James Fenimore Cooper.

Miles Wallingford Sequel to Afloat and Ashore online

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were in the brails. As the wind did not blow hard enough to bring a vessel
of any size to more than one reef, even on a bow-line, this short canvass
proved that the frigate was on her cruising ground, and was roaming about
in quest of anything that might offer. This was just the canvass to give a
cruiser a wicked look, since it denoted a lazy preparation, which might,
in an instant, be improved into mischief. As all cruising vessels, when on
their stations doing nothing, reef at night, and the hour was still early,
it was possible we had made this ship before her captain, or
first-lieutenant, had made his appearance on deck. There she was, at all
events, dark, lustrous, fair in her proportions, her yards looming square
and symmetrical, her canvass damp, but stout and new, the copper bright as
a tea-kettle, resembling a new cent, her hammock-cloths with the undress
appearance this part of a vessel of war usually offers at night, and her
quarter-deck and forecastle guns frowning through the lanyards of her
lower rigging like so many slumbering bull-dogs muzzled in their kennels.

The frigate was on an easy bow-line, or, to speak more correctly, was
standing directly across our fore-foot, with her yards nearly square. In a
very few minutes, each keeping her present course, the two ships would
have passed within pistol-shot of each other. I scarce knew the nature of
the sudden impulse which induced me to call out to the man at the wheel to
starboard his helm. It was probably from instinctive apprehension that it
were better for a neutral to have as little to do with a belligerent as
possible, mingled with a presentiment that I might lose some of my people
by impressment. Call out I certainly did, and the Dawn's bows came up to
the wind, looking to the westward, or in a direction contrary to that in
which the frigate was running, as her yards were square, or nearly so. As
soon as the weather leeches touched, the helm was righted, and away we
went with the wind abeam, with about as much breeze as we wanted for the
sail we carried.

The Dawn might have been half a mile to windward of the frigate when this
manoeuvre was put in execution. We were altogether ignorant whether our
own ship had been seen; but the view we got of the stranger satisfied us
that he was an Englishman. Throughout the whole of the long wars that
succeeded the French Revolution, the part of the ocean which lay off the
chops of the channel was vigilantly watched by the English, and it was
seldom, indeed, a vessel could go over it, without meeting more or less of
their cruisers.

I was not without a hope that the two ships would pass each other,
without our being seen. The mist became very thick just as we hauled up,
and, had this change of course taken place after we were shut in, the
chances were greatly in favour of its being effected. Once distant a mile
from the frigate, there was little danger of her getting a glimpse of us,
since, throughout all that morning, I was satisfied we had not got an
horizon with that much of diameter.

As a matter of course, the preparations with the studding-sails were
suspended. Neb was ordered to lay aloft, as high as the cross-trees, and
to keep a vigilant look-out, while all eyes on deck were watching as
anxiously, in the mist, as we had formerly watched for the shadowy outline
of _la Dame de Nantes_. Marble's long experience told him best where to
look, and he caught the next view of the frigate. She was directly under
our lee, gliding easily along under the same canvass; the reefs still in,
the courses in the brails, and the spanker rolled up, as it had been for
the night.

"By George," cried the mate, "all them Johnny Bulls are still asleep, and
they haven't seen us! If we can give this fellow the slip, as we did the
old Leander, Captain Wallingford, the Dawn will become as famous as the
Flying Dutchman! See, there he jogs on, as if going to mill, or to church,
and no more stir aboard him than there is in a Quaker meetin'! How my good
old soul of a mother would enjoy this!"

