True Blue
by W.H.G. Kingston
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"Here, Freeborn!" he exclaimed; "this gun, slew it round and give it to them. It is loaded and primed—see!"

The gun which Sir Henry touched was a field-piece, evidently brought for the occasion into the fort. Several seamen assembling, the gun was instantly got round, and as the leading body of French appeared, True Blue pointing it, fired it directly in their faces; then with a loud shout drawing his cutlass, he and Sir Henry rushed furiously at them, followed by most of the men. So unexpected was the assault that the leading files gave way, and, pressing on the others, hurried down the narrow path. Sir Henry calling back his companions, they re-entered the fort.

The gate was then shut, lest the enemy should return, and all the guns were immediately spiked. The commander of the expedition, and the lieutenant of marines and his men, had in the meantime come round and gained the height, in spite of a heavy flank fire from the French. Several of the guns were now, besides being spiked, tumbled down the precipice, and a considerable amount of destruction effected in the fort.

The French, however, were now collecting in stronger force, and the work on which the party were sent being accomplished, a return to the ships became necessary. The officer in command, seeing that, if they attempted to return by the steep way they ascended, they might be shot down in detail, resolved to make a bold dash and cut his way back to the boats, which had been compelled to return under shelter of the ships. The plan suited the spirits of the men. The gate was thrown open. Out of the fort they dashed, and down the hill at a double quick march. They had not got far before they encountered a large body of French, who attempted to oppose them; but the enemy, though double their number, could no more withstand their headlong charge than does the wooden village the force of the avalanche. Down before them went the Frenchmen, scattered right and left; but some got up, and others came on, and the English found themselves nearly surrounded, while a considerable body, remaining at a distance, kept up a hot and galling fire, which brought down several of the bold invaders.

Pistols were flashing, cutlasses were clashing, and the marines were charging here and there with their bayonets, keeping the French back while they retired towards the water, when another large body of French was seen coming over the hill. Their friends below saw them also, and now all uniting made a furious onslaught on the French.

"Charge them, my lads, and drive them back, or they will not let us embark quietly!" shouted the Diamond's lieutenant.

Sir Henry Elmore with a number of followers, carried on by his ardour, went farther than was necessary, when a shot from a distance brought him to the ground.

At that moment the retreat was sounded, for the fresh body of French was coming on. True Blue had two stout Frenchmen to attend to, and had just disabled one and driven the other back when he saw what had occurred. Sir Henry's followers were almost overpowered and retreating. True Blue saw that he would be made prisoner or killed, and that not a moment should be lost if he was to be rescued. "Back lads, and help our officer!" he shouted, springing desperately onward.

Several of the corvette's crew, headed by Tom Marline, followed him, Tom shouting, "Hurrah, lads, hurrah! We mustn't let our True Blue be made prisoner."

The French, who had already had a sufficient taste of the English seamen's quality, hurriedly retreated for a few yards, keeping up, however, a galling fire. They then waited till the reinforcement came up, and left Elmore unmolested. This gave time to True Blue to spring forward and lift him in his arms, and to run back with him through showers of bullets among his shipmates before the enemy could recover their prisoner.

Sir Henry, though suffering great pain, was perfectly conscious. "Thanks, my brave friend—thanks Freeborn!" he exclaimed; "you've again saved me from worse than death. But now, my lads, back to our boats; we shall do nothing now, I fear."

The boats only just then reached the beach, and True Blue had but bare time to spring with his charge into the first, which proved to be their own, when the French troops came charging down upon them. The last man to leave the beach was the officer of marines, who, like a true soldier, retreated with his face to the foe amidst thick showers of bullets. He had just stepped into one of the boats, when he fell back into the arms of the Captain with a cry, shot through the body. He was lifted up and placed in the sternsheets.

"Shove off! shove off!" cried the officer.

The sailors shoved away with their oars, while the marines stood up with their muskets, returning the fire of the enemy, desirous to punish them for the loss of their officer. One marine and two seamen had fallen, and several men were wounded. In another minute they would with difficulty have got off, for, in the rear of the reinforcement, there came rattling along two small field-pieces.

The boats were afloat, the men pulled away with all their might and were soon on board the ships. True Blue would allow no one but himself to carry the young lieutenant below to his cabin. Of course he had to return to his duty on deck, for there was hot work going on; but he stood anxiously waiting till he could hear the surgeon's report.

"Ah, mates!" he said to Fid and Hartland, and other friends stationed near him, "if you had seen, as I have, young Sir Henry at home, and how her ladyship, his mother, and sisters loved him and made much of him, you would understand what a killing blow it would be to them if they heard that he was dead or even hurt. I'd rather lose my own right arm any day, and my life too, than have them hear such a tale."

As soon as the boats returned, the fire from the frigate and corvette knocked over the two field-pieces and several of the men who served them, and the ships then proceeded up the harbour. The French troops, as they did so, followed them along the shore, keeping, however, as well as they could, concealed behind the inequalities of the ground, and only occasionally halting and firing rapid volleys at them.

The corvette, and several brigs and schooners, and three armed luggers, were soon seen either at anchor close to the beach or on shore. The frigate could not venture to close with them, but the gallant little Gannet, with the lead going, stood on till she had scarcely a foot of water under her keel, and then, dropping an anchor with a spring to the cable, so as to keep her broadside to the corvette, opened her fire.

The Frenchmen replied briskly enough at first; but as they occasionally got a dose from the frigate's long guns, they gradually slackened in their efforts to defend their ships, and finally were seen taking to their boats and escaping on shore. Mr Nott instantly volunteered to board and set fire to the corvette. He beckoned to True Blue, who flew to the boats, which had been kept ready on the side of the ship away from the shore. Within a minute, two boats were pulling under a hot fire towards the French ship. True Blue and his companions speedily climbed through her ports both fore and aft. They had brought abundance of combustibles. These were instantly carried below, and, the most inflammable materials being thrown together in piles along her lower deck, were set on fire. The thick wreaths of smoke which ascended assisted to conceal the party in their rapid retreat, the more rapid as they could not tell at what moment a spark might enter the magazine and blow them all into the air.

Back they pulled, and were on board the Gannet once more, within five minutes after they had left her side, not a man having been hurt, and the work so thoroughly accomplished that the corvette was in a furious blaze fore and aft, the flames already licking the heels of her topmasts in their upward ascent.

All this time, the frigate astern and the lugger ahead of the Gannet were keeping up a warm fire on the shore, to hold the troops in check. They wisely concealed themselves when no boats appeared; but as the various merchantmen, one after the other, were attacked by the boats of the squadron, they sallied bravely out, and endeavoured to drive back their assailants. In vain, however, they made the attempt; the British seamen persevered, and before the evening every vessel in the harbour was destroyed.

Not a moment had honest True Blue been idle, from the time that the boats had been first sent away till dark; nor had he had an opportunity of inquiring after the second lieutenant. At length the surgeon came on deck to take a breath of fresh air. True Blue stepped up to him, and, touching his hat, inquired after Sir Henry.

"Hurt very badly, my lad," answered the surgeon, "and, I am very much afraid, will slip through our fingers; but do not let that vex you. He has told me of the gallant way in which you brought him off from the enemy; and his great anxiety seems to be, that your interest should be cared for—that you should be rewarded."

"Rewarded, sir!" exclaimed True Blue in a tone of indignation and sorrow. "Oh, sir, I don't want any reward. Sir Henry knows that I would go through fire and water to serve him, that I would sooner have lost my own right arm or my life than that he should be hurt. Do tell him, sir, that I am unhappy when I hear about a reward. I shall be joyful, indeed, if he gets round again, and be able to go to his duty."

"All right, my lad, I will tell him; and I hope he may recover, and settle the matter with you in your own way."

"I hope so, sir—I hope so," said True Blue; but he felt very sad about what he had heard.

This conversation took place during a short cessation of firing, when, for some reason not ascertained, the French troops retreated. They now came back with more field-pieces, and opened on the ships. Happily the ebb just then made, and a light breeze sprang up and blew down the harbour. A fire was kept up from the ships, however, all the time, while their anchors were weighed, and their topsails being sheeted home, they stood out of the harbour. Still the shot followed them. They had got some way when True Blue felt himself struck to the deck. He lay some little time before being observed in the dark, and then he was carried below. He knew no more, till he heard a voice in a tone of deep grief saying, "Oh, doctor, is he killed?"

It was that of Paul Pringle.

"I hope not, boatswain," was the answer. "I have extracted the bullet, which was pretty deep in; and I trust he may do well."


As True Blue lay wounded in his hammock, he made daily, almost hourly, inquiries after Sir Henry; and nothing seemed to expedite his own recovery so much as hearing that the lieutenant was considered out of danger.

The Gannet still continued in company with the Diamond, and True Blue's chief unhappiness arose at not being allowed to join the various cutting-out expeditions in which the crews of the two ships were engaged.

At length, by the time that they once more stood up channel, both Sir Henry and True Blue were sufficiently recovered to go on deck, the lieutenant being almost fit to do some duty, though the latter was not allowed to exert himself.

