The Privateersman

Фредерик Марриет
The Privateersman

Chapter Eight
The Liverpool Ladies are very civil to me—I am admitted into good Society—Introduced to Captain Levee—Again sail to Senegal—Overhear a Conspiracy to seize the Ship by the Crew of a Slaver, but am enabled to defeat it—Am thanked and rewarded by the Owner—Take a Trip to London with Captain Levee—Stopped by Highwaymen on the Road—Put up at a Tavern—Dissipated Town Life—Remove to a genteel Boarding-House—Meet with a Government Spy—Return to Liverpool

As the captain reported me to be a very attentive and good officer, although I was then but twenty-three years of age, and as I had been previously on good terms and useful to the owner, I was kindly received by him, and paid much more attention to than my situation on board might warrant. My captivity among the Negroes, and the narrative I gave of my adventures, were also a source of much interest. I was at first questioned by the gentlemen of Liverpool, and afterwards one of the merchant’s ladies, who had heard something of my adventures, and found out that I was a young and personable man, with better manners than are usually to be found before the mast, invited me one evening to a tea-party, that I might amuse her friends with my adventures. They were most curious about the Negro queen, Whyna, inquiring into every particular as to her personal appearance and dress, and trying to find out, as women always do, if there was anything of an intrigue between us. They shook their little fingers at me, when I solemnly declared that there was not, and one or two of them cajoled me aside to obtain my acknowledgment of what they really believed to be the truth, although I would not confess it.

When they had tired themselves with asking questions about the Negro queen, they then began to ask about myself, and how it happened I was not such a bear, and coarse in my manners and address, as the other seamen. To this I could give no other reply but that I had been educated when a child. They would fain know who were my father and mother, and in what station of life it had pleased God to place them; but I hardly need say, my dear Madam, to you who are so well acquainted with my birth and parentage, that I would not disgrace my family by acknowledging that one of their sons was in a situation so unworthy; not that I thought at that time, nor do I think now, that I was so much to blame in preferring independence in a humble position, to the life that induced me to take the step which I did; but as I could not state who my family were without also stating why I had quitted them, I preserved silence, as I did not think that I had any right to communicate family secrets to strangers. The consequences of my first introduction to genteel society were very agreeable; I received many more invitations from the company assembled, notwithstanding that my sailor’s attire but ill corresponded with the powdered wigs and silk waistcoats of the gentlemen, or the hoops and furbelows of satin, which set off the charms of the ladies. At first I did not care so much, but as I grew more at my ease, I felt ashamed of my dress, and the more so as the young foplings would put their glasses to their eyes, and look at me as if I were a monster. But supported as I was by the fair sex, I cared little for them. The ladies vowed that I was charming, and paid me much courtesy; indeed my vanity more than once made me suspect that I was something more than a mere favourite with one or two of them, one especially, a buxom young person, and very coquettish, who told me, as we were looking out of the bay-window of the withdrawing-room, that since I could be so secret with respect to what took place between the Negress queen and myself, I must be sure to command the good-will and favour of the ladies, who always admired discretion in so young and so handsome a man. But I was not to be seduced by this flattery, for somehow or another I had ever before me the French lady, and her conduct to me; and I had almost a dislike, or I should rather say I had imbibed an indifference, for the sex.

This admission into good society did, however, have one effect upon me; it made me more particular in my dress, and all my wages were employed in the decoration of my person. At that time you may recollect, Madam, there were but two styles of dress among the seamen; one was that worn by those who sailed in the northern seas, and the other by those who navigated in the tropical countries, both suitable to the climates. The first was the jacket, woollen frock, breeches, and petticoat of canvass over all, with worsted stockings, shoes, and buckles, and usually a cap of skin upon the head; the other a light short jacket, with hanging buttons, red sash, trowsers, and neat shoes and buckles, with a small embroidered cap with falling crown, or a hat and feather. It was this last which I had always worn, having been continually in warm climates, and my hair was dressed in its natural ringlets instead of a wig, which I was never partial to, although very common among seamen; my ears were pierced, and I wore long gold earrings, as well as gilt buckles in my shoes; and, by degrees, I not only improved my dress so as to make it very handsome in materials, but my manners were also very much altered for the better.

