James Fenimore Cooper.

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

. (page 9 of 12)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pilot : a tale of the sea (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" Name it, Sir, freely, and its cause shall
be as freely redressed," said the host, in
some amazement.

" Here we three sit, from morning to


night/' continued the soldier, " bachelors
all, well provisioned and better liquored, I
grant you, but like so many well fed an
chorites, while two of the loveliest damsels
in the island pine in solitude within a hun
dred feet of us, without tasting the homage
of our sighs. This I will maintain is a re
proach both to your character, Colonel
Howard, as an old soldier, and to mine as
a young one. As to our friend Coke on
top of Littleton here, 1 leave him to the
quiddities of the law to plead his own

The brow of the host contracted for a
moment, and the sallow cheek of Dillon,
who had sat during the dialogue in a sullen
silence, appeared to grow even livid ; but
gradually the open brow of the veteran
resumed its frank expression, and the lips
of the other relaxed into a Jesuitical sort
of a smile, that was totally disregarded by
the captain, who amused himself with sip
ping his wine, while he waited for an an
swer, as if he analyzed each drop that
crossed his palate.



After an embarrassing pause of a mo
ment, Colonel Howard broke the silence.

" There is reason in Borroughcliffe's
hint, for such I take it to be "

if I meant it for a plain matter-of-fact
complaint," interrupted the soldier.

" And you have cause for it," continued
the colonel. " It is unreasonable, Christo
pher, that the ladies should allow their
dread of these piratical countrymen of
ours to exclude us from their society,
though prudence may require that they
remain secluded in their apartments. We
owe the respect to Captain Borroughcliffe,
that at least we admit him to the sight of
the coffee-urn in an evening."

" That is precisely my meaning," said
the captain ; " as for dining with them, why
I am well provided for here, but there is
no one knows how to set hot water a
hissing in so professional a manner as a
woman. So forward, my dear and ho
noured colonel, and lay your injunctions
on them, that they command your humble
servant and Mr. Coke unto Littleton, to


advance and give the counter-sign of

Dillon contracted his disagreeable fea
tures into something that was intended for
a satirical smile, before he spoke as fol
lows :

" Both the veteran Colonel Howard
and the gallant Captain Borroughcliffe
may find it easier to overcome the enemies
of his majesty in the field than to shake a
woman's caprice. Not a day has passed
these three weeks, that I have not sent my
enquiries to the door of Miss Howard, as
became her father's kinsman, with a wish
to soften her apprehensions of the pirates;
but little has she deigned me in reply, more
than such thanks as her sex and breeding
could not well dispense with."

u Well, you have been as fortunate as
myself, and why you should be more so, I
see no reason," cried the soldier, throwing
a glance of cool contempt at the other ;
" fear whitens the cheek, and ladies best
love to be seen where the roses flourish
rather than the lilies."

" A woman is never so interesting, Cap-
K 2


tain Borroughcliffe,"said the gallant host,
" as when she appears to lean on man for
support ; and he who does not feel him
self honoured by the trust is a disgrace to
his species."

" Bravo ! my honoured Sir, a worthy
sentiment and spoken like a true soldier ;
but I have heard much of the loveliness of
the ladies of the Abbey since I have been
in my present quarters, and I feel a strong
desire to witness beauty encircled by such
loyalty, as could induce them to flee their
native country, rather than to devote their
charms to the rude keeping of the rebels."

The colonel looked grave, and for a mo
ment fierce ; but the expression of his dis
pleasure soon passed away in a smile of
forced gaiety, and as he cheerfully rose
from his seat, he cried

" You shall be admitted this very night,
and this instant, Captain Borroughcliffe.
We owe it, Sir, to your services here, as
well as in the field, and those froward girls
shall be humoured no longer. Nay, it is
nearly two weeks since I have seen my
ward myself, nor have I laid my eyes on


my niece but twice in all that time. Chris
topher, I leave the captain under your
good care, while I go seek admission into
the cloisters ; we call that part of the
building the cloisters, because it holds our
nuns, Sir ! You will pardon my early ab
sence from the table, Captain Borrough-

" I beg it may not be mentioned ; you
leave an excellent representative behind
you, Sir/' cried the soldier, taking in the
lank figure of Mr. Dillon in a sweeping
glance, that terminated with a settled gaze
on his decanter. " Make my devoirs to
the recluses, my dear colonel, and say all
that your own excellent wit shall suggest
as an apology for my impatience. Mr.
Dillon, I meet you in a bumper to their
healths and in their honour."

