Captain Frederick Marryat
Part 3 out of 8
and as the facts were clear, the law took its course, to the great
amusement of the bystanders, who saw the brats tied upon a gun, and
The boatswain ate the kitten, first, he said, because he had
"_larned_" to eat cats in Spain; secondly, because she had _not_ died
a natural death (I thought otherwise); and his last reason was more
singular than either of the others: he had seen a picture in a church
in Spain, of Peter's vision of the animals let down in the sheet, and
there was a cat among them. Observing an alarm of scepticism in my
eye, he thought proper to confirm his assertion with an oath.
"Might it not have been a rabbit?" said I.
"Rabbit, sir; d----n me, think I didn't know a cat from a rabbit? Why
one has got short ears and long tail, and t'other has got _wicee
wersee_, as we calls it."
A grand carnival masquerade was to be given at Minorca in honour of
the English, and the place chosen for the exhibition was a church; all
which was perfectly consistent with the Romish faith. I went in the
character of a fool, and met many brother officers there. It was a
comical sight to see the anomalous groups stared at by the pictures of
the Virgin Mary and all the saints, whose shrines were lit up for the
occasion with wax tapers. The admiral, rear-admiral, and most of the
captains and officers of the fleet were present; the place was about a
mile from the town.
Having hired a fool's dress, I mounted that very appropriate animal--a
donkey, and set off amidst the shouts of a thousand dirty vagabonds.
On my arrival, I began to show off in somersaults, leaps, and all
kinds of practical jokes. The manner in which I supported the
character drew a little crowd around me. I never spoke to an admiral
or captain unless he addressed me first; and then I generally sold him
a bargain. Being very well acquainted with the domestic economy of the
ships on the station, a martinet asked me if I would enter for his
ship. "No," said I, "you would give me three dozen for not lashing
up my hammock properly." "Come with me," said another. "No," said I,
"your bell-rope is too short--you cannot reach it to order another
bottle of wine before all the officers have left your table." Another
promised me kind treatment and plenty of wine. "No," said I, "in your
ship I should be coals at Newcastle; besides, your coffee is too weak,
your steward only puts one ounce into six cups."
These hits afforded a good deal of mirth among the crowd, and even the
admiral himself honoured me with a smile. I bowed respectfully to
his lordship, who merely said--"What do you want of me, fool?" "Oh,
nothing at all, my lord," said I, "I have only a small favour to ask
of you." "What is that?" said the admiral. "Only to make me a captain,
my lord." "Oh, no," said the admiral, "we never make fools captains."
"No" said I, clapping my arms akimbo in a very impertinent manner,
"then that, I suppose, is a new regulation. How long has the order in
council been out?"
The good-humoured old chief laughed heartily at this piece of
impertinence; but the captain whose ship I had so recently quitted was
silly enough to be offended: he found me out, and went and complained
of me to my captain the next day; but my captain only laughed at him,
said he thought it an excellent joke, and invited me to dinner.
Our ship was ordered to Gibraltar, where we arrived soon after; and
a packet coming in from England, I received letters from my father,
announcing the death of my dearest mother. O how I then regretted all
the sorrows I had ever caused her; how incessantly did busy memory
haunt me with all my misdeeds, and recall to mind the last moment I
had seen her! I never supposed I could have regretted her half so
much. My father stated that in her last moments she had expressed the
greatest solicitude for my welfare. She feared the career of life on
which I had entered would not conduce to my eternal welfare, however
much it might promise to my temporal advantage. Her dying injunctions
to me were never to forget the moral and religious principles in which
she had brought me up; and, with her last blessing, implored me to
read my Bible, and take it as my guide through life.
My father's letter was both an affecting and forcible appeal; and
never, in the whole course of my subsequent life, were my feelings so
worked upon as they were on that occasion. I went to my hammock with
an aching head and an almost broken heart. A retrospection of my life
afforded me no comfort. The numerous acts of depravity or pride, of
revenge or deceit, of which I had been guilty, rushed through my mind,
as the tempest through the rigging, and called me to the most serious
and melancholy reflections. It was some time before I could collect
my thoughts and analyse my feelings; but when I recalled all my
misdeeds--my departure from that path of virtue, so often and so
clearly laid down by my affectionate parent--I was overwhelmed with
grief, shame, and repentance. I considered how often I had been on the
brink of eternity; and had I been cut off in my sins, what would have
been my destiny? I started with horror at the dangers I had escaped,
and looked forward with gloomy apprehension at those that still
awaited me. I sought in vain, among all my actions since I left my
mother's care, one single deed of virtue--one that sprang from a good
motive. There was, it is true, an outward gloss and polish for the
world to look at; but all was dark within: and I felt that a keener
eye than that of mortality was searching my soul, where deception was
worse than useless.
At twelve o'clock, before I had once closed my eyes, I was called to
relieve the deck, having what is called the middle watch, i.e. from
midnight till four in the morning. We had, the day before, buried
a quarter-master, nick-named Quid, an old seaman who had destroyed
himself by drinking--no very uncommon case in His Majesty's service.
The corpse of a man who has destroyed his inside by intemperance is
generally in a state of putridity immediately after death; and the
decay, particularly in warm climates, is very rapid. A few hours after
Quid's death, the body emitted certain effluvia denoting the necessity
of immediate interment. It was accordingly sewn up in a hammock; and
as the ship lay in deep water, with a current sweeping round the bay,
and the boats being at the same time all employed at the dockyard, the
first lieutenant caused shot to be tied to the feet, and, having read
the funeral service, launched the body overboard from the gangway, as
the ship lay at anchor.
I was walking the deck, in no very happy state of mind, reflecting
seriously on parts of that Bible which for more than two years I had
never looked into, when my thoughts were called to the summons which
poor Quid had received, and the beauty of the funeral service which
I had heard read over him--"I am the resurrection and the life." The
moon, which had been obscured, suddenly burst from a cloud, and a cry
of horror proceeded from the look-out man on the starboard gangway.
I ran to inquire the cause, and found him in such a state of nervous
agitation that he could only say,--"Quid--Quid!" and point with his
finger into the water.
I looked over the side, and, to my amazement there was the body of
"All in dreary hammock shrouded,"
perfectly upright, and floating with the head and shoulders above
water. A slight undulation of the waves gave it the appearance of
nodding its head; while the rays of the moon enabled us to trace the
remainder of the body underneath the surface. For a few moments, I
felt a horror which I cannot describe, and contemplated the object in
awful silence; while my blood ran cold, and I felt a sensation as if
my hair was standing on end. I was completely taken by surprise, and
thought the body had risen up to warn me; but in a few seconds I
regained my presence of mind, and I soon perceived the origin of this
reappearance of the corpse. I ordered the cutter to be manned, and,
in the meantime, went down to inform the first lieutenant of what had
occurred. He laughed, and said, "I suppose the old boy finds salt
water not quite so palatable as grog. Tie some more shot to his feet,
and bring the old fellow to his moorings again. Tell him, the next
time he trips his anchor, not to run on board of us. He had his
regular allowance of prayer: I gave him the whole service, and I shall
not give him any more." So saying, he went to sleep again.
This apparently singular circumstance is easily accounted for. Bodies
decomposing from putridity, generate a quantity of gas, which swells
them up to an enormous size, and renders them buoyant. The body of
this man was thrown overboard just as decomposition was in progress:
the shot made fast to the feet were sufficient to sink it at the time;
but in a few hours after were not competent to keep it at the bottom,
and it came up to the surface in that perpendicular position which I
have described. The current in the bay being at the time either slack
or irregular, it floated at the spot whence it had been launched into
The cutter, being manned, was sent with more shot to attach to the
body, and sink it. When they attempted to hold it with the boat-hook,
it eluded the touch, turning round and round, or bobbing under the
water, and coming up again, as if in sport: but accident saved them
any further trouble; for the bowman, reproached by the boat's crew
for not hooking the body, got angry, and darting the spike of the
boat-hook into the abdomen, the pent-up gas escaped with a loud whiz,
and the corpse instantly sank like a stone. Many jokes were passed on
the occasion; but I was not in humour for joking on serious subjects:
and before the watch was out I had made up my mind to go home, and to
quit the service, as I found I had no chance of obeying my mother's
dying injunctions if I remained where I was.
The next morning I stated my wishes to the captain, not of quitting
the service, but of going home in consequence of family arrangements.
This was about as necessary as that I should make a pilgrimage to
Jerusalem. The captain had been told of the unpleasant news I had
received, and having listened to all I had to say, he replied, that if
I could make up my mind to remain with him it would be better for me.
"You are now," said he, "accustomed to my ways--you know your duty,
and do your work well; indeed, I have made honourable mention of you
to the Admiralty in my public letter: you know your own business best"
(here he was mistaken--he ought not to have parted with me for the
reasons which I offered); "but my advice to you is to stay."
I thanked him--but being bent and determined on going home, he acceded
to my request; gave me my discharge, and added a very handsome
certificate of good conduct, far beyond the usually prescribed form;
he also told me that if I chose to return to him he would keep a
vacancy for me. I parted with the officers, my messmates, and the
ship's company with regret. I had been more than three years with
them; and my stormy commencement had settled down into a quiet and
peaceful acknowledgment of my supremacy in the berth; my qualities
were such as to make me a universal favourite, and I was followed down
the ship's side with the hearty good wishes of all. I was pulled in
the cutter on board of a ship of the line, in which I was ordered to
take my passage to England.
How happy could I be with either,
Were t'other dear charmer away!
Hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. If so, it has a much
better pavement than it deserves; for the "trail of the serpent
is over us all." Then why send to hell the greatest proof of our
perfection before the fall, and of weakness subsequent to it? Honest
and sincere professions of amendment must carry with them to the
Throne of Grace a strong recommendation, even if we are again led
astray by the allurements of sense and the snares of the world. At
least, our tears of contrition and repentance, our sorrow for the
past, and our firm resolves for the future, must have given "joy in
heaven," and consequently cannot have been converted into pavement for
the infernal regions.
Pleasure and pain, in youth, are, for the most part, transient
impressions, whether they arise from possession or loss of worldly
enjoyment, or from a sense of having done well or ill in our career.
The excitement, though strong, is not durable; and thus it was with
me. I had not been more than four days on board the ship of the line
in which I took my passage to England, when I felt my spirits buoyant,
and my levity almost amounting to delirium. The hours of reflection
were at first shortened, and then dismissed entirely. The general
mirth of my new shipmates at the thoughts of once more revisiting
their dear native land--the anticipation of indulging in the sensual
worship of Bacchus and Venus, the constant theme of discourse among
the midshipmen; the loud and senseless applause bestowed on the
coarsest ribaldry--these all had their share in destroying that
religious frame of mind in which I had parted with my first captain,
and seemed to awaken me to a sense of the folly I had been guilty of
in quitting a ship, where I was not only at the head of my mess, but
in a fair way for promotion. I considered that I had acted the part of
a madman, and had again begun to renew my career of sin and of folly,
a little, and but a little, sobered by the recent event.
We arrived in England after the usual passage from the Rock. I
consented to pass two days at Portsmouth, with my new companions, to
revisit our old haunts, and to commit those excesses which fools
and knaves applauded and partook of, at my expense, leaving me
full leisure to repent, after we separated. I, however, did muster
resolution enough to pack my trunk; and, after an extravagant supper
at the Fountain, retired to bed intoxicated, and the next morning,
with an aching head, threw myself into the coach and drove off for
London. A day of much hilarity is generally succeeded by one of
depression. This is fair and natural; we draw too largely on our
stock, and squander our enjoyment like our money, leaving us the next
day with low spirits and a lower purse.
