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A Tale of the Sea.
J. FENIMORE COOPER
WILLIAM BRANFORD SHUBRICK, ESQ.,
U. S. NAVY.
MY DEAR SHUBRICK,
Each year brings some new and melancholy chasm in what is now the brief
list of my naval friends and former associates. War, disease, and the
casualties of a hazardous profession have made fearful inroads in the
limited number; while the places of the dead are supplied by names that
to me are those of strangers. With the consequences of these sad changes
before me, I cherish the recollection of those with whom I once lived in
close familiarity with peculiar interest, and feel a triumph in their
growing reputations, that is but little short of their own honest pride.
But neither time nor separation has shaken our intimacy: and I know that
in dedicating to you this volume, I tell you nothing new, when I add
that it is a tribute paid to an enduring friendship, by
Your old Messmate,
* * * * *
* * * * *
It is probable a true history of human events would show that a far
larger proportion of our acts are the results of sudden impulses and
accident, than of that reason of which we so much boast. However true,
or false, this opinion may be in more important matters, it is certainly
and strictly correct as relates to the conception and execution of this
The Pilot was published in 1823. This was not long after the appearance
of "The PIRATE," a work which, it is hardly necessary to remind the
reader, has a direct connection with the sea. In a conversation with a
friend, a man of polished taste and extensive reading, the authorship of
the Scottish novels came under discussion. The claims of Sir Walter were
a little distrusted, on account of the peculiar and minute information
that the romances were then very generally thought to display. The
Pirate was cited as a very marked instance of this universal knowledge,
and it was wondered where a man of Scott's habits and associations could
have become so familiar with the sea. The writer had frequently observed
that there was much looseness in this universal knowledge, and that the
secret of its success was to be traced to the power of creating that
_resemblance_, which is so remarkably exhibited in those world-
renowned fictions, rather than to any very accurate information on the
part of their author. It would have been hypercritical to object to the
Pirate, that it was not strictly nautical, or true in its details; but,
when the reverse was urged as a proof of what, considering the character
of other portions of the work, would have been most extraordinary
attainments, it was a sort of provocation to dispute the seamanship of
the Pirate, a quality to which the book has certainly very little just
pretension. The result of this conversation was a sudden determination
to produce a work which, if it had no other merit, might present truer
pictures of the ocean and ships than any that are to be found in the
Pirate. To this unpremeditated decision, purely an impulse, is not only
the Pilot due, but a tolerably numerous school of nautical romances that
have succeeded it.
The author had many misgivings concerning the success of the
undertaking, after he had made some progress in the work; the opinions
of his different friends being anything but encouraging. One would
declare that the sea could not be made interesting; that it was tame,
monotonous, and without any other movement than unpleasant storms, and
that, for his part, the less he got of it the better. The women very
generally protested that such a book would have the odor of bilge water,
and that it would give them the _maladie de mer_. Not a single
individual among all those who discussed the merits of the project,
within the range of the author's knowledge, either spoke, or looked,
encouragingly. It is probable that all these persons anticipated a
So very discouraging did these ominous opinions get to be that the
writer was, once or twice, tempted to throw his manuscript aside, and
turn to something new. A favorable opinion, however, coming from a very
unexpected quarter, put a new face on the matter, and raised new hopes.
Among the intimate friends of the writer was an Englishman, who
possessed most of the peculiar qualities of the educated of his country.
He was learned even, had a taste that was so just as always to command
respect, but was prejudiced, and particularly so in all that related to
this country and its literature. He could never be persuaded to admire
Bryant's Water-Fowl, and this mainly because if it were accepted as good
poetry, it must be placed at once amongst the finest fugitive pieces of
the language. Of the Thanatopsis he thought better, though inclined to
suspect it of being a plagiarism. To the tender mercies of this one-
sided critic, who had never affected to compliment the previous works of
the author, the sheets of a volume of the Pilot were committed, with
scarce an expectation of his liking them. The reverse proved to be the
case;--he expressed himself highly gratified, and predicted a success
for the book which it probably never attained.
Thus encouraged, one more experiment was made, a seaman being selected
for the critic. A kinsman, a namesake, and an old messmate of the
author, one now in command on a foreign station, was chosen, and a
considerable portion of the first volume was read to him. There is no
wish to conceal the satisfaction with which the effect on this listener
was observed. He treated the whole matter as fact, and his criticisms
were strictly professional, and perfectly just. But the interest he
betrayed could not be mistaken. It gave a perfect and most gratifying
assurance that the work would be more likely to find favor with nautical
men than with any other class of readers.
The Pilot could scarcely be a favorite with females. The story has
little interest for them, nor was it much heeded by the author of the
book, in the progress of his labors. His aim was to illustrate vessels
and the ocean, rather than to draw any pictures of sentiment and love.
In this last respect, the book has small claims on the reader's
attention, though it is hoped that the story has sufficient interest to
relieve the more strictly nautical features of the work.
It would be affectation to deny that the Pilot met with a most unlooked-
for success. The novelty of the design probably contributed a large
share of this result. Sea-tales came into vogue, as a consequence; and,
as every practical part of knowledge has its uses, something has been
gained by letting the landsman into the secrets of the seaman's manner
of life. Perhaps, in some small degree, an interest has been awakened in
behalf of a very numerous, and what has hitherto been a sort of
proscribed class of men, that may directly tend to a melioration of
It is not easy to make the public comprehend all the necessities of a
service afloat. With several hundred rude beings confined within the
narrow limits of a vessel, men of all nations and of the lowest habits,
it would be to the last degree indiscreet to commence their reformation
by relaxing the bonds of discipline, under the mistaken impulses of a
false philanthropy. It has a lofty sound, to be sure, to talk about
American citizens being too good to be brought under the lash, upon the
high seas; but he must have a very mistaken notion who does not see that
tens of thousands of these pretending persons on shore, even, would be
greatly benefited by a little judicious flogging. It is the judgment in
administering, and not the mode of punishment, that requires to be
looked into; and, in this respect, there has certainly been a great
improvement of late years. It is seldom, indeed, that any institution,
practice, or system, is improved by the blind interference of those who
know nothing about it. Better would it be to trust to the experience of
those who have long governed turbulent men, than to the impulsive
experiments of those who rarely regard more than one side of a question,
and that the most showy and glittering; having, quite half of the time,
some selfish personal end to answer.
There is an uneasy desire among a vast many well-disposed persons to get
the fruits of the Christian Faith, without troubling themselves about
the Faith itself. This is done under the sanction of Peace Societies,
Temperance and Moral Reform Societies, in which the end is too often
mistaken for the means. When the Almighty sent His Son on earth, it was
to point out the way in which all this was to be brought about, by means
of the Church; but men have so frittered away that body of divine
organization, through their divisions and subdivisions, all arising from
human conceit, that it is no longer regarded as the agency it was so
obviously intended to be, and various contrivances are to be employed as
substitutes for that which proceeded directly from the Son of God!
Among the efforts of the day, however, there is one connected with the
moral improvement of the sailor that commands our profound respect. Cut
off from most of the charities of life for so large a portion of his
time, deprived altogether of association with the gentler and better
portions of the other sex, and living a man in a degree proscribed, amid
the many signs of advancement that distinguish the age, it was time that
he should be remembered and singled out, and become the subject of
combined and Christian philanthropy. There is much reason to believe
that the effort, now making in the right direction and under proper
auspices, will be successful; and that it will cause the lash to be laid
aside in the best and most rational manner,--by rendering its use
COOPERSTOWN, _August_ 20, 1829.
"Sullen waves, incessant rolling,
Rudely dash'd against her sides."
A single glance at the map will make the reader acquainted with the
position of the eastern coast of the Island of Great Britain, as
connected with the shores of the opposite continent. Together they form
the boundaries of the small sea that has for ages been known to the
world as the scene of maritime exploits, and as the great avenue through
which commerce and war have conducted the fleets of the northern nations
of Europe. Over this sea the islanders long asserted a jurisdiction,
exceeding that which reason concedes to any power on the highway of
nations, and which frequently led to conflicts that caused an
expenditure of blood and treasure, utterly disproportioned to the
advantages that can ever arise from the maintenance of a useless and
abstract right. It is across the waters of this disputed ocean that we
shall attempt to conduct our readers, selecting a period for our
incidents that has a peculiar interest for every American, not only
because it was the birthday of his nation, but because it was also the
era when reason and common sense began to take the place of custom and
feudal practices in the management of the affairs of nations.
Soon after the events of the revolution had involved the kingdoms of
France and Spain, and the republics of Holland, in our quarrel, a group
of laborers was collected in a field that lay exposed to the winds of
the ocean, on the north-eastern coast of England. These men were
lightening their toil, and cheering the gloom of a day in December, by
uttering their crude opinions on the political aspects of the times. The
fact that England was engaged in a war with some of her dependencies on
the other side of the Atlantic had long been known to them, after the
manner that faint rumors of distant and uninteresting events gain on the
ear; but now that nations, with whom she had been used to battle, were
armed against her in the quarrel, the din of war had disturbed the quiet
even of these secluded and illiterate rustics. The principal speakers,
on the occasion, were a Scotch drover, who was waiting the leisure of
the occupant of the fields, and an Irish laborer, who had found his way
across the Channel, and thus far over the island, in quest of
"The Nagurs wouldn't have been a job at all for ould England, letting
alone Ireland," said the latter, "if these French and Spanishers hadn't
been troubling themselves in the matter. I'm sure its but little reason
I have for thanking them, if a man is to kape as sober as a praist at
mass, for fear he should find himself a souldier, and he knowing nothing
about the same."
"Hoot! mon! ye ken but little of raising an airmy in Ireland, if ye mak'
a drum o' a whiskey keg," said the drover, winking to the listeners.
"Noo, in the north, they ca' a gathering of the folk, and follow the
pipes as graciously as ye wad journey kirkward o' a Sabbath morn. I've
seen a' the names o' a Heeland raj'ment on a sma' bit paper, that ye
might cover wi' a leddy's hand. They war' a' Camerons and M'Donalds,
though they paraded sax hundred men! But what ha' ye gotten here! That
chield has an ow'r liking to the land for a seafaring body; an' if the
bottom o' the sea be onything like the top o't, he's in gr'at danger o'
This unexpected change in the discourse drew all eyes on the object
toward which the staff of the observant drover was pointed. To the utter
amazement of every individual present, a small vessel was seen moving
slowly round a point of land that formed one of the sides of the little
bay, to which the field the laborers were in composed the other. There
was something very peculiar in the externals of this unusual visitor,
which added in no small degree to the surprise created by her appearance
in that retired place. None but the smallest vessels, and those rarely,
or, at long intervals, a desperate smuggler, were ever known to venture
so close to the land, amid the sand-bars and sunken rocks with which
that immediate coast abounded. The adventurous mariners who now
attempted this dangerous navigation in so wanton, and, apparently, so
heedless a manner, were in a low black schooner, whose hull seemed
utterly disproportioned to the raking masts it upheld, which, in their
turn, supported a lighter set of spars, that tapered away until their
upper extremities appeared no larger than the lazy pennant, that in vain
endeavored to display its length in the light breeze.