There the frigate went, sure enough, without the smallest sign of any
alarm having been given on board her. The vessels had actually passed each
other, and the mist was thickening again. Presently, the veil was drawn,
and the form of that beautiful ship was entirely hid from sight. Marble
rubbed his hands with delight; and all our people began to joke at the
expense of the Englishman. 'If a merchantman could see a man-of-war,' it
was justly enough said, 'a man-of-war ought certainly to see a
merchantman.' Her look-outs must have all been asleep, or it would not
have been possible for us to pass so near, under the canvass we carried,
and escape undiscovered. Most of the Dawn's crew were native Americans,
though there were four or five Europeans among them. Of these last, one
was certainly an Englishman, and (as I suspected) a deserter from a
public ship; and the other, beyond all controversy, was a plant of the
Emerald Isle. These two men were particularly delighted, though well
provided with those veracious documents called protections, which, like
beggars' certificates, never told anything but truth; though, like
beggars' certificates, they not unfrequently fitted one man as well as
another. It was the well-established laxity in the character of this
testimony, that gave the English officers something like a plausible
pretext for disregarding all evidence in the premises. Their mistake was
in supposing they had a right to make a man prove anything on board a
foreign ship; while that of America was, in permitting her citizens to be
arraigned before foreign judges, under any conceivable circumstances. If
England wanted her own men, let her keep them within her own jurisdiction;
not attempt to follow them into the jurisdiction of neutral states.

Well, the ship had passed; and I began myself to fancy that we were quit
of a troublesome neighbour, when Neb came down the rigging, in obedience
to an order from the mate.

"Relieve the wheel, Master Clawbonny," said Marble, who often gave the
negro his patronymic, "we may want some of your touches, before we reach
the foot of the danse. Which way was John Bull travelling when you
last saw him?"

"He goin' eastward, sir." - Neb was never half as much "nigger" at sea, as
when he was on shore, - there being something in his manly calling that
raised him nearer to the dignity of white men. - "But, sir, he was gettin'
his people ready to make sail."

"How do you know that? - No such thing, sir; all hands were asleep, taking
their second naps."

"Well, you see, Misser Marble; den you _know_, sir."

Neb grinned as he said this; and I felt persuaded he had seen something
that he understood, but which very possibly he could not explain; though
it clearly indicated that John Bull was not asleep. We were not left long
in doubt on this head. The mist opened again, and, distant from us about
three-quarters of a mile, bearing on our lee quarter, we got another look
at the frigate, and a look that satisfied everybody what she was about.
The Englishman was in stays, in the very act of hauling his head-yards, a
certain sign he was a quick and sure-working fellow, since this manoeuvre
had been performed against a smart sea, and under double-reefed top-sails.
He must have made us, just as we lost sight of him, and was about to shake
out his reefs.

On this occasion, the frigate may have been visible from our decks three
minutes. I watched all her movements, as the cat watches the mouse. In the
first place her reefs were shaken out, as the ship's bows fell off far
enough to get the sea on the right side of them, and her top-sails appeared
to me to be mast-headed by instinct, or as the bird extends its wings. The
fore and main-top-gallant sails were fluttering in the breeze at this very
moment, - it blew rather too fresh for the mizen, - and then their bosoms
were distended, and their bow-lines hauled. How the fore and main-tacks got
aboard I could not tell, though it was done while my eyes were on the
upper sails. I caught a glimpse of the fore-sheet, however, as the clew
was first flapping violently, and then was brought under the restraint of
its own proper, powerful purchase. The spanker had been hauled out
previously, to help the ship in tacking.

There was no mistaking all this. We were seen, and chased; everything on
board the frigate being instantly and accurately trimmed, "full and by."
She looked up into our wake, and I knew must soon overtake a heavily-laden
ship like the Dawn, in the style in which she was worked and handled.
Under the circumstances, therefore, I motioned Marble to follow me aft,
where we consulted together, touching our future proceedings. I confess I
was disposed to shorten sail, and let the cruiser come alongside; but
Marble, as usual, was for holding on.

"We are bound to Hamburg," said the mate, "which lies, hereaway, on our
lee-beam, and no man has a right to complain of our steering our course.
The mist has shut the frigate in again, and, it being very certain he will
overhaul us on a bow-line, I advise you, Miles, to lay the yards perfectly
square, edge away two points more, and set the weather stun'-sails. If we
do not open John very soon again, we may be off three or four miles to
leeward before he learns where we are, and then, you know, a
'starn-chase' is always a 'long-chase.'"

