True Blue
by W.H.G. Kingston
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Again and again the carpenter sounded the well. Each time his report was more disheartening. The end of September arrived, and there was not a drop of spirits or water in the ship. Death in another dreadful form now stared the seamen in the face. Each day the poor feverish wretches cried out for water to moisten their lips, but none was to be had. Many died from that want alone, others from starvation.

Each morning the horizon was anxiously scanned, in the hope that some ship might be in sight to bring them relief. Even an enemy would have been welcomed, for their condition would have excited the compassion of their greatest foes.

Daylight, on the 3rd of October, broke. From the report of the carpenter, the officers knew that the ship could not float many hours longer; and, like brave men and Christians, they prepared to meet that death which now seemed inevitable. The day drew on—slight were the hopes that another would ever dawn on them. A few still refused to give way to despair. Paul Pringle was among the number. He climbed to the head of the jury-mast to have another look out. In vain he looked— still he lingered. Then his eye brightened. "A sail! a sail!" he shouted. With the most intense eagerness he watched her. "She sees us! she sees us! she is bearing down on us!" he cried, still remaining at his post to watch her.

In a short time her hull rose above the horizon, and those on deck could see her. Many burst into tears, and some fell on their knees on deck, and thanked Heaven that assistance had been sent them. Still their anxiety was great, for even before the stranger could get up to them the ship might go down.

"Well!" cried Paul Pringle, seizing little True Blue and holding him in his arms, "if she does, I'll have a swim for it, and save the most precious thing aboard—that I will." Paul had got a grating ready, into which he was prepared to spring should the catastrophe occur.

Still the Hector floated. The stranger proved to be the Snow Hawk, a letter of marque, belonging to Dartmouth, commanded by Captain John Hill, from Lisbon, bound to Saint John's, Newfoundland. No sooner did Captain Hill come on board and understand the miserable condition of the Hector, than, without bargain or agreement, he at once offered to render every assistance in his power. Some few of the wounded were at once removed, but darkness prevented the others leaving the ship. He therefore remained by them all night; but though the spirits of some revived, it was a night of fearful anxiety to many, who believed that at any moment the ship might go down. Paul was of opinion that she would float, but he never let go of Billy, and kept a sharp eye on his grating in case of accident. The next morning, as the men were told off into the boats, only two hundred out of the three which had left the West Indies were found to have survived. As most of the Hector's boats were damaged, it took a long time to remove the crew; and the greater part of the day had passed before all, with their wounded Captain, were on board the Hawk. Scarcely had the last boat left her than the Hector made one plunge and went down head first into the depths of the ocean. So crowded was the Hawk, that Captain Hill threw overboard a considerable quantity of his cargo to accommodate his passengers. The wind held fair, but all hands were put on a very limited allowance of provisions and water. The last cask of water was abroach on the very day the Hawk reached Saint John's. No man more deserved to have his name held in remembrance than Captain Hill for his generous and humane conduct on that occasion.

In time, Paul Pringle and his companions, with their young charge and most of the survivors of the Hector's crew, found their way to the shores of Old England, by which time peace was proclaimed, and men began to indulge in the fond fancy that wars were to cease for ever on the globe.


The year 1793 had commenced, the French had cut off the head of their King, set up the red cap of freedom, proclaimed the age of reason, pronounced liberty, equality, and fraternity to be the rule of the world, and to illustrate their meaning were preparing the guillotines and the cannon to destroy the noblest, the fairest, and best in their own land, and to attack any people who might differ from them in opinion.

War had already broken out with Great Britain. The people of Old England were girding their loins for that gigantic struggle, when nearly all the powers of Europe were leagued with those enemies who strove to overwhelm her. Right noble was the struggle, and right brave and gallant were the soldiers and sailors who then fought for the safety and honour of their well-loved country. Busy preparations were going forward. All classes were exerting themselves, from the highest to the lowest. Ministers were planning and ordering, soldiers were drilling, ships were fitting out in every harbour.

Grass did not grow in the streets of Portsmouth in those days. A large party of seamen were proceeding down the High Street of that far-famed naval port one bright day in summer. There came first undoubted men-of-war's men, by their fearless bearing and independent air betokening a full consciousness of their value; a young and thorough sailor boy, stout, broad-shouldered, with a fair though somewhat sunburnt complexion, a row of teeth capable of grinding the hardest of biscuit, and a fine large joyous eye and pleasant mouth, exhibiting abundance of good humour and good nature, yet at the same time firmness and decision.

The seamen stopped not far from the Southsea Gate, opposite a large placard, on which it was announced that the thirty-six-gun frigate Ruby was fitting for sea with all possible despatch, and that she had lately been commissioned by a young enterprising commander, Captain Garland, and was in want of first-rate able seamen, as well as other hands, to whom no end of fighting, prize-money, liberty, and fun of every description was promised. The offers and promises thus liberally made were very similar to those put forth in the same way when other ships were fitting out; and seamen had already learned to look more to the character of the ship and captain than to any other inducements held out to them.

"That will just suit us, Paul," said one of the men after they had carefully spelt over the paper, not without some trouble.

"I'm thinking it will, Abel. But I say, mate, I wonder if Captain Garland is the youngster we had aboard the old Terrible?" answered Paul Pringle, for he was the person addressed. "He was a fine little chap then. Can he have grown into a Post-Captain already?"

"Why, just look at our Billy True Blue here," observed Peter Ogle, putting his hand on the shoulder of the lad who has just been described. "See, a few years has made a great change in him from the weak little baby he was when he was shipmate with the youngster."

The boy smiled as he looked at his own strong fists and arms, and then glanced at the countenances of his friends.

"To be sure—to be sure," said Paul Pringle. "He was a fine true-hearted boy, and there's no doubt he'll prove a brave, dashing, and a good captain. Let's hear what Tom Snell, Marline, and the rest say to the matter."

They waited till the other seamen came up. With the latter was a one-legged black man, with a fiddle-case under his arm. He was no other than Sam Smatch, who had, ever since the last war, followed the fortunes of Paul Pringle and his old shipmates. The whole party were now grouped together before the placard, with Billy True Blue in the centre. They were not left long to consult together without interruption, for the placard served the purpose for which a bait is hung up in a wood, or placed at the bottom of a pit, while the hunter stands by to watch for the appearance of the animals it may attract. In this case, the first lieutenant of the Ruby was acting the part of the hunter. He had taken a survey of the men from a shop window, and speedily made his appearance on the spot. They knew him by the single simple epaulette on his shoulder. He addressed them at once in a free, hearty tone.

"Well, my lads, you see what's wanted," said he. "If you wish to serve under one of the smartest, bravest officers in the Navy, you will join the Ruby. We want some prime hands like most of you. Come, which of you will join? Say the word and stick to it."

"Why, sir, d'ye see, we all goes together, or we doesn't go at all," said Paul Pringle, stepping forward. "We've been shipmates off and on for many years, and we wish to be so till we lays up in ordinary again."

"I may, perhaps, be able to arrange that matter," answered the lieutenant, not liking to show all the satisfaction he felt, or to yield too soon to the demands the men might make. "But that boy, now? Perhaps we may have boys enough on board already. I suppose you don't wish to take him to sea?"

"Not him, sir! If he doesn't go, none on us goes," answered Paul briskly.

"None on us," echoed all the other godfathers.

"He is your son, I conclude, my man?" said the lieutenant, addressing Paul.

"No, sir, not mine more than Abel Bush's or Peter Ogle's, or any of them astern there," answered Paul. "No, sir, he belongs to us all, d'ye see, sir? He's the son of an old shipmate, sir, killed out in the West Ingies, fighting with Lord Rodney; and his mother was an old shipmate too; and so the boy was left to the ship's company, and they chose us to look after him—and we have looked after him, and we intend to look after him; and we loves him just as if he was a son, and more nor some fathers do their sons, and that's the truth on't, sir; and so we all intends to ship with him, that we may have him among us, that's it, sir."

"That's it, sir," echoed the rest, to show that they were all of one mind.

"Well, if you all like to join provisionally, I will see what the Captain will consent to do," answered the lieutenant.

Now as none of the party had the slightest idea of what joining provisionally meant, they were very much inclined to declare off altogether, when just then a young active man, with an extremely pleasant expression of countenance, in the full-dress uniform of a Post-Captain, was seen coming up the High Street. He stopped when he got up to the group of seamen.

"Ah, Mr Brine, are any of these men going to join us?" he asked, glancing his keen eyes over them. His countenance brightened when he saw Paul Pringle.

"Why, I believe that I see an old shipmate whom I have not met for many a year; and not one only—two or three more of you I remember clearly. Am I not right?" said he. "We served together in the old Terrible, and afterwards in the Fame."

"I thought so, sir!" exclaimed Paul with a cheerful voice. "I remember you now, sir, that I do, though I shouldn't if you hadn't told me where we'd been together. Maybe, sir, you remember a little baby you used to be kind to, born aboard the ship. There he is, sir."

"What, Billy True Blue! Of course I do," answered the Captain in a pleasant tone. "Come here, my lad; and you still follow the sea, do you? You began pretty early."

"There's no other calling to my mind a man would wish to follow, sir," answered True Blue.

"All right, my men," said Captain Garland; "if you haven't got a ship, I shall be very glad if you will join the Ruby. I do not believe that there are many frigates in the service will beat her in any way, and I promise you it will not be my fault if she isn't a happy ship."

"Just one word, sir, with the rest and we'll tell you," said Paul.

"As many as you like," said the Captain; and he and his lieutenant stepped aside.

