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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHomeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 9
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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 9 Post by :earnforever Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2413

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 9

Chapter IX

The moon was now
Rising full orbed, but broken by a cloud.
The wind was hushed, and the sea mirror-like


Most of the passengers appeared on deck soon after Saunders was again heard rattling among his glasses. The day was sufficiently advanced to allow a distinct view of all that was passing, and the wind had shifted. The change had not occurred more than ten minutes, and as most of the inmates of the cabin poured up the cabin-stairs nearly in a body, Mr. Leach had just got through with the necessary operation of bracing the yards about, for the breeze, which was coming stiff, now blew from the north-east. No land was visible, and the mate was just giving his opinion that they were up with Scilly, as Captain Truck appeared in the group.

One glance aloft, and another at the heavens, sufficed to let the experienced master into all the secrets of his present situation. His next step was to jump into the rigging, and to take a look at the sea, in the direction of the Lizard. There, to his extreme disappointment, appeared a ship with everything set that would draw, and with a studding-sail flapping, before it could be drawn down, which he knew in an instant to be the Foam. At this spectacle Mr. Truck compressed his lips, and made an inward imprecation, that it would ill comport with our notions of propriety to repeat.

"Turn the hands up and shake out the reefs, sir," he said coolly to his mate, for it was a standing rule of the captain's to seem calmest when he was in the greatest rage. "Turn them up, sir, and show every rag that will draw, from the truck to the lower studding-sail boom, and be d----d to them!"

On this hint Mr. Leach bestirred himself, and the men were quickly on the yards, casting loose gaskets and reef-points. Sail opened after sail, and as the steerage passengers, who could show a force of thirty or forty men, aided with their strength, the Montauk was soon running dead before the wind, under every thing that would draw, and with studding-sails on both sides. The mates looked surprised, the seamen cast inquiring glances aft, but Mr. Truck lighted a cigar.

"Gentlemen," said the captain, after a few philosophical whiffs, "to go to America with yonder fellow on my weather beam is quite out of the question: he would be up with me, and in possession, before ten o'clock, and my only play is to bring the wind right over the taffrail, where, luckily, we have got it. I think we can bother him at this sport, for your sharp bottoms are not as good as your kettle-bottoms in ploughing a full furrow. As for bearing her canvas, the Montauk will stand it as long as any ship in King William's navy, before the gale. And on one thing you may rely; I'll carry you all into Lisbon, before that tobacco-hating rover shall carry you back to Portsmouth. This is a category to which I will stick."

This characteristic explanation served to let the passengers understand the real state of the case. No one remonstrated, for all preferred a race to being taken; and even the Englishmen on board began again to take sides with the vessel they were in, and this the more readily, as Captain Truck freely admitted that their cruiser was too much for him on every tack but the one he was about to try. Mr. Sharp hoped that they might now escape, and as for Sir George Templemore, he generously repeated his offer to pay, out of his own pocket, all the port-charges in any French, Spanish, or Portuguese harbour, the master would enter, rather than see such an outrage done a foreign vessel in a time of profound peace.

The expedient of Captain Truck proved his judgment, and his knowledge of his profession. Within an hour it was apparent that, if there was any essential difference in the sailing of the two ships under the present circumstances, it was slightly in favour of the Montauk. The Foam now set her ensign for the first time, a signal that she wished to speak the ship in sight. At this Captain Truck chuckled, for he pronounced it a sign that she was conscious she could not get them within range of her guns.

"Show him the gridiron," cried the captain, briskly; "it will not do to be beaten in civility by a man who has beaten us already on so many other tacks; but keep all fast as a church-door on a week-day."

This latter comparison was probably owing to the circumstance of the master's having come from a part of the country where all the religion is compressed into the twenty-four hours that commence on a Saturday-night at sunset, and end at sunset the next day: at least, this was his own explanation of the matter. The effect of success was always to make Mr. Truck loquacious, and he now began to tell many excellent anecdotes, of which he had stores, all of events that had happened to him in person, or of which he had been an eye-witness; and on which his hearers, as Sancho said, might so certainly depend as true, that, if they chose, they might safely swear they had seen them themselves.

"Speaking of churches and doors, Sir George," he said, between the puffs of the cigar, "were you ever in Rhode Island?"

"Never, as this is my first visit to America, captain."

"True; well, you will be likely to go there, if you go to Boston, as it is the best way; unless you would prefer to run over Nantucket shoals, and a hundred miles of ditto as Mr. Dodge calls it."

"_Ditter_, captain, if you please--_ditter_: it is the continental word for round-about."

"The d---l it is! it is worth knowing, however. And what may be the French for pee-jacket?"

"You mistake me, sir,--_ditter_, a circuit, or the longer way."

"That is the road we are now travelling, by George!--I say, Leach, do you happen to know that we are making a ditter to America?"

"You were speaking of a church, Captain Truck," politely interposed Sir George, who had become rather intimate with his fellow-occupant of the state-room.