Sir Sydney had invited the young lieutenant to spend a day or two on board the frigate, as he said, for change of air; and Sir Henry got leave for True Blue to accompany him, for the purpose, in reality, of making him known to one who, brave himself, could so well appreciate bravery in others, and who, if he had the will, would probably have the means of forwarding the young seaman's interests.

Soon after this, in a thick fog, the frigate parted company with the corvette. The Diamond had taken a number of prizes, and sent them away under the command of various officers, so that she had very few left. Sir Sydney had intended to go the next day into Portsmouth to pick them up, when he fell in with a schooner making for the French coast, which turned out to be a prize to a French privateer lugger, the Vengeur, known to have taken a number of prizes.

From the prisoners, Sir Sydney learned that she had the character of being very fast, that she was armed with ten nine-pounders, that her commander was a very enterprising character himself, and that she had been in vain chased on several occasions by British cruisers.

"Then we must put a stop to this gentleman's proceedings!" exclaimed Sir Sydney. "We may not gain much glory, but we shall be doing good service to the commerce of our country; and that, after all, is our duty, and I take it we could not be engaged in more honourable work than in the performance of our duty."

"Certainly not, sir," warmly responded the young lieutenant, his guest; "and, if you will give me leave, I will accompany you. I am quite able to endure fatigue, and will take my young shipmate, True Blue Freeborn, with me, of whom I spoke to you—a gallant fellow, who has twice saved my life."

Sir Sydney, who delighted in the sort of spirit exhibited by the young lieutenant, at once acceded to his wishes, and arranged that he should have charge of one of the boats. The frigate stood in, and soon discovered the lugger at anchor in the outer roads. The first lieutenant was on shore in England, the second was very ill, and the third lay in his berth severely wounded; so Sir Sydney gave notice that he himself would take command of the expedition.

The information was received with infinite satisfaction on board, because, in the first place, it seemed certain that there was some dashing work to be done; and, in the second, it was believed that, in whatever the Captain engaged, he succeeded. The necessary preparations were rapidly carried out. An eighteen-pounder carronade was mounted in the frigate launch, and her crew were also armed with muskets; three other boats were armed with smaller guns on swivels, and muskets; and one with muskets only—a wherry, pulling two oars.

Everything was ready by ten o'clock at night, when Sir Sydney Smith pushed off from the frigate, taking the lead of the other boats in his wherry. In perfect silence they pulled away, till through the darkness they perceived the lugger ahead of them. The crews now lay on their oars, while their Captain, in a clear, distinct voice, issued his definite orders.

"Understand, my lads, we must not alarm the enemy sooner than we can help. Give her a wide berth, therefore, and get between her and the shore, so that those on board, if they see us, may fancy that we are fishing-boats dropping out of the harbour. Then pull directly for the lugger, and be on board her as soon as possible."

No further words were spoken. When they had got to the position indicated, no apparent notice was taken of them, and they hoped to get close alongside undiscovered.

"Pass the word along to the men to reserve their fire till the Frenchmen open theirs," said the Captain, who continued ahead. "Now, my lads, pull straight for her."

Away dashed the boats as fast as their crews could urge them. The Frenchmen were all asleep, or the watch on deck had not made them out. When, however, about a musket-shot off, lights were seen, and there was a considerable bustle on deck, and hallooing and shouting. On they dashed; they had got within half pistol-shot of the lugger, when a volley was let fly amongst them. As usual, the dose, instead of checking their progress, only stimulated them to greater exertions. The marines and small-arm men returned the fire in right good earnest, while the boats advanced more rapidly than before.

The Frenchmen had been taken by surprise: they had barely time to load their guns. As they had not pointed them precisely, most of their shot flew over the heads of their opponents, and there had been no time to trice up the boarding nettings. The British were therefore soon alongside; a fierce hand-to-hand conflict commenced with pistols, boarding-pikes, and cutlasses, and the gallant assailants began to climb over her low bulwarks and furiously to attack the enemy with cutlass and pistol. The French crew, though far outnumbering the British, could not withstand the desperate onslaught.

Sir Sydney Smith was one of the first on board. True Blue, cutlass in hand, leaped over the bulwarks at the same moment from another boat, with Sir Henry Elmore. There was a rapid mingling of shouts and cheers and cries, and rattling of musketry, and the crack of pistols and clashing of cutlasses and then the privateer's men gave way, leaped down below, and cried for quarter. It was given, and the prisoners were at once secured.

Scarcely was this done, when True Blue, who was forward, discovered that the cable was cut, and that the vessel was drifting with the tide, now making strong up the river, rapidly towards the shore. He reported this to Sir Sydney, who instantly ordered the boats to go ahead and tow her away. Meantime, search was made for an anchor to hold the vessel against the tide making up the Seine, every instant apparently increasing in strength.

"Here's a small kedge, sir!" cried True Blue, who, one of the most active, was searching away in the forehold. "It will be of little service, I fear, though."

"Get it bent on. We will try what our canvas will do first," answered the Captain.

Every stitch of sail the lugger could carry was set on her; but still the breeze refused to blow with sufficient strength to enable her to stem the tide, even with all the boats towing ahead. The kedge was therefore let go, but though it somewhat stopped her way, still she dragged it rapidly on. Higher and higher she drifted up the Seine, till at length she brought up off Harfleur, on the northern bank of the river, two miles above Havre.

It seemed as if nothing more could now be done.

"I ought to return to the frigate," said the Captain, "Sir Henry, you will accompany me. Mr Wright, you will get under weigh the instant the tide slackens or a breeze springs up, and run out to us."

Sir Henry begged that he might remain on board the lugger and share the risk with the rest, though it was not without considerable reluctance that Sir Sydney consented to leave him. Sir Sydney then pulled off in his small boat for the frigate.

Daylight was now coming on, and by its means several boats were seen coming down the Seine, evidently with the intention of trying to recapture the Vengeur. At the same time, however, a small boat was observed approaching from the frigate, and soon afterwards Sir Sydney Smith himself stepped on board.

"My lads," he said, "I believe that we shall have to fight for our prize, and I have returned to lend a hand in defending her. However, we have more boats and people than are required. Sir Henry Elmore, I must beg you to undertake the charge of landing the prisoners at Honfleur, on the southern bank of the river, in the launch and pinnace, and then return to the Diamond. These are my orders. We must first, however, make the Frenchmen give us their parole not in any way to interfere in whatever takes place. I propose fighting the lugger under weigh, till the breeze and ebb tide enable us to carry her out. The tide will soon make, and I hope to be alongside the frigate in an hour or little more."

Very unwillingly Sir Henry quitted his gallant chief and friend, taking, of course, True Blue with him.

It was now broad daylight, and all the glasses of the frigate were turned towards the Vengeur. Another large lugger as big as herself was seen approaching her. She got under weigh, and a warm action began.

"She is giving it her!—she is giving it her!" shouted True Blue. "Sir Sydney will beat him, I am certain."

So it seemed probable by the gallant way in which the Vengeur met her approach. The latter was soon seen to sheer off and drop up the river again, evidently having had fighting enough. Most anxiously a breeze was looked-for.

Though victorious in this instance, the prize was even in a more perilous position than before, having drifted still more up the river, and numerous boats being seen in the distance approaching her. Down they came, their numbers rapidly increasing. Now she opened her fire right and left upon them. They returned it with heavy discharges of musketry, till she was completely surrounded by smoke, an evidence also that she had no breeze to assist her in manoeuvring.

Farther and farther off she drifted, till, with hearts foreboding evil, the spectators on board the Diamond lost sight of her in the distance, surrounded by smoke. In vain they waited. The day wore on; there was not a sign of their gallant Captain and his brave followers, and at length it became too certain that they must have been taken prisoners by the French.

A strong breeze now sprang up. After waiting off the port all the night, the Diamond ran across the Channel, and anchored at Spithead, with the intelligence of Sir Sydney Smith's capture. The Gannet had not yet appeared, and True Blue, as well as Sir Henry, began to be anxious, fearing that some mishap might have befallen her.

Two days passed by. On the third, True Blue was looking out to the south-east, when he espied two ships standing in towards the anchorage. He looked and looked again. One was, he thought, and yet doubted, the Gannet, so different did she look to the trim and gallant little ship she had but lately been; the other was a craft much of her size, with the English ensign flying over the tricolour of France. The first soon made her number, and left no doubt as to her being the Gannet.

An action, and a well-fought one, had evidently taken place, and the corvette had brought in her captured prize; but then came the question, who among shipmates and friends had suffered? True Blue could not help thinking of Paul Pringle, whom he loved with an affection which could not have been surpassed had Paul been his father, and Peter Ogle, and Abel Bush, and his own messmates. Had any of them been killed or hurt?

He knew that Sir Henry, who had remained doing duty on board the Diamond, would feel somewhat as he did; so he went to him, and Sir Henry gratified him by saying that he would at once make arrangements for returning to the corvette the instant she anchored. A boat was got ready, and away they pulled for her. They were on board almost as soon as the anchor was dropped.

