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Paul Gerrard, the Cabin Boy

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Paul Gerrard, The Cabin Boy, by W.H.G. Kingston.________________________________________________________________________Here is another book in the true Kingston style - lots of swimming,sharks, wrecks, battles, pirates, woundings.

  Paul goes to sea in the first place because his father has lost a legalcase in which the Devereux family had been claiming his estates andland. To Paul's surprise, who should be in the midshipman's mess but ayoung man called Devereux, whose life Paul was able to save followinghis serious wounding. So we just need to keep in mind that Paul isalways looking slightly askance at Devereux. Eventually they becomegreat friends.

  It makes a good audiobook.________________________________________________________________________PAUL GERRARD, THE CABIN BOY, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.


  Darkness had set in. The wind was blowing strong from the southwest,with a fine, wetting, penetrating rain, which even tarpaulins, or thethickest of Flushing coats, would scarcely resist. A heavy sea also wasrunning, such as is often to be met with in the chops of the BritishChannel during the month of November, at which time of the year, in thelatter part of the last century, a fine frigate was struggling with theelements, in a brave attempt to beat out into the open ocean. She wasunder close-reefed topsails; but even with this snug canvas she oftenheeled over to the blast, till her lee-ports were buried in the foamingwaters. Now she rose to the summit of a white-crested sea; now she sunkinto the yawning trough below; and ever and anon as she dashed onward inspite of all opposition, a mass of water would strike her bows with aclap like that of thunder, and rising over her bulwarks, would delugeher deck fore and aft, and appear as if about to overwhelm heraltogether. A portion of the officers and crew stood at their posts ondeck, now and then shaking the water from their hats and coats, afterthey had been covered with a thicker shower than usual of rain or spray,or looking up aloft at the straining canvas, or out over the darkexpanse of ocean; but all of them taking matters very composedly, andwishing only that their watch were over, that they might enjoy suchcomforts as were to be found below, and take part in the convivialitywhich, in spite of the gale, was going forward.

  It was Saturday night, and fore and aft the time-honoured toast of"sweethearts and wives" was being enthusiastically drunk,--nowhere moreenthusiastically than in the midshipmen's berth; and not the less soprobably, that few of its light-hearted inmates had in reality eitherone or the other. What cared they for the tumult which raged abovetheir heads? They had a stout ship and trusted officers, and theirheads and insides were well accustomed to every possible variety oflurching and pitching, in which their gallant frigate the _Cerberus_ wasat that moment indulging. The _Cerberus_, a fine 42-gun frigate,commanded by Captain Walford, had lately been put in commission, andmany of her officers and midshipmen had only joined just before the shipsailed, and were thus comparatively strangers to each other. Thefrigate was now bound out to a distant station, where foes well worthyof her, it was hoped, would be encountered, and prize-money withoutstint be made.

  The midshipmen's berth of the _Cerberus_ was a compartment of somewhatlimited dimensions,--now filled to overflowing with mates, midshipmen,masters'-assistants, assistant-surgeons, and captain's and purser'sclerks,--some men with grey heads, and others boys scarcely in theirteens, of all characters and dispositions, the sons of nobles of theproudest names, and the offspring of plebeians, who had little to boastof on that score, or on any other; but the boys might hope,notwithstanding, as many did, to gain fame and a name for themselves.The din of tongues and shouts of laughter which proceeded out of thatnarrow berth, rose even above the creaking of bulkheads, the howling ofthe wind, and the roar of the waves.

  The atmosphere was somewhat dense and redolent of rum, and couldscarcely be penetrated by the light of the three purser's dips whichburned in some battered tin candlesticks, secured by lanyards to thetable. At one end of the table over which he presided as caterer, satTony Noakes, an old mate, whose grog-blossomed nose and bloodshot eyestold of many a past debauch.

  "Here's to my own true love, Sally Pounce," he shouted in a husky voice,lifting to his lips a stiff glass of grog, which was eyed wistfully byTilly Blake, a young midshipman, from whose share of rum he hadabstracted its contents.

  "Mrs Noakes that is to be," cried out Tilly in a sharp tone. "But Isay, she'll not stand having her grog drunk up."

  "That remark smells of mutiny, youngster," exclaimed Noakes, with afierce glance towards the audacious midshipman.

  "By the piper, but it's true, though," put in Paddy O'Grady, who hadalso been deprived of the larger portion of his grog.

