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The Middy and the Moors: An Algerine Story

The Middy and the Moors: An Algerine Story

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


One beautiful summer night, about the beginning of the present century, a young naval officer entered the public drawing-room of a hotel at Nice, and glanced round as if in search of some one...
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  One beautiful summer night, about the beginning of the present century,

  a young naval officer entered the public drawing-room of a hotel at

  Nice, and glanced round as if in search of some one.

  Many people were assembled there--some in robust, others in delicate,

  health, many in that condition which rendered it doubtful to which class

  they belonged, but all engaged in the quiet buzz of conversation which,

  in such a place, is apt to set in after dinner.

  The young Englishman, for such he evidently was, soon observed an

  elderly lady beckoning to him at the other end of the _salon_, and was

  quickly seated between her and a fragile girl whose hand he gently took

  hold of.

  "Mother," he said, to the elderly lady, "I'm going to have a row on the

  Mediterranean. The night is splendid, the air balmy, the stars


  "Now, George," interrupted the girl, with a little smile, "don't be

  flowery. We know all about that."

  "Too bad," returned the youth; "I never rise to poetry in your presence,

  Minnie, without being snubbed. But you cannot cure me. Romance is too

  deeply ingrained in my soul. Poetry flows from me like--like anything!

  I am a midshipman in the British Navy, a position which affords scope

  for the wildest enthusiasm, and--and--I'll astonish you yet, see if I


  "I am sure you will, dear boy," said his mother; and she believed that

  he would!

  "Of course you will," added his sister; and she at least hoped that he


  To say truth, there was nothing about the youth--as regards appearance

  or character--which rendered either the assurance or the hope

  unwarrantable. He was not tall, but he was strong and active. He was

  not exactly handsome, but he was possessed of a genial, hearty

  disposition, a playful spirit, and an earnest soul; also a modestly

  reckless nature which was quite captivating.

  "You won't be anxious about me, mother, if I don't return till pretty

  late," he said, rising. "I want a good long, refreshing pull, but I'll

  be back in time to say good-night to you, Minnie, before you go to


  "Your leave expires on Thursday, mind," said his sister; "we cannot

  spare you long."

  "I shall be back in good time, trust me. _Au revoir_," he said, with a

  pleasant nod, as he left the room.

  And they did trust him; for our midshipman, George Foster, was

  trustworthy; but those "circumstances" over which people have "no

  control" are troublesome derangers of the affairs of man. That was the

  last the mother and sister saw of George for the space of nearly two


  Taking his way to the pebbly shore, young Foster hired a small boat, or

  punt, from a man who knew him well, declined the owner's services,

  pushed off, seized the oars, and rowed swiftly out to sea. It was, as

  he had said, a splendid night. The stars bespangled the sky like

  diamond-dust. The water was as clear as a mirror, and the lights of

  Nice seemed to shoot far down into its depths. The hum of the city came

  off with ever-deepening softness as the distance from the shore

  increased. The occasional sound of oars was heard not far off, though

  boats and rowers were invisible, for there was no moon, and the night

  was dark notwithstanding the starlight.

  There was no fear, however, of the young sailor losing himself while the

  city lights formed such a glorious beacon astern.

  After pulling steadily for an hour or more he rested on his oars, gazed

  up at the bright heavens, and then at the land lights, which by that

  time resembled a twinkling line on the horizon.

  "Must 'bout ship now," he muttered. "Won't do to keep Minnie waiting."

  As he rowed leisurely landward a sudden gust of wind from the shore

  shivered the liquid mirror into fragments. It was the advance-guard of

  a squall which in a few minutes rushed down from the mountains of the

  Riviera and swept out upon the darkening sea.

  Young Foster, as we have said, was strong. He was noted among his

  fellows as a splendid oarsman. The squall, therefore, did not

  disconcert him, though it checked his speed greatly. After one or two

  lulls the wind increased to a gale, and in half an hour the youth found,

  with some anxiety, that he was making no headway against it.

  The shore at that point was so much of a straight line as to render the

  hope of being able to slant-in a faint one. As it was better, however,

  to attempt that than to row straight in the teeth of the gale, he

  diverged towards a point a little to the eastward of the port of Nice,

  and succeeded in making better way through the water, though he made no

  perceptible approach to land.

  "Pooh! It's only a squall--be over in a minute," said the middy, by way

  of encouraging himself, as he glanced over his shoulder at the

  flickering lights, which were now barely visible.

