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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 27
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 27 Post by :jaydarby Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :1701

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 27

Chapter XXVII

Would I were in an ale-house in London!
I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety

HENRY VTH.


Mademoiselle Viefville, with a decision and intelligence that rendered her of great use in moments of need hastened to offer her services to the wounded man, while Eve, attended by Ann Sidley, ascended the ship and made her way into the cabins, in the best manner the leaning position of the vessel allowed. Here they found less confusion than might have been expected, the scene being ludicrous, rather than painful, for Mr. Monday was in his state-room excluded from sight.

In the first place, the _soi-disant Sir George Templemore was counting over his effects, among which he had discovered a sad deficiency in coats and pantaloons. The Arabs had respected the plunder, by compact, with the intention of making a fair distribution on the reef; but, with a view to throw a sop to the more rapacious of their associates, one room had been sacked by the permission of the sheiks. This unfortunate room happened to be that of Sir George Templemore, and the patent razors, the East Indian dressing case, the divers toys, to say nothing of innumerable vestments which the young man had left paraded in his room, for the mere pleasure of feasting his eyes on them, had disappeared.

"Do me the favour, Miss Effingham," he said, appealing to Eve, of whom he stood habitually in awe, from the pure necessity of addressing her in his distress, or of addressing no one, "do me the favour to look into my room, and see the unprincipled manner in which I have been treated. Not a comb nor a razor left; not a garment to make myself decent in! I'm sure such conduct is quite a disgrace to the civilization of barbarians even, and I shall make it a point, to have the affair duly represented to his majesty's minister the moment I arrive in New York. I sincerely hope you have been better treated, though I think, after this specimen of their principles, there is little hope for any one: I'm sure we ought to be grateful they did not strip the ship. I trust we shall all make common cause against them the moment we arrive."

"We ought, indeed, sir," returned Eve, who, while she had known from the beginning of his being an impostor, was willing to ascribe his fraud to vanity, and who now felt charitable towards him on account of the spirit he had shown in the combat; "though I trust we shall have escaped better. Our effects were principally in the baggage-room, and that, I understand from Captain Truck, has not been touched."

"Indeed you are very fortunate, and I can only wish that the same good luck had happened to myself. But then, you know, Miss Effingham, that one has need of his little comforts, and, as for myself, I confess to rather a weakness in that way."

"Monstrous prodigality and wastefulness!" cried Saunders, as Eve passed on towards her own cabin, willing to escape any more of Sir George's complaints. "Just be so kind, Miss Effingham, ma'am, to look into this here pantry, once! Them niggers, I do believe, have had their fingers in every thing, and it will take Toast and me a week to get things decorous and orderly again. Some of the shrieks" (for so the steward styled the chiefs) "have been yelling well in this place, I'll engage, as you may see, by the manner in which they have spilt the mustard and mangled that cold duck. I've a most mortal awersion to a man that cuts up poultry against the fibers; and, would you think it, Miss Effingham, ma'am, that the last gun Mr. Blunt fired, dislocated, or otherwise diwerted, about half a dozen of the fowls that happened to be in the way; for I let all the poor wretches out of the coops, that they might make their own livings should we never come back. I should think that as polite and experienced a gentleman as Mr. Blunt might have shot the Arabs instead of my poultry!"

"So it is," thought Eve, as she glanced into the pantry and proceeded. "What is considered happiness to-day gets to be misery to-morrow, and the rebukes of adversity are forgotten the instant prosperity resumes its influence. Either of these men, a few hours since, would have been most happy to have been in this vessel, as a home, or a covering for their heads, and now they quarrel with their good fortune because it is wanting in some accustomed superfluity or pampered indulgence."

We shall leave her with this wholesome reflection uppermost, to examine into the condition of her own room, and return to the deck.

