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Sea StoriesAn Account Of Four Russian Sailors Abandoned On The Island Of East Spitzbergen
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A Sea-fight On The Cuban Coast
By the orders of the British government, I cruised for a season in the
Cuban waters, for the express purpose of aiding in the suppression of
the slave trade, which, in spite of all treaties and efforts to put an
end to it, was still carried on with the most unblushing boldness. I
had under my command a small, but well-armed schooner, with a crew of
picked men, and sailed for my destination with the most positive
orders to sink or capture all suspected vessels. We cruised about for
some time without making any prizes, and the weary and monotonous life
I led, became almost unbearable to me, driving me from the cabin to
the deck, and from the deck to the cabin, seeking in vain for some
relief from the ennui I suffered.
One very dark evening, it might have been about eight o'clock, I went
on deck depressed in spirits, and completely out of sorts. Here I
found Timothy Tailtackle, who had the watch, gazing into the
surrounding darkness so intently that he did not perceive me until I
was standing close to him.
"Any thing in sight, Master Tailtackle?" asked I, eagerly.
"Not exactly, sir, but I have just been begging for your glass. See
there! once, twice; but it is as dark as pitch Pray, sir, tell me how
far are we from the Hole in the Wall?"
The Hole in the Wall is a very remarkable rock forming the southern
promontory of the island of Abaco, one of the Bahamas. As its name
signifies, it resembles, either, from the action of the waves, or from
the cannonadings it has received, a perforated wall. It rises some
forty feet above the surface of the water.
"We are ten miles distant, at least," said I.
"Then," cried Tailtackle, in a sharp tone, "there must be a sail to
windward, and not far off either."
"Where?" asked I, eagerly; "quick, get my glass."
"Here it is, sir."
"Let me see, then."
I looked through the glass until my eyes ached, but as I could
perceive nothing, I resumed my walk on deck, satisfied in my own mind
that Timothy had been mistaken. The latter, however, continued to look
through the glass, and when I approached him, a few minutes
"Well, sir, now that it brightens a little, I see what it is that has
been puzzling me."
"The deuce you do! give me the glass." In a moment I saw it also.
"By Jove, Tailtackle, you're right. Send the men to their posts, get
the long guns ready, and clear the deck for action."
These orders of mine quickly changed our hitherto quiet vessel into a
scene of bustle and confusion. I kept my eyes steadily fixed on the
object which had attracted the watchful gaze of Timothy Tailtackle,
but all that I could make out was that it was a strange sail. On
account of the distance, and unusual darkness of the night, I could
distinguish neither its size nor rig. All this time a fine breeze was
driving us rapidly towards the coast of Cuba.
"Give the glass to the boatswain, Master Tailtackle, and come forward
The long gun was now swung round, and the other pieces run into the
opened ports. They were all double shotted and carefully primed, and
the whole crew, even to a negro we had on board, stood at their posts
ready for action.
"I see her now, sir, plain enough," cried Tailtackle.
"Good! What does she look like?"
"A large brig, sir, hard up against the wind. You can see her now
without the glass."
I looked in the direction indicated by Tailtackle, and sure enough,
there was a dark mass towering above the surface of the water, dim and
black like a spirit from the deep.
"She's a large vessel, sir," said Tailtackle, "there's no doubt of
that; there goes her lower sails, and now they're furling her topsail;
ha! she's crossing our bows; look out, sir, here comes a shot."
"The devil!" ejaculated I. I now saw the vessel plain enough, scudding
before the wind.
"Keep her close to the wind--ease her a little--that's right--now give
that fellow a shot across his bows--we'll find out what he's made of.
Reefpoint," continued I, to one of the midshipmen, "show our signal."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The shot was fired and the lights shown, but still our ghostly friend
remained silent and dark.
"Scarfemwell," said I to the gunner, "go forward to the long gun;
Tailtackle, I've no great liking for that chap, open the magazine."
The stranger had now neared us considerably, and he shortened sail;
but when he found that his endeavors to cross our bows in order to
rake us, were unsuccessful, as we ran with him before the wind,
broadside to broadside, he hastily let go his topsail, as he was now
not more than a cable's length from us. At this moment, Tailtackle, in
his shirt, pantaloons, and shoes, put his head out of the hatchway,
"If I might advise, sir, I think we had better keep our hatches down;
that fellow is not honorable, depend upon it, sir."
"Very well, Tailtackle, very well. Forward there, Master Jigmaree;
give him a shot, if he won't speak, right between the masts, sir. Do
"Aye, aye, sir," answered the boatswain.
The gun was discharged, and immediately we heard the crashing of
timbers on board the stranger, accompanied by a piercing cry, such as
a negro makes at the death of his companions, and then came a long and
"A slaver, sir, and our shot has struck him," cried Handlead, the
"Then we shall have a little sport," remarked I. Hardly had I spoken,
when the brig again shortened sail, and fired a shot from her bows;
then came another, and another, and another.
"She shows a good set of teeth," cried Jigmaree; "nine on a side, as I
am a living sinner!"
Three of the shots struck us, mortally wounding a sailor, and injuring
the poor little midshipman, Reefpoint, who was hit by a splinter.
"Steady, men--aim low--fire!"
Again the long gun was discharged, together with two smaller pieces.
But our friend was too nimble for us; he crowded on sail, and escaped
in spite of our efforts to overtake him. In less than an hour we lost
sight of him.
"Crowd on sail, and after him, Master Jigmaree," said I; but as I
feared lest he might lead us too near the coast, I went down into the
cabin to consult the chart.
