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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJohn Deane Of Nottingham: Historic Adventures By Land And Sea - Chapter 24. Cutting-Out Expedition...
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John Deane Of Nottingham: Historic Adventures By Land And Sea - Chapter 24. Cutting-Out Expedition... Post by :Zoderami Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :939

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John Deane Of Nottingham: Historic Adventures By Land And Sea - Chapter 24. Cutting-Out Expedition...


It was no easy matter to find a place in which to write a letter on board. Jack, however, got a board for a desk, and, sitting down near a port on the deck, wrote to Ned Burdale's widow, according to the address given him, telling her of her husband's death, and directing her how at once to apply for her pension. He promised also to go and see her if he could possibly manage the journey, and bring a few things which Ned had left to her and her boy, begging her, if she ever moved away, to write to him at Nottingham, that he might know how to find her.

So busily were all hands employed in refitting the ship, aided by extra carpenters and riggers, that Jack was unable to obtain even an hour's leave on shore. Immediately the ship was ready for sea, Blue Peter was hoisted, the anchor was run up to the bows, and under all sail she stood down the Sound.

Captain Jumper was worthy of his name. A more active officer was not to be found; and he soon made himself as much feared by the French as were Admiral Benbow, Sir Cloudesley Shovel, Sir George Rooke, and Captain Dilkes, who was soon to become an Admiral. Under such a commander John Deane had many opportunities of distinguishing himself. A squadron, of which the "Weymouth" formed a part, was sent in to attack the Island of Rhe and Belleisle, accompanied by several bomb-vessels. Saint Martin's was bombarded, and several small towns and villages were burned and plundered. The loss the French suffered on this occasion induced them to go to great expense in defending their coast, the cost to them being far greater than was that to the English in attacking it. Jack volunteered on all occasions of this sort, and on all cutting-out expeditions, and had thus an opportunity of bringing himself before the notice of his captain. As the "Weymouth" was standing off and on the French coast, several vessels, supposed by their size to be privateers, were seen at anchor within a small harbour, guarded by a fort. As these vessels, if allowed to get out, would probably commit great havoc among the English merchant shipping, it was very important to destroy them. An expedition was accordingly planned by Captain Jumper for that purpose. It was likely, however, to be a dangerous one, as the boats could not get in without passing under the fire of the fort, while the privateers themselves were likely to be prepared with springs on their cables, and guns ready to receive their assailants. Captain Jumper therefore resolved, as is usual on such occasions, to send in only those who would volunteer for the expedition. He had no lack, however, of men ready to undertake it. The more daring and desperate, the more it suited the taste of his brave crew. He had himself proposed to go in command of it; but his second lieutenant begged that he might have that honour. Among the first who volunteered was John Deane. The captain ordered four boats to be prepared, carrying in all fifty men. John Deane was in the boat with the first lieutenant, Mr Cammock, the leader of the expedition. The third lieutenant and two master's mates commanded the other boats. To mislead the French, the frigate stood off shore as evening approached, so that they might be led to believe that she had gone altogether. The night being very dark, her return could not be discovered. Jack and his shipmates, in the meantime, were busily employed in re-sharpening their hangers, and looking to their pistols and ammunition, putting in fresh flints, and seeing that they were not likely to miss fire. By midnight the ship came off the mouth of the harbour. The wind was off shore, so that she could lay to, and, at the same time, no noise which might be made in lowering the boats would be heard on shore. The boats were quickly lowered and manned, and with muffled oars their brave leader, Lieutenant Cammock, pulled with steady strokes towards the harbour. The outermost vessels were to be first attacked. While two of the boats boarded one, the other two were to attack the next. Their aim was to pass the fort without being discovered. If they were seen, they were to pull rapidly by, in the hopes that in the darkness the shot might not hit them.

Desperate as the work in which they were engaged was likely to prove, John Deane felt a strange pleasure in the undertaking.

