Willis the Pilot by Johanna Spyri
Another Idea of the Pilot's--The Boudeuse.
The captain of the Hoboken was rather pleased than otherwise when the look-out reported the strange sail to show English colors. He looked rather glum, however, half an hour afterwards, when the same voice bawled that she was a bull-dog looking craft, schooner-rigged, and pierced for sixteen guns. The Yankee had hoped to fall in with a fat West Indiaman, instead of which he had now to deal with a man-of-war, carrying, perhaps, a larger weight of metal than himself.
The heads of the two ships were standing in towards each other, there was no wind to speak of, but every hour lessened the distance that separated the antagonists.
"Pilot," said the captain, addressing Willis, "be kind enough to let me know what you think of that craft."
"I think," said Willis, taking the telescope, "I have had my eyes on her before. Aye, aye, just as I thought. An old tub of a Spaniard converted into an English cruiser, and commanded by Commodore Truncheon, I shouldn't wonder. She has caught a Tartar this time, however. Nothing of a sailer. If a breeze springs up, you may easily give her the slip, if you like, captain."
"Give her the slip! No, not if I can help it. My cruise hitherto has not been very successful, and I must send her into New York as a prize. Mr. Brill," added he, addressing the officer next in command, "prepare for action."
In an instant all was commotion and bustle on deck. Half an hour after, the captain, now in full uniform, took a hasty glance at the position of his crew. A portion of the men were stationed at the guns, with lighted matches. Others were engaged in heating shot, and preparing other instruments of destruction. Jack and Fritz, armed with muskets, were ready to act as sharp-shooters as soon as the enemy came within range, and Willis was standing beside them, with his hands in his pockets, quietly smoking his pipe.
"What, Pilot!" exclaimed the captain in passing, "don't you intend to take part in the skirmish?"
"I am much your debtor, captain, but I cannot do that."
"And these young men?"
"They are not Englishmen, and your kindness to them entitles you to claim their assistance. I am sorry that honor and duty prevent me giving you mine."
"No matter, captain," said Fritz, "my brother and myself will do duty for three."
"Then, Pilot, you had better go below."
"With your permission, captain, I would rather stay and look on."
"But what is the use of exposing yourself here?"
"It is an idea of mine, captain. But I shall remain perfectly neutral during the engagement."
"As you like then, Pilot, as you like," said the captain, as he resumed his place on the quarter-deck.
At this moment a cannon ball whistled through the air.
"Good," said Willis; "the commodore gives the signal."
"That shot," observed Jack, "passed at no great distance from your head, Willis. You had better take a musket in self-defence. Besides, that ship is English, and you are a Scotchman."
"The ship is a Spaniard by birth," replied Willis, "and it is pretty well time it was converted into firewood, for the matter of that. But it is the flag, my boy--that is neither Spanish nor English."
"What is it, then?" inquired Fritz.
"It is the union-jack, Master Fritz. It is the ensign of Scotland, England, and Ireland united under one bonnet; and as such, it is as sacred in my eyes as if it bore the cross of St. Andrew."
Musket balls were now rattling pretty freely amongst the shrouds. The young men levelled their muskets and fired.
Soon after, the two ships were abreast of each other, and almost at the same instant both discharged a deadly broadside. The conflict became general. The crashing of the woodwork and the roaring of the guns was deafening. A thick smoke enveloped the two vessels, so that nothing could be seen of the one from the other; still the firing and crashing went on. The sails were torn to shreds, the deck was encumbered with fragments of timber; men were now and then falling, either killed or wounded, and a fatigue party was constantly engaged in removing the bodies. There are people who consider such a spectacle magnificent; but that is only because they have never witnessed its horrors.
Already many immortal souls had returned to their Maker; many sons had become orphans, and many wives had been deprived of their husbands; but as yet there was nothing to indicate on which side victory was to be declared. Soon, however, a cry of fire was raised, which caused great confusion; and another cry, announcing that the captain had fallen, increased the disorder.
