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- Mr. Midshipman Easy - 20/78 -
the intelligence, that a small convoy was coming down from Rosas as soon as the wind was fair, under the protection of two gun-boats.
Captain Wilson kept well off-shore until the wind changed, and then, allowing for the time that the vessels would take to run down the distance between Tarragona and Rosas, steered in the night to intercept them; but it again fell calm, and the boats were therefore hoisted out, with directions to proceed along the shore, as it was supposed that the vessels could not now be far distant. Mr Sawbridge had the command of the expedition in the pinnace; the first cutter was in charge of the gunner, Mr Linus; and, as the other officers were sick, Mr Sawbridge, who liked Jack more and more every day, at his particular request gave him the command of the second cutter. As soon as he heard of it, Mesty declared to our hero that he would go with him; but without permission that was not possible. Jack obtained leave for Mesty to go in lieu of a marine; there were many men sick of the dysentery, and Mr Sawbridge was not sorry to take an idler out of the ship instead of a working man, especially as Mesty was known to be a good hand.
It was ten o'clock at night when the boats quitted the ship; and, as it was possible that they might not return till late the next day, one day's biscuit and rum were put on board each, that the crews might not suffer from exhaustion. The boats pulled in-shore, and then coasted for three hours without seeing anything: the night was fine overhead, but there was no moon. It still continued calm, and the men began to feel fatigued, when, just as they were within a mile of a low point, they perceived the convoy over the land, coming down with their sails squared, before a light breeze.
Mr Sawbridge immediately ordered the boats to lie upon their oars, awaiting their coming, and arranging for the attack.
The white lateen sails of the gun-boat in advance were now plainly distinguishable from the rest, which were all huddled together in her wake. Down she came like a beautiful swan in the water, her sails just filled with the wind, and running about three knots an hour. Mr Sawbridge kept her three masts in one, that they might not be perceived, and winded the boats with their heads the same way, so that they might dash on board of her with a few strokes of the oars. So favourable was the course of the gun-boat, that she stood right between the launch on one bow, and the two cutters on the other; and they were not perceived until they were actually alongside; the resistance was trifling, but some muskets and pistols had been fired, and the alarm was given. Mr Sawbridge took possession, with the crew of the launch, and brought the vessel to the wind, as he perceived that at the alarm all the convoy had done the same, directing the cutters to board the largest vessels, and secure as many as they could, while he would do the same with the launch, as he brought them to: but the other gun-boat, which had not yet been seen, and had been forgotten, now made her appearance, and came down in a gallant manner to the support of her comrade.
Mr Sawbridge threw half his men into the launch, as she carried a heavy carronade, and sent her to assist the cutters, which had made right for the gun-boat. A smart firing of round and grape was opened upon the boats, which continued to advance upon her; but the officer commanding that gun-boat, finding that he had no support from his consort, and concluding that she had been captured, hauled his wind again, and stood out in the offing. Our hero pulled after her, although he could not see the other boats; but the breeze had freshened, and all pursuit was useless: he therefore directed his course to the convoy, and after a hard pull, contrived to get on board of a one-masted xebeque, of about fifty tons. Mesty, who had eyes as sharp as a needle, had observed that, when the alarm was given, several of the convoy had not rounded the point, and he therefore proposed, as this vessel was very light, that they should make short tacks with her, to weather the point, as if they were escaping, and by that means be able, particularly if it fell calm again, to capture some others. Jack thought this advice good. The convoy who had rounded the point had all stood out to seaward with the gun-boat, and had now a fresh breeze. To chase them was therefore useless; and the only chance was to do as Mesty had proposed. He therefore stood out into the breeze, and, after half an hour, tacked in-shore, and fetched well to windward of the low point; but, finding no vessels, he stood out again. Thus had he made three or four tacks, and had gained, perhaps, six or seven miles, when he perceived signals of recall made to leeward, enforced with guns.
"Mr Sawbridge wants us to come back, Mesty."
"Mr Sawbridge mind him own business," replied Mesty, "we nebber take all dis trubble to ply to windward for noting."
"But, Mesty, we must obey orders."
"Yes, sar, when he have him thumb upon you; but now, must do what tink most proper. By de powers, he catch me 'fore I go back."
"But we shall lose the ship."
"Find her again, by-and-bye, Massa Easy."
"But they will think that we are lost."
"So much the better, nebba look after us, Massa Easy; I guess we have a fine cruise anyhow. Morrow we take large vessel--make sail, take more, den we go to Toulon."
"But I don't know my way to Toulon; I know it lies up this way, and that's all."
