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Charley Laurel: A Story of Adventure by Sea and Land

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Charley Laurel, A Story of Adventure by Sea and Land, by W H G Kingston.


  Here Kingston gives us a story of a young boy who had been handed to aBritish seaman, Dick, at a place in the West Indies which had just beenattacked by the British. The boy's nurse, a coloured woman, hadreceived a fatal wound. The boy is brought up by Dick on board ship,but there are all sorts of misadventures, such as being cast away on araft, being picked up by what turns out to be a pirate ship, escapingand then being rescued by a privateer.

  It is at this point that the story gets a bit serious. Dick and Charleyfind themselves on an island in the South Pacific, having been capturedby savage tribes, and being kept apart. Charley plays a trick on hiscaptors, which enables him to travel to where Dick is, and bring himback. They escape from the island, and are picked up by a British ship.

  Charley is taken back to England, where the shipowner's family take aliking to him, and he is sent to a boarding school, where he does verywell. He is then sent back to sea by the kindly shipowner, in one ofhis vessels. I will not tell you more than this, but there is a rathersurprising end.





  A good many years ago, before, indeed, I can remember, His Majesty'sShip _Laurel_, a corvette of eighteen guns and a hundred and thirty men,commanded by Captain Blunt, formed one of the West India squadron.

  She, with another corvette, and a brig in company, came one fine morningoff a beautiful island, then in possession of the French, although, asDick Driver, from whom I got the particulars, said, properly belonged toEngland, at least, it once had. Of course, therefore, it was theirbusiness to get it back again. Dick could not recollect its name, northe exact date of the occurrences I am describing, for, being noscholar, he was a very bad hand at recollecting dates; and as he couldnot write his own name, of course it was not to be expected that hewould keep a journal, or remember very accurately all the places he hadvisited.

  The _Laurel_ and her consorts, having hoisted French colours, stoodalong the coast, which the captain and officers of the former shipnarrowly examined with their glasses.

  At length the shades of evening drew on, and they came off a small town,situated on the shore of a bay, the entrance of which was guarded by afort. The _Laurel_ stood on, as if about to enter the bay, but theland-wind coming off the shore, she and the other two vessels stood awaytill they had got such a distance from the harbour that there was nochance of their being seen by the sharpest eyes, with the best ofnight-glasses, looking out for them.

  The ships having hove-to, the commanders of the other vessels came onboard the _Laurel_, when Captain Blunt announced his intention ofattacking the town, hoping to hold possession of it till anothersquadron, which had been destined for the purpose, had captured a moreimportant place on the other side of the island. The captain's plan wasto send in the different boats of the squadron with a strong party ofmarines and blue-jackets, in three divisions, a couple of hours beforedaylight, as it was hoped at that time, the garrison of the fort beingless on the alert than at an earlier hour, the boats might enter the bayunperceived.

  The first and largest division was instructed to take possession of thetown; the second was to attack the fort; and the third to cut out anyvessels found in the harbour, in case the other two should be compelledto retreat, so that, at all events, there might be something to show forthe night's work.

  The boats' crews, and all who were fortunate enough, as they consideredit, to be selected for the expedition, were soon busily employed insharpening cutlasses, fitting fresh flints to their pistols, and makingother preparations for the possible bloody work in which they were to beengaged. Dick Driver, who belonged to the cutter's crew, was among themost active. Dick was a short, strongly built, powerful fellow, with abroad, honest countenance, bright blue eyes, and fair bushy beard andwhiskers,--a truer-hearted, braver seaman than Dick Driver neverstepped.

  "If this here cutlass of mine does its duty, we'll thrash the Mounseers,and gain the King his own again," exclaimed Dick, as he applied hisweapon to the grindstone, feeling that he was a host in himself; and sohe was, provided no treacherous bullet found its way through his sturdyframe, when, alas, Dick's strength and courage would have availed himnothing.

  The boats at length collected round the _Laurel_; the oars were muffled;the officers were ordered to maintain a strict silence. It was hopedthat by getting in the rear of the fort it might be taken with a rush,while the larger party entered the town, and took by surprise any troopswho might be stationed within it.

  The night was very dark, for clouds were in the sky, and the water wassmooth.

  The first lieutenant of the _Laurel_, who commanded the expedition,leading in the gig, away the boats pulled, keeping close together, andlooking as they glided along like some huge serpent creeping on hisprey. The entrance to the bay was gained without the boats beingdiscovered. They dashed on more rapidly than before. In a few minutesthey would be hard at work, the seamen slashing away with theircutlasses, and the marines firing, and pronging with their muskets andbayonets at their fellow-creatures.

  Strange that men should like such work. Dick confessed he did, thoughhe could not exactly say why.

  The officers did their duty admirably; the marines were landed, and theblue-jackets were springing on shore before a shot was fired from thetown.

  Dick, who belonged to the first division, pushed on in that directionwith his party, while the other two attended to their destined duty.The gates of the fort, however, being closed, the intended rush couldnot be accomplished; and it was evident from the rapid firing that somehot work was going on there. Instead also of at once entering the town,the first party found their progress impeded by a somewhat numerous bodyof troops, who, quartered near at hand, turned out in time to defend it.The Frenchmen fought well, Dick acknowledged, though some had neitherboots nor coats on, and many were destitute of other garments. Theywere, however, driven back inch by inch, till some turned tail and fled;the rest soon afterwards doing the same, followed by the victors, whofired indiscriminately at every one they saw in front of them. On suchan occasion many of the unfortunate inhabitants were too likely tosuffer, and many who had no arms in their hands, or had thrown them downand cried out for quarter, were shot before the officers could halttheir men.

