THE MAYO FUSILIERS
“What am I to do with you, Terence? It bothers me entirely; there is not a soul who will take you, and if anyone would do so, you would wear out his patience before a week’s end; there is not a dog in the regiment that does not put his tail between his legs and run for his bare life if he sees you; and as for the colonel, he told me only the other day that he had so many complaints against you, that he was fairly worn out with them.”
“That was only his way, father; the colonel likes a joke as well as any of them.”
“Yes, when it is not played on himself; but you haven’t even the sense to respect persons, and it is well for you that he could not prove that it was you who fastened the sparrow to the plume of feathers on his shako the other day, and no one noticed it till the little baste began to flutter just as he came on to parade, and nigh choked us all with trying to hold in our laughter, while the colonel was nearly suffocated with passion. It was lucky you were able to prove that you had gone off at daylight fishing, and that no one had seen you anywhere near his quarters. By my faith, if he could have proved it was you he would have had you turned out of the barrack gate, and word given to the sentries that you were not to be allowed to pass in again.”
“I could have got over the wall, father,” the boy said, calmly; “but mind, I never said that it was I who fastened the sparrow in his shako.”
“Because I never asked you, Terence; but it does not need the asking. What I am to do with you I don’t know. Your Uncle Tim would not take you if I were to go down upon my knees to him. You were always in his bad books, and you finished it when you fired off that blunderbuss in his garden as he was passing along in the twilight, and yelled out ‘Death to the Protestants!'”
The boy burst into a fit of laughter. “How could I tell that he was going to fall flat upon the ground and shout a million murders, when I fired straight into the air?”
“Well, you did for yourself there, Terence. Not that the old man would ever have taken to you, for he never forgave my marriage with his niece; still, he might have left you some money some day, seeing that there is no one nearer to him, and it would have come in mighty useful, for you are not likely to get much from me. But we are no nearer the point yet. What am I to do with you at all? Here is the regiment ordered on foreign service and likely to have sharp work, and not a place where I can stow you. It beats me altogether!”
“Why not take me with you, father?”
“I have thought of that, but you are too young entirely.”
“I am nearly sixteen, father. I am sure I am as tall as many boys of seventeen, and as strong too. Why should I not go? I am certain I could stand roughing it as well as Dick Ryan, who is a good bit over sixteen. Could I not go as a volunteer? Or I might enlist; the doctor would pass me quick enough.”
“O’Flaherty would pass you if you were a baby in arms; he is as full of mischief as you are, and has not much more discretion; but you could not carry a musket, full cartridge-box, and kit for a long day’s march.”
“I can carry a gun through a long day’s shooting, dad; but you might make me your soldier servant.”
“Bedad, I should fare mighty badly, Terence; still as I don’t see anything else for you, I must try and take you somehow, even if you have to go as a drummer. I will talk it over with the colonel, though I doubt whether he has forgotten that sparrow yet.”
“He would not bear malice, dad, even if he were sure that it was me–which he cannot be.”
The speaker was Captain O’Connor of his Majesty’s regiment of Mayo Fusiliers, now under orders to proceed to Portugal to form part of the force that was being despatched under Sir Arthur Wellesley to assist the Portuguese in resisting the advance of the French. He was a widower, and Terence was his only child. The boy had been brought up in the regiment. His mother had died when he was nine years old, and Terence had been allowed by his father to run pretty nearly wild. He picked up a certain amount of education, for he was as sharp at lessons as at most other things. His mother had taught him to read and write, and the officers and their wives were always ready to lend him books; and as, during the hours when drill and exercise were going on, he had plenty of time to himself, he had got through a very large amount of desultory reading, and, having a retentive memory, knew quite as much as most lads of his age, although the knowledge was of a much more irregular kind.
He was a general favourite among the officers and men of the regiment, though his tricks got him into frequent scrapes, and more than one prophesied that his eventual fate was likely to be hanging. He was great at making acquaintances among the country people, and knew the exact spot where the best fishing could be had for miles round; he had also been given leave to shoot on many of the estates in the neighbourhood.
