A Tale of the Sea.
J. FENIMORE COOPER
WILLIAM BRANFORD SHUBRICK, ESQ.,
U. S. NAVY.
MY DEAR SHUBRICK,
Each year brings some new and melancholy chasm in what is now the brief list of my naval friends and former associates. War, disease, and the casualties of a hazardous profession have made fearful inroads in the limited number; while the places of the dead are supplied by names that to me are those of strangers. With the consequences of these sad changes before me, I cherish the recollection of those with whom I once lived in close familiarity with peculiar interest, and feel a triumph in their growing reputations, that is but little short of their own honest pride.
But neither time nor separation has shaken our intimacy: and I know that in dedicating to you this volume, I tell you nothing new, when I add that it is a tribute paid to an enduring friendship, by
Your old Messmate,
* * * * *
* * * * *
It is probable a true history of human events would show that a far larger proportion of our acts are the results of sudden impulses and accident, than of that reason of which we so much boast. However true, or false, this opinion may be in more important matters, it is certainly and strictly correct as relates to the conception and execution of this book.
The Pilot was published in 1823. This was not long after the appearance of "The PIRATE," a work which, it is hardly necessary to remind the reader, has a direct connection with the sea. In a conversation with a friend, a man of polished taste and extensive reading, the authorship of the Scottish novels came under discussion. The claims of Sir Walter were a little distrusted, on account of the peculiar and minute information that the romances were then very generally thought to display. The Pirate was cited as a very marked instance of this universal knowledge, and it was wondered where a man of Scott's habits and associations could have become so familiar with the sea. The writer had frequently observed that there was much looseness in this universal knowledge, and that the secret of its success was to be traced to the power of creating that resemblance, which is so remarkably exhibited in those world- renowned fictions, rather than to any very accurate information on the part of their author. It would have been hypercritical to object to the Pirate, that it was not strictly nautical, or true in its details; but, when the reverse was urged as a proof of what, considering the character of other portions of the work, would have been most extraordinary attainments, it was a sort of provocation to dispute the seamanship of the Pirate, a quality to which the book has certainly very little just pretension. The result of this conversation was a sudden determination to produce a work which, if it had no other merit, might present truer pictures of the ocean and ships than any that are to be found in the Pirate. To this unpremeditated decision, purely an impulse, is not only the Pilot due, but a tolerably numerous school of nautical romances that have succeeded it.
The author had many misgivings concerning the success of the undertaking, after he had made some progress in the work; the opinions of his different friends being anything but encouraging. One would declare that the sea could not be made interesting; that it was tame, monotonous, and without any other movement than unpleasant storms, and that, for his part, the less he got of it the better. The women very generally protested that such a book would have the odor of bilge water, and that it would give them the maladie de mer. Not a single individual among all those who discussed the merits of the project, within the range of the author's knowledge, either spoke, or looked, encouragingly. It is probable that all these persons anticipated a signal failure.
So very discouraging did these ominous opinions get to be that the writer was, once or twice, tempted to throw his manuscript aside, and turn to something new. A favorable opinion, however, coming from a very unexpected quarter, put a new face on the matter, and raised new hopes. Among the intimate friends of the writer was an Englishman, who possessed most of the peculiar qualities of the educated of his country. He was learned even, had a taste that was so just as always to command respect, but was prejudiced, and particularly so in all that related to this country and its literature. He could never be persuaded to admire Bryant's Water-Fowl, and this mainly because if it were accepted as good poetry, it must be placed at once amongst the finest fugitive pieces of the language. Of the Thanatopsis he thought better, though inclined to suspect it of being a plagiarism. To the tender mercies of this one- sided critic, who had never affected to compliment the previous works of the author, the sheets of a volume of the Pilot were committed, with scarce an expectation of his liking them. The reverse proved to be the case;—he expressed himself highly gratified, and predicted a success for the book which it probably never attained.
Thus encouraged, one more experiment was made, a seaman being selected for the critic. A kinsman, a namesake, and an old messmate of the author, one now in command on a foreign station, was chosen, and a considerable portion of the first volume was read to him. There is no wish to conceal the satisfaction with which the effect on this listener was observed. He treated the whole matter as fact, and his criticisms were strictly professional, and perfectly just. But the interest he betrayed could not be mistaken. It gave a perfect and most gratifying assurance that the work would be more likely to find favor with nautical men than with any other class of readers.
The Pilot could scarcely be a favorite with females. The story has little interest for them, nor was it much heeded by the author of the book, in the progress of his labors. His aim was to illustrate vessels and the ocean, rather than to draw any pictures of sentiment and love. In this last respect, the book has small claims on the reader's attention, though it is hoped that the story has sufficient interest to relieve the more strictly nautical features of the work.
It would be affectation to deny that the Pilot met with a most unlooked- for success. The novelty of the design probably contributed a large share of this result. Sea-tales came into vogue, as a consequence; and, as every practical part of knowledge has its uses, something has been gained by letting the landsman into the secrets of the seaman's manner of life. Perhaps, in some small degree, an interest has been awakened in behalf of a very numerous, and what has hitherto been a sort of proscribed class of men, that may directly tend to a melioration of their condition.
It is not easy to make the public comprehend all the necessities of a service afloat. With several hundred rude beings confined within the narrow limits of a vessel, men of all nations and of the lowest habits, it would be to the last degree indiscreet to commence their reformation by relaxing the bonds of discipline, under the mistaken impulses of a false philanthropy. It has a lofty sound, to be sure, to talk about American citizens being too good to be brought under the lash, upon the high seas; but he must have a very mistaken notion who does not see that tens of thousands of these pretending persons on shore, even, would be greatly benefited by a little judicious flogging. It is the judgment in administering, and not the mode of punishment, that requires to be looked into; and, in this respect, there has certainly been a great improvement of late years. It is seldom, indeed, that any institution, practice, or system, is improved by the blind interference of those who know nothing about it. Better would it be to trust to the experience of those who have long governed turbulent men, than to the impulsive experiments of those who rarely regard more than one side of a question, and that the most showy and glittering; having, quite half of the time, some selfish personal end to answer.
There is an uneasy desire among a vast many well-disposed persons to get the fruits of the Christian Faith, without troubling themselves about the Faith itself. This is done under the sanction of Peace Societies, Temperance and Moral Reform Societies, in which the end is too often mistaken for the means. When the Almighty sent His Son on earth, it was to point out the way in which all this was to be brought about, by means of the Church; but men have so frittered away that body of divine organization, through their divisions and subdivisions, all arising from human conceit, that it is no longer regarded as the agency it was so obviously intended to be, and various contrivances are to be employed as substitutes for that which proceeded directly from the Son of God!
Among the efforts of the day, however, there is one connected with the moral improvement of the sailor that commands our profound respect. Cut off from most of the charities of life for so large a portion of his time, deprived altogether of association with the gentler and better portions of the other sex, and living a man in a degree proscribed, amid the many signs of advancement that distinguish the age, it was time that he should be remembered and singled out, and become the subject of combined and Christian philanthropy. There is much reason to believe that the effort, now making in the right direction and under proper auspices, will be successful; and that it will cause the lash to be laid aside in the best and most rational manner,—by rendering its use unnecessary.
COOPERSTOWN, August 20, 1829.
"Sullen waves, incessant rolling, Rudely dash'd against her sides." Song
A single glance at the map will make the reader acquainted with the position of the eastern coast of the Island of Great Britain, as connected with the shores of the opposite continent. Together they form the boundaries of the small sea that has for ages been known to the world as the scene of maritime exploits, and as the great avenue through which commerce and war have conducted the fleets of the northern nations of Europe. Over this sea the islanders long asserted a jurisdiction, exceeding that which reason concedes to any power on the highway of nations, and which frequently led to conflicts that caused an expenditure of blood and treasure, utterly disproportioned to the advantages that can ever arise from the maintenance of a useless and abstract right. It is across the waters of this disputed ocean that we shall attempt to conduct our readers, selecting a period for our incidents that has a peculiar interest for every American, not only because it was the birthday of his nation, but because it was also the era when reason and common sense began to take the place of custom and feudal practices in the management of the affairs of nations.
Soon after the events of the revolution had involved the kingdoms of France and Spain, and the republics of Holland, in our quarrel, a group of laborers was collected in a field that lay exposed to the winds of the ocean, on the north-eastern coast of England. These men were lightening their toil, and cheering the gloom of a day in December, by uttering their crude opinions on the political aspects of the times. The fact that England was engaged in a war with some of her dependencies on the other side of the Atlantic had long been known to them, after the manner that faint rumors of distant and uninteresting events gain on the ear; but now that nations, with whom she had been used to battle, were armed against her in the quarrel, the din of war had disturbed the quiet even of these secluded and illiterate rustics. The principal speakers, on the occasion, were a Scotch drover, who was waiting the leisure of the occupant of the fields, and an Irish laborer, who had found his way across the Channel, and thus far over the island, in quest of employment.