True Blue glanced eagerly forward. Paul Pringle was on the forecastle, call in mouth, issuing the necessary orders for furling sails. Peter Ogle was not to be seen, nor was Abel Bush, but they might be about some duty below; nor were Tim Fid nor Gregory Gipples visible, though they ought to have been on deck.

Having reported himself as come on board with Sir Henry to the first lieutenant, who was near the gangway, he dived below. Numerous hammocks slung up forward showed that there were many sick or wounded, while groups of Frenchmen, with sentries over them, proved that a prize had been taken.

He first hurried to the gunner's cabin. The door was closed—he knocked—there was no answer—his heart sank within him—his thoughts flew to Mary and her mother. Could Peter Ogle be among the killed in the late action? He dared not ask; he opened the door and looked in. The cabin was empty. He went next to that of Abel Bush.

"Come in," said the carpenter in a weak voice, very unlike his usual sturdy bass. "True Blue, is it you, my lad? Right glad to see you!" he exclaimed in a more cheerful tone. "Well, we have had a warm brush. Only sorry you were not with us; but we took her, as you see, though we had a hard struggle for it. Do you know, Billy, these Frenchmen do fight well sometimes. They've given me an ugly knock in the ribs; but the doctor says I shall be all to rights soon, so no matter. I don't want to be laid up in ordinary yet. Time enough when I am as old as Lord Howe. He keeps afloat; so may I for twenty years to come yet, I hope."

Thus he ran on. He was evidently feverish from his wound.

"But oh, Abel, where is Peter Ogle?" exclaimed True Blue, interrupting him at length.

"Peter?—oh, aboard the prize!" answered Abel. "Where did you think he was?"

"All right," replied True Blue.

In the evening, both ships went into the harbour to be refitted, an operation which, from the battered condition of the corvette and her prize, would evidently take some time.

Scarcely was the ship moored, when Sir Henry sent for True Blue, and told him that, on account of his having been wounded, he had obtained leave for him to have a run on shore, and that if he liked he would take him up to London with him, and let him see more of the wonders of the great metropolis.

The colour came to the young sailor's cheeks. "Thank you, Sir Henry— thank you," he answered; "but to be honest, I'd as lief go to my friends at Emsworth, you see, sir. They know me, and I know them; and though I should like to see her ladyship and the young ladies,—indeed I should,—there's Mary Ogle, Peter Ogle's daughter; and the truth is, we've come to understand each other, and talk of splicing one of these days, when I'm a bo'sun perhaps, or maybe before that. If you saw Mary, sir, I'm sure you wouldn't be offended at my wishing to go down there rather than go up to big London with you, sir. But you'll give, I hope, my dutiful respect to your mother, sir, and the young ladies, and tell them it's not for want of love and duty to them that I don't come."

"I am sure that they will think everything right of you, Freeborn," answered the young baronet, struck by True Blue's truthful frankness. "But instead of being a boatswain, why not aim at being placed, as I long ago wished, on the quarterdeck? Surely it would please your Mary more, and I daresay my friends would accomplish it for you."

"Thank you, Sir Henry—thank you. I've thought the matter over scores of times, and never thought differently," answered True Blue with a thoughtful look. "And do you know, sir, I'm sure that Mary wouldn't love me a bit the more because I was a Captain, than she does now, or than she will when I am a bo'sun. She isn't a lady, and doesn't set up for a lady; and why should she? I couldn't love her a bit the more than I now do if she did. You see, Sir Henry, she's a right true honest good girl, and what more can a man like me want in the world to make him happy?"

"You are right, Freeborn—you are right!" exclaimed the young baronet, springing up and taking his friend's hand; "and I wish you every happiness your Mary can give you. Remember, too, if I am in England, invite me to your wedding, and I'll do my utmost to come to it. I have not often been at a wedding, and never thought of marrying; but I am very sure that somehow or other you will set me on the right course, by the pleasure I shall experience on that occasion."

The next day, while Sir Henry went up to London, True Blue started off by himself to Emsworth, his godfather having too much to do in refitting the ship to be spared away from her. He had not given notice that he was coming, and the cry of pleasure with which he was received when his smiling countenance appeared at Peter Ogle's cottage door showed him that he might depend on a hearty welcome.

A fair girl, with the sweetest of faces, rose from her seat, and, running towards him, put out both her hands, and did not seem overwhelmed with astonishment when he threw an arm round her waist and kissed her heartily.

"Hillo, Master True Blue, are those the manners you have learned at sea?" exclaimed Mrs Ogle, not very angrily, though.

"Yes, mother," answered Billy, laughing, and still holding Mary by the hand and looking into her face. "It's the way I behaved scores of times whenever I've thought of the only girl I ever loved; and now, though I didn't intend to do it, I couldn't help it—indeed I couldn't. I hope you'll forgive me, Mrs Ogle, if Mary does."

"Well, Billy, as my goodman has known you since you were a baby, and I've known you nearly as long, I suppose I must overlook it this time," answered Mrs Ogle. "And now tell me, how is my husband, and Pringle, and the rest?"

"Ogle and Pringle are very well; but Abel Bush has had an ugly knock on his side. It will grieve poor Mrs Bush, I know, when I tell her. He'll be here as soon as he is out of hospital; but he wants to be aboard again when the ship is ready for sea."

Good Mrs Ogle, on hearing this, said that she would go in and prepare her neighbour for the news of Abel being wounded; and after she had done so, True Blue went and told her all the particulars, and comforted her to the best of his power; and then he hurried off to see old Mrs Pringle, who forgave him for not coming first to her, which he ought to have done.

The hours of True Blue's short stay flew quickly by—quicker by far than he wished. Never had the country to his eyes looked so beautiful, the meadows so green, the woods so fresh, and the flowers so bright; never had the birds seemed to sing so sweetly; and never had he watched with so much pleasure the sheep feeding on the distant downs, or the cattle come trooping in to their homesteads in the evening.

"After all, Mary," he said, "I really do think there are more things on shore worth looking at than I once fancied. Once I used to think that the sea was the only place fit for a man to live on, and now, though I don't like it less than I did, I do love the look of this place at all events."

Mary smiled. They were sitting on a mossy bank on the hillside, with green fields before them and a wood on the right, in which the leaves were bursting forth fresh and bright, and a wide piece of water some hundred yards below, in which several wild fowl were dipping their wings; while beyond rose a range of smooth downs, the intermediate space being sprinkled over with neat farmhouses and labourers' cottages; and rising above the trees appeared the grey, ivy-covered tower of the parish church, with the taper spire pointing upwards to the clear blue sky—not more clear or bright, though, than his Mary's eyes; so True Blue thought, whether he said it or not.

"Yes," said Mary; "I am sure, True Blue, when you come to know more of dear Old England, you'll love it as I do."

"I love it now, Mary—that I do, and everything in it for your sake, Mary, and its own sake!" exclaimed True Blue enthusiastically. "I used to think only of fighting for the King, God bless him; but now, though I won't fight the less for him than I did, I'll fight for Old England, and for you too, Mary; and not the worse either, because I shall be thinking of you, and of how I shall hope some day to come and live on shore with you, and perhaps go no more to sea."

Mary returned the pressure of his honest hand, and in the wide realms of England no two people were happier than they were; for they were faithful, guileless, and true, honest and virtuous, and no shadow cast by a thought of future misfortune crossed their path.

Thus the days sped on. Then a letter came from Sir Henry, saying that he had obtained another fortnight's leave for True Blue; and the different families looked forward to a visit from the three warrant-officers of the Gannet, and felt how proud they should be at seeing them in their uniforms. Abel Bush was so far recovered that he was expected in a day or two.

Such was the state of affairs, when one evening True Blue heard that an old shipmate of his in the Ruby was ill at a little public-house about three miles off, nearer the sea; so he at once set off to visit him, intending to bring him up to Mrs Pringle's, if he was able to be removed, for he was a favourite and friend of Paul's.

When he got there, he found a good many men in the house, mostly seamen, drinking and smoking in the bar. However, he passed on, and went up into the room where his old shipmate was in bed. He sat talking to him for some time, and then he gave him Mrs Pringle's message, and told him that, as she had a spare room, he must come up there and stay till he was well. He had arranged to return with a cart the next morning, and had bid his friend good-bye, when, as he was on his way down the dark narrow stairs, he heard the door burst open, and a tremendous scuffle, and shouts, and oaths, and cries, and tables and chairs and benches upset, and blows rapidly dealt.

He had little doubt that a pressgang had broken into the house, and, though they lawfully couldn't touch him, he instinctively hurried back into his friend's room, knowing how unscrupulous many people, when thus engaged, were, and that if they got hold of him he would have no little difficulty in escaping from their clutches.

His friend, Ned Archer, thought the same. "Here, Billy," he exclaimed, "jump out of the window! I will shut it after you, and you will be free of these fellows."

