Wing And Wing
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IT was at the height of the Napoleonic period, especially glorious to those who love the sea and ships for its feats in naval warfare, that the good people of the little town of Porto Ferrajo, on the island of Elba, were intensely excited by the sight of a long, low, black lugger bearing down for that port. This excitement was based on curiosity and stimulated by dread. If it had been a felucca or a bombardo or other of the picturesque rigs most commonly seen in the waters that bathe the lovely isles and coasts of Italy, nothing would have been thought of it. But a lugger—that was quite another matter! Who, whence was she, and what could be her errand? Luggers, so far as the islanders knew, were chiefly French, and very dangerous to peaceable folk, for they were largely privateers, not to say pirates. Their square-headed sails on two or three pole-masts, as the case might be, distinguished them at once from the sharp-pointed sails common to those Italian waters, and in that turbulent period always aroused apprehension; for they carried cannon and their skilled but nondescript crews, picked up from all nations, were reputed to be picturesquely fierce. Sometimes they even made descents on the coast, and carried off whatever they could lay their hands on, including, of course, such fair maidens as met their sight.
Hence a crowd was soon collected on the beacon hill of Porto Ferrajo, who listened with bated breath to the oracular observations of the great local authority on seafaring matters, Tommaso Tonti. On this occasion also the feminine portion of the interested crowd gave lively attention to the few but important words of a young maiden, Ghita Caraccioli, who, although but recently come to Elba, had won the confidence of her new associates not only by her quiet but sensible speech and manner, but also because she was considered to have the intelligence attributed to one who has traveled and seen the world, and that she had done emphatically, for she had sailed from Naples Bay to Leghorn, and thence to Elba, and presumably she had visited other remote regions of the globe.
The lugger, meantime, drew nearer, but showed no colors. Should the deputy-governor order the ancient batteries of the port to open on her, or first signal her by hoisting a flag? The latter course was adopted. In reply the lugger ran up the flag of England, and soon after dropped a light kedge-anchor, carefully out of range of the shore battery.
That she should be an English vessel was almost incredible. Who ever saw an English lugger? This was certainly a ruse, exclaimed the wise heads.
But the tremendous question was at least temporarily settled when the skipper with no apparent hesitation proceeded boldly to land, in his shore boat, at the chief dock. So far, so good! And when the Captain proceeded to meet the magnates of the place and answered their questions without hesitation, suspicion was, for the time, allayed. This impression was undoubtedly strengthened with some of those present by the fact that he was young, tall, and handsome to the full measure required of a truly romantic freebooter of the seas, and with an eye that quailed not though it pierced to the very heart of woman. He had, however, to stand a very searching examination as to his name, nationality, the reason for the peculiar rig of his ship, and his aim and destination. His real name was Raoul Yverne, but this he did not give, stating that he was of English descent, by name Jacques Smeet, the son of Sir Smeet. He meant Smith, but could not quite get it right; and he proved this statement by speaking some words of English as only a Frenchman speaks it, phrases he had in reality picked up when a prisoner in England, as likewise had some of his crew, whose English was even less correct than his own. The lugger carried the British colors because hailing from Guernsey, a port of Great Britain where the people, being of Anglo-French descent, still affected a rig so especially French as the lugger. These plausible statements imposed in a measure on the good people of Elba because they knew very much less on this subject than even Raoul Yverne, self-constituted scion of the great house of Smith. But there were one or two of the inhabitants of Porto Ferrajo who to the last maintained a critical and suspicious attitude toward this alert French sailor.
Raoul managed to exchange some searching, significant glances with Ghita Caraccioli without discovery, and later spoke a few words with her in a winding lane leading to the water, where he went ostensibly to give some orders to the coxswain who handled the lugger's boat. He had accepted the invitation of the deputy-governor to dine with him and the podesta; the former scarcely concealing his yearning to probe to the bottom what he continued to consider a mystery which needed to be explained. When Raoul was returning to his ship in the evening he met Ghita again for a few moments, most of the frequenters of that part of the town having either retired to their humble cots or else being occupied in winding up the day at the cabaret of a smart and buxom hostess, Benedetta by name. Ghita and Raoul were lovers, that was beyond question. So far as may be gathered she had come to Elba with her great-uncle to meet Raoul, and the presence of the lugger Wing and Wing, or Ving et Ving as he pronounced it, was due to this fact. The phrase " wing and wing," by the way, is the sea term applied to schooners and luggers when going directly before the wind with their sails swung out on each side, like the wings of a bird. Glad as Ghita was to see her Raoul, she chided him for taking such enormous risks to meet her, risks that must ultimately mean death to one or both of them. She also urged him to abandon a life that was not such as the world esteemed. But he gently though warmly urged his own side of the case and insisted that as a privateer, which is very far from being a pirate, he was every inch a patriot fighting the enemies of his country. Then she pleaded with him so urgently to abandon his heretical, infidel opinions, held by him with so many of his countrymen at that time, that he charged her with preferring religion to him. But time was flying, it would be dangerous for them to be discovered, and begging him again to leave the island at once, Ghita tore herself away.
