James Fenimore Cooper.

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

. (page 3 of 12)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pilot : a tale of the sea (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

stable, and get out of this bay as fast as

" Ah ! you don't give the order with
half the pleasure with which I shall exe
cute it ; pull away, boys the Ariel shall


never lay her bones in such a hard bed, if
I can help it."

As the commander of the schooner ut
tered these words with his cheering voice,
his men spontaneously shouted, and the
whale-boat darted away from her com
panion, and was soon lost in the gloomy
shadows cast from the cliffs.

In the mean time, the oarsmen of the
barge were not idle, but by strenuous
efforts they forced the heavy boat rapidly
through the water, and in a few minutes
she ran alongside of the frigate. During
this period the pilot, in a voice which had
lost all that startling fierceness and autho
rity that it had manifested in his short
dialogue with Bar nstable, requested Griffith
to repeat to him, slowly, the names of the
officers that belonged to his ship. When
the young lieutenant had complied with
this request, he observed to his companion

" All good men and true, Mr. Pilot ;
and though this business in which you are
just now engaged may be hazardous to
an Englishman, there are none with us
who will betray you. We need your ser-


vices, and as we expect good faith from
you, so shall we offer it to you in exchange."

" And how know you that I need its ex
ercise?" asked the pilot, in a manner that
denoted a cold indifference to the subject.

" Why, though you talk pretty good
English, for a native/ 7 interrupted Griffith,
" yet you have a small bu-r-r in your
mouth that would prick the tongue of a
man who was born on the other side of the

" It is of but little moment where a man
is born, or how he speaks," returned the
pilot, coldly, " so that he does his duty
bravely, and in good faith. 5 '

It was perhaps fortunate for the harmony
of this dialogue, that the gloom, which had
now increased to positive darkness, com
pletely concealed the look of scornful irony
that crossed the handsome features of the
young sailor, as he replied

" True, true, so that he does his duty, as
you say, in good faith. But, as Barn-
stable said, you must know your road well
to travel among these shoals on such a


night as this. Know you what water we
draw ?"

" 'Tis a frigate's draught, and I shall
endeavour to keep you in four fathoms ;
less than that would be dangerous."

" She's a sweet boat !" said Griffith ;
" and minds her helm as a marine watches
the eye of his sergeant at a drill ; but you
must give her room in stays, for she fore-
reaches, as if she would put out the wind's

The pilot attended, with a practised ear,
to this description of the qualities of the
ship that he was about to attempt extricat
ing from an extremely dangerous situation.
Not a syllable was lost on him ; and when
Griffith had ended, he remarked, with the
singular coldness that pervaded his manner

" That is both a good and a bad quality
in a narrow channel. I fear it will be the
latter, to-night, when we shall require to
have the ship in leading strings."

u I suppose we must feel our way with
the lead?" said Griffith.

" We shall need both eyes and leads,"


returned the pilot, recurring insensibly to
his soliloquizing tone of voice. " I have
been both in and out in darker nights than
this, though never with a heavier draught
than a half-two."

" Then, by heaven, you are not fit to
handle that ship, among the rocks and
breakers !" exclaimed Griffith ; " your men
of a light draught never know their
water ; 'tis the deep keel only that finds
a channel pilot ! pilot ! beware how you
trifle with us ignorantly ; for 'tis a danger
ous experiment to play at hazards with an

" Young man, you know not what you
threaten, nor whom," said the pilot,
sternly, though his quiet manner still re
mained undisturbed ; " you forget that you
have a superior here, and that I have

" That shall be as you discharge your
duty," cried Griffith ; " for if"

" Peace," interrupted the pilot, " we
approach the ship ; let us enter her in

He threw himself back on the cushions,

VOL. 1. D


when he had said this, and Griffith, though
filled with the apprehensions of suffering,
either by great ignorance, or treachery, on
the part of his companion, smothered his
feelings so far as to be silent, and they as
cended the side of the vessel in apparent

The frigate was already riding on
lengthened seas, that rolled in from the
ocean, at each successive moment, with
increasing violence, though her topsails
still hung supinely from her yards ; the air,
which continued to breathe, occasionally,
from the land, being unable to shake the
heavy canvas of which they were com

The only sounds that were audible, when
Griffith and the pilot had ascended to the
gangway of the frigate, were produced by
the sullen dashing of the sea against the
massive bows of the ship, and the shrill
whistle of the boatswain's mate, as he re
called the side-boys, who were placed on
either side of the gangway, to do honour ~
to the entrance of the first lieutenant and
his companion.


