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Mr. Midshipman Easy (chapter 14)

2006-08-22 18:30

  Chapter 14

  IN WHICH OUR HERO FINDS THAT DISAGREEABLE OCCURRENCES WILL TAKE PLACE ON A CRUISE

  As soon as the ship had been hauled to the wind, Jack‘s ship’s company seemed to think that there was nothing to do except to make merry, so they brought up some earthen jars full of wine, and emptied them so fast that they were soon fast asleep on the deck, with the exception of the man at the helm, who, instead of thirty—two, could clearly make out sixty—four points in the compass, and of course was able to steer to a much greater nicety. Fortunately, the weather was fine, for when the man at the helm had steered till he could see no more, and requested to be released, he found that his shipmates were so overpowered with fatigue, that it was impossible to wake them. He kicked them one by one most unmercifully in the ribs, but it was of no use: under these circumstances, he did as they did, that is, lay down with them, and in ten minutes it would have taken as much kicking to awake him as he gave his shipmates.

  In the meantime the ship had it all her own way, and not knowing where she was to go, she went round and round the compass during the best part of the night. Mesty had arranged the watches, Jack had made a speech, and the men had promised everything, but the wine had got into their heads, and memory had taken that opportunity to take a stroll. Mesty had been down with Jack, examining the cabin, and in the captain‘s stateroom they had found fourteen thousand dollars in bags: of this they determined not to tell the men, but locked up the money and everything else of value, and took out the key. They then sat down at the cabin table, and after some conversation, it was no matter of surprise, after having been up all the night before, that Jack laid his head on the table and fell fast asleep. Mesty kept his eyes open for some time, but at last his head sank down upon his chest, and he also slumbered. Thus, about one o’clock in the morning, there was not a very good watch kept on board of the Nostra Se?ora del Carmen.

  About four o‘clock in the morning, Mesty tumbled forward, and he hit his head against the table, which roused him up.

  “By de mass, I tink I almost fall asleep,” cried he, and he went to the cabin window, which had been left open, and found that there was a strong breeze blowing in. “By de Lord, de wind ab come more aft,” said Mesty, “why they not tell me?” So saying, he went on deck, where he found no one at the helm; every one drunk, and the ship with her yards braced up running before the wind, just by way of a change. Mesty growled, but there was no time to lose; the topsails only were set—these he lowered down, and then put the helm a—lee, and lashed it, while he went down to call our hero to his assistance. Jack roused up, and went on deck.

  “This nebber do, Massa Easy; we all go to devil together—dam drunken dogs—I freshen um up anyhow.” So Mesty drew some buckets of water, with which he soused the ship‘s company, who then appeared to be recovering their senses.

  “By heavens!” says Jack, “but this is contrary to the ‘articles of war;’ I shall read them to them tomorrow morning.”

  “I tell what better ting, Massa Easy; we go lock up all de wine, and sarve out so much, and no more. I go do it at once, ‘fore they wake up.”

  Mesty went down, leaving Jack on deck to his meditations.

  “I am not sure,” thought Jack, “that I have done a very wise thing. Here I am with a parcel of fellows who have no respect for the ‘articles of war,’ and who get as drunk as David‘s sow. I have a large ship, but I have very few hands; and if it comes on bad weather, what shall I do?—for I know very little—hardly how to take in a sail. Then—as for where to steer, or how to steer, I know not—nor do any of my men; but however, as it was very narrow when we came into the Mediterranean, through the straits, it is hardly possible to get out of them without perceiving it: besides, I should know the rock of Gibraltar again, if I saw it. I must talk to Mesty.”

  Mesty soon returned with the keys of the provision room tied to his bandana.

  “Now,” says he, “they not get drunk again in a hurry.”

  A few more buckets of water soon brought the men to their senses: they again stood on their legs, and gradually recovered themselves. Daylight broke, and they found that the vessel had made an attempt for the Spanish coast, being within a mile of the beach, and facing a large battery á fleur d‘ eau; fortunately they had time to square the yards, and steer the ship along shore under the topsails, before they were perceived. Had they been seen at daylight in the position that they were in during the night, the suspicions of the Spaniards would have been awakened; and had a boat been sent off, while they were all drunk, they must have been recaptured.