The dim outline of the shore was seen before them, and on one side the straight line of the fort appeared up against the sky, though as yet the masts of the vessels could not be discerned. There was no doubt, however, of their being on the right course. Not a word was spoken. The men scarcely dared to breathe as they pulled on, so anxious were they to avoid discovery. Like a snake coiling its way among the grass, the line of boats advanced steadily up the harbour. The fort was passed. Deane thought he could hear the footsteps of the sentry as he passed up and down; but as yet they were not seen or heard. Probably not dreaming of an enemy approaching the harbour, he had neglected to turn his eyes down towards the entrance. Now he burst forth in a song about his distant home and its vine-clad hills. Jack could almost hear the words as they came floating over the still water. The boats had got some way up the harbour, and now the vessels which were to be attacked appeared before them. Suddenly a sharp report of a musket was heard. It was fired from the fort. The sounds of the oars borne from the harbour must have reached the sentry's ears. Another shot succeeded it from the same direction. The boats glided rapidly on. Lights were seen on board the vessels, and several sharp reports of muskets told them they were discovered. Not a moment was to be lost. The first vessel was a large ship, probably mounting between twenty and thirty guns. Mr Cammock ordered the boat next to him to board her along with him, while the two latter boats were to attack the vessel astern of her, which was not much inferior in size. The Frenchmen, roused from their sleep, started up on deck to meet the English climbing up the sides with their cutlasses in their teeth. Jack, following Mr Cammock, was among the first on board. They were met by a party of the French, led by one of their officers. On every side pistols were flashing and steel was clashing furiously.

"Clear the decks of them, my lads!" cried Mr Cammock, as with his hanger he rushed towards those who opposed him.

The Frenchmen gave way, so furious and sudden was the attack. Some leaped overboard, others jumped down below, and others cried for quarter. The lieutenant ordering the crew of the other boat to cut the cable and make sail, cried out to Jack and his own boat's crew to follow him, that they might take the next vessel. All obeyed with alacrity; but the work was far more serious than that which had just been performed, for the Frenchmen were on the alert and prepared to receive the borders. In spite, however, of the pikes thrust at them, and the pistols fired in their faces, the English climbed up the sides and made good their footing on deck. Jack, with his trusty hanger in his hand, kept close to the side of the brave lieutenant. The Frenchmen gathered thickly before them, and a tall figure, whom by his dress Jack saw was an officer, led them on, assailing Mr Cammock with great fury. His sword was about to descend on the head of the English lieutenant, when Jack, rushing between them, received the blow on his own blade, returning it with such interest that the French officer stretched his length on the deck. The fall of their leader discouraged the rest of the crew. Although they once or twice rallied, they were driven forward. Many were cut down, and others cried out for quarter. There was no time to be lost in getting the vessels out, for it was very evident that a greater number of the crew was on shore; and from the lights which appeared on every side, and the shouts which reached them, it was probable that they were coming off to the assistance of their shipmates. The next vessel appeared to have still fewer people on board.

"We cannot get her off," observed Mr Cammock, "but we can burn her, perhaps."

"I will do it!" cried Jack. "Who will follow me?"

Several men instantly volunteered, and Jack, jumping into the boat, led the way on board. The Frenchmen, perhaps, were not expecting an attack, for they made no resistance. Jack had snatched a slow-match as he left the other vessel. With this, light was set to different parts of the ship on board which he now found himself. The astonished crew were either drunk or frightened, and did nothing to put out the flames, but were seen to lower a boat and jump into her. The work accomplished, Jack returned to the last vessel which had been taken just as the cable was cut and sail was made on her to carry her out of the harbour. So rapidly did the flames of the vessel which had been set on fire burst forth, that even she with difficulty escaped from them, while, as they glided down the harbour, they were seen to extend to several other vessels near.

"Deane, you have rendered an important service to-night," said Mr Cammock, as Jack returned on board.

"I can make a favourable report of you to the captain, if we get safe out of this, as I hope we may."

Scarcely a quarter of an hour had passed since the first vessel was attacked, and four prizes, the reward of British valour, were now being carried off down the harbour with a considerable number of prisoners on board. They were not, however, to escape without molestation. The other vessels which had hitherto escaped the flames, opened their fire upon them, as did the fort; but the number of vessels, which kept some little way apart from each other, prevented the French gunners from taking very good aim. Several shots, however, struck the prizes. The French prisoners on board were the chief sufferers. They, poor fellows! shrieked out to their countrymen, entreating them not to fire, as nothing they could do would stop the desperate Englishmen from carrying off the vessels. Their voices, however, were probably not heard, and their entreaties were certainly not attended to. The breeze, blowing directly down the harbour, carried the prizes quickly clear of the fort, and in a short time they were alongside the "Weymouth," which made sail, and stood off with them towards the English coast.