There was not a moment to be lost. True Blue threw open the casement, and dropped to the ground. It was a good height; but to an active lad like him the fall was nothing, and he would have made no noise had not a tin pan been set up against the wall. He kicked it over, and, as he was running off, he found himself collared by three stout fellows, drawn to the spot by the clatter it made.

"You'll have to serve His Majesty, my lad—that's all; so be quiet," said one of the men, for True Blue very naturally could not help trying to escape.

"I have served His Majesty long and faithfully, and hope before long to be serving him again afloat," answered True Blue. "But just hands off, mates. You've got hold of a wrong bird. I belong to a sloop of war, the Gannet, and am away from her on leave."

"A likely story, my lad," said the officer commanding the pressgang, who just then came up. "You are fair-spoken enough; but men with protections don't jump out of windows and try to make off at the sight of a pressgang. Whether you've served His Majesty or not, you'll come along with us and serve him now—that's all I've to say on the subject."

The officer would not listen to a word True Blue had to plead, but with eight or nine other men, captured at the same time, he was forthwith marched down in the direction of the Hamble river.

It was a long tramp, and True Blue often looked round for an opportunity of escaping; but his captors were vigilant, and there seemed but little chance of his getting away. Never had he felt so anxious, and, as he expressed his feelings, downhearted, not for himself,—he believed that all would come right at last, as far as he was concerned,—but for those he left behind him. He thought how anxious and grieved Mary would be when he did not return; and though he was aware that ultimately she would ascertain that he had been carried off by a pressgang, he knew that that would not mend matters much.

A boat was waiting for them in the Hamble creek; and the party pulled on, till at daybreak they found themselves at the mouth of the Southampton Water, on board an eighteen-gun brig. The pressed men looked very sulky and angry, and eyed the shore as if even then they longed to jump overboard and swim for it; but the sentry, with his musket, at the gangway was a strong hint that they would have other dangers besides drowning to contend with should they attempt it.

True Blue, who disdained to shirk duty on any pretence, performed as rapidly and well as he could what he was ordered to do; but at the same time his heart was heavier, probably, than that of any one on board. The officer who had captured him might or might not believe his assertion that he belonged to another ship. He had not his papers with him, and he had been caught trying to escape from the pressgang. The Captain of the brig was on shore, and was to be taken on board at Plymouth, where she was to call in for him.

"Where are we bound for?" asked True Blue of one of his new shipmates.

"Don't you know, lad?" answered the man with a laugh which sounded harsh and cruel in his ears. "Why, out to the East Indies, to be sure—that's the land, I've heard, of gold and silver and jewels. We shall all come back with our pockets well lined with the rhino. Lots of prize-money, lad—that's the stuff we want. No wonder our skipper is in a hurry to be off. We shan't drop anchor even in Plymouth Sound, but he'll post down from London; and as soon as he sees us he'll be aboard, for I know well that he will be eager to be off. He's in as great a hurry to finger the ingots as any of us."

This was very unpleasant information for True Blue. He had no reason, either, to doubt it. As soon as the tide made, the brig got under weigh, and, standing out of the river, ran down the Solent towards the Needle Passage.

Had True Blue been on board his own ship, he would have been contented enough, even though he had been bound for the East Indies; but to be carried off among strangers, without an opportunity of communicating with those he loved, was hard indeed to bear. The brig had got down as far as Berryhead, when it fell very nearly calm, and a thick fog came on. All night long the fog continued, and though it was not dark, all objects beyond ten or twenty fathoms at most of the brig were rendered invisible. Her head, therefore, was put off shore, to avoid the risk of running on it, and sail was reduced, so as merely to allow her to have steerage way.

The breeze, however, got up a little with the sun, which was seen endeavouring to pierce the mist; but for a long time the sun appeared to strive in vain to accomplish that object.

At last the silvery mist was, as it were, torn asunder; and then, running under all sail, and about to pass between the brig and the land, appeared a large lugger. The brig under reduced sail, seen through the fog, looked probably more like a merchantman than a man-of-war. The lugger ran up the tricolour and fired a round-shot at the brig.

The first lieutenant, springing on deck with his trousers in one hand and his coat in the other, ordered the brig to be put about, and then all hands to make sail, and the guns to be cast loose and run out. The Frenchmen, before they discovered their mistake, had also tacked,—the wind was from the southward,—and were standing back towards the brig; but what was their astonishment, when, instead, of the thumping big merchantman they had expected to make their easy prize, they saw a trim man-of-war with nine guns looking down on them!

They at the same time had the full taste of the nine guns, and of a volley of musketry also, to which they, however, in another minute, responded in gallant style. The brig was to windward. The object of her commanding officer was to jam the lugger up between her and the land, so that she could not possibly escape.

The lugger's Captain, unwilling to be thus caught, hauled his tacks aboard, and made a gallant attempt to cross the bows of the brig. Her helm, however, at that moment was put down, and a broadside fired right into the lugger, one shot bringing down her mainyard, and another knocking the mizen-mast over her side. The escape of the Frenchmen was now hopeless—they must either conquer or be captured. They made a bold attempt to win, by immediately running aboard the brig, before the lugger had lost her way, and securing her with grappling-irons.

"Boarders, repel boarders!" shouted the first lieutenant of the brig.

Among the first to answer the call was True Blue. Seizing a cutlass from a heap brought on deck,—for there had been no time to buckle them on,—he sprang to the spot where he Frenchmen were swarming on board.

"Drive them back, for the sake of Old England, our King, and the homes we love!" he shouted, a dozen arming themselves as he had done, and following him.

The officers in the same way seized what weapons they could lay hands on, and met their desperate assailants. In boarding, those who board, if they can take their opponents by surprise, have greatly the advantage. The Frenchmen reckoned on this, and were not disappointed. A strong party had made good their footing on the brig's deck, when the first lieutenant, who was a powerful man, seizing a cutlass, with some of the best of the crew, threw himself upon them. So desperate was the onslaught he made that none could withstand it. The Frenchmen fired their pistols, by which several of the English, who had not one loaded, fell; and the gallant lieutenant was among others hit. Still his wound did not stop his progress.

The Frenchmen retreated inch by inch, throwing themselves over the brig's bulwarks into their own vessel. True Blue and his party had been equally successful forward, and now not a Frenchman remained on the brig's deck. In another moment, he with his companions had leaped down on that of the lugger, and, though the French far outnumbered the British, drove them all abaft the foremast, where they found themselves attacked by another portion of the brig's crew, headed by two of her officers.

The first lieutenant had carried her aft, and the French, seeing that all was lost, threw down their arms and cried out for quarter. It was instantly given, and in ten minutes from the time the first shot was fired, the capture of the lugger was complete.

As True Blue looked along her decks, he thought he recognised her appearance. "Hurrah!" he shouted. "Why, she's the very craft, the Vengeur, we took in the Seine."

So she proved. From one of the prisoners, who spoke English, True Blue learned that, soon after the boats had left her for the frigate, the Vengeur had been attacked by a large armed lugger, which, however, she beat off; that then a number of boats with soldiers in them surrounded her, and that, after a furious action had been carried on for some time, chiefly with musketry, and numbers of the British had been killed or wounded, Sir Sydney had yielded.

Between twenty or thirty officers and men only had been landed at Rouen, the rest having fallen. The greater number were imprisoned at Rouen; but the French Government had considered Sir Sydney as a prisoner of state, and, with his secretary and servant, he had been placed in the tower of the Temple at Paris.

In the afternoon, the brig and her prize ran up Plymouth Sound; and as she had killed and wounded and prisoners to land, and repairs to make good, instead of sailing at once, as had been intended, she had to wait several days.

True Blue's gallant conduct had been observed both by the first lieutenant and the master, and when the Captain came on board it was reported to him.

"I think I must know the man," he observed. "A fine young fellow—an old shipmate of mine in the Ruby."

True Blue was sent for. The recognition was mutual. He told his story, and described also how he had been at the former capture of the Vengeur.

"I do not doubt a word you say," said the Captain. "Still, here you are. I am unwilling to lose you, and am not compelled to release you. I will give you any rating you like to select in the ship."

"Thank you, sir, heartily," answered True Blue; "but I belong to the Gannet, and have no right to desert her, and have all my best friends aboard her. I would rather be put ashore to join her as soon as I can."

"But I cannot take any man's word for such a statement," answered the Captain. "If it were known, I should have all the pressed men coming to me with long yarns, which it might be difficult to disprove."

"Then, sir, perhaps you will take Sir Henry Elmore's word for it. You know his handwriting, I daresay. I got this letter from him a few days ago;" and True Blue handed in the note, somewhat crumpled, which the young baronet had sent, saying that he had obtained longer leave for him.

"That is sufficient warrant to me in allowing you to leave me, if we fall in with the Gannet," observed the Captain, who was a man never inclined, whether right or wrong, to yield a point.

True Blue felt that he was cruelly wronged; still he hated the notion of running from the ship. Others put it into his head, but he would not accept it. "No, I have been unfairly taken, and I will be properly released," he said to himself. "I'll do what is right, whatever comes of it."

