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Chapter 2

An explanation took place. Dr. and Mrs. Heizer remonstrated about my
conduct, and endeavoured, once more, to persuade me to return to Mr.
Marchinton's. A great deal was told me of the kind intentions of that
gentleman, and concerning what I might expect from the protection and
patronage of my god-father, the Duke of Kent. I cannot help thinking, now,
that much of the favour which was extended towards me at that early period
of life, was owing to the circumstance that the prince had consented to
stand for me at my baptism. He was a great disciplinarian--so great,
indeed, I remember to have heard, as to cause more than one mutiny--and my
father being a German, and coming from a people that carried military
subordination to extremes, it is highly probable I was indebted, for this
compliment, to a similarity of tastes between the two. I cared little for
all this, however, in 1805, and thought far less of being protected by a
prince of the blood royal, than of going to sea, and especially of
escaping from the moral discipline of Mr. Marchinton. Finding his
arguments vain, Dr. Heizer sent me to school again, where I continued a
few months longer.

All this time, my taste for ships rather increased than diminished. At
every opportunity I was on the wharves, studying the different craft, and
endeavouring to understand their rig. One day I saw a British ensign, and,
while looking at it, with a feeling of strong disgust, I heard myself
called by name. A glance told me that I was seen by a Halifax man, and I
ran away, under the apprehension that he might, by some means, seize me
and carry me back. My feelings on this head were all alive, and that very
day one of the young ladies said, in a melancholy way, "_Edouard_,"
"Halifax." These girls spoke scarcely any English, having been born in
Martinique; and they talked much together in French, looking at me
occasionally, as if I were the subject of their discourse. It is probable
conscience was at the bottom of this conceit of mine; but the latter now
became so strong, as to induce me to determine to look out for a vessel
for myself, and be off again. With this view, I quitted a negro who had
been sent with me to market, under the pretence of going to school, but
went along the wharves until I found a ship that took my fancy. She was
called the Sterling, and there was a singularly good-looking mate on her
deck, of the name of Irish, who was a native of Nantucket. The ship was
commanded by Capt. John Johnston, of Wiscasset, in Maine, and belonged to
his father and himself.

I went on board the Sterling, and, after looking about for some time, I
ventured to offer myself to Mr. Irish, as a boy who wished to ship. I was
questioned, of course, but evaded any very close answers. After some
conversation, Capt. Johnston came on board, and Mr. Irish told him what I
wanted. My examination now became much closer, and I found myself driven
to sheer fabrication in order to effect my purposes. During my intercourse
with different sea-going lads of Halifax, I had learned the particulars of
the capture of the Cleopatra 32, by the French frigate Ville de Milan 38,
and her recapture by the Leander 50, which ship captured the Ville de
Milan at the same time. I said my father had been a serjeant of marines,
and was killed in the action--that I had run away when the ships got in,
and that I wished to be bound to some American ship-master, in order to
become a regularly-trained seaman. This story so far imposed on Capt.
Johnston as to induce him to listen to my proposals, and in part to accept
them. We parted with an understanding that I was to get my clothes, and
come on board the vessel.

It was twelve at noon when I got back to Dr. Heizer's. My first business
was to get my clothes into the yard, a few at a time; after which I ate my
dinner with the family. As soon as we rose from table, I stole away with
my bundle, leaving these kind people to believe I had returned to school.
I never saw one of them afterwards! On my return to New York, several
years later, I learned they had all gone to Martinique to live. I should
not have quitted this excellent family in so clandestine a manner, had I
not been haunted with the notion that I was about to be sent back to
Halifax, a place I now actually hated.

Capt. Johnston received me good-naturedly, and that night I slept and
supped at the Old Coffee House, Old Slip--his own lodgings. He seemed
pleased with me, and I was delighted with him. The next day he took me to
a slop-shop, and I was rigged like a sailor, and was put in the cabin,
where I was to begin my service in the regular way. A boy named Daniel
McCoy was in the ship, and had been out to Russia in her, as cabin-boy,
the last voyage. He was now to be sent into the forecastle, and was
ordered to instruct me in my duty.

