James Fenimore Cooper.

The Choice Works of Cooper: Red Rover online

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manner 3 and, having happily found that nothing which he con-
sidered as gennane to the narrative was omitted, he proceeded at
once to the more material, and what was to his auditors by far
the most interesting portion of his narrative.

" Well, as I was telling your honour," he continued, "Guinea
was then a maintopman, and I was stationed in the same place
aboard the Proserpine, a quick-going two-and-thirty, when we fell
in with a bit of a smuggler, between the islands and the Spanish
Main ; and so the captain made a prize of her, and ordered her
into port ; for which I have always supposed, as he was a sensible
man, he had his orders. But this is neither here nor there,
seeing that the craft had got to the end of her rope, and foun-
dered in a heavy hurricane that came over us, mayhap a couple
of days' run to leeward of our haven. Well, she vras a small
boat; and, as she took it into her mind to roll over on her side
before she went to sleep, the master's mate in charge, and three
otheiiB, slid off her decks to the bottom of the sea, as I have

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always had reason to believe, never having heard any thing of
them since. It was here that Gruinea first served me the good
torn ; for, though we had often before shared hunger and thirst
together, this was the first time he ever jumped overboard to keep
me from taking in salt water like a fish."

" He kept you from drowning with the rest?"

''I'll not say just that much, your honour; for there is no
knowing what lucky accident might have done the same good
turn for me. Howsomever, seeing that I can swim no better nor
worse than a double-headed shot, I have always been willing to
give the black credit for as much, though little has ever been said
between us on the subject; for no other reason, as I can see, than
^t settling-day has not yet come. Well, we contrived to get
the boat afloat, and enough into it to keep soul and body together,
«nd made the best of our way for the land, seeing that the cruise
was, to all useful purposes, over in that smuggler. I needn't be
particular in telling this lady of the nature of boat-duty, as she
has lately had some experience in that way herself; but I can
tell her this much : had it not been for that boat in which the
black and myself spent the better part of ten days, she would
have fared but badly in her own navigation.''

''Explain your meaning."

" My meaning is plain enough, your honour, which is, that
little else than the handy way of Master Harry in a boat could
have kept the Bristol trader's launch above water, the day wo
fell in with it."

" But in what manner was your own shipwreck connected with
the safety of Mr. Wilder?" demanded the governess, unable any
longer to await the dilatory explanation of the prolix seaman.

" In a very plain and natural fashion, my lady, as you will say
yourself, when you come to hear the pitiful part of my tale.
Well, there were I and Guinea rowing about in the ocean, on
short allowanoe of all things but work, for two nights and a day.

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headiDg-in for the islanda; for^ though no great navigators, we
could smell the land, and so we pulled away lustily; for yoo
consider it was a race in which life was the wager, until we made,
in the pride of the morning, as it might be here at eastimd-by*
south, a ship under bare poles; if a vessel can be called bare that
had nothing better than the stumps of her three masts standing,
and they without rope or rag to tell one her rig or nation. How-
somever, as there were three naked sticks left, I have always pat
her down for a fall-rigged ship; and when we got nigh enough
to take a look at her hull, I made bold to say she was of English

" You boarded her ?" observed the Rover.

''A small task that, your honour, since a starved dog was the
whole crew she could muster to keep us off. It was a solemn
sight when we got on her decks, and one that bean hard on my
manhood," continued Fid, with an air that grew more serious as
he proceeded, " whenever I have occasion to overhaul the log-book
of memory."

''Tou found her people suffering of want?"

'' We found a noble ship as helpless as a halibut in a tab.
There she lay, a craft of some four hundred tons, water-logged
and motionless as a church. It always gives me great leflectioiiy
sir, when I see a noble vessel brought to such a strait; for one
may liken her to a man who has been docked of his fins, and who
is getting to be good for little else than to be set upon a cat-head
to look out for squalls."

''The ship was then deserted?"

