So I am to begin, Hazel, and at the very beginning, too, if I keep my promise. Well, this little chapter of my life began with a thought, as happens with most everything that is done in this world, and the thought was not one I had reason to be very proud of. I suppose all of you know, even Flutters, that since the commencement of the Revolution American vessels have been cruising about, hoping to capture English vessels.
“Now it chanced about two years ago that the ‘Hannah,’ a very rich prize, was brought into New London. Some of the men who had taken part in her capture had sailed out of New London as poor as could be, and here they came sailing back again, with a prize in tow rich enough to fill all their empty pockets. So it was not strange, perhaps, that the capture of the ‘Hannah’ turned a good many young heads, nor that mine turned with the rest, and that, as soon as possible, I joined the crew of the ‘Venture,’ a privateer that was being rapidly fitted out for a cruise. At length everything was in readiness, and away we sailed with the highest hopes, and with our pretty brig so crowded with musketry that when in action she looked like a great flame of fire. Well, we were not long at sea before we gave chase to an English ship, in appearance as large as ours. We exchanged a few shots, then we ran alongside of her, and with one salute of all our fire put her to silence, and fortunately, too, without losing a single life. I can tell you I was a happy fellow, Hazel (Harry seemed to consider Hazel his chief listener), when it fell to my lot to be one of the crew who were ordered to man the prize and bring her into port; happy I was, and as proud as a turkey-cock; but that state of things did not last very long. It was our purpose not to attempt to make a landing until we should reach New Bedford; but before we had even cleared the shores of Long Island an English ship of war, the ‘Belisarius,’ of twenty-six guns, bore down upon us, and in less than an hour from the time she had sighted us, those of our number left on the ‘Venture,’ and those of us who had manned the English brig were all prisoners together and in irons in her hold.”
“Bless my stars! were you really?” exclaimed Flutters, quite unprepared for this turn of affairs.
“Yes, Flutters, sixty-five of us, and on our way to the old prison-ship, yonder.”
“How many did you say?” asked Hazel. She had been thinking she must teach Flutters not to say “Bless my stars!” and things like that, and so her attention had wandered for a moment.
“Sixty-five, and in less than five months we were reduced to thirty-five.”
“Did thirty die?” she asked, incredulously.
“Yes, thirty did die,” interrupted Starlight, setting his lips firmly, for he knew what he was talking about, “and you old English as good as murdered them.”
“Starlight, don’t you dare to speak like that to me,” was Hazel’s quick retort, while the blood flashed hotly into her face. Flutters gazed at her with astonishment. Perhaps, thought he, it will not always be an easy matter, after all, for even the most faithful of body-servants to please such a spirited little mistress.
“Good for you, Hazel,” laughed Harry; “I would not stand such incivility either, if I were you; but then I must tell you one thing, not all English hearts are as kind as yours and Josephine’s. If they were, the old ‘Jersey’ would not have so sorrowful a tale to tell.” Harry paused a moment. Starlight and Hazel were feeling a trifle uncomfortable. They could not resist the temptation to give each other a little home-thrust now and then on the score of their political differences: The result, as a rule, was a half-acknowledged admiration for each other’s patriotism, and an extra touch of mutual consideration in word and manner for the time being.
“Flutters,” said Hazel, solemnly, perhaps by way of disposing of the pause that seemed to reflect somewhat upon the conduct of herself and Starlight, “Flutters, what are you?” Flutters looked down at his queer little Dutch outfit, and then up at Hazel, with a smile, which said as plainly as words, “I give it up.”
“I mean,” continued Hazel, “who do you side with? Are you a stanch little Loyalist like me? That is, do you think, as I think, that it is very wrong to take up arms against the King?”
Flutters was lying flat in the bottom of the boat now, his dark little face propped between the palms of his hands, at a loss to know how to answer. He was a trifle embarrassed by the directness of Hazel’s question.
“I would rather side with you, Miss Hazel,” he replied, at last, “a sight rather; but mulatto boys what has passed most of their time in a circus don’t know much ‘bout those things. I’m going to hear Mr. Harry out, and then I’ll make up my mind.”
“Very well,” Hazel replied, with chilling dignity; “please go on,” she added, turning to Harry.
Harry hesitated a moment, evidently trying to recall just where he had left off.