The short day of that high northern latitude was already drawing to a
close, and the sun was throwing his parting rays obliquely across the
waters, touching the gloomy waves here and there with streaks of pale
light. The stormy winds of the German Ocean were apparently lulled to
rest; and, though the incessant rolling of the surge on the shore
heightened the gloomy character of the hour and the view, the light
ripple that ruffled the sleeping billows was produced by a gentle air,
that blew directly from the land. Notwithstanding this favorable
circumstance, there was something threatening in the aspect of the
ocean, which was speaking in hollow but deep murmurs, like a volcano on
the eve of an eruption, that greatly heightened the feelings of
amazement and dread with which the peasants beheld this extraordinary
interruption to the quiet of their little bay. With no other sails
spread to the action of the air than her heavy mainsail, and one of
those light jibs that projected far beyond her bows, the vessel glided
over the water with a grace and facility that seemed magical to the
beholders, who turned their wondering looks from the schooner to each
other in silent amazement. At length the drover spoke in a low solemn
"He's a bold chield that steers her! and if that bit craft has wood in
her bottom, like the brigantines that ply between Lon'on and the Frith
at Leith, he's in mair danger than a prudent mon could wish. Ay! he's by
the big rock that shows his head when the tide runs low, but it's no
mortal man who can steer long in the road he's journeying and not
speedily find land wi' water a-top o't."
The little schooner, however, still held her way among the rocks and
sand-pits, making such slight deviations in her course as proved her to
be under the direction of one who knew his danger, until she entered as
far into the bay as prudence could at all justify, when her canvas was
gathered into folds, seemingly without the agency of hands, and the
vessel, after rolling for a few minutes on the long billows that hove in
from the ocean, swung round in the currents of the tide, and was held by
The peasants now began to make their conjectures more freely concerning
the character and object of their visitor; some intimating that she was
engaged in contraband trade, and others that her views were hostile, and
her business war. A few dark hints were hazarded on the materiality of
her construction, for nothing of artificial formation, it was urged,
would be ventured by men in such a dangerous place, at a time when even
the most inexperienced landsman was enabled to foretell the certain
gale. The Scotchman, who, to all the sagacity of his countrymen, added
no small portion of their superstition, leaned greatly to the latter
conclusion, and had begun to express this sentiment warily with
reverence, when the child of Erin, who appeared not to possess any very
definite ideas on the subject interrupted him, by exclaiming:
"Faith! there's two of them! a big and a little! sure the bogles of the
saa likes good company the same as any other Christians!"
"Twa!" echoed the drover; "twa! ill luck bides o' some o' ye. Twa craft
a sailing without hand to guide them, in sic a place as this, whar'
eyesight is na guid enough to show the dangers, bodes evil to a' that
luik thereon. Hoot! she's na yearling the tither! Luik, mon! luik! she's
a gallant boat, and a gr'at:" he paused, raised his pack from the
ground, and first giving one searching look at the objects of his
suspicions, he nodded with great sagacity to the listeners, and
continued, as he moved slowly towards the interior of the country, "I
should na wonder if she carried King George's commission aboot her:
weel, weel, I wull journey upward to the town, and ha' a crack wi' the
good mon; for they craft have a suspeecious aspect, and the sma' bit
thing wu'ld nab a mon quite easy, and the big ane wu'ld hold us a' and
no feel we war' in her."
This sagacious warning caused a general movement in the party, for the
intelligence of a hot press was among the rumors of the times. The
husbandmen collected their implements of labor, and retired homewards;
though many a curious eye was bent on the movements of the vessels from
the distant hills, but very few of those not immediately interested in
the mysterious visitors ventured to approach the little rocky cliffs
that lined the bay.
The vessel that occasioned these cautious movements was a gallant ship,
whose huge hull, lofty masts, and square yards loomed in the evening's
haze, above the sea, like a distant mountain rising from the deep. She
carried but little sail, and though she warily avoided the near approach
to the land that the schooner had attempted, the similarity of their
movements was sufficiently apparent to warrant the conjecture that they
were employed on the same duty. The frigate, for the ship belonged to
this class of vessels, floated across the entrance of the little bay,
majestically in the tide, with barely enough motion through the water to
govern her movements, until she arrived opposite to the place where her
consort lay, when she hove up heavily into the wind, squared the
enormous yards on her mainmast, and attempted, in counteracting the
power of her sails by each other, to remain stationary; but the light
air that had at no time swelled her heavy canvas to the utmost began to
fail, and the long waves that rolled in from the ocean ceased to be
ruffled with the breeze from the land. The currents and the billows were
fast sweeping the frigate towards one of the points of the estuary,
where the black heads of the rocks could be seen running far into the
sea, and in their turn the mariners of the ship dropped an anchor to the
bottom, and drew her sails in festoons to the yards. As the vessel swung
round to the tide, a heavy ensign was raised to her peak, and a current
of air opening for a moment its folds, the white field and red cross,
that distinguish the flag of England, were displayed to view. So much
even the wary drover had loitered at a distance to behold; but when a
boat was launched from either vessel, he quickened his steps, observing
to his wondering and amused companions, that "they craft were
a'thegither mair bonny to luik on than to abide wi'."
A numerous crew manned the barge that was lowered from the frigate,
which, after receiving an officer, with an attendant youth, left the
ship, and moved with a measured stroke of its oars directly towards the
head of the bay. As it passed at a short distance from the schooner a
light whale-boat, pulled by four athletic men, shot from her side, and
rather dancing over than cutting through the waves, crossed her course
with a wonderful velocity. As the boats approached each other, the men,
in obedience to signals from their officers, suspended their efforts,
and for a few minutes they floated at rest, during which time there was
the following dialogue:
"Is the old man mad!" exclaimed the young officer in the whale-boat,
when his men had ceased rowing; "does he think that the bottom of the
Ariel is made of iron, and that a rock can't knock a hole in it! or does
he think she is manned with alligators, who can't be drowned!"
A languid smile played for a moment round the handsome features of the
young man, who was rather reclining than sitting in the stern-sheets of
the barge, as he replied:
"He knows your prudence too well, Captain Barnstable, to fear either the
wreck of your vessel or the drowning of her crew. How near the bottom
does your keel lie?"
"I am afraid to sound," returned Barnstable. "I have never the heart to
touch a lead-line when I see the rocks coming up to breathe like so many
"You are afloat!" exclaimed the other, with a vehemence that denoted an
abundance of latent fire.
"Afloat!" echoed his friend; "ay, the little Ariel would float in air!"
As he spoke, he rose in the boat, and lifting his leathern sea-cap from
his head, stroked back the thick clusters of black locks which shadowed
his sun-burnt countenance, while he viewed his little vessel with the
complacency of a seaman who was proud of her qualities. "But it's close
work, Mr. Griffith, when a man rides to a single anchor in a place like
this, and at such a nightfall. What are the orders?"
"I shall pull into the surf and let go a grapnel; you will take Mr.
Merry into your whale-boat, and try to drive her through the breakers on
"Beach!" retorted Barnstable; "do you call a perpendicular rock of a
hundred feet in height a beach!"
"We shall not dispute about terms," said Griffith, smiling, "but you
must manage to get on the shore; we have seen the signal from the land,
and know that the pilot, whom we have so long expected, is ready to come
Barnstable shook his head with a grave air, as he muttered to himself,
"This is droll navigation; first we run into an unfrequented bay that is
full of rocks, and sandpits, and shoals, and then we get off our pilot.
But how am I to know him?"
"Merry will give you the password, and tell you where to look for him. I
would land myself, but my orders forbid it. If you meet with
difficulties, show three oar-blades in a row, and I will pull in to your
assistance. Three oars on end and a pistol will bring the fire of my
muskets, and the signal repeated from the barge will draw a shot from
"I thank you, I thank you," said Barnstable, carelessly; "I believe I
can fight my own battles against all the enemies we are likely to fall
in with on this coast. But the old man is surely mad, I would----"
"You would obey his orders if he were here, and you will now please to
obey mine," said Griffith, in a tone that the friendly expression of his
eye contradicted. "Pull in, and keep a lookout for a small man in a drab
pea-jacket; Merry will give you the word; if he answer it, bring him off
to the barge."
The young men now nodded familiarly and kindly to each other, and the
boy who was called Mr. Merry having changed his place from the barge to
the whale-boat, Barnstable threw himself into his seat, and making a
signal with his hand, his men again bent to their oars. The light vessel
shot away from her companion, and dashed in boldly towards the rocks;
after skirting the shore for some distance in quest of a favorable
place, she was suddenly turned, and dashing over the broken waves, was
run upon a spot where a landing could be effected in safety.
In the mean time the barge followed these movements, at some distance,
with a more measured progress, and when the whale-boat was observed to
be drawn up alongside of a rock, the promised grapnel was cast into the
water, and her crew deliberately proceeded to get their firearms in a
state for immediate service. Everything appeared to be done in obedience
to strict orders that must have been previously communicated; for the
young man, who has been introduced to the reader by the name of
Griffith, seldom spoke, and then only in the pithy expressions that are
apt to fall from those who are sure of obedience. When the boat had
brought up to her grapnel, he sunk back at his length on the cushioned
seats of the barge, and drawing his hat over his eyes in a listless
manner, he continued for many minutes apparently absorbed in thoughts
altogether foreign to his present situation. Occasionally he rose, and
would first bend his looks in quest of his companions on the shore, and
then, turning his expressive eyes toward the ocean, the abstracted and
vacant air, that so often usurped the place of animation and
intelligence in his countenance, would give place to the anxious and
intelligent look of a seaman gifted with an experience beyond his years.
His weather beaten and hardy crew, having made their dispositions for
offence, sat in profound silence, with their hands thrust into the
bosoms of their jackets, but with their eyes earnestly regarding every
cloud that was gathering in the threatening atmosphere, and exchanging
looks of deep care, whenever the boat rose higher than usual on one of
those long heavy groundswells, that were heaving in from the ocean with
increasing rapidity and magnitude.
