The Naval Officer/Chapter XVII
When Captain G—— made his appearance, he seemed to be in the most amiable humour possible. As soon as he saw me, he said, "Ah, this is what I like; never break your leave even for five minutes. Now that I see I can trust you, you may go on shore again as soon as you please."
This speech might have done very well to any person before the mast; but as applied to an officer, I thought it rude and ungentlemanly.
The caterer had prepared lunch in the gun-room: it consisted of beef-steaks and broiled bullocks' kidneys, with fried onions; and their savoury smell rose in grateful steams up the skylight, and assailed the nostrils of the skipper. His facetious small-talk knew no bounds; he leaned over the frame, and, looking down, said—"I say, something devilish good going on there below!"
The hint was taken, and the first lieutenant invited him down.
"I don't care if I do; I am rather peckish."
So saying, he was down the hatchway in the twinkling of one of his own funny eyes, as he feared the choice bits would be gone before he could get into action. We all followed him; and as he seated himself, he said—
"I trust, gentlemen, this is not the last time I shall sit in the gun-room, and that you will all consider my cabin as your own. I love to make my officers comfortable: nothing more delightful than a harmonious ship, where every man and boy is ready to go to h——l for his officers. That's what I call good fellowship—give and take—make proper allowances for one another's failings, and we shall be sorry when the time comes for us to part. I am afraid, however, that I shall not be long with you; for, though I doat upon the brig, the Duke of N—— and Lord George ——, have given the first Lord a d——d whigging for not promoting me sooner; and, between ourselves, I don't wish to go farther. My post commission goes out with me to Barbadoes."
The first lieutenant cocked his eye; and quick as were the motions of that eye, the captain, with a twist of one of his own, caught a glimpse of it, before it could be returned to its bearing on the central object, the beef-steaks, kidneys, and onions. But it passed off without remark.
"A very capital steak this! I'll trouble you for some fat and a little gravy. We'll have some jollification when we get to sea; but we must get into blue water first: then we shall have less to do. Talking of broiling steaks, when I was in Egypt, we used to broil our beef-steaks on the rocks—no occasion for fire—thermometer at 200—hot as h—l! I have seen four thousand men at a time cooking for the whole army as much as twenty or thirty thousand pounds of steaks at a time, all hissing and frying at a time—just about noon, of course, you know—not a spark of fire! Some of the soldiers, who had been brought up as glass-blowers, at Leith, swore they never saw such heat. I used to go to leeward of them for a whiff, and think of old England! Ah, that's the country, after all, where a man may think and say what he pleases! But that sort of work did not last long, as you may suppose; their eyes were all fried out, d—n me, in three or four weeks! I had been ill in my bed, for I was attached to the 72nd regiment, seventeen hundred strong. I had a party of seamen with me; but the ophthalmia made such ravages, that the whole regiment, colonel and all, went stone blind—all, except one corporal! You may stare, gentlemen, but it's very true. Well, this corporal had a precious time of it: he was obliged to lead out the whole regiment to water—he led the way, and two or three took hold of the skirts of his jacket, on each side; the skirts of these were seized again by as many more; and double the number to the last, and so all held on by one another, till they had all had a drink at the well; and, as the devil would have it, there was but one well among us all—so this corporal used to water the regiment just as a groom waters his horses; and all spreading out, you know, just like the tail of a peacock."
"Of which the corporal was the rump," interrupted the doctor.
The captain looked grave.
"You found it warm in that country?" inquired the surgeon.
"Warm!" exclaimed the captain; "I'll tell you what, doctor, when you go where you have sent many a patient, and where, for that very reason, you certainly will go, I only hope, for your sake, and for that of your profession in general, that you will not find it quite so hot as we found it in Egypt. What do you think of nineteen of my men being killed by the concentrated rays of light falling on the barrels of the sentinels' bright muskets, and setting fire to the powder? I commanded a mortar battery at Acre, and I did the French infernal mischief with the shells. I used to pitch in among them when they had sat down to dinner: but how do you think the scoundrels weathered on me at last? D—n me, they trained a parcel of poodle dogs to watch the shells when they fell, and then to run and pull the fuses out with their teeth. Did you ever hear of such d—d villains? By this means, they saved hundreds of men, and only lost half a dozen dogs—fact, by G——; only ask Sir Sydney Smith; he'll tell you the same, and a d—d sight more."
