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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Red Rover: A Tale - Chapter 19
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The Red Rover: A Tale - Chapter 19 Post by :JohnDi Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :1144

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The Red Rover: A Tale - Chapter 19

Chapter XIX

"Now let it work: Mischief, thou art afoot,
Take then what course thou wilt!"--_Shakspeare_

When the velocity with which the vessel flew before the wind is properly considered, the reader will not be surprised to learn, that, with the change of a week in the time from that with which the foregoing incidents close, we are enabled to open the scene of the present chapter in a very different quarter of the same sea. It is unnecessary to follow the "Rover" in the windings of that devious and apparently often uncertain course, during which his keel furrowed more than a thousand miles of ocean, and during which more than one cruiser of the King was skilfully eluded, and sundry less dangerous encounters avoided, as much from inclination as any other visible cause. It is quite sufficient for our purpose to lift the curtain, which must conceal her movements for a time, to expose the gallant vessel in a milder climate, and, when the season of the year is considered, in a more propitious sea.

Exactly seven days after Gertrude and her governess became the inmates of a ship whose character it is no longer necessary to conceal from the reader, the sun rose upon her flapping sails, symmetrical spars, and dark hull, within sight of a few, low, small and rocky islands. The colour of the element would have told a seaman, had no mound of blue land been seen issuing out of the world of waters, that the bottom of the sea was approaching nigher than common to its surface, and that it was necessary to guard against the well-known and dreaded dangers of the coast. Wind there was none; for she vacillating and uncertain air which, from time to time, distended for an instant the lighter canvas of the vessel, deserved to be merely termed the breathings of a morning, which was breaking upon the main, soft, mild, and seemingly so bland as to impart to the ocean the placid character of a sleeping lake.

Everything having life in the ship was already up and stirring. Fifty stout and healthy-looking seamen were hanging in different parts of her rigging, some laughing, and holding low converse with messmates who lay indolently on the neighbouring spars, and others leisurely performing the light and trivial duty that was the ostensible employment of the moment. More than as many others loitered carelessly about the decks below, somewhat similarly engaged; the whole wearing much the appearance of men who were set to perform certain immaterial tasks, more to escape the imputation of idleness than from any actual necessity that the same should be executed. The quarter-deck, the hallowed spot of every vessel that may pretend to either discipline or its semblance, was differently occupied though by a set of beings who could lay no greater claim to activity or interest. In short, the vessel partook of the character of the ocean and of the weather, both of which seemed reserving their powers to some more suitable occasion for their display.

Three or four young (and, considering the nature of their service, far from unpleasant-looking) men appeared in a sort of undress nautical uniform, in which the fashion of no people in particular was very studiously consulted. Notwithstanding the apparent calm that reigned on all around them, each of these individuals bore a short straight dirk at his girdle; and, as one of them bent over the side of the vessel, the handle of a little pistol was discovered through an opening in the folds of his professional frock. There were, however, no other immediate signs of distrust, whence an observer might infer that this armed precaution was more than the usual custom of the vessel. A couple of grim and callous looking sentinels, who were attired and accoutred like soldiers of the land, and who, contrary to marine usage, were posted on the line which separated the resorting place of the officers from the forward part of the deck, bespoke additional caution. But, still, all these arrangements were regarded by the seamen with incurious eyes--a certain proof that use had long rendered them familiar.

