Israel Potter/Chapters 16-20
CHAPTER XVI. 
THEY LOOK IN AT CARRICKFERGUS, AND DESCEND ON WHITEHAVEN.
Next day, off Carrickfergus, on the Irish coast, a fishing boat, allured by the Quaker-like look of the incognito craft, came off in full confidence. Her men were seized, their vessel sunk. From them Paul learned that the large ship at anchor in the road, was the ship-of-war Drake, of twenty guns. Upon this he steered away, resolving to return secretly, and attack her that night.
“Surely, Captain Paul,” said Israel to his commander, as about sunset they backed and stood in again for the land “surely, sir, you are not going right in among them this way? Why not wait till she comes out?”
“Because, Yellow-hair, my boy, I am engaged to marry her to-night. The bride’s friends won’t like the match; and so, this very night, the bride must be carried away. She has a nice tapering waist, hasn’t she, through the glass? Ah! I will clasp her to my heart.”
He steered straight in like a friend; under easy sail, lounging towards the Drake, with anchor ready to drop, and grapnels to hug. But the wind was high; the anchor was not dropped at the ordered time. The ranger came to a stand three biscuits’ toss off the unmisgiving enemy’s quarter, like a peaceful merchantman from the Canadas, laden with harmless lumber.
“I shan’t marry her just yet,” whispered Paul, seeing his plans for the time frustrated. Gazing in audacious tranquillity upon the decks of the enemy, and amicably answering her hail, with complete self-possession, he commanded the cable to be slipped, and then, as if he had accidentally parted his anchor, turned his prow on the seaward tack, meaning to return again immediately with the same prospect of advantage possessed at first—his plan being to crash suddenly athwart the Drake’s bow, so as to have all her decks exposed point-blank to his musketry. But once more the winds interposed. It came on with a storm of snow; he was obliged to give up his project.
Thus, without any warlike appearance, and giving no alarm, Paul, like an invisible ghost, glided by night close to land, actually came to anchor, for an instant, within speaking-distance of an English ship-of-war; and yet came, anchored, answered hail, reconnoitered, debated, decided, and retired, without exciting the least suspicion. His purpose was chain-shot destruction. So easily may the deadliest foe—so he be but dexterous—slide, undreamed of, into human harbors or hearts. And not awakened conscience, but mere prudence, restrain such, if they vanish again without doing harm. At daybreak no soul in Carrickfergus knew that the devil, in a Scotch bonnet, had passed close that way over night.
Seldom has regicidal daring been more strangely coupled with octogenarian prudence, than in many of the predatory enterprises of Paul. It is this combination of apparent incompatibilities which ranks him among extraordinary warriors.
Ere daylight, the storm of the night blew over. The sun saw the Ranger lying midway over channel at the head of the Irish Sea; England, Scotland, and Ireland, with all their lofty cliffs, being as simultaneously as plainly in sight beyond the grass-green waters, as the City Hall, St. Paul’s, and the Astor House, from the triangular Park in New York. The three kingdoms lay covered with snow, far as the eye could reach.
“Ah, Yellow-hair,” said Paul, with a smile, “they show the white flag, the cravens. And, while the white flag stays blanketing yonder heights, we’ll make for Whitehaven, my boy. I promised to drop in there a moment ere quitting the country for good. Israel, lad, I mean to step ashore in person, and have a personal hand in the thing. Did you ever drive spikes?”
“I’ve driven the spike-teeth into harrows before now,” replied Israel; “but that was before I was a sailor.”
“Well, then, driving spikes into harrows is a good introduction to driving spikes into cannon. You are just the man. Put down your glass; go to the carpenter, get a hundred spikes, put them in a bucket with a hammer, and bring all to me.”
As evening fell, the great promontory of St. Bee’s Head, with its lighthouse, not far from Whitehaven, was in distant sight. But the wind became so light that Paul could not work his ship in close enough at an hour as early as intended. His purpose had been to make the descent and retire ere break of day. But though this intention was frustrated, he did not renounce his plan, for the present would be his last opportunity.
As the night wore on, and the ship, with a very light wind, glided nigher and nigher the mark, Paul called upon Israel to produce his bucket for final inspection. Thinking some of the spikes too large, he had them filed down a little. He saw to the lanterns and combustibles. Like Peter the Great, he went into the smallest details, while still possessing a genius competent to plan the aggregate. But oversee as one may, it is impossible to guard against carelessness in subordinates. One’s sharp eyes can’t see behind one’s back. It will yet be noted that an important omission was made in the preparations for Whitehaven.
The town contained, at that period, a population of some six or seven thousand inhabitants, defended by forts.
At midnight, Paul Jones, Israel Potter, and twenty-nine others, rowed in two boats to attack the six or seven thousand inhabitants of Whitehaven. There was a long way to pull. This was done in perfect silence. Not a sound was heard except the oars turning in the row-locks. Nothing was seen except the two lighthouses of the harbor. Through the stillness and the darkness, the two deep-laden boats swam into the haven, like two mysterious whales from the Arctic Sea. As they reached the outer pier, the men saw each other’s faces. The day was dawning. The riggers and other artisans of the shipping would before very long be astir. No matter.
The great staple exported from Whitehaven was then, and still is, coal. The town is surrounded by mines; the town is built on mines; the ships moor over mines. The mines honeycomb the land in all directions, and extend in galleries of grottoes for two miles under the sea. By the falling in of the more ancient collieries numerous houses have been swallowed, as if by an earthquake, and a consternation spread, like that of Lisbon, in 1755. So insecure and treacherous was the site of the place now about to be assailed by a desperado, nursed, like the coal, in its vitals.
Now, sailing on the Thames, nigh its mouth, of fair days, when the wind is favorable for inward-bound craft, the stranger will sometimes see processions of vessels, all of similar size and rig, stretching for miles and miles, like a long string of horses tied two and two to a rope and driven to market. These are colliers going to London with coal.
About three hundred of these vessels now lay, all crowded together, in one dense mob, at Whitehaven. The tide was out. They lay completely helpless, clear of water, and grounded. They were sooty in hue. Their black yards were deeply canted, like spears, to avoid collision. The three hundred grimy hulls lay wallowing in the mud, like a herd of hippopotami asleep in the alluvium of the Nile. Their sailless, raking masts, and canted yards, resembled a forest of fish-spears thrust into those same hippopotamus hides. Partly flanking one side of the grounded fleet was a fort, whose batteries were raised from the beach. On a little strip of this beach, at the base of the fort, lay a number of small rusty guns, dismounted, heaped together in disorder, as a litter of dogs. Above them projected the mounted cannon.
Paul landed in his own boat at the foot of this fort. He dispatched the other boat to the north side of the haven, with orders to fire the shipping there. Leaving two men at the beach, he then proceeded to get possession of the fort.
“Hold on to the bucket, and give me your shoulder,” said he to Israel.
Using Israel for a ladder, in a trice he scaled the wall. The bucket and the men followed. He led the way softly to the guard-house, burst in, and bound the sentinels in their sleep. Then arranging his force, ordered four men to spike the cannon there.
“Now, Israel, your bucket, and follow me to the other fort.”
The two went alone about a quarter of a mile.
“Captain Paul,” said Israel, on the way, “can we two manage the sentinels?”
“There are none in the fort we go to.”
“You know all about the place, Captain?”
“Pretty well informed on that subject, I believe. Come along. Yes, lad, I am tolerably well acquainted with Whitehaven. And this morning intend that Whitehaven shall have a slight inkling of me. Come on. Here we are.”
Scaling the walls, the two involuntarily stood for an instant gazing upon the scene. The gray light of the dawn showed the crowded houses and thronged ships with a haggard distinctness.
“Spike and hammer, lad;—so,—now follow me along, as I go, and give me a spike for every cannon. I’ll tongue-tie the thunderers. Speak no more!” and he spiked the first gun. “Be a mute,” and he spiked the second. “Dumbfounder thee,” and he spiked the third. And so, on, and on, and on, Israel following him with the bucket, like a footman, or some charitable gentleman with a basket of alms.
“There, it is done. D’ye see the fire yet, lad, from the south? I don’t.”
“Not a spark, Captain. But day-sparks come on in the east.”
“Forked flames into the hounds! What are they about? Quick, let us back to the first fort; perhaps something has happened, and they are there.”
Sure enough, on their return from spiking the cannon, Paul and Israel found the other boat back, the crew in confusion, their lantern having burnt out at the very instant they wanted it. By a singular fatality the other lantern, belonging to Paul’s boat, was likewise extinguished. No tinder-box had been brought. They had no matches but sulphur matches. Locofocos were not then known.
The day came on apace.
“Captain Paul,” said the lieutenant of the second boat, “it is madness to stay longer. See!” and he pointed to the town, now plainly discernible in the gray light.
“Traitor, or coward!” howled Paul, “how came the lanterns out? Israel, my lion, now prove your blood. Get me a light—but one spark!”
“Has any man here a bit of pipe and tobacco in his pocket?” said Israel.
A sailor quickly produced an old stump of a pipe, with tobacco.
“That will do,” and Israel hurried away towards the town.
“What will the loon do with the pipe?” said one. “And where goes he?” cried another.
“Let him alone,” said Paul.
The invader now disposed his whole force so as to retreat at an instant’s warning. Meantime the hardy Israel, long experienced in all sorts of shifts and emergencies, boldly ventured to procure, from some inhabitant of Whitehaven, a spark to kindle all Whitehaven’s habitations in flames.
There was a lonely house standing somewhat disjointed from the town, some poor laborer’s abode. Rapping at the door, Israel, pipe in mouth, begged the inmates for a light for his tobacco.
“What the devil,” roared a voice from within, “knock up a man this time of night to light your pipe? Begone!”
“You are lazy this morning, my friend,” replied Israel, “it is daylight. Quick, give me a light. Don’t you know your old friend? Shame! open the door.”
In a moment a sleepy fellow appeared, let down the bar, and Israel, stalking into the dim room, piloted himself straight to the fire-place, raked away the cinders, lighted his tobacco, and vanished.
All was done in a flash. The man, stupid with sleep, had looked on bewildered. He reeled to the door, but, dodging behind a pile of bricks, Israel had already hurried himself out of sight.
“Well done, my lion,” was the hail he received from Paul, who, during his absence, had mustered as many pipes as possible, in order to communicate and multiply the fire.
Both boats now pulled to a favorable point of the principal pier of the harbor, crowded close up to a part of which lay one wing of the colliers.