I had been at Liverpool about two months, waiting for the ship to unload and take in cargo for another voyage, when a privateer belonging to the same owner came into port with four prizes of considerable value; and the day afterwards I was invited by the owner to meet the captain who commanded the privateer.

He was a very different looking person from Captain Weatherall, who was a stout, strong-limbed man, with a weather-beaten countenance. He, on the contrary, was a young man of about twenty-six, very slight in person, with a dark complexion, hair and eyes jet black. I should have called him a very handsome Jew—for he bore that cast of countenance, and I afterwards discovered that he was of that origin, although I cannot say that he ever followed the observances of that remarkable people. He was handsomely dressed, wearing his hair slightly powdered, a laced coat and waistcoat, blue sash and trowsers, with silver-mounted pistols and dagger in his belt, and a smart hanger by his side. He had several diamond rings on his finger, and carried a small clouded cane. Altogether, I had never fallen in with so smart and prepossessing a personage, and should have taken him for one of the gentlemen commanding the king’s ships, rather than the captain of a Liverpool privateer. He talked well and fluently, and with an air of command and decision, taking the lead in the company, although it might have been considered that he was not by any means the principal person in it. The owner, during the evening, informed me that he was a first-rate officer, of great personal courage, and that he had made a great deal of money, which he had squandered away almost as fast as he received it.

With this person, whose name was Captain Levee, (an alteration, I suspect, from Levi,) I was much pleased; and as I found that he did not appear to despise my acquaintance, I took much pains to please him, and we were becoming very intimate, when my ship was ready to sail. I now found that I was promoted to the office of first mate, which gave me great satisfaction.

We sailed with an assorted cargo, but very light, and nothing of consequence occurred during our passage out. We made good traffic on the coast as we ran down it, receiving ivory, gold-dust, and wax, in exchange for our printed cottons and hardware. After being six weeks on the coast, we put into Senegal to dispose of the remainder of our cargo; which we soon did to the governor, who gave us a fair exchange, although by no means so profitable a barter as what we had made on the coast; but that we did not expect for what might be called the refuse of our cargo. The captain was much pleased, as he knew the owner would be satisfied with him, and, moreover, he had himself a venture in the cargo; and we had just received the remainder of the ivory from the governor’s stores, and had only to get on board a sufficiency of provisions and water for our homeward voyage, when a circumstance took place which I must now relate.

Our crew consisted of the captain, and myself, as first mate, the second mate, and twelve seamen, four of which were those who had been taken prisoners with me, and had been released, as I have related, in our previous voyage. These four men were very much attached to me, I believe chiefly from my kindness to them when I was a slave to the queen Whyna, as I always procured for them everything which I could, and, through the exertions of my mistress, had them plentifully supplied with provisions from the king’s table. The second mate and other eight men we had shipped at Liverpool. They were fine, stout fellows, but appeared to be loose characters, but that we did not discover till after we had sailed. There was anchored with us at Senegal a low black brig, employed in the slave-trade, which had made the bay at the same time that we did; and to their great surprise—for she was considered a very fast sailer—she was beaten at all points by our ship, which was considered the fastest vessel out of Liverpool. The crew of the slaver were numerous, and as bloodthirsty a set of looking fellows as ever I fell in with. Their boat was continually alongside of our vessel, and I perceived that their visits were made to the eight men whom we had shipped at Liverpool, and that they did not appear inclined to be at all intimate with the rest of the crew. This roused my suspicions, although I said nothing; but I watched them very closely. One forenoon, as I was standing at the foot of the companion-ladder, concealed by the booby-hatch from the sight of those on deck, I heard our men talking over the side, and at last, as I remained concealed, that I might overhear the conversation, one of the slaver’s men from the boat said, “To-night, at eight o’clock, we will come to arrange the whole business.” The boat then shoved off, and pulled for the brig.


