Part 5 out of 8
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
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
"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
"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,
"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.
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
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'
"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
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
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
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,
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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 Fortu_nee_ 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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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,
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,
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.
I thought we were lost, again, but Providence once more saved us. All this
time the leading English frigate and the two Frenchmen were fast
approaching each other. In a few minutes, they must engage, while the
Speedy was left further and further astern of her consort. At this
critical instant, one of the Frenchmen fired a gun of defiance. That
report seemed to arouse the Speedy as from a trance. Her head-yards came
furiously round, all the officers vanished from her taffrail, and down
went both fore and main-tacks, and to the mast-head rose all three of her
top-gallant-sails. Thus additionally impelled, the lively craft dashed
ahead, and was soon in her allotted berth, or half a cable's-length astern
of the Black Prince, as I afterwards heard was the name of the commanding
English ship, on this occasion. I may as well add here, that the French
Commodore's ship was named La Desiree, and _her_ consort Le Cerf. Mons.
Menneval was senior officer of the French, and Sir Hotham Ward of the
English. I never knew the name of the other French captain; or, if I did,
I have forgotten it.
My object had been, in bearing up, to get as far as possible from the
Speedy, in order that she might not recognise us, and especially that she
might not read the name on our stern. But this running off so much to
leeward, was not precisely the berth that one would wish to occupy, when a
sea-fight is going on directly to windward, and within half gun-shot. No
sooner was my Lord Harry Dermond in motion again, therefore, than we
hauled the Dawn up with her head to the westward, with a view to get as
soon as possible out of the probable range of the fire. It was true, the
combatants might vary their manoeuvres, so as to render all parts of the
periphery of a certain circle around them, anything but agreeable; but the
chances were greatly in favour of the battle's beginning, with one party
to windward of the other.
Our ship behaved well on this occasion, getting out of the way with
sufficient rapidity. While this was in the course of execution, I had an
opportunity to look after the corvette and the lugger. The last was still
leading, having managed, by means of short tacks, to work up considerably
to windward of the two French frigates. Here she had made a last tack to
the eastward, intending to run for the coast. The sloop-of-war was still
in her wake, and was following on her heels, at a rapid rate.
"You and I have known, sir."
"At sea, I think."
"We have, sir."
"You have done well by water."
"And you by land."
Antony and Cleopatra.
The reader will understand that I offer to his view a shifting panorama.
As soon as the Dawn had got about a mile and a half from the English
frigates, a distance that was a little increased by the advance of the
last towards their enemies, we again backed our top-sails, for I had an
ungovernable desire to be a spectator of what was to follow. This feeling
was common to all four of us, it being next to impossible to get either
Neb, or Diogenes, to pull a rope, for gazing at the frigates. As for
steering, it would have been out of the question, I really believe, as no
one among us could keep his eyes long enough from the combatants to look
after our own ship.
Some persons may think it was foolish not to make the most of our time in
endeavouring to get as far as possible from the Speedy. Perhaps it was;
but, two miles distant, there was really less to apprehend than might at
first appear. It was not probable the English would abandon the French
vessels as long as they could stick by them, or, until they were captured;
and I was not so completely ignorant of my trade as to imagine that
vessels like those of la Grande Nation, which were in sight, were to be
taken without doing their adversaries a good deal of harm. Then, the
prizes themselves would require looking after, and there were many other
chances of our now going scot-free, while there was really very small
ground of danger. But, putting aside all these considerations, curiosity
and interest were so active in us all, as to render it almost morally
impossible we should quit the place until the battle was decided. I am not
absolutely certain the Dawn _would_ have moved, had we been disposed to
make her. With these brief explanations, then, we will turn our attention
exclusively to the frigates.
By the time we had got the Dawn just where we wished her to be, the
combatants were drawing quite near to each other. The Speedy had carried
sail so long, as to be a little to windward of her consort's wake, though
half a cable's-length astern of her. The French were in still closer
order, and they would soon be far enough advanced to bring the leading
ship on each side, under fire. I supposed the opposing vessels would pass
about a cable's-length apart. All four were under their top-sails, jibs,
and spankers, with the courses in the brails. The Black Prince and the
Speedy had their top-gallant-sails clewed up, while la Desiree and le Cerf
had theirs still sheeted home, with the yards on the caps. All four
vessels had sent down royal-yards. This was fighting sail, and everything
indicated that Monsieur Menneval intended to make a day of it.
