Tom Cringle's Logby Michael Scott
During his years in the West Indies, Tom Cringle's Log took shape in Scott's mind as a series of maritime and tropical adventure
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Michael Scott (1789-1835) spent much of his life in the West Indies during one of the most dynamic periods in British colonial history. A plantation manager and merchant in Jamaica, his knowledge of Caribbean pirates was first-hand.
During his years in the West Indies, Tom Cringle's Log took shape in Scott's mind as a series of maritime and tropical adventure sketches. Later, after they were published anonymously in Blackwood's Magazine, the tales were melded together as an exciting novel.
"One of the most accurate pictures of West Indian life, both afloat and on shore, during the early part of the nineteenth century." —Reader's Digest of Books
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- Edinburgh W. Blackwood
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Tom Cringle's Log
By Michael Scott
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1999 McBooks Press
All rights reserved.
THE LAUNCHING OF THE LOG.
"While rapidly the marksman's shot prevailed, And aye as if for death some lonely trumpet wailed."
Gertrude of Wyoming.
DAZZLED BY the glories of Trafalgar, I, Thomas Cringle, one fine morning in the merry month of May, in the year one thousand eight hundred and so and so, magnanimously determined in my own mind that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland should no longer languish under the want of a successor to the immortal Nelson, and being then of the great perpendicular altitude of four feet four inches, and of the mature age of thirteen years, I thereupon betook myself to the praiseworthy task of tormenting, to the full extent of my small ability, every man and woman who had the misfortune of being in any way connected with me, until they had agreed to exert all their interest, direct or indirect, and concentrate the same in one focus upon the head and heart of Sir Barnaby Blueblazes, vice-admiral of the red squadron, a Lord of the Admiralty, and one of the old plain K.B.'s (for he flourished before the time when a gallant action or two tagged half of the letters of the alphabet to a man's name, like the tail of a paper kite), in order that he might be graciously pleased to have me placed on the quarterdeck of one of his Majesty's ships of war without delay.
The stone I had set thus recklessly a-rolling had not been in motion above a fortnight, when it fell with unanticipated violence, and crushed the heart of my poor mother, while it terribly braised that of me, Thomas; for as I sat at breakfast with the dear old woman one fine Sunday morning, admiring my new blue jacket and snow-white trousers, and shining well-soaped face, and nicely brushed hair, in the pier glass over the chimney-piece, I therein saw the door behind me open, and Nicodemus, the waiting-man, enter, and deliver a letter to the old lady, with a formidable-looking seal.
I perceived that she first ogled the superscription, and then the seal, very ominously, and twice made as if she would have broken the missive open, but her heart seemed as often to fail her. At length she laid it down — heaved a long deep sigh — took off her spectacles, which appeared dim, dim — wiped them, put them on again, and, making a sudden effort, tore open the letter, read it hastily over, but not so rapidly as to prevent her hot tears falling with a small tiny tap tap on the crackling paper.
Presently she pinched my arm, pushed the blistered manuscript under my nose, and, utterly unable to speak to me, rose, covered her face with her hands, and left the room weeping bitterly. I could hear her praying in a low, solemn, yet sobbing and almost inarticulate voice, as she crossed the passage to her own dressing room. "Even as thou wilt, O Lord — not mine, but thy holy will be done; yet, oh! it is a bitter bitter thing for a widowed mother to part with her only boy."
Now came my turn, as I read the following epistle three times over, with a most fierce countenance, before thoroughly understanding whether I was dreaming or awake — in truth, poor little fellow as I was, I was fairly stunned.
"Admiralty, such a date.
DEAR MADAM, — It gives me very great pleasure to say that your son is appointed to the Breeze frigate, now fitting at Portsmouth for foreign service. Captain Wigemwell is a most excellent officer, and a good man, and the schoolmaster on board is an exceedingly decent person, I am informed; so I congratulate you on his good fortune in beginning his career, in which I wish him all success, under such favourable auspices. As the boy is, I presume, all ready, you had better send him down on Thursday next, at latest, as the frigate will go to sea, wind and weather permitting, positively on Sunday morning.
