Part 8 out of 9
most important of her masts was seen tottering, until it finally fell,
with all its hamper, into the sea.
Notwithstanding the absence of so many of his people, success would now
have been certain, had not the presence of the stranger compelled Ludlow
to abandon his advantage. But the consequences to his own vessel were too
sure, to allow of more than a natural and manly regret that so favorable
an occasion should escape him. The character of the stranger could no
longer be mistaken. The eve of every seaman in the Coquette as well
understood the country of the high and narrow-headed sails, the tall taper
masts and short yards of the frigate whose hull was now distinctly
visible, as a landsman recognizes an individual by the distinguishing
marks of his features or attire. Had there been any lingering doubts on
the subject, they would have all given place to certainty, when the
stranger was seen exchanging signals with the crippled corvette.
It was now time for Ludlow to come to a speedy determination on his future
course. The breeze still held to the southward, but it was beginning to
lessen, with every appearance that it would fail before nightfall. The
land lay a few leagues to the northward, and the whole horizon of the
ocean, with the exception of the two French cruisers, was clear.
Descending to the quarter-deck, he approached the master, who was seated
in a chair, while the surgeon dressed a severe hurt in one of his legs.
Shaking the sturdy veteran cordially by the hand, he expressed his
acknowledgments for his support in a moment so trying.
"God bless you! God bless you! Captain Ludlow;" returned the old sailor,
dashing his hand equivocally across his weatherbeaten brow. "Battle is
certainly the place to try both ship and friends, and Heaven be praised!
Queen Anne has not failed of either this day. No man has forgotten his
duty, so far as my eyes have witnessed; and this is saying no trifle, with
half a crew and an equal enemy. As for the ship, she never behaved better!
I had my misgivings, when I saw the new main-top-sail go, which it did, as
all here know, like a bit of rent muslin between the fingers of a
seamstress. Run forward, Mr. Hopper, and tell the men in the fore rigging
to take another drag on that swifter, and to be careful and bring the
strain equal on all the shrouds.--A lively youth, Captain Ludlow, and one
who only wants a little reflection, with some more experience, and a
small dash of modesty, together with the seamanship he will naturally get
in time, to make a very tolerable officer."
"The boy promises well; but I have come to ask thy advice, my old friend,
concerning our next movements. There is no doubt that the fellow who is
coming down upon us is both a Frenchman and a frigate."
"A man might as well doubt the nature of a fish-hawk, which is to pick up
all the small fry, and to let the big ones go. We might show him our
canvas and try the open sea, but I fear that fore-mast is too weak, with
three such holes in it, to bear the sail we should need!"
"What think you of the wind?" said Ludlow, affecting an indecision he did
not feel, in order to soothe the feelings of his wounded companion.
"Should it hold, we might double Montauk, and return for the rest of our
people; but should it fail, is there no danger that the frigate should tow
within shot!--We have no boats to escape her."
"The soundings on this coast are as regular as the roof of an out-house,"
said the master, after a moment of thought, "and it is my advice, if it is
your pleasure to ask it, Captain Ludlow, that we shoal our water as much
as possible, while the wind lasts. Then, I think, we shall be safe from a
very near visit from the big one:--as for the corvette, I am of opinion,
that, like a man who has eaten his dinner, she has no stomach for another
Ludlow applauded the advice of his subordinate, for it was precisely what
he had determined on doing; and after again complimenting him on his
coolness and skill, he issued the necessary orders. The helm of the
Coquette was now placed hard a-weather, the yards were squared, and the
ship was put be fore the wind. After running, in this direction for a few
hours, the wind gradually lessening, the lead announced that the keel was
quite as near the bottom as the time of the tide, and the dull heaving and
setting of the element, rendered at all prudent. The breeze soon after
fell, and then our young commander ordered an anchor to be dropped into
His example, in the latter respect, was imitated by the hostile cruisers.
They had soon joined, and boats were seen passing from one to the other,
so long as there was light. When the sun fell behind the western margin of
the ocean, their dusky outlines, distant about a league, gradually grew
less and less distinct, until the darkness of night enveloped sea and land
in its gloom.
"Now; the business!"
Three hours later, and every noise was hushed on board the royal cruiser.
The toil of repairing damages had ceased, and most of the living, with the
dead, lay alike in common silence. The watchfulness necessary to the
situation of the fatigued mariners, however, was not forgotten, and though
so many slept, a few eyes were still open, and affecting to be alert. Here
and there, some drowsy seaman paced the deck, or a solitary young officer
endeavored to keep himself awake, by humming a low air, in his narrow
bounds. The mass of the crew slept heavily, with pistols in their belts
and cutlasses at their sides, between the guns. There was one
figure-extended upon the quarter-deck, with the head resting on a
shot-box. The deep breathing of this person denoted the unquiet slumbers
of a powerful frame, in which weariness contended with suffering. It was
the wounded and feverish master, who had placed himself in that position
to catch an hour of the repose that was necessary to his situation. Oh an
arm-chest, which had been emptied of its contents, lay another but a
motionless human form, with the limbs composed in decent order, and with
the face turned towards the melancholy stars. This was the body of the
young Dumont, which had been kept, with the intention of consigning it to
consecrated earth, when the ship should return to port. Ludlow, with the
delicacy of a generous and chivalrous enemy had with his own hands spread
the stainless ensign of his country over the remains of the inexperienced
but gallant young Frenchman.
There was one little group on the raised deck in the stern of the vessel,
in which the ordinary interests of life still seemed to exercise their
influence. Hither Ludlow had led Alida and her companions, after the
duties of the day were over, in order that they might breathe an air
fresher than that of the interior of the vessel. The negress nodded near
her young mistress; the tired Alderman sate with his back supported
against the mizen-mast, giving audible evidence of his situation; and
Ludlow stood erect, occasionally throwing an earnest look on the
surrounding and unruffled waters, and then lending his attention to the
discourse of his companions. Alida and Seadrift were seated near each
other, on chairs. The conversation was low, while the melancholy and the
tremor in the voice of la belle Barberie denoted how much the events of
the day had shaken her usually firm and spirited mind.
"There is a mingling of the terrific and the beautiful, of the grand and
the seducing, in this unquiet profession of yours!" observed, or rather
continued Alida, replying to a previous remark of the young sailor. "That
tranquil sea--the hollow sound of the surf on the shore--and this soft
canopy above us form objects on which even a girl might dwell in
admiration, were not her ears still ringing with the roar and cries of the
combat. Did you say the commander of the Frenchman was but a youth?"
"A mere boy in appearance, and one who doubtless owed his rank to the
advantages of birth and family. We know it to be the captain, by his
dress, no less than by the desperate effort he made to recover the false
step taken in the earlier part of the action."
"Perhaps he has a mother, Ludlow!--a sister--a wife--or----"
Alida paused, for, with maiden diffidence, she hesitated to pronounce the
tie which was uppermost in her thoughts.
"He may have had one, or all! Such are the sailor's hazards, and----"
"Such the hazards of those who feel an interest in their safety!" uttered
the low but expressive voice of Seadrift.
A deep and eloquent silence succeeded. Then the voice of Myndert was heard
muttering indistinctly, "twenty of beaver, and three of marten--as per
invoice." The smile which, spite of the train of his thoughts, rose on the
lips of Ludlow, had scarcely passed away, when the hoarse tones of
Trysail, rendered still hoarser by his sleep, were plainly heard in a
stifled cry, saying, "Bear a hand, there, with your stoppers!--the
Frenchman is coming round upon us, again."
"That is prophetic!" said one, aloud, behind the listening group. Ludlow
turned, quick as the flag fluttering on its vane, and through the darkness
he recognized, in the motionless but manly form that stood near him on the
poop, the fine person of the 'Skimmer of the Seas.'
"Call none!"--interrupted Tiller, stopping the hurried order which
involuntarily broke from the lips of Ludlow. "Let thy ship feign the
silence of a wreck, but, in truth, let there be watchfulness and
preparation even to her store-rooms! You have done well, Captain Ludlow,
to be on the alert, though I have known sharper eyes than those of some of
"Whence come you, audacious man, and what mad errand has brought you again
on the deck of my ship?"
"I come from my habitation on the sea. My business here is warning!"
"The sea!" echoed Ludlow, gazing about him at the narrow and empty view.
"The hour for mockery is past, and you would do well to trifle no more
with those who have serious duties to discharge."
"The hour is indeed one for serious duties--duties, more serious than any
you apprehend. But before I enter on explanation, there must be conditions
between us. You have one of the sea-green lady's servitors, here; I claim
his liberty, for my secret."
"The error into which I had fallen exists no longer;" returned Ludlow,
looking for an instant towards the shrinking form of Seadrift. "My
conquest is worthless, unless you come to supply his place."
"I come for other purposes--here is one who knows I do not trifle when
urgent affairs are on hand. Let thy companions retire, that I may speak
Ludlow hesitated, for he had not yet recovered from the surprise of
finding the redoubtable free-trader so unexpectedly on the deck of his
ship. But Alida and her companion arose, like those who had more
confidence in their visiter, and, arousing the negress from her sleep,
they descended the ladder and entered the cabin. When Ludlow found
himself alone with Tiller, he demanded an explanation.
"It shall not be withheld, for time presses, and that which is to be done
must be done with a seaman's care and coolness;" returned the other.--"You
have had a close brush with one of Louis's rovers, Captain Ludlow, and
prettily was the ship of Queen Anne handled! Have your people suffered,
and are you still strong enough to make good a defence worthy of your
conduct this morning?"
"These are facts you would have me utter to the ear of one who may be
false;--even a spy!"
"Captain Ludlow--but circumstances warrant thy suspicions!"
"One whose vessel and life I have threatened--an outlaw!"
"This is too true," returned the 'Skimmer of the Seas,' suppressing a
sudden impulse of pride and resentment. "I am threatened and pursued--I am
a smuggler and an outlaw: still am I human! You see that dusky object,
which borders the sea to the northward!"
"It is too plainly land, to be mistaken."
"Land, and the land of my birth!--the earliest, perhaps I may say the
happiest of my days, were passed on that long and narrow island."
"Had I known it earlier, there would have been a closer look among its
bays and inlets."
"The search might have been rewarded. A cannon would easily throw its shot
from this deck to the spot where my brigantine now lies, snug at a single
"Unless you have swept her near since the setting of the sun, that is
impossible! When the night drew on, nothing was in view but the frigate
and corvette of the enemy."
"We have not stirred a fathom; and yet, true as the word of a fearless
man, there lies the vessel of the sea-green lady. You see the place where
the beach falls--here, at the nearest point of the land--the island is
nearly severed by the water at that spot, and the Water-Witch is safe in
the depths of the bay which enters from the northward. There is not a mile
between us. From the eastern hill, I witnessed your spirit this day,
Captain Ludlow, and though condemned in person, I felt that the heart
could never be outlawed. There is a fealty here, that can survive even the
persecutions of the custom-houses!"
"You are happy in your terms, Sir. I will not conceal that I think a
seaman, even as skilful as yourself, must allow that the Coquette was kept
prettily in command!"
