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Chapter 3

We made the Land's End in fine weather, and with a fair wind. Instead of
keeping up channel, however, our ship hauled in for the land. Cooper was
at the helm, and the captain asked him if he knew of any one on board who
had ever been into Falmouth. He was told that Philadelphia Bill had been
pointing out the different head-lands on the forecastle, and that, by his
own account, he had sailed a long time out of the port. This Bill was a
man of fifty, steady, trust-worthy, quiet, and respected by every man in
the ship. He had taken a great liking to Cooper, whom he used to teach how
to knot and splice, and other niceties of the calling, and Cooper often
took him ashore with him, and amused him with historical anecdotes of the
different places we visited. In short, the intimacy between them was as
great as well could be, seeing the difference in their educations and
ages. But, even to Cooper, Bill always called himself a Philadelphian. In
appearance, indeed, he resembled one of those whom we call Yankees, in
America, more than anything else.

Bill was now sent for and questioned. He seemed uneasy, but admitted he
could take the ship into Falmouth. There was nothing in the way, but a
rock abreast Pendennis Castle, but it was easy to give that a berth. We
now learned that the captain had made up his mind to go into this port and
ride out the quarantine to which all Mediterranean vessels were subject.
Bill took us in very quietly, and the ship was ordered up a few miles
above the town, to a bay where vessels rode out their quarantine. The next
day a doctor's boat came alongside, and we were ordered to show ourselves,
and flourish our limbs, in order to make it evident we were alive and
kicking. There were four men in the boat, and, as it turned out, every one
of them recognised Bill, who was born within a few miles of the very spot
where the ship lay, and had a wife then living a great deal nearer to him
than he desired. It was this wife--there happening to be too much of
her--that had driven the poor fellow to America, twenty years before, and
which rendered him unwilling to live in his native country. By private
means, Bill managed to have some communication with the men in the boat,
and got their promises not to betray him. This was done by signs
altogether, speaking being quite out of the question.

We were near, or quite, a fortnight in quarantine; after which the ship
dropped down abreast of the town. This was of a Saturday, and Sunday, a
portion of the crew were permitted to go ashore. Bill was of the number,
and when he returned he admitted that he had been so much excited at
finding himself in the place, that he had been a little indiscreet. That
night he was very uncomfortable, but nothing occurred to molest any of us.
The next morning all seemed right, and Bill began to be himself again;
often wishing, however, that the anchor was aweigh, and the ship turning
out of the harbour. We soon got at work, and began to work down to the
mouth of the haven, with a light breeze. The moment we were clear of the
points, or head-lands, we could make a fair wind of it up channel. The ship
was in stays, pretty well down, tinder Pendennis, and the order had been
given to swing the head yards. Bill and Cooper were pulling together at
the fore-top-sail brace, when the report of a musket was heard quite near
the ship. Bill let go the brace, turned as white as a sheet, and
exclaimed, "I'm gone!" At first, the men near him thought he was shot, but
a gesture towards the boat which had fired, explained his meaning. The
order was given to belay the head braces, and we waited the result
in silence.

The press-gang was soon on board us, and its officer asked to have the
crew mustered. This humiliating order was obeyed, and all hands of us were
called aft. The officer seemed easily satisfied, until he came to Bill.
"What countryman are _you_?" he asked. "An American--a Philadelphian,"
answered Bill. "You are an Englishman." "No, sir; I was born--" "Over
here, across the bay," interrupted the officer, with a cool smile, "where
your dear wife is at this moment. Your name is ______ ______, and you are
well known in Falmouth. Get your clothes, and be ready to go in the boat."

This settled the matter. Captain Johnston paid Bill his wages, his chest
was lowered into the boat, and the poor fellow took an affectionate leave
of his shipmates. He told those around him that his fate was sealed. He
was too old to outlive a war that appeared to have no end, and they would
never trust _him_ on shore. "My foot will never touch the land again," he
said to Cooper, as he squeezed his young friend's hand, "and I am to live
and die, with a ship for my prison."

