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Like the wise worm that spinneth far and near
How can ye bear, sweet wanderers, to be driven
Had ye a motion of your own, and skill
To sail along, following your own free will,
How gladly then would I,
Swelling your bright and playful company,
Be wandering with you o'er the blue vault still,--
AFTER many months of anxious and painful expectancy, I at length succeeded in obtaining my appointment to the situation I had so ardently wished for. Despairing at my apparent want of success, I had given up all hopes, and had engaged to go surgeon in the Clydesdale to the East Indies, when the favourable result of my friend's exertions changed the aspect of my affairs. My instructions set forth the necessity of my being at Surinam by a certain day, otherwise I should be too late to join the corps to which I was appointed, which on the ceding up of the place to the Dutch, was to proceed to Canada. As it wanted only two months of that period, it became necessary to inquire for some vessel without loss of time. Giving up my engagement with the Clydesdale, I proceeded to the harbour, and after a toilsome search, succeeded in discovering a ship chartered by a Glasgow company lying ready at the west quay, and to sail with that evening's tide. While I stood examining the vessel from the pier, two sailors, who seemed to be roaming idly about, stopped, and began to converse by my side.
"Has the old Dart got all her hands, Tom!" said the one, "that she has her ensign up for sailing? They say she is sold to the lubberly Dutchmen now-what cheer to lend her a hand out, and get our sailing-penny for a glass of grog?" "No, no; bad cheer!" replied the other; "mayhap I didn't tell you that I made a trip her four years ago; and a cleaner or livelier thing is not on the water! But there is a limb of the big devil in her that is enough to cause her to sink to the bottom. It was in our voyage out that he did for Bill Burnet with the pump sounding-rod, because the little fellow snivelled a bit, and was not handy to jump when he was ordered aloft to set the fore-royal. It was his first voyage, and the boy was mortal afraid to venture; but the captain swore he would make him, and in his passion took him a rap with the iron-rod and killed him. When he saw what he had done, he lifted, and hove him over the side; and many a long day the men wondered what had become of little Bill, for they were all below at dinner, and none but myself saw the transaction. It was needless for me to complain, and get him overhauled, as there were no witnesses; but I left the ship, and births would be scarce before I would sail with him again.'
Knowing what tyrants shipmasters are in general, and how much their passengers' comfort depends on them, I was somewhat startled by this piece of information respecting the temper of the man I purposed to sail with. But necessity has no law! The circumstance probably was much misrepresented, and, from a simple act of disci
pline, exaggerated to an act of wanton cruelty. But be that as it might, my affairs were urgent. There was no other vessel for the same port-I must either take my passage, or run the risk of being superseded. The thing was not to be thought of; so I went and secured my birth. As my preparations were few and trifling, I had every thing arranged, and on board, just as the vessel was mooring from the quay. During the night we got down to the Cloch lighthouse, and stood off and on, waiting for the Captain, who had remained behind to get the ship cleared out at the Custom House. Soon afterwards he joined us, and the pilot leaving us in the returnboat, we stood down the Firth under all our canvas.
For four weeks we had a quick and pleasant passage. The Dart did not belie her name; for, being American built, and originally a privateer, she sailed uncommonly fast, generally running at the rate of twelve knots an hour.
As I had expected, Captain Mahone proved to be, in point of acquirements, not at all above the common run of ship-masters. He was haughty and overbearing, and domineered over the crew with a high hand; in return for which, he was evidently feared and detested by them all. He had been many years in the West-Indies; part of which time he had ranged as commander of a privateer, and had, between the fervid suns of such latitudes and the copious use of grog, become of a rich mahogany colour, or something between vermilion and the tint of a sheet of new copper. He was a middle sized man, square built, with a powerful and muscular frame. His aspect, naturally harsh and forbidding, was rendered more so by the sinister expression of his left eye, which had been nearly forced out by some accident-and the lineaments of his countenance expressed plainly that he was passionate and furious in the extreme. In consequence of this, I kept rather distant and aloof; and except at meals we seldom exchanged more than ordinary civilities.