The individual who has been introduced to the reader under the high-sounding title of "General," stood upright and rigid as one of the masts of the ship, studying, with a critical eye, the equipments of his two mercenaries, and apparently as regardless of what was passing around him as though he literally considered himself a fixture in the vessel. One form, however, was to be distinguished from all around it, by the dignity of its mien and the air of authority that breathed even in the repose of its attitude. It was the Rover, who stood alone, none presuming to approach the spot where he had chosen to plant his light but graceful and imposing person. There was ever an expression of stern investigation in his quick wandering eye, as it roved from object to object in the equipment of the vessel; and at moments, as his look appeared fastened on some one of the light fleecy clouds that floated in the blue vacuum above him, there gathered about his brow a gloom like that which is thought to be the shadowing of intense thought. Indeed, so dark and threatening did this lowering of the eye become, at times, that the fair hair which broke out in ringlets from beneath a black velvet sea-cap, from whose top depended a tassel of gold, could no longer impart to his countenance the gentleness which it sometimes was seen to express. As though he disdained concealment, and wished to announce the nature of the power he wielded, he wore his pistols openly in a leathern belt, that was made to cross a frock of blue, delicately edged with gold, and through which he had thrust, with the same disregard of concealment, a light and curved Turkish yattagan, with a straight stiletto, which, by the chasings of its handle, had probably originally come from the manufactory of some Italian artisan.

On the deck of the poop, overlooking the rest and retired from the crowd beneath them, stood Mrs Wyllys and her charge, neither of whom announced in the slightest degree, by eye or air, that anxiety which might readily be supposed natural to females who found themselves in a condition so critical as in the company of lawless freebooters. On the contrary, while the former pointed out to the latter the hillock of pale blue which rose from the water, like a dark and strongly defined cloud in the distance, hope was strongly blended with the ordinarily placid expression of her features. She also called to Wilder, in a cheerful voice; and the youth, who had long been standing, with a sort of jealous watchfulness, at the foot of the ladder which led from the quarter-deck, was at her side in an instant.

"I am telling Gertrude," said the governess, with those tones of confidence which had been created by the dangers they had incurred together, "that yonder is her home, and that, when the breeze shall be felt, we may speedily hope to reach it; but the wilfully timid girl insists that she cannot believe her senses, after the frightful risks we have run, until, at least, she shall see the dwelling of her childhood, and the face of her father. You have often been on this coast before, Mr Wilder?"

"Often, Madam."

"Then, you can tell us what is the distant land we see."

"Land!" repeated our adventurer, affecting a look of surprise; "is there then land in view?"

"Is there land in view! Have not hours gone by since the same was proclaimed from the masts?"

"It may be so: We seamen are dull after a night of watching, and often hear but little of that which passes."

There was a quick, suspicious glance from the eye of the governess, as if she apprehended, she knew not what, ere she continued,--

"Has the sight of the cheerful, blessed soil of America so soon lost its charm in your eye, that you approach it with an air so heedless? The infatuation of men of your profession, in favour of so dangerous and so treacherous an element, is an enigma I never could explain."

"Do seamen, then, love their calling with so devoted an affection?" demanded Gertrude, in a haste that she might have found embarrassing to explain.

"It is a folly of which we are often accused," rejoined Wilder, turning his eye on the speaker, and smiling in a manner that had lost every shade of reserve.

"And justly?"

"I fear, justly."

"Ay!" exclaimed Mrs Wyllys, with an emphasis that was remarkable for the tone of soft and yet bitter regret with which it was uttered; "often better than their quiet and peaceful homes!"

Gertrude pursued the idea no further; but her line full eye fell upon the deck, as though she reflected deeply on a perversity of taste which could render man so insensible to domestic pleasures, and incline him to court the wild dangers of the ocean.

"I, at least, am free from the latter charge," exclaimed Wilder: "To me a ship has always been a home."

"And much of my life, too, has been wasted in one," continued the governess, who evidently was pursuing, in the recesses of her own mind, some images of a time long past. "Happy and miserable alike, have been the hours that I have passed upon the sea! Nor is this the first King's ship in which it has been my fortune to be thrown. And yet the customs seem changed since those days I mention, or else memory is beginning to lose some of the impressions of an age when memory is apt to be most tenacious. Is it usual, Mr Wilder, to admit an utter stranger, like yourself, to exercise authority in a vessel of war?"

"Certainly not."

"And yet have you been acting, as far as my weak judgment teaches, as second here, since the moment we entered this vessel, wrecked and helpless fugitives from the waves."