The loss of poor Bill made us all sad; but there was no remedy. We got
into the offing, and squared away for the river again. When we reached
London, the ship discharged down at Limehouse, where she lay in a tier of
Americans for some time. We then took in a little ballast, and went up
opposite to the dock gates once more. We next docked and cleaned the ship,
on the Deptford side, and then hauled into the wet-dock in which we had
discharged our flour.

Here the ship lay part of May, all of June, and most of July, taking in
freight for Philadelphia, as it offered. This gave our people a good deal
of spare time, and we were allowed to go ashore whenever we were not
wanted. Cooper now took me in tow, and many a drift I had with him and Dan
McCoy up to St. Paul's, the parks, palaces, and the Abbey. A little
accident that happened about this time, attached me to Cooper more than
common, and made me more desirous than ever to cruise in his company.

I was alone, on deck, one Sunday, when I saw a little dog running about on
board a vessel that lay outside of us. Around the neck of this animal,
some one has fastened a sixpence, by a bit of riband rove through a hole.
I thought this sixpence might be made better use of, in purchasing some
cherries, for which I had a strong longing, and I gave chase. In
attempting to return to our own ship, with the dog, I fell into the water,
between the two vessels. I could not swim a stroke; and I sang out,
lustily, for help. As good luck would have it, Cooper came on board at
that precise instant; and, hearing my outcry, he sprang down between the
ships, and rescued me from drowning. I thought I was gone; and my
condition made an impression on me that never will be lost. Had not Cooper
accidentally appeared, just as he did, Ned Myers's yarn would have ended
with this paragraph. I ought to add, that the sixpence got clear, the dog
swimming away with it.

I had another escape from drowning, while we lay in the docks, having
fallen overboard from the jolly-boat, while making an attempt at sculling.
I forget, now, how I was saved; but then I had the boat and the oar to
hold on to. In the end, it will be seen by what a terrific lesson I
finally learned to swim.

One Sunday we were drifting up around the palace; and then it was that I
told Cooper that the Duke of Kent was my god-father. He tried to persuade
me to make a call; saying I could do no less than pay this respect to the
prince. I had half a mind to try my hand at a visit; but felt too shy, and
too much afraid. Had I done as Cooper so strongly urged me to do, one
cannot say what might have been the consequences, or what change might
have been brought about in my fortunes.[4]

One day Mr. Irish was in high glee, having received a message from Captain
Johnston, to inform him that the latter was pressed! The captain used to
dress in a blue long-tog, drab-breeches and top-boots, when he went
ashore. "He thought he could pass for a gentleman from the country," said
Mr. Irish, laughing, "but them press-gang chaps smelt the tar in his very
boots!" Cooper was sent to the rendezvous, with the captain's desk and
papers, and the latter was liberated. We all liked the captain, who was
kind and considerate in his treatment of all hands; but it was fine fun
for us to have "the old fellow" pressed--"_old fellow_" of six or
eight-and-twenty, as he was then.

About the last of July, we left London, bound home. Our crew had again
undergone some changes. We shipped a second mate, a New-England man. Jim
Russel left us. We had lost Bill; and, another Bill, a dull Irish lad, who
had gone to Spain, quitted us also. Our crew consisted of only Spanish
Joe; Big Dan; Little Dan; Stephen, the Kennebunk man; Cooper; a Swede,
shipped in London; a man whose name I have forgotten; and a young man who
passed by the name of Davis, but who was, in truth,--------, a son of the
pilot who had brought us in, and taken us out, each time we passed up or
down the river. This Davis had sailed in a coaster belonging to his
father, and had got pressed in Sir Home Popham's South-American squadron.
They made him a midshipman; but, disliking the sea, he was determined to
go to America. We had to smuggle him out of the country, on account of the
press-gang; he making his appearance on board us, suddenly, one night, in
the river.

The Sterling was short-handed this passage, mustering but four hands in a
watch. Notwithstanding, we often reefed in the watch, though Cooper and
Little Dan were both scarcely more than boys. Our mates used to go aloft,
and both were active, powerful men. The cook, too, was a famous fellow at
a drag. In these delicate times, when two or three days of watch and watch
knock up a set of young men, one looks back with pride to a passage like
this, when fourteen men and boys--four of the latter--brought a good sized
ship across the ocean, reefing in the watch, weathering many a gale, and
thinking nothing of it. I presume half our people, on a pinch, could have
brought the Sterling in. One of the boys I have mentioned was named John
Pugh, a little fellow the captain had taken as an apprentice in London,
and who was now at sea for the first time in his life.

