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Chapter 5

JACK CHASE ON A SPANISH QUARTER-DECK.

Here, I must frankly tell a story about Jack, which as touching his
honour and integrity, I am sure, will not work against him, in any
charitable man's estimation. On this present cruise of the frigate
Neversink, Jack had deserted; and after a certain interval, had been
captured.

But with what purpose had he deserted? To avoid naval discipline? To
riot in some abandoned sea-port? for love of some worthless signorita?
Not at all. He abandoned the frigate from far higher and nobler, nay,
glorious motives. Though bowing to naval discipline afloat; yet ashore,
he was a stickler for the Rights of Man, and the liberties of the world.
He went to draw a partisan blade in the civil commotions of Peru;
and befriend, heart and soul, what he deemed the cause of the Right.

At the time, his disappearance excited the utmost astonishment among
the officers, who had little suspected him of any such conduct of
deserting.

"What? Jack, my great man of the main-top, gone!" cried the captain;
"I'll not believe it."

"Jack Chase cut and run!" cried a sentimental middy. "It must have
been all for love, then; the signoritas have turned his head."

"Jack Chase not to be found?" cried a growling old sheet-anchor-man,
one of your malicious prophets of past events: "I though so; I know'd
it; I could have sworn it--just the chap to make sail on the sly. I
always s'pected him."

Months passed away, and nothing was heard of Jack; till at last,
the frigate came to anchor on the coast, alongside of a Peruvian
sloop of war.

Bravely clad in the Peruvian uniform, and with a fine, mixed martial
and naval step, a tall, striking figure of a long-bearded officer was
descried, promenading the Quarter-deck of the stranger; and
superintending the salutes, which are exchanged between national
vessels on these occasions.

This fine officer touched his laced hat most courteously to our
Captain, who, after returning the compliment, stared at him, rather
impolitely, through his spy-glass.

"By Heaven!" he cried at last--"it is he--he can't disguise his
walk--that's the beard; I'd know him in Cochin China.--Man the first
cutter there! Lieutenant Blink, go on board that sloop of war, and
fetch me yon officer."

All hands were aghast--What? when a piping-hot peace was between the
United States and Peru, to send an armed body on board a Peruvian
sloop of war, and seize one of its officers, in broad daylight?--
Monstrous infraction of the Law of Nations! What would Vattel say?

But Captain Claret must be obeyed. So off went the cutter, every man
armed to the teeth, the lieutenant-commanding having secret
instructions, and the midshipmen attending looking ominously wise,
though, in truth, they could not tell what was coming.

Gaining the sloop of war, the lieutenant was received with the
customary honours; but by this time the tall, bearded officer had
disappeared from the Quarter-deck. The Lieutenant now inquired for
the Peruvian Captain; and being shown into the cabin, made known to
him, that on board his vessel was a person belonging to the United
States Ship Neversink; and his orders were, to have that person
delivered up instanter.

The foreign captain curled his mustache in astonishment and
indignation; he hinted something about beating to quarters, and
chastising this piece of Yankee insolence.

But resting one gloved hand upon the table, and playing with his
sword-knot, the Lieutenant, with a bland firmness, repeated his
demand. At last, the whole case being so plainly made out, and the
person in question being so accurately described, even to a mole on
his cheek, there remained nothing but immediate compliance.

So the fine-looking, bearded officer, who had so courteously doffed
his chapeau to our Captain, but disappeared upon the arrival of the
Lieutenant, was summoned into the cabin, before his superior, who
addressed him thus:--

"Don John, this gentleman declares, that of right you belong to the
frigate Neversink. Is it so?"

"It is even so, Don Sereno," said Jack Chase, proudly folding his
gold-laced coat-sleeves across his chest--"and as there is no
resisting the frigate, I comply.--Lieutenant Blink, I am ready.
Adieu! Don Sereno, and Madre de Dios protect you? You have been a
most gentlemanly friend and captain to me. I hope you will yet thrash
your beggarly foes."

With that he turned; and entering the cutter, was pulled back to the
frigate, and stepped up to Captain Claret, where that gentleman stood
on the quarter-deck.

"Your servant, my fine Don," said the Captain, ironically lifting his
chapeau, but regarding Jack at the same time with a look of intense
displeasure.

"Your most devoted and penitent Captain of the Main-top, sir; and one
who, in his very humility of contrition is yet proud to call Captain
Claret his commander," said Jack, making a glorious bow, and then
tragically flinging overboard his Peruvian sword.

"Reinstate him at once," shouted Captain Claret--"and now, sir, to
your duty; and discharge that well to the end of the cruise, and you
will hear no more of your having run away."

So Jack went forward among crowds of admiring tars, who swore by his
nut-brown beard, which had amazingly lengthened and spread during his
absence. They divided his laced hat and coat among them; and on
their shoulders, carried him in triumph along the gun-deck.

Herman Melville