The Red Rover is a scandalous and scintillating adventure tale following some of the best mariners during the Golden Age of Sail. The novel follows the activities of the sailor Dick Fid, free black sailor Scipio Africanus and Royal Navy officer James Wilder as they encounter the famous pirate, "The Red Rover".
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The Writer felt it necessary, on a former occasion, to state, that, in sketching his marine life, he did not deem himself obliged to adhere, very closely, to the chronological order of nautical improvements. It is believed that no very great violation of dates will be found in the following pages. If any keen-eyed critic of the ocean, however, should happen to detect a rope rove through the wrong leading-block, or a term spelt in such a manner as to destroy its true sound, he is admonished of the duty of ascribing the circumstances, in charity, to any thing but ignorance on the part of a brother. It must be remembered that there is an undue proportion of landsmen employed in the mechanical as well as the more spiritual part of book-making; a fact which, in itself, accounts for the numberless imperfections that still embarrass the respective departments of the occupation. In due time, no doubt, a remedy will be found for this crying evil; and then the world may hope to see the several branches of the trade a little better ordered. The true Augustan age of literature can never exist until works shall be as accurate, in their typography, as a "log book," and as sententious, in their matter, as a "watch-bill."
On the less important point of the materials, which are very possibly used to so little advantage in his present effort, the Writer does not intend to be very communicative, if their truth be not apparent, by the manner in which he has set forth the events in the tale itself, he must be content to lie under the imputation of having disfigured it, by his own clumsiness. All testimony must, in the nature of things, resolve itself into three great classes--the positive, the negative, and the circumstantial. The first and the last are universally admitted to be entitled to the most consideration, since the third can only be resorted to in the absence of the two others. Of the positive evidence of the verity of its contents, the book itself is a striking proof. It is hoped, also, that there is no want of circumstance to support this desirable character. If these two opening points be admitted those who may be still disposed to cavil are left to the full enjoyment of their negation, with which the Writer wishes them just as much success as the question may merit.
In submitting this hastily-composed and imperfect picture of a few scenes, peculiar to the profession, to your notice, dear Shubrick, I trust much more to your kind feelings than to any merit in the execution. Such as it may be, however, the book is offered as another tribute to the constant esteem and friendship of
Par. "Mars dote on you for his novices."
All's Well that ends Well.
No one, who is familiar with the bustle and activity of an American commercial town, would recognize, in the repose which now reigns in the ancient mart of Rhode Island, a place that, in its day, has been ranked amongst the most important ports along the whole line of our extended coast. It would seem, at the first glance, that nature had expressly fashioned the spot to anticipate the wants and to realize the wishes of the mariner. Enjoying the four great requisites of a safe and commodious haven, a placid basin, an outer harbour, and a convenient roadstead, with a clear offing, Newport appeared, to the eyes of our European ancestors, designed to shelter fleets and to nurse a race of hardy and expert seamen. Though the latter anticipation has not been entirely disappointed, how little has reality answered to expectation in respect to the former. A successful rival has arisen, even in the immediate vicinity of this seeming favourite of nature, to defeat all the calculations of mercantile sagacity, and to add another to the thousand existing evidences "that the wisdom of man is foolishness."
There are few towns of any magnitude, within our broad territories, in which so little change has been effected in half a century as in Newport. Until the vast resources of the interior were developed the beautiful island on which it stands was a chosen retreat of the affluent planters of the south, from the heats and diseases of their burning climate. Here they resorted in crowds, to breathe the invigorating breezes of the sea. Subjects of the same government, the inhabitants of the Carolinas and of Jamaica met here, in amity, to compare their respective habits and policies, and to strengthen each other in a common delusion, which the descendants of both, in the third generation, are beginning to perceive and to regret.
The communion left, on the simple and unpractised offspring of the Puritans, its impression both of good and evil. The inhabitants of the country, while they derived, from the intercourse, a portion of that bland and graceful courtesy for which the gentry of the southern British colonies were so distinguished did not fail to imbibe some of those peculiar notions, concerning the distinctions in the races of men, for which they are no less remarkable Rhode Island was the foremost among the New England provinces to recede from the manners and opinions of their simple ancestors. The first shock was given, through her, to that rigid and ungracious deportment which was once believed a necessary concomitant of true religion, a sort of outward pledge of the healthful condition of the inward man; and it was also through her that the first palpable departure was made from those purifying principles which might serve as an apology for even far more repulsive exteriors. By a singular combination of circumstances and qualities, which is, however, no less true than perplexing, the merchants of Newport were becoming, at the same time, both slave-dealers and gentlemen.
Whatever might have been the moral condition of its proprietors at the precise period of 1759, the island itself was never more enticing and lovely. Its swelling crests were still crowned with the wood of centuries; its little vales were then covered with the living verdure of the north; and its unpretending but neat and comfortable villas lay sheltered in groves, and embedded in flowers. The beauty and fertility of the place gained for it a name which, probably, expressed far more than was, at that early day, properly understood. The inhabitants of the country styled their possessions the "Garden of America." Neither were their guests, from the scorching plains of the south, reluctant to concede so imposing a title to distinction. The appellation descended even to our own time; nor was it entirely abandoned, until the traveller had the means of contemplating the thousand broad and lovely vallies which, fifty years ago, lay buried in the dense shadows of the forest.
