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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Pilot: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 22
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The Pilot: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 22 Post by :opabertnet Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2142

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The Pilot: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII

"Ay marry, let me have him to sit under;
He's like to be a cold soldier."
_Falstaff_.


Barnstable lingered on the sands for a few minutes, until the footsteps of Dillon and the cockswain were no longer audible, when he ordered his men to launch their boat once more into the surf. While the seamen pulled leisurely towards the place he had designated as the point where he would await the return of Tom, the lieutenant first began to entertain serious apprehensions concerning the good faith of his prisoner. Now that Dillon was beyond his control, his imagination presented, in very vivid colors, several little circumstances in the other's conduct, which might readily excuse some doubts of his good faith; and, by the time they had reached the place of rendezvous, and had cast a light grapnel into the sea, his fears had rendered him excessively uncomfortable. Leaving the lieutenant to his reflections on this unpleasant subject, we shall follow Dillon and his fearless and unsuspecting companion in their progress towards St. Ruth.

The mists to which Tom had alluded in his discussion with his commander on the state of the weather appeared to be settling nearer to the earth, and assuming more decidedly the appearance of a fog, hanging above them in sluggish volumes, but little agitated by the air. The consequent obscurity added deeply to the gloom of the night, and it would have been difficult for one less acquainted than Dillon with the surrounding localities to find the path which led to the dwelling of Colonel Howard. After some little search, this desirable object was effected; and the civilian led the way, with rapid strides, towards the abbey.

"Ay, ay!" said Tom, who followed his steps, and equaled his paces, without any apparent effort, "you shore people have an easy way to find your course and distance, when you get into the track. I was once left by the craft I belonged to, in Boston, to find my way to Plymouth, which is a matter of fifteen leagues, or thereaway; and so, finding nothing was bound up the bay, after lying-by for a week, I concluded to haul aboard my land tacks. I spent the better part of another week in a search for some hooker, on board which I might work my passage across the country, for money was as scarce then with old Tom Coffin as it is now, and is likely to be, unless the fisheries get a good luff soon; but it seems that nothing but your horse-flesh, and horned cattle, and jackasses, are privileged to do the pulling and hauling in your shore- hookers; and I was forced to pay a week's wages for a berth, besides keeping a banyan on a mouthful of bread and cheese, from the time we hove up in Boston, till we came to in Plymouth town."

"It was certainly an unreasonable exaction on the part of the wagoners, from a man in your situation," said Dillon, in a friendly, soothing tone of voice, that denoted a willingness to pursue the conversation.

"My situation was that of a cabin passenger," returned the cockswain; "for there was but one hand forward, besides the cattle I mentioned-- that was he who steered--and an easy berth he had of it; for there his course lay atween walls of stone and fences: and, as for his reckoning, why, they had stuck up bits of stone on an end, with his day's work footed up, ready to his hand, every half league or so. Besides, the landmarks were so plenty, that a man with half an eye might steer her, and no fear of getting to leeward,"

"You must have found yourself as it were in a new world," observed Dillon.

"Why, to me it was pretty much the same as if I had been set afloat in a strange country, though I may be said to be a native of those parts, being born on the coast. I had often heard shoremen say, that there was as much 'arth as water in the world, which I always set down as a rank lie, for I've sailed with a flowing sheet months an-end without falling in with as much land or rock as would answer a gull to lay its eggs on; but I will own, that atween Boston and Plymouth, we were out of sight of water for as much as two full watches!"

Dillon pursued this interesting subject with great diligence; and by the time they reached the wall, which enclosed the large paddock that surrounded the abbey, the cockswain was deeply involved in a discussion of the comparative magnitude of the Atlantic Ocean and the continent of America.