  He was wrong. The gale increased. Next time he glanced over his

  shoulder the lights were gone. Dark clouds were gathering up from the

  northward, and a short jabble of sea was rising which occasionally sent

  a spurt of spray inboard. Feeling now that his only chance of regaining

  the shore lay in a strong, steady, persevering pull straight towards it,

  he once more turned the bow of the little boat into the wind's eye, and

  gave way with a will.

  But what could human muscle and human will, however powerful, do against

  a rampant nor'wester? Very soon our hero was forced to rest upon his

  oars from sheer exhaustion, while his boat drifted slowly out to sea.

  Then the thought of his mother and Minnie flashed upon him, and, with a

  sudden gush, as it were, of renewed strength he resumed his efforts, and

  strained his powers to the uttermost--but all in vain.

  Something akin to despair now seized on him, for the alternative was to

  drift out into the open sea, where no friendly island lay between him

  and the shores of Africa. The necessity for active exertion, however,

  gave him no time either to rest or think. As the distance from land

  increased the seas rose higher, and broke so frequently over the boat

  that it began to fill. To stop rowing--at least, to the extent of

  keeping the bow to the wind--would have risked turning broadside-on, and

  being overturned or swamped; there was nothing, therefore, to be done in

  the circumstances except to keep the boat's head to the wind and drift.

  In the midst of the rushing gale and surging seas he sat there, every

  gleam of hope almost extinguished, when there came to his mind a brief

  passage from the Bible--"Hope thou in God." Many a time had his mother

  tried, in days gone by, to impress that text on his mind, but apparently

  without success. Now it arose before him like a beacon-star. At the

  same time he thought of the possibility that he might be seen and picked

  up by a passing vessel.

  He could not but feel, however, that the chances of this latter event

  occurring were small indeed, for a passing ship or boat would not only

  be going at great speed, but would be very unlikely to see his

  cockle-shell in the darkness, or to hear his cry in the roaring gale.

  Still he grasped that hope as the drowning man is said to clutch at a


  And the hope was quickly fulfilled, for scarcely had another half-hour

  elapsed when he observed a sail--the high-peaked sail peculiar to some

  Mediterranean craft--rise, ghost-like, out of the driving foam and

  spray. The vessel was making almost straight for him; he knew that it

  would pass before there could be time to heave a rope. At the risk of

  being run down he rowed the punt in front of it, as if courting

  destruction, but at the same time guided his little craft so skilfully

  that it passed close to leeward, where the vessel's bulwarks were

  dipping into the water. Our middy's aim was so exact that the vessel

  only grazed the boat as it flew past. In that moment young Foster

  sprang with the agility of a cat, capsized the boat with the impulse,

  caught the bulwarks and rigging of the vessel, and in another moment

  stood panting on her deck.

  "Hallo! Neptune, what do _you_ want here?" cried a gruff voice at

  Foster's elbows. At the same time a powerful hand grasped his throat,

  and a lantern was thrust in his face.

  "Let go, and I will tell you," gasped the youth, restraining his

  indignation at such unnecessary violence.

  The grasp tightened, however, instead of relaxing.

  "Speak out, baby-face," roared the voice, referring, in the latter

  expression, no doubt, to our hero's juvenility.

  Instead of speaking out, George Foster hit out, and the voice with the

  lantern went down into the lee scuppers!

  Then, the glare of the lantern being removed from his eyes, George saw,

  by the light of the binnacle lamp, that his adversary, a savage-looking

  Turk--at least in dress--was gathering himself up for a rush, and that

  the steersman, a huge negro, was grinning from ear to ear.

  "Go below!" said a deep stern voice in the Arabic tongue.

  The effect of this order was to cause the Turk with the broken lantern

  to change his mind, and retire with humility, while it solemnised the

  negro steersman's face almost miraculously.

  The speaker was the captain of the vessel; a man of grave demeanour,

  herculean mould, and clothed in picturesque Eastern costume. Turning

  with quiet politeness to Foster, he asked him in broken French how he

  had come on board.

  The youth explained in French quite as much broken as that of his


  "D'you speak English?" he added.

  To this the captain replied in English, still more shattered than his

  French, that he could, "a ver' leetil," but that as he,

the youth

, was

  a prisoner, there would be no occasion for speech at all, the proper

  attitude of a prisoner being that of absolute silence and obedience to


  "A prisoner!" ejaculated Foster, on recovering from the first shock of

  surprise. "Do you know that I am an officer in the Navy of his Majesty

  the King of Great Britain?"

