Part 9 out of 9
"He has been deceived, sir"--he coldly resumed, as though he would
encourage the other to proceed.
"That much is he free to acknowledge. A representation of this common
error, to the proper authorities, will have weight in procuring the
promised amnesty for the past, and, as he hopes, brighter prospects for
"And does he urge no other motive than his pleasure why I should make this
violent change in all my habits, why I should renounce an element that has
become as necessary to me as the one I breathe and why, in particular, I
am to disclaim the vaunted privilege of calling myself a Briton?"
"He does. This statement of a force, which you may freely examine with
your own eyes, if so disposed, must convince you of the hopelessness of
resistance, and will, he thinks, induce you to accept his offers."
"And what is _your_ opinion?" the other demanded, with a meaning smile and
peculiar emphasis, as he extended a hand to receive the written statement.
"But I beg pardon," he hastily added, taking the look of gravity from the
countenance of his companion "I trifle, when the moment requires all our
The eye of the Rover ran rapidly over the paper, resting itself, once or
twice, with a slight exhibition of interest, on particular points, that
seemed most to merit his attention.
"You find the superiority such as I had already given you reason to
believe?" demanded Wilder, when the look of the other wandered from the
"And may I now ask your decision on the offer?"
"First, tell me what does your own heart advise? This is but the language
"Captain Heidegger," said Wilder, colouring, "I will not attempt to
conceal, that, had this message depended solely on myself, it might have
been couched in different terms; but as one, who still deeply retains the
recollection of your generosity, as a man would not willingly induce even
an enemy to an act of dishonour, do I urge their acceptance. You will
excuse me, if I say, that, in my recent intercourse I have had reason to
believe you already perceive that neither the character you could wish to
earn, nor the content that all men crave, is to be found in your present
"I had not thought I entertained so close a casuist in Mr Henry Wilder.
Have you more to urge, sir?"
"Nothing," returned the disappointed and grieved messenger of the "Dart."
"Yes, yes, he has," said a low but eager voice at the elbow of the Rover,
which rather seemed to breathe out the syllables than dare to utter them
aloud; "he has not yet delivered the half of his commission, or sadly has
he forgotten the sacred trust!"
"The boy is often a dreamer," interrupted the Rover, smiling, with a wild
and haggard look. "He sometimes gives form to his unmeaning thoughts, by
clothing them in words."
"My thoughts are not unmeaning," continued Roderick, in a louder and far
bolder strain. "If his peace or happiness be dear to you, do not yet leave
him. Tell him of his high and honourable name of his youth; of that gentle
and virtuous being that he once so fondly loved, and whose memory, even
now, he worships. Speak to him of these, as you know how to speak; and, on
my life, his ear will not be deaf, his heart cannot be callous to your
"The urchin is mad!"
"I am not mad; or, if maddened, it is by the crimes, the dangers, of those
I love. Oh! Mr Wilder, do not leave him. Since you have been among us, he
is nearer to what I know he once was, than formerly. Take away that
mistaken statement of your force; threats do but harden him: As a friend
admonish; but hope for nothing as a minister of vengeance. You know not
the fearful nature of the man, or you would not attempt to stop a torrent.
Now--now speak to him; for, see, his eye is already growing kinder."
"It is in pity, boy, to witness how thy reason wavers."
"Had it never swerved more than at this moment Walter, another need not be
called upon to speak between thee and me! My words would then have been
regarded, my voice would then have been loud enough to be heard. Why are
you dumb? a single happy syllable might now save him."
"Wilder, the child is frightened by this counting of guns and numbering of
people. He fears the anger of your anointed master. Go; give him place in
your boat, and recommend him to the mercy of your superior."
"Away, away!" cried Roderick. "I shall not, will not, cannot leave you.
Who is there left for me in this world but you?"
"Yes," continued the Rover, whose forced calmness of expression had
changed to one of deep and melancholy musing; "it will indeed be better
thus. See, here is much gold; you will commend him to the care of that
admirable woman who already watches one scarcely less helpless, though
"Guilty! speak the word boldly, Walter. I have earned the epithet, and
shall not shrink to hear it spoken. Look," he said, taking the ponderous
bag which had been extended towards Wilder, and holding it high above his
head, in scorn, "this can I cast from me; but the tie which binds me to
you shall never be broken."
As he spoke, the lad approached an open window of the cabin; a splash upon
the water was heard, and then a treasure, that might have furnished a
competence to moderate wishes, was lost for ever to the uses of those who
had created its value. The lieutenant of the "Dart" turned in haste to
deprecate the anger of the Rover; but his eye could trace, in the features
of the lawless chief, no other emotion than a pity which was discoverable
even through his calm and unmoved smile.
"Roderick would make but a faithless treasurer," he said. "Still it is not
too late to restore him to his friends. The loss of the gold can be
repaired; but, should any serious calamity befall the boy, I might never
regain a perfect peace of mind."
"Then keep him near yourself," murmured the lad, whose vehemence had
seemingly expended itself. "Go, Mr Wilder, go; your boat is waiting; a
longer stay will be without an object."
"I fear it will!" returned our adventurer, who had not ceased, during the
previous dialogue, to keep his look fastened, in manly commiseration, on
the countenance of the boy; "I greatly fear it will!--Since I have come
the messenger of another, Captain Heidegger it is your province to supply
a fitting answer to my proposition."
The Rover took him by the arm, and led him to a position whence they might
look upon the outer scene. Then, pointing upward at his spars, and making
his companion observe the small quantity of sail he carried, he simply
said, "Sir, you are a seaman and may judge of my intentions by this sight
I shall neither seek nor avoid your boasted cruiser of King George."
--"Front to front,
Bring thou this fiend----
Within my sword's length set him; if he 'scape,
Heaven forgive him too!"--_Macbeth._
"You have brought the grateful submission of the pirate to my offers!"
exclaimed the sanguine Commander of the "Dart" to his messenger, as the
foot of the latter once more touched his deck.
"I bring nothing but defiance!" was the unexpected reply.
"Did you exhibit my statement? Surely, Mr Ark so material a document was
"Nothing was forgotten that the warmest interest in his safety could
suggest, Captain Bignall. Still the chief of yonder lawless ship refuses
to hearken to your conditions."
"Perhaps, sir, he imagines that the 'Dart' is defective in some of her
spars," returned the hasty old seaman, compressing his lips, with a look
of wounded pride; "he may hope to escape by pressing the canvas on his own
"Does that look like flight?" demanded Wilder, extending an arm towards
the nearly naked spars and motionless hull of their neighbour. "The utmost
I can obtain is an assurance that he will not be the assailant."
"'Fore George, he is a merciful youth! and one that should be commended
for his moderation! He will not run his disorderly, picarooning company
under the guns of a British man-of-war, because he owes a little reverence
to the flag of his master! Hark ye, Mr Ark, we will remember the
circumstance when questioned at the Old Bailey. Send the people to their
guns, sir, and ware the ship round, to put an end at once to this
foolery, or we shall have him sending a boat aboard to examine our
"Captain Bignall," said Wilder, leading his Commander still further from
the ears of their inferiors, "I may lay some little claim to merit for
services done under your own eyes, and in obedience to your orders. If my
former conduct may give me a title to presume to counsel one of your great
experience, suffer me to urge a short delay."
"Delay! Does Henry Ark hesitate, when the enemies of his King, nay more,
the enemies of man, are daring him to his duty!"
"Sir, you mistake me. I hesitate, in order that the flag under which we
sail may be free from stain, and not with any intent of avoiding the
combat. Our enemy, _my_ enemy knows that he has nothing now to expect, for
his past generosity, but kindness, should he become our captive. Still,
Captain Bignall, I ask for time, to prepare the 'Dart' for a conflict that
will try all her boasted powers, and to insure a victory that will not be
bought without a price."
"But should he escape"--
"On my life he will not attempt it. I not only know the man, but how
formidable are his means of resistance. A short half hour will put us in
the necessary condition, and do no discredit either to our spirit or to
The veteran yielded a reluctant consent, which was not, however, accorded
without much muttering concerning the disgrace a British man-of-war
incurred in not running alongside the boldest pirate that floated, and
blowing him out of water, with a single match. Wilder, who was accustomed
to the honest professional bravados that often formed a peculiar
embellishment to the really firm and manly resolution of the seamen of
that age, permitted him to make his plaints at will, while he busied
himself in a manner that he knew was now of the last importance and in a
duty that properly came under his more immediate inspection, in
consequence of the station he occupied.
The "order for all hands to clear ship for action" was again given, and
received in the cheerful temper with which mariners are wont to welcome
any of the more important changes of their exciting profession. Little
remained, however, to be done; for most of the previous preparations had
still been left, as at the original meeting of the two vessels. Then came
the beat to quarters, and the more serious and fearful-looking
preparations for certain combat. After these several arrangements had been
completed, the crew at their guns, the sail-trimmers at the braces, and
the officers in their several batteries, the after-yards were swung, and
the ship once more put in motion.