“You were in irons on the ‘Belisarius,”’ suggested Josephine, whose thoughts, judging from the far-away look in her eyes, had been with the poor prisoners all the while rather than with what had been going on about her.
“Oh, yes, there we were! and fortunately with no idea of the suffering in store for us. Early the next morning we were led on deck. The ‘Belisarius’ had dropped anchor over yonder (pointing to the New York shore), and two boats were coming toward us, for she had signalled the ‘Jersey’ that she had prisoners to transfer. Oh, how our hearts sank within us as the little boats that were to carry us came nearer and nearer, and do you wonder, children, that we dreaded to board the old craft? Did you ever see a drearier-looking object, with never so much as a spar or a mast to remind you of the real use of a vessel? Even her lion figure-head had been taken away, leaving nothing but an unsightly old hulk, and yet I believe the Englishmen who were in charge of her thought the place, wretched as it was, too good for us. It seemed we were not even to be treated with the consideration due to prisoners of a war with a foreign nation. Having risen against the Mother Country, in their eyes we were simply traitors. Hopeless and despairing we were rowed over to the old prison, marched up the gangway ladder, ordered down the hatchway, and then, with the brutal exclamation, ‘There, rebels! there is the cage for you,’ we found ourselves prisoners in the midst of a very wretched company.”
The story was growing pretty painful, and likely to grow still more so, provided Harry told them all, as he had promised. Besides, it was so terribly real, sitting there aboard of the “Gretchen” with the old “Jersey” right before them.
By way of affording a little relief from what she felt was yet to be told, Josephine asked: “What was that canvas-covered place there in the stern used for?”
“Oh, that was a shelter put up for the guards on the quarterdeck. Just below that, and reaching from the bulkhead of the quarter-deck to the forecastle, was what they called the spar-deck, and it was there that we were allowed to take such exercise as we could. We used to walk in platoons facing the same way, and then all turn at once, so as to make the most of the little space. The gun-room, right under the quarter-deck, was where I was imprisoned, and it was a trifle more comfortable there, if you can use that word in connection with anything on the ‘Jersey,’ than the crowded place between decks where most of the prisoners were herded together. I had fortunately been chosen second mate on the English brig during the little while that we were masters of it, and to that lucky fact I owed my assignment to the gun-room with the other officers. But for that, I do not believe I should be here to-day to tell the story. I do not see how I could have endured any more and lived. As it was, you know, I was very ill.”
“Yes, I know,” said Hazel, laying her hand affectionately over one of Harry’s and looking sympathetically into his face; “perhaps you had better not say very much about that part. Josephine and I cry very easy; don’t we, Josephine?”
“Then please don’t, Harry,” urged Starlight; “I’d rather have a good thrashing any time than see a girl cry,” recalling one occasion in particular, when his own misconduct had moved Hazel to tears, and she had refused for the space of one long half hour to be in any-wise comforted.
Flutters had not paid the least attention to this last interruption. He was thinking that, after all, the life of a friendless little circus performer, sorry and comfortless and forlorn as it was, might be less full of hardship than a prisoner’s. It was a very grand thing to have one’s freedom, and he had always had that—that is, he might at any time have run away if he chose.
“What did they give you to eat, Mr. Harry?” he asked, by way of comparing bills of fare.
“Little that was fit to eat, Flutters; but I can tell you exactly if you would like to know,” and Harry drew from his pocket-book a scrap of folded paper. “This was our list of supplies. I wrote it down the first week on board, and knew it quite by heart all too soon. I think I could repeat it now.”
“Suppose you try,” and Josephine taking the paper from his hand, Harry at once began to recite, with the satisfied air of a child that perfectly knows its lesson:
“On Sunday.—1 pound of biscuit, 1 pound of pork, and 1 pint of peas.
“On Monday.—1 pound of biscuit, 1 pint of oatmeal, 2 ounces butter.
“On Tuesday.—1 pound of biscuit, 2 pounds beef.
“On Wednesday.—1 1/2 pounds of flour and 2 ounces suet.
“On Thursday.—Same as Sunday.
“On Friday.—Same as Monday.
“On Saturday.—Same as Tuesday.
“There, how is that?” he asked, “any mistakes?”
“Not one,” answered Josephine; “but really, Harry, is that all you received?”
“Why,” exclaimed Flutters, “seems to me that’s considerable. Circus folks often don’t fare no better than that, and don’t get things so reg’lar, either.”