The volubility of his tongue was only equalled by the rapidity of his invention and the powers of mastication; for, during the whole of this entertaining monodrame, his teeth were in constant motion, like the traversing beam of a steam boat; and as he was our captain as well as our guest, he certainly took the lion's share of the repast.
"But, I say, Soundings," said he, addressing himself familiarly to the master, who had not been long in the vessel, "let us see what sort of stuff you have stowed the fore-hold with. You know I am a water drinker; give me only the pure limpid stream, and a child may lead me. I seldom touch liquor when the water is good." So saying, he poured out a tumbler, and held it to his nose. "Stinks like h——! I say, master, are you sure the bungs are in your casks? The cats have been contributing to the fluid. We must qualify this;" and having poured one-half of the water, which by the by was very good, he supplied the vacancy with rum. Then tasting it, he said, "Come, Miss Puss; this will rouse you out, at any rate."
A moment's pause, while he held the bumper before his eye, and then, down it went, producing no other emotion than a deep sigh. "By the by, that's well thought of—we'll have no cats in the ship (except those which the depravity of human nature unhappily compels the boatswain to use). Mr Skysail, you'll look to that. Throw them all overboard."
Taking his hat, he rose from the table, and mounting the ladder, "On second thought," said he, addressing Skysail again, "I won't throw the cats overboard; the sailors have a foolish superstition about that animal—its d—d unlucky. No; put them alive in a bread-bag, and send them on shore in the bum-boat."
Recollecting that my dinner party at the George was to take place this day, and remembering the captain's promise that I should go on shore whenever I pleased, I thought it only necessary to say I was going, merely passing the usual compliment to my superior. I therefore went to him, with a modest assurance, and told him of my engagement and my intention.
"Upon my honour, Sir," cried he, putting his arms akimbo, and staring me full in the face; "you have a tolerable sea-stock of modest assurance; no sooner come on board than you ask leave to go on shore again, and at the same time you have the impudence to tell me, knowing how much I abhor the vice, that you mean to wet your commission, and of course to get beastly drunk, and to make others as bad as yourself. No, Sir; I'd have you to know, that as captain of this ship, and as long as I have the honour to command her, I am magister morum."
"That is precisely what I was coming to, Sir," said I, "when you interrupted me. Knowing how difficult it is to keep young men in order, without the presence of some one whom they respect, and can look up to as an example, I was going to request the honour of your company as my guest. Nothing, in my opinion, could so effectually repress any tendency to improper indulgence."
"There you speak like a child of my own bringing up," replied Captain G——: "I did not give you credit for so much good sense. I am far from throwing a wet blanket over any innocent mirth. Man is man after all—give him but the bare necessaries of life, and he is no more than a dog. A little mirth on such an occasion, is not only justifiable, but praiseworthy. The health of a good king, like ours, God bless him, should always be drank in good wine; and as you say the party is to be select, and the occasion the wetting of your commission, I shall have no objection to come and give away the bride; but, remember, no hard drinking—no indecorum—and I'll do my best, not only to keep the young bloods in order, but to add my humble powers to the hilarity of the evening."
I thanked him for his kind condescension. He then gave a few directions to Skysail, the first lieutenant, and, ordering his gig to be manned, offered me a passage on shore.
This was, indeed, a mark of favour never before conferred on any officer in the ship, and all hands spontaneously turned out to see the sight. The first lieutenant cocked his eye, which was more than saying, "This is too good to last long." However, into the boat we went, and pulled away for old Sally-port. The harbour-tide rolling out, we passed close to the buoy of the Boyne.
"Ah! well I remember that old ship; I was midshipman of her when she blew up. I was signal midshipman. I was in the act of making the signal of distress, when up I went. Damnation! I thought I never should have come down any more."
"Indeed, Sir," said I, "I thought there had been no one on board at the time."
"No one on board!" repeated the captain, with scorn on his upper lip, "who did you get that from?"
"I heard it from a captain I served with in America."
"Then you may tell your captain, with my compliments, that he knew nothing at all about it. No one on board! Why, d—— me, Sir, the poop was crowded like a sheepfold, and all bellowing to me for help. I told them all to go to h——, and just at that moment away we all went, sure enough. I was picked up senseless. I was told somewhere in Stokes-bay, and carried to Haslar hospital, where I was given over for three months—never spoke. At last I got well; and the first thing I did, was to take a boat and go and dive down the fore-hold of my old ship, and swam aft to the bread-room."
