James Fenimore Cooper.

Afloat and ashore. A sea tale online

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confidence; f'will yon have the goodness to tell your mother
that Mrs. <^ilviie begs she wiU not leave Albany until after her
arrival ? The other sloop, Mrs. Ogilvie thinks, cannot bo more
than au hour or two after you, and she is very desirous of
making a common. party to — ^ah 1 there comes Mrs. Drewett,"
said Lucy, hastily intem^ting herself, ^* and I can deliver my
message myself"

Mrs. Drewett coining aft at thi3 instant> Lucy certainly did turn
to her, and oommunioAted a message whicl^ it seeois the li^ in
the Gtdl had earnestly requested her to deliver in passing.

^ And now," returned Mrs. Drewett, when Lucy had ceased,



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542 AVLOAT AND A8H0BE»

first ciTillj salating me, ''and now, my dear Lucy, we have
Bomething for you. So sudden was your departure, on the re-
ceipt of that naughty letter" — ^my letter, smmnoning the dear
girl to the bedside of her friend, was meant — *' that you left your
work-box behind you, and as I knew that it contiuned many
notes besides bank-notes, I would not allow it to be separated
from me until we met Here it is; in what manner shall we
contrive to get it into your hands f '

Lucy started, and I could see that she both felt and looked
anxious. As I afterward learned, she had been passing a day at
Mrs. Drewett's villa, which joined her own, both standing on
the rocks quite near to that spot which a mawkish set among
us is trying to twist from plain, homely, up-and-down, old-
fiishioned Hell-Oate, into the exquisite and lackadaisical cor-
ruption of JTttW-Gkte — ^Heaven save the mark I What puny
piece of folly and affectation will they attempt next ? But Lucy
was paying this visit when she received my letter, and it ap-
pears such was her haste to got to Grace, that she quitted the
house immediately, leaving behind her a small work-box, un-
locked, and in it various papers that she did not wish read. Of
course one of Lucy's sentiments and tone could hardly suspect a
lady, and Mrs. Drewett was strictly thatj of rummaging her box
or of reading her notes and letters ; but one is never easy when
such things can be supposed to be in the way of impertinent
eyes. There are maids as well as mistresses, and I could see in
a moment that she wished the box was again in her own pos-
session. Under the circumstances, therefore, I felt it time to
interfere.

" If your sloop will round-to, Mr. Drewett," I remarked, re-
ceiving a cold salutation from the gentleman, in return for my
own bow, the first sign of recognition that had passed between
US, " I will round-to, myself, and send a boat for the box."

This proposal drew all eyes toward the skipper, who was still
eaning against his tiller, smoking for life or death. It was not
fiivorably received, extorting a grunt in reply, that any one could
understand denoted dissent The pipe was slowly removed, and



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AFLOAT AND ASHORE. 549

the privato opinion of this personage was pretty openly ex-
pressed, in bis Dutchified dialect

" If a body coult get a wint for der askin' , dis migbt do very
well," be said ; " but nobody rounts-to mit a Mi wint"

I have always renuu*ked tbat tbey who have used a disdect
different from tbe common forms of speech in their youth, and
oome afterward to correct it, by intercourse with the world,
usnally fall back into their early infirmities in moments of trial,
perplexity, or anger. This is easily explained. Habit has be-
come a sort of nature, in their childhood, and it is when most
tried that we are the most natural. Then, this skipper, an Al-
bany — or Mbonnj man, as he would probably have styled him-
self, had got down the river as far as Sing Sing, and had acquired
a tolerable EngUsh ; but, being now disturbed, he fell back upon
his original mode of speaking, the certain proof that he would
never give in. I saw at once the hopelessness of attempting to
persuade one of his school, and had beguii to devise some other
scheme for getting the box on board, when to my surprise, and
not a little to my concern, I saw Andrew Drewett, first taking
the box from his mother, step upon the end of our main-boom,
and move along the spar with the evident intention to walk as
far as our deck and deliver Lucy her property with his own
hands. The whole thing occurred so suddenly, that there was
no time for remonstrance. Young gentlemen who are thor-
oughly in love, are not often discreet in matters connected
with their devotion to their mistresses. I presume Drewett
saw the boom placed so fiftvorably as to t^npt him, and he fan*^
cied it would be a thing to mention to carry a lady her work-box
across a bridge that was of so precarious a footing. Had the
spar lain on the ground, it would certainly have been no exploit
at all for any young man to walk its length, carrying his. arms
full of work-boxes ; but it was a very differenlf matter when the
same feat had to be performed on a sloop^s boom in its place,
suspended over the water, with the sail set, and the vessel in
motion. This Drewett soon discovered, for, advancing a step or
two. he grasped the topping-lift, which luckily for him happened



