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Title: The Battle and the Breeze
Author: Ballantyne, R. M. (Robert Michael), 1825-1894
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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The Battle and the Breeze, by R.M. Ballantyne.

________________________________________________________________________
In this shortish book we have a description of the Battle of the Nile,
in which the naval forces of Admiral Nelson fought and defeated the
French. The story is made more human by recounting tales of the life of
a British seaman, Bill Bowls, along with incidents involving his
friends Ben Bolter and Tom Riggles.

________________________________________________________________________
THE BATTLE AND THE BREEZE, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.



CHAPTER ONE.

TOUCHES ON OUR HERO'S EARLY LIFE, EXPERIENCES, AND ADVENTURES.

Bill Bowls was the most amiable, gentle, kindly, and modest fellow that
ever trod the deck of a man-of-war.  He was also one of the most
lion-hearted men in the Navy.

When Bill was a baby--a round-faced, large-eyed, fat-legged baby, as
unlike to the bronzed, whiskered, strapping seaman who went by the name
of "Fighting Bill" as a jackdaw is to a marlinespike--when Bill was a
baby, his father used to say he was just cut out for a sailor; and he
was right, for the urchin was overflowing with vigour and muscular
energy.  He was utterly reckless, and very earnest--we might almost say
_desperately_ earnest.  Whatever he undertook to do he did "with a
will."  He spoke with a will, listened with a will, laughed, yelled,
ate, slept, wrought, and fought with a will.  In short, he was a
splendid little fellow, and therefore, as his father wisely said, was
just cut out for a sailor.

Bill seemed to hold the same opinion, for he took to the water quite
naturally from the very commencement of life.  He laughed with glee when
his mother used to put him into the washtub, and howled with rage when
she took him out.  Dancing bareheaded under heavy rain was his delight,
wading in ponds and rivers was his common practice, and tumbling into
deep pools was his most ordinary mishap.  No wonder, then, that Bill
learned at an early age to swim, and also to fear nothing whatever,
except a blowing-up from his father.  He feared that, but he did not
often get it, because, although full of mischief as an egg is full of
meat, he was good-humoured and bidable, and, like all lion-hearted
fellows, he had little or no malice in him.

He began his professional career very early in life.  When in after
years he talked to his comrades on this subject, he used to say--

"Yes, mates, I did begin to study navigation w'en I was about two foot
high--more or less--an' I tell 'e what it is, there's nothin' like
takin' old Father Time by the forelock.  I was about four year old when
I took my first start in the nautical way; and p'r'aps ye won't believe
it, but it's a fact, I launched my first ship myself; owned her;
commanded and navigated her, and was wrecked on my first voyage.  It
happened this way; my father was a mill-wright, he was, and lived near a
small lake, where I used to splutter about a good deal.  One day I got
hold of a big plank, launched it after half an hour o' the hardest work
I ever had, got on it with a bit of broken palm for an oar, an' shoved
off into deep water.  It was a splendid burst!  Away I went with my
heart in my mouth and my feet in the water tryin' to steady myself, but
as ill luck would have it, just as I had got my ship on an even keel an'
was beginnin' to dip my oar with great caution, a squall came down the
lake, caught me on the starboard quarter, and threw me on my beam-ends.
Of coorse I went sowse into the water, and had only time to give out one
awful yell when the water shut me up.  Fortnitly my father heard me;
jumped in and pulled me out, but instead of kicking me or blowin' me up,
he told me that I should have kept my weather-eye open an' met the
squall head to wind.  Then he got hold of the plank and made me try it
again, and didn't leave me till I was able to paddle about on that plank
almost as well as any Eskimo in his skin canoe.  My good old dad
finished the lesson by tellin' me to keep always _in shoal water till I
could swim_, and to look out for squalls in future!  It was lucky for me
that I had learned to obey him, for many a time I was capsized after
that, when nobody was near me, but bein' always in shoal water, I
managed to scramble ashore."

As Bill Bowls began life so he continued it.  He went to sea in good
earnest when quite a boy and spent his first years in the coasting
trade, in which rough service he became a thorough seaman, and was
wrecked several times on various parts of our stormy shores.  On
reaching man's estate he turned a longing eye to foreign lands, and in
course of time visited some of the most distant parts of the globe, so
that he may be said to have been a great traveller before his whiskers
were darker than a lady's eyebrows.

During these voyages, as a matter of course, he experienced great
variety of fortune.  He had faced the wildest of storms, and bathed in
the beams of the brightest sunshine.  He was as familiar with wreck as
with rations; every species of nautical disaster had befallen him;
typhoons, cyclones, and simooms had done their worst to him, but they
could not kill him, for Bill bore a sort of charmed life, and invariably
turned up again, no matter how many of his shipmates went down.  Despite
the rough experiences of his career he was as fresh and good-looking a
young fellow as one would wish to see.

Before proceeding with the narrative of his life, we shall give just one
specimen of his experiences while he was in the merchant service.

Having joined a ship bound for China, he set sail with the proverbial
light heart and light pair of breeches, to which we may add light
pockets.  His heart soon became somewhat heavier when he discovered that
his captain was a tyrant, whose chief joy appeared to consist in making
other people miserable.  Bill Bowls's nature, however was adaptable, so
that although his spirits were a little subdued, they were not crushed.
He was wont to console himself, and his comrades, with the remark that
this state of things couldn't last for ever, that the voyage would come
to an end some time or other, and that men should never say die as long
as there remained a shot in the locker!

That voyage did come to an end much sooner than he or the tyrannical
captain expected!

One evening our hero stood near the binnacle talking to the steersman, a
sturdy middle-aged sailor, whose breadth appeared to be nearly equal to
his length.

"Tom Riggles," said Bill, somewhat abruptly, "we're goin' to have dirty
weather."

"That's so, lad, I'm not goin' to deny it," replied Tom, as he turned
the wheel a little to windward:

Most landsmen would have supposed that Bill's remark should have been,
"We _have_ got dirty weather," for at the time he spoke the good ship
was bending down before a stiff breeze, which caused the dark sea to
dash over her bulwarks and sweep the decks continually, while thick
clouds, the colour of pea-soup, were scudding across the sky; but
seafaring men spoke of it as a "capful of wind," and Bill's remark was
founded on the fact that, for an hour past, the gale had been
increasing, and the appearance of sea and sky was becoming more
threatening.

That night the captain stood for hours holding on to the weather-shrouds
of the mizzen-mast without uttering a word to any one, except that now
and then, at long intervals, he asked the steersman how the ship's head
lay.  Dark although the sky was, it did not seem so threatening as did
the countenance of the man who commanded the vessel.

Already the ship was scudding before the wind, with only the smallest
rag of canvas hoisted, yet she rose on the great waves and plunged madly
into the hollows between with a violence that almost tore the masts out
of her.  The chief-mate stood by the wheel assisting the steersman; the
crew clustered on the starboard side of the forecastle, casting uneasy
glances now at the chaos of foaming water ahead, and then at the face of
their captain, which was occasionally seen in the pale light of a stray
moonbeam.  In ordinary circumstances these men would have smiled at the
storm, but they had unusual cause for anxiety at that time, for they
knew that the captain was a drunkard, and, from the short experience
they had already had of him, they feared that he was not capable of
managing the ship.

"Had we not better keep her a point more to the south'ard, sir?" said
the mate to the captain, respectfully touching his cap; "reefs are said
to be numerous here about."

"No, Mister Wilson," answered the captain, with the gruff air of a man
who assumes and asserts that he knows what he is about, and does not
want advice.

"Keep her a point to the west," he added, turning to the steersman.

There was a cry at that moment--a cry such as might have chilled the
blood in the stoutest heart--

"Rocks ahead!"

"Port! port! hard-a-port!" shouted the men.  Their hoarse voices rose
above the gale, but not above the terrible roar of the surf, which now
mingled with the din of the storm.

The order was repeated by the mate, who sprang to the wheel and assisted
in obeying it.  Round came the gallant ship with a magnificent sweep,
and in another moment she would have been head to wind, when a sudden
squall burst upon her broadside and threw her on her beam-ends.

When this happened the mate sprang to the companion-hatch to get an axe,
intending to cut the weather-shrouds so that the masts might go
overboard and allow the ship to right herself, for, as she then lay, the
water was pouring into her.  Tom Riggles was, when she heeled over,
thrown violently against the mate, and both men rolled to leeward.  This
accident was the means of saving them for the time, for just then the
mizzen rigging gave way, the mast snapped across, and the captain and
some of the men who had been hastening aft were swept with the wreck
into the sea.

A few minutes elapsed ere Tom and the mate gained a place of partial
security on the poop.  The scene that met their gaze there was terrible
beyond description.  Not far ahead the sea roared in irresistible fury
on a reef of rocks, towards which the ship was slowly drifting.  The
light of the moon was just sufficient to show that a few of the men were
still clinging to the rail of the forecastle, and that the rigging of
the main and foremasts still held fast.

"Have you got the hatchet yet?" asked Tom of the mate, who clung to a
belaying-pin close behind him.

"Ay, but what matters it whether we strike the rocks on our beam-ends or
an even keel?"

The mate spoke in the tones of a man who desperately dares the fate
which he cannot avoid.

"Here! let me have it!" cried Tom.

He seized the hatchet as he spoke and clambered to the gangway.  A few
strokes sufficed to cut the overstrained ropes, and the mainmast snapped
off with a loud report, and the ship slowly righted.

"Hold on!" shouted Tom to a man who appeared to be slipping off the
bulwarks into the sea.

As no reply was given, the sailor boldly leapt forward, caught the man
by the collar, and dragged him into a position of safety.

"Why, Bill, my boy, is't you?" exclaimed the worthy man in a tone of
surprise, as he looked at the face of our hero, who lay on the deck at
his feet; but poor Bill made no reply, and it was not until a glass of
rum had been poured down his throat by his deliverer that he began to
recover.

Several of the crew who had clung to different parts of the wreck now
came aft one by one, until most of the survivors were grouped together
near the wheel, awaiting in silence the shock which they knew must
inevitably take place in the course of a few minutes, for the ship,
having righted, now drifted with greater rapidity to her doom.

It was an awful moment for these miserable men!  If they could have only
vented their feelings in vigorous action it would have been some relief,
but this was impossible, for wave after wave washed over the stern and
swept the decks, obliging them to hold on for their lives.

At last the shock came.  With a terrible crash the good ship struck and
recoiled, quivering in every plank.  On the back of another wave she was
lifted up, and again cast on the cruel rocks.  There was a sound of
rending wood and snapping cordage, and next moment the foremast was in
the sea, tossing violently, and beating against the ship's side, to
which it was still attached by part of the rigging.  Three of the men
who had clung to the shrouds of the foremast were swept overboard and
drowned.  Once more the wreck recoiled, rose again on a towering billow,
and was launched on the rocks with such violence that she was forced
forward and upwards several yards, and remained fixed.

Slight although this change was for the better, it sufficed to infuse
hope into the hearts of the hitherto despairing sailors.  The dread of
being instantly dashed to pieces was removed, and with one consent they
scrambled to the bow to see if there was any chance of reaching the
shore.

Clinging to the fore-part of the ship they found the cook, a negro,
whose right arm supported the insensible form of a woman--the only woman
on board that ship.  She was the wife of the carpenter.  Her husband had
been among the first of those who were swept overboard and drowned.

"Hold on to her, massa," exclaimed the cook; "my arm a'most brok."

The mate, to whom he appealed, at once grasped the woman, and was about
to attempt to drag her under the lee of the caboose, when the vessel
slipped off the rocks into the sea, parted amidships, and was instantly
overwhelmed.

For some minutes Bill Bowls struggled powerfully to gain the shore, but
the force of the boiling water was such that he was as helpless as if he
had been a mere infant; his strength, great though it was, began to
fail; several severe blows that he received from portions of the wreck
nearly stunned him, and he felt the stupor that preceded death
overpowering him, when he was providentially cast upon a ledge of rock.
Against the same ledge most of his shipmates were dashed by the waves
and killed, but he was thrown upon it softly.  Retaining sufficient
reason to realise his position, he clambered further up the rocks, and
uttered an earnest "Thank God!" as he fell down exhausted beyond the
reach of the angry waves.

Soon, however, his energies began to revive, and his first impulse, when
thought and strength returned, was to rise and stagger down to the
rocks, to assist if possible, any of his shipmates who might have been
cast ashore.  He found only one, who was lying in a state of
insensibility on a little strip of sand.  The waves had just cast him
there, and another towering billow approached, which would infallibly
have washed him away, had not Bill rushed forward and dragged him out of
danger.

It proved to be his friend Tom Riggles.  Finding that he was not quite
dead, Bill set to work with all his energy to revive him, and was so
successful that in half-an-hour the sturdy seaman was enabled to sit up
and gaze round him with the stupid expression of a tipsy man.

"Come, cheer up," said Bill, clapping him on the back; "you'll be all
right in a short while."

"Wot's to do?" said Tom, staring at his rescuer.

"You're all right," repeated Bill.  "One good turn deserves another,
Tom.  You saved my life a few minutes ago, and now I've hauled you out
o' the water, old boy."

The sailor's faculties seemed to return quickly on hearing this.  He
endeavoured to rise, exclaiming--

"Any more saved?"

"I fear not," answered Bill sadly, shaking his head.

"Let's go see," cried Tom, staggering along the beach in search of his
shipmates; but none were found; all had perished, and their bodies were
swept away far from the spot where the ship had met her doom.

At daybreak it was discovered that the ship had struck on a low rocky
islet on which there was little or no vegetation.  Here for three weeks
the two shipwrecked sailors lived in great privation, exposed to the
inclemency of the weather, and subsisting chiefly on shell-fish.  They
had almost given way to despair, when a passing vessel observed them,
took them off, and conveyed them in safety to their native land.

Such was one of the incidents in our hero's career.



CHAPTER TWO.

COMMENCES THE STORY.

About the beginning of the present century, during the height of the war
with France, the little fishing village of Fairway was thrown into a
state of considerable alarm by the appearance of a ship of war off the
coast, and the landing therefrom of a body of blue-jackets.  At that
time it was the barbarous custom to impress men, willing or not willing,
into the Royal Navy.  The more effective, and at the same time just,
method of enrolling men in a naval reserve force had not occurred to our
rulers, and, as a natural consequence, the inhabitants of sea-port towns
and fishing villages were on the constant look-out for the press-gang.

At the time when the man-of-war's boat rowed alongside of the little
jetty of Fairway, an interesting couple chanced to be seated in a bower
at the back of a very small but particularly neat cottage near the
shore.  The bower was in keeping with its surroundings, being the half
of an old boat set up on end.  Roses and honeysuckle were trained up the
sides of it, and these, mingling their fragrance with the smell of tar,
diffused an agreeable odour around.  The couple referred to sat very
close to each other, and appeared to be engaged in conversation of a
confidential nature.  One was a fair and rather pretty girl of the
fishing community.  The other was a stout and uncommonly handsome man of
five-and-twenty, apparently belonging to the same class, but there was
more of the regular sailor than the fisherman in his costume and
appearance.  In regard to their conversation, it may be well, perhaps,
to let them speak for themselves.

"I tell 'ee wot it is, Nelly Blyth," said the man, in a somewhat stern
tone of voice; "it won't suit me to dilly-dally in this here fashion any
longer.  You've kept me hanging off and on until I have lost my chance
of gettin' to be mate of a Noocastle collier; an' here I am now, with
nothin' to do, yawin' about like a Dutchman in a heavy swell, an'
feelin' ashamed of myself."

"Don't be so hasty, Bill," replied the girl, glancing up at her lover's
face with an arch smile; "what would you have?"

