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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAfloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale - Chapter 25
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Afloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale - Chapter 25 Post by :Infobiz Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2239

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Afloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale - Chapter 25


"Or feeling--, as the storm increases,
The love of terror nerve thy breast,
Didst venture to the coast:
To see the mighty war-ship leap
From wave to wave upon the deep,
Like chamois goat from steep to steep,
Till low in valley lost."

Roger Talcott had not been idle during my absence. Clawbonny was so dear to me, that I had staid longer than was proposed in the original plan; and I now found the hatches on the Dawn, a crew shipped, and nothing remaining but to clear out. I mean the literal thing, and not the slang phrase, one of those of which so many have crept into the American language, through the shop, and which even find their way into print; such as "charter coaches," "on a boat," "on board a stage," and other similar elegancies. "_On a boat" always makes me--, even at my present time of life. The Dawn was cleared the day I reached town.

Several of the crew of the Crisis had shipped with us anew, the poor fellows having already made away with all their wages and prize-money, in the short space of a month! This denoted the usual improvidence of sailors, and was thought nothing out of the common way. The country being at peace, a difficulty with Tripoli excepted, it was no longer necessary for ships to go armed. The sudden excitement produced by the brush with the French had already subsided, and the navy was reduced to a few vessels that had been regularly built for the service; while the lists of officers had been curtailed of two-thirds of their names. We were no longer a warlike, but were fast getting to be a strictly commercial, body of seamen. I had a single six-pounder, and half a dozen muskets, in the Dawn, besides a pair or two of pistols, with just ammunition enough to quell a mutiny, fire a few signal-guns, or to kill a few ducks.

We sailed on the 3rd of July. I have elsewhere intimated that the Manhattanese hold exaggerated notions of the comparative beauty of the scenery of their port, sometimes presuming to compare it even with Naples; to the bay of which it bears some such resemblance as a Dutch canal bears to a river flowing through rich meadows, in the freedom and grace of nature. Nevertheless, there _are times and seasons when the bay of New York offers a landscape worthy of any pencil. It was at one of these felicitous moments that the Dawn cast off from the wharf, and commenced her voyage to Bordeaux. There was barely air enough from the southward to enable us to handle the ship, and we profited by a morning ebb to drop down to the Narrows, in the midst of a fleet of some forty sail; most of the latter, however, being coasters. Still, we were a dozen ships and brigs, bound to almost as many different countries. The little air there was, seemed scarcely to touch the surface of the water; and the broad expanse of bay was as placid as an inland lake, of a summer's morning. Yes, yes--there are moments when the haven of New York does present pictures on which the artist would seize with avidity; but, the instant nature attempts any of her grander models, on this, a spot that seems never to rise much above the level of commercial excellencies, it is found that the accessaries are deficient in sublimity, or even beauty.

I have never seen our home waters so lovely as on this morning. The movements of the vessels gave just enough of life and variety to the scene to destroy the appearance of sameness; while the craft were too far from the land to prevent one of the most unpleasant effects of the ordinary landscape scenery of the place--that produced by the disproportion between the tallness of their spars, and the low character of the adjacent shores. As we drew near the Narrows, the wind increased; and forty sail, working through the pass in close conjunction, terminated the piece with something like the effect produced by a _finale in an overture. The brightness of the morning, the placid charms of the scenery, and the propitious circumstances under which I commenced the voyage, in a commercial point of view, had all contributed to make me momentarily forget my private griefs, and to enter cheerfully into the enjoyment of the hour.

