Part 2 out of 9
Reuben was still pumping the dead man's hand up and down, the tears
coursing down his face.
"Poor old mate!" he kept saying. "He'd not ha been the same if things
had been different--would you, old mate?--I wish I'd ha shook hands
with you now, I do."
A shuddering voice spoke from the boat. It was the broken blockade-man.
"Ow much is he dead?" he asked.
"Why, dead as dirt," replied a matter-of-fact fellow, chewing his
"Sure he ain't learying?" came the voice of the man with the shivers.
"You fear'd on him still, Alf?" asked one curiously.
"Fear'd on him?--No, I ain't fear'd on him!" came a ghastly titter.
"Got no cause, ave I?"
"He won't urt you," replied the other, soothingly. "He's dead all
right--ain't you, Diamond?--You can tweak his nose, see?--and then
go ome, and tell the gals what you done. Tweak Black Diamond by the
"You let him be!" growled Reuben. "Time was you'd ha crawled
to him. Now any snotty little toad can make game on him."
Kit looked up at the rising voices.
A fellow had seized Diamond by the nose, plucking back his head.
The dead man's mouth gaped. Into the cavern of it shone the moon.
"One moment!" cried the boy; and hating himself, he thrust a finger
and thumb into the opening, and plucked out the thing which gleamed
It was a cut-glass scent-bottle.
They came under the counter of the sloop, the boat towing the lugger,
and Black Diamond dead, the moon upon him.
A face, tallowy-nosed and black-whiskered, was leaning over the side.
"Say! was there a tall chap on a blood chestnut aboard?" asked a slushy
voice. "Andshomish feller--might be own brother to me. If so, pass
him up the side, there's a good biy. There's L1,000 on his head."
Kit went up the side, his heart beating high.
"Anything?" asked the old Commander shortly.
He surrendered his treasure-trove.
"What! this all?" sniffed the old man, fingering the scent-bottle
He stumped below.
The boy's heart was white-hot with indignation.
This then was his thanks!
Somebody tickled him under the arms.
"You're in the old man's good books, Sonny," said a hilarious voice.
"Wha d'you think he said when you plumped overboard?"
"I don't know. What?"
"'Nelson might ha done that,' says the old man--Bible-truth, he did."
And he shook out loose coils of laughter.
The compliment was so staggering that it humbled the boy.
A minute since he could have stabbed that old man with the stiff knee.
Now he could have kissed him.
"No! did he _really_?" he gasped.
The Gunner clutched the boy with one arm, and
tilting his chin, looked down at the uplifted face.
"There _is_ a look o the little man about the kid," he said--"kind
o gal-like look--all eyes, and spirit, and long chin. Funny thing!--I've
always noticed the best biys to fight are them as got most gal about
The purser's steward tripped up.
"Mr. Caryll, sir, Commander Harding desires to see you in his cabin."
"Told you, Sonny," crowed the Gunner. "It's to give you a certificate
for valour, and a drop o brandy on a lump o sugar."
A purser's glim lit the cabin, bare save for a solitary print upon
Facing it stood the old Commander, broad as a wall, his hands behind
him, and the scent-bottle, unstoppered now, in one of them.
Kit recognised the face on the wall at once. It was Nelson's.
"That you, Mr. Caryll?"
"Can ye read French?"
"A little, sir."
"Then what ye make o this?"
He thrust a hand behind him, never turning.
Kit took from it a tiny roll of tissue paper, and unfolded it.
"Shall I begin, sir?... It's headed _Merton, [Footnote: Merton was
at this time the seat of Lady Hamilton.] 17th, 2 a.m._, and goes
on--" he translated, stumbling--
_Everything is going beautifully. There is only one man for England
to-day; and for him there is only one woman. She is the absolute
master of her N., and he of Barham and the Board. The_ Victory
_is due to-morrow. She expects him here on Monday, and will do
all. The original plan holds good. He will be off Beachy Head
Thursday. The_ Medusa, 44.
_Keep the frigate cruising. I am off to Dover at dawn to square up
there. Diamond calls for me at the old rendezvous on Wednesday, and
puts me on board the frigate that I may be_ in at the death _as
our friends this side say._
The boy lifted dark eyes.
"It looks like a--"
The other cut him short.
"In our Service, sir, the Captain speaks when he's the mind; the First
Lieutenant all the time; and the midshipmen--_never_."
He snapped fierce jaws.
"What date, d'ye say?"
"Seventeenth, _sir_.... That's to-day, ain't it?"
The old man grunted.
"Started this morning--sharp work."
"He was riding a thorough-bred ... sir."
"What's a furrow-bred?... plough-oss?"
"Plough-horse!" sparkling scorn. "It's the best sort of horse going."
"What if it be?--I'm a sea-man myself--not a postboy.... How d'ye know
he was ridin a what-d'ye-call-it?"
"He always does."
"The man they call the Gentleman--the Galloping Gentleman."
"Who told you?"
"I picked it up, listening to the riding-officer."
The old man cocked an eye over his shoulder at the boy.
"I keep on a-listinin for that _sir_," he said. "Reck'n I'm hard
He resumed his study of the face on the bulk-head. A long while he
gazed: then smacked one fist into the other.
"That gal!" he muttered. "I always know'd how it'd be," and turned
Taking the paper from the boy, he packed it into the scent-bottle.
"When I've laid this here in Nelson's hands," he said deliberately,
"I'll be ready to say what your father said aboord the Don."
A curious smile made kindly wrinkles about his eyes: it was half
mischievous, half wistful: the smile of a child about to gratify an
innocent spite, long cherished.
Then he shoved the bottle into his breast-pocket, and looked up. The
light fell on his face; and for the first time Kit saw his Captain
Square shoulders; square face; square chin; a square brow, strangely
white above the terra-cotta-coloured lower face; and blue eyes that
looked squarely into yours. All square, body and soul. A true man,
and a born fighter, the blue and white riband for St. Vincent at his
"When you joomped aboord the lugger, was you scared?" he asked curtly.
The boy looked him in the eyes.
The old man's hand lay for a moment on his shoulder.
"So'd I ha been," he said, and went out, nodding.
On deck the dawn glimmered faintly.
On their lee, high in the heaven, a glowing smother hung in the dark
over a snaky brood, darting red tongues hither and thither.
"What's that?" growled old Ding-dong.
"The chaps as got away in the long-boat, sir. Set a light to the gorse
on Beachy Head. Signal. An old game o their'n."
The old man swung about.
As he looked, a blue light spurted seaward, and another answered it.
"Thought so," he muttered. "Burning flares."
Then he turned again.
"Bout ship!" he barked. "Make your course for Newhaven. Send a look-out
man aloft. And clear for action."
THE TWO PRIVATEERS
A roll of thunder woke Kit.
Starting up on his elbows he looked about him.
Where was he?
Yesterday he had waked in the blue room at the White Cellar, the
sparrows chirping under the eaves, the smiling chamber-maid at the
door saying, "Half-past seven, sir," and the rumble of the Lewes
coach in the yard beneath.
It was an altogether different rumble that he heard now. He had never
heard it before; yet how well he knew it.
It was the roll of the drum, beating to quarters.
Across the sea a bugle answered it.
The boy thrust his head out of the port.
All about him lay a shining floor of sea, gently undulating and six
cable lengths away, bearing down upon the sloop, a black ship flying
Across the bulk-head a sudden roaring voice boomed out an order.
There was the scuffle and scamper of naked feet; the noise of tackle
running, shot trundling along the deck, and the roll of guns.