I was now comparatively happy, though anxious to be bound to Capt.
Johnston, and still more so to be fairly at sea. The Sterling had a good,
old-fashioned cabin, as cabins went in 1806; and I ran about her
state-room, rummaged her lockers, and scampered up and down her
companion-way, with as much satisfaction as if they had all belonged to a
palace. Dan McCoy was every day on board, and we had the accommodations of
the ship very much to ourselves. Two or three days later, Capt. Johnston
took me to the proper place, and I was put under regular indentures, to
serve until I was twenty-one. I now felt more confidence in my situation,
knowing that Dr. Heizer had no legal authority over me. The work I did, in
no manner offended my dignity, for it was on ship-board, and belonged
properly to my duty as a cabin-boy.

The Sterling soon began to take in her cargo. She was to receive a freight
of flour, for Cowes and a market. Not only was the hold filled, but the
state-room and cabin, leaving barely room to climb over the barrels to
reach the berths. A place was left, just inside of the cabin door, for the
table. Passengers were not common in that day, while commerce was pushed
to the utmost. Our sails were bending when the consignee, followed by
another merchant, came down to the ship, accompanied by a youth, who, it
was understood, wished also to be received in the vessel. This youth was
named Cooper, and was never called by any other appellation in the ship.
He was accepted by Capt. Johnston, signed the articles, and the next day
he joined us, in sailor's rig. He never came to the cabin, but was
immediately employed forward, in such service as he was able to perform.
It was afterwards understood that he was destined for the navy.

The very day that Cooper joined us, was one of deep disgrace to me. The
small stores came on board for the cabin, and Dan McCoy persuaded me to
try the flavour of a bottle of cherry-bounce. I did not drink much, but
the little I swallowed made me completely drunk. This was the first time I
ever was in that miserable and disgraceful plight; would to God I could
also say it was the last! The last it was, however, for several years;
that is some comfort. I thank my Divine Master that I have lived to see
the hour when intoxicating liquors have ceased to have any command over
me, and when, indeed, they never pass my lips. Capt. Johnston did not flog
me for this act of folly, merely pulling my ears a little, and sharply
reprimanding me; both he and Mr. Irish seeming to understand that my
condition had proceeded from the weakness of my head. Dan was the
principal sufferer, as, to say the truth, he ought to have been. He was
rope's-ended for his pains.

Next day the stevedores took the ship in to the stream, and the crew came
on board. The assembling of the crew of a merchantman, in that day, was a
melancholy sight. The men came off, bearing about them the signs of the
excesses of which they had been guilty while on shore; some listless and
stupid, others still labouring under the effects of liquor, and some in
that fearful condition which seamen themselves term having the "horrors."
Our crew was neither better nor worse than that of other ships. It was
also a sample of the mixed character of the crews of American vessels
during the height of her neutral trade. The captain, chief-mate, cook, and
four of those forward, were American born; while the second-mate was a
Portuguese. The boys were, one Scotch, and one a Canadian; and there were
a Spaniard, a Prussian, a Dane, and an Englishman, in the forecastle.
There was also an Englishman who worked his passage, having been the
cooper of a whaler that was wrecked. As Dan McCoy was sent forward, too,
this put ten in the forecastle, besides the cook, and left five aft,
including the master of another wrecked English vessel, whom we took out
as a passenger.

That afternoon we lifted our anchor, and dropped down abreast of
Governor's Island, where we brought up. Next day all hands were called to
get under way, and, as soon as the anchor was short, the mate told Cooper
and myself to go up and loose the fore-top-sail. I went on one yard-arm and
Cooper went on the other. In a few minutes the second mate came up,
hallooing to us to "avast," and laughing. Cooper was hard at work at the
"robins," and would soon have had his half of the sail down in the top,
had he been let alone; while I was taking the gaskets from the yard, with
the intention of bringing them carefully down on deck, where it struck me
they would be quite safe. Luckily for us, the men were too busy heaving,
and too stupid, to be very critical, and we escaped much ridicule. In a
week we both knew better.

The ship only got to the quarantine ground that day, but in the morning we
went to sea. Our passage was long and stormy. The ship was on a bow-line
most of the time, and we were something like forty days from land to land.
Nothing extraordinary occurred, however, and we finally made the Bill of
Portland. The weather came on thick, but we found a pilot, and ran into
St. Helen's Roads and anchored. The captain got into his boat, and taking
four men pulled ashore, to look for his orders at Cowes.

