James Fenimore Cooper.

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its force. It was computed that the schooners ran quite three marine
leagues in the hour that succeeded the overturning of the berg There were
moments when the wind blew furiously; and, taking all the accessories of
that remarkable view into the account, the scene resembled one that the
imagination might present to the mind in its highest flights, but which
few could ever hope to see with their proper eyes. The moon-light, the
crowd of ice-bergs of all shapes and dimensions, seeming to flit past by
the rapid movements of the vessels; the variety of hues, from spectral
white to tints of orange and emerald, pale at that hour yet distinct;
streets and lanes that were scarce opened ere they were passed; together
with all the fantastic images that such objects conjured to the thoughts;
contributed to make that hour much the most wonderful that Roswell
Gardiner had ever passed. To add to the excitement, a couple of whales
came blowing up the passage, coming within a hundred yards of the
schooners. They were fin-backs, which are rarely if ever taken, and were
suffered to pass unharmed. To capture a whale, however, amid so many
bergs, would be next to impossible, unless the animal were killed by the
blow of the harpoon, without requiring the keener thrust of the lance.

At the end of the hour mentioned, the Sea Lion of the Vineyard rapidly
changed her course, hauling up by a sudden movement to the westward. The
passage before her was closed, and there remained but one visible outlet,
towards which the schooner slowly made her way, having got rather too
much to leeward of it, in consequence of not earlier seeing the necessity
for the change of course in that dim and deceptive light. Roswell, being
to windward, had less difficulty, but, notwithstanding, he kept his
station on his consort's quarter, declining to lead. The passage into
which Daggett barely succeeded in carrying his schooner was fearfully
narrow, and appeared to be fast closing; though it was much wider further
ahead, could the schooners but get through the first dangerous strait.
Roswell remonstrated ere the leading vessel entered, and pointed out to
Daggett the fact that the bergs were evidently closing, each instant
increasing their movement, most probably through the force of attraction.
It is known that ships are thus brought in contact in calms, and it is
thought a similar influence is exercised on the ice-bergs. At all events,
the wind, the current, or attraction, was fast closing the passage through
which the schooners had now to go.

Scarcely was Daggett within the channel, when an enormous mass fell from
the summit of one of the bergs, literally closing the passage in his wake,
while it compelled Gardiner to put his helm down, and to tack ship,
standing off from the tottering berg. The scene that followed was
frightful! The cries on board the leading craft denoted her peril, but it
was not possible for Roswell to penetrate to her with his vessel. All he
could do was to heave-to his own schooner, lower a boat, and pull back
towards the point of danger. This he did at once, manfully, but with an
anxious mind and throbbing heart. He actually urged his boat into the
chasm beneath an arch in the fallen fragment, and made his way to the very
side of Daggett's vessel. The last was nipped again, and that badly, but
was not absolutely lost. The falling fragment from the berg alone
prevented her and all in her from being ground into powder. This block, of
enormous size, kept the two bergs asunder; and now that they could not
absolutely come together, they began slowly to turn in the current,
gradually opening and separating, at the very point where they had so
lately seemed attracted to a closer union. In an hour the way was clear,
and the boats towed the schooner stern foremost into the broader passage.




Chapter XX.



"A voice upon the prairies,
A cry of woman's woe,
That mingleth with the autumn blast
All fitfully and low."

Mrs. Sigourney.


The accident to the Sea Lion of the Vineyard occurred very near the close
of the month of March, which, in the southern hemisphere, corresponds to
our month of September. This was somewhat late for a vessel to remain in
so high a latitude, though it was not absolutely dangerous to be found
there several weeks longer. We have given a glance at Mary Pratt and her
uncle, about this time; but it has now become expedient to carry the
reader forward for a considerable period, and take another look at our
heroine and her miserly uncle, some seven months later. In that interval a
great change had come over the deacon and his niece; and hope had nearly
deserted all those who had friends on board the Sea Lion of Oyster Pond,
as the following explanation will show was reasonable, and to be expected.