"And what did you see, Sir?" said I.
"Oh, nothing, except lots of human skeletons, and whitings in abundance, swimming between their ribs. I brought up my old quadrant out of the starboard wing, where I was adjusting it when the alarm was given. I found it lying on the table just where I left it. I never shall forget what a d—d rap we hit the old Queen Charlotte, with our larboard broadside; every gun went slap into her, double-shotted. D—n my eyes, I suppose we diddled at least a hundred men."
"Why, Sir," said I, "I always understood she only lost two men on that occasion."
"Who told you that?" said Captain G——, "your old captain?"
"Yes, Sir," said I, "he was a midshipman in her."
"He be d——," said my skipper; "to my certain knowledge, three launch loads of dead bodies were taken out of her, and carried to the hospital for interment."
As the boat touched the landing-place, this accomplished liar had time to take breath, and, in fact, I was afraid he would have exhausted his stock of lies before dinner, and kept nothing for the dessert. When we landed, he went to his old quarters, at the Star and Garter, and I to the George. I reminded him, at parting, that six o'clock was my hour.
"Never fear me," said he.
I collected my company previous to his arrival, and told my friends that it was my determination to make him drunk, and that they must assist me, which they promised to do. Having once placed him in that predicament, I was quite sure I should stop his future discourses in favour of temperance. My companions, perfectly aware of the sort of man they had to deal with, treated him on his entrance with the most flattering marks of respect. I introduced them all to him in the most formal manner, taking them to him, one by one, just as we are presented at court—to compare great things with small. His good-humour was at its highest spring-tide; the honour of drinking wine with him was separately and respectfully asked, and most condescendingly granted to every person at the table.
"Capital salmon this," said the captain; "where does Billett get it from? By the by, talking of that, did you ever hear of the pickled salmon in Scotland?"
We all replied in the affirmative.
"Oh, you don't take. D—— it, I don't mean dead pickled salmon; I mean live pickled salmon, swimming about in tanks, as merry as grigs, and as hungry as rats."
We all expressed our astonishment at this, and declared we never heard of it before.
"I thought not," said he, "for it has only lately been introduced into this country, by a particular friend of mine, Dr Mac——. I cannot just now remember his d—d jaw-breaking Scotch name; he was a great chemist and geologist, and all that sort of thing—a clever fellow I can tell you, though you may laugh. Well—this fellow, Sir, took nature by the heels and capsized her, as we say. I have a strong idea that he had sold himself to the devil. Well—what does he do, but he catches salmon and puts them into tanks, and every day added more and more salt, till the water was as thick as gruel, and the fish could hardly wag their tails in it. Then he threw in whole pepper corns, half-a-dozen pounds at a time, till there was enough. Then he began to dilute with vinegar, until his pickle was complete. The fish did not half like it at first; but habit is every thing, and when he shewed me his tank, they were swimming about as merry as a shoal of dace; he fed them with fennel chopped small, and black-pepper corns. 'Come, doctor,' says I, 'I trust no man upon tick; if I don't taste, I won't believe my own eyes, though I can believe my tongue.'" (We looked at each other.) "'That you shall do in a minute,' says he; so he whipped one of them out with a landing net; and when I stuck my knife into him, the pickle ran out of his body, like wine out of a claret bottle, and I ate at least two pounds of the rascal, while he flapped his tail in my face. I never tasted such salmon as that. Worth your while to go to Scotland, if it's only for the sake of eating live pickled salmon. I'll give you a letter, any of you, to my friend. He'll be d—d glad to see you; and then you may convince yourselves. Take my word for it, if once you eat salmon that way, you will never eat it any other."
We all said we thought that very likely.
The champagne corks flew as fast and as loud as his shells at Acre; but we were particularly reserved, depending entirely on his tongue for our amusement; and, finding the breeze of conversation beginning to freshen, I artfully turned the subject to Egypt, by asking one of my friends to demolish a pyramid of jelly, which stood before him, and to send some of it to the captain.