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544 AfLOAt AKD AgHORS.

lo be taut, for a support All this occurr^ before tbene win
time fbr remonstrance, or even for tboogbt At the uame in-
stant Nob, in obedience to a sign previously giten by me, had
put the helm down a little, and the boom-end was already twenty
feet fro«^ the quarterdeck of the Orpheus.

Of cbuTse, all the women screamed, or exclaimed, on some
key or other. Poor Mrs. I)r<iwett hid her face, and began to
moan her ddn as lost I did not dare look at Lucy, wbo re-
mained quiet as to voice, after the first mvc^untary exclamation,
and as inmiovable as a statue. Lucidly her face was from me.
As Dtewett was eviden% discomposed, I thought it best, how-
ever, to devise something not only for his^ leUef, but for that
of Lucy's box, which was in quite as much jeopardy as the
young man, himself; more so, indeed, if the latter could swim.
I was on the point of calling out to Drewett to hold on^ and I
would cause the boom-end to reach over the Orpheus's main
deck, after which he might easily drop down among his Mends,
when Neb, finding some one to take the helm, suddenly stood
at my side.

" He drop dat box, sartairi, Masser Mile,^' half whispered the
negro; "he leg begin to shake already, and he won'erfiil
skear'd!"

" I would not have that happen for a good deal. Can you
save it. Neb?"

" Sartin, sir. Only hab to run out on 'e boom and bring it in,
and gib it Miss Lucy ; she mighty particular about dat werry
box, Masser Mile, as I see a hundred time, and more too.'*

" Well, lay out, boy, and bring it in, and look to your foot-
ing, Neb."

This was all Neb wanted. Ihe fellow had feet shaped a good
deal like any other aquatic bird, with the essential difference,
however, that no small part of his foundation had been laid
abaft the perpendicular of the tendon Achilles, and being with-
out shoes, he could nearly encircle a small spar in his grasp^
Often and oflen had I seen Neb tun out on a topsail-yard^ the
t5hip pitching heavily, catching at the lift, and it was a mere



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AFLOAT AND ASH ORB. 545

trifle after that to ran out on a spar as large as the Wallingford's
mam-boom. A tcderablj distinetiFe scream from Ohloe^ first
apprised me that the negro was in motion. X^ooldng in that
direction, I saw him walking steadily along the boom, notwithr
standing Drewett's loud remoiistrances and dedarations that he
wanted no assistance, tmtil he teaciied the i^ot where the young
gentleman stood grasping t^e lift^ with his legs submitting to
more tremor than was conyeniwii lfdl>ndw grinned, looked
as amiable as possible, held out his hand, ftnd revealed the object
of his visit.

" Masser Mile t'ink 'e gentleum better gib me Miss litcy box,"
said ITeb, as politely as he knew how*

I believe in my soul: that Drewett could have Mssed Neb,
so glad was he to obtain this little reliefl The box wsts yielded
without the slightest objection. Neb receiving it with a bow, af-
ter which the negro turned round as cooUy as if he were on the
deck, and walked deliberately and steadily in to the mast. He
stopped ati instant just at the small of the spar to look back at
Drewett, who was saying something to pacify his mother, and
I observed that, as he stood with his h^els in a line, the toes
nefu^ly met underneath the boom, which his feet grasped some-
thing in the manner of talons. A deep sigh reached iny ear ad
Neb bounded lightly on deck, and I knew whence it came by
the exclamation ofj " De^Wer !"

As for N^, he advanced with his prize, which he ojS^d to
Lucy with one of his best bows, but in a way to show he was
not conscious of having performed any unusuld oxj^it. Lucy
handed the box to Chloe, without averting het ©yes Droin Drew-
ett, in whose situation she manifested a good deal more Con-
com than I liked, or fancied he deserved.

