Part 5 out of 9
"He drove a bargain with the consignee for the station, and right glad did
the cunning merchant seem to get so tight a youth to take charge of the
"Ah! a merchant is, like the rest of us, made of nothing better than clay;
and, what is worse, it is seldom that, in putting him together, he is
dampened with salt water. Many is the trader that has douzed his
spectacles, and shut his account-books, to step aside to over-reach his
neighbour, and then come back to find that he has over-reached himself. Mr
Bale, no doubt, thought he was doing the clever thing for the owners, when
he shipped this Mr Wilder; but then, perhaps, he did not know that the
vessel was sold to ------ It becomes a plain-going seaman to have a
respect for all he sails under; so I will not, unnecessarily, name the
person who, I believe, has got, whether he came by it in a fair purchase
or not, no small right in this vessel."
"I have never seen a ship got out of irons more handsomely than he handled
the 'Caroline' this very morning."
Nighthead now indulged in a low, but what to his listeners appeared to be
an exceedingly meaning, laugh.
"When a ship has a certain sort of Captain, one is not to be surprised at
any thing," he answered the instant his significant merriment had ceased.
"For my own part, I shipped to go from Bristol to the Carolinas and
Jamaica, touching at Newport out and home; and I will say, boldly, I have
no wish to go any where else. As to backing the 'Caroline' from her
awkward birth alongside the slaver, why it was well done; most too well
for so young a manner. Had I done the thing myself, it could not have been
much better. But what think you, brothers of the old man in the skiff?
There was a chase, and an escape, such as few old sea-dogs have the
fortune to behold! I have heard of a smuggler that was chased a hundred
times by his Majesty's cutters, in the chops of the Channel, and which
always had a fog handy to run into, but out of which no man could truly
say he ever saw her come again! This skiff may have plied between the land
and that Guernseyman, for any thing I know to the contrary; but it is not
a boat I wish to pull a scull in."
"That _was_ a remarkable flight!" exclaimed the elder seaman, whose faith
in the character of our adventurer began to give way gradually, before
such an accumulation of testimony.
"I call it so; though other men may possibly know better than I, who have
only followed the water five-and-thirty years. Then, here is the sea
getting up, in an unaccountable manner! and look at these rags of clouds,
which darken the heavens! and yet there is light enough, coming from the
ocean, for a good scholar to read by!"
"I've often seen the weather as it is now."
"Ay, who has not? It is seldom that any man, let him come from what part
he will, makes his first voyage as Captain. Let who will be out to-night
upon the water, I'll engage he has been there before. I have seen worse
looking skies, and even worse looking water, than this; but I never knew
any good come of either. The night I was wreck'd in the bay of"----
"In the waist there!" cried the calm, authoritative tones of Wilder.
Had a warning voice arisen from the turbulent and rushing ocean itself, it
would not have sounded more alarming, in the startled ears of the
conscious seamen, than this sudden hail. Their young Commander found it
necessary to repeat it, before even Nighthead, the proper and official
spokesman, could muster resolution to answer.
"Get the fore-top-gallant-sail on the ship, sir," continued Wilder, when
the customary reply let him know that he had been heard.
The mate and his companions regarded each other, for a moment, in dull
admiration; and many a melancholy shake of the head was exchanged, before
one of the party threw himself into the weather-rigging, and proceeded
aloft, with a doubting mind, in order to loosen the sail in question.
There was certainly enough, in the desperate manner with which Wilder
pressed the canvas on the vessel, to excite distrust, either of his
intentions or judgment, in the opinions of men less influenced by
superstition than those it was now his lot to command. It had long been
apparent to Earing, and his more ignorant, and consequently more
obstinate, brother officer, that their young superior had the same desire
to escape from the spectral-looking ship, which so strangely followed
their movements, as they had themselves. They only differed in the mode;
but this difference was so very material, that the two mates consulted
together apart, and then Earing, something stimulated by the hardy
opinions of his coadjutor, approached his Commander, with the
determination of delivering the results of their united judgments, with
that sort of directness which he thought the occasion now demanded. But
there was that in the steady eye and imposing mien of Wilder, that caused
him to touch on the dangerous subject with a discretion and circumlocution
that were a little remarkable for the individual. He stood watching the
effect of the sail recently spread for several minutes, before he even
presumed to open his mouth. But a terrible encounter, between the vessel
and a wave that lifted its angry crest apparently some dozen feet above
the approaching bows, gave him courage to proceed, by admonishing him
afresh of the danger of continuing silent.
"I do not see that we drop the stranger, though the ship is wallowing
through the water so heavily," he commenced, determined to be as
circumspect as possible in his advances.
Wilder bent another of his frequent glances on the misty object in the
horizon, and then turned his frowning eye towards the point whence the
wind proceeded, as if he would defy its heaviest blasts; he, however, made
"We have ever found the crew discontented at the pumps, sir," resumed the
other, after a pause sufficient for the reply he in vain expected; "I need
not tell an officer, who knows his duty so well, that seamen rarely love
"Whatever I may find necessary to order, Mr Earing, this ship's company
will find it necessary to execute."
There was a deep settled air of authority, in the manner with which this
tardy answer was given, that did not fail of its impression. Earing
recoiled a step, with a submissive manner, and affected to be lost in
consulting the driving masses of the clouds; then, summoning his
resolution, he attempted to renew the attack in a different quarter.
"Is it your deliberate opinion, Captain Wilder," he said, using the title
to which the claim of our adventurer might well be questioned, with a view
to propitiate him; "is it then your deliberate opinion that the 'Royal
Caroline' can, by any human means, be made to drop yonder vessel?"
"I fear not," returned the young man, drawing a breath so long, that all
his secret concern seemed struggling in his breast for utterance.
"And, sir, with proper submission to your better education and authority
in this ship, I _know_ not. I have often seen these matches tried in my
time; and well do I know that nothing is gained by straining a vessel,
with the hope of getting to windward of one of these flyers!"
"Take you the glass, Earing, and tell me under what canvas the stranger
holds his way, and what may be his distance," said Wilder, thoughtfully,
and without appearing to advert at all to what the other had just
The honest and well-meaning mate deposed his hat on the quarter-deck, and,
with an air of great respect, did as he was desired. Nor did he deem it
necessary to give a precipitate answer to either of the interrogatories.
When, however, his look had been long, grave, and deeply absorbed, he
closed the glass with the palm of his broad hand, and replied, with the
manner of one whose opinion was sufficiently matured.
"If yonder sail had been built and fitted like other mortal craft," he
said, "I should not be backward in pronouncing her a full-rigged ship,
under three single-reefed topsails, courses, spanker, and jib."
"Has she no more?"
"To that I would qualify, provided an opportunity were given me to make
sure that she is, in all respects, as other vessels are."
"And yet, Earing, with all this press of canvas, by the compass we have
not left her a foot."
"Lord, sir," returned the mate, shaking his head, like one who was well
convinced of the folly of such efforts, "if you should split every cloth
in the main-course, by carrying on the ship you will never alter the
bearings of that craft an inch, till the sun rises! Then, indeed, such as
have eyes, that are good enough, might perhaps see her sailing about
among the clouds; though it has never been my fortune be it bad or be it
good, to fall in with one of these cruisers after the day has fairly
"And the distance?" said Wilder; "you have not yet spoken of her
"That is much as people choose to measure. She may be here, nigh enough to
toss a biscuit into our tops; or she may be there, where she seems to be,
hull down in the horizon."
"But, if where she seems to be?"
"Why, she _seems_ to be a vessel of about six hundred tons; and, judging
from appearances only, a man might be tempted to say she was a couple of
leagues, more or less, under our lee."
"I put her at the same! Six miles to windward is not a little advantage,
in a hard chase. By heavens, Earing, I'll drive the 'Caroline' out of
water but I'll leave him!"
"That might be done, if the ship had wings like a curlew, or a sea-gull;
but, as it is, I think we are more likely to drive her under."
"She bears her canvas well, so far. You know not what the boat can do,
"I have seen her sailed in all weathers, Captain Wilder, but"----
His mouth was suddenly closed. A vast black wave reared itself between the
ship and the eastern horizon, and came rolling onward, seeming to threaten
to ingulf all before it. Even Wilder watched the shock with breathless
anxiety, conscious, for the moment that he had exceeded the bounds of
sound discretion in urging his ship so powerfully against such a mass of
water. The sea broke a few fathoms from the bows of the "Caroline," and
sent its surge in a flood of foam upon her decks. For half a minute the
forward part of the vessel disappeared, as though, unable to mount the
swell, it were striving to go through it, and then she heavily emerged,
gemmed with a million of the scintillating insects of the ocean. The ship
had stopped, trembling in every joint, throughout her massive and powerful
frame, like some affrighted courser; and, when she resumed her course, it
was with a moderation that appeared to warn those who governed her
movements of their indiscretion.
Earing faced his Commander in silence, perfectly conscious that nothing he
could utter contained an argument like this. The seamen no longer
hesitated to mutter their disapprobation aloud, and many a prophetic
opinion was ventured concerning the consequences of such reckless risks.
To all this Wilder turned a deaf or an insensible ear. Firm in his own
secret purpose, he would have braved a greater hazard to accomplish his
object. But a distinct though smothered shriek, from the stern of the
vessel, reminded him of the fears of others. Turning quickly on his heel,
he approached the still trembling Gertrude and her governess, who had both
been, throughout the whole of those long and tedious hours, inobtrusive
but deeply interested, observers of his smallest movements.
"The vessel bore that shock so well, I have great reliance on her powers,"
he said in a soothing voice, but with words that were intended to lull her
into a blind security. "With a firm ship, a thorough seaman is never at a
"Mr Wilder," returned the governess, "I have seen much of this terrible
element on which you live. It is therefore vain to think of deceiving me I
know that you are urging the ship beyond what is usual. Have you
sufficient motive for this hardihood?"
"And is it, like so many of your motives, to continue locked for ever in
your own breast? or may we, who are equal participators in its
consequences, claim to share equally in the reason?"
"Since you know so much of the profession," returned the young man,
slightly laughing, but in tones that were rendered perhaps more alarming
by the sounds produced in the unnatural effort, "you need not be told,
that, in order to get a ship to windward, it is necessary to spread her
"You can, at least, answer one of my questions more directly: Is this wind
sufficiently favourable to pass the dangerous shoals of the Hatteras?"
"I doubt it."
"Then, why not go to the place whence we came?"
"Will you consent to return?" demanded the youth, with the swiftness of
"I would go to my father," said Gertrude, with a rapidity so nearly
resembling his own, that the ardent girl appeared to want breath to utter
the little she said.
"And I am willing, Mr Wilder, to abandon the ship entirely," calmly
resumed the governess. "I require no explanation of all your mysterious
warnings; restore us to our friends in Newport, and no further questions
shall ever be asked."
"It might be done!" muttered our adventurer; "it might be done!--A few
busy hours would do it, with this wind.--Mr Earing!"--
The mate was instantly at his elbow. Wilder pointed to the dim object to
leeward; and, handing him the glass, desired that he would take another
view. Each looked, in his turn, long and closely.