Scarcely a minute had passed before Paul Pringle came up to him.

"We'll all join you, sir, Billy and all," said he; "and I suppose, sir, you'll not object to take Sam Smatch in? He always goes with us; and though he's not wanted to nurse Billy now, there isn't a better hand with his fiddle to be found anywhere. He might get a good living on shore—that he might, sir; but he'd rather stick by us, as he's always done, in spite of all the ups and downs of a life at sea, sir."

"Sam Smatch? Of course we'll have him!" said the Captain, not trying to conceal how highly pleased he was at getting so fine a haul of good men at one time for his ship. "And now I wish you to accompany Mr Brine on board at once and enter. When it's known that we have a fair number of good men, others will join; and the faster we man the ship, the sooner we shall get to sea and be at the enemy."

A little more conversation passed. Paul and his companions went on board and entered; and Mr Brine, soon convinced that they might be trusted on shore, allowed them to go. They employed their time so well in singing the praises of their new Captain, that in a week or two the Ruby was fully manned. In those days the crew themselves were chiefly employed in fitting the ship for sea, and as they all worked with a will, in a very short time longer she had all her stores and provisions on board, and was ready to go out to Spithead. The remainder of the officers had joined; Blue Peter was hoisted, and, with a fair breeze, she stood out of Portsmouth Harbour. In two days more her powder was on board, and under all sail she was running out at the Needle Passage.

The frigate was on the home station; but there was plenty of work for her. The enemy's cruisers were very active; and they had some fine fast frigates, which committed a great deal of mischief among the merchant shipping, and carried off numbers of prizes.

Captain Garland determined to capture one or more of these, if he could, without delay. His ship soon showed her fast-sailing qualities by making prizes of a number of small fry, in the shape of French coasters, "chasse-marees," and two or three larger merchantmen, which were sent into either Plymouth or Portsmouth to be disposed of. This sort of work, however, did not satisfy the wishes of either the Captain or his officers or crew. Among those most eager for the fight was Billy True Blue Freeborn. That was the way in which his name had been entered in the ship's books. He recollected clearly what a battle was, though he had not been engaged in one since that fierce engagement when he lost his friend and chief, Captain Penrose.

Since then, he had been for the greater part of the time at sea, partly on board a man-of-war, but mostly in merchantmen and coasters, where Paul Pringle took him, that, as he said, he might not be afraid of rocks and shoals, or the look of a lee-shore in a gale of wind. Out of all that time he had only remained three years on shore, as his kind guardian remarked, "to get his edication, and to larn manners."

Paul Pringle used to boast among his friends that Billy True Blue was already a perfect seaman, and that he would sooner trust him at the helm on a squally night, or on the lookout forward on a dark one, than he would most men twice his age; but he took care never to say this in True Blue's own hearing, lest, as he observed, "the lad should larn to think too much of hisself."

True Blue had not been long on board the Ruby before he became a favourite with most of his new shipmates. Had he not had watchful guardians about him, he would soon have been spoilt by them. To see him dance the hornpipe, while Sam Smatch played his old fiddle, was, as his admirers declared, "indeed a pleasure not to be met with any day in the week," except on board the Ruby. How he could shuffle and spring, and whirl, and whisk, and snap his fingers! He looked as if he was made of India-rubber, filled with quicksilver. And then he had a very good voice and a fair notion of singing, and right merrily he could troll forth some of those stirring sea-songs which have animated the gallant tars of Old England to perform deeds of the greatest heroism, and have served to beguile and soothe many an hour of their existence on the ocean, far away from home and all its softening influences.

There were several other boys on board the frigate, among whom, naturally, True Blue took the lead. He was good-natured to all of them. If they quarrelled with him, as some would, and would insist on having it out with him in a fight with fists, he generally managed to make them very cautious about trying the same experiment again.

There was one big fellow, Gregory Gipples by name, who set himself up as a sort of leader among the other boys as soon as he came on board, though he had never before been at sea. He was a big hulking fellow; and as he had a certain amount of cleverness about him, he tried to make it appear that he knew a great deal more about things than he really did. True Blue instinctively discovered that he was a braggart and inclined to be a bully.

Another boy was of a totally different character. At first sight, so delicate did he look that it seemed surprising that little Harry Hartland had been allowed to come to sea at all. But boys were wanted, and the officers who had to pass them were not very particular; besides, on further examination, Harry was stronger than he looked, and the bright expression of his countenance showed that he would probably make up by intelligence what he lacked in physical power. He had also been carefully and religiously educated, and his habits were very refined compared with those of most of the other boys. They soon learned to call him "Gentleman Harry," though he did not seem pleased with the appellation. He was very silent as to his own early history. He said that his mother was a widow, and that he did not remember his father. He knew that she would not have the means of supporting him, so he wished to come to sea, and with the help of a friend of his own he had, after much exertion, accomplished his object.

"You couldn't have done better—that you couldn't, Harry!" exclaimed True Blue, to whom he had confided thus much of his early history. "I wouldn't have to go and live in smoky cities, or to ride along dirty roads, or to have to look only at sheep, or cows, or horses, not to be the greatest lord in the land. I have never been much on shore, and maybe haven't seen the most beautiful parts of it; but I was heartily glad to get afloat again. There you are on shore stuck in the same place day after day. What does it matter whether it's a calm or a gale, it doesn't make you go faster or slower. And if you want to go away, then you have to get on the outside of a coach, and be covered from truck to kelson with dust, and a precious good chance of a capsize and getting your neck broke. Now, when I was living ashore with Paul Pringle's mother and people, there sprung up one night a gale of wind which blew down the church steeple, I don't know how many big tall trees, and sent a large part of the thatched roof off the cottage, besides scattering the tiles of the houses right and left, and toppling down numbers of chimney-pots. There were half a dozen people killed, I heard, that night, and ever so many hurt."

Harry smiled.

"It is lucky that you think so, and I am quite ready to agree that a sailor's life is one of the best to choose, seeing that we shall have to spend the best part of ours afloat," he answered. "But what I hold is, that we shouldn't think meanly of those who have to live always on shore."

"I don't know as to that, Harry," said Billy quickly. "We shouldn't think ill of them, I'll allow; but who can help pitying them? That's all I say."

The conversation of the two boys was interrupted by an order which True Blue received to go aloft and take a lookout round the horizon. This was a post of honour to which he had been especially appointed, on account of the sharpness of his vision, and the accuracy with which he noted and could describe the various sail which might be in sight. Paul Pringle watched him with pride. Up—up—up he went. The topmast shrouds were reached—topgallant masthead; the royal mast was swarmed up, and then he stood on the main truck, holding on by the staff of the vane, no longer the little child, the pet of the ship's company, but a thorough, fearless young seaman—not the less, however, the darling of the crew.


Day had just broken on the world of waters. It was at that time of the year when there is but little night. The water was smooth, the air soft and balmy. Gradually the grey dawn warmed up as the approaching sun cast some ruddy streaks in the eastern sky. It was True Blue's watch on deck, and he was at his post on the truck at the main-topgallant-mast.

By slow degrees the rich glow increased. He turned his head round to every point of the compass. The Start Point was just in sight, bearing about east by north, distant five or six leagues. When his eye came to the south-east, it rested there steadily for a moment, and then, putting his hand to his mouth, he shouted, "Sail ho!" with a prolonged cadence, pointing in the direction where he saw her. The officer of the watch hailed to know what she was. "A full-rigged ship, sir," was his unhesitating reply, although even from where he stood her topgallant-sails alone could be seen, and to a landsman's eye nothing distinguishable would have been visible.

The Captain soon came on deck. True Blue kept his glance on the stranger, that he might note immediately any change in her course. She was standing across the Channel and drawing nearer.

"I trust that she is one of the frigates of which we are in search, Mr Brine," said the Captain. "We'll soon learn. Make sail on the ship."

"Ay, ay, sir," said the first lieutenant with alacrity. "All hands make sail!"

"All hands make sail!" shouted the boatswain, putting his silver call to his mouth, and sounding a shrill whistle. "All hands make sail!—rouse up there, rouse up!—an enemy in sight, boys!"

The men sprang from their hammocks, and, shaking themselves rapidly into their clothes, were in another instant on deck. Every inch of canvas the frigate could carry was soon got on her, and she bore up in chase.

Another order quickly followed. It was, "Clear ship for action!"

Never was an order obeyed with more alacrity. The stranger appeared also to be standing under a press of sail, and steering to the southward of east.

"She wishes to escape us altogether, or is not quite ready for action," observed the Captain to Mr Brine.

"She seems to be putting her best foot foremost, at all events," answered the first lieutenant, taking a look at the stranger through his glass, for she could now be seen clearly from the deck. "She looks like a frigate of much about our size; and I have little doubt, by the cut of her sails, she is French."

"I have great hopes that she is, and more, that she is one of the very frigates we have been on the lookout for," said the Captain. "What do you think, master?" he added, turning to that officer, Mr Handlead, who stood near.

"A Johnny Crapaud, sir," he answered quickly. "There's no doubt about it; and to my mind the villain is making all sail to be off, because he doesn't like the look of us."

"I trust that we shall overtake her, and take her, too, master," said Captain Garland. "I think that we are already gaining on her. The frigate slips well through the water."

The crew on the forecastle were carrying on a conversation much in the same style. "Bless her heart, she is walking along at a good rate," observed Abel Bush as he looked over the bows. "The old girl's got as pretty a pair of heels of her own as you'd wish to see."