  Meeting with two streets forking in different directions, some in thedarkness had followed one and some the other. Flames were seen alsobursting in the rear from houses set on fire either intentionally or byaccident; while shouts and shrieks and cries arose in all directions.Altogether, the little town, which a few minutes before had beenslumbering peacefully, was now the scene of havoc, terror, andconfusion.

  As Dick, cutlass in hand, was making his way along the dark street, apiteous cry reached his ears, and looking down, he saw lying wounded onthe ground a black woman, holding up to him a little white child.

  "Oh, save him! save him! or he will be killed!" she exclaimed.

  "Of course I will," answered Dick, tucking the child under his left arm;"and I'll help you into a house, where you may be safe."

  He was about to perform the humane act he proposed, when there was acry, "The French are coming on in force--fall back, men! fall back!"

  Dick had only time to draw the poor woman on one side, when he wascompelled, wit
h his companions, rapidly to re-trace his steps. Notknowing where to deposit the child in safety, he kept it under his arm;and though on most occasions he would have been in the rank nearest thefoe, he now, according to orders, retreated as fast as he could. Manyof the other men had bundles of things they had picked up, but they werecertainly not little children.

  The boats were reached at last, though not until a good many of thegallant jollies and several of the blue-jackets had been shot down by alarge body of French troops, who had come in from the farther side ofthe town. They were again, however, driven back far enough to allow themarines and sailors to embark.

  Dick, unhurt, had reached the barge, still carrying his burden, for hehad not the heart to throw it down, and could not find any safe place toput it in.

  The fort had not been taken, but five merchantmen were captured andtowed out of the harbour, in spite of the hot fire through which theyhad to pass.

  Captain Blunt was very angry on finding that the men had brought awayplunder from the town; and they were ordered to deliver it up, that itmight be sent back to the inhabitants, whom, as he said, he had nointention of injuring.

  Dick Driver, who among others had been seen to come aboard with abundle, was ordered aft.

  "Please, sir," said Dick, as he presented himself, holding a fine childin his arms of about four years old, "it ain't any booty, but a lawfulgift. I was axed to take care of it, and I promised I would, and so Ihave."

  "I do believe it's a little girl," exclaimed the captain, examining thedelicate features and somewhat feminine appearance of the child, whichhad long fair locks hanging down over its shoulders.

  "Lord bless you, no, sir! If it had been a she I shouldn't have knownwhat to do with her--but it's as fine a youngster as I ever set eyesupon, barring his curls: and we will soon dock them, seeing they will bein his way, and not suited for the smart little tarpaulin I am going tomake for him."

  "What, my man, you don't expect to keep the child?" exclaimed thecaptain. "We must send him on shore with the rest of the propertybrought away."

  "But, sir, he was given to me to look after by his dying mother,"exclaimed Dick, forgetting for the moment that the child was white, andthat the woman who had given it to him was as black as his shoe. "He isnot like the rest of the booty, and if I may make so bold, I would liketo keep him, and bring him up as one of the ship's company. We are allagreed that we will take precious good care of him, and he will be agreater favourite among us than either Quacho, or Jocko, or the old goatthat went overboard in the last gale, or the pig as was killed when wewere short of fresh provisions. Do, sir, let us keep him? We wouldn'tpart with the little chap for all the prize-money we have made thiscruise."

  Dick, in his anxiety to keep the child, had become desperate, and spokewith greater freedom than he would otherwise have ventured to do whenaddressing his captain. "If he were to be sent ashore there's no onemight own him," he continued; "then what would become of the poor littlechap? he might be taken to the workhouse, or just brought up nohow."

  The captain, however, was not to be moved by all Dick's arguments.

  "You did very rightly, my man, in saving the child's life, and youdeserve a reward," he observed; "but we cannot turn the ship into anursery, and he must run his chance of finding his friends. However, asyou seem to have made a good nurse, you may take charge of him till wecan send him away."

  "Thank you, sir," said Dick, as he touched his hat, glad of even thisshort respite, and hoping that something might turn up to induce thecaptain to allow the child to remain on board. "We will take good careof him--that we will; and if he has to go back to his friends, we willsee that he is in proper trim, so that they won't be nohow ashamed ofhim."

  Dick, having thus delivered himself, swung his body round and hurriedforward with light step, holding his young charge in his arms.

  The _Laurel_ and the other ships, with their prizes, were at this timestanding away from the land. The seamen grumbled not a little at havingto give up their booty: they could not understand why the merchantmenshould have been cut out, and they not allowed to keep what they hadpicked up on shore.

  An officer, who spoke French, now came from one of the prizes with someimportant information which he had obtained from a prisoner. It was tothe effect that three heavy French frigates were hourly expected off thecoast. Captain Blunt accordingly ordered a bright look-out to be keptfor any strange sail. In a short time three were descried standingalong shore. There could be no doubt that they were the enemy'sfrigates; and as the two corvettes and brig could not hope to cope withthem, all sail was made to escape. The enemy soon afterwards were seencrowding all sail in chase: the prizes were ordered by signal toseparate and to make the best of their way to Jamaica, while the_Laurel_ and her consorts stood to the eastward, under all the canvasthey could spread. Before nightfall they had run their powerful foesout of sight.

  The next day a heavy gale sprang up, which increased to a hurricane. Asignal of distress was made by the unfortunate ten-gun brig, while theother sloop was evidently in a bad plight.

  During the night, the _Laurel_ having to run before the gale, lost sightof both of them. The gale continuing longer than usual, ere it ceasedshe found herself in a the wide waters of the Atlantic, with all herboats washed away or stove in, her three top-masts gone, and besidesother damages, a leak sprung, which kept the pumps going for the bestpart of each watch.