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Lady Jane, and sure enough there was a pugilistic encounter proceeding on her quarter-deck, with all that peculiar goût that characterizes Englishmen when engaged in that amusement.
In answer to the signal of the Falcon, which was astern of all the convoy, and between it and the gigantic schooner, “ Shall I chase ?" we replied, “ No." By this time we had thrashed our convoy into something like silence and good order. We then signalled to them to close round the Falcon, and heave to. To the “ Falcon, to protect convoy."
We had now been some time at quarters, and every thing was ready for chasing and fighting. But the fun had already begun to the northward. Our second man-of-war brig, the Curlew, had closed considerably upon the felucca, which was evidently endeavouring to make the chase a windward one. The brig closed more upon her than she ought. It certainly enabled her to fire broadside after broadside upon her, but, as far as we could perceive, with little or no effect. In a short time the privateer contrived to get in the wind's eye of the manof-war, and away they went. After the four ships that had been taken possession of, and which were each making a different course, we sent three of the boats--the barge, yawl, and pinnace--under the command of Mr. Silva, in order to recapture them, of which there was every prospect, as the breeze was light, and would not probably freshen before ten o'clock; for however the captured vessels might steer, their courses must be weather ones, as if they had attempted to run to leeward, they must have crossed the body of the convoy.
Having now made our arrangements, we turned all our attention to leeward upon the large dark three-masted vessel, that still remained hove to, seeming to honour us with but little notice. She had taken possession of the finest and largest ship of the convoy.
Long as I have been narrating all these facts, I assure the reader they did not occupy ten minutes in action, including the episodical monomachia on board of the Lady Jane. Just as we had got the ship’s head towards the stranger, with every stitch of canvas crowded upon her, and the eight-oared cutter, manned, armed, and marined, towing astern, they had got the captured West Indiaman before the wind, with every thing set. The stranger was not long following this example, but steered about a S.W. and by W. course, whilst his prize ran down nearly due south.
I have always found in the beginning, that the size of the chase is magnified, either by the expectations or the fears of the pursuers. At first, we had no doubt but that the Aying vessel was a French frigate, as large, or nearly as large, as ourselves. We knew from good authority, that a couple of large frigate-built ships had, evading our blockading cruisers, escaped from Brest, and were playing fine pranks among the West India Islands. Every body immediately concluded the vessel in view to be one of them. If this conjecture should turn out true, there would be no easy task before us, seeing how much we had crippled ourselves, by sending away in the boats so many officers and men.
It now became a matter of earnest deliberation, to which of the two ships we should first turn our attention, as the probabilities were great against our capturing both. The Prince William, the captured West Indiaman, I have before said, was the largest and finest ship of the convoy. Indeed, she was nearly as large as ourselves, mounted sixteen guns, and we had made her a repeating ship, and employed her continually to help whipping in the bad sailors. The chase after her promised to be as long as would have been the chase after the Frenchman.
Mr. Farmer, who was all for fighting, and getting his next step of promotion, was for nearing the West Indiaman a little more, sending the cutter to take possession, and then do our best to capture the frigate. Now the cutter pulled eight oars, there were two goodlooking jollies with their muskets between their knees stuck up in the bows, six in the stern sheets, Mr. Pridhomme, the enamoured master's mate, and the Irish young gentleman, who had seen as much service and as many years as myself, with the coxswain, who was steering. Mr. Farmer, of course, measured every body's courage by his own; but I think it was taxing British intrepidity a little too much, to expect that nineteen persons, in broad daylight, should chase, in an open boat, and which must necessarily pull up a long stern pull of perhaps two or three hours, exposed to the fire of those on board, and then afterwards, supposing that nobody had been either killed or wounded by the ball practice that would have been certainly lavished upon the attacking party, to get alongside, and climb
up the lofty side of a vessel, as high out of the water as a fiftygun ship. We say nothing of the guns that might have been loaded by the captors with grape, and the number of men that would infallibly be placed to defend and to navigate so noble a vessel.
Captain Reud weighed all this, and decided upon making, with the frigate, the recapture first, and then trusting to Providence for the other, for which decision, which I thought most sound, he got black looks from his first lieutenant and some of the officers, and certain hints were whispered of dark birds sometimes showing white feathers.