  Most of the youngsters, on finding others inclined to stand up for theirrights, made common cause with Blake and O'Grady. Enraged at this,Noakes threatened the malcontents with condign punishment.

  "Yes, down with all mutiny and the rights of man or midshipmen,"exclaimed in a somewhat sarcastic tone a good-looking youth, who himselfwore the uniform of a midshipman.

  "Well said, Devereux. We must support the rights and dignity of theoldsters, or the service will soon go to ruin," cried the old mate,whose voice grew thicker as he emptied glass after glass of hisfavourite liquor. "You show your sense, Devereux, and deserve yoursupper, but--there's no beef on the table. Here boy--boy Gerrard--bringthe beef; be smart now--bring the beef. Don't stand staring there as ifyou saw a ghost."

  The boy thus summoned was a fine lad of about fourteen, his shirt collarthrown back showing his neck, which supported a well-formed head, with acountenance intelligent and pleasant, but at that moment very pale, withan expression denoting unhappiness, and a feeling of dislike to, ordread of, those on whom he was waiting. A midshipmen's boy has seldom apleasant time of it under any circumstances. Boy Gerrard, as he wascalled, did his best, though often unsuccessfully, to please hisnumerous masters.

  "Why do you stand there, staring like a stuffed pig?" exclaimedDevereux, who was near the door. "It is the beef, not your calf's headwe want. Away now, be smart about it."

  The sally produced a hoarse laugh from all those sufficiently sober tounderstand a joke.

  "The beef, sir; what beef?" asked boy Gerrard in a tone of alarm.

  "Our beef," shouted old Noakes, heaving a biscuit at the boy's head. Itwas fortunate that no heavy missile was in his hand. "Take that tosharpen your wits."

  Devereux laughed with others at the old mate's roughness. The boy gavean angry glance at him as he hurried off to the midshipmen's larder toexecute the order.

  Before long, boy Gerrard was seen staggering along the deck towards theberth with a huge piece of salt beef in his hands, and endeavouring tokeep his legs as the frigate gave a heavy lurch or pitched forward, asshe forced her way over the tumultuous seas. Boy Gerrard gazed at theberth of his many masters. He thought that he could reach it in anotherrun. He made the attempt, but it was down hill, and before he couldsave himself he had shot the beef, though not the dish, into the verycentre of the table, whence it bounded off and hit O'Grady, the Irishmidshipman, a blow on the eye, which knocked him backward. Poor Gerrardstood gazing into the berth, and prepared for the speedy punishmentwhich his past experience had taught him would follow.

  "By the piper, but I'll teach you to keep a taughter gripe of the beeffor the future, you spalpeen," exclaimed O'Grady, recovering himself,and about to hurl back the joint at the head of the unfortunateboy, when his arm was grasped by Devereux, who cried out,laughing,--"Preserve the beef and your temper, Paddy, and if boyGerrard, after proper trial, shall be found to have purposely hurled themeat at your wise caput, he shall be forthwith delivered over to condignpunishment."

  "Oh, hang your sea-lawyer a
rguments; I'll break the chap's head, andlisten to them afterwards," cried O'Grady, attempting to spring up toput his threat into execution.

  Devereux again held him back, observing, "Break the boy's head if youlike; I have no interest in preserving it, except that we may not findanother boy to take his place; but you must listen to my argumentsbefore you commence operations."

  "Hear, hear! lawyer Devereux is about to open his mouth," cried severalvoices.

  "Come, pass me the beef, and let me put some of it into my mouth, whichis open already," exclaimed Peter Bruff, another of the older mates, whohaving just descended from the deck, and thrown off his dripping outercoat, had taken his seat at the table. His hair and whiskers were stillwet with spray, his hands showed signs of service, and his fine opencountenance--full of good-nature, and yet expressive of courage anddetermination, had a somewhat weather-worn appearance, though his crisp,curling, light hair showed that he was still in the early prime ofmanhood.

  "Listen, gentlemen of the jury, and belay your jaw-tackles you who haveno business in the matter, and Bruff being judge, I will plead boyGerrard's cause against Paddy O'Grady, Esquire, midshipman of hisMajesty's frigate _Cerberus_," cried Devereux, striking the table withhis fist, a proceeding which obtained a momentary silence. "Tocommence, I must go back to first causes. You understand, gentlemen ofthe jury, that there is a strong wind blowing, which has kicked up aheavy sea, which is tossing about our stout ship in a way to make itdifficult for a seaman, and much more for a ship's boy, to keep hislegs, and therefore I suggest--"

  "Belay all that, Master Long-tongue," shouted Noakes; "if the boy is tobe cobbed, why let's cob him; if not, why let him fill the mustard-pot,for it's empty."

