Sea Stories

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 afterwards, said: "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 here." 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, and said: "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 you hear?" "Aye, aye, sir," answered the boatswain. "Fire." 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 doleful howl. "A slaver, sir, and our shot has struck him," cried Handlead, the gunner. "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. II. 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 you want"-- "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 made of. "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 surgeon." 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 with him. "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?" "Reefpoint, sir." "Gracious God! what are you doing here youngster? You're not wounded, I hope." "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 arms. "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." III. 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 deck. "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, do you?" "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 friends." 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 it." "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 accordingly did. 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 favor." "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 fearful odds." "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 friend." "Don't mention it, my dear boy, neither of us will fight any the worse for it." 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." IV. "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 pikes?" "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 described. "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 well--fire!" 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 target. "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 ours." "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. V. 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 beings. "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 consequence. "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 slaver's grave. 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 together. "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." VI. 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 with him. "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 therefrom. "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 occurring?" We spoke for some time on this subject, and my friends grew so warm that many bitter speeches were made, and the conversation became unpleasant. "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 board?" "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 him. "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. VII. "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 once more. "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 leadsman. 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 out: "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 drunk." "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 boots." "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.

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