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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 4
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The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 4 Post by :erika1959 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3375

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The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 4

CHAPTER FOUR

As I walked up the hill towards my cottage many people stopped, surprised at seeing me dripping wet, carrying a child and leading a sheep, and asked me all sorts of questions about the wreck; but I would not delay to answer them, except very briefly, or I should never have got home. I hoped that Susan would not have heard of the ship going down, still I half expected to meet her coming to learn if I had escaped; and I thought of the joy it would be to her to find that I was alive and well. As I drew near I saw that the cottage door was open; still Susan did not come out. My heart began to sink within me. I turned the sheep into the garden, and shut the wicket gate. I did not mind just then if the poor animal ate up all the flowers and vegetables; it deserved the best I could give it for the service it had rendered the little boy in my arms. No one was in the outer room, but I heard voices, and, opening the door of Susan's room, I saw Mrs Leslie and the two young ladies, with my sister Jane, standing by Susan's bed. Jane, catching sight of me, rushed out of the room and threw her arms round my neck.

"Thank Heaven, you are alive, Ben!" she exclaimed. "It will bring Susan to; don't be afraid. The captain has gone off for the doctor. She saw the ship go down, and went off in a faint, thinking that all on board must be lost. I, fortunately, was with her. The captain, who was looking through his glass at the time, also saw the ship go over, and came down at once with the ladies to comfort her, he intending to go off to Spithead to learn all about the matter, and to hear if you had been saved. He, however, was first to go round to send up the doctor, and that was the reason he missed you."

"But, Ben," she asked, "is this the child Susan was telling me about? And the poor young lady, what has become of her?"

I just told Jane what had happened; but I could not say much, for all the time I was speaking I felt ready to drop, thinking that maybe Susan was gone altogether, but that she had not the heart to tell me so. I saw, however, that the ladies were burning feathers and holding salts to her; and at last Mrs Leslie came out, and after I had told her all I had said to Jane, with which she was much interested, she begged I would not be cast down, as she hoped my wife would soon again come round. She then went back to Susan's room, but soon returned.

"You may go in," she said, "and maybe, if she opens her eyes, the sight of you will do her more good than anything else."

I did as she bid me, but as I leaned over Susan my heart sank, for she did not seem to breathe at all, and looked so pale that I thought she must really be dead. Still the young ladies kept applying the burnt feathers and salts, and then one of them held a small looking-glass for a moment over her mouth, and showed me that there was breath on it, and that made me feel a little less miserable. At last the doctor came; he felt her pulse, and looked very grave; then he opened her mouth, and, having given her something, stood watching its effects.

Soon I could see that she was beginning to breathe, a slight colour having come back to her cheeks, and then she opened her eyes, but she seemed not to be looking at anything. Presently, however, she began to move them, and uttering a faint cry she sat up, and, throwing her arms around my neck, burst into tears.

"She will do now very well," said the doctor; and he and the ladies left the room. In a little time, however, they came back and called me out, telling Jane to go and sit with my wife. The doctor showed me some physic bottles on the mantelpiece, and, saying that Jane knew what to do with them, he began to make inquiries about the wreck and the little boy, and how I had saved him.

I found that the ladies had got off his wet clothes, which Jane had hung up to dry before the fire, while they had wrapped him up in their shawls. The only thing which the ladies found in his pockets was a little case. On opening it they saw that it contained a picture--a likeness of the child himself, just as he was then dressed. It was but slightly wet, as the water had not had time to soak it, so it was soon dried.

"It must be carefully preserved, as it may assist to prove who he is," observed Mrs Leslie, though how that was to be was more than I could tell. "It is slightly done in water-colours, evidently by a lady," observed Mrs Leslie.

She examined it carefully, but could find no name either on the picture or the case. It was placed on the mantelpiece to show to the captain as soon as he arrived. Jane then took the child in to see Susan, who kissed him again and again, as if he were her own child restored to her, and from that moment she felt towards him almost as if she was his mother. Of course I had to go over the whole story again, but I could only narrate what I knew.

