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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 30
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 30 Post by :jaydarby Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3001

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 30

Chapter XXX

Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?

ISAIAH.


The principal hurt of Mr. Monday was one of those wounds that usually produce death within eight-and-forty hours. He had borne the pain with resolution; and, as yet, had discovered no consciousness of the imminent danger that was so apparent to all around him. But a film had suddenly past from before his senses; and, a man of mere habits, prejudices, and animal enjoyments, he had awakened at the very termination of his brief existence to something like a consciousness of his true position in the moral world, as well as of his real physical condition. Under the first impulse of such an alarm, John Effingham had been sent for; and he, as has been seen, ordered Captain Truck to be summoned. In consequence of the previous understanding these two gentlemen and Mr. Leach appeared at the state-room door at the same instant. The apartment being small it was arranged between them that the former should enter first, having been expressly sent for; and that the others should be introduced at the pleasure of the wounded man.

"I have brought my Bible, Mr. Leach," said the captain when he and the mate were left alone, "for a chapter is the very least we can give a cabin-passenger, though I am a little at a loss to know what particular passage will be the most suitable for the occasion. Something from the book of Kings would be likely to suit Mr. Monday, as he is a thorough-going king's man."

"It is so long since I read that particular book, sir," returned the mate, diligently thumbing his watch-key, "that I should be diffident about expressing an opinion. I think, however, a little Bible might do him good."

"It is not an easy matter to hit a conscience exactly between wind and water. I once thought of producing an impression on the ship's company by reading the account of Jonah and the whale as a subject likely to attract their attention, and to show them the hazards we seamen run; but, in the end, I discovered that the narration struck them all aback as a thing not likely to be true. Jack can stand any thing but a fish story, you know, Leach."

"It is always better to keep clear of miracles at sea, I believe, sir, when the people are to be spoken to: I saw some of the men this evening wince about that ship of St. Paul's carrying out anchors in a gale."

"The graceless rascals ought to be thankful they are not at this very moment trotting through the great desert lashed to dromedaries' tails! Had I known that, Leach, I would have read the verse twice! But Mr. Monday is altogether a different man, and will listen to reason. There is the story of Absalom, which is quite interesting; and perhaps the account of the battle might be suitable for one who dies in consequence of a battle; but, on the whole, I remember my worthy old father used to say that a sinner ought to be well shaken up at such a moment."

"I fancy, sir, Mr. Monday has been a reasonably steady man as the world goes. Seeing that he is a passenger, I should try and ease him off handsomely, and without any of these Methodist surges."

"You may be right, Leach, you may be right; do as foil would be done by is the golden rule after all. But, here comes Mr. John Effingham; so I fancy we may enter."

The captain was not mistaken, for Mr. Monday had just taken a restorative, and had expressed a desire to see the two officers. The state-room was a small, neat, and even beautifully finished apartment, about seven feet square. It had originally been fitted with two berths; but, previously to taking possession of the place, John Effingham had caused the carpenter to remove the upper, and Mr. Monday now lay in what had been the lower bed. This situation placed him below his attendant, and in a position where he might be the more easily assisted. A shaded lamp lighted the room, by means of which the captain caught the anxious expression of the dying man's eye, as he took a seat himself.

"I am grieved to see you in this state, Mr. Monday." said the master, "and this all the more since it has happened in consequence of your bravery in fighting to regain my ship. By rights this accident ought to have befallen one of the Montauk's people, or Mr. Leach, here, or even myself, before it befel you."

Mr. Monday looked at the speaker as if the intended consolation had failed of its effect, and the captain began to suspect that he should find a difficult subject for his new ministrations. By way of gaining time, he thrust an elbow into the mate's side as a hint that it was now his turn to offer something.

"It might have been worse, Mr. Monday," observed Leach, shifting his attitude like a man whose moral and physical action moved _pari passu: "it might have been much worse, I once saw a man shot in the under jaw, and he lived a fortnight without any sort of nourishment!"

Still Mr. Monday gazed at the mate as if he thought matters could not be much worse.

"That _was a hard case," put in the captain; "why, the poor fellow had no opportunity to recover without victuals.

