James Fenimore Cooper.

Afloat and ashore: A sea tale online

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" Come-hither, Miles," said the excellent old man, " I wish to
converse with you seriously."

As Lucy was uppermost in my thoughts at the moment, I
said to myself — " What can the dear old gentleman have to say,
now ?"

" I hear from all quarters the best accounts of you, my dear
boy," Mr. Hardinge continued, " and I am told you make a
very superior seaman. It is a feather in your cap, indeed, to
have commanded an Indiaman a twelvemonth before you are of
age. I have been conversing with my old friend John Murray,
of the house of John Murray & Sons, one of the very best mer-
chants in America, and he says * push the boy ahead, when you
find the right stuff in him. Get Mm a ship of his own, and that

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will put him on the trae track. Teach him early to have an
eye to his own interests, and it will make a man of him, at
once' T have thought the matter over, have had a vessel in my
eye, for the last month, and will purchase her at once, if you
like the plan."

" But have I money enough for such a thing, my dear sir —
after having sailed in the John, and the Tigris, and the Crisis, I ^
should not like to take up with any of your B's, No. 2."

" You have forgotten to mention the * Pretty Poll,' Miles,"
said the divine, smiling. " Be under no fear, however, for your
dignity ; the vessel I have in treaty, is all you could wish, they
tell me, having made but one voyage, and is sold on account of
the death of her owner. As for money, you will remember I
have thirteen thousand dollars of your income invested in stocks,
and stocks that cost but ten. The peace has brought every
thing up, and you are making money, right and left. How
have your own pay and private venture turned out 2"

" Perfectly well, sir. I am near three thousand dollars in
pocket, and shall have no need to call on you, for my personal
wants. Then I have my prize money to touch. Even Neb,
wages and prize money, brings me nine hundred dollars. With
your permission, sir, I should like to give the fellow his free-

** Wait till you are of age. Miles, and then you can do as yon
please. I hold four thousand dollars of your invested money,
which has been paid in, and I have placed it in stocks. Altogeth-
er, I find we can muster, in solid cash, more than twenty thou-
sand dollars, while the price of the ship, as she stands, almost
ready for sea, is only fifteen. Now, go and look at the vessel ;
if you like her, I will close the bargain at once."

" But, my dear Mr. Hardinge, do you think yourself exactly
qualified to judge of the value of a ship ?"

" Poh I poh ! don't imagine I am so conceited as to purchase
on my own knowledge. I have taken some of the very best
advice of the city. There is John Murray, to begin with — a
great ship-holder, himself; and Archibald Gracie, and William

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Bayard — all capital judges^ have taken an interest in the afiair.
Three others of my friends have walked romid to look at the
vessel, and all approve — not a dissenting voice*"

*' May I ask| sir, who have seen her, beddes the gentlemen
you have named ? They, I admit, are, indeed, good judges."

" Why — ^why — ^yes — ^o you happen to know any thing of
Doctor Benjamin Moore, now, Miles ?"

" Never heard of him, sir, in my life ; but a physician can be
no great judge of a ship."

*• No more of a physician than yourself^ boy — ^Doctor Ben-
jamin Moore, the gentleman we elected Bishop, while you were
absent" —

" Oh ! he you wished to toast, instead of Miss Peggy Perott,"
cried I, smiling. " Well, what does the Bishop think of her —
if he approve, she must be orthodox."

" He says she is the handsomest vessel he ever laid eyes on,
Miles ; and let me tell you, the &vorable opinion of so good a
man as Doctor Moore, is of value, even though it be about a

I could not avoid laughing, and I dare say most of the read-
ers will also, at this touch of simplicity ; and yet, why should
not a Bishop know as much of ships as a set of ignoramuses
who never read a theological book in their lives, some of them
not even the Bible, should know about Bishops ? The circum-
stance was not a tittle more absurd than many that are occur-
ring daily before our eyes, and to which, purely from habit, we
submit, very much as a matter of course.

" Well, sir," I replied, as soon as I could, " I will look at the
ship, get her character, and^give you an answer at once. Ilike
the idea, for it is pleasant to be one's own master."