During this brief interval, the vessel of the Rover lay, at the distance
of half a mile, in a state of entire rest, without betraying the smallest
interest in the obvious movements of her hostile neighbour. When, however,
the "Dart" was seen yielding to the breeze, and gradually increasing her
velocity, until the water was gathering under her fore-foot in a little
rolling wave of foam, the bows of the other fell off from the direction of
the wind, the topsail was filled, and, in her turn, the hull was held in
command, by giving to it the impetus of motion. The "Dart" now set again
at her gaff that broad field which had been lowered during the conference,
and which had floated in triumph through the hazards and struggles of a
thousand combats. No answering emblem, however was exhibited from the peak
of her adversary.
In this manner the two ships "gathered way," as it is expressed in
nautical language, watching each other with eyes as jealous as though they
had been two rival monsters of the great deep, each endeavouring to
conceal from his antagonist the evolution contemplated next. The earnest,
serious manner of Wilder had not failed to produce its influence on the
straight-minded seaman who commanded the 'Dart;' and, by this time, he was
as much disposed as his lieutenant to approach the conflict leisurely, and
with proper caution.
The day had hitherto been cloudless, and a vault of purer blue never
canopied a waste of water, than the arch which had swept for hours above
the heads of our marine adventurers. But, as if nature frowned on their
present bloody designs, a dark, threatening mass of vapour was blending
the ocean with the sky, in a direction opposed to the steady currents of
the air, These well-known and ominous signs did not escape the vigilance
of those who manned the hostile vessels, but the danger was still deemed
too remote to interrupt the higher interests of the approaching combat.
"We have a squall brewing in the west," said the experienced and wary
Bignall, pointing to the frowning symptoms as he spoke; "but we can handle
the pirate, and get all snug again, before it works its way up against
Wilder assented; for, by this time, high professional pride was swelling
in his bosom also, and a generous rivalry was getting the mastery of
feelings that were possibly foreign to his duty, however natural they
might have been in one as open to kindness as himself.
"The Rover is sending down even his lighter masts!" exclaimed the youth;
"it would seem that he greatly distrusts the weather."
"We will not follow his example; for he will wish they were aloft again,
the moment we get him fairly under the play of our batteries. By George
our King, but he has a pretty moving boat under him. Let fall the
main-course, sir; down with it, or we shall have it night before we get
the rogue a-beam."
The order was obeyed; and then the "Dart," feeling the powerful impulse,
quickened her speed like an animated being, that is freshly urged by its
apprehensions or its wishes. By this time, she had gained a position on
the weather-quarter of her adversary who had not manifested the smallest
desire to prevent her attaining so material an advantage. On the contrary,
while the "Dolphin" kept the same canvas spread, she continued to lighten
her top-hamper bringing as much of the weight as possible, from the
towering height of her tall masts, to the greater security of the hull.
Still, the distance between them was too great, in the opinion of Bignall,
to commence the contest, while the facility with which his adversary moved
a-head threatened to protract the important moment to an unreasonable
extent, or to reduce him to a crowd of sail that might prove embarrassing
while enveloped in the smoke, and pressed by the urgencies of the combat.
"We will touch his pride, sir, since you think him a man of spirit," said
the veteran, to his faithful coadjutor: "Give him a weather-gun, and show
him another of his Master's ensigns."
The roar of the piece, and the display of three more of the fields of
England, in quick succession, from different parts of the "Dart," failed
to produce the slightest evidence, even of observation, aboard their
seemingly insensible neighbour. The "Dolphin" still kept on her way,
occasionally swooping up gracefully to touch the wind, and then deviating
from her course again to leeward, as the porpoise is seen to turn aside
from his direction to snuff the breeze, while he lazily sports along his
"He will not be moved by any of the devices of lawful and ordinary
warfare," said Wilder, when he witnessed the indifference with which
their challenge had been received.
"Then try him with a shot."
A gun was now discharged from the side next the still receding "Dolphin."
The iron messenger was seen bounding along the surface of the sea,
skipping lightly from wave to wave, until it cast a little cloud of spray
upon the very deck of their enemy, as it boomed harmlessly past her hull.
Another, and yet another, followed, without in any manner extracting
signal or notice from the Rover.
"How's this!" exclaimed the disappointed Bignall. "Has he a charm for his
ship, that all our shot sweep by him in rain! Master Fid, can you do
nothing for the credit of honest people, and the honour of a pennant? Let
us hear from your old favourite; in times past she used to speak to better
"Ay, ay, sir," returned the accommodating Richard who, in the sudden turns
of his fortune, found himself in authority over a much-loved and
long-cherished piece. "I christened the gun after Mistress Whiffle, your
Honour, for the same reason, that they both can do their own talking. Now,
stand aside, my lads, and let clattering Kate have a whisper in the
Richard, who had coolly taken his sight, while speaking, now deliberately
applied the match with his own hand, and, with a philosophy that was
sufficiently to be commended in a mercenary, sent what he boldly
pronounced to be "a thorough straight-goer" across the water, in the
direction of his recent associates. The usual moments of suspense
succeeded and then the torn fragments, which were seen scattered in the
air, announced that the shot had passed through the nettings of the
"Dolphin." The effect on the vessel of the Rover was instantaneous, and
nearly magical. A long stripe of cream-coloured canvas, which had been
artfully extended, from her stem to her stern, in a line with her guns,
disappeared as suddenly as a bird would shut its wings, leaving in its
place a broad blood-red belt, which was bristled with the armament of the
ship. At the same time, an ensign of a similar ominous colour, rose from
her poop, and, fluttering darkly and fiercely for a moment, it became
fixed at the end of the gaff.
"Now I know him for the knave that he is!" cried the excited Bignall;
"and, see! he has thrown away his false paint, and shows the well-known
bloody side, from which he gets his name. Stand to your guns, my men! the
pirate is getting earnest."
He was still speaking, when a sheet of bright flame glanced from out that
streak of red which was so well adapted to work upon the superstitious awe
of the common mariners, and was followed by the simultaneous explosion of
nearly a dozen wide-mouthed pieces of artillery. The startling change,
from inattention and indifference, to this act of bold and decided
hostility, produced a strong effect on the boldest heart on board the
King's cruiser. The momentary interval of suspense was passed in unchanged
attitudes and looks of deep attention; and then the rushing of the iron
storm was heard hurtling through the air, as it came fearfully on. The
crash that followed, mingled, as it was, with human groans, and succeeded
by the tearing of riven plank, and the scattering high of splinters,
ropes, blocks, and the implements of war, proclaimed the fatal accuracy of
the broadside. But the surprise, and, with it, the brief confusion,
endured but for an instant. The English shouted, and sent back a return to
the deadly assault they had just received, recovering manfully and
promptly from the shock which it had assuredly given.
The ordinary and more regular cannonading of a naval combat succeeded.
Anxious to precipitate the issue, both ships pressed nigher to each other
the while, until, in a few moments, the two white canopies of smoke, that
were wreathing about their respective masts, were blended in one, marking
a solitary spot of strife, in the midst of a scene of broad and bright
tranquillity. The discharges of the cannon were hot, close, and incessant.
While the hostile parties, how ever, closely mutated each other in their
zeal in dealing out destruction, a peculiar difference marked the
distinction in character of the two crews. Loud, cheering shouts
accompanied each discharge from the lawful cruiser, while the people of
the rover did their murderous work amid the deep silence of desperation.
The spirit and uproar of the scene soon quickened that blood, in the veins
of the veteran Bignall, which had begun to circulate a little slowly by
"The fellow has not forgotten his art!" he exclaimed as the effects of his
enemy's skill were getting but too manifest, in the rent sails, shivered
spars, and tottering masts of his own ship. "Had he but the commission of
the King in his pocket, one might call him a hero!"
The emergency was too urgent to throw away the time in words. Wilder
answered only by cheering his own people to their fierce and laborious
task. The ships had now fallen off before the wind, and were running
parallel to each other, emitting sheets of flame, that were incessantly
glancing through immense volumes of smoke. The spars of the respective
vessels were alone visible, at brief and uncertain intervals. Many minutes
had thus passed, seeming to those engaged but a moment of time, when the
mariners of the "Dart" found that they no longer held their vessel in the
quick command, so necessary to their situation. The important circumstance
was instantly conveyed from the master to Wilder, and from Wilder to his
superior. A hasty consultation on the cause and consequences of this
unexpected event was the immediate and natural result.
"See!" cried Wilder, "the sails are already banging against the masts
like rags; the explosions of the artillery have stilled the wind."
"Hark!" answered the more experienced Bignall: "There goes the artillery
of heaven among our own guns.--The squall is already upon us--port the
helm, sir, and sheer the ship out of the smoke! Hard a-port with the helm,
sir, at once!--hard with it a-port I say."
But the lazy motion of the vessel did not answer to the impatience of
those who directed her movements nor did it meet the pressing exigencies
of the moment. In the mean time, while Bignall, and the officers whose
duties kept them near his person, assisted by the sail-trimmers, were thus
occupied, the people in the batteries continued their murderous
employment. The roar of cannon was still constant, and nearly
overwhelming, though there were instants when the deep ominous mutterings
of the atmosphere were too distinctly audible to be mistaken. Still the
eye could lend no assistance to the hearing, in determining the judgment
of the mariners. Hulls, spars, and sails were alike enveloped in the
curling wreaths which wrapped heaven, air, vessels, and ocean, alike, in
one white, obscure, foggy mantle. Even the persons of the crew were merely
seen at instants, labouring at the guns, through brief and varying
"I never knew the smoke pack so heavy on the clerk of a ship before," said
Bignall, with a concern that even his caution could not entirely repress.
