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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 20
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 20 Post by :kiranb Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3378

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 20

Chapter XX

'Tis of more worth than kingdoms! far more precious
'Than all the crimson treasures of life's fountain!
Oh let it not elude thy grasp!


Things were in this state, the sheik and his guests communicating by signs, in such a way as completely to mystify each other; Mr. Monday drinking, Mr. Dodge conjecturing, and parties quitting the camp and arriving every ten minutes, when an Arab pointed eagerly with his finger in the direction of the wreck. The head of the foremast was slowly rising, and the look-out in the top was clinging to the spar, which began to cant, in order to keep himself from falling. The sheik affected to smile; but he was evidently disturbed, and two or three messengers were sent out into the camp. In the meanwhile, the spar began to lower, and was soon entirely concealed beneath the bank.

It was now apparent that the Arabs thought the moment had arrived when it was their policy to interfere. The sheik, therefore, left his guests to be entertained by two or three others who had joined in the potations, and making the best assurances he could by means of signs, of his continued amity, he left the tent. Laying aside all his arms, attended by two or three old men like himself, he went boldly to the plank, and descended quietly to the sands, where he found Captain Truck busied in endeavouring to get the spar into the water. The top was already afloat, and the stick itself was cut round in the right position for rolling, when the foul but grave-looking barbarians appeared among the workmen. As the latter had been apprised of their approach, and of the fact of their being unarmed, no one left his employment to receive them, with the exception of Captain Truck himself.

"Bear a hand with the spar, Mr. Leach," he said, "while I entertain these gentlemen. It is a good sign that they come to us without arms, and it shall never be said that we are behind them in civility. Half an hour will settle our affairs, when these gentry are welcome to what will be left of the Dane.--Your servant, gentlemen; I'm glad to see you, and beg the honour to shake hands with all of you, from the oldest to the youngest."

Although the Arabs understood nothing that was said, they permitted Captain Truck to give each of them a hearty shake of the hand, smiling and muttering their own compliments with as much apparent good will as was manifested by the old seaman himself.

"God help the Danes, if they have fallen into servitude among these blackguards!" said the captain, aloud, while he was shaking the sheik a second time most cordially by the hand, "for a fouler set of thieves I never laid eyes on, Leach. Mr. Monday has tried the virtue of the _schnaps on them, notwithstanding, for the odour of gin is mingled with that of grease, about the old scoundrel.--Roll away at the spar, boys! half-a-dozen more such heaves, and you will have him in his native element, as the newspapers call it.--I'm glad to see you, gentlemen; we are badly off as to chairs, on this beach, but to such as we have you are heartily welcome.--Mr. Leach, the Arab sheik;--Arab sheik, Mr. Leach.--On the bank there!"


"Any movement among the Arabs?"

"About thirty have just ridden back into the desert, mounted on camels, sir; nothing more."

"No signs of our passengers?"

Ay, ay, sir. Here comes Mr. Dodge under full sail, heading for the bank, as straight as he can lay his course!"

"Ha!--Is he pursued?"

The men ceased their work, and glanced aside at their arms.

"Not at all, sir. Mr. Monday is calling after him, and the Arabs seem to be laughing. Mr. Monday is just splicing the main-brace with one of the rascals."

"Let the Atlantic ocean, then, look out for itself, for Mr. Dodge will be certain to run over it. Heave away, my hearties, and the stick will be afloat yet before that gentleman is fairly docked."

The men worked with good will, but their zeal was far less efficient than that of the editor of the Active Inquirer, who now broke through the bushes, and plunged down the bank with a velocity which, if continued, would have carried him to Dodgeopolis itself within the month. The Arabs started at this sudden apparition, but perceiving that those around them laughed, they were disposed to take the interruption in good part. The look-out now announced the approach of Mr. Monday, followed by fifty Arabs; the latter, however, being without arms, and the former without his hat. The moment was critical, but the steadiness of Captain Truck did not desert him. Issuing a rapid order to the second mate, with a small party previously selected for that duty, to stand by the arms, he urged the rest of the people to renewed exertions. Just as this was done, Mr. Monday appeared on the bank, with a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other, calling aloud to Mr. Dodge to return and drink with the Arabs.