  A gleam of satisfaction lighted up the swarthy features of the Turk for

  a moment as he replied--

  "Ver goot. Ransum all de more greater." As he spoke, a call from the

  look-out at the bow of the vessel induced him to hurry forward.

  At the same instant a slight hissing sound caused Foster to turn to the

  steersman, whose black face was alive with intelligence, while an

  indescribable hitch up of his chin seemed to beckon the youth to

  approach with caution.

  Foster perceived at once that the man wished his communication, whatever

  it was, to be unobserved by any one; he therefore moved towards him as

  if merely to glance at the compass.

  "Massa," said the negro, without looking at Foster or changing a muscle

  of his now stolid visage, "you's in a dreffle fix. Dis yer am a pirit.

  But _I's_ not a pirit, bress you! I's wuss nor dat: I's a awrful

  hyperkrite! an' I wants to give you good adwice. Wotiver you doos,

  _don't resist_. You'll on'y git whacked if you do."

  "Thank you, Sambo. But what if I do resist in spite of being whacked?"

  "Den you bery soon change your mind, das all. Moreober, my name's not

  Sambo. It am Peter de Great."

  As he said so Peter the Great drew himself up to his full height, and he

  drew himself up to six feet four when he did that!

  The captain coming aft at that moment put an abrupt end to the

  conversation. Two powerful Moorish seamen accompanied him. These,

  without uttering a word, seized Foster by the arms. In the strength of

  his indignation our middy was on the point of commencing a tremendous

  struggle, when Peter the Great's "_don't resist_," and the emphasis with

  which it had been spoken, came to mind, and he suddenly gave in. His

  hands were tied behind his back, and he was led down into a small,

  dimly-lighted cabin, where, being permitted to sit down on a locker, he

  was left to his own reflections.

  These were by no means agreeable, as may well be supposed, for he now

  knew that he had fallen into the hands of those pests, the Algerine

  pirates, who at that time infested the Mediterranean.

  With the thoughtlessness of youth Foster had never troubled his mind

  much about the piratical city of Algiers. Of course he knew that it was

  a stronghold on the northern coast of Africa, inhabited by Moorish

  rascals, who, taking advantage of their position, issued from their port

  and pounced upon the merchantmen that entered the Mediterranean,

  confiscating their cargoes and enslaving their crews and passengers, or

  holding them to ransom. He also knew, or had heard, that some of the

  great maritime powers paid subsidies to the Dey of Algiers to allow the

  vessels of their respective nations to come and go unmolested, but he

  could scarcely credit the latter fact. It seemed to him, as indeed it

  was, preposterous. "For," said he to the brother middy who had given

  him the information, "would not the nations whom the Dey had the

  impudence to tax join their fleets together, pay him an afternoon visit

  one fine day, and blow him and his Moors and Turks and city into a heap

  of rubbish?"

  What the middy replied we have now no means of knowing, but certain it

  is that his information was correct, for some of the principal nations

  did, at that time, submit to the degradation of this tax, and they did

  _not_ unite their fleets for the extinction of the pirates.

  Poor George Foster now began to find out that the terrible truths which

  he had refused to believe were indeed great realities, and had now begun

  to affect himself. He experienced an awful sinking of the heart when it

  occurred to him that no one would ever know anything about his fate, for

  the little boat would be sure to be found bottom up, sooner or later,

  and it would of course be assumed that he had been drowned.

  Shall it be said that the young midshipman was weak, or wanting in

  courage, because he bowed his head and wept when the full force of his

  condition came home to him? Nay, verily, for there was far more of

  grief for the prolonged agony that was in store for his mother and

  sister than for the fate that awaited himself. He prayed as well as

  wept. "God help me--and them!" he exclaimed aloud. The prayer was

  brief but sincere,--perhaps the more sincere because so brief. At all

  events it was that acknowledgment of utter helplessness which secures

  the help of the Almighty Arm.

  Growing weary at last, he stretched himself on the locker, and, with the

  facility of robust health, fell into a sound sleep. Youth, strength,

  and health are not easily incommoded by wet garments! Besides, the

  weather was unusually warm at the time.

  How long he slept he could not tell, but the sun was high when he awoke,

  and his clothes were quite dry. Other signs there were that he had

  slept long, such as the steadiness of the breeze and the more regular

  motion of the vessel, which showed that the gale was over and the sea

  going down. There was also a powerful sensation in what he styled his

  "bread-basket"--though it might, with equal truth, have been called his

  meat-and-vegetable basket--which told him more eloquently than anything

  else of the lapse of time.