His father had, from the first, absolutely forbidden him to associate with the drummer boys.
“I don’t mind your going into the men’s quarters,” he said, “you will come to no harm there, but among the boys you might get into bad habits; some of them are thorough young scamps. With the men you would always be one of their officers’ sons, while with the boys you would soon become a mere playmate.”
As he grew older, Terence, being a son of one of the senior officers, became a companion of the ensigns, and one or other of them generally accompanied him on his fishing excursions, and were not unfrequently participators in his escapades, several of which were directed against the tranquillity of the inhabitants of Athlone. One night the bells of the three churches had been rung simultaneously and violently, and the idea that either the town was in flames, or that the French had landed, or that the whole country was up in arms, brought all the inhabitants to their doors in a state of violent excitement and scanty attire. No clew was ever obtained as to the author of this outrage, nor was anyone able to discover the origin of the rumour that circulated through the town, that a large amount of gunpowder had been stored in some house or other in the market-place, and that on a certain night half the town would be blown into the air.
So circumstantial were the details that a deputation waited on Colonel Corcoran, and a strong search-party was sent down to examine the cellars of all the houses in the market-place and for some distance round. These and some similar occurrences had much alarmed the good people of Athlone, and it was certain that more than one person must have been concerned in them.
“I have come, Colonel,” Captain O’Connor said, when he called upon his commanding officer, “to speak to you about Terence.”
The colonel smiled grimly. “It is a comfort to think that we are going to get rid of him, O’Connor; he is enough to demoralize a whole brigade, to say nothing of a battalion, and the worst of it is he respects no one. I am as convinced as can be that it was he who fastened that baste of a bird in my shako the other day, and made me the laughing stock of the whole regiment on parade. Faith, I could not for the life of me make out what was the matter, there was a tugging and a jumping and a fluttering overhead, and I thought the shako was going to fly away. It fairly gave me a scare, for I thought the shako had gone mad, and that the divil was in it. I have often overlooked his tricks for your sake, but when it comes to his commanding officer, it is too serious altogether.”
“Well, you see, Colonel, the lad proved clearly enough that he was out of the way at the time; and besides, you know he has given you many a hearty laugh.”
“He has that,” the colonel admitted.
“And, moreover,” Captain O’Connor went on, “even if he did do this, which I don’t know, for I never asked him” (“Trust you for that,” the colonel muttered), “you are not his commanding officer, though you are mine, and that is the matter that I came to speak to you about. You see there is no one in whose charge I can leave him, and the lad wants to go with us; he would enlist as a drummer, if he could go no other way, and when he got out there I should get the adjutant to tell him off as my soldier servant.”
“It would not do, O’Connor,” the colonel laughed.
“Then I thought, Colonel, that possibly he might go as a volunteer–most regiments take out one or two young fellows, who have not interest enough to obtain a commission.”
“He is too young, O’Connor; besides, the boy is enough to corrupt a whole regiment; he has made half the lads as wild as he is himself. Sure you can never be after asking me to saddle the regiment with him, now that there is a good chance of getting quit of him altogether.”
“I think that he would not be so bad when we are out there, Colonel; it is just because he has nothing to do that he gets into mischief. With plenty of hard work and other things to think of I don’t believe that he would be any trouble.”
“Do you think that you can answer for him, O’Connor?”
“Indeed and I cannot,” the captain laughed; “but I will answer for it that he will not joke with you, Colonel. The lad is really steady enough, and I am sure that if he were in the regiment he would not dream of playing tricks with his commanding officer, whatever else he might do.”
