There remained only the man at the wheel to overcome He was a seaman, of course, and one of those quiet, orderly men, who usually submit to the powers that be. Approaching him, I said—
"You see how it is, my lad; the ship has again changed owners. As for you, you shall be treated as you behave. Stand to the wheel, and you'll get good treatment and plenty of grog, but, by becoming fractious, you'll find yourself in irons before you know where you are."
"Ay—ay, sir—" answered the man, touching his hat, and contenting himself with this brief and customary reply.
"Now, Mr. Marble," I continued, "it is time to have an eye on the boat, which will soon find the man, or give him up. I own, that I wish we had recovered the ship without tossing the poor fellow overboard."
"Fellow overboard!" cried Marble, laughing—"I'd ha' thrown all England into the sea had it been necessary and in my power, but it wasn't necessary to throw overboard so much as a child. The chap they're arter is nothing but one of the fenders, with the deep sea lashed to its smaller end, and a tarpaulin stopped on the larger! Mr. Sennit need be in no great hurry, for I'll engage his 'man overboard' will float as long as his yawl!"
The whole of Marble's expedient was thus explained, and I confess I was much relieved by a knowledge of the truth. Apart from the general relief that accompanied the consciousness of not having taken human life, should we again fall into English hands, a thing by no means improbable, in the situation in which we were placed, this circumstance might be of the last importance to us. In the mean time, however, I had to look to the boat and the ship.
The first thing we did was to clew up the three top-gallant-sails. This gave us a much easier command of the vessel, short-handed as we were, and it rendered it less hazardous to the spars to keep the Dawn on a wind. When this was done, I ordered the after-braces manned, and the leaches brought as near as possible to touching. It was time; for the oars were heard, and then I got a view of the boat as it came glancing down on our weather quarter. I instantly gave the order to fill the after sails, and to keep the ship full and by. The braces were manned, as well as they could be, by Marble, Neb and the cook, while I kept an eye on the boat, with an occasional glance at the man at the wheel.
"Boat ahoy!" I hailed, as soon as the lieutenant got near enough for conversation.
"Ay, boat ahoy!" sure enough, growled Sennit; "some gentleman's back will pay for this trick. The 'man overboard' is nothing but a d——d paddy made out of a fender with a tarpaulin truck! I suspect your mate of this, Mr. Wallingford."
"My mate owns the offence, sir; it was committed to get you out of the ship, while we took charge of her, again. The Dawn is under my orders once more, Mr. Sennit; and before I permit you to come on board her, again, we must have an understanding on the subject."
A long, meaning, whistle, with a muttered oath or two, satisfied me that the lieutenant had not the slightest suspicion of the truth, until it was thus abruptly announced to him. By this time the boat was under our stern, where she was brought in order to be hooked on, the men intending to come up by the tackles. For this, I cared not, however, it being an easy matter for me, standing on the taffrail, to knock any one on the head, who should attempt to board us, in that fashion. By way of additional security, however, Neb was called to the wheel, Marble taking the English sailor forward to help haul the bow-lines, and trim the yards. The ship beginning to gather way, too, I threw Sennit the end of a lower-studding-sail halyards, that were brought aft for the purpose, ordered his bowman to let go his hold of the tackle, and dropped the boat a safe towing distance astern. Neb being ordered to keep the weather leaches touching, just way enough was got on the ship to carry out the whole of this plan, without risk to anybody.
"You'll not think of leaving us out here, on the Atlantic, Mr. Wallingford, five hundred miles from the Land's End," Sennit at length called out, time having been taken to chew the cud of reflection.
"That's as you behave, sir. I wish you no harm personally, Mr. Sennit, though I much wish my own ship. The night promises to be good and the wind is moderating, so that the boat will be perfectly safe. I will have you hauled up, and we will throw you a spare sail for a covering, and you will have the consolation of knowing that we shall have to keep watch, while you are sleeping."
"Ay, sir, I understand it all; Job's comfort that will be. As I do not suppose you are to be coaxed out of the advantage you have obtained, we have no choice but compliance. Give us some food and water in addition, and, for God's sake! don't cast us adrift in this boat, so far from land."
I gave Sennit an assurance that we would take care of him, and orders were issued to comply with his wishes. We passed the sail into the boat, and lowered a bread-bag, a kid full of beef and pork, and a breaker of fresh water. I took all these precautions the more readily, as I did not know but we might be compelled to cast the boat adrift, and one would not wish to resort to such a step, without desiring to leave his crew the best possible chance for their lives. I will do Marble the justice to say, he was active in making these arrangements, though, had the question of destroying the entire prize-crew presented itself, on one side, and that of losing the ship on the other, he would not have hesitated about sinking Great Britain itself, were it possible to achieve the last. I was more human, and felt exceedingly relieved when I again found myself in command of the Dawn, after an interregnum of less than ten hours, without a drop of blood having been spilled.
As soon as everything required was passed into the boat, she was dropped astern, nearly to the whole length of the studding-sail halyards. This would make her tow more safely to both parties: to those in her, because there was less risk of the ship's dragging her under; and to ourselves, because it removed all danger of the Englishmen's returning our favour, by effecting a surprise in their turn. At such a distance from the ship, there would always be time for us to rally and defeat any attempt to get alongside.
Capt. "And as for these whose ransome we have set, It is our pleasure, one of them depart:— Therefore come you with us, and let him go."
King Henry VI.
By such simple means, and without resistance, as it might be, did I recover the possession of my ship, the Dawn. But, now that the good vessel was in my power, it was by no means an easy thing to say what was to be done with her. We were just on the verge of the ground occupied by the channel cruisers, and it was preposterous to think of running the gauntlet among so many craft, with the expectation of escaping. It is true, we might fall in with twenty English man-of-war vessels, before we met with another Speedy, to seize us and order us into Plymouth, had everything been in order and in the usual state; but no cruiser would or could board us, and not demand the reasons why so large a ship should be navigated by so small a crew. It was over matters like these that Marble and I now consulted, no one being on the quarter-deck but the mate, who stood at the wheel, and myself. The cook was keeping a look-out on the forecastle. The Englishman had lain down, in full view, by my orders, at the foot of the main-mast; while Neb, ever ready to sleep when not on duty, was catching a nap on the booms.
"We have got the ship, Moses," I commenced, "and the question next arises, what we are to do with her?"
"Carry her to her port of destination, Captain Wallingford, to be sure. What else can we do with her, sir?"
"Ay, that is well enough, if it can be done. But, in addition to the difficulty of four men's taking care of a craft of five hundred tons, we have a sea before us that is covered with English cruisers."
"As for the four men, you may safely set us down as eight. I'll engage we do as much in a blow, as eight such fellows as are picked up now-a-days 'long shore. The men of the present time are mere children to those one met with in my youth, Miles!"
"Neither Neb, nor the cook, nor I, am a man of other times, but are all men of to-day; so you must call us but three, after all. I know we can do much; but a gale may come that would teach us our insignificance. As it is, we are barely able to furl the main-top-gallant-sail in a squall, leaving one hand at the wheel, and another to let go rigging. No, no, Moses; we must admit we are rather short-handed, putting the best face on the matter."
"If you generalize in that mode, Miles, my dear boy, I must allow that we are. We can go up channel, and ten chances to one but we fall in with some Yankee, who will lend us a hand or two."
"We shall be twice as likely to meet with King George's ships, who will overhaul our articles, and want to know what has become of the rest of our people."
"Then we'll tell 'em that the rest of the crew has been pressed; they know their own tricks too well, not to see the reasonableness of such an idee."
"No officer would leave a vessel of this size with only her master, mate, cook, and one man, to take care of her, even had he found a crew of deserters from his own ship in her. In such a case, and admitting a right to impress from a foreigner at all, it would be his duty to send a party to carry the craft into port. No, no, Moses—we must give all the English a wide berth, now, or they will walk us into Plymouth, yet."
"Blast the hole! I was in it, a prisoner, during the revvylushun, and never want to see its face ag'in. They've got what they call the Mill Prison there, and it's a mill that does grinding less to my taste, than the thing of your'n at Clawbonny. Why not go north-about, Miles? There must be few cruisers up that-a-way."
"The road is too long, the weather is apt to be too thick, and the coast is too dangerous for us, Moses. We have but two expedients to choose between—to turn our heads to the westward, and try to get home, trusting to luck to bring us up with some American who will help us, or steer due east and run for a French port—Bordeaux for instance—where we might either dispose of the cargo, or ship a new crew, and sail for our port of destination."
"Then try the last, by all means. With this wind, we might shove the ship in with the land in the course of two or three days, and go clear of everything! I like the idee, and think it can be carried out. Burdux is always full of Americans, and there must be men enough, to be had for the asking, knocking about the quays."
After a little further conversation, we determined on this plan, and set about carrying it into execution on the spot. In rounding-to, the ship had been brought by the wind on the larboard tack, and was standing to the northward and westward, instead of to the eastward, the course we now wished to steer. It was necessary, therefore, to ware round and get the ship's head in the right direction. This was not a difficult manoeuvre at all, and the Englishman helping us, with seeming good-will, it was soon successfully executed. When this was accomplished, I sent the English sailor into the cabin to keep Diggens company, and we set a watch on deck of two and two, Marble and myself taking charge four hours and four hours, in the old mode.
