SEA-ADVENTURES VERY NEW AND SURPRISING. When they arrived at Harwich they found a vessel, which had put in there, just ready to depart for Rotterdam. So they went immediately on board, and sailed with a fair wind; but they had hardly proceeded out of sight of land when a sudden and violent storm arose and drove them to the southwest; insomuch that the captain apprehended it impossible to avoid the Goodwin Sands, and he and all his crew gave themselves up for lost. Mrs. Heartfree, who had no other apprehensions from death but those of leaving her dear husband and children, fell on her knees to beseech the Almighty's favour, when Wild, with a contempt of danger truly great, took a resolution as worthy to be admired perhaps as any recorded of the bravest hero, ancient or modern; a resolution which plainly proved him to have these two qualifications so necessary to a hero, to be superior to all the energies of fear or pity. He saw the tyrant death ready to rescue from him his intended prey, which he had yet devoured only in imagination. He therefore swore he would prevent him, and immediately attacked the poor wretch, who was in the utmost agonies of despair, first with solicitation, and afterwards with force.
Mrs. Heartfree, the moment she understood his meaning, which, in her present temper of mind, and in the opinion she held of him, she did not immediately, rejected him with all the repulses which indignation and horror could animate: but when he attempted violence she filled the cabin with her shrieks, which were so vehement that they reached the ears of the captain, the storm at this time luckily abating. This man, who was a brute rather from his education and the element he inhabited than from nature, ran hastily down to her assistance, and, finding her struggling on the ground with our hero, he presently rescued her from her intended ravisher, who was soon obliged to quit the woman, in order to engage with her lusty champion, who spared neither pains nor blows in the assistance of his fair passenger.
When the short battle was over, in which our hero, had he not been overpowered with numbers, who came down on their captain's side, would have been victorious, the captain rapped out a hearty oath, and asked Wild, if he had no more Christianity in him than to ravish a woman in a storm? To which the other greatly and sullenly answered, "It was very well; but d--n him if he had not satisfaction the moment they came on shore." The captain with great scorn replied, "Kiss,---" &c., and then, forcing Wild out of the cabbin, he, at Mrs. Heartfree's request, locked her into it, and returned to the care of his ship.
The storm was now entirely ceased, and nothing remained but the usual ruffling of the sea after it, when one of the sailors spied a sail at a distance, which the captain wisely apprehended might be a privateer (for we were then engaged in a war with France), and immediately ordered all the sail possible to be crowded; but his caution was in vain, for the little wind which then blew was directly adverse, so that the ship bore down upon them, and soon appeared to be what the captain had feared, a French privateer. He was in no condition of resistance, and immediately struck on her firing the first gun. The captain of the Frenchman, with several of his hands, came on board the English vessel, which they rifled of everything valuable, and, amongst the rest, of poor Mrs. Heartfree's whole cargo; and then taking the crew, together with the two passengers, aboard his own ship, he determined, as the other would be only a burthen to him, to sink her, she being very old and leaky, and not worth going back with to Dunkirk. He preserved, therefore, nothing but the boat, as his own was none of the best, and then, pouring a broadside into her, he sent her to the bottom.
The French captain, who was a very young fellow, and a man of gallantry, was presently enamoured to no small degree with his beautiful captive; and imagining Wild, from some words he dropt, to be her husband, notwithstanding the ill affection towards him which appeared in her looks, he asked her if she understood French. She answered in the affirmative, for indeed she did perfectly well. He then asked her how long she and that gentleman (pointing to Wild) had been married. She answered, with a deep sigh and many tears, that she was married indeed, but not to that villain, who was the sole cause of all her misfortunes. That appellation raised a curiosity in the captain, and he importuned her in so pressing but gentle a manner to acquaint him with the injuries she complained of, that she was at last prevailed on to recount to him the whole history of her afflictions. This so moved the captain, who had too little notions of greatness, and so incensed him against our hero, that he resolved to punish him; and, without regard to the laws of war, he immediately ordered out his shattered boat, and, making Wild a present of half-a-dozen biscuits to prolong his misery, he put him therein, and then, committing him to the mercy of the sea, proceeded on his cruize.
THE GREAT AND WONDERFUL BEHAVIOUR OF OUR HERO IN THE BOAT. It is probable that a desire of ingratiating himself with his charming captive, or rather conqueror, had no little share in promoting this extraordinary act of illegal justice; for the Frenchman had conceived the same sort of passion or hunger which Wild himself had felt, and was almost as much resolved, by some means or other, to satisfy it. We will leave him however at present in the pursuit of his wishes, and attend our hero in his boat, since it is in circumstances of distress that true greatness appears most wonderful. For that a prince in the midst of his courtiers, all ready to compliment him with his favourite character or title, and indeed with everything else, or that a conqueror, at the head of a hundred thousand men, all prepared to execute his will, how ambitious, wanton, or cruel soever, should, in the giddiness of their pride, elevate themselves many degrees above those their tools, seems not difficult to be imagined, or indeed accounted for. But that a man in chains, in prison, nay, in the vilest dungeon, should, with persevering pride and obstinate dignity, discover that vast superiority in his own nature over the rest of mankind, who to a vulgar eye seem much happier than himself; nay, that he should discover heaven and providence (whose peculiar care, it seems, he is) at that very time at work for him; this is among the arcana of greatness, to be perfectly understood only by an adept in that science.
What could be imagined more miserable than the situation of our hero at this season, floating in a little boat on the open seas, without oar, without sail, and at the mercy of the first wave to overwhelm him? nay, this was indeed the fair side of his fortune, as it was a much more eligible fate than that alternative which threatened him with almost unavoidable certainty, viz., starving with hunger, the sure consequence of a continuance of the calm.
Our hero, finding himself in this condition, began to ejaculate a round of blasphemies, which the reader, without being over-pious, might be offended at seeing repeated. He then accused the whole female sex, and the passion of love (as he called it), particularly that which he bore to Mrs. Heartfree, as the unhappy occasion of his present sufferings. At length, finding himself descending too much into the language of meanness and complaint, he stopped short, and after broke forth as follows: "D--n it, a man can die but once! what signifies it? Every man must die, and when it is over it is over. I never was afraid of anything yet, nor I won't begin now; no, d--n me, won't I. What signifies fear? I shall die whether I am afraid or no: who's afraid then, d---n me?" At which words he looked extremely fierce, but, recollecting that no one was present to see him, he relaxed a little the terror of his countenance, and, pausing a while, repeated the word, d--n! "Suppose I should be d--ned at last," cries he, "when I never thought a syllable of the matter? I have often laughed and made a jest about it, and yet it may be so, for anything which I know to the contrary. If there should be another world it will go hard with me, that is certain. I shall never escape for what I have done to Heartfree. The devil must have me for that undoubtedly. The devil! Pshaw! I am not such a fool to be frightened at him neither. No, no; when a man's dead there's an end of him. I wish I was certainly satisfied of it though: for there are some men of learning, as I have heard, of a different opinion. It is but a bad chance, methinks, I stand. If there be no other world, why I shall be in no worse condition than a block or a stone: but if there should----d--n me I will think no longer about it.--Let a pack of cowardly rascals be afraid of death, I dare look him in the face. But shall I stay and be starved?--No, I will eat up the biscuits the French son of a whore bestowed on me, and then leap into the sea for drink, since the unconscionable dog hath not allowed me a single dram." Having thus said, he proceeded immediately to put his purpose in execution, and, as his resolution never failed him, he had no sooner despatched the small quantity of provision which his enemy had with no vast liberality presented him, than he cast himself headlong into the sea.