Read Chapter XXXI. of The Red Rover, free online book, by James Fenimore Cooper, on ReadCentral.com.

      ­“Take him hence;
  The whole world shall not save him.” ­Cymbeline

The recent gust had not passed more fearfully and suddenly over the ship, than the scene just related.  But the smiling aspect of the tranquil sky, and bright sun of the Caribbean sea, found no parallel in the horrors that succeeded the combat.  The momentary confusion which accompanied the fall of Scipio soon disappeared, and Wilder was left to gaze on the wreck of all the boasted powers of his cruiser, and on that waste of human life, which had been the attendants of the struggle.  The former has already been sufficiently described; but a short account of the present state of the actors may serve to elucidate the events that are to follow.

Within a few yards of the place he was permitted to occupy himself, stood the motionless form of the Rover.  A second glance was necessary, however, to recognise, in the grim visage to which the boarding-cap already mentioned lent a look of artificial ferocity the usually bland countenance of the individual.  As the eye of Wilder roamed over the swelling, erect, and still triumphant figure, it was difficult not to fancy that even the stature had been suddenly and unaccountably increased.  One hand rested on the hilt of a yataghan, which, by the crimson drops that flowed along its curved blade, had evidently done fatal service in the fray; and one foot was placed, seemingly with supernatural weight, on that national emblem which it had been his pride to lower.  His eye was wandering sternly, but understandingly, over the scene, though he spoke not, nor in any other manner betrayed the deep interest he felt in the past.  At his side, and nearly within the circle of his arm stood the cowering form of the boy Roderick, unprovided with weapon, his garments sprinkled with blood, his eye contracted, wild, and fearful, and his face pallid as those in whom the tide of life had just ceased to circulate.

Here and there, were to be seen the wounded captives still sullen and unconquered in spirit, while many of their scarcely less fortunate enemies lay in their blood, around the deck, with such gleamings of ferocity on their countenances as plainly denoted that the current of their meditations was still running on vengeance.  The uninjured and the slightly wounded, of both bands, were already pursuing their different objects of plunder or of secretion.

But, so thorough was the discipline established by the leader of the freebooters, so absolute his power, that blow had not been struck, nor blood drawn, since the moment when his prohibitory mandate was heard.  There had been enough of destruction, however to have satisfied their most gluttonous longings had human life been the sole object of the assault.  Wilder felt many a pang, as the marble-like features of humble friend or faithful servitor came, one after another, under his recognition; but the shock was greatest when his eye fell upon the rigid, and still frowning, countenance of his veteran Commander.

“Captain Heidegger,” he said, struggling to maintain the fortitude which became the moment; “the fortune of the day is yours:  I ask mercy and kindness in behalf of the survivors.”

“They shall be granted to those who, of right may claim them:  I hope it may be found that all are included in this promise.”

The voice of the Rover was solemn, and full of meaning; and it appeared to convey more than the simple import of the words.  Wilder might have nursed long and vainly, however, on the equivocal manner in which he had been answered, had not the approach of a body of the hostile crew, among whom he instantly recognised the most prominent of the late mutineers of the “Dolphin,” speedily supplied a clue to the hidden meaning of their leader.

“We claim the execution of our ancient laws!” sternly commenced the foremost of the gang, addressing his chief with a brevity and an air of fierceness which the late combat might well have generated, if not excused.

“What would you have?”

“The lives of traitors” was the sullen answer.

“You know the conditions of our service.  If any such are in our power, let them meet their fate.”

Had any doubt remained in the mind of Wilder, as to the meaning of these terrible claimants of justice it would have vanished at the sullen, ominous manner with which he and his two companions were immediately dragged before the lawless chief.  Though the love of life was strong and active in his breast, it was not, even in that fearful moment, exhibited in any deprecating or unmanly form.  Not for an instant did his mind waver, or his thoughts wander to any subterfuge, that might prove unworthy of his profession or his former character.  One anxious, inquiring look was fastened on the eye of him whose power alone might save him.  He witnessed the short, severe struggle of regret that softened the rigid muscles of the Rover’s countenance, and then he saw the instant, cold, and calm composure which settled on every one of its disciplined linéaments.  He knew, at once, that the feelings of the man were smothered in the duty of the chief, and more was unnecessary to teach him the utter hopelessness of his condition.  Scorning to render his state degrading by useless remonstrances, the youth remained where his accusers had seen fit to place him ­firm, motionless, and silent.