I acknowledge that I slept little that night. Two or three limes we detected Sennit attempting to haul close up under the ship's stern, out of all question with a view to surprise us, but as often would he drop to the length of his tow-rope, us he saw Marble's head, or mine, watching him above the taffrail. When the day dawned I was called, and was up and on the look-out as our horizon enlarged and brightened round the ship. The great object was to ascertain, as early as possible, what vessels might be in our neighbourhood.
But a solitary sail was visible. She appeared to be a ship of size, close-hauled, heading to the southward and eastward: by steering on our proper course, or certainly by diverging a little to the northward, it would be an easy matter to speak her. As I could plainly see she was not a ship of war, my plan was formed in a moment. On communicating it to Marble, it met with his entire approbation. Measures were taken, accordingly, to carry it into immediate execution.
In the first place, I ordered Sennit, who was awake, and had been, I believe, the whole night, to haul the boat up and to lay hold of one of the boat-tackles. This he did willingly enough, no doubt expecting that he was to be received into the ship, under a treaty. I stood on the look-out to prevent an attack, one man being abundantly able to keep at bay a dozen who could approach only by ascending a rope hand over hand, while Marble went below to look after the two worthies who had been snoring all night in the cabin. In a minute my mate reappeared, leading up the seaman, who was still more asleep than awake. This man was directed to lay hold of the tackle and slide down into the boat. There being no remedy, and descending being far easier than ascending, this exploit was soon performed, and we were well rid of one of our enemies. Sennit now began to remonstrate, and to point out the danger there was of being towed under, the ship going through the water the whole time at the rate of five or six knots. I knew, however, that the English were too skilful to run the risk of being drowned, unnecessarily, and that they would let go of the tackle before they would suffer the boat to be swamped. It was ticklish work, I allow; but they succeeded surprisingly well in taking care of themselves.
We had more difficulty with Diggens. This fellow had been so beastly drunk, that he scarce knew what he was about when awoke; and Marble rather dragged him on deck, and aft to the taffrail, than assisted him to walk. There we got him at last; and he was soon dangling by the tackle. So stupid and enervated was the master's mate, however, that he let go his hold, and went into the ocean. The souse did him good, I make no doubt; and his life was saved by his friends, one of the sailors catching him by the collar, and raising him into the boat.
Sennit availed himself of this accident, to make further remonstrances on the subject of having any more men put in the boat. It was easy to see, it was as much his policy to get everybody out of that little conveyance, as it was mine to get all the English into her.
"For God's sake, Captain Wallingford, knock off with this, if you please;" cried the lieutenant, with a most imploring sort of civility of manner.—"You see how it is; we can barely keep the boat from swamping, with the number we have in her; and a dozen times during the night I thought the ship would drag her under. Nothing can be easier than for you to secure us all, if you will let us come on board, one at a time."
"I do not wish to see you in irons, Mr. Sennit; and this will remove any necessity for resorting to an expedient so unpleasant. Hold on upon the tackle, therefore, as I shall feel obliged to cast you off entirely, unless you obey orders."
This threat had the desired effect. One by one, the men were let up out of the forecastle, and sent into the boat. Cooked meat, bread, rum and water, were supplied to the English; and, to be ready to meet any accident, we lowered them a compass, and Sennit's quadrant. We did the last at his own earnest request, for he seemed to suspect we intended sending him adrift, as indeed was my plan, at the proper moment.
Although the boat had now twelve men in her, she was in no danger, being a stout, buoyant six-oared yawl, that might have held twenty, on an emergency. The weather looked promising, too,—the wind being just a good top-gallant breeze, for a ship steering full and by. The only thing about which I had any qualms, was the circumstance that south-west winds were apt to bring mists, and that the boat might thus be lost. The emergency, nevertheless, was one that justified some risks, and I pursued my plan steadily.
As soon as all the English were in the boat, and well provided with necessaries, we felt at more liberty to move about the ship, and exert ourselves in taking care of her. The man at the wheel could keep an eye on the enemy,—the Dawn steering like a pilot-boat. Neb was sent aloft, to do certain necessary duty, and the top-gallant-sails being loose, the clew-lines were overhauled, and the sails set. I did this more to prevent the English ship from suspecting something wrong, at seeing a vessel running off, before the wind, under such short canvass, than from any desire to get ahead, since we were already going so fast as to render it probable we should pass the other vessel, unless we altered our course to meet her.
Diogenes Billings, the cook, had now a little leisure to serve us a warm breakfast. If Mr. Sennit were living, I think he would do us the justice to say he was not forgotten. We sent the people in the boat some good hot coffee, well sweetened, and they had a fair share of the other comfortable eatables of which we partook ourselves. We also got out, and sent them the masts and regular sails of the boat, which was fitted to carry two sprits.
By this time the stranger ship was within two leagues of us, and it became necessary to act. I sent Marble aloft to examine the horizon, and he came down to report nothing else was in sight. This boded well. I proceeded at once to the taffrail, where I hailed the boat, desiring Sennit to haul her up within comfortable conversing distance. This was done immediately.
"Mr. Sennit," I commenced, "it is necessary for us to part here. The ship in sight is English, and will take you up. I intend to speak her, and will take care that she knows where you are. By standing due east you will easily cut her off, and there cannot be a doubt of her picking you up."
"For heaven's sake, consider a moment, Capt. Wallingford," Sennit exclaimed, "before you abandon us out here, a thousand miles from land."
"You are just three hundred and twenty-six miles from Scilly, and not much more from the Land's End, Mr. Sennit, with a wind blowing dead for both. Then your own countrymen will pick you up, of a certainty, and carry you safe into port."
"Ay—into one of the West-India Islands; if an Englishman at all, yonder vessel is a running West-Indiaman; she may take us all the way to Jamaica."
"Well, then you will have an opportunity of returning at your leisure. You wished to take me almost as much out of my course; or, if not absolutely out of my course, quite as much out of my time. I have as little relish for Plymouth as you seem to have for Jamaica."
"But, the stranger may be a Frenchman—now, I look at him, he has a French look."
"If he should be French, he will treat you well. It will be exchanging beef for soup-maigre for a week or two. These Frenchmen eat and drink as well as you English."
"But, Capt. Wallingford, their prisons! This fellow, Bonaparte, exchanges nobody this war, and if I get into France I am a ruined man!"
"And if I had gone into Plymouth, I fear I should have been a ruined man, too."
"Remember, we are of the same blood, after all—people of the same stock—just as much countrymen as the natives of Kent and Suffolk. Old Saxon blood, both of us."
"Thank you, sir; I shall not deny the relationship, since it is your pleasure to claim it. I marvel, however, you did not let your cousin's ship pass without detaining her."
"How could I help it, my dear Wallingford? Lord Harry is a nobleman, and a captain, and what could a poor devil of a lieutenant, whose commission is not a year old, do against such odds! No—no—there should be more feeling and good-fellowship between chaps like you and me, who have their way to make in the world."
"You remind me of the necessity of being in motion.—Adieu, Mr. Sennit—cut, Moses!"
Marble struck a blow with the axe on-the studding-sail halyards, and away the Dawn glided, leaving the boat tossing on the waves, twenty fathoms further astern, on the very first send of the sea. What Mr. Sennit said, I could not hear, now, but I very plainly saw him shake his fist at me, and his head, too; and I make no manner of doubt, if he called me anything, that he did not call me a gentleman. In ten minutes the boat was fully a mile astern. At first Sennit did not appear disposed to do anything, lying motionless on the water, in sullen stillness; but wiser thoughts succeeded, and, stepping his two masts, in less than twenty minutes I saw his sails spread, and the boat making the best of its way to get into the track of the stranger.
It had been my intention, originally, to speak the strange ship, as I had told Sennit; but seeing there was no probability of her altering her course, so as to pass the boat, I changed my purpose, and stood directly athwart her fore-foot, at about half a mile's distance. I set the Yankee bunting, and she showed the English ensign, in return. Had she been French, however, it would have made no odds to me; for, what did I care about my late captors becoming prisoners of war? They had endeavoured to benefit themselves at my cost, and I was willing enough to benefit myself at theirs.
We made our preparations for setting studding sails now, though I thought there were signs of a desire in the Englishman to speak me. I knew he must be armed, and felt no wish to gratify him, inasmuch as he might take it into his head to make some inquiries concerning the boat, which if not already visible from his decks, soon must be. I was certain the Dawn, deep as she was, would go four feet to the Indiaman's three, and, once past him, I had no apprehensions in the event of a chase.
The English ship caught sight of the boat, when we were about a mile on his lee quarter, with lower and top-mast studding-sails set, going quite eight knots, on a due east course. We became aware of the fact, by her hoisting a jack at the fore. From that moment I gave myself no concern on the subject of Sennit and his prize-crew. Twenty minutes later, we saw the ship back her main-top-sail, and, by means of the glasses, we plainly perceived the boat alongside of her. After some delay, the yawl was hoisted on the deck of the ship, and the latter filled her top-sail. I had some curiosity to ascertain what would come next. It would seem that Sennit actually induced the master of the West-Indiaman to give chase; for, no sooner did the vessel gather way, than she bore up, after us, packing on everything that would draw. We were greatly rejoiced at having improved the leisure time, in making sail ourselves; for, having a lower studding-sail and two top-mast studding-sails on the ship, when this race began, I did not feel much apprehension of being overtaken. By way of making more sure of an escape, however, we set the royals.
