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Mr. Midshipman Easy (part 2 chapter 7)

2006-08-22 18:30

  Chapter 7

  OUR HERO IS SICK WITH THE SERVICE, BUT RECOVERS WITH PROPER MEDICINE. AN ARGUMENT, ENDING, AS MOST DO, IN A BLOW UP. MESTY lECTURES UPON CRANIOLOGY

  The day after the funeral, H.M. ship Aurora sailed for Malta, and on her arrival the acting captain sent our two midshipmen on board the Harpy without any remark, except “victualled the day discharged,” as they had been borne on the ship‘s books as supernumeraries.

  Mr. James, who was acting in the Aurora, was anxious to join the admiral at Toulon, and intended to sail the next day. He met Captain Wilson at the governor‘s table, and stated that Jack and Gascoigne had been put in irons by order of Captain Tartar; his suspicions, and the report that the duel had in consequence taken place; but Gascoigne and Jack had both agreed that they would not communicate the events of their cruise to anybody on board of the Aurora, and therefore nothing else was known, except that they must have made powerful friends somehow or another; and there appeared in the conduct of Captain Tartar, as well as in the whole transaction, somewhat of a mystery.

  “I should like to know what happened to my friend Jack, who fought the duel,” said the governor, who had laughed at it till he held his sides; “Wilson, do bring him here to-morrow morning, and let us have his story.”

  “I am afraid of encouraging him, Sir Thomas—he is much too wild already. I told you of his first cruise. He has nothing but adventures, and they all end too favourably.”

  “Well, but you can send for him here and blow him up just as well as in your own cabin, and then we will have the truth out of him.”

  “That you certainly will,” replied Captain Wilson, “for he tells it plainly enough.”

  “Well, to oblige me, send for him—I don‘t see he was much to blame in absconding, as it appears he thought he would be hung—I want to see the lad.”

  “Well, governor, if you wish it,” replied Captain Wilson, who wrote a note to Mr. Sawbridge, requesting he would send Mr. Easy to him at the governor‘s house at ten o’clock in the morning.

  Jack made his appearance in his uniform—he did not much care for what was said to him, as he was resolved to leave the service. He had been put in irons, and the iron had entered into his soul.

  Mr. Sawbridge had gone on shore about an hour before Jack had been sent on board, and he had remained on shore all the night. He did not therefore see Jack but for a few minutes, and thinking it his duty to say nothing to him at first, or to express his displeasure, he merely observed to him that the captain would speak to him as soon as he came on board. As Gascoigne and our hero did not know how far it might be safe, even at Malta, to acknowledge to what occurred on board the speronare, which might get wind, they did not even tell their messmates, resolving only to confide it to the captain.

  When Jack was ushered into the presence of the captain, he found him sitting with the governor, and the breakfast on the table ready for them. Jack walked in with courage, but respectfully. He was fond of Captain Wilson, and wished to show him respect. Captain Wilson addressed him, pointed out that he had committed a great error in fighting a duel, a greater error in demeaning himself by fighting the purser‘s steward, and still greater in running away from his ship. Jack looked respectfully to Captain Wilson, acknowledged that he had done wrong, and promised to be more careful another time, if Captain Wilson would look over it.

  “Captain Wilson, allow me to plead for the young gentleman,” said the governor; “I am convinced that it has only been an error in judgment.”

  “Well, Mr. Easy, as you express your contrition, and the governor interferes in your behalf, I shall take no more notice of this; but recollect, Mr. Easy, that you have occasioned me a great deal of anxiety by your mad pranks, and I trust another time you will remember that I am too anxious for your welfare not to be uncomfortable when you run such risks. You may now go on board to your duty, and tell Mr. Gascoigne to do the same; and pray let us hear of no more duels or running away.”

  Jack, whose heart softened at this kind treatment, did not venture to speak; he made his bow, and was about to quit the room, when the governor said,—

  “Mr. Easy, you have not breakfasted.”

  “I have, sir,” replied Jack, “before I came on shore.”

  “But a midshipman can always eat two breakfasts, particularly when his own comes first; so sit down and breakfast with us—it‘s all over now.”