"No pilot-boat could have been more sure, or more lively. I knew your
weakness, for the absence of all your boats was no secret to me; and I
confess I could have spared some of the profits of the voyage, to have
been on your decks this day with a dozen of my truest fellows!"
"A man who can feel this loyalty to the flag, should find a more honorable
occupation for his usual life."
"A country that can inspire it, should be cautious not to estrange the
affections of its children, by monopolies and injustice. But these are
discussions unsuited to the moment. I am doubly your countryman in this
strait, and all the past is no more than the rough liberties which friends
take with each other. Captain Ludlow, there is danger brooding in that
dark void which lies to seaward!"
"On what authority do you speak thus?"
"Sight.--I have been among your enemies, and have seen their deadly
preparations. I know the caution is given to a brave man, and nothing
shall be extenuated. You have need of all your resolution and of every
arm--for they will be upon you, in overwhelming numbers!"
"True or false, thy warning shall not be neglected."
"Hold!" said the Skimmer, arresting a forward movement of his companion,
with his hand. "Let them sleep to the last moment. You have yet an hour,
and rest will renew their strength. You may trust the experience of a
seaman who has passed half of the life of man on the ocean, and who has
witnessed all its most stirring scenes, from the conflict of the elements
to every variety of strife that man has invented to destroy his fellows.
For another hour, you will be secure.--After that hour, God protect the
unprepared! and God be merciful to him whose minutes are numbered!"
"Thy language and manner are those of one who deals honestly;" returned
Ludlow, struck by the apparent sincerity of the free-trader's
communication "In every event, we shall be ready, though the manner of
your having gained this knowledge is as great a mystery as your appearance
on the deck of my ship."
"Both can be explained," returned the Skimmer, motioning to his companion
to follow to the tanrail. Here he pointed to a small and nearly
imperceptible skiff, which floated at the bottom of a stern-ladder, and
continued--"One who so often pays secret visits to the land, can never be
in want of the means. This nut-shell was easily transported across the
narrow slip of land that separates the bay from the ocean, and though the
surf moans so hoarsely, it is easily passed by a steady and dexterous
oarsman. I have been under the martingale of the Frenchman, and you see
that I am here. If your look-outs are less alert than usual, you will
remember that a low gunwale, a dusky side, and a muffled oar, are not
readily detected, when the eye is heavy and the body wearied. I must now
quit you--unless you think it more prudent to send those who can be of no
service, out of the ship, before the trial shall come?"
Ludlow hesitated. A strong desire to put Alida in a place of safety, was
met by his distrust of the smuggler's faith. He reflected a moment, ere he
"Your cockle-shell is not sufficiently secure for more than its
owner.--Go, and as you prove loyal, may you prosper!"
"Abide the blow!" said the Skimmer, grasping his hand. He then stepped
carelessly on the dangling ropes, and descended into the boat beneath.
Ludlow watched his movements, with an intense and possibly with a
distrustful curiosity. When seated at the sculls, the person of the
free-trader was nearly indistinct; and as the boat glided noiselessly
away, the young commander no longer felt disposed to censure those who had
permitted its approach without a warning. In less than a minute, the dusky
object was confounded with the surface of the sea.
Left to himself, the young commander of the Coquette seriously reflected
on what had passed. The manner of the Skimmer, the voluntary character of
his communication, its probability, and the means by which his knowledge
had been obtained, united to confirm his truth. Instances of similar
attachment to their flag, in seamen whose ordinary pursuits were opposed
to its interests, were not uncommon. Their misdeeds resemble the errors of
passion, and temptation, while the momentary return to better things is
like the inextinguishable impulses of nature.
The admonition of the free-trader, who had enjoined the captain to allow
his people to sleep, was remembered. Twenty times, within as many minutes,
did our young sailor examine his watch, to note the tardy passage of the
time; and as often did he return it to his pocket, with a determination to
forbear. At length he descended to the quarter-deck, and drew near the
only form that was erect. The watch was commanded by a youth of sixteen,
whose regular period of probationary service had not passed, but who, in
the absence of his superiors, was intrusted with this delicate and
important duty. He stood leaning against the capstan, one hand supporting
his cheek, while the elbow rested against the drum, and the body was
without motion. Ludlow regarded him a moment, and then lifting a lighted
battle-lantern to his face, he saw that he slept. Without disturbing the
delinquent, the captain replaced the lantern and passed forward. In the
gangway there stood a marine, with his musket shouldered, in an attitude
of attention. As Ludlow brushed within a few inches of his eyes, it was
easy to be seen that they opened and shut involuntarily, and without
consciousness of what lay before them. On the top-gallant-forecastle was a
short, square, and well-balanced figure, that stood without support of any
kind, with both arms thrust into the bosom of a jacket, and a head that
turned slowly to the west and south, as if it were examining the ocean in
Stepping lightly up the ladder, Ludlow saw that it was the veteran seaman
who was rated as the captain of the forecastle.
"I am glad, at last, to find one pair of eyes open, in my ship," said the
captain. "Of the whole watch, you alone are alert."
"I have doubled cape fifty, your Honor, and the seaman who has made that
voyage, rarely wants the second call of the boatswain. Young heads have
young eyes, and sleep is next to food, after a heavy drag at gun-tackles
"And what draws your attention so steadily in that quarter? There is
nothing visible but the haze of the sea."
"'Tis the direction of the Frenchmen, Sir--does your Honor hear nothing?"
"Nothing;" said Ludlow, after intently listening for half a minute.
"Nothing, unless it be the wash of the surf on the beach."
"It may be only fancy, but there came a sound like the fall of an
oar-blade on a thwart, and 'tis but natural, your Honor, to expect the
mounsheer will be out, in this smooth water, to see what has become of
us.--There went the flash of a light, or my name is not Bob Cleet!"
Ludlow was silent. A light was certainly visible in the quarter where the
enemy was known to be anchored, and it came and disappeared like a moving
lantern. At length it was seen to descend slowly, and vanish as if it were
extinguished in the water.
"That lantern went into a boat, Captain Ludlow, though a lubber carried
it!" said the positive old forecastle-man, shaking his head and beginning
to pace across the deck, with the air of a man who needed no further
confirmation of his suspicions.
Ludlow returned towards the quarter-deck, thoughtful but calm. He passed
among his sleeping crew, without awaking a man, and even forbearing to
touch the still motionless midshipman, he entered his cabin without
The commander of the Coquette was absent but a few minutes. When he again
appeared on deck, there was more of decision and of preparation in his
"'Tis time to call the watch, Mr. Reef;" he whispered at the elbow of the
drowsy officer of the deck, without betraying his consciousness of the
youth's forgetfulness of duty. "The glass is out."
"Ay, ay, Sir.--Bear a hand, and turn the glass!" muttered the young man.
"A fine night, Sir, and very smooth water.--I was just thinking of----"
"Home and thy mother! 'Tis the way with us all in youth. Well, we have
now something else to occupy the thoughts. Muster all the gentlemen, here,
on the quarter-deck, Sir."
"When the half-sleeping midshipman quitted his captain to obey this order,
the latter drew near the spot where Trysail still lay in an unquiet sleep.
A light touch of a single finger was sufficient to raise the master on his
feet. The first look of the veteran tar was aloft, the second at the
heavens, and the last at his captain.
"I fear thy wound stiffens, and that the night air has added to the pain?"
observed the latter, speaking in a kind and considerate tone.
"The wounded spar cannot be trusted like a sound stick, Captain Ludlow;
but as I am no foot-soldier on a march, the duty of the ship may go on
without my calling for a horse."
"I rejoice in thy cheerful spirit, my old friend, for here is serious work
likely to fall upon our hands. The Frenchmen are in their boats, and we
shall shortly be brought to close quarters, or prognostics are false."
"Boats!" repeated the master. "I had rather it were under our canvas, with
a stiff breeze! The play of this ship is a lively foot, and a touching
leech but, when, it comes to boats, a marine is nearly as good a man as a
"We must take fortune as it offers.--Here is our council!--It is composed
of young heads, but of hearts that might do credit to gray hairs."
Ludlow joined the little group of officers that was by this time assembled
near the capstan. Here, in a few words, he explained the reason why he had
summoned them from their sleep. When each of the youths understood his
orders, and the nature of the new danger that threatened the ship, they
separated, and began to enter with activity, but in guarded silence, on
the necessary preparations. The sound of footsteps awoke a dozen of the
older seamen, who immediately joined their officers.
Half an hour passed like a moment, in such an occupation. At the end of
that time, Ludlow deemed his ship ready. The two forward guns had been run
in, and the shot having been drawn, their places were supplied with double
charges of grape and canister. Several Swivels, a species of armament much
used in that age, were loaded to the muzzles, and placed in situations to
rake the deck, while the fore-top was plentifully stored with arms and
ammunition. The matches were prepared, and then the whole of the crew was
mustered, by a particular call of each man. Five minutes sufficed to issue
the necessary orders, and to see each post occupied. After this, the low
hum ceased in the ship, and the silence again became so deep and general,
that the wash of the receding surf was nearly as audible as the plunge of
the wave on the sands.
Ludlow stood on the forecastle, accompanied by the master. Here he lent
all his senses to the appearance of the elements, and to the signs of the
moment. Wind there was none, though occasionally a breath of hot air came
from the land, like the first efforts of the night-breeze. The heavens
were clouded, though a few thoughtful stars glimmered between the masses
"A calmer night never shut in the Americas!" said the veteran Trysail,
shaking his head doubtingly and speaking in a suppressed and cautious
tone. "I am one of those, Captain Ludlow, who think more than half the
virtue is out of a ship when her anchor is down!"
"With a weakened crew, it may be better for us that the people have no
yards to handle, nor any bowlines to steady. All our care can be given to
"This is much like telling the hawk he can fight the better with a
clipped wing, since he has not the trouble of flying! The nature of a ship
is motion, and the merit of a seaman is judicious and lively
handling;--but of what use is complaining, since it will neither lift an
anchor nor fill a sail? What is your opinion, Captain Ludlow, concerning
an after life, and of all those matters one occasionally hears of it he
happens to drift in the way of a church?"
"The question is broad as the ocean, my good friend, and a fitting answer
might lead us into abstrusities deeper than any problem in our
trigonometry.--Was that the stroke of an oar?"
"'Twas a land noise. Well, I am no great navigator among the crooked
channels of religion. Every new argument is a sand-bar, or a shoal, that
obliges me to tack and stand off again; else I might have been a bishop,
for any thing the world knows to the contrary. 'Tis a gloomy night,
Captain Ludlow, and one that is sparing of its stars. I never knew luck
come of an expedition on which a natural light did not fall!"
"So much the worse for those who seek to harm us.--I surely heard an oar
in the row-lock!"
"It came from the shore, and had the sound of the land about it;" quietly
returned the master, who still kept his look riveted on the heavens. "This
world, in which we live, Captain Ludlow, is one of extraordinary uses; but
that, to which we are steering, is still more unaccountable. They say that
worlds are sailing above us, like ships in a clear sea; and there are
people who believe, that when we take our departure from this planet, we
are only bound to another, in which we are to be rated according to our
own deeds here; which is much the same as being drafted for a new ship,
with a certificate of service in one's pocket."
"The resemblance is perfect;" returned the other leaning far over a
timber-head, to catch the smallest sound that might come from the ocean.
