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char·ac·ter.
.

[ˈkerəktər]







NOUN
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1.the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

"running away was not in keeping with her character"



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2.a person in a novel, play, or movie.



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4.
biology

a characteristic, especially one that assists in the identification of a species.



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THE CHILDREN OF FRANCE

A Book of Stories of the Heroism and Self-sacrifice
of Youthful Patriots of France During
the Great War

By


RUTH ROYCE





PHILADELPHIA
HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY

1918






[3]

CONTENTS


CHAPTER


PAGE


I THEIR FIRST HERO 9
II REMI THE BRAVE 15
III THE HEROINE OF FORT MONTERE 33
IV FRANCOIS OUTWITS THE PRUSSIANS 43
V THE SACRIFICE OF LITTLE PIERRE 57
VI A LITTLE SOLDIER OF FRANCE 69
VII SAVED BY A CHILD'S WIT 79
VIII THE CHILD DESPATCH BEARER 89
IX GENÉ AND THE BAVARIAN DRAGOONS 103
X A LITTLE SOLDIER OF MERCY 115
XI A BRAVE LITTLE COWARD 125
XII THE HERO OF THE GUNS 143
XIII MARIE THE COURAGEOUS 163
CONCLUSION 185






[4]



AUTHOR'S NOTE

While the Author cannot personally vouch for the stories related in this volume, she has full confidence in the sources of her information—men who have seen and heard on the battlefields of France, and who have related to her these and many other like incidents illustrating the heroism of the Children of France. Some of the stories the relators have learned through personal observation, while others have come to them indirectly. The author, therefore, believes each story set down here to be authentic, and so offers them to the liberty-loving boys and girls of America.

THE AUTHOR




[5]

INTRODUCTION

The story of the heroism of the Children of France never will be fully told. Many of these little patriots have suffered the supreme penalty for their devotion to their country, leaving neither track nor trace of themselves. That they have disappeared is all that is known of them, and thus the stories of their deeds of valor have died with them.

In no other period of the world's history have there been so many instances of self-sacrificing patriotism on the part of children as have come from France during the great war. Through all such stories as have come to light, there runs a spirit of heroism that is sublime. Such stories should and will prove an inspiration to every boy and girl of America and surely will lead them up to a more perfect manhood and womanhood.

[6]

In this little volume are set down the stories of many devoted little French boys and girls, some of whom have offered their lives for their country, others of whom have passed through perils that would try the strongest and bravest of men, and yet lived to be honored by a grateful government for their deeds of heroism. How Remi the Brave, a lad of ten, won the Cross of War; the story of Little Mathilde who saved the French garrison from the Uhlan raiders; Marie the Courageous, who remained at home when the Germans captured the town in which she lived, and kept the French informed, knowing that if caught she would surely be shot as a spy; how the Hero of the Guns saved the day by working the machine guns when nearly all their crews were dead or wounded; the story of the Little Soldier of Mercy who, though a timid lad, forgot his fears, and working under fire saved the life of many a wounded man; how Little Gené locked the Bavarian Dragoons in the cellar of her home and captured the [7] lot of them, are a few of the thrilling tales of the patriotism and heroism of the Children of France that form one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of the great world war. They will make the heart of every boy and girl beat faster, they will grip the heartstrings of all who read and bring them to a better realization of their duty to their Flag and to their Country.
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CHAPTER VI

[69]

A LITTLE SOLDIER OF FRANCE

The children were eagerly waiting to give the Captain a welcome when he limped out to meet his young friends on the lawn next morning. There were no tardy ones at these sittings, in fact so interested were they in the wonderful stories they were hearing, that they nearly always were ahead of time.

"We shall begin at once with a story that I know will thrill you all," said the Captain, as Joe Funk assisted him into his chair.

"The little hero that I shall tell you about today is one of the most remarkable of the child patriots of France. I think you will agree with me in that after you have heard the story.

"His name was Rene. Rene had been [70] with the army for some time, though he was only fourteen years old, making himself useful in many ways and fighting when he had the opportunity, which was more than seldom. For valiant service he had been made a corporal, so you may know he was brave and courageous, for the French do not encourage children to join their army, much less do they give them men's work and responsibilities.

"At the time to which I refer, the colonel of Rene's regiment had need of a man of courage and resource to carry certain important orders to the commanders in front-line trenches. This was early in the war when communication had not been worked out as scientifically as it has been since. For this duty the child offered his services.

"'This mission, I need not tell you, will prove a most perilous one,' warned the colonel.

"'I know it, my colonel. I am ready. I have but one life and that belongs to France.'

[71]

"'Bravely spoken. Now take careful heed to what I have to say to you so that you forget not the slightest detail of it.' Rene was then given final and detailed orders added to which was an urgent request to be careful of himself, for his own sake as well as for that of his country.

"After repeating his orders, showing that he had them well in mind, the lad left headquarters, his face radiant with joy at being entrusted with a mission such as this, a mission that would take him where he knew death would face him at every step. He had not far to go before reaching the zone of fire. Shells soon were bursting about him and machine-gun fire was sweeping the field with a perfect rain of steel.

"'Bang away all you like,' jeered the little fellow. 'Your voices I have heard before, but the French have stronger and more deadly voices than have you.'

"He finally arrived safely at the first trench. You understand he had been above ground all the time, while the fighters were [72] in the trenches, where they had more protection. It was the over-fire that he was obliged to plod through, and you who have never seen a battle do not realize what a fierce thing this over-fire is. His orders having been safely delivered, Rene proceeded on his troubled way to the trench where he was to deliver the second orders.