'' Ay, the people had left her, sir, or had been washed away
in the gust that had laid her over. I never could come at the
truth of the particulars. The dog had been mischievous, I con-
clude, about the decks ; and so he had been lashed to a timber-
head, the which saved his life, since, h{4>pily for him, he found
himself on the weather-side when the hull righted a little, after

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her Bpars gave way. Well, sir, there was the dog, and not much
eke as we could see, thoagh we spent half a day in rummaging
round, in order to pick up any small matter that might he useful ;
hut then, as the entrances to the hold and cabin were full of
water, why, we made no great afl^r of the salvage after all.''

"And then you left the wreck?"

''Not yet, your honour. While knocking about among the
bits of rigging and lumber above board, says Guinea, says he,
'Mister Dick, I hear some one making their plaints below.'
Now, I had heard the same noises myself, sir; but had set them
down as the spirits of the people moaning over their losses, and
had said nothing of the same, for fear of stirring up the supersti*
tion of the black -, for the best of them are no better than super-
stitious niggers, my lady; so I said nothing of what I had heard,
until he saw fit to broach the subject himself. Then we both
tumed-to to listening with a will, and sure enough the groans
began to take a human sound. It was a good while, howsomever,
before I could make up whether it was any thing more than the
complaining of the hulk itself; for you know, my lady, that a
ship which is about to sink makes her lamentations just like any
other living thing."

"I do, I do," returned the governess, shuddering; "I have
heard them, and never will memory lose the recollection of the

'' Ay, I thought you might know something of the same, and
solemn groans they are ; but as the hulk kept rolling on the top
of the sea, and no further signs of her going down, I began to
think it best to cut into her abaft, in order to make sure that
some miserable wretch had not been caught in his hammock, at
the time she went over. Well, good will and an axe soon let us
into the secret of the moans."

«You found a child?"

'< And its mother, my lady. As good luck would have it^ they

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were in a berth on the weather-eide; and as yet the water had- not
reached them ; but pent air and hunger had nearly proved as bad
as the brine. The lady was in the agony when we got her out ;
and as to the boy, proud and strong as you now see him there
on yonder gun^ my lady, he was just so miserable, that it was no
small matter to make him swallow the drop of wine and water
that the Lord had left us, in order, as I have often thought sinoe,
to bring him up to be, as he at this moment is, the pride of the

"But, the mother?"

"The mother had given the only morsel of biscuit she had to
the child, and was dying in order that the urchin might live. I
never could get rightly into the meaning of the thing, my lady^
why a woman, who is no better than a Lascar in matters of
strength, nor any better than a booby in respect of conragey
should be able to let go her hold of life in this quiet fashion,
when many a stout mariner would be fighting for each mouthful
of air the Lord might see fit to give. But there she was, white
as the sail on which the storm has long beaten, and limber as a
pennant in a calm, with her poor skinny arm around the lad,
holding in her hand the very mouthful that might have kept her
own soul in the body a little longer.^'

" What did she, when you brought her to the light ?"

" What did she ! '' repeated Fid, whose voice was getting thick
and husky, " why, she did a d d honest thing; she gave the
boy the crumb, and motioned, as well as a dying woman could
motion, that we should have an eye over him till the cruise of
life was up."

"And was that all?"

"I have always thought she prayed; for something passed
between her and one who was not to be seen, if a man might
judge by the fashion in which her eyes were turned aloft, and
her lips moved. I hope, among others, she put in a good word

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T H K K E D U O V K H. 395

for Kichard Fid ; for certain she had as little need to be asking
for herself as any body. But no man will ever know what she
said, seeing that her mouth was shut firom that time for evez

"She died?"

" Sorry am I to say it. But the poor lady was past swallow-
ing when she came into our hands, and then it was but litde we
had to offer her. A quart of water, with, mayhap, a gill of wine,
a biscuit, and a handful of rice, was no great allowance for two
hearty men to pull a boat some seventy leagues within the tropics.
HowBomever, when we found no more was to be got from
the wreck, and that, since the air had escaped by the hole
we had cut, she was settling fast, we thought it best to get out
of her; and sure enough we were none too soon, seeing that she
went under just as we had twitched the jolly-boat clear of the

" And the boy — the deserted child 1 " exclaimed the governess,
whose eyes had now filled to overflowing.

