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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 11
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 11 Post by :earnforever Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :793

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 11

Chapter XI

I, that shower dewy light
Through slumbering leaves, bring storms!--the tempest birth
Of memory, thought, remorse.--Be holy, Earth!
I am the solemn Night!

MRS. HEMANS.


In this instance, it is not our task to record any of the phenomena of the ocean, but a regular, though fierce gale of wind. One of the first signs of its severity was the disappearance of the passengers from the deck, one shutting himself in his room after another, until none remained visible but John Effingham and Paul Blunt. Both these gentlemen, as it appeared, had made so many passages, and had got to be so familiar with ships, that sea-sickness and alarms were equally impotent as respects their constitutions and temperaments.

The poor steerage-passengers were no exception, but they stole for refuge into their dens, heartily repentant, for the time being, at having braved the dangers and discomforts of the sea. The gentle wife of Davis would now willingly have returned to meet the resentment of her uncle; and as for the bridegroom himself, as Mr. Leach, who passed through this scene of abominations to see that all was right, described him,--"Mr. Grab would not wring him for a dish-cloth, if he could see him in his present pickle."

Captain Truck chuckled a good deal at this account, for he had much the same sympathy for ordinary cases of sea-sickness, as a kitten feels in the agony of the first mouse it has caught, and which it is its sovereign pleasure to play with, instead of eating.

"It serves him right, Mr. Leach, for getting married; and mind you don't fall into the same abuse of your opportunities," he said, with an air of self-satisfaction, while comparing three or four cigars in the palm of his hand doubtful which of the fragrant plump rolls to put into his mouth. "Getting married, Mr. Blunt, commonly makes a man a fit subject for nausea, and nothing is easier than to set the stomach-pump in motion in one of your bridegrooms; is not this true as the gospel, Mr. John Effingham?"

Mr. John Effingham made no reply,--but the young man who at the moment was admiring his fine form, and the noble outline of his features, was singularly struck with the bitterness, not to say anguish, of the smile with which he bowed a cold assent. All this was lost on Captain Truck who proceeded _con amore.

"One of the first things that I ask concerning my passengers is, is he married? when the answer is 'no,' I set him down as a good companion in a gale like this, or as one who can smoke, or crack a joke when a topsail is flying out of a bolt-rope,--a companion for a category. Now, if either of you gentlemen had a wife, she would have you under hatches to-day, lest you should slip through a scupperhole,--or be washed overboard with the spray,--or have your eye-brows blown away in such a gale, and then I should lose the honour of your company. Comfort is too precious to be thrown away in matrimony. A man may gain foreknowledge by a wife, but he loses free agency. As for you, Mr. John Effingham, you must have coiled away about half a century of life, and there is not much to fear on your account; but Mr. Blunt is still young enough to be in danger of a mishap. I wish Neptune would come aboard of us, hereaway, and swear you to be true and constant to yourself, young gentleman."

Paul laughed, coloured slightly, and then rallying, he replied in the same voice,

"At the risk of losing your good opinion, captain, and even in the face of this gale, I shall avow myself an advocate of matrimony,"

"If you will answer me one question, my dear sir, I will tell you whether the case is or is not hopeless."

"In order to assent to this, you will of course see the necessity of letting me know what the question is."

"Have you made up your mind who the young woman shall be? If that point is settled, I can only recommend to you some of Joe Bunk's souchong, and advise you to submit, for there is no resisting one's fate. The reason your Turks yield so easily to predestination and fate, is the number of their wives. Many a book is written to show the cause of their submitting their necks so easily to the sword and the bow-string. I've been in Turkey, gentlemen, and know something of their ways. The reason of their submitting so quietly to be beheaded is, that they are always ready to hang themselves. How is the fact, sir? Have you settled upon the young lady in your own mind or not?"

Although there was nothing in all this but the permitted trifling of boon companions on ship-board, Paul Blunt received it with an awkwardness one would hardly have expected in a young man of his knowledge of the world. He reddened, laughed, made an effort to throw the captain to a greater distance by reserve, and in the end fairly gave up the matter by walking to another part of the deck. Luckily, the attention of the honest master was drawn to the ship, at that instant, and Paul flattered himself he was unperceived; but the shadow of a figure at his elbow startled him, and turning quickly, he found Mr. John Effingham at his side.

