A few weeks after this episode the Hoboken was slowly wending her way along the bights of the Bahamas. Fritz, Jack, and Willis were walking and chatting on the quarter-deck. The sky was of a deep azure. The sea was covered with herbs and flowers as far as the eye could reach—sometimes in compact masses of several miles in extent, and at other times in long straight ribbons, as regular as if they had been spread by some West Indian Le Notre. The ship seemed merely displaying her graces in the sunshine, so gentle was she moving in the water. The air was laden with perfumes, and a soft dreamy languor stole over the friends, which they were trying in vain to shake off. In one direction rose the misty heights of St. Domingo, and in another the cloud-capped summits of Cuba. Sometimes the highest peaks of the latter pierced the veil that enveloped them, and seemed like islands floating in the sky, or heads of a race of giants.
“The air here is almost as balmy and fragrant as that of New Switzerland,” remarked Fritz.
“Aye, aye,” said the Pilot; “but it is not all gold that glitters: in these sweet smells a nasty fever is concealed, with which I have no wish to renew my acquaintance.”
“By the way, talking about acquaintances, Willis, have you obtained any further intelligence from your friend Bill, alias Bob?” inquired Jack.
“No, not a syllable; the viper is as cunning as a fox, and keeps his mouth as close as a mouse-trap.”
“He seems as obstinate as a mule, and as obdurate as a Chinaman into the bargain.”
“All that, and more than that; but,” added Willis, “I have found out from the mate that he was pressed on board this ship at New Orleans.”
“Pressed on board?” said Fritz, inquiringly.
“Yes; that is a mode of recruiting for the navy peculiar to England and the United States. Would you like to hear something about how the system is carried out?”
“Yes, Willis, very much.”
“The transactions, however, that I shall have to relate are in no way creditable, either to myself or anybody else connected with them; and I am afraid, when you hear the particulars, you will be ready to turn round and say, your friend the Pilot is no good after all.”
“Have you, then, been desperately wicked, Willis?”
“Well, that depends entirely upon the view you take of what I am to tell you. Listen.”
[H] Sometimes called the Ladrones or Archipelago of Saint Lazarus.
IN WHICH WILLIS SHOWS, THAT THE TERM PRESS-GANG MEANS SOMETHING ELSE BESIDES THE GENTLEMEN OF THE PRESS.
“When I was a youngster, about a year or two older than you are now, Master Fritz, I slipped on board the brig Norfolk as boatswain’s mate. The ship at the time was short of hands, so there was no immediate probability of her weighing anchor; but on the same day I scratched my name on the books a despatch arrived, in consequence of which we left the harbor, and proceeded out to sea under sealed orders. One day, when off the Irish coast, I was called aft by the first lieutenant.