James Fenimore Cooper.

The pilot : a tale of the sea (Volume 1) online

. (page 11 of 12)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pilot : a tale of the sea (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tained that Colonel Howard chose to give
an audience, where he sate, to the pri
soners, he withdrew to execute his mission,
secretly exulting at any change that pro
mised to lead to a renewal of an inter
course that might terminate more to his
advantage, than the lofty beauty, whose
favour he courted, was, at present, disposed
to concede.

" Christopher is a worthy, serviceable,
good fellow," said the colonel, when the
door closed, " and I hope to live, yet, to
see him clad in ermine ; I would not be
understood literally, but figuratively, for
furs would but ill comport with the climate
of the Carolinas. I trust I am to be con-
suited by his majesty's ministers when the
new appointments shall be made for the
subdued colonies, and he may safely rely
on my good word being spoken in his
favour. Would he not make an excellent



and independent ornament of the bench,
Miss Plowden ?"

Katherine compressed her lips a little,
as she replied

" I must profit by his own discreet rules,
and see testimony to that effect, before I
decide, sir. But listen!" The young
lady's colour changed rapidly, and her
eyes became fixed in a sort of feverish
gaze on the door. " He has at least been
active; I hear the heavy tread of men
already approaching."

" Ah ! it is he certainly ; justice ought
always to be prompt as well as certain, to
make it perfect ; like a drum-head court-
martial, which, by the way, is as summary
a sort of government as heart could wish
to live under. If his majesty's ministers
could be persuaded to introduce into the
revolted colonies "

" Listen !" interrupted Katherine, in a
voice which bespoke her deep anxiety,
" they draw near !"

The sound of footsteps was in fact now"
so audible, as to induce the colonel to sus
pend the delivery of his plan for govern-


ing the recovered provinces. The long,
low gallery, which was paved with a stone
flagging, soon brought the footsteps of the
approaching party more distinctly to their
ears, and a low tap at the door presently
announced their arrival. Colonel Howard
arose, with the air of one who was to
sustain the principal character in the en
suing interview, and bade them enter.
Cecilia and Alice Dunscombe merely cast
careless looks at the opening door, indif
ferent to the scene ; but the quick eye of
Katherine embraced at a glance, every
figure in the group. Drawing a long,
quivering breath, she fell back on the
couch, and her eyes again lighted with
their playful expression, as she hummed
a low, rapid air, with a voice in which
even the suppressed tones were liquid

Dillon entered, preceding the soldier,
whose gait had become more steady, and in
whose rigid eye a thoughtful expression had
taken the place of its former vacant gaze.
In short, something had manifestly restored
to him a more complete command of his
M 2


mental powers, although he might not
have been absolutely sobered. The rest
of the party continued in the gallery,
while Mr. Dillon presented the renovated
captain to the colonel, when the latter did
him the same kind office with the ladies.

" Miss Plowden," said the veteran, for
she offered first in the circle, " this is my
friend Captain Borroughcliffe ; he has long
been ambitious of this honour, and I have
no doubt his reception will be such as
to leave him no cause to repent he has been
at last successful."

Katherine smiled, and answered with
ambiguous emphasis

" I know not how to thank him, suffi
ciently, for the care he has bestowed on
our poor persons."

The soldier looked steadily at her, for a
moment, with an eye that seemed to
threaten a retaliation in kind, ere he re

" One of those smiles, madam, would be
an ample compensation for services that are~
more real than such as exist only in inten


Katherine bowed with more compla
cency than she usually bestowed on those
who wore his dress, and they proceeded
to the next.

" This is Miss Alice Dunscombe, Cap
tain Borroughcliffe, daughter of a very
worthy clergyman, who was formerly the
curate of this parish, and a lady who does
us the pleasure of giving us a good deal of
her society, though far less than we all
wish for."

The captain returned the civil inclina
tion of Alice, and the colonel proceeded.

" Miss Howard, allow me to present
Captain Borroughcliffe, a gentleman who
having volunteered to defend St. Ruth in
these critical times, merits all the favour
of its mistress."

