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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 6
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The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 6 Post by :erika1959 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1724

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The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 6

CHAPTER SIX

Harry had been greatly taken with Jerry, and seemed to miss him very much. He used to go out most days to play with his schoolfellow, the captain's son; but while Jerry was with us he preferred stopping and listening to his yarns. The time, however, for both the boys to return to school was now approaching. I saw that Harry had something on his mind.

"Father," he said, "am I not old enough to go to sea? and, if I am, had I not better be looking out for a ship?"

"As we are no longer fighting the French, there are not many put in commission," I observed; "so maybe you will have to wait for some time."

As it happened, the very next day I got an order to join the _Nymph_, thirty-six gun frigate, just commenced fitting out at Portsmouth, commanded by Captain Edward Pellew.

"So soon, Ben!" said Susan, looking pale as soon as she saw the letter; "I thought you would have had a longer spell on shore; but I am thankful it's peace time, and I shall not be trembling at the thoughts of your having to fight the French."

"That's the very thing we would rather be doing, my dear girl," I answered, smiling, and trying to raise her spirits.

I at once went up to the captain and told him.

"I am glad of it," he answered. "There is not a better officer in the service than Captain Pellew, and, as he is a friend of mine, I have no doubt that I shall be able to get him to take the two youngsters. I will go over to Portsmouth this very day and see about it."

As I had to join at once, the captain took me over in his wherry. In about a couple of hours he came on board, and told me it was all settled, and he should trust to me to look after his son as well as Harry, as he was sure I should do my best for the lad.

I had taken lodgings for Susan, and she joined me two days afterwards, bringing Harry with her. She had plenty to do in preparing his outfit, and that kept her mind from dwelling too much on our approaching parting. Harry was the first midshipman to join, and he had the advantage of seeing the ship fitted out from the beginning. The captain brought Reginald over about a week later, and Harry was proud in being able to teach him all he knew. He had thus as it were got the lead, and he kept it, though he did not let Reginald feel that he thought himself superior to him in any way. The two lads were fast friends, as they had always been, for both were honest, kind-hearted, and good-tempered. There was no difficulty in getting hands; and as I knew where to find the best men, we soon had a first-rate ship's company without much pressing.

We stood down Channel, bound out for Lisbon, with some official characters on board. The captain's great aim was to get the ship's company into good order, and we were continually exercising the guns and shortening and making sail. This was an advantage to the youngsters, as they learnt much faster than they would otherwise have done. They used to come to my cabin, and I taught them all I could, though with my duties I had not much time to myself. I had advised Harry not to call me "father"; not that he should have been ashamed of his father being a boatswain had I been his father, but, as I was not, I thought it would be better for him to be independent. I felt for him the same as if he was my son. He and young Leslie got on very well in the berth, and, young as they were, gained the respect of their messmates. Thus a year or more passed by; we had visited Cadiz, and had taken a trip up the Mediterranean, when we were ordered home with despatches. One day I observed Harry was looking less merry than usual; I asked him what was the matter. At first he did not like to tell me. At last he said--

"The truth is, father, that my messmates have found out that I was saved when the _Royal George went down, and that Saint George is not my real name."

"Never mind that, Harry," I answered; "you have as much right to it as they have to theirs. Tell them you hope to make it some day as well known to fame as Hawke's, Collier's, or Rodney's."

Harry promised to follow my advice; at the same time he confessed that it made him more anxious than ever to find out who his parents really were, and whether or not they were both on board the _Royal George when she went down.

"You tell me that you think the poor lady who took me on board was not my mother, and so perhaps my mother was on shore."

"But the young lady was in black, and so it's possible that your mother may have died, and that she took you to see your father, to whom, for some reason or other, she wanted to introduce you. That's how I read the riddle, but maybe I am mistaken."

Harry was satisfied.

"When we return to England, you will try and get Jerry Dix to come to see you, and learn if he has heard anything more?" he said.

Of course I replied that I would if I could; but that Jerry Dix had not left me any address, and it might be a hard matter to find him. I did not think that he had played me false, but I was afraid that some accident might have happened to him, or that he might be dead, and then the clue which he fancied he had found would be lost.