"Keep the helm a-port--jam it hard, sir! By Heaven Mr Wilder, those knaves
well know they are struggling for their lives!"
"The fight is all our own!" shouted the second lieutenant, from among the
guns, stanching, as he spoke, the blood of a severe splinter-wound in the
face, and far too intent on his own immediate occupation to have noticed
the signs of the weather. "He has not answered with a single gun, for near
"'Fore George, the rogues have enough!" exclaimed the delighted Bignall.
"Three cheers for vic----"
"Hold, sir!" interrupted Wilder, with sufficient decision to check his
Commander's premature exultation; "on my life, our work is not so soon
ended. I think, indeed, his guns are silent;--but, see! the smoke is
beginning to lift. In a few more minutes, if our own fire should cease,
the view will be clear."
A shout from the men in the batteries interrupted his words; and then came
a general cry that the pirates were sheering off. The exultation at this
fancied evidence of their superiority was, however, soon and fearfully
interrupted. A bright, vivid flash penetrated through the dense vapour
which still hung about them in a most extraordinary manner, and was
followed by a crash from the heavens, to which the Simultaneous explosion
of fifty pieces of artillery would have sounded feeble.
"Call the people from their guns!" said Bignall, in those suppressed tones
that are only more portentous from their forced and unnatural calmness:
"Call them away at once, sir, and get the canvas in!"
Wilder, startled more at the proximity and apparent weight of the squall
than at words to which he had been long accustomed, delayed not to give an
order that was seemingly so urgent. The men left their batteries, like
athletae retiring from the arena, some bleeding and faint, some still
fierce and angry, and all more or less excited by the furious scene in
which they had just been actors. Many sprung to the well-known ropes,
while others, as they ascended into the cloud which still hung on the
vessel became lost to the eye in her rigging.
"Shall I reef, or furl?" demanded Wilder, standing with the trumpet at his
lips, ready to issue the necessary order.
"Hold, sir; another minute will give us an opening."
The lieutenant paused; for he was not slow to see that now, indeed, the
veil was about to be drawn from their real situation. The smoke, which had
lain upon their very decks, as though pressed down by the superincumbent
weight of the atmosphere first began to stir; was then seen eddying among
the masts; and, finally, whirled wildly away before a powerful current of
air. The view was, indeed, now all before them.
In place of the glorious sun, and that bright, blue canopy which had lain
above them a short half-hour before, the heavens were clothed in one
immense black veil. The sea reflected the portentous colour, looking dark
and angrily. The waves had already lost their regular rise and fall, and
were tossing to and fro, as if awaiting the power that was to give them
direction and greater force. The flashes from the heavens were not in
quick succession; but the few that did break upon the gloominess of the
scene came in majesty, and with dazzling brightness. They were accompanied
by the terrific thunder of the tropics in which it is scarcely profanation
to fancy that the voice of One who made the universe is actually speaking
to the creatures of his hand. On every side, was the appearance of a
fierce and dangerous struggle in the elements. The vessel of the Rover was
running lightly before a breeze, which had already come fresh and fitful
from the cloud, with her sails reduced, and her people coolly, but
actively, employed in repairing the damages of the fight.
Not a moment was to be lost in imitating the example of the wary
freebooters. The head of the "Dart" was hastily, and happily, got in a
direction contrary to the breeze; and, as she began to follow the course
taken by the "Dolphin," an attempt was made to gather her torn and nearly
useless causes to the yards. But precious minutes had been lost in the
smoky canopy, that might never be regained. The sea changed its colour
from a dark green to a glittering white; and then the fury of the gust was
heard rushing along the water with fearful rapidity, and with a violence
that could not he resisted.
"Be lively, men!" shouted Bignall himself, in the exigency in which his
vessel was placed; "Roll up the cloth; in with it all--leave not a rag to
the squall! 'Fore George, Mr Wilder, but this wind is not playing with us;
cheer up the men to their work; speak to them cheerily, sir!"
"Furl away!" shouted Wilder. "Cut, if too late, work away with knives and
teeth--down, every man of you, down--down for your lives, all!"
There was that in the voice of the lieutenant which sounded in the ears of
his people like a supernatural cry. He had so recently witnessed a
calamity similar to that which again threatened him, that perhaps his
feelings lent a secret horror to the tones. A score of forms was seen
descending swiftly, through an atmosphere that appeared sensible to the
touch. Nor was their escape, which might be likened to the stooping of
birds that dart into their nest, too earnestly pressed. Stripped of all
its rigging, and already tottering under numerous wounds, the lofty and
overloaded spars yielded to the mighty force of the squall, tumbling in
succession towards the hull, until nothing stood but the three firmer, but
shorn and nearly useless, lower masts. By far the greater number of those
aloft reached the deck in time to insure their safety, though some there
were too stubborn, and still too much under the sullen influence of the
combat, to hearken to the words of warning. These victims of their own
obstinacy were seen clinging to the broken fragments of the spars, as the
"Dart," in a cloud of foam, drove away from the spot where they floated,
until their persons and their misery were alike swallowed in the distance.
"It is the hand of God!" hoarsely exclaimed the veteran Bignall, while his
contracting eye drunk in the destruction of the wreck. "Mark me, Henry
Ark; I will forever testify that the guns of the pirate have not brought
us to this condition."
Little disposed to seek the same miserable consolation as his Commander,
Wilder exerted himself in counteracting, so far as circumstances would
allow, an injury that he felt, however, at that moment to be irreparable.
Amid the howling of the gust, and the fearful crashing of the thunder,
with an atmosphere now lurid with the glare of lightning, and now nearly
obscured by the dark canopy of vapour, and with all the frightful
evidences of the fight still reeking and ghastly before their eyes, did
the crew of the British cruiser prove true to themselves and to their
ancient reputation. The voices of Bignall and his subordinates were heard
in the tempest, uttering those mandates which long, experience had
rendered familiar, or encouraging the people to their duty. But the strife
of the elements was happily of short continuance The squall soon swept
over the spot, leaving the currents of the trade rushing into their former
channels, and a sea that was rather stilled, than agitated by the
counteracting influence of the winds.
But, as one danger passed away from before the eyes of the mariners of the
"Dart," another, scarcely less to be apprehended, forced itself upon their
attention, All recollection of the favours of the past, and every feeling
of gratitude, was banished from the mind of Wilder, by the mountings of
powerful professional pride, and that love of glory which becomes inherent
in the warrior, as he gazed on the untouched and beautiful symmetry of the
"Dolphin's" spars, and all the perfect, and still underanged, order of
her tackle. It seemed as if she bore a charmed fate, or that some
supernatural agency had been instrumental in preserving her unharmed, amid
the violence of a second hurricane. But cooler thought, and more impartial
reflection, compelled the internal acknowledgment, that the vigilance and
wise precautions of the remarkable individual who appeared not only to
govern her movements, but to control her fortunes, had their proper
influence in producing the result.
Little leisure, however, was allowed to ruminate on these changes, or to
deprecate the advantage of their enemy. The vessel of the Rover had
already opened many broad sheets of canvas; and, as the return of the
regular breeze gave her the wind, her approach was rapid and unavoidable.
"'Fore George, Mr Ark, luck is all on the dishonest side to-day," said the
veteran, so soon as he perceived by the direction which the "Dolphin"
took, that the encounter was likely to be renewed. "Send the people to
quarters again, and clear away the guns; for we are likely to have another
bout with the rogues."
"I would advise a moment's delay," Wilder earnestly observed, when he
heard his Commander issuing an order to his people to prepare to deliver
their fire, the instant their enemy should come within a favourable
position. "Let me entreat you to delay; we know not what may be his
"None shall put foot on the deck of the 'Dart,' without submitting to the
authority of her royal master," returned the stern old tar. "Give it to
him, my men! Scatter the rogues from their guns! and let them know the
danger of approaching a lion, though he should be crippled!"
Wilder saw that remonstrance was now too late for a fresh broadside was
hurled from the "Dart," to defeat any generous intentions that the Rover
might entertain. The ship of the latter received the iron storm, while
advancing, and immediately deviated gracefully from her course, in such a
way as to prevent its repetition. Then she was seen sweeping towards the
bows of the nearly helpless cruiser of the King, and a hoarse summons was
heard ordering her ensign to be lowered.
"Come on, ye villains!" shouted the excited Bignall "Come, and perform the
office with your own hands!"
The graceful ship, as if sensible herself to the taunts of her enemy,
sprung nigher to the wind, and shot across the fore-foot of the "Dart,"
delivering her fire, gun after gun, with deliberate and deadly accuracy,
full into that defenceless portion of her Antagonist. A crush like that of
meeting bodies followed and then fifty grim visages were seen entering the
scene of carnage, armed with the deadly weapons of personal conflict. The
shock of so close and so fatal a discharge had, for the moment, paralyzed
the efforts of the assailed; but no sooner did Bignall, and his
lieutenant, see the dark forms that issued from the smoke on their own
decks, than, with voices that had not even then lost their authority each
summoned a band of followers, backed by whom, they bravely dashed into the
opposite gang-ways of their ship, to stay the torrent. The first encounter
was fierce and fatal, both parties receding a little, to wait for succour
and recover breath."
