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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 7
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 7 Post by :earnforever Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2180

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 7

Chapter VII

When clouds are seen, wise men put on their cloaks,
When great leaves fall, then winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?
Untimely storms make men expect a dearth:
All may be well; but if God sort it so,
'Tis more than we deserve, or I expect.

RICHARD III.


These conversations, however, were mere episodes of the great business of the passage. Throughout the morning, the master was busy in rating his mates, giving sharp reprimands to the stewards and cooks, overhauling the log line, introducing the passengers, seeing to the stowage of the anchors, in getting down the signal-pole, throwing in touches of Vattel, and otherwise superintending duty, and dispensing opinions. All this time, the cat in the grass does not watch the bird that hops along the ground with keener vigilance than he kept his eye on the Foam. To an ordinary observer, the two ships presented the familiar spectacle of vessels sailing in the same direction, with a very equal rate of speed; and as the course was that necessary to clear the Channel, most of the passengers, and, indeed, the greater part of the crew, began to think the cruiser, like themselves, was merely bound to the westward. Mr. Truck, on the contrary, judging by signs and movements that more naturally suggested themselves to one accustomed to direct the evolutions of a ship, and to reason on their objects, than to the mere subjects of his will, thought differently. To him, the motive of the smallest change on board the sloop-of-war was as intelligible as if it had been explained in words, and he even foresaw many that were about to take place. Before noon, the Foam had got fairly abeam, and Mr. Leach, pointing out the circumstance, observed, that if her wish was to overhaul them, she ought then to tack; it being a rule among seamen, that the pursuing vessel should turn to windward as often as she found herself nearest to her chase. But the experience of Captain Truck taught him better; the tide was setting into the Channel on the flood, and the wind enabled both ships to fake the current on their lee-bows, a power that forced them up to windward; whereas, by tacking, the Foam would receive the force of the stream on her weather broadside, or so nearly so, as to sweep her farther astern than her difference in speed could easily repair.

"She has the heels of us, and she weathers on us, as it, is," grumbled the master; "and that might satisfy a man less modest. I have led the gentleman such a tramp already that he will be in none of the best humours when he comes alongside, and we may make up our minds on seeing Portsmouth again before we see New-York, unless a slant of wind, or the night, serve us a good turn. I trust, Leach, you have not been destroying your prospects in life by looking too wistfully at a tobacco-field?"

"Not I, sir; and if you will give me leave to say it, Captain Truck, I do not think a plug has been landed from the ship, which did not go ashore in a _bona-fide tobacco-box, that might appear in any court in England. The people will swear, to a man, that this is true."

"Ay, ay! and the Barons of the Exchequer would be the greatest fools in England not to believe them. If there has been no defrauding the revenue, why does a cruiser follow this ship, a regular packet, to sea?"

"This affair of the steerage passenger, Davis, sir, is probably the cause. The man may be heavily in debt, or possibly a defaulter; for these rogues, when they break down, often fall lower than the 'twixt decks of a ship like this."

"This will do to put the quarter-deck and cabin in good humour at sailing, and give them something to open an acquaintance with; but it is sawdust to none but your new beginners. I have known that Seal this many a year, and the rogue never yet had a case that touched the quarter-deck. It is as the man and his wife say, and I'll not give them up, out here in blue water, for as much foam as lies on Jersey beach after an easterly blow. It will not be any of the family of Davis that will satisfy yonder wind-eater; but he will lay his hand on the whole family of the Montauk, leaving them the agreeable alternative of going back to Portsmouth in his pleasant society, or getting out here in mid-channel, and wading ashore as best they can. D--- me! If I believe, Leach, that Vattel will bear the fellow out in it, even if there has been a whole hogshead of the leaves trundled into his island without a permit!"

To this Mr. Leach had no encouraging answer to make, for, like most of his class, he held practical force in much greater respect than the abstractions of books. He deemed it prudent, therefore, to be silent, though greatly doubting the efficacy of a quotation from any authority on board, when fairly put in opposition to a written order from the admiral at Portsmouth, or even to a signal sent down from Admiralty at London.

The day wore away, making a gradual change in the relative positions of the two ships, though so slowly, as to give Captain Truck strong hopes of being able to dodge his pursuer in the coming night, which promised to be dark and squally. To return to Portsmouth was his full intention, but not until he had first delivered his freight and passengers in New-York; for, like all men bound up body and soul in the performance of an especial duty, he looked on a frustration of his immediate object as a much greater calamity than even a double amount of more remote evil. Besides, he felt a strong reliance on the liberality of the English authorities in the end, and had little doubt of being able to extricate himself and his ship from any penalties to which the indiscretion or cupidity of his subordinates might have rendered him liable.

