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Chapter 14

Notwithstanding my comparative insignificance, there was no real security
in remaining long in Charleston, and it was my strong desire to quit the
place. As "beggars cannot be choosers," I was glad to get on board the
schooner Carpenter, bound to St. Mary's and Philadelphia, for, and with,
ship-timber, as a foremast hand. I got on board undetected, and we sailed
the same day. Nothing occurred until after we left St. Mary's, when we met
with a singular accident. A few days out, it blowing heavy at the time,
our deck-load pressed so hard upon the beams as to loosen them, and the
schooner filled as far as her cargo--yellow pine--would allow. This
calamity proceeded from the fact, that the negroes who stowed the craft
neglected to wedge up the beams; a precaution that should never be
forgotten, with a heavy weight on deck. No very serious consequences
followed, however, as we managed to drive the craft ahead, and finally got
her into Philadelphia, with all her cargo on board. We did not lose a
stick, which showed that our captain was game, and did not like to let go
when he had once got hold. This person was a down-easter, and was well
acquainted with the Johnstons and Wiscasset. He tried hard to persuade me
to continue in the schooner as mate, with a view to carrying me back to my
old friends; but I turned a deaf ear to his advice. To own the truth, I
was afraid to go back to Wiscassett. My own desertion could not well be
excused, and then I was apprehensive the family might attribute to me the
desertion and death of young Swett. He had been my senior, it is true, and
was as able to influence me as I was to influence him; but conscience is a
thing so sensitive, that, when we do wrong, it is apt to throw the whole
error into our faces.

Quitting the Carpenter in Philadelphia, therefore, I went to live in a
respectable boarding-house, and engaged to go out in a brig called the
Margaret, working on board as a rigger and stevedore, until she should be
ready to sail. My berth was to be that of mate. The owner of this brig was
as notorious, in his way, as the ship's husband in Charleston I had heard
his character, and was determined, if he attempted to ride me, as he was
said to do many of his mates, and even captains, he should find himself
mounted on a hard-going animal. One day, things came to a crisis. The
owner was on the wharf, with me, and such a string of abuse as he launched
out upon me, I never before listened to. A crowd collected, and my blood
got up. I seized the man, and dropped him off the wharf into the water,
alongside of some hoop-poles, that I knew must prevent any accident. In
this last respect, I was sufficiently careful, though the ducking was very
thorough. The crowd gave three cheers, which I considered as a proof I was
not so very wrong. Nothing was said of any suit on this occasion; but I
walked off, and went directly on board a ship called the Coromandel, on
which I had had an eye, as a lee, for several days. In this vessel I
shipped as second-mate; carrying with me all the better character for the
ducking given to the notorious--------.

The Coromandel was bound to Cadiz, and thence round the Horn. The outward
bound cargo was flour, but to which ports we were going in South America,
I was ignorant. Our crew were all blacks, the officers excepted. We had a
good passage, until we got off Cape Trafalgar, when it came on to blow
heavily, directly on end. We lay-to off the Cape two days, and then ran
into Gibraltar, and anchored. Here we lay about a fortnight, when there
came on a gale from the south-west, which sent a tremendous sea in from
the Atlantic. This gale commenced in the afternoon, and blew very heavily
all that night. The force of the wind increased, little by little, until
it began to tell seriously among the shipping, of which a great number
were lying in front of the Rock. The second day of the gale, our ship was
pitching bows under, sending the water aft to the taffrail, while many
other craft struck adrift, or foundered at their anchors. The Coromandel
had one chain cable, and this was out. It was the only cable we used for
the first twenty-four hours. As the gale increased, however, it was
thought necessary to let go the sheet-anchor, which had a hempen cable
bent to it. Our chain, indeed, was said to be the first that was ever used
out of Philadelphia, though it had then been in the ship for some time,
and had proved itself a faithful servant the voyage before. Unfortunately,
most of the chain was out before we let go the sheet-anchor, and there was
no possibility of getting out a scope of the hempen cable. Dragging on
shore, where we lay, was pretty much out of the question, as the bottom
shelved inward, and the anchor, to come home, must have gone up hill.[14]

In this manner the Coromandel rode for two nights and two days, the sea
getting worse and worse, and the wind, it anything, rather increasing. We
took the weight of the last in squalls, some of which were terrific. By
this time the bay was well cleared of craft, nearly everything having
sunk, or gone ashore. An English packet lay directly ahead of us, rather
more than a cable's length distant, and she held on like ourselves. The
Governor Brooks, of Boston, lay over nearer to Algesiras, where the sea
and wind were a little broken, and, of course, she made better weather
than ourselves.