In that day, $15,000 would buy a very excellent ship, as ships
went. The vessel I was taken to see, was coppered and copper-
fastened, butt-bolted, and she measured just five hundred tons.
She had a great reputation, as a sailer, and, what was thought a
good deal of in 1802, was Philadelphia built. She had been
one voyage to China, and was Utile more than a year old, or

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the best posgible age for a vessel. Her name was the " Dawn,'^
and she carried an " Aurora" for her figure-head. Whether she
were, or were not incUned to Puseyism, I never could ascertain,
although I can affirm she had the services of the Protestant
Episcopal Catholic Church read on board her afterward, on
more than one occasion*

The result of my examination and inquiries was favorable, and,
by the end of the week, the Dawn was purchased. The owners
of the Crisis were pleased to express their regrets, for they had
intended that I should continue in the command of their vessel,
but no one could object to a man's wishing to sail in his owr
employment. I made this important acquisition, at what was
probably the most auspicious moment of American navigation.
It is a proof of this that, the very day I was put in possession of
the ship, good freights were offered to no less than four different
parts of the world. I had my choice between Holland, France,
England, and China. After consulting with my guardian, I
accepted that to France, which not only paid the best, but I
was desirous of seeing more of the world than had yet fallen
to my share. I could make a voyage to Bordeaux and back in
five months, and by the end of that time I should be of age,
and, consequently, my own master. As I intended to have
great doings at Clawbonny on that occasion, I thought it might
be well not to go too far from home. Accordingly, after ship-
ping Talcott and the Philadelphian, whose name was Walton,
for my mates, we began to take in cargo as soon as possible.

In the mean time I b^hought me of a visit to the paternal
home. It was a season of the year when most people, who were
anybodies^ left town, and t^e villas sikmg the shores of the
Hudson had long been occupied. Mr. Hardinge, too, pined
for the country and his flock. The girls had had enough of
town, which was getting to be very dull, and everybody, Rupert
excepted, seemed anxious to go up the river. I had invited the
Mertons to pass part of the summer at the fann, moreover, and
it was time the invitation should be renewed, for the major's phy-
sicians had advised him to choose some cooler residence than

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the streets of a Lot, close town could famish during the summct
months. Emily had been so much engrossed with the set into
which she had fallen since her landing, and which it was easy
for me to see was altogether superior to that in which she had
lived at home, that I was surprised at the readiness with which
she urged her father to redeem his promise.

" Mr. Hardinge tells me, sir, that Clawbonny is really a pretty
spot," she said, " and the country around it is thought to he
^ery healthy. You cannot get answers from home (she meant
England) for several months, and I know Captain Wallingford
will be happy to receive us. Besides, we are pledged to accept
this additional favor from him."

I thought Major Merton felt some of my own surprise at Em-
ily's earnestness and manner, but his resistance was very feeble.
The old gentleman's health, indeed, was pretty thoroughly un-
dermined, and I began to have serious doubts of his living even
to return to Europe. He had some relatives in Boston, and had
opened a correspondence with them, and I had thought, more
than once, of the expediency of apprising them of his situation.
At present, however, nothing better could be done than to get
him into the country.

Having made all the arrangements with the others, I went to
persuade Rupert to be of the party, for I thought it would make
both Grace and Lucy so much the happier.

"Miles, my dear fellow," said the young student, gaping,
" Clawbonny is certainly a capitalish place, but, you will admit
it is somewhat stupid after New York, My good kinswoman,
Mrs. Bradfort, has taken such a fancy to us all, and has made
me so comfortable — would you believe it, boy, she has actually
given me six hundred a year, for the last two years, beades
making Lucy presents fit for a queen. A sterling woman is she,
this cousin Margaret of ours !"

I heard this, truly, not without surprise ; for, in settling with
oiy owners, I found Rupert had drawn every cent to which he
was entitled, under the orders I had. left when I last went to sea.

As Mrs. Bradfort was more than at her ease, however, had

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no nearer relative than Mr. Hardinge, and was much attached
to the family, I had no difficulty in believing it true, so far as
the lady's liberality was concerned. I heartily wished Rupert
had possessed more self-respect ; but he was, as ho was !

" I am sorry you cannot go with us," I answered, " for 1
counted on you to help amuse the Mertons" —

" The Mertons ! Why, surely, they arc not going to pass the
summer at Clawbonny !"