"The faster she goes, the better," answered Peter Ogle. "I never does feel comfortable like when one of those Monsieurs is in sight, till I gets up alongside him and overhauls him one way or the other. You mind how they used to give us the slip in the West Ingies. They'll be trying on the same game now, depend on't."

"But when they do begin, they don't fight badly, you'll allow," observed Paul Pringle.

"Maybe; but while they can lift their heels, they'll run," stoutly maintained Abel.

In this instance the stranger seemed determined to contradict his assertion, for at that very moment she was seen to haul up her foresail, while the topgallant-sails were lowered on the caps, where they hung swelling out and fluttering in the breeze; at the same time the flag of republican France was run up at the peak, and a shot of defiance was fired from one of her after-guns.

The British seamen, led by Paul Pringle, replied to it with a hearty cheer, which, although it could not reach the Frenchmen's ears, served to warm up their own hearts for the fight. Although the crew had not served long together, each man knew his proper station; and there each man now stood bold and fearless, prepared for the contest.

Captain Garland, with Mr Brine near him, walked the quarterdeck, with telescope in hand, watching each movement of the enemy. The marines, commanded by their lieutenant, stood drawn up with muskets, ready to open fire as soon as they could get within range. Added to them were a party of small-arm men prepared for the same object, or ready to board if required, while others were stationed there to fight the quarterdeck guns, or to attend the braces. Here, also, were grouped the mates and midshipmen, not wanted elsewhere, ready to be despatched on any duty which might be required of them. On the maindeck the crew of each gun, with handkerchiefs round their heads, and stripped to the waist, clustered round it, the locks fixed in readiness, and the lanyards coiled around them, the tackles laid along the decks, the captains with their priming-boxes buckled on, the officers with their swords on, standing by their proper divisions; while in long rows were the round-shot and wads, with grape and canister; and at intervals sat the ship's boys,—powder-monkeys they were often called,—each on his proper tub full of powder, which he had brought up from the magazine below. Here in the depths of the ship was the gunner, the presiding genius of destruction, ready to serve out the further supply of powder which might be required, as the boys came tripping down nimbly to receive it, with no more concern than if they had had to carry up baskets of flour or of corn. The carpenter was also below. He and his mates were preparing shot-plugs with tallow and oakum, and were placing them in readiness in the wings to stop any holes which the enemy's round-shot might make in the ship's side; while he was prepared to sound the well occasionally, and to make his report as to the depth of water in the hold. The other warrant-officer, the second in rank, the boatswain, stood on the forecastle with his mates, having especially to look after the masts and spars, and to repair immediately, if possible, any material damage. The purser and Captain's clerks were mostly on the quarterdeck, and, though not fighting officers, ready and willing enough to fight like the rest; while, lastly, the surgeon and his assistants were in the cockpit, with the tables prepared, and the various implements required by them spread out—saws, tourniquets, knives, basins, and sponges, as well as restoratives of different kinds—to repair the damage, and to soothe or alleviate the pain which the chances of cruel war might inflict on frail humanity.

True Blue sat on his tub, with Harry Hartland next to him, and the big Gipples on the other side of Harry. They were stationed on the upper deck. True Blue was wishing that he was bigger, that he might be serving the guns, or might be standing with Abel Bush and other friends, who, with pistols in their belts and cutlasses at their sides, were collected ready to board the enemy, or to repel boarders, should their opponents make the attempt.

Big Gipples was in no way liking the look of things; and only the conviction that he would be sent up again with a rope's end prevented him jumping off his tub and running down to stow himself away in the hold. The other boys, though not aware of the excess of his terror, maliciously wished to frighten him in retaliation for his bullying.

"Who's likely to be best off now?" began Tim Fid, one of the smallest of the set, speaking across Gipples to Harry; "we little chaps or the big ones, when the round-shot comes bowling about us? They'd just as soon take a big chap's head off as a little one's. I'd rather, for my part, be small and weak than big and strong. Wouldn't you, Harry?"

"Certainly," answered Harry, who, having glanced at Gipples' countenance, could not resist the temptation of having a fling at him. "I've heard it said that the big fellows in a sea-fight are generally picked off first, and that that is the reason there are more small sailors than large ones. I wonder what Billy has to say about it?"

True Blue, thus appealed to, was nothing loth to join in trying to increase the evident terror of Gipples. "Oh, as to that, I've heard tell how these powder tubs on which we are made to sit sometimes catches fire and blows the fellows on them like sky-rockets into the air," remarked Billy, laughing. "Mind, it's what I've heard tell of, though I never saw it. But I did see once a ship and a whole ship's company blown up together; and, mates, I hope I may never see the same sight again. I was a little chap then, and I saw some sad things that day, but I remember that one just as clearly as if it happened a week ago."

"Well, I do think it's a shame we small chaps, as have never done anybody any harm, should be made to sit here to be shot at by them Monsieurs out there—that I do," continued Tim Fid. "For my part, I do think that the Captain ought to let us little ones go down and stow ourselves comfortably away in the hold. Don't you, Gipples?"

Gipples, not perceiving that Tim was joking, looked up and said in a half-crying tone:

"Yes, I do; if any on you chaps will come, I'll bolt—that I will."

On this there was a general laugh.

"I'd just like to see you," said Tim, "whether you'd go down or come up the fastest. If every man was to do as you'd do, I should like to know what would become of the ship. The sooner you goes home and learns to hem or sell dog's meat the better."

The wretched Gipples saw that his feelings gained no sympathy. He tried to back out of his proposal, but his tormentors were in no way inclined to let him alone, till at last they made so much noise that they were called to order by the men standing at the guns nearest them.

Presently, too, the deep-toned voice of the Captain was heard.

"Silence there, fore and aft!" he exclaimed. "We have an enemy in sight, of equal if not greater force. We must take her, of course, but the sooner we take her the less loss and the more honour we shall gain. I intend to wait till we are close alongside before we open our fire. I shall take off my hat—wait till I lift it above my head; and then, my lads, I expect you'll give her a right good dose of our shot."

The seamen raised three hearty cheers. British sailors are always ready for that; and directly afterwards the taunt masts and white canvas of the French frigate were seen by those on deck rising above the hammock nettings on the larboard bow. The Captain stepped to the larboard gangway. A voice came from the deck of the Frenchman.

"What do they say?" asked the Captain of the master, who was nearest him.

"I don't know, sir. I never could make out the Frenchmen's lingo, and I doubt that they intend us to understand them," answered Mr Handlead with a tone of contempt in his voice. "They are only mocking at us. It's their way, sir." Mr Brine more briefly said that he could not make out the Frenchman's hail.

"Then keep her as she goes, master," said Captain Garland; and, putting his speaking trumpet to his mouth, he shouted, "This is His Britannic Majesty's ship, the Ruby, and I beg to know the name of yours, and the King you serve?"

"This is La Belle Citoyenne, belonging to the Republican Government of France," was the answer. To which was added by several men in chorus, "We serve no King—no, no!"

"But we do!" cried Paul Pringle. "And right glad we are to serve him. Hurrah, boys, for King George and Old England! Hurrah! hurrah!"

Three hearty cheers burst from the throats of the British tars. Scarcely had they ceased when the French Captain, who was still standing in the gangway, was seen to hold aloft in his hand a bonnet rouge, the red cap of liberty, and briefly to address his crew in terms of considerable animation. "Vive la Nation!" he exclaimed. "Vive la Republique!" answered the crew.

The French Captain, having finished his speech, handed the red cap to one of the seamen, who ran with it up the rigging and screwed it on to the masthead, where it was evident that a hole was prepared to receive the screw. The marines might easily have picked him off; but no one even thought of attempting to injure the brave fellow.

The Ruby was now well up with her opponent, and the two Captains, taking off their hats, made the politest of bows to each other, the Frenchman, however, beating the English Captain in the vehemence of his flourish. Both then returned to the quarterdeck. The moment to begin the fight had arrived. Captain Garland, who had kept his hat in his hand, raised it to his head. Every eye was on him. All knew the signal he had promised to give. For an instant not a sound was heard; and then there burst forth the loud continued roar of the broadsides of the two frigates as gun after gun of the Ruby, beginning at the foremost, was brought to bear on her antagonist, responded to by the after-guns of the Frenchman. And now the two frigates ran on before the wind, so close together that the combatants could see their opponents' faces, pouring their shot into each other's sides. Fast as the British seamen could run in their guns, they loaded, and, straining every muscle, they were rapidly run out again and fired. While round-shot and grapeshot and canister were sent rattling in through the enemy's ports and across her decks, about her rigging, or tearing open her sides, she gallantly returned the compliment with much the same coin. Many of the bold seamen on board the Ruby were cut down.

A shot struck two men working the gun nearest to where Gipples was sitting on his powder tub in terror unspeakable, not knowing what moment he might be hit. On came the mangled forms of the poor fellows, writhing in their dying agonies, directly against him. He and his tub were upset, and he was sent, covered with their blood, sprawling on the deck.

"Oh, I'm killed! I'm killed!" he shrieked out, and, overcome with terror, did not attempt to rise.

Two of the idlers, whose duty it was to carry the wounded below and throw the dead overboard,—the common custom in those days of disposing of them,—hearing him shriek out, thought that he had also been killed. Having disposed of the first two men who really were dead, they lifted him up and were about to throw him overboard, when, discovering how he was to be treated, he groaned out, "Oh, I ain't dead yet—take me below." The men having been ordered to take all the wounded to the cockpit, immediately carried him below, and, placing him on the surgeon's table, one of them said:

"Here's a poor fellow, gentlemen, as seems very bad; but I don't know whether he wants an arm or a leg cut off most."