"We must wait to hear more till the captain comes back," said Mrs Leslie. "He will be truly thankful to find that you have escaped, Ben, and then we will consider what must be done with this little child. Perhaps his father or mother may have escaped and will claim him, or the poor young lady who you say took him on board, though you think she was not his mother."

"Please, ma'am," I said, "though I cannot claim any merit for saving the child--for it was the sheep saved him--I would like that my wife should have charge of him, and I am sure she would, for she said so just now. I say it at once for fear anybody else should ask to have him and I suspect that there will be a good many who will make the offer."

"We will hear what the captain thinks," said Mrs Leslie. "But you certainly have a better claim than anybody else, though, as I said before, probably some of his friends will come and claim him."

I thought so too, but I knew in the meantime that it would please Susan greatly to have charge of the little fellow.

At last the ladies, leaving Jane with us, returned home; and the doctor went to visit his other patients, saying he would look in again during the evening.

By that time Susan was able to sit up and tell me more about the young lady. She had got up very early in the morning, and, begging to have some breakfast for herself and the little boy, said that she wanted to pay a visit to a ship at Spithead, and would be back in the evening. She had gone away, taking her bag with her, but left a letter with a sovereign in it, and a few words to the effect that she wished to pay her rent and board in advance. This, Susan thought, she did that it might not be supposed that she was going away without paying.

I went down to the inn, at which we understood the young lady had left her trunk, but I could hear nothing of it; the landlord said that no such person as I described had come there. I made inquiries at other public-houses, thinking that there might be some mistake, but I got the same answer.

Late in the evening Captain Leslie came back, and, shaking me by the hand, told me that he had been afraid I was lost, and how glad he was I had escaped. He had been over to Portsmouth, and had visited the _Victory_, and other ships on board which the people from the wreck had been carried, inquiring everywhere for me. He had heard a great deal about the wreck and the way in which many had been saved. I will mention what he then told me, and what I picked up from others.

Out of nearly a thousand souls who had been alive and well on board the ship in the morning, between seven and eight hundred were now lifeless. Besides our gallant admiral, who had been drowned while sitting writing in his cabin, three of the lieutenants, including the one whose obstinacy had produced the disaster, the larger number of the midshipmen, the surgeon, master, and the major and several other officers of marines, were drowned, as were some ladies who had just before come on board. Sixty of the marines had gone on shore in the morning, a considerable number of the rest who were on the upper deck were saved, but the greater number of the crew, many of whom were in the hold stowing away the rum casks, had perished; indeed, out of the ship's whole complement, only seventy seamen escaped with their lives.

I was sorry to hear that Mr Williams, the carpenter, whose advice, had it been followed, would have saved the ship, was drowned; his body was picked up directly afterwards, and carried on board the _Victory_, where it was laid on the hearth before the galley-fire, in the hopes that he might recover, but life was extinct.

Captain Waghorn, though he could not swim, was saved. After trying to warn the admiral, he rushed across the deck and leaped into the sea, calling others to follow his example. A young gentleman, Mr Pierce, was near him.

"Can you swim?" he asked.

"No," was the answer.

"Then you must try, my lad," he said, and hurled him into the water.

Two men, fortunately good swimmers, followed. One of them getting hold of the captain, supported him, and swam away from the ship; the other fell upon Mr Pierce, of whom he got hold and supported above water till the ship settled, when he placed him on the maintop, and both were saved. The captain, in the meantime, was struggling in the water, and was with great difficulty kept afloat. A boat, with our seventh lieutenant, Mr Philip Durham, had on the very instant the ship went over come alongside, when she was drawn down, and all in her were thrown into the water. Mr Durham had just time to throw off his coat before the ship sank and left him floating among men and hammocks. A drowning marine caught hold of his waistcoat, and drew him several times under water. Finding that he could not free himself, and that both would be drowned, he threw his legs round a hammock, and, unbuttoning his waistcoat with one hand, he allowed it to be drawn off, and then swam for the main-shrouds. When there he caught sight of the captain struggling in the water, and a boat coming to take him off he refused assistance, till Captain Waghorn and the seaman supporting him were received on board. The captain's son, poor lad, who had been below, lost his life.