"He shows no more sail!" said the Commander impatiently, when his own
prolonged gaze was ended.
"Not a cloth, sir. But what matters it, to such a craft, how much canvas
is spread, or how the wind blows?"
"Earing, I think there is too much southing in this breeze; and there is
more brewing in yonder streak of dusky clouds on our beam. Let the ship
fall off a couple of points, or more, and take the strain off the spars,
by a pull upon the weather braces."
The simple-minded mate heard the order with an astonishment he did not
care to conceal. There needed no explanation, to teach his experienced
faculties that the effect would be to go over the same track they had just
passed, and that it was, in substance abandoning the objects of the
voyage. He presumed to defer his compliance, in order to remonstrate.
"I hope there is no offence for an elderly seaman, like myself, Captain
Wilder, in venturing an opinion on the weather," he said. "When the pocket
of the owner is interested, my judgment approves of going about, for I
have no taste for land that the wind blows on, instead of off. But, by
easing the ship with a reef or two, she would be jogging sea ward; and all
we gain would be clear gain; because it is so much off the Hatteras.
Besides, who can say that to-morrow, or the next day, we sha'n't have, a
puff out of America, here at north-west?"
"A couple of points fall off, and a pull upon your weather braces," said
Wilder, with startling quickness.
It would have exceeded the peaceful and submissive temperament of the
honest Earing, to have delayed any longer. The orders were given to the
inferiors; and, as a matter of course, they were obeyed--though
ill-suppressed and portentous sounds of discontent at the undetermined,
and seemingly unreasonable changes in their officer's mind might been
heard issuing from the mouths of Nighthead, and other veterans of the
But to all these symptoms of disaffection Wilder remained, as before,
utterly indifferent. If he heard them at all, he either disdained to yield
them any notice, or, guided by a temporizing policy, he chose to appear
unconscious of their import. In the mean time, the vessel, like a bird
whose wing had wearied with struggling against the tempest, and which
inclines from the gale to dart along an easier course, glided swiftly
away, quartering the crests of the waves, or sinking gracefully into their
troughs, as she yielded to the force of a wind that was now made to be
favourable. The sea rolled on, in a direction that was no longer adverse
to her course; and, as she receded from the breeze, the quantity of sail
she had spread was no longer found trying to her powers of endurance.
Still she had, in the opinion of all her crew, quite enough canvas exposed
to a night of such a portentous aspect. But not so, in the judgment of the
stranger who was charged with the guidance of her destinies. In a voice
that still admonished his inferiors of the danger of disobedience he
commanded several broad sheets of studding-sails to be set, in quick
succession. Urged by these new impulses, the ship went careering over the
waves; leaving a train of foam, in her track, that rivalled, in its volume
and brightness, the tumbling summit of the largest swell.
When sail after sail had been set, until even Wilder was obliged to
confess to himself that the "Royal Caroline," staunch as she was, would
bear no more, our adventurer began to pace the deck again, and to cast his
eyes about him, in order to watch the fruits of his new experiment. The
change in the course of the Bristol trader had made a corresponding change
in the apparent direction of the stranger who yet floated in the horizon
like a diminutive and misty shadow. Still the unerring compass told the
watchful mariner, that she continued to maintain the same relative
position as when first seen. No effort, on the part of Wilder, could
apparently alter her bearing an inch. Another hour soon passed away,
during which, as the log told him, the "Caroline" had rolled through more
than three leagues of water, and still there lay the stranger in the west,
as though it were merely a lessened shadow of herself, cast by the
"Caroline" upon the distant and dusky clouds. An alteration in his course
exposed a broader surface of his canvas to the eyes of the spectators, but
in nothing else was there any visible change. If his sails had been
materially increased, the distance and the obscurity prevented even the
understanding Earing from detecting it. Perhaps the excited mind of the
worthy mate was too much disposed to believe in the miraculous powers
possessed by his unaccountable neighbour, to admit of the full exercise of
his experienced faculties on the occasion; but even Wilder, who vexed his
sight, in often-repeated examinations, was obliged to confess to himself,
that the stranger seemed to glide, across the waste of waters, more like a
body floating in the air, than a ship resorting to the ordinary expedients
Mrs Wyllys and her charge had, by this time, retired to their cabin; the
former secretly felicitating herself on the prospect of soon quitting a
vessel that had commenced its voyage under such sinister circumstances as
to have deranged the equilibrium of even her well-governed and
highly-disciplined mind. Gertrude was left in ignorance of the change. To
her uninstructed eye, all appeared the same on the wilderness of the
ocean; Wilder having it in his power to alter the direction of his vessel
as often as he pleased, without his fairer and more youthful passenger
being any the wiser for the same.
Not so, however, with the intelligent Commander of the "Caroline"
himself. To him there was neither obscurity nor doubt, in the midst of his
midnight path. His eye had long been familiar with every star that rose
from out the waving bed of the sea, to set in another dark and ragged
outline of the element; nor was there a blast, that swept across the
ocean, that his burning cheek could not tell from what quarter of the
heavens it poured out its power. He knew, and understood, each inclination
made by the bows of his ship; his mind kept even pace with her windings
and turnings, in all her trackless wanderings; and he had little need to
consult any of the accessories of his art, to tell him what course to
steer, or in what manner to guide the movements of the nice machine he
governed. Still was he unable to explain the extraordinary evolutions of
the stranger. His smallest change seemed rather anticipated than followed;
and his hopes of eluding a vigilance, that proved so watchful, was baffled
by a facility of manoeuvring, and a superiority of sailing, that really
began to assume, even to his intelligent eyes, the appearance of some
While our adventurer was engaged in the gloomy musings that such
impressions were not ill adapted to excite, the heavens and the sea began
to exhibit another aspect. The bright streak which had so long hung along
the eastern horizon, as though the curtain of the firmament had been
slightly opened to admit a passage for the winds, was now suddenly closed;
and heavy masses of black clouds began to gather in that quarter, until
vast volumes of the vapour were piled upon the water, blending the two
elements in one. On the other hand, the dark canopy lifted in the west,
and a long belt of lurid light was shed over the view. In this flood of
bright and portentous mist the stranger still floated, though there were
moments when his faint and fanciful outlines seemed to be melting into
---"Yet again? What do you here? Shal we give o'er, an drown? Have you a
mind to sink?"--_Tempest._
Our watchful adventurer was not blind to these well-known and sinister
omens. No sooner did the peculiar atmosphere, by which the mysterious
image that he so often examined was suddenly surrounded, catch his eye,
than his voice was heard in the clear, powerful, and exciting notes of
"Stand by," he called aloud, "to in all studding sails! Down with them!"
he added, scarcely giving his former words time to reach the ears of his
subordinates. "Down with every rag of them, fore and aft the ship! Man the
top-gallant clew-lines, Mr Earing. Clew up, and clew down! In with every
thing, cheerily, men! In!"
This was a language to which the crew of the "Caroline" were no strangers,
and one which was doubly welcome; since the meanest seaman of them all had
long thought that his unknown Commander had been heedlessly trifling with
the safety of the vessel, by the hardy manner in which he disregarded the
wild symptoms of the weather. But they undervalued the keen-eyed vigilance
of Wilder. He had certainly driven the Bristol trader through the water at
a rate she had never been known to have gone before; but, thus far, the
facts themselves attested in his favour, since no injury was the
consequence of what they deemed his temerity. At the quick, sudden order
just given, however, the whole ship was instantly in an uproar. A dozen
seamen called to each other, from different parts of the vessel each
striving to lift his voice above the roaring ocean; and there was every
appearance of a general and inextricable confusion; but the same
authority which had aroused them, thus unexpectedly, into activity,
produced order, from their ill-directed though vigorous efforts.
Wilder had spoken, to awaken the drowsy, and to excite the torpid. The
instant he found each man on the alert, he resumed his orders, with a
calmness that gave a direction to the powers of all, but still with an
energy that he well knew was called for by the occasion. The enormous
sheets of duck, which had looked like so many light clouds in the murky
and threatening heavens, were soon seen fluttering wildly, as they
descended from their high places; and, in a few minutes, the ship was
reduced to the action of her more secure and heavier canvas. To effect
this object, every man in the ship had exerted his powers to the utmost,
under the guidance of the steady but rapid mandates of their Commander.
Then followed a short and apprehensive breathing pause. Every eye was
turned towards the quarter where the ominous signs had been discovered;
and each individual endeavoured to read their import, with an intelligence
correspondent to the degree of skill he might have acquired, during his
particular period of service, on that treacherous element which was now
The dim tracery of the stranger's form had been swallowed by the flood of
misty light, which, by this time, rolled along the sea like drifting
vapour, semi-pellucid, preternatural, and seemingly tangible. The ocean
itself appeared admonished that a quick and violent change was nigh. The
waves had ceased to break in their former foaming and brilliant crests,
but black masses of the water were seen lifting their surly summits
against the eastern horizon, no longer relieved by their scintillating
brightness, or shedding their own peculiar and lucid atmosphere around
them. The breeze which had been so fresh, and which had even blown, at
times, with a force that nearly amounted to a little gale, was lulling and
becoming uncertain, as though awed by the more violent power that was
gathering along the borders of the sea, in the direction of the
neighbouring continent. Each moment, the eastern puffs of air lost their
strength, and became more and more feeble, until, in an incredibly short
period, the heavy sails were heard flapping against the masts--a frightful
and ominous calm succeeding. At this instant, a glancing, flashing gleam
lighted the fearful obscurity of the ocean; and a roar, like that of a
sudden burst of thunder, bellowed along the waters. The seamen turned
their startled looks on each other, and stood stupid, as though a warning
had been given, from the heavens themselves, of what was to follow. But
their calm and more sagacious Commander put a different construction on
the signal. His lip curled, in high professional pride, and his mouth
moved rapidly while he muttered to himself, with a species of scorn,--
"Does he think we sleep? Ay, he has got it himself and would open our eyes
to what is coming! What does he imagine we have been about, since the
middle watch was set?"
Then, Wilder made a swift turn or two on the quarter-deck, never ceasing
to bend his quick glances from one quarter of the heavens to another; from
the black and lulling water on which his vessel was rolling, to the sails;
and from his silent and profoundly expectant crew, to the dim lines of
spars that were waving above his head, like so many pencils tracing their
curvilinear and wanton images over the murky volumes of the superincumbent
"Lay the after-yards square!" he said, in a voice which was heard by every
man on deck, though his words were apparently spoken but little above his
breath. Even the creaking of the blocks, as the spars came slowly and
heavily round to the indicated position, contributed to the imposing
character of the moment, and sounded, in the ears of all the instructed
listeners, like notes of fearful preparation.
"Haul up the courses!" resumed Wilder, after a thoughtful, brief interval,
with the same eloquent calmness of manner. Then, taking another glance at
the threatening horizon, he added, with emphasis, "Furl them--furl them
both: Away aloft, and hand your courses," he continued, in a shout; "roll
them up, cheerily; in with them, boys, cheerily; in!"
