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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsNed Myers; Or, A Life Before The Mast - Chapter 15
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Ned Myers; Or, A Life Before The Mast - Chapter 15 Post by :Sue_M Category :Nonfictions Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2482

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Ned Myers; Or, A Life Before The Mast - Chapter 15

Chapter XV

Our passage out in the Delaware was very rough, the ship rolling heavily. It was the first time she had been at sea, and it required some little time to get her trim and sailing. She turned out, however, to be a good vessel; sailing fairly, steering well, and proving an excellent sea-boat. We went into Algesiras, where we lay only twenty-four hours. We then sailed for Mahon, but were met by orders off the port, to proceed to Leghorn and land our passengers. I have been told this was done on account of the Princess of Musignano's being a daughter of the ex-King of Spain, and it was not thought delicate to bring her within the territory of the reigning king. I have even heard that the commodore was offered an order of knighthood for the delicacy he manifested on this occasion, which offer he declined accepting, as a matter of course.

The ship had a good run from off Mahon to Leghorn where we anchored in the outer roads. We landed the passengers the afternoon of the day we arrived. That very night it came on to blow heavily from the northward and eastward, or a little off shore, according to the best of my recollection. This was the first time I ever saw preparations made to send down lower yards, and to house top-masts--merchantmen not being strong-handed enough to cut such capers with their sticks. We had three anchors ahead, if not four, the ship labouring a good deal. We lost one man from the starboard forechains, by his getting caught in the buoy-rope, as we let go a sheet-anchor. The poor fellow could not be picked up, on account of the sea and the darkness of the night, though an attempt was made to save him.

The next day the weather moderated a little, and we got under way for Mahon. Our passage down was pleasant, and this time we went in. Captain Downes now left us, and Commodore Crane hoisted his broad-pennant on board us. The ship now lay a long time in port. The commodore went aloft in one of the sloops, and was absent several months. I was told he was employed in making a treaty with the Turks, but us poor Jacks knew little of such matters. On his return, there was a regular blow-up with the first-lieutenant, who left the ship, to nobody's regret, so far as I know. Mr. Mix, who had led our party to the lakes in 1812, and was with us in all my lake service, and who was Mr. Osgood's brother-in-law, now joined us as first-lieutenant. I had got to be first-captain of the forecastle, a berth I held to the end of the cruise.

The treatment on board this ship was excellent. The happiest time I ever spent at sea, was in the Delaware. After Mr. Mix took Mr. Ramage's place, everybody seemed contented, and I never knew a better satisfied ship's company. The third year out, we had a long cruise off Cape de Gatte, keeping the ship under her canvass quite three months. We took in supplies at sea, the object being to keep us from getting rusty. On the fourth of July we had a regular holiday. At four in the morning, the ship was close in under the north shore, and we wore off the land. Sail was then shortened. After this, we had music, and more saluting and grog. The day was passed merrily, and I do not remember a fight, or a black eye, in the ship.

I volunteered to go one cruise in the Warren, under Mr. Byrne. The present Commodore Kearny commanded this ship, and he took us down to the Rock. The reason of our volunteering was this. The men-of-war of the Dutch and the French, rendezvoused at Mahon, as well as ourselves. The French and our people had several rows ashore. Which was right and which wrong, I cannot say, as it was the Java's men, and not the Delaware's, that were engaged in them, on our side. One of the Javas was run through the body, and a French officer got killed. It was said the French suspected us of a design of sending away the man who killed their officer, and meant to stop the Warren, which was bound to the Rock on duty. All I know is, that two French brigs anchored at the mouth of the harbour, and some of us were called on to volunteer. Forty-five of us did so, and went on board the sloop.

After the Warren got under way, we went to quarters, manning both batteries. In this manner we stood down between the two French brigs, with top-gallant-sails furled and the courses in the brails. We passed directly between the two brigs, keeping a broadside trained upon each; but nothing was said, or done, to us. We anchored first at the Rock, but next day crossed over to the Spanish coast. In a short time we returned to Mahon, and we volunteers went back to the Delaware. The two brigs had gone, but there was still a considerable French force in port. Nothing came of the difficulty, however, so far as I could see or hear.

