James Fenimore Cooper.

Miles Wallingford Sequel to Afloat and Ashore online

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nine o'clock. This air was an immense relief to me, in more ways than one.
It cooled my person, which was suffering from the intense heat of a
summer's sun beating directly on a boundless expanse of water, and it
varied a scene that otherwise possessed an oppressively wearisome
sameness. Unfortunately this breeze met me in the bows; for I had stepped
my mast in the foremast, lashed it against the bottom of the top, which it
will be remembered was now perpendicular, and stayed it to the mast-heads
and dead-eyes of the top-mast rigging, all of which remained as when
erect, though now floating on the water. I intended the fractured part of
the foremast for my cut-water, and, of course, had to ware ship before I
could gather any way. This single manoeuvre occupied a quarter of an hour,
my braces, tacks, and sheets not working particularly well. At the end of
that time, however, I got round, and laid my yard square.



Chapter XXIII.


"There was speech in their dumbness, language in their very gesture;
they looked, as they had heard of a world ransomed, or one destroyed: A
notable passion of wonder appeared in them; but the wisest beholder,
that knew no more but seeing, could not say, if the importance were joy,
or sorrow; - but in the extremity of the one, it must needs be."

Winter's Tale.


As soon as the raft got fairly before the wind, and the breeze had
freshened, I had an opportunity of ascertaining what it would do. The
royal was a large one, and it stood well. I had brought a log-line and the
slow-glass with me, as well as my quadrant, slate, &c., and began to think
of keeping a reckoning. I had supposed the ship to be, when it fell calm,
about two hundred miles from the land, and I knew her to be in latitude
48° 37''. The log-line told me, the raft moved through the water, all that
forenoon, at the rate of about half a knot in the hour; and could I keep
on for fifteen or sixteen days, in a straight course, I might yet hope to
get ashore. I was not so weak, however, as to expect any such miracle to
be wrought in my favour, though, had I been in the trades, the thing might
have occurred. By cutting adrift the two yards, or by getting them fore
and aft, in a line with the water, my rate of sailing might be doubled;
and I began seriously to think of effecting this great change. Cut the
yards adrift I did not like to do, their support in keeping me out of
water being very important. By hauling on the lift, I did get them in a
more oblique position, and in a measure thus lessened their resistance to
the element. I thought that even this improvement made a difference of
half a knot in my movement. Nevertheless, it was tedious work to be a
whole hour in going less than a single mile, when two hundred remained to
be travelled, and the risks of the ocean were thus constantly
impending over one!

What a day was that! It blew pretty fresh at one time, and I began to
tremble for my staging, or deck, which got washed several times, though
the top-sail-yard made for it a sort of lee, and helped to protect it.
Towards the decline of the day, the wind went down, and at sunset
everything was as tranquil as it had been the previous evening. I thought
I might have been eight or nine miles from the spot where the Dawn went
down, without computing the influence of the currents, which may have set
me all that distance back again, or so much further ahead, for anything I
knew of the matter. At sunset I took an anxious survey of the horizon, to
see if any sail were in sight; but nothing was visible.

Another tranquil night gave me another tranquil night's rest. I call the
last tranquil, as it proved to be in one sense, though I was sorely
troubled with dreams. Had I been suffering for nourishment, I certainly
should have dreamed of food; but, such not being the case, my thoughts
took the direction of home and friends. Much of the time, I lay half
asleep and half awake; then my mind would revert to my sister, to Lucy, to
Mr. Hardinge, and to Clawbonny - which I fancied already in the possession
of John Wallingford, who was triumphing in his ownership, and the success
of his arts. Then I thought Lucy had purchased the place, and was living
there with Andrew Drewett, in a handsome new house, built in the modern
taste. By modern taste, I do not mean one of the Grecian-temple school, as
I do no think that even all the vagaries of a diseased imagination that
was suffering under the calamities of shipwreck, could induce me to
imagine Lucy Hardinge silly enough to desire to live in such a structure.

Towards morning, I fell into a doze, the fourth or fifth renewal of my
slumbers that night; and I remember that I had that sort of curious
sensation which apprises us itself, it was a dream. In the course of the
events that passed through my mind, I fancied I overheard Marble and Neb
conversing. Their voices were low, and solemn, as I thought; and the words
so distinct, that I still remember every syllable.

