James Fenimore Cooper.

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

. (page 8 of 12)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pilot : a tale of the sea (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

At length, it was announced that the
cutter was ready to receive the officers of
the party. The pilot walked aside, and
held private discourse, for a few moments,
with the commander, who listened to his
sentences with marked and singular atten-


lion. When their conference was ended,
the veteran bared his gray head again to
the blasts, and offered his hand to the
other, with a seaman's frankness, mingled
with the deference of an inferior. The
compliment was carelessly returned by
the stranger, who turned quickly on his
heel, and directed the attention of those
who awaited his movements, by a signifi
cant gesture to the gangway.

" Come, gentlemen, let us go," said
Griffith, starting from a reverie, and
bowing his hasty compliments to his
brethren in arms.

When it appeared that his superiors
were ready to enter the boat, the boy who
was styled Mr. Merry, by nautical cour
tesy, and who had been ordered to be in
readiness, sprang over the side of the
frigate, and glided into the cutter, with
the activity of a squirrel. But the captain
of marines paused, and cast a meaning
glance at the pilot, whose place it was to
precede him. The stranger as he lingered
on the deck, was examining the aspect
of the Iieavens, and seemed unconscious of

VOL. i. i


the expectations of the soldier, who gave
vent to his impatience, after a moment's
detention, by saying

" We wait for you, Mr. Gray."
Aroused by the sound of his name, the
pilot glanced his quick eye on the speaker,
but instead of advancing, he gently bent
his body, as he again signed towards the
gangway with his hand. To the astonish
ment not only of the soldier, but of all
who witnessed this breach of naval eti
quette, Griffith bowed low, and entered
the boat with the same promptitude as if
he were preceding an admiral. Whether
the stranger became conscious of his want
of courtesy, or was too indifferent to sur
rounding objects to note occurrences, he im
mediately followed himself, leaving to the
marine the post of honour. The latter, who
was distinguished for his skill in all matters
of naval or military etiquette, thought
proper to apologize, at a fitting time, to
the first lieutenant, for suffering his senior
officer to precede him into a boat, but never
failed to show a becoming exultation,
when he recounted the circumstance, by


dwelling on the manner in which he had
brought down the pride of the haughty

Barnstable had been several hours on
board his little vessel, which was every
way prepared for their reception ; and as
soon as the heavy cutter of the frigate
was hoisted on her deck, he announced
that the schooner was ready to proceed.
It has been already intimated that the
Ariel belonged to the smallest class of
sea vessels, and as her construction re
duced even that size in appearance, she
was peculiarly well adapted to the sort of
service in which she was about to be em
ployed. Notwithstanding her lightness
rendered her nearly as buoyant as a cork,
and at times she actually seemed to ride
on the foam, her low decks were per
petually washed by the heavy seas that
dashed against her frail sides, and she tossed
and rolled in the hollows of the waves, in
a manner that compelled even the prac
tised seamen who trod her decks to move
with guarded steps. Still she was trimmed
and cleared with an air of nautical neat-


ness and attention that afforded the utmost
possible room for her dimensions; and
though in miniature, she wore the trap
pings of war as proudly as if the metal she
bore was of a more fatal and dangerous
character. The murderous gun, which since
the period of which we are writing, has been
universally adopted in all vessels of inferior
size, was then in the infancy of its inven
tion, and was known to the American
mariner only by reputation, under the
appalling name of a " smasher." Of a
vast caliber, though short, and easily ma
naged, its advantages were even in that
early day beginning to be appreciated, and
the largest ships were thought to be un
usually well provided with the means of
offence, when they carried two or three
cannon of this formidable invention among
their armament. At a later day this
weapon has been improved and altered,
until its use has become general in vessels
of a certain size, taking its appellation
from the Carron, on the banks of which
river it was first moulded. In place of
carronades, six light brass cannon were


firmly lashed to the bulwarks of the Ariel,
their brazen throats blackened by the sea
water, which so often broke harmlessly
over these engines of dest ruction. In the
centre of the vessel, between her two masts,
a gun of the same metal, but of nearly
twice the length of the others, was mount
ed on a carriage of a new and singular
construction, which admitted of its being
turned in any direction, so as to be of ser
vice in most of the emergencies that occur
in naval warfare.

