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A Roving Commission by G. A. Henty

That craft of yours looks very much over sparred


"I

should advise you to keep your weather eye lifting, Mr. Glover," Captain Crosbie said when Nat paid his farewell visit to the frigate; "that craft of yours looks very much over-sparred. If you were caught in a squall with your topsails up the chances are you would turn turtle."

"I will be very careful, sir," Nat said; "although, now she has iron ballast, I think that even with the slight addition in the height of the spars she will be as stiff as she was before in moderate breezes, while she will certainly be faster in light winds."

"That is so," the captain agreed; "and of course it is in light winds that speed is of the most importance. There can be no doubt that in the hands of a careful commander a large spread of canvas is a great advantage, while in the hands of a rash one a craft can hardly be too much under-sparred."

Turnbull, Nat's first officer, was a quiet young fellow, a few months junior to Nat. He was square in build, with a resolute but good-humoured face, and Nat had no doubt that the admiral had selected him as being likely to pull better with him than a more lively and vivacious young fellow would be. From the first day they met on board he was sure that he and Turnbull would get on extremely well together. The latter carried out his suggestions and orders as punctually as he would have done those of a post-captain, going about his work in as steady and business-like

a way as if he had been accustomed for years to perform the duties of a first officer. One evening Nat had asked him and Lippincott to dine with him at an hotel, and ordered a private room.

"I think," he said when the meal was over and the waiter had placed the dessert and wine on the table and had retired, "that we are going to have a very pleasant cruise. I am afraid we sha'n't have much chance of distinguishing ourselves in the fighting way, though we may pick up some of those rascally little craft that prey on the native commerce and capture a small European merchantman occasionally. With our small crew we certainly cannot regard ourselves as a match for any of the regular pirates, who would carry vastly heavier metal, and crews of at least four times our strength. The admiral expressly warned me that it was not intended that the _Arrow_ should undertake that sort of business. Our mission is rather to gain news of what passes in the interior, pick up fugitives who may be hiding in the woods, and act in fact as a sort of floating observatory. Any fighting, therefore, that we may get will be if we are attacked. In that case, of course, we shall do our best. I am sure we shall be a pleasant party on board. Of course in a small craft like this we shall mess together. It is necessary, for the sake of discipline, that when we are on deck we should follow the usual observances, but when we are below together we shall be three mess-mates without any formality or nonsense."

The two juniors remained on their ships until the schooner was out of the hands of the dockyard men. According to custom, Nat did not join until they and the crew had gone on board and spent a day in scrubbing the decks and making everything tidy and ship-shape; then the gig went ashore to fetch him off. As he rowed alongside he could not help smiling at seeing the sentries at the gangway and the two young officers standing there to receive him. However, with an effort he recovered his gravity, mounted the short accommodation ladder, saluted the flag, and returned the salutes of his officers and men. On board the frigate he had been an inconsiderable member of the crowd, now he was monarch of all he surveyed. Then the crew were formed up, and according to custom he read his commission appointing him to the command, and the articles of war.


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