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The Escape Of The American Frigate Alliance
We cannot detain the narrative, to detail the scenes which busy
wonder, aided by the relation of divers marvellous feats, produced
among the curious seamen who remained in the ship, and their more
fortunate fellows who had returned glory from an expedition to the
land. For nearly an hour the turbulence of a general movement was
heard, issuing from the deep recesses of the frigate, and the
boisterous sounds of hoarse merriment were listened to by the officers
in indulgent silence; but all those symptoms of unbridled humor ceased
by the time the morning repast was ended, when the regular sea-watch
was set, and the greater portion of those whose duty did not require
their presence on the vessel's deck, availed themselves of the
opportunity to repair the loss of sleep sustained in the preceding
night. Still no preparations were made to put the ship in motion,
though long and earnest consultations, which were supposed to relate
to their future destiny, were observed by the younger officers to be
held between their captain, the first lieutenant, and the mysterious
Pilot. The latter threw many an anxious glance along the eastern
horizon, searching it minutely with his glass, and then would turn his
impatient looks at the low, dense bank of fog, which stretching across
the ocean like a barrier of cloud, entirely intercepted the view
towards the south. To the north and along the land the air was clear,
and the sea without spot of any kind; but in the east a small white
sail had been discovered since the opening of day, which was gradually
rising above the water, and assuming the appearance of a vessel of
some size. Every officer on the quarter-deck in his turn had examined
this distant sail, and had ventured an opinion on its destination and
character; and even Katherine, who with her cousin was enjoying, in
the open air, the novel beauties of the ocean, had been tempted to
place her sparkling eye to a glass, to gaze at the stranger.
"It is a collier," Griffith said, "who has hauled from the land in the
late gale, and who is luffing up to his course again. If the wind
holds here in the south, and he does not get into that fog-bank, we
can stand off for him and get a supply of fuel before eight bells are
"I think his head is to the northward, and that he is steering off the
wind," returned the Pilot, in a musing manner. "If that Dillon
succeeded in getting his express far enough along the coast, the alarm
has been spread, and we must be wary. The convoy of the Baltic trade
is in the North Sea, the news of our presence could easily have been
taken off to it by some of the cutters that line the coast. I could
wish to get the ships as far south as the Helder!"
"Then we lose this weather tide!" exclaimed the impatient Griffith.
"Surely we have the cutter as a lookout! besides, by beating into the
fog, we shall lose the enemy, if enemy it be, and is it thought meet
for an American frigate to skulk from her foes?"
The scornful expression that kindled the eye of the Pilot, like a
gleam of sunshine lighting for an instant some dark dell and laying
bare its secrets, was soon lost in the usually quiet look of his
glance, though he hesitated, like one who was struggling with his
passions, before he answered--
"If prudence and the service of the States require it, even this proud
frigate must retreat and hide from the meanest of her enemies. My
advice, Captain Munson, is that you make sail, and beat the ship to
windward, as Mr. Griffith has suggested, and that you order the cutter
to precede us, keeping more in with the land."
The aged seaman, who evidently suspended his orders, only to receive
an intimation of the other's pleasure, immediately commanded his
youthful assistant to issue the necessary mandates to put these
measures in force. Accordingly, the Alacrity, which vessel had been
left under the command of the junior lieutenant of the frigate, was
quickly under way; and, making short stretches to windward, she soon
entered the bank of fog, and was lost to the eye. In the meantime the
canvas of the ship was loosened, and spread leisurely, in order not to
disturb the portion of the crew who were sleeping; and, following her
little consort, she moved heavily through the water, bearing up
against the dull breeze.
The quiet of regular duty had succeeded to the bustle of making sail;
and, as the rays of the sun fell less obliquely on the distant land,
Katherine and Cecilia were amusing Griffith by vain attempts to point
out the rounded eminences which they fancied lay in the vicinity of
the deserted mansion of St. Ruth. Barnstable, who had resumed his
former station in the frigate, as her second lieutenant, was pacing
the opposite side of the quarter-deck, holding under his arm the
speaking-trumpet, which denoted that he held the temporary control of
the motions of the ship, and inwardly cursing the restraint that kept
him from the side of his mistress. At this moment of universal quiet,
when nothing above low dialogues interrupted the dashing of the waves
as they were thrown lazily aside by the bows of the vessel, the report
of a light cannon burst out of the barrier of fog, and then rolled by
them on the breeze, apparently vibrating with the rising and sinking
of the waters.