"No, sir, nor any drink. He never swallowed a mouthful of liquor of any sort from the time he was hit, until he took the plunge when we threw him overboard."

Perhaps there is truth in the saying that "misery loves company," for the eye of Mr. Monday turned towards the table on which the bottle of cordial still stood, and from John Effingham, had just before helped him to swallow, under the impression that it was of no moment what he took. The captain understood the appeal, and influenced by the same opinion concerning the hopelessness of the patient's condition, besides being kindly anxious to console him, he poured out a small glass, all of which he permitted the other to drink. The effect was instantaneous, for it would seem this treacherous friend is ever to produce a momentary pleasure as a poor compensation for its lasting pains.

"I don't feel so bad, gentleman," returned the wounded man with a force of voice that startled his visitors. "I feel better--much better, and am very glad to see you. Captain Truck, I have the honor to drink your health."

The captain looked at the mate as if he thought their visit was twenty-four hours too soon, for live, all felt sure, Mr. Monday could not. But Leach, better placed to observe the countenance of the patient, whispered his commander that it was merely "a catspaw, and will not stand."

"I am very glad to see you both, gentlemen," continued Mr. Monday, "and beg you to help yourselves."

The captain changed his tactics. Finding his patient so strong and cheerful, he thought consolation would be more easily received just at that moment, than it might be even half an hour later.

"We are all mortal, Mr. Monday--"

"Yes, sir; all very mortal."

"And even the strongest and boldest ought occasionally to think of their end."

"Quite true, sir; quite true. The strongest and boldest. When do you think we shall get in, gentlemen?"

Captain Truck afterwards affirmed that he was "never before taken so flat aback by a question as by this." Still he extricated himself from the dilemma with dexterity, the spirit of proselytism apparently arising within him in proportion as the other manifested indifference to his offices.

"There is a port to which we are all steering, my dear sir," he said; "and of which we ought always to bear in mind the landmarks and beacons, and that port is heaven."

"Yes," answered Mr Leach, "a port that, sooner or later, will fetch us all up."

Mr. Monday gazed from one to the other, and something like the state of feeling, from which he had been aroused by the cordial, began to return.

"Do you think me so bad, gentlemen?" he inquired, with a little of the eagerness of a startled man.

"As bad as one bound direct to so good a place as I hope and trust is the case with you, can be," returned the captain, determined to follow up the advantage he had gained. "Your wound, we fear, is mortal, and people seldom remain long in this wicked world with such sort of hurts."

"If he stands that," thought the captain, "I shall turn him over, at once, to Mr. Effingham."

Mr. Monday did not stand it. The illusion produced by the liquor, although the latter still sustained his pulses, had begun to evaporate, and the melancholy truth resumed its power.

"I believe, indeed, that I am near my end, gentlemen," he said faintly; and am thankful--for--for this consolation."

"Now will be a good time to throw in the chapter," whispered Leach; "he seems quite conscious, and very contrite."

Captain Truck, in pure despair, and conscious of his own want of judgment, had determined to leave the question of the selection of this chapter to be decided by chance. Perhaps a little of that mysterious dependence on Providence which renders all men more or less superstitions, influenced him; and that he hoped a wisdom surpassing his own might direct him to a choice. Fortunately, the book of Psalms is near the middle of the sacred volume, and a better disposition of this sublime repository of pious praise and spiritual wisdom could not have been made; for the chance-directed peruser of the Bible will perhaps oftener open among its pages than at any other place.

If we should say that Mr. Monday felt any very profound spiritual relief from the reading of Captain Truck, we should both overrate the manner of the honest sailor, and the intelligence of the dying man. Still the solemn language of praise and admiration had an effect, and, for the first time since childhood, the soul of the latter was moved. God and judgment passed before his imagination, and he gasped for breath in a way that induced the two seamen to suppose the fatal moment had come, even sooner than they expected. The cold sweat stood upon the forehead of the patient, and his eyes glared wildly from one to the other. The paroxysm, however, was transient, and he soon settled down into a state of comparative calmness, pushing away the glass that Captain Truck offered, in mistaken kindness, with a manner of loathing.