When the West-Indiaman bore up in chase, we were about two leagues ahead of our pursuer. So far from lessening this distance, though she carried royal studding-sails, we gradually increased it to three, until, satisfied he could do nothing, the master of the strange ship took in his light sails, and hauled by the wind again, carrying the late prize-crew in a direct line from England. I afterwards learned that Sennit and his companions were actually landed in the island of Barbadoes, after a pleasant passage of only twenty-six days. I make no doubt it took them much longer to get back again; for it was certain not one of them had reappeared in England six months from that day.
We now had the ship to ourselves, though with a very diminished crew. The day was the time to sleep; and relieving each other at the wheel, those who were off duty, slept most of the time, when they were not eating. At six in the evening, however, all hands were up, making our preparations for the night.
At that hour, the wind was steady and favourable; the horizon clear of vessels of every sort, and the prospects of a pleasant night were sufficiently good. The run in the course of the day was equal to one hundred miles, and I computed the distance to Brest, at something less than four hundred miles. By getting in nearer with the land, I should have the option of standing for any French port I pleased, that lay between Cherbouig and Bayonne.
"Well, Moses," I observed to my old friend and shipmate, when we had finished our survey, "this looks promising! As long as the wind remains in this quarter, we shall do well enough; should we actually get in safely, I shall not regret the delay, the credit of having done so good a thing, and of having done it so well, being worth as much to me, as any interest on capital, or wear and tear of gear, can possibly be. As for Mr. Sennit, I fancy he is some sixty or eighty miles off here at the southward and westward, and we've done with him for the voyage."
"Suppose he should fall in with the Speedy, and report what has happened, Miles?" returned the mate. "I have been calculating that chance. The stranger was standing directly for the frigate's cruising ground, and he may meet her. We will not halloo, 'till we're out of the woods."
"That risk is so remote, I shall not let it give me any trouble. It is my intention to run in for the land at our fastest rate of sailing, and, then profit by the best wind that offers, to get into the nearest haven. If you can suggest a better scheme, Moses, I invite you to speak."
Marble assented, though I perceived he was not entirely free from the apprehension he had named until the next morning arrived, bringing with it no change, and still leaving us a clear sea. That day and the succeeding night, too, we made a capital run, and at meridian of the third day after the recapture of the Dawn, I calculated our position to be just one hundred and four miles to the southward and eastward of Ushant. The wind had shifted, however, and it had just come out light at north-east. We went to work, all hands of us, to get in the studding-sails, and to brace up and haul aft; an operation that consumed nearly two hours. We were so busily employed, indeed, as to have little or no time to look about us, and my surprise was the less, therefore, when the cook called out "sail ho!" I was busy trimming the main-yard, when this announcement was made, and looking up, I saw a lugger standing towards us, and already within long gun-shot. I afterwards ascertained that perceiving us to be approaching her, this craft had lain like a snake in the grass, under bare poles, until she thought us sufficiently near, when she made sail in chase. I saw, at a glance, several important facts: in the first place, the lugger was French beyond all dispute; in the second, she was a cruiser, public or private; in the third, escape from her, under any circumstances, was highly improbable, under those which actually existed impossible. But, why should we endeavour to escape from this vessel? The countries were at peace: we had just bought Louisiana from France, and paid fifteen millions of dollars for it, thereby not only getting the country ourselves, but keeping it out of the hands of John Bull, and we were said to be excellent friends, again. Then the Dawn had extricated herself from English clutches, only a day or two before; no doubt the lugger would give us all the aid we could require.
"She is French, for a thousand dollars, Miles!" I cried, lowering my glass from the first good look of the stranger; "and by keeping away two points, we shall speak her in fifteen minutes."
"Ay, French," rejoined the mate, "but, blast 'em all round, I'd much rather have nothing to do with any of the rogues. I'll tell you how it is, Miles, these are onmoralizing times, and the sea is getting to be sprinkled with so many Van Tassels, that I'm afeard you and I'll be just that dear, good old soul, my mother, and little Kitty, to be frightened, or, if not exactly frightened, to be wronged out of our just rights."
"Little fear of that this time, Moses—this is a Frenchman; as we are bound in to a French port, he'll not hesitate to lend us half-a-dozen hands, in order to help us along."
"Ay, and take half the ship and cargo for salvage! I know these piccaroons, and you ought to know 'em too, Miles, for it's only two or three years since you were a prisoner of war among 'em. That was a delightful feelin', I rather conclude."
"Times are altered, Moses, and I'll show confidence in the change. Keep the ship away, Neb—so; meet her—steer for the lugger's foremast; that will do."
Of course, these orders soon brought the two vessels alongside of each other. As the lugger approached, we made her out to be a stout, but active craft, of sixteen guns, and apparently full of men. She set the 'tri-color,' when half a mile distant, sure of her prey, should we turn out to be a prize. We showed-him the stars and stripes of course, fancying he would treat them as a friend.
It was not long before both vessels had rounded-to, and preparations were made to hail.
"What sheep's zat?" demanded one in good broken English.
"The Dawn, of New-York—may I ask the name of your lugger?"
"Le Polisson—corsair Francois—what you load, eh?"
"Sugar and coffee, with cochineal, and a few other articles."
"Peste!—Vere you boun', Monsieur, s'il vous plait."
"Diable!—zis is non ze chemin.—How you come her, sair, viz ze vin' at sow-vess?"
"We are going in to Brest, being in need of a little succour."
"You vish salvage, eh! Parbleu, we can do you zat mosh good, as veil as anodair."
I was then ordered, privateer fashion, to lower a boat, and to repair on board the lugger with my papers. When old I had no stern or quarter-boat to lower, the Frenchman Manifested surprise; but he sent his own yawl for me. My reception on board the Polisson was a little free for Frenchmen. The captain received me in person, and I saw, at a glance, I had to deal with men who were out on the high seas, with the fear of English prison-ships constantly before their eyes, in quest of gold. I was not invited into the cabin, a crowded, dark and dirty hole, for, in that day, the French were notoriously foul in their vessels, but was directed to show my papers seated on a hen-coop.
As everything was regular about the register, manifest and clearance, I could see that Monsieur Gallois was not in a particularly good humour. He had one, whom I took to be a renegade Englishman, with him, to aid in the examination, though, as this man never spoke in my presence, I was unable precisely to ascertain who he was. The two had a long consultation in private, after the closest scrutiny could detect no flaw in the papers. Then Monsieur Gallois approached and renewed the discourse.
"Vy you have no boat, sair?" he asked.
"I lost my boat, three days since, about a hundred leagues to the southward and westward."
"It is not have bad veddair!—Why you got no more marins in your sheep?—eh!"
I saw it would be best to tell the whole truth, at once; for, were I to get any aid from this lugger, the facts, sooner or later, must be made known. Accordingly, I gave the Frenchman, and his English-looking companion, a full account of what had occurred between us and the Speedy. After this narrative, there was another long conference between Mons. Gallois and his friend. Then the boat was again manned, and the captain of the lugger, accompanied by his privy-counsellor and myself, went on board the Dawn. Here, a very cursory examination satisfied my visiters of the truth of my story.
I confess, I expected some commendation from a French man, when he heard the ready manner in which we had got our vessel out of the hands of the Philistines. No such thing; an expressive 'bon' had escaped Mons. Gallois, once or twice, it is true; but it was apparent he was looking much sharper for some pretext to make us a prize himself, than for reasons to commend our conduct. Each new aspect of the affair was closely scanned, and a new conference with the adviser was held, apart.
"Sair," said Mons. Gallois, "I have mosh regret, but your sheep is bon prize. You have been prisonnier to ze English, ze enemy of la France, and you shall not capture yourself. L'Amerique is not at war—is neutral, as you shall say, and ze Americains cannot make ze prize. I considair your ship, monsieur, as in ze hand of ze English, and shall capture him. Mes regrets sont vifs, mais, que voulez vous? Ze corsair most do his devoir, ze same as ze sheep national. I shall send you to Brest, vere, if you be not sold par un decret, I shall be too happy to restore votre batiment—Allons!"
Here was a denouement to the affair, with a vengeance! I was to be captured, because I had been captured. "Once a corporal, always a corporal." As the English had taken me, the French would take me. A prize to-day, you must be a prize to-morrow. I have always thought the case of the Dawn was the first of the long series of wrongs that were subsequently committed on American commerce, in virtue of this same principle, a little expanded and more effectually carried out, perhaps, and which, in the end terminated by blockading all Europe, and interdicting the high seas, on paper.
I knew the uselessness of remonstrating with a rapacious privateersman. "Let him send me in," I thought to myself, at first; "it is just where I wish to go; once in, the minister must get me clear. The fellow will only be the dupe of his own covetousness, and I shall profit by it, in the degree that he will be a loser!"