I greatly disliked passengers. They appealed to me to lessen the dignity of my position, and to reduce me to the level of an inn-keeper, or one who received boarders. I wished to command a ship, not to take in lodgers; persons whom you are bound to treat with a certain degree of consideration, and, in one sense, as your superiors. Still, it had too much of an appearance of surliness, and a want of hospitality, to refuse a respectable man a passage across the ocean, when he might not get another chance in a month, and that, too, when it was important to himself to proceed immediately. In this particular instance, I became the dupe of a mistaken kindness on the part of my former owners. These gentlemen brought to me a Mr. Brigham--Wallace Mortimer Brigham was his whole name, to be particular--as a person who was desirous of getting to France with his wife and wife's sister, in order to proceed to Italy for the health of the married lady, who was believed to be verging on a decline. These people were from the eastward, and had fallen into the old error of Americans, that the south of France and Italy had residences far more favourable for such a disease, than our own country. This was one of the provincial notions of the day, that were entailed on us by means of colonial dependency. I suppose the colonial existence is as necessary to a people, as childhood and adolescence are to the man; but, as my Lady Mary Wortley Montagu told her friend, Lady Rich--"Nay; but look you, my dear madam, I grant it a very fine thing to continue always fifteen; _that_, everybody must approve of--it is quite fair: but, indeed, indeed, one need not be five years old."

I was prevailed on to take these passengers, and I got a specimen of their characters even as we dropped down the bay, in the midst of the agreeable scene to which I have just alluded. They were _gossips_; and that, too, of the lowest, or personal cast. Nothing made them so happy as to be talking of the private concerns of their fellow-creatures; and, as ever must happen where this propensity exists, nine-tenths of what they said rested on no better foundation than surmises, inferences drawn from premises of questionable accuracy, and judgments that were entered up without the authority, or even the inclination, to examine witnesses. They had also a peculiarity that I have often remarked in persons of the same propensity; most of their gossiping arose from a desire to make apparent their own intimacy with the private affairs of people of mark--overlooking the circumstance that, in thus making the concerns of others the subjects of their own comments, they were impliedly admitting a consciousness of their own inferiority; men seldom condescending thus to busy themselves with the affairs of any but those of whom they feel it to be a sort of distinction to converse. I am much afraid good-breeding has more to do with the suppression of this vice, than good principles, as the world goes. I have remarked that persons of a high degree of self-respect, and a good tone of manners, are quite free from this defect of character; while I regret to be compelled to say that I have been acquainted with divers very saintly _professors_, including one or two parsons, who have represented the very _beau ideal of scandal.

My passengers gave me a taste of their quality, as I have said, before we had got a mile below Governor's Island. The ladies were named Sarah and Jane; and, between them and Wallace Mortimer, what an insight did I obtain into the private affairs of sundry personages of Salem, in Massachusetts, together with certain glimpses in at Boston folk; all, however, referring to qualities and facts that might be classed among the real or supposed. I can, at this distant day, recall Scene 1st, Act 1st, of the drama that continued while we were crossing the ocean, with the slight interruption of a few days, produced by sea-sickness.

"Wallace," said Sarah, "did you say, yesterday, that John Viner had refused to lend his daughter's husband twenty thousand dollars, to get him out of his difficulties, and that he failed in consequence?"

"To be sure. It was the common talk through Wall Street yesterday, and everybody believes it"--there was no more truth in the story, than in one of the forty reports that have killed General Jackson so often, in the last twenty years. "Yes, no one doubts it--but all the Viners are just so! All of us, in our part of the world, know what to think of the Viners."

"Yes, I suppose so," drawled Jane. "I've heard it said this John Viner's father ran all the way from the Commons in Boston, to the foot of State Street, to get rid of a dun against this very son, who had his own misfortunes when he was young."

"The story is quite likely true in part," rejoined Wallace, "though it can't be _quite accurate, as the old gentleman had but one leg, and _running was altogether out of the question with _him_. It was probably old Tim Viner, who ran like a deer when a young man, as I've heard people say."

"Well, then, I suppose he ran his horse," added Jane, in the same quiet, drawling tone. "_Something must have run, or they never would have got up the story."

I wondered if Miss Jane Hitchcox had ever taken the trouble to ascertain who _they were! I happened to know both the Viners, and to be quite certain there was not a word of truth in the report of the twenty thousand dollars, having heard all the particulars of the late failure from one of my former owners, who was an assignee, and a considerable creditor. Under the circumstances, I thought I would hint as much.

"Are you quite sure that the failure of Viner & Co. was owing to the circumstance you mention, Mr. Brigham?" I inquired.

"Pretty certain. I am '_measurably acquainted_' with their affairs, and think I am tolerably safe in saying so."