"The Nagurs wouldn't have been a job at all for ould England, letting alone Ireland," said the latter, "if these French and Spanishers hadn't been troubling themselves in the matter. I'm sure its but little reason I have for thanking them, if a man is to kape as sober as a praist at mass, for fear he should find himself a souldier, and he knowing nothing about the same."
"Hoot! mon! ye ken but little of raising an airmy in Ireland, if ye mak' a drum o' a whiskey keg," said the drover, winking to the listeners. "Noo, in the north, they ca' a gathering of the folk, and follow the pipes as graciously as ye wad journey kirkward o' a Sabbath morn. I've seen a' the names o' a Heeland raj'ment on a sma' bit paper, that ye might cover wi' a leddy's hand. They war' a' Camerons and M'Donalds, though they paraded sax hundred men! But what ha' ye gotten here! That chield has an ow'r liking to the land for a seafaring body; an' if the bottom o' the sea be onything like the top o't, he's in gr'at danger o' a shipwreck!"
This unexpected change in the discourse drew all eyes on the object toward which the staff of the observant drover was pointed. To the utter amazement of every individual present, a small vessel was seen moving slowly round a point of land that formed one of the sides of the little bay, to which the field the laborers were in composed the other. There was something very peculiar in the externals of this unusual visitor, which added in no small degree to the surprise created by her appearance in that retired place. None but the smallest vessels, and those rarely, or, at long intervals, a desperate smuggler, were ever known to venture so close to the land, amid the sand-bars and sunken rocks with which that immediate coast abounded. The adventurous mariners who now attempted this dangerous navigation in so wanton, and, apparently, so heedless a manner, were in a low black schooner, whose hull seemed utterly disproportioned to the raking masts it upheld, which, in their turn, supported a lighter set of spars, that tapered away until their upper extremities appeared no larger than the lazy pennant, that in vain endeavored to display its length in the light breeze.
The short day of that high northern latitude was already drawing to a close, and the sun was throwing his parting rays obliquely across the waters, touching the gloomy waves here and there with streaks of pale light. The stormy winds of the German Ocean were apparently lulled to rest; and, though the incessant rolling of the surge on the shore heightened the gloomy character of the hour and the view, the light ripple that ruffled the sleeping billows was produced by a gentle air, that blew directly from the land. Notwithstanding this favorable circumstance, there was something threatening in the aspect of the ocean, which was speaking in hollow but deep murmurs, like a volcano on the eve of an eruption, that greatly heightened the feelings of amazement and dread with which the peasants beheld this extraordinary interruption to the quiet of their little bay. With no other sails spread to the action of the air than her heavy mainsail, and one of those light jibs that projected far beyond her bows, the vessel glided over the water with a grace and facility that seemed magical to the beholders, who turned their wondering looks from the schooner to each other in silent amazement. At length the drover spoke in a low solemn voice:
"He's a bold chield that steers her! and if that bit craft has wood in her bottom, like the brigantines that ply between Lon'on and the Frith at Leith, he's in mair danger than a prudent mon could wish. Ay! he's by the big rock that shows his head when the tide runs low, but it's no mortal man who can steer long in the road he's journeying and not speedily find land wi' water a-top o't."
The little schooner, however, still held her way among the rocks and sand-pits, making such slight deviations in her course as proved her to be under the direction of one who knew his danger, until she entered as far into the bay as prudence could at all justify, when her canvas was gathered into folds, seemingly without the agency of hands, and the vessel, after rolling for a few minutes on the long billows that hove in from the ocean, swung round in the currents of the tide, and was held by her anchor.
The peasants now began to make their conjectures more freely concerning the character and object of their visitor; some intimating that she was engaged in contraband trade, and others that her views were hostile, and her business war. A few dark hints were hazarded on the materiality of her construction, for nothing of artificial formation, it was urged, would be ventured by men in such a dangerous place, at a time when even the most inexperienced landsman was enabled to foretell the certain gale. The Scotchman, who, to all the sagacity of his countrymen, added no small portion of their superstition, leaned greatly to the latter conclusion, and had begun to express this sentiment warily with reverence, when the child of Erin, who appeared not to possess any very definite ideas on the subject interrupted him, by exclaiming:
"Faith! there's two of them! a big and a little! sure the bogles of the saa likes good company the same as any other Christians!"
"Twa!" echoed the drover; "twa! ill luck bides o' some o' ye. Twa craft a sailing without hand to guide them, in sic a place as this, whar' eyesight is na guid enough to show the dangers, bodes evil to a' that luik thereon. Hoot! she's na yearling the tither! Luik, mon! luik! she's a gallant boat, and a gr'at:" he paused, raised his pack from the ground, and first giving one searching look at the objects of his suspicions, he nodded with great sagacity to the listeners, and continued, as he moved slowly towards the interior of the country, "I should na wonder if she carried King George's commission aboot her: weel, weel, I wull journey upward to the town, and ha' a crack wi' the good mon; for they craft have a suspeecious aspect, and the sma' bit thing wu'ld nab a mon quite easy, and the big ane wu'ld hold us a' and no feel we war' in her."
This sagacious warning caused a general movement in the party, for the intelligence of a hot press was among the rumors of the times. The husbandmen collected their implements of labor, and retired homewards; though many a curious eye was bent on the movements of the vessels from the distant hills, but very few of those not immediately interested in the mysterious visitors ventured to approach the little rocky cliffs that lined the bay.
The vessel that occasioned these cautious movements was a gallant ship, whose huge hull, lofty masts, and square yards loomed in the evening's haze, above the sea, like a distant mountain rising from the deep. She carried but little sail, and though she warily avoided the near approach to the land that the schooner had attempted, the similarity of their movements was sufficiently apparent to warrant the conjecture that they were employed on the same duty. The frigate, for the ship belonged to this class of vessels, floated across the entrance of the little bay, majestically in the tide, with barely enough motion through the water to govern her movements, until she arrived opposite to the place where her consort lay, when she hove up heavily into the wind, squared the enormous yards on her mainmast, and attempted, in counteracting the power of her sails by each other, to remain stationary; but the light air that had at no time swelled her heavy canvas to the utmost began to fail, and the long waves that rolled in from the ocean ceased to be ruffled with the breeze from the land. The currents and the billows were fast sweeping the frigate towards one of the points of the estuary, where the black heads of the rocks could be seen running far into the sea, and in their turn the mariners of the ship dropped an anchor to the bottom, and drew her sails in festoons to the yards. As the vessel swung round to the tide, a heavy ensign was raised to her peak, and a current of air opening for a moment its folds, the white field and red cross, that distinguish the flag of England, were displayed to view. So much even the wary drover had loitered at a distance to behold; but when a boat was launched from either vessel, he quickened his steps, observing to his wondering and amused companions, that "they craft were a'thegither mair bonny to luik on than to abide wi'."
A numerous crew manned the barge that was lowered from the frigate, which, after receiving an officer, with an attendant youth, left the ship, and moved with a measured stroke of its oars directly towards the head of the bay. As it passed at a short distance from the schooner a light whale-boat, pulled by four athletic men, shot from her side, and rather dancing over than cutting through the waves, crossed her course with a wonderful velocity. As the boats approached each other, the men, in obedience to signals from their officers, suspended their efforts, and for a few minutes they floated at rest, during which time there was the following dialogue:
"Is the old man mad!" exclaimed the young officer in the whale-boat, when his men had ceased rowing; "does he think that the bottom of the Ariel is made of iron, and that a rock can't knock a hole in it! or does he think she is manned with alligators, who can't be drowned!"
A languid smile played for a moment round the handsome features of the young man, who was rather reclining than sitting in the stern-sheets of the barge, as he replied:
"He knows your prudence too well, Captain Barnstable, to fear either the wreck of your vessel or the drowning of her crew. How near the bottom does your keel lie?"
"I am afraid to sound," returned Barnstable. "I have never the heart to touch a lead-line when I see the rocks coming up to breathe like so many porpoises."
"You are afloat!" exclaimed the other, with a vehemence that denoted an abundance of latent fire.
"Afloat!" echoed his friend; "ay, the little Ariel would float in air!" As he spoke, he rose in the boat, and lifting his leathern sea-cap from his head, stroked back the thick clusters of black locks which shadowed his sun-burnt countenance, while he viewed his little vessel with the complacency of a seaman who was proud of her qualities. "But it's close work, Mr. Griffith, when a man rides to a single anchor in a place like this, and at such a nightfall. What are the orders?"
"I shall pull into the surf and let go a grapnel; you will take Mr. Merry into your whale-boat, and try to drive her through the breakers on the beach."
"Beach!" retorted Barnstable; "do you call a perpendicular rock of a hundred feet in height a beach!"
"We shall not dispute about terms," said Griffith, smiling, "but you must manage to get on the shore; we have seen the signal from the land, and know that the pilot, whom we have so long expected, is ready to come off."
Barnstable shook his head with a grave air, as he muttered to himself, "This is droll navigation; first we run into an unfrequented bay that is full of rocks, and sandpits, and shoals, and then we get off our pilot. But how am I to know him?"
