Part 7 out of 9
they are to grapple at the throat."
Ludlow hesitated. The proposal was made with so frank and manly a mien,
and the air of the free-trader, as he leaned beyond the gunwale of his
boat, was so superior to his pursuit, that, unwilling to seem churlish, or
to be outdone in courtesy, he reluctantly consented, and laid his palm
within that the other offered. The smuggler profited by the junction to
draw the boats nearer, and, to the amazement of all who witnessed the
action, he stepped boldly into the yawl, and was seated, face to face,
with its officer in a moment.
"These are matters that are not fit for every ear," said the decided and
confident mariner, in an under tone, when he had made this sudden change
in the position of the parties. "Deal with me frankly, Captain Ludlow:--is
your prisoner left to brood on his melancholy, or does he feel the
consolation of knowing that others take an interest in his welfare?"
"He does not want for sympathy, Master Tiller--since he has the pity of
the finest woman in America."
"Ha! la belle Barberie owns her esteem!--is the conjecture right?"
"Unhappily, you are too near the truth. The infatuated girl seems but to
live in his presence. She has so far forgotten the opinions of others, as
to follow him to my ship!"
Tiller listened intently, and, from that instant, all concern disappeared
from his countenance.
"He who is thus favored may, for a moment, even forget the brigantine!" he
exclaimed, with all his natural recklessness of air. "And the
"Has more discretion than his niece, since he did not permit her to come
"Enough.--Captain Ludlow, let what will follow. We part as friends. Fear
not, Sir, to touch the hand of a proscribed man, again; it is honest
after its own fashion, and many is the peer and prince who keeps not so
clean a palm. Deal tenderly with that gay and rash young sailor; he wants
the discretion of an older head, but the heart is kindness itself--I would
hazard life, to shelter his--but at every hazard the brigantine must be
There was strong emotion in the voice of the mariner of the shawl,
notwithstanding his high bearing. Squeezing the hand of Ludlow, he passed
back into his own barge, with the ease and steadiness of one who made the
ocean his home.
"Adieu!" he repeated, signing to his men to pull in the direction of the
shoals, where it was certain the ship could not follow. "We may meet
again; until then, adieu."
"We are sure to meet, with the return of light."
"Believe it not, brave gentleman. Our lady will thrust the spars under her
girdle, and pass a fleet unseen.--A sailor's blessing on you--fair winds
and a plenty; a safe landfall, and a cheerful home! Deal kindly by the
boy, and, in all but evil wishes to my vessel, success light on your
The seamen of both boats dashed their oars into the water at the same
instant, and the two parties were quickly without the hearing of the
"--Did I tell this,
Who would believe me?"
Measure for Measure.
The time of the interview related in the close of the preceding chapter,
was in the early watches of the night. It now becomes our duty to
transport the reader to another, that had place several hours later, and
after day had dawned on the industrious burghers of Manhattan.
There stood, near one of the wooden wharves which lined the arm of the sea
on which the city is so happily placed, a dwelling around which there was
every sign that its owner was engaged in a retail commerce, that was
active and thriving, for that age and country. Notwithstanding the
earliness of the hour, the windows of this house were open; and an
individual, of a busy-looking face, thrust his head so often from one of
the casements, as to show that he already expected the appearance of a
second party in the affair that had probably called him from his bed, even
sooner than common. A tremendous rap at the door relieved his visible
uneasiness; and, hastening to open it, he received his visiter, with much
parade of ceremony, and many protestations of respect, in person.
"This is an honor, my lord, that does not often befall men of my humble
condition," said the master of the house, in the flippant utterance of a
vulgar cockney; "but I thought it would be more agreeable to your
lordship, to receive the a--a--here, than in the place where your
lordship, just at this moment, resides. Will your lordship please to rest
yourself, after your lordship's walk?"
"I thank you, Carnaby," returned the other, taking the offered seat, with
an air of easy superiority. "You judge with your usual discretion, as
respects the place, though I doubt the prudence of seeing him at all. Has
the man come?"
"Doubtless, my lord; he would hardly presume to keep your lordship
waiting, and much less would I countenance him in so gross a disrespect.
He will be most happy to wait on you, my lord, whenever your lordship
"Let him wait: there is no necessity for haste. He has probably
communicated some of the objects of this extraordinary call on my time,
Carnaby; and you can break them, in the intervening moments."
"I am sorry to say, my lord, that the fellow is as obstinate as a mule. I
felt the impropriety of introducing him, personally, to your lordship; but
as he insisted he had affairs that would deeply interest you, my lord, I
could not take upon me to say, what would be agreeable to your lordship,
or what not; and so I was bold enough to write the note."
"And a very properly expressed note it was, Master Carnaby. I have not
received a better worded communication, since my arrival in this colony."
"I am sure the approbation of your lordship might justly make any man
proud! It is the ambition of my life, my lord, to do the duties of my
station in a proper manner, and to treat all above me with a suitable
respect, my lord, and all below me as in reason bound. If I might presume
to think in such a matter, my lord, I should say, that these colonists are
no great judges of propriety, in their correspondence, or indeed in any
The noble visiter shrugged his shoulder, and threw an expression into his
look, that encouraged the retailer to proceed.
"It is just what I think myself, my lord," he continued, simpering; "but
then," he added, with a condoling and patronizing air, "how should they
know any better? England is but an island, after all; and the whole world
cannot be born and educated on the same bit of earth."
"'Twould be inconvenient, Carnaby, if it led to no other unpleasant
"Almost, word for word, what I said to Mrs. Carnaby myself, no later than
yesterday, my lord, only vastly better expressed. 'Twould be inconvenient,
said I, Mrs. Carnaby, to take in the other lodger, for every body cannot
live in the same house; which covers, as it were, the ground taken in your
lordship's sentiment. I ought to add, in behalf of the poor woman, that
she expressed, on the same occasion, strong regrets that it is reported
your lordship will be likely to quit us soon, on your return to old
"That is really a subject on which there is more cause to rejoice than to
weep. This imprisoning, or placing within limits, so near a relative of
the crown, is an affair that must have unpleasant consequences, and which
offends sadly against all propriety."
"It is awful, my lord! If it be not sacrilege by the law, the greater the
shame of the opposition in Parliament, who defeat so many other wholesome
regulations, intended for the good of the subject."
"Faith, I am not sure I may not be driven to join them myself, bad as they
are, Carnaby; for this neglect of ministers, not to call it by a worse
name, might goad a man to even a more heinous measure.'
"I am sure nobody could blame your lordship, were your lordship to join
any body, or any thing but the French! I have often told Mrs. Carnaby as
much as that, in our frequent conversations concerning the unpleasant
situation in which your lordship is just now placed."
"I had not thought the awkward transaction attracted so much notice,"
observed the other, evidently wincing under the allusion.
"It attracts it only in a proper and respectful way, my lord. Neither Mrs.
Carnaby, nor myself, ever indulges in any of these remarks, but in the
most proper and truly English manner."
"The reservation might palliate a greater error. That word proper is a
prudent term, and expresses all one could wish. I had not thought you so
intelligent and shrewd a man, Master Carnaby: clever in the way of
business, I always knew you to be; but so apt in reason, and so matured in
principle, is what I will confess I had not expected. Can you form no
conjecture of the business of this man?"
"Not in the least, my lord. I pressed the impropriety of a personal
interview; for, though he alluded to some business or other, I scarcely
know what, with which he appeared to think your lordship had some
connexion, I did not understand him, and we had like to have parted
without an explanation."
"I will not see the fellow."
"Just as your lordship pleases--I am sure that, after so many little
affairs have passed through my hands, I might be safely trusted with this;
and I said as much,--but as he positively refused to make me an agent, and
he insisted that it was so much to your lordship's interests--why, I
thought, my lord, that perhaps--just now----"
"Show him in."
Carnaby bowed low and submissively, and after busying himself in placing
the chairs aside, and adjusting the table more conveniently for the elbow
of his guest, he left the room.
"Where is the man I bid you keep in the shop?" demanded the retailer, in a
coarse, authoritative voice, when without; addressing a meek and
humble-looking lad, who did the duty of clerk. "I warrant me, he is left
in the kitchen, and you have been idling about on the walk! A more
heedless and inattentive lad than yourself is not to be found in America,
and the sun never rises but I repent having signed your indentures. You
shall pay for this, you----"
The appearance of the person he sought, cut short the denunciations of the
obsequious grocer and the domestic tyrant. He opened the door, and, having
again closed it, left his two visiters together.
Though the degenerate descendant of the great Clarendon had not hesitated
to lend his office to cloak the irregular and unlawful trade that was then
so prevalent in the American seas, he had paid the sickly but customary
deference to virtue, of refusing on all occasions, to treat personally
with its agents. Sheltered behind his official and personal rank, he had
soothed his feelings, by tacitly believing that cupidity is less venal
when its avenues are hidden, and that in protecting his station from an
immediate contact with its ministers, he had discharged an important, and,
for one in his situation, an imperative, duty. Unequal to the exercise of
virtue itself, he thought he had done enough in preserving some of its
seemliness. Though far from paying even this slight homage to decency, in
his more ordinary habits, his pride of rank had, on the subject of so
coarse a failing, induced him to maintain an appearance which his pride of
character would not have suggested. Carnaby was much the most degraded and
the lowest of those with whom he ever condescended to communicate
directly; and even with him there might have been some scruple, had not
his necessities caused him to stoop so far as to accept pecuniary
assistance from one he both despised and detested.
When the door opened, therefore, the lord Cornbury rose, and, determined
to bring the interview to a speedy issue, he turned to face the individual
who entered, with a mien, into which he threw all the distance and
hauteur that he thought necessary for such an object. But he encountered,
in the mariner of the India-shawl, a very different man from the
flattering and obsequious grocer who had just quitted him. Eye met eye;
his gaze of authority receiving a look as steady, if not as curious, as
his own. It was evident, by the composure of the fine manly frame he saw,
that its owner rested his claims on the aristocracy of nature. The noble
forgot his acting under the influence of surprise, and his voice expressed
as much of admiration as command when he said--
"This, then, is the Skimmer of the Seas!"
"Men call me thus: if a life passed on oceans gives a claim to the title,
it has been fairly earned."
"Your character--I may say that some portions of your history, are not
unknown to me. Poor Carnaby, who is a worthy and an industrious man, with
a growing family dependent on his exertions, has entreated me to receive
you, or there might be less apology for this step than I could wish. Men
of a certain rank, Master Skimmer, owe so much to their station, that I
rely on your discretion."
"I have stood in nobler presences, my lord, and found so little change by
the honor, that I am not apt to boast of what I see. Some of princely rank
have found their profit in my acquaintance."
"I do not deny your usefulness, Sir; it is only the necessity of prudence,
I would urge. There has been, I believe, some sort of implied contract
between us--at least, so Carnaby explains the transaction, for I rarely
enter into these details, myself--by which you may perhaps feel some right
to include me in the list of your customers. Men in high places must
respect the laws, and yet it is not always convenient, or even useful,
that they should deny themselves every indulgence, which policy would
prohibit to the mass. One who has seen as much of life as yourself, needs
no explanations on this head; and I cannot doubt, but our present
interview will have a satisfactory termination."
The Skimmer scarce deemed it necessary to conceal the contempt that caused
his lip to curl, while the other was endeavoring to mystify his cupidity;
and when the speaker was done, he merely expressed an assent by a slight
inclination of the head. The ex-governor saw that his attempt was
fruitless, and, by relinquishing his masquerade, and yielding more to his
natural propensities and tastes, he succeeded better.