When Captain Gardiner sailed, it was understood that his absence would not
extend beyond a single season. All who had friends and connections on
board his schooner, had been assured of this; and great was the anxiety,
and deep the disappointment, when the first of our own summer months
failed to bring back the adventurers. As week succeeded week, and the
vessel did not return, the concern increased, until hope began to be lost
in apprehension. Deacon Pratt groaned in spirit over his loss, finding
little consolation in the gains secured by means of the oil sent home, as
is apt to be the case with the avaricious, when their hearts are once set
on gain. As for Mary, the load on _her_ heart increased in weight, as it
might be, day by day, until those smiles, which had caused her sweet
countenance to be radiant with innocent joy, entirely disappeared, and she
was seen to smile no more. Still, complaints never passed her lips. She
prayed much, and found all her relief in such pursuits as comported with
her feelings, but she seldom spoke of her grief; never, except at weak
moments, when her querulous kinsman introduced the subject, in his
frequent lamentations over his losses.

The month of November is apt to be stormy on the Atlantic coasts of the
republic. It is true that the heaviest gales do not then occur, but the
weather is generally stern and wintry, and the winds are apt to be high
and boisterous. At a place like Oyster Pond, the gales from the ocean are
felt with almost as much power as on board a vessel at sea; and Mary
became keenly sensible of the change from the bland breezes of summer to
the sterner blasts of autumn. As for the deacon, his health was actually
giving way before anxiety, until the result was getting to be a matter of
doubt. Premature old age appeared to have settled on him, and his niece
had privately consulted Dr. Sage on his case. The excellent girl was
grieved to find that the mind of her uncle grew more worldly, his desires
for wealth more grasping, as he was losing his hold on life, and was
approaching nearer to that hour when time is succeeded by eternity. All
this while, however, Deacon Pratt "kept about," as he expressed it
himself, and struggled to look after his interests, as had been his
practice through life. He collected his debts, foreclosed his mortgages
when necessary, drove tight bargains for his wood and other saleable
articles, and neglected nothing that he thought would tend to increase his
gains. Still, his heart was with his schooner; for he had expected much
from that adventure, and the disappointment was in proportion to the
former hopes.

One day, near the close of November, the deacon and his niece were alone
together in the "keeping-room," - as it was, if it be not still, the custom
among persons of New England origin to call the ordinary
sitting-apartment, - he bolstered up in an easy-chair, on account of
increasing infirmities, and she plying the needle in her customary way.
The chairs of both were so placed that it was easy for either to look out
upon that bay, now of a wintry aspect, where Roswell had last anchored,
previously to sailing.

"What a pleasant sight it would be, uncle," Mary, almost unconsciously to
herself, remarked, as, with tearful eyes, she sat gazing intently on the
water, "could we only awake and find the Sea Lion at anchor, under the
point of Gardiner's Island! I often fancy that such _may_ be - nay,
_must_ be the case yet; but it never comes to pass! I would not tell you
yesterday, for you did not seem to be as well as common, but I have got an
answer, by Baiting Joe, to my letter sent across to the Vineyard."

The deacon started, and half-turned his body towards his niece, on whose
face his own sunken eyes were now fastened with almost ferocious interest.
It was the love of Mammon, stirring within him the lingering remains of
covetousness. He thought of his property, while Mary thought of those
whose lives had been endangered, if not lost, by the unhappy adventure.
The latter understood the look, however, so far as to answer its inquiry,
in her usual gentle, feminine voice.

"I am sorry to say, sir, that no news has been heard from Captain Daggett,
or any of his people," was the sad reply to this silent interrogatory. "No
one on the island has heard a word from the Vineyard vessel since the day
before she sailed from Rio. There is the same uneasiness felt among
Captain Daggett's friends, as we feel for poor Roswell. They think,
however, that the two vessels have kept together, and believe that the
same fate has befallen both."

"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed the deacon, as sharply as wasting lungs would
allow - "Heaven forbid! If Gar'ner his let that Daggett keep in his company
an hour longer than was necessary, he has deserved to meet with shipwreck,
though the loss always falls heaviest on the owners."

"Surely, uncle, it is more cheering to think that the two schooners are
together in those dangerous seas, than to imagine one, alone, left to meet
the risks, without a companion!"

"You talk idly, gal - as women always talk. If you know'd all, you wouldn't
think of such a thing."

"So you have said often, uncle, and I fear there is some mystery preying
all this time on your, spirits. Why not relieve your mind, by telling your
troubles to me? I am your child in affection, if not by birth."

