( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The pictures of town and country, and of social customs, in Miles Wallingford were drawn from the author's personal experiences and memories of his boyhood. One of the most flagrant political evils of that date was the outrageous wrongs inflicted by the English pressgangs. This, and the gross injustice of England and France toward American ships, furnished Cooper with his theme. All the details of the last cruise of the Dawn are historical.
WHEN Miles Wallingford and Andrew Drewett were rescued from drowning by Neb Clawbonny, and dragged aboard the Wallingford, Drewett's mother and sisters came over from the other sloop, and insisted on remaining, which pre-vented Miles from seeing as much as he would have liked of Lucy Hardinge. As the Walling-ford sailed on up the river, Moses Marble in-formed Miles that Mrs. Drewett had given him to understand that Andrew had been actuated by love for Lucy to "play rope-dancer on the main-boom"; that the betrothal of the two was as good as settled; and that she already regarded Lucy as her third daughter. Miles resigned himself to what he assumed to be reasonable and natural, and refrained from the expression of his own love. Soon very serious matters engrossed his attention. When they had come in sight of Albany, and all the passengers, including Lucy and his invalid sister Grace, were on deck, a sloop ahead passed so near that Grace could not avoid seeing the Mertons and Rupert Hardinge on the quarter-deck; and Emily Merton and Rupert called over to Lucy. Grace withdrew, half-fainting, to the cabin. Miles's intention had been to land, but he was asked by Lucy to put the Drewetts and the doctor ashore, and return down the river, instead of going to Ballston Springs, whither the other party were bound.
Presently the sloop was brought to a stop by a dead calm, and Miles and Marble rowed ashore, landing at a gravelly cove, near a neat, comfortable stone cottage. So attractive was everything about it and the site that Miles suggested to Marble to purchase it for the "hermitage" he often talked about. With a view to negotiations, they decided to ask the occupants for a drink of milk. The healthy-looking woman, nearly seventy years of age, who received them thought they had been sent by a neighbor, Mr. Van Tassel, to inquire about the money due on a mortgage. Eventually she became confidential and told them her story. Her father, of Dutch descent, hated the New Englanders of English descent. But she fell in love with George Wetmore, the New England schoolmaster employed to teach the Dutch children of the neighborhood English, and secretly married him, after her father had refused his consent. Her first child, a boy, was born (unknown to her parents) at the house of a kinswoman, and entrusted by her husband to a woman who had lost her own babe. A few weeks later she was informed that her child was dead; and her grief betrayed her secret to her parents, who forgave her and took her husband to their home. Thirty years later, the woman to whom the child had been entrusted confessed the truth on her death-bed: she had left the baby in a basket on a tombstone in a marble-worker's yard in the town. The baby had been taken to the almshouse, where it received the name of Stone.
The unhappy parents found the record of a Stone, and learned that he was now a soldier in an infantry regiment which had gone to England after the Revolutionary War. Wetmore mortgaged his farm to obtain money to find his child; but Stone knew his parents, one of whom had died in the alms-house. Van Tassel, who wanted the farm, allowed the interest to accumulate until it amounted to nearly a thousand dollars. But just before his death, Wetmore succeeded in selling a portion of his land and paying the debt. He showed his wife the receipt, the money having been paid at the county town, where the mortgage and bond could not then be produced. A year later, when the widow was advised to demand the bond and have the mortgage taken from the record, she could not find the receipt, and allowed the fact to leak out. Then Van Tassel demanded proof of payment; and in default thereof the farm was now advertised to be sold at auction in three weeks. Miles told the sorrowful woman that Marble was her son—there could be no doubt of that—and Marble promptly under-took to deal with Van Tassel. After he and Miles had had an interview with the man, Marble went to New York by stage to procure the money in time to prevent the sale; if the receipt were found later on, Van Tassel would have to refund the sum.
