James Fenimore Cooper.

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" THE PRAIRIE," frc.

Ye speak like honest men : pray God ye prove so !'








Good : Speak to the mariners : Fall to't yarely, or we run

ourselvt's aground.


A GOOD deal of the day had been wasted
during the time occupied by the scenes just
related. The breeze had come in steady, but
far from fresh. So soon, however, as Wilder
found himself left without the molestation of
idlers from the shore, and the busy interposi
tion of the consignee, he cast his eyes about
him, with the intention of immediately sub-



milling ihe ship to ils power. Sending for the
pilot, he communicated his determination, and
withdrew himself to a part of the deck whence
he might take a proper survey of the materials
of his new command, and where he might
reflect on the unexpected and extraordinary
.situation in which he found himself.

The " Royal Caroline " was not entirely
without pretensions to the lofty name she bore.
She was a vessel of that happy size in which
comfort and convenience had been equally con
sulted. The letler of the Rover affirmed she
had a reputation for her speed ; and her young
and intelligent commander, saw, with great
inward satisfaction, that she was not destitute
of the means of enabling him to exhibit all her
finest properties. A healthy, active, and skilful
crew, justly proportioned spars, little top-ham
per, and an excellent trim, with a superabun
dance of light sails, offered all the advantage*
his experience could suggest. His eye lighted,
as it glanced rapidly over these several par
ticulars of his command, and his lips moveoj


like those of a man who uttered an inward self-
gratulation, or who indulged in some vaunt,
that propriety suggested should go no farther
than his own thoughts.

By this time, the crew, under the orders of
the pilot, were assembled at the windlass, and
had commenced heaving-in upon the cable.
The labour was of a nature to exhibit their
individual powers, as well as their collective
force, to the greatest advantage. Their motion
was simultaneous, quick, and full of muscle.
The cry was clear and cheerful. As if to feel
his influence, our adventurer lifted his own
voice, amid the song of the mariners, in one
of those sudden and inspiriting calls with
which a sea officer is wont to encourage
his people. His utterance was deep, ani
mated, and full of authority. The seamen
started, like mettled coursers when they first hear
the signal, each man casting a glance behind
him, as though he would scan the qualities of
his new superior. Wilder smiled, like one
satisfied with his success ; and, turning to pace
B 2


the quarter-deck, he found himself once more
confronted by the calm, considerate, but cer
tainly astonished eye of Mrs. Willys.

" After the opinions you were pleased to
express of this vessel," said the lady, in a
manner of the coldest irony, " I did not expect
to find you filling a place of such responsibility

" You probably knew, Madam," returned the
young mariner, " that a sad accident had hap
pened to her master ?"

" I did ; and I had heard that another of
ficer had been found, temporarily, to supply
his place. Still, I should presume, that, on
reflection, you will not thing it remarkable I am
amazed in finding who this person is ?"

" Perhaps, Madam, you may have conceived,
from our conversations, an unfavourable opinion
of my professional skill. But I hope that on
this head you will place your mind at ease;
for- "

" You are doubtless a master of the art ! it
would seem, at least, that no trifling danger


can deter you from seeking proper opportuni
ties to display this knowledge. Are we to have
the pleasure of your company during the whole
passage, or do you leave us at the mouth of the
port ?"

u I am engaged to conduct the ship to the
end of her voyage."

"We. may then hope that the danger you
either saw or imagined is lessened in your judg
ment, otherwise you would not be so ready
to encounter it in our company.'*

" You do me injustice, Madam," returned
Wilder, with warmth, glancing his eye uncon
sciously towards the grave, but deeply attentive
Gertrude, as he spoke : " there is no danger
that I would not 'cheerfully encounter, to save
you, or this young lady, from harm."

" Even this young lady must be sensible of
your chivalry !" Then, losing the constrained
manner with which, until now, she had main
tained the discourse, in one more natural, and
one far more in consonance with her usually
mild and thoughtful mien, Mrs. Wyllys con-


tinued, " You have a powerful advocate, young
man, in the unaccountable interest which I feel
in your truth ; an interest that my reason would
fain condemn. As the ship must need your
services, I will no longer detain you. Oppor
tunities cannot be wanting to enable us to
judge both of your inclination and ability to
serve us. Gertrude, my love, females are
usually considered as incumbrances in a vessel ;
more particularly when there is any delicate
duty to perform, like this before us."