"I was travelling through that state, a few years since, on my way from Providence to New London, at a time when a new road had just been opened. It was on a Sunday, and the stage--a four-horse power, you must know--had never yet run through on the Lord's-day. Well, we might be, as it were, off here at right angles to our course, and there was a short turn in the road, as one would say, out yonder. As we hove in sight of the turn, I saw a chap at the mast-head of a tree; down he slid, and away he went right before it, towards a meeting-house two or three cables length down the road. We followed at a smart jog, and just before we got the church abeam, out poured the whole congregation, horse and foot, parson and idlers, sinners and hypocrites, to see the four-horse power go past. Now this is what I call keeping the church-door open on a Sunday."

We might have hesitated about recording this anecdote of the captain's, had we not received an account of the same occurrence from a quarter that left no doubt that his version of the affair was substantially correct. This and a few similar adventures, some of which he invented, and all of which he swore were literal, enabled the worthy master to keep the quarter-deck in good humour, while the ship was running at the rate of ten knots the hour in a line so far diverging from her true course. But the relief to landsmen is so great, in general, in meeting with a fair wind at sea, that few are disposed to quarrel with its consequences. A bright day, a steady ship, the pleasure of motion as they raced with the combing seas, and the interest of the chase, set every one at ease; and even Steadfast Dodge was less devoured with envy, a jealousy of his own deservings, and the desire of management, than usual. Not an introduction occurred, and yet the little world of the ship got to be better acquainted with each other in the course of that day, than would have happened in months of the usual collision on land.

The Montauk continued to gain on her pursuer until the sun set, when Captain Truck began once more to cast about him for the chances of the night. He knew that the ship was running into the mouth of the Bay of Biscay, or at least was fast approaching it, and he bethought him of the means of getting to the westward. The night promised to be anything but dark, for though a good many wild-looking clouds were by this time scudding athwart the heavens, the moon diffused a sort of twilight gleam in the air. Waiting patiently, however, until the middle-watch was again called, he reduced, sail, and hauled the ship off to a south-west course, hoping by this slight change insensibly to gain an offing before the Foam was aware of it; a scheme that he thought more likely to be successful, as by dint of sheer driving throughout the day, he had actually caused the courses of that vessel to dip before the night shut in.

Even the most vigilant become weary of watching, and Captain Truck was unpleasantly disturbed next morning by an alarm that the Foam was just out of gun-shot, coming up with them fast. On gaining the deck, he found the fact indisputable. Favoured by the change in the course, the cruiser had been gradually gaining on the Montauk ever since the first watch was relieved, and had indeed lessened the distance between the respective ships by two-thirds. No remedy remained but to try the old expedient of getting the wind over the taffrail once more, and of showing all the canvas that could be spread. As like causes are known to produce like effects, the expedient brought about the old results. The packet had the best of it, and the sloop-of-war slowly fell astern. Mr. Truck now declared he would make a "regular business of it," and accordingly he drove his ship in that direction throughout the day, the following night, and until near noon of the day which succeeded, varying his course slightly to suit the wind, which he studiously kept so near aft as to allow the studding-sails to draw on both sides. At meridian, on the fourth day out, the captain got a good observation, and ascertained that the ship was in the latitude of Oporto, with an offing of less than a degree. At this time the top-gallant sails of the Foam might be discovered from the deck, resembling a boat clinging to the watery horizon. As he had fully made up his mind to run into port in preference to being overhauled, the master had kept so near the land, with an intention of profiting by his position, in the event of any change favouring his pursuers; but he now believed that at sunset he should be safe in finally shaping his course for America.

"There must be double-fortified eyes aboard that fellow to see what we are about at this distance, when the night is once shut in," he said to Mr. Leach, who seconded all his orders with obedient zeal, "and we will watch our moment to slip out fairly into the great prairie, and then we shall discover who best knows the trail! You'll be for trotting off to the prairies, Sir George, as soon as we get in, and for trying your hand at the buffaloes, like all the rest of them. Ten years since, if an Englishman came to look at us, he was afraid of being scalped in Broadway and now he is never satisfied unless he is astraddle of the Rocky Mountains in the first fortnight. I take over lots of cockney-hunters every summer, who just get a shot at a grizzly bear or two, or at an antelope, and come back in time for the opening of Drury Lane."

"Should we not be more certain of accomplishing your plans, by seeking refuge in Lisbon for a day or two? I confess now I should like to see Lisbon, and as for the port-charges, I would rather pay them twice, than that this poor man should be torn from his wife. On this point I hope, Captain Truck, I have made myself sufficiently explicit."

Captain Truck shook the baronet heartily by the hand, as he always did when this offer was renewed, declaring that his feelings did him honour.

"Never fear for Davis," he said. "Old Grab shall not have him this tack, nor the Foam neither. I'll throw him overboard before such a disgrace befall us or him. Well, this leech has driven us from the old road, and nothing now remains but to make the southern passage, unless the wind prevail at south."

The Montauk, in truth, had not much varied from a course that was once greatly in favour with the London ships, Lisbon and New York being nearly in the same parallel of latitude, and the currents, if properly improved, often favouring the run. It is true, the Montauk had kept closer in with the continent by a long distance than was usual, even for the passage he had named; but the peculiar circumstances of the chase had left no alternative, as the master explained to his listeners.