"Her mother was an angel," said the latter huskily. "I too love her; but it is as a father."

"Sir!--Mr. Effingham!--These are sudden and unexpected remarks, and such as I am not prepared for."

"Do you think one as jealous of that fair creature as I, could have overlooked your passion?--She is loved by _both of you, and she merits the warmest affection of a thousand. Persevere, for while I have no voice, and, I fear, little influence on her decision, some strange sympathy causes me to wish you success. My own man told me that you have met before, and with her father's knowledge, and this is all I ask, for my kinsman is discreet. He probably knows you, though I do not."

The face of Paul glowed like fire, and he almost gasped for breath. Pitying his distress, Effingham smiled kindly, and was about to quit him, when he felt his hand convulsively grasped by those of the young man.

"Do not quit me, Mr. Effingham, I entreat you," he said rapidly; "it is so unusual for me to hear words of confidence, or even of kindness, that they are most precious to me! I have permitted myself to be disturbed by the random remarks of that well-meaning, but unreflecting man; but in a moment I shall be more composed--more manly--less unworthy of your attention and pity."

"Pity is a word I should never have thought of applying to the person, character, attainments, or, as I hoped, fortunes of Mr. Blunt; and I sincerely trust that you will acquit me of impertinence. I have felt an interest in you, young man, that I have long ceased to feel in most of my species, and I trust this will be some apology for the liberty I have taken. Perhaps the suspicion that you were anxious to stand well in the good opinion of my little cousin was at the bottom of it all."

"Indeed you have not misconceived my anxiety, sir; for who is there that could be indifferent to the good opinion of one so simple and yet so cultivated; with a mind in which nature and knowledge seem to struggle for the possession. One, Mr. Effingham, so little like the cold sophistication and heartlessness of Europe on the one hand, and the unformed girlishness of America, on the other; one, in short, so every way what the fondest father or the most sensitive brother could wish."

John Effingham smiled, for to smile at any weakness was with him a habit; but his eye glistened. After a moment of doubt, he turned to his young companion, and with a delicacy of expression and a dignity of manner that none could excel him in, when he chose, he put a question that for several days had been uppermost in his thoughts, though no fitting occasion had ever before offered, on which he thought he might venture.

"This frank confidence emboldens me--one who ought to be ashamed to boast of his greater experience, when every day shows him to how little profit it has been turned, to presume to render our acquaintance less formal by alluding to interests more personal than strangers have a right to touch on. You speak of the two parts of the world just mentioned, in a way to show me you are equally acquainted with both."

"I have often crossed the ocean, and, for so young a man, have seen a full share of their societies. Perhaps it increases my interest in your lovely kinswoman, that, like myself, she properly belongs to neither."

"Be cautious how you whisper that in her ear, my youthful friend; for Eve Effingham fancies herself as much American in character as in birth. Single-minded and totally without management,--devoted to her duties,--- religious without cant,--a warm friend of liberal institutions, without the slightest approach to the impracticable, in heart and soul a woman, you will find it hard to persuade her, that with all her practice in the world, and all her extensive attainments, she is more than a humble copy of heir own great _beau ideal_."

Paul smiled, and his eyes met those of John Effingham--the expression of both satisfied the parties that they thought alike in more things than in their common admiration of the subject of their discourse.

"I feel I have not been as explicit as I ought to be with you, Mr. Effingham," the young, man resumed, after a pause; "but on a more fitting occasion, I shall presume on your kindness to be less reserved. My lot has thrown me on the world, almost without friends, quite without relatives, so far as intercourse with them is concerned; and I have known little of the language or the acts of the affections."

John Effingham pressed his hand, and from that time he cautiously abstained from any allusion to his personal concerns; for a suspicion crossed his mind that the subject was painful to the young man. He knew that thousands of well-educated and frequently of affluent people, of both sexes, were to be found in Europe, to whom, from the circumstance of having been born out of wedlock, through divorces, or other family misfortunes, their private histories were painful, and he at once inferred that some such event, quite probably the first, lay at the bottom of Paul Blunt's peculiar situation. Notwithstanding his warm attachment to Eve, he had too much confidence in her own as well as in her father's judgment, to suppose an acquaintance of any intimacy would be lightly permitted; and as to the mere prejudices connected with such subjects, he was quite free from them. Perhaps his masculine independence of character caused him, on all such points, to lean to the side of the _ultra in liberality.

