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Chapter 12

As soon as the Trio was off, I got well. Little did I then think of the
great risk I ran in going ashore; for it was almost certain death for an
European to land, for any length of time, at that season. Still less did
I, or _could_ I, anticipate what was to happen to myself, in this very
hospital, a few years later; or how long I was to be one of its truly
suffering, and, I hope, repentant inmates. The consul was frank enough to
tell me that I had been shamming Abraham; and I so far imitated his
sincerity as distinctly to state, it was quite true. I thought the old
Trio ought to have been left on the bank, where Providence had placed her;
but, it being the pleasure of her captain and the supercargo to take her
bones to the Isle of France for burial, I did not choose to go so far,
weeping through the pumps, to attend her funeral.

As the consul held my wages, and refused to give me any money, I was
compelled to get on board some vessel as soon as I could. Batavia was not
a place for an American constitution, and I was glad to be off. I shipped,
before the mast, in the Clyde, of Salem, a good little ship, with good
living and good treatment. We sailed immediately, but not soon enough to
escape the Batavia fever. Two of the crew died, about a week out, and were
buried in the Straits of Banca. The day we lost sight of Java Head, it
came on to blow fresh, and we had to take in the jib, and double-reef the
topsails. A man of the name of Day went down on the bowsprit shrouds to
clear the jib-sheets, when the ship made a heavy pitch, and washed him
away. The second mate and myself got into the boat, and were lowered as
soon as the ship was rounded-to. There was a very heavy sea on, but we
succeeded in finding the poor fellow, who was swimming with great apparent
strength. His face was towards the boat, and, as we came near, I rose, and
threw the blade of my oar towards him, calling out to him to be of good
cheer. At this instant, Day seemed to spring nearly his length out of
water, and immediately sunk. What caused this extraordinary effort, and
sudden failure, was never known. I have sometimes thought a shark must
have struck him, though I saw neither blood nor fish. The man was
hopelessly lost, and we returned to the ship, feeling as seamen always
feel on such occasions.

A few days later, another man died of the fever. This left but five of us
in the forecastle, with the ship a long way to the eastward of the Cape of
Good Hope. Before we got up with the Cape, another foremast hand went
crazy, and, instead of helping us, became a cause of much trouble for the
rest of the passage. In the end, he died, mad. We had now only three men
in a watch, the officers included; and of course, it was trick and trick
at the helm. Notwithstanding all this, we did very well, having a good
run, until we got on the coast, which we reached in the month of January.
A north-wester drove us off, and we had a pretty tough week of it, but
brought the ship up to the Hook, at the end of that time, and anchored her
safely in the East River. The Clyde must have been a ship of about three
hundred tons, and, including every one on board, nine of us sailed her
from the eastward of the Cape to her port, without any serious difficulty.

I did not stay long ashore, for the money went like smoke, but shipped in
a brig called the Margaret, bound to Belfast. This vessel struck in the
Irish channel, but she was backed off with little difficulty, and got safe
into her port. The return passage was pleasant, and without any accident.

Such a voyage left little to spend, and I was soon on the look-out for a
fresh berth. I shipped this time as mate, in a brig called the William
Henry, bound on a smuggling voyage to the coast of Spain. We took in
tobacco, segars, &c. &c., and the brig dropped down to Staten Island. Here
I quarrelled with the captain about some cotton wick, and I threw up my
situation. I knew there were more ships than parish churches, and felt no
concern about finding a place in one, up at town. The balance of my
advance was paid back, and I left the smuggling trade, like an honest man.
I only wish this change of purpose had proceeded from a better motive.

My next windfall was Jack's berth on board a beautiful little schooner
called the Ida, that was to sail for Curaçoa, in the hope of being
purchased by the governor of the island or a yacht. I expected to find my
way to the Spanish main, after the craft was sold. We got out without any
accident, going into port of a Sunday morning. The same morning, an
English frigate and a sloop-of-war came in and anchored. That afternoon
these vessels commenced giving liberty to their men. We were alongside of
a wharf, and, in the afternoon, our crew took a drift in some public
gardens in the suburbs of the town. Here an incident occurred that is
sufficiently singular to be mentioned.

