James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 29) online

. (page 37 of 42)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 29) → online text (page 37 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


had been sent to all the different settlements, and that the
Anne had sailed to windward, to call in all the fishermen,
and to go off to the nearest whaling-ground, in order to
communicate the state of things in the colony to Captain
Betts and his companions, who were out. The Dragon
and the Jonas, when last heard from, were cruising only
about a hundred miles to windward of the group, and it
was thought important, on various accounts, that they
should be at once apprised of the arrival of the strangers.

The governor was perfectly satisfied with the report of

what had been done, and this so much the more because

it superseded the necessity of his quitting the Peak, just at

the moment. The elevation of the mountain was of BO

34



393 THE CRATER;

much use as a look-out, that it was every way desirable to
profit by it, until the time for observing was passed, and
that for action had succeeded, in its stead. Of course,
some trusty person was kept constantly on the Peak, look
ing out for the strangers, though the day passed without
one of them being seen. Early next morning, however, a
whale-boat arrived from Rancocus, with four stout oarsmen
in it. They had left the station, after dark, and had been
pulling up against the trades most of the intervening time.
The news they brought was not only alarming, but it occa
sioned a great deal of surprise.

It seemed that the three strange vessels appeared off the
point, at Rancocus Island, early on the morning of the
preceding day. It was supposed that they had run across
from the volcano in the darkness, after having been lost
sight of from the Peak. Much prudence was observed by
the colonists, as soon as light let them into the secret of
their having such unknown neighbours. Bigelow happen
ing to be there, and being now a man of a good deal of
consideration with his fellow-citizens, he assumed the di
rection of matters. All the women and children ascended
into the mountains, where secret places had long been pro
vided for such an emergency, by clearing out and render
ing two or three caves habitable, and where food and water
were at hand. Thither most of the light articles of value
were also transported. Luckily, Bigelow had caused all
the saws at the mill, to be taken down and secreted. A
saw was an article not to be replaced, short of a voyage to
Europe, even ; for in that day saws were not manufactured
in America ; nor, indeed, was scarcely anything else.

When he had given his directions, Bigelow went alone
to the point, to meet the strangers, who had anchored their
vessels, and had landed in considerable force. On approach
ing the place, he found about a hundred men ashore, all
well armed, and seemingly governed by a sort of military
authority. On presenting himself before this party, Bige
low was seized, and taken to its leader, who was a sea-far
ing man, by his appearance, of a fierce aspect and most
severe disposition. This man could speak no English.
Bigelow tried him in Spanish, but could get no answer out
of him in that tongue either ; though he suspected that



on, VULCAN'S PEAK. 399

what he said was understood. At length, one was brought
forward who could speak English, and that so well as to
leave little doubt in Bigelow's mind about the stranger's
being either an Englishman or an American. Communi
cations between the parties were commenced through this
interpreter.

Bigelow was closely questioned touching the number of
people in the different islands, the number of vessels they
possessed, the present situation and employments of those
vessels, the nature of their cargoes, the places where the
property transported in the vessels was kept, and, in short,
everything that bore directly on the wealth and movable
possessions of the people. From the nature of these ques
tions as well as from the appearance of the strangers, Bige
low had, at once, taken up the notion that they were
pirates. In the eastern seas, piracies were often commit
ted on a large scale, and there was nothing violent in this
supposition. The agitated state of the world, moreover,
rendered piracies much more likely to go unpunished then
than would be the case to-day, and it was well known that
several vessels often cruised together, when engaged in
these lawless pursuits, in those distant quarters of the
world. Then the men were evidently of different races,
though Bigelow was of opinion that most of them came
from the East Indies, the coasts, or the islands. The offi
cers were mostly Europeans by birth, or the descendants
of Europeans ; but two-thirds of the people whom he saw
were persons of eastern extraction ; some appeared to be
Lascars, and others what sailors call Chinamen.