In the season of 1830, the Constellation, Commodore Biddle, came out, and our ship and Commodore were relieved. We had a run up as far as Sicily, however, before this took place, and went off Tripoli. There I saw a wreck, lying across the bay, that they told me was the bones of the Philadelphia frigate. We were also at Leghorn, several weeks, the commodore going to some baths in the neighbourhood, for his health.

Among other ports, the Delaware visited Carthagena, Malta, and Syracuse. At the latter place, the ship lay six weeks, I should think. This was the season of our arrival out. Here we underwent a course of severe exercise, that brought the crew up to a high state of discipline. At four in the morning, we would turn out, and commence our work. All the manoeuvres of unmooring, making sail, reefing, furling, and packing on her again, were gone through, until the people got so much accustomed to work together, the great secret of the efficiency of a man-of-war, that the officer of the deck was forced to sing out "belay!" before the yards were up by a foot, lest the men should spring the spars. When we got through this drill, the commodore told us we would do, and that he was not ashamed to show us alongside of anything that floated. I do not pretend to give our movements in the order in which they occurred, however, nor am I quite certain what year it was the commodore went up to Smyrna. On reflection, it may have been later than I have stated.

Our cruise off Cape de Gatte was one of the last things we did; and when we came back to Mahon, we took in supplies for America. We made the southern passage home and anchored in Hampton Roads, in the winter of 1831. I believe the whole crew of the Delaware was sorry when the cruise was up. There are always a certain number of long-shore chaps in a man-of-war, who are never satisfied with discipline, and the wholesome restraints of a ship; but as for us old salts, I never heard one give the Delaware a bad name. We had heard an awful report of the commodore, who was called a "burster," and expected sharp times under him; and his manner of taking possession was of a nature to alarm us. All hands had been called to receive him, and the first words he said were "Call all hands to witness punishment." A pin might have been heard falling among us, for this sounded ominous. It was to clear the brig, only, Captain Downes having left three men in it, whom he would not release on quitting the vessel. The offences were serious, and could not be overlooked. These three chaps got it; but there was only one other man brought regularly to the gang-way while I was in the ship, and he was under the sentence of a court, and belonged to the Warren. As soon as the brig was cleared, the commodore told us we should be treated as we treated others, and then turned away among the officers. The next day we found we were to live under a just rule, and that satisfied us. One of the great causes of the contentment that reigned in the ship, was the method, and the regularity of the hours observed. The men knew on what they could calculate, in ordinary times, and this left them their own masters within certain hours. I repeat, she was the happiest ship I ever served in, though I have always found good treatment in the navy.

I can say conscientiously, that were my life to be passed over again, without the hope of commanding a vessel, it should be passed in the navy. The food is better, the service is lighter, the treatment is better, if a man behave himself at all well, he is better cared for, has a port under his lee in case of accidents, and gets good, steady, wages, with the certainty of being paid. If his ship is lost, his wages are safe; and if he gets hurt, he is pensioned. Then he is pretty certain of having gentlemen over him, and that is a great deal for any man. He has good quarters below; and if he serve in a ship as large as a frigate, he has a cover over his head, half the time, at least, in bad weather. This is the honest opinion of one who has served in all sorts of crafts, liners, Indiamen, coasters, smugglers, whalers, and transient ships. I have been in a ship of the line, two frigates, three sloops of war, and several smaller craft; and such is the result of all my experience in Uncle Sam's navy. No man can go to sea and always meet with fair-weather, but he will get as little of foul in one of our vessels of war, as in any craft that floats, if a man only behave himself. I think the American merchantmen give better wages than are to be found in other services; and I think the American men-of-war, as a rule, give better treatment than the American merchantman. God bless the flag, I say, and this, too, without the fear of being hanged!