Then all was silence but for the thumping of his heart, and the slop
of the water about her sides as the little _Tremendous_ footed
it into her last fight.
Kit rushed on deck.
The sloop, stripped to her topsails, was stirring the water faintly.
Only one man was on deck--old Ding-dong, conning the ship himself
He was in a worn frock-coat, and faded yellow kerseymere waistcoat,
stained with soup and tar; and the hands on the wheel wore grimy kid
There was such a dinginess about the old man's garments, and such a
dignity about his face, that Kit almost laughed to see him.
Last night the old Commander might have been a Channel pilot, in his
rough sea-jacket and sea-boots. Today he was a King's officer,
fighting a King's ship; and no mistaking it.
There was a change in his face too: something subtle, almost spiritual,
that the boy could feel although he could not define it. In fact the
explanation was very simple. Old Ding-dong was going into action,
and had brushed his hair first as was his invariable custom.
"Morn, Mr. Caryll," said the old man, never taking his eyes off his
topsails. "I was just going to send for you. You'll be my orderly
midshipman. We're in for a little bit o business. See them two?" He
jerked his head across the water.
Then Kit saw for the first time that two black monsters were sliding
down upon them over the shining waters, side by side. The nearer was
close on the larboard bow of the sloop; the other, on the same tack,
lay on her consort's far quarter. Their bows hardly rippled the water
as they stole forward. They seemed to flow with the flowing sea rather
than sail. Phantom-ships, they might have been creatures of the night,
surprised by day.
The boy could see nobody aboard. Save for the flapping of the tricolours,
and the occasional creak of a spar, they were still as death. The silence
and terror of their coming sickened the lad.
The voice of the old Commander, gruff and everyday at his elbow,
"Privateers," he growled--"old friends both. This'n's the _Cock-ot_.
Happen you've heard tell of her. That'n's the _Cock-it_.
Sister-ships. And 'ot and 'it they'll be afoor long if I can make em so."
He spun the wheel discreetly.
"At dawn I found em atween me and Newhaven. So I went about; I wasn't
on the fightin lay--half my ship's company short, and this here in
my pocket for Nelson." He tapped his breast.
"Thought I'd run for Dover. I was hardly off on that tack when I found
her"--with a backward jerk of his head--"athwart-hawse me."
Kit turned and saw a third ship, very tall, a league in their wake.
"Forty-four gun frigate," continued the old Commander. "Must ha given
somebody the slip. But what she's doin here along o them two pints
"They must have been waiting to escort the lugger," ventured the boy.
"Happen so," said the other phlegmatically. "Well, they've got her
now--the husk, that is: I've kep the kernel," tapping his breast-pocket
once again. "I didn't want all three a-top o me at the first onset,
so I cut the lugger adrift, and set her bowling, helm lashd. As I reckoned,
the frigate stopped to pick her up. She won't be alongside for three
hours yet.... As to them two, we've been dodging about all morning,
but I reck'n we're about there now--just about. So-o-o!"
There was a roar and a huge splash beneath the stern of the
_Tremendous_. A cold avalanche sluiced the boy. He staggered
blindly back, something crashing on the deck about him.
"O!" he cried, and opened his eyes faintly, expecting to find himself
smothered with blood.
It was water, not blood, that was dripping from him.
The boy looked up in fear.
Old Ding-dong drenched too, the water trickling down his nose, still
nursed his ship tender as a mother.
There was not the ghost of a smile on his face, no curl of contempt
about his mouth.
Kit thanked him inwardly. After all the rough old fellow was a gentleman.
"Trying the distance with a bow-chaser," said the old man imperturbably.
"I'd have a lick back, only I can't spare no men for the deck carronades.
All below with Lanyon."
The tip of his tongue shot out, and made the journey of his lips,
cat-like. From behind that grim and weathered visage peeped the child,
arch, mischievous, infinitely cunning.
"Master Mouche, he _reckons_ I'm going to cross his bows and rake
him," he whispered. "He _reckons_ I'll keep my course to sarve
his consort the same. He _reckons_ to come up under my starn and
rake me fore and aft, while his consort wears ship and pounds me with
her broadside. That's his little game. 'Tain't mine though, ye know,
Mr. Caryll--'tain't mine." He rolled a blue eye on the boy; and in
that eye, twinkling cunning, bubbled the delight of a child about to
play a practical joke on an elder.
So unexpected was the effect, and so tickling--this grim old veteran
revealing in himself the Eternal Child who hides behind us all--that
the Frenchmen at their guns, hearing in the silence the sudden ripple
of a boy's laughter, whispered among themselves that the Englishman
had a woman aboard.
The breeze was very light and fast falling away. Old Ding-dong kept
one eye on his topsails, and one on his foe, sliding towards him across
"Like the Shadow o Death a'most, ain't she?" said the old man in hushed
voice--"so still-like and stealy." He dropped a kind eye on the boy's
face. "Makes ye think first time, don't it?--I mind Quiberon. Guts
feel fainty like."
He renewed his watch. The twinkle had left his eyes. He had withdrawn
deep down into himself. Somewhere in the centre of that square body
sat his mind, alert, cat-like, about to pounce.
The shadow of the _Cocotte_ fell across the sea nearly to their
feet. The wind breathed on the waters, dulling them. The languid topsails
The old man spun the wheel. The _Tremendous_ swung towards her
Delicately across the glittering floor the two ships drew towards each
other, wary as panthers about to fight.
There was dead silence, alow and aloft. Only the tricolour at the enemy's
fore flapped insolently; and the red-cross flag, at the mizzen gaff
of the sloop, licked out a long tongue and taunted back.
"That's Mouche at the wheel," grunted the old Commander--"her skipper.
A fine fighter, but treecherous like em all.... Funny thing no one
on deck only him. Swarmin with men too, I'll lay."
The French skipper too was at the wheel: a dapper little personage,
black-a-vised, with fierce moustachios and eye-tufts.
He wore a huge tricorne, and vast tawdry epaulettes.
"How do you, sair?" he called, all bows and smiles and teeth, as the
two ships came within biscuit-toss. "Vair please to meet you once more."
"Queer lingo, ain't it?" muttered old Ding-dong. "All spit and gargle.
Comes from eatin all them frogs, I reck'n. Stick in their throats or
He raised his voice.
"Same to you and many on em," he growled. "I ain't seen that dirty
phiz o your'n in the Channel since our little bit of a tiff off the
Casquets last May. I yeard tell you was in the West Indies conwalescin
a'ter an attack o de _Tremendous_!" He chuckled at his joke.
The Frenchman shrugged and smiled.
"So I wass, sair, a while back. And now here--on express pisness; the
"What's up?" asked the Englishman bluffly. "Tired o waitin to wop
Nelson? Goin to embark the Armee o England straight off?"
"Not yet," replied the other, showing his teeth. "All in goot time,
my Captain. This first--this pit of pisness I do for my Emperor."
"Seems to me that Emperor o your'n must be put to the push if he's
druv to gettin a mucky little pirit like you to do his business," grumbled
The Frenchman waved the insult aside with utmost good humour.
"He send for me across the seas. 'I need my leetle Albairt,' he says.
'Come queegly.' So I spread my wings and come. And _La Coquette_
she slip out from Rochefort. And _La Guerriere_"-with a backward
jerk--"from Brest. Like swallows in April we flock to the
rendezvous--to meet the Queen of Hearts, is it not?"
He bowed low, hand to his bosom.