----"A horseman's coat shall hide
thy taper shape and comeliness of side:
And with a bolder stride and looser air,
Mingled with men, a man thou must appear."
When the whale-boat obtained the position we have described, the young
lieutenant, who, in consequence of commanding a schooner, was usually
addressed by the title of captain, stepped on the rocks, followed by the
youthful midshipman, who had quitted the barge to aid in the hazardous
duty of their expedition.
"This is, at best, but a Jacob's ladder we have to climb," said
Barnstable, casting his eyes upward at the difficult ascent, "and it's
by no means certain that we shall be well received, when we get up, even
though we should reach the top."
"We are under the guns of the frigate," returned the boy; "and you
remember, sir, three oar-blades and a pistol, repeated from the barge,
will draw her fire."
"Yes, on our own heads. Boy, never be so foolish as to trust a long
shot. It makes a great smoke and some noise, but it's a terrible
uncertain manner of throwing old iron about. In such a business as this,
I would sooner trust Tom Coffin and his harpoon to back me, than the
best broadside that ever rattled out of the three decks of a ninety-gun
ship. Come, gather your limbs together, and try if you can walk on terra
firma, Master Coffin."
The seaman who was addressed by this dire appellation arose slowly from
the place where he was stationed as cockswain of the boat, and seemed to
ascend high in air by the gradual evolution of numberless folds in his
body. When erect, he stood nearly six feet and as many inches in his
shoes, though, when elevated in his perpendicular attitude, there was a
forward inclination about his head and shoulders that appeared to be the
consequence of habitual confinement in limited lodgings. His whole frame
was destitute of the rounded outlines of a well-formed man, though his
enormous hands furnished a display of bones and sinews which gave
indication of gigantic strength. On his head he wore a little, low,
brown hat of wool, with an arched top, that threw an expression of
peculiar solemnity and hardness over his hard visage, the sharp
prominent features of which were completely encircled by a set of black
whiskers that began to be grizzled a little with age. One of his hands
grasped, with a sort of instinct, the staff of a bright harpoon, the
lower end of which he placed firmly on the rock, as, in obedience to the
order of his commander, he left the place where, considering his vast
dimensions, he had been established in an incredibly small space.
As soon as Captain Barnstable received this addition to his strength, he
gave a few precautionary orders to the men in the boat, and proceeded to
the difficult task of ascending the rocks. Notwithstanding the great
daring and personal agility of Barnstable, he would have been completely
baffled in this attempt, but for the assistance he occasionally received
from his cockswain, whose prodigious strength and great length of limbs
enabled him to make exertions which it would have been useless for most
men to attempt. When within a few feet of the summit, they availed
themselves of a projecting rock to pause for consultation and breath,
both of which seemed necessary for their further movements.
"This will be but a bad place for a retreat, if we should happen to fall
in with enemies," said Barnstable. "Where are we to look for this pilot,
Mr. Merry, or how are we to know him; and what certainty have you that
he will not betray us?"
"The question you are to put to him is written on this bit of paper,"
returned the boy, as he handed the other the word of recognition; "we
made the signal on the point of the rock at yon headland, but, as he
must have seen our boat, he will follow us to this place. As to his
betraying us, he seems to have the confidence of Captain Munson, who has
kept a bright lookout for him ever since we made the land."
"Ay," muttered the lieutenant, "and I shall have a bright lookout kept
on him now we are _on_ the land. I like not this business of
hugging the shore so closely, nor have I much faith in any traitor. What
think you of it, Master Coffin?"
The hardy old seaman, thus addressed, turned his grave visage on his
commander, and replied with a becoming gravity:
"Give me a plenty of sea-room, and good canvas, where there is no
occasion for pilots at all, sir. For my part, I was born on board a
chebacco-man, and never could see the use of more land than now and then
a small island to raise a few vegetables, and to dry your fish--I'm sure
the sight of it always makes me feel uncomfortable, unless we have the
wind dead off shore."
"Ah! Tom, you are a sensible fellow," said Barnstable, with an air half
comic, half serious. "But we must be moving; the sun is just touching
those clouds to seaward, and God keep us from riding out this night at
anchor in such a place as this."
Laying his hand on a projection of the rock above him, Barnstable swung
himself forward, and following this movement with a desperate leap or
two, he stood at once on the brow of the cliff. His cockswain very
deliberately raised the midshipman after his officer, and proceeding
with more caution but less exertion, he soon placed himself by his side.
When they reached the level land that lay above the cliffs and began to
inquire, with curious and wary eyes, into the surrounding scenery, the
adventurers discovered a cultivated country, divided in the usual
manner, by hedges and walls. Only one habitation for man, however, and
that a small dilapidated cottage, stood within a mile of them, most of
the dwellings being placed as far as convenience would permit from the
fogs and damps of the ocean.
"Here seems to be neither anything to apprehend, nor the object of our
search," said Barnstable, when he had taken the whole view in his
survey: "I fear we have landed to no purpose, Mr. Merry. What say you,
long Tom; see you what we want?"
"I see no pilot, sir," returned the cockswain; "but it's an ill wind
that blows luck to nobody; there is a mouthful of fresh meat stowed away
under that row of bushes, that would make a double ration to all hands
in the Ariel."
The midshipman laughed, as he pointed out to Barnstable the object of
the cockswain's solicitude, which proved to be a fat ox, quietly
ruminating under a hedge near them.
"There's many a hungry fellow aboard of us," said the boy, merrily, "who
would be glad to second long Tom's motion, if the time and business
would permit us to slay the animal."
"It is but a lubber's blow, Mr. Merry," returned the cockswain, without
a muscle of his hard face yielding, as he struck the end of his harpoon
violently against the earth, and then made a motion toward poising the
weapon; "let Captain Barnstable but say the word, and I'll drive the
iron through him to the quick; I've sent it to the seizing in many a
whale, that hadn't a jacket of such blubber as that fellow wears."
"Pshaw! you are not on a whaling-voyage, where everything that offers is
game," said Barnstable, turning himself pettishly away from the beast,
as if he distrusted his own forbearance; "but stand fast! I see some one
approaching behind the hedge. Look to your arms, Mr. Merry,--the first
thing we hear may be a shot."
"Not from that cruiser," cried the thoughtless lad; "he is a younker,
like myself, and would hardly dare run down upon such a formidable force
as we muster."
"You say true, boy," returned Barnstable, relinquishing the grasp he
held on his pistol. "He comes on with caution, as if afraid. He is
small, and is in drab, though I should hardly call it a pea-jacket--and
yet he may be our man. Stand you both here, while I go and hail him."
As Barnstable walked rapidly towards the hedge, that in part concealed
the stranger, the latter stopped suddenly, and seemed to be in doubt
whether to advance or to retreat. Before he had decided on either, the
active sailor was within a few feet of him.
"Pray, sir," said Barnstable, "what water have we in this bay?"
The slight form of the stranger started, with an extraordinary emotion,
at this question, and he shrunk aside involuntarily, as if to conceal
his features, before he answered, in a voice that was barely audible:
"I should think it would be the water of the German Ocean."
"Indeed! you must have passed no small part of your short life in the
study of geography, to be so well informed," returned the lieutenant;
"perhaps, sir, your cunning is also equal to telling me how long we
shall sojourn together, if I make you a prisoner, in order to enjoy the
benefit of your wit?"
To this alarming intimation, the youth who was addressed made no reply;
but as he averted his face, and concealed it with both his hands, the
offended seaman, believing that a salutary impression had been made upon
the fears of his auditor, was about to proceed with his interrogatories.
The singular agitation of the stranger's frame, however, caused the
lieutenant to continue silent a few moments longer, when, to his utter
amazement, he discovered that what he had mistaken for alarm was
produced by an endeavor, on the part of the youth, to suppress a violent
fit of laughter.
"Now, by all the whales in the sea," cried Barnstable, "but you are
merry out of season, young gentleman. It's quite bad enough to be
ordered to anchor in such a bay as this with a storm brewing before my
eyes, without landing to be laughed at by a stripling who has not
strength to carry a beard if he had one, when I ought to be getting an
offing for the safety of both body and soul. But I'll know more of you
and your jokes, if I take you into my own mess, and am giggled out of my
sleep for the rest of the cruise."
As the commander of the schooner concluded, he approached the stranger,
with an air of offering some violence, but the other shrank back from
his extended arm, and exclaimed, with a voice in which real terror had
gotten the better of mirth:
"Barnstable! dear Barnstable! would you harm me?"
The sailor recoiled several feet, at this unexpected appeal, and rubbing
his eyes, he threw the cap from his head, before he cried:
"What do I hear! and what do I see! There lies the Ariel--and yonder is
the frigate. Can this be Katherine Plowden!"
His doubts, if any doubts remained, were soon removed, for the stranger
sank on the bank at her side, in an attitude in which female bashfulness
was beautifully contrasted with her attire, and gave vent to her mirth
in an uncontrollable burst of merriment.
From that moment, all thoughts of his duty, and the pilot, or even of
the Ariel, appeared to be banished from the mind of the seaman, who
sprang to her side, and joined in her mirth, though he hardly knew why
When the diverted girl had in some degree recovered her composure, she
turned to her companion, who had sat good-naturedly by her side, content
to be laughed at, and said:
"But this is not only silly, but cruel to others. I owe you an
explanation of my unexpected appearance, and perhaps, also, of my
"I can anticipate everything," cried Barnstable; "you heard that we were
on the coast, and have flown to redeem the promises you made me in
America. But I ask no more; the chaplain of the frigate--"
"May preach as usual, and to as little purpose," interrupted the
disguised female; "but no nuptial benediction shall be pronounced over
me, until I have effected the object of this hazardous experiment. You
are not usually selfish, Barnstable; would you have me forgetful of the
happiness of others?"
"Of whom do you speak?"
"My poor, my devoted cousin. I heard that two vessels answering the
description of the frigate and the Ariel were seen hovering on the
coast, and I determined at once to have a communication with you. I have
followed your movements for a week, in this dress, but have been
unsuccessful till now. To-day I observed you to approach nearer to the
shore than usual, and happily, by being adventurous, I have been
"Ay, God knows we are near enough to the land! But does Captain Munson
know of your wish to get on board his ship?"
"Certainly not--none know of it but yourself. I thought that if Griffith
and you could learn our situation, you might be tempted to hazard a
little to redeem us from our thraldom. In this paper I have prepared
such an account as will, I trust, excite all your chivalry, and by which
you may govern your movements."