I was by myself in the garden, ruminating on the past, and, I suppose,
looking melancholy and in the market, when I perceived an English
man-of-war's-man eyeing me pretty closely. After a while, he came up, and
fell into discourse with me. Something that fell from him made me distrust
him from the first, and I acted with great caution. After sounding me for
some time, he inquired if I had any berth. I told him, no. He then went
on, little by little, until he got such answers as gave him confidence,
when he let me into the secret of his real object. He said he belonged to
the frigate, and had liberty until next morning--that he and four of his
shipmates who were ashore, had determined to get possession of the pretty
little Yankee schooner that was lying alongside of the Telegraph, at the
wharf, and carry her down to Laguayra. All this was to be done that night,
and he wished me to join the party. By what fell from this man, I made no
doubt his design was to turn pirate, after he had sold the flour then in
the Ida. I encouraged him to so on, and we drank together, until he let me
into his whole plan. The scheme was to come on board the schooner, after
the crew had turned in, to fasten all hands below, set the foresail and
jib, and run out with the land-breeze; a thing that was feasible enough,
considering there is never any watch kept in merchant-vessels that lie
at wharves.

After a long talk, I consented to join the enterprise, and agreed to be,
at nine o'clock, on board the Telegraph, a Philadelphia ship, outside of
which our schooner lay. This vessel had a crew of blacks, and, as most of
them were then ashore, it was supposed many would not return to her that
night. My conspirator observed--"the Yankees that belong to the schooner
are up yonder in the garden, and will be half drunk, so they will all be
sound asleep, and can give us little trouble." I remember he professed to
have no intention of hurting any of us, but merely to run away with us,
and sell the craft from under us. We parted with a clear understanding of
the manner in which everything was to be done.

I know no other reason why this man chose to select me for his companion
in such an adventure, than the circumstance that I happened to be alone,
and perhaps I may have looked a little under the weather. He was no sooner
gone, however, than I managed to get near my shipmates, and to call them
out of the garden, one by one. As we went away, I told them all that had
happened, and we laid our counter-plot. When we reached the Telegraph, it
was near night, and finding only two of the blacks on board her, we let
them into the secret, and they joined us, heart and hand. We got something
to drink, as a matter of course, and tried to pass the time as well as we
could, until the hour for springing the mine should arrive.

Pretty punctually to the hour, we heard footsteps on the quay, and then a
gang of men stopped alongside of the ship. We stowed ourselves under the
bulwarks, and presently the gentlemen came on board, one by one. The
negroes were too impatient, however, springing out upon their prey a
little too soon. We secured three of the rascals, but two escaped us, by
jumping down upon the quay and running. Considering we were all captains,
this was doing pretty well.

Our three chaps were Englishmen, and I make no doubt belonged to the
frigate, as stated. As soon as they were fairly pinned, and they
understood there was no officer among us, they began to beg. They said
their lives would be forfeited if we gave them up, and they entreated us
to let them go. We kept them about half an hour, and finally yielded to
their solicitations, giving them their liberty again. They were very
thankful for their escape, especially as I told them what had passed
between myself and the man in the garden. This fellow was one of the two
that escaped, and had the appearance of a man who might very well become a
leader among pirates.

The next day the two men-of-war went to sea, and I make no doubt carried
off the intended pirates in them. As for us seamen, we never told our own
officers anything about the affair, for I was not quite satisfied with
myself, after letting the scoundrels go. One scarcely knows what to do in
such a case, as one does not like to be the means of getting a
fellow-creature hanged, or of letting a rogue escape. A pirate, of all
scoundrels, deserves no mercy, and yet Jack does not relish the idea of
being a sort of Jack Ketch, neither. If the thing were to be done over
again, I think I should hold on to my prisoners.

We discharged our cargo of flour, and failing in the attempt to sell the
schooner, we took in dye-wood, and returned to New York. I now made a
serious attempt to alter my mode of living, and to try to get up a few
rounds of the great ladder of life. Hitherto, I had felt a singular
indifference whether I went to sea as an officer, or as a foremast Jack,
with the exception of the time I had a marriage with Sarah in view. But I
was now drawing near to thirty, and if anything was to be done, it must be
done at once. Looking about me, I found a brig called the Hippomenes,
bound to Gibraltar, and back. I shipped before the mast, but kept a
reckoning, and did all I could to qualify myself to become an officer. We
had a winter passage out, but a pleasant one home. Nothing worthy of being
recorded, however, occurred. I still continued to be tolerably correct,
and after a short stay on shore, I shipped in the Belle Savage, commanded
by one of the liberated Halifax prisoners, who had come home in the Swede,
at the time of my own return. This person agreed to take me as chief mate,
and I shipped accordingly. The Belle Savage was a regular Curacoa trader,
and we sailed ten or twelve days after the Hippomenes got in. Our passages
both ways were pleasant and safe, and I stuck by the craft, endeavouring
to be less thoughtless and careless about myself. I cannot say, however, I
had any very serious plans for making provision for old age, my maxim
being to live as I went along.

