON ESTES AND LAURIAT 1898
Copyright, 1898 By Estes and Lauriat
Eleotrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co. Boston, U. S. A.
The details of this story have been gathered chiefly from letters written by the boy Stephen Burton to a cousin in. Portsmouth, N. H., and my work thereon has been little more than that of an editor. Young Burton's statements regarding the movements of the Comet have been verified by historians, and there is little or no question but that in all things, save perhaps some unimportant matters, it is a true and faithful account regarding this certain cruise of the celebrated privateering schooner.
I. The Baltimore Clipper
II. Lying in Wait
III. The Attack
IV. The Battle
V. Sharp Work .
VI. A Plot
VII. The Comet's Crew .
VIII. A Busy Day .
IX. Overwhelming Odds
X. A Naval Engagement
" IT was as if both broadsides were discharged at'
the same instant" See page 163, Frontispiece "' Well, why are you lads loafing around here
where you have no business?'" -19 Our backs were sore from frequent application
of the rope's-end ".......33
" Everywhere around us in the sea splashed an iron
"With one supreme effort I succeeded in slightly
changing the position of my body ... 83 "' Did you find any one ?' the man who held me
" During the first hour the huge vessel seemed to
gain upon us "........ 129
"The rigging, cut in a hundred places, was swaying
to and fro"....... i41
THE CRUISE OF THE COMET.
the baltimore clipper.
/^APTAIN THOMAS BOYLE was my mother's ^' brother, and had he been my father I could not have taken greater pride in his doings.
His schooner, and, of course, I am now speaking of the Comet, for she was nearer to me than the brig Chasseur, which he afterwards commanded, was a Baltimore clipper, and I saw all her building and outfitting, from the time the keel was laid down until the last gun had been mounted.
Although I was no sailor, and had never been so fortunate as to gain permission to make even the shortest cruise, there was in my heart more affection for this same trim little schooner than for all the world beside, saving, of course, my mother.
When Captain Tom I never dared to call so brave a man uncle first made ready to sail from Baltimore, on a privateering cruise, shortly after war was declared in 1812, I said all a boy might, in the hope of being allowed
to count myself as one of the hundred and twenty who manned the Comet; and my good friend and comrade, Donald Fyffe, was not a whit less eager to do his share towards teaching the English King that we of the United States had come to the length of our forbearance, in the matter of allowing him. to impress our sailors.
It was all in vain, however, that Donald and I pleaded.
Neither his parents nor mine would give consent to our going as privateersmen, and but for a few words Captain Tom let slip, before he sailed in July of 1812, we should have lost all hope of ever succeeding in our efforts.
" Wait until you have gained a twelvemonth in age, and then it may be I shall say a word in behalf of you lads."
It was little encouragement, to be sure ; but yet to us it seemed much like an absolute promise, and our hearts were less sore when the Comet, carrying fourteen guns, six in a broadside, with a swivel, and a gun amidships, left the port.
Of all persons in Baltimore, whether man grown or boys, we were the proudest, when, in less than a month from the time Captain Tom set sail, the British ship Hopewell, carrying fourteen guns and twenty-five men, arrived at the home port as the prize of our Baltimore clipper.
She, with her cargo, was valued at a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and I dare venture to say the schooner had earned her cost, including the outfit, twice over in this one capture.
There had been a most obstinate combat, so some of
the prize-crew told us; but the Comet was the victor, of course, because Captain Tom was in command.
From this hour, we two lads did more than dream of the time when we should be allowed to ship as privateers-men, for we talked concerning what Captain Tom had told us, until it was to our minds as if he had said we should join him on the next cruise, and laid many plans regarding what we would do, once we had signed the schooner's articles as green hands; for we could not hope to ship in any better berth.
Now, just one word regarding Donald Fyffe, who was my nearest, and, I might say, only friend in Baltimore, outside of my own family.
He was fifteen years old on the same day the Comet's first prize came into port, and, although I was his senior by three months, it would have pleased me better could I have lost that much time in my life, in order that my birthday might have been marked by so joyous a happening ; for many there were at that time who croaked of defeat, predicting the downfall of the United States, in thus attempting to give the English nation a lesson in good manners.
Donald, as may be guessed from his name, was of Scotch descent, and more than one of our schoolmates ventured to suggest that his desire to ship on board the Comet did not arise so much from a love of country, as because all well knew Captain Tom was one who could tassel the handkerchiefs of his crew with prize-money, until the gold and silver might become a burden.
That Donald well loves a shilling I know, but am willing to here set down that there was more in his heart concerning the honour to be gained, than any other thing. He was as eager to show what might be done by us of this young country, as the veriest spendthrift that ever walked a plank, and to give him that which is no more than his due, I must say a truer comrade, be he Scotch, Irish, or English, never lived.
His father was in trade, and mine a farmer.
This much for the two of us ; and now to the Comet and Captain Tom Boyle, of whom little need be said, in this year of peace, 1815, when we have already given his Majesty the needed lesson, because the people of every State well know what he did both in the Comet and the Chasseur. Although there were six other privateers sailing from our home port in July of 1812, my uncle was oftentimes spoken of as "the Baltimore captain," and well did he deserve all the praise which was bestowed upon him.
In November of this same first year of the war, the Comet returned, and but for Donald she might have put to sea again without our being on board.
He it was who suggested to me, when we knew the schooner was being made ready for an early departure, that we boldly approach the captain and claim he had promised to take us with him on the next cruise.
"But he did not really say so," I objected, fearing lest this uncle of mine be vexed with our importunities.
"After the success which has been his, I venture to
say he has forgotten even the little encouragement he did give us, and if we are bold in approaching him, the^ business is done almost before a word has been spoken."
I did not feel as positive, but Donald, insisting, carried the point, as he always does, and together we went to the dock, he volunteering to act as spokesman.
Captain Tom was on deck, and in high good-humour, for the first prize had been sold and the proceeds divided among his men in a manner which gave him entire satisfaction.
Even under such favourable circumstances, my heart failed me when we stood before him, and he cried, in a tone which sounded to me like one of sternness :
"Well, why are you lads loafing around here where you have no business ? Two great hulking boys like you should be at work."
"And so we count on doing, Captain Boyle," Donald replied, boldly, while I stepped behind him timorously, not daring to face this fighting uncle of mine. We have business here, and are ready to transact it."
" On board this schooner ? "
"Ay, sir ; for by your promise we are the same as members of the crew."
- How do you figure that, young jackanapes ? They be men aboard this schooner."
" Else the Hopeivell would not have been taken."
" Have you young sprigs come to tell me that, believing I did not know it?"
" No, sir; but to say that mayhap Stephen Burton and I can show we are older than our years."
" Well, what then ?" Captain Tom asked, as if perplexed by Donald's speech.
" Only that we are now to have an opportunity of proving it, captain, for before the Comet last left this port you gave us what can be construed as little less than a promise that, when next the schooner put to sea, we should be on board, members of her crew."
" Did I say that much ?" my uncle asked, as he stood like one racking his brain to recall the past.
" Perhaps not in the very words, sir; but it has remained in our minds that what you said was to that effect."
While one might have counted ten, Captain Tom stood as if debating whether we should not be treated to a dose of.the rope's-end, and then replied, with a laugh :
"As for you, Donald Fyffe, I may not speak so certainly ; but Stephen Burton, my sister's boy, should have good mettle in him, and, whether it be that I promised or no, you shall leave port on board the Comet. Turn to, now, at whatever your hands find to do, and see to it that there be no shrinking from duty."
This sudden agreement with our desires frustrated me, and I said, stammeringly :
"If it please you, Captain Tom, we have not yet our parents' permission to ship."
"Then why did you present yourselves ? "
" Because it would avail us little, whatever our parents might say, providing you were not willing," Donald replied,
' well, WHY ARE YOU LADS LOAFING AROUND HERE WHERE YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS?'''
boldly, whereat Captain Tom seemed much pleased, and said, with a hearty laugh :
" Fall to, boys; I'll see to it that the remainder of the business be settled according to your wishes, and from this out you may count yourselves as having regularly shipped for privateersmen."
In order to set down all which befell us, meaning now the Comet and her crew, there is little time in which to tell of our first experiences on board the schooner, while she yet lay at the dock, when we, as the youngest members of the crew, were forced to do every man's bidding, for so many words would be necessary in thus telling the tale as to weary both him who may read these lines and the one who sets them down.
Therefore it seems wiser to dismiss all the wearisome details of waiting and preparing for the cruise, with no single word of explanation, and go at once to that twenty-third day of December, in the year 1812, when, all being in readiness, the word was passed that an attempt would be made to slip through the blockading squadron on a cruise towards the coast of Brazil.
We had bidden farewell to our parents, Donald and I, twenty-four hours previous, for the command had then been given that every member of the crew must keep close on board the schooner during such time as she might remain at her moorings, without any hope of getting even so much as half an hour of shore-leave, for Captain Tom was minded to take advantage of his first favourable opportunity.
The Britishers, knowing full well that the most dangerous privateersmen were sailing out of Baltimore, kept, sharp watch on the port, and many there were, even among our own men, who questioned if it would be possible to put the schooner past the squadron undetected.
At near the close of the clay I have mentioned, it was whispered among our men that Captain Tom would, on that evening, make the venture that might end for ever the career of the Comet and all on board.
As it appeared to Donald and me, who were neither weatherwise nor seamen, no better time could have been chosen for the attempt. Since three o'clock in the afternoon a dense mass of clouds had been scurrying across the sky, bringing with them plenty of wind and a promise of rain.
That the night would be a dark one all knew, and there seemed more danger the schooner's spars would be literally blown out of her than that she might be becalmed.
It was said among our men that Captain Tom had taken no one into his confidence, not even the owners of the vessel, as to the hour he should set sail.
It was near to nine o'clock in the evening when, amid the most profound silence, our mooring lines were cast off, and the Comet started on the long cruise which brought to her so much credit, and to us such an ample amount of prize-money.
When sail was made, Donald and I could do no more than keep out of the way of those who knew a seaman's duty.
It can well be fancied that, with a crew of one hundred and twenty, there are very many who must remain idle at such a time, and I felt .no shame in lying close under the rail amidships, while others performed the necessary labour.
As the lights of the town grew dimmer, and the dark tracery of spars and cordage, which told where lay the British squadron, became more distinct, my comrade's heart must have misgiven him somewhat as to the final result of the cruise, for he said, in a voice that was not overly steady:
" How think you, Stephen Burton, all this will end ? Are we to come back with both profit and honour, oris it to be that we shall never see our homes again ?"
I was angered with him that he should have asked such a question at that moment, for, even as he spoke, I was thinking of my dear mother, wondering if I should ever look in her face again, and with his words the tears came near to dropping from my eyes, which would have been a sorry way to begin a cruise under such a commander as Captain Tom Boyle.