"Carnaby has been a faithful agent," he continued, "and by his reports, it
would seem that our confidence has not been misplaced. If fame speaks
true, there is not a more dexterous navigator of the narrow seas than
thyself, Master Skimmer. It is to be supposed that your correspondents on
this coast, too, are as lucrative as I doubt not they are numerous."
"He who sells cheap can never want a purchaser. I think your lordship has
no reason to complain of prices."
"As pointed as his compass! Well, Sir, as I am no longer master here, may
I ask the object of this interview?"
"I have come to seek your interest in behalf of one who has fallen into
the grasp of the Queen's officers."
"Hum--the amount of which is, that the cruiser in the bay has entrapped
some careless smuggler. We are none of us immortal, and an arrest is but a
legal death to men of your persuasion in commerce. Interest is a word of
many meanings. It is the interest of one man to lend, and of another to
borrow; of the creditor to receive, and of the debtor to avoid payment.
Then there is interest at court, and interest in court--in short, you must
deal more frankly, ere I can decide on the purport of your visit."
"I am not ignorant that the Queen has been pleased to name another
governor over this colony, or that your creditors, my lord, have thought
it prudent to take a pledge for their dues, in your person. Still, I must
think, that one who stands so near the Queen in blood, and who sooner or
later must enjoy both rank and fortune in the mother country, will not
solicit so slight a boon as that I ask, without success. This is the
reason I prefer to treat with you."
"As clear an explanation as the shrewdest casuist could desire! I admire
your succinctness, Master Skimmer, and confess you for the pink of
etiquette. When your fortune shall be made, I recommend the court circle
as your place of retirement. Governors, creditors, Queen, and
imprisonment, all as compactly placed, in the same sentence, as if it were
the creed written on a thumb-nail! Well, Sir, we will suppose my interest
what you wish it.--Who and what is the delinquent?"
"One named Seadrift,--a useful and a pleasant youth, who passes much
between me and my customers; heedless and merry in his humors, but dear to
all in my brigantine, because of tried fidelity and shrewd wit. We could
sacrifice the profits of the voyage, that he were free. To me he is a
necessary agent, for his skill in the judgment of rich tissues, and other
luxuries that compose my traffic, is exceeding; and I am better fitted to
guide the vessel to her haven, and to look to her safety amid shoals and
in tempests, than to deal in these trifles of female vanity."
"So dexterous a go-between should not have mistaken a tide-waiter for a
customer--how befell the accident?"
"He met the barge of the Coquette at an unlucky moment, and as we had so
lately been chased off the coast by the cruiser, there was no choice but
to arrest him."
The dilemma is not without embarrassment. When once his mind is settled,
it is no trifle that will amuse this Mr. Ludlow. I do not know a more
literal construer of his orders in the fleet;--a man, Sir, who thinks
words have but a single set of meanings, and who knows as little as can be
imagined on the difference between a sentiment and a practice."
"He is a seaman, my lord, and he reads his instructions with a seaman's
simplicity. I think none the worse of him, that he cannot be tempted from
his duty; for, let us understand the right as we will, our service once
taken, it becomes us all to do it faithfully."
A small red spot came and went on the cheek of the profligate Cornbury.
Ashamed of his weakness, he affected to laugh at what he had heard, and
continued the discourse.
"Your forbearance and charity might adorn a churchman, Master Skimmer!" he
answered. "Nothing can be more true, for this is an age of moral truths,
as witness the Protestant succession. Men are now expected to perform, and
not to profess. Is the fellow of such usefulness that he may not be
abandoned to his fate?"
"Much as I dote on my brigantine, and few men set their affections on
woman with a stronger love, I would see the beauteous craft degenerate to
a cutter for the Queen's revenue, before I would entertain the thought!
But I will not anticipate a long and painful imprisonment for the youth,
since those who are not altogether powerless already take a deep and
friendly concern in his safety."
"You have overcome the Brigadier!" cried the other, in a burst of
exultation, that conquered the little reserve of manner he had thought it
necessary to maintain; "that immaculate and reforming representative of my
royal cousin has bitten of the golden bait, and proves a true colony
governor after all!"
"Lord Viscount, no. What we have to hope or what we have to fear from your
successor, is to me a secret."
"Ply him with promises, Master Skimmer--set golden hopes before his
imagination; set gold itself before his eyes, and you will prosper. I will
pledge my expected earldom that he yields! Sir, these distant situations
are like so many half-authorized mints, in which money is to be coined;
and the only counterfeit is your mimic representative of Majesty. Ply him
with golden hopes; if mortal, he will yield!"
"And yet, my lord, I have met men who preferred poverty and their
opinions, to gold and the wishes of others."
"The dolts were lusus naturae!" exclaimed the dissolute Cornbury, losing
all his reserve in a manner that better suited his known and confirmed
character. "You should have caged them, Skimmer, and profited by their
dullness, to lay the curious under contribution. Don't mistake me, Sir, if
I speak a little in confidence. I hope I know the difference between a
gentleman and a leveller, as well as another; but trust me, this Mr.
Hunter is human, and he will yield if proper appliances are used;--and you
expect from me----?"
"The exercise of that influence which cannot fail of success; since there
is a courtesy between men of a certain station, which causes them to
overlook rivalry, in the spirit of their caste. The cousin of Queen Anne
can yet obtain the liberty of one whose heaviest crime is a free trade,
though he may not be able to keep his own seat in the chair of the
"Thus far, indeed, my poor influence may yet extend, provided the fellow
be not named in any act of outlawry. I would gladly enough Mr. Skimmer
end my deeds in this hemisphere, with some act of graceful mercy,
if--indeed--I saw--the means----"
"They shall not be wanting. I know the law is like any other article of
great price; some think that Justice holds the balance, in order to weigh
her fees. Though the profits of this hazardous and sleepless trade of mine
be much overrated, I would gladly line her scales with two hundred broad
pieces, to have that youth again safe in the cabin of the brigantine."
As the 'Skimmer of the Seas' thus spoke, he drew, with the calmness of a
man who saw no use in circumlocution, a heavy bag of gold from beneath his
frock, and deposited it, without a second look at the treasure, on the
table. When this offering was made, he turned aside, less by design than
by a careless movement of the body, and, when he faced his companion
again, the bag had vanished.
"Your affection for the lad is touching, Master Skimmer," returned the
corrupt Cornbury; "it were a pity such friendship should be wasted. Will
there be proof to insure his condemnation?"
"It may be doubted. His dealings have only been with the higher class of
my customers, and with but few of them. The care I now take is more in
tenderness to the youth, than with any great doubts of the result. I shall
count you, my lord, among his protectors, in the event that the affair is
"I owe it to your frankness--but will Mr. Ludlow content himself with the
possession of an inferior, when the principal is so near? and shall we not
have a confiscation of the brigantine on our hands?"
"I charge myself with the care of all else. There was indeed a lucky
escape, only the last night, as we lay at a light kedge, waiting for the
return of him who has been arrested. Profiting by the possession of our
skiff; the commander of the Coquette, himself, got within the sweep of my
hawse--nay, he was in the act of cutting the very fastenings, when the
dangerous design was discovered. 'Twould have been a fate unworthy of the
Water-Witch, to be cast on shore like a drifting log, and to check her
noble career by some such a seizure as that of a stranded waif!"
"You avoided the mischance?"
"My eyes are seldom shut, lord Viscount, when danger is nigh. The skiff
was seen in time, and watched; for I knew that one in whom I trusted was
abroad.--When the movement grew suspicious, we had our means of
frightening this Mr. Ludlow from his enterprise, without recourse to
"I had not thought him one to be scared from following up a business like
"You judged him rightly--I may say we judged him rightly. But when his
boats sought us at our anchorage, the bird had flown."
"You got the brigantine to sea, in season?" observed Cornbury, not sorry
to believe that the vessel was already off the coast.
"I had other business. My agent could not be thus deserted, and there were
affairs to finish in the city. Our course lay up the bay."
"Ha! Master Skimmer, 'twas a bold step, and one that says little for your
"Lord Viscount, there is safety in courage," calmly and perhaps ironically
returned the other. "While the Queen's captain closed all the outlets, my
little craft was floating quietly under the hills of Staten. Before the
morning watch was set, she passed these wharves; and she now awaits her
captain, in the broad basin that lies beyond the bend of yonder
"This is a hardiness to be condemned! A failure of wind, a change of tide,
or any of the mishaps common to the sea, may throw you on the mercy of the
law, and will greatly embarrass all who feel an interest in your safety."
"So far as this apprehension is connected with my welfare, I thank you
much, my lord; but, trust me, many hazards have left me but little to
learn in this particular. We shall run the Hell-Gate, and gain the open
sea by the Connecticut Sound."
"Truly, Master Skimmer, one has need of nerves to be your confidant! Faith
in a compact constitutes the beauty of social order; without it, there is
no security for interests, nor any repose for character. But faith may be
implied, as well as expressed; and when men in certain situations place
their dependence on others who should have motives for being wary, the
first are bound to respect, even to the details of a most scrupulous
construction, the conditions of the covenant. Sir, I wash my hands of this
transaction, if it be understood that testimony is to be accumulated
against us, by thus putting your Water-Witch in danger of trial before the
"I am sorry that this is your decision," returned the Skimmer. "What is
done, cannot be recalled, though I still hope it may be remedied. My
brigantine now lies within a league of this, and 'twould be treachery to
deny it. Since it is your opinion, my lord, that our contract is not
valid, there is little use in its seal--the broad pieces may still be
serviceable, in shielding that youth from harm."
"You are as literal in constructions, Master Skimmer, as a school-boy's
version of his Virgil. There is an idiom in diplomacy, as well as in
language, and one who treats so sensibly should not be ignorant of its
phrases. Bless me, Sir; an hypothesis is not a conclusion, any more than a
promise is a performance. That which is advanced by way of supposition, is
but the ornament of reasoning, while your gold has the more solid
character of demonstration. Our bargain is made."
The unsophisticated mariner regarded the noble casuist a moment, in doubt
whether to acquiesce in this conclusion, or not; but ere he had decided on
his course, the windows of the room were shaken violently, and then came
the heavy roar of a piece of ordnance.
"The morning gun!" exclaimed Cornbury, who started at the explosion, with
the sensitiveness of one unworthily employed.--"No! 'tis an hour past the
rising of the sun!"
The Skimmer showed no yielding of the nerves though it was evident, by his
attitude of thought and the momentary fixedness of his eye, that he
foresaw danger was near. Moving to the window, he looked out on the water,
and instantly drew back, like one who wanted no further evidence.
"Our bargain then is made," he said, hastily approaching the Viscount,
whose hand he seized and wrung in spite of the other's obvious reluctance
to allow the familiarity; "our bargain then is made. Deal fairly by the
youth, and the deed will be remembered--deal treacherously, and it shall
For one instant longer, the Skimmer held the member of the effeminate
Cornbury imprisoned; and then, raising his cap with a courtesy that
appeared more in deference to himself than his companion, he turned on his
heel, and with a firm but quick step he left the house.
Carnaby, who entered on the instant, found his guest in a state between
resentment, surprise, and alarm. But habitual levity soon conquered other
feelings, and, finding himself freed from the presence of a man who had
treated him with so little ceremony, the ex-governor shook his head, like
one accustomed to submit to evils he could not obviate, and assumed the
ease and insolent superiority he was accustomed to maintain in the
presence of the obsequious grocer.