"What would I have?" repeated the sailor, in a tone of mingled surprise
and exasperation.  "Well, I never--no, I never did see nothin' like you
women for bamboozlin' men.  It seems to me you're like ships without
helms.  One moment you're beatin' as hard as you can to wind'ard; the
next you fall off all of a sudden and scud away right before the breeze;
or, whew! round you come into the wind's eye, an' lay to as if you'd bin
caught in the heaviest gale that ever blow'd since Admiral Noah cast
anchor on Mount Ararat.  Didn't you say, not three weeks gone by, that
you'd be my wife? and now you ask me, as cool as an iceberg, what I
would have!  Why, Nelly, I would have our wedding-day fixed, our cottage
looked after, our boat and nets bought; in fact, our home and business
set a-goin'.  And why not at once, Nelly?  Surely you have not
repented--"

"No, Bill Bowls," said Nelly, blushing, and laying her hand on the arm
of her companion, "I have not repented, and never will repent, of having
accepted the best man that ever came to Fairway; but--"

The girl paused and looked down.

"There you go," cried the sailor: "the old story.  I knew you would come
to that `but,' and that you'd stick there.  Why don't you go on?  If I
thought that you wanted to wait a year or two, I could easily find work
in these times; for Admiral Nelson is glad to get men to follow him to
the wars, an' Tom Riggles and I have been talkin' about goin' off
together."

"Don't speak of _that_, Bill," said the girl earnestly.  "I dread the
thought of you going to the wars; but--but--the truth is, I cannot make
up my mind to quit my mother."

"You don't need to quit her," said Bill; "bring her with you.  I'll be
glad to have her at my fireside, for your sake, Nell."

"But she won't leave the old house."

"H'm! well, that difficulty may be got over by my comin' to the old
house, since the old 'ooman won't come to the noo one.  I can rent it
from her, and buy up the furniture as it stands; so that there will be
no occasion for her to move out of her chair.--Why, what's the objection
to that plan?" he added, on observing that Nelly shook her head.

"She would never consent to sell the things,--not even to you, Bill; and
she has been so long the head of the house that I don't think she would
like to--to--"

"To play second fiddle," put in the sailor.  "Very good, but I won't ask
to play first fiddle.  In fact, she may have first, second, and third,
and double bass and trombone, all to herself as far as I am concerned.
Come, Nelly, don't let us have any more `buts'; just name the day, and
I'll bear down on the parson this very afternoon."

Leaving them to continue the discussion of this interesting point, we
will turn into the cottage and visit the old woman who stood so much in
the way of our hero's wishes.

Mrs Blyth was one of those unfortunates who, although not very old,
have been, by ill-health, reduced to the appearance of extreme old age.
Nevertheless, she had been blessed with that Christian spirit of calm,
gentle resignation, which is frequently seen in aged invalids, enabling
them to bear up cheerfully under heavy griefs and sufferings.  She was
very little, very thin, very lame, very old-looking (ninety at least, in
appearance), very tremulous, very subdued, and _very_ sweet.  Even that
termagant gossip, Mrs Hard-soul, who dwelt alone in a tumble-down hut
near the quay, was heard upon one occasion to speak of her as "dear old
Mrs Blyth."

Beside Mrs Blyth, on a stool, engaged in peeling potatoes, sat a young
woman who was in all respects her opposite.  Bessy Blunt was tall,
broad, muscular, plain-looking, masculine, and remarkably unsubdued.
She was a sort of maid-of-all-work and companion to the old woman.  Mrs
Blyth lived in the hope of subduing her attendant--who was also her
niece--by means of kindness.

"Who came into the garden just now?" asked Mrs Blyth in a meek voice.

"Who would it be but William Bowls? sure he comes twice every day,
sometimes oftener," replied Bessy; "but what's the use? nothing comes of
it."

"Something _may_ come of it, Bessy," said Mrs Blyth, "if William
settles down steadily to work, but I am anxious about him, for he seems
to me hasty in temper.  Surely, Bessy, you would not like to see our
Nell married to an angry man?"

"I don't know about that," replied the girl testily, as she cut a potato
in two halves with unnecessary violence; "all I know is that I would
like to see her married to Bill Bowls.  He's an able, handsome man.
Indeed, I would gladly marry him myself if he asked me!"

Mrs Blyth smiled a little at this.  Bessy frowned at a potato and said
"Humph!" sternly.

Now it happened just at that moment that the press-gang before referred
to arrived in front of the cottage.  Bessy chanced to look through the
window, and saw them pass.  Instantly she ran to the back door and
screamed "Press-gang," as a warning to Bill to get out of the way and
hide himself as quickly as possible, then, hastening back, she seized
one of old Mrs Blyth's crutches, ran to the front door, and slammed it
to, just as the leader of the gang came forward.

Meanwhile William Bowls, knowing that if he did not make his escape, his
hopes of being married speedily would be blasted, turned to leap over
the garden wall, but the leader of the press-gang had taken care to
guard against such a contingency by sending a detachment round to the
rear.

"It's all up with me!" cried Bill, with a look of chagrin, on observing
the men.

"Come, hide in the kitchen; quick!  I will show you where," cried Nelly,
seizing his hand and leading him into the house, the back door of which
she locked and barred.

"There, get in," cried the girl, opening a low door in the wall, which
revealed the coal-hole of the establishment.

Bill's brow flushed.  He drew back with a proud stern look and
hesitated.

"Oh, do! for _my_ sake," implored Nell.

A thundering rap on the front door resounded through the cottage; the
sailor put his pride in his pocket, stooped low and darted in.  Nelly
shut the door, and leaned a baking-board against it.

"Let us in!" said a deep voice outside.

"Never!" replied Bessy, stamping her foot.

"You had better, dear," replied the voice, in a conciliatory tone; "we
won't do you any harm."

"Go along with you--brutes!" said the girl.

"We'll have to force the door if you don't open it, my dear."

"You'd better not!" cried Bessy through the keyhole.

At the same time she applied her eye to that orifice, and instantly
started back, for she saw the leader of the gang retire a few paces
preparatory to making a rush.  There was short time for action,
nevertheless Bessy was quick enough to fling down a large stool in front
of the door and place herself in an attitude of defence.  Next moment
the door flew open with a crash, and a sailor sprang in, cutlass in
hand.  As a matter of course he tripped over the stool, and fell
prostrate at Bessy's feet, and the man who followed received such a
well-delivered blow from the crutch that he fell on the top of his
comrade.  While the heroine was in the act of receiving the third she
felt both her ankles seized by the man who had fallen first.  A piercing
yell followed.  In attempting to free herself she staggered back and
fell, the crutch was wrenched from her grasp, and the whole gang poured
over her into the kitchen, where they were met by their comrades, who
had just burst in the back door.

"Search close," cried one of these; "there's a big fellow in the house;
we saw him run into it."

"You may save yourselves the trouble; there's no man in this house,"
cried Bessy, who had risen and followed her conquerors, and who now
stood, with dishevelled locks, flushed countenance, and gleaming eyes,
vowing summary vengeance on the first man she caught off his guard!

As the men believed her, they took care to keep well on their guard
while engaged in the search.  Poor old Mrs Blyth looked absolutely
horror-stricken at this invasion of her cottage, and Nelly stood beside
her, pale as marble and trembling with anxiety.

Every hole and corner of the house was searched without success; the
floors were examined for trap-doors, and even the ceilings were
carefully looked over, but there was no sign of any secret door, and the
careless manner in which the bake-board had been leaned against the
wall, as well as its small size, prevented suspicion being awakened in
that direction.  This being the case, the leader of the gang called two
of his men aside and engaged in a whispered conversation.

"It's quite certain that he is here," said one, "but where they have
stowed him is the puzzle."

"Well, it is indeed a puzzle," replied the leader, "but I've thought of
a plan.  He may be the father, or brother, or cousin of the household,
d'ye see, and it strikes me if we were to pretend to insult the women,
that would draw him out!"

"But I don't half like that notion," said one of the men.

"Why not?" asked the other, who wore a huge pair of whiskers, "it's only
pretence, you know.  Come, I'll try it."

Saying this he went towards old Mrs Blyth and whispered to
Nelly--"Don't be frightened, my ducky, we're only a-goin' to try a
dodge, d'ye see.  Stand by, we won't do you no harm."

The man winked solemnly several times with the view of reassuring Nelly,
and then raising his voice to a loud pitch exclaimed--

"Come now, old 'ooman, it's quite plain that there's a feller in this
here house, an' as we can't find him nowheres, we've come to the
conclusion he must be under your big chair.  In coorse we must ask you
to git up, an' as ye don't seem to be able to do that very well, we'll
have to lift you.  So here goes."

The man seized the old woman's chair and shuffled with his feet as
though he were about to lift it.  Nelly screamed.  Bessy uttered a howl
of indignation, and rushed upon the foe with teeth and nails ready, but
being arrested by a powerful man in the rear, she vented her wrath in a
hideous yell.

The success of the scheme was great--much greater, indeed, than had been
anticipated.  The bake-board fell flat down, the door of the coal-hole
burst open, and our hero, springing out, planted a blow on the nose of
the big-whiskered man that laid him flat on the floor.  Another blow
overturned the man who restrained Bessy, and a third was about to be
delivered when a general rush was made, and Bill Bowls, being
overpowered by numbers, was finally secured.

"Now, my fine fellow," said the leader of the gang, "you may as well go
with us quietly, for ye see resistance is useless, an' it only frightens
the old woman."

This latter part of the remark had more effect on the unfortunate Bill
than the former.  He at once resigned himself into the hands of his
captors.  As he was about to be led away, he turned towards Mrs Blyth,
intending to speak, but the poor old woman had fainted, and Nelly's
fears for her lover were lost for the moment in her anxiety about her
mother.  It was not until the party had left the room that the poor girl
became fully aware of what was going on.

Uttering a loud cry she rushed towards the outer door.  Bill heard the
cry, and, exerting himself to the utmost, almost succeeded in
overturning the five men who held him.

"Make your mind easy," said one of them; "no harm will come to the
women.  We ain't housebreakers or thieves.  All fair an' above board we
are--true-blue British tars, as would rather swing at the yard-arm than
hurt the feelin's of a woman, pretty or ugly, young or old.  It's all in
the way of dooty, d'ye see?  The King's orders, young man so belay
heavin' about like that, else we'll heave ye on your beam-ends, lash you
hand and futt to a handspike, and carry you aboord like a dead pig."

"Hold on!" cried the man with the big whiskers, who, after having been
knocked down, had become emphatically the man with the big nose, "I'll
go back an' comfort them a bit: don't you take on so.  _I_ know all
about it--see through it like a double patent hextromogriphal spy-glass.
Only goin' on a short cruise, d'ye see?  Come back soon with lots o'
prize-money; get spliced right off, buy a noo gown with big flowers all
over it for the old mother, pension off the stout gal wi' the crutch--
all straight; that's the thing ain't it?"

"Don't, don't," entreated Bill earnestly; "don't go for to--to--"

"No fear, young man," replied the sailor, seeing that Bill hesitated;
"Ben Bolter ain't the man to do anything that would bring discredit on
His Majesty's service, and I bear you no grudge for this," he added,
pointing to his swelled nose; "it was given in a good cause, and
received in the reg'lar way o' business."

Saying this Ben Bolter ran back to the cottage, where he tried to
comfort the women to the best of his power.  How he accomplished his
mission does not remain on record, but it is certain that he rejoined
his party, in little more than five minutes, with sundry new marks of
violence on his huge honest face, and he was afterwards heard to remark
that some creatures of the tiger species must have been born women by
mistake, and that stout young females who had a tendency to use
crutches, had better be pensioned off--or, "drownded if possible."

Thus was William Bowls impressed into the Royal Navy.  On hearing that
his old shipmate had been caught, Tom Riggles at once volunteered into
the service, and they were both sent on board a man-of-war, and carried
off to fight the battles of their country.



CHAPTER THREE.

BILL IS INITIATED INTO THE DUTIES OF HIS NEW STATION.

At the time of which we write, England's battles and troubles were
crowding pretty thick upon one another.  About this period, Republican
France, besides subduing and robbing Switzerland, Italy, Sardinia, and
other States, was busily engaged in making preparation for the invasion
of England,--Napoleon Bonaparte being in readiness to take command of
what was styled the "army of England."  Of course great preparations had
to be made in this country to meet the invading foe.  The British Lion
was awakened, and although not easily alarmed or stirred up, he uttered
a few deep-toned growls, which showed pretty clearly what the Frenchmen
might expect if they should venture to cross the Channel.  From John o'
Groats to the Land's End the people rose in arms, and in the course of a
few weeks 150,000 volunteers were embodied and their training begun.

Not satisfied with threatening invasion, the Directory of France sought
by every means to corrupt the Irish.  They sent emissaries into the
land, and succeeded so well that in May 1798 the rebellion broke out.
Troops, supplies, and munitions of war were poured into Ireland by
France; but the troops were conquered and the rebellion crushed.

Finding at length that the invasion of England could not be carried out,
this pet projection was abandoned, and Napoleon advised the Directory to
endeavour to cripple her resources in the East.  For the accomplishment
of this purpose, he recommended the establishment on the banks of the
Nile of a French colony, which, besides opening a channel for French
commerce with Africa, Arabia, and Syria, might form a grand military
depot, whence an army of 60,000 men could be pushed forward to the
Indus, rouse the Mahrattas to a revolt, and excite against the British
the whole population of those vast countries.

To an expedition on so grand a scale the Directory objected at first,
but the master-spirit who advised them was beginning to feel and exert
that power which ultimately carried him to the throne of the Empire.  He
overcame their objections, and the expedition to Egypt was agreed to.

With characteristic energy and promptitude Napoleon began to carry out
his plans, and Great Britain, seeing the storm that was brewing,
commenced with equal energy to thwart him.  Accordingly, the great Sir
Horatio Nelson, at that time rear-admiral, was employed with a squadron
to watch the movements and preparations of the French in the
Mediterranean.

Such was the state of matters when our hero, Bill Bowls, was conveyed on
board the _Waterwitch_, a seventy-four gun frigate, and set to work at
once to learn his duty.

Bill was a sensible fellow.  He knew that escape from the service,
except in a dishonourable manner, was impossible, so he made up his mind
to do his duty like a man, and return home at the end of the war (which
he hoped would be a short one), and marry Nelly Blyth.  Poor fellow, he
little imagined what he had to go through before--but hold, we must not
anticipate the story.

Well, it so happened that Bill was placed in the same mess with the man
whose nose he had treated so unceremoniously on the day of his capture.
He was annoyed at this, but the first time he chanced to be alone with
him, he changed his mind, and the two became fast friends.  It happened
thus:--

They were standing on the weather-side of the forecastle in the evening,
looking over the side at the setting sun.

"You don't appear to be easy in your mind," observed Ben Bolter, after a
prolonged silence.

"_You_ wouldn't be if you had left a bride behind you," answered Bill
shortly.

"How d'ye know that?" said Ben; "p'r'aps I _have_ left one behind me.
Anyhow, I've left an old mother."

"That's nothin' uncommon," replied Bill; "a bride may change her mind
and become another man's wife, but your mother can't become your aunt or
your sister by any mental operation that I knows of."

"I'm not so sure o' that, now," replied Ben, knitting his brows, and
gazing earnestly at the forebrace, which happened to be conveniently in
front of his eyes; "see here, s'pose, for the sake of argiment, that
you've got a mothers an' she marries a second time--which some mothers
is apt to do, you know,--and her noo husband has got a pretty niece.
Nothin' more nat'ral than that you should fall in love with her and get
spliced.  Well, wot then? why, your mother is her aunt by vartue of her
marriage with her uncle, and so your mother is _your_ aunt in consikence
of your marriage with the niece--d'ye see?"

Bill laughed, and said he didn't quite see it, but he was willing to
take it on credit, as he was not in a humour for discussion just then.

"Very well," said Ben, "but, to return to the p'int--which is, if I may
so say, a p'int of distinkshun between topers an' argifiers, for topers
are always returnin' to the pint, an' argifiers are for ever departin'
from it--to return to it, I say: you've no notion of the pecoolier
sirkumstances in which I left my poor old mother.  It weighs heavy on my
heart, I assure ye, for it's only three months since I was pressed
myself, an' the feelin's ain't had time to heal yet.  Come, I'll tell 'e
how it was.  You owe me some compensation for that crack on the nose you
gave me, so stand still and listen."