Our adventurer again averted his eye, and evidently searched for words, ere he replied,--

"A commission is always respected: Mine procured for me the consideration you have witnessed."

"You are then an officer of the Crown?"

"Would any other authority be respected in a vessel of the Crown? Death had left a vacancy in the second station of this--cruiser. Fortunately for the wants of the service, perhaps for myself, I was at hand to fill it."

"But, tell me farther," continued the governess, who appeared disposed to profit by the occasion to solve more doubts than one, "is it usual for the officers of a vessel of war to appear armed among their crew, in the manner I see here?"

"It is the pleasure of our Commander."

"That Commander is evidently a skilful seaman, but one whose caprices and tastes are as extraordinary as I find his mien. I have surely seen him before; and, it would seem, but lately."

Mrs Wyllys then became silent for several minutes. During the whole time, her eye never averted its gaze from the form of the calm and motionless being, who still maintained his attitude of repose, aloof from all that throng whom he had the address to make so entirely dependant on his authority. It seemed, for these few minutes, that the organs of the governess drunk in the smallest peculiarity of his person, and as if they would never tire of their gaze. Then, drawing a heavy and relieving breath, she once more remembered that she was not alone, and that others were silently, but observantly, awaiting the operation of her secret thoughts. Without manifesting any embarrassment, however, at an absence of mind that was far too common to surprise her pupil, the governess resumed the discourse where she had herself dropped it, bending her look again on Wilder.

"Is Captain Heidegger, then, long of your acquaintance?" she demanded.

"We have met before."

"It should be a name of German origin, by the sound. Certain I am that it is new to me. The time has been when few officers, of his rank, in the service of the King, were unknown to me, at least in name. Is his family of long standing in England?"

"That is a question he may better answer himself," said Wilder, glad to perceive that the subject of their discourse was approaching them, with the air of one who felt that none in that vessel might presume to dispute his right to mingle in any discourse that should please his fancy. "For the moment, Madam, my duty calls me elsewhere."

Wilder evidently withdrew with reluctance; and, had suspicion been active in the breasts of either of his companions, they would not have failed to note the glance of distrust with which he watched the manner that his Commander assumed in paying the salutations of the morning. There was nothing, however, in the air of the Rover that should have given ground to such jealous vigilance. On the contrary his manner, for the moment, was cold and abstracted he appeared to mingle in their discourse, much more from a sense of the obligations of hospitality than from any satisfaction that he might have been thought to derive from the intercourse. Still, his deportment was kind, and his voice bland as the airs that were wafted from the healthful islands in view.

"There is a sight"--he said, pointing towards the low blue ridges of the land--"that forms the lands-man's delight, and the seaman's terror."

"Are, then, seamen thus averse to the view of regions where so many millions of their fellow creatures find pleasure in dwelling?" demanded Gertrude, (to whom he more particularly addressed his words), with a frankness that would, in itself, have sufficiently proved no glimmerings of his real character had ever dawned on her own spotless and unsuspicious mind.

"Miss Grayson included," he returned, with a slight bow, and a smile, in which, perhaps, irony was concealed by playfulness. "After the risk you have so lately run, even I, confirmed and obstinate sea-monster as I am, have no reason to complain of your distaste for our element. And yet, you see, it is not entirely without its charms. No lake, that lies within the limits of yon Continent, can be more calm and sweet than is this bit of ocean. Were we a few degrees more southward, I would show you landscapes of rock and mountain--of bays, and hillsides sprinkled with verdure--of tumbling whales, and lazy fishermen, and distant cottages, and lagging sails--such as would make a figure even in pages that the bright eye of lady might love to read."

"And yet for most of this would you be indebted to the land. In return for your picture, I would take you north, and show you black and threatening clouds--a green and angry sea--shipwrecks and shoals--cottages, hillsides, and mountains, in the imagination only of the drowning man--and sails bleached by waters that contain the voracious shark, or the disgusting polypus."

