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- Jack Tier or The Florida Reef - 10/93 -


"Heave ahead--what next?"

"Then I told him we went to Kamschatka for gold dust and ivory."

"Whe-e-ew! What did the man say to that?"

"Why, he smiled a bit, and a'ter that he seemed more cur'ous than ever to hear all about it. I told him my third v'y'ge was to Canton, with a cargo of broom-corn, where we took in salmon and dun-fish for home. A'ter that we went to Norway with ice, and brought back silks and money. Our next run was to the Havana, with salt and 'nips--"

"'Nips! what the devil be they?"

"Turnips, you knows, sir. We always calls 'em 'nips in cargo. At the Havana I told him we took in leather and jerked beef, and came home. Oh! he got nothin' from me, Capt. Spike, that'll ever do the brig a morsel of harm!"

"I am glad of that, Jack. You must know enough of the seas to understand that a close mouth is sometimes better for a vessel than a clean bill of health. Was there nothing said about the revenue-steamer?"

"Now you name her, sir, I believe there was--ay, ay, sir, the gentleman did say, if the steamer fetched up to the westward of the fort, that he should overhaul her without difficulty, on this flood.

"That'll do, Jack; that'll do, my honest fellow. Go below, and tell Josh to take you into the cabin again, as steward's mate. You're rather too Dutch built, in your old age, to do much aloft."

One can hardly say whether Jack received this remark as complimentary, or not. He looked a little glum, for a man may be as round as a barrel, and wish to be thought genteel and slender; but he went below, in quest of Josh, without making any reply.

The succeeding movements of Spike appeared to be much influenced by what he had just heard. He kept the brig under short canvas for near two hours, sheering about in the same place, taking care to tell everything which spoke him that he had lost a man overboard. In this way, not only the tide, but the day itself, was nearly spent. About the time the former began to lose its strength, however, the fore-course and the main-sail were got on the brigantine, with the intention of working her up toward Whitestone, where the tides meet, and near which the revenue-steamer was known to be anchored. We say near, though it was, in fact, a mile or two more to the eastward, and close to the extremity of the Point.

Notwithstanding these demonstrations of a wish to work to windward, Spike was really in no hurry. He had made up his mind to pass the steamer in the dark, if possible, and the night promised to favour him; but, in order to do this, it might be necessary not to come in sight of her at all; or, at least, not until the obscurity should in some measure conceal his rig and character. In consequence of this plan, the Swash made no great progress, even after she had got sail on her, on her old course. The wind lessened, too, after the sun went down, though it still hung to the eastward, or nearly ahead. As the tide gradually lost its force, moreover, the set to windward became less and less, until it finally disappeared altogether.

There is necessarily a short reach in this passage, where it is always slack water, so far as current is concerned. This is precisely where the tides meet, or, as has been intimated, at Whitestone, which is somewhat more than a mile to the westward of Throgmorton's Neck, near the point of which stands Fort Schuyler, one of the works recently erected for the defence of New York. Off the pitch of the point, nearly mid-channel, had the steamer anchored, a fact of which Spike had made certain, by going aloft himself, and reconnoitering her over the land, before it had got to be too dark to do so. He entertained no manner of doubt that this vessel was in waiting for him, and he well knew there was good reason for it; but he would not return and attempt the passage to sea by way of Sandy Hook. His manner of regarding the whole matter was cool and judicious. The distance to the Hook was too great to be made in such short nights ere the return of day, and he had no manner of doubt he was watched for in that direction, as well as in this. Then he was particularly unwilling to show his craft at all in front of the town, even in the night. Moreover, he had ways of his own for effecting his purposes, and this was the very spot and time to put them in execution.

While these things were floating in his mind, Mrs. Budd and her handsome niece were making preparations for passing the night, aided by Biddy Noon. The old lady was factotum, or factota, as it might be most classical to call her, though we are entirely without authorities on the subject, and was just as self-complacent and ambitious of seawomanship below decks, as she had been above board. The effect, however, gave Spike great satisfaction, since it kept her out of sight, and left him more at liberty to carry out his own plans. About nine, however, the good woman came on deck, intending to take a look at the weather, like a skilful marineress as she was, before she turned in. Not a little was she astonished at what she then and there beheld, as she whispered to Rose and Biddy, both of whom stuck close to her side, feeling the want of good pilotage, no doubt, in strange waters.

