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The Crater by James Fenimore Cooper

Part 9 out of 9

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equitable principle, was out of all question such as every civilized
community should have maintained. But the great and most powerful foe of
justice, in cases of this sort, is SLANG; and SLANG in this instance
came very near being too much for law. The jury were divided, ten going
for the 'people,' and two for the right; one of the last being Bigelow,
who was a fearless, independent fellow, and cared no more for the
bug-bear called the 'people,' by the slang-whangers of politics, than he
did for the Emperor of Japan.

The day after this fruitless trial, which left Mark's claim in abeyance
until the next court, a period of six months, the intended travellers
repaired on board ship, and the brig, with her party, went to sea, under
her owner, captain Betts, who had provided himself with a good navigator
in the person of his mate. The Rancocus, however, crossed over to the
Peak, and the passengers all ascended to the plain, to take leave of
that earthly paradise. Nature had done so much for this place, that it
had been the settled policy of Mark Woolston to suffer its native charms
to be marred as little as possible. But the Peak had ever been deemed a
sort of West-End of the Colony; and, though the distribution of it had
been made very fairly, those who parted with their shares receiving very
ample compensations for them, a certain distinction became attached to
the residence on the Peak. Some fancied it was on account of its
climate; some, because it was a mountain, and was more raised up in the
world than the low islands near it; some, because it had most edible
birds, and the best figs; but none of those who now coveted residences
there for their families, or the name of residences there, would allow
even to themselves, what was the simple fact, that the place received it
highest distinction on account of the more distinguished individuals who
dwelt on it. At first, the _name_ was given to several settlements in
the group, just as the Manhattanese have their East and West Broadway;
and, just for the very same reasons that have made them so rich in
Broadways, they will have ere long, first-fifth, second-fifth, and
third-fifth avenue, unless common sense begins to resume its almost
forgotten sway among the aldermen. But this demonstration in the way of
names, did not satisfy the minor-majority, after they got into the
ascendant; and a law was passed authorizing a new survey, and a new
subdivision of the public lands on the Peak, among the citizens of the
colony. On some pretence of justice, that is not very easily to be
understood, those who had property there already were not to have shares
in the new lottery; a lottery, by the way, in which the prizes were
about twice as large as those which had originally been distributed
among the colonists.

But, Mark and Bridget endeavoured to forget everything unpleasant in
this visit to their much-loved home. They regarded the place as a boon
from Providence, that demanded all their gratitude, in spite of the
abuses of which it was the subject; and never did it seem to them more
exquisitely beautiful, perhaps it never had been more perfectly lovely,
than it appeared the hour they left it. Mark remembered it as he found
it, a paradise in the midst of the waters, wanting only in man to erect
the last great altar in his heart, in honour of its divine creator. As
yet, its beauties had not been much marred; though the new irruption
menaced them, with serious injuries.

Mr. and Mrs. Woolston took leave of their friends, and tore themselves
away from the charming scenery of the Peak, with heavy hearts. The
Rancocus was waiting for them, under the lee of the island, and
everybody was soon on board her. The sails were filled, and the ship
passed out from among the islands, by steering south, and hauling up
between the Peak and the volcano. The latter now seemed to be totally
extinct. No more smoke arose from it, or had indeed risen from it, for a
twelvemonth. It was an island, and in time it might become habitable,
like the others near it.

Off Cape Horn the Rancocus spoke the Dragon; Captain Betts and his
passengers being all well. The two vessels saw no more of each other
until the ship was coming out of the Bay of Rio, as the brig was going
in. Notwithstanding this advantage, and the general superiority of the
sailing of the Rancocus, such was the nature of the winds that the last
encountered, that when she passed Cape May lights the brig was actually
in the bay, and ahead of her; This circumstance, however, afforded
pleasure rather than anything else, and the two vessels landed their
passengers on the wharves of Philadelphia within an hour of each other.