The date we have just named was a period fraught with the deepest interest to the British possessions on this Continent. A bloody and vindictive war, which had been commenced in defeat and disgrace, was about to end in triumph. France was deprived of the last of her possessions on the main, while the immense region which lay between the bay of Hudson and the territories of Spain submitted to the power of England. The colonists had shared largely in contributing to the success of the mother country. Losses and contumely, that had been incurred by the besotting prejudices of European commanders were beginning to be forgotten in the pride of success. The blunders of Braddock, the indolence of Loudon, and the impotency of Abercrombie, were repaired by the vigour of Amherst, and the genius of Wolfe. In every quarter of the globe the arms of Britain were triumphant. The loyal provincials were among the loudest in their exultations and rejoicings; wilfully shutting their eyes to the scanty meed of applause that a powerful people ever reluctantly bestows on its dependants, as though love of glory, like avarice, increases by its means of indulgence.
The system of oppression and misrule, which hastened a separation that sooner or later must have occurred, had not yet commenced. The mother country, if not just, was still complaisant. Like all old and great nations, she was indulging in the pleasing, but dangerous, enjoyment of self-contemplation. The qualities and services of a race, who were believed to be inferior, were, however, soon forgotten; or, if remembered, it was in order to be misrepresented and vituperated. As this feeling increased with the discontent of the civil dissensions, it led to still more striking injustice, and greater folly. Men who, from their observations, should have known better, were not ashamed to proclaim, even in the highest council of the nation, their ignorance of the character of a people with whom they had mingled their blood. Self-esteem gave value to the opinions of fools. It was under this soothing infatuation that veterans were heard to disgrace their noble profession, by boastings that should have been hushed in the mouth of a soldier of the carpet; it was under this infatuation that Burgoyne gave, in the Commons of England, that memorable promise of marching from Quebec to Boston, with a force he saw fit to name--a pledge that he afterwards redeemed by going over the same ground, with twice the number of followers, as captives; and it was under this infatuation that England subsequently threw away her hundred thousand lives, and lavished her hundred millions of treasure.
The history of that memorable struggle is familiar to every American. Content with the knowledge that his country triumphed, he is willing to let the glorious result take its proper place in the pages of history. He sees that her empire rests on a broad and natural foundation, which needs no support from venal pens; and, happily for his peace of mind, no less than for his character, he feels that the prosperity of the Republic is not to be sought in the degradation of surrounding nations.
Our present purpose leads us back to the period of calm which preceded the storm of the Revolution. In the early days of the month of October 1759, Newport, like every other town in America, was filled with the mingled sentiment of grief and joy. The inhabitants mourned the fall of Wolfe while they triumphed in his victory. Quebec, the strong-hold of the Canadas, and the last place of any importance held by a people whom they had been educated to believe were their natural enemies, had just changed its masters. That loyalty to the Crown of England, which endured so much before the strange principle became extinct, was then at its height; and probably the colonist was not to be found who did not, in some measure, identify his own honour with the fancied glory of the head of the house of Brunswick. The day on which the action of our tale commences had been expressly set apart to manifest the sympathy of the good people of the town, and its vicinity, in the success of the royal arms. It had opened, as thousands of days have opened since, with the ringing of bells and the firing of cannon; and the population had, at an early hour, poured into the streets of the place, with that determined zeal in the cause of merriment, which ordinarily makes preconcerted joy so dull an amusement. The chosen orator of the day had exhibited his eloquence, in a sort of prosaic monody in praise of the dead hero, and had sufficiently manifested his loyalty, by laying the glory, not only of that sacrifice, but all that had been reaped by so many thousands of his brave companions also, most humbly at the foot of the throne.
Content with these demonstrations of their allegiance the inhabitants began to retire to their dwellings as the sun settled towards those immense regions which then lay an endless and unexplored wilderness but which now are teeming with the fruits and enjoyments of civilized life. The countrymen from the environs, and even from the adjoining main were beginning to turn their faces towards their distant homes, with that frugal care which still distinguishes the inhabitants of the country even in the midst of their greatest abandonment to pleasures, in order that the approaching evening might not lead them into expenditures which were not deemed germain to the proper feelings of the occasion. In short, the excess of the hour was past, and each individual was returning into the sober channels of his ordinary avocations, with an earnestness and discretion which proved he was not altogether unmindful of the time that had been squandered in the display of a spirit that he already appeared half disposed to consider a little supererogatory.
The sounds of the hammer, the axe, and the saw were again heard in the place; the windows of more than one shop were half opened, as if its owner had made a sort of compromise between his interests and his conscience; and the masters of the only three inns in the town were to be seen standing before their doors, regarding the retiring countrymen with eyes that plainly betrayed they were seeking customers among a people who were always much more ready to sell than to buy. A few noisy and thoughtless seamen, belonging to the vessels in the haven, together with some half dozen notorious tavern-hunters were, however, the sole fruits of all their nods of recognition, inquiries into the welfare of wives and children, and, in some instances, of open invitations to alight and drink.
Worldly care, with a constant, though sometimes an oblique, look at the future state, formed the great characteristic of all that people who then dwelt in what were called the provinces of New-England. The business of the day, however, was not forgotten though it was deemed unnecessary to digest its proceedings in idleness, or over the bottle. The travellers along the different roads that led into the interior of the island formed themselves into little knots, in which the policy of the great national events they had just been commemorating, and the manner they had been treated by the different individuals selected to take the lead in the offices of the day, were freely handled, though still with great deference to the established reputations of the distinguished parties most concerned. It was every where conceded that the prayers, which had been in truth a little conversational and historical, were faultless and searching exercises; and, on the whole, (though to this opinion there were some clients of an advocate adverse to the orator, who were moderate dissenters) it was established, that a more eloquent oration had never issued from the mouth of man, than had that day been delivered in their presence. Precisely in the same temper was the subject discussed by the workmen on a ship, which was then building in the harbour, and which, in the same spirit of provincial admiration that has since immortalized so many edifices, bridges, and even individuals, within their several precincts, was confidently affirmed to be the rarest specimen then extant of the nice proportions of naval architecture!