After visiting Cadiz and Gibraltar, we were on our way home, just entering the chops of the Channel, after being kept at sea by calms and contrary winds for three weeks or more, when a frigate hove in sight and hoisted English colours. She made her number, and we knew her to be the thirty-two gun frigate _Venus_. Captain Faulknor, who commanded her, came on board, and we soon heard the news. The French Republicans had risen up against their king, and cut his head off, and as the English Government did not approve of that, they had ordered the French ambassador to leave the country. The National Convention, as it was called, had therefore declared war against Great Britain, and we were now going to thrash the French Republicans soundly, wherever we could find them, afloat or on shore.

This was, of course, considered to be glorious news; and all hands fore and aft were in high glee at the thoughts of the work cut out for us.

The _Venus soon after parted company with us to go and look out for the enemy, while we made the best of our way up Channel to Portsmouth, to fill up with ammunition and stores. Before Susan could come over to see me we had sailed for the westward. On our way down Channel we again fell in with the _Venus_, which had had a sharp action with two French frigates, the _Semillante and _Cleopatre_, when she beat off the first, and escaped from the latter. We sailed together in search of the two frigates. We sighted them three days afterwards, when they, having nimble heels, escaped us and got into Cherbourg.

Having cruised together for some time, we parted company, and we put into Falmouth. We had now been a year in commission, and all hands were eager to meet an enemy of equal force. My fear was for Harry; I don't know how I should have felt had he been my own son, but I doubt that I should have been as anxious as I was about him, and I knew it would go well-nigh to break Susan's heart should he be killed.

He and Reginald were in high spirits, and could talk of nothing else but the battle in which they hoped to be engaged, and were always asking me questions about those I had seen fought in my younger days. You see, after the long peace, we had a good many officers and men on board, who had never seen a shot fired in anger.

Our captain, however, and his brother, Commander Israel Pellew, had been through the American War of Independence while they were midshipmen; the latter had lately joined us as a volunteer. We sailed again on the 17th of June on a cruise. When nearly abreast of the Start we stood out for the southward, in the hopes of falling in with one of the two frigates we had chased into Cherbourg. We were about six leagues from the Start, when the look-out from the masthead hailed--

"A sail on the starboard beam."

This was as we were standing to the south-east. You may be sure that we at once bore up in chase, under all sail. The stranger, as we got nearer, was seen carrying a press of canvas, as we fancied, to get away from us. We came up with her, however, and by the evening made her out to be no other than the _Cleopatre_, one of the frigates of which we were in search. Finding that she could not escape, even if she intended to do so, she hauled up her foresail, and lowered her topgallant-sail, bravely waiting for us. The men were at quarters, and the officers at their stations, while the captain conning the ship stood at the gangway with his hat in his hand. We were close up to each other and not a shot had been fired; the French captain hailed, when our captain cried out--

"Ahoy! ahoy!"

On which our crew gave three hearty cheers, and shouted--

"Long live King George!"

"Reserve your fire, my lads, till you see me put my hat on my head," cried our captain; "then blaze away and thrash the Frenchmen as soon as you can."

The word was passed along the deck, and all hands eagerly looked out for the signal.

The Frenchmen tried to imitate our cheer, but made a bad hand of it. Captain Mullon, as we afterwards heard was his name, the commander of the French frigate, was seen holding the red cap of liberty in his hand, and making a speech to his crew, on which they all sang out at the top of their voices, _Vive la Republique_, and one of the sailors, running up the main rigging, secured the red cap to the masthead. We stood on till our foremost guns could bear on the starboard quarter of the enemy.

The French captain held his hat, like our captain, in his hand. They bowed to each other, when ours was seen to place his on his head. It was the looked-for signal. At that instant we opened fire, which the Frenchmen were not slow in returning. We were running before the wind, within rather less than hailing distance of the Frenchman, who was on our larboard beam. In little more than half an hour we had shot away the Frenchman's mizzenmast and wheel; but our mainmast was badly wounded, and every instant I expected it to fall. Having lost command of her rudder, the _Cleopatre fell aboard us, her jib-boom passing through our fore and mainmast. I thought that this would finish our mainmast, but, fortunately, the Frenchman's jib-boom gave way.