The challenge was coldly accepted, and
while these gentlemen still held their
glasses to their lips, Colonel Howard left
the apartment, bowing low and uttering a
thousand excuses to his guest, as he pro
ceeded, and even offering a very unneces-


sary apology of the same effect to his ha
bitual inmate, Mr. Dillon.

u Is fear so very powerful within these
old walls/' said the soldier, when the door
closed behind their host, " that your ladies
deem it necessary to conceal themselves
before even an enemy is known to have
landed ?

Dillon coolly replied

" The name of Paul Jones is terrific to
all on this coast, I believe ; nor are the
ladies of St. Ruth singular in their appre
hensions, sir."

u Ah ! the pirate has bought himself a
desperate name since the affair off Flam-
borough Head. But let him look to% if
he trusts himself in another Whitehaven
expedition, while there is a detachment of

the th in the neighbourhood, though

the men should be nothing better than

" Our last accounts leave him safe in the
court of Louis/' returned his companion ;
" but there are men as desperate as himself
who sail the ocean under the rebel flag,


and from one or two of them we have had
much reason to apprehend the vengeance
of disappointed men. It is they that we
hope are lost in this gale."

" Hum ! I hope they were dastards, then,
or your hopes are a little unchristian,

He would have proceeded, but the door
opened, and his orderly entered, and an
nounced with military precision, that a
sentinel had detained three men, who
were passing along the highway near the
Abbey, and who by their dress appeared to
be seamen.

" Well, let them pass," cried the captain ;
" what, have we nothing to do better than
to stop passengers, like footpads, on the
king's highway ! give them of your can
teens, and let the rascals pass. Your
orders were to give the alarm, if any
hostile party landed on the coast, not to
detain peaceable subjects on their lawful

*' I beg your honour's pardon," returned
the sergeant ; " but these men seemed
lurking about the grounds for no. good,


and as they kept carefully aloof from the
place where our sentinel was posted until
to-night, Downing thought it looked sus
piciously and detained them."

" Downing is a fool, and it may go hard
with him for his officiousness. What have
you done with the men?"

u I took them to the guard-room in the
east wing, your honour."

" Then feed them ; and harkye, sirrah !
liquor them well, that we hear no com
plaints, and let them go."

" Yes, sir, yes, your honour shall be
obeyed ; but there is a straight, soldierly
looking fellow among them, that I think
might be persuaded to enlist, if he were
detained till morning. I doubt, sir, by his
walk but he has served already."

"Ha! what say you!" cried the cap
tain, pricking up his ears, like a hound
who hears a well known cry, " served,
think ye, already ?"

" There are signs about him, your ho
nour, to that effect. An old soldier is sel^
dom deceived in such a thing, and consi
dering his disguise, for it can be no


and the place where we took him, there is
no danger of a have-us corpses, until he is
tied to us by the laws of the kingdom."

" Peace, you knave !" said Borrough-
cliffe, rising and making a devious route
towards the door " you speak in the pre
sence of my Lord Chief Justice that is to
be, and should not talk lightly of the laws.
But still you say reason ; give me your
arm, sergeant, and lead the way to the
east wing ; my eyesight is good for nothing
in such a dark night. A soldier should
always visit his guard before the tattoo

After emulating the courtesy of their
host, Captain Borroughcliffe retired on this
patriotic errand, leaning on his subordinate
in a style of most familiar condescension.

Dillon continued at the table, endea
vouring to express the rancorous feelings
of his breast by a satirical smile of con
tempt, that was necessarily lost on all but
himself, as a large mirror threw back tho.
image of his morose and unpleasant features.

But we must precede the veteran colonel
in his visit to the " cloisters."
K 3


" And kindness like their own

Inspired those eyes affectionate and glad,
That seemed to love vi hate'er they looked upon ;
Whether with Hebe's mirth her features shone,
Or if a shade more pleasing them o'ercast
Yet so becomingly th ; expression past,
That each succeeding look was lovelier than the last."
Gertrude of Wyoming.

