Abbildungen der Seite

"Not at all, sir. I did try that, till I found that half the fellows would run to get rid of their wives. The Portsmouth and Plymouth marriages don't always bring large estates with them, sir, and the bridegrooms like to cut adrift at the end of the honey-moon. Don't you remember when we were in the Blenheim together, sir, we lost eleven of the launch's crew at one time; and nine of them turned out to be vagabonds, sir, that deserted their weeping wives and suffering families at home!"

"Now you mention it, I do remember something of the sort; draw a chair, Clinch, and take a glass of grog. Tim, put a bottle of Jamaica before Mr. Clinch. I have heard it said that you are married yourself, my gallant master'smate?"


Lord, Captain Cuffe, that's one of the young gentlemen's stories! If a body believed all they say, the Christian religion would soon get athwart-hawse, and mankind be all adrift in their morals," answered Clinch, smacking his lips, after a very grateful draught. "We've a regular set of high-flyers, aboard this ship, at this blessed minute, Captain Cuffe, sir, and Mr. Winchester has his hands full of them! I often wonder at his patience, sir."

"We were young once ourselves, Clinch, and ought to be indulgent to the follies of youth. But, what sort of a berth did you find last night, upon the rocks yonder?"


Why, sir, as good as one can expect out of Old England. I fell in with an elderly woman calling herself Giuntotardi-which is regular-built Italian, isn't it, sir?"

"That it is-but, you speak the language, I believe, Clinch ?"


Why, sir, I've been drifting about the world so long, that I speak a little of everything, finding it convenient when I stand in need of victuals and drink. The old lady on the hill and I overhauled a famous yarn between us, sir. It seems she has a niece and a brother at Naples, who ought to have been back night before last; and she was in lots of tribulation about them, wanting to know if our ship had seen anything of the rovers ?"


By George, Clinch, you were on soundings, there, had you but known it! Our prisoner has been in that part of the world, and we might get some clue to his manœuvres

by questioning the old woman closely. I hope you parted good friends?"

"The best in the world, Captain Cuffe. No one that feeds and lodges me well, need dread me as an enemy." "I'll warrant it! That's the reason you are so loyal, Clinch."

The hard, red face of the master's-mate worked a little, and, though he could not well look all sorts of colours, he looked all ways, but in his captain's eye. It was now ten years since he ought to have been a lieutenant, having once actually outranked Cuffe, in the way of date of service at least; and his conscience told him two things, quite distinctly; first, the fact of his long and weary probation; and second, that it was, in a great degree, his own fault.

"I love His Majesty, sir," Clinch observed, after giving a gulp," and I never lay anything that goes hard with myself to his account. Still, memory will be memory; and spite of all I can do, sir, I sometimes remember what I might have been, as well as what I am. If His Majesty does feed me, it is with the spoon of a master's-mate; and if he does lodge me, it is in the cockpit."

"I have been your shipmate, often, and for years at a time," answered Cuffe, good-naturedly, though a little in the manner of a superior; "and no one knows your history better. It is not your friends who have failed you, at need, so much as a certain enemy, with whom you will insist on associating, though he harms them most, who love him best."

"Ay, ay, sir-that can't be denied, Captain Cuffe; yet it's a hard life that passes altogether without hope."

This was uttered with an expression of melancholy that said more for Clinch's character than Cuffe had witnessed in the man for years, and it revived many early impressions in his favour. Clinch and he had once been messmates, even; and, though years of a decided disparity in rank had since interposed their barrier of etiquette and feeling, Cuffe never could entirely forget the circumstance.

“It is hard, indeed, to live as you say, without hope," returned the captain; "but hope ought to be the last thing to die. You should make one more rally, Clinch, before you throw up, in despair."

"It's not so much for myself, Captain Cuffe, that I mind it, as for some that live ashore. My father was as reputa. ble a tradesman as there was in Plymouth, and when he got me on the quarter-deck, he thought he was about to make a gentleman of me, instead of leaving me to pass a life, in a situation that may be said to be even beneath what his own was.'

[ocr errors]

"Now you undervalue your station, Clinch. The berth of a master's-mate, in one of His Majesty's finest frigates, is something to be proud of; I was once a master's-matenay, Nelson has doubtless filled the same station. For that matter, one of His Majesty's own sons may have gone through the rank."

[ocr errors]

Ay, gone through it, as you say, sir," returned Clinch, with a husky voice. "It does well enough for them that go through it, but it's death to them that stick. It's a feather in a midshipman's cap to be rated a mate; but it's no honour to be a mate, at my time of life, Captain Cuffe." "What is your age, Clinch?—You are not much my senior."