We had a long passage. Every inch of the way to the Downs was tide-work.
Here we lay several days, waiting far a wind. It blew fresh from the
southwest-half of that summer, and the captain was not willing to go out
with a foul wind. We were surrounded with vessels of war, most of the
Channel Fleet being at anchor around us. This made a gay scene, and we had
plenty of music, and plenty of saluting. One day all hands turned-to
together, and fired starboard and larboard, until we could see nothing but
a few mast-heads. What it all meant I never heard, but it made a famous
smoke, and a tremendous noise.

A frigate came in, and anchored just ahead of us. She lowered a boat, and
sent a reefer alongside to inform us that she was His Majesty's ship----;
that she had lost all her anchors but the stream, and she might strike
adrift, and he advised us to get out of her way. The captain held on that
day, however, but next morning she came into us, sure enough. The ships
did not get clear without some trouble, and we thought it wisest to shift
our berth. Once aweigh, the captain thought it best to turn out of the
Downs, which we did, working through the Straits, and anchoring under
Dungeness, as soon as the flood made. Here we lay until near sunset, when
we got under way to try our hand upon the ebb. I believe the skipper had
made up his mind to tide it down to the Land's End, rather than remain
idle any longer. There was a sloop of war lying in-shore of us, a mile or
so, and just as we stretched out from under the land, she began to
telegraph with a signal station ashore. Soon after, she weighed, and came
out, also. In the middle watch we passed this ship, on opposite tacks, and
learned that an embargo had been laid, and that we had only saved our
distance by some ten or fifteen minutes! This embargo was to prevent the
intelligence of the Copenhagen expedition from reaching the Danes. That
very day, we passed a convoy of transports, carrying a brigade from
Pendennis Castle to Yarmouth, in order to join the main fleet. A gun-brig
brought us to, and came near pressing the Swede, under the pretence that
being allies of his king, England had a right to his services. Had not the
man been as obstinate as a bull, and positively refused to go, I do
believe we should have lost him. He was ordered into the boat at least
half-a-dozen times, but swore he would not budge. Cooper had a little row
with this boarding officer, but was silenced by the captain.

After the news received from the sloop of war, it may be supposed we did
not venture to anchor anywhere on English ground. Keeping the channel, we
passed the Isle of Wight several times, losing on the flood, the distance
made on the ebb. At length we got a slant and fetched out into the
Atlantic, heading well to the southward, however. Our passage was long,
even after we got clear, the winds carrying us down as low as Corvo, which
island we made, and then taking us well north again. We had one very heavy
blow that forced us to scud, the Sterling being one of the wettest ships
that ever floated, when heading up to the sea.

When near the American coast, we spoke an English brig that gave us an
account of the affair between the Leopard and the Chesapeake, though he
made his own countrymen come out second-best. Bitter were the revilings of
Mr. Irish when the pilot told us the real state of the case. As was usual
with this ship's luck, we tided it up the bay and river, and got safe
alongside of the wharf at Philadelphia, at last. Here our crew was broken
up, of course, and, with the exception of Jack Pugh, my brother
apprentice, and Cooper, I never saw a single soul of them afterwards. Most
of them went on to New York, and were swallowed up in the great vortex of
seamen. Mr. Irish, I heard, died the next voyage he made, chief mate of an
Indiaman. He was a prime fellow, and fit to command a ship.

Such was my first voyage at sea, for I count the passage round from
Halifax as nothing. I had been kept in the cabin, it is true, but our work
had been of the most active kind. The Sterling must have brought up, and
been got under way, between fifty and a hundred times; and as for tacking,
waring, chappelling round, and box-hauling, we had so much of it by the
channel pilots, that the old barky scarce knew which end was going
foremost. In that day, a ship did not get from the Forelands up to London
without some trouble, and great was our envy of the large blocks and light
cordage of the colliers, which made such easy work for their men. We
singled much of our rigging, the second voyage up the river, ourselves,
and it was a great relief to the people. A set of grass foresheets, too,
that we bought in Spain, got to be great favourites, though, in the end,
they cost the ship the life of a very valuable man.