But though such a profound silence
reigned among the hundreds who inhabited
the huge fabric, the light produced by a
dozen battle lanterns, that were arranged
in different parts of the decks, served not
only to exhibit, faintly, the persons of the
crew, but the mingled feeling of curiosity
and care that dwelt on most of their coun

Large groups of men were collected in
the gangways, round the mainmast, and
on the booms of the vessel, whose faces
were distinctly visible, while numerous
figures, lying along the lower yards, or
bending out of the tops, might be dimly
traced in the back ground, all of whom
expressed, by their attitudes, the interest
they took in the arrival of the boat.

Though such crowds were collected in
other parts of the vessel, the quarter-deck
was occupied only by the officers, who
\vere disposed according to their ranks,
and were equally silent and attentive as
the remainder of the crew. In front stood
a small collection of young men, who, by
D 2


their similarity of dress, were the equals
and companions of Griffith, though his
juniors in rank ; and on the opposite side
of the vessel was a larger assemblage of
youths, who claimed Mr. Merry as their
fellow. Around the capstern, three or
four figures were standing, one of whom
wore a coat of blue, with the scarlet
facings of a soldier, and another the black
vestments of the ship's chaplain. Behind
these, and nearer to the passage to the
cabin, from which he had just ascended,
stood the tall, erect form of the commander
of the vessel.

After a brief salutation between Griffith
and the junior officers, the former advan
ced, followed slowly by the pilot, to the
place where he was expected by his ve
teran commander. The young man re
moved his hat entirely, as he bowed with
a little more than his usual ceremony, and

u We have succeeded, Sir, though not
without more difficulty and delay, tharf
were anticipated."


" But you have not brought off the
pilot," said the captain, doubtingly ; " and
without him, all our risk and trouble have
been in vain/'

" He is here," said Griffith, stepping
aside, and extending his arm towards the
man that stood behind him, wrapped to
the chin in his coarse pea-jacket, and with
his face shadowed by the falling rims of a
large hat that had seen much and hard

" This !" exclaimed the captain ; " then
there is a sad mistake this is not the man
I would have seen, nor can another supply
his place."

" I know not whom you expected, Cap
tain Munson/' said the stranger, in a low
quiet voice ; " but if you have not forgot
ten the day when a very different flag
from that emblem of tyranny that now
hangs over yon tafferel was first spread to
the wind, you may remember the hand that
raised it."

" Bring here the light !" exclaimed the
commander hastily.


'When the lantern was extended towards
the pilot, and the glare fell strong on his
features, Captain Munson started, as he be
held the calm blue eye that met his gaze,
and the composed but pallid countenance
of the other. Involuntarily raising his
hat, and baring his silver locks, the veteran

" It is he ! though so changed "

" That his enemies did not know him,"
interrupted the pilot, quickly ; then touch
ing the other by the arm as he led him aside,
he continued in a lower tone, " neither
must his friends, until the hour and season
shall arrive."

Griffith had fallen back, to reply to the
eager questions of his messmates, and no
part of this short dialogue was overheard
by the officers, though it was soon per
ceived that their commander had disco
vered his error, and was satisfied that the
proper man had been brought on board his
vessel. For many minutes the two con
tinued to pace a part of the quarter-deck,
by themselves, engaged in deep and ear
nest discourse.



As Griffith had but little to commu
nicate, the curiosity of his listeners was
soon appeased, and all eyes were directed
towards that mysterious guide, who was to
conduct them from a situation already sur
rounded by perils, which each moment not
only magnified in appearance, but in
creased in reality.


" behold the tbreaden sails,

Borne with the invisible and creeping winds,
Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,
Breasting the lofty surge."


