Now it arose before him like a beacon-star. At the same time he thought of the possibility that he might be seen and picked up by a passing vessel.
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He could not but feel, however, that the chances of this latter event occurring were small indeed, for a passing ship or boat would not only be going at great speed, but would be very unlikely to see his cockle-shell in the darkness, or to hear his cry in the roaring gale. Still he grasped that hope as the drowning man is said to clutch at a straw. And the hope was quickly fulfilled, for scarcely had another half-hour elapsed when he observed a sail—the high-peaked sail peculiar to some Mediterranean craft—rise, ghost-like, out of the driving foam and spray.
The vessel was making almost straight for him; he knew that it would pass before there could be time to heave a rope. In that moment young Foster sprang with the agility of a cat, capsized the boat with the impulse, caught the bulwarks and rigging of the vessel, and in another moment stood panting on her deck. Neptune, what do you want here? At the same time a powerful hand grasped his throat, and a lantern was thrust in his face.
Instead of speaking out, George Foster hit out, and the voice with the lantern went down into the lee scuppers!
Then, the glare of the lantern being removed from his eyes, George saw, by the light of the binnacle lamp, that his adversary, a savage-looking Turk—at least in dress—was gathering himself up for a rush, and that the steersman, a huge negro, was grinning from ear to ear. The speaker was the captain of the vessel; a man of grave demeanour, herculean mould, and clothed in picturesque Eastern costume.
Turning with quiet politeness to Foster, he asked him in broken French how he had come on board. Ransum all de more greater. At the same instant a slight hissing sound caused Foster to turn to the steersman, whose black face was alive with intelligence, while an indescribable hitch up of his chin seemed to beckon the youth to approach with caution. Foster perceived at once that the man wished his communication, whatever it was, to be unobserved by any one; he therefore moved towards him as if merely to glance at the compass.
Dis yer am a pirit. It am Peter de Great. As he said so Peter the Great drew himself up to his full height, and he drew himself up to six feet four when he did that!
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The captain coming aft at that moment put an abrupt end to the conversation. Two powerful Moorish seamen accompanied him. These, without uttering a word, seized Foster by the arms. His hands were tied behind his back, and he was led down into a small, dimly-lighted cabin, where, being permitted to sit down on a locker, he was left to his own reflections.
These were by no means agreeable, as may well be supposed, for he now knew that he had fallen into the hands of those pests, the Algerine pirates, who at that time infested the Mediterranean. With the thoughtlessness of youth Foster had never troubled his mind much about the piratical city of Algiers. Of course he knew that it was a stronghold on the northern coast of Africa, inhabited by Moorish rascals, who, taking advantage of their position, issued from their port and pounced upon the merchantmen that entered the Mediterranean, confiscating their cargoes and enslaving their crews and passengers, or holding them to ransom.
He also knew, or had heard, that some of the great maritime powers paid subsidies to the Dey of Algiers to allow the vessels of their respective nations to come and go unmolested, but he could scarcely credit the latter fact. It seemed to him, as indeed it was, preposterous. What the middy replied we have now no means of knowing, but certain it is that his information was correct, for some of the principal nations did, at that time, submit to the degradation of this tax, and they did not unite their fleets for the extinction of the pirates.
Poor George Foster now began to find out that the terrible truths which he had refused to believe were indeed great realities, and had now begun to affect himself. He experienced an awful sinking of the heart when it occurred to him that no one would ever know anything about his fate, for the little boat would be sure to be found bottom up, sooner or later, and it would of course be assumed that he had been drowned. Shall it be said that the young midshipman was weak, or wanting in courage, because he bowed his head and wept when the full force of his condition came home to him?
Nay, verily, for there was far more of grief for the prolonged agony that was in store for his mother and sister than for the fate that awaited himself.
A Middy of the King A Romance of the Old British Navy
He prayed as well as wept. The prayer was brief but sincere,—perhaps the more sincere because so brief. At all events it was that acknowledgment of utter helplessness which secures the help of the Almighty Arm. Growing weary at last, he stretched himself on the locker, and, with the facility of robust health, fell into a sound sleep. Youth, strength, and health are not easily incommoded by wet garments! Besides, the weather was unusually warm at the time. How long he slept he could not tell, but the sun was high when he awoke, and his clothes were quite dry. Other signs there were that he had slept long, such as the steadiness of the breeze and the more regular motion of the vessel, which showed that the gale was over and the sea going down.