Now, "measurably acquainted" meant that he lived within twenty or thirty miles of those who _did know something of the concerns of the house in question, and was in the way of catching scraps of the gossip that fell from disappointed creditors. How much of this is there in this good country of ours! Men who live just near enough to one another to feel the influence of all that rivalry, envy, personal strifes and personal malignancies, can generate, fancy they are acquainted, from this circumstance, with those to whom they have never even spoken. One-half the idle tales that circulate up and-down the land, come from authority not one tittle better than this. How much would men learn, could they only acquire the healthful lesson of understanding that _nothing_, which is much out of the ordinary way, and which, circulates as received truths illustrative of character, is true in _all its material parts, and very little in _any_. But, to return to my passengers, and that portion of their conversation which most affected myself. They continued commenting on persons and families by name, seemingly more to keep their hands in, than for any other discoverable reason, as each appeared to be perfectly conversant with all the gossip that was started; when Sarah casually mentioned the name of Mrs. Bradfort, with some of whose _supposed friends, it now came out, they had all a general visiting acquaintance.

"Dr. Hosack is of opinion she cannot live long, I hear," said Jane, with a species of fierce delight in killing a fellow-creature, provided it only led to a gossip concerning her private affairs. "Her case has been decided to be a cancer, now, for more than a week, and she made her will last Tuesday."

"Only last Tuesday!" exclaimed Sarah, in surprise. "Well, I heard she had made her will a twelvemonth since, and that she left all her property to young Rupert Hardinge; in the expectation, some persons thought, that he might marry her."

"How could that be, my dear?" asked the husband; "in what would she be better off for leaving her own property to her husband?"

"Why, by law, would she not? I don't exactly know how it would happen, for I do not particularly understand these things; but it seems natural that a woman would be a gainer if she made the man she was about to marry her heir. She would have her thirds in his estate, would she not?"

"But, Mrs. Brigham," said I, smiling, "is it quite certain Mrs. Bradfort wishes to marry Rupert Hardinge, at all?"

"I know so little of the parties, that I cannot speak with certainty in the matter, I admit, Captain Wallingford."

"Well, but Sarah, dear," interposed the more exacting Jane, "you are making yourself unnecessarily ignorant. You very well know how intimate we are with the Greenes, and they know the Winters perfectly well, who are next-door neighbours to Mrs. Bradfort. I don't see how you can say we haven't good means of being 'measurably' well-informed."

Now, I happened to know through Grace and Lucy, that a disagreeable old person, of the name of Greene did live next door to Mrs. Bradfort; but, that the latter refused to visit her, firstly, because she did not happen to like her, and secondly, because the two ladies belonged to very different social circles; a sufficient excuse for not visiting in town, even though the parties inhabited the same house. But, the Brighams, being Salem people, did not understand that families might reside next door to each other, in a large town, for a long series of months, or even years, and not know each other's names. It would not be easy to teach this truth, one of every-day occurrence, to the inhabitant of one of our provincial towns, who was in the habit of fancying he had as close an insight into the private affairs of all his neighbours, as they enjoyed themselves.

"No doubt we are all as well off as most strangers in New York," observed the wife; "still, it ought to be admitted that we may be mistaken. I have heard it said there is an old Mr. Hardinge, a clergyman, who would make a far better match for the lady, than his son. However, it is of no great moment, now; for, when our neighbour Mrs. John Foote, saw Dr. Hosack about her own child, she got all the particulars out of him about Mrs. Bradfort's case, from the highest quarter, and I had it from Mrs. Foote, herself."

"I could not have believed that a physician of Dr. Hosack's eminence and character would speak openly of the diseases of his patients," I observed, a little tartly, I am afraid.

"Oh! he didn't," said Sarah, eagerly--"he was as cunning as a fox, Mrs. Foote owned herself, and played her off finely; but Mrs. Foote was cunninger than any half-dozen foxes, and got it all out of him by negations."

"Negations!" I exclaimed, wondering what was meant by the term, though I had understood I was to expect a little more philosophy and metaphysics, not to say algebra, in my passengers, than usually accompanied petticoats in our part of the world.

"Certainly, _negations_" answered the matron, with a smile as complacent as that which usually denotes the consciousness of intellectual superiority. "One who is a little practised, can ascertain a fact as well by means of negatives as affirmatives. It only requires judgment and use."