"No, Neb," said Marble, or seemed to say, in a most sorrowful tone, one I
had never heard him use even in speaking of his hermitage. "There is
little hope for Miles, now. I felt as if the poor boy was lost when I saw
him swept away from me, by them bloody spars striking adrift, and set him
down as one gone from that moment. You've lost an A. No. 1. master,
Mister Neb, I can tell you, and you may sarve a hundred before you fall in
with his like ag'in."

"I nebber sarve anoder gentleum; Misser Marble," returned the black;
"_dat_ as sartain as gospel. I born in 'e Wallingford family, and I lib
an' die in 'e same family, or I don't want to lib and die, at all. My real
name be Wallingford, dough folk do call me Clawbonny."

"Ay, and a slim family it's got to be!" rejoined the mate. "The nicest,
and the handsomest, and the most virtuous young woman in all York State,
is gone out of it, first: I knew but little of her; but, how often did
poor Miles tell me all about her; and how he loved her, and how she loved
him, and the like of all that, as is becoming; and something in the way
that I love little Kitty, my niece you know, Neb, only a thousand times
more; and hearing so much of a person is all the same, or even better than
to know them up and down, if a body wants to feel respect with all his
heart. Secondly, as a person would say, now there's Miles, lost too, for
the ship is sartainly gone down, Neb: otherwise, she would have been seen
floating hereabouts, and we may log him as a man lost overboard."

"P'rhaps not, Misser Marble," said the negro. "Masser Mile swim like a
fish, and he isn't the gentleum to give up as soon as trouble come.
P'rhaps he swimming about all dis time."

"Miles could do all that man could do, Neb, but he can't swim two hundred
miles - a South sea-man might do something like that, I do suppose, but
they're onaccountably web-footed. No, no, Neb; I fear we shall have to
give him up. Providence swept him away from us, like, and we've lost him.
Ah's me! - well, I loved that boy better, even, than a Yankee loves
cucumbers."

This may be thought an odd comparison to cross a drowsy imagination, but
it was one Marble often made; and if eating the fruit, morning, noon and
night, will vindicate its justice, the mate stood exonerated from
everything like exaggeration.

"Ebbry body lub Masser Mile," said the warm-hearted Neb, or I thought he
so said. "I nebber see dat we _can_ go home to good old Masser Hardinge,
and tell him how we lose Masser Mile!"

"It will be a hard job, Neb, but I greatly fear it must be done. However,
we will now turn in and try to catch a nap, for the wind will be rising
one of these times, and then we shall have need of keeping our eyes
wide open."

After this I heard no more; but every word of that which I have related,
sounded as plainly in my ears as if the speakers were within fifty feet of
me. I lay in the same state, some time longer, endeavouring, as I was
curious myself, of catching, or fancying, more words from those I loved so
well; but no more came. Then I believe I fell into a deeper sleep, for I
remember no more, for hours.

At dawn I awoke, the care on my mind answering for a call. This time, I
did not wait for the sun to shine in my eyes, but, of the two, I rather
preceded, than awaited the return of the light. On standing erect, I found
the sea as tranquil as it had been the previous night, and there was an
entire calm. It was still so dusky that a little examination was necessary
to be certain nothing was near. The horizon was scarcely clear, though,
making my first look towards the east, objects were plainest in that
quarter of the ocean. I then turned slowly round, examining the vast
expanse of water as I did so; until my back was towards the approaching
light, and I faced the west. I thought I saw a boat within ten yards of
me! At first, I took it for illusion, and rubbed my eyes to make sure that
I was awake. There it was, however, and another look satisfied me it was
my own launch, or that in which poor Neb had been carried overboard. What
was more, it was floating in the proper manner, appeared buoyant, and had
two masts rigged. It is true, that it looked dusky, as objects appear just
at dawn, but it was sufficiently distinct. I could not be mistaken; it was
my own launch thus thrown within my reach by the mercy of divine
Providence!