Captain Johnston now determined to send me to Wiscasset, that I might go
to school. A Wiscasset schooner, called the Clarissa, had come into
Philadelphia, with freight from the West Indies, and she was about to sail
for home in ballast. I was put on board as a passenger, and we sailed
about a week after the ship got in from London. Jack Pugh staid behind,
the Sterling being about to load for Ireland. On board the Clarissa I made
the acquaintance of a Philadelphian born, who was an apprentice to the
master of the schooner, of the name of Jack Mallet. He was a little older
than myself, and we soon became intimate, and, in time, were fated to see
many strange things in company.

The Clarissa went, by the Vineyard Sound and the Shoals, into Boston. Here
she landed a few crates, and then sailed for Wiscasset, where we arrived
after a pretty long passage. I was kindly received by the mother and
family of Captain Johnston, and immediately sent to school. Shortly after,
we heard of the embargo, and, the Clarissa being laid up, Jack Mallet
became one of my school-mates. We soon learned that the Sterling had not
been able to get out, and, ere long, Jack Pugh joined our party. A little
later, Captain Johnston arrived, to go into the commercial quarantine with
the rest of us.

This was the long embargo, as sailors called it, and it did not terminate
until Erskine's arrangement was made, in 1809. All this time I remained in
Wiscasset, at school, well treated, and, if anything, too much indulged.
Captain Johnston remained at home all this time, also, and, having nothing
else to do, he set about looking out for a wife. We had, at school, Jack
Pugh, Jack Mallet, and Bill Swett, the latter being a lad a little older
than myself, and a nephew of the captain's. I was now sixteen, and had
nearly gotten my growth.

As soon as the embargo was removed, Captain Johnston, accompanied by
Swett, started for Philadelphia, to bring the ship round to New York. From
that place he intended to sail for Liverpool, where Jack Pugh and myself
were to join him, sailing in a ship called the Columbia. This plan was
changed, however, and we were sent round by sea to join the Sterling
again, in the port where I had first found her.

As this was near three years after I had quitted the Hel zer's so
unceremoniously, I went to look for them. Their old neighbours told me
they had been gone to Martinique, about a twelvemonth. This was the last
intelligence I ever heard of them. Bill Swett was now put into the cabin,
and Jack Pugh and myself were sent regularly to duty before the mast. We
lived in the steerage, and had cabin fare; but, otherwise, had the
fortunes of foremast Jacks. Our freight was wheat in the lower hold, flour
betwixt decks, and cotton on deck. The ship was very deep. Our crew was
good, but both our mates were foreigners.

Nothing occurred until we got near soundings, when it came on to blow very
heavy from the southward and westward. The ship was running under a
close-reefed main-topsail and foresail, with a tremendous sea on. Just as
night set in, one Harry, a Prussian, came on deck from his supper to
relieve the wheel, and, fetching a lurch as he went aft, he brought up
against the launch, and thence down against our grass fore-sheet, which
had been so great a favourite in the London passages. This rope had been
stretched above the deck load for a ridge rope, but, being rotten, it gave
way when the poor Prussian struck it, and he went into the sea. We could
do no more than throw him the sky-light, which was large; but the ship
went foaming ahead, leaving the poor fellow to his fate, in the midst of
the hissing waters. Some of our people thought they saw poor Harry on the
sky-light, but this could not have made much difference in such a raging
sea. It was impossible to round-to, and as for a boat's living, it was out
of the question. This was the first man I saw lost at sea, and,
notwithstanding the severity of the gale, and the danger of the ship
herself, the fate of this excellent man made us all melancholy. The
captain felt it bitterly, as was evident from his manner. Still, the thing
was unavoidable.