"The first part of this leg of the journey was more or less screened from the view of the enemy, but now a wide barren space, swept by shell fire, lay before him. It was almost certain death to venture into that open field. Rene knew it, but did not hesitate. It was not that he feared for his own life, but that he did not wish to lose it before he had fulfilled his mission.

"For better protection the lad dropped on hands and toes and ran along like a dog, thus far untouched by bullets, though they were thick as a nest of liberated bumble bees about his head.

"'The worst is about over now and I [73] shall soon be in the trenches,' he told himself encouragingly. He already could see the tops of the helmets of the soldiers in the trenches.

"A shell exploded close by at this juncture and a shell splinter struck him in the leg, leaving a wound. Rene rolled over on his back and grabbed the leg with both hands, then, with his first-aid bandage, bound the leg tightly above the wound so that he might not bleed to death. He was already much weakened from loss of blood.

"Having done all he could for himself, Rene started off again, dragging himself along with great effort, determined to reach the trench and deliver his orders, which he finally succeeded in doing.

"'You have been wounded. You shall not go on,' declared the commander after reading the orders and understanding fully what was still before the brave lad. 'You should go back to the hospital. I will send a man on to deliver the other orders.'

"'Monsieur le Capitaine, I have been [74] ordered to this duty. I must go on until I have fully obeyed my orders. Time enough for others to carry them after I am killed. But I shall not be—not until the orders are in the hands of the commanders in the trenches on this sector.'

"'You cannot walk; you have lost much blood,' protested the captain.

"'It matters not, sir; I can creep. That once was the only way I knew how to walk.'

"'Then go, my brave lad, and God be with you.'

"Rene saluted formally, though the effort of raising his hand sent shooting pains all through his body. He climbed laboriously from the trench and emerged into the bullet-swept plain once more. It was with a great effort that he even dragged himself along. He felt himself growing weaker with the moments. Every few yards he was compelled to lie over on his back for rest and to gain fresh strength for the next spurt. It required the most heroic courage for one in Rene's condition to go on. But he [75] grimly stuck to it, creeping wearily along.

"The end of the journey was now in sight, though the way still seemed long. No longer able to creep, the little messenger began to roll. It was slow progress and he suffered agonies, but every roll brought him that much nearer to his destination and the fulfillment of his mission. At last an officer in a front-line trench discovered him. Rene made a signal to the officer.

"Just then another huge shell struck the ground near the boy and burst with a terrific crash and roar that shook the earth for a long distance all about. The brave child was again hit by a splinter and this time mortally wounded. He knew that the end was near and his thoughts went back to his parents, to his home in the little village which he had left to go to war only a short time before.

"Rene roused himself with a supreme effort and again began to roll toward the trench.

"Stretcher bearers, observing his plight, [76] ran to his rescue, themselves unmindful of the storm of steel that was sweeping the plain back of the trenches. They tenderly picked the child up and bore him safely to the trench, where he was placed in a first-aid station in a bomb-proof dugout.

"'Tell monsieur le Capitaine that I have orders for him—important orders,' gasped the little soldier. 'Tell him to come quickly, for I shall not long be able to tell him what I have to say.'

"The captain, having been hurriedly summoned, hastened to the dugout. He gathered the dying lad tenderly in his arms, and, placing an ear close to the boy's lips, received from Rene the orders of the colonel, down to the last detail.

"The final word of these orders was Rene's last. He died in the arms of the captain, who tenderly laid him down.

"'Thus dies another hero of France,' murmured the officer, striding from the dugout, making no effort to hide the tears that were trickling down both cheeks.

[77]

"This little hero, my friends, offers a lesson in courage and devotion that each of you will do well always to remember," said Captain Favor in conclusion. "Tomorrow I shall tell you another story, if the weather permits of my coming out here. Au revoir, little friends."
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CHAPTER VII

[79]

SAVED BY A CHILD'S WIT

"This time I will tell you about a quick-witted little French girl," said Captain Favor. "She was a stout-hearted little woman, full of spirit and as fearless as she was keen, as you shall see.

"It is not only the French lads who are quick-witted and brave. The girls are fully as much so, and all are filled with the same wonderful spirit of patriotism and love of country, as you you already have learned from the stories I have told you.

"This little woman's name was Jeanne; she had just turned eleven years when the incidents I am about to relate occurred. For some time the news had been coming to the village in which she lived of the wicked deeds of a company of German lancers. [80] These lancers were roving from village to village, stealing whatever they could lay their hands on, and mistreating the women and children. It was a terrible thing to do, but nothing new for the Prussians. As in other towns of which I have told you, all the able-bodied men of this village had gone to the war.

"To guard against surprise the inhabitants of Jeanne's home town had placed watchers on the outskirts of the village that the people might be notified in advance of the approach of the enemy's detachments.

"One afternoon the warning came, and, while expected, it was a shock to the people and their hearts were filled with fear. They closed and locked their doors, pulled down the shades and took refuge in their cellars. Not a person was to be seen in the streets; the village appeared to be deserted.

"'The Prussians are coming!' was the startling cry that had sent the inhabitants flying to the cellars, after which a great silence reigned in the little place.

[81]

"Soon after that a troop of Prussian lancers rode quietly into the village, alert for surprises, for they had confidently expected to see French soldiers ere this. Not a French soldier was in sight, so the invaders concluded there was nothing to fear. However, they decided to question some of the villagers.

"The house that Jeanne lived in was the first one the lancers came to. Jeanne, like others, had taken to the cellar with her parents, where they remained for a long time, tremblingly awaiting the arrival of their enemies. Not a sound thus far having been heard, the family wondered if the Prussians had come and gone. They fervently hoped this were true.