"Then Mrs. Bradfort's disease is only ascertained by the negative process?"

"So I suppose--but what does one want more," put in the husband;--"and that she made her will last week, I feel quite sure, as it was generally spoken of among our friends."

Here were people who had been in New York only a month, looking out for a ship, mere passengers as it might be, who knew more about a family with which I had myself such an intimate connection, than its own members. I thought it no wonder that such a race was capable of enlightening mankind, on matters and things in general. But the game did not end here.

"I suppose Miss Lucy Hardinge will get something by Mrs. Bradfort's death," observed Miss Jane, "and that she and Mr. Andrew Drewett will marry as soon as it shall become proper."

Here was a speculation, for a man in my state of mind! The names were all right; some of the incidents, even, were probable, if not correct; yet, how could the facts be known to these comparative strangers? Did the art of gossiping, with all its meannesses, lies, devices, inventions, and cruelties, really possess so much advantage over the intercourse of the confiding and honest, as to enable those who practise it to discover facts hidden from eye-witnesses, and eye-witnesses, too, that had every inducement of the strongest interest in the issue, not to be deceived? I felt satisfied, the moment Mrs. Greene's name was mentioned, that my passengers were not in the true New York set; and, justly enough, inferred they were not very good authority for one half they said; and, yet, how could they know anything of Drewett's attachment to Lucy, unless their information were tolerably accurate?

I shall not attempt to repeat all that passed while the ship dropped down the bay; but enough escaped the gossips to render me still more unhappy than I had yet been, on the subject of Lucy. I could and did despise these people; that was easy enough; but it was not so easy to forget all that they said and surmised. This is one of the causes attendant on the habit of loose talking; one never knowing what to credit, and what not. In spite of all my disgust, and a firm determination not to contribute in any manner to the stock in trade of these people, I found great difficulty in evading their endless questions. How much they got out of me, by means of the process of negations, I never knew; but they got no great matter through direct affirmatives. Something, however, persons so indefatigable, to whom gossiping was the great aim of life, must obtain, and they ascertained that Mr. Hardinge was my guardian, that Rupert and I had passed our boyhoods in each other's company, and that Lucy was even an inmate of my own house the day we sailed. This little knowledge only excited a desire for more, and, by the end of a week, I was obliged to submit to devices and expedients to pump me, than which even the thumbscrew was scarcely more efficient. I practised on the negative system, myself, with a good deal of dexterity, however, and threw my inquisitors off, very handsomely, more than once, until I discovered that Wallace Mortimer, determined not to be baffled, actually opened communications with Neb, in order to get a clearer insight into my private affairs. After this, I presume my readers will not care to hear any more about these gentry, whose only connection with my life grew out of the misgivings they contributed largely to create in my mind, touching the state of Lucy's affections. This much they did effect, and I was compelled to submit to their power. We are all of us, more or less, the dupes of knaves and fools.

All this, however, was the fruits of several weeks' intercourse, and I have anticipated events a little, in order to make the statements in connection. Meeting a breeze, as has been said already, the Dawn got over the bar, about two o'clock, and stood off the land, on an easy bowline, in company with the little fleet of square-rigged vessels that went out at the same time. By sunset, Navesink again dipped, and I was once more fairly at sea.

This was at the period when the commerce of America was at its height. The spirit shown by the young Republic in the French affair had commanded a little respect, though the supposed tendencies of the new administration was causing anything but a cordial feeling towards the country to exist in England. That powerful nation, however, had made a hollow peace with France the previous March, and the highway of nations was temporarily open to all ships alike; a state of things that existed for some ten months after we sailed. Nothing to be apprehended, consequently, lay before me, beyond the ordinary dangers of the ocean. For these last, I was now prepared by the experience of several years passed almost entirely on board ship, during which time I had encircled the earth itself in my peregrinations.