The conscious seamen took their impulses from the tones of their
Commander. In a moment, twenty dark forms were seen leaping up the
rigging, with the alacrity of so many quadrupeds; and, in another minute,
the vast and powerful sheets of canvas were effectually rendered harmless,
by securing them in tight rolls to their respective spars. The men
descended as swiftly as they had mounted to the yards; and then succeeded
another short and breathing pause. At this moment, a candle would have
sent its flame perpendicularly towards the heavens. The ship, missing the
steadying power of the wind, rolled heavily in the troughs of the seas,
which, however began to be more diminutive, at each instant, as though the
startled element was recalling, into the security of its own vast bosom,
that portion of its particles which had, just before, been permitted to
gambol so madly over its surface. The water washed sullenly along the side
of the ship, or, as she labouring rose from one of her frequent falls into
the hollows of the waves, it shot back into the ocean from her decks, in
numberless little glittering cascades. Every hue of the heavens, every
sound of the element, and each dusky and anxious countenance that was
visible, helped to proclaim the intense interest of the moment. It was in
this brief interval of expectation, and inactivity, that the mates again
approached their Commander.
"It is an awful night, Captain Wilder!" said Earing presuming on his rank
to be the first of the two to speak.
"I have known far less notice given of a shift of wind," was the steady
"We have had time to gather in our kites, 'tis true, sir; but there are
signs and warnings, that come with this change, at which the oldest seaman
has reason to take heed!"
"Yes," continued Nighthead, in a voice that sounded hoarse and powerful,
even amid the fearful accessories of that scene; "yes, it is no trifling
commission that can call people, that I shall not name, out upon the water
in such a night as this. It was in just such weather that I saw the
'Vesuvius' ketch go to a place so deep, that her own mortar would not have
bein able to have sent a bomb into the open air, had hands and fire been
there fit to let it off!"
"Ay; and it was in such a time that the Greenlandman was cast upon the
Orkneys, in as flat a calm as ever lay on the sea."
"Gentlemen," said Wilder, with a peculiar and perhaps an ironical emphasis
on the word, "what is it you would have? There is not a breath of air
stirring, and the ship is naked to her topsails!"
It would have been difficult for either of the two malcontents to have
given a very satisfactory answer to this question. Both were secretly
goaded by mysterious and superstitious apprehensions, that were powerfully
aided by the more real and intelligible aspect of the night; but neither
had so far for gotten his manhood, and his professional pride, as to lay
bare the full extent of his own weakness, at a moment when he was liable
to be called upon for the exhibition of qualities of a far more positive
and determined character. Still, the feeling that was uppermost betrayed
itself in the reply of Earing, though in an indirect and covert manner.
"Yes, the vessel is snug enough now," he said, "though eye-sight has shown
us all it is no easy matter to drive a freighted ship though the water as
fast as one of your flying craft can go, aboard of which no man can say,
who stands at the helm, by what compass she steers, or what is her
"Ay," resumed Nighthead, "I call the 'Caroline' fast for an honest trader,
and few square-rigged boats are there, who do not wear the pennants of the
King, that can eat her out of the wind, or bring her into their wake, with
studding-sails abroad. But this is a time, and an hour, to make a seaman
think. Look at yon hazy light, here, in with the land, that is coming so
fast down upon us, and then tell me whether it comes from the coast of
America, or whether it comes from out of the stranger who has been so long
running under our lee, but who has got, or is fast getting, the wind of us
at last, and yet none here can say how, or why. I have just this much, and
no more, to say: Give me for consort a craft whose Captain I know, or give
"Such is your taste, Mr Nighthead," said Wilder, coldly; "mine may, by
some accident, be very different."
"Yes, yes," observed the more cautious and prudent Earing, "in time of
war, and with letters of marque aboard, a man may honestly hope the sail
he sees should have a stranger for her master; or otherwise he would never
fall in with an enemy. But though an Englishman born myself, I should
rather give the ship in that mist a clear sea, seeing that I neither know
her nation nor her cruise. Ah, Captain Wilder, yonder is an awful sight
for the morning watch! Often, and often, have I seen the sun rise ill the
east, and no harm done; but little good can come of a day when the light
first breaks in the west. Cheerfully would I give the owners the last
month's pay, hard as I have earned it with my toil, did I but know under
what flag yonder stranger sails."
"Frenchman, Don, or Devil, yonder he comes!" cried Wilder. Then, turning
towards the silent an attentive crew, he shouted, in a voice that was
appalling by its vehemence and warning, "Let run the after halyards! round
with the fore-yard! round with it, men, with a will!"
These were cries that the startled crew perfectly understood. Every nerve
and muscle were exerted to execute the orders, in time to be in readiness
for the approaching tempest. No man spoke; but each expended the utmost of
his power and skill in direct and manly efforts. Nor was there, in verity,
a moment to lose, or a particle of human strength expended here, without a
The lucid and fearful-looking mist, which, for the last quarter of an
hour, had been gathering in the north-west, was now driving down upon them
with the speed of a race-horse. The air had already lost the damp and
peculiar feeling of an easterly breeze; and little eddies were beginning
to flutter among the masts--precursors of the coming squall. Then, a
rushing, roaring sound was heard moaning along the ocean, whose surface
was first dimpled, next ruffled, and finally covered, with one sheet of
clear, white, and spotless foam. At the next moment the power of the wind
fell full upon the inert and labouring Bristol trader.
As the gust approached, Wilder had seized the slight opportunity, afforded
by the changeful puffs of air, to get the ship as much as possible before
the wind; but the sluggish movement of the vessel met neither the wishes
of his own impatience nor the exigencies of the moment. Her bows had
slowly and heavily fallen off from the north, leaving her precisely in a
situation to receive the first shock on her broadside. Happy it was, for
all who had life at risk in that defenceless vessel, that she was not
fated to receive the whole weight of the tempest at a blow. The sails
fluttered and trembled on their massive yards, bellying and collapsing
alternately for a minute, and then the rushing wind swept over them in a
The "Caroline" received the blast like a stout and buoyant ship, yielding
readily to its impulse, until her side lay nearly incumbent on the element
in which she floated; and then, as if the fearful fabric were conscious of
its jeopardy, it seemed to lift its reclining masts again, struggling to
work its way heavily through the water.
"Keep the helm a-weather! Jam it a-weather, for your life!" shouted
Wilder, amid the roar of the gust.
The veteran seaman at the wheel obeyed the order with steadiness, but in
vain he kept his eyes riveted on the margin of his head sail, in order to
watch the manner the ship would obey its power. Twice more, in as many
moments, the tall masts fell towards the horizon, waving as often
gracefully upward and then they yielded to the mighty pressure of the
wind, until the whole machine lay prostrate on the water.
"Reflect!" said Wilder, seizing the bewildered Earing by the arm, as the
latter rushed madly up the steep of the deck; "it is our duty to be calm:
Bring hither an axe."
Quick as the thought which gave the order, the admonished mate complied,
jumping into the mizzen-channels of the ship, to execute, with his own
hands, the mandate that he well knew must follow.
"Shall I cut?" he demanded, with uplifted arms, and in a voice that
atoned for his momentary confusion, by its steadiness and force.
"Hold! Does the ship mind her helm at all?"
"Not an inch, sir."
"Then cut," Wilder clearly and calmly added.
A single blow sufficed for the discharge of the momentary act. Extended to
the utmost powers of endurance, by the vast weight it upheld, the lanyard
struck by Earing no sooner parted, than each of its fellows snapped in
succession, leaving the mast dependant on itself alone for the support of
all its ponderous and complicated hamper. The cracking of the wood came
next; and then the rigging fell, like a tree that had been sapped at its
foundation, the little distance that still existed between it and the sea.
"Does she fall off?" instantly called Wilder to the observant seaman at
"She yielded a little, sir; but this new squall is bringing her up again."
"Shall I cut?" shouted Earing from the main rigging whither he had leaped,
like a tiger who had bounded on his prey.
"Cut!" was the answer.
A loud and imposing crash soon succeeded this order, though not before
several heavy blows had been struck into the massive mast itself. As
before, the seas received the tumbling maze of spars, rigging and sails;
the vessel surging, at the same instant from its recumbent position, and
rolling far and heavily to windward.
"She rights! she rights!" exclaimed twenty voices which had been hitherto
mute, in a suspense that involved life and death.
"Keep her dead away!" added the still calm but deeply authoritative voice
of the young Commander "Stand by to furl the fore-topsail--let it hang a
moment to drag the ship clear of the wreck--cut cut--cheerily,
men--hatchets and knives--cut _with_ all, and cut _off_ all!"
As the men now worked with the freshened vigour of revived hope, the ropes
that still confined the fallen spars to the vessel were quickly severed;
and the "Caroline," by this time dead before the gale, appeared barely to
touch the foam that covered the sea, like a bird that was swift upon the
wing skimming the waters. The wind came over the waste in gusts that
rumbled like distant thunder, and with a power that seemed to threaten to
lift the ship and its contents from its proper element, to deliver it to
one still more variable and treacherous. As a prudent and sagacious seaman
had let fly the halyards of the solitary sail that remained, at the moment
when the squall approached, the loosened but lowered topsail was now
distended in a manner that threatened to drag after it the only mast which
still stood. Wilder instantly saw the necessity of getting rid of this
sail, and he also saw the utter impossibility of securing it. Calling
Earing to his side, he pointed out the danger, and gave the necessary
"Yon spar cannot stand such shocks much longer," he concluded; "and,
should it go over the bows, some fatal blow might be given to the ship at
the rate she is moving. A man or two must be sent aloft to cut the sail
from the yards."
"The stick is bending like a willow whip," returned the mate, "and the
lower mast itself is sprung. There would be great danger in trusting a
life in that top, while such wild squalls as these are breathing around
"You may be right," returned Wilder, with a sudden conviction of the truth
of what the other had said: "Stay you then here; and, if any thing befal
me, try to get the vessel into port as far north as the Capes of Virginia,
at least;--on no account attempt Hatteras, in the present condition
"What would you do, Captain Wilder?" interrupted the mate laying his hand
powerfully on the shoulder of his Commander, who, he observed, had already
thrown his sea-cap on the deck, and was preparing to divest himself of
some of his outer garments.
"I go aloft, to ease the mast of that topsail, without which we lose the
spar, and possibly the ship."
"Ay, ay, I see that plain enough; but, shall it be said, Another did the
duty of Edward Earing? It is your business to carry the vessel into the
Capes of Virginia, and mine to cut the topsail adrift. If harm comes to
me, why, put it in the log, with a word or two about the manner in which I
played my part: That is always the best and most proper epitaph for a
Wilder made no resistance, but resumed his watchful and reflecting
attitude, with the simplicity of one who had been too long trained to the
discharge of certain obligations himself, to manifest surprise that
another should acknowledge their imperative character. In the mean time,
Earing proceeded steadily to perform what he had just promised. Passing
into the waist of the ship, he provided himself with a suitable hatchet,
and then, without speaking a syllable to any of the mute but attentive
seamen, he sprang into the fore-rigging, every strand and rope-yarn of
which was tightened by the strain nearly to snapping. The understanding
eyes of his observers comprehended his intention; and, with precisely the
same pride of station as had urged him to the dangerous undertaking, four
or five of the older mariners jumped upon the ratlings, to mount with him
into an air that apparently teemed with a hundred hurricanes.