The men began to murmur at persisting in an attempt impossible to be concealed much longer. They were afraid to venture on board the grim colliers, and go groping down into their hulls to fire them. It seemed like a voluntary entrance into dungeons and death.
“Follow me, all of you but ten by the boats,” said Paul, without noticing their murmurs. “And now, to put an end to all future burnings in America, by one mighty conflagration of shipping in England. Come on, lads! Pipes and matches in the van!”
He would have distributed the men so as simultaneously to fire different ships at different points, were it not that the lateness of the hour rendered such a course insanely hazardous. Stationing his party in front of one of the windward colliers, Paul and Israel sprang on board.
In a twinkling they had broken open a boatswain’s locker, and, with great bunches of oakum, fine and dry as tinder, had leaped into the steerage. Here, while Paul made a blaze, Israel ran to collect the tar-pots, which being presently poured on the burning matches, oakum and wood, soon increased the flame.
“It is not a sure thing yet,” said Paul, “we must have a barrel of tar.”
They searched about until they found one, knocked out the head and bottom, and stood it like a martyr in the midst of the flames. They then retreated up the forward hatchway, while volumes of smoke were belched from the after one. Not till this moment did Paul hear the cries of his men, warning him that the inhabitants were not only actually astir, but crowds were on their way to the pier.
As he sprang out of the smoke towards the rail of the collier, he saw the sun risen, with thousands of the people. Individuals hurried close to the burning vessel. Leaping to the ground, Paul, bidding his men stand fast, ran to their front, and, advancing about thirty feet, presented his own pistol at now tumultuous Whitehaven.
Those who had rushed to extinguish what they had deemed but an accidental fire, were now paralyzed into idiotic inaction, at the defiance of the incendiary, thinking him some sudden pirate or fiend dropped down from the moon.
While Paul thus stood guarding the incipient conflagration, Israel, without a weapon, dashed crazily towards the mob on the shore.
“Come back, come back,” cried Paul.
“Not till I start these sheep, as their own wolves many a time started me!”
As he rushed bare-headed like a madman, towards the crowd, the panic spread. They fled from unarmed Israel, further than they had from the pistol of Paul.
The flames now catching the rigging and spiralling around the masts, the whole ship burned at one end of the harbor, while the sun, an hour high, burned at the other. Alarm and amazement, not sleep, now ruled the world. It was time to retreat.
They re-embarked without opposition, first releasing a few prisoners, as the boats could not carry them.
Just as Israel was leaping into the boat, he saw the man at whose house he had procured the fire, staring like a simpleton at him.
“That was good seed you gave me;” said Israel, “see what a yield,” pointing to the flames. He then dropped into the boat, leaving only Paul on the pier.
The men cried to their commander, conjuring him not to linger.
But Paul remained for several moments, confronting in silence the clamors of the mob beyond, and waving his solitary hand, like a disdainful tomahawk, towards the surrounding eminences, also covered with the affrighted inhabitants.
When the assailants had rowed pretty well off, the English rushed in great numbers to their forts, but only to find their cannon no better than so much iron in the ore. At length, however, they began to fire, having either brought down some ship’s guns, or else mounted the rusty old dogs lying at the foot of the first fort.
In their eagerness they fired with no discretion. The shot fell short; they did not the slightest damage.
Paul’s men laughed aloud, and fired their pistols in the air.
Not a splinter was made, not a drop of blood spilled throughout the affair. The intentional harmlessness of the result, as to human life, was only equalled by the desperate courage of the deed. It formed, doubtless, one feature of the compassionate contempt of Paul towards the town, that he took such paternal care of their lives and limbs.
Had it been possible to have landed a few hours earlier not a ship nor a house could have escaped. But it was the lesson, not the loss, that told. As it was, enough damage had been done to demonstrate—as Paul had declared to the wise man of Paris—that the disasters caused by the wanton fires and assaults on the American coasts, could be easily brought home to the enemy’s doors. Though, indeed, if the retaliators were headed by Paul Jones, the satisfaction would not be equal to the insult, being abated by the magnanimity of a chivalrous, however unprincipled a foe.
CHAPTER XVII. 
THEY CALL AT THE EARL OF SELKIRK’S, AND AFTERWARDS FIGHT THE SHIP-OF-WAR DRAKE.
The Ranger now stood over the Solway Frith for the Scottish shore, and at noon on the same day, Paul, with twelve men, including two officers and Israel, landed on St. Mary’s Isle, one of the seats of the Earl of Selkirk.
In three consecutive days this elemental warrior either entered the harbors or landed on the shores of each of the Three Kingdoms.
The morning was fair and clear. St. Mary’s Isle lay shimmering in the sun. The light crust of snow had melted, revealing the tender grass and sweet buds of spring mantling the sides of the cliffs.
At once, upon advancing with his party towards the house, Paul augured ill for his project from the loneliness of the spot. No being was seen. But cocking his bonnet at a jaunty angle, he continued his way. Stationing the men silently round about the house, fallowed by Israel, he announced his presence at the porch.
A gray-headed domestic at length responded.
“Is the Earl within?”
“He is in Edinburgh, sir.”
“Ah—sure?—Is your lady within?”
“Yes, sir—who shall I say it is?”
“A gentleman who calls to pay his respects. Here, take my card.”
And he handed the man his name, as a private gentleman, superbly engraved at Paris, on gilded paper.
Israel tarried in the hall while the old servant led Paul into a parlor.
Presently the lady appeared.
“Charming Madame, I wish you a very good morning.”
“Who may it be, sir, that I have the happiness to see?” said the lady, censoriously drawing herself up at the too frank gallantry of the stranger.
“Madame, I sent you my card.”
“Which leaves me equally ignorant, sir,” said the lady, coldly, twirling the gilded pasteboard.
“A courier dispatched to Whitehaven, charming Madame, might bring you more particular tidings as to who has the honor of being your visitor.”
Not comprehending what this meant, and deeply displeased, if not vaguely alarmed, at the characteristic manner of Paul, the lady, not entirely unembarrassed, replied, that if the gentleman came to view the isle, he was at liberty so to do. She would retire and send him a guide.
“Countess of Selkirk,” said Paul, advancing a step, “I call to see the Earl. On business of urgent importance, I call.”
“The Earl is in Edinburgh,” uneasily responded the lady, again about to retire.
“Do you give me your honor as a lady that it is as you say?”
The lady looked at him in dubious resentment.
“Pardon, Madame, I would not lightly impugn a lady’s lightest word, but I surmised that, possibly, you might suspect the object of my call, in which case it would be the most excusable thing in the world for you to seek to shelter from my knowledge the presence of the Earl on the isle.”
“I do not dream what you mean by all this,” said the lady with a decided alarm, yet even in her panic courageously maintaining her dignity, as she retired, rather than retreated, nearer the door.
“Madame,” said Paul, hereupon waving his hand imploringly, and then tenderly playing with his bonnet with the golden band, while an expression poetically sad and sentimental stole over his tawny face; “it cannot be too poignantly lamented that, in the profession of arms, the officer of fine feelings and genuine sensibility should be sometimes necessitated to public actions which his own private heart cannot approve. This hard case is mine. The Earl, Madame, you say is absent. I believe those words. Far be it from my soul, enchantress, to ascribe a fault to syllables which have proceeded from so faultless a source.”
This probably he said in reference to the lady’s mouth, which was beautiful in the extreme.
He bowed very lowly, while the lady eyed him with conflicting and troubled emotions, but as yet all in darkness as to his ultimate meaning. But her more immediate alarm had subsided, seeing now that the sailor-like extravagance of Paul’s homage was entirely unaccompanied with any touch of intentional disrespect. Indeed, hyperbolical as were his phrases, his gestures and whole carriage were most heedfully deferential.
Paul continued: “The Earl, Madame, being absent, and he being the sole object of my call, you cannot labor under the least apprehension, when I now inform you, that I have the honor of being an officer in the American Navy, who, having stopped at this isle to secure the person of the Earl of Selkirk as a hostage for the American cause, am, by your assurances, turned away from that intent; pleased, even in disappointment, since that disappointment has served to prolong my interview with the noble lady before me, as well as to leave her domestic tranquillity unimpaired.”
“Can you really speak true?” said the lady in undismayed wonderment.
“Madame, through your window you will catch a little peep of the American colonial ship-of-war, Banger, which I have the honor to command. With my best respects to your lord, and sincere regrets at not finding him at home, permit me to salute your ladyship’s hand and withdraw.”
But feigning not to notice this Parisian proposition, and artfully entrenching her hand, without seeming to do so, the lady, in a conciliatory tone, begged her visitor to partake of some refreshment ere he departed, at the same time thanking him for his great civility. But declining these hospitalities, Paul bowed thrice and quitted the room.
In the hall he encountered Israel, standing all agape before a Highland target of steel, with a claymore and foil crossed on top.
“Looks like a pewter platter and knife and fork, Captain Paul.”
“So they do, my lion; but come, curse it, the old cock has flown; fine hen, though, left in the nest; no use; we must away empty-handed.”
“Why, ain’t Mr. Selkirk in?” demanded Israel in roguish concern.
“Mr. Selkirk? Alexander Selkirk, you mean. No, lad, he’s not on the Isle of St. Mary’s; he’s away off, a hermit, on the Isle of Juan Fernandez—the more’s the pity; come.”
In the porch they encountered the two officers. Paul briefly informed them of the circumstances, saying, nothing remained but to depart forthwith.
“With nothing at all for our pains?” murmured the two officers.
“What, pray, would you have?”
“Some pillage, to be sure—plate.”
“Shame. I thought we were three gentlemen.”
“So are the English officers in America; but they help themselves to plate whenever they can get it from the private houses of the enemy.”
“Come, now, don’t be slanderous,” said Paul; “these officers you speak of are but one or two out of twenty, mere burglars and light-fingered gentry, using the king’s livery but as a disguise to their nefarious trade. The rest are men of honor.”
“Captain Paul Jones,” responded the two, “we have not come on this expedition in much expectation of regular pay; but we did rely upon honorable plunder.”
“Honorable plunder! That’s something new.”
But the officers were not to be turned aside. They were the most efficient in the ship. Seeing them resolute, Paul, for fear of incensing them, was at last, as a matter of policy, obliged to comply. For himself, however, he resolved to have nothing to do with the affair. Charging the officers not to allow the men to enter the house on any pretence, and that no search must be made, and nothing must be taken away, except what the lady should offer them upon making known their demand, he beckoned to Israel and retired indignantly towards the beach. Upon second thoughts, he dispatched Israel back, to enter the house with the officers, as joint receiver of the plate, he being, of course, the most reliable of the seamen.
