True Blue
by W.H.G. Kingston
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"I will obey your orders, sir," cried the boy, bursting into tears; "but I would rather stick to the ship like the rest and go down in her, if go she must."

"Maybe the ship won't go down, though," said Sam.

As Sam spoke, the fury of the hurricane seemed slightly to decrease. The Captain and officers again felt some hopes of saving the ship, by heaving overboard the upper deck guns which could be most easily got at. It was a desperate resource, as the ship would thus be left utterly helpless and a prey to the meanest enemy; still it was better than allowing her to go to the bottom. As she rolled, now one gun, now another, was cast loose, run out, and let slip through the ports. It was difficult work, for one gun slipping on board and getting loose might create the most desperate havoc and confusion. Several guns had been sent plunging into the ocean, when the Captain gave the order to hold fast. Suddenly, as the hurricane began, it ceased. The ship rolled and tumbled about as violently as ever, having no masts to steady her; but some minutes passed and she had not sunk lower in the water; her pumps were got to work steadily; all hands which could be spared were sent with buckets to the lower-deck to bale away; and though at first the impression they made did not appear on so large a bulk of water, it was soon evident they assisted the pumps in gaining on the leaks.

No one, with but one exception, was idle. Everybody was straining every nerve to keep the ship afloat, and to clear her of the wreck of her masts. The only exception was Sam Smatch. Not aware that the state of affairs had much improved, he sat, as ordered, on the raft, holding little True Blue, and expecting every moment to feel the ship sinking from under him.

Bravely and energetically the men laboured on. Once more the ship floated nearly at her usual level; but the continued clank of the pumps showed that it was only while they were kept going constantly that she would do so. The hurricane, with loud mutterings in the distance, died away, and the jury-masts being got up, a light wind from the eastward enabled a course to be steered for Jamaica. Paul had come and released Sam, and sent him with the child into the cabin.

"Gentlemen," said the Captain to his officers assembled round him, "a merciful Providence has preserved our lives. Every man has done his duty; but let us not boast that it is owing to our own strength or exertions that our ship is still afloat. Our fate might have been that which I fear has overtaken the Thunderer. Alas! we shall have a sad account to give of her." Captain Penrose surmised too truly what had happened. Neither the Thunderer nor a single man of her crew was ever heard of again.


The Terrible was with difficulty kept afloat while jury-masts were being got up, and sails were made to carry her to Jamaica. Never had her brave crew felt so unwilling to meet a foe; but, as Tom Snell, the boatswain's mate, observed:

"What is sauce to the goose is sauce to the gander, d'ye see, mates; and the chances are that all ships afloat are likely to be pretty evenly tarred with the same brush."

So it proved. The French suffered as severely as the English. Many vessels of each nation, both men-of-war and merchantmen, were cast away; in some cases the whole of the crew perishing, in others a few only escaping.

Little True Blue had, therefore, at a very early age, to encounter "the battle and the breeze."

"He was just beginning to get the use of his sea-legs," as Paul observed; and it was his great amusement and that of the boy's other guardians, as well as of Sam Smatch, and occasionally of the other men, to teach him to employ them. They would sit on the deck in a circle, and, stretching out their arms, let him run about between them. First he began by merely crawling, and that he did at a very rapid rate; then he got up by degrees and worked his way along their legs, and in a week or two afterwards he could move about between them; but great was the delight of the honest Jacks when he discarded even this support, and toddled boldly from one to the other with a true nautical roll. What shouts of laughter—what applause was elicited at his performances! and Billy was almost smothered by their beards as they kissed him as a reward for his success. Even at this early age, Billy showed, as most children do, a strong inclination to have his own way; but, loving him heartily as they did, they had been too well disciplined themselves to allow him to have it, and no one kept him more strictly in order than did Paul Pringle himself.

Sam Smatch would have done his best to spoil him; but he got for his pains several severe pulls by the ears, boxes on the cheek, and kicks on the shins, so at last he fortunately was compelled to exert his authority and to report him to his head guardians. Billy was a noble little fellow; but he no more nearly approached perfection than does any child of Adam. Billy was destined to experience, before long, more of the ups and downs of a naval career.

It was on the 25th of August 1781, that the Terrible, forming one of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood's squadron, arrived off the Chesapeake, and then proceeded to Sandy Hook, where they joined Rear-Admiral Graves, who, being senior officer, became commander-in-chief and sailed in quest of the enemy. Paul Pringle and the rest of the crew of the Terrible were eager once more to meet the foe.

"Here we've been a-cruising up and down these two years, and never once been able to get alongside them Frenchmen, to have a regular-built stand-up fight!" exclaimed Paul as he and Abel Bush and one or two others were stretching their legs on the forecastle.

"I should just like to show a Monsieur to Billy, and tell him all about them," observed Abel. "We can't begin too soon to teach him how he ought to feel for them. I knows well enough that we mustn't make him hate them, because, d'ye see, they are our enemies; but we may show him how he must try and give them a sound drubbing whenever he can catch them, because that's his duty to his country, and it's good for them to pull down their pride, d'ye see."

Abel's opinion was loudly echoed by all his hearers. There soon appeared every probability of the wishes of the old Terribles being accomplished. Early on the morning of the 6th of September, the French fleet was discovered at anchor across the Chesapeake, extending in a long line from Cape Henry to the Middle Ground.

The British ships were cleared for action, and stood towards the enemy. When the French perceived them, they also got under weigh and stood to sea, their line being formed as the ships drew from under the land. It was a fine sight to see the two fleets thus approaching each other in battle array. The hearts of the British tars warmed at it—their courage rose.

"We must have Billy up and show it to him!" exclaimed Paul Pringle to Peter Ogle. "Here, boy, you just run below and tell Sam Smatch to come up with the child. The Monsieurs won't begin to open fire yet, and it will do his heart good to see the sight—that it will."

Sam in a short time appeared with Billy in his arms on the forecastle.

"You don't want to keep a baby up here while de enemy is firing at us, Paul?" said Sam, with his teeth giving signs of an inclination to chatter.

"No fear, Sam," answered Paul with a quizzical look at the black. "We'll take care that no harm comes to you and the baby."

He called him the baby; but little True Blue was now able to understand much that was said to him, while he could talk in a fashion of his own. Though his sentences were not very long, his friends understood well enough what he meant to say; and, judging by their shouts of laughter, it might be supposed that his remarks were witty in the extreme.

Paul now lifted him up in his arms, and pointed to the French fleet.

"See here, Billy," said he, "look out there at the Monsieurs. You must learn to drub them some day, mind you, if we don't do it just now. You knows what I mean?"

"Ay, ay," answered Billy, doubling his little fists; "Billy fight en'y— fight Fen!"

The sentiment was received with the loudest applause by the crew. On the Captain inquiring what had occurred, "It's little Billy True Blue, sir, standing up and a-swearin' as how he'll drub the Frenchmen," was the answer.

Even Captain Penrose at such a moment, which must be awful to all thinking men when about to engage in deadly combat with an enemy, could not help smiling at the account, however much he might be inclined to doubt the correctness of the assertion.

"Let him get a little bigger before we try his metal," he replied. "Take him below at once. We are nearing the enemy's line, and shall soon have their shot come rattling aboard us."

The day had drawn on before the two hostile fleets could approach each other; but the rear ships, from want of wind, were far astern when the Princessa, Shrewsbury, Intrepid, and Montague, leading, followed closely by the Terrible and Ajax, got into action and bore the whole fire of the van and centre of the French fleet. Right gallantly did the English tars stand to their guns; and seldom have they had more need of their boasted courage. Round-shot and chain-shot and langridge came showering thickly down upon them. The English line was to windward, and might easily have got out of the fight; but this the Captains disdained to do, though anxiously looking for the assistance of their friends. The wind more than once shifted, and each time that it did so, it enabled the French to bring more of their ships down on the English centre, especially on the Terrible. She looked like some noble monster brought to bay. Although with one opponent abeam, and two others on her bows, and another on her quarter, pouring their shot in upon her, not a man flinched from his gun. Numbers fell, killed or wounded, but their places were instantly supplied by their shipmates. Several guns were dismounted, but others were got over from the opposite side, and fought with the most determined spirit. The brave old Captain walked the quarterdeck as coolly as if no enemy was in sight, casting an eye aloft every now and then, to assure himself that the flag, which he had resolved should fly to the last, was still untouched.

