Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

No explanation was given to him who those prisoners were: and thus this poor honest seaman found himself suddenly involved in some conspiracy of state, and charged with papers and certificates of which he understood not a word, and with prisoners for his passengers of whom he must have formed strange notions. His imagination had been pre-disposed to gloomy presages by various contrarieties. He had had a very tedious passage from Malaga to Lisbon. At Lisbon he was detained after he was clear to sail, and all his port charges paid for prisoners of state. During this time his cable, which was ashore, was cut and stolen away with the anchor. Added to all, the tediousness of his passage that was to deprive him of the summer fishery in the North, and consequently of his greatest benefice, I may say of his bread, you may suppose how abundantly this poor industrious man, whose dogger was the world to him, must have been tormented. The mystery and incomprehensibility of what he was himself engaged in, grew every day into more dark suspicion; and his temper became at length very peevish. He did not speak French, and English very imperfectly. And as after the two or three first weeks I had found all expostulation with him in vain, I left him to Mr. Rivet.

This gentleman, who possessed a good deal of information, had learned English, but rather from books than practice. And though he understood it upon principle, he spoke it with difficulty: so that nothing could be more extraordinary to an English ear than the conferences he and the captain used to hold in the cabin by way of explanation, which I overheard as I sat upon the deck. Sometimes the captain used to express great concern for us,

and to sympathise in our fate. At other times he insinuated

that we were the cause of his misfortunes and even of the foul wind. And he added that once before he had had a similar passage, and that the wind never became favorable until a man died; a doctrine that became a little irksome, particularly when the provisions grew scarce, and the sailors seemed to have adopted it. He often looked me pitifully in the face, and exclaimed that I might guillotine him if I chose; but that he was not like some other captains who had taken away prisoners from Portugal, of whom nothing had been heard since. He often repeated this, I do not say with whạt view, bụt he seemed to take some credit to himself for the safety of our lives, as if we qwed it to his forbearance or humanity,

I as often assured him that I had neither the power non the disposition to guillotine him. That on the contrary I would do him any service in my power, provided he would put an end to all our misery, by setting us on shore, I allowed that the compulsion used to him in Portugal, and the fear he was in of a despotic authority, was excuse enough to me for his taking us on board: but that his continuing to carry us such a length of time against our will backwards and forwards over the seas, whilst my health was such as he saw it, was little short of an act of piracy, which nothing could excuse. That he himself knew hpy nearly the provisions were exhausted, and that even the water would soon be finished. But he never would hear of this proposal with patience, and persisted that we should all go together to Bordeaux, where every thing would end happily; so that sometimes I flattered myself, that he had some şecret of that nature, and that he intended us some agreeable surprise: for it was hard to believe that so many ostensible persons should join in a diplomatic project which had no

other end in view, or could have no other issue or result, than the mean and stupid persecution of an individual, such

as me.

Meantime the provisions were drawing to a close. We had no longer any thing to live upon but hard rye biscuits and bad water, with brandy and raw sugar, very little salt fish and salt meat; and that little but for a few days more. This diet, together with the vexation I experienced, was nearly fatal to me, as the pain in my chest became intolerably severe. I renewed my entreaties to the captain, to stand in for the land; where we might hope to make some part of the Spanish coast. The more I entreated, the more perverse he grew. He had before refused to put us on shore in Portugal, lest we should all be imprisoned for life. He now refused to approach the Spanish coast. For he said, that if the wind should be on shore, he would be blown upon the rocks: if it was off the shore, he could not make the land: if there was little or no wind, the current would run away with him. But he went sometimes so far as to offer me the command of the ship, provided I would secure him the payment of it. I told him I was not rich enough to buy his dogger, but that if he would stand in near the shore, and let me have one of his boats, I would pay him for it the price he should ask, and my servant and I should go on shore; by wlich means the provisions would last so much longer for the rest. This also he refused; and when every other reason was exhausted, he persisted that he could not go into Spain without performing quarantine. It was in vain we assured him, that the Spaniards exacted no such thing on the coasts of the ocean. It had happened to him once in a Spanish port: in the Mediterranean, and he conceived or pretended to think, that we were misleading him.

Such evils were not of a nature to decrease with time, and our captain became every day more disturbed. Before, he had been sober and abstemious; but latterly resorted fre_ quently for consolation to the brandy bottle. He often started in his bed, and talked through his sleep; and at the same time became most fervently devout. Twice a day he took his little ship's company down into the forecastle or steerage, to sing hymns for a fair wind.

But it was all to no purpose.

Once only we had a propitious moment. The wind blew fair; the yårds were squared, and the steering sails were set. The steersman, who had hitherto been of an unalterable gravity, went down for his mandoline, and the captain danced to his music. I shall give no other praise to these performers than to say, that none ever gave me greater pleasure. Every body was happy, bustling and gay. The breeze seemed sent from heaven for our relief, and there appeared a kind of exulting consciousness, that the hymns had not been sung in vain. There was no longer any need that a man should dic to appease an angry I'rovidence.

I too put in my claim to merit; for though I had not joined in the lymns, I had generally steered the vessel, that all the bands might. The remaining fowl was now ordered to be killed, and the rigor of our allowance was relaxed, and a smile of hope and cheerfulness sat upon every countenance. But how great is the uncertainty of sublunary events. Im less than an hour all grew black again. The wind blew again as formerly. By little and little the sails were unwillingly trimmed. The steering sails were again lowered in sullen silence. The mandoline disappeared, and I

need not say, the dancing ceased also.

There was no more smile, no more joke nor play. In short, for the length of that day, no man ventured to look another into the face, much less to speak to him.

It was while things were growing towards the worst, that we werė boarded by a French privateer brig, called the Venus, from Nantes. The captain, on board of whom we were carried, finding us in rale, and having some knowledge of Mr. Rivet, who was from the same town, apologized very civilly for the trouble and delay he had given us, and made us a present of some articles of provision. And after he had left us, and was almost out of sight, he returned to offer us a passage on shore, as in a few days his cruise would be out, and he would then stand in for a Spanish port.

This was a tempting offer; but I, for obvious reasons, refused it; and rightly, for a few days after we were boarded by the Flora frigate who had captured this identical privateer. And had I been found on board of her, it might have supplied a pretext, which neither the torture of my servant nor the seižāre of my papers had yet afforded. And my 'enemies would not then have been forced to resort to that scandalous falsehood, that I had corrupted the people in à fishing town in Wales.

At length, not having wherewithal to support life anotha pepe day, we with difficulty entered the port of St. Sebastian.

« ForrigeFortsæt »