'< There you are all aback, my lady. Instead of deserting him,
we brought him away with us, as we did the only other living
creature to be found about the wreck. But we had still a long
journey before us, and, to make the matter worse, we were out
of the track of the traders. So I put it down as a case for a
council of all hands, which was no more than I and the black,
since the lad was too weak to talk, and little could he have said
otherwise in our situation. So I begun myself, saying, says I,
^ Guinea, we must either eat this here dog, or this here boy. If
we eat the boy, we shall be no better than the people in your
own country,' who, you know, my lady, are cannibals, ' but if we
eat the dog, poor as he is, we may make out to keep soul and
body together, and to give tho child the other matters/ So
Guinea, he says, says he, ' I \e no occasion for food at all : give
'em to the boy,' says he, 'seeing that he is little and has need of

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Btrengtli.' HowBomever, Master Hany took no great hoey to
the dog, which we soon finished between ub, for the plain reason
that he was bo thin. After that, we had a hnngrj time of it
onrselvcs; for, had we not kept up life in the hd, yon know,
there was bo little of it that it would soon have slipt through our

''And you fed the child, though fasting yourselTes?"

** No, we wer'n't altogether idle, my lady, seeing that we kept
our teeth jog^ng on the skin of the dog, though I will not say that
the food was over savoury ; and then, as we had no oocasion to lose
time in eating, we kept the oars going so much the livelier.
Well, we got in at one of the islands after a time, though neither
I nor the nigger had much to boast of as to strength or weight
when we made the first kitchen we fell in with."

"And the child?"

" Oh ! he was doing well enough -, for, as the doctors after-
wards told us, the short allowance on which he was put did him
no harm."

"You sought his friends?'*

" Why, as for that matter, my lady, bo far as I have been aUe
to discover, he was with his best friends already. We had neither
chart nor bearings by which we knew how to steer in search of
his &mily. His name he called Master Hany, by which it is
clear he was a gentleman bom, as indeed any one may see by
looking at him ; but not another word could I learn of his rela*
tions or country, except that, as he spoke the English language
and was found in an English ship, there is a natural reason to
believe he is of English build himself."

"Did you not learn the name of the ship?" demanded the
attentive Rover, in whose countenance the traces of a lively
interest were very distinctly disccmable.

" Why, as to that matter, your honour, schools were scarce in
my part of the country ; and in Africa, you know, there is no

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great matter of learning; so that, had her name been out of
water^ which it was not^ we might have been bothered to read it
Howsomever, there was a horse-bucket kicking about her decks^
and which, as luck would have it, got jammed in with the pumps
in such a fashion that it did not go overboaxd until we took it
with us. Well^ this bucket had a name painted on it; and; after
we had leisure for the thing, I got Guinea, who has a natural
turn at tattooing, to rub it into my arm in gunpowder, as the
handiest way of lo^ng these small particulars. Your honour
shall see what the black has made of it."

So saying. Fid very coolly doffed his jacket, and laid bare to
the elbow one of his brawny arms, on which the blue impression
was still very plainly visible. Although the letters were rudely
imitated; it was not difficult to read, in the skin, the words ''Ark,
of Lynnhaven."

''Here, then, you had a due at once to find the relatives
of the boy/' observed the Rover, after he had deciphered the

"It seems not, your honour; for we took the child with us
aboard the Ftoserpine, and our worthy captain carried sail hard
after the people; but no one could give any tidings of such a
craft as the ' Ark, of Lynnhaven ;' and, after a twelvemonth, or
more; we were obliged to give up the chase."

" Could the child give no account of his friends ? *' demanded
the governess.

"But little, my Uidy; for the reason that he knew but little
about himself. So we gave the matter over altogether; I and
Guinea; and the captain, and all of us, tuming-to to educate the
boy. He got his seamanship of the black and myself; and may*
hap some little of his manners also ; and his navigation and Latin
of the captain, who proved his friend till such a time as he was
able to take care of himself, and, for that matter, some years

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'< And how long did Mr. Wilder continue in a king's ship?*'
asked the Hover, in a careless and apparently an indifferent

<' Long enough to learn all that is taught there^ your honour/'
was the evasive reply.

" He came to be an officer, I suppose V

<'If he didn't, the king had the worst of the baigain. Bat
what is this I see hereaway, atwecn the backstay and the vang ?
It looks like a sail ! or is it only a gull flapping his wings before
he rises?"

