« PreviousContinue »
eye could reach, spread fields of golden grain, tall forests, and grassy plains; while on every hill were reared the snow-white walls of a brave and happy people. It was to me a scene of peculiar enchantment, for it was the birth-place of my hopes, the theatre of my boyhood. And I have gazed upon that mighty marvel of Niagara, where the simple red man listened to the voice of Manitou, and looked in wonder upon his bow of hope; and I too have felt the awe it inspires; but never, oh, Ocean! have I seen thy peer nor thy equal. Thou hast no rival-mighty, illimitable element! Thou art indeed the fittest type of Him who holds thy many waters' in the hollow of his hand!
Such were the musings of Captain Sutherland, as he paced the quarter-deck of the Sparrow-hawk. But hold! good reader, while I prate of our whereabout. Know, then, that you are on board of an American sloop of war, and that you are even now running along to the eastward of the Bahamas, heading to the southward, the wind right aft, and steering-sails set alow and aloft.
Fine night,' said Mr. Topblock, who was officer of the deck, addressing Captain Sutherland. He was in the habit of saying that it was a fine night; it was his preface to conversation, and he invariably broke the ice with some such hammer.
Very,' responded the commander. Sutherland was to his officers the very essence of politeness.
· Fine run to-day, Sir,' rejoined Mr. Topblock, increasing the angular distance of his legs, putting the trumpet under his left arm, and thrusting both hands in his breeches pockets.
* Yes; I belicve we have a degree and a half on the slate, since meridian.'
• Fine breeze, too,' remarked the lieutenant.
Mr. Topblock made no immediate reply, but he wondered who the
of * sail ho!' rose from the forecastle, and died away to leeward, on the wings of the breeze.
• Where away ? inquired Mr. Topblock, through the trumpet.
• Broad on the larboard bow,' responded the look-out; and Sutherland, on turning to the indicated direction, beheld a pile of canvass looming through the gloom of the night.
• The glass, quarter-master,' exclaimed Mr. Topblock; and that gentleman sent his glance through an inverted telescope. * Can you distinguish her l' asked Captain Sutherland.
Perfectly.' · What do you make her out ?
• A ship on the starboard tack, running with the wind free; small ship, Sir; Frenchman, perhaps, bound to the Spanish Main; fine ships, those Frenchmen, Sir.'
Haul up a point,' said Sutherland; 'we will speak her.'
* Ay, ay, Sir; quarter-master, bring her to, a point, and let me know when she's her course.'
•Course now, Sir,' said the man at the wheel. * Very well; keep her so.'
In the mean time, Sutherland had been scanning the stranger, who was now drawing nearer and nearer every moment.
The stars gave but a dim light, yet there was a sufficient brightness abroad, to afford him a view of her spars and hull, even at the distance of a mile. Another half hour, however, brought both ships within hail, and the stranger then took in his steering-sails, furled his royals, and hauled up his courses. Nearly at the same time, the like manœuvre was performed on board of the Sparrow-hawk, and the bows of either ship deviated a little, when they commenced dashing ahead, upon the same point of the compass.
At this moment, a tail figure sprang into the mizzen rigging of the new comer, and applying a huge lee-gangway trumpet to his mouth, sang out, in a clear and powerful voice, the customary ship ahoy!
• Fine voice,' muttered Mr. Topblock, as he gave forth a wellturned hilloa !'
• What ship is that ?' inquired the stranger.
Mr. Topblock looked at Sutherland; Sutherland made an affirmative gesture, and the former answered : • The United States' sloop of war Sparrow-hawk; and what ship is that, pray ? — and where bound ? - and how long out? — and where from ?'
It was a good while before the stranger replied; but the interrogatories of Mr. Topblock were so multifarious, that it required an unusual time to arrange their respective answers. At length, however, they came : “ The Royal Alfred, from London, bound to Vera Cruz, thirty days out.'
Then the courses and royals of the stranger fell from the yards ; the after sails were braced sharp up on the larboard tack; the spanker hauled out, the flying-jib run up, the head yards trimmed on a parallel with those in the rear, and all sail made by the wind.
• The fellow dislikes our company, and is about to take an unceremonious leave,' remarked Sutherland. • The late conflict has soured John's temper, and he will never look upon us with any thing like complacency again.'
Queer, that English merchants should hire yankee skippers,' muttered an old tar, who stood looking at the stranger, with his hands thrust in the breast of his pea-jacket; “but mayhap these seamen have thrown up the marlinspike for the musket, a thing about as likely as that I, Jack Jeer, should one day turn diwine.'