A stupid dejection succeeded the boisterous mirth of the overnight.
I slumbered in a corner of the coach till about one o'clock, when we
reached Godalming, where I alighted, took a slight refreshment, and
resumed my seat. As we drove along, I had more leisure, and was in a
fitter frame of mind to review my past conduct since I had quitted
my ship at Gibraltar. My self-examination, as usual, produced no
satisfactory results. I perceived that the example of bad company had
swept away every trace of good resolution which I had made on the
death of my mother. I saw, with grief, that I had no dependence on
myself; I had forgotten all my good intentions, and the firm vows of
amendment with which I had bound myself, and had yielded to the first
temptation which came in my way.
In vain did I call up every black and threatening cloud of domestic
sorrow, which was to meet me on my return home--the dreadful vacuum
occasioned by my mother's death--the grief of my father--my brother
and my sisters in deep mourning, and the couch on which I had left the
best of parents, when I turned away my thoughtless head from her in
the anguish of her grief. I renewed my promise of amendment, and felt
some secret consolation in doing so.
When I arrived at my father's door, the servant who let me in, greeted
me with a loud and hearty welcome. I ran into the drawing-room, where
I found that my brother and sisters had a party of children to spend
the evening with them. They were dancing to the music of a piano,
played on by my aunt, while my father sat in his arm-chair, in high
This was a very different scene from what I had expected. I was
prepared for a sentimental and affecting meeting; and my feelings were
all worked up to their full bearing for the occasion. Judge, then, of
the sudden revulsion in my mind, when I found mirth and good
humour where I expected tears and lamentations. It had escaped my
recollection, that although the death of my mother was an event new
to me, it had happened six months before I had heard of it; and,
consequently, with them grief had given way to time. I was astonished
at their apparent want of feeling; while they gazed with surprise at
the sight of me, and the symbols of woe displayed in my equipment.
My father welcomed me with surprise; asked where my ship was, and what
had brought her home. The fact was, that in my sudden determination to
return to England, I had spared myself the trouble of writing to make
known my intentions; and, indeed, if I had written, I should have
arrived as soon as my letter, unless (which I ought to have done) I
had written on my arrival at Portsmouth, instead of throwing away my
time in the very worst species of dissipation. Unable, therefore, in
the presence of many witnesses, to give my father that explanation
which he had a right to expect, I suffered greatly for a time in his
opinion. He very naturally supposed that some disgraceful conduct on
my part was the cause of my sudden return. His brow became clouded and
his mind seemed occupied with deep reflection.
This behaviour of my father, together with the continued noisy mirth
of my brother and sisters, gave me considerable pain. I felt as if,
in the sad news of my mother's death, I had over-acted my part in the
feeling I had shown, and the sacrifice I had made in quitting my ship.
On explaining to my father, in private, the motives of my conduct, I
was not successful. He could not believe that my mother's death was
the sole cause of my return to England. I stood many firm and angry
interrogations as to the possible good which could accrue to me by
quitting my ship. I showed him the captain's handsome certificate,
which only mortified him the more. In vain did I plead my excess
of feeling. He replied with an argument that I feel to have been
unanswerable--that I had quitted my ship when on the very pinnacle of
favour, and in the road to fortune. "And what," said he, "is to become
of the navy and the country, if every officer is to return home when
he receives the news of the death of a relation?"
In proportion as my father's arguments carried conviction, they did
away, at the same time, all the good impressions of my mother's dying
injunction. If her death was a matter of so little importance, her
last words were equally so; and from that moment I ceased to think of
either. My father's treatment of me was now very different from what
it had ever been during my mother's lifetime. My requests were
harshly refused, and I was lectured more as a child than as a lad of
_eighteen_, who had seen much of the world.
Coldness on his part was met by a spirit of resistance on mine. Pride
came in to my assistance. A dispute arose one evening, at the finale
of which I gave him to understand that if I could not live quietly
under his roof, I would quit it. He calmly recommended me to do so,
little supposing that I should have taken his advice. I left the room,
banging the door after me, packed up a few changes of linen, and took
my departure, unperceived by any one, with my bundle on my shoulder,
and about sixteen shillings in my pocket.
Here was a great mismanagement on the part of my father, and still
greater on mine. He was anxious to get me afloat again, and I had no
sort of objection to going; but his impatience and my pride spoiled
all. Reflection soon came to me, but came too late. Night was fast
approaching: I had no house over my head, and my exchequer was in no
very flourishing condition.
I had walked six miles from my father's house, when I began to tire.
It became dark, and I had no fixed plan. A gentleman's carriage came
by; I took up a position in the rear of it, and had ridden four miles,
when, as the carriage was slowly dragging up a hill, I was discovered
by the parties inside; and the postilion, who had dismounted and been
informed of it, saluted me with two or three smart cuts of his whip,
intimating that I was of no use, but rather an incumbrance which could
be dispensed with.
My readers know that I had long since adopted the motto of our
northern neighbours, _Nemo me_, &c.; so waiting very quietly till the
driver had mounted his horses, at the top of the hill, that he might
be more at my mercy, I discharged a stone at his head which caused him
to vacate his seat, and fall under his horse's belly. The animals,
frightened at his fall, turned short round to the right, or they would
have gone over him, and ran furiously down the hill. The post-boy,
recovering his legs, followed his horses without bestowing a thought
on the author of the mischief; and I made all the haste I could in
the opposite direction, perfectly indifferent as to the fate of the
parties inside of the carriage, for I still smarted with the blows I
"Fools and unkind," muttered I, looking back, as they disappeared at
the bottom of the hill, with frightful velocity, "you are rightly
served. I was a trespasser, 'tis true, but a civil request would have
had all the effect you required--that of inducing me to get down; but
a whip to me--" And with my blood still boiling at the recollection, I
hastily pursued my journey.
In a few minutes I reached the little town of ----, the lights of which
were visible at the time the horses had turned down the hill and run
away. Entering the first inn I came to, I found the large room below
occupied by a set of strolling players, who had just returned from a
successful performance of "Romeo and Juliet;" and, from the excitement
among them, it was easy to perceive that their success had been fully
equal to their expectations. They were fourteen in number, seated
round a table, not indifferently covered with the good things of this
life; they were clad in theatrical costume, which, with the rapid
circulation of the bottle, gave the whole scene an air of romantic
freedom, calculated to interest the mind of a thoughtless half-pay
Being hungry after my walk, I determined to join the party at supper,
which, being a _table d'hote_ was easily effected. One of the
actresses, a sweet little, well-proportioned creature, with large
black eyes, was receiving, with apparent indifference, the compliments
of the better sort of bumpkins and young farmers of the neighbourhood.
In her momentary and occasional smiles, she discovered a beautiful set
of small, white teeth; but when she resumed her pensive attitude,
I was sensible of an enchanting air of melancholy, which deeply
interested me in favour of this poor girl, who was evidently in a
lower situation in life than that for which she had been educated. The
person who sat nearest to her vacated his seat as soon as he found his
attentions were thrown away. I instantly took possession of the place,
and, observing the greatest respect, entered at once into conversation
Whether she was pleased with my address and language, as being
superior to what she was usually compelled to listen to, or whether
she was flattered by my assiduous attention, I know not; but she
gradually unbent, and became more animated; showing great natural
talent and a highly-cultivated mind; so that I was every moment more
astonished to find her in such a situation.
Our conversation had lasted a considerable time; and I had just made
a remark to which she had not replied, apparently struggling with
concealed emotion, when we were interrupted by a carriage driving up
to the door, and cries of "Help! help!" I instantly quitted the side
of my new acquaintance, and flew to answer the signal of distress.
A gentleman in the carriage was supporting a young lady in his arms,
to all appearance lifeless. With my assistance, she was speedily
removed into the house, and conveyed to a bedroom. A surgeon was sent
for, but none was to be had; the only practitioner of the town being
at that moment gone to attend one of those cases which, according
to Mr Malthus, are much too frequent for the good of the country. I
discovered that the carriage had been overturned, and that the young
lady had been insensible ever since.
There was no time to be lost; I knew that immediate bleeding was
absolutely necessary. I had acquired thus much of surgical knowledge
in the course of my professional duties. I stated my opinion to the
gentleman; and although my practice had been very slight, offered my
services to perform the operation. This offer was accepted with
thanks by the grateful father, for such I found he was. With my sharp
penknife I opened a vein in one of the whitest arms I ever beheld.
After a few moments' chafing, the blood flowed more freely; the pulse
indicated returning animation; a pair of large blue eyes opened
suddenly upon me like a masked battery; and so alarmingly susceptible
was I of the tender passion, that I quite forgot the little actress
whom I had left at the supper-table, and who, a few minutes before,
had occupied my whole thoughts and attention.
Having succeeded in restoring the fair patient to consciousness, I
prescribed a warm bed, some tea, and careful watching. My orders were
punctually obeyed; I then quitted the apartment of my patient, and
began to ruminate over the hurried and singular events of the day.
I had scarcely had time to decide in my own mind on the respective
merits of my two rival beauties when the surgeon arrived; and, being
ushered into the sick-room, declared that the patient had been treated
with skill, and that in all probability she owed her life to my
presence of mind. "But, give me leave to ask," said the doctor,
addressing the father, "how the accident happened?" The gentleman
replied that a scoundrel having got up behind the carriage, had been
flogged off by the postilion; and, in revenge, had thrown a stone,
which knocked the driver off his horse: they took fright, turned
round, and ran away down the hill towards their own stables; and after
running five miles, upset the carriage against a post, "by which
accident," said he, "my poor daughter was nearly killed."
"What a villain!" said the doctor.
"Villain, indeed," echoed I; and so I felt I was. I turned sick at the
thought of what my ungoverned passion had done; and my regret was
not a little increased by the charms of my lovely victim; but I soon
recovered from the shock, particularly when I saw that no suspicion
attached to me. I therefore received the praises of the father and the
doctor with a becoming modest diffidence; and, with a hearty shake of
the hand from the grateful parent, was wished a good night and retired
to my bed.
As I stood before the looking-glass, laying my watch and exhausted
purse on the dressing-table, and leisurely untying my cravat, I could
not forbear a glance of approbation at what I thought a very handsome
and a very impudent face: I soliloquised on the events of the day,
and, as usual, found the summing-up very much against me. "This, then,
sir," said I, "is your road to repentance and reform. You insult your
father; quit his house; get up, like a vagabond, behind a gentleman's
carriage; are flogged off, break the ribs of an honest man, who has a
wife and family to support out of his hard earnings--are the occasion
of a carriage being overturned, and very nearly cause the death of an
amiable girl! And all this mischief in the short space of six hours,
not to say a word of your intentions towards the little actress, which
I presume are none of the most honourable. Where is all this to end?"
"At the gallows," said I, in reply to myself,--"the more probably,
too, as my finances have no means of improvement, except by a miracle
or highway robbery. I am in love with two girls, and have only two
clean shirts; consequently there is no proportion between the demand
and the supply."