"Come on, ye murderous thieves!" cried the dauntless veteran, who stood
foremost in his own band, conspicuous by the locks of gray that floated
around his naked head, "well do ye know that heaven is with the right!"
The grim freebooters in his front recoiled and opened; then came a sheet
of flame, from the side of the "Dolphin," through an empty port of her
adversary bearing in its centre a hundred deadly missiles. The sword of
Bignall was flourished furiously and wildly above his head, and his voice
was still heard crying, till the sounds rattled in his throat,--
"Come on, ye knaves! come on!--Harry--Harry Ark! O God!--Hurrah!"
He fell like a log, and died the unwitting possessor of that very
commission for which he had toiled throughout a life of hardship and
danger. Until now Wilder had made good his quarter of the deck though
pressed by a band as fierce and daring as his own; but, at this fearful
crisis in the combat, a voice was heard in the melee, that thrilled on all
his nerves, and seemed even to carry its fearful influence over the minds
of his men.
"Make way there, make way!" it said, in tones clear, deep, and breathing
with authority, "make way, and follow; no hand but mine shall lower that
"Stand to your faith, my men!" shouted Wilder in reply. Shouts, oaths,
imprecations, and groans formed a fearful accompaniment of the rude
encounter, which was, however, far too violent to continue long. Wilder
saw, with agony, that numbers and impetuosity were sweeping his supporters
from around him. Again and again he called them to the succour with his
voice, or stimulated them to daring by his example.
Friend after friend fell at his feet, until he was driven to the utmost
extremity of the deck. Here he again rallied a little band, against which
several furious charges were made, in vain.
"Ha!" exclaimed a voice he well knew; "death to all traitors! Spit the
spy, as you would a dog! Charge through them, my bullies; a halbert to the
hero who shall reach his heart!"
"Avast, ye lubber!" returned the stern tones of the staunch Richard. "Here
are a white man and a nigger at your service, if you've need of a spit."
"Two more of the gang!" continued the General aiming a blow that
threatened to immolate the topman as he spoke.
A dark half-naked form was interposed to receive the descending blade,
which fell on the staff of a half-pike and severed it as though it had
been a reed. Nothing daunted by the defenceless state in which he found
himself, Scipio made his way to the front of Wilder, where, with a body
divested to the waist of every garment, and empty handed, he fought with
his brawny arms, like one who despised the cuts, thrusts and assaults, of
which his athletic frame immediately became the helpless subject.
"Give it to 'em, right and left, Guinea," cried Fid: "here is one who will
come in as a backer, so soon as he has stopped the grog of the marine."
The parries and science of the unfortunate General were at this moment set
at nought, by a blow from Richard, which broke down all his defences,
descending through cap and skull to the jaw.
"Hold, murderers!" cried Wilder, who saw the numberless blows that were
falling on the defenceless body of the still undaunted black. "Strike
here! and spare an unarmed man!"
The sight of our adventurer became confused, for he saw the negro fall,
dragging with him to the deck two of his assailants; and then a voice,
deep as the emotion which such a scene might create, appeared to utter in
the very portals of his ear,--"Our work is done! He that strikes another
blow makes an enemy of me."
----"Take him hence;
The whole world shall not save him."--_Cymbeline_
The recent gust had not passed more fearfully and suddenly over the ship,
than the scene just related. But the smiling aspect of the tranquil sky,
and bright sun of the Caribbean sea, found no parallel in the horrors that
succeeded the combat. The momentary confusion which accompanied the fall
of Scipio soon disappeared, and Wilder was left to gaze on the wreck of
all the boasted powers of his cruiser, and on that waste of human life,
which had been the attendants of the struggle. The former has already been
sufficiently described; but a short account of the present state of the
actors may serve to elucidate the events that are to follow.
Within a few yards of the place he was permitted to occupy himself, stood
the motionless form of the Rover. A second glance was necessary, however,
to recognise, in the grim visage to which the boarding-cap already
mentioned lent a look of artificial ferocity the usually bland countenance
of the individual. As the eye of Wilder roamed over the swelling, erect,
and still triumphant figure, it was difficult not to fancy that even the
stature had been suddenly and unaccountably increased. One hand rested on
the hilt of a yataghan, which, by the crimson drops that flowed along its
curved blade, had evidently done fatal service in the fray; and one foot
was placed, seemingly with supernatural weight, on that national emblem
which it had been his pride to lower. His eye was wandering sternly, but
understandingly, over the scene, though he spoke not, nor in any other
manner betrayed the deep interest he felt in the past. At his side, and
nearly within the circle of his arm stood the cowering form of the boy
Roderick, unprovided with weapon, his garments sprinkled with blood, his
eye contracted, wild, and fearful, and his face pallid as those in whom
the tide of life had just ceased to circulate.
Here and there, were to be seen the wounded captives still sullen and
unconquered in spirit, while many of their scarcely less fortunate enemies
lay in their blood, around the deck, with such gleamings of ferocity on
their countenances as plainly denoted that the current of their
meditations was still running on vengeance. The uninjured and the slightly
wounded, of both bands, were already pursuing their different objects of
plunder or of secretion.
But, so thorough was the discipline established by the leader of the
freebooters, so absolute his power, that blow had not been struck, nor
blood drawn, since the moment when his prohibitory mandate was heard.
There had been enough of destruction, however to have satisfied their most
gluttonous longings had human life been the sole object of the assault.
Wilder felt many a pang, as the marble-like features of humble friend or
faithful servitor came, one after another, under his recognition; but the
shock was greatest when his eye fell upon the rigid, and still frowning,
countenance of his veteran Commander.
"Captain Heidegger," he said, struggling to maintain the fortitude which
became the moment; "the fortune of the day is yours: I ask mercy and
kindness in behalf of the survivors."
"They shall be granted to those who, of right may claim them: I hope it
may be found that all are included in this promise."
The voice of the Rover was solemn, and full of meaning; and it appeared to
convey more than the simple import of the words. Wilder might have nursed
long and vainly, however, on the equivocal manner in which he had been
answered, had not the approach of a body of the hostile crew, among whom
he instantly recognised the most prominent of the late mutineers of the
"Dolphin," speedily supplied a clue to the hidden meaning of their leader.
"We claim the execution of our ancient laws!" sternly commenced the
foremost of the gang, addressing his chief with a brevity and an air of
fierceness which the late combat might well have generated, if not
"What would you have?"
"The lives of traitors" was the sullen answer.
"You know the conditions of our service. If any such are in our power, let
them meet their fate."
Had any doubt remained in the mind of Wilder, as to the meaning of these
terrible claimants of justice it would have vanished at the sullen,
ominous manner with which he and his two companions were immediately
dragged before the lawless chief. Though the love of life was strong and
active in his breast, it was not, even in that fearful moment, exhibited
in any deprecating or unmanly form. Not for an instant did his mind waver,
or his thoughts wander to any subterfuge, that might prove unworthy of his
profession or his former character. One anxious, inquiring look was
fastened on the eye of him whose power alone might save him. He witnessed
the short, severe struggle of regret that softened the rigid muscles of
the Rover's countenance, and then he saw the instant, cold, and calm
composure which settled on every one of its disciplined lineaments. He
knew, at once, that the feelings of the man were smothered in the duty of
the chief, and more was unnecessary to teach him the utter hopelessness of
his condition. Scorning to render his state degrading by useless
remonstrances, the youth remained where his accusers had seen fit to place
him--firm, motionless, and silent.
"What would've have?" the Rover was at length heard to say, in a voice
that even his iron nerves scarce rendered deep and full-toned as common.
'What ask ye?"
"I understand you; go; they are at your mercy."
Notwithstanding the horrors of the scene through which he had just passed,
and that high and lofty excitement which had sustained him through the
fight, the deliberate, solemn tones with which his judge delivered a
sentence that he knew consigned him to a hasty and ignominious death,
shook the frame of our adventurer nearly to insensibility. The blood
recoiled backward to his heart, and the sickening sensation that beset his
brain threatened to up-set his reason. But the shock passed, on the
instant leaving him erect, and seemingly proud and firm as ever, and
certainly with no evidence of mortal weakness that human eye could
"For myself nothing is demanded," he said, with admirable steadiness. "I
know your self-enacted laws condemn me to a miserable fate; but for these
ignorant, confiding, faithful followers, I claim, nay beg, entreat,
implore your mercy; they knew not what they did, and"--
"Speak to these!" said the Rover, pointing, with an averted eye, to the
fierce knot by which he was surrounded: "These are your judges, and the
sole ministers of mercy."
Strong and nearly unconquerable disgust was apparent in the manner of the
youth; but, with a mighty effort, he subdued it, and, turning to the crew,
"Then even to these will I humble myself in petitions. Ye are men, and ye
"Away with him!" exclaimed the croaking Nightingale; "he preaches! away
with him to the yard arm! away!"