This was good advice, and I determined to follow it. It blew rather fresh
at the instant, and the Dawn began to plunge through the seas at a famous
rate as soon as she felt the drag of the studding-sails. We were now
running on a course that made an obtuse angle with that of the frigate,
and there was the possibility of so far increasing our distance as to get
beyond the range of the openings of the mist, ere our expedient were
discovered. So long did the density of the atmosphere continue, indeed,
that my hopes were beginning to be strong, just as one of our people
called out "the frigate!" This time she was seen directly astern of us,
and nearly two miles distant! Such had been our gain, that ten minutes
longer would have carried us clear. As we now saw her, I felt certain she
would soon see us, eyes being on the look-out on board her, beyond a
question. Nevertheless, the cruiser was still on a bow-line, standing on
the course on which we had been last seen.

This lasted but a moment, however. Presently the Englishman's bow fell
off, and by the time he was dead before the wind, we could see his
studding-sails flapping in the air, as they were in the act of being
distended, by means of halyards, tacks and sheets, all going at once. The
mist shut in the ship again before all this could be executed. What was to
be done next? Marble said, as we were not on our precise course, it might
serve a good turn to bring the wind on our starboard quarter, set all the
studding-sails we could carry on the same side, and run off
east-north-east: I inclined to this opinion, and the necessary changes
were made forthwith. The wind and mist increased, and away we went, on a
diverging line from the course of the Englishman, at the rate of quite ten
knots in the hour. This lasted fully forty minutes, and all hands of us
fancied we had at last given the cruiser the slip. Jokes and chuckling
flew about among the men, as usual, and everybody began to feel as happy
as success could make us, when the dark veil lifted at the south-west; the
sun was seen struggling through the clouds, the vapour dispersed, and
gradually the whole curtain which had concealed the ocean throughout that
morning arose, extending the view around the ship, little by little,
until nothing limited it but the natural horizon.

The anxiety with which we watched this slow rising of the curtain need
scarcely be described. Every eye was turned eagerly in the direction in
which its owner expected to find the frigate, and great was our
satisfaction as mile after mile opened in the circle around us, without
bringing her beautiful proportions within its range. But this could not
last for ever, there not being sufficient time to carry so large a vessel
over the curvature of the ocean's surface. As usual, Marble saw her first.
She had fairly passed to leeward of us, and was quite two leagues distant,
driving ahead with the speed of a race-horse. With a clear horizon, an
open ocean, a stiff breeze, and hours of daylight, it was hopeless to
attempt escape from as fast a vessel as the stranger, and I now determined
to put the Dawn on her true course, and trust altogether to the goodness
of my cause: heels being out of the question. The reader who will do me
the favour to peruse the succeeding chapter, will learn the result of this
resolution.



Chapter XIII.



"Whom have we here? Buckingham, to disturb
The King hath sent him, sure: I must dissemble."

_King Henry VI_.


At first, the frigate took single reefs in her top-sails, set
topgallant-sails over them, and hauled up on taut bow-lines. But seeing no
signs of our studding-sails coming down, she shook out her reefs, squared
her yards, set top-mast studding-sails, and kept off to a course that would
be certain to intercept us. She was up on our line of sailing some little
time before we got down to her, and she kept standing off and on, hauling
up her courses, and furling her topgallant-sails and hauling down all of
her light sails, the jib excepted As for the Dawn, she kept steadily on,
carrying everything she could bear. We had top-mast and lower
studding-sails, and not a tack or sheet had been touched when we got
within a quarter of a mile of the frigate. The Englishman now showed his
colours, when we let him see the stars and stripes. Still no sail was
touched on board us. As if surprised at our obstinacy, John Bull let fly a
chase-gun, taking good care not to send the shot very near us. I thought
it time, now, to shorten sail and to pretend to see him. We began to haul
down our studding-sails, merchant-fashion, and were fairly alongside of
the frigate before even this preliminary step to heaving-to was effected.
As we approached, the frigate bore up, and ran off in company with us,
keeping a hundred fathoms distance from us, and watching us closely. At
this instant, I ordered the topgallant-sails settled on the caps, as a
sign we intended to let him board us.