The first gun was fired, on this occasion, from the Desiree, the leading
French ship. It was directed at the Black Prince, and the shot probably
told, as Sir Hotham Ward immediately kept away, evidently with a desire to
escape being raked. The French did the same to keep square with their
adversaries, and the four vessels now ran on parallel lines, though going
different ways, and a short cable's-length asunder. La Desiree followed up
her single gun with each division as it would bear, until her whole
broadside was delivered. The Black Prince stood it all without answering,
though I could see that she was suffering considerably, more especially
aloft. At length Sir Hotham Ward was heard in the affair. He let fly his
whole broadside, almost simultaneously; and a spiteful, threatening roar
it was. The smoke now began to hide his ship, though la Desiree, by moving
towards us, kept ahead of her own sulphurous canopy.
The Speedy soon opened on the French Commodore; then, by the roar astern,
I knew Le Cerf was at work in the smoke. All four ships shivered their
top-sails, to pass more slowly; and there was a minute during which, as it
appeared to me, all four actually stopped under the fiery cloud they had
raised, in order to do each other all the harm they could. The Frenchmen,
however, soon issued from behind the curtain, and the cessation in the
firing announced that the ships had parted. I could not see much of the
English, at first, on account of the smoke; but their antagonists came out
of the fray, short as it had been, with torn sails, crippled yards, and Le
Cerf had her mizen top-mast actually hanging over to leeward. Just as I
got a view of this calamity, I caught a glimpse of the Black Prince,
close-hauled, luffing up athwart the wake of her enemies, and manifestly
menacing to get the wind. The Speedy followed with the accuracy of
clock-work, having rather closed with her leader, instead of falling
farther behind. Presently, the Black Prince tacked; but, in so doing, down
came her main-top-gallant-mast, bringing with it the yard and the sail, as
a matter of course. This was a sign that Mr. Menneval had not been
firing a salute.
The French stood on, after this first rude essay with their enemies, for
several minutes, during which time we could see their people actively, but
irregularly, employed, in clearing away the wrecks, stoppering rigging,
and otherwise repairing damages. Le Cerf, in particular, was much troubled
with the top-mast that was dangling over her lee-quarter; and her people
made desperate and tolerably well-directed efforts to get rid of it. This
they effected; and about ten minutes after the firing had ceased, the
French ships put their helms up, and went off to the northward, dead
before the wind, as if inviting their enemies to come on and fight it out
fairly in that manner, if they felt disposed to pursue the affair
It was time something of this sort was done, for the delay had brought all
four of the vessels so far to the westward, as to leave them within a mile
of the Dawn; and I saw the necessity of again getting out of the way. We
filled and stood off, as fast as possible. It was time something of the
sort was done, in another sense, also. When M. Menneval bore up, his
antagonists were closing fast on his weather-quarter, and unless he meant
to fight to leeward, it was incumbent on him to get out of the way, in
Sir Hotham Ward, however, was too skilful a seaman to neglect the
advantage Mons. Menneval had given him. The instant the French kept away,
he did the same; but instead of falling broad off before the wind, he
luffed again in time, not having touched a brace, and crossed the wakes of
his enemies, giving a most effective broadside into the cabin-windows of
Le Cerf. To my surprise, La Desiree held on her course, until the Speedy
had repeated the dose. The English then wore short round, and were
seemingly on the point of going over the same thing, when Mons. Menneval,
finding this a losing game, hauled up, firing as his guns bore, and Le
Cerf did the same, with her head the other way, destroying everything like
concert in their movements. The English closed, and, in a minute, all four
of the ships were enveloped in a common cloud of white smoke. All we could
now see, were the masts, from the trucks down, sometimes as low as the
tops, but oftener not lower than the top-sail-yards. The reports of the
guns were quite rapid for a quarter of an hour, after which they became
much less frequent, though a hundred pieces of ordnance were still at work
behind that cloudy screen.
