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Chapter 6

I left the two fleets manoeuvring for the wind, in the last chapter. About
nine o'clock, the Pike got abeam of the Wolfe, Sir James Yeo's own ship,
hoisted her ensign, and fired a few guns to try the range of her shot. The
distance was too great to engage. At this time our sternmost vessels were
two leagues off, and the commodore wore round, and hauled up on the other
tack. The enemy did the same but, perceiving that our leading ships were
likely to weather on him, he tacked, and hauled off to the northward. We
stood on in pursuit, tacking too; but the wind soon fell, and about sunset
it was quite calm.

Throughout the day, the Scourge had as much as she could do to keep
anywhere near her station. As for the old Oneida, she could not be kept
within a long distance of her proper berth. We were sweeping, at odd
times, for hours that day. Towards evening, all the light craft were doing
the same, to close with the commodore. Our object was to get together,
lest the enemy should cut off some of our small vessels during the night.

Before dark the whole line was formed again, with the exception of the
Oneida, which was still astern, towing. She ought to have been near the
commodore, but could not get there. A little before sunset, Mr. Osgood
ordered us to pull in our sweeps, and to take a spell. It was a lovely
evening, not a cloud visible, and the lake being as smooth as a
looking-glass. The English fleet was but a short distance to the northward
of us; so near, indeed, that we could almost count their ports. They were
becalmed, like ourselves, and a little scattered.

We took in our sweeps as ordered, laying them athwart the deck, in
readiness to be used when wanted. The vessels ahead and astern of us were,
generally, within speaking distance. Just as the sun went below the
horizon, George Turnblatt, a Swede, who was our gunner, came to me, and
said he thought we ought to secure our guns; for we had been cleared for
action all day, and the crew at quarters. We were still at quarters, in
name; but the petty officers were allowed to move about, and as much
license was given to the people as was wanted. I answered that I would
gladly secure mine if he would get an order for it; but as we were still
at quarters, and there lay John Bull, we might get a slap at him in the
night. On this the gunner said he would go aft, and speak to Mr. Osgood on
the subject. He did so, but met the captain (as we always called Mr.
Osgood) at the break of the quarter-deck. When George had told his errand,
the captain looked at the heavens, and remarked that the night was so
calm, there could be no great use in securing the guns, and the English
were so near we should certainly engage, if there came a breeze; that the
men would sleep at their quarters, of course, and would be ready to take
care of their guns; but that he might catch a turn with the
side-tackle-falls around the pommelions of the guns, which would be
sufficient. He then ordered the boatswain to call all hands aft, to the
break of the quarter-deck.

As soon as the people had collected, Mr. Osgood said--"You must be pretty
well fagged out, men; I think we may have a hard night's work, yet, and I
wish you to get your suppers, and then catch as much sleep as you can, at
your guns." He then ordered the purser's steward to splice the main-brace.
These were the last words I ever heard from Mr. Osgood. As soon as he
gave the order, he went below leaving the deck in charge of Mr. Bogardus.
All our old crew were on board but Mr. Livingston, who had left us, and
Simeon Grant, one of my companions in the cruise over the battle-ground at
Fort George. Grant had cut his hand off, in a saw-mill, while we were last
at the Harbour, and had been left behind in the hospital. There was a
pilot on board, who used to keep a look-out occasionally, and sometimes
the boatswain had the watch.

The schooner, at this time, was under her mainsail, jib, and
fore-top-sail. The foresail was brailed, and the foot stopped, and the
flying-jib was stowed. None of the halyards were racked, nor sheets
stoppered. This was a precaution we always took, on account of the craft's
being so tender.

We first spliced the main-brace and then got our suppers, eating between
the guns, where we generally messed, indeed. One of my messmates, Tom
Goldsmith, was captain of the gun next to me, and as we sat there
finishing our suppers, I says to him, "Tom, bring up that rug that you
pinned at Little York, and that will do for both of us to stow ourselves
away under." Tom went down and got the rug, which was an article for the
camp that he had laid hands on, and it made us a capital bed-quilt. As all
hands were pretty well tired, we lay down, with our heads on shot-boxes,
and soon went to sleep.

In speaking of the canvass that was set, I ought to have said something of
the state of our decks. The guns had the side-tackles fastened as I have
mentioned. There was a box of canister, and another of grape, at each gun,
besides extra stands of both, under the shot-racks. There was also one
grummet of round-shot at every gun, besides the racks being filled. Each
gun's crew slept at the gun and its opposite, thus dividing the people
pretty equally on both sides of the deck. Those who were stationed below,
slept below. I think it probable that, as the night grew cool, as it
always does on the fresh waters, some of the men stole below to get warmer
berths. This was easily done in that craft, as we had but two regular
officers on board, the acting boatswain and gunner being little more than
two of ourselves.