  The men, who perceived what danger they had been in, listened very penitently to Jack‘s remonstrances; and our hero to impress them more strongly on their minds, took out the “articles of war,” and read that on drunkenness from beginning to end; but the men had heard it read so often at the gangway that it did not make a due impression. As Mesty said, his plan was better, and so it proved; for as soon as Jack had done, the men went down to get another jug of wine, and found, to their disappointment, that it was all under lock and key.

  In the meantime, Jack called Mesty aft, and asked him if he knew the way to Toulon. Mesty declared that he knew nothing about it.

  “Then, Mesty, it appears to me that we have a better chance of finding our way back to Gibraltar; for you know the land was on our left side all the way coming up the Mediterranean; and if we keep it, as it is now, on our right, we shall get back again along the coast.”

  Mesty agreed with Jack that this was the ne plus ultra of navigation: and that old Smallsole could not do better with his “pig—yoke” and compasses. So they shook a reef out of the topsails, set top—gallant—sails, and ran directly down the coast from point to point, keeping about five miles distant. The men prepared a good dinner; Mesty gave them their allowance of wine, which was just double what they had on board the Harpy—so they soon appeared to be content. One man, indeed, talked very big and very mutinously, swearing that if the others would join him, they would soon have liquor enough, but Mesty gave him his look, opened his knife, and swore that he would settle him, and Jack knocked him down with a handspike; so that, what with the punishment received, and that which was promised, the fellow thought he might as well say no more about it. The fact is, that had it not been from fear of Mesty, the whole of the men would, in all probability, have behaved equally as bad; nevertheless, they were a little staggered, it must be owned, at seeing Jack play so good a stick with the handspike.

  After this night Jack and Mesty kept watch and watch, and everything went on very well until they were nearly abreast of Carthagena, when a gale came on from the northward, and drove them out of sight of land. Sail after sail was reduced with difficulty from their having so few hands, and the gale blew for three days with great fury. The men were tired out and discontented. It was Jack‘s misfortune that he had but one good man with him: even the coxswain of the boat, although a fine—looking man, was worth nothing. Mesty was Jack’s sheet—anchor. The fourth day the gale moderated, but they had no idea where they were: they knew that they had been blown off, but how far they could not tell; and Jack now began to discover that a cruise at sea without knowledge of navigation was a more nervous thing than he had contemplated. However, there was no help for it: at night they wore the ship, and stood on the other tack, and at daylight they perceived that they were close to some small islands, and much closer to some large rocks, against which the sea beat high, although the wind had subsided. Again was the helm put up, and they narrowly escaped. As soon as the sails were trimmed, the men came aft, and proposed, that if they could find anchorage, they should run into it, for they were quite tired out. This was true; and Jack consulted with Mesty, who thought it advisable to agree to the proposal. That the islands were not inhabited was very evident. The only point to ascertain was if there were good anchorage. The coxswain offered to go in the boat and examine; and, with four men, he set off, and in about an hour returned, stating that there was plenty of water, and that it was as smooth as a mill—pond, being land—locked on every side. As they could not weigh the bower—anchor, they bent the kedge, and, running it without accident, came to in a small bay, between the islands, in seven fathoms water. The sails were furled, and everything put in order by the seamen, who then took the boat and pulled on shore.

  “They might as well have asked leave,” thought Jack. In an hour they returned, and, after a short discussion, came aft to our hero, in a body.

