Willis the Pilot by Johanna Spyri
Willis proves that the only way to be free is to get sent to Prison--An Escape--A Discovery--Promotions--Somnambulism.
Three weeks after the events narrated in the foregoing chapter, the thrice-rescued produce of Oceania had been converted into the current coin of the empire.
The greater portion of the proceeds was placed at the disposal of Willis, to facilitate him in procuring the means of returning to New Switzerland. He--like connoisseurs who buy up seemingly worthless pictures, because they have detected, or fancy they have detected, some masterly touches rarely found on modern canvas--had bought, not a ship, but the remains of what had once been one. This he obtained for almost nothing, but he knew the value of his purchase. The carcass was refitted under his own eye, and, when it left the ship-yard, looked as if it had been launched for the first time. The timbers were old; but the cabins and all the internal fittings were new; a few sheets of copper and the paint-brush accomplished the rest. When the mast was fitted in, and the new sails bent, the little sloop looked as jaunty as a nautilus, and, according to Willis himself, was the smartest little craft that ever hoisted a union-jack.
Whether the captain and the missionary still entertained the belief that the Pilot's wits had gone a wool-gathering or not, certain it is that they had followed his instructions, in so far as to relinquish their parole, and thus to lose their personal liberty. They were both securely locked up in one of the rooms or cells of the old palace or castle of Francois I., which was then, and perhaps is still, used as the state prison of Havre de Grace. This fortalice chiefly consists of a battlemented round tower, supported by strong bastions, and pierced, here and there, by small windows, strongly barred. The foot of the tower is bathed by the sea, which, as Willis afterwards remarked, was not only a favor granted to the tower, but likewise an obligation conferred upon themselves.
When the Pilot's purchase had been completely refitted, stores shipped, papers obtained, and every requisite made for the outward voyage, the departure of the three adventurers was announced, and a crowd assembled on shore to see their ship leave the harbor. She was towed out to the roads, where she lay tranquilly mirrored in the sea, ready to start the moment her commander stepped on board. Neither Fritz nor Jack, however, had yet completed their preparations. For the moment, therefore, the vessel was left in charge of some French seamen, whom Willis, however, had taken care to engage only for a short period.
Somewhere about a week after this, Fritz and Jack, in a small boat, painted perfectly black and manned by four stout rowers, with muffled oars, were lurking about the fortalice already mentioned. The night was pitch dark, and there was no moon. The waves beat sullenly on the foot of the tower and surged back upon themselves, like an enraged enemy making an abortive attempt to storm the walls of a town. Not a word was uttered, and the young men were intently listening, as if expecting to hear some preconcerted signal.
Meanwhile, in one of the rooms or cells of the round tower, about sixty feet above the level of the sea, Captain Littlestone, the missionary, and the Pilot were engaged in a whispered conversation, through which might be detected the dull sound of an oiled file working against iron. The cell was ample in size, but the stone walls were without covering of any kind. It was lighted during the day by one of the apertures we have already described; the thickness of the walls did not permit the rays of the sun to penetrate to the interior, and at the time of which we speak the apartment was perfectly dark.
"I should like to see the warder," whispered Willis, "when he comes, with his bundle of keys and his night-cap in his hand, to wish your honors good morning, but, in point of fact, to see whether your honors are in safe custody. How astonished the old rascal will be! Ho, ho, ho!"
"My good fellow," said the missionary, "it is scarcely time to laugh yet. It is just possible we may escape; but vain boasting is in no case deserving of approbation. It is, indeed, scarcely consistent with the dignity of my cloth to be engaged in breaking out of a prison; still, I am a man of peace, and not a man of war."
"No," said Willis, "you are not; but I wish to goodness you were a seventy-four--under the right colors, of course."
"I was going to remark," continued the missionary, "that I am a man of peace, and, consequently, do not think that I am justly entitled to be treated as a prisoner of war. Under these circumstances, I am, no doubt, justified in shaking off my bonds in any way that is open to me; the more particularly as the apostle Paul was once rescued from bondage in a similar way."