"'I will go and find out,' volunteered the little girl.

"'It is not safe,' objected the mother. 'If they are still here and should discover you, all would not be well with you, my daughter. You might be killed. I cannot permit it.'

[82]

"'Have no fears, mother; I will listen for every sound in the street and will go no further than the door. They shall neither see nor hear me.'

"The mother gave a reluctant consent and Jeanne crept upstairs, stepped quietly to the door and unbolted it, intending to open the door a few inches and peer out.

"At that instant the door was rudely forced open from the outside. A German officer and several men pushed their way in. The officer caught Jeanne in a listening attitude.

"'Halt!' he commanded, the lances of his men thrust out so close to the little girl that it seemed as if they already had pierced her. 'Listening, are you?'

"'Yes, monsieur,' she answered truthfully.

"'Why?'

"'That I might know if you had gone so I might once more go out to the street.'

"The officer laughed. [83]

"'You have nothing to fear if you tell us the truth. We would have certain information from you, child.'

"'Yes, monsieur.'

"'If you do not truthfully answer all my questions, you and all the rest will be shot.'

"'I do not fear you, sir. I will answer you well.'

"'Good. Then tell me, are there any French soldiers here?'

"'There are none here, sir.'

"'Neither here nor elsewhere in the village?'

"'There are none here, as I have said. I know not whether there are any in the village or not, for I have not seen any since a detachment passed through here two days ago.'

"'Is this the truth?'

"She looked at the officer with an expression of amazement that he should doubt her word.

"'Come, I will show you; I will prove to you that what I say is the truth.'

[84] "'It is well,' answered the Prussian officer, now reassured. 'We will pass on. It is good that you have not lied to us, child,' he said. 'It were better if all the French were so truthful, but, alas, they are not. Forward!'

"The Prussians departed, Jeanne watching them from the door. 'No, there are no French soldiers here,' she chuckled. 'Perhaps there may be just outside the village. And if so, alas for the Prussians!'

"A short distance beyond the village stood a large farmhouse in a vast yard, the latter being surrounded by a high stone wall. Within were trees and shade, so the place looking very attractive to the tired Prussians. Their commander ordered a halt and, opening the gate that led to the grounds, he ordered his men in for a rest. They tied their horses to trees and threw themselves down on the grass in great content.

"The place seemed deserted, but that some one was about was evidenced when the [85] gate through which they had entered was quietly closed and locked by no less a person than the little Jeanne herself. She had followed the Prussians at a distance, hoping to be able to give a signal to her friends if they might still be in the farmhouse, but, finding a better opportunity for serving them, had locked the lancers within the enclosure. Having done this, she ran as fast as her nimble feet would carry her for her own home.

"The tired lancers lay down to sleep while their commander strolled up to the house and beat on the door with the hilt of his saber. To his amazement the door was suddenly jerked open and a French dragoon dragged him in by the collar. The commander was a prisoner.

"A detachment of French soldiers were secreted in the house, where they had been waiting for some days for this very opportunity, knowing that the Prussians were headed that way. Yet, though the German commander had been deceived, little Jeanne [86] had not told him an untruth. She knew the French soldiers had been at the farmhouse three days before, for she had taken food to them, but she did not know of her own knowledge that they still were there. If she did not tell the officer the whole truth it was because he had not asked her, and for the sake of her beloved France she would not volunteer information that would aid the Germans.

"'Betrayed!' raged the Prussian when he saw how neatly he had been tricked. He groaned when a volley rang out from the house and several of his lancers fell.

"His men made a frantic rush for their horses; then, when they discovered that the gate was locked and that they were caught, they threw up their hands and surrendered to the foe that they had not yet seen.

"The French made every one of the lancers a prisoner. Several had been wounded, but none was killed.

"Credit was given to little Jeanne for placing the lancers in the hands of the [87] French soldiers, for had she not done this the French would have attacked the Prussians in the open and might have lost many men in the fight that would have followed.

"For her part in this fine capture little Jeanne in time received a letter from the President of the French Republic, thanking her in the name of France for her quick wit and for her heroism."
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Captain Frederick Marryat

"Frank Mildmay"



Chapter One.


These are the errors, and these are the fruits of mis-spending our prime youth at the schools and universities, as we do, either in learning mere words, or such things chiefly as were better unlearned. Milton.

My father was a gentleman, and a man of considerable property. In my infancy and childhood I was weak and sickly, but the favourite of my parents beyond all my brothers and sisters, because they saw that my mind was far superior to my sickly frame, and feared they should never raise me to manhood; contrary, however, to their expectations, I surmounted all these untoward appearances, and attracted much notice from my liveliness, quickness of repartee, and impudence: qualities which have been of much use to me through life.

I can remember that I was both a coward and a boaster; but I have frequently remarked that the quality which we call cowardice, in a child, implies no more than a greater sense of danger, and consequently a superior intellect. We are all naturally cowards: education and observation teach us to discriminate between real and apparent danger; pride teaches the concealment of fear; and habit render us indifferent to that from which we have often escaped with impunity. It is related of the Great Frederick that he misbehaved the first time he went into action; and it is certain that a novice in such a situation can no more command all his resources than a boy when first bound apprentice to a shoemaker can make a pair of shoes. We must learn our trade, whether it be to stand steady before the enemy or to stitch a boot; practice alone can make a Hoby or a Wellington.

