Part 4 out of 9
reluctance that they would part with any other well established means of
profit, creeping down her sides as lazily as the leech, filled to
repletion, rolls from his bloody repast. The common seaman, with an
attention divided by the orders of the pilot and the adieus of
acquaintances, runs in every direction but the right one, and, perhaps at
the only time in his life, seems ignorant of the uses of the ropes he has
so long been accustomed to handle. Notwithstanding all these vexatious
delays, and customary incumbrances, the "Royal Caroline" finally got rid
of all her visitors but one, and Wilder was enabled to indulge in a
pleasure that a seaman alone can appreciate--that clear decks and an
orderly ship's company.
"Good: Speak to the mariners: Fall to't yarely, or we run ourselves
A good deal of the day had been wasted during the time occupied by the
scenes just related. The breeze had come in steady, but far from fresh. So
soon, however, as Wilder found himself left without the molestation of
idlers from the shore, and the busy interposition of the consignee, he
cast his eyes about him, with the intention of immediately submitting the
ship to its power. Sending for the pilot, he communicated his
determination, and withdrew himself to a part of the deck whence he might
take a proper survey of the materials of his new command, and where he
might reflect on the unexpected and extraordinary situation in which he
The "Royal Caroline" was not entirely without pretensions to the lofty
name she bore. She was a vessel of that happy size in which comfort and
convenience had been equally consulted. The letter of the Rover affirmed
she had a reputation for her speed; and her young and intelligent
Commander saw, with great inward satisfaction, that she was not destitute
of the means of enabling him to exhibit all her finest properties. A
healthy, active, and skilful crew, justly proportioned spars, little
top-hamper, and an excellent trim, with a superabundance of light sails,
offered all the advantages his experience could suggest. His eye lighted,
as it glanced rapidly over these several particulars of his command, and
his lips moved like those of a man who uttered an inward self-gratulation,
or who indulged in some vaunt, that propriety suggested should go no
farther than his own thoughts.
By this time, the crew, under the orders of the pilot, were assembled at
the windlass, and had commenced heaving-in upon the cable. The labour was
of a nature to exhibit their individual powers, as well as their
collective force, to the greatest advantage. Their motion was
simultaneous, quick, and full of muscle. The cry was clear and cheerful.
As if to feel his influence, our adventurer lifted his own voice, amid the
song of the mariners, in one of those sudden and inspiriting calls with
which a sea officer is wont to encourage his people. His utterance was
deep, animated, and full of authority. The seamen started like mettled
coursers when they first hear the signal, each man casting a glance behind
him, as though he would scan the qualities of his new superior Wilder
smiled, like one satisfied with his success; and, turning to pace the
quarter-deck, he found himself once more confronted by the calm,
considerate but certainly astonished eye of Mrs Wyllys.
"After the opinions you were pleased to express of this vessel," said the
lady, in a manner of the coldest irony, "I did not expect to find you
filling a place of such responsibility here."
"You probably knew, Madam," returned the young mariner, "that a sad
accident had happened to her Master?"
"I did; and I had heard that another officer had been found, temporarily,
to supply his place. Still, I should presume, that, on reflection, you
will not think it remarkable I am amazed in finding who this person is."
"Perhaps, Madam, you may have conceived, from our conversations, an
unfavourable opinion of my professional skill. But I hope that on this
head you will place your mind at ease; for"----
"You are doubtless a master of the art! it would seem, at least, that no
trifling danger can deter you from seeking proper opportunities to display
this knowledge. Are we to have the pleasure of your company during the
whole passage, or do you leave us at the mouth of the port?"
"I am engaged to conduct the ship to the end of her voyage."
"We may then hope that the danger you either saw or imagined is lessened
in your judgment, otherwise you would not be so ready to encounter it in
"You do me injustice, Madam," returned Wilder, with warmth, glancing his
eye unconsciously towards the grave, but deeply attentive Gertrude, as he
spoke; "there is no danger that I would not cheerfully encounter, to save
you, or this young lady, from harm."
"Even this young lady must be sensible of your chivalry!" Then, losing the
constrained manner with which, until now, she had maintained the discourse
in one more natural, and one far more in consonance with her usually mild
and thoughtful mien, Mrs. Wyllys continued, "You have a powerful advocate,
young man, in the unaccountable interest which I feel in your truth; an
interest that my reason would fain condemn. As the ship must need your
services, I will no longer detain you. Opportunities cannot be wanting to
enable us to judge both of your inclination and ability to serve us.
Gertrude, my love, females are usually considered as incumbrances in a
vessel; more particularly when there is any delicate duty to perform, like
this before us."
Gertrude started, blushed, and proceeded, after her governess, to the
opposite side of the quarter-deck followed by an expressive look from our
adventurer which seemed to say, he considered her presence any thing else
but an incumbrance. As the ladies immediately took a position apart from
every body, and one where they were least in the way of working the ship,
at the same time that they could command an entire view of all her
manoeuvres the disappointed sailor was obliged to cut short a
communication which he would gladly have continued until compelled to take
the charge of the vessel from the hands of the pilot. By this time,
however, the anchor was a-weigh, and the seamen were already actively
engaged in the process of making sail. Wilder lent himself, with feverish
excitement, to the duty; and, taking the words from the officer who was
issuing the necessary orders, he assumed the immediate superintendence in
As sheet after sheet of canvas fell from the yards, and was distended by
the complicated mechanism, the interest that a seaman ever takes in his
vessel began to gain the ascendancy over all other feelings By the time
every thing was set, from the royals down, and the ship was cast with her
head towards the harbour's mouth, our adventurer had probably forgotten
(for the moment only, it is true) that he was a stranger among those he
was in so extraordinary a manner selected to command, and how precious a
stake was intrusted to his firmness and decision. After every thing was
set to advantage, alow and aloft, and the ship was brought close upon the
wind, his eye scanned every yard and sail, from the truck to the hull, and
concluded by casting a glance along the outer side of the vessel, in order
to see that not even the smallest rope was in the water to impede her
progress. A small skiff, occupied by a boy, was towing under the lee, and,
as the mass of the vessel began to move, it was skipping along the surface
of the water, light and buoyant as a feather. Perceiving that it was a
boat belonging to the shore, Wilder walked forward, and demanded its
owner. A mate pointed to Joram, who at that moment ascended from the
interior of the vessel, where he had been settling the balance due from a
delinquent, or, what was in his eyes the same thing, a departing debtor.
The sight of this man recalled Wilder to a recollection of all that had
occurred that morning, and of the whole delicacy of the task he had
undertaken to perform. But the publican, whose ideas appeared always
concentrated when occupied on the subject of gain, seemed troubled by no
particular emotions at the interview. He approached the young mariner and,
saluting him by the title of "Captain," bade him a good voyage, with those
customary wish es which seamen express, when about to separate on such an
"A lucky trip you have made of it, Captain Wilder," he concluded, "and I
hope your passage will be short. You'll not be without a breeze this
afternoon; and, by stretching well over towards Montauck you'll be able to
make such an offing, on the other tack, as to run the coast down in the
morning. If I am any judge of the weather, the wind will have more easting
in it, than you may happen to find to your fancy."
"And how long do you think my voyage is likely to last?" demanded Wilder,
dropping his voice so low as to reach no ears but those of the publican.
Joram cast a furtive glance aside; and, perceiving that they were alone,
he suffered an expression of hardened cunning to take possession of a
countenance that ordinarily seemed set in dull, physical contentment, as
he replied, laying a finger on his nose while speaking,--
"Didn't I tender the consignee a beautiful oath, master Wilder?"
"You certainly exceeded my expectations with your promptitude, and"--
"Information!" added the landlord of the 'Foul Anchor,' perceiving the
other a little at a loss for a word; "yes, I have always been remarkable
for the activity of my mind in these small matters; but, when a man once
knows a thing thoroughly, it is a great folly to spend his breath in too
"It is certainly a great advantage to be so well instructed. I suppose
you improve your knowledge to a good account."
"Ah! bless me, master Wilder, what would become of us all, in these
difficult times, if we did not turn an honest penny in every way that
offers? I have brought up several fine children in credit, and it sha'n't
be my fault if I don't leave them something too, besides my good name.
Well, well; they say, 'A nimble sixpence is as good as a lazy shilling;'
but give me the man who don't stand shilly-shally when a friend has need
of his good word, or a lift from his hand. You always know where to find
such a man; as our politicians say, after they have gone through thick and
thin in the cause, be it right or be it wrong."
"Very commendable principles! and such as will surely be the means of
exalting you in the world sooner or later! But you forget to answer my
question: Will the passage be long, or short?"
"Heaven bless you, master Wilder! Is it for a poor publican, like me, to
tell the Master of this noble ship which way the wind will blow next?
There is the worthy and notable Commander Nichols, lying in his state-room
below, he could do any thing with the vessel; and why am I to expect that
a gentleman so well recommended as yourself will do less? I expect to hear
that you have made a famous run, and have done credit to the good word I
have had occasion to say in your favour."
Wilder execrated, in his heart, the wary cunning of the rogue with whom he
was compelled, for the moment, to be in league; for he saw plainly that a
determination not to commit himself a tittle further than he might
conceive to be absolutely necessary, was likely to render Joram too
circumspect, to answer his own immediate wishes. After hesitating a
moment, in order to reflect, he continued hastily,--
"You see that the ship is gathering way too fast to admit of trifling.
You know of the letter I received this morning?"
"Bless me, Captain Wilder! Do you take me for a postmaster? How should I
know what letters arrive at Newport, and what stop on the main?"
"As timid a villain as he is thorough!" muttered the young mariner. "But
this much you may surely say, Am I to be followed immediately? or is it
expected that I should detain the ship in the offing, under any pretence
that I can devise?"
"Heaven keep you, young gentleman! These are strange questions, to come
from one who is fresh off the sea, to a man that has done no more than
look at it from the land, these five-and-twenty years. According to my
memory, sir, you will keep the ship about south until you are clear of the
islands; and then you must make your calculations according to the wind,
in order not to get into the Gulf, where, you know, the stream will be
setting you one way, while your orders say, 'Go another.'"
"Luff! mind your luff, sir!" cried the pilot, in a stern voice, to the man
at the helm; "luff you can; on no account go to leeward of the slaver!"
Both Wilder and the publican started, as if they found something alarming
in the name of the vessel just alluded to; and the former pointed to the
skiff, as he said,--
"Unless you wish to go to sea with us, Mr Joram, it is time your boat held
"Ay, ay, I see you are fairly under way, and I must leave you, however
much I like your company," returned the landlord of the 'Foul Anchor,'
bustling over the side, and getting into his skiff in the best manner he
could. "Well, boys, a good time to ye; a plenty of wind, and of the right
sort; a safe passage out, and a quick return. Cast off."
