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An Occurrence At Sea

In June, 1824, I embarked at Liverpool on board the Vibelia transport
with the head-quarters of my regiment, which was proceeding to
Halifax, Nova Scotia. Our passage across the Atlantic was smooth,
though long and tedious. After passing over the great bank of
Newfoundland, catching large quantities of codfish and halibut, and
encountering the usual fogs, we were one morning, about the end of
July, completely becalmed. All who have performed a voyage, know the
feeling of listlessness to which a landsman abandons himself during a
calm. The morning was slowly passed in looking for appearances of a
breeze--whistling for a wind, and the other idle pursuits usual on
such occasions. Towards noon, a sailor from aloft pointed out to our
observation a vessel at a distance, also, of course, becalmed. All
eyes and glasses were immediately directed towards her, but she was
too far off for the most experienced to determine whether she was
English or foreign, man-of-war or merchantman. After a time it
occurred to me, that it was a favorable opportunity for breaking in
upon the monotony of the day. My influence with our captain obtained
permission for the small cutter to be lowered, but he would not allow
a single seaman to leave the ship. I therefore became coxswain of the
boat, and, accompanied by four of my brother officers as rowers, we
pushed off, determined to pay a visit to the strange sail. To our
landsmen's eyes and judgment, she had appeared to be about four miles
from us, but we found ourselves very much out in our calculation--it
was more than double that distance. The rowers, however, pulled on
bravely--we neared the stranger, making her out to be a large American
merchantman, and as he was approached, we observed a number of persons
on deck reconnoitring us through glasses. At length we were alongside,
and I passed on board, followed by three of my companions, one
remaining in charge of the boat. On reaching the deck, we found it
crowded with men, who seemed to regard us with wondering looks. I
stepped forward and was received by the Captain, who acquainted me
that his vessel was the American ship Cadmus, on her passage from
Havre-de-grace to New York, with General the Marquis de Lafayette and
suite as passengers. A noble, venerable looking veteran advanced from
the poop towards us, and offered his greetings with the courtesy of
the old French school. He was Lafayette. My explanation of who we
were, and the motive of our visit, appeared to excite his surprise.
That five officers of the land service, unaccompanied by a single
sailor, should leave their vessel on the open ocean, and from mere
curiosity, visit a strange sail at such a distance, was, he declared,
most extraordinary. He said they had observed our ship early in the
morning--had been occupied (like ourselves) in vain endeavors to make
us out--had remarked an object, a mere speck upon the sea, leave the
vessel and move towards them, and when at length it was made out to be
a boat, the probable cause of such a circumstance had given rise to
many surmises. I told him in mitigation of what he deemed our
rashness, that we were, as a nation, so essentially maritime, that
every man in England was more or less a sailor. At all events, I
ventured to add if we had encountered some little risk, we had been
amply repaid in seeing a man so celebrated, and of whom we had all
heard and read. Our comrade being relieved by an American sailor in
the care of the boat, we accepted the General's offer of refreshment,
proceeded to the cabin, and passed a most agreeable hour. The fast
approach of evening and appearances of a breeze springing up induced
us to take leave. We separated from the old chief, not as the
acquaintance of an hour, but with all the warmth--the grasp and
pressure of hand--of old friends. As I parted from him at the gangway,
he mentioned having caused a case of claret to be lowered into our
boat, which he begged us to present to our Colonel and the other
officers of our mess. We pulled cheerily back, but it was not until
long after dark that we reached the 'Vibelia,' and which we perhaps
could not have accomplished, but for their having exhibited blue
lights every few minutes to point out her position. We found our
comrades had been in great alarm for our safety. Various had been the
surmises. That we had boarded a pirate, and been sacrificed, or made
prisoners, was most prevalent, and a breeze was anxiously prayed for,
that they might bear down, and release or revenge us. Half an hour
after we returned to our ship, a light wind sprang up, which very
shortly freshened into a gale, so that in the morning we had
completely lost sight of the 'Cadmus.'

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