Now, it was the custom of the captain to go on shore every evening to drink sangaree and smoke with the governor, and very often I went with him, leaving the ship in charge of the second mate. It had been my intention, and I had stated as much to the second mate, to go this evening, as it was the last but one that we should remain at Senegal; but from what I overheard I made up my mind that I would not go. About an hour before sunset, I complained of headache and sickness, and sat down under the awning over the after part of the quarter-deck. When the captain came up to go on shore, he asked me if I was ready, but I made no answer, only put my hand to my head.

The captain, supposing that I was about to be attacked by the fever of the country, was much concerned, and desired the second mate to help him to take me down to the state-room, and then went on shore; the boat was, as usual, pulled by the four men who were prisoners with me, and whom the captain found he could trust on shore better than the others belonging to the crew, who would indulge in liquor whenever they had an opportunity. I remained in my bed-place till it was nearly eight o’clock, and then crept softly up the companion-hatch to ascertain who was on deck.

The men were all below in the fore-peak at their suppers, and as I had before observed that their conferences were held on the forecastle, I went forward, and covered myself up with a part of the main-topsail, which the men had been repairing during the day. From this position I could hear all that passed, whether they went down into the fore-peak, or remained to converse on the forecastle. About ten minutes afterwards I heard the boat grate against the ship’s side, and the men of the slaver mount on the deck.

“All right?” inquired one of the slavers.

“Yes,” replied our second mate; “skipper and his men are on shore, and the first mate taken with the fever.”

“All the better,” replied another; “one less to handle. And now, my lads, let’s to business, and have everything settled to-night, so that we may not be seen together any more till the work is done.”

They then commenced a consultation, by which I found it was arranged that our ship was to be boarded and taken possession of as soon as she was a few miles out of the bay, for they dared not attack us while we were at anchor close to the fort; but the second mate and eight men belonging to us were to pretend to make resistance until beaten down below, and when the vessel was in their power, the captain, I, and the other four men who were ashore in the boat, were to be silenced for ever. After which there came on a discussion as to what was to be done with the cargo, which was very valuable, and how the money was to be shared out when the cargo was sold. Then they settled who were to be officers on board of the ship, which there is no doubt they intended to make a pirate vessel. I also discovered that, if they succeeded, it was their intention to kill their own captain and such men of the slaver who would not join them, and scuttle their own vessel, which was a very old one.

The consultation ended by a solemn and most villainous oath being administered to every man as to secrecy and fidelity, after which the men of the slaver went into their boat, and pulled to their own vessel. The second mate and our men remained on deck about a quarter of an hour, and then all descended by the ladder to the fore-peak, and turned into their hammocks.

As soon as I thought I could do so with safety, I came out of my lurking-place, and retreated to the state-room. It was fortunate that I did, for a minute afterwards I heard a man on deck, and the second mate came down the companion-hatch, and inquired whether I wanted anything. I told him no; that I was very ill, and only hoped to be able to go to sleep, and asked him if the captain had returned. He replied that he had not, and then went away. As soon as I was left to myself, I began to consider what would be best to be done. I knew the captain to be a very timorous man, and I was afraid to trust him with the secret, as I thought he would be certain to let the men know by his conduct that they were discovered and their plans known. The four men who were prisoners with me I knew that I could confide in. This was the Tuesday night, and we proposed sailing on the Thursday. Now we had no means of defence on board, except one small gun, which was honey-combed and nearly useless. It did very well to make a signal with, but had it been loaded with ball, I believe it would have burst immediately. It is true that we had muskets and cutlasses, but what use would they have been against such a force as would be opposed, and two-thirds of our men mutineers. Of course we must have been immediately overpowered.

