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But since we ofttimes ask in vain,
And fairest hopes are sometimes blighted :
Still his best vow is only plighted
With flame at human altar lighted:
Who in our good is aye delighted,
For succor in each trying hour. Millvale, (N. Y.,) June 20, 1836.
THE ESCAPE: A TALE OF THE SEA.
BY THE AUTHOR OF 'JACK MARLINSPIKE'S YARN.'
'List ye landsmen all to me!' The morning broke hazily upon the Atlantic, with a fresh breeze from the eastward, attended by frequent squalls of light rain. The sea had assumed that dead lead-color which always attests the absence of the sun; and a dark curtain of clouds, that were slowly heaving up to windward, threatened an interval of heavier weather before the close of the day. About an hundred miles from that part of the coast of South America situated between the Brazil shoals and Cape Frio, a large and beautiful ship was dashing along under a press of canvass. She had the wind abeam, and every thing that the weather would allow was packed on alow and aloft. On her quarter-deck a group, consisting of the passengers and officers of the ship, had collected to observe a strange sail, which, since daylight, had been discovered two or three points forward of the beam.
Give me the glass,' said a stout, good-looking middle-aged man, whose countenance betrayed, or more properly indicated, a fondness for glasses, and whose authoritative tone at once christened him skipper. Taking the proffered instrument, he adjusted it at the proper focus, and commenced studying the stranger, whose hull, by the aid of the telescope, was but just visible, as she rose upon the crests of the waves.
• He's edging away for us,' muttered Captain Bangem; just got a pull of his weather braces; devilish suspicious-looking craft, too. A guineaman, from the coast, perhaps, said Skysail
. • The fellow thinks it's getting too black to windward for all his duck,' resumed the captain ; "he's reefing his foretopsail, and we must follow suit.'
* Passing the glass to a sailor at his elbow, he took up the trumpet, and looking at the mouth-piece for a moment, applied it to his lips, and gave the order to take in the studding-sails, royals, and flying-jib. When this movement had been executed, Bangem again thundered forth:
• Mant he top-gallant clew-lines clear away the sheets — clew upman the topsail reef-tackles and buntlines - clear
the bowlines; round in the braces — settle away the halliards -clew down, haul out the reef-tackles, and up the buntlines trice up the booms — lay out, and take in the second reef!'
The ever-ready seamen sprang upon the yards, and extending themselves along either extremity, caught up and secured to the spar the canvass contained between the first and second reef-bands. When all three of the top-sails had been reefed, the yards were again mast-headed and trimmed, the top-gallant-sails sheeted home, and the Niagara once more freshened her speed through the water.
In the meantime, the stranger was fast coming down, and so rapidly had he overhauled the Niagara, that those on board of the latter were able to distinguish her build and rig with the naked eye. She was a long, low clipper-schooner, with spars that seemed much too taut and square for the little hull out of which they rose. Captain Bangem had been watching her for some moments with the utmost interest, when, turning to Skysail, he ordered him to hoist the ensign. Now,' said he,
we'll see what bunting the fellow wears. Ah, there it goes ! — the stars and stripes. A rolling billow of smoke rose from the bows of the schooner, and the report of a gun thundered along the breeze.
• Man the weather main-braces — clear away the bowlines — put the helm down - ease off the jib-sheet!' shouted Bangem; and in another moment the Niagara was lying to, with the main-topsail to the mast. The skipper again resumed the spy-glass; but scarcely had he raised it to his eye, when, relinquishing it to another, he seized the trumpet, and in a voice that betrayed unusual excitement, he sang out, · Haul aft the jib-sheet! - hard up, hard up!'
Hard up!' answered the man at the wheel, and the obedient ship fell rapidly off before the wind.
Lay aft to the braces !' said Bangem; 'meet her now, boy
She's got the lee helm,' was the immediate reply. "Steady as you go - steady so.'
Steady so, Sir,' responded the steersman.