I dared not make any reply, lest he should know of the grief in my heart, and therefore pretended, by rising sufficiently and looking over the rail at the spars of the enemy which we were approaching so closely, not to have heard it.
On board our schooner not a sound could be heard, save now and then the faint creaking of the blocks and the swirl of waters as the Comets sharp prow sent them hissing astern.
I have said Donald and I lay under the starboard rail amidships, and as the Comet dashed swiftly over the water without apparently attracting the attention of the enemy, my timorousness vanished until I whispered boldly to my comrade :
" This running the blockade is not such a venturesome affair as I had believed. The Britishers are asleep, and a whole fleet of privateers might put to sea without the redcoats being any the wiser."
I could not better have chosen words to prove my ignorance than I did at that moment.
The older members of the crew those who had aided in the capture of the Hopezvell were peering ahead anxiously, as if believing we were still in a dangerous locality, and Donald had just turned to speak, when it seemed to me as if the whole side of the nearest war-vessel was lighted up by a sheet of flame.
I staggered back half blinded by the glare, not understanding what had caused it, and it was for an instant as if thunder roared all around me, while even above the reverberations I could hear what sounded like the rending and splintering of wood.
"What is it ?" I cried, in my fear and perplexity, and almost at the same instant our motionless, silent crew were aroused to the greatest activity.
Captain Tom began to shout much like a man suddenly gone crazy, and it seemed to me as if every person on board, save Donald and myself, were running to and fro, or clambering into the rigging.
Following this first crash and roar, came jets of flame from each of the dark hulks on the starboard bow, and I heard an odd but wicked screaming in the air with every thunderous outburst.
Donald spoke to me, but I could not distinguish his words because of the uproar.
Perhaps one might have counted ten before I understood that the men on board the blockading squadron were not as ignorant of our purpose as I had foolishly supposed, and that every effort was being made to compass the destruction of the Comet.
It seems strange to me now as I set it down, that, after the first terrible fear which assailed me, I suddenly lost all consciousness of danger, and absolutely forgot that the King's ships might send us to the bottom in a twinkling, by a well-directed shot.
Donald and I joined the crew in running here and there, as if it were possible for us to be of some assistance, even though Captain Tom might have been talking in a foreign tongue for all we could understand of the orders given.
After a time, and before we were out of range, I knew, from what the men about me said, that our foretop-mast had been so severely wounded it was necessary to strengthen it lest the entire spar should go by the board.
Green hand as I was, I failed to understand what was meant when the first mate gave an order to "fish" the topmast, and believed it was to be taken down, until some of the crew began to bind pieces of timber either side of the weakened portion.
As a matter of course, it became necessary that the strain on the spar should be lessened while this task was being performed, and it could only be done by taking in certain of the sails, even though we needed every inch of canvas to aid us in drawing away from the enemy.
Although, as I have said, the night was black with darkness, I understood by what I both saw and heard that the squadron was getting under way in pursuit of us, and once more I grew timorous, believing we must certainly be captured, crippled as we were.
" Our first cruise is like to be our last, and not overly long at that," Donald said to me, when we were so far away from the enemy that their fire had slackened ; and it pleased me to hear a certain quaver in his voice, for I thus knew I was not the only one on board who was beginning to show the white feather.
" Then you do not believe we shall escape ?" I asked, not that I was eager to hear his opinion on the subject, but because I knew of nothing else to say just at the moment.
" Do you think we can ? he asked, sharply, and I made as if I had failed to hear the words.
Just then I saw my uncle, standing aft, near the helmsman, as unconcerned as if he were safe at the dock in Baltimore.
He was watching the movements of the men aloft, now and then directing them as to the work in hand, and never once glancing back to where the King's ships, under such press of canvas as must have buried their bows deep in the water, were in full chase.
" There is one who appears to have little doubt of our escape," I said, with a sigh of relief, for it heartened me wonderfully to see him so calm when death was close aboard.
" We can gather but little comfort from his movements, for I have heard it said that whenever danger is greatest, Captain Tom appears the most cheery."
All this I knew quite as well as did Donald, and from that moment I ceased trying to appear brave.
Together we two crouched behind the rail, watching the pursuers astern, and only looking aloft now and then, for it seemed to us, in our ignorance of such matters, as if the sailors could do but little towards repairing the mischief which had been wrought.
After what appeared to be a very long time, I lost sight of the enemy, and, fearing lest my eyes were playing me some tricks, I asked Donald :
" Can you see the King's ships now ? "
"They have been growing less distinct this last five minutes ; perhaps a cloud has come between them and us, for it is not possible they would give up the chase so soon."
" Not they ; we may count on being pursued so long as the lookouts can keep the schooner in view."
Then, quite by chance, I turned my head and was surprised at seeing all the crew on deck.
" Is the topmast mended ? I asked of that sailor nearest me, and he replied, cheerily :
" Ay, lad, this ten minutes or more, and since the job
was done we have begun to show the Britishers our heels. At one time it looked like a close shave ; but now it's much the same as if we were on blue water. It'll need more than those tubs of the blockadin' squadron to catch the Comet when Captain Tom Boyle is in command."
" Do you really mean that we are no longer in danger ? I asked, hardly daring to credit the statement.
" What I am giving out is that we have run the blockade in fine shape ; but on a cruise like this I reckon we're always messmates with danger."
" But what about the wounded topmast ? "
" She's holdin' now, an' is likely to till we've run the Britishers' hull down. Then it'll be a matter of putting a new spar in its place."
"But we must go into some harbour to do that," I said, again giving proof of my ignorance, whereat the man laughed heartily.
" You're precious green for a lad of your years. If spars couldn't be sent down or up without puttin' a craft into the dock, there'd be mighty little privateerin' done, or fightin' either, for that matter."
It was as if a terrible load had suddenly been lifted from my mind, for I had no question but that the man spoke the truth, and so great was my relief that I laughed aloud, although there was nothing to cause mirth.
Then Donald and I could give our entire attention to watching the gallant little schooner as she stormed along with all canvas spread, when many another craft would have been reefed down snug, and there was an exhilara-
tion in my heart such as I had never felt before, or never have since, except under similar circumstances.
We, meaning Donald and I, gave little heed to the passing of time, and might have remained on deck until morning but that Captain Tom, suddenly espying us, called sharply for both to come aft.
"Why are you not below?" he asked, when we stood before him. Do you count on learning a seaman's duties by loiterin' around the deck in the night ?"
" I was too frightened to go below while we were sailing past the Britishers, and after that too happy to think of sleep," Donald replied, promptly.
" You must forget how to be frightened before you will be of much service on a craft like this," Captain Tom replied, with a low laugh that reminded me of my mother. Now get you below, and remember in the future that fear is not allowed on board the Comet until all danger has passed."
lying in wait.
"\ T TE went to our hammocks on the gun-deck, Donald
* and I, feeling for I daresay there was much the same thought in his mind as in mine that we had learned a lesson which would be valuable to us in our task of becoming privateersmen.
Not much of a lesson, as I look back on it now, but at the time it seemed of vast importance; yet we, or perhaps here I should speak only of myself, could not profit by it, for ever afterward, when the shot of the enemy whistled among the spars, and I saw members of the crew wounded by ball or splintered by fragments of our own craft, the same fear took possession of me which was in my heart when the Comet ran the blockade out of Baltimore.
However, we turned in, and it was more than one day before we turned out again, owing to the sickness of the sea which took possession of us.
There is no reason why I should set down here what we suffered, for he who has experienced it fancies he knows better than any other person the deathly sensations of the malady.
In due time, however, we were so far able to control our legs and stomachs as to crawl on deck, and, once there,
the second mate, Mr. Harker, set about trying to make sailors of us.
It was a case of a hard master and dull pupils, and during the first four and twenty hours of what we might call the apprenticeship, our backs were so sore from frequent application of the rope's-end that for the time being we forgot we had shipped on board the Comet to aid in upholding the honour of our country.
Among the lessons which he gave, and expected we should remember without ever being told again, was the method of measuring the schooner's progress through the water, and I here set it down, in case this poor tale should be seen by some lad as ignorant of such matters as were we two up to the moment when Mr. Harker took us in charge.
This particular information was given to us when, the report having been made to the captain that the schooner was making ten knots, Donald asked the meaning of the term.
Then it was that Mr. Harker gave us a lecture in something after this fashion:
"We'll suppose you lads have been taught at school that 69 1-6 statute miles or 60 geographical miles are equal to one degree of longitude at. the equator. Now the distance between a statute mile, which is the way they measure distance ashore, and a geographical mile, which is the way of figuring it at sea, is that the last is 806 feet longer than the first. These 60 sea miles to each degree of latitude, or to every degree of longitude at the
equator, are called by sailormen minutes,' when they are reckoning the position of a ship, and as to what this last may mean you will possibly learn later. I am not counting on giving you a lesson in navigation just now.
"There are 360 degrees or meridians of longitude, and 21,600 minutes or miles in the entire circumference of the world at the equator; therefore, learned men have shown that one minute that is, a sea mile is equal to 6,086.7 feet; but sailormen don't take up these odd feet and the fraction, so they call a sea mile, which is a knot, or a minute, equal to 6,080 feet. That part being clear in your mind, the rest is easy, because here is the rule which navigators learn : As the number of seconds in the hour are to 6,080 feet, so are the number of seconds in the time-glass used for measuring a ship's speed to the number of feet in each unit of measurement marked off on the log-line.' "
Mr. Harker must have seen that we failed to understand this explanation, which he thought was plain, for he added, an instant later:
"Suppose we use a half-minute glass, that is, one which admits of the sand running through in thirty seconds. Now, then, your knots must be made in the log-line exactly fifty feet and nine inches from each other, as you can readily tell by doing a little figuring. You saw a man hold a reel over the stern, while I, with the glass in my hand, shouted for him to let go, and then to stop. Every knot which went over the rail marked a sea mile, so you may understand that the Comet, while mak-
OUR BACKS WERE SORE FROM FREQUENT APPLICATION OF THE ROPE'S-END,"
ing ten knots, was doing a little more than eleven and one-half land miles."
It was not until we had worked the problem out for ourselves that Donald and I fully understood it; but once in our minds it could never be forgotten.
It was my purpose to set down here only that which concerned the cruise of the Comet while Donald and I were on board, and therefore what we learned from Mr. Harker or the other officers is perhaps out of place.
I will go back to the doings of the schooner by saying that, on the night of the eighth of January, a little more than two weeks after having left port, we made Cape St. Rouque, on the Brazilian coast.
On the following morning Captain Tom spoke a Portuguese trader which had just left the harbour of Pernam-buco, and was told that there were in the harbour three English vessels nearly ready to sail, two brigs and a large ship, all armed.
We had found our game much sooner than the most hopeful counted on, and it can well be imagined in what a state of excitement was the schooner's crew five minutes after this information had been given us.