Bigelow was very guarded in his answers ; so much so,
indeed, as to give great dissatisfaction to his interrogators.
About the Peak he assumed an air of great mystery, and
said none but birds could get on it; thunder was some
times heard coming out of its cliffs, but man could not get
up to see what the place contained. This account was
received with marked interest, and to Bigelow's surprise,
it did not appear to awaken the distrust he had secretly
apprehended it might. On the contrary, he was asked to
repeat his account, and all who heard it, though a good
deal embellished this time, appeared disposed to believe
what he said. Encouraged by this success, the poor fel-



400 THE GRATER;

low undertook to mystify a little concerning the Reef; but
here he soon found himself met with plump denials. In
order to convince him that deception would be of no use,
he was now taken a short distance and confronted with
Waally !

Bigelow no sooner saw the dark countenance of the
chief than he knew he was in bad hands. From that mo
ment, he abandoned all attempts at concealment, the con
dition of the Peak excepted, and had recourse to an oppo
site policy. He now exaggerated everything ; the number
and force of the vessels, giving a long list of names that
were accurate enough, though the fact was concealed that
they mostly belonged to boats ; and swelling the force of
the colony to something more than two thousand fighting
men. The piratical commander, who went by the name
of ' the admiral' among his followers, was a good deal startled
by this information, appealing to Waally to know whether
it might be relied on for truth. Waally could not say
yes or no to this question. He had heard that the colo
nists were much more numerous than they were formerly ;
but how many fighting men they could now muster was
more than he could say. He knew that they were enor
mously rich, and among other articles of value, possessed
materials sufficient for fitting out as many ships as they
pleased. It was this last information that had brought the
strangers to the group ; for they were greatly in want of
naval stores of almost all sorts.

The admiral did not deem it necessary to push his in
quiries any further at that moment ; apparently, he did not
expect to find much at Rancocus Island, Waally having,
most probably, let him into the secret of its uses. The
houses and mills were visited and plundered ; a few hogs
and one steer were shot ; but luckily, most of the animals
had been driven into a retired valley. The saw-mill was
set on fire in pure wantonness, and it was burned to the
ground. A new grist-mill escaped, merely because its
position was not known. A great deal of injury was in
flicted on the settlement merely for the love of mischief,
and a brick-kiln was actually blown up in order to enjoy
the fun of seeing the bricks scattered in the air. In short,
the place was almost destroyed in one sense, though no



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 401

attempt was made to injure Bigelow. On the contrary, he
was scarcely watched, and it was no sooner dark than he
collected a crew, got into his own whale-boat, and came to
windward to report what was going on to the governor.



CHAPTER XXVII.

Ail gone ! 'tis ours the goodly land
Look round the heritage behold;
Go forth upon the mountains stand ;
Then, if ye can, be cold."

SPHAGTTE.

LITTLE doubt remained in the mind of the governor,
after he had heard and weighed the whole of Bigelow's
story, that he had to deal with one of those piratical squad
rons that formerly infested the eastern seas, a sort of suc
cessor of the old buccaneers. The men engaged in such
pursuits, were usually of different nations, and they were
always of the most desperate and ruthless characters. The
fact that Waally was with this party, indicated pretty plainly
the manner in which they had heard of the colony, and, out
of all question, that truculent chief had made his own bar
gain to come in for a share of the profits.

It was highly probable that the original object of these
freebooters had been to plunder the pearl-fishing vessels,
and, hearing at their haunts, of Betto's group, they had
found their way across to it, where, meeting with Waally,
they had been incited to their present enterprise.

Little apprehension was felt for the Peak. A vessel
might hover about it a month, and never find the cove;
and should the pirates even make the discovery, such were
the natural advantages of the islanders, that the chances
were as twenty to one, they would drive off their assailants.
Under all the circumstances, therefore, and on the most
mature reflection, the governor determined to cross over to
the Reef, and assume the charge of the defence of that
most important position. Should the Reef fail into the
34*



402 THE CRATER;

hands of the enemy, it might require years to repair the
loss ; or, what would be still more afflicting, the freebooters
might hold the place, and use it as a general rendezvous,
in their nefarious pursuits. Accordingly, after taking a
most tender leave of his wife and children, Governor Wool-
ston left the cove, in the course of the forenoon, crossing
in a whale-boat rigged with a sail. Bridget wished greatly
to accompany her husband, but to this the latter would, on
no account, consent ; for he expected serious service, and
thought it highly probable that most of the females would
have to be sent over to the Peak, for eecurky. Finding
that her request could not be granted, and feeling fully the
propriety of her husband's decision, Mrs. Woolston so far
commanded her feelings as to set a good example to other
wives, as became her station.