That afternoon it cleared off, and we found a pilot lying a little outside
of us. About sunset a man-of-war's cutter came alongside, and Mr. Irish
was ordered to muster the crew. The English lieutenant, who was tolerably
bowsed up, took his seat behind the cabin table, while the men came down,
and stood in the companion-way passage, to be overhauled. Most of the
foreigners had gone in the boat, but two of the Americans that remained
were uncommonly fine-looking men, and were both prime seamen. One, whose
name was Thomas Cook, was a six-footer, and had the air of a thorough
sea-dog. He filled the lieutenant's eye mightily, and Cook was very coolly
told to gather his dunnage, as he was wanted. Cook pointed to his
protection, but the lieutenant answered--"Oh! these things are
nothing--anybody can have one for two dollars, in New York. You are an
Englishman, and the King has need of your services." Cook now took out of
his pocket a certificate, that was signed by Sir John Beresford, stating
that Thomas Cook had been discharged from His Maj. Ship Cambrian, after a
pretty long service in her, because he had satisfactorily proved that he
was a native-born American. The lieutenant could not very well dishonour
this document, and he reluctantly let Cook go, keeping his protection,
however. He next selected Isaac Gaines, a native New Yorker, a man whose
father and friends were known to the captain. But Gaines had no discharge
like that of Cook's, and the poor fellow was obliged to rowse up his chest
and get into the cutter. This he did with tears in his eyes, and to the
regret of all on board, he being one of the best men in the ship. We asked
the boat's crew to what vessel they belonged, and they gave us the name of
a sixty-four in the offing, but we observed, as they pulled away from us,
that they took the direction of another ship. This was the last I ever
saw, or heard, of Isaac Gaines. Cook went on with us, and one day, while
in London, he went with Cooper to Somerset House to get an order for some
prize-money, to which he was entitled for his service in the Cambrian, as
was shown by his discharge. The clerk asked him to leave the certificate,
and call a day or two later, when he would have searched out the amount.
This was done, and Cook, being now without certificate or protection, was
pressed on his way back to the ship. We never heard of him, either. Such
was often the fate of sailors, in that day, who were with you one day, and
lost for ever the next.

Captain Johnston did not get back to the ship for four-and-twenty hours.
He brought orders for us to go up to London; and, the wind being fair, and
almost a gale, we got under way, and were off as soon as possible. The
next morning we were in the straits of Dover; the wind light, but fair.
This was at a moment when all England was in arms, in anticipation of an
invasion from France. Forty odd sail of vessels of war were counted from
our ship, as the day dawned, that had been cruising in the narrow waters,
during the night, to prevent a surprise.

We worked our way up to London, with the tides, and were carried into
London dock; where we discharged. This was my first visit to the modern
Babylon, of course; but I had little opportunity of seeing much. I had one
or two cruises, of a Sunday, in tow of Cooper, who soon became a branch
pilot, in those waters, about the parks and west end but I was too young
to learn much, or to observe much. Most of us went to see the monument,
St. Paul's, and the lions; and Cooper put himself in charge of a
beef-eater, and took a look at the arsenals, jewels and armoury. He had a
rum time of it, in his sailor rig, but hoisted in a wonderful deal of
gibberish, according to his own account of his cruise.

Captain Johnston now got a freight for the ship, and we hauled into the
stream, abreast of the dock-gates, and took in shingle ballast. The
Prussian, Dane, second mate, and the English cooper, all left us, in
London. We got a Philadelphian, a chap from Maine, who had just been
discharged from an English man-of-war, and an Irish lad, in their places.
In January we sailed, making the best of our way for the straits of
Gibraltar. The passage was stormy--the Bay of Biscay, in particular,
giving us a touch of its qualities. It was marked by only two incidents,
however, out of the usual way. While running down the coast of Portugal,
with the land in sight, we made an armed felucca astern, and to windward.
This vessel gave chase; and, the captain disliking her appearance, we
carried hard, in order to avoid her. The weather was thick, and it blew
fresh, occasionally, in squalls. Whenever it lulled, the felucca gained on
us, we having, a very little, the advantage in the puffs. At length the
felucca began to fire; and, finding that his shot were coming pretty near,
Captain Johnston, knowing that he was in ballast, thought it wisest to
heave-to. Ten minutes after our main-top-sail was aback, the felucca ranged
up close under our lee; hailed, and ordered us to send a boat, with our
papers, on board her. A more rascally-looking craft never gave such an
order to an unarmed merchantman. As our ship rose on a sea, and he fell
into the trough, we could look directly down upon his decks, and thus form
some notion of what we were to expect, when he got possession of us. His
people were in red caps and shirts, and appeared to be composed of the
rakings of such places as Gibraltar, Cadiz and Lisbon. He had ten long
guns; and pikes, pistols and muskets, were plenty with him. On the end of
each latine-yard was a chap on the look-out, who occasionally turned his
eyes towards us, as if to anticipate the gleanings. That we should be
plundered, every one expected; and it was quite likely we might be
ill-treated. As soon as we hove-to, Captain Johnston gave me the best
spy-glass, with orders to hand it to Cooper, to hide. The latter buried it
in the shingle ballast. We, in the cabin, concealed a bag of guineas so
effectually, that, after all was over, we could not find it ourselves.

