I could not but admire the coolness and conduct of Marble even at that terrific moment! In the first place, he put the helm hard down, and lashed the wheel, the wisest thing that could be done by men in our situation. This he did by means of that nautical instinct, which enables a seaman to act, in the direst emergencies, almost without reflection, or, as one closes his eyes to avoid danger to the pupils. Then he gave one glance at the state of things in-board, running forward with the end of a rope to throw to Diogenes, should the cook rise near the ship. By the time he was satisfied the hope of doing anything in that way, was vain, I was on deck, and we two stood facing each other, in the midst of the scene of desolation and ruin that was around us. Marble caught my hand with a look that spoke as plainly as words. It told me the joy he felt at seeing I was spared, his determination to stick by me to the last; yet, how low were his hopes of ultimate preservation! It was such a look as any man would be glad to receive from a comrade in the heat of battle; nevertheless, it was not a look that promised victory.
The situation of the ship would now have been much better than it had been, in many respects, were it not for the wreck. All the masts forward had gone over the lee bow, and would have lain in a sufficiently favourable situation for a strong crew to get rid of them; but in our case we were compelled to let things take their course. It is true, we could cut away, and this we began to do pretty freely, but the lower-end of the foremast lay on the forecastle, where it was grinding everything near it to pieces, with the heaving and setting of the waves. All the bulwarks in. that part of the ship threatened soon to be beaten down, and I felt afraid the cat-head would be torn violently out of the ship, leaving a bad leak. Leaks enough there were, as it was. The launch, camboose, water-casks, and spare spars, in driving overboard, having forced out timber-heads, and other supports, in a way to split the plank sheer, which let in the water fast, every time the lee gunwale went under. I gave up my sugars and coffees from the first, bringing my hopes down as low as the saving of the ship, the instant I saw the state of the upper works.
Marble and I had not been educated in a school that is apt to despair. As for my mate, had he found himself on a plank in the middle of the Atlantic, I do believe he would have set about rigging a jury-mast, by splitting off a piece of the hull of his craft and spreading his shirt by way of sail. I never knew a more in-and-in-bred seaman, who, when one resource failed, invariably set about the next best visible expedient. We were at a loss, however, whether to make an effort to get rid of the foremast, or not. With the exception of the damages it did on the forecastle, it was of use to us, keeping the ship's bow up to the wind, and making better weather for us, on deck. The after-masts standing, while those forward were gone, had the effect to press the stern of the vessel to leeward, while this support in the water prevented her bows from falling off, and we rode much nearer to the wind, than is usual with a ship that is lying-to. It is true, the outer end of the fallen spars began to drive to leeward; and, acting as a long lever, they were gradually working the broken end of the foremast athwart the forecastle, ripping and tearing away everything on the gunwale, and threatening the foot of the main-stay. This made it desirable to be rid of the wreck, while on the other hand, there was the danger of the ship's bottom beating against the end of the mast, did the latter get overboard. Under all these circumstances, however, we determined to cut as much of the gear as possible, and let the fallen spars work themselves clear of us, if they could. Our job was by no means easy. It was difficult to stand, even, on the deck of the Dawn, in a time like that; and this difficulty was greatly increased forward, by having so little to hold on by. But work we did, and in a way that cleared most of the rigging from the ship, in the course of the next half hour. We were encouraged by the appearances of the weather too, the gale having broken, and promising to abate. The ship grew a little easier, I thought, and we moved about with more confidence of not being washed away by the seas that came on board us. After a time, we took some refreshments, eating the remains of a former meal, and cheered our hearts a little with a glass or two of good Sherry. Temperance may be very useful, but so is a glass of good wine, when properly used. Then we went at it, again, working with a will and with spirit. The wreck aft wanted very little to carry it over the side, and going aloft with an axe, I watched my opportunity, cut one or two of the shrouds and stays, just as the ship lurched heavily to leeward, and got rid of the whole in the sea handsomely, without further injury to the ship. This was a good deliverance, the manner in which the spars had threshed about, having menaced our lives, before. We now attacked the wreck forward, for the last time, feeling certain we should get it adrift, could we sever the connection formed by one or two of the larger ropes. The lee-shrouds, in particular, gave us trouble, it being impossible to get at them, in-board, the fore channels being half the time under water and the bulwarks in their wake being all gone. It was, in fact, impossible to stand there to work long enough to clear, or cut, all the lanyards. Marble was an adventurous fellow aloft, on all occasions; and seeing good footing about the top, without saying a word to me, he seized an axe, and literally ran out on the mast, where he began to cut the collars of the rigging at the mast-head. This was soon done; but the spars were no sooner clear, than, impelled by a wave that nearly drowned the mate, the end of the foremast slid off the forecastle into the sea, leaving the ship virtually clear of the wreck, but my mate adrift on the last; I say virtually clear, for the lee fore-top-sail-brace still remained fast to the ship, by some oversight in clearing away the smaller ropes. The effect of this restraint was to cause the whole body of the wreck to swing slowly round, until it rode by this rope, alone.
Here was a new and a most serious state of things! I knew that my mate would do all that man could perform, situated as he was, but what man could swim against such a sea, even the short distance that interposed between the, spars and the ship? The point of the wreck nearest the vessel, was the end of the top-sail-yard, to which the brace led, and this was raised from the water by the strain (the other end of the brace leading aloft), fathoms at a time, rendering it extremely difficult for Marble to reach the rope, by means of which I could now see, notwithstanding all the difficulties, he hoped to regain the vessel. The voice could be heard by one directly to leeward, the howling of the winds and the roar of the waters having materially lessened within the last few hours. I shouted to Marble, therefore, my intentions—
"Stand by to get the brace as I ease it off, in-board," I cried; "then you will be safe!"
The mate understood me, giving a gesture of assent with his arm. When both were ready, I eased off the rope suddenly, and Marble, partly by crawling, and partly by floating and dragging himself by the hands, actually got to the yard-arm, which was immediately raised from the water, however, by the drift made by the spars, while he was achieving his object. I trembled as I saw this stout seaman, the water dripping from his clothes, thus elevated in the air, with the angry billows rolling beneath him, like lions leaping upward to catch the adventurer in their grasp. Marble's hand was actually extended to reach the brace, when its block gave way with the strain. The eye of the strap slipping from the yard, down went the spar into the water. Next the trough of the sea hid everything from my sight, and I was left in the most painful doubt of the result, when I perceived the mate lashing himself to the top, as the portion of the wreck that floated the most buoyantly. He had managed to get in again, and coolly went to work to secure himself in the best berth he could find, the instant he regained the main mass of the wreck. As he rose on the crest of a sea, the poor fellow made a gesture of adieu to me; the leave-taking of the mariner!
In this manner did it please Divine Providence to separate us four, who had already gone through so much in company! With what moody melancholy did I watch the wreck, as it slowly drifted from the ship. I no longer thought of making further efforts to save the Dawn, and I can truly say, that scarce a thought in connection with my own life, crossed my mind. There I stood for quite an hour, leaning against the foot of the mizen-mast, with folded arms and riveted eyes, regardless of the pitches, and lurches, and rolling of the ship, with all my faculties and thoughts fastened on the form of Marble, expecting each time that the top rose to view to find it empty. He was too securely lashed, however, to strike adrift, though he was nearly half the time under water. It was impossible to do anything to save him. No boat was left; had there been one, it could not have lived, nor could I have managed it alone. Spars he had already, but what must become of him without food or water? I threw two breakers of the last into the sea, and a box of bread, in a sort of idle hope they might drift down near the wreck, and help to prolong the sufferer's life. They were all tossed about in the cauldron of the ocean, and disappeared to leeward, I knew not whither. When Marble was no longer visible from deck, I went into the main-top and watched the mass of spars and rigging, so long as any portion of it could be seen. Then I set it by compass, in order to know its bearing, and an hour before the sun went down, or as soon as the diminished power of the wind would permit, I showed an ensign aloft, as a signal that I bore my mate in mind.
"He knows I will not desert him as long as there is hope—so long as I have life!" I muttered to myself; and this thought was a relief to my mind, in that bitter moment.
Bitter moment, truly! Time has scarcely lessened the keenness of the sensations I endured, as memory traces the feelings and incidents of that day. From the hour when I sailed from home, Lucy's image was seldom absent from my imagination, ten minutes at a time; I thought of her, sleeping and waking; in all my troubles; the interest of the sea-fight I had seen could not prevent this recurrence of my ideas to their polar star, their powerful magnet; but I do not remember to have thought of Lucy, even, once after Marble was thus carried away from my side. Neb, too, with his patient servitude, his virtues, his faults, his dauntless courage, his unbounded devotion to myself, had taken a strong hold on my heart, and his loss had greatly troubled me, since the time it occurred. But I remember to have thought much of Lucy, even after Neb was swept away, though her image became temporarily lost to my mind, during the first few hours I was thus separated from Marble.