This boat, then, had survived the gale, and the winds and currents had
brought it and the raft together. What had become of Neb? He must have
rigged the masts, for none were stepped, of course, when the boat was in
the chocks. Masts, and sails, and oars were always kept in the boat, it is
true; but the first could not be stepped without hands. A strange, wild
feeling came over me, as a man might be supposed to yield to the
appearance of supernatural agencies and, almost without intending it, I
shouted "boat ahoy!"

"Yo hoy!" answered Marble; - "who hails?"

The form of the mate appeared rising in the boat; at the next instant, Neb
stood at his side. The conversation of the previous night had been real,
and those whom I had mourned as lost stood within thirty feet of me, hale,
hearty, and unharmed. The boat and raft had approached each other in the
darkness; and, as I afterwards learned, the launch having fanned along for
several hours of the night, stopped for want of wind nearly where I now
saw her, and where the dialogue, part of which I overheard while half
asleep, had taken place. Had the launch continued on its course only ten
yards further, it would have hit the fore-top-mast. That attraction of
which I have already spoken, probably kept the boat and raft near each
other throughout the night, and quite likely had been slowly drawing them
together while we slept.

It would not be easy to say which party was the most astonished at this
recognition. There was Marble, whom I had supposed washed off the raft,
safe in the launch; and here was I, whom the other two had thought to have
gone down in the ship, safe on the raft! We appeared to have changed
places, without concert and without expectation of ever again meeting.
Though ignorant of the means through which all this had been brought
about, I very well know what we did, as soon as each man was certain that
he saw the other standing before him in the flesh. We sat down and wept
like three children. Then Neb, too impatient to wait for Marble's
movements, threw himself into the sea, and swam to the raft. When he got
on the staging, the honest fellow kissed my hands, again and again,
blubbering the whole time like a girl of three or four years of age. This
scene was interrupted only by the expostulations and proceedings of
the mate.

"What's this you're doing, you bloody nigger!" cried Marble. "Desarting
your station, and leaving me here, alone, to manage this heavy launch, by
myself. It might be the means of losing all hands of us again, should a
hurricane spring up suddenly, and wreck us over again."

The truth was, Marble began to be ashamed of the weakness he had
betrayed, and was ready to set upon anything, in order to conceal it. Neb
put an end to this sally, however, by plunging again into the water, and
swimming back to the boat, as readily as he had come to the raft.

"Ay, here you are, Neb, nigger-like, and not knowing whether to stay or to
go," growled the mate, busy the whole time in shipping two oars. "You put
me in mind of a great singer I once heard in Liverpool; a chap that would
keep shaking and quavering at the end of a varse, in such a style that he
sometimes did not know whether to let go or to hold on. It is onbecoming
in men to forget themselves, Neb; if we have found him we thought to be
lost, it is no reason for desarting our stations, or losing our
wits - Miles, my dear boy," springing on the raft, and sending Neb adrift
again, all alone, by the backward impetus of the leap - "Miles, my dear
boy, God be praised for this!" squeezing both my hands as in a vice - "I
don't know how it is - but ever since I 've fallen in with my mother and
little Kitty, I've got to be womanish. I suppose it's what you call
domestic affection."

Here, Marble gave in once more, blubbering just as hard as Neb, himself,
had done.

A few minutes later, all three began to know what we were about. The
launch was hauled up alongside of the stage, and we sat on the latter,
relating the manner in which each of us had been saved. First, then, as to
Neb: I have already told the mode in which the launch was swept overboard,
and I inferred its loss from the violence of the tempest, and the height
of the seas that were raging around us. It is true, neither Marble, nor I,
saw anything of the launch after it sunk behind the first hill of water to
leeward, for we had too much to attend to on board the ship, to have
leisure to look about us. But, it seems the black was enabled to maintain
the boat, the right side up, and, by bailing, to keep her afloat. He drove
to leeward, of course, and the poor fellow described in vivid terms his
sensations, as he saw the rate at which he was driving away from the ship,
and the manner in which he lost sight of her remaining spars. As soon as
the wind would permit, however, he stepped the masts, and set the two
luggs close-reefed, making stretches of three or four miles in length, to
windward. This timely decision was the probable means of saving all our
lives. In the course of a few hours, after he had got the boat under
command, he caught a glimpse of the fore-royal-masts sticking out from the
cap of a sea, and watching it eagerly, he next perceived the whole of the
raft, as it came up on the same swell, with Marble, half-drowned, lashed
to the top. It was quite an hour, before Neb could get near enough to the
raft, or spars, to make Marble conscious of his presence, and sometime
longer ere he could get the sufferer into the boat. This rescue did not
occur one minute too soon, for the mate admitted to me he was half
drowned, and that he did not think he could have held out much longer,
when Neb took him into the boat.

