Chapter 17 | On Board | The Adventures of Don Lavington

Chapter Seventeen.

It was a strange experience, and half asleep and confused, Don could hardly make out whether he was one of the captives of the press-gang, or a prisoner being conveyed to gaol in consequence of Mike Bannock’s charge.

All seemed to be darkness, and the busy gang of armed men about him worked in a silent, furtive way, hurrying their prisoners, of whom, as they all stood together in a kind of yard behind some great gates, there seemed to be about a dozen, some injured, some angry and scowling, and full of complaints and threats now that they were about to be conveyed away; but every angry remonstrance was met by one more severe, and sometimes accompanied by a tap from the butt of a pistol, or a blow given with the hilt or flat of a cutlass.

“This here’s lively, Mas’ Don,” said Jem, as he stood beside his companion in misfortune.

“I want to speak to the principal officer,” said Don, excitedly. “We must not let them drive us off as if we were sheep.”

“Will you take a bit of good advice, my lad?” said a familiar voice at his ear.

“If it is good advice,” said Don, sharply.

“Then hold your tongue, and go quietly. I’ll speak to the lieutenant when we get aboard.”

Don glanced sharply at the bluff-looking boatswain who had spoken, and he seemed to mean well; but in Don’s excitement he could not be sure, and one moment he felt disposed to make a bold dash for liberty, as soon as the gates were opened, and then to shout for help; the next to appeal to his fellow-prisoners to make a bold fight for liberty; and while these thoughts were running one over another in his mind, a sharp order was given, the gates were thrown open, and they were all marched down a narrow lane, dimly lit by one miserable oil lamp at the end.

Almost as they reached the end the familiar odour, damp and seaweedy, of the tide reached Don’s nostrils; and directly after he found himself being hurried down a flight of wet and slippery stone steps to where a lanthorn showed a large boat, into which he was hurried along with the rest. Then there was the sensation of movement, as the boat rose and fell. Fresh orders. The splash of oars. A faint creaking sound where they rubbed on the tholes, and then the regular measured dip, dip, and splash, splash.

“Tide runs sharp,” said a deep voice. “Give way, my lads, or we shall be swept by her; that’s it.”

Don listened to all this as if it were part of a dream, while he gazed wildly about at the dimly-seen moving lights and the black, shadowy-looking shapes of the various vessels which kept on looming up, till after gradually nearing a light away to his left, the boat was suddenly run up close to a great black mass, which seemed to stand up out of the water that was lapping her sides.

Ten minutes later the boat in which he had come off was hanging to the davits, and he, in company with his fellows, was being hurried down into a long low portion of the ’tween decks, with a couple of lanthorns swinging their yellow light to and fro, and trying to make haloes, while an armed marine stood sentry at the foot of the steps leading up on deck.

Every one appeared too desolate and despondent to say much; in fact, as Don sat upon the deck and looked at those who surrounded him, they all looked like so many wounded men in hospital, or prisoners of war, in place of being Englishmen—whose duty henceforth was to be the defence of their country.

“Seems rum, don’t it?” said Jem in a whisper. “Makes a man feel wild to be laid hold on like this.”

“It’s cruel! It’s outrageous!” cried Don, angrily.

“But here we are, and—what’s that there noise?” said Jem, as a good deal of shouting and trampling was heard on deck. Then there was a series of thumps and more trampling and loud orders.

“Are they bringing some more poor wretches on board, Jem?”

“Dunno. Don’t think so. Say, Mas’ Don, I often heared tell of the press-gang, and men being took; but I didn’t know it was so bad as this.”

“Wait till morning, Jem, and I hope we shall get justice done to us.”

“Then they’ll have to do it sharp, for it’s morning now, though it’s so dark down here, and I thought we were moving; can’t you feel?”

Jem was quite right; the sloop was under weigh. Morning had broken some time; and at noon that day, the hope of being set at liberty was growing extremely small, for the ship was in full sail, and going due west.