網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

TOM CRINGLE'S LOG.

CHAPTER I.

THE LAUNCHING OF THE LOG.

« While rapidly the marksman's shot prevailed,
Arid aye as if for death some lonely trumpet wail'd.”

Gertrude of Wyoming.

Dazzled by the glories of Trafalgar, I, Thomas Cringle, one fine morning in the merry month of May, in the year one thousand eight hundred and so and so, magnanimously determined in my own mind, that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland should no longer languish under the want of a successor to the immortal Nelson, and being then of the great perpendicular altitude of four feet four inches, and of the mature age of thirteen years, I thereupon betook myself to the praiseworthy task of tormenting, to the full extent of my small ability, every man and woman who had the misfortune of being in any way connected with me, until they had agreed to exert all their interest, direct or indirect, and concentrate the same in one focus upon the head and heart of Sir Barnaby Blueblazes, vice-admiral of the red squadron, a Lord of the Admiralty, and one of the old plain K.B.'s, (for he flourished before the time when a gallant action or two tagged half of the letters of the alphabet to a man's name, like the tail of a paper kite,) in order that he might be graciously pleased to have me placed on the quarterdeck of one of his Majesty's ships of war without delay.

The stone I had set thus 'recklessly a-rolling, had not been in motion above a fortnight, when it fell with unanticipated violence, and crushed the heart of my poor mother, while it terribly bruised that of me, Thomas; for as I sat at breakfast with the dear old woman, one fine Sunday morning, admiring my new blue jacket and snow-white trowsers, and shining well-soaped face, and nicely brushed hair, in the pier glass over the chimney-piece, I therein saw the door behind me open, and Nicodemus, the waiting man, enter and deliver a letter to the old lady, with a formidable-looking seal.

I perceived that she first ogled the superscription, and then the seal, very ominously, and twice made as if she would have broken the missive open, but her heart seemed as often to fail her. At length she laid it down-heaved a long deep sigh-took off her spectacles, which appeared dim, dim—wiped them, put them on again, and making a sudden effort, tore open the letter, read it hastily over, but not so rapidly as to prevent her hot tears falling with a small tiny tap tap on the crackling paper.

Presently she pinched my arm, pushed the blistered manuscript under my nose, and utterly unable to speak to me, rose, covered her face with her hands, and left the room weeping bitterly. I could hear her praying in a low, solemn, yet sobbing and almost inarticulate voice, as she crossed the passage to her own dressingroom.-“Even as thou wilt, oh Lord-not mine, but thy holy will be done-yet, oh! it is a bitter bitter thing for a widowed mother to part with her only boy."

Now came my turn-as I read the following epistle three times over, with a most fierce countenance, before thoroughly understanding whether I was dreaming or awake-in truth, poor little fellow as I was, I was fairly stunned.

[ocr errors]

Admiralty, such a date. “ DEAR MADAM,- It gives me very great pleasure to say that your son is appointed to the Breeze frigate, now fitting at Portsmouth for foreign service. Captain Wigemwell is a most excellent officer, and a good man, and the schoolmaster on board is an exceedingly decent person I am informed; so I congratulate you on his good fortune in beginning his career, in which I wish him all success, under such favourable auspices. As the boy is, I presume, all ready, you had better send him down on Thursday next, at latest, as the frigate will go to sea, wind and weather permitting, positively on Sunday morning

“I remain, my dear Madam,

* Yours very faithfully,

“BARNABY BLUEBLAZES, K.B."

6. Jane

However much I had been moved by my mother's grief, my false pride came to my assistance, and my first impulse was to chant a verse of some old tune, in a most doleful manner. “ All right-all right,” I then exclaimed, as I thrust half a doubled up muffin into my gob, but it was all chew, chew, and no swallow—not a morsel could I force down my parched throat, which tightened like to throttle me.