Several shot flew in our direction; and two actually passed between our
masts. Notwithstanding, so keen was the interest we continued to feel,
that the top-sail was again backed, and there we lay, lookers-on, as
indifferent to the risks we ran, as if we had been ashore. Minute passed
after minute, until a considerable period had been consumed; yet neither
of the combatants became fairly visible to us. Occasionally a part of a
hull pushed itself out of the smoke, or the wind blew the latter aside;
but at no time was the curtain sufficiently drawn, to enable us to tell to
which nation the vessel thus seen belonged. The masts had disappeared,--
not one remaining above the smoke, which had greatly enlarged its
In this manner passed an hour. It was one of the most intensely
interesting of my whole life; and to me it seemed a day, so eager was I to
ascertain some result. I had been several times in action, as the reader
knows; but, then, the minutes flew: whereas, now, this combat appeared
drawn out to an interminable length. I have said, an hour thus passed
before we could even guess at the probable result. At the end of that
time, the firing entirely ceased. It had been growing slacker and slacker
for the last half-hour, but it now stopped altogether. The smoke which
appeared to be packed on the ocean, began to rise and disperse; and,
little by little, the veil rose from before that scene of strife.
The vessel first seen by us was our old acquaintance, the Speedy. All
three of her top-masts were gone; the fore, just below the cross-trees;
and the two others near the lower caps. Her main-yard had lost one
yard-arm, and her lower rigging and sides were covered with wreck. She had
her fore-sail, mizen, and fore-stay-sail, and spanker set, which was
nearly all the canvass she could show.
Our eyes had barely time to examine the Speedy, ere the dark hull of Le
Cerf made its appearance. This ship had been very roughly
treated,--nothing standing on board her, twenty feet from the deck, but
her foremast: and the head of that was gone, nearly down to the top. The
sea all around her was covered with wreck; and no less than three of her
boats were out, picking up men who were adrift on the spars. She lay about
a cable's-length from the Speedy, and appeared to be desirous of being
still farther off, as she had no sooner got her boats up, than she dropped
her fore-sail, and stood off dead before it.
It was in watching the movements of Le Cerf, that we first got a glimpse
of La Desiree. This ship reappeared almost in a line with her consort;
and, like her, steering off before the wind. Their common object seemed to
be, to get within close supporting distance of each other, and to increase
the space between them and their enemies. Both these vessels had the
tri-colored flag flying at the stumps of their masts. As respects the
last, however, La Desiree was a little better off than her consort--having
her foremast and main-mast standing entire;--though her mizen-mast was
gone, close to the deck. What was a very bad affair for her, her fore-yard
had been shot away in the slings, the two inner ends lying on the
forecastle, while the yard-arms were loosely sustained by the lifts. This
ship kept off under her main-sail and fore-stay-sail.
The Black Prince was the last to get clear of the smoke. She had
everything in its place, from her top-mast cross-trees, down. The three
top-gallant-masts were gone, and the wrecks were already cleared; but all
the top-sail-yards were on the caps, and her rigging, spars and tops, were
alive with men; as, indeed, were those of the Speedy. This was the secret
of the cessation in the action;--the two English frigates having turned
their hands up to secure their spars, while the Frenchmen, by running off
dead before the wind, were in positions not to bring a broadside gun to
bear; and the cabin-chasers of a frigate were seldom of much use in that
day, on account of the rake of the stern. It always appeared to me, that
the Spaniards built the best ships in this respect,--the English and
Americans, in particular, seeming never to calculate the chances of
running away. I do not say this, in reference to the Spanish ships,
however, under any idea that the Spanish nation wants courage,--for a
falser notion cannot exist,--but, merely to state their superiority in one
point of naval architecture, at the very moment when, having built a fine
ship, they did not know how to make use of her.
The first ten minutes after the four combatants were clear of the smoke,
were actively employed in repairing damages, on the part of the French
confusedly, and I make no doubt clamorously; on that of the English with
great readiness and a perfect understanding of their business.