I was soon asleep, as sound as if lying in the bed of a king. How long my
nap lasted, or what took place in the interval, I cannot say. I awoke,
however, in consequence of large drops of rain falling on my face. Tom
Goldsmith awoke at the same moment. When I opened my eyes, it was so dark
I could not see the length of the deck. I arose and spoke to Tom, telling
him it was about to rain, and that I meant to go down and get a nip, out
of a little stuff we kept in our mess-chest, and that I would bring up the
bottle if he wanted a taste. Tom answered, "this is nothing; we're neither
pepper nor salt." One of the black men spoke, and asked me to bring up the
bottle, and give him a nip, too. All this took half a minute, perhaps. I
now remember to have heard a strange rushing noise to windward as I went
towards the forward hatch, though it made no impression on me at the time.
We had been lying between the starboard guns, which was the weather side
of the vessel, if there were any weather side to it, there not being a
breath of air, and no motion to the water, and I passed round to the
larboard side, in order to find the ladder, which led up in that
direction. The hatch was so small that two men could not pass at a time,
and I felt my way to it, in no haste. One hand was on the bitts, and a
foot was on the ladder, when a flash of lightning almost blinded me. The
thunder came at the next instant, and with it a rushing of winds that
fairly smothered the clap.

The instant I was aware there was a squall, I sprang for the jib-sheet.
Being captain of the forecastle, I knew where to find it, and throw it
loose at a jerk. In doing this, I jumped on a man named Leonard Lewis, and
called on him to lend me a hand. I next let fly the larboard, or lee
top-sail-sheet, got hold of the clew-line, and, assisted by Lewis, got the
clew half up. All this time I kept shouting to the man at the wheel to put
his helm "hard down." The water was now up to my breast, and I knew the
schooner must go over. Lewis had not said a word, but I called out to him
to shift for himself, and belaying the clew-line, in hauling myself
forward of the foremast, I received a blow from the jib-sheet that came
near breaking my left arm. I did not feel the effect of this blow at the
time, though the arm has since been operated on, to extract a tumour
produced by this very injury.

All this occupied less than a minute. The flashes of lightning were
incessant, and nearly blinded me. Our decks seemed on fire, and yet I
could see nothing. I heard no hail, no order, no call; but the schooner
was filled with the shrieks and cries of the men to leeward, who were
lying jammed under the guns, shot-boxes, shot, and other heavy things that
had gone down as the vessel fell over. The starboard second gun, from
forward, had capsized, and come down directly over the forward hatch, and
I caught a glimpse of a man struggling to get past it. Apprehension of
this gun had induced me to drag myself forward of the mast, where I
received the blow mentioned.

I succeeded in hauling myself up to windward, and in getting into the
schooner's fore-channels. Here I met William Deer, the boatswain, and a
black boy of the name of Philips, who was the powder-boy of our gun.
"Deer, she's gone!" I said. The boatswain made no answer, but walked out
on the fore-rigging, towards the mast-head. He probably had some vague
notion that the schooner's masts would be out of water if she went down,
and took this course as the safest. The boy was in the chains the last I
saw of him.

I now crawled aft, on the upper side of the bulwarks, amid a most awful
and infernal din of thunder, and shrieks, and dazzling flashes of
lightning; the wind blowing all the while like a tornado. When I reached
the port of my own gun, I put a foot in, thinking to step on the muzzle of
the piece; but it had gone to leeward with all the rest, and I fell
through the port, until I brought up with my arms. I struggled up again,
and continued working my way aft. As I got abreast of the main-mast, I saw
some one had let run the halyards. I soon reached the beckets of the
sweeps, and found four in them. I could not swim a stroke, and it crossed
my mind to get one of the sweeps to keep me afloat. In striving to jerk
the becket clear, it parted, and the forward ends of the four sweeps
rolled down the schooner's side into the water. This caused the other ends
to slide, and all the sweeps got away from me. I then crawled quite aft,
as far as the fashion-piece. The water was pouring down the cabin
companion-way like a sluice; and as I stood, for an instant, on the
fashion-piece, I saw Mr. Osgood, with his head and part of his shoulders
through one of the cabin windows, struggling to get out. He must have been
within six feet of me. I saw him but a moment, by means of a flash of
lightning, and I think he must have seen me. At the same time, there was a
man visible on the end of the main-boom, holding on by the clew of the
sail. I do not know who it was. This man probably saw me, and that I was
about to spring; for he called out, "Don't jump overboard!--don't jump
overboard! The schooner is righting."