Our second passage out to Curacoa, in the Belle Savage, was pleasant, and
brought about nothing worthy of being mentioned. At Curacoa we took in
mahogany, and in so doing a particularly large log got away from us, and
slid, end on, against the side of the vessel. We saw no consequences at
the time, and went on to fill up, with different articles, principally
dye-woods, coffee, cocoa, &c. We got some passengers, among whom was a Jew
merchant, who had a considerable amount of money on board. When ready, we
sailed, being thirty souls in all, crew and passengers included.

The Belle Savage had cleared the islands, and was standing on her course,
one day, with a fair wind and a five or six knot breeze, under a
fore-top-mast studding-sail, everything looking bright and prosperous. The
brig must have been about a day's run to the southward of Bermuda. It was
my watch below, but having just breakfasted, I was on deck, and looking
about me carelessly, I was struck with the appearance of the vessel's
being deeper than common. I had a little conversation about it, with a man
in the forechains, who thought the same thing. This man leaned over, in
order to get a better look, when he called out that he could see that we
had started a butt! I went over, immediately, and got a look at this
serious injury. A butt had started, sure enough, just under the chains,
but so low down as to be quite out of our reach. The plank had started
quite an inch, and it was loosened as much as two feet, forward and aft.
We sounded the pumps, as soon as possible, and found the brig was half
full of water!

All hands were now called to get both the boats afloat, and there was
certainly no time to be lost. The water rose over the cabin-floor while we
were doing it. We did not stand to get up tackles, but cut away the rail
and launched the long-boat by hand. We got the passengers, men, women,
children, and servants into her, as fast as possible, and followed
ourselves. Fortunately, there had been a brig in company for some time,
and she was now less than two leagues ahead of us, outsailing the Belle
Savage a little. We had hoisted our ensign, union down, as a signal of
distress, and well knew she must see that our craft had sunk, after it
happened, if she did not observe our ensign. She perceived the signal,
however, and could not fail to notice the manner in which the brig was all
adrift, as soon as we deserted the helm. The strange brig had hauled up
for us even before we got out the launch. This rendered any supply of food
or water unnecessary, and we were soon ready to shove off. I was in the
small boat, with three men. We pulled off a little distance, and lay
looking at our sinking craft with saddened eyes. Even the gold, that
precious dust which lures so many souls to eternal perdition, was
abandoned in the hurry to save the remnants of lives to be passed on
earth. The Belle Savage settled quite slowly into the ocean, one sail
disappearing after another, her main-royal being the last thing that went
out of sight, looking like the lug of a man-of-war's boat on the water. It
is a solemn thing to see a craft thus swallowed up in the great vortex of
the ocean.

The brig in sight proved to be the Mary, of New York, from St. Thomas,
bound home. She received us kindly, and six days later landed us all at no
great distance from Fulton Market. When my foot touched the wharf, my
whole estate was under my hat, and my pockets were as empty as a vessel
with a swept hold. On the wharf, itself, I saw a man who had been
second-mate of the Tontine, the little ship in which I had sailed when I
first ran from the Sterling. He was now master of a brig called the
Mechanic, that was loading near by, for Trinidad de Cuba. He heard my
story, and shipped me on the spot, at nine dollars a month, as a forward
hand. I began to think I was born to bad luck, and being almost naked, was
in nowise particular what became of me. I had not the means of getting a
mate's outfit, though I might possibly have got credit; but at no period
of my life did I run in debt. Here, then, my craft got stern-way on her
again, and I had a long bit of rough water to go over.

