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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Three Midshipmen - Chapter 17. Aboard The Prize
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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 17. Aboard The Prize Post by :Satish Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2336

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 17. Aboard The Prize


Don Diogo and his companions did not know what Englishmen were made of if they thought that they were going to win the day without a hard fight for it. Adair, wounded as he was, threw himself before Jack, and, aided by Needham and some of his best men, pistoled some of the Spaniards and cut down others, hurrahing so loudly, and charging so fiercely, that the rest, in spite of the little Don's exhortations, gave way before them. They pushed on till they reached the mainmast, where a resolute stand was made by the slaver's crew. During this time Jack recovered sufficiently again to join in the conflict. The little Don, seeing how things were going, rallied a number of his people around him, evidently prepared to make a stand to the last, and Jack, from what he had observed of his character, was fully convinced that he would make some desperate attempt to destroy them, even perhaps by blowing up the schooner and all on board.

Fortunately the hatches of the schooner's decks were open to give air to the unfortunate slaves confined below. They all the time were uttering the most fearful shrieks and cries, not knowing what was going to happen. Pressed backwards, several of the pirate's crew were tumbled down the hatchways among the negroes, adding to the confusion and dismay below. Others, pressed by Jack, who was fighting his way forward on the starboard side, leaped overboard, and, to avoid the cold steel of the avenging British, found that death from the ravenous sharks to which they had consigned so many of their black fellow-creatures. Although some gave way, others kept rallying round the mainmast, and so Adair had to keep them engaged to prevent them turning and attacking Jack in the rear. So hotly was he engaged, however, that he had no time to look about him. A loud shout made him turn his eyes for a moment forward, and then he saw Jack, who had gained the forecastle, waving his cutlass in triumph. The Spaniards, who had hitherto shown a bold front, on hearing the shout, and seeing that their chance of victory was gone, threw themselves pell-mell down the hatchways among their companions, who had by this time regained their legs. What was bad, they had also kept possession of their arms, and began to fire upon the English. The seamen could easily have shot them, but the cowardly scoundrels retreated among the chained slaves, believing that their enemies would not dare to fire, for fear of wounding the poor blacks also. They counted, however, without their host. Never was there a cooler fellow than Dick Needham, and, getting his musket ready, he ran forward, and judging where the Spaniards had stowed themselves, picked out a couple of them from the very middle of the blacks; then leaping down, cutlass in hand, followed by three of his shipmates, they very soon made the rest of the wretches cry out for quarter. When Jack and Terence looked around the deck they found it cleared--not a little to their surprise. What had become of Don Diogo?

"The villain must have gone below, and will be blowing us all up!" exclaimed Terence, rushing aft.

Forward he certainly was not, or Jack would have seen him. They both, pistol in hand, rushed into the cabin, expecting to have a desperate encounter with the fierce little Spaniard. The door gave way before them.

"Hillo! the fellow is not here," cried Jack.

"Then he's concealed somewhere," answered Paddy. "It's very unpleasant to feel that any moment he may be sending us up like rockets into the sky. I wish that we could rout him out before he commits any mischief."

Just then they were recalled on deck by the shout of one of their men. They hurried out of the cabin, and, looking over the quarter, they saw what they would have perceived before had they looked in the right direction. The Don, with six or seven of his followers, had jumped into their own gig, and was pulling away with might and main towards the shore. Jack and Terence at first thought of following him in the cutter, but then there was the danger of the Spaniards left on board rising, and overpowering the rest of the English. He also would certainly not yield without a most desperate resistance.

"The Don will say that exchange is no robbery," exclaimed Paddy, "we had better let him go. He has got our gig, and we have got his schooner, and a very magnificent craft she is, with 400 or 500 slaves on board. We can well spare him the gig."