His order was obeyed; the light skiff, no longer impelled by the ship,
immediately deviated from its course; and, after making a little circuit,
it became stationary, while the mass of the vessel passed on, with the
steadiness of an elephant from whose back a butterfly had just taken its
flight. Wilder followed the boat with his eyes, for a moment; but his
thoughts were recalled by the voice of the pilot, who again called, from
the forward part of the ship,--
"Let the light sails lift a little, boy; let her lift keep every inch you
can, or you'll not weather the slaver. Luff, I say, sir; luff."
"The slaver!" muttered our adventurer, hastening to a part of the ship
whence he could command a view of that important, and to him doubly
interesting ship; "ay, the slaver! it may be difficult, indeed to weather
upon the slaver!"
He had unconsciously placed himself near Mrs Wyllys and Gertrude; the
latter of whom was leaning on the rail of the quarter-deck, regarding the
strange vessel at anchor, with a pleasure far from unnatural to her years
"You may laugh at me, and call me fickle, and perhaps credulous, dear Mrs
Wyllys," the unsuspecting girl cried, just as Wilder had taken the
foregoing position, "but I wish we were well out of this 'Royal Caroline,'
and that our passage was to be made in yonder beautiful ship!"
"It is indeed a beautiful ship!" returned Wyllys; "but I know not that it
would be safer, or more comfortable, than the one we are in."
"With what symmetry and order the ropes are arranged! and how like a bird
it floats upon the water!"
"Had you particularized the duck, the comparison would have been exactly
nautical," said the governess, smiling mournfully; "you show capabilities
my love, to be one day a seaman's wife."
Gertrude blushed a little; and, turning back her head to answer in the
playful vein of her governess, her eye met the riveted look of Wilder,
fastened on herself. The colour on her cheek deepened to a carnation, and
she was mute; the large gipsy hat she wore serving to conceal both her
face and the confusion which so deeply suffused it.
"You make no answer, child, as if you reflected seriously on the chances,"
continued Mrs Wyllys, whose thoughtful and abstracted mien, however,
sufficiently proved she scarcely knew what she uttered.
"The sea is too unstable an element for my taste," Gertrude coldly
answered. "Pray tell me, Mrs Wyllys, is the vessel we are approaching a
King's ship? She has a warlike, not to say a threatening exterior."
"The pilot has twice called her a slaver."
"A slaver! How deceitful then is all her beauty and symmetry! I will never
trust to appearances again, since so lovely an object can be devoted to so
vile a purpose."
"Deceitful indeed!" exclaimed Wilder aloud, under an impulse that he found
as irresistible as it was involuntary. "I will take upon myself to say,
that a more treacherous vessel does not float the ocean than yonder finely
proportioned and admirably equipped"----
"Slaver," added Mrs Wyllys, who had time to turn, and to look all her
astonishment, before the young man appeared disposed to finish his own
"Slaver;" he said with emphasis, bowing at the same time, as if he would
thank her for the word.
After this interruption, a profound silence occurred Mrs Wyllys studied
the disturbed features of the young man, for a moment, with a countenance
that denoted a singular, though a complicated, interest; and then she
gravely bent her eyes on the water, deeply occupied with intense, if not
painful reflection The light symmetrical form of Gertrude continued
leaning on the rail, it is true, but Wilder was unable to catch another
glimpse of her averted and shadowed lineaments. In the mean while, events,
that were of a character to withdraw his attention entirely from even so
pleasing a study, were hastening to their accomplishment.
The ship had, by this time, passed between the little island and the point
whence Homespun had embarked, and might now be said to have fairly left
the inner harbour. The slaver lay directly in her track, and every man in
the vessel was gazing with deep interest, in order to see whether they
might yet hope to pass on her weather-beam. The measure was desirable;
because a seaman has a pride in keeping on the honourable side of every
thing he encounters but chiefly because, from the position of the
stranger, it would be the means of preventing the necessity of tacking
before the "Caroline" should reach a point more advantageous for such a
manoeuvre. The reader will, however, readily understand that the interest
of hear new Commander took its rise in far different feelings from those
of professional pride, or momentary convenience.
Wilder felt, in every nerve, the probability that a crisis was at hand. It
will be remembered that he was profoundly ignorant of the immediate
intentions of the Rover. As the fort was not in a state for present
service, it would not be difficult for the latter to seize upon his prey
in open view of the townsmen and bear it off, in contempt of their feeble
means of defence. The position of the two ships was favourable to such an
enterprise. Unprepared, find unsuspecting, the "Caroline," at no time a
natch for her powerful adversary, must fall an easy victim; nor would
there be much reason to apprehend that a single shot from the battery
could reach them, before the captor, and his prize, would be at such a
distance as to render the blow next to impotent if not utterly innocuous.
The wild and audacious character of such an enterprise was in full
accordance with the reputation of the desperate freebooter on whose
caprice, alone, the act now seemed solely to depend.
Under these impressions, and with the prospect of such a speedy
termination to his new-born authority it is not to be considered wonderful
that our adventurer awaited the result with an interest far exceeding that
of any of those by whom he was surrounded He walked into the waist of the
ship, and endeavoured to read the plan of his secret confederates by some
of those indications that are familiar to a seaman. Not the smallest sign
of any intention to depart, or in any manner to change her position, was,
however, discoverable in the pretended slaver. She lay in the same deep,
beautiful, but treacherous quiet, as that in which she had reposed
throughout the whole of the eventful morning. But a solitary individual
could be seen amid the mazes of her rigging, or along the wide reach of
all her spars. It was a seaman seated on the extremity of a lower yard,
where he appeared to busy himself with one of those repairs that are so
constantly required in the gear of a large ship. As the man was placed on
the weather side of his own vessel, Wilder instantly conceived the idea
that he was thus stationed to cast a grapnel into the rigging of the
"Caroline," should such a measure become necessary, in order to bring the
two ships foul of each other. With a view to prevent so rude an encounter,
he instantly determined to defeat the plan. Calling to the pilot, he told
him the attempt to pass to windward was of very doubtful success, and
reminded him that the safer way would be to go to leeward.
"No fear, no fear, Captain," returned the stubborn conductor of the ship,
who, as his authority was so brief, was only the more jealous of its
unrestrained exercise, and who, like an usurper of the throne, felt a
jealousy of the more legitimate power which he had temporarily
dispossessed; "no fear of me, Captain. I have trolled over this ground
oftener than you have crossed the ocean, and I know the name of every rock
on the bottom, as well as the town-crier knows the streets of Newport. Let
her luff, boy; luff her into the very eye of the wind; luff, you can"----
"You have the ship shivering as it is, sir," said Wilder, sternly: "Should
you get us foul of the slaver who is to pay the cost?"
"I am a general underwriter," returned the opinionated pilot; "my wife
shall mend every hole I make in your sails, with a needle no bigger than a
hair, and with such a palm as a fairy's thimble!"
"This is fine talking, sir, but you are already losing the ship's way;
and, before you have ended your boasts, she will be as fast in irons as a
condemned thief. Keep the sails full, boy; keep them a rap full, sir."
"Ay, ay, keep her a good full," echoed the pilot, who, as the difficulty
of passing to windward became at each instant more obvious, evidently
began to waver in his resolution. "Keep her full-and-by,--I have always
told you full-and-by,--I don't know, Captain, seeing that the wind has
hauled a little, but we shall have to pass to leeward yet; but you will
acknowledge, that, in such case, we shall be obliged to go about."
Now, in point of fact, the wind, though a little lighter than it had been,
was, if anything, a trifle more favourable; nor had Wilder ever, in any
manner, denied that the ship would not have to tack, some twenty minutes
sooner, by going to leeward of the other vessel, than if she had
succeeded in her delicate experiment of passing on the more honourable
side; but, as the vulgarest minds are always the most reluctant to confess
their blunders, the discomfited pilot was disposed to qualify the
concession he found himself compelled to make, by some salvo of the sort,
that he might not lessen his reputation for foresight, among his auditors.
"Keep her away at once," cried Wilder, who was beginning to change the
tones of remonstrance for those of command; "keep the ship away, sir,
while you have room to do it, or, by the"----
His lips became motionless; for his eye happened to fall on the pale,
speaking, and anxious countenance of Gertrude.
"I believe it must be done, seeing that the wind is hauling. Hard up, boy,
and run her under the stern of the ship at anchor. Hold! keep your luff
again; eat into the wind to the bone, boy; lift again; let the light sails
lift. The slaver has run a warp directly across our track. If there's law
in the Plantations, I'll have her Captain before the Courts for this!"
"What means the fellow?" demanded Wilder, jumping hastily on a gun, in
order to get a better view.
His mate pointed to the lee-quarter of the other vessel, where, sure
enough, a large rope was seen whipping the water, as though in the very
process of being extended. The truth instantly flashed on the mind of our
young mariner. The Rover lay secret-moored with a spring, with a view to
bring; his guns more readily to bear upon the battery, should his defence
become necessary, and he now profited, by the circumstance, in order to
prevent the trader from passing to leeward. The whole arrangement excited
a good deal of surprise, and not a few execrations among the officers of
the "Caroline;" though none but her Commander had the smallest twinkling
of the real reason why the kedge had thus been laid, and why a warp was so
awkwardly stretched across their path. Of the whole number, the pilot
alone saw cause to rejoice in the circumstance. He had, in fact, got the
ship in such a situation, as to render it nearly as difficult to proceed
in one way as in the other; and he was now furnished with a sufficient
justification, should any accident occur, in the course of the exceedingly
critical manoeuvre, from whose execution there was now no retreat.
"This is an extraordinary liberty to take in the mouth of a harbour,"
muttered Wilder, when his eyes put him in possession of the fact just
related. "You must shove her by to windward, pilot; there is no remedy."
"I wash my hands of the consequences, as I call all on board to witness,"
returned the other, with the air of a deeply offended man, though secretly
glad of the appearance of being driven to the very measure he was a minute
before so obstinately bent on executing, "Law must be called in here, if
sticks are snapped, or rigging parted. Luff to a hair, boy; luff her short
into the wind, and try a half-board."
The man at the helm obeyed the order. Releasing his hold of its spokes,
the wheel made a quick evolution; and the ship, feeling a fresh impulse of
the wind, turned her head heavily towards the quarter whence it came, the
canvas fluttering with a noise like that produced by a flock of water-fowl
just taking wing. But, met by the helm again, she soon fell off as before,
powerless from having lost her way, and settling bodily down toward the
fancied slaver, impelled by the air, which seemed, however, to have lost
much of its force, at the critical instant it was most needed.
The situation of the "Caroline" was one which a seaman will readily
understand. She had forged so far ahead as to lie directly on the
weather-beam of the stranger, but too near to enable her to fall-off in
the least, without imminent danger that the vessels would come foul. The
wind was inconstant, sometimes blowing in puffs, while at moments there
was a perfect lull. As the ship felt the former, her tall masts bent
gracefully towards the slaver, as if to make the parting salute; but,
relieved from the momentary pressure of the inconstant air, she as often
rolled heavily to windward, without advancing a foot. The effect of each
change, however, was to bring her still nigher to her dangerous neighbour,
until it became evident, to the judgment of the youngest seaman in the
vessel, that nothing but a sudden shift of wind could enable her to pass
ahead, the more especially as the tide was on the change.