Paul Pringle was one of the quartermasters at the helm. Several shipmates and friends had fallen around him. He saw the enemy's shot striking the ship's sides between wind and water, and he could not help feeling the very perilous position in which the old ship was placed. In spite, however, of the tumult, the death and havoc which raged around him, his thoughts turned anxiously towards his little charge down in the distant hold. "Well, if the Captain goes, and I go, and we all go who have charge of him, there is One above who will look after him and tend him better than we can," he said more than once to himself. "Still I wish he were safe out of this. For myself, I'd as lief go down with my colours flying as strike them; but that would be hard for him, and yet the old ship seems very uneasy. Heaven watch over him and protect him!"

As Paul said this to himself, a shot came flying from the ship on the Terrible's quarter. Suddenly Paul was torn from his hold of the wheel, and, with two other men, was seen struggling on the other side of the deck. Captain Penrose had at that moment faced aft and seen what had occurred.

"Paul Pringle gone!" he said sadly to himself. "A better seaman never died fighting for his country."

Scarcely had the well-merited eulogium passed his lips, than, from among the mangled forms of his shipmates, and covered from head to foot with their still warm blood, up sprang Paul himself, and with a bound returned to the wheel, the spokes of which he grasped firmly, singing out with stentorian voice and a prolonged cadence, "Steady!" as he passed them rapidly round.

The man who had been ordered to take his place stopped when he saw him, with a look of amazement, uncertain whether it was his ghost or not.

"It's myself, Jack," said he; "but it was a near touch and go, and for some moments never did I expect to be on my legs again, let me tell you, lad."

Still hotter and hotter grew the fight; but the firing sent down the little air that there had been, and it fell so that no more of the British ships could get up to the support of those engaged. Still the van and centre bravely supported the unequal fight. The carpenter came and reported to the Captain that he had sounded the well, and that the water was gaining rapidly on the ship.

"Man the pumps, then, Mr Chips, and try and clear her," was the answer.

Some men were at once told off for that purpose, ill as they could be spared from the guns, and sent below.

Scarcely had they set to work when a shot came in, carrying off the heads of several of them; another shortly followed and destroyed the pumps. Mr Chips and the survivors, with some of his crew whom he collected, strenuously exerted themselves to repair the damage; but it was a long time before they could get the pumps to work.

All this time little Billy remained with Sam in the hold. Billy, it must be confessed, began to cry at the din and uproar, for he could not make out what it all meant; and the teeth of the poor black, who knew too well, began to chatter in right earnest, and his heart to quake. It was, in truth, a very trying time for Sam. He had a lantern with him, but it gave a very dim, uncertain light; and from the crashing just above his head, and the rushing sound close to his ear, he knew that the shots were finding their way in between wind and water, and that the latter element was gaining a rapid entrance into the ship. Every now and then the splinters, and occasionally also a shot, which fell through the hatchways, showed him that death was being dealt rapidly around just above him; and he dared not therefore move, as he wished to do, to the orlop-deck, into which the shot of an enemy does not often find its way. Then, again, the sound of the water washing about below his feet alarmed him. He began to anticipate the most dreadful of fates.

"De poor little Billy and I will be drowned down here in dis dark hole, and no one come to look for us. What me do? Oh dear! oh dear! Poor little Billy!"

Then he wrung his hands bitterly, while Billy stood between his knees, looking up inquiringly into his face, and wondering what made him so unhappy. Then Billy cried himself, not exactly knowing why. Then he stopped and endeavoured, as far as his knowledge of language would carry him, to ask Sam what was the matter.

"No ask, Billy—no ask," answered Sam, shaking his head mournfully. "De old ship very ill—hear how she groan and cry!"

Indeed, the sounds which reached their ears were very appalling. The ship herself groaned and moaned as the water rushed through her, and the pent-up air made its escape, and the bulkheads creaked loudly, and then from above came the saddest shrieks and cries. They were from the cockpit, where the poor mangled fellows who had been brought below were placed under the hands of the surgeons. Besides all this, there was the unceasing roar and reverberation of the guns, shaking the ship's sides as if they were about to fall to pieces; while there was the rattle of shot, and the crash and tearing of planks, and the rending asunder of stout timber.

In time Billy got accustomed to the sounds, and did not seem to connect them with any especial danger to himself and his friends. Not so poor Sam, who grew more and more alarmed, and not without reason; for although he was unable to ascertain how the battle itself might terminate, he saw too evidently that unless it was shortly brought to an end, and the crew were able to exert themselves in keeping her afloat, the ship would go down with all on board still fighting on her decks. Anxiously he waited. There seemed to be no cessation of firing. Then, taking Billy in his arms, he exclaimed, "Better be shot than stay and drown here!" and rushed frantically up the hatchway ladders.

"Down, Sam—down! Is the boy mad?" exclaimed several who saw him. "You'll be having little Billy hit if you don't take care, Sam."

"No, Sam not mad; but de ship is sinking!" he cried out. "De ship is sinking, I say!"

These sounds very soon reached the ears of the Captain.

"Then we'll sink with her, my boys!" he exclaimed; "for strike that glorious flag of ours while I'm alive, I will not. Fight to the last, my lads, say I; and let us show the boasting Frenchmen what they are to expect from every ship they attack before they can hope to take her."

The officers and men who stood near echoed the sentiment, and from gun to gun along the decks it flew, till the whole ship's company broke forth into one loud enthusiastic cheer.

Probably the Frenchmen heard it; but they continued firing with effect, till suddenly their helms were put up, and, their rigging being in far better condition than that of the English, away they stood before the wind towards the mouth of the Chesapeake; and as the shades of night were rapidly closing down on the world of waters, they were soon hid from sight. The English seamen, as they receded into obscurity, looked at the enemy with hatred and contempt. Forbidden by the Admiral to follow, and in truth unable to do so, they felt like chained mastiffs bearded in their kennels by a pack of yelping hounds, who have carried off their bones and pretty severely handled them at the same time. It must be confessed, indeed, that although the French could not claim a victory, they decidedly had the best of it in the fight, their ships having suffered much less than those of the English.

The Count de Grasse, in the Ville de Paris, commanded, and he gained his object of landing a body of troops to assist the Americans, which contributed so much to their success over Lord Cornwallis.

Once more the British ships were left alone, the enemy having, to all appearance, vanished into thin air. The reports brought from time to time to Captain Penrose were truly disheartening. With many men killed, and still greater numbers wounded, and the rest pretty well knocked up with their exertions, it was difficult work to keep the pumps going, by which alone the ship could be saved from going down. There was to be no slumber or rest for any one during all that night; and the Captain and officers could only feel thankful that a gale did not spring up, or that the enemy did not come out and have a brush with them.

When morning broke, the signal for the fleet to get more to windward and to repair damages was flying at the masthead of the flagship. The order was obeyed, and all the day was spent in plugging shot-holes, and in bending new sails or mending rent ones, and in reeving fresh running rigging. Captain Penrose, with an excusable feeling, could not bring himself to reveal the condition of the old Terrible to the Admiral.

"If we must go down, let us first get alongside the enemy, and then, yardarm to yardarm, let us both go down together, or carry her by boarding, and win a new ship for ourselves!" he exclaimed while talking the matter over with his officers.

The idea was approved of by all of them, and they all expressed a hope that the opportunity might be allowed them of carrying it into execution. As was intended, it was repeated to the men, and soon passed along the decks, all joining heartily in the wish that, they might thus have the chance of punishing the enemy.

"But what is to be done with little Billy True Blue?" inquired Sam Smatch. "He can't board with the rest, I guess."

"No, Sam; but we will have a bodyguard for him," observed Peter Ogle. "When Paul Pringle comes for'ard, we'll ax him what he says to it. When we board and drive the Frenchmen before us, the bodyguard, with Billy in the middle, must follow closely after; and then, d'ye see, we shall win a prize, take care of Billy, and lick the Frenchmen all under one."

When Paul Pringle heard of the plan, he highly approved of it, at the same time that he put the question, "Who's to take care of Billy, mates, and form this same bodyguard you speak of?"

Now, of course, everybody would wish to do the fighting part, and to be among the first on board the enemy's ship. Who would form the bodyguard? That was a poser. Of course Sam Smatch would be one; but then by himself he would not be of much use, as his wooden leg might chance to stick in a hole and stop his progress. At last they agreed to refer the matter to the Captain, and to get him to tell off a body of men for that purpose.