"That was no more than the blowing of a porpoise!"
"It was strong enough for the puff of a whale. There is no scarcity of big
fish on the coast of this island, and bold harpooners are the men who are
scattered about on the sandy downs, here-away, to the northward. I once
sailed with an officer who knew the name, of every star in the heavens,
and often have I passed hours in listening to his history of their
magnitude and character, during the middle watches. It was his opinion,
that there is but one navigator for all the rovers of the air, whether
meteors, comets, or planets."
"No doubt he must be right, having been there."
"No, that is more than I can say for him, though few men have gone deeper
into the high latitudes on both sides of our own equator, than he. One
surely spoke--here, in a line with yonder low star!"
"Was it not a water-fowl?"
"No gull--ha! here we have the object, just within the starboard
jib-boom-guy. There comes the Frenchman in his pride, and 'twill be lucky
for him who lives to count the slain, or to boast of his deeds!"
The master descended from the forecastle, and passed among the crew, with
every thought recalled from its excursive flight to the duty of the
moment. Ludlow continued on the forecastle, alone. There was a low,
whispering sound in the ship, like that which is made by the murmuring of
a rising breeze,--and then all was still as death.
The Coquette lay with her head to seaward, the stern necessarily pointing
towards the land. The distance from the latter was less than a mile, and
the direction of the ship's hull was caused by the course of the heavy
ground-swell, which incessantly rolled the waters on the wide beach of the
island. The head-gear lay in the way of the dim _view_, and Ludlow walked
out on the bowsprit, in order that nothing should lie between him and the
part of the ocean he wished to study. Here he had not stood a minute, when
he caught, first a confused and then a more distinct glimpse of a line of
dark objects, advancing slowly towards the ship. Assured of the position
of his enemy, he returned in-board, and descended among his people. In
another moment he was again on the forecastle, across which he paced
leisurely, and, to all appearance, with the calmness of one who enjoyed
the refreshing coolness of the night.
At the distance of a hundred fathoms, the dusky line of boats paused, and
began to change its order. At that instant the first puffs of the land
breeze were felt, and the stern of the ship made a gentle inclination
"Help her with the mizen! Let fall the top-sail!" whispered the young
captain to those beneath him. Ere another moment, the flap of the loosened
sail was heard. The ship swung still further, and Ludlow stamped on the
A round fiery light shot beyond the martingale, and the smoke rolled along
the sea, outstripped by a crowd of missiles that were hissing across the
water. A shout, in which command was mingled with shrieks, followed, and
then oar-blades were heard dashing the water aside, regardless of
concealment. The ocean lighted, and three or four boat-guns returned the
fatal discharge from the ship. Ludlow had not spoken. Still alone on his
elevated and exposed post, he watched the effects of both fires, with a
commander's coolness. The smile that struggled about his compressed mouth,
when the momentary confusion among the boats betrayed the success of his
own attack, had been wild and exulting; but when he heard the rending of
the plank beneath him, the heavy groans that succeeded, and the rattling
of lighter objects that were scattered by the shot, as it passed with
lessened force along the deck of his ship, it became fierce and resentful.
"Let them have it!" he shouted, in a clear animating voice, that assured
the people of his presence and his care. "Show them the humor of an
Englishman's sleep, my lads! Speak to them, tops and decks!"
The order was obeyed. The remaining bow-gun was fired, and the discharge
of all the Coquette's musketry and blunderbusses followed. A crowd of
boats came sweeping under the bowsprit of the ship at the same moment, and
then arose the clamor and shouts of the boarders.
The succeeding minutes were full of confusion, and of devoted exertion.
Twice were the head and bowsprit of the ship filled with dark groups of
men, whose grim visages were only visible by the pistol's flash, and as
often were they cleared by the pike and bayonet. A third effort was more
successful, and the tread of the assailants was heard on the deck of the
forecastle. The struggle was but momentary, though many fell, and the
narrow arena was soon slippery with blood. The Boulognese mariner was
foremost among his countrymen, and at that desperate emergency Ludlow and
Trysail fought in the common herd. Numbers prevailed, and it was fortunate
for the commander of the Coquette, that the sudden recoil of a human body
that fell upon him, drove him from his footing to the deck beneath.
Recovering from the fall, the young captain cheered his men by his voice,
and was answered by the deep-mouthed shouts, which an excited seaman is
ever ready to deliver, even to the death.
"Rally in the gangways, and defy them!" was the animated cry--"Rally in
the gangways, hearts of oak." was returned by Trysail, in a ready but
weakened voice. The men obeyed, and Ludlow saw that he could still muster
a force capable of resistance.
Both parties for a moment paused. The fire of the top annoyed the
boarders, and the defendants hesitated to advance. But the rush from both
was common, and a fierce encounter occurred at the foot of the fore-mast.
The crowd thickened in the rear of the French, and one of their number no
sooner fell than another filled his place. The English receded, and
Ludlow, extricating himself from the mass, retired to the quarter-deck.
"Give way, men!" he again shouted, so clear and steady, as to be heard
above the cries and execrations of the fight. "Into the wings;
down,--between the guns--down--to your covers!"
The English disappeared, as if by magic. Some leaped upon the ridge-ropes,
others sought the protection of the guns, and many went through the
hatches. At that moment Ludlow made his most desperate effort. Aided by
the gunner, he applied matches to the two swivels, which had been placed
in readiness for a last resort. The deck was enveloped in smoke, and, when
the vapor lifted, the forward part of the ship was as clear as if man had
never trod it. All who had not fallen, had vanished.
A shout, and a loud hurrah! brought back the defendants, and Ludlow headed
a charge upon the top-gallant-forecastle, again, in person. A few of the
assailants showed themselves from behind covers on the deck, and the
struggle was renewed. Glaring balls of fire sailed over the heads of the
combatants, and fell among the throng in the rear. Ludlow saw the danger,
and he endeavored to urge his people on to regain the bow-guns, one of
which was known to be loaded. But the explosion of a grenade on deck, and
in his rear, was followed by a shock in the hold, that threatened to force
the bottom out of the vessel. The alarmed and weakened crew began to
waver, and as a fresh attack of grenades was followed by a fierce rally,
in which the assailants brought up fifty men in a body from their boats,
Ludlow found himself compelled to retire amid the retreating mass of his
The defence now assumed the character of hopeless but desperate
resistance. The cries of the enemy were more and more clamorous; and they
succeeded in nearly silencing the top, by a heavy fire of musketry
established on the bowsprit and sprit-sail-yard.
Events passed much faster than they can be related. The enemy were in
possession of all the forward part of the ship to her fore-hatches, but
into these young Hopper had thrown himself, with half-a-dozen men, and,
aided by a brother midshipman in the launch, backed by a few followers,
they still held the assailants at bay. Ludlow cast an eye behind him, and
began to think of selling his life as dearly as possible in the cabins.
That glance was arrested by the sight of the malign smile of the sea-green
lady, as the gleaming face rose above the taffrail. A dozen dark forms
leaped upon the poop, and then arose a voice that sent every tone it
uttered to his heart.
"Abide the shock!" was the shout of those who came to the succor; and
"abide the shock!" was echoed by the crew. The mysterious image glided
along the deck, and Ludlow knew the athletic frame that brushed through
the throng at its side.
There was little noise in the onset, save the groans of the sufferers. It
endured but a moment, but it was a moment that resembled the passage of a
whirlwind. The defendants knew that they were succored, and the assailants
recoiled before so unexpected a foe. The few that were caught beneath the
forecastle were mercilessly slain, and those above were swept from their
post like chaff drifting in a gale. The living and the dead were heard
falling alike into the sea, and in an unconceivably short space of time,
the decks of the Coquette were free. A solitary enemy still hesitated on
the bowsprit. A powerful and active frame leaped along the spar, and
though the blow was not seen, its effects were visible, as the victim
tumbled helplessly into the ocean.
The hurried dash of oars followed, and before the defendants had time to
assure themselves of the completeness of their success, the gloomy void of
the surrounding ocean had swallowed up the boats.
"That face of his I do remember well;
Yet, when I saw it last, it was besmear'd
As black as Vulcan, in the smoke of war."
What You Will.
From the moment when the Coquette fired her first gun, to the moment when
the retiring boats became invisible, was just twenty minutes. Of this
time, less than half had been occupied by the incidents related, in the
ship. Short as it was in truth, it seemed to all engaged but an instant.
The alarm was over, the sound of the oars had ceased, and still the
survivors stood at their posts, as if expecting the attack to be renewed.
Then came those personal thoughts, which had been suspended in the fearful
exigency of such a struggle. The wounded began to feel their pain, and to
be sensible of the danger of their injuries; while the few, who had
escaped unhurt, turned a friendly care on their shipmates. Ludlow as often
happens with the bravest and most exposed, had escaped without a scratch;
but he saw by the drooping forms around him, which were no longer
sustained by the excitement of battle, that his triumph was dearly
"Send Mr. Trysail to me;" he said, in a tone that had little of a victor's
exultation. "The land breeze has made, and we will endeavor to improve it,
and get inside the cape, lest the morning light give us more of these
The order for 'Mr. Trysail!' 'the captain calls the master!' passed in a
low call from mouth to mouth, but it was unanswered. A seaman told the
expecting young commander, that the surgeon desired his presence forward.
A gleaming of lights and a little group at the foot of the fore-mast, was
a beacon not to be mistaken. The weatherbeaten master was in the agony;
and his medical attendant had just risen from a fruitless examination of
his wounds, as Ludlow approached.
"I hope the hurt is not serious?" hurriedly whispered the alarmed young
sailor to the surgeon, who was coolly collecting his implements, in order
to administer to some more promising subject. "Neglect nothing that your
art can suggest."
"The case is desperate, Captain Ludlow," returned the phlegmatic surgeon;
"but if you have a taste for such things, there is as beautiful a case
for amputation promised in the fore-topman whom I have had sent below, as
offers once in a whole life of active practice!"
"Go, go--" interrupted Ludlow, half pushing the unmoved man of blood away,
as he spoke; "go, then, where your services are needed."
The other cast a glance around him, reproved his attendant, in a sharp
tone, for unnecessarily exposing the blade of some ferocious-looking
instrument to the dew, and departed.
"Would to God, that some portion of these injuries had befallen those who
are younger and stronger!" murmured the captain, as he leaned over the
dying master. "Can I do aught to relieve thy mind, my old and worthy
"I have had my misgivings, since we have dealt with witchcraft!" returned
Trysail, whose voice the rattling of the throat had already nearly
silenced "I have had misgivings--but no matter. Take care of the ship--I
have been thinking of our people--you'll have to cut--they can never lift
the anchor--the wind is here at north."
"All this is ordered. Trouble thyself no further about the vessel; she
shall be taken care of, I promise you.--Speak of thy wife, and of thy
wishes in England."
"God bless Mrs. Trysail! She'll get a pension, and I hope contentment! You
must give the reef a good, berth, in rounding Montauk--and you'll
naturally wish to find the anchors again, when the coast is clear--if you
can find it in your conscience, say a good word of poor old Ben Trysail,
in the dispatches--"
The voice of the master sunk to a whisper, and became inaudible. Ludlow
thought he strove to speak again, and he bent his ear to his mouth.