"Lie down out of that fore-rigging," shouted Wilder, through a
deck-trumpet; "lie down; all, but the mate, lie down!" His words were
borne past the inattentive ears of the excited and mortified followers of
Earing, but they failed of their effect. Each man was too much bent on his
own earnest purpose to listen to the sounds of recall. In less than a
minute, the whole were scattered along the yards, prepared to obey the
signal of their officer. The mate cast a look about him; and, perceiving
that the time was comparatively favourable, he struck a blow upon the
large rope that confined one of the angles of the distended and bursting
sail to the lower yard. The effect was much the same as would be produced
by knocking away the key-stone of an ill-cemented arch. The canvas broke
from all its fastenings with a loud explosion, and, for an instant, was
seen sailing in the air ahead of the ship, as though sustained on the
wings of an eagle. The vessel rose on a sluggish wave--the lingering
remains of the former breeze--and then settled heavily over the rolling
surge, borne down alike by its own weight and the renewed violence of the
gusts. At this critical instant while the seamen aloft were still gazing
in the direction in which the little cloud of canvas had disappeared, a
lanyard of the lower rigging parted with a crack that even reached the
ears of Wilder.
"Lie down!" he shouted fearfully through his trumpet; "down by the
backstays; down for your lives; every man of you, down!"
A solitary individual, of them all, profited by the warning, and was seen
gliding towards the deck with the velocity of the wind. But rope parted
after rope, and the fatal snapping of the wood instantly followed. For a
moment, the towering maze tottered, and seemed to wave towards every
quarter of the heavens; and then, yielding to the movements of the hull,
the whole fell, with a heavy crash, into the sea. Each cord, lanyard, or
stay snapped, when it received the strain of its new position, as though
it had been made of thread, leaving the naked and despoiled hull of the
"Caroline" to drive onward before the tempest, as if nothing had occurred
to impede its progress.
A mute and eloquent pause succeeded this disaster It appeared as if the
elements themselves were appeased by their work, and something like a
momentary lull in the awful rushing of the winds might have been fancied.
Wilder sprang to the side of the vessel, and distinctly beheld the
victims, who still clung to their frail support. He even saw Earing waving
his hand, in adieu, with a seaman's heart, and like a man who not only
felt how desperate was his situation, but one who knew how to meet his
fate with resignation. Then the wreck of spars, with all who clung to it,
was swallowed up in the body of the frightful, preternatural-looking mist
which extended on every side of them, from the ocean to the clouds.
"Stand by, to clear away a boat!" shouted Wilder, without pausing to think
of the impossibility of one's swimming, or of effecting the least good, in
so violent a tornado.
But the amazed and confounded seamen who remained needed not instruction
in this matter. No man moved, nor was the smallest symptom of obedience
given. The mariners looked wildly around them, each endeavouring to trace,
in the dusky countenance of the other, his opinion of the extent of the
evil; but not a mouth was opened among them all.
"It is too late--it is too late!" murmured Wilder to himself; "human skill
and human efforts could not save them!"
"Sail, ho!" Nighthead muttered at his elbow, in a voice that teemed with a
species of superstitious awe.
"Let him come on," returned his young Commander bitterly; "the mischief is
ready finished to his hands!"
"Should yon be a mortal ship, it is our duty to the owners and the
passengers to speak her, if a man can make his voice heard in this
tempest," the second mate continued, pointing, through the haze at the dim
object that was certainly at hand.
"Speak her!--passengers!" muttered Wilder, involuntarily repeating his
words. "No; any thing is better than speaking her. Do you see the vessel
that is driving down upon us so fast?" he sternly demanded of the watchful
seaman who still clung to the wheel of the "Caroline."
"Ay, ay, sir," was the brief, professional reply.
"Give her a birth--sheer away hard to port--perhaps he may pass us in the
gloom, now we are no higher than our decks. Give the ship a broad sheer, I
The same laconic answer as before was given and, for a few moments, the
Bristol trader was seen diverging a little from the line in which the
other approached; but a second glance assured Wilder that the attempt was
useless. The strange ship (and every man on board felt certain it was the
same that had so long been seen hanging in the north-western horizon) came
on, through the mist, with a swiftness that nearly equalled the velocity
of the tempestuous winds themselves. Not a thread of canvas was seen on
board her. Each line of spars, even to the tapering and delicate
top-gallant-masts, was in its place, preserving the beauty and symmetry of
the whole fabric; but nowhere was the smallest fragment of a sail opened
to the gale. Under her bows rolled a volume of foam, that was even
discernible amid the universal agitation of the ocean; and, as she came
within sound, the sullen roar of the water might have been likened to the
noise of a cascade. At first, the spectators on the decks of the
"Caroline" believed they were not seen, and some of the men called madly
for lights, in order that the disasters of the night might not terminate
in the dreaded encounter.
"No!" exclaimed Wilder; "too many see us there already!"
"No, no," muttered Nighthead; "no fear but we are seen; and by such eyes,
too, as never yet looked out of mortal head!"
The seamen paused. In another instant, the long-seen and mysterious ship
was within a hundred feet of them. The very power of that wind, which was
wont usually to raise the billows, now pressed the element, with the
weight of mountains, into its bed. The sea was every where a sheet of
froth, but no water swelled above the level of the surface. The instant a
wave lifted itself from the security of the vast depths, the fluid was
borne away before the tornado in driving, glittering spray. Along this
frothy but comparatively motionless surface, then, the stranger came
booming, with the steadiness and grandeur with which a dark cloud is seen
to sail before the hurricane. No sign of life was any where discovered
about her. If men looked out, from their secret places, upon the
straitened and discomfited wreck of the Bristol trader, it was covertly,
and as darkly as the tempest before which they drove. Wilder held his
breath, for the moment the stranger drew nighest, in the very excess of
suspense; but, as he saw no signal of recognition, no human form, nor any
intention to arrest, if possible, the furious career of the other, a smile
of exultation gleamed across his countenance, and his lips moved rapidly,
as though he found pleasure in being abandoned to his distress. The
stranger drove by, like a dark vision and, ere another minute, her form
was beginning to grow less distinct, in a thickening body of the spray to
"She is going out of sight in the mist!" exclaimed Wilder, when he drew
his breath, after the fearful suspense of the few last moments.
"Ay, in mist, or clouds," responded Nighthead, who now kept obstinately at
his elbow, watching with the most jealous distrust, the smallest movement
of his unknown Commander.
"In the heavens, or in the sea, I care not, provided she be gone."
"Most seamen would rejoice to see a strange sail, from the hull of a
vessel shaved to the deck like this."
"Men often court their destruction, from ignorance of their own interests.
Let him drive on, say I, and pray I! He goes four feet to our one; and now
I ask no better favour than that this hurricane may blow until the sun
Nighthead started, and cast an oblique glance which resembled
denunciation, at his companion. To his blunted faculties, and
superstitious mind, there was profanity in thus invoking the tempest, at a
moment when the winds seemed already to be pouring out their utmost wrath.
"This is a heavy squall, I will allow," he said, "and such an one as many
mariners pass whole lives without seeing; but he knows little of the sea
who thinks there is not more wind where this comes from."
"Let it blow!" cried the other, striking his hands together a little
wildly; "I pray only for wind!"
All the doubts of Nighthead, as to the character of the young stranger who
had so unaccountably got possession of the office of Nicholas Nichols, if,
indeed, any remained, were now removed. He walked forward among the silent
and thoughtful crew with the air of a man whose opinion was settled.
Wilder, however, paid no attention to the movements of his subordinate,
but continued pacing the deck for hours; now casting his eyes at the
heavens or now sending frequent and anxious glances around the limited
horizon, while the "Royal Caroline" still continued drifting before the
wind, a shorn and naked wreck.
"Sit still, and hear the last of our sea sorrow."--_Shakspeare_
The weight of the tempest had been felt at that hapless moment when Earing
and his unfortunate companions were precipitated from their giddy
elevation into the sea. Though the wind continued to blow long after this
fatal event, it was with a constantly diminishing power. As the gale
decreased the sea began to rise, and the vessel to labour in proportion.
Then followed two hours of anxious watchfulness on the part of Wilder,
during which the whole of his professional knowledge was needed in order
to keep the despoiled hull of the Bristol trader from becoming a prey to
the greedy waters. His consummate skill, however, proved equal to the task
that was required at his hands; and, just as the symptoms of day were
becoming visible along the east, both wind and waves were rapidly
subsiding together. During the whole of this doubtful period our
adventurer did not receive the smallest assistance from any of the crew,
with the exception of two experienced seamen whom he had previously
stationed at the wheel. But to this neglect he was indifferent; since
little more was required than his own judgment, seconded, as it faithfully
was, by the exertions of the manners more immediately under his eye.
The day dawned on a scene entirely different from that which had marked
the tempestuous deformity of the night. The whole fury of the winds
appear ed to have been expended in their precocious effort. From the
moderate gale, to which they had fallen by the end of the middle watch,
they further altered to a vacillating breeze; and, ere the sun had risen,
the changeful air had subsided into a flat calm. The sea went down as
suddenly as the power which had raised, it vanished; and, by the time the
broad golden light of the sun was shed fairly and fully upon the unstable
element, it lay unruffled and polished, though still gently heaving in
swells so long and heavy as to resemble the placid respiration of a
The hour was still early, and the serene appearance of the sky and the
ocean gave every promise of a day which might be passed in devising the
expedients necessary to bring the ship again, in some measure, under the
command of her people.
"Sound the pumps," said Wilder, observing that the crew were appearing
from the different places in which they had bestowed their cares and their
persons together, during the later hours of the night.
"Do you hear me, sir?" he added sternly, observing that no one moved to
obey his order. "Let the pumps be sounded, and the ship cleared of every
inch of water."
Nighthead, to whom Wilder had now addressed himself, regarded his
Commander with an oblique ind sullen eye, and then exchanged singularly
intelligent glances with his comrades, before he saw fit to make the
smallest motion towards compliance. But there was that, in the
authoritative mien of his superior, which finally induced him to comply.
The dilatory manner in which the seamen performed the duty was quickened,
however, as the rod ascended, and the well-known signs of a formidable
leak met their eyes. The experiment was repeated with greater activity,
and with far more precision.
"If witchcraft can clear the hold of a ship that is already half full of
water," said Nighthead, casting another sullen glance towards the
attentive Wilder "the sooner it is done the better; for the whole cunning
of something more than a bungler in the same will be needed, in order to
make the pumps of the 'Royal Caroline' suck!"
"Does the ship leak?" demanded his superior with a quickness of utterance
which sufficiently proclaimed how important he deemed the intelligence.
"Yesterday, I would have boldly put my name to the articles of any craft
that floats the ocean; and had the Captain asked me if I understood her
nature and character, as certain as that my name is Francis Nighthead, I
should have told him, yes. But I find that the oldest seaman may still
learn something of the water; though it should be got in crossing a ferry
in a flat."
"What mean you, sir?" demanded Wilder, who, for the first time, began to
note the mutinous looks assumed by his mate, no less than the threatening
manner in which he was seconded by the crew. "Have the pumps rigged
without delay, and clear the ship of the water."
