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- No Defense, Volume 2. - 5/10 -
The pockmarked face had taken on an almost ghastly fervour, until it looked like a distorted cartoon-vindictive, fanatical; but Dyck, on the edge of the river of tragedy, was not ready to lose himself in the stream of it.
As he looked round the ship he felt a stir of excitement like nothing he had ever known, though he had been brought up in a country where men were by nature revolutionists, and where the sword was as often outside as inside the scabbard. There was something terrible in a shipboard agitation not to be found in a land-rising. On land there were a thousand miles of open country, with woods and houses, caves and cliffs, to which men could flee for hiding; and the danger of rebellion was less dominant. At sea, a rebellion was like some beastly struggle in one room, beyond the walls of which was everlasting nothingness. The thing had to be fought out, as it were, man to man within four walls, and God help the weaker!
"How many ships in the fleet are sworn to this agitation?" Dyck asked presently.
"Every one. It's been like a spread of infection; it's entered at every door, looked out of every window. All the ships are in it, from the twenty-six-hundred-tonners to the little five-hundred-and-fifty-tonners. Besides, there are the Delegates."
He lowered his voice as he used these last words. "Yes, I know," Dyck answered, though he did not really know. "But who is at the head?"
"Why, as bold a man as can be--Richard Parker, an Irishman. He was once a junior naval officer, and left the navy and went into business; now he is a quotaman, and leads the mutiny. Let me tell you that unless there's a good round answer to what we demand, the Nore fleet'll have it out with the government. He's a man of character, is Richard Parker, and the fleet'll stand by him."
"How long has he been at it?" asked Dyck.
"Oh, weeks and weeks! It doesn't all come at once, the grip of the thing. It began at Spithead, and it worked right there; and now it's workin' at the Nore, and it'll work and work until there isn't a ship and there isn't a man that won't be behind the Delegates. Look. Half the seamen on this ship have tasted the inside of a jail; and the rest come from the press-gang, and what's left are just the ragged ends of street corners. But"--and here the man drew himself up with a flush--"but there's none of us that wouldn't fight to the last gasp of breath for the navy that since the days of Elizabeth has sailed at the head of all the world. Don't think we mean harm to the fleet. We mean to do it good. All we want is that its masters shall remember we're human flesh and blood; that we're as much entitled to good food and drink on sea as on land; and that, if we risk our lives and shed our blood, we ought to have some share in the spoils. We're a great country and we're a great people, but, by God, we're not good to our own! Look at them there."
He turned and waved a hand to the bowels of the ship where sailors traded with the slop-sellers, or chaffered with women, or sat in groups and sang, or played rough games which had no vital meaning; while here and there in groups, with hands gesticulating, some fanatics declared their principles. And the principles of every man in the Nore fleet so far were embraced in the four words--wages, food, drink, prize-money.
Presently Ferens stopped short. "Listen!" he said.
There was a cry from the ship's side not far away, and then came little bursts of cheering.
"By Heaven, it's the Delegates comin' here!" he said. He held up a warning palm, as though commanding silence, while he listened intently. "Yes, it's the Delegates. Now look at that crowd of seamen!" He swung his hand towards the bowels of the ship. Scores of men were springing to their feet. Presently there came a great shouting and cheers, and then four new faces appeared on deck. They were faces of intelligence, but one of them had the enlightened look of leadership.
"By Judas, it's our leader, Richard Parker!" declared Ferens.
What Dyck now saw was good evidence of the progress of the agitation. There were officers of the Ariadne to be seen, but they wisely took no notice of the breaches of regulation which followed the arrival of the Delegates. Dyck saw Ferens speak to Richard Parker after the men had been in conference with Parker and the Delegates, and then turn towards himself. Richard Parker came to him.
"We are fellow countrymen," he said genially. "I know your history. We are out to make the navy better--to get the men their rights. I understand you are with us?"
Dyck bowed. "I will do all possible to get reforms in wages and food put through, sir."
"That's good," said Parker. "There are some petitions you can draft, and some letters also to the Admiralty and to the Houses of Lords and Commons."
"I am at your service," said Dyck.
He saw his chance to secure influence on the Ariadne, and also to do good to the service. Besides, he felt he might be able to check the worst excesses of the agitation, if he got power under Parker. He was free from any wish for mutiny, but he was the friend of an agitation which might end as successfully as the trouble at Spithead.