  “Even if it was not,” replied Captain Wilson, laughing, “I doubt whether it would spoil Mr. Easy‘s breakfast;—come, Mr. Easy, sit down.”

  Jack bowed, and took his chair, and proved that his lecture had not taken away his appetite. When breakfast was over, Captain Wilson observed,—

  “Mr. Easy, you have generally a few adventures to speak of when you return; will you tell the governor and me what has taken place since you left us?”

  “Certainly, sir,” replied Jack; “but I venture to request that it may be under the promise of secrecy for it‘s rather important to me and Gascoigne.”

  “Yes, if secrecy is really necessary, my boy; but I‘m the best judge of that,” replied the governor.

  Jack then entered into a detail of his adventures, which we have already described, much to the astonishment of the governor and his captain, and concluded his narration by stating that he wanted to leave the service; he hoped that Captain Wilson would discharge him and send him home.

  “Pooh, nonsense!” said the governor, “you shan‘t leave the Mediterranean while I am here. No, no; you must have more adventures, and come back and tell them to me. And recollect, my lad, that whenever you come to Malta, there is a bed at the governor’s house, and a seat at his table, always ready for you.”

  “You are very kind, Sir Thomas,” replied Jack, “but—”

  “No buts at all, sir—you shan‘t leave the service; besides, recollect that I can ask for leave of absence for you to go and see Donna Agnes—ay, and send you there too.”

  Captain Wilson also remonstrated with our hero, and he gave up the point. It was harsh treatment which made him form the resolution, it was kindness which overcame it.

  “With your permission, Captain Wilson, Mr. Easy shall dine with us to-day, and bring Gascoigne with him: you shall first scold him, and I‘ll console him with a good dinner—and, boy, don’t be afraid to tell your story everywhere: sit down and tell it at Nix Mangare stairs, if you please—I‘m governor here.”

  Jack made his obeisance, and departed.

  “The lad must be treated kindly, Captain Wilson,” said the governor; “he would be a loss to the service. Good heavens, what adventures! and how honestly he tells everything. I shall ask him to stay with me for the time you are here, if you will allow me: I want to make friends with him; he must not leave the service.”

  Captain Wilson, who felt that kindness and attention would be more effectual with our hero than any other measures, gave his consent to the governor‘s proposition. So Jack ate at the governor’s table, and took lessons in Spanish and Italian until the Harpy had been refitted, after heaving down. Before she was ready a vessel arrived from the fleet, directing Captain Wilson to repair to Mahon, and send a transport, lying there, to procure live bullocks for the fleet. Jack did not join his ship very willingly, but he had promised the governor to remain in the service, and he went on board the evening before she sailed. He had been living so well that he had, at first, a horror of midshipman‘s fare; but a good appetite seasons everything, and Jack soon complained that there was not enough. He was delighted to see Jolliffe and Mesty after so long an absence; he laughed at the boatswain’s cheeks, inquired after the purser‘s steward’s shot-holes, shook hands with Gascoigne and his other messmates, gave Vigors a thrashing, and then sat down to supper.

  “Ah, Massa Easy, why you take a cruise without me?” said Mesty; “dat very shabby—by de power, but I wish I was there; you ab too much danger, Massa Easy, without Mesty, anyhow.”

  The next day the Harpy sailed, and Jack went to his duty. Mr. Asper borrowed ten pounds, and our hero kept as much watch as he pleased, which, as watching did not please him, was very little. Mr. Sawbridge had long conversations with our hero, pointing out to him the necessity of discipline and obedience in the service, and that there was no such thing as equality, and that the rights of man secured to every one the property which he held in possession. “According to your ideas, Mr. Easy, a man has no more right to his wife than anything else, and any other man may claim her.” Jack thought of Agnes, and he made matrimony an exception, as he continued to argue the point; but although he argued, still his philosophy was almost upset at the idea of any one disputing with him the rights of man, with respect to Agnes.

