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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 26
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 26 Post by :stevesandman Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3189

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 26

Chapter XXVI

Hark! was it not the trumpet's voice I heard?
The soul of battle is awake within me.
The fate of ages and of empires hangs
On this dread hour.

MASSINGER


The two launches were still sailing side by side, and Eve now appeared at the open window next the seat of Paul. Her face was pale as when the scene of the cabin occurred, and her lip trembled.

"I do not understand these warlike proceedings" she said, "but I trust, Mr. Blunt, _we have no concern with the present movement."

"Put your mind at ease on this head, dearest Miss Effingham, for what we now do we do in compliance with a general law of manhood. Were your interests and the interests of those with you alone consulted, we might come to a very different decision: but I think you are in safe hands should our adventure prove unfortunate."

"Unfortunate! It is fearful to be so near a scene like this! I cannot ask you to do any thing unworthy of yourself; but, all that we owe you impels me to say, I trust you have too much wisdom, too much true courage, to incur unnecessary risks."

The young man looked volumes of gratitude; but the presence of the others kept its expression within due bounds.

"We old sea dogs," he answered, smiling, "are rather noted for taking care of ourselves. They who are trained to a business like this usually set about it too much in a business-like manner to hazard anything for mere show."

"And very wisely; Mr. Sharp, too,"--Eve's colour deepened with a consciousness that Paul would have given worlds to understand--"he has a claim on us we shall never forge. My father can say all this better than I."

Mr. Effingham now expressed his thanks for all that had passed, and earnestly enjoined prudence on the young men. After which Eve withdrew her head, and was seen no more. Most of the next hour was passed in prayer by those in the launch.

By this time the boats and rail were within half a mile of the inlet; and Captain Truck ordered the kedge, which had been transferred to the launch of the Montauk, to be let go. As soon as this was done, the old seaman threw down his hat, and stood on a thwart in his grey hair.

"Gentlemen, you have your orders," he said with dignity; for from that moment his manner rose with the occasion, and had something of the grandeur of the warrior. "You see the enemy. The reef must first be cleared, and then the ship shall be carried. God knows who will live to see the end; but that end must be success, on the bones of John Truck shall bleach on these sands! Our cry is 'The Montauk and our own!' which is a principle Vattel will sustain us in. Give way, men! a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether; each boat in its station!"

He waved his hand, and the oars fell into the water at the same instant. The heavy launch was the last, for she had double-fasts to the other boat. While loosening that forward the second mate deserted his post, stepping nimbly on board the departing boat, and concealing himself behind the foremost of the two lug-sails she carried. Almost at the same instant Mr. Dodge reversed this manoeuvre by pretending to be left clinging to the boat of the Montauk, in his zeal to shove off. As the sails were drawing; hard, and the oars dashed the spray aside, it was too late to rectify either of these mistakes, had it been desirable.

A few minutes of a stern calm succeeded, each boat keeping its place with beautiful precision. The Arabs had left the northern reef with the light; but, the tide being out, hundreds were strung along the southern range of rocks, especially near the ship. The wind carried the launch ahead, as had been intended, and she soon drew near the inlet.

"Take in the sails," said Mr. Blunt. "See your gun clear forward."

A fine, tall, straight, athletic young seaman stood near the grating, with a heated iron lying in a vessel of live coals before him, in lieu of a loggerhead, the fire being covered with a tarpaulin. As Paul spoke, this young mariner turned towards him with the peculiar grace of a man-of-war's-man, and touched his hat.

"Ay, ay, sir. All ready, Mr. Powis."

Paul started, while the other smiled proudly, like one who knew more than his companions.

"We have met before," said the first.

"That have we sir, and in boat-duty, too. You were the first on board the pirate on the coast of Cuba, and I was second."

A look of recognition and a wave of the hand passed between them, the men cheering involuntarily. It was too late for more, the launch being fairly in the inlet, where she received a general but harmless fire from the Arabs. An order had been given to fire the first shot over the heads of the barbarians; but this assault changed the plan.

"Depress the piece, Brooks," said Paul, "and throw in a bag of slugs."

"All ready, sir," was uttered in another minute.

"Hold water, men--the boat is steady--let them have it."

Men fell at that discharge; but how many was never known, as the bodies were hurried off the reef by those who fled. A few concealed themselves along the rocks, but most scampered towards the shore.

"Bravely done!" cried Captain Truck, as his boat swept past. "Now for the ship, sir!"