In this short dialogue, with the exception of the slight though unequivocal allusion of John Effingham, both bad avoided any farther allusions to Mr. Sharp, or to his supposed attachment to Eve. Both were confident of its existence, and this perhaps was one reason why neither felt any necessity to advert to it: for it was a delicate subject, and one, under the circumstances, that they would mutually wish to forget in their cooler moments. The conversation then took a more general character, and for several hours that day, while the rest of the passengers were kept below by the state of the weather, these two were together, laying, what perhaps it was now too late to term, the foundation of a generous and sincere friendship. Hitherto Paul had regarded John Effingham with distrust and awe, but he found him a man so different from what report and his own fancy had pictured, that the reaction in his feelings served to heighten them, and to aid in increasing his respect. On the other hand, the young man exhibited so much modest good sense, a fund of information so much beyond his years, such integrity and justice of sentiment, that when they separated for the night, the old bachelor was full of regret that nature had not made him the parent of such a son.

All this time the business of the ship had gone on. The wind increased steadily, until, as the sun went down, Captain Truck announced it, in the cabin, to be a "regular-built gale of wind." Sail after sail had been reduced or furled until the Montauk was lying-to under her foresail, a close-reefed main-top-sail, a fore-top-mast stay-sail, and a mizzen stay-sail. Doubts were even entertained whether the second of these sails would not have to be handed soon, and the foresail itself reefed.

The ship's head was to the south-south-west, her drift considerable, and her way of course barely sufficient to cause her to feel her helm. The Foam had gained on her several miles during the time sail could be carried; but she, also, had been obliged to heave-to, at the same increase of the sea and wind as that which had forced Mr. Truck to lash his wheel down. This state of things made a considerable change in the relative positions of the two vessels again; the next morning showing the sloop-of-war hull down, and well on the weather-beam of the packet. Her sharper mould and more weatherly qualities had done her this service, as became a ship intended for war and the chase.

At all this, however, Captain Truck laughed. He could not be boarded in such weather, and it was matter of indifference where his pursuer might be, so long as he had time to escape, when the gale ceased. On the whole, he was rather glad than otherwise of the present state of things, for it offered a chance to slip away to leeward as soon as the weather would permit, if, indeed, his tormentor did not altogether disappear in the northern board, or to windward.

The hopes and fears of the worthy master, however, were poured principally into the ears of his two mates; for few of the passengers were visible until the afternoon of the second day of the gale; then, indeed, a general relief to their physical suffering occurred, though it was accompanied by apprehensions that scarcely permitted the change to be enjoyed. About noon, on that day, the wind came with such power, and the seas poured down against the bows of the ship with a violence so tremendous, that it got to be questionable whether she could any longer remain with safety in her present condition. Several times in the course of the morning, the waves had forced her bows off, and before the ship could recover her position, the succeeding billow would break against her broadside, and throw a flood of water on her decks. This is a danger peculiar to lying-to in a gale; for if the vessel get into the trough of the sea, and is met in that situation by a wave of unusual magnitude, she runs the double risk of being thrown on her beam-ends, and of having her decks cleared of everything, by the cataract of water that washes athwart them. Landsmen entertain little notion of the power of the waters, when driven before a tempest, and are often surprised, in reading of naval catastrophes, at the description of the injuries done. But experience shows that boats, hurricane-houses, guns, anchors of enormous weight, bulwarks and planks, are even swept off into the ocean, in this manner, or are ripped up from their fastenings.

The process of lying-to has a double advantage, so long as it can be maintained, since it offers the strongest portion of the vessel to the shock of the seas, and has the merit of keeping her as near as possible to the desired direction. But it is a middle course, being often adopted as an expedient of safety when a ship cannot scud; and then, again, it is abandoned for scudding when the gale is so intensely severe that it becomes in itself dangerous. In nothing are the high qualities of ships so thoroughly tried as in their manner of behaving, as it is termed, in these moments of difficulty; nor is the seamanship of the accomplished officer so triumphantly established in any other part of his professional knowledge, as when he has had an opportunity of showing that he knows how to dispose of the vast weight his vessel is to carry, so as to enable her mould to exhibit its perfection, and on occasion to turn both to the best account.