The shrill, long-drawn winding of the call which the callous boatswain
sounded in bitter mockery was answered by an echo from twenty voices, in
which the accents of nearly as many different people mingled in hoarse
discordancy, as they shouted,--
"To the yard-arm! away with the three! away!"
Wilder cast a last glance of appeal at the Rover but he met no look, in
return, from a face that was intentionally averted. Then, with a burning
brain he felt himself rudely transferred from the quarter deck into the
centre and less privileged portion of the ship. The violence of the
passage, the hurried reeving of cords, and all the fearful preparations of
a nautical execution, appeared but the business of a moment, to him who
stood so near the verge of time.
"A yellow flag for punishment!" bawled there vengeful captain of the
forecastle; "let the gentle man sail on his last cruise, under the rogue's
"A yellow flag! a yellow flag!" echoed twenty taunting throats. "Down with
the Rover's ensign and up with the colours of the prevot-marshal! A yellow
flag! a yellow flag!"
The hoarse laughter, and mocking merriment, with which this coarse device
was received, stirred the ire of Fid, who had submitted in silence, so
far, to the rude treatment he received, for no other reason than that he
thought his superior was the best qualified to utter the little which it
might be necessary to say.
"Avast, ye villains!" he hotly exclaimed, prudence and moderation losing
their influence, under the excitement of scornful anger; "ye cut-throat,
lubberly villains! That ye are villains, is to be proved, in your teeth,
by your getting your sailing orders from the devil; and that ye are
lubbers, any man may see by the fashion in which ye have rove this cord
about my throat. A fine jam will ye make with a turn in your whip! But
ye'll all come to know how a man is to be decently hanged, ye rogues, ye
will. Ye'll all come honestly by the knowledge, in your day, ye will!"
"Clear the turn, and run him up!" shouted one, two, three voices, in rapid
succession; "a clear whip, and a swift run to heaven!"
Happily a fresh burst of riotous clamour, from one of the hatchways,
interrupted the intention; and then was heard the cry of,---
"A priest! a priest! Pipe the rogues to prayers, before they take their
dance on nothing!"
The ferocious laughter with which the freebooters received this sneering
proposal, was hushed as suddenly as though One answered to their mockery,
from that mercy-seat whose power they so sacrilegiously braved, when a
deep, menacing voice was heard in their midst, saying,--
"By heaven, if touch, or look, be laid too boldly on a prisoner in this
ship, he who offends had better beg the fate ye give these miserable men,
than meet my anger. Stand off, I bid you, and let the chaplain approach!"
Every bold hand was instantly withdrawn, and each profane lip was closed
in trembling silence, giving the terrified and horror-stricken subject of
their liberties room and opportunity to advance to the scene of
"See," said the Rover, in calmer but still deeply authoritative tones;
"you are a minister of God, and your office is sacred charity: If you have
aught to smooth the dying moment to fellow mortal, haste to impart it!"
"In what have these offended?" demanded the divine, when power was given
"No matter; it is enough that their hour is near. If you would lift your
voice in prayer, fear nothing. The unusual sounds shall be welcome even
here. Ay, and these miscreants, who so boldly surround you, shall kneel,
and be mute, as beings whose souls are touched by the holy rite. Scoffers
shall be dumb, and unbelievers respectful, at my beck.--Speak freely!"
"Scourge of the seas!" commenced the chaplain, across whose pallid
features a flash of holy excitement had cast its glow, "remorseless
violator of the laws of man! audacious contemner of the mandates of your
God! a fearful retribution shall avenge this crime. Is it not enough that
you have this day consigned so many to a sudden end, but your vengeance
must be glutted with more blood? Beware the hour when these things shall
be visited, in almighty power on your own devoted head!"
"Look!" said the Rover, smiling, but with an expression that was haggard,
in spite of the unnatural exultation that struggled about his quivering
lip, "here are the evidences of the manner in which Heaven protects the
"Though its awful justice be hidden in inscrutable wisdom for a time,
deceive not thyself; the hour is at hand when it shall be seen and felt in
The voice of the chaplain became suddenly choaked, for his wandering eye
had fallen on the frowning countenance of Bignall, which, set in death,
lay but half concealed beneath that flag which the Rover himself had cast
upon the body. Then, summoning his energies, he continued, in the clear
and admonitory strain that befitted his sacred calling: "They tell me you
are but half lost to feeling for your kind; and, though the seeds of
better principles, of better days, are smothered in your heart, that they
still exist and might be quickened into goodly"
"Peace! You speak in vain. To your duty with these men, or be silent."
"Is their doom sealed?"
"Who says it?" demanded a low voice at the elbow of the Rover, which,
coming upon his ear at that moment, thrilled upon his most latent nerve,
chasing the blood from his cheek to the secret recesses of his frame. But
the weakness had already passed away with the surprise, as he calmly, and
almost instantly answered,--
"The law!" repeated the governess. "Can they who set all order at
defiance, who despise each human regulation, talk of law! Say, it is
heartless, vindictive vengeance, if you will; but call it not by the
sacred name of law.--I wander from my object! They have told me of this
frightful scene, and I am come to offer ransom for the offenders. Name
your price, and let it be worthy of the subject we redeem; a grateful
parent shall freely give it all for the preserver of his child."
"If gold will purchase the lives you wish," the other interrupted, with
the swiftness of thought, "it is here in hoards, and ready on the moment.
What say my people! Will they take ransom?"
A short, brooding pause succeeded; and then a low, ominous murmur was
raised in the throng, announcing their reluctance to dispense with
vengeance. A scornful glance shot from the glowing eye of the Rover,
across the fierce countenances by which he was environed; his lips moved
with vehemence; but, as if he disdained further intercession, nothing was
uttered for the ear. Turning to the divine, he added, with all the former
composure of his wonderful manner,--
"Forget not your sacred office--time is leaving us." He was then moving
slowly aside, in imitation of the governess, who had already veiled her
features from the revolting scene, when Wilder addressed him.
"For the service you would have done me, from my soul I thank you," he
said. "If you would know that I leave you in peace, give yet one solemn
assurance before I die."
"Promise, that they who came with me into your ship shall leave it
unharmed, and speedily."
"Promise, Walter," said a solemn, smothered voice, in the throng.
"I ask no more.--Now, Reverend Minister of God, perform thy holy office,
near my companions. Then ignorance may profit by your service. If I quit
this bright and glorious scene, without thought and gratitude to that
Being who, I humbly trust, has made me an heritor of still greater things,
I offend wittingly and without hope. But these may find consolation in
Amid an awful and breathing silence, the chaplain approached the devoted
companions of Wilder. Their comparative insignificance had left them
unobserved during most of the foregoing scene; and material changes had
occurred, unheeded, in their situation. Fid was seated on the deck, his
collar unbuttoned, his neck encircled with the fatal cord, sustaining the
head of the nearly helpless black, which he had placed, with singular
tenderness and care, in his lap.
"This man, at least, will disappoint the malice of his enemies," said the
divine, taking the hard hand of the negro into his own; "the termination
of his wrongs and his degradation approaches; he will soon be far beyond
the reach of human injustice.--Friend, by what name is your companion
"It is little matter how you hail a dying man," returned Richard, with at
melancholy shake of the head. "He has commonly been entered on the ship's
books as Scipio Africa, coming, as he did, from the coast of Guinea; but,
if you call him S'ip, he will not be slow to understand."
"Has he known baptism? Is he a Christian?"
"If he be not, I don't know who the devil is!" responded Richard, with an
asperity that might be deemed a little unseasonable. "A man who serves his
country, is true to his messmate, and has no skulk about him, I call a
saint, so far as mere religion goes. I say, Guinea, my hearty, give the
chaplain a gripe of the fist, if you call yourself a Christian. A Spanish
windlass wouldn't give a stronger screw than the knuckles of that nigger
an hour ago; and, now, you see to what a giant may be brought."
"His latter moment is indeed near. Shall I offer a prayer for the health
of the departing spirit?"
"I don't know, I don't know!" answered Fid, gulping his words, and
uttering a hem, that was still deep and powerful, as in the brightest and
happiest of his days. "When there is so little time given to a poor fellow
to speak his mind in, it may be well to let him have a chance to do most
of the talking. Something may come uppermost which he would like to send
to his friends in Africa; in which case, we may as well be looking out for
a proper messenger. Hah! what is it, boy? You see he is already trying to
rowse something up out of his ideas."
"Misser Fid--he'm take a collar," said the black, struggling for
"Ay, ay," returned Richard, again clearing his throat, and looking to the
right and left fiercely, as if he were seeking some object on which to
wreak his vengeance. "Ay, ay, Guinea; put your mind at ease on that point,
and for that matter on all others. You shall have a grave as deep as the
sea, and Christian burial, boy, if this here parson will stand by his
work. Any small message you may have for your friends shall be logg'd, and
put in the way of coming to their ears. You have had much foul weather in
your time, Guinea, and some squalls have whistled about your head, that
might have been spaced, mayhap, had your colour been a shade or two
lighter. For that matter, it may be that I have rode you down a little too
close myself, boy, when over-heated with the conceit of skin; for all
which may the Lord forgive me as freely as I hope you will do the same
The negro made a fruitless effort to rise, endeavouring to grasp the hand
of the other, saying, as he did so,--
"Misser Fid beg a pardon of a black man! Masser aloft forget he'm all,
misser Richard; he t'ink 'em no more."
