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Chapter 2

THE FRIGATE.


     And oh! the little warlike world within!
     The well-reeved guns, the netted canopy;
     The hoarse command, the busy humming din-
     When, at a word, the tops are mann'd on high,
     Hark to the boatswain's call, the cheering cry;
     While through the seaman's hands the tackle glides:
     Or schoolboy midshipman that, standing by,
     Strains his shrill pipe, as good or ill betides,
     And well the docile crew that skilful urchin guides.—Byron.

As they advanced, the graceful form of the ship became more and more clearly defined, and although the vocation of the count did not lead him to admire beauty under such a form, yet he could not avoid being struck by the graceful model of her construction, the loftiness and strength of her masts, and the elegance of her rigging, which appeared, as it stood out against the richly tinted sky, reddened by the setting sun, to be composed of flexible and silky fibres, spun by some gigantic spider. There was not, however, any appearance of movement on board the ship, which seemed, either from inattention or contempt, to care but little for the visit she was about to receive. The young mousquetaire thought, however, at one moment, that he perceived the end of a telescope peeping out of one of the port-holes, near the muzzle of a gun, and which was pointed towards the boat; but the ship being gently moved round by the quiet heaving of the waves, presented her prow toward them, his attention was attracted by the figure-head which generally bears some allusion to the name of the vessel that it decorates: it was a representation of one of the daughters of America, discovered by Columbus, and conquered by Cortez, with a head-dress of many colored feathers, her bosom naked, and ornamented with a coral necklace. As to the remainder of the figure, it was a curious combination, half syren, half serpent, attached to the fore part of the ship in a graceful though fantastic form. The nearer the boat approached the ship, the more did the attention of the count appear attracted by this figure. It was, in fact, a sculpture, not only singular as to form, but very remarkable from the finish of its execution; and it was easy to perceive, that it was not the work of vulgar hands, but had been carved by a superior artist. The lieutenant remarked, with the satisfaction of a seaman, the increasing admiration which appeared in the countenance of the soldier; and at last perceiving that his attention was concentrated in the figure-head we have described, he seemed to wait with impatience that the latter should express his opinion upon it; but finding that he did not give any, although they were near enough not to lose any of its beauties, he took upon himself to be the first to speak, and to question his young companion.

"Well, count," said he, concealing the interest which he took in his reply under an apparent gaiety, "what do you think of this master-piece?"

"I think," replied Emanuel, "that comparing it with works of the same description, which I have seen, it merits the appellation which you have given it."

"Yes," said the lieutenant, carelessly, "it is the last work of William Coustou, who died before he had completed it: it was finished by one of his pupils, named Duprč, a man of genius, who is starving, and who is obliged to carve wood for want of marble, and to cut figure-heads of ships, when he ought to be employed in sculpturing statues. See," said he, giving an impulsion to the rudder which laid then across her bows, "it is a real necklace of coral that she wears, and they are real pearls that are hanging from her ears. As to her eyes, each pupil is a diamond worth a hundred guineas. The captain who takes this frigate, will, besides the honor of capturing her, have a splendid wedding present to offer to his bride."

"What an odd caprice," exclaimed Emanuel, carried away by the singularity of the object he was gazing at, "to ornament a ship in the same way that one would an animated, being, and to risk considerable sums to the chances of a battle, or the dangers of a storm."

"Why should this astonish you?" said the lieutenant with an accent of indescribable melancholy; "we seamen have no other family than our sailors, no other country but the ocean, no gorgeous pageants but the tempest, no amusements but the battle. We must attach ourselves to something, having no real mistresses, for who would love us sea-gulls, who are always on the wing? We must therefore shape to ourselves an imaginary love. The one becomes enamoured of some verdant and shady island, and every time he perceives one in the distance, rising from the ocean like a flower garden, his heart becomes as joyous as that of a bird, when returning to its nest. Another selects some favorite star from out the firmament, and during the long and lovely nights on the Atlantic, every time he passes the equator, it appears to him that it approaches nearer to him, and salutes him with a more vivid light. There are others, and they are the greater number, who attach themselves to their frigate as to a well beloved daughter, who groan whenever the tempest tears away any part of her, at every wound given by the shot that strikes her, and when she is at length sunk by the tempest or the combat, prefer to perish with her, rather than to save themselves without her, giving to landsmen a holy example of fidelity. Captain Paul is one of the latter class, that's all, and he has given to his frigate the wedding present which he had intended for his bride. Ah? I see they are waking up."

"Boat ahoy?" cried some one from on board the frigate, "what boat's that?"

"We want to come on board," replied Emanuel; "throw us a rope that we may catch hold of."

"Go round to the starboard side, and you will find the gangway ladder."

The sailors pulled round, and in a few seconds the two young men were going up the ship's side. The officer of the watch came forward with an eagerness which appeared in Emanuel's mind to promise well.