That the slavers intended to take possession of their own vessel before they took ours, I had no doubt. It is true that we outsailed them when we had a breeze, but the bay was usually becalmed, and it was not till a vessel had got well into the offing that she obtained a breeze, and there was no doubt but that they would take the opportunity of boarding us when we were moving slowly through the water, and a boat might easily come up with us. The slaver had stated his intention of sailing immediately to procure her cargo elsewhere, and if she got under weigh at the same time that we did, no suspicion would be created. To apply for protection to the governor would be useless—he could not protect us after we were clear of the bay. Indeed, if it were known that we had so done, it would probably only precipitate the affair, and we should be taken possession of while at anchor, for the shot from the fort would hardly reach us. It was, therefore, only by stratagem that we could escape from the clutches of these miscreants. Again, allowing that we were to get clear of the slavers, we were still in an awkward position, for, supposing the captain to be of any use, we should still only be six men against nine, and we might be overpowered by our own crew, who were determined and powerful men.

All night I lay on my bed reflecting upon what ought to be done, and at last I made up my mind.

The next morning I went on deck, complaining very much, but stating that the fever had left me. The long-boat was sent on shore for more water, and I took care that the second mate and eight men should be those selected for the service. As soon as they had shoved off I called the other four men on the forecastle, and told them what I had overheard. They were very much astonished, for they had had no idea that there was anything of the kind going forward. I imparted to them all my plans, and they agreed to support me in everything—indeed, they were all brave men, and would have, if I had acceded to it, attempted to master and overpower the second mate and the others, and make sail in the night; but this I would not permit, as there was a great risk. They perfectly agreed with me that, it was no use acquainting the captain, and that all we had to do was to get rid of these men, and carry the vessel borne how we could. How that was to be done was the point at issue. One thing was certain, that it was necessary to leave the bay that night, or it would be too late. Fortunately, there was always a light breeze during the night, and the nights were dark, for there was no moon till three o’clock in the morning, by which time we could have gained the offing, and then we might laugh at the slaver, as we were lighter in our heels. The boat came off with the water about noon, and the men went to dinner. The captain had agreed to dine with the governor, and I had been asked to accompany him. It was to be our farewell dinner, as we were to sail the next morning. I had been cogitating a long while to find out how to get rid of these fellows, when at last I determined that I would go on shore with the captain, and propose a plan to the governor. His knowledge of what was about to be attempted could do no harm, and I thought he would help us; so I went into the boat, and when we landed I told the men what I intended to do. As soon as I arrived at the governor’s, I took an opportunity, while the captain was reading a book, to request a few moments’ conversation, and I then informed the governor of the conspiracy which was afloat, and when I had so done, I pointed out to him the propriety of saying nothing to the captain until all was safe, and proposed my plan to him, which he immediately acceded to. When he returned to where the captain was still reading, he told him that he had a quantity of gold-dust and other valuables, which he wished to send to England by his ship; but that he did not wish to do it openly, as it was supposed that he did not traffic, and that if the captain would send his long-boat on shore after dark, he would send all the articles on board, with instructions to whom they were to be consigned on our arrival. The captain of course consented. We bade the governor farewell about half an hour before dark, and returned on board. After I had been a few minutes on deck, I sent for the second mate, and told him as a secret what the governor proposed to do, and that he would be required to land after dark for the goods, telling him that there was a very large quantity of gold-dust, and that he must be very careful. I knew that this intelligence would please him, as it would add to their plunder when they seized the vessel; and I told him that as we sailed at daylight, he must lose no time, but be on board again as soon as he could, that we might hoist in the long-boat. About eight o’clock in the evening, the boat, with him and the eight men, went on shore. The governor had promised to detain them, and ply them with liquor, till we had time to get safe off. As soon as they were out of sight and hearing, we prepared everything for getting under weigh. The captain had gone to his cabin, but was not in bed. I went down to him, and told him I should remain up till the boat returned, and see that all was right; and that in the mean time I would get everything ready for weighing the next morning, and that he might just as well go to bed now, and I would call him to relieve me at daylight. To this arrangement he consented; and in half an hour I perceived that his candle was out, and that he had retired. Being now so dark that we could not perceive the slaver, which lay about three cables’ length from us, it was fairly to be argued that she could not see us; I therefore went forward and slipped the cable without noise, and sent men up aloft to loose the sails. There was a light breeze, sufficient to carry us about two knots through the water, and we knew that it would rather increase than diminish. In half an hour, weak-handed as we were, we were under sail, everything being done without a word being spoken, and with the utmost precaution. You may imagine how rejoiced we all were when we found that we had manoeuvred so well; notwithstanding, we kept a sharp look-out, to see if the slaver had perceived our motions, and had followed us; and the fear of such being the case kept us under alarm till near daylight, when the breeze blew strong, and we felt that we had nothing more to dread. As the day broke, we found that we were four or five leagues from the anchorage, and could not see the lower masts of the slaver, which still remained where we had left her.