Our run off the coast was favourable, and the sixth day out, we were in the longitude of the tail of the Grand Bank. I was delighted with my ship, which turned out to be even more than I had dared to hope for. She behaved well under all circumstances, sailing even better than she worked. The first ten days of our passage were prosperous, and we were mid-ocean by the 10th of the month. During this time I had nothing to annoy me but the ceaseless _cancans of my passengers. I had heard the name of every individual of note in Salem; with certain passages in his or her life, and began to fancy I had lived a twelvemonth in the place. At length, I began to speculate on the reason why this morbid propensity should exist so much stronger in that part of the world than in any other I had visited. There was nothing new in the disposition of the people of small places to gossip, and it was often done in large towns; more especially those that did not possess the tone of a capital. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Horace Walpole wrote gossip, but it was spiced with wit, as is usual with the scandal of such places as London and Paris; whereas this, to which I was doomed to listen, was nothing more than downright impertinent, vulgar, meddling with the private affairs of all those whom the gossips thought of sufficient importance to talk about. At Clawbonny, we had our gossip too, but it was innocent, seldom infringed much on the truth, and usually respected the right of every person to possess certain secrets that might remain inviolate to the world. No such rules prevailed with my passengers. Like a certain editor of a newspaper of my acquaintance, who acts as if he fancied all things in heaven and earth were created expressly to furnish materials for "paragraphs," they appeared to think that everybody of their acquaintance existed for no other purpose than to furnish them food for conversation. There must have been some unusual cause for so much personal _espionnage_, and, at length, I came to the following conclusion on the subject. I had heard that church government, among the puritans, descended into all the details of life; that it was a part of their religious duty to watch over each other, jog the memories of the delinquents, and serve God by ferreting out vice. This is a terrible inducement to fill the mind with the motes of a neighbourhood, and the mind thus stowed, as we sailors say, will be certain to deliver cargo. Then come the institutions, with their never-ending elections, and the construction that has been put on the right of the elector to inquire into all things; the whole consummated by the journals, who assume a power to penetrate the closet, ay, even the heart,--and lay bare its secrets. Is it any wonder, if we should become, in time, a nation of mere gossips? As for my passengers, even Neb got to consider them as so many nuisances.

From some cause or other, whether it was having these loose-tongued people on board or not, is more than I can say, but certain it is, about the time Salem was handsomely cleaned out, and a heavy inroad had been made upon Boston, that the weather changed. It began to blow in gusts, sometimes from one point of the compass, sometimes from another, until the ship was brought to very short canvass, from a dread of being caught unprepared. At length, these fantasies of the winds terminated in a tremendous gale, such as I had seldom then witnessed; and such, indeed, as I have seldom witnessed since. It is a great mistake to suppose that the heaviest weather occurs in the autumnal, spring, or winter months. Much the strongest blows I have ever known, have taken place in the middle of the warm weather. This is the season of the hurricanes; and, out of the tropics, I think it is also the season of _the gales. It is true; these gales do not return annually, a long succession of years frequently occurring without one; but, when they do come, they may be expected, in our own seas, in July, August, or September.

The wind commenced at south-west, on this occasion, and it blew fresh for several hours, sending us ahead on our course, at the rate of eleven knots. As the sea got up, and sail was reduced, our speed was a little diminished perhaps; but we must have made more than a hundred miles in the first ten hours. The day was bright, cloudless, genial, and even bland; there being nothing unpleasant in the feeling of the swift currents of the air, that whirled past us. At sunset I did not quite like the appearance of the horizon; and we let the ship wade through it, under her three top-sails, single-reefed, her fore-course, and fore-top-mast staysail. This was short canvass, for a vessel that had the wind nearly over her taffrail. At nine o'clock, second reefs were taken in, and at ten, the mizen-top-sail was furled. I then turned in, deeming the ship quite snug, leaving orders with the mates to reduce the sail, did they find the ship straining, or the spars in danger, and to call me should anything serious occur. I was not called until daylight, when Talcott laid his hand on my shoulder, and said, "You had better turn out, Captain Wallingford; we have a peeler, and I want a little advice."

It was a peeler, indeed, when I reached the deck. The ship was under a fore-course and a close-reefed main-top-sail, canvass that can be carried a long time, while running off; but which, I at once saw, was quite too much for us. An order was given immediately, to take in the top-sail. Notwithstanding the diminutive surface that was exposed, the surges given by this bit of canvass, as soon as the clews were eased off sufficiently to allow the cloth to jerk, shook the vessel's hull. It was a miracle that we saved the mast, or that we got the cloth rolled up at all. At one time, I thought it would be necessary to cut it from the yard. Fortunately the gale was steady, this day proving bright and clear, like that which had preceded.