"I hope that he may escape without losing either," said the surgeon, lifting up Gipples and preparing to strip him to examine his wound. "Where are you hit, my man?"

"Oh, oh, sir! all over, sir!" answered Gregory.

The surgeon, who had noted Gipples for some time and guessed his character, very quickly ascertained that there was nothing whatever the matter with him. Taking up a splint, he bestowed a few hearty cuts with it on his bare body, and then, telling him to jump up and slip on his clothes, he sent him up on deck to attend to his duty. Poor Gipples would gladly have hid himself away; but he was watched, and started from deck to deck till he had resumed the charge of his powder tub. Meantime Paul Pringle was keeping an anxious eye on True Blue. There he sat as composed and fearless as if nothing unusual was going forward, only jumping up with alacrity and handing out the powder to the crews of the guns he was ordered to serve. Never was his eye brighter. Never had he seemed more full of life and animation.

"Ay, he's of the right sort," said Paul to himself; "I knew he'd be."

The moment his tub was empty, down he ran to the magazine, and speedily again sprang with it on deck. His friend Harry imitated his example as well as he could; but he could not avoid stopping short when a shot crashed in just before him, carrying off the head of a seaman, whose body fell across the deck along where he had to pass.

The cry of "Powder, powder, boy!" from the captain of the gun made him move on, but his knees trembled so that he could scarcely reach his post. After he had delivered the amount of powder required and sat down on his tub, his tranquillity of mind and nerve returned. Another shot came whizzing by; he merely bobbed his head. When the next passed near him, he sat perfectly still. After that he scarcely moved eyelid or muscle, in spite of all the missiles and splinters and fragments flying about.

Not so the miserable Gipples. Compelled to stay on deck he was; but nothing could keep his head from bobbing at every shot which struck the ship or passed over her, while his whole body was continually shrinking down on the deck. Several times he lay flat along it, and so confused was he, that, when called on to deliver the powder, he often did not appear to hear, or ran off to the wrong gun; till at last, had there been anybody to supply his place, he would have been kicked below and declared unfit to be even a powder-monkey. Even Tim Fid, when the firing began, was not altogether as steady as usual; but though he bobbed and sprang about with the feeling that he was dodging the shot, which he could not do in reality, it was much in the same way that he would have dodged a big play fellow whom he did not wish to touch him; and as he never for a moment was found wanting at his post, no one complained.

The action began at a quarter-past six that bright summer morning, and for about a quarter of an hour the two frigates ran along parallel to each other, exchanging broadsides with the greatest rapidity of which their respective crews were capable. They were keeping all the time directly before the wind, and within hailing distance of each other. In that short period great had been the carnage on both sides. One of the English lieutenants and two midshipmen, besides a dozen men or more, had been killed, and half as many again had been wounded; while the bulwarks of the lately trim frigate were shattered and torn, her crew begrimed with powder, perspiration, and blood, and her white decks slippery with gore, torn up with shot, and covered with fragments from the yards and the rent woodwork around. The mainmast, too, had been severely wounded; and though some of the carpenter's crew were busy in lashing and otherwise strengthening it, great fears were felt for its safety.

"If that goes," exclaimed Paul Pringle, who saw the accident, "those rascally Monsieurs will get off after all!"

At about half-past six the Belle Citoyenne hauled up about eight points from the wind, thus increasing her distance from the Ruby.

"I thought how it would be!" exclaimed Paul Pringle when he saw the manoeuvre. "The Monsieurs can't stand our fire. Wing him, boys, wing him! Don't let the Frenchman get away from us. Here, Billy, you come here. You all know that there isn't a better eye in the ship. Let him have a shot, boys."

True Blue, thus summoned, sprang with delight to the gun. The mass of smoke which hung round them, and the death of the officer in charge of his division, enabled Paul to accomplish his object without question.

"Now steady, Billy, as you love me, boy!" he exclaimed in his eagerness.

True Blue had not far to stoop as he took the lanyard of the lock in his hand and looked carefully along the gun. The Ruby had herself hauled up a little. For an instant there was a cessation of firing. Billy at that moment pulled the trigger. The Frenchmen were in the very act of bracing up the mizen-topsail-yard when the mizen-mast was seen to bend over to starboard, and, with a crash, to come toppling down overboard, shot away a few feet only above the deck.

"You did it—you did it, Billy, my boy!" exclaimed Paul Pringle, almost beside himself with joy, seizing his godson in his arms and giving him a squeeze which would have pressed the breath out of a slighter body.

"Who fired that last shot?" asked the Captain from aft.

"True Blue, sir—Billy Freeborn!" cried Paul Pringle.

"Hurrah! hurrah!" shouted the men at the gun.

"Bravo! let him fire another, then," answered Captain Garland, not complaining of the irregularity of the proceeding. Not another word could have been heard, for both the Ruby and the French frigate again began pounding away at each other.

True Blue, with the encouragement he had received, stepped boldly up to the gun. The captain was Tom Marline, one of his assistant-guardians, and he was a favourite with all the rest, so that there was no feeling of jealousy excited against him.

Again he looked along it. He waited his time till the smoke had cleared away a little, and then once more he fired. The shot hit—of that both Marline and Paul Pringle were certain, but what damage was done they could not determine.

"I pitched it astern, not far from the wheel," observed True Blue quietly. "Maybe it hit the wheel—maybe not."

Again the firing went on as before, and True Blue modestly returned to his powder tub. More than once he jumped up, anxious to have another pull at the lanyard of his gun. Paul, however, did not encourage this; he wisely considered that he had done enough to establish a reputation, which more shots would not have increased.

Suddenly Paul struck his hands together with delight. "She is steering wildly! she is steering wildly!" he cried out. "True Blue, you did knock her wheel away—you did, boy. See what she's about!"

The French frigate as he spoke paid off right before the wind, and presented her bows directly at the Ruby. In that position she received a raking broadside; but nothing could stop her—she was utterly without guidance, and on she came like a battering-ram directly at the beam of the Ruby. Captain Garland, so sudden was the movement, could accomplish no manoeuvre to avoid the collision. The French ship's jibboom, as she fell on board the English frigate, passed directly between her fore and mainmasts, and there she hung, while it pressed so hard against the already wounded mainmast that there appeared every prospect of the latter being carried away. Just before, a shot had struck the boatswain and brought him mortally wounded to the deck.

Paul Pringle knew of his loss. As he looked at the mast, strained to the utmost, the main and spring stays being also shot away, he thought to himself, "If the mast goes the Frenchman will break clear, and ten to one, after all, escape us."

It was a time for decision, not for much consideration.

"Who'll follow me, lads?" he exclaimed, seizing an axe and springing into the rigging.

Tom Marline and several other bold fellows did follow. They had to ascend and then to descend the tottering mast. Terrific was the danger. Should the mast fall, their death would be almost certain. They thought, however, only of the safety of the ship, or rather, how they might best prevent the escape of the enemy. With right good will they plied their axes on the enemy's jibboom. Bravely they hacked away, in spite of the fire of musketry which was kept up from her decks. Meantime a cry was raised below that the French were about to board.

"Boarders, repel boarders!" cried Captain Garland.

"I'll lead you, my lads!" exclaimed the first lieutenant. "See, they are not coming; but we'll be at them—hurrah!"

True Blue, finding that there was no more work for him to do in getting up powder, and seeing Abel Bush and Peter Ogle, with a few others, following Mr Brine on board the Frenchman, seized the cutlass of a seaman who had just been killed close to him, and, in the impulse of the moment, sprang after them. In vain, however, their gallant leader endeavoured to get on board from the upper deck. Numbers of Frenchmen stood in the head, and, in spite of all the activity of the British seamen, they could not spring into it. On finding this, quick as lightning Mr Brine leaped down, and, followed by a few, reached the maindeck. Then, calling more round him, he sprang through the bow-ports of the enemy's maindeck, with Peter Ogle, True Blue, and a few others, driving all opponents before him. Just at that moment, before all the boarders had time to follow, Paul Pringle had succeeded in cutting through the Frenchman's jibboom, with all the connecting rigging, and, her head coming round, she was once more clear of the Ruby, and drifting helplessly away from her. Even while engaged in his task, Paul's watchful eye had detected True Blue seizing the cutlass, and when he followed Mr Brine he guessed his object. Still he did not suppose that those with him would allow the boy to board the Frenchman; and, at all events, he was not the man to be deterred by any consideration from completing the duty which he had undertaken.

The moment, however, that he had performed it thus effectually, he slid down rapidly on deck and eagerly sought for his godson. He was met with a cry from Harry Hartland and Tim Fid, "Oh yes, Paul, he's gone—True Blue's gone; he's on board the Frenchman, and they'll make mincemeat of him—that they will!"

He observed, also, Abel Bush, Tom Marline, and others standing eyeing the French frigate, the very pictures of anxiety and disappointed rage. He saw too clearly that True Blue must have been one of those who had been carried off in the French ship when she broke adrift from them. To assist in clearing her, the Ruby's helm had been put aport, or to larboard, as was then the expression, and this carried her still farther away from La Belle Citoyenne.