"Our movements!" interrupted Barnstable. "You will pilot us in person."
"Then there's two of them!" said a hoarse voice near them.
The alarmed female shrieked as she recovered her feet, but she still
adhered, with instinctive dependence, to the side of her lover.
Barnstable, who recognized the tones of his cockswain, bent an angry
brow on the sober visage that was peering at them above the hedge, and
demanded the meaning of the interruption.
"Seeing you were hull down, sir, and not knowing but the chase might
lead you ashore, Mr. Merry thought it best to have a lookout kept. I
told him that you were overhauling the mail-bags of the messenger for
the news, but as he was an officer, sir, and I nothing but a common
hand, I did as he ordered."
"Return, sir, where I commanded you to remain," said Barnstable, "and
desire Mr. Merry to wait my pleasure."
The cockswain gave the usual reply of an obedient seaman; but before he
left the hedge, he stretched out one of his brawny arms towards the
ocean, and said, in tones of solemnity suited to his apprehensions and
"I showed you how to knot a reef-point, and pass a gasket, Captain
Barnstable, nor do I believe you could even take two half-hitches when
you first came aboard of the Spalmacitty. These be things that a man is
soon expart in, but it takes the time of his nat'ral life to larn to
know the weather. There be streaked wind-galls in the offing, that speak
as plainly to all that see them, and know God's language in the clouds,
as ever you spoke through a trumpet, to shorten sail; besides, sir,
don't you hear the sea moaning as if it knew the hour was at hand when
it was to wake up from its sleep!"
"Ay, Tom," returned his officer, walking to the edge of the cliffs, and
throwing a seaman's glance at the gloomy ocean, "'tis a threatening
night indeed; but this pilot must be had--and--"
"Is that the man?" interrupted the cockswain, pointing toward a man who
was standing not far from them, an attentive observer of their
proceedings, the same time that he was narrowly watched himself by the
young midshipman. "God send that he knows his trade well, for the bottom
of a ship will need eyes to find its road out of this wild anchorage."
"That must indeed be the man!" exclaimed Barnstable, at once recalled to
his duty. He then held a short dialogue with his female companion, whom
he left concealed by the hedge, and proceeded to address the stranger.
When near enough to be heard, the commander of the schooner demanded:
"What water have you in this bay?"
The stranger, who seemed to expect this question, answered without the
"Enough to take all out in safety, who have entered with confidence."
"You are the man I seek," cried Barnstable; "are you ready to go off?"
"Both ready and willing," returned the pilot, "and there is need of
haste. I would give the best hundred guineas that ever were coined for
two hours more use of that sun which has left us, or for even the time
of this fading twilight."
"Think you our situation so bad?" said the lieutenant. "Follow this
gentleman to the boat then; I will join you by the time you can descend
the cliffs. I believe I can prevail on another hand to go off with us."
"Time is more precious now than any number of hands," said the pilot,
throwing a glance of impatience from under his lowering brows, "and the
consequences of delay must be visited on those who occasion it."
"And, sir, I will meet the consequences with those who have a right to
inquire into my conduct," said Barnstable, haughtily.
With this warning and retort they separated; the young officer retracing
his steps impatiently toward his mistress, muttering his indignation in
suppressed execrations, and the pilot, drawing the leathern belt of his
pea-jacket mechanically around his body, as he followed the midshipman
and cockswain to their boat, in moody silence.
Barnstable found the disguised female who had announced herself as
Katherine Plowden, awaiting his return, with intense anxiety depicted on
every feature of her intelligent countenance. As he felt all the
responsibility of his situation, notwithstanding his cool reply to the
pilot, the young man hastily drew an arm of the apparent boy, forgetful
of her disguise, through his own, and led her forward.
"Come, Katherine," he said, "the time urges to be prompt."
"What pressing necessity is there for immediate departure?" she
inquired, checking his movements by withdrawing herself from his side.
"You heard the ominous prognostic of my cockswain on the weather, and I
am forced to add my own testimony to his opinion. 'Tis a crazy night
that threatens us, though I cannot repent of coming into the bay, since
it has led to this interview."
"God forbid that we should either of us have cause to repent of it,"
said Katherine, the paleness of anxiety chasing away the rich bloom that
had mantled the animated face of the brunette. "But you have the paper--
follow its directions, and come to our rescue; you will find us willing
captives, if Griffith and yourself are our conquerors."
"What mean you, Katherine!" exclaimed her lover; "you at least are now
in safety--'twould be madness to tempt your fate again. My vessel can
and shall protect you, until your cousin is redeemed; and then,
remember, I have a claim on you for life."
"And how would you dispose of me in the interval?" said the young
maiden, retreating slowly from his advances.
"In the Ariel--by heaven, you shall be her commander; I will bear that
rank only in name."
"I thank you, thank you, Barnstable, but distrust my abilities to fill
such a station," she said, laughing, though the color that again crossed
her youthful features was like the glow of a summer's sunset, and even
her mirthful eyes seemed to reflect their tints. "Do not mistake me,
saucy one. If I have done more than my sex will warrant, remember it was
through a holy motive, and if I have more than a woman's enterprise, it
"To lift you above the weakness of your sex," he cried, "and to enable
you to show your noble confidence in me."
"To fit me for, and to keep me worthy of being one day your wife." As
she uttered these words she turned and disappeared, with a rapidity that
eluded his attempts to detain her, behind an angle of the hedge, that
was near them. For a moment, Barnstable remained motionless, through
surprise, and when he sprang forward in pursuit, he was able only to
catch a glimpse of her light form, in the gloom of the evening, as she
again vanished in a little thicket at some distance.
Barnstable was about to pursue, when the air lighted with a sudden
flash, and the bellowing report of a cannon rolled along the cliffs, and
was echoed among the hills far inland.
"Ay, grumble away, old dotard!" the disappointed young sailor muttered
to himself, while he reluctantly obeyed the signal; "you are in as great
a hurry to get out of your danger as you were to run into it."
The quick reports of three muskets from the barge beneath where he stood
urged him to quicken his pace, and as he threw himself carelessly down
the rugged and dangerous passes of the cliffs, his experienced eye
beheld the well-known lights displayed from the frigate, which commanded
"the recall of all her boats."
In such a time as this it is not meet
That every nice offence should bear its comment.
The cliffs threw their dark shadows wide on the waters, and the gloom
of the evening had so far advanced as to conceal the discontent that
brooded over the ordinarily open brow of Barnstable as he sprang from
the rocks into the boat, and took his seat by the side of the silent
pilot. "Shove off," cried the lieutenant, in tones that his men knew
must be obeyed. "A seaman's curse light on the folly that exposes planks
and lives to such navigation; and all to burn some old timberman, or
catch a Norway trader asleep! give way, men, give way!"
Notwithstanding the heavy and dangerous surf that was beginning to
tumble in upon the rocks in an alarming manner, the startled seamen
succeeded in urging their light boat over the waves, and in a few
seconds were without the point where danger was most to be apprehended.
Barnstable had seemingly disregarded the breakers as they passed, but
sat sternly eyeing the foam that rolled by them in successive surges,
until the boat rose regularly on the long seas, when he turned his looks
around the bay in quest of the barge.
"Ay, Griffith has tired of rocking in his pillowed cradle," he muttered,
"and will give us a pull to the frigate, when we ought to be getting the
schooner out of this hard-featured landscape. This is just such a place
as one of your sighing lovers would doat on; a little land, a little
water, and a good deal of rock. Damme, long Tom, but I am more than half
of your mind, that an island now and then is all the terra firma that a
"It's reason and philosophy, sir," returned the sedate cockswain; "and
what land there is, should always be a soft mud, or a sandy ooze, in
order that an anchor might hold, and to make soundings sartin. I have
lost many a deep-sea, besides hand leads by the dozen, on rocky bottoms;
but give me the roadstead where a lead comes up light and an anchor
heavy. There's a boat pulling athwart our forefoot, Captain Barnstable;
shall I run her aboard or give her a berth, sir?"
"'Tis the barge!" cried the officer; "Ned has not deserted me, after
A loud hail from the approaching boat confirmed this opinion, and in a
few seconds the barge and whale-boat were again rolling by each other's
side. Griffith was no longer reclining on the cushions of his seats, but
spoke earnestly, and with a slight tone of reproach in his manner.
"Why have you wasted so many precious moments, when every minute
threatens us with new dangers? I was obeying the signal, but I heard
your oars, and pulled back to take out the pilot. Have you been
"There he is; and if he finds his way out, through the shoals, he will
earn a right to his name. This bids fair to be a night when a man will
need a spy-glass to find the moon. But when you hear what I have seen on
those rascally cliffs, you will be more ready to excuse my delay, Mr.
"You have seen the true man, I trust, or we incur this hazard to an evil
"Ay, I have seen him that is a true man, and him that is not," replied
Barnstable, bitterly; "you have the boy with you, Griffith--ask him what
his young eyes have seen."
"Shall I!" cried the young midshipman, laughing; "then I have seen a
little clipper, in disguise, out sail an old man-of-war's man in a hard
chase, and I have seen a straggling rover in long-togs as much like my
"Peace, gabbler!" exclaimed Barnstable in a voice of thunder; "would you
detain the boats with your silly nonsense at a time like this? Away into
the barge, sir, and if you find him willing to hear, tell Mr. Griffith
what your foolish conjectures amount to, at your leisure."
The boy stepped lightly from the whale-boat to the barge, whither the
pilot had already preceded him, and, as he sunk, with a mortified air,
by the side of Griffith, he said, in a low voice:
"And that won't be long, I know, if Mr. Griffith thinks and feels on the
coast of England as he thought and felt at home."
A silent pressure of his hand was the only reply that the young
lieutenant made, before he paid the parting compliments to Barnstable,
and directed his men to pull for their ship.
The boats were separating, and the plash of the oars was already heard,
when the voice of the pilot was for the first time raised in earnest.
"Hold!" he cried; "hold water, I bid ye!"
The men ceased their efforts at the commanding tones of his voice, and
turning toward the whale-boat, he continued:
"You will get your schooner under way immediately, Captain Barnstable,
and sweep into the offing with as little delay as possible. Keep the
ship well open from the northern headland, and as you pass us, come
"This is a clean chart and plain sailing, Mr. Pilot," returned
Barnstable; "but who is to justify my moving without orders, to Captain
Munson? I have it in black and white, to run the Ariel into this
feather-bed sort of a place, and I must at least have it by signal or
word of mouth from my betters, before my cutwater curls another wave.