Of the orator himself it may be necessary to say a word, in order that so remarkable an intellectual prodigy should fill his proper place in our frail and short-lived catalogue of the worthies of that day. He was the usual oracle of his neighbourhood, when a condensation of its ideas on any great event, like the one just mentioned, became necessary. His learning was justly computed, by comparison, to be of the most profound and erudite character; and it was very truly affirmed to have astonished more than one European scholar, who had been tempted, by a fame which, like heat, was only the more intense from its being so confined, to grapple with him on the arena of ancient literature. He was a man who knew how to improve these high gifts to his exclusive advantage. In but one instance had he ever been thrown enough off his guard to commit an act that had a tendency to depress the reputation he had gained in this manner; and that was, in permitting one of his laboured flights of eloquence to be printed; or, as his more witty though less successful rival, the only other lawyer in the place, expressed it, in suffering one of his fugitive essays to be caught. But even this experiment, whatever might have been its effects abroad, served to confirm his renown at home. He now stood before his admirers in all the dignity of types; and it was in vain for that miserable tribe of "animalculæ, who live by feeding on the body of genius," to attempt to undermine a reputation that was embalmed in the faith of so many parishes. The brochure was diligently scattered through the provinces, lauded around the tea-pot, openly extolled in the prints--by some kindred spirit, as was manifest in the striking similarity of style--and by one believer, more zealous or perhaps more interested than the rest, actually put on board the next ship which sailed for "home," as England was then affectionately termed, enclosed in an envelope which bore an address no less imposing than the Majesty of Britain. Its effect on the straight-going mind of the dogmatic German, who then filled the throne of the Conqueror, was never known, though they, who were in the secret of the trans mission, long looked, in vain, for the signal reward that was to follow so striking an exhibition of human intellect.
Notwithstanding these high and beneficent gifts, their possessor was now as unconsciously engaged in that portion of his professional labours which bore the strongest resemblance to the occupation of a scrivener, as though nature, in bestowing such rare endowments had denied him the phrenological quality of self-esteem. A critical observer might, however, have seen, or fancied that he saw, in the forced humility of his countenance, certain gleamings of a triumph that should not properly be traced to the fall of Quebec. The habit of appearing meek had, however, united with a frugal regard for the precious and irreclaimable minutes, in producing this extraordinary diligence in a pursuit of a character that was so humble, when compared with his recent mental efforts.
Leaving this gifted favourite of fortune and nature, we shall pass to an entirely different individual, and to another quarter of the place. The spot, to which we wish now to transport the reader, was neither more nor less than the shop of a tailor, who did not disdain to perform the most minute offices of his vocation in his own heedful person. The humble edifice stood at no great distance from the water, in the skirts of the town, and in such a situation as to enable its occupant to look out upon the loveliness of the inner basin, and, through a vista cut by the element between islands, even upon the lake-like scenery of the outer harbour. A small, though little frequented wharf lay before his door, while a certain air of negligence, and the absence of bustle, sufficiently manifested that the place itself was not the immediate site of the much-boasted commercial prosperity of the port.
The afternoon was like a morning in spring, the breeze which occasionally rippled the basin possessing that peculiarly bland influence which is so often felt in the American autumn; and the worthy mechanic laboured at his calling, seated on his shop board, at an open window, far better satisfied with himself than many of those whose fortune it is to be placed in state, beneath canopies of velvet and gold. On the outer side of the little building, a tall, awkward, but vigorous and well-formed countryman was lounging, with one shoulder placed against the side of the shop, as if his legs found the task of supporting his heavy frame too grievous to be endured with out assistance, seemingly in waiting for the completion of the garment at which the other toiled, and with which he intended to adorn the graces of his person, in an adjoining parish, on the succeeding sabbath.
In order to render the minutes shorter, and, possibly in indulgence to a powerful propensity to talk, of which he who wielded the needle was somewhat the subject, but few of the passing moments were suffered to escape without a word from one or the other of the parties. As the subject of their discourse had a direct reference to the principal matter of our tale, we shall take leave to give such portions of it to the reader as we deem most relevant to a clear exposition of that which is to follow. The latter will always bear in mind, that he who worked was a man drawing into the wane of life; that he bore about him the appearance of one who, either from incompetency or from some fatality of fortune, had been doomed to struggle through the world, keeping poverty from his residence only by the aid of great industry and rigid frugality; and that the idler was a youth of an age and condition that the acquisition of an entire set of habiliments formed to him a sort of era in his adventures.
"Yes." exclaimed the indefatigable shaper of cloth, with a species of sigh which might have been equally construed into an evidence of the fulness of his mental enjoyment, or of the excess of his bodily labours; "yes, smarter sayings have seldom fallen from the lips of man, than such as the squire pour'd out this very day. When he spoke of the plains of father Abraham, and of the smoke and thunder of the battle, Pardon, it stirred up such stomachy feelings in my bosom, that I verily believe I could have had the heart to throw aside the thimble, and go forth myself, to seek glory in battling in the cause of the King."
The youth, whose Christian or 'given' name, as it is even now generally termed in New-England, had been intended, by his pious sponsors, humbly to express his future hopes, turned his head towards the heroic tailor, with an expression of drollery about the eye, that proved nature had not been niggardly in the gift of humour, however the quality was suppressed by the restraints of a very peculiar manner, and no less peculiar education.