As the hour was still early, Captain Truck having once quieted his feelings, went to work with zeal, to turn the late success to the best account. The cargo that had been discharged was soon stowed again, and the next great object was to get the ship afloat previously to hoisting in the new spars. As the kedges still lay on the reef, and all the anchors remained in the places where they had originally been placed, there was little to do but to get ready to heave upon the chains as soon as the tide rose. Previously to commencing this task, however, the intervening time was well employed in sending, down the imperfect hamper that was aloft, and in getting up shears to hoist out the remains of the foremast, as well as the jury mainmast, the latter of which, it will be remembered, was only fitted two days before. All the appliances used on that occasion being still on deck, and every body lending a willing hand, this task was completed by noon. The jury-mast gave little trouble, but was soon lying on the bank; and then Captain Truck, the shears having been previously shifted, commenced lifting the broken foremast, and just as the cooks announced that the dinner was ready for the people, the latter safely deposited the spar on the sands.

"'Here, a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowline,'" said Captain Truck to Mr. Blunt, as the crew came up the staging in their way to the galley, in quest of their meal. "I have not beheld the Montauk without a mast since the day she lay a new-born child at the ship-yards. I see some half a dozen of these mummified scoundrels dodging about on the shore yet, though the great majority, as Mr. Dodge would say, have manifested a decided disposition to amuse them selves with a further acquaintance with the Dane. In my humble opinion, sir, that poor deserted ship will have no more inside of her by night, than one of Saunders' ducks that have been dead an hour. That hearty fellow, Mr. Monday, is hit, I fear, between wind and water, Leach?"

"He is in a bad way, indeed, as I understand from Mr John Effingham, who very properly allows no one to disturb him, keeping the state-room door closed on all but himself and his own man."

'Ay, ay, that is merciful; a man likes a little quiet when he is killed. As soon as the ship is more fit to be seen however, it will become my duty to wait on him in order to see that nothing is wanting. We must offer the poor man the consolations of religion, Mr. Blunt."

"They would certainly be desirable had we one qualified for the task."

"I can't say as much in that way for myself, perhaps, as I might, seeing that my father was a priest. But then, we masters of packets have occasion to turn our hands to a good many odd jobs. As soon as the ship is snug, I shall certainly take a look at the honest fellow. Pray, sir, what became of Mr. Dodge in the skirmish?"

Paul smiled, but he prudently answered, "I believe he occupied himself in taking notes of the combat, and I make no doubt will do you full justice in the Active Inquirer, as soon as he gets its columns again at his command."

"Too much learning, as my good father used to say, has made him a little mad. But I have a grateful heart to-day, Mr. Blunt, and will not be critical. I did not perceive Mr. Dodge in the conflict, as Saunders calls it, but there were so many of those rascally Arabs, that one had not an opportunity of seeing much else. We must get the ship outside of this reef with as little delay as possible, for to tell you a secret"--here the captain dropped his voice to a whisper--"there are but two rounds a-piece left for the small arms, and only one cartridge for the four-pounder. I own to you a strong desire to be in the offing."

"They will hardly attempt to board us, after the specimen they have had of what we can do."

"No one knows, sir; no one knows. They keep pouring down upon the coast like crows on the scent of a carrion, and once done with the Dane, we shall see them in hundreds prowling around us like wolves. How much do we want of high water?"

"An hour, possibly. I do not think there is much time to lose before the people get to work at the windlass."

Captain Truck nodded, and proceeded to look into the condition of his ground-tackle. It was a joyous but an anxious moment when the hand-spikes were first handled, and the slack of one of the chains began to come in. The ship had been upright several hours, and no one could tell how hard she would hang on the bottom. As the chain tightened, the gentlemen, the officers included, got upon the bows and looked anxiously at the effect of each heave; for it was a nervous thing to be stranded on such a coast, even after all that had occurred.

"She winks, by George!" cried the captain; "heave together, men, and you will stir the sand!"

The men did heave, gaining inch by inch, until no effort could cause the ponderous machine to turn. The mates, and then the captain, applied their strength in succession, and but half a turn more was gained. Everybody was now summoned, even to the passengers, and the enormous strain seemed to threaten to tear the fabric asunder; and still the ship was immoveable.

"She hangs hardest forward, sir," said Mr. Leach: "suppose we run up the stern-boat?"