Paul Pringle was selected to be the bearer of the message. Hat in hand, he stood before his Captain.

"What is it, Pringle?" asked the old man.

"Why, sir, please you, I be come about the business of the ship's child, sir, Billy True Blue," began Paul. "We hear as how we are to get alongside an enemy and to take her, and we've been thinking how we are to get little Billy safe aboard if the Terrible, bless her old ribs! was for to take it into her head to go down; and we thinks as how if he was to have a bodyguard, whose business was to keep round him and look after him, seeing as how Sam Smatch can't do that same by himself, that it would be the best thing for the youngster we can arrange."

Much more to the same effect Paul explained; and the Captain finally promised that if there was a chance of getting alongside an enemy, he would appoint some men to the duty.

"And what is more, I will place the party under command of Mr Garland," said the Captain. "Billy is such a pet with him, that I am sure he will do his best to defend him."

"That I know he will, sir!" exclaimed Paul. "That will just do, sir. None on 'em will fight the worse for knowing how kind you've been to us—that they won't;" and honest Paul scraped his way out of the cabin.

The enemy, however, showed no inclination to give them the chance they wished for. Although Admiral Graves kept his fleet sailing up and down in front of them, they continued to leeward, without any attempt to approach. The Count de Grasse was more intent on carrying out his immediate object of effecting the safe debarkation of the troops than in sustaining the honour of his nation. He was a wise man, for by risking an action he might have been defeated and lost the attainment of both objects.

In spite of the battered condition of the Terrible, she maintained her position in the line; but she was only kept afloat by the most strenuous and unremitting exertions of her brave crew. Another night and day passed, and each hour the difficulty of keeping her afloat became more apparent. Her masts and spars, too, were much wounded, and it became a question how she would be able to weather even a moderate gale. Still the ship's company worked on cheerfully, in hopes that they might have the chance of gaining a ship for themselves. At length the wind fell very light, and the Admiral, ordering the fleet to lay to, sent an officer on board each ship which had been engaged, to inquire into her condition and the state of the wounded. It was a trying time when the Captain of the flagship himself came on board the Terrible. Half the men were lying about between the guns, overcome with fatigue, while the remainder were working away at the pumps in a way which showed that they knew their lives depended on their exertions. He examined the ship below, and when he went on deck he cast his eye on the masts and spars. He then took Captain Penrose aside, and, after talking with him, went back to the flagship. He soon returned, and a few more words passed between him and the Captain.

Captain Penrose then appeared on the quarterdeck with a sorrowful countenance.

"Gentlemen," said he with a voice almost choked with emotion, turning to his officers, "and you, my gallant fellows, who have served with me so long and so faithfully, I have sad news to tell you. It is the opinion of those competent to judge, that we cannot hope to keep the old ship afloat much longer. If we could put her on shore, we might save her to carry us yet longer through the 'battle and the breeze;' but we have only a hostile shore under our lee, with an enemy's fleet in sight, far superior to ours, and which has lately been reinforced by five ships-of-the-line; and therefore, my friends, it has been decided that we must abandon and destroy her."

The old man could scarcely speak for some minutes, while a general groan ran through the ship's company. Paul Pringle turned his eyes towards the distant fleet of the enemy, and thought, "But why can't we get alongside some of them Monsieurs and take a ship for ourselves? We'd do it—we knows we could, if the Captain would give the word."

The men were mistaken; but the expressions to which they gave vent showed the spirit which animated them.

"Now, my lads," continued the Captain, "the boats of the squadron will soon be alongside. Each man will have ready his bag and hammock; the officers their clothes, nautical instruments, and desks. One thing I promise you,—and that's a satisfaction to all, I know, boys, as it is to me,—that, come what may, our stout old ship, which has carried us so long through the tempest and the fight, will never fall into the hands of our enemies."

The last remark was received with a loud shout, which seemed, as it was intended to do, to relieve the spirits of the men.

"Well, lads," the Captain went on, "I wish that I had nothing more painful to say; but another bad part of the business is, that I must be separated from the larger number of you who have served with me so bravely and faithfully. I am appointed to the Fame, whose Captain has been badly wounded, and will go home; and I may take with me one hundred and ten men—the rest will be distributed among the ships of the fleet short of their complement. The first lieutenant will call over the names of those selected to go with me; but, lads,—my dear lads, who are to be parted from me,—don't suppose that I would not gladly have you also—ay, every one of you; and wherever you go, you will, I am sure, prove a credit to the ship you have served in, and the Captain you have served under."

The Captain could not go on, and many a rough seaman passed the collar of his jacket across his eyes; and then, led by Tom Snell, they gave three thundering cheers for the Captain and officers of the dear old ship they were going to leave for ever.

In a short time the boats of the squadron came alongside. The intermediate period had been spent in getting their bags and bedding ready, and now all stood prepared for the word to step into the boats. Of course the Captain had chosen Paul Pringle; so he had Abel Bush, and Peter Ogle, and Tom Snell, and the other assistant-guardians of little Billy, while Sergeant Bolton with some of his marines were drafted into his new ship, and Sam Smatch was thrown in to the bargain.

Captain Penrose had chosen Natty Garland to be among the officers to accompany him. He had called him up before the ship was abandoned.

"Most of your messmates and friends are appointed to other ships, Garland," he said; "I can probably get you a berth on board nearly any you may like to name, or, if you like to follow your old Captain's fortunes, I will take you with me."

"Oh, sir, I will go with you without a moment's doubt!" answered the young midshipman warmly. "I am sure, wherever you are, I shall find the right sort of work to be done."

"I trust you may, my lad," answered the old man, smiling and putting out his hand. From that time he became a greater friend than ever of the brave boy.

The Fame now bore down to receive her new Captain and the addition to her ship's company. Three of the Terrible's officers accompanied their Captain; the rest were distributed among the vacancies in the fleet. There floated the old Terrible, with her well-riddled and torn sails furled, but her pendant, and ensign, and Union-Jack still flying at her peak and mastheads. She was deserted. The lieutenants, with the master-at-arms and the quartermasters, had gone round her decks to assure themselves that no human being remained in her. The shot, too, had been withdrawn from all the guns; and such things belonging to her as could be more easily removed had been carried away. Now the four lieutenants in as many boats returned. Accompanied by picked men, they went to different parts of the ship. As they walked along her silent decks, the groans and sighs which rose from below made their hearts feel sad. They descended to different parts of the hold, and, each collecting such combustible materials as they could find, set fire to them and hastily retreated. Once more they returned to the boats and pulled away for the Fame. Night was coming rapidly on. Scarcely had they reached the deck of the Fame before flames burst forth from every part of the Terrible, Brighter and fiercer they grew. Now they found their way through the hatchways and climbed up the masts and rigging; they twisted and turned along the bowsprit and out to the taffrail. Still by their glare could be seen the victorious flag of England waving proudly in the breeze.

Now, fore and aft, the old Terrible was one mass of flame,—a huge pyramid of fire,—which shed a lurid glare on the clouds above, on the surrounding water, and on the white sails and dark hulls of the ships. Suddenly there was a concussion which shook the very atmosphere, and made the ships roll and shiver as if struck with an ague. Now up in one mass of fire rose the upper deck, and masts, and spars, high into the air, where for an instant they hung suspended, and then, bursting into millions of burning fragments, down they came, scattered far and wide, hissing into the ocean. Here and there, for a few minutes, some shining flames could be seen scattered about; but they quickly disappeared, the hull itself sank, and now but a very few charred fragments remained of the fine old Terrible. A groan burst from the bosoms of the gallant tars who had lately manned her, joined in equally by her Captain; and Billy True Blue, breaking into a flood of tears, was carried still inconsolable to his hammock.


Sir George Rodney remained, from ill health, for some time in England, and the British squadrons on the West India and American stations were engaged chiefly during that time in guarding the Island of Jamaica from the contemplated attacks of the French. Captain Penrose soon taught his new ship's company to love and trust him as much as the old one had done. The Fame was constantly and actively engaged, and he took good care, as usual, that the weeds should not grow under her bottom.

Billy True Blue was all this time rapidly growing in size and strength, and in knowledge of affairs in general.