"There's an opening now, neighbour Homespun, for an ambitious man," he said, "sin' his Majesty has lost his stoutest general."
"Yes, yes," returned the individual who, either in his youth or in his age, had made so capital a blunder in the choice of a profession, "a fine and promising chance it is for one who counts but five-and-twenty; most of my day has gone by, and I must spend the rest of it here, where you see me, between buckram and osnaburghs--who put the dye into your cloth, Pardy? it is the best laid-in bark I've fingered this fall."
"Let the old woman alone for giving the lasting colour to her web; I'll engage, neighbour Homespun, provided you furnish the proper fit, there'll not be a better dress'd lad on the island than my own mother's son! But, sin' you cannot be a general good-man, you'll have the comfort of knowing there'll be no more fighting without you. Every body agrees the French won't hold out much longer, and then we must have a peace for want of enemies."
"So best, so best, boy; for one, who has seen so much of the horrors of war as I, knows how to put a rational value on the blessings of tranquillity!"
"Then you ar'n't altogether unacquainted, good-man, with the new trade you thought of setting up?"
"I! I have been through five long and bloody wars, and I've reason to thank God that I've gone through them all without a scratch so big as this needle would make. Five long and bloody, ay, and I may say glorious wars, have I liv'd through in safety!"
"A perilous time it must have been for you, neighbour. But I don't remember to have heard of more than two quarrels with the Frenchmen in my day." "You are but a boy, compared to one who has seen the end of his third score of years. Here is this war that is now so likely to be soon ended--Heaven, which rules all things in wisdom, be praised for the same! Then there was the business of '45, when the bold Warren sailed up and down our coasts; a scourge to his Majesty's enemies, and a safeguard to all the loyal subjects. Then, there was a business in Garmany, concerning which we had awful accounts of battles fou't, in which men were mowed down like grass falling before the scythe of a strong arm. That makes three. The fourth was the rebellion of '15, of which I pretend not to have seen much, being but a youth at the time; and the fifth was a dreadful rumour, that was spread through the provinces, of a general rising among the blacks and Indians, which was to sweep all us Christians into eternity at a minute's warning!"
"Well, I had always reckoned you for a home-staying and a peaceable man, neighbour;" returned the admiring countryman; "nor did I ever dream that you had seen such serious movings."
"I have not boasted, Pardon, or I might have added other heavy matters to the list. There was a great struggle in the East, no longer than the year '32, for the Persian throne. You have read of the laws of the Medes and the Persians: Well, for the very throne that gave forth those unalterable laws was there a frightful struggle, in which blood ran like water; but, as it was not in Christendom, I do not account it among my own experiences; though I might have spoken of the Porteous mob with great reason, as it took place in another portion of the very kingdom in which I lived."
"You must have journeyed much, and been stirring late and early, good-man, to have seen all these things, and to have got no harm."
"Yes, yes, I've been something of a traveller too, Pardy. Twice have I been over land to Boston, and once have I sailed through the Great Sound of Long Island, down to the town of York. It is an awful undertaking the latter, as it respects the distance, and more especially because it is needful to pass a place that is likened, by its name, to the entrance of Tophet."
"I have often heard the spot call'd 'Hell Gate' spoken of, and I may say, too, that I know a man well who has been through it twice; once in going to York, and once in coming homeward."
"He had enough of it, as I'll engage! Did he tell you of the pot which tosses and roars as if the biggest of Beelzebub's fires was burning beneath, and of the hog's-back over which the water pitches, as it may tumble over the Great Falls of the West! Owing to reasonable skill in our seamen, and uncommon resolution in the passengers, we happily made a good time of it, through ourselves; though I care not who knows it, I will own it is a severe trial to the courage to enter that same dreadful Strait. We cast out our anchors at certain islands, which lie a few furlongs this side the place, and sent the pinnace, with the captain and two stout seamen, to reconnoitre the spot, in order to see if it were in a peaceful state or not. The report being favourable, the passengers were landed, and the vessel was got through, by the blessing of Heaven, in safety. We had all reason to rejoice that the prayers of the congregation were asked before we departed from the peace and security of our homes!"
"You journeyed round the 'Gate' on foot?"--demanded the attentive boor.
"Certain! It would have been a sinful and a blasphemous tempting of Providence to have done otherwise, seeing that our duty called us to no such sacrifice. But all that danger is gone by, and so I trust will that of this bloody war, in which we have both been actors; and then I humbly hope his sacred Majesty will have leisure to turn his royal mind to the pirates who infest the coast, and to order some of his stout naval captains to mete out to the rogues the treatment they are so fond of giving unto others. It would be a joyful sight to my old eyes to see the famous and long-hunted Red Rover brought into this very port, towing at the poop of a King's cruiser."
"And is it a desperate villain, he of whom you now make mention?"
"He! There are many he's in that one, lawless ship, and bloody-minded and nefarious thieves are they, to the smallest boy. It is heart-searching and grievous, Pardy, to hear of their evil-doings on the high seas of the King!"
"I have often heard mention made of the Rover," returned the countryman; "but never to enter into any of the intricate particulars of his knavery."
"How should you, boy, who live up in the country, know so much of what is passing on the great deep, as we who dwell in a port that is so much resorted to by mariners! I am fearful you'll be making it late home, Pardon," he added, glancing his eye at certain lines drawn on his shop-board, by the aid of which he was enabled to note the progress of the setting sun. "It is drawing towards the hour of five, and you have twice that number of miles to go, before you can, by any manner of means, reach the nearest boundary of your father's farm."