Avoiding the principal entrance to the building, through the great gates which communicated with the court in front, Dillon followed the windings of the wall until it led them to a wicket, which he knew was seldom closed for the night until the hour for general rest had arrived. Their way now lay in the rear of the principal edifice, and soon conducted them to the confused pile which contained the offices. The cockswain followed his companion with a confiding reliance on his knowledge and good faith, that was somewhat increased by the freedom of communication that had been maintained during their walk from the cliffs. He did not perceive anything extraordinary in the other's stopping at the room, which had been provided as a sort of barracks for the soldiers of Captain Borroughcliffe. A conference which took place between Dillon and the sergeant was soon ended, when the former beckoned to the cockswain to follow, and taking a circuit round the whole of the offices, they entered the abbey together, by the door through which the ladies had issued when in quest of the three prisoners, as has been already related.--After a turn or two among the narrow passages of that part of the edifice, Tom, whose faith in the facilities of land navigation began to be a little shaken, found himself following his guide through a long, dark gallery, that was terminated at the end toward which they were approaching, by a half-open door, that admitted a glimpse into a well- lighted and comfortable apartment. To this door Dillon hastily advanced, and, throwing it open, the cockswain enjoyed a full view of the very scene that we described in introducing Colonel Howard to the acquaintance of the reader, and under circumstances of great similitude. The cheerful fire of coal, the strong and glaring lights, the tables of polished mahogany, and the blushing fluids, were still the same in appearance, while the only perceptible change was in the number of those who partook of the cheer. The master of the mansion and Borroughcliffe were seated opposite to each other, employed in discussing the events of the day, and diligently pushing to and fro the glittering vessel, that contained a portion of the generous liquor they both loved so well; a task which each moment rendered lighter.

"If Kit would but return," exclaimed the veteran, whose back was to the opening door, "bringing with, him his honest brows encircled, as they will be or ought to be, with laurel, I should be the happiest old fool, Borroughcliffe, in his majesty's realm of Great Britain!"

The captain, who felt the necessity for the unnatural restraint he had imposed on his thirst to be removed by the capture of his enemies, pointed towards the door with one hand, while he grasped the sparkling reservoir of the "south side" with the other, and answered:

"Lo! the Cacique himself! his brow inviting the diadem--ha! who have we in his highness' train? By the Lord, sir Cacique, if you travel with a body-guard of such grenadiers, old Frederick of Prussia himself will have occasion to envy you the corps! a clear six-footer in nature's stockings! and the arms as unique as the armed!"

The colonel did not, however, attend to half of his companion's exclamations, but turning, he beheld the individual he had so much desired, and received him with a delight proportioned to the unexpectedness of the pleasure. For several minutes, Dillon was compelled to listen to the rapid questions of his venerable relative, to all of which he answered with a prudent reserve, that might, in some measure, have been governed by the presence of the cockswain. Tom stood with infinite composure, leaning on his harpoon, and surveying, with a countenance where wonder was singularly blended with contempt, the furniture and arrangements of an apartment that was far more splendid than any he had before seen. In the mean time, Borroughcliffe entirely disregarded the private communications that passed between his host and Dillon, which gradually became more deeply interesting, and finally drew them to a distant corner of the apartment, but taking a most undue advantage of the absence of the gentleman, who had so lately been his boon companion, he swallowed one potation after another, as if a double duty had devolved on him, in consequence of the desertion of the veteran. Whenever his eye did wander from the ruby tints of his glass, it was to survey with unrepressed admiration the inches of the cockswain, about whose stature and frame there were numberless excellent points to attract the gaze of a recruiting officer. From this double pleasure, the captain was, however, at last summoned, to participate in the councils of his friends.

Dillon was spared the disagreeable duty of repeating the artful tale he had found it necessary to palm on the colonel, by the ardor of the veteran himself, who executed the task in a manner that gave to the treachery of his kinsman every appearance of a justifiable artifice and of unshaken zeal in the cause of his prince. In substance, Tom was to be detained as a prisoner, and the party of Barnstable were to be entrapped, and of course to share a similar fate. The sunken eye of Dillon cowered before the steady gaze which Borroughcliffe fastened on him, as the latter listened to the plaudits the colonel lavished on his cousin's ingenuity; but the hesitation that lingered in the soldier's manner vanished when he turned to examine their unsuspecting prisoner, who was continuing his survey of the apartment, while he innocently imagined the consultations he witnessed were merely the proper and preparatory steps to his admission into the presence of Mr. Griffith.

"Drill," said Borroughcliffe, aloud, "advance, and receive your orders." The cockswain turned quickly at this sudden mandate, and, for the first time, perceived that he had been followed into the gallery by the orderly and two files of the recruits, armed. "Take this man to the guard-room, and feed him, and see that he dies not of thirst."

There was nothing alarming in this order; and Tom was following the soldiers, in obedience to a gesture from their captain, when their steps were arrested in the gallery, by the cry of "Halt!"

"On recollection, Drill," said Borroughcliffe, in a tone from which all dictatorial sounds were banished, "show the gentleman into my own room, and see him properly supplied."

The orderly gave such an intimation of his comprehending the meaning of his officer, as the latter was accustomed to receive, when Borroughcliffe returned to his bottle, and the cockswain followed his guide, with an alacrity and good will that were not a little increased by the repeated mention of the cheer that awaited him.