Prompted by the sight of Rupert with Emily Merton, Grace had had a conversation with Lucy which the latter repeated to Miles, on his return from Van Tassel's. Lucy strongly condemned her brother's conduct. He had been distinctly engaged to Grace from the time the latter was fifteen, and had now deserted her for Emily Merton, under the impression that Emily was wealthy and of social position in England. He was mercenary and not always truthful, Lucy said. Grace had offered to release him, but he had tried to place the blame on her; and had finally said that he could not afford to marry, since Mrs. Bradfort had left Lucy the whole of her property: yet he tried to make the world believe that he was the sole Bradfort heir. It was decided to sail down to New York for further medical advice; but Grace begged to be taken home to Clawbonny. This was done, and she soon died of a broken heart. As she was not of age, she could not make a will; but she begged Miles to give Rupert the twenty thousand dollars which would remain of her property after deducting a few gifts. Rupert showed little hesitation about accepting the money when, after the funeral, Miles, controlling his feelings towards his former friend, offered him a draft on the spot.
One of the persons who unexpectedly appeared at the funeral was John Wallingford, the bachelor cousin of Miles's father, who had prospered in the western part of the State. Grace had asked Miles, the last time he went to sea, to leave Clawbonny to John Wallingford instead of to her, as a Walling-ford ought to own the place, though there were nearer relatives of other names. John Wallingford was blunt, but made a good impression on Miles. Accordingly, when the latter declared that he expected to remain a bachelor (assuming that Lucy was betrothed to Drewett), John proposed that the fate of Clawbonny should be made sure by Miles leaving it to him, by will, in default of direct heirs. This Miles readily promised to do, as soon as he should reach New York; and he made an appointment to meet John there shortly. The will was duly made, and John, in turn, bequeathed all his property to Miles, Miles's will remaining in the possession of John. Then, finding that Miles had lost the freight for his ship, on account of his recent troubles, John offered to advance him forty thousand dollars to purchase a cargo, the security to be a mortgage on Clawbonny, and Miles accepted the offer. Marble took charge, having paid off Van Tassel and shown the sights of New York to his mother and to his niece Kitty, the only surviving relative, in part of which sightseeing Miles took part. Before he sailed Miles received a letter from Lucy which showed her affection, and one from John Wallingford which rendered him somewhat uneasy; his relative showed an alarming amount of anxiety about Clawbonny, it seemed, though he informed Miles that he had left many important documents in the hands of his lawyer, a fact which proved of importance later on.
Miles's destination was Hamburg. But before the pilot went over the side of the ship he pointed out a distant sail, and warned Miles to give that vessel as wide a berth as possible. It was the English ship Leander, he said, which had been lying about for a week, with results that appeared to mean trouble for American ships. Some had been seen to steer northeast toward Halifax, after she had boarded them; and Miles might find himself ordered thither or to Bermuda, on account of his cargo (grown in the West Indies) and of his men. Impressment at sea, and out of neutral vessels, had been revived with the renewal of the war; and all American ships felt the expediency of avoiding cruisers that might deprive them of their men. It was the practise to put the mariner on the defensive, and to assume that every man was an Englishman who could not prove, a thousand miles from land, perhaps, that he was an American; so that English navy officers exercised a jurisdiction over foreigners and under a foreign flag that would not have been tolerated in the Lord High Chancellor himself in the streets of London. Naturally injustice and abuses were numerous, often flagrant.
Before long the Leander sighted tho Dawn, Wallingford's ship, and began the chase. The Dawn was a very fast vessel, but after an anxious interval it managed to escape only by passing through a dangerous channel known to Marble, at the end of Long Island. On the thirty-sixth day out they sighted an English frigate, but hoped they had escaped her notice in the thick weather. After a desperate attempt to escape, Miles decided that he would trust to the goodness of his cause, and allow himself to be boarded. He was forced to show his papers; and despite the fact that the cargo of sugar, coffee, and cochineal came partly from French, partly from English colonies in the West Indies, the captain of the frigate Speedy ordered the Dawn sent to Plymouth, under the pretext that Bonaparte was getting too much influence on the Continent, and was suspected of being popular in Hamburg.