Cecilia gracefully rose, and received her
guest with sweet complacency. The sol
dier made no reply to the customary com
pliments that she uttered, but stood an in
stant gazing at her speaking countenance,
and then, laying his hand involuntarily
on his breast, bowed nearly to his sword-


These formalities duly observed, the
colonel declared his readiness to receive
the prisoners. As the door was opened by
Dillon, Katherine cast a cool and steady
look at the strangers, and beheld the light
glancing along the arms of the soldiers
who guarded them. But the seamen en
tered alone ; while the rattling of arms,
and the heavy dash of the muskets on the
stone pavement, announced that it was
thought prudent to retain a force at hand,
to watch these secret intruders on the
grounds of the abbey.


Food for powder ; they'll fill a pit as well as better."


THE three men who now entered the
apartment, appeared to be nothing daunted
by the presence into which they were
ushered, though clad in the coarse and
weather-beaten vestments of seamen, who
had been exposed to recent and severe duty.
They silently obeyed the direction of the
soldier's finger, and took their stations in a
distant corner of the room, like men who
knew the deference due to rank, at the
same time that the habits of their lives had
long accustomed them to encounter the
vicissitudes of the world. With this slight
preparation, Colonel Howard began the
business of examination.


" I trust ye are all good and loyal sub
jects," the veteran commenced, with a
considerate respect for innocence, " but
the times are such that even the most
worthy characters become liable to suspi
cion ; and, consequently, if our apprehen
sions of you should prove erroneous, you
must overlook the mistake, and attribute
it to the awful condition into which rebel
lion has plunged this empire. We have
much reason to fear that some project is
about to be undertaken on the coast by
the enemy, as he has appeared, we know,
with a frigate and schooner ; and the
audacity of the rebels is only equalled by
their shameless and wicked disrespect for
the rights of the sovereign."

While Colonel Howard was uttering
his apologetic preamble, the prisoners
fastened their eyes on him with much in
terest ; but when he alluded to the appre
hended attack, the gaze of two of them
became more keenly attentive, and when
concluded, they exchanged furtive glances
of deep meaning. No reply was made,
however, and after a short pause, as if to


allow time for his words to make a proper
impression, the veteran continued

" We have no evidence, I understand,
that you are in the smallest degree conr
nected with the enemies of this country ;
but as you have been found out of the
king's highway, or, rather on a by-path,
which I must confess is frequently used by
the people of the neighbourhood, but which
is nevertheless nothing but a by-path, it
becomes no more than what self-preserva
tion requires of us, to ask you a few such
questions as I trust will be satisfactorily
answered. To use your own nautical
phrases, * from whence came ye, pray ?'
and ' whither are ye bound ?' "

A low, deep voice replied

" From Sunderland last, and bound
over-land, to Whitehaven."

This simple and direct answer was
hardly given, before the attention of the
listeners was called to Alice Dunscombe,
who uttered a faint shriek, and rose from
her seat involuntarily, while her eyes
seemed to roll fearfully, and perhaps a
little wildly round the room.
M 3


" Are you ill, Miss Alice?" said the
sweet, soothing tones of Cecilia Howard ;
" you are, indeed you are; lean on me,
that I may lead you to your apartment."

" Did you hear it, or was it only fancy !"
she answered, her cheek blanched to the
whiteness of death, and her whole frame
shuddering as if in convulsions ; " say, did
you hear it too ?"

" I have heard nothing but the voice
of my uncle, who is standing near you,
anxious, as we all are, for your recovery
from this dreadful agitation."

Alice still gazed wildly from face to
face. Her eye did not rest satisfied with
dwelling on those who surrounded her,
but surveyed, with a sort of frantic eager
ness, the figures and appearance of the
three men, who stood in humble patience,
the silent and unmoved witnesses of this
extraordinary scene. At length she veiled
her eyes with both her hands, as if to shut
out some horrid vision, and then re
moving them, she smiled languidly, as she
signed for Cecilia to assist her from the
room. To the polite and assiduous offers


of the gentlemen, she returned no other
thanks than those conveyed in her looks
and gestures ; but when the centinels who
paced the gallery were passed, and the
ladies were alone, she breathed a long,
shivering sigh, and found an utterance.

" 'Twas like a voice from the silent
grave!" she said, " but it could be no
more than mockery. No, no, 'tis a just
punishment for letting the image of the
creature fill the place that should be occu
pied only with the Creator ! Ah ! Miss
Howard, Miss Plowden, ye are both
young in the pride of your beauty and
loveliness but little do ye know, and less
do ye dread, the temptations and errors of
a sinful world."