In the cabin I found Wagtail, Gelid, and Bangs, three British
officers, stationed at the West Indies, capital fellows, who finding
their time hang heavy on their hands, had procured leave of absence,
and accompanied me in my cruise, which though somewhat dangerous it is
true, still offered occasional opportunities of amusement. They were
sitting round a small table, smoking, and before them stood glasses of
brandy and water.
"Something of a fight, eh?" said Paul Gelid, a long-limbed Creole from
the Bahamas, but a warm-hearted, honorable fellow, with a drawling
voice. "Not very pleasant in the evening, I should say."
"You're a pretty fellow," retorted Aaron Bangs, "to be plaguing us
with your chatter at such an unseasonable moment as this."
Bangs had been an active and brave officer, but ease and comfort was
every thing to him, and when he could not fight, he did not like to
hear it spoken of.
Pepperpot Wagtail was a little round fellow, of an irritable
temperament, but great goodness of heart, and very scrupulous in his
dealings with mankind. He had been sick and had come on board in order
to recruit his health. I do not know how to describe his appearance
better than to compare him to an egg, to the large end of which, his
little feet were fastened.
"My dear sir," he said to Bangs, "reach me that cursed biscuit."
Bangs gave him the bowl, throwing into it some pieces of biscuit which
were as hard as stones.
All this time I was occupied with my chart. Wagtail took a piece of
the biscuit and put it into his mouth.
"Zounds! my dear Aaron," cried he, ironically, "what dentist are you
in league with? Gelid has just broken off his favorite tooth, and now
"Bah!" replied Bangs, "don't frighten yourself; but what the deuce is
this? Wagtail, Gelid, my dear fellows, look here!"
A sailor, who was followed by the ship's surgeon, brought down on his
back, the poor fellow who had been wounded, and laid him on the table.
I must here remark that the captain's cabin in small vessels is
sometimes used as a cockpit, as it now was.
"Your pardon, captain and gentlemen," said the surgeon, "but I must,
I fear, perform an ugly operation on this poor lad, and I think it
better that you should go on deck."
I had now an opportunity of seeing what kind of mettle my friends were
"Doctor," said Bangs, pulling off his coat, "I can be of use, I know
very well--no skill, but firm nerves."
"And I," cried Wagtail, "can tie a bandage, although I am not a
Gelid said nothing, but when it came to the pinch was the most useful
of all. The wounded lad Wiggins, a fine young man, was weak and very
pale, but bold as a lion. A cannon shot had shivered the bone of his
leg just above the knee. Round his thigh was a tourniquet, and in
consequence he did not bleed much.
"Captain," said the poor boy, "I shall get over this. I have no great
pain, sir; I have not indeed."
All this time the surgeon was cutting his pantaloons from his leg, and
now a shocking sight presented itself to our view. The foot and leg
were blue and shrivelled, and connected with the thigh by only a small
ligament; the knee pan too was shattered. The doctor made the young
man swallow a glass of brandy, containing a strong dose of opium, and
then began to amputate the limb above the knee. As long as the knife
was used, Aaron remained firm, but when the saw grated against the
bone, he murmured with a shudder:
"I'm going on deck captain: I can't stand this--I'm sick as a dog."
He was so weak that I released him and took his place, holding Wiggins
in my arms. Wagtail, too, was soon obliged to beat a retreat, but
Gelid remained firm as a rock. The leg was amputated, the arteries
tied, and the surgeon busy in loosening the tourniquet, when suddenly
the thread which bound the principal artery, gave way, and a stream of
blood gushed forth, as if driven by an engine. The poor fellow had
hardly time to cry "Take away that cold hand from my heart!" when his
eyes grew dim, his lower jaw fell, and in a minute it was all over
"Dead as Julius Caesar, captain," said Gelid coolly.
Dead enough, thought I, and left the cabin to go on deck. At the foot
of the companion-ladder, I stumbled over something.
"What the deuce is this?" growled I.
"It's me, sir."
"Me--and who's me?"
"Gracious God! what are you doing here youngster? You're not wounded,
"A little, sir; a scratch from a splinter, sir. The same shot that
tripped up poor Wiggins, sent a splinter after me."
"Why don't you go to the doctor, Reefpoint?"
"I was waiting until he had finished with Wiggins, sir, but as it is
all over with him now, I'll go and have my wound dressed."
His voice grew weaker and weaker, until I could hardly understand what
he said. I took him in my arms, carried him into the cabin, and
undressed him. I found that he was wounded in the right side just
above the hip. Bangs, who in the meanwhile had got over his weakness
by the aid of a glass of water, lent his aid, and the natural goodness
of his heart now made itself apparent.
"What, Reefpoint! little reefer," he cried; "you are surely not
wounded, my dear friend--such a little fellow; why I should as soon
have thought they would have shot at a fly."
"Indeed, I am wounded, Master Bangs; look there."
Bangs examined the wound, holding the poor little midshipman in his
"God bless me!" he cried, with an outbreak of the most heartfelt
grief; "you seem more fit to be in your mother's nursery, than to be
knocked about in this way."
Reefpoint sank fainting into his arms.
"With the captain's permission you must have my bed," said Aaron to
him, whilst he and Wagtail undressed the boy with the greatest care
and tenderness, and laid him in the hammock.
"Thank you, sir," sobbed little Reefpoint, "if my mother were here,
she would thank you too."