"And now you've come, sure I ope you'll stay," rumbled the grim old
seaman. "The trouble with you's always been your despart hurry to get
"This time we stay," replied the Frenchman with a smirk--"all three,
for ever, if need be."
"We'll do our best to make you at ome, sir," grunted the Englishman;
and turning to Kit--
"Slip below and tell Mr. Lanyon to begin to talk when we're locked
fast--and not afoor."
Kit scampered below.
The main-deck was clear as a room before a ball: bulkheads up; hammocks
slung. But for the sand on it, you might have danced there.
How big and sweet and clean it looked!--like the loft at home, where
he and Gwen and the black cat's kittens played on wet days.
But there was something other than the black cat's kittens to think
The sunshine poured in through the ports on the sleek guns crouching
ready. On the breech of one somebody had scrawled in chalk--
_God is Love. Hear me preach it:_
on others obscene mottoes, texts, and lines from patriotic songs.
About each gun clustered her crew, naked to the waist, black
handkerchieves bound about their foreheads. All had solemn puckers
about the brows; some were silent, some ghastly-joking in whispers,
and one, face averted, was obviously praying.
Up and down the sanded deck between the guns, picking his teeth,
strutted a tall and faded splendour.
His cocked hat was a-rake; his kid gloves white as his skipper's were
dingy; his whiskers, purple with dye newly applied, puffed out on
cheeks touched with rouge.
Could this dilapidated dandy, so alert, so nonchalant, be the drunkard
of last night?--
Yes. That tallowy nose, those eyes with the wild gleam in them, could
not be mistaken. It was Lushy Lanyon.
Somehow he had scraped up a First Lieutenant's uniform: bright blue
coat with long tails; white waist-coat, knee breeches, and stockings;
black hat cockaded, worn athwart-ships; and sword slung from a
shoulder belt. And the wonder was that it fitted and became him.
The boy gave his message.
The Gunner bowed ceremoniously.
"Be so good as to give Commander Ardin my compliments, and say I don't
pull a lanyard till I can see through her ports."
The other's formal politeness stirred the boy almost to laughter; yet
somehow the faded splendour of the man touched him too.
It was as when a great light seeks to shine through smoked glass. Last
night he had seen only the sodden body; now he beheld the soul, shining
dimly, it is true, but shining still through its sullied habitation.
The call to action had set it burning. It illuminated the blurred face,
notable still. In his youth the man must have been extraordinarily
handsome. Even now he was a noble ruin.
"Ah, you may stare, Mr. Caryll," said the Gunner, reading the other's
thoughts. "It was Lushy Lanyon last night; this morning it's _Me_!"
He swelled his chest, and stalked down the deck between his guns,
shooting his cuffs.
"Yes, sir. A fight's meat and drink to me. It pulls me together, and
makes me remember who I am." He threw back his head--"Magnificent
Arry, the man that's played more avock with earts in his day than any
other seaman afloat.... It's the whiskers done it," he added simply.
The two men in him were at war: the high and mighty fighting-man and
the confidential toper. Each came bobbing out in turns.
"And if you should want to see a main-deck fought as a main-deck should
be fought, why, sir, be good enough to take a seat."
He kicked a powder-monkey off his box, and offered it with a bow.
"Can't," said Kit, turning. "No time. See you again later."
The other stooped and peered out of a port.
"Doobious, I should say," he replied, picking his teeth. "Vairy
doobious. Ah! ----"
A great black shadow stole across the port. Its effect on the Gunner
was miraculous. He shot up like a flame. He was dark; he was terrible;
there was something of the majesty of Satan about the man. Some huge
sea of life seemed to lift him above himself, and land him among the
"Stand by the starboard battery!" he roared.
Kit ran up the ladder out of that bellowing Inferno.
The _Tremendous_ and her enemy lay side by side with locked spars;
the _Coquette_ becalmed beyond.
Then Kit understood the ruse of that wary old fighter, his Commander.
Old Ding-dong had placed the _Cocotte_ as a bulwark between him
and her consort. As he had foreseen, the wind, falling away this hour
past, had dropped to nothing now. The _Coquette_ could not bring
a gun into action.
Four hundred yards away, she might have been as many miles for all
the assistance she could render her sister-ship.
As the boy came up, the old Commander was leaning against the wheel,
bending towards his knee, and breathing hard.
There was a dark and peevish look about his face; and a trickle of
red was running down his white knee-breeches.
"Tell ye 'taint etiquette to have men in your tops only in general
actions and duels atween ships of the line," he was saying in slow
and painful voice, very querulous. "In all my fifty years' experience
o sea fightin, I never see sich a thing afoor, never! Dirty trick I
The little Frenchman across the narrow lane of water dividing
the ships, chattered excuses, all sympathy and shrugged shoulders.
"Ah, I so grieve. Pain! pain! terrible, n'est-ce-pas?--But what would
you, my Captain?--It is no fault of mine. The Emperor's orders. 'I
trust you, my Commodore,' says he. 'Coute que coute.'
"Emperor! about as much a h'Emperor as you are Commodore! And you're
welcome to tell him so with my compliments," snorted the old man.
He threw his eye aloft.
"Mr. Caryll, take a party o small-arm men aloft, and clear them sneakin
blay-guards out of her tops. Else they'll be boardin by the yards."
The boy rushed away.
Beneath his feet the deck staggered and shook. On the lower-deck of
the _Tremendous_ hell had broken loose, in flame and smoke and
horrible bellowings. The little ship was racked. In her agony she quivered
from truck to keel.
Suddenly the spars of the _Cocotte_ above him began to crackle and
blaze. Plip-plop-plank! the bullets smacked all about him. He was under
fire and he didn't like it. He wanted to dodge under the bulwark and lie
there; but he daren't. So he ran breathlessly, skipping as a bullet
spanked the deck at his feet.
They were in the enemy's main-top, swarms of them, tiny figures, crowding
along the spars, grinning at him, he thought.
How on earth with a handful of men, climbing up the rigging under a
pelting fire, he would ever clear that lot out!...
Even as he wondered the enemy's main-mast seemed to become alive. It
swayed; it shook; it almost danced; the taut shrouds sagged.
At first the boy thought that horror had turned his brain, and he was
going mad. He stopped dead and gazed.
Yes, it was coming down, coming towards him, towering, tremendous,
like a falling spire.
It came in jerks, tearing its way with a snapping of stays and crashing
of spars. Figures, like black birds, seemed to detach themselves, and
flop through the air. They were men, thrown clear, and falling with
floating coat-tails as they revolved.
One fell with an appalling bump on the deck of the sloop hard by the
wheel, a man in a red coat, bear-skinn'd and gaitered. He did not stir,
kneeling, his hands before him, head bowed, in attitude of adoration.
A sudden pool of scarlet seemed to spurt out of the deck and island him.
Kit, his work accomplished for him, ran back to the wheel.
"Reck'n that's the chap as got me," said old Ding-dong, nodding at
the dead man with a certain grim friendliness. "A red-coat, d'ye see?--Now
what's the meanin o that?--I never yeard tell of a privateer carrying
The old man was leaning against the wheel. His brow was puckered; and
there was a tense, breathless air about his face. It came to the boy
with a shock of surprise that a man hard-hit makes just the same sort
of face as a man who has got one on the funny bone at cricket.
"Are you hurt?" he asked anxiously.
"Nay, I'm none hurt, but I am hit. They've took fifty years doin it,
but they've done it at last. It was yon chap with the bashed skull.
Haul him alongside o me, wilta? I'll set on him--ease my old stumps!"
He lowered himself.