The eye of the pilot examined this arma
ment closely, and then turned to the well-
ordered decks, the neat and compact rig
ging, and the hardy faces of the fine young
crew, with manifest satisfaction. Contrary
to what had been his practice during the
short time he had been with them,
he uttered his gratification freely and

" You have a tight boat, Mr. Barn-
stable," he said, " and a gallant looking
crew. You promise good service, sir, in
time of need, and that hour may not be
far distant."


" The sooner the better," returned the
reckless sailor ; " I have not had an op
portunity of scaling my guns since we
quitted Brest, though we passed several of
the enemy's cutters coming up channel,
with whom our bull-dogs longed for a con
versation. Mr. Griffith will tell you,
pilot, that my little sixes can speak, on
occasion, with a voice nearly as loud as
the frigate's eighteens."

" But not to as much purpose/' observed
Griffith ; " * vox et preterea nihil,' as we
said at the school."

u I know nothing of your Greek or
Latin, Mr. Griffith," retorted the com
mander of the Ariel ; " but if you mean
that those seven brass playthings won't
throw a round shot as far as any gun of
their size and height above the water, or
won't scatter grape and cannister with
any blunderbuss in your ship, you may pos
sibly find an opportunity that will con
vince you to the contrary, before we part

" They promise well," said the pilot,
who was evidently ignorant of the good


understanding that existed between the
two officers, and wished to conciliate all
under his directions, " and I doubt not they
will argue all the leading points of a com
bat with good discretion. I see that you
have christened them I suppose for their
respective merits. They are indeed ex
pressive names !"

" 'Tis the freak of an idle moment/'
said Barnstable, laughing, as he glanced
his eyes to the cannon, above which were
painted the several quaint names of
" boxer/' " plumper," " grinder/' " scat-
terer/' " exterminator," and " nail-

" Why have you thrown the midship-
gun without the pale of your baptism?"
asked the pilot ; " or do you know it by
the usual title of the f old woman ?' '

" No, no, I have no such petticoat terms
on board me," cried the other ; " but move
more to starboard, and you will see its
style painted on the cheeks of the carriage,
and it's a name that need not cause them to
blush either."


" 'Tis a singular epithet, though not
without some meaning !"

" It has more than you, perhaps, dream
of, sir, That worthy seaman whom you
see leaning against the foremast, and who
would serve, on occasion, for a spare spar
himself, is the captain of that gun, and more
than once has decided some warm disputes
with John Bull, by the manner in which
he has wielded it. No- marine can trai!
his musket more easily than my cockswain
can train his nine-pounder on an abject ;
and thus from their connexion, and some
resemblance there is between them in
length, it has got the name which you per
ceive it carries ; that of ' long Tom.' '

The pilot smiled as he listened, but turn
ing away from the speaker, the deep re
flection that crossed his brow but too plain
ly showed that he trifled only from momen
tary indulgence ; and Griffith intimated
to Barnstable, that as the gale was sensibly
abating, they would pursue the object of
their destination.

Thus recalled to his duty, the com-


mander of the schooner forgot the delight
ful theme of expatiating on the merits of
his vessel, and issued the necessary orders
to direct their movements. Slowly the
little schooner obeyed the impulse of her
helm, and fell off before the wind, when,
the folds of her squaresail, though limited
by a prudent reef, were opened to the
blasts, and she shot away from her consort,
like a meteor dancing across the waves.
The black mass of the frigate's hull soon
sunk in distance, and long before the sun
had fallen below the hills of England, her
tall masts were barely distinguishable by
the small cloud of sail that held the vessel
to her station. As the ship disappeared,
the land seemed to issue out of the bosom
of the deep, and so rapid was their pro
gress, that the dwellings of the gentry, the
humbler cottages, and even the dim lines
of the hedges, became gradually more dis
tinct to the eyes of the bold mariners,
until they were beset with the gloom of
evening, when the whole scene faded from
their view in the darkness of the hour,
leaving only the faint outline of the land
i 3


visible in the track before them, and the
sullen billows of the ocean raging with ap
palling violence in their rear.