"This may be a coral or a pearl, or any other lion--ha! do I not see the
masts of a ship, moving above the roofs of yonder line of stores?"
"Well, your lordship has the quickest eye!--and the happiest way of seeing
things, of any nobleman in England! Now I should have stared a quarter of
an hour, before I thought of looking over the roofs of those stores, at
all; and yet your lordship looks there at the very first glance."
"Is it a ship or a brig, Master Carnaby--you have the advantage of
position, for I would not willingly be seen--speak quickly, dolt;--is it
ship, or brig?"
"My lord--'tis a brig--or a ship--really I must ask your lordship, for I
know so little of these things----"
"Nay, complaisant Master Carnaby--have an opinion of your own for one
moment, if you please--there is smoke curling upward, behind those
Another rattling of windows, and a second report, removed all doubts on
the subject of the firing. At the next instant, the bows of a vessel of
war appeared at the opening of a ship-yard, and then came gun after gun in
view, until the whole broadside and frowning battery of the Coquette were
The Viscount sought no further solution of the reason why the Skimmer had
left him so hurriedly. Fumbling a moment in a pocket, he drew forth a hand
filled with broad pieces of gold. These he appeared about to lay upon the
table; but, as it were by forgetfulness, he kept the member closed, and
bidding the grocer adieu, he left the house, with as firm a resolution as
was ever made by any man, conscious of having done both a weak and a
wicked action, of never again putting himself in familial contact with so
truckling a miscreant.
"--What care these roarers for the name of king?"
The Manhattanese will readily comprehend the situation of the two vessels;
but those of our countrymen who live in distant parts of the Union, may be
glad to have the localities explained.
Though the vast estuary, which receives the Hudson and so many minor
streams, is chiefly made by an indentation of the continent, that portion
of it which forms the port of New-York is separated from the ocean by the
happy position of its islands. Of the latter, there are two, which give
the general character to the basin, and even to a long line of coast;
while several, that are smaller, serve as useful and beautiful accessories
to the haven and to the landscape. Between the bay of Raritan and that of
New-York there are two communications, one between the islands of Staten
and Nassau, called the Narrows, which is the ordinary ship-channel of the
port, and the other between Staten and the main, which is known by the
name of the Kilns. It is by means of the latter, that vessels pass into
the neighboring waters of New-Jersey, and have access to so many of the
rivers of that state. But while the island of Staten does so much for the
security and facilities of the port, that of Nassau produces an effect on
a great extent of coast. After sheltering one-half of the harbor from the
ocean, the latter approaches so near the continent as to narrow the
passage between them to the length of two cables, and then stretching away
eastward for the distance of a hundred miles, it forms a wide and
beautiful sound. After passing a cluster of islands, at a point which lies
forty leagues from the city, by another passage, vessels can gain the
The seaman will at once understand, that the tide of flood must
necessarily flow into these vast estuaries from different directions. The
current which enters by Sandy-Hook (the scene of so much of this tale)
flows westward into the Jersey rivers, northward into the Hudson, and
eastward along the arm of the sea that lies between Nassau and the Main.
The current, that comes by the way of Montauk, or the eastern extremity of
Nassau, raises the vast basin of the Sound, fills the streams of
Connecticut, and meets the western tide at a place called Throgmorton, and
within twenty miles of the city.
As the size of the estuaries is so great, it is scarcely necessary to
explain that the pressure of so wide sheets of water causes the currents,
at all the narrow passes, to be exceedingly rapid; since that equal
diffusion of the element, which depends on a natural law, must, wherever
there is a deficiency of space, be obtained by its velocity. There is,
consequently, a quick tide throughout the whole distance between the
harbor and Throgmorton; while it is permitted to poetic license to say,
that at the narrowest part of the channel, the water darts by the land
like an arrow parting from its bow. Owing to a sudden bend in the course
of the stream, which makes two right-angles within a short distance, the
dangerous position of many rocks that are visible and more that are not,
and the confusion produced by currents, counter-currents, and eddies, this
critical pass has received the name of "Hell-Gate." It is memorable for
causing many a gentle bosom to palpitate with a terror that is a little
exaggerated by the boding name, though it is constantly the cause of
pecuniary losses, and has in many instances been the source of much
personal danger. It was here, that a British frigate was lost, during the
war of the Revolution, in consequence of having struck a rock called
'the Pot,' the blow causing the ship to fill and to founder so suddenly,
that even some of her people are said to have been drowned. A similar but
a greatly lessened effect is produced in the passage among the islands, by
which vessels gain the ocean at the eastern extremity of the sound; though
the magnitude of the latter sheet of water is so much greater than that of
Raritan-bay and the harbor of New-York, that the force of its pressure is
diminished by a corresponding width in the outlets. With these
explanations, we shall return to the thread of the narrative.
When the person, who has so long been known in our pages by the nom de
guerre of Tiller, gained the open street, he had a better opportunity of
understanding the nature of the danger which so imminently pressed upon
the brigantine. With a single glance at the symmetrical spars and broad
yards of the ship that was sweeping past the town, he knew her to be the
Coquette. The little flag at her fore-top-gallant mast sufficiently
explained the meaning of the gun; for the two, in conjunction with the
direction the ship was steering, told him, in language that any seaman
could comprehend, that she demanded a Hell-Gate pilot. By the time the
Skimmer reached the end of a lone wharf, where a light and swift-rowing
boat awaited his return, the second report bespoke the impatience of his
pursuers to be furnished with the necessary guide.
Though the navigation in this Republic, coastwise, now employs a tonnage
equalling that used in all the commerce of any other nation of
Christendom, England alone excepted, it was of no great amount at the
commencement of the eighteenth century. A single ship, lying at the
wharves, and two or three brigs and schooners at anchor in the rivers,
composed the whole show of sea vessels then in port. To these were to be
added some twenty smaller coasters and river-craft, most of whom were the
shapeless and slow-moving masses which then plied, in voyages of a month's
duration, between the two principal towns of the colony. The appeal of the
Coquette, therefore, at that hour and in that age, was not likely to be
The ship had got fairly into the arm of the sea which separates the island
of Manhattan from that of Nassau, and though it was not then, as now,
narrowed by artificial means, its tide was so strong as, aided by the
breeze, to float her swiftly onward. A third gun shook the windows of the
city, causing many a worthy burgher to thrust his head through his
casement; and yet no boat, was seen pulling from the land, nor was there
any other visible sign that the signal would be speedily obeyed. Still the
royal cruiser stood steadily on, with sail packed above sail, and every
sheet of canvas spread, that the direction of a wind, which blew a little
forward of the beam, would allow.
"We must pull for our own safety, and that of the brigantine, my men;"
said the Skimmer, springing into his boat and seizing the tiller--"A quick
stroke, and a strong!--here is no time for holiday feathering, or your
man-of-war jerk! Give way, boys; give way, with a will, and together!"
These were sounds that had often saluted the ears of men engaged in the
hazardous pursuit of his crew. The oars fell into the water at the same
moment, and, quick as thought, the light bark was in the strength of the
The short range of wharves was soon passed, and, ere many minutes, the
boat was gliding up with the tide, between the bluffs of Long Island and
the projection which forms the angle on that part of Manhattan. Here the
Skimmer was induced to sheer more into the centre of the passage, in order
to avoid the eddies formed by the point, and to preserve the whole
benefit of the current. As the boat approached Coerlaer's, his eye was seen
anxiously examining the wider reach of the water, that began to open
above, in quest of his brigantine. Another gun was heard. A moment after
the report, there followed the whistling of a shot; and then succeeded the
rebound on the water, and the glittering particles of the spray. The ball
glanced a few hundred feet further, and, skipping from place to place, it
soon sunk into the element.
"This Mr. Ludlow is disposed to kill two birds with the same stone,"
coolly observed the Skimmer, not even bending his head aside, to note the
position of the ship. "He wakes the burghers of the town with his noise,
while he menaces our boat with his bullets. We are seen, my friends, and
have no dependence but our own manhood, with some assistance from the lady
of the sea-green mantle. A quicker stroke, and a strong! You have the
Queen's cruiser before you, Master Coil; does she show boats on her
quarters, or are the davits empty?"
The seaman addressed pulled the stroke-oar of the boat, and consequently
he faced the Coquette. Without in the least relaxing his exertions, he
rolled his eyes over the ship, and answered with a steadiness that showed
him to be a man accustomed to situations of hazard.
"His boat-falls are as loose as a mermaid's locks, your Honor, and he
shows few men in his tops; there are enough of the rogues left, however,
to give us another shot."
"Her Majesty's servants are early awake, this morning. Another stroke or
two, hearts of oak, and we throw them behind the land!"
A second shot fell into the water, just without the blades of the oars;
and then the boat, obedient to its helm, whirled round the point, and the
ship was no longer visible. As the cruiser was shut in by the formation
of the land, the brigantine came into view on the opposite side of
Coerlaer's. Notwithstanding the calmness that reigned in the features of
the Skimmer, one who studied his countenance closely might have seen an
expression of concern shadowing his manly face, as the Water-Witch first
met his eye. Still he spoke not, concealing his uneasiness, if in truth he
felt any, from those whose exertions were at that moment of the last
importance. As the crew of the expecting vessel saw their boat, they
altered their course, and the two were soon together.
"Why is that signal still flying?" demanded the Skimmer, the instant his
foot touched the deck of his brigantine, and pointing, as he spoke, at the
little flag that fluttered at the head of the forward mast.
"We keep it aloft, to hasten off the pilot," was the answer.
"Has not the treacherous knave kept faith?" exclaimed the Skimmer, half
recoiling in surprise. "He has my gold, and in return I hold fifty of his
worthless promises--ha!--the laggard is in yon skiff; ware the brig round,
and meet him, for moments are as precious now as water in a desert."
The helm was a-weather, and the lively brigantine had already turned more
than half aside, when another gun drew every eye towards the point. The
smoke was seen rising above the bend of the land, and presently the
head-sails, followed by all the hull and spars of the Coquette, came into
view. At that instant, a voice from forward announced that the pilot had
turned, and was rowing with all his powers towards the shore. The
imprecations that were heaped on the head of the delinquent were many and
deep, but it was no time for indecision. The two vessels were not half a
mile apart, and now was the moment to show the qualities of the
Water-Witch. Her helm was shifted; and, as if conscious herself of the
danger that threatened her liberty, the beautiful fabric came sweeping up
to her course, and, inclining to the breeze, with one heavy flap of the
canvas, she glided ahead with all her wonted ease. But, the royal cruiser
was a ship of ten thousand! For twenty minutes, the nicest eye might have
been at a loss to say which lost or which gained, so equally did the
pursuer and the pursued hold on their way. As the brigantine was the
first, however, to reach the narrow passage formed by Blackwell's, her
motion was favored by the increasing power of the stream. It would seem
that this change slight as it was, did not escape the vigilance of those
in the Coquette; for the gun, which had been silent so long, again sent
forth its flame and smoke. Four discharges, in less than so many minutes,
threatened a serious disadvantage to the free-traders. Shot after shot
passed among their spars, and opened wide rents in the canvas. A few more
such assaults would deprive them of their means of motion. Aware of the
crisis, the accomplished and prompt seaman who governed her movements
needed but an instant to form his decision.