About eight o'clock, the third night, I was in the cabin, when the men on
deck sung out that the chain had gone. At this time the ship had been
pitching her spritsail-yard under water, and it blew a little hurricane.
We were on deck in a moment, all hands paying out sheet. We brought the
ship up with this cable, but not until she got it nearly to the better
end. Unfortunately, we had got into shoal water, or what became shoal
water by the depth of the troughs. It was said, afterwards, we were in
five fathoms water at this time, but for this I will not vouch. It seems
too much water for what happened. Our anchor, however, did actually lie in
sixteen fathoms.

We had hardly paid out the cable, before the ship came down upon the
bottom, on an even keel, apparently, with a force that almost threw those
on deck off their feet. These blows were repeated, from time to time, at
intervals of several minutes, some of the thumps being much heavier than
others. The English packet must have struck adrift at the same time with
ourselves, for she came down upon us, letting go an anchor in a way to
overlay our cable. I suppose the rocks and this sawing together, parted
our hempen cable, and away we went towards the shore, broadside-to. As the
ship drifted in, she continued to thump; but, luckily for us, the sea made
no breaches over her. The old Coromandel was a very strong ship, and she
continued working her way in-shore, until she lay in a good substantial
berth, without any motion. We manned the pumps, and kept the ship
tolerably free of water, though she lay over considerably. The English
packet followed us in, going ashore more towards the Spanish lines. This
vessel bilged, and lost some of her crew. As for ourselves, we had a
comfortable berth, considering the manner in which we had got into it. No
apprehension was felt for our personal safety, and perfect order was
observed on board. The men worked as usual, nor was there any extra
liquor drunk.

That night the gale broke, and before morning it had materially moderated.
Lighters were brought alongside, and we began to discharge our flour into
them. The cargo was all discharged, and all in good order, so far as the
water was concerned; though several of the keelson bolts were driven into
the ground tier of barrels. I am almost afraid to tell this story, but I
know it to be true, as I released the barrels with my own hands. As soon
as clear, the ship was hove off into deep water, on the top of a high
tide, and was found to leak so much as to need a shore-gang at the pumps
to keep her afloat. She was accordingly sold for the benefit of the
underwriters. She was subsequently docked and sent to sea.

Of course, this broke up our voyage. The captain advised me to take a
second-mate's berth in the Governor Brooks, the only American that escaped
the gale, and I did so. This vessel was a brig, bound round the Horn,
also, and a large, new craft. I know of no other vessel, that lay in front
of the Rock that rode out this gale; and she did it with two hempen cables
out, partly protected, however, by a good berth. There was a Swede that
came back next day to her anchorage, which was said to have got
back-strapped, behind the Rock, by some legerdemain, and so escaped also.
I do not know how many lives were lost on this occasion; but the
destruction of property must have been very great.

Three weeks after the gale, the Governor Brooks sailed. We had a hard time
in doubling the Cape, being a fortnight knocking about between Falkland
and the Main. We were one hundred and forty-four days out, touching
nowhere, until we anchored at Callao. We found flour, of which our cargo
was composed, at seven dollars a barrel, with seven dollars duty. The
Franklin 74, was lying here, with the Aurora English frigate, the castle
being at war with the people inland. Our flour was landed, and what became
of it is more than I can tell.

We now took in ballast, and ran down to Guayaquil. Here an affair occurred
that might very well have given me the most serious cause of regret, all
the days of my life. Our steward was a Portuguese negro, of the most
vicious and surly temper. Most of the people and officers were really
afraid of him. One evening, the captain and chief mate being both ashore,
I was sitting on deck, idle, and I took a fancy to a glass of grog. I
ordered the steward, accordingly, to pour me out one, and bring it up. The
man pretended that the captain had carried off the keys, and no rum was to
be had. I thought this a little extraordinary; and, as one would be very
apt to be, felt much hurt at the circumstance. I had never been drunk in
the craft, and was not a drunkard in one sense of the term, at all; seldom
drinking so as to affect me, except when on a frolic, ashore.

As I sat brooding over this fancied insult, however, I smelt rum; and
looking down the sky-light, saw this same steward passing forward with a
pot filled with the liquor. I was fairly blinded with passion. Running
down, I met the fellow, just as he was coming out of the cabin, and
brought him up all standing. The man carried a knife along his leg, a
weapon that had caused a good deal of uneasiness in the brig, and he now
reached down to get it. Seeing there was no time to parley, I raised him
from the floor, and threw him down with great force, his head coming
under. There he lay like a log, and all my efforts with vinegar and water
had no visible effect.