Just as the sun dipped into the watery track of the Montauk, most of the cabin passengers again appeared on deck, to take a look at the situation of the two vessels, and to form their own conjectures as to the probable result of the adventure. By this time the Foam had tacked twice, once to weather upon the wake of her chase, and again to resume her line of pursuit. The packet was too good a ship to be easily overtaken, and the cruiser was now nearly hull-down astern, but evidently coming up at a rate that would bring her alongside before morning. The wind blew in squalls, a circumstance that always aids a vessel of war, as the greater number of her hands enables them to make and shorten sail with ease and rapidity.

"This unsettled weather is as much as a mile an hour against us," observed Captain Truck, who was far from pleased at the fact of his being outsailed by anything that floated; "and, if truth must be said, I think that fellow has somewhere about half a knot the best of it, in the way of foot, on a bowline and with this breeze. But he has no cargo in, and they trim their boats like steel-yards. Give us more wind, or a freer, and I would leave him to digest his orders, as a shark digests a marling-spike, or a ring-bolt, notwithstanding all his advantages; for little good would it then do him to be trying to run into the wind's eye, like a steam-tug. As it is, we must submit. We are certainly in a category, and be d---d to it!"

It was one of those wild-looking sunsets that are so frequent in the autumn, in which appearances are worse, perhaps, than the reality. The ships were now so near the Chops of the Channel that no land was visible, and the entire horizon presented that chill and wintry aspect that belongs to gloomy and driving clouds, to which streaks of dull light serve more to give an appearance of infinite space than any of the relief of brightness. It was a dreary night-fall to a landsman's eye; though they who better understood the signs of the heavens, as they are exhibited on the ocean, saw little more than the promise of obscurity, and the usual hazards of darkness in a much-frequented sea,

"This will be a dirty night," observed John Effingham, "and we may have occasion to bring in some of the flaunting vanity of the ship, ere another morning returns."

"The vessel appears to be in good hands," returned Mr. Effingham: "I have watched them narrowly; for, I know not why, I have felt more anxiety on the occasion of this passage than on any of the nine I have already made."

As he spoke, the tender father unconsciously bent his eyes on Eve, who leaned affectionately on his arm, steadying her light form against the pitching of the vessel. She understood his feelings better than he did himself, possibly, since, accustomed to his fondest care from childhood, she well knew that he seldom thought of others, or even of himself, while her own wants or safety appealed to his unwearying love.

"Father," she said, smiling in his wistful face, "we have seen more troubled waters than these, far, and in a much frailer vessel. Do you not remember the Wallenstadt and its miserable skiff? where I have heard you say there was really danger, though we escaped from it all with a little fright."

"Perfectly well do I recollect it, love, nor have I forgotten our brave companion, and his good service, at that critical moment. But for his stout arm and timely succour we might not, as you say, have been quit for the fright."

Although Mr. Effingham looked only at his daughter, while speaking, Mr. Sharp, who listened with interest, saw the quick, retreating, glance of Eve at Paul Blunt, and felt something like a chill in his blood as he perceived that her own cheeks seemed to reflect the glow which appeared on that of the young man. He alone observed this secret evidence of common interest in some event in which both had evidently been actors, those around them being too much occupied in the arrangements of the ship, and too little suspicious, to heed the trifling circumstance. Captain Truck had ordered all hands called, to make sail, to the surprise of even the crew. The vessel, at the moment, was staggering along under as much canvas as she could apparently bear, and the mates looked aloft with inquiring eyes as if to ask what more could be done.

The master soon removed all doubts. With a rapidity that is not common in merchant ships, but which is usual enough in the packets, the lower studding-sails, and two topmast-studding-sails were prepared, and made ready for hoisting. As soon as the words "all ready" were uttered, the helm was put up, the sails were set, and the Montauk was running with a free wind towards the narrow passage between the Scilly Islands and the Land's End. Captain Truck was an expert channel pilot, from long practice, and keeping the run of the tides in his head, he had loosely calculated that his vessel had so much offing as, with a free wind, and the great progress she had made in the last twenty-four hours, would enable him to lay through the pass.

"'Tis a ticklish hole to run into in a dirty night, with a staggering breeze," he said, rubbing his hands as if the hazard increased his satisfaction, "and we will now see if this Foam has mettle enough to follow."

"The chap has a quick eye and good glasses, even though he should want nerve for the Scilly rocks," cried the mate, who was looking out from the mizzen rigging. "There go his stun'-sails already, and a plenty of them!"

Sure enough the cruiser threw out her studding-sails, had them full and drawing in five minutes, and altered her course so as to follow the Montauk. There was now no longer any doubt concerning her object; for it was hardly possible two vessels should adopt so bold a step as this, just at dark, and on such a night, unless the movements of one were regulated by the movements of the other.