With this medley of reflections I fell asleep. I was awoke early by
the swallows twittering at the windows; and the first question which
was agitated in my brain was what account I should give of myself to
the father of the young lady, when interrogated by him, as I most
certainly should be. I had my choice between truth and falsehood: the
latter (such is the force of habit), I think, carried it hollow; but
I determined to leave that point to the spur of the moment, and act
according to circumstances.
My meditations were interrupted by the chambermaid, who, tapping at my
door, said she came to tell me "that the gentleman that _belonged_ to
the young lady that I was so kind to, was waiting breakfast for me."
The thought of sitting at table with the dear creature whose brains I
had so nearly spilled upon the road the night before quite overcame
me; and leaving the fabric of my history to chance or to inspiration,
I darted from my bedroom to the parlour, where the stranger awaited
me. He received me with great cordiality, again expressed his
obligations, and informed me that his name was Somerville, of ----.
I had some faint recollection of having heard the name mentioned by my
father, and was endeavouring to recall to mind on what occasion, when
Mr Somerville interrupted me by saying, that he hoped he should have
the pleasure of knowing the name of the young gentleman who had
conferred such an obligation upon him. I answered that my name was
Mildmay; for I had no time to tell a lie.
"I should be happy to think," said he, "that you were the son of my
old friend and school-fellow, Mr Mildmay, of ----; but that cannot
well be," said he, "for he had only two sons--one at college, the
other as brave a sailor as ever lived, and now in the Mediterranean:
but perhaps you are some relation of his?"
He had just concluded this speech, and before I had time to reply to
it, the door opened, and Miss Somerville entered. We have all heard a
great deal about "love at first sight;" but I contend that the man who
would not, at the very first glimpse of Emily Somerville, have fallen
desperately in love with her, could have had neither heart nor soul.
If I thought her lovely when she lay in a state of insensibility, what
did I think of her when her form had assumed its wonted animation, and
her cheeks their natural colour? To describe a perfect beauty never
was my forte. I can only say, that Miss Somerville, as far as I am
a judge, united in her person all the component parts of the finest
specimen of her sex in England; and these were joined in such harmony
by the skilful hand of Nature, that I was ready to kneel down and
As she extended her white hand to me, and thanked me for my kindness,
I was so taken aback with the sudden appearance and address of this
beautiful vision, that I knew not what to say. I stammered out
something, but have no recollection whether it was French or English.
I lost my presence of mind, and the blushes of conscious guilt on
my face at that moment, might have been mistaken for those of
unsophisticated innocence. That these external demonstrations are
often confounded, and that such was the case on the present occasion,
there can be no doubt. My embarrassment was ascribed to that modesty
ever attendant on real worth.
It has been said that true merit blushes at being discovered; but I
have lived to see merit that could not blush, and the want of it that
could, while the latter has marched off with all the honours due to
the former. The blush that burned on my cheek, at that moment, would
have gone far to have condemned a criminal at the Old Bailey; but in
the countenance of a handsome young man was received as the unfailing
marks of "a pure ingenuous soul."
I had been too long at school to be ashamed of wearing laurels I had
never won; and, having often received a flogging which I did not
deserve, I thought myself equally well entitled to any advantages
which the chances of war might throw in my way; so having set my
tender conscience at rest, I sat myself down between my new mistress
and her father, and made a most delightful breakfast. Miss Somerville,
although declared out of danger by the doctor, was still languid, but
able to continue her journey; and as they had not many miles further
to go, Mr Somerville proposed a delay of an hour or two.
Breakfast ended, he quitted the room to arrange for their departure,
and I found myself _tete-a-tete_ with the young lady. During this
short absence, I found out that she was an only daughter, and that her
mother was dead; she again introduced the subject of my family name,
and I found also that before Mrs Somerville's death, my father had
been on terms of great intimacy with Emily's parents. I had not
replied to Mr Somerville's question. A similar one was now asked by
his daughter; and so closely was I interrogated by her coral lips and
searching blue eyes, that I could not tell a lie. It would have been a
horrid aggravation of guilt, so I honestly owned that I was the son of
her father's friend, Mr Mildmay.
"Good heaven!" said she, "why had you not told my father so?"
"Because I must have said a great deal more; besides," added I, making
her my confidante. "I am the midshipman whom Mr Somerville supposes to
be in the Mediterranean, and I ran away from my father's house last
Although I was as concise as possible in my story, I had not finished
before Mr Somerville came in.
"Oh, papa," said his daughter, "this young gentleman is Frank Mildmay,
I gave her a reproachful glance for having betrayed my secret; her
father was astonished--she looked confused, and so did I.
Nothing now remained for me but an open and candid confession, taking
especial care, however, to conceal the part I had acted in throwing
the stone. Mr Somerville reproved me very sharply, which I thought was
taking a great liberty; but he softened it down by adding, "If you
knew how dear the interests of your family are to me, you would not be
surprised at my assuming the tone of a parent." I looked at Emily, and
pocketed the affront.
"And, Frank," pursued he, "when I tell you, that, although the
distance between your father's property and mine has in some measure
interrupted our long intimacy, I have been watching your career in the
service with interest, you will, perhaps, take my advice, and return
home. Do not let me have to regret that one to whom I am under such
obligations should be too proud to acknowledge a fault. I admire a
high spirit in a good cause: but towards a parent it can never be
justified. It may be unpleasant to you; but I will prepare the way by
writing to your father: and do you stay here till you hear from me. I
should wish for the pleasure of your company at ---- Hall; but your
father has prior claims; and I hardly need tell you, that once
restored and reconciled to him, I expect as long a visit as you can
afford to pay me. Think on what I have said; and, in the meantime, as
I daresay your finances are not very flourishing"--(thinks I, you are
a witch!)--"allow me to leave this ten-pound note in your hands."
This part of his request was much more readily complied with than the
He left the room, as he said, to pay the bill; but I believe it was
to give his fair daughter an opportunity of trying the effect of
her eloquence on my proud spirit, which gave no great promise of
concession. A few minutes with _her_, did more than both the fathers
could have effected, the most powerful motive to submission being
the certainty that I could not visit at her father's house until a
reconciliation had taken place between me and mine. I therefore told
her that, at her solicitation, I would submit to any liberal terms.
This being agreed to, her father observed that the carriage was at the
door, shook hands with me, and led his lovely daughter away, whose
last nod and parting look confirmed all my good resolutions.
Reader, whatever you may think of the trifling incidents of the last
twenty-four hours, you will find that they involved consequences of
vast importance to the writer of this memoir. Pride induced me to quit
my father's house; revenge stimulated me to an act which brought the
heroine of this story on the stage, for such will Emily Somerville
prove to be. But, alas! by what fatal infatuation was Mr Somerville
induced to leave me my own master at an inn, with ten pounds in my
pocket, instead of taking me with him to his own residence, and
keeping me till he had heard from my father? The wisest men often err
in points which at first appear of trivial importance, but which prove
in the sequel to have been fraught with evil.
Left to myself, I ruminated for some time on what had occurred; and
the beautiful Emily Somerville having vanished from my sight, I
recollected the little fascinating actress from whom I had so suddenly
parted on the preceding night; still I must say, that I was so much
occupied with the charms of her successor, that I sought the society
of the youthful Melpomene more with a view to beguile the time, than
from any serious prepossession.
I found her in the large room, where they were all assembled. She
received me as a friend, and evinced a partiality which flattered
my vanity. In three days, I received a letter from Mr Somerville,
inclosing one from my father, whose only request was, that I would
return home, and meet him as if nothing unpleasant had occurred. This
I determined to do; but I had now been so long in the company of
Eugenia (for that was the actress's name), that I could not very
easily part with her. In fact, I was desperately in love, after my
fashion; and though perhaps I could not with truth say the same
of her, yet that she was partial to my company was evident. I had
obtained from her the history of her life, which, in the following
chapter, I shall give in her own words.
She is virtuous, though bred behind the scenes: and, whatever
pleasure she may feel in seeing herself applauded on the stage,
she would much rather pass for a modest girl, than for a good
"My father," said Eugenia, "was at the head of this company of
strolling players; my mother was a young lady of respectable family,
at a boarding-school. She took a fancy to my father in the character
of 'Rolla'; and, being of course deservedly forsaken by her friends,
became a prima donna. I was the only fruits of this connection, and
the only solace of my mother in her affliction; for she bitterly
repented the rash step she had taken.
"At five years old, my father proposed that I should take the
character of Cupid, in the opera of Telemaque. To this my mother
strongly objected, declaring that I never should go upon the stage;
and this created a disunion which was daily embittered by my father's
unkind treatment both of my mother and myself. I never left her side
for fear of a kick, which I was sure to receive when I had not her
protection. She employed all her spare time in my instruction, and,
notwithstanding the folly she had been guilty of, she was fully
competent to the task.
"When I was seven years old, a relation of my mother died, and
bequeathed fifteen thousand pounds, to be equally divided between her
and her two sisters, securing my mother's portion in such a manner as
to prevent my father having any control over it. As soon as my mother
obtained this information, she quitted my father, who was too prudent
to spend either his time or his money in pursuit of her. Had he
been aware of her sudden change of fortune, he might have acted
"We arrived in London, took possession of the property, which was all
in the funds; and then, fearing my father might gain information of
her wealth, my mother set off for France, taking me with her. There I
passed the happiest days of my life; my mother spared no pains, and
went to considerable expense in my education. The best masters were
provided for me in singing, dancing, and music; and so much did I
profit by their instruction, that I was very soon considered a pretty
specimen of my countrywomen, and much noticed accordingly.
"From France we went to Italy, where we remained two years, and where
my vocal education was completed. My poor mother lived all this time
on the principal of her fortune, concluding it would last for ever.
At last she was taken ill of a fever, and died. This was about a year
ago, when I was only sixteen. Delirious many days before her death,
she could give me no instructions as to my future conduct, or where
to apply for resources. I happened, however, to know her banker in
London, and wrote to him immediately; in answer, he informed me that a
balance of forty pounds was all that remained in his hands.
"I believe he cheated me, but I could not help it. My spirits were
not depressed at this news; I sold all the furniture; paid the little
debts to the tradespeople, and, with nine pounds in my pocket, took
my place in the diligence, and set off for London, where I arrived
without accident. I read in the newspaper, at the inn, that a
provincial company was in want of a young actress for genteel comedy.
My mother's original passion for the stage had never left her; and,
during our stay in France, we often amused ourselves with _la petite
comedie_, in which I always took a part.
"Without resources, I thought a precarious mode of obtaining a
livelihood was better than a vicious one, and determined to try my
fortune on the stage: so I ordered a hack, and drove to the office
indicated. I felt a degree of comfort, when I discovered that my
father was the advertising manager, although I was certain he would
never recognise me. I was engaged by the agent, the bargain was
approved of, and in a day or two after, was ordered to a country town,
some miles from the metropolis.
"I arrived; my father did not know me, nor did I wish that he should,
as I did not intend to remain long in the company. I short, I aspired
to the London boards; but aware that I wanted practice, without which
it would have been useless to have offered myself, I accepted this
situation without delay, and applied with great assiduity to the
study of my profession. My father, I found, had married again; and
my joining the company added nothing to his domestic harmony, my
stepmother becoming immoderately jealous of me; but I took good care
to keep my own secret, and never exposed myself for one moment to any
suspicion of my character, which hitherto, thank Heaven, has been
pure, though I am exposed to a thousand temptations, and beset by the
actors to become the wife of one, or the mistress of another.