The lady was not a little disconcerted on receiving the officers. With cool determination they made known their purpose. There was no escape. The lady retired. The butler came; and soon, several silver salvers, and other articles of value, were silently deposited in the parlor in the presence of the officers and Israel.
“Mister Butler,” said Israel, “let me go into the dairy and help to carry the milk-pans.”
But, scowling upon this rusticity, or roguishness—he knew not which—the butler, in high dudgeon at Israel’s republican familiarity, as well as black as a thundercloud with the general insult offered to an illustrious household by a party of armed thieves, as he viewed them, declined any assistance. In a quarter of an hour the officers left the house, carrying their booty.
At the porch they were met by a red-cheeked, spiteful-looking lass, who, with her brave lady’s compliments, added two child’s rattles of silver and coral to their load.
Now, one of the officers was a Frenchman, the other a Spaniard.
The Spaniard dashed his rattle indignantly to the ground. The Frenchman took his very pleasantly, and kissed it, saying to the girl that he would long preserve the coral, as a memento of her rosy cheeks.
When the party arrived on the beach, they found Captain Paul writing with pencil on paper held up against the smooth tableted side of the cliff. Next moment he seemed to be making his signature. With a reproachful glance towards the two officers, he handed the slip to Israel, bidding him hasten immediately with it to the house and place it in Lady Selkirk’s own hands.
The note was as follows:
“After so courteous a reception, I am disturbed to make you no better return than you have just experienced from the actions of certain persons under my command.—actions, lady, which my profession of arms obliges me not only to brook, but, in a measure, to countenance. From the bottom of my heart, my dear lady, I deplore this most melancholy necessity of my delicate position. However unhandsome the desire of these men, some complaisance seemed due them from me, for their general good conduct and bravery on former occasions. I had but an instant to consider. I trust, that in unavoidably gratifying them, I have inflicted less injury on your ladyship’s property than I have on my own bleeding sensibilities. But my heart will not allow me to say more. Permit me to assure you, dear lady, that when the plate is sold, I shall, at all hazards, become the purchaser, and will be proud to restore it to you, by such conveyance as you may hereafter see fit to appoint.
“From hence I go, Madame, to engage, to-morrow morning, his Majesty’s ship, Drake, of twenty guns, now lying at Carrickfergus. I should meet the enemy with more than wonted resolution, could I flatter myself that, through this unhandsome conduct on the part of my officers, I lie not under the disesteem of the sweet lady of the Isle of St. Mary’s. But unconquerable as Mars should I be, could but dare to dream, that in some green retreat of her charming domain, the Countess of Selkirk offers up a charitable prayer for, my dear lady countess, one, who coming to take a captive, himself has been captivated.
“Your ladyship’s adoring enemy,
“JOHN PAUL JONES.”
How the lady received this super-ardent note, history does not relate. But history has not omitted to record, that after the return of the Ranger to France, through the assiduous efforts of Paul in buying up the booty, piece by piece, from the clutches of those among whom it had been divided, and not without a pecuniary private loss to himself, equal to the total value of the plunder, the plate was punctually restored, even to the silver heads of two pepper-boxes; and, not only this, but the Earl, hearing all the particulars, magnanimously wrote Paul a letter, expressing thanks for his politeness. In the opinion of the noble Earl, Paul was a man of honor. It were rash to differ in opinion with such high-born authority.
Upon returning to the ship, she was instantly pointed over towards the Irish coast. Next morning Carrickfergus was in sight. Paul would have gone straight in; but Israel, reconnoitring with his glass, informed him that a large ship, probably the Drake, was just coming out.
“What think you, Israel, do they know who we are? Let me have the glass.”
“They are dropping a boat now, sir,” replied Israel, removing the glass from his eye, and handing it to Paul.
“So they are—so they are. They don’t know us. I’ll decoy that boat alongside. Quick—they are coming for us—take the helm now yourself, my lion, and keep the ship’s stern steadily presented towards the advancing boat. Don’t let them have the least peep at our broadside.”
The boat came on, an officer in its bow all the time eyeing the Ranger through a glass. Presently the boat was within hail.
“Ship ahoy! Who are you?”
“Oh, come alongside,” answered Paul through his trumpet, in a rapid off-hand tone, as though he were a gruff sort of friend, impatient at being suspected for a foe.
In a few moments the officer of the boat stepped into the Ranger’s gangway. Cocking his bonnet gallantly, Paul advanced towards him, making a very polite bow, saying: “Good morning, sir, good morning; delighted to see you. That’s a pretty sword you have; pray, let me look at it.”
“I see,” said the officer, glancing at the ship’s armament, and turning pale, “I am your prisoner.”
“No—my guest,” responded Paul, winningly. “Pray, let me relieve you of your—your—cane.”
Thus humorously he received the officer’s delivered sword.
“Now tell me, sir, if you please,” he continued, “what brings out his Majesty’s ship Drake this fine morning? Going a little airing?”
“She comes out in search of you, but when I left her side half an hour since she did not know that the ship off the harbor was the one she sought.”
“You had news from Whitehaven, I suppose, last night, eh?”
“Aye: express; saying that certain incendiaries had landed there early that morning.”
“What?—what sort of men were they, did you say?” said Paul, shaking his bonnet fiercely to one side of his head, and coming close to the officer. “Pardon me,” he added derisively, “I had forgot you are my guest. Israel, see the unfortunate gentleman below, and his men forward.”
The Drake was now seen slowly coming out under a light air, attended by five small pleasure-vessels, decorated with flags and streamers, and full of gaily-dressed people, whom motives similar to those which drew visitors to the circus, had induced to embark on their adventurous trip. But they little dreamed how nigh the desperate enemy was.
“Drop the captured boat astern,” said Paul; “see what effect that will have on those merry voyagers.”
No sooner was the empty boat descried by the pleasure-vessels than forthwith, surmising the truth, they with all diligence turned about and re-entered the harbor. Shortly after, alarm-smokes were seen extending along both sides of the channel.
“They smoke us at last, Captain Paul,” said Israel.
“There will be more smoke yet before the day is done,” replied Paul, gravely.
The wind was right under the land, the tide unfavorable. The Drake worked out very slowly.
Meantime, like some fiery-heated duellist calling on urgent business at frosty daybreak, and long kept waiting at the door by the dilatoriness of his antagonist, shrinking at the idea of getting up to be cut to pieces in the cold—the Ranger, with a better breeze, impatiently tacked to and fro in the channel. At last, when the English vessel had fairly weathered the point, Paul, ranging ahead, courteously led her forth, as a beau might a belle in a ballroom, to mid-channel, and then suffered her to come within hail.
“She is hoisting her colors now, sir,” said Israel.
“Give her the stars and stripes, then, my lad.”
Joyfully running to the locker, Israel attached the flag to the halyards. The wind freshened. He stood elevated. The bright flag blew around him, a glorified shroud, enveloping him in its red ribbons and spangles, like up-springing tongues, and sparkles of flame.
As the colors rose to their final perch, and streamed in the air, Paul eyed them exultingly.
“I first hoisted that flag on an American ship, and was the first among men to get it saluted. If I perish this night, the name of Paul Jones shall live. Hark! they hail us.”
“What ship are you?”
“Your enemy. Come on! What wants the fellow of more prefaces and introductions?”
The sun was now calmly setting over the green land of Ireland. The sky was serene, the sea smooth, the wind just sufficient to waft the two vessels steadily and gently. After the first firing and a little manoeuvring, the two ships glided on freely, side by side; in that mild air Exchanging their deadly broadsides, like two friendly horsemen walking their steeds along a plain, chatting as they go. After an hour of this running fight, the conversation ended. The Drake struck. How changed from the big craft of sixty short minutes before! She seemed now, above deck, like a piece of wild western woodland into which choppers had been. Her masts and yards prostrate, and hanging in jack-straws; several of her sails ballooning out, as they dragged in the sea, like great lopped tops of foliage. The black hull and shattered stumps of masts, galled and riddled, looked as if gigantic woodpeckers had been tapping them.
The Drake was the larger ship; more cannon; more men. Her loss in killed and wounded was far the greater. Her brave captain and lieutenant were mortally wounded.
The former died as the prize was boarded, the latter two days after.
It was twilight, the weather still severe. No cannonade, naught that mad man can do, molests the stoical imperturbability of Nature, when Nature chooses to be still. This weather, holding on through the following day, greatly facilitated the refitting of the ships. That done, the two vessels, sailing round the north of Ireland, steered towards Brest. They were repeatedly chased by English cruisers, but safely reached their anchorage in the French waters.
“A pretty fair four weeks’ yachting, gentlemen,” said Paul Jones, as the Ranger swung to her cable, while some French officers boarded her. “I bring two travellers with me, gentlemen,” he continued. “Allow me to introduce you to my particular friend Israel Potter, late of North America, and also to his Britannic Majesty’s ship Drake, late of Carrickfergus, Ireland.”
This cruise made loud fame for Paul, especially at the court of France, whose king sent Paul, a sword and a medal. But poor Israel, who also had conquered a craft, and all unaided too—what had he?
CHAPTER XVIII. 
THE EXPEDITION THAT SAILED FROM GROIX.
Three months after anchoring at Brest, through Dr. Franklin’s negotiations with the French king, backed by the bestirring ardor of Paul, a squadron of nine vessels, of various force, were ready in the road of Groix for another descent on the British coasts. These craft were miscellaneously picked up, their crews a mongrel pack, the officers mostly French, unacquainted with each other, and secretly jealous of Paul. The expedition was full of the elements of insubordination and failure. Much bitterness and agony resulted to a spirit like Paul’s. But he bore up, and though in many particulars the sequel more than warranted his misgivings, his soul still refused to surrender.
The career of this stubborn adventurer signally illustrates the idea that since all human affairs are subject to organic disorder, since they are created in and sustained by a sort of half-disciplined chaos, hence he who in great things seeks success must never wait for smooth water, which never was and never will be, but, with what straggling method he can, dash with all his derangements at his object, leaving the rest to Fortune.
Though nominally commander of the squadron, Paul was not so in effect. Most of his captains conceitedly claimed independent commands. One of them in the end proved a traitor outright; few of the rest were reliable.