" I fail to see why the men should be in such high spirits at what the Portuguese captain told us," Donald said, privately, to me. It is not to be supposed Captain Tom, brave man though he be, will venture to attack a ship and two brigs heavily armed."
" Is that your idea of how an American privateersman
sets about striking a blow at the King ? Mr, Harker, who had accidentally overheard Donald's remark, said, quite sharply. "If there were five ships, and among them a man-of-war, I dare venture to say Captain Tom Boyle would run his nose into the midst of them." Then we shall sail directly into the harbour ?" I asked, in dismay as well as surprise.
" Hardly that, my lad. A friendly port cannot be used in such fashion. We must wait until the fleet is six sea miles off the coast, and then no one may say us nay. Until that ship and the brigs have got a good offing, we shall likely stand off and on, watching for them as a cat does for a mouse."
" And we run a good chance of playing the part of the mouse," I said to myself; but did not venture to speak aloud, for of a certainty the rope's-end would have been laid on my back again had I dared venture to suggest such a possibility.
It must be understood that every day after we had so successfully run the blockade the crew were exercised at quarters, and when Donald and I were so far recovered from the malady of the sea as to be able to move around, we bore our part in the drill, not a very important one, for we were known as powder-monkeys, and our duties were to supply certain of the gunners with ammunition.
Immediately the Portuguese captain gave our commander information regarding the vessels in the harbour, the hours of drill were redoubled; first, because the men
needed exercise at their stations, and secondly, if each was in his proper station, as would be the case while exercising, we should be ready to give chase instantly the enemy's vessels appeared.
Therefore it was that I can truly say we were almost constantly at quarters, the schooner standing off and on, under easy sail, and three men detailed to act as lookouts.
It can well be imagined that Captain Tom and the officers kept their glasses in active use, and the harbour of Pernambuco was watched as, perhaps, it had never been before.
As for Donald and myself, I know that we were allowed a six-hour watch below, no more ; and during all the remainder of the twenty-four did we pass to and fro between the magazine and the gunners, even though it seemed to me I could have described the grain of every plank in the deck throughout each inch of the distance we were forced to traverse.
To my surprise, not a single man among all the crew thought it venturesome in Captain Tom to thus make his preparations for attacking the three Britishers, although, even if they were only scantily armed, the united weight of metal must be greater than ours.
Instead of grumbling because we were to make such a hazard, the men appeared impatient at the delay, and on every hand could be heard suggestions as to what would be done with the prize-money, as if the vessels were already captured.
" I believe Captain Tom, in shipping his crew, picked out those who were as fearless as himself," Donald said to me, on this second day of watching for the craft we hoped to make our prizes. To my mind it is a reckless piece of business."
" So it appears to me, and yet the crew look upon it all as a matter of course; therefore I am inclined to think we are the only timorous ones on board."
" It will be a fine thing when we portion out our share of the prize-money," my comrade said, thoughtfully, after a long pause.
" And not as fine if one or both of us lays below, grievously wounded, after the attempt has been made, and failed."
"Although we be but boys aboard, our share should amount to more money than we have ever seen," Donald continued, dwelling upon the profit to be made; and in this he showed the Scotch in his nature.
We two talked more than a little concerning all these things, during the five days we laid off and on, waiting for the appearance of the enemy's vessels, but, on the afternoon of the fourteenth, I became convinced we had received false information.
If, as the Portuguese captain had said, three vessels were ready to put to sea, they should have appeared before this, and I said, with no slight relief on my heart :
" Our mountain did not even have a mole-hill as its beginning, for it seems certain the Portuguese captain
lied, otherwise we would have seen some signs of the Britishers before this."
" I have noted that Captain Tom is growing impatient, and it may be that what you say is true. It's a pity we should lose such a prize as would be ours if the ship and two brigs could be captured."
" And it is a relief to know that we stand little show of being sent below mangled, or wounded unto the death. For my part "
" Sail ho came from one of the lookouts, and the words had hardly been spoken before every officer and seaman was gazing intently in the direction of the harbour, where, after a certain time, could be seen even by us who were on deck, and without the aid of glasses, four vessels taking advantage of the strong wind to put to sea.
All was excitement on board. Some questioned if this could be the craft for which we had waited so patiently, since the Portuguese captain had spoken only three; others said a fourth Britisher might have put into the harbour, unknown to us, but that seemed doubtful, for constant and most vigilant watch had been kept from the morning of the ninth.
There were very many who believed that the Portuguese had given true information as to the merchantmen in the harbour, but withheld from us the fact that they were convoyed by a man-of-war, and this last opinion gained ground, until even Donald and I, who had feared an attack might be made, began to grow uneasy lest we should be forced to run away.
However it might be, Captain Tom had no intention of showing his heels to these Britishers, and I verily believe, had the fleet been twice as large, he would have given the same orders.
Our course was shaped to the southward, and, once we were so far from the land that there could be no question as to the distance, the Comet was hove to until these strangers should show themselves more clearly.
As nearly as I can remember, it was four o'clock in the afternoon, perhaps a little later, when we saw the ship and three brigs, six or eight miles from the shore, sailing a point or two north of east, and the chase was begun.
Never had I seen the waves as boisterous as they were when we hauled up to take advantage of the wind, which appeared to be increasing momentarily.
The little schooner rose gallantly on the crest of the waves, until it seemed that the hull towered many yards above the level of the sea; then, with a downward plunge, she would dive into the hollows, where we were completely encircled by water, with the sails slatting to and fro as the wind was thus shut out from them.
Captain Tom remained near the helmsman, conning the vessels as if engaged in a friendly race, and determined to lose no advantage if it could be prevented by superior seamanship, while Mr. Harker moved to and fro uneasily, evidently finding it impossible to control his anxiety.
No fault could have been found with the manner in which the Comet bore herself during this chase.
The strangers, who alternately sank until only their
topmasts only were in view, and then rose on the swell until their copper could be seen, were as if anchored, so swiftly did we gain upon them.
They were under easy sail, and we knew they had no fear of our little schooner, which was approaching so swiftly, otherwise their lighter canvas would have been set at once.
We were storming on, with every stitch drawing, and making such heavy weather of it that, when the gallant little Comet went into the trough of the sea, she plunged her nose so far under that the decks were awash, oftentimes waist-deep.
Every timber was groaning from the strain put upon it, the spars buckled like reeds, and to me, inexperienced as I was, it seemed certain we had so far overhauled the fleet as to be able to determine the character of the fourth vessel.
She was a large man-of-war brig, and we knew by the small amount of canvas set that she was not only willing to meet us, but perhaps eager.
Alarmed myself, because we were come so near to a war-vessel, which with one broadside, properly directed, could send us to the bottom, I looked scrutinisingly around at those nearest, to learn, so far as might be from the expression on their faces, what was thought of this new phase of affairs.
More than one of the men appeared to be uneasy ; but yet the majority of them, having every confidence in Captain Tom's skill and ability to extricate them from the
most serious difficulties into which they might fall, were calm and apparently unconcerned.
Donald and I, standing side by side, well forward, waited in anxious expectancy to see the course of the schooner changed, or hear the command to reduce the canvas.
No such word was given.
Instead came the order to beat to quarters, and, as soon as might be thereafter, we were cleared for action, each man doing his duty promptly, regardless of the enormous odds against us.
The guns were loaded with round-shot and grape, and this time Donald and I did more than go through the motions of serving ammunition, for we dealt it out to each gun in proper proportion, I, for one, quaking with fear all the while.
There was no such discipline maintained among pri-vateersmen as would be seen on board a man-of-war, and although it was our duty to remain below, both my comrade and I ventured on deck, just as the Comet's ensign was flung to the breeze.
The stranger replied by hoisting a blue and white flag, with certain emblems in red upon it, the character of which I could not make out, and one of the sailors near by exclaimed :
" She's a blooming Portugee, an' how is it a vessel of that navy is convoying Britishers ? "
No reply was made to this question, for immediately after the man had spoken the course of the Comet was so
changed that she would run alongside the war-vessel, and a few moments later a hail came from the latter's deck.
" The commander desires to send a boat to you an officer in the rigging shouted, after reply had been made to his hail. There are certain matters of importance regarding which he would speak with the captain of the schooner."
I heard my uncle give the command to heave the Comet to, and at the same time a boat was lowered from the brig's davits.
I had rather the Portuguese captain did the boarding than to have attempted it myself, for the little craft, manned by ten seamen, was flung up and thrown down in the swirl of angry waters, as though she had been no more than an egg-shell, and many times when she descended into the trough of the sea did I believe she had been swamped.
They knew their business, however, those Portuguese sailors, and the gig was brought to the ladder, which had been thrown over the Comet's side, as smartly and neatly as though the crew were manoeuvring on a mill-pond.
Captain Tom received the naval officer at the compan-ionway, and there the two held a short conversation, after which they entered the cabin.
As a matter of course, we forward had no means of knowing what was said; but on shipboard any matter of interest is soon noised about, and, before the two officers concluded their interview below, we learned the Portuguese had, with considerable swagger, made known to
Captain Tom that the brig belonged to the Portuguese navy, and that she carried twenty 32-pounders with a crew of 165 men.
As quietly and courteously as if he were on shore paying some pleasing compliment, Captain Tom praised the appearance of the brig, but did not seem at all alarmed by the information as to her armament.
Then the naval captain told him, what we already knew, that the other vessels were English, and under his protection.
At this Captain Tom fired up, giving the visitor a taste of his temper by asking very sharply why the King of Portugal was convoying Britishers, and by what right he pretended to do so when his country was supposed to be a neutral power ?
He announced himself as the captain of an American cruiser, with the right to go whithersoever he pleased, and to attack the enemies of his country whenever he found them beyond the jurisdiction of a friendly or a neutral government.
Upon this the visitor asked affably to see Captain Tom's authority from the United States, and our commander, not to be outdone in politeness, invited him below.
Here our information ended for the time, and when the visit had lasted perhaps twenty minutes, the naval officer, followed by Captain Tom, appeared on deck, taking his departure in an apparently friendly fashion.
Shortly afterward, we forward heard from the steward, who waited upon the gentlemen, that the Portuguese had
advised our captain not to make any attack upon the merchantmen, and this uncalled-for and impertinent suggestion aroused my uncle once more.
The steward said that Captain Tom told the naval officer very sharply that he should capture the vessels if it was possible for him to do so; that he was authorised by his government to so act, and did not intend to flinch from his duty.
Then, trying politeness once more, the visitor declared he should be exceedingly sorry if it became necessary for him to protect the merchantmen against an attack, and that he should certainly do so if the situation of affairs demanded it.
" I shall feel equally sad if anything disagreeable occurs," Captain Tom replied, and it is not my intention to make any attack upon your brig until after you have tried to prevent me from carrying out the commands given by my government, or deliberately fired upon me. Then we will try our strength, and I shall not shrink from the encounter for which I am full well prepared."
