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Chapter 60

A MAN-OF-WAR'S-MAN SHOT AT.


There was a seaman belonging to the fore-top--a mess-mate, though
not a top-mate of mine, and no favourite of the Captain's,--who,
for certain venial transgressions, had been prohibited from going
ashore on liberty when the ship's company went. Enraged at the
deprivation--for he had not touched earth in upward of a year--
he, some nights after, lowered himself overboard, with the view
of gaining a canoe, attached by a robe to a Dutch galiot some
cables'-lengths distant. In this canoe he proposed paddling
himself ashore. Not being a very expert swimmer, the commotion he
made in the water attracted the ear of the sentry on that side of
the ship, who, turning about in his walk, perceived the faint
white spot where the fugitive was swimming in the frigate's
shadow. He hailed it; but no reply.

"Give the word, or I fire!"

Not a word was heard.

The next instant there was a red flash, and, before it had
completely ceased illuminating the night the white spot was
changed into crimson. Some of the officers, returning from a
party at the Beach of the Flamingoes, happened to be drawing near
the ship in one of her cutters. They saw the flash, and the
bounding body it revealed. In a moment the topman was dragged
into the boat, a handkerchief was used for a tourniquet, and the
wounded fugitive was soon on board the frigate, when, the surgeon
being called, the necessary attentions were rendered.

Now, it appeared, that at the moment the sentry fired, the top-
man--in order to elude discovery, by manifesting the completest
quietude--was floating on the water, straight and horizontal, as
if reposing on a bed. As he was not far from the ship at the
time, and the sentry was considerably elevated above him--pacing
his platform, on a level with the upper part of the hammock-
nettings--the ball struck with great force, with a downward
obliquity, entering the right thigh just above the knee, and,
penetrating some inches, glanced upward along the bone, burying
itself somewhere, so that it could not be felt by outward
manipulation. There was no dusky discoloration to mark its
internal track, as in the case when a partly-spent ball--
obliquely hitting--after entering the skin, courses on, just
beneath the surface, without penetrating further. Nor was there
any mark on the opposite part of the thigh to denote its place,
as when a ball forces itself straight through a limb, and lodges,
perhaps, close to the skin on the other side. Nothing was visible
but a small, ragged puncture, bluish about the edges, as if the
rough point of a tenpenny nail had been forced into the flesh,
and withdrawn. It seemed almost impossible, that through so small
an aperture, a musket-bullet could have penetrated.

The extreme misery and general prostration of the man, caused by
the great effusion of blood--though, strange to say, at first he
said he felt no pain from the wound itself--induced the Surgeon,
very reluctantly, to forego an immediate search for the ball, to
extract it, as that would have involved the dilating of the wound
by the knife; an operation which, at that juncture, would have
been almost certainly attended with fatal results. A day or two,
therefore, was permitted to pass, while simple dressings were
applied.

The Surgeon of the other American ships of war in harbour
occasionally visited the Neversink, to examine the patient, and
incidentally to listen to the expositions of our own Surgeon, their
senior in rank. But Cadwallader Cuticle, who, as yet, has been
but incidentally alluded to, now deserves a chapter by himself.

Herman Melville