IT has been already explained to the
reader, that there was something threaten
ing in the appearance of the weather to
create serious forebodings of evil in the
breast of a seaman. When removed from
the shadows of the cliffs, the night was not
so dark but objects could be discerned at
some little distance, and in the eastern hori
zon there was a streak of fearful light im
pending over the gloomy waters, in which
the swelling outline formed by the rising
waves, was becoming each moment more
distinct, and consequently more alarming.
Several dark clouds overhung the vessel,


whose towering masts apparently propped
the black vapour, while a few stars were
seen twinkling, with a sickly flame, in the
streak of clear sky that skirted the ocean.
Still light currents of air occasionally
swept across the bay, bringing with them
the fresh odour from the shore, but their flit
ting irregularity too surely foretold them
to be the expiring breath of the land
breeze. The roaring of the surf, as it
rolled on the margin of the bay, produced
a dull monotonous sound, that was only
interrupted at times by a hollow bel
lowing, as a larger wave than usual broke
violently against some cavity in the rocks.
Every thing in short united to render the
scene gloomy and portentous, without
creating instant terror, for the ship rose
easily on the long billows, without even
straightening the heavy cable that held
her to her anchor.

The higher officers were collected around
the capstern, engaged in earnest discourse
about their situation and prospects, while
some of the oldest and most favoured sea
men would extend their short walk to the



hallowed precincts of the quarter-deck, to
catch, with greedy ears, the opinions that
fell from their superiors. Numberless
were the uneasy glances that were thrown
from both officers and men at their com
mander and the pilot, who still continued
their secret communion in a distant part of
the vessel. Once, an ungovernable curi
osity, or the heedlessness of his years, led
one of the youthful midshipmen near them,
but a stern rebuke from his captain sent
the boy, abashed and cowering, to hide his
mortification among his fellows. This re
primand was received by the elder officers
as an intimation that the consultation
which they beheld was to be strictly invio
late : and though it by no means suppress
ed the repeated expressions of their impa
tience, it effectually prevented an interrup
tion to the communications, which all
thought were unreasonably protracted for
the occasion.

" This is no time to be talking over
bearings and distances," observed the offi
cer next in rank to Griffith. u But we
should call the hands up, and try to kedge


her off while the sea will suffer a boat to

" 'Twould be a tedious and bootless job
to attempt to warp a ship for miles against
a head-beating sea/' returned the first lieu
tenant ; " but the land breeze yet flutters
aloft, and if our light sails would draw,
with the aid of this ebb tide, we might be
able to shove her from the shore."

" Hail the tops, Griffith," said the other,
" and ask if they feel the air move ; 'twill
be a hint at least to set the old man and
that lubberly pilot in motion."

Griffith laughed, as he complied with
the request, and when he received the cus
tomary reply to his call, he demanded, in a
loud voice

" Which way have you the wind,
aloft ?"

" We feel a light cat's-paw now and
then from the land," returned the sturdy
captain of the top ; but our topsail hangs
in the clewlines, Sir, without winking."

Captain Munson and his companion sus
pended their discourse while this question
and answer were exchanged, and then re-


sumed their dialogue as earnestly as if it
had received no interruption.

" If it did wink, the hint would be lost
on our betters/' said the officer of the ma
rines, whose ignorance of seamanship
added greatly to his perception of the
danger, but who, from pure idleness, made
more jokes than any other man in ,the
ship. " That pilot will not receive a de
licate intimation through his ears, Mr.
Griffith ; suppose you try him by the


" Faith, there was a flash of gunpowder
between us in the barge," returned the
first lieutenant, " and he does not seem a
man to stomach such hints as you advise.
Although he looks so meek and quiet, I
doubt whether he has paid much attention
to the book of Job."

" Why should he !" exclaimed the chap
lain, whose apprehensions at least equalled
those of the marine, and with a much more
disheartening effect ; " I'm sure it would
have been a great waste of time ; there are"
so many charts of the coast, and books on
the navigation of these seas, for him to


study, that I sincerely hope he has beert
much better employed."

A loud laugh was created at this
speech, among the listeners, and it appa
rently produced the effect that was so long
anxiously desired, by putting an end to the
mysterious conference between their cap
tain and the pilot. As the former came
forward towards his expecting crew, he
said, in the composed, steady manner, that
formed the principal trait in his character

"Get the anchor, Mr. Griffith, and
make sail on the ship ; the hour has arrived
when we must be moving."