"Merry will give you the password, and tell you where to look for him. I would land myself, but my orders forbid it. If you meet with difficulties, show three oar-blades in a row, and I will pull in to your assistance. Three oars on end and a pistol will bring the fire of my muskets, and the signal repeated from the barge will draw a shot from the ship."
"I thank you, I thank you," said Barnstable, carelessly; "I believe I can fight my own battles against all the enemies we are likely to fall in with on this coast. But the old man is surely mad, I would——"
"You would obey his orders if he were here, and you will now please to obey mine," said Griffith, in a tone that the friendly expression of his eye contradicted. "Pull in, and keep a lookout for a small man in a drab pea-jacket; Merry will give you the word; if he answer it, bring him off to the barge."
The young men now nodded familiarly and kindly to each other, and the boy who was called Mr. Merry having changed his place from the barge to the whale-boat, Barnstable threw himself into his seat, and making a signal with his hand, his men again bent to their oars. The light vessel shot away from her companion, and dashed in boldly towards the rocks; after skirting the shore for some distance in quest of a favorable place, she was suddenly turned, and dashing over the broken waves, was run upon a spot where a landing could be effected in safety.
In the mean time the barge followed these movements, at some distance, with a more measured progress, and when the whale-boat was observed to be drawn up alongside of a rock, the promised grapnel was cast into the water, and her crew deliberately proceeded to get their firearms in a state for immediate service. Everything appeared to be done in obedience to strict orders that must have been previously communicated; for the young man, who has been introduced to the reader by the name of Griffith, seldom spoke, and then only in the pithy expressions that are apt to fall from those who are sure of obedience. When the boat had brought up to her grapnel, he sunk back at his length on the cushioned seats of the barge, and drawing his hat over his eyes in a listless manner, he continued for many minutes apparently absorbed in thoughts altogether foreign to his present situation. Occasionally he rose, and would first bend his looks in quest of his companions on the shore, and then, turning his expressive eyes toward the ocean, the abstracted and vacant air, that so often usurped the place of animation and intelligence in his countenance, would give place to the anxious and intelligent look of a seaman gifted with an experience beyond his years. His weather beaten and hardy crew, having made their dispositions for offence, sat in profound silence, with their hands thrust into the bosoms of their jackets, but with their eyes earnestly regarding every cloud that was gathering in the threatening atmosphere, and exchanging looks of deep care, whenever the boat rose higher than usual on one of those long heavy groundswells, that were heaving in from the ocean with increasing rapidity and magnitude.
——"A horseman's coat shall hide thy taper shape and comeliness of side: And with a bolder stride and looser air, Mingled with men, a man thou must appear." Prior.
When the whale-boat obtained the position we have described, the young lieutenant, who, in consequence of commanding a schooner, was usually addressed by the title of captain, stepped on the rocks, followed by the youthful midshipman, who had quitted the barge to aid in the hazardous duty of their expedition.
"This is, at best, but a Jacob's ladder we have to climb," said Barnstable, casting his eyes upward at the difficult ascent, "and it's by no means certain that we shall be well received, when we get up, even though we should reach the top."
"We are under the guns of the frigate," returned the boy; "and you remember, sir, three oar-blades and a pistol, repeated from the barge, will draw her fire."
"Yes, on our own heads. Boy, never be so foolish as to trust a long shot. It makes a great smoke and some noise, but it's a terrible uncertain manner of throwing old iron about. In such a business as this, I would sooner trust Tom Coffin and his harpoon to back me, than the best broadside that ever rattled out of the three decks of a ninety-gun ship. Come, gather your limbs together, and try if you can walk on terra firma, Master Coffin."
The seaman who was addressed by this dire appellation arose slowly from the place where he was stationed as cockswain of the boat, and seemed to ascend high in air by the gradual evolution of numberless folds in his body. When erect, he stood nearly six feet and as many inches in his shoes, though, when elevated in his perpendicular attitude, there was a forward inclination about his head and shoulders that appeared to be the consequence of habitual confinement in limited lodgings. His whole frame was destitute of the rounded outlines of a well-formed man, though his enormous hands furnished a display of bones and sinews which gave indication of gigantic strength. On his head he wore a little, low, brown hat of wool, with an arched top, that threw an expression of peculiar solemnity and hardness over his hard visage, the sharp prominent features of which were completely encircled by a set of black whiskers that began to be grizzled a little with age. One of his hands grasped, with a sort of instinct, the staff of a bright harpoon, the lower end of which he placed firmly on the rock, as, in obedience to the order of his commander, he left the place where, considering his vast dimensions, he had been established in an incredibly small space.
As soon as Captain Barnstable received this addition to his strength, he gave a few precautionary orders to the men in the boat, and proceeded to the difficult task of ascending the rocks. Notwithstanding the great daring and personal agility of Barnstable, he would have been completely baffled in this attempt, but for the assistance he occasionally received from his cockswain, whose prodigious strength and great length of limbs enabled him to make exertions which it would have been useless for most men to attempt. When within a few feet of the summit, they availed themselves of a projecting rock to pause for consultation and breath, both of which seemed necessary for their further movements.
"This will be but a bad place for a retreat, if we should happen to fall in with enemies," said Barnstable. "Where are we to look for this pilot, Mr. Merry, or how are we to know him; and what certainty have you that he will not betray us?"
"The question you are to put to him is written on this bit of paper," returned the boy, as he handed the other the word of recognition; "we made the signal on the point of the rock at yon headland, but, as he must have seen our boat, he will follow us to this place. As to his betraying us, he seems to have the confidence of Captain Munson, who has kept a bright lookout for him ever since we made the land."
"Ay," muttered the lieutenant, "and I shall have a bright lookout kept on him now we are on the land. I like not this business of hugging the shore so closely, nor have I much faith in any traitor. What think you of it, Master Coffin?"
The hardy old seaman, thus addressed, turned his grave visage on his commander, and replied with a becoming gravity:
"Give me a plenty of sea-room, and good canvas, where there is no occasion for pilots at all, sir. For my part, I was born on board a chebacco-man, and never could see the use of more land than now and then a small island to raise a few vegetables, and to dry your fish—I'm sure the sight of it always makes me feel uncomfortable, unless we have the wind dead off shore."
"Ah! Tom, you are a sensible fellow," said Barnstable, with an air half comic, half serious. "But we must be moving; the sun is just touching those clouds to seaward, and God keep us from riding out this night at anchor in such a place as this."
Laying his hand on a projection of the rock above him, Barnstable swung himself forward, and following this movement with a desperate leap or two, he stood at once on the brow of the cliff. His cockswain very deliberately raised the midshipman after his officer, and proceeding with more caution but less exertion, he soon placed himself by his side.
When they reached the level land that lay above the cliffs and began to inquire, with curious and wary eyes, into the surrounding scenery, the adventurers discovered a cultivated country, divided in the usual manner, by hedges and walls. Only one habitation for man, however, and that a small dilapidated cottage, stood within a mile of them, most of the dwellings being placed as far as convenience would permit from the fogs and damps of the ocean.
"Here seems to be neither anything to apprehend, nor the object of our search," said Barnstable, when he had taken the whole view in his survey: "I fear we have landed to no purpose, Mr. Merry. What say you, long Tom; see you what we want?"
"I see no pilot, sir," returned the cockswain; "but it's an ill wind that blows luck to nobody; there is a mouthful of fresh meat stowed away under that row of bushes, that would make a double ration to all hands in the Ariel."
The midshipman laughed, as he pointed out to Barnstable the object of the cockswain's solicitude, which proved to be a fat ox, quietly ruminating under a hedge near them.
"There's many a hungry fellow aboard of us," said the boy, merrily, "who would be glad to second long Tom's motion, if the time and business would permit us to slay the animal."
"It is but a lubber's blow, Mr. Merry," returned the cockswain, without a muscle of his hard face yielding, as he struck the end of his harpoon violently against the earth, and then made a motion toward poising the weapon; "let Captain Barnstable but say the word, and I'll drive the iron through him to the quick; I've sent it to the seizing in many a whale, that hadn't a jacket of such blubber as that fellow wears."
"Pshaw! you are not on a whaling-voyage, where everything that offers is game," said Barnstable, turning himself pettishly away from the beast, as if he distrusted his own forbearance; "but stand fast! I see some one approaching behind the hedge. Look to your arms, Mr. Merry,—the first thing we hear may be a shot."
"Not from that cruiser," cried the thoughtless lad; "he is a younker, like myself, and would hardly dare run down upon such a formidable force as we muster."
"You say true, boy," returned Barnstable, relinquishing the grasp he held on his pistol. "He comes on with caution, as if afraid. He is small, and is in drab, though I should hardly call it a pea-jacket—and yet he may be our man. Stand you both here, while I go and hail him."
As Barnstable walked rapidly towards the hedge, that in part concealed the stranger, the latter stopped suddenly, and seemed to be in doubt whether to advance or to retreat. Before he had decided on either, the active sailor was within a few feet of him.
"Pray, sir," said Barnstable, "what water have we in this bay?"
The slight form of the stranger started, with an extraordinary emotion, at this question, and he shrunk aside involuntarily, as if to conceal his features, before he answered, in a voice that was barely audible:
"I should think it would be the water of the German Ocean."