As the inferior officers of the "Caroline" were not delicate in their
commentaries on the dulness which had brought them into so awkward and so
mortifying a position, the pilot endeavoured to conceal his own vexation,
by the number and vociferousness of his orders. From blustering, he soon
passed into confusion, until the men themselves stood idle, not knowing
which of the uncertain and contradictory mandates they received ought to
be first obeyed. In the mean time, Wilder had folded his arms with an
appearance of entire composure, and taken his station near his female
passengers. Mrs Wyllys closely studied his eye, with the wish of
ascertaining, by its expression, the nature and extent of their danger, if
danger there might be, in the approaching collision of two ships in water
that was perfectly smooth, and where one was stationary and the motion of
the other scarcely perceptible. The stern, determined look she saw
settling about the brow of the young man excited an uneasiness that she
would not otherwise have felt, perhaps, under circumstances that, in
themselves, bore no very vivid appearance of hazard.
"Have we aught to apprehend, sir?" demanded the governess, endeavouring to
conceal from her charge the nature of her own disquietude.
"I told you, Madam, the 'Caroline' would prove an unlucky ship."
Both females regarded the peculiarly bitter smile with which Wilder made
this reply as an evil omen, and Gertrude clung to her companion as to one
on whom she had long been accustomed to lean.
"Why do not the mariners of the slaver appear, to assist us--to keep us
from coming too nigh?" anxiously exclaimed the latter.
"Why do they not, indeed! but we shall see them, I think, ere long."
"You speak and look, young man, as if you thought there would be danger in
"Keep near to me," returned Wilder, in tones that were nearly smothered by
the manner in which he compressed his lips. "In every event, keep as nigh
my person as possible."
"Haul the spanker-boom to windward," shouted the pilot; "lower away the
boats, and tow the ship's head round--clear away the stream anchor--aft
gib-sheet--board main tack, again."
The astonished men stood like statues, not knowing whither to turn, some
calling to the rest to do this or that, and some as loudly countermanding
the order; when an authoritative voice was heard calmly to say,--
"Silence in the ship."
The tones-were of that sort which, while they denote the self-possession
of the speaker, never fail to inspire the inferior with a portion of the
confidence of him who commands. Every face was turned towards the quarter
of the vessel whence the sound proceeded, as if each ear was ready to
catch the smallest additional mandate. Wilder was standing on the head of
the capstan, where he could command a full view on every side of him. With
a quiet and understanding glance, he had made himself a perfect master of
the situation of his ship. His eye was at the instant fixed anxiously on
the slaver, as if it would pierce the treacherous calm which still reigned
on all about her, in order to know how far his exertions might be
permitted to be useful. But it appeared as if the stranger lay like some
enchanted vessel on the water, not a human form even appearing about all
her complicated machinery, except the seaman already named, who still
continued his employment, as though the "Caroline" was not within a
hundred miles of the place where he sat. The lips of Wilder moved: it
might be in bitterness; it might be in satisfaction; for, a smile of the
most equivocal nature lighted his features, as he continued, in the same
deep, commanding voice as before,--
"Throw all aback--lay every thing flat to the masts, forward and aft."
"Ay!" echoed the pilot, "lay every thing flat to the masts."
"Is there a shove-boat alongside the ship?" demanded our adventurer.
The answer, from a dozen voices, was in the affirmative.
"Show that pilot into her."
"This is an unlawful order," exclaimed the other, "and I forbid any voice
but mine to be obeyed."
"_Throw_ him in," sternly repeated Wilder.
Amid the bustle and exertion of bracing round the yards, the resistance of
the pilot produced little or no sensation. He was soon raised on the
extended arms of the two mates; and, after exhibiting his limbs in sundry
contortions in the air, he was dropped into the boat, with as little
ceremony as though he had been a billet of wood. The end of the painter
was cast after him; and then the discomfited guide was left, with singular
indifference, to his own meditations.
In the mean time, the order of Wilder had been executed. Those vast sheets
of canvas which, a moment before, had been either fluttering in the air,
or were bellying inward or outward, as they touched or filled, as it is
technically called, were now all pressing against their respective masts,
impelling the vessel to retrace her mistaken path. The manoeuvre required
the utmost attention, and the nicest delicacy in its direction. But her
young Commander proved himself, in every particular, competent to his
task. Here, a sail was lifted; there, another was brought with a flatter
surface to the air; now, the lighter canvas was spread; and now it
disappeared, like thin vapour suddenly dispelled by the sun. The voice of
Wilder, throughout, though calm, was breathing with authority. The ship
itself seemed, like an animated being, conscious that her destinies were
reposed in different, and more intelligent, hands than before. Obedient to
the new impulse they had received the immense cloud of canvas, with all
its tall forest of spars and rigging, rolled to and fro; and then, having
overcome the state of comparative rest in which it had been lying, the
vessel heavily yielded to the pressure, and began to recede.
Throughout the whole of the time necessary to extricate the "Caroline,"
the attention of Wilder was divided between his own ship and his
inexplicable neighbour. Not a sound was heard to issue from the imposing
and death-like stillness of the latter. Not a single anxious countenance,
not even one lurking eye, was to be detected, at any of the numerous
outlets by which the inmates of an armed vessel can look abroad upon the
deep. The seaman on the yard continued his labour, like a man unconscious
of any thing but his own existence. There however, a slow, though nearly
imperceptible, motion in the ship itself, which was apparently made, like
the lazy movement of a slumbering whale, more by listless volition, than
through any agency of human hands.
Not the smallest of these changes escaped the keen and understanding
examination of Wilder. He saw that, as his own ship retired, the side of
the slaver was gradually exposed to the "Caroline." The muzzles of the
threatening guns gaped constantly on his vessel, as the eye of the
crouching tiger follows the movement of its prey; and at no time, while
nearest, did there exist a single instant that the decks of the latter
ship could not have been swept, by a general discharge from the battery of
the former. At each successive order issued from his own lips, our
adventurer turned his eye, with increasng interest, to ascertain whether
he would be permitted to execute it; and never did he feel certain that he
was left to the sole management of the "Caroline" until he found that she
had backed from her dangerous proximity to the other; and that, obedient
to a new disposition of her sails, she was falling off, before the light
air, in a place where he could hold her entirely at command.
Finding that the tide was getting unfavourable and the wind too light to
stem it, the sails were then drawn to her yards in festoons, and an anchor
was dropped to the bottom.
"What have here? A man, or a fish?"--_The Tempest._
The "Caroline" now lay within a cable's length of the supposed slaver. In
dismissing the pilot, Wilder had assumed a responsibility from which a
seaman usually shrinks, since, in the case of any untoward accident in
leaving the port, it would involve a loss of insurance, and his own
probable punishment. How far he had been influenced, in taking so decided
a step, by a knowledge of his being beyond or above, the reach of the law,
will probably be made manifest in the course of the narrative; the only
immediate effect of the measure, was, to draw the whole of his attention,
which had before been so much divided between his passengers and the ship,
to the care of the latter. But, so soon as his vessel was secured, for a
time at least, and his mind was no longer excited by the expectation of a
scene of immediate violence, our adventurer found leisure to return to his
former, though (to so thorough a seaman) scarcely more agreeable
occupation. The success of his delicate manoeuvre had imparted to his
countenance a glow of something very like triumph; and his step, as he
advanced towards Mrs. Wyllys and Gertrude, was that of a man who enjoyed
the consciousness of having acquitted himself dexterously, in
circumstances that required no small exhibition of professional skill. At
least, such was the construction the former lady put upon his kindling eye
and exulting air; though the latter might, possibly be disposed to judge
of his motives with greater indulgence. Perhaps both were ignorant of the
secret reasons of his self-felicitation; and it is possible that a
sentiment, of a far more generous nature than either of them could
imagine, had a full share of its influence in his present feelings.
Be this as it might, Wilder no sooner saw that the "Caroline" was swinging
to her anchor, and that his services were of no further immediate use,
than he sought an opportunity to renew a conversation which had hitherto
been so vague, and so often interrupted. Mrs Wyllys had long been viewing
the neighbouring vessel with a steady look; nor did she now turn her gaze
from the motionless and silent object, until the young mariner was near
her person. She was then the first to speak.
"Yonder vessel must possess an extraordinary, not to say an insensible,
crew!" exclaimed the governess in a tone bordering on astonishment. "If
such things were, it would not be difficult to fancy her a spectre-ship."
"She is truly an admirably proportioned and a beautifully equipped
"Did my apprehensions deceive me? or were we in actual danger of getting
the two vessels entangled?"
"There was certainly some reason for apprehension; but you see we are
"For which we have to thank your skill. The manner in which you have just
extricated us from the late danger, has a direct tendency to contradict
all that you were pleased to foretel of that which is to come."
"I well know, Madam, that my conduct may bear an unfavourable
"You thought it no harm to laugh at the weakness of three credulous
females," continued Mrs Wyllys, smiling. "Well, you have had your
amusement; and now. I hope, you will be more disposed to pity what is said
to be a natural infirmity of woman's mind."
As the governess concluded, she glanced her eye at Gertrude, with an
expression that seemed to say it would be cruel, now, to trifle further
with the apprehensions of one so innocent and so young. The look of Wilder
followed her own; and when he answered it was with a sincerity that was
well calculated to carry conviction in its tones.
"On the faith which a gentleman owes to all your sex, Madam, what I have
already told you I still continue to believe."
"The gammonings and the top-gallant-masts!"
"No, no," interrupted the young mariner, slightly laughing, and at the
same time colouring a good deal; "perhaps not all of that. But neither
mother, wife, nor sister of mine, should make this passage in the 'Royal
"Your look, your voice, and your air of good faith, make a strange
contradiction to your words, young man; for, while the former almost tempt
me to believe you honest, the latter have not a shade of reason to support
them. Perhaps I ought to be ashamed of such a weakness, and yet I will
acknowledge that the mysterious quiet, which seems to have settled for
ever on yonder ship, has excited an inexplicable uneasiness, that may in
some way be connected with her character.--She is certainly a slaver?"
"She is certainly beautiful!" exclaimed Gertrude.
"Very beautiful!" Wilder gravely rejoined.
"There is a man still seated on one of her yards who appears to be
entranced in his occupation," continued Mrs Wyllys, leaning her chin
thoughtfully on her hand, as she gazed at the object of which she was
speaking. "Not once, during the time we were in so much danger of getting
the ships entangled, did that seaman bestow so much as a stolen glance
towards us. He resembles the solitary individual in the city of the
transformed; for not another mortal is there to keep him company, so far
as we may discover."