Time passed on. Sir George Rodney returned from England and took command of the West India fleet. The French still intended to take Jamaica, but had not, and he resolved, if some thousand brave British sailors in stout ships could prevent them, that they should not. With this object in view, he assembled all his ships at the Island of Saint Lucia, where, having provisioned and watered them, he lay ready to attack the Count de Grasse as soon as he, with his fleet, should venture forth from Fort Royal Bay, where they had been refitting.

Paul Pringle and his shipmates were as eager as ever for the battle.

"I do wish little True Blue was big enough to join in the fight—that I do, even if it were only as a powder-monkey. He'd take to it so kindly—that he would, I know," said Peter Ogle to Paul.

"I've no doubt about that, Peter," answered his shipmate. "But we'll wait a bit. He'll be big enough by and by, and we mustn't let him run any risk yet. We'll send him down below, as we used to do in the old Terrible, with Sam Smatch. Sam will have more difficulty in keeping him quiet than he had then."

"But I wonder when we shall get at these Frenchmen?" said Abel Bush. "They seem to me just as slippery as eels. When you think you've got them, there they are gliding past your nose, and safe and sound at anchor under their batteries, or in some snug harbour where you can't get at them. Well, Paul, night and morning, I do thank heaven that I wasn't born a Frenchman—that I do."

"Right, Abel; so do I," said Paul. "Ah, here comes little True Blue. Now, I'll warrant, about the whole French fleet they haven't got such a youngster as he is—no, nor nothing like him."

"Like him! I should think not!" cried Peter Ogle in a tone of voice which showed that the very supposition made him indignant. "No more like him than a frog is like an albatross. No, no; search the world round, I don't care in what country, ashore or afloat, black, or brown, or white, you won't find such another little chap for his age as Billy True Blue."

The child, as he walked along the deck with a slight roll, which he had learned as soon as he put his feet to the planks, seemed well deserving of the eulogium passed on him. He was a noble child, with a broad chest and shoulders, a fair complexion, though somewhat bronzed already, and a large, laughing blue eye, with a good honest, wide mouth, and teeth which showed that he could give a good account of the beef and biscuit which he put into it.

"Sam says I no big enough to fight de French," said Billy, pouting his lips, as he came up to his old friends, followed closely by the black. "I put match to gun—fire—bang. Why no I fight?"

"Huzza, Billy!" cried Peter Ogle. "That's the spirit. You'd stand to your gun as well as the best of us, I know you would. But we can't let you just yet, boy. Make haste and grow big, and then if there are any Frenchmen left to fight, with any ships to fight in, you shall fight them, boy."

This promise did not seem at all to satisfy Billy. He evidently understood that the ship was likely to go into action; and though it was a long time since he had been sent into the hold with Sam, he had a dim recollection of the horrors of the place, and fancied that he would much rather be with his friends on deck. Of course Sam was ordered to take charge of the little boy, as before.

The British had not long to wait for the expected meeting with the enemy. At daylight on the 8th of April 1782, the Andromache frigate, commanded by Captain Byron, appeared off Gros Islet Bay, with the signal flying that the enemy's fleet, with a large convoy, was coming out of Fort Royal Bay and standing to the north-west. Instantly Sir George Rodney made the signal to weigh, and by noon the whole fleet was clear of the bay. The Admiral stretched over to Fort Royal, but finding none of the French ships there, or at Saint Pierre's, he made the signal for a general chase. Night came on, but still a sharp lookout was kept ahead.

Paul Pringle and Abel Bush walked the forecastle, where the second lieutenant of the ship was stationed with his night-glass. The Fame was one of the leading ships. It was the middle watch. Paul put his hand on Abel's shoulder. "Look out now there, mate; what do you see now?"

"Ten, fifteen, twenty lights at least. Huzza! That's the enemy's fleet. We shall be up to them in the morning."

The lieutenant was of the same opinion, and went to make his report to the Captain. The men now clustered thickly on the forecastle to watch the Jack o' Lantern-looking lights, which they hoped proceeded from the ships with which they expected in the morning to contend. As the mists of night cleared away on the morning of the 9th, the French were discovered in the passage between Dominique and Guadaloupe. A signal was seen flying, too, at the masthead of Sir George Rodney's ship, to prepare for battle and to form the line. The French convoy was made out under Dominique, but the ships of war appeared forming their line to windward and standing over to Guadaloupe.

Unfortunately, however, the British fleet got becalmed for some time under the high lands of Dominique, and unable to get into their stations. The instant, however, that the welcome breeze at length reached the van division under Sir Samuel Hood, he stood in in gallant style and closed with the enemy's centre. By noon the action had commenced in earnest, and was maintained by this division alone for upwards of an hour without any support from the rest of the squadron, the gallant Barfleur being for most of the time hotly engaged with three ships firing their broadsides at her. At length the leading ships of the centre got the breeze, and were able to come to the support of the van. Many of the French ships even fought well and gallantly, but, in spite of their superiority in numbers, were very roughly handled. In consequence of this, when the Count de Grasse saw the rear of the British fleet coming fast up, having the weather-gage, he hauled his wind and withdrew out of shot. Two of the French ships were, however, so much cut up in hull and rigging that they were compelled to leave the fleet and put into Guadaloupe.

Nothing could exceed the disappointment and rage of the British seamen at this proceeding. They had made sure of victory, and now to have the enemy run away and leave them in the lurch was provoking beyond all bearing.

Several British ships had suffered—the Royal and the Montague, and the Alfred especially, Captain Bayne, who commanded her, being killed. Still the crews entreated that they might not be sent into port, and, with the true spirit of British seamen, undertook to repair damages at sea, in which request they were seconded by their officers. For two days they were at work without cessation, making sail, however, whenever they could, and beating to windward in the direction the French fleet had gone.

The enemy were carrying all the sail they could press on their ships; and by the evening of the 10th they had weathered the Saintes, a group of rocks and islets between Dominique and Guadaloupe, and were nearly hull down.

Towards noon of next day the officers were seen to have their glasses more frequently and intently fixed on them; and by degrees, while the main body grew less and less distinct in the blue haze of the tropics, two ships, with their topmasts down, were perceived standing out in bold relief, and therefore known to be considerably to leeward of the rest, and much nearer the British. The breeze since the morning had been increasing to a fresh and steady gale.

With unbounded satisfaction the seamen saw the signal thrown out from the flagship for a general chase. The gallant Agamemnon, now beginning to earn her well-merited renown, with the noble Fame, and other ships forming Admiral Drake's division, were ahead of the rest of the fleet. Crowding all sail with eager haste, they dashed on to secure their hoped-for prey. They saw the disabled Frenchmen making signals, calling their countrymen to their relief.

It was a period of intense anxiety; for the doubt was whether the Count de Grasse would abandon his ships to their fate or bear down to their relief, and thus lessen the distance between the enemy and himself. Eagerly they were watched. There remained no doubt that the English would cut off the two disabled Frenchmen, when gradually the bows of the distant ships of the enemy were seen to come round, and the Count de Grasse, adopting the nobler course, came bearing down under a press of sail to attempt the rescue of his friends.

"Now, gentlemen, we shall have them!" exclaimed Captain Penrose in a cheerful voice as he walked the quarterdeck with some of his officers. "Before this time to-morrow we shall have fought an action which will, I trust, be for ever celebrated in the annals of English history."

Down came the Frenchmen in gallant style, faster than they expected; and the more experienced saw, from the scattered positions of the British ships, that the result of an action at that moment would have been very doubtful. Intense, however, was the disappointment of the greater number, when, towards evening, the leading ships of the two fleets being not a mile apart, they saw the signal of recall made.

Captain Penrose smiled at the impatience of his officers and men.

"I know Rodney pretty well by this time," he remarked. "He is as eager for the fight as any of us, but he is no less anxious for the victory, and knows that will best be obtained by forming a compact line. See! what do those signals he is now making mean?"

"To form the line of battle," answered the signal-officer.

"All right, master. Place us as soon as possible in our proper position," said the Captain. "What's that signal now?"

"Ships to work to windward under all sail," was the answer.

It soon became too dark to make out any further signals, so the fleet continued, as last directed, to beat up in the direction of the enemy all night. When dawn broke on the 12th, a French ship of the line was discovered in a disabled condition, towed by a frigate, a considerable distance to leeward of the main body of the French fleet.