Still the little Ariel held on her way,
skimming the ocean like a water-fowl seek
ing its place of nightly rest, and shooting
in towards the land as fearlessly as if the
dangers of the preceding night were for
gotten, like the warnings of an ill-remem
bered experience. No shoals or rocks ap
peared to arrest her course, and we must
leave her gliding into the dark streak that
was thrown from the high and rocky cliffs,
that lined a basin of bold entrance, where
the mariners often sought and found a
refuge from the dangers of the German


" Sirrah ! how dare you leave your barley broth,
To come in armour thus, against your king !"


THE large, irregular building, inhabited
by Colonel Howard, well deserved the
description it had received from the pen
of Katherine Plowden. Notwithstanding
the confusion in its orders, owing to the
different ages in which its several parts
had been erected, the interior was not
wanting in that appearance of comfort
which forms the great characteristic of
English domestic life. Its dark and intri
cate mazes of halls, galleries, and apart
ments, or by such other names as they
were properly to be distinguished, were
all well provided with good and substan
tial furniture, and whatever might have
been the purposes of their original construe-


tion, they were now peacefully appropri
ated to the service of a quiet and well-or
dered family.

There were divers portentous traditions,
of cruel separations and blighted loves,
which always linger, like cobwebs, around
the walls of old houses, to be heard here
also, and which, doubtless, in abler hands,
might easily have been wrought up into
scenes of high interest and delectable
pathos. But our humbler efforts must be
limited by an attempt to describe man as
God has made him, vulgar and unseemly
as he may appear to sublimated faculties,
to the possessors of which enviable qualifi
cations, we desire to say, at once, that we
are determined to eschew all things super-
naturally refined, as we would the devil.
To all those, then, who are tired of the
company of their species, we would bluntly
insinuate, that the sooner they throw aside
our pages, and seize upon those of some
more highly gifted bard, the sooner will
they be in the way of quitting earth, if not
of attaining heaven. Our business is solely
to treat of man, and this fair scene on


which he acts, and that not in his subtle
ties and metaphysical contradictions, but
in his palpable nature, that all may under
stand our meaning as well as * ourselves- -
whereby we manifestly reject the prodi
gious advantage of being thought a genius,
by perhaps foolishly refusing the mighty
aid of incomprehensibility to establish such
a character.

Leaving the gloomy shadows of the
cliffs, under which the little Ariel has been
seen to steer, and the sullen roaring of the
surf along the margin of the ocean, we
shall endeavour to transport the reader to
the dining parlour of St. Ruth's Abbey,
taking the evening of the same day as the
time for introducing another collection of
those personages, whose acts and charac
ters it has become our duty to describe.

The room was not of very large dimen
sions, and every part was glittering with
the collected light of half-a-dozen candles,
aided by the fierce rays that glanced from
the grate, which held a most cheerful fire
of sea-coal. The mouldings of the dark
oak wainscotting threw back upon the


massive table of mahogany, streaks of
strong light, which played among the rich
fluids that were sparkling on the board in
mimic haloes. The outline of this picture
of comfort was formed by damask curtains
of a deep red, enormous oak chairs with
leathern backs and cushioned seats, as if
the apartment were hermetically sealed
against the world and its chilling cares.

Around the table, which still stood in
the centre of the floor, were seated three
gentlemen, in the easy enjoyment of their
daily repast. The cloth had been drawn,
and the bottle was slowly passing among
them, as if those who partook of its bounty
well knew that neither the time nor the
opportunity would be wanting for their
deliberate indulgence in its pleasures.

At one end of the table an elderly man
was seated, who performed whatever little
acts of courtesy the duties of a host would
appear to render necessary, in a company
where all seemed to be equally at their
ease and at home. This gentleman was in
the decline of life, though his erect car
riage, quick movements, and steady hand,


equally denoted that it was an old age free
from the usual infirmities. In his dress,
he belonged to that class whose members
always follow the fashions of the age an
terior to the one in which they live, whe
ther from disinclination to sudden changes
of any kind, or from the recollections of
a period which, with them, has been hal
lowed by scenes and feelings that the chill
ing evening of life can neither revive nor
equal. Age might possibly have thrown
its blighting frosts on his thin locks, but
art had laboured to conceal the ravages
with the nicest care. An accurate outline
of powder covered not only the parts
where the hair actually remained, but
wherever nature had prescribed that hair
should grow. His countenance was strongly
marked in features, if not in expression,
exhibiting, on the whole, a look of noble
integrity and high honour, which was a
good deal aided in its effect by the lofty
receding forehead, that rose like a monu
ment above the whole, to record the cha
racter of the aged veteran. A few streaks
of branching red mingled with the swarthi-


ness that was rendered more conspicuous
by the outline of unsullied white which
nearly surrounded his prominent features.