The Delaware lay two or three weeks in the Roads before she went up to the Yard. At the latter place we began to strip the ship. While thus employed, we were told that seventy-five of us, whose times were not quite out, were to be drafted for the Brandywine 44, then fitting out at New York, for a short cruise in the Gulf. This was bad news, for Jack likes a swing ashore after a long service abroad. Go we must, and did, however. We were sent round to New York in a schooner, and found the frigate still lying at the Yard. We were hulked on board the Hudson until she was ready to receive us, when we were sent to our new vessel. Captain Ballard commanded the Brandywine, and among her lieutenants, Mr. M'Kenny was the first. This is a fine ship, and she got her name from the battle in which La Fayette was wounded in this country, having been first fitted out to carry him to France, after his last visit to America. She is a first-class frigate, mounting thirty long thirty-two's on her gun-deck; and I conceive it to be some honour to a sailor to have it in his power to say he has been captain of the forecastle in such a ship, for I was rated in this frigate the same as I had been rated in the Delaware; with this difference, that, for my service in the Brandywine, I received my regular eighteen dollars a month as a petty officer; whereas, though actually captain of the Delaware's forecastle for quite two years, and second-captain nearly all the rest of the time I was in the ship, I never got more than seaman's wages, or twelve dollars a month. I do not know how this happened, though I supposed it to have arisen from some mistake connected with the circumstance that I was paid off for my services in the Delaware, by the purser of the frigate. This was in consequence of the transfer.

The Brandywine sailed in March for the Gulf. Our cruise lasted about five months, during which time we went to Vera Cruz, Pensacola, and the Havana. We appeared to me to be a single ship, as we were never in squadron, and saw no broad-pennant. No accident happened, the cruise being altogether pleasant. The ship returned to Norfolk, and twenty-five of us, principally old Delawares, were discharged, our times being out. We all of us intended to return to the frigate, after a cruise ashore, and we chartered a schooner to carry us to Philadelphia in a body, determining not to part company.

The morning the schooner sailed, I was leading the whole party along one of the streets of Norfolk, when I saw something white lying in the middle of the carriage-way. It turned out to be an old messmate, Jack Dove, who had been discharged three days before, and had left us to go to Philadelphia, but had been brought up by King Grog. While we were overhauling the poor fellow, who could not speak, his landlady came out to us, and told us that he had eat nothing for three days, and did nothing but drink. She begged us to take care of him, as he disregarded all she said. This honest woman gave us Jack's wages to a cent, for I knew what they had come to; and we made a collection of ten dollars for her, calculating that Jack must have swallowed that much in three days. Jack we took with us, bag and hammock; but he would eat nothing on the passage, calling out constantly for drink. We gave him liquor, thinking it would do him good; but he grew worse, and, when we reached Philadelphia, he was sent to the hospital. Here, in the course of a few days, he died.

Never, in all my folly and excesses, did I give myself so much up to drink, as when I reached Philadelphia this time. I was not quite as bad as Jack Dove, but I soon lost my appetite, living principally on liquor. When we heard of Jack's death, we proposed among ourselves to give him a sailor's funeral. We turned out, accordingly, to the number if a hundred, or more, in blue jackets and white trowsers, and marched up to the hospital in a body. I was one of the leaders in this arrangement, and felt much interest in it, as Jack had been my messmate; but, the instant I saw his coffin, a fit of the "horrors" came over me, and I actually left the place, running down street towards the river, as if pursued by devils. Luckily, I stopped to rest on the stoop of a druggist. The worthy man took me in, gave me some soda water, and some good advice. When a little strengthened, I made my way home, but gave up at the door. Then followed a severe indisposition, which kept me in bed for a fortnight, during which I suffered the torments of the damned.