Gertrude had answered in his own vein; but it was too evident, by her pale cheek, and a slight tremour about her full, rich lip, that memory was also busy with its frightful images. The quick-searching eye of the Rover was not slow to detect the change. As though he would banish every recollection that might give her pain, he artfully, but delicately, gave a new direction to the discourse.

"There are people who think the sea has no amusements," he said. "To a pining, home-sick, sea-sick miserable, this may well be true; but the man who has spirit enough to keep down the qualms of the animal may tell a different tale. We have our balls regularly, for instance; and there are artists on board this ship, who, though they cannot, perhaps, make as accurate a right angle with their legs as the first dancer of a leaping ballet, can go through their figures in a gale of wind; which is more than can be said of the highest jumper of them all on shore."

"A ball, without females, would, at least, be thought an unsocial amusement, with us uninstructed people of terra firma."

"Hum! It might be better for a lady or two Then, have we our theatre: Farce, comedy, and the buskin, take their turns to help along the time. You fellow, that you see lying on the fore-topsail-yard like an indolent serpent basking on the branch of a tree, will 'roar you as gently as any sucking dove!' And here is a votary of Momus, who would raise a smile on the lips of a sea-sick friar: I believe I can say no more in his commendation."

"All this is well in the description," returned Mrs Wyllys; "but something is due to the merit of the--poet, or, painter shall I term you?"

"Neither, but a grave and veritable chronologer. However, since you doubt, and since you are so new to the ocean"--

"Pardon me!" the lady gravely interrupted, "I am, on the contrary, one who has seen much of it."

The Rover, who had rather suffered his unsettled glances to wander over the youthful countenance of Gertrude than towards her companion, now bent his eyes on the last speaker, where he kept them fastened so long as to create some little embarrassment in the subject of his gaze.

"You seem surprised that the time of a female should have been thus employed," she observed, with a view to arouse his attention to the impropriety of his observation.

"We were speaking of the sea, if I remember," he continued, like a man that was suddenly awakened from a deep reverie. "Ay, I know it was of the sea; for I had grown boastful in my panegyrics: I had told you that this ship was faster than"--

"Nothing!" exclaimed Gertrude, laughing at his blunder. "You were playing Master of Ceremonies at a nautical ball!"

"Will you figure in a minuet? Shall I honour my boards with the graces of your person?"

"Me, sir? and with whom? the gentleman who knows so well the manner of keeping his feet in a gale?"

"You were about to relieve any doubts we might have concerning the amusements of seamen," said the governess, reproving the too playful spirit of her pupil, by a glance of her own grave eye.

"Ay, it was the humour of the moment, nor will I balk it."

He then turned towards Wilder, who had posted himself within ear-shot of what was passing, and continued,--

"These ladies doubt our gaiety, Mr Wilder. Let the boatswain give the magical wind of his call, and pass the word 'To mischief' among the people."

Our adventurer bowed his acquiescence, and issued the necessary order. In a few moments, the precise individual who has already made acquaintance with the reader, in the bar-room of the "Foul Anchor," appeared in the centre of the vessel, near the main hatchway, decorated, as before, with his silver chain and whistle, and accompanied by two mates who were humbler scholars of the same gruff school. Then rose a long, shrill whistle from the instrument of Nightingale, who, when the sound had died away on the ear, uttered, in his deepest and least sonorous tones,--

"All hands to mischief, ahoy!"