When about mid-channel, the whale-boat made a sail
coming down before the wind, and apparently steering for
South Cape, as well as herself. This turned out to be the
Anne, which had gone to windward to give the alarm to
the fishermen, and was now on her return. She had
warned so many boats as to be certain they would spread
the notice, and she had spoken the Dragon, which had gone
in quest of the Jonas and the Abraham, both of which
were a few leagues to windward. Capt. Betts, however,
had come on board the Anne, and now joined his old
friend, the governor, when about four leagues from the
cape. Glad enough was Mark Woolston to meet with the
Anne, and to find so good an assistant on board her. That
schooner, which was regularly pilot-boat built, was the
fastest craft about the islands, and it was a great matter to
put head-quarters on board her. The Martha came next,
and the whale-boat was sent in to find that sloop, which
was up at the Reef, and to order her out immediately to
join the governor. Pennock was the highest in authority,
in the group, after the governor, and a letter was sent to
him, apprising him of all that was known, and exhorting
him to vigilance and activity ; pointing out, somewhat in
detail, the different steps he was to take, in order that no
time might be lost. This done, the governor stood in to
wards Whaling Bight, in order to ascertain the state of
things at that point.



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 403

The alarm had been given all over the group, and when
the Anne reached her place of destination, it was ascer
tained that the men had been assembled under arms, and
every precaution taken. But Whaling Bight was the great
place of resort of the Kannakas, and there were no less
than forty of those men there at that moment, engaged in
trying out oil, or in fitting craft for the fisheries. No one
could say which side these fellows would take, should it
appear that their proper chiefs were engaged with the
strangers; though, otherwise, the colonists counted on
their assistance with a good deal of confidence. On all
ordinary occasions, a reasonably fair understanding existed
between the colonists and the Kannakas. It is true, that
the former were a little too fond of getting as much work
as possible, for rather small compensations, out of these
semi-savages ; but, as articles of small intrinsic value still
went a great way in these bargains, no serious difficulty
had yet arisen out of the different transactions. Some
persons thought that the Kannakas had risen in their de
mands, and put less value on a scrap of old iron, than had
been their original way of thinking, now that so many of
their countrymen had been back and forth a few times,
between the group and other parts of the world; a cir
cumstance that was very naturally to be expected. But
the governor knew mankind too well not to understand
that all unequal associations lead to discontent. Men may
get to be so far accustomed to inferior stations, and to
their duties and feelings, as to consider their condition the
result of natural laws ; but the least taste of liberty begets
a jealousy and distrust that commonly raises a barrier be
tween the master and servant, that has a never-dying ten
dency to keep them more or less alienated in feeling.
When the colonists began to cast about them, and to reflect
on the chances of their being sustained by these hirelings
in the coming strife, very few of them could be sufficiently
assured that the very men who had now eaten of their
bread and salt, in some instances, for years, were to be
relied on in a crisis. Indeed, the number of these Kanna
kas was a cause of serious embarrassment with the gover
nor, when he came to reflect on his strength, and on the
means of employing it.