"Perhaps his comrades sleep," said Gertrude.
"Sleep! Mariners do not sleep in an hour and a day like this! Tell me, Mr
Wilder, (you that are a seaman should know), is it usual for the crew to
sleep when a strange vessel is so nigh--near even to touching, I might
"It is not."
"I thought as much; for I am not an entire novice in matters of your
daring, your hardy, your _noble_ profession!" returned the governess, with
deep emphasis "And, had we gone foul of the slaver, do you think her crew
would have maintained their apathy?"
"I think not, Madam."
"There is something, in all this assumed tranquillity, which might induce
one to suspect the worst of her character. Is it known that any of her
crew have had communication with the town, since her arrival?"
"I have heard that false colours have been seen on the coast, and that
ships have been plundered, and their people and passengers maltreated,
during the past summer. It is even thought that the famous Rover has tired
of his excesses on the Spanish Main, and that a vessel was not long since
seen in the Caribbean sea, which was thought to be the cruiser of that
Wilder made no reply. His eyes, which had been fastened steadily, though
respectfully, on those of the speaker, fell to the deck, and he appeared
to await whatever her further pleasure might choose to utter. The
governess mused a moment; and then, with a change in the expression of her
countenance which proved that her suspicion of the truth was too light to
continue without further and better confirmation, she added,--
"After all, the occupation of a slaver is bad enough, and unhappily by far
too probable, to render it necessary to attribute any worse character to
the stranger. I would I knew the motive of your singular assertions, Mr
"I cannot better explain them, Madam: unless my manner produces its
effect, I fail altogether in my intentions, which at least are sincere."
"Is not the risk lessened by your presence?"
"Lessened, but not removed."
Until now, Gertrude had rather listened, as if unavoidably, than seemed to
make one of the party. But here she turned quickly, and perhaps a little
impatiently, to Wilder, and, while her cheeks glowed she demanded, with a
smile that might have brought even a more obdurate man to his
"Is it forbidden to be more explicit?"
The young Commander hesitated, perhaps as much to dwell upon the ingenuous
features of the speaker, as to decide upon his answer. The colour mounted
into his own embrowned cheek, and his eye lighted with a gleam of open
pleasure; then, as though suddenly reminded that he was delaying to reply,
"I am certain, that, in relying on your discretion, I shall be safe."
"Doubt it not," returned Mrs Wyllys. "In no event shall you ever be
"Betrayed! For myself, Madam, I have little fear. If you suspect me of
personal apprehension you do me great injustice."
"We suspect you of nothing unworthy," said Gertrude hastily, "but--we are
very anxious for ourselves."
"Then will I relieve your uneasiness, though at the expense of"----
A call, from one of the mates to the other, arrested his words for the
moment, and drew his attention to the neighbouring ship.
"The slaver's people have just found out that their ship is not made to
put in a glass case, to be looked at by women and children," cried the
speaker in tones loud enough to send his words into the fore-top, where
the messmate he addressed was attending to some especial duty.
"Ay, ay," was the answer; "seeing us in motion, has put him in mind of his
next voyage. They keep watch aboard the fellow, like the sun in Greenland
six months on deck, and six months below!"
The witticism produced, as usual, a laugh among the seamen, who continued
their remarks in a similar vein, but in tones more suited to the deference
due to their superiors.
The eyes, however, of Wilder had fastened themselves on the other ship.
The man so long seated on the end of the main-yard had disappeared, and
another sailor was deliberately walking along the opposite quarter of the
same spar, steadying himself by the boom, and holding in one hand the end
of a rope, which he was apparently about to reeve in the place where it
properly belonged. The first glance told Wilder that the latter was Fid,
who was so far recovered from his debauch as to tread the giddy height
with as much, if not greater, steadiness than he would have rolled along
the ground, had his duty called him to terra firma. The countenance of the
young man, which, an instant before, had been flushed with excitement, and
which was beaming with the pleasure of an opening confidence, changed
directly to a look of gloom and reserve. Mrs Wyllys who had lost no shade
of the varying expression of his face, resumed the discourse, with some
earnestness, where he had seen fit so abruptly to break it off.
"You would relieve us," she said, "at the expense of"----
"Life, Madam; but not of honour."
"Gertrude, we can now retire to our cabin," observed Mrs Wyllys, with an
air of cold displeasure, in which disappointment was a good deal mingled
with resentment at the trifling of which she believed herself the subject.
The eye of Gertrude was no less averted and distant than that of her
governess, while the tint that gave lustre to its beam was brighter, if
not quite so resentful. As the two moved past the silent Wilder, each
dropped a distant salute, and then our adventurer found himself the sole
occupant of the quarter-deck. While his crew were busied in coiling ropes,
and clearing the decks, their young Commander leaned his head on the
taffrail, (that part of the vessel which the good relict of the
Rear-Admiral had so strangely confounded with a very different object in
the other end of the ship), remaining for many minutes in an attitude of
deep abstraction. From this reverie he was at length aroused, by a sound
like that produced by the lifting and falling of a light oar into the
water. Believing himself about to be annoyed by visiters from the land, he
raised his head, and cast a dissatisfied glance over the vessel's side, to
see who was approaching.
A light skiff, such as is commonly used by fishermen in the bays and
shallow waters of America, was lying within ten feet of the ship, and in a
position where it was necessary to take some little pains in order to
observe it. It was occupied by a single man, whose back was towards the
vessel, and who was apparently abroad on the ordinary business of the
owner of such a boat.
"Are you in search of rudder-fish, my friend, that you hang so closely
under my counter?" demanded Wilder. "The bay is said to be full of
delicious bass, and other scaly gentlemen, that would far better repay
"He is well paid who gets the bite he baits for," returned the other,
turning his head, and exhibiting the cunning eye and chuckling countenance
of old Bob Bunt, as Wilder's recent and treacherous confederate had
announced his name to be.
"How now! Dare you trust yourself with me, in five-fathom water, after the
villanous trick you have seen fit"--
"Hist! noble Captain, hist!" interrupted Bob, holding up a finger, to
repress the other's animation, and intimating, by a sign, that their
conference must be held in lower tones; "there is no need to call all
hands to help us through a little chat. In what way have I fallen to
leeward of your favour, Captain?"
"In what way, sirrah! Did you not receive money, to give such a character
of this ship to the ladies as (you said yourself) would make them sooner
pass the night in a churchyard, than trust foot on board her?"
"Something of the sort passed between us, Captain; but you forgot one half
of the conditions, and I overlooked the other; and I need not tell so
expert a navigator, that two halves make a whole. No wonder, therefore,
that the affair dropt through between us."
"How! Do you add falsehood to perfidy? What part of my engagement did I
"What part!" returned the pretended fisherman, leisurely drawing in a
line, which the quick eye of Wilder saw, though abundantly provided with
lead at the end, was destitute of the equally material implement--the
hook; "What part, Captain! No less a particular than the second guinea."
"It was to have been the reward of a service done, and not an earnest,
like its fellow, to induce you to undertake the duty."
"Ah! you have helped me to the very word I wanted. I fancied it was not in
earnest, like the one I got, and so I left the job half finished."
"Half finished, scoundrel! you never commenced what you swore so stoutly
"Now are you on as wrong a course, my Master, as if you steered due east
to get to the Pole. I religiously performed one half my undertaking; and,
you will acknowledge, I was only half paid."
"You would find it difficult to prove that you even did that little."
"Let us look into the log. I enlisted to walk up the hill as far as the
dwelling of the good Admiral's widow, and there to make certain
alterations in my sentiments, which it is not necessary to speak of
"Which you did not make; but, on the contrary, which you thwarted, by
telling an exactly contradictory tale."
"True! knave?--Were justice done you, an acquaintance with a rope's end
would be a merited reward."
"A squall of words!--If your ship steer as wild as your ideas, Captain,
you will make a crooked passage to the south. Do you not think it an
easier matter, for an old man like me, to tell a few lies than to climb
yonder long and heavy hill? In strict justice, more than half my duty was
done when I got into the presence of the believing widow; and when I
concluded to refuse the half of the reward that was unpaid, and to take
bounty from t'other side."
"Villain!" exclaimed Wilder, a little blinded by resentment, "even your
years shall no longer protect you from punishment. Forward, there! send a
crew into the jolly boat, sir, and bring me this old fellow in the skiff
on board the ship. Pay no attention to his outcries; I have an account to
settle with him, that cannot be balanced without a little noise."
The mate, to whom this order was addressed, and who had answered the hail,
jumped on the rail, where he got sight of the craft he was commanded to
chase. In less than a minute he was in the boat, with four men, and
pulling round the bows of the ship, in order to get on the side necessary
to effect his object. The self-styled Bob Bunt gave one or two strokes
with his skulls, and sent, the skiff some twenty or thirty fathoms off,
where he lay, chuckling like a man who saw only the success of his
cunning, without any apparent apprehensions of the consequences. But, the
moment the boat appeared in view, he laid himself to the work with
vigorous arms, and soon convinced the spectators that his capture was not
to be achieved without abundant difficulty.
For some little time, it was doubtful what course the fugitive meant to
take; for he kept whirling and turning in swift and sudden circles,
completely confusing and baffling his pursuers, by his skilful and light
evolutions. But, soon tiring of this taunting amusement, or perhaps
apprehensive of exhausting his own strength, which was powerfully and most
dexterously exerted, it was not long before he darted off in a perfectly
straight line, taking the direction of the "Rover."
The chase now grew hot and earnest, exciting the clamour and applause of
most of the nautical spectators The result, for a time, seemed doubtful;
but, if any thing, the jolly boat, though some distance astern, began to
gain, as it gradually overcame the resistance of the water. In a very few
minutes, however, the skiff shot under the stern of the other ship, and
disappeared, bringing the hull of the vessel in a line with the "Caroline"
and its course. The pursuers were not long in taking the same direction
and then the seamen of the latter ship began, laughingly to climb the
rigging, in order to command a further view, over the intervening object.
Nothing, however, was to be seen beyond but water, and the still more
distant island, with its little fort. In a few minutes, the crew of the
jolly boat were observed pulling back in their path, returning slowly,
like men who were disappointed. All crowded to the side of the ship, in
order to hear the termination of the adventure; the noisy assemblage even
drawing the two passengers from the cabin to the deck. Instead, however,
of meeting the questions of their shipmates with the usual wordy narrative
of men of their condition, the crew of the boat wore startled and
bewildered looks. Their officer sprang to the deck without speaking, and
immediately sought his Commander.
"The skiff was too light for you, Mr Nighthead," Wilder calmly observed,
as the other approached, having never moved, himself, from the place where
he had been standing during the whole proceeding.
"Too light, sir! Are you acquainted with the man who pulled it?"
"Not particularly well: I only know him for a knave."
"He should be one, since he is of the family of the devil!"
"I will not take on myself to say he is as bad as you appear to think,
though I have little reason to believe he has any honesty to cast into the
sea. What has become of him?"