We had begun to shorten sail early in the afternoon, and Harry was lost in
the first dog-watch. A little later the larboard fore-sheet went, and the
sail was split. All hands were called, and the rags were rolled up, and
the gaskets passed. The ship now laboured so awfully that she began to
leak. The swell was so high that we did not dare to come by the wind, and
the seas would come in, just about the main chains, meet in board and
travel out over her bows in a way to threaten everything that could be
moved. We lads were lashed at the pumps, and ordered to keep at work; and
to make matters worse, the wheat began to work its way into the pump-well.
While things were in this state, the main-top-sail split, leaving the ship
without a rag of sail on her.

The Sterling loved to be under water, even in moderate weather. Many a
time have I seen her send the water aft, into the quarter-deck scuppers,
and, as for diving, no loon was quicker than she. Now, that she was deep
and was rolling her deck-load to the water, it was time to think of
lightening her. The cotton was thrown overboard as fast as we could, and
what the men could not start the seas did. After a while we eased the ship
sensibly, and it was well we did; the wheat choking the pumps so often,
that we had little opportunity for getting out the water.

I do not now recollect at what hour of this fearful night, Captain
Johnston shouted out to us all to "look out"--and "hold on." The ship was
broaching-to. Fortunately she did this at a lucky moment, and, always
lying-to well, though wet, we made much better weather on deck. The
mizzen-staysail was now set to keep her from falling off into the troughs
of the sea. Still the wind blew as hard as ever. First one sail, then
another, got loose, and a hard time we had to keep the canvass to the
yards. Then the fore-top-mast went, with a heavy lurch, and soon after the
main, carrying with it the mizzen-top-gallant-mast. We owed this to the
embargo, in my judgment, the ship's rigging having got damaged lying dry
so long. We were all night clearing the wreck, and the men who used the
hatchets, told us that the wind would cant their tools so violently that
they sometimes struck on the eyes, instead of the edge. The gale fairly
seemed like a hard substance.

We passed a fearful night, working at the pumps, and endeavouring to take
care of the ship. Next morning it moderated a little, and the vessel was
got before the wind, which was perfectly fair. She could carry but little
sail; though we got up top-gallant-masts for top-masts, as soon as the sea
would permit. About four, I saw the land myself and pointed it out to the
mate. It was Cape Clear, and we were heading for it as straight as we
could go. We hauled up to clear it, and ran into the Irish channel. A
large fleet of vessels had gathered in and near the chops of the channel,
in readiness to run into Liverpool by a particular day that had been named
in the law opening the trade, and great had been the destruction among
them. I do not remember the number of the ships we saw, but there must
have been more than a hundred. It was afterwards reported, that near fifty
vessels were wrecked on the Irish coast. Almost every craft we fell in
with was more or less dismasted, and one vessel, a ship called the
Liberty, was reported to have gone down, with every soul on board her.

The weather becoming moderate, all hands of us went into Liverpool, the
best way we could. The Sterling had good luck in getting up, though we lay
some time in the river before we were able to get into dock. When we got
out the cargo, we found it much damaged, particularly the wheat. The last
was so hot that we could not bear our feet among it. We got it all out in
a few days, when we went into a dry dock, and repaired.

This visit to Liverpool scattered our crew as if it had been so much dust
in a squall. Most of our men were pressed, and those that were not, ran.
But one man, us boys excepted, stuck by the ship. The chief mate--a
foreigner, though of what country I never could discover--lived at a house
kept by a handsome landlady. To oblige this lady, he ordered William Swett
and myself to carry a bucket-full of salt, each, up to her house. The salt
came out of the harness-cask, and we took it ashore openly, but we were
stopped on the quay by a custom-house officer, who threatened to seize the
ship. Such was the penalty for landing two buckets of Liverpool salt at
Liverpool!

Captain Johnston had the matter explained, and he discharged the mate.
Next day, the discharged man and the second mate were pressed. We got the
last, who was a Swede, clear; and the chief mate, in the end, made his
escape, and found his way back to New York. Among those impressed, was
Jack Pugh, who having been bound in London, we did not dare show his
papers. The captain tried hard to get the boy clear, but without success.
I never saw poor Jack after this; though I learn he ran from the
market-boat of the guard-ship, made his way back to Wiscasset, where he
stayed some time, then shipped, and was lost at sea.

James Fenimore Cooper

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