Lafitte, The Baratarian Chief; A Tale Founded On Fact: From Pirate to Patriot.
“P. The man is a fool who surrenders himself to such unmanly, such womanish weakness.
“L. Hast thou ever loved?
“L. Then confine thy reproaches to subjects thou canst understand. The oak which has bowed to the blast may again become erect and majestic; the country which the earthquake has desolated may again become verdant and beautiful; but the heart whose finest feelings have been chilled by the icy hand of misfortune; whose fondest hopes have been destroyed in their bud, never recovers from the shock, but remains leafless, ruinous, desolate, and forsaken.” Old Play.
“May I never see the white cliffs of old England again, if I am not heartily glad to escape from this horrid hole!” cried, or rather muttered a weather-beaten, rough, hardy-looking seaman, as we seated ourselves Tinder the awning of the steamboat which was to convey us, with several other passengers, from the city of New Orleans, to vessels which were waiting for us at the English Turn. “I am an Englishman,” continued he, “and I care not who knows it—there is my home, and if I set my foot on that dear shore again, let me go to Davy’s locker if they again catch me in this land of Frenchmen and Mulattoes, Spaniards and Indians, Creoles and Negroes, and the cursed, quarrelsome Americans, too: —if you look squint at them, you are on your beam-ends in a moment I tread on their toes, bang’s the word, and daylight shines through you.”
As the honest tar appeared to be in a talkative mood, I determined to indulge his loquacity, and replied, “My good fellow, you appear to be quite out of humor to-day. I should conclude that you must have been shamefully misused. I have lived several months among these same Americans, and have no cause to complain of any ill-treatment whatever.”
“Several months!” echoed he, with an air of astonishment; “why, I had not been in port two days before I happened to tell a Kentuckian he lied, (and, by my soul, he did,) when he gave me a broadside which stove in my lights, and before I could muster to quarters, I was fairly carried by boarding—d**n him! but it was the first time that Anson Humber was obliged to strike his colors to a land-lubber.”
“I admit,” I replied, “that these Kentuckians are not the most polite people in the world; but if you keep on the right side of them, you will find friends till the last moment.”
“May I dangle from the yard-arm this minute,” cried the irritated sailor, “if I was ever able to tell the larboard from the starboard side of these fresh-water lobsters; wear your ship which way you will, they always strike across the beam, and are ready for raking or boarding— and by Nelson’s right arm, (peace to his memory!) I had rather ship the heaviest wave of the Atlantic than have one of these madmen to deal with.”
“Perhaps,” I replied, “you ought to blame yourself for some of the treatment of which you complain; you know, when John Bull gets plenty of corn in his garret, he is apt to be proud and dictatorial.”
“Likely enough,” said he; “you know, too, when a sailor gets his ‘three sheets spread to the wind, he fears neither God, man, nor the devil; all seas are clear, and he cares for neither shores, rocks, nor quicksands. But what’s the reason you have escaped so well? It must be because you are a gentleman: no, that can’t be the cause either, for here gentlemen shoot one another for sport.”
“But that,” I answered, “is a kind of sport which I should not like; and the simple reason why I think there is no difficulty, is, because I have attended to my own affairs.”
“Perhaps so,” he replied. “Yesterday morning, I got up early, and took a tour up the river on—what d’ye call it—the lever, lev-lev—hang it, let the name go.”
“The Levee, my good friend, you mean.”
“Yes, that’s it—on the Levee—where I saw a boat’s crew anchor a wagon and approach the spot where, like a rat in the hold, I was snugly hid behind some orange-trees. A couple of them took their stations in line, and I perceived, that as soon as they could bring their guns to bear, there was likely to be some bloodshed. Good, thought I; if you will kill each other, the more the merrier. An attempt was made to induce one of them to strike his colours, but they were nailed to the mast, and could not be taken down. The battle commenced and the first broadside told well. One was damaged in the rigging, but the other went down to the bottom completely blood-logged.”
“That was a curious affair, indeed; what became of the rest of the party?” I asked.
Why, they made all sail for the city, and as soon as they were out of sight, I steered for the same port, and soon found myself safely lodged in my old berth,” was his answer.