“What would’ve have?” the Rover was at length heard to say, in a voice that even his iron nerves scarce rendered deep and full-toned as common.  ’What ask ye?”

“Their lives!”

“I understand you; go; they are at your mercy.”

Notwithstanding the horrors of the scene through which he had just passed, and that high and lofty excitement which had sustained him through the fight, the deliberate, solemn tones with which his judge delivered a sentence that he knew consigned him to a hasty and ignominious death, shook the frame of our adventurer nearly to insensibility.  The blood recoiled backward to his heart, and the sickening sensation that beset his brain threatened to up-set his reason.  But the shock passed, on the instant leaving him erect, and seemingly proud and firm as ever, and certainly with no evidence of mortal weakness that human eye could discover.

“For myself nothing is demanded,” he said, with admirable steadiness.  “I know your self-enacted laws condemn me to a miserable fate; but for these ignorant, confiding, faithful followers, I claim, nay beg, entreat, implore your mercy; they knew not what they did, and” ­

“Speak to these!” said the Rover, pointing, with an averted eye, to the fierce knot by which he was surrounded:  “These are your judges, and the sole ministers of mercy.”

Strong and nearly unconquerable disgust was apparent in the manner of the youth; but, with a mighty effort, he subdued it, and, turning to the crew, continued, ­

“Then even to these will I humble myself in petitions.  Ye are men, and ye are mariners” ­

“Away with him!” exclaimed the croaking Nightingale; “he preaches! away with him to the yard arm! away!”

The shrill, long-drawn winding of the call which the callous boatswain sounded in bitter mockery was answered by an echo from twenty voices, in which the accents of nearly as many different people mingled in hoarse discordancy, as they shouted, ­

“To the yard-arm! away with the three! away!”

Wilder cast a last glance of appeal at the Rover but he met no look, in return, from a face that was intentionally averted.  Then, with a burning brain he felt himself rudely transferred from the quarter deck into the centre and less privileged portion of the ship.  The violence of the passage, the hurried reeving of cords, and all the fearful preparations of a nautical execution, appeared but the business of a moment, to him who stood so near the verge of time.

“A yellow flag for punishment!” bawled there vengeful captain of the forecastle; “let the gentle man sail on his last cruise, under the rogue’s ensign!”

“A yellow flag! a yellow flag!” echoed twenty taunting throats.  “Down with the Rover’s ensign and up with the colours of the prévôt-marshal!  A yellow flag! a yellow flag!”

The hoarse laughter, and mocking merriment, with which this coarse device was received, stirred the ire of Fid, who had submitted in silence, so far, to the rude treatment he received, for no other reason than that he thought his superior was the best qualified to utter the little which it might be necessary to say.

“Avast, ye villains!” he hotly exclaimed, prudence and moderation losing their influence, under the excitement of scornful anger; “ye cut-throat, lubberly villains!  That ye are villains, is to be proved, in your teeth, by your getting your sailing orders from the devil; and that ye are lubbers, any man may see by the fashion in which ye have rove this cord about my throat.  A fine jam will ye make with a turn in your whip!  But ye’ll all come to know how a man is to be decently hanged, ye rogues, ye will.  Ye’ll all come honestly by the knowledge, in your day, ye will!”

“Clear the turn, and run him up!” shouted one, two, three voices, in rapid succession; “a clear whip, and a swift run to heaven!”

Happily a fresh burst of riotous clamour, from one of the hatchways, interrupted the intention; and then was heard the cry of, –­

“A priest! a priest!  Pipe the rogues to prayers, before they take their dance on nothing!”