I presume Mons. Gallois entertained a very different view of the matter, for he manifested great alacrity in throwing a crew of no less than seventeen souls, big and little, on board us. I watched these operations in silence, as did Neb and Diogenes. As for Marble, he lighted a segar, took his seat on the windlass, and sat in dignified anger, ready to explode on the slightest occasion, yet apprehensive he might be sent out of the ship, should he betray one-half of what he felt. Out of the ship neither of us was sent, however, the French probably feeling indisposed to be troubled with passengers in the narrow quarters they had for themselves.
You are safe; Nay, more,—almost triumphant. Listen, then, And hear my words of truth.
It was just four o'clock, P.M., when the Dawn and the Polisson parted company; the former steering on her old course for Brest, while the latter continued her cruise. The lugger sailed like a witch, and away she went towards the chops of the channel, on a bow-line; leaving us to stand towards the French coast—close-hauled, also, but on the opposite tack.
It is scarcely necessary to dwell on the feelings with which we four, who were eye-witnesses of all that passed, witnessed the proceedings. Even Diogenes was indignant. As for Marble, I have already alluded to his state of mind; and, if I had not, the following dialogue, which took place at sunset, (the first that occurred between us in private since the second capture,—while the French were eating their suppers,) would serve to explain it.
"Well, Miles," the mate drily observed, "whatever we have to do, must be done at once. When shall we begin?—in the middle, or in the morning watch?"
"Begin what, Moses?" I asked, a little surprised at the settled manner in which he put his question.
"To throw these Frenchmen overboard.—Of course, you don't mean to let them carry your ship into Brest?"
"Why not? We were bound to Brest when we fell in with them; and, if they will take us there, it will only save us the trouble of doing it ourselves."
"Don't be deceived by any such hope, Miles. I've been in the hands of Frenchmen, before I knew you; and there is little hope of getting out of them, so long as the ship and cargo will pay for detention. No, no, my dear boy; you know I love you better than anything on 'arth, my dear, old soul of a mother, and little Kitty, excepted,—for it wouldn't be religious to like you better than my own flesh and blood,—but, after these two, I like you better than any one on 'arth; and I can't be quiet, and see you run your property into the fire. Never let the ship go into France, after what has happened, if you can help it."
"Can we possibly help it? Or do you propose that four men shall re-take this vessel from seventeen?"
"Well, the odds are not so great, Miles," Marble rejoined, looking coolly round at the noisy set of little Frenchmen, who were all talking together over their soup; certainly not a very formidable band in a hand-to-hand encounter, though full of fire and animation. "There are four of us, and only seventeen of them, such as they are. I rather think we could handle 'em all, in a regular set-to, with fists. There's Neb, he's as strong as a jackass; Diogenes is another Hercules; and neither you nor I am a kitten. I consider you as a match, in a serious scuffle, for the best four among them chaps."
This was not said in the least boastingly, though certainly the estimate of comparative force made by my mate was enormously out of the way. It was true, that we four were unusually powerful and athletic men; but it was also true, that six of the French might very well be placed in the same category. I was not subject to the vulgar prejudice of national superiority, I hope; one of the strongest of all the weaknesses of our very weak nature. I have never yet been in a country, of which the people did not fancy themselves, in all particulars, the salt of the earth; though there are very different degrees in the modes of bragging on such subjects. In the present instance, Marble had not the least idea of bragging, however; for he really believed we four, in an open onslaught, fire-arms out of the question, might have managed those seventeen Frenchmen. I think, myself, we might have got along with twice our number, taking a fair average of the privateer's men, and reducing the struggle to the arms of nature; but I should have hesitated a long time in making an open attack on even them.
Still, I began to regard my chances of escaping, should we be sent into a French port by the privateer, as far less certain than they had appeared at first. Marble had so much to say of the anarchists in France, as he had known them in the worst period of the revolution, and so many stories to tell of ships seized and of merchants ruined, that my confidence in the right was shaken. Bonaparte was then in the height of his consular power,—on the point of becoming Emperor, indeed,—and he had commenced this new war with a virulence and disregard of acknowledged rights, in the detention of all the English then resident in France, that served to excite additional distrust. Whatever may be said of the comprehensiveness and vastness of the genius of Napoleon, as a soldier and statesman, I presume few upright and enlightened men can now be found to eulogize his respect for public law. At any rate, I began to have lively misgivings on the subject; and the consultation between my mate and myself terminated in our coming to a resolution to serve the French prize-crew substantially as we had served the English prize-crew, if possible; varying the mode only to suit the new condition of things. This last precaution was necessary, as, in the fulness of my confidence, I had made Mons. Gallois acquainted with all the circumstances of throwing the fender overboard, and the manner in which we had got possession of the ship. It was not to be expected, therefore, that particular artifice could be made to succeed with him.
It must have been the result of prejudice, and of constant reading of articles extracted from the English journals, that influenced me; but I confess it seemed a much easier matter to re-take my ship from seventeen Frenchmen, than from twelve Englishmen. I was not so besotted as to suppose surprise, or artifice, would not be necessary in either case; but, had the issue been made up on brute force, I should have begun the fray with greater confidence in the first than in the last case. All this would have been very wrong in our particular situation, though, as a rule and as applied to sea-faring men, it might be more questionable. How often, and how much, have I seen reason to regret the influence that is thus silently obtained amongst us, by our consenting to become the retailers of other people's prejudices! One of the reasons why we have so long been mere serviles on this point, is owing to the incompleteness of the establishments of the different leading presses of the country. We multiply, instead of enlarging these enterprises. The want of concentration of talent compels those who manage them to resort to the scissors instead of the pen; and it is almost as necessary for an American editor to be expert with the shears, as it is for a tailor. Thus the public is compelled to receive hashes, instead of fresh dishes; and things that come from a distance, notoriously possessing a charm, it gets the original cookery of London, instead of that of their own country.
Prejudice or not, confidence is not a bad thing when a conflict is unavoidable. It may be well to respect your enemy down to the very moment of making the charge; but, that commenced, the more he is despised, the better. When Diogenes and Neb were told it would be necessary to go over again the work so lately thought to be completed, neither of the negroes manifested the least concern. Diogenes had been in the Crisis, as well as Neb, and he had got to entertain a very Anglican sort of notion of French prowess on the water; and, as for my own black, he would have followed without the slightest remonstrance, wherever "Masser Mile please to lead."
"They's only French," said Diogenes, in a philosophical sort of way; "we can handle 'em like children."
I would not discourage this notion, though I saw its folly. Telling our two supporters to hold themselves ready for an attack, Marble and I left them, to cogitate and commence the manner of proceeding. Whatever was done, must be done that night; there being reason to think the ship would get in somewhere, next day.
The name of our prize-master was Le Gros. He was not aptly designated, however, being a little, shrivelled, yellow-faced fellow, who did not seem to be a Hercules at all. Nevertheless, unlike Sennit, he was all vigilance and activity. He never left the deck, and, being so near in with the coast, I felt pretty certain we should have his company above board all night. Whatever was attempted, therefore, must be attempted in defiance of his watchfulness. Nor was this all; additional prudence was necessary, since we were so near the coast as greatly to increase the chance of our being picked up by some other French cruiser, should we even escape from this. Extreme caution was our cue, therefore, and Marble and I separated, seemingly each to take his repose with a perfect understanding on all these points.
Mons. Le Gros paid no attention to the state-rooms, or to the accommodations below. His whole care was bestowed on the ship. Apprehension of falling in with some British cruiser, kept his eyes wide open, and his gaze constantly sweeping the horizon, so far as the obscurity would allow. I was incessantly on the alert myself, stealing up from the cabin, as far as the companion-way, at least a dozen times in the course of the night, in the hope of finding him asleep; but, on each occasion, I saw him moving up and down the quarter-deck, in rapid motion, armed to the teeth, and seemingly insensible to fatigue, and all the other weaknesses of nature. It was useless to attempt to find him off his guard, and worn out, Marble and myself fell into deep sleep, about three in the morning, out of pure exhaustion. As for the two negroes they slept the entire night, waiting our summons for their rallying to the work. Neb, in particular, had all the absence of responsibility that distinguishes the existence of a slave, feeling very much the same unconcern as to the movements of the vessel, as any other human being feels in connection with those of the earth in which he is a passenger.
It was ten o'clock when I awoke, refreshed, but disappointed. Marble was still snoring in his berth, and I was compelled to give him a call. I could perceive there was a breeze, and that the ship was going through the water fast; by her lurching, she was close hauled. It takes a seaman but a minute or two to throw on his loose attire, and no time was lost on the present occasion. While my mate and I were thus engaged, the former happened to cast a look out of the cabin windows, which were open on account of the warmth of the weather, and offered no obstruction to a long view of the ocean directly in our wake.
"Halloo, Miles!" Marble exclaimed; "by Jove, we are chased! Such is the secret of Mr. Frog's being so much alive this fine morning. Yonder comes a frigate, or my name is not Oloff Marble."
A frigate there was, sure enough. She was about two leagues astern of us, and resembled a pyramidal cloud, moving along the water, so completely were her spars covered with canvass. That she was an Englishman was more than probable, from the cruising ground, as well as from the fact of the prize-crew running from her. In that day, no French ship-of-war loitered long at any particular point, her enemies being so numerous as to render pursuit certain, ere many hours could elapse. After determining these facts in our minds, Marble and I went on deck.