But the following day the lugger was still lying in port, and Raoul again risked his fate by climbing the steep streets of Porto Ferrajo in search of Ghita. But, although his temerity and quickness of resource were amazing, he ventured too much in risking himself away from his ship at the very time when an English frigate was stealing around a headland of the isle. This frigate was one of Lord Nelson's scouts cruising to pick up exactly such predatory craft as the Wing and Wing. The authorities, too, had slept over the matter and decided to train their guns on the lugger and hold Raoul in any event as a very suspicious character. He barely succeeded in getting back to the lugger, together with his right-hand man, Ithuel Bolt. This Ithuel was a typical all-around Yankee, who had seen almost every side of life, was as quick as lightning, and yet had not reached the top of the ladder of success. Ithuel was a genuine native of the Granite State and he looked it. He was tall, lank, keen-eyed, shrewd, courageous, yet cautious, when he had no more than his rations of gin or petit vin blanc inside his skin to loosen his tongue; cold-blooded, but not without a touch of human affections. He had been a farm-hand, a carpenter, mate on a schooner, had been pressed by a British man-of-war, had deserted, and hence lived with a halter awaiting him if caught again. He hated the English with the most genuine sentiment in his nature, and when the opportunity offered shipped on the Wing and Wing, yearning to do or die fighting those "'tarnal Britishers." It reflected credit on both master and lieutenant for Ithuel to be an officer on the lugger. It may be added in conclusion that Ithuel Bolt spoke French as elegantly and correctly as Raoul spoke English.
As soon as Raoul reached the harbor he saw that he had no time to lose, for with a light breeze the frigate Proserpine, the very cruiser ordered to those waters to clean out the enemy's privateers, was now almost within gunshot of the French lugger. But as Raoul was one of that supreme class of men of action who are coolest when danger is most imminent, his fleet little clipper was under way and beating around a headland almost sooner than it takes to write it. Everything went like clockwork when he was aboard.
And now for several days followed a series of desperate moves, amazing maneuvers, stratagems, and frantic attacks with skilful evasions from capture exceedingly interesting and exciting to those initiated in seamanship, but too much of a puzzle to command the interest of landsmen. Suffice it to state that on one occasion an attempt was made on the Wing and Wing by sending a felucca toward her, apparently chased by several man-of-war boats, the purpose being to give the impression that they were pursuing the felucca instead of the lugger, which was lying off and on waiting for a turn of the wind. But Raoul saw the ruse in time and beat back the large ship's launches with severe loss. At another time, when the Wing and Wing was lying for the night inside of the entrance to the river Golo, while the frigate watched outside in deep water for her to come out, a fire-ship was floated down to her with the utmost subtlety. But once more Raoul, by his alertness and skill, discerned and evaded the fire-ship in time to save the lugger from being blown up.
But Raoul found at last that too long-continued success may make one over-bold, to his ruin. When it was noised abroad that Admiral Caraccioli, of the Neapolitan navy, was to be hanged at the yard-arm of a ship of war for treason, Raoul surmised that Ghita would be one of the vast throng gathered in boats to see this grim execution, the greatest blot on the fame of that great seaman, Lord Nelson, to which he was influenced by the notorious Lady Hamilton. Ghita was reputed to be the granddaughter of the doomed Caraccioli, whose tragedy aroused amazement and indignation throughout Italy and Europe. Raoul longed to see and talk with Ghita again, although she persisted in rejecting marriage because of his irreligion. He perceived that an opportunity to see her seemed to offer itself on this occasion. Leaving his lugger outside of the bay on the south to wait for him after dark at a designated point, he disguised himself quite effectually, as did also his faithful Ithuel, who was a help indeed in any arduous enterprise.
As Raoul surmised, he did, in fact, meet Ghita. She had been admitted to bid farewell to her grandfather, whose natural son was her father. After receiving his blessing she, escorted by her uncle, took the first boat that offered its services as she left the ship. Although the boatman wore the picturesque garb of a Neapolitan boatman, Ghita's searching eye recognized him at once, and she chided him for so openly risking his life for the sake of a hopeless attachment. As soon as the , tragic scene was over, they headed toward Sorrento to pick up Ithuel, waiting for them in the lugger's boat. It was Raoul's purpose to drop Ghita and her companion at a spot convenient for a landing near her home, and then he and Ithuel would look up the Wing and Wing.