“That goes a long way towards removing my objection,” the colonel said, with a twinkle in his eye; “but he is too young for a volunteer–a volunteer is the sort of man to be the first to climb a breach, or to risk his life in some desperate enterprise, so as to win a commission. But there is another way. I had a letter yesterday from the Horse Guards, saying that as I am two ensigns short, they had appointed one who will join us at Cork, and that they gave me the right of nominating another. I own that Terence occurred to me, but sixteen is the youngest limit of age, and he must be certified and all that by the doctor. Now Daly is away on leave, and is to join us at Cork; but O’Flaherty would do; still, I don’t know how he would get over the difficulty about the age.”
“Trust him for that. I am indeed obliged to you, Colonel.”
“Don’t say anything about it, O’Connor; if we had been going to stay at home I don’t think that I could have brought myself to take him into the regiment, but as we are going on service he won’t have much opportunity for mischief, and even if he does let out a little–not at my expense, you know–a laugh does the men good when they are wet through and their stomachs are empty.” He rang a bell. “Orderly, tell the adjutant and Doctor O’Flaherty that I wish to see them. Mr. Cleary,” he went on, as soon as the former entered, “I have been requested by the Horse Guards to nominate an ensign, so as to fill up our ranks before starting, and I have determined to give the appointment to Terence O’Connor.”
“Very well, sir, I am glad to hear it; he is a favourite with us all, but I am afraid that he is under age.”
“Is there any regular form to be filled up?”
“None that I know of in the case of officers, sir. I fancy they pass some sort of medical examination at the Horse Guards, but, of course, in this case it would be impossible. Still, I should say that, in writing to state that you have nominated him, it would be better to send a medical certificate, and certainly it ought to be mentioned that he is of the right age.”
At this moment the assistant-surgeon entered. “Doctor O’Flaherty,” the colonel said, “I wish you to write a certificate to the effect that Terence O’Connor is physically fit to take part in a campaign as an officer.”
“I can do that, Colonel, without difficulty; he is as fit as a fiddle, and can march half the regiment off their legs.”
“Yes, I know that, but there is one difficulty, Doctor, he is under the regulation age.”
O’Flaherty thought for a moment and then sat down at the table, and taking a sheet of paper, be began:
I certify that Terence O’ Connor is going on for seventeen years of age, he is five feet eight in height, thirty-four inches round the chest, is active, and fully capable of the performance of his duties as an officer either at home or abroad.
Then he added another line and signed his name.
“As a member of a learned profession, Colonel,” he said, gravely, “I would scorn to tell a lie even for the son of Captain O’Connor;” and he passed the paper across to him.
The colonel looked grave, and Captain O’Connor disappointed. He was reassured, however, when his commanding officer broke into a laugh.
“That will do well, O’Flaherty,” he said; “I thought that you would find some way of getting us out of the difficulty.”
“I have told the strict truth, Colonel,” the doctor said, gravely. “I have certified that Terence O’Connor is going on for seventeen; I defy any man to say that he is not. He will get there one of these days, if a French bullet does not stop him on the way, a contingency that it is needless for me to mention.”
“I suppose that it is not strictly regular to omit the date of his birth,” the colonel said; “but just at present I expect they are not very particular. I suppose that that will do, Mr. Cleary?”
“I think that you can countersign that, Colonel,” the adjutant said, with a laugh. “The Horse Guards do not move very rapidly, and by the time that letter gets to London we may be on board ship, and they would hardly bother to send a letter for further particulars to us in Spain, but will no doubt gazette him at once. The fact, too–which of course you will mention–that he is the son of the senior captain of your regiment, will in itself render them less likely to bother about the matter.”
“Well, just write out the letter of nomination, Cleary; I am a mighty bad hand at doing things neatly.”
The adjutant drew a sheet of foolscap to him and wrote:–
To the Adjutant-general, Horse Guards,
Sir, I have the honour to inform you that, in accordance with the privilege granted to me in your communication of–
and he looked at the colonel.
“The 14th inst.,” the latter said, after consulting the letter.