My duty called me on deck, and I heard no more. The night was very
dark, and I could see nothing of the stranger, but I steered as near
as I could in the direction I believed him to have taken, hoping to
catch a glimpse of him at daybreak. After a little while Bangs came on
"Well, captain, now that the little reefer is asleep, what do you
think of this business? A pretty large vessel, eh? We nearly had a
brush with her. I'm not particularly sorry, though, she has taken
herself off, especially as the wind has gone down."
"Ah, but my dear sir," replied I, "I don't think that we have done
with her yet. I hope to have a brush with her at daybreak."
"Now, captain, you're jesting; you don't wish that really and truly,
"Really and truly, my dear fellow, and the only thing which troubles
me, is that you and your friends will thereby be exposed to danger."
"Bah! don't bother yourself about that, but reflect before you engage
with this slaver, how is it possible to gain any advantage over him?
Remember that he has twice as many men as we have, and eighteen guns
to our three."
"Time will show," replied I, smiling; "but I must and will fight, if I
can only get alongside of him. And now, my dear friend, as the surgeon
has left the cabin, I advise you to go down to your hammock--good
night. I fear that I must remain on deck."
"Good night, captain. Heaven guard you. I will go down and comfort my
He went below, and I continued my walk on deck, stopping every moment
to look through the nightglass, until my eyes ached. The long night
was at last over, and the light of day found me leaning against the
mast, sleeping soundly. The noise made by the sailors, in holy-stoning
the deck, woke me, and I discovered our friend of the previous night,
under full sail, about four miles to leeward of us, and evidently
striving to reach the coast of Cuba. During the night, however, we had
sailed faster than he had expected, and as we were now between him and
the island, his purpose was frustrated. When he saw that he was thus
cut off from the land, he hoisted his lower sails, fired a gun, and
run up the Spanish flag, as if he had been a vessel of war. It was now
bright day, and Wagtail, Bangs, and Gelid, were all three on deck,
washing themselves. I, myself, was standing forward by the long gun,
when Pegtop, Bangs' black servant, came to me, and said:
"Scuse me, massa captin; could ye gibe me some guns?"
"Some guns," replied I; "certainly, a half dozen of them, if you wish
"Jist de number massa told me to fotch him; tank'e, massa captin."
Pegtop was very fond of this word, "massa," and could never get
accustomed to any other title used by the whites.
"Listen, friend," said I to Pegtop, "now that you have got the guns;
is your master really going to fight?"
The negro stood still, rolling his eyes, and expressing in his
countenance the greatest astonishment.
"Massa Bangs fight! Golly, massa, you jestin? Massa Bangs fight? Why
yer doesn't know him. Ye ought to see de way he fotches down de ducks
and snipe, and a man isn't so hard to hit as dem."
"Granted," said I; "but a snipe has not a loaded gun in his claws,
like a Spaniard, friend Pegtop."
"Makes no difference, massa," replied Pegtop, decidedly. "Saw massa
Aaron, myself, fight robbers, and helped him to kill de debbils, too.
Massa Aaron fight? Don't say nothin' more about dat."
"Very well," said I; "and is Master Gelid going to fight."
"B'lieve he will; fust rate friend of massa Bangs--good at shootin'
ducks, too--guess he'll fight."
"Ah," said I, "your friends are all heroes, Pegtop. Will Master
Wagtail also fight?"
Pegtop came closer to me, and said in a low, mysterious voice:
"Aint so sartin about him, massa; nice little fat man, but tinks too
much of his belly. Not 'zactly sartin if he'll fight or not."
With these words, Pegtop and the two other blacks, Chin-Chin and
Zampa, Wagtail's and Gelid's servants, took a couple of guns apiece,
and providing themselves with the necessary ammunition, went aft, and
began carefully cleaning and oiling the weapons. I had expected that
the wind would blow fresher at daybreak, but I was mistaken. Well,
thought I, we might as well sit down to breakfast, which we
The wind soon died away entirely, and I ordered out the sweeps, but I
soon found that we had no chance of overtaking the slaver in that way,
and it was just as much out of the question to attack him with our
boats. Besides, as we did not know at what moment we might ourselves
be attacked, I was unwilling to fatigue my men by compelling them to
row under a burning sun, whilst the enemy could man his oars with
lusty slaves, and not use a single man of his crew. Accordingly, I
ordered the men to desist, and remained all day on deck, watching the
brig, which was gradually leaving us. At noon I ordered the boatswain
to pipe to dinner. When the men had finished their meal, they came on
deck again, and as the calm still continued, and there was no prospect
of a wind springing up, we sat down to dinner in the cabin. Very
little was spoken by any of us. My friends were brave men, but still
they could not help feeling glad that they had escaped an engagement,
which would bring them danger without profit. As for myself, my
feelings were of a mixed nature, for though I was determined to use
every endeavor to bring the enemy to an engagement, yet I confess that
my heart would not have been broken had he escaped us. But this was
not to be, for we had hardly ordered our meal, when the rush of the
water past the vessel caught my ear, and I knew in a moment that we
were once more in motion. At this moment Tailtackle appeared at the
cabin door, and announced that the wind had sprung up again, and that
the strange vessel was bearing down upon us. I immediately rushed on
deck, and sure enough, there was the slaver, some two miles from us,
his deck crowded with men, and evidently prepared for action. As soon
as I saw the state of affairs, I busied myself in putting every thing
in order, on board our vessel, for a fight. Wagtail and Gelid had
followed me on deck, and were now assisting their servants in putting
the muskets in order. Bangs alone remained in the cabin, and when I
went down, I found him swallowing the last morsel of his meal. He had
on his fork some very respectable pieces of cheese. Before I left the
deck, I saw clearly enough that a combat was inevitable, and as the
disparity between the two vessels was very great, I confess that I
had serious misgivings as to its probable result. That I felt excited
and uneasy at the prospect before me, I cannot deny; it was the first
time I had commanded a vessel, and on the result of this action rested
all my hopes of promotion. God bless me! I was but a boy, not more
than one-and-twenty years of age. A strange and indescribable feeling
came over me at this moment--an irresistible desire to open my heart
to the excellent man I saw before me. I sat down.