As for food and water, they fared well enough. A breaker of fresh water
was kept in each boat, by my standing orders, and it seems that the cook,
who was a bit of an epicure in his way, was in the habit of stowing a bag
of bread, and certain choice pieces of beef and pork, in the bows of the
launch, for his own special benefit. All these Neb had found, somewhat the
worse for salt-water, it is true, but still in a condition to be eaten.
There was sufficient in the launch, therefore, when we thus met, to
sustain Marble and Neb, in good heart, for a week.

As soon as the mate was got off the raft, he took direction of the launch.
Unluckily, he made a long stretch to the northward, intending to tack and
cross what he supposed must have been the position of the ship, and come
to my relief. While the launch was thus working its way to windward, I
fell in with, and took possession of, the raft, as has been described.
Marble's calculation was a good one, in the main; but it brought him near
the Dawn the night she sank, and the raft and boat were both too low to be
seen at any distance, the one from the other. It is probable we were not
more than ten or twelve miles asunder the most of the day I was on the
raft, Marble putting up his helm to cross the supposed position of the
ship, about three in the afternoon. This brought him down upon the raft,
about midnight, when the conversation I have related took place, within a
few yards of me, neither party having the least notion of the proximity of
the other.

I was touched by the manner in which Marble and Neb spoke of my supposed
fate. Neither seemed to remember that he was washed away from a ship, but
appeared to fancy that I was abandoned alone, on the high seas, in a
sinking vessel. While I had been regretting their misfortunes, they had
both thought of me as the party to be pitied; each fancying his own
fortune more happy than mine. In a word, their concern for me was so
great, that they altogether forgot to dwell on the hardships and dangers
of their own particular cases. I could not express all I felt on the
occasion; but the events of that morning, and the feelings betrayed by my
two old shipmates, made an impression on my heart, that time has not, nor
ever can, efface. Most men who had been washed overboard, would have
fancied themselves the suffering party; but during the remainder of the
long intercourse that succeeded, both Marble and Neb always alluded to
this occurrence as if I were the person lost and rescued.

We were an hour or more intently occupied in these explanations, before
either recollected the future. Then I felt it was time to have some
thought for our situation, which was sufficiently precarious, as it was;
though Marble and Neb made light of any risks that remained to be run. I
was saved, as it might be, by a miracle; and that was all that they could
remember, just then. But a breeze sprang up from the eastward, as the sun
appeared, and the agitation of the raft soon satisfied me that my berth
would have been most precarious, had I not been so providentially
relieved. It is true, Marble made light of the present state of things,
which, compared to those into which he had been so suddenly
launched, - without food, water, or provisions, of any sort, - was a species
of paradise. Nevertheless, no time was to be wasted; and we had a long
road to travel in the boat, ere we could deem ourselves in the least safe.

My two associates had got the launch in as good order as circumstances
would allow. But it wanted ballast to carry sail hard, and they had felt
this disadvantage; particularly Neb, when he first got the boat on a wind.
I could understand, by his account of the difficulties and dangers he
experienced, - though it came out incidentally, and without the smallest
design to magnify his own merits, - that nothing but his undying interest
in me, could have prevented him from running off before the wind, in
order to save his own life. An opportunity now offered to remedy this
evil, and we went to work to transfer all the effects I had placed on the
stage, to the launch. They made a little cargo that gave her stability at
once. As soon as this was done, we entered the boat, made sail, and hauled
close on a wind, under reefed luggs; it beginning to blow smartly
in puffs.