"I'll larn him shoot me," he said, arranging himself comfortably on
Kit giggled. Somehow this old man with the twinkle in his eye made
him feel at home among these screaming horrors.
"Lucky shot o Lanyon's," continued old Ding-dong. "There's a lot o
luck in fightin; and good job for us too. Luck's the favour o God.
He always favours us. We're straight, ye see."
He peered through the eddying smoke-drift.
"That there top-hamper o their'n makes a tidy bridge atween ships.
Now if they was to tumble to that, reckon they'd boord--and we'd be
Kit looked round.
The enemy's main-top had fallen across the deck of the sloop.
The lightning that is genius flashed in the boy's mind.
In a second he was across the self-fashioned drawbridge between the
two ships and on to the deck of the Frenchman. It was deserted save
for the dead men, red-coats all, flung from the falling top, and sprawling
broadcast everywhere. Even Mouche had disappeared.
Beneath him on the lower deck was the same bellowing Inferno as on
the _Tremendous_. He felt the privateer stagger and rend to a
broadside of the sloop, as though her bowels were being torn out. He
rushed to a hatchway belching smoke. In the pit below he could see
dim figures flitting about, and could hear the howls of those in torment.
Deafened, blinded, dizzied, he slammed the hatch upon them, clamping
it down. Swiftly he passed from hatchway to hatchway, making all fast.
With dancing heart, he ran back to the bridge.
As he did so a whimpering voice stayed him.
"O mon enfant!"
The French skipper was lying abaft the binnacle, a yard across his
There was no make-believe about him now, no mockery. He was naked man,
stripped of his tinsel, and laid bare to the soul by the inexorable
Master, Pain. Across his chin, as though to mock him, lay his false
"Tuez-moi!" he whimpered hoarsely. "Tuez-moi!"
"I can't!" gasped Kit--"not in cold blood!"
The lad was face to face with one of the most appalling of God's
mysteries, and was unhinged by it. Gwen with the toothache had been
nothing to this.
The agonised man rolled his head from side to side.
"Sainte Mere de Dieu, intercedez pour moi!" he wailed.
Again that lightning flashed in the boy's mind.
The man's silver-mounted pistol lay on the deck beside him. He thrust
it into the other's hand.
The man clutched it, as one dying in a desert may clutch the flagon
of water that means life to him.
The head ceased its dreadful weaving.
"Petit ange! petit Anglais!" he whispered, and tried to smile.
Kit ran for his bridge. Halfway across it, he heard a crack, and
He could not see the French skipper; but what he could see made his
Boats, crammed to the teeth, were putting away from the
_Coquette_. Black and scurrying, they tore across the water
towards him, like rats racing for blood.
Kit rushed madly aft.
"Here they come, sir!" he screamed.
Old Ding-dong sat propped on his corpse, shaving a quid of tobacco.
"The boats, sir--boarding."
"That's the game, is it?"
He shut his jack-knife deliberately, and arranged his plug in the corner
of his jaw.
"Fetch me that ere boardin-pike. Now give me a hike up. Then nip below
and pass the word to Mr. Lanyon."
As Kit turned, he heard the rip of the first boat under the counter
of the sloop and a sharp command in French, sounding strange and terrible
in his ears.
Furiously he sped along the deck. As he bundled down the ladder, he
caught a glimpse of the old Commander, braced against the bulwarks,
and spitting into his hands.
The boy dropped into hell.
Down there was no order. All was howling chaos. Each gun-captain fought
his own gun, regardless of the rest. Billows of smoke drifted to and
fro; shadowy forms flitted; guns bounded and bellowed; here and there
a red glare lit the fog.
Through the shattering roar of the guns, the rendings of planks, the
scream of round-shot, came the voices of men, dim-seen. Jokes,
blasphemies, prayers, groans, issued in nightmare medley from that
"Chri', kill me!--My God, I sweats!--Pore old Jake's got it!"
On mid-deck a shadow was pirouetting madly. Suddenly it collapsed;
and the boy saw it ended at the neck.
A dim figure lolled against an overturned gun. As the lad gazed, it
pointed to a puddle beside it.
"That's me," it said with slow and solemn interest.
The boy trod on something in the smoke. A bloody wraith, spread-eagled
upon the deck, raised tired eyes to his.
"That's all right, sir," came a whisper. "Don't make no odds. I got
all I want."
A hand out of the mist clutched his ankle.
"Stop this racket," gasped a voice, querulous and tearful. "I ain't
well." A stump flapped in his face.
A ghost, sitting up against the side close by, began to titter.
"Once I was mother's darling. Mightn't think it to see me now."
A shot, screeching past the boy's nose, took his breath away. He
staggered back, and brought up against a gun-captain, his shoulders
to the breech of the gun.
The man turned with a grin. It was the Gunner, naked to the waist,
"Sweet mess, ain't it?" he coughed. "How d'ye like your first smell
o powder, sir?"
"They're boarding!" panted Kit. "Quick!"
The man leapt up.
"Boardin!" he roared. "Board _ME!_ I'll give em board."
He snatched up a chain-shot, and raced down the deck.
"Up aloft the lot o you!" he howled. "Heaven waits ye there!"
As he flamed through the smoke-drift, the crew caught fire from him.
Behind him in roaring flood they poured--black men and bloody,
snatching each the weapon nearest to hand.
An aweful joy seemed beating up through mists in their faces. Time
and Eternity warred within them. Man, the creature, hideously afraid
for his flesh, strove with Man, the Creator, impregnable in his
Kit, swept off his feet, was borne along with the flood.
The fury of enthusiasm, which the splendid drunkard had roused in the
hearts of his men, had seized him too.
His body was aflame; and his veins ran fire. Now for the first time
he knew what it was to be alive--Life spurting from his finger-tips,
making madness in his blood, issuing riotously from his lips. He sang;
he yelled; he laughed, battering at the lunatic in front. He caught
the blasphemies of his battle-fellows, and echoed them shrilly and
with joy. The light in his comrades' eyes revealed to him deeps of
being undreamed of before. His spirit was pouring through his flesh,
making glory as it went.
Uplifted as a lover, the wine of War drowned his senses. In the glory
of doing he had no thought for the thing done. His was the midsummer
madness of slaying. In that singing moment how should he remember the
bleak and shuddering autumn of pain inevitably to follow?--the winter
of clammy death?--the March-wind voices of distant women wailing their
"Jam, ain't it?" yelled a man in his ear, as they raced up the ladder.
"Glory! glory!" sang the boy, beside himself with passion.
Aft and alone stood the old Commander, a dead man at his feet.
Another swarmed over the side. The old Commander's boarding-pike met
him fair in the face. Back the fellow went into darkness and death.
"Good old Ding-dong!" came the Gunner's rollicking bellow, as he stormed
up on deck, swinging his chain-shot like a battle-axe. "That's your
sort!--bash em! blast em!--disembowl the ---- Turks!"
Behind him, out of the smoke, poured the men, red-hot and roaring,
like lava spewed up from the bowels of a volcano.
A stream of boarders, trickling over the bulwarks, raced across the
deck to meet them.
"Love and War! O my God, ain't they glory?" howled the Gunner, and
plunged into the opposing flood.
One man he felled with his chain-shot; then flung it aside.
"Naked does it!" he roared, and swept up a boarder in his arms. "Ow,
the luscious little armful! no good kickin, duckie! You've got to ave
it!" He rushed to the side, hugging his man, and screaming fearful
"Love me and forgive me, pretty tartie!" he roared, and smashed
his burthen down over the side.