This was enough: he began with Egypt, and went on increasing in the number and magnitude of his lies, in proportion as we applauded them. A short-hand writer ought to have been there, for no human memory could do justice to this modern Munchausen. "Talking of the water of the Nile," said he, "I remember, when I was first lieutenant of the Bellerophon I went into Minorca with only six tons of water, and in four hours we had three hundred and fifty tons on board, all stowed away. I made all hands work. The admiral himself was up to the neck in water, with the rest of them. 'D—n it, admiral,' says I, 'no skulking.' Well—we sailed the next day; and such a gale of wind I never saw in all my life—away went all our masts, and we had nearly been swamped with the weather-roll. One of the boats was blown off the booms, and went clean out of sight before it touched the water. You may laugh at that, but that was nothing to the Swallow sloop of war. She was in company with us; she wanted to scud for it, but, by Jupiter, she was blown two miles up the country—guns, men, and all; and the next morning they found her flying jib-boom had gone through the church-window, and slap into the cheek of the picture of the Virgin Mary. The natives all swore it was done on purpose by d—d heretics. The captain was forced to arm his men, and march them all down to the beach, giving the ship up to the people, who were so exasperated that they set her on fire, and never thought of the powder which was on board. All the priests were in their robes, singing some stuff or another, to purify the church; but that was so much time thrown away, for in one moment away went church, priests, pictures, and people, all to the devil together."
Here he indulged himself in some vile language and scurrilous abuse of religion and its ministers. All priests were hypocritical scoundrels. If he was to be of any religion at all, he said, he should prefer being a Roman Catholic, "because, then, you know," added he, "a man may sin as much as he likes, and rub off as he goes, for a few shillings. I got my commission by religion, d—n me. I found my old admiral was a psalm-singer; so says I, 'my old boy, I'll give you enough of that,' so I made the boatswain stuff me a hassock, and this I carried with me every where, that I might save my trowsers, and not hurt my knees; so then I turned to and prayed all day long, and kept the people awake, singing psalms all night. I knelt down and prayed on the quarter-deck, main-deck, and lower deck. I preached to the men in the tiers, when they coiled the cables, and groaned loud and deep when I heard an oath. The thing took—the admiral said I was the right sort, and he made a commander out of the greatest atheist in the ship. No sooner did I get hold of the sheepskin, than to the devil I pitched hassock and bible."
How long he might have gone on with this farrago, it is difficult to say; but we were getting tired of him, so we passed the bottle till he left off narrative, and took to friendship.
"Now I say (hiccup), you Frank, you are a devilish good fellow; but that one-eyed son of a gun, I'll try him by a court-martial, the first time I catch him drunk; I'll hang him at the yard-arm, and you shall be my first lieutenant and custos-rot-torum, d—n me. Only you come and tell me the first time he is disguised in liquor, and I'll settle him, d—n his cock eye—a saucy, Polyphemus-looking son of a—(hiccup) a Whitechapel bird-catcher."
Here his recollection failed him; he began to talk to himself, and to confound me with the first lieutenant.
"I'll teach him to write to port-admirals for leave—son of a sea cook."
He was now drawing to the finale, and began to sing,
"The cook of the huffy got drank,
Fell down the fore-scuttle, and
Broke his gin bottle."
Here his head fell back, he tumbled off his chair, and lay motionless on the carpet.
Having previously determined not to let him be exposed in the streets in that state, I had provided a bed for him at the inn; and, ringing the bell, I ordered the waiter to carry him to it. Having seen him safely deposited, untied his neckcloth, took off his boots, and raised his head a little, we left him, and returned to the table, where we finished our evening in great comfort, but without any other instance of intoxication.
The next morning, I waited on him. He seemed much annoyed at seeing me, supposing I meant, by my presence, to rebuke him for his intemperance; but this was not my intention. I asked him how he felt; and I regretted that the hilarity of the evening had been interrupted in so unfortunate a manner.
"How do you mean, sir? Do you mean to insinuate that I was not sober?"
"By no means, Sir," said I; "but are you aware, that in the midst of your delightful and entertaining conversation, you tumbled off your chair in an epileptic fit?—are you subject to these?"
"Oh, yes, my dear fellow, indeed I am; but it is so long since I last had one, that I was in hopes they had left me. I have invalided for them four times, and just at the very periods when, if I could have remained out, my promotion was certain."