"Dat enough, what you want more? Massa Easy, 'pose you not find fleet, fleet soon find you. By God, nobody nebba lost here. Now, Massa Easy, let um go 'bout 'gain. Somebody else burn biscuit and boil kettle to-morrow for de gentlemen. Murder Irish! only tink, Massa Easy--I boil kettle, and prince in my own country!"
Easy was very much of a mind with Mesty; "for," argued Jack, "if I go back now, I only bring a small vessel half-full of beans, and I shall be ashamed to show my face. Now it is true, that they may suppose that we have been sunk by the fire of the gun-boat. Well, what then? they have a gun-boat to show for their night's work, and it will appear that there was harder fighting than there has been, and Mr Sawbridge may benefit by it." (Jack was a very knowing fellow to have leant so much about the service already.) "Well, and when they discover that we are not lost, how glad they will be to find us, especially if we bring some prizes--which I will do, or I'll not go back again. It's not often that one gets a command before being two months at sea, and, hang me, now I've got it if I won't keep it; and Mr Smallsole may mast-head whom he pleases. I'm sorry for poor Gossett, though; if Vigors supposes me dead, how he will murder the poor little fellow--however, it is all for the good of the service, and I'll revenge him when I come back. Hang me if I won't take a cruise."
"I talk to the men, they say they all tick to you like leech. Now dat job settled, I tink we better go 'bout again."
A short time after this decision on the part of our hero, the day broke: Jack first looked to leeward, and perceived the gun-boat and convoy standing in for the shore about ten miles distant, followed by the Harpy, under all sail. He could also perceive the captured gunboat lying-to in-shore to prevent their escape.
"Harpy hab um all, by Gosh!" cried Mesty; "I ab notion dat she soon settle um hash."
They were so busy looking at the Harpy and the convoy that, for some time, they quite forgot to look to windward. At last Mesty turned his eyes that way.
"Dam um, I see right last night; look, Massa Easy--one ship, one brig, tree lateen--dem for us. By de power, but we make bot prize to-night."
The vessels found out by Mesty were not above three miles to windward; they were under all sail, beating up for the protection of a battery, not far distant.
"Now, Massa, suppose they see our boat, dey tink something; keep boat alongside, and shift her when we go 'bout every time: better not sail so fast now--keep further off till they drop anchor for de night; and den, when it dark, we take 'em."
All Mesty's advice was good, with the exception perhaps of advising our hero how to disobey orders and take a cruise. To prevent the vessel from approaching too near the others, and at the same time to let her have the appearance of doing her best, a sail was towed overboard under the bows, and after that they watched the motions of the Harpy.
The distance was too great to distinguish very clearly, but Mesty shinned up the mast of the vessel, and reported progress.
"By Jesus, dare one gun--two gun--go it, Harpy. Won't she ab um, sure enough. Now gun-boat fire--dat our gun-boat--no, dat not ours. Now our gun-boat fire--dat pretty--fire away. Ah, now de Harpy cum up. All'mung'em. Bung, bung, bung--rattle de grape, by gosh. I ab notion de Spaniard is very pretty considerable trouble just now, anyhow. All hove-to, so help me gosh--not more firing; Harpy take um all--dare gun-boat hove-to, she strike um colours. By all powers, but suppose dey link we no share prize-money--they find it not little mistake. Now, my lads, it all over, and," continued Mesty, sliding down the mast, "I tink you better not show yourself too much; only two men stay on deck, and dem two take off um jackets."
Mesty's report was correct; the Harpy had captured the other gunboat, and the whole convoy. The only drawback to their good fortune was the disappearance of Mr Easy and the cutter: it was supposed that a shot from the gun-boat must have sunk her, and that the whole crew were drowned. Captain Wilson and Mr Sawbridge seriously regretted the loss of our hero, as they thought that he would have turned out a shining character as soon as he had sown his wild oats; so did Mr Asper, because our hero's purse went with him; so did Jolliffe, because he had taken an affection for him; so did little Gossett, because he anticipated no mercy from Vigors. On the other hand, there were some who were glad that he was gone; and as for the ship's company in general, they lamented the loss of the poor cutter's crew for twenty-four hours, which, in a man-of-war, is a very long while, and then they thought no more about them. We must leave the Harpy to make the best of her way to Toulon, and now follow our hero.
The cutter's crew knew very well that Jack was acting contrary to orders, but anything was to them a change from the monotony of a man-of-war, and they, as well as Mesty, highly approved of a holiday.
It was, however, necessary that they should soon proceed to business, for they had but their allowance of bread and grog for one day, and in the vessel they found nothing except a few heads of garlic, for the
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