"We must comfort him, Leach," whispered the captain; "for I see he is fetching up in the old way, as was duly laid down by our ancestors in the platform. First, groanings and views of the devil, and then consolation and hope. We have got him into the first category, and we ought now, in justice, to bring to, and heave a strain to help him through it."

"They generally give 'em prayer, in the river, in this stage of the attack," said Leach. "If you can remember a short prayer, sir, it might ease him off."

Captain Truck and his mate, notwithstanding the quaintness of their thoughts and language, were themselves solemnly impressed with the scene, and actuated by the kindest motives. Nothing of levity mingled with their notions, but they felt the responsibility of officers of a packet, besides entertaining a generous interest in the fate of a stranger who had fallen, fighting manfully at their side. The old man looked awkwardly about him, turned the key of the door, wiped his eyes, gazed wistfully at the patient, gave his mate a nudge with his elbow to follow his example, and knelt down with a heart momentarily as devout as is often the case with those who minister at the altar. He retained the words of the Lord's prayer, and these he repeated aloud, distinctly, and with fervour, though not with a literal conformity to the text. Once Mr. Leach had to help him to the word. When he rose, the perspiration stood on his forehead, as if he had been engaged in severe toil.

Perhaps nothing could have occurred more likely to strike the imagination of Mr. Monday than to see one, of the known character and habits of Captain Truck, thus wrestling with the Lord in his own behalf. Always obtuse and dull of thought, the first impression was that of wonder; awe and contrition followed. Even the mate was touched, and he afterwards told his companion on deck, that "the hardest day's work he had ever done, was lending a hand to rouse the captain through that prayer."

"I thank you, sir," gasped Mr. Monday, "I thank you--Mr. John Effingham--now, let me see Mr. John Effingham. I have no time to lose, and wish to see _him_"

The captain rose to comply, with the feelings of a man who had done his duty, and, from that moment, he had a secret satisfaction at having so manfully acquitted himself, Indeed, it has been remarked by those who have listened to his whole narrative of the passage, that he invariably lays more stress on the scene in the state-room, than on the readiness and skill with which he repaired the damages sustained by his own ship, through the means obtained from the Dane, or the spirit with which he retook her from the Arabs.

John Effingham appeared in the state-room, where the captain and Mr. Leach left him alone with the patient Like all strong-minded men, who are conscious of their superiority over the rest of their fellow creatures, this gentleman felt disposed to concede most to those who were the least able to contend with him. Habitually sarcastic and stern, and sometimes forbidding, he was now mild and discreet. He saw, at a glance, that Mr. Monday's mind was alive to novel feelings, and aware that the approach of death frequently removes moral clouds that have concealed the powers of the spirit while the animal part of the being was in full vigour, he was surprised at observing the sudden change that was so apparent in the countenance of the dying man.

"I believe, sir, I have been a great sinner," commenced Mr. Monday, who spoke more feebly as the influence of the cordial evaporated, and in short and broken sentences.

"In that you share the lot of all," returned John Effingham. "We are taught that no man of himself, no unaided soul, is competent to its own salvation. Christians look to the Redeemer for succour."

"I believe I understand you, but I am a business man, sir, and have been taught that reparation is the best atonement for a wrong."

"It certainly should be the _first_"

"Yes, indeed it should, sir. I am but the son of poor parents, and may have been tempted to some things that are improper. My mother, too, I was her only support. Well, the Lord will pardon it, if it were wrong, as I dare say it might have been. I think I should have drunk less and thought more, but for this affair--perhaps it is not yet too late."

John Effingham listened with surprise, but with the coolness and sagacity that marked his character. He saw the necessity, or at least the prudence, of there being another witness present. Taking advantage of the exhaustion of the speaker, he stepped to the door of Eve's cabin, and signed Paul to follow him. They entered the state-room together, when John Effingham took Mr. Monday soothingly by the hand, offering him a nourishment less exciting than the cordial, but which had the effect to revive him.

