James Fenimore Cooper.

Afloat and ashore: A sea tale online

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Sabbath precisely as it is kept in America. In all other coun-
tries, even the most rigorously severe in their practices, it is
kept as a day of recreation and rest, as well as of public devo-
tion. Even in the American towns, the old observances are
giving way before the longings or weaknesses of human nature ;
and Sunday is no longer what it was. I have witnessed scenes
of brawling, blasphemy, and rude tumult in the suburbs of New
York, on Sundays, within the last few years, that I have nevei
seen in any other part of the world on similar occasions ; and
serious doubts of the expediency of the high-pressure principle
have beset me, whatever may be the just constructions of doc-
trine. With the last I pretend not to meddle ; but, in a world-
ly point of view, it would seem wise, if you cannot make men
all that they ought to be, to aim at such social regulations as
shall make them as little vile as possible. But, to return to the
Black Horse in St. Catherine's Lane — a place whose very name
was associated with vileness.

^It is unnecessary to speak of the characters of its female
visitors. Most of them were young, many of them were still
blooming and handsome, but all of them were abandoned. " I
need tell you nothing of these girls," said Sweeney, who was a
bit of a philosopher in his way, ordering a pot of beer, and mo-
tioning me to take a seat at a vacant table — " but, as for the
men you see here, half are house-breakers and pickpockets,
come to pass the day genteelly among you gentlemen-sailors.
There are two or three faces here that I have seen at the Old
Bailey, myself; and how they have remained in the country, is



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103 AFLOAT AND ASHORE.

more than I can teH you. You perceive these fellows are just
as much at their ease, and the landlord who receives and enter-
tains them is just as much at his ease, as if the whole party were
merely honest men."

" How happens it," I asked, " that such known rogues are al-
lowed to go at laige, or that this innkeeper dares receive them ?"

** Oh I you're a child yet, or you would ftot ask sucli a ques-
tion I You must know, Master Wallingfprd, that the law pro-
tects rogues as well as honest men. To convict a pidpocket,
you must have witnesses, and jurors to agree, and prosecutors,
and a sight of things that are not as plenty as pocket-handker-
chiefs, or even wallets and Bank of England notes. Beddes,
thcs(d fellows can prove an alibi any day in the week. An alibi,
you must know" —

" I know very well what an alibi means, Mr. Sweeney."

" The deuce you do !" exclaimed the protector of the king's
revenue, eyeing me a little distrustfully. "And pray, how
should one as young as you, and coming from a new country
like America, know that ?"

" Oh I" said I, laughing, " America is just the country for
a/tW*— everybody is everywhere, and nobody anywhere. 13io
whole nation is in motion, and there is every imaginable oppor-
tunity for alibis,^^

I believe I owed the development of Sweeney's "ulterior
views" to this careless speech. He had no other idea of the
word than its legal signification ; and it must have struck him
as a little suspicious that one of my apparent condition in life,
and especially of my years, should be thus early instructed in
the meaning of this very useful professional term. It was a
minute before he spoke again, having been all that time study*
ing my countenance.

" And pray. Master Wallingford," he then inquired," do you
happen to know what nolle prosequi means, too f '

" Certainly ; it means to give up the chase. The French
lugger under Dungeness entered a nolle prosequi as respects my
brig, when she found her hands full of the West Indiaman."



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AFLOAT AND ASHORE* 169

** Sd, SO ; I find I have been keeping company all tbis timo
with a knowing one, and I such a simpleton as to fancy him
green ! Well, that I should live to be done by a raw Jonathan !"