By the time the sun set, the wind had so far abated, and the sea had gone down so much, as to remove all further apprehensions from the gale. The ship lay-to easily, and I had no occasion to give myself any trouble on her account. Had there been light, I should now have put the helm up, and run to leeward, in the hope of finding the spars, and at least of keeping near Marble; but, fearful of passing him in the darkness, I deferred that duty until the morning. All I could do was to watch the weather, in order to make this effort, before the wind should shift.
What a night I passed! As soon as it was dark, I sounded the pumps, and found six feet water in the hold. It was idle for one man to attempt clearing a vessel of the Dawn's size; and I gave myself no further thought in the matter. So much injury had been done the upper works of the ship, that I had a sort of conviction she must go down, unless fallen in with by some other craft. I cannot say apprehension for my own fate troubled me any, or that I thought of the rum to my fortunes that was involved in the loss of the ship. My mind reverted constantly to my companions; could I have recovered them, I should have been happy, for a time, at least.
I slept two or three hours, towards morning, overcome will fatigue. When I awoke, it was in consequence of receiving the sun's rays in my face. Springing to my feet, I cast a confused and hurried glance around me. The wind was still at north-east, but it barely blew a good whole-sail breeze. The sea had gone down, to the regular roll of the ocean; and a finer day never shone upon the Atlantic. I hurried eagerly on deck, and gazed on the ocean to leeward, with longing eyes, to ascertain if anything could be seen of the wreck of our spars. Nothing was visible. From the main-top, I could command a pretty wide horizon; but the ocean lay a bright, glittering blank, the crests of its own waves excepted. I felt certain the Dawn was so weatherly, that the spars were to leeward; but the ship must have forged miles ahead, during the last twelve hours; and there was almost the equal certainty of her being a long distance to the southward of the floating hamper, her head having lain in that direction since the time she broached-to. To get her off before the wind, then, was my first concern, after which I could endeavour to force her to the northward, running the chance of falling in with the spars. Could I find my mate, we might still die together, which would hove been a melancholy consolation just then.
Father of all! In every age, In every clime, adored; By saint, by savage, or by sage— Jehovah! Jove! or Lord!
Feeling the necessity of possessing all my strength I ate a breakfast before I commenced work. It was with a heavy heart, and but little appetite, that I took this solitary meal; but I felt that its effects were good. When finished, I knelt on the deck, and prayed to God, fervently, asking his divine assistance in my extremity. Why should an old man, whose race is nearly run, hesitate to own, that in the pride of his youth and strength, he was made to feel how insufficient we all are for our wants? Yes, I prayed; and I hope in a fitting spirit, for I felt that this spiritual sustenance did me even more good than the material of which I had just before partaken. When I rose from my knees, it was with a sense of hope, that I endeavoured to suppress a little, as both unreasonable and dangerous. Perhaps the spirit of my sainted sister was permitted to look down on me, in that awful strait, and to offer up its own pure petitions in behalf of a brother she had so warmly loved. I began to feel myself less alone, and the work advanced the better from this mysterious sort of consciousness of the presence of the souls of those who had felt an interest in me, while in the body.
My first measure was to lead the jib-stay, which had parted near the head of its own mast, to the head of the main-mast. This I did by bending on a piece of another rope. I then got up the halyards, and loosened and set the jib; a job that consumed quite two hours. Of course, this sail did not set very well, but it was the only mode I had of getting forward canvass on the ship at all. As soon as the jib was set, in this imperfect manner, I put the helm up, and got the ship before the wind. I then hauled out the spanker, and gave it sheet. By these means, aided by the action of the breeze on the hull and spars, I succeeded in getting something like three knots' way on the ship, keeping off a little northerly, in which direction I felt sensible it was necessary to proceed in quest of the spars. I estimated the drift of the wreck at a knot an hour, including the good and moderate weather; and, allowing for that of the ship itself, I supposed it must be, by that time, some twelve miles to leeward of me. These twelve miles I managed to run by noon, when I hauled up sufficiently to bring the wind abeam, heading northwardly. As the ship would now steer herself, that is as small as it was necessary for me to go, I collected some food, took a glass, and went up into the main-top, to dine, and to examine the ocean.
The anxious, anxious hours I passed in that top! Not an object of any sort appeared on the surface of the wide ocean. It seemed as if the birds and the fishes had abandoned me to my loneliness. I watched and examined the surrounding sea, until my hands were tired with holding the glass, and my eyes became weary with their office. Fortunately, the breeze stood, though the sea went down fast; giving me every opportunity I could desire of effecting my object. The ship yawed about a good deal, it is true; but, on the whole, she made a very tolerable course. I could see by the water that she had a motion of about two knots, for most of the time; though, as the day advanced, the wind began to fall, and her rate of going diminished quite one half.
At length, after passing hours aloft, I went below, to look after things there. On sounding the pumps, I found ten feet water in the hold; though the upper works were now not at all submerged, and the motion of the vessel was very easy. That the Dawn was gradually sinking under me, was a fact too evident to be denied; and all the concerns of thir life began to narrow into a circle of some four-and-twenty hours. That time the ship would probably float,—possibly a little longer, should the weather continue moderate. The wind was decreasing still, and, thinking I might have a tranquil night, I determined to pass that time in preparing for the last great change. I had no will to make—little to leave, indeed, after my vessel was gone: for the debt due to John Wallingford would go far towards absorbing all my property. When his $40,000 were paid, under a forced sale, little, indeed, would be the residue.
The state of things would have been somewhat different, under a fair sale, perhaps; but a forced sale would probably sweep away everything. It is true my creditor was my heir; for, a legacy to Lucy and a few bequests to my slaves excepted, I had fairly bequeathed all I owned to my cousin. As for the blacks themselves, under the new policy of New York, they would soon be free; and I had no other interest in their fate than that of habit and affection.
But why speak of property, in the situation in which I was placed? Had I owned the whole of Ulster county, my wishes, or any new will I might make, must die with me. The ocean would soon engulf the whole. Had I no desire to make an effort to save myself, or at least to prolong my existence, by means of a raft?—of boat, there was none in the ship. The English had the yawl, and the launch had been driven away. The spare spars were swept overboard, as well as all the water-casks that had been lashed on deck. I might have done something with the hatches, and mizen-top-mast, possibly, could I have gotten the last into the water; but the expedient was so desperate, it did not hold out any hopes to be encouraged. Even the handspikes had gone in the launch, and two of the buoys had been left with the anchors, on the Irish coast. Under all the circumstances, it appeared to me, that it would be more manly and resigned, to meet my fate at once, than to attempt any such feeble projects to prolong existence for a few hours. I came to the resolution, therefore, to go down in my ship.
What was there to make life particularly dear to me?—My home, my much-beloved Clawbonny, must go, at all events; and I will own that a feeling of bitter distrust crossed my mind, as I thought of these things, and that I began to fancy John Wallingford might have urged me to borrow his money, expressly to obtain a chance of seizing an estate that was so much prized by every Wallingford. I suppressed this feeling, however; and in a clear voice I asked my cousin's pardon, the same as if he had been within hearing. Of Lucy, I had no longer any hope;—Grace was already in heaven; and the world contained few that cared for me. After Mr. Hardinge, Lucy always excepted I now loved Marble and Neb the most; and these two were probably both dead, or doomed, like myself. We must all yield up our lives once; and, though my hour came rather early, it should be met as a man meets everything, even to death itself.
Some time before the sun set, I went aloft to take a last look at the ocean. I do not think any desire to prolong my existence carried me up the mast, but there was a lingering wish to look after my mate. The ocean beamed gloriously that eventide, and I fancied that it was faintly reflecting the gracious countenance of its divine Creator, in a smile of beneficent love. I felt my heart soften, as I gazed around me, and I fancied heavenly music was singing the praises of God, on the face of the great deep. Then I knelt in the top, and prayed.