" Her thoughts wander !" whispered
Katherine, with anxious tenderness ; " some
awful calamity has affected her intel
lects !"

" Yes, it must be that my sinful thoughts
have wandered, and conjured sounds that
it would have been dreadful to have heard
in truth, and within these walls," said Alice,
more composedly, smiling with a ghastly


expression, as she gazed on the two beau
tifully solicitous maidens who supported
her yielding person. " But the moment
of weakness is passed, and I am better ;
aid me to my room, and return, that you
may not interrupt the reviving harmony
between you and Colonel Howard. I am
now better, nay, I am quite restored."

" Say not so, dear Miss Alice," returned
Cecilia ; " your face denies what your
kindness to us induces you to utter ; ill,
very ill, you are, nor shall even your own
commands induce me to leave you."

" Remain, then," said Miss Dunscombe,
bestowing a look of grateful affection on
her lovely supporter ; u and while our
Katherine returns to the drawing-room, to
give the gentlemen their coffee, you shall
continue with me, as my gentle nurse."

By this time they had gained the apart
ment, and Katherine, after assisting her
cousin to place Alice on her bed, returned
to do the honours of the drawing-room.

Colonel Howard ceased his examination
of the prisoners at her entrance, to inquire,
with courtly solicitude, after the invalid;


and, when his questions were answered, he
again proceeded, as follows

" This is what the lads would call plain-
sailing, Borroughcliffe ; they are out of
employment in Sunderland, and have ac
quaintances and relatives in Whitehaven,
to whom they are going for assistance and
labour. All very probable, and perfectly

" Nothing more so, my respectable host,"
returned the jocund soldier; "but it seemeth
a grievous misfortune that a trio of such
flesh and blood should need work where
withal to exercise their thews and sinews,
while so many of the vessels of his ma
jesty's fleet navigate the ocean in quest of
the enemies of old England."

" There is truth in that ; much truth in
your remark," cried the colonel. " What
say you, my lads, will you fight the
Frenchman and the Don, ay ; and even
my own rebellious and infatuated country
men? Nay, by heaven, it is not a trifle
that shall prevent his majesty from pos
sessing the services of three such heroes.
Here are five guineas a-piece for you the


moment that you put foot on board the
Alacrity cutter ; and that can easily be
done, as she lies at anchor this very night,
only two short leagues to the south of
this, in a small port, where she is riding
out the gale as snugly as if she were in a
corner of this room."

One of the men affected to gaze at the
money with longing eyes, while he asked,
as if weighing the terms of the engage

" Whether the Alacrity was called a
good sea-boat, and was thought to give a
comfortable birth to her crew ?"

" Comfortable !" echoed Borroughcliffe ;
u for that matter, she is called the bravest
cutter in the navy. You have seen much
of the world, I dare say ; did you ever see
such a place as the marine arsenal at Car-
thagena, in old Spain ?"

" Indeed I have, sir," returned the sea
man, in a cool, collected tone.

" Ah ! you have ! well, did you ever
meet with a house in Paris that they call
the Thuilleries ? because it's a dog-kennel
to the Alacrity !"


" I have even fallen in with the place
you mention, sir," returned the sailor ;
" and must own the birth quite good
enough for such as I am, if it tallies with
your description."

" The deuce take these blue-jackets,"
muttered Borroughcliffe, addressing him
self unconsciously to Miss Plowden, near
whom he happened to be at the time ;
" they run their tarry countenances into all
the corners of the earth, and abridge a
man most lamentably in his comparisons.
Now, who the devil would have thought
that fellow had ever put his sea-green eyes
on the palace of King Louis !"

Katherine heeded not his speech, but
sat eying the group of prisoners with a
confused and wavering expression of coun
tenance, while Colonel Howard renewed
the discourse, by exclaiming

" Come, come, Borroughcliffe, let us
give the lads no tales for a recruit, but
good, plain, honest English God bless
the language, and the land for which it
was first made, too. There is no necessity


to tell these men, if they are, what they
seem to be, practical seamen, that a cutter
of ten guns contains all the room and ac
commodation of a palace."