** Poh, poh, Mr. Sweeney, I can tell you a story of two of our
naval officers, that took place just before we sailed ; and then
you wiU learn that all hands of us, on the other side of the
Big Pond, understand Latin. One of these officers had been
engaged in a duel, and he found it necessaiy to lie hid. A
friend and shipmate, who was in his secret, came one day in a
great hurry to tell him that the authorities of the state in which
the parties fought had * entered a nolle prosequi against the
offenders. He had a newspaper with the whole thing in it, in
print. * What's a nolle prosequij Japk ?' asked Tom. * Why,
it's Latin, to be sure, and it means some infernal thing or other.
We must contrive to find Out, for it's half the battle to know
who and what you've got to face.' * Well, you know lots of
lawyers, Mid dare show your face ; so, just step out and ask
one.' * I'll trust no lawyer ; I might put the question to some
chap who has been fee'd. But we both studied a little Latin
when boys, and between us we'll undermine the meaning.' Tom
assented, and to work they went. Jack had the most Latin •
but, do all he could, he was not able to find a ^noM in any
dictionary. After a great deal of conjecture, the friends agreed
it must be the root of * knowledge,' and that point was settled.
As for ^prosequij it was not so difficult, as * sequor* was a fa-
miliar word ; and, after some cogitation, Jack announced his
discoveries. * If this thing were in English, now,' he said, * a
fellow might understand it. In that case, I should say that the
sheriff's men were in " pursuit of knowledge ;" that is, hunting
after yow; but Latin, you remember, was always an inverted
sort of stuff, and that "^o" ahers the whole signification. The
paper says they've ^ entered 9^ nolle prosequi;'*^ and the "en-
tered" explains the whole. " Entered a nolle" means have enter-
ed on the knowledge, got a scent ; you see it is law English ;
" pro" means " how," and "sequi," " to give chase." The amount
of it all is, Tom, that they are on your heels, and I must go to
8



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170 AFLOAT AND'ASHOHB.

work and send you off, at once, two or three liundred mfles
into the interior, where you may laugh at them and their " nolle
prosequis" together.' "*

Sweeney laughed heartily at this story, though he clearly did
not take the joke, which I presume he fancied lay concealed
under an American flash language ; and he proposed, by way of
finishing the day, to carry me to an entei*tainment where, he
gave me to understand, American officers were fond of some-
times passing a few minutes. I was led to a Wapping assem-
bly-room, on entering which I found myself in a party composed
of some forty or fifty cooks and stewards of American vessels,
all as black as their own pots, with partners of the usual color
and bloom of English girls. I have as few prejudices of color as
any American well can have ; but I will confess this scene struck
me as being painfully out of keeping. In England, however,
nothing seemed to be thought of it ; and I afterward found that
marriages between English women, and men of all the colors
of the rainbow, were very common occurrences.

When he had given me this ball as the climax of his com-
pliments, Sweeney betrayed the real motive of all his attentions.
After drinking a pot of beer extra, well laced with gin, he offered
his services in smuggling any thing ashore that the Amanda
might happen to contain, and which I, as the prize-master,
might feel a desire to appropriate to my own particular pur-
poses. I met the proposal with a little warmth, letting my
tempter understand that I considered his offer so near an insult,
that it must terminate our acquaintance. The man seemed
astounded. In the first place, he evidently thought all goods
and chattels were made to bo plundered, and then he was of
opinion that plundering was a very common " Yankee trick**
Had I been an Englishman, he might possibly have understood
ray conduct ; but, with him, it was so much a habit to fancy an
American a rogue, that, as I afterward discovered, he was try-
ing to persuade the leader of a press-gang that I was the half-
ed icated and illegitimate son of some English merchant, who

♦ There Is laid to be foundation for this story.



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AFLOAT AND ASHORE. I7l

wished to pass himself off for an American. I pretend not to
account for the contradiction, though I have often met with the
same moral phenomena among his countrymen ; but here was
as regular a rogue as ever cheated, who pretended to think
roguery indigenous to certain nations, among whom his own
was not included.

At length I was cheered with the sight of the Crisis, as she
came drifting through the tiers, turning and twisting, and glan-
cing along, just as the Amanda had done before her. The pilot
carried her to moorings quite near us ; and Talcott, Neb and I
were on board her before she was fairiy secured. My reception
was very favorable, Captain Williams having seen the account
of the " Yankee trick" in the papers ; and, understanding the
thing just as it had happened, he placed the most advantageous
construction on all I had done. For myself, I confess I never
had any misgivings on the subject.

All hands of us were glad to be back in the Crisis again.
Captain Williams had remained at Falmouth longer than he
expected, to make some repairs that could not be thoroughly
completed at sea, which alone prevented him from getting into
the river as soon as I did myself. Now the ship was in, we no
longer felt any apprehension of being impressed, Sweeney's
malignancy having set several of the gang upon the scent after
us. Whether the fellow actually thought I was an English sub-
ject or not, is more than I ever knew ; but I felt no disposition
myself to let the point be called in question before my Lord
Chief Justice of a Kendezvous. The King's Bench was more
governed by safe principles, in its decisions, than the gentle-
men who presided in these marine courts of the British navy.

