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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter8)

2006-08-28 16:04

  Chapter VIII. Concerning the Captain's Arm, the Bosun's Leg, and the "Belisarius," Seventy-Four

  "The 'Bully-Sawyer,' Trafalgar!" murmured the Bo'sun, as they went on side by side; "you've 'eerd o' the 'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four, o' course, young sir?"

  "I'm afraid not," said Barnabas, rather apologetically.

  "Not 'eerd o' the 'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four, Lord, young sir! axing your pardon, but——not 'eerd o' the——why, she were in the van that day one o' the first to engage the enemy——but a cable's length to wind'ard o' the 'Victory'——one o' the first to come up wi' the Mounseers, she were. An' now you tell me as you ain't 'eerd o' the——Lord, sir!" and the Bo'sun sighed, and shook his head till it was a marvel how the glazed hat kept its position.

  "Won't you tell me of her, Bo'sun?"

  "Tell you about the old 'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four, ay surely, sir, surely. Ah! 't were a grand day for us, a grand day for our Nelson, and a grand day for England——that twenty-first o' October——though 't were that day as they French and Spanishers done for the poor old 'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four, and his honor's arm and my leg, d' ye see. The wind were light that day as we bore down on their line——in two columns, d' ye see, sir——we was in Nelson's column, the weather line 'bout a cable's length astarn o' the 'Victory.' On we went, creeping nearer and nearer——the 'Victory,' the old 'Bully-Sawyer,' and the 'Temeraire'——and every now and then the Mounseers trying a shot at us to find the range, d' ye see. Right ahead o' us lay the 'Santissima Trinidado'——a great four-decker, young sir——astarn o' her was the 'Beaucenture,' and astarn o' her again, the 'Redoutable,' wi' eight or nine others. On we went wi' the Admiral's favorite signal flying, 'Engage the enemy more closely.' Ah, young sir, there weren't no stand-offishness about our Nelson, God bless him! As we bore closer their shot began to come aboard o' us, but the old 'Bully-Sawyer' never took no notice, no, not so much as a gun. Lord! I can see her now as she bore down on their line; every sail drawing aloft, the white decks below——the gleam o' her guns wi' their crews stripped to the waist, every eye on the enemy, every man at his post——very different she looked an hour arterwards. Well, sir, all at once the great 'Santissima Trinidado' lets fly at us wi' her whole four tiers o' broadside, raking us fore and aft, and that begun it; down comes our foretopmast wi' a litter o' falling spars and top-hamper, and the decks was all at once splashed, here and there, wi' ugly blotches. But, Lord! the old 'Bully-Sawyer' never paid no heed, and still the men stood to the guns, and his Honor, the Captain, strolled up and down, chatting to his flag officer. Then the enemy's ships opened on us one arter another, the 'Beaucenture,' the 'San Nicholas,' and the 'Redoutable' swept and battered us wi' their murderous broadsides; the air seemed full o' smoke and flame, and the old 'Bully-Sawyer' in the thick o' it. But still we could see the 'Victory' through the drifting smoke ahead o' us wi' the signal flying, 'Engage the enemy more closely,' and still we waited and waited very patient, and crept down on the enemy nearer and nearer."

  "And every minute their fire grew hotter, and their aim truer——down came our mizzen-topgallant-mast, and hung down over our quarter; away went our bowsprit——but we held on till we struck their line 'twixt the 'Santissima Trinidado' and the 'Beaucenture,' and, as we crossed the Spanisher's wake, so close that our yard-arms grazed her gilded starn, up flashed his Honor's sword, 'Now, lads!' cried he, hailing the guns——and then——why then, afore I'd took my whistle from my lips, the old 'Bully-Sawyer,' as had been so patient, so very patient, let fly wi' every starboard gun as it bore, slap into the great Spanisher's towering starn, and, a moment arter, her larboard guns roared and flamed as her broadside smashed into the 'Beaucenture,' and 'bout five minutes arterwards we fell aboard o' the 'Fougeux,' and there we lay, young sir, and fought it out yard-arm to yard-arm, and muzzle to muzzle, so close that the flame o' their guns blackened and scorched us, and we was obliged to heave buckets o' water, arter every discharge, to put out the fire. Lord! but the poor old 'Bully-Sawyer' were in a tight corner then, what wi' the 'Fougeux' to port, the 'Beaucenture' to starboard, and the great Spanisher hammering us astarn, d' ye see. But there was our lads——what was left o' 'em——reeking wi' sweat, black wi' powder, splashed wi' blood, fighting the guns; and there was his Honor the Cap'n, leaning against the quarter-rail wi' his sword in one hand, and his snuff-box in t' other——he had two hands then, d'ye see, young sir; and there was me, hauling on the tackle o' one o' the quarter-guns——it happened to be short-handed, d'ye see——when, all at once, I felt a kind o' shock, and there I was flat o' my back, and wi' the wreckage o' that there quarter-gun on this here left leg o' mine, pinning me to the deck. As I lay there I heerd our lads a cheering above the roar and din, and presently, the smoke lifting a bit, I see the Spanisher had struck, but I likewise see as the poor old 'Bully-Sawyer' were done for; she lay a wreck——black wi' smoke, blistered wi' fire, her decks foul wi' blood, her fore and mainmasts beat overboard, and only the mizzen standing. All this I see in a glance——ah! and something more——for the mizzen-topgallant had been shot clean through at the cap, and hung dangling. But now, what wi' the quiver o' the guns and the roll o' the vessel, down she come sliding, and sliding, nearer and nearer, till the splintered end brought up ag'in the wreck o' my gun. But presently I see it begin to slide ag'in nearer to me——very slow, d'ye see——inch by inch, and there's me pinned on the flat o' my back, watching it come. 'Another foot,' I sez, 'and there's an end o' Jerry Tucker——another ten inches, another eight, another six.' Lord, young sir, I heaved and I strained at that crushed leg o' mine; but there I was, fast as ever, while down came the t'gallant——inch by inch. Then, all at once, I kinder let go o' myself. I give a shout, sir, and then——why then——there's his Honor the Cap'n leaning over me. 'Is that you, Jerry?' sez he——for I were black wi' powder, d' ye see, sir. 'Is that you, Jerry?' sez he. 'Ay, ay, sir,' sez I, 'it be me surely, till this here spar slips down and does for me.' 'It shan't do that,' sez he, very square in the jaw. 'It must,' sez I. 'No,' sez he. 'Nothing to stop it, sir,' sez I. 'Yes, there is,' sez he. 'What's that,' sez I. 'This,' sez he, 'twixt his shut teeth, young sir. And then, under that there hellish, murdering piece of timber, the Cap'n sets his hand and arm——his naked hand and arm, sir!' In the name o' God!' I sez, 'let it come, sir!' 'And lose my Bo'sun?——not me!' sez he. Then, sir, I see his face go white——and whiter. I heerd the bones o' his hand and arm crack——like so many sticks——and down he falls atop o' me in a dead faint, sir."

  "But the t'gallant were stopped, and the life were kept in this here carcase o' mine. So——that's how the poor old 'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four, were done for——that's how his Honor lost his arm, and me my leg, sir. And theer be the stocks, and theer be our young gentleman inside o' 'em, as cool and smiling and comfortable as you please."

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