"You're a good gal, Mary," answered the deacon, a good deal softened by
the plaintive tones of one of the gentlest voices that ever fell on human
ear, "an excellent creatur' at the bottom - but of course you know nothing
of the sealing business, and next to nothing about taking care of
property."

"I hope you do not think me wasteful, sir? That is a character I should
not like to possess."

"No, not wasteful; on the contrary, curful (so the deacon pronounced the
word) and considerate enough, as to _keeping_, but awfully indifferent as
to _getting_. Had I been as indifferent as you are yourself, your futur'
days would not be so comfortable and happy as they are now likely to be,
a'ter my departure - if depart I _must_."

"My future life happy and comfortable!" _thought_ Mary; then she struggled
to be satisfied with her lot, and contented with the decrees of
Providence. "It is but a few hours that we live in this state of trials,
compared to the endless existence that is to succeed it."

"I wish I knew all about this voyage of Roswell's," she added, aloud; for
she was perfectly certain that there was something to be told that, as
yet, the deacon had concealed from her. "It might relieve your mind, and
lighten your spirits of a burthen, to make me a confidant."

The deacon mused in silence for more than five minutes. Seldom had his
thoughts gone over so wide a reach of interests and events in so short a
space of time; but the conclusion was clear and decided.

"You ought to know all, Mary, and you shall know all," he answered, in the
manner of a man who had made up his mind beyond appeal. "Gar'ner has gone
a'ter seal to some islands that the Daggett who died here, about a year
and a half ago, told me of; islands of which nobody know'd anything,
according to his account, but himself. His shipmates, that saw the place
when he saw it, were all dead, afore he let me into the secret."

"I have long suspected something of the sort, sir, and have also supposed
that the people on Martha's Vineyard had got some news of this place, by
the manner in which Captain Daggett has acted."

"Isn't it wonderful, gal? Islands, they tell me, where a schooner can
fill up with ile and skins, in the shortest season in which the sun ever
shone upon an antarctic summer! Wonderful! wonderful!"

"Very extraordinary, perhaps; but we should remember, uncle, at how much
risk the young men of the country go on these distant voyages, and how
dearly their profits are sometimes bought."

"Bought! If the schooner would only come back, I should think nothing of
all that. It's the cost of the vessel and outfit, Mary, that weighs so
much on _my_ spirits. Well, Gar'ner's first business is with them islands,
which are at an awful distance for one to trust his property; but,
'nothing ventured, nothing got,' they say. By my calculations, the
schooner has had to go a good five hundred miles among the ice, to get to
the spot; not such ice as a body falls in with, in going and coming
between England and Ameriky, as we read of in the papers, but ice that
covers the sea as we sometimes see it piled up in Gar'ner's Bay, only a
hundred times higher, and deeper, and broader, and colder! It's desperate
_cold_ ice, the sealers all tell me, that of the antarctic seas. Some on
'em think it's colder down south than it is the other way, up towards
Greenland and Iceland itself. It's extr'or'nary, Mary, that the weather
should grow cold as a body journeys south; but so it is, by all accounts.
I never could understand it, and it isn't so in Ameriky, I'm sartain. I
suppose it must come of their turning the months round, and having their
winter in the midst of the dog-days. I never could understand it, though
Gar'ner has tried, more than once, to reason me into it. I believe, but I
don't understand."

"It is all told in my geography here," answered Mary, mechanically taking
down the book, for her thoughts were far away in those icy seas that her
uncle had been so graphically describing. "I dare say we can find it all
explained in the elementary parts of this book."

"They _do_ make their geographies useful, now-a-days," said the deacon,
with rather more animation than he had shown before, that morning.
"They've got 'em to be, now, almost as useful as almanacs. Read what it
says about the seasons, child."

"It says, sir, that the changes in the seasons are owing to 'the
inclination of the earth's axis to the plane of its orbit,' I do not
exactly understand what that means, uncle.'

"No, - it's not as clear as it might be. - The declination - "

"Inclination, sir, is what is printed here."

"Ay, inclination. I do not see why any one should have much inclination
for winter, but so it must be, I suppose. The Earth's orbit has an
inclination towards changes,' you say."

"The changes in the seasons, sir, are owing to 'the inclination of the
earth's axis to the plane of its orbit.' It does not say that the orbit
has an inclination in any particular way."