We have before had occasion to liken these sounds to the muttering of a bull, nor shall we at present see fit to disturb the comparison, since no other similitude so apt, presents itself. The example of the boatswain was followed by each of his mates in turn, and then the summons was deemed sufficient. However unintelligible and grum the call might sound in the musical ears of Gertrude, they produced no unpleasant effects on the organs of a majority of those who heard them. When the first swelling and protracted note of the call mounted on the still air, each idle and extended young seaman, as he lay stretched upon a spar, or hung dangling from a ratling lifted his head, to catch the words that were to follow, as an obedient spaniel pricks his ears to catch the tones of his master. But no sooner had the emphatic word, which preceded the long-drawn and customary exclamation with which Nightingale closed his summons, been pronounced, than the low murmur of voices, which had so long been maintained among the men, broke out in a simultaneous and common shout. In an instant, every symptom of lethargy disappeared in a general and extraordinary activity. The young and nimble topmen bounded like leaping animals, into the rigging of their respective masts, and were seen ascending the shaking ladders of ropes as so many squirrels would hasten to their holes at the signal of alarm. The graver and heavier seamen of the forecastle, the still more important quarter-gunners and quarter-masters, the less instructed and half-startled waisters, and the raw and actually alarmed after-guard, all hurried, by a sort of instinct, to their several points; the more practised to plot mischief against their shipmates, and the less intelligent to concert their means of defence.

In an instant, the tops and yards were ringing with laughter and loudly-uttered jokes, as each exulting mariner aloft proclaimed his device to his fellows, or urged his own inventions, at the expense of some less ingenious mode of annoyance. On the other hand, the distrustful and often repeated glances that were thrown upward, from the men who had clustered on the quarter-deck and around the foot of the mainmast sufficiently proclaimed the diffidence with which the novices on deck were about to enter into the contest of practical wit that was about to commence. The steady and more earnest seamen forward, however, maintained their places, with a species of stern resolution which manifestly proved the reliance they had on their physical force, and their long familiarity with all the humours, no less than with the dangers, of the ocean.

There was another little cluster of men, who assembled, in the midst of the general clamour and confusion, with a haste and steadiness that announced, at the same time, both a consciousness of the entire necessity of unity on the present occasion, and habit of acting in concert. These were the drilled and military dependants of the General, between whom, and the less artificial seamen, there existed not only an antipathy that might almost be called instinctive, but which, for obvious reasons had been so strongly encouraged in the vessel of which we write, as often to manifest itself in turbulent and nearly mutinous broils. About twenty in number, they collected quickly; and, although obliged to dispense with their fire-arms in such an amusement, there was a sternness, in the visage of each of the whiskered worthies, that showed how readily he could appeal to the bayonet that was suspended from his shoulder, should need demand it. Their Commander himself withdrew, with the rest of the officers to the poop, in order that no incumbrance might be given, by their presence, to the freedom of the sports to which they had resigned the rest of the vessel.

A couple of minutes might have been lost in producing the different changes we have just related But, so soon as the topmen were sure that no unfortunate laggard of their party was within reach of the resentment of the different groupes beneath, they commenced complying literally with the summons of the boatswain, by plotting mischief.

Sundry buckets, most of which had been provided for the extinction of fire, were quickly seen pendant from as many whips on the outer extremity of the different yards descending towards the sea. In spite of the awkward opposition of the men below, these leathern vessels were speedily filled, and in the hands of those who had sent them down. Many was the gaping waister, and rigid marine, who now made a more familiar acquaintance with the element on which he floated than suited either his convenience or his humour. So long as the jokes were confined to these semi-initiated individuals, the top men enjoyed their fun with impunity; but, the in stant the dignity of a quarter-gunner's person was invaded, the whole gang of petty officers and forecastle-men rose in a body to meet the insult, with a readiness and dexterity that manifested how much at home the elder mariners were with all that belonged to their art. A little engine was transferred to the head, and was then brought to bear on the nearest top, like a well-planted battery clearing the way for the opening battle. The laughing and chattering topmen were soon dispersed: some ascending beyond the power of the engine, and others retreating into the neighbouring top, along ropes, and across giddy heights, that would have seemed impracticable to any animal less agile than a squirrel.