"I say--the weather-main-swifter and both backstays are gone; Look to the
spars, for--for--there are sometimes--heavy puffs at night--in the
The last heavy respiration succeeded, after which came the long silence of
death. The body was removed to the poop, and Ludlow, with a saddened
heart, turned to duties that this accident rendered still more imperative.
Notwithstanding the heavy loss, and the originally weakened state of her
crew, the sails of the Coquette were soon spread, and the ship moved away
in silence; as if sorrowing for those who had fallen at her anchorage.
When the vessel was fairly in motion, her captain ascended to the poop, in
order to command a clearer view of all around him, as well as to profit
by the situation to arrange his plans for the future. He found he had
been anticipated by the free-trader.
"I owe my ship--I may say my life, since in such a conflict they would
have gone together, to thy succor!" said the young commander, as he
approached the motionless form of the smuggler. "Without it, Queen Anne
would have lost a cruiser, and the flag of England a portion of its
"May thy royal mistress prove as ready to remember her friends, in
emergencies, as mine. In good truth, there was little time to lose, and
trust me, we well understood the extremity. If we were tardy, it was
because whale-boats were to be brought from a distance; for the land lies
between my brigantine and the sea."
"He who came so opportunely, and acted so well, needs no apology."
"Captain Ludlow, are we friends?"
"It cannot be otherwise. All minor considerations must be lost in such a
service. If it is your intention to push this illegal trade further, on
the coast, I must seek another station."
"Not so.--Remain, and do credit to your flag, and the land of your birth.
I have long thought that this is the last time the keel of the Water-Witch
will ever plow the American seas. Before I quit you, I would have an
interview with the merchant. A worse man might have fallen, and just now
even a better man might be spared. I hope no harm has come to him?"
"He has shown the steadiness of his Holland lineage, to-day. During the
boarding, he was useful and cool."
"It is well. Let the Alderman be summoned to the deck, for my time is
limited, and I have much to say,-----"
The Skimmer paused, for at that moment a fierce light glared upon the
ocean, the ship, and all in it. The two seamen gazed at each other in
silence and both recoiled, as men recede before an unexpected and fearful
attack. But a bright and wavering light, which rose out of the forward
hatch of the vessel explained all. At the same moment, the deep stillness
which, since the bustle of making sail had ceased, pervaded the ship, was
broken by the appalling cry of "Fire!"
The alarm which brings the blood in the swiftest current to a seaman's
heart, was now heard in the depths of the vessel. The smothered sounds
below, the advancing uproar, and the rush on deck, with the awful summons
in the open air, succeeded each other with the rapidity of lightning. A
dozen voices repeated the word 'the grenade!' proclaiming in a breath both
the danger and the cause. But an instant before, the swelling canvas, the
dusky spars, and the faint lines of the cordage, were only to be traced by
the glimmering light of the stars; and now the whole hamper of the ship
was the more conspicuous, from the obscure back-ground against which it
was drawn in distinct lines. The sight was fearfully beautiful;--beautiful,
for it showed the symmetry and fine outlines of the vessel's rig,
resembling the effect of a group of statuary seen by torch-light,--and
fearful, since the dark void beyond seemed to declare their isolated and
There was one breathless, eloquent moment, in which all were seen gazing
at the grand spectacle in mute awe,--and then a voice rose, clear,
distinct, and commanding, above the sullen sound of the torrent of fire,
which was roaring among the avenues of the ship.
"Call all hands to extinguish fire! Gentlemen, to your stations. Be cool,
men; and be silent!"
There was a calmness and an authority in the tones of the young commander,
that curbed the impetuous feelings of the startled crew. Accustomed to
obedience, and trained to order, each man broke out of his trance, and
eagerly commenced the discharge of his allotted duty. At that instant, an
erect and unmoved form stood on the combings of the main hatch. A hand was
raised in the air, and the call, which came from the deep chest, was like
that of one used to speak in the tempest.
"Where are my brigantines?" it said--"Come away there, my sea-dogs; wet
the light sails, and follow!"
A group of grave and submissive mariners gathered about the 'Skimmer of
the Seas,' at the sound of his voice. Glancing an eye over them, as if to
scan their quality and number, he smiled, with a look in which high daring
and practised self-command was blended with a constitutional gaite de
"One deck, or two!"--he added; "what avails a plank, more or less, in an
The free-trader and his people disappeared in the interior of the ship. An
interval of great and resolute exertion succeeded. Blankets, sails, and
everything which offered, and which promised to be of use, were wetted and
cast upon the flames. The engine was brought to bear, and the ship was
deluged with water. But the confined space, with the heat and smoke,
rendered it impossible to penetrate to those parts of the vessel where the
conflagration raged. The ardor of the men abated as hope lessened, and
after half an hour of fruitless exertion, Ludlow saw, with pain, that his
assistants began to yield to the inextinguishable principle of nature. The
appearance of the Skimmer on deck, followed by all his people, destroyed
hope, and every effort ceased as suddenly as it had commenced.
"Think of your wounded;" whispered the free-trader, with a steadiness no
danger could disturb. "We stand on a raging volcano!"
"I have ordered the gunner to drown the magazine."
"He was too late. The hold of the ship is a fiery furnace. I heard him
fall among the store-rooms, and it surpassed the power of man to give the
wretch succor. The grenade has fallen near some combustibles, and, painful
as it is to part with a ship so loved Ludlow, thou wilt meet the loss like
a man! Think of thy wounded; my boats are still hanging at the stern."
Ludlow reluctantly, but firmly, gave the order to bear the wounded to the
boats. This was an arduous and delicate duty. The smallest boy in the ship
knew the whole extent of the danger, and that a moment, by the explosion
of the powder, might precipitate them all into eternity. The deck forward
was getting too hot to be endured, and there were places even in which the
beams had given symptoms of yielding.
But the poop, elevated still above the fire, offered a momentary refuge.
Thither all retired, while the weak and wounded were lowered, with the
caution circumstances would permit, into the whale-boats of the smugglers.
Ludlow stood at one ladder and the free-trader at the other, in order to
be certain that none proved recreant in so trying a moment. Near them were
Alida, Seadrift, and the Alderman, with the attendants of the former.
It seemed an age, before this humane and tender duty was performed. At
length the cry of "all in!" was uttered, in a manner to betray the extent
of the self-command that had been necessary to effect it.
"Now, Alida, we may think of thee!" said Ludlow, turning to the spot
occupied by the silent heiress.
"And you!" she said, hesitating to move.
"Duty demands that I should be the last--"
A sharp explosion beneath, and fragments of fire flying upwards through a
hatch, interrupted his words. Plunges into the sea, and a rush of the
people to the boats, followed. All order and authority were completely
lost, in the instinct of life. In vain did Ludlow call on his men to be
cool, and to wait for those who were still above. His words were lost, in
the uproar of clamorous voices. For a moment, it seemed, however, as if
the Skimmer of the Seas would overcome the confusion. Throwing himself on
a ladder, he glided into the bows of one of the boats, and, holding by the
ropes with a vigorous arm, he resisted the efforts of all the oars and
boat-hooks, while he denounced destruction on him who dared to quit the
ship. Had not the two crews been mingled, the high authority and
determined mien of the free-trader would have prevailed; but while some
were disposed to obey, others raised the cry of "throw the dealer in
witchcraft into the sea!"--Boat-hooks were already pointed at his breast,
and the horrors of the fearful moment were about to be increased by the
violence of a mutinous contention, when a second explosion nerved the arms
of the rowers to madness. With a common and desperate effort, they
overcame all resistance. Swinging off upon the ladder, the furious seaman
saw the boat glide from his grasp, and depart. The execration that was
uttered, beneath the stern of the Coquette, was deep and powerful; but, in
another moment, the Skimmer stood on the poop, calm and undejected, in the
centre of the deserted group.
"The explosion of a few of the officers' pistols has frightened the
miscreants;" he said, cheerfully "But hope is not yet lost!--they linger
in the distance, and may return!"
The sight of the helpless party on the poop, and the consciousness of
being less exposed themselves, had indeed arrested the progress of the
fugitives. Still, selfishness predominated; and while most regretted
their danger, none but the young and unheeded midshipmen, who were neither
of an age nor of a rank to wield sufficient authority, proposed to return.
There was little argument necessary to show that the perils increased at
each moment; and, finding that no other expedient remained, the gallant
youths encouraged the men to pull towards the land; intending themselves
to return instantly to the assistance of their commander and his friends.
The oars dashed into the water again, and the retiring boats were soon
lost to view in the body of darkness.
While the fire had been raging within, another element, without, had aided
to lessen hope for those who were abandoned. The wind from the land had
continued to rise, and, during the time lost in useless exertion, the ship
had been permitted to run nearly before it. When hope was gone, the helm
had been deserted, and as all the lower sails had been hauled up to avoid
the flames, the vessel had drifted, many minutes, nearly dead to leeward.
The mistaken youths, who had not attended to these circumstances, were
already miles from that beach they hoped to reach so soon; and ere the
boats had separated from the ship five minutes, they were hopelessly
asunder. Ludlow had early thought of the expedient of stranding the
vessel, as the means of saving her people; but his better knowledge of
their position, soon showed him the utter futility of the attempt.
Of the progress of the flames beneath, the mariners could only judge by
circumstances. The Skimmer glanced his eye about him, on regaining the
poop, and appeared to scan the amount and quality of the physical force
that was still at their disposal. He saw that the Alderman, the faithful
Francois, and two of his own seamen, with four of the petty officers of
the ship, remained. The six latter, even in that moment of desperation,
had calmly refused to desert their officers.
"The flames are in the state-rooms!" he whispered to Ludlow.
"Not further aft, I think, than the berths of the midshipmen--else we
should hear more pistols."
"True--they are fearful signals to let us know the progress of the
fire!--our resource is a raft."
Ludlow looked as if he despaired of the means but, concealing the
discouraging fear, he answered cheerfully in the affirmative. The orders
were instantly given, and all on board gave themselves to the task, heart
and hand. The danger was one that admitted of no ordinary or
half-conceived expedients; but, in such an emergency, it required all the
readiness of their art, and even the greatness of that conception which is
the property of genius. All distinctions of rank and authority had ceased,
except as deference was paid to natural qualities and the intelligence of
experience. Under such circumstances, the 'Skimmer of the Seas' took the
lead; and though Ludlow caught his ideas with professional quickness, it
was the mind of the free-trader that controlled, throughout, the
succeeding exertions of that fearful night.
The cheek of Alida was blanched to a deadly paleness; but there rested
about the bright and wild eyes of Seadrift, an expression of supernatural
When the crew abandoned the hope of extinguishing the flames, they had
closed all the hatches, to retard the crisis as much as possible. Here and
there, however, little torch-like lights were beginning to show themselves
through the planks, and the whole deck, forward of the main-mast, was
already in a critical and sinking state. One or two of the beams had
failed, but, as yet, the form of the construction was preserved. Still the
seamen distrusted the treacherous footing, and, had the heat permitted the
experiment, they would have shrunk from a risk which at any unexpected
moment might commit them to the fiery furnace beneath.