I pass on to my school-days, when the most lasting impressions are made. The foundation of my moral and religious instruction had been laid with care by my excellent parents; but, alas! from the time I quitted the paternal roof not one stone was added to the building; and even the traces of what existed were nearly obliterated by the deluge of vice which threatened soon to overwhelm me. Sometimes, indeed, I feebly, but ineffectually, endeavoured to stem the torrent; at others, I suffered myself to be borne along with all its fatal rapidity. I was frank, generous, quick, and mischievous; and I must admit that a large portion of what sailors call “devil” was openly displayed, and a much larger portion latently deposited in my brain and bosom. My ruling passion, even in this early stage of life was pride. Lucifer himself, if he ever was seven years old, had not more. If I have gained a fair name in the service, if I have led instead of followed, it must be ascribed to this my ruling passion. The world has often given me credit for better feelings, as the source of action; but I am not writing to conceal, and the truth must be told.

I was sent to school to learn Latin and Greek, of which there are various ways of teaching. Some tutors attempt the suaviter in modo, my schoolmaster preferred the fortiter in re, and, as the boatswain said, by the “instigation” of a large knotted stick, he drove knowledge into our skulls as a caulker drives oakum into the seams of a ship. Under such tuition, we made astonishing progress; and whatever my less desirable acquirements may have been, my father had no cause to complain of my deficiency in classic lore. Superior in capacity to most of my schoolfellows, I seldom took the pains to learn my lesson previous to going up with the class: “the master’s blessing,” as we called it, did occasionally descend on my devoted head, but that was a bagatelle; I was too proud not to keep pace with my equals, and too idle to do more.

Had my schoolmaster been a single man, my stay under his care might have been prolonged to my advantage; but, unfortunately, both for him and for me, he had a helpmate, and her peculiarly unfortunate disposition was the means of corrupting those morals over which it was her duty to have watched with the most assiduous care. Her ruling passions were suspicion and avarice, written in legible characters in her piercing eyes and sharp-pointed nose. She never supposed us capable of telling the truth, so we very naturally never gave ourselves the trouble to cultivate a useless virtue, and seldom resorted to it unless it answered our purpose better than a lie. This propensity of Mrs Higginbottom converted our candour and honesty into deceit and fraud. Never believed, we cared little about the accuracy of our assertions; half-starved through her meanness and parsimony, we were little scrupulous as to the ways and means provided we could satisfy our hunger; and thus we soon became as great adepts in the elegant accomplishments of lying and thieving, under her tuition, as we did in Greek and Latin under that of her husband.
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A large orchard, fields, garden, and poultry-yard, attached to the establishment, were under the care and superintendence of the mistress, who usually selected one of the boys as her prime minister and confidential adviser. This boy, for whose education his parents were paying some sixty or eighty pounds per annum, was permitted to pass his time in gathering up the windfalls; in watching the hens, and bringing in their eggs when their cackling throats had announced their safe accouchement; looking after the broods of young ducks and chickens, et hoc genus omne; in short, doing the duty of what is usually termed the odd man in the farm-yard. How far the parents would have been satisfied with this arrangement, I leave my readers to guess; but to us who preferred the manual to mental exertion, exercise to restraint, and any description of cultivation to that of cultivating the mind, it suited extremely well; and accordingly no place in the gift of government was ever the object of such solicitude and intrigue, as was to us schoolboys the situation of collector and trustee of the eggs and apples.

I had the good fortune to be early selected for this important post, and the misfortune to lose it soon after, owing to the cunning and envy of my schoolfellows and the suspicion of my employers. On my first coming into office, I had formed the most sincere resolutions of honesty and vigilance; but what are good resolutions when discouraged on the one hand by the revilings of suspicion, and assailed on the other by the cravings of appetite? My morning’s collection was exacted from me to the very last nut, and the greedy eyes of my mistress seemed to inquire for more. Suspected when innocent, I became guilty out of revenge; was detected and dismissed. A successor was appointed, to whom I surrendered all my offices of trust, and having perfect leisure, I made it my sole business to supplant him.

It was an axiom in mathematics with me at that time, though not found in Euclid, that wherever I could enter my head, my whole body might follow. As a practical illustration of this proposition, I applied my head to the arched hole of the hen-house door, and by scraping away a little dirt, contrived to gain admittance, and very speedily transferred all the eggs to my own chest. When the new purveyor arrived, he found nothing but “a beggarly account of empty boxes;” and his perambulations in the orchard and garden, for the same reason, were equally fruitless. The pilferings of the orchard and garden I confiscated as droits; but when I had collected a sufficient number of eggs to furnish a nest, I gave information of my pretended discovery to my mistress, who, thinking she had not changed for the better, dismissed my successor, and received me into favour again. I was, like many greater men, immediately reinstated in office when it was discovered that they could not do without me. I once more became chancellor of the hen-roost and ranger of the orchard, with greater power than I had possessed before my disgrace. Had my mistress looked half as much in my face as she did into my hatful of eggs, she would have read my guilt; for at that unsophisticated age I could blush, a habit long since discarded in the course of my professional duties.

In order to preserve my credit and my situation, I no longer contented myself with windfalls, but assisted nature in her labours, and greatly lightened the burthen of many a loaded fruit-tree; by these means, I not only gratified the avarice of my mistress at her own expense, but also laid by a store for my own use. On my restoration to office, I had an ample fund in my exchequer to answer all present demands; and, by a provident and industrious anticipation, was enabled to lull the suspicions of my employers, and to bid defiance to the opposition. It will readily be supposed that a lad of my acuteness did not omit any technical management for the purpose of disguise; the fruits which I presented were generally soiled with dirt at the ends of the stalks, in such a manner as to give them all the appearance of “felo de se,” i.e. fell of itself. Thus, in the course of a few months, did I become an adept of vice, from the mismanagement of those into whose hands I was intrusted to be strengthened in religion and virtue.