" They quit town with us, to-morrow. Why should not the
Mertons pass the summer at Clawbonny ?"

" Why, Miles, my dear boy, you know how it is with the
world — ^how it is with these English, in particular. They think
every thing of rank, you know, and are devotees of style and
appearance, and all that sort of thing, you know, as no one
understands better than myself; for I pass most of my tune in
the English set, you know."

I did not then understand what had come over Rupert, though
it is all plain enough to mo now. He had, truly enough, got
into what was then called the English set. Now, there is no
question, that, so far as the natives, themselves, were concerned,
this was as good a set as ever existed in this country ; and it is
also beyond all cavil, that many respectable English persons,
of both sexes, were occasionally found in it ; but, it had this
great defect \— every Englishman who wore a good coat, and
had any of the slang of society, made his way into the outskirts,
at least, of this set ; and Rupert, whose own position was not
yet thoroughly confii-med, had fallen a great deal into the asso-
ciation of these accidental comers and goers. They talked large,
drank deep, and had a lofty disdam for every thing in the
country, though it was very certain they were just then in much
better company where they were, than they had ever been at
home. Like most tyros, Rupert fancied these blustering gen-
tly pei-sons to imitate; and, as they seldom conversed ten
minutes without having something to say of my Lord A — or
Sir John B — ^ persons they had read of, or seen in the streets,
he was weak enough to imagine they knew all about the digni-

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taries of the British empire As Rupert was really a gentleman,
and had good manners naturally, it was a giievous thing to see
him fashioning himself anew, as it might be, on such very ques-
tionable modds.

" Clawbonny is not a stylish plaee, I am ready to allow,*' I
answered, after a moment of hesitation ; " still, it is respectable.
There is a good farm, a valoable mill, and a good, old, comfort-
able, straggling, stone house."

" Very true, Miles, my dear fellow, and all as dear to me, you
know, as the apple of my eye — hni /urmish — ^young ladies like
the good things that come from farms, but do not admire
the homeliness of the residence. I speak of young English
ladies, in particular. Now, yon see, Major Merton is a field-
officer, and that is having good rank in a respectable profession,
you know — ^I suppose you imderstand, Miles, that the king puts
most of his sons into the army, or navy — ^all this makes a diflTer-
ence, you understand f

" I understand nothing about it ; what is it to me where the
King of England puts his sons ?"

^* I wish, my dear Miles, if the truth must be said, that you
and I had been a little less boyish, when we were boys, than
happened to be the case. It would have been all the better for
us both."

" Well, I wish no such thing. A boy should be a boy, and a
man a man. I am content to have been a boy, while I was a
boy. It is a fault in this country, that boys fancy themselves
men too soon."

" Ah I my dear fellow, you vnll not, or do not understand me.
AVhat I mean is, that we were both precipitate in the choice of
a profession — ^I retired in time, but you persevere ; that is alL"

*' You did retire in season, my lad, if truth is what you are
after ; for had you staid a hundred years on board ship, you
never would have made a sailor."

When I said this I fancied I had uttered a pretty severe thing.
Rupert took it so coolly, however, as to satisfy me at once that
lie thought diffcrontly on the subject.

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" Cleariy, it is not my vocation. Nature intended me for
BometHng better, I trust, and I mistook a boyish inclination for
a taste. A little experience taught me better, and I am now
where I feel I ought to be. • I wish, Miles, you had come t? the
study of the law, at the time you wexxi to sea. You would have
been, by this time, at the bar, and would 4iave had a definite
position in society."

" I am very glad I did not. What the deuce should I have
done as a lawyer — or what advantage would it have been to me
to be admitted to the bar ?"

" Advantage ! Why, my dear fellow, every advantage in the
world. You know how it is in this country, I suppose, in the
way of society, my dear Miles ?"

" Not I — ^and, by the little I glean from the manner you sheer
about in your discourse, I wish to know nothing. Do young
men study law merely to be genteel ?"