THE western wing of St. Ruth house,
or abbey, as the building was indiscrimi
nately called, retained but few vestiges of
the uses to which it had been originally
devoted. The upper apartments were
small and numerous, extending on either
side of a long, low and dark gallery, and
might have been the dormitories of the
sisterhood who were said to have once
inhabited that portion of the edifice ; but
the ground- floor had been modernized, as
it was then called, about a century before,


and retained just enough of its ancient
character to blend the venerable with
what was thought comfortable in the com
mencement of the reign of the third
George. As this wing had been appro
priated to the mistress of the mansion,
ever since the building had changed its
spiritual character for one of a more
carnal nature, Colonel Howard continued
the arrangement, when he became the
temporary possessor of St. Ruth's, until, in
the course of events, the apartments which
had been set apart for the accommoda
tion and convenience of his niece, were
eventually converted into her prison. But
as the severity of the old veteran was as
often marked by an exhibition of his vir
tues as of his foibles, the confinement and
his displeasure constituted the sole subjects
of complaint that were given to the young
lady. That our readers may be better
qualified to judge of the nature of their
imprisonment, we shall transport them,
without further circumlocution, into the
presence of the two females, whom they
must be already prepared to receive.


The withdrawing-room of St. Rutl/s
was an apartment which, tradition said,
had formerly been the refectory of the
little bevy of fair sinners who sought a
refuge within its walls from the tempta
tions of the world. Their number was not
large, nor their entertainments very
splendid, or this limited space could not
have contained them, The room, how
ever, was of fair dimensions, and an air of
peculiar comfort, mingled with chastened
luxury, was thrown around it, by the
voluminous folds of the blue damask cur
tains that nearly concealed the sides where
the deep windows were placed, and by the
dark leathern hangings, richly stamped
with cunning devices in gold, that orna
mented the two others. Massive couches
in carved mahogany, with chairs of a simi
lar material and fashion, all covered by
the same rich fabric that composed the
curtains, together with a Turkey carpet,
over the shaggy surface of which all the
colours of the rainbow were scattered in
bright confusion, united to relieve the
gloomy splendour of the enormous mantel,


deep heavy cornices, and the complicated
carvings of the massive wood-work which
cumbered the walls. A brisk fire of wood
was burning on the hearth, in compliment
to the wilful prejudice of Miss Plowden,
who had maintained, in her most vivacious
manner, that seacoal was " only tolerable
for blacksmiths and Englishmen." In
addition to the cheerful blaze from the
hearth, two waxen lights, in candlesticks
of massive silver, were lending their aid to
enliven the apartment. One of these was
casting its rays brightly along the confused
colours of the carpet on which it stood,
flickering before the active movements of
the form that played around it with light
and animated inflexions. The posture of
this young lady was infantile in grace, and,
with one ignorant of her motives, her em
ployment would have been obnoxious to
the same construction. Divers small,
square pieces of silk, strongly contrasted
to each other in colour, lay on every side
of her, and were changed by her nimble
hands into as many different combinations
as if she were humouring the fancies of her


sex, or consulting the shades of her own
dark, but rich complexion, in the shop of
a mercer. The dark satin dress of this
young female served to display her small
figure in its true proportions, while her
dancing eyes of jet-black shamed the dies
of the Italian manufacturer by their supe
rior radiancy. A few ribbands of pink,
disposed about her person with an air
partly studied, and yet carelessly coquet
tish, seemed rather to reflect than lend the
rich bloom that mantled around her laugh
ing countenance, leaving to the eye no
cause to regret that she was not fairer.

Another female figure, clad in virgin
white, was reclining on the end of a dis
tant couch. The seclusion in which they
lived might have rendered this female a
little careless of her appearance, or, what
was more probable, the comb had been
found unequal to its burthen, for her
tresses, which rivalled the hue and gloss
of the raven, had burst from their con
finement, and, dropping over her shoulder"
fell along her dress in rich profusion,
finally resting on the damask of the couch,