–I beg to nominate as an ensign in this regiment, Terence O’ Connor, the son of Captain Lawrence O’ Connor, its senior captain. I inclose certificate of Assistant-surgeon O’ Flaherty,–the surgeon being at present absent on leave–certifying to his physical fitness for a commission in his Majesty’s service. Mr. O’ Connor having been brought up from childhood in the regiment is already perfectly acquainted with the work, and will therefore be able to take up his duties without difficulty. This fact has had some influence in my choice, as a young officer who had to be taught all his duties would have been of no use for service in the field for a considerable time after landing in Portugal. Relying on the nomination being approved by the commander-in-chief, I shall at once put him on the staff of the regiment for foreign service, as there will be no time to wait your reply.
I have the honour to be
Your humble, obedient servant,
Then he left a space, and added:
Colonel Mayo Fusiliers.
“Now, if you will sign it, Colonel, the matter will be complete, and I will send it off with O’Flaherty’s certificate today.”
“That is a good stroke, Cleary,” the colonel said, as he read it aloud. “They will see that it is too late to raise any questions, and the ‘going on for seventeen’ will be accepted as sufficient.”
He touched a bell.
“Orderly, tell Mr. Terence O’Connor that I wish to see him.”
Terence was sitting in a state of suppressed excitement at his father’s quarters. He had a strong belief that the matter would be managed somehow, for he knew that the colonel had no malice in his disposition, and would not let the episode of the bird–for which he was now heartily sorry–stand in the way. On receiving the message he at once went across to the colonel’s quarters. The latter rose and held out his hand to him as he entered.
“Terence O’Connor,” he said, “I am pleased to be able to inform you that from the present moment you are to consider yourself an officer in his Majesty’s Mayo Fusiliers. The Horse Guards have given me the privilege of nominating a gentleman to the vacant ensigncy, and I have had great pleasure in nominating your father’s son. Now, lad,” he said, in different tone of voice, “I feel sure that you will do credit my nomination, and that you will keep your love of fun and mischief within reasonable bounds.”
“I will try to do so, Colonel,” the lad said, in a low voice, “and I am grateful indeed for the kindness that you have shown me. I have always hoped that some day I might obtain a commission in your regiment, but never even hoped that it would be until after I had done something to deserve it. Indeed I did not think that it was even possible that I could obtain a commission until—-“
“Tut, tut, lad, don’t say a word about age! Doctor O’Flaherty had certified that you are going on for seventeen, which is quite sufficient for me, and at any rate you will see that boyish tricks are out of place in the case of an officer going on for seventeen. Now, your father had best take you down into the town and get you measured for your uniforms at once. You must make them hurry on with his undress clothes, O’Connor. I should not bother about full-dress till we get back again; it is not likely to be wanted, and the lad will soon grow out of them. If there should happen to be full-dress parade in Portugal, Cleary will put him on as officer of the day, or give him some duties that will keep him from parade. We may get the route any day, and the sooner he gets his uniform the better.”
Two days later Terence took his place on parade as an officer of the regiment. He had witnessed such numberless drills that he had picked up every word of command, knew his proper place in every formation, and fell into the work as readily as if he had been at it for years. He had been heartily congratulated by the officers of the regiment.
“I am awfully glad that you are one of us, Terence,” Dick Ryan said. “I don’t know what we should have done without you. I expect we shall have tremendous fun in Portugal.”
“I expect we shall, Dick; but we shall have to be careful. We shall be on active service, you see, and from what they say of him I don’t think Sir Arthur Wellesley is the sort of man to appreciate jokes.”
“No, I should say not. Of course, we shall have to draw in a bit. It would not do to set the bells of Lisbon ringing.”
“I should think not, Dick. Still, I dare say we shall have plenty of fun, and at any rate we are likely, from what they say, to have plenty of fighting. I don’t expect the Portuguese will be much good, and as there are forty or fifty thousand Frenchmen in Portugal, we shall have all our work to do, unless they send out a much bigger force than is collecting at Cork. It is a pity that the 10,000 men who have been sent out to Sweden on what my father says is a fool’s errand are not going with us instead. We might make a good stand-up fight of it then, whereas I don’t see that with only 6,000 or 7,000 we can do much good against Junot’s 40,000.”