Bill, who was becoming interested in his messmate in spite of himself,
smiled and nodded his head as though to say, "Go on."

"Well, you must know my old mother is just turned eighty, an' I'm
thirty-six, so, as them that knows the rule o' three would tell ye, she
was just forty-four when I began to trouble her life.  I was a most
awful wicked child, it seems.  So they say at least; but I've no
remembrance of it myself.  Hows'ever, when I growed up and ran away to
sea and got back again an' repented--mainly because I didn't like the
sea--I tuk to mendin' my ways a bit, an' tried to make up to the old
'ooman for my prewious wickedness.  I do believe I succeeded, too, for I
got to like her in a way I never did before; and when I used to come
home from a cruise--for, of course, I soon went to sea again--I always
had somethin' for her from furrin' parts.  An' she was greatly pleased
at my attentions an' presents--all except once, when I brought her the
head of a mummy from Egypt.  She couldn't stand that at all--to my great
disappointment; an' what made it wuss was, that after a few days they
had put it too near the fire, an' the skin it busted an' the stuffin'
began to come out, so I took it out to the back-garden an' gave it
decent burial behind the pump.

"Hows'ever, as I wos goin' to say, just at the time I was nabbed by the
press-gang was my mother's birthday, an' as I happened to be flush o'
cash, I thought I'd give her a treat an' a surprise, so off I goes to
buy her some things, when, before I got well into the town--a sea-port
it was--down comed the press-gang an' nabbed me.  I showed fight, of
course, just as you did, an floored four of 'em, but they was too many
for me an' before I knowed where I was they had me into a boat and
aboord this here ship, where I've bin ever since.  I'm used to it now,
an' rather like it, as no doubt you will come for to like it too; but it
_was_ hard on my old mother.  I begged an' prayed them to let me go back
an' bid her good-bye, an' swore I would return, but they only laughed at
me, so I was obliged to write her a letter to keep her mind easy.  Of
all the jobs I ever did have, the writin' of that letter was the wust.
Nothin' but dooty would iver indooce me to try it again; for, you see, I
didn't get much in the way of edication, an' writin' never came handy to
me.

"Hows'ever," continued Ben, "I took so kindly to His Majesty's service
that they almost look upon me as an old hand, an' actooally gave me
leave to be the leader o' the gang that was sent to Fairway to take you,
so that I might have a chance o' sayin' adoo to my old mother."

"What!" exclaimed Bowls, "is your mother the old woman who stops at the
end o' Cow Lane, where Mrs Blyth lives, who talks so much about her
big-whiskered Ben?"

"That same," replied Ben, with a smile: "she was always proud o' me,
specially after my whiskers comed.  I thought that p'r'aps ye might have
knowed her."

"I knows her by hearsay from Nelly Blyth, but not bein' a native of
Fairway, of course I don't know much about the people.--Hallo!  Riggles,
what's wrong with 'e to-day?" said Bill, as his friend Tom came towards
him with a very perplexed expression on his honest face, "not repenting
of havin' joined the sarvice already, I hope?"

"No, I ain't troubled about that," answered Riggles, scratching his chin
and knitting his brows; "but I've got a brother, d'ye see--"

"Nothin' uncommon in that," said Bolter, as the other paused.

"P'r'aps not," continued Tom Riggles; "but then, you see, my brother's
such a preeplexin' sort o' feller, I don't know wot to make of him."

"Let him alone, then," suggested Ben Bolter.

"That won't do neither, for he's got into trouble; but it's a long
story, an' I dessay you won't care to hear about it."

"You're out there, Tom," said Bowls; "come, sit down here and let's have
it all."

The three men sat down on the combings of the fore-hatch, and Tom
Riggles began by telling them that it was of no use bothering them with
an account of his brother Sam's early life.

"Not unless there's somethin' partikler about it," said Bolter.

"Well, there ain't nothin' very partikler about it, 'xcept that Sam was
partiklerly noisy as a baby, and wild as a boy, besides bein' uncommon
partikler about his wittles, 'specially in the matter o' havin' plenty
of 'em.  Moreover, he ran away to sea when he was twelve years old, an'
was partiklerly quiet after that for a long time, for nobody know'd
where he'd gone to, till one fine mornin' my mother she gets a letter
from him sayin' he was in China, drivin' a great trade in the opium
line.  We niver felt quite sure about that, for Sam wornt over partikler
about truth.  He was a kindly sort o' feller, hows'ever, an' continued
to write once or twice a year for a long time.  In these letters he said
that his life was pretty wariable, as no doubt it was, for he wrote from
all parts o' the world.  First, he was clerk, he said, to the British
counsel in Penang, or some sich name, though where that is I don't know;
then he told us he'd joined a man-o'-war, an' took to clearin' the
pirates out o' the China seas.  He found it a tough job appariently, an'
got wounded in the head with a grape-shot, and half choked by a
stink-pot, after which we heard no more of him for a long time, when a
letter turns up from Californy, sayin' he was there shippin' hides on
the coast; and after that he went through Texas an' the States, where he
got married, though he hadn't nothin' wotever, as I knows of, to keep a
wife upon--"

"But he may have had somethin' for all you didn't know it," suggested
Bill Bowls.

"Well, p'r'aps he had.  Hows'ever, the next we heard was that he'd gone
to Canada, an' tuk a small farm there, which was all well enough, but
now we've got a letter from him sayin' that he's in trouble, an' don't
see his way out of it very clear.  He's got the farm, a wife, an' a
sarvant to support, an' nothin' to do it with.  Moreover, the sarvant is
a boy what a gentleman took from a Reformation-house, or somethin' o'
that sort, where they put little thieves, as has only bin in quod for
the fust time.  They say that many of 'em is saved, and turns out well,
but this feller don't seem to have bin a crack specimen, for Sam's
remarks about him ain't complimentary.  Here's the letter, mates,"
continued Riggles, drawing a soiled epistle from his pocket; "it'll give
'e a better notion than I can wot sort of a fix he's in, Will you read
it, Bill Bowls?"

"No, thankee," said Bill; "read it yerself, an' for any sake don't spell
the words if ye can help it."

Thus admonished, Tom began to read the following letter from his wild
brother, interrupting himself occasionally to explain and comment
thereon, and sometimes, despite the adjuration of Bill Bowls, to spell.
We give the letter in the writer's own words:--

"`My dear mother [it's to mother, d'ye see; he always writes to her, an'
she sends the letters to me],--My dear mother, here we are all alive and
kicking.  My sweet wife is worth her weight in gold, though she does not
possess more of that precious metal than the wedding-ring on her
finger--more's the pity for we are sadly in want of it just now.  The
baby, too, is splendid.  Fat as a prize pig, capable of roaring like a
mad bull, and, it is said, uncommonly like his father.  We all send our
kind love to you, and father, and Tom.  By the way, where _is_ Tom?  You
did not mention him in your last.  I fear he is one of these roving
fellows whom the Scotch very appropriately style ne'er-do-weels.  A bad
lot they are.  Humph! you're one of 'em, Mister Sam, if ever there was,
an' my only hope of ye is that you've got some soft places in your
heart.'"

"Go on, Tom," said Ben Bolter; "don't cut in like that on the thread of
any man's story."

"Well," continued Riggles, reading with great difficulty, "Sam goes on
for to say--"

"`We thank you for your good wishes, and trust to be able to send you a
good account of our proceedings ere long.  [You see Sam was always of a
cheery, hopeful natur, he was.] We have now been on the place fifteen
days, but have not yet begun the house, as we can get no money.  Two
builders have, however, got the plans, and we are waiting for their
sp-s-p-i-f- oh! spiflication; why, wot can that be?'"

"It ain't spiflication, anyhow," said Bolter.  "Spell it right through."

"Oh!  I've got him, it's _specification_," cried Riggles; "well--"

"`Specification.  Many things will cost more than we anticipated.  We
had to turn the family out who had squatted here, at two days' notice,
as we could not afford to live at Kinmonday--that's the nearest town, I
s'pose.  How they managed to live in the log cabin I do not know, as,
when it rained--and it has done so twice since we came, furiously--the
whole place was deluged, and we had to put an umbrella up in bed.  We
have had the roof raised and newly shingled, and are as comfortable as
can be expected.  Indeed, the hut is admirably adapted for summer
weather, as we can shake hands between the logs.

"`The weather is very hot, although there has been much more rain this
season than usual.  There can be no doubt that this is a splendid
country, both as regards soil and climate, and it seems a pity to see
such land lying waste and unimproved for so many years.  It far
surpasses my expectations, both in natural beauty and capabilities.  We
have a deal of work to do in the way of fencing, for at present
everybody's livestock is running over a large part of our land; but we
haven't got money to buy fencing!  Then we ought to have two horses, for
the boy that was sent to me from the Reformatory can plough; but again,
we haven't a rap wherewith to buy them.  One reason of this is that in a
new place a fellow is not trusted at first, and the last two hundred
dollars we had went in tools, household furniture, utensils, etcetera.
We have been living on credit for an occasional chicken or duck from our
neighbours, which makes but a poor meal for three--not to mention baby,
being very small--and George, that's the boy, having a tremendous
appetite!

"`I walked into town twice to try to get some meat, but although there
are ostensibly two butchers, I failed to get any.  They actually wanted
payment for it!  Heigho! how I wish that money grew on the trees--or
bread.  By the way, that reminds me that there are bread-fruit trees in
the South Sea Islands.  I think I'll sell the farm and go there.  One
day I had the good luck to rescue a fine young chicken from the talons
of a big hawk, upon which we all made a good meal.  I really don't know
what we should have done had it not been for the great abundance of
blackberries here.  They are fine and large, and so plentiful that I can
gather a bucketful in an hour.  We have made them into jam and pies, and
are now drying them for winter use.  We have also hazel-nuts and plums
by the cart-load, and crab-apples in numbers almost beyond the power of
figures to express.  There is also a fruit about the size of a lime,
which they call here the "May apple," but which I have named
"omnifruct," as it combines the flavour of apples, pears, peaches,
pine-apples, gooseberries, strawberries, rasps--in fact, it is hard to
tell what it does _not_ resemble.  But after all, this is rather light
food, and although very Eden-like living--_minus_ the felicity--it does
not quite satisfy people who have been used most part of their lives to
beefsteak and stout.

"`George came to me a week ago.  The little rascal would have been here
sooner, but first of all the stage-coach upset, and then he fell asleep
and was carried ten miles beyond our clearing, and had to walk back as
best he could with a big bundle on his shoulder.  He is an uncommonly
silent individual.  We can hardly get him to utter a word.  He does what
he is told, but I have first to show him how, and generally end by doing
it myself.  He appears to be a remarkably dead boy, but my excellent
wife has taken him in hand, and will certainly strike some fire out of
him if she can't put it into him!  She has just gone into town on a
foraging expedition, and I fondly hope she may succeed in making a raise
of some edibles.

"`I have distinguished myself lately by manufacturing a sideboard and
dresser, as well as a table and bench for the female authority, and
expect to accomplish a henhouse and a gate next week.  You see we work
in hope.  I fervently wish we could live on the same.  However, I'm
pretty jolly, despite a severe attack of rheumatism, which has not been
improved by my getting up in the night and rushing out in my shirt to
chase away trespassing cows and pigs, as we have not got a watch-dog
yet.

"`When my wife shuts her eyes at night her dreams are of one invariable
subject--blackberries!  She cannot get rid of the impression, and I have
serious fears that we shall all break out in brambles.  There are not so
many mosquitoes here as I had expected; just enough to keep us lively.
How I shall rejoice when we have got a cow!  It will be a great saving
in butter and milk to our neighbours, who at present supply us with such
things on credit!  We can raise here wheat, oats, Indian corn, etcetera.
The only difficulties are the want of seed and money!  But it is unkind
in me writing to you, mother, in this strain, seeing that you can't help
me in my difficulties.  However, don't take on about me.  My motto is,
"Never give in."  Give our love to father, also to Tom.  He's a
good-hearted fellow is Tom, though I fear he'll never come to much
good.--Believe me, your affectionate son, SAM. RIGGLES.'"

"There," said Tom, folding up the letter; "what d'ye think o' that,
mates?"

Tom did not at that time get an answer to his question, for just as he
spoke the order was given to beat to quarters for exercise, and in a few
minutes the decks were cleared, and every man at his post.

But the order which had been given to engage in mimic warfare, for the
sake of training the new hands, was suddenly changed into the command to
clear for action in earnest, when the look-out reported a French vessel
on the weather-bow.  Sail was immediately crowded on the _Waterwitch_,
and all was enthusiasm and expectation as they gave chase to the enemy.



CHAPTER FOUR.

OUR HERO AND HIS FRIENDS SEE SERVICE.

The _Waterwitch_ was commanded at this time by Captain Ward, a man
possessed of great energy and judgment, united to heroic courage.  He
had received orders to join that portion of the British fleet which,
under Nelson, was engaged in searching for the French in the
Mediterranean, and had passed Cape St. Vincent on his way thither, when
he fell in with the French vessel.

During the morning a thick fog had obscured the horizon, concealing the
enemy from view.  When the rising sun dispersed it he was suddenly
revealed.  Hence the abrupt order on board the _Waterwitch_ to prepare
for action.  As the fog lifted still more, another French vessel was
revealed, and it was soon found that the English frigate had two
Frenchmen of forty-four guns each to cope with.

"Just as it should be!" remarked Captain Ward, when this was
ascertained.  "There would have been no glory in conquering one
Frenchman equal to my own ship in size!"

The _Waterwitch_ was immediately steered towards the ship that was
nearest, in the expectation that she would show fight at once, but the
French commander, probably wishing to delay the engagement until his
other vessel could join him, made sail, and bore down on her.  Captain
Ward, on perceiving the intention, put on a press of canvas, and
endeavoured to frustrate the enemy's design.  In this he was only
partially successful.

"Surely," said Bill Bowls to his friend Ben Bolter, with whom he was
stationed at one of the starboard guns on the main deck, "surely we are
near enough now to give 'em a shot."

"No, we ain't," said Tom Riggles, who was also stationed at the same
gun; "an' depend on it Cap'n Ward is not the man to throw away his shot
for nothin'."

Ben Bolter and some of the other men at the gun agreed with this
opinion, so our hero, whose fighting propensities were beginning to
rouse up, had to content himself with gazing through the port-hole at
the flying enemy, and restrained his impatience as he best could.

At last the order was given to fire, and for an hour after that a
running fight was maintained, but without much effect.  When, however,
the two ships of the enemy succeeded in drawing sufficiently near to
each other, they hove to, and awaited the advance of the _Waterwitch_,
plying her vigorously with shot as she came on.

Captain Ward only replied with his bow chasers at first.  He walked the
deck with his hands behind his back without speaking, and, as far as his
countenance expressed his feelings, he might have been waiting for a
summons to dinner, instead of hastening to engage in an unequal contest.

"Cap'n Ward niver growls much before he bites," said Patrick Flinn, an
Irishman, who belonged to Bowls's mess.  "He minds me of a spalpeen of a
dog I wance had, as was uncommon fond o' fightin' but niver even showed
his teeth till he was within half a yard of his inemy, but, och! he
gripped him then an' no mistake.  You'll see, messmates, that we won't
give 'em a broadside till we're within half pistol-shot."

"Don't take on ye the dooties of a prophet, Paddy," said Ben Bolter,
"for the last time ye tried it ye was wrong."

"When was that?" demanded Flinn.

"Why, no longer ago than supper-time last night, when ye said ye had
eaten such a lot that ye wouldn't be able to taste another bite for a
month to come, an' didn't I see ye pitchin' into the wittles this
mornin' as if ye had bin starvin' for a week past?"

"Git along wid ye," retorted Flinn; "yer jokes is as heavy as yerself,
an' worth about as much."

"An' how much may that be?" asked Ben, with a grin.