" Do not despise knowledge, my boy ; it is of use, even in
trifles. Now in this country, you know, we have very few men
of mere leisure — theirs of estates to live on their incomes, as is
done in Europe ; but nine tenths of us must follow professions,
of which there are only half a dozen suitable for a gentleman.
The army and navy are nothing, you know ; two or three regi-
ments scattered about in the woods, and half a dozen vessels.
After these there remain the three learned professions, divinity,
law, and physic. In our family divinity has run out, I fear.
As for physic, * throw physic to the dogs,' as Miss Merton

"Who?" I exclaimed, in surprise. "* Throw physic to the
dogs' — why that is Shakspeare, man !"

" I know it, and it is Miss Emily Merton's, too. You have
made us acquainted with a charming creature, at least. Miles,
by this going to sea. Her notions on such subjects are as accu-
rate as a sun-dial"

" And has Miss Emily Merton ever conversed with you on
the subject of mt/ profession, Rupert ?"

** Indeed she has, and regretted it, again and again. You

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know as well as I do, Miles, to be a sailor, other than in a
navy, is not a genteel profession !"

I broke out into a fit of laughter at this remark. It struck
me as infinitely droll, and as somewhat silly. I knew my pre-
cise position in society, perfectly ; had none of the silly swag-
gering about personifl merit, and of " one man's being as good
as another,'' that has since got into such general use among us ;
and understood perfectly the useful and unavoidable classifica-
tions that take place in all civilized communities, and whicli,
while they are attended by certain disadvantages as exceptions,
produce great benefits as a whole, and was not disposed at all
to exaggerate my claims or to deny my deficiencies. But the
idea of attaching any considerations of gentility to my noble,
manly, daring profession, sounded so absurd I could not avoid
laughing. In a few moments, however, I became grave.

" Harkee, Rupert," said I ; "I trust Miss Merton does not
think I endeavored to mislead her as to my true position, or to
make her think I was a greater personage than I truly am ?"

" I'll not answer for that. When we were first acquainted, I
found she had certain notions about Clawbonny, and your estate^
and all that, which were rather English, you know, Now in
England, an estate gives a man a certain consideration, whereas
land is so plenty with us, that we think nothing of the man who
happens to own a little of it. Stocky in America, as it is so much
nearer ready money, is a better thing than land, you know."

How true was this, even ten years since ; how false is it to-
day ! The proprietor of tens of thousands of acres was, indeed,
under the paper-money regime, a less important man than the
owner of a handful of scrip, which has had all its value squeeze*^
out of it, little by little. That was truly the age when the repi*e-
sontative of property was of far more importance than the prop-
erty itself; and all because the country existed in a fever that
set every thing in motion. We shall see just such times again,
1 fear.

" But what had Emily Mei-ton to do with all this V*

"Miss Merton? Oh ! she h English, you know, and felt a^

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Englisli persons always do, at the sound of acres. I set it all
right, however, and you need be under no concern."

" The devil you did I And, pray, in what manner was this
done ? S'ow was the matter set right ?"

Rupert took the cigar from his mouth, suflfered the smoke to
issue, by a small, deUberate jet, cocking hi* nose up at the same
time as if observing the stars, and then deigned to give me an
answer. Your smokers have such a disdainful, ultra-philosophi-
cal manner, sometimes !

" Why, just in this way, my fine fellow. I told her Claw-
bonny was a farm, and not an estate, you know ; that did a
good deal, of itself. Then, I entered into an explanation of the
consideration of farmers in this country, you know, and made it
all as plain as A B C. She is a quick girl, is Emily, and takes
a thing remarkably soon."

" Did Miss Merton say any thing to induce you to suppose
she thought the less of me, for these explanations."

" Of course not — she values you, amazingly — quite worships
you, as a sailor — thinks you a sort of merchant captain Nelson,
or Blake, or Truxtun, and all that sort of thing. All young
ladies, however, are exceedingly particular about professions, I
suppose you know. Miles, as well as I do myself."

"What, Lucy, Rupert? Do you imagine Lucy cares a straw
about my not being a lawyer, for instance ?"

" Do I ? Out of all question. Don't you remember how the
girls wept — Grace as well as Lucy— when we went to sea, boy.
It was all on account of the wwgentility of the profession, if a
fellow can use such a word."