The brigantine was now nearly up with the head of Blackwell's. It was
half-flood, on a spring tide. The reef that projects from the western end
of the island far into the reach below, was nearly covered; but still
enough was visible to show the nature of the barrier it presented to a
passage from one shore to the other. There was one rock, near the island
itself, which lifted its black head high above the water. Between this
dark mass of stone and the land, there was an opening of some twenty
fathoms in width. The Skimmer saw, by the even and unbroken waves that
rolled through the passage, that the bottom lay less near to the surface
of the water, in that opening, than at any other point along the line of
reef. He commanded the helm a-weather, once more, and calmly trusted to
Not a man on board that brigantine was aware that the shot of the royal
cruiser was whistling between their masts, and damaging their gear, as the
little vessel glided into the narrow opening. A single blow on the rock
would have been destruction, and the lesser danger was entirely absorbed
in the greater. But when the passage was cleared, and the true stream in
the other channel gained, a common shout proclaimed both the weight of
their apprehension and their relief. In another minute, the head of
Blackwell's protected them from the shot of their pursuers.
The length of the reef prevented the Coquette from changing her direction,
and her draught of water closed the passage between the rock and the
island. But the deviation from the straight course, and the passage of the
eddies, had enabled the ship, which came steadily on, to range up nearly
abeam of her chase. Both vessels, though separated by the long narrow
island, were now fairly in the force of those currents which glide so
swiftly through the confined passages. A sudden thought glanced on the
mind of the Skimmer, and he lost no time in attempting to execute its
suggestion. Again the helm was put up, and the image of the sea-green lady
was seen struggling to stem the rapid waters. Had this effort been crowned
with success, the triumph of her followers would have been complete; since
the brigantine might have reached some of the eddies of the reach below,
and leaving her heavier pursuer to contend with the strength of the tide,
she would have gained the open sea, by the route over which she had so
lately passed. But a single minute of trial convinced the bold mariner
that his decision came too late. The wind was insufficient to pass the
gorge, and, environed by the land, with a tide that grew stronger at each
moment, he saw that delay would be destruction. Once more the light vessel
yielded to the helm, and, with every thing set to the best advantage, she
darted along the passage.
In the mean time, the Coquette had not been idle Borne on by the breeze,
and floating with the current, she had even gained upon her chase; and as
her lofty and light sails drew strongest over the land, there was every
prospect of her first reaching the eastern end of Blackwell's. Ludlow saw
his advantage, and made his preparations accordingly.
There needs little explanation to render the circumstances which brought
the royal cruiser up to town, intelligible to the reader. As the morning
approached, she had entered more deeply into the bay: and when the light
permitted, those on board her had been able to see that no vessel lay
beneath the hills, nor in any of the more retired places of the estuary. A
fisherman, however, removed the last of their doubts, by reporting that he
had seen a vessel, whose description answered that of the Water-Witch,
passing the Narrows in the middle watch. He added that a swiftly-rowing
boat was, shortly after, seen pulling in the same direction. This clue had
been sufficient. Ludlow made a signal for his own boats to close the
passages of the Kilns and the Narrows, and then, as has been seen, he
steered directly into the harbor.
When Ludlow found himself in the position just described, he turned all
his attention to the double object of preserving his own vessel, and
arresting that of the free-trader. Though there was still a possibility of
damaging the spars of the brigantine by firing across the land, the
feebleness of his own crew, reduced as it was by more than half its
numbers, the danger of doing injury to the farm-houses that were here and
there placed along the low cliffs, and the necessity of preparation to
meet the critical pass ahead, united to prevent the attempt. The ship was
no sooner fairly entered into the pass, be tween Blackwell's and Nassau,
than he issued an order to secure the guns that had been used, and to
clear away the anchors.
"Cock-bill the bowers, Sir," he hastily added, in his orders to Trysail.
"We are in no condition to sport with stock-and-fluke; have every thing
ready to let go at a word; and see the grapnels ready,--we will throw them
aboard the smuggler as we close, and take him alive. Once fast to the
chain, we are yet strong enough to haul him in under our scuppers, and to
capture him with the pumps! Is the signal still abroad, for a pilot?"
"We keep it flying, Sir, but 'twill be a swift boat that overhauls us in
this tide's-way. The Gate begins at yonder bend in the land, Captain
"Keep it abroad; the lazy rogues are sometimes loitering in the cove this
side the rocks, and chance may throw one of them aboard us, as we pass.
See to the anchors, Sir; the ship is driving through this channel, like a
race-horse under the whip!"
The men were hurriedly piped to this duty while their young commander took
his station on the poop, now anxiously examining the courses of the tides
and the positions of the eddies, and now turning his eyes towards the
brigantine, whose upper spars and white sails were to be seen, at the
distance of two hundred fathoms, glancing past the trees of the island.
But miles and minutes seemed like rods and moments, in that swift current.
Trysail had just reported the anchors ready, when the ship swept up
abreast of the cove, where vessels often seek an anchorage, to await
favorable moments for entering the Gate. Ludlow saw, at a glance, that the
place was entirely empty. For an instant he yielded to the heavy
responsibility--a responsibility before which a seaman sooner shrinks than
before any other--that of charging himself with the duty of the pilot; and
he thought of running into the anchorage for shelter. But another glimpse
at the spars of the brigantine caused him to waver.
"We are near the Gate, Sir!" cried Trysail, in a voice that was full of
"Yon daring mariner stands on!"
"The rogue sails his vessel without the Queen's permission, Captain
Ludlow. They tell me, this is a passage that has been well named!"
"I have been through it, and will vouch for its character--he shows no
signs of anchoring!"
"If the woman who points his course can carry him through safely, she
deserves her title. We are passing, the Cove, Captain Ludlow!"
"We are past it!" returned Ludlow, breathing heavily. "Let there be no
whisper in the ship--pilot or no pilot, we now sink or swim!"
Trysail had ventured to remonstrate, while there was a possibility of
avoiding the danger; but, like his commander, he now saw that all depended
on their own coolness and care. He passed busily among the crew; saw that
each brace and bowline was manned; cautioned the few young officers who
continued on board to vigilance, and then awaited the orders of his
superior, with the composure that is so necessary to a seaman in the
moment of trial. Ludlow himself, while he felt the load of responsibility
he had assumed, succeeded equally well in maintaining an outward calm. The
ship was irretrievably in the Gate, and no human power could retrace the
step. At such moments of intense anxiety, the human mind is wont to seek
support in the opinions of others. Notwithstanding the increasing velocity
and the critical condition of his own vessel, Ludlow cast a glance, in
order to ascertain the determination of the 'Skimmer of the Seas.'
Blackwell's was already behind them, and as the two currents were again
united, the brigantine had luffed up into the entrance of the dangerous
passage, and now followed within two hundred feet of the Coquette,
directly in her wake. The bold and manly-looking mariner, who controlled
her, stood between the night-heads, just above the image of his pretended
mistress, where he examined the foaming reefs, the whirling eddies, and
the varying currents, with folded arms and a riveted eye. A glance was
exchanged between the two officers, and the free-trader raised his
sea-cap. Ludlow was too courteous not to return the salutation, and then
all his senses were engrossed by the care of his ship. A rock lay before
them, over which the water broke in a loud and unceasing roar. For an
instant it seemed that the vessel could not avoid the danger, and then it
was already past.
"Brace up!" said Ludlow, in the calm tones that denote a forced
"Luff!" called out the Skimmer, so quickly as to show that he took the
movements of the cruiser for his guide. The ship came closer to the wind,
but the sudden bend in the stream no longer permitted her to steer in a
direct line with its course. Though drifting to windward with vast
rapidity, her way through the water, which was greatly increased by the
contrary actions of the wind and tide, caused the cruiser to shoot across
the current; while a reef, over which the water madly tumbled, lay
immediately in her course. The danger seemed too imminent for the
observances of nautical etiquette, and Trysail railed aloud that the ship
must be thrown aback, or she was lost.
"Hard-a-lee!" shouted Ludlow, in the strong voice of authority.--"Up with
every thing--tacks and sheets!--main-top-sail haul!"
The ship seemed as conscious of her danger as any on her decks. The bows
whirled away from the foaming reef, and as the sails caught the breeze on
their opposite surfaces, they aided in bringing her head in the contrary
direction. A minute had scarcely passed ere she was aback, and in the
next she was about and full again. The intensity of the brief exertion
kept Trysail fully employed; but no sooner had he leisure to look ahead,
than he again called aloud--
"Here is another roarer under her bows;--luff Sir, luff, or we are upon
"Hard down your helm!" once again came in deep tones from Ludlow--"Let
fly your sheets--throw all aback, forward and aft--away with the yards,
with a will, men!"
There was need for all of these precautions. Though the ship had so
happily escaped the dangers of the first reef, a turbulent and roaring
caldron in the water, which, as representing the element in ebullition, is
called 'the Pot,' lay so directly before her, as to render the danger
apparently inevitable. But the power of the canvas was not lost on this
trying occasion. The forward motion of the ship diminished, and as the
current still swept her swiftly to windward, her bows did not enter the
rolling waters until the hidden rocks which caused the commotion had been
passed. The yielding vessel rose and fell in the agitated water, as if in
homage to the whirlpool; but the deep keel was unharmed.
"If the ship shoot ahead twice her length more, her bows will touch the
eddy!" exclaimed the vigilant master.
Ludlow looked around him, for a single moment in indecision. The waters
were whirling and roaring on every side, and the sails began to lose their
power, as the ship drew near the bluff which forms the second angle in
this critical pass. He saw, by objects on the land, that he still
approached the shore, and he had recourse to the seaman's last expedient.
"Let go both anchors!" was the final order.
The fall of the massive iron into the water, was succeeded by the rumbling
of the cable. The first effort to check the progress of the vessel,
appeared to threaten dissolution to the whole fabric, which trembled under
the shock from its mast-heads to the keel. But the enormous rope again
yielded, and smoke was seen rising round the wood which held it. The ship
whirled with the sudden check, and sheered wildly in towards the shore.
Met by the helm, and again checked by the efforts of the crew, she
threatened to defy restraint. There was an instant when all on board
expected to hear the cable snap; but the upper sails filled, and as the
wind was now brought over the taffrail, the force of the current was in a
great degree met by that of the breeze.
The ship answered her helm and became stationary, while the water foamed
against her cut-water, as if she were driven ahead with the power of a
The time, from the moment when the Coquette entered the Gate, to that when
she anchored below 'the Pot,' though the distance was near a mile, seemed
but a minute. Certain however that his ship was now checked, the thoughts
of Ludlow returned to their other duties with the quickness of lightning.
"Clear away the grapnels!" he eagerly cried--"Stand by to heave, and haul
But, that the reader may better comprehend the motive of this sudden
order, he must consent to return to the entrance of the dangerous passage,
and accompany the Water-Witch, also, in her hazardous experiment to get
through without a pilot.
The abortive attempt of the brigantine to stem the tide at the western end
of Blackwell's, will be remembered. It had no other effect than to place
her pursuer more in advance, and to convince her own commander that he had
now no other resource than to continue his course; for, had he anchored,
boats would have insured his capture. When the two vessels appeared off
the eastern end of the island the Coquette was ahead,--a fact that the
experienced free-trader did not at all regret. He profited by the
circumstance to follow her movements, and to make a favorable entrance
into the uncertain currents. To him, Hell-Gate was known only by its
fearful reputation among mariners; and unless he might avail himself of
the presence of the cruiser, he had no other guide than his own general
knowledge of the power of the element.