"Halloa, captain," cried Bangs, putting down his coffee cup, "what's
the matter with you? You look infernally pale, my dear fellow."
"I was up all night," replied I, somewhat embarrassed, "and have been
running about all day. I am very tired."
As I pronounced these words, a shudder ran through my frame, and a
strong emotion, which I could not account for, kept my tongue tied.
"Master Bangs," said I, at length, "you are the only friend in whom at
this moment I can confide. You know my circumstances in life, and I
feel that I can with confidence ask you to do the son of my father a
"What is it you wish, my dear fellow--speak out."
"I will speak. In the first place, I am very much worried that I have
exposed you and your friends to so much danger, but I could not
foresee it; on that score my conscience is easy; the only thing I ask
of you all is to remain below and not expose yourselves unnecessarily.
If I should fall,"--here I involuntarily grasped Bang's hand--"and I
doubt if I shall see another sunset, for we are going to fight against
"Well," interrupted Bangs, "if the enemy is too strong for you, why
didn't you leave him to himself, my dear fellow, and take to flight?"
"A thousand things, my worthy friend, prevented me from taking such a
step. I am a young man and a young officer, and must win my character
in the service; no, it is impossible to fly; an older and more tried
seaman than myself might have done so, but I must fight; if a shot
finishes me, will you, my dear friend, deliver this portfolio to my
poor mother, whose only support I am?"
As I uttered these words, the scalding tears rolled in torrents down
my cheeks. I trembled like a leaf, and firmly pressing my friend's
hand in mine, I fell on my knees and fervently and silently prayed to
that God in whose all-mighty hand my destiny lay, that he would give
me strength on this day, to do my duty as became an English sailor.
Bangs knelt by my side. Suddenly my tears ceased to flow and I arose.
"I am not ashamed to have shown so much feeling before you, my
"Don't mention it, my dear boy, neither of us will fight any the worse
I looked at him in astonishment.
"Are you going to fight?" I asked.
"Of course I am," replied he; "why not? I have no longer either mother
or wife. Fight? Of course I will fight."
"Another shot, sir," cried Tailtackle, through the open cabin window.
All was now noise and confusion, and I hastened on deck. Our opponent
was a large brig of at least three hundred tons burthen, a low vessel
painted black. Its sides were as round as an apple, the yards were
unusually large, and it was evidently filled with men. I counted nine
guns on a side and prayed silently that they might not prove long
guns. I was not a little horrified to find, on looking through the
glass, that the deck was covered with naked negroes. That the vessel
was a slaver, I had not for a moment doubted, and I had also imagined
that its crew might number fifty men, but that the captain would
resort to such a dangerous expedient--dangerous to himself as well as
to us--as to arm the slaves, had never entered my mind, and it
startled me not a little to find that he had done so, as it showed
that I must expect the most desperate resistance.
Tailtackle had pulled off his jacket, and was standing by my side. His
belt was tightly drawn round his waist, and his cutlass hung from it.
The rest of the men were armed in the same manner; some of them had
also, muskets, and the others stood at their posts, near the guns. The
grapnels were loosened, and tubs of wadding, and boxes of cartridge
stood ready for use. In short, all was prepared for action.
"Master Tailtackle," said I, "your post is in the magazine. Lay aside
your cutlass; it is not your duty to lead the boarders."
"Master Timothy," said Bangs, "could you do without one of these
"Certainly, sir," replied Timothy, laughing, "but you do not intend to
lead the boarders yourself, do you, sir?"
"How do you know that?" returned Aaron, with a grim smile, "since I
have been fool enough to trust myself in this dancing cork of a
vessel;" as he spoke he laid aside his coat, unsheathed a cutlass, and
bound a red woolen cloth round his head.
The slaver, who was now hardly a cable's length from us, suddenly put
up his helm with the evident intention of running under our quarters,
but at this moment we poured a broadside into him. I could see the
white splinters fly from his side, and again there rang in our ears a
sharp piercing cry, followed by that long, melancholy howl already
"We have hit some of the poor blacks again," said Tailtackle, who was
still on deck.
But we had no further time for observation, for the Spaniard returned
our broadside with the same cold-blooded precision as before.
"Down with the helm and let her swing round," cried I--"cross his
quarters--forward there--out with the sweeps, and hold her steady--that's
right--now run over a gun and let him have it--steady boys--aim
We now lay directly across the stern of the slaver, hardly thirty feet
from him, and although he defended himself with great determination
and courage, pouring upon us a perfect shower of musket balls from
his rigging and cabin windows, yet I saw very clearly that in
consequence of the skill with which our helm was managed, enabling us
to retain a raking position, that our fire was making terrible havoc
on board of him.
"Hurrah! his foremast's down. Well done, boys; pepper him well, whilst
he is in confusion. There goes his gaff and flag, but don't stop
firing on that account; it did not come down with his consent. I told
you so--he has run it up again. Good, my lads; you have shot the main
yard away now, and he can't escape us."