“Oh, I dare say we shall get on somehow!” Dick said, carelessly. “Sir Arthur knows what he is about, and it is our turn to do something now. The navy has had it all its own way so far, and it is quite fair that we should do our share. I have a brother in the navy, and the fellows are getting too cheeky altogether. They seem to think that no one can fight but themselves. Except in Egypt we have never had a chance at all of showing we can lick the French just as easily on land as we can at sea.”
“I hope we shall, Dick. They have certainly had a great deal more practice at it than we have.”
“Now I think we ought to do something here that they will remember us for before we start, Terence.”
“Well, if you do, I am not with you this time, Dick. I am not going to begin by getting in the colonel’s bad books after he has been kind enough to nominate me for a commission. I promised him that I would try and not get into any scrapes, and I am not going to break my word. When we once get out there I shall be game to join in anything that is not likely to make a great row, but I have done with it for the present.”
“I should like to have one more good bit of fun,” Ryan said; “but I expect you are right, Terence, in what you say about yourself, and it is no use our thinking to humbug Athlone again if you are not in it with us; besides, they are getting too sharp. They did not half turn out last time, and, indeed, we had a narrow escape of being caught. Well, I shall be very glad when we are off; it is stupid work waiting for the route, with all leave stopped, and we not even allowed to go out for a day’s fishing.”
Three days later the expected order arrived. As the baggage had all been packed up, that which was to be left behind being handed over to the care of the barrack-master, and a considerable portion of the heavy baggage sent on by cart, there was no delay. Officers and men were alike delighted that the period of waiting had come to an end, and there was loud cheering in the barrack-yard as soon as the news came. At daybreak next morning the rest of the baggage started under a guard, and three hours later the Mayo Fusiliers marched through the town with their band playing at their head, and amid the cheers of the populace.
As yet the martial spirit that was roused by the struggle in the Peninsula had scarcely begun to show itself, but there was a strong animosity to France throughout England, and a desire to aid the people of Spain and Portugal in their efforts for freedom. In Ireland, for the most part, there was no such feeling. Since the battle of the Boyne and the siege of Limerick, France had been regarded by the greater portion of the peasantry, and a section of the population of the towns, as the natural ally of Ireland, and there was a hope that when Napoleon had all Europe prostrate under his feet he would come as the deliverer of Ireland from the English yoke. Consequently, although the townspeople of Athlone cheered the regiment as it marched away, the country people held aloof from it as it passed along the road. Scowling looks from the women greeted it in the villages, while the men ostentatiously continued their work in the fields without turning to cast a glance at them.
Terence was not posted to his father’s company, but was in that of Captain O’Driscol, although the lad himself would have preferred to be with Captain O’Grady, with whom he was a great favourite. The latter was one of the captains whose companies were unprovided with an ensign, and he had asked the adjutant to let him have the lad instead of the ensign who was to join at Cork.
“The matter has been settled the other way, O’Grady; in the colonel’s opinion he will be much better with O’Driscol, who is more likely to keep him in order than you are.”
O’Grady was one of the most original characters in the regiment. He was rather under middle height, and had a smooth face, a guileless and innocent expression, and a habit of opening his light-blue eyes as in wonder. His hair was short, and stuck up aggressively; his brogue was the strongest in the regiment; his blunders were innumerable, and his look of amazement at the laughter they called forth was admirably feigned, save that the twinkle of his eye induced a suspicion that he himself enjoyed the joke as well as anyone. His good-humour was imperturbable, and he was immensely popular both among men and officers.
“O’Driscol!” he repeated, in mild astonishment. “Do you mean to say that O’Driscol will keep him in better order than meself? If there is one man in this regiment more than another who would get on well with the lad it is meself, barring none.”