The marines were now summoned, by the successful and malicious mariners, forward, to improve their advantage. Thoroughly drenched already, and eager to resent their wrongs, a half-dozen of the soldiers, led on by a corporal, the coating of whose powdered poll had been converted into a sort of paste by too great an intimacy with a bucket of water, essayed to mount the rigging; an exploit to them much more arduous than to enter a breach. The waggish quarter-gunners and quarter-masters, satisfied with their own success, stimulated them to the enterprise; and Nightingale and his mates, while they rolled their tongues into their cheeks, gave forth, with their whistles, the cheering sound of "heave away!" The sight of these adventurers, slowly and cautiously mounting the rigging, acted very much, on the scattered topmen, in the manner that the appearance of so many flies, in the immediate vicinity of a web, is known to act on their concealed and rapacious enemies. The sailors aloft saw, by expressive glances from them below, that a soldier was considered legal game. No sooner, therefore, had the latter fairly entered into the toils, than twenty topmen rushed out upon them, in order to make sure of their prizes. In an incredibly short time, this important result was achieved. Two or three of the aspiring adventurers were lashed where they had been found, utterly unable to make any resistance in a spot where instinct itself seemed to urge them to devote both hands to the necessary duty of holding fast; while the rest were transferred, by the means of whips, to different spars, very much as a light sail or a yard would have been swayed into its place.

In the midst of the clamorous rejoicings that attended this success, one individual made himself conspicuous for the gravity and business-like air with which he performed his part of the comedy. Seated on the outer end of a lower yard, with as much steadiness as though he had been placed on an ottoman, he was intently occupied in examining into the condition of a captive, who had been run up at his feet, with an order from the waggish captain of the top, "to turn him in for a jewel-block;" a name that appears to have been taken from the precious stones that are so often seen pendant from the ears of the other sex.

"Ay, ay," muttered this deliberate and grave-looking tar, who was no other than Richard Fid "the stropping you've sent with the fellow is none of the best; and, if he squeaks so now, what will he do when you come to reeve a rope through him! By the Lord, masters, you should have furnished the lad a better outfit, if you meant to send him into good company aloft. Here are more holes in his jacket than there are cabin windows to a Chinese junk. Hilloa!--on deck there!--you Guinea, pick me up a tailor, and send him aloft, to keep the wind out of this waister's tarpauling."

The athletic African, who had been posted on the forecastle for his vast strength, cast an eye upward, and, with both arms thrust into his bosom, he rolled along the deck, with just as serious a mien as though he had been sent on a duty of the greatest import. The uproar over his head had drawn a most helpless-looking mortal from a retired corner of the birth-deck, to the ladder of the forward hatch, where, with a body half above the combings, a skein of strong coarse thread around his neck, a piece of bees-wax in one hand, and a needle in the other, he stood staring about him, with just that sort of bewildered air that a Chinese mandarin would manifest, were he to be suddenly initiated in the mysteries of the ballet. On this object the eye of Scipio fell. Stretching out an arm, he cast him upon his shoulder; and, before the startled subject of his attack knew into whose hands he had fallen, a hook was passed beneath the waistband of his trowsers, and he was half way between the water and the spar, on his way to join the considerate Fid.

"Have a care lest you let the man fall into the sea!" cried Wilder sternly, from his stand on the distant poop.

"He'm tailor, masser Harry," returned the black, without altering a muscle; "if a clothes no 'trong, he nobody blame but heself."

During this brief parlance, the good-man Homespun had safely arrived at the termination of his lofty flight. Here he was suitably received by Fid, who raised him to his side; and, having placed him comfortably between the yard and the boom, he proceeded to secure him by a lashing that would give the tailor the proper disposition of his hands.

"Bouse a bit on this waister!" called Richard, when he had properly secured the good-man; "so; belay all that."

He then put one foot on the neck of his prisoner, and, seizing his lower member as it swung uppermost, he coolly placed it in the lap of the awe-struck tailor.

"There, friend," he said, "handle your needle and palm now, as if you were at job-work. Your knowing handicraft always begins with the foundation wherein he makes sure that his upper gear will stand."