"There goes the cutter!" exclaimed Griffith, the instant the sound was
"Surely," said the captain, "Somers is not so indiscreet as to scale
his guns, after the caution he has received!"
"No idle scaling of guns is intended there," said the Pilot, straining
his eyes to pierce the fog, but soon turning away in disappointment at
his inability to succeed, "that gun is shotted, and has been fired in
the hurry of a sudden signal! can your lookout see nothing, Mr.
The lieutenant of the watch hailed the man aloft, and demanded if
anything were visible in the direction of the wind, and received for
answer, that the fog intercepted the view in that quarter of the
heavens, but that the sail in the east was a ship, running large, or
before the wind. The Pilot shook his head doubtingly at this
information, but still he manifested a strong reluctance to relinquish
the attempt of getting more to the southward. Again he communed with
the commander of the frigate, apart from all other ears; and while
they yet deliberated, a second report was heard, leaving no doubt that
the Alacrity was firing signal-guns for their particular attention.
"Perhaps," said Griffith, "he wishes to point out his position, or to
ascertain ours; believing that we are lost like himself in the mist."
"We have our compasses!" returned the doubting captain; "Somers has a
meaning in what he says!"
"See!" cried Katherine, with girlish delight, "see, my cousin! see,
Barnstable! how beautifully that vapor is wreathing itself in clouds
above the smoky line of fog! It stretches already into the very
heavens like a lofty pyramid!"
Barnstable sprang lightly on a gun, as he repeated her words--
"Pyramids of fog! and wreathing clouds! By Heaven!" he shouted, "'tis
a tall ship! Royals, sky-sails, and studding-sails all abroad! She is
within a mile of us, and comes down like a race-horse, with a spanking
breeze, dead before it! Now know we why Somers is speaking in the
"Ay," cried Griffith, "and there goes the Alacrity, just breaking out
of the fog, hovering in for the land!"
"There is a mighty hull under all that cloud of canvas, Captain
Munson," said the observant but calm Pilot; "it is time, gentlemen, to
edge away, to leeward."
"What, before we know from whom we run!" cried Griffith; "my life on
it, there is no single ship King George owns, but would tire of the
sport before she had played a full game of bowls with--"
The haughty air of the young man was daunted by the severe look he
encountered in the eye of the Pilot, and he suddenly ceased, though
inwardly chafing with impatient pride.
"The same eye that detected the canvas above the fog, might have seen
the flag of a vice-admiral fluttering still nearer the heavens,"
returned the collected stranger; "and England, faulty as she may be,
is yet too generous to place a flag-officer in time of war in command
of a frigate, or a captain in command of a fleet. She knows the value
of those who shed their blood in her behalf, and it is thus that she
is so well served! Believe me, Captain Munson, there is nothing short
of a ship of the line under that symbol of rank, and that broad show
"We shall see, sir, we shall see," returned the old officer, whose
manner grew decided, as the danger appeared to thicken; "beat to
quarters, Mr. Griffith, for we have none but enemies to expect on this
The order was instantly issued, when Griffith remarked, with a more
"If Mr. Gray be right, we shall have reason to thank God that we are
so light of heel!"
The cry of "a strange vessel close aboard the frigate," having already
flown down the hatches, the ship was in an uproar at the first tap of
the drum. The seamen threw themselves from their hammocks, and lashing
them rapidly into long, hard bundles, they rushed to the decks, where
they were dexterously stowed in the netting, to aid the defences of
the upper part of the vessel. While this tumultuous scene was
exhibiting, Griffith gave a secret order to Merry, who disappeared,
leading his trembling cousins to a place of safety in the inmost
depths of the ship.