"I understand you, sir," continued Mr. Monday, looking at Paul; "it is all very proper; but I have little to say--the papers will explain it all. Those keys, sir--the upper drawer of the bureau, and the red morocco case--take it all--this is the key. I have kept everything together, from a misgiving that an hour would come. In New York you will have time--it is not yet too late."

As the wounded man spoke at intervals, and with difficulty, John Effingham had complied with his directions before he ceased. He found the red morocco case, took the key from the ring, and showed both to Mr. Monday, who smiled and nodded approbation. The bureau contained paper, wax, and all the other appliances of writing. John Effingham inclosed the case in a strong envelope, and affixed to it three seals, which he impressed with his own arms; the then asked Paul for his watch, that the same might be done with the seal of his companion. After this precaution, he wrote a brief declaration that the contents had been delivered to the two, for the purpose of examination, and for the benefit of the parties concerned, whoever they might be, and signed it. Paul did the same, and the paper was handed to Mr. Monday, who had still strength to add his own signature.

"Men do not usually trifle at such moments," said John Effingham, "and this case may contain matter of moment to wronged and innocent persons. The world little knows the extent of the enormities that are thus committed. Take the case, Mr. Powis, and lock it up with your effects, until the moment for the examination shall come."

Mr. Monday was certainly much relieved after this consignment of the case into safe hands, trifles satisfying the compunctions of the obtuse. For more than an hour he slumbered. During this interval of rest, Captain Truck appeared at the door of the state-room to inquire into the condition of the patient, and, hearing a report so favourable, in common with all whose duty did not require them to watch, he retired to rest. Paul had also returned, and offered his services, as indeed did most of the gentlemen; but John Effingham dismissed his own servant even, and declared it was his intention not to quit the place that night. Mr. Monday had reposed confidence in him, appeared to be gratified by his attentions and presence, and he felt it to be a sort of duty, under such circumstances, not to desert a fellow-creature in his extremity. Any thing beyond some slight alleviation of the sufferer's pains was hopeless; but this, he rightly believed, he was as capable of administering as another.

Death is appalling to those of the most iron nerves, when it comes quietly and in the stillness and solitude of night. John Effingham was such a man; but he felt all the peculiarity of his situation as he sat alone in the state-room by the side of Mr. Monday, listening to the washing of the waters that the ship shoved aside, and to the unquiet breathing of his patient. Several times he felt a disposition to steal away for a few minutes, and to refresh himself by exercise in the pure air of the ocean; but as often was the inclination checked by jealous glances from the glazed eye of the dying man, who appeared to cherish his presence as his own last hope of life. When John Effingham wetted the feverish lips, the look he received spoke of gratitude and thanks, and once or twice these feelings were audible in whispers. He could not desert a being so helpless, so dependent; and, although conscious that he was of no material service beyond sustaining his patient by his presence, he felt that this was sufficient to exact much heavier sacrifices.

During one of the troubled slumbers of the dying man, his attendant sat watching the struggles of his countenance, which seemed to betray the workings of the soul that was about to quit its tenement, and he mused on the character and fate of the being whose departure for the world of spirits he himself was so singularly called on to witness!

"Of his origin I know nothing," thought John Effingham, "except by his own passing declarations, and the evident fact that, as regards station, it can scarcely have reached mediocrity. He is one of those who appear to live for the most vulgar motives that are admissible among men of any culture, and whose refinement, such as it is, is purely of the conventional class of habits. Ignorant, beyond the current opinions of a set; prejudiced in all that relates to nations, religions, and characters; wily, with an air of blustering honesty; credulous and intolerant; bold in denunciations and critical remarks, without a spark of discrimination, or any knowledge but that which has been acquired under a designing dictation; as incapable of generalizing as he is obstinate in trifles; good-humoured by nature, and yet querulous from imitation:--for what purposes was such a creature brought into existence to be hurried out of it in this eventful manner?" The conversation of the evening recurred to John Effingham, and he inwardly said, "If there exist such varieties of the human race among nations, there are certainly as many species, in a moral sense, in civilized life itself. This man has his counterpart in a particular feature in the every-day American absorbed in the pursuit of gain; and yet how widely different are the two in the minor points of character! While the other allows himself no rest, no relaxation, no mitigation of the eternal gnawing of the vulture rapacity, this man has made self-indulgence the constant companion of his toil; while the other has centered all his pleasures in gain, this Englishman, with the same object in view, but obedient to national usages, has fancied he has been alleviating his labours by sensual enjoyments. In what will their ends differ? From the eyes of the American the veil will be torn aside when it is too late, perhaps, and the object of his earthly pursuit will be made the instrument of his punishment, as he sees himself compelled to quit it all for the dark uncertainty of the grave; while the blusterer and the bottle-companion sinks into a forced and appalled repentance, as the animal that has hitherto upheld him loses its ascendency."