The sullen report of a gun told how the stranger had received this
manuævre; and when the smoke rolled off to leeward, the American ensign was no longer at his peak. Before the Niagara had been kept away, she was running along with the wind abeam; the stranger was on her weather-bow, and heading so as to near her at each moment, and eventually cut her off; but now the former had assumed the same position with regard to the wind as the latter, and both vessels were running with the breeze sharp on the quarter. There were but few ques
tions asked on board of the Niagara : the unlooked-for deviation from her proper course, and the subsequent manœuvres of the schooner, at once told the real or suspected character of the vessel in chase; and the passengers gathered about the taffrail, regarding with a fearful silence the little object of their fears, that came down clambering and cutting the waves, like some hungry monster of the deep after its retreating pray:
Gentlemen,' said Bangem, it would be superfluous for me to tell you the character of that vessel; you all know it, and you also know what mercy to espect, if we fall into their hands. A stern chase is a long chase, and as the Niagara sails better with the wind well aft, I have given her her fastest point: we are now heading for the coast of South America, and must keep out of his clutches as long as we can. If Providence does not send us deliverance in the mean time, why, it is even better to perish on the reefs, than die by the knives of yon butchers.'
Another gun from the pirate boomed over the water, but the shot fell harmless astern of the Niagara. * Ay, blaze away, you vagabond !' muttered an old veteran, who was assisting in running out of a sternport the only gun on board; every shot you heave, is four fathoms off your log:
'If it were eight hours later, we might be able to give her the slip during the night,' said Bangem;. but if we continue to move along at this rate, we shall be high and dry on the coast of Brazil before the sun goes down.'
Still the schooner kept overhauling the ship, but his advantage was not now as perceptible as before: everything held out the prospect of a long chase; but so intently was the stranger bent on gaining her, that he sent aloft and set his light top-gallant-sail
, although the wind was blowing a perfect gale, and shortly afterward men were seen on his topsail-yard, turning out the reefs. As soon as Bangem perceived this, he gave the order to turn both reefs out of the topsails, and get the starboard fore-topmast-studding-sail ready for setting. In a few moments, an additional quantity of canvass was spread along the booms of the Niagara, and the gallant vessel rushed like some wild leviathan through the rolling sea, dashing aside its angry waters, and leaving broad streaks of boiling foam behind.
Give him a round shot, Skysail,' said Bangem; we must try and cripple him, or it's all day with us.'
Ay, ay, Sir,' muttered the tar, as he squinted along the sight, and elevated the gun for a long shot: the match was applied, and away sped the iron.'
Well done, old 'un !' shouted Skysail, as the splinters flew from the bulwarks of the pirate.
* Try it again, my hearty!' continued Bangem: 'give him a stand of grape along with it
, this time.' The schooner yawed and fired, but again its shot fell harmless alongside of the chase.
• There go his stu'n'sail booms,' said the mate, as two delicate spars glided out, as if by magic, from either extremity of his topsail-yard, while in another moment a sheet of light canvass arose and was extended on either side of his bellying topsail. The pursuer had gained considerably on the pursued during the last half hour; and Bangem, who stood watching her progress with the eye of an eagle, now got
down from the horse-block, and gave the order to set the starboard lower and all the top-gallant-stu'n'sails. The seamen exchanged glances in amazement, but it was only for a moment; and the next beheld them spread in different parts of the rigging, making preparation to heap an additional pile of canvass upon the spars of the trembling ship. Haul taut, rig out, and hoist away!' - but scarcely had the halliards been belayed, when snap! went the booms of the top-gallant and yard of the lower studding-sail. “Lower away - haul down!' shouted Bangem; 'make those sails up afresh, point the spare booms, and get them ready for setting again.'
The two vessels continued to fly rapidly toward the coast of Brazil, and the pirate still continued to gain on the chase, although he yawed and fired at an interval of every half hour. Had the Niagara hauled her wind on either tack, she would have soon becoine the prey of the schooner, as she sailed faster with the wind abeam. Bangem accordingly thought it much better to keep nearly before the breeze, as the pursuer would then have to deviate from his course to bring his guns to bear, and consequently deaden at intervals his advance, as an escape was now almost hopeless. The cutlasses and fire-arms were got up on the quarter-deck, and every preparation made by the passengers and crew of the vessel for a desperate defence. There were in all about twenty fighting men on board of the ship, and judging by the masses that blackened the schooner's deck, she must have had five times that num-. ber.