The guns were cleared of their lumber, and loosened. The bulk-heads
were knocked down, and the cabin relieved of its furniture; and the
gun-deck exhibited one unbroken line of formidable cannon, arranged in
all the order of a naval battery ready to engage. Arm-chests were
thrown open, and the decks strewed with pikes, cutlasses, pistols, and
all the various weapons for boarding. In short, the yards were slung,
and every other arrangement was made with a readiness and dexterity
that were actually wonderful, though all was performed amid an
appearance of disorder and confusion that rendered the ship another
Babel during the continuance of the preparations. In a very few
minutes everything was completed, and even the voices of the men
ceased to be heard answering to their names, as they were mustered at
their stations, by their respective officers. Gradually the ship
became as quiet as the grave; and when even Griffith or his commander
found it necessary to speak, their voices were calmer, and their tones
more mild than usual. The course of the vessel was changed to an
oblique line from that in which their enemy was approaching, though
the appearance of flight was to be studiously avoided to the last
moment. When nothing further remained to be done, every eye became
fixed on the enormous pile of swelling canvas that was rising, in
cloud over cloud, far above the fog, and which was manifestly moving,
like driving vapor, swiftly to the north. Presently the dull, smoky
boundary of the mist which rested on the water was pushed aside in
vast volumes, and the long taper spars that projected from the
bowsprit of the strange ship issued from the obscurity, and were
quickly followed by the whole of the enormous fabric to which they
were merely light appendages. For a moment, streaks of reluctant vapor
clung to the huge floating pile; but they were soon shaken off by the
rapid vessel, and the whole of her black hull became distinct to the
"One, two, three rows of teeth!" said Boltrope, deliberately counting
the tiers of guns that bristled along the sides of the enemy; "a
three-decker! Jack Manly would show his stern to such a fellow! and
even the Scotchman would run!"
"Hard up with your helm, quartermaster!" cried Captain Munson; "there
is indeed no time to hesitate, with such an enemy within a quarter of
a mile! Turn the hands up, Mr. Griffith, and pack on the ship from her
trucks to her lower studding-sail booms. Be stirring, sir, be
stirring! Hard up with your helm! Hard up, sir!"
The unusual earnestness of their aged commander acted on the startled
crew like a voice from the deep, and they waited not for the usual
signals of the boatswain and drummer to be given, before they broke
away from their guns, and rushed tumultuously to aid in spreading the
desired canvas. There was one minute of ominous confusion, that to an
inexperienced eye would have foreboded the destruction of all order in
the vessel, during which every hand, and each tongue, seemed in
motion; but it ended in opening the immense folds of light duck which
were displayed along the whole line of the masts, far beyond the
ordinary sails, overshadowing the waters for a great distance, on
either side of the vessel. During the moment of inaction that
succeeded this sudden exertion, the breeze, which had brought up the
three-decker, fell fresher on the sails of the frigate, and she
started away from her dangerous enemy with a very perceptible
advantage in point of sailing.
"The fog rises!" cried Griffith; "give us but the wind for an hour,
and we shall run her out of gunshot!"
"These nineties are very fast off the wind," returned the captain, in
a low tone, that was intended only for the ears of his first
lieutenant and the Pilot; "and we shall have a struggle for it."
The quick eye of the stranger was glancing over the movements of his
enemy, while he answered--
"He finds we have the heels of him already! he is making ready, and we
shall be fortunate to escape a broadside! Let her yaw a little, Mr.
Griffith; touch her lightly with the helm; if we are raked, sir, we
The captain sprang on the taffrail of his ship with the activity of a
younger man, and in an instant he perceived the truth of the other's
Both vessels now ran for a few minutes, keenly watching each other's
motions like two skilful combatants; the English ship making slight
deviations from the line of her course, and then, as her movements
were anticipated by the other, turning as cautiously in the opposite
direction, until a sudden and wide sweep of her huge bows told the
Americans plainly on which tack to expect her. Captain Munson made a
silent but impressive gesture with his arm, as if the crisis were too
important for speech, which indicated to the watchful Griffith the way
he wished the frigate sheered, to avoid the weight of the impending
danger. Both vessels whirled swiftly up to the wind, with their heads
towards the land; and as the huge black side of the three-decker
checkered with its triple batteries, frowned full upon her foe, it
belched forth a flood of fire and smoke, accompanied by a bellowing
roar that mocked the surly moanings of the sleeping ocean. The nerves
of the bravest man in the frigate contracted their fibres, as the
hurricane of iron hurtled by them, and each eye appeared to gaze in
stupid wonder, as if tracing the flight of the swift engines of
destruction. But the voice of Captain Munson was heard in the din,
shouting while he waved his hat earnestly in the required direction--
"Meet her! meet her with the helm, boy! meet her, Mr. Griffith, meet
Griffith had so far anticipated this movement, as to have already
ordered the head of the frigate to be turned in its former course,
when, struck by the unearthly cry of the last tones uttered by his
commander, he bent his head, and beheld the venerable seaman driven
through the air, his hat still waving, his gray hair floating in the
wind, and his eye set in the wild look of death.
"Great God!" exclaimed the young man, rushing to the side of the ship,
where he was just in time to see the lifeless body disappear in the
waters that were dyed in its blood; "he has been struck by a shot!