"Faix, it's not aisy to tell.  I would need to work it out in a
algibrabical calkilation, but if ye divide the half o' what ye know by
the double o' what ye don't know, an' add the quarter o' what ye might
have know'd--redoocin' the whole to nothin', by means of a compound o'
the rule o' three and sharp practice, p'r'aps you'll--"

Flinn's calculation was cut short at that moment by the entrance of a
round shot, which pierced the ship's side just above his head, and sent
splinters flying in all directions, one of which killed a man at the
next gun, and another struck Bill Bowls on the left arm, wounding him
slightly.

The exclamations and comments of the men at the gun were stopped
abruptly by the orders to let the ship fall off and fire a broadside.

The _Waterwitch_ trembled under the discharge, and then a loud cheer
arose, for the immediate result was that the vessel of the enemy which
had hit them was partially disabled--her foretopmast and flying jibboom
having been shot away.

The _Waterwitch_ instantly resumed her course and while Bill Bowls was
busily employed in assisting to reload his gun, he could see that the
two Frenchmen were close on their lee bow.

Passing to windward of the two frigates, which were named respectively
_La Gloire_ and the _St. Denis_, Captain Ward received a broadside from
the latter, without replying to it, until he had crossed her bow within
musket range, when he delivered a broadside which raked her from stem to
stern.  He then wore ship, and, passing between the two, fired his
starboard broadside into the _Gloire_, and, almost immediately after,
his port broadside into the _St. Denis_.

The effect on the two ships was tremendous.

Their sails and rigging were terribly cut up, and several of the yards
came rattling down on their decks.  The _Gloire_, in particular, had her
rudder damaged.  Seeing this, and knowing that in her crippled state she
could do him no further damage, Captain Ward passed on, sailed round the
stern of the _St. Denis_, and, when within six yards of her, sent a
broadside right in at her cabin windows.  Then he ranged alongside and
kept up a tremendous fire.

The Frenchmen stuck to their guns admirably, but the British fired
quicker.  At such close quarters every shot told on both sides.  The din
and crash of such heavy artillery was terrific; and it soon became
almost impossible to see what was going on for smoke.

Up to this point, although many of the men in the _Waterwitch_ had been
killed or wounded, only one of those who manned the gun at which Bill
Bowls served had been hit.

"It's too hot to last long," observed Flinn, as he thrust home a ball
and drew out the ramrod; "run her out, boys."

The men obeyed, and were in the act of pulling at the tackle, when a
shot from the enemy struck the gun on the muzzle, tore it from its
fastenings, and hurled it to the other side of the deck.

Strange to say, only one of the men who worked it was hurt by the gun;
but in its passage across the deck it knocked down and killed three men,
and jammed one of the guns on the other side in such a way that it
became for a time unserviceable.  Ben Bolter and his comrades were
making desperate efforts to clear the wreck, when they heard a shout on
deck for the boarders.  The bowsprit of the _Waterwitch_ had by that
time been shot away; her rigging was dreadfully cut up, and her wheel
smashed; and Captain Ward felt that, if the _St. Denis_ were to get
away, he could not pursue her.  He therefore resolved to board.

"Come along, lads," cried Tom Riggles, on hearing the order; "let's jine
'em."

He seized his cutlass as he spoke, and dashed towards the ladder,
followed by Bowls, Bolter, Flinn, and others; but it was so crowded with
men carrying the wounded down to the cockpit that they had to pause at
the foot.

At that moment a handsome young midshipman was carried past, apparently
badly wounded.

"Och!" exclaimed Flinn, in a tone of deep anxiety, "it's not Mister
Cleveland, is it?  Ah! don't say he's kilt!"

"Not quite," answered the midshipman, rousing himself, and looking round
with flashing eyes as he endeavoured to wave his hand in the air.  "I'll
live to fight the French yet."

The poor boy almost fainted from loss of blood as he spoke; and the
Irishman, uttering a wild shout, ran towards the stern, intending to
gain the deck by the companion-hatch, and wreak his vengeance on the
French.  Bill Bowls and Ben Bolter followed him.  As they passed the
cabin door Bowls said hastily to Bolter, "I say, Ben, here, follow me;
I'll show ye a dodge."

He ran into the cabin as he spoke and leaped out upon the quarter
gallery, which by that time was so close to the quarter of the _St.
Denis_ that it was possible to jump from one to the other.

Without a moment's hesitation he sprang across, dashed in one of the
windows, and went head foremost into the enemy's cabin, followed by
Bolter.  Finding no one to oppose them there, they rushed upon deck and
into the midst of a body of marines who were near the after-hatchway.

"Down with the frog-eaters!" cried Ben Bolter, discharging his pistol in
the face of a marine with one hand, and cleaving down another with his
cutlass.

The "frog-eaters," however, were by no means despicable men; for one of
them clubbed his musket and therewith hit Ben such a blow on the head
that he fell flat on the deck.  Seeing this, Bill Bowls bestrode his
prostrate comrade, and defended him for a few seconds with the utmost
fury.

Captain Ward, who had leaped into the mizzen chains of the enemy,
leading the boarders, beheld with amazement two of his own men on the
quarter-deck of the _St. Denis_ attacking the enemy in rear.  Almost at
the same moment he observed the fall of one of them.  His men also saw
this, and giving an enthusiastic cheer they sprang upon the foe and beat
them back.  Bill Bowls was borne down in the rush by his friends, but he
quickly regained his legs.  Ben Bolter also recovered and jumped up.  In
five minutes more they were masters of the ship--hauled down the
colours, and hoisted the Union Jack at the Frenchman's peak.

During the whole course of this action the _Gloire_, which had drifted
within range, kept up a galling fire of musketry from her tops on the
deck of the _Waterwitch_.  Just as the _St. Denis_ was captured, a ball
struck Captain Ward on the forehead, and he fell dead without a groan.

The first lieutenant, who was standing by his side at the moment, after
hastily calling several men to convey their commander below, ordered the
starboard guns of the prize to be fired into the _Gloire_.  This was
done with such effect that it was not found necessary to repeat the
dose.  The Frenchman immediately hauled down his colours, and the fight
was at an end.

It need scarcely be said that the satisfaction with which this victory
was hailed was greatly modified by the loss of brave Captain Ward, who
was a favourite with his men, and one who would in all probability have
risen to the highest position in the service, had he lived.  He fell
while his sun was in the zenith, and was buried in the ocean, that wide
and insatiable grave, which has received too many of our brave seamen in
the prime of life.

The first lieutenant, on whom the command temporarily devolved,
immediately set about repairing damages, and, putting a prize crew into
each of the French ships, sailed with them to the nearest friendly port.

The night after the action Bill Bowls, Ben Bolter, and Tom Riggles sat
down on the heel of the bowsprit to have a chat.

"Not badly hit?" asked Ben of Bill, who was examining the bandage on his
left arm.

"Nothin' to speak of," said Bill; "only a scratch.  I'm lucky to have
got off with so little; but I say, Ben, how does your head feel?  That
Mounseer had a handy way o' usin' the handspike.  I do believe he would
have cracked any man's skull but your own, which must be as thick as the
head of an elephant.  I see'd it comin', but couldn't help ye.
Hows'ever, I saved ye from a second dose."

"It wos pritty hardish," said Ben, with a smile, an' made the stars
sparkle in my brain for all the world like the rory borailis, as I've
see'd so often in the northern skies; but it's all in the way o' trade,
so I don't grumble; the only thing as bothers me is that I can't git my
hat rightly on by reason of the bump.

"You've no cause to complain--neither of ye," said Tom Riggles, whose
left hand was tied up and in a sling, "for you've lost nothin' but a
little blood an' a bit o' skin, whereas I've lost the small finger o' my
right hand."

"Not much to boast of, that," said Ben Bolter contemptuously; "why, just
think of poor Ned Summers havin' lost an arm and Edwards a leg--not to
mention the poor fellows that have lost their lives."

"A finger is bad enough," growled Tom.

"Well, so it is," said Bowls.  "By the way, I would advise you to try a
little of that wonderful salve invented by a Yankee for such cases."

"Wot salve wos that?" asked Tom gruffly, for the pain of his wound was
evidently pretty severe.

"Why, the growin' salve, to be sure," replied Bill.  "Everybody must
have heard of it."

"_I_ never did," said Tom.  "Did you, Ben?"

"No, never; wot is it?"

"It's a salve for growin' on lost limbs," said Bill.  "The Yankee tried
it on a dog that had got its tail cut off.  He rubbed a little of the
salve on the end of the dog, and a noo tail grow'd on next mornin'!"

"Gammon!" ejaculated Tom Riggles.

"True, I assure ye, as was proved by the fact that he afterwards rubbed
a little of the salve on the end of the tail, and a noo dog growed on it
in less than a week!"

"H'm!  I wonder," said Tom, "if he was to rub some of it inside o' your
skull, whether he could grow you a noo set o' brains."

"I say, Bill," interposed Ben Bolter, "did you hear the first lieutenant
say where he intended to steer to?"

"I heard somethin' about Gibraltar, but don't know that he said we was
goin' there.  It's clear, hows'ever, that we must go somewhere to refit
before we can be of any use."

"Ay; how poor Captain Ward would have chafed under this delay!" said
Bill Bowls sadly.  "He would have been like a caged tiger.  That's the
worst of war; it cuts off good and bad men alike.  There's not a captain
in the fleet like the one we have lost, Nelson alone excepted."

"Well, I don't know as to that," said Ben Bolter; "but there's no doubt
that Admiral Nelson is the man to lick the French, and I only hope that
he may find their fleet, and that I may be there to lend a hand."

"Ditto," said Bill Bowls.

"Do," added Tom Riggles.

Having thus expressed their sentiments, the three friends separated.
Not long afterwards the _Waterwitch_ sailed with her prizes into
Gibraltar.

Here was found a portion of the fleet which had been forwarded by Earl
St. Vincent to reinforce Nelson.  It was about to set sail, and as there
was every probability that the _Waterwitch_ would require a considerable
time to refit, some of her men were drafted into other ships.  Among
others, our friends Bill Bowls, Ben Bolter, and Tom Riggles, were sent
on board the _Majestic_, a seventy-four gun ship of the line, commanded
by Captain Westcott, one of England's most noted captains.

This vessel, with ten line-of-battle ships, set sail to join Nelson, and
assist him in the difficult duty of watching the French fleet.



CHAPTER FIVE.

NELSON HUNTS THE FRENCH.

At this time Sir Horatio Nelson had been despatched to the Mediterranean
with a small squadron to ascertain the object of the great expedition
which was fitting out, under Napoleon Bonaparte, at Toulon.

Nelson had for a long time past been displaying, in a series of
complicated and difficult operations in the Mediterranean, those
splendid qualities which had already won for him unusual honours and
fame, and which were about to raise him to that proud pinnacle which he
ultimately attained as England's greatest naval hero.  His address and
success in matters of diplomacy had filled his superiors and the
Government with sentiments of respect; his moral courage in risking
reputation and position, with unflinching resolution, by _disobeying_
orders when by so doing the good and credit of his country could be
advanced, made him an object of dread to some, of admiration to others,
while his lion-like animal courage and amiability endeared him to his
officers and men.  Sailors had begun to feel that where Nelson led the
way victory was certain, and those who were ordered to join his fleet
esteemed themselves most fortunate.

The defeat of the French armament was considered by the English
Government a matter of so great importance, that Earl St. Vincent, then
engaged in blockading the Spanish fleet, was directed, if he thought it
necessary, to draw off his entire fleet for the purpose, and relinquish
the blockade.  He was, however, told that, if he thought a detachment
sufficient, he was to place it under the command of Sir Horatio Nelson.
The Earl did consider a detachment sufficient, and had already made up
his mind to give the command to Nelson, being thoroughly alive to his
great talents and other good qualities.  He accordingly sent him to the
Mediterranean with three ships of the line, four frigates, and a sloop
of war.

This force was now, by the addition to which we have referred, augmented
so largely that Nelson found himself in possession of a fleet with which
he might not only "watch" the enemy, but, if occasion should offer,
attack him.

He was refitting after a storm in the Sardinian harbour of St. Pietro,
when the reinforcements hove in sight.  As soon as the ships were seen
from the masthead of the Admiral's vessel, Nelson immediately signalled
that they should put to sea.  Accordingly the united fleet set sail, and
began a vigorous search for the French armament, which had left Toulon a
short time before.

The search was for some time unsuccessful.  No tidings could be obtained
of the destination of the enemy for some time, but at length it was
learned that he had surprised Malta.

Although his fleet was inferior in size to that of the French, Nelson--
and indeed all his officers and men--longed to meet with and engage
them.  The Admiral, therefore, formed a plan to attack them while at
anchor at Gozo, but he received information that the French had left
that island the day after their arrival.  Holding very strongly the
opinion that they were bound for Egypt, he set sail at once in pursuit,
and arrived off Alexandria on the 28th of June 1798.

There, to his intense disappointment, he found that nothing had been
seen or heard of the enemy.  Nelson's great desire was to meet with
Napoleon Bonaparte and fight him on the sea.  But this wish was not to
be gratified.  He found, however, that the governor of Alexandria was
endeavouring to put the city in a state of defence, for he had received
information from Leghorn that the French expedition intended to proceed
against Egypt after having taken Malta.

Leaving Alexandria, Nelson proceeded in various directions in search of
the French, carrying a press of sail night and day in his anxiety to
fall in with them, but being baffled in his search, he was compelled to
return to Sicily to obtain fresh supplies in order to continue the
pursuit.

Of course Nelson was blamed in England for his want of success in this
expedition, and Earl St. Vincent was severely censured for having sent
so young an officer on a service so important.  Anticipating the
objection, that he ought not to have made so long a voyage without more
certain information, Nelson said, in vindication of his conduct:--

"Who was I to get such information from?  The Governments of Naples and
Sicily either knew not, or chose to keep me in ignorance.  Was I to wait
patiently until I heard certain accounts?  If Egypt were their object,
before I could hear of them, they would have been in India.  To do
nothing was disgraceful; therefore I made use of my understanding.  I am
before your lordships' judgment; and if, under all circumstances, it is
decided that I am wrong, I ought, for the sake of our country, to be
superseded; for at this moment, when I know the French are not in
Alexandria, I hold the same opinion as off Cape Passaro--that, under all
circumstances, I was right in steering for Alexandria; and by that
opinion I must stand or fall."

It was ere long proved that Nelson _was_ right, and that Earl St.
Vincent had made no mistake in sending him on a service so important;
for we now know that in all the British fleet there was not another man
so admirably adapted for the duty which was assigned to him, of finding,
fighting, and conquering, the French, in reference to whom he wrote to
the first lord of the Admiralty, "Be they bound to the antipodes, your
lordship may rely that I will not lose a moment in bringing them to
action!"

Re-victualled and watered, the British fleet set sail on the 25th of
July from Syracuse.  On the 28th, intelligence was received that the
enemy had been seen about four weeks before, steering to the South East
from Candia.

With characteristic disregard of the possible consequences to his own
fame and interest, in his determination to "do the right," Nelson at
once resolved to return to Alexandria.  Accordingly, with all sail set,
the fleet stood once more towards the coast of Egypt.

Perseverance was at length rewarded.  On the 1st of August 1798, about
ten in the morning, they sighted Alexandria, and saw with inexpressible
delight that the port was crowded with the ships of France.

And here we venture to say that we sympathise with the joy of the
British on this occasion, and shall explain why we do so.

Not every battle that is fought--however brilliant in military or naval
tactics it may be, or in exhibitions of personal prowess--deserves our
sympathy.  Only that war which is waged against oppression is entitled
to respect, and this, we hold, applies to the war in which the British
were engaged at that time.

France, under the Directory, had commenced a career of unwarrantable
conquest, for the simple purpose of self-aggrandisement, and her great
general, Bonaparte, had begun that course of successful warfare in which
he displayed those brilliant talents which won for him an empire,
constituted him, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, a hero, and
advanced France to a high position of tyrannical power.  But brilliant
talents and success could not free him from the charge of being a
wholesale murderer.

To oppose such pretentions and practices was a bounden duty on the part
of those who loved justice, just as much as it is the duty of every one
who has the power to thwart the designs of, and forcibly overcome, a
highwayman or a pirate.