"Indeed! you must have passed no small part of your short life in the study of geography, to be so well informed," returned the lieutenant; "perhaps, sir, your cunning is also equal to telling me how long we shall sojourn together, if I make you a prisoner, in order to enjoy the benefit of your wit?"
To this alarming intimation, the youth who was addressed made no reply; but as he averted his face, and concealed it with both his hands, the offended seaman, believing that a salutary impression had been made upon the fears of his auditor, was about to proceed with his interrogatories. The singular agitation of the stranger's frame, however, caused the lieutenant to continue silent a few moments longer, when, to his utter amazement, he discovered that what he had mistaken for alarm was produced by an endeavor, on the part of the youth, to suppress a violent fit of laughter.
"Now, by all the whales in the sea," cried Barnstable, "but you are merry out of season, young gentleman. It's quite bad enough to be ordered to anchor in such a bay as this with a storm brewing before my eyes, without landing to be laughed at by a stripling who has not strength to carry a beard if he had one, when I ought to be getting an offing for the safety of both body and soul. But I'll know more of you and your jokes, if I take you into my own mess, and am giggled out of my sleep for the rest of the cruise."
As the commander of the schooner concluded, he approached the stranger, with an air of offering some violence, but the other shrank back from his extended arm, and exclaimed, with a voice in which real terror had gotten the better of mirth:
"Barnstable! dear Barnstable! would you harm me?"
The sailor recoiled several feet, at this unexpected appeal, and rubbing his eyes, he threw the cap from his head, before he cried:
"What do I hear! and what do I see! There lies the Ariel—and yonder is the frigate. Can this be Katherine Plowden!"
His doubts, if any doubts remained, were soon removed, for the stranger sank on the bank at her side, in an attitude in which female bashfulness was beautifully contrasted with her attire, and gave vent to her mirth in an uncontrollable burst of merriment.
From that moment, all thoughts of his duty, and the pilot, or even of the Ariel, appeared to be banished from the mind of the seaman, who sprang to her side, and joined in her mirth, though he hardly knew why or wherefore.
When the diverted girl had in some degree recovered her composure, she turned to her companion, who had sat good-naturedly by her side, content to be laughed at, and said:
"But this is not only silly, but cruel to others. I owe you an explanation of my unexpected appearance, and perhaps, also, of my extraordinary attire."
"I can anticipate everything," cried Barnstable; "you heard that we were on the coast, and have flown to redeem the promises you made me in America. But I ask no more; the chaplain of the frigate—"
"May preach as usual, and to as little purpose," interrupted the disguised female; "but no nuptial benediction shall be pronounced over me, until I have effected the object of this hazardous experiment. You are not usually selfish, Barnstable; would you have me forgetful of the happiness of others?"
"Of whom do you speak?"
"My poor, my devoted cousin. I heard that two vessels answering the description of the frigate and the Ariel were seen hovering on the coast, and I determined at once to have a communication with you. I have followed your movements for a week, in this dress, but have been unsuccessful till now. To-day I observed you to approach nearer to the shore than usual, and happily, by being adventurous, I have been successful."
"Ay, God knows we are near enough to the land! But does Captain Munson know of your wish to get on board his ship?"
"Certainly not—none know of it but yourself. I thought that if Griffith and you could learn our situation, you might be tempted to hazard a little to redeem us from our thraldom. In this paper I have prepared such an account as will, I trust, excite all your chivalry, and by which you may govern your movements."
"Our movements!" interrupted Barnstable. "You will pilot us in person."
"Then there's two of them!" said a hoarse voice near them.
The alarmed female shrieked as she recovered her feet, but she still adhered, with instinctive dependence, to the side of her lover. Barnstable, who recognized the tones of his cockswain, bent an angry brow on the sober visage that was peering at them above the hedge, and demanded the meaning of the interruption.
"Seeing you were hull down, sir, and not knowing but the chase might lead you ashore, Mr. Merry thought it best to have a lookout kept. I told him that you were overhauling the mail-bags of the messenger for the news, but as he was an officer, sir, and I nothing but a common hand, I did as he ordered."
"Return, sir, where I commanded you to remain," said Barnstable, "and desire Mr. Merry to wait my pleasure."
The cockswain gave the usual reply of an obedient seaman; but before he left the hedge, he stretched out one of his brawny arms towards the ocean, and said, in tones of solemnity suited to his apprehensions and character:
"I showed you how to knot a reef-point, and pass a gasket, Captain Barnstable, nor do I believe you could even take two half-hitches when you first came aboard of the Spalmacitty. These be things that a man is soon expart in, but it takes the time of his nat'ral life to larn to know the weather. There be streaked wind-galls in the offing, that speak as plainly to all that see them, and know God's language in the clouds, as ever you spoke through a trumpet, to shorten sail; besides, sir, don't you hear the sea moaning as if it knew the hour was at hand when it was to wake up from its sleep!"
"Ay, Tom," returned his officer, walking to the edge of the cliffs, and throwing a seaman's glance at the gloomy ocean, "'tis a threatening night indeed; but this pilot must be had—and—"
"Is that the man?" interrupted the cockswain, pointing toward a man who was standing not far from them, an attentive observer of their proceedings, the same time that he was narrowly watched himself by the young midshipman. "God send that he knows his trade well, for the bottom of a ship will need eyes to find its road out of this wild anchorage."
"That must indeed be the man!" exclaimed Barnstable, at once recalled to his duty. He then held a short dialogue with his female companion, whom he left concealed by the hedge, and proceeded to address the stranger. When near enough to be heard, the commander of the schooner demanded:
"What water have you in this bay?"
The stranger, who seemed to expect this question, answered without the least hesitation:
"Enough to take all out in safety, who have entered with confidence."
"You are the man I seek," cried Barnstable; "are you ready to go off?"
"Both ready and willing," returned the pilot, "and there is need of haste. I would give the best hundred guineas that ever were coined for two hours more use of that sun which has left us, or for even the time of this fading twilight."
"Think you our situation so bad?" said the lieutenant. "Follow this gentleman to the boat then; I will join you by the time you can descend the cliffs. I believe I can prevail on another hand to go off with us."
"Time is more precious now than any number of hands," said the pilot, throwing a glance of impatience from under his lowering brows, "and the consequences of delay must be visited on those who occasion it."
"And, sir, I will meet the consequences with those who have a right to inquire into my conduct," said Barnstable, haughtily.
With this warning and retort they separated; the young officer retracing his steps impatiently toward his mistress, muttering his indignation in suppressed execrations, and the pilot, drawing the leathern belt of his pea-jacket mechanically around his body, as he followed the midshipman and cockswain to their boat, in moody silence.
Barnstable found the disguised female who had announced herself as Katherine Plowden, awaiting his return, with intense anxiety depicted on every feature of her intelligent countenance. As he felt all the responsibility of his situation, notwithstanding his cool reply to the pilot, the young man hastily drew an arm of the apparent boy, forgetful of her disguise, through his own, and led her forward.
"Come, Katherine," he said, "the time urges to be prompt."
"What pressing necessity is there for immediate departure?" she inquired, checking his movements by withdrawing herself from his side.
"You heard the ominous prognostic of my cockswain on the weather, and I am forced to add my own testimony to his opinion. 'Tis a crazy night that threatens us, though I cannot repent of coming into the bay, since it has led to this interview."
"God forbid that we should either of us have cause to repent of it," said Katherine, the paleness of anxiety chasing away the rich bloom that had mantled the animated face of the brunette. "But you have the paper— follow its directions, and come to our rescue; you will find us willing captives, if Griffith and yourself are our conquerors."
"What mean you, Katherine!" exclaimed her lover; "you at least are now in safety—'twould be madness to tempt your fate again. My vessel can and shall protect you, until your cousin is redeemed; and then, remember, I have a claim on you for life."
"And how would you dispose of me in the interval?" said the young maiden, retreating slowly from his advances.
"In the Ariel—by heaven, you shall be her commander; I will bear that rank only in name."
"I thank you, thank you, Barnstable, but distrust my abilities to fill such a station," she said, laughing, though the color that again crossed her youthful features was like the glow of a summer's sunset, and even her mirthful eyes seemed to reflect their tints. "Do not mistake me, saucy one. If I have done more than my sex will warrant, remember it was through a holy motive, and if I have more than a woman's enterprise, it must be——"
"To lift you above the weakness of your sex," he cried, "and to enable you to show your noble confidence in me."
"To fit me for, and to keep me worthy of being one day your wife." As she uttered these words she turned and disappeared, with a rapidity that eluded his attempts to detain her, behind an angle of the hedge, that was near them. For a moment, Barnstable remained motionless, through surprise, and when he sprang forward in pursuit, he was able only to catch a glimpse of her light form, in the gloom of the evening, as she again vanished in a little thicket at some distance.
Barnstable was about to pursue, when the air lighted with a sudden flash, and the bellowing report of a cannon rolled along the cliffs, and was echoed among the hills far inland.