The road may be as hard to find going out as it was coming in--and then
I had daylight as well as your written directions to steer by."
"Would you lie there to perish on such a night?" said the pilot,
sternly. "Two hours hence, this heavy swell will break where your vessel
now rides so quietly."
"There we think exactly alike; but if I get drowned now, I am drowned
according to orders; whereas, if I knock a plank out of the schooner's
bottom, by following your directions, 'twill be a hole to let in mutiny,
as well as sea-water. How do I know but the old man wants another pilot
"That's philosophy," muttered the cockswain of the whale-boat, in a
voice that was audible: "but it's a hard strain on a man's conscience to
hold on in such an anchorage!"
"Then keep your anchor down, and follow it to the bottom," said the
pilot to himself; "it's worse to contend with a fool than a gale of
wind; but if----"
"No, no, sir--no fool neither," interrupted Griffith. "Barnstable does
not deserve that epithet, though he certainly carries the point of duty
to the extreme. Heave up at once, Mr. Barnstable, and get out of this
bay as fast as possible."
"Ah! you don't give the order with half the pleasure with which I shall
execute it; pull away, boys--the Ariel shall never lay her bones in such
a hard bed, if I can help it."
As the commander of the schooner uttered these words with a cheering
voice, his men spontaneously shouted, and the whale-boat darted away
from her companion, and was soon lost in the gloomy shadows cast from
In the mean time, the oarsmen of the barge were not idle, but by
strenuous efforts they forced the heavy boat rapidly through the water,
and in a few minutes she ran alongside of the frigate. During this
period the pilot, in a voice which had lost all the startling fierceness
and authority it had manifested in his short dialogue with Barnstable,
requested Griffith to repeat to him, slowly, the names of the officers
that belonged to his ship. When the young lieutenant had complied with
this request, he observed to his companion:
"All good men and true, Mr. Pilot; and though this business in which you
are just now engaged may be hazardous to an Englishman, there are none
with us who will betray you. We need your services, and as we expect
good faith from you, so shall we offer it to you in exchange."
"And how know you that I need its exercise?" asked the pilot, in a
manner that denoted a cold indifference to the subject.
"Why, though you talk pretty good English, for a native," returned
Griffith, "yet you have a small bur-r-r in your mouth that would prick
the tongue of a man who was born on the other side of the Atlantic."
"It is but of little moment where a man is born, or how he speaks,"
returned the pilot, coldly, "so that he does his duty bravely and in
It was perhaps fortunate for the harmony of this dialogue, that the
gloom, which had now increased to positive darkness, completely
concealed the look of scornful irony that crossed the handsome features
of the young sailor, as he replied: "True, true, so that he does his
duty, as you say, in good faith. But, as Barnstable observed, you must
know your road well to travel among these shoals on such a night as
this. Know you what water we draw?"
"'Tis a frigate's draught, and I shall endeavor to keep you in four
fathoms; less than that would be dangerous."
"She's a sweet boat!" said Griffith, "and minds her helm as a marine
watches the eye of his sergeant at a drill; but you must give her room
in stays, for she fore-reaches, as if she would put out the wind's eye."
The pilot attended, with a practised ear, to this description of the
qualities of the ship that he was about to attempt extricating from an
extremely dangerous situation. Not a syllable was lost on him; and when
Griffith had ended, he remarked, with the singular coldness that
pervaded his manner:
"That is both a good and a bad quality in a narrow channel. I fear it
will be the latter to-night, when we shall require to have the ship in
"I suppose we must feel our way with the lead?" said Griffith.
"We shall need both eyes and leads," returned the pilot, recurring
insensibly to his soliloquizing tone of voice. "I have been both in and
out in darker nights than this, though never with a heavier draught than
"Then, by heaven, you are not fit to handle that ship among these rocks
and breakers!" exclaimed Griffith; "your men of a light draught never
know their water; 'tis the deep keel only that finds a channel;--pilot!
pilot! beware how you trifle with us ignorantly; for 'tis a dangerous
experiment to play at hazards with an enemy."
"Young man, you know not what you threaten, nor whom," said the pilot
sternly, though his quiet manner still remained undisturbed; "you forget
that you have a superior here, and that I have none."
"That shall be as you discharge your duty," said Griffith; "for if----"
"Peace!" interrupted the pilot; "we approach the ship, let us enter in
He threw himself back on the cushions when he had said this; and
Griffith, though filled with the apprehensions of suffering, either by
great ignorance or treachery on the part of his companion, smothered his
feelings so far as to be silent, and they ascended the side of the
vessel in apparent cordiality.
The frigate was already riding on lengthened seas, that rolled in from
the ocean at each successive moment with increasing violence, though her
topsails still hung supinely from her yards; the air, which continued to
breathe occasionally from the land, being unable to shake the heavy
canvas of which they were composed.
The only sounds that were audible, when Griffith and the pilot had
ascended to the gangway of the frigate, were produced by the sullen
dashing of the sea against the massive bows of the ship, and the shrill
whistle of the boatswain's mate as he recalled the side-boys, who were
placed on either side of the gangway to do honor to the entrance of the
first lieutenant and his companion.
But though such a profound silence reigned among the hundreds who
inhabited the huge fabric, the light produced by a dozen battle-
lanterns, that were arranged in different parts of the decks, served not
only to exhibit faintly the persons of the crew, but the mingled feeling
of curiosity and care that dwelt on most of their countenances.
Large groups of men were collected in the gangways, around the mainmast,
and on the booms of the vessel, whose faces were distinctly visible,
while numerous figures, lying along the lower yards or bending out of
the tops, might be dimly traced in the background, all of whom expressed
by their attitudes the interest they took in the arrival of the boat.
Though such crowds were collected in other parts of the vessel, the
quarter-deck was occupied only by the officers, who were disposed
according to their several ranks, and were equally silent and attentive
as the remainder of the crew. In front stood a small collection of young
men, who, by their similarity of dress, were the equals and companions
of Griffith, though his juniors in rank. On the opposite side of the
vessel was a larger assemblage of youths, who claimed Mr. Merry as their
fellow. Around the capstan three or four figures were standing, one of
whom wore a coat of blue, with the scarlet facings of a soldier, and
another the black vestments of the ship's chaplain. Behind these, and
nearer the passage to the cabin from which he had just ascended, stood
the tall, erect form of the commander of the vessel.
After a brief salutation between Griffith and the junior officers, the
former advanced, followed slowly by the pilot, to the place where he was
expected by his veteran commander. The young man removed his hat
entirely, as he bowed with a little more than his usual ceremony, and
"We have succeeded, sir, though not without more difficulty and delay
than were anticipated."
"But you have not brought off the pilot," said the captain, "and without
him, all our risk and trouble have been in vain."
"He is here," said Griffith, stepping aside, and extending his arm
towards the man that stood behind him, wrapped to the chin in his coarse
pea-jacket, and his face shadowed by the falling rims of a large hat,
that had seen much and hard service.
"This!" exclaimed the captain; "then there is a sad mistake--this is not
the man I would have, seen, nor can another supply his place."
"I know not whom you expected, Captain Munson," said the stranger, in a
low, quiet voice; "but if you have not forgotten the day when a very
different flag from that emblem of tyranny that now hangs over yon
taffrail was first spread to the wind, you may remember the hand that
"Bring here the light!" exclaimed the commander, hastily.
When the lantern was extended towards the pilot, and the glare fell
strong on his features, Captain Munson started, as he beheld the calm
blue eye that met his gaze, and the composed but pallid countenance of
the other. Involuntarily raising his hat, and baring his silver locks,
the veteran cried:
"It is he! though so changed----"
"That his enemies did not know him," interrupted the pilot, quickly;
then touching the other by the arm as he led him aside, he continued, in
a lower tone, "neither must his friends, until the proper hour shall
Griffith had fallen back to answer the eager questions of his messmates,
and no part of this short dialogue was overheard by the officers, though
it was soon perceived that their commander had discovered his error, and
was satisfied that the proper man had been brought on board his vessel.
For many minutes the two continued to pace a part of the quarter-deck,
by themselves, engaged in deep and earnest discourse.
As Griffith had but little to communicate, the curiosity of his
listeners was soon appeased, and all eyes were directed toward that
mysterious guide, who was to conduct them from a situation already
surrounded by perils, which each moment not only magnified in
appearance, but increased in reality.
----"Behold the threaden sails,
Borne with the invisible and creeping winds,
Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,
Breasting the lofty surge."
It has been already explained to the reader, that there were
threatening symptoms in the appearance of the weather to create serious
forebodings of evil in the breast of a seaman. When removed from the
shadows of the cliffs, the night was not so dark but objects could be
discerned at some little distance, and in the eastern horizon there was
a streak of fearful light impending over the gloomy waters, in which the
swelling outline formed by the rising waves was becoming each moment
more distinct, and, consequently, more alarming. Several dark clouds
overhung the vessel, whose towering masts apparently propped the black
vapor, while a few stars were seen twinkling, with a sickly flame, in
the streak of clear sky that skirted the ocean. Still, light currents of
air occasionally swept across the bay, bringing with them the fresh odor
from the shore, but their flitting irregularity too surely foretold them
to be the expiring breath of the land breeze. The roaring of the surf,
as it rolled on the margin of the bay, produced a dull, monotonous
sound, that was only Interrupted at times by a hollow bellowing, as a
larger wave than usual broke violently against some cavity in the rock.
Everything, in short, united to render the scene gloomy and portentous,
without creating instant terror, for the ship rose easily on the long
billows, without even straightening the heavy cable that held her to her
The higher officers were collected around the capstan, engaged in
earnest discourse about their situation and prospects, while some of the
oldest and most favored seamen would extend their short walk to the
hallowed precincts of the quarter-deck, to catch, with greedy ears, the
opinions that fell from their superiors. Numberless were the uneasy
glances that were thrown from both officers and men at their commander
and the pilot, who still continued their secret communion in a distant
part of the vessel. Once, an ungovernable curiosity, or the heedlessness
of his years, led one of the youthful midshipmen near them; but a stern
rebuke from his captain sent the boy, abashed and cowering, to hide his
mortification among his fellows. This reprimand was received by the
elder officers as an intimation that the consultation which they beheld
was to be strictly inviolate; and, though it by no means suppressed the
repeated expressions of their impatience, it effectually prevented an
interruption to the communications, which all, however, thought were
unreasonably protracted for the occasion.
"This is no time to be talking over bearings and distances," observed
the officer next in rank to Griffith; "but we should call the hands up,
and try to kedge her off while the sea will suffer a boat to live."