The cheerful " ay ! ay ! sir ! " of the
young lieutenant was hardly uttered, be
fore the cries of half a dozen midshipmen
were heard summoning the boatswain and
his mates to their duty.

There was a general movement in the
living masses that clustered around the
mainmast, on the booms, and in the gang
ways, though their habits of discipline held
the crew a moment longer in suspense.
The silence was first broken by the sounds
of the boatswain's whistle, followed by the


hoarse cry of " all hands, up anchor, ahoy !"
the former rising on the night air, from
its first low, mellow notes, to a piercing
shrillness, that again gradually died away
on the waters ; and the latter, bellowing
through every cranny of the ship, like the
hollow murmurs of distant thunder.

The change produced by this customary
summons was magical. Human beings
sprung out from between the guns, rushed
up the hatches, threw themselves with
careless activity from the booms, and ga
thered from every quarter so rapidly, that,
in an instant, the deck of the frigate was
alive with men. The profound silence,
that had hitherto been only interrupted by
the low dialogue of the officers, was now
exchanged for the stern orders of the lieu
tenants, mingled with the shriller cries of
the midshipmen, and the hoarse bawling
of the boatswain's crew, rising above the
tumult of preparation and general bustle.

The captain and the pilot alone remained
passive in this scene of general exertion ;
for their apprehensions had even stimulated
that class of officers which is called "idlers,"


to attempt something, though frequently
reminded by their more experienced mess
mates, that they retarded, instead of for
warded, the duty of the vessel. The bustle,
however, gradually ceased, and in a few
minutes the same silence pervaded the ship
as before.

" We are brought-to, sir," said Griffith.,
who stood overlooking the scene, holding
in one hand a short speaking trumpet, and
grasping, with the other, one of the shrouds
of the ship, to steady himself in the position
he had taken on a gun.

" Heave round, sir/' was the calm reply.

"Heave round!" repeated Griffith,

u Heave round ! " echoed a dozen eager
voices at once, and the lively strains of a
fife struck up a brisk air, to enliven the
gloomy scene. The capstern was instantly
set in motion, and the measured tread of
the seamen was heard, as they stamped the
deck in the circle of their march. For a
few minutes no other sounds were heard,
if we except the voice of an officer, occa
sionally cheering the sailors, when it was


announced that they " were short," or, in
other words, that the ship was nearly over
her anchor.

" Heave and pall/' cried Griffith ; when
the quavering notes of the whistle were
again succeeded by a general stillness in
the vessel.

" What is to be done now, sir ?" con
tinued the lieutenant ; " shall we trip the
anchor ? There seems not a breath of air,
and as the tide runs slack, I doubt whether
the sea do not heave the ship ashore."

There was so much obvious truth in this
conjecture, that all eyes turned from the
light and animation afforded by the decks
of the frigate, to look abroad on the
waters, in a vain desire to pierce the dark
ness, as if to read the fate of their ap
parently devoted ship, from the aspect of

" I leave all to the pilot," said the cap
tain, after he had stood a short time by the
side of Griffith, anxiously studying the
heavens and the ocean. " What say you,
Mr. Gray ?"

The man who was thus first addressed


by name, was leaning over the bulwarks,
with his eyes bent in the same direction as
the others ; but as he answered, he turned
his face towards the speaker, and the light
from the deck fell full upon his quiet
features, which exhibited a calmness bor
dering on the supernatural, considering his
station and responsibility.

" There is much to fear from this heavy
ground-swell," he said, in the same un
moved tones as before ; " but there is cer
tain destruction to us, if the gale that is
brewing in the east finds us waiting its
fury in this wild anchorage. All the hemp
that was ever spun into cordage would not
hold a ship an hour, chafing on these
rocks, with a north-easter pouring its
fury on her. If the powers of man can com
pass it, gentlemen, we must get an offing,
and that speedily."

" You say no more, sir, than the young
est boy in the ship can see for himself,"
said Griffith " ha ! here comes the
schooner. !"

The dashing of the long sweeps in the


water, was now plainly audible, and the little
Ariel was seen through the gloom, moving
heavily under their inadequate impulse.
As she passed slowly under the stern of
the frigate, the cheerful voice of Barn-
stable was first heard, opening the commu
nications between them.

