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Chapter 18

I had left the Hope in a fit of the sulks. The vessel never pleased me,
and yet I can now look back, and acknowledge that both her master and her
mate were respectable, considerate men, who had my own good in view more
than I had myself. There was an American ship, called the Plato, in port,
and I had half a mind to try my luck in her. The master of this vessel was
said to be a tartar, however, and a set of us had doubts about the
expediency of trusting ourselves with such a commander. When we came to
sound around him, we discovered he would have nothing to do with us, as he
intended to get a crew of regular Dutchmen. This ship had just arrived
from Batavia, and was bound to New York. How he did this legally, or
whether he did it at all, is more than I know, for I only tell what I was
told myself, on this subject.

There was a heavy Dutch Indiaman, then fitting out for Java, lying at
Rotterdam. The name of this vessel was the Stadtdeel--so pronounced; how
spelt, I have no idea--and I began to think I would try a voyage in her.
As is common with those who have great reason to find fault with
themselves, I was angry with the whole world. I began to think myself a
sort of outcast, forgetting that I had deserted my natural relatives, run
from my master, and thrown off many friends who were disposed to serve me
in everything in which I could be served. I have a cheerful temperament by
nature, and I make no doubt that the sombre view I now began to take of
things, was the effects of drink. It was necessary for me to get to sea,
for there I was shut out from all excesses, by discipline and necessity.

After looking around us, and debating the matter among ourselves, a party
of five of us shipped in the Stadtdeel. What the others contemplated I do
not know, but it was my intention to double Good Hope, and never to
return. Chances enough would offer on the other side, to make a man
comfortable, and I was no stranger to the ways of that quarter of the
world. I could find enough to do between Bombay and Canton; and, if I
could not, there were the islands and all of the Pacific before me. I
could do a seaman's whole duty, was now in tolerable health and strength,
and knew that such men were always wanted. Wherever a ship goes, Jack must
go with her, and ships, dollars and hogs, are now to be met with all over
the globe.

The Stadtdeel lay at Dort, and we went to that place to join her. She was
not ready for sea, and as things moved Dutchman fashion, slow and sure, we
were about six weeks at Dort before she sailed. This ship was a vessel of
the size of a frigate, and carried twelve guns. She had a crew of about
forty souls, which was being very short-handed. The ship's company was a
strange mixture of seamen, though most of them came from the north of
Europe. Among us were Russians, Danes, Swedes, Prussians, English,
Americans, and but a very few Dutch. One of the mates, and two of the
petty officers, could speak a little English. This made us eight who could
converse in that language. We had to learn Dutch as well as we could, and
made out tolerably well. Before the ship sailed, I could understand the
common orders, without much difficulty. Indeed, the language is nothing
but English a little flattened down.

So long as we remained at Dort, the treatment on board this vessel was
well enough. We were never well fed, though we got enough food, such as it
was. The work was hard, and the weather cold; but these did not frighten
me. The wages were eight dollars a month;--I had abandoned eighteen, and
an American ship, for this preferment! A wayward temper had done me
this service.

The Stadtdeel no sooner got into the stream, than there was a great
change in the treatment. We were put on an allowance of food and water,
in sight of our place of departure; and the rope's-end began to fly round
among the crew we five excepted. For some reason, that I cannot explain
neither of us was ever struck. We got plenty of curses, in Low Dutch, as
we supposed; and we gave them back, with interest, in high English. The
expression of our faces let the parties into the secret of what was
going on.

It is scarcely necessary to add, that we English and Americans soon
repented of the step we had taken. I heartily wished myself on board the
Hope, again, and the master's prophecy became true, much sooner, perhaps,
than he had himself anticipated. This time, I conceive that my disgust was
fully justified; though I deserved the punishment I was receiving, for
entering so blindly into a service every way so inferior to that to which
I properly belonged. The bread in this ship was wholesome, I do suppose,
but it was nearly black, and such as I was altogether unused to. Inferior
as it was, we got but five pounds, each, per week. In our navy, a man
gets, per week, seven pounds of such bread as might be put on a
gentleman's table. The meat was little better than the bread in quality,
and quite as scant in quantity. We got one good dish in the Stadtdeel, and
that we got every morning. It was a dish of boiled barley, of which I
became very fond, and which, indeed, supplied me with the strength
necessary for my duty. It was one of the best dishes I ever fell in with
at sea; and I think it might be introduced, to advantage, in our service.
Good food produces good work.