  The coxswain was spokesman. He said that they had had hard work, and required now to have some rest— that there were provisions on board for three months, so that there could not be any hurry—and that they had found they could pitch a tent very well on shore, and live there for a short time—and that as there was no harm in getting drunk on shore, they expected that they might be allowed to take provisions and plenty of wine with them; and that the men had desired him to ask leave, because they were determined to go, whether or no. Jack was about to answer with the handspike; but perceiving that the men had all put on their cutlasses, and had their pistols at their belts, he thought proper to consult Mesty, who, perceiving that resistance was useless, advised Jack to submit, observing, that the sooner all the wine was gone the better, as there would be nothing done while it lasted. Jack, therefore, very graciously told them, that they should have their own way, and he would stay there as long as they pleased. Mesty gave them the keys of the provision—hatch, and told them, with a grin, to help themselves. The men then informed Jack that he and Mesty should stay on board, and take care of the ship for them, and that they would take the Spaniard on shore to cook their victuals; but to this Jack observed, that if he had not two hands, he could not obey their orders, in case they wished him to come on shore for them. The men thought there was good argument in that observation, and therefore allowed Jack to retain the Spaniard, that he might be more prompt to their call from the beach: they then wished him good day, and begged that he would amuse himself with the “articles of war.”

  As soon as they had thrown a spare sail into the boat, with some spars to make a tent, and some bedding, they went down below, hoisted up two pipes of wine out of the three, a bag or two of biscuit, arms and ammunition, and as much of the salt provisions as they thought they might require. The boat being full, they shoved off with three cheers of derision. Jack was sensible to the compliment: he stood at the gangway, took off his hat, and made them a polite bow.

  As soon as they were gone, Mesty grinned with his sharp—filed teeth, and looking at our hero, said,—

  “I tink I make um pay for all dis—stop a little; by de piper as played before Moses, but our turn come by—and—by.”

  As for Jack, he said nothing, but he thought the more. In about an hour the men returned in the boat: they had forgotten many things they wanted—wood to make a fire, and several utensils; they helped themselves freely, and having now everything that they could think of, they again went on shore.

  “How d—n lucky we never tell dem about the dollars,” said Mesty, as Jack and he were watching the motions of the men.

  “It is, indeed,” replied Jack, “not that they could spend them here.”

  “No, Massa Easy, but suppose they find all that money, they take boat and go away with it. Now, I hab them in my clutch—stop a little.”

  A narrow piece of salt pork had been left at the gangway: Jack, without knowing why, tossed it overboard; being almost all fat it sank very gradually: Jack watched it as it disappeared, so did Mesty, both full of thought, when they perceived a dark object rising under it: it was a ground shark, who took it into his maw, sank down, and disappeared.

  “What was that?” said Jack.

  “That ground shark, Massa Easy—worst shark of all; you neber see him till you feel him;” and Mesty‘s eyes sparkled with pleasure. “By de powers, they soon stop de mutiny; now I hab ’em.”

  Jack shuddered and walked away.

  During the day, the men on shore were seen to work hard, and make all the preparations before they abandoned themselves to the sensual gratification of intemperance. The tent was pitched, the fire was lighted, and all the articles taken on shore rolled up and stowed away in their places; they were seen to sit down and dine, for they were within hail of the ship, and then one of the casks of wine was spiled. In the meantime the Spaniard, who was a quiet lad, had prepared the dinner for Easy and his now only companion. The evening closed, and all was noise and revelry on shore; and as they danced, and sung, and tossed off the cans of wine by the light of the fire, as they hallooed and screamed and became more and more intoxicated, Mesty turned to Jack with his bitter smile, and only said,—

  “Stop a little.”

  At last the noise grew fainter, the fire died away, and gradually all was silent. Jack was still hanging over the gangway when Mesty came up to him. The new moon had just risen, and Jack‘s eyes were fixed upon it.

  “Now, Massa Easy, please you come aft and lower down little boat; take your pistols and then we go on shore and bring off the cutter; they all asleep now.”

  “But why should we leave them without a boat, Mesty?” for Jack thought of the sharks, and the probability of the men attempting to swim off.

  “I tell you, sar, this night they get drunk, to—morrow they get drunk again, but drunken men never keep quiet—suppose one man say to others, ‘Let’s go board and kill officer, and then we do as we please,‘ they all say yes, and they all come and do it. No, sar—must have boat—if not for your sake, I must hab it, save my own life anyhow, for they hate me and kill me first;— by de powers, stop a little.”