Nighthead slowly complied with the former part of this order; and, in a
few moments, every thing was arranged to commence the necessary, and, as
it would seem, urgent duty of pumping. But no man lifted his hand to the
laborious employment. The quick eye of Wilder, who had now taken the
alarm, was not slow in detecting this reluctance; and he repeated the
order more sternly, calling to two of the seamen, by name, to set the
example of obedience. The men hesitated, giving an opportunity to the mate
to confirm them, by his voice, in their mutinous intentions.
"What need of hands to work a pump in a vessel like this?" he said, with
a coarse laugh, but in which secret terror struggled strangely with open
malice. "After what we have all seen this night, none here will be amazed,
should the vessel begin to spout out the brine like a breathing whale."
"What am I to understand by this hesitation, and by this language?" said
Wilder, approaching Nighthead with a firm step, and an eye too proud to
quail before the plainest symptoms of insubordination. "Is it you, sir,
who should be foremost in exertion at a moment like this, who dare to set
an example of disobedience?"
The mate recoiled a pace, and his lips moved, still he uttered no audible
reply. Wilder once more bade him, in a calm and authoritative tone, lay
his own hands to the brake. Nighthead then found his voice, in time to
make a flat refusal; and, at the next moment, he was felled to the feet of
his indignant Commander, by a blow he had neither the address nor the
power to resist. This act of decision was succeeded by one single moment
of breathless, wavering silence among the crew; and then the common cry,
and the general rush of every man upon our defenceless and solitary
adventurer, were the signals that open hostility had commenced. A shriek
from the quarter-deck arrested their efforts; just as a dozen hands were
laid violently upon the person of Wilder, and, for the moment, occasioned
a truce. It was the fearful cry of Gertrude, which possessed even the
influence to still the savage intentions of a set of beings so rude and so
unnurtured as those whose passions had just been awakened into fierce
activity. Wilder was released; and all eyes turned, by a common impulse,
in the direction of the sound.
During the more momentous hours of the past night, the very existence of
the passengers below had been forgotten by most of those whose duty kept
them to the deck. If they had been recalled at all to the recollection of
any, it was at those fleeting moments when the mind of the young mariner,
who directed the movements of the ship, found leisure to catch stolen
glimpses of softer scenes than the wild warring of the elements that was
so actively raging before his eyes. Nighthead had named them, as he would
have made allusion to a part of the cargo, but their fate had little
influence on his hardened nature. Mrs Wyllys and her charge had therefore
remained below during the whole period, perfectly unapprised of the
disasters of the intervening time. Buried in the recesses of their births,
they had heard the roaring of the winds, and the incessant washing of the
waters; but these usual accompaniments of a storm had served to conceal
the crashing of masts, and the hoarse cries of the mariners. For the
moments of terrible suspense while the Bristol trader lay on her side, the
better informed governess had, indeed, some fearful glimmerings of the
truth; but, conscious of her uselessness and unwilling to alarm her less
instructed companion she had sufficient self-command to be mute. The
subsequent silence, and comparative calm, induced her to believe that she
had been mistaken in her apprehensions; and, long ere morning dawned, both
she and Gertrude had sunk into sweet and refreshing slumbers. They had
risen and mounted to the deck together, and were still in the first burst
of their wonder at the desolation which met their gaze, when the
long-meditated attack on Wilder was made.
"What means this awful change?" demanded Mrs Wyllys, with a lip that
quivered, and a cheek which, notwithstanding the extraordinary power she
possessed over her feelings, was blanched to the colour of death.
The eye of Wilder was glowing, and his brow dark as those heavens from
which they had just so happily escaped, as he answered, menacing his
assailants with an arm,--
"It means mutiny, Madam; rascally, cowardly mutiny!"
"Could mutiny strip a vessel of her masts, and leave her a helpless log
upon the sea?"
"Hark ye, Madam!" roughly interrupted the mate 'to you I will speak
freely; for it is well known who you are, and that you came on board the
'Caroline' a paying passenger. This night have I seen the heavens and the
ocean behave as I have never seen them behave before. Ships have been
running afore the wind, light and buoyant as corks, with all their spars
stepped and steady, when other ships have been shaved of every mast as
close as the razor sweeps the chin. Cruisers have been fallen in with,
sailing without living hands to work them; and, all together, no man here
has ever before passed a middle watch like the one gone by."
"And what has this to do with the violence I have just witnessed? Is the
vessel fated to endure every evil!--Can _you_ explain this, Mr Wilder?"
"You cannot say, at least, you had no warning of danger," returned Wilder,
"Ay, the devil is obliged to be honest on compulsion," resumed the mate.
"Each of his imps sails with his orders; and, thank Heaven! however he may
be minded to overlook the same, he has neither courage nor power to do it.
Otherwise, a peaceful voyage would be such a rarity, in these unsettled
times, that few men would be found hardy enough to venture on the water
for a livelihood.--A warning! Ay, we will own you gave us open and
frequent warning. It was a notice, that the consignee should not have
overlooked, when Nicholas Nichols met with the hurt, as the anchor was
leaving the bottom I never knew an accident happen at such a time and no
evil come of it. Then, had we a warning with the old man in the boat;
besides the never-failing ill luck of sending the pilot violently out of
the ship. As if all this wasn't enough, instead of taking a hint, and
lying peaceably at our anchors, we got the ship under way, and left a safe
and friendly harbour of a Friday, of all the days in a week! So far
from being surprised at what has happened, I only wonder at finding myself
still a living man; the reason of which is simply this, that I have given
my faith where faith only is due, and not to unknown mariners and strange
Commanders. Had Edward Earing done the same, he might still have had a
plank between him and the bottom; but, though half inclined to believe in
the truth, he had, after all, too much leaning to superstition and
[Footnote 2: The superstition, that Friday is an evil day, was not
peculiar to Nighthead; it prevails, more or less, among seamen to this
hour. An intelligent merchant of Connecticut had a desire to do his part
in eradicating an impression that is sometimes inconvenient. He caused
the keel of a vessel to be laid on a Friday; she was launched on a
Friday; named the "Friday;" and sailed on her first voyage on a Friday.
Unfortunately for the success of this well-intentioned experiment,
neither vessel nor crew were ever again heard of!]
This laboured and characteristic profession of faith in the mate, though
sufficiently intelligible to Wilder, was still a perfect enigma to his
female listeners. But Nighthead had not formed his resolution by halves,
neither had he gone thus far, with any intention to stop short of the
completion of his whole design. In a very few summary words, he explained
to Mrs Wyllys the desolate condition of the ship, and the utter
improbability that she could continue to float many hours; since actual
observation had told him that her lower hold was already half full of
"And what is then to be done?" demanded the governess, casting a glance of
bitter distress towards the pallid and attentive Gertrude. "Is there no
sail in sight, to take us from the wreck? or must we perish in our
"God-protect us from anymore strange sails!" exclaimed the surly
Nighthead. "There we have the pinnace hanging at the stern, and here must
be land at some forty leagues to the north-west. Water and food are
plenty, and twelve, stout hands can soon pull a boat to the continent of
America; that is, always provided, America is left where it was seen no
later than at the sun-set of yesterday."
"You then propose to abandon the vessel?"
"I do. The interest of the owners is dear to all good seamen, but life is
sweeter than gold."
"The will of heaven be done! But surely you meditate no violence against
this gentleman, who, I am quite certain, has governed the vessel, in very
critical circumstances, with a discretion far beyond his years!"
Nighthead muttered his intentions, whatever they might be, to himself; and
then he walked apart, apparently to confer with the men, who already
seemed but too well disposed to second any of his views, however mistaken
or lawless. During the few moments of suspense that succeeded, Wilder
stood silent and composed, a smile of something like scorn struggling
about his lip, and maintaining the air rather of one who had power to
decide on the fortunes of others, than of a man whose own fate was most
probably at that very moment in discussion. When the dull minds of the
seamen had arrived at their conclusion, the mate advanced to proclaim the
result. Indeed, words were unnecessary, in order to make known a very
material part of their decision; for a party of the men proceeded
instantly to lower the stern-boat into the water, while others set about
supplying it with the necessary means of subsistence.
"There is room for all the Christians in the ship to stow themselves in
this pinnace," resumed Nighthead; "and as for those that place their
dependance on any particular persons, why, let them call for aid where
they have been used to receive it."
"From all which I am to infer that it is your intention," said Wilder,
calmly, "to abandon the wreck and your duty?"
The half-awed but still resentful mate returned a look in which fear and
triumph struggled for the mastery, as he answered,--
"You, who know how to sail a ship without a crew, can never want a boat!
Besides, you shall never say to your friends, whoever they may be, that we
leave you without the means of reaching the land, if you are indeed a
land-bird at all. There is the launch."
"There is the launch! but well do you know, that, without masts, all your
united strengths could not lift it from the deck; else would it not be
"They that took the masts out of the 'Caroline' can put them in again,"
rejoined a grinning seaman; "it will not be an hour after we leave you,
before a sheer-hulk will come alongside, to step the spars again, and then
you may go cruise in company."
Wilder appeared to be superior to any reply. He began to pace the deck,
thoughtful, it is true, but still composed, and entirely self-possessed.
In the mean time, as a common desire to quit the wreck as soon as possible
actuated all the men, their preparations advanced with incredible
activity. The wondering and alarmed females had hardly time to think
clearly on the extraordinary situation in which they found themselves,
before they saw the form of the helpless Master borne past them to the
boat; and, in another minute, they were summoned to take their places at
Thus imperiously called upon to act, they began to feel the necessity of
decision. Remonstrances, they feared, would be useless; for the fierce and
malignant looks which were cast, from time to time, at Wilder, as the
labour proceeded, proclaimed the danger of awakening such obstinate and
ignorant minds into renewed acts of violence. The governess bethought her
of an appeal to the wounded man, but the look of wild care which he had
cast about him, on being lifted to the deck, and the expression of bodily
and mental pain that gleamed across his rugged features, as he buried them
in the blankets by which he was enveloped, but too plainly announced that
little assistance was, in his present condition, to be expected from him.
"What remains for us to do?" she at length demanded of the seemingly
insensible object of her concern.
"I would I knew!" he answered quickly, casting a keen but hurried glance
around the whole horizon. "It is not improbable that they should reach the
shore. Four-and-twenty hours of calm will assure it."
"And if otherwise?"
"A blow at north-west, or from any quarter off the land, will prove their
"But the ship?"
"If deserted, she must sink."
"Then will I speak in your favour to these hearts of flint! I know not why
I feel such interest in your welfare, inexplicable young man, but much
would I suffer rather than believe that you incurred this peril."
"Stop, dearest Madam," said Wilder, respectfully arresting her movement
with his hand. "I cannot leave the vessel."
"We know not yet. The most stubborn natures may be subdued; even ignorance
can be made to open its ears at the voice of entreaty. I may prevail."
"There is one temper to be quelled--one reason to convince--one prejudice
to conquer, over which you have no power."
"Whose is that?"
"What mean you, sir? Surely you are not weak enough to suffer resentment
against such beings to goad you to an act of madness?"