** Thank you, Mr. Drewett,'^ die said, aflfec^ng to think the
box had been recovered altogether by his address; **it is^ noiir
safe, and there is no longer any necessity for your coming here.
Let Mr. Wallingford do what he says**-^! had mentioned in a
low voice, tlie practicability of my own scheme-^** and return to
your own sloop.'*

542



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546 AFLOAT AND ASHORE.

Bat two things now interposed to the execution of this yerj
simple expedient. The first was Drewett's pride, blended with
a little obstinacy, and the other was the ^* Alftoitny" skipper's
pride, blended with a good deal of obstinacy. The first did not
like to retreat, after Neb had so clearly demonstrated it was no
great matter to walk on the boom, and tlie latter, sonred by the
manner in which we had outsailed him, and fimcying Andrew
had deserted to get oir board a &ster vessel, resented the whole
by sheering away from us to the distance of a hundred yards.
I saw that there remained but a single expedient, and set about
adopting it without further delay.

" Take good hold of the lift, Mr. Drewett, and steady your-
self with both hands ; ease away the peak halyards to tauten
that lift a Uttle more, forward. Now, one of you stand by to
case off the guy handsomely, and the rest come aft to the main-
sheet. Look out for yourself Mr. Drewett, we are about to haul
in the boom, when it will be a small matter to get you in upon
the tafiralL Stand by to luff handsomely, so as to keep the
boom as steady as possible." *

But Drewett clamorously protested against our doing anything
of the sort He was getting used to his situation, and intended
to come in Neb-&shion in a minute more. All he asked was
not to be hurried.

" No — no — ^touch nothing, I entreat of you. Captain Walling-
ford" — he said earnestly. ^ U that black can do it, surely I
ought to do it, too."

^But the black has claws, and you have none, sir ; then ho
18 a sailor, and used to sucb things, and you are none, sir.
Moreover, he was barefooted, while you have got on sti£^ and 1
dare say slippery boots."

^ Yes, the boots are an encumbrance. K I could only throw
them oE, I should do well enough. As it is, however, I hope
to have the honor of shaking you by the hand. Miss Hardinge,
without the disgrace of bemg helped."

Mr. Hardinge here expostulated, but all in vain ; for I saw
plainly enough Drewett was highly excited, and that he was pre*



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AFLOAT AND ABHORS. 647

[wring for a start These signs were now so apparent that aU of
ns united oar voices in remonstrances ; and Lucy said imploringly
to me, ^Do not let him moTe, Miles^^I have heard him say he
cannot swim."

It was too late. Pride, mortified vanity, ohstinacy, love, or
what you will, rendered {he young man dea^ and away he went,
abandoning the lift, his sole protection. I saw, the moment he
quitted his grasp, that he would never reach the mast, and made
my arrangements accordingly. I called to Msffble to stand by
to luff; and, just as the words passed my lips, a souse into the
water told the whole story. The first glance at poor Drewett*s
frantic manner of struggling told me that Lucy was really aware
of his habits, and that he could not swim. I was in light duck,
jacket and trowsers, with seaman's pumps; and placing a foot
on the rail, I alighted alongside of the drowning young man,
just as he went under. Well assured he would reappear, I
waited for that, and presently I got a view of his hair, within
reach of my arm, and I grasped it, in a way to turn him on his
back, and bring his fisuse uppermost. At this moment the sloop
was gliding away from us. Marble having instantly put the helm
hard down, in order to round to. As I afterward learned, the
state of the case was no sooner understood in the other sloop,
than the Mbonnj men gave in, and imitated the Wallingford.

There was no time for reflection. As soon as Drewett's hair
was in my grasp, I raised his head from the water, by an effort
that forced me under it, to let him catch his breath ; and then
relaxed the power by which it had been done, to come up my-
sel£ I had done this to give him a moment to recover his
recollection, in the hope he would act reasonably ; and I now
desired him to lay his two hands on my shoulders, permit his
body to sink as low as possible and breathe, and trust the rest
to me. K the person in danger can be made to do this, an or
dinarily good swinmier could tow him a mile, without any
unusual effcrt. But the breathing spell afforded to Drewett
had the effect just to give him strength to struggle madly for
axistence, without aiding his reason. On the land, he would



