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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFrom Powder Monkey To Admiral: A Story Of Naval Adventure - Chapter 6. Taken Prisoners
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From Powder Monkey To Admiral: A Story Of Naval Adventure - Chapter 6. Taken Prisoners Post by :jones7 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1646

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From Powder Monkey To Admiral: A Story Of Naval Adventure - Chapter 6. Taken Prisoners

CHAPTER SIX. TAKEN PRISONERS

Jack and Bill made themselves very useful in hauling the nets, and cleaning the fish when caught. Jack was well up to the work, and showed Bill how to do it. Captain Turgot was highly pleased, and called them "bons garcons," and said he hoped that they would remain with him till the war was over, and as much longer as they liked. When the cutter returned into the harbour to land her fish, Jack and Bill were sent below, so that the authorities might not see them and carry them off. Captain Turgot was much afraid of losing them. They were getting on famously with their French, and Bill could chatter away already at a great rate, though not in very good French, to be sure, for he made a number of blunders, which afforded constant amusement to his companions, but Pierre was always ready to set him right.

Jack made much slower progress. He could not, he said, twist his tongue about sufficiently to get out the words, even when he remembered them. Some, he found, were wonderfully like English, and those he recollected the best, though, to be sure, they had different meanings. One day the cutter had stood out farther from the shore than usual, her nets being down, when, at daybreak, a strange sail was seen in the offing. The captain, after taking one look at her, was convinced that she was an enemy.

"Quick! quick! my sons," he shouted: "we must haul the nets and make sail, or we shall be caught by the English. They are brave people, but I have no wish to see the inside of one of their prisons."

All hands worked away as if their lives depended on their exertions. Jack and Bill lent a hand as usual. They scarcely knew what to wish. Should the stranger prove to be an English ship, and come up with them, they would be restored to liberty; but, at the same time, they would feel very sorry that their kind friends should lose their vessel and be made prisoners; still, Jack wanted to let his mother know that he was alive, and Bill wished to be on board a man-of-war again, fighting for Old England, and getting a foot or two up the ratlines.

His ambition had been aroused by what the captain had said to him, and the assistant master had observed, though he had spoken in joke, that he might, some day or other, become an admiral.

Bill had thought the subject over and over, till he began to fancy that, could he get another chance, the road to fame might be open to him. The loss of the ship with the captain and officers seemed, to be sure, to have overthrown all his hopes; but what had happened once might happen again, and by attending to his duty, and keeping his eyes open, and his wits awake, he might have another opportunity of distinguishing himself.

No one could possibly have suspected what was passing in Bill's mind, as he worked away as energetically as the rest in stowing the nets and making sail.

The stranger was now made out to a certainty to be an English frigate, and a fast one, too, by the way she slipped through the water.

The wind was from the south-east, and being thus partially off shore, would enable the frigate to stand in closer to the land than she otherwise might have ventured to do. This greatly diminished the chances of the cutter's escape.

Captain Turgot, however, like a brave man, did not tear his hair, or stamp, or swear, as Frenchmen are sometimes supposed to do, but, taking the helm, set every sail his craft could carry, and did his best, by careful steering, to keep to windward of the enemy.

Could he once get into harbour he would be safe, unless the frigate should send her boats in to cut his vessel out. The cutter possessed a couple of long sweeps. Should it fall calm, they would be of use; but at present the breeze was too strong to render them necessary.

The crew kept looking astern to watch the progress made by their pursuer, which was evidently coming up with them. What chance, indeed, had a little fishing craft with a dashing frigate?

An idea occurred to Jack which had not struck Bill.

"Suppose we are taken--and it looks to me as if we shall be before long--what will they say on board the frigate when they find us rigged out in fisherman's clothes? They will be thinking we are deserters, and will be hanging us up at the yard-arm."

"I hope it won't go so hard as that with us," answered Bill. "We can tell them that the Frenchmen took away our clothes, and rigged us out in these, and we could not help ourselves."

"But will they believe us?" asked Jack.

On that point Bill acknowledged that there was some doubt; either way, he would be very sorry for Captain Turgot. One thing could be said, that neither their fears nor wishes would prevent the frigate from capturing the cutter. They looked upon that as a settled matter. As long, however, as there was a possibility of escaping, Captain Turgot resolved to persevere.

Matters began to look serious, when a flash and wreath of smoke was seen to issue from one of the bow guns of the frigate, and a shot came jumping over the water towards them. It did not reach them, however.

"You must get nearer, monsieur, before you hurt us," said the captain, as he watched the shot fall into the water.

Shortly afterwards another followed. It came close up to the cutter; but a miss is as good as a mile, and the little vessel was none the worse for it.

Another shot, however, might produce a very different result.

"I say, Bill, I don't quite like the look of things," observed Jack. "Our skipper had better give in, or one of those shot will be coming aboard us, and carrying somebody's head off."

"He doesn't look as if he had any thoughts of the sort," said Bill; "and as long as there is any chance of keeping ahead, he'll stand on."

Soon after Bill had made this remark, another shot was fired from the frigate, and passed alongside the cutter, falling some way ahead.

Had it been better aimed, the effect might have been somewhat disastrous. Still Captain Turgot kept at the helm.

Some of the crew, however, began to cry out, and begged him to heave to. He pointed to the shore.

"Do you want to see your wives and families again?" he asked. "Look there! How smooth the water is ahead. The wind is falling, and the frigate will soon be becalmed. She'll not think it worth while to send her boats after us. Come! out with the sweeps, and we shall soon draw out of shot of her. Look there! now her topsails are already flapping against the masts. Be of good courage, my sons!"

Thus incited, the crew got out the sweeps.

Jack and Bill helped them with as much apparent good-will as if they had had no wish to be on board the frigate.