I did not part from the raft without melancholy regrets. The materials of
which it was composed were all that now remained of the Dawn. Then the few
hours of jeopardy and loneliness I had passed on it, were not to be
forgotten. They still recur vividly to my thoughts with deep, and, I
trust, profitable, reflections. The first hour after we cast off, we stood
to the southward. The wind continuing to increase in violence, and the sea
to get up, until it blew too fresh for the boat to make any headway, or
even to hold her own against it, Marble thought he might do better on the
other tack, - having some reason to suppose there was a current setting to
the southward and eastward, - and we wore round. After standing to the
northward for a sufficient length of time, we again fell in with the
spars; a proof that we were doing nothing towards working our way to
windward. I determined, at once, to make fast to them, and use them as a
sort of floating anchor, so long as the foul wind lasted. We had some
difficulty in effecting this object; but we finally succeeded in getting
near enough, under the lee of the top, to make fast to one of its
eye-bolts - using a bit of small hawser, that was in the boat, for that
purpose. The boat was then dropped a sufficient distance to leeward of the
spars, where it rode head to sea, like a duck. This was a fortunate
expedient; as it came on to blow hard, and we had something very like a
little gale of wind.

As soon as the launch was thus moored, we found its advantage. It shipped
no more water, or very little, and we were not compelled to be on the
look-out for squalls, which occurred every ten or fifteen minutes, with a
violence that it would not do to trifle with. The weather thickened at
these moments; and there were intervals of half an hour at a time, when we
could not see a hundred yards from the boat, on account of the drizzling,
misty rain that filled the atmosphere. There we sat, conversing sometimes
of the past, sometimes of the future, a bubble in the midst of the raging
waters of the Atlantic, filled with the confidence of seamen. With the
stout boat we possessed, the food and water we had, I do not think either
now felt any great concern for his fate; it being possible, in moderate
weather, to run the launch far enough to reach an English port in about a
week. Favoured by even a tolerably fair wind, the object might be effected
in even two or three days.

"I take it for granted, Miles," Marble remarked, as we pursued our
discourse, "that your insurance will completely cover your whole loss? You
did not forget to include freight in the risks?"

"So far from this, Moses, I believe myself to be nearly or quite a ruined
man. The loss of the ship is unquestionably owing to the act of the
Speedy, united to our own, in setting those Englishmen adrift on the
ocean. No insurers will meet a policy that has thus been voided."

"Ah! the blackguards! - This is worse than I had thought; - but you can
always make a harbour at Clawbonny?"

I was on the point of explaining to Marble how I stood in relation to the
paternal acres, when a sort of shadow was suddenly cast on the boat, and I
fancied the rushing of the water seemed to be increased at the same
instant. We all three sat with our faces to leeward, and all turned them
to windward under a common impulse. A shout burst from Marble's throat,
and a sight met my eyes, that caused the blood to rush in a torrent
through my heart. Literally within a hundred feet of us, was a large ship,
ploughing the ocean with a furrow that rose to her hawse-holes, and piling
before her, in her track, a mound of foam, as she came down upon us, with
top-mast and lower studding-sails set - overshadowing the sea, like some
huge cloud. There was scarcely time for more than a glance, ere this ship
was nearly upon us. As she rose on a swell, her black sides came up out of
the ocean, glittering and dripping, and the tine of frowning guns seemed
as if just lacquered. Neb was in the bow of the launch, while I was in the
stern. My arm was extended involuntarily, or instinctively would be the
better word, to avert the danger, when it seemed to me that the next send
of the ship would crush us beneath the bright copper of her bottom.
Without Neb's strength and presence of mind, we had been lost beyond a
hope; for swimming up to the spars against the sea that was on, would have
been next to hopeless; and even if there, without food, or water, our fate
would have been sealed. But Neb seized the hawser by which we were riding,
and hauled the launch ahead her length, or more, before the frigate's
larboard bower-anchor settled down in a way that menaced crushing us. As
it was, I actually laid a hand on the muzzle of the third gun, while the
ship went foaming by. At the next instant she was past; and we were safe.
Then all three of us shouted together. Until that moment, none in the
frigate were aware of our vicinity. But the shout gave the alarm, and as
the ship cleared us, her taffrail was covered with officers. Among them
was one grey-headed man, whom I recognised by his dress for the captain.
He made a gesture, turning an arm upward, and I knew an order was given
immediately after, by the instantaneous manner in which the taffrail



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperMiles Wallingford Sequel to Afloat and Ashore → online text (page 28 of 38)