"Ay, grumble away, old dotard!" the disappointed young sailor muttered to himself, while he reluctantly obeyed the signal; "you are in as great a hurry to get out of your danger as you were to run into it."
The quick reports of three muskets from the barge beneath where he stood urged him to quicken his pace, and as he threw himself carelessly down the rugged and dangerous passes of the cliffs, his experienced eye beheld the well-known lights displayed from the frigate, which commanded "the recall of all her boats."
In such a time as this it is not meet That every nice offence should bear its comment. Shakespeare
The cliffs threw their dark shadows wide on the waters, and the gloom of the evening had so far advanced as to conceal the discontent that brooded over the ordinarily open brow of Barnstable as he sprang from the rocks into the boat, and took his seat by the side of the silent pilot. "Shove off," cried the lieutenant, in tones that his men knew must be obeyed. "A seaman's curse light on the folly that exposes planks and lives to such navigation; and all to burn some old timberman, or catch a Norway trader asleep! give way, men, give way!"
Notwithstanding the heavy and dangerous surf that was beginning to tumble in upon the rocks in an alarming manner, the startled seamen succeeded in urging their light boat over the waves, and in a few seconds were without the point where danger was most to be apprehended. Barnstable had seemingly disregarded the breakers as they passed, but sat sternly eyeing the foam that rolled by them in successive surges, until the boat rose regularly on the long seas, when he turned his looks around the bay in quest of the barge.
"Ay, Griffith has tired of rocking in his pillowed cradle," he muttered, "and will give us a pull to the frigate, when we ought to be getting the schooner out of this hard-featured landscape. This is just such a place as one of your sighing lovers would doat on; a little land, a little water, and a good deal of rock. Damme, long Tom, but I am more than half of your mind, that an island now and then is all the terra firma that a seaman needs."
"It's reason and philosophy, sir," returned the sedate cockswain; "and what land there is, should always be a soft mud, or a sandy ooze, in order that an anchor might hold, and to make soundings sartin. I have lost many a deep-sea, besides hand leads by the dozen, on rocky bottoms; but give me the roadstead where a lead comes up light and an anchor heavy. There's a boat pulling athwart our forefoot, Captain Barnstable; shall I run her aboard or give her a berth, sir?"
"'Tis the barge!" cried the officer; "Ned has not deserted me, after all!"
A loud hail from the approaching boat confirmed this opinion, and in a few seconds the barge and whale-boat were again rolling by each other's side. Griffith was no longer reclining on the cushions of his seats, but spoke earnestly, and with a slight tone of reproach in his manner.
"Why have you wasted so many precious moments, when every minute threatens us with new dangers? I was obeying the signal, but I heard your oars, and pulled back to take out the pilot. Have you been successful?"
"There he is; and if he finds his way out, through the shoals, he will earn a right to his name. This bids fair to be a night when a man will need a spy-glass to find the moon. But when you hear what I have seen on those rascally cliffs, you will be more ready to excuse my delay, Mr. Griffith."
"You have seen the true man, I trust, or we incur this hazard to an evil purpose."
"Ay, I have seen him that is a true man, and him that is not," replied Barnstable, bitterly; "you have the boy with you, Griffith—ask him what his young eyes have seen."
"Shall I!" cried the young midshipman, laughing; "then I have seen a little clipper, in disguise, out sail an old man-of-war's man in a hard chase, and I have seen a straggling rover in long-togs as much like my cousin——"
"Peace, gabbler!" exclaimed Barnstable in a voice of thunder; "would you detain the boats with your silly nonsense at a time like this? Away into the barge, sir, and if you find him willing to hear, tell Mr. Griffith what your foolish conjectures amount to, at your leisure."
The boy stepped lightly from the whale-boat to the barge, whither the pilot had already preceded him, and, as he sunk, with a mortified air, by the side of Griffith, he said, in a low voice:
"And that won't be long, I know, if Mr. Griffith thinks and feels on the coast of England as he thought and felt at home."
A silent pressure of his hand was the only reply that the young lieutenant made, before he paid the parting compliments to Barnstable, and directed his men to pull for their ship.
The boats were separating, and the plash of the oars was already heard, when the voice of the pilot was for the first time raised in earnest.
"Hold!" he cried; "hold water, I bid ye!"
The men ceased their efforts at the commanding tones of his voice, and turning toward the whale-boat, he continued:
"You will get your schooner under way immediately, Captain Barnstable, and sweep into the offing with as little delay as possible. Keep the ship well open from the northern headland, and as you pass us, come within hail."
"This is a clean chart and plain sailing, Mr. Pilot," returned Barnstable; "but who is to justify my moving without orders, to Captain Munson? I have it in black and white, to run the Ariel into this feather-bed sort of a place, and I must at least have it by signal or word of mouth from my betters, before my cutwater curls another wave. The road may be as hard to find going out as it was coming in—and then I had daylight as well as your written directions to steer by."
"Would you lie there to perish on such a night?" said the pilot, sternly. "Two hours hence, this heavy swell will break where your vessel now rides so quietly."
"There we think exactly alike; but if I get drowned now, I am drowned according to orders; whereas, if I knock a plank out of the schooner's bottom, by following your directions, 'twill be a hole to let in mutiny, as well as sea-water. How do I know but the old man wants another pilot or two."
"That's philosophy," muttered the cockswain of the whale-boat, in a voice that was audible: "but it's a hard strain on a man's conscience to hold on in such an anchorage!"
"Then keep your anchor down, and follow it to the bottom," said the pilot to himself; "it's worse to contend with a fool than a gale of wind; but if——"
"No, no, sir—no fool neither," interrupted Griffith. "Barnstable does not deserve that epithet, though he certainly carries the point of duty to the extreme. Heave up at once, Mr. Barnstable, and get out of this bay as fast as possible."
"Ah! you don't give the order with half the pleasure with which I shall execute it; pull away, boys—the Ariel shall never lay her bones in such a hard bed, if I can help it."
As the commander of the schooner uttered these words with a cheering voice, his men spontaneously shouted, and the whale-boat darted away from her companion, and was soon lost in the gloomy shadows cast from the cliffs.
In the mean time, the oarsmen of the barge were not idle, but by strenuous efforts they forced the heavy boat rapidly through the water, and in a few minutes she ran alongside of the frigate. During this period the pilot, in a voice which had lost all the startling fierceness and authority it had manifested in his short dialogue with Barnstable, requested Griffith to repeat to him, slowly, the names of the officers that belonged to his ship. When the young lieutenant had complied with this request, he observed to his companion:
"All good men and true, Mr. Pilot; and though this business in which you are just now engaged may be hazardous to an Englishman, there are none with us who will betray you. We need your services, and as we expect good faith from you, so shall we offer it to you in exchange."
"And how know you that I need its exercise?" asked the pilot, in a manner that denoted a cold indifference to the subject.
"Why, though you talk pretty good English, for a native," returned Griffith, "yet you have a small bur-r-r in your mouth that would prick the tongue of a man who was born on the other side of the Atlantic."
"It is but of little moment where a man is born, or how he speaks," returned the pilot, coldly, "so that he does his duty bravely and in good faith."
It was perhaps fortunate for the harmony of this dialogue, that the gloom, which had now increased to positive darkness, completely concealed the look of scornful irony that crossed the handsome features of the young sailor, as he replied: "True, true, so that he does his duty, as you say, in good faith. But, as Barnstable observed, you must know your road well to travel among these shoals on such a night as this. Know you what water we draw?"
"'Tis a frigate's draught, and I shall endeavor to keep you in four fathoms; less than that would be dangerous."
"She's a sweet boat!" said Griffith, "and minds her helm as a marine watches the eye of his sergeant at a drill; but you must give her room in stays, for she fore-reaches, as if she would put out the wind's eye."
The pilot attended, with a practised ear, to this description of the qualities of the ship that he was about to attempt extricating from an extremely dangerous situation. Not a syllable was lost on him; and when Griffith had ended, he remarked, with the singular coldness that pervaded his manner:
"That is both a good and a bad quality in a narrow channel. I fear it will be the latter to-night, when we shall require to have the ship in leading-strings."
"I suppose we must feel our way with the lead?" said Griffith.
"We shall need both eyes and leads," returned the pilot, recurring insensibly to his soliloquizing tone of voice. "I have been both in and out in darker nights than this, though never with a heavier draught than a half-two."
"Then, by heaven, you are not fit to handle that ship among these rocks and breakers!" exclaimed Griffith; "your men of a light draught never know their water; 'tis the deep keel only that finds a channel;—pilot! pilot! beware how you trifle with us ignorantly; for 'tis a dangerous experiment to play at hazards with an enemy."
"Young man, you know not what you threaten, nor whom," said the pilot sternly, though his quiet manner still remained undisturbed; "you forget that you have a superior here, and that I have none."
"That shall be as you discharge your duty," said Griffith; "for if——"
"Peace!" interrupted the pilot; "we approach the ship, let us enter in harmony."
He threw himself back on the cushions when he had said this; and Griffith, though filled with the apprehensions of suffering, either by great ignorance or treachery on the part of his companion, smothered his feelings so far as to be silent, and they ascended the side of the vessel in apparent cordiality.