Gertrude started, blushed, and proceeded,
after her governess, to the opposite side of the
quarter-deck, followed by an expressive look
from our adventurer, which seemed to say, he
considered her presence any thing else but an
incumbrance. As the ladies immediately took
a position apart from every body, and one where
they were least in the way of working the ship,
at the same time that they could command an
entire view of all her manoeuvres, the disappointed
sailor was obliged to cut short a communication,
which he would gladly have continued until


compelled to take the charge of the vessel from
the hands of the pilot. By this time, however,
the anchor was a-weigh, and the seamen were
already actively engaged in the process of mak
ing sail. Wilder lent himself, with feverish ex
citement to the duty ; and, taking the words
from the officer who was issuing the necessary
orders, he assumed the immediate superintend
ence in person.

As sheet after sheet of canvas fell from the
yards, and was distended by the complicated
mechanism, the interest that a seaman ever takes
in his vessel began to gain the ascendancy over
all other feelings. By the time every thing was
set, from the royals down^ and the ship was
cast with her head towards the harbour's mouth,
our adventurer had probably forgotten (for the
moment only, it is true) that he was a stranger
among those he was in so extraordinary a man
ner selected to command, and how precious a
stake was intrusted to his firmness and decision.
After every thing was set to advantage, alow
and aloft, and the ship was brought close upon


the wind, his eye scanned every yard and sail,
from the truck to the hull, and concluded by
casting a glance along the outer side of the ves
sel, in order to see that not even the smallest rope
was in the water to impede her progress. A
small skiff, occupied by a boy, was towing under
the lee, and as the mass of the vessel began to
move, it was skipping along the surface of the
water, light and buoyant as a feather. Perceiving
that it was a boat belonging to the shore, Wilder
walked forward, and demanded its owner.
A mate pointed to Joram, who at that moment
ascended from the interior of the vessel, where
he had been settling the balance due from a
delinquent, or, what was in his eyes the same
thing, a departing debtor.

The sight of this man recalled Wilder to a
recollection of all that had occurred that morning,
and of the whole delicacy of the task he had
undertaken to perform. But the publican,
whose ideas appeared always concentrated when
occupied on the subject of gain, seemed troubled
by no particular emotions at the interview. He


approached the young mariner, and, saluting
him by the title of u Captain," bade him a good
voyage, with those customary wishes which sea
men express, when about to separate on such an

" A lucky trip you have made of it, Captain
Wilder," he concluded, " and I hope your
passage will be short. You'll not be without a
breeze this afternoon ; and, by stretching well
over towards Montauck, you'll be able to make
such an offing, on the other tack, as to run the
coast down in the morning. If I am any judge
of the weather, the wind will have more east
ing in it, than you may happen to find to your

16 And how long do you think my voyage is
likely to last ?" demanded Wilder, dropping his
voice so low as to reach no ears but those of the

Joram cast a furtive glance aside ; and, per
ceiving that they were alone, he suffered an ex
pression of hardened cunning to take possession
of a countenance that ordinarily seemed set



in dull, physical contentment, as he replied,
laying a finger on his nose while speaking

" Didn't I tender the consignee a beautiful
oath, master Wilder?"

" You certainly exceeded my expectations
with your promptitude, and "

" Information !" added the landlord of the
* Foul Anchor,' perceiving the other a little at
a loss for a word. " Yes, I have always been
remarkable for the activity of my mind in these
small matters ; but, when a man once knows a
thing thoroughly, it is a great folly to spend his
breath in too many words."

" It is certainly a great advantage to te so
well instructed. I suppose you improve your
knowledge to a good account ?"

"Ah ! bless me, master Wilder, what would
become of us all, in these difficult times, if we
did not turn an honest penny in every way that
offers? I have brought up several fine children
in credit, and it sha'n't be my fault if I don't
leave them something too, besides my good
name* Well, well ; they say, " ' A nimble six-


pence is as good as a lazy shilling;' but give,
me the man who don't stand shilly-shally when
a friend has need of his good word, or a lift
from his hand. You always know where to find
such a man, as our politicians say, after they
have gone through thick and thin in the cause,
be it right or be it wrong."

