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Chapter 75

 

"SINK, BURN, AND DESTROY."
  Printed Admiralty orders in time of war.

 

Among innumerable "_yarns and twisters_" reeled off in our main-
top during our pleasant run to the North, none could match those
of Jack Chase, our captain.

Never was there better company than ever-glorious Jack. The
things which most men only read of, or dream about, he had seen
and experienced. He had been a dashing smuggler in his day, and
could tell of a long nine-pounder rammed home with wads of French
silks; of cartridges stuffed with the finest gunpowder tea; of
cannister-shot full of West India sweetmeats; of sailor frocks
and trowsers, quilted inside with costly laces; and table legs,
hollow as musket barrels, compactly stowed with rare drugs and
spices. He could tell of a wicked widow, too--a beautiful
receiver of smuggled goods upon the English coast--who smiled so
sweetly upon the smugglers when they sold her silks and laces,
cheap as tape and ginghams. She called them gallant fellows,
hearts of game; and bade them bring her more.

He could tell of desperate fights with his British majesty's
cutters, in midnight coves upon a stormy coast; of the capture of
a reckless band, and their being drafted on board a man-of-war;
of their swearing that their chief was slain; of a writ of habeas
corpus sent on board for one of them for a debt--a reserved and
handsome man--and his going ashore, strongly suspected of being the
slaughtered captain, and this a successful scheme for his escape.

But more than all, Jack could tell of the battle of Navarino, for
he had been a captain of one of the main-deck guns on board
Admiral Codrington's flag-ship, the Asia. Were mine the style of
stout old Chapman's Homer, even then I would scarce venture to
give noble Jack's own version of this fight, wherein, on the 20th
of October, A. D. 1827, thirty-two sail of Englishmen, Frenchmen,
and Russians, attacked and vanquished in the Levant an Ottoman
fleet of three ships-of-the line, twenty-five frigates, and a
swarm of fire ships and hornet craft.

"We bayed to be at them," said Jack; "and when we _did_ open
fire, we were like dolphin among the flying-fish. 'Every man take
his bird' was the cry, when we trained our guns. And those guns
all smoked like rows of Dutch pipe-bowls, my hearties! My gun's
crew carried small flags in their bosoms, to nail to the mast in
case the ship's colours were shot away. Stripped to the
waistbands, we fought like skinned tigers, and bowled down the
Turkish frigates like nine-pins. Among their shrouds--swarming
thick with small-arm men, like flights of pigeons lighted on
pine-trees--our marines sent their leaden pease and goose-
berries, like a shower of hail-stones in Labrador. It was a
stormy time, my hearties! The blasted Turks pitched into the old
Asia's hull a whole quarry of marble shot, each ball one hundred
and fifty pounds. They knocked three port-holes into one. But we
gave them better than they sent. 'Up and at them, my bull-dog!'
said I, patting my gun on the breech; 'tear open hatchways in
their Moslem sides! White-Jacket, my lad, you ought to have been
there. The bay was covered with masts and yards, as I have seen a
raft of snags in the Arkansas River. Showers of burned rice and
olives from the exploding foe fell upon us like manna in the
wilderness. '_Allah! Allah! Mohammed! Mohammed!_' split the air;
some cried it out from the Turkish port-holes; others shrieked it
forth from the drowning waters, their top-knots floating on their
shaven skulls, like black snakes on half-tide rocks. By those
top-knots they believed that their Prophet would drag them up to
Paradise, but they sank fifty fathoms, my hearties, to the bottom
of the bay. 'Ain't the bloody 'Hometons going to strike yet?'
cried my first loader, a Guernsey man, thrusting his neck out of
the port-hole, and looking at the Turkish line-of-battle-ship
near by. That instant his head blew by me like a bursting Paixhan
shot, and the flag of Neb Knowles himself was hauled down for
ever. We dragged his hull to one side, and avenged him with the
cooper's anvil, which, endways, we rammed home; a mess-mate
shoved in the dead man's bloody Scotch cap for the wad, and sent
it flying into the line-of-battle ship. By the god of war! boys,
we hardly left enough of that craft to boil a pot of water with.
It was a hard day's work--a sad day's work, my hearties. That
night, when all was over, I slept sound enough, with a box of
cannister shot for my pillow! But you ought to have seen the
boat-load of Turkish flags one of our captains carried home; he
swore to dress his father's orchard in colours with them, just as
our spars are dressed for a gala day."