In vain did Miles urge that his cargo (which, like the vessel, was his own property) was from the last year's crops, and did not come under the rule which had arisen since, which would make them grown by enemies to England. The English claimed several Americans and other non-British subjects as Englishmen, took all the crew aboard the Speedy except Miles, Marble, Neb, and the cook, and put a prize crew aboard. Miles anxiously reflected that the impending delay of at least two months might put payment of his note to John Wallingford at maturity out of the question, and unfavorably affect the mortgage on Clawbonny. He resolved to recover the ship at the first opportunity, and arranged matters with that view, so that he and Marble could confer without arousing suspicion. By a ruse, Marble soon got the Englishmen (with three exceptions), into the ship's boat, to rescue a fictitious man overboard. Then they furnished the rescuers with food and water, and undertook to tow them for a while, before leaving them to be picked up or to make their way to port. After mature deliberation Miles decided to sail for a French port, Bordeaux by preference, where he could either dispose of the cargo or ship a new crew and sail for his destination; for not only was the danger of en-countering many English vessels in the Channel very great, but they could hardly hope to work the vessel long with only four hands. The next day, sighting an English West Indiaman, Miles cut the boat loose; its crew were taken aboard the vessel, and after being carried to Barbados were landed in England (as he learned) six months later. The Dawn easily escaped from this vessel, and Miles was overjoyed when he soon after sighted a French lugger, as he confidently expected succor from such a source. To his astonishment, however, the Captain of the Polisson announced that the Dawn was a lawful prize, as it had been prisoner to the English; and, America being neutral, they could not capture themselves again from the English! There was nothing to be done; Miles reflected that the American Minister would protect him, once he reached port. At any rate, they could hardly hope to get rid of the prize crew of seventeen which was put aboard as easily as they had of the English prize crew, especially as Miles had in-cautiously told the Captain of the Polisson exactly how that had been managed. When they were within three leagues of land an English frigate appeared, and the Frenchmen were evidently much alarmed at the prospect of winding up on an English prison-ship. A race ensued. When the English ship was almost within gunshot, a French fishing-boat came alongside, and the French commander consulted the crew as to the possibility of sending the Dawn through some of the narrow passages between the rocky islands which lay before them. Miles succeeded in persuading the Frenchmen to investigate for themselves in the fishing boat, and so rid himself of all except three Frenchmen. Then, by risking destruction on hidden rocks in the narrow channels, he contrived to elude the pursuit both of the English and the French. The next day the Polisson appeared again, pursued by two English ships of war, and with-two French warships hovering near; but the Captain found time to board the Dawn and ask an explanation, which Miles gave him, candidly but briefly, as the English corvette was drawing near, and the Polisson was in danger. One of the English ships proved to be the Speedy, but she had no time to inquire why the Dawn was not in Plymouth harbor, though she recognized her. Soon there was a terrific battle between the Speedy and the Black Prince on the one hand, and the French ships La Desiree and Le Geri on the other. Miles lay to, out of range of the guns, and watched the battle, which the English won, chiefly because of their superiority in repairing damages between the shocks of the engagement. In the excitement after the battle, the Dawn's men escaped from the Speedy in a boat and were pursued. The Dawn even managed to throw them a rope, but when the rope parted was obliged to abandon them.
Miles decided to make for Hamburg by way of the Irish channel and round the north of Scotland, where fewer English cruisers were to be feared. Though chased by a vessel set on them by the Scilly pilot, who was suspicious, the Dawn escaped and made fair headway until near Liverpool, when Miles decided that he must anchor on the Irish coast, or be blown out into the Atlantic by the strong wind. The anchorage which he made, under the guidance of ignorant Irish fishermen, was not sufficiently protected; and as the storm increased in violence, the cables broke, and the ship was driven before the gale into the Atlantic, in the midst of a terrible storm. Neb and the cook were washed overboard, leaving only Miles and Marble on board. The wreckage of the masts, yards, and sails threatened to beat in the side of the ship, and needed to be cleared away. When the weather became somewhat quieter, Marble under-took the task of cutting it adrift from the ship, which he succeeded in doing, but was himself carried off with it.