Opposite to the host, who it will at once
be understood was Colonel Howard, was
the thin, yellow visage of Mr. Christo
pher Dillon, that bane to the happiness
of her cousin, already mentioned by Miss

Between these two gentlemen was a
middle-aged, hard-featured man, attired in
the livery of King George, whose counte
nance emulated the scarlet of his coat, and
whose principal employment, at the mo
ment, appeared to consist in doing honour
to the cheer of his entertainer.

Occasionally, a servant entered or left
the room in silence, giving admission, how
ever, through the opened door, to the
rushing sounds of the gale, as the wind
murmured amid the angles and high chim
neys of the edifice.

A man, in the dress of a rustic, was stand
ing near the chair of Colonel Howard, be
tween whom and the master of the man
sion a dialogue had been maintained, which


closed as follows. The colonel was the
first to speak, after the curtain is drawn
from between the eyes of the reader and
the scene.

" Said you, farmer, that the Scotchman
beheld the vessels with his own eyes?"

The answer was a simple negative.

" Well, well," continued the colonel,
" you can withdraw."

The man made a rude attempt at a bow,
which being returned by the old soldier
with formal grace, he left the room. The
host, turning to his companions, resumed
the subject.

" If those rash boys have really per- %
suaded the silly dotard who commands the
frigate, to trust himself within the shoals,
on the eve of such a gale as this, their case
must have been hopeless indeed! Thus
may rebellion and disaffection ever meet
with the just indignation of Providence!
It would not surprise me, gentlemen, to
hear that my native land has been en-
gulphed by earthquakes, or swallowed by
the ocean, so awful and inexcusable has


been the weight of her transgressions!
And yet it was a proud and daring boy
who held the second station in that ship ! I
knew his father well, and a gallant gentle
man he was, who, like my own brother,
the parent of Cecilia, preferred to serve
his master on the ocean rather than on
the land. His son inherited the bravery
of his high spirit, without its loyalty. One
would not wish to have such a youth
drowned either."

This speech, which partook much of the
nature of a soliloquy, especially towards
its close, called for no immediate reply ;
but the soldier, having held his glass to the
candle, to admire the rosy hue of its con
tents, and then sipped of the fluid so often,
that nothing but a clear light remained
to gaze at, quietly replaced the empty
vessel on the table, and, as he extended an
arm towards the blushing bottle, he spoke,
in the careless tones of one whose thoughts
were dwelling on another theme

" Ay, true enough, sir ; good men are
scarce, and, as you say, one cannot but


mourn his fate, though his death be glori
ous ; quite a loss to his majesty's service,
I dare say, it will prove."

" A loss to the service of his majesty !"
echoed the host " his death glorious ! no,
Captain Bor rough cliffe, the death of no re
bel can be glorious ; and how he can be a
loss to his majesty's service, I am myself
quite at a loss to understand."

The soldier, whose ideas were in that
happy state of confusion that renders it
difficult to command the one most needed,
but who still, from long discipline, had
them under a wonderful control for the
disorder of his brain, answered, with great

" I mean the loss of his example, sir.
It would have been so appalling to others,
to have seen the young man executed in
stead of shot in battle."

" He is drowned, sir."