The men aloft made several attempts to hail the deck, but the wind blew too heavily to suffer them to be heard. Talcott had gone on the yard himself, and I saw him gesticulating, in a way to indicate there was something ahead. The seas were running so high that it was not easy to obtain much of a look at the horizon; but, by getting into the mizen-rigging, I had a glimpse of a vessel's spars, to the eastward of us, and directly on our course. It was a ship under bare poles, running as nearly before us as she could, but making most fearful yaws; sometimes sheering away off to starboard, in a way to threaten her with broaching-to; then taking a yaw to port, in which I could see all three of her masts, with their yards pointed nearly at us. I got but one glimpse of her hull, as it rose on a sea, at the same instant with the Dawn, and it actually appeared as if about to be blown away, though I took the stranger to be a vessel at least as large as we were ourselves. We were evidently approaching her fast, though both vessels were going the same way.

The Dawn steered beautifully, one of the greatest virtues in a ship, under the circumstances in which we were then placed. A single man was all that we had at the wheel, and he controlled it with ease. I could see it was very different with the ship ahead, and fancied they had made a mistake on board her, by taking in all their canvass. Talcott and the gang aloft, had not got out of the top, however, before we had a hint that it would be well to imitate the stranger's prudence. Though our vessel steered so much better than another, no ship can keep on a direct line, while running before the wind, in a heavy sea. The waves occasionally fly past a vessel, like the scud glancing through the air; then, they seem to pause, altogether, as if to permit the ship to overtake them. When a vessel is lifted aft by one of these torrents of rushing waters, the helm loses a portion of its power; and the part of the vast machine that first receives the impulse, seems intent on exchanging places with the bows, vessels often driving sideways before the surges, for spaces of time that are exceedingly embarrassing to the mariner. This happens to the best-steering ships, and is always one source of danger in very heavy weather, to those that are running off. The merit of the Dawn was in coming under command again, quickly, and in not losing so much of the influence of her helm, as is frequently the case with wild-steering craft. I understand there is a sloop-of-war now in the navy, that is difficult to get through a narrow passage, in a blow, in consequence of her having this propensity to turn her head first one way, then another, like a gay horse that breaks his bridle.

The hint given, just as Talcott was quitting the top, and to which there has been allusion, was given under the impulsion of one of these driving seas. The Dawn still carried her fore-topmast stay-sail, a small triangular piece of stout canvass, and which was particularly useful, as leading from the end of the bowsprit towards the head of the fore-top-mast, in preventing her from broaching-to, or pressing up with her bows so near the wind, as to produce the danger of seas breaking over the mass of the hull, and sweeping the decks. The landsman will understand this is the gravest of the dangers that occur at sea, in very heavy weather. When the ship is thrown broadside to the sea, or comes up so as to bring the wind abeam, or even forward of the beam, as in lying-to, there is always risk from this source. Another clanger, which is called pooping, is of a character that one who is ignorant of the might of the ocean when aroused, would not be apt to foresee. It proceeds from the impetuous velocity of the waves, which, rushing ahead so much faster than the vessel that is even driving before the gale, breaks against the quarter, or stern, and throws its masses of water along the deck, in a line with its keel. I suppose the President steamer to have been lost by the first of these two dangers, as will appear in the following little theory.

There is no doubt that well-constructed steamers are safer craft, the danger from fire excepted, than the ordinary ship, except in very heavy weather. With an ordinary gale, they can contend with sufficient power; but, it is an unfortunate consequence of their construction, that exactly as the danger increases, their power of meeting it diminishes. In a very heavy swell, one cannot venture to resort to a strong head of steam, since one wheel may be nearly out of water, while the other is submerged, and thus endanger the machinery. Now, the great length of these vessels renders it difficult to keep them up to the wind, or head to sea, the safest of all positions for a vessel in heavy weather, while it exposes them to the additional risk of having the water break aboard them near the waist, in running dead before it. In a word, I suppose a steamer difficult to be kept out of the trough, in very heavy weather; and no vessel can be safe in the trough of the seas, under such circumstances; one of great length less so than others. This is true, however, only in reference to those steamers which carry the old-fashioned wheel; Erricson's screw, and Hunter's submerged wheels, rendering steam-ships, in my poor judgment, the safest craft in the world.