"Do I seem mad?" demanded Wilder. "The feeling by which I am governed may
be false, but, such as it is, it is grafted on my habits, my opinions; I
will say, my principles. Honour forbids me to quit a ship that I command,
while a plank of her is afloat."
"Of what use can a single arm prove at such a crisis?".
"None," he answered, with a melancholy smile. "I must die, in order that
others, who may be serviceable hereafter, should do their duty."
Both Mrs Wyllys and Gertrude stood regarding his kindling eye, but
otherwise placid countenance, with looks whose concern amounted to horror.
The former read, in the very composure of his mien, the unalterable
character of his resolution; and the latter shuddering as the prospect of
the cruel fate which awaited him crowded on her mind, felt a glow about
her own youthful heart that almost tempted her to believe his
self-devotion commendable. But the governess saw new reasons for
apprehension in the determination of Wilder. If she had hitherto felt
reluctance to trust herself and her ward with a band such as that which
now possessed the sole authority, it was more than doubly increased by the
rude and noisy summons she received to hasten and take her place among
"Would to Heaven I knew in what manner to choose!" she exclaimed. "Speak
to us, young man, as you would counsel mother and sister."
"Were I so fortunate as to possess relatives so near and dear," returned
the other, with emphasis "nothing should separate us at a time like this."
"Is there hope for those who remain on the wreck?"
"And in the boat?"
It was near a minute before Wilder made any answer. He again turned his
look around the bright and broad horizon, and he appeared to study the
heavens, in the direction of the distant Continent, with infinite care. No
omen that could indicate the probable character of the weather escaped his
vigilance while his countenance reflected all the various emotions by
which he was governed, as he gazed.
"As I am a man, Madam," he answered with fervour "and one who is bound not
only to counsel but to protect your sex, I distrust the time. I think the
chance of being seen by some passing sail equal to the probability that
those who adventure in the pinnace will ever reach the land."
"Then let us remain," said Gertrude, the blood, for the first time since
her re-appearance on deck, rushing into her colourless cheeks, until they
appeared charged to fulness. "I like not the wretches who would be our
companions in that boat."
"Away, away!" impatiently shouted Nighthead "Each minute of light is a
week of life to us all, and every moment of calm, a year. Away, away, or
we leave you!"
Mrs Wyllys answered not, but she stood the image of doubt and painful
indecision. Then the plash of oars was heard in the water, and at the next
moment the pinnace was seen gliding over the element, impelled by the
strong arms of six powerful rowers.
"Stay!" shrieked the governess, no longer undetermined; "receive my child,
though you abandon me!"
A wave of the hand, and an indistinct rumbling in the coarse tones of the
mate, were the only answers given to her appeal. A long, deep, and
breathing silence followed among the deserted. The grim countenances of
the seamen in the pinnace soon became confused and indistinct; and then
the boat itself began to lessen on the eye, until it seemed no more than a
dark and distant speck, rising and falling with the flow and reflux of the
blue waters. During all this time, not even a whispered word was spoken.
Each of the party gazed, until sight grew dim, at the receding object; and
it was only when his organs refused to convey the tiny image to his brain,
that Wilder himself shook off the impression of the sort of trance into
which he had fallen. His look became bent on his companions, and he
pressed his hand upon his forehead, as though his brain were bewildered by
the deep responsibility he had assumed in advising them to remain. But the
sickening apprehension quickly passed away, leaving in its place a firmer
mind, and a resolution too often tried in scenes of doubtful issue, to be
long or easily shaken from its calmness and self-possession.
"They are gone!" he exclaimed, breathing long and heavily, like one whose
respiration had been unnaturally suspended.
"They are gone!" echoed the governess, turning an eye, that was
contracting with the intensity or her care, on the marble-like and
motionless form of her pupil "There is no longer any hope."
The look that Wilder bestowed, on the same silent out lovely statue, was
scarcely less expressive than "he gaze of her who had nurtured the infancy
of the Southern Heiress, in innocence and love. His brow grew thoughtful,
and his lips became compressed, while all the resources of his fertile
imagination and long experience gathered in his mind, in engrossing
"Is there hope?" demanded the governess, who was watching the change of
his working countenance, with an attention that never swerved.
The gloom passed away from his swarthy features, and the smile that
lighted them was like the radiance of the sun, as it breaks through the
blackest vapours of the drifting gust.
"There is!" he said with firmness; "our case is far from desperate."
"Then, may He who rules the ocean and the land receive the praise!" cried
the grateful governess giving vent to her long-suppressed agony in a flood
Gertrude cast herself upon the neck of Mrs Wyllys, and for a minute their
unrestrained emotions were mingled.
"And now, my dearest Madam," said Gertrude, leaving the arms of her
governess, "let us trust to the skill of Mr Wilder; he has foreseen and
foretold this danger; equally well may he predict our safety."
"Foreseen and foretold!" returned the other, in a manner to show that her
faith in the professional prescience of the stranger was not altogether so
unbounded as that of her more youthful and ardent companion. "No mortal
could have foreseen this awful calamity; and least of all, foreseeing it,
would he have sought to incur its danger! Mr Wilder, I will not annoy you
with requests for explanations that might now be useless, but you will not
refuse to communicate your grounds of hope."
Wilder hastened to relieve a curiosity that he well knew must be as
painful as it was natural. The mutineers had left the largest, and much
the safest, of the two boats belonging to the wreck, from a desire to
improve the calm, well knowing that hours of severe labour would be
necessary to launch it, from the place it occupied between the stumps of
the two principal masts, into the ocean. This operation, which might have
been executed in a few minutes with the ordinary purchases of the ship,
would have required all their strength united, and that, too, to be
exercised with a discretion and care that would have consumed too many of
those moments which they rightly deemed to be so precious at that wild and
unstable season of the year. Into this little ark Wilder proposed to
convey such articles of comfort and necessity as he might hastily collect
from the abandoned vessel; and then, entering it with his companions, to
await the critical instant when the wreck should sink from beneath them.
"Call you this hope?" exclaimed Mrs Wyllys, when his short explanation was
ended, her cheek again blanching with disappointment. "I have heard that
the gulf, which foundering vessels leave, swallows all lesser objects that
are floating nigh!"
"It sometimes happens. For worlds I would not deceive you; and I now say
that I think our chance for escape equal to that of being ingulfed with
"This is terrible!" murmured the governess, "but the will of Heaven be
done! Cannot ingenuity supply the place of strength, and the boat be cast
from the decks before the fatal moment arrives?"
Wilder shook his head in an unequivocal negative.
"We are not so weak as you may think us," said Gertrude. "Give a direction
to our efforts, and let us see what may yet be done. Here is Cassandra,"
she added--turning to the black girl already introduced to the reader, who
stood behind her young and ardent mistress, with the mantle and shawls of
the latter thrown over her arm, as if about to attend her on an excursion
for the morning--"here is Cassandra who alone has nearly the strength of a
"Had she the strength of twenty, I should despair of launching the boat
without the aid of machinery But we lose time in words; I will go below,
in order to judge of the probable duration of our doubt and then to our
preparations. Even you, fair and fragile as you seem, lovely being, may
aid in the latter."
He then pointed out such lighter objects as would be necessary to their
comfort, should they be so fortunate as to get clear of the wreck, and
advised their being put into the boat without delay. While the three
females were thus usefully employed, he descended into the hold of the
ship, in order to note the increase of the water, and make his
calculations on the time that would elapse before the sinking fabric must
entirely disappear. The fact proved their case to be more alarming than
even Wilder had been led to expect. Stripped of her masts, the vessel had
laboured so heavily as to open many of her seams; and, as the upper works
began to settle beneath the level of the ocean, the influx of the element
was increasing with frightful rapidity. As the young manner gazed about
him with an understanding eye, he cursed, in the bitterness of his heart,
the ignorance and superstition that had caused the desertion of the
remainder of the crew. There existed, in reality, no evil that exertion
and skill could not have remedied; but, deprived of all aid, he at once
saw the folly of even attempting to procrastinate a catastrophe that was
now unavoidable. Returning with a heavy heart to the deck, he immediately
set about those dispositions which were necessary to afford them the
smallest chance of escape.
While his companions deadened the sense of apprehension by their light but
equally necessary employment Wilder stepped the two masts of the boat, and
properly disposed of the sails, and those other implements that might be
useful in the event of success Thus occupied, a couple of hours flew by,
as though minutes were compressed into moments. At the expiration of that
period, his labour had ceased. He then cut the gripes that had kept the
launch in its place when the ship was in motion, leaving it standing
upright on its wooden beds, but in no other manner connected with the
hull, which, by this time, had settled so low as to create the
apprehension, that, at any moment, it might sink from beneath them. After
this measure of precaution was taken, the females were summoned to the
boat, lest the crisis might be nearer than he supposed; for he well knew
that a foundering ship was, like a tottering wall, liable at any moment to
yield to the impulse of the downward pressure. He then commenced the
scarcely less necessary operation of selection among the chaos of articles
with which the ill-directed zeal of his companions had so cumbered the
boat, that there was hardly room left in which they might dispose of their
more precious persons. Notwithstanding the often repeated and vociferous
remonstrances of the negress, boxes, trunks, and packages flew from either
side of the launch, as though Wilder had no consideration for the comfort
and care of that fair being in whose behalf Cassandra, unheeded, like her
ancient namesake of Troy, lifted her voice so often in the tones of
remonstrance. The boat was soon cleared of what, under their
circumstances, was literally lumber; leaving, however, far more than
enough to meet all their wants, and not a few of their comforts, in the
event that the elements should accord the permission to use them.
Then, and not till then, did Wilder relax in his exertions. He had
arranged his sails, ready to be hoisted in an instant; he had carefully
examined that no straggling rope connected the boat to the wreck, to draw
them under with the foundering mass; and he had assured himself that food,
water, compass, and the imperfect instruments that were then in use to
ascertain the position of a ship, were all carefully disposed of in their
several places, and ready to his hand. When all was in this state of
preparation, he disposed of himself in the stern of the boat, and
endeavoured, by the composure of his manner, to inspire his less resolute
companions with a portion of his own firmness.
The bright sun-shine was sleeping in a thousand places on every side of
the silent and deserted wreck. The sea had subsided to such a state of
utter rest, that it was only at long intervals that the huge and helpless
mass on which the ark of the expectants lay was lifted from its dull
quietude, to roll heavily, for a moment, in the washing waters, and then
to settle lower into the greedy and absorbing element. Still the
disappearance of the hull was slow, and even tedious, to those who looked
forward with such impatience to its total immersion, as to the crisis of
their own fortunes.