The fellow crashed into a ladder of boarders, swarming up one behind
the other. Back they hurled into the boats, a hurricane of men, one
on top of t'other. The boat rocked, crumpled up, and sank.
The tears were rolling down the Gunner's face.
"Quenched their little ardour!" he bellowed, leaping on to the bulwark.
"That's the style below there, boys! Go it, ye cripples! Give em the
Beneath him the sea was black with boats. From the port-holes of the
main-deck the wounded were leaning out, hailing round-shot down into
"Plug em! ply em!" roared the Gunner. "Red ot shot--cannister--case!
anything ye like only give em slaughter for eaven's sweet sake!"
He was back in the thick of it, raving up and down the deck, sowing
death broadcast, his great voice everywhere.
Not a man on board but seemed to have caught something of his heroic
fury. The purser's steward, primmest of Methodists, who was said to
pass his time in action converting the cook, came tripping out of the
galley, a black-jack of boiling water in his hand.
"Glory for you!" he screamed, and flung the contents in the face of
"There's the proper Christian!" gasped the Gunner, slammed
up against the main-mast. "Propagate the Gospel ow ye can!--bilin
bilge!--buckets o filth!--spit in his face if ye can't do no better."
A tall Frenchman pistoled the little steward.
The ship's cook, a flabby great flat-footed man, all in white, and
snorting strangely, bundled up with a poll-axe, and cleft the
"It a chap your own size!" he yelled, and felled from behind, went
Up and down the deck the battle raged: here a scrimmage; there a single
fight; men at hand-grips; men hurling round-shot. They swayed, they
staggered about in each other's arms; they shocked, parted, came together
again. Dead men lay in the scuppers; wounded men crawled the deck;
and up and down among them the living reeled. One man, turned cur,
crouched under the bulwark with ghastly face uplifted, and met his
death, whimpering. Another, strangely quiet amid the dance of devils,
stood against the foremast, nursing a broken arm. Nobody heeded him.
They were too busy.
To Kit a sudden madness seemed to have possessed the world. The deck
danced before him. He was bumped; he was battered; he was hurled to
and fro--a twig in a torrent.
All was dreadful; all was dizzy. Strange faces with appalling eyes
rose before him; men breathing terribly flitted past. There was a smell
of blood and sweat in his nostrils; a sound of panting and blasphemies
in his ears.
This then was a battle--not much like the stories! All the same he
wished they wouldn't tread on his toes so.
Blindly the boy slashed about him. Whether he killed them, or they
killed him, he hardly knew, and didn't greatly care. A sort of instinct
told him the men to stab at--the dirty beasts in shirts who showed
their teeth. The naked men were his own lot.
Once he heard a voice beside him.
"Go it, little un! you're almost a man!"
Then the Gunner staggered by, all black eyes and straining face, his
arms about a huge boarder, his teeth deep in the fellow's shoulder.
"Rip this ----'s backside up!" came a gurgling voice.
His hand went up automatically; automatically his dirk came down.
A mountain fell on top of him....
As he crept out a voice panted hard by,
"Old man's down."
Dizzily he saw the old Commander sprawling to a fall, a man on top
of him. The boy heard him grunt as he fell. That grunt angered him.
"I'm coming, sir!" he cried, and ran wrathfully with bloody dirk.
_"Beast!"_ he yelled. _"Leave him alone!"_
There was no need for him to cry.
The old man had done his own work from underneath with the jack-knife.
Out poked his badger-grey head from under his man, much as the boy
had often seen a ferret from beneath the body of a disembowelled rabbit.
"So fur so good," grunted the old man, crawling out on hands and knees,
the scent-bottle between his teeth. "How's things forrad?"
Forward the deck was all but clear.
The remnant of the boarders, jammed up in the bows, were being hammered
to death. A last fellow in a red night-cap, swarming out on the bowsprit,
plumped into the sea.
The Gunner leapt on to the bulwark.
"Cleared, be God! alow and aloft!" he roared, swinging his chain-shot
about his head. "Ats off all!--
_God save h'our gracious King._"
A bandaged head poked out of the hatchway.
"They're swarmin in through the port-holes!" came a husky scream.
Old Ding-dong lifted on his elbows.
"Leave the quarter-deck to me and the boy!" he roared. "Clear the
"Ay, ay, sir," answered the Gunner, racing for the ladder. "Back to
hell, the leetle beetches!"
The old man looked up.
"Any more for us, Mr. Caryll?"
A boat swept under the stern.
"Here's another of them, sir!"
The boy staggered to the side. A grappling iron swung from beneath
almost struck him in the face.
He seized the cook's poll-axe, and hacked away at the bulwark. Then
he put his shoulder to a carronade and shoved.
"H'all together eave!" whispered the dying cook, and lent a feeble
Over went the carronade with spinning wheels. It caught the boat
fair amidships, and broke it up like matchwood.
The boy leaned over. Beneath him in the green and sucking waters amid
a litter of wreckage one or two heads showed, swimming faintly.
Pale and panting, he turned.
"I think that's the last, sir," languidly.
The old Commander removed the plug from his mouth.
"There's two things go to make a British seaman," he growled--"guts
and gumption. Maybe you've got both, as your father had afoor you.
We're like to see e'er the day's out."
He wiped his jack-knife on his breeches, and began to carve his plug
"Now run below and see how things are going with Mr. Lanyon."
The boy went. His passion had long passed. He was sick and weary.
Head and heart ached.
With shaking knees, he tottered below. Had a party of jabbering
Frenchmen met him, he wouldn't have minded. He was too spent.
All below was calm now and silence; smoke-drift and dying men.
The Gunner was standing at an open port, directing operations.
His passion too had passed. The giant-hero of a few minutes' back
seemed almost small now. And a strange figure he made.
The sweat had coursed through the rouge on his cheeks; and the dye
on his whiskers had run, dripping on to neck and shoulders. He was
naked still, save for his trousers, but wearing his cocked hat a-rake.
The man at his side heaved a French corpse through the port.
"That's the lot," said the Gunner, picking his teeth, and turned with
black and grinning face to the boy.
"Well, sir, what d'ye think? me?--earty fighter, ain't I?"
AFTER THE FIGHT
All was very still on the deck of the _Tremendous_; and those
quiet men lolling in the sun added to the hush.
They sprawled about in all attitudes--on their faces, on their backs,
in each other's arms, as though snoozing. And the snoring noise that
came from one or two of them enhanced the illusion. Only the blank
unwinking eyes of those upon their backs, the expression of the upturned
faces, and the wet red stuff smeared everywhere, showed that they were
not holiday picnickers.
Aft by the binnacle a man sat up against the side watching with appalling
solemnity the blood pat-pat-patting down from a wound in his side.
He dabbed a finger in the mess, and scrawled his name on the deck,
Tom Bleach. R.I.P._
"Tom Bleach--Remember Im Please," he repeated, nodding his head with
A white and crimson huddle beside him groaned.
The man of letters frowned at it.
"How d'ye feel, cookie?" he asked.
"Mortal queer," whispered the dying man.
"It do feel queer, dyin," admitted the other solemnly.
A French officer close by opened glazed eyes.
"I too I die," he announced. "What then will I do?"
"Why, pray God forgive you bein French," growled old Ding-dong,
propped against the wheel. "That's your worst crime."
The boy came up from below, deathly pale, the wind lifting his hair.
He crossed to the old Commander, reeling faintly among the dead as
"Yes, sir. All well below," in thin and ghostly voice.
The old man nodded satisfaction.
