Page images
PDF

the anticipated success and speedy return of those who are departing; the hurried, half-articulated blessings of others, whose fears are all awake to the perils of the mighty deep; the ill-suppressed sob that chokes the adieus of some, who feel that they are perhaps looking for the last time on those who are their hope, their joy, their every-thing in life. These, and all the various workings of grief, misery, and despair, may be viewed in close and striking contrast with indifference and recklessness, with gaiety and rejoicing, in full as many and as widely diversified forms. The keen observer may note the downcast, tearful eye,—the quivering lip,—the fervent, speechless grasp of hands that may never again be joined together,—the quick, irregular step of those who have already uttered that heart-breaking word, “adieu," and who hurry from the spot, but still linger, and turn to gaze upon the bark which holds the object of their care; he may trace all this amid the bustle of business, and the eagerness of adventure, which characterise others of the multitude, or the idle curiosity or cold indifference which marks the common herd.

But the bustle at length decreases,—the throng diminishes. The numerous boats, with their heads directed seaward, which dot the surface of the waters, proclaim that the partings are past,—that the adventurers have departed. The groups, now more rarely scattered over the beach, quit it, one after another; and retiring to the heights above, gaze on the receding skifts. The move

ment, which has diminished on shore, may now be seen commencing and increasing among the stately ships that ride upon the blue waves, full in view of the spectators. The busy sound of human multitudes comes mellowed hy distance across the waters; sheet after sheet of canvas drops, as it were, by magic, from the long yards, and rises futtering and spreading along the tall spars of each vessel, until, after a few rapid maneuvres among its complicated machinery, the sails gradually fill, and the ship, yielding gracefully to the influence of the breeze, begins to “ walk the waters like a thing of life,” rejoicing as it were in her own element.

But observe yon lofty vessel, anchored far outside of all the rest, conspicuous for the peculiar squareness of her yards, the tautness of her taper masts, and, above all, for her long, low, dark hull, with its rakish-looking tier of red ports, scarcely rising above the water,—like the half-disclosed teeth of a serpent. The Blue Peter at the fore, and the loose fore topsail, are of themselves sufficient to proclaim her the commodore of the convoy, and one of his majesty's largest and most dashing frigates; even if her seaward station--protecting as it were her charge—the signal-flags, which every now and then ascend, like party-coloured birds, to the several points of her masts and rigging, with the sheets of flame, and roar of thunder, which occasionally issue from her red ports, should have failed to convey that information to her beholders.

At length the last lagging ship has passed to seaward, and the small boats are once more seen, returning to the shore. Another combination of flags now appears on the masts of the frigate,--another flash issues from her bow-port, and her topsails are loosed and sheeted home. In one instant more, down fall courses and top gallantsails,-staysails are run up, and royals set,—and in the twinkling of an eye, the noble vessel, like an eagle in full swoop, is seen passing the ships of her convoy as if they were at anchor; until, having shot far ahead of the foremost, she furls staysails and top gallantsail, hauls her mainsail up, and, with her three topsails, foresail, jib, and spanker, holds on her course; while, with all the canvas they can pack, her more heavy-sailing charge can scarce keep way with their gallant commodore, but press onwards in his wake, like a flock of wild fowl following their sagacious leader.

A week had elapsed since the frigate and her convoy left the port of L- ; and the wind, which was fair as the heart of seaman could desire, had gradually increased from a pleasant breeze to a hard dry gale: but where is the sailor who does not love the breeze,--rude though it be,—which wafts him swiftly to his desired port? The weather was hazy; and the few fleecy clouds which drifted across the grey sky, were quickly lost in the dense atmosphere which shrouded every object near the horizon. During the day, the ships of the convoy were scattered over a wide expanse of sea; and even the

utmost exertions of the commodore were not always successful in collecting them around him within a moderate distance, at nightfall :—a close order would not have been desirable; for such was the indistinctness of vision by night,—not from the darkness, but the haze,—that the best look-out might have proved insufficient to guard against accidents, and to keep the vessels of the fleet from running each other down, in the swiftness of their course, before they could be aware of each other's vicinity. In the evening, therefore, as one after another they fell into their respective stations, on either quarter of the commodore, each vessel took in what canvas she could spare; all except some wretched tubs, which embraced this opportunity of crowding every stitch to make up the way they had lost during the day; while the staglike frigate was often forced to furl every inch of canvas, that she might not run out of sight of her charge before the light of morning should render it safe for her to heave to, and wait for their coming up.

The eighth evening had closed in on board the frigate with an increase of wind and sea. Every thing had been made snug for the night: the royal and topgallant yards were sent on deck, the masts themselves were struck, and every sail was carefully handed; only the goosewings of the main topsail were occasionally loosed between the squalls, to keep the ship free from the danger of being run foul of by any of the convoy. The log in these squalls would sometimes indicate a rate of eleven,

and even twelve knots. The sea foamed and boiled around the ship's broad bows, in whirlpools of brilliant light, while she careered along under the influence of a heavy following sea, which struck her alternately on each quarter; and she rolled until the points of her reduced masts described the greater portion of a semicircle in the heavens, and her long yard-arms returned dripping with brine. Every now and then the crest of a huge wave, taking advantage, as it were, of her recumbent position, would break upon her black side, and curling over her quarter or waist, wash the decks clean fore and aft, drenching every thing upon them; while the timbers, and straining tackles of the heavy guns, creaked and groaned with the constant and irregular tension.

“A stiff bit of a breeze this same, my boys,” said young Bill Thomas, as he entered the starboard berth, * about two bells after the first watch had been set, wringing the brine off his rough sea-cap, and handing it, along with his dripping watch-coat, to the boy of his mess. “I take it, some of the old ladies at home are praying for us about this time.”

“ There's a fresh hand at the bellows, too, just now, I think,” observed another of the youths of the berth, " and the old Hooker feels it. How she does groan and crack again!”

* The quarters of the midshipmen and master's mates on board a frigate, as the cock pit is on board a line-of-battle ship.

« PreviousContinue »