As I was the only oflBcer in the ship who had ever seen any
thing of London, my fortnight's experience made me a notable
man in the cabin. It was actually greater preferment for mo
than when I was raised from third to be second mate. Marble
was all curiosity to see the English capital, and he made me
promise to be his pilot, as soon as duty would allow time for a
btroU, and to show him every thing I had seen myself. We



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172 AFLOAT AND A8U0KE.

soon got out the cargo, and tlien took in ballast for our north-
west voyage ; the articles we intended to traflSc with on the
coast, being too few and too light to fill the ship. This kept
as busy for a fortnight, after which we had to look about us to
obtain men to supply the places of those who had been killed,
or sent away in la Dame de Nantes, Of course we preferred
Americans ; and this so much the more, as Englishmen were
liable to be pressed at any moment Fortunately, a party of
men that had been taken out of an American ship, a twelve-
month before, by an English cruiser, had obtained their dis-
charges ; and they all came to London, for the double purpose
of getting some prize money, and of obtaining passages home.
These lads were pleased with the Crisis and the voyage, and^ in-
stead of returning to their own country, sailor-like, they took ser-
vice to go nearly round the world. These were first-rate men —
Delaware-river seamen — and proved a great accession to our
force. We owed the windfall to the reputation the ship had
obtained by her affairs with the letter-of-marque ; an account of
which, copied from the log-book, and a little embellished by
some one on shore, the consignee had taken care should appear
in the journals. The history of the surprise, in particular, read
very well ; and the English were in a remarkably good humor,
at that time, to receive an account of any discomfiture of a
Frenchman. At no period since the year 1775, had the Amer-
ican character stood so high in En^and as it did just then ;
the two nations, for a novelty, fighting on the same side. Not
long after we left London, the underwriters at Lloyd's actually
voted a handsome compliment to an American commander for
capturing a French frigate. Stranger things have happened
than to have the day arrive when English and American fleets
may be acting in concert. No one can tell what is in the womb
of time ; and I have lived long enough to know that no man
can foresee who will continue to be his friends, or a nation what
people may become its enemies.

The Crisis at length began to take in her bales Mid boxes for
the noiih-west coast, and, as the articlas were received slowly,



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AFLOAT AND ASHORE. 173

or a few packages at a time, it gave us leisure for play. Our
captain was in such good-humor with us, on account of the
success of the outward-hound passage, that he proved very in-
dulgent This disposition was probably increased by the cir-
cumstance that a ship arrived in a very short passage from New
York, "which spoke our prize ; all well, with a smacking southerly
breeze, a clear coast, and a run of only a few hundred miles to
make. This left the almost moral certainty that la Dame de
Nantes had arrived safe, no Frenchman being likely to trust
herself on that distant coast, which was now alive with our own
cruisers, going to or returning from the West Indies.

I had a laughable time in showing Marble the sights of Lon-
don. We began with the wild beasts in the Tower, as in duty
bound ; but of these our mate spoke very disparagingly. He
had been too often in the East " to be taken in by such ani-
mals ;" and, to own the truth, the cockneys were easily satisfied
on the score of their m&nagerie. We next went to the Monu-
ment ; but this did not please him. He had seen a shot-tower
in America — ^there was but one in that day — ^that beat it out
and out as to height, and he thought in beauty, too. There
was no reasoning against this. St. Paul's rather confounded
him. He frankly admitted there was no such church at Kenne-
bunk ; though he did not know but Trinity, New York, " might
stand up alongside of it." " Stand up alongside of it !" I re-
peated, laughing. " Why, Mr. Marble, Trinity, steeple and all,
could stand up in it — under that dome — and then leave more
room in this building than all the other churches in New York
contain, put altogether."