Jack agreed to this, but suggested that if the sea-breeze reached them soon, they might still catch the Don by the ear. Meantime they set to work to secure the slaver's crew. Many of the villains had stowed themselves away among the slaves, and were endeavouring to let them loose, telling them that the English had come to murder them, and that their only chance of saving their own lives was to rush upon deck and to murder the English instead. Happily the attempt was discovered before many of the negroes were set at liberty, and the slaver's crew were all knocked down and, having both hands and feet lashed together, were brought on deck and placed in a row under the bulwarks.

Jack saw the breeze coming, and gave an order to trim sails to take advantage of it so as to go in pursuit of the gig with Don Diogo in her. The frigate lay about eight miles off and of course had not perceived the escape of the Don. She being more in the offing, would get the sea-breeze first. Jack and Terence watched her trimming sails, and then her white canvas began to bulge out, and on she came gliding proudly towards them. Not long afterwards they got the breeze. To tow the cutter would have impeded them, so they dropped her to be picked up by the frigate and stood after the gig. Don Diogo had got a long start, but still, from the gig pulling heavily, as they knew to their cost, they did not despair of overtaking her. Everything was done to increase the schooner's speed, as it was important to get hold of one of the most daring slave-dealers and slave-captains on the coast--a man whose head had grown grey in the vile traffic in which he was engaged, and who had already spent half a dozen fortunes made by it.

"Paddy, I believe we shall catch the Don after all," exclaimed Jack, who had been watching the gig through a glass, and at the same time inspecting the coast beyond. "I can make out no creek for him to run into, and if he attempts to beach that boat he will be swamped to a certainty."

"And serve him right too," answered Terence. "But, hillo, what is that for?" As he spoke a shot fired from the frigate came whizzing over their heads. Another and another followed in rapid succession. One of them flew directly between their masts.

"I don't like to heave-to, or we shall lose our chance of catching the Don," observed Jack; "but this is getting rather too serious to be looked upon as a joke." It was, indeed, for in another second, three or four more shot came crashing through the sails and against the spars of the schooner, one of which, the foretop-gallant yard, was shot away.

"We must signalise them, and beg them to be aisy," cried Terence. "But, hillo, I say, Jack, who could have left that abominable flag flying at the peak?" There, sure enough, at the peak of the schooner flew out the often disgraced flag of Spain.

"We'll haul it down, and settle that point afterwards," said Jack, suiting the action to the word and hauling down the flag. He was but just in time to save the schooner from a tremendous peppering, which the frigate, now ranging close up astern, had prepared for her. Jack ran up the rigging nearest the frigate, and pointed ahead to show that he was chasing something; indeed, by that time the gig when looked-for must have been seen clearly from the deck of the frigate.

"I am glad we did not fire into you, my lads," shouted Captain Lascelles through his speaking-trumpet. "You've done well--very well, but why did not you haul down the slaver's flag?"

"We'd so much to do, we never saw it, sir," shouted Jack in return. "There's the slaver's captain--we're after him."

"Stand in as close as you can, but don't get on shore, though," cried the captain.

"Ay, ay, sir," answered Jack, well pleased to follow the orders given.

The frigate stood on for some distance after the gig, but she had to be hove-to that the depth of water might be ascertained, and this gave the Don an advantage of which he did not fail to profit. Though guns were continually fired at him, the gig was too small an object at that distance to enable even the best of marksmen to hit her with any certainty. When the frigate hove-to, the schooner once more passed her. Nearer and nearer she drew to the shore.

"We must take care not to wreck our well-won prize," observed Jack to Terence, and a lead and line having been found, he wisely sent a hand into the chains, to heave it as soon as he had rounded the schooner to. Well was it that he did so, for in a very few minutes more the schooner would have been on shore. It was provoking, however, to see the wicked old Spaniard pulling on triumphantly. They watched the gig as long as they could with their glasses. She disappeared amid a cloud of foaming surf, which seems ever, even in the calmest weather, to be breaking on that shore.

"The old fellow has escaped us now, but we will still have him some time or other--depend on that," said Jack, shutting up his glass. "However, we have destroyed his barracoons, and now we've captured his schooner-- that's one consolation. He can't love us, though."