" Very commendable principles ! and such
as will surely be the means of exalting you in
the world sooner or later ! But you forget to
answer my question. Will the passage be long,
or short ?"

" Heaven bless you, master Wilder ! Is it for
a poor publican, like me, to tell the master of
this noble ship which way the wind will blow
next ? There is the worthy and notable Com-
mander Nichols, lying in his state room below,
he could do anything with the vessel ; and why
am I to expect that a gentleman so well recom
mended as yourself will do less ? I expect to
hear that you have made a famous run, and have
done credit to the good word 1 have had occasion
to say in your favour."


Wilder execrated, in his heart, the wary
cunning of the rogue with whom he was com
pelled, for the moment, to be in league; for
he saw plainly that a determination not to
commit himself a tittle further than he might
conceive to be absolutely necessary, was likely
to render Joram too circumspect to answer
his own immediate wishes. After hesitating a
moment, in order to reflect, he continued

" You see that the ship is gathering way too
fast to admit of trifling. You know of the letter
I received this morning ?"

" Bless me, Captain Wilder ! Do you take me
for a postmaster ? How should I know what
letters arrive at Newport, and what stop on the
main ?"

" As timid a villain as he is thorough !"
muttered the young mariner. '" But this much
you may surely say, am I to be followed im
mediately ? or is it expected that I should detain
the ship in the offing, under any pretence that
I can devise ?"


" Heaven keep you, young gentleman ! These
are strange questions, to come from one who
is fresh off the sea, to a man that has done no
more than look at it from the land these five-
and-twenty years. According to my memory,
Sir, you will keep the ship about south until you
are clear of the islands ; and then you must
make your calculations according to the wind,
in order not to get into the gulf, where, you
know, the stream will be setting you one way,
while your orders say, e Go another. 1 '

" Luff! mind your luff, Sir !" cried the pilot,
in a stern voice, to the man at the helm ; " luff
you can ; on no account go to leeward of the
slaver !"

Both Wilder and the publican started, as if
they found something alarming in the name of
the vessel just alluded to ; and the former pointed
to the skiff, as he said

" Unless you wish to go to sea with us, Mr.
Joram, it is time your boat held its master."

" Ay, ay, I see you are fairly under way, and
1 must leave you, however much I like your


company," returned the landlord of the ' Foul
Anchor,* bustling over the side, and getting
into his skiff in the best manner he could.
" Well, boys, a good time to ye ; a plenty of
wind, and of the right sort ; a safe passage out,
and a quick return. Cast off."

His order was obeyed ; the light skiff, no
longer impelled by the ship, immediately de
viated from its course ; and, after making a little
circuit, it became stationary, while the mast of
the vessel passed on with the steadiness of an
elephant from whose back a butterfly had just
taken its flight. "Wilder followed the boat with
his eyes, for a moment ; but his thoughts were
recalled by the voice of the pilot, who again
called, from the forward part of the ship

" Let the light sails lift a little, boy ; let her
lift; keep every inch you can, or you'll not
weather the slaver. Luff, I say, Sir ; luff."

" The slaver !" muttered our adventurer,
hastening to a part of the ship whence he could
command a view of that important, and to him
doubly interesting ship ; " ay, the slaver ! it


may be difficult, indeed, to weather upon the
slaver !"

He had unconsciously placed himself near
Mrs. Wyllys and Gertrude ; the latter of whom
was leaning on the rail of the quarter deck,
regarding the strange vessel at anchor, with a
pleasure far from unnatural to her years and

" You may laugh at me, and call me fickle,
and perhaps credulous, dear Mrs. Wyllys," the
unsuspecting girl cried, just as Wilder had
taken the foregoing position, "but I wish we
were well out of this * Royal Caroline,' and
that our passage was to be made in yonder
beautiful ship !"

" It is indeed a beautiful ship !" returned
Wyllys ; " but I know not that it would be
safer, or more comfortable, than the one we
are in."