As all our movements were of the slow and easy order, the ship lay three
weeks at the Helvoetsluys, waiting for passengers. During this time, our
party, three English and two Americans, came to a determination to abandon
the ship. Our plan was to seize a boat, as we passed down channel, and get
ashore in England. We were willing to run all the risks of such a step, in
preference of going so long a voyage under such treatment and food. By
this time, our discontent amounted to disgust.

At length we got all our passengers on board. These consisted of a family,
of which the head was said to be, or to have been, an admiral in the Dutch
navy. This gentleman was going to Java to remain; and he took with him
his wife, several children, servants, and a lady, who seemed to be a
companion to his wife. As soon as this party was on board, the wind coming
fair, we sailed. The Plato went to sea in company with us, and little did
I then think, while wishing myself on board her, how soon I should be
thrown into this very ship--the last craft in which I ever was at sea. I
was heaving the lead as we passed her; our ship, Dutchman or not, having a
fleet pair of heels. The Stadtdeel, whatever might be her usage, or her
food, sailed and worked well, and was capitally found in everything that
related to the safety of the vessel. This was her first voyage, and she
was said to be the largest ship out of Rotterdam.

The Stadtdeel must have sailed from Helvoetsluys in May, 1839, or about
thirty-three years after I sailed from New York, on my first voyage, in
the Sterling. During all this time I had been toiling at sea, like a dog,
risking my health and life, in a variety of ways; and this ship, with my
station on board her, was nearly all I had to show for it! God be praised!
This voyage, which promised so little, in its commencement, proved, in the
end, the most fortunate of any in which I embarked.

There was no opportunity for us to put our plans in execution, in going
down channel. The wind was fair, and it blew so fresh, it would not have
been easy to get a boat into the water; and we passed the Straits of
Dover, by day-light, the very day we sailed. The wind held in the same
quarter, until we reached the north-east trades, giving us a quick run as
low down as the calm latitudes. All this time, the treatment was as bad as
ever, or, if anything, worse; and our discontent increased daily. There
were but one or two native Hollanders in the forecastle, boys excepted;
but among them was a man who had shipped as an ordinary seaman. He had
been a soldier, I believe; at all events, he had a medal, received in
consequence of having been in one of the late affairs between his country
and Belgium. It is probable this man may not have been very expert in a
seaman's duty, and it is possible he may have been drinking, though to me
he appeared sober, at the time the thing occurred which I am about to
relate. One day the captain fell foul of him, and beat him with a rope
severely. The ladies interfered, and got the poor fellow out of the
scrape; the captain letting him go, and telling him to go forward. As the
man complied, he fell in with the chief mate, who attacked him afresh, and
beat him very severely. The man now went below, and was about to turn in,
as the captain had ordered,--which renders it probable he had been
drinking,--when the second mate, possibly ignorant of what had occurred,
missing him from his duty, went below, and beat him up on deck again.
These different assaults seem to have made the poor fellow desperate. He
ran and jumped into the sea, just forward of the starboard
lower-studdingsail-boom. The ship was then in the north-east trades, and
had eight or nine knots way on her; notwithstanding, she was rounded to,
and a boat was lowered--but the man was never found. There is something
appalling in seeing a fellow-creature driven to such acts of madness; and
the effect produced on all of us, by what we witnessed, was profound
and sombre.

I shall not pretend to say that this man did not deserve chastisement, or
that the two mates were not ignorant of what had happened; but brutal
treatment was so much in use on board this ship, that the occurrence made
us five nearly desperate. I make no doubt a crew of Americans, who were
thus treated, would have secured the officers, and brought the ship in. It
is true, that flogging seems necessary to some natures, and I will not say
that such a crew as ours could very well get along without it. But we
might sometimes be treated as men, and no harm follow.