The sequel proved that the captain acted with the greatest judgment. To our utter astonishment, we came up, hand over land, with a vessel, which, we before had shrewd suspicions, could, going free, sail very nearly as well as ourselves. Of course, we were now fast leaving the convoy; we found that the felucca had worked herself dead to windward, and was by this time nearly out of gun-shot of the Curlew, and that the faincant strange schooner had now made sail, and on such a course as approximated her fast to the other privateer. The large vessel, perceiving our attention solely directed to the capture, shortened sail and made demonstrations of rescue. At this, Mr. Farmer grinned savage approbation, and, not yet having had a good view of her hull, we all thought, from her conduct, that she was conscious of force. We were, therefore, doubly alert in seeing every thing in the very best order for fighting. The bulkheads of the captain's cabin were knocked down, and the sheep, pigs, and poultry gingerly ushered into the hold, preparatory to the demolition of their several pens, styes, and coops on the main deck. All this I found very amusing, but I must confess to a little anxiety, and, younker as I was, I knew, if we came to action, that the eighty or ninety men, away in the boats, would be very severely felt. I was also sorry for the absence of Mr. Silva, as I had a great yet puerile curiosity to see how a man that had written a book would fight.
The run of an hour and a half brought us nearly alongside the Prince William, when we expected at the least a ten hours' chase. It was well we came up so soon; the Frenchman had clapped forty as ill-looking, savage vagabonds on board of her, as ever made a poor fellow walk the plank. They had fully prepared themselves for sinking the cutter, as soon as she should come alongside, and her means for doing so were most ample.
As our prisoners came up the sides, we soon discovered by the shabby, faded, and rent uniforms of the two officers among them, that they belonged to the French imperial service. They bore their reverse of fortune, notwithstanding they belonged to a philosophical nation, with a very despicable philosophy. They stamped with rage, and ground their saeres unceasingly between their teeth. They could not comprehend how so fine a looking vessel should sail so much like a haystack. The mystery was, however, soon solved. The third mate, with about half a dozen men, had been left on board of her, and the provident and gallant young fellow, had, whilst the Frenchmen were so pre-occupied in preparing to resist the threatened attack of the boat, contrived to pass, unobserved, overboard from the bows a spare sail loaded with shot, that effectually had checked the ship’s way. Had the Frenchmen turned their attention to that part of the vessel, without they had examined narrowly, they would have perceived nothing more than a rope towing overboard. He certainly ought to have shared with us prize-money for the recapture ; but, after all, he sustained no great loss by not having his name down on the prize-list, as nobody but the captain ever got any thing for all that we did that day. He, lucky dog, got his share in advance, many said much more, for appointing the Messrs. Isaiahsons and Co. as our agents. They got the money, and then, as the possession of much cash (of other people's) is very impoverishing, they became bankrupts, paid nothing-tarthing in the pound, were very much commiserated, and the last that we heard of them was, that they were living like princes in America, upon the miserable wreck of their (own?) property.
We made, of course, most anxious and most minute inquiries of Messieurs les François, as to the class of vessel to which they belonged, and which we were, in turn, preparing to pursue. As might be expected, we got from them nothing but contradictory reports, but they all agreed in giving us the most conscientious and disinterested advice, not to think of irritating her, as we should most certainly be blown out of the water. We read this backwards. If they were strong enough to take us, it was their interest that we should engage her, and thus their liberation would be effected.
As it was, notwithstanding these many occurrences, only eight A. M., when we made the recapture, and the convoy were all still in sight, we only put six men in the Prince William, which, in addition to the English still on board, were sufficient to take her to the Curlew, near 'which vessel the merchantmen had all nestled, and orders were transmitted to her commanding officer to see that men enough were put on board the recapture to insure her safety.