"The road is plain, and the people honest," returned the countryman, who cared not if it were midnight, provided he could be the bearer of tidings of some dreadful sea robbery to the ears of those whom he well knew would throng around him, at his return, to hear the tidings from the port. "And is he, in truth, so much feared and sought for, as people say?"
"Is he sought for! Is Tophet sought by a praying Christian? Few there are on the mighty deep, let them even be as stout for, battle as was Joshua the great Jewish captain, that would not rather behold the land than see the top-gallants of that wicked pirate! Men fight for glory, Pardon, as I may say I have seen, after living through so many wars, but none love to meet an enemy who hoists a bloody flag at the first blow, and who is ready to cast both parties into the air, when he finds the hand of Satan has no longer power to help him."
"If the rogue is so desperate," returned the youth straightening his powerful limbs, with a look of rising pride, "why do not the Island and the Plantations fit out a coaster in order to bring him in, that he might get a sight of a wholesome gibbet? Let the drum beat on such a message through our neighbourhood and I'll engage that it don't leave it without one volunteer at least."
"So much for not having seen war! Of what use would flails and pitch-forks prove against men who have sold themselves to the devil? Often has the Rover been seen at night, or just as the sun has been going down, by the King's cruisers, who, having fairly surrounded the thieves, had good reason to believe that they had them already in the bilboes; but, when the morning has come, the prize was vanished, by fair means or by foul!"
"And are the villains so bloody-minded that they are called 'Red?'"
"Such is the title of their leader," returned the worthy tailor, who by this time was swelling with the importance of possessing so interesting a legend to communicate; "and such is also the name they give to his vessel; because no man, who has put foot on board her, has ever come back to say that she has a better or a worse; that is, no honest mariner or lucky voyager. The ship is of the size of a King's sloop, they say, and of like equipments and form; but she has miraculously escaped from the hands of many a gallant frigate; and once, it is whispered for no loyal subject would like to say such a scandalous thing openly, Pardon, that she lay under the guns of a fifty for an hour, and seemingly, to all eyes, she sunk like hammered lead to the bottom. But, just as every body was shaking hands, and wishing his neighbour joy at so happy a punishment coming over the knaves, a West-Indiaman came into port, that had been robbed by the Rover on the morning after the night in which it was thought they had all gone into eternity together. And what makes the matter worse, boy, while the King's ship was careening with her keel out, to stop the holes of cannon balls, the pirate was sailing up and down the coast, as sound as the day that the wrights first turned her from their hands!"
"Well, this is unheard of!" returned the countryman, on whom the tale was beginning to make a sensible impression: "Is she a well-turned and comely ship to the eye? or is it by any means certain that she is an actual living vessel at all?"
"Opinions differ. Some say, yes; some say, no. But I am well acquainted with a man who travelled a week in company with a mariner, who passed within a hundred feet of her, in a gale of wind. Lucky it was for them, that the hand of the Lord was felt so powerfully on the deep, and that the Rover had enough to do to keep his own ship from foundering. The acquaintance of my friend had a good view of both vessel and captain, therefore, in perfect safety. He said, that the pirate was a man maybe half as big again as the tall preacher over on the main, with hair of the colour of the sun in a fog, and eyes that no man would like to look upon a second time. He saw him as plainly as I see you; for the knave stood in the rigging of his ship, beckoning, with a hand as big as a coat-flap, for the honest trader to keep off, in order that the two vessels might not do one another damage by coming foul."
"He was a bold mariner, that trader, to go so nigh such a merciless rogue."
"I warrant you, Pardon, it was desperately against his will! But it was on a night so dark--"
"Dark!" interrupted the other; by what contrivance then did he manage to see so well?"
"No man can say!" answered the tailor, "but see he did, just in the manner, and the very things I have named to you. More than that, he took good note of the vessel, that he might know her, if chance, or Providence, should ever happen to throw her again into his way. She was a long, black ship, lying low in the water, like a snake in the grass, with a desperate wicked look, and altogether of dishonest dimensions. Then, every body says that she appears to sail faster than the clouds above, seeming to care little which way the wind blows, and that no one is a jot safer from her speed than her honesty. According to all that I have heard, she is something such a craft as yonder slaver, that has been lying the week past, the Lord knows why, in our outer harbour."
As the gossipping tailor had necessarily lost many precious moments, in relating the preceding history he now set about redeeming them with the utmost diligence, keeping time to the rapid movement of his needle-hand, by corresponding jerks of his head and shoulders. In the meanwhile, the bumpkin, whose wondering mind was by this time charged nearly to bursting with what he had heard, turned his look towards the vessel the other had pointed out, in order to get the only image that was now required, to enable him to do fitting credit to so moving a tale, suitably engraved on his imagination. There was necessarily a pause, while the respective parties were thus severally occupied. It was suddenly broken by the tailor, who clipped the thread with which he had just finished the garment, cast every thing from his hands, threw his spectacles upon his forehead, and, leaning his arms on his knees in such a manner as to form a perfect labyrinth with the limbs, he stretched his body forward so far as to lean out of the window, riveting his eyes also on the ship, which still attracted the gaze of his companion.
"Do you know, Pardy," he said, "that strange thoughts and cruel misgivings have come over me concerning that very vessel? They say she is a slaver come in for wood and water, and there she has been a week, and not a stick bigger than an oar has gone up her side, and I'll engage that ten drops from Jamaica have gone on board her, to one from the spring. Then you may see she is anchored in such a way that but one of the guns from the battery can touch her; whereas, had she been a real timid trader, she would naturally have got into a place where, if a straggling picaroon should come into the port, he would have found her in the very hottest of the fire."