" Here's a night for spectacles, Captain
Munson !" he cried; "but I thought I
heard your fife, sir ; I trust in God, you
do not mean to ride it out here till morn

" I like the birth as little as yourself,
Mr. Barnstable," returned the veteran
seaman, in his calm manner, in which
anxiety was however beginning to grow
evident. " We are short, but are afraid
to let go our hold of the bottom, lest the
sea cast us ashore. How make you out
the wind V

" Wind !" echoed the other ; " there is
not enough to blow a lady's curl aside.
If you wait, sir, till the land breeze fill
your sails, you will wait another moon, I
believe. I've got my egg-shell out of that


nest of gray-caps, but how it has been done
in the dark, a better man than myself
must explain."

" Take your directions from the pilot,
Mr. Barnstable," returned his command
ing officer, " and follow them strictly and
to the letter. 5 '

A death-like silence, in both vessels, suc
ceeded this order, for all seemed to listen
eagerly to catch the words that fell from
the man, on whom, all now felt, depended
their only hopes for safety. A short time
was suffered to elapse before his voice was
heard, in the same low, but distinct tones
as before

" Your sweeps will soon be of no service
to you," he said, " against the sea that
begins to heave in : but your light sails
will help them to get you .out. So long
as you can head east-and-by-north you
are doing well, and you can stand on till
you open the light from that northern
headland, when you can heave to, and fire
a gun ; but if, as I dread, you are struck
aback before you open the light, you may
trust to your lead on the larboard tack, but


beware, with your head to the southward,
for no lead will serve you there."

" I can walk over the same ground on
one tack as on the other," said Barnstable,
" and make both legs of a length,"

" It will not do," returned the pilot.
" If you fall off a point to starboard from
east-and-by-north, in going large, you will
find both rocks and points of shoals to
bring you up ; and beware, as I tell you,
of the starboard tack."

" And how shall I find my way ; you
will let me trust to neither time, lead, nor

" You must trust to a quick eye and a
ready hand. The breakers only will show
you the dangers, when you are not able to
make out the bearings of the land. Tack
in season, sir, and don't spare the lead,
when you head to port."

" Ay, ay," returned Barnstable, in a
low, muttering voice. " This is a sort of
blind navigation with a vengeance, and all
for no purpose that 1 can see see ! damme7
eyesight is of about as much use now, as a
man's nose would be in reading the Bible,"


" Softly, softly, Mr. Barnstable," inter
rupted his commander, for such was the
anxious stillness in both vessels, that even
the rattling of the schooner's rigging was
heard, as she rolled in the trough of the sea
u the duty on which Congress has sent
us must be performed at the hazard of our

" I don't mind my life, Captain Munson,"
said Barnstable ; " but there is a great
want of conscience in trusting a vessel in
such a place as this. However, it is a time
to do, and not to talk. But if there be
such danger to an easy draught of water,
what will become of the frigate ? Had I
not better play jackall, and try and feel the
way for you."

"I thank you," said the pilot; " the
offer is generous, but would avail us no
thing. I have the advantage of knowing
the ground well, and must trust to my
memory and God's good favour. Make
sail, make sail, sir, and if you succeed, we
will venture to break ground."

The order was promptly obeyed, and in
a very shrt time, the Ariel was covered


with canvas. Though no air was percep
tible on the decks of the frigate, the little
schooner was so light, that she succeeded
in stemming her way over the rising
waves, aided a little by the tide, and in a
few minutes, her low hull was just dis
cernible in the streak of light along the
horizon ; the dark outline of her sails
rising above the sea, until their fanciful
summits were lost in the shadows of the

Griffith had listened to the foregoing
dialogue, like the rest of the junior officers,
in profound silence ; but when the Ariel
began to grow indistinct to the eye, he
jumped lightly from the gun to the deck,
and cried

" She slips off, like a vessel from the
stocks ! shall I trip the anchor, sir, and

" We have no choice," replied his cap
tain. " You hear the question, Mr. Gray?
shall we let go the bottom."

" It must be done, Captain Munson|
we may want more than the rest of
this tide to get us to a place iuof safety,"

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pilot : a tale of the sea (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 12)