Truly, indeed, did Don Diogo nourish a bitter desire for revenge against the British generally, and the officers and the crew of the _Ranger especially, which he was one day destined to have an opportunity of gratifying to the full. The frigate's studding-sails being rigged in, she, with her prize in company, shaped a course for Sierra Leone. Both Jack and Terence had been so severely handled when boarding, though they did not feel much of their wounds during the excitement of chasing the Don, that it was necessary for them to return on board the frigate to be under the doctor's hands, while another officer was put in charge of the prize. This was a great disappointment, but Captain Lascelles promised them that they should have command of the next prize the frigate might take. Having seen the prize some way on her course, the _Ranger stood back to her cruising ground to the southward. In consequence of head-winds and calms she made but slow progress, and thus some weeks slowly passed away after the events I have described, before her people had much work to do. This was a great advantage, as it enabled Jack and Terence and the sick and wounded men to recover, away from the noxious air of the coast.

At length it became advisable to communicate with King Bom-Bom, whose prisoner Jack had been, and as both he and Terence knew the river, they were ordered to proceed up it, to deliver the message, and to return as soon as possible. I ought to have said that Wasser had attached himself to his old friend Hemming, and had entered regularly as a seaman on board the frigate. A very steady and careful lad he was too. He now went with the expedition to act as interpreter. The boat crossed the bar safely. Several traders were in the river, exchanging Manchester goods and cutlery for palm-oil, ivory, gold-dust, and other articles of value. King Bom-Bom received the midshipmen most politely, and gave them a handsome feast, though, as Paddy remarked, the cookery was rather dubious. He then frankly assured them that he was growing far richer as an honest trader, keeping a monopoly of the chief articles himself, by-the-by, than he had by all his connexions with the slave-dealers, taking into account the occasional burning of his barracoons, and the hot water in which he was continually kept. Of course King Bom-Bom was a sensible fellow, and saw things in their true light.

"What we have heard from our regal friend fully reconciles me to all the hard work we have to go through on this coast," observed Jack, as he and Terence were talking the matter over on their return down the river. "One thing is clear, this abominable slave-trade must be put down, and I believe that we are setting the right way to work to do it. First make it unprofitable and very dangerous, and then show the natives the advantages of civilisation and commerce." When the boat reached the mouth of the river, the frigate was nowhere to be seen. "Then, Paddy," exclaimed Jack, clutching his rifle, "let us have a cruise on our own hook. You remember the prize you took among the Ionian Islands, old fellow?" How merrily they laughed at the recollection of that early freak of theirs. Paddy, of course, was delighted to join in any scheme of Jack's. They could not tell in which direction the frigate had gone. They, at a hazard, steered to the southward. They had a good supply of provisions in the boat, and King Bom-Bom had given them still more. All that day they looked out anxiously for a sail, but sighted none. The greater part of the next passed much in the same manner. They were growing impatient. It is not pleasant to have to sit cramped up in a small boat under a burning sun off the coast of Africa with nothing to do.

At last the sea-breeze set in, and soon afterwards Paddy jumped up and, in his delight, almost toppled overboard, exclaiming, "A sail! a sail!" As the stranger approached, Jack made her out to be a long, low, black brig; he ordered the boat's sail to be lowered, and the people to lie down in the bottom of the boat, and to cover themselves up with the sail.

They both thought that the approaching brig was a slaver, but to make more sure they called Wasser to them. He crept along under the sail, and put his eyes up over the gunwale: "Yes, big slaver, no doubt," he observed; "but no get slavie in yet."

"Then we'll follow and board her," cried Jack. "If she won't heave-to, we'll make her."