Directly a signal could be seen, Admiral Rodney made one for the four leading ships of the fleet to chase, in order to capture the two Frenchmen. It was the same drama enacted as on the previous day. It would have been a stain on the white lilies of France had the Count de Grasse allowed his two ships to be captured; and therefore, once more, to the great delight of the British, he bore up with his whole fleet for their protection.

There seemed no longer a possibility of a general action being avoided. The signal was made, ordering the British ships to their stations, and a close line ahead was formed on the starboard tack, the enemy being on the larboard. Rear-Admiral Drake, in the Princessa, 70 guns, commanded the Blue Division; the van, which was led by the noble Marlborough, followed closely by the Arrogant, Conqueror, Fame, Russell, Norwich, and other ships, which, with their brave Captains, were destined to become famous in story.

At half-past seven in the morning, Rear-Admiral Drake's division, which led, got within range of the long-sought-for enemy, and soon from van to rear the British ships were sending forth their terrific broadsides. The French replied boldly; and now the two hostile fleets were wrapped in flames and smoke, while round-shot and missiles of all descriptions were passing between one and the other. Both appeared to be suffering alike, and many a brave seaman was laid low. The Fame had got early into action, and gallantly taken up her position opposite an opponent worthy of her. Her brave old Captain walked the quarterdeck, calm as usual, watching with eagle eye the progress of the engagement, and waiting for any opportunity to alter to advantage the position of his ship.

It was just such a fight as Paul Pringle and the crew generally had long wished for; and fierce and bloody enough it was, too. Of course little Billy was down below, as secure from harm as his friends could make him. Few of those present had ever been in a hotter or better contested fight. The officers, at all events, knew how much depended on the result—the safety, probably, of all the British possessions in the West Indies. All the seamen thought of was, how they best could thrash the Frenchmen; and they knew that all they had to do was to stick to their guns and blaze away till they were ordered to stop. Towards noon the wind shifted, and enabled the British fleet to fetch to windward of the enemy.

"See what that gallant fellow Gardner is about with the Duke," observed Captain Penrose to the master, who was near him.

Putting the Duke's helm up, he was standing down under all sail in a bold attempt to break the enemy's line. There was a groan of disappointment given by all who saw him when his maintopmast fell over his side, and, unable to keep his position, he dropped to leeward.

Sir George Rodney in the Formidable, however, supported by the Namur and Canada, was more successful. Keeping up a terrific fire, he dashed through the French line about three ships off from the Ville de Paris, followed by all those in his rear; then, immediately wearing, he doubled on the enemy again, pouring in on them his crashing broadsides. By this bold manoeuvre the French line was broken and thrown into the utmost confusion: their van bore away and endeavoured to reform to leeward; but, too hotly pressed by the British ships, there seemed little probability of their accomplishing this.

Still the Frenchmen, though evidently losing the day, fought with the most desperate courage and resolution. For a short time, while still the battle was raging between many ships, the crew of the Fame ceased firing; for one opponent had sheered off whom they were unable to follow, and another was approaching. Whether the cessation of the roar of the guns made Sam Smatch careless, is uncertain; but just as a ninety-gun ship was bearing down on the gallant Fame, who should appear on the quarterdeck but little Billy True Blue! At that moment the Frenchmen let fly a crashing broadside, speedily returned by the crew of the Fame. Round-shot and bullets were flying about like hail, blocks and yards and splinters were rattling down from aloft, and blood and brains and mangled limbs were being scattered here and there. Unharmed and undaunted, the little fellow stood amid the wild uproar and the havoc and destruction and the scenes of horror taking place on every side.

The Captain at length turned round and saw the child standing near him.

"Oh, go below, boy! go below! You may be hurt, my child!" he exclaimed in a voice of the deepest concern. He turned to young Garland, who was near him, repeating, "Take him below instantly out of harm's way."

Billy had never disobeyed the Captain's commands before; but he struggled violently in the midshipman's arms and cried out, "No, no! Billy stay on deck and fight French!"

The fine old Captain was raising his hand as a sign that he must be obeyed, when he was seen to stagger. Nat Garland let go the child and ran to catch him; but before he could get up, he had sunk on the deck, just raising himself on one arm; but that slowly gave way, and he lay still on the deck.

Billy True Blue flew up to him with a cry of grief.

"Oh, Captain, Captain, what is the matter?" he exclaimed. Young Garland and those who stood near with deep grief thought that their gallant chief was dead.

"Captain, Captain, do speak—tell Billy what is the matter?" said the child.

At length the old man opened his eyes and smiled as he saw that innocent infantine face looking down upon him.

"Alfred—Edgar," he whispered slowly. "Yes, dears, I know you; but I am going—going to another world of peace and quiet, where we shall all meet. I have had a rough life away from you; but duty, dears, duty kept me from home—always follow duty wherever it leads."

Billy could not make out what the Captain was talking about, and others thought that he was speaking to him. In a little time he came more to himself, and they were about to take him below, but he insisted on being left on deck.

"I am shot through and through," he said. "I will breathe the open air and see how the fight goes as long as I live. But take that little boy below out of danger."

Soon after he had spoken, he again became partly delirious, and Billy shrieked and struggled so violently that the midshipman, who had a fellow-feeling for him, again set him down, and he ran back to his dying friend.

Captain Penrose now cried out for something to drink; but when it was brought, he would take it from no hands but those of Billy. Unconscious or regardless of the danger which surrounded him, the child sat himself down composedly on the deck, and continued to moisten the lips of the old man. Now a loud, true British hurrah ran along the decks of the Fame. Another English ship was coming up, and the crew of their opponent, unwilling to encounter the fire of a fresh antagonist, were hauling down her colours. The Captain raised himself up on one arm, and his eye fell on the white flag of France coming down from the masthead of the enemy.

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" he feebly exclaimed.

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" shouted Billy in a shrill tone, waving his little hat. Then the fine old seaman fell back, and when they got up to him he had ceased to breathe.

Hitherto Sir Samuel Hood's division had been becalmed, but now getting the breeze, it came up in gallant style to take part in the action. Still many of the French crews fought on with the most heroic bravery. The Glorieux especially, commanded by the Vicomte D'Escar, made a most noble defence. Her masts and bowsprits were shot away by the board, but her colours were not struck till all her consorts were taken or put to flight. Her brave commander fell in the action. Monsieur de Marigny in the Caesar displayed equal bravery. Having sustained the fire of several ships, he was, when almost a wreck, closely and vigorously attacked by the Centaur. His colours, it appeared, were nailed to the mast; and though his men were falling thickly around him, and he himself mortally wounded, he would not yield.

At length, several other British ships coming up, one of the French officers cried out that the ship had surrendered, and at that moment her brave Captain was said to have breathed his last. No sooner did the Caesar surrender than her masts fell over the side. The Ardent, which was in the midst of the British fleet, struck to the Belliqueux, an English ship with a French name, and the Hector, 74, to the Canada, 74, commanded by Captain Cornwallis. He, however, left his prize to be taken possession of by the Alcide, and made sail after the French Admiral in the Ville de Paris, who, with his seconds, was endeavouring to rejoin his scattered and flying ships.

Boldly the brave Cornwallis approached the huge Ville de Paris, and right gallantly opened his fire; and so ably did he hang on her, and cut up her sails and rigging, some other ships coming up to his support, that it was impossible for her to escape. Still the Comte de Grasse, although his fine ship was almost cut to pieces and multitudes of her crew killed, seemed determined rather to sink than to yield to any ship under that of an Admiral's flag. At length Sir Samuel Hood came up in the Barfleur, and poured in a tremendous broadside. Even then the gallant Frenchman held out, firing away from both sides of his ship on his numerous opponents for a quarter of an hour longer; when at length, seeing that all his own ships had deserted him, and that night was coming on, just as the sun set he hauled down his flag.

The enemy's fleet continued going off before the wind in small detached squadrons and single ships under all the sail they could crowd, closely pursued by the British ships, which were consequently much dispersed.

Sir George Rodney, on seeing this, made the signal to bring to, in order to collect his fleet and secure the prizes. The signal was seen from many of the ships, and obeyed; but Commodore Affleck, in the Bedford, with other ships which were ahead, not observing it, continued the chase, keeping up a hot fire on the flying enemy.