We were blazing away all this time, raking the _Cleopatre fore and aft. We had lost a good many officers and men, and I saw two midshipmen knocked over not far from me. I looked out for Harry and Reginald Leslie, and I caught sight of them, still standing unharmed amid the smoke, but I had not much time even to think about them or anything else except my duty.

We now fell alongside the enemy head and stern, being still foul of each other. Her larboard-main-topsail studden-sail-boom iron having hooked the leach-rope of our maintop-sail, I had still good reasons to tremble for our mainmast. I saw a youngster spring aloft. It was Harry. He made his way along the yard, and with his knife cut the leach-rope; and though many a shot from the Frenchmen was fired at him, he came down safely. I felt my heart beat with pride as I saw him, for he had saved the mast. The next moment the cry was heard--

"Boarders, away!"

Our brave first lieutenant, Mr Norris, leading the boarders, cutlass in hand, leapt from the quarter-deck on to the forecastle of the French frigate, while our master, Mr Ball, at the head of another party, made his way through the bow-ports of the enemy. On they rushed, one party on the upper and the other on the main-deck, sweeping all before them. The Frenchmen, though they numbered half as many again as our crew, gave way; some springing down the hatchway, others flying aft, and in fifty minutes from the commencement of the action the Republican colours were hauled down, and the Frenchmen from all directions cried for quarter.

The brave French captain was found lying on the deck, his back torn open by a round shot, and part of his hip carried away. He was seen gnawing at a piece of paper, which he continued to bite till his hand dropped, and, his head sinking down, he ceased to breathe. He fancied that he was destroying a list of coast signals used by the French, which he had found in one of his pockets; but he was mistaken, for the paper he wished to prevent falling into our hands was discovered on him covered with blood. He was a brave fellow--there was no doubt about that. We had not gained our victory without a heavy loss, for we had eighteen seamen and marines, three midshipmen and two other officers, killed, and twenty-seven wounded; while the French lost sixty-three men. I do not think there was ever during the war a more equal or better-fought battle, except that the Frenchmen had eighty more men to begin with than we had; but then the _Nymph had slightly heavier metal, and was a few tons larger than our antagonist. However, I believe that if it had been the other way, we should, notwithstanding, have won the day.

As soon as we had repaired damages we made sail, though it was four days before we reached Portsmouth with our prize. The brave French captain was buried the next day in Portsmouth churchyard, the surviving officers being permitted to attend him to the grave. A few days afterwards His Majesty, George the Third, came aboard our frigate, when our captain and his brother, Commander Pellew, and all the officers of the ship, were presented to him.

The king was highly pleased with the way the action had been fought, and at once knighted our brave captain, and presented his brother with his commission as post-captain, while Lieutenant Norris was made a commander. The king made inquiries as to what others had done.

"They all did their duty, your Majesty," answered the captain.

"No doubt about it. That is what I know my officers and seamen always do," observed the king.

The captain then told him of the way Harry had behaved.

"I am pleased to hear it, my lad," said the king; "and I hope some day that I shall have the pleasure of placing the flat of my sword on your shoulders. What's your name?" asked the king.

The captain told him, and mentioned how he had been saved from the _Royal George_.

"What! are you the 'Child of the Wreck' I have been told of?" asked the king. "I wish that more like you had been saved; you have begun well, and will prove an honour to the service, no doubt about that."

The king spoke in a like fashion to several others. As may be supposed, I felt prouder than ever of Harry, and was sure that if his life was preserved he would not disappoint the good king or anyone else.

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CHAPTER SEVEN The grass did not grow in the streets of Portsmouth in those busy times; I managed, however, to get leave to run over to Ryde for a couple of days, and took Harry and Reginald Leslie with me. The youngsters got a hearty welcome; and when I told the captain how Harry had behaved, he complimented him greatly. The youngsters were made much of by the ladies, and they ran no small risk of being spoilt, so it seemed to me. Miss Fanny especially, the captain's youngest daughter, seemed never tired of talking to Harry, and asking
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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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