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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crater: Or, Vulcan's Peak: A Tale Of The Pacific - Chapter 21
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The Crater: Or, Vulcan's Peak: A Tale Of The Pacific - Chapter 21 Post by :vaima Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :1391

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The Crater: Or, Vulcan's Peak: A Tale Of The Pacific - Chapter 21

Chapter XXI

"Fancy can charm and feeling bless
With sweeter hours than fashion knows;
There is no calmer quietness,
Than home around the bosom throws."

Percival.


Although the governor deemed it prudent to anchor for the night, he did not neglect the precaution of reconnoitring. Betts was sent towards the Reef, in a boat well armed and manned, in order to ascertain the state of things in that quarter. His instructions directed him to push forward as far as he could, and if possible to hold some sort of communication with Socrates, who might now be considered as commander at the point assailed.

Fortunate was it that the governor bethought him of this measure. As Betts had the ship's launch, which carried two lugg-sails, his progress was both easy and rapid, and he actually got in sight of the Reef before midnight. To his astonishment, all seemed to be tranquil, and Betts at first believed that the savages had completed their work and departed. Being a bold fellow, however, a distant reconnoitring did not satisfy him; and on he went, until his boat fairly lay alongside of the natural quay of the Reef itself. Here he landed, and marched towards the entrance of the crater. The gate was negligently open, and on entering the spacious area, the men found all quiet, without any indications of recent violence. Betts knew that those who dwelt in this place, usually preferred the Summit for sleeping, and he ascended to one of the huts that had been erected there. Here he found the whole of the little garrison of the group, buried in sleep, and totally without any apprehension of the danger which menaced them. As it now appeared, Waally's men had not yet shown themselves, and Socrates knew nothing at all of what had happened to the brig.

Glad enough was the negro to shake hands with Betts, and to hear that Master Mark was so near at hand, with a powerful reinforcement. The party already arrived might indeed be termed the last, for the governor had sent with his first officer, on this occasion, no less than five-and-twenty men, each completely armed. With such a garrison, Betts deemed the crater safe, and he sent back the launch, with four seamen in it, to report the condition in which he had found matters, and to communicate all else that he had learned. This done, he turned his attention to the defences of the place.

According to Socrates' account, no great loss in property would be likely to occur, could the colonists make good the Reef against their invaders. The Abraham was over at the Peak, safe enough in the cove, as was the Neshamony and several of the boats, only two or three of the smaller of the last being with him. The hogs and cows were most exposed, though nearly half of the stock was now habitually kept on the Peak. Still, a couple of hundred hogs were on the prairie, as were no less than eight horned cattle, including calves. The loss of the last would be greatly felt, and it was much to be feared, since the creatures were very gentle, and might be easily caught. Betts, however, had fewer apprehensions touching the cattle than for the hogs, since the latter might be slain with arrows, while he was aware that Waally wished to obtain the first alive.

Agreeably to the accounts of Socrates, the progress of vegetation had been very great throughout the entire group. Grass grew wherever the seed was sown, provided anything like soil existed, and the prairie was now a vast range, most of which was green, and all of which was firm enough to bear a hoof. The trees, of all sorts, were flourishing also, and Belts was assured he would not know the group again when he came to see it by daylight, All this was pleasant intelligence, at least, to the eager listeners among the new colonists, who had now been so long on board ship, that anything in the shape of _terra firma_, and of verdure appeared to them like paradise. But Betts had too many things to think of, just then, to give much heed to the eulogium of Socrates, and he soon bestowed all his attention on the means of defence.

As there was but one way of approaching the crater, unless by water, and that was along the hog pasture and across the plank bridge, Bob felt the prudence of immediately taking possession of the pass. He ordered Socrates to look to the gate, where he stationed a guard, and went himself, with ten men, to make sure of the bridge. It was true, Waally's men could swim, and would not be very apt to pause long at the basin; but, it would be an advantage to fight them while in the water, that ought not to be thrown away. The carronades were all loaded, moreover; and these precautions taken, and sentinels posted, Betts suffered his men to sleep on their arms, if sleep they could. Their situation was so novel, that few availed themselves of the privilege, though their commanding officer, himself, was soon snoring most musically.