"A question easily asked, but hard to answer. In the first place, though
an old and a gray-headed fellow, he twitched his skiff along as if it
floated in air. We were not a minute, or two at the most, behind him; but,
when we got on the other side of the slaver, boat and man had vanished!"
"He doubled her bows while you were crossing the stern."
"Did you see him, then?"
"I confess we did not."
"It could not be, sir; since we pulled far enough ahead to examine on both
sides at once; besides, the people of the slaver knew nothing of him."
"You saw the slaver's people?"
"I should have said her man; for there is seemingly but one hand on board
"And how was he employed?"
"He was seated in the chains, and seem'd to have been asleep. It is a lazy
ship, sir; and one that takes more money from her owners, I fancy, than it
"It may be so. Well, let the rogue escape. There is the prospect of a
breeze coming in from the sea, Mr Earing; we will get our topsails to the
mast-heads again, and be in readiness for it. I could like yet to see the
sun set in the water."
The mates and the crew went cheerfully to their task, though many a
curious question was asked, by the wondering seamen, of their shipmates
who had been in the boat, and many a solemn answer was given, while they
were again spreading the canvas, to invite the breeze. Wilder turned, in
the mean time, to Mrs Wyllys, who had been an auditor of his short
conversation with the mate.
"You perceive, Madam," he said, "that our voyage does not commence without
"When you tell me, inexplicable young man, with the air of singular
sincerity you sometimes possess, that we are unwise in trusting to the
ocean, I am half inclined to put faith in what you say; but when you
attempt to enforce your advice with the machinery of witchcraft, you only
induce me to proceed."
"Man the windlass!" cried Wilder, with a look that seemed to tell his
companions, If you are so stout of heart, the opportunity to show your
resolution shall not be wanting. "Man the windlass there! We will try the
breeze again, and work the ship into the offing while there is light."
The clattering of handspikes preceded the mariners song. Then the heavy
labour, by which the ponderous iron was lifted from the bottom, was again
resumed, and, in a few more minutes, the ship was once more released from
her hold upon the land.
The wind soon came fresh off the ocean, charged with the saline dampness
of the element. As the air fell upon the distended and balanced sails, the
ship bowed to the welcome guest; and then, rising gracefully from its low
inclination, the breeze was heard singing, through the maze of rigging,
the music that is ever grateful to a seaman's ear. The welcome sounds, and
the freshness of the peculiar air gave additional energy to the movements
of the men. The anchor was stowed, the ship cast, the lighter sails set,
the courses had fallen, and the bows of the "Caroline" were throwing the
spray before her, ere another ten minutes had gone by.
Wilder had now undertaken himself the task of running his vessel between
the islands of Connannicut and Rhode. Fortunately for the heavy
responsibility he had assumed, the channel was not difficult and the wind
had veered so far to the east as to give him a favourable opportunity,
after making a short stretch to windward, of laying through in a single
reach. But this stretch would bring him under the necessity of passing
very near the "Rover," or of losing no small portion of his 'vantage
ground. He did not hesitate. When the vessel was as nigh the weather shore
as his busy lead told him was prudent the ship was tacked, and her head
laid directly towards the still motionless and seemingly unobservant
The approach of the "Caroline" was far more propitious than before. The
wind was steady, and her crew held her in hand, as a skilful rider governs
the action of a fiery and mettled steed. Still the passage was not made
without exciting a breathless interest in every soul in the Bristol
trader. Each individual had his own secret cause of curiosity. To the
seamen, the strange ship began to be the subject of wonder; the governess,
and her ward, scarce knew the reasons of their emotions; while Wilder was
but too well instructed in the nature of the hazard that all but himself
were running. As before the man at the wheel was about to indulge his
nautical pride, by going to windward; but, although the experiment would
now have been attended with but little hazard, he was commanded to proceed
"Pass the slaver's lee-beam, sir," said Wilder to him, with a gesture of
authority; and then the young Captain went himself to lean on the
weather-rail, like every other idler on board, to examine the object they
were so fast approaching. As the "Caroline" came boldly up, seeming to
bear the breeze before her, the sighing of the wind, as it murmured
through the rigging of the stranger, was the only sound that issued from
her. Not a single human face, not even a secret and curious eye, was any
where to be seen. The passage was of course rapid, and, as the two
vessels, for an instant, lay with heads and sterns nearly equal, Wilder
thought it was to be made without the slightest notice from the imaginary
slaver. But he was mistaken. A light, active form, in the undress attire
of a naval officer, sprang upon the taffrail, and waved a sea-cap in
salute. The instant the fair hair was blowing about the countenance of
this individual, Wilder recognized the quick, keen eye and features of the
"Think you the wind will hold here, sir?" shouted the latter, at the top
of his voice.
"It has come in fresh enough to be steady," was the answer.
"A wise mariner would get all his easting in time to me, there is a smack
of West-Indies about it."
"You believe we shall have it more at south?"
"I do: But a taught bow-line, for the night, will carry you clear."
By this time the "Caroline" had swept by, and she was now luffing, across
the slaver's bows, into her course again. The figure on the taffrail waved
high the sea-cap in adieu, and disappeared.
"Is it possible that such a man can traffic in human beings!" exclaimed
Gertrude, when the sounds of both voices had ceased.
Receiving no reply, she turned quickly, to regard her companion. The
governess was standing like a being entranced, with her eyes looking on
vacancy for they had not changed their direction since the motion of the
vessel had carried her beyond the countenance of the stranger. As Gertrude
took her hand, and repeated the question, the recollection of Mrs Wyllys
returned. Passing her own hand over her brow, with a bewildered air, she
forced a smile as she said,--
"The meeting of vessels, or the renewal of any maritime experience, never
fails to revive my earliest recollections, love. But surely that was an
extraordinary being, who has at length shown himself in the slaver!"
"For a slaver, most extraordinary!"
Wyllys leaned her head on her hand for an instant, and then turned to seek
the person of Wilder. The young mariner was standing near, studying the
expression of her countenance, with an interest scarcely less remarkable
than her own air of thought.
"Tell me, young man, is yonder individual the Commander of the slaver?"
"You know him?"
"We have met."
"And he is called----"
"The Master of yon ship. I know no other name."
"Gertrude, we will seek our cabin. When the land is leaving us, Mr Wilder
will have the goodness to let us know."
The latter bowed his assent, and the ladies then left the deck. The
"Caroline" had now the prospect of getting speedily to sea. In order to
effect this object, Wilder had every thing, that would draw, set to the
utmost advantage. One hundred times, at least, however, did he turn his
head, to steal a look at the vessel he had left behind. She ever lay as
when they passed--a regular, beautiful but motionless object, in the bay.
From each of these furtive examinations, our adventurer invariably cast an
excited and impatient glance at the sails of his own ship; ordering this
to be drawn tighter to the spar beneath, or that to be more distended
along its mast.
The effect of so much solicitude, united with so much skill, was to urge
the Bristol trader through her element at a rate she had rarely, if ever,
surpassed It was not long before the land ceased to be seen on her two
beams, and then it was only to be traced in the blue islands in their
rear, or in a long, dim horizon, to the north and west, where the limits
of the vast Continent stretches for countless leagues. The passengers were
now summoned to take their parting look at the land, and the officers were
seen noting their departures. Just before the day shut in, and ere the
islands were entirely sunk into the waves, Wilder ascended to an upper
yard bearing in his hand a glass. His gaze, towards the haven he had
left, was long, anxious, and abstracted. But his descent was distinguished
by a more quiet eye, and a calmer mien. A smile, like that of success
played about his lips; and he gave his orders clearly, in a cheerful,
encouraging voice. They were obeyed as briskly. The elder mariners pointed
to the seas, as they cut through them, and affirmed that never had the
"Caroline" made such progress. The mates cast the log, and nodded their
approbation as one announced to the other the unwonted speed of the ship.
In short, content and hilarity reigned on board; for it was deemed that
their passage was commenced under such auspices as would lead it to a
speedy and a prosperous termination. In the midst of these encouraging
omens, the sun dipped into the sea, illuming, as it fell, a wide reach of
the chill and gloomy element. Then the shades of the hour began to gather
over the vast surface of the illimitable waste.
"So foul and fair a day I have not seen."--_Macbeth._
The first watch of the night was marked by no change. Wilder had joined
his passengers, cheerful, and with that air of enjoyment which every
officer of the sea is more or less wont to exhibit, when he has disengaged
his vessel from the dangers of the land, and has fairly launched her on
the trackless and fathomless abyss of the ocean. He no longer alluded to
the hazards of the passage, but strove, by the thousand nameless
assiduities which his station enabled him to man fest, to expel all
recollection of had passed from their minds. Mrs Wyllys lent herself to
his evident efforts to remove their apprehensions and one, ignorant of
what had occurred between them, would have thought the little party,
around the evening's repast, was a contented and unsuspecting group of
travellers, who had commenced their enterprise under the happiest
Still there was that, in the thoughtful eye and clouded brow of the
governess, as at times she turned her bewildered look on our adventurer,
which denoted a mind far from being at ease. She listened to the gay and
peculiar, because professional, sallies of the young mariner, with smiles
that were indulgent while they were melancholy, as though his youthful
spirits, exhibited as they were by touches of a humour that was thoroughly
and quaintly nautical recalled familiar, but sad, images to her fancy
Gertrude had less alloy in her pleasure. Home, with a beloved and
indulgent father, were before her; and she felt, while the ship yielded to
each fresh impulse of the wind, as if another of those weary miles which
had so long separated them, was already conquered.
During these short but pleasant hours, the adventurer who had been so
oddly called into the command of the Bristol trader, appeared in a new
character. Though his conversation was characterized by the frank
manliness of a seaman, it was, nevertheless tempered by the delicacy of
perfect breeding. The beautiful mouth of Gertrude often struggled to
conceal the smiles which played around her lips and dimpled her cheeks,
like a soft air ruffling the surface of some limpid spring; and once or
twice, when the humour of Wilder came unexpectedly across her youthful
fancy, she was compelled to yield to the impulses of an irresistible
One hour of the free intercourse of a ship can do more towards softening
the cold exterior in which the world encrusts the best of human feelings,
than weeks of the unmeaning ceremonies of the land. He who has not felt
this truth, would do well to distrust his own companionable qualities. It
would seem that man, when he finds himself in the solitude of the ocean,
feels the deepest how great is his dependancy on others for happiness.
Then it is that he yields to sentiments with which he trifled, in the
wantonness of abundance, and is glad to seek relief in the sympathies of
his kind. A community of hazard makes a community of interest, whether
person or property composes the stake. Perhaps a meta-physical and a too
literal, reasoner might add, that, as in such situations each one is
conscious the condition and fortunes of his neighbour are the mere indexes
of his own, they acquire value in his eyes from their affinity to himself.