By our reckoning, our ship had now got into the latitude of the Bermudas, when one evening, at sunset, the wind, which had hitherto been favourable, fell at once into a dead calm. The day had been clear and bright; but now, huge masses of dark and conical-shaped clouds began to tower over each other in the western horizon, which, being tinged with the rays of the sun, displayed that lurid and deep brassy tint so well known to mariners as the token of an approaching storm. All the sailors were of opinion that we should have a coarse night; and every precaution that good seamanship could suggest was taken to make the vessel snug before the gale came on. The oldest boys were sent up to hand and send down the royal and top-gallant sails, and strike the masts, while the top-sails and stays were closereefed. These preparations were hardly accomplished, when the
wind shifted, and took us a-back with such violence as nearly to capsize the vessel. The ship was put round as soon as possible, and brought-to till the gale should fall: while all hands remained on leck in case of any emergency. About ten, in the interval of a squall, we heard a gun fired as a signal of distress. The night was as black is pitch; but the flash showed us that the stranger was not far to leeward; so, to avoid drifting on the wreck during the darkness, the main-top-sail was braced round and filled, and the ship thauled to windward. In this manner we kept alternately beating and heaving to as the gale rose or fell till the morning broke, when, through the haze, we perceived a small vessel with her masts carried away. As the wind had taken off, the Captain had gone to bed: so it was the mate's watch on deck. The steersman, an old grey-headed seaman named James Gemmel, proposed to bear down and save the people, saying he had been twice wrecked himself, and knew what it was to be in such a situation. As the Captain was below, the mate was irresolute what to do; being aware that the success of the speculation depended on their getting to Surinam before it was given up; however, he was at length persuaded-the helm was put up, and the ship
As we neared the wreck, and were standing by the mizen shrouds with our glasses, the Captain came up from the cabin. He looked up with astonishment to the sails, and the direction of the vessel's head, and, in a voice of suppressed passion, said, as he turned to the mate, "What is the meaning of this, Mr Wylie? Who has dared to alter the ship's course without my leave-when you know very well that we shall hardly be in time for the market, use what expedition we may?" The young man was confused by this unexpected challenge, and stammered out something about Gemmel having persuaded him. "It was me, Sir!" respectfully interfered the old sailor, wishing to avert the storm from the mate; "I thought you wouldn't have the heart to leave the wreck and these people to perish, without lending a hand to save them, we should be neither Christians nor true seamen to desert her, and "D――n you and the wreck, you old canting rascal! do you pretend to stand there and preach to me?" thundered the Captain, his fury breaking out: "I'll teach you to disobey my orders!-I'll give you something to think of?" and seizing a capstan-bar which lay near him, he hurled it at the steersman with all his might. The blow was effectual-one end of it struck him across the head with such force as to sweep him in an instant from his station at the wheel, and to dash him with vioience against the lee-bulwarks, where he lay bleeding, and motion"Take that and be damned!" exclaimed the wretch, as he took the helm, and sang out to the men,-"Stand by sheets and
braces hard a-lee-let go!" In a twinkling the yards were braced round, and the Dart, laid within six points of the wind, was flying through the water.
Meanwhile Gemmel was lying without any one daring to assist him; for the crew were so confounded, that they seemed quite undetermined how to act. I stepped to him, therefore; and the mate following my example, we lifted him up. As there was no appearance of respiration, I placed my hand on his heart-but pulsation had entirely ceased-the old man was dead. The bar had struck him directly on the temporal bone, and had completely fractured that part of his skull.
"He is a murdered man, Captain Mahone!" said I, laying down the body, "murdered without cause or provocation. "None of your remarks, Sir !" he retorted; "what the devil have you to do with it? Do you mean to stir up my men to mutiny? Or do you call disobeying my orders no provocation? I'll answer it to those who have a right to ask; but till then, let me see the man who dare open his mouth to me in this ship." "I promise you," returned I, "that, though you rule and tyrannize here at present, your power shall have a termination, and you shall be called to account for your conduct in this day's work-rest assured that this blood shall be required at your hands, though you have hitherto escaped punishment for what has stained them already." This allusion to the murder of little Bill Burnet, seemed to stagger him considerably-he stopped short before me; and, while his face grew black with suppressed wrath and fury, whispered, "I warn you again, young man! to busy yourself with your own matters-meddle not with what does not concern you; and belay your slack jaw, or by -! Rink Mahone will find a way to make it fast for you!" He then turned round, and walked forward to the forecastle.
During this affray no attention had been paid to the wreck, though the crew had set up a yell of despair on seeing us leave them. Signals and shouts were still repeated; and a voice, louder in agony than the rest, implored our help for the love of the blessed Virgin; and offered riches and absolution to the whole ship's company if they would but come back. The Captain was pacing fore and aft without appearing to notice them, when, as if struck with some sudden thought, he lifted his glass to his eye-seemed to hesitate-walked on—and then, all at once changing his mind, he ordered the vessel again before the wind.
On speaking the wreck, she proved to be a Spanish felucca from the island of Cuba, bound for Curacoa, on the coast of the Caracoas. As they had lost their boats in the storm, and could not leave their