"Starry fighter, ain't he?--Wonderful gift that way. Don't know as
I ever saw his ekal at a pinch."
He looked up at the lad, swaying above him.
The boy did not reply, leaning against the side, a far-away look in
Then he burst into tears.
"There, there!" said the old man soothingly. "Sure to come a bit
okkud-like first start-off. It's been a nasty beginning for you
too--messy fightin, I call it. Look at my quarter-deck! More like a
slaughter-house nor a King's ship."
He mopped at his leg.
"And all the shore-goin folk on their knees in Church all the
time!--Funny to think on, ain't it?"
The Gunner came up the ladder.
A sack was cast about his naked shoulders; his cocked hat was on the
back of his head; and a tooth-pick between his lips.
He strolled to the side.
Beneath him the _Cocotte_, smoking like a damped furnace,
the blood trickling from between her seams, was settling fast.
"Got her bellyful all snug," said the Gunner complacently, picking
He strolled off to old Ding-dong, propped on his corpse beside the
"Well, sir, you play a pretty stick with a handspike still!--how's
"Tidy," grunted the veteran. "How fur's yon frigate yet? I can't
see over the side, settin on my little sofia."
"Within random shot, sir. She's got a slant of wind, and is crowding
all sail to get alongside."
"Then we'd best be sturrin. How are we ridin?"
The Gunner looked over the side.
"Why, middlin deep, sir."
"Then cut the boats away, and the anchors. Stave in the water-casks.
Heave all spare shot and tackle overboard--we need nowt but the boards
we stand on and the guns we fight; and make what sail you can on
her.... I shall bear away for the shore. Don't mean bein took at my
time o life."
A breeze light as a lady's kiss smote the water. The topsails of the
sloop began to fill and flutter.
Deep in the water as a barge, she drew away from her floundering
antagonist. As she did so, the privateer, as though loth to let her
depart unsaluted, barked a sullen farewell.
A roar of triumph from the _Coquette_, clearing now on the
port-bow and a fainter shout from the frigate to starboard, told
their own tale.
The mizzen, struck twenty foot above the deck, came down with a
crash. With it fell the red-cross flag, and the faces of the crew.
"Hand me that striped petticut!" roared the Gunner, pointing to the
tricolour lying entangled in the ruins of the privateer's main-top
on the deck of the sloop. "I want to blow me nose."
He leaped on to the bulwark, flag in hand; and staying himself by
the shroud, blew his nose boisterously on the enemy's colours.
The crew, busy clearing the wreckage of the mizzen, roared delight.
The Gunner jumped down, and spread the flag over the old Commander's
feet as he lay.
"There's the first on em, sir. There's two more to follow."
"Make it so," said the old man grimly.
He was chewing a quid, and a battered cocked hat tilted over his eyes.
The Gunner marched away, eyes to his right, eyes to his left. And as
he marched, he swept off his cocked hat.
"Chaps," he called to the remnant of the crew gathered grimy about
the after-hatch. "I thank my God for this booriful sight. Frenchman
to port!" shooting his left arm. "Frenchman to starboard!" shooting
his right. "Frenchman astarn!" with a backward toss. "And God A'mighty
aloft. What more can a Christian ask?"
A shot from the frigate splashed under the bows of the sloop, sluicing
"There she spouts!" roared the Gunner, and clapping on his hat ran,
kicking his heels behind him. "Come along, the baby-boys!--the last
fight o the little _Tremendous_--and the best."
UNDER THE CLIFF
It was evening.
The little _Tremendous_ lay under the cliff, pounding gently,
gently, on a reef. Her back was broken, she had a heavy list to
starboard, and her bulwark was awash.
The mainmast had gone by the board. The quarterdeck carronades,
loosed from their moorings, sprawled in the wash of the water, a
dead man floating amongst them. The deck was a tangle of wreckage
and bloody sails. From a splintered stump, more like a shaving-brush
than a mast, the red-cross flag still flapped.
Astern of her, in the deep water, lay her enemies in smoking ruins.
The privateer, her foretop in flames, was dishevelled as a virago
after a street fight; while great white clouds puffing out of the
frigate's quarter-gallery told that she was afire.
The sea wallowed about the sloop, green and sleek and greedy. There
was scarcely a ruffle on the water; only a huge slow heaving, as of
some monster breathing deeply, and licking its lips before an orgie.
Firing had long ceased.
Kit, squatting, his back against the mizzen-stump, was coming to with
All through that golden summer afternoon the sloop had drifted
shoreward, privateer and frigate hammering her from either side.
Towards evening, her last shot spent, the frigate boarded. The
Gunner, hoarse as a crow, bloody as a beefsteak, had brought up the
weary remnant of the crew to repel the attack, Kit aiding him
Men had been dancing idiotically about the boy; he had heard the
Gunner's raucous voice close in his ear,
"Gad, you're a game un!" and had run at a nightmare man with goggle
Then something had happened.
Now all was calm and sunset peace, and dew on the deck among the
And how beautiful it was, this strange twilight quiet, after the howl
and torment of battle!
Warily the boy opened eyes and ears. He was not dead then, not even
wounded, only horribly parched, and how his head ached!
Before him the cliff fell sheer and blank--a white curtain dropped
Over it sea-gulls floated on dream-wings. While from some
remote Down village, church bells swung out the old song--
_Come to Christ,
Come to Christ,
Come, dear children, come to Christ._
The boy, lying on the bloody deck, his feet cushioned on a dead man,
listened with closed eyes to the old call.
Last Sunday at that hour, the blackbirds hopping on the lawn without,
the swifts screaming above, he and mother and Gwen had been singing
hymns together in the schoolroom--rather chokily indeed, for it was
his last Sunday at home.
All that was ages and ages ago. He had lived and died a hundred times
There by the wheel, in a puddle of his own blood, lay old Ding-dong,
grey and ghastly. His eyes were closed; his cocked hat with a rakish
forward tilt sat on his nose. He lay with shoulders hunched, his legs
spread helplessly along the deck before him, stubborn chin digging
into the breast of his frock-coat.
One grim fist was frozen to the shattered wheel; the other, grimmer
still, clutched the scent-bottle.
THE VOICE FROM THE POWDER-MAGAZINE
A bosun's whistle sounded.
On hands and knees the lad crept along the tilted deck past the old
"That you, Mr. Caryll?" came a husky voice. "I canna see over plain."
The old man had not moved, but one eye had opened and was glaring up
from under the eaves of his cocked hat.
"Are they coomin?"
Kit threw a glance seaward.
"The frigate's piped her boats away, sir."
The old man's head, still forward on his breast, did not move; he did
not seem to breathe. All of him was dead save that little eye, cocking
up at the lad from under the tilted hat.
"Yes, sir. I'm not wounded, only stunned."
"Then run below to Mr. Lanyon, and tell him to bide my whistle."
"Where is he, sir?"
"Where he ought to be," growled the old man--"powder-magazine o coorse."
The eye closed: the little ray of soul, still haunting the body, seemed
quenched for ever; but it was not.
"And bring along a brace o round-shot when ye coom back, wilta?" came
the painful voice out of the deeps.
Kit slid down the companion ladder.
The lower deck was half awash, and foul with smoke. There was a stink
of dead men, bilge, and powder.
But what a change from when he was last here!
Then sights so ghastly that he dared not recall them: screams of torn
men, rending of torn planks; howling terrors on every side, shattering
his head, bursting his heart, dissipating his mind.
Now silence everywhere, beautiful silence, the silence of Death.