Lower-away the boat, lower-away the jolly-boat, the barge, the tiger,
"'Tis useless," interrupted the calm deep voice of the Pilot; "he has
met a warrior's end, and he sleeps in a sailor's grave! The ship is
getting before the wind again, and the enemy is keeping his vessel
The youthful lieutenant was recalled by these words to his duty, and
reluctantly turned his eyes away from the bloody spot on the waters,
which the busy frigate had already passed, to resume the command of
the vessel with a forced composure.
"He has cut some of our running gear," said the master, whose eye had
never ceased to dwell on the spars and rigging of the ship; "and
there's a splinter out of the maintopmast, that is big enough for a
fid! He has let daylight through some of our canvas too; but, taking
it by-and-large, the squall has gone over and little harm done. Didn't
I hear something said of Captain Munson getting jammed by a shot?"
"He is killed!" said Griffith, speaking in a voice that was yet husky
with horror; "he is dead, sir, and carried overboard; there is more
need that we forget not ourselves, in this crisis."
"Dead!" said Boltrope, suspending the operation of his active jaws for
a moment, in surprise; "and buried in a wet jacket! Well, it is lucky
'tis no worse; for damme if I did not think every stick in the ship
would have been cut out of her!"
With this consolatory remark on his lips, the master walked slowly
forward, continuing his orders to repair the damages with a singleness
of purpose that rendered him, however uncouth as a friend, an
invaluable man in his station.
Griffith had not yet brought his mind to the calmness that was so
essential to discharge the duties which had thus suddenly and awfully
devolved on him, when his elbow was lightly touched by the Pilot, who
had drawn closer to his side.
"The enemy appear satisfied with the experiment," said the stranger;
"and as we work the quicker of the two, he loses too much ground to
repeat it, if he be a true seaman."
"And yet as he finds we leave him so fast," returned Griffith, "he
must see that all his hopes rest in cutting us up aloft. I dread that
he will come by the wind again, and lay us under his broadside; we
should need a quarter of an hour to run without his range, if he were
"He plays a surer game; see you not that the vessel we made in the
eastern board shows the hull of a frigate? 'Tis past a doubt that they
are of one squadron, and that the expresses have sent them in our
wake. The English admiral has spread a broad clew, Mr. Griffith; and,
as he gathers in his ships, he sees that his game has been
The faculties of Griffith had been too much occupied with the hurry of
the chase to look at the ocean; but, startled at the information of
the Pilot, who spoke coolly, though like a man sensible of the
existence of approaching danger, he took the glass from the other, and
with his own eye examined the different vessels in sight. It is
certain that the experienced officer, whose flag was flying above the
light sails of the three-decker, saw the critical situation of his
chase, and reasoned much in the same manner as the Pilot, or the
fearful expedient apprehended by Griffith would have been adopted.
Prudence, however, dictated that he should prevent his enemy from
escaping by pressing so closely on his rear, as to render it
impossible for the American to haul across his bows and run into the
open sea between his own vessel and the nearest frigate of his
squadron. The unpractised reader will be able to comprehend the case
better by accompanying the understanding eye of Griffith, as it
glanced from point to point, following the whole horizon. To the west
lay the land, along which the Alacrity was urging her way
industriously, with the double purpose of keeping her consort abeam,
and of avoiding a dangerous proximity to their powerful enemy. To the
east, bearing off the starboard bow of the American frigate, was the
vessel first seen, and which now began to exhibit the hostile
appearance of a ship of war, steering in a line converging towards
themselves, and rapidly drawing nigher; while far in the northeast was
a vessel as yet faintly discerned, whose evolutions could not be
mistaken by one who understood the movements of nautical warfare.
"We are hemmed in effectually," said Griffith, dropping the glass from
his eye; "and I know not but our wisest course would be to haul in to
the land, and, cutting everything light adrift, endeavor to pass the
broadside of the flagship."
"Provided she left a rag of canvas to do it with!" returned the Pilot.
"Sir, 'tis an idle hope! She would strip your ship in ten minutes, to
her plank shears. Had it not been for a lucky wave on which so many of
her shot struck and glanced upward, we should have nothing to boast of
left from the fire she has already given; we must stand on, and drop
the three-decker as far as possible."
"But the frigates?" said Griffith, "what are we to do with the
"Fight them!" returned the Pilot, in a low, determined voice; "fight
them! Young man, I have borne the stars and stripes aloft in greater
straits than this, and even with honor! Think not that my fortune will
desert me now."