As for the ships, that commanded by Paul in person will be a good example of the fleet. She was an old Indiaman, clumsy and crank, smelling strongly of the savor of tea, cloves, and arrack, the cargoes of former voyages. Even at that day she was, from her venerable grotesqueness, what a cocked hat is, at the present age, among ordinary beavers. Her elephantine bulk was houdahed with a castellated poop like the leaning tower of Pisa. Poor Israel, standing on the top of this poop, spy-glass at his eye, looked more an astronomer than a mariner, having to do, not with the mountains of the billows, but the mountains in the moon. Galileo on Fiesole. She was originally a single-decked ship, that is, carried her armament on one gun-deck; but cutting ports below, in her after part, Paul rammed out there six old eighteen-pounders, whose rusty muzzles peered just above the water-line, like a parcel of dirty mulattoes from a cellar-way. Her name was the Duras, but, ere sailing, it was changed to that other appellation, whereby this sad old hulk became afterwards immortal. Though it is not unknown, that a compliment to Doctor Franklin was involved in this change of titles, yet the secret history of the affair will now for the first time be disclosed.
It was evening in the road of Groix. After a fagging day’s work, trying to conciliate the hostile jealousy of his officers, and provide, in the face of endless obstacles (for he had to dance attendance on scores of intriguing factors and brokers ashore), the requisite stores for the fleet, Paul sat in his cabin in a half-despondent reverie, while Israel, cross-legged at his commander’s feet, was patching up some old signals.
“Captain Paul, I don’t like our ship’s name.—Duras? What’s that mean?—Duras? Being cribbed up in a ship named Duras! a sort of makes one feel as if he were in durance vile.”
“Gad, I never thought of that before, my lion. Duras—Durance vile. I suppose it’s superstition, but I’ll change Come, Yellow-mane, what shall we call her?”
“Well, Captain Paul, don’t you like Doctor Franklin? Hasn’t he been the prime man to get this fleet together? Let’s call her the Doctor Franklin.”
“Oh, no, that will too publicly declare him just at present; and Poor Richard wants to be a little shady in this business.”
“Poor Richard!—call her Poor Richard, then,” cried Israel, suddenly struck by the idea.
“’Gad, you have it,” answered Paul, springing to his feet, as all trace of his former despondency left him;—“Poor Richard shall be the name, in honor to the saying, that ‘God helps them that help themselves,’ as Poor Richard says.”
Now this was the way the craft came to be called the Bon Homme Richard; for it being deemed advisable to have a French rendering of the new title, it assumed the above form.
A few days after, the force sailed. Ere long, they captured several vessels; but the captains of the squadron proving refractory, events took so deplorable a turn, that Paul, for the present, was obliged to return to Groix. Luckily, however, at this junction a cartel arrived from England with upwards of a hundred exchanged American seamen, who almost to a man enlisted under the flag of Paul.
Upon the resailing of the force, the old troubles broke out afresh. Most of her consorts insubordinately separated from the Bon Homme Richard. At length Paul found himself in violent storms beating off the rugged southeastern coast of Scotland, with only two accompanying ships. But neither the mutiny of his fleet, nor the chaos of the elements, made him falter in his purpose. Nay, at this crisis, he projected the most daring of all his descents.
The Cheviot Hills were in sight. Sundry vessels had been described bound in for the Firth of Forth, on whose south shore, well up the Firth, stands Leith, the port of Edinburgh, distant but a mile or two from that capital. He resolved to dash at Leith, and lay it under contribution or in ashes. He called the captains of his two remaining consorts on board his own ship to arrange details. Those worthies had much of fastidious remark to make against the plan. After losing much time in trying to bring to a conclusion their sage deliberations, Paul, by addressing their cupidity, achieved that which all appeals to their gallantry could not accomplish. He proclaimed the grand prize of the Leith lottery at no less a figure than L200,000, that being named as the ransom. Enough: the three ships enter the Firth, boldly and freely, as if carrying Quakers to a Peace-Congress.
Along both startled shores the panic of their approach spread like the cholera. The three suspicious crafts had so long lain off and on, that none doubted they were led by the audacious viking, Paul Jones. At five o’clock, on the following morning, they were distinctly seen from the capital of Scotland, quietly sailing up the bay. Batteries were hastily thrown up at Leith, arms were obtained from the castle at Edinburgh, alarm fires were kindled in all directions. Yet with such tranquillity of effrontery did Paul conduct his ships, concealing as much as possible their warlike character, that more than once his vessels were mistaken for merchantmen, and hailed by passing ships as such.
In the afternoon, Israel, at his station on the tower of Pisa, reported a boat with five men coming off to the Richard from the coast of Fife.
“They have hot oat-cakes for us,” said Paul; “let ’em come. To encourage them, show them the English ensign, Israel, my lad.”
Soon the boat was alongside.
“Well, my good fellows, what can I do for you this afternoon?” said Paul, leaning over the side with a patronizing air.
“Why, captain, we come from the Laird of Crokarky, who wants some powder and ball for his money.”
“What would you with powder and ball, pray?”
“Oh! haven’t you heard that that bloody pirate, Paul Jones, is somewhere hanging round the coasts?”
“Aye, indeed, but he won’t hurt you. He’s only going round among the nations, with his old hat, taking up contributions. So, away with ye; ye don’t want any powder and ball to give him. He wants contributions of silver, not lead. Prepare yourselves with silver, I say.”
“Nay, captain, the Laird ordered us not to return without powder and ball. See, here is the price. It may be the taking of the bloody pirate, if you let us have what we want.”
“Well, pass ’em over a keg,” said Paul, laughing, but modifying his order by a sly whisper to Israel: “Oh, put up your price, it’s a gift to ye.”
“But ball, captain; what’s the use of powder without ball?” roared one of the fellows from the boat’s bow, as the keg was lowered in. “We want ball.”
“Bless my soul, you bawl loud enough as it is. Away with ye, with what you have. Look to your keg, and hark ye, if ye catch that villain, Paul Jones, give him no quarter.”
“But, captain, here,” shouted one of the boatmen, “there’s a mistake. This is a keg of pickles, not powder. Look,” and poking into the bung-hole, he dragged out a green cucumber dripping with brine. “Take this back, and give us the powder.”
“Pooh,” said Paul, “the powder is at the bottom, pickled powder, best way to keep it. Away with ye, now, and after that bloody embezzler, Paul Jones.”
This was Sunday. The ships held on. During the afternoon, a long tack of the Richard brought her close towards the shores of Fife, near the thriving little port of Kirkaldy.
“There’s a great crowd on the beach. Captain Paul,” said Israel, looking through his glass. “There seems to be an old woman standing on a fish-barrel there, a sort of selling things at auction to the people, but I can’t be certain yet.”
“Let me see,” said Paul, taking the glass as they came nigher. “Sure enough, it’s an old lady—an old quack-doctress, seems to me, in a black gown, too. I must hail her.”
Ordering the ship to be kept on towards the port, he shortened sail within easy distance, so as to glide slowly by, and seizing the trumpet, thus spoke:
“Old lady, ahoy! What are you talking about? What’s your text?”
“The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.”
“Ah, what a lack of charity. Now hear mine:—God helpeth them that help themselves, as Poor Richard says.”
“Reprobate pirate, a gale shall yet come to drive thee in wrecks from our waters.”
“The strong wind of your hate fills my sails well. Adieu,” waving his bonnet—“tell us the rest at Leith.”
Next morning the ships were almost within cannon-shot of the town. The men to be landed were in the boats. Israel had the tiller of the foremost one, waiting for his commander to enter, when just as Paul’s foot was on the gangway, a sudden squall struck all three ships, dashing the boats against them, and causing indescribable confusion. The squall ended in a violent gale. Getting his men on board with all dispatch, Paul essayed his best to withstand the fury of the wind, but it blew adversely, and with redoubled power. A ship at a distance went down beneath it. The disappointed invader was obliged to turn before the gale, and renounce his project.
To this hour, on the shores of the Firth of Forth, it is the popular persuasion, that the Rev. Mr. Shirrer’s (of Kirkaldy) powerful intercession was the direct cause of the elemental repulse experienced off the endangered harbor of Leith.
Through the ill qualities of Paul’s associate captains: their timidity, incapable of keeping pace with his daring; their jealousy, blind to his superiority to rivalship; together with the general reduction of his force, now reduced by desertion, from nine to three ships; and last of all, the enmity of seas and winds; the invader, driven, not by a fleet, but a gale, out of the Scottish water’s, had the mortification in prospect of terminating a cruise, so formidable in appearance at the onset, without one added deed to sustain the reputation gained by former exploits. Nevertheless, he was not disheartened. He sought to conciliate fortune, not by despondency, but by resolution. And, as if won by his confident bearing, that fickle power suddenly went over to him from the ranks of the enemy—suddenly as plumed Marshal Ney to the stubborn standard of Napoleon from Elba, marching regenerated on Paris. In a word, luck—that’s the word—shortly threw in Paul’s way the great action of his life: the most extraordinary of all naval engagements; the unparalleled death-lock with the Serapis.
CHAPTER XIX. 
THEY FIGHT THE SERAPIS.
The battle between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis stands in history as the first signal collision on the sea between the Englishman and the American. For obstinacy, mutual hatred, and courage, it is without precedent or subsequent in the story of ocean. The strife long hung undetermined, but the English flag struck in the end.
There would seem to be something singularly indicatory I in this engagement. It may involve at once a type, a parallel, and a prophecy. Sharing the same blood with England, and yet her proved foe in two wars—not wholly inclined at bottom to forget an old grudge—intrepid, unprincipled, reckless, predatory, with boundless ambition, civilized in externals but a savage at heart, America is, or may yet be, the Paul Jones of nations.
Regarded in this indicatory light, the battle between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis—in itself so curious—may well enlist our interest.
Never was there a fight so snarled. The intricacy of those incidents which defy the narrator’s extrication, is not illy figured in that bewildering intertanglement of all the yards and anchors of the two ships, which confounded them for the time in one chaos of devastation.
Elsewhere than here the reader must go who seeks an elaborate version of the fight, or, indeed, much of any regular account of it whatever. The writer is but brought to mention the battle because he must needs follow, in all events, the fortunes of the humble adventurer whose life lie records. Yet this necessarily involves some general view of each conspicuous incident in which he shares.
Several circumstances of the place and time served to invest the fight with a certain scenic atmosphere casting a light almost poetic over the wild gloom of its tragic results. The battle was fought between the hours of seven and ten at night; the height of it was under a full harvest moon, in view of thousands of distant spectators crowning the high cliffs of Yorkshire.
From the Tees to the Humber, the eastern coast of Britain, for the most part, wears a savage, melancholy, and Calabrian aspect. It is in course of incessant decay. Every year the isle which repulses nearly all other foes, succumbs to the Attila assaults of the deep. Here and there the base of the cliffs is strewn with masses of rock, undermined by the waves, and tumbled headlong below, where, sometimes, the water completely surrounds them, showing in shattered confusion detached rocks, pyramids, and obelisks, rising half-revealed from the surf—the Tadmores of the wasteful desert of the sea. Nowhere is this desolation more marked than for those fifty miles of coast between Flamborough Head and the Spurm.