My first look was ahead. To my deep regret there lay the land, actually within three leagues of us! The wind was fresh at north-east, and Monsieur Le Gros appeared to be steering for a group of islands that lay a little, and ever so little, on our lee bow. Brest was out of the question; if we could get in with the land, among these islands, it was as much as we could do, before the racer astern would be up to us. The Frenchmen were evidently alarmed; an English prison-ship, with all its known horrors, being very vividly placed before their eyes. Monsieur Le Gros screamed, and gave twenty orders in a minute, while the other sixteen men made more noise than would be heard among a thousand Americans. Heavens! what a clamour these chaps kept up, and all about nothing, too, the ship having every stitch of canvass on her that would draw. I felt like the Arab who owned the rarest mare in the desert, but who was coming up with the thief who had stolen her, himself riding an inferior beast, and all because the rogue did not understand the secret of making the mare do her best. "Pinch her right ear, or I shall overtake you," called out the Arab; and more than twenty times was I disposed to trim the Dawn's sails, and send Neb to the wheel, in order to escape the disgrace of being overhauled by the frigate. There was a chance for me, however, in this second recapture, and I thought it preferable to let things take their course. My new conquerors might be mystified, whereas, there was little hope for us, should Monsieur Le Gros get in, after such an uproar.
In little more than an hour's time, the Dawn began to shorten sail, hauling up her courses and top-gallant-sails, rocks showing themselves within half a mile of her. A large boat met as here, coming alongside, as soon as certain who we were. The people in this boat were fishermen, and were so much accustomed to all the movements of the coast, that they understood the nature of the affair as soon as they were apprised of our character. Of course they were eagerly questioned touching the possibility of the Dawn's being carried in through any of the rocky-looking passages that lay before us. Monsieur Le Gros looked very blank when he was told that all his hopes lay in there being sufficient water in one channel, and of that the fishermen confessed their own ignorance. If the noise and confusion were annoying before these men came alongside, it was astounding afterwards. All this time the frigate was drawing near, fast, and half an hour would certainly bring her within gun-shot. There is something intoxicating in a race. I felt a strong desire to get away from the Englishman at the very moment I believed my chances for justice would be worst in the hands of the French. Feeling the necessity of losing no time, I now made a lively appeal to Monsieur Le Gros, myself, proposing that we should both go in with the fishing-boat and examine the passage ourselves. By using proper activity, the whole might be done in a quarter of an hour; we should then know whether to carry the ship in, or to run on the rocks and save what we could of the cargo, by means of lighters.
Order on board ship is out of the question without coolness, silence and submission. A fussy sailor is always a bad sailor; calmness and quiet being the great requisites for the profession, after the general knowledge is obtained. No really good officer ever makes a noise except when the roar of the elements renders it indispensable, in order to be heard. In that day, French ships of war did not understand this important secret, much less French privateers. I can only liken the clamour that was now going on in the Dawn's lee-gangway, to that which is raised by Dutch fish-women, on the arrival of the boats from sea with their cargoes. To talk of Billingsgate in comparison with these women, is to do the Holland and Flemish ladies gross injustice, English phlegm being far more silent than Dutch phlegm. No sooner was my proposition made than it was accepted by acclamation, and the privateersmen began to pour into the boat, heels over head, without order, and I may say without orders. Monsieur Le Gros was carried off in the current, and, when the fishermen cast off, but three Frenchmen were left in the ship; all the others had been swept away by a zeal to be useful, that was a little quickened, perhaps, by the horrors of an English prison-ship.
Even Diogenes laughed at the random manner in which we were thus left in possession of our own. There is no question that the French intended to return; while there is no question it was also their intention to go. In short, they were in a tumult, and acted under an impulse, instead of under the government of their reasons.
"You will have the complaisance, Mons. Wallingford," cried Le Gros, as the boat started away from the ship's side, "to fill the top-sail, and run for the passage, when we wave our hats."
"Ay—ay," I answered; "leave it to me to fill the top-sails, and to give the John Bulls the slip."
This was said in French, and it drew cries of "Bon!" and of "Vive la France!" from all in the boat. What the fellows thought, I will not pretend to say; but if they thought they were to get on board the Dawn again, they did not know the men they left behind them. As for the Frenchmen who remained, Marble and I could have managed them alone; and I was glad they were with us, since they could be made to pull and haul.
The ship was under her three top-sails, spanker and jib, when Mons. Le Gros thus singularly gave her up to my control; the main-yard lying square. My first step was to fill the top-sail, and gather way on the vessel. This was soon done; and, keeping away, I stood on towards the rocks, which soon bore on our weather bow, determined to run as near them as I dared, thinking to frighten the Englishman so much, as to induce him to keep at arm's-length. I might cast away the ship, it is true; but even this would be preferable to falling again into English hands, with all the occurrences still so recent. A year or two later, the affair of the Speedy's men might be forgotten; but while a thing is fresh, there is always some danger of its creating feeling. At least, thus I reasoned, and thus I acted.
Once more I had the Dawn under my own orders; and, could I keep the frigate out of gun-shot, I cared very little for Mons. Le Gros. At first, the privateersmen supposed that, in filling away, I merely intended to further their views; but, no sooner did they perceive the ship standing on to leeward of the passage, than the truth seemed to flash on their befogged faculties. This was not until the depth of water was ascertained to be sufficient for their purposes; and such a flourishing of tarpaulins and greasy caps as succeeded, I had not witnessed for many a day. All these signals and calls, however, were disregarded; but away went the Dawn, with her yards just rounded in a point, with the wind fairly abeam, coasting along as near the islands as I thought it at all prudent to venture. As for the frigate, she was still keeping her luff, in order to get far enough to windward to make sure of her prey. At this moment, the two ships might have been a league asunder.
Mons. Le Gros was no sooner aware of the trick I had played him, than out he dashed with his fishing-boat, making sail in chase, and helping his dull craft along with half a dozen oars. Seeing this, I let the fore-sail drop, and sheeted home and hoisted the main-top-gallant-sail; not that I felt at all afraid of the boat, but because it was my wish to avoid bloodshed, if possible. Among the other absurdities the French had committed, in their haste to get away from the frigate, was that of leaving six or eight muskets, with several cartridge-boxes, behind them. With these weapons, it would have been easy for us to have given the privateersmen such a hint, as would not fail to keep them at bay. Then I always had my pistols, which were not only valuable implements, but were double-barrelled and well loaded. Our only ground of alarm, therefore, came from the Englishman.
Possibly, Monsieur Le Gros thought differently; for his chase was animated, and apparently in earnest. But, notwithstanding all his zeal, the Dawn left him astern, going through the water at the rate of about six knots. But the frigate was coming up at the rate of eight knots, making it certain that she would get us under her guns in an hour or two at most, unless some great advantage was obtained over her by means of the complicated navigation, and shallow water.
When at Bordeaux, the previous year, I had purchased a chart of the French coast, with a book containing directions similar to those which are to be found in our own "Coasting Pilot." As a matter of course, I had them both with me, and I found them of great service on this occasion. The text described the islands we were near as being separated by narrow channels of deep water, in which the danger was principally owing to sunken rocks. It was these rocks that had induced the fishermen to pronounce the passages impracticable; and my coasting directions cautioned all navigators to be wary in approaching them. The Dawn, however, was in precisely the situation which might render these rocks of the last service to her; and, preferring shipwreck to seeing my vessel in either English or French hands, again, I determined to trust to the very dangers of the navigation as my safeguard. I might go clear of the bottom, but it was certain, if I kept outside, I could not escape from the frigate. An accidental occurrence, in connection with the boat, favoured us, and I was not slow to profit by the advantage it offered. Finding it impossible to come up with the ship by keeping in her wake, Monsieur Le Gros had taken a short cut, in the boat, between some islets that we were obliged to round, and he actually came out ahead of us. Instead of endeavouring to close with the ship, however, he led into an excessively narrow passage, making furious gestures for us to follow. This was at the instant when the frigate fired her first gun at us, the shot of which just fell a very little short. Did we pass the channel in which Monsieur Le Gros had carried the boat, we should fall to leeward of the whole group of islands, —or islets, would be the better word,—when all would literally depend on our heels. There was but a moment in which to decide; in another minute, the ship would be past the opening, which could only be regained by tacking, if it could be regained at all. I gave the order to luff.
Our three Frenchmen, fancying themselves now certainly bound to la belle France, were as active as cats. Neb and Diogenes throwing their powerful force on the braces with a good-will, too, we soon had the Dawn braced sharp up, heading well to windward of the passage. Monsieur Le Gros was delighted. Apparently, he thought all was right, again; and he led the way, flourishing both hands, while all in the boat, fishermen inclusive, were bawling, and shouting, and gesticulating, in a way that would certainly have confused us, had I cared a straw about them. I thought it well enough to follow the boat; but, as for their cries, they were disregarded. Had Monsieur Le Gros seen fit to wait for the ship in the narrowest part of the inlet, he might have embarrassed us; but, so far from this, he appeared to be entirely carried away by the excitement of the chase, and was as eager to push ahead, as a boy who was struggling to be first in at the goal.