  The Harpy made the African coast, the wind continued contrary, and they were baffled for many days; at last they espied a brig under the land, about sixteen miles off; her rig and appearance made Captain Wilson suspect that she was a privateer of some description or another, but it was calm, and they could not approach her. Nevertheless, Captain Wilson thought it his duty to examine her; so at ten o‘clock at night the boats were hoisted out: as this was merely intended for a reconnoitre, for there was no saying what she might be, Mr. Sawbridge did not go. Mr. Asper was on the sick-list, so Mr. Smallsole the master had the command of the expedition. Jack asked Mr. Sawbridge to let him have charge of one of the boats. Mr. Jolliffe and Mr. Vigors went in the pinnace with the master. The gunner had the charge of one cutter, and our hero had the command of the other. Jack, although not much more than seventeen, was very strong and tall for his age; indeed, he was a man grown, and shaved twice a week. His only object in going was to have a yarn for the governor when he returned to Malta. Mesty went with him, and, as the boat shoved off, Gascoigne slipped in, telling Jack that he was come to take care of him, for which considerate kindness Jack expressed his warmest thanks. The orders to the master were very explicit; he was to reconnoitre the vessel, and if she proved heavily armed not to attack, for she was embayed, and could not escape the Harpy as soon as there was wind. If not armed he was to board her, but he was to do nothing till the morning: the reason for sending the boats away so soon was, that the men might not suffer from the heat of the sun during the daytime which was excessive, and had already put many men on the sick-list. The boats were to pull to the bottom of the bay, not to go so near as to be discovered, and then drop their grapnels till daylight. The orders were given to Mr. Smallsole in presence of the other officers who were appointed to the boats, that there might be no mistake, and the boats then shoved off. After a three hours’ pull, they arrived to where the brig lay becalmed, and as they saw no lights moving on board, they supposed they were not seen. They dropped their grapnels in about seven fathoms water and waited for daylight. When Jack heard Captain Wilson‘s orders that they were to lie at anchor till daylight he had sent down Mesty for fishing-lines, as fresh fish is always agreeable in a midshipman’s berth: he and Gascoigne amused themselves this way, and as they pulled up the fish they entered into an argument, and Mr. Smallsole ordered them to be silent. The point which they discussed was relative to boat service; Gascoigne insisted that the boats should all board at once—while our hero took it into his head that it was better they should come up one after another; a novel idea, but Jack‘s ideas on most points were singular.

  “If you throw your whole force upon the decks at once, you overpower them,” observed Gascoigne; “if you do not, you are beaten in detail.”

  “Very true,” replied Jack, “supposing that you have an overpowering force, or they are not prepared; but recollect, that if they are, the case is altered; for instance, as to fire-arms—they fire theirs at the first boat, and they have not time to reload, when the second comes up with its fire reserved; every fresh boat arriving adds to the courage of those who have boarded, and to the alarm of those who defend; the men come on fresh and fresh. Depend upon it, Gascoigne, there is nothing like a corps de réserve.”

  “Will you keep silence in your boat, Mr. Easy, or will you not?” cried the master; “you‘re a disgrace to the service, sir.”

  “Thank ye, sir,” replied Jack in a low tone. “I‘ve another bite, Ned.”

  Jack and his comrade continued to fish in silence till the day broke. The mist rolled off the stagnant water, and discovered the brig, who, as soon as she perceived the boats, threw out the French tricolor and fired a gun of defiance.

  Mr. Smallsole was undecided; the gun fired was not a heavy one, and so Mr. Jolliffe remarked; the men, as usual, anxious for the attack, asserted the same, and Mr. Smallsole, afraid of retreating from the enemy, and being afterwards despised by the ship‘s company, ordered the boats to weigh their grapnels.

  “Stop a moment, my lads,” said Jack to his men, “I‘ve got a bite.” The men laughed at Jack’s taking it so easy, but he was their pet; and they did stop for him to pull up his fish, intending to pull up to the other boats and recover their loss of a few seconds.

  “I‘ve hooked him now,” said Jack; “you may up with the grapnel while I up with the fish.” But this delay gave the other boats a start of a dozen strokes of their oars, which was a distance not easy to be regained.

  “They will be aboard before us, sir,” said the coxswain.

  “Never mind that,” replied Jack; “some one must be last.”