Weathering out the gale which had driven them from Leith, Paul’s ships for a few days were employed in giving chase to various merchantmen and colliers; capturing some, sinking others, and putting the rest to flight. Off the mouth of the Humber they ineffectually manoeuvred with a view of drawing out a king’s frigate, reported to be lying at anchor within. At another time a large fleet was encountered, under convoy of some ships of force. But their panic caused the fleet to hug the edge of perilous shoals very nigh the land, where, by reason of his having no competent pilot, Paul durst not approach to molest them. The same night he saw two strangers further out at sea, and chased them until three in the morning, when, getting pretty nigh, ho surmised that they must needs be vessels of his own squadron, which, previous to his entering the Firth of Forth, had separated from his command. Daylight proved this supposition correct. Five vessels of the original squadron were now once more in company. About noon a fleet of forty merchantmen appeared coming round Flamborough Head, protected by two English man-of-war, the Serapis and Countess of Scarborough. Descrying the five cruisers sailing down, the forty sail, like forty chickens, fluttered in a panic under the wing of the shore. Their armed protectors bravely steered from the land, making the disposition for battle. Promptly accepting the challenge, Paul, giving the signal to his consorts, earnestly pressed forward. But, earnest as he was, it was seven in the evening ere the encounter began. Meantime his comrades, heedless of his signals, sailed independently along. Dismissing them from present consideration, we confine ourselves, for a while, to the Richard and the Serapis, the grand duellists of the fight.
The Richard carried a motley, crew, to keep whom in order one hundred and thirty-five soldiers—themselves a hybrid band—had been put on board, commanded by French officers of inferior rank. Her armament was similarly heterogeneous; guns of all sorts and calibres; but about equal on the whole to those of a thirty-two-gun frigate. The spirit of baneful intermixture pervaded this craft throughout.
The Serapis was a frigate of fifty guns, more than half of which individually exceeded in calibre any one gun of the Richard. She had a crew of some three hundred and twenty trained man-of-war’s men.
There is something in a naval engagement which radically distinguishes it from one on the land. The ocean, at times, has what is called its sea and its trough of the sea; but it has neither rivers, woods, banks, towns, nor mountains. In mild weather it is one hammered plain. Stratagems, like those of disciplined armies—ambuscades, like those of Indians, are impossible. All is clear, open, fluent. The very element which sustains the combatants, yields at the stroke of a feather. One wind and one tide at one time operate upon all who here engage. This simplicity renders a battle between two men-of-war, with their huge white wings, more akin to the Miltonic contests of archangels than to the comparatively squalid tussles of earth.
As the ships neared, a hazy darkness overspread the water. The moon was not yet risen. Objects were perceived with difficulty. Borne by a soft moist breeze over gentle waves, they came within pistol-shot. Owing to the obscurity, and the known neighborhood of other vessels, the Serapis was uncertain who the Richard was. Through the dim mist each ship loomed forth to the other vast, but indistinct, as the ghost of Morven. Sounds of the trampling of resolute men echoed from either hull, whose tight decks dully resounded like drum-heads in a funeral march.
The Serapis hailed. She was answered by a broadside. For half an hour the combatants deliberately manoeuvred, continually changing their position, but always within shot fire. The. Serapis—the better sailer of the two—kept critically circling the Richard, making lounging advances now and then, and as suddenly steering off; hate causing her to act not unlike a wheeling cock about a hen, when stirred by the contrary passion. Meantime, though within easy speaking distance, no further syllable was exchanged; but an incessant cannonade was kept up.
At this point, a third party, the Scarborough, drew near, seemingly desirous of giving assistance to her consort. But thick smoke was now added to the night’s natural obscurity. The Scarborough imperfectly discerned two ships, and plainly saw the common fire they made; but which was which, she could not tell. Eager to befriend the Serapis, she durst not fire a gun, lest she might unwittingly act the part of a foe. As when a hawk and a crow are clawing and beaking high in the air, a second crow flying near, will seek to join the battle, but finding no fair chance to engage, at last flies away to the woods; just so did the Scarborough now. Prudence dictated the step; because several chance shot—from which of the combatants could not be known—had already struck the Scarborough. So, unwilling uselessly to expose herself, off went for the present this baffled and ineffectual friend.
Not long after, an invisible hand came and set down a great yellow lamp in the east. The hand reached up unseen from below the horizon, and set the lamp down right on the rim of the horizon, as on a threshold; as much as to say, Gentlemen warriors, permit me a little to light up this rather gloomy looking subject. The lamp was the round harvest moon; the one solitary foot-light of the scene. But scarcely did the rays from the lamp pierce that languid haze. Objects before perceived with difficulty, now glimmered ambiguously. Bedded in strange vapors, the great foot-light cast a dubious, half demoniac glare across the waters, like the phantasmagoric stream sent athwart a London flagging in a night-rain from an apothecary’s blue and green window. Through this sardonical mist, the face of the Man-in-the-Moon—looking right towards the combatants, as if he were standing in a trap-door of the sea, leaning forward leisurely with his arms complacently folded over upon the edge of the horizon—this queer face wore a serious, apishly self-satisfied leer, as if the Man-in-the-Moon had somehow secretly put up the ships to their contest, and in the depths of his malignant old soul was not unpleased to see how well his charms worked. There stood the grinning Man-in-the-Moon, his head just dodging into view over the rim of the sea:—Mephistopheles prompter of the stage.
Aided now a little by the planet, one of the consorts of the Richard, the Pallas, hovering far outside the fight, dimly discerned the suspicious form of a lonely vessel unknown to her. She resolved to engage it, if it proved a foe. But ere they joined, the unknown ship—which proved to be the Scarborough—received a broadside at long gun’s distance from another consort of the Richard the Alliance. The shot whizzed across the broad interval like shuttlecocks across a great hall. Presently the battledores of both batteries were at work, and rapid compliments of shuttlecocks were very promptly exchanged. The adverse consorts of the two main belligerents fought with all the rage of those fiery seconds who in some desperate duels make their principal’s quarrel their own. Diverted from the Richard and the Serapis by this little by-play, the Man-in-the-Moon, all eager to see what it was, somewhat raised himself from his trap-door with an added grin on his face. By this time, off sneaked the Alliance, and down swept the Pallas, at close quarters engaging the Scarborough; an encounter destined in less than an hour to end in the latter ship’s striking her flag.
Compared to the Serapis and the Richard, the Pallas and the Scarborough were as two pages to two knights. In their immature way they showed the same traits as their fully developed superiors.
The Man-in-the-Moon now raised himself still higher to obtain a better view of affairs.
But the Man-in-the-Moon was not the only spectator. From the high cliffs of the shore, and especially from the great promontory of Flamborough Head, the scene was witnessed by crowds of the islanders. Any rustic might be pardoned his curiosity in view of the spectacle, presented. Far in the indistinct distance fleets of frightened merchantmen filled the lower air with their sails, as flakes of snow in a snow-storm by night. Hovering undeterminedly, in another direction, were several of the scattered consorts of Paul, taking no part in the fray. Nearer, was an isolated mist, investing the Pallas and Scarborough—a mist slowly adrift on the sea, like a floating isle, and at intervals irradiated with sparkles of fire and resonant with the boom of cannon. Further away, in the deeper water, was a lurid cloud, incessantly torn in shreds of lightning, then fusing together again, once more to be rent. As yet this lurid cloud was neither stationary nor slowly adrift, like the first-mentioned one; but, instinct with chaotic vitality, shifted hither and thither, foaming with fire, like a valiant water-spout careering off the coast of Malabar.
To get some idea of the events enacting in that cloud, it will be necessary to enter it; to go and possess it, as a ghost may rush into a body, or the devils into the swine, which running down the steep place perished in the sea; just as the Richard is yet to do.
Thus far the Serapis and the Richard had been manoeuvring and chasing to each other like partners in a cotillion, all the time indulging in rapid repartee.
But finding at last that the superior managableness of the enemy’s ship enabled him to get the better of the clumsy old Indiaman, the Richard, in taking position, Paul, with his wonted resolution, at once sought to neutralize this, by hugging him close. But the attempt to lay the Richard right across the head of the Serapis ended quite otherwise, in sending the enemy’s jib-boom just over the Richard’s great tower of Pisa, where Israel was stationed; who, catching it eagerly, stood for an instant holding to the slack of the sail, like one grasping a horse by the mane prior to vaulting into the saddle.
“Aye, hold hard, lad,” cried Paul, springing to his side with a coil of rigging. With a few rapid turns he knitted himself to his foe. The wind now acting on the sails of the Serapis forced her, heel and point, her entire length, cheek by jowl, alongside the Richard. The projecting cannon scraped; the yards interlocked; but the hulls did not touch. A long lane of darkling water lay wedged between, like that narrow canal in Venice which dozes between two shadowy piles, and high in air is secretly crossed by the Bridge of Sighs. But where the six yard-arms reciprocally arched overhead, three bridges of sighs were both seen and heard, as the moon and wind kept rising.
Into that Lethean canal—pond-like in its smoothness as compared with the sea without—fell many a poor soul that night; fell, forever forgotten.
As some heaving rent coinciding with a disputed frontier on a volcanic plain, that boundary abyss was the jaws of death to both sides. So contracted was it, that in many cases the gun-rammers had to be thrust into the opposite ports, in order to enter to muzzles of their own cannon. It seemed more an intestine feud, than a fight between strangers. Or, rather, it was as if the Siamese Twins, oblivious of their fraternal bond, should rage in unnatural fight.
Ere long, a horrible explosion was heard, drowning for the instant the cannonade. Two of the old eighteen-pounders—before spoken of, as having been hurriedly set up below the main deck of the Richard—burst all to pieces, killing the sailors who worked them, and shattering all that part of the hull, as if two exploded steam-boilers had shot out of its opposite sides. The effect was like the fall of the walls of a house. Little now upheld the great tower of Pisa but a few naked crow stanchions. Thenceforth, not a few balls from the Serapis must have passed straight through the Richard without grazing her. It was like firing buck-shot through the ribs of a skeleton.
But, further forward, so deadly was the broadside from the heavy batteries of the Serapis—levelled point-blank, and right down the throat and bowels, as it were, of the Richard—that it cleared everything before it. The men on the Richard’s covered gun-deck ran above, like miners from the fire-damp. Collecting on the forecastle, they continued to fight with grenades and muskets. The soldiers also were in the lofty tops, whence they kept up incessant volleys, cascading their fire down as pouring lava from cliffs.