"Do not disgrace Christianity in this unmannerly way," he said; "but show these gentlemen of the desert that we know what propriety is. Captain Truck, I beg of you to urge Mr. Dodge to return. I was about to sing the Arabs 'God save the King,' and in a few more minutes we should have had 'Rule Britannia,' when we should have been the best friends and companions in the world. Captain Truck, I've the honour to drink your health."

But Captain Truck viewed the matter differently. Both his ambassadors were now safely back, for Mr. Monday came down upon the beach, followed, it is true, by all the Arabs, and the mast was afloat, He thought it better, therefore, that Mr. Dodge should remain, and that the two parties should be as quietly, but as speedily as possible, separated. He ordered the hauling line to be fastened to the mast, and as the stick was slowly going out through the surf, he issued the order for the men to collect their implements, take their arms, and to assemble in a body at the rocks, where the jolly-boat still lay.

"Be quick, men, but be steady; for there are a hundred of these rascals on the beach already, and all the last-comers are armed. We might pick up a few more useful things from the wreck, but the wind is coming in from the westward, and our principal concern now will be to save what we have got. Lead Mr. Monday along with you, Leach, for he is so full of diplomacy and _schnaps just now that he forgets his safety. As for Mr. Dodge, I see he is stowed away in the boat already, as snug as the ground-tier in a ship loaded with molasses. Count the men off, sir, and see that no one is missing."

By this time, the state of things on the beach had undergone material changes. The wreck was full of Arabs, some of whom were armed and some not; while mauls, crows hand-spikes, purchases, coils of rigging, and marling-spikes were scattered about on the sands, just where they had been dropped by the seamen. A party of fifty Arabs had collected around the rocks, where, by this time, all the mariners were assembled, intermingling with the latter, and apparently endeavouring to maintain the friendly relations which had been established by Mr. Monday. As a portion of these men were also armed, Captain Truck disliked their proceedings; but the inferiority of his numbers, and the disadvantage under which he was placed, compelled him to resort to management rather than force, in order to extricate himself.

The Arabs now crowded around and intermingled with the seamen, thronged the ship, and lined the bank, to the number of more than two hundred. It became evident that their true force had been underrated, and that additions were constantly making to it, from those who lay behind the ridges of sand. All those who appeared last, had arms of one kind or another, and several brought fire-arms, which they gave to the sheik, and to those who had first descended to the beach. Still, every face seemed amicable, and the men were scarcely permitted to execute their orders, from the frequent interruptions to exchange tokens of friendship.

But Captain Truck fully believed that hostilities were intended, and although he had suffered himself in some measure to be surprised, he set about repairing his error with great judgment and admirable steadiness. His first step was to extricate his own people from those who pressed upon them, a thing that was effected by causing a few to take a position, that might be defended, higher among the rocks, as they afforded a good deal of cover, and which communicated directly with the place where they had landed; and then ordering the remainder of the men to fall back singly. To prevent an alarm, each man was called off by name, and in this manner the whole party had got within the prescribed limits, before the Arabs, who were vociferating and talking altogether, seemed to be aware of the movement. When some of the latter attempted to follow, they were gently repulsed by the sentinels. All this time Captain Truck maintained the utmost cordiality towards the sheik, keeping near him, and amongst the Arabs himself. The work of plunder, in the meantime, had begun in earnest in the wreck, and this he thought a favourable symptom, as men thus employed would be less likely to make a hostile attack. Still he knew that prisoners were of great account among these barbarians, and that an attempt to tow the raft off from the land, in open boats, where his people would be exposed to every shot from the wreck, would subject them to he greatest danger of defeat, were the former disposed to prevent it.

Having reflected a few minutes on his situation. Captain Truck issued his final orders. The jolly-boat might carry a dozen men at need, though they would be crowded and much exposed to fire; and he, therefore, caused eight to get into her, and to pull out to the launch. Mr. Leach went with this party, for the double purpose of directing its movements, and of being separated from his commander, in order that one of those who were of so much importance to the packet, might at least stand a chance of being saved. This separation also was effected without alarming the Arabs, though Captain Truck observed that the sheik watched the proceeding narrowly.