The Portuguese captain seemed to be staggered by this bold reply, so the steward said, and, as if he were Captain Tom's particular friend, informed him that the English ship carried fourteen guns, and the two brigs ten each, which armament, together with that on the war-vessel, made up the number of fifty-four guns against fourteen.
Captain Tom never flinched a hair, as the steward expressed it; but told his visitor that, despite the odds, he should make an attack without delay.
Then it was that the naval officer took his departure, and he was not yet on board his own vessel when our schooner was hauled up into the wind.
Before we had well gathered headway, the Portuguese hailed once more, asking Captain Tom to lower a boat and come aboard.
Frightened though I was at the prospect of a battle where it seemed certain we must be whipped, the blood bounded in my veins when Captain Tom, speaking-trumpet in hand, leaped on the rail and shouted, as if this demand from the war-vessel were of but little consequence:
" It is growing too dark, and I cannot afford to take the chances of losing the breeze."
Then, almost in the same breath, he ordered the yards to be squared away, and the Comet was sent sharp for the ship which at that time was our nearest British neighbour.
MONG the gunners and he was said to be the most
expert of them all was an old man by the name of Abraham Dyker, who had shown Donald and me many favours since we joined the Comet's crew, and when the command was given for the men to return to their stations I took up my rightful position near by Dyker's gun.
The old man was standing by his piece idly, with no evidence of excitement on his face, and, believing he saw in this matter something more favourable for us than did the rest, I ventured to ask, with an apology for being thus curious :
" How think you Captain Tom can get us out of this snarl if he continues to run straight into the midst of the
" How can he do it, lad ? Firstly, I don't allow we're in a snarl, and, secondly, we'll come out of it as a well-armed Baltimore clipper ought to, with more than one prize, or I'm mistaken."
" Do you believe Captain Tom will really dare to fight against such odds ? "
" He wouldn't dare refuse to do so, lest in the future
he should despise himself for having turned tail when there was no call for it."
"No call for it!" I repeated, in surprise. "Why, it's sheer madness to attack four vessels carrying fifty-four guns against our fourteen "
" If it so be, lad, that you remain on board the Comet a twelvemonth I venture to predict, and am willing to bet a farthing's worth of silver spoons, that you will see a heap more of such madness. Why is it that Tom Boyle can have his pick of sailors ? Because every man jack of 'em knows he ain't one as can be easily scared."
" I should say not," I replied, thinking of the odds against us, and then, in a tone which I intended should be one of sarcasm, I asked, When do you allow, Master Dyker, that the captain of the Comet would be warranted in turning tail ? "
"Well," the old man began, thoughtfully, as he leaned against the gun, perhaps I might say it would be a bit of foolhardiness to make such a venture if the enemy carried twice as much metal as does this fleet, but at the same time I'm doubtful if even that would prevent Captain Tom from trying to cut out one or more of 'em."
" Do you really believe he would venture to give battle with fourteen guns against one hundred and eight ?"
" Hark ye, lad. If you are given to timorousness, this is not the craft on which you should have shipped, nor is your uncle the master under whom you should sail, for I tell you that nothing short of a ship of the line would scare him very seriously. The Comet is out to take
prizes, and when the night is as bright as this promises to be she'll do it, without heeding how strong may be such craft as are convoying the fleet."
" Stephen Burton is wanted on deck !"
This summons came from some one aft whose face I could not distinguish in the gloom, for by this time the day was so far spent that the gun-deck was darkened by the twilight, and the lanterns were not fully lighted.
Without thought that he should remain at his station until ordered elsewhere, Donald Fyffe would have joined me as I hastened towards the hatchway, but Master Dyker sharply reminded him that he must stay below, and alone I went quickly aft, wondering why I had been summoned.
"The captain sent for you," Mr. Harker said, as I appeared, and at the same time giving me a push which nearly sent me headlong, for just at that moment the Comet was rising on a huge wave.
After recovering my footing I saluted in proper fashion, as the second mate had taught me, and Captain Tom said, curtly, much as if speaking to an entire stranger:
" You are to remain aft here in order to carry messages below should it become necessary. Keep close by my side, and, at the same time, see to it that you are not in the way."
It was an order which I did not fully understand, and for an instant was on the point of asking the meaning, when I realised that a lad would be thick-headed indeed if he could not obey such commands as might be given in plain words, therefore held my peace; and thus it was that
I saw all of this night attack, which could not have been the case had I remained below serving out ammunition.
By this time the little schooner was well up on the starboard side of the British ship, and between her. and the two brigs.
The moon, which had risen before the sun went down, was shining brightly, while not a cloud showed itself in the sky, and there seemed little need of the battle-lanterns which were hung fore and aft.
I was yet staring about me stupidly, trying to discover the whereabouts of the Portuguese brig of war, when, with his speaking-trumpet in hand, Captain Tom leaped to the port rail and shouted to those aboard the ship *
" Back your maintopsail, or I'll send a broadside into you!"
So great was the schooner's headway that even as he spoke we dashed past the merchantman, and the word was given to "luff," in order that we might cross the ship's bow.
While the manoeuvre was being executed Captain Tom again ordered the craft to surrender.
Now it was that I saw the man-of-war brig directly astern of us, and coming up as if she meant business.
I was still gazing at what I believed to be our most dangerous enemy, when it was as if a volcano suddenly burst forth beneath my very feet. The schooner trembled from stem to stern, and out of the port side came great volumes of smoke, which momentarily hid the ship from view.
A broadside had been sent aboard the merchantman, and, in obedience to orders which I had not heard, our brave little Comet turned suddenly on her heel, discharging her starboard guns full at one of the brigs.
Then she was put about, when, to my dismay, I found that we were close alongside the Portuguese man-of-war.
Even as I looked at that row of yawning ports they were illumined by flashes of light, and it was to me as though hundreds of round-shot passed directly over my head.
At the same moment our gallant little schooner quivered as if she had struck upon a sunken reef, and the rending and splintering of wood told that at least one of the Portuguese missiles had found its mark.
There was a scream from below, followed by groans which were suddenly drowned in the noise of the Comets broadside, delivered full at the Portuguese, and no less than two of the brig's spars were brought down, while twenty or thirty feet of her bulwarks were ripped off.
" Get you below, lad, quickly, and see what mischief may have been done by that shot! Do not loiter there, but return as soon as possible."
I darted below with all speed, thinking to myself that for a few moments, at least, I should be in greater safety than on deck; but afterwards came to learn that he who stands unsheltered is in less danger than those who work the guns below, where is possibility of being wounded by splinters, should a ball find lodgment in the hull.
The scene on the gun-deck was one which I am power-
less to set down in such fashion as to paint it properly in words.
The first thing which riveted my attention was the smoke that filled all the space, and through which could be dimly seen our men, stripped to the waist and barefooted, working the pieces.
To one unfamiliar with such scenes, as was I, it was impossible, at a single glance, to determine how much mischief had been done, and I was making my way forward with no little difficulty because of the dense, pungent vapour, when our port broadside was discharged once more, at the three merchantmen, as I afterwards learned, and I was nearly felled to the deck by the terrific noise like unto that of a fearful explosion.
The smoke became more dense; I could hear the gunners shouting to their mates, and the officers from above roaring commands down through the hatchway. Now and then groans from some portion of the schooner told that this was a game in which many must be killed in order to give one side or the other the victory, and, worse than all to me, was the horrible fear that at the next instant some missile, crashing through the timbers, would deal a death-blow to the lad who had so foolishly fancied there was much honour to be gained in warfare.
I was sick at heart and faint from cowardice when I saw dimly, through the volumes of smoke, Abraham Dyker, half naked, begrimed with powder, and looking more like a fiend and less like a man than I had ever believed could be possible in a human being.
Above all my timorousness and sickness was the knowledge that I had a task to perform, and by Master Dyker's aid it seemed possible I might be able to acquit myself with some little degree of credit, even though, properly speaking, none should be given me.
" I am sent by the captain to find out what mischief has been done, and know not how to set about it," I cried, whereat the gunner replied :
"Tell him we have only been scratched. One of the ports was splintered, but the ball buried itself in the stanchion."
"Surely it was more than a scratch, Master Dyker," I ventured to say, "for some of the men must have been killed or wounded."
"Ay, lad, one has lost the number of his mess, and a couple, maybe three, are under the surgeon's hands ; but I'll venture to say that aboard the Portuguese you'll find the cockpit crowded, for our broadside was sent with some precision, which is more than can be said for them outlandish man-of-war's men."
It would have pleased me could I have spoken with Donald Fyffe just then ; but he was not near at hand, and to have searched for him would have been to delay when my orders were to make haste.
Captain Tom gave no token that he heard my report, although I bawled as loudly as might be, and was on the point of repeating it when he said, curtly :
"That will do. Remain near at hand until you are wanted."
I can only explain what took place during the next half-hour in such bungling fashion as to say that it seemed to me as if the Comet were darting here and there, everywhere, among the ships, discharging broadside after broadside as rapidly as the guns could be reloaded, at whichever of the four vessels could best be gotten into range.
Then it was that the schooner reeled as if she had run full upon a rock, quivered an instant, as if recovering herself, and, after no more than a moment's delay, continued her work of destruction.
Again I was sent below to learn what mischief had been done, and this time was able to see for myself the effects of the blow.
A round-shot had passed directly through the Comet twelve or fifteen inches above the level of the gun-deck, and in its passage had wounded four men, all of whom were lying as they had fallen, when I saw them.
It was a horrible spectacle, and had I come upon it earlier in the fight it might have completely unnerved me; but, like the others, although in not so great a degree, I was growing hardened and indifferent to suffering as this unequal battle progressed.
"Tell Captain Tom it is only another scratch," Master Dyker cried, as he saw me, and save for the sound of his voice I would have mistaken him for a negro, so blackened was all the exposed portion of his body. Only another scratch, and I'll warrant you the surgeons on board the other craft have got their hands full."
At that moment, Donald Fyffe came up laden
with powder, and I stopped to speak with him a few seconds.
Although it was midwinter, the heat on the gun-deck was so great that no man could work there while fully-clad, and, following the example of the others, he had stripped himself, save as to trousers.
The perspiration was streaming down his face, ploughing here and there tiny strips of white on the blackened skin, until he looked like an Indian in war-paint, and the resemblance was heightened when he, who, a few weeks before, would have hesitated at causing an animal pain, said, gleefully:
"We are thinning the Britishers out in brave style, Stephen Burton, and if the man-of-war will only give us a chance to use our starboard guns, I warrant you her scuppers will run with blood, for we are wasting but few shots, and getting none in return."
His bare feet were in a crimson pool which was staining the white deck, and yet he gave no heed to the fact. His only thought seemed to be of killing.