If this conclusion be true, Providence has happily so constituted the best
of the species, that the sordid feeling is too latent to be discovered;
and least of all was any one of the three, who passed the first hours of
the night around the cabin table of the "Royal Caroline," to be included
in so selfish a class. The nature of the intercourse, which had rendered
the first hours of their acquaintance so singularly equivocal, appeared to
be forgotten in the freedom of the moment; or, if it were remembered at
all, it merely served to give the young seaman additional interest in the
eyes of the females, as much by the mystery of the circumstances as by the
evident concern he had manifested in their behalf.
The bell had struck eight; and the hoarse long-drawn call, which summoned
the sleepers to the deck, was heard, before either of the party seemed
aware of the lateness of the hour.
"It is the middle watch," said Wilder, smiling at he observed that
Gertrude started at the strange sounds, and sat listening, like a timid
doe that catches the note of the hunter's horn. "We seamen are not always
musical, as you may judge by the strains of the spokesman on this
occasion. There are, however, ears in the ship to whom his notes are even
more discordant than to your own."
"You mean the sleepers?" said Mrs Wyllys.
"I mean the watch below. There is nothing so sweet to the foremast mariner
as his sleep; for it is the most precarious of all his enjoyments: on the
other hand, perhaps, it is the most treacherous companion the Commander
"And why is the rest of the superior so much less grateful than that of
the common man?"
"Because he pillows his head on responsibility."
"You are young, Mr Wilder, for a trust like this you bear."
"It is a service which makes us all prematurely old."
"Then, why not quit it?" said Gertrude, a little hastily.
"Quit it!" he replied, gazing at her intently, for an instant, while he
suspended his reply. "It would be to me like quitting the air we breathe."
"Have you so long been devoted to your profession?" resumed Mrs Wyllys,
bending her thoughtful eye, from the ingenuous countenance of her pupil,
once more towards the features of him she addressed.
"I have reason to think I was born on the sea."
"Think! You surely know your birth-place."
"We are all of us dependant on the testimony of others," said Wilder,
smiling, "for the account of that important event. My earliest
recollections are blended with the sight of the ocean, and I can hardly
say that I am a creature of the land at all."
"You have, at least, been fortunate in those who have had the charge to
watch over your education and your younger days."
"I have!" he answered, with strong emphasis. Then, after shading his face
an instant with his hands, he arose, and added, with a melancholy smile:
"And now to my last duty for the twenty four hours. Have you a disposition
to look at the night? So skilful and so stout a sailor should not seek her
birth, without passing an opinion on the weather."
The governess took his offered arm, and, with his aid, ascended the stairs
of the cabin in silence, each seemingly finding sufficient employment in
meditation. She was followed by the more youthful, and therefore more
active Gertrude, who joined them as they stood together, on the weather
side of the quarter-deck.
The night was rather misty than dark. A full and bright moon had arisen;
but it pursued its path, through the heavens, behind a body of dusky
clouds, that was much too dense for any borrowed rays to penetrate. Here
and there, a straggling gleam appeared to find its way through a covering
of vapour less dense than the rest, and fell upon the water like the dim
illumination of a distant taper. As the wind was fresh and easterly, the
sea seemed to throw upward from its agitated surface, more light, than it
received; long lines of white, glittering foam following each other, and
lending, at moments, a distinctness to the surface of the waters, that the
heavens themselves wanted. The ship was bowed low on its side; and, as it
entered each rolling swell of the ocean, a wide crescent of foam was
driven ahead, as if the element gambolled along its path. But, though the
time was propitious, the wind not absolutely adverse, and the heavens
rather gloomy than threatening, an uncertain (and, to a landsman, it might
seem an unnatural) light gave to the view a character of the wildest
Gertrude shuddered, on reaching the deck, while she murmured an expression
of strange delight. Even Mrs Wyllys gazed upon the dark waves, that were
heaving and setting in the horizon, around which was shed most of that
radiance that seemed so supernatural, with a deep conviction that she was
now entirely in the hands of the Being who had created the waters and the
land. But Wilder looked upon the scene as one fastens his gaze on a placid
sky. To him the view possessed neither novelty, nor dread, nor charm. Not
so, however, with his more youthful and slightly enthusiastic companion.
After the first sensations of awe had a little subsided, she exclaimed, in
the fullest ardour of admiration,--
"One such sight would repay a month of imprisonment in a ship! You must
find deep enjoyment in these scenes, Mr Wilder; you, who have them always
"Yes, yes; there is pleasure to be found in them, without doubt, I would
that the wind had veer'd a point or two! I like not that sky, nor yonder
misty horizon, nor this breeze hanging so dead at east."
"The vessel makes great progress," returned Mrs Wyllys, calmly, observing
that the young man spoke without consciousness, and fearing the effect of
his words on the mind of her pupil. "If we are going on our course, there
is the appearance of a quick and prosperous passage."
"True!" exclaimed Wilder, as though he had just become conscious of her
presence. "Quite probable and very true. Mr Earing, the air is getting too
heavy for that duck. Hand all your top-gallant sails, and haul the ship up
closer. Should the wind hang here at east-with-southing, we may want what
offing we can get."
The mate replied in the prompt and obedient manner which seamen use to
their superiors; and; lifter scanning the signs of the weather for a
moment, he promptly proceeded to see the order executed. While the men
were on the yards furling the light canvas, the females walked apart,
leaving the young Commander to the uninterrupted discharge of his duty.
But Wilder, so far from deeming it necessary to lend his attention to so
ordinary a service, the moment after he had spoken, seemed perfectly
unconscious that the mandate had issued from his mouth. He stood on the
precise spot where the view of the ocean and the heavens had first caught
his eye, and his gaze still continued fastened on the aspect of the two
elements. His look was always in the direction of the wind, which, though
far from a gale, often fell upon the sails of the ship in heavy and sullen
puffs. After a long and anxious examination, the young mariner muttered
his thoughts to himself, and commenced pacing the deck with rapid
footsteps. Still he would make sudden and short pauses, and again rivet
his gaze on the point of the compass whence the blasts came sweeping
across the waste of waters; as though he distrusted the weather, and would
fain cause his keen glance to penetrate the gloom of night, in order to
relieve some painful doubts. At length his step became arrested, in one of
those quick turns that he made at each end of his narrow walk. Mrs Wyllys
and Gertrude stood nigh, and were enabled to read something of the anxious
character of his countenance, as his eye became suddenly fastened on a
distant point of the ocean, though in a quarter exactly opposite to that
whither his former looks had been directed.
"Do you so much distrust the weather?" asked the governess, when she
thought his examination had endured long enough to become ominous of evil.
"One looks not to leeward for the signs of the weather, in a breeze like
this," was the answer.
"What see you, then, to fasten your eye on thus intently?"
Wilder slowly raised his arm, and was about to point with his finger,
when the limb suddenly fell again.
"It was delusion!" he muttered, turning quickly on his heel, and pacing
the deck still more rapidly than ever.
His companions watched the extraordinary, and apparently unconscious,
movements of the young Commander, with amazement, and not without a little
secret dismay. Their own looks wandered over the expanse of troubled water
to leeward, but nowhere could they see more than the tossing element,
capped with those ridges of garish foam which served only to make the
chilling waste more dreary and imposing.
"We see nothing," said Gertrude, when Wilder again stopped in his walk,
and once more gazed, as before, on the seeming void.
"Look!" he answered, directing their eyes with his finger: "Is there
"You look into the sea. Here, just where the heavens and the waters meet;
along that streak of misty light, into which the waves are tossing
themselves, like little hillocks on the land. There; now 'tis smooth
again, and my eyes did not deceive me. By heavens, it is a ship!"
"Sail, ho!" shouted a voice, from out atop, which sounded in the ears of
our adventurer like the croaking of some sinister spirit, sweeping across
"Whereaway?" was the stern demand.
"Here on our lee-quarter, sir," returned the seaman at the top of his
voice. "I make her out a ship close-hauled; but, for an hour past, she has
looked more like mist than a vessel."
"Ay, he is right," muttered Wilder; "and yet 'tis a strange thing that a
ship should be just there."
"And why stranger than that we are here?"
"Why!" said the young man, regarding Mrs Wyllys, who had put this
question, with a perfectly unconscious eye. "I say, 'tis strange she
should be there. I would she were steering northward."
"But you give no reason. Are we always to have warnings from you," she
continued, with a smile, "without reasons? Do you deem us so utterly
unworthy of a reason? or do you think us incapable of thought on a subject
connected with the sea? You have failed to make the essay, and are too
quick to decide. Try us this once. We may possibly deceive your
Wilder laughed faintly, and bowed, as if he recollected himself. Still he
entered into no explanation; but again turned his gaze on the quarter of
the ocean where the strange sail was said to be. The females followed his
example, but ever with the same want of success. As Gertrude expressed her
disappointment aloud, the soft tones of the complainant found their way to
the ears of our adventurer.
"You see the streak of dim light," he said, again pointing across the
waste. "The clouds have lifted a little there, but the spray of the sea is
floating between us and the opening. Her spars look like the delicate work
of a spider, against the sky, and yet you see there are all the
proportions, with the three masts, of a noble ship."
Aided by these minute directions, Gertrude at length caught a glimpse of
the faint object, and soon succeeded in giving the true direction to the
look of her governess also. Nothing was visible but the dim outline, not
unaptly described by Wilder himself assembling a spider's web.
"It must be a ship!" said Mrs Wyllys; "but at a vast distance."
"Hum! Would it were farther. I could wish that vessel any where but
"And why not there? Have you reason to dread an enemy has been waiting for
us in this particular spot?"
"No: Still I like not her position. Would to God the were going north!"
"It is some vessel from the port of New York steering to his Majesty's
islands in the Caribbean sea."
"Not so," said Wilder, shaking his head; "no vessel, from under the
heights of Never-sink, could gain that offing with a wind like this!"
"It is then some ship going into the same place, or perhaps bound for one
of the bays of the Middle Colonies!"
"Her road would be too plain to be mistaken. See; the stranger is close
upon a wind."
"It may be a trader, or a cruiser coming _from_ one of the places I have
"Neither. The wind has had too much northing, the last two days, for
"It is a vessel that we have overtaken, and which has come out of the
waters of Long Island Sound."
"That, indeed, may we yet hope," muttered Wilder in a smothered voice.
The governess, who had put the foregoing questions in order to extract
from the Commander of the "Caroline" the information he so pertinaciously
withheld, had now exhausted all her own knowledge on the subject, and was
compelled to await his further pleasure in the matter, or resort to the
less equivocal means of direct interrogation. But the busy state of
Wilder's thoughts left her no immediate opportunity to pursue the subject.
He soon summoned the officer of the watch to his councils, and they
consulted together, apart, for many minutes. The hardy, but far from
quick witted, seaman who tilled the second station in the ship saw nothing
so remarkable in the appearance of a strange sail, in the precise spot
where the dim and nearly aerial image of the unknown vessel was still
visible; nor did he hesitate to pronounce her some honest trader bent,
like themselves, on her purpose of lawful commerce. It would seem that his
Commander thought otherwise, as will appear by the short dialogue that
passed between them.