During these hours of weary and awful suspense, the discourse, between the
watchers, though conducted in tones of confidence, and often of
tenderness, was broken by long intervals of deep and musing silence. Each
forbore to dwell upon the danger of their situation, in consideration of
the feelings of the rest; but neither could conceal the imminent risk they
ran, from that jealous watchfulness of love of life which was common to
them all. In this manner, minutes, hours, and the day itself, rolled by,
and the darkness was seen stealing along the deep, gradually narrowing the
boundary of their view towards the east, until the whole of the empty
scene was limited to a little dusky circle around the spot on which they
lay. To this change succeeded another fearful hour, during which it
appeared that death was about to visit them, environed by its most
revolting horrors. The heavy plunge of the wallowing whale, as he cast his
huge form upon the surface of the sea, was heard, accompanied by the mimic
blowings of a hundred imitators, that followed in the train of the
monarch of the ocean. It appeared to the alarmed and feverish imagination
of Gertrude, that the brine was giving up all its monsters; and,
notwithstanding the calm assurances of Wilder, that these accustomed
sounds were rather the harbingers of peace than signs of any new danger,
they filled her mind with images of the secret recesses over which they
seemed suspended by a thread, and painted them replete with the disgusting
inhabitants of the caverns of the great deep. The intelligent seaman
himself was startled, when he saw, on the surface of the water, the dark
fins of the voracious shark stealing around the wreck, apprised, by his
instinct, that the contents of the devoted vessel were shortly to become
the prey of his tribe. Then came the moon, with its mild and deceptive
light, to throw the delusion of its glow on the varying but ever frightful
"See," said Wilder, as the luminary lifted its pale and melancholy orb out
of the bed of the ocean; "we shall have light for our hazardous launch!"
"Is it at hand?" demanded Mrs Wyllys, with all the resolution of manner
she could assume in so trying a situation.
"It is--the ship has already brought her scuppers to the water. Sometimes
a vessel will float until saturated with the brine. If ours sink at all,
it will be soon."
"If at all! Is there then hope that she can float?"
"None!" said Wilder, pausing to listen to the hollow and threatening
sounds which issued from the depths of the vessel, as the water broke
through her divisions, in passing from side to side, and which sounded
like the groaning of some heavy monster in the last agony of nature.
"None; she is already losing her level!"
His companions saw the change; but, not for the empire of the world, could
either of them have uttered a syllable. Another low, threatening,
rumbling sound was heard, and then the pent air beneath blew up the
forward part of the deck, with an explosion like that of a gun.
"Now grasp the ropes I have given you!" cried Wilder, breathless with his
eagerness to speak.
His words were smothered by the rushing and gurgling of waters. The vessel
made a plunge like a dying whale; and, raising its stern high into the
air, glided into the depths of the sea, like the leviathan seeking his
secret places. The motionless boat was lifted with the ship, until it
stood in an attitude fearfully approaching to the perpendicular. As the
wreck descended, the bows of the launch met the element, burying
themselves nearly to filling; but, buoyant and light, it rose again, and,
struck powerfully on the stern by the settling mass, the little ark shot
ahead, as though it had been driven by the hand of man. Still, as the
water rushed into the vortex, every thing within its influence yielded to
the suction; and, at the next instant, the launch was seen darting down
the declivity, as if eager to follow the vast machine, of which it had so
long formed a dependant, through the same gaping whirlpool, to the bottom.
Then it rose, rocking, to the surface; and, for a moment, was tossed and
whirled like a bubble circling in the eddies of a pool. After which, the
ocean moaned, and slept again; the moon-beams playing across its
treacherous bosom, sweetly and calm, as the rays are seen to quiver on a
lake that is embedded in sheltering mountains.
--"Every day, some sailor's wife,
The masters of some merchant, and the merchant,
Have just our theme of woe."--_Tempest._
"We are safe!" said Wilder, who had stood, amid the violence of the
struggle, with his person firmly braced against a mast, steadily watching
the manner of their escape. "Thus far, at least, are we safe; for which
may Heaven alone be praised, since no art of mine could avail us a
The females had buried their faces in the folds of the vestments and
clothes on which they were sitting; nor did even the governess raise her
countenance until twice assured by her companion that the imminency of the
risk was past. Another minute went by, during which Mrs Wyllys and
Gertrude were rendering their thanksgivings, in a manner and in words less
equivocal than the expression which had just broken from the lips of the
young seaman. When this grateful duty was performed, they stood erect, as
if emboldened, by the offering, to look their situation more steadily in
On every side lay the seemingly illimitable waste of waters. To them,
their small and frail tenement was the world. So long as the ship, sinking
and dangerous as she was, remained beneath them, there had appeared to be
a barrier between their existence and the ocean. But one minute had
deprived them of even this failing support, and they now found themselves
cast upon the sea in a vessel that might be likened to one of the bubbles
of the element. Gertrude felt, at that instant, as though she would have
given half her hopes in life for the mere sight of that vast and nearly
untenanted Continent which stretched for so many thousands of miles along
the west, and kept the world of waters to their limits.
But the rush of emotions that so properly belonged to their forlorn
condition soon subsided, and their thoughts returned to the study of the
means necessary to their further safety. Wilder had, however anticipated
these feelings; and, even before Mrs Wyllys and Gertrude had recovered
their recollections, he was occupied, aided by the ready hands of the
terrified but loquacious Cassandra, in arranging the contents of the boat
in such a manner as would enable her to move through the element with the
least possible resistance.
"With a well-trimmed ship, and a fair breeze," cried our adventurer,
cheerfully, so soon as his little job was ended, "we may yet hope to reach
the land in one day and another night. I have seen the hour when, in this
good launch, I would not have hesitated to run the length of the American
"You have forgotten your provided," said Gertrude observing that he
hesitated, probably from a reluctance to express any exception to the
opinion, which might increase the fears of his companions.
"Provided it were two months earlier in the year," he added, in a tone of
"The season is, then, against us: It only requires the greater resolution
Wilder turned his head to regard the fair speaker, whose pale and placid
countenance, as the moon silvered her fine features, expressed any thing
but the courage to endure the hardships he so well knew she was liable to
encounter, before they might hope to gain the Continent. After musing a
moment, he lifted his open hand towards the south-west, and held its palm
some little time to the air of the night.
"Any thing is better than idleness, for people in our condition," he
said. "There are some symptoms of the breeze coming in this quarter; I
will be ready to meet it."
He then spread his two lug-sails; and, trimming aft the sheets, placed
himself at the helm, like one who expected his services there might be
shortly needed. The result did not disappoint his expectations. Ere Long,
the light canvas of the boat began to flutter; and then, as he brought the
bows in the proper direction, the little vessel commenced moving slowly
along its blind and watery path.
The wind soon came fresher upon the sails, heavily charged with the
dampness of the hour. Wilder urged the latter reason as a motive for the
females to seek their rest beneath a little canopy of tarpaulings, which
his foresight had also provided, and on mattresses he had brought from the
ship Perceiving that their protector wished to be alone, Mrs Wyllys and
her pupil did as desired; and, in a few minutes, if not asleep, no one
could have told that any other than our adventurer had possession of the
The middle hour of the night went by, without any material change in the
prospects of those whose fate so much depended on the precarious influence
of the weather. The wind had freshened to a smart breeze; and, by the
calculations of Wilder, he had already moved across many leagues of ocean,
directly in a line for the eastern end of that long and narrow isle that
separates the waters which wash the shores of Connecticut from those of
the open sea. The minutes flew swiftly by; for the time was propitious and
the thoughts of the young seaman were busy with the recollections of a
short but adventurous life. At moments he leaned forward, as if he would
catch the gentle respiration of one who slept beneath the dark and rude
canopy, and as though he might distinguish the soft breathings of her
slumbers from those of her companions. Then would his form fall back into
its seat, and his lip curl, or even move, as he gave inward utterance to
the wayward fancies of his imagination. But at no time, not even in the
midst of his greatest abandonment to reverie and thought, did he forget
the constant, and nearly instinctive, duties of his station. A rapid
glance at the heavens, an oblique look at the compass, and an occasional,
but more protracted, examination of the pale face of the melancholy moon,
were the usual directions taken by his practised eyes. The latter was
still in the zenith; and his brow began again to contract, as he saw that
she was shining through an atmosphere without a haze. He would have liked
better to have seen even those portentous and watery circles by which she
is so often environed and which are thought to foretel the tempest, than
the hard and dry medium through which her beams fell so clear upon the
face of the waters. The humidity with which the breeze had commenced was
also gone; and, in its place, the quick, sensitive organs of the seaman
detected the often grateful, though at that moment unwelcome, taint of the
land. All these were signs that the airs from the Continent were about to
prevail, and (as he dreaded, from certain wild-looking, long, narrow
clouds, that were gathering over the western horizon) to prevail with a
power conformable to the turbulent season of the year.
If any doubt had existed in the mind of Wilder as to the accuracy of his
prognostics, it would have been solved about the commencement of the
morning watch. At that hour the inconstant breeze began again to die; and,
even before its last breathing was felt upon the flapping canvas, it was
met by counter currents from the west. Our adventurer saw at once that the
struggle was now truly to commence, and he made his dispositions
accordingly. The square sheets of duck, which had so long been exposed to
the mild airs of the south, were reduced to one third their original size,
by double reefs; and several of the more cumbrous of the remaining
articles such as were of doubtful use to persons in their situation, were
cast, without pausing to hesitate, into the sea. Nor was this care without
a sufficient object. The air soon came sighing heavily over the deep from
the north-west, bringing with it the chilling asperity of the inhospitable
regions of the Canadas.
"Ah! well do I know you," muttered Wilder, as the first puff of this
unwelcome wind struck his sails, and forced the little boat to bend to its
power in passing; "well do I know you, with your fresh-water flavour and
your smell of the land! Would to God you had blown your fill upon the
lakes, without coming down to drive many a weary seaman back upon his
wake, and to eke out a voyage, already too long, by your bitter colds and
"Do you speak?" said Gertrude, half appearing from beneath her canopy, and
then shrinking back, shivering, into its cover again, as she felt the
influence in the change of air.
"Sleep, Lady, sleep," he answered, as though he liked not, at such a
moment, to be disturbed by even her soft and silvery voice.
"Is there new danger?" asked the maiden, stepping lightly from the
mattress, as if she would not disturb the repose of her governess. "You
need not fear to tell me the worst: I am a soldier's child!"
He pointed to the signs so well comprehended by himself, but continued
"I feel that the wind is colder than it was," she said, "but I see no
"And do you know whither the boat is going?"
"To the land, I think. You assured us of that, and I do not believe you
would willingly deceive."
"You do me justice; and, as a proof of it, I will now tell you that you
are mistaken. I know that to your eyes all points of the compass, on this
void, must seem the same; but I cannot thus easily deceive myself."
"And we are not sailing for our homes?"
"So far from it, that, should this course continue we must cross the whole
Atlantic before your eyes could again see land."
Gertrude made no reply, but retired, in sorrow, to the side of her
governess. In the mean time, Wilder again left to himself, began to
consult his compass and the direction of the wind. Perceiving that he
might approach nearer to the continent of America by changing the position
of the boat, he wore round, and brought its head as nigh up to the
south-west as the wind would permit.
But there was little hope in this trifling change. At each minute, the
power of the breeze was increasing until it soon freshened to a degree
that compelled him to furl his after-sail. The slumbering ocean was not
long in awakening; and, by the time the launch was snug under a
close-reefed fore-sail, the boat was rising on dark and ever-growing
waves, or sinking into the momentary calm of deep furrows, whence it rose
again, to feel the rapidly increasing power of the blasts. The dashing of
the waters, and the rushing of the wind, which now began to sweep heavily
across the blue waste, quickly drew the females to the side of our
adventurer. To their hurried and anxious questions he made considerate but
brief replies, like a man who felt that the time was far better suited to
action than to words.