The jolly-boat had been stowed in the launch, on account of the rough
weather we had expected to meet, and tackles had to be got aloft before we
could hoist it out. This consumed some time, during which there was a
lull. The felucca, seeing us busy at this work, waited patiently until we
had got the boat over the side, and into the water. Cooper, Dan McCoy, Big
Dan, and Spanish Joe, then got into her; and the captain had actually
passed his writing-desk into the boat, and had his leg on the rail, to go
over the side himself, when a squall struck the ship. The men were called
out of the boat to clew down the topsails, and a quarter of an hour passed
in taking care of the vessel. By this time the squall had passed, and it
lightened up a little. There lay the felucca, waiting for the boat; and
the men were reluctantly going into the latter again, when the commander
of the felucca waved his hand to us, his craft fell off and filled,
wing-and-wing, skimming away towards the coast, like a duck. We stood
gaping and staring at her, not knowing what to make of this manoeuvre,
when "bang!" went a heavy gun, a little on our weather quarter. The shot
passed our wake, for we had filled our topsail, and it went skipping from
sea to sea, after the felucca. Turning our eyes in the direction of the
report, we saw a frigate running down upon the felucca, carrying
studding-sails on both sides, with the water foaming up to her
hawse-holes. As she passed our stern, she showed an English ensign, but
took no other notice of us, continuing on after the felucca, and
occasionally measuring her distance with a shot. Both vessels soon
disappeared in the mist, though we heard guns for some time. As for
ourselves, we jogged along on our course, wishing good luck to the
Englishman. The felucca showed no ensign, the whole day. Our guineas were
found, some weeks later, in a bread-locker, after we had fairly eaten our
way down to them.

The other adventure occurred very soon after this escape; for, though the
felucca may have had a commission, she was a pirate in appearance, and
most probably in her practices. The thick westerly weather continued until
we had passed the Straits. The night we were abreast of Cape Trafalgar,
the captain came on deck in the middle watch, and, hailing the forecastle,
ordered a sharp look-out kept, as we must be running through Lord
Collingwood's fleet. The words were hardly out of his mouth, when Spanish
Joe sung out, "sail ho!" There she was, sure enough, travelling right down
upon us, in a line that threatened to take us between the fore and main
masts. The captain ordered our helm hard up, and yelled for Cooper to
bring up the cabin lantern. The youngster made one leap down the ladder,
just scraping the steps with his heels, and was in the mizzen rigging with
the light, in half a minute. That saved us. So near was the stranger, that
we plainly heard the officer of the deck call out to his own
quarter-master to "port, hard a-port--_hard_ a-port, and be d----d to
you!" Hard a-port it was, and a two-decker came brushing along on our
weather beam--so near, that, when she lifted on the seas, it seemed as if
the muzzles of her guns would smash our rails. The Sterling did not behave
well on this occasion, for, getting a yaw to windward, she seemed disposed
to go right into the Englishman, before she would mind her helm. After the
man-of-war hailed, and got our answer, her officer quaintly remarked that
we were "close on board him." It blew too fresh for boats, and we were
suffered to pass without being boarded.

The ship proceeded up to Carthagena, and went in. Here we were put in
quarantine for several days. The port was full of heavy ships of war,
several of which were three-deckers; and an arrival direct from London
made quite a sensation among them. We had divers visits from the officers,
though I do not know what it all amounted to. From Carthagena we were
sent down the coast to a little place called Aguilas, where we began to
take in a cargo of barilla. At night we would discharge our shingle
ballast into the water, contrary to law; and, in the day, we took in
cargo. So clear was the water, that our night's work might easily be seen
next morning, lying beneath the ship. As we lay in a roadstead, it
mattered little, few vessels touching at the port. While at this place,
there was an alarm of an attack from an English man-of-war that was seen
in the offing, and priests enough turned out to defend an ordinary town.