Fortunately for me, as far as my education was concerned, I did not long continue to hold this honourable and lucrative employment. One of those unhappy beings called an usher peeped into my chest, and by way of acquiring popularity with the mistress and scholars, forthwith denounced me to the higher powers. The proofs of my peculation were too glaring, and the amount too serious, to be passed over; I was tried, convicted, condemned, sentenced, flogged, and dismissed in the course of half an hour; and such was the degree of turpitude attached to me on this occasion, that I was rendered for ever incapable of serving in that or any other employment connected with the garden or farm; I was placed at the bottom of the list, and declared to be the worst boy in the school.

This in many points of view was too true; but there was one boy who bade fair to rival me on the score of delinquency; this was Tom Crauford, who from that day became my most intimate friend. Tom was a fine spirited fellow, up to everything, loved mischief, though not vicious, and was ready to support me in everything through thick and thin; and truly I found him sufficient employment. I threw off all disguise, laughed at any suggestion of reform, which I considered as not only useless, but certain of subjecting me to ridicule and contempt among my associates. I therefore adopted the motto of some great man, “to be rather than seem to be.” I led in every danger; declared war against all drivellers and half-measures; stole everything that was eatable from garden, orchard, or hen-house, knowing full well that whether I did so or not, I should be equally suspected. Thenceforward all fruit missed, all arrows shot into pigs, all stones thrown into the windows, and all mud spattered over clean linen hung out to dry, were traced to Tom and myself; and with the usual alacrity of an arbitrary police, the space between apprehension and punishment was very short—we were constantly brought before the master, and as regularly dismissed with “his blessing,” till we became hardened to blows and to shame.

Thus, by the covetousness of this woman, who was the grey mare, and the folly of the master, who, in anything but Greek and Latin, was an ass, my good principles were nearly eradicated from my bosom, and in their place were sown seeds which very shortly produced an abundant harvest.
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My intercourse with the admiral was about as friendly and flattering. Pompey and I were on the poop. I presented him with a piece of hide to gnaw, by way of pastime. The admiral came on the poop, and seeing Pompey thus employed, asked who gave him that piece of hide? The yeoman of the signals said it was me. The admiral shook his long spy-glass at me, and said, “By God, sir, if ever you give Pompey a bit of hide again, I will flog you.”

This is all I have to say of the admiral, and all the admiral ever said to me.



Chapter Eight.


Since laws were made for every degree,

I wonder we haven’t better company on Tyburn tree.

“Beggar’s Opera.”



While I was on board of this ship, two poor men were executed for mutiny. The scene was far more solemn to me than anything I had ever beheld. Indeed, it was the first thing of the kind I had ever been present at. When we hear of executions on shore, we are always prepared to read of some foul atrocious crime, some unprovoked and unmitigated offence against the laws of civilised society, which a just and merciful government cannot allow to pass unpunished. With us at sea there are many shades of difference; but that which the law of our service considers a serious offence is often no more than an ebullition of local and temporary feeling, which in some cases might be curbed, and in others totally suppressed by timely firmness and conciliation.

The ships had been a long time at sea, the enemy did not appear, and there was no chance either of bringing him to action or of returning into port. Indeed, nothing can be more dull and monotonous than a blockading cruise “in the team,” as we call it; that is, the ships of the line stationed to watch an enemy. The frigates have, in this respect, every advantage; they are always employed on shore, often in action, and the more men they have killed, the happier are the survivors. Some melancholy ferment on board of the flag-ship I was in, caused an open mutiny. Of course it was very soon quelled; and the ringleaders having been tried by a court-martial, two of them were condemned to be hanged at the yard-arm of their own ship, and were ordered for execution the following day but one.

Our courts-martial are always arrayed in the most pompous manner, and certainly are calculated to strike the mind with awe—even of a captain himself. A gun is fired at eight o’clock in the morning from the ship where it is to be held, and a union flag is displayed at the mizen peak. If the weather be fine, the ship is arranged with the greatest nicety; her decks are as white as snow—her hammocks are stowed with care—her ropes are taut—her yards square—her guns run out—and a guard of marines, under the orders of a lieutenant, prepared to receive every member of the court with the honour due to his rank. Before nine o’clock they are all assembled; the officers in their undress uniform, unless an admiral is to be tried. The great cabin is prepared, with a long table covered with a green cloth. Pens, ink, paper, prayer-books, and the Articles of War are laid round to every member. “Open the court,” says the president.

The court is opened, and officers and men indiscriminately stand round. The prisoners are now brought in under the charge of the provost-marshal, a master-at-arms, with his sword drawn, and placed at the foot of the table, on the left hand of the judge-advocate. The court is sworn to do its duty impartially, and if there is any doubt, to let it go in favour of the prisoner. Having done this, the members sit down, covered, if they please.

The judge-advocate is then sworn, and the order for the court-martial read. The prisoner is put on his trial; if he says anything to commit himself, the court stops him, and kindly observes, “We do not want your evidence against yourself; we want only to know what others can prove against you.” The unfortunate man is offered any assistance he may require; and when the defence is over, the court is cleared, the doors are shut, and the minutes, which have been taken down by the judge-advocate, are carefully read over, the credibility of the witnesses weighed, and the president puts the question to the youngest member first, “Proved, or not proved?”

All having given their answer, if seven are in favour of “Proved,” and six against, “Proved” is recorded. The next question—if for mutiny or desertion, or other capital crime—“Flogging, or death?” The votes are given in the same way; if the majority be for death, the judge-advocate writes the sentence, beginning with the president, and ending with the judge-advocate. The court is now opened again, the prisoner brought in, and an awful and deep silence prevails. The members of the court all put their hats on, and are seated; every one else, except the provost-marshal is uncovered. As soon as the judge-advocate has read the sentence, the prisoner is delivered to the custody of the provost-marshal, by a warrant from the president; and he has charge of him till the time for the execution of the sentence.