Rising from his hard couch, and endeavouring to relieve the aching of the bound arms by change of position, he observed that the cabin hatch was open, and that nothing prevented his going on deck, if so disposed. Accordingly, he ascended, though with some difficulty, owing to his not having been trained to climb a ladder in a rough sea without the use of his hands. A stiffish but steady breeze carried them swiftly over the waves, which, we might say, laughingly reflected the bright sunshine and the deep-blue sky.
Several vessels of different rigs and nationalities were sailing in various directions, both near and far away. Going straight to the captain with an air of good-humoured sang froid which was peculiar to him, Foster said—. The stern Moor evidently understood part of this speech, and he was so tickled with the last remark that his habitual gravity gave place to the faintest flicker of a smile, while a twinkle gleamed for a moment in his eye.
Only for a moment, however. Foster looked, and beheld in the far distance a three-masted vessel that seemed to bear a strong resemblance to a British man-of-war.
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An Englishman is like a bull-dog. The Turk, who was evidently a renegade Briton, made no reply whatever to this address; but, after casting the lashings loose, returned to his former occupation. Foster proceeded to thank the captain for his courtesy and make him acquainted with the state of his appetite, but he was evidently not in a conversational frame of mind. Before a few words had been spoken the captain stopped him, and, pointing down the skylight, said, sharply—.
A Middy of the King: A Romance of the Old British Navy
Both look and tone admonished our hero to obey. To these dainties he applied himself with infinite relish, for he had always been Spartan-like as to the quality of his food, and hunger makes almost any kind of dish agreeable. While thus engaged he heard a hurried trampling of feet on deck, mingled with sharp orders from the captain.
At first he thought the sounds might have reference to taking in a reef to prepare for a squall, but as the noise rather increased, his curiosity was roused, and he was about to return on deck when Peter the Great suddenly leaped into the cabin and took hurriedly from the opposite locker a brace of highly ornamented pistols and a scimitar. Next moment he heard a volley of musketry on deck. It was instantly replied to by a distant volley, and immediately thereafter groans and curses showed that the firing had not been without effect.
That the pirate had engaged a vessel of some sort was evident, and our hero, being naturally anxious to see if not to share in the fight, tried hard to get out of his prison, but without success. He was obliged, therefore, to sit there inactive and listen to the wild confusion overhead.
At last there came a crash, followed by fiercer shouts and cries.
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He knew that the vessels had met and that the pirates were boarding. In a few minutes comparative silence ensued, broken only by occasional footsteps and the groaning of the wounded. When George Foster was again permitted to go on deck the sight that he beheld was not calculated to comfort him in his misfortunes.
Several Moorish seamen were going about with bared legs and arms, swishing water on the decks and swabbing up the blood with which they were bespattered. Most of these men were more or less wounded and bandaged, for the crew of the merchantman they had attacked had offered a desperate resistance, knowing well the fate in store for them if captured. The said merchantman, a large brig, sailed close alongside of the pirate vessel with a prize crew on board. Her own men, who were Russians, had been put in chains in the fore part of their vessel under the forecastle, so as to be out of sight.
Among them were an old gentleman of dignified bearing, and an elderly lady who seemed to be supported, physically as well as mentally, by a tall, dark-complexioned, noble-looking girl, who was evidently the daughter of the old gentleman, though whether also the daughter of the elderly lady young Foster could not discover, there being little or no resemblance between them.
The memory of his mother and sister strongly inclined the sympathetic midshipman to approach the party and offer words of consolation to the ladies. As he advanced to them for that purpose, a doubt as to which language he should use assailed him. French, he knew, was the language most likely to be understood, but a girl with such magnificent black eyes must certainly be Spanish!
His knowledge of Spanish was about equal to that of an ill-trained parrot, but what of that? Was he not a Briton, whose chief characteristic is to go in for anything and stick at nothing? Fore edge Painting Reprinted from the Original Editions. Shilling Shockers of The Gothic School. A Study of Chapbook Gothic Romances. The Eternal Moment. A Story For Children.
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