As I have said, the loss of this man produced a great impression in the
ship, generally. The passengers appeared much affected by it, and I
thought the captain, in particular, regretted it greatly. He might not
have been in the least to blame, for the chastisement he inflicted was
such as masters of ships often bestow on their men, but the crew felt very
indignant against the mates; one of whom was particularly obnoxious to us
all. As for my party, we now began to plot, again, in order to get quit of
the ship. After a great deal of discussion, we came to the following

About a dozen of us entered into the conspiracy. We contemplated no
piracy, no act of violence, that should not be rendered necessary in
self-defence, nor any robbery beyond what we conceived indispensable to
our object. As the ship passed the Straits of Sunda, we intended to lower
as many boats as should be necessary, arm ourselves, place provisions and
water in the boats, and abandon the ship. We felt confident that if most
of the men did not go with us, they would not oppose us. I can now see
that this was a desperate and unjustifiable scheme; but, for myself, I was
getting desperate on board the ship, and preferred risking my life to
remaining. I will not deny that I was a ringleader in this affair, though
I know I had no other motive than escape. This was a clear case of mutiny,
and the only one in which I was ever implicated. I have a thousand times
seen reason to rejoice that the attempt was never made, since, so deep was
the hostility of the crew to the officers,--the mates, in
particular,--that I feel persuaded a horrible scene of bloodshed must have
followed. I did not think of this at the time, making sure of getting off
unresisted; but, if we had, what would have been the fate of a parcel of
seamen who came into an English port in ship's boats? Tried for piracy,
probably, and the execution of some, if not all of us.

The ship had passed the island of St. Pauls, and we were impatiently
waiting for her entrance into the Straits of Sunda, when an accident
occurred that put a stop to the contemplated mutiny, and changed the whole
current, as I devoutly hope, of all my subsequent life. At the calling of
the middle watch, one stormy night, the ship being under close-reefed
topsails at the time, with the mainsail furled, I went on deck as usual,
to my duty. In stepping across the deck, between the launch and the
galley, I had to cross some spars that were lashed there. While on the
pile of spars, the ship lurched suddenly, and I lost my balance, falling
my whole length on deck, upon my left side. Nothing broke the fall, my
arms being raised to seize a hold above my head, and I came down upon deck
with my entire weight, the hip taking the principal force of the fall. The
anguish I suffered was acute, and it was some time before I would allow my
shipmates even to touch me.

After a time, I was carried down into the steerage, where it was found
necessary to sling me on a grating, instead of a hammock. We had a doctor
on board, but he could do nothing for me. My clothes could not be taken
off, and there I lay wet, and suffering to a degree that I should find
difficult to describe, hours and hours.

I was now really on the stool of repentance. In body, I was perfectly
helpless, though my mind seemed more active than it had ever been before.
I overhauled my whole life, beginning with the hour when I first got
drunk, as a boy, on board the Sterling, and underrunning every scrape I
have mentioned in this sketch of my life, with many of which I have not
spoken; and all with a fidelity and truth that satisfy me that man can
keep no log-book that is as accurate as his own conscience. I saw that I
had been my own worst enemy, and how many excellent opportunities of
getting ahead in the world, I had wantonly disregarded. Liquor lay at the
root of all my calamities and misconduct, enticing me into bad company,
undermining my health and strength, and blasting my hopes. I tried to
pray, but did not know how; and, it appeared to me, as if I were lost,
body and soul, without a hope of mercy.

My shipmates visited me by stealth, and I pointed out to them, as clearly
as in my power, the folly, as well as the wickedness, of our contemplated
mutiny. I told them we had come on board the ship voluntarily, and we had
no right to be judges in our own case; that we should have done a cruel
thing in deserting a ship at sea, with women and children on board; that
the Malays would probably have cut our throats, and the vessel herself
would have been very apt to be wrecked. Of all this mischief, we should
have been the fathers, and we had every reason to be grateful that our
project was defeated. The men listened attentively, and promised to
abandon every thought of executing the revolt. They were as good as their
words, and I heard no more of the matter.