Thus left alone on the ship, Miles had no further thought of saving it. He watched Marble on the wreckage as long as it was in sight. Then he tried to run the ship in the direction it had taken, in the effort to effect a rescue. But the water in the hold increased rapidly, and it was evident the Dawn would soon sink. At sunset, he mentally bade farewell to Lucy and all the Clawbonny friends, and was taking what he thought was his last look on the ocean, when, about a mile away, he discerned the wreck and upon it an object which he assumed to be Marble, either dead or asleep. He managed to run the ship alongside, and secure a hold on the wreck; but the object he had taken for Marble proved to be the bunt of a sail; Marble had vanished. The next morning he constructed a raft from the wreckage and some extra spars, provisioned it, put his chest of money, clothing, and valuables aboard, and shoved off at sun-set, the ocean being then very calm. In the morning the Dawn had disappeared; it had quietly sunk. Twenty-four hours later, in his troubled sleep, he thought he heard Marble and Neb conversing, saying affectionately things about him, the family, and Lucy Hardinge. When he awoke, at dawn, he saw a boat ten yards from him—the boat in which Neb had been washed overboard; and it now had masts and sails which it had not had at the catastrophe. In the launch, also, was Marble. Neb had managed to keep the launch afloat, and steering back to help the Dawn, if possible, had rescued Marble from the wreckage, half drowned; and the two had then continued their search for the ship, and had approached the raft in the darkness. As the boat had water and provisions on board, they were in good condition. An English frigate, the Briton, after nearly running them down, took them on board, where the captain treated them handsomely, and promised to put them on the first vessel which offered, as he was bound on a three months' cruise.
After a time covering more than two months, in which they met no vessel bound in the right direction, the Briton started for Plymouth to get water, and presently encountered a fine French ship, with which she had a severe battle. Miles, Neb, and Marble were supposed to keep below, but involuntarily joined in the service, Neb at the sails, Marble fighting one of the guns, and Miles helping the wounded. But when the Captain was killed, and his commanding officer (who disliked the Americans) succeeded him, all three were less well treated. Moreover, when the victorious Briton encountered the Speedy on her way to port, and the Captain of the latter came aboard to report to his superior officer, and found that he himself was now the senior captain, he demanded a severe accounting from Miles, who was accused of having murdered the prize crew from the Speedy; and the Briton's commander claimed Marble and Neb, on the grounds of their service during the recent engagement. They were all transferred to the Speedy; Miles was put in irons (loose enough for him to slip off easily), and placed under the guard of a sentinel. He remained thus, otherwise well treated, for five months, until April, 1804, never exchanging a syllable during that time with either Marble or Neb. At last they went into port, carrying with them a French prize, and Marble and Neb having volunteered for the duty, they were sent aboard the latter as members of the prize crew. The purser of the Speedy informed Miles that they had not joined the British navy, but had been put aboard the prize lest, if the Speedy were to meet a French cruiser in the channel, Marble and Neb might refuse to fight. They had done duty for the sake of their health, they said themselves. Just as the Speedy came to, at sunset, in Plymouth Sound, with her prize not far away, Miles heard the Captain say that the "prisoner" must be moved to some other place on the morrow, as it was not safe to trust him at a port-hole so near the land. Just then he heard a boat come along-side, bringing the prize-master of the French ship; and looking from his port, he saw that Marble and Neb were in it. At a signal from Miles they remained in the boat, while the other two men followed their officer aboard the frigate for a chat with their mates. Just then the officer of the deck ordered Marble and Neb to drop astern, and make room for the Captain's gig. Miles slipped off his irons, squeezed between the gun and the side of the port, and hung over the water, suspended by his hands. Marble caught him by the legs as they passed beneath, dragged him into the cutter, and whispered to him to lie down in the bottom. No one had seen him, and as soon as the Captain had departed in his gig, Neb disentangled his boat-hook from the rudder-chains, and the cutter was swept away from the frigate by a powerful tide, aided by a stiff breeze. None of the three had a penny, a morsel of food, or an article of clothing save what they wore. But they put boldly to sea, steering northeast, and after barely escaping an English frigate were picked up by an American vessel bound for Amsterdam. Quitting this ship off the coast of Holland, they went to Ham-burg, where Miles expected to find letters; but there were none, and they had no money. So they shipped on a Philadelphia vessel to work their way home, Miles as second mate, Marble and Neb as sailors. Soon Miles's pride (which suffered from his descent in the social scale) was flattered by being promoted to be first mate, and Marble took his place as second mate.