The Mechanic sailed four or five days after the Mary arrived, and I
travelled the old road over again. Nothing happened until we got to the
southward of Cuba. But my bad luck had thrown me into the West India trade
at the very moment when piracy was coming to its height in those seas,
though I never thought on the subject at all. Off the Isle of Pines, one
morning, we made a schooner and a sloop, in-shore of us, and both bore up
in chase. We knew them to be pirates, and crowded sail dead before the
wind to get clear. The captain determined, if necessary, to run down as
far as Jamaica, where he expected to fall in with some of the English
cruisers. The schooner sailed very fast, and was for coming up with us,
but they made the mistake of setting a flying-topsail on board her, and
from that moment we dropped her. It was thought in our brig, that the
little craft buried too much, with such a pressure aloft. The chase lasted
all day, a Sunday, and a part of the night; but the following morning
nothing was to be seen of either of our pursuers. Our captain, whose name
was Ray, thought he knew who commanded the schooner, a man who had been
his enemy, and it was believed the pirates knew our brig, as she was a
regular trader to Trinidad. This made our captain more ticklish, and was
the reason he was off so soon.

When we found the coast clear, we hauled up, again, and made our port
without further molestation. The chase was so common a thing, that little
was said about the affair. We discharged, took in a new cargo, and sailed
for home in due time. Care was had in sailing at an early hour, and we
sent a boat out to look if the coast were clear, before we put to sea. We
met with no interruption, however, reaching New York in due time.

Captain Ray was desirous I should stick by the brig; but, for some reason
I cannot explain, I felt averse to returning to Trinidad. I liked the
vessel well enough, was fond of the captain, and thought little of the
pirates; and yet I felt an unaccountable reluctance to re-shipping in the
craft. It was well I had this feeling, for, I have since heard, this very
schooner got the brig the next passage out, murdered all hands, and burnt
the vessel, in sight of the port! I set this escape down, as one of the
many unmerited favours I have received from Providence.

My next berth was that of second-mate on board a new ship, in the
Charleston trade, called the Franklin. I made the voyage, and, for a
novelty, did not run in the southern port, which was a rare circumstance
in that place.

I got but twelve dollars, as dickey, in the Franklin, and left her to get
twenty, with the same berth, on board a ship called the Foster, commanded
by the same master as had commanded the Jane, in my former voyage to
Ireland. The Foster was bound to Belfast, which port we reached without
any accident. We took in salt, and a few boxes of linens, for Norfolk;
arrived safe, discharged, and went up the James river to City Point, after
a cargo of tobacco. Thence we sailed for Rotterdam. The ship brought back
a quantity of gin to New York, and this gin caused me some trouble. We had
a tremendous passage home--one of the worst I ever experienced at sea. The
ship's rudder got loose, and was secured with difficulty. We had to reef
all three of our top-masts, also, to save the spars; after which we could
only carry double-reefed topsails. It was in the dead of winter, and the
winds hung to the westward for a long time. The cook, a surly negro, was
slack in duty, and refused to make scous for us, though there were plenty
of potatoes on board. All the people but five were off duty, and it came
hard on those who kept watch. We determined, at length, to bring the black
to his senses, and I had him seized to the windlass. Everybody but the
captain took three clips at him; the fellow being regularly cobbed,
according to sea usage. This was lawful punishment for a cook.

We got our scous after this, but the negro logged the whole transaction,
as one may suppose. He was particularly set against me, as I had been
ringleader in the cobbing. The weather continued bad, the watches were
much fagged, and the ship gave no grog. At length I could stand it no
longer, or thought I could not; and I led down betwixt decks, tapped a
cask of gin, introduced the stem of a clean pipe and took a nip at the
bowl. All my watch smoked this pipe pretty regularly, first at one cask
and then at another, until we got into port. The larboard watch did the
same, and I do think the strong liquor helped us along that time. As bad
luck would have it, the cook's wood was stowed among the casks, and, one
morning, just as the last of us had knocked off smoking, we saw the wool
of this gentleman heaving in sight, through the hatch by which we went
down. Still, nothing was said until we came to be paid off, when the darky
came out with his yarn. I owned it all, and insisted we never could have
brought the ship in, unless we had got the gin. I do believe both captain
and owner were sorry we had been complained of, but they could not
overlook the matter. I was mulcted five-and-twenty dollars, and left the
ship. I know I did wrong, and I know that the owners did what was right;
but I cannot help thinking, bad as gin is on a long pull, that this did us
good. I was not driven from the ship; on the contrary, both master and
Owners wished me to remain; but I felt a little savage, and quitted their

That I did not carry a very bad character away with me, is to be proved by
the fact that I shipped, the same day, on board the Washington, a vessel
bound to London, and which lay directly alongside of the Foster. I had the
same berth as that I had just left, with the advantage of getting better
wages. This voyage carried me to London for the first time since I left it
in the Sterling. Too many years had elapsed, in the interval, for me to
find any old acquaintances; and I had grown from a boy to a man. Here I
got a little insight into the business of carrying passengers, our ship
bringing more or less, each passage. I stuck by the Washington a year,
making no less than three voyages in her; the last, as her chief mate.
Nothing occurred worth mentioning in the four first passages across the
Atlantic; but the fifth produced a little more variety.