"Well, mates!" exclaimed Paul Pringle, as that evening, with little Billy on his knee, he sat at the mess-table between the guns which had been so well served, and had served their country so well, "we've had a great loss, for we have lost as brave a captain, and as true a man, as ever stepped aboard of a man-of-war; yet, mates, he died as he would have wished, in the hour of victory; and then, just think on't, we've had as glorious a day as I'd ever wish to see. Maybe few of us will ever live to see another such. But, mates, there's another thing we have to be grateful for—that is, that our little Billy here has escaped the Frenchmen's shot. What should we have done if he had been killed? It would have broken my heart, I know."

"Grappled with the first Frenchman we could have met, and blown her and ourselves up together—that's what I'd have been inclined to do!" cried Tom Snell, who was generally an advocate for desperate measures. "But how was it the little fellow got away from Sam? How was it, Billy?"

"I ran up, and leave Sam down dere," answered Billy.

"Has anybody seen Sam since then?" asked Abel Bush.

On comparing notes, it was discovered that no one had seen the black since the commencement of the battle. It was agreed, therefore, that instant search should be made for him. Paul having procured a lantern from the master-at-arms, the messmates went below with Billy. They reached the spot where the child said he had left him, but no Sam was there. They shouted his name through the hold, but no reply was made. They hunted about in every direction.

"He must have gone on deck and stowed himself away somewhere," observed Paul Pringle.

Just then Abel Bush said he heard a groan. Going towards the spot, there, coiled up, not far from one of the hatchways, was poor Sam. After calling to him several times and shaking him, he lifted up his head.

"Who dere? Oh dear, oh dear! What de matter?" he moaned out.

"How was it you let little Billy True Blue run away and nearly get killed, Sam?" asked Paul.

"Billy killed! Oh dear, oh dear! Den kill me!" cried poor Sam, trembling all over.

"But he isn't killed, and we don't want to kill you," answered Paul. "Get up, though, or we shall fancy you're in a fright or drunk."

"But I can't get up—'deed I can't!" cried Sam. "Leg shot away. I no walkee."

On hearing this, Paul and his companions lifted up the poor black, and sure enough a leg, but it was his wooden one, was shattered to fragments, and the stump to which it was secured considerably bruised. It then came out that Sam had really attempted to follow little True Blue when he ran on deck, but that, just as he was getting up the hatchway on the lower-deck, a shot had come through a port, and, striking his wooden leg, had tumbled him down again, when by some means or other he had rolled down into the hold, and there, suffering from pain and fear, he had ever since lain, unwilling and unable to rise, dreading lest harm should happen to his little charge, and fearing not a little, should such have been the case, the consequences to himself. He was half starved, too, for he had had nothing to eat all day, and was altogether in a very wretched plight. When, however, he was brought on deck, with some food put into his inside and the assistance of the carpenter, he was once more set on his legs. Many a day, however, passed before the sound of his once merry fiddle was heard on the forecastle of the Fame, for the crew loved their gallant commander too well to allow them to foot it as had been their constant custom during his lifetime.

Little rest had the crews of any of the ships that night after the battle. Not far from the Fame lay the Caesar, which had been so gallantly defended, now a prize to the Centaur. One of the lieutenants of the Centaur, with the boatswain and fifty of her men, were on board the prize, fully four hundred Frenchmen not having yet been removed.

Suddenly flames were seen to burst forth from the lower ports of the Caesar. How the fire originated no one could tell. In vain must have been the efforts of those on board to extinguish it. Boats put off from all the ships near to rescue the unfortunate people on board; but before they could reach her the fire had entered her magazine, and with a dreadful explosion she blew up, hurling every one on board to destruction. The English lieutenant and boatswain, with fifty men, and the four hundred Frenchmen remaining on board, all perished.

For this most important and gallant victory Sir George Rodney was created a peer of Great Britain, Sir Samuel Hood a peer of Ireland, and Admiral Drake and Commodore Affleck baronets of the United Kingdom.


Among the ships forming the squadron under Admiral Graves, ordered to proceed to England, was the Hector, 74, captured from the French in the glorious battle of the 12th of April 1782. Captain Bouchier, who had commanded the Zebra sloop, had been appointed to her to take her home; and although her complement had been filled up chiefly by invalids, and French and American prisoners, who had volunteered to serve in her, it was necessary also to have a certain number of prime seamen on board. These were drafted from several ships, and, to the no small satisfaction of Paul Pringle, he with Abel Bush, Peter Ogle, and Tom Snell were taken from the Fame.

As the Fame had already a fiddler, and the Hector had none, they got leave for Sam Smatch to accompany them.

Paul was anxious to let Billy live a little more on shore than he had hitherto done. "D'ye see, Abel," he observed to his chum, "it's time, to my mind, that he should begin to get his ribs lined with true honest English beef, and sniff up some of the old country's fresh sharp air, and learn to slide and play snowballs, which he can't do out in these hot outlandish parts; for if he don't, he'll not be growing into the stout chap we wants him to be. You mind when we was little, how we used to tumble and roll about in the snow?"

"'Deed I do, mate," answered Abel. "There's nothing like a roll in the snow and a mouthful of good air to put strength into a fellow's back; besides, to my mind, Billy ought to be ashore a little to learn the ways and manners of people there—not but what I thinks our ways afloat are better, or just as good; but, d'ye see, as some day or other I suppose he will have to go on shore for a spell, he'd be just like a fish out of water if he has never been before—not know what to do with hisself any more than a bear in a china shop, or a ploughman aboard a ship."

At length, on the 15th of August, Admiral Graves, in the Ramillies, 74, with his convoy of merchantmen and prizes captured from the French, sailed for England.

The fleet continued its course without any occurrence worthy of note till the night of the 22nd of August, when Captain Bouchier, from the bad sailing qualities of the Hector, and from her comparatively small crew, unable to make or shorten sail as rapidly as was necessary, found that she was dropping astern. She was an old ship; when captured, many of her guns had been removed at Jamaica, fifty-two only remaining; and her masts had been replaced by others of smaller dimensions, while her crew, all mustered, amounted only to three hundred men.

"I didn't think things were so bad," observed Paul to Abel after they had been on board a few days. "Howsomever, Abel, we'll do our duty and trust in Providence."

The weather became very threatening, and soon very bad after they parted from the fleet; and the officers, as they went about their duty, could scarcely conceal their anxiety as to what might be the fate of the ship, should matters, as appeared too probable, grow worse than they were.

The Admiral's ship must be followed for a short time. On the 8th of September, the Caton, 64, and Pallas, frigate, sprung dangerous leaks. The Admiral, consequently ordered them to bear away for Halifax.

On the 16th, when the fleet was in latitude 42 degrees 15 minutes north and longitude 48 degrees 15 minutes west, the weather gave signs of changing, and a violent gale from the east-south-east sprung up and increased towards night. The crews of the ships did all that seamen could do under such circumstances; sails were furled or closely reefed, topmasts were struck, and everything secured to meet the rising tempest. Still it blew harder and harder, and the sea increased and ran mountains high, so that all knew, should one ship be driven against another, most probably both would go down together. With unabated fury it continued all night till three o'clock in the morning, when for a moment there was a lull, and many thought that the tempest was over; but sadly were they deceived. With a roar of thunder, down came the wind upon them in a terrific hurricane; and on board the ill-fated squadron the crashing of masts and spars told of the sad havoc it was committing, while numbers of the merchantmen were thrown on their beam-ends at the same instant, never to rise again.

The Ramillies had been carrying her mainsail, when, the squall striking her, she was taken aback, and before the clew-garnets could be manned and the sail clewed up, the mainmast went overboard, carrying with it in its fall the mizen-mast, the fore-topmast and foreyard; the tiller broke off at the head, and then in an instant the noble ship lay a helpless wreck on the tossing ocean. The carpenter sounded the well, and it was found that a leak had been sprung, and that there were six feet of water in the hold. The chain-pumps were manned; but great was the dismay when it was found that they were choked and would not work.