I heard that the body of the marine was washed on shore ten days afterwards with the lieutenant's waistcoat round his arm, and a pencil-case, having his initials on it, found safe in the pocket. There was only one woman saved out of the three hundred on board, and I believe she was the one I had helped out of the port; her name was Horn, and I was glad to find that her husband was saved also. It was curious that the youngest midshipman, Mr Crispo, and probably one of the smallest children, our little chap, should have been saved, while so many strong men were drowned.

I have known many a man come to grief through having too much grog aboard; but one of the midshipmen, who had taken more than was good for him, having overslept himself at the Star and Garter on the beach at Portsmouth, when he awoke in the morning found that his ship was at the bottom, and most of his messmates drowned.

Our first lieutenant, Mr Saunders, who had been busy in the wings, was drowned; his body, with his gold watch and some money in his pocket, was picked up, floating under the stern of an Indiaman off the Motherbank.

Of the three brothers who owned the sloop, two perished and one was saved. It was owing to her being lashed alongside that the ship righted, or she would have probably remained on her side. I was a good swimmer myself, and I should, had I not been, have lost my life long ago; and I have often thought what a pity it is that all seamen do not learn to swim. Many more might have been saved; but those who could not swim got hold of the men who could, and all were drowned together. If all had struck out from the ship when they found her going over, a greater number would have been picked up; instead of that, afraid to trust themselves in the water, they stuck by her, and they and a large number who got into the launch were drawn down with the ship, and all perished. The foreman of the plumbers, whose boat was lashed head and stern, was with all his men drawn into the vortex as the ship went down, and not one of them escaped. It was a sad sight, ten days or a fortnight afterwards, to see the bodies which were picked up; some were buried in Kingston churchyard, near Portsmouth, and a large number in an open spot to the east of Ryde. Some time afterwards a monument was put up in Kingston churchyard, to the memory of the brave Admiral Kempenfelt and his ship's company. A court of inquiry was held, when Captain Waghorn was honourably acquitted, and it came out, that in so rotten a state was the side of the ship, that some large portion of her frame must have given way, and it is only a wonder that she did not go down before. When I come to think that she had upwards of one thousand tons of dead weight and spirits on board, it is surprising that she should have held together.

An attempt was made soon afterwards to raise the _Royal George_, and very nearly succeeded, as she was lifted up and moored some way from the spot where she went down; but a heavy gale coming on, some of the lighters sank, and the gear gave way, and she was again lost. It was whispered that on account of her rotten state the Admiralty had no wish to have her afloat, but that might have been scandal.

Having now said everything which people will care to hear about the fine old ship, I will go on with the history of the little boy saved from the wreck.

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CHAPTER FIVE I must pass over the next seven years of my life and that of my young charge Harry, for that was the name Susan was certain the young lady called him. He sometimes spoke of himself as "Jack Tar," but probably he had heard his friends call him so, because he was dressed like a little sailor. We were puzzled what surname to give him. The captain and Mrs Leslie and the young ladies and Susan and I talked it over, and at last settled to call him George, after the old ship; one of the
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CHAPTER THREE What a change it was from the quiet cottage, with my sweet Susan by my side, to the lower-deck of the big ship, crowded with people, not only her own seamen and marines, but some hundreds of visitors, women and children! some of them the honest wives of the men, but others drunken, swearing, loud-talking creatures--a disgrace to their sex. Quarrelling and fighting and the wildest uproar were taking place; and then there were a number of Jews with pinchbeck watches, and all sorts of trumpery wares, which they were eager to exchange for poor Jack's golden guineas.
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