Nimbly as monkeys, two sailors clambered up the rigging to repair the
injury done. Had they succeeded in their object, the slaver would
again have got under way and escaped from our fire. All this time,
Bangs and Gelid had been firing at the enemy with the most murderous
precision. They lay behind the bulwarks, and their black servants were
in the cabin busily engaged in loading their muskets for them.
Wagtail, who was not much of a shot, sat on deck and passed the
weapons up and down.
"For heaven's sake, Master Bangs," cried I, "pick off those two men in
the rigging. Down with them."
"What! those two chaps at the end of the long pole?" asked Bangs,
turning to me with the greatest coolness imaginable.
"Yes, yes--down with them."
He raised his musket as deliberately as if he were shooting at a
"I say, Gelid, my boy, take the one this way, will you?"
"Certainly," replied Paul.
They fired, and the seamen fell, and after struggling in the water for
a moment like wounded birds, sank to the bottom, leaving on the
surface of the sea, pools of blood to mark their graves.
"Now," cried I, to the man at the wheel, "run her alongside of the
Spaniard. Out with the grapnels, men; that's right. Hurrah! she's
"Follow me, ye boarders!" I exclaimed as soon as I had collected my
people, and in the excitement of the moment I sprang on the slaver's
deck, followed by eight-and-twenty men. But the enemy was ready for
us, and we were received by a shower of musket balls that sent four of
our tars into the next world, and wounded three more. Spite of this
warm reception, however, we reached the quarter-deck, where the
Spanish captain with about forty men, armed with swords and pistols,
presented a formidable front. We attacked them; Tailtackle, who as
soon as he heard the cry of "boarders," had rushed out of the magazine
and followed us, split the captain's skull with his cutlass. The
lieutenant was my bird, and I had nearly finished him, when he
suddenly drew a pistol from his belt and shot me through the shoulder.
I felt no pain except a sharp twinge, and then a sensation of cold, as
if some one had poured water over my neck.
Our fellows fought with the accustomed bravery of British sailors, but
for some time the chances of the combat were doubtful. At last our
opponents began to waver, and finally gave way; but at this moment
some fifty blacks, armed with muskets, sprang suddenly upon deck, and
rushed to the aid of the Spaniards. I now gave up all as lost. My men,
disheartened at this accession to the number of their foes, began to
give way, whilst the Spanish crew fought with renewed courage.
Moreover, we found that we were now fighting not for glory, but for
life itself; for, on looking round, we saw to our horror that the
grapnels had been loosened, and thus all retreat cut off. Our vessel
was no longer lying alongside of the brig, but across its bows, so
that the bowsprit of the latter crossed its deck. We could not,
therefore, reach it, since the Spaniards had possession of the
forecastle of their own vessel. At this critical moment we received
unexpected aid in the shape of a shower of grape shot from our
schooner, which swept away many of the negroes, besides wounding a
large number of them, whilst at the same time a new party of
combatants sprang on deck to our rescue.
When we boarded the slaver, we left on board our vessel the helmsman
Peter Mangrave, the black quarter-master Pearl, five negroes who were
on board as passengers, little Reefpoint, who was wounded, and Bangs,
Gelid, and Wagtail. At the moment when I had given up all as lost,
honest Pearl sprang on deck, his cutlass in his hand, accompanied by
the five blacks and Peter Mangrave, whilst behind him came no less a
person than Aaron Bangs, with the three negro servants, whom he had
armed with pikes.
"Now Pearl, my beauty," cried Bangs, waving his cutlass, "give them a
touch of their own lingo."
Immediately the black quarter-master called out:
"Coramantee Sheik Cowloo kokemoni pepulorum fir."
Which I afterwards found out meant, "See the Sultan Cowloo, the great
ostrich, with a feather on his back as big as a palm leaf; fight for
him, you dogs."
Immediately the blacks joined Bangs' party, and commenced so fierce an
attack on their former masters, that they soon drove them down the
hatchway, leaving half their number on the bloody deck, dead or
dangerously wounded. But, driven to desperation, they still resisted,
firing up the hatchway, and paying no attention to my repeated demands
to them to surrender.
"God in Heaven!" cried Jigmaree, "that is the sound of hammers; they
are freeing the blacks."
"If you unchain the negroes," cried I, in the Spanish language, "by
the Heaven above us, I will blow you into the air, if I have to go
with you. Stop, Spanairds! think madmen, what you are doing."
"Cover the hatches," cried Tailtackle.
But the covers must have been lost overboard, for they were nowhere to
be found. The firing from the hold still continued.
"Loosen the gun, and load it with grape," cried I. "Forward with it,
and fire down the hatchway."
The shot struck among the closely packed slaves, and a fearful,
heart-rending cry rent the air. Oh God! I shall never forget it. Yet
still the madmen continued their fire.
"Load, and fire again."
My men were now mad with rage, and fought more like devils than human
"Once more, my lads," cried I; but this time they pushed the gun so
madly forward, that both it and the carriage were precipitated with a
fearful crash into the hold. At the same moment a cloud of smoke burst
forth from the hold.
"They have fired the brig," cried Jigmaree. "Back to the schooner, or
we shall be blown into the air like onion peels."
But the schooner had got loose, and was fast leaving us. Gelid,
Wagtail, and Reefpoint, were on board; the latter, though badly
wounded, had crept out of his hammock, and on deck. They made us
understand, by signs, that they could not hoist the sails, and that,
moreover, the rudder was shot away, and the vessel unmanageable in
"Up with the foresail, men," cried I; "hoist the foresail, and get the
brig under way, or we are lost."
