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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMiles Wallingford - Chapter 20
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Miles Wallingford - Chapter 20 Post by :Khemal Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :1389

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Miles Wallingford - Chapter 20

Chapter XX

"Och! botheration--'T is a beautiful coost
All made up of rocks and deep bays;
Ye may sail up and down, a marvellous host,
And admire all its beautiful ways."

Irish Song.

Little did we, or could we, anticipate all that lay before us. The wind held at north-west until the ship had got within twenty miles of the Welsh coast; then, it came out light, again, at the southward. We were now so near Liverpool, that I expected, every hour, to make some American bound in. None was seen, notwithstanding, and we stood up channel, edging over towards the Irish coast at the same time, determined to work our way to the northward as well as we could. This sort of weather continued for two days and nights, during which we managed to get up as high as Whitehaven, when the wind came dead ahead, blowing a stiff breeze. I foresaw from the commencement of this new wind, that it would probably drive us down channel, and out into the Atlantic once more, unless we could anchor. I thought I would attempt the last, somewhere under the Irish coast, in the hope of getting some assistance from among the children of St. Patrick. We all knew that Irish sailors, half the time, were not very well trained, but anything that could pull and haul would be invaluable to us, in heavy weather. We had now been more than a week, four of us in all, working the ship, and, instead of being in the least fagged, we had rather got settled into our places, as it might be, getting along without much trouble; still, there were moments when a little extra force would be of great moment to us, and I could see by the angry look of the skies, that these moments were likely to increase in frequency and in the magnitude of their importance to us.

The waters we were in were so narrow, that it was not long before we drew close in with the Irish coast. Here, to my great joy, we saw a large fishing-boat, well out in the offing, and under circumstances that rendered it easy for those in it to run close under our lee. We made a signal, therefore, and soon had the strangers lying-to, in the smooth water we made for them, with our own main-yard aback. It is scarcely necessary to say, that we had gradually diminished our own canvass, as it became necessary, until the ship was under double-reefed top-sails, the fore-course, jib and spanker. We had brought the top-sails down lower than was necessary, in order to anticipate the time when it might be indispensable.

The first of the men who came on board us was named Terence O' something. His countenance was the droll medley of fun, shrewdness, and blundering, that is so often found in the Irish peasant, and which appears to be characteristic of entire races in the island.

"A fine marnin', yer honour," he began, with a self-possession that nothing could disturb, though it was some time past noon, and the day was anything but such a one as a seaman likes. "A fine marnin', yer honour, and _as fine a ship! Is it fish that yer honour will be asking for?"

"I will take some of your fish, my friend, and pay you well for them."

"Long life to yees!"

"I was about to say, I will pay you much better if you can show me any lee, hereabouts, which has good holding-ground, where a ship might ride out the gale that is coming."

"Shure yer honour!--will I _not_? Shure, there's nivver the lad on the coost, that knows betther what it is yer honour wants, or who'll supply yees, with half the good will."

"Of course you know the coast; probably were born hereabouts?"

"Of coorse, is it? Whereabouts should Terence O' something, be born, if it's not hereabouts? Is it know the coost, too? Ah, we're ould acquaintances."

"And where do you intend to take the ship, Terence?"

"It's houlding ground, yer honour asked for?"

"Certainly.--A bottom on which an anchor will not drag."

"Och! is it _that_? Well, _all the bottom in this counthry is of that same natur'. None of it will drag, without pulling mighty hard. I'll swear to any part of it."

"You surely would not think of anchoring a ship out here, a league from the land, with nothing to break either wind or sea, and a gale commencing?"

"I anchor! Divil the bit did I ever anchor a ship, or a brig, or even a cutther. I've not got so high up as that, yer honour: but yon's ould Michael Sweeny, now; many's the anchor he's cast out, miles at a time, sayin' he's been a sayman, and knows the says from top to bottom. It's Michael ye'll want, and Michael ye shall have."