As might have been, expected, Waally made his assault just as the day appeared. Before that time, however, the launch had got back to the ship, and the latter was under way, coming fast towards the crater. Unknown to all, though anticipated by Mark, the Mermaid had entered the western passage, and was beating up through it, closing fast also on Waally's rear. Such was the state of things, when the yell of the assailants was heard.

Waally made his first push for the bridge, expecting to find it unguarded, and hoping to cross it unresisted. He knew that the ship was gone, and no longer dreaded _her fire; but he was fully aware that the Summit had its guns, and he wished to seize them while his men were still impelled by the ardour of a first onset. Those formidable engines of war were held in the most profound respect by all his people, and Waally knew the importance of success in a rapid movement. He had gleaned so much information concerning the state of the Reef, that he expected no great resistance, fully believing that, now he had seized the Mermaid, his enemies would be reduced in numbers to less than half-a-dozen. In all this, he was right enough; and there can be no question that Socrates and his whole party, together with the Reef, and for that matter, the entire group, would have fallen into his hands, but for the timely arrival of the reinforcement. The yell arose when it was ascertained that the bridge was drawn in, and it was succeeded by a volley from the guard posted near it, on the Reef. This commenced the strife, which immediately raged with great fury, and with prodigious clamour. Waally had all his muskets fired, too, though as yet he saw no enemy, and did not know in what direction to aim, He could see men moving about on the Reef, it is true, but it was only at moments, as they mostly kept themselves behind the covers. After firing his muskets, the chief issued an order for a charge, and several hundreds of his warriors plunged into the basin, and began to swim towards the point to be assailed. This movement admonished Betts of the prudence of retiring towards the gate, which he did in good order, and somewhat deliberately. This time, Waally actually got his men upon the Reef without a panic and without loss. They landed in a crowd, and were soon rushing in all directions, eager for plunder, and thirsting for blood. Betts was enabled, notwithstanding to enter the gate, which he did without delay, perfectly satisfied that all efforts of his to resist the torrent without must be vain. As soon as his party had entered, the gate was closed, and Betts was at liberty to bestow all his care on the defence of the crater.

The great extent of the citadel, which contained an area of not less than a hundred acres, it will be remembered, rendered its garrison very insufficient for a siege. It is probable that no one there would have thought of defending it, but for the certainty of powerful support being at hand. This certainty encouraged the garrison, rendering their exertions more ready and cheerful. Betts divided his men into parties of two, scattering them along the Summit, with orders to be vigilant, and to support each other. It was well known that a man could not enter from without unless by the gate, or aided by ladders, or some other mechanical invention. The time necessary to provide the last would bring broad daylight, and enable the colonists to march such a force to the menaced point, as would be pretty certain to prove sufficient to resist the assailants. The gate itself was commanded by a carronade, and was watched by a guard.

Great was the disappointment of Waally when he ascertained, by personal examination, that the Summit could not be scaled, even by the most active of his party, without recourse to assistance, by means of artificial contrivances. He had the sagacity to collect all his men immediately beneath the natural walls, where they were alone safe from the fire of the guns, but where they were also useless. A large pile of iron, an article so coveted, was in plain sight, beneath a shed, but he did not dare to send a single hand to touch it, since it would have brought the adventurer under fire. A variety of other articles, almost as tempting, though not perhaps of the same intrinsic value, lay also in sight, but were tabooed by the magic of powder and balls. Eleven hundred warriors, as was afterwards ascertained, landed on the Reef that eventful morning, and assembled under the walls of the crater. A hundred more remained in the canoes, which lay about a league off, in the western passage, or to leeward, awaiting the result of the enterprise.