Thus was it with Mary Pratt, and thus was it with her uncle, the deacon.
One of the plainest problems in natural philosophy was Hebrew to both,
simply because the capacity that Providence had so freely bestowed on each
had never been turned to the consideration of such useful studies. But,
while the mind of Mary Pratt was thus obscured on this simple, and, to
such as choose to give it an hour of reflection, perfectly intelligible
proposition, it was radiant as the day on another mystery, and one that
has confounded thousands of the learned, as well as of the unlearned. To
her intellect, nothing was clearer, no moral truth more vivid, no physical
fact more certain, than the incarnation of the Son of God. She had the
"evidence of things not seen," in the fulness of Divine grace; and was
profound on this, the greatest concern of human life, while unable even to
comprehend how the "inclination of the earth's axis to the plane of its
orbit" could be the cause of the change of the seasons. And was it thus
with her uncle? - he who was a pillar of the "meeting," whose name was
often in men's mouths as a "shining light," and who had got to be
identified with religion in his own neighbourhood, to a degree that caused
most persons to think of Deacon Pratt, when they should be thinking of the
Saviour? We are afraid he knew as little of one of these propositions as
of the other.

"It's very extr'or'nary," resumed the deacon, after ruminating on the
matter for a few moments, "but I suppose it _is_ so. Wasn't it for this
'inclination' to cold weather our vessels might go and seal under as
pleasant skies as we have here in June. But, Mary, I suppose that wasn't
to be, or it would be."

"There would have been no seals, most likely, uncle, if there was no ice.
They tell me that such creatures love the cold and the ice, and the frozen
oceans. Too much warm weather would not suit them."

"But, Mary, it might suit other folks! Gar'ner's whole ar'nd isn't among
the ice, or a'ter them seals."

"I do not know that I understand you, sir. Surely Roswell has gone on a
sealing voyage."

"Sartain; there's no mistake about _that_. But there may be many
stopping-places in so long a road."

"Do you mean, sir, that he is to use any of these stopping-places, as you
call them?" asked Mary, eagerly, half-breathless with her anxiety to hear
all. "You said something about the West Indies once."

"Harkee, Mary - just look out into the entry and see if the kitchen door is
shut. And now come nearer to me, child, so that there may be no need of
bawling what I've got to say all over Oyster Pond. There, sit down, my
dear, and don't look so eager, as if you wanted to eat me, or my mind may
misgive me, and then I couldn't tell you, a'ter all. Perhaps it would be
best, if I was to keep my own secret."

"Not if it has anything to do with Roswell, dear uncle; not if it has
anything to do with him! You have often advised me to marry him, and I
ought to know all about the man you wish me to marry."

"Yes, Gar'ner will make a right good husband for any young woman, and I
_do_ advise you to have him. You are my brother's da'ghter, Mary, and I
give you this advice, which I should give you all the same, had you been
my own child, instead of his'n."

"Yes, sir, I know that. - But what about Roswell, and his having to stop,
on his way home?"

"Why, you must know, Mary, that this v'y'ge came altogether out of that
seaman who died among us, last year. I was kind to him, as you may
remember, and helped him to many little odd comforts," - odd enough were
they, of a verity, - "and he was grateful. Of all virtues, give me
gratitude, say I! It is the noblest, as it is the most oncommon of all
our good qualities. How little have I met with, in my day! Of all the
presents I have made, and gifts bestowed, and good acts done, not one in
ten has ever met with any gratitude."

Mary sighed; for well did she know how little he had given, of his
abundance, to relieve the wants of his fellow-creatures. She sighed, too,
with a sort of mild impatience that the information she sought with so
much eagerness, was so long and needlessly delayed. But the deacon had
made up his mind to tell her all.

"Yes, Gar'ner has got something to do, beside sealing," he resumed of
himself, when his regret at the prevalence of ingratitude among men had
exhausted itself. "Suthin'" - for this was the way he pronounced that
word - "that is of more importance than the schooner's hold full of ile.
Ile is ile, I know, child; but gold is gold. What do you think of _that_?"

"Is Roswell, then, to stop at Rio again, in order to sell his oil, and
send the receipts home in gold?"