This expedient was adopted, and so nearly were the counteracting powers balanced, that it prevailed. A strong heave caused the ship to start, an inch more of tide aided the effort, and then the vast hull slowly yielded to the purchase, gradually turning towards the anchor, until the quick blows of the pall announced that the vessel was fairly afloat again.

"Thank God for that, as for all his mercies!" said Captain Truck. "Heave the hussy up to her anchor, Mr. Leach, when we will cast an eye to her moorings."

All this was done, the ship being effectually secured, with due attention to a change in the wind, that now promised to be permanent. Not a moment was lost; but, the sheers being still standing, the foremast of the Dane was floated alongside, fastened to, and hove into its new berth, with as much rapidity as comported with care. When the mast was fairly stepped, Captain Truck rubbed his hands with delight, and immediately commanded his subordinate to rig it, although by this time the turn of the day had considerably passed.

"This is the way with us seamen, Mr. Effingham," he observed; "from the fall to the fight, and then again from the fight to the fall. Our work, like women's, is never done; whereas you landsmen knock off with the sun, and sleep while the corn grows. I have always owed my parents a grudge for bringing me up to a dog's life."

"I had understood it was a choice of your own, captain."

"Ay--so far as running away and shipping without their knowledge was concerned, perhaps it was; but then it was their business to begin at the bottom, and to train me up in such a manner that I would not run away. The Lord forgive me, too, for thinking amiss of the two dear old people; for, to be candid with you, they were much too good to have such a son; and I honestly believe they loved me more than I loved myself. Well, I've the consolation of knowing I comforted the old lady with many a pound of capital tea after I got into the China trade, ma'amselle."

"She was fond of it?" observed the governess politely.

"She relished it very much, as a horse takes to oats, or a child to custard. That, and snuff and grace, composed her principal consolations."

"_Quoi?_" demanded the governess, looking towards Paul for an explanation.

"_Grace, mademoiselle; la grace de Dieu._"

"_Bien!"

"It's a sad misfortune, after all, to lose a mother, ma'amselle. It is like cutting all the headfasts, and riding altogether by the stern; for it is letting go the hold of what has gone before to grapple with the future. It is true that I ran away from my mother when a youngster, and thought little of it! but when she took her turn and ran away from me, I began to feel that I had made a wrong use of my legs. What are the tidings from poor Mr. Monday?"

"I understand he does not suffer greatly, but that he grows weaker fast," returned Paul. "I fear there is little hope of his surviving such a hurt."

The captain had got out a cigar, and had beckoned to Toast for a coal; but changing his mind suddenly, he broke the tobacco into snuff, and scattered it about the deck.

"Why the devil is not that rigging going up, Mr. Leach?" he cried, fiercely. "It is not my intention to pass the winter at these moorings, and I solicit a little more expedition."

"Ay, ay, sir," returned the mate, one of a class habitually patient and obedient; "bear a hand, my lads, and get the strings into their places."

"Leach," continued the captain, more kindly, and still working his fingers unconsciously, "come this way, my good friend. I have not expressed to you, Mr. Leach, all I wish to say of your good conduct in this late affair. You have stood by me like a gallant fellow throughout the whole business, and I shall not hesitate about saying as much when we get in. It is my intention to write a letter to the owners, which no doubt they'll publish; for, whatever they have got to say against America, no one will deny it is easy to get any thing published. Publishing is victuals and drink to the nation. You may depend on having justice done you."

"I never doubted it, Captain Truck."

"No, sir; and you never winked. The mainmast does not stand up in a gale firmer than you stood up to the niggers."

"Mr. Effingham, sir--and Mr. Sharp--and particularly Mr. Blunt--"

"Let me alone to deal with them. Even Toast acted like a man. Well, Leach, they tell me poor Monday must slip, after all."

"I am very sorry to hear it, sir; Mr. Monday laid about him like a soldier!"

"He did, indeed; but Bonaparte himself has been obliged to give up the ghost, and Wellington must follow him some day; even old Putnam is dead. Either you or I, or both of us, Leach, will have to throw in some of the consolations of religion on this mournful occasion."

"There is Mr. Effingham, sir, or Mr. John. Effingham, elderly gentlemen with more scholarship."