The people cheered again, and dashed their oars into the water. To clear the reef was nothing; but to carry the ship was a serious affair. She was defended by four times the number of those in the boats, and there was no retreat. The Arabs, as has already been seen, had suspended their labour during the night, having fruitlessly endeavoured to haul the vessel over to the reef before the tide rose. More by accident than by calculation, they had made such arrangements by getting a line to the rocks as would probably have set the ship off the sands, when she floated at high water; but this line had been cut by Paul in passing, and the wind coming on shore again, during the confusion and clamour of the barbarians, or at a moment when they thought they were to be attacked, no attention was paid to the circumstance, and the Montauk was suffered to drive up still higher on the sands, where she effectually grounded at the very top of the tide. As it was now dead low water, the ship had sewed materially, and was now lying on her bilge partly sustained by the water, and partly by the bottom.

During the short pause that succeeded, Saunders, who was seated in the captain's boat as a small-arms-man, addressed his subordinate in a low voice.

"Now, Toast," he said, "you are about to contend in battle for the first time; and I diwine, from experience, that the ewent gives you some sentiments that are werry original. My adwice to you is, to shut both eyes until the word is given to fire, and then to open them suddenly, as if just awaking from sleep; after which you may present and pull the trigger. Above all, Toast, take care not to kill any of our own friends, most especially not Captain Truck, just at this werry moment."

"I shall do my endeavours, Mr. Saunders," muttered Toast, with the apathy and submissive dependence on others with which the American black usually goes into action. "If I do any harm, I hope it will be overlooked, on account of my want of experience."

"Imitate me, Toast, in coolness and propriety, and you'll be certain not to offend. I do not mean that you too are to kill the werry same _Muscle_-men that I kill, but that when I kill one you are to kill another. And be werry careful not to hurt Captain Truck, who'll be certain to run right afore the muzzle of our guns, if he sees any thing to be done there."

Toast growled an assent, and then there was no other noise in the boat than that which was produced by the steady and vigorous falling of the oars. An attempt had been made to lighten the vessel by unloading her, and the bank of sand was already covered with bales and boxes, which had been brought up from the hold by means of a stage, and by sheer animal force. The raft had been extended in size, and brought round to the bank by the stern of the vessel, with the intention to load it, and to transfer the articles already landed to the rocks.

Such was the state of things about the Montauk when the boats came into the channel that ran directly up to the bank. The launch led again, her sails having been set as soon as the reef was swept, and she now made another discharge on the deck of the ship, which, inclining towards the gun, offered no shelter. The effect was to bring every Arab, in the twinkling of an eye, down upon the bank.

"Hurrah!" shouted Captain Truck; "that grist has purified the old bark! And now to see who is to own her! 'The thieves are out of the temple,' as my good father would have said."

The four boats were in a line abreast, the launch under one sail only. A good deal of confusion existed on the bank but the Arabs sought the cover of the bales and boxes, and opened a sharp though irregular fire. Three times, as they advanced, the second mate and that gallant-looking young seaman called Brooks discharged the gun, and at each discharge the Arabs were dislodged and driven to the raft. The cheers of the seamen became animated, though they still plied the oars.

"Steadily, men," said Captain Truck, "and prepare to board."

At this moment the launch grounded, though still twenty yards from the bank, the other boats passing her with loud cheers.

"We are all ready, sir," cried Brooks.

"Let 'em have it. Take in the sail, boys."

The gun was fired, and the tall young seaman sprang upon the grating and cheered. As he looked backward, with a smile of triumph, Paul saw his eyes roll. He leaped into the air, and fell at his length dead upon the water; for such is the passage of a man in battle, from one state of existence to another.

"Where do we hang?" asked Paul steadily; "forward or aft?"

It was forward, and deeper water lay ahead of them. The sail was set again, and the people were called aft. The boat tipped, and shot ahead towards the sands, like a courser released from a sudden pull.

All this time the others were not idle. Not a musket was fired from either boat until the whole three struck the bank, almost, at the same instant, though at as many different points. Then all leaped ashore, and threw in a fire so close, that the boxes served as much for a cover to the assailants as to the assailed. It was at this critical moment, when the seamen paused to load, that Paul, just clear of the bottom, with his own hand applying the loggerhead, swept the rear of the bank with a most opportune discharge.

"Yard-arm and yard-arm!" shouted Captain Truck. "Lay 'em aboard, boys, and give 'em Jack's play!"