When the Coquette had tacked, the calm and observant Skimmer was satisfied
with throwing his head-sails flat to the mast. From that instant, the
brigantine lay floating in the current, neither advancing nor receding a
foot, and always keeping her position at a safe distance from the ship,
that was so adroitly made to answer the purposes of a beacon. The sails
were watched with the closest care; and so nicely was the delicate machine
tended, that it would have been, at any moment, in her people's power to
have lessened her way, by turning to the stream. The Coquette was followed
till she anchored, and the call on board the cruiser to heave the grapnels
had been given, because the brigantine was apparently floating directly
down on her broadside.
When the grapnels were hove from the royal cruiser, the free-trader stood
on the low poop of his little vessel, within fifty feet of him who had
issued the order. There was a smile of indifference on his firm mouth,
while he silently waved a hand to his own crew. The signal was obeyed by
bracing round their yards, and suffering all the canvas to fill. The
brigantine shot quickly ahead, and the useless irons fell heavily into the
"Many thanks for your pilotage, Captain Ludlow!" cried the daring and
successful mariner of the shawl, as his vessel, borne on by wind and
current, receded rapidly from the cruiser--"You will find the off Montauk;
for affairs still keep us on the coast. Our lady has, however, put on the
blue mantle; and 'ere many settings of the sun, we shall look for deep
water. Take good care of Her Majesty's ship, I pray thee, for she has
neither a more beautiful nor a faster!"
One thought succeeded another with the tumult of a torrent, in the mind of
Ludlow. As the brigantine lay directly under his broadside, the first
impulse was to use his guns; but at the next moment he was conscious, that
before they could be cleared, distance would render them useless. His lips
had neatly parted with intent to order the cables cut, but he remembered
the speed of the brigantine, and hesitated. A sudden freshening of the
breeze decided his course. Finding that the ship was enabled to keep her
station, he ordered the crew to thrust the whole of the enormous ropes
through the hawseholes; and, freed from the restraint, he abandoned the
anchors, until an opportunity to reclaim them should offer.
The operation of slipping the cables consumed several minutes; and when
the Coquette, with every thing set, was again steering in pursuit, the
Water-Witch was already beyond the reach of her guns. Both vessels,
however, held on their way, keeping as near as possible to the centre of
the stream, and trusting more to fortune, than to any knowledge of the
channel, for safety.
When passing the two small islands that lie at no great distance from the
Gate, a boat was seen moving towards the royal cruiser. A man in it
pointed to the signal, which was still flying, and offered his services.
"Tell me," demanded Ludlow eagerly, "has yonder brigantine taken a pilot?"
"By her movements, I judge not. She brushed the sunken rock, off the mouth
of Flushing-bay; and as she passed, I heard the song of the lead. I
should have gone on board myself, but the fellow rather flies than sails;
and as for signals, he seems to mind none but his own!"
"Bring us up with him, and fifty guineas is thy reward!"
The slow-moving pilot, who in truth had just awoke from a refreshing
sleep, opened his eyes, and seemed to gather a new impulse from the
promise. When his questions were asked and answered, he began deliberately
to count on his fingers all the chances that still existed of a vessel,
whose crew was ignorant of the navigation, falling into their hands.
"Admitting that, by keeping mid-channel, she goes clear of White Stone and
Frogs," he said, giving to Throgmorton's its vulgar name, "he must be a
wizard, to know that the Stepping-Stones lie directly across his course,
and that a vessel must steer away northerly, or bring up on rocks that
will as surely hold him as if he were built there. Then he runs his chance
for the Executioners, which are as prettily placed as needs be, to make
our trade flourish, besides the Middle Ground further east, though I count
but little on that, having often tried to find it myself, without success.
Courage, noble captain! if the fellow be the man you say, we shall get a
nearer look at him before the sun sets; for certainly he who has run the
Gate without a pilot in safety, has had as much good luck as can fall to
his share in one day."
The opinion of the East River Branch proved erroneous. Notwithstanding the
hidden perils by which she was environed, the Water-Witch continued her
course, with a speed that increased as the wind rose with the sun, and
with an impunity from harm that amazed all who were in the secret of her
situation. Off Throgmorton's there was, in truth, a danger that might even
have baffled the sagacity of the followers of the mysterious lady, had
they not been aided by accident. This is the point where the straitened
arm of the sea expands into the basin of the Sound. A broad and inviting
passage lies directly before the navigator, while, like the flattering
prospects of life, numberless hidden obstacles are in wait to arrest the
unheeding and ignorant.
The 'Skimmer of the Seas' was deeply practised in all the intricacies and
dangers of the shoals and rocks. Most of his life had been passed in
threading the one, or in avoiding the other. So keen and quick had his eye
become, in detecting the presence of any of those signs which forewarn the
mariner of danger, that a ripple on the surface, or a deeper shade in the
color of the water, rarely escaped his vigilance. Seated on the
top-sail-yard of his brigantine, he had overlooked the passage from the
moment they were through the Gate, and issued his mandates to those below
with a precision and promptitude that were not surpassed by the trained
conductor of the Coquette himself. But when his sight embraced the wide
reach of water that lay in front, as his little vessel swept round the
head-land of Throgmorton, he believed there no longer existed a reason for
so much care. Still there was a motive for hesitation. A heavily-moulded
and dull-sailing coaster was going eastward not a league ahead of the
brigantine, while one of the light sloops of those waters was coming
westward still further in the distance. Notwithstanding the wind was
favorable to each alike, both vessels had deviated from the direct line,
and were steering towards a common centre, near an island that was placed
more than a mile to the northward of the straight course. A mariner, like
him of the India-shawl, could not overlook so obvious an intimation of a
change in the channel. The Water-Witch was kept away, and her lighter
sails were lowered, in order to allow the royal cruiser, whose lofty
canvas was plainly visible above the land, to draw near. When the
Coquette was seen also to diverge, there no longer remained a doubt of the
direction necessary to be taken; and every thing was quickly set upon the
brigantine, even to her studding-sails. Long ere she reached the island,
the two coasters had met, and each again changed its course, reversing
that on which the other had just been sailing. There was, in these
movements, as plain an explanation as a seaman could desire, that the
pursued were right On reaching the island, therefore, they again luffed
into the wake of the schooner; and having nearly crossed the sheet of
water, they passed the coaster, receiving an assurance, in words, that all
was now plain sailing, before them.
Such was the famous passage of the 'Skimmer of the Seas' through the
multiplied and hidden dangers of the eastern channel. To those who have
thus accompanied him, step by step, though its intricacies and alarms,
there may seem nothing extraordinary in the event; but, coupled as it was
with the character previously earned by that bold mariner, and occurring,
as it did, in an age when men were more disposed than at present to put
faith in the marvellous, the reader will not be surprised to learn that it
greatly increased his reputation for daring, and had no small influence on
an opinion, which was by no means uncommon, that the dealers in contraband
were singularly favored by a power which greatly exceeded that of Queen
Anne and all her servants.
"--Thou shalt see me at Philippi."
The commander of Her Britannic Majesty's ship Coquette slept that night in
the hammock-cloths. Before the sun had set, the light and swift
brigantine, by following the gradual bend of the land, had disappeared in
the eastern board; and it was no longer a question of overtaking her by
speed. Still, sail was crowded on the royal cruiser; and, long ere the
period when Ludlow threw himself in his clothes between the ridge-ropes of
the quarter-deck, the vessel had gained the broadest part of the Sound,
and was already approaching the islands that form the 'Race.'
Throughout the whole of that long and anxious day, the young sailor had
held no communication with the inmates of the cabin. The servants of the
ship had passed to and fro; but, though the door seldom opened that he did
not bend his eyes feverishly in its direction, neither the Alderman, his
niece, the captive, nor even Francois or the negress, made their
appearance on the deck. If any there felt an interest in the result of the
chase, it was concealed in a profound and almost mysterious silence.
Determined not to be outdone in indifference, and goaded by feelings which
with all his pride he could not overcome, our young seaman took possession
of the place of rest we have mentioned, without using any measures to
resume the intercourse.
When the first watch of the night was come, sail, was shortened on the
ship, and from that moment till the day dawned again, her captain seemed
buried in sleep. With the appearance of the sun, however, he arose, and
commanded the canvas to be spread, once more, and every exertion made to
drive the vessel forward to her object.
The Coquette reached the Race early in the day, and, shooting through the
passage on an ebb-tide, she was off Montauk at noon. No sooner had the
ship drawn past the cape, and reached a point where she felt the breeze
and the waves of the Atlantic, than men were sent aloft, and twenty eyes
were curiously employed in examining the offing. Ludlow remembered the
promise of the Skimmer to meet him at that spot, and, notwithstanding the
motives which the latter might be supposed to have for avoiding the
interview, so great was the influence of the free-trader's manner and
character, that the young captain entertained secret expectations the
promise would be kept.
"The offing is clear!" said the young captain, in a tone of
disappointment, when he lowered his glass; "and yet that rover does not
seem a man to hide his head in fear----"
"Fear--that is to say, fear of a Frenchman--and a decent respect for Her
Majesty's cruisers, are very different sorts of things," returned the
master. "I never got a bandanna, or a bottle of your Cogniac ashore, in my
life, that I did not think every man that I passed in the street, could
see the spots in the one, or scent the flavor of the other; but then I
never supposed this shyness amounted to more than a certain suspicion in
my own mind, that other people know when a man is running on an illegal
course, I suppose that one of your rectors, who is snugly anchored for
life in a good warm living, would call this conscience; but, for my own
part, Captain Ludlow, though no great logician in matters of this sort, I
have always believed that it was natural concern of mind lest the articles
should be seized. If this 'Skimmer of the Seas' comes out to give us
another chase in rough water, he is by no means as good a judge of the
difference between a large and a small vessel as I had thought him--and I
confess, Sir, I should have more hopes of taking him, were the woman under
his bowsprit fairly burnt."
"The offing is clear!"
"That it is, with a show of the wind holding here at south-half-south.
This bit of water that we have passed, between yon island and the main, is
lined with bays; and while we are here looking out for them on the high
seas, the cunning varlets may be trading in any one of the fifty good
basins that lie between the cape and the place where we lost him. For
aught we know, he may have run westward again in the night-watches, and be
at this moment laughing in his sleeve at the manner in which he dodged a
"There is too much truth in what you say, Trysail; for if the Skimmer be
now disposed to avoid us, he has certainly the means in his power."
"Sail, ho!" cried the look-out on the main-top-gallant-yard.
"Broad on the weather-beam, Sir; here, in a range with the light cloud
that is just lifting from the water."
"Can you make out the rig?"
"'Fore George, the fellow is right!" interrupted the master. "The cloud
caused her to be unseen; but here she is, sure enough,--a full-rigged
ship, under easy canvas, with her head to the westward!"
The look of Ludlow through the glass was long, attentive, and grave.
"We are weak-handed to deal with a stranger;" he said, when he returned
the instrument to Trysail, "You see he has nothing but his top-sails
set,--a show of canvas that would satisfy no trader, in a breeze like
The master was silent, but his look was even longer and more critical than
that of his captain. When it had ended, he cast a cautious glance towards
the diminished crew, who were curiously regarding the vessel that had now
become sufficiently distinct-by a change in the position of the cloud, and
then answered, in an under tone:--
"'Tis a Frenchman, or I am a whale' One may see it, by his short yards,
and the hoist of his sails; ay, and 'tis a cruiser, too, for no man who
had a profit to make on his freight, would be lying there under short
canvas, and his port within a day's run."