"It will be what I call a d----'d generous thing, if he does," returned
Richard, whose sorrow and whose conscience had stirred up his uncouth
feelings to an extraordinary degree. "There's the affair of slipping off
the wreck of the smuggler has never been properly settled atween us,
neither; and many other small services of like nature, for which, d'ye
see, I'll just thank you, while there is opportunity; for no one can say
whether we shall ever be borne again on the same ship's books."
A feeble sign from his companion caused the topman to pause, while he
endeavoured to construe its meaning as well as he was able. With a
facility, that was in some degree owing to the character of the individual
his construction of the other's meaning was favourable to himself, as was
quite evident by the manner in which he resumed,--
"Well, well, mayhap we may. I suppose they birth the people there in some
such order as is done here below, in which case we may be put within
hailing distance, after all. Our sailing orders are both signed; though,
as you seem likely to slip your cable before these thieves are ready to
run me up, you will be getting the best of the wind. I shall not say much
concerning any signals it may be necessary to make, in order to make one
another out aloft taking it for granted that you will not overlook master
Harry, on account of the small advantage you may have in being the first
to shove off, intending myself to keep as close as possible in his wake,
which will give me the twofold advantage of knowing I am on the right
tack, and of falling in with you"--
"These are evil words, and fatal alike to your own future peace, and to
that of your unfortunate friend," interrupted the divine. "His reliance
must be placed on One, different in all his attributes from your officer,
to follow whom, or to consult whose frail conduct, would be the height of
madness. Place your faith on another"----
"If I do, may I be----"
"Peace," said Wilder. "The black would speak to me."
Scipio had turned his looks in the direction of his officer, and was
making another feeble effort towards extending his hand. As Wilder placed
the member within the grasp of the dying negro, the latter succeeded in
laying it on his lips, and then, flourishing with a convulsive movement
that herculean arm which he had so lately and so successfully brandished
in defence of his master, the limb stiffened and fell, though the eyes
still continued their affectionate and glaring gaze on that countenance he
had so long loved, and which, in the midst of all his long-endured wrongs,
had never refused to meet his look of love in kindness. A low murmur
followed this scene, and then complaints succeeded, in a louder strain,
till more than one voice was heard openly muttering its discontent that
vengeance should be so long delayed.
"Away with them!" shouted an ill-omened voice from the throng. "Into the
sea with the carcass, and up with the living."
"Avast!" burst out of the chest of Fid, with an awfulness and depth that
stayed even the daring; movements of that lawless moment. "Who dare to
cast a seaman into the brine, with the dying look standing in his lights,
and his last words still in his messmate's ears? Ha! would ye stopper the
fins of a man as ye would pin a lobster's claw! That for your fastenings
and your lubberly knots together!" The excited topman snapped the lines by
which his elbows had been imperfectly secured, while speaking and
immediately lashed the body of the black to his own, though his words
received no interruption from a process that was executed with all a
seaman's dexterity. "Where was the man in your lubberly crew that could
lay upon a yard with this here black, or haul upon a lee-earing, while he
held the weather-line? Could any one of ye all give up his rations, in
order that a sick messmate might fare the better? or work a double tide,
to spare the weak arm of a friend? Show me one who had as little dodge
under fire, as a sound mainmast, and I will show you all that is left of
his better. And now sway upon your whip, and thank God that the honest end
goes up, while the rogues are suffered to keep their footing for a time."
"Sway away!" echoed Nightingale, seconding the hoarse sounds of his voice
by the winding of his call; "away with them to heaven."
"Hold!" exclaimed the chaplain, happily arresting the cord before it had
yet done its fatal office. "For His sake, whose mercy may one day be
needed by the most hardened of ye all, give but another moment of time!
What mean these words! read I aright? 'Ark, of Lynnhaven!'"
"Ay, ay," said Richard, loosening the rope a little, in order to speak
with greater freedom, and transferring the last morsel of the weed from
his box to his mouth, as he answered; "seeing you are an apt scholar, no
wonder you make it out so easily, though written by a hand that was always
better with a marling-spike than a quill."
"But whence came the words? and why do you bear those names, thus written
indelibly in the skin? Patience, men! monsters! demons! Would ye deprive
the dying man of even a minute of that precious time which becomes so dear
to all, as life is leaving us?"
"Give yet another minute!" said a deep voice from behind.
"Whence come the words, I ask?" again the chaplain demanded.
"They are neither more nor less than the manner in which a circumstance
was logged, which is now of no consequence, seeing that the cruise is
nearly up with all who are chiefly concerned. The black spoke of the
collar; but, then, he thought I might be staying in port, while he was
drifting between heaven and earth, in search of his last moorings."
"Is there aught, here, that I should know?" interrupted the eager,
tremulous voice of Mrs Wyllys. "O Merton! why these questions? Has my
yearning been prophetic? Does nature give so mysterious a warning of its
"Hush, dearest Madam! your thoughts wander from probabilities, and my
faculties become confused.--'Ark, of Lynnhaven,' was the name of an estate
in the islands, belonging to a near and dear friend, and it was the place
where I received, and whence I sent to the main, the precious trust you
confided to my care. But"----
"Say on!" exclaimed the lady, rushing madly in front of Wilder, and
seizing the cord which, a moment before, had been tightened nearly to his
destruction stripping it from his throat, with a sort of supernatural
dexterity: "It was not, then, the name of a ship?"
"A ship! surely not. But what mean these hopes?--these fears?"
"The collar? the collar? speak; what of that collar?"
"It means no great things, now, my Lady," returned Fid, very coolly
placing himself in the same condition as Wilder, by profiting by the
liberty of his arms, and loosening his own neck from the halter,
notwithstanding a movement made by some of the people to prevent it, which
was, however, staid by a look from their leader's eyes. "I will first cast
loose this here rope; seeing that it is neither decent, nor safe, for an
ignorant man, like me, to enter into such unknown navigation, a-head of
his officer. The collar was just the necklace of the dog, which is here to
be seen on the arm of poor Guinea, who was, in most respects, a man for
whose equal one might long look in vain."
"Read it," said the governess, a film passing before her own eyes; "read
it," she added, motioning, with a quivering hand, to the divine to peruse
the inscription, that was distinctly legible on the plate of brass.
"Holy Dispenser of good! what is this I see? 'Neptune, the property of
Paul de Lacey!'"
A loud cry burst from the lips of the governess; her hands were clasped
one single instant upward, in that thanksgiving which oppressed her soul,
and then, as recollection returned, Wilder was pressed fondly, frantickly
to her bosom, while her voice was neard to say, in the piercing tones of
"My child! my child!--You will not--cannot--dare not, rob a long-stricken
and bereaved mother of her offspring. Give me back my son, my noble son!
and I will weary Heaven with prayers in your behalf. Ye are brave, and
cannot be deaf to mercy. Ye are men, who have lived in constant view of
God's majesty, and will not refuse to listen to this evidence of his
pleasure. Give me my child, and I yield all else. He is of a race long
honoured upon the seas, and no mariner will be deaf to his claims. The
widow of de Lacey, the daughter of ------ cries for mercy. Their united
blood is in his veins, and it will not be spilt by you! A mother bows
herself to the dust before you, to ask mercy for her offspring. Oh! give
me my child! my child!"
As the words of the petitioner died upon the ear a stillness settled on
the place, that might have been likened to the holy calm which the
entrance of better feelings leaves upon the soul of the sinner. The grim
freebooters regarded each other in doubt; the workings of nature
manifesting themselves in the gleamings of even their stern and hardened
visages. Still, the desire for vengeance had got too firm a hold of their
minds to be dispossessed at a word. The result would vet have been
doubtful, had not one suddenly re-appeared in their midst who never
ordered in vain; and who knew how to guide, to quell, or to mount and
trample on their humours, as his own pleasure dictated. For half a minute,
he looked around him, his eye still following the circle, which receded as
he gazed, until even those longest accustomed to yield to his will began
to wonder at the extraordinary aspect in which it was now exhibited. The
gaze was wild and bewildered; and the face pallid as that of the
petitioning mother. Three times did the lips sever, before sound issued
from the caverns of his chest; then arose, on the attentive ears of the
breathless and listening crowd, a voice that seemed equally charged with
inward emotion and high authority. With a haughty gesture of the hand, and
a manner that was too well understood to be mistaken, he said,--
"Disperse! Ye know my justice; but ye know I will be obeyed. My pleasure
shall be known tomorrow."
----"This is he;
Who hath upon him still that natural stamp:
It was wise Nature's end in the donation,
To be his evidence now."--_Shakespeare._
That morrow came; and, with it, an entire change, in the scene and
character of our tale. The "Dolphin" and the "Dart" were sailing in amity,
side by side; the latter again bearing the ensign of England, and the
former carrying a naked gaff. The injuries of the gust, and the combat,
had so far been repaired, that, to a common eye, each gallant vessel was
again prepared, equally to encounter the hazards of the ocean or of
warfare. A long, blue, hazy streak, to the north, proclaimed the proximity
of the land; and some three or four light coasters of that region, which
were sailing nigh, announced how little of hostility existed in the
present purposes of the freebooters.
