The Log of a Privateersman

Harry Collingwood

The Log of a Privateersman
By Harry Collingwood
The French probably never did a more audacious thing than when, on the night of October 26th, 1804, a party of forty odd of them left the lugger Belle Marie hove-to in Weymouth Roads and pulled, with muffled oars, in three boats, into the harbour; from whence they succeeded in carrying out to sea the newly-arrived West Indian trader Weymouth, loaded with a full cargo of rum, sugar, and tobacco. The expedition was admirably planned, the night chosen being that upon which the new moon occurred; it was a dismal, rainy, and exceptionally dark night, with a strong breeze blowing from the south-west; the hour was about two o'clock a.m.; there was an ebb tide running; and the ship--which had only arrived late in the afternoon of the previous day--was the outside vessel in a tier of three; the Frenchman had, therefore, nothing whatever to do but to cut the craft adrift and allow her to glide, silent as a ghost, down the harbour with bare poles, under the combined influence of the strong wind and the ebb tide. There was not a soul stirring about the quays at that hour; nobody, therefore, saw the ship go out; and the two custom-house officers and the watchman--the only Englishmen aboard her--were fast asleep, and were secured before they had time or opportunity to raise an alarm. So neatly, indeed, was the trick done that the first intimation poor old Peter White--the owner of the ship and cargo--had of his loss was when, at the first streak of dawn, he slipped out of bed and went to the window to gloat over the sight of the safely-arrived ship, moored immediately opposite his house but on the other side of the harbour, where she had been berthed upon her arrival on the previous afternoon. The poor old gentleman could scarcely credit his eyes when those organs informed him that the berth, occupied but a few hours previously, was now vacant. He looked, and looked, and looked again; and finally he caught sight of the ropes by which the Weymouth had been moored, dangling in the water from the bows and quarters of the ships to which she had been made fast. Then an inkling of the truth burst upon him, and, hastily donning his clothes, he rushed downstairs, let himself out of the house, and sped like a madman down the High Street, across Hope Square, and so on to the Nothe, in the forlorn hope that the ship, which, with her cargo, represented the bulk of the savings of a lifetime, might still be in sight. And to his inexpressible joy she was; not only so, she was scarcely two miles off the port, under sail, and heading for the harbour in company with a British sloop-of-war. She had been recaptured, and ere the news of her audacious seizure had reached the ears of more than a few of the townspeople she was back again in her former berth, and safely moored by chains to the quay.
It was clear to me, and to the rest of the Weymouth's crew, when we mustered that same morning to be paid off, that the incident had inflicted a terribly severe shock upon Mr White's nerves. The poor old boy looked a good ten years older than when he had boarded us in the roads on the previous afternoon and had shaken hands with Captain Winter as he welcomed him home and congratulated him upon having successfully eluded the enemy's cruisers and privateers; but there was a fierce glitter in his eyes and a firm, determined look about his mouth which I, for one, took as an indication that the fright, severe as it undoubtedly was, had not quelled the old man's courage.
The capture of the ship by the Frenchmen occurred during the early hours of a Friday morning; and on the following Tuesday evening I received a message from Mr White, asking me to call upon him, at his office, next day at noon. Punctual to the moment, I presented myself, and was at once ushered into the old gentleman's private sanctum, where I found my employer seated at his desk, with several bundles of papers lying before him. He shook hands with me very cordially, and signed to me to be seated.
"Let me see, George," he commenced. "Your indentures will soon expire, will they not?"
"Yes, Mr White," I answered. "I shall be out of my time on the sixteenth of next month."
"Just so; just so. I thought that they would have about a month to run; but have been too busy the last few days to ascertain the precise date. Well, George," he continued, "I have come to the
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