"You have an ingenious turn with you, good-man," returned the wondering countryman; "now a ship might have lain on the battery island itself, and I would have hardly noticed the thing."
"'Tis use and experience, Pardon, that makes men of us all. I should know something of batteries, having seen so many wars, and I served a campaign of a week, in that very fort, when the rumour came that the French were sending cruisers from Louisburg down the coast. For that matter, my duty was to stand sentinel over that very cannon; and, if I have done the thing once, I have twenty times squinted along the piece, to see in what quarter it would send its shot, provided such a calamity should arrive as that it might become necessary to fire it loaded with real warlike balls."
"And who are these?" demanded Pardon, with that species of sluggish curiosity which had been awakened by the wonders related by the other: "Are these mariners of the slaver, or are they idle Newporters?"
"Them!" exclaimed the tailor; "sure enough, they are new-comers, and it may be well to have a closer look at them in these troublesome times! Here, Nab, take the garment, and press down the seams, you idle hussy; for neighbour Hopkins is straitened for time, while your tongue is going like a young lawyer's in a justice court. Don't be sparing of your elbow, girl; for it's no India muslin that you'll have under the iron, but cloth that would do to side a house with. Ah! your mother's loom, Pardy, robs the seamster of many an honest job."
Having thus transferred the remainder of the job from his own hands to those of an awkward, pouting girl, who was compelled to abandon her gossip with a neighbour, she went to obey his injunctions, he quickly removed his own person, notwithstanding a miserable limp with which he had come into the world, from the shop-board to the open air. As more important characters are, however, about to be introduced to the reader, we shall defer the ceremony to the opening of another chapter.
Sir Toby. "Excellent! I smell a device."
The strangers were three in number; for strangers the good-man Homespun, who knew not only the names but most of the private history of every man and woman within ten miles of his own residence immediately proclaimed them to be, in a whisper to his companion; and strangers, too, of a mysterious and threatening aspect. In order that others may have an opportunity of judging of the probability of the latter conjecture, it becomes necessary that a more minute account should be given of the respective appearances of these individuals, who, unhappily for their reputations, had the misfortune to be unknown to the gossipping tailor of Newport.
The one, by far the most imposing in his general mien, was a youth who had apparently seen some six or seven-and-twenty seasons. That those seasons had not been entirely made of sunny days, and nights of repose, was betrayed by the tinges of brown which had been laid on his features, layer after layer in such constant succession, as to have changed, to a deep olive, a complexion which had once been fair, and through which the rich blood was still mantling with the finest glow of vigorous health. His features were rather noble and manly, than distingiushed for their exactness and symmetry; his nose being far more bold and prominent than regular in its form, with his brows projecting, and sufficiently marked to give to the whole of the superior parts of his face that decided intellectual expression which is already becoming so common to American physiognomy. The mouth was firm and manly; and, while he muttered to himself, with a meaning smile, as the curious tailor drew slowly nigher, it discovered a set of glittering teeth, that shone the brighter from being cased in so dark a setting. The hair was a jet black, in thick and confused ringlets; the eyes were very little larger than common, gray, and, though evidently of a changing expression, rather leaning to mildness than severity. The form of this young man was of that happy size which so singularly unites activity with strength. It seemed to be well knit, while it was justly proportioned, and strikingly graceful. Though these several personal qualifications were exhibited under the disadvantages of the perfectly simple, though neat and rather tastefully disposed, attire of a common mariner, they were sufficiently imposing to cause the suspicious dealer in buckram to hesitate before he would venture to address the stranger, whose eye appeared riveted, by a species of fascination, on the reputed slaver in the outer harbour. A curl of the upper lip, and another strange smile, in which scorn was mingled with his mutterings, decided the vacillating mind of the good-man. Without venturing to disturb a reverie that seemed so profound, he left the youth leaning against the head of the pile where he had long been standing, perfectly unconscious of the presence of any intruder, and turned a little hastily to examine the rest of the party.
One of the remaining two was a white man, and the other a negro. Both had passed the middle age, and both in their appearances, furnished the strongest proofs of long exposure to the severity of climate, and to numberless tempests. They were dressed in the plain, weather-soiled, and tarred habiliments of common seamen, and bore about their several persons all the other unerring evidences of their peculiar profession. The former was of a short, thick-set powerful frame, in which, by a happy ordering of nature, a little confirmed perhaps by long habit, the strength was principally seated about the broad and brawny shoulders, and strong sinewy arms, as if, in the construction of the man, the inferior members had been considered of little other use than to transfer the superior to the different situations in which the former were to display their energies. His head was in proportion to the more immediate members; the forehead low, and nearly covered with hair; the eyes small, obstinate, sometimes fierce, and often dull; the nose snub, coarse, and vulgar; the mouth large and voracious; the teeth short, clean, and perfectly sound; and the chin broad, manly, and even expressive. This singularly constructed personage had taken his seat on an empty barrel, and, with folded arms, he sat examining the often-mentioned slaver, occasionally favouring his companion, the black, with such remarks as were suggested by his observation and great experience.
