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" All safe now, Mildred ! cried the young man, as his hands caught
the lines which he immediately passed around his body."

The Tivo Admirals, page 24.



H ITale of tbe Sea









! 5



Then, if he were my brother s,

My brother might not claim him ; nor your father,
Being none of his, refuse him : This concludes
My mother s son did get your father s heir ;
Your father s heir must have your father s land. King John.

THE events we are about to relate occurred near the
middle of the last century, previously even to that struggle
which it is the fashion of America to call "the old
French War." The opening scene of our tale, however,
must be sought in the other hemisphere, and on the -coast
of the mother country. In the middle of the eighteenth
century, the American colonies were models of loyalty ;
the very war, to which there has just been allusion, caus
ing the" great expenditure that induced the ministry to
have recourse to the system of taxation which terminated
in the Revolution. The family quarrel had not yet com
menced. Intensely occupied with the conflict, which
terminated not more gloriously for the British arms than
advantageously for the British American possessions, the
inhabitants of the provinces were perhaps never better dis
posed to the metropolitan state, than at the very period of
which we are about to write. All their early predilec
tions seemed to be gaining strength, instead of becoming
weaker ; and, as in nature, the calm is known to succeed
the tempest, the blind attachment of the colony to the
parent country was but a precursor of the alienation and
violent disunion that were so soon to follow.

Although the superiority of the English seaman was
well established, in the conflicts that took place between
the year 1740, and that of 1763, the naval warfare of the


period by no means possessed the very decided character
with which it became stamped, a quarter of a century
later. In our own times, the British marine appears to
have improved in quality, as its enemies deteriorated. In
the year 1812, however/" Greek met Greek," when of a
verity came " the tug of war." The great change that
came over the other navies of Europe was merely a con
sequence of the revolutions, which drove experienced men
into exile, and, which, by rendering armies all-important
even, to the existence of the different states, threw nautical
enterprises into the shade, and gave an engrossing direc
tion to courage and talent in another quarter. While
France was struggling, first for independence, and next
for the mastery of the Continent, a marine was a second
ary object ; for Vienna, Berlin, and Moscow, were as easily
entered without, as with its aid. To these and other simi
lar causes, must be referred the explanation of the seem
ing invincibility of the English arms at sea, during the
late great conflicts of Europe ; an invincibility that was
more apparent than real, however, as many well-estab
lished defeats were, even then, intermingled with her
thousand victories.

From the time when her numbers could furnish succor of
this nature, down to the day of separation, America had
her full share in the exploits of the English marine. The
gentry of the colonies willingly placed their sons in the
royal navy, and many a bit of square bunting has been
flying at the royal mastheads of king s ships, in the nine
teenth century, as the distinguishing symbols of flag-offi
cers, who had to look for their birthplaces among our
selves. In the course of a checkered life, in which \ve.have
been brought in collision with as great a diversity of rank,
professions, and characters, as often falls to the lot of any
one individual, we have been thrown into contact with no
less than eight English admirals of American birth ; while
it has never yet been our good fortune to meet with a
countryman who has had this rank bestowed, on him by
his own government. On one occasion, an Englishman,
who had filled the highest civil office connected with the
marine of his nation, observed to us, that the only man he
then knew, in the British navy, in whom he should feel an
entire confidence in intrusting an important command,
was one of these translated admirals ; and the thought
unavoidably passed through our mind, that this favorite


commander had done well in adhering to the conventional,
instead of clinging to his natural allegiance, inasmuch as
he might have toiled for half a century, in the service of
his native land, and been rewarded with a rank that
would merely put him on a level with "a colonel in the
army! How much longer this short-sighted policy and
grievous injustice are to continue, no man can say ; but it
is safe to believe that it is to last until some legislator of
influence learns the simple truth, that the fancied reluc
tance of popular constituencies to do right oftener exists in
the apprehensions of their representatives, than in reality.
But to our tale.

England enjoys a wide-spread reputation for her fogs ;
but little do they know how much a fog may add to
natural scenery, who never witnessed its magical effects as
it has caused the beautiful landscape to coquette with the
eye, in playful and capricious changes. Our opening
scene is in one of these much derided fogs ; though, let it
always be remembered, it was a fog of June, and not of
November. On a high headland of the coast of Devonshire
stood a little station-house, which had been erected with a
view to communicate by signals with the shipping that
sometimes lay at anchor in an adjacent roadstead. A little
island is a village, or hamlet, that it suits our purpose to
call Wychecombe ; and at no great distance from the
village itself, surrounded by a small park, stood a house of
the age of Henry VII., which was the abode of Sir
Wycherly Wychecombe, a baronet of the creation of King
James L, and the possessor of an improvable estate of
some three or four thousand a year, which had been trans
mitted to him, through a line of ancestors that ascended
as far back as the time of the Plantagenets. Neither
Wychecombe, nor the headland, nor the anchorage, was a
place of note ; for much larger and more favored hamlets,
villages, and towns lay scattered about that fine portion of
England ; much better roadsteads and bays could generally
be used by the coming or the parting vessel ; and far more
important signal-stations were to be met with, all along
that coast. Nevertheless, the roadstead was entered when
calm or adverse winds rendered it expedient ; the hamlet
had its conveniences, and, like most English hamlets, its
beauties ; and the hall and park were not without their
claim to state and rural magnificence. A century since,
whatever the table of precedency or Blackstone may say,


an Engligh baronet, particularly one of the date of 1611,
was a much greater personage than he is to-day ; and an
estate of ^"4,000 a year, more especially if not rack-rented,
was of an extent, and necessarily of a local consequence,
equal to one of near, or quite three times the same amount,
in our own day. Sir Wycherley, however, enjoyed an ad
vantage that was of still greater importance, and which
was more common in 1745, than at the present moment.
He had no rival within fifteen miles of him, and the
nearest potentate was a nobleman of a rank and fortune
that put all competition out of the question ; one who dwelt
in courts, the favorite of kings ; leaving the Baronet, as it
might be, in undisturbed enjoyment of all the local
homage. Sir Wycherly had once been a member of Par
liament, and only once. In his youth, he had been a fox-
hunter ; and a small property in Yorkshire had long been
in the family, as a sort of foothold on such enjoyments ;
but having broken a leg, in one of his leaps, he had taken
refuge against ennui, by sitting a single session in the
House of Commons, as the member of a borough that lay
adjacent to his hunting-box. This session sufficed for his
whole life ; the good baronet having taken the matter so
literally, as to be present at all the sittings ; a sort of tax
on his time, which, as it came wholly unaccompanied by
profit, was very likely soon to tire out the patience of an
old fox-hunter. After resigning his seat, he retired alto
gether to Wychecombe, where he passed the last fifty
years, extolling England, and most especially that part of
it in which his own estate lay ; in abusing the French,
with occasional innuendoes against Spain and Holland ;
and in eating and drinking. He had never travelled ; for,
though Englishmen of his station often did visit the Con
tinent, a century ago, they oftener did not. It was the
courtly and the noble, who then chiefly took this means of
improving their minds and manners ; a class to which the
Baronet by no means necessarily belonged.

To conclude, Sir Wycherly was now eighty-four ; hale,
hearty, and a bachelor. He had been born the oldest of
five brothers ; the cadets taking refuge, as usual, in the
inns of court, the church, the army, and the navy ; and
precisely in the order named. The lawyer had actually
risen to be a judge, by the style and appellation of Baron
Wychecombe ; had three illegitimate children by his house
keeper, and died, leaving to the eldest thereof all his pro-


fessional earnings, after buying commissions for the two
younger in the army. The divine broke his neck, while
yet a curate, in a fox-hunt ; dying unmarried, and, so far
as is generally known, childless. This was Sir Wycherly s
favorite brother ; who, he was accustomed to say, " lost his
life in setting an example of field-sports to his parish
ioners." The soldier was fairly killed in battle, before he
was twenty ; and the name of the sailor suddenly disap
peared from the list of his Majesty s lieutenants, about
half a century before the time when our tale opens, by
shipwreck. Between the sailor and the head of the family,
however, there had been no great sympathy ; in conse
quence, as it was rumored, of a certain beauty s preference
for the latter, though this preference produced no suites,
inasmuch as the lady died a maid. Mr. Gregory Wyche-
combe, the lieutenant in question, was what is termed
a "wild boy;" and it was the general impression, when
his parents sent him to sea, that the ocean would now
meet with its match. The hopes of the family centred
in the judge, after the death of the curate, and it was
a great cause of regret, to those who took an interest
in its perpetuity and renown, that this dignitary did not
marry ; since the premature death of all the other sons
had left the hall, park, and goodly farms, without any known
legal heir. In a w^ord, this branch of the family of Wye he-
combe would be extinct, when Sir Wycherly died, and the
entail become useless. Not a female inheritor, even, or a
male inheritor through females could be traced ; and
it had become imperative on Sir Wycherly to make a will,
lest the property should go off, the Lord knows where ; or,
what was worse, it should escheat. It is true, Tom Wyche-
combe, the Judge s eldest son, often gave dark hints about
a secret, and a timely marriage between his parents, a fact
that would have superseded the necessity for all devises,
as the property was strictly tied up, so far as the lineal de
scendants of a certain old Sir Wycherly were concerned ;
but the present Sir Wycherly had seen his brother, in his
last illness, on which occasion the following conversation
had taken place.

"And now, brother Thomas," said the Baronet, in a
friendly and consoling manner, "having, as one may say,
prepared your soul for heaven, by these prayers and ad
missions of your sins, a word may be prudently said con


cerning the affairs of this world. You know I am childless
that is to say

" I understand you, Wycherly," interrupted the dying
man, "you re a bachelor"

" That s it, Thomas ; and bachelors ought not to have
children. Had our poor brother James escaped that mis
hap, he might have been sitting at your bedside at this
moment, and he could have told us all about it. St. James
I used to call him ; and well did he deserve the name ! "

" St. James the Least, then it must have been, Wycherly."

"It s a dreadful thing to have no heir, Thomas! Did you
ever know a case in your practice, in which another estate
was left so completely without an heir, as this of ours?"

"It does not often happen, brother ; heirs are usually
more abundant than estates."

" So I thought. Will the king get the title as well as the
estate, brother, if it should escheat, as you call it ? "

" Being the fountain of honor, he will be rather indif
ferent about the Baronetcy."

" I should care less if it went to the next sovereign who
is English born. Wychecombe has always belonged to

" That it has ; and ever will, I trust. You have only to
select an heir, when I am gone, and by making a will, with
proper devises, the property will be escheat. Be careful
to use the full terms of perpetuity."

" Every thing was comfortable, brother, while you were
in health," said Sir Wycherly, fidgeting; "you were my
natural heir "

" Heir of entail," interrupted the Judge.

" Well, well, heir, at all events ; and that was a prodig
ious comfort to a man like myself, who has a sort of relig
ious scruple about making a will. I have heard it whis
pered that you were actually married to Martha ; in which
case Tom might drop into our shoes so readily, without
any more signing and sealing."

"A filius nullius" returned the other, too conscientious
to lend himself to a deception of that nature.

" Why, brother, Tom often seems to me to favor such an
idea himself."

" No wonder, Wycherly, for the idea would greatly favor
him. Tom and his brothers are all filii nullorum God for
give me for that same wrong."

" I wonder neither Charles nor Gregory thought of mar-


rying before they lost their lives for their king and coun
try," put in Sir Wyclierly, in an upbraiding tone, as if he
thought his penniless brethren had done him an injury in
neglecting to supply him with an heir, though he had been
so forgetful himself of the same duty. " I did think of
bringing in a bill for providing heirs for unmarried per
sons, without the trouble and responsibility of making

" That would have been a great improvement on the law
of descents ; I hope you wouldn t have overlooked the an

" Not I ; everybody would have got his rights. They
tell me poor Charles never spoke after he was shot ; but I
dare say, did he know the truth, he regretted sincerely that
he never married."

"There, for once, Wycherly, I think you are likely to be
wrong. A femme sole without food, is rather a helpless
sort of person."

" Well, well, I wish he had married. What would it have
been to me, had he left a dozen widows ? "

" It might have raised some awkward questions as to
dowry ; and if each left a son, the title and estates would
have been worse off than they are at present, without wid
ows or legitimate children."

"Any thing would be better than having no heir. I be
lieve I m the first baronet of Wychecombe who has been
obliged to make a will ! "

"Quite likely," returned the brother, dryly ; " I remem
ber to have got nothing from the last one, in that way.
Charles and Gregory fared no better. Never mind, Wy
cherly, you behaved like a father to us all."

" I don t mind signing checks, in the least ; but wills
have an irreligious appearance, in my eyes. There are a
good many Wychecombes, in England ; I wonder some of
them are not of our family ! They tell me a hundredth
cousin is just as good an heir as a first-born son."

" Failing nearer of kin. But we have no hundredth
cousins of the whole blood."

" There are the Wychecombes of Surrey, brother,
Thomas "

" Descended from a bastard of the second baronet, and
out of the line of descent, altogether."

" But the Wychecombes of Hertfordshire I have always
heard were of our family, and legitimate."


" True, as regards matrimony rather too much of it, by
the way. They branched off in 1487, long before the crea
tion and have nothing to do with the entail ; the first of
their line coming from old Sir Michael Wychecombe, Kt,
and Sheriff of Devonshire, by his second wife, Margaret ;
while we are derived from the same male ancestor, through
Wycherly, the only son by Joan, the first wife. Wycherly,
and Michael, the son of Michael and Margery, were the
half-blood, as respects each other, and could not be heirs
of blood. What was true of the ancestors is true of the

" But we came of the same ancestor, and the estate is
far older than 1487."

" Quite true, brother ; nevertheless, the half-blood can t
take ; so says the perfection of human reason."

" I never could understand these niceties of the law,"
said Sir Wycherly, sighing ; " but I suppose they are all
right. There are so many Wychecombes scattered about
England, that I should think some one among them all
might be my heir ! "

" Every man of them bears a bar in his arms, or is of
the half-blood."

" You are quite sure, brother, that Tom is *.filius nullus?"
for the Baronet had forgotten most of the Latin he ever
knew, and translated this legal phrase into "no son."

" Filius nullius, Sir Wycherly, the son of nobody; your
reading would literally make Tom nobody ; whereas, he is
only the son of nobody."

" But, brother, he is your son, and as like you as two
hounds of the same litter."

" I am null-US, in the eye of the law, as regards poor Tom ;
who, until he marries, and has children of his own, is alto
gether without legal kindred. Nor do I know that legiti
macy would make Tom any better ; for he is presuming
and confident enough for the heir apparent to the throne,
as it is."

" Well, there s this young sailor, who has been so much
at the station lately, since he was left ashore for the cure
of his wounds. Tis a most gallant lad ; and the First
Lord has sent him a commission, as a reward for his good
conduct in cutting out the Frenchman. I look upon him
as a credit to the name ; and I make no question, he is,
some way or other, of our family."

"Does he claim to be so?" asked the judge, a little


quickly, for he distrusted men in general, and thought,
from all he had heard, that some attempt might have been
made to practise on his brother s simplicity. " I thought
you told me that he came from the American colonies ? "

" So he does ; he s a native of Virginia, as was his father
before him."

" A convict, perhaps ; or a servant, quite likely, who has
found the name of his former master more to his lining
than his own. Such things are common, they tell me, be
yond seas."

"Yes, if. he were any thing but an American, I might
wish he were my heir," returned Sir Wycherly, in a mel
ancholy tone ; " but it would be worse than to let the lands
escheat, as you call it, to place an American in possession
of Wychecombe. The manors have always had English
owners, down to the present moment, thank God ! "

" Should they have any other, it \vill be your own fault,
Wycherly. When I am dead, and that will happen ere
many weeks, the human being will not be living who can
take that property, after your demise, in any other man
ner than by escheat or by devise. There will then be
neither heir of entail, nor heir at law ; and you may make
whom you please master at Wychecombe, provided he be
not an alien."

" Not an American, I suppose, brother ; an American is
an alien, of course."

" Humph ! why, not in law, whatever he may be accord
ing to our English notions. Harkee, brother Wycherly;
I ve never asked you, or wished you to leave the estate to
Tom, or his younger brothers ; for one and all are filii
nollonifn as I term em, though my brother, Record will
have it, it ought to be filii niillius, as well as filius nullius.
Let that be as it may ; no bastard should lord it at Wyche
combe ; and rather than the king should get the lands, to
bestow on some favorite, I would give it to the half-blood."

" Can that be done without making a will, brother

T-l 1

1 ho mas ?

" It can not, Sir Wycherly ; nor with a will, so long as
an heir of entail can be found."

u Is there no way of making Tom a filius somebody, so
that he can succeed ?"

" Not under our laws. By the civil law, such a thing
might have been done, and by the Scotch law ; but not
under the perfection of reason."


" I wish you knew this young Virginian ! The lad bears
both of my names, Wycherly Wychecombe."

" He is not "A. filius Wycherly is he, Baronet ?"

" Fie upon thee, brother Thomas ! Do you think I have
less candor than thyself, that I would not acknowledge my
own flesh and blood ? I never saw the youngster, until
within the last six months, when he was landed from the
roadstead, and brought to Wychecombe, to be cured of his
wounds; nor ever heard of him before. When they told
me his name was Wycherly Wychecombe, I could do no
less than call and see him. The poor fellow lay at death s
door for a fortnight. And it was while we had little or no
hope of saving him, that I got the few family anecdotes
from him. Now, that would be good evidence in law, I
believe, Thomas."

" For certain things, had the lad really died. Surviving,
he must be heard on his voir dire, and under oath. But
what was his tale ? "

" A very short one. He told me his father was a
Wycherly Wychecombe, and that his grandfather had been
a Virginia planter. This was all he seemed to know of
his ancestry."

" And probably all there was of them. My Tom is not
the only filius nullius that has been among us, and this
grandfather, if he has not actually stolen the name, has
got it by these doubtful means. As for the Wycherly, it
should pass for nothing. Learning that there is a line of
baronets of his name, every pretender to the family would
be apt to call a son Wycherly."

" The line will shortly be ended, brother," returned Sir
Wycherly, sighing. " I wish you might be mistaken, and,
after all, Tom shouldn t prove to be that filius you call

Mr. Baron Wychecombe, as much from esprit de corps as
from moral principle, was a man of strict integrity, in all
things that related to meum and tuum. He was particularly
rigid in his notions concerning the transmission of real
estate, and the rights of primogeniture. The world had
taken little interest in the private history of a lawyer, and
his sons having been born before his elevation to the
bench, he passed with the public for a widower, with a
family of promising boys. Not one in a hundred of his
acquaintances even suspected the fact ; and nothing would
have been easier for him than to have imposed on his


brother, by inducing him to make a will under some legal
mystification or other, and to have caused Tom Wyche
combe to succeed to the property in question by an indis
putable title. There would have been no great difficulty
even, in his son s assuming and maintaining his right to
the baronetcy, inasmuch as there would be no competi
tor, and the crown officers were not particularly rigid in
inquiring into the claims of those who assumed a title
that brought with it no political privileges. Still, he was
far from indulging in any such project. To him it ap
peared that the Wychecombe estate ought to go with the
principles that usually governed such matters ; and, al
though he submitted to the dictum of the common law,
as regarded the provision which excluded the half blood
from inheriting, with the deference of an English common-
law lawyer, he saw and felt that, failing the direct line,
Wychecombe ought to revert to the descendants of Sir
Michael by his second son, for the plain reason that they
were just as much derived from the person who had ac
quired the estate as his brother Wycherly and himself.
Had there been descendents of females even to interfere,
no such opinion would have existed ; but, as between an
escheat, or a devise in favor of a. f Hits milliits, or of the de
scendant of &fiUiis nulliiis, the half-blood possessed every
possible advantage. In his legal eyes, legitimacy was
every thing, although he had not hesitated to be the

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe two admirals : a tale of the sea → online text (page 1 of 42)