"He was let down from a window in a basket, was he not?"
"Yes; whilst journeying in the city of Damascus, the governor, whose name was Avetas resolved to arrest him and accordingly placed sentries at all the gates. Paul, however was permitted to pass through a house, the windows of which overhung the walls of the town, whence, as you say, he was let down in a basket, and escaped."[J]
"I trust your reverence will be in much the same position as the apostle, by-and-by--only you will have to dispense with the basket," said Willis.
"I have no wish to remain in bondage longer than is absolutely necessary," said the minister; "but there still seem difficulties in the way."
"Yes," said Willis, plying the file with redoubled energy, "this iron gives me more bother than I anticipated; but it is the nature of iron to be hard; however, it will not be long before we are all out of bondage, as your reverence calls it."
"May not the warder discover our escape, and raise an alarm in time to retake us?" inquired the missionary.
"No, I think not," replied the captain; "thanks to our habit of sleeping with our faces to the wall, he will be deceived by the dummies we have placed in the beds, for he always approaches on tip-toe not to awake us."
"That may be for the first round; but the second will assuredly disclose our absence."
"Very likely," remarked Willis; "he will then go right up to the beds, and shake the dummies by the shoulders, and say, Does your honor not know that it is ten o'clock, and that your breakfast is cooling? The dummies will, of course, not condescend to reply, and then--but what matters? By that time we shall have shaken out our top-sail, and pursuit will be out of the question. I should like to see the craft that will overtake us when once we are a couple of miles ahead."
"Poor man!" said the missionary, sighing; "our escape may, perhaps, cost him his place."
"No fear of that," said Willis; "perhaps, at first, he will make an attempt to tear his hair, but, as he wears a wig, that will not do much mischief."
"I shall, however, leave my purse on the table," said the missionary; "as it is tolerably well filled, that may afford the poor fellow some consolation."
"And I shall do the same," said the captain.
"If that does not console him for being deprived of the pleasure of our society, I do not know what will," observed Willis.
"It is now two o'clock," said the captain, feeling his watch, "and the warder goes his first rounds at three; we have therefore just one hour for our preparations."
"I have severed one bar," said Willis, "and the other is nearly through at one end, so keep your minds perfectly at ease."
"Your patience and equanimity, Willis, does you infinite credit," said the missionary. "Minister of the Gospel though I be, I fear that I do not possess these qualities to the same extent, for, to confess the truth, I feel an inward yearning to be free, and yet am restless and anxious."
"There is no great use in being in a hurry," said the Pilot; "the more haste the less speed, you know."
"True; but might not these bars have been sawn through before? If this had been done, our flight would have been, at least, less precipitate."
"You forget, Mr. Wolston," said the captain, "that we did not know till nine o'clock the affair was to come off to-night."
"And I could not come any sooner to tell you," remarked the Pilot; "I had the greatest difficulty in the world to get in here; the maritime commissary would not take me into custody."
"I forgot to ask you how you contrived to get incarcerated," observed the captain; "you were not a prisoner, and could not plead your parole."
"No; and consequently I had to plead something else."
"Willis," said the missionary, "the work you are engaged in must be very fatiguing, let me exercise my strength upon the bars for a short time."
"If you like, minister, but keep the file well oiled."
"What, motive, then, did you urge, Willis?" inquired Captain Littlestone.
"'Mr. Commissary,' said I, 'one of your frigates captured the English cutter Nelson some time ago, but the capture was not complete.'
"'How so?' inquired the commissary.
"'Because, Mr. Commissary,' said I, 'you did not capture the boatswain, and a British ship without a boatswain is no good; it is like a body without a soul.'
"'Is that all you have to tell me?' said the commissary, looking glum.