The position of the men in the two ships was now exactly reversed. For while the Serapis was tearing the Richard all to pieces below deck, and had swept that covered part almost of the last man, the Richard’s crowd of musketry had complete control of the upper deck of the Serapis, where it was almost impossible for man to remain unless as a corpse. Though in the beginning, the tops of the Serapis had not been unsupplied with marksmen, yet they had long since been cleared by the overmastering musketry of the Richard. Several, with leg or arm broken by a ball, had been seen going dimly downward from their giddy perch, like falling pigeons shot on the wing.
As busy swallows about barn-eaves and ridge-poles, some of the Richard’s marksmen, quitting their tops, now went far out on their yard-arms, where they overhung the Serapis. From thence they dropped hand-grenades upon her decks, like apples, which growing in one field fall over the fence into another. Others of their band flung the same sour fruit into the open ports of the Serapis. A hail-storm of aerial combustion descended and slanted on the Serapis, while horizontal thunderbolts rolled crosswise through the subterranean vaults of the Richard. The belligerents were no longer, in the ordinary sense of things, an English ship and an American ship. It was a co-partnership and joint-stock combustion-company of both ships; yet divided, even in participation. The two vessels were as two houses, through whose party-wall doors have been cut; one family (the Guelphs) occupying the whole lower story; another family (the Ghibelines) the whole upper story.
Meanwhile, determined Paul flew hither and thither like the meteoric corposant-ball, which shiftingly dances on the tips and verges of ships’ rigging in storms. Wherever he went, he seemed to cast a pale light on all faces. Blacked and burnt, his Scotch bonnet was compressed to a gun-wad on his head. His Parisian coat, with its gold-laced sleeve laid aside, disclosed to the full the blue tattooing on his arm, which sometimes in fierce gestures streamed in the haze of the cannonade, cabalistically terrific as the charmed standard of Satan. Yet his frenzied manner was less a testimony of his internal commotion than intended to inspirit and madden his men, some of whom seeing him, in transports of intrepidity stripped themselves to their trowsers, exposing their naked bodies to the as naked shot The same was done on the Serapis, where several guns were seen surrounded by their buff crews as by fauns and satyrs.
At the beginning of the fray, before the ships interlocked, in the intervals of smoke which swept over the ships as mist over mountain-tops, affording open rents here and there—the gun-deck of the Serapis, at certain points, showed, congealed for the instant in all attitudes of dauntlessness, a gallery of marble statues—fighting gladiators.
Stooping low and intent, with one braced leg thrust behind, and one arm thrust forward, curling round towards the muzzle of the gun, there was seen the loader, performing his allotted part; on the other side of the carriage, in the same stooping posture, but with both hands holding his long black pole, pike-wise, ready for instant use—stood the eager rammer and sponger; while at the breech, crouched the wary captain of the gun, his keen eye, like the watching leopard’s, burning along the range; and behind all, tall and erect, the Egyptian symbol of death, stood the matchman, immovable for the moment, his long-handled match reversed. Up to their two long death-dealing batteries, the trained men of the Serapis stood and toiled in mechanical magic of discipline. They tended those rows of guns, as Lowell girls the rows of looms in a cotton factory. The Parcae were not more methodical; Atropos not more fatal; the automaton chess-player not more irresponsible.
“Look, lad; I want a grenade, now, thrown down their main hatchway. I saw long piles of cartridges there. The powder monkeys have brought them up faster than they can be used. Take a bucket of combustibles, and let’s hear from you presently.”
These words were spoken by Paul to Israel. Israel did as ordered. In a few minutes, bucket in hand, begrimed with powder, sixty feet in air, he hung like Apollyon from the extreme tip of the yard over the fated abyss of the hatchway. As he looked down between the eddies of smoke into that slaughterous pit, it was like looking from the verge of a cataract down into the yeasty pool at its base. Watching, his chance, he dropped one grenade with such faultless precision, that, striking its mark, an explosion rent the Serapis like a volcano. The long row of heaped cartridges was ignited. The fire ran horizontally, like an express on a railway. More than twenty men were instantly killed: nearly forty wounded. This blow restored the chances of battle, before in favor of the Serapis.
But the drooping spirits of the English were suddenly revived, by an event which crowned the scene by an act on the part of one of the consorts of the Richard, the incredible atrocity of which has induced all humane minds to impute it rather to some incomprehensible mistake than to the malignant madness of the perpetrator.
The cautious approach and retreat of a consort of the Serapis, the Scarborough, before the moon rose, has already been mentioned. It is now to be related how that, when the moon was more than an hour high, a consort of the Richard, the Alliance, likewise approached and retreated. This ship, commanded by a Frenchman, infamous in his own navy, and obnoxious in the service to which he at present belonged; this ship, foremost in insurgency to Paul hitherto, and which, for the most part, had crept like a poltroon from the fray; the Alliance now was at hand. Seeing her, Paul deemed the battle at an end. But to his horror, the Alliance threw a broadside full into the stern of the Richard, without touching the Serapis. Paul called to her, for God’s sake to forbear destroying the Richard. The reply was, a second, a third, a fourth broadside, striking the Richard ahead, astern, and amidships. One of the volleys killed several men and one officer. Meantime, like carpenters’ augers, and the sea-worm called Remora, the guns of the Serapis were drilling away at the same doomed hull. After performing her nameless exploit, the Alliance sailed away, and did no more. She was like the great fire of London, breaking out on the heel of the great Plague. By this time, the Richard had so many shot-holes low down in her hull, that like a sieve she began to settle.
“Do you strike?” cried the English captain.
“I have not yet begun to fight,” howled sinking Paul.
This summons and response were whirled on eddies of smoke and flame. Both vessels were now on fire. The men of either knew hardly which to do; strive to destroy the enemy, or save themselves. In the midst of this, one hundred human beings, hitherto invisible strangers, were suddenly added to the rest. Five score English prisoners, till now confined in the Richard’s hold, liberated in his consternation by the master at arms, burst up the hatchways. One of them, the captain of a letter of marque, captured by Paul, off the Scottish coast, crawled through a port, as a burglar through a window, from the one ship to the other, and reported affairs to the English captain.
While Paul and his lieutenants were confronting these prisoners, the gunner, running up from below, and not perceiving his official superiors, and deeming them dead, believing himself now left sole surviving officer, ran to the tower of Pisa to haul down the colors. But they were already shot down and trailing in the water astern, like a sailor’s towing shirt. Seeing the gunner there, groping about in the smoke, Israel asked what he wanted.
At this moment the gunner, rushing to the rail, shouted “Quarter! quarter!” to the Serapis.
“I’ll quarter ye,” yelled Israel, smiting the gunner with the flat of his cutlass.
“Do you strike?” now came from the Serapis.
“Aye, aye, aye!” involuntarily cried Israel, fetching the gunner a shower of blows.
“Do you strike?” again was repeated from the Serapis; whose captain, judging from the augmented confusion on board the Richard, owing to the escape of the prisoners, and also influenced by the report made to him by his late guest of the port-hole, doubted not that the enemy must needs be about surrendering.
“Do you strike?”
“Aye!—I strike back” roared Paul, for the first time now hearing the summons.
But judging this frantic response to come, like the others, from some unauthorized source, the English captain directed his boarders to be called, some of whom presently leaped on the Richard’s rail, but, throwing out his tattooed arm at them, with a sabre at the end of it, Paul showed them how boarders repelled boarders. The English retreated, but not before they had been thinned out again, like spring radishes, by the unfaltering fire from the Richard’s tops.
An officer of the Richard, seeing the mass of prisoners delirious with sudden liberty and fright, pricked them with his sword to the pumps, thus keeping the ship afloat by the very blunder which had promised to have been fatal. The vessels now blazed so in the rigging that both parties desisted from hostilities to subdue the common foe.
When some faint order was again restored upon the Richard her chances of victory increased, while those of the English, driven under cover, proportionably waned. Early in the contest, Paul, with his own hand, had brought one of his largest guns to bear against the enemy’s mainmast. That shot had hit. The mast now plainly tottered. Nevertheless, it seemed as if, in this fight, neither party could be victor. Mutual obliteration from the face of the waters seemed the only natural sequel to hostilities like these. It is, therefore, honor to him as a man, and not reproach to him as an officer, that, to stay such carnage, Captain Pearson, of the Serapis, with his own hands hauled down his colors. But just as an officer from the Richard swung himself on board the Serapis, and accosted the English captain, the first lieutenant of the Serapis came up from below inquiring whether the Richard had struck, since her fire had ceased.
So equal was the conflict that, even after the surrender, it could be, and was, a question to one of the warriors engaged (who had not happened to see the English flag hauled down) whether the Serapis had struck to the Richard, or the Richard to the Serapis. Nay, while the Richard’s officer was still amicably conversing with the English captain, a midshipman of the Richard, in act of following his superior on board the surrendered vessel, was run through the thigh by a pike in the hand of an ignorant boarder of the Serapis. While, equally ignorant, the cannons below deck were still thundering away at the nominal conqueror from the batteries of the nominally conquered ship.
But though the Serapis had submitted, there were two misanthropical foes on board the Richard which would not so easily succumb—fire and water. All night the victors were engaged in suppressing the flames. Not until daylight were the flames got under; but though the pumps were kept continually going, the water in the hold still gained. A few hours after sunrise the Richard was deserted for the Serapis and the other vessels of the squadron of Paul. About ten o’clock the Richard, gorged with slaughter, wallowed heavily, gave a long roll, and blasted by tornadoes of sulphur, slowly sunk, like Gomorrah, out of sight.
The loss of life in the two ships was about equal; one-half of the total number of those engaged being either killed or wounded.
In view of this battle one may ask—What separates the enlightened man from the savage? Is civilization a thing distinct, or is it an advanced stage of barbarism?
CHAPTER XX. 
For a time back, across the otherwise blue-jean career of Israel, Paul Jones flits and re-flits like a crimson thread. One more brief intermingling of it, and to the plain old homespun we return.
The battle won, the squadron started for the Texel, where they arrived in safety. Omitting all mention of intervening harassments, suffice it, that after some months of inaction as to anything of a warlike nature, Paul and Israel (both, from different motives, eager to return to America) sailed for that country in the armed ship Ariel, Paul as commander, Israel as quartermaster.