This seemed rather a vaunting boast for two midshipmen and six men in a small boat to make, but Jack was perfectly in earnest about the matter. The men had their oars all ready to ship at a moment's notice. The brig stood on till she was within about 400 yards of the boat, and Jack, who was watching her from under the sail, thought that he should have to get out of her way to prevent being run down. Suddenly she changed her course, and hauled more off the land. Perhaps her people suspected a _ruse_. In an instant, as Jack gave the order, up sprang his men, out went their oars, and away after the brig they pulled. The character of the brig was soon shown, for no sooner did her crew see that they were pursued than they began peppering away at the gig, while a gun was run out at a port on her quarter, which opened a fire of round and grape-shot. Her low bulwarks afforded no protection to the crew working the gun, so Jack stood up, and taking deliberate aim, shot one of them just as he was about to fire.

"Terence, give me your rifle, and reload mine," he exclaimed. Terence did as he was bid. Another of the gunner's crew fell; a third and a fourth shared the same fate. The slaver's people could not understand how this had happened, but terror seized them, and they refused to go to the gun. This, however, did not save them, for the unerring rifle picked out several on different parts of the deck. The breeze was freshening, and the slaver made all sail away from the boat. But as a thresher pertinaciously pursues a whale till it has destroyed it, so did the little gig follow the large brig, which looked large enough to destroy a hundred such pigmy cockle-shells. Jack felt that everything depended on his coolness and the steadiness of his aim. Aided by Terence, well did he do his work. The astonished crew of the slaver must have fancied that they were pursued by evil spirits rather than by men. Once more they kept away dead before the wind, and, crossing the bows of the boat, stood towards the coast, it became evident that their intention was to run the vessel on shore and abandon her. Jack and Terence had no fancy that they should do that, as they did not wish to lose their prize. The breeze, however, increased so much that they could hardly keep way with her. Still they followed, firing as rapidly as before. At last Jack found that his shots were no longer telling, and as he was afraid of expending all his ammunition, he ceased firing, but still followed hard after the slaver. A sandy little bay was ahead, sheltered somewhat by a reef of rocks from the roll of the Atlantic. Towards it the slaver was steered. She grounded in smooth water. A boat was lowered, and into it some of her crew tumbled, while others appeared to be swimming on shore.

By the time they got up to the brig's quarter and climbed on board, all the crew had escaped with the exception of two men, one of whom was dying, the other was dead.

"Oh, Terence," exclaimed Jack, as he looked at them, "this is very dreadful!"

"What?" asked Adair, surprised.

"That my hand should have done that," answered Jack, gravely; "to know that one has been killing people is bad enough, but to see them afterwards--oh, I wish that I hadn't done it!"

"Then, you see, Jack, the slaver would have got off, and taken 300 or 400, or more, poor black people away from their homes and families, a third of whom would have probably died miserably on board, and the rest would have been destined to spend their lives in abject slavery, and to become the parents of a race of slaves. Those Spaniards, or Portuguese, or whatever they are, have brought about their own deaths. Every shot you fired contributed to prevent a vast amount of wretchedness and suffering."

Leaving the wounded man to Wasser's care, they went below to examine their prize. They found that she was fully equipped for carrying 700 or 800 slaves, instead of only 300 or 400, as Terence had supposed. She had two brass guns, an ample supply of arms and ammunition of every sort, so that she was as well able to act the pirate as the slaver. They could not decide what to do with her. They feared if they left her that her crew would return and burn her, while at the same time they were anxious to get back to the frigate. After waiting some time their course was decided by seeing the _Ranger in the offing.

"Terence," said Jack, "you must go off to her. Leave me and the rifles, with Dick Needham to load them; and if the pirates appear I will keep them at bay till you return."

In vain Terence expostulated. Jack would have it so, and he was compelled to obey.

Thus were Jack and sturdy Dick Needham left alone on board the stranded vessel. They watched the gig as she pulled away, till she was lost in the distance.

"Now, Needham," said Jack, "if the pirates come back, which is more than likely, we must be prepared to give them a warm reception. See you load the rifles and I'll fire them." Jack very quickly got over his scruples about killing his enemies.