In this manner the last lingering minutes of the night went by, loaded
with a care that each moment rendered heavier, and which each successive
freshening of the breeze had a tendency to render doubly anxious. The day
came, only to bestow more distinctness on the cheerless prospect. The
waves were looking green and angrily, while, here and there, large crests
of foam were beginning to break on their summits--the certain evidence
that a conflict betwixt the elements was at hand. Then came the sun over
the ragged margin of the eastern horizon, climbing slowly into the blue
arch above, which lay clear, chilling, distinct, and entirely without a
Wilder noted all these changes of the hour with a closeness that proved
how critical he deemed their case. He seemed rather to consult the signs
of the heavens than to regard the tossings and rushings of the water,
which dashed against the side of his little vessel in a mariner that, to
the eyes of his companions, often appeared to threaten their total
destruction. To the latter he was too much accustomed, to anticipate the
true moment of alarm, though to less instructed senses it might already
seem so dangerous. It was to him as is the thunder, when compared to the
lightning, in the mind of the philosopher; or rather he knew, that, if
harm might come from the one on which he floated, its ability to injure
must first be called into action by the power of the sister element.
"What think you of our case now?" asked Mrs Wyllys, keeping her look
closely fastened on his countenance, as if she would rather trust its
expression than even to his words for the answer.
"So long as the wind continues thus, we may yet hope to keep within the
route of ships to and from the great northern ports; but, if it freshen to
a gale, and the sea begin to break with violence. I doubt the ability of
this boat to lie-to."
"Then our resource must be in endeavouring to run before the gale."
"Then must we scud."
"What would be our direction, in such an event?" demanded Gertrude, to
whose mind, in the agitation of the ocean and the naked view on every
hand, all idea of places and distances was lost, in the most inextricable
"In such an event," returned our adventurer, regarding her with a look in
which commiseration and indefinite concern were so singularly mingled,
that her own mild gaze was changed into a timid and furtive glance, "in
such an event, we should be leaving that land it is so important to
"What 'em 'ere?" cried Cassandra, whose large dark eyes were rolling on
every side of her, with a curiosity that no care or sense of danger could
extinguish; "'em berry big fish on a water?"
"It is a boat!" cried Wilder, springing upon a thwart, to catch a glimpse
of a dark object that was driving on the glittering crest of a wave,
within a hundred feet of the spot where the launch itself was struggling
through the brine. "What ho!--boat, ahoy!--holloa there!--boat, ahoy!"
The deep breathing of the wind swept by them, but no human sound responded
to his shout. They had already fallen, between two seas, into a deep vale
of water, where the narrow view extended no farther than the dark and
rolling barriers on either side.
"Merciful Providence!" exclaimed the governess, "can there be others as
unhappy as ourselves!"
"It was a boat, or my sight is not true as usual," returned Wilder, still
keeping his stand, to watch the moment when he might catch another view.
His wish was quickly realized. He had trusted the helm, for the moment, to
the hands of Cassandra, who suffered the launch to vary a little from its
course. The words were still on his lips, when the same black object came
sweeping down the wave to windward, and a pinnace, bottom upwards, washed
past them in the trough. Then followed a shriek from the negress, who
abandoned the tiller, and, sinking on her knees, hid her face in her
hands. Wilder instinctively caught the helm, as he bent his face in the
direction whence the revolting eye of Cassandra had been turned. A grim
human form was seen, erect, and half exposed, advancing in the midst of
the broken crest which was still covering the dark declivity to windward
with foam. For a moment, it stood with the brine dripping from the
drenched locks, like some being that had issued from the deep to turn its
frightful features on the spectators; and then the lifeless body of a
drowned man drove past the launch, which, at the next minute, rose to the
summit of the wave, to sink into another vale where no such terrifying
Not only Wilder, but Gertrude and Mrs Wyllys. had seen this startling
spectacle so nigh them as to recognize the countenance of Nighthead,
rendered still more stern and forbidding than ever, in the impression left
by death. But neither spoke, nor gave any other evidence of their
intelligence. Wilder hoped that his companions had at least escaped the
shock of recognizing the victim; and the females themselves saw, in the
hapless fortune of the mutineer too much of their own probable though more
protracted fate, to be able to give vent to the horror each felt so
deeply, in words. For some time, the elements alone were heard sighing a
sort of hoarse requiem over the victims of their conflict.
"The pinnace has filled!" Wilder at length observed, when he saw, by the
pallid features and meaning eyes of his companions, it was in vain to
affect reserve on the subject any longer. "Their boat was frail, and
loaded to the water's edge."
"Think you all are lost?" observed Mrs Wyllys, in a voice that scarcely
amounted to a whisper.
"There is no hope for any! Gladly would I part with an arm, for the
assistance of the poorest of those misguided seamen, who have hurried on
their evil fortune by their own disobedience and ignorance."
"And, of all the happy and thoughtless human beings who lately left the
harbour of Newport, in a vessel that has so long been the boast of
mariners, we alone remain!"
"There is not another: This boat, and its contents are the sole memorials
of the 'Royal Caroline!'"
"It was not within the ken of human Knowledge to foresee this evil,"
continued the governess, fastening her eye on the countenance of Wilder,
as though she would ask a question which conscience told her, at the same
time, betrayed a portion of that very superstition which had hastened the
fate of the rude being they had so lately passed.
"It was not."
"And the danger, to which you so often and so inexplicably alluded, had no
reference to this we have incurred?"
"It had not."
"It has gone, with the change in our situation?"
"I hope it has."
"See!" interrupted Gertrude, laying a hand, in her haste, on the arm of
Wilder. "Heaven be praised! yonder is something at last to relieve the
"It is a ship!" exclaimed her governess; but, an envious wave lifting its
green side between them and the object, they sunk into a trough, as though
the vision had been placed momentarily before their eyes, merely to taunt
them with its image. The quick glance of Wilder had caught, however, a
glimpse of the tracery against the heavens, as they descended. When the
boat rose again, his look was properly directed, and he was enabled to be
certain of the reality of the vessel. Wave succeeded wave, and moments
followed moments, during which the stranger was given to their gaze, and
as often disappeared, as the launch unavoidably fell into the troughs of
the seas. These short and hasty glimpses sufficed, however, to convey all
that was necessary to the eye of a man who had been nurtured on that
element, where circumstances now exacted of him such constant and
unequivocal evidences of his skill.
At the distance of a mile, there was in fact a ship to be seen, rolling
and pitching gracefully, and without any apparent effort, on those waves
through which the launch was struggling with such difficulty. A solitary
sail was set, to steady the vessel, and that so reduced, by reefs, as to
look like a little snowy cloud amid the dark maze of rigging and spars. At
times, her long and tapering masts appeared pointing to the zenith, or
even rolling as if inclining against the wind; and then, again, with slow
and graceful sweeps, they seemed to fall towards the ruffled surface of
the ocean, as though about to seek refuge from their endless motion, in
the bosom of the agitated element itself. There were moments when the
long, low, and black hull was seen distinctly resting on the summit of a
sea, and glittering in the sun-beams, as the water washed from her sides;
and then, as boat and vessel sunk together, all was lost to the eye, even
to the attenuated lines of her tallest and most delicate spars.
Both Mrs Wyllys and Gertrude bowed their faces to their knees, when
assured of the truth of their hopes, and poured out their gratitude in
silent and secret thanksgivings. The joy of Cassandra was more clamorous,
and less restrained. The simple negress laughed, shed tears, and exulted
in the most touching manner, on the prospect that was now offered for the
escape of her young mistress and herself from a death that the recent
sight had set before her imagination in the most frightful form. But no
answering look of congratulation was to be traced in the contracting and
anxious eye of their companion.
"Now," said Mrs Wyllys, seizing his hand in both her own, "may we hope to
be delivered; and then shall we be allowed, brave and excellent young man,
some opportunity of proving to you how highly we esteem your services."
Wilder permitted the burst of her feelings with a species of bewildered
care, but he neither spoke, nor in any other manner exhibited the smallest
sympathy in her joy.
"Surely you are not grieved, Mr Wilder," added the wondering Gertrude,
"that the prospect of escape from these awful waves is at length so
mercifully held forth to us!"
"I would gladly die to shelter you from harm," returned the young sailor;
"This is not a time for any thing but gratitude and rejoicing,"
interrupted the governess; "I cannot hearken to any cold exceptions now;
what mean you with that 'but?'"
"It may be not so easy as you think to reach yon ship--the gale may
prevent--in short, many is the vessel that is seen at sea which cannot be
"Happily, such is not our cruel fortune. I understand considerate and
generous youth, your wish to dampen hopes that may possibly be yet
thwarted, but I have too long, and too often, trusted this dangerous
element, not to know that he who has the wind can speak, or not, as he
"You are right in saying we are to windward Madam; and, were I in a ship,
nothing would be easier than to run within hail of the stranger.--That
ship is certainly lying-to, and yet the gale is not fresh enough to bring
so stout a vessel to so short canvas."
"They see us, then, and await our arrival."
"No, no: Thank God, we are not yet seen! This little rag of ours is
blended with the spray. They take it for a gull, or a comb of the sea, for
the moment it is in view."
"And do you thank Heaven for this!" exclaimed Gertrude, regarding the
anxious Wilder with a wonder that her more cautious governess had the
power to restrain.
"Did I thank Heaven for not being seen! I may have mistaken the object of
my thanks: It is an armed ship!"
"Perhaps a cruiser of the King's! We are the more likely to meet with a
welcome reception! Delay not to hoist some signal, lest they increase
their sail, and leave us."
"You forget that the enemy is often found upon our coast. This might prove
"I have no fears of a generous enemy. Even a pirate would give shelter,
and welcome, to females in such distress."
A long and profound silence succeeded. Wilder still stood upon the thwart,
straining his eyes to read each sign that a seaman understands; nor did he
appear to find much pleasure in the task.
"We will drift ahead," he said, "and, as the ship is lying on a different
tack, we may yet gain a position that will leave us masters of our future
To this his companions knew not well how to make any objections. Mrs
Wyllys was so much struck with the remarkable air of coldness with which
he met this prospect of refuge against the forlorn condition in which he
had just before confessed they were placed, that she was much more
disposed to ponder on the cause, than to trouble him with questions which
she had the discernment to see would be useless. Gertrude wondered, while
she was disposed to think he might be right, though she knew not why.
Cassandra alone was rebellious. She lifted her voice in loud objections
against a moment's delay, assuring the abstracted and perfectly
inattentive young seaman, that, should any evil come to her young mistress
by his obstinacy, General Grayson would be angered; and then she left him
to reflect on the results of a displeasure that to her simple mind teemed
with all the danger that could attend the anger of a monarch. Provoked by
his contumacious disregard of her remonstrances, the negress, forgetting
all her respect, in blindness in behalf of her whom she not only loved,
but had been taught to reverence, seized the boat-hook, and, unperceived