Jack's heart beat high when the next morning he was summoned on the quarter-deck, where the captain and several of his officers were standing together. Jack stood hat in hand before the captain.

"Mr Cammock has spoken highly of your coolness and courage last night, John Deane," he said. "He tells me also that you saved his life by coming between him and an officer who would have cut him down. From what has been told me, I believe you will do honour to the quarter-deck, and I will therefore from this day rate you as a master's mate. It is the first step in the ratlines, and I have no doubt, if you go on as you have begun, that you will in time reach the top."

Jack's heart beat high at these words. He had hoped some day to become an officer, but he had not expected so soon to attain his wishes, and he was determined the captain's words should be verified, and that he would lose no opportunity of distinguishing himself. He had already a fair store of prize-money, so that he was able, without writing home, to fit himself out as became an officer, not so difficult in those days as in later years. He had no great fancy for gold lace suits, but a good serviceable coat and cocked hat was more according to his taste. He could now, however, write home with some degree of satisfaction, to say that he had become an officer, and that he hoped by sticking to the service to rise in the profession he had chosen. He certainly had a longing at times to go home and see those he loved so dearly. Often a vision of Alethea rose up before him, but still not without some doubts as to the position he held with her.

It would be impossible to describe all the exploits performed by Captain Jumper and his brave crew during the time the "Weymouth" was in commission. Few ships remained a shorter time in harbour than she did, and the crew might with a show of reason have complained of the hard work they had to go through. They were, however, well satisfied with the amount of prize-money which fell to their lot. Jack, in his new position, got a good share of it, and found himself better supplied with cash than he had ever before been in his life.

Some time passed away, when one day the "Weymouth" was standing towards the French coast in the direction the wind blew to Saint Martin's, the scene of some of her former exploits, when two vessels were seen to leeward. From the cut of their sails and general appearance they were known to be French.

Every stratagem is considered lawful in warfare. Captain Jumper therefore hoisted the French ensign, and as he was running down before the wind, the cut of his own sails could not so clearly be discerned, by which the character of the "Weymouth" would have been discovered. The two vessels for some time made no attempt to escape, believing probably that the stranger in sight was really French, and wishing for some reason or other to speak her. By yawing occasionally--that is moving the ship's head from one side to the other--the French ensign was visible to the two vessels to leeward. Thus the "Weymouth" was able to get within gunshot of them before her character was discovered. Quickly bracing up her yards, she poured a broadside into her two opponents, which were close together. They were found to be two large galleys, which carried some twenty guns on the upper-deck, and several on the quarter-deck, while between-decks were small ports, out of which their oars projected. They now began to work their oars, in the hopes of placing themselves on the quarters of the "Weymouth," but before one of them could do so, so tremendous a fire was poured into her that she was rendered unmanageable, many of the unhappy galley-slaves having apparently been killed, and her rudder shot away. The other galley attempted to make her escape, but the "Weymouth," following her, treated her in the same way that she had done her consort, and she was compelled to strike her colours.

Boats were now lowered to take possession of the prizes. Deane was sent on board the first, which lay almost a wreck on the waters. As he clambered up the sides he gazed with horror on the scene of slaughter which the decks presented. Numbers of the unhappy galley-slaves, chained to their benches, lay cut in two, with limbs shot off, and fearfully mangled in every possible way. Groans and cries ascended from the survivors, though many had already, more fortunate than them, ceased to breathe. A number of the crew had also been killed and wounded, and the galley herself appeared to be in a sinking state. Deane made a signal to the "Weymouth" to this effect, and begged that other boats might be sent to rescue the crew. Calling on those who had charge of the slaves, he ordered them immediately to knock off their shackles, he and his men holding pistols to their heads, as they seemed rather disinclined to obey the order. As soon as the poor fellows were released, he had them at once placed in the boats, greatly to the anger of the French crew, who considered that they ought first to have been carried off. It is true that many of the slaves were ruffians of the lowest order, sent to the galleys for their crimes; but Jack knew well, also, that many were Huguenots, whose only crime was adhering to the Protestant faith. At that moment it was difficult to discriminate between them, and he therefore determined to carry off all at once. The first cargo were quickly conveyed on board the "Weymouth," when the boats returned for the survivors of the crew, with whom Deane and his men had remained. He could not help looking anxiously for the return of the boats, for every moment the water was rising higher and higher in the hold of the prize. Again and again he urged the crew to man the pumps, and endeavour to keep their vessel afloat, but they were in no way disposed to do this, probably fearing that if the English returned in time, they might save her altogether from sinking, and carry her off as a prize. This the Frenchmen were anxious that their conquerors should not do.