The ferocious laughter with which the freebooters received this sneering proposal, was hushed as suddenly as though One answered to their mockery, from that mercy-seat whose power they so sacrilegiously braved, when a deep, menacing voice was heard in their midst, saying, ­

“By heaven, if touch, or look, be laid too boldly on a prisoner in this ship, he who offends had better beg the fate ye give these miserable men, than meet my anger.  Stand off, I bid you, and let the chaplain approach!”

Every bold hand was instantly withdrawn, and each profane lip was closed in trembling silence, giving the terrified and horror-stricken subject of their liberties room and opportunity to advance to the scene of punishment.

“See,” said the Rover, in calmer but still deeply authoritative tones; “you are a minister of God, and your office is sacred charity:  If you have aught to smooth the dying moment to fellow mortal, haste to impart it!”

“In what have these offended?” demanded the divine, when power was given to speak.

“No matter; it is enough that their hour is near.  If you would lift your voice in prayer, fear nothing.  The unusual sounds shall be welcome even here.  Ay, and these miscreants, who so boldly surround you, shall kneel, and be mute, as beings whose souls are touched by the holy rite.  Scoffers shall be dumb, and unbelievers respectful, at my beck. ­Speak freely!”

“Scourge of the seas!” commenced the chaplain, across whose pallid features a flash of holy excitement had cast its glow, “remorseless violator of the laws of man! audacious contemner of the mandates of your God! a fearful retribution shall avenge this crime.  Is it not enough that you have this day consigned so many to a sudden end, but your vengeance must be glutted with more blood?  Beware the hour when these things shall be visited, in almighty power on your own devoted head!”

“Look!” said the Rover, smiling, but with an expression that was haggard, in spite of the unnatural exultation that struggled about his quivering lip, “here are the evidences of the manner in which Heaven protects the right!”

“Though its awful justice be hidden in inscrutable wisdom for a time, deceive not thyself; the hour is at hand when it shall be seen and felt in majesty!”

The voice of the chaplain became suddenly choaked, for his wandering eye had fallen on the frowning countenance of Bignall, which, set in death, lay but half concealed beneath that flag which the Rover himself had cast upon the body.  Then, summoning his energies, he continued, in the clear and admonitory strain that befitted his sacred calling:  “They tell me you are but half lost to feeling for your kind; and, though the seeds of better principles, of better days, are smothered in your heart, that they still exist and might be quickened into goodly”

“Peace!  You speak in vain.  To your duty with these men, or be silent.”

“Is their doom sealed?”

“It is.”

“Who says it?” demanded a low voice at the elbow of the Rover, which, coming upon his ear at that moment, thrilled upon his most latent nerve, chasing the blood from his cheek to the secret recesses of his frame.  But the weakness had already passed away with the surprise, as he calmly, and almost instantly answered, ­

“The law.”

“The law!” repeated the governess.  “Can they who set all order at defiance, who despise each human regulation, talk of law!  Say, it is heartless, vindictive vengeance, if you will; but call it not by the sacred name of law. ­I wander from my object!  They have told me of this frightful scene, and I am come to offer ransom for the offenders.  Name your price, and let it be worthy of the subject we redeem; a grateful parent shall freely give it all for the preserver of his child.”

“If gold will purchase the lives you wish,” the other interrupted, with the swiftness of thought, “it is here in hoards, and ready on the moment.  What say my people!  Will they take ransom?”

A short, brooding pause succeeded; and then a low, ominous murmur was raised in the throng, announcing their reluctance to dispense with vengeance.  A scornful glance shot from the glowing eye of the Rover, across the fierce countenances by which he was environed; his lips moved with vehemence; but, as if he disdained further intercession, nothing was uttered for the ear.  Turning to the divine, he added, with all the former composure of his wonderful manner, ­

“Forget not your sacred office ­time is leaving us.”  He was then moving slowly aside, in imitation of the governess, who had already veiled her features from the revolting scene, when Wilder addressed him.

“For the service you would have done me, from my soul I thank you,” he said.  “If you would know that I leave you in peace, give yet one solemn assurance before I die.”