As soon as Mr. Leach had reached the launch, he caused a light kedge to be put into the jolly-boat, and coils of the lightest rigging he had were laid on the top of it, or were made on the bows of the launch. As soon as this was done, the boat was pulled a long distance off from the land, paying out the ropes first from the launch, and then from the boat itself, until no more of the latter remained. The kedge was then dropped, and the men in the launch began to haul in upon the ropes that were attached to it. As the jolly-boat returned immediately, and her crew joined in the work, the line of boats, the kedge by which they had previously ridden having been first raised, began slowly to recede from the shore.

Captain Truck had rightly conjectured the effect of this movement. It was so unusual and so gradual, that the launch and the raft were warped up to the kedge, before the Arabs fully comprehended its nature. The boats were now more than a quarter of a mile from the wreck, for Mr. Leach had run out quite two hundred fathoms of small rope, and of course, so distant as greatly to diminish the danger from the muskets of the Arabs, though still within reach of their range. Near an hour was passed in effecting this point, which, as the sea and wind were both rising, could not probably have been effected in any other manner, half as soon, if at all.

The state of the weather, and the increasing turbulence of the barbarians, now rendered it extremely desirable to all on the rocks to be in their boats again. A very moderate blow would compel them to abandon their hard-earned advantages, and it began to be pretty evident, from the manners of those around them, that amity could not much longer be maintained. Even the old sheik retired, and, instead of going to the wreck, he joined the party on the beach, where he was seen in earnest conversation with several other old men, all of whom gesticulated vehemently, as they pointed towards the boats and to the party on the rocks.

Mr. Leach now pulled in towards the bar, with both the jolly-boats and the cutter, having only two oars each, half his men being left in the launch. This was done that the people might not be crowded at the critical moment, and that, at need, there might be room to fight as well as to row; all these precautions having been taken in consequence of Captain Truck's previous orders. When the boats reached the rocks, the people did not hurry into them; but a quarter of an hour was passed in preparations, as if they were indifferent about proceeding, and even then the jolly-boat alone took in a portion, and pulled leisurely without the bar. Here she lay on her oars, in order to cover the passage of the other boats, if necessary, with her fire. The cutter imitated this manoeuvre, and the boat of the wreck went last. Captain Truck quitted the rock after all the others, though his embarkation was made rapidly by a prompt and sudden movement.

Not a shot was fired, however, and, contrary to his own most ardent hopes, the captain found himself at the launch, with all his people unhurt, and with all the spars he had so much desired to obtain. The forbearance of the Arabs was a mystery to him, for he had fully expected hostilities would commence, every moment, for the last two hours. Nor was he yet absolutely out of danger, though there was time to pause and look about him, and to take his succeeding measures more deliberately. The first report was a scarcity of both food and water. For both these essentials the men had depended on the wreck, and, in the eagerness to secure the foremast, and subsequently to take care of themselves, these important requisites had been overlooked, quite probably, too, as much from a knowledge that the Montauk was so near, as from hurry. Still both were extremely desirable, if not indispensable, to men who had the prospect of many hours' hard work before them; and Captain Truck's first impulse was to despatch a boat to the ship for supplies. This intention was reluctantly abandoned, however, on account of the threatening appearance of the weather.

There was no danger of a gale, but a smart sea breeze was beginning to set in, and the surface of the ocean was, as usual, getting to be agitated. Changing all his plans therefore, the Captain turned his immediate attention to the safety of the all-important spars.

"We can eat to-morrow, men," he said; "but if we lose these sticks, our chance for getting any more will indeed be small. Take a gang on the raft, Mr. Leach, and double all the lashings, while I see that we get an offing. If the wind rises any more, we shall need it, and even then be worse off than we could wish."

The mate passed upon the raft, and set about securing all the spars by additional fastenings; for the working, occasioned by the sea, already rendered them loose, and liable to separate. While this was in train, the two jolly-boats took in lines and kedges, of which, luckily, they had one that was brought from the packet, besides two found in the wreck, and pulled off into the ocean. As soon as one kedge was dropped, that by which the launch rode was tripped, and the boats were hauled up to it, the other jolly-boat proceeding on to renew the process. In this manner, in the course of two more hours, the whole, raft and all, were warped broad off from the land, and to windward, quite two miles, when the water became so deep that Captain Truck reluctantly gave the order to cease.