Nothing will seem easier to a landsman than for a vessel to run before the wind, let the force of the gale be what it may. But his ignorance overlooks most of the difficulties, nor shall we anticipate their dangers, but let them take their places in the regular thread of the narrative.

Long before noon, or the hour mentioned, Captain Truck foresaw that, in consequence of the seas that were constantly coming on board of her, he should be compelled to put his ship before the wind. He delayed the manoeuvre to the last moment, however, for what he deemed to be sufficient reasons. The longer he kept the ship lying-to, the less he deviated from his proper course to New York, and the greater was the probability of his escaping, stealthily and without observation from the Foam, since the latter, by maintaining her position better, allowed the Montauk to drift gradually to leeward, and, of course, to a greater distance.

But the crisis would no longer admit of delay. All hands were called; the maintop-sail was hauled up, not without much difficulty, and then Captain Truck reluctantly gave the order to haul down the mizzen-stay-sail, to put the helm hard up, and to help the ship round with the yards. This is at all times a critical change, as has just been mentioned for the vessel is exposed to the ravages of any sea, larger than common, that may happen to strike her as she lies nearly motionless, with her broadside exposed to its force. To accomplish it, therefore, Captain Truck went up a few ratlines in the fore-rigging, (he was too nice a calculator to offer even a surface as small as his own body to the wind, in the after shrouds,) whence he looked out to windward for a lull, and a moment when the ocean had fewer billows than common of the larger and more dangerous kind. At the desired instant he signed with his hand, and the wheel was shifted from hard-down to hard-up.

This is always a breathless moment in a ship, for as none can foresee the result, it resembles the entrance of a hostile battery. A dozen men may be swept away in an instant, or the ship herself hove over on her side. John Effingham and Paul, who of all the passengers were alone on deck, understood the hazards, and they watched the slightest change with the interest of men who had so much at stake. At first the movement of the ship was sluggish, and such as ill-suited the eagerness of the crew. Then her pitching ceased, and she settled into the enormous trough bodily, or the whole fabric sunk, as it were, never to rise again. So low did she fall, that the foresail gave a tremendous flap; one that shook the hull and spars from stem to stern. As she rose on the next surge, happily its foaming crest slid beneath her, and the tall masts rolled heavily to windward. Recovering her equilibrium, the ship started through the brine, and as the succeeding roller came on, she was urging ahead fast. Still, the sea struck her abeam, forcing her bodily to leeward, and heaving the lower yardarms into the ocean. Tons of water fell on her decks, with the dull sound of the clod on the coffin. At this grand moment, old Jack Truck, who was standing in the rigging, dripping with he spray, that had washed over him, with a naked head, and his grey hair glistening, shouted like a Stentor, "Haul in your fore-braces, boys! away with the yard, like a fiddlestick!" Every nerve was strained; the unwilling yards, pressed upon by an almost irresistible column of air, yielded slowly, and as the sail met the gale more perpendicularly, or at right angles to its surface, it dragged the vast hull through the sea with a power equal to that of a steam-engine. Ere another sea could follow, the Montauk was glancing through the ocean at a furious rate, and though offering her quarter to the billows, their force was now so much diminished by her own velocity, as to deprive them of their principal danger.

The motion of the ship immediately became easy, though her situation was still far from being without risk. No longer compelled to buffet the waves, but sliding along in their company, the motion ceased to disturb the systems of the passengers, and ten minutes had not elapsed before most of them were again on deck, seeking the relief of the open air. Among the others was Eve, leaning on the arm of her father.

It was a terrific scene, though one might now contemplate it without personal inconvenience. The gentlemen gathered around the beautiful and appalled spectatress of this grand sight, anxious to know the effect it might produce on one of her delicate frame and habits. She expressed herself as awed, but not alarmed; for the habits of dependence usually leave females less affected by fear, in such cases, than those who, by their sex, are supposed to be responsible.