"The Lord protect me, and all other sinful mortals, from an untimely end!" exclaimed Homespun, gazing at the vacant view from his giddy elevation, with a sensation a little resembling that with which the aeronaut, in his first experiment, regards the prospect beneath.

"Settle away this waister," again called Fid; "he interrupts rational conversation by his noise; and, as his gear is condemned by this here tailor, why, you may turn him over to the purser for a new outfit."

The real motive, however, for getting rid of his pendant companion was a twinkling of humanity, that still glimmered through the rough humour of the tar, who well knew that his prisoner must hang where he did, at some little expense of bodily ease. As soon as his request was complied with, he turned to the good-man, to renew the discourse, with just as much composure as though they were both seated on the deck, or as if a dozen practical jokes, of the same character, were not in the process of enactment, in as many different parts of the vessel.

"What makes you open your eyes, brother, in this port-hole fashion?" commenced the topman. "This is all water that you see about you, except that hommoc of blue in the eastern board, which is a morsel of upland in the Bahamas, d'ye see."

"A sinful and presuming world is this we live in!" returned the good-man; "nor can any one tell at what moment his life is to be taken from him. Five bloody and cruel wars have I lived to see in safety and yet am I reserved to meet this disgraceful and profane end at last."

"Well, since you've had your luck in the wars, you've the less reason to grumble at the bit of a surge you may have felt in your garments, as they run you up to this here yard-arm. I say, brother, I've known stouter fellows take the same ride, who never knew when or how they got down again."

Homespun, who did not more than half comprehend the allusion of Fid, now regarded him in a way that announced some little desire for an explanation, mingled with great admiration of the unconcern with which his companion maintained his position, without the smallest aid from any thing but his self-balancing powers.

"I say, brother," resumed Fid, "that many a stout seaman has been whipt up to the end of a yard, who has started by the signal of a gun, and who has staid there just as long as the president of a court-martial was pleased to believe might be necessary to improve his honesty!"

"It would be a fearful and frightful trifling with Providence, in the least offending and conscientious mariner, to take such awful punishments in vain, by acting them in his sports; but doubly so do I pronounce it in the crew of a ship on which no man can say at what hour retribution and compunction are to alight. It seems to me unwise to tempt Providence by such provocating exhibitions."

Fid cast a glance of far more than usual significance at the good-man, and even postponed his reply, until he had freshened his ideas by an ample addition to the morsel of weed which he had kept all along thrust into one of his cheeks. Then, casting his eyes about him, in order to see that none of his noisy and riotous companions, of the top, were within ear-shot, he fastened a still more meaning look on the countenance of the tailor, as he responded,--

"Hark ye, brother; whatever may be the other good points of Richard Fid, his friends cannot say he is much of a scholar. This being the case, he has not seen fit to ask a look at the sailing orders, on coming aboard this wholesome vessel. I suppose, howsomever, that they can be forthcoming at need, and that no honest man need be ashamed to be found cruising under the same."

"Ah! Heaven protect such unoffending innocents as serve here against their will, when the allotted time of the cruiser shall be filled!" returned Homespun. "I take it, however, that you, as a sea-faring and understanding man, have not entered into this enterprise without receiving the bounty, and knowing the whole nature of the service."

"The devil a bit have I entered at all, either in the 'Enterprise' or in the 'Dolphin,' as they call this same craft. There is master Harry, the lad on the poop there, he who hails a yard as soft as a bull-whale roars; I follow his signals, d'ye see; and it is seldom that I bother him with questions as to what tack he means to lay his boat on next."

"What! would you sell your soul in this manner to Beelzebub; and that, too, without a price?"

"I say, friend, it may be as well to overhaul your ideas, before you let them slip, in this no-man's fashion, from your tongue. I would wish to treat a gentleman, who has come aloft to pay me a visit, with such civility as may do credit to my top, though the crew be at mischief, d'ye see. But an officer like him I follow has a name of his own, without stopping to borrow one of the person you've just seen fit to name. I scorn such a pitiful thing as a threat, but a man of your years needn't be told, that it is just as easy to go down from this here spar as it was to come up to it."