The little vessel felt the effects of the powerful sweeps, and, in spite of the calm, continued to move ahead.

Again and again the frigate fired at her, but she was a small object, and each shot missed.

This encouraged the French crew, whose spirits rose as they saw their chance of escaping increase.

Farther and farther they got from the frigate, which, with the uncertainty from what quarter the wind would next blow, was afraid of standing closer in shore.

By nightfall the cutter, by dint of hard rowing, had got safe into harbour.

When Dame Turgot and Jeannette heard what had occurred, they expressed their delight at seeing their young friends back.

"We must not let you go to sea again, for it would be a sad thing to hear that you had been captured and shot for being deserters," said Jeannette.

She had the same idea which had occurred to Jack.

The English frigates were at this time so frequently seen off the coast, that Captain Turgot, who had several boats as well as the cutter, thought it prudent to confine his operations to inshore fishing, so as not to run the risk of being captured.

Jack and Bill sometimes went out with him, but, for some reason or other, he more generally left them at home.

Pierre, who was a good swimmer, induced them to come down and bathe with him in the morning, and gave them instruction in the art.

Jack could already swim a little. Bill took to it at once, and beat him hollow; in a short time being able to perform all sorts of evolutions. He was soon so perfectly at home in the water, that he declared he felt able to swim across the Channel, if he could carry some food with him to support himself on the way.

Jack laughed at the idea, observing that "nobody ever had swum across the Channel, and he did not believe that anybody ever would do so."

Pierre advised Bill not to make the attempt.

"No fear," said Jack. "He'll not go without me, and I am not going to drown myself if I can help it."

Bill, however, often thought over the matter, and tried to devise some plan by which he and Jack might manage to get across. His plans came to nothing; and, indeed, the Channel where they were was much too wide to be crossed except in a small vessel or in a large boat. Jack was beginning to speak French pretty well, and Bill was able to gabble away with considerable fluency, greatly to the delight of Jeannette, who was his usual instructress. He tried to teach her a little English in return, but she laughed at her own attempts, and declared that she should never be able to pronounce so break-jaw a language.

Bill thought that she got on very well, but she seemed more anxious to teach him French than to learn English herself.

Several weeks more passed by. Well treated as they were, still the boys had a longing to return to England, though the opportunity of doing so appeared as far off as ever.

They were in the house one afternoon, laughing and joking merrily with Jeannette, while Dame Turgot was away at the neighbouring town to market, when the door opened, and she entered, with a look of alarm on her countenance.

"Quick, quick, come here!" she said; and seizing them both by the arms, she dragged them into the little inner room.

"Pull off your clothes and jump into bed!" she exclaimed. "Whatever you hear, don't move or speak, but pretend to be fast asleep."

They obeyed her; and snatching up their jackets and trousers, she hurried from the room, locking the door behind her.

She had just time to tumble their clothes into a chest, when a loud knocking was heard at the door. She opened it, and several soldiers, under the command of a sergeant, entered.

The boys guessed who they were by their voices, and the noise they made when grounding their muskets.

"Well, messieurs," said Dame Turgot, with perfect composure, "and what do you want here?"

"We come in search of prisoners. It is reported that you have some concealed in your house," said the sergeant.

"Ma foi! that is a good joke! I conceal prisoners indeed!" exclaimed the dame, laughing. "Pray who are these notable prisoners?"

"That's for you to say. We only know that you have prisoners," answered the sergeant.

"Then, if you will have it so, one may possibly be a general, and the other an admiral, and the sooner they are lodged in the Bastille, the better for the safety of France," answered the dame, laughing. "I am a loyal Frenchwoman, and can cry 'Vive le Roi!' 'Vive la France!' with all my heart."

Jack and Bill, who had quaked at the thoughts of being made prisoners by the soldiers, now began to have better hope of escaping.

The sergeant, however, was not to be deceived by Dame Turgot's manner.

"Come, come, I must search your house, notwithstanding. For that purpose I was sent, and I must perform my duty," he said; and he hunted round the room.

"Now let us look into your room;" and the soldiers, entering, began poking about with their bayonets, running them under the bed, and through the bedding, in a way likely to kill anybody concealed.

Jeannette's little room was visited and treated in the same manner.

"And what's this room?" asked the sergeant, pointing to the boys' room.

"That? That is a closet," answered the dame; "or if you like it, the general and admiral are both there fast asleep, but I am unwilling to disturb them."

She said this in a laughing tone, as if she were joking.

"Well, open the door," said the sergeant, not expecting to find anybody.

"But I tell you the door is locked. Who has got the key, I wonder?" said the dame.

"Come, come, unlock the door, or we must force it open," said the sergeant, making as if he was about to prise it open with his bayonet.

On this the dame pulled the key out of her pocket, and opening the door, exclaimed--

"There in one bed you will find the general, and in the other the admiral; or, without joking, they are two poor boys whom my good man picked up at sea, and already they are more French than English."

The sergeant, looking into the beds, discovered the boys.

"Come, get up, mes garcons," he said; "you must come with me, whoever you are, and give an account of yourselves."

Neither of the boys made any reply, deeming it wiser to keep silence.

"Come along," he said; and he dragged first one, and then the other, out of bed.

"Bring the boys' clothes," he added, turning to the dame, who quickly brought their original suits.

They soon dressed themselves, hanging their knives round their necks.

"I told you the truth. You see who and what they are!" exclaimed the dame.

Jeannette, too, pleaded eloquently on their behalf, but the sergeant was unmoved.

"All you say may be right, but I must take them," he answered. "Come-- quick march!"

He allowed them, however, to take an affectionate farewell of the dame and Jeannette, the latter bursting into tears as she saw them dragged off by the soldiers.

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