It was a nervous instant when the Dawn's bow first entered the narrow passage. The width, from rock to rock, speaking only of visible things, might have been thirty fathoms; and this strait narrowed, rather than widened, for several hundred feet, until it was reduced fully one-third. The tide ran like a mill-tail, and it was, perhaps, lucky for us that there was no time for reflection or irresolution; the aspect of things being so serious as might well have thrown the most decided man into uncertainty and doubt. The current sucked the vessel in, like the Maelstrom, and we were whirling ahead at a rate that would have split the ship from her keel to her top-timbers, had we come upon a sunken rock. The chances were about even; for I regarded the pilotage as a very random sort of an affair. We glanced on in breathless expectation, therefore; not knowing but each instant would involve us in ruin.
This jeopardy endured about five minutes. At the end of that brief space, the ship had run the gauntlet for the distance of a mile, driven onward by the current rather than by the wind. So tremendous was our velocity in the narrowest part, that I actually caught myself grasping the rail of the ship, as we glanced past the rocks, as if to keep myself from a fall. The French gave a loud and general shout just as the boat issued out of this race-way into a wide capacious bay, within the group of islands, which had the appearance of forming a roadstead of some note. There was a battery on the end of the last island, a light-house and a cluster of fishermen's huts; all indicating that the place was one of considerable resort.
Monsieur Le Gros was waiting for us, about two cable's-lengths from the place where we issued into the bay, having considerately chosen an anchorage for us, at a point commanded by the four six-and-thirty pounders of the battery. The distance enabled me to look about. Within the range of islands was a sort of sound, quite a league in width, and on this sound the main coast presented several bays in which coasters were at anchor. Most of the prominent points had small batteries, of no great force as against a fleet, or even against a single heavy ship, but which were sufficiently formidable to keep a sloop of war or a frigate at a respectable distance. As all the guns were heavy, a vessel passing through the middle of this sound would hardly be safe; more especially did the gunners do their duty. By anchoring at the spot where the boat waited for us, we at once gave up the ship to the privateersmen, the battery first mentioned commanding that point completely. As good luck would have it, however, an expedient offered, in the direction of the wind and tide, which were opposed to each other, and I availed myself of the circumstance as promptly as possible.
Do our best, the Dawn could not fetch the spot where the boat had dropped her kedge. We passed within hail of it, notwithstanding, and loud were the calls to us to shorten sail and anchor, as we came within hearing. Affecting to be anxious to get up to the precise point where the boat lay, I mystified Monsieur Le Gros in my answers, telling him I would stand on a short distance, or until I could fetch him, when I would tack. As this was intelligible it satisfied my captors, though a hundred "n'importes" were yelled after us; and "n'importe" it was, in fact, one spot being just as good to anchor in as another, for half a league all round us.
The Dawn did her duty that day; and there was occasion for it, the frigate still continuing the chase. The circuit she had to make, and the berth she thought it prudent to give the first battery, enabled us to gain on her materially. When we passed the boat, the Englishman's upper sails were visible on the outside of the island, flying along the rocks at a rate that spoke well of his heels. He rounded the point when we were mid-sound, but here the battery served us a good turn, for, instead of hauling up close by the wind, the English were obliged to run off with the wind free, to keep out of harm's way. Their presence, notwithstanding, was probably of great service to the Dawn, for here had been a communication between Monsieur Le Gros and the battery, by means of a small boat sent from the latter, and we should have been very likely to have a messenger, in the shape of a shot, sent after us, when it was seen we continued to stand across for the main instead of tacking for the designated anchorage, had not the men in the battery had the higher game of the frigate in view. As soon as John Bull got within range, the gunners began to play on him, but it was at a distance that rendered their fire next to useless.
Any one in the least acquainted with the movements of ships, will understand the advantage we now possessed. The Dawn was beating through a good wide passage, with a young flood breasting her to windward, and a steady six-knot breeze blowing. The passage between these islands and the main was about four leagues long, while that which the fishermen had wished us first to enter was near the middle of the group. We were already a mile from the boat, and considerably to windward of her, the tide having done that much for us, when Mons. Le Gros saw fit to lift his kedge, and commence a new pursuit. He had the sagacity to see that we should soon be obliged to tack, on account of the main coast, and to stand over towards the island, again: accordingly, instead of following in our wake, he profited by the set of the current, and pulled directly to windward, with a view to cut us off. All this we very plainly saw, but we cared very little for Mons. Le Gros and his boat. The ship could out-sail the last, very easily, in such a breeze, and it was always in our power to tack in mid-channel, instead of crossing her, or coming near her, at all. The frigate gave me much more trouble.
The Englishman, as I afterwards learned, was a French-built ship called the Fortunee; or, as Jack termed her, now she had got to be designated in the Anglo-Saxon dialect, the Fortunee which was liberally rendered into the vernacular as the "Happy-Go-Lucky." She was an old ship, but an exceedingly fast one, and her commander had rendered himself famous by the manner in which he ventured about on the French coast. This was the third time he had gone through this very sound in spite of the batteries; and having some experience in the windings and turnings, he was now much better able to get along scatheless, than on the two former occasions. As soon as he thought himself at a safe distance from the six-and-thirties, he hauled up, and made five short stretches near the main, where he had much the best of the tide, and the whole strength of the breeze, and where there was nothing to molest him; the usual roadstead being under the island of course.
The first hour sufficed to let me understand there was no chance of escaping the frigate; if we continued to beat up through the passage, we might reach its western end a little in advance of her it is true, but no hope at all of getting away, would remain when we again reached the open ocean, and she in-shore of us. In this dilemma, Marble made one of his happy suggestions, my merit amounting to no more than seizing the right moment, and carrying out his idea with promptitude. The passage first named lay in a line with us, and we had every reason to believe the ship could go through it. When we were invited to enter, the tide was not as high by six feet, as it had now risen to be, and my mate suggested the expedient of trying it, in going out.
"The Englishman will never dare follow on account of the battery which lies on the side of it," he added, "whereas the French will not fire at us, believing us to be escaping from a common enemy."
The whole force of what had been said flashed upon me, in an instant. I set the tri-color over a British ensign, to cause the people of this second battery to think us an English prize, and stood straight for the pass, just without which lay a small brig at anchor. In order to make the deception more complete, we hauled up our courses, and let run the top-gallant halyards, as if ready to bring up. Seeing this, Mons. Le Gros fancied we were about to anchor under the battery, and that we had hoisted our flags to taunt the English, for caps and hats were waved in exultation in the boat, then distant from us a quarter of a mile. We passed close to the brig; which greeted us with acclamations and "vives la France," as we swept by her. My eye was on the battery, the whole time. It was built to command the roadstead, and without any reference to the pass, which no enemy would be apt to attempt. It is true, two heavy guns bore on this entrance, but they were in a detached work, that was never manned except in emergencies.
I drew a long breath, and felt a mountain removed from my very soul, as the ship passed out of the range of the last gun in the little semi-circle. The soldiers were making gestures to us to indicate we were getting too far west for a good berth, but we heeded them not. Instead of shortening sail, the fore and main tacks were boarded, and the top-gallant-sails set. This revealed our intention, and the clamour on the shore even reached the ship. Preparations were making to get a piece of light artillery to bear on us, and some twenty gunners began to scamper towards the detached battery. The whole thing was now reduced to a sheer race. We passed the last battery ten minutes before the French could reach it, the latter having to go round a considerable bay; and six minutes later, we went out to sea, with the American ensign, and jacks, and pennants flying at each mast-head, and wherever else such an emblem of triumph could be shown!
"O, I am out of breath in this fond chase! The more my prayer, the lesser is my grace."
Marble and I looked each other in the face, and then burst into a laugh, as the French fired a single shot from the two-gun battery, which flew beyond us, but which could scarcely hit us on account of some intervening rocks. I altered the course of the ship in order to get a little more out of the range; after this, we had nothing to fear from the French. The boat did not attempt to follow us, and thus ended our communication with le Polisson and her people, a that time. As for la Fortunee, it would require at least four hours for her to beat round the end of the cluster of islands, and seeing the hopelessness of doing this in time to overtake such a ship as the Dawn, her commander made a dash in at the unfortunate brig, which he actually succeeded in cutting out from the roadstead, in spite of all the defences of the place. The last I heard of these gentlemen, was the reports of the guns that were exchanged between the battery and the frigate, while the last I saw of them, was the smoke that floated over the spot, long after the islands had sunk beneath the horizon. The Dawn stood directly out to sea, with the wind still at the northward, though it had drawn more through the pass in-shore.
"Well, Miles," cried Marble, as he and I sat eating our dinner on deck, where Neb had been ordered to serve it, "you know what I've always said of your luck. It's proof ag'in every thing but Providence! Die you must and will, some of these times; but, not until you've done something remarkable. Sail with you, my boy! I consider your company a standing policy of insurance, and have no sort of consarn about fortin, while I'm under your orders. With any other man, I should be nothing but a bloody hermit, instead of the dutiful son and affectionate uncle I am. But, what do you mean to perform next?"
"I have been thinking, Moses, our best step will be to shape our course for Hamburg, whither we are bound. This northerly wind can't last long at this season, and another south-wester would just serve our turn. In ten days, or a fortnight, we might make our haven."