" With what symmetry and order the ropes
are arranged ! and how like a bird it floats upon
the water !"

" Had you particularized the duck, the com-


parison would have been exactly nautical, 1 ' said
the governess, smiling mournfully ; " you shew
capabilities, my love, to be one day a seaman's

Gertrude blushed a little ; and, turning back
her head to answer in the playful vein of her
governess, her eye met the rivetted look of
Wilder, fastened on herself. The colour on
her cheek deepened to a carnation, and she
was mute ; the large gipsey hat she wore
serving to conceal both her face and the con
fusion which so deeply suffused it.

" You make no answer, child, as if you re
flected seriously on the chances," continued
Mrs. Wyllys, whose thoughtful and abstracted
mien, however, sufficiently proved she scarcely
knew what she uttered.

" The sea is too unstable an element for my
taste," Gertrude coldly answered. " Pray tell
me, Mrs. Wyllys, is the vessel we are approach
ing a king's ship ? She has a warlike, not to
say a threatening exterior.'*

" The pilot has twice called her a slaver."


a A slaver ! How deceitful then is all her
beauty and symmetry ! I will never trust to
appearances again, since so lovely an object can
be devoted to so vile a purpose."

" Deceitful, indeed !" exclaimed Wilder aloud,
under an impulse that he found as irresistible as
it was involuntary. " I will take upon myself
to say, that a more treacherous vessel does not
float the ocean than yonder finely proportioned
and admirably equipped "

" Slaver," added Mrs. Wyllys, who had time
to turn, and to look all her astonishment, before
the young man appeared disposed to finish his
own sentence.

" Slaver ;" he said, with emphasis, bowing at
the same time, as if he would thank her for the

After this interruption, a profound silence
occurred. Mrs. Wyllys studied the disturbed
features of the young man, for a moment, with
a countenance that denoted a singular, though
a complicated, interest ; and then she gravely
bent her eyes on the water, deeply occupied


with intense, if not painful reflection. The
light symmetrical form of Gertrude continued
leaning on the rail, it is true, but Wilder was
unable to catch another glimpse of her averted
and shadowed lineaments. In the mean while,
events, that were of a character to withdraw
his attention entirely from even so pleasing a
study, were hastening to their accomplishment.

The ship had, by this time, passed between
the little island and the point whence Home
spun had embarked, and might now be said to
have fairly left the inner harbour. The slaver
lay directly in her track, and every man in the
vessel was gazing with deep interest, in order to
see whether they might yet hope to pass on her
weather-beam. The measure was desirable ;
because a seaman has a pride in keeping on the
honourable side of every thing he encounters ;
but chiefly because, from the position of the
stranger, it would be the means of preventing
the necessity of tacking before the ' Caroline '
should reach a point more advantageous for
such a manoeuvre. The reader will, however,


readily understand that the interest of her new
commander took its rise in far different feelings
from those of professional pride, or momentary

Wilder felt, in every nerve, the probability
that a crisis was at hand. It will be remem
bered that he was profoundly ignorant of the
immediate intentions of the Rover. As the fort
was not in a state for present service, it would
not be difficult for the latter to seize upon his
prey in open view of the townsmen, and bear it
off, in contempt of their feeble means of defence.
The position of the two ships was favourable to
such an enterprise. Unprepared, and unsus
pecting, the * Caroline,' at no time a match for
her powerful adversary, must fall an easy
victim ; nor would there be much reason to
apprehend that a single shot from the battery
could reach them, before the captor, and his
prize, would be at such a distance as to render
the blow next to impotent, if not utterly inno
cuous. The wild and audacious character of
such an enterprise was in full accordance with


the reputation of the desperate freebooter, on
whose caprice, alone, the act now seemed solely
to depend.