"Among those who proposed the latter, was my honoured father, to whom,
on that account, I was one day on the point of revealing the secret of
my birth, as the only means of saving myself from his importunities.
He was, at last, taken ill, and died, only three months ago, not
before I had completed my engagements, and obtained an increased
salary of one guinea and a half per week. It is my intention to quit
the company at the expiration of my present term, which will take
place in two months, for I am miserable here, although I am quite at a
loss to know what will be my future destination."
In return for her confidence, I imparted as much of my history as I
thought it necessary for her to know. I became deeply fascinated--I
forgot Miss Somerville, and answered my father's letter respectfully
and kindly. He informed me that he had procured my name to be entered
on the books of the guard-ship, at Spithead: but, that I might gain
time to loiter by the side of Eugenia, I begged his permission to join
my ship without returning home, alleging as a reason, that delay would
soften down any asperity of feeling occasioned by the late fracas.
This in his answer he agreed to, enclosing a handsome remittance; and
the same post brought a pressing invitation from Mr Somerville to come
to ---- Hall.
My little actress informed me that the company would set out in two
days for the neighbourhood of Portsmouth; and, as I found that they
would be more than a fortnight in travelling, I determined to accept
the invitation, and quit her for the present. I had been more than a
week in her society. At parting, I professed my admiration and love.
Silence and a starting tear were her only acknowledgment. I saw that
she was not displeased; and I left her with joyful anticipations.
But what did I anticipate, as I rolled heedlessly along in the
chaise to ---- Hall? Sensual gratification at the expense of a poor
defenceless orphan, whose future life would be clouded with misery.
I could see my wickedness, and moralise upon it; but the devil was
triumphant within me, and I consoled myself with the vulgar adage,
"Needs must when the devil drives." With this, I dismissed the subject
to think of Emily, whose residence was now in sight.
I arrived at ---- Hall, was kindly received and welcomed by both
father and daughter; but on this visit, I must not dwell. When I
reflect on it, I hate myself and human nature! Could I be trusted? yet
I inspired unbounded confidence. Was I not as vicious as one of my
age could be? Yet I made them believe I was almost perfection. Did I
deserve to be happy? Yet I was so, and more so than I had ever been
before or ever have been since. I was like the serpent in Eden, though
without his vile intentions. Beauty and virtue united to keep my
passions in subjection. When they had nothing to feed on, they
concealed themselves in the inmost recesses of my bosom.
Had I remained always with Emily, I should have been reclaimed; but
when I quitted her, I lost all my good feelings and good resolutions;
not, however, before the bright image of virtue had lighted up in
my bosom a holy flame which has never been entirely extinguished.
Occasionally dimmed, it has afterwards burnt up with renewed
brightness; and, as a beacon-light, has often guided me through perils
that might have overwhelmed me.
Compelled at last to quit this earthly paradise, I told her, at
parting, that I loved her, adored her; and to prove that I was in
earnest, and that she believed me, I obtained a lock of her hair. When
I left ---- Hall, it was my intention to have joined my ship, as I had
agreed with my father; but the temptation to follow up my success with
the fair and unfortunate Eugenia was too strong to be resisted; at
least I thought so, and therefore hardly made an effort to conquer it.
True I did, _pro forma_, make my appearance on board the guard-ship,
had my name entered on the books, that I might not lose my time of
servitude, and that I might also deceive my father. All this being
duly accomplished, I obtained leave of absence from my first
lieutenant, an old acquaintance, who, in a ship crowded with
supernumerary midshipmen, was but too happy in getting rid of me and
I hastened to the rendezvous, and found the company in full activity.
Eugenia, when we parted, expressed a wish that our acquaintance might
not be renewed. She feared for her own character as well as mine, and
very sensibly and feelingly observed that my professional prospects
might be blasted; but, having made up my mind, I had an answer for all
her objections. I presented myself to the manager, and requested to be
admitted into the company.
Having taken this step, Eugenia saw that my attachment was not to be
overcome; that I was willing to make any sacrifice for her. I was
accepted; my salary was fixed at one guinea per week, with seven
shillings extra for playing the flute. I was indebted for my ready
admission into this society to my voice: the manager wanted a first
singer. My talent in this science was much admired. I signed my
agreement the same evening for two months; and, being presented in
due form to my brethren of the buskin, joined the supper-table, where
there was more of abundance than of delicacies. I sat by Eugenia,
whose decided preference for me excited the jealousy of my new
associates. I measured them all with my eye, and calculated that, with
fair play, I was the best man among them.
The play-bills announced the tragedy of "Romeo and Juliet." I was to
be the hero, and four days were allowed me to prepare myself. The
whole of that time was passed in the company of Eugenia, who, while
she gave me unequivocal proofs of attachment, admitted of no freedom.
The day of rehearsal arrived, I was found perfect, and loudly
applauded by the company. Six o'clock came, the curtain rose, and
sixteen tallow candles displayed my person to an audience of about one
No one who has not been in the situation can form any idea of the
nervous feeling of a _debutant_ on such an occasion. The troupe, with
the exception of Eugenia, was of a description of persons whom I
despise, and the audience mostly clodhoppers, who could scarcely read
or write; yet I was abashed, and acquitted myself badly, until the
balcony scene, when I became enlivened and invigorated by the presence
and smiles of my mistress. In the art of love-making I was at home,
particularly with the Juliet of that night. I entered at once into the
spirit of the great dramatist, and the curtain dropped amidst thunders
of applause. My name was announced for a repetition of the play, and
I was dragged forward before the curtain, to thank the grocers,
tallow-chandlers, cheesemongers, and ploughmen for the great honour
they had done me. Heavens! how I felt the degradation; but it was too
The natural result of this constant intercourse with Eugenia may
easily be anticipated. I do not attempt to extenuate my fault--it was
inexcusable, and has brought its punishment; but for poor, forlorn
Eugenia I plead; her virtue fell before my importunity and my personal
appearance. She fell a victim to those unhappy circumstances of which
I basely took the advantage.
Two months I had lived with her, as man and wife; I forgot my family,
profession, and even Emily. I was now upon the ship's books; and
though no one knew anything of me, my father was ignorant of my
absence from the ship--everything was sacrificed to Eugenia. I acted
with her, strolled the fields, and vowed volumes of stuff about
constancy. When we played, we filled the house; and some of the more
respectable townspeople offered to introduce us to the London boards,
but this we both declined. We cared for nothing but the society of
And now that time has cooled the youthful ardour that carried me away
let me do justice to this unfortunate girl. She was the most natural,
unaffected and gifted person I ever met with. Boundless wit,
enchanting liveliness, a strong mind, and self-devotion towards me,
the first, and, I firmly believe, the only object she ever loved; and
her love for me ceased only with her life. Her faults, though not to
be defended, may be palliated and deplored, because they were the
defects of education. Her infant days were passed in scenes of
domestic strife, profligacy, and penury; her maturer years, under
the guidance of a weak mother, were employed in polishing, not
strengthening, the edifice of her understanding, and the external
ornaments only served to accelerate the fall of the fabric, and to
increase the calamity.
Bred up in France, and almost in the fervour of the Revolution,
she had imbibed some of its libertine opinions; among others, that
marriage was a civil contract, and if entered into at all, might be
broken at the pleasure of either party. This idea was strengthened and
confirmed in her by the instances she had seen of matrimonial discord,
particularly in her own family. When two people, who fancied they
loved, had bound themselves by an indissoluble knot, they felt from
that time the irksomeness of restraint, which they would never have
felt if they had possessed the power of separation; and would have
lived happily together if they had not been compelled to do it. "How
long you, my dear Frank," said Eugenia to me one day, "may continue
to love me, I know not; but the moment you cease to love me, it were
better that we parted."
These were certainly the sentiments of an enthusiast; but Eugenia
lived long enough to acknowledge her error, and to bewail its fatal
effects on her peace of mind.
I was awoke from this dream of happiness by a curious incident. I
thought it disastrous at the time, but am now convinced that it was
fraught with good, since it brought me back to my profession, recalled
me to a sense of duty, and showed me the full extent of my disgraceful
situation. My father, it appears, was still ignorant of my absence
from my ship, and had come down, without my knowledge, on a visit to
a friend in the neighbourhood. Hearing of "the interesting young man"
who had acquired so much credit in the character of Apollo, as well as
of Romeo, he was persuaded to see the performance.
I was in the act of singing "Pray Goody," when my eyes suddenly met
those of my papa, who was staring like the head of Gorgon; and though
his gaze did not turn me to stone, it turned me sick. I was stupified,
forgot my part, ran off, and left the manager and the music to make
the best of it. My father, who could hardly believe his eyes, was
convinced when he saw my confusion. I ran into the dressing-room,
where, before I had time to divest myself of Apollo's crown and
petticoat, I was accosted by my enraged parent, and it is quite
impossible for me to describe (taking my costume into consideration)
how very much like a fool I looked.
My father sternly demanded how long I had been thus honourably
employed. This was a question which I had anticipated, and, therefore,
very readily replied "Only two or three days;" that I had left
Portsmouth for what we called "a lark," and I thought it very amusing.
"Very amusing, indeed, sir," said my father; "and pray, may I venture
to inquire, without the fear of having a lie told me, how long this
'lark,' as you call it, is to continue?"
"Oh, to-morrow," said I, "my leave expires, and then I must return to
"Allow me the honour of keeping your company," said my father; "and I
shall beg your captain to impose some little restraint as to time and
distance on your future excursions."
Then rising in his tone, he added, "I am ashamed of you, sir; the son
of a gentleman is not likely to reap any advantage from the society of
strolling vagabonds and prostitutes. I had reason to think, by
your last letters from Portsmouth, that you were very differently
To this very sensible and parental reproof I answered, with a demure
and innocent countenance (for I soon regained my presence of mind)
that I did not think there had been any harm in doing that which most
of the officers of the navy did at one time or another (an assertion,
by-the-by, much too general); that we often got up plays on board of
ship, and that I wanted to practise.
"Practise, then with your equals," said my father, "not in company
with rogues and street-walkers."
I felt that the latter name was meant for Eugenia, and was very
indignant; but fortunately kept all my anger within board, and,
knowing I was "all in the wrong," allowed my father to fire away
without returning a shot. He concluded his lecture by commanding me to
call upon him the next morning, at ten o'clock, and left me to change
my dress, and to regain my good humour. I need not add that I did not
return to the stage that night, but left the manager to make his peace
with the audience in any way he thought proper.
When I informed Eugenia of the evening's adventure, she was
inconsolable: to comfort her, I offered to give up my family and
my profession, and live with her. At these words, Eugenia suddenly
recollected herself. "Frank," said she, "all that has happened is
right. We are both wrong. I felt that I was too happy, and shut my
eyes to the danger I dared not face. Your father is a man of sense;
his object is to reclaim you from inevitable ruin. As for me, if he
knew of our connection, he could only despise me. He sees his son
living with strolling players; and it is his duty to cut the chain, no
matter by what means. You have an honourable and distinguished career
marked out for you; I will never be an obstacle to your father's just
ambition or your prosperity. I did hope for a happier destiny; but
love blinded my eyes: I am now undeceived. If your father cannot
respect me, he shall at least admire the resolution of the unhappy
Eugenia. I have tenderly loved you, my dearest Frank, and never have
loved any other, nor ever shall; but part we must: Heaven only knows
for how long a time. I am ready to make every sacrifice to your fame
and character--the only proof I can give of my unbounded love for
I embraced her as she uttered these words; and we spent a great part
of the night in making preparations for my departure, arrangements for
our future correspondence, and, if possible, for our future meetings.