“And yet, Flutters, that is only two-thirds of the allowance of an English seaman. However, we would have managed well enough to exist if the things had been good in themselves or decently cooked, but all the provisions were of so wretched a quality that many a poor ‘Jersey’ prisoner died from starvation through sheer inability to eat them.”
“Who cooked the things for you?” asked Hazel.
“Whenever we could manage, Hazel, we cooked them ourselves. Do you see that big derrick on the starboard side? Well, that was for taking in water, and we each had a scanty allowance of so much and no more each day. But, as a rule, we contrived to save a little of it with which to do our own cooking, because only the toughest men on board could so much as swallow the food prepared by the ship’s cook. Under the forecastle, there in the bow, hangs a great copper divided in the middle and holding two or three hogsheads of water. In one side they cooked the meat, in the other the peas and oatmeal—sometimes, I believe, in salt water, but always in water so stale as to be absolutely unfit for use. So five or six of us would club together, each contributing our portion of water to the cooking supply, and then, by begging a little wood from the cook, now and then, and splitting it very carefully and economically with our knives, we could manage to keep a fire going that would soon set our little pots boiling. It was a great day for us, I remember, when a tangle of driftwood came bumping against the ship’s side, and we were allowed to haul it on board for our fires.”
“It must have been very hard only now and then to have had a little butter for the biscuit,” remarked Hazel, to whom this particular feature of Harry’s story appealed most pathetically, so very fond was her own little ladyship of the variety and sufficiency of a well-appointed table.
“But the butter was not forthcoming, Hazel; they gave us rancid sweet-oil instead, which refused to pass muster with our Yankee palates, so that we were able to bestow a double portion upon some poor Frenchmen, who were very grateful for it.”
Flutters had changed his mind about the adequacy of the “Jersey’s” bill of fare, and was growing not a little indignant over Harry’s narration.
“Miss Hazel,” he said, while the color flashed through his dark skin, “I am siding with the Yankees very fast.”
“I do not blame you very much, Flutters; I never heard of anything like it;” which was quite a concession for so loyal a little Red-Coat as Hazel.
“But, Harry,” asked Josephine, who could scarcely bear to hear of such barbarous treatment at the hands of her own kinsmen, “do you think King George and the English nation, generally, knew about it?”
“No, I don’t, nor do I believe they know it now; but they will some day. It was their business to know it, Josephine, and not to leave thousands of human beings at the mercy of a few merciless British seamen. Your own father would scarcely credit all I could tell him of our treatment, nor many another English officer; but it was the clear duty of some of them to have looked into the matter.”
“You don’t mean it was my papa’s duty, do you?” Hazel asked, bristling up a little; she was not going to allow even “Cousin Harry” to utter a word that would seem to reflect upon her father even for a moment.
“No, of course, I don’t mean anything of the kind. If I thought Captain Boniface in any way responsible for those horrors, do you think I could be on such friendly terms with him? No, Hazel, your father is a true, brave man, and no one knows better than I how much he has given up in King George’s service. It was not his duty to inspect the prison-ships. Furnishing supplies for the English troops called for every moment of his thought and time, and taxed all his strength and energy; but there are some men—men whom your father knows—whose names we need not mention, who are very culpable in the matter, if you know what that means?”
“I suppose it means very much to blame,” sighed Hazel.
“Oh, I wish you would just go on telling about things!” urged Flutters, beseechingly, for to him the story itself was far more interesting than any side remarks.