“To what?”

“Promise, that they who came with me into your ship shall leave it unharmed, and speedily.”

“Promise, Walter,” said a solemn, smothered voice, in the throng.

“I do.”

“I ask no more. ­Now, Reverend Minister of God, perform thy holy office, near my companions.  Then ignorance may profit by your service.  If I quit this bright and glorious scene, without thought and gratitude to that Being who, I humbly trust, has made me an heritor of still greater things, I offend wittingly and without hope.  But these may find consolation in your prayers.”

Amid an awful and breathing silence, the chaplain approached the devoted companions of Wilder.  Their comparative insignificance had left them unobserved during most of the foregoing scene; and material changes had occurred, unheeded, in their situation.  Fid was seated on the deck, his collar unbuttoned, his neck encircled with the fatal cord, sustaining the head of the nearly helpless black, which he had placed, with singular tenderness and care, in his lap.

“This man, at least, will disappoint the malice of his enemies,” said the divine, taking the hard hand of the negro into his own; “the termination of his wrongs and his degradation approaches; he will soon be far beyond the reach of human injustice. ­Friend, by what name is your companion known?”

“It is little matter how you hail a dying man,” returned Richard, with at melancholy shake of the head.  “He has commonly been entered on the ship’s books as Scipio Africa, coming, as he did, from the coast of Guinea; but, if you call him S’ip, he will not be slow to understand.”

“Has he known baptism?  Is he a Christian?”

“If he be not, I don’t know who the devil is!” responded Richard, with an asperity that might be deemed a little unseasonable.  “A man who serves his country, is true to his messmate, and has no skulk about him, I call a saint, so far as mere religion goes.  I say, Guinea, my hearty, give the chaplain a gripe of the fist, if you call yourself a Christian.  A Spanish windlass wouldn’t give a stronger screw than the knuckles of that nigger an hour ago; and, now, you see to what a giant may be brought.”

“His latter moment is indeed near.  Shall I offer a prayer for the health of the departing spirit?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know!” answered Fid, gulping his words, and uttering a hem, that was still deep and powerful, as in the brightest and happiest of his days.  “When there is so little time given to a poor fellow to speak his mind in, it may be well to let him have a chance to do most of the talking.  Something may come uppermost which he would like to send to his friends in Africa; in which case, we may as well be looking out for a proper messenger.  Hah! what is it, boy?  You see he is already trying to rowse something up out of his ideas.”

“Misser Fid ­he’m take a collar,” said the black, struggling for utterance.

“Ay, ay,” returned Richard, again clearing his throat, and looking to the right and left fiercely, as if he were seeking some object on which to wreak his vengeance.  “Ay, ay, Guinea; put your mind at ease on that point, and for that matter on all others.  You shall have a grave as deep as the sea, and Christian burial, boy, if this here parson will stand by his work.  Any small message you may have for your friends shall be logg’d, and put in the way of coming to their ears.  You have had much foul weather in your time, Guinea, and some squalls have whistled about your head, that might have been spaced, mayhap, had your colour been a shade or two lighter.  For that matter, it may be that I have rode you down a little too close myself, boy, when over-heated with the conceit of skin; for all which may the Lord forgive me as freely as I hope you will do the same thing!”

The negro made a fruitless effort to rise, endeavouring to grasp the hand of the other, saying, as he did so, ­

“Misser Fid beg a pardon of a black man!  Masser aloft forget he’m all, misser Richard; he t’ink ’em no more.”

“It will be what I call a d ­’d generous thing, if he does,” returned Richard, whose sorrow and whose conscience had stirred up his uncouth feelings to an extraordinary degree.  “There’s the affair of slipping off the wreck of the smuggler has never been properly settled atween us, neither; and many other small services of like nature, for which, d’ye see, I’ll just thank you, while there is opportunity; for no one can say whether we shall ever be borne again on the same ship’s books.”