"It was a coasting voyage, or a tow back to Portsmouth, Sir George," he said, "and of the two, I know you like the Montauk too well to wish to be quit of her so soon."

To this the baronet gave a willing assent, protesting that his feelings had got so much enlisted on the side of the vessel he was in, that he would cheerfully forfeit a thousand pounds rather than be overtaken. The master assured him that was just what he liked, and swore that he was the sort of passenger he most delighted in.

"When a man puts his foot on the deck of a ship, Sir George, he should look upon her as his home, his church, his wife and children, his uncles and aunts, and all the other lumber ashore. This is the sentiment to make seamen. Now, I entertain a greater regard for the shortest ropeyarn aboard this ship, than for the topsail-sheets or best bower of any other vessel. It is like a man's loving his own finger, or toe, before another person's. I have heard it said that one should love his neighbour as well as himself; but for my part I love my ship better than my neighbour's, or my neighbour himself; and I fancy, if the truth were known, my neighbour pays me back in the same coin! For my part, I like a thing because it is mine."

A little before dark the head of the Montauk was inclined towards Lisbon, as if her intention was to run in, but the moment the dark spot that pointed out the position of the Foam was lost in the haze of the horizon, Captain Truck gave the order to "_ware_" and sail was made to the west-south-west.

Most of the passengers felt an intense curiosity to know the state of things on the following morning, and all the men among them were dressed and on deck just as the day began to break. The wind had been fresh and steady all night, and as the ship had been kept with, her yards a little checked, and topmast studding-sails set, the officers reported her to be at least a hundred miles to the westward of the spot where she veered. The reader will imagine the disappointment the latter experienced, then, when they beheld the Foam a little on their weather-quarter, edging away for them as assiduously as she had been hauling up for them, the night they sailed from Portsmouth, distant little more than a league!

"This is indeed extraordinary perseverance," said Paul Blunt to Eve, at whose side he was standing at the moment the fact was ascertained, "and I think our captain might do well to heave-to and ascertain its cause."

"I hope not," cried his companion with vivacity. I confess to an _esprit de corps_, and a gallant determination to 'see it out,' as Mr. Leach styles his own resolution. One does not like to be followed about the ocean in this manner, unless it be for the interest it gives the voyage. After all, how much better is this than dull solitude, and what a zest it gives to the monotony of the ocean!"

"Do you then find the ocean a scene of monotony?"

"Such it has oftener appeared to me than anything else, and I give it a fair trial, having never _le mal de mer_. But I acquit it of this sin now; for the interest of a chase, in reasonably good weather, is quite equal to that of a horse-race, which is a thing I delight in. Even Mr. John Effingham can look radiant under its excitement."

"And when this is the case, he is singularly handsome; a nobler outline of face is seldom seen than that of Mr. John Effingham."

"He has a noble outline of soul, if he did but know it himself," returned Eve, warmly: "I love no one as much as he, with the exception of my father, and as Mademoiselle Viefville would say, _pour cause_."

The young man could have listened all day, but Eve smiled, bowed graciously, though with a glistening eye, and hastily left the deck, conscious of having betrayed some of her most cherished feelings to one who had no claim to share them.

Captain Truck, while vexed to his heart's core, or, as he expressed it himself, "struck aback, like an old lady shot off a hand-sled in sliding down hill," was prompt in applying the old remedy to the evil. The Montauk was again put before the wind, sail was made, and the fortunes of the chase were once more cast on the "play of the ship."

The commander of the Foam certainly deprecated this change, for it was hardly made before he set his ensign, and fired a gun. But of these signals no other notice was taken than to show a flag in return, when the captain and his mates proceeded to get the bearings of the sloop-of-war. Ten minutes showed they were gaining; twenty did better and in an hour she was well on the quarter.

Another day of strife succeeded, or rather of pure sailing, for not a rope was started on board the Montauk, the wind still standing fresh and steady. The sloop made many signals, all indicating a desire to speak the Montauk, but Captain Truck declared himself too experienced a navigator to be caught by bunting, and in too great a hurry to stop and chat by the way.

"Vattel had laid down no law for such a piece of complaisance, in a time of profound peace. I am not to be caught by that category."

The result may be anticipated from what has been already related. The two ships kept before the wind until the Foam was again far astern, and the observations of Captain Truck told him, he was as far south as the Azores. In one of these islands he was determined to take refuge, provided he was not favoured by accident, for going farther south was out of the question, unless absolutely driven to it. Calculating his distance, on the evening of the sixth day out, he found that he might reach an anchorage at Pico, before the sloop-of-war could close with him, even allowing the necessity of hauling up again by the wind.

But Providence had ordered differently. Towards midnight, the breeze almost failed and became baffling, and when the day dawned the officer of the watch reported that it was ahead. The pursuing ship, though still in sight, was luckily so far astern and to leeward as to prevent any danger from a visit by boats, and there was leisure to make the preparations that might become necessary on the springing up of a new breeze. Of the speedy occurrence of such a change there was now every symptom, the heavens lighting up at the north-west, a quarter from which the genius of the storms mostly delights in making a display of his power.

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Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 10 Homeward Bound; Or, The Chase: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 10

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