"Sir," said the lieutenant to a young man who was dressed in the same uniform as himself, and appeared to be of the same rank, "this is my friend, the Count —— By the by, I forgot to ask your name?"

"Count Emanuel d'Auray."

"I was saying then, that this is my friend, the Count Emanuel d'Auray, who anxiously desires to speak to Captain Paul. Is he on board?"

"He has just this moment arrived," replied the officer.

"In that case I will go below and prepare him to receive you, my dear count. In the meantime, this is Mr. Walter, who will have the pleasure of showing you through the ship. It is an interesting sight for a land officer, and the more so, as I doubt whether you would find many ships kept in such order as this is. The people are at supper just now, I believe?"

"Yes, sir."

"In that case it will be the more curious sight."

"But," observed the officer, hesitating a little, "it is my watch on deck."

"Bah! you can easily find one of your brother officers who will relieve you for a short time. I will endeavour to manage so that the captain shall not make you kick your heels too long in the ante-room. Adieu, till I meet you again, count: I shall recommend you in such a way as will insure a good reception for you." With these words, the young lieutenant disappeared down the companion ladder, while the one who remained with Emanuel to show him over the ship, took him into the 'tween decks.

As the lieutenant had presumed, the crew of the frigate were at their supper. It was the first time that the young count had been present at such a repast; and however much he desired to speak immediately to the captain, he felt so curious to observe what was going on, that he examined everything with eager attention.

Between every two guns, a table and benches were prepared, not standing on their feet, but slung by ropes from above. Four men were seated upon each of the benches, taking their portion of pieces of beef, which seemed to resist the action of their knives, but which had to do with hearty fellows who did not appear at all disposed to be daunted by its toughness. At every table there were two cans of wine, that is to say, about a pint for each man. As to the bread, it did not appear to be distributed by rations, but they could take as much as they wanted. The most profound silence reigned throughout the crew, which, was composed of of more than from one hundred and eighty to two hundred men.

Although none of those seated at the table, opened their mouths for any other purpose than to eat, Emanuel perceived, with some surprise, that they were composed of many different nations, which was easily discernible from the contour of their countenances. His cicerone remarked his astonishment, and replying to his thought before he had given utterance to it, said, with an American accent, which Emanuel had already observed, and which proved that he who spoke to him was born on the other side of the Atlantic: "Yes, yes, we have a tolerably pretty sample of every nation in the world, and if all at once a good deluge should carry off the children of Noah, as it formerly did those of Adam, our ark could furnish people who speak every language. Do you observe those three fellows who are exchanging a piece of roast beef for a clove of garlick, they are lads from Galicia, whom we picked up at Cape Ortegal, and who would not go into action without having said a prayer to St Jago, of Corapostello, but who, when once their prayer is over, would rather allow themselves to be cut in pieces, like martyrs, than retreat a single step. Those two who are polishing their table at the expense of their jacket-sleeves, are honest Dutchmen, who still complain: of the injury done to their commerce by the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope. You see them—at first sight they look like very beer-pots. Well, those brave fellows, the moment they hear the drum beat to quarters, become as active as monkeys; Go near them, and they will talk to you about their ancestors; they will tell you they descend from those famous sweepers of the sea, who when going into action, hoisted a broom instead of a flag; but they will take good care not to inform you that one fine morning the English took their broom, and made rods of it to whip them with. That whole table, where they are chattering together at such a rate, but in an under tone, is occupied by Frenchmen, who would talk louder if they dared. The seat of honor is occupied by a chief, elected by themselves; he is a Parisian by birth, a cosmopolite from taste, a great master at the small sword, singlestick, and a dancing-master to boot. Always gay and contented, he sings when he is on duty, sings when he is fighting, and will die singing, unless a hemp cravat should stop his voice, which may very likely happen to him should he have the misfortune to fall into the hands of John Bull. Turn your eyes to the other side now, and observe that row of square and idle heads. These are strange faces to you, are they not? but which every American born between Hudson's Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, would recognize at once for bears born on: the borders of Lake Erie, or seals from Nova Scotia.. There are three, or four of them who are one eyed—this arises from, their peculiar mode of fighting; they twist their fingers in the hair of their antagonist, and gouge out his eye with their thumbs. There are some of them who are very expert at this exercise, and who never miss their mark. So that when they are boarding a ship, they almost invariable throw away their boarding, pikes, or their cutlass, and seizing the first Englishman they can catch hold of, they uneye him with a dexterity and quickness quite delightful to behold. You will now comprehend that I did not deceive you in what I said, and that our collection is complete."

"But," asked Emanuel, who had listened to this long enumeration with a certain degree of interest, "how does your captain manage to make himself understood by men brought together from such distant nations?"