Captain Garland was not aware for some little time that any of his people had gained the enemy's decks. The instant the fact was communicated to him, he became doubly eager to get once more alongside. The minutes, however, appeared like hours to those who knew that their shipmates and friends were surrounded by exasperated foes, who were too likely, in the heat of the moment, to give no quarter. Paul Pringle groaned with anxiety for the fate of his godson. There he stood, his huge beard blackened with smoke and dabbled with a shipmate's blood; his hair, which had escaped from under his handkerchief when he went aloft, streaming in the breeze; his brawny arm bared, and his drawn cutlass in his hand; and looking truly like one of the sea-kings of old, the rovers of the main, prepared for a desperate struggle with his enemies. Just then the sails of the French frigate were taken aback, and the effect of this was to cause her to make a stern board, which drove her right down on the Ruby.

Once more, by slightly shifting his helm, Captain Garland allowed her to drop alongside, the respective bows and sterns of the two ships being in opposite directions.

"And now, my lads, lash her fast!" he shouted. "We must not let her part from us till she is ours."

The very instant the sides of the two frigates ground together, Paul Pringle, who, with a party of boarders, many of them old shipmates, stood ready on the maindeck, sprang through the after-ports, shouting out, "Remember little True Blue, boys! Let us get back our Billy True Blue!"

The clash of steel and the occasional report of pistols saluted their ears, and there stood at bay the gallant little band, the lieutenant and Peter Ogle, with most of the men, bleeding at every pore—one or two, indeed, stretched lifeless at their feet; but True Blue himself was nowhere to be seen. Numbers were pressing round the gallant band, and in another instant it seemed likely that they would have been overwhelmed. With such impetuosity, however, did Paul and his party dash on board, that although numbers of the Frenchmen were thronging the maindeck, they were rapidly driven back. In vain they struggled—in vain they fought. Nothing could stop the fierce onslaught of the British seamen.

High above all other cries, Paul Pringle's voice was heard shouting the name of True Blue. "We must find our True Blue. Huzza for our True Blue, boys!"

Thus timely relieved, Mr Brine was once more able to advance aft, and now on both sides, led by him and by old Handlead, who was among the first of the second party, the British tars swept the Frenchman's maindeck fore and aft, cutting down or driving below all before them.

At length, when near the after-hatchway, the Frenchmen made a bold stand, as if resolved to sell their lives dearly or to drive back their assailants. Just then, Paul caught sight of True Blue himself, struggling to get free from between two of the after-guns, to which place it was evident he had been carried as a prisoner.

"There he is, boys! there is our True Blue!" shouted Paul, and at the same moment he and his companions dashed on with redoubled energy from the check they had received, tumbled all the remaining Frenchmen down into the cockpit, and in another instant Paul had once more grasped his godson by the hand.

"You deserve one thing, Billy, and you shall do it!" he exclaimed. "Follow me quick, though."

He sprang up the ladder to the upper deck. Meantime the officers had placed parties at the hatchways to keep in check those who had taken refuge below, the remaining few who appeared on the maindeck having thrown down their arms and prayed for mercy.

On the upper deck stood a gallant few surrounding their Captain, who lay wounded among them at the foot of the mainmast. They seemed scarcely aware that their companions below had yielded, and that all hope of resistance was vain. The rush of the British seamen who now swarmed on board and swept along the deck undeceived them, and, driven right and left or overboard, the remainder dropped their swords and asked for quarter.

Paul, followed by True Blue, had gained the main-rigging. His quick eye had discovered that the halliards of the Frenchman's flag, that of the new Republic, led into the top.

"There, boy!" exclaimed Paul, "you must haul that down. Quick, aloft!"

True Blue required no second order, but, springing up the ratlines before anybody could overtake him, he had reached the top, when, seizing the halliards, down came gliding the flaunting tricolour, followed quickly by the red cap of liberty, which, unscrewing, he threw among the people on deck; and three hearty cheers from the British crew announced that the well-fought battle was won.

The gallant French Captain opened his dim eyes at the sound, to see the emblem for which he had striven trampled under foot. He had been endeavouring, since he saw that all hope of escape was over, to tear to pieces with his teeth and to swallow a paper which he had drawn from his pocket. Suddenly, while thus engaged, he saw the red cap fall like a flash of fire from aloft. His fingers released their hold of the paper, and with a deep groan he expired.

Mr Brine stooped down by the side of his brave opponent. The paper he had been endeavouring to destroy was his commission; but another paper projected from his pocket. It was a code of private signals, which, with noble patriotism, he had wished to prevent falling into an enemy's hands.

"Well, I suppose there is some good in those Frenchmen after all!" exclaimed old Handlead when he heard of it. "He tried to serve his country to the last, at all events."

No time was now lost in securing the prisoners and removing them to the Ruby as the two ships lay alongside each other. Some of the Frenchmen looked very glum, and evidently, if they could get an opportunity, meant mischief; but they mostly yielded to the fortune of war with a shrug, and by the evening were skipping away right merrily, to the sound of Sam Smatch's fiddle. Indeed, they had little cause for animosity against him, as he had taken no part whatever in their capture, having volunteered to remain below to assist the surgeon. The English, in this gallant action, a type of many which were to follow, had just fifty men killed and wounded, while the French lost between sixty and seventy. Just as the last of the prisoners were removed, and the prize crew of the Belle Citoyenne had got on board, the two ships separated.

When once more the two frigates were in a condition to make sail, and were standing along amicably together, Captain Garland called the crew aft. "My lads," he cried, "all have done well to-day. That fine frigate, now ours, is the best proof of it—won, too, let me tell you, from the moment the first shot was fired till the flag was hauled down, in less than an hour. When all have done their duty like brave British seamen, I can scarcely pick out any in particular to praise; but there is one lad among you who rendered material service in the work of the day."

Paul Pringle brightened, and, his countenance beaming with pleasure, he placed his hand on his godson's shoulder. The Captain went on:

"There was one shot which especially tended to secure us the prize; that shot was fired by the boy Freeborn—True Blue Freeborn. I shall have my eye upon him. If he goes on as he has begun, he will be an honour to the service, and rise in it, too, if I mistake not. Lads, you have all my hearty thanks, and our King and country will thank you too."

Three hearty cheers for their gallant Captain were given by the crew as he finished his address; and then, however unexpected, and as Paul Pringle expressed himself, "almost dumfoundering," three more were raised for Billy True Blue Freeborn, the pride of the crew. No one shouted louder than Tim Fid and Harry Hartland; but Gipples growled out as he sneaked below, "It'll be all the same some day when a shot takes his head off. They can't keep that on with all their petting."

The next day the frigate reached Portsmouth, where the brave French Captain was buried with all the honours of war; and Captain Garland, and his officers and ship's company, received the praises and rewards which they so well-merited for their gallant achievement.


The frigate very soon had made good the damages she received in the fight, and once more put to sea, all on board wishing for nothing better than a similar encounter with another enemy, feeling full confidence that the result would be the same.

One morning at daybreak, when True Blue had been sent aloft to take a lookout and report any sail in sight, his keen eye detected a small speck floating in the calm, hazy ocean. He knew that the speck was a boat, and hailed to that effect. There was a light breeze from the eastward, and the frigate, under all plain sail, was standing on a bowline to the southward. She was hauled up a few more points, to fetch the boat, which it was soon seen, instead of attempting to escape, was approaching the frigate. Numerous were the conjectures as to what she was; for although an open boat out in mid-channel was not exactly a novelty, still any incident was of interest in those stirring times, when all knew that apparent trifles often led to something important.

The boat appeared to be that of a merchantman. Six men were in her; four were pulling, and two sat in the sternsheets. One of these was a wrinkled, wiry old man, with a big red nightcap on his head, and a huge green and yellow comforter round his throat, while a thick flushing coat and trousers, and high boots, concealed the rest of his form. The other looked like the master of a merchantman. As soon as they got alongside, the latter begged that the boat might be hoisted up. This was done; and while the other men went forward among the crew, he and his strange-looking companion repaired aft to the Captain's cabin. The information they gave seemed to afford infinite satisfaction to Captain Garland. Several of his officers were breakfasting with him.

"I trust, gentlemen, that, before many days have passed, we shall fall in with another enemy's frigate, a worthy antagonist for the Ruby," he remarked as soon as they were seated. "We have also on board, I am happy to say, one of the most experienced pilots for the Channel Islands and the French coast to the westward—a Guernsey man; and, what is more, I know that he is thoroughly to be trusted. He and his companions were on board a merchant vessel, captured by a French privateer; and as the enemy leaped on the deck on one side, they slipped over the bulwarks on the other, and, favoured by the darkness, effected their escape. I propose to run over to the French coast, and watch off Cherbourg for the return of two French frigates, which, I understand, robber-like, go out every night and return into harbour in the morning."

At first the crew were very much inclined to laugh at the odd appearance of the old pilot; but Paul Pringle soon got into conversation with him, and gave it as his opinion that the little finger of the old Guernsey man knew more than a dozen of their heads put together, both as to seamanship and as to the navigation of the adjacent coasts. It quickly became known that there was something in the wind, and that the Captain hoped to fall in with another enemy before long.

Cape Barfleur, to the westward of Cherbourg, was made during the night. The wind was off shore, and the Ruby was close-hauled on the larboard tack, when, as day dawned, a ship and a cutter were seen from her deck coming in from seaward. All hands were called up, the frigate was cleared for action, and the men went to their quarters. Every glass was turned towards the approaching strangers.

"We shall have another scrimmage—that we shall!" exclaimed Tim Fid to True Blue. "I wonder what Gipples will do this time?"

"It's a pity he ever came to sea again after the last cruise," answered Billy. "He'll never make a sailor, and only bring shame on the name of one."

"He's just fit to sell cat's meat," observed Harry. "Maybe one of the shot he's so afraid of will take his head off, as it might that of a better fellow, and that will settle for him."