"Is it not extraordinary that she should be just there?" demanded Wilder,
after they had, each in turn, made a closer examination of the faint
object, by the aid of an excellent night-glass.
"She would be better off, here," returned the literal seaman, who only had
an eye for the nautical situation of the stranger; "and we should be none
the worse for being a dozen leagues more to the eastward, ourselves. If
the wind holds here at east-by-south-half-south we shall have need of all
that offing. I got jammed once between Hatteras and the Gulf"--
"But, do you not perceive that she is where no vessel could or ought to
be, unless she has run exactly the same course with ourselves?"
interrupted Wilder. "Nothing, from any harbour south of New York, could
have such northing, as the wind has been; while nothing, from the Colony
of York would stand on this tack, if bound east; or would be here, if
The plain-going ideas of the honest mate were open to a reasoning which
the reader may find a little obscure: for his mind contained a sort of
chart of the ocean, to which he could at any time refer, with a proper
discrimination between the various winds, and all the different points of
the compass. When properly directed, he was not slow to see, as a mariner,
the probable justice of his young Commander's inferences; and then
wonder, in its turn began to take possession of his more obtuse faculties.
"It is downright unnatural, truly, that the fellow should be there!" he
replied, shaking his head, but meaning no more than that it was entirely
out of the order of nautical propriety; "I see the philosophy of what you
say, Captain Wilder; and little do I know how to explain it. It is a ship,
to a mortal certainty!"
"Of that there is no doubt. But a ship most strangely placed!"
"I doubled the Good-Hope in the year '46," continued the other, "and saw a
vessel lying, as it might be, here, on our weather-bow--which is just
opposite to this fellow, since he is on our lee-quarter--but there I saw a
ship standing for an hour across our fore-foot, and yet, though we set the
azimuth, not a degree did he budge, starboard or larboard, during all that
time, which, as it was heavy weather, was, to say the least, something out
of the common order."
"It was remarkable!" returned Wilder, with an air so vacant, as to prove
that he rather communed with himself than attended to his companion.
"There are mariners who say that the flying Dutchman cruises off that
Cape, and that he often gets on the weather side of a stranger, and bears
down upon him, like a ship about to lay him aboard. Many is the King's
cruiser, as they say, that has turned her hands up from a sweet sleep,
when the look-outs have seen a double decker coming down in the night,
with ports up, and batteries lighted but then this can't be any such craft
as the Dutchman, since she is, at the most, no more than a large sloop of
war, if a cruiser at all."
"No, no," said Wilder, "this can never be the Dutchman."
"Yon vessel shows no lights; and, for that matter, she has such a misty
look, that one might well question its being a ship at all. Then, again,
the Dutchman is always seen to windward, and the strange sail we have here
lies broad upon our lee-quarter!"
"It is no Dutchman," said Wilder, drawing a long breath, like a man
awaking from a trance. "Main topmast-cross-trees, there!"
The man who was stationed aloft answered to this hail in the customary
manner, the short conversation that succeeded being necessarily maintained
in shouts, rather than in speeches.
"How long have you seen the stranger?" was the first demand of Wilder.
"I have just come aloft, sir; but the man I relieved tells me more than an
"And has the man you relieved come down? or what is that I see sitting on
the lee side of the mast-head?"
"'Tis Bob Brace, sir; who says he cannot sleep, and so he stays upon the
yard to keep me company."
"Send the man down. I would speak to him."
While the wakeful seaman was descending the rigging, the two officers
continued silent, each seeming to find sufficient occupation in musing on
what had already passed.
"And why are you not in your hammock?" said Wilder, a little sternly, to
the man who, in obedience to his order, had descended to the quarter-deck.
"I am not sleep-bound, your Honour, and therefore I had the mind to pass
another hour aloft."
"And why are you, who have two night-watches to keep already, so willing
to enlist in a third?"
"To own the truth, sir, my mind has been a little misgiving about this
passage, since the moment we lifted our anchor."
Mrs Wyllys and Gertrude, who were auditors, insensibly drew nigher, to
listen, with a species of interest which betrayed itself by the thrilling
of nerves, and an accelerated movement of the pulse.
"And you have your doubts, sir!" exclaimed the Captain, in a tone of
slight contempt. "Pray, may I ask what you have seen, on board here, to
make you distrust the ship."
"No harm in asking, your Honour," returned the seaman, crushing the hat he
held between two hands that had a gripe like a couple of vices, "and so I
hope there is none in answering. I pulled an oar in the boat after the old
man this morning, and I cannot say I like the manner in which he got from
the chase. Then, there is something in the ship to leeward that comes
athwart my fancy like a drag, and I confess, your Honour, that I should
make but little head-way in a nap, though I should try the swing of a
"How long is it since you made the ship to leeward?" gravely demanded
"I will not swear that a real living ship has been made out at all, sir.
Something I did see, just before the bell struck seven, and there it is,
just as clear and just as dim, to be seen now by them that have good
"And how did she bear when you first saw her?"
"Two or three points more toward the beam than it is now."
"Then we are passing her!" exclaimed Wilder, with a pleasure too evident
to be concealed.
"No, your Honour, no. You forget, sir, the ship has come closer to the
wind since the middle watch was set."
"True," returned his young Commander, in a tone of disappointment; "true,
very true. And her bearing has not changed since you first made her?"
"Not by compass, sir. It is a quick boat that, or would never hold such
way with the 'Royal Caroline,' and that too upon a stiffened bow-line,
which every body knows is the real play of this ship."
"Go, get you to your hammock. In the morning we may have a better look at
"And--you hear me, sir," added the attentive mate, "do not keep the men's
eyes open below, with a tale as long as the short cable, but take your own
natural rest, and leave all others, that have clear consciences, to do the
"Mr Earing," said Wilder, as the seaman reluctantly proceeded towards his
place of rest, "we will bring the ship upon the other tack, and get more
easting, while the land is so far from us. This course will be setting us
upon Hatteras. Besides"----
"Yes, sir," the mate replied, observing his superior to hesitate, "as you
were saying,--besides, no one can foretel the length of a gale, nor the
real quarter it may come from."
"Precisely. No one can answer for the weather. The men are scarcely in
their hammocks; turn them up at once, sir, before their eyes are heavy,
and we will bring the ship's head the other way."
The mate instantly sounded the well-known cry, which summoned the watch
below to the assistance of their shipmates on the deck. Little delay
occurred, and not a word was uttered, but the short, authoritative
mandates which Wilder saw fit to deliver from his own lips. No longer
pressed up against the wind, the ship, obedient to her helm, gracefully
began to incline her head from the waves, and to bring the wind abeam.
Then, instead of breasting and mounting the endless hillocks, like a being
that toiled heavily along its path, she fell into the trough of the sea,
from which she issued like a courser, who, have conquered an ascent,
shoots along the track with redoubled velocity. For an instant the wind
appear ed to have lulled, though the wide ridge of foam which rolled
along on each side the vessel's bows, sufficiently proclaimed that she was
skimming lightly before it. In another moment, the tall spars began to
incline again to the west, and the vessel came swooping up to the wind,
until her plunges and shocks against the seas were renewed as violently as
before. When every yard and sheet were properly trimmed to meet the new
position of the vessel, Wilder turned anxiously to get a glimpse of the
stranger. A minute was lost in ascertaining the precise spot where he
ought to appear; for, in such a chaos of water, and with no guide but the
judgment, the eye was apt to deceive itself, by referring to the nearer
and more familiar objects by which the spectator was surrounded.
"The stranger has vanished!" said Earing, with a voice in whose tones
mental relief and distrust were both, at the same moment, oddly
"He should be on this quarter; but I confess I see him not!"
"Ay, ay, sir; this is the way that the midnight cruiser off the Hope is
said to come and go. There are men who have seen that vessel shut in by a
fog, in as fine a star-light night as was ever met in a southern latitude.
But then this cannot be the Dutchman, since it is so many long leagues
from the pitch of the Cape to the coast of North-America.
"Here he lies; and, by heaven! he has already gone about!" cried Wilder.
The truth of what our young adventurer had just affirmed was indeed now
sufficiently evident to the eye of any seaman. The same diminutive and
misty tracery, as before, was to be seen on the light background of the
threatening horizon, looking not unlike the faintest shadows cast upon
some brighter surface by the deception of the phantasmagoria. But to the
mariners, who so well knew how to distinguish between the different lines
of her masts, it was very evident that her course had been suddenly and
dexterously changed, and that she was now steering no longer to the south
and west, but, like themselves, holding her way towards the north-east.
The fact appeared to make a sensible impression on them all; though
probably, had their reasons been sifted, they would have been found to be
"That ship has truly tacked!" Earing exclaimed, after a long, meditative
pause, and with a voice in which distrust, or rather awe, was beginning to
get the ascendancy. "Long as I have followed the sea, have I never before
seen a vessel tack against such a head-beating sea. He must have been all
shaking in the wind, when we gave him the last look, or we should not have
lost sight of him."
"A lively and quick-working vessel might do it," said Wilder; "especially
if strong handed."
"Ay, the hand of Beelzebub is always strong; and a light job would he make
of it, in forcing even a dull craft to sail."
"Mr Earing," interrupted Wilder, "we will pack upon the 'Caroline,' and
try our sailing with this taunting stranger. Get the main tack aboard, and
set the top-gallant-sail."
The slow-minded mate would have remonstrated against the order, had he
dared; but there was that, in the calm, subdued, but deep tones of his
young Commander, which admonished him of the hazard. He was not wrong,
however, in considering the duty he was now to perform as one not without
some risk. The ship was already moving under quite as much canvas as he
deemed it prudent to show at such an hour, and with so many threatening
symptoms of heavier weather hanging about the horizon. The necessary
orders were, however, repeated as promptly as they had been given. The
seamen had already begun to consider the stranger, and to converse among
themselves concerning his appearance and situation; and they obeyed with
an alacrity that might perhaps have been traced to a secret but common
wish to escape from his vicinity. The sails were successively and speedily
set; and then each man folded his arms, and stood gazing steadily and
intently at the shadowy object to leeward, in order to witness the effect
of the change.
The "Royal Caroline" seemed, like her crew, sensible of the necessity of
increasing her speed. As she felt the pressure of the broad sheets of
canvas that had just been distended, the ship bowed lower, and appeared to
recline on the bed of water which rose under her lee nearly to the
scuppers. On the other side, the dark planks, and polished copper, lay
bare for many feet, though often washed by the waves that came sweeping
along her length, green and angrily, still capped, as usual, with crests
of lucid foam. The shocks, as the vessel tilted against the billows, were
becoming every moment more severe; and, from each encounter, a bright
cloud of spray arose, which either fell glittering on the deck, or drove,
in brilliant mist, across the rolling water, far to leeward.