I was not in a state of mind to reflect much on anything. I do not think
more than three or four minutes, if as many, had passed since the squall
struck us, and there I was standing on the vessel's quarter, led by
Providence more than by any discretion of my own. It now came across me
that if the schooner should right she was filled, and must go down, and
that she might carry me with her in the suction. I made a spring,
therefore, and fell into the water several feet from the place where I had
stood. It is my opinion the schooner sunk as I left her. I went down some
distance myself, and when I came up to the surface, I began to swim
vigorously for the first time in my life. I think I swam several yards,
but of course will not pretend to be certain of such a thing, at such a
moment, until I felt my hand hit something hard. I made another stroke,
and felt my hand pass down the side of an object that I knew at once was a
clincher-built boat. I belonged to this boat, and I now recollected that
she had been towing astern. Until that instant I had not thought of her,
but thus was I led in the dark to the best possible means of saving my
life. I made a grab at the gunwale, and caught it in the stern-sheets. Had
I swum another yard, I should have passed the boat, and missed her
altogether! I got in without any difficulty, being all alive and
much excited.

My first look was for the schooner. She had disappeared, and I supposed
she was just settling under water. It rained as if the flood-gates of
heaven were opened, and it lightened awfully. It did not seem to me that
there was a breath of air, and the water was unruffled, the effects of the
rain excepted. All this I saw, as it might be, at a glance. But my chief
concern was to preserve my own life. I was cockswain of this very boat,
and had made it fast to this taffrail that same afternoon, with a round
turn and two half-hitches, by its best painter. Of course I expected the
vessel would drag the boat down with her, for I had no knife to cut the
painter. There was a gang-board in the boat, however, which lay fore and
aft, and I thought this might keep me afloat until some of the fleet
should pick me up. To clear this gang-board, then, and get it into the
water, was my first object. I ran forward to throw off the lazy-painter
that was coiled on its end, and in doing this I caught the boat's painter
in my hand, by accident. A pull satisfied me that it was all clear! Some
one on board must have cast off this painter, and then lost his chance of
getting into the boat by an accident. At all events, I was safe, and I now
dared to look about me.

My only chance of seeing, was during the flashes; and these left me almost
blind. I had thrown the gang-board into the water, and I now called out to
encourage the men, telling them I was in the boat. I could hear many
around me, and, occasionally, I saw the heads of men, struggling in the
lake. There being no proper place to scull in, I got an oar in the after
rullock, and made out to scull a little, in that fashion. I now saw a man
quite near the boat; and, hauling in the oar, made a spring amidships,
catching this poor fellow by the collar. He was very near gone; and I had
a great deal of difficulty in getting him in over the gunwale. Our joint
weight brought the boat down, so low, that she shipped a good deal of
water. This turned out to be Leonard Lewis, the young man who had helped
me to clew up the fore-topsail. He could not stand, and spoke with
difficulty. I asked him to crawl aft, out of the water; which he did,
lying down in the stern-sheets.

I now looked about me, and heard another; leaning over the gunwale, I got
a glimpse of a man, struggling, quite near the boat. I caught him by the
collar, too; and had to drag him in very much in the way I had done with
Lewis. This proved to be Lemuel Bryant, the man who had been wounded by a
hot shot, at York, as already mentioned while the commodore was on board
us. His wound had not yet healed, but he was less exhausted than Lewis. He
could not help me, however, lying down in the bottom of the boat, the
instant he was able.

For a few moments, I now heard no more in the water; and I began to scull
again. By my calculation, I moved a few yards, and must have got over the
spot where the schooner went down. Here, in the flashes, I saw many heads,
the men swimming in confusion, and at random. By this time, little was
said, the whole scene being one of fearful struggling and frightful
silence. It still rained; but the flashes were less frequent, and less
fierce. They told me, afterwards, in the squadron, that it thundered
awfully; but I cannot say I heard a clap, after I struck the water. The
next man caught the boat himself. It was a mulatto, from Martinique, who
was Mr. Osgood's steward; and I helped him in. He was much exhausted,
though an excellent swimmer; but alarm nearly deprived him of his
strength. He kept saying, "Oh! Masser Ned--Oh! Masser Ned!" and lay down
in the bottom of the boat, like the two others; I taking care to shove him
over to the larboard side, so as to trim our small craft.