The brig's repairs did not take long; but the arrangements respecting the prize occupied the Captain some time, so that nearly ten days passed before the brig was standing once more down the Sound.

Poor True Blue's application for a release had been ignored, and he now felt certain that he should have to go out to India. As they reached the entrance of the Sound, a corvette was seen standing in. She exchanged colours with the brig, and proved to be the Gannet. Captain Brine, who was superior officer, directed the brig to heave-to. A boat shoved off from her, and, coming alongside, who should jump on the deck of the brig but Paul Pringle, who, touching his hat, said in a stern voice that he had been sent to bring back to his own ship Billy True Blue Freeborn.


The Gannet was bound to the West Indies. All True Blue's friends were on board. The indignation they felt at the way he had first been captured, and then kept on board, was very great. He had contrived to get off a letter to Mary, who of course told her father and Abel Bush what had occurred; and they at once told the Captain, who, finding that the brig was still at Plymouth, hoped to get there in time to recover him.

"Ah, True Blue, my lad, you did right to stick to your ship, and not to run," observed Paul Pringle, when his godson told him how much he had been tempted to do so. "Look here, now; if you had run, you see, you would have found the Gannet sailed, and lost your ship altogether. There's no doubt about the matter."

Sir Henry Elmore was still on board as second lieutenant, and appeared very glad to see him. Captain Brine called him aft, and spoke very kindly to him. Moreover, he told him that he had given him the rating of captain of the foretop, which was a great honour for so young a seaman, and that when another vacancy occurred, he should have the highest which his age would allow.

The ship had a quick passage to the West Indies, without meeting with an enemy or even making a prize of a merchantman. When there, however, plenty of work appeared cut out for her.

Before long, when cruising off Porto Rico, a sail was descried from the masthead. The stranger at once bore down on the corvette. She was soon made out to be a large ship. No thought of flight entered the heads of any one. If Spanish, they would take her; if French, they might hope to beat her off. All hands were rather disappointed when she made the signal of H.M. frigate Trent; and when she came up she hove to, and Captain Brine, ordering his boat, went on board.

The two ships made sail and stood in for the land. As they skirted along the coast, as near in as they could venture, several vessels were seen at anchor in a bay, under the protection of a fort. Some were large and apparently armed. The frigate and corvette now stood off shore again, and the senior Captain informed Captain Brine that he proposed cutting them out at night, when they would be less prepared for an attack. Before the evening, the two ships had run to a sufficient distance not to be seen from the shore.

As soon as it was dark, they once more beat up towards the bay. Every preparation was made for the intended cutting-out expedition. There were six boats, all of which were placed under the command of the first lieutenant of the frigate, and Sir Henry Elmore went as second in command, with True Blue as his coxswain.

The ships hove to, and the boats shoved off about midnight. In two of them the marines of the frigate, with their officer, were embarked, to act on shore if necessary. The plan was, that they were together to board each vessel in succession, beginning at the largest. With muffled oars and in dead silence away they pulled. The night was dark; but the phosphoric sparkle of the water as the boats clove their way through it, and the oars lifted it in their upward stroke, might have betrayed them as they drew near, had the Spaniards been vigilant.

The frigate's boats, it was settled, should board aft, while the corvette's boarded forward of each vessel.

The outline of the hills rose in a clear line ahead, while the fort appeared directly above their heads, looking down on the anchorage, where the vessels lay clustered together. Not a light appeared; there was not a movement of any sort: the Dons were evidently fast asleep.

They were close alongside one of the largest ships—a heavy merchantman, she seemed—when the loud barking of a dog was heard. Still no one was aroused. It increased in fury as they approached. At last one of the watch must have seen the strange boats, for he shouted to his shipmates. They did not understand their danger till the British seamen were climbing up the ship's sides. The deck was won, and every Spaniard who came up from below was unceremoniously knocked down again. The prize was armed and the crew were numerous; so, as soon as they were secured below hatches, a mate with a boat's crew was ordered to cut the cable, make sail, and carry her out to the ships outside.

This first victory had been bloodless and easy; but now all the crews of the vessels were on the alert, as were the garrison of the fort, though in the darkness they were unable to ascertain in which direction to point their guns. However, they soon opened their fire on the outer ship, when she began to move; but their range was not correct, and their shot fell among friends and foes alike. The shot fell rapidly among the boats; and at the same moment a warm fire of musketry was opened on them from the decks of the vessels, proving that there must be a considerable number of men among them, and that some were well armed.

To silence the fort, the marines were ordered to land; and while they gallantly rushed up the heights to storm it, the bluejackets pulled on towards the next vessel. As they got alongside, she seemed like a man-of-war or a privateer; but there was no time for deliberation. Up her sides they were bound to go. As Sir Henry and his boat's crew made the attempt, they were received with boarding-pikes and pistol-shots in their faces. The bow-gun in the boat was in return pointed up and loaded to the muzzle with musket balls and all sorts of langrage. It cleared a space on the deck, and before it was again occupied the English had possession of it.

Two vessels were thus taken, both armed; but the strength of the cutting-out party was gradually decreasing, while the number of the enemy appeared as large as ever.

The cable of the vessel, a schooner, was cut; and the night wind blowing off shore, headsail was got on her, and she stood out after the first captured. The boats pulled on to attack a third vessel, while the fire of the marines as they stormed the fort, smartly returned by its defenders, lighted up the ground above them.

The next vessel was also a schooner. She looked long but low, and it seemed as if there would be but little difficulty in boarding her; but it was found as they got up to her that stout boarding nettings were triced up all round, though no one was to be seen on her decks.

Sir Henry Elmore's division was the first which reached, her, and True Blue was the first man up her side, the young lieutenant being close behind him. True Blue was hacking away at the netting, as were the other boarders, several of whom had leaped down on deck, when True Blue sprang through the opening he had made, and, grasping Sir Henry, literally forced him back into the boat. Before a word could be spoken there was a loud roar, the deck of the vessel lifted, fierce flames burst out from her sides, and all on board were blown into the air. True Blue's quick eye had detected the first glare of the flame as it appeared through the hatchway, and instantly he sprang back, or he would have been too late. As it was, he was very much scorched, as was Sir Henry in a less degree, though somewhat hurt by his fall.

"You have again saved my life, Freeborn!" he exclaimed as soon as he had recovered his senses and saw what had occurred.

"All right, sir," answered Billy; "but we will punish the next craft. I suppose they don't all intend to blow up. Hurrah, lads, we've not done with the Dons yet!"

Even while he was speaking, the mast, spars, and rigging of the vessel which had blown up kept thickly falling around them. Some of the English seamen were hurt, and one or more killed by them, besides three or four killed by the actual explosion on board; still the commander of the expedition was not a man to give up any work on account of losses. On they went, therefore, towards the next vessel—a large brig. The Spanish crew were prepared to receive them, and opened a hot fire from several guns. However, from being pointed too high, the shot passed over their heads.

The boats were the next instant alongside. Sir Henry, with True Blue, gained the forecastle. Scarcely for a minute did the Spaniards withstand their onslaught; their boats were on the opposite side, and, rapidly retreating, they leaped into them.

"Elmore, you and your boat's crew keep possession of the vessel, and carry her out," said the first lieutenant. "I will take a couple more, and, if possible, come back for the rest."

Having hurriedly given these directions, he with his men leaped into their boats, while Sir Henry gave the necessary orders for getting the brig under weigh; the jib was hoisted, and two hands were sent aloft to lower the fore-topsail.

True Blue, however, without waiting for orders, acted on the impulse which seized him, and hurried below. It was more than an impulse; his mind was full of the dreadful fate he and his companions had just escaped, and it occurred to him that the Spaniards might again be guilty of a similar act of barbarity.

All was quiet below, but a stream of light issued from a chink in one of the side cabins. He hastily opened the door; a taper was burning on the top of a cask. The cask was full of gunpowder! Several similar casks stood around. The slightest heeling over of the brig, as her sails felt the wind, might make her share the fate of her consort, or, in another minute or two, the candle itself would burn down and ignite the powder.

There was not a moment for deliberation, and yet the slightest act of carelessness would destroy him and his friends. A single spark falling from the long wick would be ruin. A firm hand and a brave heart were required to do that apparently simple act—to withdraw the taper from the cask. It must be done at that moment! He heard Sir Henry calling him to take the helm. Planting his feet one on each side of the cask, to steady himself, he stooped down, and, bringing his hands round the taper, enclosed it tightly within them, withdrawing them quickly, and at the same time pressing out every particle of fire. When it was done, his heart beat more freely. He hurried round to ascertain that no similar mine existed, ready to destroy them, and then, returning on deck, went calmly to the helm.

The gallant marines had in the meantime bravely done the work on which they had been sent, as was evident from the cessation of the fire from the fort, and the cries of the Spaniards who had been driven out of it. Having spiked the guns, they came down to the shore, when the boats went in and re-embarked them.