What those designs were, however, still remained a secret, buried in the
bosom of the Rover alone.
Doubt, wonder, and distrust were, each in its turn, to be traced, not only
in the features of his captives, but in those of his own crew. Throughout
the whole of the long night, which had succeeded the events of the
important day just past, he had been seen to pace the poop in brooding
silence. The little he had uttered was merely to direct the movements of
the vessel; and when any ventured, with other design, to approach his
person, a sign, that none there dared to disregard, secured him the
solitude he wished. Once or twice, indeed, the boy Roderick was seen
hovering at his elbow, but it was as a guardian spirit would be fancied to
linger near the object of its care, unobtrusively, and, it might almost be
added, invisible. When, however, the sun came burnished and glorious, out
of the waters of the east a gun was fired, to bring a coaster to the side
of the "Dolphin;" and then it seemed that the curtain was to be raised on
the closing scene of the drama. With his crew assembled on the deck
beneath, and the principal personages among his captives beside him on the
poop, the Rover addressed the former.
"Years have united us by a common fortune," he said: "We have long been
submissive to the same laws. If I have been prompt to punish, I have been
ready to obey. You cannot charge me with injustice. But the covenant is
now ended. I take back my pledge, and I return you your faiths. Nay, frown
not--hesitate not--murmur not! The compact ceases and our laws are ended.
Such were the conditions of the service. I give you your liberty, and
little do I claim in return. That you need have no grounds of reproach, I
bestow my treasure. See," he added, raising that bloody ensign with which
he had so often braved the power of the nations, and exhibiting beneath it
sacks of that metal which has so long governed the world; "see! This was
mine; it is now yours. It shall be put in yonder coaster: there I leave
you, to bestow it, yourselves, on those you may deem most worthy. Go; the
land is near. Disperse, for your own sakes: Nor hesitate; for, without me,
well do ye know that vessel of the King would be your master. The ship is
already mine, of all the rest, I claim these prisoners alone for my
Silent amazement succeeded this unlooked-for address. There was, indeed,
for a moment, some disposition to rebel; but the measures of the Rover had
been too well taken for resistance. The "Dart" lay on their beam, with her
people at their guns, matches lighted, and a heavy battery. Unprepared,
without a leader, and surprised, opposition would have been madness. The
first astonishment had scarce abated, before each freebooter rushed to
secure his individual effects, and to transfer them to the deck of the
coaster. When all but the crew of a single boat had left the "Dolphin,"
the promised gold was sent, and then the loaded craft was seen hastily
seeking the shelter of some secret creek. During this scene, the Rover had
again been silent as death. He next turned to Wilder; and, making a mighty
but successful effort to still his feelings, he added,--
"Now must we, too, part. I commend my wounded to your care. They are
necessarily with your surgeons. I know the trust I give you will not be
"My word is the pledge of their safety," returned the young de Lacey.
"I believe you.--Lady," he added, approaching the elder of the females,
with an air in which earnestness and hesitation strongly contended, "if a
proscribed and guilty man may still address you, grant yet a favour."
"Name it; a mother's ear can never be deaf to him who has spared her
"When you petition Heaven for that child, then forget not there is another
being who may still profit by your prayers!--No more.--And now," he
continued looking about him like one who was determined to be equal to the
pang of the moment, however difficult it might prove, and surveying, with
an eye of painful regret, those naked decks which were so lately teeming
with scenes of life and revelry; "and now--ay--now we part! The boat
Wilder had soon seen his mother and Gertrude into the pinnace; but he
still lingered on the deck himself.
"And you!" he said, "what will become of you?"
"I shall shortly be--forgotten.--Adieu!"
The manner in which the Rover spoke forbade delay. The young man
hesitated, squeezed his hand, and left him.
When Wilder found himself restored to his proper vessel, of which the
death of Bignall had left him in command, he immediately issued the order
to fill her sails, and to steer for the nearest haven of his country. So
long as sight could read the movements of the man who remained on the
decks of the "Dolphin" not a look was averted from the still motionless
object. She lay, with her maintop-sail to the mast, stationary as some
beautiful fabric placed there by fairy power, still lovely in her
proportions, and perfect in all her parts. A human form was seen swiftly
pacing her poop, and, by its side, glided one who looked like a lessened
shadow of that restless figure. At length distance swallowed these
indistinct images; and then the eye was wearied, in vain, to trace the
internal movements of the distant ship But doubt was soon ended. Suddenly
a streak of flame flashed from her decks, springing fiercely from sail to
sail. A vast cloud of smoke broke out of the hull, and then came the
deadened roar of artillery. To this succeeded, for a time, the awful, and
yet attractive spectacle of a burning ship. The whole was terminated by an
immense canopy of smoke, and an explosion that caused the sails of the
distant "Dart" to waver, as though the winds of the trades were deserting
their eternal direction. When the cloud had lifted from the ocean, an
empty waste of water was seen beneath; and none might mark the spot where
so lately had floated that beautiful specimen of human ingenuity. Some of
those who ascended to the upper masts of the cruiser, and were aided by
glasses, believed, indeed, they could discern a solitary speck upon the
sea; but whether it was a boat, or some fragment of the wreck, was never
From that time, the history of the dreaded Red Rover became gradually
lost, in the fresher incidents of those eventful seas. But the mariner,
long after was known to shorten the watches of the night, by recounting
scenes of mad enterprise that were thought to have occurred under his
auspices. Rumour did not fail to embellish and pervert them, until the
real character, and even name, of the individual were confounded with the
actors of other atrocities. Scenes of higher and more ennobling interest,
too, were occurring on the Western Continent, to efface the circumstances
of a legend that many deemed wild and improbable. The British colonies of
North America had revolted against the government of the Crown, and a
weary war was bringing the contest to a successful issue. Newport, the
opening scene of this tale, had been successively occupied by the arms of
the King, and by those of that monarch who had sent the chivalry of his
nation to aid in stripping his rival of her vast possessions.
The beautiful haven had sheltered hostile fleets, and the peaceful villas
had often rung with the merriment of youthful soldiers. More than twenty
years, after the events just related, had been added to the long record of
time, when the island town witnessed the rejoicings of another festival.
The allied forces had compelled the most enterprising leader of the
British troops to yield himself and army captives to their numbers and
skill. The struggle was believed to be over, and the worthy townsmen had,
as usual, been loud in the manifestations of their pleasure. The
rejoicings, however, ceased with the day; and as night gathered over the
place, the little city was resuming its customary provincial tranquillity.
A gallant frigate, which lay in the very spot where the vessel of the
Rover has first been seen, had already lowered the gay assemblage of
friendly ensigns, which had been spread in the usual order of a gala day.
A flag of intermingled colours, and bearing a constellation of bright and
rising stars, alone was floating at her gaff. Just at this moment, another
cruiser, but one of far less magnitude, was seen entering the roadstead,
bearing also the friendly ensign of the new States. Headed by the tide,
and deserted by the breeze, she soon dropped an anchor, in the pass
between Connanicut and Rhodes, when a boat was seen making for the inner
harbour, impelled by the arms of six powerful rowers. As the barge
approached a retired and lonely wharf, a solitary observer of its
movements was enabled to see that it contained a curtained litter, and a
single female form. Before the curiosity which such a sight would be apt
to create, in the breast of one like the spectator mentioned, had time to
exercise itself in conjectures, the oars were tossed, the boat had touched
the piles, and, borne by the seamen, the litter, attended by the woman,
stood before him.
"Tell me, I pray you," said a voice, in whose tones grief and resignation
were singularly combined, "if Captain Henry de Lacey, of the continental
marine, has a residence in this town of Newport?"
"That has he," answered the aged man addressed by the female; "that has
he; or, as one might say, two; since yonder frigate is no less his than
the dwelling on the hill, just by."
"Thou art too old to point us out the way; but, if grandchild, or idler of
any sort, be near, here is silver to reward him."
"Lord help you, Lady!" returned the other, casting an oblique glance at
her appearance, as a sort of salvo for the term, and pocketing the
trifling piece she offered, with singular care; "Lord help you, Madam! old
though I am, and something worn down by hardships and marvellous
adventures, both by sea land, yet will I gladly do so small an office for
one of your condition. Follow, and you shall see that your pilot is not
altogether unused to the path."
The old man turned, and was leading the way off the wharf, even before he
had completed the assurance of his boasted ability. The seamen and the
female followed; the latter walking sorrowfully and in silence by the side
of the litter.
"If you have need of refreshment," said their guide, pointing over his
shoulder, "yonder is a well known inn, and one much frequented in its time
by mariners. Neighbour Joram and the 'Foul Anchor' have had a reputation
in their day, as well as the greatest warrior in the land; and, though
honest Joe is gathered-in for the general harvest, the house stands as
firm as the day he first entered it. A goodly end he made, and profitable
is it to the weak-minded sinner to keep such an example before his eyes!"
A low, smothered sound issued from the litter but, though the guide
stopped to listen, it was succeeded by no other evidence of the character
of its tenant.