Sutherland listened attentively to the bo'son's-mate's soliloquy, for he himself thought it singular that she should haul close upon the wind, instead of steering the more direct course for her place of destination. • Do
you think the man that hailed us, an American, Jeer?' * Ay, Sir,' responded the tar, “and a Nantucketer, at that, or I'm a green-horn. I could detect the woice o' one o'them fellows, if he was to bellow a half a knot through a stove-pipe.'
The stranger, though dashing rapidly through the water, was yet within hail, when Sutherland, seizing a trumpet, sprang upon a gun, and desired him to heave to, and send a boat alongside. The tall figure again leaped into the mizzen rigging, and replied, that all his
boats but the launch had been stove in a gale of wind, off the Island of Madeira.
Brace your main-topsail aback, then, and I will send a boat to you,' rejoined Sutherland.
The chase, however, took no notice of the remark, but singing out a 'good night,' through the trumpet, descended to the deck.
• Loose the royals; man the fore and main tacks and sheets; clear away the flying-jib; man the spanker out-haul !' The men obeyed with excited alacrity, and in a few moments the Sparrow-hawk was surging ahead, in hot pursuit. • Clear
away the long gun! beat to quarters !' was the next order that issued from abaft; and then the decks of the American presented a scene of wild though not unusual excitement. The shrill, measured notes of the fife, blended with the loud rolling of the drum ; the confused hum of the men, as they hurried up with their hammocks; the clashing of cutlasses, as they were thrown from the armchests, all mingled in rude disorder ; but these noises soon subsided; the men took their places at the guns; the officers repaired to their respective stations; and when the drum had ceased to beat, nothing was heard, save the wash of the waves, as they swept along the dark counter of the vessel.
The two ships were now running along at a rapid rate ; but it was soon observable that the stranger was ranging ahead. As soon as Sutherland perceived this, he ordered a shot to be thrown across the fore-foot of the chase. The match was applied, the report rang upon the air, and the ball ploughed the water up under her lee quarter ; but the stranger still held his way, and in another minute, three small sky-sails fluttered aloft, and were spread out above his royals.
* Throw another among his canvass !' exclaimed Sutherland, angrily
Very fine !' exclaimed Mr. Topblock, as the spanker-gaff of the stranger was shattered by the ball into a thousand fragments — 'very fine ! But even as he spoke, the bows of the chase swept gracefully to starboard, and the roar of eight pieces of artillery burst from his sides, and enveloped his hull and courses in a dense bank of smoke. The iron rattled through the rigging and spars of the Sparrow-hawk, cutting and splintering every thing in its path, but passing to leeward, without injuring any thing that would lessen the speed of the vessel.
Sutherland cast his eyes aloft, for a moment, and turning to the man at the wheel, ordered him to put the helm a-port. The obedient ship fell off, and when she had brought her entire broadside to bear upon her antagonist, the deafening thunder of her carronades rang upon the startled air, with a peal that sent its echo up to the very heavens ; and when the eyes of those on board of the Sparrowhawk were turned once more to the chase, they beheld her mizzentop-gallant-mast dangling from aloft, and her fore and main royals flapping in the wind; but men were seen the next instant clambering up the rigging, and before the guns of the American were reloaded, the wreck was cleared, and the clews of the fluttering canvass extended to the extremities of the yards. When these dispositions had been effected, another volley of iron darted across the water,
crashing through the bulwarks of the American, dismounting two carronades, and killing or wounding the crew of the dismantled guns.
• That broadside was well directed,' muttered Sutherland, as a dark spot settled like a cloud upon his brow ; "and those fellows work like magicians. Mr. Topblock, what is your opinion of that
Why, Sir, I should say that she is some West India pirate, cruising about to intercept some homeward-bound Don. Who knows but it may be ' Diablito' himself! They say his ship is handled like the Flying Dutchman, and that she outsails the very
wind.' • Then we must capture her, at every sacrifice! Let them load and fire all the guns that will bear, in the order of succession, and let some hands go aloft and overhaul damages.'