  Others now joined in; some were for cobbing poor Gerrard forthwith;others, who had not had their supper, insisted on the mustard-pot beingfirst replenished.

  Devereux had gained his point in setting his messmates by the ears, andPeter Bruff seeing his object, sent off Gerrard for a supply of therequired condiment. It was O'Grady's next watch on deck; and thusbefore Gerrard returned, he had been compelled to leave the berth.Devereux, however, immediately afterwards turned on Gerrard and scoldedhim harshly for not keeping steady while waiting at the door of theberth. At length the master-at-arms came round, the midshipmen weresent to their hammocks, and Paul Gerrard was allowed to turn into his.He felt very sick and very miserable. It was the commencement of hissea life, a life for which he had long and enthusiastically yearned, andthis was what it proved to be. How different the reality from what hehad expected! He could have cried aloud for very bitterness of heart,but that he was ashamed to allow his sobs to be heard.

  "He treat me thus! he by birth my equal! to speak to me as if I was aslave! he who might have been in my place, had there been justice doneus, while I should have been in his. A hard fate is mine; but yet Ichose it, and I'll bear it."

  With such thoughts passing through his mind, the young ship-boy fellasleep, and for a time forgot his cares and suffering. He dreamed ofhappier times, when he with his parents and brothers and sisters enjoyedall the luxuries which wealth could give, and he was a loved and pettedchild. Then came a lawsuit, the subject of which he could notcomprehend. All he knew was, that it was with the Devereux family. Itresulted in the loss to his father of his entire fortune, and Paulremembered hearing him say that they were beggars. "That is what I willnot be," he had exclaimed; "I can work--we can all work--I will work."

  Paul was to be tried severely. His father died broken-hearted. Itseemed too probable that his mother would follow him ere long. Paul hadalways desired to go to sea. He could no longer hope to tread thequarter-deck as an officer, yet he still kept to his determination offollowing a life on the ocean.

  "I will enter as a cabin-boy; I will work my way upwards. Many havedone so, why should not I?" he exclaimed with enthusiasm; "I will winwealth to support you all, and honours for myself. `Where there's awill there's a way.' I don't see the way very clearly just now; butthat is the opening through which I am determined to work my wayonward."

  Paul's mother, though a well-educated and very excellent person, knewnothing whatever of the world. She would, indeed, have hesitated, hadshe known the real state of the case, and what he would have to gothrough, ere she allowed her son to enter before the mast on board aman-of-war; but she had no one on whom she could rely, to consult in thematter. Mrs Gerrard had retired to the humble cottage of a formerservant in a retired village, where she hoped that the few pounds a yearshe had left her would enable her to support herself and her children,with the aid of such needlework as she might obtain. Little did shethink, poor woman, to what trying difficulties she would be exposed.Not only must she support herself, but educate her children. She hadsaved a few books for this purpose, and some humble furniture for herlittle cottage; everything else had been sold to raise the small sum onthe interest of which she was to live.

  "Mother! mother! do let me at once go to sea!" exclaimed Paul, whounderstood tolerably well the state of affairs. "I can do nothing athome to help you, and only eat up what should feed others; if I go tosea, I shall get food and clothing, and pay and prize-money, and be ableto send quantities of gold guineas home to you. Reuben Cole has beentelling me all about it; and he showed me a purse full of great goldpieces, just the remains of what he came ashore with a few weeks ago.He was going to give most of it to his sister, who has a number ofchildren, and then go away to sea again, and, dear mother, he promisedto take me with him if you would let me go. Mary and Fred will help allthe better, when I am away, to teach Sarah and John and Ann, and Fred isso fond of books that he is certain to get on some day, somehow orother."