When I' returned to make my report, the big ship was so close at hand that I could see her main-deck plainly.
It appeared to be literally covered with dead and wounded, and the splinters were flying in showers, as our gunners sent shot after shot with deadly aim.
To me it seemed as if half her rigging was cut; the immense masts, wounded near the deck, were swaying to and fro ominously, and all her spars forward, down to the foremast-head, had been carried away.
The two merchant brigs, sadly disabled, were crawling away to leeward, and the Portuguese was manoeuvring here and there in the faint hope of giving us a full broadside ; but, thanks to Captain Tom's seamanship, this was impossible.
More than once, when she made ready to rake us, was the little Comet swung around on her heel like a top, and away we flew to attack the ship from another quarter.
There came a time, I cannot say at what hour, when I was startled by hearing a great shout of triumph from our crew, and I heard Mr. Harker say, triumphantly:
" There go her colours "
She had surrendered although her metal was as heavy as our own, and, in addition, we had had forty other guns opposed to us.
Even as the big ship gave up the fight two well-directed shots from our main-deck totally disabled one of the brigs, and the cheers of the men had hardly more than died away when we saw that the second of the fleet had surrendered.
Ignorant as I was of such matters, it puzzled me to understand how advantage could be taken of our victory, for the moon was near to setting, the waves running boisterously high, and I believed it would be impossible for us to throw a prize-crew aboard either vessel, even though the Portuguese brig should not interfere.
Immediately after the ship's flag was lowered, Captain Tom held a brief conversation with the first officer, and men were at once told off to take possession of her.
I stood where all that took place on our deck could be seen, and asked myself again and again if it was possible our officers could be so foolhardy as to venture on board the prize.
Now many days afterwards I learned that Captain Tom would sanction, and even order, many wilder acts than that.
The men set about lowering the long-boat, as if this embarking on a stormy sea, with enemies on every hand, was but a trifling matter, and many of the crew came from below for the double purpose of watching the movements of the enemy, while there was a lull in the conflict.
Among these last was Donald Fyffe, and, heedless of the fact that he had no right to venture so far aft, he came to speak with me.
We two were talking regarding the proposed attempt to take possession of the prize, and wondering if any of the boat's crew would live to reach the ship, when Captain Tom cried, as he turned towai"ds me :
" Here, lad, this is the chance to see something of the business you are trying to learn. Take your place with the prize-crew, and see to it that you do all in your power towards helping get matters into proper shape once you are aboard the ship."
But for the fear I had of my uncle's anger, I would have refused to take part in any such hazardous venture ; but I dared not set up my will against his, as I might have done had another captain been in command of the
Comet, and with a sinking heart clambered into the longboat, which was hanging at the davits ready to be lowered away when her crew should be in their places.
Donald Fyffe made as if he would join me without waiting for orders, and observing his movement, Abraham Dyker called sharply after him, saying, when my comrade stepped to his side :
"Don't make the mistake, lad, of going where you are not sent, or Captain Tom may give you a lesson in discipline."
I waved my hand to Donald, as the word was given to lower away, and at that moment firmly believed I should never see him again, for I was convinced that we could not make the passage from the schooner to the ship without considerable loss of life.
When we were water-borne and had fended off from the Comet's side, the long-boat, heavily laden though she was, tossed here and there like a feather. As we raced down the long swell into the trough of the sea, it was as if one were sliding over icy snow, so swift was the descent, and each time I marvelled that we ascended the next wave, for it seemed as if we must plunge straight to the bottom of the sea.
After two or three of these apparently perilous ascents and descents, I began to realise that the danger was not as great as it appeared, and then had opportunity to look about me understandingly.
Within our range of vision was only the ship and the schooner.
Where the Portuguese brig might be I knew not, and wondered greatly that she had so completely disappeared, until, when we were perhaps half-way from our starting-point and the prize, the man-of-war suddenly appeared from around the bow of the ship, towering above us, until she looked higher than a mountain.
I wondered if she was thus manoeuvring to take us prisoners, for the possibility of her firing at our small and heavily laden boat never entered my head until he who sat directly in front of me cried, in a tone of alarm :
" The heathen are making ready to give us a broadside There is one satisfaction though, for Captain Tom will make it mighty hot for 'em; but we sha'n't be near enough the surface to see the punishment."
Then came flashes of light, seven I counted before we could hear the report, and everywhere around us in the sea splashed an iron shower, until the waters fairly boiled in their seething, drenching us to the skin, and filling the long-boat until she was gunwale deep.
The marvel of it was that in all this deadly storm no missile struck us.
I was not alone in my fear now, for more than one of the crew gave vent to exclamations of dismay, and the boatswain, who was in command, cried, hoarsely:
" It would be more than foolhardy for us to keep on, since that murdering foreigner will treat us to another dose, and likely have better luck next time. What say you, lads ? Are we warranted in going back, although our orders were to board the ship ? "
"We are not called upon to act as targets for them Portuguese fiends! Captain Tom is the man who will square accounts with the gold-laced villain, and we had best put back to him."
To persist in carrying out the captain's orders meant death for all our crew, and it would be, as Master Dyker afterwards said, "A needless waste of blood, since by dying we could do them of the Comet no good."
From the poor way in which I have set this down, it would seem as if we hesitated many moments, while being flung up and down by the angry waters under the guns of the Portuguese brig, and yet, as a fact, no more than twenty seconds elapsed from the time the broadside was fired before we were scudding for the schooner, every oarsman exerting himself to the utmost.
It was no easy matter to board the Comet once we were near at hand, and ten minutes or more were spent before we stood on her deck.
Then it was that I saw Captain Boyle in what the second mate called a fighting mad mood.
"We'll give that Portuguese captain all he may want, and spend no useless time about it! he cried, when the boatswain had come to the end of telling that we put back because the long-boat was so nearly swamped that half a dozen bucketfuls more would send her to the bottom.
Then certain orders were given, and Mr. Dyker, who had come on deck for the second time, said to me, with much of satisfaction in his tones :
" EVERYWHERE AROUND US IN THE SEA SPLASHED AN IRON SHOWER."
" Now, lad, you shall learn what a fourteen-gun schooner can do with a brig of war carrying nearly twice her metal. So far it has been a case of run and strike, but if I'm not mistaken, from this out you'll see a fight such as will please you."
MR. DYKER made a grievous mistake in thinking any kind of a fight would please me. Although comparatively little damage had been done us by the guns of the enemy, owing to poor marksmanship and the heavy swell, what I had seen below was more than enough to sicken me of warfare.
Donald, however, having really taken part in the running fight, was still so wrought up by the excitement of it all that he was most eager to give the Portuguese a flogging for having interfered in what was none of his business, and, being on deck when the order was given to chase the man-of-war, said to me, in a tone of satisfaction: "I should be mightily disappointed if Captain Tom did not overhaul that fellow. He needs a taste of Yankee shot, and I venture to say he'll get it."
"The brig is. six guns heavier than the Comet" And it would make little difference to us if she carried sixteen more than we; the flogging would be given just the same. But why do you look so glum, Stephen Burton ? Surely you are not in favour of letting the Portuguese go free ? "
" I am not certain that it is for us to say how he shall go. We have captured two prizes, and in such an unequal fight that it should be sufficient satisfaction for us, without running after an enemy nearly twice our strength. Why not let well enough alone, instead of taking the chances of losing all we have gained?"
" I don't count that we are taking any chances ; we can whip him out of his boots."
" You have grown wonderfully valiant since you and I last talked together, Donald Fyffe "
" Perhaps that is to be accounted for by the fact that I have been where the fighting was done, instead of here on deck, with nothing to do save give full sway to my fears."
At that moment our conversation was interrupted by Abraham Dyker, who shouted for Donald to come below, and fortunately my comrade was bound to obey the summons, for, had he remained with me a single moment longer, I am afraid something would have been said that might have caused an unpleasantness between us, so vexed was I that he should have been thus eager for more fighting.
However, Donald's bravery and my timorousness should have no place here while the gallant little Comet is pursuing the hulking brig that had meddled with what did not concern her.
It can be guessed that with a Baltimore clipper under our feet, and she commanded by such a man as Captain Tom Boyle, the chase was not a long one. We could have sailed three knots to her two, and, in less than five minutes after my comrade went below, the schooner
was luffed up into the wind sufficiently to permit of our gunners raking the Portuguese fore and aft.
Even in the gloom I could see the white splinters fly from her quarter in a perfect shower, and but for the fact that immediately afterward our main-deck guns were discharged, I believe we might have heard the cries of the wounded.
Then it was for the first time I began to share in Donald's excitement, and longed most earnestly to go below, where I could be of some service, rather than forced to remain idle at Captain Tom's heels.
This punishment seemed to arouse the Portuguese, for instead of trying to escape, as had at first seemed his intention, he began manoeuvring to get the weather-gage of us.
It can be understood that this was not an easy matter when such a skilful sailor as Captain Tom was opposed to him, and, after doing his best for ten minutes or more, the Portuguese came about.
With each on a different tack, we passed within half a musket-shot, and when we were abreast the brig she gave us a broadside without so much as starting a rope, so high did her shot fly; but when Captain Tom gave the word our grape cut the enemy's rigging in a hundred places, until it seemed certain she must be unmanageable.
It is only fair to say that the Portuguese were good sailors, otherwise they could not so quickly have repaired the damage, for in a reasonably short time the brig attempted to wear, and then was come our opportunity.
Captain Tom bore up, although in so doing we got
another broadside; but the guns were as badly served as before, and then we were well under the brig's port quarter.
Now every gunner on board the Comet set to work with a will, and not a shot was wasted.
I could see the brig's crew fall here and there, until I believe no less than twenty were out of the fight, and in my savage joy I cried aloud with glee.
Captain Tom himself served the swivel on the main-deck, and three times in rapid succession was it loaded and discharged, carrying death and wounds to those on the brig's gun-deck, before she could crawl out from her dangerous position.
There was no longer any fight left in the Portuguese; they had received a full dose of Yankee iron, and were now most eager to get out of range.
If we had pursued, she must have been sunk offhand, unless some accident befell us ; but our captain, eager to secure his prizes and not of the mind to continue the lesson to the brig's commander, allowed her to sneak away while we returned to the ship and brig which had surrendered.
On our course we passed the third Britisher, and she, believing it was our purpose to serve out such a dose as had been given the Portuguese, quickly hauled down her flag.
We had beaten off the foreigner and captured three merchantmen, despite the odds against us, and little wonder is it that, when this third English flag was lowered, our
crew set up such shouts of rejoicing as must have been heard by all the enemy.
Only two shots had struck our hull, although of course the Comet's rigging was cut in many places, and some of the smaller spars severely wounded ; but, considering the damage we had done, it was as if the schooner came out of the conflict scot-free.