"We shall have an hour of desperate battle!"
"On that we may calculate; but I have lived through whole days of
bloodshed! You seem not one to quail at the sight of an enemy."
"Let me proclaim your name to the men!" said Griffith; "'twill quicken
their blood, and at such a moment be a host in itself."
"They want it not," returned the Pilot, checking the hasty zeal of the
other with his hand. "I would be unnoticed, unless I am known as
becomes me. I will share your danger, but would not rob you of a
tittle of your glory. Should we come to a grapple," he continued,
while a smile of conscious pride gleamed across his face, "I will give
forth the word as a war-cry, and, believe me, these English will quail
Griffith submitted to the stranger's will; and, after they had
deliberated further on the nature of their evolutions, he gave his
attention again to the management of the vessel. The first object
which met his eye on turning from the Pilot was Colonel Howard, pacing
the quarter-deck with a determined brow and a haughty mien, as if
already in the enjoyment of that triumph which now seemed certain.
"I fear, sir," said the young man, approaching him with respect, "that
you will soon find the deck unpleasant and dangerous: your wards are"--
"Mention not the unworthy term!" interrupted the colonel. "What
greater pleasure can there be than to inhale the odor of loyalty that
is wafted from yonder floating tower of the king? And danger! you know
but little of old George Howard, young man, if you think he would for
thousands miss seeing that symbol of rebellion levelled before the
flag of his majesty."
"If that be your wish, Colonel Howard," returned Griffith, biting his
lip, as he looked around at the wondering seamen who were listeners,
"you will wait in vain; but I pledge you my word, that when that time
arrives, you shall be advised, and that your own hand shall do the
"Edward Griffith, why not this moment? This is your moment of
probation--submit to the clemency of the crown, and yield your crew to
the royal mercy! In such a case I would remember the child of my
brother Harry's friend; and believe me, my name is known to the
ministry. And you, misguided and ignorant abettors of rebellion! cast
aside your useless weapons, or prepare to meet the vengeance of yonder
powerful and victorious servant of your prince."
"Fall back! back with ye, fellows!" cried Griffith, fiercely, to the
men who were gathering around the colonel, with looks of sullen
vengeance. "If a man of you dare approach him, he shall be cast into
The sailors retreated at the order of their commander; but the elated
veteran had continued to pace the deck for many minutes before
stronger interests diverted the angry glances of the seamen to other
Notwithstanding the ship of the line was slowly sinking beneath the
distant waves, and in less than an hour from the time she had fired
the broadside, no more than one of her three tiers of guns was visible
from the deck of the frigate, she yet presented an irresistible
obstacle against retreat to the south. On the other hand, the ship
first seen drew so nigh as to render the glass no longer necessary in
watching her movements. She proved to be a frigate, though one so
materially lighter than the American, as to have rendered her conquest
easy, had not her two consorts continued to press on for the scene of
battle with such rapidity. During the chase, the scene had shifted
from the point opposite to St. Ruth, to the verge of those shoals
where our tale commenced. As they approached the latter, the smallest
of the English ships drew so nigh as to render the combat unavoidable.
Griffith and his crew had not been idle in the intermediate time, but
all the usual preparations against the casualties of a sea-fight had
been duly made, when the drum once more called the men to their
quarters, and the ship was deliberately stripped of her unnecessary
sails, like a prize-fighter about to enter the arena, casting aside
the incumbrances of dress. At the instant she gave this intimation of
her intention to abandon flight, and trust the issue to the combat,
the nearest English frigate also took in her light canvas in token of
her acceptance of the challenge.
"He is but a little fellow," said Griffith to the Pilot, who hovered
at his elbow with a sort of fatherly interest in the other's conduct
of the battle, "though he carries a stout heart."
"We must crush him at a blow," returned the stranger; "not a shot must
be delivered until our yards are locking."
"I see him training his twelves upon us already; we may soon expect
"After standing the brunt of a ninety-gun ship," observed the
collected Pilot, "we shall not shrink from the broadside of a
"Stand to your guns, men!" cried Griffith, through his trumpet; "not a
shot is to be fired without the order."