The frigate was already riding on lengthened seas, that rolled in from the ocean at each successive moment with increasing violence, though her topsails still hung supinely from her yards; the air, which continued to breathe occasionally from the land, being unable to shake the heavy canvas of which they were composed.
The only sounds that were audible, when Griffith and the pilot had ascended to the gangway of the frigate, were produced by the sullen dashing of the sea against the massive bows of the ship, and the shrill whistle of the boatswain's mate as he recalled the side-boys, who were placed on either side of the gangway to do honor to the entrance of the first lieutenant and his companion.
But though such a profound silence reigned among the hundreds who inhabited the huge fabric, the light produced by a dozen battle- lanterns, that were arranged in different parts of the decks, served not only to exhibit faintly the persons of the crew, but the mingled feeling of curiosity and care that dwelt on most of their countenances.
Large groups of men were collected in the gangways, around the mainmast, and on the booms of the vessel, whose faces were distinctly visible, while numerous figures, lying along the lower yards or bending out of the tops, might be dimly traced in the background, all of whom expressed by their attitudes the interest they took in the arrival of the boat.
Though such crowds were collected in other parts of the vessel, the quarter-deck was occupied only by the officers, who were disposed according to their several ranks, and were equally silent and attentive as the remainder of the crew. In front stood a small collection of young men, who, by their similarity of dress, were the equals and companions of Griffith, though his juniors in rank. On the opposite side of the vessel was a larger assemblage of youths, who claimed Mr. Merry as their fellow. Around the capstan three or four figures were standing, one of whom wore a coat of blue, with the scarlet facings of a soldier, and another the black vestments of the ship's chaplain. Behind these, and nearer the passage to the cabin from which he had just ascended, stood the tall, erect form of the commander of the vessel.
After a brief salutation between Griffith and the junior officers, the former advanced, followed slowly by the pilot, to the place where he was expected by his veteran commander. The young man removed his hat entirely, as he bowed with a little more than his usual ceremony, and said:
"We have succeeded, sir, though not without more difficulty and delay than were anticipated."
"But you have not brought off the pilot," said the captain, "and without him, all our risk and trouble have been in vain."
"He is here," said Griffith, stepping aside, and extending his arm towards the man that stood behind him, wrapped to the chin in his coarse pea-jacket, and his face shadowed by the falling rims of a large hat, that had seen much and hard service.
"This!" exclaimed the captain; "then there is a sad mistake—this is not the man I would have, seen, nor can another supply his place."
"I know not whom you expected, Captain Munson," said the stranger, in a low, quiet voice; "but if you have not forgotten the day when a very different flag from that emblem of tyranny that now hangs over yon taffrail was first spread to the wind, you may remember the hand that raised it,"
"Bring here the light!" exclaimed the commander, hastily.
When the lantern was extended towards the pilot, and the glare fell strong on his features, Captain Munson started, as he beheld the calm blue eye that met his gaze, and the composed but pallid countenance of the other. Involuntarily raising his hat, and baring his silver locks, the veteran cried:
"It is he! though so changed——"
"That his enemies did not know him," interrupted the pilot, quickly; then touching the other by the arm as he led him aside, he continued, in a lower tone, "neither must his friends, until the proper hour shall arrive."
Griffith had fallen back to answer the eager questions of his messmates, and no part of this short dialogue was overheard by the officers, though it was soon perceived that their commander had discovered his error, and was satisfied that the proper man had been brought on board his vessel. For many minutes the two continued to pace a part of the quarter-deck, by themselves, engaged in deep and earnest discourse.
As Griffith had but little to communicate, the curiosity of his listeners was soon appeased, and all eyes were directed toward that mysterious guide, who was to conduct them from a situation already surrounded by perils, which each moment not only magnified in appearance, but increased in reality.
——"Behold the threaden sails, Borne with the invisible and creeping winds, Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea, Breasting the lofty surge." Shakespeare.
It has been already explained to the reader, that there were threatening symptoms in the appearance of the weather to create serious forebodings of evil in the breast of a seaman. When removed from the shadows of the cliffs, the night was not so dark but objects could be discerned at some little distance, and in the eastern horizon there was a streak of fearful light impending over the gloomy waters, in which the swelling outline formed by the rising waves was becoming each moment more distinct, and, consequently, more alarming. Several dark clouds overhung the vessel, whose towering masts apparently propped the black vapor, while a few stars were seen twinkling, with a sickly flame, in the streak of clear sky that skirted the ocean. Still, light currents of air occasionally swept across the bay, bringing with them the fresh odor from the shore, but their flitting irregularity too surely foretold them to be the expiring breath of the land breeze. The roaring of the surf, as it rolled on the margin of the bay, produced a dull, monotonous sound, that was only Interrupted at times by a hollow bellowing, as a larger wave than usual broke violently against some cavity in the rock. Everything, in short, united to render the scene gloomy and portentous, without creating instant terror, for the ship rose easily on the long billows, without even straightening the heavy cable that held her to her anchor.
The higher officers were collected around the capstan, engaged in earnest discourse about their situation and prospects, while some of the oldest and most favored seamen would extend their short walk to the hallowed precincts of the quarter-deck, to catch, with greedy ears, the opinions that fell from their superiors. Numberless were the uneasy glances that were thrown from both officers and men at their commander and the pilot, who still continued their secret communion in a distant part of the vessel. Once, an ungovernable curiosity, or the heedlessness of his years, led one of the youthful midshipmen near them; but a stern rebuke from his captain sent the boy, abashed and cowering, to hide his mortification among his fellows. This reprimand was received by the elder officers as an intimation that the consultation which they beheld was to be strictly inviolate; and, though it by no means suppressed the repeated expressions of their impatience, it effectually prevented an interruption to the communications, which all, however, thought were unreasonably protracted for the occasion.
"This is no time to be talking over bearings and distances," observed the officer next in rank to Griffith; "but we should call the hands up, and try to kedge her off while the sea will suffer a boat to live."
"'Twould be a tedious and bootless job to attempt warping a ship for miles against a head-beating sea," returned the first lieutenant; "but the land-breeze yet flutters aloft, and if our light sails would draw, with the aid of this ebb tide we might be able to shove her from the shore."
"Hail the tops, Griffith," said the other, "and ask if they feel the air above; 'twill be a hint at least to set the old man and that lubberly pilot in motion."
Griffith laughed as he complied with the request, and when he received the customary reply to his call, he demanded in a loud voice:
"Which way have you the wind, aloft?"
"We feel a light catspaw, now and then, from the land, sir," returned the sturdy captain of the top; "but our topsail hangs in the clewlines, sir, without winking."
Captain Munson and his companion suspended their discourse while this question and answer were exchanged, and then resumed their dialogue as earnestly as if it had received no interruption.
"If it did wink, the hint would be lost on our betters," said the officer of the marines, whose ignorance of seamanship added greatly to his perception of the danger, but who, from pure idleness, made more jokes than any other man in the ship. "That pilot would not receive a delicate intimation through his ears, Mr. Griffith; suppose you try him by the nose."
"Faith, there was a flash of gunpowder between us in the barge," returned the first lieutenant, "and he does not seem a man to stomach such hints as you advise. Although he looks so meek and quiet, I doubt whether he has paid much attention to the book of Job."
"Why should he?" exclaimed the chaplain, whose apprehensions at least equaled those of the marine, and with a much more disheartening effect; "I am sure it would have been a great waste of time: there are so many charts of the coast, and books on the navigation of these seas, for him to study, that I sincerely hope he has been much better employed."
A loud laugh was created at this speech among the listeners, and it apparently produced the effect that was so long anxiously desired, by putting an end to the mysterious conference between their captain and the pilot. As the former came forward towards his expecting crew, he said, is the composed, steady manner that formed the principal trait in his character:
"Get the anchor, Mr. Griffith, and make sail on the ship; the hour has arrived when we must be moving."
The cheerful "Ay! ay! sir!" of the young lieutenant was hardly uttered, before the cries of half a dozen midshipmen were heard summoning the boatswain and his mates to their duty.
There was a general movement in the living masses that clustered around the mainmast, on the booms, and in the gangways, though their habits of discipline held the crew a moment longer in suspense. The silence was first broken by the sound of the boatswain's whistle, followed by the hoarse cry of "All hands, up anchor, ahoy!"—the former rising on the night air, from its first low mellow notes to a piercing shrillness that gradually died away on the waters; and the latter bellowing through every cranny of the ship, like the hollow murmurs of distant thunder.
The change produced by the customary summons was magical. Human beings sprang out from between the guns, rushed up the hatches, threw themselves with careless activity from the booms, and gathered from every quarter so rapidly, that in an instant the deck of the frigate was alive with men. The profound silence, that had hitherto been only interrupted by the low dialogue of the officers, was now changed for the stern orders of the lieutenants, mingled with the shriller cries of the midshipmen, and the hoarse bawling of the boatswain's crew, rising above the tumult of preparation and general bustle.