Donald came on deck, intending, no doubt, to laugh at me for having been so timorous as to believe we could not whip the Portuguese; but finding that the scent of the battle was in my nostrils quite as strong as it had been in his, he forbore any sarcastic remarks, and joined me in the general rejoicings.
Now that our work had been done so handsomely, I was at a loss to know how we might be able to take advantage of that which was gained.
By this time, the moon having set, it was so dark that one could hardly see the prizes with the naked eye.
Both Donald and I were satisfied that there would be no attempt made at boarding them; but in this we were mistaken.
Captain Tom ran the schooner alongside the ship, which proved to be the George, of Liverpool, and her captain reported that so much damage had been done it was only through the greatest exertions he could keep her afloat.
"I'll stand by you until morning," our commander cried, "and should there be imminent danger of foundering, show a flare on your quarter."
Then we stood off to the last brig that had hauled
down her flag, which proved to be the Gambler, of Hull, and learned that she had been as badly damaged as the ship.
Captain Tom gave the same command as he had to the George, and we stood over for the last of the three, the Bowes, also of Liverpool.
She had not suffered as much as the others, and to my surprise I heard the order given for a prize-crew to be thrown on board.
How it might be done in the darkness and with such a sea running, I had no idea; but, from the little we had already seen of Captain Tom, I understood full well that there would be no hesitation at carrying out his commands.
After speaking a few moments with the first officer and Mr. Harker, my uncle turned to me, and said :
" I am minded to give you lads a better show to learn sailoring than you can get by remaining on board the Comet. You will go with the prize-crew, which is to be under the command of Mr. Harker, and see to it that you do full duty aboard."
" Are we to take our sea-chests, sir ?" I asked, and the tears of vexation were very near my eyelids at the thought of leaving the schooner just at a time when I was beginning, or fancied I was, to forget my timorousness.
" No; what you stand in will be enough, for it may be you'll join us again before we reach the home port. We shall rendezvous off Natal."
Again we took our places in the long-boat, and for the
second time that night found ourselves tossed to and fro on the dangerous waters ; but now there was no Portuguese brig to fire into us, and we made the trip in safety, though not without many misgivings on my part.
It was with a sense of deepest relief that I found myself on board the Bowes, and saw her captain formally surrender the brig to Mr. Harker.
The crew had not come off uninjured during their share in the running fight. No less than eight round-shot had found lodgment in the hull. The upper spars were carried away, and much work was needed to repair the rigging.
There were sixteen of us all told in this prize-crew, and thirty-one of the enemy; but such disparity in numbers gave us no uneasiness, for it was understood that at daybreak, or as soon thereafter as might be convenient, the prisoners would be transferred to the Comet.
However, it was now only about midnight, and in order to better protect ourselves the brig's crew was ordered into the forecastle, where they must have found snug quarters, and the hatches closed on them.
The officers were locked in their berths, and when this had been done, our men set about repairing the brig so far as might be possible in the night.
We were hove to, as a matter of course, therefore all hands were at liberty to set about making good the rigging ; but in such a task Donald and I, however willing, could be of little service, because of our ignorance.
"You shall act as lookouts, lads, one forward and the
other aft," Mr. Harker said, after having set his men to work. Keep sharp watch with one eye for any signalling which may be made from the schooner, and let the other be on the prisoners, for we have too many aboard to take any chances. There are four wounded men in the deckhouse, and they should be looked after now and then. The captain tells me none of them are seriously hurt; but yet it may be possible for you to do something towards relieving their sufferings, therefore bear them in mind every half hour or so."
I gave Donald the choice as to whether he would go forward or aft, and he chose the latter place, with the understanding that we were to take turns in looking after the disabled men.
Lanterns were hung here and there around the deck that the crew might be able to see what they were about, and although I was stationed at some distance from our men, it was not a lonely vigil, such as usually falls to the lot of the lookout.
We could only guess where the Comet might be, for although, now and then, when the vessels rose on the swell, we could see lights, it was impossible to say whether they were on board our schooner or one of the other prizes.
In less than half an hour from the time I had taken my station Donald hailed me to say he was about to visit the wounded men, and five minutes later I saw him come out of the deck-house.
" How are they ? I cried.
" Getting along fairly well, I should say. All are com-
plaining bitterly, and if they drink as much water when you look after them as I have just dealt out, you'll have to pay more than one visit to the scuttle-butt."
He did not venture to join me even for a moment, because we two were minded to perform our duties in such a manner that Mr. Harker would have no reason for faultfinding, and I turned my attention once more to the lights of the vessels in the distance.
From below could be heard a murmuring sound, as the prisoners most likely discussed their situation; but they were apparently so quiet that I gave little heed to the possibility of mischief.
When I believed half an hour or more had passed, I took my turn at. visiting the wounded men, and while approaching the deck-house observed that Donald was gazing out over the after rail, and consequently did not see me.
I was on the point of hailing him, when I bethought myself that Mr. Harker might consider us childish if we must speak to each other every time we came or went, and I held my peace.
On entering the deck-house I saw three men lying in hammocks, and the fourth seated on what appeared to be a pile of dunnage near the door.
Two had blood-stained bandages around their heads, the arm of one was in a sling, and the other, he who sat near the door, was rubbing his leg as if it gave him severe pain, although I could see no evidence of a wound in that member.
" Are you minded to let us die of thirst ?" this last man asked, in a surly tone, as I stepped inside. If there are two boys aboard, it would seem that we might at least be supplied with water."
"There are two aboard," I answered, quietly, for it was not in my heart to be angry with prisoners who were wounded, however harshly they might speak. We are acting as lookouts, and if one of us comes here every half hour it would seem as if that was all the time we could spend in such duty, for a signal from our schooner may be made at any moment."
" Where are you stationed ? the man asked.
"But the rest of the crew ? "
" In the forecastle. The officers are in their rooms aft."
" Did you crowd all our men into that one hole ?"
" There was no other place where they might be safely kept, I suppose, although I know but little of such things, for this is my first cruise."
" Get some water, will you, and plenty of it. The other boy brought it in sparing quantity, and we have thirsted this half hour or more."
I believed the man lied; but did not think it manly to tell him so when he was helpless, and, taking up the bucket which he pushed towards me with his uninjured foot I went to the scuttle-butt.
Donald was still gazing astern, and I stood an instant trying to make out what so riveted his attention, but failed
to see anything unusual in that direction, after which I drew what seemed to be an ample supply of water.
Just as I returned to the deck-house and was about to step inside, I heard a noise aft, as if some one of our men had fallen, and I looked in that direction until making certain no mishap had occurred.
Then I continued on, still gazing back with never a thought of possible mischief, when suddenly what felt like a man's pea-jacket was thrown over my head, and my arms were pinioned to my side.
The bucket fell to the floor as I tried to free myself and at the same time scream for help.
I doubt if my voice could have been heard outside the deck-house, so closely was the garment pressed about my mouth, and as for freeing myself, I might as well have struggled against bands of iron.
In an instant, and even while I was yet vainly struggling, there came to my mind the knowledge of what all this meant.
The Britisher who had been seated near the door was only slightly wounded, there was still the strength of half a dozen ordinary men in his arms, and once I had been made prisoner it would not be a difficult task for him to set free those who were confined in the forecastle.
He could go forward, and should any of our crew see him they would suppose it was I, for no one would pay particular attention to such a matter, believing the wounded men incapable of mischief.
The thought that the brig might be recaptured through
my carelessness made me desperate, and I continued my struggles even after one of the other men came out of his hammock to assist in rendering me helpless.
While the fellow who had leaped upon me held his hand over my mouth in such fashion that I was nearly suffocated, one of the others lashed my arms and feet, and then the two set about gagging me.
A wad of oakum wrapped around the end of a belaying-pin was thrust into my mouth until it seemed as if my jaws were dislocated, and there it was made fast with a bit of ratline stuff.
During all this time I had not been able to raise my voice, and now as a matter of course I was totally helpless.
The two1 menthe second being one of those whose heads were tied up bundled me into the hammock, and I question if Donald would have understood that anything was wrong had he come in while I lay there.
Now I could hear all that was said, and, so far as might be possible in the gloom, see the movements of the prisoners, who were supposed to be helpless because of their wounds.
" There is no fear this little trick will be discovered by the Yankees before that second lad comes here," the fellow who had been seated near the door, and who appeared to be the leader in this movement, said, in a tone of triumph. I shall go to the forecastle, taking the chances that the Americans will believe me to be this boy whom we have trussed up so neatly, and once there our crew
shall be let out, one or two at a time, until we are ready for business."
" There must not be too much delay, for once the other lad goes forward, the whole affair will be discovered," the man who had assisted in my capture suggested, and the other fellow replied :
" You three have nothing to do, save lay for him here. Bob shall take my place near the door, and a smart rap over the head, when the cub first shows himself, will settle matters, if those in the forecastle have not already brought the work to an end. Keep your eyes open, for now nothing, save a mistake on your part, will prevent us from carrying this thing through in proper shape."
Then the fellow went out, and I noted that there was no limp in his gait, therefore believed he had shammed the wound in the hope of being able to do exactly what had been accomplished.
The man who had aided in making me a prisoner seated himself by the door, with a spare pump-brake in his hands, and my heart was even more heavy than before, for in addition to losing our prize, and becoming prisoners, it seemed certain Donald Fyffe would be killed.
A blow on the head from such a weapon as this Britisher held would most likely kill the strongest man, and I doubted not but that it would be dealt with all the strength of which he was capable, in order that there might be no possibility the poor lad could make an outcry.
And all this was due to me. Had I observed such precautions as would have suggested themselves to almost
any one, save such a simple as myself, the attempt could not have succeeded, and, therefore, I might charge all that followed to my own account.
It would have been better had they killed me outright, for then I should be spared the mental anguish from which I now suffered.
How madly I strained every muscle, in the vain hope of rending the bonds, or so far loosening them that I might get one hand free! Although I was nigh to death from suffocation, the pain seemed as nothing, so great was my anxiety to repair the mischief brought about by carelessness.
How long a time passed before we heard anything that might betoken what the Britishers were doing, I know not, for the moments were to me like hours, and the seconds fully five minutes long.
Then I heard a slight noise from the outside, and saw the fellow near the doorway straighten himself up to deal a blow.
There could be no question, to my mind at least, but that Donald was coming to visit the wounded, and I must lie there helpless while these Britishers killed him !
IT is beyond the limit of words to describe the agony of mind which was mine at this moment, when I fully expected to see my comrade murdered.
Only a few feet away were friends who would rush to Donald's assistance if they had the slightest suspicion of his danger, and yet there was little hope chance would bring one of them into the deck-house.
I could hear the voices of the men as they talked or sang while working, and it was as if this intensified the horror of the terrible situation.