"'Twould be a tedious and bootless job to attempt warping a ship for
miles against a head-beating sea," returned the first lieutenant; "but
the land-breeze yet flutters aloft, and if our light sails would draw,
with the aid of this ebb tide we might be able to shove her from the
"Hail the tops, Griffith," said the other, "and ask if they feel the air
above; 'twill be a hint at least to set the old man and that lubberly
pilot in motion."
Griffith laughed as he complied with the request, and when he received
the customary reply to his call, he demanded in a loud voice:
"Which way have you the wind, aloft?"
"We feel a light catspaw, now and then, from the land, sir," returned
the sturdy captain of the top; "but our topsail hangs in the clewlines,
sir, without winking."
Captain Munson and his companion suspended their discourse while this
question and answer were exchanged, and then resumed their dialogue as
earnestly as if it had received no interruption.
"If it did wink, the hint would be lost on our betters," said the
officer of the marines, whose ignorance of seamanship added greatly to
his perception of the danger, but who, from pure idleness, made more
jokes than any other man in the ship. "That pilot would not receive a
delicate intimation through his ears, Mr. Griffith; suppose you try him
by the nose."
"Faith, there was a flash of gunpowder between us in the barge,"
returned the first lieutenant, "and he does not seem a man to stomach
such hints as you advise. Although he looks so meek and quiet, I doubt
whether he has paid much attention to the book of Job."
"Why should he?" exclaimed the chaplain, whose apprehensions at least
equaled those of the marine, and with a much more disheartening effect;
"I am sure it would have been a great waste of time: there are so many
charts of the coast, and books on the navigation of these seas, for him
to study, that I sincerely hope he has been much better employed."
A loud laugh was created at this speech among the listeners, and it
apparently produced the effect that was so long anxiously desired, by
putting an end to the mysterious conference between their captain and
the pilot. As the former came forward towards his expecting crew, he
said, is the composed, steady manner that formed the principal trait in
"Get the anchor, Mr. Griffith, and make sail on the ship; the hour has
arrived when we must be moving."
The cheerful "Ay! ay! sir!" of the young lieutenant was hardly uttered,
before the cries of half a dozen midshipmen were heard summoning the
boatswain and his mates to their duty.
There was a general movement in the living masses that clustered around
the mainmast, on the booms, and in the gangways, though their habits of
discipline held the crew a moment longer in suspense. The silence was
first broken by the sound of the boatswain's whistle, followed by the
hoarse cry of "All hands, up anchor, ahoy!"--the former rising on the
night air, from its first low mellow notes to a piercing shrillness that
gradually died away on the waters; and the latter bellowing through
every cranny of the ship, like the hollow murmurs of distant thunder.
The change produced by the customary summons was magical. Human beings
sprang out from between the guns, rushed up the hatches, threw
themselves with careless activity from the booms, and gathered from
every quarter so rapidly, that in an instant the deck of the frigate was
alive with men. The profound silence, that had hitherto been only
interrupted by the low dialogue of the officers, was now changed for the
stern orders of the lieutenants, mingled with the shriller cries of the
midshipmen, and the hoarse bawling of the boatswain's crew, rising above
the tumult of preparation and general bustle.
The captain and the pilot alone remained passive, in this scene of
general exertion; for apprehension had even stimulated that class of
officers which is called "idlers" to unusual activity, though frequently
reminded by their more experienced messmates that, instead of aiding,
they retarded the duty of the vessel. The bustle, however, gradually
ceased, and in a few minutes the same silence pervaded the ship as
"We are brought-to, sir," said Griffith, who stood overlooking the
scene, holding in one hand a short speaking, trumpet, and grasping with
the other one of the shrouds of the ship, to steady himself in the
position he had taken on a gun.
"Heave round, sir," was the calm reply.
"Heave round!" repeated Griffith, aloud.
"Heave round!" echoed a dozen eager voices at once, and the lively
strains of a fife struck up a brisk air, to enliven the labor. The
capstan was instantly set in motion, and the measured tread of the
seamen was heard, as they stamped the deck in the circle of their march.
For a few minutes no other sounds were heard, if we except the voice of
an officer, occasionally cheering the sailors, when it was announced
that they "were short;" or, in other words, that the ship was nearly
over her anchor.
"Heave and pull," cried Griffith; when the quivering notes of the
whistle were again succeeded by a general stillness in the vessel.
"What is to be done now, sir?" continued the lieutenant; "shall we trip
the anchor? There seems not a breath of air; and as the tide runs slack,
I doubt whether the sea do not heave the ship ashore."
There was so much obvious truth in this conjecture, that all eyes turned
from the light and animation afforded by the decks of the frigate, to
look abroad on the waters, in a vain desire to pierce the darkness, as
if to read the fate of their apparently devoted ship from the aspect of
"I leave all to the pilot," said the captain, after he had stood a short
time by the side of Griffith, anxiously studying the heavens and the
ocean. "What say you, Mr. Gray?"
The man who was thus first addressed by name was leaning over the
bulwarks, with his eyes bent in the same direction as the others; but as
he answered he turned his face towards the speaker, and the light from
the deck fell full upon his quiet features, which exhibited a calmness
bordering on the supernatural, considering his station and
"There is much to fear from this heavy ground-swell," he said, in the
same unmoved tones as before; "but there is certain destruction to us,
if the gale that is brewing in the east finds us waiting its fury in
this wild anchorage. All the hemp that ever was spun into cordage would
not hold a ship an hour, chafing on these rocks, with a northeaster
pouring its fury on her. If the powers of man can compass it, gentlemen,
we must get an offing, and that speedily."
"You say no more, sir, than the youngest boy in the ship can see for
himself," said Griffith--"ha! here comes the schooner!"
The dashing of the long sweeps in the water was now plainly audible, and
the little Ariel was seen through the gloom, moving heavily under their
feeble impulse. As she passed slowly under the stern of the frigate, the
cheerful voice of Barnstable was first heard, opening the communications
"Here's a night for spectacles, Captain Munson!" he cried; "but I
thought I heard your fife, sir. I trust in God, you do not mean to ride
it out here till morning?"
"I like the berth as little as yourself, Mr. Barnstable," returned the
veteran seaman, in his calm manner, in which anxiety was, however,
beginning to grow evident. "We are short; but are afraid to let go our
hold of the bottom, lest the sea cast us ashore. How make you out the
"Wind!" echoed the other; "there is not enough to blow a lady's curl
aside. If you wait, sir, till the land-breeze fills your sails, you will
wait another moon. I believe I've got my eggshell out of that nest of
gray-caps; but how it has been done in the dark, a better man than
myself must explain."
"Take your directions from the pilot, Mr. Barnstable," returned his
commanding officer, "and follow them strictly and to the letter."
A deathlike silence, in both vessels, succeeded this order; for all
seemed to listen eagerly to catch the words that fell from the man on
whom, even the boys now felt, depended their only hopes for safety. A
short time was suffered to elapse, before his voice was heard, in the
same low but distinct tones as before:
"Your sweeps will soon be of no service to you," he said, "against the
sea that begins to heave in; but your light sails will help them to get
you out. So long as you can head east-and-by-north, you are doing well,
and you can stand on till you open the light from that northern
headland, when you can heave to and fire a gun; but if, as I dread, you
are struck aback before you open the light, you may trust to your lead
on the larboard tack; but beware, with your head to the southward, for
no lead will serve you there."
"I can walk over the same ground on one tack as on the other," said
Barnstable, "and make both legs of a length."
"It will not do," returned the pilot. "If you fall off a point to
starboard from east-and-by-north, in going large, you will find both
rocks and points of shoals to bring you up; and beware, as I tell you,
of the starboard tack."
"And how shall I find my way? you will let me trust to neither time,
lead, nor log."
"You must trust to a quick eye and a ready hand. The breakers only will
show you the dangers, when you are not able to make out the bearings of
the land. Tack in season, sir, and don't spare the lead when you head to
"Ay, ay," returned Barnstable, in a low muttering voice. "This is a sort
of blind navigation with a vengeance, and all for no purpose that I can
see--see! damme, eyesight is of about as much use now as a man's nose
would be in reading the Bible."
"Softly, softly, Mr. Barnstable," interrupted his commander--for such
was the anxious stillness in both vessels that even the rattling of the
schooner's rigging was heard, as she rolled in the trough of the sea--
"the duty on which Congress has sent us must be performed, at the hazard
of our lives."
"I don't mind my life, Captain Munson," said Barnstable, "but there is a
great want of conscience in trusting a vessel in such a place as this.
However, it is a time to do, and not to talk. But if there be such
danger to an easy draught of water, what will become of the frigate? had
I not better play jackal, and try and feel the way for you?"
"I thank you," said the pilot; "the offer is generous, but would avail
us nothing. I have the advantage of knowing the ground well, and must
trust to my memory and God's good favor. Make sail, make sail, sir, and
if you succeed, we will venture to break ground."
The order was promptly obeyed, and in a very short time the Ariel was
covered with canvas. Though no air was perceptible on the decks of the
frigate, the little schooner was so light that she succeeded in stemming
her way over the rising waves, aided a little by the tide; and in a few
minutes her low hull was just discernible in the streak of light along
the horizon, with the dark outline of her sails rising above the sea,
until their fanciful summits were lost in the shadows of the clouds.
Griffith had listened to the foregoing dialogue, like the rest of the
junior officers, in profound silence; but when the Ariel began to grow
indistinct to the eye, he jumped lightly from the gun to the deck, and
"She slips off, like a vessel from the stocks! Shall I trip the anchor,
sir, and follow?"
"We have no choice," replied his captain. "You hear the question, Mr.
Gray? shall we let go the bottom?"
"It must be done, Captain Munson; we may want more drift than the rest
of this tide to get us to a place of safety," said the pilot "I would
give five years from a life that I know will be short, if the ship lay
one mile further seaward."
This remark was unheard by all, except the commander of the frigate, who
again walked aside with the pilot, where they resumed their mysterious
communications. The words of assent were no sooner uttered, however,
than Griffith gave forth from his trumpet the command to "heave away!"
Again the strains of the fife were followed by the tread of the men at
the capstan. At the same time that the anchor was heaving up, the sails
were loosened from the yards, and opened to invite the breeze. In
effecting this duty, orders were thundered through the trumpet of the
first lieutenant, and executed with the rapidity of thought. Men were to
be seen, like spots in the dim light from the heavens, lying on every
yard or hanging as in air, while strange cries were heard issuing from
every part of the rigging and each spar of the vessel. "Ready the
foreroyal," cried a shrill voice, as if from the clouds; "ready the
foreyard," uttered the hoarser tones of a seaman beneath him; "all ready
aft, sir," cried a third, from another quarter; and in a few moments the
order was given to "let fall."