With this philosophical remark the boys sat down on their powder tubs to await the commencement of the action; while poor Gipples, who had overheard what was said, sat quaking on his in a most pitiable manner.

The Ruby was kept edging away towards the supposed enemy. As the daylight increased, there was little doubt of her character, and she was pronounced to be a thirty-six-gun frigate.

"A fit opponent for us!" exclaimed the Captain. "We can allow her the cutter's assistance, and we must see how quickly we can take them both."

The cutter, however, seemed to have no inclination to assist her consort, from whom she kept hovering at some distance.

There was not much time for talking or speculation. The Ruby soon ranged up on the weather and larboard side of the Frenchman, at whose peak flew the ensign of Republican France. It would have been throwing away words to have exchanged compliments or interrogations in this case. The Frenchmen, indeed, maintained a surly silence, till it was broken by the rapid interchange of broadsides between the two well-matched combatants. The chances of war seemed, however, in this instance to be going against the Ruby. At the second broadside, down came her fore-topsail-yard, followed soon afterwards by the fore-topmast.

"This will never do!" exclaimed Paul Pringle, beckoning to Billy and sending a man to take charge of his tub. "Come here, boy. You must try and see if you can't do as well as you did when we took the Citoyenne. Give her as good at least as she has given us."

True Blue, nothing loth, began to take a sight along the gun. Just then the Captain had ordered the Ruby's helm to be put hard a-starboard, by which she came suddenly round on the opposite tack, and brought her larboard guns to bear on the enemy.

True Blue, finding the ship going about, knew that no time was to be lost. He fired, and the enemy's foreyard came instantly down. The effect was to throw her up into the wind, in which position she received a raking broadside from the Ruby.

"That's your doing, True Blue. All at the gun saw it—I know they did."

"Yes, that was True Blue's shot, as sure as a gun!" cried Tom Marline. "You shall have as many more as you like, Billy."

Again True Blue fired, and the enemy's mizen-topmast came down. This enabled the Ruby to sail round and round her, giving her numerous raking broadsides. Still the gallant Frenchman held out. All this time not a shot had been fired from the cutter, and, greatly to the annoyance of the British sailors, she was seen making off under all sail for Cherbourg.

At the same time, during a pause in the action, when the smoke cleared off, another sail was descried to the northward, three or four leagues off. The sound of the firing had undoubtedly brought her thus far, and there she lay becalmed, unable to get up and join in the fight. Her presence, however, was not welcomed by the Ruby's crew. She was evidently a frigate. If an enemy, she might prevent the capture of the other Frenchman, and indeed endanger the safety of the Ruby herself. If a friend, they would rather have had the honour of taking their antagonist singlehanded, as they fully expected to do.

As to there being any danger of their being captured, that did not enter the heads of the British tars.

"Come, bear a hand, boys," said Paul. "We must take this here chap first, and then, if the calm holds for a little longer, we may get all ataunto and be ready for the others. One down, the other come on. That's it, boys."

Strange to say, except one man, who had his leg broken by the recoil of a gun he was fighting, not a man on board the Ruby had been hit, though it was evident that numbers of the Frenchmen had been killed, as several were seen thrown overboard. The British began to grow impatient. The French frigate was holding out, probably in expectation of assistance from her consort. The breeze now increased, and the stranger in the offing approached.

"Hurrah!" cried Paul Pringle, "another broadside, lads, and the Monsieurs will haul down their flag."

Paul's assertion proved correct. Down came the Frenchman's colours, after an action which lasted two hours and ten minutes. She proved to be the thirty-eight-gun frigate Reunion, Captain Francois Adenian.

Numbers of people stood on the French shore watching the combat, and much disappointed they must have been at its termination. The Reunion's consort, the Semillante, was seen to make an attempt to come out of harbour to her assistance; but there was not wind sufficient for her to stem a contrary and very strong tide.

"I do wish she'd come!" exclaimed Paul Pringle as he eyed her, while he and his companions were repairing damages, again to make sail. "We'd have her too—I know we should."

"I thought that I should bring you good luck, Monsieur le Captain," said the old pilot when the action was over; "I always do."

"I hope you will stay with us and bring us more, then," answered Captain Garland.

"With all my heart," was the answer; and so it was arranged.

Some time after this the Ruby put into Plymouth, from whence she was ordered to proceed to Guernsey in company with the Druid, a thirty-two-gun frigate, and the Eurydice, a twenty-four-gun ship.

A bright lookout was as usual kept. The squadron had got to the distance of about twelve leagues to the northward of the island, when one of the lookouts hailed that two ships were in sight to the westward. Presently two more and a fifth was made out. Whether friends or foes, at first it was difficult to say; but clear glasses were brought to bear on them, and it was declared that they were two fifty-gun ships, two large frigates and a brig, which had crowded all sail in chase.

Many a man might have been daunted by these fearful odds. True British seamen never give in while there is a possibility of escape. Captain Garland called aft the old Guernsey pilot and had a short conversation with him. "Then I'll do it," was his remark, and threw out a signal for the Eurydice to make the best of her way under all sail for Guernsey.

Meantime he and the Druid, under easy sail, waited the approach of the enemy. On they came, exulting in their strength, and confident of making prizes of the two British frigates. The latter, nothing daunted, opened their fire on the enemy in a way which must not a little have astonished them.

"Our Captain knows what he is about," observed Paul Pringle in his usual quiet way, as some of the frigate's shots were seen to strike the headmost of one of the French ships.

"What! Paul, are we going to take all those big ships?" asked True Blue with much animation. "That will be fine work."

"As to taking them, Billy, I can't say," answered Paul. "It won't be bad work if we don't get taken ourselves, do ye see."

Never, however, did two ships appear in greater jeopardy than did the Ruby and her consort. True Blue observed his Captain. There he stood calm and composed, watching every movement of the enemy, with the old pilot by his side. They were now rapidly approaching Guernsey, and could be seen from the shore, all the neighbouring heights of which were crowded with spectators, eager and anxious witnesses of the unequal contest. Although both the English frigates fired well, they had not as yet succeeded in bringing down any of the Frenchmen's spars.

Captain Garland now threw out another signal. It was to order the Druid to crowd all sail and make the best of her way for the harbour. Those on board her could scarcely understand his object. It appeared as if he was about to sacrifice himself for the sake of preserving the other two ships. The Captain of the Druid was too good an officer not to obey orders simply because he could not understand their object, or he would have been inclined rather to have gone to the Ruby's aid, and to have shared her fate, whatever that might have been.

As soon as Captain Garland saw that the Druid was obeying his directions, he boldly hauled up and stood right along the French line, at which the frigate kept up all the time a hot fire. The enemy kept firing away all the while in return; but their gunnery was fortunately none of the best, and but few of their shot had hitherto struck the Ruby.

"Well, what are we going to do now, Paul?" asked True Blue. "Does the Captain intend to try and weather on the Frenchmen, and so get clear?"

"Wait a bit, Billy," answered his godfather. "You'll see presently. The Captain means to proceed to Guernsey, and to Guernsey, it's my opinion, we shall go, in spite of all the Frenchmen may do to try and prevent us."

On stood the gallant Ruby. The two frigates and brig were passed; then came one of the big ships, then the other. The Eurydice was now close in with the harbour and safe. The Druid was so near that, unless becalmed, there appeared no doubt about her getting in.

"Now, my lads," cried Captain Garland, "be sharp in all you do!"

The helm was put up, the yards were squared, and on she stood towards a collection of rocky islands, islets, and shoals, apparently to destruction. The never-quiet ocean was sending dense masses of spray and foam over the rocks. The old pilot stood calm by the Captain's side. The Frenchmen, who had concentrated all their attention on the Ruby and let the other two ships escape, now bore up after them.

On she stood under all sail towards the rocks. The old pilot took his stand in the weather-rigging. The helmsman's eye was upon him, ready to answer each wave of his hand, or deep-toned sound of his voice. The guns were deserted, and all the crew stood by either the tacks or sheets or braces, or crowded the tops aloft, ready with all possible rapidity to make any alteration in the sails which a shift of wind or change of course might require.

Still the enemy kept firing at the frigate, but their shot fell either altogether short or wide of their mark. The wind increased—the frigate flew on. On either side of her there appeared white foaming seas, dancing up fantastically and wildly, without apparent cause, but which the seamen well knew betokened rocks and shoals. They were aware that they were among the most dangerous reefs on that rock-bound coast.

No one in the ship had ever been there except the curious old pilot. There he stood, as cool and collected as if the ship were sailing in the open sea, with a gentle breeze filling her canvas. The Captain stood near the pilot, and they all knew that they could trust him, and so were content if he trusted the old Guernsey man.

"He knows what he's about," observed Paul Pringle to his godson, looking at the pilot. "Mind, Billy, that's what you must always do. Never attempt to do what you don't know how to do; but then what I say is, set to work and learn to do all sorts of things. Never throw a chance away. Note all the landmarks as we go along now, and whenever you go into a harbour mark them in the same way."

"Ay, ay, Paul," answered Billy; "I'll do my best."

"That's all any man can do," remarked his godfather. "Stick to that, boy, and you'll do well. But, I say, I wish those Monsieurs would just try and follow us. We might lead them a dance which would leave them on some of these pretty rocks alongside."