in dark folds, like glittering silk. A
small hand, which seemed to blush at its
own naked beauties, supported her head,
imbedded in the volumes of her hair, like
the fairest alabaster set in the deepest
ebony. Beneath the dark profusion of
her curls, which, notwithstanding the
sweeping train that fell about her per
son, covered the summit of her head, lay
a low, spotless forehead of dazzling white
ness, that was relieved by two arches so
slightly and truly drawn, that they ap
peared to have been produced by the
nicest touches of art. The fallen lids and
long silken lashes concealed the eyes, that
rested on the floor, as if their mistress
mused in melancholy. The remainder of
the features of this maiden were of a kind
that is most difficult to describe, being
neither regular nor perfect in their several
parts, yet harmonizing and composing a
whole, that formed an exquisite picture of
female delicacy and loveliness. There
might or there might not have been a
tinge of slight red in her cheeks, but it
varied with each emotion of her bosom,


even as she mused in quiet, now seeming
to steal insidiously over her glowing tem
ples, and then leaving on her face an
almost startling paleness. Her stature, as
she reclined, seemed above the medium
height of womanhood, and her figure
was rather delicate than full, though the
little foot that rested on the damask
cushion before her, displayed a rounded
outline that any of her sex might envy.

" Oh ! I'm as expert as if I were signal
officer to the lord high admiral of this
realm !"' exclaimed the laughing female
on the floor, clapping her hands together
in girlish exultation. " I do long, Cecilia,
for an opportunity to exhibit my skill."

While her cousin was speaking, Miss
Howard raised her head, with a faint
smile, and as she turned her eyes towards
the other, a spectator might have been
disappointed, but could not have been
displeased, by the unexpected change the
action produced in the expression of her
countenance. Instead of the piercing
black eyes that the deep colour of her
tresses would lead him to expect, he would


have beheld two large, mild, blue orbs,
that seemed to float in a liquid so pure as
to be nearly invisible, and which were
more remarkable for their tenderness and
persuasion, than for the vivid flashes that
darted from the quick glances of her com

" The success of your mad excursion to
the seaside, my cousin, has bewildered
your brain/' returned Cecilia ; " but I
know not how to conquer your disease,
unless we prescribe salt-water for the re
medy, as in some other cases of madness."

" Ah ! I am afraid your nostrum would
be useless," cried Katherine ; " it has
failed to wash out the disorder from the
sedate Mr. Richard Barnstable, who has
had the regimen administered to him
through many a hard gale, but who con^
tinues as fair a candidate for bedlam as
ever. Would you think it, Cicely, the
crazy-one urged me, in the ten minutes'
conversation we held together on the
cliffs, to accept of his schooner as a
shower-bath !"

" I can think that your hardihood might


encourage him to expect much, but surely
he could not have been serious in such a
proposal !"

" Oh ! to do the wretch justice, he did
say something of a chaplain to consecrate
the measure, but there was boundless im
pudence in the thought. I have not, nor
shall 1 forget it, or forgive him for it,
these six-and-twenty years. What a fine
time he must have had of it, in his little
Ariel, among the monstrous waves we saw
tumbling in upon the shore to-day, coz!
I hope they will wash his impudence out
of him ! I do think the man cannot have
had a dry thread about him, from sun to
sun. I must believe it is a punishment
for his boldness, and, be certain, I shall
tell him of it. I will form half-a-dozen
signals, this instant, to joke at his moist
condition, in very revenge."

Pleased with her own thoughts, and
buoyant with the secret hope that her ad
venturous undertaking would be finally
crowned with complete success, the gay
girl shook her black locks, in infinite
mirth, and tossed the mimic flags gaily


around her person, as she was busied in
forming new combinations, in order to
amuse herself with her lover's disastrous
situation. But the features of her cousin
clouded with the thoughts that were ex
cited by her remarks, and she replied, in a
tone that bore some little of the accents of

"Katherine! Katherine ! can you jest
when there is so much to apprehend ! For
get you what Alice Dungcombe told us of
the gale this morning ! and that she spoke of
two vessels, a ship and a schooner, that had
been seen venturing with fearful temerity
within the shoals, only six miles from the
Abbey, and that unless God in his gracious
providence had been kind to them, there
was but little doubt that their fate would be
a sad one ! Can you, that know so well who
and what these daring mariners are, be
merry about the selfsame winds that caused
their danger ?"

