Hair-Breadth Escapes The Adventures of Three Boys in South Africa
The Hooghly—Old Jennings—Short-handed—The Three Boys—Frank—Nick—Ernest—Dr Lavie—Teneriffe.
It was the afternoon of a day late in the November of the year 1805. His Majesty’s ship Hooghly, carrying Government despatches and stores, as well as a few civil and military officers of the East India Company’s service, was running easily before the trade wind, which it had caught within two days’ sail of Madeira—and was nearing the region of the tropics. The weather, which had been cold and stormy, when the passengers left England some weeks before, had been gradually growing bright and genial; until for the last three or four days all recollections of fog and chill had vanished from their minds. The sky was one vast dome of the richest blue, unbroken by a single cloud, only growing somewhat paler of hue as it approached the horizon line. The sea stretched out into the distance—to the east, an endless succession of purple wavelets, tipped here and there with white; to the west, where the sun was slowly sinking in all its tropical glory, one seething mass of molten silver.
It was indeed a glorious sight, and most of our readers will be of opinion that those who had the opportunity of beholding it, would—for the time at least—have bestowed little attention on anything else. But if they had been at sea as long as Captain Wilmore, they might perhaps have thought differently. Captain Wilmore had been forty years a sailor; and whether given, or not given, to admire brilliant skies and golden sunsets in his early youth, he had at all events long ceased to trouble himself about them. He was at the outset of this story sitting in his cabin—having just parted from his first lieutenant, Mr Grey—and was receiving with a very dubious face the report of an old quartermaster. A fine mastiff was seated by the captain’s chair, apparently listening with much gravity to what passed.
“Well, Jennings, Mr Grey tells me you have something to report, which he thinks ought to be brought straight to me, in order that I may question you myself about it. What is it? Is it something about these gentlemen we have on board? Are they dissatisfied, or has Lion here offended them?”
“No, cap’en,” said the old sailor; “I wish ’twas only something o’ that sort. That would be easy to be disposed of, that would.”
“What is it, then? Is it the men, who are grumbling—short rations, or weak grog, or what?”
“There’s more rations and stronger grog than is like to be wanted, cap’en,” said Jennings, evasively, for he was evidently anxious to escape communicating his intelligence, whatever it might be, as long as possible.
“What do you mean, Jennings?” exclaimed Captain Wilmore, roused by the quartermaster’s manner. “More rations and stronger grog than the men want? I don’t understand you.”
“Well, cap’en, I’m afraid some on ’em won’t eat and drink aboard this ship no more.”
“What, are any of them sick, or dead—or, by heaven, have any of them deserted?”
“I’m afeared they has, cap’en....