"Your opinion is my own; would to Heaven our people were all here! This is
but a short complement to take into action with a ship whose force seems
equal to our own. What number can we count?"
"We are short of seventy,--a small muster for four-and-twenty guns, with
yards like these to handle."
"And yet the port may not be insulted! We are known to be on this coast--"
"We are seen!" interrupted the master--"The fellow has worn ship, and he
is already setting his top-gallant-sails."
There no longer remained any choice between downright flight and
preparations for combat. The former would have been easy, for an hour
would have taken the ship within the cape; but the latter was far more in
consonance with the spirit of the service to which the Coquette belonged.
The order was therefore given for "all hands to clear ship for action!" It
was in the reckless nature of sailors, to exalt in this summons; for
success and audacity go hand in hand, and long familiarity with the first
had, even at that early day, given a confidence that often approached
temerity to the seamen of Great Britain and her dependencies. The mandate
to prepare for battle was received by the feeble crew of the Coquette, as
it had often been received before, when her decks were filled with the
number necessary to give full efficiency to her armament; though a few of
the older and more experienced of the mariners, men in whom confidence had
been diminished by time, were seen to shake their heads, as if they
doubted the prudence of the intended contest.
Whatever might have been the secret hesitation of Ludlow when the
character and force of his enemy were clearly established, he betrayed no
signs of irresolution from the moment when his decision appeared to be
taken. The necessary orders were issued calmly, and with the clearness and
readiness that perhaps constitute the greatest merit of a naval captain.
The yards were slung in chains; the booms were sent down; the lofty sails
were furled, and, in short, all the preparations that were then customary
were made with the usual promptitude and skill. Then the drum beat to
quarters, and when the people were at their stations, their young
commander had a better opportunity of examining into the true efficiency
of his ship. Calling to the master, he ascended the poop, in order that
they might confer together with less risk of being overheard, and at the
same time better observe the manoeuvres of the enemy.
The stranger had, as Trysail perceived, suddenly worn round on his heel,
and laid his head to the northward. The change in the course brought him
before the wind, and, as he immediately spread all the canvas that would
draw, he was approaching fast. During the time occupied in preparation on
board the Coquette, his hull had risen as it were from out of the water;
and Ludlow and his companion had not studied his appearance long, from the
poop, before the streak of white paint, dotted with ports which marks a
vessel of war, became visible to the naked eye. As the cruiser of Queen
Anne continued also to steer in the direction of the chase, half an hour
more brought them sufficiently near to each other, to remove all doubts of
their respective characters and force. The stranger then came to the wind,
and made his preparations for combat.
"The fellow shows a stout heart, and a warm battery," observed the master,
when the broadside of their enemy became visible, by this change in his
position. "Six-and-twenty teeth, by my count! though the eye-teeth must be
wanting, or he would never be so fool-hardy as to brave Queen Anne's
Coquette in this impudent fashion! A prettily turned boat, Captain Ludlow,
and one nimble enough in her movements. But look at his top-sails! Just
like his character, Sir, all hoist; and with little or no head to them.
I'll not deny but that the hull is well enough, for that is no more than
carpenter's work; but when it comes to the rig, or trim, or cut of a sail,
how should a l'Orient or a Brest man understand what is comely? There is
no equalling, after all, a good, wholesome, honest English top-sail; which
is neither too narrow in the head, nor too deep in the hoist; with a
bolt-rope of exactly the true size, robands and earings and bowlines that
look as if they grew there, and sheets that neither nature nor art could
alter to advantage. Here are these Americans, now, making innovations in
ship-building, and in the sparring of vessels, as if any thing could be
gained by quitting the customs and opinions of their ancestors! Any man
may see that all they have about them, that is good for any thing, is
English; while all their nonsense, and new-fangled changes, come from
their own vanity."
"They get along, Master Trysail, notwithstanding," returned the captain,
who, though a sufficiently loyal subject, could not forget his
birth-place; "and many is the time this ship, one of the finest models of
Plymouth, has been bothered to overhaul the coasters of these seas. Here
is the brigantine, that has laughed at us, on our best tack, and with our
choice of wind."
"One cannot say where that brigantine was built, Captain Ludlow. It may be
here, it may be there; for I look upon her as a nondescript, as old
Admiral Top used to call the galliots of the north seas--but, concerning
these new American fashions, of what use are they, I would ask, Captain
Ludlow? In the first place, they are neither English nor French, which is
as much as to confess they are altogether outlandish; in the second place,
they disturb the harmony and established usages among wrights and
sail-makers, and, though they may get along well enough now, sooner or
later, take my word for it, they will come to harm. It is unreasonable to
suppose that a new people can discover any thing in the construction of a
ship, that has escaped the wisdom of seamen as old--the Frenchman is
cluing up his top-gallant-sails, and means to let them hang; which is much
the same as condemning them at once,--and, therefore, I am of opinion that
all these new fashions will come to no good."
"Your reasoning is absolutely conclusive, Master Trysail." returned the
captain, whose thoughts were differently employed. "I agree with you, it
would be safer for the stranger to send down his yards."
"There is something manly and becoming in seeing a ship strip herself, as
she comes into action, Sir! It is like a boxer taking off his jacket, with
the intention of making a fair stand-up fight of it.--That fellow is
filling away again, and means to manoeuvre before he comes up fairly to
The eye of Ludlow had never quitted the stranger. He saw that the moment
for serious action was not distant; and, bidding Trysail keep the vessel
on her course, he descended to the quarter-deck. For a angle instant, the
young commander paused with big hand on the door of the cabin, and then,
overcoming his reluctance, he entered the apartment.
The Coquette was built after a fashion much in vogue a century since, and
which, by a fickleness that influences marine architecture as well as less
important things, is again coming into use, for vessels of her force. The
accommodations of the commander were on the same deck with the batteries
of the ship, and they were frequently made to contain two or even four
guns of the armament. When Ludlow entered his cabin, therefore, he found a
crew stationed around the gun which was placed on the side next the enemy,
and all the customary arrangements made which precede a combat. The
state-rooms abaft, however, as well as the little apartment which lay
between them, were closed. Glancing his eye about him, and observing the
carpenters in readiness, he made a signal for them to knock away the
bulk-heads, and lay the whole of the fighting part of the ship in common.
While this duty was going on, he entered the after-cabin.
Alderman Van Beverout and his companions were found together and evidently
in expectation of the visit they now received. Passing coolly by the
former, Ludlow approached his niece, and, taking her hand, he led her to
the quarter-deck, making a sign for her female attendant to follow.
Descending into the depths of the ship, the captain conducted his charge
into a part of the berth-deck, that was below the water line, and as much
removed from danger as she could well be, without encountering a foul air,
or sights that might be painful to one of her sex and habits.
"Here is as much safety as a vessel of war affords in a moment like this,"
he said, when his companion was silently seated on a mess-chest. "On no
account quit the spot, till I--or some other, advise you it may be done
Alida had submitted to be led thither, without a question. Though her
color went and came, she saw the little dispositions that were made for
her comfort, and without which, even at that moment, the young sailor
could not quit her, in the same silence. But when they were ended, and her
conductor was about to retire, his name escaped her lips, by an
exclamation that seemed hurried and involuntary.
"Can I do aught else to quiet your apprehensions?" the young man inquired,
though he studiously avoided her eye, as he turned to put the question. "I
know your strength of mind, and that you have a resolution which exceeds
the courage of your sex; else I would not venture so freely to point out
the danger which may beset one, even here, without a self-command and
discretion that shall restrain all sudden impulses of fear."
"Notwithstanding your generous interpretation of my character, Ludlow, I
am but woman after all."
"I did not mistake you for an amazon," returned the young man smiling,
perceiving that she checked her words by a sudden effort. "All I expect
from you is the triumph of reason over female terror. I shall not conceal
that the odds--perhaps I may say that the chances, are against us; and yet
the enemy must pay for my ship, ere he has her! She will be none the worse
defended, Alida, from the consciousness that thy liberty and comfort
depend in some measure on our exertions.--Would you say more?"
La belle Barberie struggled with herself, and she became calm, at least in
"There has been a singular misconception between us, and yet is this no
moment for explanations! Ludlow, I would not have you part with me, at
such a time as this, with that cold and reproachful eye!"
She paused When the young man ventured to raise his look, he saw the
beautiful girl standing with a hand extended towards him, as if offering a
pledge of amity; while the crimson on her cheek, and her yielding but
half-averted eye, spoke with the eloquence of maiden modesty. Seizing the
hand, he answered, hastily--
"Time was, when this action would have made me happy--"
The young man paused, for his gaze had unconsciously become riveted on the
rings of the hand he held. Alida understood the look, and, drawing one of
the jewels, she offered it with a smile that was as attractive as her
"One of these may be spared," she said. "Take it, Ludlow; and when thy
present duty shall be performed, return it, as a gage that I have promised
thee that no explanation which you may have a right to ask shall be
The young man took the ring, and forced it on the smallest of his fingers,
in a mechanical manner, and with a bewildered look, that seemed to inquire
if some one of those which remained was not the token of a plighted faith.
It is probable that he might have continued the discourse, had not a gun
been fired from the enemy. It recalled him to the more serious business of
the hour. Already more than half disposed to believe all he could wish, he
raised the fair hand, which had just bestowed the boon, to his lips, and
rushed upon deck.
"The Monsieur is beginning to bluster;" said Trysail, who had witnessed
the descent of his commander, at that moment and on such an errand, with
great dissatisfaction. "Although his shot fell short, it is too much to
let a Frenchman have the credit of first word."
"He has merely given the weather gun, the signal of defiance. Let him
come down, and he will not find us in a hurry to leave him!"
"No, no: as for that, we are snug enough!" returned the master, chuckling
as he surveyed the half-naked spars, and the light top-hamper, to which he
had himself reduced the ship. "If running is to be our play, we have made
a false move at the beginning of the game. These top-sails, spanker, and
jib, make a show that says more for bottom than for speed. Well, come what
will of this affair, it will leave me a master, though it is beyond the
power of the best duke in England to rob me of my share of the honor!"
With this consolation for his perfectly hopeless condition as respects
promotion, the old seaman walked forward, examining critically into the
state of the vessel; while his young commander, having cast a look about
him, motioned to his prisoner and the Alderman to follow to the poop.
"I do not pretend to inquire into the nature of the tie which unites you
with some in this ship," Ludlow commenced, addressing his words to
Seadrift, though he kept his gaze on the recent gift of Alida; "but, that
it must be strong, is evident by the interest they have taken in your
fate. One who is thus esteemed should set a value on himself. How far you
have trifled with the laws, I do not wish to say; but here is an
opportunity to redeem some of the public favor. You are a seaman, and need
not be told that my ship is not as strongly manned as one could wish her
at this moment, and that the services of every Englishman will be welcome.
Take charge of these six guns, and depend on my honor that your devotion
to the flag shall not go unrequited."
"You much mistake my vocation, noble captain;" returned the dealer in
contraband, faintly laughing. "Though one of the seas, I am one more used
to the calm latitudes than to these whirlwinds of war. You have visited
the brigantine of our mistress, and must have seen that her temple
resembles that of Janus more than that of Mars. The deck of the
Water-Witch has none of this frowning garniture of artillery."