During the time, when the very seconds were as hours, I wondered why Donald delayed entering, and yet I hoped something outside would attract his attention for a time.
Any delay might bring a reprieve, for I was as one sentenced to worse than death, and clung to the slightest straw, in the hope of relief.
Then, to my great surprise, I heard an unfamiliar voice whisper, and, while I thanked God that the moment of my comrade's death was not yet at hand, my heart grew even more heavy, for it seemed as if there was no longer ground for hope.
It was one of the Britisher's shipmates who spoke, and the weapon was suddenly lowered, as the fellow replied, much as though relieved because he was not forced to do murder :
" Is it you, Jepson ? I thought one of the Yankees had come to visit us, and was ready to give him his last blow."
" It strikes me you are growing nervous, Tom. Your plan is moving in great shape, and by this time all the boys must be on deck, ready for work. It can't be many minutes before the word will be given, and the brig is as good as ours already."
Now was come to me a sorrow greater than when I believed Donald alone would be the victim, for I understood that all our crew were in most imminent danger.
The prisoners had been released by the man who overpowered me, and a general slaughter was about to take place.
How I struggled with my bonds, cutting the ropes deep into the flesh, as I twisted and turned in the vain hope of loosening them, and all the while expecting to hear the signal for the beginning of the murderous work!
While struggling, I turned my face towards the edge of the hammock, and a great joy sprang up in my heart, as I realised that, by so doing, the gag which had caused me so much suffering was slightly twisted.
It was yet possible I might free my mouth, and even though my cries would likely be the signal for my death,
I was ready to utter them, if thereby I could warn the crew of the danger which threatened.
I no longer paid any attention to what the men might be saying, but writhed in the hammock with the purpose of freeing myself so nearly that it would be possible to make an outcry.
The ratline-stuff which held the gag in place was simply passed from each end of the belaying-pin around my neck, and as I pressed my head against the canvas it was gradually forced out of position until, to my inexpressible relief, I had freed my mouth.
The bonds still held me helpless; but I could raise my voice in warning, and even though it was likely this would cost me my life, it was sufficient.
The only question now in my mind was as to whether I should cry aloud at this moment, or wait until some of our friends were near at hand.
I knew full well that I would only be permitted to shout once, for, instantly I raised my voice, death would come, and if the alarm was not heard I should have died in vain.
It was well I did not obey the impulse which prompted me to scream on the instant it was possible for me to do so, since I should most likely have failed in my purpose.
While trying to decide as to the proper course of action, I heard, without realising that I was listening, Jepson say to the man on guard :
" Understand this much, that while all the prize-crew are on deck it will be impossible for us to recapture the brig without great loss of life, for the Yankees are armed,
and we without weapons. The plan is to wait awhile, say until just before daylight, in the hope that some of them will turn in."
" But the boy we have trussed up will be missed, or, if not, he who is acting as the lookout aft will soon be here to attend to the wounded."
"We can easily take care of him, and must then run our chances of his absence being discovered. It is the opinion of all hands forward that no attempt should be made until the odds are more nearly in our favour."
" It shouldn't be a hard job for you fellows to find what will serve as weapons."
" What is a marline-spike against a cutlass, or a capstan-bar to the man who carries a loaded pistol ? "
" Have your own way, Jepson, if, as you say, all hands are agreed upon some plan. I will do my part when the time comes, even though I think we make a mistake by delaying."
Then the Britishers fell silent, and I knew they awaited the coming of Donald Fyffe.
How earnestly I prayed that he might forget the supposed wants of those in the deck-house; and by thus praying I, like many another before me, did not realise what might be for the best!
No more than five minutes had passed from the time these Britishers fell silent before I heard my comrade's voice within a few feet of where I lay, and then, from such words as could be distinguished, I understood that he was talking with Mr. Harker.
It was impossible for me to say what might be the subject of their converse; but I believed that now had come the time when I should make known the situation.
If I waited until Donald was alone, he would rush to my assistance, without thinking of the possible consequences, and the result I could foresee only too well. By raising an outcry now, it was reasonable to suppose Mr. Harker would take it upon himself to learn the cause, and even if Donald and I were both murdered, we should not have died in vain.
I felt firmly convinced that my death was assured instantly I cried out, and yet, strange as it may seem, I felt no terror, my hesitation arose only from the fear that I might not accomplish that which I desired, by thus attempting to give an alarm.
" There is treachery here! I am in the power of the wounded Britishers, who are "
This much I succeeded in shouting at the full strength of my lungs, and then he who was on guard near the door sprang upon me, with the pump-brake upraised to strike.
I saw it descending, and knew that the blow, if fairly dealt, would crush my skull like an egg-shell.
With one supreme effort I succeeded in slightly changing the position of my body so that the Britisher was partially foiled in his effort.
The blow was a glancing one, and so far failed of its purpose that I was not deprived of consciousness.
Before the fellow could raise his weapon again, Mr.
WITH ONE SUPREME EFFORT I SUCCEEDED IN SLIGHTLY CHANGING THE POSITION OF MY BODY."
Harker had sprung upon him, and Donald Fyffe grappled with the man who had been set free from the forecastle.
I understood that all those Britishers who were hiding near at hand would fall upon us immediately, and the forecastle speedily be emptied of its occupants, therefore I shouted for the benefit of our men :
" Look to yourselves The prisoners have been freed "
By the time these words were uttered, Mr. Harker had wrested the pump-brake from his adversary, and with one blow put him past further mischief.
Donald Fyffe was rapidly being worsted; but now the mate was free to act, that portion of the struggle was quickly ended, and then came the report of firearms, telling that our men were on the alert.
" Release Stephen Burton, and kill either of the men here who attempt to do mischief," Mr. Harker cried, as he sprang out on the deck, and Donald Fyffe would have come immediately to my rescue but that I urged him to make certain the wounded men were not ready to join in the fray.
"Don't strike!" one of them cried, as my comrade seized the pump-brake, which the mate had let fall as he unsheathed his cutlass. "We are in good truth disabled, and could not take part in a fight if we would."
" Be certain they speak the truth before you attempt to release me," I cried, and in the merest fraction of time Donald satisfied himself that the two in the hammocks were really helpless.
Then he set me free by severing the bonds with his sheath-knife, and I leaped out upon the deck, in ignorance that the blood was flowing freely from the wound' on my head. -
"Come on!" I cried. "We are needed outside, and these men may be safely secured by locking the door upon them."
Then I would have run out to take part in the battle which, from the sounds, we knew was on, but that my comrade clutched at my shoulder, holding me fast.
" You are seriously wounded, and in no condition to go out there," he cried. "Let me see what mischief has been done."
" It can be little more than a scratch, otherwise I should feel some pain, and we are needed on deck."
I literally tore myself from his grasp, and ran out, looking about hurriedly for something that would serve as a weapon.
The battle, and from the appearance of the deck as I came into the open air it surely deserved that name, was well-nigh ended.
The firearms in the hands of our crew, which had been freely used, were the most powerful argument, and I could hear the brig's crew crying for quarter.
" Look to the cabin, you two lads, and shoot down any of the officers who may have escaped from their berths," Mr. Harker cried, as he saw us, and even while Donald and I ran aft, I knew, by glancing over my shoulder, that our crew, formed in line from rail to rail, were marching
towards the forecastle to make certain there were none in hiding on the deck.
When we were come to the companionway it appeared as if our share of the work would be light; the doors of the several rooms yet remained closed, and I knew the occupants could not have come out save by battering them down.
It had been a close shave for us ; but happily all danger was now averted, and, understanding this, it was as if I had time to realise my own condition.
Now the wound on my head asserted itself, and I grew faint from loss of blood.
Donald saw me stagger against the hatchway, and at once led me into the cabin, where, after a certain rude fashion, he bound up my head, thereby giving me no slight relief.
Before I was sufficiently master of myself to move about without reeling, Mr. Harker came below, and, seeing Donald's work, asked with no little concern in his tones :
" Are you wounded, lad ? "
" A Britisher struck one blow before you appeared, but save for the flow of blood it is not serious."
*' Your face tells a different story; let me examine the wound."
While he was thus engaged I made known that the attempt at escape was rendered possible by my own carelessness, and after the story had been told he said, with emphasis :
" You have no reason to blame yourself, lad. Believing as we did that those men were disabled, and also that they had surrendered, even I should have gone into the deck-house without being prepared for an attack."
"What has taken place?" one of the Britishers who was locked in his berth shouted. Have you been attacked ?"
" Ay, that we have, and through the treachery of those who claim to be wounded. While ministering to their wants one of our men was set upon, and that he is still alive is no fault of the scoundrel who tried to kill him."
" Has any blood been shed ? "
" We shot down those who had been released from the forecastle and were about to attack us. How many may be dead I cannot say, but no less than seven are lying on the deck."
At that moment one of our men came to the compan-ionway and shouted:
" The Comet is bearing down upon us, sir, most likely to learn the meaning of the rumpus."
Mr. Harker went on deck at once, and with Donald's help I succeeded in following him just as Captain Tom hailed from the schooner, which was now close alongside.
" Are you having trouble with your prisoners ? Ay, sir. There was an attempt to recapture the brig, but it failed."
" At what loss to you ? "
" Stephen Burton is the only one injured. He has a
bad wound on the head, which should be attended to as soon as possible."
" I will send a boat, and we'll begin the work of taking off the Britishers at once. See to it that your men are well armed when you muster the brig's crew. Let both the boys come back, and I will give you a couple of men in their stead."
Save for the fact that we were to continue the cruise on the schooner rather than return home as members of the prize-crew, I would rather the wound had not been dressed than make another trip in the long-boat over those boisterous waves; but it had grieved me to leave the Comet, and right glad was I that sufficient excuse had arisen to take us back.
Eight of the Britishers were summoned from the forecastle, all of our crew meanwhile standing fully armed, prepared for any attempt at mischief, and when the Comets long-boat came up under the brig's quarter, the prisoners, together with Donald and me, were put on board one by one whenever such transshipment was possible.
It was a task which required much time in the performance, because only when the little craft rose on the swell to the level of the brig's rail could we jump on board.
The passage back to the schooner was made in safety, although there were many times when it seemed as if we -must surely be swamped, and Donald and I were taken on board.
While the prisoners were clambering over the rail, Captain Tom called on me for an explanation as to what had
happened aboard the brig, and after I had told the story, laying full weight of blame upon myself, he ordered that the surgeon look to the wound on my head, saying, before he turned away from me :
" You lads may take up quarters aft, in Mr. Marker's berth, from this out, and according to my mind you are not to be censured, Stephen, because, as nearly as I can make out, the brig might have been retaken but for the fact of your pluckily giving the alarm when it was done at risk of your life. I am beginning to think both you lads may prove yourselves men before this cruise is ended."