Rising, I looked at the ocean, as I supposed, for the last time. Not a sail was anywhere to be seen. I cannot say that I felt disappointed;—I did not expect relief from that quarter. My object was, to find my mate, that we might die together. Slowly I raised the glass, and the horizon was swept with deliberation. Nothing appeared. I had shut the glass, and was about to sling it, when my eye caught the appearance of something floating on the surface of the ocean, within a mile of the ship; well to leeward, and ahead. I had overlooked it, in consequence of ranging above it with the glass, in the desire to sweep the horizon. I could not be mistaken: it was the wreck. In a moment the glass was levelled, and I assured myself of the fact. The top was plainly visible, floating quite high above the surface, and portions of the yards and masts were occasionally seen, as the undulations of the ocean left them bare. I saw an object, lying motionless across the top-rim, which I supposed to be Marble. He was either dead or asleep.
What a revulsion of feeling came over me at this sight! A minute before, and I was completely isolated; cut off from the rest of my species, and resigned to a fate that seemed to command my quitting this state of being, without further communion with mankind. Everything was changed. Here was the companion of so many former dangers, the man who had taught me my profession, one that I can truly say I loved, quite near me, and possibly dying for the want of that aid which I might render! I was on deck in the twinkling of an eye; the sheets were eased off, and the helm put up. Obedient to my wishes, the ship fell off, and I soon got a glimpse, from the spot where I stood, at the wheel, of the wreck a little clear of the weather cat-head. By this time, the wind was so light, and the ship had got to be so deep in the water, that the motion of the last was very slow. Even with the helm up, it scarce equalled half a knot; I began to fear I should not be able to reach my goal, after all!
There were, now, intervals of dead calm; then the air would return in little puffs, urging the great mass heavily onward. I whistled, I prayed, I called aloud for wind; in short, I adopted all the expedients known, from that of the most vulgar nautical superstition, up to profound petitions to the Father of Mercies. I presume all this brought no change, though the passage of time did. About half an hour before the sun dipped into the ocean, the ship was within a hundred yards of the wreck. This I could ascertain by stolen glances, for the direction I was now compelled to steer, placed the forward part of the ship between me and my object, and I did not dare quit the wheel to go forward, lest I should miss it altogether. I had prepared a grapnel, by placing a small kedge in the lee-waist, with a hawser bent, and, could I come within a few feet of the floating hamper, I felt confident of being able to hook into something. It appeared to me, now, as if the ship absolutely refused to move. Go ahead she did, notwithstanding, though it was only her own length in five or six minutes. My hasty glances told me that two more of these lengths would effect my purpose. I scarce breathed, lest the vessel should not be steered with sufficient accuracy. It was strange to me that Marble did not hail, and, fancying him asleep, I shouted with all my energy, in order to arouse him. 'What a joyful sound that will be in his ears,' I thought to myself, though to me, my own voice seemed unearthly and alarming. No answer came. Then I felt a slight shock, as if the cut-water had hit something, and a low scraping sound against the copper announced that the ship had hit the wreck. Quitting the wheel, I sprang into the waist, raising the kedge in my arms. Then came the upper spars wheeling strongly round, under the pressure of the vessel's bottom against the extremity of the lower mast. I saw nothing but the great maze of hamper and wreck, and could scarcely breathe in the anxiety not to miss my aim. There was much reason to fear the whole mass would float off, leaving me no chance of throwing the kedge, for the smaller masts no longer inclined in, and I could see that the ship and wreck were slowly separating. A low thump on the bottom, directly beneath me, drew my head over the side, and I found the fore-yard, as it might be, a cock-bill, with one end actually scraping along the ship's bottom. It was the only chance I had, or was likely to have, and I threw the kedge athwart it. Luckily, the hawser as it tautened, brought a fluke directly under the yard, within the Flemish horse, the brace-block, and all the other ropes that are fitted to a lower yard-arm. So slow was the motion of the ship, that my grapnel held, and the entire body of the wreck began to yield to the pressure. I now jumped to the jib-halyards and down-haul, getting that sail reduced; then I half-brailed the spanker; this was done lest my hold on the yard should give way.
I can say, that up to this instant, I had not even looked for Marble. So intense had been my apprehensions of missing the wreck, that I thought of nothing else, could see nothing else. Satisfied, however, that my fast would hold, I ran forward to look down on the top, that the strain of the hawser had brought directly under the very bow, over which it had fallen. It was empty! The object I had mistaken for Marble, dead or asleep, was a part of the bunt of the main-top-sail, that had been hauled down over the top-rim, and secured there, either to form a sort of shelter against the breaking seas, or a bed. Whatever may have been the intention of this nest, it no longer had an occupant. Marble had probably been washed away, in one of his adventurous efforts to make himself more secure or more comfortable.
The disappointment that came over me, as I ascertained this fact, was scarcely less painful than the anguish I had felt when I first saw my mate carried off into the ocean There would have been a melancholy satisfaction in finding his body, that we might have gone to the bottom together, at least, and thus have slept in a common grave, in the depths of that ocean over which we had sailed so many thousands of leagues in company. I went and threw myself on the deck, regardless of my own fate, and wept in very bitterness of heart. I had arranged a mattress on the quarter-deck, and it was on that I now threw myself. Fatigue overcame me, in the end, and I fell into a deep sleep. As my recollection left me, my last thought was that I should go down with the ship, as I lay there. So complete was the triumph of nature, that I did not even dream. I do not remember ever to have enjoyed more profound and refreshing slumbers; slumbers that continued until returning light awoke me. To that night's rest I am probably indebted, under God, for having the means of relating these adventures.
It is scarcely necessary to say that the night had been tranquil; otherwise, a seaman's ears would have given him the alarm. When I arose, I found the ocean glittering like a mirror, with no other motion than that which has so often been likened to the slumbering respiration of some huge animal. The wreck was thumping against the ship's bottom, announcing its presence, before I left the mattress. Of wind there was literally not a breath. Once in a while, the ship would seem to come up to breathe, as a heavy groundswell rolled along her sides, and the wash of the element told the circumstance of such a visit; else, all was as still as the ocean in its infancy. I knelt, again, and prayed to that dread Being, with whom, it now appeared to me, I stood alone, in the centre of the universe.
Down to the moment when I arose from my knees, the thought of making an effort to save myself, or to try to prolong existence a few hours, by means of the wreck, did not occur to me. But, when I came to look about me, to note the tranquil condition of the ocean, and to heed the chances, small as they were, that offered, the love of life was renewed within me, and I seriously set about the measures necessary to such an end.
The first step was to sound the pumps, anew. The water had not gained in the night as rapidly as it had gained throughout the preceding day. But it had gained; there being three feet more of it than when I last sounded—the infallible evidence of the existence of a leak that no means of mine could stop. It was, then, hopeless to think of saving the ship. She had settled in the water, already, so as to bring the lower bolts of both fore and main channels awash; and I supposed she might float for four-and-twenty hours longer, unless an injury that I had discovered under the larboard cat-head, and which had been received from the wreck, should sooner get under water. It appeared to me that a butt had been started there: such a leak would certainly hasten the fate of the vessel by some hours, should it come fairly into the account.
Having made this calculation as to the time I had to do it in, I set seriously about the job of making provisions with my raft. In one or two particulars, I could not much improve the latter; for, the yards lying underneath the masts, it rendered the last as buoyant as was desirable in moderate weather. It struck me, however, that by getting the top-gallant and royal masts, with their yards, in, around the top, I might rig a staging, with the aid of the hatches, that would not only keep me entirely out of water, in mild weather, but which would contain all one man could consume, in the way of victuals and drink, for a month to come. To this object, then, I next gave my attention.
I had no great difficulty in getting the spars I have mentioned, loose, and in hauling them alongside of the top. It was a job that required time, rather than strength; for my movements were greatly facilitated by the presence of the top-mast rigging, which remained in its place, almost as taut as when upright. The other rigging I cut, and having got out the fids of the two masts, one at a time, I pushed the spars through their respective caps with a foot. Of course, I was obliged to get into the water to work; but I had thrown aside most of my clothes for the occasion, and the weather being warm, I felt greatly refreshed with my bath. In two hours' time, I had my top-gallant-mast and yard well secured to the top-rim and the caps, having sawed them in pieces for the purpose. The fastenings were both spikes and lashings, the carpenter's stores furnishing plenty of the former, as well as all sorts of tools.
This part of the arrangement completed, I ate a hearty breakfast, when I began to secure the hatches, as a sort of floor, on my primitive joists. This was not difficult, the hatches being long, and the rings enabling me to lash them, as well as to spike them. Long before the sun had reached the meridian, I had a stout little platform, that was quite eighteen inches above the water, and which was surrounded by a species of low ridge-ropes, so placed as to keep articles from readily tumbling off it. The next measure was to cut all the sails from the yards, and to cut loose all the rigging and iron that did not serve to keep the wreck together. The reader can easily imagine how much more buoyancy I obtained by these expedients. The fore-sail alone weighed much more than I did myself, with all the stores I might have occasion to put on my platform. As for the fore-top-sail, there was little of it left, the canvass having mostly blown from the yard, before the mast went.