The first effort made by Waally was to throw a force upward, by rearing one man on another's shoulders. This scheme succeeded in part, but the fellow who first showed his head above the perpendicular part of the cliff, received a bullet in his brains. The musket was fired by the hands of Socrates. This one discharge brought down the whole fabric, several of those who fell sustaining serious injuries, in the way of broken bones. The completely isolated position of the crater, which stood, as it might be, aloof from all surrounding objects, added materially to its strength in a military sense, and Waally was puzzled how to overcome difficulties that might have embarrassed a more civilized soldier. For the first time in his life, that warrior had encountered a sort of fortress, which could be entered only by regular approaches, unless it might be carried by a _coup de main_. At the latter the savages were expert enough, and on it they had mainly relied; but, disappointed in this respect, they found themselves thrown back on resources that were far from being equal to the emergency.

Tired of inactivity, Waally finally decided on making a desperate effort. The ship-yard was still kept up as a place for the repairing of boats, &c., and it always had more or less lumber lying in, or near it. Selecting a party of a hundred resolute men, and placing them under the orders of one of his bravest chiefs, Waally sent them off, on the run, to bring as much timber, boards, planks, &c., as they could carry, within the cover of the cliffs. Now, Betts had foreseen the probability of this very sortie, and had levelled one of his carronades, loaded to the muzzle with canister, directly at the largest pile of the planks. No sooner did the adventurers appear, therefore, than he blew his match. The savages were collected around the planks in a crowd, when he fired his gun. A dozen of them fell, and the rest vanished like so much dust scattered by a whirlwind.

Just at that moment, the cry passed along the Summit that the Rancocus was in sight. The governor must have heard the report of the gun, for he discharged one in return, an encouraging signal of his approach. In a minute, a third came from the westward, and Betts saw the sails of the Mermaid over the low land. It is scarcely necessary to add, that the reports of the two guns from a distance, and the appearance of the two vessels, put an end at once to all Waally's schemes, and induced him to commence, with the least possible delay, a second retreat from the spot which, like Nelson's frigates, might almost be said to be imprinted on his heart.

Waally retired successfully, if not with much dignity. At a given signal his men rushed for the water, plunged in and swam across the basin again. It was in Betts's power to have killed many on the retreat, but he was averse to shedding blood unnecessarily. Fifty lives, more or less, could be of no great moment in the result, as soon as a retreat was decided on; and the savages were permitted to retire, and to carry off their killed and wounded without molestation. The last was done by wheeling forward the planks, and crossing at the bridge.

It was far easier, however, for Waally to gain his canoes, than to know which way to steer after he had reached them. The Mermaid cut off his retreat by the western passage, and the Rancocus was coming, fast along the northern. In order to reach either the eastern, or the southern, it would be necessary to pass within gun-shot of the Reef, and, what was more, to run the gauntlet between the crater and the Rancocus. To this danger Waally was compelled to submit, since he had no other means of withdrawing his fleet. It was true, that by paddling to windward, he greatly lessened the danger he ran from the two vessels, since it would not be in their power to overtake him in the narrow channels of the group, so long as he went in the wind's eye. It is probable that the savages understood this, and that the circumstance greatly encouraged them in the effort they immediately made to get into the eastern passage. Betts permitted them to pass the Reef, without firing at them again, though some of the canoes were at least half an hour within the range of his guns, while doing so. It was lucky for the Indians that the Rancocus did not arrive until the last of their party were as far to windward as the spot where the ship had anchored, when she was first brought up by artificial means into those waters.

Betts went off to meet the governor, in order to make in early report of his proceedings. It was apparent that the langer was over, and Woolston was not sorry to find that success was obtained without recourse to his batteries. The ship went immediately alongside of the natural quay, and her people poured ashore, in a crowd, the instant a plank could be run out, in order to enable them to do so. In an hour the cows were landed, and were grazing in the crater, where the grass was knee-high, and everything possessing life was out of the ship, the rats and cock-roaches perhaps excepted. As for the enemy, no one now cared for them. The man aloft said they could be seen, paddling away as if for life, and already too far for pursuit. It would have been easy enough for the vessels to cut off the fugitives by going into the offing again, but this was not the desire of any there, all being too happy to be rid of them, to take any steps to prolong the intercourse.