I left her early on the following morning; and with a heavy, I had
almost said, a broken heart, appeared before my father. He was, no
doubt, aware of my attachment and the violence of my passions, and
prudently endeavoured to soothe them. He received me affectionately,
did not renew the subject of the preceding night, and we became very
In tearing myself away from Eugenia, I found the truth of the French
adage, "_Ce n'est que la premiere pas qui coute_;" my heart grew
lighter as I increased my distance from her. My father, to detach my
mind still more from the unfortunate subject, spoke much of family
affairs, of my brother and sisters, and lastly named Mr Somerville and
Emily: here he touched on the right chord. The remembrance of Emily
revived the expiring embers of virtue; and the recollection of the
pure and perfect mistress of ---- Hall, for a time, dismissed the
unhappy Eugenia from my mind. I told my father that I would engage
never to disgrace him or myself any more, if he would promise not to
name my late folly to Mr Somerville or his daughter.
"That," said my father, "I promise most readily; and with the greater
pleasure, since I see, in your request, the strongest proof of the
sense of your error."
This conversation passed on our road to Portsmouth, where we had
no sooner arrived than my father, who was acquainted with the
port-admiral, left me at the "George," while he crossed the street to
call on him. The result of this interview was that I should be sent
out immediately in some sea-going ship with a "tight captain."
There was one of this description just about to sail for Basque Roads;
and, at the admiral's particular request, I was received on board as a
supernumerary, there being no vacancies in the ship. My father, who by
this time was wide awake to all my wiles, saw me on board; and then
flattering himself that I was in safe custody, took his leave and
returned to the shore. I very soon found that I was under an embargo,
and was not on any account to be allowed leave of absence.
This was pretty nearly what I expected; but I had my own resources.
I had now learned to laugh at trifles, and I cared little about this
decided step which his prudence induced him to take.
"Our boat has one sail,
And the helmsman is pale;
A bold pilot, I trow
Who should follow us now,"
As he spoke, bolts of death
Speck'd their path o'er the sea.
"And fear'st thou, and fear'st thou?
And see'st thou, and hear'st thou?
And drive we not free
O'er the terrible sea,
I and thou?"
The reader may think I was over fastidious when I inform him that
I cannot describe the disgust I felt at the licentious impurity of
manners which I found in the midshipmen's berth; for although my
connection with Eugenia was not sanctioned by religion or morality,
it was in other respects pure, disinterested, and, if I may use the
expression, patriarchal, since it was unsullied by inconstancy, gross
language, or drunkenness. Vicious I was, and I own it to my shame; but
at least my vice was refined by Eugenia, who had no fault but one.
As soon as I had settled myself in my new abode, with all the comfort
that circumstances would permit, I wrote a long letter to Eugenia,
in which I gave an exact account of all that had passed since our
separation; I begged her to come down to Portsmouth and see me;
told her to go to the "Star and Garter," as the house nearest the
water-side, and consequently where I should be the soonest out of
sight after I had landed. Her answer informed me that she should be
there on the following day.
The only difficulty now was to get on shore. No eloquence of mine, I
was sure, would induce the first lieutenant to relax his Cerberus-like
guard over me. I tried the experiment, however; begged very hard "to
be allowed to go on shore to procure certain articles absolutely
necessary to my comfort."
"No, no," said Mr Talbot, "I am too old a hand to be caught that way.
I have my orders, and I would not let my father go on shore, if the
captain ordered me to keep him on board; and I tell you, in perfect
good humour, that out of this ship you do not go, unless you swim on
shore, and that I do not think you will attempt. Here," continued
he, "to prove to you there is no ill-will on my part, here is the
It was short, sweet, and complimentary, as it related to myself, and
was as follows:--
"Keep that d----d young scamp, Mildmay, on board."
"Will you allow me, then," said I, folding up the note, and returning
it to him without any comment, "will you allow me to go on shore under
the charge of the sergeant of marines?"
"That," said he, "would be just as much an infringement of my orders
as letting you go by yourself. You cannot go on shore, sir."
These last words he uttered in a very peremptory manner, and, quitting
the deck, left me to my own reflections and my own resources.
Intercourse by letter between Eugenia and myself was perfectly easy;
but that was not all I wanted. I had promised to meet her at nine
o'clock in the evening. It was now sunset; the boats were all hoisted
up; no shore boat was near, and there was no mode of conveyance but _a
la nage_, which Mr Talbot himself had suggested only as proving its
utter impracticability; but he did not know me half so well at the
time as he did afterwards.
The ship lay two miles from the shore, the wind was from the
south-west, and the tide moving to the eastward; so that, with wind
and tide both in my favour, I calculated on fetching South Sea Castle.
After dark I took my station in the fore-channels. It was the 20th of
March, and very cold. I undressed myself, made all my clothes up into
a very tight bundle, and fastened them on my hat, which retained its
proper position; then, lowering myself very gently into the water,
like another Leander I struck out to gain the arms of my Hero.
Before I had got twenty yards from the ship, I was perceived by the
sentinel, who, naturally supposing I was a pressed man endeavouring to
escape, hailed me to come back. Not being obeyed, the officer of the
watch ordered him to fire at me. A ball whizzed over my head, and
struck the water between my hands. A dozen more followed, all of them
tolerably well directed; but I struck out, and the friendly shades of
night, and increasing distance from the ship, soon protected me. A
waterman, seeing the flashes and hearing the reports of the muskets,
concluded that he might chance to pick up a fare. He pulled towards
me, I hailed him, and he took me in, before I had got half a quarter
of a mile from the ship.
"I doubt whether you would ever have fetched the shore on that tack,
my lad," said the old man. "You left your ship two hours too soon: you
would have met the ebb-tide running strong out of the harbour; and the
first thing you would have made, if you could have kept up your head
above water, would have been the Ower's."
While the old man was pulling and talking, I was shivering and
dressing, and made no reply; but begged him to put me on shore on the
first part of South Sea Beach he could land at, which he did. I gave
him a guinea, and ran, without stopping, into the garrison, and down
Point Street to the Star and Garter, where I was received by Eugenia,
who, with great presence of mind, called me her "_dear, dear_
husband!" in the hearing of the people of the house. My wet clothes
attracted her notice. I told her what I had done to obtain an
interview with her. She shuddered with horror!--my teeth chattered
with cold. A good fire, a hot and not very weak glass of
brandy-and-water, together with her tears, smiles, and caresses, soon
restored me.--The reader will, no doubt, here recall to mind the
less agreeable remedy applied to me when I ducked the usher, and one
recommended also by myself in similar cases, as having experienced its
good effects: how much more I deserved it on this occasion than the
former one, need not be mentioned.
So sweet was this stolen interview, that I vowed I was ready to
encounter the same danger on the succeeding night. Our conversation
turned on our future prospects; and, as our time was short, we had
much to say.
"Frank," said the poor girl, "before we meet again, I shall probably
be a mother; and this hope alone alleviates the agony of separation.
If I have not you, I shall, at least, be blest with your image. Heaven
grant that it may be a boy, to follow the steps of his father, and not
a girl, to be as wretched as her mother. You, my dear Frank, are going
on distant and dangerous service--dangers increased tenfold by the
natural ardour of your mind: we may never meet again, or if we do,
the period will be far distant. I ever have been, and ever will be
constant to you, till death; but I neither expect, nor will allow of
the same declaration on your part. Other scenes, new faces, youthful
passions will combine to drive me for a time from your thoughts, and
when you shall have attained maturer years, and a rank in the navy
equal to your merits and your connections, you will marry in your own
sphere of society; all these things I have made up my mind to, as
events that must take place. Your person I know I cannot have--but do
not, do not discard me from your mind. I shall never be jealous as
long as I know you are happy, and still love your unfortunate Eugenia.
Your child shall be no burthen to you until it shall have attained an
age at which it may be put out in the world: then, I know you will not
desert it for the sake of its mother. Dear Frank, my heart is broken;
but you are not to blame; and if you were, I would die imploring
blessings on your head." Here she wept bitterly.
I tried every means in my power to comfort and encourage this
fascinating and extraordinary girl; I forgot neither vows nor
promises, which, at the time, I fully intended to perform. I promised
her a speedy and I trusted a happy meeting.
"God's will be done," said she, "come what will. And now, my dearest
Frank, farewell--never again endanger your life and character for me
as you did last night. I have been blest in your society, and even
with the prospect of misery before me, cannot regret the past."
I tenderly embraced her, jumped into a wherry, at Point, and desired
the waterman to take me on board the _I_----, at Spithead. The first
lieutenant was on deck when I came up the side.
"I presume it was you whom we fired at last night?" said he, smiling.
"It was, sir," said I; "absolute necessity compelled me to go on
shore, or I should not have taken such an extraordinary mode of
"Oh, with all my heart," said the officer; "had you told me you
intended to have swum on shore, I should not have prevented you; I
took you for one of the pressed men, and directed the marines to fire
"The pressed men are extremely obliged to you," thought I.
"Did you not find it devilish cold?" continued the lieutenant, in a
strain of good humour, which I encouraged by my manner of answering.
"Indeed I did, sir," said I.
"And the jollies fired tolerably well, did they?"
"They did, sir; would they had had a _better mark_."
"I understand you," said the lieutenant; "but as you have not served
your time, the vacancy would be of no use to you. I must report the
affair to the captain, though I do not think he will take any notice
of it; he is too fond of enterprise himself to check it in others.
Besides, a lady is always a justifiable object, but we hope soon to
show you some higher game."
The captain came on board shortly after, and took no notice of my
having been absent without leave; he made some remark as he glanced
his eye at me, which I afterwards learned was in my favour. In a few
days we sailed, and arrived in a few more in Basque Roads. The British
fleet was at anchor outside the French ships moored in a line off the
Isle d'Aix. The ship I belonged to had an active part in the work
going on, and most of us saw more than we chose to speak of; but
as much ill-blood was made on that occasion, and one or two very
unpleasant courts-martial took place, I shall endeavour to confine
myself to my own personal narrative, avoiding anything that may give
offence to the parties concerned. Some days were passed in preparing
the fire-ships; and on the night of the 11th April, 1809, everything
being prepared for the attempt to destroy the enemy's squadron, we
began the attack. A more daring one was never made; and if it partly
failed of success, no fault could be imputed to those who conducted
the enterprise: they did all that man could do.
The night was very dark, and it blew a strong breeze directly in upon
the Isle d'Aix, and the enemy's fleet. Two of our frigates had been
previously so placed as to serve as beacons to direct the course of
the fire-ships. They each displayed a clear and brilliant light; the
fire-ships were directed to pass between these; after which, their
course up to the boom which guarded the anchorage, was clear, and not
easily to be mistaken.
I solicited, and obtained permission to go on board one of the
explosion vessels that were to precede the fire-ships. They were
filled with layers of shells and powder, heaped one upon another: the
quantity on board of each vessel was enormous. Another officer, three
seamen, and myself, were all that were on board of her. We had a
four-oared gig, a small narrow thing (nick-named by the sailors a
"coffin"), to make our escape in.