The negro occupied a more humble post; one better suited to his subdued habits and inclinations. In stature, and the peculiar division of animal force, there was a great resemblance between the two, with the exception that the latter enjoyed the advantage in height, and even in proportions. While nature had stamped on his lineaments those distinguishing marks which characterize the race from which he sprung, she had not done it to that revolting degree to which her displeasure against that stricken people is often carried. His features were more elevated than common; his eye was mild, easily excited to joy, and, like that of his companion, sometimes humorous. His head was beginning to be sprinkled with gray, his skin had lost the shining jet colour which had distinguished it in his youth, and all his limbs and movements bespoke a man whose frame had been equally indurated and stiffened by unremitted toil. He sat on a low stone, and seemed intently employed in tossing pebbles into the air, and shewing his dexterity by catching them in the hand from which they had just been cast; an amusement which betrayed alike the natural tendency of his mind to seek pleasure in trifles, and the absence of those more elevating feelings which are the fruits of education. The process, however, furnished a striking exhibition of the physical force of the negro. In order to conduct this trivial pursuit without incumbrance, he had rolled the sleeve of his light canvas jacket to the elbow, and laid bare an arm that might have served as a model for the limb of Hercules.
There was certainly nothing sufficiently imposing about the persons of either of these individuals to repel the investigations of one as much influenced by curiosity as our tailor. Instead, however, of yielding directly to the strong impulse, the honest shaper of cloth chose to conduct his advance in a manner that should afford to the bumpkin a striking proof of his boasted sagacity. After making a sign of caution and intelligence to the latter, he approached slowly from behind, with a light step, that might give him an opportunity of overhearing any secret that should unwittingly fall from either of the seamen. His forethought was followed by no very important results, though it served to supply his suspicions with all the additional testimony of the treachery of their characters that could be furnished by evidence so simple as the mere sound of their voices. As to the words themselves, though the good-man they might well contain treason, he was compelled to acknowledge to himself that it was so artfully concealed as to escape even his acute capacity We leave the reader himself to judge of the correctness of both opinions.
"This is a pretty bight of a basin, Guinea," observed the white, rolling his tobacco in his mouth and turning his eyes, for the first time in many minutes, from the vessel; "and a spot is it that a man, who lay on a lee-shore without sticks, might be glad to see his craft in. Now do I call myself something of a seaman, and yet I cannot weather upon the philosophy of that fellow, in keeping his ship in the outer harbour, when he might warp her into this mill-pond in half an hour. It gives his boats hard duty, dusky S'ip; and that I call making foul weather of fair!"
The negro had been christened Scipio Africanus, by a species of witticism which was much more common to the Provinces than it is to the States of America, and which filled so many of the meaner employments of the country, in name at least, with the counterparts of the philosophers, heroes, poets, and princes of Rome. To him it was a matter of small moment, whether the vessel lay in the offing or in the port; and, without discontinuing his childish amusement, he manifested the same, by replying, with great indifference of manner,--
"I s'pose he t'ink all the water inside lie on a top."
"I tell you, Guinea," returned the other, in a harsh, positive tone, "the fellow is a know-nothing! Would any man, who understands the behaviour of a ship, keep his craft in a roadstead, when he might tie her, head and stern, in a basin like this?"
"What he call roadstead?" interrupted the negro, seizing at once, with the avidity of ignorance, on the little oversight of his adversary, in confounding the outer harbour of Newport with the wilder anchorage below, and with the usual indifference of all similar people to the more material matter of whether the objection was at all germain to the point in controversy; "I never hear 'em call anchoring ground, with land around it, roadstead afore!"
"Hark ye, mister Gold-coast," muttered the white, bending his head aside in a threatening manner, though he still disdained to turn his eyes on his humble adversary, "if you've no wish to wear your shins parcelled for the next month, gather in the slack of your wit, and have an eye to the manner in which you let it run again. Just tell me this; isn't a port a port? and isn't an offing an offing?"
As these were two propositions to which even the ingenuity of Scipio could raise no objection, he wisely declined touching on either, contenting himself with shaking his head in great self-complacency, and laughing as heartily, at his imaginary triumph over his companion, as though he had never known care, nor been the subject of wrong and humiliation, so long and so patiently endured.
"Ay, ay," grumbled the white, re-adjusting his person in its former composed attitude, and again crossing the arms, which had been a little separated, to give force to the menace against the tender member of the black, "now you are piping the wind out of your throat like a flock of long-shore crows, you think you've got the best of the matter. The Lord made a nigger an unrational animal; and an experienced seaman, who has doubled both Capes, and made all the head-lands atween Fundy and Horn, has no right to waste his breath in teaching any of the breed! I tell you, Scipio, since Scipio is your name on the ship's books, though I'll wager a month's pay against a wooden boat-hook that your father was known at home as Quashee, and your mother as Quasheeba--therefore do I tell you, Scipio Africa--which is a name for all your colour, I believe--that yonder chap, in the outer harbour of this here sea-port is no judge of an anchorage, or he would drop a kedge mayhap hereaway, in a line with the southern end of that there small matter of an island, and hauling his ship up to it, fasten her to the spot with good hempen cables and iron mud-hooks. Now, look you here, S'ip, at the reason of the matter," he continued, in a manner which shewed that the little skirmish that had just passed was like one of those sudden squalls of which they had both seen so many, and which were usually so soon succeeded by corresponding seasons of calm; "look you at the whole rationality of what I say. He has come into this anchorage either for something or for nothing. I suppose you are ready to admit that. If for nothing, he might have found that much outside, and I'll say no more about it; but if for something, he could get it off easier, provided the ship lay hereaway, just where I told you, boy, not a fathom ahead or astern, than where she is now riding, though the article was no heavier than a fresh handful of feathers for the captain's pillow. Now, if you have any thing to gainsay the reason of this, why, I'm ready to hear it as a reasonable man, and one who has not forgotten his manners in learning his philosophy."