And those leaping devils with the hoarse throats, who had barked
themselves red-hot then, were strangely hushed now. Loosed from their
moorings, they huddled, together beneath him half under water, like
so many great black beasts, cowed, it seemed, almost ashamed; here
a huge breech showing, there a blunt snout, and again a thrusting trunnion.
As he crawled along in the gloom among blackened corpses he thanked
God for the stillness. It was comforting to him as water in the desert
to a man dying. He drank it in gulps.
A sound in the darkness and silence stopped him.
Out of the deeps a shuddering voice rose up to him, mumbling a Litany
of the dead,
"Lord ha mercy on me a sinner--
Lord ha mercy on me a sinner--
Lord ha mercy on me a sinner."
The boy crept to the forehatch and peered down.
One tiny yellow star flickered in the pitch blackness beneath.
"Mr. Lanyon!" His voice was frightened of itself. "Is that you?"
The Litany ceased. Some one cleared his throat.
"That's me, sir," came a voice from the pit. "I'm back where I belong--in
The Gunner was squatting in a powder barrel, a lighted purser's glim
between his teeth, and a pistol in one hand. Kit caught the glimmer
of naked shoulders, the wet gleam of eyes, and the shine of sweat on
a face black as a sweep's.
"I was ummin all the bawdy bits I know to keep me company," called
up a voice husky as a ghost's and cheery as a robin's: "It's lonesome-like
kickin your heels in the dark against the powder bar'l you're goin
to ell in next minute. Not that it's ell I mind. Ell's all right once
you're there. It's the gettin there's the trouble--the messin about
and waitin and that."
"You won't have to wait long now," replied Kit in a voice so still
and solemn that he hardly recognised it himself. Nothing was very real
to him. Even the words he uttered were not his own: they were machine-made
"They'll be alongside in a minute. Commander Harding says you're to
wait for his whistle. Then--"
"Amen. So be it. God save the King."
The Gunner dropped his voice to a whisper, rolling up his eyes.'
"Say, Sonny, are you afraid?"
"No. I can't take anything in."
"Nor'm I; and ain't got no cause neether," came the voice from the
darkness, defiant almost to truculence. "I only ad but the two
talents--lovin and fightin; and they can't say I've id eether o them
up in a napkin. They can't chuck that in me face."
He spat philosophically between his thighs.
"On'y one thing I wish," he continued confidentially. "I wish all the
totties was settin atop o that clift to see Magnificent Arry go aloft.
Ah, you mightn't think it to see me now, Mr. Caryll, squattin
mother-naked in this bar'l, but I been a terror in me time. Sich a
way with em and all!"
"You might think about something more decent just now," said the boy
coldly. "Good-bye. I'm afraid you haven't lived a very good life."
As the boy groped his way back, the parched voice pursued him from
the nether hell.
"My respects to the old man. We seen a tidy bit together, him and me;
but reck'n this last little bust-up bangs the lot. I'd ha gone through
a world without women for its sweet sake, blest if I wouldn't.... And
now," came the voice in a sort of chant, "avin lived like a blanky
King I'm goin to die like a blanky cro. Arry the Magnificent always
and for h'ever!"
MAGNIFICENT ARRY GOES ALOFT
Old Ding-Dong lay as the boy had left him.
"Got them round-shot?" hoarsely.
"Stuff em in my tails then."
The boy obeyed.
"Ah, that's better," sighed the old man comfortably. "No fear I shall
break adrift o my moorings." He slipped the scent-bottle into his
breast-pocket and patted it. "She'll lay snug along o me, she will."
He closed his eyes.
Kit, kneeling at his side, held a pannikin to his lips.
"Water, sir. Will you have a drop?"
"Nay, thank ee, ma lad. I'll bide till t'other side. Shan't be long
Kit drank greedily. He could hear the oars of the approaching
boat; he had at the most some two minutes of life, but O! the delight
of that draught.
A hand grasped his.
"Mr. Caryll," said the old Commander in strange and formal voice, "I've
sent for you upon the quarter-deck to thank you for your gallantry
in your first action, which is also, I fear, your last.... Can you
"Well, then, slip overboard, if you've a mind, and make shift for
"No, sir, thank you. I'll stand by the ship."
The old man grunted satisfaction.
"Then say your prayers."
He put the whistle between his teeth.
The flag he had kept flying, nailed to the splintered mizzen, curled
languidly above his head.
The old mail, dying in its shadow, eyed it with silent content.
"Are they coomin, Mr. Caryll?"
"Yes, sir--near now."
"Lay low," whispered the old man, "and we'll bag the lot, God helpin
The sound of oars ceased. Out of the silence a voice hailed.
"Any one alife on board?"
Old Ding-dong hearkened, his cocked hat far over his eyes.
That look of the Eternal Child, arch and mischievous, played among
the wrinkles about his eyes.
"Cuckoo!" he muttered. "Cuckoo!"
He knew the ship was about to be blown up; but he didn't take much
interest in it himself. It didn't seem to affect him. Somehow he was
so far away. All that was happening was happening in a dream-world
of which he was a spectator only. True he felt a vague discomfort at
the heart; but he knew that in a minute he should wake up--to find
mother's eyes smiling into his, and her laughing voice saying,
"My dear boy, what _have_ you been dreaming about?"
The boats were drawing nearer again, wary as hunters drawing on a
Old Ding-dong heard them, and smiled.
The little _Tremendous_ was a sheer hulk; her back was broken;
her crew were dead--and still they feared her!
The old seaman's heart warmed within him. That one sweet moment paid
him generously for fifty years of toil, of battle, of chagrin.
And as though thrilling to the emotion of the man who had loved her
for so long, the little ship trembled as she settled deeper.
The old man patted the deck.
"There! it wonna urt you, my dear," he said soothingly. "Too suddint."
A tricorne rose over the bulwark.
An officer cast his eyes up and down the deck, swift and alert as a
"Anybody alife on board?" he repeated, and in the vast silence
his voice came small and very shrill.
He clambered over the bulwark, and came up the steep deck monkey-wise.
At the foot of the mizzen he paused.
Kit, crouching in a heap close by, noticed his boots, old, split across
the toe, dingy white socks showing through. He found himself wondering
whether the man had corns.
Clinging to the stump the Frenchman drew his sword, and looked up at
the red-cross flag flapping sullen defiance overhead.
"Dans le nom de l'Empereur!" he cried pompously.
A whistle, swift as the arrow of death, pierced him to the heart.
THE GRAVE OF THE LITTLE _TREMENDOUS_
A roar drowned the boy's senses, sweeping his mind away on a
mountainous billow of sound.
Earth and sea were a bubble beneath his feet, swelling and sailing;
and he was walking on the bubble, and toppling backwards as he walked.
He felt himself smiling in a foolish way. There was no pain then about
dying, he thought with a pleased and remote surprise--only this silly
Things hit him outside. He was aware of them; but they did not hurt.
His body was wood, dull to sensation. He himself was within somewhere,
snug and safe. He had heard the parson at home talk about eternal life.
Now he knew what the man meant. To be alive yet above pain, to be dead
yet dimly comfortable--that was the heavenly life. It was very curious,
and not half bad.
And--he had been there before. When and where, he could not recollect.
But all was friendly, all familiar.
Suddenly there came a change, and for the worse. A great wet cloud
swamped him. The light went out. All about him was cold, and dark,
and clinging. Was this the grave and gate of Death?
He shuddered, and yet was not greatly afraid.