My raft was completed by the time I felt the want of dinner; and a very good raft it was. The platform was about ten feet square, and it now floated quite two feet clear of the water. This was not much for a sea; but, after the late violent gale, I had some reason to expect a continuation of comparatively good weather. I should not have been a true seaman not to have bethought me of a mast and a sail. I saved the fore-royal-mast, and the yard, with its canvass, for such a purpose; determining to rig them when I had nothing else to do. I then ate my dinner, which consisted of the remnants of the old cold meat and fowls I could find among the cabin eatables.
This meal taken, the duty that came next was to provision my raft. It took but little time or labour. The cabin stores were quite accessible; and a bag of pilot-bread, another of that peculiarly American invention, called crackers—some smoked beef, a case of liquors, and two breakers of water, formed my principal stock. To this I added a pot of butter, with some capital smoked herrings, and some anchovies. We lived well in the cabin of the Dawn, and there was no difficulty in making all the provision that six or eight men would have needed for a month. Perceiving that the raft, now it was relieved from the weight of the sails and rigging, was not much affected by the stores, I began to look about me in quest of anything valuable I might wish to save. The preparations I had been making created a sort of confidence in their success; a confidence (hope might be the better word) that was as natural, perhaps, as it was unreasonable. I examined the different objects that offered, with a critical comparison of their value and future usefulness, that would have been absurd, had it not afforded a melancholy proof of the tenacity of our desires in matters of this nature. It is certainly a sad thing to abandon a ship, at sea, with all her appliances, and with a knowledge of the gold that she cost. The Dawn, with her cargo, must have stood me in eighty thousand dollars, or even more; and here was I about to quit her, out on the ocean, with an almost moral certainty that not a cent of the money could be, or would be, recovered from the insurers. These last only took risks against the accidents of the ocean, fire included; and there was a legal obligation on the insured to see that the vessel was properly found and manned. It was my own opinion that no accident would have occurred to the ship, in the late gale, had the full crew been on board; and that the ship was not sufficiently manned was, in a legal sense my own fault. I was bound to let the English carry her into port, and to await judgment,—the law supposing that justice would have been done in the premises. The law might have been greatly mistaken in this respect; but potentates never acknowledge their blunders. If I was wronged in the detention, the law presumed suitable damages. It is true, I might be ruined by the delay, through the debts left behind me; but the law, with all its purity, cared nothing for that. Could I have shown a loss by means of a falling market, I might have obtained redress, provided the court chose to award it, and provided the party did not appeal; or, if he did, that the subsequent decisions supported the first; and provided,—all the decrees being in my favour,—my Lord Harry Dermond could have paid a few thousands in damages:—a problem to be solved, in itself.
I always carried to sea with me a handsome chest, that I had bought in one of my earlier voyages, and which usually contained my money, clothes and other valuables. This chest I managed to get on deck, by the aid of a purchase, and over the ship's side, on the raft. It was much the most troublesome task I had undertaken. To this I added my writing-desk, a mattress, two or three counterpanes, and a few other light articles, which it struck me might be of use—but, which I could cast into the sea at any moment, should it become necessary. When all this was done, I conceived that my useful preparations were closed.
It was near night, and I felt sufficiently fatigued to lie down and sleep. The water had gained very slowly during the last few hours, but the ship was now swimming so low, that I thought it unsafe to remain in the vessel, while asleep. I determined, therefore, to take my leave of her, and go on the raft for that purpose. It struck me too, it might be unsafe to be too near the vessel when she went down, and I had barely time to get the spars a short distance from the ship, before darkness would come. Still, I was unwilling to abandon the Dawn altogether, since the spars that stood on board her, would always be a more available signal to any passing vessel, than the low sail I could set on the raft. Should she float during the succeeding day, they would increase the chances of a rescue, and they offered an advantage not to be lightly thrown away.
To force the spars away from the ship was not an easy task of itself. There is an attraction in matter, that is known to bring vessels nearer together in calms, and I had this principle of nature first to overcome; then to neutralize it, without the adequate means for doing either. Still I was very strong, and possessed all the resources of a seaman. The raft, too, now its length was reduced, was much more manageable than it had been originally, and in rummaging about the twixt-decks, I had found a set of oars belonging to the launch, which had been stowed in the steerage, and which of course were preserved. These I had taken to the raft, to strengthen my staging, or deck, and two of them had been reserved for the very purpose to which they were now applied.
Cutting away the kedge, then, and casting off the other ropes I had used with which to breast-to the raft, I began to shove off, just as the sun was dipping. So long as I could pull by the ship, I did very well, for I adopted the expedient of hauling astern, instead of pushing broad off, under the notion that I might get a better drift, if quite from under the lee of the vessel, than if lying on her broadside. I say the 'lee,' though there wasn't a breath of air, nor scarcely any motion of the water. I had a line fast to a stern-davit, and placing myself with my feet braced against the chest, I soon overcame the vis inertia of the spars, and, exerting all my force, when it was once in motion, I succeeded in giving the raft an impetus that carried it completely past the ship. I confess I felt no personal apprehension from the suction, supposing the ship to sink while the raft was in absolute contact with it, but the agitation of the water might weaken its parts, or it might wash most of my stores away. This last consideration induced me, now, to go to work with the oars, and try to do all I could, by that mode of propelling my dull craft. I worked hard just one hour, by my watch; at the expiration of that time, the nearest end of the raft, or the lower part of the foremast, was about a hundred yards from the Dawn's taffrail. This was a slow movement, and did not fail to satisfy me, that, if I were to be saved at all, it would be by means of some passing vessel, and not by my own progress.
Overcome by fatigue, I now lay down and slept. I took no precautions against the wind's rising in the night; firstly, because I thought it impossible from the tranquil aspects of the heavens and the ocean; and secondly, because I felt no doubt that the wash of the water and the sound of the winds would arouse me, should it occur differently. As on the previous night, I slept sweetly, and obtained renewed strength for any future trials. As on the preceding morning, too, I was awaked by the warm rays of the rising sun falling on my face. On first awaking, I did not know exactly where I was. A moment's reflection, however, sufficed to recall the past to my mind, and I turned to examine my actual situation.
I looked for the ship, towards the end of the mast, or in the direction where I had last seen her; but she was not visible. The raft had swung round in the night, I thought, and I bent my eyes slowly round the entire circle of the horizon, but no ship was to be seen. The Dawn had sunk in the night, and so quietly as to give no alarm! I shuddered, for I could not but imagine what would have been my fate, had I been aroused from the sleep of the living, only to experience the last agony as I passed away into the sleep of the dead. I cannot describe the sensation that came over me, as I gazed around, and found myself on the broad ocean, floating on a little deck that was only ten feet square, and which was raised less than two feet above the surface of the waters. It was now that I felt the true frailty of my position, and comprehended all its dangers. Before, it had been shaded by the ship, as it might be, and I had found a species of protection in her presence. But, the whole truth now stood before me. Even a moderate breeze would raise a sea that could not fail to break over the staging, and which must sweep everything away. The spars had a specific lightness, it is true, and they would never sink; or, if they did sink, it would only be at the end of ages, when saturated with water and covered with barnacles; but, on the other hand, they possessed none of the buoyancy of a vessel, and could riot rise above the rolling waters, sufficiently to clear their breakers.
These were not comfortable reflections; they pressed on my mind even while engaged at my morning devotions. After performing, in the best manner I could, this never-ceasing duty, I ate a little, though I must admit it was with a small appetite. Then I made the best stowage I could of my effects, and rigged and stepped the mast, hoisting the sail, as a signal to any vessel that might appear. I expected wind ere long; nor was I disappointed; a moderate breeze springing up from the north-west, about nine o'clock. This air was an immense relief to me, in more ways than one. It cooled my person, which was suffering from the intense heat of a summer's sun beating directly on a boundless expanse of water, and it varied a scene that otherwise possessed an oppressively wearisome sameness. Unfortunately this breeze met me in the bows; for I had stepped my mast in the foremast, lashed it against the bottom of the top, which it will be remembered was now perpendicular, and stayed it to the mast-heads and dead-eyes of the top-mast rigging, all of which remained as when erect, though now floating on the water. I intended the fractured part of the foremast for my cut-water, and, of course, had to ware ship before I could gather any way. This single manoeuvre occupied a quarter of an hour, my braces, tacks, and sheets not working particularly well. At the end of that time, however, I got round, and laid my yard square.