When the day broke, indescribable was the scene of horror and distress which the light disclosed. Nearly all the ships of war were dismasted and otherwise disabled. Many of the convoy had suffered in the same way, and others had actually foundered, while the tumultuous sea around was dotted thickly with wrecks. Numbers of unhappy beings, both men and women, were seen either lashed or clinging to them, or to shattered masts or spars, while the utter impossibility of lowering a boat in such a sea rendered their situation still more piteous. In vain they shrieked—in vain they waved for assistance. One by one they were torn from their holds, and, hopelessly struggling, sunk amid the waves. Some of the ships less disabled managed to steer near a few of the wrecks; and by means of ropes hove to them, a small number were thus saved, but small indeed compared to the many who were imploring assistance; and gradually the ships drove on before the gale, and they were left to their miserable fate.

Very soon all the ships of war parted company, and the Ramillies was left with a few merchantmen only around her. Her crew were exerting themselves to the utmost to save her. Some of her guns and her heavy stores were, during the course of the day, thrown overboard, in the hopes of easing her; but she still laboured violently, and the pumps could not be cleared. Two more anxious days passed, and, in spite of all their efforts, the leak increased till there were ten feet of water in the hold. The Admiral now began to despair of saving the ship. Happily the gale had abated, so he made a signal to the merchantmen still in his company to come down to his assistance, and to take on board his crew. Their boats thickly surrounded his flagship, and by four o'clock in the afternoon all the ship's company of the Ramillies were distributed among them. She had by this time fifteen feet of water in her hold.

The last sad act of the drama was to be performed. By the directions of the Admiral, her commander, Captain Moriarty, set her on fire fore and aft, and then, with his boat's crew, pulled on board the merchantman prepared to receive him. In a few minutes the fine old ship with a loud explosion blew up, and the merchantmen she had been convoying sailed on their way.

On the 4th of October, the Canada, 74, Captain Cornwallis, reached Spithead, and brought accounts of the hurricane and its dreadful effects. In vain those who had friends on board that large fleet waited to hear tidings of them. The Admiral and his scattered crew arrived, but no other man-of-war of all the number ever reached the shores of Old England.

After the Hector parted company from the fleet, she continued on her solitary voyage. Her leaky condition made it necessary to keep her pumps constantly going, a task which her weakened crew were ill able to perform. Had it not been for Paul Pringle and his shipmates from the Fame, the greater number would soon have flinched from the work.

Sam Smatch, too, aided not a little, and his fiddle was in constant requisition to keep up their spirits. When not engaged in playing for the amusement of the men, he employed himself in fiddling to little True Blue, whom Tom Snell had lately undertaken to instruct in dancing a hornpipe. No more apt scholar was ever found.

"Anybody would know that he was a true sailor's son by the way the little chap handles his feet!" exclaimed Tom with delight as he and his old shipmates stood round, with intense admiration depicted on their countenances, while Billy was performing in public for the first time. "Watch now there his double shuffle—how he slips his little feet about just as if they were on ice!—and hear what a crack he gives his fingers. It won't be long before he'll take the shine out of many a big fellow who fancies that he hasn't got an equal."

Similar remarks of approbation continued to be showered down on Billy, who certainly entered into the spirit of the dance with all the zest that his patrons could desire, while Sam Smatch fiddled away and grinned from ear to ear with delight.

They were thus engaged when, on the afternoon of the 24th of September, a cry was heard from the masthead that two sail were in sight. In a short time it was ascertained that the strangers were standing towards the Hector. Whether, however, they were friends or foes, she was not in a condition to avoid them. On they came, and towards evening it was seen that they were French frigates, of forty guns each. Captain Bouchier addressed his people, urging them to stand boldly to their guns, and promising them to fight the ship to the last. Paul Pringle backed the Captain with all his influence among the men; but his heart was very sad, for he felt that, from the great superiority of the enemy, they would very likely come off victorious; and if so, little Billy True Blue might be carried to France and brought up as a Frenchman. Such an idea had always been a horror to him, and the too great probability that it might now be realised made his heart sink lower than it had ever done before.

The only alternative seemed to be that of going down with their flag still flying; but the safety of little Billy, who would be involved in the catastrophe, made that too terrible to contemplate. So Paul talked to Abel, and Tom, and Peter, and his other friends, and they went round among the men and urged them to stand boldly to their guns, to blaze away as fast as they could, and to try and beat off the Frenchmen. Night came on before the enemy got up to them, and for some time the two frigates were seen hovering just beyond range of their guns, as if uncertain whether or not to attack them.

Of course Billy, in spite of his entreaties to be allowed to remain on deck, was sent below with Sam, who received the strictest charge under no pretence to allow him to escape. An hour or more passed, and then, through the thick gloom of night, the two strangers were seen drawing near. As they ranged up, after passing her quarters and pouring in a heavy fire, the Hector opened her broadsides in return. Now they sailed by, and first one and then the other crossed her bows, raking her as they did so. Broadside after broadside was poured into her. Many of her brave crew were struck down, some never to rise again. Still Captain Bouchier, ably seconded by Captain O'Brien Drury, who was on his passage to England, continued to defend the ship, though, from want of hands, a complete broadside could never be fired.

Still the few strong, able-bodied seamen made up in activity in a great measure for the paucity of their numbers, and for the weakness of the rest. Paul, Abel, Tom, and Peter, and the rest literally flew about the decks, and handled the guns as if they were quakers made of wood and not of heavy metal.

The officers laboured like the men; their example encouraged the sick and wounded, who slid out of their hammocks and seized the gun-tackles, hauling at them with an energy which no one would have supposed they possessed. Even the Americans and French, in the excitement of the moment, seemed to forget that they were helping their late enemies, and laboured like the rest, in spite of the showers of shot which came crashing in on them. Still, exert themselves as they would, they knew that the Frenchmen must have been aware, from their mode of firing, that they were short of guns, because, having approached while it was yet day, they had seen by her size that she was a seventy-four-gun ship.

The Captain and master stood by the helm, and frequently had to call the men from the guns to trim sails, in order to alter the position of the ship, and to avoid being raked by the French frigates, who, nimble in their movements, again and again attempted to cross her bows and stern. Frequently they succeeded, and their shot came tearing along her decks, and ripping them up fore and aft, wounding the beams and knocking some completely away. Still the British would not give in. Had there been more men on board the Hector, the slaughter would have been much greater. As it was, numbers were falling on every deck.

At length the discouraging cry arose that the Captain was desperately wounded. At that moment his voice was heard exclaiming, loud above the din of battle, "Never fear, my lads; my heart is unhurt, and that still beats for you!"

Just then the first lieutenant was standing not far from Paul Pringle when a shot struck him to the deck. Paul stooped to raise him.

"Let me remain here, my lads," he said in a low voice. "It's all over with me; but stick to your guns. Tell the men never to give in."

These were his last words, for his life was ebbing fast away. Now it was known that Captain Drury had taken command, and once more the courage of the crew, which had begun to sink at the loss of their two principal officers, revived as before. The Frenchmen must have been severe sufferers by the fire of the Hector, and must have felt the apparent hopelessness of compelling her to strike.

Suddenly there was a cry that the French frigates were ranging up alongside, with the evident intention of boarding. Their decks had been seen crowded with men, and there could be no doubt that they had troops on board.

"Boarders, prepare to receive boarders!" shouted Captain Drury through his speaking trumpet. Of course the most active and best men had been told off for the service. Crash came the two ships of the enemy, one on each quarter. Paul Pringle, with Abel Bush, were among the leading men of the party, headed by the second lieutenant, while several of their old shipmates were with them. The instant the Frenchmen's bows touched the Hector's sides, numbers of the enemy came swarming on board on the upper deck and through the ports on the main deck. Paul and Abel and their companions rushed aft, with cutlass in hand, to repel the Frenchmen who were attacking on the starboard side. Pistols were flashing, bullets whizzing, and swords were clashing, while a hot fire of musketry was kept up from the enemy's poops, and the great guns which could be brought to bear were playing away without cessation. There seemed, indeed, every probability that numbers would gain the day. Paul began to think so likewise. Still, amid the desperate fight, one idea was uppermost in his mind. It was about little True Blue. It was the dread, if the enemy gained the day, that he would be turned into a little frog-eating Frenchman.