The little light which fell from the sky was now excluded by the falling
canvas, and a deeper gloom was cast athwart the decks of the ship, that
served to render the brilliancy of the lanterns even vivid, while it
gave to objects outboard a more appalling and dreary appearance than
Every individual, excepting the commander and his associate, was now
earnestly engaged in getting the ship under way. The sounds of "we're
away" were repeated by a burst from fifty voices, and the rapid
evolutions of the capstan announced that nothing but the weight of the
anchor was to be lifted. The hauling of cordage, the rattling of blocks,
blended with the shrill calls of the boatswain and his mates, succeeded;
and though to a landsman all would have appeared confusion and hurry,
long practice and strict discipline enabled the crew to exhibit their
ship under a cloud of canvas, from her deck to the trucks, in less time
than we have consumed in relating it.
For a few minutes, the officers were not disappointed by the result; for
though the heavy sails flapped lazily against the masts, the light duck
on the loftier spars swelled outwardly, and the ship began sensibly to
yield to their influence.
"She travels! she travels!" exclaimed Griffith joyously; "ah! the hussy!
she has as much antipathy to the land as any fish that swims: it blows a
little gale aloft yet!"
"We feel its dying breath," said the pilot, in low, soothing tones, but
in a manner so sudden as to startle Griffith, at whose elbow they were
unexpectedly uttered. "Let us forget, young man, everything but the
number of lives that depend, this night, on your exertions and my
"If you be but half as able to exhibit the one as I am willing to make
the other, we shall do well," returned the lieutenant, in the same tone.
"Remember, whatever may be your feelings, that _we_ are on an
enemy's coast, and love it not enough to wish to lay our bones there."
With this brief explanation they separated, the vessel requiring the
constant and close attention of the officer to her movements.
The exultation produced in the crew by the progress of their ship
through the water was of short duration; for the breeze that had seemed
to await their motions, after forcing the vessel for a quarter of a
mile, fluttered for a few minutes amid their light canvas, and then left
them entirely. The quartermaster, whose duty it was to superintend the
helm, soon announced that he was losing the command of the vessel, as
she was no longer obedient to her rudder. This ungrateful intelligence
was promptly communicated to his commander by Griffith, who suggested
the propriety of again dropping an anchor.
"I refer you to Mr. Gray," returned the captain; "he is the pilot, sir,
and with him rests the safety of the vessel."
"Pilots sometimes lose ships as well as save them," said Griffith: "know
you the man well, Captain Munson, who holds all our lives in his
keeping, and so coolly as if he cared but little for the venture?"
"Mr. Griffith, I do know him; he is, in my opinion, both competent and
faithful. Thus much I tell you, to relieve your anxiety; more you must
not ask;--but is there not a shift of wind?"
"God forbid!" exclaimed his lieutenant; "if that northeaster catches us
within the shoals, our case will be desperate indeed!"
The heavy rolling of the vessel caused an occasional expansion, and as
sudden a reaction, in their sails, which left the oldest seaman in the
ship in doubt which way the currents of air were passing, or whether
there existed any that were not created by the flapping of their own
canvas. The head of the ship, however, began to fall off from the sea,
and notwithstanding the darkness, it soon became apparent that she was
driving in, bodily, towards the shore.
During these few minutes of gloomy doubt, Griffith, by one of those
sudden revulsions of the mind that connect the opposite extremes of
feeling, lost his animated anxiety, and elapsed into the listless apathy
that so often came over him, even in the most critical moments of trial
and danger. He was standing with one elbow resting on his capstan,
shading his eyes from the light of the battle-lantern that stood near
him with one hand, when he felt a gentle pressure of the other, that
recalled his recollection. Looking affectionately, though still
recklessly, at the boy who stood at his side, he said:
"Dull music, Mr. Merry."
"So dull, sir, that I can't dance to it," returned the midshipman. "Nor
do I believe there is a man in the ship who would not rather hear 'The
girl I left behind me,' than those execrable sounds."
"What sounds, boy? The ship is as quiet as the Quaker meeting in the
Jerseys, before your good old grandfather used to break the charm of
silence with his sonorous voice."
"Ah! laugh at my peaceable blood, if thou wilt, Mr. Griffith," said the
arch youngster, "but remember, there is a mixture of it in all sorts of
veins. I wish I could hear one of the old gentleman's chants now, sir; I
could always sleep to them, like a gull in the surf. But he that sleeps
to-night, with that lullaby, will make a nap of it."
"Sounds! I hear no sounds, boy, but the flapping aloft; even that pilot,
who struts the quarter-deck like an admiral, has nothing to say."
"Is not that a sound to open a seaman's ear?"
"It is in truth a heavy roll of the surf, lad, but the night air carries
it heavily to our ears. Know you not the sounds of the surf yet,
"I know it too well, Mr. Griffith, and do not wish to know it better.
How fast are we tumbling in towards that surf, sir?"
"I think we hold our own," said Griffith, rousing again; "though we had
better anchor. Luff, fellow, luff--you are broadside to the sea!"
The man at the wheel repeated his former intelligence, adding a
suggestion, that he thought the ship "was gathering stern way."
"Haul up your courses, Mr. Griffith," said Captain Munson, "and let us
feel the wind."
The rattling of the blocks was soon heard, and the enormous sheets of
canvas that hung from the lower yards were instantly suspended "in the
brails." When this change was effected, all on board stood silent and
breathless, as if expecting to learn their fate by the result. Several
contradictory opinions were, at length, hazarded among the officers,
when Griffith seized the candle from the lantern, and springing on one
of the guns, held it on high, exposed to the action of the air. The
little flame waved, with uncertain glimmering, for a moment, and then
burned steadily, in a line with the masts. Griffith was about to lower
his extended arm, when, feeling a slight sensation of coolness on his
hand, he paused, and the light turned slowly toward the land, flared,
flickered, and finally deserted the wick.
"Lose not a moment, Mr. Griffith," cried the pilot aloud; "clew up and
furl everything but your three topsails, and let them be double-reefed.
Now is the time to fulfill your promise."
The young man paused one moment, in astonishment, as the clear, distinct
tones of the stranger struck his ears so unexpectedly; but turning his
eyes to seaward, he sprang on the deck, and proceeded to obey the order,
as if life and death depended on his dispatch.
"She rights! she rights, boys! ware off shore!"
The extraordinary activity of Griffith, which communicated itself with
promptitude to the crew, was produced by a sudden alteration in the
weather. In place of the well-defined streak along the horizon, that has
been already described, an immense body of misty light appeared to be
moving in, with rapidity, from the ocean, while a distinct but distant
roaring announced the sure approach of the tempest that had so long
troubled the waters. Even Griffith, while thundering his orders through
the trumpet, and urging the men, by his cries, to expedition, would
pause, for instants, to cast anxious glances in the direction of the
coming storm; and the faces of the sailors who lay on the yards were
turned, instinctively, towards the same quarter of the heavens, while
they knotted the reef-points, or passed the gaskets that were to confine
the unruly canvas to the prescribed limits.
The pilot alone, in that confused and busy throng, where voice rose
above voice, and cry echoed cry, in quick succession, appeared as if he
held no interest in the important stake. With his eye steadily fixed on
the approaching mist, and his arms folded together in composure, he
stood calmly waiting the result.
The ship had fallen off, with her broadside to the sea, and was become
unmanageable, and the sails were already brought into the folds
necessary to her security, when the quick and heavy fluttering of canvas
was thrown across the water, with all the gloomy and chilling sensations
that such sounds produce, where darkness and danger unite to appall the
"The schooner has it!" cried Griffith: "Barnstable has held on, like
himself, to the last moment.--God send that the squall leave him cloth
enough to keep him from the shore!"
"His sails are easily handled," the commander observed, "and she must be
over the principal danger. We are falling off before it, Mr. Gray; shall
we try a cast of the lead?"
The pilot turned from his contemplative posture, and moved slowly across
the deck before he returned any reply to this question--like a man who
not only felt that everything depended on himself, but that he was equal
to the emergency.
"'Tis unnecessary," he at length said; "'twould be certain destruction
to be taken aback; and it is difficult to say, within several points,
how the wind may strike us."
"'Tis difficult no longer," cried Griffith; "for here it comes, and in
The rushing sounds of the wind were now, indeed, heard at hand; and the
words were hardly past the lips of the young lieutenant, before the
vessel bowed down heavily to one side, and then, as she began to move
through the water, rose again majestically to her upright position, as
if saluting, like a courteous champion, the powerful antagonist with
which she was about to contend. Not another minute elapsed, before the
ship was throwing the waters aside, with a lively progress, and,
obedient to her helm, was brought as near to the desired course as the
direction of the wind would allow. The hurry and bustle on the yards
gradually subsided, and the men slowly descended to the deck, all
straining their eyes to pierce the gloom in which they were enveloped,
and some shaking their heads, in melancholy doubt, afraid to express the
apprehensions they really entertained. All on board anxiously waited for
the fury of the gale; for there were none so ignorant or inexperienced
in that gallant frigate, as not to know that as yet they only felt the
infant effects of the wind. Each moment, however, it increased in power,
though so gradual was the alteration, that the relieved mariners began
to believe that all their gloomy forebodings were not to be realized.
During this short interval of uncertainty, no other sounds were heard
than the whistling of the breeze, as it passed quickly through the mass
of rigging that belonged to the vessel, and the dashing of the spray
that began to fly from her bows, like the foam of a cataract.
"It blows fresh," cried Griffith, who was the first to speak in that
moment of doubt and anxiety; "but it is no more than a capful of wind
after all. Give us elbow-room, and the right canvas, Mr. Pilot, and I'll
handle the ship like a gentleman's yacht, in this breeze."
"Will she stay, think ye, under this sail?" said the low voice of the
"She will do all that man, in reason, can ask of wood and iron,"
returned the lieutenant; "but the vessel don't float the ocean that will
tack under double-reefed topsails alone, against a heavy sea. Help her
with her courses, pilot, and you shall see her come round like a
"Let us feel the strength of the gale first," returned the man who was
called Mr. Gray, moving from the side of Griffith to the weather gangway
of the vessel, where he stood in silence, looking ahead of the ship,
with an air of singular coolness and abstraction.