"And then those French chaps that are attacking yonder kid of pork, as if it were a wild beast; the fellows never saw good solid food before!"
"Feed them well,—treat them well—and make them work. They would never think of troubling us; nor do I suppose they know anything of navigation. I see they smoke and chew; we will give 'em as much tobacco as their hearts can wish, or their mouths hold; and this will keep them in good humour."
"And John Bull?"
"Why, John is another sort of a person to deal with, certainly, I am not sure that a third English cruiser would molest us. We can keep our own secret concerning Sennit and his party; and we may not meet with another, after all. My plan is to run close in with the English coast, and show our colours boldly;—now, nine in ten of the British men-of-war will let us pass unquestioned, believing we are bound to London, unless they happen to have one of those pressing gentry, like Sennit, on board. I have often been told that ships which pass close in with the English coast, generally pass unquestioned; by the large craft, uniformly;—though they may have something to apprehend from the brigs and cutters. Your small-fry always give the most trouble, Moses."
"We have not found it so this v'y'ge, Miles. However, you're not only captain, but you're owner; and I leave you to paddle your own canoe. We must go somewhere; and I will not say your plan is not as good as any I can start, with thirty years more of experience."
We talked the matter over, canvassing it in all its bearings, until it was settled to adopt it.
The ship was steered large, until the French coast was entirely sunk; and then we trimmed her by the wind, heading up as near to our course as the breeze would permit. Nothing occurred in the course of the remainder of the day to produce either trouble or uneasiness, though my three Frenchmen came to certain explanations with me, that at first menaced a little difficulty. They refused to work; and I was compelled to tell them, I should put them on board the first English vessel of war we met. This had the desired effect; and, after an amicable discussion, I agreed to pay them high wages on our arrival in a friendly port: and they agreed to serve me as well as they knew how. Seven men were rather less than half a crew for a vessel of the Dawn's size, but it was possible to get along with that number. The steering was the hardest part of the duty—neither of the Frenchmen being able to take his trick at the helm. We got along with the necessary work, however; and so glad were we all to be rid of both English and French, that I hazard little in saying, we would have endured twice as much, cheerfully, could we be certain of meeting no more of their cruisers. Providence had ordered matters very differently.
That night the wind shifted again to the southward and westward. We braced in the yards, and brought the ship to her course; but I thought it best not to carry sail hard in the dark. Accordingly, I left orders to be called at sunrise, Marble having the watch at that hour. When I came on deck, in consequence of this summons, I found my mate examining the horizon with some earnestness, as if be were looking for strangers.
"We are a merry party this morning, Captain Wallingford," Marble cried out, as soon as he saw me. "I have found no less than six sail in sight, since the day dawned."
"I hope that neither is a lugger. I feel more afraid of this Polisson, just now, than of all the names in christendom. That fellow must be cruising in the chops of the channel, and we are working our way well in towards that part of the world."
"I hope so too, sir; but this chap, out here at north-west has a suspicious, lugger-like look. It may be that I see only the heads of his top-sails, but they are amazingly like luggs!"
I now took a survey of the ocean for myself. The vessel Marble distrusted, I unhesitatingly pronounced to be a lugger; quite as likely the Polisson as any other craft. The other four vessels were all ships, the five forming a complete circle, of which the Dawn was in the centre. The lugger, however, was some miles the nearest to us, while as to the strangers, if they saw each other across the diameter of the circle at all, it was as much as was possible. Under the circumstances, it struck me our wisest way was to keep steadily on our course, like honest people. Marble was of the same opinion, and to say the truth, there was little choice in the matter, the ship being so completely surrounded. The worst feature of the case was our position, which would be certain to draw all the cruisers to the centre, and consequently to ourselves.
Two hours produced a material change. All five of the strangers had closed in upon us, and we were now able to form tolerably accurate notions of their characters. The two astern, one on our larboard, and one on our starboard quarter, were clearly heavy vessels and consorts, though of what nation it was not yet so easy to decide. That they were consorts was apparent by their signalling one another, and by the manner in which they were closing; as they carried studding-sails, alow and aloft, they were coming up with us fast, and in all probability would be alongside in two or three hours more.
Two of the ships ahead struck me as frigates, having their broadsides exposed to us: we had raised one line of ports, but it was possible they might turn out to be two-deckers; ships of war they were, beyond all question, and I fancied them English from the squareness of their upper sails. They, too, were consorts, making signals to each other, and closing fast on opposite tacks. The lugger was no longer equivocal: it was the Polisson, and she was standing directly for us, though it was ticklish business, since the remaining ship, a corvette, as I fancied, was already in her wake, carrying sail hard, going like a witch, and only about two leagues astern.
Monsieur Gallois had so much confidence in his heels, that he stood on, regardless of his pursuer. I thought it best to put a bold face on the matter, knowing that sufficient time might be wasted to enable the sloop of war to get near enough to prevent the privateer from again manning us. My principal apprehension was, that he might carry us all off, in revenge for what had happened, and set fire to the ship. Against either of these steps, however, I should offer all the resistance in my power.
It was just ten o'clock when the Polisson ranged up abeam of us the second time, and we hove-to. It was evident the French recognised us, and the clamour that succeeded must have resembled that of Babel, when the people began first to converse without making themselves understood. Knowing we had no small boat, Monsieur Gallois lost no time, but lowering a yawl of his own, he came alongside of us in person. As I had commanded the three Frenchmen to remain below, he found no one on deck but Marble, Diogenes, Neb and myself.
"Parbleu, Monsieur Vallingfort!" exclaimed the privateersman, saluting me very civilly notwithstanding appearances—"c'est bien extraordinaire! Vat you do vid me men—eh! Put 'em in ze zea, comme avec le Anglais?"
I was spared the necessity of any explanation, by the sudden appearance of my own three prisoners, who disregarded my orders, and came rushing up to their proper commander, open-mouthed and filled with zeal to relate all that had passed. The whole three broke out at once, and a scene that was sufficiently ludicrous followed. It was a continued volley of words, exclamations, oaths, and compliments to the American character, so blended, as to render it out of the question that Mons. Gallois could understand them. The latter found himself obliged to appeal to me. I gave a very frank account of the whole affair, in English; a language that my captor understood much better than he spoke.
Mons. Gallois had the rapacity of a highwayman, but it was singularly blended with French politeness. He had not always been a privateersman—a calling that implies an undue love of gold; and he was quite capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, in matters in which his own pocket had no direct concern. As soon as he comprehended the affair, he began to laugh, and to cry "Bon!" I saw he was in a good humour, and not likely to resent what had happened; and I finished my history in somewhat sarcastic language, portraying Mons. Le Gros's complaisance in quitting the ship and in piloting her about the bay, a little drily, perhaps. There were sundry "sacr-r-r-es" and "betes" uttered the while; but all came out freely and without anger, as if Mons. Gallois thought a good joke the next thing to a good prize.
"Tenez, mon ami!" he cried, squeezing my hand, as he looked round at the corvette, now less than a league distant. "You are vat you Anglais call 'good fellow.' J'admire votre esprit! You have escape admirablement, and I shall have vifs regrets now to 'ave opportunite to cultiver votre connaissance. Mais, I most laafs,—mille pardons,—you ave non too moch peep's, mais c'est impossible d'abandonner mes compatriots. Allons, mes enfants; au canot."
This was the signal for the French to quit us; the three men I had shipped taking their departure without ceremony. Mons. Gallois was the last in the boat, of course; and he found time to squeeze my hand once more, and to renew his "vifs regrets" at not having more leisure to cultivate my acquaintance. The corvette was already so near, as to render it necessary for the Polisson to be in motion; another time, perhaps, we might be more fortunate.
In this manner did I part from a man who had not scrupled to seize me in distress, as he would a waif on a beach. By manning me, the prize-crew would have fallen into the hands of the enemy; and, making a merit of necessity, Mons. Gallois was disposed to be civil to those whom he could not rob. Odd as it may seem, I felt the influence of this manner, to a degree that almost reconciled me to the act before committed, although the last was just as profligate and illegal as any that could well be committed. Of so much more importance, with the majority of men, is manner than matter; a very limited few alone knowing how to give to the last its just ascendency.
The Polisson was not long in gathering way, after her boat was hoisted in. She passed, on the crest of a wave, so near, that it was easy to distinguish the expressions of her people's faces, few of which discovered the equanimity of that of their commander's; and to hear the incessant gabbling that was kept up on board her, day and night, from "morn 'till dewy eve." M. Gallois bowed complaisantly, and he smiled as amiably as if he never had put a hand in another man's pocket; but his glass was immediately turned towards the corvette, which now began to give him some little uneasiness. Manning us, indeed, with that fellow surging ahead at the rate he was, would have been quite out of the question.
Being reduced to our old number of four, I saw no use in working ourselves to death, by filling the top-sail, with the certainty the sloop-of-war would make us round-to again. The Dawn, therefore, remained stationary, wailing the issue with philosophical patience.
"There is no use, Moses, in endeavouring to escape," I remarked; "we are not strong-handed enough to get sail on the ship before the fellow will be up with us."