I did not believe this, for I knew Grace better, to say the
least ; and thought I understood Lucy sufficiently, at that time,
to know she wept because she was sorry to see me go away.
Still, Lucy had grown from a very young girl, since I sailed in
the Crisis, into a young woman, and might view things difierent-
ly, now, fe'om what she had done three years before. I had not
time, however, for further discussion at that moment, and I cut
»he matter short. ,^':

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"Well, Rupert, what am I to expect?" I asked; "CSaw*
bonny, or no Clawbonny ?"

" Why, now you say the M^ons are to be of the party, I
suppose I shall have to go ; it would be inhospitable el$e. I
do wish. Miles, you would man^e to establish visiting relations
with some of the families on the other side of the river. There
are plenty <A respectable people within a few hours' sail of

" My father, and my grandfather, and my great-grandfether,
managed, as you call it, to get along, for the last hundred years,
well enough on the west side; and, although .we are not quite
as genteel as the etistj we will do well enough. The Walling-
ford sails early in the morning, to save the tide ; and I hope
your lordship will turn out in season, and not keep us wait-
ing. If you do, I shall be ungenteel enough to leave you

I left Eupert with a feeling in which disgust and anger were
blended. I wish to be understood, more particularly as I know
I am writing for a stiff-necked generation. I never was guilty
of the weakness of decrying a thing because I did not happen
to possess it mysel£ I knew my own place in the social scale
perfectly ; nor was I, as I have just said, in the least inclined to
ismcj that one man was as good as another. I knew very well
that this was not true, either in nature or in the social relations;
in political axioms, toy more than in political truths. At the
same time, I did not believe nature had created men unequal,
in the order of primogeniture from male to male. Keeping in
view all the facts, I was perfectly disposed to admit that habits,
education, association, and sometimes chance and caprice, drew
distinctions that produced great benefits, as a whole ; in some
small degree qualified, perhaps, by cases of individual injustice.
This last exception, however, being applicable to all things
human, it had no influence on my opinions, which were sound
and healthful on all these points ; practical, conmion-sense like,
and in conformity with the decisions of the world from the time
of Moses, down to our own, or, I dare say, of Adam hunself^ if


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Llie truth could be known ; and, as I have said more than once
in these rambling memoirs, I was not disposed to take a false
view of my own social position. I belonged, at most, to the
class of small proprietors, as they existed in the last century,
and filled a very useful and respectable niche between the yeo-
man and gentlemsm, considering the last i^rictly in reference to
the upper class of that day. Now, it struck me that Emily
Merton, with her English notions, might very well di»w the
distinctions Rupert had mentioned ; nor am I conscious of hav-
ing cared mudi about it, though she did. If I were a less im-
portant person on terra firma; with all the usages and notions
of ordinary society producing their influence, than I had been
when in command of the Crisis, in the centre of the Pacific, so
was Miss Merton a less important young lady, in the midst of
the beauty of New York, than, she had been in the isolation of
Marble Land, lliis I could feel very distinctly. But Lucy's
supposed defection did more than annoy me. I felt humbled,
mortified, grieved. I had always known that Lucy was better
connected than I was myself, and I had ever given Rupert and
her the benefit of this advantage, as some offset to my own and
Grace's larger means ; but it had never struck me that either
the brother or sister would be disposed to look down upon us
in consequence. The world is everywhere — and America, on
account of its social vicissitudes, more than most other coun-
tries—constantly exhibiting pictures of the struggles between
fallen consequence and rising wealth. The last may, and does
have the best of it, in the mere physical part of the strife ; but
in the more moral, if such a word can be used, the quiet ascend-
ency of better manners and ancient recollections is very apt to
overshadow the fussy pretensions of the vulgar aspirant, who
places his daims altogether on the all-mighty dollar.. It is vain
to deny it ; men ever have done it, suid probably ever will defer
. to the past, in matters of this sort — it being much with us, in
this particular, as it is with our own lives, which have had all
their greatest enjoyments in bygone days. I knew all thisr—
felt all this — and was greatly afraid that Lucy, through Mrs,

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Bradfort's influence, and her town associations, might have
learned to regard me as Capfeun Wallingford of the merchant-
sendee, and the son of another Captain Wallingford of the same
line in life. I determined, therefore, to watch her with jealous

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperAfloat and ashore: A sea tale → online text (page 33 of 47)