I have had two or three visits from the "horrors," in the course of my life, but nothing to equal this attack. I came near following Jack Dove to the grave; but God, in His mercy, spared me from such an end. It is not possible for one who has never experienced the effects of his excesses, in this particular form, to get any correct notions of the sufferings I endured. Among other conceits, I thought the colour which the tar usually leaves on seamen's nails, was the sign that I had the yellow fever. This idea haunted me for days, and gave me great uneasiness. In short, I was like a man suspended over a yawning chasm, expecting, every instant, to fall and be dashed to pieces, and yet, who could not die.

For some time after my recovery, I could not bear the smell of liquor; but evil companions lured me back to my old habits. I was soon in a bad way again, and it was only owing to the necessity of going to sea, that I had not a return of the dreadful malady. When I shipped in the Delaware, I had left my watch, quadrant, and good clothes, to the value of near two hundred dollars, with my present landlord, and he now restored them all to me, safe and sound. I made considerable additions to the stock of clothes, and when I again went to sea, left the whole, and more, with the same landlord.

Our plan of going back to the Brandywine was altered by circumstances; and a party of us shipped in the Monongahela, a Liverpool liner, out of Philadelphia. The cabin of this vessel was taken by two gentlemen, going to visit Europe, viz.: Mr. Hare Powell and Mr. Edward Burd; and getting these passengers, with their families, on board, the ship sailed. By this time, I had pretty much given up the hope of preferment, and did not trouble myself whether I lived forward or aft. I joined the Monongahela as a forward hand, therefore, quite as well satisfied as if her chief mate.

We left the Delaware in the month of August, and, a short time out, encountered one of the heaviest gales of wind I ever witnessed at sea. It came on from the eastward, and would have driven us ashore, had not the wind suddenly shifted to south-west. The ship was lying-to, under bare poles, pressed down upon the water in such a way that she lay almost as steady as if in a river; nor did the force of the wind allow the sea to get up. A part of the time, our lee lower yard-arms were nearly in the water. We had everything aloft, but sending them down was quite out of the question. It was not possible, at one time, for a man to go aloft at all. I tried it myself, and could with difficulty keep my feet on the ratlins. I make no doubt I should have been blown out of the top, could I have reached it, did I let go my hold to do any work.

We had sailed in company with the Kensington, a corvette belonging to the Emperor of Russia, and saw a ship, during the gale, that was said to be she. The Kensington was dismasted, and had to return to refit, but we did not part a rope-yarn. When the wind shifted, we were on soundings; and, it still continuing to blow a gale, we set the main-topsail close-reefed, and the foresail, and shoved the vessel off the land at the rate of a steam-boat. After this, the wind favoured us, and our passage out was very short. We stayed but a few days in Liverpool; took in passengers, and got back to Philadelphia, after an absence of a little more than two months. The Kensington's report of the gale, and of our situation, had caused much uneasiness in Philadelphia, but our two passages were so short, that we brought the news of our safety.

I now inquired for the Brandywine, but found she had sailed for the Mediterranean. It was my intention to have gone on board her, but missing this ship, and a set of officers that I knew, I looked out for a merchantman. I found a brig called the Amelia, bound to Bordeaux, and shipped in her before the mast.

The Amelia had a bad passage out. It was in the autumn, and the brig leaked badly. This kept us a great deal at the pumps, an occupation that a sailor does anything but delight in. I am of opinion that pumping a leaky ship is the most detestable work in the world. Nothing but the dread of drowning ought to make a man do it, although some men will pump to save their property. As for myself, I am not certain I would take twenty-four hours of hard pumping to save any sum I shall probably ever own, or ever did own.