A groan from Mr. Monday, who now opened his glassy eyes, interrupted these musings. The patient signed for the nourishment, and he revived a little.

"What is the day of the week?" he asked, with an anxiety that surprised his kind attendant.

"It is, or rather it _was_, Monday; for we are now past midnight."

"I am glad of it, sir--very glad of it."

"Why should the day of the week be of consequence to you now?"

"There is a saying, sir--I have faith in sayings--they told me I was born of a Monday, and should die of a Monday."

The other was shocked at this evidence of a lingering and abject superstition in one who could not probably survive many hours, and he spoke to him of the Saviour, and of his mediation for man. All this could John Effingham do at need; and he could do it well, too, for few had clearer perceptions of this state of probation than himself. His weak point was in the pride and strength of his character; qualities that indisposed him in his own practice to rely on any but himself, under the very circumstances which would impress on others the necessity of relying solely on God. The dying man heard him attentively, and the words made a momentary impression.

"I do not wish to die, sir," Mr. Monday said suddenly, after a long pause.

"It is the general fate; when the moment arrives, we ought to prepare ourselves to meet it."

"I am no coward, Mr. Effingham."

"In one sense I know you are not, for I have seen you proved. I hope you will not be one in any sense. You are now in a situation in which manhood will avail you nothing: your dependence should be placed altogether on God."

"I know it, sir--I try to feel thus; but I do not wish to die."

"The love of Christ is illimitable," said John Effingham, powerfully affected by the other's hopeless misery.

"I know it--I hope it--I wish to believe it. Have _you a mother, Mr. Effingham?"

"She has been dead many years."

"A wife?"

John Effingham gasped for breath, and one might have mistaken him, at the moment, for the sufferer.

"None: I am without parent, brother, sister, wife, or child. My nearest relatives are in this ship."

"I am of little value; but, such as I am, my mother will miss me. We can have but one mother, sir."

"This is very true. If you have any commission or message for your mother, Mr. Monday, I shall have great satisfaction in attending to your wishes."

"I thank you, sir; I know of none. She has her notions on religion, and--I think it would lessen her sorrow to hear that I had a Christian burial."

"Set your heart at rest on that subject: all that our situation will allow, shall be done."

"Of what account will it all be, Mr. Effingham? I wish I had drunk less, and thought more."

John Effingham could say nothing to a compunction that was so necessary, though so tardy.

"I fear we think too little of this moment in our health and strength, sir."

"The greater the necessity, Mr. Monday, of turning our thoughts towards that divine mediation which alone can avail us, while there is yet opportunity."

But Mr. Monday was startled by the near approach of death, rather than repentant. He had indurated his feelings by the long and continued practice of a deadening self-indulgence, and he was now like a man who unexpectedly finds himself in the presence of an imminent and overwhelming danger, without any visible means of mitigation or escape. He groaned and looked around him, as if he sought something to cling to, the spirit he had shown in the pride of his strength availing nothing. All these, however, were but passing emotions, and the natural obtusity of the man returned.

"I do not think, sir," he said, gazing intently at John Effingham, "that I have been a very great sinner."

"I hope not, my good friend; yet none of us are so free from spot as not to require the aid of God to fit us for his holy presence."

"Very true, sir--very true, sir. I was duly baptized and properly confirmed."

"Offices which are but pledges that we are expected to redeem."

"By a regular priest and bishop, sir;--orthodox and dignified clergymen!"