Observe, reader, that we do not intend here to imply an invidious
comparison.  We have no sympathy with those who hold that England was
and always is in favour of fair play, while France was bent on tyranny.
On the contrary, we believe that England has in some instances been
guilty of the sin which we now condemn, and that, on the other hand,
many Frenchmen of the present day would disapprove of the policy of
France in the time of Napoleon the First.  Neither do we sympathise with
the famous saying of Nelson that "one Englishman is equal to three
Frenchmen!"  The tendency to praise one's-self has always been regarded
among Christian nations as a despicable, or at least a pitiable,
quality, and we confess that we cannot see much difference between a
boastful man and a boastful nation.  Frenchmen have always displayed
chivalrous courage, not a whit inferior to the British, and history
proves that in war they have been eminently successful.  The question
whether they could beat us or we could beat them, if tested in a fair
stand-up fight with equal numbers, besides being an unprofitable one, is
not now before us.  All that we are concerned about at present is, that
in the war now under consideration the British _did_ beat the French,
and we rejoice to record the fact solely on the ground that we fought in
a righteous cause.

With these remarks we proceed to give an account of one of the greatest
naval victories ever achieved by British arms.



CHAPTER SIX.

THE BATTLE OF THE NILE.

After Napoleon Bonaparte had effected his landing in Egypt, the French
fleet was permitted to remain at Alexandria for some time, and thus
afforded Nelson the opportunity he had sought for so long.

For many previous days he had been almost unable, from anxiety, to take
sleep or food, but now he ordered dinner to be served, while
preparations were being made for battle, and when his officers rose to
leave the table, he said to them:--

"Before this time to-morrow, I shall have gained a peerage or
Westminster Abbey."

The French had found it impossible to enter the neglected and ruined
port of Alexandria.  Admiral Brueys had, by command of Napoleon, offered
a reward of 10,000 livres to any native pilot who would safely convey
the squadron in, but not one was found who would venture to take charge
of a single vessel that drew more than twenty feet.  The gallant admiral
was compelled, therefore, to anchor in Aboukir Bay, and chose the
strongest position that was possible in the circumstances.  He ranged
his ships in a compact line of battle, in such a manner that the leading
vessel lay close to a shoal, while the remainder of the fleet formed a
curve along the line of deep water so that it was thought to be
impossible to turn it by any means in a South Westerly direction, and
some of the French, who were best able to judge, said that they held a
position so strong that they could bid defiance to a force more than
double their own.  The presumption was not unreasonable, for the French
had the advantage of the English in ships, guns, and men, but they had
omitted to take into their calculations the fact that the English fleet
was commanded by one whose promptitude in action, readiness and
eccentricity of resource, and utter disregard of consequences when what
he deemed the path to victory lay before him, might have been equalled;
but certainly could not have been surpassed, by Bonaparte himself.

The French force consisted of thirteen ships of the line and four
frigates, carrying in all 1196 guns and 11,230 men.  The English had
thirteen ships of the line and a fifty-gun ship, carrying in all 1012
guns and 8068 men.  All the English line-of-battle ships were
seventy-fours.  Three of the French ships carried eighty-eight guns, and
one, _L'Orient_, was a monster three-decker with 120 guns.

In order to give the reader a better idea of the forces engaged on both
sides, we give the following list of ships.  It is right, however, to
add that one of those belonging to the English (the _Culloden_) ran
aground on a shoal when about to go into action, and took no part in the
fight.

ENGLISH SHIPS.

+===+===============+=============================+====+===+===========+
Ý   ÝNames          ÝCommanders                   ÝGunsÝMenÝ           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý 1.ÝVanguard       ÝAdmiral Nelson, Captain BerryÝ  74Ý595Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý 2.ÝMinotaur       ÝThos. Louis                  Ý  74Ý640Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý 3.ÝTheseus        ÝR.W. Millar                  Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý 4.ÝAlexander      ÝA.J. Ball                    Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý 5.ÝSwiftsure      ÝB Hallowell                  Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý 6.ÝAudacious      ÝD Gould                      Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý 7.ÝDefence        ÝJ Peyton                     Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý 8.ÝZealous        ÝS Hood                       Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý 9.ÝOrion          ÝSir James Saumarez           Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý10.ÝGoliath        ÝThomas Foley                 Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý11.ÝMajestic       ÝG.B. Westcott                Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý12.ÝBellerophon    ÝH.D.E. Darby                 Ý  74Ý590Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý13.ÝCulloden       ÝT Trowbridge                 Ý  74Ý590ÝNot engagedÝ
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý14.ÝLeander        ÝT.B. Thomson                 Ý  50Ý343Ý           Ý
+---+---------------+-----------------------------+----+---+-----------+
Ý15.ÝLa Mutine, BrigÝ                             Ý    Ý   Ý           Ý
+===+===============+=============================+====+===+===========+

FRENCH SHIPS.

+===+====================+==============+====+====+===============+
Ý   ÝNames               ÝCommanders    ÝGunsÝMen Ý               Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý 1.ÝL'Orient            ÝAdmiral BrueysÝ 120Ý1010ÝBurnt          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý 2.ÝLe Franklin         Ý              Ý  80Ý 800ÝTaken          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý 3.ÝLe Tonnant          Ý              Ý  80Ý 800ÝTaken          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý 4.ÝLe Guillaume Tell   Ý              Ý  80Ý 800ÝEscaped        Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý 5.ÝLe Conquerant       Ý              Ý  74Ý 700ÝTaken          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý 6.ÝLe Spartiate        Ý              Ý  74Ý 700ÝTaken          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý 7.ÝL'Aquilon           Ý              Ý  74Ý 700ÝTaken          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý 8.ÝLe Souverain Peuple Ý              Ý  74Ý 700ÝTaken          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý 9.ÝL'Heureux           Ý              Ý  74Ý 700ÝTaken          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý10.ÝLe Timoleon         Ý              Ý  74Ý 700ÝBurnt          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý11.ÝLe Mercure          Ý              Ý  74Ý 700ÝTaken          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý12.ÝLe Genereux         Ý              Ý  74Ý 700ÝEscaped        Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý13.ÝLe Guerrier         Ý              Ý  74Ý 600ÝTaken          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý14.ÝLa Diane (Frigate)  Ý              Ý  48Ý 300ÝEscaped        Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý15.ÝLa Justice (Frigate)Ý              Ý  44Ý 300ÝEscaped        Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý16.ÝL'Artemise (Frigate)Ý              Ý  36Ý 250ÝBurnt          Ý
+---+--------------------+--------------+----+----+---------------+
Ý17.ÝLa Serieux (Frigate)Ý              Ý  36Ý 250ÝDismasted, sunkÝ
+===+====================+==============+====+====+===============+

Such were the forces that met to engage in deadly conflict on the 1st of
August 1798, with not only national but world-wide interest pending on
the issue, for the battle of the Nile was one of the leading battles of
the world.

When Nelson perceived the position of the enemy, his fertile and active
mind at once evolved a characteristic course of action.  Where there was
room, he said, for an enemy's ship to swing, there was room for one of
his to anchor.  He therefore at once formed the plan of doubling on the
French ships, stationing one of his ships on the bow and another on the
quarter of each of the enemy.

Nelson immediately explained his intended course to his officers.  It
had been his custom during the whole time he was engaged in searching
for the French fleet, to have his captains as frequently as possible on
board the _Vanguard_, when he explained to them his opinions as to the
best mode of attack in all the various positions in which it was
possible or probable that the enemy might be found.  Hence they knew
their commander's tactics so well, that when the hour for action
arrived, no time was lost in the tedious operation of signalling orders.
He had such confidence in all his officers, that after thoroughly
explaining his intended plan of attack, he merely said to them, "Form as
is most convenient for mutual support, and anchor by the stern.  First
gain the victory, and then make the best use of it you can."

When Captain Berry, perceiving the boldness of the plan, said, "If we
succeed, what will the world say?"  Nelson replied, "There is no _if_ in
the case; that we shall succeed is certain: who may live to tell the
story is a very different question!"

Nelson possessed in an eminent degree the power of infusing into his men
the irresistible confidence that animated his own bosom.  There was
probably not a man in the British fleet who did not sail into Aboukir
Bay on that memorable day with a feeling of certainty that the battle
was as good as gained before it was begun.  The cool, quiet,
self-possessed manner in which the British tars went to work at the
beginning must have been very impressive to the enemy; for, as they
advanced, they did not even condescend to fire a shot in reply to the
storm of shot and shell to which the leading ships were treated by the
batteries on an island in the bay, and by the broadsides of the whole
French fleet at half gunshot-range, the men being too busily engaged in
furling the sails aloft, attending to the braces below, and preparing to
cast anchor!

Nelson's fleet did not all enter the bay at once, but each vessel lost
no time in taking up position as it arrived; and as, one after another,
they bore down on the enemy, anchored close alongside, and opened fire,
the thunder of the French fleet was quickly and increasingly augmented
by the British, until the full tide of battle was reached, and the
shores of Egypt trembled under the incessant rolling roar of dreadful
war; while sheets of flame shot forth and rent the thick clouds which
enwrapped the contending fleets, and hung incumbent over the bay.

An attempt was made by a French brig to decoy the English ships towards
a shoal before they entered Aboukir Bay, but it failed because Nelson
either knew the danger or saw through the device.

It seemed as if the _Zealous_ (Captain Hood) was to have the honour of
commencing the action, but Captain Foley passed her in the _Goliath_,
and successfully accomplished that feat which the French had deemed
impossible, and had done their best to guard against.  Instead of
attacking the leading ship--the _Guerrier_--outside, he sailed round her
bows, passed between her and the shore, and cast anchor.  Before he
could bring up, however, he had drifted down to the second ship of the
enemy's line--the _Conquerant_--and opened fire.  It had been rightly
conjectured that the landward guns of the enemy would not be manned, or
even ready for action.  The _Goliath_, therefore, made short and sharp
work of her foe.  In ten minutes the masts of the _Conquerant_ were shot
away!  The _Zealous_ was laid alongside the _Guerrier_, and in twelve
minutes that vessel was totally disabled.  Next came the _Orion_ (Sir J.
Saumarez), which went into action in splendid style.  Perceiving that a
frigate lying farther inshore was annoying the _Goliath_, she sailed
towards her, giving the _Guerrier_ a taste of her larboard guns as long
as they would bear upon her, then dismasted and sunk the frigate, hauled
round towards the French line, and anchoring between the _Franklin_ and
the _Souverain Peuple_, received and returned the fire of both.

In like manner the _Audacious_ (Captain Gould) justified her name by
attacking the _Guerrier_ and _Conquerant_ at once, and, when the latter
struck passed on to the _Souverain Peuple_.

The unfortunate _Guerrier_ was also worthy of her title, for she bore
the brunt of the battle.  Every ship that passed her appeared to deem it
a duty to give her a broadside before settling down to its particular
place in the line, and finding its own special antagonist or
antagonists--for several of the English ships engaged two of the enemy
at once.  The _Theseus_ (Captain Miller), after bringing down the main
and mizzen-masts of the _Guerrier_, anchored inside the _Spartiate_ and
engaged her.

Meanwhile, on the other side of this vessel, Nelson's ship, the
_Vanguard_, bore down on the foe with six flags flying in different
parts of the rigging, to guard against the possibility of his colours
being shot away!  She opened a tremendous fire on the _Spartiate_ at
half pistol-range.  The muscular British tars wrought with heroic energy
at the guns.  In a few minutes six of these guns, which stood on the
fore-part of the _Vanguard's_ deck, were left without a man, and three
times afterwards were these six guns cleared of men--so terrific was the
fire of the enemy.

Other four of the British vessels sailed ahead of the _Vanguard_ and got
into action.  One of these--the _Bellerophon_ (Captain Darby)--engaged
the gigantic _L'Orient_, which was so disproportionately large that the
weight of ball from her lower deck alone exceeded that from the whole
broadside of her assailant.  The result was that the _Bellerophon_ was
overpowered, 200 of her men were killed or wounded, all her masts and
cables were shot away, and she drifted out of the line.  Her place,
however, was taken by the _Swiftsure_, which not only assailed the
_L'Orient_ on the bow, but at the same time opened a steady fire on the
quarter of the _Franklin_.

Before this time, however, the shades of night had fallen on the scene.
The battle began at half-past six in the evening--half-an-hour
afterwards daylight was gone, and the deadly fight was lighted only by
the lurid and fitful flashing of the guns.

Those vessels of the English squadron which happened to be in rear were
some leagues astern when the fight began, and it was so dark when they
entered that extreme difficulty was experienced in getting in.  One of
these--the _Culloden_ (Captain Trowbridge)--sounded carefully as she
went, but got aground, where she remained helpless during the action,
despite the efforts of the _Leander_ and _La Mutine_ brig to get her
off.  She served, however, as a beacon to the _Alexander_ and
_Swiftsure_.

The latter ship, on entering the bay, fell in with the drifting and
disabled _Bellerophon_, which was at first supposed to be one of the
enemy, because she did not show the signal ordered by Nelson to be
hoisted by his ships at the mizzen peak.  This arose, of course, from
the masts having been shot away.  Captain Hallowell wisely refrained
from firing on her, saying that, if she was an enemy, she was too much
disabled to escape.  He passed on, therefore, and, as we have said, took
the station and the duty from which the other had been driven.

The huge _L'Orient_ was now surrounded.  Captain Ball, in the
_Alexander_, anchored on her larboard quarter, and, besides raking her
with his guns, kept up a steady fire of musketry on her decks.  Captain
Thomson also, in the _Leander_, took up such a position that he could
fire into her and the _Franklin_ at the same time.

Standing in the midst of death and destruction, the hero of the Nile did
not escape scathless.  He remained unhurt, however, until he knew that
victory was certain.  The first and second ships of the enemy's line
were disabled, as we have said, at the commencement of the action, and
the third, fourth, and fifth were taken between eight and nine; so that
Nelson could not have much, if any, doubt as to the issue of the battle.

Suddenly he received a wound on the head from a piece of langridge shot,
and fell into the arms of Captain Berry.  A large flap of skin was cut
from the bone and fell over his sound eye,--the other having been lost
in a previous engagement.  The flow of blood was very great, and, being
thus totally blinded, he thought that he had received a mortal wound.
He was immediately carried down to the cockpit.

The cockpit of a man-of-war lies in that part of the ship which is below
water, and is never visited by the light of day.  Being safe also from
the visitation of shot or shell, it has been selected as the place to
which the wounded are conveyed during an action to have their wounds
dressed and limbs amputated by the surgeons--whose hands at such seasons
are, as may easily be supposed, much too full.  No pen can describe
adequately the horrors of that dimly-lighted place, with its flickering
lights, glittering knives, bloody tables and decks, and mangled men,
whose groans of agony burst forth in spite of their utmost efforts to
repress them.  Here, in the midst of dead, dying, and suffering men, the
great Admiral sat down to wait his turn.

The surgeon was engaged in dressing the wounds of a sailor when he was
brought down.  On learning who it was that required his services, he
quitted the man who was under his hands.  "No," said Nelson, refusing
his proffered assistance, "no; I will take my turn with my brave
fellows."  Accordingly, there he remained, persistently refusing aid,
until every man who had been previously wounded had been attended to!
When his turn came, it was found that his wound was merely superficial
and heartfelt was the joy expressed by the wounded men and the crew of
the _Vanguard_ when this was made known.

But before this had been ascertained, and while he believed himself to
be dying, Nelson called the chaplain, and gave him his last remembrance
to Lady Nelson, appointed a successor to Captain Berry, who was to go to
England with the news of the victory, and made other arrangements in
anticipation of his death.  But his hour had not yet come.  When the
surgeon pronounced his hurt to be superficial, he refused to take the
rest which was recommended, and at once sent for his secretary to write
despatches.

While he was thus engaged, a cry was heard which rose above the din of
battle, proclaiming that the _L'Orient_ was on fire.  In the confusion
that followed, Nelson found his way upon deck unassisted, and, to the
astonishment of every one, appeared on the quarter-deck, and gave orders
to lower the boats, and send relief to the enemy.