Ludlow listened in amazement. Surprise, incredulity, and scorn, were each,
in turn, expressed in his frowning countenance.
"This is unbecoming language for one of your calling," he said, scarce
deeming it necessary to conceal the contempt he felt. "Do you acknowledge
fealty to this ensign--are you an Englishman?"
"I am such as Heaven was pleased to make me--fitter for the zephyr, than
the gale--the jest, than the war-shout--the merry moment, than the angry
"Is this the man whose name for daring has passed into a proverb?--the
dauntless, reckless, skilful 'Skimmer of the Seas!'"
"North is not more removed from south, than I from him in the qualities
you seek! It was not my duty to undeceive you as to the value of your
captive, while he whose services are beyond price to our mistress was
still on the coast. So far from being him you name, brave captain, I claim
to be no more than one of his agents, who, having some experience in the
caprices of woman, he trusts to recommend his wares to female fancies.
Though so useless in inflicting injuries, I may make bold however to rate
myself as excellent at consolation. Suffer that I appease the fears of la
belle Barberie during the coming tumult, and you shall own that one more
skilful in that merciful office is rare indeed!"
"Comfort whom, where, and what thou wilt, miserable effigy of
manhood!--but hold, there is less of terror than of artifice in that
lurking smile and treacherous eye!"
"Discredit both, generous captain! On the faith of one who can be sincere
at need, a wholesome fear is uppermost, whatever else the disobedient
members may betray. I could fain weep rather than be thought valiant, just
Ludlow listened in wonder. He had raised an arm to arrest the retreat of
the young mariner, and by a natural movement his hand slid along the limb
it had grasped, until it held that of Seadrift. The instant he touched the
soft and ungloved palm, an idea, as novel as it was sudden, crossed his
brain. Retreating a step or two, he examined the light and agile form of
the other, from head to feet. The frown of displeasure, which had clouded
his brow, changed to a look of unfeigned surprise; and for the first time,
the tones of the voice came over his recollection as being softer and more
melodious than is wont in man.
"Truly, thou art not the 'Skimmer of the Seas!'" he exclaimed, when his
short examination was ended.
"No truth more certain. I am one of little account in this rude encounter,
though, were that gallant seaman here," and the color deepened on the
cheeks of Seadrift as he spoke, "his arm and counsel might prove a host!
Oh! I have seen him in scenes far more trying than this, when the elements
have conspired with other dangers. The example of his steadiness and
spirit has given courage even to the feeblest heart in the brigantine!
Now, suffer me to offer consolation to the timid Alida."
"I should little merit her gratitude, were the request refused," returned
Ludlow. "Go, gay and gallant Master Seadrift! if the enemy fears thy
presence on the deck as little as I dread it with la belle Barberie, thy
services here will be useless!"
Seadrift colored to the temples, crossed his arms meekly on his bosom,
sunk in an attitude of leave-taking, that was so equivocal as to cause the
attentive and critical young captain to smile, and then glided past him
and disappeared through a hatchway.
The eye of Ludlow followed the active and graceful form, while it
continued in sight; and when it was no longer visible, he faced the
Alderman with a look which seemed to inquire how far he might be
acquainted with the true character of the individual who had been the
cause of so much pain to himself.
"Have I done well, Sir, in permitting a subject of Queen Anne to quit us
at this emergency?" he demanded, observing that either the phlegm or the
self-command of Myndert rendered him proof to scrutiny.
"The lad may be termed contraband of war," returned the Alderman, without
moving a muscle; "an article that will command a better price in a quiet
than in a turbulent market. In short, Captain Cornelius Ludlow, this
Master Seadrift will not answer thy purpose at all in combat."
"And is this example of heroism to go any farther, or may I count on the
assistance of Mr. Alderman Van Beverout?--He has the reputation of a loyal
"As for loyalty," returned the Alderman, "so far as saying God bless the
Queen, at city feasts, will go, none are more so. A wish is not an
expensive return for the protection of her fleets and armies, and I wish
her and you success against the enemy, with all my heart. But I never
admired the manner in which the States General were dispossessed of their
territories on this continent, Master Ludlow, and therefore I pay the
Stuarts little more than I owe them in law."
"Which is as much as to say, that you will join the gay smuggler, in
administering consolation to one whose spirit places her above the need of
"Not so fast, young gentleman.--We mercantile men like to see offsets in
our books, before they are balanced. Whatever may be my opinion of the
reigning family, which I only utter to you in confidence, and not as coin
that is to pass from one to another, my love for the Grand Monarque is
still less. Louis is at loggerheads with the United Provinces, as well as
with our gracious Queen; and I see no harm in opposing one of his
cruisers, since they certainly annoy trade, and render returns for
investments inconveniently uncertain. I have heard artillery in my time,
having in my younger days led a band of city volunteers in many a march
and countermarch around the Bowling-Green; and for the honor of the second
ward of the good town of Manhattan, I am now ready to undertake to show,
that all knowledge of the art has not entirely departed from me."
"That is a manly answer, and, provided it be sustained by a corresponding
countenance, there shall be no impertinent inquiry into motives. 'Tis the
officer that makes the ship victorious; for, when he sets a good example
and understands his duty, there is little fear of the men. Choose your
position among any of these guns, and we will make an effort to disappoint
yon servants of Louis, whether we do it as Englishmen, or only as the
allies of the Seven Provinces."
Myndert descended to the quarter-deck, and having deliberately deposited
his coat on the capstan, replaced his wig by a handkerchief, and tightened
the buckle that did the office of suspenders, he squinted along the guns,
with a certain air that served to assure the spectators he had at least no
dread of the recoil.
Alderman Van Beverout was a personage far too important, not to be known
by most of those who frequented the goodly town of which he was a civic
officer. His presence, therefore, among the men, not a few of whom were
natives of the colony, had a salutary effect; some yielding to the
sympathy which is natural to a hearty and encouraging example, while it is
possible there were a few that argued less of the danger, in consequence
of the indifference of a man who, being so rich, had so many motives to
take good care of his person. Be this as it might, the burgher was
received by a cheer which drew a short but pithy address from him, in
which he exhorted his companions in arms to do their duty, in a manner
which should teach the Frenchmen the wisdom of leaving that coast in
future free from annoyance; while he wisely abstained from all the
commonplace allusions to king and country,--a subject to which he felt his
inability to do proper justice.
"Let every man remember that cause for courage, which may be most
agreeable to his own habits and opinions," concluded this imitator of the
Hannibals and Scipios of old; "for that is the surest and the briefest
method of bringing his mind into an obstinate state. In my own case, there
is no want of motive; and I dare say each one of you may find some
sufficient reason for entering heart and hand into this battle. Protests
and credit! what would become of the affairs of the best house in the
colonies, were its principal to be led a captive to Brest or l'Orient? It
might derange the business of the whole city. I'll not offend your
patriotism with such a supposition, but at once believe that your minds
are resolved, like my own, to resist to the last; for this is an interest
which is general, as all questions of a commercial nature become, through
their influence on the happiness and prosperity of society."
Having terminated his address in so apposite and public-spirited a manner,
the worthy burgher hemmed loudly, and resumed his accustomed silence,
perfectly assured of his own applause. If the matter of Myndert's
discourse wears too much the air of an unvided attention to his own
interests, the reader will not forget it is by this concentration of
individuality that most of the mercantile prosperity of the world is
achieved. The seamen listened with admiration, for they understood no part
of the appeal; and, next to a statement which shall be so lucid as to
induce every hearer to believe it is no more than a happy explanation of
his own ideas, that which is unintelligible is apt to unite most suffrages
in its favor.
"You see your enemy, and you know your work!" said the clear, deep, manly
voice of Ludlow, who, as he passed among the people of the Coquette, spoke
to them in that steady unwavering tone which, in moments of danger, goes
to the heart. "I shall not pretend that we are as strong as I could wish;
but the greater the necessity for a strong pull, the readier a true seaman
will be to give it. There are no nails in that ensign. When I am dead, you
may pull it down if you please; but, so long as I live, my men, there it
shall fly! And now, one cheer to show your humor, and then let the rest of
your noise come from the guns."
The crew complied, with a full-mouthed and hearty hurrah!--Trysail assured
a young, laughing, careless midshipman, who even at that moment could
enjoy an uproar, that he had seldom heard a prettier piece of
sea-eloquence than that which had just fallen from the captain; it being
both 'neat and gentleman-like.'
"Sir, it is
A charge too heavy for my strength; but yet
We'll strive to bear it for your worthy sake,
To the extreme edge of hazard."
All's Well That End's Well.
The vessel, which appeared so inopportunely for the safety of the
ill-manned British cruiser, was, in truth, a ship that had roved from
among the islands of the Caribean sea, in quest of some such adventure as
that which now presented itself. She was called la belle Fontange, and her
commander, a youth of two-and-twenty, was already well known in the salons
of the Marais, and behind the walls of the Rue Basse des Remparts, as one
of the most gay and amiable of those who frequented the former, and one of
the most spirited and skilful among the adventurers who sometimes trusted
to their address in the latter. Rank, and influence at Versailles, had
procured for the young Chevalier Dumont de la Rocheforte a command to
which he could lay no claim either by his experience or his services. His
mother, a near relative of one of the beauties of the court, had been
commanded to use sea-bathing, as a preventive against the consequences of
the bite of a rabid lap-dog. By way of a suitable episode to the long
descriptions she was in the daily habit of writing to those whose
knowledge of her new element was limited to the constant view of a few
ponds and ditches teeming with carp, or an occasional glimpse of some of
the turbid reaches of the Seine, she had vowed to devote her youngest
child to Neptune! In due time, that is to say, while the poetic sentiment
was at the access, the young chevalier was duly enrolled and, in a time
that greatly anticipated all regular and judicious preferment, he was
placed in command of the corvette in question, and sent to the Indies to
gain glory for himself and his country.
The Chevalier Dumont de la Rocheforte was brave, but his courage was not
the calm and silent self-possession of a seaman. Like himself, it was
lively, buoyant, thoughtless, bustling, and full of animal feeling. He had
all the pride of a gentleman, and, unfortunately for the duty which he had
now for the first time to perform, one of its dictates caught him to
despise that species of mechanical knowledge which it was, just at this
moment, so important to the commander of la Fontange to possess. He could
dance to admiration, did the honors of his cabin with faultless elegance,
and had caused the death of an excellent mariner, who had accidentally
fallen overboard, by jumping into the sea to aid him, without knowing how
to swim a stroke himself,--a rashness that had diverted those exertions
which might have saved the unfortunate sailor, from the assistance of the
subordinate to the safety of his superior. He wrote sonnets prettily, and
had some ideas of the new philosophy which was just beginning to dawn upon
the world; but the cordage of his ship, and the lines of a mathematical
problem, equally presented labyrinths he had never threaded.
It was perhaps fortunate for the safety of all in her, that la belle
Fontange possessed an inferior officer, in the person of a native of
Boulogne-sur-Mer, who was quite competent to see that she kept the proper
course, and that she displayed none of the top-gallants of her pride, at
unpropitious moments. The ship itself was sufficiently and finely moulded
of a light and airy rig, and of established reputation or speed. If it was
defective in any thing, it had the fault, in common with its commander, of
a want of sufficient solidity to resist the vicissitudes and dangers of
the turbulent element on which it was destined to act.