This caution, so necessary to check the ardor of the seamen, was
hardly uttered, before the enemy became wrapped in sheets of fire and
volumes of smoke, as gun after gun hurled its iron missiles at their
vessel in quick succession. Ten minutes might have passed, the two
vessels sheering close to each other every foot they advanced, during
which time the crew of the American were compelled, by their
commander, to suffer the fire of their adversary, without returning a
shot. This short period, which seemed an age to the seamen, was
distinguished in their vessel by deep silence. Even the wounded and
dying, who fell in every part of the ship, stifled their groans, under
the influence of the severe discipline, which gave a character to
every man, and each movement of the vessel; and those officers who
were required to speak, were heard only in the lowest tones of
resolute preparation. At length the ship slowly entered the skirts of
the smoke that enveloped their enemy; and Griffith heard the man who
stood at his side whisper the word "Now."
"Let them have it!" cried Griffith, in a voice that was heard in the
remotest parts of the ship.
The shout that burst from the seamen appeared to lift the decks
of the vessel, and the affrighted frigate trembled like an aspen with
the recoil of her own massive artillery, that shot forth a single
sheet of flame, the sailors having disregarded, in their impatience,
the usual order of firing. The effect of the broadside on the enemy
was still more dreadful; for a deathlike silence succeeded to the roar
of guns, which were only broken by the shrieks and execrations that
burst from her, like the moanings of the damned. During the few
moments in which the Americans were again loading their cannon, and
the English were recovering from their confusion, the vessel of the
former moved slowly past her antagonist, and was already doubling
across her bows, when the latter was suddenly, and, considering the
inequality of their forces, it may be added desperately, headed into
her enemy. The two frigates grappled. The sudden and furious charge
made by the Englishman, as he threw his masses of daring seamen along
his bowsprit, and out of his channels, had nearly taken Griffith by
surprise; but Manual, who had delivered his first fire with the
broadside, now did good service, by ordering his men to beat back the
intruders, by a steady and continued discharge. Even the wary Pilot
lost sight of their other foes, in the high daring of that moment, and
smiles of stern pleasure were exchanged between him and Griffith as
both comprehended, at a glance, their advantages.
"Lash his bowsprit to our mizzen-mast," shouted the lieutenant, "and
we will sweep his decks as he lies!"
Twenty men sprang eagerly forward to execute the order, among the
foremost of whom were Boltrope and the stranger.
"Ay, now he's our own!" cried the busy master, "and we will take an
owner's liberties with him, and break him up--for by the eternal--"
"Peace, rude man," said the Pilot, in a voice of solemn remonstrance;
"at the next instant you may face your God; mock not his awful name!"
The master found time, before he threw himself from the spar on the
deck of the frigate again, to cast a look of amazement at his
companion, who, with a steady mien, but with an eye that lighted with
a warrior's ardor, viewed the battle that raged around him, like one
who marked its progress to control the result.
The sight of the Englishman rushing onward with shouts and bitter
menaces, warmed the blood of Colonel Howard, who pressed to the side
of the frigate, and encouraged his friends by his gestures and voice,
to come on.
"Away with ye, old croaker!" cried the master, seizing him by the
collar; "away with ye to the hold, or I'll order you fired from a
"Down with your arms, rebellious dog!" shouted the colonel, carried
beyond himself by the ardor of the fray, "down to the dust, and
implore the mercy of your injured prince!"
Invigorated by a momentary glow, the veteran grappled with his brawny
antagonist; but the issue of the short struggle was yet suspended,
when the English, driven back by the fire of the marines, and the
menacing front that Griffith with his boarders presented, retreated to
the forecastle of their own ship, and attempted to return the deadly
blows they were receiving, in their hull, from the cannon that
Barnstable directed. A solitary gun was all they could bring to bear
on the Americans; but this, loaded with canister, was fired so near as
to send its glaring flame into the very faces of their enemies. The
struggling colonel, who was already sinking beneath the arm of his
foe, felt the rough grasp loosen from his throat at the flash, and the
two combatants sunk powerless on their knees, facing each other.
"How now, brother!" exclaimed Boltrope, with a smile of grim
fierceness; "some of that grist has gone to your mill, ha!"
No answer could, however, be given before the yielding forms of both
fell to the deck, where they lay helpless, amid the din of the battle
and the wild confusion of the eager combatants.
Notwithstanding the furious struggle they had witnessed, the elements
did not cease their functions; and, urged by the breeze, and lifted
irresistibly on a wave, the American ship was forced through the water
still farther across the bows of her enemy. The idle fastenings of
hemp and iron were snapped asunder like strings of tow, and Griffith
saw his own ship borne away from the Englishman at the instant that
the bowsprit of the latter was torn from its lashings and tumbled into
the sea, followed by spar after spar, until nothing of all her proud
tackling was remaining, but the few parted and useless ropes that were
left dangling along the stumps of her lower masts. As his own stately
vessel moved from the confusion she had caused, and left the dense
cloud of smoke in which her helpless antagonist lay, the eye of the
young man glanced anxiously towards the horizon, where he now
remembered he had more foes to contend against.