"Better than that - much better than that, if he gets back at all." Mary
felt a chill at her heart. "Yes, that is the p'int - if he gets back at
all. If Gar'ner ever does come home, child, I shall expect to see him
return with a considerable sized keg - almost a barrel, by all
accounts - filled with gold!"

The deacon stared about him as he made this announcement, like a man who
was afraid that he was telling too much. Nevertheless, it was to his own
niece, his brother's daughter, that he had confided thus much of his great
secret - and reflection re-assured him.

"How is Roswell to get all this gold, uncle, unless he sells his cargo?"
Mary asked, with obvious solicitude.

"That's another p'int. I'll tell you all about it, gal, and you'll see the
importance of keeping the secret. This Daggett - not the one who is out in
another schooner, another Sea Lion, as it might be, but his uncle, who
died down here at the Widow White's - well, _that_ Daggett told more than
the latitude and longitude of the sealing islands - he told me of a buried
treasure!"

"Buried treasure! - Buried by whom, and consisting of what, uncle?"

"Buried by seamen who make free with the goods of others on the high seas,
ag'in the time when they might come back and dig it up, and carry it away
to be used. Consisting of what, indeed! Consisting principally, accordin'
to Daggett's account, of heavy doubloons; though there was a lot of old
English guineas among 'em. Yes, I remember that he spoke of them
guineas - three thousand and odd, and nearly as many doubloons!"

"Was Daggett, then, a pirate, sir? - for they who make free with the goods
of others on the high seas are neither more nor less than pirates."

"No; not he, himself. He got this secret from one who _was_ a pirate,
however, and who was a prisoner in a gaol where he was himself confined
for smuggling. Yes; that man told him all about the buried treasure, in
return for some acts of kindness shown him by Daggett. It's well to be
kind sometimes, Mary"

"It is well to be kind always, sir; even when it is misunderstood, and the
kindness is abused. What was the redemption but kindness and love, and
god-like compassion on those who neither understood it nor felt it? But
money collected and buried by pirates can never become _yours_, uncle; nor
can it ever become the property of Roswell Gardiner."

"Whose is it, then, gal?" demanded the deacon, sharply. "Gar'ner had some
such silly notion in his head when I first told him of this treasure; but
I soon brought _him_ to hear reason."

"I think Roswell must always have seen that a treasure obtained by robbery
can never justly belong to any but its rightful owner."

"And who is this rightful owner, pray? or _owners_, I might say; for the
gold was picked up, here and there, out of all question, from many hands.
Now, supposing Gar'ner gets this treasure, as I still hope he may, though
he is an awful time about it - but suppose he gets it, how is he to find
the rightful owners? There it is, a bag of doubloons, say - all looking
just alike, with the head of a king, a Don Somebody, and the date, and the
Latin and Greek - now who can say that 'this is my doubloon; I lost it at
such a time - it was taken from me by such a pirate, in such sea; and I was
whipped till I told the thieves where I had hid the gold?' No, no, Mary;
depend on 't, no action of 'plevy would lie ag'in a single one of all them
pieces. They are lost, one and all, to their former owners, and will
belong to the man that succeeds in getting hold on 'em ag'in; who will
become a rightful owner in his turn. All property comes from law; and if
the law won't 'plevy money got in this way, nobody can maintain a claim to
it."

"I should be very, very sorry, my dear uncle, to have Roswell enrich
himself in this way."

"You talk like a silly young woman, and one that doesn't know her own
rights. We had no hand in robbing the folks of their gold. They lost it
years ago, and may be dead - probably are, or they would make some stir
about it - or have forgotten it, and couldn't for their lives tell a single
one of the coins they once had in their possession; and don't know whether
what they lost was thrown into the sea, or buried in the sand on a
key - Mary, child; you must never mention anything I tell you on this
subject!"

"You need fear nothing, sir, from me. But I do most earnestly hope Roswell
will have nothing to do with any such ill-gotten wealth. He is too
noble-hearted and generous to get rich in this way."

"Well, well, say no more about it, child; you're romantic and notional.
Just pour out my drops; for all this talking makes me breathe thick. I'm
not what I was, Mary, and cannot last long; but was it the last breath I
drew, I would stand to it, that treasure desarted and found in this way



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Sea Lions The Lost Sealers → online text (page 25 of 39)