It was a long time before Marble forgave this speech. He
said it was "unpatriotic;" a word which was less used in 1799
than it is used to-day, certainly, but which, nevertheless, wai
used. It often meant then, as now, a thick and thin pertinacity
in believing in provincial marvels ; and, in this. Marble was one
of the most patriotic men with whom I ever met. I got him
out of the church, and along Fleet street, through Temple Bar,
and into the Strand, however, in peace ; and then we emerged



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174 AFLOAT AND ASHORE.

into the arena of fashion, aristocracy and the court After a
time we worked our way into Hyde Park, where we brought up,
to make our observations.

Marble was deeply averse to acknowledging all the admiration
he really felt at the turn-outs of London, as they were exhibited
in the Park, of a fine day, in their season. It is probable the
world elsewhere never saw any thing approaching the beauty
and magnificence that is here daily seen, at certain times, so far
as beauty and magnificence are connected with equipages, in-
cluding carriages, horses, and servants. Unable to find fault
with the tout ensemhle, our mate made a violent attack on the
liveries. He protested it was indecent to put a " hired man" —
the word help never being applied to the male sex, I believe, by
the most fastidious New England purist — ^in a cocked-hat; a
decoration that ought to be exclusively devoted to the uses of
ministers of the gospel, governors of states, and militia officers.
I had some notions of the habits of the great world, through
books, and some little learned by observation and listening ; but
Marble scouted at most of my explanations. He put his own
construction on every thing he saw ; and I have often thought,
since, could the publishers of travels have had the benefit of his
blunders, how many would have profited by them. Gentlemen
were just then beginning to drive their own coaches ; and I re-
member in a particular instance, an ultra in the new mode had
actually put his coachman in the inside, while he occupied the
dickey in person. Such a gross violation of the proprieties was
unusual, even in London ; but there sat Jehu, in all the dignity
of cotton-lace, plush, and a cocked-hat. Marble took it into his
head that this man was the Mng, and no reasoning of mine
could persuade him to the contrary. Li vain I pointed out to
him a hundred similar dignitaries, in the proper exercise of their
vocation, on the hammer-cloths ; he cared not a straw — this was
not showing him one inside ; and a gentleman inside of a car-
riage, who wore so fine a coat, and a cocked-hat in the bargain,
could be nothing less than some dignitary of the empire ; and
why not the king ! Absurd as all this will seem, I have known



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AFLOAT AND ASHOEE. 1*15

mistakes, connected with the workings of our own institutions,
almost as great, made by theorists from Europe.

While Marble and I were wrangling on this very point, a little
incident occurred, which led to important consequences in the
end. Hackney*-coaches, or any other public conveyance, short
of post-chaises and post-horses, are not admitted into the Eng-
lish parks. But glass-coaches are ; meaning by this term, which
b never used in America, hired carriages that do not go on the
stanls» We encountered one of these glass-coaches in a very
serious difficulty. The horses had got frightened by> means of
a wheelbarrow, aided, probably, by some bad management of
the driver, and had actually, backed the hind wheels of the ve-
hicle into the water of the canal. They would have soon had
the whole carriage submerged, and have followed it themselves,
had it not been for the chief mate and myself. I thrust the
wheelbarrow under one of the forward wheels, just in time to
prevent the final catastrophe ; while Marble grasped the spoke
with his iron gripe, and, together, he and the wheelbarrow made
a resistance that counterbalanced the backward tendency of the
team. There was no footman ; and, springing to the door, I
aided a sickly-looMng, elderly man, a female, who might very
well have been his wife, ^d another that I took for his daugh-
ter, to escape. By my agency all three were put on the dry
land, without even wetting their feet, though I fared worse my-
self! No sooner were they safe, than Marble, who was up to his
shoulders in the water, md who had made prodigious efforts to
maintain the balance of power, released his hold, the wheelbar-
row gave way at the same moment, and the whole affair, coach
and horses, had their will, and went, stern foremost, overboard.
One of the horses was saved, I believe, and the other drowned ;
but, a crowd soon collecting, I paid little attention to what was
going on in the carriage, as soon as its cargo was discharged.