  Jack felt the truth of Mesty‘s observation; he went aft with him, lowered down the small boat, and they hauled it alongside. Jack went down with Mesty into the cabin and fetched his pistols.—“And the Spaniard, Mesty, can we leave him on board alone?”

  “Yes, sar, he no got arms, and he see dat we have— but suppose he find arms he never dare do anything—I know de man.”

  Our hero and Mesty went down into the boat and shoved off, pulling gently on shore; the men were in a state of intoxication, so as not to be able to move, much less hear. They cast off the cutter, towed her on board, and made her fast with the other boat astern.

  “Now, sar, we may go to bed; to—morrow morning you will see.”

  “They have everything they require on shore,” replied Easy; “all they could want with the cutter would be to molest us.”

  “Stop a little,” replied Mesty.

  Jack and Mesty went to bed, and as a precaution against the Spaniard, which was hardly necessary, Mesty locked the cabin door—but Mesty never forgot anything.

  Jack slept little that night—had melancholy fore— bodings which he could not shake off; indeed, Jack had reflected so much since he had left the ship, he had had his eyes so much opened, and had felt what a responsibility he had taken by indulging himself in a whim of the moment, that it might be almost said, that in the course of one fortnight he had at once from a boy sprung up into a man. He was mortified and angry, but he was chiefly so with himself.

  Mesty was up at daylight, and Jack soon followed him: they watched the party on shore, who had not yet left the tent. At last, just as Jack had finished his breakfast, one or two made their appearance: the men looked about them as if they were searching for something, and then walked down to the beach, to where the boat had been made fast. Jack looked at Mesty, who grinned, and answered with the words so often repeated:

  “Stop a little.”

  The men then walked along the rocks until they were abreast of the ship.

  “Ship ahoy!”

  “Halloo,” replied Mesty.

  “Bring the boat ashore directly, with a beaker of water.”

  “I knew dat,” cried Mesty, rubbing his hands with delight. “Massa Easy, you must tell them No.”

  “But why should I not give them water, Mesty?”

  “Because, sar, den they take boat.”

  “Very true,” replied Easy.

  “Do you hear on board?” cried the coxswain, who was the man who hailed—“send the boat immediately, or we‘ll cut the throats of every mother’s son of you, by God!”

  “I shall not send the boat,” replied Jack, who now thought Mesty was right.

  “You won‘t—won’t you?—then your doom‘s sealed,” replied the man, walking up to the tent with the other. In a short time all the seamen turned out of the tent, bringing with them four muskets, which they had taken on shore with them.

  “Good heavens! they are not, surely, going to fire at us, Mesty.”

  “Stop a little.”

  The men then came down abreast of the ship, and the coxswain again hailed, and asked if they would bring the boat on shore.

  “You must say No, sar,” replied Mesty.

  “I feel I must,” replied Jack, and then he answered the coxswain, “No.”

  The plan of the mutineers had been foreseen by the wily negro—it was to swim off to the boats which were riding astern, and to fire at him or Jack, if they attempted to haul them up alongside and defend them. To get into the boats, especially the smaller one, from out of the water, was easy enough. Some of the men examined their priming and held the muskets at their hips all ready, with the muzzles towards the ship, while the coxswain and two men were throwing off their clothes.

  “Stop, for God‘s sake, stop!” cried Jack. “The harbour is full of ground sharks—it is, upon my soul!”

  “Do you think to frighten us with ground sharks?” replied the coxswain, “keep under cover, my lad; Jack, give him a shot to prove we are in earnest, and every time he or that nigger show their heads, give them another, my lads.”

  “For God‘s sake, don’t attempt to swim,” said Jack, in an agony; “I will try some means to give you water.”

  “Too late now—you‘re doomed;” and the coxswain sprang off the rock into the sea, and was followed by two other men: at the same moment a musket was discharged, and the bullet whistled close to our hero’s ear.