"Your senior, sir!-The difference in our years is not as great as in our rank, certainly, though I never shall see thirty-two, again. But it's not so much that, after all, as the thoughts of my poor mother, who set her heart on seeing me with His Majesty's commission in my pocket; and of another, who set her heart on one that I'm afraid was never worthy her affection.”

"This is new to me, Clinch," returned the captain, with interest. "One so seldom thinks of a master's-mate marrying, that the idea of your being in that way ha ; never crossed my mind, except in the manner of a joke."

"Master's-mates have married, Captain Cuffe, and they have ended in being very miserable. But Jane, as well as myself, has made up her mind to live single, unless we can see brighter prospects before us than what my present hopes afford."

"Is it quite right, Jack, to keep a poor young woman, towing along in this uncertainty, during the period of life when her chances for making a good connection are the best?"

Clinch stared at his commander, until his eyes filled with

tears. The glass had not touched his lips since the conversation took its present direction; and the usual, hard, settled character of his face was becoming expressive, once more, with human emotions.

"It's not my fault, Captain Cuffe," he answered, in a low voice; "it's now quite six years, since I insisted on her giving me up; but she wouldn't hear of the thing. A very respectable attorney wished to have her, and I even prayed her to accept his offer; and the only unkind glance I ever got from her eye, was when she heard me make a request that she told me sounded impiously, almost, to her ears. She would be a sailor's wife, or die a maid."

"The girl has unfortunately got some romantic notions concerning the profession, Clinch, and they are ever the hardest to be convinced of what is for their own good."

"Jane Weston!- Not she, sir- -There is not as much romance about her, as in the fly-leaves of a prayer-book. She is all heart, poor Jane; and how I came to get such a hold of it, Captain Cuffe, is a great mystery to myself. I certainly do not deserve half her affection, and I now begin to despair of ever being able to repay her for it."

Clinch was still a handsome man, though exposure and his habits had made some inroads on a countenance, that by nature was frank, open, and prepossessing. It now expressed the anguish that occasionally came over his heart, as the helplessness of his situation presented itself fully to his mind. Cuffe's feelings were touched, for he remembered the time when they were messmates, with a future before them, that promised no more to the one than to the other, the difference in the chances which birth afforded the captain, alone excepted. Clinch was a prime seaman, and as brave as a lion, too; qualities that secured to him a degree of respect, that his occasional self-forgetfulness had never entirely forfeited. Some persons thought him the most skilful mariner the Proserpine contained; and, perhaps, this was true, if the professional skill were confined strictly to the handling of a ship, or to taking care of her on critical occasions. All these circumstances induced Cuffe to enter more closely into the master-mate's present distress than he might otherwise have done. Instead of shoving the bottle to him, however, as if conscious how rouch dirannointed

nope had already driven the other to its indiscreet use, he pushed it gently aside, and taking his old messmate's hand, with a momentary forgetfulness of the difference in rank, he said in a tone of kindness and confidence, that had long been strangers to Clinch's ears—


Jack, my honest fellow, there is good stuff in you yet, if you will only give it fair play. Make a manly rally, respect yourself for a few months, and something will turn up, that will yet give you your Jane, and gladden your old mother's heart."

There are periods in the lives of men, when a few kind words, backed by a friendly act or two, might save thousands of human beings from destruction. Such was the crisis in the fate of Clinch. He had almost given up hope, though it did occasionally revive in him, whenever he got a cheering letter from the constant Jane, who pertinaciously refused to believe anything to his prejudice, and religiously abstained from all reproaches. But, it is necessary to under. stand the influence of rank, on board a man-of-war, fully to comprehend the effect, which was now produced on the master's-mate, by the captain's language and manner. Tears streamed out of the eyes of Clinch, and he grasped the hand of his commander, almost convulsively.


"What can I do, sir?-Captain Cuffe, what can I do?" he exclaimed. My duty is never neglected; but there are moments of despair, when I find the burthen too hard to be borne, without calling upon the bottle for support.'

[ocr errors]

"Whenever a man drinks with such a motive, Clinch, 1 would advise him to abstain altogether. He cannot trust himself; and that which he terms his friend, is, in truth, his direst enemy. Refuse your rations, even; determine to be free. One week, nay, one day, may give a strength that will enable you to conquer, by leaving your reason unimpaired. Absence from the ship has accidentally befriended you, for the little you have taken here, has not been sufficient to do any harm. We are now engaged on a most interesting duty, and I will throw service into your way, that may be of importance to you. Get your name once fairly in a despatch, and your commission is safe. Nelson loves to prefer old tars; and nothing would make him happier, than to be able to serve you Put it in my power

« ZurückWeiter »