Old Nicodemus had by this time again entered the room, unseen and unheard, and startled me confoundedly, as he screwed his words in his sharp cracked voice into my larboard ear. tells me your mamma is in a sad taking, Master Tom. You ben't going to leave us, all on a heap like, be you? Surely you'll stay until your sister comes from your uncle Job's? You know there are only two on ye-You won't leave the old lady all alone, Master Thomas, will ye?” The worthy old fellow's voice quavered here, and the tears hopped over his old cheeks through the flour and tallow like peas, as he slowly drew a line down the forehead of his wellpowdered pale, with his fore-finger.

“No-no-why, yes,” exclaimed I, fairly overcome; "that isoh Nic, Nic-you old fool, I wish I could cry, man—I wish I could cry!” and straightway I hied me to my chamber, and wept until I thought my very heart would have burst.

In my innocence and ignorance, child as I was, I had looked forward to several months' preparation; to buying and fitting of uniforms, and dirks, and cocked hat, and swaggering therein, to my own great glory, and the envy of all my young relations; and especially I desired to parade my fire-new honours before the large dark eyes of my darling little creole cousin, Mary Palma; whereas I was now to be bundled on board, at a few days' warning, out of a ready-made furnishing shop, with lots of ill-made, glossy, hardmangled duck trowsers, the creases as sharp as the backs of knives, and—“oh, it never rains, but it pours," exclaimed I; “surely all this promptitude is a little de plus in Sir Barnaby."

However, away I was trundled at the time appointed, with an aching heart, to Portsmouth, after having endured the misery of a first parting from a fond mother, and a host of kind friends; but, miserable as I was, according to my preconceived determination, I began my journal the very day I arrived, that nothing connected with so great a man should be lost, and most weighty did the matters therein related appear to me at the time; but seen through the long vista of, I won't say how many years, I really must confess that the Log, for long long after I first went to sea in the Breeze, and subsequently when removed to the old Kraaken line-of-battle ship, both of which were constantly part of blockading squadrons, could be compared to nothing more fitly than a dish of trifle, anciently called syllabub, with a stray plum here and there scattered at the bottom. But when, after several weary years, I got away in the dear old Torch, on a separate cruise, incidents came fast enough with a vengeance-stern, unyielding, iron events, as I found to my heavy cost, which spoke out trumpet-tongued and fiercely for themselves, and whose tremendous simplicity required no adventitious aid in the narration to thrill through the hearts of others. So, to avoid yarn-spinning, I shall evaporate my early Logs, and blow off as much of the froth as I can, in order to present the residuum free of flummery to the reader—just to give him a taste here and there, as it were, of the sort of animal I was at that time. Thus :

Thomas Cringle, his log-book.

Arrived in Portsmouth, by the Defiance, at ten, A. M. on such a day. Waited on the Commissioner, to whom I had letters, and said I was appointed to the Breeze. Same day, went on board and took up my berth; stifling hot; mouldy biscuit; and so on. My mother's list makes it fifteen shirts, whereas I only have twelve.

Admiral made the signal to weigh, wind at S. W., fresh and squally. Stockings should be one dozen worsted, three of cotton, two of silk; find only half a dozen worsted, two of cotton, and one of silk. Fired a gun and weighed.

Sailed for the Fleet off Vigo, deucedly sea-sick; was told that fat pork was the best specific, if bolted half raw; did not find it much of a tonic;—passed a terrible night, and for four hours of it obliged to keep watch, more dead than alive. The very second evening we were at sea, it came on to blow, and the night fell very dark, with heavy rain. Towards eight bells in the middle watch, I was standing on a gun well forward on the starboard side, listening to the groaning of the main-tack, as the swelling sail, the foot of which stretched transversely right athwart the ship's deck in a black arch, struggled to tear it up, like some dark impalpable spirit of the air striving to burst the chains that held him, and escape high up into the murky clouds, or a giant labouring to uproot an oak, and wondering in my innocence how hempen cord could brook such strainwhen just as the long-waited-for strokes of the bell sounded gladly in mine ear, and the shrill clear note of the whistle of the boatswain's mate had been followed by his gruff voice, grumbling hoarsely through the gale, “ Larboard watch, ahoy!" The look-out at the weather gangway, who had been relieved, and beside whom I had

« 上一頁繼續 »