"I would gladly work our way into the offing in this mode, three or four leagues," he said, "by which means we might make a fair wind of it. As it is, we must get all clear, and do as well as we can. Rig the masts in the launch, Mr. Leach, and we will see what can be done with this dull craft we have in tow."

While this order was in course of execution, the glass was used to ascertain the manner in which the Arabs were occupied. To the surprise of all in the boats, every soul of them had disappeared. The closest scrutiny could not detect one near the wreck, on the beach, nor even at the spot where the tents had so lately stood.

"They are all off, by George!" cried Captain Truck, when fully satisfied of the fact. "Camels, tents, and Arabs! The rascals have loaded their beasts already, and most probably have gone to hide their plunder, that they may be back and make sure of a second haul, before any of their precious brother vultures, up in the sands, get a scent of the carrion. D--n the rogues; I thought at one time they had me in a category! Well, joy be with them! Mr. Monday, I return you my hearty thanks for the manly, frank, and diplomatic manner in which you have discharged the duties of your mission. Without you, we might not have succeeded in getting the foremast. Mr. Dodge, you have the high consolation of knowing that, throughout this trying occasion, you have conducted yourself in a way no other man of the party could have done."

Mr. Monday was sleeping off the fumes of the _schnaps_, but Mr. Dodge bowed to the compliment, and foresaw many capital things for the journal, and for the columns of the Active Inquirer. He even began to meditate a book.

Now commenced much the most laborious and critical part of the service that Captain Truck had undertaken, if we except the collision with the Arabs--that of towing all the heavy spars of a large ship, in one raft, in the open sea, near a coast, and with the wind blowing on shore. It is true he was strong-handed, being able to put ten oars in the launch, and four in all the other boats; but, after making sail, and pulling steadily for an hour, it was discovered that all their exertions would not enable them to reach the ship, if the wind stood, before the succeeding day. The drift to leeward, or towards the beach, was seriously great, every heave of the sea setting them bodily down before it; and by the time they were half a mile to the southward, they were obliged to anchor, in order to keep clear of the breakers, which by this time extended fully a mile from shore.

Decision was fortunately Captain Truck's leading quality. He foresaw the length and severity of the struggle that was before them, and the men had not been pulling ten minutes, before he ordered Mr. Leach, who was in the cutter, to cast off his line and to come alongside the launch.

"Pull back to the wreck, sir," he said, "and bring off all you can lay hands on, in the way of bread, water, and other comforts. We shall make a night of it, I see. We will keep a look-out for you, and if any Arabs heave in sight on the plain, a musket will be fired; if so many as to render a hint to abscond necessary, two muskets will be fired, and the mainsail of the launch will be furled for two minutes; more time than that we cannot spare you."

Mr. Leach obeyed this order, and with great success. Luckily the cook had left the coppers full of food, enough to last twenty-four hours, and this had escaped the Arabs, who were ignorant where to look for it. In addition, there was plenty of bread and water, and "a bull of Jamaica" had been discovered, by the instinct of one of the hands, which served admirably to keep the people in good humour. This timely supply had arrived just as the launch anchored, and Mr. Truck welcomed it with all his heart; for without it, he foresaw he should soon be obliged to abandon his precious prize.

When the people were refreshed, the long and laborious process of warping off the land was resumed, and, in the course of two hours more, the raft was got fully a league into the offing, a shoal permitting the kedges to be used farther out this time than before. Then sail was again made, and the oars were once more plied. But the sea still proved their enemy, though they had struck the current which began to set them south. Had there been no wind and sea, the progress of the boats would now have been comparatively easy and quick; but these two adverse powers drove them in towards the beach so fast, that they had scarcely made two miles from the wreck when they were compelled a second time to anchor.