But before describing the scene that followed, we shall turn aside for a
little to watch more closely the proceedings of Captain Westcott in the
_Majestic_, and the personal deeds of Bill Bowls and his messmates.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

BATTLE OF THE NILE--CONTINUED.

The _Majestic_ was one of the four ships which sailed into action in the
wake of the Admiral.  Our hero, Bill Bowls, and his friend Ben Bolter,
were stationed at one of the guns on the larboard side of the main deck.
Flinders stood near them.  Everything was prepared for action.  The
guns were loaded, the men, stripped to the waist, stood ready, and the
matches were lighted, but as yet no order had been given to fire.  The
men on the larboard side of the ship stood gazing anxiously through the
portholes at the furious strife in which they were about to engage.

"Ah, then! but it's hot work is goin' on," said Flinders, turning to Ben
Bolter just after a crash of artillery somewhat louder than usual.

"It's hotter work ye'll see soon, when the Admiral gits into action,"
said Ben.

"True for ye," answered Flinders; "he's a broth of a boy for fightin'.
It's an Irishman he should have been born.  Hooroo, my hearties! look
out!"

This latter exclamation was drawn forth by the crashing of a stray shot,
which entered the ship close to the spot where they stood, and passed
out on the starboard side, sending splinters of wood flying in all
directions, without hurting any one.

"There goes the first!" said Bill Bowls, looking up at the ragged hole
that was left.

"Faix, but it's not the last!" cried Flinders, as another stray shot hit
the ship, wounding one of the men, and sending a splinter so close past
the Irishman that it grazed his cheek.  "Hooroo, boys! come on, the more
the merrier!  Sure it's death or victory we'll be havin' in
half-an-hour."

At this moment of intense excitement and expectation, when every man's
nerves tingled to be called into vigorous action, Ben Bolter saw fit to
give Flinders a lecture.

"Ye shouldn't ought to speak misrespectful of death, boy," said he
gravely.  "He's a rough customer when he gits hold of 'e, an' is sartin
sure to have the upper hand.  It's my opinion that he'll pay this ship a
pretty stiff visit to-night, so you'd better treat him with respect, an'
belay yer jokin'--of which yer countrymen are over fond."

To this Flinders listened with a humorous expression about the corners
of his eyes, while he stroked his chin, and awaited a pause in order to
make a suitable reply, but an exclamation from Bill Bowls changed the
subject abruptly.

"Ho! boys," he cried, "there goes the Admiral."

A tremendous crash followed his words, and the _Vanguard_ was seen to
pour a broadside into the _Spartiate_--as before related.

The men of the _Majestic_ gazed eagerly at the Admiral's ship, which was
almost enveloped in thick smoke as they passed ahead, but an order from
Captain Westcott to be ready for action called the attention of every
man on his duty.  Whatever might have been, at that moment, the thoughts
of the hundreds of men on board the _Majestic_, the whole soul and body
of every man appeared to be concentrated on his own gun, as he awaited
in stern silence the order to act.

It came at last, but somewhat differently from what had been expected.
A sudden and peculiar motion was felt in the ship, and it was found that
she had got entangled with the main rigging of one of the French vessels
astern of the _L'Orient_.  Instantly men were sent aloft to cut clear,
but before this could be accomplished a perfect storm of shot and shell
was sent into them from the towering sides of the three-decker.  Men
fell on all sides before they had an opportunity of firing a shot; again
and again the crushing shower of metal came; spars and masts fell; the
rigging was cut up terribly, and in a short time the _Majestic_ would
certainly have been sunk had she not fortunately managed to swing clear.
A moment afterwards Captain Westcott, finding himself close alongside
the _Heureux_--the ninth ship of the enemy's line--gave the word to open
fire, and Bill Bowls had at last the satisfaction of being allowed to
apply a light to the touch-hole of his gun.  Seventy-four men had for
some time past felt their fingers itching with an almost irresistible
desire to do this, and now upwards of thirty of them were allowed to
gratify their wish.  Instantly the good ship received a shock that
caused her to quiver from the trucks to the keel, as her broadside went
crashing into the _Heureux_.

No longer was there impatient inaction on board the _Majestic_, for not
only did the _Heureux_ reply vigorously, but the _Tonnant_--the eighth
of the enemy's line--opened fire on their other side.  The _Majestic_
therefore fought on both sides.  Throughout the whole ship the stalwart,
half-naked men heaved at the huge guns.  Everywhere, from stem to stern,
was exhibited in full swing the active processes of sponging out,
passing along powder and ball, ramming home the charges, running out,
working the handspikes, stepping aside to avoid the recoil--and the
whole operation of working the guns, as only British seamen know how to
work them!  All this was done in the midst of smoke, flame, crashing
shot, and flying splinters, while the decks were slippery with human
blood, and strewn with dead men, from amongst whom the wounded were
raised as tenderly as the desperate circumstances in which they were
placed would admit of, and carried below.  Many of those who were thus
raised never reached the cockpit, but again fell, along with those who
bore them.

One of the men at the gun where Bill Bowls was at work was in the act of
handing a round shot to Bill, when a ball entered the port-hole and hit
him on the head, scattering his brains over the gun.  Bill sprang
forward to catch him in his arms, but slipped on the bloody deck and
fell.  That fall saved his life, for at the same moment a musket ball
entered the port and passed close over his head, shattering the arm of a
poor boy--one of those brave little fellows called powder-monkeys--who
was in the act of carrying a cartridge to Ben Bolter.  Ben could not
delay the loading of the piece to assist the little fellow, who used his
remaining strength to stagger forward and deliver the cartridge before
he fell, but he shouted hastily to a passing shipmate--

"Here, Davis, carry this poor little chap to the cockpit."

Davis turned and took the boy in his arms.  He had almost reached the
main hatchway when a shell entered the ship and burst close to him.  One
fragment killed the boy, and another almost cut Davis in two.  They fell
and died together.

For a long time this terrible firing at short range went on, and many
men fell on both sides.  Among others, Captain Westcott was killed.  He
was the only captain who fell in that battle, and was one who, had his
life been spared, would certainly have risen to the highest rank in the
service.  He had "risen from the ranks," having been the son of a baker
in Devonshire, and gained the honourable station in which he lost his
life solely through his conspicuous abilities and courage.

Up to this point none of those who are principally concerned in this
tale had received any hurt, beyond a few insignificant scratches, but
soon after the death of the little boy, Tom Riggles received a severe
wound in the leg from a splinter.  He was carried below by Bill and Ben.

"It's all over with me," he said in a desponding tone as they went
slowly down the ladders; "I knows it'll be a case o' ampitation."

"Don't you go for to git down-hearted, Tom," said Ben earnestly.
"You're too tough to be killed easy."

"Well, I _is_ tough, but wot'll toughness do for a feller agin iron
shot.  I feels just now as if a red-hot skewer wos rumblin' about among
the marrow of my back-bone, an' I've got no feelin' in my leg at all.
Depend upon it, messmates, it's a bad case."

His comrades did not reply, because they had reached the gloomy place
where the surgeons were engaged at their dreadful work.  They laid Tom
down on a locker.

"Good-bye, lads," said Tom, as they were about to turn away, "p'r'aps
I'll not see ye again, so give us a shake o' yer flippers."

Bill and Ben silently squeezed their comrade's hand, being unable to
speak, and then hastened back to their stations.

It was about this time that the _L'Orient_ caught fire, and when Bill
and his friend reached the deck, sheets of flame were already leaping
out at the port-holes of the gigantic ship.  The sides of the _L'Orient_
had been recently painted, and the paint-buckets and oil-jars which
stood on the poop soon caught, and added brilliancy to the great
conflagration which speedily followed the first outbreak of fire.  It
was about nine o'clock when the fire was first observed.  Before this
the gallant French Admiral had perished.  Although three times wounded,
Brueys refused to quit his post.  At length a shot almost cut him in
two, but still he refused to go below, and desired to be left to die on
his quarter-deck.  He was spared the pain of witnessing the destruction
of his vessel.

Soon the flames got the mastery, and blazing upward like a mighty torch,
threw a strong and appropriate light over the scene of battle.  The
greater part of the crew of the _L'Orient_ displayed a degree of courage
which could not be surpassed, for they stuck to their guns to the very
last; continuing to fire from the lower deck while the fire was raging
above them, although they knew full well the dire and instantaneous
destruction that must ensue when the fire reached the magazine.

The position and flags of the two fleets were now clearly seen, for it
was almost as light as day, and the fight went on with unabated fury
until about ten o'clock, when, with a terrific explosion, the _L'Orient_
blew up.  So tremendous was the shock that it seemed to paralyse the
combatants for a little, for both fleets ceased to fire, and there
ensued a profound silence, which continued for some time.  The first
sound that broke the solemn stillness was the splash of the falling
spars of the giant ship as they descended from the immense height to
which they had been shot!

Of the hundreds of human beings who manned that ship, scarcely a tithe
were saved.  About seventy were rescued by English boats.  The scattered
and burning fragments fell around like rain, and there was much fear
lest these should set some of the neighbouring vessels on fire.  Two
large pieces of burning wreck fell into the _Swiftsure_, and a port fire
into the _Alexander_, but these were quickly extinguished.

On board the _Majestic_ also, some portions of burning material fell.
While these were being extinguished, one of the boats was ordered out to
do all that was possible to save the drowning Frenchmen.  Among the
first to jump into this boat were Bill Bowls and Ben Bolter.  Bill took
the bow oar, Ben the second, and in a few moments they were pulling
cautiously amid the debris of the wreck, helping to haul on board such
poor fellows as they could get hold of.  The work was difficult, because
comparative darkness followed the explosion, and as the fight was soon
resumed, the thunder of heavy guns, together with the plunging of ball,
exploding of shell, and whizzing of chain-shot overhead, rendered the
service one of danger as well as difficulty.

It was observed by the men of the _Majestic's_ boat that several French
boats were moving about on the same errand of mercy with themselves, and
it was a strange as well as interesting sight to see those who, a few
minutes before, had been bent on taking each other's lives, now as
earnestly engaged in the work of saving life!

"Back your starboard oars," shouted Ben, just as they passed one of the
French boats; "there's a man swimming on the port bow--that's it;
steady; lend a hand, Bill; now then, in with him."

A man was hoisted over the gunwale as he spoke, and the boat passed
onward.  Just then a round shot from one of the more distant ships of
the fleet--whether English or French they could not tell--struck the
water a few yards from them, sending a column of spray high into the
air.  Instead of sinking, the shot ricochetted from the water and
carried away the bow of the boat in passing, whirling it round and
almost overturning it.  At the same moment the sea rushed in and swamped
it, leaving the crew in the water.

Our hero made an involuntary grasp at the thing that happened to be
nearest him.  This was the head of his friend Ben Bolter, who had been
seated on the thwart in front of him.  Ben returned the grasp promptly,
and having somehow in the confusion of the plunge, taken it into his
head that he was in the grasp of a Frenchman, he endeavoured to throttle
Bill.  Bill, not being easily throttled, forthwith proceeded to choke
Ben, and a struggle ensued which might have ended fatally for both, had
not a piece of wreck fortunately touched Ben on the shoulder.  He seized
hold of it, Bill did the same, and then they set about the fight with
more precision.

"Come on, ye puddock-eater!" cried Ben, again seizing Bill by the
throat.

"Hallo, Ben!"

"Why, wot--is't you, Bill?  Well, now, if I didn't take 'e for a
Mounseer!"

Before more could be said a boat was observed rowing close past them.
Ben hailed it.

"Ho!" cried a voice, as the men rested on their oars and listened.

"Lend a hand, shipmates," cried Ben, "on yer port bow."

The oars were dipped at once, the boat ranged up, and the two men were
assisted into it.

"It's all well as ends well, as I've heerd the play-actors say,"
observed Ben Bolter, as he shook the water from his garments.  "I say,
lads, what ship do you belong to?"

"Ve has de honair to b'long to _Le Guillaume Tell_," replied one of the
men.

"Hallo, Bill!" whispered Ben, "it's a French boat, an' we're nabbed.
Prisoners o' war, as sure as my name's BB!  Wot's to be done?"

"I'll make a bolt, sink or swim," whispered our hero.

"You vill sit still," said the man who had already spoken to them,
laying a hand on Bill's shoulder.

Bill jumped up and made a desperate attempt to leap overboard, but two
men seized him.  Ben sprang to the rescue instantly, but he also was
overpowered by numbers, and the hands of both were tied behind their
backs.  A few minutes later and they were handed up the side of the
French ship.

When day broke on the morning of the 2nd of August, the firing still
continued, but it was comparatively feeble, for nearly every ship of the
French fleet had been taken.  Only the _Guillaume Tell_ and the
_Genereux_--the two rear ships of the enemy--had their colours flying.

These, with two frigates, cut their cables and stood out to sea.  The
_Zealous_ pursued, but as there was no other British ship in a fit state
to support her, she was recalled; the four vessels, therefore, escaped
at that time, but they were captured not long afterwards.  Thus ended
the famous battle of the Nile, in regard to which Nelson said that it
was a "conquest" rather than a victory.

Of thirteen sail of the line, nine were taken and two burnt; and two of
their four frigates were burnt.  The British loss in killed and wounded
amounted to 896; that of the French was estimated at 2000.

The victory was most complete.  The French fleet was annihilated.  As
might be supposed, the hero of the Nile was, after this, almost
worshipped as a demigod.  It is worthy of remark here that Nelson, as
soon as the conquest was completed, sent orders through the fleet that
thanksgiving should be returned, in every ship, to Almighty God, for the
victory with which He had blessed His Majesty's arms.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

OUR HERO AND HIS MESSMATE GET INTO TROUBLE.

On the night after the battle, Bill Bowls and Ben Bolter were sent on
board a French transport ship.

As they sat beside each other, in irons, and securely lodged under
hatches, these stout men of war lamented their hard fate thus--

"I say, Bill, this is wot I calls a fix!"

"That's so, Ben--a bad fix."

There was silence for a few minutes, then Ben resumed--

"Now, d'ye see, this here war may go on for ever so long--years it may
be--an' here we are on our way to a French prison, where we'll have the
pleasure, mayhap, of spendin' our youth in twirlin' our thumbs or
bangin' our heads agin the bars of our cage."

"There ain't a prison in France as'll hold me," said Bill Bowls
resolutely.

"No? how d'ye 'xpect to git out--seein' that the walls and doors ain't
made o' butter, nor yet o' turnips?" inquired Ben.

"I'll go up the chimbley," said Bill savagely, for his mind had reverted
to Nelly Blyth, and he could not bear to think of prolonged
imprisonment.

"But wot if they've got no chimbleys?"

"I'll try the winders."

"But if the winders is tight barred, wot then?"

"Why, then, I'll bust 'em, or I'll bust myself, that's all."

"Humph!" ejaculated Ben.

Again there was a prolonged silence, during which the friends moodily
meditated on the dark prospects before them.

"If we could only have bin killed in action," said Bill, "that would
have been some comfort."

"Not so sure o' that, messmate," said Ben.  "There's no sayin' wot may
turn up.  P'r'aps the war will end soon, an' that's not onlikely, for
we've whipped the Mounseers on sea, an' it won't be difficult for our
lobsters to lick 'em on land.  P'r'aps there'll be an exchange of
prisoners, an' we may have a chance of another brush with them one o'
these days.  If the wust comes to the wust, we can try to break out o'
jail and run a muck for our lives.  Never say die is my motto."

Bill Bowls did not assent to these sentiments in words, but he clenched
his fettered hands, set his teeth together, and gave his comrade a look
which assured him that whatever might be attempted he would act a
vigorous part.

A few days later the transport entered a harbour, and a guard came on
board to take charge of the prisoners, of whom there were about twenty.
As they were being led to the jail of the town, Bill whispered to his
comrade--

"Look out sharp as ye go along, Ben, an' keep as close to me as ye can."