It was a fine thing, this change from the forecastle to the cabin, so I thought, as we turned to go down the com-panionway to inspect our new quarters; but I had no opportunity of seeing them for some time, because the surgeon ordered me into the cockpit, where my head was sewed and patched until the performance cost me more pain than had the receiving of the wound.
When I joined Donald Fyffe again, I found he had taken all our belongings to the second mate's berth, and he declared that never were two boys quartered in better fashion on a privateersman than we.
That which made this narrow berth seem all the more pleasant, was that we had won praise from Captain Tom Boyle, who never spoke such words unless they were deserved:
The pain in my head drove away all desire for sleep, and Donald and I went on deck again to watch the work of transferring the prisoners, that we might be there also
as soon as the night was gone, for both were eager to learn whether the other prizes could be picked up.
Their lights could be seen a long distance away, together with those on board the Portuguese; but it appeared as if the three craft were drifting towards the shore, in which case it was not improbable they would be lost to us.
When morning came we learned that these fears were well founded.
The ship, the man-of-war, and the brig were working towards the shore as fast as might be in their crippled condition, for all were seriously cut up, and immediately the Comet was put in pursuit.
They were too far away, however, to admit of our overtaking them, and by nine o'clock that forenoon we were alongside the Bowes once more, hove to while Captain Tom made a visit of inspection.
Until he returned to the schooner I believed the brig would be sent home without delay, and, therefore, was much surprised when the word was passed among the men that she had been ordered to the Port of Spain, which is the capital of Trinidad, and this was the same as saying that the Comet would most likely stop there for repairs.
We lay by the Bowes until noon, and then squared away on our course, which the first officer told me would, if continued, bring us to the island of Trinidad.
We two lads were notified that we would be excused from duty during the next eight and forty hours, and once
the Comet was well on her way towards this island, which I had long wanted to visit, Donald and I went below to turn in.
Four days later we were off the entrances to the Gulf of Paria, and the first mate explained to us that these channels are known as the Dragon's Mouths, one being called the Monkeys' Passage, another Ship Passage, the third Boca Grande, and that through which we sailed, Egg Passage, all these names being given, so it is said, by no less a person than Christopher Columbus himself.
Whatever may be the discomforts of a privateersman's life, such as we had known were nearly atoned for by the wondrous sights Donald and I now witnessed for the first time.
The passage by which we entered the gulf was so narrow that it was as if the schooner actually rubbed against the shores, and there were times when I felt positive we could have plucked cocoanuts from the trees by laying out on the yard-arms.
Then, when we came into the gulf, where the water was as calm as a mill-pond, bordered by glowing white coral reefs, I believed, and am still of the same opinion, that a fairer spectacle could not be found anywhere.
" You lads are now come to that island which Columbus discovered in 1498," Captain Tom said to Donald and me when the Comet was at anchor, and if you are as familiar with history as you should be, it is needless for me to say it was during his' third expedition across the Atlantic that he made the discovery of this island and the mouths of
the Orinoco River, which last he believed sprang from the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden of Eden."
Nothing more was needed to give Donald and me the liveliest desire to go ashore, and after some hesitation I begged my uncle for permission to go.
" Ashore, lads ? Of course you shall! Every good pri-vateersman enjoys himself when he can, and so long as the crew behave themselves while at liberty, just so long do I make it a point to give them all possible pleasure of that kind. If you report on board before sunset, and do not leave the schooner until after sunrise, you are at liberty to explore the island to your heart's content while we are refitting."
There was in our minds, as we prepared to visit the island, only the thought of odd sights to be seen, and no suspicion of the dangers we were destined to encounter.
TT was not until we were ready to go on shore that Donald and I understood how venturesome had Captain Tom been in thus stopping at Trinidad.
Instead of anchoring off the Port of Spain, as we lads had expected would be the case, the Comet was moored under the shore in a little cove which, although close by the point that shut out the ocean from the Gulf of Paria, was not disclosed to our view until we had actually entered.
It was a tiny harbour or basin among the coral reefs, and so nearly screened from view of any one entering the gulf as to make it really a hiding-place.
It was as snug a port as any privateersman could wish, and so surrounded by land that the Comet might safely lie there throughout any weather with but a single anchor down.
As I have said, Donald and I wondered why we did not proceed directly to the Port, and had we given more attention to our geography lessons in the past, the surprise would have come to us that Captain Tom had dared enter this gulf at all.
When we made ready to go ashore, I remarked carelessly to the first mate that I had hoped we might have laid so near the Port of Spain that it would be only a simple task to row ashore, and added, as if eager to display my ignorance:
" Now, Donald and I must trudge along the sand for five or six miles, which is the distance from this cove to the Port, so Abraham Dyker has told us."
" And are you counting on going to the Port of Spain ? the mate asked, with an odd expression on his face.
" Ay, sir ; we have the captain's permission to go ashore every morning after sunrise, with the understanding that we shall return before sunset."
" I suppose you know that the Port of Spain is on the island of Trinidad ? "
"Why, certainly, sir."
" And what nation holds possession of the island ? "
" It has a government of its own, I suppose."
" Then I can prove to your entire satisfaction how necessary it is for lads to know somewhat of history and geography before they venture into a strange port. Since 1797 the Britishers have held this island, and were you. to show your noses in town, the chances are you'd be clapped into the lock-up with but scant ceremony."
We stared at the mate in surprise, and after a short pause Donald asked:
" If this is a British island, how is it Captain Tom has dared to put in with the purpose of repairing damages ? "
"Captain Tom dares do many things another would
shrink at, and I have an idea that there is in his mind a thought of lying here in waiting with the expectation of nabbing one of the enemy's vessels. I do not fancy the work of refitting will be so extensive as to prevent our putting to sea at a moment's notice."
" But I understood the orders were for the Bowes to make the Port of Spain."
" Those were the orders, lad; but I warrant you Mr. Harker knows that this cove is the nearest he is expected to go to the town. We have lain here in hiding before, as nearly all on board can tell you."
I was so bewildered by the idea that the Comet was really in English waters, and so thoroughly vexed with myself for having been ignorant of the fact, that all desire for going ashore suddenly fled.
I walked slowly to the starboard rail, and was leaning over it when Donald came to my side.
" I fail to understand why we have not heard some of the men talking about what the first officer has just told us," he said to me, and I knew from the tone of his voice that he had in his heart quite as much shame as I in mine.
" I do not fancy there is a man on board who believed that two great hulking lads like you and me could be so ignorant," I replied, bitterly.
"Let us seek out Abraham Dyker."
" To what end ? That we may confess our own stupidity ?"
" We have already shown it to the first officer, and I warrant you the captain will soon know it was our pur-
pose to visit the town. It will be whispered 'round about the schooner, and we may as well make a clean breast of it to the old gunner."
Without replying, for he turned to go below as he spoke, I followed him, and we had no difficulty in finding the one sought, for he seldom left his gun save when sent on duty elsewhere.
" Did you not know, Master Dyker, that we counted on visiting the town ?" Donald asked, almost sharply.
" Counted on it, lad ? Why, you wouldn't dream of doing such a thing! A lark is a lark, but to put your heads among the Britishers goes beyond foolhardiness, even."
Then Donald explained what we would have done but 'for the mate's warning, and Abraham Dyker laughed so long and so loud that I came nigh to losing my temper.
After a time, however, when he realised that his merriment was displeasing to us, the old man explained, much as had the mate, regarding the locality which the Comet's crew understood to be meant when the Port of Spain was mentioned.
"We put in here no less than four times during the last cruise, in-the hope of picking up a prize without having to chase her too far. But for this hiding-place, we might not have captured the Hopewell."
" How can that be ? Donald asked.
" It is a longish story, lad, and I will tell it some time when you are in a better mood for listening. Just now, those who have not been given shore-leave are supposed
to be on the alert, for no one can say how soon a prize may heave in sight."
" In which case, what would become of the men ashore ? "
"That is their own concern. It is always understood that no signal would be given if we should find it necessary to slip our moorings suddenly, and if they strayed very far from the cove there is a likelihood we might not see them again for many months, although all know full well that Captain Tom would pick them up as soon as it should be possible."
"Will the Bowes put in here ? I asked, still bewildered by the thought of the dangers we might have encountered had we not chanced to speak with the mate concerning our intention.
"Ay, lad, that she will."
" And suppose an English man-of-war should come into the gulf ?"
" Then there would be hot work for a time. Of that you may be certain."
I seated myself on a gun-carriage, and Abraham Dyker asked, as if in surprise :
" Have you given up all idea of going ashore ?"
" I am not minded to take the chances of being left on the island of Trinidad."
"There is little fear of that, lad, if it so be you keep the schooner always in view. After you saw that we were making sail, there would be time enough in which to pull aboard."
" And therefore our only advantage in going will be to sit on the sand watching for something which gives token that the Comet is being gotten under way."
"All that I grant you, lad, on a day like this, with a stiffish breeze blowing. But suppose it turned calm to-morrow morning ? Then you could ramble around to your heart's content, provided you kept at a respectful distance from the Port, knowing full well that, until the wind springs up, the Comet must perforce remain in this snug mooring-place."
Donald made no objection to staying on board, from which I understood that he viewed the matter in much the same light as did I.
We went on deck again, and there observed what we had failed to note before, that all hands on duty were acting as lookouts, ready to spring to quarters without delay, should necessity arise.
Not more than twenty of the men had gone ashore, and the distance from our anchorage to the beach was so short that we could readily see them without the aid of a glass.
As nearly as I could tell, not a man strayed very far from the water-line. A few were indulging in a bath, but the greater number lay under the shadow of the trees within a few yards of the boat.
The work of refitting had already begun, and Donald and I observed that it was carried on in such a manner as to make it possible for us to set sail at any moment, should occasion require.
The breeze held during this day, and we two lads remained on board, not caring to take advantage of Captain Tom's permission ; at least, not while the danger of being left behind seemed so great.
On the following morning the wind still held strong, and at about ten o'clock in the forenoon we were aroused to excitement by the lookout at the masthead, who cried, in a tone hardly louder than a whisper, that a craft of some sort was coining through Egg Passage.
There was no need for Captain Tom to give any commands.
Every man sprang to his station noiselessly, and a small ensign was run a short distance up in the main-rigging as a signal for those on shore to come aboard.
By slipping our cable, we could have gotten under way in less than three minutes from the time the command was given, and I, who had been exceedingly timorous since the previous afternoon lest a British man-of-war should suddenly appear, felt myself trembling with excitement, and fearing the stranger might prove to be no more than a fisherman, the overhauling of which Captain Tom would consider beneath his notice.
Then came a certain sense of disappointment, when the lookout announced that the oncoming craft was none other than our prize, the Bowes, and, as soon as might be thereafter, the brig was made fast alongside the Comet, for in this cove the waters were so quiet that two vessels might lie side by side without danger of injury to either.
On the next morning a boat was sent seaward through