"We have shaken off the thirty-two most happily!" he said to the
Pilot, who followed his motions with singular interest; "but here is
another fellow sheering in for us, who shows as many ports as
ourselves, and who appears inclined for a closer interview; besides,
the hull of the ninety is rising again, and I fear she will be down
but too soon!"
"We must keep the use of our braces and sails," returned the Pilot,
"and on no account close with the other frigate; we must play a double
game, sir, and fight this new adversary with our heels as well as with
"'Tis time then that we were busy, for he is shortening sail; and as
he nears so fast, we may expect to hear from him every minute; what do
you propose, sir?"
"Let him gather in his canvas," returned the Pilot; "and when he
thinks himself snug, we can throw out a hundred men at once upon our
yards, and spread everything alow and aloft; we may then draw ahead of
him by surprise; if we can once get him in our wake, I have no fears
of dropping them all."
"A stern chase is a long chase," cried Griffith, "and the thing may
do! Clear up the decks, here, and carry down the wounded; and, as we
have our hands full, the poor fellows who have done with us must go
overboard at once."
This melancholy duty was instantly attended to, while the young seaman
who commanded the frigate returned to his duty, with the absorbed air
of one who felt its high responsibility. These occupations, however,
did not prevent his hearing the sounds of Barnstable's voice calling
eagerly to young Merry. Bending his head towards the sound, Griffith
beheld his friend, looking anxiously up the main hatch, with a face
grimed with smoke, his coat off, and his shirt bespattered with human
blood. "Tell me, boy," he said, "is Mr. Griffith untouched? They say
that a shot came in upon the quarter-deck that tripped up the heels of
half a dozen."
Before Merry could answer, the eyes of Barnstable which even while he
spoke were scanning the state of the vessel's rigging, encountered the
kind looks of Griffith, and from that moment perfect harmony was
restored between the friends.
"Ah! you are there, Griff, and with a whole skin, I see," cried
Barnstable, smiling with pleasure; "they have passed poor Boltrope
down into one of his own store-rooms! If that fellow's bowsprit had
held on ten minutes longer, what a mark I should have made on his face
"'Tis perhaps best as it is," returned Griffith; "but what have you
done with those whom we are most bound to protect?"
Barnstable made a significant gesture towards the depths of the
vessel, as he answered,--
"On the cables; safe as wood, iron, and water can keep them--though
Katherine has had her head up three times to--"
A summons from the Pilot drew Griffith away; and the young officers
were compelled to forget their individual feelings, in the pressing
duties of their stations.
The ship which the American frigate had now to oppose was a vessel of
near her own size and equipage; and when Griffith looked at her again,
he perceived that she had made her preparations to assert her equality
in manful fight.
Her sails had been gradually reduced to the usual quantity, and, by
certain movements on her decks, the lieutenant and his constant
attendant, the Pilot, well understood that she only wanted to lessen
her distance a few hundred yards to begin the action.
"Now spread everything," whispered the stranger.
Griffith applied the trumpet to his mouth, and shouted in a voice that
was carried even to the enemy, "Let fall--out with your booms--sheet
home--hoist away of everything!"
The inspiring cry was answered by a universal bustle; fifty men flew
out on the dizzy heights of the different spars, while broad sheets of
canvas rose as suddenly along the masts, as if some mighty bird were
spreading its wings. The Englishman instantly perceived his mistake,
and he answered the artifice by a roar of artillery. Griffith watched
the effects of the broadside with an absorbing interest, as the shot
whistled above his head; but when he perceived his masts untouched,
and the few unimportant ropes only that were cut, he replied to the
uproar with a burst of pleasure. A few men were, however, seen
clinging with wild frenzy to the cordage, dropping from rope to rope
like wounded birds fluttering through a tree, until they fell heavily
into the ocean, the sullen ship sweeping by them in cold indifference.
At the next instant the spars and masts of their enemy exhibited a
display of men similar to their own, when Griffith again placed the
trumpet to his mouth, and shouted aloud--
"Give it to them; drive them from their yards, boys, scatter them with
your grape--unreeve their rigging!"