The Washington had proved to be a leaky ship, every passage I made in her.
We had docked her twice in London, and it had done her good. The first
week out, on the fifth passage, the ship proved tight, but the weather was
moderate. It came on to blow heavily, however, when we got to the eastward
of the Banks; and the vessel, which was scudding under her close-reefed
main-topsail and foresail, laboured so much, that I became uneasy. I knew
she was overloaded, and was afraid of the effects of a gale. It was my
practice to keep one pump ready for sounding the wells, and I never
neglected this duty in my watch. When the gale was at the height, in my
forenoon's watch below, I felt so uncomfortable, that I turned out and
went on deck, in nothing but my trowsers, to sound, although I had sounded
less than two hours before, and found the water at the sucking-height,
only. To my surprise, it was now three feet!

This change was so great and so sudden, all of us thought there must be
some mistake. I carried the rod below, to dry it, and covered the lower
part with ashes. I could not have been busy in drying the rod more than
ten or fifteen minutes, when it was lowered again. The water had risen
several inches in that short period!

All this looked very serious; and I began to think a third raft was to
founder under me. After a short consultation it was determined to lighten
the ship. The foresail was hauled up, the men got into the rigging to keep
clear of the seas, and the vessel was rounded-to. We then knocked away the
wash-boards in the wake of the two hatches, and began to tumble the
barrels of turpentine on deck. I never felt so strong in my life, nor did
so much work in so short a time. During the labour I went below to splice
the main-brace, and, after putting a second-mate's nip of brandy into my
glass, filled it, as I supposed, with water, drinking it all down without
stopping to breathe. It turned out that my water was high-proof gin; yet
this draught had no more effect on me than if it had been so much cold
water. In ordinary times, it would have made me roaring drunk.

We tumbled up all the cargo from betwixt decks, landing it on deck, where
it rolled into the sea of itself, and were about to begin upon the lower
hold, when the captain called out avast, as the pumps gained fast. Half an
hour later, they sucked. This was joyful news, indeed, for I had begun to
think we should be driven to the boats. Among the cargo were some pickled
calf-skins. In the height of the danger I caught the cook knocking the
head out of a cask, and stowing some of the skins in a tub. Asking the
reason why he did this, he told me he wanted to take some of those fine
skins home with him! It was a pity they should be lost!

As soon as the pumps sucked, the ship was kept away to her course, and she
proved to be as tight as a bottle. Eight or ten days later, while running
on our course under studding-sails, we made a large vessel ahead, going
before the wind like ourselves, but carrying reefed topsails, with
top-gallant-sails over them, and her ensign whipped. Of course we neared
her fast, and as we came up with her, saw that she was full of men, and
that her crew were pumping and bailing. We knew how to pity the poor
fellows, and running alongside, demanded the news. We were answered first
with three cheers, after which we heard their story.

The vessel was an English bark, full of soldiers, bound to New Brunswick.
She had sprung a leak, like ourselves, and was only kept afloat by
constant pumping and bailing. She had put back for England on account of
the wind and the distance. Our captain was asked to keep near the
transport, and we shortened sail accordingly. For three days and nights
the two vessels ran side by side, within hail; our passengers and officers
drinking to theirs, and _vice versâ_, at dinner. On the fourth day, the
weather being fine, the wind fair, and our reckoning making us near the
channel, we told the Englishman we would run ahead, make the land, and
heave-to. We stood in so far that the poor fellows owned afterwards they
thought we had left them. This was not our intention, however, for we no
sooner made the land than we hauled up, and brought them the joyful news
of its vicinity. They cheered us again, as we closed with them, and both
ships jogged on in company.

Next morning, being well in with the land, and many vessels in sight, the
Englishmen desired us to make sail, as they could carry their bark into
Falmouth. We did so, and reached London, in due time. On our return to New
York, the Washington was sold, and I lost my preferment in that
employment, though I went with a character to another vessel, and got the
same berth.

James Fenimore Cooper

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