"Ay, ay, sir," answered Dick, not at first quite comprehending what a warm reception meant. "But, sir, as they've left plenty of ammunition on board and these two brass guns, besides no end of muskets, we might give 'em a warmer still. If you think fit, sir, we'll load the guns with langrage, and range the muskets along the deck; and then any spare moment when you are using the rifles I might be popping them off."

Jack highly approved of Dick's notion, and only wished that the slaver's crew would come back, that he might carry it into execution. They both had been so busy that they had not thought of the poor wretched Spaniard. Suddenly Jack recollected him. He had been placed in the shade, under the poop-deck. He was still breathing.

"_Eu moro de sede (I die of thirst, I die of thirst)," groaned the miserable man, showing his glazed eyes. His parched lips showed how much he was suffering.

"Dick, bring some water for this poor fellow," cried Rogers.

"Oh! senhor, you are very kind. I am a wretch, I know; but, as I hope to be forgiven, I forgive the man who shot me."

These were very nearly the last words the Spaniard uttered. A cry from Needham called Jack out on deck. There appeared on the beach the whole crew of the slaver, and in addition some twenty or thirty others, white men and negroes. They evidently did not perceive that anybody was on board, and began deliberately to launch the boat by which they had reached the shore, and which Terence had neglected to tow off before he left the brig. Jack waited till they had shoved off.

"Now, Dick," said he, creeping to one of the ports, "stand by to load, and hand me the rifles while I--do my duty." He was going to say, "pick them off."

Shot succeeded shot, and three men were hit before the pirates knew where their enemies were concealed. The boat was seen to put back, the people in her leaping in a desperate hurry on shore.

"It won't do to let them fancy that they are safe yet," cried Jack. "Hand me another rifle." He continued firing away, seldom failing to hit the man he aimed at.

"Hurrah! hurrah!" shouted Needham. "They are running off, they are running off." So they were, but they had not gone far before a man was seen galloping up on horseback. Jack thought he looked remarkably like Don Diogo. He began striking right and left with a sword at the fugitives, and was evidently urging them to make an attempt to regain the brig. At last he succeeded in inducing another party to embark, but he himself remained on shore. Several times Jack had aimed at him, but he seemed to bear a charmed life. None of the bullets took effect. Jack was afraid of firing at him again, for his rifle ammunition was almost expended. Finding the firing cease, the pirates gained courage and pulled boldly towards the brig.

"Now's the time for our dose of langrage, sir," cried Needham. Jack nodded his consent. Dick ran out one of the guns. Jack pointed it and fired. Then they sprang to the other, and fired that. Shrieks and cries followed, and the boat in a sinking condition put back to the shore. Don Diogo got off his horse, and stamped with rage. He could not make it out, but the men would not make another attempt. In a minute more they had all disappeared. As soon as they were clear off Jack and Needham set to work to examine the vessel more minutely, in the hopes of discovering some small quantity of water, or other liquid which they could drink. Vain again was their search, but on opening a locker Jack observed a box thickly bound with brass. He tried to pull it out, but could not move it alone, so he summoned Needham to his assistance. It was very heavy.

"We'll see what is in it," said Jack. Perhaps had he reflected, he might have waited to deliver it over unopened to Captain Lascelles. However, this did not occur to him at the moment. A cold chisel and hammer were soon found, and on the chest being forced open rolls of glittering gold coin lay exposed to view.

"Here is a mint of gold," cried Needham. "I wonder them pirate chaps didn't try to walk off with it."

"It shows what a fright they must have been in to leave it behind if they knew it was here," answered Jack. "However, we must shut the box up again. It is lawful prize-money, and will be divided in due proportions among all hands, that's one comfort."

"By-the-by, Needham," said Jack, after the box had been closed, "it strikes me that old Don Diogo must have known that the gold is on board, and that makes him so anxious to get hold of the vessel to recover it. Oh, how thirsty I am. For my part, just now, I would rather have a quart of water than that box of gold."

"So would I, sir," answered Needham; "may be, though, we shall find it cooler on deck, where there is a breath of air."