"That will never do. All they can offer, no doubt, will be acceptable, but we owe a duty to the ship. The officers of a packet are not graceless-horse-jockeys, but sober, discreet men, and it becomes them to show that they have some education, and the right sort of stuff in them on an emergency. I expect you will stand by me, Leach, on this melancholy occasion, as stoutly as you stood by me this morning."

"I humbly hope, sir, not to disgrace the vessel, but it is likely Mr. Monday is a Church-of-England-man, and we both belong to the Saybrook Platform!"

"Ah! the devil!--I forgot that! But religion is religion; old line or new line; and I question if a man so near unmooring will be very particular. The great thing is consolation, and that we must contrive to give him, by hook or by crook, when the proper moment comes; and now, Mr. Leach, let the people push matters, and we shall have every, thing up forward, and that mainmast stepped yet by 'sunset;' or it would be more literal to say '_sun-down_;'" Captain Truck, like a true New-England-man, invariably using a provincialism that has got to be so general in America.

The work proceeded with spirit, for every one was anxious to get the ship out of a berth that was so critical, as well from the constant vicinity of the Arabs as from the dangers of the weather. The wind baffled too, as it is usual on the margin of the trades, and at times it blew from the sea, though it continued light, and the changes were of short continuance. As Captain Truck hoped, when the people ceased work at night, the fore and fore-top-sail-yards were in their places, the top-gallant-mast was fitted, and, with the exception of the sails, the ship was what is called a-tanto, forward. Aft, less had been done, though by the assistance of the supernumeraries, who continued to lend their aid, the two lower masts were stepped, though no rigging could be got over them. The men volunteered to work by watches through the night, but to this Captain Truck would not listen, affirming that they had earned their suppers and a good rest, both of which they should have.

The gentlemen, who merely volunteered an occasional drag, cheerfully took the look-outs, and as there were plenty of fire-arms, though not much powder, little apprehension was entertained of the Arabs. As was expected, the night passed away tranquilly, and every one arose with the dawn refreshed and strengthened.

The return of day, however, brought the Arabs down upon the shore in crowds; for the last gale, which had been unusually severe, and the tidings of the wrecks, which had been spread by means of the dromedaries far and wide, had collected a force on the coast that began to be formidable through sheer numbers. The Dane had been effectually emptied, and plunder had the same effect on these rapacious barbarians that blood is known to produce on the tiger. The taste had begotten an appetite, and from the first appearance of the light, those in the ship saw sighs of a disposition to renew the attempt on their liberty.

Happily, the heaviest portion of the work was done, and Captain Truck determined, rather than risk another conflict with a force that was so much augmented, to get the spars on board, and to take the ship outside of the reef, without waiting to complete her equipment. His first orders, therefore, when all hands were mustered, were for the boats to get in the kedges and the stream anchor, and otherwise to prepare to move the vessel. In the mean time other gangs were busy in getting the rigging over the mast-heads, and in setting it up. As the lifting of the anchors with boats was heavy work, by the time they were got on board and stowed it was noon, and all the yards were aloft, though not a sail was bent in the vessel.

Captain Truck, while the people were eating, passed through the ship examining every stay and shroud: there were some make-shifts it is true, but on the whole he was satisfied, though he plainly saw that the presence of the Arabs had hurried matters a little, and that a good many drags would have to be given as soon as they got beyond danger, and that some attention must be paid to seizings still, what had been done would answer very well for moderate weather, and it was too late to stop to change.

The trade wind had returned, and blew steadily as if finally likely to stand; and the water outside of the reef was smooth enough to permit the required alterations, now that the heavier spars were in their places.

The appearance of the Montauk certainly was not as stately and commanding as before the wreck, but there was an air of completeness about it that augured well. It was that of a ship of seven hundred tons, fitted with spars intended for a ship of five hundred. The packet a little resembled a man of six feet, in the coat of a man of five feet nine, and yet the discrepancy would not be apt to be noticed by any but the initiated. Everything essential was in its place, and reasonably well secured, and, as the Dane had been rigged for a stormy sea, Captain Truck fell satisfied he might, in his present plight, venture on the American coast even in winter, without incurring unusual hazard.