  What could the poor widow say to these appeals often repeated? Whatcould she hope to do for her boy? There was a romance attached in thosetimes to a sea life felt by all classes, which scarcely exists at thepresent day. She sent for Reuben Cole, who, though a rough sailor,seemed to have a kind heart. He promised to act the part of a fathertowards the boy to the best of his power, undertaking to find a goodship for him without delay. The widow yielded, and with many an earnestprayer for his safety, committed Paul to the charge of Reuben Cole. Thehonest sailor was as good as his word. He could scarcely have selecteda better ship than the _Cerberus_. He volunteered to join, providedPaul was received on board; his terms were accepted, and he thought thathe was doing well for his young charge when he got him the appointmentof midshipmen's boy. The employment was very different from what Paulhad expected, but he had determined to do his duty in whatever stationhe might be placed. The higher pay and perquisites would be of value tohim, as he might thus send more money to his mother, and he hoped soonto become reconciled to his lot. One day, however, the name of amidshipman who had just joined struck his ear,--it was that of Devereux,the name of the family with whom his father had so long carried on theunsuccessful lawsuit.

  From some remarks casually made by one of the other midshipmen while hewas waiting in the berth, Paul was convinced that Gilbert Devereux was ason of the man who had, he conceived, been the cause of his father'sruin and death. Paul, had he been asked, would have acknowledged how heought to feel towards young Devereux, but he at times allowed himself toregard him with bitterness and dislike, if not with downright hatred.He well knew that this feeling was wrong, and he had more than oncetried to overcome the feeling when, perhaps, some careless expressionlet drop by Gilbert Devereux, or some order given by him, would oncemore arouse it. "I could bear it from another, but not from him," Paulover and over again had said to himself after each fresh cause ofannoyance given by young Devereux, who all the time was himself utterlyignorant that he had offended the boy. Of course he did not suspect whoPaul was; Paul had determined to keep his own secret, and had notdivulged it even to Reuben. Reuben was somewhat disappointed with Paul."I cannot make out what ails the lad," he said to himself, "he wasmerry and spirited enough on shore; I hope he's not going to be afraidof salt-water."

Paul was undergoing a severe trial. It might prove for his benefitin the end. While the frigate was in harbour, he bore up tolerablywell, but he had now for the first time in his life to contend withsea-sickness; while he was also at the beck and call of a dozen or moresomewhat unreasonable masters. It was not, however, till that Saturdaynight that Paul began really to repent that he had come to sea. Wherewas the romance? As the serpent, into which Aaron's rod was changed,swallowed up the serpents of the Egyptian magicians, so the sternreality had devoured all the ideas of the romance of a sea life, whichhe had till now entertained.

  Yet sleep, that blessed medicine for human woes, brought calm andcomfort to his soul. He dreamed of happier days, when his father wasalive, and as yet no cares had visited his home. He was surrounded bythe comforts which wealth can give. He was preparing, as he had longhoped to do, for sea, with the expectation of being placed as amidshipman on the quarter-deck. His uniform with brass buttons, hisdirk and gold-laced hat, lay on a table before him, with a brightquadrant and spy-glass; and there was his sea-chest ready to be filledwith his new wardrobe, and all sorts of little comforts which a fondmother and sisters were likely to have prepared for him. He heard thecongratulations of friends, and the prophecies that he would some dayemulate the deeds of England's greatest naval heroes. He dreamed onthus till the late events of his life again came into his thoughts, andhe recollected that it was not his own, but the outfit of another ladabout to go to sea which he had long ago inspected with such interest,and at length the poor ship-boy was awakened to the stern reality of hispresent condition by the hoarse voice of a boatswain's mate summoningall hands on deck. Paul felt so sea-sick and so utterly miserable thathe thought that he would rather die where he lay in his hammock thanturn out and dress. The ship was tumbling about more violently thanever; the noise was terrific; the loud voices of the men givingutterance to coarse oaths as they awoke from their sleep; their shoutsand cries; the roaring of the wind as it found its way through the openhatches down below; the rattling of the blocks; the creaking of timbersand bulkheads, and the crash of the sea against the sides of the ship,made Paul suppose that she was about to sink into the depths of theocean. "I'll die where I am," he thought to himself. "Oh, my dearmother and sisters, I shall never see you more!" But at that instant akick and a blow inflicted by Sam Coulson, one of the boatswain's mates,made him spring up.

  "What, skulking already, you young hedgehog," exclaimed the man; "ondeck with your or your shoulders shall feel a taste of my colt."