I now thought the man dead. He gave no sign of life that I could detect,
and fear of the consequences came over me. The devil put it into my head
to throw the body overboard, as the most effectual means of concealing
what I had done. The steward had threatened to run, by swimming, more than
once, and I believe had been detected in making such an attempt; and I
fancied if I could get the body through one of the cabin-windows, it would
seem as if he had been drowned in carrying his project into execution. I
tried all I could first to restore the steward to life; but failing of
this, I actually began to drag him aft, in order to force his body out of
a cabin-window. The transom was high, and the man very heavy; so I was a
good while in dragging the load up to the necessary height. Just as I got
it there, the fellow gave a groan, and I felt a relief that I had never
before experienced. It seemed to me like a reprieve from the gallows.

I now took the steward down, upon one of the lower transoms, where he sat
rubbing his head a few minutes, I watching him closely the whole time. At
length he got up, and staggered out of the cabin. He went and turned in,
and I saw no more of him until next day. As it turned out, good, instead
of harm, resulted from this affair; the black being ever afterwards
greatly afraid of me. If I did not break his neck, I broke his temper; and
the captain used to threaten to set me at him, whenever he behaved amiss.
I owned the whole affair to the captain and mate, both of whom laughed
heartily at what had happened, though I rejoiced, in my inmost heart, that
it was no worse.

The brig loaded with cocao, in bulk, at Guayaquil, and sailed for Cadiz.
The passage was a fine one, as we doubled the Horn at midsummer. On this
occasion we beat round the cape, under top-gallant-sails. The weather was
so fine, we stood close in to get the benefit of the currents, after
tacking, as it seemed to me, within a league of the land. Our passage to
Cadiz lasted one hundred and forty-one, or two, days, being nearly the
same length as that out though much smoother.

The French had just got possession of Cadiz, as we got in, and we found
the white flag flying. We lay here a month, and then went round to the
Rock. After passing a week at Gibraltar, to take in some dollars, we
sailed for New Orleans, in ballast. As I had been on twenty-two dollars a
month, there was a pretty good whack coming to me, as soon as we reached
an American port, and I felt a desire to spend it, before I went to sea
again. They wished me to stick by the brig, which was going the very same
voyage over; but I could not make up my mind to travel so long a road,
with a pocket full of money. I had passed so many years at sea, that a
short land cruise was getting to be grateful, as a novelty.

The only craft I could get on board of, to come round into my own
latitude, in order to enjoy myself in the old way, was an eastern
schooner, called the James. On board this vessel I shipped as mate, bound
to Philadelphia. She was the most meagre craft, in the way of outfit, I
ever put to sea in. Her boat would not swim, and she had not a spare spar
on board her. In this style, we went jogging along north, until we were
met by a north-west gale, between Bermuda and Cape Hatteras, which forced
us to heave-to. During this gale, I had a proof of the truth that "where
the treasure is, there will the heart be also."

I was standing leaning on the rail, and looking over the schooner's
quarter, when I saw what I supposed to be a plank come up alongside! The
idea of sailing in a craft of which the bottom was literally dropping out,
was not very pleasant, and I thought all was lost. I cannot explain the
folly of my conduct, except by supposing that my many escapes at sea, had
brought me to imagine I was to be saved, myself, let what would happen to
all the rest on board. Without stopping to reflect, I ran below and
secured my dollars. Tearing up a blanket, I made a belt, and lashed about
twenty-five pounds weight of silver to my body, with the prospect before
me of swimming two or three hundred miles with it, before I could get
ashore. As for boat, or spars, the former would not float, and of the last
there was not one. I now look back on my acts of this day with wonder, for
I had forgotten all my habitual knowledge of vessels, in the desire to
save the paltry dollars. For the first and only time in my life I felt
avaricious, and lost sight of everything in money!

It was my duty to sound the pumps, but this I did not deem necessary. No
sooner were the dollars secure, or, rather, ready to anchor me in the
bottom of the ocean, than I remembered the captain. He was asleep, and
waking him up, I told him what had happened. The old man, a dry, drawling,
cool, down-easter, laughed in my face for my pains, telling me I had seen
one of the sheeting-boards, with which he had had the bottom of the
schooner covered, to protect it from the worms, at Campeachy, and that I
need be under no concern about the schooner's bottom. This was the simple
truth, and I cast off the dollars, again, with a sneaking consciousness of
not having done my duty. I suppose all men have moments when they are not
exactly themselves, in which they act very differently from what it has
been their practice to act. On this occasion, I was not alarmed for
myself, but I thought the course I took was necessary to save that dross
which lures so many to perdition. Avarice blinded me to the secrets of my
own trade.