Luckily for the impatience of Tom, the quarters of the captain were at hand, and the promised entertainment by no means slow in making its appearance. The former was an apartment that opened from a lesser gallery, which communicated with the principal passage already mentioned; and the latter was a bountiful but ungarnished supply of that staple of the British Isles, called roast beef; of which the kitchen of Colonel Howard was never without a due and loyal provision,--The sergeant, who certainly understood one of the signs of his captain to imply an attack on the citadel of the cockswain's brain, mingled, with his own hands, a potation that he styled a rummer of grog, and which he thought would have felled the animal itself that Tom was so diligently masticating, had it been alive and in its vigor. Every calculation that was made on the infirmity of the cockswain's intellect, under the stimulus of Jamaica, was, however, futile. He swallowed glass after glass, with prodigious relish, but, at the same time, with immovable steadiness; and the eyes of the sergeant, who felt it incumbent to do honor to his own cheer, were already glistening in his head, when, happily for the credit of his heart, a tap at the door announced the presence of his captain, and relieved him from the impending disgrace of being drunk blind by a recruit.

As Borroughcliffe entered the apartment, he commanded his orderly to retire, adding:

"Mr. Dillon will give you instructions, which you are implicitly to obey."

Drill, who had sense enough remaining to apprehend the displeasure of his officer, should the latter discover his condition, quickened his departure, and the cockswain soon found himself alone with the captain. The vigor of Tom's attacks on the remnant of the sirloin was now much abated, leaving in its stead that placid quiet which is apt to linger about the palate long after the cravings of the appetite have been appeased. He had seated himself on one of the trunks of Borroughcliffe, utterly disdaining the use of a chair; and, with the trencher in his lap, was using his own jack-knife on the dilapidated fragment of the ox, with something of that nicety with which the female ghoul of the Arabian Tales might be supposed to pick her rice with the point of her bodkin. The captain drew a seat nigh the cockswain; and, with a familiarity and kindness infinitely condescending, when the difference in their several conditions is considered, he commenced the following dialogue:

"I hope you have found your entertainment to your liking, Mr. a-a-I must own my ignorance of your name."

"Tom," said the cockswain, keeping his eyes roaming over the contents of the trencher; "commonly called long Tom, by my shipmates."

"You have sailed with discreet men, and able navigators, it will seem, as they understood longitude so well," rejoined the captain; "but you have a patronymic--I would say another name?"

"Coffin," returned the cockswain; "I'm called Tom, when there is any hurry, such as letting go the haulyards, or a sheet; long Tom, when they want to get to windward of an old seaman, by fair weather; and long Tom Coffin, when they wish to hail me, so that none of my cousins of the same name, about the islands, shall answer; for I believe the best man among them can't measure much over a fathom, taking him from his headworks to his heel."

"You are a most deserving fellow," cried Borroughcliffe, "and it is painful to think to what a fate the treachery of Mr. Dillon has consigned you."

The suspicions of Tom, if he ever entertained any, were lulled to rest too effectually by the kindness he had received, to be awakened by this equivocal lament; he therefore, after renewing his intimacy with the rummer, contented himself by saying, with a satisfied simplicity:

"I am consigned to no one, carrying no cargo but this Mr. Dillon, who is to give me Mr. Griffith in exchange, or go back to the Ariel himself, as my prisoner."

"Ah! my good friend, I fear you will find, when the time comes to make this exchange, that he will refuse to do either."

"But, I'll be d----d if he don't do one of them! My orders are to see it done, and back he goes; or Mr. Griffith, who is as good a seaman, for his years, as ever trod a deck, slips his cable from this here anchorage."

Borroughcliffe affected to eye his companion with great commiseration; an exhibition of compassion that was, however, completely lost on the cockswain, whose nerves were strung to their happiest tension by his repeated libations, while his wit was, if anything, quickened by the same cause, though his own want of guile rendered him slow to comprehend its existence in others. Perceiving it necessary to speak plainly, the captain renewed the attack in a more direct manner:

"I am sorry to say that you will not be permitted to return to the Ariel; and that your commander, Mr. Barnstable, will be a prisoner within the hour; and, in fact, that your schooner will be taken before the morning breaks."

"Who'll take her?" asked the cockswain with a grim smile, on whose feelings, however, this combination of threatened calamities was beginning to make some impression.

"You must remember that she lies immediately under the heavy guns of a battery that can sink her in a few minutes; an express has already been sent to acquaint the commander of the work with the Ariel's true character; and as the wind has already begun to blow from the ocean, her escape is impossible."