Wilder long watched the ship, with an excited mien, but with all the
intelligence of a seaman. Once or twice, when she trembled, and appeared
to stop, in her violent encounter with a wave, as suddenly as though she
had struck a rock, his lips severed, and he was about to give the order to
reduce the sail; but a glance at the misty looking image on the western
horizon seemed ever to cause his mind to change its purpose. Like a
desperate adventurer, who had cast his fortunes on some hazardous
experiment, he appeared to await the issue with a resolution that was as
haughty as it was unconquerable.
"That topmast is bending like a whip," muttered the careful Earing, at
"Let it go; we have spare spars to put in its place," was the answer.
"I have always found the 'Caroline' leaky after she has been strained by
driving her against the sea."
"We have our pumps."
"True, sir; but, in my poor judgment, it is idle to think of outsailing a
craft that the devil commands if he does not altogether handle it."
"One will never know that, Mr Earing, till he tries."
"We gave the Dutchman a chance of that sort; and, I must say, we not only
had the most canvas spread, but much the best of the wind: And what good
did it all do? there he lay, under his three topsails driver, and jib; and
we, with studding sails alow and aloft, couldn't alter his bearing a
"The Dutchman is never seen in a northern latitude."
"Well, I cannot say he is," returned Earing, in a sort of compelled
resignation; "but he who has put that flyer off the Cape may have found
the cruise so profitable, as to wish to send another ship into these
Wilder made no reply. He had either humoured the superstitious
apprehension of his mate enough, or his mind was too intent on its
principal object, to dwell longer on a foreign subject.
Notwithstanding the seas that met her advance, in such quick succession as
greatly to retard her progress the Bristol trader had soon toiled her way
through a league of the troubled element. At every plunge she took, the
bow divided a mass of water, that appeared, at each instant, to become
more vast and more violent in its rushing; and more than once the
struggling hull was nearly buried forward, in some wave which it had
equal difficulty in mounting or penetrating.
The mariners narrowly watched the smallest movements of their vessel. Not
a man left her deck, for hours. The superstitious awe, which had taken
such deep hold of the untutored faculties of the chief mate, had not been
slow to extend its influence to the meanest of her crew. Even the accident
which had befallen their former Commander, and the sudden and mysterious
manner in which the young officer, who now trod the quarter-deck, so
singularly firm and calm, under circumstances deemed so imposing, had
their influence in heightening the wild impression The impunity with which
the "Caroline" bore such a press of canvas, under the circumstances in
which she was placed, added to their kindling admiration; and, ere Wilder
had determined, in his own mind, on the powers of his ship, in comparison
with those of the vessel that so strangely hung in the horizon, he was
himself becoming the subject of unnatural and revolting suspicions to his
----"I' the name of truth,
Are ye fantastical, or that indeed
Which outwardly ye show?"--_Macbeth._
The division of employment that is found in Europe, and which brings, in
its train, a peculiar and corresponding limitation of ideas, has never yet
existed in our country. If our artisans have, in consequence been less
perfect in their several handicrafts, they have ever been remarkable for
intelligence of a more general character. Superstition is however, a
quality that seems indigenous to the ocean. Few common mariners are exempt
from its influence, in a greater or less degree; though it is found to
exist, among the seamen of different people, in forms that are tempered by
their respective national habits and peculiar opinions. The sailor of the
Baltic has his secret rites, and his manner of propitiating the gods of
the wind; the Mediterranean mariner tears his hair, and kneels before the
shrine of some impotent saint, when his own hand might better do the
service he implores; while the more skilful Englishman sees the spirits of
the dead in the storm, and hears the cries of a lost messmate in the gusts
that sweep the waste he navigates. Even the better instructed and still
more reasoning American has not been able to shake entirely off the secret
influence of a sentiment that seems the concomitant of his condition.
There is a majesty, in the might of the great deep that has a tendency to
keep open the avenues of that dependant credulity which more or less
besets the mind of every man, however he may have fortified his intellect
by thought. With the firmament above him, and wandering on an interminable
waste of water, the less gifted seaman is tempted, at every step of his
pilgrimage, to seek the relief of some propitious omen. The few which are
supported by scientific causes give support to the many that have their
origin only in his own excited and doubting temperament. The gambols of
the dolphin, the earnest and busy passage of the porpoise, the ponderous
sporting of the unwieldy whale, and the screams of the marine birds, have
all, like the signs of the ancient soothsayers, their attendant
consequences of good or evil. The confusion between things which are
explicable, and things which are not, gradually brings the mind of the
mariner to a state in which any exciting and unnatural sentiment is
welcome, if it be or no other reason than that, like the vast element on
which he passes his life, it bears the impression of what is thought a
supernatural, because it is an incomprehensible, power.
The crew of the "Royal Caroline" had not even the advantage of being
natives of a land where necessity and habit have united to bring every
man's faculties into exercise, to a certain extent at least. They were all
from that distant island that has been, and still continues to be, the
hive of nations, which are probably fated to carry her name to a time when
the sight of her fallen power shall be sought as a curiosity, like the
remains of a city in a desert.
The whole events of that day of which we are now writing had a tendency to
arouse the latent superstition of these men. It has already been said,
that the calamity which had befallen their former Commander, and the
manner in which a stranger had succeeded to his authority, had their
influence in increasing their disposition to doubt. The sail to leeward
appeared most inopportunely for the character of our adventurer, who had
not yet enjoyed a fitting opportunity to secure the confidence of his
inferiors, before such untoward circumstances occurred as threatened to
deprive him of it for ever.
There has existed but one occasion for introducing to the reader the mate
who filled the station in the ship next to that of Earing. He was called
Nighthead; a name that was, in some measure, indicative of a certain misty
obscurity that beset his superior member. The qualities of his mind may be
appreciated by the few reflections he saw fit to make on the escape of the
old mariner whom Wilder had intended to visit with a portion of his
indignation. This individual, as he was but one degree removed from the
common men in situation, so was he every way qualified to maintain that
association with the crew which was, in some measure, necessary between
them. His influence among them was commensurate to his opportunities of
intercourse, and his sentiments were very generally received with a
portion of that deference which is thought to be due to the opinions of an
After the ship had been worn, and during the time that Wilder, with a view
to lose sight of his unwelcome neighbour, was endeavouring to urge her
through the seas in the manner already described, this stubborn and
mystified tar remained in the waist of the vessel, surrounded by a few of
the older and more experienced seamen, holding converse on the remarkable
appearance of the phantom to leeward, and of the extraordinary manner in
which their unknown officer saw fit to attest the enduring qualities of
their own vessel. We shall commence our relation of the dialogue at a
point where Nighthead saw fit to discontinue his distant inuendos, in
order to deal more directly with the subject he had under discussion.
"I have heard it said, by older sea-faring men than any in this ship," he
continued, "that the devil has been known to send one of his mates aboard
a lawful trader, to lead her astray among shoals and quicksands, in order
that he might make a wreck, and get his share of the salvage, among the
souls of the people. What man can say who gets into the cabin, when an
unknown name stands first in the shipping list of a vessel?"
"The stranger is shut in by a cloud!" exclaimed one of the mariners, who,
while he listened to the philosophy of his officer, still kept an eye
riveted on the mysterious object to leeward.
"Ay, ay; it would occasion no surprise to see that craft steering into the
moon! Luck is like a fly-block and its yard: when one goes up, the other
comes down. They say the red-coats ashore have had their turn of fortune,
and it is time we honest seamen look out for our squalls. I have doubled
the Horn, brothers, in a King's ship, and I have seen the bright cloud
that never sets, and have held a living corposant in my own hand: But
these are things which any man may look on, who will go upon a yard in a
gale, or ship aboard a Southseaman: Still, I pronounce it uncommon for a
vessel to see her shadow in the haze, as we have ours at this moment for
there it comes again!--hereaway, between the after-shroud and the
backstay--or for a trader to carry sail in a fashion that would make every
knee in a bomb-ketch work like a tooth-brush fiddling across a passenger's
mouth, after he had had a smart bout with the sea sickness."
"And yet the lad holds the ship in hand," said the oldest of all the
seamen, who kept his gaze fastened on the proceedings of Wilder; "he is
driving her through it in a mad manner, I will allow; but yet, so far, he
has not parted a yarn."
"Yarns!" repeated the mate, in a tone of strong contempt; "what signify
yarns, when the whole cable is to snap, and in such a fashion as to leave
no hope for the anchor, except in a buoy rope? Hark ye, old Bill; the
devil never finishes his jobs by halves: What is to happen will happen
bodily; and no easing-off, as if you were lowering the Captain's lady into
a boat, and he on deck to see fair play."
"Mr Nighthead knows how to keep a ship's reckoning in all weathers!" said
another, whose manner sufficiently announced the dependance he himself
placed on the capacity of the second mate.
"And no credit to me for the same. I have seen all services, and handled
every rig, from a lugger to a double-decker! Few men can say more in their
own favour than myself; for the little I know has been got by much
hardship, and small schooling. But what matters information, or even
seamanship against witchcraft, or the workings of one whom I don't choose
to name, seeing that there is no use in offending any gentleman
unnecessarily? I say, brothers that this ship is packed upon in a fashion
that no prudent seaman ought to, or would, allow."
A general murmur announced that most, if not all, of his hearers accorded
in his opinion.
"Let us examine calmly and reasonably, and in a manner becoming
enlightened Englishmen, into the whole state of the case," the mate
continued, casting an eye obliquely over his shoulder, perhaps to make
sure that the individual, of whose displeasure he stood in such salutary
awe, was not actually at his elbow. "We are all of us, to a man,
native-born islanders, without a drop of foreign blood among us; not so
much as a Scotchman or an Irishman in the ship. Let us therefore look into
the philosophy of this affair, with that sort of judgment which becomes
our breeding. In the first place, here is honest Nicholas Nichols slips
from this here water-cask, and breaks me a leg! Now, brothers, I've known
men to fall from tops and yards, and lighter damage done. But what matters
it, to a certain person, how far he throws his man, since he has only to
lift a finger to get us all hanged? Then, comes me aboard here a stranger,
with a look of the colonies about him, and none of your plain-dealing,
out-and-out, smooth English faces, such as a man can cover with the flat
of his hand."--
"The lad is well enough to the eye," interrupted the old mariner.
"Ay, therein lies the whole deviltry of this matter! He is good-looking, I
grant ye; but it is not such good-looking as an Englishman loves. There is
a meaning about him that I don't like; for I never likes too much meaning
in a man's countenance, seeing that it is not always easy to understand
what he would be doing. Then, this stranger gets to be Master of the ship,
or, what is the same thing, next to Master; while he who should be on
deck giving his orders, in a time like this, is lying in his birth unable
to tack himself, much less to put the vessel about; and yet no man can say
how the thing came to pass."