"Ay, and there goes his bunting, and a gun," answered the mate. "The white English ensign, a sign the chap is under some admiral, or vice, or rear of the white, while, if I mistake not, the two frigates show blue flags—if so, 'tis a sign they're not consorts."
The glass confirmed this, and we were left to suppose that all three Englishmen did not belong to the same squadron. At this moment, the state of the game was as follows:—The Dawn was lying-to, with her fore-course up, main-sail furled, main-top-sail aback, and top-gallant yards on the caps, jib and spanker both set. The Polisson was flying away on the crests of the seas, close-hauled, evidently disposed to make a lee behind the two frigates to windward, which we took for, and which it is probable she knew to be, French. The ships to leeward were passing; each other within hail; the one to the eastward tacking immediately after, and coming up in her consort's wake; both vessels carrying everything that would draw. The ships to the southward, or the supposed Frenchmen, might then have been two leagues from us, while those to leeward were three. As for the corvette, her course seemed to lie directly between our masts. On she came, with everything beautifully trimmed, the water spouting from her hawse-holes, as she rose from a plunge, and foaming under her bows, as if made of a cloud. Her distance from us was less than a mile.
It was now that the corvette made signals to the ships to windward. They were answered, but in a way to show the parties did not understand each other. She then tried her hand with the vessels to leeward, and, notwithstanding the distance, she succeeded better. I could see these two frigates, or rather the one that led, sending questions and answers to the corvette, although my best glass would hardly enable me to distinguish their ensigns. I presume that the corvette asked the names of the English vessels, communicated her own, and let the fact be known that the ships to windward were enemies.
A few minutes later, our affairs, as they were connected with the sloop-of-war, came to a crisis. This ship now came on, close under our lee, losing a little of her way in passing, an expedient probably thought of to give her a little more time to put her questions, and to receive the desired answers. I observed also, that she let go all her bow-lines, which seemed much to deaden her way, of which there still remained sufficient, notwithstanding, to carry her well clear of us. The following dialogue then passed, the Englishman asking the questions, of course, that being a privilege expressly appropriated to the public vessel on occasions of this sort:
"What ship's that?—and whither bound?"
"Dawn, of New York, Miles Wallingford, from home to Hamburg."
"Did not the lugger board you?"
"Ay—ay—for the second time, in three days."
"What is she called?—and what is her force?"
"Le Polisson, of Brest—sixteen light guns, and about a hundred men."
"Do you know anything of the ships to windward?"
"Nothing, at all; but I suppose them to be French."
"Pray, sir, why do you sup—um—um—ook—ook—"
The distance prevented my hearing more. Away went the sloop, steadying her bow-lines; the call piping belay, as each sail was trimmed to the officer of the deck's fancy. In a few more minutes, we could not distinguish even the shrill notes of that instrument. The corvette continued on in chase of the lugger, regardless of the four other vessels, though the two to windward now showed the tri-color, and fired guns of defiance.
Mons. Gallois soon after tacked, evidently disposed to stand for the frigates of his country; when the sloop-of-war immediately went round, also, heading up towards these very vessels, determined to cut off the lugger, even if it were to be done by venturing within range of the shot of her protectors. It was a bold manoeuvre, and deserved success, if it were only for its spirit and daring.
I thought, however, that the frigates of the tri-color paid very little attention to the lugger. By altering their course a trifle, it would have been in their power to cover her completely from the attempts of the corvette; but, instead of doing this, they rather deviated a little the other way, as if desirous of approaching the two ships to leeward, on the side that would prevent their being cut off from the land. As neither party seemed disposed to take any notice of us, we filled our top-sail, and stood out of the circle, under easy canvass, believing it bad policy to have an appearance of haste. Haste, however, was a thing out of our power, it requiring time for four men to make sail.
About eleven, or half-past eleven, the four frigates were distant from each other rather more than a league—the Dawn being just then half a league from the two Frenchmen, and rather more distant from the English. Had an action then commenced, we might have been a mile out of the line of fire. Curious to know the result, I stood on a short distance farther, and backed my top-sail, to await the issue. I was influenced to take this course, from an expectation that either party, after a conflict with an equal, would be less disposed to molest a neutral, and that I might possibly obtain assistance from the conqueror—few cruisers being found at that day, without having foreigners on board, that they would be willing to give to a vessel in distress. As for the account I meant to give to the party to whom I intended to apply, it would depend on circumstances. If the French remained on the spot, I could relate the affair with the prize-crew of the Speedy; if the English, that of the Polisson. In neither case would an untruth be told, though certain collateral facts might be, and probably would have been, suppressed.
The Frenchmen began to haul down their light sails, just as we hove-to. This was done in a lubberly and irregular manner, as if little concert or order prevailed on board them. Marble prowled out his remarks, deeming the whole proceeding a bad omen for the tri-color. It is certain that the French marine, in 1803, was not a service to boast of. The English used to say, that they seldom got a French ship without working for her; and this was probably true, as the nation is warlike, and little disposed to submit without an effort. Still, France, at that day, could hardly be said to be maritime; and the revolutions and changes she had undergone were not likely to favour the creation of a good corps of naval officers. Brave men were far more plenty than skilful seamen; and then came the gabbling propensity, one of the worst of all human failings, to assist in producing a disorderly ship.
It was a pretty sight to see those four ships strip for the fight; although the French canvass did not come down exactly according to rule. The English, however, were in no hurry; the two tri-color men being under their three top-sails, spankers, and jibs, with the top-gallant-sails clewed up, before John Bull reduced even a royal. The latter, it will be remembered, were to leeward, and had to close with their adversaries. In doing this, they made one stretch so far in our direction, in the hope of tacking in their enemies wakes, that I saw they would probably speak us. I confess this was more than I had bargained for; but it was now too late to run, which would probably have led to our seizure I determined, therefore, to await the result with dignity.
Just as the English ships were coming within musket-shot of the Dawn, the French,—then distant about a mile and a half to the eastward, and half a mile south of us,—wore ship, and came round with their heads to the westward—or, in our direction. As this was coming nearer, instead of moving from them, the Englishmen began to start their tacks and sheets, in order to be ready. Their six royals were all flying at the same instant, as were their flying-jibs; at the next, the canvass was rolled up, and out of sight. Then, the yards, themselves, came down, and all the light sails about the ships vanished as a bird shuts its wings. After this the courses were hauled up snug, but the sails were not handed. By this time, the leading ship of these two frigates was within a cable's-length of us, just luffing up sufficiently to give our weather-quarter the necessary berth.
"By George, Miles," Marble said, as he stood at my side, watching the movements of the stranger, "that second frigate is the Speedy! I know her by the billet, and the distance of her bridle-port from her head. You never saw such a space for anchors, before! Then, you may see she is a six-and-thirty, with white hammock-cloths. Who ever saw that twice, at sea?"
Marble was right! There came the Speedy, sure enough; and doubtless the eyes of Lord Harry Dermond and his officers would be on us, in a very few more minutes—the distance between the two frigates being less than two cable's-lengths. In the mean time, I had to attend to the headmost vessel.
"Can you tell me anything of the two ships to the southward of us?" demanded the stranger, through his trumpet, without any preamble.
"Nothing but what you see, sir. I suppose them to be French; and see that they are coming after you,"
"After us!" exclaimed the English captain, in a voice loud enough, and now near enough, to be heard without the aid of the trumpet. "After us, indeed! Ready about—helms a-lee—main-top-sail haul, there! Hawl, of all—"
These orders came out at brief intervals, and in a voice of thunder—producing prompt obedience. The consequence was, that this ship tacked directly on our weather-beam, and so near us that one might have thrown a biscuit aboard her. But she went round beautifully, scarce losing her way at all; and away she started again, looking her enemies directly in the face.
"Now's our time to fill, Miles, and draw ahead. The Speedy will think we've been spoken, and all's right. She must come here to tack into her consort's wake, and a blind man could not avoid reading our name—she would be so close. Man the lee-braces, and right the helm, Neb."
Fill we did; and what is more, we put our helm up so much, as to leave quite a cable's-length between us and the Speedy, when that ship got far enough ahead to tack, or at the point which we had just left. I believe we were recognised! Indeed, it is not easy to imagine otherwise; as the commonest glass would enable the dullest eyes to read our name, were other means of recognition wanting. But a sailor knows a ship by too many signs to be easily deceived.
The Speedy was in stays when we saw the proofs of our being known. Her head-yards were not swung, but there she lay, like one who lingers, uncertain whether to go or to remain. An officer was in her gangway, examining us with a glass; and when the ship fell off so much as to bring us out of the range of sight, he ran off and reappeared on the taffrail. This was the junior lieutenant; I could plainly recognise him with my own glass. Others soon joined him, and among them was Lord Harry Dermond, himself. I fancied they even knew me, and that all their glasses were levelled directly at my face. What a moment of intense uncertainty was that! The ships were not a quarter of a mile apart, though the Dawn was increasing that distance fast, and by paying broad off, the Speedy would have me under her broadside. Where was her prize crew I Not in the Dawn, or certainly Sennit would have communicated with his commander; and, if not in the ship, they must be in the ocean! Or, were they prisoners below and kept purposely out of sight? All these thoughts must have passed through the minds of the English officers.