Harry remained silent a moment. Since Josephine and Hazel “cried very easy,” he had need to be careful just where he began again. “I must not forget to tell you,” he said, “something about ‘Dame Grant,’ as we called her, for her visits to the old ‘Jersey’ constituted almost our greatest blessing. She was a fat old woman, who dealt in sugar and tea, pipes and combs, needles and pins, and a few other of the necessaries of life. Every day or two her little boat would push out from the Brooklyn shore, and, rowed by two boys, over she would come to the ship’s side. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have any money were then allowed to go to the foot of the ladder and make some little purchases, obtaining everything—so she always assured us—‘at cost price.’ But sometimes I was almost sorry that I had a cent to spend. It was so terrible to see the longing in the faces of the poor fellows who had no money. I will say this much in our favor, however; I think there was hardly a man among us who did not share with some one else fully half of whatever he had bought. But suddenly the visits came to an end. One morning the little boat put out from the shore as usual, but with no one in it save one of the boys who used to row it, and he brought us the sad news that the old ‘Dame’ had caught the fever from the hulk of the ‘Jersey’ and died. After that no one else was ever willing to run the risk of contagion for the sake of the profits of our little purchases. But one of the happiest experiences that ever came to us in those long, dreary days, was to be allowed to become a member of the ‘Working Party.’ It was composed of twenty men, and all the prisoners who had any strength left were always eager to join it. It was the duty of these men to wash down the upper deck and gangway, to spread the awning, and to hoist wood, water, and other supplies on board, from the boats that came alongside. Then, in the case of any deaths—and there were often three or four during a single night—some of the party would be assigned the duty of burial, and sent to the shore for that purpose, but always closely watched by two or three guards. Strange as it may seem, this sad duty was considered the most desirable of all. It meant setting ones foot on dear old Mother Earth again, for, at least, a little while, and even the mournful work in hand could not quite offset that pleasure. Only once was I so fortunate as to be chosen, and so keen was my delight in treading the ground again, that I actually took off my shoes for the sake of feeling the sand fall away from my feet as we pushed along with our sad burden. Now and then it would happen that, notwithstanding the watchfulness of the guards, a prisoner would succeed in making his escape when sent ashore with one of these interment parties. Near the spot where most of the ‘Jersey’s’ prisoners were buried was a comfortable homestead belonging to a miller. The men used to call it the ‘Old Dutchmans, and always looked toward it with a sort of veneration as they passed, particularly as they knew that the miller’s daughter was deeply interested in us. She kept account of all the poor fellows who were brought to the shore to be buried, and I think many of us cherished a vain sort of hope that deliverance might possibly come through her some day.”
“That was strange about caring to feel the sand against your feet,” remarked Starlight; “that is the last sort of thing you’d think a fellow would ever really care for.”
“Very likely; but if you ever spend even a month on shipboard you’ll find yourself longing for some of the things that you never so much as gave a thought to while you had them. Why, when the men returned to the ‘Jersey’ from the shore they would take back with them as much common turf as they could carry, and the little fragments would be greedily sought for and inhaled with more pleasure than if they had had the fragrance of a rose.
“Did they pay you in any way for the work? asked flutters, still anxious to compare experiences.
“Not in money, of course, Flutters, but we had the privilege of going on deck early in the morning, and were allowed to stay till sunset. All the other prisoners were ordered down to the foul air between decks two hours earlier, there to stay, come what would, for ten wretched hours, with the iron gratings of the hatchways firmly fastening them in. Then we were granted a full allowance of provisions, such as they were.”
“Tell about when all the ‘Venture’s crew were at last exchanged excepting you and Tom Burnham,” suggested Starlight, in a pause that offered.
“No, don’t, please,” Josephine exclaimed; “we all know about that, and it was so very dreadful. Besides, it’s all right now.”
“What,” said Flutters, eagerly, sitting bolt upright “what’s that? I don’t know about it.”
“I’ll tell you,” Hazel whispered, motioning him closer to her; meanwhile Harry pointed out different parts of the ship in answer to certain questions of Josephine’s.
“You see,” explained Hazel in a melodramatic whisper, “that Cousin Harry was taken sick one day very suddenly, and then he had the fever so badly that he was carried over to Blackwell’s Island to die. But he didn’t die.”
“Didn’t he, really?” asked Flutters, mischievously.
“I wouldn’t joke about a thing like this, Flutters. No, he didn’t die; but while he was getting well very slowly a cartel—that’s a kind of boat—was sent from New London, with some English prisoners on board, to exchange for the crew of the ‘Venture;’ but there were not quite as many English prisoners as were needed for an exchange, so they decided they would have to leave Cousin Harry and a friend of his, Tom Burnham, who were sick over on the island, behind, and as soon afterward as those two poor fellows were well enough, back they had to go again to that dreadful old ‘Jersey.’ Wasn’t that pretty hard?”
“Gosh, yes,” exclaimed inelegant little Flutters, and Hazel excused the word because the occasion seemed to demand something strong.
“And there they stayed, Flutters, one whole year longer, till last August, when the English had to let all their prisoners go free; but understand, Flutters, it was just those few bad men in charge of the ‘Jersey’ who were so cruel. In other places we did not treat our prisoners badly at all. Besides, it was very wicked indeed to take arms against the King, though, of course, men like Cousin Harry thought they were doing right.” Hazel, as usual, wound up with a defence of her own loyalist principles.