" Do you allow nothing for English
oak and English comfort, mine host," said
the immovable captain ; " do you think,
good sir, that I measure fitness and pro
priety by square and compass, as if I were
planning Solomon's temple anew ! All I
mean to say is, that the Alacrity is a ves
sel of singular compactness and magical
arrangement of room. Like the tent of
that handsome brother of the fairy, in the
Arabian Nights, she is big or she is little,
as occasion needeth ; and now, hang me,
if I don't think I have uttered more in her
favour than her commander would say to
help me to a recruit, though no lad in
the three kingdoms should appear willing
to try how a scarlet coat would suit his
boorish figure."

" That time has not yet arrived, and
God forbid that it ever should, while the
monarch needs a soldier in the field to pro-


tect his rights. But what say ye, my men ?
you have heard the recommendation that
Captain Borroughcliffe has given of the
Alacrity, which is altogether true after
making some allowances for language.
Will ye serve ? shall I order you a cheer
ing glass a man, and lay by the gold, till I
hear from the cutter, that you are enrolled
under the banners of the best of kings ?"

Katherine Plowden, who hardly seemed
to breathe, so close and intent was the in
terest with which she regarded the seamen*
fancied she observed lurking smiles on
their faces ; but if her conjecture were
true, their disposition to be merry went no
farther, and the one who had spoken
hitherto, replied, in the same calm manner
as before

66 You will excuse us, if we decline
shipping in the cutter, sir ; we are used to
distant voyages and large vessels, whereas
the Alacrity is kept at coast duty, and is
not of a size to lay herself alongside of
Don or a Frenchman with a double row of

V Jf you prefer that sort of sport, you


must to the right-about for Yarmouth ;
there you will find ships that will meet any
thing that swims," said the colonel.

" Perhaps the gentlemen would prefer
abandoning the cares and dangers of the
ocean for a life of ease and gaiety," said
the captain. " The hand that has long
dallied with a marlinspike may be easily
made to feel a trigger, as gracefully as a
lady touches the keys of her piano. In
short, there is and there is not a great
resemblance between the life of a sailor
and that of a soldier. There are no gales
of wind, or short-allowances, or reefing
topsails, or shipwrecks, among soldiers
and at the same time, there is just as much,
OF even more grog-drinking, jollifying,
care-killing fun around a canteen and an
open knapsack, as there is on the end of a
mess-chest, with a full can and a Saturday
night's breeze. I have crossed the ocean
several times, and I must own that a
ship, in good weather, is very much the
same as a camp or comfortable barracks. 5 '

" We have no doubt that all you say is
true, sir," observed the spokesman of the


three ; " but what to you may seem a
hardship, to us is a pleasure. We have
faced too many a gale to mind a cap-full
of wind, and should think ourselves always
in the calm latitudes, in one of your bar
racks, where there is nothing to do but to
eat our grub, and to march a little fore and
aft a small piece of green earth. We
hardly know one end of a musket from
the other."

"No!" said Borroughcliffe, musing;
and then advancing with a quick step to
wards them, he cried, in a spirited man
ner " attention ! right dress! "

The speaker, and the seaman next him,
gazed at the captain in silent wonder;
but the third individual of the party, who
had drawn himself a little aside, as if will
ing to be unnoticed, or perhaps pondering
on his condition, involuntarily started at
this unexpected order, and erecting him
self, threw his head to the right, as prompt
ly as if he had been on a parade ground.

" Oho ! ye are apt scholars, gentlemen,
and ye can learn, I see," continued Bor-


roughcliffe. " I feel it to be proper that I
detain this man till to-morrow morn
ing. Colonel Howard, and yet I would
give them better quarters than the hard
benches of the guard-room."

" Act your pleasure, Captain Borrough-
cliffe," returned the host, u so you do but
your duty to our royal master. They
shall not want for cheer, and they can
have a room over the servants' offices in
the south side of the Abbey/'

" Three rooms, my colonel^ three rooms
must be provided, though I give up my


" There are several small empty apart
ments there, where blankets might be
taken, and the men placed for safe keep
ing, if you deem it necessary; though, to
me, they seem like good, loyal tars, whose
greatest glory it would be to serve their
prince, and whose principal pleasure would
consist in getting alongside of a Don or a

" We shall discuss these matters anon,"
said Borroughcliffe, drily. " I see Miss


Plowden begins to look grave tit our abus
ing her patience so long, and I know that
cold coffee is, like withered love, but a
tasteless sort of a beverage. Come, gentle
men, en avant ! you have seen the Thuil-
leries, and must have heard a little French.
Mr. Christopher Dillon, know you where
these three small apartments are ' situate,
lying, and being,' as your parchments