Great was the commotion in the little town of Bristol at the return of
all the Woolstons, who had gone off, no one knew exactly whither; some
saying to New Holland; others to China; and a few even to Japan. The
excitement extended across the river to the little city of Burlington,
and there was danger of the whole history of the colony's getting into
the newspapers. The colonists, however, were still discreet, and in a
week something else occurred to draw the attention of the multitude, and
the unexpected visit was soon regarded like any other visit.

Glad enough, notwithstanding, were the near relatives of Bridget and
Anne, in particular, to see those two fine young women again. Neither
appeared much more than a twelvemonth older than when she went away.
This was owing to the delicious, yet not enervating climate, in which
both had lived. They were mothers, and a little more matronly in
appearance, but none the less lovely; their children, like themselves,
were objects of great interest, in their respective families, and happy
indeed were the households which received them. It in no degree lessened
the satisfaction of any of the parties, that the travellers had all
returned much better off in their circumstances than when they went
away. Even the two younger Woolstons were now comfortable, and early
announced an intention not to return to the islands. As for the
ex-governor, he might be said to be rich; but his heart was still in the
colony, over the weaknesses of which his spirit yearned, as the
indulgent parent feels for the failings of a backsliding child.
Nevertheless, Bridget was persuaded to remain with her father a
twelvemonth longer than her husband, for the health of the old gentleman
had become infirm, and he could not bear to part with his only child so
soon again, after she had once been restored to his arms. It was,
therefore, decided, that Mr. Mark Woolston should fill the Rancocus with
such articles as were deemed the most useful to the colony, and go back
in that vessel, leaving his wife and children at Bristol, with the
understanding he would return and seek them the succeeding summer. A
similar arrangement was made for the wife and children of Captain Betts,
Friend Martha Betts being much in the practice of regulating her
conduct by that of Friend Bridget Woolston. Betts sold his brig, and
consented to go in the Rancocus as a passenger, having no scruples, now
he had become comparatively wealthy, about eating with his old shipmate,
and otherwise associating with him, though it was always as a sort of
humble companion.

The Heatons determined to remain in America, for a time at least. Mr.
Heaton felt the ingratitude of the colonists even more keenly than his
brother-in-law; for he knew how much had been done for them, and how
completely they had forgotten it all. Anne regretted the Peak, and its
delicious climate; but her heart was mainly concentred in her family,
and she could not be otherwise than happy, while permitted to dwell with
her husband and children.

When the Rancocus sailed, therefore, she had no one on board her but
Mark Woolston and Betts, with the exception of her proper crew. Her
cargo was of no great intrinsic value, though it consisted in articles
much used, and consequently in great demand, in the colony. As the
vessel had lain some months at Philadelphia, where she had been
thoroughly repaired and new-coppered, she sailed well, and made an
excellent run to Rio, nor was her passage bad as far as the straits of
La Maire. Here she encountered westerly gales, and the Cape may be said
to have been doubled in a tempest. After beating about for six weeks in
that stormy ocean, the ship finally got into the Pacific, and went into
Valparaiso, Here Mark Woolston received very favourable offers for most
of his cargo, but, still feeling desirous to serve his colony, he
refused them all, setting sail for the islands as soon as he had made a
few repairs, and had a little refreshed his crew.

The passages between Valparaiso and the Crater had usually consumed
about five weeks, though somewhat dependent on the state of the trades.
On this occasion the run was rather long, it having been attempted to
find a new course. Formerly, the vessels had fallen in with the Crater,
between Betto's group and the Reef, which was bringing them somewhat to
leeward, and Mr. Woolston now thought he would try a more southern
route, and see if he could not make the Peak, which would not only bring
him to windward, but which place was certainly giving him a more
striking object to fall in with than the lower islands of the group.

It was on the morning of one of the most brilliant days of those seas,
that Captain Saunders met the ex-governor on the quarter-deck, as the
latter appeared there for the first time since quitting his berth, and
announced that he had just sent look-outs aloft to have a search for the
land. By his reckoning they must be within twelve leagues of the Peak,
and he was rather surprised that it was not yet visible from the deck.
Make it they must very shortly; for he was quite certain of his
latitude, and did not believe that he could be much out of the way, as
respected his longitude. The cross-trees were next hailed, and the
inquiry was made if the Peak could not be seen ahead. The answer was,
that no land was in sight, in any part of the ocean!