A large merchant ship was brought off, and another schooner. The rest of the vessels were either scuttled or had driven on shore. The latter were set on fire, and the whole expedition then sailed away with their well-won prizes.

"I called to you some time before you came to the helm. Where were you, Freeborn?" said Sir Henry as the brig they had captured had got some way out of the harbour.

True Blue only then told his superior officer of the providential escape they had had.

"But we ought to have drowned the casks. Should any careless fellow be prowling about with a light, we might all be blown up as it is."

"The people were too busy on deck, I know, Sir Henry," answered True Blue. "I shut the door, and think there is no risk."

Sir Henry, however, did not feel comfortable till he had taken precautions against the risk they were running. Sending Tom Marline, now a quartermaster, to the helm, he got a lantern, and he and True Blue, going below, brought on deck all the casks of powder they could find. True Blue then suggested that they might search further; and in the hold of the vessel they discovered a considerable quantity more, while the magazine, the door of which had been left open, was full. Had, therefore, the first explosion merely set her on fire, the remainder of the powder would have blown her and all on board to fragments.

"Had you been an officer, Freeborn, you would have been able to have command of the prize," observed Sir Henry. "I wish you were from my heart, for you deserve it richly."

"Very happy as I am, Sir Henry, thank you," was True Blue's answer. "Maybe when I'm a bo'sun I may have charge of some craft or other; but I've no wish now to command this or any other vessel."

All Sir Henry could say would not rouse True Blue's ambition. He got, however, very great commendation from Captain Brine for his conduct in the cutting-out expedition. The prizes were officered and manned from the frigate and corvette, and the two ships shortly after this parted company. The Gannet took two or three more prizes, and sent them into Jamaica. Some little time had passed when, as the Gannet was standing to the southward of Guadaloupe, having gone through the passage between that island and Dominique, just as day broke, the land was seen in the far distance; and much nearer, on the weather beam, a sail, which no one doubted was an enemy's frigate.

There she lay, with fully twenty guns grinning through each of her sides, opposed to the Gannet's nine in her broadside. Some short time elapsed after the two ships had discovered each other. The midshipman of the watch had gone down to summon Captain Brine.

"I wonder what our skipper will do?" observed Tom Marline to True Blue. "Shall we fight the Frenchman, or up stick and run? or give in if we find that he has a faster pair of heels than we have, which is likely enough?"

"Run! Give in!" ejaculated True Blue. "I hope not, indeed. I know you too well, Tom, to fancy that you'd be for doing either one or the other without a hard tussle for it. It's my idea the Captain won't give in as long as we have a stick standing or the ship will float. If we are taken, depend on it, he will sell the Frenchmen a hard bargain."

"Right, lad—right!" exclaimed Tom Marline. "I knowed, Billy, that you'd think as I do; and if the Captain proposes to do what I think he will, we must stick by him, for I know some of the people don't quite like the look of things, and fancy it's hopeless to contend with such odds."

Captain Brine, however, when he came on deck and took a survey of the state of affairs, did not seem to hold quite to the opinion of Tom and True Blue. His heart did not quail more than theirs; but he reflected that he had no right to hazard the lives of his people and the loss of his ship in a contest against odds so great, if it could be avoided. He gave a seaman's glance round as he came on deck, and then instantly ordered all sail to be made, and the ship's head to be kept north-west. The stranger, which then hoisted French colours, leaving no doubt of her character, made all sail in chase. Anxiously she was watched by all hands.

"I thought how it would be, Billy!" exclaimed Tom Marline; "she is coming up fast with us. The Monsieurs build fast ships—there's no doubt on't; we shall have to fight her."

Meantime, all the crew were not so satisfied. Gipples and several others like him looked at their overpowering enemy, and some went below to fetch out their bags, for the sake of putting on their best clothing.

"I don't see why we should go for to have our heads shot away, or get our legs and arms knocked off, just for the sake of what the Captain calls honour and glory," observed Gipples in a low voice to those standing near him. "We are certain to lose the ship and be made prisoners when a quarter of us, or it maybe half, are killed and wounded, and I for one don't see the fun of that."

"No more don't I," observed Sam Smatch, who had come up on deck to have a look round. "I've been fiddler of a seventy-four, and now I'm cook of this here little craft, all for the sake of old friends, and I've larned a thing or two; but I haven't larned that there's any use knocking your head against a stone wall, or trying to fight an enemy just three times your size, and that's the real difference between us and that big Frenchman. Mind you, mates, though, I don't want to be made a prisoner by the Frenchmen, but it can't be helped—that I see."

Such was the tone of the remarks made by a considerable number of the crew as they watched the gradual approach of the frigate. It was not surprising, when they considered that they had, with their diminished numbers, not a hundred men to oppose, probably, three hundred. Mr Digby, the first lieutenant, as he passed along the decks, observed their temper and reported it to the Captain.

"Never mind what some of them just now feel," he answered; "we have plenty of good men and true, who will stand by me to the last. I intend to fight the Frenchman, and beat him off, too. Send the men aft; I will speak to them."

The crew, both the discontented and the staunch, came crowding aft.

"My lads," cried Captain Brine, "you have served with me now for some time, and on numerous occasions showed yourselves to be gallant and true British sailors. We have been in several actions when the enemy has been fully equal to us in force, and we have never failed to come off victorious; and not only victorious, but for every man we have lost, the enemy has lost five or six. As I have ever before been successful, so I hope to be now. You see that French frigate coming up astern? I intend to engage her, as I am sure you will all stand by me to the last. Never mind that she has got twice as many guns as we have; if we handle our bulldogs twice as well as she does hers, we shall be a match for her. So, my lads, go to your quarters. Fight as bravely as you ever have done for our good King and dear Old England; and let us uphold the honour of our flag, and thoroughly drub the Frenchmen."

"That we will, sir—that we will!" shouted True Blue, several others joining him. "Hurrah for Old England! Hurrah! hurrah!"

"The sooner, then, we begin the better, my lads," continued Captain Brine. "Wait till I give the word to fire; and when I do give it, don't throw your shot away."

After another hearty cheer, set off by True Blue, the men went steadily to their quarters. Royals and topgallant-sails were handed, the courses were clewed up, and the corvette under her three topsails stood calmly on, waiting the approach of the enemy. Undoubtedly the Frenchmen fancied that some desperate trick was going to be played them.

On came the frigate. "Remember, lads, do not fire till every shot will tell!" cried Captain Brine. "Wait till I give the word."

The frigate, under all sail, approached on the starboard and weather beam of the corvette. As the former found that her small antagonist was within range of her guns, she opened her fire; but the guns, being pointed high, either passed over the British ship or merely injured some of her rigging.

When the Frenchman got within hail, some one on board, seeing the small size of the corvette, and believing that she would instantly give in, sang out, "Strike! strike, you English!"

"Ay, that we will, and pretty hard, too," answered Captain Brine through his speaking trumpet. "Give it them, my lads!"

The loud cheer which the crew gave on hearing this reply had not died away before every shot from the corvette's broadside had found its way across the frigate's decks, or through her side. Again the heavy carronades were run in and loaded.

"Remember, lads, we have to make our nine guns of a side do more work than the Frenchman's twenty!" cried True Blue as he hauled in on the gun-tackle, every muscle strained to the utmost. "Hurrah, boys! we've already sent twice as many shot aboard him as he has given us."

With similar cries and exclamations, True Blue and others of the best seamen encouraged the rest, while the commissioned and warrant-officers kept their eyes on any who seemed to despair of success, and urged them to persevere.

Captain Brine seldom for a moment took his eyes off the French ship, and kept his own just at sufficient distance to let his carronades have their full effect, and yet not near enough to run the risk of being suddenly boarded, should any of his masts or spars be shot away. This seemed to be the aim of the Frenchman, for but very few of her shot had struck the hull of the corvette, though they had considerably damaged her rigging.

At length the frigate put up her helm to close. Captain Brine, who had been watching for this manoeuvre, shouted to his men to cease firing for an instant, till her head came round.

"Now rake her, my boys!" he cried; and the shot and various missiles with which the guns were loaded went crashing in through the frigate's bow-ports and along her main deck.

He then put his own helm down, and, hauling the tacks aboard, would have shot ahead of the Frenchman, had not the latter done the same to prevent her opponent obtaining the weather-gage. Just as she was doing so, she received the larger portion of another broadside. Thus the two ships ran on. Nothing could exceed the rapidity with which the Gannet's crew kept up their fire. For nearly two hours they had fought on. One man only had been wounded. What the casualties of the enemy were, they could not tell; but they had every reason to believe them severe. Suddenly the frigate ceased firing; she was seen to haul her tacks aboard, and away she stood to the northward, under a press of sail, the corvette being too much cut up in rigging and sails to follow.

Right hearty were the cheers which burst from the throats of the seamen when they found that their Captain had fulfilled his promise and beat off the Frenchmen. No one cheered more loudly than Gregory Gipples, whether or not at pleasure at having escaped without harm, or at the honour of having beaten the enemy, may be doubted.