The captain and the pilot alone remained passive, in this scene of general exertion; for apprehension had even stimulated that class of officers which is called "idlers" to unusual activity, though frequently reminded by their more experienced messmates that, instead of aiding, they retarded the duty of the vessel. The bustle, however, gradually ceased, and in a few minutes the same silence pervaded the ship as before.
"We are brought-to, sir," said Griffith, who stood overlooking the scene, holding in one hand a short speaking, trumpet, and grasping with the other one of the shrouds of the ship, to steady himself in the position he had taken on a gun.
"Heave round, sir," was the calm reply.
"Heave round!" repeated Griffith, aloud.
"Heave round!" echoed a dozen eager voices at once, and the lively strains of a fife struck up a brisk air, to enliven the labor. The capstan was instantly set in motion, and the measured tread of the seamen was heard, as they stamped the deck in the circle of their march. For a few minutes no other sounds were heard, if we except the voice of an officer, occasionally cheering the sailors, when it was announced that they "were short;" or, in other words, that the ship was nearly over her anchor.
"Heave and pull," cried Griffith; when the quivering notes of the whistle were again succeeded by a general stillness in the vessel.
"What is to be done now, sir?" continued the lieutenant; "shall we trip the anchor? There seems not a breath of air; and as the tide runs slack, I doubt whether the sea do not heave the ship ashore."
There was so much obvious truth in this conjecture, that all eyes turned from the light and animation afforded by the decks of the frigate, to look abroad on the waters, in a vain desire to pierce the darkness, as if to read the fate of their apparently devoted ship from the aspect of nature.
"I leave all to the pilot," said the captain, after he had stood a short time by the side of Griffith, anxiously studying the heavens and the ocean. "What say you, Mr. Gray?"
The man who was thus first addressed by name was leaning over the bulwarks, with his eyes bent in the same direction as the others; but as he answered he turned his face towards the speaker, and the light from the deck fell full upon his quiet features, which exhibited a calmness bordering on the supernatural, considering his station and responsibility.
"There is much to fear from this heavy ground-swell," he said, in the same unmoved tones as before; "but there is certain destruction to us, if the gale that is brewing in the east finds us waiting its fury in this wild anchorage. All the hemp that ever was spun into cordage would not hold a ship an hour, chafing on these rocks, with a northeaster pouring its fury on her. If the powers of man can compass it, gentlemen, we must get an offing, and that speedily."
"You say no more, sir, than the youngest boy in the ship can see for himself," said Griffith—"ha! here comes the schooner!"
The dashing of the long sweeps in the water was now plainly audible, and the little Ariel was seen through the gloom, moving heavily under their feeble impulse. As she passed slowly under the stern of the frigate, the cheerful voice of Barnstable was first heard, opening the communications between them.
"Here's a night for spectacles, Captain Munson!" he cried; "but I thought I heard your fife, sir. I trust in God, you do not mean to ride it out here till morning?"
"I like the berth as little as yourself, Mr. Barnstable," returned the veteran seaman, in his calm manner, in which anxiety was, however, beginning to grow evident. "We are short; but are afraid to let go our hold of the bottom, lest the sea cast us ashore. How make you out the wind?"
"Wind!" echoed the other; "there is not enough to blow a lady's curl aside. If you wait, sir, till the land-breeze fills your sails, you will wait another moon. I believe I've got my eggshell out of that nest of gray-caps; but how it has been done in the dark, a better man than myself must explain."
"Take your directions from the pilot, Mr. Barnstable," returned his commanding officer, "and follow them strictly and to the letter."
A deathlike silence, in both vessels, succeeded this order; for all seemed to listen eagerly to catch the words that fell from the man on whom, even the boys now felt, depended their only hopes for safety. A short time was suffered to elapse, before his voice was heard, in the same low but distinct tones as before:
"Your sweeps will soon be of no service to you," he said, "against the sea that begins to heave in; but your light sails will help them to get you out. So long as you can head east-and-by-north, you are doing well, and you can stand on till you open the light from that northern headland, when you can heave to and fire a gun; but if, as I dread, you are struck aback before you open the light, you may trust to your lead on the larboard tack; but beware, with your head to the southward, for no lead will serve you there."
"I can walk over the same ground on one tack as on the other," said Barnstable, "and make both legs of a length."
"It will not do," returned the pilot. "If you fall off a point to starboard from east-and-by-north, in going large, you will find both rocks and points of shoals to bring you up; and beware, as I tell you, of the starboard tack."
"And how shall I find my way? you will let me trust to neither time, lead, nor log."
"You must trust to a quick eye and a ready hand. The breakers only will show you the dangers, when you are not able to make out the bearings of the land. Tack in season, sir, and don't spare the lead when you head to port."
"Ay, ay," returned Barnstable, in a low muttering voice. "This is a sort of blind navigation with a vengeance, and all for no purpose that I can see—see! damme, eyesight is of about as much use now as a man's nose would be in reading the Bible."
"Softly, softly, Mr. Barnstable," interrupted his commander—for such was the anxious stillness in both vessels that even the rattling of the schooner's rigging was heard, as she rolled in the trough of the sea— "the duty on which Congress has sent us must be performed, at the hazard of our lives."
"I don't mind my life, Captain Munson," said Barnstable, "but there is a great want of conscience in trusting a vessel in such a place as this. However, it is a time to do, and not to talk. But if there be such danger to an easy draught of water, what will become of the frigate? had I not better play jackal, and try and feel the way for you?"
"I thank you," said the pilot; "the offer is generous, but would avail us nothing. I have the advantage of knowing the ground well, and must trust to my memory and God's good favor. Make sail, make sail, sir, and if you succeed, we will venture to break ground."
The order was promptly obeyed, and in a very short time the Ariel was covered with canvas. Though no air was perceptible on the decks of the frigate, the little schooner was so light that she succeeded in stemming her way over the rising waves, aided a little by the tide; and in a few minutes her low hull was just discernible in the streak of light along the horizon, with the dark outline of her sails rising above the sea, until their fanciful summits were lost in the shadows of the clouds.
Griffith had listened to the foregoing dialogue, like the rest of the junior officers, in profound silence; but when the Ariel began to grow indistinct to the eye, he jumped lightly from the gun to the deck, and cried:
"She slips off, like a vessel from the stocks! Shall I trip the anchor, sir, and follow?"
"We have no choice," replied his captain. "You hear the question, Mr. Gray? shall we let go the bottom?"
"It must be done, Captain Munson; we may want more drift than the rest of this tide to get us to a place of safety," said the pilot "I would give five years from a life that I know will be short, if the ship lay one mile further seaward."
This remark was unheard by all, except the commander of the frigate, who again walked aside with the pilot, where they resumed their mysterious communications. The words of assent were no sooner uttered, however, than Griffith gave forth from his trumpet the command to "heave away!" Again the strains of the fife were followed by the tread of the men at the capstan. At the same time that the anchor was heaving up, the sails were loosened from the yards, and opened to invite the breeze. In effecting this duty, orders were thundered through the trumpet of the first lieutenant, and executed with the rapidity of thought. Men were to be seen, like spots in the dim light from the heavens, lying on every yard or hanging as in air, while strange cries were heard issuing from every part of the rigging and each spar of the vessel. "Ready the foreroyal," cried a shrill voice, as if from the clouds; "ready the foreyard," uttered the hoarser tones of a seaman beneath him; "all ready aft, sir," cried a third, from another quarter; and in a few moments the order was given to "let fall."
The little light which fell from the sky was now excluded by the falling canvas, and a deeper gloom was cast athwart the decks of the ship, that served to render the brilliancy of the lanterns even vivid, while it gave to objects outboard a more appalling and dreary appearance than before.
Every individual, excepting the commander and his associate, was now earnestly engaged in getting the ship under way. The sounds of "we're away" were repeated by a burst from fifty voices, and the rapid evolutions of the capstan announced that nothing but the weight of the anchor was to be lifted. The hauling of cordage, the rattling of blocks, blended with the shrill calls of the boatswain and his mates, succeeded; and though to a landsman all would have appeared confusion and hurry, long practice and strict discipline enabled the crew to exhibit their ship under a cloud of canvas, from her deck to the trucks, in less time than we have consumed in relating it.
For a few minutes, the officers were not disappointed by the result; for though the heavy sails flapped lazily against the masts, the light duck on the loftier spars swelled outwardly, and the ship began sensibly to yield to their influence.
"She travels! she travels!" exclaimed Griffith joyously; "ah! the hussy! she has as much antipathy to the land as any fish that swims: it blows a little gale aloft yet!"
"We feel its dying breath," said the pilot, in low, soothing tones, but in a manner so sudden as to startle Griffith, at whose elbow they were unexpectedly uttered. "Let us forget, young man, everything but the number of lives that depend, this night, on your exertions and my knowledge."
"If you be but half as able to exhibit the one as I am willing to make the other, we shall do well," returned the lieutenant, in the same tone. "Remember, whatever may be your feelings, that we are on an enemy's coast, and love it not enough to wish to lay our bones there."
With this brief explanation they separated, the vessel requiring the constant and close attention of the officer to her movements.