"All right, my lad," muttered Ben, as he followed the soldiers who
specially guarded himself.

Ben did not suppose that Bill intended then and there to make a sudden
struggle for freedom, because he knew that, with fettered wrists, in a
strange port, the very name of which they did not know, and surrounded
by armed enemies, such an attempt would be utterly hopeless; he
therefore concluded, correctly, that his companion wished him to take
the bearings (as he expressed it) of the port, and of the streets
through which they should pass.  Accordingly he kept his "weather-eye
open."

The French soldiers who conducted the seamen to prison, although stout
athletic fellows, and, doubtless, capable of fighting like heroes, were
short of stature, so that the British tars looked down on them with a
patronising expression of countenance, and one or two even ventured on a
few facetious remarks.  Bill Bowls and Ben Bolter, who both measured
above six feet in their stockings, towered above the crowd like two
giants.

"It's a purty place intirely," said an Irish sailor, with a smiling
countenance, looking round upon the houses, and nodding to a group of
pretty girls who were regarding the prisoners with looks of pity.  "What
may be the name of it, av I may make bowld to inquire?"

The question was addressed to the soldier on his right, but the man paid
no attention.  So the Irishman repeated it, but without drawing forth a
reply.

"Sure, yer a paltry thing that can't give a civil answer to a civil
question."

"He don't understand Irish, Pat, try him with English," said Ben Bolter.

"Ah, then," said Pat, "ye'd better try that yersilf, only yer so high up
there he won't be able to hear ye."

Before Ben had an opportunity of trying the experiment, however, they
had arrived at the jail.  After they had passed in, the heavy door was
shut with a clang, and bolted and barred behind them.

It is probable that not one of the poor fellows who heard the sound,
escaped a sensation of sinking at the heart, but certain it is that not
one condescended to show his feelings in his looks.

They were all put into a large empty room, the window of which looked
into a stone passage, which was itself lighted from the roof; the door
was shut, locked, bolted, and barred, and they were left to their
meditations.

They had not remained long there, however, when the bolts and bars were
heard moving again.

"What say 'e to a rush, lads?" whispered one of the men eagerly.

"Agreed," said Bill Bowls, starting forward; "I'll lead you, boys."

"No man can fight with his hands tied," growled one of the others.
"You'll only be spoilin' a better chance, mayhap."

At that moment the last bolt was withdrawn, and the door swung open,
revealing several files of soldiers with muskets, and bayonets fixed, in
the passage.  This sight decided the question of a rush!

Four of the soldiers entered with the turnkey.  The latter, going up to
Bill Bowls and Ben Bolter, said to them in broken English:--

"You follows de soldat."

Much surprised, but in silence, they obeyed the command.

As they were going out, one of their comrades said, "Good-bye, mates:
it's plain they've taken ye for admirals on account o' yer size!"

"Niver a taste," said the Irishman before mentioned, "'tis bein' led,
they are, to exekooshion--"

The remainder of this consolatory suggestion was cut off by the shutting
of the door.

After traversing several passages, the turnkey stopped before a small
door studded with iron nails, and, selecting one of his huge keys,
opened it, while the soldiers ranged up on either side.

The turnkey, who was a tall, powerful man, stepped back, and, looking at
Bill, pointed to the cell with his finger, as much as to say, "Go in."

Bill looked at him and at the soldiers for a moment, clenched his fists,
and drew his breath short, but as one of the guard quietly brought his
musket to the charge, he heaved a sigh, bent his head, and, passing
under the low doorway, entered the cell.

"Are we to stop long here, Mister Turnkey?" asked Ben, as he was about
to follow.

The man vouchsafed no reply, but again pointed to the cell.

"I've always heered ye wos a purlite nation," said Ben, as he followed
his messmate; "but there's room for improvement."

The door was shut, and the two friends stood for a few minutes in the
centre of their cell, gazing in silence around the blank walls.

The appearance of their prison was undoubtedly depressing, for there was
nothing whatever in it to arrest the eye, except a wooden bench in one
corner, and the small grated window which was situated near the top of
one of the walls.

"What d'ye think o' this?" asked Ben, after some time, sitting down on
the bench.

"I think I won't be able to stand it," said Bill, flinging himself
recklessly down beside his friend, and thrusting his hands deep into his
trouser pockets.

"Don't take on so bad, messmate," said Ben, in a reproving tone.
"Gittin' sulky with fate ain't no manner o' use.  As our messmate
Flinders used to say, `Be aisy, an' if ye can't be aisy, be as aisy as
ye can.'  There's wot I calls sound wisdom in that."

"Very true, Ben; nevertheless the sound wisdom in _that_ won't avail to
get us out o' _this_."

"No doubt, but it'll help us to bear this with equablenimity while we're
here, an' set our minds free to think about the best way o' makin' our
escape."

At this Bill made an effort to throw off the desperate humour which had
taken possession of him, and he so far succeeded that he was enabled to
converse earnestly with his friend.

"Wot are we to do?" asked Bill gloomily.

"To see, first of all, what lies outside o' that there port-hole,"
answered Ben.  "Git on my shoulders, Bill, an' see if ye can reach it."

Ben stood against the wall, and his friend climbed on his shoulders, but
so high was the window, that he could not reach to within a foot of it.
They overcame this difficulty, however, by dragging the bench to the
wall, and standing upon it.

"I see nothin'," said Bill, "but the sky an' the sea, an' the
prison-yard, which appears to me to be fifty or sixty feet below us."

"That's not comfortin'," observed Ben, as he replaced the bench in its
corner.

"What's your advice now?" asked Bill.

"That we remain on our good behaviour a bit," replied Ben, "an' see wot
they means to do with us, an' whether a chance o' some sort won't turn
up."

"Well, that's a good plan--anyhow, it's an easy one to begin with--so
we'll try it for a day or two."

In accordance with this resolve, the two sailors called into play all
the patience, prudence, and philosophy of which they were possessed, and
during the three days that followed their incarceration, presented such
a meek, gentle, resigned aspect; that the stoniest heart of the most
iron-moulded turnkey ought to have been melted; but the particular
turnkey of that prison was made of something more or less than mortal
mould, for he declined to answer questions,--declined even to open his
lips, or look as if he heard the voices of his prisoners, and took no
notice of them farther than to fetch their food at regular intervals and
take away the empty plates.  He, however, removed their manacles; but
whether of his own good-will or by order they did not know.

"Now, Ben," said Bill on the evening of the third day, as they sat
beside each other twirling their thumbs, "this here sort o' thing will
never do.  I mean for to make a dash when the turnkey comes in the
mornin'; will you help me?"

"I'm yer man," said Ben; "but how d'ye mean to set about it?"

"Well, somewhat in this fashion:--W'enever he opens the door I'll clap
my hand on his mouth to stop his pipe, and you'll slip behind him, throw
yer arms about him, and hold on till I tie a handkerchief over his
mouth.  Arter that we'll tie his hands and feet with whatever we can git
hold of--his own necktie, mayhap--take the keys from him, and git out
the best way we can."

"H'm; but wot if we don't know the right turnin's to take, an' run
straight into the jaws of other turnkeys, p'r'aps, or find other doors
an' gates that his bunch o' keys won't open?"

"Why, then, we'll just fail, that's all; an' if they should scrag us for
it, no matter."

"It's a bad look-out, but I'll try," said Ben.

Next morning this plan was put in execution.  When the turnkey entered
the cell, Bill seized him and clapped his hand on his mouth.  The man
struggled powerfully, but Ben held him in a grasp so tight that he was
as helpless as an infant.

"Keep yer mind easy, Mounseer, we won't hurt 'e," said Ben, while his
comrade was busy gagging him.

"Now, then, lift him into the corner," whispered Bill.

Ben and he carried the turnkey, whom they had tied hand and foot with
handkerchiefs and neckties, into the interior of the cell, left him
there, locked the door on him, and immediately ran along the passage,
turned a corner, and came in sight of an iron grating, on the other side
of which sat a man in a dress similar to that of the turnkey they had
left behind them.  They at once drew back and tried to conceal
themselves, but the man had caught sight of them, and gave the alarm.

Seeing that their case was desperate, Bill rushed at the grating with
all his force and threw himself heavily against it.  The whole building
appeared to quiver with the shock; but the caged tiger has a better
chance of smashing his iron bars than poor Bill Bowls had.  Twice he
flung his whole weight against the barrier, and the second time Ben
helped him; but their efforts were in vain.  A moment later and a party
of soldiers marched up to the grating on the outside.  At the same time
a noise was heard at the other end of the passage.  Turning round, the
sailors observed that another gate had been opened, and a party of armed
men admitted, who advanced with levelled muskets.

Seeing this, Bill burst into a bitter laugh, and flung down the keys
with a force that caused the long passage to echo again, as he
exclaimed--

"It's all up with us, Ben.  We may as well give in at once."

"That's so," said Ben sadly, as he suffered himself to be handcuffed,
after which he and his companion in misfortune were conducted back to
their cell.



CHAPTER NINE.

BILL AND BEN SET THEIR BRAINS TO STEEP WITH UNCONQUERABLE PERSEVERANCE.

In its slow but steady revolution, the wheel of fortune had now
apparently brought Bill Bowls and Ben Bolter to the lowest possible
point; and the former of these worthies consoled himself with the
reflection that, as things could scarcely get worse with them, it was
probable they would get better.  His friend disputed this point.

"It's all very well," said Ben, crossing his legs and clasping his hands
over his knees, as he swayed himself to and fro, "to talk about havin'
come to the wust; but we've not got to that p'int by a long way.  Why,
suppose that, instead o' bein' here, sound in wind and limb, though
summat unfort'nate in regard to the matter o' liberty,--suppose, I say,
that we wos lyin' in hospital with our right legs an' mayhap our left
arms took off with a round shot."

"Oh, if you go for to _supposin'_," said Bill, "you may suppose
anything.  Why not suppose at once that we was lyin' in hospital with
both legs and arms took off by round shot, an' both eyes put out with
canister, an' our heads an' trunks carried away by grape-shot?"

"I didn't suppose that," said Ben quietly, "because that would be the
best instead o' the wust state we could come to, seein' that we'd know
an' care nothin' about it.  Hows'ever, here we are, low enough, an'
havin' made an assault on the turnkey, it's not likely we'll get much
favour at the hands of the Mounseers; so it comes to this, that we must
set our brains to steep, an' see if we can't hit upon some dodge or
other to escape."

"That's what we must do," assented Bill Bowls, knitting his brows, and
gazing abstractedly at the blank wall opposite.  "To git out o' this
here stone jug is what I've set my heart on, so the sooner we set about
it the better."

"Just so," said Ben.  "Well, then, let's begin.  Wot d'ye propose fust?"

To this Bill replied that he must think over it.  Accordingly, he did
think over it, and his comrade assisted him, for the space of three
calendar months, without any satisfactory result.  But the curious thing
about it was that, while these men revolved in their minds every
conceivable plan with unflagging eagerness, and were compelled to give
up each, after brooding over it for a considerable time, finding that it
was unworkable, they were not dispirited, but rather became more intense
in their meditations, and ingenious as well as hopeful in their
devisings.

"If we could only git hold of a file to cut a bar o' the winder with,
an' a rope to let ourselves down with, I think we could manage to git
over the walls somehow."

"If we was to tear our jackets, trousers, vests, and shirts into strips,
an' make a rope of 'em, it might be long enough," suggested Bill.

"That's so, boy, but as we would be stark naked before we got it
finished, I fear the turnkey would suspec' there wos somethin' wrong
somehow."

Ben Bolter sighed deeply as he spoke, because at that moment a ray of
sunshine shot through the little window, and brought the free fresh air
and the broad blue sea vividly to his remembrance.  For the first time
he experienced a deep sinking of the heart, and he looked at his comrade
with an expression of something like despair.

"Cheer up," said Bill, observing and thoroughly understanding the look.
"Never say die, as long as there's a--shot--in--"

He was too much depressed and listless to finish the sentence.

"I wonder," resumed Ben, "if the Mounseers treat all their prisoners of
war as bad as they treat us."

"Don't think they do," replied Bill.  "I've no doubt it's 'cause we
sarved 'em as we did when they first put us in quod."

"Oh, if they would only give us summat to do!" exclaimed Ben, with
sudden vehemence.

It seemed as if the poor fellow's prayer were directly answered, for at
that moment the door opened, and the governor, or some other official of
the prison, entered the cell.

"You must vork," he said, going up to Bill.

"We'll be only too glad to work, yer honour, if you'll give us work to
do."

"Ver' good; fat can you vork?"

"We can turn handy to a'most anything, yer honour," said Ben eagerly.

It turned out, however, after a considerable amount of talk, that,
beyond steering a ship, reefing topsails, splicing ropes, tying every
species of complex knot, and other nautical matters, the two seamen
could not claim to be professionally acquainted with any sort of
handicraft.  Somewhat discomfited, Ben at last said with a perplexed
air--

"Well, yer honour, we'll try anything ye choose to put us at.  I had a
brother once who was a sort of tinker to trade, an' great at mendin'
pots, pans, old umbrellas, and the like.  I wos used to help him when a
boy.  P'r'aps if yer honour, now, has got a old umbrella as wants
refittin', I might try my hand on that."

The governor smiled.  "Vell, I do tink I have von old omberilla.  You
sall try for to mend him."

Next day saw Bill and Ben surrounded by tools, scraps of wood and
whalebone, bits of brass and tin, etcetera, busy as bees, and as happy
as any two children who have invented a new game.

Ben mended the umbrella admirably.  At the same time, Bill fashioned and
carved two or three paper-knives of wood with great neatness.  But when
it was discovered that they could sew sail-cloth expeditiously and well,
a quantity of that material was given to them, and they were ordered to
make sacks.  They set to work accordingly, and made sack after sack
until they grew so wearied of the monotonous work that Ben said it made
him wish to sit down in sackcloth and ashes; whereupon Bill remarked
that if the Mounseers would only give them the sack altogether, it would
be very much to their credit.

Soon the imprisoned mariners began again to plot and plan their escape.
Of course they thought of making ropes of the sail-cloth and twine with
which they wrought, but as the turnkey took the material away every
night, and brought it back every morning, they gave up this idea, as
they had given up many other ideas before.

At last, one afternoon, Bill looked up from his work, hit his thigh a
slap which produced a pistol-shot crack that echoed up into the high
ceiling of the cell, as he exclaimed, "I've got it!"

"I hope you'll give us a bit of it, then," said Ben, "if it's worth
havin'."

"I'll give you the benefit of it, anyhow," said Bill, throwing down his
tools and eagerly beginning to expound the new plan which had struck him
and caused him to strike his thigh.  It was to this effect:--

That they should beg the turnkey to let them have another old umbrella
to work at by way of recreation, as the sack-making was rather
monotonous; that, if they should be successful in prevailing on him to
grant their request, they should work at the umbrella very slowly, so as
to give them time to carry out their plan, which was to form a sort of
parachute by adding sail-cloth round the margin of the umbrella so as to
extend it to twice its circumference.  After it should be finished they
were to seize a fitting opportunity, cut the bars of their window, and,
with the machine, leap down into the yard below.

"Wot!" exclaimed Ben, "jump together!"

"Ay, why not, Ben?  Sink or swim, together, boy."

"Very true, but I've got my doubts about flyin' together.  Better do it
one at a time, and send the umbrella up by means of a piece of twine."

"Well, we might do it in that way," said Bill; "but what d'ye think o'
the plan?"

"Fuss rate," said Ben, "we'll try it at once."

In accordance with this resolution, Ben made his petition that night,
very humbly, to the turnkey, who at first turned a deaf ear to him, but
was finally prevailed on to fetch them one of his own umbrellas to be
repaired.  It happened to be a very large one of the good old stout and
bulgy make, and in this respect was the better suited to their purpose.
All the tools necessary for the work of repair were supplied except a
file.  This, however, was brought to them, when Ben pointed out, with
much earnestness, that if he had such an implement he could clean up and
beautify the ivory handle to such an extent that its owner would not
recognise it.