At length, having reduced the sail to the three top-sails, reefed, I
hove-to the Dawn, and waited for a visit from the Englishman's boat. As
soon as the frigate saw us fairly motionless, she shot up on our weather
quarter, half a cable's length distant, swung her long, saucy-looking
yards, and lay-to herself. At the same instant her lee-quarter boat
dropped into the water, with the crew in it, a boy of a mid-shipman
scrambled down the ship's side and entered it also, a lieutenant followed,
when away the cockle of a thing swept on the crest of a sea, and was soon
pulling round under our stern. I stood on the lee quarter, examining my
visiters, as they struggled against the swell, in order to get a boat-hook
into our main chains. The men were like any other man-of-war's men, neat,
sturdy, and submissive in air. The reefer was a well-dressed boy,
evidently a gentleman's son; but the lieutenant was one of those old
weather-beaten sea-dogs, who are seldom employed in boats, unless
something more than common is to be done. He was a man of forty,
hard-featured, pock-marked, red-faced, and scowling. I afterwards
ascertained he was the son of some underling about the Portsmouth
dock-yard, who had worked his way up to a lieutenancy, and owed his
advancement principally to his readiness in impressing seamen. His name
was Sennit.

We threw Mr. Sennit a rope, as a matter of course, and Marble met him at
the gangway with the usual civilities. I was amused with the meeting
between these men, who had strictly that analogy to each other which is
well described as "diamond cut diamond." Each was dogmatical, positive,
and full of nautical conceit, in his own fashion; and each hated the
other's country as heartily as man could hate, while both despised
Frenchmen. But Sennit knew a mate from a master, at a glance; and, without
noticing Marble's sea-bow, a slight for which Marble did not soon forgive
him, he walked directly aft to me, not well pleased, as I thought, that a
ship-master had neglected to be at the gangway to meet a sea lieutenant.

"Your servant, sir," commenced Mr. Sennit, condescending to notice my bow;
"your servant, sir; I suppose we owe the pleasure of your company, just
now, to the circumstance of the weather's clearing."

This sounded hostile from the go off; and I was determined to give as good
as I received.

"Quite likely, sir," was my answer, uttered as coolly as I could speak - "I
do not think you got much the advantage, as long as there was
thick weather."

"Ay, you 're a famous fellow at hide and go seek, and I do not doubt would
make a long chase in a dark night. But his Majesty's ship, Speedy, is not
to be dodged by a Yankee."

"So it would seem, sir, by your present success."

"Men seldom run away without there is a cause for it. It's my business to
find out the reason why you have attempted it; so, sir, I will thank you
for the name of your ship, to begin with?"

"The Dawn, of New York."

"Ay, full-blooded Yankee - I knew you were New England, by your tricks."

"New York is not in New England; nor do _we_ call a New York ship, a
Yankee," put in Marble.

"Ay, ay - if one were to believe all you mates from the t' other side, say,
he would soon fancy that King George held his throne by virtue of a
commission from President Washington."

"President Washington is dead, Heaven bless him!" retorted Marble - "and
if one were to believe half of what you English say, he would soon fancy
that President Jefferson held his office as one of King George's
waiting men."

I made a sign for Marble to be silent, and intimated to the lieutenant I
was ready to answer any further inquiries he wished to make. Sennit did
not proceed, however, without giving a significant look at the mate, which
to me, seemed to say, "I have pressed a mate in my time."

"Well, sir, the Dawn, of New York," he continued, noting the name in his
pocket-book - "How are you called yourself?"

"The Dawn, of New York, Miles Wallingford, master."

"Miles Wallingford, master. Where from, whither bound, and with what
laden?"

"From New York; bound to Hamburg; cargo sugars, coffee, and cochineal."

"A very valuable cargo, sir," observed Mr. Sennit, a little drily. "I
wish for your sake, it had been going to any other part of the world, as
this last war has sent the French into that part of Germany, and Hamburg
is suspected of being rather too much under Boney's influence."

"And were we bound to Bordeaux, sir, what power have you to stop a
neutral, at this distance at sea?"

"If you put it on _power_, Mr. Wallingford, you depend on a crutch that
will betray you. We have power enough to eat you, should that be
necessary - I suppose you mean _right."_

"I shall not dispute with you, sir, about words."

"Well, to prove to you that I am as amicably disposed as yourself, I will
say no more on the subject. With your permission, I will now examine your
papers; and to show you that I feel myself among friends, I will first
send my own boat back to the Speedy."