Great was the delight of the colonists to be once more on the land. Under ordinary circumstances, the immigrants might not have seen so many charms in the Reef and crater, and hog-lot; but five months at sea have a powerful influence in rendering the most barren spot beautiful. Barrenness, however, was a reproach that could no longer be justly applied to the group, and most especially to those portions of it which had received the attention of its people. Even trees were beginning to be numerous, thousands of them having been planted, some for their fruits, some for their wood, and-others merely for the shade. Of willows, alone, Socrates with his own hand had set out more than five thousand, the operation being simply that of thrusting the end of a branch into the mud. Of the rapidity of the growth, it is scarcely necessary to speak; though it quadrupled that known even to the most fertile regions of America.

Here, then, was Mark once more at home, after so long a passage. There was his ship, too, well freighted with a hundred things, all of which would contribute to the comfort and well-being of the colonists! It was a moment when the governor's heart was overflowing with gratitude, and could he then have taken Bridget and his children in his arms, the cup of happiness would have been full. Bridget was not forgotten, however, for in less than half an hour after the ship was secured Betts sailed in the Neshamony, for the Peak; he was to carry over the joyful tidings, and to bring the 'governor's lady' to the Reef. Ere the sun set, or about that time, his return might be expected, the Neshamony making the trip in much less time than one of the smaller boats. It was not necessary, however, for Betts to go so far, for when he had fairly cleared Cape South, and was in the strait, he fell in with the Abraham, bound over to the Reef. It appeared that some signs of the hostile canoes had been seen from the Peak, as Waally was crossing from Rancocus Island, and, after a council, it had been decided to send the Abraham across, to notify the people on the Reef of the impending danger, and to aid in repelling the enemy. Bridget and Martha had both come in the schooner; the first, to look after the many valuables he had left at the 'governor's house,' on the Summit, and the last, as her companion.

We leave the reader to imagine the joy that was exhibited, when those on board the Abraham ascertained the arrival of the Rancocus! Bridget was in ecstasies, and greatly did she exult in her own determination to cross on this occasion, and to bring her child with her. After the first burst of happiness, and the necessary explanations had been made, a consultation was had touching what was next to be done. Brown was in command of the Abraham, with a sufficient crew, and Betts sent him to windward, outside of everything, to look after the enemy. It was thought desirable not only to see Waally well clear of the group, but to force him to pass off to the northward, in order that he might not again approach the Reef, as well as to give him so much annoyance on his retreat, as to sicken him of these expeditions for the future. For such a service the schooner was much the handiest of all the vessels of the colonists, since she might be worked by a couple of hands, and her armament was quite sufficient for all that was required of her, on the occasion. Brown was every way competent to command, as Betts well knew, and he received the females on board the Neshamony, and put about, leaving the schooner to turn to windward.

Bridget reached the Reef before it was noon. All the proceedings of that day had commenced so early, that there had been time for this. The governor saw the Neshamony. as she approached, and great, uneasiness beset him He knew she had not been as far as the Peak, and supposed that Waally's fleet had intercepted her, Betts coming back for reinforcements. But, as the boat drew near, the fluttering of female dresses was seen, and then his unerring glass let him get a distant view of the sweet face of his young wife. From that moment the governor was incapable of giving a coherent or useful order, until Bridget had arrived. Vessels that came in from the southward were obliged to pass through the narrow entrance, between the Reef and the Hog Lot, where was the drawbridge so often mentioned. There was water enough to float a frigate, and it was possible to take a frigate through, the width being about fifty feet, though as yet nothing larger than the Friend Abraham White had made the trial. At this point, then, Woolston took his station, waiting the arrival of the Neshamony, with an impatience he was a little ashamed of exhibiting.