In the mean time, anxious faces began to appear on the quarter-deck, and Mr. Dodge was soon seen moving stealthily about among the passengers, whispering here, cornering there, and seemingly much occupied in canvassing opinions on the subject of the propriety of the step that the master had just taken; though, if the truth must be told, he rather stimulated opposition than found others prepared to meet his wishes. When he thought, however, he had collected a sufficient number of suffrages to venture on an experiment, that nothing but an inherent aversion to shipwreck and a watery grave could embolden him to make, he politely invited the captain to a private conference in the state-room occupied by himself and Sir George Templemore. Changing the _venue_, as the lawyers term it, to his own little apartment,--no master of a packet willingly consenting to transact business in any other place--Captain Truck, who was out of cigars at the moment, very willingly assented.

When the two were seated, and the door of the room was closed, Mr. Dodge carefully snuffed the candle, looked about him to make sure there was no eave's-dropper in a room eight feet by seven, and then commenced his subject, with what he conceived to be a commendable delicacy and discretion.

"Captain Truck," he said, in the sort of low confidential tone that denotes equally concern and mystery, "I think by this time you must have set me down as one of your warm and true friends and supporters. I came out in your ship, and, please God we escape the perils of the sea, it is my hope and intention to return home in her."

"If not, friend Dodge," returned the master, observing that the other paused to note the effect of his peroration, and using a familiarity in his address that the acquaintance of the former passage had taught him was not misapplied; "if not, friend Dodge, you have made a capital mistake in getting on board of her, as it is by no means probable an occasion will offer to get out of her, until we fall in with a news-boat, or a pilot-boat, at least somewhere in the latitude and longitude of Sandy Hook. You smoke, I believe sir?"

"I ask no better," returned Steadfast, declining the offer; "I have told every one on the Continent,"--Mr. Dodge had been to Paris, Geneva, along the Rhine, and through Belgium and Holland, and in his eyes, this was the Continent,--"that no better ship or captain sails the ocean; and you know captain, I have a way with me, when I please, that causes what I say to be remembered. Why, my dear sir, I had an article extolling the whole line in the most appropriate terms, and this ship in particular, put into the journal at Rotterdam. It was so well done, that not a soul suspected it came from a personal friend of yours."

The captain was rolling the small end of a cigar in his mouth to prepare it for smoking, the regulations of the ship forbidding any further indulgence below; but when he received this assurance, he withdrew the tobacco with the sort of mystifying simplicity that gets to be a second nature with a regular votary of Neptune, and answered with a coolness of manner that was in ridiculous contrast to the affected astonishment of the words:--

"The devil you did!--Was it in good Dutch?"

"I do not understand much of the language," said Mr. Dodge, hesitatingly; for all he knew, in truth, was _yaw and _nein_, and neither of these particularly well;--"but it looked to be uncommonly well expressed. I could do no more than pay a man to translate it. But to return to this affair of running in among the Scilly Islands such a night as this."

"Return, my good fellow! this is the first syllable you have said about the matter!"

"Concern on your account has caused me to forget myself. To be frank with you, Captain Truck, and if I wer'n't your very best friend I should be silent, there is considerable excitement getting up about this matter."

"Excitement! what is that like?--a sort of moral head-sea, do you mean?"

"Precisely: and I must tell you the truth, though I had rather a thousand times not; but this change in the ship's course is monstrous unpopular!"

"That is bad news, with a vengeance, Mr. Dodge; I shall rely on you, as an old friend, to get up an opposition."

"My dear captain, I have done all I could in that way already; but I never met with people so bent on a thing as most of the passengers. The Effinghams are very decided, though so purse-proud and grand; Sir George Templemore declares it is quite extraordinary, and even the French lady is furious. To be as sincere as the crisis demands, public opinion is setting so strong against you, that I expect an explosion."

"Well, so long as the tide sets in my favour, I must endeavour to bear it. Stemming a current, in or out of water, is up-hill work; but with a good bottom, clean copper, and plenty of wind, it may be done."

"It would not surprise me were the gentlemen to appeal to the general sentiment against you when we arrive, and make a handle of it against your line!"

"It may be so indeed; but what can be done? If we return, the Englishman will certainly catch us, and, in that case, my own opinion would be dead against me!"

"Well, well, captain; I thought as a friend I would speak my mind. If this thing should really get into the papers in America, it would spread like fire in the prairies. You know what the papers are, I trust, Captain Truck?"

"I rather think I do, Mr. Dodge, with many thanks for your hints, and I believe I know what the Scilly Islands are, too. The elections will be nearly or quite over by the time we get in, and, thank God, they'll not be apt to make a party question of it, this fall at least. In the mean time rely on my keeping a good look-out for the shoals of popularity, and the quicksands of excitement. You smoke sometimes, I know, and I can recommend this cigar as fit to regale the nose of that chap of Strasbourg----you read your Bible, I know, Mr. Dodge, and need not be told whom I mean. The steward will be happy to give you a light on deck, sir."