  Although Paul was as quick in his movements as his weak state wouldallow, a shower of blows descended on his back, which brought him on hisknees, when, ordering him to pick himself up and follow, on pain of afurther dose of the colt, Sam Coulson passed on. The sharp tattoo of adrum beaten rapidly sounded at the same time through the ship; but whatit signified Paul in his ignorance could not tell, nor was there any onenear him to ask. Bewildered and unable to see in the darkness, he triedin vain to gain the hatchway. He groped his way aft as fast as hecould, for fear of encountering the boatswain's mate. "If the shipsinks I must go down with her; but anything is better than meeting him,"he thought to himself. "Besides, I cannot be worse off than those ondeck, I should think."

  He worked his way aft till he found himself near the midshipmen'schests; there was a snug place between two of them in which he had morethan once before ensconced himself when waiting to be summoned by hismasters. "Here I'll wait till I find out what is happening," he said tohimself as he sank down into the corner. The din continued, the frigatetumbled about as much as before, but he was very weary, and before longhe forgot where he was, and fell fast asleep.

  He was at length awoke by a crashing sound, as if the timbers were beingrent apart. What could it be? He started up, scarcely knowing where hewas. Had the ship struck on a rock, or could she be going down? Therewas then a loud report; another and another followed. The reportsbecame louder; they were directly over his head. The main-deck gunswere being fired. The ship must be engaged with an enemy, there couldbe no doubt about that. The light from a ship's lantern fell on thespot where he lay. The gunner and his crew were descending to themagazine. His duty he had been told would be in action to carry uppowder to the crew; he ought to arouse himself. The surgeon and hisassistants now came below to prepare the cockpit for the reception ofthe wounded. More lights appeared. The carpenter and his crew weregoing their rounds through the wings. Men were descending andascending, carrying up shot from the lockers below. All were too busyto discover Paul. The sea had by this time gone down, and the ship wasless tumbled about than before. Sleep, too, had somewhat restored hisstrength, and with it his spirits and courage.

  "What am I about, skulking here? I ought to be ashamed of myself; haveall my once brave thoughts and aspirations come to this? I will be upand do my duty, and not mind Sam Coulson, or the enemy's shot, oranything else." Such were the thoughts which rapidly passed through hismind; he sprang to his feet, and, as he hoped, unobserved reached themain-deck. He fortunately remembered that his friend Reuben Cole wascaptain of one of the main-deck guns, and that Reuben had told him thatthat was the gun he was to serve. The deck was well lighted up by thefighting-lanterns, and he had thus no difficulty in finding out hisfriend. The men, mostly stripped to their waists, stood grouped roundtheir guns with the tackles in their hands, the captains holding theslow matches ready to fire. Paul ran up to Reuben, who was captain ofhis gun.

  "What am I to do?" he asked; "you said you would tell me."

  "So I will, lad; and I am glad to see you, for I was afraid that you hadcome to harm," answered Reuben, in a kind tone. "I said as how I wassure you wasn't one to skulk. Where was you, boy?"

  Paul felt conscience-stricken, and he dared not answer; for utter afalsehood to excuse himself he would not. "Tell me what I am to do, andI'll try to do it," he said, at length.

  "Why, then, do you go down with Tom Buckle to the powder-magazine withthat tub there, and get it filled and come back and sit on it till wewants it," replied his friend, who possibly might have suspected thetruth.

  "Then I am about to take part in a real battle," thought Paul, as,accompanying the boy Tom Buckle, he ran down to the magazine. In amoment, sickness, fatigue, and fear were banished. He was thetrue-hearted English Boy, and he felt as brave as he could wish, andregardless of danger. Paul knew he was doing his duty. His tub wasquickly filled, and he was soon again at Reuben's gun, behind which hewas told to sit--one of a row of boys employed in the same manner. Manyof his companions were laughing and joking, as if nothing unusual wasoccurring, or as if it was impossible that a shot could find them out.

  Paul was now, for the first time, able to make inquiries as to the stateof affairs. Reuben told him that, at about midnight, the lights of twoships had been seen. It was possible that they might be those of thelook-out frigates of an enemy's squadron, at the same time as they mightbe British, and as Captain Walford had resolved that nothing shoulddrive him back, the _Cerberus_ was kept on her course. Whatever theywere, the strangers seemed determined to become better acquainted. Asthey drew nearer, signals were exchanged; but those of the stranger'swere not understood. The drum on this beat to quarters, and the shipwas prepared for battle. The two ships approached, and soon gave the_Cerberus_ a taste of their quality by pouring their broadsides intoher; but, in consequence of the heavy sea which was then running, veryfew of their shot had taken effect. Two, however, which had struck herhull, had passed through the bulwarks and killed two of her men, whosebodies now lay stark and stiff on the main-deck, near where they hadstood as their mates were now standing, full of life and manly strength.Paul's eyes fell on them. It was the first time he had seen death inits most hideous form. He shuddered and turned sick. Reuben observedthe direction in which his glance was turned.