The smoke ceased, and a clear, powerful light illuminated the ship to her
trucks. In consequence of the care and exertions of her people, the sails
and masts were yet untouched; and as the graceful canvas swelled with the
breeze, it still urged the blazing hull through the water.
The forms of the Skimmer and his assistants were visible, in the midst of
the gallant gear, perched on the giddy yards. Seen by that light, with his
peculiar attire, his firm and certain step, and his resolute air, the
free-trader resembled some fancied sea-god, who, secure in his immortal
immunities, had come to act his part in that awful but exciting trial of
hardihood and skill. Seconded by the common men, he was employed in
cutting the canvas from the yards. Sail after sail fell upon the deck,
and, in an incredibly short space of time, the whole of the fore-mast was
naked to its spars and rigging.
In the mean time, Ludlow, assisted by the Alderman and Francois, had not
been idle below. Passing forward between the empty ridge-ropes, lanyard
after lanyard parted under the blows of their little boarding-axes. The
mast now depended on the strength of the wood and the support of a single
"Lay down!" shouted Ludlow. "All is gone aft, but this stay!"
The Skimmer leaped upon the firm rope, followed by all aloft, and, gliding
downwards, he was instantly in the hammock-cloths. A crash followed their
descent, and an explosion, which caused the whole of the burning fabric to
tremble to its centre, seemed to announce the end of all. Even the
free-trader recoiled before the horrible din; but when he stood near
Seadrift and the heiress again, there was cheerfulness in his tones, and a
look of high, and even of gay resolution, in his firm countenance.
"The deck has failed forwards," he said, "and our artillery is beginning
to utter fearful signal-guns! Be of cheer!--the magazine of a ship-lies
deep, and many sheathed bulk-heads still protect us."
Another discharge from a heated gun, however proclaimed the rapid progress
of the flames. The fire broke out of the interior anew, and the fore mast
"There must be an end of this!" said Alida, clasping her hands in a terror
that could not be controlled. "Save yourselves, if possible, you who have
strength and courage, and leave us to the mercy of him whose eye is over
"Go;" added Seadrift, whose sex could no longer be concealed. "Human
courage can do no more: leave us to die!"
The looks, that were returned to these sad requests, were melancholy but
unmoved. The Skimmer caught a rope, and still holding it in his hand, he
descended to the quarter-deck, on which he at first trusted his weight
with jealous caution. Then looking up, he smiled encouragingly, and
said,--"Where a gun still stands, there is no danger for the weight of a
"It is our only resource;" cried Ludlow, imitating his example. "On, my
men, while the beams will still hold us."
In a moment, all were on the quarter-deck, though the excessive heat
rendered it impossible to remain stationary an instant. A gun on each side
was run in, its tackles loosened, and its muzzle pointed towards the
tottering, unsupported, but still upright fore-mast.
"Aim at the cleets!" said Ludlow to the Skimmer who pointed one gun, while
he did the same office at the other.
"Hold!" cried the latter "Throw in shot--it is out the chance between a
bursting gun and a lighted magazine!"
Additional balls were introduced into each piece; and then, with steady
hands, the gallant mariners applied burning brands to the priming. The
discharges were simultaneous and, for an instant, volumes of smoke rolled
along the deck and seemed to triumph over the conflagration. The rending
of wood was audible. It was followed by a sweeping noise in the air, and
the fall of the fore-mast, with all its burden of spars, into the sea. The
motion of the ship was instantly arrested, and, as the heavy timbers were
still attached to the bowsprit by the forward stays, her head came to the
wind, when the remaining top-sails flapped, shivered, and took aback.
The vessel was now, for the first time during the fire, stationary. The
common mariners profited by the circumstance, and, darting past the
mounting flame along the bulwarks, they gained the top-gallant-forecastle,
which though heated was yet untouched. The Skimmer glanced an eye about
him, and seizing Seadrift by the waist, as if the mimic seaman had been a
child, he pushed forward between the ridge-ropes. Ludlow followed with
Alida, and the others intimated their example in the best manner they
could. All reached the head of the ship in safety; though Ludlow had been
driven by the flames into the fore-channels, and thence nearly into the
The petty officers were already on the floating spars, separating them
from each other, cutting away the unnecessary weight of rigging, bringing
the several parts of the wood in parallel lines, and lashing them anew.
Ever and anon, these rapid movements were quickened by one of those
fearful signals from the officers' berths, which, by announcing the
progress of the flames beneath, betrayed their increasing proximity to
the still-slumbering volcano. The boats had been gone an hour, and yet it
seemed, to all in the ship, but a minute. The conflagration had, for the
last ten minutes, advanced with renewed fury; and the whole of the
confined flame, which had been so long pent in the depths of the vessel
now glared high in the open air.
"This heat can no longer be borne," said Ludlow; "we must to our raft, for
"To the raft then!" returned the cheerful voice of the free-trader. "Haul
in upon your fasts, men, and stand by to receive the precious freight."
The seamen obeyed. Alida and her companions were lowered safely to the
place prepared for then reception. The fore-mast had gone over the side,
with all its spars aloft; for preparation had been made, before the fire
commenced, to carry sail to the utmost, in order to escape the enemy. The
skilful and active seamen, directed and aided by Ludlow and the Skimmer,
had made a simple but happy disposition of those boy ant materials on
which their all now depended. In settling in the water, the yards, still
crossed, had happily fallen uppermost. The booms and all the light spars
had been floated near the top, and laid across, reaching from the lower to
the top-sail-yard. A few light spars, stowed outboard, had been cut away
and added to the number, and the whole were secured with the readiness and
ingenuity of seamen. On the first alarm of fire, some of the crew had
seized a few light articles that would float, and rushed to the head, as
the place most remote from the magazine, in the blind hope of saving life
by swimming. Most of these articles had been deserted, when the people
were rallied to exertion by their officers. A couple of empty shot-boxes
and a mess-chest were among them, and on the latter were seated the
females, while the former served to keep their feet from the water. As the
arrangement of the spars forced the principal mast entirely beneath the
element, and the ship was so small as to need little artificial work in
her masting, the part around the top, which contained the staging, was
scarcely submerged. Although a ton in weight was added to the inherent
gravity of the wood, still as the latter was of the lightest description,
and freed as much as possible of every thing that was unnecessary to the
safety of those it supported, the spars floated sufficiently, buoyant for
the temporary security of the fugitives.
"Cut the fast!" said Ludlow, involuntarily starting at several explosions
in the interior, which followed each other in quick succession, and which
were succeeded by one which sent fragments of burning wood into the air.
"Cut, and bear the raft off the ship!--God knows, we have need to be
"Cut not!" cried the half-frantic Seadrift--"My brave!--my devoted!--"
"Is safe;--" calmly said the Skimmer, appearing in the rattlings of the
main-rigging, which was still untouched by the fire--"Cut off all! I stay
to brace the mizen-top-sail more firmly aback."
The duty was done, and for a moment the fine figure of the free-trader was
seen standing on the edge of the burning ship, looking with regret at the
"'Tis the end of a lovely craft!" he said, loud enough to be heard by
those beneath. Then he appeared in the air, and sunk into the sea--"The
last signal was from the ward-room," added the dauntless and dexterous
mariner, as he rose from the water, and, shaking the brine from his head,
he took his place on the stage--"Would to God the wind would blow, for we
have need of greater distance!"
The precaution the free-trader had taken, in adjusting the sails, was not
without its use. Motion the raft had none, but as the top-sails of the
Coquette were still aback, the naming mass, no longer arrested by the
clogs in the water, began slowly to separate from the floating spars,
though the tottering and half-burnt masts threatened, at each moment, to
Never did moments seem so long, as those which succeeded. Even the Skimmer
and Ludlow watched in speechless interest, the tardy movements of the
ship. By little and little, she receded; and, after ten minutes of intense
expectation, the seamen, whose anxiety had increased as their exertions
ended, began to breathe more freely. They were still fearfully near the
dangerous fabric, but destruction from the explosion was no longer
inevitable. The flames began to glide upwards, and then the heavens
appeared on fire, as one heated sail after another kindled and flared
wildly in the breeze.
Still the stern of the vessel was entire. The body of the master was
seated against the mizen-mast, and even the stern visage of the old seaman
was distinctly visible, under the broad light of the conflagration. Ludlow
gazed at it in melancholy, and for a time he ceased to think of his ship,
while memory dwelt, in sadness, on those scenes of boyish happiness, and
of professional pleasures, in which his ancient shipmate had so largely
participated. The roar of a gun, whose stream of fire flashed nearly to
their faces, and the sullen whistling of its shot, which crossed the raft,
failed to awaken him from his trance.
"Stand firm to the mess-chest!" half-whispered the Skimmer, motioning to
his companions to place themselves in attitudes to support the weaker of
their party, while, with sedulous care, he braced his own athletic person
in a manner to throw all of its weight and strength against the seat.
"Stand firm, and be ready!"
Ludlow complied, though his eye scarce changed its direction. He saw the
bright flame that was rising above the arm-chest, and he fancied that it
came from the funeral pile of the young Dumont, whose fate, at that
moment, he was almost disposed to envy. Then his look returned to the grim
countenance of Trysail. At moments, it seemed as if the dead master spoke;
and so strong did the illusion become, that our young sailor more than
once bent forward to listen. While under this delusion, the body rose,
with the arms stretched upwards. The air was filled with a sheet of
streaming fire, while the ocean and the heavens glowed with one glare of
intense and fiery red. Notwithstanding the precaution of the 'Skimmer of
the Seas,' the chest was driven from its place, and those by whom it was
held were nearly precipitated into the water. A deep, heavy detonation
proceeded as it were from the bosom of the sea, which, while it wounded
the ear less than the sharp explosion that had just before issued from the
gun, was audible at the distant capes of the Delaware. The body of Trysail
sailed upward for fifty fathoms, in the centre of a flood of flame, and,
describing a short curve, it came towards the raft, and cut the water
within reach of the captain's arm. A sullen plunge of a gun followed, and
proclaimed the tremendous power of the explosion; while a ponderous yard
fell athwart a part of the raft, sweeping away the four petty officers of
Ludlow, as if they had been dust driving before a gale. To increase the
wild and fearful grandeur of the dissolution of the royal cruiser, one of
the cannon emitted its fiery contents while sailing in the void.
The burning spars, the falling fragments, the blazing and scattered canvas
and cordage, the glowing shot, and all the torn particles of the ship,
were seen descending. Then followed the gurgling of water, as the ocean
swallowed all that remained of the cruiser which had so long been the
pride of the American seas. The fiery glow disappeared, and a gloom like
that which succeeds the glare of vivid lightning, fell on the scene.
"--Please you, read."
"It is past!" said the 'Skimmer of the Seas,' raising himself from the
attitude of great muscular exertion, which he had assumed in order to
support the mess-chest, and walking out along the single mast, towards the
spot whence the four seamen of Ludlow had just been swept. "It is past!
and those who are called to the last account, have met their fate in such
a scene as none but a seaman may witness; while those who are spared, have
need of all a seaman's skill and resolution for that which remains!
Captain Ludlow, I do not despair; for, see, the lady of the brigantine has
still a smile for her servitors!"
