Tom Cringle's Log



We had refitted, and been four days at sea, on our voyage to Jamaica,

when the gun-room officers gave our mess a blow out.





The increased motion and rushing of the vessel through the water, the

groaning of the masts, the howling of the gale, and the frequent

trampling of the watch on deck, were prophetic of wet jackets to some

of us; still, midshipman-like, we were as happy as a good dinner and

some wine could make us, until the old gunner shoved his weather

beaten phiz and bald pate in at the door. "Beg pardon Mr. Splinter,

but if you will spare Mr. Cringle on the forecastle an hour, until the

moon rises."--("Spare," quotha, "is his majesty's officer a joint

stool?")--"Why, Mr. Kennedy, why? here, man, take a glass of grog." "I

thank you sir." "It is coming on a roughish night, sir; the running

ships should be crossing us hereabouts; indeed, more than once I

thought there was a strange sail close aboard of us, the scud is

flying so low, and in such white flakes; and none of us have an eye

like Mr. Cringle, unless it be John Crow, and he is all but frozen."

"Well, Tom, I suppose you will go."--Anglice, from a first lieutenant

to a mid--



"Brush instanter."



Having changed my uniform for shag trowsers, pea-jacket and a

south-west cap, I went forward and took my station, in no pleasant

humor, on the stowed jib, with my arm around the stay. I had been half

an hour there, the weather was getting worse, the rain was beating in

my face, and the spray from the stern was splashing over me, as it

roared through the waste of sparkling and hissing waters. I turned my

back to the weather for a moment to press my hands on my straining

eyes. When I opened them, I saw the gunner's gaunt and high-featured

visage thrust anxiously forward; his profile looked as if rubbed over

with phosphorus, and his whole person as if we had been playing at

snap dragon. "What has come over you Mr. Kennedy? who's burning the

blue light now?" "A wiser man than I must tell you that; look forward

Mr. Cringle--look there; what do your books say to that?"



I looked forth, and saw at the extreme end of the jib-boom, what I

have read of, certainly, but never expected to see, a pale, greenish,

glow-worm colored flame, of the size and shape of the frosted glass

shade over the swinging lamp in the gun-room. It drew out and

flattened as the vessel pitched and rose again, and as she sheered

about, it wavered round the point that seemed to attract it, like a

soap suds bubble blown from a tobacco-pipe, before it is shaken into

the air; at the core it was comparatively bright, but faded into a

halo. It shed a baleful and ominous light on the surrounding objects;

the group of sailors on the forecastle looked like spectres, and they

shrunk together, and whispered when it began to roll slowly along the

spar where the boatswain was sitting at my feet. At this instant

something slid down the stay, and a cold clammy hand passed around my

neck. I was within an ace of losing my hold and tumbling

overboard.--"Heaven have mercy on me what's that?" "It's that

sky-larking son of a gun, Jem Sparkle's monkey, sir. You Jem, you'll

never rest till that brute is made shark's bait of." But Jacko

vanished up the stay again, chuckling and grinning in the ghastly

radiance, as if he had been 'the spirit of the Lamp.' The light was

still there, but a cloud of mist, like a burst of vapor from a steam

boiler, came down upon the gale and flew past, when it disappeared. I

followed the white mass as it sailed down the wind; it did not, as it

appeared to me, vanish in the darkness, but seemed to remain in sight

to leeward, as if checked by a sudden flaw; yet none of our sails were

taken aback. A thought flashed on me. I peered still more intensely

into the night. I was not certain.--"A sail, broad on the lee bow."

The captain answered from the quarter-deck--"Thank you, Mr. Cringle.

How shall we steer?" "Keep her away a couple of points, sir, steady."

"Steady," sung the man at the helm; and a slow melancholy cadence,

although a familiar sound to me, now moaned through the rushing wind,

and smote upon my heart as if it had been the wailing of a spirit. I

turned to the boatswain, who was now standing beside me, "is that you

or Davy steering, Mr. Nipper? if you had not been there bodily at my

side, I could have sworn that was your voice." When the gunner made

the same remark, it started the poor fellow; he tried to take it as a

joke, but could not. "There may be a laced hammock with a shot in it,

for some of us ere morning."



At this moment, to my dismay, the object we were chasing

shortened,--gradually fell abeam of us, and finally disappeared.