This device of improving the ivory handle turned out to be a happy hit,
for it enabled Ben to keep the umbrella much longer by him than would
otherwise have been possible, for the purpose of covering it with
elaborate and really beautiful carving, the progress of which was
watched by the turnkey with much interest from day to day.

Having gained their end the sailors wrought with indefatigable zeal, and
resolutely overcame the difficulties that met them from time to time.
Each day they dragged the bench under the window.  Ben got upon it, and
Bill climbed on his shoulders, by which means he could just reach the
iron grating of the window, and there, for half-an-hour at a time, he
cautiously used the file.  They thought this enough of time to bestow on
the work, because the bars could be easily filed through before the
parachute was ready.

In the preparation of the umbrella, the first difficulty that met them
was how they were to conceal their private work when the turnkey came in
the evenings to take away their materials for sack-making.  After some
examination they discovered a plank in the floor, in the corner where
they were wont to sleep, which was loose and easily forced up with one
of Bill's unfinished paper-knives, which he made very strong for this
special purpose!  Beneath there was sufficient room to stow away the
cloth with which they fashioned the additional breadth to the umbrella.
To have cabbaged at one time all the sail-cloth that was required would
have risked discovery; they therefore appropriated small scraps each
day, and sewed these neatly together until they had enough.  Soon they
had a ring of canvas formed, into the centre of which the umbrella
fitted exactly, and this ring was so cut and sewn in gores that it
formed a continuation of the umbrella, which was thus made to spread out
and cover a space of about nine or ten feet in diameter.  All round the
extremity or margin of the ring, cords of twisted twine were fixed, at
intervals of about six inches.  There were about sixty of these cords or
stays, all of which met and were fastened at the end of the handle.  A
stout line, made of four-ply twine, was fastened at the top of the
umbrella, and passing through a small hole in it was tied round the
whalebones inside, and twisted down the stick to the handle, to which it
was firmly secured.  By this means the whole machine was, as it were,
bound together.

All these additionals and fixings had, however, to be so constructed
that they could be removed, or affixed with some rapidity, for there was
always before the sailors the chance that the turnkey might look in to
observe how their work was progressing.

Indeed one afternoon they were almost discovered at work on the
parachute.  The turnkey was heard coming along the passage when Ben was
in the act of fitting on the new appendages, and the key was actually in
the door before the last shred of them was thrust into the hole in the
floor, and the loose plank shut down!  Ben immediately flung several of
the sacks over the place, and then turning suddenly round on his comrade
began to pommel him soundly by way of accounting for the flushed
condition of his countenance.

Thus taken by surprise, Bill returned the blows with interest, and the
combatants were separated by the turnkey when in a rather breathless
condition!

"If you do so more agin, you sall go separate," said the turnkey.

The mere thought of separation at such a moment struck like a chill to
the hearts of the sailors, who forthwith shook hands, and vowed
earnestly that they would "never do it again."  In order to conciliate
the man, Ben took up the umbrella, and pointing to the beautifully
carved handle said--

"You see it's all but finished, and I'm very anxious to git it done, so
if you'll let me keep it by me all to-night, I'll work as long as I can
see, and be at it the first thing in the morning."

The man, pleased at the unusual interest which Ben took in the worn-out
piece of goods, agreed to let him keep it by him.  After carrying away
all the other materials, and looking round to see that all was right, he
locked them up for the night.

Left to themselves, they at once began to prepare for action.  They drew
forth all the different parts of the parachute (for such it really was,
although the machine so named had never been seen, but only heard of, by
the seamen), and disposed them in such a manner beside the hole in the
floor as to be ready at a moment's notice, either to be fitted on to the
umbrella or thrust back into the place of concealment.

Their manacles had been taken off at the time they began to work, so
that these were no longer impediments in the way.

"Now, Bill, are the bars sure to give way, d'ye think?"

"Sartin sure," said Bill; "they're holdin' by nothin' thicker than a
pin."

"Very good, then, let's go to work.  In an hour or so it will be dark
enough to try our flyin' machine, and then good-bye to France--or to the
world.  It's neck or nothin', d'ye see?"

"All right," answered Bill.

They sat down to work in good earnest.  The spreading rim of canvas,
instead of being tagged on as on former occasions, was now sewn securely
to the umbrella, and when the latter was expanded, the canvas hung down
all round it, and the numerous stays hung quite loose.  Ben expected
that the rapidity of the descent would suddenly expand this appendage,
and check the speed.  The ends of the loose cords were gathered up and
fastened to the handle, as was also the binding-cord before referred
to--all of which was done with that thoroughness of workmanship for
which sailors are celebrated.

Then a stout cord was fastened to one of the stanchions of the window,
which had been left uncut for the purpose.

When everything was ready the adventurous sailors began to experience
all the anxiety which is inseparable from an action involving much
danger, liability to frustration, and requiring the utmost caution
combined with energy.

They waited until they thought the night was at its darkest.  When all
sounds around them had ceased, they took off their shoes and carefully
lifted the bench to the wall under the window.  Ben went up first by
mounting on Bill's shoulders.  With one powerful wrench he pulled the
iron framework of the window into the room, and handed it down to Bill,
who stooped a little and placed it gently against the wall.  His comrade
then thrust his head and shoulders out at the window, and while in that
awkward position spread his jacket over the sill.  This was intended to
protect the cord which was fastened to the top of the umbrella, and by
which it was to be drawn up after his descent.

When this was done, Bill clambered up by the cord which hung from the
uncut stanchion, and pushed the umbrella past Ben's body until he got
hold of the end of it, and drew it out altogether.  Bill then descended
into the cell, having the small cord in his hand, and watched the
motions of his comrade with intense anxiety.

The window was so small that Ben could barely get his head and shoulders
through it.  There was no possibility of his getting on his feet or his
knees to make a leap.  The only course that remained for him, therefore,
was to expand the umbrella, hold on tight, and then wriggle out until he
should lose his balance and fall head foremost!  It was an awful
position.  Bold though the seaman was, and desperate the circumstances,
his strong frame quivered when he gazed down and felt himself gradually
toppling.  The height he knew to be little short of sixty feet, but in
the dark night it appeared an abyss of horrible profundity.  A cold
sweat broke out upon him, and for one moment he felt an almost
irresistible tendency to let go the umbrella and clutch the window-sill,
but he was too late.  Like lightning he shot down for a couple of yards;
then the parachute expanded and checked him with such violence, as he
swung round, that he nearly lost his hold and was thrown into a
horizontal position--first on one side, then on the other.  Finally, he
reached the ground with a shock that almost took away his breath.  He
sat still for a moment or two, then rose slowly and shook himself, to
ascertain whether he were still alive and sound!  Immediately after he
examined the parachute, found it all right, and gave his comrade the
signal--a couple of tugs at the cord--to haul up.

Bill was scarcely less agitated than his friend.  He had seen Ben's legs
disappear with a suddenness that told eloquently of his having taken
flight, and stood in the cell above listening intently, while large
drops of perspiration coursed down his face.  On feeling the tug at the
string, a mountain appeared to be lifted off his chest.  Carefully he
pulled up the umbrella.  When it showed its point above the window-sill
he clambered up and went through the same terrible ordeal.  He was not,
however, so fortunate as his friend, for, when he jumped, three of the
stays gave way, which had the effect of slightly deranging the motion of
the umbrella, and he came to the ground with such violence that he lay
stunned and motionless, leading his horrified comrade to fear that he
was killed.  In a few minutes, however, he revived, and, on examination,
found that no bones had been broken.

"Now, Ben, what next?" said Bill, getting up, and giving himself a
shake.

"The wall," said Ben, "can't be far from where we stand.  If there wos
only a bit of moonshine it would help us."

"Better as it is," whispered Bill, groping about, for the night was so
intensely dark that it was scarcely possible to see a yard.  "I knows
the way to the harbour, if we only manage to get out.--Ah, here's the
wall, but it's an oncommon high one!"

This was indeed too true.  The top of the wall was faintly visible like
a black line across the dark sky, and when Ben mounted on Bill's
shoulders, it was found that he could only reach to within three feet of
the bristling iron spikes with which it was surmounted.  For
half-an-hour they groped about, and made the discovery that they were in
a small enclosure with bare walls of fifteen feet in height around them,
and not a projection of any kind large enough for a mouse to lay hold
of!  In these circumstances many men would have given way to despair;
but that was a condition of mind which neither of our tars ever thought
of falling into.  In the course of their explorations they came against
each other, and immediately began an animated conversation in whispers,
the result of which was that they groped for the umbrella, and, having
found it, cut off all the cords about it, with which they proceeded to
plait a rope strong enough to bear their weight.  They sat down in
silence to the work, leaning against the prison wall, and wrought for a
full hour with the diligence of men whose freedom depends on their
efforts.  When finished, the rope was found to be about a yard too short
for their purpose; but this defect was remedied by means of the canvas
of their parachute, which they tore up into strips, twisted into an
additional piece of rope, and spliced it to the other.  A large loop was
made on the end of it.  Going once more to the wall, Ben mounted on
Bill's shoulders, and threw the loop over the top of the wall; it
caught, as had been expected, on one of the iron spikes.  Ben then
easily hauled himself up, hand over hand, and, getting hold of two
spikes, raised himself so that he could see over the wall.  Immediately
after he descended.

"I sees nothin', Bill, so we must just go over and take our chance."

Bill agreed.  Ben folded his coat, and ascending again, spread it over
the spikes, so that he could lean on them with his chest without being
pierced.  Having re-ascended, Bill followed; the rope was then hauled
up, and lowered on the other side.  In another moment they slipped down,
and stood on the ground.

"Now, the question is, where are we!" whispered Bill.  "P'r'aps we're
only in another yard after all."

The sound of footsteps pacing slowly towards them was heard at that
moment.

"I do believe," whispered Bill, in an excited tone, "that we've got into
the street, an' that's the sentry.  Let's bolt."

"We can't bolt," said Ben, "'cause, if I took my bearin's right, he's
between us an' the shore, an' it would be of no manner o' use boltin'
into the country to be hunted down like a couple of foxes."

"Then we'll floor him to begin with," whispered Bill.

"That's so," said Ben.

The sentry approached, and the sailors drew up close against the wall.
Presently his dark form became faintly visible.  Bill rushed at him at
once, and delivered a blow that might have felled an ox at the spot
where he supposed his chest was, sending the man back almost heels over
head, while his arms rattled on the pavement.  Instantly there were
heard the sounds of opening locks, bolts, and bars.  The two friends
fled, and shouts were heard behind them, while lights flashed in various
directions.

"This way, Bill," cried Ben, turning down a narrow lane to avoid a lamp
which came in sight when they turned a corner.  A couple of belated and
drunken French fishermen happened to observe them, and gave chase.
"Hold on, Ben, let's drop, and trip 'em up," said Bill.

"All right," replied Ben; "down with 'e."

They stopped suddenly, and squatted as low as possible.  The lane was
very narrow; the fishermen were close behind; they tumbled right over
them, and fell heavily on their faces.  While they were rising, our
heroes knocked them both insensible, and hastily appropriating their
coats and red caps put them on as they ran.  By this time a crowd of
fishermen, sailors, and others, among whom were a few soldiers and
turnkeys with lanterns, were pursuing the fugitives as fast as was
possible in so dark a night.  Bill suggested that they should turn into
a dark corner, and dodge them.  The suggestion was acted on at once.
They dashed round the first corner they came to, and then, instead of
continuing their flight, turned sharp to the left, and hid in a doorway.
The pursuers came pouring round the corner, shouting wildly.  When the
thickest of the crowd was opposite their place of concealment, Bill and
Ben rushed into the midst of them with a shout, imitating the tones of
the Frenchmen as nearly as possible, but taking care to avoid the use of
word, and thus they joined in the pursuit!  Gradually they fell behind,
as if out-run, and, when they found themselves in rear, turned about,
and made off in the opposite direction, then, diverging to the left,
they headed again towards the shore, ran down to the beach, and leaped
into the first boat they came to.

It happened to be a very small one,--a sort of dinghy.  Ben thought it
was too small, and was about to leap out and search for a larger, when
lights suddenly appeared, and the shouts of the pursuers--who had
discovered the _ruse_--were heard as they approached.

"Shove off, Ben!"

"Hurrah, my hearties!" cried the seaman with a stentorian shout as he
seized an oar.

Next moment the little boat was flying over the smooth water of the
port, the silence of which was now broken by exclamations and cries from
the shipping in reply to those from the shore; while the splashing of
oars were heard in all directions as men leaped into boats and rowed
about at random.  Darkness favoured the Englishmen, but it also proved
the cause of their being very nearly re-captured; for they were within
two yards of the battery at the mouth of the harbour before they
observed it, and swerved aside just in time to avoid a collision.  But
they had been seen, and a random discharge of musketry followed.  This
was succeeded by the sudden blaze of a blue light, which revealed the
whole port swarming with boats and armed men,--a sight which acted so
powerfully on the warlike spirits of the sailors that they started up
simultaneously, flung their red caps into the air, and gave vent to a
hearty British cheer, which Ben Bolter followed up as they resumed the
oars, with "Old England for ever! farewell, Mounseers!"

The blue light went out and left everything in darkness thicker than
ever, but not before a rapid though ineffective discharge of musketry
had been made from the battery.  Another blue light, however, showed
that the fugitives were getting rapidly out to sea beyond the range of
musketry, and that boats were leaving the port in chase.  Before the
light expired a cloud of smoke burst from the battery, and the roar of a
heavy gun rushed over the sea.  An instant later and the water was torn
up by grape-shot all round the little boat; but not a ball touched them
save one, which struck Bill Bowls on the left hand and cut off his
thumb.

"I think there's a mast and sail in the bottom of the boat, and here
comes a breeze," said Ben; "give me your oar, and try to hoist it,
Bill."

Without mentioning his wound, our hero did as he was bid; and not until
the boat was leaping over the ruffled sea did he condescend to bind up
the wounded hand with his necktie.  Soon they were beyond the range of
blue lights and artillery.

"Have 'e any notion what course we're steerin'?" inquired Bill.

"None wotsomediver," answered Ben.

Soon after that, however, the sky cleared a little, and Bill got sight
of part of the constellation of the Great Bear.  Although the pole-star
was not visible, he guessed pretty nearly its position, and thus
ascertained that the breeze came from the south-west.  Trimming the
lug-sail accordingly, the tars turned the prow of the little craft to
the northward, and steered for the shores of old England.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

About a year after this stirring incident, a remarkably noisy party was
assembled at tea in the prim little parlour of Mrs Blyth's cottage in
Fairway.  Besides the meek old soul herself, there were present on that
occasion our old friends Ben Bolter and Tom Riggles, the latter of whom
flourished a wooden stump instead of a right leg, and wore the garb of a
Greenwich pensioner.  His change of circumstances did not appear to have
decreased his love for tobacco.  Ben had obtained leave of absence from
his ship for a day or two, and, after having delighted the heart of his
old mother by a visit, had called at the cottage to pay his respects to
his old messmate, little thinking that he would find Tom Riggles there
before him.  Miss Bessy Blunt was also present; and it was plain, from
the expression of her speaking countenance, that she had not forgiven
Ben, but tolerated him under protest.  Our hero and sweet Nelly Blyth
were not of the party, however, because they happened just then to
prefer a quiet chat in the summer-house in the back-garden.  We will not
presume to detail much of the conversation that passed between them.
One or two of the concluding sentences must suffice.

"Yes, Bill," said Nelly, in reply to something that her companion had
whispered in her ear, "you know well enough that I am glad to-morrow is
our wedding-day.  I have told you so already, fifty times at least."

"Only thrice, Nell, if so often," said Bill.  "Well, that _was_ the
luckiest shot the Frenchmen ever fired at me; for if I hadn't had my
thumb took off I couldn't have left the sarvice, d'ye see; and that
would have delayed my marriage with you, Nell.  But now, as the old song
says--

  "`No more I'll roam
  Away from home,
  Across the stormy sea.
  I'll anchor here,
  My Nelly dear,
  And live for love and thee.'"





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