The exultation produced in the crew by the progress of their ship through the water was of short duration; for the breeze that had seemed to await their motions, after forcing the vessel for a quarter of a mile, fluttered for a few minutes amid their light canvas, and then left them entirely. The quartermaster, whose duty it was to superintend the helm, soon announced that he was losing the command of the vessel, as she was no longer obedient to her rudder. This ungrateful intelligence was promptly communicated to his commander by Griffith, who suggested the propriety of again dropping an anchor.
"I refer you to Mr. Gray," returned the captain; "he is the pilot, sir, and with him rests the safety of the vessel."
"Pilots sometimes lose ships as well as save them," said Griffith: "know you the man well, Captain Munson, who holds all our lives in his keeping, and so coolly as if he cared but little for the venture?"
"Mr. Griffith, I do know him; he is, in my opinion, both competent and faithful. Thus much I tell you, to relieve your anxiety; more you must not ask;—but is there not a shift of wind?"
"God forbid!" exclaimed his lieutenant; "if that northeaster catches us within the shoals, our case will be desperate indeed!"
The heavy rolling of the vessel caused an occasional expansion, and as sudden a reaction, in their sails, which left the oldest seaman in the ship in doubt which way the currents of air were passing, or whether there existed any that were not created by the flapping of their own canvas. The head of the ship, however, began to fall off from the sea, and notwithstanding the darkness, it soon became apparent that she was driving in, bodily, towards the shore.
During these few minutes of gloomy doubt, Griffith, by one of those sudden revulsions of the mind that connect the opposite extremes of feeling, lost his animated anxiety, and elapsed into the listless apathy that so often came over him, even in the most critical moments of trial and danger. He was standing with one elbow resting on his capstan, shading his eyes from the light of the battle-lantern that stood near him with one hand, when he felt a gentle pressure of the other, that recalled his recollection. Looking affectionately, though still recklessly, at the boy who stood at his side, he said:
"Dull music, Mr. Merry."
"So dull, sir, that I can't dance to it," returned the midshipman. "Nor do I believe there is a man in the ship who would not rather hear 'The girl I left behind me,' than those execrable sounds."
"What sounds, boy? The ship is as quiet as the Quaker meeting in the Jerseys, before your good old grandfather used to break the charm of silence with his sonorous voice."
"Ah! laugh at my peaceable blood, if thou wilt, Mr. Griffith," said the arch youngster, "but remember, there is a mixture of it in all sorts of veins. I wish I could hear one of the old gentleman's chants now, sir; I could always sleep to them, like a gull in the surf. But he that sleeps to-night, with that lullaby, will make a nap of it."
"Sounds! I hear no sounds, boy, but the flapping aloft; even that pilot, who struts the quarter-deck like an admiral, has nothing to say."
"Is not that a sound to open a seaman's ear?"
"It is in truth a heavy roll of the surf, lad, but the night air carries it heavily to our ears. Know you not the sounds of the surf yet, younker?"
"I know it too well, Mr. Griffith, and do not wish to know it better. How fast are we tumbling in towards that surf, sir?"
"I think we hold our own," said Griffith, rousing again; "though we had better anchor. Luff, fellow, luff—you are broadside to the sea!"
The man at the wheel repeated his former intelligence, adding a suggestion, that he thought the ship "was gathering stern way."
"Haul up your courses, Mr. Griffith," said Captain Munson, "and let us feel the wind."
The rattling of the blocks was soon heard, and the enormous sheets of canvas that hung from the lower yards were instantly suspended "in the brails." When this change was effected, all on board stood silent and breathless, as if expecting to learn their fate by the result. Several contradictory opinions were, at length, hazarded among the officers, when Griffith seized the candle from the lantern, and springing on one of the guns, held it on high, exposed to the action of the air. The little flame waved, with uncertain glimmering, for a moment, and then burned steadily, in a line with the masts. Griffith was about to lower his extended arm, when, feeling a slight sensation of coolness on his hand, he paused, and the light turned slowly toward the land, flared, flickered, and finally deserted the wick.
"Lose not a moment, Mr. Griffith," cried the pilot aloud; "clew up and furl everything but your three topsails, and let them be double-reefed. Now is the time to fulfill your promise."
The young man paused one moment, in astonishment, as the clear, distinct tones of the stranger struck his ears so unexpectedly; but turning his eyes to seaward, he sprang on the deck, and proceeded to obey the order, as if life and death depended on his dispatch.
"She rights! she rights, boys! ware off shore!" Song.
The extraordinary activity of Griffith, which communicated itself with promptitude to the crew, was produced by a sudden alteration in the weather. In place of the well-defined streak along the horizon, that has been already described, an immense body of misty light appeared to be moving in, with rapidity, from the ocean, while a distinct but distant roaring announced the sure approach of the tempest that had so long troubled the waters. Even Griffith, while thundering his orders through the trumpet, and urging the men, by his cries, to expedition, would pause, for instants, to cast anxious glances in the direction of the coming storm; and the faces of the sailors who lay on the yards were turned, instinctively, towards the same quarter of the heavens, while they knotted the reef-points, or passed the gaskets that were to confine the unruly canvas to the prescribed limits.
The pilot alone, in that confused and busy throng, where voice rose above voice, and cry echoed cry, in quick succession, appeared as if he held no interest in the important stake. With his eye steadily fixed on the approaching mist, and his arms folded together in composure, he stood calmly waiting the result.
The ship had fallen off, with her broadside to the sea, and was become unmanageable, and the sails were already brought into the folds necessary to her security, when the quick and heavy fluttering of canvas was thrown across the water, with all the gloomy and chilling sensations that such sounds produce, where darkness and danger unite to appall the seaman.
"The schooner has it!" cried Griffith: "Barnstable has held on, like himself, to the last moment.—God send that the squall leave him cloth enough to keep him from the shore!"
"His sails are easily handled," the commander observed, "and she must be over the principal danger. We are falling off before it, Mr. Gray; shall we try a cast of the lead?"
The pilot turned from his contemplative posture, and moved slowly across the deck before he returned any reply to this question—like a man who not only felt that everything depended on himself, but that he was equal to the emergency.
"'Tis unnecessary," he at length said; "'twould be certain destruction to be taken aback; and it is difficult to say, within several points, how the wind may strike us."
"'Tis difficult no longer," cried Griffith; "for here it comes, and in right earnest!"
The rushing sounds of the wind were now, indeed, heard at hand; and the words were hardly past the lips of the young lieutenant, before the vessel bowed down heavily to one side, and then, as she began to move through the water, rose again majestically to her upright position, as if saluting, like a courteous champion, the powerful antagonist with which she was about to contend. Not another minute elapsed, before the ship was throwing the waters aside, with a lively progress, and, obedient to her helm, was brought as near to the desired course as the direction of the wind would allow. The hurry and bustle on the yards gradually subsided, and the men slowly descended to the deck, all straining their eyes to pierce the gloom in which they were enveloped, and some shaking their heads, in melancholy doubt, afraid to express the apprehensions they really entertained. All on board anxiously waited for the fury of the gale; for there were none so ignorant or inexperienced in that gallant frigate, as not to know that as yet they only felt the infant effects of the wind. Each moment, however, it increased in power, though so gradual was the alteration, that the relieved mariners began to believe that all their gloomy forebodings were not to be realized. During this short interval of uncertainty, no other sounds were heard than the whistling of the breeze, as it passed quickly through the mass of rigging that belonged to the vessel, and the dashing of the spray that began to fly from her bows, like the foam of a cataract.
"It blows fresh," cried Griffith, who was the first to speak in that moment of doubt and anxiety; "but it is no more than a capful of wind after all. Give us elbow-room, and the right canvas, Mr. Pilot, and I'll handle the ship like a gentleman's yacht, in this breeze."
"Will she stay, think ye, under this sail?" said the low voice of the stranger.
"She will do all that man, in reason, can ask of wood and iron," returned the lieutenant; "but the vessel don't float the ocean that will tack under double-reefed topsails alone, against a heavy sea. Help her with her courses, pilot, and you shall see her come round like a dancing-master."
"Let us feel the strength of the gale first," returned the man who was called Mr. Gray, moving from the side of Griffith to the weather gangway of the vessel, where he stood in silence, looking ahead of the ship, with an air of singular coolness and abstraction.
All the lanterns had been extinguished on the deck of the frigate, when her anchor was secured, and as the first mist of the gale had passed over, it was succeeded by a faint light that was a good deal aided by the glittering foam of the waters, which now broke in white curls around the vessel in every direction. The land could be faintly discerned, rising like a heavy bank of black fog above the margin of the waters, and was only distinguishable from the heavens by its deeper gloom and obscurity. The last rope was coiled, and deposited in its proper place, by the seamen, and for several minutes the stillness of death pervaded the crowded decks. It was evident to every one, that their ship was dashing at a prodigious rate through the waves; and as she was approaching, with such velocity, the quarter of the bay where the shoals and dangers were known to be situated, nothing but the habits of the most exact discipline could suppress the uneasiness of the officers and men within their own bosoms. At length the voice of Captain Munson was heard, calling to the pilot: