James Fenimore Cooper.

The Wing-and-wing; or, Le Feu follet online

. (page 1 of 40)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Wing-and-wing; or, Le Feu follet → online text (page 1 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



1 Efll





Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1839, by


in tho Clerk s Office of the District Court of the United States,
in and for the Northern District of New York.


THE question, of how much of the following legend
is severely true, and how much fiction, is left in
doubt, with the express intention, that such histo
rians, as having nothing useful to do, may employ
their time in drawing the lines for their own amuse

As to the scene chosen for this tale, no apology i*
deemed necessary. To invent excuses for carrying
a man, either physically or in the imagination, into a
sea like the Mediterranean, and on a coast like that
of Italy, would be an affectation of which we have
no idea of being guilty. It is true nay, it is proba
ble that we may render the execution unequal to
the design, but there can be no great harm in nobly
daring, except to him who is injured by his own
failure. We hope that they who have ever beheld the
scenes we have faintly and so imperfectly described,
will pardon our defects, for the good we have intended
them ; and that those who have never been so for
tunate, will find even our tame pictures so much
superior to the realities they have elsewhere witness
ed, as to fancy we have succeeded.

Of Raoul Yvard Ghita Caraccioli, and the Little
Folly, we have no more to say than is to be found in
the body of the work. As Sancho told the knight, they



\vho gave us the facts connected with all three we
class a vessel among animals said they were so cer
tain, that we might safely swear they were absolutely
true. If we are in error, it is a misfortune we share
in common with honest Panza, and that, too, on a
subject about equal, in moment, to the one in which
he was misled.

After all, the world hears little, and knows less, of
the infinity of details that make up the sum of the
incidents of the sea. Historians glean a few prom*
inent circumstances, connected perhaps with battles,
treaties, shipwrecks, or chases, and the rest is left
a blank to the great bulk of the human race. It has
been well said, that the life of every man, if sirnpiy
and clearly related, would be found to contain a fund
of useful and entertaining information ; and it is
equally true, that the day of every ship would fur
nish something of interest to relate, could the dry
records of the log-book be given in the graphic lan
guage of observation and capacity. A ship, alone,
in the solitude of the ocean, is an object for reflection,
and a source of poetical, as well as of moral feeling ;
and as we seldom tire of writing about her, we have
more than a sympathetic desire, that they who do us
the honour to form a sort of literary clientelle, will
never tire of reading.

Our chief concern, on the present occasion, is on
the subject of the contrast we have attempted to
draw between profound belief and light-hearted in
fidelity. We think both pictures true to the periods


and the respective countries, and we have endeavour
ed to draw both with due relief, and totally without
r\, iteration. That strong natural sympathies can
exist between those who are widely separated on such
a subject, every day s experience proves; and that
some are to be found in whom principle is stronger
than even the most insinuating and deceptive of ail
our passions, we not only hope, but trustfully believe.
We have endeavoured to assign the higher and most
enduring quality to that portion of the race, in which
we are persuaded it is the most likely to be found.

This is the seventh sea-tale we have ventured to
offer to the public. When the first was written, our
friends confidently predicted its failure, on account
of the meagreness of the subject, as well as of its
disagreeable accompaniments. Not only did that pre
diction prove untrue, as to our own humble effort,
but the public taste has lasted sufficiently long to
receive, from other quarters, a very respectable pro
geny of that parent of this class of writing. We
only hope that, in the present instance, there may }>e
found a sufficient family resemblance, to allow of this
particular bantling to pass in the crowd, as one of a
numerous family.



* Filled with the face of heaven, which from afar,

Comes down upon the waters ; all its hues,

From the rich sunset to the rising star,

Their magical variety diffuse :

And now they change ; a paler shadow strews

Its mantle o er the mountains; parting day

Dies like the dolphin, whom each pang imbues

With a new colour as it gasps away,
The last still loveliest, till tis gone and all is grey."

Cnilde Harold.

THE charms of the Tyrrhenian Sea have been sung since
the days of Homer. That the Mediterranean, generally,
and its beautiful boundaries of Alps and Apennines, with its
deeply indented and irregular shores, forms the most delightful
region of the known earth, in all that relates to climate,
productions, and physical formation, will be readily enough
conceded by the traveller. The countries that border on
this midland water, with their promontories buttressing a
mimic ocean their mountain-sides teeming with the pictu
resque of human life their heights crowned with watch-
towers their rocky shelves consecrated by hermitages, and
their unrivalled sheet dotted with sails, rigged, as it might bo,
expressly to produce cflK-t in a picture, form a sort of world
apart, that is replete with delights to all who have the happy
fortune to feel charms, which not only fascinate the beholder,
but which linger in the memories of the absent like visiom
of a glorious j -

Our present business is with this fragment of a creation
that is so eminently beautiful, even in its worst aspects, but



which is so often marred by the passions of man, in its best.
While all admit how much nature has done for the Mediter
ranean, none will deny that, until quite recently, it has been
the scene of more ruthless violence, and of deeper personal
wrongs, perhaps, than any other portion of the globe. With
different races., more widely separated by destinies, than even
hyptigta, habits and religion, occupying its northern and
southern Chores, the outwork, as it might be, of Christianity
and AioKaii y,cdamsni, and of an antiquity that defies history,
ihe bor-om cf this blue expanse has mirrored more violence,
has witnessed more scenes of slaughter, and heard more
shouts of victory, between the days of Agamemnon and
Nelson, than all the rest of the dominions of Neptune together.
Nature and the passions have united to render it like the
human countenance, which conceals by its smiles and god
like expression, the furnace that so often glows within the
heart, and the volcano that consumes our happiness. For
centuries, the Turk and the Moor rendered it unsafe for the
European to navigate these smiling coasts ; and when the
barbarian s power temporarily ceased, it was merely to give
place to the struggles of those who drove him from the
arena by their larger resources.

The circumstances which rendered the period that occurred
between the years 1790 and 1815, the most eventful of
modern times, are familiar to all ; though the incidents which
chequered that memorable quarter of a century, have already
passed into history. All the elements of strife that then
agitated the world, appear now to have subsided as com-
pletely as if they owed their existence to a remote age ; and
living men recall ,the events of their youth, as they regard
the recorded incidents of other centuries. Then, each month
brought its defeat, or its victory ; its account of a govern
ment overturned, or of a province conquered. The world
was agitated like men in a tumult. On that epoch the timid
look back with wonder ; the young, with doubt ; and the
restless, with envy.

The years 1798 and 1799 were two of the most memor
able of this ever-memorable period; and to that stirring and
teeming season we must carry the mind of the reader, in
order to place it in the midst of the scenes it is our object to


Towards the close of a fine day in the month of August,
a light lairy-likr craft vv;> her way, he fore a gentle

!\ air, iutti \\hat is calkd tin- Canal of Piombino,
v. The rigs of the Mediterranean arc pro-
vrrhial for tlji-ir picturesque beauty ami qnaintness, CIIN
hracin heqnc, the felucca, the polacrc, and !!:

homharda. or ketch ; all unknown, or nearly so, to our own
s aa : an.l o.-ra^ionally the burger. The latter, a
craft, however, much less common in the waters of Italy,
than in the IViy of Biscay and the British Channel, was the
construction of the vessel in question; a circumstance that
the mariners whoryed her from the shores of Elba, deemed
indicative of mischief. A three-masted lugger, that spread
a wide hn-adih of canvass, with a low, dark hull, relieved
by a single and almost imperceptible line of red beneath her
channels, and a waist so deep that nothing was visihle
it but the hat of some mariner, taller than common, was
considered a suspicious vessel, and not even a fisherman
would have ventured out within reach of a shot, so long as
her character was unknown. Privateers, or corsairs, as it
*vas the fashion to term them, (and the name, with even its
MiiLrlish signification, was often merited by their acts,) not
unfivquently glided down that coast; and it was someti;u"s
dangerous for those who belonged to friendly nations to
meet them, i^ moments when the plunder that a relic of
narharism still legalizes, had failed.

The lugger was actually of about one hundred and fifty
tons admeasurement; but her dark paint, and low hull, gave
h< r an appearance of being much smaller than she really
wa<; still, the spread of her canvass, as she came down
before the wind wing-and-wiug, as seamen term it, or with
a sail fanninir like the heavy pinions of a sea-fowl, on each
side, betrayed her pursuits; and, as has been intimated, the
mariners on the shore, who watched her movements, shook
their heads in d hey communed among themselves,

in very indifferent Italian, concerning her destination and
object. This ohserva ion, with its accompanying discourse,
occurred on the rocky bluff abore the town of Porto l-Yrrajo,
in the Island of Elba, a spot that has since become so re
nowned as the capital of the mimic dominion of Napoleon.
Indeed, ihe very dwelling which was subsequently used by


the fallen emperor as a palace, stood within a hundred yards
of the speakers, looking out towards the entrance of the
canal, and the mountains of Tuscany; or rather, of the
little principality of Piombino, the system of merging the
smaller in the larger states, of Europe not having yet been
brought into extensive operation. This house, a building
of the size of a better sort of country residence of our own,
was then, as now, occupied by the Florentine governor of
the Tuscan portion of the island. It stands on the extremity
of a low rocky promontory that forms the western ramparts
of the deep extensive bay, on the side of which, ensconced
behind a very convenient curvature of the rocks, which here
incline westward in the form of a hook, lies the small port,
completely concealed from the sea, as if in dread of visits
like those which might be expected from craft resembling
the. suspicious stranger. This little port, not as large in
itself as a modern dock in places like London or Liverpool,
was sufficiently protected against any probable dangers, by
suitable batteries ; and as for the elements, a vessel laid upon
a shelf in a closet would be scarcely more secure. In this
domestic little basin, which, with the exception of a narrow
entrance was completely surrounded by buildings, lay a
few feluccas, that traded between the island and the adja
cent main, and a solitary Austrian ship, which had come
from the head of the Adriatic, in quest of i|pn, as it was
pretended, but as much to assume the appearance of trade
with the Italian dependency, as with any other purpose.

At the moment of which we are writing, however, but a
dozen living beings were visible in or about all these craft.
The intelligence that a strange lugger, resembling the one
described, was in the offing, had drawn nearly all the mari
ners ashore ; and most of the habitues of the port had fol
lowed them up the broad steps of the crooked streets which
led to the heights behind the town ; or to the rocky eleva*
tion that overlooks the sea from north-east to west. The
approach of the lugger had produced some such effect on the
mariners of this unsophisticated and little-frequented port,
as that of the hawk is known to excite among the timid
tenants of the barn-yard. The rig of the stranger, in itself
a suspicious circumstance, had been noted two hours before,
by one or t\vo old coasters, who habitually passed their idle


moments on ! In xamining the signs of the weather,

and indulging in gossip; and their conj; i drawn to

.11 some t> . i, who fancied them-

-iy were, cognoscenti in matters of the

When, however, the low, long, dark hull, which
upheld such wide sheets of canvass, became fairly visible,
the omens thickened) rumours spread, and hundreds eoi;
on the spot, which, in Manha;: , lance, would pr.ia-

blv have been called a battery. Nor would the name have

([together inappropriate, as a small battery was estab-
ii-h -d there, and that, too, in a position which would
throw a shot two-thirds of a league, into the ofiing; or about
the distance that the stranger was now from the shore.

Tommaso Tonti was the oldest mariner of Elba, and,
luckily, being a sober, and usually a discreet man, he was
the oracle of the island, in most things that related to tho
sea. As each citizen, wine-dealer, grocer, innkeeper, or
worker in iron, came upon the height, he incontinently in-

i lor Tonti, or Maso, as he was generally called ; and
getting the bearings and distance of the grey-headed old
seaman, he invariably made his way to his side, until a
group of some two hundred men, women and children, had
clustered near the person of the pilota, as the faithful
gather about a favourite expounder of the law, in moni -iits
of religious excitement. It was worthy of remark, too, with
how much consideration this little crowd of gentle Italians
treated their aged seaman, on this occasion ; none bawling
out their questions, and all using the greatest care no 1
in front of his person, lest they might intercept "his means
of observation. Five or six old sailors, like himself, were
close at his side: these, it i:i true, did not hesitate to

, un" their experience. But Tonti had obtained no
small part of his reputation by exercising great moderation
in delivering his oracles, and, perhaps, by deeming to
more than he actual!- . .therefore;

and while his brethren of the sea ventured on sund;
flicting opinions concerning the character of ll;
and a hundred idle conjectures had flown from mouth to
mouth, among the landsmen and females, not a syllable that
could commit the old man, had escaped his lips. ITe let tho
others talk at will ; as for himself, it suited his habits, and


possibly his difficulties in deciding, to main. am a grave and
portentous silence.

We have spoken of females : as a matter of course, an
event like this, in a town of some three or four thousand
souls, would be likely to draw a due proportion of the gentler
sex to the heights. Most of them contrived to get as near
as possible to the aged seaman, in order to obtain the firs*
intelligence, that it might be the sooner circulated ; but, it
would seem, that among the younger of these, there was
also a, sort of oracle of their own, about whose person
gathered a dozen of the prettiest girls ; either anxious to hear
what Ghita might have to say in the premises, or, perhaps,
influenced by the pride and modesty of their sex and condi
tion, which taught them to maintain a little more reserve
than was necessary to the less refined portion of their com
panions. In speaking of condition, however, the word must
be understood with an exceedingly limited meaning. Porto
Fcrrajo hacl but two classes of society, the trades-people and
the labourers ; although there were, perhaps, a dozen excep
tions, in the persons of a few humble functionaries of the
government, an avvacato, a medico, and a few priests. The
governor of the island was a Tuscan of rank, but he seldom
honoured the place with his presence, and his deputy was a
professional man, a native of the town, whose original
position was too well known to allow him to give himself airs
on the spot where he was born. Ghita s companions, then,
were daughters of shopkeepers, and persons of that class,
who, having been taught to read, and occasionally going io
Leghorn, beside being admitted by the deputy to the presence
of his housekeeper, had got to regard themselves as a little
elevated above the more vulgar curiosity of the less culti
vated girls of the port. C4hita herself, however, owed her
ascendency to her qualities, rather than to the adventitious
advantage of being a grocer s or an inkecper s daughter, her
origin being unknown to most of those around her, as indeed
was her family name. She had been landed six weeks
before, and left by one who passed for her father, at the inn
of Cristoforo Dovi, as a boarder, and had acquired all her
influence, as so many reach notoriety in our own simple
society, by the distinction of bavins; travelled ; aided, some*
what, by her strong sense, great decision of character, per-


feet modesty and propriety of deportment, with a form which

agularlv graeeful and feminine, and a face, that, while

it COP. : "iuriiiil, was, in the highcst

. winning and attractive. No one thought of asking

: never app - m it necessary

.:iou it. Cihita was sufficient ; it was familiar to every

and, although there were two or three others of the

Nation, in i orto L Vrrajo. this, by common consent,

got to bo the Gliitu, within a week after sin: had landed.

(Ihita, it v.as known, had travelled, for she: had publicly
reached Kiba in a felucca, coming, as was said, Iron) the
:itan slates. If this were true, she was probably th-j
only person of her sex in the town, who had ever
viiis, or planted her eyes on the wonders of a part of Italy
that has a reputation second only to that of Rome. Of course,
if any girl in Porto Perrajo could imagine the character of
traoger, it mast !>> (Jhita; and it was on this snpposi-
t: -n lint she had unwittingly, and, if the truth must be owned,
unwillingly, collected around her a clicntclle. of at least a
d ./.-MI ^irls of her n\\ n age. -id apparently of her own class.
The latter, however, felt no necessity for the reserve main
tained by the curious who pressed near \\faso; for, whi!o
. -spectcd their guest and friend, and would rather listen
t > "her surmises than those of any other person, they had
a prompting desire to hear their own voices, that not a
minute escaped without a question, or a conjecture, both
volubly and (pile audibly expressed. The interjections, too,
somewhat numerous, as the guesses wen: crude and
!. On" said it was a vessel wilh despatches from
Livorno, pn^ibly \\!;h " His Iv-crllen/a" 1 on board; but she
was reminded that ; lay to the north, and not to

th" \\ . >ther thought it was a cargo of pri
from i Home; but she was told that | ,

n > la .ur, just then, in F.

-diu-iry era ! . itcrra-

i about. While a third, m nv in>
i to doubt whether it was a

at a!! : wt being of rr>.n

oceurren -e, and us:;

* S . ;;n:na, * but tijat would be a inimcle, Maria;

VOL. I. 2


and why should we have a miracle, now that Lent and most
of the holidays are past? /believe it is a real vessel."

The others laughed, and, after a good deal of eager chat
tering on the subject, it was quite generally admitted that
the stranger was a bond fide craft, of some species or an
other, though all agreed she was not a felucca, a bombarda,
or a sparanara. All this time Ghita was thoughtful and
silent ; quite as much so, indeed, as Tommaso himself, though
from a very different motive. Notwithstanding all the gossip,
and the many ludicrous opinions of her companions, her
eyes scarcely turned an instant from the lugger, on which
they seemed to be riveted by a sort of fascination. Had
there been one, there, sufficiently unoccupied to observe this
interesting girl, he might have been struck with the varying
expression of a countenance that was teeming with sensibility,
and which too often reflected the passing emotions of its
mistress s mind. Now an expression of anxiety, and even
of alarm, would have been detected by such an observer, if
acute enough to separate these emotions, in the liveliness of
sentiment, from the more vulgar feelings of her companions ;
and now, something like gleamings of delight and happiness
flashed across her eloquent countenance. The colour came
and went often ; and there was an instant, during which the
lugger varied her course, hauling to the wind, and then fall
ing off again, like a dolphin at its sports, when the radiance
of the pleasure that glowed about her soft blue eyes, rendered
the girl perfectly beautiful. But none of these passing
expressions were noted by the garrulous group around the
stranger female, who was left very much to the indulgence
of the impulses that gave them birth, unquestioned, and
altogether unsuspected.

Although the cluster of girls had, with feminine sensitive
ness, gathered a little apart from the general crowd, there
were but a few yards between the spot where it stood, and
that occupied by Maso ; so that when the latter spoke, an
attentive listener among the former mi^ht hear his words.
This was an office that Tonti did not choose to undertake,
however, until he was questioned by the podesta, Vito Viti,
wlio now appeared on the hill in person, puffing like a whale
that rises to breathe, from the vigour of his ascent.

* What dost tliou make of her, good Maso ?" demanded


tftcr be h:ul examined the stranger
in silt-;: .; authorized, in virtue of his

ijiiesMuii v- li-nn In* pleased.

, it is a lugger ;" was the brief, and, certainly, the

\ . . : : . 3 jprj we all understand that, neighbour Tonti ;
but what sort of a lugger ? There are felucca-luggers, and
puiaerc-.luggors, tuid bombarda-luggers, and all sorts of lug
gers : which sort oflugger i; this ?"

_:m>r I od-.-siu, this is not the language of tlic port.
all a felucca, a felucca ; u bombarda, a bombarda ; a
polacrc, a polacre ; and a lugger, a lugger. This is, there-
fore, a lugger."

Maso spoke authoritatively, for he felt that he v a.s now
not out of his depth, and it was grateful to him to let the
public know how much better he understood all these mat
ters than a magistrate. On the other hand, the podesta was
!, and disappointed into the bargain, for he really
imagined h,: was drawing nice distinctions, much as it was
his wont to do in legal proceedings ; and it was his ambition
to be thought to know something of every thing.

" Well, Tonti," answered Signnr Vi:i, in a protecting
manner, and with an affable smile, "as this is not an affair
that is likely to go to the higher courts at Florence, your
explanations may be taken as sufficient, and 1 have no wish
to disturb them a lugger, is a lugger."

"Si, Signore; that is just what we say in the port. A
r, is a lugger."

And yonder strange craft, you maintain, and at need
are ready to swear, H a IU.ITJIT

Now Maso sei-in-^ no n-.-i-.-ssity tor any oath in the aflair,
and being always somewhat conscientious in such n.
v,-lii ii vcr ilic custom-house officers did not hold th<

B little startled at this suggestion, and he to
and a IOH-.T !(,(.!; at th" stranger, !

" Si, Signore," he replied, after sati<fying his mind
. ;i I ;/ // ^\\( ar that the s! r
r, is a 1 1

u And canst thou add, honest Tonti, of what nation ? The
nation is of as much moment, in these troubled times, as the


" You say truly, Signer Podestu ; for if an Algerine. or a
Moor, or even a Frenchman, he will be an unwelcome visiter
in the Canal of Elba. There arc many different signs about
him, that sometimes make me think he belongs to one people,
and then to another; and I crave your pardon, if I ask a
little leisure, to let him draw nearer, before I give a positive

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Wing-and-wing; or, Le Feu follet → online text (page 1 of 40)