“You would get on well enough with him, O’Grady, I have no doubt, but it would be by letting him have his own way, and in encouraging him in mischief of all kinds.”
O’Grady’s eyebrows were elevated, and his eyes expressed hopeless bewilderment.
“You are wrong entirely, Cleary; nature intended me for a schoolmaster, and it is just an accident that I have taken to soldiering. I flatter meself that no one looks after his subalterns more sharply than I do. My only fear is that I am too severe with them. I may be mild in my manners, but they know me well enough to tremble if I speak sternly to them.”
“The trembling would be with amusement,” the adjutant grumbled. “Well, the colonel has settled the matter, and Terence will be in Orders to-morrow as appointed to O’Driscol’s company, and the other to yours.”
“Thank you for nothing, Cleary,” O’Grady said, with dignity. “You would have seen that under my tuition the lad would have turned out one of the smartest officers in the regiment.”
“You have heard of the Spartan way of teaching their sons to avoid drunkenness, Captain O’Grady?”
“Divil a word, Cleary; but I reckon that the best way with the haythens was to keep them from touching whisky. It is what I always recommend to the men of my company when I come across one of them the worse for liquor.”
The adjutant laughed. “That was not the Spartan way, O’Grady; but the advice, if taken, would doubtless have the same effect.”
“And who were the Spartans at all?”
“I have not time to tell you now, O’Grady; I have no end of business on my hands.”
“Thin what do you keep me talking here for? haven’t I a lot of work on me hands too. I came in to ask a simple question, and instead of giving me a civil answer you kape me wasting my time wid your O’Driscols and your Spartans and all kinds of rigmarole. That is the worst of being in an Irish regiment, nothing can be done widout ever so much blather;” and Captain O’Grady stalked out of the orderly-room.
On the march Terence had no difficulty in obtaining leave from his captain to drop behind and march with his friend Dick Ryan. The marches were long ones, and they halted only at Parsonstown, Templemore, Tipperary, and Fermoy, as the colonel had received orders to use all speed. At each place a portion of the regiment was accommodated in the barracks, while the rest were quartered in the town. Late in the evening of the fifth day’s march they arrived at Cork, and the next day went on board the two transports provided for them, and joined the fleet assembled in the Cove. Some of the ships had been lying there for nearly a month waiting orders, and the troops on board were heartily weary of their confinement. The news, however, that Sir Arthur Wellesley had been at last appointed to command them, and that they were to sail for Portugal, had caused great delight, for it had been feared that they might, like other bodies of troops, be shipped off to some distant spot, only to remain there for months and then to be brought home again.
Nothing, indeed, could exceed the vacillation and confusion that reigned in the English cabinet at that time. The forces of England were frittered away in small and objectless expeditions, the plans of action were changed with every report sent either by the interested leaders of insurrectionary movements in Spain, or by the signally incompetent men who had been sent out to represent England, and who distributed broadcast British money and British arms to the most unworthy applicants. By their lavishness and subservience to the Spaniards our representatives increased the natural arrogance of these people, and caused them to regard England as a power which was honoured by being permitted to share in the Spanish efforts against the French generals. General Spencer with 5,000 men was kept for months sailing up and down the coast of Spain and Portugal, receiving contradictory orders from home, and endeavouring in vain to co-operate with the Spanish generals, each of whom had his own private purposes, and was bent on gratifying personal ambitions and of thwarting the schemes of his rivals, rather than on opposing the common enemy.