As for my hurt, it was not easy to say what it was. The doctor was kind to
me, but he could do no more than give me food and little indulgencies. As
for the captain, I think he was influenced by the mate, who appeared to
believe I was feigning an injury much greater than I had actually
received. On board the ship, there was a boy, of good parentage, who had
been sent out to commence his career at sea. He lived aft, and was a sort
of genteel cabin-boy He could not have been more than ten or eleven years
old but he proved to be a ministering angel to me. He brought me
delicacies, sympathised with me, and many a time did we shed tears in
company. The ladies and the admiral's children sometimes came to see me,
too, manifesting much sorrow for my situation; and then it was that my
conscience pricked the deepest, for the injury, or risks, I had
contemplated exposing them to. Altogether, the scenes I saw daily, and my
own situation, softened my heart, and I began to get views of my moral
deformity that were of a healthful and safe character.

I lay on that grating two months, and bitter months they were to me. The
ship had arrived at Batavia, and the captain and mate came to see what was
to be done with me. I asked to be sent to the hospital, but the mate
insisted nothing was the matter with me, and asked to have me kept in the
ship. This was done, and I went round to Terragall in her, where we landed
our passengers. These last all came and took leave of me, the admiral
making me a present of a good jacket, that he had worn himself at sea,
with a quantity of tobacco. I have got that jacket at this moment. The
ladies spoke kindly to me, and all this gave my heart fresh pangs.

From Terragall we went to Sourabaya, where I prevailed on the captain to
send me to the hospital, the mate still insisting I was merely shamming
inability to work. The surgeons at Sourabaya, one of whom was a Scotchman,
thought with the mate; and at the end of twenty days, I was again taken on
board the ship, which sailed for Samarang. While at Sourabaya there were
five English sailors in the hospital. These men were as forlorn and
miserable as my self, death grinning in our faces at every turn. The men
who were brought into the hospital one day, were often dead the next, and
none of us knew whose turn would come next. We often talked together, on
religious subjects, after our own uninstructed manner, and greatly did we
long to find an English bible, a thing not to be had there. Then it was I
thought, again, of the sermon I had heard at the Sailors' Retreat, of the
forfeited promises I had made to reform; and, more than once did it cross
my mind, should God permit me to return home, that I would seek out that
minister, and ask his prayers and spiritual advice.

On our arrival at Samarang, the mate got a doctor from a Dutch frigate,
to look at me, who declared nothing ailed me. By these means nearly all
hands in the ship were set against me, but my four companions, and the
little boy fancying that I was a skulk, and throwing labour on them. I was
ordered on deck, and set to work graffing ring-bolts for the guns. Walk I
could not, being obliged, literally, to crawl along the deck on my hands
and knees. I suffered great pain, but got no credit for it. The work was
easy enough for me, when once seated at it, but it caused me infinite
suffering to move. I was not alone in being thought a skulk, however. The
doctor himself was taken ill, and the mate accused him, too, very much as
he did me, of shirking duty. Unfortunately, the poor man gave him the
lie, by dying.

I was kept at the sort of duty I have mentioned until the ship reached
Batavia again. Here a doctor came on board from another ship, on a visit,
and my case was mentioned. The mate ordered me aft, and I crawled upon the
quarter-deck to be examined. They got me into the cabin, where the strange
doctor looked at me. This man said I must be operated on by a burning
process, all of which was said to frighten me to duty. After this I got
down into the forecastle, and positively refused to do anything more.
There I lay, abused and neglected by all but my four friends. I told the
mate I suffered too much to work, and that I must be put ashore. Suffering
had made me desperate, and I cared not for the consequences.

Fortunately for me, there were two cases of fever and ague in the ship.
Our own doctor being dead, that of the admiral's ship was sent for to
visit the sick. The mate seemed anxious to set evidence against me, and he
asked the admiral's surgeon to come down and see me. The moment this
gentleman laid eyes on me, he raised both arms, and exclaimed that they
were killing me. He saw, at once, that I was no impostor, and stated as
much in pretty plain language, so far as I could understand what he said.
The mate appeared to be struck with shame and contrition; and I do believe
that every one on board was sorry for the treatment I had received. I took
occasion to remonstrate with the mate, and to tell him of the necessity of
my being sent immediately to the hospital. The man promised to represent
my case to the captain, and the next day I was landed.