I kept calling out, to encourage the swimmers, and presently I heard a
voice, saying, "Ned, I'm here, close by you." This was Tom Goldsmith, a
messmate, and the very man under whose rug I had been sleeping, at
quarters. He did not want much help, getting in, pretty much, by himself.
I asked him, if he were able to help me. "Yes, Ned," he answered, "I'll
stand by you to the last; what shall I do?" I told him to take his
tarpaulin, and to bail the boat, which, by this time, was a third full of
water. This he did, while I sculled a little ahead. "Ned," says Tom,
"she's gone down with her colours flying, for her pennant came near
getting a round turn about my body, and carrying me down with her. Davy
has made a good haul, and he gave us a close shave; but he didn't get you
and me." In this manner did this thoughtless sailor express himself, as
soon as rescued from the grasp of death! Seeing something on the water, I
asked Tom to take my oar, while I sprang to the gunwale, and caught Mr.
Bogardus, the master's mate, who was clinging to one of the sweeps. I
hauled him in, and he told me, he thought, some one had hold of the other
end of the sweep. It was so dark, however, we could not see even that
distance. I hauled the sweep along, until I found Ebenezer Duffy, a
mulatto, and the ship's cook. He could not swim a stroke; and was nearly
gone. I got him in, alone, Tom bailing, lest the boat, which was quite
small, should swamp with us.

As the boat drifted along, she reached another man, whom I caught also by
the collar. I was afraid to haul this person in amidships, the boat being
now so deep, and so small, and so I dragged him ahead, and hauled him in
over the bows. This was the pilot, whose name I never knew. He was a
lake-man, and had been aboard us the whole summer. The poor fellow was
almost gone, and like all the rest, with the exception of Tom, he lay down
and said not a word.

We had now as many in the boat as it would carry, and Tom and myself
thought it would not do to take in any more. It is true, we saw no more,
everything around us appearing still as death, the pattering of the rain
excepted. Tom began to bail again, and I commenced hallooing. I sculled
about several minutes, thinking of giving others a tow, or of even hauling
in one or two more, after we got the water out of the boat; but we found
no one else. I think it probable I sculled away from the spot, as there
was nothing to guide me. I suppose, however, that by this time, all the
Scourges had gone down, for no more were ever heard from.

Tom Goldsmith and myself now put our heads together as to what was best to
be done. We were both afraid of falling into the enemy's hands, for, they
might have bore up in the squall, and run down near us. On the whole,
however, we thought the distance between the two squadrons was too great
for this; at all events, something must be done at once. So we began to
row, in what direction even we did not know. It still rained as hard as it
could pour, though there was not a breath of wind. The lightning came now
at considerable intervals, and the gust was evidently passing away towards
the broader parts of the lake. While we were rowing and talking about our
chance of falling in with the enemy, Tom cried out to me to
"avast-pulling." He had seen a vessel, by a flash, and he thought she was
English, from her size. As he said she was a schooner, however, I thought
it must be one of our own craft, and got her direction from him. At the
next flash I saw her, and felt satisfied she belonged to us. Before we
began to pull, however, we were hailed "boat ahoy!" I answered. "If you
pull another stroke, I'll fire into you"--came back--"what boat's that?
Lay on your oars, or I'll fire into you." It was clear we were mistaken
ourselves for an enemy, and I called out to know what schooner it was. No
answer was given, though the threat to fire was repeated, if we pulled
another stroke. I now turned to Tom and said, "I know that voice--that is
old Trant." Tom thought "we were in the wrong shop." I now sung out, "This
is the Scourge's boat--our schooner has gone down, and we want to come
alongside." A voice next called from the schooner--"Is that you, Ned?"
This I knew was my old shipmate and school-fellow, Jack Mallet, who was
acting as boatswain of the Julia, the schooner commanded by sailing-master
James Trant, one of the oddities of the service, and a man with whom the
blow often came as soon as the word. I had known Mr. Trant's voice, and
felt more afraid he would fire into us, than I had done of anything which
had occurred that fearful night. Mr. Trant, himself now called
out--"Oh-ho; give way, boys, and come alongside." This we did, and a very
few strokes took us up to the Julia, where we were received with the
utmost kindness. The men were passed out of the boat, while I gave Mr.
Trant an account of all that had happened. This took but a minute or two.