Michael was spoken to, and he clambered up out of the boat, as well as he could; the task not being very easy, since the fishermen with difficulty kept their dull, heavy boat out of our mizen chains. In the mean time, Marble and I found time to compare notes. We agreed that Mr. Terence McScale, or O' something,--for I forget the fellow's surname,--would probably turn out a more useful man in hauling in mackerel and John Dorys, than in helping us to take care of the Dawn. Nor did Michael, at the first glance promise anything much better. He was very old,--eighty. I should think,--and appeared to have nullified all the brains he ever had, by the constant use of whiskey; the scent of which accompanied him with a sort of parasitical odour, as that of tannin attends the leather-dresser. He was not drunk just then, however, but seemed cool and collected. I explained my wishes to this man; and was glad to find he had a tolerable notion of nautical terms, and that he would not be likely to get us into difficulty, like Terence, through any ignorance on this score.

"Is it anchor ye would, yer honour?" answered Michael, when I had concluded. "Sure, that's aisy enough, and the saison is good for that same; for the wind is getting up like a giant. As for the guineas yer honour mintions, it's of no avail atween fri'nds. I'll take 'em, to obleege ye, if yer honour so wills: but the ship should be anchored if there niver was a grain of goold in the wur-r-r-ld. Would ye like a berth pratty well out, or would yer honour choose to go in among the rocks, and lie like a babby in its cradhle?"

"I should prefer a safe roadstead, to venturing too far in, without a professed pilot. By the look of the land in-shore, I should think it would be easy to find a lee against this wind, provided we can get good holding-grounds That is the difficulty I most apprehend."

"Trust ould Ireland for that, yer honour, yes, put faith in us, for that same. Ye've only to fill your top-sail, and stand in; ould Michael and ould Ireland together, will take care of yees."

I confess I greatly disliked the aspect of things in-shore, with such a pilot; but the aspect of things outside was still worse. Short-handed as we were, it would be impossible to keep the ship in the channel, should the gale come on as heavily as it threatened; and a single experiment satisfied me, the four men in the boat would be of very little use in working her: for I never saw persons who knew anything of the water, more awkward than they turned out to be on our decks. Michael knew something, it is true; but he was too old to turn his knowledge to much practical account, for when I sent him to the wheel, Neb had to remain there to assist him in steering. There was no choice, therefore, and I determined to stand close in, when, should no suitable offer, it would always be in our power to ware offshore. The fishing-boat was dropped astern, accordingly, the men were all kept in the ship, and we stood in nearer to the coast: the Dawn bending to the blasts, under the sail we carried, in a way to render it difficult to stand erect on her decks.

The coast promised well as to formation, though there was much to apprehend on the subject of the bottom. Among rocks an anchor is a ticklish thing to confide in, and I feared it might be a difficult matter to find a proper bottom, as far out as I deemed it prudent to remain. But Michael, and Terence, and Pat, and Murphy, or whatever were the names of our protesting confident friends, insisted that 'ould Ireland' would never fail us. Marble and I stood on the forecastle, watching the formation of the coast, and making our comments, as the ship drove through the short seas, buried to her figure-head. At length, we thought a head-land that was discernible a little under our lee-bow, looked promising, and Michael was called from the wheel and questioned concerning it. The fellow affirmed he knew the place well, and that the holding-ground on each side of it was excellent, consenting at once to a proposition of mine to bring up under its lee. We edged off, therefore, for this point, making the necessary preparations for bringing up.

I was too busy in getting in canvas to note the progress of the ship for the next twenty minutes. It took all four of us to stow the jib, leaving Michael at the wheel the while. And a tremendous job it was, though (I say it in humility) four better men never lay out on a spar, than those who set about the task on this occasion. We got it in, however, but, I need scarcely tell the seaman, it was not "stowed in the skin." Marble insisted on leading the party, and never before had I seen the old fellow work as he did on that day. He had a faculty of incorporating his body and limbs with the wood and ropes, standing, as it might be, on air, working and dragging with his arms and broad shoulders, in a way that appeared to give him just as much command of his entire strength, as another man would possess on the ground.