Ludlow, who had followed the steady and daring free-trader to the place
where the spar had fallen, turned and cast a look in the direction that
the other stretched his arm. Within a hundred feet of him, he saw the
image of the sea-green lady, rocking in the agitated water, and turned
towards the raft, with its usual expression of wild and malicious
intelligence. This emblem of their fancied mistress had been borne in
front of the smugglers, when they mounted the poop of the Coquette; and
the steeled staff on which the lantern was perched, had been struck into a
horse-bucket by the standard-bearer of the moment, ere he entered the
melee of the combat. During the conflagration, this object had more than
once met the eye of Ludlow; and now it appeared floating quietly by him,
in a manner almost to shake even his contempt for the ordinary
superstitions of seamen. While he hesitated in what manner he should reply
to his companion's remark, the latter plunged into the sea, and swam
towards the light. He was soon by the side of the raft again bearing aloft
the symbol of his brigantine. There are none so firm in the dominion of
reason, as to be entirely superior to the secret impulses which teach us
all to believe in the hidden agency of a good or an evil fortune. The
voice of the free-trader was more cheerful, and his step more sure and
elastic, as he crossed the stage and struck the armed end of the staff
into that part of the top-rim of the Coquette, which floated uppermost.
"Courage!" he gaily cried. "While this light burns, my star is not set!
Courage, lady of the land; for here is one of the deep waters, who still
looks kindly on her followers! We are at sea, on a frail craft it is
certain, but a dull sailer may make a sure passage.--Speak, gallant Master
Seadrift: thy gaiety and spirit should revive under so goodly an omen!"
But the agent of so many pleasant masquerades, and the instrument of so
much of his artifice, had not a fortitude equal to the buoyant temper of
the smuggler. The counterfeit bowed his head by the side of the silent
Alida, without reply. The 'Skimmer of the Seas' regarded the group, a
moment, with manly interest; and then touching the arm of Ludlow, he
walked, with a balancing step, along the spars, until they had reached a
spot where they might confer without causing unnecessary alarm to their
Although so imminent and so pressing a danger as that of the explosion had
passed, the situation of those who had escaped was scarcely better than
that of those who had been lost. The heavens showed a few glimmering
stars in the openings of the clouds; and now, that the first contrast of
the change had lessened, there was just enough light to render all the
features of their actual state gloomily imposing.
It has been said, that the fore-mast of the Coquette went by the board,
with most of its hamper aloft. The sails, with such portion of the rigging
as might help to sustain it, had been hastily cut away as related; and
after its fall, until the moment of the explosion, the common men had been
engaged, either in securing the staging, or in clearing the wreck of those
heavy ropes which, useless as fastenings, only added to the weight of the
mass. The whole wreck lay upon the sea, with the yards crossed and in
their places, much as the spars had stood. The large booms had been
unshipped, and laid in such a manner around the top, with the ends resting
on the lower and top-sail yards, as to form the foundation of the staging.
The smaller booms, with the mess-chest and shot-boxes, were all that lay
between the group in the centre, and the depths of the ocean. The upper
part of the top-rim rose a few feet above the water, and formed an
important protection against the night-breeze and the constant washing of
the waves. In this manner were the females seated, cautioned not to trust
their feet on the frail security of the booms, and supported by the
unremitting care of the Alderman. Francois had submitted to be lashed to
the top by one of the brigantine's seamen, while the latter, all of the
common herd who remained, encouraged by the presence of their
standard-light, began to occupy themselves in looking to the fastenings
and other securities of the raft.
"We are in no condition for a long or an active cruise, Captain Ludlow,"
said the Skimmer, when he and his companion were out of hearing. "I have
been at sea in all weathers, and in every description of craft; but this
is the boldest of my experiments on the water.--I hope it may not be the
"We cannot conceal from ourselves the frightful hazards we run," returned
Ludlow, "however much we may wish them to be a secret to some among us."
"This is truly a deserted sea, to be abroad in, on a raft! Were we in the
narrow passages between the British islands and the Main, or even in the
Biscay waters, there would be hope that some trader or roving cruiser
might cross our track; but our chance here lies much between the Frenchman
and the brigantine."
"The enemy has doubtless seen and heard the explosion, and, as the land is
so near, they will infer that the people are saved in the boats. Our
chance of seeing more of them is much diminished by the accident of the
fire, since there will no longer be a motive for remaining on the coast."
"And will your young officers abandon their captain without a search?"
"Hope of aid from that quarter is faint. The ship ran miles while in
flames, and, before the light returns, these spars will have drifted
leagues, with the ebbing tide, to seaward."
"Truly, I have sailed with better auguries!" observed the Skimmer--"What
are the bearings and distance of the land?"
"It still lies to the north, but we are fast setting east and southerly.
Ere morning we shall be abeam of Montauk, or even beyond it; we must
already be some leagues in the offing."
"That is worse than I had imagined!--but there is hope on the flood?"
"The flood will bear us northward again--but--what think you of the
"Unfavorable, though not desperate. The sea-breeze will return with the
"And with it will return the swell! How long will these ill-secured spars
hold together, when agitated by the heave of the water? Or, how long will
those with us bear up against the wash of the sea, unsupported by
"You paint in gloomy colors, Captain Ludlow," said the free-trader,
drawing a heavy breath, in spite of all his resolution. "My experience
tells me you are right, though my wishes would fain contradict you. Still,
I think we have the promise of a tranquil night."
"Tranquil for a ship, or even for a boat; but hazardous to a raft like
this. You see that this top-mast already works in the cap, at each heave
of the water, and as the wood loosens, our security lessens."
"Thy council is not flattering!--Captain Ludlow, you are a seaman and a
man, and I shall not attempt to trifle with your knowledge. With you, I
think the danger imminent, and almost our only hope dependent on the good
fortune of my brigantine."
"Will those in her think it their duty to quit their anchorage, to come in
quest of a raft whose existence is unknown to them?"
"There is hope in the vigilance of her of the sea-green mantle! You may
deem this fanciful, or even worse, at such a moment; but I, who have run
so many gauntlets under her favor, have faith in her fortunes. Surely, you
are not a seaman, Captain Ludlow, without a secret dependence on some
unseen and potent agency!"
"My dependence is placed in the agency of him who is all-potent, but never
visible. If he forget us, we may indeed despair!"
"This is well, but it is not the fortune I would express. Believe me,
spite of an education which teaches all you have said, and of a reason
that is often too clear for folly, there is a secret reliance on hidden
chances, that has been created by a life of activity and hazard, and
which, if it should do nothing better, does not abandon me to despair. The
omen of the light and the smile of my mistress would cheer me, spite of a
"You are fortunate in purchasing consolation so cheaply;" returned the
commander of Queen Anne, who felt a latent hope in his companion's
confidence that he would have hesitated to acknowledge. "I see but little
that we can do to aid our chances, except it be to clear away all
unnecessary weight, and to secure the raft as much as possible by
The 'Skimmer of the Seas' assented to the proposal. Consulting a moment
longer, on the details of their expedients, they rejoined the group near
the top, in order to see them executed. As the seamen on the raft were
reduced to the two people of the brigantine, Ludlow and his companion were
obliged to assist in the performance of the duty.
Much useless rigging, that added to the pressure without aiding the
buoyancy of the raft, was cut away; and all the boom-irons were knocked
off the yards, and suffered to descend to the bottom of the ocean. By
these means a great weight was taken from the raft, which in consequence
floated with so much additional power to sustain those who depended on it
for life. The Skimmer, accompanied by his two silent but obedient seamen,
ventured along the attenuated and submerged spars to the extremity of the
tapering masts, and after toiling, with the dexterity of men accustomed to
deal with the complicated machinery of a ship in the darkest nights, they
succeeded in releasing the two smaller masts with their respective yards,
and in floating them down to the body of the wreck, or the part around the
top. Here the sticks were crossed in a manner to give great additional
strength and footing to the stage.
There was an air of hope, and a feeling of increased security, in this
employment. Even the Alderman and Francois aided in the task, to the
extent of their knowledge and force. But when these alterations were made,
and additional lashings had been applied to keep the top-mast and the
larger yards in their places, Ludlow, by joining those who were around the
mast-head, tacitly admitted that little more could be done to avert the
chances of the elements.
During the few hours occupied in this important duty, Alida and her
companion addressed themselves to God, in long and fervent petitions. With
woman's faith in that divine being who alone could avail them, and with
woman's high mental fortitude in moments of protracted trial, they had
both known how to control the exhibition of their terrors, and had sought
their support in the same appeal to a power superior to all of earth.
Ludlow was therefore more than rewarded by the sound of Alida's voice,
speaking to him cheerfully, as she thanked him for what he had done, when
he admitted that he could now do no more.
"The rest is with Providence!" added Alida. "All that bold and skilful
seamen can do, have ye done; and all that woman in such a situation can
do, have we done in your behalf!"
"Thou hast thought of me in thy prayers, Alida! It is an intercession that
the stoutest needs, and which none but the fool derides."
"And thou, Eudora! thou hast remembered him who quiets the waters!" said a
deep voice, near the bending form of the counterfeit Seadrift.
"'Tis well.--There are points to which manhood and experience may pass,
and there are those where all is left to one mightier than the elements!"
Words like these, coming from the lips of one of the known character of
the 'Skimmer of the Seas,' were not given to the winds. Even Ludlow cast
an uneasy look at the heavens, when they came upon his ear, as if they
conveyed a secret notice of the whole extremity of the danger by which
they were environed. None answered; and a long silence succeeded, during
which some of the more fatigued slumbered uneasily, spite of their fearful
In this manner did the night pass, in weariness and anxiety. Little was
said, and for hours scarce a limb was moved, in the group that clustered
around the mess-chest. As the signs of day appeared, however, every
faculty was keenly awake, to catch the first signs of what they had to
hope, or the first certainty of what they had to fear.
The surface of the ocean was still smooth, though the long swells in which
the element was heaving and setting, sufficiently indicated that the raft
had floated far from the land. This fact was rendered sure, when the
light, which soon appeared along the eastern margin of the narrow view,
was shed gradually over the whole horizon. Nothing was at first visible,
but one gloomy and vacant waste of water. But a cry of joy from Seadrift,
whose senses had long been practised in ocean sights, soon drew all eyes
in the direction opposite to that of the rising sun, and it was not long
before all on the low raft had a view of the snowy surfaces of a ship's
sails, as the glow of morning touched the canvas.
"It is the Frenchman!" said the free-trader. "He is charitably looking for
the wreck of his late enemy!"
"It may be so, for our fate can be no secret to him;" was the answer of
Ludlow. "Unhappily, we had run some distance from the anchorage, before
the flames broke out. Truly, those with whom we so lately struggled for
life, are bent on a duty of humanity."
"Ah, yonder is his crippled consort!--to leeward many a league. The gay
bird has been too sadly stripped of its plumage, to fly so near the wind!
This is man's fortune! He uses his power, at one moment, to destroy the
very means that become necessary to his safety, the next."
"And what think you of our hopes?" asked Alida, searching in the
countenance of Ludlow a clue to their fate. "Does the stranger move in a
direction favorable to our wishes?"