'^ Sail, ho I" called the look-out from the mastrhead. <' Sail,
ho !'' was echoed from top and deck; the glittering though dis-
tant object having struck a dozen vi^lant eyes at the same
instant. The Rover was compelled to lend his attention to a
summons so often repeated; and Fid profited by the circumstance
to quit the poop, with the hurry of one who was not sorry for ilie
interruption. Then the governess arose too, and, thoughtful and
melancholy, she sought the privacy of her cabin.

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Their preparation is to-day by sea.

Antony and Cleopatra.

^ Sail, ho ! " in the little frequented sea in which the Rover lay,
was a cry that quickened every pulsation in the bosoms of hei
crew. Many weeks had now, according to their method of cal-
culation, been entirely lost in the visionary and profitless plans of
their chief. They were not of a temper to reason on the &tality
which had forced the Bristol trader from their toils; it was
enough, for their rough natures, that the rich spoil had escaped
them. Without examining into the causes of this loss, they
were disposed to visit their disappointment on the head of the
innocent officer who had been charged with the care of a vessel
that they already considered a prize. Here, then, was at length
an opportunity to repair their loss. The stranger was about to
encounter them in a part of the ocean where succour was nearly
hopeless, and where time might be afforded to profit to the ut-
most, by any success that the freebooters should obtain. Every
man in the ship seemed sensible of these advantages ; and, as
the words sounded from mast to yard, and from yard to deck,
they were taken up in cheerful echoes from fifty mouths, which
repeated the cry until it was heard issuing from the inmost re-
cesses of the vessel.

The Rover himself manifested unusual satis^tion at this new
prospect of a capture. He was quite aware of the necessity of
some brilliant or of some profitable exploit, to curb the rising

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tempera of his men ; and long experience had taught him that
he conld draw the cords of discipline the tightest in momenis that
appeared the most to require the exercise of his own high courage
and consummate skill. He walked forward, therefore, among his
people, with a countenance that was no longer buried in reserve,
speaking to several, whom he addressed by name, and of whom
he did not even disdain to ask opinions concerning the character
of the distant sail. When a sort of implied assurance that their
recent offences were overlooked had thus been given, he sum-
moned Wilder, the general, and one or two othera of the superior
officers, to the poop, where they all disposed themselves to make
more particular and more certain observations, by the aid of a
half-dosBen excellent glasses.

Many minutes were now passed in intense scrutiny. The day
waa cloudless, the wind fresh without being heavy, the sea long,
even, and far from high, and, in short, all things combined, as
fiur as is ever seen on the restless ocean, not only to aid their
examination, but to &vour those subsequent evolutions which
each instant rendered more probable would become neoessaiy.

'< It is a ship V said the Rover, lowering his glass, the first to
proclaim the result of the long inspection.

^< It is a ship !" echoed the general, across whose weather-wom
features a ray of something like satis&ction waa making an effort
to shine.

*'A fuU-rigged ship !" continued a third, relieving his eye in
turn, and answering the grim smile of the soldier.

<< There must be something to hold up all those lofty spars,"
resumed their commander. *^ A hull of price is beneath. — But
you say nothing, Mr. Wilder ! You make her out *

" A ship of size," returned our adventurer, who, though silent,
had been fiur from the least interested in his investigationa.
"Does my glass deceive me — or '

"Or what, sir?"

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'^I see her to the heads of her courses."

** Yon see her as I do. It is a tall ship, on an easy bowline,
with every thing set that will draw. And she is standing hither-
ward. Her lower sails have lifiked within five minutes.''

" I thought as much. But "

" But what, sir ? There can he little doubt but she is heading
north-and-by-east. Since she is so kind as to spare us the pains
of a chase, we will not hurry our movements. Let her come on.
How like you the manner of the stranger's advance, general?"

<< Unmilitary, but enticing! There is a look of the minee
about her very royals."