Satisfied that we were secure, I then went down to the captain, and, as he lay in bed, made him acquainted with all that had passed. He appeared as if awakened from a dream, rose without making any reply, and hastened on deck. When he found out that we were under weigh, and so far from the land, he exclaimed:

“It must all be true; but how shall we be able to take the ship home with so few hands?”

I replied, that I had no fears on that score, and that I would answer for bringing the vessel safe to Liverpool.

“But,” he said at last, “how is it that I was not informed of all this? I might have made some arrangements with the men.”

“Yes, Sir,” I replied, “but if you had attempted to do so, the vessel would have been taken immediately.”

“But why was I not acquainted with it, I want to know?” he said again.

I had by this time made up my mind to the answer I should give him; so I said, “Because it would have placed a serious responsibility on your shoulders, if, as captain of this vessel, you had sailed to England with such a valuable cargo and so few hands. The governor and I, therefore, thought it better that you should not be placed in such an awkward position, and therefore we considered it right not to say a word to you about it. Now, if anything goes wrong, it will be my fault, and not yours, and the owner cannot blame you.” When I had said this, the captain was silent for a minute or two, and then said:


“Well, I believe it is all for the best, and I thank you and the governor too.”

Having got over this little difficulty, I did not care. We made all sail, and steered homewards; and, after a rapid passage, during which we were on deck day and night, we arrived, very much fatigued, at Liverpool. Of course the captain communicated what had occurred to the owner, who immediately sent for me, and having heard my version of the story, expressed his acknowledgment for the preservation of the vessel; and to prove his sincerity, he presented me with fifty guineas for myself, and ten for each of the men. The cargo was soon landed, and I was again at liberty. I found Captain Levee in port; he had just returned from another cruise, and had taken a rich prize. He met me with the same cordiality as before; and having asked me for a recital of what had occurred at Senegal, of which he had heard something from the owner, as soon as I had finished, he said:

“You are a lad after my own heart, and I wish we were sailing together. I want a first-lieutenant like you, and if you will go with me, say the word, and it will be hard but I will have you.”

I replied that I was not very anxious to be in a privateer again; and this brought on a discourse upon what occurred when I was in the Revenge with Captain Weatherall.

“Well,” he said at last, “all this makes me more anxious to have you. I like fair fighting, and hate buccaneering like yourself; however, we will talk of it another time. I am about to start for London. What do you say, will you join me, and we will have some sport? With plenty of money, you may do anything in London.”

“Yes,” I replied, “but I have not plenty of money.”

“That shall make no difference; money is of no use but to spend it, that I know of,” replied Captain Levee. “I have plenty for both of us, and my purse is at your service; help yourself as you please, without counting, for I shall be your enemy if you offer to return it. That’s settled; the horses are all ready, and we will start on Wednesday. How will you dress? I think it might be better to alter your costume, now you are going to London. You’ll make a pretty fellow, dress how you will.”

“Before I give you an answer to all your kind proposals, I must speak to the owner, Captain Levee.”

“Of course you must; shall we go there now?”

“Willingly,” I replied. And we accordingly set off. Captain Levee introduced the subject as soon as we arrived at the counting-house, stating that he wanted me to be first-lieutenant of the privateer, and that I was going to London with him, if he had no objection.