About three o’clock in the afternoon, I received a message from one of the prisoners, saying he wished much to speak with me. I followed the master-at-arms down to the screened cabin, in the gun-room, where the men were confined with their legs in irons. These irons consist of one long bar and a set of shackles. The shackles fit the small part of the leg, just above the ankle. The end of the bar is then passed through, and secured with a padlock. I found the poor fellows sitting on a shot-box. Their little meal lay before them untouched; one of them cried bitterly; the other, a man of the name of Strange, possessed a great deal of equanimity, although evidently deeply affected. This man had been pretty well educated in youth, but having taken a wild and indolent turn, had got into mischief, and to save himself from a severe chastisement, had run away from his friends, and entered on board a man-of-war. In this situation he had found time, in the intervals of duty, to read and to think; he became, in time, sullen, and separated himself from the occasional merriment of his mess-mates; and it is not improbable that this moody temper had given rise to the mutinous acts for which he was to suffer.
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Old 07-13-2019
Froggy Froggy is offline
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This man now apologised for the liberty he had taken, and said he would not detain me long. “You see, sir,” said he, “that my poor friend is quite overcome with the horror of his situation: nor do I wonder at it. He is very different from the hardened malefactors that are executed on shore: we are neither of us afraid to die; but such a death as this, Mr Mildmay—to be hung up like dogs, an example to the fleet, and a shame and reproach to our friends—this wrings our hearts! It is this consideration, and to save the feelings of my poor mother, that I have sent for you. I saw you jump overboard to save a poor fellow from drowning; so I thought you would not mind doing a good turn for another unfortunate sailor. I have made my will, and appointed you my executor; and with this power of attorney you will receive all my pay and prize-money, which I will thank you to give to my dear mother, whose address you will find written here. My motive for this is, that she may never learn the history of my death. You can tell her that I died for my country’s good, which is very true, for I acknowledge the justice of my sentence, and own that a severe example is wanting. It is eleven years since I was in England; I have served faithfully the whole of that time, nor did I ever misbehave except in this one instance. I think if our good king knew my sad story, he would be merciful; but God’s will be done! Yet, if I had a wish, it would be that the enemy’s fleet would come out, and that I might die, as I have lived, defending my country. But, Mr Mildmay, I have one very important question to ask you—do you believe that there is such a thing as a future state?”

“Most surely,” said I; “though we all live as if we believed there was no such thing. But why do you doubt it?”

“Because,” said the poor fellow, “when I was an officer’s servant, I was one day tending the table in the ward-room, and I heard the commander of a sloop of war, who was dining there with his son, say that it was all nonsense—that there was no future state, and the Bible was a heap of lies. I have never been happy since.”

I told him that I was extremely sorry that any officer should have used such expressions at all, particularly before him; that I was incapable of restoring his mind to its proper state; but that I should recommend his immediately sending for the chaplain, who, I had no doubt, would give him all the comfort he could desire. He thanked me for this advice, and profited by it, as he assured me in his last moments.

“And now, sir,” said he, “let me give you a piece of advice. When you are a captain, as I am very sure you will be, do not worry your men into mutiny by making what is called a smart ship. Cleanliness and good order are what seamen like; but niggling, polishing, scraping iron bars and ring-bolts, and the like of that, a sailor dislikes more than a flogging at the gangway. If, in reefing topsails, you happen to be a minute later than another ship, never mind it, so long as your sails are well reefed, and fit to stand blowing weather. Many a sail is split by bad reefing, and many a good sailor has lost his life by that foolish hurry which has done incredible harm in the navy. What can be more cruel or unjust than to flog the last man off the yard? seeing that he is necessarily the most active, and cannot get in without the imminent danger of breaking his neck; and, moreover, that one man must be last. Depend upon it, sir, ‘that nothing is well done which is done in a hurry.’ But I have kept you too long. God bless you, sir; remember my poor mother, and be sure you meet me on the forecastle to-morrow morning.”

The fatal morning came. It was eight o’clock. The gun fired—the signal for punishment flew at our mast-head. The poor men gave a deep groan, exclaiming, “Lord have mercy upon us!—our earthly career and troubles are nearly over!” The master-at-arms came in, unlocked the padlock at the end of the bars, and, slipping off the shackles, desired the marine sentinels to conduct the prisoners to the quarter-deck.

Here was a scene of solemnity which I hardly dare attempt to describe. The day was clear and beautiful; the top-gallant yards were crossed on board of all the ships; the colours were flying; the crews were all dressed in white trousers and blue jackets, and hung in clusters, like bees; on the side of the rigging facing our ship: a guard of marines, under arms, was placed along each gangway, but on board of our ship they were on the quarter-deck. Two boats from each ship lay off upon their oars alongside of us, with a lieutenant’s and a corporal’s guard in each, with fixed bayonets. The hands were all turned up by the boatswain and his mates with a shrill whistle, and calling down each hatchway, “All hands, attend punishment!”

You now heard the quick trampling of feet up the ladders, but not a word was spoken. The prisoners stood on the middle of the quarter-deck, while the captain read the sentence of the court-martial and the order from the commander-in-chief for the execution. The appropriate prayers and psalms having been read by the chaplain with much feeling and devotion, the poor men were asked if they were ready; they both replied in the affirmative, but each requested to have a glass of wine, which was instantly brought. They drank it off, bowing most respectfully to the captain and officers.