"There was speech in their dumbness, language in their very gesture; they looked, as they had heard of a world ransomed, or one destroyed: A notable passion of wonder appeared in them; but the wisest beholder, that knew no more but seeing, could not say, if the importance were joy, or sorrow;—but in the extremity of the one, it must needs be."
As soon as the raft got fairly before the wind, and the breeze had freshened, I had an opportunity of ascertaining what it would do. The royal was a large one, and it stood well. I had brought a log-line and the slow-glass with me, as well as my quadrant, slate, &c., and began to think of keeping a reckoning. I had supposed the ship to be, when it fell calm, about two hundred miles from the land, and I knew her to be in latitude 48 deg. 37''. The log-line told me, the raft moved through the water, all that forenoon, at the rate of about half a knot in the hour; and could I keep on for fifteen or sixteen days, in a straight course, I might yet hope to get ashore. I was not so weak, however, as to expect any such miracle to be wrought in my favour, though, had I been in the trades, the thing might have occurred. By cutting adrift the two yards, or by getting them fore and aft, in a line with the water, my rate of sailing might be doubled; and I began seriously to think of effecting this great change. Cut the yards adrift I did not like to do, their support in keeping me out of water being very important. By hauling on the lift, I did get them in a more oblique position, and in a measure thus lessened their resistance to the element. I thought that even this improvement made a difference of half a knot in my movement. Nevertheless, it was tedious work to be a whole hour in going less than a single mile, when two hundred remained to be travelled, and the risks of the ocean were thus constantly impending over one!
What a day was that! It blew pretty fresh at one time, and I began to tremble for my staging, or deck, which got washed several times, though the top-sail-yard made for it a sort of lee, and helped to protect it. Towards the decline of the day, the wind went down, and at sunset everything was as tranquil as it had been the previous evening. I thought I might have been eight or nine miles from the spot where the Dawn went down, without computing the influence of the currents, which may have set me all that distance back again, or so much further ahead, for anything I knew of the matter. At sunset I took an anxious survey of the horizon, to see if any sail were in sight; but nothing was visible.
Another tranquil night gave me another tranquil night's rest. I call the last tranquil, as it proved to be in one sense, though I was sorely troubled with dreams. Had I been suffering for nourishment, I certainly should have dreamed of food; but, such not being the case, my thoughts took the direction of home and friends. Much of the time, I lay half asleep and half awake; then my mind would revert to my sister, to Lucy, to Mr. Hardinge, and to Clawbonny—which I fancied already in the possession of John Wallingford, who was triumphing in his ownership, and the success of his arts. Then I thought Lucy had purchased the place, and was living there with Andrew Drewett, in a handsome new house, built in the modern taste. By modern taste, I do not mean one of the Grecian-temple school, as I do no think that even all the vagaries of a diseased imagination that was suffering under the calamities of shipwreck, could induce me to imagine Lucy Hardinge silly enough to desire to live in such a structure.
Towards morning, I fell into a doze, the fourth or fifth renewal of my slumbers that night; and I remember that I had that sort of curious sensation which apprises us itself, it was a dream. In the course of the events that passed through my mind, I fancied I overheard Marble and Neb conversing. Their voices were low, and solemn, as I thought; and the words so distinct, that I still remember every syllable.
"No, Neb," said Marble, or seemed to say, in a most sorrowful tone, one I had never heard him use even in speaking of his hermitage. "There is little hope for Miles, now. I felt as if the poor boy was lost when I saw him swept away from me, by them bloody spars striking adrift, and set him down as one gone from that moment. You've lost an A. No. 1. master, Mister Neb, I can tell you, and you may sarve a hundred before you fall in with his like ag'in."
"I nebber sarve anoder gentleum; Misser Marble," returned the black; "dat as sartain as gospel. I born in 'e Wallingford family, and I lib an' die in 'e same family, or I don't want to lib and die, at all. My real name be Wallingford, dough folk do call me Clawbonny."
"Ay, and a slim family it's got to be!" rejoined the mate. "The nicest, and the handsomest, and the most virtuous young woman in all York State, is gone out of it, first: I knew but little of her; but, how often did poor Miles tell me all about her; and how he loved her, and how she loved him, and the like of all that, as is becoming; and something in the way that I love little Kitty, my niece you know, Neb, only a thousand times more; and hearing so much of a person is all the same, or even better than to know them up and down, if a body wants to feel respect with all his heart. Secondly, as a person would say, now there's Miles, lost too, for the ship is sartainly gone down, Neb: otherwise, she would have been seen floating hereabouts, and we may log him as a man lost overboard."
"P'rhaps not, Misser Marble," said the negro. "Masser Mile swim like a fish, and he isn't the gentleum to give up as soon as trouble come. P'rhaps he swimming about all dis time."
"Miles could do all that man could do, Neb, but he can't swim two hundred miles—a South sea-man might do something like that, I do suppose, but they're onaccountably web-footed. No, no, Neb; I fear we shall have to give him up. Providence swept him away from us, like, and we've lost him. Ah's me!—well, I loved that boy better, even, than a Yankee loves cucumbers."
This may be thought an odd comparison to cross a drowsy imagination, but it was one Marble often made; and if eating the fruit, morning, noon and night, will vindicate its justice, the mate stood exonerated from everything like exaggeration.
"Ebbry body lub Masser Mile," said the warm-hearted Neb, or I thought he so said. "I nebber see dat we can go home to good old Masser Hardinge, and tell him how we lose Masser Mile!"
"It will be a hard job, Neb, but I greatly fear it must be done. However, we will now turn in and try to catch a nap, for the wind will be rising one of these times, and then we shall have need of keeping our eyes wide open."
After this I heard no more; but every word of that which I have related, sounded as plainly in my ears as if the speakers were within fifty feet of me. I lay in the same state, some time longer, endeavouring, as I was curious myself, of catching, or fancying, more words from those I loved so well; but no more came. Then I believe I fell into a deeper sleep, for I remember no more, for hours.
At dawn I awoke, the care on my mind answering for a call. This time, I did not wait for the sun to shine in my eyes, but, of the two, I rather preceded, than awaited the return of the light. On standing erect, I found the sea as tranquil as it had been the previous night, and there was an entire calm. It was still so dusky that a little examination was necessary to be certain nothing was near. The horizon was scarcely clear, though, making my first look towards the east, objects were plainest in that quarter of the ocean. I then turned slowly round, examining the vast expanse of water as I did so; until my back was towards the approaching light, and I faced the west. I thought I saw a boat within ten yards of me! At first, I took it for illusion, and rubbed my eyes to make sure that I was awake. There it was, however, and another look satisfied me it was my own launch, or that in which poor Neb had been carried overboard. What was more, it was floating in the proper manner, appeared buoyant, and had two masts rigged. It is true, that it looked dusky, as objects appear just at dawn, but it was sufficiently distinct. I could not be mistaken; it was my own launch thus thrown within my reach by the mercy of divine Providence!
This boat, then, had survived the gale, and the winds and currents had brought it and the raft together. What had become of Neb? He must have rigged the masts, for none were stepped, of course, when the boat was in the chocks. Masts, and sails, and oars were always kept in the boat, it is true; but the first could not be stepped without hands. A strange, wild feeling came over me, as a man might be supposed to yield to the appearance of supernatural agencies and, almost without intending it, I shouted "boat ahoy!"
"Yo hoy!" answered Marble;—"who hails?"
The form of the mate appeared rising in the boat; at the next instant, Neb stood at his side. The conversation of the previous night had been real, and those whom I had mourned as lost stood within thirty feet of me, hale, hearty, and unharmed. The boat and raft had approached each other in the darkness; and, as I afterwards learned, the launch having fanned along for several hours of the night, stopped for want of wind nearly where I now saw her, and where the dialogue, part of which I overheard while half asleep, had taken place. Had the launch continued on its course only ten yards further, it would have hit the fore-top-mast. That attraction of which I have already spoken, probably kept the boat and raft near each other throughout the night, and quite likely had been slowly drawing them together while we slept.
It would not be easy to say which party was the most astonished at this recognition. There was Marble, whom I had supposed washed off the raft, safe in the launch; and here was I, whom the other two had thought to have gone down in the ship, safe on the raft! We appeared to have changed places, without concert and without expectation of ever again meeting. Though ignorant of the means through which all this had been brought about, I very well know what we did, as soon as each man was certain that he saw the other standing before him in the flesh. We sat down and wept like three children. Then Neb, too impatient to wait for Marble's movements, threw himself into the sea, and swam to the raft. When he got on the staging, the honest fellow kissed my hands, again and again, blubbering the whole time like a girl of three or four years of age. This scene was interrupted only by the expostulations and proceedings of the mate.