" I do, sir," said the complying lawyer,
" and shall take much pleasure in guiding
you to them. I think your decision that
of a prudent and sagacious officer, and
much doubt whether Durham Castle, or
some other fortress, will be thought too
big to hold them, ere long.'*

As this speech was uttered while the
men were passing from the room, its effect
on them was unnoticed ; but Katherine
Plowden, who was left for a few moments
by herself, sat and pondered over what
she had seen and heard, with a thought-
fulness of manner that was not usual to her
gay and buoyant spirits. The sounds of



the retiring footsteps, however, gradually
grew fainter, and the return of her guar
dian alone, recalled the recollection of
the young lady to the duties of her situa

While engaged in the little offices of the
tea-table, Katherine threw many furtive
glances at the veteran ; but, although he
seemed to be musing, there was nothing
austere or suspicious in his frank, open

" There is much useless trouble taken
with these wandering seamen, sir/' said
Katherine, at length ; " it seems to be the
particular province of Mr. Christopher
Dillon, to make all that come in contact
with him excessively uncomfortable."

" And what has Kit to do with the de
tention of the men ?"

" What ! why, has he not undertaken
to stand godfather to their prisons ? by
my woman's patience, I think, Colonel
Howard, this business will gain a pretty ad
dition to the names of St. Ruth. It is al
ready called a house, an abbey, a palace, and


by some a castle ; let Mr. Dillon have his
way for a month, and it will add gaol to
the number."

" Kit is not so happy as to possess the
favour of Miss Plowden ; but still Kit is a
worthy fellow, and a good fellow, and a
sensible fellow, ay ! and what is of more
value than all these put together, Miss
Katherine, Mr. Christopher Dillon is a
faithful and loyal subject to his prince.
His mother was my cousin-german, ma
dam, and I cannot say how soon I may
call him my nephew. The Dillons are
of good Irish extraction, and I believe
that even Miss Plowden will admit that
the Howards have some pretensions to a

name. 5 '

" Ah! it is those very things called
names that I most allude to," said Kathe
rine, quickly. " But an hour since, you
were indignant, my dear guardian, because
you suspected that I insinuated you ought
to write gaoler behind the name of Howard,
and even now you submit to have the office
palmed upon you."


" You forget, Miss Katherine Plowden,
that it is the pleasure of one of his ma
jesty's officers to detain these men."

" But I thought that the glorious British
constitution, which you so often mention/'
interrupted the young lady, spiritedly,
" gives liberty to all who touch these
blessed shores ; you know, sir, that out of
twenty blacks that you brought with you,
how few remain ; the rest having fled on
the wings of the spirit of British liberty !"

This was touching a festering sore in the
Colonel's feelings, and his provoking ward
well knew the effect her observation was
likely to produce. Her guardian did not
break forth in a violent burst of rage, or
furnish those manifestations of his ire that
he was wont to do on less important sub
jects, but he arose, with all his dignity
concentred in a look, and, after making a
violent effort to restrain his feelings within
the bounds necessary to preserve the de
corum of his exit, he ventured a reply.

" That the British constitution is glo
rious, madam, is most true. That this


island is the sole refuge where liberty has
been able to find a home, is also true.
The tyranny and oppression of the Con
gress, which are grinding down the colo
nies to the powder of desolation and
poverty, are not worthy of the sacred
name. Rebellion pollutes all that it
touches, madam. Although it often com
mences under the sanction of holy liberty,
it ever terminates in despotism. The
annals of the world, from the time of the
Greeks and Romans down to the present
day, abundantly prove it. There was that
Julius Caesar he was one of your people's
men, and he ended a tyrant. Oliver
Cromwell was another a rebel, a dema
gogue, and a tyrant. The gradations,
madam, are as inevitable as from childhood
to youth, and from youth to age. As for
the little affair that you have been pleased
to mention, of the of the of my private
concerns, I can only say that the affairs of
nations are not to be judged of by domes
tic incidents, any more than domestic oc
currences are to be judged of by national

VOL. 1. N


politics." The colonel, like many a better
logician, mistook his antithesis for argu

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pilot : a tale of the sea (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 12)