"Though you tormented the Turks at Navarino, noble Jack, yet you
came off yourself with only the loss of a splinter, it seems,"
said a top-man, glancing at our cap-tain's maimed hand.

"Yes; but I and one of the Lieutenants had a narrower escape than
that. A shot struck the side of my port-hole, and sent the
splinters right and left. One took off my hat rim clean to my
brow; another _razed_ the Lieutenant's left boot, by slicing off
the heel; a third shot killed my powder-monkey without touching
him."

"How, Jack?"

"It _whizzed_ the poor babe dead. He was seated on a _cheese of
wads_ at the time, and after the dust of the pow-dered bulwarks
had blown away, I noticed he yet sat still, his eyes wide open.
'_My little hero!_' cried I, and I clapped him on the back; but
he fell on his face at my feet. I touched his heart, and found he
was dead. There was not a little finger mark on him."

Silence now fell upon the listeners for a time, broken at last by
the Second Captain of the Top.

"Noble Jack, I know you never brag, but tell us what you did
yourself that day?"

"Why, my hearties, I did not do quite as much as my gun. But I
flatter myself it was that gun that brought down the Turkish
Admiral's main-mast; and the stump left wasn't long enough to
make a wooden leg for Lord Nelson."

"How? but I thought, by the way you pull a lock-string on board
here, and look along the sight, that you can steer a shot about
right--hey, Jack?"

"It was the Admiral of the fleet--God Almighty--who directed the
shot that dismasted the Turkish Admiral," said Jack; "I only
pointed the gun."

"But how did you feel, Jack, when the musket-ball carried away
one of your hooks there?"

"Feel! only a finger the lighter. I have seven more left, besides
thumbs; and they did good service, too, in the torn rigging the
day after the fight; for you must know, my hearties, that the
hardest work comes after the guns are run in. Three days I helped
work, with one hand, in the rigging, in the same trowsers that I
wore in the action; the blood had dried and stiffened; they
looked like glazed red morocco."

Now, this Jack Chase had a heart in him like a mastodon's. I have
seen him weep when a man has been flogged at the gangway; yet, in
relating the story of the Battle of Navarino, he plainly showed
that he held the God of the blessed Bible to have been the
British Commodore in the Levant, on the bloody 20th of October,
A. D. 1827. And thus it would seem that war almost makes
blasphemers of the best of men, and brings them all down to the
Feejee standard of humanity. Some man-of-war's-men have confessed
to me, that as a battle has raged more and more, their hearts
have hardened in infernal harmony; and, like their own guns, they
have fought without a thought.

Soldier or sailor, the fighting man is but a fiend; and the staff
and body-guard of the Devil musters many a baton. But war at
times is inevitable. Must the national honour be trampled under
foot by an insolent foe?

Say on, say on; but know you this, and lay it to heart, war-
voting Bench of Bishops, that He on whom we believe _himself_ has
enjoined us to turn the left cheek if the right be smitten. Never
mind what follows. That passage you can not expunge from the
Bible; that passage is as binding upon us as any other; that
passage embodies the soul and substance of the Christian faith;
without it, Christianity were like any other faith. And that
passage will yet, by the blessing of God, turn the world. But in
some things we must turn Quakers first.

But though unlike most scenes of carnage, which have proved
useless murders of men, Admiral Codrington's victory undoubtedly
achieved the emancipation of Greece, and terminated the Turkish
atrocities in that tomahawked state, yet who shall lift his hand
and swear that a Divine Providence led the van of the combined
fleets of England, France, and Russia at the battle of Navarino?
For if this be so, then it led the van against the Church's own
elect--the persecuted Waldenses in Switzerland--and kindled the
Smithfield fires in bloody Mary's time.

But all events are mixed in a fusion indistinguishable. What we
call Fate is even, heartless, and impartial; not a fiend to
kindle bigot flames, nor a philanthropist to espouse the cause of
Greece. We may fret, fume, and fight; but the thing called Fate
everlastingly sustains an armed neutrality.

Yet though all this be so, nevertheless, in our own hearts, we
mould the whole world's hereafters; and in our own hearts we
fashion our own gods. Each mortal casts his vote for whom he will
to rule the worlds; I have a voice that helps to shape eternity;
and my volitions stir the orbits of the furthest suns. In two
senses, we are precisely what we worship. Ourselves are Fate.

Herman Melville