Two weeks out, they encountered by night a frigate-like craft, supposed to be an enemy. The vessels came within hail, both showing English colors, with purposes of mutual deception, affecting to belong to the English Navy. For an hour, through their speaking trumpets, the captains equivocally conversed. A very reserved, adroit, hoodwinking, statesman-like conversation, indeed. At last, professing some little incredulity as to the truthfulness of the stranger’s statement, Paul intimated a desire that he should put out a boat and come on board to show his commission, to which the stranger very affably replied, that unfortunately his boat was exceedingly leaky. With equal politeness, Paul begged him to consider the danger attending a refusal, which rejoinder nettled the other, who suddenly retorted that he would answer for twenty guns, and that both himself and men were knock-down Englishmen. Upon this, Paul said that he would allow him exactly five minutes for a sober, second thought. That brief period passed, Paul, hoisting the American colors, ran close under the other ship’s stern, and engaged her. It was about eight o’clock at night that this strange quarrel was picked in the middle of the ocean. Why cannot men be peaceable on that great common? Or does nature in those fierce night-brawlers, the billows, set mankind but a sorry example?
After ten minutes’ cannonading, the stranger struck, shouting out that half his men were killed. The Ariel’s crew hurrahed. Boarders were called to take possession. At this juncture, the prize shifting her position so that she headed away, and to leeward of the Ariel, thrust her long spanker-boom diagonally over the latter’s quarter; when Israel, who was standing close by, instinctively caught hold of it—just as he had grasped the jib-boom of the Serapis—and, at the same moment, hearing the call to take possession, in the valiant excitement of the occasion, he leaped upon the spar, and made a rush for the stranger’s deck, thinking, of course, that he would be immediately followed by the regular boarders. But the sails of the strange ship suddenly filled; she began to glide through the sea; her spanker-boom, not having at all entangled itself, offering no hindrance. Israel, clinging midway along the boom, soon found himself divided from the Ariel by a space impossible to be leaped. Meantime, suspecting foul play, Paul set every sail; but the stranger, having already the advantage, contrived to make good her escape, though perseveringly chased by the cheated conqueror.
In the confusion, no eye had observed our hero’s spring. But, as the vessels separated more, an officer of the strange ship spying a man on the boom, and taking him for one of his own men, demanded what he did there.
“Clearing the signal halyards, sir,” replied Israel, fumbling with the cord which happened to be dangling near by.
“Well, bear a hand and come in, or you will have a bow-chaser at you soon,” referring to the bow guns of the Ariel.
“Aye, aye, sir,” said Israel, and in a moment he sprang to the deck, and soon found himself mixed in among some two hundred English sailors of a large letter of marque. At once he perceived that the story of half the crew being killed was a mere hoax, played off for the sake of making an escape. Orders were continually being given to pull on this and that rope, as the ship crowded all sail in flight. To these orders Israel, with the rest, promptly responded, pulling at the rigging stoutly as the best of them; though Heaven knows his heart sunk deeper and deeper at every pull which thus helped once again to widen the gulf between him and home.
In intervals he considered with himself what to do. Favored by the obscurity of the night and the number of the crew, and wearing much the same dress as theirs, it was very easy to pass himself off for one of them till morning. But daylight would be sure to expose him, unless some cunning, plan could be hit upon. If discovered for what he was, nothing short of a prison awaited him upon the ship’s arrival in port.
It was a desperate case, only as desperate a remedy could serve. One thing was sure, he could not hide. Some audacious parade of himself promised the only hope. Marking that the sailors, not being of the regular navy, wore no uniform, and perceiving that his jacket was the only garment on him which bore any distinguishing badge, our adventurer took it off, and privily dropped it overboard, remaining now in his dark blue woollen shirt and blue cloth waistcoat.
What the more inspirited Israel to the added step now contemplated, was the circumstance that the ship was not a Frenchman’s or other foreigner, but her crew, though enemies, spoke the same language that he did.
So very quietly, at last, he goes aloft into the maintop, and sitting down on an old sail there, beside some eight or ten topmen, in an off-handed way asks one for tobacco.
“Give us a quid, lad,” as he settled himself in his seat.
“Halloo,” said the strange sailor, “who be you? Get out of the top! The fore and mizzentop men won’t let us go into their tops, and blame me if we’ll let any of their gangs come here. So, away ye go.”
“You’re blind, or crazy, old boy,” rejoined Israel. “I’m a topmate; ain’t I, lads?” appealing to the rest.
“There’s only ten maintopmen belonging to our watch; if you are one, then there’ll be eleven,” said a second sailor. “Get out of the top!”
“This is too bad, maties,” cried Israel, “to serve an old topmate this way. Come, come, you are foolish. Give us a quid.” And, once more, with the utmost sociability, he addressed the sailor next to him.
“Look ye,” returned the other, “if you don’t make away with yourself, you skulking spy from the mizzen, we’ll drop you to deck like a jewel-block.”
Seeing the party thus resolute, Israel, with some affected banter, descended.
The reason why he had tried the scheme—and, spite of the foregoing failure, meant to repeat it—was this: As customary in armed ships, the men were in companies allotted to particular places and functions. Therefore, to escape final detection, Israel must some way get himself recognized as belonging to some one of those bands; otherwise, as an isolated nondescript, discovery ere long would be certain, especially upon the next general muster. To be sure, the hope in question was a forlorn sort of hope, but it was his sole one, and must therefore be tried.
Mixing in again for a while with the general watch, he at last goes on the forecastle among the sheet-anchor-men there, at present engaged in critically discussing the merits of the late valiant encounter, and expressing their opinion that by daybreak the enemy in chase would be hull-down out of sight.
“To be sure she will,” cried Israel, joining in with the group, “old ballyhoo that she is, to be sure. But didn’t we pepper her, lads? Give us a chew of tobacco, one of ye. How many have we wounded, do ye know? None killed that I’ve heard of. Wasn’t that a fine hoax we played on ’em? Ha! ha! But give us a chew.”
In the prodigal fraternal patriotism of the moment, one of the old worthies freely handed his plug to our adventurer, who, helping himself, returned it, repeating the question as to the killed and wounded.
“Why,” said he of the plug, “Jack Jewboy told me, just now, that there’s only seven men been carried down to the surgeon, but not a soul killed.”
“Good, boys, good!” cried Israel, moving up to one of the gun-carriages, where three or four men were sitting—“slip along, chaps, slip along, and give a watchmate a seat with ye.”
“All full here, lad; try the next gun.”
“Boys, clear a place here,”, said Israel, advancing, like one of the family, to that gun.
“Who the devil are you, making this row here?” demanded a stern-looking old fellow, captain of the forecastle, “seems to me you make considerable noise. Are you a forecastleman?”
“If the bowsprit belongs here, so do I,” rejoined Israel, composedly.
“Let’s look at ye, then!” and seizing a battle-lantern, before thrust under a gun, the old veteran came close to Israel before he had time to elude the scrutiny.
“Take that!” said his examiner, and fetching Israel a terrible thump, pushed him ignominiously off the forecastle as some unknown interloper from distant parts of the ship.
With similar perseverance of effrontery, Israel tried other quarters of the vessel. But with equal ill success. Jealous with the spirit of class, no social circle would receive him. As a last resort, he dived down among the holders.
A group of them sat round a lantern, in the dark bowels of the ship, like a knot of charcoal burners in a pine forest at midnight.
“Well, boys, what’s the good word?” said Israel, advancing very cordially, but keeping as much as possible in the shadow.
“The good word is,” rejoined a censorious old holder, “that you had best go where you belong—on deck—and not be a skulking down here where you don’t belong. I suppose this is the way you skulked during the fight.”
“Oh, you’re growly to-night, shipmate,” said Israel, pleasantly—“supper sits hard on your conscience.”
“Get out of the hold with ye,” roared the other. “On deck, or I’ll call the master-at-arms.”
Once more Israel decamped.
Sorely against his grain, as a final effort to blend himself openly with the crew, he now went among the waisters: the vilest caste of an armed ship’s company, mere dregs and settlings—sea-Pariahs, comprising all the lazy, all the inefficient, all the unfortunate and fated, all the melancholy, all the infirm, all the rheumatical scamps, scapegraces, ruined prodigal sons, sooty faces, and swineherds of the crew, not excluding those with dismal wardrobes.
An unhappy, tattered, moping row of them sat along dolefully on the gun-deck, like a parcel of crest-fallen buzzards, exiled from civilized society.
“Cheer up, lads,” said Israel, in a jovial tone, “homeward-bound, you know. Give us a seat among ye, friends.”
“Oh, sit on your head!” answered a sullen fellow in the corner.
“Come, come, no growling; we’re homeward-bound. Whoop, my hearties!”
“Workhouse bound, you mean,” grumbled another sorry chap, in a darned shirt.
“Oh, boys, don’t be down-hearted. Let’s keep up our spirits. Sing us a song, one of ye, and I’ll give the chorus.”
“Sing if ye like, but I’ll plug my ears, for one,” said still another sulky varlet, with the toes out of his sea-boots, while all the rest with one roar of misanthropy joined him.
But Israel, riot to be daunted, began:
“‘Cease, rude Boreas, cease your growling!’”
“And you cease your squeaking, will ye?” cried a fellow in a banged tarpaulin. “Did ye get a ball in the windpipe, that ye cough that way, worse nor a broken-nosed old bellows? Have done with your groaning, it’s worse nor the death-rattle.”
“Boys, is this the way you treat a watchmate” demanded Israel reproachfully, “trying to cheer up his friends? Shame on ye, boys. Come, let’s be sociable. Spin us a yarn, one of ye. Meantime, rub my back for me, another,” and very confidently he leaned against his neighbor.
“Lean off me, will ye?” roared his friend, shoving him away.
“But who is this ere singing, leaning, yarn-spinning chap? Who are ye? Be you a waister, or be you not?”
So saying, one of this peevish, sottish band staggered close up to Israel. But there was a deck above and a deck below, and the lantern swung in the distance. It was too dim to see with critical exactness.
“No such singing chap belongs to our gang, that’s flat,” he dogmatically exclaimed at last, after an ineffectual scrutiny. “Sail out of this!”
And with a shove once more, poor Israel was ejected.
Blackballed out of every club, he went disheartened on deck. So long, while light screened him at least, as he contented himself with promiscuously circulating, all was safe; it was the endeavor to fraternize with any one set which was sure to endanger him. At last, wearied out, he happened to find himself on the berth deck, where the watch below were slumbering. Some hundred and fifty hammocks were on that deck. Seeing one empty, he leaped in, thinking luck might yet some way befriend him. Here, at last, the sultry confinement put him fast asleep. He was wakened by a savage whiskerando of the other watch, who, seizing him by his waistband, dragged him most indecorously out, furiously denouncing him for a skulker.