Neither Ludlow nor the Skimmer replied. Both regarded the frigate
intently, and then, as objects became more distinct, both answered, by a
common impulse, that the ship was steering directly towards them. The
declaration excited general hope, and even the negress was no longer
restrained by her situation from expressing her joy in vociferous
exclamations of delight.
A few minutes of active and ready exertion succeeded. A light boom was
unlashed from the raft, and raised on its end, supporting a little signal,
made of the handkerchiefs of the party, which fluttered in the light
breeze, at the elevation of some twenty feet above the surface of the
water. After this precaution was observed, they were obliged to await the
result in such patience as they could assume. Minute passed after minute,
and, at each moment, the form and proportions of the ship became more
distinct, until all the mariners of the party declared they could
distinguish men on her yards. A cannon would have readily sent its shot
from the ship to the raft, and yet no sign betrayed the consciousness of
those in the former of the proximity of the latter.
"I do not like his manner of steering!" observed the Skimmer to the silent
and attentive Ludlow. "He yaws broadly, as if disposed to give up the
search. God grant him the heart to continue on his course ten minutes
"Have we no means of making ourselves heard?" demanded the Alderman.
"Methinks the voice of a strong man might be sent thus far across the
water when life is the stake."
The more experienced shook their heads; but, not discouraged, the burgher
raised his voice with a power that was sustained by the imminency of the
peril. He was joined by the seamen, and even Ludlow lent his aid, until
all were hoarse with the fruitless efforts. Men were evidently aloft, and
in some numbers, searching the ocean with their eyes, but still no
answering signal came from the vessel.
The ship continued to approach, and the raft was less than half a mile
from her bows, when the vast fabric suddenly receded from the breeze,
showed the whole of its glittering broadside, and, swinging its yards,
betrayed by its new position that the search in that direction was
abandoned. The instant Ludlow saw the filling-off of the frigate's bows,
"Now, raise your voices together;--this is the final chance!"
They united in a common shout, with the exception of the 'Skimmer of the
Seas.' The latter leaned against the top with folded arms, listening to
their impotent efforts with a melancholy smile.
"It is well attempted," said the calm and extraordinary seaman when the
clamor had ceased, advancing along the raft and motioning for all to be
silent; "but it has failed. The swinging of the yards, and the orders
given in waring ship, would prevent a stronger sound from being audible to
men so actively employed. I flatter none with hope, but this is truly the
moment for a final effort."
He placed his hands to his mouth, and, disregarding words, he raised a cry
so clear, so powerful, and yet so full, that it seemed impossible those in
the vessel should not hear. Thrice did he repeat the experiment, though it
was evident that each successive exertion was feebler than the last.
"They hear!" cried Alida. "There is a movement in the sails!"
"'Tis the beeeze freshening;" answered Ludlow in sadness, at her side.
"Each moment takes them away!"
The melancholy truth was too apparent for denial, and for half an hour the
retiring ship was watched in the bitterness of disappointment. At the end
of that time, she fired a gun, spread additional canvas on her wide booms,
and stood away before the wind, to join her consort, whose upper sails
were already dipping to the surface of the sea, in the southern board.
With this change in her movements, vanished all expectation of succor from
the cruiser of the enemy.
Perhaps, in every situation of life, it is necessary that hope should be
first lessened by disappointment, before the buoyancy of the human mind
will permit it to descend to the level of an evil fortune. Until a
frustrated effort teaches him the difficulty of the attempt, he who has
fallen may hope to rise again; and it is only when an exertion has been
made with lessened means, that we learn the value of advantages, which
have perhaps been long enjoyed, with a very undue estimate of their
importance. Until the stern of the French frigate was seen retiring from
the raft, those who were on it had not been fully sensible of the extreme
danger of their situation. Hope had been strongly excited by the return of
dawn; for while the shadows of night lay on the ocean, their situation
resembled that of one who strove to pierce the obscurity of the future, in
order to obtain a presage of better fortunes. With the light had come the
distant sail. As the day advanced, the ship had approached, relinquished
her search, and disappeared, without a prospect of her return.
The stoutest heart among the group on the raft began to sink at the
gloomy fate which now seemed inevitable.
"Here is an evil omen!" whispered Ludlow, directing his companion's eyes
to the dark and pointed fins of three or four sharks, that were gliding
above the surface of the water, and in so fearful a proximity to their
persons, as to render their situation on the low spars, over which the
water was washing and retiring at each rise and fall of the waves, doubly
dangerous.--"The creature's instinct speaks ill for our hopes!"
"There is a belief among seamen, that these animals feel a secret impulse,
which directs them to their prey;" returned the Skimmer. "But fortune may
yet balk them.--Rogerson!" calling to one of his followers;--"thy pockets
are rarely wanting in a fisherman's tackle. Hast thou, haply, line and
hook, for these hungry miscreants? The question is getting narrowed to
one, in which the simplest philosophy is the wisest. When eat or to be
eaten, is the mooted point, most men will decide for the former."
A hook of sufficient size was soon produced, and a line was quietly
provided from some of the small cordage that still remained about the
masts. A piece of leather, torn from a spar, answered for the bait; and
the lure was thrown. Extreme hunger seemed to engross the voracious
animals, who darted at the imaginary prey with the rapidity of lightning.
The shock was so sudden and violent, that the hapless mariner was drawn
from his slippery and precarious footing, into the sea. The whole passed
with a frightful and alarming rapidity. A common cry of horror was heard,
and the last despairing glance of the fallen man was witnessed. The
mutilated body floated for an instant in its blood, with the look of agony
and terror still imprinted on the conscious countenance. At the next
moment, it had become food for the monsters of the sea.
All had passed away, but the deep dye on the surface of the ocean. The
gorged fish disappeared; but the dark spot remained near the immovable
raft, as if placed there to warn the survivors of their fate.
"This is horrible!" said Ludlow.
"A sail!" shouted the Skimmer, whose voice and tone, breaking in on that
moment of intense horror and apprehension, sounded like a cry from the
heavens. "My gallant brigantine!"
"God grant she come with better fortune than those who have so lately left
"God grant it, truly! If this hope fail, there is none left. Few pass
here, and we have had sufficient proof that our top-gallants are not so
lofty as to catch every eye."
All attention was now bestowed on the white speck which was visible on the
margin of the ocean, and which the 'Skimmer of the Seas' confidently
pronounced to be the Water-Witch. None but a seaman could have felt this
certainty; for, seen from the low raft, there was little else to be
distinguished but the heads of the upper sails. The direction too was
unfavorable, as it was to leeward; but both Ludlow and the free-trader
assured their companions, that the vessel was endeavoring to beat in with
The two hours that succeeded lingered like days of misery. So much
depended on a variety of events, that every circumstance was noted by the
seamen of the party, with an interest bordering on agony. A failure of the
wind might compel the vessel to remain stationary, and then both
brigantine and raft would be at the mercy of the uncertain currents of the
ocean; a change of wind might cause a change of course, and render a
meeting impossible; an increase of the breeze might cause destruction,
even before the succor could come. In addition to these obvious hazards,
there were all the chances which were dependent on the fact that the
people of the brigantine had every reason to believe the fate of the party
was already sealed.
Still, fortune seemed propitious; for the breeze, though steady, was
light, the intention of the vessel was evidently to pass somewhere near
them, and the hope that their object was search, so strong and plausible,
as to exhilarate every bosom.
At the expiration of the time named, the brigantine passed the raft to
leeward, and so near as to render the smaller objects in her rigging
"The faithful fellows are looking for us!" exclaimed the free-trader, with
strong emotion in his voice. "They are men to scour the coast, ere they
"They pass us--wave the signal--it may catch their eyes!"
The little flag was unheeded, and, after so long and so intense
expectation, the party on the raft had the pain to see the swift-moving
vessel glide past them, and drawing so far ahead as to leave little hope
of her return. The heart of even the 'Skimmer of the Seas' appeared to
sink within him, at the disappointment.
"For myself, I care not;" said the stout mariner mournfully. "Of what
consequence is it, in what sea, or on what voyage, a seaman goes into his
watery tomb?--but for thee, my hapless and playful Eudora, I could wish
another fate--ha!--she tacks!--the sea-green lady has an instinct for her
children, after all!"
The brigantine was in stays.--In ten or fifteen minutes more, the vessel
was again abeam of the raft, and to windward.
"If she pass us now, our chance is gone, without a shadow of hope;" said
the Skimmer, motioning solemnly for silence. Then, applying his hands to
his mouth, he shouted, as if despair lent a giant's volume to his lungs--
"Ho! The Water-Witch!--ahoy!"
The last word issued from his lips with the clear, audible cry, that the
peculiar sound is intended to produce. It appeared as if the conscious
little bark knew its commander's voice; for its course changed slightly,
as if the fabric were possessed of the consciousness and faculties of
"Ho! The Water-Witch!--ahoy!" shouted the Skimmer, with a still mightier
"--Hilloa!" came down faintly on the breeze, and the direction of the
brigantine again altered.
"The Water-Witch!--the Water-Witch!--ahoy!" broke out of the lips of the
mariner of the shawl, with a supernatural force,--the last cry being drawn
out, till he who uttered it sunk back exhausted with the effort.
The words were still ringing in the ears of the breathless party on the
raft, when a heavy shout swept across the water. At the next moment the
boom of the brigantine swung off, and her narrow bows were seen pointing
towards the little beacon of white that played above the sea. It was but a
moment, but it was a moment pregnant with a thousand hopes and fears,
before the beautiful craft was gliding within fifty feet of the top. In
less than five minutes, the spars of the Coquette were floating on the
wide ocean, unpeopled and abandoned.
The first sensation of the 'Skimmer of the Seas,' when his foot touched
the deck of his brigantine might have been one of deep and intense
gratitude. He was silent, and seemingly oppressed at the throat. Stepping
along the planks, he cast an eye aloft, and struck his hand powerfully on
the capstan, in a manner that was divided between convulsion and
affection. Then he smiled grimly on his attentive and obedient crew,
speaking with all his wonted cheerfulness and authority.
"Fill away the top-sail--brace up and haul aft! Trim every thing flat as
boards, boys;--jam the hussy in with the coast!"
"Beseech you, Sir, were you present at this relation?"
On the following morning, the windows of the Lust in Rust denoted the
presence of its owner. There was an air of melancholy, and yet of
happiness, in the faces of many who were seen about the buildings and the
grounds, as if a great good had been accompanied by some grave and
qualifying circumstances of sorrow. The negroes wore an air of that love
of the extraordinary which is the concomitant of ignorance, while those of
the more fortunate class resembled men who retained a recollection of
serious evils that were past.
In the private apartment of the burgher, however, an interview took place
which was characterized by an air of deep concern. The parties were only
the free-trader and the Alderman. But it was apparent, in the look of
each, that they met like men who had interesting and serious matters to
discuss. Still, one accustomed to the expressions of the human countenance
might have seen, that while the former was about to introduce topics in
which his feelings were powerfully enlisted, the other looked only to the
grosser interests of his commerce.