After a long passage, we made the Cordovan, but, the wind blowing heavy off the land, we could not get in for near a fortnight. Not a pilot would come out, and if they had, it would have done us no good. After a while, the wind shifted, and we got into the river, and up to the town. We took in a return cargo of brandy, and sailed for Philadelphia. Our homeward-bound passage was long and stormy, but we made the capes, at last. Here we were boarded by a pilot, who told us we were too late; the Delaware had frozen up, and we had to keep away, with a South-east wind, for New York. We had a bad time of it, as soon as night came on. The gale increased, blowing directly into the bight, and we had to haul up under close-reefed topsails and reefed foresail, to claw off the land. The weather was very thick, and the night dark, and all we could do was to get round, when the land gave us a hint it was time. This we generally did in five fathoms water. We had to ware, for the brig would not tack under such short canvass, and, of course, lost much ground in so doing. About three in the morning we knew that it was nearly up with us. The soundings gave warning of this, and we got round, on what I supposed would be the Amelia's last leg. But Providence took care of us, when we could not help ourselves. The wind came out at north-west, as it might be by word of command; the mist cleared up, and we saw the lights, for the first time, close aboard us. The brig was taken aback, but we got her round, shortened sail, and hove her to, under a closed-reefed main-topsail. We now got it from the north-west, making very bad weather. The gale must have set us a long way to leeward, as we did not get in for a fortnight. We shipped a heavy sea, that stove our boat, and almost swept the decks. We were out of pork and beef, and our fire-wood was nearly gone. The binnacle was also gone. As good luck would have it, we killed a porpoise, soon after the wind shifted, and on this we lived, in a great measure, for more than a week, sometimes cooking it, but oftener eating it raw. At length the wind shifted, and we got in.

I was no sooner out of this difficulty, than a hasty temper got me into another. While still in the stream, an Irish boatman called me a "Yankee son of a-----," and I lent him a clip. The fellow sued me, and, contriving to catch me before I left the vessel, I was sent to jail, for the first and only time in my life. This turned out to be a new and very revolting school for me. I was sent among as precious a set of rascals as New York could furnish. Their conversation was very edifying. One would tell how he cut the hoses of the engines at fires, with razor-blades fastened to his shoes; another, how many pocket-books he and his associates had taken at this or that fire; and a third, the mariner of breaking open stores, and the best mode of disposing of stolen goods. The cool, open, impudent manner in which these fellows spoke of such transactions, fairly astounded me. They must have thought I was in jail for some crime similar to their own, or they would not have talked so freely before a stranger. These chaps seemed to value a man by the enormity and number of his crimes.

At length the captain and my landlord found out where I had been sent, and I was immediately bailed. Glad enough was I to get out of prison, and still more so to get out of the company I found in it. Such association is enough to undermine the morals of a saint, in a week or two. And yet these fellows were well dressed, and well enough looking, and might very well pass for a sort of gentlemen, with those who had seen but little of men of the true quality.

I had got enough of law, and wished to push the matter no farther. The Irishman was sent for, and I compromised with him on the spot. The whole affair cost me my entire wages, and I was bound over to keep the peace, for, I do not know how long. This scrape compelled me to weigh my anchor at a short notice, as there is no living in New York without money. I went on board the Sully, therefore--a Havre liner--a day or two after getting out of the atmosphere of the City Hall. They may talk of Batavia, if they please; but in my judgement, it is the healthiest place of the two,

Our passages, out and home, produced nothing worth mentioning, and I left the ship in New York. My wages went in the old way, and then I shipped in a schooner called the Susan and Mary, that was about to sail for Buenos Ayres, in the expectation that she would be sold there. The craft was a good one, though our passage out was very long. On reaching our port, I took my discharge, under the impression the vessel would be sold. A notion now came over me, that I would join the Buenos Ayrean navy, in order to see what sort of a service it was. I knew it was a mixed American and English affair, and, by this time, I had become very reckless as to my own fate. I wished to do nothing very wrong, but was incapable of doing anything that was very right.

My windfall carried me on board a schooner, of eight or ten guns, called the Suradaha. I did not ship, making an arrangement by which I was to be left to decide for myself, whether I would remain in her, or not. Although a pretty good craft, I soon got enough of this service. In one week I was thoroughly disgusted, and left the schooner. It is well I did, as there was a "_revolution_" on board of her, a few days later, and she was carried up the river, and, as I was told, was there sunk. With her, sunk all my laurels in that service.