He then told me I might remain on shore that day, if I pleased. I gave him credit for his happy instinct in taking the hint of the fit; and as soon as I left him, he arose, went on board, and flogged two men for being drunk the night before.
I did not fail to report all that had passed to my messmates, and we sailed a few days afterwards for Barbadoes.
On the first Sunday of our being at sea, the captain dined in the gun-room with the officers. He soon launched out into his usual strain of lying and boasting, which always irritated our doctor, who was a sensible young Welshman. On these occasions, he never failed to raise a laugh at the captain's expense, by throwing in one or two words at the end of each anecdote; and this he did in so grave and modest a manner, that without a previous knowledge of him, anyone might have supposed he was serious. The captain renewed his story of the corps of poodles to extract the fuses from the shells. "I hoped," he said, "to see the institution of such a corps among ourselves; and if I were to be the colonel of it, I should soon have a star on my breast."
"That would be the Dog Star," said the doctor, with extreme gaiety.
"Thank you, Doctor," said the captain; "not bad; I owe you one."
We laughed; the doctor kept his countenance; and the captain looked very grave; but he continued his lies, and dragged in as usual the name of Sir Sydney Smith to support his assertions. "If you doubt me, only ask Sir Sydney Smith; he'll talk to you about Acre for thirty-six hours on a stretch, without taking breath; his cockswain at last got so tired of it, that he nick-named him 'Long Acre.'"
The poor doctor did not come off scot free; the next day, he discovered that the deck leaked over his cabin, and the water ran into his bed. He began, with a hammer and some nails, to fasten up a piece of painted canvas, by way of shelter. The captain heard the noise of the hammer, and finding it was the doctor, desired him to desist. The doctor replied, that he was only endeavouring to stop some leaks over his bed: the captain said they should not be stopped; for that a bed of leeks was a very good bed for a Welshman.
"There, Doctor; now we are quits: that's for your Dog Star. I suppose you think nobody can make a pun or a pill, in the ship, but yourself?"
"If my pills were no better than your puns," muttered the doctor, "we should all be in a bad way."
The captain then directed the carpenter not to allow any nails to the doctor, or the use of any of his tools; he even told the poor surgeon that he did not know how to make a pill, and that "he was as useless as the Navy Board." He accused him of ignorance in other parts of his profession; and, ordering all the sick men on deck, rope-ended them to increase their circulation, and put a little life into them.
Many a poor sick creature have I seen receive a most unmerciful beating. My wonder was that the men did not throw him overboard; and I do really believe that if it had not been for respect and love to the officers, they would have done so. No sooner had we got into blue water, as he called it—that is, out of soundings—than he began his pranks, which never ceased till we reached Carlisle Bay. Officers and men were all treated alike, and there was no redress, for no one among us dared to bring him to a court-martial. His constant maxim was—"Keep sailors at work, and you keep the devil out of their minds—all hands all day-watch, and watch all night."
"No man," said Jacky (the name we gave him) "eats the bread of idleness on board of my ship: work keeps the scurvy out of their bones, the lazy rascals."
The officers and men, for the first three weeks, never had a watch below during the day. They were harassed and worn to death, and the most mutinous and discontented spirit prevailed throughout the ship. One of the best seamen said, in the captain's hearing, that, "since the ship had been at sea, he had only had three watches below."
"And if I had known it," said the captain, "you should not have had that;" and turning the hands up, he gave him four dozen.
Whenever he flogged the men, which he was constantly doing, he never failed to upbraid them with ingratitude, and the indulgences which they received from him.
"By G—d, there is no man-of-war in the service that has so much indulgence. All you have to do, is to keep the ship clean, square the yards; hoist in your provisions, eat them; hoist your grog in, drink it, and strike the empty casks over the side; but Heaven itself would not please such a set of d—d fat, lazy, discontented rascals."
His language to the officers was beyond any thing I ever could have supposed would have proceeded from the mouth of a human being. The master, one day, incurred his displeasure, and he very flippantly told the poor man to go to h——.
"I hope, Sir," said the master, "I have as good a chance of going to Heaven as yourself."
"You go to Heaven!" said the captain, "you go to Heaven! Let me catch you there, and I will come and kick you out."
This was, indeed, shewing how far he would have carried his tyranny if he could. But our feelings are relieved from any violent shock at this apparent blasphemy, when we recollect that the poor man was an atheist; and that his idea of Heaven was that of a little parlour at the Star and Garter, with a good fire, plenty of grog, and pipes of tobacco.