"My minutes are counted;" said the mariner, stepping into the centre of
the room, and facing his companion. "That which is to be said, must be
said briefly. The inlet can only be passed on the rising water, and it
will ill consult your opinions of prudence, were I to tarry, till the hue
and cry, that will follow the intelligence of that which has lately
happened in the offing, shall be heard in the Province."
"Spoken with a rover's discretion! This reserve will perpetuate
friendship, which is nought weakened by your activity in our late
uncomfortable voyage on the yards and masts of Queen Anne's late cruiser.
Well! I wish no ill-luck to any loyal gentleman in Her Majesty's service;
but it is a thousand pities that thou wert not ready, now the coast is
clear, with a good heavy inward cargo! The last was altogether an affair
of secret drawers, and rich laces; valuable in itself, and profitable in
the exchange: but the colony is sadly in want of certain articles that can
only be landed at leisure."
"I come on other matters. There have been transactions between us,
Alderman Van Beverout, that you little understand."
"You speak of a small mistake in the last invoice?--'Tis all explained,
Master Skimmer, on a second examination; and thy accuracy is as well
established as that of the bank of England."
"Established or not, let him who doubts cease to deal.--I have no other
motto than 'confidence,' nor any other rule but 'justice.'"
"You overrun my meaning, friend of mine. I intimate no suspicions; but
accuracy is the soul of commerce, as profit is its object. Clear accounts,
with reasonable balances, are the surest cements of business intimacies. A
little frankness operates, in a secret trade, like equity in the courts;
which reestablishes the justice that the law has destroyed.--What is thy
"It is now many years, Alderman Van Beverout, since this secret trade was
commenced between you and my predecessor,--he, whom you have thought my
father, but who only claimed that revered appellation by protecting the
helplessness and infancy of the orphan child of a friend."
"The latter circumstance is new to me;" returned the burgher, slowly
bowing his head. "It may explain certain levities which have not been
without their embarrassment. 'Tis five-and-twenty years, come August,
Master Skimmer, and twelve of them have been under thy auspices. I will
not say that the adventures might not have been better managed; as it is,
they are tolerable. I am getting old, and think of closing the risks and
hazards of life--two or three, or, at the most, four or five, lucky
voyages, must, I think, bring a final settlement between us."
"'Twill be made sooner. I believe the history of my predecessor was no
secret to you. The manner in which he was driven from the marine of the
Stuarts, on account of his opposition to tyranny; his refuge with an only
daughter, in the colonies; and his final recourse to the free-trade for a
livelihood, have often been alluded to between us."
"Hum--I have a good memory for business, Master Skimmer, but I am as
forgetful as a new-made lord of his pedigree, on all matters that should
be overlooked. I dare say, however, it was as you have stated."
"You know, that when my protector and predecessor abandoned the land, he
took his all with him upon the water."
"He took a wholesome and good-going schooner, Master Skimmer, with an
assorted freight of chosen tobacco, well ballasted with stones from off
the seashore. He was no foolish admirer of sea-green women, and flaunting
brigantines. Often did the royal cruisers mistake the worthy dealer for an
"He had his humors, and I have mine. But you forget a part of the freight
he carried;--a part that was not the least valuable."
"There might have been a bale of marten's furs--for the trade was just
getting brisk in that article."
"There was a beautiful, an innocent, and an affectionate girl------"
The Alderman made an involuntary movement which nearly hid his countenance
from his companion.
"There was, indeed, a beautiful, and, as you say, a most warm-hearted
girl, in the concern!" he uttered, in a voice that was subdued and hoarse.
"She died, as I have heard from thyself, Master Skimmer, in the Italian
seas. I never saw the father, after the last visit of his child to this
"She did die, among the islands of the Mediterranean. But the void she
left in the hearts of all who knew her, was filled, in time, by
The Alderman started from his chair, and, looking the free-trader intently
and anxiously in the face, he slowly repeated the word--
"I have said it.--Eudora is the daughter of that injured woman--need I
say, who is the father?"
The burgher groaned, and, covering his face with his hands, he sunk back
into his chair, shivering convulsively.
"What evidence have I of this?" he at length muttered--"Eudora is thy
The answer of the free-trader was accompanied by a melancholy smile.
"You have been deceived. Save the brigantine my being is attached to
nothing. When my own brave father fell by the side of him who protected my
youth, none of my blood were left. I loved him as a father, and he called
me son, while Eudora was passed upon you as the child of a second marriage
But here is sufficient evidence of her birth."
The Alderman took a paper, which his companion put gravely into his hand,
and his eyes ran eagerly over its contents. It was a letter to himself
from the mother of Eudora, written after the birth of the latter, and with
the endearing affection of a woman. The love between the young merchant
and the fair daughter of his secret correspondent had been less criminal
on his part than most similar connexions. Nothing but the peculiarity of
their situation, and the real embarrassment of introducing to the world
one whose existence was unknown to his friends, and their mutual awe of
the unfortunate but still proud parent, had prevented a legal marriage.
The simple forms of the colony were easily satisfied, and there was even
some reason to raise a question whether they had not been sufficiently
consulted to render the offspring legitimate. As Myndert Van Beverout,
therefore, read the epistle of her whom he had once so truly loved, and
whose loss had, in more senses than one, been to him an irreparable
misfortune, since his character might have yielded to her gentle and
healthful influence, his limbs trembled, and his whole frame betrayed the
violence of extreme agitation. The language of the dying woman was kind
and free from reproach, but it was solemn and admonitory. She communicated
the birth of their child; but she left it to the disposition of her own
father, while she apprized the author of its being of its existence; and,
in the event of its ever being consigned to his care, she earnestly
recommended it to his love. The close was a leave-taking, in which the
lingering affections of this life were placed in mournful contrast to the
hopes of the future.
"Why has this so long been hidden from me?" demanded the agitated
merchant--"Why, oh reckless and fearless man! have I been permitted to
expose the frailties of nature to my own child?"
The smile of the free-trader was bitter, and proud.
"Mr. Van Beverout, we are no dealers of the short voyage. Our trade is
the concern of life;--our world, the Water-Witch. As we have so little of
the interests of the land, our philosophy is above its weaknesses. The
birth of Eudora was concealed from you, at the will of her grandfather. It
might have been resentment;--it might have been pride.--Had it been
affection, the girl has that to justify the fraud."
"And Eudora, herself?--Does she--or has she long known the truth?"
"But lately. Since the death of our common friend, the girl has been
solely dependent on me for counsel and protection. It is now a year since
she first learned she was not my sister. Until then, like you, she
supposed us equally derived from one who was the parent of neither.
Necessity has compelled me, of late, to keep her much in the brigantine."
"The retribution is righteous!" groaned the Alderman, "I am punished for
my pusillanimity, in the degradation of my own child!"
The step of the free-trader, as he advanced nearer to his companion, was
full of dignity; and his keen eye glowed with the resentment of an
"Alderman Van Beverout," he said, with stern rebuke in his voice, "you
receive your daughter, stainless as was her unfortunate mother, when
necessity compelled him whose being was wrapped up in hers, to trust her
beneath your roof. We of the contraband have our own opinions, of right
and wrong, and my gratitude, no less than my principles, teaches me that
the descendant of my benefactor is to be protected, not injured. Had I, in
truth, been the brother of Eudora, language and conduct more innocent
could not have been shown her, than that she has both heard and witnessed
while guarded by my care."
"From my soul, I thank thee!" burst from the lips the Alderman. "The girl
shall be acknowledged; and with such a dowry as I can give, she may yet
hope for a suitable and honorable marriage."
"Thou may'st bestow her on thy favorite Patroon;" returned the Skimmer,
with a calm but sad eye. "She is more than worthy of all he can return.
The man is willing to take her, for he is not ignorant of her sex and
history. That much I thought due to Eudora herself, when fortune placed
the young man in my power."
"Thou art only too honest for this wicked world, Master Skimmer! Let me
see the loving pair, and bestow my blessing, on the instant!"
The free-trader turned slowly away, and, opening a door, he motioned for
those within to enter. Alida instantly appeared, leading the counterfeit
Seadrift, clad in the proper attire of her sex. Although the burgher had
often seen the supposed sister of the Skimmer in her female habiliments,
she never before had struck him as a being of so rare beauty as at that
moment. The silken whiskers had been removed, and in their places were
burning cheeks, that were rather enriched than discolored by the warm
touches of the sun. The dark glossy ringlets, that were no longer artfully
converted to the purposes of the masquerade, fell naturally in curls about
the temples and brows, shading a countenance which in general was
playfully arch, though at that moment it was shadowed by reflection and
feeling. It is seldom that two such beings are seen together, as those who
now knelt at the feet of the merchant. In the breast of the latter, the
accustomed and lasting love of the uncle and protector appeared, for an
instant, to struggle with the new-born affection of a parent. Nature was
too strong for even his blunted and perverted sentiments; and, calling his
child aloud by name, the selfish and calculating Alderman sunk upon the
neck of Eudora, and wept. It would have been difficult to trace the
emotions of the stern but observant free-trader, as he watched the
progress of this scene. Distrust, uneasiness, and finally melancholy, were
in his eye. With the latter expression predominant, he quitted the room,
like one who felt a stranger had no right to witness emotions so sacred.
Two hours later, and the principal personages of the narrative were
assembled on the margin of the Cove, beneath the shade of an oak that
seemed coeval with the continent. The brigantine was aweigh; and, under a
light show of canvas, she was making easy stretches in the little basin,
resembling, by the ease and grace of her movements, some beautiful swan
sailing up and down in the enjoyment of its instinct. A boat had just
touched the shore, and the 'Skimmer of the Seas' stood near, stretching
out a hand to aid the boy Zephyr to land.
"We subjects of the elements are slaves to superstition;" he said, when
the light foot of the child touched the ground. "It is the consequence of
lives which ceaselessly present dangers superior to our powers. For many
years have I believed that some great good, or some greater evil, would
accompany the first visit of this boy to the land. For the first time, his
foot now stands on solid earth. I await the fulfilment of the augury!"
"It will be happy;" returned Ludlow--"Alida and Eudora will instruct him
in the opinions of this simple and fortunate country, and he seemeth one
likely to do early credit to his schooling."
"I fear the boy will regret the lessons of the sea-green lady!--Captain
Ludlow, there is yet a duty to perform, which, as a man of more feeling
than you may be disposed to acknowledge, I cannot neglect. I have
understood that you are accepted by la belle Barberie?"
"Such is my happiness."
"Sir, in dispensing with explanation of the past you have shown a noble
confidence, that merits a return. When I came upon this coast, it was with
a determination of establishing the claims of Eudora to the protection and
fortune of her father. If i distrusted the influence and hostility of one
so placed, and so gifted to persuade, as this lady, you will remember it
was before acquaintance had enabled me to estimate more than her beauty.
She was seized in her pavilion by my agency, and transported as a captive
to the brigantine."
"I had believed her acquainted with the history of her cousin, and willing
to aid in some fantasy which was to lead to the present happy restoration
of the latter to her natural friends."
"You did her disinterestedness no more than justice. As some atonement for
the personal wrong, and as the speediest and surest means of appeasing her
alarm, I made my captive acquainted with the facts. Eudora then heard,
also for the first time, the history of her origin. The evidence was
irresistible, and we found a generous and devoted friend where we had
expected a rival."