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548 AVLOAT AND ASHOBB.

h&vt been nothing in my hands; bnfv ^ tbe .water, the merest
boy may become fonnidable; God forgive me, if I do him in-
justice 1 but I hare sometimes thoo^t, since, that Drewett was
perfectly conscious who I was, and that he gave some vent to
his jealous distrust of Lucy's feelings toward me* This may be
all imagination ; but I certainly heard t!lie words ^Luey/' ^ Wal-
lingford,'' ^ dawbonny,". ^ hateful,^ muttered by the man, even
as he struggled there tor life. The advantage given him, by
turning to allow him tO; put his hands i>n my shoulders, liked to
have eost me dear. Instead <^ doing as I directed, he gra^>ed
my neck with both arms, and seemed, to wbh to tnount on
my head, forcing bis owa shoulders quite out of water, and
mine, by that much weight, beneath it. It wjus while we were
thus placed, his mouth within an inch or ,two of w^ very ear,
that I heard the words muttered which .'have been menticwed.
It is possible, however, that he was uueonscdous of that.which
terror and despair extorted from him. ,

I saw no time was to be lost, and my efforts became desper
ate* I first endeavored to swim with this ^at ehcpiuobraoce ;
but it was useless. The stren^h of Hereides could ii6t long
havel>uoyed up the under body of such a load, jsiifBciently t<>
raise the nostrils f<^ breath; and the convulsive t^H^itd»es of
Dr^wett's arms were near strwngUng me. I must throw him off,
or drown. Abandoning the attempt to swim, I srized his hands
with mine, knd endeavored to lociseh.his gras|) of my nejsk. ; Of
course we both atok. while I was thus ex^gaged; fyr it w^ ini-
possible to keq> my head ^ove^wkter^ by. means of ihyf^et
alone, with a man of some, si^e ruling, from his shoulders :up,
above the levsl of n^ ohin. .

I can scarcely describe what followed. I c6nfess I thou^
no longer <^ satvisg Drewcttfs .life, but only of .saving my own4
We stnigglod there in the vmter like' the fien^st eneinies^ each
aiming for die mastery, as, if one were to. live, the otjier mnsi
die. We sank, and rose to . the surface for air, solely, by my
efforts, no loss than three times; Drewett getting tbeUrge^
benefits by the latter, thus renewing bis strength ; wl^e ndilio^



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A7L0AT AND ABHOR B. 549

great as it was by nature, began gradually to fail A struggle
BO terrific could not last long. We sank a fourth time, and I
felt it was not to rise again, when relief came from an unex-
pected quarter. Prom boyhood, my father had taught me the
important lesson of keeping my eyes open under water. By
means of this practice, I not only felt^ but iaw the nature of
the tremendous struggle that was going on. It also gave me
a slight advantage over Drewett, who closed his eyes, by en-
abling me to see how to direct my own exertions. While
sinking, as I believed, for the last time, I saw a large ob-
ject approaching me in the water, which, in the confusion of
.he moment, I took for a shark, though sharks never ascended
i»he Hudson so high, and were even rare at New York. There
it was, however, swimming toward us, and even descending
lower, as if to pass beneath, in readiness for the fatal snap.
Beneath it did pass, and I felt it pressing upward, raising Drew-
ett and myself to the surfece. As I got a glimpse of the light,
and a delicious draught of air, Drewett was drawn from my
neck by Marble, whose encouraging voice sounded like music
in my ears. At the next instant my shark emerged, puffing
like a porpoise ; and then I heard —

" Hole on, Masser Mile — ^here he nigger close by !"
I was dragged into the boat, I scarce know how, and lay
down completely exhausted ; while my late companion seemed
to me to be a lifeless corpse. In a moment, Neb, dripping Uke
a black river-god, and gUstening like a wet bottle, placed him-
self in the bottom of the boat, took my head into his lap, and
began to squeeze the water from my hair, and to dry my face
with some one's handkerchief— I trust it was not his own.

**Pull away, lads, for the sloop," said Marble, as soon as
everybody was out of the river. " This gentleman seems to
have put on the hatches for the last time — ^as for Miles, h^U
never drown in fresh water."

THE XVD.



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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperAfloat and ashore. A sea tale → online text (page 47 of 47)