404 THE CRATER;

Fully two hundred of the savages, or semi-savages, were
at that moment either scattered about among the farm
houses, or working at the different places where shipping
lay, or were out whaling to windward. Now, the whole
force of the colony, confining it to fighting-men, and in
cluding those who were absent, was just three hundred
and sixty-three. Of these, three hundred might, possibly,
on an emergency, be brought to act on any given point,
leaving the remainder in garrisons. But a straggling body
of a hundred and fifty of these Kannakas, left in the set
tlements, or on the Reef, or about the crater, while the
troops were gone to meet the enemy, presented no very
pleasing picture to the mind of the governor. He saw the
necessity of collecting these men together, and of employ
ing them actively in the service of the colony, as the most
effectual mode of preventing their getting within the con
trol of Waally. This duty was confided to Bigelow, who
was sent to the Reef without delay, taking with him all
the Kannakas at Whaling Bight, with orders to put them
on board the shipping at the Reef schooners, sloops,
lighters, &c., of which there were now, ordinarily, some
eight or ten to be found there and to carry them all to
windward ; using the inner channels of the group. Here
was a twenty-four hours' job, and one that would not only
keep everybody quite busy, but which might have the effect
to save all the property in the event of a visit to the Reef
by the pirates. Bigelow was to call every Kannaka he
saw to his assistance, in the hope of thus getting most of
them out of harm's way.

Notwithstanding this procedure, which denoted a wise
distrust of these Indian allies, the governor manifested a
certain degree of confidence towards a portion of them,
that was probably just as discreet in another way. A part
of the crew of every vessel, with the exception of those that
went to the Peak, was composed of Kannakas ; and no less
than ten of them were habitually employed in the Anne,
which carried two whale-boats for emergencies. None of
these men were sent away, or were in any manner taken
from their customary employments. So much confidence
had the governor in his own authority, and in his power to
influence these particular individuals, that he did not hesi-



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 405

tate about keeping them near himself, and, in a measure, of
entrusting the safety of his person to their care. It is true,
that the Kannakas of both the Anne and the Martha were
a sort of confidential seamen, having now been employed
in the colony several years, and got a taste for the habits
of the settlers.

When all his arrangements were made, the governor
came out of Whaling Bight in the Anne, meeting Betts in
the Martha off South Cape. Both vessels then stood down
along the shores of the group, keeping a bright look-out in
the direction of Rancocus Island, or towards the southward
and westward. Two or three smaller crafts were in com
pany, each under the direction of some one on whom reli
ance could be placed. The old Neshamony had the honour
of being thus employed, among others. The south-western
angle of the group formed a long, low point, or cape of
rock, making a very tolerable roadstead on its north-west
ern side, or to leeward. This cape was known among the
colonists by the name of Rancocus Needle, from the cir
cumstance that it pointed with mathematical precision to
the island in question. Thus, it was a practice with the
coasters to run for the extremity of this cape, and then to
stand away on a due south-west course, certain of seeing
the mountains for which they were steering in the next few
hours. Among those who plied to and fro in this manner,
were many who had no very accurate notions of navigation ;
and, to them, this simple process was found to be quite
nseful.

Off Rancocus Needle, the governor had appointed a
rendezvous for the whole of his little fleet. In collecting
Jhese vessels, six in all, including four boats, his object had
not been resistance for the armaments of the whole
amounted to but six swivels, together with a few muskets
but vigilance. He was confident that Waally would lead
his new friends up towards the Western Roads, the point
where he had made all his own attacks, and where he was
most acquainted ; and the position under the Needle was
the best station for observing the approach of the strangers,
coming as they must, if they came at all, from the south
west.

The Anne was the first craft to arrive off the point of



406 THE CRATER;

the Needle, and she found the coast clear. As yet, n
signs of invaders were to be seen ; and the Martha being
within a very convenient distance to the eastward, a sig
nal was made to Captain Betts to stand over towards the
Peak, and have a search in that quarter. Should the stran
gers take it into their heads to beat up under the cliffs
again, and thence stretch across to the group, it would
bring them in with the land to windward of the observing
squadron, and give them an advantage the governor was
very far from wishing them to obtain. The rest of the
craft came down to the place of rendezvous, and kept
standing off and on, under short sail, close in with the
rocks, so as to keep in the smoothest of the water. Such
was the state of things when the sun went down in the
ocean.