"What's this you're doing, you bloody nigger!" cried Marble. "Desarting your station, and leaving me here, alone, to manage this heavy launch, by myself. It might be the means of losing all hands of us again, should a hurricane spring up suddenly, and wreck us over again."
The truth was, Marble began to be ashamed of the weakness he had betrayed, and was ready to set upon anything, in order to conceal it. Neb put an end to this sally, however, by plunging again into the water, and swimming back to the boat, as readily as he had come to the raft.
"Ay, here you are, Neb, nigger-like, and not knowing whether to stay or to go," growled the mate, busy the whole time in shipping two oars. "You put me in mind of a great singer I once heard in Liverpool; a chap that would keep shaking and quavering at the end of a varse, in such a style that he sometimes did not know whether to let go or to hold on. It is onbecoming in men to forget themselves, Neb; if we have found him we thought to be lost, it is no reason for desarting our stations, or losing our wits—Miles, my dear boy," springing on the raft, and sending Neb adrift again, all alone, by the backward impetus of the leap—"Miles, my dear boy, God be praised for this!" squeezing both my hands as in a vice—"I don't know how it is—but ever since I 've fallen in with my mother and little Kitty, I've got to be womanish. I suppose it's what you call domestic affection."
Here, Marble gave in once more, blubbering just as hard as Neb, himself, had done.
A few minutes later, all three began to know what we were about. The launch was hauled up alongside of the stage, and we sat on the latter, relating the manner in which each of us had been saved. First, then, as to Neb: I have already told the mode in which the launch was swept overboard, and I inferred its loss from the violence of the tempest, and the height of the seas that were raging around us. It is true, neither Marble, nor I, saw anything of the launch after it sunk behind the first hill of water to leeward, for we had too much to attend to on board the ship, to have leisure to look about us. But, it seems the black was enabled to maintain the boat, the right side up, and, by bailing, to keep her afloat. He drove to leeward, of course, and the poor fellow described in vivid terms his sensations, as he saw the rate at which he was driving away from the ship, and the manner in which he lost sight of her remaining spars. As soon as the wind would permit, however, he stepped the masts, and set the two luggs close-reefed, making stretches of three or four miles in length, to windward. This timely decision was the probable means of saving all our lives. In the course of a few hours, after he had got the boat under command, he caught a glimpse of the fore-royal-masts sticking out from the cap of a sea, and watching it eagerly, he next perceived the whole of the raft, as it came up on the same swell, with Marble, half-drowned, lashed to the top. It was quite an hour, before Neb could get near enough to the raft, or spars, to make Marble conscious of his presence, and sometime longer ere he could get the sufferer into the boat. This rescue did not occur one minute too soon, for the mate admitted to me he was half drowned, and that he did not think he could have held out much longer, when Neb took him into the boat.
As for food and water, they fared well enough. A breaker of fresh water was kept in each boat, by my standing orders, and it seems that the cook, who was a bit of an epicure in his way, was in the habit of stowing a bag of bread, and certain choice pieces of beef and pork, in the bows of the launch, for his own special benefit. All these Neb had found, somewhat the worse for salt-water, it is true, but still in a condition to be eaten. There was sufficient in the launch, therefore, when we thus met, to sustain Marble and Neb, in good heart, for a week.
As soon as the mate was got off the raft, he took direction of the launch. Unluckily, he made a long stretch to the northward, intending to tack and cross what he supposed must have been the position of the ship, and come to my relief. While the launch was thus working its way to windward, I fell in with, and took possession of, the raft, as has been described. Marble's calculation was a good one, in the main; but it brought him near the Dawn the night she sank, and the raft and boat were both too low to be seen at any distance, the one from the other. It is probable we were not more than ten or twelve miles asunder the most of the day I was on the raft, Marble putting up his helm to cross the supposed position of the ship, about three in the afternoon. This brought him down upon the raft, about midnight, when the conversation I have related took place, within a few yards of me, neither party having the least notion of the proximity of the other.
I was touched by the manner in which Marble and Neb spoke of my supposed fate. Neither seemed to remember that he was washed away from a ship, but appeared to fancy that I was abandoned alone, on the high seas, in a sinking vessel. While I had been regretting their misfortunes, they had both thought of me as the party to be pitied; each fancying his own fortune more happy than mine. In a word, their concern for me was so great, that they altogether forgot to dwell on the hardships and dangers of their own particular cases. I could not express all I felt on the occasion; but the events of that morning, and the feelings betrayed by my two old shipmates, made an impression on my heart, that time has not, nor ever can, efface. Most men who had been washed overboard, would have fancied themselves the suffering party; but during the remainder of the long intercourse that succeeded, both Marble and Neb always alluded to this occurrence as if I were the person lost and rescued.
We were an hour or more intently occupied in these explanations, before either recollected the future. Then I felt it was time to have some thought for our situation, which was sufficiently precarious, as it was; though Marble and Neb made light of any risks that remained to be run. I was saved, as it might be, by a miracle; and that was all that they could remember, just then. But a breeze sprang up from the eastward, as the sun appeared, and the agitation of the raft soon satisfied me that my berth would have been most precarious, had I not been so providentially relieved. It is true, Marble made light of the present state of things, which, compared to those into which he had been so suddenly launched,—without food, water, or provisions, of any sort,—was a species of paradise. Nevertheless, no time was to be wasted; and we had a long road to travel in the boat, ere we could deem ourselves in the least safe.
My two associates had got the launch in as good order as circumstances would allow. But it wanted ballast to carry sail hard, and they had felt this disadvantage; particularly Neb, when he first got the boat on a wind. I could understand, by his account of the difficulties and dangers he experienced,—though it came out incidentally, and without the smallest design to magnify his own merits,—that nothing but his undying interest in me, could have prevented him from running off before the wind, in order to save his own life. An opportunity now offered to remedy this evil, and we went to work to transfer all the effects I had placed on the stage, to the launch. They made a little cargo that gave her stability at once. As soon as this was done, we entered the boat, made sail, and hauled close on a wind, under reefed luggs; it beginning to blow smartly in puffs.
I did not part from the raft without melancholy regrets. The materials of which it was composed were all that now remained of the Dawn. Then the few hours of jeopardy and loneliness I had passed on it, were not to be forgotten. They still recur vividly to my thoughts with deep, and, I trust, profitable, reflections. The first hour after we cast off, we stood to the southward. The wind continuing to increase in violence, and the sea to get up, until it blew too fresh for the boat to make any headway, or even to hold her own against it, Marble thought he might do better on the other tack,—having some reason to suppose there was a current setting to the southward and eastward,—and we wore round. After standing to the northward for a sufficient length of time, we again fell in with the spars; a proof that we were doing nothing towards working our way to windward. I determined, at once, to make fast to them, and use them as a sort of floating anchor, so long as the foul wind lasted. We had some difficulty in effecting this object; but we finally succeeded in getting near enough, under the lee of the top, to make fast to one of its eye-bolts—using a bit of small hawser, that was in the boat, for that purpose. The boat was then dropped a sufficient distance to leeward of the spars, where it rode head to sea, like a duck. This was a fortunate expedient; as it came on to blow hard, and we had something very like a little gale of wind.
As soon as the launch was thus moored, we found its advantage. It shipped no more water, or very little, and we were not compelled to be on the look-out for squalls, which occurred every ten or fifteen minutes, with a violence that it would not do to trifle with. The weather thickened at these moments; and there were intervals of half an hour at a time, when we could not see a hundred yards from the boat, on account of the drizzling, misty rain that filled the atmosphere. There we sat, conversing sometimes of the past, sometimes of the future, a bubble in the midst of the raging waters of the Atlantic, filled with the confidence of seamen. With the stout boat we possessed, the food and water we had, I do not think either now felt any great concern for his fate; it being possible, in moderate weather, to run the launch far enough to reach an English port in about a week. Favoured by even a tolerably fair wind, the object might be effected in even two or three days.
"I take it for granted, Miles," Marble remarked, as we pursued our discourse, "that your insurance will completely cover your whole loss? You did not forget to include freight in the risks?"
"So far from this, Moses, I believe myself to be nearly or quite a ruined man. The loss of the ship is unquestionably owing to the act of the Speedy, united to our own, in setting those Englishmen adrift on the ocean. No insurers will meet a policy that has thus been voided."
"Ah! the blackguards!—This is worse than I had thought;—but you can always make a harbour at Clawbonny?"