"'No,' said I, 'to make the capture complete, you have still to arrest the boatswain, and here he is standing before you--I am the man; but having been detained by family affairs in the Pacific Ocean, I could not surrender myself any sooner.'
"'And what do you want me to do with you?' said he.
"'Why, what you would have done with me had I been on board the Nelson, to be sure.'
"'What! take you prisoner?'
"'You wish me to do so?'
"'Is it possible?'
"'Then you refuse to take me into custody, Mr. Commissary?' said I.
"'Yes, positively,' said he; 'we take prisoners, but we do not accept them when offered.'
"'Then you will not allow me to join my captain in his adversity?'
"'Your captain is as great a fool as yourself,' said he; 'he need not have gone to prison unless he liked.'
"'That was a matter of taste on his part, Mr. Commissary, but is a matter of duty on mine,'"
"This bar is nearly through," whispered the missionary.
"There is no time to be lost," said the captain; "the warder will be round in a quarter of an hour."
"Well," continued Willis, "the commissary began to get angry, he rose up, and was about to leave the room, when I placed myself resolutely before him.
"'Sir,' said I, 'one word more--you know the French laws; be good enough to tell me what crime will most surely and most promptly send me to prison.'
"'Oh, there are plenty of them,' said he, laughing.
"'Well, commissary,' says I, 'suppose I knock you down here on the spot, will that do?"
"Was that not going a little too far, Willis?"
"What could I do? The ship was all ready, everybody on board but yourselves, circumstances were pressing, and you know I would have floored him as gently as possible."
At this moment the bar yielded. To the end of a piece of twine, which Willis had rolled round his body, a piece of stone was attached; this he let down till it touched the water, and then the caw of a crow rang through the air.
"That was a very good imitation, Willis," said the captain. "You did not break any of the commissary's bones, did you?"
"No; the threat was quite sufficient; he would not yield to my prayers, but he yielded to my impudence, and ordered me into custody. At first, however, I was thrust into an underground cell; but I obtained, or rather my louis obtained for me, permission to chum with you; and, by the way, what a frightful staircase I had to mount! that more than any thing else, obliges us to get down by the window."
Willis, who continued to hold one end of the cord, at the sound of a whistle drew it up, and found attached to the other end a stout rope ladder. This he made fast to the bars of the window that still remained intact. At the request of the minister, all three then fell upon their knees and uttered a short prayer. Immediately after, Wolston went out of the window and began to descend, the captain followed, and Willis brought up the rear. All three were cautiously progressing downwards, when the missionary called out he had forgotten to forget his purse.
"I have made the same omission," said the captain; "hand yours up, Wolston."
The missionary accordingly held up his with one hand whilst he held on the ladder with the other. The captain bent down to take it, but found he could not reach it without endangering his equilibrium. They both made some desperate efforts to accomplish the feat, but the thing was impossible.
"I see no help for it," said the missionary, "but to ascend all three again."
"That is awkward," said the captain.
"Gentlemen," said Willis, "three o'clock is striking on the prison clock; the warder will be round in two minutes."
"God sometimes permits good actions to go unrewarded," said the missionary; "but he never punishes them."
"Let us re-ascend, then," said the captain.
"So be it," said Willis, going upwards.
They had scarcely time to re-enter the cell before they heard the sound of steps and the clank of keys in the corridor. The steps discontinued at their door, and a key was thrust into the lock.
"What is the matter?" cried the captain from his bed, as the gaoler thrust his head inside the door.
"Why," said the warder, "I heard a noise, and thought that your honor might be ill."
"Thank you for your attention, Ambroise," replied the captain, in a half sleepy tone; "but you have been deceived, we are all quite well."
"Entirely so," added the missionary.
"All right old fellow!" cried Willis, with a yawn.
This triple affirmation, which assured him, not only of the health, but also of the custody of his prisoners, seemed satisfactory to the gaoler.
"I am sorry to have awoke your honors," said he, as he withdrew his head and relocked the door; "it must have been in the room overhead."