"The flying Dutchman." "I can't see her at all now."--"She will be a

fore and aft rigged vessel that has tacked, sir." And sure enough,

after a few seconds, I saw the white object lengthened and drew out

again abaft our beam. "The chase has tacked, sir; put the helm down,

or she will go to windward of us." We tacked also, and time it was we

did so, for the rising moon now showed us a large schooner with a

crowd of sail. We edged down on her, when finding her manoeuvre

detected, she brailed up her flat sails and bore up before the wind.

This was our best point of sailing, and we cracked on, the captain

rubbing his hands--"It's my turn to be the big un this time." Although

blowing a strong north-wester, it was now clear moonlight, and we

hammered away from our bow guns, but whenever a shot told amongst the

rigging, the injury was repaired as if by magic. It was evident we had

repeatedly hulled her, from the glimmering white streaks across her

counter and along her stern, occasioned by the splintering of the

timber, but it seemed to produce no effect.



At length we drew well upon her quarter. She continued all black hull

and white sail, not a soul to be seen on deck, except a dark object

which we took for the man at the helm. "What schooner is that?" No

answer. "Heave to, or I'll sink you." Still all silent. "Serjeant

Armstrong, do you think you can pick off that chap at the wheel?" The

mariner jumped on the forecastle, and levelled his piece, when a

musket-shot from the schooner crushed through his skull, and he fell

dead. The old skipper's blood was up. "Forecastle there! Mr. Nipper,

clap a canister of grape over the round shot in the bow gun, give it

to him." "Ay, ay, sir!" gleefully rejoined the boatswain, forgetting

the augury, and everything else, in the excitement of the moment. In a

twinkling the square foresail--topgallant--royal and studding-sail

haulyards, were let go on board the schooner, as if to round to. "Rake

him, sir, or give him the stern. He has not surrendered. I know their

game. Give him your broadside, sir, or he is off to windward of you,

like a shot. No, no, we have him now; heave to Mr. Splinter, heave

to!" We did so, and that so suddenly, that the studding sail booms

snapped like pipe shanks short off by the irons. Notwithstanding, we

had shot two hundred yards to the leeward, before we could lay our

maintopsail to the mast. I ran to windward. The schooner's yards and

rigging were now black with men, clustering like bees swarming, her

square sails were being close furled, her fore and aft sails set, and

away she was, dead to windward of us. "So much for undervaluing our

American friends," grumbled Mr. Splinter.



We made all sail in chase, blazing away to little purpose; we had no

chance on a bowline, and when our 'Amigo' had satisfied himself of his

superiority by one or two short tacks, he deliberately took a reef in

his mainsail, hauled down his flying jib and gaff-topsail, triced up

the bunt of his foresail, and fired his long thirty-two at us. The

shot came in our third aftermost port on the starboard side, and

dismounted the carronade, smashing the slide and wounding three men.

The second missed, and as it was madness to remain to be peppered,

probably winged, whilst every one of ours fell short, we reluctantly

kept away on our course, having the gratification of hearing a clear

well blown bugle on board the schooner play up "Yankee Doodle." As the

brig fell off, our long gun was run out to have a parting crack at

her, when the third and last shot from the schooner struck the sill of

the midship port, and made the white splinters fly from the solid oak

like bright silver sparks in the moonlight. A sharp, piercing cry rose

in the air--my soul identified that death-shriek with the voice that I

had heard, and I saw the man who was standing with the lanyard of the

lock in his hand drop heavily across the breech, and discharge the gun

in his fall. Thereupon a blood-red glare shot up in the cold blue sky,

as if a volcano had burst forth from beneath the mighty deep, followed

by a roar, and a scattering crash, and a mingling of unearthly cries

and groans, and a concussion of the air and the water as if our whole

broadside had been fired at once.--Then a solitary splash here, and a

dip there, and short sharp yells, and low choking bubbling moans, as

the hissing fragments of the noble vessel we had seen, fell into the

sea, and the last of her gallant crew vanished forever beneath that

pale broad moon. We were alone; and once more all was dark, wild and

stormy. Fearfully had that ball sped fired by a dead man's hand. But

what is it that clings, black and doubled, across the fatal cannon,

dripping and heavy, and choking the scuppers with clotting gore, and

swaying to and fro with the motion of the vessel, like a bloody

fleece? "Who is it that was hit at the gun there?" "Mr. Nipper, the

boatswain, sir, the last shot has cut him in two."





More

;