In this manner, Captain Truck, with the _sang froid of an old tar, and the tact of a packet-master, got rid of his troublesome visiter, who departed, half suspecting that he had been quizzed, but still ruminating on the expediency of getting up a committee, or at least a public meeting in the cabin, to follow up the blow. By the aid of the latter, could he but persuade Mr. Effingham to take the chair, and Sir George Templemore to act as secretary, he thought he might escape a sleepless night, and, what was of quite as much importance, make a figure in a paragraph on reaching home.

Mr. Dodge, whose Christian name, thanks to a pious ancestry, was Steadfast, partook of the qualities that his two appellations not inaptly expressed. There was a singular profession of steadiness of purpose, and of high principle about him, all of which vanished in Dodge at the close. A great stickler for the rights of the people, he never considered that this people was composed of many integral parts, but he viewed all things as gravitating towards the great aggregation. Majorities were his hobbies, and though singularly timid as an individual, or when in the minority, put him on the strongest side and he was ready to face the devil. In short, Mr. Dodge was a people's man, because his strongest desire, his "ambition and his pride," as he often expressed it, was to be a man of the people. In his particular neighbourhood, at home, sentiment ran in veins, like gold in the mines, or in streaks of public opinion; and though there might be three or four of these public sentiments, so long as each had its party, no one was afraid to avow it; but as for maintaining a notion that was not thus upheld, there was a savour of aristocracy about it that would damn even a mathematical proposition, though regularly solved and proved. So much and so long had Mr. Dodge respired a moral atmosphere of this community-character, and gregarious propensity, that he had, in many things, lost all sense of his individuality; as much so, in fact, as if he breathed with a pair of county lungs, ate with a common mouth, drank from the town-pump, and slept in the open air.

Such a man was not very likely to make an impression on Captain Truck, one accustomed to rely on himself alone, in the face of warring elements, and who knew that a ship could not safely have more than a single will, and that the will of her master.

The accidents of life could scarcely form extremes of character more remote than that of Steadfast Dodge and that of John Truck. The first never did anything beyond acts of the most ordinary kind, without first weighing its probable effect in the neighbourhood; its popularity or unpopularity; how it might tally with the different public opinions that were whiffling through the county; in what manner it would influence the next election, and whether it would be likely to elevate him or depress him in the public mind. No Asiatic slave stood more in terror of a vindictive master than Mr. Dodge stood in fear and trembling before the reproofs, comments, censures, frowns, cavillings and remarks of every man in his county, who happened to be long to the political party that just at that moment was in power. As to the minority, he was as brave as a lion, could snap his fingers at them, and was foremost in deriding and scoffing at all they said and did. This, however, was in connexion with politics only; for, the instant party-drill ceased to be of value, Steadfast's valour oozed out of his composition, and in all other things he dutifully consulted every public opinion of the neighbourhood. This estimable man had his weak points as well as another, and what is more, he was quite sensible of them, as was proved by a most jealous watchfulness of his besetting sins, in the way of exposure if not of indulgence. In a word, Steadfast Dodge was a man that wished to meddle with and control all things, without possessing precisely the spirit that was necessary to leave him master of himself; he had a rabid desire for the good opinion of every thing human, without always taking the means necessary to preserve his own; was a stout declaimer for the rights of the community, while forgetting that the community itself is but a means set up for the accomplishment, of a given end; and felt an inward and profound respect for everything that was beyond his reach, which manifested itself, not in manly efforts to attain the forbidden fruit, but rather in a spirit of opposition and detraction, that only betrayed, through its jealousy, the existence of the feeling, which jealousy, however, he affected to conceal under an intense regard for popular rights, since he was apt to aver it was quite intolerable that any man should possess anything, even to qualities, in which his neighbours might not properly participate. All these, moreover, and many similar traits, Mr. Dodge encouraged in the spirit of liberty!

On the other hand, John Truck sailed his own ship; was civil to his passengers from habit as well as policy; knew that every vessel must have a captain; believed mankind to be little better than asses; took his own observations, and cared not a straw for those of his mates; was never more bent on following his own views than when all hands grumbled and opposed him; was daring by nature, decided from use and long self-reliance, and was every way a man fitted to steer his bark through the trackless ways of life, as well as those of the ocean. It was fortunate for one in his particular position, that nature had made the possessor of so much self-will and temporary authority, cool and sarcastic rather than hot-headed and violent; and for this circumstance Mr. Dodge in particular had frequent occasions for felicitation.

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