The tailor cast a glance beneath him into the brine, and hastened to do away the unfavourable impression which his last unfortunate interrogation had so evidently left on the mind of his brawny associate.

"Heaven forbid that I should call any one but by their given and family names, as the law commands," he said; "I meant merely to inquire, if you would follow the gentleman you serve to so unseemly and pernicious a place as a gibbet?"

Fid ruminated some little time, before he saw fit to reply to so sweeping a query. During this unusual process, he agitated the weed, with which his mouth was nearly gorged, with great industry; and then, terminating both processes, by casting a jet of the juice nearly to the sprit-sail-yard, he said, in a very decided tone,--

"If I wouldn't, may I be d--d! After sailing in company for four-and-twenty years, I should be no better than a sneak, to part company, because such a trifle as a gallows hove in sight."

"The pay of such a service should be both generous and punctual, and the cheer of the most encouraging character," the good-man observed, in a way that manifested he should not be displeased were he to receive a reply. Fid was in no disposition to balk his curiosity, but rather deemed himself bound, since he had once entered on the subject, to leave no part of it in obscurity.

"As for the pay, d'ye see," he said, "it is seaman's wages. I should despise myself to take less than falls to the share of the best foremast-hand in a ship, since it would be all the same as owning that I got my deserts. But master Harry has a way of his own in rating men's services; and if his ideas get jamm'd in an affair of this sort, it is no marling-spike that I handle which can loosen them. I once just named the propriety of getting me a quarter-master's birth; but devil the bit would he be doing the thing, seeing, as he says himself, that I have a fashion of getting a little hazy at times, which would only be putting me in danger of disgrace; since every body knows that the higher a monkey climbs in the rigging of a ship, the easier every body on deck can see that he has a tail. Then, as to cheer, it is sea man's fare; sometimes a cut to spare for a friend and sometimes a hungry stomach."

"But then there are often divisions of the--a--a--the-prize-money, in this successful cruiser?" demanded the good-man, averting his face as he spoke, perhaps from a consciousness that it might betray an unseemly interest in the answer. "I dare say, you receive amends for all your sufferings, when the purser gives forth the spoils."

"Hark ye, brother," said Fid, again assuming a look of significance, "can you tell me where the Admiralty Court sits which condemns her prizes?"

The good-man returned the glance, with interest; but an extraordinary uproar, in another part of the vessel, cut short the dialogue, just as there was a rational probability it might lead to some consolatory explanations between the parties.

As the action of the tale is shortly to be set in motion again, we shall refer the cause of the commotion to the opening of the succeeding chapter.

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The Red Rover: A Tale - Chapter 20 The Red Rover: A Tale - Chapter 20

The Red Rover: A Tale - Chapter 20
Chapter XX--"Come, and get thee a sword, though made of a lath: They have been up these two days."--_King Henry VI._While the little by-play that we have just related was enacting on the fore-yard-arm of the Rover scenes, that partook equally of the nature of tragedy and farce, were in the process of exhibition elsewhere. The contest between the possessors of the deck and those active tenants of the top, so often named, was far from having reached its termination. Blows had, in more than one instance, succeeded to angry words; and, as the former was a part of the

The Red Rover: A Tale - Chapter 18 The Red Rover: A Tale - Chapter 18

The Red Rover: A Tale - Chapter 18
Chapter XVIII--"Every day, some sailor's wife, The masters of some merchant, and the merchant, Have just our theme of woe."--_Tempest._"We are safe!" said Wilder, who had stood, amid the violence of the struggle, with his person firmly braced against a mast, steadily watching the manner of their escape. "Thus far, at least, are we safe; for which may Heaven alone be praised, since no art of mine could avail us a feather." The females had buried their faces in the folds of the vestments and clothes on which they were sitting; nor did even the governess raise her countenance