The laughing maiden was recalled to
her recollection by this remonstrance, and
every trace of mirth vanished from her
countenance, leaving a momentary death-


like paleness crossing her face, as she
clasped her hands before her, and fastened
her keen eyes vacantly on the splendid
pieces of silk that now lay unheeded around
her. At this critical moment the door of the
room slowly opened, and Colonel How
ard entered the apartment with an air that
displayed a droll mixture of stern indigna
tion, with a chivalric and habitual respect
to the sex.

" I solicit'your pardon, young ladies, for
the interruption/ 7 he said ; " I trust, how
ever, that an old man's presence can never
be entirely unexpected in the drawing,
room of his wards."

As he bowed, the colonel seated himself
on the end of the couch, opposite to where
his niece had been reclining, for Miss
Howard had risen at his entrance, and
continued standing until her uncle had
comfortably disposed of himself. Throw
ing a glance, which was not entirely free
from self-commendation, around the com
fortable apartment, the veteran proceeded,
in the same tone as before

6 ' You are not without the means of


making any guest welcome, nor do I see
the necessity of such constant seclusion
from the eyes of the world as you thus
rigidly practise."

Cecilia looked timidly at her uncle, with
momentary surprise, before she returned
any answer to his remark.

u We certainly owe much to your kind
attention, dear sir," she at length uttered ;
" but is our retirement altogether volun

" How can it be otherwise! are you not
mistress of this mansion, madam ? In se
lecting the residence where yours, and,
permit me to add, my ancestors, so long-
dwelt in credit and honour, I have surely
been less governed by any natural pride
that I might well have entertained on such
a subject, than by a desire to consult your
comfort and happiness. Every thing ap
pears to my aged eyes as if we ought not
to be ashamed to receive our friends within
these walls. The cloisters of St. Ruth,
Miss Howard, are not entirely bare, neither
are their tenants wholly unworthy to be



" Open, then, its portals, sir, and your
niece will endeavour to do proper credit
to the hospitality of its master."

" That was spoken like Harry Howard's
daughter, frankly and generously !" cried
the old soldier, insensibly edging himself
nearer to his niece. " If my brother had
devoted himself to the camp, instead of
the sea, Cecilia, he would have made one
of the bravest and ablest generals in his
majesty's service poor Harry ! he might
have been living at this very day, and at
this moment leading the victorious troops
of his sovereign through the revolted co
lonies in triumph. But he is gone, Cicely,
and has left you behind him, as his dear
representative, to perpetuate our family,
and to possess what little has been left to
us from the ravages of the times."

" Surely, dear sir/' said Cecilia, taking
his hand, which had unconsciously ap
proached her person, and pressing it to her
lips, u we have no cause to complain of
our lot in respect to fortune, though ft
may cause us bitter regret that so few of
us are left to enjoy it."


" No, no, no/' said Katherine, in a low,
hurried voice ; " Alice Dunscombe is and
must be wrong ; providence would never
abandon brave men to so cruel a fate !"

" Alice Dunscombe is here to atone for
her error, if she has fallen into one," said a
quiet, subdued voice, in which the accents
of a provincial dialect, however, were
slightly perceptible, and which, in its
low tones, wanted that silvery clearness
that gave so much feminine sweetness to
the words of Miss Howard, and which
even rung melodiously in the ordinarily vi
vacious strains of her cousin.

The surprise created by these sudden in
terruptions, caused a total suspension of the
discourse. Katherine Plowden, who had
continued kneeling, in the attitude before
described, arose, and as she looked about
her in momentary confusion, the blood
again mantled her face with the fresh and
joyous springs of life. The other speaker
advanced steadily into the middle of the
room, and after returning, with studied
civility, the low bow of Colonel Howard,
seated herself in silence on the opposite


couch. The manner of her entrance, her
reception, and her attire, sufficiently de
noted that the presence of this female was
neither unusual nor unwelcome. She was
dressed with marked simplicity, though
with a studied neatness, that more than
compensated for the absence of ornaments.
Her age might not have much exceeded
thirty, but there was an adoption of cos
tume in her attire that indicated she was
not unwilling to be thought older. Her
fair flaxen hair was closely confined by a
dark bandeau, such as was worn in a na
tion farther north by virgins only, over
which a few curls strayed, in a manner
that showed the will of their mistress alone
restrained their luxuriance. Her light com

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe pilot : a tale of the sea (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 12)