  "Paul, my lad, you mustn't think of them now," he cried out. "They'vedone their duty like men, and it's our business to try to do ours.We've got some pretty
sharp work before us; but it's my belief thatwe'll beat off our enemies, or take one or both of them, maybe. Hurrah!lads. That's what we've got to do."

  The crews of the guns within hearing uttered a cheerful response. "Allready!"

  "Let 'em come on!"

  "The more the merrier!"

  "We'll give 'em more than we'll take!"

  These, and similar expressions, were heard from the seamen, while nowand then a broad joke or a loud laugh burst from the lips of the moreexcited among them. But there was no Dutch courage exhibited. One andall showed the most determined and coolest bravery. The officers whoseduty it was to be on the main-deck kept going their rounds, to see thatthe men were at their stations, and that all were supplied with powderand shot and all things necessary. Then the first-lieutenant, MrOrder, came down.

  "My lads," he exclaimed, "the captain sends to you to say that we have,perhaps, tough work before us; but that he is sure you all will do yourduty like men, and will help him to thrash the enemy, as he hopes to doby daylight, when he can see them better."

  A loud cheer rang out from the throats of the seamen, fore and aft. MrOrder felt satisfied that they were in the right temper for work. Hereturned again on deck. It was still very dark, and nothing could beseen through the open ports. Every now and then, however, the crest ofa sea washed in and deluged the decks, washing from side to side till itcould escape through the scuppers. Any moment the order to fire mightbe heard, or the shot of the enemy might come crashing through thesides. It was a trying time for old salts, who had fought in many aprevious battle; much more so for young hands. Paul sat composedly onhis tub. Not far off from him stood Gilbert Devereux, in command of adivision of guns.

  "If a shot were to take his head off, there would be one of our enemiesout of the way," thought Paul; but directly afterwards his consciencerebuked him. "No, no; that is a wicked feeling," it said; "I wouldrather be killed myself, if it were not for my poor mother and all athome--they would be so sorry."

  Still, Paul could not help eyeing the aristocratic-looking youngmidshipman, who, with a firm, proud step, trod the deck, eager for thefight, and little aware that he was watched with so much interest by thehumble ship's boy. Peter Bruff, who had the next division of guns underhis charge, came up to Gilbert.

  "Well, Devereux, how do you like this fun?" he asked. "Have you everbefore been engaged?"

  "Never; but I like the idea of the sport well enough to wish to begin,"answered Devereux. "Where are our enemies?"

  "Not far off, and they will not disappoint us," answered Bruff. "Weshall have pretty tough work of it, depend on that."

  "The tougher the better," answered Devereux, in a somewhat affectedtone. "I've never been in a battle, and I really want to see what it islike."

  "He's wonderfully cool," thought Paul. "He hasn't seen the dead menthere, forward. It would be some satisfaction if he would show himselfto be a coward, after all. I could throw it in his teeth when heattempts to tyrannise over me."

  Paul's feelings were very far from right; but they were natural,unfortunately. Gilbert's firm step and light laugh showed that therewas little chance of Paul's wishes being realised. Now a rumour spreadfrom gun to gun that the enemy were again drawing near. The men took afirmer hold of the gun-tackles, hitched up their trousers, drew theirbelts tighter round their waists, or gave some similar sign ofpreparation for the coming struggle.

  "Silence, fore and aft!" cried the officer in command of the deck.

  He was repeating the order which the captain had just given above. Thefrigate plunged on heavily through the seas. The awful moment wasapproaching. There was neither jest nor laughter now. The men wereeagerly looking through the ports. The lights from two ships were seenon the weather beam. In smooth water the enemy having the weather-gaugewould have been to the disadvantage of the _Cerberus_; but with theheavy sea which then ran it mattered, fortunately, less.

  "Starboard guns! Fire! fire!" was shouted by the officers.

  "Hurrah, lads! We have the first of it this time, and it's my belief wehit the mounseer," cried Reuben Cole, as he discharged his gun.