"I remain, my dear Madam,
"Yours very faithfully,
However much I had been moved by my mother's grief, my false pride came to my assistance, and my first impulse was to chant a verse of some old tune, in a most doleful manner. "All right — all right," I then exclaimed, as I thrust half a doubled-up muffin into my gob; but it was all chew chew, and no swallow — not a morsel could I force down my parched throat, which tightened like to throttle me.
Old Nicodemus had by this time again entered the room, unseen and unheard, and startled me confoundedly, as he screwed his words in his sharp cracked voice into my larboard ear. "Jane tells me your mamma is in a sad taking, Master Tom. You ben't going to leave us, all on a heap like, be you? Surely you'll stay until your sister comes from your uncle Job's? You know there are only two on ye — You won't leave the old lady all alone, Master Thomas, will ye?" The worthy old fellow's voice quavered here, and the tears hopped over his old cheeks through the flour and tallow like peas, as he slowly drew a line down the forehead of his well-powdered pate with his forefinger.
"No — no — why, yes," exclaimed I, fairly overcome; "that is — oh Nic, Nic, — you old fool, I wish I could cry, man — I wish I could cry!" and straightway I hied me to my chamber, and wept until I thought my very heart would have burst.
In my innocence and ignorance, child as I was, I had looked forward to several months' preparation; to buying and fitting of uniforms, and dirks, and cocked hat, and swaggering therein, to my own great glory, and the envy of all my young relations; and especially I desired to parade my fire-new honours before the large dark eyes of my darling little creole cousin, Mary Palma; whereas I was now to be bundled on board at a few days' warning, out of a ready-made furnishing shop, with lots of ill-made, glossy, hard-mangled duck trousers, the creases as sharp as the backs of knives, and —" Oh, it never rains but it pours," exclaimed I; "surely all this promptitude is a little de plus in Sir Barnaby."
However, away I was trundled at the time appointed, with an aching heart, to Portsmouth, after having endured the misery of a first parting from a fond mother and a host of kind friends; but, miserable as I was, according to my preconceived determination, I began my journal the very day I arrived, that nothing connected with so great a man should be lost, and most weighty did the matters therein related appear to me at the time; but, seen through the long vista of, I won't say how many years, I really must confess that the Log, for long long after I first went to sea in the Breeze, and subsequently when removed to the old Kraaken line-of-battle ship, both of which were constantly part of blockading squadrons, could be compared to nothing more fitly than a dish of trifle, anciently called syllabub, with a stray plum here and there scattered at the bottom. But when, after several weary years, I got away in the dear old Torch, on a separate cruise, incidents came fast enough with a vengeance — stern, unyielding, iron events, as I found to my heavy cost, which spoke out trumpet-tongued and fiercely for themselves, and whose tremendous simplicity required no adventitious aid in the narration to thrill through the hearts of others. So, to avoid yarn-spinning, I shall evaporate my early Logs, and blow off as much of the froth as I can, in order to present the residuum free of flummery to the reader — just to give him a taste here and there, as it were, of the sort of animal I was at that time. Thus:
Thomas Cringle, his Log-book. —
Arrived in Portsmouth, by the Defiance, at ten a.m., on such a day. Waited on the Commissioner, to whom I had letters, and said I was appointed to the Breeze. Same day, went on board and took up my berth; stifling hot; mouldy biscuit; and so on. My mother's list makes it fifteen shirts, whereas I only have twelve.
Admiral made the signal to weigh, wind at S.W., fresh and squally. Stockings should be one dozen worsted, three of cotton, two of silk; find only half a dozen worsted, two of cotton, and one of silk. Fired a gun and weighed.