Mr. Trant now inquired in what direction the Scourge had gone down, and,
as soon as I had told him, in the best manner I could, he called out to
Jack Mallet--"Oh-ho, Mallet--take four hands, and go in the boat and see
what you can do--take a lantern, and I will show a light on the water's
edge, so you may know me." Mallet did as ordered, and was off in less than
three minutes after we got alongside. Mr. Trant, who was much humoured,
had no officer in the Julia, unless Mallet could be called one. He was an
Irishman by birth, but had been in the American navy ever since the
revolution, dying a lieutenant, a few years after this war. Perhaps no man
in the navy was more generally known, or excited more amusement by his
oddities, or more respect for his courage. He had come on the lake with
the commodore, with whom he was a great pet, and had been active in all
the fights and affairs that had yet taken place. His religion was to hate
an Englishman.

Mr. Trant now called the Scourges aft, and asked more of the particulars.
He then gave us a glass of grog all round, and made his own crew splice
the main-brace. The Julias now offered us dry clothes. I got a change from
Jack Reilly, who had been an old messmate, and with whom I had always been
on good terms. It knocked off raining, but we shifted ourselves at the
galley fire below. I then went on deck, and presently we heard the boat
pulling back. It soon came alongside, bringing in it four more men that
had been found floating about on sweeps and gratings. On inquiry, it
turned out that these men belonged to the Hamilton, Lt. Winter--a schooner
that had gone down in the same squall that carried us over. These men were
very much exhausted, too, and we all went below, and were told to turn in.

I had been so much excited during the scenes through which I had just
passed, and had been so much stimulated by grog, that, as yet, I had not
felt much of the depression natural to such events. I even slept soundly
that night, nor did I turn out until six the next morning.

When I got on deck, there was a fine breeze; it was a lovely day, and the
lake was perfectly smooth. Our fleet was in a good line, in pretty close
order, with the exception of the Governor Tompkins, Lieutenant Tom Brown,
which was a little to leeward, but carrying a press of sail to close with
the commodore. Mr. Trant perceiving that the Tompkins wished to speak us
in passing, brailed his foresail and let her luff up close under our lee.
"Two of the schooners, the Hamilton and the Scourge, have gone down in the
night," called out Mr. Brown; "for I have picked up four of the
Hamilton's." "Oh-ho!"--answered Mr. Trant--"That's no news at all! for I
have picked up _twelve_; eight of the Scourge's, and four of the
Hamilton's--aft fore-sheet."

These were all that were ever saved from the two schooners, which must
have had near a hundred souls on board them. The two commanders,
Lieutenant Winter and Mr, Osgood were both lost, and with Mr. Winter went
down I believe, one or two young gentlemen. The squadron could not have
moved much between the time when the accidents happened and that when I
came on deck, or we must have come round and gone over the same ground
again, for we now passed many relics of the scene, floating about in the
water. I saw spunges, gratings, sweeps, hats, &c., scattered about, and in
passing ahead we saw one of the latter that we tried to catch; Mr. Trant
ordering it done, as he said it must have been Lieutenant Winter's. We did
not succeed, however; nor was any article taken on board. A good look-out
was kept for men, from aloft, but none were seen from any of the vessels.
The lake had swallowed up the rest of the two crews; and the Scourge, as
had been often predicted, had literally become a coffin to a large portion
of her people.

There was a good deal of manoeuvring between the two fleets this day, and
some efforts were made to engage; but, to own the truth, I felt so
melancholy about the loss of so many shipmates, that I did not take much
notice of what passed. All my Black Jokers were drowned, and nothing
remained of the craft and people with which and whom I had been associated
all summer. Bill Southard, too, was among the lost, as indeed were all my
messmates but Tom Goldsmith and Lemuel Bryant. I had very serious and
proper impressions for the moment; but my new shipmates, some of whom had
been old shipmates in other crafts, managed to cheer me up with grog. The
effect was not durable, and in a short time I ceased to think of what had
happened. I have probably reflected more on the merciful manner in which
my life was spared, amid a scene so terrific, within the last five years,
than I did in the twenty-five that immediately followed the accidents.

The fleet went in, off the Niagara, and anchored. Mr. Trant now mustered
the remaining Scourges, and told us he wanted just our number of hands,
and that he meant to get an order to keep us in the Julia. In the
meantime, he should station and quarter us. I was stationed at the braces,
and quartered at the long thirty-two as second loader. The Julia mounted a
long thirty-two, and an eighteen on pivots, besides two sixes in the
waist. The last were little used, as I have already mentioned. She was a
small, but a fast schooner, and had about forty souls on board. She was
altogether a better craft than the Scourge, though destitute of any
quarters, but a low rail with wash-boards, and carrying fewer guns.

James Fenimore Cooper

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