I was on the point of explaining to Marble how I stood in relation to the paternal acres, when a sort of shadow was suddenly cast on the boat, and I fancied the rushing of the water seemed to be increased at the same instant. We all three sat with our faces to leeward, and all turned them to windward under a common impulse. A shout burst from Marble's throat, and a sight met my eyes, that caused the blood to rush in a torrent through my heart. Literally within a hundred feet of us, was a large ship, ploughing the ocean with a furrow that rose to her hawse-holes, and piling before her, in her track, a mound of foam, as she came down upon us, with top-mast and lower studding-sails set—overshadowing the sea, like some huge cloud. There was scarcely time for more than a glance, ere this ship was nearly upon us. As she rose on a swell, her black sides came up out of the ocean, glittering and dripping, and the tine of frowning guns seemed as if just lacquered. Neb was in the bow of the launch, while I was in the stern. My arm was extended involuntarily, or instinctively would be the better word, to avert the danger, when it seemed to me that the next send of the ship would crush us beneath the bright copper of her bottom. Without Neb's strength and presence of mind, we had been lost beyond a hope; for swimming up to the spars against the sea that was on, would have been next to hopeless; and even if there, without food, or water, our fate would have been sealed. But Neb seized the hawser by which we were riding, and hauled the launch ahead her length, or more, before the frigate's larboard bower-anchor settled down in a way that menaced crushing us. As it was, I actually laid a hand on the muzzle of the third gun, while the ship went foaming by. At the next instant she was past; and we were safe. Then all three of us shouted together. Until that moment, none in the frigate were aware of our vicinity. But the shout gave the alarm, and as the ship cleared us, her taffrail was covered with officers. Among them was one grey-headed man, whom I recognised by his dress for the captain. He made a gesture, turning an arm upward, and I knew an order was given immediately after, by the instantaneous manner in which the taffrail was cleared.
"By George!" exclaimed Marble, "I had a generalizing time of it, for half a dozen seconds, Miles."
"There was more risk," I answered, "than time to reflect on it. However, the ship is about to round-to, and we shall be picked up, at last. Let us thank God for this."
It was indeed a beautiful sight for a seaman, to note the manner in which that old captain handled his vessel. Although we found the wind and sea too much for a boat that had to turn to windward, neither was of much moment to a stout frigate, that carried fifty guns, and which was running off, with the wind on her quarter.
She was hardly past us, when I could see preparations making to take in canvass. At the instant she overshadowed us with her huge wings, this vessel had top-gallant-sails set, with two top-mast, and a lower studding-sail, besides carrying the lee-clew of her main-sail down, and the other customary cloth spread. Up went her main-sail, almost as soon as the captain made the signal with his arm; then all three of the top-gallant-sails were flying at the same moment. Presently, the yards were alive with men, and the loose canvass was rolled up, and the gaskets passed. While this was doing, down came all the studding-sails together, much as a bird shuts its wings. The booms disappeared immediately after.
"Look at that, Miles!" cried the delighted Marble. "Although a bloody Englishman, that chap leaves nothing to be done over again. He puts everything in its place, like an old woman stowing away her needles and thread. I'll warrant you, the old blade is a keen one!"
"The ship is well handled, certainly, and her people work like mariners who are trying to save the lives of mariners."
While this was passing between us, the frigate was stripped to her three top-sails, spanker, jib, and fore-course Down came her yards, next; and then they were covered with blue-jackets, like bees clustering around a hive. We had scarcely time to note this, ere the men lay in, and the yards were up again, with the sails reefed. This was no sooner done, than the frigate, which had luffed the instant the steering-sails were in, was trimmed close on a wind, and began to toss the water over her sprit-sail-yard, as she met the waves like one that paid them no heed. No sooner was the old seaman who directed all this, assured of the strength of the wind he had to meet, than down went his main-sail again, and the tack was hauled aboard.
The stranger was then under the smartest canvass a frigate can carry; reefs in her top-sails, with the courses set. Her sail could be shortened in an instant, yet she was under a press of it; more than an ordinary vessel would presume to carry, perhaps, in so strong a breeze.
Notwithstanding the great jeopardy from which we had just escaped, and the imminent hazard so lately run, all three of us watched the movements of the frigate with as much satisfaction as a connoisseur would examine a fine painting. Even Neb let several nigger expressions of pleasure escape him.
By the time sail could be shortened and the ship hauled close on a wind, the frigate was nearer half than a quarter of a mile off. We had to wait, therefore, until she could beat up to the place where we lay. This she soon did, making one stretch to the southward, until in a line with the boat, when she tacked, and came toward us, with her yards braced up, but having the wind nearly abeam. As she got within a cable's-length, both courses were hauled up and left hanging in the brails. Then the noble craft came rolling by us, in the trough, passing so near that we might be spoken. The old officer stood in the weather gangway, with a trumpet, and he hailed, when near enough to be heard. Instead of asking questions, to satisfy his own curiosity, he merely communicated his own intentions.
"I'll heave-to, when past you," he cried out, "waring ship to do so. You can then drop down under my stern, as close as possible, and we'll throw you a rope."
I understood the plan, which was considerate, having a regard to the feebleness of our boat's crew, and the weight of the boat itself. Accordingly, when she had room enough, the frigate wore, hauling up close on the other tack, and laying her main-yard square. As soon as the ship was stationary, Neb cast off the hawser, and Marble and he manned two oars. We got the boat round without much risk, and, in less time than it takes to write it, were sending down towards the ship at a furious rate. I steered, and passed so near the frigate's rudder, that I thought, for an instant, I had gone too close. A rope was hove as we cleared the lee-quarter of the frigate, and the people on board hauled us alongside. We caught the man-ropes, and were soon on the quarter-deck. A respectable-looking elderly man, of a square, compact frame, and a fine ruddy English face, in a post-captain's undress, received me, with an extended hand, and a frank, generous, hearty manner.
"You are welcome on board the Briton," he said, warmly; "and I thank God that he has put it in our power to relieve you. Your ship must have been lost quite recently, as you do not seem to have suffered. When you feel equal to it, I should like to hear the name of your vessel, and the particulars of her disaster. I suppose it was in the late blow, which was a whacker, and did lots of mischief along the coast. I see you are Americans, and that your boat is New York built; but all men in distress are countrymen."
This was a hearty reception, and one I had every reason to extol. So long as I stayed with Captain Rowley, as this officer was named, I had no reason to complain of any change in his deportment. Had I been his son, he could not have treated me more kindly, taking me into his own cabin, and giving me a seat at his own table. I gave him an outline of what had happened to us, not deeming it necessary to relate the affair with the Speedy, however; simply mentioning the manner in which we had escaped from a French privateer, and leaving him to infer, should he see fit, that the rest of our crew had been carried away on that occasion. My reserve on the subject of the other capture, the reader will at once see, was merely a necessary piece of prudent caution.
Captain Rowley had no sooner heard my story, which I made as short as possible, knowing that Marble and Neb had been cautioned on the subject, than he again took my hand, and welcomed me to his ship. The mate was sent into the gun-room, and recommended to the hospitality of the lieutenants; while Neb was placed in the care of the cabin servants. A short consultation was then held about the boat, which it was decided must be sent adrift, after its effects were passed out of it; the Briton having no use for such a launch, nor any place to stow it. I stood at the gangway, and looked with a melancholy eye at this last remnant of the Dawn that I ever beheld: a large eighty thousand dollars of my property vanishing from the earth, in the loss of that ship and her cargo.
Some shout at victory's loud acclaim, Some fall that victory to assure, But time divulges that in name, Alone, our triumphs are secure.
The Briton had come out of the Cove of Cork, only a few days before, and was bound on service, with orders to run off to the westward, a few hundred miles, and to cruise three months in a latitude that might cover the homeward-bound running ships, from the American provinces, of which there were many in that early period of the war. This was not agreeable news to us, who had hoped to be landed somewhere immediately, and who had thought, at first, on seeing the ship carrying a press of sail to the westward that she might be going to Halifax. There was no remedy, however, and we were fain to make the best of circumstances. Captain Rowley promised to put us on board the first vessel that offered, and that was as much as we had a right, to ask of him.
More than two months passed without the Briton's speaking, or even seeing a single sail! To these vicissitudes is the seaman subject; at one time he is in the midst of craft, at another the ocean seems deserted to himself alone. Captain Rowley ascribed this want of success to the fact that the war was inducing the running ships to collect in convoys, and that his orders carried him too far north to permit his falling in with the Americans, bound to and from Liverpool. Whatever may have been the reason, however, the result was the same to us. After the gale of the equinox, the Briton stood to the southward, as far as Madeira, such a change of ground being included in her instructions; and thence, after cruising three weeks in the neighbourhood of that island, she shaped her course for Plymouth. In the whole, the frigate had, at that time, brought-to and boarded some thirty sail, all of whom were neutrals, and not one of whom was bound to a port that would do us any good. The ship's water getting low, we were now compelled to go in, and, as has been said, we made sail to the northward. The afternoon of the very day the Briton left her second cruising ground, a strange ship was seen directly on our course, which was pronounced to be a frigate, before the sun set.