  “But not the boat I am in,” replied Gascoigne, “if I could help it.”

  “I tell you,” replied Jack, “we shall be the corps de réserve, and have the honour of turning the scale in our favour.”

  “Give way, my lads,” cried Gascoigne, perceiving the other boats still kept their distance ahead of them, which was about a cable‘s length.

  “Gascoigne, I command the boat,” said Jack, “and I do not wish my men to board without any breath in their bodies—that‘s a very unwise plan. A steady pull, my lads, and not too much exertion.”

  “By heavens, they‘ll take the vessel before we get alongside.”

  “Even if they should, I am right, am I not, Mesty?”

  “Yes, Massa Easy, you very right—suppose they take vessel without you, they no want you—suppose they want you, you come.” And the negro, who had thrown his jacket off, bared his arm, as if he intended mischief.

  The first cutter, commanded by the gunner, now gained upon the launch, and was three boat‘s-lengths ahead of her when she came alongside. The brig poured in her broadside—it was well directed, and down went the boat.

  “Cutter‘s sunk,” exclaimed Gascoigne, “by heavens! Give way, my men.”

  “Now, don‘t you observe that had we all three been pulling up together, the broadside would have sunk us all?” said Jack, very composedly.

  “There‘s board in the launch—give way, my men, give way,” said Gascoigne, stamping with impatience.

  The reception was evidently warm; by the time that the launch had poured in her men, the second cutter was close under the brig‘s quarter—two more strokes and she was alongside; when of a sudden, a tremendous explosion took place on the deck of the vessel, and bodies and fragments were hurled up into the air. So tremendous was the explosion, that the men of the second cutter, as if transfixed, simultaneously stopped pulling, their eyes directed to the volumes of smoke which poured through the ports, and hid the whole of the masts and rigging of the vessel.

  “Now‘s your time, my lads! give way and alongside,” cried our hero.

  The men, reminded by his voice, obeyed—but the impetus already given to the boat was sufficient. Before they could drop their oars in the water they grazed against the vessel‘s sides, and, following Jack, were in a few seconds on the quarter-deck of the vessel. A dreadful sight presented itself—the whole deck was black, and corpses lay strewed, their clothes on them still burning, and among the bodies lay fragments of what once were men.

  The capstern was unshipped and turned over on its side—the binnacles were in remnants, and many of the ropes ignited. There was not one person left on deck to oppose them.

  As they afterwards learnt from some of the men who had saved their lives by remaining below, the French captain had seen the boats before they anchored, and had made every preparation; he had filled a large ammunition chest with cartridges for the guns, that they might not have to hand them up. The conflict between the men of the pinnace and the crew of the vessel was carried on near the capstern, and a pistol fired had accidentally communicated with the powder, which blew up in the very centre of the dense and desperate struggle.

  The first object was to draw water and extinguish the flames, which were spreading over the vessel; as soon as that was accomplished, our hero went aft to the taffrail, and looked for the cutter which had been sunk.—“Gascoigne, jump into the boat with four men—I see the cutter floats a quarter of a mile astern: there may be some one alive yet. I think now I see a head or two.”

  Gascoigne hastened away, and soon returned with three of the cutter‘s men; the rest had sunk, probably killed or wounded by the discharge of the broadside.

  “Thank God, there‘s three saved!” said Jack, “for we have lost too many. We must now see if any of these poor fellows are yet alive, and clear the decks of the remnants of those who have been blown to pieces. I say, Ned, where should we have been if we had boarded with the pinnace?”

  “You always fall upon your feet, Easy,” replied Gascoigne; “but that does not prove that you are right.”

  “I see there‘s no convincing you, Ned, you are so confoundedly fond of argument. However, I’ve no time to argue now—we must look to these poor fellows; some are still alive.”

  Body after body was thrown through the ports, the habiliments, in most cases, enabling them to distinguish whether it was that of a departed friend or foe.

  Jack turned round, and observed Mesty with his foot on a head which had been blown from the trunk.

  “What are you about, Mesty?”