Everything was so far away, on the circumference of being, as it were;
and he at the centre, safe and warm, was mildly interested--little
Somehow he knew he was in the sea, walking dream-waters; whether
conscious, or unconscious, in the spirit or out of it, he knew not,
and didn't greatly care.
Grotesque yet beautiful impressions of things familiar flitted across
his mind. He saw his mother in a cocked hat; Cuddie Collingwood, his
pet canary, strutting the maindeck and picking his teeth; and Gwen
with a tarred pigtail, her brawny bosom tattooed with dancing-girls.
She was making faces at him, the faces that none but Gwen could make;
and he was about to shoot his tongue back brotherly, when there came
another change, terrible this time.
There was a singing in his ears; a sense of suffocation and appalling
impotence. He was rushing back to the world of sense and pain--in time,
no doubt, to die, when he thought he was through that trouble. Just
He was throttled, battling, distraught. About him was the rush and
smother of waters. A secret power clutched him about the waist and
tugged him back. For the first time in his life he felt the aweful
and inexorable grip of Necessity; and his heart screamed.
Then with a bob and a gasp, he was up; the water in his nostrils; and
his hands clinging to a spar.
About him was a fog of smoke, and the throes of water in torment,
sucking, spewing, pouncing.
Then a great swell, roaring into foam, lifted him. He was swung out
of the stinging smother, away from the shock and battle of waters,
out and out under the calm sky.
Beneath him a sheer white wall rose. There was no top to it, and no
bottom. He could have screamed. It was so huge, so blank, so
incomprehensible. It fell from heaven. Was it the skirt of God?
Then he saw the dark crest miles overhead, and knew it for a cliff.
He was right beneath it, and swinging towards it.
Suddenly he became aware of a badger-grey head bobbing beside him
on the spar.
"Hullo, sir!" he gasped.
A voice spluttered,
"Pockets sprung a leak!--tailor! ruffian!"
A great following swell lifted them.
"Hold fast, sir!" called Kit. "This'll throw us up."
The swell drove forward, toppling to a fall; curled, and crashed down.
Kit found himself on hands and knees, banged, dripping, dizzy, in a
hiss and turmoil of waters. The backward sweep of the waves almost
carried him with it. But his hands were in the shingle up to the wrist,
anchoring him. The body of water passed him. A thousand tresses of
foam reminding him of his Granny's hair swept across his fingers.
He looked up. He was kneeling on a tiny strip of beach at the foot
of the cliff. On his left sprawled the old Commander. His knees, cocked
by the receding wave, swayed and toppled now; the legs wooden and
dreadful as a dummy's.
Kit crawled towards him.
"Are you hurt, sir?"
The old man answered nothing. His eyes were shut, his arms wide. He
lay upon his back on the wet and running shingle, his white knee-breeches
sodden and rusty with blood, the square chin heavenward.
Another of those sleek green monsters stole towards them out of the
In an agony the lad tried to drag the old man back under the cliff.
He might as well have attempted to lift a cask of lead.
"O, what shall I do?" wailed the boy to heaven.
"Why, cut and run," answered the voice from earth.
Then the wave was on them, swooping, worrying, white-toothed.
Kit did his best. Kneeling behind the old man, he heaved him into a
sitting position, and propped him there, as the tumult of waters
sluiced about them. Over the limp legs, up the great chest, the wave
swept greedily; but the badger-grey head stayed above the flood.
Then the water withdrew, blind and baffled.
Kit lowered the grey head.
"Thank ee," grunted the old man, and seemed to sleep.
Kit made no answer. He was watching the sea with dreadful anxiety.
Was it coming up? Was it going down? Were there to be more of those
smothering floods? If so, they were lost. He knew he could not
lift again that leaden old man.
No. The worst was over. A lesser wave swept towards them. It tossed
those wooden legs, dreadfully sporting with them, and fled, snarling.
The boy bent with thankful heart.
"That's all, sir. It won't come again. It's the swell made by the
explosion--not the tide."
"Ah," said the other sleepily; and opened his eyes.
Seaward hung a huge toad-stool of smoke. Out of the heart of it came
the clash and cry of torn waters. All else was still, save for the
scream of disturbed sea-birds.
Through the frayed and drifting edge of the smoke could be seen the
frigate and the spars of the privateer; and sticking out of the water,
a jagged mizzen--all that was left of the little _Tremendous_.
As his eye fell on the splintered stump the old Commander lifted a
hand to his forehead.
"Plucky little packet," he muttered. "Plucky little packet."
OLD DING-DONG'S REVENGE
Old Ding-dong lay at the foot of the cliff among the chalk boulders,
his limp white legs glimmering in the twilight.
To Kit, kneeling at his side, it seemed that only the old man's slow
blinking eyelids were alive. The horror of it thrilled the boy, and
woke the woman in him. He was not repelled; he was drawn closer.
Taking off his coat, he rolled it, sopping as it was, and stuffed it
beneath the other's head.
Propped so, the old man lay in the falling gloom, head quaintly cocked,
and chin crushed down on his chest.
"Are you comfortable, sir?"
"Comforubble as a man can be that canna feel," the other grunted.
"My back's bruk. I'm dyin uppuds."
Stealthily the boy took the old man's hand in his. A faint tightening
of the clay-cold fingers surprised him.
The dusk was falling fast. At their feet the sea still crashed uneasily.
Above them the cliff showed white. Under the moon one red star sparkled.
From out of the smoke they could hear the sound of oars and voices.
Boats were searching amid the wreckage.
"Ay, you may sarch," muttered the grim old man. "It's little you'll
find but your own carpses."
He rolled his head round. Kit marked the shine of his eyes, the blink
of pale lids, and the glimmer of his face.
"Look in ma breast-pocket. It's there."
The boy's scared fingers travelled over the other's sodden coat. It
was like searching a drowned man.
"Yes, sir. Here it is."
"Hod it oop."
The boy held the scent-bottle before the other's eyes. The old man
gazed at it, licking his lips.
Then he rolled his eyes up to the boy's.
"Kit Caryll," came the squeezed voice suddenly,
"are you your father's son?"
"I hope so, sir."
There was a thrilling silence.
"Then take charge."
Slowly the boy received the trust into his soul.
"Very good, sir."
He slipped the scent-bottle into his pocket.
"It's all in there," continued the ghastly voice. "It's a plot, see?--to
kidnap Nelson. There's a gal in it--o coorse. Thinks she can twiddle
the A'mighty round her thumb because her face ain't spotty. Lay that
in Nelson's hands--and we'll see."
The dusk was falling fast; the sea stilled; a breathing calm was
"This here's Beachy Head. Birling Gap's yonder--where there's a last
glimmer yet. Don't go that road. Soon as the tide's down, round the
Head, and climb t'other side. It falls away there. Make for Lewes along
the top o the Downs. There's a camp o soldiers there. Soldiers ain't
much account, but they'll serve to see you through to Merton. And once
there, and that in Nelson's hands--I ain't died in vain."
The hoarse voice grew hoarser.
"And mind! trust no one; don't go anigh farm, cottage, or village.
It's an enemy's land all this side o Lewes. Gap Gang country,
the folk call it. They're all in it--up to the neck."
"I'll do my best, sir," said the boy, licking up his tears.
"And not a bad best eether, as I know," came the squeezed voice.
"And when you've won through to Nelson, as win through it's my firm
faith you will--and laid that there in his hand"--his voice came in
pants, and pauses, and with little runs--"tell him I sarved him all
I was able and give him--my kind dooty--old Ding-dong's dooty."
There was a gasping silence.
Back to Full Books