Betts saw the governor, in good time, and pointed him out to Bridget, who could hardly be kept on board the boat, so slow did the progress of the craft now seem. But the tender love which this young couple bore each other was soon to be rewarded; for Mark sprang on board the Neshamony as she went through the narrow pass, and immediately he had Bridget folded to his heart.

Foreigners are apt to say that we children of this western world do not submit to the tender emotions with the same self-abandonment as those who are born nearer to the rising sun; that our hearts are as cold and selfish as our manners; and that we live more for the lower and grovelling passions, than for sentiment and the affections. Most sincerely do we wish that every charge which European jealousy, and European superciliousness, have brought against the American character, was as false as this. That the people of this country are more restrained in the exhibition of all their emotions, than those across the great waters, we believe; but, that the last _feel the most, we shall be very unwilling to allow. Most of all shall we deny that the female form contains hearts more true to all its affections, spirits more devoted to the interests of its earthly head, or identity of existence more perfect than those with which the American wife clings to her husband. She is literally "bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh." It is seldom that her wishes cross the limits of the domestic circle, which to her is earth itself, and all that it contains which is most desirable. Her husband and children compose her little world, and beyond them and their sympathies, it is rare indeed that her truant affections ever wish to stray. A part of this concentration of the American wife's existence in these domestic interests, is doubtless owing to the simplicity of American life and the absence of temptation. Still, so devoted is the female heart, so true to its impulses, and so little apt to wander from home-feelings and home-duties, that the imputation to which there is allusion, is just that, of all others, to which the wives of the republic ought not to be subject.

It was even-tide before the governor was again seen among his people. By this time, the immigrants had taken their first survey of the Reef, and the nearest islands, which the least sanguine of their numbers admitted quite equalled the statements they had originally heard of the advantages of the place. It was, perhaps, fortunate that the fruits of the tropics were so abundant with Socrates and his companions. By this time, oranges abounded, more than a thousand trees having, from time to time, been planted in and around the crater, alone. Groves of them were also appearing in favourable spots, on the adjacent islands. It is true, these trees were yet too young to produce very bountifully; but they had begun to bear, and it was thought a very delightful thing, among the fresh arrivals from Pennsylvania, to be able to walk in an orange grove, and to pluck the fruit at pleasure!

As for figs, melons, limes, shaddocks, and even cocoa-nuts, all were now to be had, and in quantities quite sufficient for the population. In time, the colonists craved the apples of their own latitude, and the peach; those two fruits, so abundant and so delicious in their ancient homes; but the novelty was still on them, and it required time to learn the fact that we tire less of the apple, and the peach, and the potato, than of any other of the rarest gifts of nature. That which the potato has become among vegetables, is the apple among fruits; and when we rise into the mere luscious and temporary of the bountiful products of horticulture, the peach (in its perfection) occupies a place altogether apart, having no rival in its exquisite flavour, while it never produces satiety. The peach and the grape are the two most precious of the gifts of Providence, in the way of fruits.

That night, most of the immigrants slept in the ship; nearly all of them, however, for the last time. About ten in the forenoon, Brown came running down to the Reef, through the eastern passage, to report Waally well off, having quitted the group to windward, and made the best of his way towards his own islands, without turning aside to make a starting-point of Rancocus. It was a good deal questioned whether the chief would find his proper dominions, after a run of four hundred miles; for a very trifling deviation from the true course at starting, would be very apt to bring him out wide of his goal. This was a matter, however, that gave the colonists very little concern. The greater the embarrassments encountered by their enemies, the less likely would they be to repeat the visit; and should a few perish, it might be all the better for themselves. The governor greatly approved of Brown's course in not following the canoes, since the repulse was sufficient as it was, and there was very little probability that the colony would meet with any further difficulty from this quarter, now that it had got to be so strong.