"Good?" said Willis, "the old rascal expects nothing."
Two well-lined purses were laid on the table, and in a few minutes more the three men resumed their position on the ladder in the same order as before. They arrived safely in the boat, where they were cordially welcomed by Fritz and Jack. The men were then ordered to pull for their lives to the ship, which they did with a hearty will. The instant they stepped on board the anchor was weighed, and when morning broke not a vestige of the old tower of Havre de Grace was anywhere to be seen.
"Why," exclaimed the captain, looking about him with an air of astonishment, "this is my own vessel!"
"Yes, captain," said Willis, touching his cap, "and I am its boatswain or pilot, whichever your honor chooses to call me."
"But how did you obtain possession of her?"
"By right of purchase she belongs to our friends, Masters Fritz and Jack, but they have agreed to waive their claim, providing you proceed with them to New Switzerland."
"I agree most willingly to these conditions," said Captain Littlestone, addressing the two brothers, "the more so that my destination was Sydney when the Nelson was captured."
"In the meantime, captain," said Fritz, "my brother and I have to request that you will resume the command, and treat us as passengers."
"Thank you, my friends, thank you. Willis, are all the old crew on board?"
"All that were in Havre, your honor; I commissioned Bill Stubbs to pick them up, and he managed to smuggle them all on board."
"Then pipe all hands on deck."
"Aye, aye, captain," said Willis, sounding his whistle.
When the men were mustered, Littlestone made a short speech to them, told them that they would receive pay for the time they had been in the enemy's power, and inquired whether they were all willing to continue the voyage under his command. This question was responded to by a general assent.
"Then," he continued, turning to Willis, "the share you have had in the rescue of the Nelson and its crew, conjointly with my interest at the Admiralty, will, I have not the slightest doubt, obtain for you the well-merited rank of lieutenant of his Majesty's navy. I have, therefore, to request that you will assume that position on board during the voyage, until confirmed by the arrival of your commission."
"Thank your honor," said Willis, bowing.
"And now, lieutenant, you will be kind enough to rate William Stubbs on the books as boatswain."
"Aye, aye, captain," said Willis, handing his whistle to Bill.
"Pipe to breakfast," said the captain.
"Aye, aye, sir," replied the new boatswain, sounding the whistle.
"By the way," said Littlestone, turning to Jack, "I do not see the surgeon you spoke of on board. How is this?"
"He is on board for all that," said Jack, drawing an official looking document out of his pocket; "be kind enough to read that."
The captain accordingly read as follows:--
This document was countersigned, sealed, and stamped by the mayor, the prefect, and other authorities of the department.
"How have you contrived to obtain so satisfactory a certificate in so short a period?" inquired the captain.
"I was introduced to the chief surgeon by the medical man on board the Boudeuse. I stated my position to him, and, probably, he threw facilities in my way of obtaining the object I had in view that were, perhaps, rarely accorded to others. All the cases of cancer, for example, were placed under my care; I had, therefore, an opportunity of observing a great many phases and varieties of that disease."
"Are you determined to follow up the profession of surgery, then?"
"Yes, captain; I have shipped a medicine chest on board, a complete assortment of instruments, and a collection of English, French, and German medical works. It is my intention to make myself thoroughly familiar with the theory of the science, and trust to chance for practice."
"Then allow me, Mr. Becker, to rate you as surgeon of the Nelson for the outward voyage. Will you accept the office?"
"With pleasure, Captain; but, at the same time, I trust there will be no occasion to exercise my skill."
"No one can say what may happen; disease turns up where it is least expected. Lieutenant," he added, turning to Willis, "be kind enough to rate Mr. Becker on the ship's books as surgeon."
"Aye, Aye, sir."