  Rising from his hard couch, and endeavouring to relieve the aching of

  the bound arms by change of position, he observed that the cabin hatch

  was open, and that nothing prevented his going on deck, if so disposed.

  Accordingly, he ascended, though with some difficulty, owing to his not

  having been trained to climb a ladder in a rough sea without the use of

  his hands.

  A Moor, he observed, had taken his friend Peter the Great's place at the

  tiller, and the captain stood near the stern observing a passing vessel.

  A stiffish but steady breeze carried them swiftly over the waves,

  which, we might say, laughingly reflected the bright sunshine and the

  deep-blue sky. Several vessels of different rigs and nationalities were

  sailing in various directions, both near and far away.

  Going straight to the captain with an air of good-humoured _sang froid_

  which was peculiar to him, Foster said--

  "Captain, don't you think I've had these bits of rope-yarn on my wrists

  long enough? I'm not used, you see, to walking the deck without the use

  of my hands; and a heavy lurch, as like as not, would send me slap into

  the lee scuppers--sailor though I be. Besides, I won't jump overboard

  without leave, you may rely upon that. Neither will I attempt,

  single-handed, to fight your whole crew, so you needn't be afraid."

  The stern Moor evidently understood part of this speech, and he was so

  tickled with the last remark that his habitual gravity gave place to the

  faintest flicker of a smile, while a twinkle gleamed for a moment in his

  eye. Only for a moment, however. Pointing over the side, he bade his

  prisoner "look."

  Foster looked, and beheld in the far distance a three-masted vessel that

  seemed to bear a strong resemblance to a British man-of-war.

  "You promise," said the captain, "not shout or ro-ar."

  "I promise," answered our middy, "neither to `Shout' nor `ro-ar'--for my

  doing either, even though like a bull of Bashan, would be of no earthly

  use at this distance."

  "Inglesemans," said the captain, "niver brok the word!" After paying

  this scarcely-deserved compliment he gave an order to a sailor who was

  coiling up ropes near him, and the man at once proceeded to untie

  Foster's bonds.

  "My good fellow," said the midshipman, observing that his liberator was

  the man whom he had knocked down the night before, "I'm sorry I had to

  floor you, but it was impossible to help it, you know. An Englishman is

  like a bull-dog. He won't suffer himself to be seized by the throat and

  choked if he can help it!"

  The Turk, who was evidently a renegade Briton, made no reply whatever to

  this address; but, after casting the lashings loose, returned to his

  former occupation.

  Foster proceeded to thank the captain for his courtesy and make him

  acquainted with the state of his appetite, but he was evidently not in a

  conversational frame of mind. Before a few words had been spoken the

  captain stopped him, and, pointing down the skylight, said, sharply--

  "Brukfust! Go!"

  Both look and tone admonished our hero to obey. He descended to the

  cabin, therefore, without finishing his sentence, and there discovered

  that "brukfust" consisted of two sea-biscuits and a mug of water. To

  these dainties he applied himself with infinite relish, for he had

  always been Spartan-like as to the quality of his food, and hunger makes

  almost any kind of dish agreeable.

  While thus engaged he heard a hurried trampling of feet on deck, mingled

  with sharp orders from the captain. At first he thought the sounds

  might have reference to taking in a reef to prepare for a squall, but as

  the noise rather increased, his curiosity was roused, and he was about

  to return on deck when Peter the Great suddenly leaped into the cabin

  and took hurriedly from the opposite locker a brace of highly ornamented

  pistols and a scimitar.

  "What's wrong, Peter?" asked Foster, starting up.

  "We's a-goin' to fight!" groaned the negro.

  "Oh! I's a awrful hyperkrite! You stop where you am, massa, else

  you'll get whacked."

  Despite the risk of being "whacked," the youth would have followed the

  negro on deck, had not the hatch been slammed in his face and secured.

  Next moment he heard a volley of musketry on deck. It was instantly

  replied to by a distant volley, and immediately thereafter groans and

  curses showed that the firing had not been without effect.

  That the pirate had engaged a vessel of some sort was evident, and our

  hero, being naturally anxious to see if not to share in the fight, tried

  hard to get out of his prison, but without success. He was obliged,

  therefore, to sit there inactive and listen to the wild confusion

  overhead. At last there came a crash, followed by fiercer shouts and

  cries. He knew that the vessels had met and that the pirates were

  boarding. In a few minutes comparative silence ensued, broken only by

  occasional footsteps and the groaning of the wounded.