That day and the next, the immigrants were busy in landing their effects, which consisted of furniture, tools and stores, of one sort and another. As the governor intended to send, at once, forty select families over to the Peak, the Abraham was brought alongside of the quay, and the property of those particular families was, as it came ashore, sent on board the schooner. Males and females were all employed in this duty, the Reef resembling a beehive just at that point. Bill Brown, who still commanded the Abraham, was of course present; and he made an occasion to get in company with the governor, with whom he held the following short dialogue:

"A famous ship's company is this, sir, you've landed among us, and some on 'em is what I calls of the right sort!"

"I understand you, Bill," answered Mark, smiling. "Your commission has been duly executed; and Phoebe is here, ready to be spliced as soon as there shall be an opportunity."

"_That is easily enough made, when people's so inclined," said Bill, fidgeting. "If you'd be so good, sir, as just to point out the young woman to me, I might be beginning to like her, in the meanwhile."

"_Young? Nothing was said about that in the order, Bill. You wished a wife, invoiced and consigned to yourself; and one has been shipped, accordingly. You must consider the state of the market, and remember that the article is in demand precisely as it is youthful."

"Well, well, sir, I'll not throw her on your hands, if she's old enough to be my mother; though I do rather suppose, Mr. Woolston, you stood by an old shipmate in a foreign land, and that there is a companion suitable for a fellow of only two-and-thirty sent out?"

"Of that you shall judge for yourself, Bill. Here she comes, carrying a looking-glass, as if it were to look at her own pretty face; and if she prove to be only as good as she is good-looking, you will have every reason to be satisfied. What is more, Bill, your wife does not come empty-handed, having a great many articles that will help to set you up comfortably in housekeeping."

Brown was highly pleased with the governor's choice, which had been made with a due regard to the interests and tastes of the absent shipmate. Phoebe appeared well satisfied with her allotted husband; and that very day the couple was united in the cabin of the Abraham. On the same occasion, the ceremony was performed for Unus and Juno, as well as for Peters and his Indian wife; the governor considering it proper that regard to appearances and all decent observances, should be paid, as comported with their situation.

About sunset of the third day after the arrival of the Rancocus, the Abraham sailed for the Peak, having on board somewhat less than a hundred of the immigrants, including females and children. The Neshamony preceded her several hours, taking across the governor and his family. Mark longed to see his sister Anne, and his two brothers participated in this wish, if possible, in a still more lively manner.

The meeting of these members of the same family was of the most touching character. The young men found their sister much better established than they had anticipated, and in the enjoyment of very many more comforts than they had supposed it was in the power of any one to possess in a colony still so young. Heaton had erected a habitation for himself, in a charming grove, where there were water, fruits, and other conveniences, near at hand, and where his own family was separated from the rest of the community. This distinction had been conferred on him, by common consent, in virtue of his near affinity to the governor, whose substitute he then was, and out of respect to his education and original rank in life. Seamen are accustomed to defer to station and authority, and are all the happier for the same; and the thought of any jealousy on account of this privilege, which as yet was confined to Mark and Heaton, and their respective families, had not yet crossed the mind of any one on the island.

About twelve, or at midnight, the Abraham entered the cove. Late as was the hour, each immigrant assumed a load suited to his or her strength, and ascended the Stairs, favoured by the sweet light of a full moon. That night most of the new-comers passed in the groves, under tents or in an arbour that had been prepared for them; and sweet was the repose that attended happiness and security, in a climate so agreeable.

Next morning, when the immigrants came out of their temporary dwellings, and looked upon the fair scene before them, they could scarcely believe in its reality! It is true, nothing remarkable or unexpected met their eyes in the shape of artificial accessories; but the bountiful gifts of Providence, and the natural beauties of the spot, as much exceeded their anticipations as it did their power of imagining such glories! The admixture of softness and magnificence made a whole that they had never before beheld in any other portion of the globe; and there was not one among them all that did not, for the moment, feel and speak as if he or she had been suddenly transformed to an earthly paradise.

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