My men obeyed my orders with the calmness of desperation. I took hold
of the wheel myself, and in a few moments we lay alongside of our
vessel once more. It was high time, for already some hundred and fifty
unfettered slaves had rushed on deck, and we had hardly time to spring
on board, to escape the furious charge they made on us from the hinder
part of the vessel. The murderous fire of grape shot they had endured,
had made them perfectly mad with rage, and had they been able to get
at us we should undoubtedly have been torn to pieces.
But the fire was quicker than they. The smoke, which rose like a
pillar of clouds through the hatchway, was now mingled with red
tongues of flame, which, like fiery serpents, twined themselves round
the crackling masts and rigging, that shrivelled in their hot
embrace. The sea, too, vied with its fierce brother element in
destroying the ill-fated vessel. Either through our shots, or from the
falling of the gun into its hold, some of the planks had been started,
and the water rushed in in torrents. The flames increase, the guns
become heated and go off, and at last the ship suddenly sinks from our
view, whilst the loud and awful death-cry of five hundred helpless
beings, imprisoned in the burning vessel, rings in our ears, curdling
our blood, and seeming as if it would burst the very vault of Heaven
with its appalling tones. It was a fitting knell to be rung over the
And now the brilliant rays of the setting sun, streaming brightly over
the waters, gild with an unearthly glare the whirling clouds of smoke,
that rising towards the blue sky, grow fainter and fainter until they
are lost in the clear ether. The sea no longer dances and flashes in
the red light, as if exulting with the glee of fiends at the mortal
agony of its victims. Calm and smooth as a polished mirror, it lies
spread out over the spot where the slaver sank.
Suddenly a huge cloud of thick black smoke rises from the bosom of the
deep. It mounts upward until it rivals in height our vessel's masts,
and then it spreads itself over the scene like a sable pall, as if it
would prevent the fumes of such unclean and hideous offering from
rising to Heaven, and hurl them down on our accursed heads, as
witnesses of the wrath of that Being, who has said: "Thou shalt not
kill." And now for a moment all is still as the grave, and it seems to
me that the air is too hot and close to breathe; it stifles me, and I
feel like a second Cain.
At this moment a crowd of slaves, men, women, and little children, who
had been drawn down by the sinking vessel, appeared struggling on the
surface of the sea. The strongest cried like very devils in their
despair, whilst the women and children, the weak and the helpless,
gasped vainly for breath, and worn out by their efforts to sustain
themselves above the water, sank at last to the bottom with a look of
mute agony I shall never forget. Among the whole number, we did not
see one of the ship's crew. Like desperate men, they had sunk with
their vessel. We fished up about one half of the unhappy blacks, but
the direst necessity compelled us to leave the rest of them, as it was
impossible for us to take them on board. Oh that I could for ever blot
this scene from my memory!
It chanced that among those saved, was a young and pretty girl, who,
weak and exhausted, was lying on deck, her head resting on a block of
wood. A powerful negro swam to that part of the vessel where she lay.
Seeing him in the water, she sprang up and held out her hand to him,
to help him on board. As he was about to grasp it, he was struck in
the breast by a shot, and mortally wounded. With a shriek the poor
girl sprang overboard, clasped him in her arms, and they sank
"Oh, woman, woman," said Aaron, "whatever may be the color of thy
skin, thy heart is always the same."
Soon all was still again; here and there a wounded negro still
struggled for a moment ere he sank into his watery grave. A few spars
from the ill-fated vessel, were yet tossed about on the surface of
the sea, whilst the blood-red rays of the setting sun poured a flood
of light over the bloody deck, shattered hull, and torn rigging of the
schooner, lighting up the faces of the dead with an unearthly glare.
At this moment some drops of rain fell from a passing cloud, like
tears from the pitying eyes of an angel, who, sailing through the
skies, had stopped for a moment in her flight to look down sorrowfully
on the scene of desolation which man, the worm of a day, had caused in
a moment of power and savage madness.
On a gun-carriage, close to me, sat Aaron, whilst the surgeon bound up
a cut in his neck. He looked solemnly at me for a moment, and then
pointing towards the brilliant luminary, which, as it sank beneath the
waves, lit up the western sky with a crimson and golden light, said:
"Remember this morning, captain, and thank the Almighty, who whilst
sending so many poor creatures to their final account, has in his
great mercy permitted us to see the end of this fearful day. Oh, thank
him, captain, that you have once more seen the sun set."
The wound in Bangs' neck, which had been made by a boarding pike, was
not deep, but still it was an ugly cut, and if, as he himself
expressed it, he had not been bull-necked, it would have gone hard
"Captain, my boy," said he, when the surgeon had finished dressing his
wound, "I'm pretty well patched up now, and feel as good as new,
except a little stiffness, but I'm very thankful I have such a strong
bundle of muscles, or some of the arteries would have been in danger.
Come, and get mended yourself now, and I will hold the light."
A calm had fallen on the sea, which rendered all work unnecessary at
present, and the cabin, which was again used as a cockpit, was filled
with poor fellows waiting to have their wounds dressed. When it came
to my turn I took off my clothes and seated myself on a tub. The
pistol bullet which had struck me, was sticking in the fleshy part of
my left shoulder, just below the skin, and made a small protuberance
resembling a sloe in form and colour. The collar bone which it had
first struck, but glanced off from, to bury itself in the muscles of
the arm, was somewhat injured, and my breast was not a little bruised.
The opening in the skin, caused by the bullet, was so small that one
could hardly introduce a pea into it, and scarcely any blood flowed
"It is a very simple thing, sir," said the surgeon, as he introduced a
small probe into the wound; putting a finger on each side of the ball,
he pressed them together, causing it to fly out.
