The Merchantman And The Pirate

North Latitude 23 1/2, Longitude East 113; the time March of this same

year; the wind southerly; the port Whampoa in the Canton River. Ships at

anchor reared their tall masts, here and there; and the broad stream was

enlivened and colored by junks and boats of all sizes and vivid hues,

propelled on the screw principle by a great scull at the stern, with

projecting handles for the crew to work; and at times a gorgeous mandarin

boat, with two great glaring eyes set in the bows, came flying, rowed

with forty paddles by an armed crew, whose shields hung on the gunwale

and flashed fire in the sunbeams; the mandarin, in conical and buttoned

hat, sitting on the top of his cabin calmly smoking Paradise, alias

opium, while his gong boomed and his boat flew fourteen miles an hour,

and all things scuttled out of his celestial way. And there, looking

majestically down on all these water ants, the huge _Agra_, cynosure of

so many loving eyes and loving hearts in England, lay at her moorings;

homeward bound.

Her tea not being yet on board, the ship's hull floated high as a castle,

and to the subtle, intellectual, doll-faced, bolus-eyed people, that

sculled to and fro, busy as bees, though looking forked mushrooms, she

sounded like a vast musical shell: for a lusty harmony of many mellow

voices vibrated in her great cavities, and made the air ring cheerily

around her. The vocalists were the Cyclops, to judge by the tremendous

thumps that kept clean time to their sturdy tune. Yet it was but human

labor, so heavy and so knowing, that it had called in music to help. It

was the third mate and his gang completing his floor to receive the

coming tea chests. Yesterday he had stowed his dunnage, many hundred

bundles of light flexible canes from Sumatra and Malacca; on these he had

laid tons of rough saltpetre, in 200 lb. gunny-bags: and was now mashing

it to music, bags and all. His gang of fifteen, naked to the waist,

stood in line, with huge wooden beetles, called commanders, and lifted

them high and brought them down on the nitre in cadence with true

nautical power and unison, singing as follows, with ponderous bump on the

last note in each bar:--

And so up to fifteen, when the stave was concluded with a shrill "Spell,

oh!" and the gang relieved streaming with perspiration. When the

saltpetre was well mashed, they rolled ton waterbutts on it, till the

floor was like a billiard table. A fleet of chop boats then began to

arrive, so many per day, with the tea chests. Mr. Grey proceeded to lay

the first tier on his saltpetre floor, and then built the chests, tier

upon tier, beginning at the sides, and leaving in the middle a lane

somewhat narrower than a tea chest. Then he applied a screw jack to the

chests on both sides, and so enlarged his central aperture, and forced

the remaining tea chests in; and behold the enormous cargo packed as

tight as ever shopkeeper packed a box--19,806 chests, 60 half chests, 50

quarter chests.

While Mr. Grey was contemplating his work with singular satisfaction, a

small boat from Canton came alongside, and Mr. Tickell, midshipman, ran

up the side, skipped on the quarter-deck, saluted it first, and then the

first mate; and gave him a line from the captain, desiring him to take

the ship down to Second Bar--for her water--at the turn of the tide.

Two hours after receipt of this order the ship swung to the ebb.

Instantly Mr. Sharpe unmoored, and the _Agra_ began her famous voyage,

with her head at right angles to her course; for the wind being foul, all

Sharpe could do was to set his topsails, driver, and jib, and keep her in

the tide way, and clear of the numerous craft, by backing or filling as

the case required; which he did with considerable dexterity, making the

sails steer the helm for the nonce: he crossed the Bar at sunset, and

brought to with the best bower anchor in five fathoms and a half. Here

they began to take in their water, and on the fifth day the six-oared gig

was ordered up to Canton for the captain. The next afternoon he passed

the ship in her, going down the river, to Lin Tin, to board the Chinese

admiral for his chop, or permission to leave China. All night the _Agra_

showed three lights at her mizzen peak for him, and kept a sharp lookout.

But he did not come: he was having a very serious talk with the Chinese

admiral; at daybreak, however, the gig was reported in sight: Sharpe told

one of the midshipmen to call the boatswain and man the side. Soon the

gig ran alongside; two of the ship's boys jumped like monkeys over the

bulwarks, lighting, one on the main channels, the other on the mid-ship

port, and put the side ropes assiduously in the captain's hands; he

bestowed a slight paternal smile on them, the first the imps had ever

received from an officer, and went lightly up the sides. The moment his

foot touched the deck, the boatswain gave a frightful shrill whistle; the

men at the sides uncovered, the captain saluted the quarter-deck, and all

the officers saluted him, which he returned, and stepping for a moment to

the weather side of his deck, gave the loud command, "All hands heave

anchor." He then directed Mr. Sharpe to get what sail he could on the

ship, the wind being now westerly, and dived into his cabin.

The boatswain piped three shrill pipes, and "All hands up anchor" was

thrice repeated forward, followed by private admonitions, "Rouse and

bitt!" "Show a leg!" etc., and up tumbled the crew with "homeward bound"

written on their tanned faces.

(Pipe.) "Up all hammocks!"

In ten minutes the ninety and odd hammocks were all stowed neatly in the

netting, and covered with a snowy hammock cloth; and the hands were

active, unbitting the cable, shipping the capstan bars, etc.

"All ready below, sir," cried a voice.

"Man the bars," returned Mr. Sharpe from the quarter-deck. "Play up,

fifer. Heave away!"