Under these impressions, and with the pros
pect of such a speedy termination to his new
born authority, it is not to be considered won
derful that our adventurer awaited the result
with an interest far exceeding that of any of
those by whom he was surrounded. He walked
into the waist of the ship, and endeavoured to
read the plan of his secret confederates, by some
of those indications that are familiar to a sea
man. Not the smallest sign of any intention to
depart, or in any manner to change her position,
was, however, discoverable in the pretended
slaver. She lay in the same deep, beautiful, but
treacherous quiet, as that in which she had
reposed throughout the whole of the eventful
morning. But a solitary individual could be
seen amid the mazes of her rigging, or along
the wide reach of all her spars. It was a sea
man seated on the extremity of a lower yard,
where he appeared to busy himself with one of


those repairs that are so constantly required in
the gear of a large ship. As the man was placed
on the weather side of his own vessel, Wilder
instantly conceived the idea that he was thus
stationed to cast a grapnel into the rigging of
the ' Caroline,' should such a measure become
necessary, in order to bring the two ships foul
of each other. With a view to prevent so rude
an encounter, he instantly determined to defeat
the plan. Calling to the pilot, he told him the
attempt to pass to windward was of very doubt
ful success, and reminded him that the safer way
would be to go to leeward.

< No fear, no fear, captain," returned the
stubborn conductor of the ship, who, as his
authority was so brief, was only the more jea
lous of its unrestrained exercise, and who, like
an usurper of the throne, felt a jealousy of the
more legitimate power which he had temporarily
dispossessed ; " no fear of me, captain. I have
trolled over this ground oftener than you have
crossed the ocean, and I know the name of
every rock on the bottom as well as the town


crier knows the streets of Newport. Let her
luff, boy; luff her into the very eye of the
wind ; luff, you can "

" You have the ship shivering as it is, Sir,"
said Wilder sternly : u should you get us foul
of the slaver, who is to pay the cost ?"

" I am a general underwriter," returned the
opinionated pilot ; " my wife shall mend every
hole I make in your sails with a needle no
bigger than a hair, and with such a palm as a
fairy's thimble !"

" This is fine talking, Sir, but you are already
losing the ship's way; and, before you have
ended your boasts, she will be as fast in irons as
a condemned thief. Keep the sails full, boy ;
keep them a rap full, Sir."

" Ay, ay, keep her a good full," echoed the
pilot, who, as the difficulty of passing to wind
ward became at each instant more obvious,
evidently began to waver in his resolution.
" Keep her full-and-by I have always told you

full-and-by 1 don't know, captain, seeing

that the wind has hauled a little, but we shall


have to pass to leeward yet; but you will
acknowledge that, in such case, we shall be
obliged to go about."

Now, in point of fact, the wind, though a
little lighter than it had been, was, if any thing,
a trifle more favourable ; nor had Wilder ever,
in any manner, denied that the ship would not
have to tack some twenty minutes sooner, by
going to leeward of the other vessel, than if she
had succeeded in her delicate experiment of
passing on the more honourable side ; but, as
the vulgarest minds are always the most reluc
tant to confess their blunders, the discomfited
pilot was disposed to qualify the concession he
found himself compelled to make, by some salvo
of the sort, that he might not lessen his repu
tation for foresight among his auditors.

" Keep her away at once," cried Wilder,
who was beginning to change the tones of re
monstrance for those of command ; " keep the
ship away, Sir, while you have room to do it,
or, by the "

His lips became motionless ; for his eye hap-


pened to fall on the pale, speaking, and anxious
countenance of Gertrude.

" I believe it must be done, seeing that the
wind is hauling. Hard up, boy, and run her
under the stern of the ship at anchor. Hold !
keep your luff again ; eat into the wind to the
bone, boy ; lift again ; let the light sails lift.
The slaver has run a warp directly across our
track. If there's law in the Plantations, I'll
have her captain before the Courts for this !"

" What means the fellow ?** demanded Wilder,
jumping hastily on a gun, in order to get a
better view.

His mate pointed to the lee quarter of the
other vessel, where, sure enough, a large rope
was seen whipping the water, as though in the
very process of being extended. The truth
instantly flashed on the mind of our young
mariner. The Rover lay secretly moored with
a spring, with a view to bring his guns more
readily to bear upon the battery, should his
defence become necessary, and he now profited
by the circumstance, in order to prevent the


trader 'from passing to leeward. The whole
arrangement excited a good deal of surprise,
and not a few execrations among the officers
of the ' Caroline,' though none but her com
mander had the smallest twinkling of the

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe red rover, a tale (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 13)