" Ah ! that is the next thing to being
hung ; that circumstance had escaped



It is by no means certain, sir, that the
ship and schooner that the drover saw are


the vessels you take them to have been/ 5
said Mr. Dillon, in a harsh, drawling tone
of voice. " I should doubt their daring to
venture so openly on the coast, and in the
direct track of our vessels of war."

fe These people are our countrymen,
Christopher, though they be rebels," ex
claimed the colonel. " They are a hardy
and brave nation. When I had the honour
to serve his majesty, some twenty years
since, it was my fortune to face the ene
mies of my king in a few small affairs,
Captain Borroughcliffe ; such as the siege
of Quebec, and the battle before its gates,
a trifling occasion at Ticonderoga, and that
unfortunate catastrophe of General Brad-
dock with a few others. I must say, sir,
in favour of the colonists, that they played
a manful game on the latter day; and this
gentleman who now heads the rebels sus
tained a gallant name among us for his
conduct in that disastrous business. He
was a discreet, well-behaved young man,
and quite a gentleman. I have never de
nied that Mr. Washington was very much
of a gentleman,"


" Yes, 35 said the soldier, yawning, " he
was educated among his majesty's troops,
and he could hardly be otherwise. But I
am quite melancholy about this unfortu
nate drowning, Colonel Howard. Here
will be an end of my vocation, I suppose,
and I am far from denying that your hos
pitality has made these quarters most agree
able to me."

" Then, sir, the obligation is only mu
tual," returned the host, with a polite inclin
ation of his head ; " but gentlemen, who, like
ourselves, have been made free of the camp,
need not bandy idle compliments about
such trifles. If it were my kinsman Dillon,
now, whose thoughts run more on Coke
upon Littleton than on the gaieties of a
mess-table, and a soldier's life, he might
think such formalities as necessary as all
his hard words are to a deed. Come, Bor-
roughcliffe, my dear fellow, I believe we
have given an honest glass to each of the
royal family, (God bless them all !) let us
swallow a bumper to the memory of the
immortal Wolfe."

" An honest proposal, my gallant host,


and such a one as a soldier will never de
cline/' returned the captain, who roused
himself with the occasion. " God bless
them all, say I, in echo, and if this gra
cious queen of ours ends as famously as
she has begun, 'twill be such a family of
princes as no other army in Europe can
brag of around a mess-table."

" Ay, ay, there is some consolation in
that thought, in the midst of this dire re
bellion of my countrymen. But I'll vex
myself no more with the unpleasant recol
lections ; the arms of my sovereign will
soon purge that wicked land of the foul

" Of that there can be no doubt," said
Borroughcliffe, whose thoughts still conti
nued a little obscured by the sparkling
Madeira that had long lain ripening under
a Carolinian sun ; " these Yankees fly be
fore his Majesty's regulars, like so many
dirty clowns in a London mob before a
charge of the Horse Guards. 15

" Pardon me, Captain Borroughcliffe~"
said his host, elevating his person to more
than its usually erect attitude ; " they may


be misguided, deluded, and betrayed, but
the comparison is unjust. Give them arms
and give them discipline, and he who gets
an inch of their land from them, plentiful
as it is, will find a bloody day on which to
take possession."

" The veriest coward in Christendom
would fight in a country where wine brews
itself into such a cordial as this," returned
the cool soldier; " I am a living proof
that you mistook my meaning ; for had
not those loose-flapped gentlemen they
call Vermontese and Hampshire-granters
(God grant them his blessing for the
deed !) finished two-thirds of my company,
I should not have been at this day under
your roof, a recruiting instead of a march
ing officer ; neither should I have been
bound up in a covenant, like the law of
Moses, could Burgoyne have made head
against their long-legged marchings and
counter-marchings. Sir, I drink their
healths with all my heart ; and, with such
a bottle of golden sunshine before me, ra
ther than displease so good a friend, I will
go through Gates's whole army, regiment


by regiment, company by company, or, if
you insist on the same, even man by man."

" On no account would I tax your po
liteness so far," returned the Colonel,
abundantly mollified by this ample con
cession ; " I stand too much your debtor,
Captain Borroughcliffe, for so freely volun
teering to defend my house against the at
tacks of my piratical, rebellious, and mis
guided countrymen, to think of requiring
such a concession."

" Harder duty might be performed, and
no favours asked, my respectable host,"
returned the soldier. " Country quarters
are apt to be dull, and the liquor is com
monly execrable ; but in such a dwelling
as this, a man can rock himself in the very
cradle of contentment. And yet there is
one subject of complaint, that I should dis
grace my regiment did I not speak of, for
it is incumbent on me, both as a man and a
soldier, to be no longer silent."

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pilot : a tale of the sea (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 12)