"Well shouted, old Gipples!" cried Tim Fid. "One would suppose you'd been and done it all yourself."

Just then a puff of smoke was seen to proceed from one of the retreating frigate's after-ports, and the next instant poor Gipples was spinning along the deck, shrieking out with terror and pain. Out of all the crew, in spite of the heavy fire to which the corvette had been exposed, he and another poor fellow were the only men hit. This shot seemed a parting one of revenge. As Captain Brine watched the receding frigate, he could scarcely persuade himself that she would not again bear down upon him. On she stood—farther and farther off she got, till her hull sank beneath the horizon, and her courses, and then her topsails, and finally her topgallant-sails and royals, were hid from sight.

Fid, Hartland, and others carried poor Gipples below. Wonderful to relate, when the surgeon came to examine him, he pronounced his wound, though bad, not of necessity mortal, and thought that under favourable circumstances he might possibly do well. No one could have tended him more carefully and kindly than True Blue and his other old messmates; and he showed more gratitude for their attention than might have been expected.

Scarcely had the enemy disappeared, when the lookout at the masthead reported a large ship on the lee beam. Every exertion that could be made was applied to get the Gannet into a condition to chase, and in an hour's time, under a wide spread of canvas she was standing after the stranger.

The latter appeared not to be a man-of-war, as she made off towards the Island of Guadaloupe, then dead to leeward. As she had so far the start, it became a question whether she could be brought to before she ran herself on shore. Still the Gannet, it was soon seen, sailed faster than she did, and Guadaloupe was scarcely visible on the horizon.

The breeze freshened, the corvette tore with foam-covered bows through the blue glittering ocean. At 11 a.m. she had made sail. By 3 p.m. she had got the stranger within range of her long guns.

"She is remarkably like an English ship, and from the way she is handled, I think she must be a prize, with a small crew on board," observed the first to the second lieutenant.

After a few shots, the stranger's main-topsail-yard was shot away, when she brought to, and proved to be the Swift, a British merchant ship, bound to Barbadoes, a prize to the frigate the Gannet had just beaten off. Mr Nott, with ten men, including True Blue and Tim Fid, were sent on board to work her; and as, instead of deserving the name of the Swift, she was more worthy of that of the Tub, the Gannet took her in tow, hoping to carry her to Barbadoes. All night long she towed her.

At daybreak next day, Captain Brine found that the misnamed Swift had drifted close in towards the land, while within her lay a frigate, and to all appearance the very frigate he had beaten off the day before.

Not a breath of wind ruffled the calm surface of that tropical sea. It was evident that the Gannet herself could do nothing to assist her prize. The Captain therefore called his officers round him, and asked their opinion as to the possibility of successfully defending her with the boats. They were against the advisability of making such an attempt.

As the daylight increased, the French frigate discovered the character of the two ships outside her.

"I wonder whether she will attempt to retake the Swift," said Captain Brine. "If so, Nott will be unable to defend her, and I must recall him. Let the lookout aloft give us notice the instant any boats are seen to leave her side."

No long time had elapsed before the French, supposing that the calm was going to continue, put off from the frigate with four boats.

"I believe Nott and his men would defend the prize to the last; but I must not expose them to such a risk," observed the Captain.

"I am sure our True Blue won't give in if he has a word in the matter," observed Paul Pringle to Peter Ogle. "Mr Nott is staunch, too. They'll do their best to beat the Frenchmen off."

This was very well; but though possible, it was not probable that they would succeed; so the Captain ordered the signal, "Escape in your boats," to be made.

It had been made some time, and yet it was not answered, probably because it was not seen. The French were getting very near.

"It's my belief that they intend to try and defend the ship," observed Paul Pringle. "I wish I was with them if they do—that's all."

"Fire a gun to call their attention to the signal!" cried the Captain.

Immediately the signal was answered, and two boats put off from the ship's side. In two minutes afterwards the French were up to the prize; but they seemed inclined to have the crew as well, and, instead of boarding her, pulled on in chase. Captain Brine, on seeing this, ordered three boats to be lowered and manned on the opposite side, hoping that they might venture near enough to be caught themselves. They now began firing at the two English boats, with which they were fast coming up. The Frenchmen must have seen that there was a great chance of their prey escaping them, unless they captured them at once. The crews uttered loud cries, the boats dashed on. In another minute they would have been up to them, when the corvette's three boats appeared from under her counter, and pulled rapidly towards them.

They saw that their chance of success was over, and, pulling round, went back to the prize as fast as they came.

"We should have fought them, sir, if we had not been recalled," observed Mr Nott, when reporting what had occurred to the Captain.

There appeared every probability of the corvette having to contend with two frigates instead of one, for the masts of another were made out in the harbour just abreast of them. The crew also knew of this. There was a good deal of talking among them, when they all came aft in a body. True Blue stepped out from among them, and spoke in a clear, firm voice:

"You called on us, sir, to fight the last time; we hope, sir, that you will allow us to ask you to fight this time, and we'll stick by you."

"Thank you, my lads—thank you; I am sure that you will," answered the Captain. "Whatever we do, we will not disgrace our flag."

The crew gave three loud cheers and retired. Cat's-paws were now seen playing on the water; the sails of the French frigate filled, but her head was not turned towards the corvette. Soon the latter also felt the force of the breeze. Captain Brine ordered the sails to be trimmed, and the corvette stood away from the land. As she did so, her crew could clearly make out another frigate coming out of harbour to join her consort, but what the enemy's two ships were about, it was impossible to say, as in a short time, with the freshening breeze, they were both run out of sight.


The Gannet had now been some time on the station, and had performed a number of deeds worthy of note, taken several prizes, and injured the enemy in a variety of ways, when one morning, just at daybreak, as she lay not far from Porto Rico, a schooner was seen creeping out from under the land towards her.

Captain Brine had done his best to make his ship look as much as possible like a merchantman. She was now slowly yawed about as if badly steered, with sails ill trimmed, and her sides brown and dirty and long unacquainted with fresh paint, a screen of canvas concealing her ports. The schooner came on boldly, her crew evidently fancying that they had got a rich prize before them.

"Are those Spaniards or French, Paul?" inquired True Blue of his godfather.

"Anything you please, probably," was the answer. "They have, I doubt not, as many flags on board as there are months in the year. She looks at this distance just like a craft of that sort—a regular hornet; I hope we may stop her buzzing."

While Paul was speaking, the wind fell, and the schooner, now about six miles off, was seen to get out her sweeps and pull away from the corvette.

"We must get that fellow!" exclaimed the boatswain. "If the Captain will let me, I'll volunteer to pull after him. True Blue, you'll come?"

"I should think so," answered True Blue, looking into Paul's face. "If none of the quarterdeck officers have thought of going, he'll not refuse."

"I'll go too!" cried Abel Bush. "The superior officers have had their share lately, and the Captain will be glad to give us our turn."

Without further parley, the two warrant-officers went to the quarterdeck, where the Captain was standing. The lieutenant and master gave up their right, as did the master's mates; and, accordingly, the pinnace and launch were ordered to be lowered and manned immediately, ready for service.

Paul went in the pinnace with True Blue, while Abel Bush had charge of the launch. Away the boats glided in gallant style through the smooth water. The men had taken a hurried breakfast before leaving the ship, for they saw that they had a long pull before them.

The crew of the schooner seemed determined to give them as long a pull as possible, and with their sweeps kept well ahead, not going less than three or four knots an hour. This, however, in no way daunted the boatswain and his companions. "Hurrah, my lads, we'll soon be aboard!" he shouted. Give way—give way! In two minutes we may open fire on her. We've distanced the launch. The schooner must be ours before she comes up.

Even while he was speaking, the shot from the chase came falling pretty thickly around them. That only made them pull the faster. The schooner appeared to be full of men, with several guns on each side, and boarding nettings fixed up. Paul might have been excused if he had waited for the coming up of the other boat, but that was not his way of doing things—on he pulled.

The schooner swept round so as to present her broadside to the approaching boats; but he, altering his course a little, steered directly for her quarter. Led by True Blue, the crew gave a loud cheer as they dashed on under her counter, and then, pushing round to her quarter, hooked on. In a moment, cutting the tricing lines of her boarding nettings, they sprang up her side and threw themselves on the deck. They were received with a shower of musket and pistol bullets, and the points of a row of pikes.

The bullets struck down two of the daring boarders; but the remainder pushed on, striking down the pikes with their cutlasses, and playing havoc among the heads of the men who held them.

The Frenchmen stoutly defended themselves for some time with swords and axes, but in vain did they attempt to withstand the fierce onslaught of the British seamen. They began to give way; some were cut down, others in their terror sprang overboard. Paul received a wound in his side which prevented him from moving; but True Blue, heading his companions, with his sharp cutlass whirling away in front, swept along the deck, driving the Frenchmen before him.

A desperate stand was made by the officers of the vessel on the forecastle, and from the small number of their assailants they might even then have hoped, with some reason, still to gain the victory; but while they were discussing what was to be done, the British seamen were making good use of their cutlasses, and in another moment they found themselves hurled down the hatchway, knocked overboard, or, if alive, on their knees asking for quarter.