Notwithstanding this was the general character of the exertions of the
respective parties, there were exceptions to the rule. On board le Cerf,
for instance, I observed a gang of men at work clearing the ship from the
wreck of the main-mast, who proceeded with a degree of coolness, vigour
and method, which showed what materials were thrown away in that service,
for want of a good system; and chiefly, as I shall always think, because
the officers did not understand the immense importance of preserving
silence on board a crowded vessel. The native taciturnity of the English,
increased by the social discipline of that well-ordered--perhaps
over-ordered--nation, has won them as many battles on the ocean, as the
native loquacity of their enemies--increased possibly during the reign of
_les citoyens_ by political exaggeration--has lost. It is lucky for us,
that the American character inclines to silence and thoughtfulness, in
grave emergencies: we are noisy, garrulous, and sputtering, only in
Perceiving that the storm was likely to pass to leeward, we remained
stationary a little time, to watch the closing scene. I was surprised at
the manner in which the Black Prince held aloof after the Speedy had bore
up and was running down in the track of her enemies, sheering first upon
one quarter of le Cerf, and then on the other, pouring in a close and
evidently a destructive fire. At length Sir Hotham Ward bore up, and went
off before the wind also, moving three feet to the Speedy's two, in
consequence of being able to carry all three of her top-sails. It would
seem that Monsieur Menneval was not satisfied with the manner in which his
consort was treated; for, instead of waiting to be assailed in the same
way, he put his helm to port and came by the wind, delivering a broadside
as his ship luffed, that soon explained the reason of the Black Prince's
delay. That ship had been getting up preventers to save her masts, and
something important must have been cut by this discharge from la Desiree,
as her main-mast went immediately after she received the fire, dragging
down with it her mizen-top-mast. The English ship showed stuff, however,
under circumstances so critical. Everything on the foremast still drew,
and she continued on, heading direct for her enemy, nor did she attempt to
luff until within two hundred yards of her, when she came by the wind
slowly and heavily; a manoeuvre that was materially aided by the
fore-top-mast's following the spars aft, just as her helm must have been
put to-port. Le Cerf finding the battle was again to be stationary, also
came by the wind, and then all four of the ships went at it again, as
ardently as if the affair had just commenced.
It would not be easy to relate all the incidents of this second combat.
For two hours the four ships lay within a cable's-length of each other,
keeping up as animated a contest as circumstances would allow. I was
particularly struck with the noble behaviour of the Black Prince, which
ship was compelled to fire through the wreck of her masts notwithstanding
which, she manifestly got the best of the cannonading, as against Tier
particular antagonist, la Desiree. I cannot say that either of the four
vessels failed of her duty, though, I think, as a whole, Sir Hotham Ward
showed the most game; probably from the fact that he had the most need of
it. Encumbered by so much wreck, of which it was impossible to get rid,
while exposed to so heavy a fire, the Black Prince, however, was finally
dropped by her adversary, la Desiree drawing gradually ahead, until
neither of those two vessels could bring a gun to bear. The English now
turned to, to clear away wreck again, while the Frenchman bent a new
fore-course, and a new spanker; those that had been standing being
reduced to rags.
The Speedy and Cerf had not been idle the while. The French vessel played
her part manfully, nor was there much to choose between them, when the
latter wore round, and followed her consort, exchanging a fire with the
Black Prince in passing her.
Had not the real superiority of the English over the French on the ocean,
now come in play, this combat would have been a drawn battle, though
accompanied by the usual characteristics of such struggles, at the close
of the last and the beginning of the present century; or the latter
considering an escape ti sort of victory. But both parties were reduced to
the necessity of repairing damages, and this was the work to prove true
nautical skill. Any man may load and fire a gun, but it needs a trained
seaman to meet the professional emergencies of warfare. A clodhopper might
knock a mast out of a vessel, but a sailor must replace it. From the
beginning of this affair, all of us in the Dawn had been struck with the
order, regularity and despatch with which the Black Prince and Speedy had
made and shortened sail, and the quickness and resource with which they
had done all that seamanship required in securing wounded spars and torn
sails; while, there had been no end to Marble's sneers and comments on the
bungling confusion of the French. This difference now became doubly
apparent, when there was no smoke nor any cannonading to divert the
attention of the respective crews. In half an hour the Black Prince was
clear of the wreck, and she had bent several new sails, while the
difficulties on board her antagonist appeared just then to be at their
height. This same difference existed between the two other vessels,
though, on the whole, le Cerf got out of her distress sooner and more
skilfully than her consort. As to the Speedy, I must do my old
acquaintance, Lord Harry Dermond, the justice to say, that he both fought
his ship, and repaired his damages, in a highly seaman-like manner. I'll
answer for it, the Hon. Lieut. Powlett had not much to do with either. He
had much better been in his mother's drawing-room, that day, and permitted
a more fitting man to fill his place. Sennit was then on his way to
Barbadoes, however, nor do I believe your master of a press-gang ever does
much before an enemy.