Once more, as the boats were seen approaching the galley for the remainder of the crew, Deane went round the between-decks to ascertain if any of the wounded slaves still remained alive. A low groan reached his ears from a man who lay stretched out under one of the benches. The chain was still round his leg. Deane raised up the man's head. Though wounded, he was still perfectly conscious, and had become aware of the dreadful fate awaiting him had he been overlooked. Deane shouted to those on deck to come to his assistance. By the sound which the water made rushing into the hold of the vessel, he was very sure she would not float many minutes longer. To leave the poor man was contrary to his nature, and yet to release him without knocking off the shackle was impossible. The glance he had of the countenance of the wounded man convinced him that he was not one of the low class of criminals which formed a portion of the gang of galley-slaves, but that he was probably a Huguenot. Deane heard those on deck shouting to the boats to make haste as the galley was about to sink. At that moment one of his own men, finding that he was not on deck, sprung down below to look for him. Deane at once ordered him to bring the French master-at-arms with his keys or chisel to emancipate the unfortunate prisoner. The Frenchman pretended not to understand him, but a pistol placed at his head quickly made him come below and take off the shackle which held the slave to the bench. Jack in a moment, bearing the rescued man in his arms, leaped up on deck just as the boats came alongside. The French crew made a spring into them, for already they felt the galley sinking beneath their feet. Jack had only just time to lower the man down and spring in after him before the galley, rolling heavily, settled down under the water. The boats rapidly pulled away from her, and in another minute she and the mangled remains of humanity with which her decks were covered were hid beneath the waves.

The rescued galley-slave warmly expressed his thanks to Deane for having preserved his life. He had been struck on the head by a piece of one of the oars shattered by a shot, and stunned. Little blood having flowed from the wound, his strength was unimpaired.

"You have saved my life by your activity, young sir," he said, in broken English, "and I am grateful to you; but, alas! when too probably all I once loved on earth, my property, and my friends, will never again be restored to me, I have, I own, but little to live for!"

"Cheer up, sir," answered Jack; "your Huguenot countrymen are always welcome in England, and I doubt not that you will find many friends among them; and at all events the English will receive you as one, if you are, as I conclude, also a Huguenot."

"Yes, indeed I am!" was the answer. "The faith of the Gospel has sustained me under all the trials and hardships I have gone through. Though at times I have been cast down and fainted, I have once more gained courage and determination to await calmly whatever Providence has had in store for me."

On getting on board, Deane took the Huguenot to the captain, and explained who he was. He, therefore, and others whom he named, were separated from the rest of the prisoners, and treated as friends rather than as captured enemies. Some of the slaves were, however, ruffians, whom it was evident it would not be safe to leave at large. They therefore were treated as the rest of the prisoners.

As the other galley was taken possession of, a ship was seen standing out from under the land towards the "Weymouth," attracted probably by the firing, and the English seamen exultingly hoped that they should have another action to fight, and gain another prize. The Frenchman, however, on discerning the fate of the two galleys, again kept away, and ran back towards the land, taking shelter under the guns of the fort, from which it would have been difficult to cut him out. The "Weymouth," with her prize, now stood up Channel. As she had now been several years in commission, great hopes were entertained that she would be paid off. Her crew were not disappointed; and, being ordered into Portsmouth, those who had lived and fought for so long together were once again separated and scattered in all directions.

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