  Mesty dragged Jack from the gangway, who was now nearly fainting from agonizing feeling. He sank on the deck for a moment, and then sprang up and ran to the port to look at the men in the water. He was just in time to see the coxswain raise himself with a loud yell out of the sea, and then disappear in a vortex, which was crimsoned with his blood.

  Mesty threw down his musket in his hand, of which he had several all ready loaded, in case the men should have gained the boats.

  “By the powers, dat no use now!”

  Jack had covered his face with his hands. But the tragedy was not complete: the other men, who were in the water, had immediately turned and made for the shore; but before they could reach it, two more of these voracious monsters, attracted by the blood of the coxswain, had flown to the spot, and there was a contention for the fragments of their bodies.

  Mesty, who had seen this catastrophe, turned towards our hero, who still hid his face.

  “I‘m glad he no see dat, anyhow,” muttered Mesty.

  “See what?” exclaimed Jack.

  “Shark eat em all.”

  “Oh, horrid, horrid!” groaned our hero.

  “Yes, sar, very horrid,” replied Mesty, “and dat bullet at your head very horrid. Suppose the sharks no take them, what then? They kill us and the sharks have our body. I think that more horrid still.”

  “Mesty,” replied Jack, seizing the negro convulsively by the arm, “it was not the sharks—it was I—I who have murdered these men.”

  Mesty looked at Jack with surprise.

  “How dat possible?”

  “If I had not disobeyed orders,” replied our hero, panting for breath, “if I had not shown them the example of disobedience, this would not have happened. How could I expect submission from them? It‘s all my fault—I see it now—and, O God! when will the sight be blotted from my memory?”

  “Massa Easy, I not understand that,” replied Mesty:

  “I think you talk foolish—might as well say, suppose Ashantee men not make war, this not happen; for suppose Ashantee not make war, I not slave—I not run away—I not come board Harpy—I not go in boat with you—I not hinder men from getting drunk—and dat why they make mutiny—and the mutiny why the shark take um?”

  Jack made no reply, but he felt some consolation from the counter—argument of the negro.

  The dreadful death of the three mutineers appeared to have had a sensible effect upon their companions, who walked away from the beach with their heads down and with measured steps. They were now seen to be perambulating the island, probably in search of that water which they required. At noon, they returned to their tent, and soon afterwards were in a state of intoxication, hallooing and shouting as the day before. Towards the evening they came down to the beach abreast of the ship, each with a vessel in their hands, and perceiving that they had attracted the notice of our hero and Mesty, tossed the contents of the vessel up in the air to show that they had found water, and hooting and deriding, went back, dancing, leaping, and kicking up their heels, to renew their orgies, which continued till after midnight, when they were all stupefied as before.

  The next day Jack had recovered from the first shock which the catastrophe had given him, and he called Mesty into the cabin to hold a consultation.

  “Mesty, how is this to end?”

  “How you mean, sar?—end here, or end on board of the Harpy?”

  “TheHarpy—there appears little chance of our seeing her again—we are on a desolate island, or what is the same thing; but we will hope that it will be so: but how is this mutiny to end?”

  “Massa Easy, suppose I please, I make it end very soon, but I not in a hurry.”

  “How do you mean, Mesty, not in a hurry?”

  “Look, Massa Easy, you wish take a cruise, and I wish the same ting: now because mutiny you want to go back—but, by all de powers, you tink that I, a prince in my own country, feel wish to go back and boil kettle for de young gentlemen. No, Massa Easy, gib me mutiny—gib me anyting—but—once I was prince,” replied Mesty, lowering his voice at the last few emphatic words.

  “You must one of these days tell me your history, Mesty,” replied Jack; “but just now let us argue the point in question. How could you put an end to this mutiny?”

  “By putting an end to all wine. Suppose I go ashore after they all drunk, I spile the casks in three or four places, and in the morning all wine gone—den dey ab get sober, and beg pardon—we take dem on board, put away all arms‘ cept yours and mine, and I like to see the mutiny after dat. Blood and ’ounds—but I settle um, anyhow.”