The whole party sprang forward, and from that moment all order ceased. Fists, hand-spikes, of which many were on the bank, and the butts of muskets, were freely used, and in a way that set the spears and weapons of the Arabs at defiance. The Captain, Mr. Sharp, John Effingham, Mr. Monday, the _soi-disant Sir George Templemore, and the chief mate, formed a sort of Macedonian phalanx, which penetrated the centre of the barbarians, and which kept close to the enemy, following up its advantages with a spirit that admitted of no rallying. On their right and left pressed the men, an athletic, hearty, well-fed gang. The superiority of the Arabs was in their powers of endurance; for, trained to the whip-cord rigidity of racers, force was less their peculiar merit than bottom. Had they acted in concert, how ever, or had they been on their own desert, mounted, and with room for their subtle evolutions, the result might have been very different; but, unused to contend with an enemy who brought them within reach of the arm, their tactics were deranged, and all their habits violated. Still, their numbers were formidable, and it is probable that the accident to the launch, after all, decided the matter. From the moment the _melee began not a shot was fired, but the assailants pressed upon the assailed, until a large body of the latter had collected near the raft. This was just as the launch reached the shore, and Paul perceived there was great danger that the tide might roll backward from sheer necessity. The gun was loaded, and filled nearly to the muzzle with slugs. He caused the men to raise it on their oars, and to carry it to a large box, a little apart from the confusion of the fight. All this was done in a moment, for three minutes had not yet passed since the captain landed.

Instead of firing, Paul called aloud to his friends to cease fighting. Though chafing like a vexed lion, Captain Truck complied, surprise effecting quite as much as obedience. The Arabs, hardest pressed upon, profited by the pause to fall back on the main body of their friends, near the raft. This was all Paul could ask, and he ordered the gun to be pointed at the centre of the group, while he advanced himself towards the enemy, making a sign of peace.

"Damn 'em, lay 'em aboard!" cried the captain: "no quarter to the blackguards!"

"I rather think we had better charge again," added Mr. Sharp, who was thoroughly warmed with his late employment.

"Hold, gentlemen; you risk all needlessly. I will show these poor wretches what they have to expect, and they will probably retire. We want the ship, not their blood."

"Well, well," returned the impatient captain, "give 'em plenty of Vattel, for we have 'em now in a category."

The men of the wilderness and of the desert seem to act as much by instinct as by reason. An old sheik advanced, smiling, towards Paul, when the latter was a few yards in advance of his friends, offering his hand with as much cordiality as if they met merely to exchange courtesies. Paul led him quietly to the gun, put his hand in, and drew out a bag of slugs, replaced it, and pointed significantly at the dense crowd of exposed Arabs, and at the heated iron that was ready to discharge the piece. At all this the old Arab smiled, and seemed to express his admiration. He was then showed the strong and well-armed party, all of whom by this time had a musket or a pistol ready to use. Paul then signed to the raft and to the reef, as much as to tell the other to withdraw his party.

The sheik exhibited great coolness and sagacity, and, unused to frays so desperate, he signified his disposition to comply. Truces, Paul knew, were common in the African combats, which are seldom bloody, and he hoped the best from the manner of the sheik, who was now permitted to return to his friends. A short conference succeeded among the Arabs, when several of them smilingly waved their hands, and most of the party crowded on the raft. Others advanced, and asked permission to bear away their wounded, and the bodies of the dead, in both of which offices they were assisted by the seamen, as far as was prudent; for it was all-important to be on the guard against treachery.

In this extraordinary manner the combatants separated, the Arabs hauling themselves over to the reef by a line, their old men smiling, and making signs of amity, until they were fairly on the rocks. Here they remained but a very few minutes, for the camels and dromedaries were seen trotting off towards the Dane on the shore; a sign that the compact between the different parties of the barbarians was dissolved, and that each man was about to plunder on his own account. This movement produced great agitation among the old sheiks-and their followers on the reef, and set them in motion with great activity towards the land. So great was their hurry, indeed, that the bodies of all the dead, and of several of the wounded, were fairly abandoned on the rocks, at some distance from the shore.

The first step of the victors, as a matter of course, was to inquire into their own loss. This was much less than would have otherwise been, on account of their good conduct. Every man, without a solitary exception, had ostensibly behaved well; one of the most infallible means of lessening danger. Several of the party had received slight hurts, and divers bullets had passed through hats and jackets. Mr. Sharp, alone, had two through the former, besides one through his coat. Paul had blood drawn on an arm, and Captain Truck, to use his own language, resembled "a horse in fly-time," his skin having been rased in no less than five places. But all these trifling hurts and hair-breadth escapes counted for nothing, as no one was seriously injured by them, or felt sufficient inconvenience even to report himself wounded.

The felicitations were warm and general; even the seamen asking leave to shake their sturdy old commander by the hand. Paul and Mr. Sharp fairly embraced, each expressing his sincere pleasure that the other had escaped unharmed. The latter even shook hands cordially with his counterfeit, who had acted with spirit from the first to the last. John Effingham alone maintained the same cool indifference after the affair that he had shown in it, when it was seen that he had played his part with singular coolness and discretion, dropping two Arabs with his fowling-piece on landing, with a sort of sportsman-like coolness with which he was in the habit of dropping woodcocks at home.