The gentleman we had saved pressed my hand with fervor,
and Marble's, too ; saying that we must not quit him — that we
must go home with him. To this we consented readily enough,
thinking we might still be of use. As we all walked toward one



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176 AFLOAT AND ASHORS.

of the more private entrances of the Park, I had an opportunity
of observing the people we had served. Theiy were very re-
spectable in appearance ; bnt I knew enough of the worid to
see that they belonged to what is called the middle class in
England. I thought the man might be a soldier ; while the two
females had an air of great respectability, though not in the least
of fashion. ThQ girl appeared to be nearly as old as myself and
was decidedly pretty. Here, then, was an adventure I I had
saved the Hfe of a damsel of seventeen, and had only to ML in
love to become the hero of a romance.

At the gate, the gentleman stopped a hackney-coach, put the
females in, and desired us to follow. But to this we would not
consent, both being wet, and Marble particularly so. After a
short parley, he gave us an address in Norfolk street, Strand ;
and we promised to stop there on our way back to the ship*
Instead of following the carriage, however, we made our way on
foot into the Strand, where we found an eating-house, turned in
and eat a hearty dinner each, the chief mate resorting to some
brandy in order to prevent his taking cold. On what principle
this is done, I dannot explain^ lliough I know it is often prac-
tised, and in all quarters of the world.

As soon as we had dined and drie<f ourselves, we went into
Norfolk street. We had been told to ask for Major Merton,
and this we did* The house was one of those plain lodging-
houses, of which most of that part of the town is composed ;
and we found the major and his fiEunily in the occupation of the
first door, a mark of gentility on which some stress is laid in
England. It was plain enough, however, to see that these peo-
ple were not rolling in that splendor of which we had just seen
so much in the Park.

" I can trace the readiness and gallantry of the English tar
in your conduct," observed the major, after he had ^ven us
both quite as wmtu a reception as circumstances required, at
the same time taking out his pocket-book, and turning over
some bank-notes. " I wish, for your sakes, I was better able
than I am to reward you for what you have done; but twenty



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AFLOAT AND ASHORE. l77

pounds is all I can now offer. At some other time circum-
stances may place it in my power to give further and better
proofs of my gratitude."

As this was said, the major held two ten-pound notes toward
Marble, doubtless intending that I should receive one of them
as a Mt division of the spoils. Now, according to all theory,
and the established opinion of the Christian world, America is
the avaricious country ; the land, of all others, in which men arc
ihe most greedy of gain ; in which human beings respect gold
more, and themselves less, than in any other portion of this
globe. I never dispute any thing that is settled by the conamon
consent of my fellow-creatures, for the simple reason that I know
the decision must be against me ; so I will concede that money
is the great end of American life — that there is little else to live
for in the great model republic. Politics have fallen into such
hands, that oflSce will not even give social station ; the people
are omnipotent, it is true ; but, though they can make a gov-
ernor, they cannot make gentlemen and ladies ; even Mngs are
sometimes puzzled to do that; literature, arms, arts, and fame
of all sorts are unattainable in their rewards among us, as in
other nations, leaving the puissant dollar in its undisturbed
ascendency ; still, as a rule, twenty Europeans can bo bought
with two ten-pound Bank of England notes much easier than
two Americans. I leave others to explain the phenomenon ; I
only speak of the fact

Marble listened to the major's speech with great attention
and respect, fumbling in his pocket for his tobacco-box the whole
time. The box was opened just as the major ended, and even
I began* to be afraid that the well-known cupidity of Kennebunk
was about to give way before the temptation, and the notes
were to be stowed alongside of the tobacco ; but I was mis-
taken. Deliberately helping himself to a quid, the chief mate
shut the box again, and then he made his reply.

" Quite ginerous in you, major," he said, " and all ship-shape
and right. I like to see things done just in that way. Put up
the money ; we thank you as much as if we could take it, and



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ITS AFLOAT AND ASHORE.

that squares aD accounts. I would just mention, however, to
prevent mistakes, as the other idee might get us impressed, that
this young man and I are both bom Americans — he from up
the Hudson somewhere, and I from York city, itself, though
edicated down East."

" Americans !" resumed the major, drawing himself up a little
stiffly ; " then y<m, young man," tummg to me, and holding out
the notes, of which he now seemed as anxious to be rid, as I
had previously fancied ho was sorry to see go — " you will do
me the favor to accept of this small token of my gratitude."

" It is quite impossible, sir," I answered, respectfully. " We



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperAfloat and ashore: A sea tale → online text (page 15 of 47)