The Briton manoeuvred all night to close with the stranger, and with success, as he was only a league distant, and a very little to windward of her, when I went on deck early the next morning. I found the ship clear for action, and a degree of animation pervading the vessel, that I had never before witnessed. The people were piped to breakfast just as I approached the captain to salute him with a 'good morning.'
"Good morning to you, Wallingford," cried the old man, in a cheerful way; "you are just in time to take a look at yonder Frenchman in his glory. Two hours hence I hope he'll not appear quite as much of a beau as he is a' this moment. She's a noble craft, is she not, and quite of our own force."
"As for the last, sir," I answered, "there does not seem much to choose—she is what you call a thirty-eight, and mounts fifty guns, I dare say. Is she certainly French?"
"As certainly as this ship is English. She can do nothing with our signals, and her rig is a character for her. Whoever saw an Englishman with such royal-masts and yards? So, Master Wallingford, you must consent to take your breakfast an hour earlier than common, or go without it, altogether. Ah—here is the steward to say it waits for us."
I followed Captain Rowley to the cabin, where I found he had sent for Marble, to share our meal. The kind-hearted old gentleman seemed desirous of adding this act of civility to the hundred others that he had already shown us. I had received much generous and liberal treatment from Captain Rowley, but never before had he seemed so much disposed to act towards me as a father would act to a son as on that morning.
"I hope you have done justice to Davis's cookery, gentlemen," he said, after the assault on the eatables began to abate a little in ardour, "for this may be the last opportunity that will offer to enjoy it. I am an Englishman, and have what I hope is a humble confidence in the superiority of an English over a French ship; but I very well know we never get even a French ship without working for it; and yonder gentleman may not leave us any crockery, for to-morrow. He evidently means to fight us, and I think will do himself credit."
"I believe you English always go into action against the French with a confidence of victory," I remarked.
"Why, we have brought our lads up to that feeling, certainly, though I would not have you fancy I am quite of that way of thinking. I am too old, and have seen too much service, Wallingford, not to know that every battle is liable to accidents and vicissitudes. There is some difference in service, I must suppose, though not half as much in men as is vulgarly imagined. The result is in the hands of God, and I do think we are fighting his battles, in this fearful war: therefore, I trust he will take care of us."
I was surprised to find Captain Rowley, who was usually cheerful and gay, talking in this manner; but it did not become me to pursue the subject. In a minute or two, we rose from table, and I heard the order given to the steward to report to the first-lieutenant as soon as the table was cleared away, that the cabin bulkheads might be removed. Marble and I then passed below, into a canvass berth that had been made for him, where we could consult together without danger of interruption. Just as we reached the place, the drum beat to quarters. This carried nearly every one else on deck, and left us virtually alone.
"Well, Miles," commenced Marble, "this v'y'ge will beat any other of our v'y'ges, and give it fifty. We have been twice captured, once wrecked, have seen a fight, and are about to feel another. What do you think patriotism, and republican vartoo, require us to do, in such a crisis?"
This was the first time I had ever heard my mate mention republicanism, his habits being certainly as much opposed to liberty, as those of Napoleon himself. Although the reader probably will not understand the drift of his question, it was not lost on me. I answered, therefore, like one who fully comprehended him.
"I am afraid, Moses," said I, "there is very little republicanism in France just now, nor do I know that resemblance in governments makes nations friends. Unless the resemblance be complete, I rather think they are more disposed to quarrel about the differences, than to allow the merits of the points of affinity. As between England and France, however, since we are at peace with both, we Americans have nothing to do with their quarrels."
"I thought that would be your idee, Miles, and yet it would be awkward to be in the midst of a fight, and take no part in it. I'd give a hundred dollars to be on board that Frenchman, this minute."
"Are you so much in love with defeat, as to wish to be flogged?"
"I don't know how it is, but it goes ag'in the grain to take sides with a John Bull."
"There is no necessity for taking sides with either, though we can remember how these people have saved our lives, how kind they have been to us, and that we have literally lived three months on their bounty. Neb, I'm glad to see, makes fair weather of it, on the berth-deck."
"Ay, there's more in that than you dream of, perhaps. Mr. Clements, the first-lieutenant of this ship, is a sly one; and he thinks more of a good seaman than some priests do of piety. If I'm not greatly misled, he intends that Neb shan't quit this ship till the peace."
"How! They surely cannot pretend that the black is an Englishman?"
"There are all kinds of Englishmen, black and white, when seamen grow scarce. Hows'ever, there is no use in looking out for the worst—we shall know all about it, when the ship gets in. How are we to behave, Miles, in this here battle? It goes ag'in my feelin's to help an Englishman; and yet an old salt don't like to keep under hatches, while powder is burning on deck."
"It would be wrong for either of us to take any part in the action, since we have nothing to do with the quarrel. Still, we may appear on deck, unless ordered below; and I dare say opportunities will offer to be of use, especially in assisting the hurt. I shall go on the quarter-deck, but I would advise you not to go higher than the gun-deck. As for Neb, I shall formally offer his services in helping to carry the wounded down."
"I understand you—we shall all three sarve in the humane gang—well, when a man has no business with any other, that may be better than none. Your standing idle in a fight must be trying work!"
Marble and I conversed a little longer on this subject, when a gun fired from the upper-deck gave us notice that the game was about to begin. Each hastened to his intended post without more words. When I reached the quarter-deck, everything denoted the eve of a combat. The ship was under short canvass, the men were at quarters, the guns were cast loose, and were levelled; the tompions were all out, shot was distributed about the deck; and here and there some old salt of a captain might be seen squinting along his gun, as if impatient to begin. A silence like that of a deserted church reigned throughout the ship. Had one been on board her intended adversary, at that same instant, be would have been deafened by the clamour, and confused with the hurried and disorderly manner in which preparations that were long before completed on board the British, were still in progress on board the Frenchman. Four years earlier, the same want of preparation had given Nelson his great victory at the Nile. The French, in order to clear their outer batteries, had lumbered those in-shore; and when half their enemies unexpectedly passed inside, they found their ships were not prepared to fire; ships that were virtually beaten, before they had discharged an effective shot.
"Wallingford," said my old friend the captain, as soon as I approached him, "you have nothing to do here. It would not be proper for you to take a part in this action, and it would be folly to expose yourself without an object."
"I am quite aware of all this, Captain Rowley, but I have thought your kindness to me was so great as to permit me to be a looker-on. I may be of some service to the wounded, if to nothing else; and I hope you think me too much of an officer to get in the way."
"I am not certain, sir, I ought to permit anything of the sort," returned the old man, gravely. "This fighting is serious business, and no one should meddle with it whose duty does not command it of him. See here, sir," pointing at the French frigate, which was about two cable's-lengths distant, with her top-gallant-sails clewed up and the courses in the brails; "in ten minutes we shall be hard at it, and I leave it to yourself to say whether prudence does not require that you should-go below."
I had expected this; and, instead of contesting the matter, I bowed, and walked off the quarter-deck, as if about to comply. "Out of sight, out of mind," I thought;—it would be time enough to go below, when I had seen the beginning of the affair! In the waist I passed the marines, drawn up in military array, with their officer as attentive to dressing them in line as if the victory depended on its accuracy. On the forecastle I found Neb, with his hands in his pockets, watching the manoeuvres of the French as the cat watches those of the mouse. The fellow's eye was alive with interest; and I saw it was useless to think of sending him below. As for the officers, they had taken their cue from the captain, and only smiled good-naturedly as I passed them. The first-lieutenant, however, was an exception. He never had appeared well-disposed towards us, and, I make no doubt, had I not been so hospitably taken into the cabin, we should all have got an earlier taste of his humour.
"There is too much good stuff in that fellow," he drily remarked, in passing, pointing towards Neb at the same time, "for him to be doing nothing, at a moment like this."
"We are neutrals, as respects France, Mr. Clements," I answered, "and it would not be right for us to take part in your quarrels. I will not hesitate to say, however, that I have received so much kindness on board the Briton, that I should feel miserable in not being permitted to share your danger. Something may turn up, that will enable me to be of assistance—ay, and Neb, too."