"I fear Mr. Monday is seriously hurt," this gentleman said to the captain, in the midst of his congratulations: "he sits aloof on the box yonder, and looks exhausted."

"Mr. Monday! I hope not, with all my heart and soul He is a capital _diplomate_, and a stout boarder. And Mr Dodge, too! I miss Mr. Dodge."

"Mr. Dodge must have remained behind to console the ladies," returned Paul, "finding that your second mate had abandoned them, like a recreant that he is."

The captain shook his disobedient mate by the hand a second time, and swore he was a mutineer for violating his orders, and ended by declaring that the day was not distant when he and Mr. Leach should command two as good liners as ever sailed out of America.

"I'll have nothing to do with either of you as soon as we reach home," he concluded. "There was Leach a foot or two ahead of me the whole time; and, as for the second officer, I should be justified in logging him as having run. Well, well; young men will be young men; and so would old men too, Mr. John Effingham, if they knew how. But Mr. Monday does look doleful; and I am afraid we shall be obliged to overhaul the medicine-chest for him."

Mr. Monday, however, was beyond the aid of medicine. A ball had passed through his shoulder-blade in landing, notwithstanding which he had pressed into the _melee_, where, unable to parry it, a spear had been thrust into his chest. The last wound appeared grave, and Captain Truck immediately ordered the sufferer to be carried into the ship: John Effingham, with a tenderness and humanity that were singularly in contrast to his ordinary sarcastic manner, volunteering to take charge of him.

"We have need of all our forces," said Captain Truck, as Mr. Monday was borne away; "and yet it is due to our friends in the launch to let them know the result. Set the ensign, Leach; that will tell them our success, though a verbal communication can alone acquaint them with the particulars."

"If," interrupted Paul, eagerly, "you will lend me the launch of the Dane, Mr. Sharp and myself will beat her up to the raft, let our friends know the result, and bring the spars down to the inlet. This will save the necessity of any of the men's being absent. We claim the privilege, too, as belonging properly to the party that is now absent."

"Gentlemen, take any privilege you please. You have stood by me like heroes; and I owe you all more than the heel of a worthless old life will ever permit me to pay."

The two young men did not wait for a second invitation but in five minutes the boat was stretching through one of the channels that led landward; and in five more it was laying out of the inlet with a steady breeze.

The instant Captain Truck retrod the deck of his ship was one of uncontrollable feeling with the weather-beaten old seaman. The ship had sewed too much to admit of walking with ease, and he sat down on the coaming of the main hatch, and fairly wept like an infant. So high had his feelings been wrought that this out-breaking was violent, and the men wondered to see their grey-headed, stern, old commander, so completely unmanned. He seemed at length ashamed of the weakness himself, for, rising like a worried tiger, he began to issue his orders as sternly and promptly as was his wont.

"What the devil are you gaping at, men!" he growled; "did you never see a ship on her bilge before? God knows, and for that matter you all know, there is enough to do, that you stand like so many marines, with their 'eyes right!' and 'pipe-clay.'"

"Take it more kindly, Captain Truck," returned an old sea-dog, thrusting out a hand that was all knobs, a fellow whose tobacco had not been displaced even by the fray; "take it kindly, and look upon all these boxes and bales as so much cargo that is to be struck in, in dock. We'll soon stow it, and, barring a few slugs, and one four-pounder, that has cut up a crate of crockery as if it had been a cat in a cupboard, no great harm is done. I look upon this matter as no more than a sudden squall, that has compelled us to bear up for a little while, but which will answer for a winch to spin yarns on all the rest of our days. I have fit the French, and the English, and the Turks, in my time; and now I can say I have had a brush with the niggers."

"D--n me, but you are right, old Tom! and I'll make no more account of the matter. Mr. Leach, give the people a little encouragement. There is enough left in the jug that you'll find in the stern-sheets of the pinnace; and then turn-to, and strike in all this dunnage, that the Arabs have been scattering on the sands. We'll stow it when we get the ship into an easier bed than the one in which she is now lying."

This was the signal for commencing work; and these straight-forward tars, who had just been in the confusion and hazards of a fight, first took their grog, and then commenced their labour in earnest. As they had only, with their knowedge and readiness, to repair the damage done by the ignorant and hurried Arabs, in a short time every thing was on board the ship again, when their attention was directed to the situation of the vessel itself. Not to anticipate events, however, we will now return to the party in the launch.