The truth, together with its portentous consequences, now began to glare across the faculties of the cockswain. He remembered his own prognostics on the weather, and the helpless situation of the schooner, deprived of more than half her crew, and left to the keeping of a boy, while her commander himself was on the eve of captivity. The trencher fell from his lap to the floor, his head sunk on his knees, his face was concealed between his broad palms, and, in spite of every effort the old seaman could make to conceal his emotion, he fairly groaned aloud.

For a moment, the better feelings of Borroughcliffe prevailed, and he paused as he witnessed this exhibition of suffering in one whose head was already sprinkled with the marks of time; but his habits, and the impressions left by many years passed in collecting victims for the wars, soon resumed their ascendency, and the recruiting officer diligently addressed himself to an improvement of his advantage.

"I pity from my heart the poor lads whom artifice or mistaken notions of duty may have led astray, and who will thus be taken in arms against their sovereign; but as they are found in the very island of Britain, they must be made examples to deter others. I fear that, unless they can make their peace with government, they will all be condemned to death."

"Let them make their peace with God, then; your government can do but little to clear the log-account of a man whose watch is up for this world."

"But, by making their peace with those who have the power, their lives may be spared," said the captain, watching, with keen eyes, the effect his words produced on the cockswain.

"It matters but little, when a man hears the messenger pipe his hammock down for the last time; he keeps his watch in another world, though he goes below in this. But to see wood and iron, that has been put together after such moulds as the Ariel's, go into strange hands, is a blow that a man may remember long after the purser's books have been squared against his name for ever! I would rather that twenty shot should strike my old carcass, than one should hull the schooner that didn't pass out above her water-line."

Borroughcliffe replied, somewhat carelessly, "I may be mistaken, after all; and, instead of putting any of you to death, they may place you all on board the prison-ships, where you may yet have a merry time of it these ten or fifteen years to come."

"How's that, shipmate!" cried the cockswain, with a start; "a prison- ship, d'ye say? you may tell them they can save the expense of one man's rations by hanging him, if they please, and that is old Tom Coffin."

"There is no answering for their caprice: to-day they may order a dozen of you to be shot for rebels; to-morrow they may choose to consider you as prisoners of war, and send you to the hulks for a dozen years."

"Tell them, brother, that I'm a rebel, will ye? and ye'll tell 'em no lie--one that has fou't them since Manly's time, in Boston Bay, to this hour. I hope the boy will blow her up! it would be the death of poor Richard Barnstable to see her in the hands of the English!"

"I know of one way," said Borroughcliffe, affecting to muse, "and but one, that will certainly avert the prison-ship; for, on second thoughts, they will hardly put you to death."

"Name it, friend," cried the cockswain, rising from his seat in evident perturbation, "and if it lies in the power of man, it shall be done."

"Nay," said the captain, dropping his hand familiarly on the shoulder of the other, who listened with the most eager attention, "'tis easily done, and no dreadful thing in itself; you are used to gunpowder, and know its smell from otto of roses!"

"Ay, ay," cried the impatient old seaman; "I have had it flashing under my nose by the hour; what then?"

"Why, then, what I have to propose will be nothing to a man like you-- you found the beef wholesome, and the grog mellow!"

"Ay, ay, all well enough; but what is that to an old sailor?" asked the cockswain, unconsciously grasping the collar of Borroughcliffe's coat, in his agitation; "what then?"

The captain manifested no displeasure at this unexpected familiarity, but with suavity as he unmasked the battery, from behind which he had hitherto carried on his attacks.

"Why, then, you have only to serve your king as you have before served the Congress--and let me be the man to show you your colors."

The cockswain stared at the speaker intently, but it was evident he did not clearly comprehend the nature of the proposition, and the captain pursued the subject:

"In plain English, enlist in my company, my fine fellow, and your life and liberty are both safe."

Tom did not laugh aloud, for that was a burst of feeling in which he was seldom known to indulge; but every feature of his weatherbeaten visage contracted into an expression of bitter, ironical contempt. Borroughcliffe felt the iron fingers, that still grasped his collar, gradually tightening about his throat, like a vice; and, as the arm slowly contracted, his body was drawn, by a power that it was in vain to resist, close to that of the cockswain, who, when their faces were within a foot of each other, gave vent to his emotions in words:

"A messmate, before a shipmate; a shipmate, before a stranger; a stranger, before a dog--but a dog before a soldier!"