I had come all the way from New Orleans to Philadelphia, to spend my four
hundred dollars to my satisfaction. For two months I lived respectably,
and actually began to go to church. I did not live in a boarding-house,
but in a private family. My landlady was a pious woman, and a member of
the Dutch Reformed Church, but her husband was a Universalist. I must say,
I liked the doctrine of the last the best, as it made smooth water for the
whole cruise. I usually went with the man to church of a morning, which
was falling among shoals, as a poor fellow was striving to get into port.
I received a great deal of good advice from my landlady, however, and it
made so much impression on me as to influence my conduct; though I cannot
say it really touched my heart. I became more considerate, and better
mannered, if I were not truly repentant for my sins. These two months were
passed more rationally than any time of mine on shore, since the hour when
I ran from the Sterling.

The James was still lying in Philadelphia, undergoing repairs, and waiting
for freight; but being now ready for sea, I shipped in her again, on a
voyage to St. Thomas, with a cargo of flour. When we sailed, I left near a
hundred dollars behind me, besides carrying some money to sea; the good
effects of good company. At St. Thomas we discharged, and took in ballast
for Turk's Island, where we got a cargo of salt, returning with it to
Philadelphia. My conduct had been such on board this schooner, that her
commander, who was her owner, and very old, having determined to knock off
going to sea, tried to persuade me to stick by the craft, promising to
make me her captain as soon as he could carry her down east, where she
belonged. I now think I made a great mistake in not accepting this offer,
though I was honestly diffident about my knowledge of navigation. I never
had a clear understanding of the lunars, though I worked hard to master
them. It is true, chronometers were coming into general use, in large
vessels, and I could work the time; but a chronometer was a thing never
heard of on board the James. Attachment to the larger towns, and a dislike
for little voyages, had as much influence on me as anything else. I
declined the offer; the only direct one ever made me to command any sort
of craft, and remained what I am. I had a little contempt, too, for
vessels of such a rig and outfit, which probably had its influence. I
liked rich owners.

On my return to Philadelphia, I found the family in which I had last lived
much deranged by illness. I got my money, but was obliged to look for new
lodgings. The respectable people with whom I had been before, did not keep
lodgers, I being their only boarder; but I now went to a regular sailor's
boarding-house. There was a little aristocracy, it is true, in my new
lodgings, to which none but mates, dickies, and thorough salts came; but
this was getting into the hurricane latitudes as to morals. I returned to
all my old habits, throwing the dollars right and left, and forgetting all
about even a Universalist church.

A month cleaned me out, in such company. I spent every cent I had, with
the exception of about fifteen dollars, that I had laid by as nest-eggs. I
then shipped as second-mate, in the Rebecca Simms, a ship bound to St.
Jago de Cuba, with flour. The voyage lasted four months; producing nothing
of moment, but a little affair that was personal to myself, and which cost
me nearly all my wages. The steward was a saucy black; and, on one
occasion, in bad weather, he neglected to give me anything warm for
breakfast. I took an opportunity to give him a taste of the end of the
main-clew-garnet, as an admonisher; and there the matter ended, so long
as I remained in the ship. It seemed quite right, to all on board, but the
steward. He bore the matter in mind, and set a whole pack of quakers on
me, as soon as we got in. The suit was tried; and it cost me sixty
dollars, in damages, beside legal charges. I dare say it was all right,
according to law and evidence; but I feel certain, just such a rubbing
down, once a week, would have been very useful to that same steward.
Well-meaning men often do quite as much harm, in this world, as the
evil-disposed. Philanthropists of this school should not forget, that, if
colour is no sufficient reason why a man should be always wrong, it is no
sufficient reason why he should be always right.

The lawsuit drove me to sea, again, in a very short time. Finding no
better berth, and feeling very savage at the blindness of justice, I
shipped before the mast, in the Superior, an Indiaman, of quite eight
hundred tons, bound to Canton. This was the pleasantest voyage I ever made
to sea, in a merchantman, so far as the weather, and, I may say, usage,
were concerned. We lost our top-gallant-masts, homeward bound; but this
was the only accident that occurred. The ship was gone nine months; the
passage from Whampao to the capes having been made in ninety-four days.
When we got in, the owners had failed, and there was no money forthcoming,
at the moment. To remain, and libel the ship, was dull business; so,
leaving a power of attorney behind me, I went on board a schooner, called
the Sophia, bound to Vera Cruz, as foremast Jack.