At length we reduced the canvass to the fore-top-mast stay-sail, and main-top-sail, the latter double-reefed. It was getting to be time that the last should be close reefed, (and we carried four reefs in the Dawn), but we hoped the cloth would hold out until we wanted to roll it up altogether. The puffs, however, began to come gale-fashion, and I foresaw we should get it presently in a style that would require good looking to.

The ship soon drove within the extremity of the head-land, the lead giving us forty fathoms of water. I had previously asked Michael what water we might expect, but this he frankly owned he could not tell. He was certain that ships sometimes anchored there, but what water they found was more than he knew. He was no conjuror, and guessing might be dangerous, so he chose to say nothing about it. It was nervous work for a ship-master to carry his vessel on a coast, under such pilotage as this. I certainly would have wore round as it was, were it not for the fact that there was a clear sea to leeward, and that it would always be as easy to run out into the open water, as the wind was at that moment.

Marble and I now began to question our fisherman as to the precise point where he intended to fetch up. Michael was bothered, and it was plain enough his knowledge was of the most general character. As for the particulars of his calling, he treated them with the coolest indifference. He had been much at sea in his younger days, it is true; but it was in ships of war, where the ropes were put into his hands by captains of the mast, and where his superiors did all the thinking. He could tell whether ships did or did not anchor near a particular spot, but he knew no reason for the one, or for the other. In a word, he had just that sort of knowledge of seamanship as one gets of the world by living in a province, where we all learn the leading principles of humanity, and trust to magazines and works of fiction for the finesse of life.

The lead proved a better guide than Michael, and seeing some breakers in-shore of us, I gave the order to clew up the main-top-sail, and to luff to the wind, before the ship should lose her way. Our Irishmen pulled and hauled well enough, as soon as they were directed what to do; which enabled Marble and myself each to stand by a stopper. We had previously got the two bowers a-cock-bill, (the cables were bent as soon as we made the land); and nothing remained but to let run. Neb was at the wheel, with orders to spring to the cables as soon as he heard them running out, and everything was in readiness. I shouted the order to "let run," and down both our anchors went, at the same instant, in twenty-two fathoms' water. The ship took cable at a fearful rate; but Marble and Diogenes being at one bower, and Neb and I at the other, we succeeded in snubbing her, with something like twenty fathoms within the hawse-holes. There was a minute, when I thought the old bark would get away from us; and when, by desperate efforts, we did succeed in checking the mass, it seemed as if she would shake the windlass out of her. No time was lost in stoppering the cables, and in rolling up the main-top-sail.

Michael and his companions now came to wish us good luck, get the guineas, and to take their leave. The sea was already so rough that the only mode that remained of getting into their boat was by dropping from the end of the spanker boom. I endeavoured to persuade two or three of these fellows to stick by the ship, but in vain. They were all married, and they had a certain protection against impressment in their present manner of life; whereas, should they be found at large, some man-of-war would probably pick them up; and Michael's tales of the past had not given them any great zest for the sort of life he described.

When these Irish fishermen left us, and ran in-shore, we were thrown again altogether on our own resources. I had explained to Michael our want of hands, however, attributing it to accidents and impressments, and he thought he could persuade four or five young fellows to come off, as soon as the gale abated, on condition we would take them to America, after discharging at Hamburg. These were to be mere peasants, it is true, for seamen were scarce in that part of the world; but they would be better than nothing. Half a dozen athletic young Irishmen would relieve us seamen from a vast deal of the heavy, lugging work of the ship, and leave us strength and spirits to do that which unavoidably fell to our share. With the understanding that he was to receive, himself, a guinea a-head for each sound man thus brought us, we parted from old Michael, who probably has never piloted a ship since, as I strongly suspect he had never done before.

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