Being quite prepared, we started. It was a fearful moment; the wind
freshened, and whistled through our rigging, and the night was so
dark, that we could not see our bowsprit. We had only our foresail
set; but with a strong flood-tide and a fair wind, with plenty of it,
we passed between the advanced frigates like an arrow. It seemed to me
like entering the gates of hell. As we flew rapidly along, and our
own ships disappeared in the intense darkness, I thought of Dante's
inscription over the portals:--"You who enter here, leave hope
Our orders were to lay the vessel on the boom which the French had
moored to the outer anchors of their ships of the line. In a few
minutes after passing the frigates we were close to it; our boat was
towing astern, with three men in it--one to hold the rope ready to let
go, one to steer, and one to bale the water out, which, from our rapid
motion, would otherwise have swamped her. The officer who accompanied
me steered the vessel, and I held the match in my hand. We came upon
the boom with a horrid crash; he put the helm down, and laid her
broadside to it. The force of the tide acting on the hull, and the
wind upon the foresail, made her heel gunwale to, and it was with
difficulty I could keep my legs; at this moment, the boat was very
near being swamped alongside. They had shifted her astern, and there
the tide had almost lifted her over the boom; by great exertion they
got her clear, and lay upon their oars: the tide and the wind formed
a bubbling short sea, which almost buried her. My companion then got
into the boat, desiring me to light the port-fire, and follow.
If ever I felt the sensation of fear, it was after I had lighted this
port-fire, which was connected with the train. Until I was fairly in
the boat, and out of the reach of the explosion--which was inevitable,
and might be instantaneous--the sensation was horrid. I was standing
on a mine; any fault in the port-fire, which sometimes will happen,
any trifling quantity of gunpowder lying in the interstices of the
deck, would have exploded the whole in a moment: had my hand trembled,
which I am proud to say it did not, the same might have occurred. Only
one minute and a half of port-fire was allowed. I had therefore no
time to lose. The moment I had lit it, I laid it down very gently, and
then jumped into the gig, with a nimbleness suitable to the occasion.
We were off in a moment: I pulled the stroke oar, and I never plied
with more zeal in all my life: we were not two hundred yards from her
when she exploded.
A more terrific and beautiful sight cannot be conceived; but we were
not quite enough at our ease to enjoy it. The shells flew up in the
air to a prodigious height, some bursting as they rose, and others
as they descended. The shower fell about us, but we escaped without
injury. We made but little progress against the wind and tide; and we
had the pleasure to run the gauntlet among all the other fire-ships,
which had been ignited, and bore down on us in flames fore and aft.
Their rigging was hung with Congreve rockets; and as they took fire,
they darted through the air in every direction with an astounding
noise, looking like large fiery serpents.
We arrived safely on board, and reported ourselves to the captain, who
was on the hammocks, watching the progress of the fire-ships. One of
these had been lighted too soon; her helm had not been lashed, and
she had broached to, close to our frigate. I had had quite enough of
adventure for that night, but was fated to have a little more.
"Mr Mildmay," said the captain, "you seem to like the fun; jump into
your gig again, take four fresh hands" (thinks I, a fresh midshipman
would not be amiss), "get on board of that vessel, and put her head
the right way."
I did not like this job at all; the vessel appeared to be in flames
from the jib-boom to the topsail; and I own I preferred enjoying
the honours I had already gained, to going after others so very
precarious; however, I never made a difficulty, and this was no time
for exceptions to my rule. I touched my hat, said, "Ay, ay, sir," sang
out for four volunteers, and, in an instant, I had fifty. I selected
four, and shoved off on my new expedition.
As I approached the vessel, I could not at first discover any part
that was not tenanted by the flames, the heat of which, at the
distance of twenty or thirty feet, was far from pleasant, even in that
cold night. The weather quarter appeared to be clearest of flames, but
they burst out with great fury from the cabin windows. I contrived,
with great difficulty, to reach the deck, by climbing up that part
which was not actually burning, and was followed by one of the
sailors. The main-mast was on fire, and the flakes of burning canvas
from the boom mainsail fell on us like a snow-storm; the end of the
tiller was burnt to charcoal, but on the midship part of it I passed a
rope, and, assisted by the sailor, moved the helm, and got her before
While I was thus employed, I could not help thinking of my type, Don
Juan. I was nearly suffocated before I had completed my work. I shoved
off again, and away she flew before the wind. "I don't go with you
this time," said I; "_J'ai ete_", as the Frenchman said, when he was
invited to an English foxhunt.
I was as black as a negro when I returned on board, and dying with
thirst. "Very well done, Mildmay," said the captain; "did you find it
warm?" I pointed to my mouth, for it was so parched that I could not
speak, and ran to the water-cask, where I drank as much as would have
floated a canoe. The first thing I said, as soon as I could speak, was
"D---- that fire-ship, and the lubber that set her on fire."
The next morning the French squadron was seen in a very disastrous
state; they had cut their cables, and run on shore in every direction,
with the exception of the flag ships of the admiral and rear-admiral,
which lay at their anchors, and could not move till high water; it was
then first quarter flood, so that they had five good hours to remain.
I refer my readers to the court-martial for a history of these events:
they have also been commented on, with more or less severity, by
contemporary writers. I shall only observe, that had the captains of
His Majesty's ships been left to their own judgment, much more would
have been attempted; but with what success I do not presume to say.
My captain, as soon as he could see his mark, weighed, ran in, and
engaged the batteries, while he also directed his guns at the bottoms
of the enemy's ships, as they lay on shore on their beam ends. Isle
d'Aix gave us a warm reception. I was on the forecastle, the captain
of which had his head taken clean off, by a cannon-ball; the captain
of the ship coming forward at the same moment, only said, "Poor
fellow! throw him overboard; there is no time for a coroner's inquest
now." We were a considerable time engaging the batteries, and the
vessels near them, without receiving any assistance from our ships.
While this was going on, a very curious instance of muscular action
occurred: a lad of eighteen years of age was on the forecastle, when
a shot cut away the whole of his bowels, which were scattered over
another midshipman and myself, and nearly blinded us. He fell--and
after lying a few seconds, sprang suddenly on his feet, stared us
horribly in the face, and fell down dead. The spine had not been
divided; but with that exception, the lower was separated from the
upper part of the body.
Some of our vessels seeing us so warmly engaged, began to move up to
our assistance. One of our ships of the line came into action in such
gallant trim, that it was glorious to behold. She was a beautiful
ship, in what we call "high kelter;" she seemed a living body,
conscious of her own superior power over her opponents, whose shot
she despised, as they fell thick and fast about her, while she
deliberately took up an admirable position for battle. And having
furled her sails, and squared her yards, as if she had been at
Spithead, her men came down from aloft, went to their guns, and
opened such a fire on the enemy's ships and batteries, as would have
delighted the great Nelson himself, could he have been present. The
results of this action are well known, and do not need repeating here;
it was one of the winding-up scenes of the war. The French, slow to
believe their naval inferiority, now submitted in silence. Our navy
had done its work; and from that time, the brunt of the war fell on
The advocates of fatalism or predestination might adduce a strong
illustration of their doctrine as evinced in the death of the captain
of one of the French ships destroyed. This officer had been taken out
of his ship by one of the boats of our frigate; but, recollecting that
he had left on board nautical instruments of great value, he requested
our captain to go with him in the gig, and bring them away before the
ship was burned. They did go, and the boat being very small, they sat
very close side by side, on a piece of board not much more than two
feet long, which, for want of proper seats, was laid across the stern
of the boat. One of the French ships was burning at the time; her guns
went off as fast as the fire reached them; and a chance shot took the
board from under the two captains: the English captain was not hurt;
but the splinters entered the body of the French captain, and killed
him. Late in the evening, the other French line-of-battle ships that
were ashore were set fire to, and a splendid illumination they made:
we were close to them, and the splinters and fragments of wreck fell
on board of us.
Among our killed, was a Dutch boatswain's mate: his wife was on board,
and the stick which he was allowed to carry in virtue of his office,
he very frequently applied to the shoulders of his helpmate, in
requital for certain instances of infidelity; nor, with all my respect
for the fair sex, can I deny that the punishment was generally
deserved. When the cannon-ball had deprived her of her lawful
protector and the guardian of her honour, she sat by the side of his
mangled remains, making many unavailing efforts to weep; a tear from
one eye coursed down her cheek, and was lost in her mouth; one from
the other eye started at the same time, but for want of nourishment,
halted on her cheekbone, where, collecting the smoke and gunpowder
which surrounded us, it formed a little black peninsula and isthmus
on her face, and gave to her heroic grief a truly mourning tear.
This proof of conjugal affection she would not part with until the
following day, when having seen the last sad rites paid to the body of
her faithful Achilles, she washed her face, and resumed her smiles,
nor was she ungrateful to the ship's company for their sympathy.
We were ordered up to Spithead with despatches, and long before we
arrived, she had made the sergeant of marines the happiest of men,
under a promise of marriage at Kingston church, before we sailed on
our next cruise, which promise was most honourably performed.
A midshipman's vacancy having occurred on board the frigate, the
captain offered it to me. I gladly accepted of it; and while he was in
the humour, I asked him for a week's leave of absence; this he also
granted, adding, at the same time, "No more French leave, if you
please." I need not say that not an hour of this indulgence was
intended either for my father or even the dear Emily. No, Eugenia, the
beloved, in her interesting condition, claimed my undivided care. I
flew to G----, found the troop; but she, alas! had left it a fortnight
before, and had gone no one knew whither.
Distracted with this fatal news, I sunk into a chair almost senseless,
when one of the actresses brought me a letter: I knew the hand, it was
that of Eugenia. Rushing into an empty parlour, I broke the seal, and
read as follows:--
"Believe me, my dearest Mildmay, nothing but the most urgent necessity
could induce me to cause you the affliction which I know you will feel
on reading these lines. Circumstances have occurred since we parted,
that not only render it necessary that I should quit you, but also
that we should not meet again for some time; and that you should be
kept in ignorance of my place of abode. Our separation, though long,
will not, I trust, be eternal; but years may elapse before we meet
again. The sacrifice is great to me; but your honour and prosperity
demand it. I have the same ardent love towards you that I ever had;
and for your sake, will love and cherish your child. I am supported in
_this_ my trial, by a hope of our being again united. God in heaven
bless you, and prosper all your undertakings. Follow up your
profession. I shall hear and have constant intelligence of all your
motions, and I shall pray to heaven to spare your life amidst all the
dangers that your courage will urge you to encounter. Farewell! and
forget not her who never has you one moment from her thoughts.
"P.S.--You may at rimes be short of cash; I know you are very
thoughtless in that respect. A letter to the subjoined address will
always be attended to, and enable you to command whatever may be
necessary for your comfort. Pride might induce you to reject this
offer; but remember it is Eugenia that offers: and if you love her as
she thinks you do, you will accept it from her."
Here was mystery and paradox in copious confusion. "Obliged
by circumstances to leave me--to conceal the place of her
retirement"--yet commanding not only pecuniary resources for herself,
but offering me any sum I might require! I retired to my bed; but
sleep forsook me, nor did I want it. I had too much to think of, and
no clue to solve my doubts. I prayed to Heaven for her welfare, vowed
eternal constancy, and at length fell asleep. The next morning I took
leave of my quondam associates, and returned to Portsmouth, neither
wishing to see my father, my family, or even the sweet Emily. It
however occurred to me that the same agent who could advance money
could forward a letter; and a letter I wrote, expressing all I felt.