I was infinitely disgusted with this man's manner. It had the vulgar sort
of witticism about even his air, that he so much affected in his speech;
the whole being deformed by a species of sly malignancy, that rendered him
as offensive as he seemed to me to be dangerous. I could not refuse to let
a belligerent look at my papers, however, and went below to get them,
while Sennit gave some private orders to his reefer, and sent him away to
the frigate.

While on this subject, the reader must excuse an old man's propensity to
gossip, if I say a word on the general question of the right of search. As
for the pretence that was set up by some of the advocates of impressment
out of neutral ships, which laid down the position, that the belligerent
being on board in the exercise of an undoubted right to inquire into the
character of the ship and cargo, he took with him the right to lay hands
on all the subjects of his own sovereign he might happen to find there, it
is not worthy of a serious reply. Because a man has a right to take the
step preliminary to the discharge of an admitted power, as an incident of
that power, it does not follow that he can make the incident a principle,
and convert it into a justification of acts, unlawful in themselves. On
this head, therefore, I shall say nothing, holding it to be beyond dispute
among those who are competent to speak on the subject at all. But the
abuse of that admitted power to board and ascertain the character of a
ship, has created so lively a feeling in us Americans, as to induce us to
forego some of the wholesome principles that are necessary to the
well-being of all civilized nations. It is thus, in my judgment, that we
have quite recently and erroneously laid down the doctrine that foreign
vessels of war shall not board American ships on the coast of Africa, in a
time of peace, in order to ascertain their character.

On this subject I intend to speak plainly. In the first place, I lay no
claim to that spurious patriotism which says, "our country, right or
wrong." This may do for the rabble; but it will not do for God, to whom
our first and highest obligations are due. Neither country, nor man, can
justify that which is wrong; and I conceive it to be wrong, in a political
if not in a moral sense, to deny a vessel of war the privilege which
England here claims. I can see but one plausible argument against it, and
that is founded on the abuses which may arise from the practice. But it
will not do to anticipate abuses in this instance, more than in any other.
Every right, whether national or international, may be abused in its
exercise; and the argument, if good for anything, is as good against every
other right of international law, as it is against this. Abuse, after it
has occurred, might be a justifiable reason for suspending the exercise of
an admitted right, until some remedies were applied to prevent their
recurrence, but it can never be urged as a proper argument against the
right itself. If abuses occur, we can get them remedied by proper
representations; and, if these last fail, we have the usual appeal of
nations. As well might it be said, the law of the land shall not be
administered, because the sheriff's officers are guilty of abuses, as to
say the law of nations shall cease because we apprehend that certain
commercial rivalries may induce others to transcend them. When the wrong
is done, it will be time enough to seek the remedy.

That it is the right of a vessel of war to ascertain the character of a
ship at sea, is dependent on her right to arrest a pirate, for instance.
In what manner can this be done, if a pirate can obtain impunity, by
simply hoisting the flag of some other country, which the cruiser is
obliged to respect? All that the latter asks is the power to ascertain if
that flag is not an imposition; and this much every regularly commissioned
public ship should be permitted to do, in the interests of civilization,
and in maintenance of the police of the seas.

The argument on the other side goes the length of saying, that a public
cruiser is in the situation of a sheriff's officer on shore, who is
compelled to arrest his prisoner on his own responsibility. In the first
place, it may be questioned if the dogma of the common law which asserts
the privilege of the citizen to conceal his name, is worthy of a truly
enlightened political freedom. It must not be forgotten that liberty first
took the aspect of franchises, in which men sought protection from the
abuses of power in any manner they could, and often without regarding the
justness of the general principles with which they were connected;
confusion in these principles arising as a consequence. But, admitting the
dogma of the common law to be as inherently wise, as it is confessedly a
practice, there is no parallel in the necessity of the case of an arrest
on shore and of an arrest at sea. In the former instance the officer may
apply to witnesses; - he has the man before him, and compares him with the
description of the criminal; and, should he make an erroneous arrest,
under misleading circumstances, his punishment would be merely nominal - in
many cases, nothing. But the common law, whilst it gives the subject this
protection, does not deny the right of the officer to arrest. It only



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperMiles Wallingford Sequel to Afloat and Ashore → online text (page 16 of 38)