TO THE WEST INDIES
A fortnight later the mutiny at the Nore shook and bewildered the British Isles. In the public journals and in Parliament it was declared that this outbreak, like that at Spithead, was due partly to political strife, but more extensively to agents of revolution from France and Ireland.
The day after Richard Parker visited the Ariadne the fleet had been put under the control of the seamen's Delegates, who were men of standing in the ships, and of personal popularity. Their first act was to declare that the fleet should not leave port until the men's demands were satisfied.
The King, Prime Minister, and government had received a shock greater than that which had come with the announcement of American independence. The government had armed the forts at Sheerness, had sent troops and guns to Gravesend and Tilbury, and had declared war upon the rebellious fleet.
At the head of the Delegates, Richard Parker, with an officer's knowledge, became a kind of bogus admiral, who, in interview with the real admirals and the representatives of the Admiralty Board, talked like one who, having power, meant to use it ruthlessly. The government had yielded to the Spithead mutineers, giving pardon to all except the ringleaders, and granting demands for increased wages and better food, with a promise to consider the question of prize-money; but the Nore mutineers refused to accept that agreement, and enlarged the Spithead demands. Admiral Buckner arrived on board his flag-ship, the Sandwich, without the deference due to an admiral, and then had to wait three hours for Parker and the Delegates on the quarter-deck. At the interview that followed, while apologizing to the admiral for his discourtesy, Parker wore his hat as quasi-admiral of the fleet. The demands of the Delegates were met by reasoning on the part of Buckner, but without effect: for the seamen of the Nore believed that what Spithead could get by obstinacy the Nore could increase by contumacy; and it was their firm will to bring the Lords of the Admiralty to their knees.
The demands of the Nore Delegates, however, were rejected by the Admiralty, and with the rejection two regiments of militia came from Canterbury to reinforce the Sheerness garrison. The mutineers were allowed to parade the town, so long as their conduct was decent, as Admiral Buckner admitted it to be; but Parker declared that the presence of the militia was an insult to the seamen in the Nore fleet.
Then ensued the beginning of the terror. When Buckner presented the Admiralty's refusal to deal with the Delegates, there came quick response. The reply of the mutineers was to row into Sheerness harbour and take away with them eight gunboats lying there, each of which fired a shot at the fort, as if to announce that the mutineers were now the avowed enemies of the government.
Thereupon the rebels ordered all their ships together at the Great Nore, ranging them into two crescents, with the newly acquired gunboats at the flanks. The attitude of the authorities gave the violent mutineers their opportunity. Buckner's flag was struck from the mainmast-head of the Sandwich, and the red flag was hoisted in its place.
The Delegates would not accept an official pardon for their mutiny through Buckner. They demanded a deputation from the Admiralty, Parker saying that no accommodation could occur without the appearance of the Lords of the Admiralty at the Nore. Then followed threatening arrangements, and the Delegates decided to blockade the Thames and the Medway.
It was at this time that Dyck Calhoun--who, by consent of Richard Parker, had taken control of the Ariadne--took action which was to alter the course of his own life and that of many others.
Since the beginning of the mutiny he had acted with decision, judgment, and strength. He had agreed to the Ariadne joining the mutinous ships, and he had skilfully constructed petitions to the Admiralty, the House of Commons, and the King. His habit of thought, his knowledge of life, made him a power. He believed that the main demands of the seamen were just, and he made a useful organization to enforce them. It was only when he saw the mutineers would not accept the terms granted to the Spithead rebels that a new spirit influenced him.
He had determined to get control of the Ariadne. His gift as a speaker had conquered his fellow-sailors, and the fact that he was an ex-convict gave them confidence that he was no friend of the government.
One of the first things he did, after securing his own pre-eminence on the ship, was to get the captain and officers safely ashore. This he did with skill, and the crew of the ship even cheered them as they left.
None of the regular officers of the Ariadne were left upon her, except Greenock, the master of the ship, whose rank was below that of lieutenant, and whose duties were many and varied under the orders of the captain. Greenock chose to stay, though Dyck said he could go if he wished. Greenock's reply was that it was his duty to stay, if the ship was going to remain at sea, for no one else could perform his duties or do his work.
Then, by vote, Dyck became captain of the ship. He did not, however,
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