"It is a lucky thing, captain," said Bangs, "that your collar bone can
bear something, as well as my neck, but this bruise on your breast is
of more consequence; you must go to bed, and take care of yourself."
But there was no bed on which I could lie down. The cabin was filled
with the wounded, and the surgeon had plenty of work before him, for
out of our little crew of forty-two men, nine were killed and eleven
wounded. Accordingly I had a tent erected on deck, in which I and my
friends determined to take up our quarters for the night. It was now
eight o'clock. I could only remain in the tent until I saw my friends
provided for, for my presence was constantly required to direct the
repairing of the injuries we had sustained. The greatest part of our
rigging was shot away, and the tired sailors were busy in mending it
as well as they were able. Our mainmast was much injured near the
deck, and we were obliged as well as circumstances would permit, to
steady it with wooden props. Our foremast had fortunately come off
with a whole skin, but we had received thirteen shots in our hull,
three of them between wind and water.
When all was done that skill and the most determined perseverance
could do, I returned to our tent. Not far from it, near the stern of
the vessel, sat Wagtail, preparing our supper with the help of the
cook. This meal, as you may imagine, was uncommonly simple--salt beef,
biscuits and cold grog, but I doubt if any of us before or since, ever
partook of a meal with such an appetite as we did then. The beef
disappeared as if by magic; the bones were polished off until they
were as white as ivory, whilst the rum sank in the flask like the
quicksilver in a barometer, on the approach of a hurricane.
"Holloa captain," cried Bangs, when he had stopped to take breath,
"how do you feel, my boy?"
"Well, not as easy as I could wish for; this day has been a day of
fearful responsibility to me."
"Just so," replied he, "I shall sleep with a heavy heart myself, for
though I am no butcher by profession, I have this day shed the blood
of more than one fellow creature; it is a dreadful reflection, and
what was it all for, captain? You meet a large vessel in the night,
and sing out 'heave to.' The large vessel says 'I won't.' You say 'You
shall.' The large vessel replies 'I'll be damned if I do.' And
immediately you take measures to make the large vessel heave to, and
thereby some five hundred human beings, who a few hours ago were in
possession of life and health, are now food for fishes."
I felt hurt. "I had not expected this from you, sir, and----"
"Hush!" said he, "I do not blame you. You have done right; but why
will not the government at home take some decisive measures to put an
end to this horrible traffic, and so prevent scenes like this from
We spoke for some time on this subject, and my friends grew so warm
that many bitter speeches were made, and the conversation became
"Well, gentlemen," said I at last, "I don't know how you feel, but I
am completely knocked up; fortunately it is now calm, and I think we
shall sleep well, and so, good night."
We went to bed, and the sun was already some distance above the
horizon when we awoke on the next morning. It had been perfectly calm
during the night, and we found ourselves still so near the scene of
the preceding day's combat, that several corpses were swimming around
the vessel. As I went forward I was not a little alarmed to see the
number of black faces that were there.
"Master Tailtackle, how many of these poor creatures have we on
"Fifty-nine in the hold, sir, and thirty-five on deck."
At this moment Bangs walked out of the tent and approached the spot
where I stood. Hardly was he perceived by the blacks, when the cry of
"Shiek Cowloo," rent the air. Bangs was greatly startled at this
unexpected salute, for he had forgotten his heroic deeds of yesterday,
and did not know what to attribute it to; at last the cause of it
seemed to strike him, for he rushed back to the tent with a roar of
laughter. I went down into the cabin and sat down to breakfast with
Gelid and Wagtail. Suddenly we heard Bangs cry out, "Pegtop! come
here, Pegtop--do you hear? Help me to tie my cravat--that's right. Now
I will go on deck."
Here Pearl, the black quarter-master, was impatiently waiting for
"Well Pearl, my boy, what is the matter?" and then before Pearl could
reply, "I say, Pearl, go to the other end of the vessel and tell your
black friends that it was all a humbug--that I am neither the Sultan
Cowloo, nor have a feather as big as a palm leaf on my back, of which
I can easily satisfy them if they wish it."
"Oh, sir," said Pearl, bowing, "I think the less we say about that the
better, because we have not half enough fetters for the savages, and
if they were undeceived, they could easily rise, as our crew are much
diminished, and murder the whole of us."
"The devil!" muttered Aaron; "well then go and tell them that I am a
bigger ostrich than ever, and that I will very soon astonish them;
they may take my word for it."
"Pegtop, you rascal," continued he, "come here. I say, Pegtop, bring
me my uniform--that's right--now my sword--never mind the pantaloons,
I want them to see that it's all fudge about the feather--now my
hat--that's right--now go before me, and fan me with the lid of that
box of herrings."
Pegtop did as he was bid, and Bangs followed him, affecting the most
majestic walk and gravest look. But hardly had he left the tent, when
the blacks again set up a wild cry, and those who were not chained,
flocked around him, dancing and shouting, and whilst some of them
rubbed their flat noses and wooly heads against him, others seized
hold of his clothes, so that after several vain attempts to shake them
off, he took to his heels and fled back to the tent, amid the laughter
of the whole crew. Bangs laughed louder than any of them.
"I say, captain," said he, lying down on the deck and looking through
the window into the cabin where we were just beginning to breakfast,
"how the deuce am I to get down there? If I stir outside of the tent,
these black barbarians swarm round me. Ah! I see----"
Without further reflection, he put his legs through the small hatchway
which was directly over the breakfast table, in order to get into the
cabin in that way, but unluckily he trod in a bowl of broth, with
which Wagtail used always to begin his breakfast. The broth happening
to be broiling hot, he jerked his foot out of it, striking Gelid in
the face as he did so.