A running fight was now kept up between the pursuer and the pursued, for another two hours, during which little or no advantage was gained on either side. But at the expiration of that time, the stranger, by his superior sailing, had placed himself beyond the range of the Sparrow-hawk's carronades, and the battle was then maintained with the two long guns, the chase, after this, not firing a single shot in return. Sutherland's only hope of capturing his antagonist, was by disabling her; and to effect this, he kept up an unceasing fire from the eighteens, although it retarded the progress of his ship, and thereby rendered a decided advantage to the retreating vessel. During the remainder of the night, the chase was hotly continued, the stranger gradually gaining a greater distance; and when the first flush of morning streaked the horizon, she was hull-down to windward, and the long guns of the American were of no further service. The breeze, too, began to die away; and when the sun rose, it fell a dead calm. : Although Sutherland had been on deck throughout all the watches of the night, he requested that Mr. Topblock and the rest of the officers should go below and seek some repose.
The men were also sent to their hammocks, and in a little time he stood alone upon the blood-stained and shattered deck of the Sparrow-hawk. Long after the sun rose, he continued to pace the narrow limits between the taffrail and mizzenmast, in deep and unbroken reverie.
There was something in the view around him, that harmonized with his own melancholy meditations.
It was high noon; yet still no breath of air ruffled the surface of the burnished wave, nor was there a single cloud in the blue arch above. The sea, too, had gone to rest, and all was silent - all was calm.
At length, the loud, shrill whistle of the boatswain awoke the crew from their slumbers, and the decks of the Sparrow-hawk were again enlivened by the gay jest and hearty laugh of the reckless tar. Gangs were set about repairing the destruction of the night; new lifts and braces were rove; yards were fished, shattered spars sent down, spare top-gallant-masts fidded, sails mended or replaced, dismounted guns re-shipped, and new breechings substituted; so that by sun-down, the Sparrow-hawk was amply prepared for another engagement.
The night passed languidly away. Morning came again, but the calm was as profound as it had been during the previous day. At
last, when even expectation slumbered, the gratifying cry of 'A breeze! a breeze!' burst simultaneously from a hundred lips. •All hands make sail!' exclaimed the officer of the watch. Up flew the nimble topmen; and in a little time, the Sparrow-hawk was dashing bravely ahead. The stranger, too, had spread abroad all his canvass, and was going off on a “taut bowline,' it being evidently his fastest point of sailing.
• Would to heaven the wind had come out from the westward!' said Sutherland; “I think if we could obtain the weather-gauge, we might yet overhaul the rascal; as it is, our only chance is to keep him in sight, until we have a shift of the breeze.'
I think with you, exactly,' said Topblock, surveying the chase through a telescope: 'but hilloa! what the d-1 does the fellow mean? Here it is as clear as a bell, and by the gods! he's taking in every thing! Why, if he expected a hurricane in five minutes, he could n't be more expeditious. Whew!-up courses, in royals and to'-gallant sails, down jib and flying-jib, up spanker ! - what does he mean? There go his topsail halliards, too; by my life ! not a rag
left aloft!' The lieutenant passed the glass to Sutherland, who, with equal astonishment, surveyed the naked spars of the stranger.
He's hoisting away his fore storm-stay-sail!' said he; and as he yet gazed, he beheld her careen, until her lower-yards nearly touched the water. Like lightning the truth flashed upon him. He dropped the telescope, seized a deck-trumpet, and raised it to his lips. But it was too late! The fury of the gust burst over him, and his voice was drowned in the crash of falling spars, and the thunder of the rent
The three top-masts, jib, and flying jib-booms, fell over the side, and the Sparrow-hawk was a helpless wreck.
*Cut!' shouted Sutherland, when he could at length be heard ; 'cut there, for'ard !- cut for your lives ! — cut away every thing!' The ready seamen leaped into the gang-ways, and in a moment every piece of standing or running rigging that contined the wrecked masts to the hull of the ship, was severed.
· Hard up your helm! quartermaster — hard up !!
There succeeded a few moments of breatlıless anxiety. The ship was now in a situation that threatened her immediate destruction. Her whole broadside was exposed to the hurricane, and her only hope of salvation was in getting at once before it. The sea, too, was pouring like a cataract over her lee hammock-cloths, and the starboard gangway was afloat with water.
• Is she going off at all ?' inquired Sutherland.
The lanyards of the weather rigging were severed, and after a few strokes of the axe, the mast fell, with a heavy plunge, into the sea.
"She 's going off !shouted the quartermaster, almost at the same instant.
• Very well; stand by to meet her with the helm !' and the bows of the shattered ship tended gracefully to leeward, and recovering her gravity with one deep roll, she began to drive furiously through the boiling ocean.