The Dawn was overtaken by the seas, from time to time; and, then, like everything else that floats, she yawed, or rather, had her stern urged impetuously round, as if it were in a hurry to get ahead of the bows. On these occasions, the noise made by the fore-top-mast stay-sail, as it collapsed and filled, resembled the report of a small gun. We had similar reports from the fore-sail, which, for moments at a time, was actually becalmed, as the ship settled into the trough; and then became distended with a noise like that of the shaking of a thousand carpets, all filled with Sancho Panzas, at the same instant. As yet, the cloth and gear had stood these violent shocks admirably; but, just as Talcott was leading his party down, the ship made one of her side-long movements; the stay-sail filled with a tremendous report, and away it flew to leeward, taken out--of the bolt-rope as if it had been cut by shears, and then used by the furies of the tempest. Talcott smiled, as he gazed at the driving canvass, which went a quarter of a mile before it struck the water, whirling like a kite that has broken its string, and then he shook his head. I disliked, too, the tremendous surges of the fore-sail, when it occasionally collapsed and as suddenly filled, menacing to start every bolt, and to part every rope connected with block or spar.

"We must get in that fore-course, Mr. Talcott," I said, "or we shall lose something. I see the ship ahead is under bare-poles, and it were better we were as snug. If I did not dislike losing such a wind, it would be wiser to heave-to the ship; man the buntlines and clew-garnets, at once, and wait for a favourable moment."

We had held on to our canvass too long; the fault of youth. As I had determined to shorten sail, however, we now set about it in earnest, and with all the precautions exacted by the circumstances. Everybody that could be mustered, was placed at the clew-lines and buntlines, with strict orders to do his best at the proper moments. The first-mate went to the tack, and the second to the sheet. I was to take in the sail myself. I waited for a collapse; and then, while the ship was buried between two mounds of water, when it was impossible to see a hundred yards from her in any direction, and the canvass was actually dropping against the mast I gave the usual orders. Every man hauled, as if for life, and we had got the clews pretty well up, when the vessel came out of the cavern into the tempest, receiving the whole power of the gale, with a sudden surge, into the bellying canvass. Away went everything, as if the gear were cobwebs. At the next instant, the sail was in ribands. I was deeply mortified, as well as rendered uneasy, by this accident, as the ship ahead unquestionably was in full view of all that happened.

It was soon apparent, however, that professional pride must give place to concern for the safety of the vessel. The wind had been steadily increasing in power, and had now reached a pass when it became necessary to look things steadily in the face. The strips of canvass that remained attached to the yard, with the blocks and gear attached, threshed about in a way to threaten the lives of all that approached. This was only at the intervals when the ship settled into the troughs; for, while under the full influence of the gale, pennants never streamed more directly from a mast, than did these heavy fragments from the fore-yard. It was necessary to get rid of them; and Talcott had just volunteered to go on the yard with this end, when Neb sprang into the rigging without an order, and was soon beyond the reach of the voice. This daring black had several narrow escapes, more especially from the fore-sheet blocks; but he succeeded in cutting everything adrift, and in leaving nothing attached to the spar, but the bolt-rope of the head of the sail. It is true, little effected this object, when the knife could be applied, the threads of the stout canvass snapping at the touch.

As soon as the ship was under bare poles, though at the sacrifice of two of her sails, I had leisure to look out for the other vessel. There she was, more than half a mile ahead of us, yawing wildly, and rolling her lower yard-arm, to the water's edge. As we drew nearer, I got better glimpses of this vessel, which was a ship, and as I fancied, an English West Indiaman, deep-loaded with the produce of the islands. Deep-loaded as I fancied, for it was only at instants that she could be seen at all, under circumstances to judge of this fact; sometimes her hull appearing to be nearly smothered in the brine, and then, again, her copper glistening in the sun, resembling a light vessel, kept under the care of some thrifty housewife.