The Sophia was a clipper; and made the run out in a few days. We went into
Vera Cruz; but found it nearly deserted. Our cargo went ashore a little
irregularly; sometimes by day, and sometimes by night; being assorted, and
suited to all classes of customers. As soon as ready, we sailed for
Philadelphia, again; where we arrived, after an absence of only
two months.

I now got my wages for the Canton voyage; but they lasted me only a
fortnight! It was necessary to go to sea, again; and I went on board the
Caledonia; once more bound to Canton. This voyage lasted eleven months;
but, like most China voyages, produced no event of importance. We lost our
top-gallant-masts, this time, too; but that is nothing unusual, off Good
Hope. I can say but little, in favour of the ship, or the treatment.

On getting back to Philadelphia, the money went in the old way. I
occasionally walked round to see my good religious friends, with whom I
had once lived, but they ceased to have any great influence over my
conduct. As soon as necessary, I shipped in the Delaware, a vessel bound
to Savannah and Liverpool. Southern fashion, I ran from this vessel in
Savannah, owing her nothing, however, but was obliged to leave my
protection behind, as it was in the captain's hands. I cannot give any
reason but caprice for quitting this ship. The usage was excellent, and
the wages high; yet run I did. As long as the Delaware remained in port, I
kept stowed away; but, as soon as she sailed, I came out into the world,
and walked about the wharves as big as an owner.

I now went on board a ship called the Tobacco Plant, bound to Liverpool
and Philadelphia, for two dollars a month less wages, worse treatment, and
no grog. So much for following the fashion. The voyage produced nothing to
be mentioned.

On my return to Philadelphia, I resolved to shift my ground, and try a new
tack. I was now thirty-four, and began to give up all thoughts of getting
a lift in my profession. I had got so many stern-boards on me, every time
I was going ahead, and was so completely alone in the world, that I had
become indifferent, and had made up my mind to take things as they
offered. As for money, my rule had come to be, to spend it as I got it,
and go to sea for more. "If I tumbled overboard," I said to myself, "there
is none to cry over me;" therefore let things jog on their own course. All
the disposition to morality that had been aroused within me, at
Philadelphia, was completely gone, and I thought as little of church and
of religion, as ever. It is true I had bought a Bible on board the
Superior, and I was in the practice of reading in it, from time to time,
though it was only the narratives, such as those of Sampson and Goliah,
that formed any interest for me. The history of Jonah and the whale, I
read at least twenty times. I cannot remember that the morality, or
thought, or devotion of a single passage ever struck me on these
occasions. In word, I read this sacred book for amusement, and not
for light.

I now wanted change, and began to think of going back to the navy, by way
of novelty. I had been round the world once, had been to Canton five
times, doubling the Cape, round the Horn twice, to Batavia once, the
West-Indies, on the Spanish main, and had crossed the Atlantic so often,
that I thought I knew all the mile-stones. I had seen but little of the
Mediterranean, and fancied a man-of-war's cruise would show me those seas.
Most of the Tobacco Plants had shipped in Philadelphia, and I determined
to go with them, to go in the navy. There is a fashion in all things, and
just then it was the fashion to enter in the service.

I was shipped by Lieutenant M'Kean, now Commander M'Kean, a grandson of
the old Governor of Pennsylvania, as they tell me. All hands of us were
sent on board the Cyane, an English prize twenty-gun ship, where we
remained about six weeks. A draft was then made, and more than a hundred
of us were sent round to Norfolk, in a sloop, to join the Delaware, 80,
then fitting out for the Mediterranean. We found the ship lying alongside
the Navy-yard wharf, and after passing one night in the receiving-ship,
were sent on board the two-decker. The Delaware soon hauled out, and was
turned over to Captain Downes, the very officer who had almost persuaded
me to go in that ill-fated brig, the Epervier.

I was stationed on the Delaware's forecastle, and was soon ordered to do
second captain's duty. We had for lieutenants on board, Mr. Ramage, first,
Messrs. Williamson, Ten Eick, Shubrick, Byrne, Chauncey, Harris, and
several whose names I have forgotten. Mr. Ramage has since been cashiered,
I understand; and Messrs. Ten Eick, Shubrick, Chauncey, Harris, and Byrne,
are now all commanders.

The ship sailed in the winter of 1828, in the month of January I think,
having on board the Prince of Musignano, and his family, who were going to
Italy. This gentleman was Charles Bonaparte, eldest son of Lucien, Prince
of Canino, they tell me, and is now Prince of Canino himself. He had been
living some time in America, and got a passage in our ship, on account of
the difficulty of travelling in Europe, for one of his name and family.
He was the first, and only Prince I ever had for a shipmate.

James Fenimore Cooper

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