The vessels were now within a mile of each other. The breeze was steady,
and sufficiently fresh for all the ordinary evolutions of a naval combat;
while the water was just quiet enough to permit the ships to be handled
with confidence and accuracy. La Fontange was running with her head to the
eastward, and, as she had the advantage of the wind, her tall tracery of
spars leaned gently in the direction of her adversary. The Coquette was
standing on the other tack, and necessarily inclined from her enemy. Both
vessels were stripped to their top-sails, spankers, and jibs, though the
lofty sails of the Frenchman were fluttering in the breeze, like the
graceful folds of some fanciful drapery. No human being was distinctly
visible in either fabric, though dark clusters around each mast-head
showed that the ready top-men were prepared to discharge their duties,
even in the confusion and dangers of the impending contest. Once or twice,
la Fontange inclined her head more in the direction of her adversary; and
then, sweeping up again to the wind, she stood on in stately beauty The
moment was near when the ships were about to cross each other, at a point
where a musket would readily send its messenger across the waiter that lay
between them. Ludlow, who closely watched each change of position, and
every rise and fall of the breeze, went on the poop, and swept the horizon
with his glass, for the last time before his ship should be enveloped in
smoke. To his surprise, he discovered a pyramid of canvas rising above the
sea, in the direction of the wind. The sail was clearly visible to the
naked eye, and had only escaped earlier observation in the duties of so
urgent a moment. Calling the master to his side, he inquired his opinion
concerning the character of the second stranger. But Trysail confessed it
exceeded even his long-tried powers of observation to say more than that
it was a ship running before the wind, with a cloud of sail spread. After
a second and a longer look, however, the experienced master ventured to
add that the stranger had the squareness and symmetry of a cruiser, but of
what size he would not yet presume to declare.
"It may be a light ship, under her top-gallant and studding-sails, or it
may be, that we see only the lofty duck of some heavier vessel, Captain
Ludlow;--ha! he has caught the eye of the Frenchman, for the corvette has
"To your glass!--If the stranger answer, we have no choice but our speed."
There was another keen and anxious examination of the upper spars of the
distant ship, but the direction of the wind prevented any signs of her
communicating with the corvette from being visible. La Fontange appeared
equally uncertain of the character of the stranger, and for a moment there
was some evidence of an intention to change her course. But the moment for
indecision had past. The ships were already sweeping up abreast of each
other, under the constant pressure of the breeze.
"Be ready, men!" said Ludlow, in a low but firm voice, retaining his
elevated post on the poop, while he motioned to his companion to return to
the main-deck. "Fire at his flash!"
Intense expectation succeeded. The two graceful fabrics sailed steadily
on, and came within hail. So profound was the stillness in the Coquette,
that the rushing sound of the water she heaped under her bows was
distinctly audible to all on board, and might be likened to the deep
breathing of some vast animal, that was collecting its physical energies
for some unusual exertion. On the other hand, tongues were loud and
clamorous among the cordage of la Fontange. Just as the ships were fairly
abeam, the voice of young Dumont was heard, shouting through a trumpet,
for his men to fire. Ludlow smiled, in a seaman's scorn. Raising his own
trumpet, with a quiet gesture to his attentive and ready crew, the whole
discharge of their artillery broke out of the dark side of the ship, as if
it had been by the volition of the fabric. The answering broadside was
received almost as soon as their own had been given, and the two vessels
passed swiftly without the line of shot.
The wind had sent back their own smoke upon the English, and for a time it
floated on their decks, wreathed itself in the eddies of the sails, and
passed away to leeward, with the breeze that succeeded to the
counter-current of the explosions. The whistling of shot, and the crash of
wood, had been heard amid the din of the combat. Giving a glance at his
enemy, who still stood on, Ludlow leaned from the poop, and, with all a
sailor's anxiety, he endeavored to scan the gear aloft.
"What is gone, Sir?" he asked of Trysail, whose earnest face just then
became visible through the drifting smoke. "What sail is so heavily
"Little harm done, Sir--little harm--bear a hand with the tackle on that
fore-yard-arm, you lubbers! you move like snails in a minuet! The fellow
has shot away the lee fore-top-sail-sheet, Sir; but we shall soon get our
wings spread again. Lash it down, boys, as if it were butt-bolted;--so;
steady out your bowline, forward.--Meet her, you can; meet her you
The smoke had disappeared, and the eye of the captain rapidly scanned the
whole of his ship. Three or four top-men had already caught the flapping
canvas, and were seated on the extremity of the fore-yard, busied in
securing their prize. A hole or two was visible in the other sails, and
here and there an unimportant rope was dangling in a manner to show that
it had been cut by shot. Further than this, the damage aloft was not of a
nature to attract his attention.
There was a different scene on deck. The feeble crew were earnestly
occupied in loading the guns, and rammers and spunges were handled, with
all the intenseness which men would manifest in a moment so exciting. The
Alderman was never more absorbed in his leger than he now appeared in his
duty of a cannoneer; and the youths, to whom the command of the batteries
had necessarily been confided, diligently aided him with their greater
authority and experience. Trysail stood near the capstan, coolly giving
the orders which have been related, and gazing upward with an interest so
absorbed as to render him unconscious of all that passed around his
person. Ludlow saw, with pain, that blood discolored the deck at his feet,
and that a seaman lay dead within reach of his arm. The rent plank and
shattered ceiling showed the spot where the destructive missile had
Compressing his lips like a man resolved, the commander of the Coquette
bent further forward, and glanced at the wheel. The quarter-master, who
held the spokes, was erect, steady, and kept his eye on the leech of the
head-sail, as unerringly as the needle points to the pole.
These were the observations of a single minute. The different
circumstances related had been ascertained with so many rapid glances of
the eye, and they had even been noted without losing for a moment the
knowledge of the precise situation of la Fontange. The latter was already
in stays. It be came necessary to meet the evolution by another as prompt.
The order was no sooner given, than the Coquette, as if conscious of the
hazard she ran of being raked, whirled away from the wind, and, by the
time her adversary was ready to deliver her other broadside she was in a
position to receive and to return it. Again the ships approached each
other, and once more they exchanged their streams of fire when abeam.
Ludlow now saw, through the smoke, the ponderous yard of la Fontange
swinging heavily against the breeze, and the main-top-sail come flapping
against her mast. Swinging off from the poop by a backstay that had been
shot away a moment before, he alighted on the quarter-deck by the side of
"Touch all the braces!" he said, hastily, but still speaking low and
clearly; "give a drag upon the bowlines--luff, Sir, luff; jam the ship up
hard against the wind!"
The clear, steady answer of the quarter-master, and the manner in which
the Coquette, still vomiting her sheets of flame, inclined towards the
breeze, announced the promptitude of the subordinates. In another minute,
the vast volumes of smoke which enveloped the two ships joined, and formed
one white and troubled cloud, which was rolling swiftly before the
explosions, over the surface of the sea, but which, as it rose higher in
the air, sailed gracefully to leeward.
Our young commander passed swiftly through the batteries, spoke
encouragingly to his people, and resumed his post on the poop. The
stationary position of la Fontange, and his own efforts to get to
windward, were already proving advantageous to Queen Anne's cruiser. There
was some indecision on the part of the other ship, which instantly caught
the eye of one whose readiness in his profession so much resembled
The Chevalier Dumont had amused his leisure by running his eyes over the
records of the naval history of his country, where he had found this and
that commander applauded for throwing their top-sails to the mast,
abreast of their enemies. Ignorant of the difference between a ship in
line and one engaged singly, he had determined to prove himself equal to a
similar display of spirit. At the moment when Ludlow was standing alone on
the poop, watching with vigilant eyes the progress of his own vessel, and
the position of his enemy, indicating merely by a look or a gesture to the
attentive Trysail beneath, what he wished done, there was actually a wordy
discussion on the quarter-deck of the latter, between the mariner of
Boulogne-sur-Mer, and the gay favorite of the salons. They debated on the
expediency of the step which the latter had taken, to prove the existence
of a quality that no one doubted The time lost in this difference of
opinion was of the last importance to the British cruiser. Standing
gallantly on, she was soon out of the range of her adversary's fire; and,
before the Boulognois had succeeded in convincing his superior of his
error, their antagonist was on the other tack, and luffing across the wake
of la Fontange. The top-sail was then tardily filled, but before the
latter ship had recovered her motion, the sails of her enemy overshadowed
her deck. There was now every prospect of the Coquette passing to
windward. At that critical moment, the fair-setting top-sail of the
British cruiser was nearly rent in two by a shot. The ship fell off, the
yards interlocked, and the vessels were foul.
The Coquette had all the advantage of position. Perceiving the important
fact at a glance, Ludlow made sure of its continuance by throwing his
grapnels. When the two ships were thus firmly lashed together, the young
Dumont found himself relieved from a mountain of embarrassment.
Sufficiently justified by the fact that not a single gun of his own would
bear, while a murderous discharge of grape had just swept along his decks,
he issued the order to board. But Ludlow, with his weakened crew, had not
decided on so hazardous an evolution as that which brought him in absolute
contact with his enemy, without foreseeing the means of avoiding all the
consequences. The vessels touched each other only at one point, and this
spot was protected by a row of muskets. No sooner, therefore, did the
impetuous young Frenchman appear on the taffrail of his own ship,
supported by a band of followers, than a close and deadly fire swept them
away to a man. Young Dumont alone remained. For a single moment, his eye
glared wildly; but the active frame, still obedient to the governing
impulse of so impetuous a spirit, leaped onward. He fell, without life, on
the deck of his enemy.
Ludlow watched every movement, with a calmness that neither personal
responsibility, nor the uproar and rapid incidents of the terrible scene,
"Now is our time to bring the matter hand to hand!" he cried, making a
gesture to Trysail to descend from the ladder, in order that he might
His arm was arrested, and the grave old master pointed to windward.
"There is no mistaking the cut of those sails, or the lofty rise of those
spars! The stranger is another Frenchman!"
One glance told Ludlow that his subordinate was right; another sufficed to
show what was now necessary.
"Cast loose the forward grapnel--cut it--away with it, clear!" was
shouted, through his trumpet, in a voice that rose commanding and clear
amid the roar of the combat.
Released forward, the stern of the Coquette yielded to the pressure of her
enemy, whose sails were all drawing, and she was soon in a position to
enable her head-yards to be braced sharp aback, in a direction opposite to
the one in which she had so lately lain. The whole broadside was then
delivered into the stern of la Fontange, the last grapnel was released and
the ships separated.
The single spirit which presided over the evolutions and exertions of the
Coquette, still governed her movements. The sails were trimmed, the ship
was got in command, and, before the vessels had been asunder five minutes,
the duty of the vessel was in its ordinary active but noiseless train.
Nimble top-men were on the yards, and broad folds of fresh canvas were
flapping in the breeze, as the new sails were bent and set. Ropes were
spliced, or supplied by new rigging, the spars examined, and in fine all
that watchfulness and sedulous care were observed, which are so necessary
to the efficiency and safety of a ship. Every spar was secured, the pumps
were sounded, and the vessel held on her way, as steadily as if she had
never fired nor received a shot.
On the other hand, la Fontange betrayed the indecision and confusion of a
worsted ship. Her torn canvas was blowing about in disorder, many
important ropes beat against her masts unheeded, and the vessel itself
drove before the breeze in the helplessness of a wreck. For several
minutes, there seemed no controlling mind in the fabric; and when, after
so much distance was lost as to give her enemy all the advantage of the
wind, a tardy attempt was made to bring the ship up again, the tallest and