  “Massa Easy, I look at dis, and I tink it Massa Vigors‘ head, and den I tink dis skull of his enemy nice present make to little Massa Gossett; and den I tink again, and I say, no, he dead and nebber thrash any more—so let him go overboard.”

  Jack turned away, forgiving Vigors in his heart; he thought of the petty animosities of a midshipman‘s berth, as he looked at the blackened portion of a body, half an hour before possessing intellect.

  “Massa Easy,” said Mesty, “I tink you say right, anyhow, when you say forgive: den, Massa Vigors,” continued Mesty, taking up the head by the singed hair, and tossing it out of the port, “you really very bad man—but Ashantee forgive you.”

  “Here‘s somebody alive,” said Gascoigne to Jack, examining a body, the face of which was black as a cinder and not to be recognized, “and he is one of our men, too, by his dress.”

  Our hero went up to examine, and to assist Gascoigne in disengaging the body from a heap of ropes and half-burnt tarpaulings with which it was entangled. Mesty followed, and looking at the lower extremities said, “Massa Easy, dat Massa Jolliffe, I know him trousers; marine tailor say he patchum for ever, and so old dat de thread no hold; yesterday he had dis patch put in, and marine tailor say he d—n if he patch any more, please nobody.”

  Mesty was right; it was poor Jolliffe, whose face was burnt as black as a coal by the explosion. He had also lost three fingers of the left hand, but as soon as he was brought out on the deck he appeared to recover, and pointed to his mouth for water, which was instantly procured.

  “Mesty,” said Jack, “I leave you in charge of Mr.Jolliffe; take every care of him till I can come back.”

  The investigation was then continued, and four English sailors found who might be expected to recover, as well as about the same number of Frenchmen; the remainder of the bodies were then thrown overboard. The hat only of the master was picked up between the guns, and there were but eleven Frenchmen found below.

  The vessel was the Franklin, a French privateer, of ten guns and sixty-five men, of which, eight men were away in prizes. The loss on the part of the vessel was forty-six killed and wounded. On that of the Harpy, it was five drowned in the cutter, and eighteen blown up belonging to the pinnace, out of which total of twenty-three, they had only Mr.Jolliffe and five seamen alive.

  “The Harpy is standing in with a breeze from the offing,” said Gascoigne to Easy.

  “So much the better, for I am sick of this, Ned; there is something so horrible in it, and I wish I was on board again. I have just been to Jolliffe; he can speak a little; I think he will recover. I hope so, poor fellow; he will then obtain his promotion, for he is the commanding officer of all us who are left.”

  “And if he does,” replied Gascoigne, “he can swear that it was by having been blown up which spoilt his beauty—but here comes the Harpy. I have been looking for an English ensign to hoist over the French, but cannot find one; so I hoist a wheft over it—that will do.”

  The Harpy was soon hove-to close to the brig, and Jack went on board in the cutter to report what had taken place. Captain Wilson was much vexed and grieved at the loss of so many men; fresh hands were put in the cutter to man the pinnace, and he and Saw-bridge both went on board to witness the horrible effects of the explosion as described by our hero.

  Jolliffe and the wounded men were taken on board, and all of them recovered. We have before stated how disfigured the countenance of poor Mr. Jolliffe had been by the smallpox—so severely was it burned that the whole of the countenance came off in three weeks like a mask, and every one declared that, seamed as it still was, Mr. Jolliffe was better looking than he was before. It may be as well here to state, that Mr. Jolliffe not only obtained his promotion but a pension for his wounds, and retired from the service. He was still very plain, but as it was known that he had been blown up, the loss of his eye as well as the scars on his face were all put down to the same accident, and he excited interest as a gallant and maimed officer. He married, and lived contented and happy to a good old age.

  The Harpy proceeded with her prize to Mahon. Jack, as usual, obtained a great deal of credit; whether he deserved it, or whether, as Gascoigne observed, he always fell upon his feet, the reader may decide from our narrative; perhaps there was a little of both. The seamen of the Harpy, if summoned in a hurry, used very often to reply, “Stop a minute, I‘ve got a bite”—as for Jack he often said to himself, “I have a famous good yarn for the governor.”

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