"The sick man is in suffering," he resumed; "but bodily pain, and all
afflictions which we suffer in the flesh, must have their allotted time. I
have lived to see seven bloody and cruel wars, of which this, which now
rages, is, I humbly trust, to be the last. Of the wonders which I
witnessed, and the bodily dangers which I compassed, in the sixth, eye
hath never beheld, nor can tongue utter, their equal!"
"Time hath dealt hardly by you, friend," meekly interrupted the female.
"This gold may add a few more comfortable days to those that are already
The cripple, for their conductor was lame as well as aged, received the
offering with gratitude, apparently too much occupied in estimating its
amount, to give any more of his immediate attention to the discourse. In
the deep silence that succeeded, the party reached the door of the villa
It was now night; the short twilight of the season having disappeared,
while the bearers of the litter had been ascending the hill. A loud rap
was given on the door by the guide; and then he was told that his services
were no longer needed.
"I have seen much and hard service," he replied, "and well do I know that
the prudent manner does not dismiss the pilot, until the ship is safely
moored. Perhaps old Madam de Lacey is abroad, or the Captain himself may
"Enough; here is one who will answer all our questions."
The portal was now, in truth, opened; and a man appeared on its threshold,
holding a light. The appearance of the porter was not, however, of the
most encouraging aspect. A certain air, which can neither be assumed nor
gotten rid of, proclaimed him a son of the ocean, while a wooden limb,
which served to prop a portion of his still square and athletic body,
sufficiently proved he was one who had not attained the experience of his
hardy calling without some bodily risk. His countenance, as he held the
light above his head, in order to scan the persons of the groupe without,
was dogmatic, scowling, and a little fierce. He was not long, however, in
recognizing the cripple, of whom he unceremoniously demanded the object of
what he was pleased to term "such a night squall."
"Here is a wounded mariner," returned the female with tones so tremulous
that they instantly softened the heart of the nautical Cerberus, "who is
come to claim hospitality of a brother in the service; and shelter for the
night. We would speak with Captain Henry de Lacey."
"Then you have struck soundings on the right coast, Madam," returned the
tar, "as master Paul here, will say in the name of his father, no less
than in that of the sweet lady his mother; not forgetting old madam his
grandam, who is no fresh-water fish herself, for that matter."
"That he will," said a fine, manly youth of some seventeen years, who wore
the attire of one who was already in training for the seas, and who was
looking curiously over the shoulder of the elderly seaman. "I will
acquaint my father of the visit, and, Richard--do you seek out a proper
birth for our guests, without delay."
This order, which was given with the air of one who had been accustomed to
act for himself, and to speak with authority, was instantly obeyed. The
apartment, selected by Richard, was the ordinary parlour of the dwelling.
Here, in a few moments, the litter was deposited; the bearers were then
dismissed and the female only was left, with its tenant and the rude
attendant, who had not hesitated to give them so frank a reception. The
latter busied himself in trimming the lights, and in replenishing a bright
wood fire; taking care, at the same time, that no unnecessary vacuum
should occur in the discourse, to render the brief interval, necessary for
the appearance of his superiors, tedious. During this state of things an
inner door was opened, the youth already named leading the way for the
three principal personages of the mansion.
First came a middle-aged, athletic man, in the naval undress of a Captain
of the new States. His look was calm, and his step was still firm, though
time and exposure were beginning to sprinkle his head with gray. He wore
one arm in a sling, a proof that his service was still recent; on the
other leaned a lady, in whose matronly mien, but still blooming cheek and
bright eyes, were to be traced most of the ripened beauties of her sex.
Behind them followed a third, a female also, whose step was less elastic
but whose person continued to exhibit the evidences of a peaceful evening
to the troubled day of life. The three courteously saluted the stranger,
delicately refraining from making any precipitate allusion to the motive
of her visit. Their reserve seemed necessary; for, by the agitation which
shook the shattered frame of one who appeared as much sinking with grief
as infirmity, it was too apparent that the unknown lady needed a little
time to collect her energies and to arrange her thoughts.
She wept long and bitterly, as though alone; nor did she essay to speak
until further silence would have become suspicious. Then, drying her eyes,
and with cheeks on which a bright, hectic spot was seated, her voice was
heard for the first time by her wondering hosts.
"You may deem this visit an intrusion," she said; "but one, whose will is
my law, would be brought hither."
"Wherefore?" asked the officer, with mildness, observing that her voice
was already choaked.
"To die!" was the whispered, husky answer.
A common start manifested the surprise of her auditors; and then the
gentleman arose, and approaching the litter, he gently drew aside a
curtain, exposing its hitherto unseen tenant to the examination of all in
the room. There was understanding in the look that met his gaze, though
death was but too plainly stamped on the pallid lineaments of the wounded
man. His eye alone seemed still to belong to earth; for, while all around
it appeared already to be sunk into the helplessness of the last stage of
human debility that was still bright, intelligent, and glowing--might
almost have been described as glaring.
"Is there aught in which we can contribute to your comfort, or to your
wishes?" asked Captain de Lacey, after a long and solemn pause, during
which all around the litter had mournfully contemplated the sad spectacle
of sinking mortality.
The smile of the dying man was ghastly, though tenderness and sorrow were
singularly and fearfully combined in its expression. He answered not; but
his eyes had wandered from face to face, until they became riveted, by a
species of charm, on the countenance of the oldest of the two females. His
gaze was met by a look as settled as his own; and so evident was the
powerful sympathy which existed between the two, that it could not escape
the observation of the spectators.
"Mother!" said the officer, with affectionate concern; "my mother! what
"Henry--Gertrude," answered the venerable parent extending her arms to her
offspring, as if she asked support; "my children, your doors have been
opened to one who has a claim to enter them. Oh! it is in these terrible
moments, when passion is asleep and our weakness is most apparent, in
these moments of debility and disease, that nature so strongly manifests
its impression! I see it all in that fading countenance, in those sunken
features, where so little is left but the last lingering look of family
"Kindred!" exclaimed Captain de Lacey: "Of what affinity is our guest?"
"A brother!" answered the lady, dropping her head on her bosom, as though
she had proclaimed a degree of consanguinity which gave pain no less than
The stranger, too much overcome himself to speak, made a joyful gesture of
assent, but never averted a gaze that seemed destined to maintain its
direction so long as life should lend it intelligence.
"A brother!" repeated her son, in unfeigned astonishment. "I knew you had
a brother: but I had thought him dead a boy."
"'Twas so I long believed, myself; though frightful glimpses of the
contrary have often beset me; but now the truth is too plain, in that
fading visage and those fallen features, to be misunderstood. Poverty and
misfortune divided us. I suppose we thought each other dead."
Another feeble gesture proclaimed the assent of the wounded man.
"There is no further mystery. Henry, the stranger is thy uncle--my
brother--once my pupil!"
"I could wish to see him under happier circumstances," returned the
officer, with a seaman's frankness; "but, as a kinsman, he is welcome.
Poverty, at least, shall no longer divide you."
"Look, Henry--Gertrude!" added the mother, veiling her own eyes as she
spoke, "that face is no stranger to you. See ye not the sad ruins of one
ye both fear and love?"
Wonder kept her children mute, though both looked until sight became
confused, so long and intense was their examination. Then a hollow sound,
which came from the chest of the stranger, caused them both to start; and,
as his low, but distinct enunciation rose on their ears, doubt and
"Wilder," he said, with an effort in which his utmost strength appeared
exerted, "I have come to ask the last office at your hands."
"Captain Heidegger!" exclaimed the officer.
"The Red Rover!" murmured the younger Mrs. de Lacey, involuntarily
recoiling a pace from the litter in alarm.
"The Red Rover!" repeated her son, pressing nigher with ungovernable
"Laid by the heels at last!" bluntly observed Fid stumping up towards the
groupe, without relinquishing the tongs, which he had kept in constant
use, as an apology for remaining in the presence.
"I had long hid my repentance, and my shame, together," continued the
dying man, when the momentary surprise had a little abated; "but this war
drew me from my concealment. Our country needed us both, and both has she
had! You have served as one who never offended might serve; but a cause so
holy was not to be tarnished by a name like mine. May the little I have
done for good be remembered when the world speaks of the evil of my hands!
"May that God, who forms his creatures with such fearful natures, look
mercifully on all our weaknesses!" exclaimed the weeping Mrs de Lacey,
bowing to her knees, and lifting her hands and eyes to heaven "O brother,
brother! you have been trained in the holy mystery of your redemption, and
need not now be told on what Rock to place your hopes of pardon!"
"Had I never forgotten those precepts, my name would still be known with
honour. But, Wilder!" he added with startling energy, "Wilder!--"
All eyes were bent eagerly on the speaker. His hand was holding a roll on
which he had been reposing as on a pillow. With a supernatural effort, his
form arose on the litter; and, with both hands elevated above his head, he
let fall before him that blazonry of intermingled stripes, with its blue
field of rising stars, a glow of high exultation illumining each feature
of his face, as in his former day of pride.
"Wilder!" he repeated, laughing hysterically, "we have triumphed!"--Then
he fell backward, without motion, the exulting lineaments settling in the
gloom of death, as shadows obscure the smiling brightness of the sun.