For several hours the ship ran down before the wind, and the same
extraordinary vacancy existed on the waters! At length an island was
seen, and the news was sent down on deck. Towards that island the ship
steered, and about two in the afternoon, she came up close under its
lee, and backed her topsail. This island was a stranger to all on board!
The navigators were confident they must be within a few leagues of the
Peak, as well as of the volcano; yet nothing could be seen of either,
while here was an unknown island in their places! This strange land was
of very small dimensions, rising out of the sea about three hundred
feet. Its extent was no great matter, half a mile in diameter perhaps,
and its form nearly circular. A boat was lowered, and a party pulled
towards it.

As Mr. Woolston approached this as yet strange spot, something in its
outlines recurred to his memory. The boat moved a little further north,
and he beheld a solitary tree. Then a cry escaped him, and the whole of
the terrible truth flashed on his mind. He beheld the summit of the
Peak, and the solitary tree was that which he had himself preserved as a
signal. The remainder of his paradise had sunk beneath the ocean!

On landing, and examining more minutely, this awful catastrophe was
fully confirmed. No part of Vulcan's Peak remained above water but its
rocky summit, and its venerable deposit of guano. All the rest was
submerged; and when soundings were made, the plain, that spot which had
almost as much of Heaven as of earth about it, according to the
unenlightened minds of its inhabitants, was found to be nearly a hundred
fathoms deep in the ocean!

It is scarcely possible to describe the sickening awe which came over
the party, when they had assured themselves of the fatal facts by
further observation. Everything, however, went to confirm the existence
of the dire catastrophe. These internal fires had wrought a new
convulsion, and the labours and hopes of years had vanished in a moment.
The crust of the earth had again been broken; and this time it was to
destroy, instead of to create. The lead gave fearful confirmation of the
nature of the disaster, the soundings answering accurately to the known
formation of the land in the neighbourhood of the Peak. But, in the Peak
itself, it was not possible to be mistaken: there it was in its familiar
outline, just as it had stood in its more elevated position, when it
crowned its charming mountain, and overlooked the whole of that
enchanting plain which had so lately stretched beneath. It might be said
to resemble, in this respect, that sublime rock, which is recognised as
a part of the "everlasting hills," in Cole's series of noble landscapes
that is called "the March of Empire;" ever the same amid the changes of
time, and civilization, and decay, there it was the apex of the Peak;
naked, storm-beaten, and familiar to the eye, though surrounded no
longer by the many delightful objects which had once been seen in its

Saddened, and chastened in spirit, by these proofs of what had befallen
the colony, the party returned to the ship. That night, they remained
near the little islet; next day they edged away in the direction of the
place where the volcano had formerly risen up out of the waves. After
running the proper distance, the ship was hove to, and her people
sounded; two hundred fathoms of line were out, but no bottom was found.
Then the Rancocus bore up for the island which had borne her own name.
The spot was ascertained, but the mountain had also sunk into the
ocean. In one place, soundings were had in ten fathoms water, and here
the vessel was anchored. Next day, when the ship was again got under
way, the anchor brought up with it, a portion of the skeleton of a goat.
It had doubtless fallen upon the remains of such an animal, and hooking
it with its flukes thus unexpectedly brought once more to the light of
day, the remains of a creature that may have been on the very summit of
the island, when the earthquake in which it was swallowed, occurred.

The Rancocus next shaped her course in the direction of the group.
Soundings were struck near the western roads, and it was easy enough to
carry the vessel towards what had formerly been the centre of those
pleasant isles. The lead was kept going, and a good look-out was had for
shoals; for, by this time, Mr. Woolston was satisfied that the greatest
changes had occurred at the southward, as in the former convulsion, the
group having sunk but a trifle compared with the Peak; nevertheless,
every person, as well as thing, would seem to have been engulfed.
Towards evening, however, as the ship was feeling her way to windward
with great caution, and when the ex-governor believed himself to be at
no great distance from the centre of the group, the look-outs proclaimed
shoal-water, and even small breakers, about half a mile on their
larboard beam. The vessel was hove-to, and a boat went to examine the
place, Woolston and his friend Betts going in her.