No alternative remained but to keep warping off in this manner, and then to profit by the offing they had made as well as they could, the result bringing them at sunset nearly up with the headland that shut out the view of their own vessel, from which Captain Truck now calculated that he was distant a little less than two leagues. The wind had freshened, and though it was not by any means so strong as to render the sea dangerous, it increased the toil of the men to such a degree, that he reluctantly determined to seek out a proper anchorage, and to give his wearied people some rest.

It was not in the power of the seamen to carry their raft into any haven, for to the northward of the headland, or on the side on which they were, there was no reef, nor any bay to afford them shelter. The coast was one continued waving line of sand-banks, and in most places, when there was a wind, the water broke at the distance of a mile from the beach; the precise spot where the Dane had stranded his vessel, having most probably been chosen for that purpose, with a view to save the lives of the people. Under these circumstances nothing remained but to warp off again to a safe distance, and to secure the boats as well as they could for the night. This was effected by eight o'clock, and Captain Truck gave the order to let go two additional kedges, being determined not to strike adrift in the darkness, if it was in his power to prevent it. When this was done, the people had their suppers, a watch was set, and the remainder went to sleep.

As the three passengers had been exempted from the toil, they volunteered to look out for the safety of the boats until midnight, in order that the men might obtain as much rest as possible; and half an hour after the crew were lost in the deep slumber of seamen, Captain Truck and these gentlemen were seated in the launch, holding a dialogue on the events of the day.

"You found the Arabs conversable and ready at the cup, Mr. Monday?" observed the captain, lighting a cigar, which with him was a never-failing sign for a gossip. "Men that, if they had been sent to school young, taught to dance, and were otherwise civilized, might make reasonably good ship mates, in this roving world of ours?"

"Upon my word, sir, I look upon the sheik as uncommon gentleman-like, and altogether as a good fellow. He took his glass without any grimaces, smiled whenever he said any thing, though I could not understand a word he said, and answered all my remarks quite as civilly as if he spoke English. I must say, I think Mr. Dodge manifested a want of consideration in quitting his company with so little ceremony. The gentleman was hurt, I'll answer for it, and he would say as much if he could only make out to explain himself on the subject. Sir George, I regret we had not the honour of your company on the occasion, for I have been told these Arabs have a proper respect for the nobility and gentry. Mr. Dodge and myself were but poor substitutes for a gentleman like yourself."

The trained humility of Mr. Monday was little to the liking of Mr. Dodge, who by the sheer force of the workings of envy had so long been endeavouring to persuade others that he was the equal of any and every other man--a delusion, however, in which he could not succeed in persuading himself to fall into--and he was not slow in exhibiting the feeling it awakened.

"Sir George Templemore has too just a sense of the rights of nations to make this distinction, Mr. Monday," he said. "If I left the Arab sheik a little abruptly, it was because I disliked his ways; for I take it Africa is a free country, and that no man is obliged to remain longer in a tent than it suits his own convenience. Captain Truck knows that I was merely running down the beach to inform him that the sheik intended to follow, and he no doubt appreciates my motive."

"If not, Mr. Dodge," put in the captain, "like other patriots, you must trust to posterity to do you justice. The joints and sinews are so differently constructed in different men, that one never knows exactly how to calculate on speed; but this much I will make affidavit to, if you wish it, on reaching home, and that is, that a better messenger could not be found than Mr. Steadfast Dodge, for a man in a hurry. Sir George Templemore, we have had but a few of your opinions since you came out on this expedition, and I should be gratified to hear your sentiments concerning the Arabs, and any thing else that may suggest itself at the moment."

"Oh, captain! I think the wretches odiously dirty, and judging from appearances, I should say sadly deficient in comforts."

"In the way of breeches in particular; for I am inclined to think, Sir George, you are master of more than are to be found in their whole nation. Well, gentlemen, one must certainly travel who wishes to see the world; but for this sheer down here upon the coast of Africa, neither of us might have ever known how an Arab lives, and what a nimble wrecker he makes. For my own part, if the choice lay between filling the office of Jemmy Ducks, on board the Montauk, and that of sheik in this tribe, I should, as we say in America, Mr. Dodge, leave it to the people, and do all in my power to obtain the first situation. Sir George, I'm afraid all these _county tongues_, as Mr. Dodge calls them, in the way of wind and weather, will quite knock the buffalo hunt on the Prairies in the head, for this fall at least."