Fully two hours passed, during which the combatants were busy in repairing
damages. At the end of this time, La Desiree and le Cerf had drawn more
than a mile to the eastward of the English ships; the latter following
them, as soon as clear of their wrecks, but under diminished sail. The
Black Prince had actually got up three spare top-masts, in the interval,
and was now ready to set their sails. The Speedy was less active, or less
skilful, though she, too, had not been idle. Then the English drove fast
towards their enemies. Mons. Menneval bore up in good season, this time,
edging away, and opening the fire of both ships on his adversaries, when
they were about half a mile distant. The effect of this early movement was
soon apparent, it being a great mistake to reserve a ship's fire, as
against an enemy that approaches nearly bows on. M'Donough owed his
victory in Plattsburg Bay, to having improved so favourable a chance; and
the French were beaten at the Nile, because they did not; though Nelson
probably would have overcome them, under any circumstances; the energy
imparted by one of his character, more than counterbalancing any little
advantage in tactics.
On the present occasion, we could see the fire of the French taking effect
on the Black Prince's spars, as soon as they opened her batteries. As the
mattter was subsequently explained in the official account, that ship's
lower masts were badly wounded before she sent up the new top-masts, and,
receiving some further injuries, stick began to come down after stick,
until nothing was left of all her hamper, but three stumps of lower masts,
the highest less than twenty feet above the deck. Sir Hotham Ward was now
in the worst plight he had been, in that day, his ship being unable to
advance a foot, her drift excepted, until everything was cut away. To the
landsman it may appear a small job to cut ropes with axes, and thus
liberate a vessel from the encumbrance and danger of falling spars; but
the seaman knows it is often a most delicate and laborious piece of duty.
The ocean is never quiet; and a vessel that is not steadied by the
pressure of her sails, frequently rolls in a way to render it no slight
task even to maintain one's footing on her decks; frigates and ships of
the line frequently proving more inconvenient than smaller vessels, under
There was one fortunate occurrence to the British, connected with this
disaster. The French had been so thoroughly bent on dismasting the Black
Prince, that they paid little attention to the Speedy; that ship actually
passing a short distance to windward of her consort, unnoticed and
unharmed. As the French were going to leeward the whole time, it enabled
the Speedy to get out of the range of their guns, before she bore up. As
soon as this was effected, she followed her enemies, under twice as much
canvass as they carried themselves. Of course, in less than half an hour,
she was enabled to close with le Cerf, coming up on one of her quarters,
and opening a heavy fire close aboard her. All this time, the Black Prince
remained like a log upon the water, trying to get clear of her wreck, the
combat driving slowly away from her to leeward. Her men worked like ants,
and we actually heard the cheers they raised, as the hull of their ship
forged itself clear of the maze of masts, yards, sails, and rigging, in
which it had been so long enveloped. This was no sooner done, than she let
fall a sail from her sprit-sail-yard, one bent for the occasion, and a
top-gallant-sail was set to a light spar that had been rigged against the
stump of the main-mast; the stick that rose highest from her deck.
As the battle, like a gust in the heavens, was passing to leeward, Marble
and I determined to fill, and follow the combatants down, the course being
precisely that we wished to steer. With a view, however, to keep out of
the range of shot, we hauled the Dawn up to the eastward, first, intending
to keep her away in the wake of the Black Prince. Of course we were in no
hurry, it now being in our power to go six feet to that ship's one.