The Susan and Mary was not sold, but took in hides for New York. I returned to her, therefore, and we sailed for home in due time. The passage proved long, but mild, and we were compelled to run in, off Point Petre, Gaudaloupe, where we took in some provisions. After this, nothing occurred until we reached New York.

I now shifted the name of my craft, end for end, joining a half-rigged brig, called the Mary and Susan. I gained little by the change, this vessel being just the worst-looking hooker I did ever sail in. Still she was tight, strong enough, and not a very bad sailing vessel. But, for some reason or other, externals were not regarded, and we made anything but a holiday appearance on the water. I had seen the time when I would disdain to go chief-mate of such a looking craft; but I now shipped in her as a common hand.

We sailed for Para, in Brazil, a port nearly under the line, having gunpowder, dry-goods, &c. Our passage, until we came near the coast of South America, was good, and nothing occurred to mention. When under the line, however, we made a rakish-looking schooner, carrying two topsails, one forenoon. We made no effort to escape, knowing it to be useless. The schooner set a Spanish ensign, and brought us to. We were ordered to lower our boat and to go on board the schooner, which were done. I happened to be at the helm, and remained in the Mary and Susan. The strangers ordered our people out of the boat, and sent an armed party in her, on board us. These men rummaged about for a short time, and then were hailed from their vessel to know if we promised well. Our looks deceived the head man of the boarders, who answered that we were _very poor. On receiving this information, the captain of the schooner ordered his boarding party to quit us. Our boat came back, but was ordered to return and bring another gang of the strangers. This time we were questioned about canvass, but got off by concealing the truth. We had thirty bolts on board, but produced only one. The bolt shown did not happen to suit, and the strangers again left us. We were told not to make sail until we received notice by signal, and the schooner hauled her wind. After standing on some time, however, these gentry seemed indisposed to quit us, for they came down again, and rounded to on our weather-beam. We were now questioned about our longitude, and whether we had a chronometer. We gave the former, but had nothing like the latter on board. Telling us once more not to make sail without the signal, the schooner left us, standing on until fairly out of sight. We waited until she sunk her topsails, and then went on our course.

None of us doubted that this fellow was a pirate. The men on board us were an ill-looking set of rascals, of all countries. They spoke Spanish, but we gave them credit for being a mixture. Our escape was probably owing to our appearance, which promised anything but a rich booty. Our dry-goods and powder were concealed in casks under he ballast, and I suppose the papers were not particularly minute. At any rate, when we get into Para, most of the cargo went out of our schooner privately, being landed from lighters. We had a passenger, who passed for some revolutionary man, who also landed secretly. This gentleman was in a good deal of concern about the pirates, keeping himself hid while they were near us.

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Ned Myers; Or, A Life Before The Mast - Chapter 16 Ned Myers; Or, A Life Before The Mast - Chapter 16

Ned Myers; Or, A Life Before The Mast - Chapter 16
Chapter XVIOur passage from Para was good until the brig reached the latitude of Bermuda. Here, one morning, for the first time in this craft, Sundays excepted, we got a forenoon watch below. I was profiting by the opportunity to do a little work for myself, when the mate, an inexperienced young man, who was connected with the owners, came and ordered us up to help jibe ship. It was easy enough to do this in the watch, but he thought differently. As an old seaman, I do not hesitate to say that the order was both inconsiderate and unnecessary; though

Ned Myers; Or, A Life Before The Mast - Chapter 14 Ned Myers; Or, A Life Before The Mast - Chapter 14

Ned Myers; Or, A Life Before The Mast - Chapter 14
Chapter XIVNotwithstanding my comparative insignificance, there was no real security in remaining long in Charleston, and it was my strong desire to quit the place. As "beggars cannot be choosers," I was glad to get on board the schooner Carpenter, bound to St. Mary's and Philadelphia, for, and with, ship-timber, as a foremast hand. I got on board undetected, and we sailed the same day. Nothing occurred until after we left St. Mary's, when we met with a singular accident. A few days out, it blowing heavy at the time, our deck-load pressed so hard upon the beams as to loosen