My two great desires were to get to the hospital and to procure a bible. I
did not expect to live; one of my legs being shrivelled to half its former
size, and was apparently growing worse; and could I find repose for my
body and relief for my soul, I felt that I could be happy. I had heard my
American shipmate, who was a New Yorker, a Hudson river man, say he had a
bible; but I had never seen it. It lay untouched in the bottom of his
chest, sailor-fashion. I offered this man a shirt for his bible; but he
declined taking any pay, cheerfully giving me the book. I forced the shirt
on him, however, as a sort of memorial of me. Now I was provided with the
book, I could not read for want of spectacles. I had reached a time of
life when the sight begins to fail, and I think my eyes were injured in
Florida. In Sourayaba hospital I had raised a few rupees by the sale of a
black silk handkerchief, and wanted now to procure a pair of spectacles. I
sold a pair of boots, and adding the little sum thus raised to that which
I had already, I felt myself rich and happy, in the prospect of being able
to study the word of God. On quitting the ship, everybody, forward and
aft, shook hands with me, the opinion of the man-of-war surgeon suddenly
changing all their opinions of me and my conduct.

The captain appeared to regret the course things had taken, and was
willing to do all he could to make me comfortable. My wages were left in a
merchant's hands, and I was to receive them could I quit this island, or
get out of the hospital. I was to be sent to Holland, in the latter case,
and everything was to be done according to law and right. The reader is
not to imagine I considered myself a suffering saint all this time. On the
contrary, while I was thought an impostor, I remembered that I had shammed
sickness in this very island, and, as I entered the hospital, I could not
forget the circumstances under which I had been its tenant fifteen or
twenty years before. Then I was in the pride of my youth and strength;
and, now, as if in punishment for the deception, I was berthed, a
miserable cripple, within half-a-dozen beds of that on which I was berthed
when feigning an illness I did not really suffer. Under such
circumstances, conscience is pretty certain to remind a sinner of
his misdeeds.

The physician of the hospital put me on very low diet and gave me an
ointment to "smear" myself with, as he called it; and I was ordered to
remain in my berth. By means of one of the coolies of the hospital, I got
a pair of spectacles from the town, and such a pair, as to size and form,
that people in America regard what is left of them as a curiosity. They
served my purpose, however, and enabled me to read the precious book I had
obtained from my north-river shipmate. This book was a copy from the
American Bible Society's printing-office, and if no other of their works
did good, this must be taken for an exception. It has since been placed in
the Society's Library, in memory of the good it has done.

My sole occupation was reading and reflecting. There I lay, in a distant
island, surrounded by disease, death daily, nay hourly making his
appearance, among men whose language was mostly unknown to me. It was
several weeks before I was allowed even to quit my bunk. I had begun to
pray before I left the ship, and this practice I continued, almost hourly,
until I was permitted to rise. A converted Lascar was in the hospital, and
seeing my occupation, he came and conversed with me, in his broken
English. This man gave me a hymn-book, and one of the first hymns I read
in it afforded me great consolation. It was written by a man who had been
a sailor like myself, and one who had been almost as wicked as myself, but
who has since done a vast deal of good, by means of precept and example.
This hymn-book I now read in common with my bible. But I cannot express
the delight I felt at a copy of Pilgrim's Progress which this same Lascar
gave me. That book I consider as second only to the bible. It enabled me
to understand and to apply a vast deal that I found in the word of God,
and set before my eyes so many motives for hope, that I began to feel
Christ had died for me, as well as for the rest of the species. I thought
if the thief on the cross could be saved, even one as wicked as I had been
had only to repent and believe, to share in the Redeemer's mercy. All this
time I fairly pined for religious instruction, and my thoughts would
constantly recur to the sermon I had heard at the Sailor's Retreat, and
to the clergyman who had preached it.

There was an American carpenter in the Fever Hospital, who, hearing of my
state, gave me some tracts that he had brought from home with him. This
man was not pious, but circumstances had made him serious; and, being
about to quit the place, he was willing to administer to my wants He told
me there were several Englishmen and one American in his hospital, who
wanted religious consolation greatly, and he advised me to crawl over and
see them; which I did, as soon as it was in my power.