And so the story of Harry’s hard prison life was all told, or, rather, as much of it as was suited to his audience or was not too heartrending, and at once the little party agreed to weigh anchor and sail quite out of sight of the dreary old ship before opening the well-filled luncheon baskets stowed away in the “Gretchen’s” narrow hold.
And then, of course, every one kept on the lookout for the best point to come to anchor again; but Flutters was the first to discover a most attractive spot on the New York side of the river, where some fine old trees grew close to its edge, and already cast their shadows far enough out on the water to shade the “Gretchen” from bow to stern. Thither they sailed, quickly dropped anchor, and soon sitting down to cold tongue and biscuits, peach jam and sponge cake, endeavored to banish all thoughts of prisoners and prison-ships. It was not hard work, for Flutters was funny, and Starlight and Hazel actually silly. Indeed, all of them felt a sort of reaction from the gloomy, depressing thoughts of the last hour, and, to my thinking, a little silliness was perfectly allowable. After a most leisurely luncheon, Hazel and Starlight moved to the stern of the boat. There was one important matter they had need to discuss confidentially—the return of Flans’s clothes. Hazel had not forgotten her promise to surely bring them back to Mrs. Van Wyck the next day; and now the next day had come, and with no better prospect of any other equipment for Flutters. Entirely unconcerned, Flutters, growing drowsy in the noontide stillness of the river, had stretched his lithe little body along one of the boat cushions and fallen asleep. Josephine, after stowing away the emptied baskets, had seated herself again with her back against the mast. Harry had moved to a seat by her side, and they were talking together of what filled both their hearts—their anxiety for Captain Boniface; and Harry was doing his best to calm Josephine’s fears. He spoke most cheerily and hopefully, for he honestly did not believe the antagonism against her father would amount to so very much; and watching her lovely face brighten at his encouraging words, no doubt thought how very beautiful she was. You would have thought so too could you have seen her, with her wide-brimmed hat pushed far back on her head, and the airiest of little breezes playing with the pretty light hair that lay in curling wisps about her forehead. Starlight happened to glance toward Josephine just as he and Hazel had settled the matter they had in hand, and seemed more impressed with her beauty, as she sat there, than ever before.
“You don’t often find a girl like your sister Josephine,” he said; “she’s lovely herself, and she’s lovely to look at. Those two things don’t generally go together—in girls.”
“What do you mean?” asked Hazel, bristling a little, as usual.
“I mean that most lovely girls know that they’re lovely, and that spoils it. The good-natured girls are most always homely.”
“No, of course, you’re not homely, Hazel, but then you’re not”—a long pause—“so very good-natured either;” Starlight’s love of mischief having gotten the better of his discretion.
Hazel gave him one look of indignant condemnation. Then, without a word, she moved away, took her seat at Josephine’s feet, and for the remainder of the afternoon treated Starlight with all the studied coolness offended dignity could muster.
About four o’clock the “Gretchen” again weighed anchor and steered out into the river, homeward bound. It had been arranged that she should touch at the foot of Beekman Street, and that Starlight should leave them there, so as to stop at Mrs. Van Wyck’s and see what could be done about Flutters’s clothes, or rather Hans’s; and from there he would no doubt be able to beg a ride out to the Bonifaces’. “Good-bye, Hazel,” he called back, as he bounded on to the little wharf. Hazel vouchsafed no answer. Josephine wondered what was up, and so did Harry, but were wise enough not to ask any questions. Flutters was not so wise. “Miss Hazel, did you hear Starlight call good-bye?” he queried.
“I’m not deaf, Flutters.”
“Then why didn’t you answer?” with innocent directness.
“I had my own good reasons. And, Flutters, you must not ever ask me why I do things.”
“All right, Miss Hazel,” Flutters answered cheerily, for her word was law to him; but Josephine and Harry found it difficult to conceal a smile.
It proved rather a tedious sail homeward, for the wind that had blown them so finely down river in the morning had not been so accommodating as to change its direction, and only by dint of much “tacking” was any headway to be made. At last, however, the Boniface homestead came in sight, and in the stillness of the twilight the “Gretchen” was safely moored to her own little dock.