"S'pose a wind come out fresh here, at nor-west," answered the other, stretching his brawny arm towards the point of the compass he named, "and a vessel want to get to sea in a hurry, how you t'ink he get her far enough up to lay through the weather reach? Ha! you answer me dat; you great scholar, misser Dick, but you never see ship go in wind's teeth, or hear a monkey talk."
"The black is right!" exclaimed the youth, who, it would seem, had overheard the dispute, while he appeared otherwise engaged; "the slaver has left his vessel in the outer harbour, knowing that the wind holds so much to the westward at this season of the year; and then you see he keeps his light spars aloft, although it is plain enough, by the manner in which his sails are furled, that he is strong-handed Can you make out, boys, whether he has an anchor under foot, or is he merely riding by a single cable?"
"The man must be a driveller, to lie in such a tides-way, without dropping his stream, or at least a kedge, to steady the ship," returned the white, with out appearing to think any thing more than the received practice of seamen necessary to decide the point. "That he is no great judge of an anchorage, I am ready to allow; but no man, who can keep things so snug aloft, would think of fastening his ship, for any length of time, by a single cable, to sheer starboard and port, like that kicking colt, tied to the tree by a long halter, that we fell in with, in our passage over land from Boston."
"'Em got a stream down, and all a rest of he anchors stowed," said the black, whose dark eye was glancing understandingly at the vessel, while he still continued to east his pebbles into the air: "S'pose he jam a helm hard a-port, misser Harry, and take a tide on he larboard bow, what you t'ink make him kick and gallop about! Golly! I like to see Dick, without a foot-rope, ride a colt tied to tree!"
Again the negro enjoyed his humour, by shaking his head, as if his whole soul was amused by the whimsical image his rude fancy had conjured, and indulged in a hearty laugh; and again his white companion muttered certain exceedingly heavy and sententious denunciations. The young man, who seemed to enter very little into the quarrels and witticisms of his singular associates, still kept his gaze intently fastened on the vessel, which to him appeared for the moment, to be the subject of some extraordinary interest. Shaking his own head, though in a far graver manner, as if his doubts were drawing to a close, he added, as the boisterous merriment or the negro ceased,--
"Yes, Scipio, you are right: he rides altogether by his stream, and he keeps every thing in readiness for a sudden move. In ten minutes he would carry his ship beyond the fire of the battery, provided he had but a capful of wind."
"You appear to be a judge in these matters," said an unknown voice behind him.
The youth turned suddenly on his heel, and then for the first time, was he apprised of the presence of any intruders. The surprise, however, was not confined to himself; for, as there was another newcomer to be added to the company, the gossipping tailor was quite as much, or even more, the subject of astonishment, than any of that party, whom he had been so intently watching as to have prevented him from observing the approach of still another utter stranger.
The third individual was a man between thirty and forty, and of a mien and attire not a little adapted to quicken the already active curiosity of the good-man Homespun. His person was slight, but afforded the promise of exceeding agility, and even of vigour, especially when contrasted with his stature which was scarcely equal to the medium height of man. His skin had been dazzling as that of woman though a deep red, which had taken possession of the lower lineaments of his face, and which was particularly conspicuous on the outline of a fine aquiline nose, served to destroy all appearance of effeminacy. His hair was like his complexion, fair and fell about his temples in rich, glossy, and exuberant curls; His mouth and chin were beautiful in their formation; but the former was a little scornful and the two together bore a decided character of voluptuousness. The eye was blue, full without being prominent, and, though in common placid and even soft, there were moments when it seemed a little unsettled and wild. He wore a high conical hat, placed a little on one side, so as to give a slightly rakish expression to his physiognomy, a riding frock of light green, breeches of buck-skin, high boots, and spurs. In one of his hands he carried a small whip, with which, when first seen, he was cutting the air with an appearance of the utmost indifference to the surprise occasioned by his sudden interruption.
"I say, sir, you seem to be a judge in these matters," he repeated, when he had endured the frowning examination of the young seaman quite as long as comported with his own patience; "you speak like a man who feels he has a right to give an opinion!"
"Do you find it remarkable that one should not be ignorant of a profession that he has diligently pursued for a whole life?"
"Hum! I find it a little remarkable, that one, whose business is that of a handicraft, should dignify his trade with such a sounding name as profession, We of the learned science of the law, and who enjoy the particular smiles of the learned universities, can say no more!"
"Then call it trade; for nothing in common with gentlemen of your craft is acceptable to a seaman," retorted the young mariner, turning away from the intruder with a disgust that he did not affect to conceal.
"A lad of some metal!" muttered the other, with a rapid utterance and a meaning smile. "Let not such a trifle as a word part us, friend. I confess my ignorance of all maritime matters, and would gladly learn a little from one as skilful as yourself in the noble--profession. I think you said something concerning the manner in which yonder ship has an chored, and of the condition in which they keep things alow and aloft?"
"Alow and aloft!" exclaimed the young sailor, facing his interrogator with a stare that was quite as expressive as his recent disgust.
"Alow and aloft!" calmly repeated the other.
"I spoke of her neatness aloft, but do not affect to judge of things below at this distance."
"Then it was my error; but you will have pity on the ignorance of one who is so new to the profession. As I have intimated, I am no more than an unworthy barrister, in the service of his Majesty, expressly sent from home on a particular errand. It it were not a pitiful pun, I might add, I am not yet--judge."
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