A feeble sign from his companion caused the topman to pause, while he endeavoured to construe its meaning as well as he was able.  With a facility, that was in some degree owing to the character of the individual his construction of the other’s meaning was favourable to himself, as was quite evident by the manner in which he resumed, ­

“Well, well, mayhap we may.  I suppose they birth the people there in some such order as is done here below, in which case we may be put within hailing distance, after all.  Our sailing orders are both signed; though, as you seem likely to slip your cable before these thieves are ready to run me up, you will be getting the best of the wind.  I shall not say much concerning any signals it may be necessary to make, in order to make one another out aloft taking it for granted that you will not overlook master Harry, on account of the small advantage you may have in being the first to shove off, intending myself to keep as close as possible in his wake, which will give me the twofold advantage of knowing I am on the right tack, and of falling in with you” ­

“These are evil words, and fatal alike to your own future peace, and to that of your unfortunate friend,” interrupted the divine.  “His reliance must be placed on One, different in all his attributes from your officer, to follow whom, or to consult whose frail conduct, would be the height of madness.  Place your faith on another” ­

“If I do, may I be ­”

“Peace,” said Wilder.  “The black would speak to me.”

Scipio had turned his looks in the direction of his officer, and was making another feeble effort towards extending his hand.  As Wilder placed the member within the grasp of the dying negro, the latter succeeded in laying it on his lips, and then, flourishing with a convulsive movement that herculean arm which he had so lately and so successfully brandished in defence of his master, the limb stiffened and fell, though the eyes still continued their affectionate and glaring gaze on that countenance he had so long loved, and which, in the midst of all his long-endured wrongs, had never refused to meet his look of love in kindness.  A low murmur followed this scene, and then complaints succeeded, in a louder strain, till more than one voice was heard openly muttering its discontent that vengeance should be so long delayed.

“Away with them!” shouted an ill-omened voice from the throng.  “Into the sea with the carcass, and up with the living.”

“Avast!” burst out of the chest of Fid, with an awfulness and depth that stayed even the daring; movements of that lawless moment.  “Who dare to cast a seaman into the brine, with the dying look standing in his lights, and his last words still in his messmate’s ears?  Ha! would ye stopper the fins of a man as ye would pin a lobster’s claw!  That for your fastenings and your lubberly knots together!” The excited topman snapped the lines by which his elbows had been imperfectly secured, while speaking and immediately lashed the body of the black to his own, though his words received no interruption from a process that was executed with all a seaman’s dexterity.  “Where was the man in your lubberly crew that could lay upon a yard with this here black, or haul upon a lee-earing, while he held the weather-line?  Could any one of ye all give up his rations, in order that a sick messmate might fare the better? or work a double tide, to spare the weak arm of a friend?  Show me one who had as little dodge under fire, as a sound mainmast, and I will show you all that is left of his better.  And now sway upon your whip, and thank God that the honest end goes up, while the rogues are suffered to keep their footing for a time.”

“Sway away!” echoed Nightingale, seconding the hoarse sounds of his voice by the winding of his call; “away with them to heaven.”

“Hold!” exclaimed the chaplain, happily arresting the cord before it had yet done its fatal office.  “For His sake, whose mercy may one day be needed by the most hardened of ye all, give but another moment of time!  What mean these words! read I aright?  ‘Ark, of Lynnhaven!’”

“Ay, ay,” said Richard, loosening the rope a little, in order to speak with greater freedom, and transferring the last morsel of the weed from his box to his mouth, as he answered; “seeing you are an apt scholar, no wonder you make it out so easily, though written by a hand that was always better with a marling-spike than a quill.”

“But whence came the words? and why do you bear those names, thus written indelibly in the skin?  Patience, men! monsters! demons!  Would ye deprive the dying man of even a minute of that precious time which becomes so dear to all, as life is leaving us?”

“Give yet another minute!” said a deep voice from behind.

“Whence come the words, I ask?” again the chaplain demanded.

“They are neither more nor less than the manner in which a circumstance was logged, which is now of no consequence, seeing that the cruise is nearly up with all who are chiefly concerned.  The black spoke of the collar; but, then, he thought I might be staying in port, while he was drifting between heaven and earth, in search of his last moorings.”