All opposition had ceased, and the schooner's flag was hauled down, when Abel, in his heavy-pulling launch, came alongside.

"Well, mates, you've made quick work of the Monsieurs, and have had the honour and glory, too, while we've only had the hot pull!" cried the crew of the latter boat.

"And what's more, mates," answered the boatswain, "you'll have to pull hard to get us back again; for there are few of us who have not got touched up by the enemy."

Of this, the appearance of the survivors of the gallant crew of the pinnace gave evidence. Paul himself was pretty severely wounded; and True Blue, Hartland, Fid, and all the rest were more or less hurt. One seaman had been killed, and one marine knocked overboard by the French.

The enemy's loss had, however, been much more severe. Out of a crew of nearly fifty men, four lay killed on her deck, fully eight had jumped or been knocked overboard, and a dozen or more were badly wounded.

After the remainder had been mustered and secured, a watchful eye was kept on them; but they showed no disposition to mutiny, even though compelled to work the sweeps, to enable the schooner to close with the corvette.

Captain Brine highly applauded the gallant way in which the schooner had been taken.

"Ay, sir, and I wish you could have seen my godson as his cutlass cleared the Frenchman's decks!" exclaimed Paul.

"I have no doubt about it," answered the Captain. "It is no fault of his friends that he is not on the quarterdeck. But for yourself, Mr Pringle, I wish to know what reward you would like, that I may do my best to secure it for you."

"I have not thought about that, sir; but if you could spare me, I should be glad to have charge of the prize to take her to Jamaica. I should just like to find out how I feel acting as Captain."

Captain Brine was amused at Paul's notion.

"But how will the Gannet get on without her boatswain, Mr Pringle?" asked the Captain. "She can ill spare him, I should think."

"Why, sir, I thought about that, and wouldn't have asked leave if I didn't know my place would be well filled while I was away," replied Paul. "There's my first mate, Dick Marlowe, a very steady man, who hopes to pass as boatswain when he gets to England; and I'll engage the duty is properly done while he is acting for me."

"But you and the rest are wounded. How can you do without a surgeon?" said Captain Brine.

"Mere fleabites, sir—nothing to signify. The doctor has patched up my side, and says I shall do well; and the lads I wish to take with me are only slightly hurt, and don't want doctoring."

The Captain, on sending for the surgeon and hearing his report, made no further objections, but promised compliance with Paul's wishes, the more readily that the Gannet herself was to go to Jamaica in a week or two.

The prisoners were soon removed from the prize, with the exception of a Dane and a Dutchman, who volunteered to remain in her; while Paul took with him True Blue, Tom Marline, Harry Hartland, Tim Fid, and three other hands.

Paul had, since he became a warrant-officer, been studying navigation, and was able to take an observation, and to do a day's work very correctly. All his knowledge he imparted to True Blue, who, however, quickly surpassed him, in consequence of Sir Henry frequently sending for him aft, and giving him regular instruction. By this time, therefore, True Blue, by directing his attention entirely to the work, had become really as good a navigator as any of the midshipmen, and a better one than those who were content to fudge their day's work, and never attempted to understand the principle of the science.

Of navigation, Tom Marline, like most seamen not officers, was profoundly ignorant. Paul, therefore, told him that he was very sorry he could not bestow on him the rating of lieutenant, which he must give to True Blue, but that he would make him sailing-master. Harry Hartland should be a midshipman, on account of his general steadiness and intelligence; the Dutchman should be cook, and the other four men crew; while Tim Fid, who was little less a pickle than when he was a boy, must do duty as gunroom and purser's steward, besides doing his work as part of the crew.

At this arrangement no one grumbled; indeed, all hands liked the boatswain. It was arranged that his gunroom officers should mess with him, Harry also being invited as a regular guest. Paul took one watch with four of the men. True Blue, with Tom, Harry, Fid, the Dane, and the Dutchman, had the other.

These various arrangements occupied some time after the schooner lost sight of the corvette. In the next day, the wind being very light, she made but little progress. The day following, the weather, which had long been fine, gave signs of changing; and instead of the clear blue sky and glass-like sea, which for many weeks had surrounded the ship, dark clouds gathered overhead, sudden gusts of winds began to blow, and the water began to undulate, and every now and then to hiss and foam as the blast passed over it. Then down came the rain in right earnest, and continued for some hours, the watery veil obscuring every object beyond a mile or so. Suddenly, as the rain ceased, about two miles off, a schooner was seen, apparently the size of the prize, if not larger, and dead to windward.

Paul instantly hoisted French colours, and the other vessel did the same. On looking at her through a telescope, she appeared to have on board a numerous crew. Paul, however, determined at all events not to be taken, and, following the example of Captain Brine, he called his crew aft and made them a speech.

"Lads," he began, "you know what we did in the corvette. We beat off a frigate twice our size; we took this craft with twelve men, for, no blame to him, my brother officer, Mr Bush, and his companions did not come up till the day was gained. And I need not tell you, lads, we ourselves and other British seamen have dared and done a thousand things much more desperate than our attempting to beat off such a craft as that one out there, though she may have five times as many hands aboard as we have, and twice as many guns."

"Hurrah, that's just like him!" cried True Blue, turning to his shipmates; "and I say, Mynheer, you'll fight, won't you?" he added, seizing the Dutchman's hand and wringing it heartily.

"Ya, va! I'll stick by you brave Anglish lads," answered the Dutchman.

The Dane made a similar reply, though somewhat less cordial, to Tom's appeal, and then all the crew, having given three hearty cheers, set about getting their prize ready for action.

All the firearms were brought on deck and carefully loaded, and so were the guns, and each man girded a trusty cutlass to his side and stuck his belt full of pistols; and then Paul had all the hammocks brought on deck, and lashed upright inside the bulwarks, so as to serve as a screen to the men working the guns.

The prize had all this time been kept running on under full sail to the westward, and as the stranger was steering the same course, the distance between the two had not been decreased, the latter evidently being under the impression that the prize was a friend.

Suddenly, though it was blowing fresh, she made more sail, put up her helm, and bore down on the prize. Paul stood steadily on with the French flag flying, till the enemy was within musket range; then down came the tricolour and the British ensign flew out at the peak.

"Now, lads, as we've got the flag we all love to fight under aloft, give it them!" he shouted, and, putting his helm down, he brought his broadside to bear on the bows of the advancing stranger. Every one of the raking shot told among the crowd of men who clustered on her deck. Wild shrieks and cries arose; and now her helm being put down, she ranged up on the beam of the prize, with the intention of boarding.

Paul, however, who saw their intention, told Harry Hartland, who was at the helm, to keep away a little, so as to avoid actual contact; and in the meantime all the guns were again fired, within ten yards' distance, directly at the schooner. Hitherto, strange as it may appear, not an Englishman had been hit, while some dozen or more of the enemy had been struck down. Still the privateer had greatly the advantage in point of numbers, besides being a larger and more heavily-armed vessel.

She now steered on alongside the prize for a few seconds, while her guns were reloaded; and then, firing her broadside once more, she kept suddenly away to run aboard her opponent.

The wind had been increasing, and the sea getting rapidly up. This was now much to the advantage of the British, as they could fight their weather guns far more easily than the enemy could their lee ones, the muzzles of which were almost buried in the foam.

The stranger had got so close that Harry was not able to keep away in time to avoid her running her bows right into the prize's quarter.

"Now we've got you, we'll keep you until we have given you more than you bargained for!" cried True Blue, lashing the stranger's bowsprit to their own mainmast, where she was kept in such a position that three of their guns could be continually firing into her, while her crew could not reach the prize's deck without taking a dangerous leap from their bowsprit. Many attempted it; but as they reached the vessel's bulwarks, they had to encounter the cutlasses of True Blue, Paul Pringle, and Tim Fid, while Tom Marline and the other men kept the forward guns in active work.

Frenchmen, negroes, Spaniards, mulattoes, and other mongrels were hurled one after the other into the water; while numbers were jerked overboard by the violent working of the vessels. At length, as the enemy, in greater numbers than ever, were making a furious rush forward, fully expecting to overwhelm the English, the bowsprit with a loud crash gave way, carrying, as it did so, the foremast, just before wounded by a shot, with it.

Wild shrieks and cries and imprecations rose from the savage crew—from some as they fell into the boiling ocean below their feet, now swarming with sharks, called around by the scent of human blood; from the rest at their disappointment in missing their prey.

Glad as Paul would have been to make a prize, he saw that his opponent would prove worse than a barren trophy.

"Up with the helm, Harry!" he cried. "Cut, my lads—cut everything! Clear the wreck!"

The crew needed no second order. True Blue, axe in hand, had already cut away the lashings of the bowsprit. A few more cuts cleared the bowsprit shrouds and other ropes, by which the enemy still hung on, and in another instant the prize was going off before the gale, while her disabled opponent luffed up into the wind's eye.

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