All night the little fleet of the colonists remained in the
same uncertainty as to the movements of their suspicious
visitors. About twelve the Martha came round the Needle,
and reported the coast clear to the southward. She had
been quite to the cove, and had communicated with the
shore. Nothing had been seen of the ship and her con
sorts since the governor left, nor had any further tidings
been brought up from to leeward, since the arrival of Bige-
low. On receiving this information, the governor ordered
his command to run off, in diverging lines, for seven
leagues each, and then to wait for day. This was accord
ingly done; the Anne and Martha, as a matter of course,
outstripping the others. At the usual hour day re-appeared,
when the look-out aloft, on board the Anne, reported the
Martha about two leagues to the northward, the Nesha-
mony about as far to the southward, though a league far
ther to windward. The other craft were known to be to
the northward of the Martha, but could not be seen. As
for the Neshamony, she was coming down with a flowing
sheet, to speak the governor.

The sun had fairly risen, when the Neshamony came down
on the Anne's weather-quarter, both craft then standing to
the northward. The Neshamony had seen nothing. The
governor now directed her commander to stand directly
down towards Rancocus Island. If she saw nothing, she
was to go in and land, in order to get the news from the



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 407

people ashore. Unless the information obtained in this
way was of a nature that demanded a different course, she
was to beat up to the volcano, reconnoitre there, then
stand across to the cove, and go in ; whence she was to
sail for the Reef, unless she could hear of the governor at
some other point, when she was to make the best of her
way to him.

The Anne now made sail towards the Martha, which
sloop was standing to the northward, rather edging from
the group, under short canvass. No land was in sight,
though its haze could be discovered all along the eastern
board, where the group was known to lie ; but neither the
Peak, nor the Volcano, nor Rancocus heights could now
be seen from the vessels. About ten the governor spoke
Captain Betts, to ask the news. The Martha had seen
nothing ; and, shortly after, the three boats to the north
ward joined, and made the same report. Nothing had been
seen of the strangers, who seemed, most unaccountably, to
be suddenly lost !

This uncertainty rendered all the more reflecting por
tion of the colonists exceedingly uneasy. Should the
pirates get into the group by either of its weather channels,
they would not only find all the property and vessels that
had been taken in that direction, at their mercy, but they
would assail the settlements in their weakest parts, render
succour more difficult, and put themselves in a position
whence it would be easiest to approach or to avoid their
foes. Any one understanding the place, its facilities for
attacking, or its defences, would naturally endeavour to
enter the group as well to windward as possible; but
Waally had never attempted anything of the sort ; and, as
he knew little of the inner passages, it was not probable"
he had thought of suggesting a course different from his
own to his new friends. The very circumstance that he
had always approached by the same route, was against it;
for, if his sagacity had not pointed out a preferable course
for himself, it was not to be expected it would do it for
others. Still, it was not unreasonable to suppose that prac
tised seamen might see the advantages which the savage
had overlooked, and a very serious apprehension arose in
the minds of the governor and Betts, in particular, touching



408 THE CRATER;

this point. All that could be done, however, was to des
patch two of the boats, with orders to enter the group by
the northern road, and proceed as far as the Reef. The
third boat was left to cruise off the Needle, in order to
communicate with anything that should go to that place of
rendezvous with a report, and, at the same time, to keep a
look-out for the pirates. With the person in charge of this
boat, was left the course to be steered by those who were
to search for the governor, as they arrived off the Needle,
from time to time.

The Anne and Martha bore up, in company, as soon as
these arrangements were completed, it being the plan now
to go and look for the strangers. Once in view, the go
vernor determined not to lose sight of the pirates, again,
but to remain so near them, as to make sure of knowing
what they were about. In such cases, a close look-out
should always be kept on the enemy, since an advantage
in time is gained by so doing, as well as a great deal of
uncertainty and indecision avoided.

For seven hours the Anne and Martha stood towards
Rancocus Island, running off about two leagues from each
other, thereby ' spreading a clew,' as sailors call it, that
would command the view of a good bit of water. The
tops of the mountains were soon seen, and by the end of
the time mentioned, most of the lower land became visible.
Nevertheless, the strangers did not come in sight. Greatly



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 29) → online text (page 37 of 42)