“Is there aught, here, that I should know?” interrupted the eager, tremulous voice of Mrs Wyllys.  “O Merton! why these questions?  Has my yearning been prophetic?  Does nature give so mysterious a warning of its claim!”

“Hush, dearest Madam! your thoughts wander from probabilities, and my faculties become confused. ­’Ark, of Lynnhaven,’ was the name of an estate in the islands, belonging to a near and dear friend, and it was the place where I received, and whence I sent to the main, the precious trust you confided to my care.  But” ­

“Say on!” exclaimed the lady, rushing madly in front of Wilder, and seizing the cord which, a moment before, had been tightened nearly to his destruction stripping it from his throat, with a sort of supernatural dexterity:  “It was not, then, the name of a ship?”

“A ship! surely not.  But what mean these hopes? ­these fears?”

“The collar? the collar? speak; what of that collar?”

“It means no great things, now, my Lady,” returned Fid, very coolly placing himself in the same condition as Wilder, by profiting by the liberty of his arms, and loosening his own neck from the halter, notwithstanding a movement made by some of the people to prevent it, which was, however, staid by a look from their leader’s eyes.  “I will first cast loose this here rope; seeing that it is neither decent, nor safe, for an ignorant man, like me, to enter into such unknown navigation, a-head of his officer.  The collar was just the necklace of the dog, which is here to be seen on the arm of poor Guinea, who was, in most respects, a man for whose equal one might long look in vain.”

“Read it,” said the governess, a film passing before her own eyes; “read it,” she added, motioning, with a quivering hand, to the divine to peruse the inscription, that was distinctly legible on the plate of brass.

“Holy Dispenser of good! what is this I see?  ’Neptune, the property of Paul de Lacey!’”

A loud cry burst from the lips of the governess; her hands were clasped one single instant upward, in that thanksgiving which oppressed her soul, and then, as recollection returned, Wilder was pressed fondly, frantickly to her bosom, while her voice was neard to say, in the piercing tones of all-powerful nature, ­

“My child! my child! ­You will not ­cannot ­dare not, rob a long-stricken and bereaved mother of her offspring.  Give me back my son, my noble son! and I will weary Heaven with prayers in your behalf.  Ye are brave, and cannot be deaf to mercy.  Ye are men, who have lived in constant view of God’s majesty, and will not refuse to listen to this evidence of his pleasure.  Give me my child, and I yield all else.  He is of a race long honoured upon the seas, and no mariner will be deaf to his claims.  The widow of de Lacey, the daughter of ------ cries for mercy.  Their united blood is in his veins, and it will not be spilt by you!  A mother bows herself to the dust before you, to ask mercy for her offspring.  Oh! give me my child! my child!”

As the words of the petitioner died upon the ear a stillness settled on the place, that might have been likened to the holy calm which the entrance of better feelings leaves upon the soul of the sinner.  The grim freebooters regarded each other in doubt; the workings of nature manifesting themselves in the gleamings of even their stern and hardened visages.  Still, the desire for vengeance had got too firm a hold of their minds to be dispossessed at a word.  The result would vet have been doubtful, had not one suddenly re-appeared in their midst who never ordered in vain; and who knew how to guide, to quell, or to mount and trample on their humours, as his own pleasure dictated.  For half a minute, he looked around him, his eye still following the circle, which receded as he gazed, until even those longest accustomed to yield to his will began to wonder at the extraordinary aspect in which it was now exhibited.  The gaze was wild and bewildered; and the face pallid as that of the petitioning mother.  Three times did the lips sever, before sound issued from the caverns of his chest; then arose, on the attentive ears of the breathless and listening crowd, a voice that seemed equally charged with inward emotion and high authority.  With a haughty gesture of the hand, and a manner that was too well understood to be mistaken, he said, ­

“Disperse!  Ye know my justice; but ye know I will be obeyed.  My pleasure shall be known tomorrow.”