  Scarcely had the smoke cleared off from the deck when the roar of theenemy's guns was heard, and several shot came crashing against the side.One, coming through a port, passed close above Paul's head, and thoughit sent the splinters flying about in every direction, no one was hurt.

  "I've an idea there'll be work for the carpenters, to plug theshot-holes," cried Reuben, as the guns, being rapidly run in, loaded,and run out again, he stood ready for the command to fire.

  It soon came, and the whole broadside of the _Cerberus_ was poured, withgood aim, into the bows of the leading Frenchman, which had attempted topay her the same compliment. For a few moments at a time Paul couldcatch sight of the lights of the enemy's ships through the ports; butthe smoke from their own guns quickly again shut out all objects, exceptthe men standing close to him. Paul had plenty to do; jumping up todeliver the powder, and running down to the magazine for more when histub was empty. He discovered that, small as he was, he was taking avery active part in the battle, and doing considerably more than themidshipmen, who had to stand still, or only occasionally to run aboutwith orders. This gave him infinite satisfaction.

  "After all, I am doing as much as he is," he thought, looking towardsDevereux.

  The firing became very rapid, and the enemy were close to the frigate;for not only round-shot flew on board, but the rattle of musketry washeard, and bullets came pattering through the ports. Such a game couldnot be played without loss. Fore and aft the men were struck down,--some never to rise again; cut in two, or with their heads knocked off.Others were carried below; and others, binding up their wounds, returnedeagerly to their guns. Now there was a cessation of firing. The smokecleared off. There stood Devereux, unharmed, and as cool as at thecommencement of the action, though smoke-begrimed as the rest of thecrew; but as Paul glanced round and saw the gleam of the lanterns on theblood-stained decks, and the pale faces of the dead, and the bandagedheads and limbs of the wounded, he again turned sick, and wished, asmany a person has wished before, that there was no such thing asfighting and slaughtering one's fellow-creatures.

  It was supposed that the enemy had hauled off to repair damages. Thecrew of the _Cerberus_ were accordingly called away from their guns torepair those she had received, as far as could be done in the darkness.Not much time was allowed them. Again their enemies returned to theattack. Each ship was pronounced to be equal in size to the _Cerberus_,if not larger than it. She had already suffered severely; the men wereagain ordered to their quarters. The suspense before the firing shouldrecommence was trying,--the very silence itself was awful. This time itwas broken by the enemy, but their fire was speedily returned by abroadside from the _Cerberus_. Now, as rapidly as the guns on bothsides could be loaded, they were run out and fired, for the British hadan enemy on either beam, and each man knew that he must exert himself tothe utmost to gain the victory. When did English sailors ever fail todo that? There could be no doubt, however, that the _Cerberus_ was hardpressed.

  Dreadful was the scene of havoc and carnage; the thunder of the guns;the rattle of the musketry; the crashing of the enemy's shot as theytore the stout planks asunder; the roar of the seas as they dashedagainst the sides, and the cries of the wounded, while the shouts of themen, who, as the fight grew more bloody, were more and more excited,became louder and louder; bright flashes, and wreaths of dark smoke, andsplinters flying about, and men falling, and blood starting from theirwounds, made up that horrid picture. Paul had seen old Noakes carriedbelow; O'Grady followed, badly hurt; others of his masters were killedor wounded. Devereux seemed to bear a charmed life. No! no man's lifeis charmed. One moment he was standing full of life, encouraging hismen; the next he lay wounded and bleeding on the wet and slippery deck.As he saw the handsome youth carried writhing in agony below, Paul'sfeelings of animosity instantly vanished. He would have sprung forw
ardto help him, but he had his own duty to attend to, and he knew that hemust not neglect it, even though it was only to sit on a tub.

  From the exclamations of the men, Paul thought that the battle was goingagainst them; still the crew fought on as bravely as at first. "Fire!fire!" What dreadful cry is that? "The ship is on fire!"

  "All is lost!" No; the firemen leave their guns and run forward towhere some hay is blazing. The enemy have discovered what has occurredand redouble their efforts. The fire must be got under in spite of shotand bullets. The men rush up to the flames fearlessly. Buckets uponbuckets of water are thrown on them; the burning fragments of timber arehove overboard. The fire is reported to be got under. The Britishseamen cheer, and good reason have they to do so now, for flames areseen bursting from the ports and hatchways of their most determinedopponent. Still all three ships tear on over the foaming ocean. Thuscloses that fearful night, and so must we our first chapter.