Not only were the English ministry incapable of devising any plan of action, but they were constantly changing the naval and military officers of the forces. At one moment one general or admiral seemed to possess their confidence, while soon afterwards, without the slightest reason, two or three others with greater political influence were placed over his head; and when at last Sir Arthur Wellesley, whose services in India marked him as our greatest soldier, was sent out with supreme military power, they gave him no definite plan of action. General Spencer was nominally placed under his orders by one set of instructions, while another authorized him to commence operations in the south, without reference to Sir Arthur Wellesley. Admiral Purvis, who was junior to Admiral Collingwood, was authorized to control the operations of Sir Arthur, while Wellesley himself had scarcely sailed when Sir Hew Dalrymple was appointed to the chief command of the forces, Sir Harry Burrard was appointed second in command, and Sir Arthur Wellesley was reduced to the fourth rank in the army that he had been sent out to command, two of the men placed above him being almost unknown, they never having commanded any military force in the field.
The 9,000 men assembled in the Cove of Cork knew nothing of these things; they were going out under the command of the victor of Assaye to measure their strength against that of the French, and they had no fear of the result.
“I hope,” Captain O’Grady said, as the officers of the wing of the regiment to which he belonged sat down to dinner for the first time on board the transport, “that we shall not have to keep together in going out.”
“Why so, O’Grady?” another captain asked.
“Because there is no doubt at all that our ship is the fastest in the fleet, and that we shall get there in time to have a little brush with the French all to ourselves before the others arrive.”
“What makes you think that she is the fastest ship here, O’Grady?”
“Anyone can see it with half an eye, O’Driscol. Look at her lines; she is a flyer, and if we are not obliged to keep with the others we shall be out of sight of the rest of them before we have sailed six hours.”
“I don’t pretend to know anything about her lines, O’Grady, but she looks to me a regular old tub.”
“She is old,” O’Grady admitted, reluctantly, “but give her plenty of wind and you will see how she can walk along.”
There was a laugh all round the table; O’Grady’s absolute confidence in anything in which he was interested was known to them all. His horse had been notoriously the most worthless animal in the regiment, but although continually last in the hunting field, O’Grady’s opinion of her speed was never shaken. There was always an excuse ready; the horse had been badly shod, or it was out of sorts and had not had its feed before starting, or the going was heavy and it did not like heavy ground, or the country was too hilly or too flat for it. It was the same with his company, with his non-commissioned officers, with his soldier servant, a notoriously drunken rascal, and with his quarters.
O’Grady looked round in mild expostulation at the laugh.
“You will see,” he said, confidently, “there can be no mistake about it.”
Two days later a ship-of-war entered the harbour, the usual salutes were exchanged, then a signal was run up to one of her mast-heads, and again the guns of the forts pealed out a salute, and word ran through the transports that Sir Arthur Wellesley was on board. On the following day the fleet got under way, the transports being escorted by a line-of-battle ship and four frigates, which were to join Lord Collingwood’s squadron as soon as they had seen their charge safe into the Tagus.
Before evening the Sea-horse was a mile astern of the rearmost ship of the convoy, and one of the frigates sailing back fired a gun as a signal to her to close up.
“Well, O’Grady, we have left the fleet, you see, though not in the way you predicted.”
“Whist, man! don’t you see that the captain is out of temper because they have all got to keep together, instead of letting him go ahead?”
Every rag of sail was now piled on to the ship, and as many of the others were showing nothing above their topgallant sails she rejoined the rest just as darkness fell.
“There, you see!” O’Grady said, triumphantly, “look what she can do when she likes.”
“We do see, O’Grady. With twice as much sail up as anything else, she has in three hours picked up the mile she had lost.”
“Wait until we get some wind.”
“I hope we sha’n’t get anything of the sort–at least no strong winds; the old tub would open every seam if we did, and we might think ourselves lucky if we got through it at all.”
O’Grady smiled pleasantly, and said it was useless to argue with so obstinate a man.
“I am afraid O’Grady is wrong as usual,” Dick Ryan said to Terence, who was sitting next to him. “When once he has taken an idea into his head nothing will persuade him that he is wrong; there is no doubt the Sea-horse is as slow as she can be. I suppose her owners have some interest with the government, or they would surely never have taken up such an old tub as a troop-ship.”
Categories: English Literature