We got about half our freight at this little village, and then came down
as low as Almeria, an old Moorish town, just below Cape de Gatte, for the
remainder. Here we lay several weeks, finishing stowing our cargo. I went
ashore almost every day to market, and had an opportunity of seeing
something of the Spaniards. Our ship lay a good distance off, and we
landed at a quarantine station, half a mile, at least, from the
water-gate, to which we were compelled to walk along the beach.

One of my journeys to the town produced a little adventure. The captain
had ordered Cooper to boil some pitch at the galley. By some accident, the
pot was capsized, and the ship came near being burned. A fresh pot was now
provided, and Cooper and Dan McCoy were sent ashore, at the station, with
orders to boil down pitch on the land. There was no wharf, and it was
always necessary to get ashore through a surf. The bay is merely an elbow,
half the winds blowing in from the open sea. Sometimes, therefore, landing
is ticklish work and requires much skill. I went ashore with the pitch,
and proceeded into the town on my errands, whilst the two lads lighted
their fire and began to boil down. When all was ready, it was seen there
was a good deal of swell, and that the breakers looked squally. The
orders, however, were to go off, on such occasions, and not to wait, as
delay generally made matters worse. We got into the boat, accordingly, and
shoved off. For a minute, or more, things went well enough, when a breaker
took the bows of the jolly-boat, lifted her nearly on end, and turned her
keel uppermost. One scarcely knows how he gets out of such a scrape. We
all came ashore, however, heels over head, people, pot, boat, and oars.
The experiment was renewed, less the pitch and a pair of new shoes of
mine, and it met with exactly the same result. On a third effort, the boat
got through the surf and we succeeded in reaching the ship. These are the
sorts of scenes that harden lads, and make them fond of risks. I could not
swim a stroke, and certainly would have been drowned had not the
Mediterranean cast me ashore, as if disdaining to take a life of so little
value to anybody but myself.

After lying several weeks at Almeria, the ship got under way for England
again. We had fresh westerly gales, and beat to and fro, between Europe
and Africa, for some time, when we got a Levanter that shoved us out into
the Atlantic at a furious rate. In the Straits we passed a squadron of
Portuguese frigates, that was cruising against the Algerines. It was the
practice of these ships to lie at the Rock until it blew strong enough
from the eastward to carry vessels through the Gut, when they weighed and
kept in the offing until the wind shifted. This was blockading the
Atlantic against their enemies, and the Mediterranean against their
own ships.

We had a long passage and were short of salt provisions. Falling in with
an American in the Bay of Biscay, we got a barrel of beef which lasted us
in. When near the chops of the channel, with a light southerly wind, we
made a sail in our wake, that came up with us hand over hand. She went
nearly two feet to our one, the barilla pressing the Sterling down into
the water, and making her very dull, more especially in light airs. When
the stranger got near enough, we saw that he was pumping, the water
running out of his scuppers in a constant stream. He was several hours in
sight, the whole time pumping. This ship passed within a cable's-length of
us, without taking any more notice of us than if we had been a mile-stone.
She was an English two-decker, and we could distinguish the features of
her men, as they stood in the waist, apparently taking breath after their
trial at the pumps. She dropped a hawse-bucket, and we picked it up, when
she was about half a mile ahead of us. It had the broad-arrow on it, and a
custom-house officer seeing it, some time after, was disposed to seize it
as a prize.

We never knew the name of this ship, but there was something proud and
stately in her manner of passing us, in her distress, without so much as a
hail. It is true, we could have done her no good, and her object,
doubtless, was to get into dock as soon as possible. Some thought she had
been in action, and was going home to repair damages that could not be
remedied at sea.

Soon after this vessel was seen, we had proof how difficult it is to judge
of a ship's size at sea. A vessel was made ahead, standing directly for
us. Mr. Irish soon pronounced her a sloop of war. Half an hour later she
grew into a frigate, but when she came abeam she showed three tiers of
ports, being a ninety. This ship also passed without deigning to take any
notice of us.

James Fenimore Cooper

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