True Blue's interest in what was going forward was so great that he could scarcely reply to Paul's remarks. The sea foamed and roared on either side of the ship. Now the water became smoother over a wider surface, now black rocks rose sheer out of the sea as high as the hammock nettings, and then once more there was a bubbling, and hissing, and frothing, betokening concealed dangers, which none but the most experienced of pilots could hope to avoid. Meantime, many an eye was turned towards the French squadron. It was scarcely to be expected that the enemy should be ignorant of the surrounding dangers; still no one would have been sorry if, in their eagerness, they had run themselves on shore.

Suddenly the leading French ship was seen to haul her wind—so suddenly, indeed, that the next almost ran into her, and, as it was, shot so far beyond her that she must have almost grazed the rocks before her yards were braced up, and she was able to stand off shore. In a few minutes more the Ruby ran triumphantly into Guernsey roads, where the Druid and Eurydice had already arrived in safety, while thousands of spectators were looking down and cheering them from the surrounding heights.

"I knew our Captain would do it!" exclaimed Paul, when, the sails being furled and the ship brought to an anchor, he and his messmates were once again below. "There are few things a brave man can't do when he tries. Our Captain can fight a ship and take care of a ship. What I've been saying to Billy is, that we should never give up, however great the odds against us, because, for what we can tell, even at the last moment something or other may turn up in our favour. Mind, Billy, whatever you may think now, you'll find one of these days that what I tell you is right."


The frigate did not remain long at Guernsey, but, with the rest of the squadron, put to sea. She soon separated from them, and stood down Channel to extend her cruise to the distance of a couple of hundred leagues or so to the westward of Cape Clear.

As usual, she was very successful and picked up several prizes. Among the prizes were three large merchantmen and two privateers. The latter, especially, required a considerable number of men to take them home. Captain Garland was unwilling thus to weaken his crew, and yet the prizes were too valuable to abandon. These vessels had just been despatched when a brig was descried from the masthead. Chase was given. She was a fast vessel and well handled, but before night she was come up with. When her Captain saw that he had no longer any hope of escape, he, like a wise man, hove to and hauled down his colours.

She proved to be La Sybille, a French letter of marque, carrying eight guns, twenty-five men, and bound for the French West India Islands with a valuable cargo. The prisoners, with the exception of four, three white men and a black, who were left on board to assist in working her, were removed to the frigate; and Captain Garland, who could not spare any more lieutenants or mates, sent a midshipman and prize crew to take charge of her.

The midshipman's name was Nott. He was generally called in the mess Johnny Nott. He was as short as his name, but he was a brave, dashing little fellow; but though he had been some time at sea, being very idle, his navigation, at all events, was not as first-rate as he managed to make it appear that it was when he had the honour of dining with his Captain. Captain Garland sent for him and told him that he would spare him two men and a couple of boys, and he expected that with them and the prisoners he would be able to carry the brig safe into Falmouth or Plymouth.

"I shall send one of the quartermasters with you, Pringle. He is a steady man; and you shall have Marline and Freeborn, who is as good as a man, and the boy Hartland: he is steady."

"May I have Fid, sir, also?" put in Nott, who was always free-spoken and wonderfully at ease with his Captain. "He is such an amusing young dog. He'll keep the rest alive by his jokes, if he does nothing else."

"You may take him, Mr Nott; but take care that they don't get to skylarking and fall overboard," said the Captain.

"Oh no, sir," answered the midshipman; "I'll maintain the strictest discipline, and hope to have the brig safe in harbour in the course of a few days."

Captain Garland smiled at the air with which Johnny Nott spoke, and, shaking him by the hand, sincerely wished him a prosperous passage.

Meantime the first lieutenant had sent for Paul Pringle, and, knowing how thoroughly he could be trusted, had given him his instructions to look after Mr Nott—in other words, to act as his dry-nurse.

"I need not tell you how to behave, Pringle," observed the lieutenant. "You must advise him when to shorten sail, and what to do, indeed, under any emergency; and let him, as much as possible, suppose that he is following his own ideas."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered Paul, not a little flattered. "I know pretty well how to speak to most of the young gentlemen; I always leave them to fancy that they are telling me what to do. Most young gentlemen nowadays are fond of 'teaching their grandmothers to suck eggs,' and I never stop them when they like to do it."

"All right, then, Pringle," answered Mr Brine; "we understand each other clearly. Keep order among the boys, and have an eye on the prisoners."

All arrangements being made, Mr Nott, with his quadrant, book of navigation, and his crew, went on board the prize and took charge of her, instead of the officer who had boarded her when she was captured.

Scarcely had he got on board and made sail than a large ship was seen to the southwest. The frigate signalled the brig to continue on her course, and then stood away in chase of the stranger. Johnny Nott would much have liked to have gone too, for he could not help fancying that the stranger was an enemy, and if so, he knew full well that whatever her size, even should she happen to be a line-of-battle ship, his Captain would very likely bring her to action. Though he dared not follow her, he waited till he guessed that no one on board would be paying him any attention, and then, having persuaded himself that there would be no harm in so doing, hove the brig to, that he might have a better chance of ascertaining what might happen.

He then ordered True Blue to the masthead to watch the proceedings of the stranger. The wind was about north-west; the stranger was steering about east, and had apparently come from the southward. In a little time Billy hailed that she had brailed up her courses.

"Then, sir," observed Paul, "depend on it she is an enemy."

"I wonder what size she is? What do you think, Pringle?" asked the midshipman.

"Freeborn can tell better than any of us," was the reply; and on Billy being hailed, he reported her a heavy frigate or a fifty-gun ship.

"I only hope our bright Ruby won't find that she has caught a Tartar, then," said Johnny Nott. "I don't think that we could be of much use if we were to go and try and help."

"Never fear, sir," observed Paul; "our Captain will know how to tackle with her, whatever she is."

While this conversation was going forward, True Blue hailed that the frigate was again making signals, and on Johnny Nott referring to his book he discovered that it was a reprimand ordering him to make all sail to the eastward. Had he persevered in remaining hove to, he would have been guilty of an act of insubordination, and most reluctantly, therefore, he made sail and stood on his proper course.

When daylight returned the next morning the frigate was nowhere to be seen, and La Sybille continued her solitary course towards England.

The Frenchmen had hitherto behaved in a perfectly orderly, quiet manner, and obeyed cheerfully the orders issued to them. No change, indeed, was exhibited towards their English captors; but they soon began to quarrel among themselves, and were constantly fighting and disputing. If they did not actually proceed to blows, they appeared every instant as if about to do so. Their conduct was reported to Mr Nott.

"No great harm in that," he remarked. "If they are quarrelling among themselves, they are less likely to combine to play us any tricks."

Not many hours had passed before, while he was below, one of the Frenchmen was left at the helm, and True Blue, who was forward, saw another come up on deck, and, with a capstan-bar in his hand, make a blow, so it seemed, at the helmsman's head. He missed it, however, and the bar, descending with full force on the binnacle, smashed it and the compasses within it to pieces. Billy remarked the men. There was a great deal of jabbering, vociferation, and action, but neither of them struck or hurt the other.

As he watched them an idea occurred to him. "I don't think those fellows did that by chance," he said to himself. "I will keep an eye on them."

The noise brought Mr Nott and Paul Pringle on deck.

"A pretty mess you have made, Messieurs," observed the midshipman, who spoke a sufficient amount of bad French to make himself perfectly understood by them, and this was one of the reasons why he had been selected to command the brig. "If I was to give you four dozen each, or put you in irons, or stop your grog, you'd only get what you deserve. Now, go and find another compass and put the binnacle to rights. You Frenchmen are handy at that sort of thing."

The men slunk off as if very much ashamed of themselves, and Paul Pringle took the helm. True Blue, however, watched them, and he was certain that there was a laugh in their eyes, giving evidence that they were well content with what they had done. When they went below also, they seemed to be on perfectly good terms with each other.

On search being made, no compass whatever was to be found.

"I thought that I had observed, when I first came on board, a spare compass and boat compass," observed Mr Nott.

But the Frenchmen, on being interrogated, all declared that they were not aware that there were any others, and said that if there were, they were private property, and that the Captain had taken them with him. The other Frenchmen appeared to be very angry at what their countrymen had done, and did their best to ingratiate themselves with Mr Nott. The difficulty was now to know how to steer. The midshipman's knowledge of navigation was put to a severe test. While the sky was clear, either by night or by day, it was tolerably easy to steer more or less to the eastward; but whether they should hit the chops of the Channel or run on shore on the coast of Ireland or France, or the Scilly Islands, it was impossible to say.

"We must do our best, sir, and trust in Providence," observed Paul Pringle to the young officer. "Only there's one thing I'd do—I'd rather steer to the nor'ard than the south'ard of our course, so as to avoid the chance of running ashore on the Frenchman's coast. Of all the places I should hate most it would be a French prison."

True Blue was certainly not of a suspicious disposition, but he could not help watching the Frenchmen. He whispered his ideas also to Harry and Tim Fid, who agreed to keep a watchful eye on the prisoners. Little did the Frenchmen think how narrowly all their proceedings were noted. Fid soon remarked that when either of the Frenchmen was at the helm, one of the others was constantly going to a chest in the forepeak and looking steadily into it. His curiosity was therefore aroused to ascertain what it was they went to look at. He reflected how he could discover this without being seen.