We now pressed the ship with every stitch of canvas that we could set. We had already learned the name of our friend in the distance. It was the Jean Bart. Indeed, at this time, almost every fourth French vessel in those seas, if its occupation was the cutting of throats, was a “ Jean Bart.” However, Jean Bart, long before we had done with the Prince William had spread a cloud of canvas, a dark one, it is true, and had considerably increased his distance from us. It was a chase dead before the wind. By nine o'clock the breeze had freshened. I don't know how it could be otherwise, considering the abundance of wishing and votive whistling. At ten, we got a good sight of Johnny Crapaud's hull from the maintop, and found out that she was no frigate. I was not at all nervous before, but I must confess, at this certainty my courage rose considerably. I narrowly inspected the condition of the four after-quarter-deck guns, my charge, and was very impressive on the powder-boys as to the necessity of activity, coolness, and presence of mind. Dr. Thompson now came on deck, very much lamenting the disordered rites of his breakfast. The jocular fellow invited me down into the cockpit to see his preparations, in order, as he said, to keep up my spirits, by showing me what excellent arrangements he had made for trepanning my skull, or lopping my leg, should any accident happen to me. I attended him. What with the fearnought* screens, and other precautions against fire, it was certainly the hottest place in which I had yet ever been. The dim yellow, yet sufficient light from the lanterns, gave a lurid horror to the various ghastly and blood-greedy instruments that were ostentatiously displayed upon the platform. Crooked knives, that the eye alone assured you were sharp, seemed to be twisting with a living anxiety to embrace and separate your flesh; and saws appeared to grin at me, which to look upon, knowing their horrid office, actually turned my teeth on edge. There were the three assistant-surgeons, stripped to their shirts, with their sleeves tucked up ready, looking anxious, keen, and something terrified. As to the burly doctor, with his huge, round, red face, and his coarse jokes, he abstracted something from the romantic terrors of the place ; but added considerably to the disgust it excited, as he strongly reminded me of a carcase butcher in full practice.
No doubt, his amiable purpose, in bringing me to his den, was to frighten me, and enjoy my fright. Be that as it may, I took the matter as coolly as the heat of the place would permit me. The first lesson in bravery is to assume the appearance of it; the second to sustain the appearance; and the third will find you with all that courage
that doth become a man." By noon we had a staggering breeze, We could now perceive that we were chasing a large corvette, though, from the end on view that we had of her, we could not count her ports. The Eos seemed to
fly through the water. She bowed not to the waves before her, but dashed them indignantly aside. She appeared, in her majestic spirit, to say to the winds, “ I obey not your impulse! I await not your assistance. I lead you. Follow.” To the sea, “ Level before me your puny waves.
Let them rush after in my path—let them bow down as I pass on.” To the clouds, “ Come, we will run a race-we will strive together in the pride of our speed. The far-off isles of the south shall be our goal, and the rainbow the coronet of triumph." Well she bore herself and right gallantly on that day.
At one o'clock the spars began to complain-preventer braces were rove, but no one thought of shortening sail. Away! away! Is not this hunting of a flying foe glorious ? Achilles, throbbed not with irrepressible exlutation thine iron-bound breast as thou chasedst the flying Hector round the walls of his deserted Troy? But canst thou, heaven-descended warrior that thou art, compare thy car to ours ? The winged winds are our coursers—the ocean waves our chariot wheels—and unbounded space our unlimited course. Away! away!
At two o'clock we had risen the Jean Bart, so as to clear her broadside from the water's edge, as seen from our decks. The appetites of the doctor and purser had risen in proportion. They made a joint and disconsolate visit to the galley. All the fires were put out. The hens were cackling and the pigs grunting in dark security among the water-casks. Miserable menthere was no prospect of a dinner. They were obliged to do detestable penance upon cold fowl and ham, liquefied with nothing better than claret, burgundy, and the small solace derivable from the best brandy, mixed with filtrated water in most praiseworthy moderation.
At three o'clock we had the Jean Bart perfectly in sight, and we could, from the foreyard, observe well the motions of those on deck. The master was broiling his very red nose over his sextant in the forestaysail netting, when it was reported that the. Frenchman was getting aft his two long brass bow chasers; and in half an hour after we had the report from the said brass bellowers themselves, followed by the whistling of the shot, one wide of the ship, but the other smack through our foresail, and which must first have passed very near the of our respectable master.
Most of the officers, myself with the rest, were standing on the forecastle. Though not the first shot that I had seen fired in anger, it certainly was the first that had ever hissed by me. This first salute is always a memorable epoch in the life of a soldier or sailor. By the rent the shot made in the foresail, it could not have passed more than two yards directly over my head. I was taken by surprise. Every body knows that the rushing that the shot makes is excessively loud. As the illustrious stranger came on board with so much pomp and ceremony, I, from the impulse of pure courtesy, could not do otherwise than bow to it; for which act of politeness the first lieutenant gave me a very considerably tingling box of the ear.
My angry looks, my clenched fists, and my threatening attitude, told him plainly that it was no want of spirit that made me duck to the shot. Just as I was passionately exclaiming, “ Sir-I–1–1–" Captain Reud put his hand gently on my shoulder, and said, “ Mr.