In executing our purpose, we passed close to the wreck of the English
frigate's spars. There they were rolling about on the troubled water, and
we actually saw the body of a man caught in some of the rigging, as the
sea occasionally tossed it to the surface. The poor fellow had probably
gone over with the mast and been drowned before assistance could be
rendered. With an enemy escaping, man-of-war's-men are not very particular
about picking up the bodies of their dead.
I did not venture to run the Dawn directly down in the Englishman's wake,
but we kept her off and on, rather, taking good care not to go within a
mile of her. All this time the Speedy was playing upon the Cerf's quarter.
The latter ship becoming too crippled to luff, while Mons. Menneval was
travelling off to leeward, unmolested, having obtained an advantage in the
way of speed, that he was unwilling to put in any jeopardy, by coming
again under fire. This officer did not want for spirit, but the French had
got to be so accustomed to defeat, in their naval encounters with the
English, that, like several other nations on the land, they Had begun to
look upon victory as hopeless. The Cerf was very nobly fought.
Notwithstanding the disadvantages under which she laboured, that ship held
out until the Black Prince had actually given her a close broadside on her
larboard quarter; the Speedy being kept the whole time on her starboard,
with great skill, pouring in a nearly unresisted fire. The Cerf struck
only as she found that the battle was to be two to one, and under so many
other disadvantages, in the bargain.
This closed the affair, so far as the fighting was concerned. La Desiree
standing on unmolested, though, as I afterwards learned, she was picked up
next morning by a homeward-bound English two-decker, hauling down her
colours without any resistance.
The reader may feel some curiosity to know how we fell on board the Dawn,
during the five hours that elapsed between the firing of the first and the
last guns, on this occasion; what was said among us, and how we proceeded
as soon as the victory was decided. The last he will learn, in the
regular course of the narrative; as for the first, it is soon told. It was
not easy to find four men who were more impartial, as between the
combatants, than those in the Dawn. My early preferences had certainly
been in favour of England, as was very generally the case among all the
better-educated Americans of my period, at least as low down as the war of
1812. But going beyond the scene of internal political discussion, and
substituting observation for the eulogies and sophisms of the newspapers,
had wrought divers changes in my opinion. England was then no more to me
than any other nation; I was not of the French school of politics,
however, and kept myself as much aloof from one of these foreign schools
of political logicians as from the other. I may be said to have been born
a Federalist; but this change of sentiment had prevented my ever giving a
Federal vote since attaining my majority.
Marble had entertained a strong dislike for England, ever since the
Revolution. But, at the same time, he had inherited the vulgar contempt of
his class for Frenchmen; and I must own that he had a fierce pleasure in
seeing the combatants destroy each other. Had we been near enough to
witness the personal suffering inflicted by the terrible wounds of a naval
combat, I make no doubt his feelings would have been different; but, as
things were, he only saw French and English ships tearing each other to
pieces. During the height of the affair, he observed to me:--"If this
Monsieur Gallois, and his bloody lugger, could only be brought into the
scrape, Miles, my mind would be contented. I should glory in seeing the
corvette and the Polisson scratching out each other's eyes, like two
fish-women, whose dictionaries have given out."
Neb and Diogenes regarded the whole thing very much as I suppose the
Caesars used to look upon the arena, when the gladiators were the most
blood-thirsty. The negroes would laugh, cry "golly!" or shake their heads
with delight, when half-a-dozen guns went off together; receiving the
reports as a sort of evidence that crashing work was going on, on board
the vessels. But I overheard a dialogue between these two children of
Africa, that may best explain their feelings:
"Which you t'ink whip, Neb?" Diogenes asked, with a grin that showed
every ivory tooth in his head.
"I t'ink 'em bot' get it smartly," answered my fellow. "You see how a
Speedy make quick work, eh?"
"I wish 'em go a _leetle_ nearer, Neb.--Some shot nebber hit, at all."
"Dat always so, cook, in battle. Dere! dat a smasher for John Bull!"
"He won't want to press more men just now. Eh! Neb?"
"Now you see Johnny Crepaud catch it! Woss! Dat cracks 'e cabin winders!"