"Oh! oh!" cried Paul, whilst Wagtail threw himself on the sofa, and
roared with laughter. But the next moment Bangs gave another kick, and
this time Pepperpot got a sound blow on the side of the head, whilst
down came the great ostrich, clattering among cups and dishes, and
making an awful havoc amongst them. After indulging in peals of
laughter for a while longer, we collected the fragments of our
breakfast, and ate it with undiminished appetites.
About this time a light breeze sprang up, and we crept slowly forward
to the place of our destination.
"Land ahead!" cried the lookout, from the mast head.
"What does it look like?" asked I.
"Low hills, sir, and now I see houses on the highest peaks."
"Hurrah, New Providence, Fort Nassau, ho!"
Soon we saw the shores of the British island, New Providence, but the
wind lulled, and we were soon nearly becalmed again.
"I say, captain," said Bangs, "we must be your guests for this night
at least, and trouble you for lodgings on board your nut-shell. No
hopes, as I see, of getting into port to-night, and if we did it would
be too late to land."
He was right, and we sat down to our rude and homely meal in the
little broiling hot cabin. We were all in a very good humor. I
flattered myself that my conduct in our late combat with the slaver,
would advance me several steps up the ladder of promotion, whilst my
friends were overjoyed at the thoughts of soon being on terra firma
"Captain, my boy," said Bangs, "I honor your profession; but,
nevertheless, have no great desire to belong to it. I am satisfied
that no persuasion or bribery can ever induce me to make my home on
the deep; and, indeed, viewing the thing closely----"
"By the mark two fathoms less three quarters," called out the
We ran into the harbor of Nassau, where we saw the glimmering of
lights, but as it was too late to land that night, we dropped anchor,
and after taking a parting glass of grog, went to bed. As I was
convinced of the perfect security of the harbor, I ran the schooner,
as she needed repairing badly, quite near to the shore, in order to be
close to the dock-yard. During the night the little vessel softly
touched the bottom. The shock woke me and several of the men, for
though a seaman is accustomed to the swell and motion of the heaving
ocean, yet the slightest touch of any hard, opposing substance, rouses
him quick as lightning. I could hear, through the thin partition, the
officers in earnest conversation.
"We are aground," said one.
"Well, what of it," said another; "there is no sea here; all is still
and calm, and shut in by the land."
However, we were all soon snoring again, for during the last few days
we had over-tasked our strength considerably, and since the late
action had deprived us of the services of one half of the crew, the
other half had had still harder duty to perform, and were almost
exhausted. It might have been about four o'clock in the morning, when
I was suddenly roused by the sound of voices in the apartment next to
the cabin. I heard one person call to another, and then a cry of
murder reached my ears. Pretty soon Wagtail, who was sleeping on a
mattrass below me, coughed loudly and hastily. A heavy splash
followed, and immediately some of the men in the forecastle called
"The vessel is full of water--water up to our hammocks."
"I am drunk," roared Wagtail, who with might and main was rolling
about his little bed. "Captain, I am drunk--Gelid, Bangs, we are all
"To the pumps!" cried Tailtackle, who had hastened on deck.
"It is useless," said I, springing out of bed, and sinking up to my
knees in water. "Bring a light, Tailtackle, one of the planks must
have started, and as the tide is rising, get out the boats, and put
the wounded into them. Don't be alarmed men, the vessel is aground,
and as it is nearly high tide, there is no danger."
The sailors were now quiet, and busied themselves in putting bedding
and provisions into the boats belonging to the vessel, and those
which, on hearing the alarm given, had come from the shore to our
rescue. As there was no immediate danger, I returned to the cabin,
wading through the water, which rose to my body. Bangs was sitting up
in bed, busily engaged in putting on his breeches, which luckily he
had put under his pillow. The rest of his own clothes, and those of
his friends, were swimming about the cabin, saturated with water.
Gelid, who during all the tumult had slept soundly, was now awake. He
put one of his legs out of bed, with a view of rising, and plunged it
into the water.
"Heavens! Wagtail," he exclaimed, "the cabin is full of water--we are
sinking! Ah! it is deuced hard to be drowned in this puddle, like
potatoes in a tub."
"Captain, captain," cried Bangs, looking over the side of his bed,
"did you ever see the like of that? There, just under your light--look
at it; why it's a bird's nest, with a thrush in it, swimming about."
"Damn your bird's nest," growled little Pepperpot, "by Jove, it's my
wig with a live rat in it."
"The deuce take your wig," said Paul; "Zounds! take care of my
"Hang the wig and boots, too," cried Bangs, "there goes my Sunday
coat. Captain, who has sunk the ship?"
Here his eyes met mine, and a few words served to explain our
situation; the only question now was, how to get ashore, as nothing
could be done until daybreak. My determination was soon made. I put my
friends into one of the boats, which were lying alongside of the
schooner, gave their wet chests into the care of their black servants,
and let them find a lodging as well as they could. Then the wounded,
and afterwards the rest of the crew were put on board a couple of
merchant vessels lying near us, and as their captains were obliging
fellows, I easily persuaded them to take the schooner between them, at
ebb-tide, and raise it with the flood. When it was pumped out, and
afloat again, I took it into port, where it received a thorough
overhauling. As there remained nothing more to be done, I put on dry
clothes, and towards evening went ashore. Thus ended my first cruise.
Next: A Winter In The Frozen Ocean
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