The Molly Swash was still under her canvas, though very little sufficed for her present purposes. She was directly off Whitestone, and was making easy stretches across the passage, or river, as it is called, having nothing set but her huge fore-and-aft mainsail and the jib. Under this sail she worked like a top, and Spike sometimes fancied she travelled too fast for his purposes, the night air having thickened the canvas as usual, until it "held the wind as a bottle holds water." There was nothing in this, however, to attract the particular attention of the ship-master's widow, a sail, more or less, being connected with observation much too critical for her schooling, nice as the last had been. She was surprised to find the men stripping the brig forward, and converting her into a schooner. Nor was this done in a loose and slovenly manner, under favour of the obscurity. On the contrary, it was so well executed that it might have deceived even a seaman under a noon-day sun, provided the vessel were a mile or two distant. The manner in which the metamorphosis was made was as follows: the studding-sail booms had been taken off the topsail-yard, in order to shorten it to the eye, and the yard itself was swayed up about half-mast, to give it the appearance of a schooner's fore-yard. The brig's real lower yard was lowered on the bulwarks, while her royal yard was sent down altogether, and the topgallant-mast was lowered until the heel rested on the topsail yard, all of which, in the night, gave the gear forward very much the appearance of that of a fore-topsail schooner, instead of that of a half-rigged brig, as the craft really was. As the vessel carried a try-sail on her foremast, it answered very well, in the dark, to represent a schooner's foresail. Several other little dispositions of this nature were made, about which it might weary the uninitiated to read, but which will readily suggest themselves to the mind of a sailor.

These alterations were far advanced when the females re-appeared on deck. They at once attracted their attention, and the captain's widow felt the imperative necessity, as connected with her professional character, of proving the same. She soon found Spike, who was bustling around the deck, now looking around to see that his brig was kept in the channel, now and then issuing an order to complete her disguise.

"Captain Spike, what can be the meaning of all these changes? The tamper of your vessel is so much altered that I declare I should not have known her!"

"Is it, by George! Then she is just in the state I want her to be in."

"But why have you done it--and what does it all mean?"

"Oh, Molly's going to bed for the night, and she's only undressing herself--that's all."

"Yes, Rosy dear, Captain Spike is right. I remember that my poor Mr. Budd used to talk about The Rose In Bloom having her clothes on, and her clothes off, just as if she was a born woman! But do n't you mean to navigate at all in the night, Captain Spike? Or will the brig navigate without sails?"

"That's it--she's just as good in the dark, under one sort of canvas, as under another. So, Mr. Mulford, we'll take a reef in that mainsail; it will bring it nearer to the size of our new foresail, and seem more ship-shape and Brister fashion--then I think she'll do, as the night is getting to be rather darkish."

"Captain Spike," said the boatswain, who had been set to look-out for that particular change--"the brig begins to feel the new tide, and sets to windward."

"Let her go, then--now is as good a time as another. We've got to run the gantlet, and the sooner it is done the better."

As the moment seemed propitious, not only Mulford, but all the people, heard this order with satisfaction. The night was star-light, though not very clear at that. Objects on the water, however, were more visible than those on the land, while those on the last could be seen well enough, even from the brig, though in confused and somewhat shapeless piles. When the Swash was brought close by the wind, she had just got into the last reach of the "river," or that which runs parallel with the Neck for near a mile, doubling where the Sound expands itself, gradually, to a breadth of many leagues. Still the navigation at the entrance of this end of the Sound was intricate and somewhat dangerous, rendering it indispensable for a vessel of any size to make a crooked course. The wind stood at south-east, and was very scant to lay through the reach with, while the tide was so slack as barely to possess a visible current at that place. The steamer lay directly off the Point, mid-channel, as mentioned, showing lights, to mark her position to anything which might be passing in or out. The great thing was to get by her without exciting her suspicion. As all on board, the females excepted, knew what their captain was at, the attempt was made amid an anxious and profound silence; or, if any one spoke at all, it was only to give an order in a low tone, or its answer in a simple monosyllable.

Although her aunt assured her that everything which had been done already, and which was now doing, was quite in rule, the quick-eyed and quick-witted Rose noted these unusual proceedings, and had an opinion of her own on the subject. Spike had gone forward, and posted himself on the weather-side of the forecastle, where he could get the clearest look ahead, and there he remained most of the time, leaving Mulford on the quarter-deck, to work the vessel, Perceiving this, she managed to get near the mate, without attracting her aunt's attention, and at the same time out of ear-shot.


Jack Tier or The Florida Reef - 10/93

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