The Dawn did not fly, now all her canvass was gone, as fast as she had previously done. She went through the water at a greater rate than the vessel ahead; but it required an hour longer to bring the two ships within a cable's length of each other. Then, indeed, we got a near view of the manner in which the elements can play with such a mass of wood and iron as a ship, when in an angry mood. There were instants when I fancied I could nearly see the keel of the stranger for half its length, as he went foaming up on the crest of a wave, apparently ready to quit the water altogether; then again, he would settle away into the blue abyss, hiding everything beneath his tops. When both vessels sunk together, no sign of our neighbour was visible, though so near. We came up after one of these deep plunges into the valleys of the ocean, and, to our alarm, saw the English ship yawing directly athwart our course, and within fifty fathoms of us. This was about the distance at which I intended to pass, little dreaming of finding the other ship so completely in our way. The Englishman must have intended to come a little nearer, and got one of those desperate sheers that so often ran away with him. There he was, however; and a breathless minute followed, when he was first seen. Two vehicles dashing along a highway, with frightened and run-away teams, would not present a sight one-half as terrific as that which lay directly before our eyes.

The Dawn was plunging onward with a momentum to dash in splinters, did she strike any resisting object, and yawing herself sufficiently to render the passage hazardous. But the stranger made the matter ten-fold worse. When I first saw him, in this fearful proximity, his broadside was nearly offered to the seas, and away he was flying, on the summit of a mountain of foam, fairly crossing our fore-foot. At the next moment, he fell off before the wind, again, and I could just see his tops directly ahead. His sheer had been to-port, our intention having been to pass him on his starboard side; but, perceiving him to steer so wild, I thought it might be well to go in the other direction. Quick as the words could be uttered, therefore, I called out to port the helm. This was done, of course; and just as the Dawn felt the new influence, the other vessel took the same sheer, and away we both went to starboard, at precisely the same instant. I shouted to right our helm to "hard a-starboard," and it was well I did; a minute more would have brought us down headlong on the Englishman. Even now we could only see his hull, at instants; but the awful proximity of his spars denoted the full extent of the danger. Luckily, we hit on opposite directions, or our common destruction would have been certain. But, it was one thing, in that cauldron of a sea, to determine on a course, and another to follow it. As we rose on the last wave that alone separated us from the stranger, he was nearly ahead; and as we glanced onward, I saw that we should barely clear his larboard quarter. Our helm being already a starboard, no more could be done. Should he take another sheer to port, we must infallibly cut him in twain. As I have said, he had jammed his helm to-port, and slowly, and with a species of reluctance, he inclined a little aside. Then we came up, both ships rolling off, or our yards must have interlocked, and passing his quarter with our bows, we each felt the sheer at the same instant, and away we went asunder, the sterns of the ships looking at each other, and certainly not a hundred feet apart. A shout from Talcott drew me to our taffrail, and standing on that of our neighbour, what or whom should I see waving his hat, but the red countenance of honest Moses Marble!

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Afloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale - Chapter 26 Afloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale - Chapter 26

Afloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale - Chapter 26
CHAPTER XXVI"At the piping of all hands, When the judgment signal's spread-- When the islands and the lands, And the seas give up the dead, And the south and the north shall come; When the sinner is dismay'd, And the just man is afraid, Then heaven be thy aid, Poor _Tom_.'" BRAINARD.The two ships, in the haste of their respective crews to get clear of each other, were now running in the troughs; and the same idea would seem to have suggested itself to me and the other master, at the same

Afloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale - Chapter 24 Afloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale - Chapter 24

Afloat And Ashore: A Sea Tale - Chapter 24
CHAPTER XXIV"Your name abruptly mentioned, casual words Of comment on your deeds, praise from your uncle, News from the armies, talk of your return, A word let fall touching your youthful passion Suffused her cheek, called to her drooping eye A momentary lustre."I had no difficulty in putting my project of a private interview with Grace, in execution in my own house. There was one room at Clawbonny, that, from time immemorial, had been appropriated exclusively to the use of the heads of the establishment; It was called the "family room," as one would say "family-pictures"