As Tom concluded, his nervous arm was suddenly extended to the utmost, the fingers relinquishing their grasp at the same time; and, when Borroughcliffe recovered his disordered faculties, he found himself in a distant corner of the apartment, prostrate among a confused pile of chairs, tables, and wearing-apparel. In endeavoring to rise from this humble posture, the hand of the captain fell on the hilt of his sword, which had been included in the confused assemblage of articles produced by his overthrow.

"How now, scoundrel!" he cried, baring the glittering weapon, and springing on his feet; "you must be taught your distance, I perceive."

The cockswain seized the harpoon which leaned against the wall, and dropped its barbed extremity within a foot of the breast of his assailant, with an expression of the eye that denoted the danger of a nearer approach. The captain, however, wanted not for courage, and stung to the quick by the insult he had received, he made a desperate parry, and attempted to pass within the point of the novel weapon of his adversary. The slight shock was followed by a sweeping whirl of the harpoon, and Borroughchffe found himself without arms, completely at the mercy of his foe. The bloody intentions of Tom vanished with his success; for, laying aside his weapon, he advanced upon his antagonist, and seized him with an open palm. One more struggle, in which the captain discovered his incompetency to make any defence against the strength of a man who managed him as if he had been a child, decided the matter. When the captain was passive in the hands of his foe, the cockswain produced sundry pieces of sennit, marline, and ratlin-stuff, from his pockets, which appeared to contain as great a variety of small cordage as a boatswain's storeroom, and proceeded to lash the arms of the conquered soldier to the posts of his bed, with a coolness that had not been disturbed since the commencement of hostilities, a silence that seemed inflexible, and a dexterity that none but a seaman could equal. When this part of his plan was executed, Tom paused a moment, and gazed around him as if in quest of something. The naked sword caught his eye, and, with this weapon in his hand, he deliberately approached his captive, whose alarm prevented his observing that the cockswain had snapped the blade asunder from the handle, and that he had already encircled the latter with marline.

"For God's sake," exclaimed Borroughcliffe, "murder me not in cold blood!"

The silver hilt entered his mouth as the words issued from it, and the captain found, while the line was passed and repassed in repeated involutions across the back of his neck, that he was in a condition to which he often subjected his own men, when unruly, and which is universally called being "gagged." The cockswain now appeared to think himself entitled to all the privileges of a conqueror; for, taking the light in his hand, he commenced a scrutiny into the nature and quality of the worldly effects that lay at his mercy. Sundry articles, that belonged to the equipments of a soldier, were examined, and cast aside with great contempt, and divers garments of plainer exterior were rejected as unsuited to the frame of the victor. He, however, soon encountered two articles, of a metal that is universally understood. But uncertainty as to their use appeared greatly to embarrass him. The circular prongs of these curiosities were applied to either hand, to the wrists, and even to the nose, and the little wheels at their opposite extremity were turned and examined with as much curiosity and care as a savage would expend on a watch, until the idea seemed to cross the mind of the honest seaman, that they formed part of the useless trappings of a military man; and he cast them aside also, as utterly worthless. Borroughcliffe, who watched every movement of his conqueror, with a good-humor that would have restored perfect harmony between them, could he but have expressed half what he felt, witnessed the safety of a favorite pair of spurs with much pleasure, though nearly suffocated by the mirth that was unnaturally repressed. At length, the cockswain found a pair of handsomely mounted pistols, a sort of weapon with which he seemed quite familiar. They were loaded, and the knowledge of that fact appeared to remind Tom of the necessity of departing, by bringing to his recollection the danger of his commander and of the Ariel. He thrust the weapons into the canvas belt that encircled his body, and, grasping his harpoon, approached the bed, where Borroughcliffe was seated in duresse.

"Harkye, friend," said the cockswain, "may the Lord forgive you, as I do, for wishing to make a soldier of a seafaring man, and one who has followed the waters since he was an hour old, and one who hopes to die off soundings, and to be buried in brine. I wish you no harm, friend; but you'll have to keep a stopper on your conversation till such time as some of your messmates call in this way, which I hope will be as soon after I get an offing as may be."

With these amicable wishes, the cockswain departed, leaving Borroughcliffe the light, and the undisturbed possession of his apartment, though not in the most easy or the most enviable situation imaginable. The captain heard the bolt of his lock turn, and the key rattle as the cockswain withdrew it from the door--two precautionary steps, which clearly indicated that the vanquisher deemed it prudent to secure his retreat, by insuring the detention of the vanquished for at least a time.

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