The reader will readily imagine the feelings with which Mr. Effingham and his party listened to the report of the first gun. As they all remained below, they were ignorant who the individual really was that kept pacing the roof over their heads, though it was believed to be the second mate, agreeably to the arrangement made by Captain Truck.

"My eyes grow dim," said Mr. Effingham, who was looking through a glass; "will you try to see what is passing, Eve?"

"Father, I cannot look," returned the pallid girl. "It is misery enough to hear these frightful guns."

"It is awful!" said Nanny, folding her arms about her child, "and I wonder that such gentlemen as Mr. John and Mr. Powis should go on an enterprise so wicked!"

"_Voulez-vous avoir la complaisance, monsieur_?" said Mademoiselle Viefville, taking the glass from the unresisting hand of Mr. Effingham. "_Ha! le combat commence en effet_!"

"Is it the Arabs who now fire?" demanded Eve, unable, in spite of terror, to repress her interest.

"_Non, c'est cet admirable jeune homme, Monsieur Blunt, qui devance tous les autres_!"

"And now, mademoiselle, _that must surely be the barbarians?"

"_Du tout. Les sauvages fuient. C'est encore du ba teau de Monsieur Blunt qu'on tire. Quel beau courage! son bateau est toujours des premiers_!"

"That shout is frightful! Do they close?"

"_On crie des deux parts, je crois. Le vieux capitaine est en avant a present, et Monsieur Blunt s'arrete_!"

"May Heaven avert the danger! Do you see the gentlemen at all, Mademoiselle?"

"_La fumee est trop epaisse. Ah! les viola! On tire encore de son bateau_."

"_Eh bien, mademoiselle_?" said Eve tremulously, after a long pause.

"_C'est deja fini. Les Arabes se retirent et nos amis se sont empares du batiment. Cela a ete l'affaire d'un moment, et que le combat a ete glorieux! Ces jeunes gens sont vraiment dignes d'etre Francais, et le vieux capitaine, aussi_.'

"Are there no tidings for us, mademoiselle?" asked Eve, after another long pause, during which she had poured out her gratitude in trembling, but secret thanksgivings.

"_Non, pas encore. Ils se felicitent, je crois_."

"It's time, I'm sure, ma'am," said the meek-minded Ann, "to send forth the dove, that it may find the olive branch. War and strife are too sinful to be long indulged in."

"There is a boat making sail in this direction," said Mr. Effingham, who had left the glass with the governess, in complaisance to her wish.

"_Oui, c'est le bateau de Monsieur Blunt_."

"And who is in it?" demanded the father, for the meed of a world could not have enabled Eve to speak.

"_Je vois Monsieur Sharp--oui, c'est bien lui_."

"Is he alone?"

"_Non, il y en a deux--mais--oui--c'est Monsieur Blunt,--notre jeune heros_!"

Eve bowed her face, and even while her soul melted in gratitude to God, the feelings of her sex caused the tell-tale blood to suffuse her features to the brightness of crimson.

Mr. Effingham now took the glass from the spirited Frenchwoman, whose admiration of brilliant qualities had overcome her fears, and he gave a more detailed and connected account of the situation of things near the ship, as they presented themselves to a spectator at that distance.

Notwithstanding they already knew so much, it was a painful and feverish half hour to those in the launch, the time that intervened between this dialogue and the moment when the boat of the Dane came alongside of their own. Every face was at the windows, and the young men were received like deliverers, in whose safety all felt a deep concern.

"But, cousin Jack," said Eve, across whose speaking countenance apprehension and joy cast their shadows and gleams like April clouds driving athwart a brilliant sky, "my father has not been able to discover his form among those who move about on the bank."

The gentlemen explained the misfortune of Mr. Monday, and related the manner in which John Effingham had assumed the office of nurse. A few delicious minutes passed; for nothing is more grateful than the happiness that first succeeds a victory, and the young men proceeded to lift the kedge, assisted by the servant of Mr. Effingham. The sails were set; and in fifteen minutes the raft--the long-desired and much-coveted raft--approached the inlet.

Paul steered the larger boat, and gave to Mr. Sharp directions how to steer the other. The tide was flowing into the passage; and, by keeping his weatherly position, the young man carried his long train of spars with so much precision into its opening, that, favoured by the current, it was drawn through without touching a rock, and brought in triumph to the very margin of the bank. Here it was secured, the sails and cordage were brought ashore, and the whole party landed.

The last twenty hours seemed like a dream to all the females, as they again walked the solid sand in security and hope. They had now assembled every material of safety, and all that remained was to get the ship off the shore, and to rig her; Mr. Leach having already reported that she was as tight as the day she left London.

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