Sailed for the fleet off Vigo, deucedly sea-sick; was told that fat pork was the best specific, if bolted half raw; did not find it much of a tonic; — passed a terrible night, and for four hours of it obliged to keep watch, more dead than alive. The very second evening we were at sea, it came on to blow, and the night fell very dark, with heavy rain. Towards eight bells in the middle watch, I was standing on a gun, well forward on the starboard side, listening to the groaning of the maintack, as the swelling sail, the foot of which stretched transversely right athwart the ship's deck in a black arch, struggled to tear it up, like some dark impalpable spirit of the air striving to burst the chains that held him and escape high up into the murky clouds, or a giant labouring to uproot an oak, and wondering in my innocence how hempen cord could brook such strain — when just as the long-waited-for strokes of the bell sounded gladly in mine ear, and the shrill clear note of the whistle of the boatswain's mate had been followed by his gruff voice, grumbling hoarsely through the gale, "Larboard watch, ahoy!" the look-out at the weather gangway, who had been relieved, and beside whom I had been standing a moment before, stepped past me, and scrambled up on the booms. "Hillo, Howard, where away, my man?" said I.
"Only to fetch my —"
Crack! — the maintack parted, and up flew the sail with a thundering flap, loud as the report of a cannon-shot, through which, however, I could distinctly hear a heavy smash, as the large and ponderous blocks at the clew of the sail struck the doomed sailor under the ear, and whirled him off the booms into the sea, where he perished, as heaving-to was impossible, and useless if practicable, as his head must have been smashed to atoms.
This is one of the stray plums of the trifle; what follows is a whisk of the froth, written when we looked into Corunna, about a week after the embarkation of the army: —
MONODY ON THE DEATH OF SIR JOHN MOORE.
Farewell, thou pillar of the war,
Warm-hearted soldier, Moore, farewell,
In honor's firmament a star,
As bright as e'er in glory fell.
Deceived by weak or wicked men,
How gallantly thou stoodst at bay,
Like lion hunted to his den,
Let France tell, on that bloody day.
No boastful splendour round thy bier,
No blazoned trophies o'er thy grave;
But thou hadst more, the soldier's tear,
The heart-warm offering of the brave.
On Lusitania's rock-girt coast,
All coffinless thy relics lie,
Where all but honour bright was lost,
Yet thy example shall not die.
Albeit no funeral knell was rung,
Nor o'er thy tomb in mournful wreath
The laurel twined with cypress hung,
Still shall it live while Britons breathe.
What though, when thou wert lowly laid,
Instead of all the pomp of woe,
The volley o'er thy bloody bed
Was thundered by an envious foe? —
Inspired by it in after time,
A race of heroes will appear,
The glory of Britannia's clime,
To emulate thy bright career.
And there will be, of martial fire,
Those who all danger will endure;
Their first, best aim, but to aspire
To die thy death — the death of Moore.
To return. On the evening of the second day, we were off Falmouth, and then got a slant of wind that enabled us to lie our course.
Next morning, at daybreak, saw a frigate in the north-east quarter, making signals; — soon after we bore up. Bay of Biscay — tremendous swell — Cape Finisterre — blockading squadron off Cadiz — in-shore squadron — and so on, all trifle and no plums.