'' And you, gentlemen, do you also see the ftshion of a galleon
in her upper sails ?'^

'^'Tis not unreasonable to believe it," answered one of the
inferiors. ''The Dons are said to run this passage often in
order to escape speaking us gentlemen who sail with roving com-

" Ah, your Don is a prince of the earth I There is charify
in lightening his golden burden, or the man would sink under it,
as did the Roman matron under the pressure of the Sabine
shields. I think, by your eye, you see no such gilded beauty in
the stranger, Mr. Wilder?"

''It is a heavy ship!"

" The more likely to bear a noble freight. You are new, sir,
to this merry trade of ours, or you would know that size is a
quality we greatly esteem. If they carry pennants, we leave
them to meditate on the many ' slips which exist between the
cup and the lip;^ if stored with metal no more dangerous than
that of Potosi, they generally sail the faster after passing a few
hours in our company."

"Is not the stranger making signals?" demanded Wilder,

" Is he so alert ? A good look-out must be had, when a vessel)

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that is merely steadied by her stay-sails, can he seen so fiur.
Vigilance is a never-fEuling sign of value I"

There was a pause, during which all the glasses, in imiialion
of Wilder's, were again raised in the direction of the stranger.
Different opinions were ^ven ; some affirming and some doubting
the hct of the signals. The Rover himself was silent, though
his observation was keen, and long condnued.

" We have wearied our eyes till sight is getting dim," he said.
'' I have found the use of trying fresh organs when my own have
refused to serve me. Gome hither, lad," he continued, address-
ing a man who was executing some delicate job in seamanship on
the poop, at no great dutance from the spot where the group of
officers had placed themselves; ''come hither; tell me what yon
make of the sail in the south-western board."

The man proved to be Scipio, who had been chosen, for his
ezpertness, to perform the task in question. Placing his cap on
the deck, in a reverence even deeper than that which the seaman
usually manifests towards his superior, he lifted the glass in one
hand, while with the other he covered the eye for which at that
moment he had no particular use. No sooner did the wandering
instrument fall on the distant object, than he dropped it again, and
fastened his look in a sort of stupid admiration on Wilder.

*' Did you see the sail ?" demanded the Rover

'' Masser can see him wid he naked eye."

'' Ay, but what do you make of him with the glass?''

"He'm a ship, sir."

"True. On what course?"

" He got he starboard tacks aboard, sir."

" Still true. Has he signals abroad ?"

" He 'm got t'rce new cloths in he maintop-gallant-royal, sir.''

" His vessel is all the better for the repairs. Did you see his

"Ho'm show no flag, nuusser."

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^'I thought as much myself. €k> forward, lad — stay — one
often gets a tme idea hj seeking it where it is not thought to
exist. Of what size do you take the stranger to he f

'^ He 'm just seven hundred and fifty tons, masser."

*' How's this ! The tongue of your negro, Mr. Wilder, is aa
exact as a carpenter's role. The fellow speaks of the size of a
vessel that is hull down, with an air as authoritative as a runner
of the king's customs could pronounce on the same, after she
had heen submitted to the office admeasurement."

'^ You will have consideration for the ignorance of the black;
men of his unfortunate race are seldom skilful in answering

''Ignorance!" repeated the Rover, glancing his eye uneasily
and with a rapidity peculiar to himself, from one to the other,
and from both to the rising object in the horizon? ''skilful ! I
know not : the man has no air of doubt. Tou think her tonnage
precisely that which you have said?"

The large dark eyes of Scipio rolled, in turn, from his new
commander to his ancient master, while for a moment, his facul-
ties appeared to be lost in confusion. But the uncertainty con-
tinued only for a moment He no sooner read the frown that
was gathering on the brow of the latter, than the aur of confidence
with which he had pronounced his former opinion vanished in a
look of obstinacy so settled, that one might well have despaired
of ever driving, or enticing him again to seem to think.

" I ask you, if the stranger may not be a dozen tons larger or
smaller than what you have just named?" continued the Rover,
when he found his former question was not likely to be soon

" He 'm just as masser wish ^em," returned Scipio.

" I wish him a thousand ; he will then prove the richer prize."

^I s'pose he 'm quite a t'ousand, sir."

^ Or a anng ship of three hundred, if lined with gold, might do/'

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Choice Works of Cooper: Red Rover → online text (page 30 of 39)