It was not until September that they reached Philadelphia. When they were paid off, they had one hundred and thirty-two dollars between them, with which sum they went to New York.
Immediately after reaching that city, Miles met a man who had been the miller at Clawbonny from his infancy to the day he had left home, and learned that the mortgage had been fore-closed and the property sold to a man named Daggett, a relative of John Wallingford on the mother's side. John Wallingford had visited the place two months previously, directly after Miles's fate had seemed certain, had spoken kindly to all, and it was understood that the Wallingford rule was to continue. He had not appeared later, although it was generally understood that he had a right to all Miles's belongings by will. Daggett gave no information. Lucy Hardinge had purchased the cattle and personal property, and removed all to a neighboring farm. Rupert Hardinge was married to Emily Merton, and now occupied one of the best houses in New York. Lucy herself (to Miles's surprise) was not married to Andrew Drewett. As Wallingford, in his sailor's garb, was strolling along the street with Miles, Rupert addressed the latter, not recognizing Miles until Marble called his attention; he apologized for not inviting him into the house, because his wife was too refined to endure such clothing, and patronizingly promised to bear him in mind if he heard of a job. The next morning, as Miles was about to consult a lawyer concerning the insurance on his ship and cargo, he was arrested, Daggett, who had bought Clawbonny, claiming that sixty thousand dollars were owing him, as administrator of the estate of the late John Wallingford. The latter, it appeared, had been dead for eight months. Daggett was determined to get hold of all Miles's personal estate, by fair means or foul.
Miles was put in the debtors' prison, and received a letter from Rupert containing the munificent gift of twenty dollars—in return for the estate of twenty thousand dollars which he had relinquished to the mercenary young man at Grace's death. To the prison came Lucy and her father, and the latter under-took to arrange for bail and to consult John Wallingford's lawyer. Not only was Miles promptly bailed out but he found that John Wallingford's will, in the lawyer's possession, made him the heir to the entire estate, valued at as much as two hundred thousand dollars over and above the Clawbonny property. Andrew Drewett, coming to the prison to offer his services as to the bail, performed a greater service by assuring Miles that Lucy Hardinge had definitely refused him, and that he believed she would never marry, from what she had said immediately after Miles's death had been reported. Miles went straight to Lucy's house, and it did not take long for them to understand each other. Her father gladly welcomed Miles as his future son; and, Mr. Daggett having owned himself completely routed, there was no further obstacle to the wedding except the business connected with accepting the inheritance. Marble wrote Miles that the missing receipt had been found, and Van Tassel had been made to disgorge; so that account was settled, except for the thrashing which Marble proposed to administer to the old usurer some day.
At last the wedding took place. Lucy, who had a suspicion that her brother was living beyond his means (her father thought Rupert gambled, and Rupert gave people to understand that his wife had brought him money to add to the Bradfort inheritance), now learned the truth from Miles. She had intended to share the Bradfort inheritance with him; but finding how untrustworthy and extravagant he was, she decided to assign him an income of two thousand a year and lend him the Bradfort house in Westchester for a home, as Grace's money must surely come to an end soon. She loved Clawbonny too well to abandon it for that more commodious and elegant house. Accordingly she and Miles settled at Clawbonny, where they lived in patriarchal fashion, surrounded by the servants, slaves, and the neighbors who were deeply attached to them. Mr. Hardinge was never told of Rupert's character or behavior.