As soon as the hour of work arrived, therefore, a boat was sent to drop a kedge as near the inlet as it would be safe to venture, and a little to windward of it. By making a calculation, and inspecting his buoys, which still remained where he had placed them, Captain Truck found that he could get a narrow channel of sufficient directness to permit the ship to be warped as far as this point in a straight line. Every thing but the boats was now got on board, the anchor by which they rode was hove up, and the warp was brought to the capstan, when the vessel slowly began to advance towards the inlet.

This movement was a signal to the Arabs, who poured down on both reefs in hundreds, screaming and gesticulating like maniacs. It required good nerves and some self-reliance to advance in the face of such a danger, and this so much the more, as the barbarians showed themselves in the greatest force on the northern range of rocks, which offered a good shelter for their persons, completely raked the channel, and, moreover, lay so near the spot where the kedge had been dropped, that one might have jerked a stone from the one to the other. To add to the awkwardness of the affair, the Arabs began to fire with those muskets that are of so little service in close encounters, but which are notorious for sending their shot with great precision from a distance. The bullets came thick upon the ship, though the stoutness of the bulwarks forward, and their height, as yet protected the men.

In this dilemma, Captain Truck hesitated about continuing to haul ahead, and he sent for Mr. Blunt and Mr. Leach for a consultation. Both these gentlemen advised perseverance, and as the counsel of the former will succinctly show the state of things, it shall be given in his own words.

"Indecision is always discouraging to one's friends, and encouraging to one's enemies," he said, "and I recommend perseverance. The nearer we haul to the rocks, the greater will be our command of them, while the more the chances of the Arabs' throwing their bullets on our decks will be diminished. Indeed, so long as we ride head to wind, they cannot fire low enough to effect their object from the northern reef, and on the southern they will not venture very near, for want of cover. It is true it will be impossible for us to bend our sails or to send out a boat in the face of so heavy a fire, while our assailants are so effectually covered; but we may possibly dislodge them with the gun, or with our small-arms, from the decks. If not, I will head a party into the tops, from which I will undertake to drive them out of the reach of our muskets in five minutes."

"Such a step would be very hazardous to those who ventured aloft."

"It would not be without danger, and some loss must be expected; but they who fight must expect risks."

"In which case it will be the business of Mr. Leach and myself to head the parties aloft. If we are obliged to console the dying, damn me, but we are entitled to the privilege of fighting the living."

"Ay, ay, sir," put in the mate; "that stands to reason."

"There are three tops, gentlemen," returned Paul, mildly, "and I respect your rights too much to wish to interfere with them. We can each take one, and the effect will be in proportion to the greater means we employ,--one vigorous assault being worth a dozen feints."

Captain Truck shook Paul heartily by the hand, and adopted his advice. When the young man had retired, he turned to the mate, and said--

"After all, these men-of-war's men are a little beyond us in the science of attack and defence, though I think I could give him a hint in the science of signs. I have had two or three touches at privateering in my time, but no regular occupation in your broadside work. Did you see how Mr. Blunt handled his boat yesterday? As much like two double blocks and a steady drag, as one belaying-pin is like another, and as coolly as a great lady in London looks at one of us in a state of nature. For my part, Leach, I was as hot as mustard, and ready to cut the throat of the best friend I had on earth; whereas he was smiling as I rowed past him, though I could hardly see his face for the smoke of his own gun."

"Yes, sir, that's the way with your regular builts. I'll warrant you he began young, and had kicked all the passion out of himself on old salts, by the time he was eighteen. He doesn't seem, neither, like one of the true d--n-my-eye breed; but it's a great privilege to a man in a passion to be allowed to kick when and whom he likes."

"Not he. I say Leach, perhaps he might lend us a hand when it comes to the pinch with poor Monday. I have a great desire that the worthy fellow should take his departure decently."

"Well, sir, I think you had better propose it. For my part, I'm quite willing to go into all three of the tops alone, rather than disappoint a dying man."

The captain promised to look to the matter, and then they turned their attention to the ship, which in a few more minutes was up as near the kedge as it was prudent to haul her.

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