He kept no table, nor did he ever drink any wine, except when he dined with us; but got drunk every night, more or less, on the ship's spirits, in his own cabin. He was always most violent in the evening. Our only revenge was laughing at his monstrous lies on Sunday, when he dined with us. One night, his servant came and told the midshipman of the watch, that the captain was lying dead drunk on the deck, in his cabin. This was communicated to me, and I determined to make the best use of it. I ran down to the cabin taking with me the midshipman of the watch, the quarter-master, and two other steady men; and having laid the water-drinker in his bed, I noted down the date, with all the particulars, together with the names of the witnesses, to be used as soon as we fell in with the admiral.
The next day, I think he had some suspicion of what I had done, and it had nearly been fatal to me. It was blowing a fresh trade wind, and the vessel rolling very deep, when he ordered the booms to be cast loose and re-stowed. This was nothing short of murder and madness: but in spite of every remonstrance, he persisted, and the consequences were terrible. The lashings were no sooner cast off, than a spare top-mast fell and killed one of the men. This was enough to have completed our mischief for the day; but the devil had not done with us yet. The booms were secured, and the men were ordered to rattle the rigging down, which, as the vessel continued to roll heavily, was still more dangerous, and, if possible, more useless than the former operation. He was warned of it, but in vain; and the men had not been aloft more than ten minutes, when one of them fell overboard. Why I should again have put my life in jeopardy, particularly after the warning of the last voyage, I know not. I was perhaps vain of what I could do in the water. I knew my powers; and with the hope of saving this unfortunate victim to the folly and cruelty of the captain, I plunged after him into the sea, feeling at the same time, that I was almost committing an act of suicide. I caught hold of him, and for a time supported him; and, had the commonest diligence and seamanship been shewn, I should have saved him. But the captain, it appeared, when he found I was overboard, was resolved to get rid of me, in order to save himself: he made use of every difficulty to prevent the boat coming to me. The poor man was exhausted: I kept myself disengaged from him, when swimming round him; supported him occasionally whenever he was sinking; but, finding at last that he was irrecoverably gone—for though I had a firm hold of him, he was going lower and lower—and, looking up, perceiving I was so deep that the water was dark over my head, I clapped my knees on his shoulders, and, giving myself a little impetus from the resistance, rose to the surface. So much was I exhausted, that I could not have floated half a minute more, when the boat came and picked me up.
The delay in heaving the ship to, I attributed to the scene I had witnessed the night before; and in this, I was confirmed by the testimony of the officers. Having lost two men by his unseamanlike conduct, he would have added deliberate murder of a third, to save himself from the punishment which he knew awaited him. He continued the same tyrannical conduct, and I had resolved that the moment we fell in with the admiral to write for a court-martial on this man, let the consequences be what they might: I thought I should serve my country and the navy by ridding it of such a monster.
Several of the officers were under arrest, and notwithstanding the heat of their cabins in that warm climate, were kept constantly confined to them with a sentinel at the door. In consequence of this cruel treatment, one of the officers became deranged. We made Barbadoes, and running round Needham's Point into Carlisle Bay, we saw to our mortification, that neither the admiral nor any ship of war was there, consequently our captain was commanding officer in the port. Upon this, he became remarkably amiable, supposing if the evil day was put off, it would be dispensed with altogether; he treated me with particular attention, hoped we should have some fun ashore; as the admiral was not come in, we should wait for him; tired of kicking about at sea, he should take all his duds, with him, and bring himself to an anchor on shore, and not come afloat again till we saluted his flag.
Neither the first lieutenant nor myself believed one word of this; indeed, we always acted upon the exact reverse of what he said; and it was well we did so in this instance. After we had anchored, he went ashore, and in about an hour returned, and stated that the admiral was not expected till next month; that he should, therefore, go and take up his quarters at Jemmy Cavan's, and not trouble the ship any more until the admiral arrived; he then left us, taking his trunk and all his dirty linen, dirty enough it was.
Some of the officers unfortunately believed that we were to remain, and followed the captain's example by sending their linen on shore to be washed. Skysail was firm, and so was I; the lieutenant cocked his eye, and said, "Messmate, depend on it there is something in the wind. I have sent one shirt on shore to be washed; and when that comes off, I will send another; if I lose that it is no great matter."