"First of all our captain understands all languages—and although in battle and during stormy weather he speaks his mother tongue, he; gives such an accent to it that every one understands him and obeys: him. But see, the larboard cabin door is opening, and I doubt not he is ready to-receive you."

And instantly a boy dressed in a midshipman's uniform came up to the two officers, and asked Emanuel if he did not call himself the Count d'Auray; and on his receiving an affirmative reply, he requested him to follow him; and the officer who had so conscientiously sustained the part of a cicerone, immediately went on deck to resume his duties there. As to Emanuel, he advanced towards the cabin with a mixed feeling of anxiety and curiosity, He was at last about to be ushered in the presence of Captain Paul.

He was a man who appeared to be between fifty and fifty-five years of age, and to whom the habit of walking between decks had given him a stoop rather than age. He wore the uniform of the French navy, accord-ing to its strictest regulations. It was a blue coat with scarlet facings, a red waistcoat, and breeches of the same color, grey stockings, with frilled shirt and' ruffles. His hair, rolled up in large curls, and powdered quite white, was tied into a queue by a ribbon, the ends of which floated upon his shoulders. His cocked hat and his sword were lying upon a table beside him. At the moment Emanuel entered the door, he was sitting upon the carriage of a gun, but when he perceived him, he rose up to receive him.

The young count felt intimidated by the aspect of this man: there was in his eye a searching look which appeared to peer into the very soul of the person whom he gazed upon. Perhaps, also, this impression was the more powerful, that he presented himself before him with a conscience that reproached him with the act he was endeavouring to accomplish, and of which he was about to render the captain, if not an accomplice, at all events the executioner. These two men, as though they felt a secret repulsion, the one towards the other, saluted each other with politeness, but with cold reserve.

"It is the Count d'Auray that I have the honor of addressing," said the old officer.

"And I Captain Paul, I believe," replied the young mousquetaire; they both bowed a second time.

"May I know to what fortunate chance I owe the honor," rejoined the captain, "of the visit which is now paid to me by the heir of one of the oldest and greatest families in Brittany?"

Emanuel bowed again by way of thanks for this compliment, and then, after hesitating for a moment as if he found it difficult to open the conversation, he observed: "I am told, Captain Paul, that you are bound to the Gulf of Mexico?"

"And you have not been deceived, sir; I purpose sailing for New Orleans, calling on my way at Cayenne, and at the Havannah."

"This falls out very fortunately, captain, and you will not have to alter your course, in case you should be willing to undertake the execution of the order of which I am the bearer."

"You have an order to communicate to me, sir, and from whom?"

"From the Minister of Marine."

"An order addressed to me personally?" reiterated the captain, doubtingly.

"Not personally to you, sir; but to any captain of the royal navy, who may be about to sail for South America."

"Of what nature is it, count?"

"A state prisoner to be transported to Cayenne."

"And you have the order with you?"

"Here it is," replied Emanuel, taking it from his pocket, and presenting it to the captain.

He took the paper, and going near the cabin window, that he might avail himself of the last gleam of daylight, he read aloud:

"The Ministers of Marine and of the Colonies, orders any captain or lieutenant, commanding a government vessel, who may be about to sail for South America, or for the Gulf of Mexico, to take on board his ship and to land at Cayenne, the person named Lusignan, condemned to transportation for life. During the passage the convict shall take his meals in his own cabin, and shall not be allowed to have any communication with the ship's company."

"Is the order in due form?" asked Emanuel.

"Perfectly, sir," replied the captain. "And are you disposed to execute it?"

"Am I not under the orders of the Minister of Marine?"

"The prisoner may then be sent to you?"

"Whenever you will; but it had better be this evening, or as soon as possible, as I do not expect to be long in these roads."

"I will take care that due diligence shall be used."

"Is this all that you have to say to me?"

"Nothing further, excepting to add my thanks."

"Do not add anything, sir. The minister orders, and I obey, that's all. It is a duty which I fulfil, and not a service that I am rendering."

Upon these words, the captain and the count bowed to each other and separated, more coldly even than they had met.

When he reached the deck, Emanuel asked the officer of the watch for his friend who had accompanied him on board, but was informed he had been detained by Captain Paul to sup with him, and that being anxious to oblige the count, he had placed his boat as his disposal.

She was waiting alongside the ship, and the sailors were in readiness to accompany him. Emanuel had scarcely got into her when they rowed him away with a rapidity equal to that with which they had conducted him on board. But this time she proceeded in sorrowful silence, for the young lieutenant was no longer there to animate the count with his practical philosophy.

That same night the prisoner was conducted on board the Indienne, and the next morning at day-break the inquisitive inhabitants of the coast no longer discerned the frigate which had given rise to so many conjectures, and whose unexpected arrival, her remaining there without any apparent object, and her spontaneous departure, remained an inexplicable mystery to the inhabitants of Fort Louis.



Alexandre Dumas pere

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