Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 64

MAN-OF-WAR TROPHIES.


When the second cutter pulled about among the ships, dropping the
surgeons aboard the American men-of-war here and there--as a
pilot-boat distributes her pilots at the mouth of the harbour--
she passed several foreign frigates, two of which, an Englishman
and a Frenchman, had excited not a little remark on board the
Neversink. These vessels often loosed their sails and exercised
yards simultaneously with ourselves, as if desirous of comparing
the respective efficiency of the crews.

When we were nearly ready for sea, the English frigate, weighing
her anchor, made all sail with the sea-breeze, and began showing
off her paces by gliding about among all the men-of-war in
harbour, and particularly by running down under the Neversink's
stern. Every time she drew near, we complimented her by lowering
our ensign a little, and invariably she courteously returned the
salute. She was inviting us to a sailing-match; and it was
rumoured that, when we should leave the bay, our Captain would
have no objections to gratify her; for, be it known, the
Neversink was accounted the fleetest keeled craft sailing under
the American long-pennant. Perhaps this was the reason why the
stranger challenged us.

It may have been that a portion of our crew were the more anxious
to race with this frigate, from a little circumstance which a few
of them deemed rather galling. Not many cables'-length distant
from our Commodore's cabin lay the frigate President, with the
red cross of St. George flying from her peak. As its name
imported, this fine craft was an American born; but having been
captured during the last war with Britain, she now sailed the
salt seas as a trophy.

Think of it, my gallant countrymen, one and all, down the sea-
coast and along the endless banks of the Ohio and Columbia--think
of the twinges we sea-patriots must have felt to behold the live-
oak of the Floridas and the pines of green Maine built into the
oaken walls of Old England! But, to some of the sailors, there
was a counterbalancing thought, as grateful as the other was
galling, and that was, that somewhere, sailing under the stars
and stripes, was the frigate Macedonian, a British-born craft
which had once sported the battle-banner of Britain.

It has ever been the custom to spend almost any amount of money
in repairing a captured vessel, in order that she may long
survive to commemorate the heroism of the conqueror. Thus, in the
English Navy, there are many Monsieurs of seventy-fours won from
the Gaul. But we Americans can show but few similar trophies,
though, no doubt, we would much like to be able so to do.

But I never have beheld any of thee floating trophies without
being reminded of a scene once witnessed in a pioneer village on
the western bank of the Mississippi. Not far from this village,
where the stumps of aboriginal trees yet stand in the market-
place, some years ago lived a portion of the remnant tribes of
the Sioux Indians, who frequently visited the white settlements
to purchase trinkets and cloths.

One florid crimson evening in July, when the red-hot sun was
going down in a blaze, and I was leaning against a corner in my
huntsman's frock, lo! there came stalking out of the crimson West
a gigantic red-man, erect as a pine, with his glittering
tomahawk, big as a broad-ax, folded in martial repose across his
chest, Moodily wrapped in his blanket, and striding like a king
on the stage, he promenaded up and down the rustic streets,
exhibiting on the back of his blanket a crowd of human hands,
rudely delineated in red; one of them seemed recently drawn.

"Who is this warrior?" asked I; "and why marches he here? and for
what are these bloody hands?"

"That warrior is the _Red-Hot Coal_," said a pioneer in moccasins,
by my side. "He marches here to show-off his last trophy; every
one of those hands attests a foe scalped by his tomahawk; and he
has just emerged from Ben Brown's, the painter, who has sketched
the last red hand that you see; for last night this _Red-Hot Coal_
outburned the _Yellow Torch_, the chief of a band of the Foxes."

Poor savage thought I; and is this the cause of your lofty gait?
Do you straighten yourself to think that you have committed a
murder, when a chance-falling stone has often done the same? Is
it a proud thing to topple down six feet perpendicular of immortal
manhood, though that lofty living tower needed perhaps thirty good
growing summers to bring it to maturity? Poor savage! And you account
it so glorious, do you, to mutilate and destroy what God himself was
more than a quarter of a century in building?

And yet, fellow-Christians, what is the American frigate Macedonian,
or the English frigate President, but as two bloody red hands painted
on this poor savage's blanket?

Are there no Moravians in the Moon, that not a missionary has yet
visited this poor pagan planet of ours, to civilise civilisation and
christianise Christendom?

Herman Melville