The shoal was made by the summit of the crater; breakers appearing in
one or two places where the hill had been highest. The boat met with no
difficulty, however, in passing over the spot, merely avoiding the white
water. When the lead was dropped into the centre of the crater, it took
out just twenty fathoms of line. That distance, then, below the surface
of the sea, had the crater, and its town, and its people sunk! If any
object had floated, as many must have done, it had long before drifted
off in the currents of the ocean, leaving no traces behind to mark a
place that had so lately been tenanted by human beings. The Rancocus
anchored in twenty-three fathoms, it being thought she lay nearly over
the Colony House, and for eight-and-forty hours the exploration was
continued. The sites of many a familiar spot were ascertained, but
nothing could be found on which even a spar might be anchored, to buoy
out a lost community.

At the end of the time mentioned, the ship bore up for Betto's group.
There young Ooroony was found, peacefully ruling as of old. Nothing was
known of the fate of the colonists, though surprise had been felt at not
receiving any visits from their vessels. The intercourse had not been
great of late, and most of the Kannakas had come away. Soon after the
Woolstons had left, the especial friends of humanity, and the almost
exclusive lovers of the "people" having begun to oppress them by
exacting more work than was usual, and forgetting to pay for it. These
men could say but little about the condition of the colony beyond this
fact. Not only they, but all in the group, however, could render some
account of the awful earthquake of the last season, which, by their
descriptions, greatly exceeded n violence anything formerly known in
those regions. It was in that earthquake, doubtless, that the colony of
the crater perished to a man.

Leaving handsome and useful presents with his friend, young Ooroony, and
putting ashore two or three Kannakas who were in the vessel, Woolston
now sailed for Valparaiso. Here he disposed of his cargo to great
advantage, and purchased copper in pigs at almost as great. With this
new cargo he reached Philadelphia, after an absence of rather more than
nine months.

Of the colony of the crater and its fortunes, little was ever said among
its survivors. It came into existence in a manner that was most
extraordinary, and went out of it in one that was awful. Mark and
Bridget, however, pondered deeply on these things; the influence of
which coloured and chastened their future lives. The husband often went
over, in his mind, all the events connected with his knowledge of the
Reef. He would thus recall his shipwreck and desolate condition when
suffered first to reach the rocks; the manner in which he was the
instrument in causing vegetation to spring up in the barren places; the
earthquake, and the upheaving of the islands from out of the waters: the
arrival of his wife and other friends: the commencement and progress of
the colony; its blessings, so long as it pursued the right, and its
curses, when it began to pursue the wrong; his departure, leaving it
still a settlement surrounded with a sort of earthly paradise, and his
return, to find all buried beneath the ocean. Of such is the world and
its much-coveted advantages. For a time our efforts seem to create, and
to adorn, and to perfect, until we forget our origin and destination,
substituting self for that divine hand which alone can unite the
elements of worlds as they float in gasses, equally from His mysterious
laboratory, and scatter them again into thin air when the works of His
hand cease to find favour in His view.

Let those who would substitute the voice of the created for that of the
Creator, who shout "the people, the people," instead of hymning the
praises of their God, who vainly imagine that the masses are sufficient
for all things, remember their insignificance and tremble. They are but
mites amid millions of other mites, that the goodness of providence has
produced for its own wise ends; their boasted countries, with their
vaunted climates and productions, have temporary possessions of but
small portions of a globe that floats, a point, in space, following the
course pointed out by an invisible finger, and which will one day be
suddenly struck out of its orbit, as it was originally put there, by the
hand that made it. Let that dread Being, then, be never made to act a
second part in human affairs, or the rebellious vanity of our race
imagine that either numbers, or capacity, or success, or power in arms,
is aught more than a short-lived gift of His beneficence, to be resumed
when His purposes are accomplished.

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