"What dat to us, Neb? S'pose he eat one anoder, don't hurt us!"
Here the two spectators broke out into a loud fit of laughter, clapping
their hands, and swinging their bodies about, as if the whole thing were
capital fun. Diogenes was so much delighted when all the Black Prince's
spars went, that he actually began to dance; Neb regarding his antics with
a sort of good-natured sympathy. There is no question that man, at the
bottom, has a good deal of the wild beast in him, and that he can be
brought to look upon any spectacle, however fierce and sanguinary, as a
source of interest and entertainment. If a criminal is to be executed, we
always find thousands, of both sexes and all ages, assembling to witness a
fellow-creature's agony; and, though these curious personages often have
sentimental qualms during the revolting spectacle itself, they never turn
away their eyes, until satisfied with all that there is to be seen of the
terrible, or the revolting.
A word must be added concerning an acquaintance-Monsieur Gallois. Just as
the Black Prince's masts went, I saw him, a long way to windward,
stretching in towards the coast, and carrying sail as hard as his lugger
would bear. The corvette was still close at his heels; and Marble soon
after drew my attention towards him, to observe the smoke that was rising
above the sloop-of-war. The distance was so great, and the guns so light,
that we heard no reports; but the smoke continued to rise until both
vessels went out of sight, in the south-western board. I subsequently
learned that the lugger escaped, after all. She was very hard pressed,
and would have been captured, had not the English ship carried away her
main-top-gallant-mast, in her eagerness to get alongside. To that
accident, alone, did M. Gallois owe his escape. I trust he and M. le Gros
had a happy meeting.
"The sea wax'd calm, and we discovered
Two ships from far making amain to us,
Of Corinth that, of Epidaurus this:
But on they came,--O, let me say no more!
Gather the sequel by that went before."
Comedy of Errors.
It was high time for the Dawn to be doing. Of all the ships to leeward,
the Speedy, the vessel we had most reason to apprehend, was in the best
condition to do us harm. It was true that, just then, we might outsail
her, but a man-of-war's crew would soon restore the balance of power, if
it did not make it preponderate against us. I called to my mate, and we
went aft to consult.
"It will not do for us to remain any longer here, Moses," I began; "the
English are masters of the day, and the Speedy's officers having
recognised us, beyond all doubt, she will be on our heels the moment
"I rather think, Miles, her travelling, for some hours to come, is over.
There she is, however, and she has our crew on board her, and it would be
a good thing to get some of them, if possible. If a body had a boat, now,
I might go down with a flag of truce, and see what tarms could be made."
I laughed at this conceit, telling Marble he would be wise to remain where
he was. I would give the Speedy four hours to get herself in tolerable
sailing trim again, supposing her bent on pursuit. If in no immediate
hurry, it might occupy her four-and-twenty hours.
"I think she may be disposed to follow the other French frigate, which is
clearly making her way towards Brest," I added, "in which case we have
nothing to fear. By George! there goes a gun, and here comes a shot in our
direction--you can see it, Moses, skipping along the water, almost in a
line between us and the frigate.--Ay, here it comes!"
All this was literally true. The Speedy lay with her bows towards us, and
she had suddenly fired the shot to which I alluded, and which now came
bounding from wave to wave, until it struck precisely in a line with the
ship, about a hundred yards distant.
"Halloo!" cried Marble, who had levelled his glass towards the
frigates.--"There's the deuce to pay down there, Miles--one boat pulling
this-a-way, for life or death, and another a'ter it. The shot was intended
for the leading boat, and not for us."
This brought my glass down, too. Sure enough, there was a small boat
pulling straight for us, and of course directly to windward of the
frigate; the men in it exerting every nerve. There were seven seamen in
this boat; six at the oars, and one steering. The truth flashed on me in
a moment. These were some of our own people, headed by the second-mate,
who had availed themselves of the circumstance of one of the Speedy's
boats being in the water, without a crew, to run away with it in the
confusion of the moment. The Black Prince had taken possession of the
prize, as we had previously noted, and that with a single boat, and the
cutter in pursuit appeared to me to be coming from the Frenchman. I
immediately acquainted Marble with my views of the matter, and he seized
on the idea eagerly, as one probable and natural.