Fortunately Jack took Needham's hint. On looking towards the land the whole beach was covered with men carrying among them six or eight large canoes, while the little Don appeared as before on horseback, directing their movements. Jack, knowing the incentive which was influencing his enemies, and seeing the preparations made to attack the brig, might well have despaired of successfully resisting them. He and Needham were not people to sell their lives cheaply. As before, they loaded the brass guns, and all the muskets and rifles. He waited, however, to fire till the canoes were launched. Then he immediately opened on them. The canoes came on. Don Diogo was in one of them. He was eager probably to secure his gold. Jack took a steady aim at him, down he sank to the bottom of the canoe. Still that same canoe came on, and Jack fancied that he could see the old man's arm lifted up and still pointing at the brig. He could not bring himself to fire at him again, as he thus lay wounded and almost helpless. Needham, however, had marked the canoe; and, pointing his gun at her, let fly a whole shower of langrage about the heads of the negroes paddling in her. Many were knocked over; and the remainder, turning her round, made the best of their way to the beach. The other canoes stopped and wavered. Jack plied them well with bullets. The people on shore seemed to be beckoning them back. Jack bethought him of taking a glance seaward to ascertain if assistance was at hand, and there he saw the _Ranger under full sail, standing towards him. His danger was not yet over. The pirates made another desperate attempt to regain the brig, but were as gallantly repulsed as before, the negroes not being able to withstand the hot fire kept up on them. Jack and Needham set up as loud a cheer as their parched throats would let them give, when, in a short time, they saw Hemming in a boat and Adair in another, approaching the brig. Fortunately she had taken the ground so softly that she was hove off that very evening. Adair, however, in consequence of the exertions he had gone through, was too ill to accompany Rogers in charge of her to Sierra Leone; and so Jack, much to his regret, had to go by himself, not forgetting his faithful rifle.

Meantime the _Ranger stood to the southward. Adair had got almost well: he was on the lookout aloft, when his eye fell on a dark object floating on the water. At first he thought it might be a rock, then a dead whale. At length he felt convinced that it was a vessel, either capsized or with all her canvas lowered. He descended below, and reported the circumstance to Captain Lascelles. The ship was steered towards the object, and his last conjecture was found to be the right one. As they got close to the vessel, a small schooner, one person only was seen walking the deck.

"That's a midshipman, sir," said Adair to Mr Hemming. "And I can't make him out quite, but he looks very like Alick Murray."

The frigate was hove-to, a boat was lowered, in which Adair went; and sure enough, Alick Murray was the person seen. He looked ill and thin.

"My dear fellow, how do you come to be this in plight?" asked Terence, as he jumped on board the little craft.

"It's a long story," said Murray. "We took her to the southward off Benguela, and Captain Grant put me in charge of her to carry her to Sierra Leone. She had the fever on board, I have no doubt, at first. It broke out the other day after we parted company with the _Archer_, and one after the other my poor fellows died. A black man and boy, whom we took in the prize, are the only survivors, and they are still below sick with the disease. I have been waiting in hopes of their getting well and strong enough to make sail to proceed on my voyage. I'll give you a fuller history another time."

"The best thing you can do is to let the little craft go her own way, and come on board us," observed Adair.

"What, Paddy, would you counsel such a course?" exclaimed Murray. "Captain Grant put me in charge of the vessel to carry her to Sierra Leone, and while I've life in me that is what I am bound to do."

"Then, old fellow, I'll go with you, if Captain Lascelles will let me," answered Terence, warmly. "That's settled; I'll go on board and get leave, and bring Dr McCan to have a look at your people, and to leave some physic for them to take."

Away went Terence. He had a hard battle to fight with his captain, who, however, expressed his admiration of the spirit evinced by Murray. Needham and Wasser, and another man and a boy, were directed to go on board to act as crew. Dr McCan came on board the schooner: and having prescribed for Murray and his two negroes, and pronounced them in a fair way of recovery, took his departure. Murray then made sail and shaped a course for Sierra Leone, much happier than he had been for a long time.

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