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- Mr. Midshipman Easy - 50/78 -
"The mufti, Jack; in other words, the chaplain of the ship, but he's a prime sailor, nevertheless."
"Why, he was brought up on the quarter-deck, served his time, was acting lieutenant for two years, and then, somehow or another, he bore up for the church."
"Indeed--what were his reasons?"
"No one knows--but they say he has been unhappy ever since."
"Because he did a very foolish thing, which cannot now be remedied. He supposed at the time that he would make a good parson, and now that he has long got over his fit, he finds himself wholly unfit for it--he is still the officer in heart, and is always struggling with his natural bent, which is very contrary to what a parson should feel."
"Why don't they allow parsons to be broke by a court-martial, and turned out of the service, or to resign their commissions, like other people?"
"It won't do, Jack--they serve heaven--there's a difference between that and serving his Majesty."
"Well, I don't understand these things. When do we sail?"
"The day after to-morrow."
"To join the fleet of Toulon?"
"Yes: but I suppose we shall be driven on the Spanish coast going there. I never knew a man-of-war that was not."
"No; wind always blows from the south, going up the Mediterranean."
"Perhaps you'll take another prize, Jack--mind you don't go away without the articles of war."
"I won't go away without Mesty, if I can help it. O dear, how abominable a midshipman's berth is after a long run on shore! I positively must go on deck and look at the shore, if I can do nothing else."
"Why, ten minutes ago you had had enough of it?" "Yes, but ten minutes here has made me feel quite sick. I shall go to the first lieutenant for a dose."
"I say, Easy, we must both be physicked on the same day."
"To be sure; but stop till we get to Malta."
Jack went on deck, made acquaintance with the chaplain and some of the officers whom he had not known, then climbed up into the maintop, where he took a seat on the armolest, and, as he looked at the shore, thought over the events that had passed, until Agnes came to his memory, and he thought only of her. When a mid is in love, he always goes aloft to think of the object of his affection; why, I don't know, except that his reverie is not so likely to be disturbed by an order from a superior officer.
The Aurora sailed on the second day, and, with a fine breeze, stood across, making as much northing as easting; the consequence was, that one fine morning they saw the Spanish coast before they saw the Toulon fleet. Mr Pottyfar took his hands out of his pockets, because he could not examine the coast through a telescope without so doing; but this, it is said, was the first time that he had done so on the quarter-deck from the day that the ship had sailed from Port Mahon. Captain Wilson was also occupied with his telescope, so were many of the officers and midshipmen, and the men at the mastheads used their eyes, but there was nothing but a few small fishing-boats to be seen. So they all went down to breakfast, as the ship was hove-to close in with the land.
"What will Easy bet," said one of the midshipmen, "that we don't see a prize to-day?"
"I will not bet that we do not see a vessel--but I'll bet you what you please, that we do not take one before twelve o'clock at night."
"No, no, that won't do--just let the teapot travel over this way, for it's my forenoon watch."
"It's a fine morning," observed one of the mates, of the name of Martin; "but I've a notion it won't be a fine evening."
"Why not?" inquired another.
"I've now been eight years in the Mediterranean, and know something about the weather. There's a watery sky, and the wind is very steady. If we are not under double-reefed topsails to-night, say I'm no conjurer."
"That you will be, all the same, if we are under bare poles," said another.
"You're devilish free with your tongue, my youngster--Easy, pull his ears for me."
"Pull them easy, Jack, then," said the boy, laughing.
"All hands make sail!" now resounded at the hatchways.
"There they are, depend upon it," cried Gascoigne, catching up his hat and bolting out of the berth, followed by all the others except Martin, who had just been relieved, and thought that his presence in the waist might be dispensed with for the short time, at least, which it took him to swallow a cup of tea.
It was very true; a galliot and four lateen vessels had just made their appearance round the easternmost point, and as soon as they observed the frigate, had hauled their wind. In a minute the Aurora was under a press of canvas, and the telescopes were all directed to the vessels.
"All deeply laden, sir," observed Mr Hawkins, the chaplain; "how the topsail of the galliot is scored!"
"They have a fresh breeze just now," observed Captain Wilson to the first lieutenant.
"Yes, sir, and it's coming down fast."
"Hands by the royal halyards, there."
The Aurora careened with the canvas to the rapidly-increasing breeze.
"Top-gallant sheet and halyards."
"Luff you may, quarter-master; luff, I tell you. A small pull of that weather maintop-gallant brace--that will do," said the master.
"Top-men aloft there;--stand by to clew up the royals and, Captain Wilson, shall we take them in?--I'm afraid of that pole--it bends now like a coach-whip," said Mr Pottyfar, looking up aloft, with his hands in both pockets.
"In royals--lower away."
"They are going about, sir," said the second lieutenant, Mr Haswell.
"Look out," observed the chaplain, "it's coming."
Again the breeze increased, and the frigate was borne down. "Hands reef topsails in stays, Mr Pottyfar."
"Aye, aye, sir--'bout ship."
The helm was put down and the topsails lowered and reefed in stays. "Very well, my lads, very well indeed," said Captain Wilson.
Again the topsails were hoisted and top-gallant sheets home It was a strong breeze, although the water was smooth, and the Aurora dashed through at the rate of eight miles an hour, with her weather leeches lifting.
"Didn't I tell you so?" said Martin to his messmates on the gangway "but there's more yet, my boys."
"We must take the top-gallant sails off her," said Captain Wilson, looking aloft--for the frigate now careened to her bearings, and the wind was increasing and squally. "Try them a little longer"; but another squall came suddenly--the halyards were lowered, and the sails clewed up and furled.
In the meantime the frigate had rapidly gained upon the vessels, which still carried on every stitch of canvas, making short tacks inshore. The Aurora was again put about with her head towards them, and they were not two points on her weather-bow. The sky, which had been clear in the morning, was now overcast, the sun was obscured with opaque white clouds, and the sea was rising fast. Another ten minutes, and then they were under double-reefed topsails and the squalls were accompanied with heavy rain. The frigate now dashed through the waves, foaming in her course, and straining under the press of sail. The horizon was so thick that the vessels ahead were no longer to be seen.
"We shall have it, I expect," said Captain Wilson.
"Didn't I say so?" observed Martin to Gascoigne. "We take no prizes this day, depend upon it."
"We must have another hand to the wheel, sir, if you please," said the quarter-master, who was assisting the helmsman.
Mr Pottyfar, with his hands concealed as usual, stood by the capstern. "I fear, sir, we cannot carry the mainsail much longer."
"No," observed the chaplain, "I was thinking so."
"Captain Wilson, if you please, we are very close in," said the master; "don't you think we had better go about?"
"Yes, Mr Jones. Hands about ship--and, yes, by heavens we must!--up mainsail." The mainsail was taken off, and the frigate appeared to be immediately relieved. She no longer jerked and plunged as before.
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