The admiral did not appear, it not being etiquette; but the prisoners desired to be kindly and gratefully remembered to him; they then begged to shake hands with the captain and all the officers, which having done, they asked permission to address the ship’s company. The captain ordered them all to come aft on the top and quarter-deck. The most profound silence reigned, and there was not an eye but had a tear in it.

William Strange, the man who had sent for me, then said, in a clear and audible tone of voice:— “Brother sailors, attend to the last words of a dying man. We are brought here at the instigation of some of you who are now standing in safety among the crowd: you have made fools of us, and we are become the victims to the just vengeance of the laws. Had you succeeded in the infamous design you contemplated, what would have been the consequences? Ruin, eternal ruin, to yourselves and to your families; a disgrace to your country; and the scorn of those foreigners to whom you proposed delivering up the ship. Thank God! you did not succeed. Let our fate be a warning to you, and endeavour to show by your future acts your deep contrition for the past. Now, sir,” turning to the captain, “we are ready.”
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Old 07-13-2019
Froggy Froggy is offline
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This beautiful speech, from the mouth of a common sailor, must as much astonish the reader as it then did the captain and officers of the ship. But Strange, as I have shown, was no common man; he had had the advantage of education, and, like many of the ringleaders at the mutiny of the Nore, was led into the error of refusing to obey, from the conscious feeling that he was born to command.

The arms of the prisoners were then pinioned, and the chaplain led the way, reading the funeral service; the master-at-arms, with two marine sentinels, conducted them along the starboard gangway to the forecastle. Here a stage was erected on either side, over the cathead, with steps to ascend to it; a tail block was attached to the boom-iron, at the outer extremity of each foreyard-arm, and through this a rope was rove, one end of which came down to the stage; the other was led along the yard into the catharpings, and thence down upon the main deck. A gun was primed and ready to fire, on the fore part of the ship, directly beneath the scaffold.

I attended poor Strange to the very last moment; he begged me to see that the halter, which was a piece of line, like a clothes’ line, was properly made fast round his neck, for he had known men suffer dreadfully from the want of this precaution. A white cap was placed on the head of each man, and when both mounted the platform, the cap was drawn over their eyes. They shook hands with me, with their mess-mates, and with the chaplain, assuring him that they died happy, and confident in the hopes of redemption. They then stood still while the yard-ropes were fixed to the halter by a toggle in the running noose of the latter; the other end of the yard-ropes were held by some twenty or thirty men on each side of the main deck, where two lieutenants of the ship attended.

All being ready, the captain waved a white handkerchief, the gun fired, and in an instant the poor fellows were seen swinging at either yard-arm. They had on blue jackets and white trousers, and were remarkably fine-looking young men. They did not appear to suffer any pain; and at the expiration of an hour, the bodies were lowered down, placed in coffins, and sent on shore for interment.

On my arrival in England, nine months after, I acquitted myself of my promise, and paid to the mother of William Strange upwards of fifty pounds, for pay and prize-money. I told the poor woman that her son had died a Christian, and had fallen for the good of his country; and having said this, I took a hasty leave, for fear she should ask questions.

That the execution of a man on board of a ship of war does not always produce a proper effect upon the minds of the younger boys, the following fact may serve to prove. There were two little fellows on board the ship; one was the son of the carpenter, the other of the boatswain. They were both of them surprised and interested at the sight, but not proportionably shocked. The next day I was down in one of the wings, reading by the light of a purser’s dip—vulgo, a farthing candle; when these two boys come sliding down the main hatchway by one of the cables. Whether they saw me, and thought I would not ‘peach’, or whether they supposed I was asleep, I cannot tell; but they took their seats on the cables, in the heart of the tier, and for some time appeared to be in earnest conversation. They had some articles folded up in a dirty check shirt and pocket handkerchief; they looked up at the battens, to which the hammocks are suspended, and producing a long rope-yarn, tried to pass it over one of them; but unable to reach, one boy climbed on the back of the other, and effected two purposes, by reeving one end of the line, and bringing it down to the cables again. They next unrolled the shirt, and, to my surprise, took out the boatswain’s kitten, about three months old; its fore paws were tied behind its back, its hind feet were tied together, and a fishing-lead attached to them; a piece of white rag was tied over its head as a cap.

It was now pretty evident what the fate of poor puss was likely to be, and why the lead was made fast to her feet. The rope-yarn was tied round her neck; they each shook one of her paws, and pretended to cry. One of the urchins held in his hand a fife into which he poured as much flour as it would hold out of the handkerchief; the other held the end of the rope-yarn: every ceremony was gone through that they could think of.

“Are you ready?” said the executioner, or he that held the line.

“All ready,” replied the boy with the fife.

“Fire the gun!” said the hangman.

The boy applied one end of the fife to his mouth, blew out all the flour, and in this humble imitation of the smoke of a gun, poor puss was run up to the batten, where she hung till she was dead. I am ashamed to say I did not attempt to save the kitten’s life, although I caused her foul murder to be revenged by the cat. After the body had hung a certain time, they took it down, and buried it in the shot-locker; this was an indictable offence, as the smell would have proved, so I lodged the information; the body was found, and, as the facts were clear, the law took its course, to the great amusement of the bystanders, who saw the brats tied upon a gun and well flogged.

The boatswain ate the kitten, first, he said, because he had “larned” to eat cats in Spain; secondly, because she had not died a natural death (I thought otherwise); and his last reason was more singular than either of the others: he had seen a picture in a church in Spain, of Peter’s vision of the animals let down in the sheet, and there was a cat among them. Observing an alarm of scepticism in my eye, he thought proper to confirm his assertion with an oath.