“As for going to London with you for five or six weeks, Captain Levee, there can be no objection to that,” replied the owner; “but as for being your first-lieutenant, that is another question. I have a vessel now fitting out, and intended to offer the command of it to Mr Elrington. I do so now at once, and he must decide whether he prefers being under your orders to commanding a vessel of his own.”

“I will decide that for him,” replied Captain Levee. “He must command his own vessel; it would be no friendship on my part to stand in the way of his advancement. I only hope, if she is a privateer, that we may cruise together.”

“I cannot reply to that latter question,” replied the owner. “Her destination is uncertain; but the command of her is now offered to Mr Elrington, if he will accept of it before his trip to the metropolis.”

I replied that I should with pleasure, and returned the owner many thanks for his kindness; and, after a few minutes’ more conversation, we took our leave.

“Now I should advise you,” said Captain Levee, as we walked towards his lodgings, “to dress as a captain of a vessel of war, much in the style that I do. You are a captain, and have a right so to do. Come with me, and let me fit you out.”

I agreed with Captain Levee that I could not do better; so we went and ordered my suits of clothes, and purchased the other articles which I required. Captain Levee would have paid for them, but I had money sufficient, and would not permit him; indeed with my pay and present of fifty guineas I had upwards of seventy guineas in my purse, and did not disburse more than fifty in my accoutrements, although my pistols and hanger were very handsome.

We did not start until three days after the time proposed, when I found at daylight two stout well-bred horses at the door; one for Captain Levee, and the other for me. We were attended by two serving-men belonging to the crew of the privateer commanded by Captain Levee—powerful, fierce-looking, and determined men, armed to the teeth, and mounted upon strong jades. One carried the valise of Captain Levee, which was heavy with gold. The other had charge of mine, which was much lighter, as you may suppose. We travelled for three days without any interruption, making about thirty miles a day, and stopping at the hostelries to sleep every night. On the fourth day we had a slight affair, for as we were mounting a hill towards the evening, we found our passage barred by five fellows with crape masks, who told us to stand and deliver.

“We will,” replied Captain Levee, firing his pistol, and reining up his horse at the same time. The ball struck the man, who fell back on the crupper, while the others rushed forward. My pistols were all ready, and I fired at the one who spurred his horse upon me, but the horse rearing up saved his master, the ball passing through the head of the animal, who fell dead, holding his rider a prisoner by the thigh, which was underneath his body. Our two men had come forward and ranged alongside of us at the first attack, but now that two had fallen, the others finding themselves in a minority, after exchanging shots, turned their horses’ heads and galloped away. We would have pursued them, but Captain Levee said it was better not, as there might be more of the gang near, and by pursuing them we might separate and be cut off in detail.

“What shall we do with these fellows?” asked our men of Captain Levee.

“Leave them to get off how they can,” replied Captain Levee. “I will not be stopped on my journey by such a matter as this. I dare say they don’t deserve hanging more than half the people we meet. Let us push on and get into quarters for the night. After all, Mr Elrington,” said Captain Levee to me, as we were setting off, “it’s only a little land privateering, and we must not be too hard upon them.”

I confess, Madam, when I recalled all that I had witnessed on board of the Revenge, that I agreed with Captain Levee, that these highwaymen were not worse than ourselves.

No other adventure occurred during our journey, and when we arrived in London we directed our horses’ steps to a fashionable tavern in Saint Paul’s, and took possession of apartments, and as Captain Levee was well-known, we were cordially greeted and well attended. The tavern was in great repute, and resorted to by all the wits and gay men of the day, and I soon found myself on intimate terms with a numerous set of dashing blades full of life and jollity, and spending their money like princes; but it was a life of sad intemperance, and my head ached every morning from the excess of the night before, and in our excursions in the evenings we were continually in broils and disturbances, and many a broken head, nay, sometimes a severe wound, was given and received. After the first fortnight, I felt weary of this continual dissipation, and as I was dressing a sword-cut which Captain Levee had received in an affray, I one morning told him so.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22 

Другие книги автора

Все книги автора