"I beg, Captain Truck, you will not discredit my French in this way. I do not call a disappointment '_county tongues_,' but '_contra toms_;' the phrase probably coming from some person of the name of _tom_, who was _contra_, or opposed to every one else."

"Perfectly explained, and as clear as bilge-water. Sir George, has Mr. Dodge mentioned to you the manner in which these Arabs enjoy life? The gentlemen, by way of saving; dish-water, eat half-a-dozen at a time out of the same plate. Quite republican, and altogether without pride, Mr. Dodge, in their notions!"

"Why, sir, many of their habits struck me as being simple and praiseworthy, during the short time I remained in their country; and I dare say, one who had leisure to study them might find materials for admiration. I can readily imagine situations in which a man has no right to appropriate a whole dish to himself."

"No doubt, and he who wishes a thing so unreasonable must be a great hog! What a thing is sleep! Here are these fine fellows as much lost to their dangers and toils as if at home, and tucked in by their careful and pious mothers. Little did the good souls who nursed them, and sung pious songs over their cradles, fancy the hardships they were bringing them up to! But we never know our fates, or miserable dogs most of us would be. Is it not so, Sir George?"

The baronet started at this appeal, which crossed the quaint mind of the captain as a cloud darkens a sunny view, and he muttered a hasty expression of hope that there was now no particular reason to expect any more serious obstacles to their reaching the ship.

"It is not an easy thing to tow a heavy raft in light boats like these, exactly in the direction you wish it to go," returned the captain, gaping. "He who trusts to the winds and waves, trusts an uncertain friend, and one who may fail him at the very moment when there is most need of their services. Fair as things now seem, I would give a thousand dollars of a small stock, in which no single dollar has been lightly earned, to see these spars safely on board the Montauk, and snugly fitted to their proper places. Sticks, gentlemen, are to a ship what limbs are to a man. Without them she rolls and tumbles about as winds, currents, and seas will; while with them she walks, and dances, and jumps Jim Crow; ay, almost talks. The standing rigging are the bones and gristle; the running gear the veins in which her life circulates; and the blocks the joints."

"And which is the heart?" asked Sir George.

"Her heart is the master. With a sufficient commander no stout ship is ever lost, so long as she has a foot of water beneath her false keel, or a ropeyarn left to turn to account."

"And yet the Dane had all these."

"All but the water. The best craft that was ever launched, is of less use than a single camel, if laid high and dry on the sands of Africa. These poor wretches truly! And yet their fate might have been ours, though I thought little of the risk while we were in the midst of the Arabs. It is still a mystery to me why they let us escape, especially as they so soon deserted the wreck. They were strong-handed, too; counting all who came and went, I think not less than several hundreds."

The captain now became silent and thoughtful, and, as the wind continued to rise, he began to feel uneasiness about his ship. Once or twice he expressed a half-formed determination to pull to her in one of the light boats, in order to look after her safety in person, and then he abandoned it, as he witnessed the rising of the sea, and the manner in which the massive raft caused the cordage by which it was held to strain. At length he too fell asleep, and we shall leave him and his party for awhile, and return to the Montauk, to give an account of what occurred on board that ship.

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 21 Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 21

Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 21
Chapter XXINothing beside remains! Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away. SHELLEYAs Captain Truck was so fully aware of the importance of rapid movements to the success of his enterprise, it will be remembered that he left in the ship no seaman, no servant, except Saunders the steward, and, in short, no men but the two Messrs. Effingham, Mr. Sharp, Mr. Blunt, and the other person just mentioned. If to these be added, Eve Effingham, Mademoiselle Viefville, Ann Sidley, and a French _femme de chambre_, the whole

Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 19 Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 19

Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 19
Chapter XIXAy, he does well enough, if he be disposed, And so do I too; he does it with a better grace, but I do it more natural. TWELFTH NIGHT.The sleep of the weary is sweet. Of all the party that lay thus buried in sleep, on the verge of the Great Desert, exposed at any moment to an assault from its ruthless and predatory occupants, but one bethought him of the danger; though _he was, in truth, so little exposed as to have rendered it of less moment to himself than to most of the others, had