No answer was returned; but as the letter never came back, I was
convinced it was received, and occasionally sent others, the
contents of which my readers will, no doubt, feel obliged to me for
suppressing, love-letters being of all things in the world the most
stupid, except to the parties concerned.
As I was not to see my Eugenia, I was delighted to hear that we
were again to be sent on active service. The Scheldt expedition was
preparing, and our frigate was to be in the advance; but our gallant
and favourite captain was not to go with us; an acting captain was
appointed, and every exertion was used to have the ship ready. The
town in the meantime was as crowded with soldiers as Spithead and
the harbour was with transports. Late in July, we sailed, having two
gunboats in tow, which we were ordered to man. I applied for, and
obtained the command of one of them, quite certain that I should see
more service, and consequently have more amusement, than if I
remained on board the frigate. We convoyed forty or fifty transports,
containing the cavalry, and brought them all safe to an anchor off
The weather was fine, and the water smooth; not a moment was lost in
disembarking the troops and horses; and I do not recollect ever having
seen, either before or since, a more pleasing sight. The men were
first sent on shore with their saddles and bridles: the horses were
then lowered into the water in running slings, which were slipped
clear off them in a moment; and as soon as they found themselves free,
they swam away for the shore, which they saluted with a loud neigh as
soon as they landed. In the space of a quarter of a mile we had three
or four hundred horses in the water, all swimming for the shore at the
same time; while their anxious riders stood on the beach waiting their
arrival. I never saw so novel or picturesque a sight.
I found the gun-boat service very hard. We were stationed off
Batz, and obliged to be constantly on the alert; but when Flushing
surrendered we had more leisure, and we employed it in procuring some
articles for our table, to which we had been too long strangers. Our
money had been expended in the purchase of champagne and claret, in
which articles we were no economists, consequently few florins could
be spared for the purchase of poultry and butcher meat; but then these
articles were to be procured, by the same means which had given us the
island of Walcheren, namely powder and shot. The country people were
very churlish, and not at all inclined to barter; and as we had
nothing to give in exchange, we avoided useless discussion. Turkeys,
by us short-sighted mortals, were often mistaken for pheasants; cocks
and hens, for partridges; tame ducks and geese for wild; in short,
such was our hurry and confusion--leaping ditches, climbing dykes,
and fording swamps--that Buffon himself would never have known the
difference between a goose and a peacock. Our game-bags were as
capacious as our consciences, and our aim as good as our appetites.
The peasants shut all their poultry up in their barns, and very
liberally bestowed all their curses upon us. Thus all our supplies
were cut off, and foraging became at least a source of difficulty, if
not of danger. I went on shore with our party, put a bullet into my
fowling-piece, and, as I thought, shot a deer; but on more minute
inspection, it proved to be a four months' calf. This was an accident
that might have happened to any man. The carcass was too heavy
to carry home, so we cut it in halves, not fore and aft down the
backbone, as your stupid butchers do, but made a short cut across the
loins, a far more compendious and portable method than the other. We
marched off with the hind legs, loins, and kidney, having first of all
buried the head and shoulders in the field, determined to call and
take it away the following night.
We were partly seen, and severely scrutinized in our action by
a neighbouring gun-boat, whose crew were no doubt as hungry as
ourselves; they got hold of one of our men, who, like a fool, let the
cat out of the bag, when a pint of grog got into it. The fellow hinted
where the other half lay, and these _unprincipled rascals_ went after
it, fully resolved to appropriate it to themselves; but they were
outwitted, as they deserved to be for their roguery. The farmer to
whom the calf belonged had got a hint of what was done, and finding
that we had buried one half of the calf, procured a party of soldiers
ready to take possession of us when we should come to fetch it away;
accordingly, the party who went from the other gun-boat after dark,
having found out the spot, were very busy disinterring their prey,
when they were surprised, taken prisoners, and marched away to the
British camp, leaving the dead body behind.
We, quite unconscious of what was done, came soon after, found our
veal, and marched off with it. The prisoners were in the meantime sent
on board the flag ship, with the charge of robbery strongly preferred
against them; indeed, _flagrante delicto_ was proved. In vain they
protested that they were not the slayers, but only went in search of
what others had killed: the admiral, who was a kind-hearted man, said,
that that was a very good story, but desired them "not to tell lies
to old rogues," and ordered them all under arrest: at the same time
giving directions for a most rigid scrutiny into the larder of the
other gun-boat, with a view, if possible, to discover the remains of
the calf. This we had foreseen would happen, so we put it into one
of the sailor's bags, and sank it with a lead-line in three fathoms
water, where it lay till the inspection was over, when we dressed it,
and made an excellent dinner, drinking success to His Majesty's arms
by land and sea.
Whether I had been intemperate in food or libation I know not, but
I was attacked with the Walcheren fever, and was sent home in a
line-of-battle ship; and, perhaps, as Pangloss says, it was all for
the best; for I knew I could not have left off my inveterate habits,
and it would have been very inconvenient to me, and distressing to my
friends, to have ended my brilliant career, and stopped these memoirs,
at the beginning of the second and most interesting volume, by hanging
the Author up, like a scarecrow, under the superintendence of the
rascally provost-marshal, merely for catering on the land of a
Walcheren farmer. Moreover, the Dutch were unworthy of liberty, as
their actions proved, to begrudge a few fowls, or a fillet of veal,
to the very men who came to rescue them from bondage;--and then their
water, too, who ever drank such stuff? for my part, I never tasted it
when I could get anything better. As to their nasty swamps and fogs,
quite good enough for such croaking fellows as they are, what could
induce an Englishman to live among them, except the pleasure of
killing Frenchmen, or shooting game? Deprive us of these pursuits,
which the surrender of Flushing effectually did, and Walcheren, with
its ophthalmia and its agues, was no longer a place for a gentleman.
Besides, I plainly saw that if there ever had been any intention of
advancing to Antwerp, the time was now gone by; and as the French were
laughing at us, and I never liked to be made a butt of, particularly
by such chaps as these, I left the scene of our sorrows and disgraces
The farewell of Voltaire came into my mind. "_Adieu, Canaux, Canardes,
et Canaille_," which might be rendered into English thus:--"Good-bye,
Dykes, Ducks, and Dutchmen." So I returned to my father's house to be
nursed by my sister, and to astonish the neighbours with the history
of our wonderful achievements.
First came great Neptune, with his three-forkt mace,
That rules the seas, and makes them rise or fall:
His dewy locks did drop with brine apace
Under his diademe-imperiall:
And by his side his queene with coronall,
* * * * *
These marched farre afore the other crew.
I remained no longer at home than sufficed to restore my strength,
after the serious attack of fever and ague which I had brought with
me from Walcheren. Although my father received me kindly, he had not
forgotten (at least I thought so) my former transgressions; a mutual
distrust destroyed that intimacy which ought ever to exist between
father and son. The thread was broken--it is vain to enquire how, and
the consequence was, that the day of my departure to join a frigate
on the North American station, was welcomed with joy by me, and seen
unregretted by my father.
The ship I was about to join was commanded by a young nobleman, and as
patricians were not so plentiful in the service at that time, as they
have since become, I was considered fortunate in my appointment. I was
ordered, with about thirty more supernumerary midshipmen, to take my
passage in a ship of the line, going to Bermuda. The gun-room was
given to us as our place of residence, the midshipmen belonging to the
ship occupying the two snug berths in the cockpit.
Among so many young men of different habits and circumstances, all
joining the ship at different periods, no combination could be made
for forming a mess. The ship sailed soon after I got on board, and
our party, during the voyage, was usually supplied from the purser's
steward-room. I have thought it very wonderful, that a mess of eight
or twelve seamen or marines will always make the allowance last from
one week to another, and have something to spare; but with the same
number of midshipmen the case is very different, and the larger
the mess the more do their difficulties increase; they are never
satisfied, never have enough, and if the purser will allow them, are
always in debt for flour, beef, pork, and spirits. This is owing to
their natural habits of carelessness; and our mess, for this reason,
was particularly uncomfortable. The government was a democracy; but
the caterer had at times been invested with dictatorial powers, which
he either abused or was thought to abuse, and he was accordingly
turned out, or resigned in disgust, at the end of two or three days.
Most of my messmates were young men, senior to me in the service,
having passed their examinations, and were going to America for
promotion: but when mustered on the quarter-deck, whether they
appeared less manly, or were, in fact, less expert in their duty, I
know not; but certain it is, that the first lieutenant appointed
me mate of a watch, and placed several of these aspirants under my
orders: and so strong did we muster, that we stood in each other's way
when on deck keeping our watch, seldom less than seventeen or eighteen
In the gun-room we agreed very ill together, and one principal cause
of this was our short allowance of food--daily skirmishes took place,
and not unfrequently pitched battles; but I never took any other part
in them than as a spectator, and the observations I made convinced me
that I should have no great difficulty in mastering the whole of them.
The office of caterer was one of neither honour nor emolument, and
it was voluntarily taken up, and peevishly laid down, on the first
trifling provocation. With the ship's allowance, no being, less than
an angel, could have given satisfaction. The division of beef and
pork into as many parcels as there were claimants, always produced
remonstrance, reproof, and blows. I was never quarrelsome, and took
the part allotted to me quietly enough, until, they finding my
disposition to submit, I found my portion daily decrease, and on the
resignation of the thirteenth caterer, I volunteered my services,
which were gladly accepted.
Aware of the danger and difficulty of my situation, I was prepared
accordingly. On the first day that I shared the provisions, I took
very good care of number one, and, as I had foreseen, was attacked by
two or three for my lion-like division of the prey. Upon this, I made
them a short speech, observing, that if they supposed I meant to take
the trouble of catering for nothing, they were very much mistaken;
that the small difference I made between their portions and mine, if
equally divided among them, would not fill a hollow tooth, and that,
after my own share, all others should be distributed with the most
rigid impartiality, and scrupulous regard to justice.
This very reasonable speech did not satisfy them. I was challenged to
decide the point _a la Cribb_; two candidates for the honour stepped
out at once. I desired them to toss up; and having soon defeated the
winner, I recommended him to return to his seat. The next man came
forward, hoping to find an easy victory, after the fatigue of a recent
battle; but he was mistaken, and retired with severe chastisement.
The next day I took my seat, cleared for action--coat, waistcoat, and
neckcloth off. I observed that I should proceed as I had done before,
and was ready to hold a court of Oyer and Terminer; but no suitors
appeared, and I held the office of caterer from that day till I
quitted the ship, by the strongest of all possible claims--first, by
election; and, secondly, by right of conquest.
We had not been many days at sea, before we discovered that our first
lieutenant was a most abominable tyrant, a brutal fellow, a drunkard,
and a glutton, with a long red nose, and a large belly; he frequently
sent half-a-dozen grown-up midshipmen to the mast-head at a time. This
man I determined to turn out of the ship, and mentioned my intention
to my messmates, promising them success if they would only follow my
advice. They quite laughed at the idea; but I was firm, and told them
that it should come to pass, if they would but behave so ill as just
to incur a slight punishment or reprimand from "Nosey" every day; this
they agreed to; and not a day passed but they were either mast-headed,
or put watch and watch.