At first, I thought myself too wicked to offer to pray and converse with
these men, but my conscience would not let me rest until I did so. It
appeared to me as if the bible had been placed in my way, as much for
their use as my own, and I could not rest until I had offered them all the
consolation it was in my power to bestow. I read with these men for two or
three weeks; Chapman, the American, being the man who considered his own
moral condition the most hopeless. When unable to go myself, I would send
my books, and we had the bible and Pilgrim's Progress, watch and watch,
between us.

All this time we were living, as it might be, on a bloody battle-field.
Men died in scores around us, and at the shortest notice. Batavia, at that
season, was the most sickly; and, although the town was by no means as
dangerous then as it had been in my former visit, it was still a sort of
Golgotha, or place of skulls. More than half who entered the Fever
Hospital, left it only as corpses.

Among my English associates, as I call them, was a young Scotchman, of
about five-and-twenty. This man had been present at most of our readings
and conversations, though he did not appear to me as much impressed with
the importance of caring for his soul, as some of the others. One day he
came to take leave of me. He was to quit the hospital the following
morning. I spoke to him concerning his future life, and endeavoured to
awaken in him some feelings that might be permanent, he listened with
proper respect, but his answers were painfully inconsiderate, though I do
believe he reasoned as nine in ten of mankind reason, when they think at
all on such subjects. "What's the use of my giving up so soon," he said;
"I am young, and strong, and in good health, and have plenty of sea-room
to leeward of me, and can fetch up when there is occasion for it. If a
fellow don't live while he can, he'll never live." I read to him the
parable of the wise and foolish virgins, but he left me holding the same
opinion, to the last.

Directly in front of my ward was the dead-house. Thither all the bodies of
those who died in the hospital were regularly carried for dissection.
Scarcely one escaped being subjected to the knife. This dead-house stood
some eighty, or a hundred, yards from the hospital, and between them was
an area, containing a few large trees. I was in the habit, after I got
well enough to go out, to hobble to one of these trees, where I would sit
for hours, reading and meditating. It was a good place to make a man
reflect on the insignificance of worldly things, disease and death being
all around him. I frequently saw six or eight bodies carried across this
area, while sitting in it, and many were taken to the dead-house, at
night. Hundreds, if not thousands, were in the hospital, and a large
proportion died.

The morning of the day but one, after I had taken leave of the young
Scotchman, I was sitting under a tree, as usual, when I saw some coolies
carrying a dead body across the area. They passed quite near me, and one
of the coolies gave me to understand it was that of this very youth! He
had been seized with the fever, a short time after he left me, and here
was a sudden termination to all his plans of enjoyment and his hopes of
life; his schemes of future repentance.

Such things are of frequent occurrence in that island, but this event made
a very deep impression on me. It helped to strengthen me in my own
resolutions, and I used it, I hope, with effect, with my companions whose
lives were still spared.

All the Englishmen got well, and were discharged. Chapman, the American,
however, remained, being exceedingly feeble with the disease of the
country. With this poor young man, I prayed, as well as I knew how, and
read, daily, to his great comfort and consolation, I believe. The reader
may imagine how one dying in a strange land, surrounded by idolaters,
would lean on a single countryman who was disposed to aid him. In this
manner did Chap man lean on me, and all my efforts were to induce him to
lean on the Saviour. He thought he had been too great a sinner to be
entitled to any hope, and my great task was to overcome in him some of
those stings of conscience which it had taken the grace of God to allay in
myself. One day, the last time I was with him, I read the narrative of the
thief on the cross. He listened to it eagerly, and when I had ended, for
the first time, he displayed some signs of hope and joy. As I left him, he
took leave of me, saying we should never meet again. He asked my prayers,
and I promised them. I went to my own ward, and, while actually engaged in
redeeming my promise, one came to tell me he had gone. He sent me a
message, to say he died a happy man. The poor fellow--happy fellow, would
be a better term--sent back all the books he had borrowed; and it will
serve to give some idea of the condition we were in, in a temporal sense,
if I add, that he also sent me a few coppers, in order that they might
contribute to the comfort of his countrymen.

James Fenimore Cooper

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