  “The idea is very good, Mesty—why should we not do so?”

  “Because I not like run de risk to go ashore—all for what? to go back, boil de kettle for all gentlemans—I very happy here, Massa,” replied Mesty, carelessly.

  “And I am very miserable,” replied Jack; “but, however, I am completely in your power, Mesty, and I must, I suppose, submit.”

  “What you say, Massa Easy—submit to me?—no, sar, when you are on board Harpy as officer, you talk with me as friend, and not treat me as negro servant. Massa Easy, I feel—I feel— what I am,” continued Mesty, striking his bosom, “I feel it here—for all first time since I leave my country, I feel that I am someting; but, Massa Easy, I love my friend as much as I hate my enemy—and you neber submit to me—I too proud to allow dat,‘ cause, Massa Easy—I am a man—and once, I was a prince.”

  Although Mesty did not perhaps explain by words half so well as he did by his countenance, the full tide of feeling which was overflowing in his heart, Jack fully understood and felt it. He extended his hand to Mesty, and said,—

  “Mesty—that you have been a prince, I care little about, although I doubt it not, because you are incapable of a lie; but you are a man, and I respect you, nay, I love you as a friend—and with my will we never part again.”

  Mesty took the hand offered by Jack. It was the first peace—offering ever extended to him, since he had been torn away from his native land—the first compliment, the first tribute, the first acknowledgment, perhaps, that he was not an inferior being; he pressed it in silence, for he could not speak; but could the feelings which were suffocating the negro but have been laid before sceptics, they must have acknowledged that at that moment they were all and only such as could do honour, not only to the prince, but even to the Christian. So much was Mesty affected with what had happened, that when he dropped the hand of our hero, he went down into the cabin, finding it impossible to continue the conversation, which was not renewed until the next morning.

  “What is your opinion, Mesty?—tell me, and I will be governed by it.”

  “Den, sar, I tell you I tink it right that they first come and ask to come on board before you take them— and, sar, I tink it also right, as we are but two and they are five, dat dey first eat all their provision—let em starve plenty, and den dey come on board tame enough.”

  “At all events,” replied Jack, “the first overtures of some kind or another must come from them. I wish I had something to do—I do not much like this cooping up on board ship.”

  “Massa, why you no talk with Pedro?”

  “Because I cannot speak Spanish.”

  “I know dat, and dat why I ask de question. You very sorry when you meet the two pretty women in the ship, you not able to talk with them—I guess that.”

  “I was very sorry, I grant,” replied Jack.

  “Well, Massa Easy, by—and—by we see more Spanish girl. Why not talk all day with Pedro, and den you able to talk with dem.”

  “Upon my word, Mesty, I never had an idea of your value. I will learn all the Spanish that I can,” replied Jack, who was glad to have employment found for him, and was quite disgusted with the articles of war.

  As for the men on shore, they continued the same course, if not as before, one day succeeded another, and without variety. It was, however, to be observed, that the fire was now seldomer lighted, which proved their fuel scarce, and the weather was not so warm as it had been, for it was now October. Jack learnt Spanish from Pedro for a month, during which there was no appearance of submission on the part of the mutineers, who, for the first fortnight, when intoxicated, used to come down and fire at Jack or Mesty, when they made their appearance. Fortunately drunken men are not good marksmen, but latterly this had been discontinued, because they had expended their ammunition—and they appeared to have almost forgotten that the ship was there, for they took no notice of her whatever.

  On the other hand, Jack had decided that if he waited there a year, the overtures should come from them who had mutinied; and now, having an occupation, he passed his time very quietly, and the days flew so fast that two months had actually been run off the calendar, before he had an idea of it.

  One evening, as they were down in the cabin, for the evenings had now become very cold, Jack asked Mesty whether he had any objection to give him a history of his life. Mesty replied, that if he wished he was ready to talk; and at a nod from our hero, Mesty commenced as follows.

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