"Mademoiselle Viefville has promised to follow me," she said, "and as I have a national claim to be a sailor, you are not to expect hysterics or even ecstasies from me; but reserve yourselves, gentlemen, for the _Parisienne_."

The _Parisienne_, sure enough, soon came out of the hurricane-house, with elevated hands, and eyes eloquent of admiration, wonder and fear. Her first exclamations were those of terror, and then turning a wistful look on Eve, she burst into tears. "_Ah, ceci est decisif!_" she exclaimed. "When we part, we shall be separated for life."

"Then we will not part at all, my dear mademoiselle; you have only to remain in America, to escape all future inconveniences of the ocean. But forget the danger, and admire the sublimity of this terrific panorama."

Well might Eve thus term the scene. The hazards now to be avoided were those of the ship's broaching-to, and of being pooped. Nothing may seem easier, as has been said, than to "sail before the wind," the words having passed into a proverb; but there are times when even a favouring gale becomes prolific of dangers, that we shall now briefly explain.

The velocity of the water, urged as it is before a tempest, is often as great as that of the ship, and at such moments the rudder is useless, its whole power being derived from its action as a moving body against the element in comparative repose. When ship and water move together, at an equal rate, in the same direction, of course this power of the helm is neutralized, and then the hull is driven much at the mercy of the winds and waves. Nor is this all; the rapidity of the billows often exceeds that of a ship, and then the action of the rudder becomes momentarily reversed, producing an effect exactly opposite to that which is desired. It is true, this last difficulty is never of more than a few moments' continuance, else indeed would the condition of the mariner be hopeless; but it is of constant occurrence, and so irregular as to defy calculations and defeat caution. In the present instance, the Montauk would seem to fly through the water, so swift was her progress; and then, as a furious surge overtook her in the chase, she settled heavily into the element, like a wounded animal, that, despairing of escape, sinks helplessly in the grass, resigned to fate. At such times the crests of the waves swept past her, like vapour in the atmosphere, and one unpractised would be apt to think the ship stationary, though in truth whirling along in company with a frightful momentum.

It is scarcely necessary to say, that the process of scudding requires the nicest attention to the helm, in order that the hull may be brought speedily back to the right direction, when thrown aside by the power of the billows; for, besides losing her way in the caldron of water--an imminent danger of itself--if left exposed to the attack of the succeeding wave, her decks, at least, would be swept, even should she escape a still more serious calamity.

Pooping is a hazard of another nature, and is also peculiar to the process of scudding. It merely means the ship's being overtaken by the waters while running from them, when the crest of a sea, broken by the resistance, is thrown in-board, over the taffrail or quarter. The term is derived from the name of that particular portion of the ship. In order to avoid this risk, sail is carried on the vessel as long as possible, it being deemed one of the greatest securities of scudding, to force the hull through the water at the greatest attainable rate. In consequence of these complicated risks, ships that sail the fastest and steer the easiest, scud the best. There is, however, a species of velocity that becomes of itself a source of new danger; thus, exceedingly sharp vessels have been known to force themselves so far into the watery mounds in their front, and to receive so much of the element on decks, as never to rise again. This is a fate to which those who attempt to sail the American clipper, without understanding its properties, are peculiarly liable. On account of this risk, however, there was now no cause of apprehension, the full-bowed, kettle-bottomed Montauk being exempt from the danger; though Captain Truck intimated his doubts whether the corvette would like to brave the course he had himself adopted.

In this opinion, the fact would seem to sustain the master of the packet; for when the night shut in, the spars of the Foam were faintly discernible, drawn like spiders' webs on the bright streak of the evening sky. In a few more minutes, even this tracery, which resembled that of a magic-lantern, vanished from the eyes of those aloft; for it had not been seen by any on deck for more than an hour.

The magnificent horrors of the scene increased with the darkness. Eve and her companions stood supported by the hurricane-house, watching it for hours, the supernatural-looking light, emitted by the foaming sea, rendering the spectacle one of attractive terror. Even the consciousness of the hazards heightened the pleasure; for there was a solemn and grand enjoyment mingled with it all, and the first watch had been set an hour, before the party had resolution enough to tear themselves from the sublime sight of a raging sea.

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