At length the Kraaken, in which I had now served for some time, was ordered home; and, sick of knocking about in a fleet, I got appointed to a fine eighteen-gun sloop, the Torch, in which we sailed, on such a day, for the North Sea — wind foul — weather thick and squally; but towards evening on the third day, being then off Harwich, it moderated, when we made more sail, and stood on, and next morning, in the cold, miserable, drenching haze of an October daybreak, we passed through a fleet of fishing-boats at anchor. "At anchor," thought I, "and in the middle of the sea," — but so it was — all with their tiny cabooses, smoking cheerily, and a solitary figure, as broad as it was long, stiffly walking to and fro on the confined decks of the little vessels. It was now that I knew the value of the saying, "A fisherman's walk, two steps and overboard." With regard to these same fishermen, I cannot convey a better notion of them, than by describing one of the two North Sea pilots whom we had on board. This pilot was a tall, raw-boned subject, about six feet or so, with a blue face — I could not call it red — and a hawk's bill nose of the colour of bronze. His head was defended from the weather by what is technically called a south-west — pronounced sow-west — cap, which is in shape like the thatch of a dustman, composed of canvass, well tarred, with no snout, but having a long flap hanging down the back to carry the rain over the cape of the jacket. His chin was imbedded in a red comforter that rose to his cars. His trunk was first of all eased in a shirt of worsted stocking-net; over this he had a coarse linen shirt, then a thick cloth waistcoat; a shag jacket was the next layer, and over that was rigged the large cumbrous pea-jacket, reaching to his knees. As for his lower spars, the rig was still more peculiar; — first of all, he had on a pair of most comfortable woollen stockings, what we call fleecy hosiery — and the beauties are peculiarly nice in this respect — then a pair of strong fear-naught trowsers; over these again are drawn up another pair of stockings, thick, coarse, rig-and-furrow as we call them in Scotland, and above all this were drawn a pair of long, well-greased, and liquored boots, reaching half-way up the thigh, and altogether impervious to wet. However comfortable this costume may be in bad weather in-board, it is clear enough that any culprit so swathed would stand a poor chance of being saved were he to fall overboard. The wind now veered round and round, and baffled, and checked us off, so that it was the sixth night after we had taken our departure from Harwich before we saw Heligoland light. We then bore away for Cuxhaven, and I now knew for the first time that we had a government emissary of some kind or another on board, although he had hitherto confined himself strictly to the captain's cabin.
All at once it came on to blow from the north-east, and we were again driven back among the English fishing-boats. The weather was thick as buttermilk, so we had to keep the bell constantly ringing, as we could not see the jib-boom end from the forecastle. Every now and then we heard a small, hard, clanking tinkle, from the fishing-boats, as if an old pot had been struck instead of a bell, and a faint hollo, "Fishing-smack," as we shot past them in the fog, while we could scarcely see the vessels at all. The morning after this particular time to which I allude, was darker than any which had gone before it; absolutely you could not see the breadth of the ship from you; and as we had not taken the sun for five days, we had to grope our way almost entirely by the lead. I had the forenoon watch, during the whole of which we were amongst a little fleet of fishing-boats, although we could scarcely see them; but being unwilling to lose ground by lying to, we fired a gun every half hour, to give the small craft notice of our vicinity, that they might keep their bells agoing. Every three or four minutes the marine drum-boy, or some amateur performer — for most sailors would give a glass of grog any day to be allowed to beat a drum for five minutes on end — beat a short roll, and often as we drove along, under a reefed foresail, and close-reefed topsails, we could hear the answering tinkle before we saw the craft from which it proceeded; and when we did perceive her as we flew across her stern, we could only see it, and her mast, and one or two well-swathed, hardy fishermen, the whole of the little vessel forward being hid in a cloud.
I had been invited this day to dine with the captain, — Mr Splinter, the first-lieutenant, being also of the party; the cloth had been withdrawn, and we had all had a glass or two of wine a-piece, when the fog settled down so thickly, although it was not more than five o'clock in the afternoon, that the captain desired that the lamp might be lit. It was done, and I was remarking the contrast between the dull, dusky, brown light, or rather the palpable London fog, that came through the skylight, and the bright yellow sparkle of the lamp, when the master came down the ladder. "We have shoaled our water to five fathoms, sir — shells and stones. Here, Wilson, bring in the lead."
Excerpted from Tom Cringle's Log by Michael Scott. Copyright © 1999 McBooks Press. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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Meet the Author
Michael Scott (1789-1835) was a Scottish merchant who migrated to the West Indies. He first published these stories in serial form in Blackwood's Magazine from 1829 to 1833.
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