"Them's our fellows, Miles!" he exclaimed; "we must fill, and meet 'em
It was certainly in our power to lessen the distance the fugitives had to
run, by standing down to meet the leading boat. This could not be done,
however, without going within reach of the English guns; the late
experiment showing unanswerably, that we lay just without the drop of
their shot, as it was. I never saw men in a greater excitement, than that
which now came over us all in the Dawn. Fill we did immediately; that, at
least, could do no harm, whereas it might do much good. I never supposed
for a moment the English were sending boats after us, since, with the
wind that was blowing, it would have been easy for the Dawn to leave them
miles behind her, in the first hour. Each instant rendered my first
conjecture the most likely to be true. There could be no mistaking the
exertions of the crews of the two boats; the pursuers seemingly doing
their best, as well as the pursued. The frigate could no longer fire,
however, the boats being already in a line, and there being equal danger
to both from her shot.
The reader will understand that large ships seldom engage, when the ocean
will permit it, without dropping one or more of their boats into the
water; and that warm actions at sea rarely occur, without most of the
boats being, more or less, injured. It often happens that a frigate can
muster only one or two boats that will swim, after a combat; and
frequently only the one she had taken the precaution to lower into the
water, previously to engaging. It was owing to some such circumstance that
only one boat followed the fugitives in the present instance. The race
must necessarily be short; and it would have been useless to send a second
boat in pursuit, could one be found, after the first two or three
all-important minutes were lost.
The Dawn showed her ensign, as a sign we saw our poor fellows struggling
to regain us, and then we filled our main-top-sail, squaring away and
standing down directly for the fugitives. Heavens! how that main-yard went
round, though there were but three men at the braces. Each of us hauled
and worked like a giant. There was every inducement of feeling, interest
and security to do so. With our present force, the ship could scarcely be
said to be safe; whereas, the seven additional hands, and they our own
people, who were straining every nerve to join us, would at once enable us
to carry the ship direct to Hamburg.
Our old craft behaved beautifully. Neb was at the wheel, the cook on the
forecastle, while Marble and I got ropes cleared away to throw to the
runaways, as soon as they should be near enough to receive them. Down we
drove towards the boat, and it was time we did, for the cutter in pursuit,
which pulled ten oars, and was full manned, was gaining fast on the
fugitives. As we afterwards learned, in the eagerness of starting, our men
had shipped the crest of a sea, and they were now labouring under the
great disadvantage of carrying more than a barrel of water, which was
washing about in the bottom of their cutter, rendering her both heavy
So intense was the interest we all felt in the result of this struggle,
that our feelings during the battle could not be compared to it. I could
see Marble move his body, as a sitter in a boat is apt to do, at each jerk
of the oars, under the notion it helps the party along. Diogenes actually
called out, and this a dozen times at least, to encourage the men to pull
for their lives, though they were not yet within a mile of us. The
constant rising and setting of the boats prevented my making very minute
observations with the glass; but I distinguished the face of my
second-mate, who was sitting aft, and I could see he was steering with one
hand and bailing with the other. We now waved our hats, in hopes of being
seen, but got no answering signal, the distance being still too great.
At that moment I cared nothing for the guns of the English ship, though we
were running directly for them. The boat--the boat, was our object! For
that we steered as unerringly as the motion of the rolling water would
allow. It blew a good working breeze; and, what was of the last importance
to us, it blew steadily. I fancied the ship did not move, notwithstanding,
though the rate at which we drew nearer to the boat ought to have told us
better. But, anxiety had taken the place of reason, and we were all
disposed to see things as we felt, rather than as we truly found them.
There was abundant reason for uneasiness; the cutter astern certainly
going through the water four feet, to the other's three. Manned with her
regular crew, with everything in order, and with men accustomed to pull
together, the largest boat, and rowing ten oars to the six of my mate's, I
make no doubt that the cutter of the Black Prince would have beaten
materially in an ordinary race, more especially in the rough water over
which this contest occurred. But, nearly a tenth full of water, the boat
of the fugitives had a greatly lessened chance of escape.