"Remember our own little True Blue, mates!" he shouted. "Whatever we do, don't let the Crapauds have him. Huzza for our Billy! Huzza for little True Blue!" and he and his old shipmates, making a fresh and still more desperate onset against the enemy, cut them down right and left, and drove them back with prodigious slaughter, some on board the frigate and some into the water, where many sank to rise no more. Just then, either from accident or design, the frigate on that side sheered off; but the Frenchmen who had attacked on the larboard side had already gained a footing on the Hector's deck. Every inch of it was, however, being hotly disputed; and now Paul and his companions, with their newly-invented battle cry, rushed over on that side to the assistance of their shipmates. Their coming turned the tide of the fight. "Huzza for Billy True Blue! Huzza for our Billy!" shouted Paul, and Abel, and Tom, and Peter. Step by step, as they had advanced, only at a much greater speed, the Frenchmen were driven back,—though numbers never got back, being cut down as they stood,—till at last the rest, with desperate springs, endeavoured to regain their ship. Very few accomplished their intention, for most of them shared the fate of their friends in the other ship.

Many, indeed, had no friendly plank to step on, for the frigate fell away and left them deserted on the Hector's decks. No one thought of asking for quarter, and in the heat of that desperate fight no quarter was given. The instant the ship was free of her opponents, the crew flew back to their guns and began to blaze away with as much energy as before. Now the old seventy-four's yards and blocks, and rigging, came rattling down from aloft; her sails hung in tatters, and the water rushing in told of numerous shot-holes between wind and water, while scarcely a brace or a sheet remained to enable her to alter her position. Once again the Frenchmen ranged up alongside. Again the cry was heard, "Boarders, repel boarders!"

As before, two parties of seamen, and a few of the invalid soldiers and others, rushed to repel them. Neither party could tell how far success was attending the exertions of their friends. Paul's was very nearly overpowered; but again Billy True Blue's name was shouted to the rescue, and, with as much slaughter as before, the Frenchmen were driven back to their ships. On the larboard side the fight was even more obstinate; but British pluck gained the day, and tumbled most of the Frenchmen into the sea.

Again the Frenchmen drew off and opened their broadsides. Dawn was now breaking, and what a scene of wreck and havoc did the pure fresh light disclose! Captain Drury gazed with grief at the state of the ship, for he knew that the increasing light would exhibit it to the enemy and encourage them in persisting in the attack. Still he resolved to make them pay dear for their victory, if they were to gain it; and calling on the half-fainting crew to persevere to the last, he ordered them to pour their broadsides into the enemy, who were just then passing them abeam. The men with alacrity obeyed, and cheers, though often faint and feeble, from nearly dying men ran along the decks, and showed the enemy that the true British courage of the Hector's crew was still unabated. Again another broadside was loaded, and they were preparing to pour it in on the enemy, when what was their surprise to see both the frigates make all sail and stand away to the westward! Some parting shots and some hearty cheers were sent after them; and then numbers of the brave crew sank down exhausted on the decks, slippery with the gore of their shipmates.

Even Paul Pringle began to tremble like a child, and could scarcely drag his legs after him as he went below to assure himself of the safety of little Billy. Stout-hearted as he was, he could not help shuddering at the scenes of horror which met him on every side—at the shattered condition of the ship, and the shrieks and groans of the wounded, now in the hands of the surgeons. Many poor fellows lay about, too, apparently unhurt, but expiring through fatigue. Still, nothing stopped him till he reached the hold.

The water was finding its way down there from the shot-holes above, and all was dark and gloomy. He groped his way on, shouting out for Sam and Billy. At length little True Blue's voice was heard.

"Here I, Billy; but Sam no let me come."

"Yes, Billy, you go now—you go now," said Sam in reply. When Paul got up to them, he found by the dim light of the lantern which Sam had that he had made the child fast to a stanchion, evidently for fear of his again running away, and he was now busily engaged in casting him loose.

As soon as little Billy was free, he rushed up to Paul, who look him in his arms and hugged him and kissed him, as a fond mother would have done, while the child burst into tears, exclaiming:

"Billy so—so berry glad Paul not hurt. How Abel? how Peter? how Tom?"

"Not one of them hit, my boy, I believe," answered Paul, giving him another hug. "You've been thinking on us, then, have you? And we was thinking on you, that we was, bless your little heart; and we made the Frenchmen know that they shouldn't have you as long as we'd a plank to float you on, and an arm to strike for you. And now, Sam, just stump up out of this, and try and get Billy some breakfast. I must go and lend a hand in getting the ship to rights."

In the action one lieutenant and eight men had been killed, and thirty-two wounded—their brave captain among the number, having lost his arm, and being otherwise much injured, while from that day many other poor fellows sank under their hardships and privations.

The hope now of reaching England was abandoned, and the ship bore up for Halifax. Scarcely, however, was the helm shifted when a squall struck her, and in an instant, as if they had been mere willow wands, the already injured masts went with a crash over the sides. Now the tempest came on and roared louder and louder, and the sea got rapidly up and tossed the big ship helplessly about, and, before the slightest sail could be made to keep her before the wind and steady her, a sea struck her rudder and carried it away.

Thus like a log she lay, tossed about by the waves. The riven decks could ill keep out the water which washed aboard her, while many of the beams gave way, and those of the orlop-deck bent and cracked till several of them fell into the hold. Nothing now seemed to stop the entrance of the water. Paul and his old companions exerted themselves to the utmost. They did not like to believe for a moment that the ship would go down, and yet they could not help seeing that such a fate was too likely to befall her. Furiously raged the hurricane. Higher and higher rose the sea, and more and more the ship worked; and the leaks increased till the entire hold was flooded, and casks and provisions of all sorts were rolled helplessly about; the bread was spoiled, the water-casks were stove in, and the greater portion of the fresh water destroyed.

"Paul, what is to be done?" said Abel to his friend.

"Pump away, mates, and trust in Providence," was the answer. "Fresh hands to the pumps, ho!" he sang out with as cheerful a voice as he could command.

His shipmates followed his example and worked away with fresh energy; but pumping is exhausting work, and dry work, too, and there was scarcely any water left, and but a few casks of spirits could be got at. These were carried aft and kept under charge of a sentry. A small quantity only was served out at intervals to each man with a little biscuit; and this was all the crew had to sustain life and enable them to undergo the increasing exertions they were called on to make. Many of the invalids could no longer exert themselves in the slightest degree, and numbers died every day. The surgeons went among the poor fellows and did their utmost, but without sufficient or wholesome sustenance their efforts were unavailing; and one of the saddest labours of each morning was to commit to the deep those who had perished during the night.

At length the gale ceased, and jury-masts were rigged, and the officers thought that by getting a sail thrummed under the ship's bottom some of the leaks might be stopped. By great exertions they got the sail placed as was intended, but it had no effect whatever: the leaks continued to increase, and consternation and despair appeared on the countenances of nearly all. Some poor fellows actually sank down at the pumps and died; others refused to work at them any longer, declaring that it was utterly useless making the attempt to keep the ship afloat, and the officers had to use the greatest exertions to persuade them to remain at their duty.

"Come, come, mates!" exclaimed Paul Pringle when he saw several quitting the pumps, "there's not a man of you but what would be ready to stand to his guns and die at them gladly; then why not stand to the pumps to the last, and die like true men doing our duty? Hurrah! lads, who knows but what we may keep the old ship afloat till help of some sort comes to us? And never let it be said that we turned cowards and shrank from our duty."

Thus exhorted, the greater number again seized the pump-handles and buckets, and continued to work away as before. Still it was too evident that, spite of all their exertions, the leaks were gaining on them. Even the most hopeful began to despair that all their efforts would do no more than prolong their lives. Some few, indeed, went to their hammocks, and, lashing themselves in, declared their intention of remaining there, and thus going down with the ship.

"Oh, shame on you!" cried Paul Pringle when he saw some of them doing this. "Do you call yourselves British seamen, and yet afraid to face death at your quarters? The ship is still afloat, and may float for some hours longer for what you can tell. Think of your duty, lads— think of your duty, and never flinch from it to the last."

While Paul was saying this, however, his brave heart was very sad. In the cabin of the Captain's steward sat Sam Smatch, holding little True Blue on his knee. The child's countenance showed that he partook of the anxiety of all around, and, moreover, that he, too, was suffering from the want of proper sustenance; the colour had forsaken his cheeks, and he looked thin and weak. In vain his friends had foraged for him; they could find nothing but damaged biscuit and salt beef, uncooked. Paul often thought of making a raft; but out in the Atlantic what would be the use of that? It might only prolong the child's life for a few hours, and inflict on it greater sufferings. Still, he said nothing on the subject.

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