That night, at ten o'clock, Captain Jacky came on board, bringing his trunk and dirty linen, turned the hands up, up anchor, and ran out of Carlisle Bay and went to sea, leaving most of the officers' linen on shore. This was one of his tricks. He had received his orders when he landed in the morning; they were waiting for him, and his coming on board for his things, was only a run to throw us off our guard, and I suppose compel us, by the loss of our clothes, to be as dirty in appearance as he was himself, "but he always liked to make his officers comfortable."
We arrived at Nassau, in New Providence, without any remarkable incident, although the service continued to be carried on in the same disagreeable manner as ever. I continued, however, to get leave to go on shore; and finding no prospect of bringing the captain to justice, determined to quit the ship, if possible. This was effected by accident, otherwise I should have been much puzzled to have got clear of her. I fell between the boat and the wharf as I landed, and by the sudden jerk ruptured a small blood-vessel in my chest; it was of no great importance in itself, but in that climate required care, and I made the most of it. They would have carried me on board again, but I begged to be taken to the hotel. The surgeon of the regiment doing duty there attended me, and I requested him to make my case as bad as possible. The captain came to see me—I appeared very ill—his compassion was like that of the Inquisitor of the Holy Office, who cures his victim in order to enable him to go through further torments. His time of sailing arrived, and I was reported to be too ill to be removed. Determined to have me, he prolonged his stay. I got better; the surgeon's report was more favourable; but I was still unwilling to go on board. The captain sent me an affectionate message, to say that if I did not come, he would send a file of marines to bring me: he even came himself and threatened me; when, finding there were no witnesses in the room, I plainly told him that if he persisted in having me on board, it would be to his own destruction, for that I was fully determined to bring him to a court-martial for drunkenness and unofficerlike conduct, the moment we joined the admiral. I told him of the state in which I had found him. I recapitulated his blasphemies, and his lubberly conduct in losing the two men; he stared and endeavoured to explain; I was peremptory, and he whined and gave in, seeing he was in my power.
"Well then, my dear fellow," said Jacky, "since you are so very ill—sorry as I shall be to lose you—I must consent to your staying behind. I shall find it difficult to replace you; but as the comfort and happiness of my officers is my first object on all occasions, I will prefer annoying myself to annoying you." So saying, he held out his hand to me, which I shook with a hearty good-will, sincerely hoping that we might never meet again, either in this world or the next.
He was afterwards brought to a court-martial, for repeated acts of drunkenness and cruelty, and was finally dismissed the service.
In giving this detail of Captain G——'s peculiarities, let it not be imagined, that even at that period such characters were common in the service. I have already said, that he was an unique. Impressment and the want of officers at the early part of the war, gave him an opportunity of becoming a lieutenant; he took the weak side of the admiral to obtain his next step, and obtained the command of a sloop, from repeated solicitation at the Admiralty, and by urging his claims of long servitude. The service had received serious injury by admitting men on the quarter-deck from before the mast; it occasioned there being two classes of officers in the navy—namely, those who had rank and connections, and those who had entered by the "hawse-holes," as they were described. The first were favoured when young, and did not acquire a competent knowledge of their duty; the second, with few exceptions, as they advanced in their grades, proved, from want of education, more and more unfit for their stations. These defects have now been remedied; and as all young men who enter the service must have a regular education, and consequently be the sons of gentlemen, a level has been produced, which to a certain degree precludes favouritism, and perfectly bars the entrance to such men as Captain G——.
After the battle of Trafalgar, when England and Europe were indebted for their safety to the British fleet, the navy became popular, and the aristocracy crowded into it. This forwarded still more the melioration of the service, and under the succeeding naval administration, silent, certain, and gradual improvements, both in men, officers, and ships, took place. Subsequently, the navy has been still more fortunate, in having an officer called to its councils, whose active and constant employment at sea, previous to the peace of Paris, had given him a thorough insight into its wants and abuses. Unconnected with party, and unawed by power, he has dared to do his duty; and it is highly to the credit of the first lord, who has so long presided at the board, that the suggestions of this officer have met with due consideration; I can therefore assure my reader, that as long as his advice is attended to, he need be afraid of meeting with no more Captain G——'s.