Out broke the merry fife with a rhythmical tune, and tramp, tramp, tramp

went a hundred and twenty feet round and round, and, with brawny chests

pressed tight against the capstan bars, sixty fine fellows walked the

ship up to her anchor, drowning the fife at intervals with their sturdy

song, as pat to their feet as an echo:

Heave with a will ye jolly boys,

Heave around:

We're off from Chainee, jolly boys,

Homeward bound.

"Short stay apeak, sir," roars the boatswain from forward.

"Unship the bars. Way aloft. Loose sails. Let fall!"

The ship being now over her anchor, and the topsails set, the capstan

bars were shipped again, the men all heaved with a will, the messenger

grinned, the anchor was torn out of China with a mighty heave, and then

run up with a luff tackle and secured; the ship's head cast to port:

"Up with a jib! man the topsail halyards! all hands make sail!" Round

she came slow and majestically; the sails filled, and the good ship bore

away for England.

She made the Bogue forts in three or four tacks, and there she had to

come to again for another chop, China being a place as hard to get into

as Heaven, and to get out of as--Chancery. At three P. M. she was at

Macao, and hove to four miles from the land, to take in her passengers.

A gun was fired from the forecastle. No boats came off. Sharpe began to

fret: for the wind, though light, had now got to the N.W., and they were

wasting it. After a while the captain came on deck, and ordered all the

carronades to be scaled. The eight heavy reports bellowed the great

ship's impatience across the water, and out pulled two boats with the

passengers. While they were coming, Dodd sent and ordered the gunner to

load the carronades with shot, and secure and apron them. . . .

The _Agra_ had already shown great sailing qualities: the log was hove at

sundown and gave eleven knots; so that with a good breeze abaft few

fore-and-aft-rigged pirates could overhaul her. And this wind carried

her swiftly past one nest of them at all events; the Ladrone Isles. At

nine P. M. all the lights were ordered out. Mrs. Beresford had brought a

novel on board, and refused to comply; the master-at-arms insisted; she

threatened him with the vengeance of the Company, the premier, and the

nobility and gentry of the British realm. The master-at-arms, finding he

had no chance in argument, doused the glim--pitiable resource of a weak

disputant--then basely fled the rhetorical consequences.

The northerly breeze died out, and light variable winds baffled the ship.

It was the 6th April ere she passed the Macclesfield Bank in latitude 16.

And now they sailed for many days out of sight of land; Dodd's chest

expanded: his main anxiety at this part of the voyage lay in the state

cabin; of all the perils of the sea none shakes a sailor like fire. He

set a watch day and night on that spoiled child.

On the 1st of May they passed the great Nantuna, and got among the

Bornese and Malay Islands: at which the captain's glass began to

sweep the horizon again: and night and day at the dizzy

foretop-gallant-masthead he perched an eye.

They crossed the line in longitude 107, with a slight breeze, but soon

fell into the Dolddrums. A dead calm, and nothing to do but kill

time. . . .

After lying a week like a dead log on the calm but heaving waters came a

few light puffs in the upper air and inflated the topsails only: the ship

crawled southward, the crew whistling for wind.

At last, one afternoon, it began to rain, and after the rain came a gale

from the eastward. The watchful skipper saw it purple the water to

windward, and ordered the topsails to be reefed and the lee ports closed.

This last order seemed an excess of precaution; but Dodd was not yet

thoroughly acquainted with his ship's qualities: and the hard cash round

his neck made him cautious. The lee ports were closed, all but one, and

that was lowered. Mr. Grey was working a problem in his cabin, and

wanted a little light and a little air, so he just dropped his port; but,

not to deviate from the spirit of his captain's instructions, he fastened

a tackle to it; that he might have mechanical force to close it with

should the ship lie over.

Down came the gale with a whoo, and made all crack. The ship lay over

pretty much, and the sea poured in at Mr. Grey's port. He applied his

purchase to close it. But though his tackle gave him the force of a

dozen hands, he might as well have tried to move a mountain: on the

contrary, the tremendous sea rushed in and burst the port wide open.

Grey, after a vain struggle with its might, shrieked for help; down

tumbled the nearest hands, and hauled on the tackle in vain. Destruction

was rushing on the ship, and on them first. But meantime the captain,

with a shrewd guess at the general nature of the danger he could not see,

had roared out, "Slack the main sheet!" The ship righted, and the port

came flying to, and terror-stricken men breathed hard, up to their waists

in water and floating boxes. Grey barred the unlucky port, and went aft,

drenched in body, and wrecked in mind, to report his own fault. He found

the captain looking grim as death. He told him, almost crying, what he

had done, and how he had miscalculated the power of the water.

Dodd looked and saw his distress. "Let it be a lesson sir," said he,

sternly. "How many ships have been lost by this in fair weather, and not

a man saved to tell how the craft was fooled away?"

"Captain, bid me fling myself over the side, and I'll do it."

"Humph! I'm afraid I can't afford to lose a good officer for a fault


It blew hard all night and till twelve the next day. The _Agra_ showed

her weak point: she rolled abominably. A dirty night came on. At eight

bells Mr. Grey touched by Dodd's clemency, and brimful of zeal, reported

a light in Mrs. Beresford's cabin. It had been put out as usual by the

master-at-arms; but the refractory one had relighted it.

"Go and take it away," said Dodd.

Soon screams were heard from the cabin. "Oh! mercy! mercy! I will not

be drowned in the dark."

Dodd, who had kept clear of her so long, went down and tried to reassure


"Oh, the tempest! the tempest!" she cried. "AND TO BE DROWNED IN THE

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