A ball crashed through the taffrail, near where Jack and Fritz were standing; it passed between them, but they were both severely wounded by the splinters, and were conveyed by Willis to the cockpit. The doctor, seeing his old friend Jack handed down the ladder, hastened towards him and tore out a piece of wood from the fleshy part of his arm. He next turned to Fritz, who had received a severe flesh-wound on the shoulder. When both wounds were bandaged, he left the care of the young men to Willis, who had escaped with a few scratches, which, however, were bleeding pretty freely--to these he did not pay the slightest attention.
"How stands the contest?" inquired Fritz in a weak voice.
"The Hoboken is done for," replied Willis; "the commodore was preparing to board when we left the deck; but it does not make much difference; we shall go to England instead of America, that is all."
"God's will be done," said Fritz.
Just then Bill Stubbs was swung down in a hammock; both his legs had been shot off by a cannon ball. The surgeon could only now attend to a tithe of his patients, so numerous had the wounded become. A glance at the new comer satisfied him that he was beyond all human skill, and he directed his attention to the cases that promised some hopes of recovery. Willis, seeing that his old comrade was abandoned to die almost uncared for, staunched his wounds as well as he could, fetched him a panniken of water, and performed a number of other little acts of kindness and good will. This he did, less with a view of obtaining an explanation from him at a moment when no man lies, than to mitigate the pangs of his last convulsions. For an instant the old mariner's body appeared re-animated with life. His eyes were fixed upon Willis with an ineffable expression of recognition and regret. He convulsively grasped the Pilot's hand and pressed it to his breast, and his lips parted as if to speak. Willis bent his ear to the mouth of the dying man, but all that followed was an expiring sigh. His earthly career was ended.
The hardy sailor who is supposed never to shed a tear, then wiped the corner of his eyes. Next he turned to the children of his adoption, whose pale faces indicated the amount of blood they had shed, and whose wounds, if he could have transferred them to himself, would have less pained his powerful muscles than they now grieved his excellent heart.
A party of boarders from the enemy had taken possession of the ship. Willis reported himself to the officer in command, and at his request, Fritz and Jack, together with the cargo of the pinnace, were conveyed on board the victorious schooner. Shortly after the Hoboken was despatched to Bermuda as a prize, with the prisoners, the wounded, and the dying.
The old tub that had gained this victory was named the Arzobispo, having, as Willis supposed, been captured in the Spanish Main. It was under the command of Commodore Truncheon, better known in the fleet by the soubriquet of Old Flyblow.
The Arzobispo, though old and clumsy, was a stout-built craft; and so thick was its hide, that the broadsides of the Yankee had done the hull no damage to speak of. The superstructure, however, was completely shattered; the masts and rigging hung like sweeps over the sides; and, to the unpractised eye, the ship was a complete wreck. A few days, however, sufficed to put everything to rights again so far as regards external appearance; but how this impromptu carpentry would stand a storm was another question.
The commodore was on his way to Europe when he fell in with the Yankee, and, notwithstanding the disabled condition of the ship, he resolved to continue his voyage. Some of the officers expostulated with him on the hazard of crossing the Atlantic in so shaky a trim. He only got red in the face, and said that he had crossed the herring-pond hundreds of times in crafts not half so seaworthy. He was like the
Froggy who would a wooing go, Whether his mother would let him or no.
The consequences of this defiance of advice were fatal to Old Flyblow; for, a week or two after his victory, he was pounced upon by the French corvette, Boudeuse, which was fresh, heavily armed, and well manned. The commodore's jury masts were knocked to pieces by the first broadside, his flag went by the board, and he was completely at the enemy's mercy. Willis lent a hand this time with a good will; but it was of no use, the wreck would not obey the helm, and the corvette hovered about, firing broadsides, and sending in discharges of musketry, when and where she liked. It was only when the commodore saw clearly that there was neither mast nor sail enough to yaw the ship, that he waved his cocked hat in token of surrender.
Fritz and Jack were still confined below with their wounds, when Willis brought them word that they would have to shift themselves and their cargo once more. The captain received them on board the Boudeuse with marked courtesy, and informed them that he was bound direct for Havre de Grace.
"It seems, then," said the Pilot, "that neither America nor England is to be our destination after all. But never mind, there are no lack of surgeons amongst the mounseers."
"If we go on this way much longer," said Jack, sighing, "we shall be carried round the world without arriving anywhere. Alas, my poor mother!"