They reported all to me, and asked my advice. "Complain to the
captain," said I. They did, and were told that the first lieutenant
had done his duty. The same causes produced the same effects on each
succeeding day; and when the midshipmen complained, they had no
redress. By my direction, they observed to the captain, "It is of
no use complaining, sir; you always take Mr Clewline's part." The
captain, indeed, from a general sense of propriety, gave his support
to the ward-room officers, knowing that, nine times in ten, midshipmen
were in the wrong.
Things worked as I wished; the midshipmen persisted in behaving
ill--remonstrated, and declared that the first lieutenant did not tell
the truth. For a time, many of them lost the favour of the captain,
but I encouraged them to bear that, as well as the increased rancour
of "Old Nosey." One day two midshipmen, by previous agreement, began
to fight on the lee gangway. In those days, that was crime enough
almost to have hanged them; they were sent to the mast-head for three
hours, and when they came down applied to me for advice. "Go," said I,
"and complain. If the first lieutenant says you were fighting, tell
the captain you were only showing how the first lieutenant pummelled
the men last night when they were hoisting the topsails, and the way
he cut the marine's head, when he knocked him down the hatchway." All
this was fairly done--the midshipmen received a reprimand, but the
captain began to think there might be some cause for these continued
complaints, which daily increased both in weight and number.
At last we were enabled to give the _coup de grace_. A wretched boy
in the ship, whose dirty habits often brought him to the gun, was so
hardened that he laughed at all the stripes of the boatswain's cat
inflicted on him by the first lieutenant. "I will make him feel," said
the enraged officer; so ordering a bowl of brine to be brought to him,
he sprinkled it on the lacerated flesh of the boy between every lash.
This inhuman act, so unbecoming the character of an officer and a
gentleman, we all resented, and retiring to the gun-room in a body,
gave three deep and heavy groans in chorus. The effect was dismal;
it was heard in the ward-room, and the first lieutenant sent down to
desire we should be quiet; on which we immediately gave three more,
which sent him in a rage to the quarter-deck, where we were all
summoned, and the reason of the noise demanded. I had, till then, kept
myself in the background, content with being the _primum mobile_,
without being seen. I was always strict to my duty, and never had
been complained of; my coming forward, therefore, on this occasion,
produced a fine stage effect, and carried great weight.
I told the lieutenant we were groaning for the poor boy who had
been pickled. This increased his rage, and he ordered me up to the
mast-head. I refused to go until I had seen the captain, who at that
moment made his appearance on deck. I immediately referred to him,
related the whole story, not omitting to mention the repeated acts of
tyranny which the lieutenant had perpetrated on us all. I saw in a
moment that we had gained the day. The captain had given the most
positive orders that no one should be punished without his express
permission. This order the lieutenant had disobeyed, and that, added
to his unpopular character, decided his fate. The captain walked into
his cabin, and the next day signified to the first lieutenant, that
he must quit the ship on her arrival in port, or be tried by a
court-martial: this latter he knew he dared not stand.
I should have informed my reader that our orders were to see the
East-India convoy as far as the tenth degree of north latitude, and
then proceed to Bermuda. This was of itself a pleasant cruise, and
gave us the chance of falling in either with an enemy or a recapture.
Ships not intending to cross the line usually grant a saturnalia to
the crew when they come to the tropic of Capricorn; it is thought to
renovate their spirits, and to break the monotony of the cruise, or
voyage, where time flows on in such a smooth, undeviating routine,
that one day is not distinguishable from another. Our captain, a young
man, and a perfect gentleman, never refused any indulgence to the men,
compatible with discipline and the safety of the ship: and as the
regular trade-wind blew, there was no danger of sudden squalls
The ceremony of crossing the line, I am aware, has been often
described--so has Italy and the Rhine; but there are varieties of ways
of doing and relating these things; ours had its singularity, and
ended, I am sorry to say, in a deep tragedy, which I shall remember
"as long as memory holds her seat."
One beautiful morning, as soon as the people had breakfasted, they
began to prepare, by stripping to their waists, and wearing nothing
but a pair of duck trousers. The man at the mast-head called out that
he saw something on the weather bow, which he thought was a boat; soon
after, an unknown voice from the jib-boom hailed the ship; the officer
of the watch answered; and the voice commanded him to heave to, as
Neptune was coming on board. The ship was accordingly hove to with
every formality, though going at the rate of seven miles an hour: the
main-yard squared, the head and after-yards braced up.
As soon as the ship was hove to, a young man (one of the sailors)
dressed in a smart suit of black, knee-breeches, and buckles, with his
hair powdered, and with all the extra finery and mincing gait of an
exquisite, came aft on the quarter-deck, and, with a most polished
bow, took the liberty of introducing himself as _gentleman's
gentleman_ to Mr Neptune, who had been desired to precede his master
and acquaint the commander of the vessel with his intended visit.
A sail had been extended across the forecastle by way of curtain, and
from behind this, Neptune and his train, in full costume, shortly
afterwards came forth.
The car of the god consisted of a gun-carriage: it was drawn by six
black men, part of the ship's crew: they were tall muscular fellows,
their heads were covered with sea-weed, and they wore a very small
pair of cotton drawers: in other respects they were perfectly
naked; their skins were spotted all over with red and white paint
alternately; they had conch shells in their hands, with which they
made a most horrible noise. Neptune was masked, as were many of his
attendants, and none of the officers knew exactly by which of the men
the god was represented; but he was a shrewd hand, and did his part
very well. He wore a naval crown, made by the ship's armourer; in
his right hand he held a trident, on the prongs of which there was a
dolphin, which he had, he said, struck that morning; he wore a large
wig, made of oakum, and a beard of the same materials, which flowed
down to his waist; he was full powdered, and his naked body was
bedaubed with paint.
The god was attended by a splendid court: his secretary of state,
whose head was stuck full of the quills of the sea bird of these
latitudes; his surgeon, with his lancet, pill-box, and his
smelling-bottle; his barber, with a razor, whose blade was two feet
long, cut off an iron hoop; and the barber's mate, who carried a small
tub, as a shaving-box; the materials within I could not analyze,
but my nose convinced me that no part of them came from Smith's, in
Amphitrite followed, on a similar carriage, drawn by six white men,
whose costume was like the others. This goddess was personified by an
athletic, ugly man, marked with the small-pox, dressed as a female,
with a woman's night-cap on his head, ornamented with sprigs of
sea-weed; she had a harpoon in her hand, on which was fixed an
albicore; and in her lap lay one of the boys of the ship, dressed as a
baby, with long clothes and a cap: he held in his hand a marlinspike,
which was suspended round his neck with a rope yarn: this was to
assist him in cutting his teeth, as the children on shore use a coral.
His nurse attended him with a bucket full of burgoo, or hasty pudding,
with which she occasionally fed him out of the cook's iron ladle.
Two or three stout men were habited as sea nymphs, to attend on
the goddess: they carried a looking-glass, some curry-combs, a
birch-broom, and a pot of red paint, by way of rouge.
As soon as the procession appeared on the forecastle, the captain,
attended by his steward, bearing a tray with a bottle of wine and some
glasses, came out of his cabin, and the cars of the marine deities
were drawn up on the quarter-deck. Neptune lowered his trident, and
presented the dolphin to the captain, as Amphitrite did her albicore,
in token of submission and homage to the representative of the King of
"I have come," said the god, "to welcome you into my dominions, and to
present my wife and child." The captain bowed. "Allow me to ask after
my brother and liege sovereign, the good old King George."
"He is not so well," said the captain, "as I and all his subjects
"More's the pity," replied Neptune; "and how is the Prince of Wales?"
"The Prince is well," said the captain, "and now governs as regent in
the name of his royal father."
"And how does he get on with his wife?" said the inquisitive god.
"Bad enough," said the captain; "they agree together like a whale and
"Ah! I thought so," said the god of the sea. "His royal highness
should take a leaf out of my book: never allow it to be doubtful who
is commanding officer."
"And pray what might your majesty's specific be, to cure a bad wife?"
said the captain.
"Three feet of the cross-jack brace every morning before breakfast,
for a quarter of an hour, and half an hour on a Sunday."
"But why more on a Sunday than any other day?" said the captain.
"Why?" said Neptune, "why, because she'd been keeping Saturday night,
to be sure; besides, she has less to do of a Sunday, and more time to
think of her sins, and do penance."
"But you would not have a prince strike a lady, surely?"
"Wouldn't I? No to be sure, if she behave herself as _sich_, on no
account; but if she gives tongue, and won't keep sober, I'd sarve her
as I do Amphy--don't I, Amphy?" chucking the goddess under the chin.
"We have no bad wives in the bottom of the sea: and so if you don't
know how to keep 'em in order, send them to us."
"But your majesty's remedy is violent; we should have a rebellion in
England, if the king was to beat his wife."
"Make the lords in waiting do it then," said the Surly god; "and if
they are too lazy, which I dare say they are, send for a boatswain's
mate from the Royal Billy--he'd sarve her out, I warrant you; and, for
half a gallon of rum, would teach the yeomen of the guard to dance the
binnacle hornpipe into the bargain."
"His royal highness shall certainly hear your advice, Mr Neptune;
but whether he will follow it or not is not for me to say. Would you
please to drink his royal highness's good health?"
"With all my heart, sir; I was always loyal to my king, and ready to
drink his health, and to fight for him."
The captain presented the god with a bumper of Madeira, and another to
"Here's a good health and a long life to our gracious king and all the
royal family. The roads are unkimmon dusty, and we hav'n't wet our
lips since we left St Thomas on the line, this morning. But we have no
time to lose, captain," said the sea god; "I see many new faces here,
as requires washing and shaving; and if we add bleeding and physic,
they will be all the better for it."
The captain nodded assent; and Neptune, striking the deck with the end
of his trident, commanded attention, and thus addressed his court:
"Heark ye, my Tritons, you are called here to shave, duck, and physic
all as needs, but I command you to be gentle. I'll have no ill-usage;
if we gets a bad name, we gets no more fees; and the first of you as
disobeys my orders, I'll tie him to a ten-inch mortar, and sink him
ten thousand fathoms deep in the ocean, where he shall feed on salt
water and sea-weed for a hundred years: begone to your work." Twelve
constables, with thick sticks, immediately repaired to the hatchway,
and sent down all who had not been initiated, guarding them strictly,
until they were called up one by one.
The cow-pen had been previously prepared for the bathing; it was lined
with double canvas, and boarded, so that it held water, and contained
about four butts, which was constantly renewed by the pump. Many of
the officers purchased exemption from shaving and physic by a bottle
of rum; but none could escape the sprinkling of salt water, which fell
about in great profusion; even the captain received his share, but
with great good-nature, and seemed to enjoy the sport. It was easy
to perceive, on this occasion, who were favourites with the ship's
company, by the degree of severity with which they were treated. The
tyro was seated on the side of the cow-pen: he was asked the place of
his nativity, and the moment he opened his mouth, the shaving-brush of
the barber, which was a very large paint brush, was crammed in with
all the filthy lather with which they covered his face and chin; this
was roughly scraped off with the great razor. The doctor felt his
pulse, and prescribed a pill, which was forced into his cheek; and
the smelling-bottle, the cork of which was armed with short points of
pins, was so forcibly applied to his nose as to bring blood; after
this, he was thrown backwards into the bath, and allowed to scramble
out the best way he could.
The master-at-arms, and ship's corporals, and purser's steward, were
severely treated. The midshipmen looked out for the first lieutenant;
but he kept so close under the wing of the captain, that for a long
time we were unable to succeed. At length, some great uproar in the
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