All the lanterns had been extinguished on the deck of the frigate, when
her anchor was secured, and as the first mist of the gale had passed
over, it was succeeded by a faint light that was a good deal aided by
the glittering foam of the waters, which now broke in white curls around
the vessel in every direction. The land could be faintly discerned,
rising like a heavy bank of black fog above the margin of the waters,
and was only distinguishable from the heavens by its deeper gloom and
obscurity. The last rope was coiled, and deposited in its proper place,
by the seamen, and for several minutes the stillness of death pervaded
the crowded decks. It was evident to every one, that their ship was
dashing at a prodigious rate through the waves; and as she was
approaching, with such velocity, the quarter of the bay where the shoals
and dangers were known to be situated, nothing but the habits of the
most exact discipline could suppress the uneasiness of the officers and
men within their own bosoms. At length the voice of Captain Munson was
heard, calling to the pilot:
"Shall I send a hand into the chains, Mr. Gray," he said, "and try our
Although this question was asked aloud, and the interest it excited drew
many of the officers and men around him, in eager impatience for his
answer, it was unheeded by the man to whom it was addressed. His head
rested on his hand, as he leaned over the hammock-cloths of the vessel,
and his whole air was that of one whose thoughts wandered from the
pressing necessity of their situation. Griffith was among those who had
approached the pilot; and after waiting a moment, from respect, to hear
the answer to his commander's question, he presumed on his own rank, and
leaving the circle that stood at a little distance, stepped to the side
of the mysterious guardian of their lives.
"Captain Munson desires to know whether you wish a cast of the lead?"
said the young officer, with a little impatience of manner. No immediate
answer was made to this repetition of the question, and Griffith laid
his hand unceremoniously on the shoulder of the other, with an intent to
rouse him before he made another application for a reply, but the
convulsive start of the pilot held him silent in amazement.
"Fall back there," said the lieutenant, sternly; to the men, who were
closing around them in compact circle; "away with you to your stations,
and see all clear for stays." The dense mass of heads dissolved, at this
order, like the water of one of the waves commingling with the ocean,
and the lieutenant and his companions were left by themselves.
"This is not a time for musing, Mr. Gray," continued Griffith; "remember
our compact, and look to your charge--is it not time to put the vessel
in stays? of what are you dreaming?"
The pilot laid his hand on the extended arm of the lieutenant, and
grasped it with a convulsive pressure, as he answered:
"'Tis a dream of reality. You are young, Mr. Griffith, nor am I past the
noon of life; but should you live fifty years longer, you never can see
and experience what I have encountered in my little period of three-and-
A good deal astonished at this burst of feeling, so singular at such a
moment, the young sailor was at a loss for a reply; but as his duty was
uppermost in his thoughts, he still dwelt on the theme that most
"I hope much of your experience has been on this coast, for the ship
travels lively," he said, "and the daylight showed us so much to dread,
that we do not feel over-valiant in the dark. How much longer shall we
stand on, upon this tack?"
The pilot turned slowly from the side of the vessel, and walked towards
the commander of the frigate, as he replied, in a tone that seemed
deeply agitated by his melancholy reflections:
"You have your wish, then; much, very much of my early life was passed
on this dreaded coast. What to you is all darkness and gloom, to me is
as light as if a noon-day sun shone upon it. But tack your ship, sir,
tack your ship; I would see how she works before we reach the point
where she _must_ behave well, or we perish."
Griffith gazed after him in wonder, while the pilot slowly paced the
quarter-deck, and then, rousing from his trance, gave forth the cheering
order that called each man to his station, to perform the desired
evolution. The confident assurances which the young officer had given to
the pilot respecting the qualities of his vessel and his own ability to
manage her, were fully realized by the result. The helm was no sooner
put a-lee, than the huge ship bore up gallantly against the wind, and,
dashing directly through the waves, threw the foam high into the air, as
she looked boldly into the very eye of the wind; and then, yielding
gracefully to its power, she fell off on the other tack, with her head
pointed from those dangerous shoals that she had so recently approached
with such terrifying velocity. The heavy yards swung round, as if they
had been vanes to indicate the currents of the air; and in a few moments
the frigate again moved, with stately progress, through the water,
leaving the rocks and shoals behind her on one side of the bay, but
advancing towards those that offered equal danger on the other.
During this time the sea was becoming more agitated, and the violence of
the wind was gradually increasing. The latter no longer whistled amid
the cordage of the vessel, but it seemed to howl, surlily, as it passed
the complicated machinery that the frigate obtruded on its path. An
endless succession of white surges rose above the heavy billows, and the
very air was glittering with the light that was disengaged from the
ocean. The ship yielded, each moment, more and more before the storm,
and in less than half an hour from the time that she had lifted her
anchor, she was driven along with tremendous fury by the full power of a
gale of wind. Still the hardy and experienced mariners who directed her
movements held her to the course that was necessary to their
preservation, and still Griffith gave forth, when directed by their
unknown pilot, those orders that turned her in the narrow channel where
alone safety was to be found.
So far, the performance of his duty appeared easy to the stranger, and
he gave the required directions in those still, calm tones, that formed
so remarkable a contrast to the responsibility of his situation. But
when the land was becoming dim, in distance as well as darkness, and the
agitated sea alone was to be discovered as it swept by them in foam, he
broke in upon the monotonous roaring of the tempest with the sounds of
his voice, seeming to shake off his apathy, and rouse himself to the
"Now is the time to watch her closely, Mr. Griffith," he cried; "here we
get the true tide and the real danger. Place the best quartermaster of
your ship in those chains, and let an officer stand by him, and see that
he gives us the right water."
"I will take that office on myself," said the captain; "pass a light
into the weather main-chains."
"Stand by your braces!" exclaimed the pilot, with startling quickness.
"Heave away that lead!"
These preparations taught the crew to expect the crisis, and every
officer and man stood in fearful silence, at his assigned station,
awaiting the issue of the trial. Even the quartermaster at the cun gave
out his orders to the men at the wheel, in deeper and hoarser tones than
usual, as if anxious not to disturb the quiet and order of the vessel.
While this deep expectation pervaded the frigate, the piercing cry of
the leadsman, as he called "By the mark seven," rose above the tempest,
crossed over the decks, and appeared to pass away to leeward, borne on
the blast like the warnings of some water-spirit.
"'Tis well," returned the pilot, calmly; "try it again."
The short pause was succeeded by another cry, "And a half-five!"
"She shoals! she shoals!" exclaimed Griffith: "keep her a good full."
"Ay! you must hold the vessel in command, now," said the pilot, with
those cool tones that are most appalling in critical moments because
they seem to denote most preparation and care.
The third call, "By the deep four," was followed by a prompt direction
from the stranger to tack.
Griffith seemed to emulate the coolness of the pilot, in issuing the
necessary orders to execute this manoeuvre.
The vessel rose slowly from the inclined position into which she had
been forced by the tempest, and the sails were shaking violently, as if
to release themselves from their confinement, while the ship stemmed the
billows, when the well-known voice of the sailing-master was heard
shouting from the forecastle:
"Breakers! breakers, dead ahead!"
This appalling sound seemed yet to be lingering about the ship, when a
second voice cried:
"Breakers on our lee bow!"
"We are in a bite of the shoals, Mr. Gray," cried the commander. "She
loses her way; perhaps an anchor might hold her."
"Clear away that best bower!" shouted Griffith through his trumpet.
"Hold on!" cried the pilot, in a voice that reached the very hearts of
all who heard him; "hold on everything."
The young man turned fiercely to the daring stranger who thus defied the
discipline of his vessel, and at once demanded:
"Who is it that dares to countermand my orders? Is it not enough that
you run the ship into danger, but you must interfere to keep her there?
If another word----"
"Peace, Mr. Griffith," interrupted the captain, bending from the
rigging, his gray locks blowing about in the wind and adding a look of
wildness to the haggard care that he exhibited by the light of his
lantern; "yield the trumpet to Mr. Gray; he alone can save us."
Griffith threw his speaking-trumpet on the deck, and as he walked
proudly away, muttered in bitterness of feeling:
"Then all is lost, indeed! and among the rest the foolish hopes with
which I visited this coast."
There was, however, no time for reply; the ship had been rapidly running
into the wind, and as the efforts of the crew were paralyzed by the
contradictory orders they had heard, she gradually lost her way, and in
a few seconds all her sails were taken aback.
Before the crew understood their situation the pilot had applied the
trumpet to his mouth, and in a voice that rose above the tempest, he
thundered forth his orders. Each command was given distinctly, and with
a precision that showed him to be master of his profession. The helm was
kept fast, the head-yards swung up heavily against the wind, and the
vessel was soon whirling round on her heel, with a retrograde movement.
Griffith was too much of a seaman not to perceive that the pilot had
seized, with a perception almost intuitive, the only method that
promised to extricate the vessel from her situation. He was young,
impetuous, and proud--but he was also generous. Forgetting his
resentment and his mortification, he rushed forward among the men, and,
by his presence and example, added certainty to the experiment. The ship
fell off slowly before the gale, and bowed her yards nearly to the
water, as she felt the blast pouring its fury on her broadside, while
the surly waves beat violently against her stern, as if in reproach at
departing from her usual manner of moving.
The voice of the pilot, however, was still heard, steady and calm, and
yet so clear and high as to reach every ear; and the obedient seamen
whirled the yards at his bidding in despite of the tempest, as if they
handled the toys of their childhood. When the ship had fallen off dead
before the wind, her head-sails were shaken, her after-yards trimmed,
and her helm shifted, before she had time to run upon the danger that
had threatened, as well to leeward as to windward. The beautiful fabric,
obedient to her government, threw her bows up gracefully towards the
wind again; and, as her sails were trimmed, moved out from among the
dangerous shoals, in which she had been embayed, as steadily and swiftly
as she had approached them.
A moment of breathless astonishment succeeded the accomplishment of this
nice manoeuvre, but there was no time for the usual expressions of
surprise. The stranger still held the trumpet, and continued to lift his
voice amid the howlings of the blast, whenever prudence or skill
required any change in the management of the ship. For an hour longer
there was a fearful struggle for their preservation, the channel
becoming at each step more complicated, and the shoals thickening around
the mariners on every side. The lead was cast rapidly, and the quick eye
of the pilot seemed to pierce the darkness with a keenness of vision
that exceeded human power. It was apparent to all in the vessel that
they were under the guidance of one who understood the navigation
thoroughly, and their exertions kept pace with their reviving
confidence. Again and again the frigate appeared to be rushing blindly
on shoals where the sea was covered with foam, and where destruction
would have been as sudden as it was certain, when the clear voice of the