Meantime the Nelson was making her way rapidly along the French coast, and had already crossed the Bay of Biscay. The Nelson behaved herself admirably, and took to her new gear with excellent grace. All was going merrily as a marriage bell. They did not now run very much risk of cruisers, as Fritz had French papers perfectly en regle, and Captain Littlestone would have had little difficulty to prove his identity; besides, the speed of the Nelson was sufficient to secure their safety in cases where danger was to be apprehended.
One night, about four bells (ten o'clock), when Willis was lazily lolling in his hammock, doubtless ruminating on his newly-acquired dignity, his cabin-door gradually opened, and the captain entered. Willis stared at first, thinking he might have something important to communicate, but he only muttered something about a cloud gathering in the west. This was too much for Willis; it resembled his former meditations so vividly, that he leaped out of his hammock, seized Littlestone by the collar, and called loudly for Fritz and Jack.
"It is not very respectfull, captain, to handle you in this way; but the case is urgent, and I should like to have the mystery cleared up."
The two brothers, when they entered the cabin, beheld Willis holding the captain tightly in his arms.
"I have caught him at last, you see," said the Pilot.
"So it would appear," observed Jack; "but are you not aware the captain is asleep?"
And so it was Littlestone had walked from his own cabin to that of Willis in a state of somnambulism.
"What is the matter?" inquired the latter, when he became conscious of his position.
"Nothing is the matter, captain," replied Jack, "only you have been walking in your sleep."
"Ah--yes--it must be so!" exclaimed Littlestone; gazing about him with a troubled air. "Have I not paid you a visit of this kind before, Willis?"
"On board the Boudeuse."
"That must have been the craft I was transferred to, then, after the capture of the Nelson. Just call Mr. Wolston, and let us have the matter explained."
On comparing notes, it appeared that the captain and the missionary had been on board the Boudeuse. Both had been ill, and both had been closely confined to their cabin during the entire voyage, partly on account of their being prisoners of war, and partly on account of their illness. On one occasion, but on one only, the captain had escaped from his cabin during the night. Willis might, therefore, have seen him once, but that he had seen him oftener was only a dream.
"It appears, then," said Littlestone, "that my illness has left this unfortunate tendency to sleep-walking. I shall, therefore, place myself in your hands, Master Jack; perhaps you may be able to chase it away."
"I will do my best, captain; and I think I may venture to promise a cure."
Willis was sorry for the captain's sleeplessness, but he was glad that the mystery hanging over them both had been so far cleared up. His visions and dreams had been a source of constant annoyance to him; but now that their origin had been discovered, he felt that henceforward he might sleep in peace.
After a rapid run, the sloop cast anchor off the Cape. Here Captain Littlestone reported himself to the commander on the station, and received fresh papers. He also sent off a despatch to the Lords of the Admiralty, in which he reported the capture and rescue of his ship. He informed them that his own escape and that of the crew was entirely owing to the tact and daring of Willis, the boatswain, whom, in consequence, he had nominated his second in command, vice Lieutenant Dunsford, deceased; the appointment subject, of course, to their lordship's approval.
Willis wrote a long letter to his wife, informing her of his expected promotion, adding that, in a year or so after the receipt of his commission, he should retire on half-pay, and then emigrate to a delightful country, where he had been promised a vast estate. He said that, probably, he should have an entire island to himself, and possibly have the command of the fleet; but he thought it as well to say nothing about tigers, sharks, and chimpanzees.
The missionary also wrote to England, relinquishing his charge in South Africa, and requesting a mission amongst the benighted inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean, where he stated he was desirous of settling for family reasons, and where besides, he said, he would have a wider and equally interesting field for his labors.
The two brothers found at the Cape a large sum of money at their disposal; this, however, they had now no immediate use for; they, consequently, left it to await the arrival of Frank and Ernest, who, in all probability, would return with the Nelson.
The arrangements made, the Nelson was fully armed and manned, an ample supply of stores and ammunition was shipped, the mails in Sydney were taken on board, and the sloop resumed her voyage.
[J] 2nd Cor., xi., 32.