For two hours longer the chase was kept up, and at the expiration of that time, the pirate was within about three quarters of a mile. Bangem had drawn his men up, and exhorted them to stand by him like Americans in the approaching conflict, when he was interrupted by a heavy crash, and the mizzen-top-mast, top-gallant-mast, and all, went by the board.
• Axes and knives here!' shouted he, at the top of his voice: 'cut, men, cut ! ----stir yourselves, my livelies! -- the villain is coming down like a race-horse.' Instantly the lanyards and stays were severed, or carried away, the
, braces and bow-lines unrove, and the wreck floating far astern; but the speed of the Niagara was by this accident considerably lessened, and the schooner, perceiving her advantage, put down her helm, and threw a raking broadside among the rigging and spars of the unfortunate vessel. At this moment the cry of Breakers !' was heard from the forecastle, and an exclamation of horror burst from every lip— but one. There was death on every hand, and the forms that peopled the decks of the Niagara stood as mute as statues, enveloped in the silent stupor of despair.
* Where away?' asked Bangem; and the cool self-possession of that voice seemed to mock the dangers by which they were surrounded.
•Right ahead!' replied the look-out, 'and on both bows.'
True,' mused the commander, bending his eye in the given direction; 'you may hear them roar above the howling of the wind and waves, even at this distance.'
Shall I bring her by the wind, Sir ? asked the steersman. • No!' was the stern and determined reply, and another volley of iron crashed among the spars of the Niagara. So eagerly had the pirate VOL. VIJI.
pursued the chase, that the danger ahead remained to him undiscovered.
The day was unusually dark and cloudy, and the smoke, rolling to leeward, perhaps screened the reef from his view. However, he saw it not, and now came rushing down upon the crippled ship, confident in his superiority.
Ease the helm down !' said Bangem, keeping his eye steadily upon the pursuer; and now, men, do your duty! The Niagara yawed,
"' and the flying-jib-boom of the schooner burst through her bulwarks about the mizzen-chains.
• Lash him there, my lads !' shouted Bangem, in a voice that was heard above every thing beside ; • lash him there! —and if we perish, the blood-hounds shall keep us company. Hard up again!
The obedient craft once more tell off before the wind, and rushed onward toward the breakers, that roared and foamed not more than a half mile in advance, dragging in her wake the light-built schooner, like some giant spirit of death, urging an ignobler being to the shades of darkness. A howl of frenzy, that broke from the deck of the corsair, told that they had for the first time become acquainted with the peril that awaited them; and twenty dark forms sprang out upon her bowsprit, armed with axes and knives, to free themselves from the hold of the ship
* Now, my lads, give it to the blood-hounds!' shouted Bangem.
A volley was the reply, and every soul without the schooner's cutwater perished : as many more sprang to take their places, but again the fire from the Niagara's quarter-deck swept them away, like chaff before the wind of Heaven. In the meantime, both vessels were rushing madly toward the reef; they were not a hundred yards from the breakers, and both parties ceased hostilities, to gaze upon the foaming waters and iron rocks that in another moment threatened to dash them into eternity. Hope had left every bosom; the pirates no longer endeavored to separate themselves from the Niagara, but stood pale and trembling, waiting with horror to pay the last dark forfeit of their lives. Both vessels were now within the influence of the reef; the long, heavy rollers, in conjunction with the wind, were driving them rapidly upon the rocks, when the schooner's bowsprit, shrouds, bobstays, and all gave way; the liberated vessel swung round and struck, while the Niagara forged by the ledge, unscathed! The next billow dashed the pirate higher upon the reef, where she was hid from view by the roaring and foaming seas that broke over her devoted hull. The crash of her falling spars was then heard, and the shrieks and wails of the drowning wretches rose, for one moment, above the thunder of the surf; but it was only for a moment, and they were lost forever. When the Niagara passed the cluster of rocks upon which the schooner went to pieces, she was hurled along in the very centre of the principal reef, where the eddies and currents rendered her totally unmanageable. She no longer obeyed her helm, but drifted along a disabled thing, at the sport of the wind and waves, the sea roaring the while like thunder around her, and the spray breaking in dense masses over her.
There were ten minutes of appalling anxiety, during which every one expected to feel her strike against the rocks; yet for ten minutes more she continued to drift through them in safety. The centre and