Some of the crew slept in the bunks or standing bed-places arranged along the sides of the vessel, but others in hammocks. The hammocks were, however, not sent up on deck every day as they are on board of a man-of-war. One of these hung over the Frenchmen's chests, and into it Tim stowed himself away, making the lower surface smooth with the blankets, so that the form of his body should not be observed. A slight slit in the canvas enabled him to breathe and to look down below him. Poor Fid had to watch a considerable time, however, and felt sadly cramped and almost stifled without being the wiser for all the trouble he had taken. The Frenchmen were there; but first Tom Marline came below, and then Hartland, and then the black; and the Frenchmen sat on the lockers cutting out beef bones into various shapes and polishing them.

At last all but one man went on deck, and then he jumped up, and instantly going to the chest opened it; and then Tim saw clearly a compass, and, moreover, that the brig was steering a course considerably to the southward of east. The Frenchman then put his head up through the fore-hatchway, took a look round, and then, again diving into the forepeak, had another glance at the compass.

"That's it," thought Tim; "True Blue is right. The Frenchmen intend to run us near their own coast and then rise on us, or they hope to fall in with one of their own cruisers and be retaken. Small blame to them."

The thread of his soliloquy was interrupted by his observing the Frenchman go to a chest on the opposite side, which, when opened, he saw was full of arms, cutlasses, long knives, and pistols. The man sat down by the side of it, and deliberately began to load one after the other, and then to arrange the knives and dirks, so that they could in an instant be drawn out for use.

"Ho, ho!" thought Tim; "that's your plan, is it? Two can play at that game, we will show you!"

Fid was now very anxious to get out of his hiding-place, and to go and tell True Blue what he had seen. The Frenchman, however, after he had made all his arrangements, put a brace of pistols into his pocket and stuck a dirk into his belt, concealed by his jacket, sat down on a locker, and, with the greatest apparent unconcern, pursued his usual occupation of bone-cutting.

Fid grew more and more impatient. He waited some time longer, then he saw the man prick up his ears and listen eagerly. Presently there was the sound of a scuffle on deck. The Frenchman sprang up the ladder through the fore-hatch-way. As he did so a key fell from his pocket. The moment he was gone, Fid jumped out of his hiding-place, picked up the key, applied it to the chest which contained the arms—the lid flew open. He drew out several brace of pistols and a bundle of dirks. He stuck as many of both into his belt and pockets as he could carry, and hid the others in the hammock in which he had been concealed, while the key he also hid away. All was done as quick as lightning. Then, with a pistol in one hand and a dirk in the other, he followed the Frenchman up the hatchway.

As he did so he chanced to cast his eye aloft, when he saw True Blue in the fore-rigging. He signed to him to come on deck. Billy saw him, and slid down rapidly by the foretop-mast-stay. On looking aft they saw Hartland and Mr Nott stretched on the deck, apparently lifeless, while the three Frenchmen, with the black, were making a furious attack on Tom Marline, who had the helm, while Paul Pringle stood by defending him with a boat's stretcher. Neither Pringle nor Marline had arms, while two of the Frenchmen and the black had dirks, and the third Frenchman, as Fid knew, had pistols. Fid immediately handed a brace of pistols and a dirk to True Blue, and together they rushed aft. Paul saw them coming, but the Frenchmen did not. One of them had cocked his pistol, and was taking a deliberate aim at Paul, when True Blue, who at that instant had reached the quarterdeck, lifted his arm and fired.

The Frenchman staggered a few paces, fired his pistol in the air, and then fell to the deck. To prevent his companions from seizing his weapons, Fid drew them from his pocket and bolted off with them round the deck. Before, however, the smoke of the pistol which True Blue had fired had cleared off, he had sprung to the side of Paul Pringle and handed him the remaining pistol and a dirk. Paul on this sprang on the Frenchmen.

The black was the first to fly. The other two men, finding themselves clearly overmatched, retreated forward and gained the fore-hatchway. It was blowing fresh, so that Marline was afraid if he left the wheel the brig would broach to. Consequently only Paul and True Blue pursued the Frenchmen. One of them leaped down the fore-hatchway. As he did so a pistol-shot was heard, and Fid immediately afterwards appeared at the same place, exclaiming:

"I've done for the fellow—settle the other two!"

Fid held a pistol in his hand. The black saw it, and sprang at the boy to seize it; but True Blue, who saw it also, was too quick for him, and had got hold of it just before the negro reached the spot. Fid sprang out of his way; and so eager had he been, that he pitched head-forward down the hatchway.

The last Frenchman attempted to defend himself; but when he saw Paul and the two lads with arms in their hands approaching him, while his companions were unable to assist him, he knew that resistance was useless and cried out for quarter.

"You don't deserve it, Monsieur Crapaud," answered Paul; "but I'm not the fellow to take a man's life in cold blood. Howsomdever, there's one thing I'll take, and that is, good care you don't attempt to play us such a trick again. Here, Billy, hand me that coil of rope. We'll keep him out of harm for the present."

Saying this, while True Blue stood by presenting a pistol at the prisoner's head, Paul proceeded to lash his arms and legs, and to secure him to one of the guns.

"Well done, mate!" exclaimed Tom Marline from aft. "And now just come and have a look at Mr Nott. I think that he's coming to."

"And I do hope that Harry isn't killed either!" cried Fid. "He's breathing, and that's more than dead men can do."

In a little time both Mr Midshipman Nott and the boy Hartland came to themselves, and sat up rubbing their eyes, as if trying to understand what had occurred. The moment the truth flashed on Mr Nott's mind, he sprang to his feet, and, seizing a stretcher, the nearest weapon he could lay hold of, stood on the defensive, looking about for an enemy.

He was much relieved in his mind when he saw one of the Frenchmen lying not far off dead on the deck, and another sitting bound, where Paul and True Blue had placed him, between the guns.

"What! have we come off victorious in the struggle?" he exclaimed, turning to Marline.

"Yes, sir," answered the seaman, "we've been and drubbed the Monsieurs; but there are still two on 'em below kicking up a bobbery. If you'll take the helm, sir, I'll go and help Pringle to make them fast."

"No, no," answered the midshipman somewhat indignantly, as if his courage or strength had been called in question. "I can do that. You stay at the helm."

When the Frenchman and the black had jumped down into the forepeak, Tim Fid had very wisely clapped the hatch on, so that they were left in darkness, and were also unable to return again on deck. Pringle was on the point of taking off the hatch to secure the two men when the midshipman got forward.

"Very glad, sir, to see you all to rights," said Paul, looking up. "I suppose that you'll wish us to get hold of the two fellows down below?"

"By all means. I'll hail them and advise them to surrender at discretion."

The hatch was taken off, and Mr Nott explained, as well as his limited knowledge of French would allow, that all their chance of success was gone. Only the black man answered. Mr Nott ordered him to come up.

"L'autre est mort," (the other is dead), said he as he made his appearance, looking very much frightened.

"He is as treacherous as the rest; it will not do to let him be at liberty," said Mr Nott. "It was he who knocked me down and began the mutiny."

The black was accordingly lashed to a gun on the opposite side of the deck, facing his companion.

On going below they found that the Frenchman whom Fid had shot was not dead, having only been stunned by the fall. He would, however, very shortly have bled to death had they not bound up his wound. In mercy to the poor wretch, they placed him in a bunk, but did not tell him that either of his companions had escaped.

"Ah, I deserve my fate!" he observed to Mr Nott. "Had we succeeded, we should have thrown you all overboard and carried the vessel into a French port. There is a large sum of money on board stowed away below the after-lockers. It escaped the vigilance of the officers who examined the vessel. We knew of it, and for its sake we intended to get rid of you, that we might obtain possession of the whole."

"Much obliged for your kind intentions," answered Johnny, laughing. "The dollars we'll look after, and you will consider yourself a prisoner in your berth till I give you leave to get out of it. If you put your head above the hatchway, you'll be shot. That is an understood thing between us."

The Frenchman could only make a grimace as a sign of his acquiescence.

"I'm in earnest, remember!" said Mr Nott as he climbed up the ladder on deck.

Fid now reported all that he had done, and he and True Blue received the praise from their young commander which they so fully merited. The compass was got up on deck and shipped in the binnacle, and the arms were carried aft and placed in the cabin. The other chests belonging to the Frenchmen were broken open; but nothing particular was found in them.

When all these arrangements were made, the officer and his small crew assembled on deck to hold a council of war.

"The first thing we had better do, sir, is to shorten sail, seeing how shorthanded we are," observed Paul Pringle. "We couldn't do it in a hurry, and if it comes on to blow, our spars and sails may be carried away before we know where we are."

This advice was too good to be neglected. "Then, sir, as these Frenchmen have been steering to the southward and east whenever they have had the helm, oughtn't we to steer so much to the nor'ard to make up for the distance we have run out of our course?" observed True Blue with much modesty.

"Capital idea, Freeborn!" exclaimed the midshipman with a patronising air. "You've a very good notion of navigation; we'll do it."

Mr Nott now took the helm, while the crew went aloft to furl the lighter canvas and to take a reef in the topsails. While True Blue was on his way up to hand the main-royal, his eye fell on a vessel following directly in the wake of the brig, which might have been seen long before had not they all been so fully occupied. He hailed Mr Nott and pointed her out.

The midshipman, who, from being at the helm, could not at the same time take a steady look at her, inquired what she was like. "A schooner, sir, with a wide spread of canvas," answered True Blue. "She seems to be coming up fast with us."

"All hands come down on deck!" shouted Mr Nott. He then asked Paul what he thought of the stranger.

"She does not look like an English craft, and may be an enemy—a privateer probably," was the answer. "I suppose, sir, you'll think fit to hold on and try and get away from her?" continued Paul. "It will soon be growing dark, and if the weather becomes thick, as it promises to do, we may alter our course without being discovered."

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