Springing to his feet, Israel perceived from the crowd and tumult of the berth deck, now all alive with men leaping into their hammocks, instead of being full of sleepers quietly dosing therein, that the watches were changed. Going above, he renewed in various quarters his offers of intimacy with the fresh men there assembled; but was successively repulsed as before. At length, just as day was breaking, an irascible fellow whose stubborn opposition our adventurer had long in vain sought to conciliate—this man suddenly perceiving, by the gray morning light, that Israel had somehow an alien sort of general look, very savagely pressed him for explicit information as to who he might be. The answers increased his suspicion. Others began to surround the two. Presently, quite a circle was formed. Sailors from distant parts of the ship drew near. One, and then another, and another, declared that they, in their quarters, too, had been molested by a vagabond claiming fraternity, and seeking to palm himself off upon decent society. In vain Israel protested. The truth, like the day, dawned clearer and clearer. More and more closely he was scanned. At length the hour for having all hands on deck arrived; when the other watch which Israel had first tried, reascending to the deck, and hearing the matter in discussion, they endorsed the charge of molestation and attempted imposture through the night, on the part of some person unknown, but who, likely enough, was the strange man now before them. In the end, the master-at-arms appeared with his bamboo, who, summarily collaring poor Israel, led him as a mysterious culprit to the officer of the deck, which gentleman having heard the charge, examined him in great perplexity, and, saying that he did not at all recognize that countenance, requested the junior officers to contribute their scrutiny. But those officers were equally at fault.
“Who the deuce are you?” at last said the officer-of-the-deck, in added bewilderment. “Where did you come from? What’s your business? Where are you stationed? What’s your name? Who are you, any way? How did you get here? and where are you going?”
“Sir,” replied Israel very humbly, “I am going to my regular duty, if you will but let me. I belong to the maintop, and ought to be now engaged in preparing the topgallant stu’n’-sail for hoisting.”
“Belong to the maintop? Why, these men here say you have been trying to belong to the foretop, and the mizzentop, and the forecastle, and the hold, and the waist, and every other part of the ship. This is extraordinary,” he added, turning upon the junior officers.
“He must be out of his mind,” replied one of them, the sailing-master.
“Out of his mind?” rejoined the officer-of-the-deck. “He’s out of all reason; out of all men’s knowledge and memories! Why, no one knows him; no one has ever seen him before; no imagination, in the wildest flight of a morbid nightmare, has ever so much as dreamed of him. Who are you?” he again added, fierce with amazement. “What’s your name? Are you down in the ship’s books, or at all in the records of nature?”
“My name, sir, is Peter Perkins,” said Israel, thinking it most prudent to conceal his real appellation.
“Certainly, I never heard that name before. Pray, see if Peter Perkins is down on the quarter-bills,” he added to a midshipman. “Quick, bring the book here.”
Having received it, he ran his fingers along the columns, and dashing down the book, declared that no such name was there.
“You are not down, sir. There is no Peter Perkins here. Tell me at once who are you?”
“It might be, sir,” said Israel, gravely, “that seeing I shipped under the effects of liquor, I might, out of absent-mindedness like, have given in some other person’s name instead of my own.”
“Well, what name have you gone by among your shipmates since you’ve been aboard?”
“Peter Perkins, sir.”
Upon this the officer turned to the men around, inquiring whether the name of Peter Perkins was familiar to them as that of a shipmate. One and all answered no.
“This won’t do, sir,” now said the officer. “You see it won’t do. Who are you?”
“A poor persecuted fellow at your service, sir.”
“Who persecutes you?”
“Every one, sir. All hands seem to be against me; none of them willing to remember me.”
“Tell me,” demanded the officer earnestly, “how long do you remember yourself? Do you remember yesterday morning? You must have come into existence by some sort of spontaneous combustion in the hold. Or were you fired aboard from the enemy, last night, in a cartridge? Do you remember yesterday?”
“Oh, yes, sir.”
“What was you doing yesterday?”
“Well, sir, for one thing, I believe I had the honor of a little talk with yourself.”
“Yes, sir; about nine o’clock in the morning—the sea being smooth and the ship running, as I should think, about seven knots—you came up into the maintop, where I belong, and was pleased to ask my opinion about the best way to set a topgallant stu’n’-sail.”
“He’s mad! He’s mad!” said the officer, with delirious conclusiveness. “Take him away, take him away, take him away—put him somewhere, master-at-arms. Stay, one test more. What mess do you belong to?”
“Number 12, sir.”
“Mr. Tidds,” to a midshipman, “send mess No. 12 to the mast.”
Ten sailors replied to the summons, and arranged themselves before Israel.
“Men, does this man belong to your mess?”
“No, sir; never saw him before this morning.”
“What are those men’s names?” he demanded of Israel.
“Well, sir, I am so intimate with all of them,” looking upon them with a kindly glance, “I never call them by their real names, but by nicknames. So, never using their real names, I have forgotten them. The nicknames that I know, them by, are Towser, Bowser, Rowser, Snowser.”
“Enough. Mad as a March hare. Take him away. Hold,” again added the officer, whom some strange fascination still bound to the bootless investigation. “What’s my name, sir?”
“Why, sir, one of my messmates here called you Lieutenant Williamson, just now, and I never heard you called by any other name.”
“There’s method in his madness,” thought the officer to himself. “What’s the captain’s name?”
“Why, sir, when we spoke the enemy, last night, I heard him say, through his trumpet, that he was Captain Parker; and very likely he knows his own name.”
“I have you now. That ain’t the captain’s real name.”
“He’s the best judge himself, sir, of what his name is, I should think.”
“Were it not,” said the officer, now turning gravely upon his juniors, “were it not that such a supposition were on other grounds absurd, I should certainly conclude that this man, in some unknown way, got on board here from the enemy last night.”
“How could he, sir?” asked the sailing-master.
“Heaven knows. But our spanker-boom geared the other ship, you know, in manoeuvring to get headway.”
“But supposing he could have got here that fashion, which is quite impossible under all the circumstances, what motive could have induced him voluntarily to jump among enemies?”
“Let him answer for himself,” said the officer, turning suddenly upon Israel, with the view of taking him off his guard, by the matter of course assumption of the very point at issue.
“Answer, sir. Why did you jump on board here, last night, from the enemy?”
“Jump on board, sir, from the enemy? Why, sir, my station at general quarters is at gun No. 3, of the lower deck, here.”
“He’s cracked—or else I am turned—or all the world is;—take him away!”
“But where am I to take him, sir?” said the master-at-arms. “He don’t seem to belong anywhere, sir. Where—where am I to take him?”
“Take him-out of sight,” said the officer, now incensed with his own perplexity. “Take him out of sight, I say.”
“Come along, then, my ghost,” said the master-at-arms. And, collaring the phantom, he led it hither and thither, not knowing exactly what to do with it.
Some fifteen minutes passed, when the captain coming from his cabin, and observing the master-at-arms leading Israel about in this indefinite style, demanded the reason of that procedure, adding that it was against his express orders for any new and degrading punishments to be invented for his men.
“Come here, master-at-arms. To what end do you lead that man about?”
“To no end in the world, sir. I keep leading him about because he has no final destination.”
“Mr. Officer-of-the-deck, what does this mean? Who is this strange man? I don’t know that I remember him. Who is he? And what is signified by his being led about?”
Hereupon the officer-of-the-deck, throwing himself into a tragical posture, set forth the entire mystery; much to the captain’s astonishment, who at once indignantly turned upon the phantom.
“You rascal—don’t try to deceive me. Who are you? and where did you come from last?”
“Sir, my name is Peter Perkins, and I last came from the forecastle, where the master-at-arms last led me, before coming here.”
“No joking, sir, no joking.”
“Sir, I’m sure it’s too serious a business to joke about.”
“Do you have the assurance to say, that you, as a regularly shipped man, have been on board this vessel ever since she sailed from Falmouth, ten months ago?”
“Sir, anxious to secure a berth under so good a commander, I was among the first to enlist.”
“What ports have we touched at, sir?” said the captain, now in a little softer tone.
“Ports, sir, ports?”
“Yes, sir, ports”
Israel began to scratch his yellow hair.
“What ports, sir?”
“Well, sir:—Boston, for one.”
“Right there,” whispered a midshipman.
“What was the next port, sir?”
“Why, sir, I was saying Boston was the first port, I believe; wasn’t it?—and”—
“The second port, sir, is what I want.”
“Right again,” whispered the midshipman.
“And what port are we bound to, now?”
“Let me see—homeward-bound—Falmouth, sir.”
“What sort of a place is Boston?”
“Pretty considerable of a place, sir.”
“Very straight streets, ain’t they?”
“Yes, sir; cow-paths, cut by sheep-walks, and intersected with hen-tracks.”
“When did we fire the first gun?”
“Well, sir, just as we were leaving Falmouth, ten months ago—signal-gun, sir.”
“Where did we fire the first shotted gun, sir?—and what was the name of the privateer we took upon that occasion?”
“’Pears to me, sir, at that time I was on the sick list. Yes, sir, that must have been the time; I had the brain fever, and lost my mind for a while.”
“Master-at-arms, take this man away.”
“Where shall I take him, sir?” touching his cap.
“Go, and air him on the forecastle.”
So they resumed their devious wanderings. At last, they descended to the berth-deck. It being now breakfast-time, the master-at-arms, a good-humored man, very kindly’ introduced our hero to his mess, and presented him with breakfast, during which he in vain endeavored, by all sorts of subtle blandishments, to worm out his secret.
At length Israel was set at liberty; and whenever there was any important duty to be done, volunteered to it with such cheerful alacrity, and approved himself so docile and excellent a seaman, that he conciliated the approbation of all the officers, as well as the captain; while his general sociability served, in the end, to turn in his favor the suspicious hearts of the mariners. Perceiving his good qualities, both as a sailor and man, the captain of the maintop applied for his admission into that section of the ship; where, still improving upon his former reputation, our hero did duty for the residue of the voyage.
One pleasant afternoon, the last of the passage, when the ship was nearing the Lizard, within a few hours’ sail of her port, the officer-of-the-deck, happening to glance upwards towards the maintop, descried Israel there, leaning very leisurely over the rail, looking mildly down where the officer stood.
“Well, Peter Perkins, you seem to belong to the maintop, after all.”
“I always told you so, sir,” smiled Israel benevolently down upon him, “though, at first, you remember, sir, you would not believe it.”