Darkness was now coming on. But not before they met the watchful Yankee. Raoul's skiff was then left on the beach where Raoul had found it, and the four in the yawl headed down the bay to land Ghita. But they were soon aware that a large vessel, evidently a ship of war, was following in their wake, driving before a fresh breeze. Raoul recognized it as his old antagonist the frigate Proserpine. There was nothing immediately alarming in this incident. It was a little startling, however, to be hailed from the frigate with an offer to take the boat in tow so long as they were both going the same way. Ghita instinctively opposed this, and was still more strenuous when it was suggested by the officer of the deck, of course as a kindly act, that they should come on board the frigate, where they would be more comfortable than in the boat. But Raoul was so fearless, and so confident that his own and Ithuel's disguise would be entirely sufficient to disarm suspicion, that he readily accepted the invitation. They were soon questioned as to their knowledge of the movements of the lugger, while Ghita and her uncle were sent below for more comfortable accommodations. So far all was well. But such was Raoul's over-confidence that he showed little reticence as to the lugger. This naturally aroused suspicion. It did not take long for one or two, who had had a previous glimpse of Raoul, to recognize him even under his disguise. Ithuel's singular disguise was then pulled off, and he stood forth as a full-fledged Yankee and a deserter from an English ship. Ghita was summoned to identify Raoul. Not fully appreciating the possibilities, and over-conscientious as a pious devotee, she swore to his identity, and to her horror found too late that she had probably sworn away the life of her lover.
Raoul and Ithuel were then placed under arrest, the one as a spy, the other as a deserter, and were brought before a court-martial the following day. It was conceded by the best judgment of the court that there was great palliation for Ithuel, as he was an American and had been impressed. Hence he was released on condition that he renew his service in the British navy. But although Raoul had been invited on board and did not ask it himself, which practically nullified the charge of being a spy, one or two of the court, on the ground of his disguise, were so urgent for his conviction that he was finally condemned to die on the following day. But Captain Cuff, of the frigate, and others of the court were so doubtful of the justice of the sentence that urgent appeal was made, when the sentence was sent for approval to Lord Nelson, that a respite be at least allowed. The impression made by the unjust fate of Admiral Caraccioli now had its effect. Three minutes before time was up for the execution three guns were heard, the signal for a favorable reply, and to the great relief of the crew and most of the officers Raoul was returned to prison quarters below, with another chance of life. Two Italians, substantial citizens of Elba, who were great palaverers and happened to be on board the frigate, were permitted to see Raoul in his cell during the evening, and engaged in a lively metaphysical conversation, to which Raoul added a word now and then out of politeness. Suddenly to him, seated near the open port of his cell, came the whispering voice of Ithuel Bolt, who was in the main channels. Raoul's yawl, he was softly told, was about to go ashore with Ghita and her uncle, who was expected to do the rowing, the weather being fine. The boat would slip under the port in five minutes, and a rope was attached to the main chains by which Raoul could lower him-self into the boat at the word and at the instant when the Italians were most loudly vociferating, they having in the mean time changed their position, absorbed in talk.
All happened as planned, and the boat with its precious freight was several hundred yards away from the ship, when, at the change of the watch, Raoul's escape was discovered. It took but a few moments for five large boats to get away in hot pursuit. Fortunately the wind was low, the night dark, and the oars of the yawl muffled. But, naturally, it required the utmost skill of Raoul and Ithuel to evade the eager pursuers. When all seemed lost the boat darted into a concealed cave, unknown to the enemy, and there lay hidden until the pursuit was ended in that direction. A few hours later Raoul again stepped foot on the deck of his own Wing and Wing.
But shortly after, running down the southern side of the bay and keeping too near the shore, the Wing and Wing ran on a dangerous reef and her career was stopped for the time. Raoul at once set about floating her, at the same time landing his guns and forming a battery among the rocks. It was not long before the lugger's predicament was discovered, and a number of British boats was sent in to capture lugger and crew. The fight was tremendous. The assailants lost heavily. At last Raoul Yverne was mortally wounded, and this practically ended the battle. Ghita remained with her lover to the last, soothing his pain and exhorting him to die in the faith, not with entire success.
In the mean time Ithuel Bolt got out of the way and returned to America, while some of the French survivors managed to get away with the lugger, and made for the open sea. She was too light in ballast, however. A fleet of ships were sent in pursuit and were closing in about her, when a sudden severe squall swept over the sea. When it passed over it was found that the Wing and Wing had gone down with all on board.