"No doubt: England wants none of the forms of religion. But the contrite heart, Mr. Monday, will be sure to meet with mercy."

"I feel contrite, sir; very contrite."

A pause of half an hour succeeded, and John Effingham thought at first that his patient had again slumbered; but, looking more closely at his situation, he perceived that his eyes often opened and wandered over objects near him. Unwilling to disturb this apparent tranquillity, the minutes were permitted to pass away uninterrupted, until Mr. Monday spoke again of his own accord.

"Mr. Effingham--sir--Mr. Effingham," said the dying man.

"I am near you, Mr. Monday, and will not leave the room."

"Bless you, bless you, do not _you desert me!"

"I shall remain: set your heart at rest, and let me know your wants."

"I want life, sir!"

"That is the gift of God, and its possession depends solely on his pleasure. Ask pardon for your sins, and remember the mercy and love of the blessed Redeemer."

"I try, sir. I do not think I have been a _very great sinner."

"I hope not: but God can pardon the penitent, however great their offences."

"Yes, sir, I know it--I know it. This affair has been so unexpected, I have even been at the communion-table, sir: yes, my mother made me commune. Nothing was neglected, sir."

John Effingham was often proud and self-willed in his communications with men, the inferiority of most of his fellow-creatures to himself, in principles as well as mind, being too plainly apparent not to influence the opinions of one who did not too closely study his own failings; but, as respects God, he was habitually reverent and meek. Spiritual pride formed no part of his character, for he felt his own deficiency in the Christian qualities, the main defect arising more from a habit of regarding the infirmities of others than from dwelling too much on his own merits. In comparing himself with perfection, no one could be more humble; but in limiting the comparison to those around him, few were prouder, or few more justly so, were it permitted to make such a comparison at all. Prayer with him was not habitual, or always well ordered, but he was not ashamed to pray; and when he did bow down his spirit in this manner, it was with the force, comprehensiveness, and energy of his character. He was now moved by the feeble and common-place consolations that Mr. Monday endeavoured to extract from his situation. He saw the peculiarly deluding and cruel substitution of forms for the substance of piety that distinguishes the policy of all established churches, though, unlike many of his own countrymen, his mind was superior to those narrow exaggerations that, on the other hand, too often convert innocence into sin, and puff up the votary with the conceit of a sectarian and his self-righteousness.

"I will pray with you, Mr. Monday," he said, kneeling at the side of the dying man's bed: "we will ask mercy of God together, and he may lessen these doubts."

Mr. Monday made a sign of eager assent, and John Effingham prayed in a voice that was distinctly audible to the other. The petition was short, beautiful, and even lofty in language, without a particle of Scripture jargon, or of the cant of professed devotees; but it was a fervent, direct, comprehensive, and humble appeal to the Deity for mercy on the being who now found himself in extremity. A child might have understood it, while the heart of a man would have melted with its affecting and meek sincerity. It is to be hoped that the Great Being, whose Spirit pervades the universe, and whose clemency is commensurate with his power, also admitted the force of the petition, for Mr. Monday smiled with pleasure when John Effingham arose.

"Thank you, sir--a thousand thanks," muttered the dying man, pressing the hand of the other. "This is better than all."

After this Mr. Monday was easier, and hours passed away in nearly a continued silence. John Effingham was now convinced that his patient slumbered, and he allowed himself to fall into a doze. It was after the morning watch was called, that he was aroused by a movement in the berth. Relieving his patient required nourishment, or some fluid to moisten his lips, John Effingham offered both, but they were declined. Mr. Monday had clasped his hands on his breast, with the fingers uppermost, as painters and sculptors are apt to delineate them when they represent saints in the act of addressing the Deity, and his lips moved, though the words were whispered. John Effingham kneeled, and placed his ear so close as to catch the sounds. His patient was uttering the simple but beautiful petition transmitted by Christ himself to man, as the model of all prayer.

As soon as the other had done, John Effingham repeated the same prayer fervently and aloud himself, and when he opened his eyes, after this solemn homage to God, Mr. Monday was dead.

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