The crew of the American wanted but little encouragement to enter on
this experiment with hearty good-will, and the close of his cheering
words were uttered amid the deafening roar of his own cannon. The
Pilot had, however, mistaken the skill and readiness of their foe;
for, notwithstanding the disadvantageous circumstances under which the
Englishman increased his sail, the duty was steadily and dexterously
The two ships were now running rapidly on parallel lines, hurling at
each other their instruments of destruction with furious industry, and
with severe and certain loss to both, though with no manifest
advantage in favor of either. Both Griffith and the Pilot witnessed
with deep concern this unexpected defeat of their hopes; for they
could not conceal from themselves, that each moment lessened their
velocity through the water, as the shot of their enemy stripped the
canvas from the yards, or dashed aside the lighter spars in their
"We find our equal here!" said Griffith to the stranger. "The ninety
is heaving up again like a mountain; and if we continue to shorten
sail at this rate, she will soon be down upon us!"
"You say true, sir," returned the Pilot, musing; "the man shows
judgment as well as spirit: but--"
He was interrupted by Merry, who rushed from the forward part of the
vessel, his whole face betokening the eagerness of his spirit, and the
importance of his intelligence.
"The breakers!" he cried, when nigh enough to be heard amid the din:
"we are running dead on a ripple, and the sea is white not two hundred
The Pilot jumped on a gun, and bending to catch a glimpse through the
smoke, he shouted, in those clear, piercing tones, that could be even
heard among the roaring of the cannon, "Port, port your helm! we are
on the Devil's Grip! pass up the trumpet, sir; port your helm, fellow;
give it them, boys--give it to the proud English dogs!"
Griffith unhesitatingly relinquished the symbol of his rank, fastening
his own firm look on the calm but quick eye of the Pilot, and
gathering assurance from the high confidence he read in the
countenance of the stranger. The seamen were too busy with their
cannon and their rigging to regard the new danger; and the frigate
entered one of the dangerous passes of the shoals, in the heat of a
severely contested battle. The wondering looks of a few of the older
sailors glanced at the sheets of foam that flew by them, in doubt
whether the wild gambols of the waves were occasioned by the shot of
the enemy, when suddenly the noise of cannon was succeeded by the
sullen wash of the disturbed element, and presently the vessel glided
out of her smoky shroud, and was boldly steering in the centre of the
narrow passages. For ten breathless minutes longer the Pilot continued
to hold an uninterrupted sway, during which the vessel ran swiftly by
ripples and breakers, by streaks of foam and darker passages of deep
water, when he threw down his trumpet and exclaimed--
"What threatened to be our destruction has proved our salvation! Keep
yonder hill crowned with wood, one point open from the church tower at
its base, and steer east by north; you will run through these shoals
on that course in an hour, and by so doing you will gain five leagues
of your enemy, who will have to double their tail."
The moment he stepped from the gun, the Pilot lost the air of
authority that had so singularly distinguished his animated form, and
even the close interest he had manifested in the incidents of the day
became lost in the cold, settled reserve he had affected during his
intercourse with his present associates. Every officer in the ship,
after the breathless suspense of uncertainty had passed, rushed to
those places where a view might be taken of their enemies. The ninety
was still steering boldly onward, and had already approached the
two-and-thirty, which lay a helpless wreck, rolling on the unruly seas
that were rudely tossing her on their wanton billows. The frigate last
engaged was running along the edge of the ripple, with her torn sails
flying loosely in the air, her ragged spars tottering in the breeze,
and everything above her hull exhibiting the confusion of a sudden and
unlooked-for check to her progress. The exulting taunts and mirthful
congratulations of the seamen, as they gazed at the English ships,
were, however, soon forgotten in the attention that was required to
their own vessel. The drums beat the retreat, the guns were lashed,
the wounded again removed, and every individual able to keep the deck
was required to lend his assistance in repairing the damages of the
frigate and securing her masts.
The promised hour carried the ship safely through all the dangers,
which were much lessened by daylight; and by the time the sun had
begun to fall over the land, Griffith, who had not quitted the deck
during the day, beheld his vessel once more cleared of the confusion
of the chase and battle, and ready to meet another foe. At this period
he was summoned to the cabin, at the request of the ship's chaplain.
Delivering the charge of the frigate to Barnstable, who had been his
active assistant, no less in their subsequent labors than in the
combat, he hastily divested himself of the vestiges of the fight, and
proceeded to obey the repeated and earnest call.
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