“Might it not have been a rabbit?” said I.

“Rabbit, sir! damn me, think I didn’t know a cat from a rabbit? Why one has got short ears and long tail, and t’other has got wicce wercee, as we calls it.”

A grand carnival masquerade was to be given at Minorca, in honour of the English, and the place chosen for the exhibition was a church; all which was perfectly consistent with the Romish faith. I went in the character of a fool, and met many brother officers there. It was a comical sight to see the anomalous groups stared at by the pictures of the Virgin Mary and all the saints, whose shrines were lit up for the occasion with wax tapers. The admiral, rear-admiral, and most of the captains and officers of the fleet were present; the place was about a mile from the town.

Having hired a fool’s dress, I mounted that very appropriate animal—a donkey, and set off amidst the shouts of a thousand dirty vagabonds. On my arrival, I began to show off in summersaults, leaps, and all kinds of practical jokes. The manner in which I supported the character drew a little crowd around me. I never spoke to an admiral or captain unless he addressed me first, and then I generally sold him a bargain. Being very well acquainted with the domestic economy of the ships on the station, a martinet asked me if I would enter for his ship.
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Old 07-13-2019
Froggy Froggy is offline
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economy of the ships on the station, a martinet asked me if I would enter for his ship.

“No,” said I, “you would give me three-dozen for not lashing up my hammock properly.”

“Come with me,” said another.

“No,” said I; “your bell-rope is too short—you cannot reach it to order another bottle of wine before all the officers have left your table.”

Another promised me kind treatment and plenty of wine.

“No,” said I, “in your ship I should be coals at Newcastle; besides, your coffee is too weak, your steward only puts one ounce into six cups.”

These hits afforded a good deal of mirth among the crowd, and even the admiral himself honoured me with a smile. I bowed respectfully to his lordship, who merely said—

“What do you want of me, fool?”

“Oh, nothing at all my lord,” said I; “I have only a small favour to ask of you.”

“What is that?” said the admiral.

“Only to make me a captain, my lord.”

“Oh, no,” said the admiral, “we never make fools captains.”

“No!” said I, clapping my arms akimbo in a very impertinent manner; “then that, I suppose is a new regulation. How long has the order in council been out?”

The good-humoured old chief laughed heartily at this piece of impertinence; but the captain whose ship I had so recently quitted was silly enough to be offended: he found me out, and went and complained of me to the captain the next day; but my captain only laughed at him, said he thought it an excellent joke, and invited me to dinner.

Our ship was ordered to Gibraltar, where we arrived soon after; and a packet coming in from England, I received letters from my father, announcing the death of my dearest mother. Oh how I then regretted all the sorrows I had ever caused her; how incessantly did busy memory haunt me with all my misdeeds, and recall to mind the last moment I had seen her! I never supposed I could have regretted her half so much. My father stated that in her last moments she had expressed the greatest solicitude for my welfare. She feared the career of life on which I had entered would not conduce to my eternal welfare, however much it might promise to my temporal advantage. Her dying injunctions to me were, never to forget the moral and religious principles in which she had brought me up; and with her last blessing, implored me to read my Bible, and take it as my guide through life.

My father’s letter was both an affecting and forcible appeal; and never, in the whole course of my subsequent life, were my feelings so worked upon as they were on that occasion. I went to my hammock with an aching head and an almost broken heart. A retrospection of my life afforded me no comfort. The numerous acts of depravity or pride, of revenge or deceit, of which I had been guilty, rushed through my mind, as she tempest through the rigging, and called me to the most serious and melancholy reflections. It was some time before I could collect my thoughts and analyse my feelings; but when I recalled all my misdeeds—my departure from that path of virtue so often and so clearly laid down by my affectionate parent—I was overwhelmed with grief, shame and repentance. I considered how often I had been on the brink of eternity; and had I been cut off in my sins, what would have been my destiny? I started with horror at the danger I had escaped, and looked forward with gloomy apprehension at those that still awaited me. I sought in vain, among all my actions since I left my mother’s care, one single deed of virtue—one that sprang from a good motive. There was, it is true, an outward gloss and polish for the world to look at; but all was dark within; and I felt that a keener eye than that of mortality was searching my soul, where deception was worse than useless.

At twelve o’clock, before I had once closed my eyes, I was called to relieve the deck; having what is called the middle-watch, i.e. from midnight till four in the morning. We had, the day before, buried a quarter-master, nick-named Quid, an old seaman who had destroyed himself by drinking—no very uncommon case in His Majesty’s service. The corpse of a man who has destroyed his inside by intemperance is generally in a state of putridity immediately after death: and the decay, particularly in warm climates, is very rapid. A few hours after Quid’s death, the body emitted certain effluvia denoting the necessity of immediate interment. It was accordingly sewn up in a hammock; and as the ship lay in deep water, with a current sweeping round the bay, and the boats being at the same time all employed in the dockyard, the first lieutenant caused shot to be tied to the feet, and, having read the funeral service, launched the body overboard from the gangway, as the ship lay at anchor.

I was walking the deck, in no very happy state of mind, reflecting seriously on parts of that Bible which for more than two years I had never looked into, when my thoughts were called to the summons which poor Quid had received, and the beauty of the funeral service which I had read over him—“I am the resurrection and the life.” The moon, which had been obscured, suddenly burst from a cloud, and a cry of horror proceeded from the look-out-man on the starboard gangway. I ran to inquire the cause, and found him in such a nervous state of agitation that he could only say,—“Quid—Quid!” and point with his finger into the water.

I looked over the side, and, to my amazement there was the body of Quid:


“All in dreary hammock shrouded.”
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