During the latter part of the conversation, a person, whom I had not noticed before, attracted my attention; his countenance, when I was able to catch a glimpse of it, under the large hat, with its nodding plume, which covered his head and was pulled down with an evident intention of concealment, betrayed considerable agitation; and while Anson was describing, with the carelessness and volubility of an old seaman, the fatal duel he had that morning witnessed, he arose from his seat, and with hasty and irregular movements paced the deck, but maintained a steady and total silence. His form was not of that robust and masculine kind which denotes strength purely mechanical, but there was a firmness in his step, a lightness in his movements, and an ease and gracefulness in his carriage, which indicated strength, quickness, and decision. He was well dressed, and at his side hung a sabre of the most formidable dimensions; a pair of pistols showed themselves from his holt; but as at this place all went armed, his appearance in this respect would not excite remark. His complexion had evidently once been fair, but a southern sun had browned his cheeks till few lines were left of that roseate hue, which, from the traces visible where his curling hair had shaded his temples, it was evident had once predominated. His features were femininely regular; his forehead high and proudly arched, while beneath his eyebrows, black and waving, shone a pair of eyes, which, when agitated, appeared to flash lightning, and at a glance penetrate the secret recesses of the heart. I confess I trembled involuntarily when my eyes met his, as he started to his feet, when Anson described his position during the duel. Brown as was his complexion, an instant flush passed over his countenance, and he placed his hand on the hilt of the sabre in a manner which showed he was accustomed to its use. It was, however, as instantly dropped to his side, and he resumed his former position with as much indifference as though nothing had occurred. A pair of whiskers of the most enormous size shaded his cheeks, and really met under his chin, proving the service to which he was attached, and completed the outline of the person who had so strongly engaged my attention, and who exhibited an appearance of coolness, daring, and intrepidity, which I had never before witnessed.
While I was surveying this person, Anson, undisturbed by my inattention, had continued his chatter, and it was not until I heard the word pirate, that I was roused from my revery.
“What is that about pirates!” I inquired; “was any thing said about them in the city?”
“Nothing,” said Anson, “but that there are some of the sharks off the river; and I heard one fellow swear roundly that he yesterday saw the piratical chief.”
“Why,” I replied, “did he not lodge an information against him, and let him receive the punishment due such a crime?”
“Ah! that’s the very question I asked the fellow myself,” answered Anson, “and offered, besides, to assist in securing him, and taking him to the yard-arm, if necessary; but the fellow said it would be as much as his head was worth to think of any such thing; besides, he might want a favour himself in that line some day or other, and it was best not to meddle with other folks’ matters.”
“Well, Anson,” said I, “if they meddle with us, we must pay them in their own coin; and it will not be your fault, I presume, if they do not receive change to the full amount.”
“No, it will not—but they said,” continued Anson, “that the chief of the gang killed a man yesterday, because he recog-recog-recognised, I think they called it—and charged the fellow with being the robber of his vessel and cargo. I do not mean he stabbed him in the dark, as a Spaniard or Frenchman would, but he told him it was false: so they shot at one another like gentlemen.”
The stranger again rose from his seat and walked across the deck, but remained silent. By this time, Anson had talked himself out of breath, and concluded to take a bit of a nap on the deck; and as the stranger appeared to shun observation, and showed no disposition to converse, we dropped down the river in silence.
Evening found us on board the fine stout brig Cleopatra, laden with indigo, cochineal, and a quantity of specie. She was a British vessel, just arrived from Santa Cruz, and employed as a cartel in exchanging some prisoners, by direction of the commanding officer on the West India station. From New Orleans she was to proceed to New York, and I gladly availed myself of the opportunity offered to visit my native region, from which business and war had so long kept me. The stranger, on parting with us as we went on board the Cleopatra, bade us adieu with the manners of a gentleman, and, while Anson Humber was cursing some of the rigging which had been procured at New Orleans, as a mere Yankee contrivance, he, in a half-suppressed tone of voice, whispered, “There are rovers on the deep; should difficulty overtake you, remember Lafitte.” As he pronounced these words, he leaped into a small boat which floated alongside the steamboat in which we had descended the river, and, amidst the darkness of the evening, was soon out of sight among the craft which almost covered the surface of the waters.
“By the powers !” exclaimed Anson, who had caught the tones of the stranger’s voice, low as they were uttered, “that is the very man who killed the other up the Levee yesterday morning: ah! I smell another rat, too; he is the pirate himself,” continued Anson, with a kind of shudder—” my head does not feel half so safely seated on my shoulders as it did ten minutes ago; but can we not overhaul him? I should like to lay alongside of him, well armed as he is.”
“If you should, Anson, brave as you are, it is my opinion you would find yourself in a more disagreeable predicament than when you were boarded by a Kentuckian. If, however, we meet with a pirate, we need fear nothing. A dozen such fellows as you are might enable us to bid defiance to old Neptune himself.” “You are right, sir,” replied the sailor, “while that flutters,” (pointing to the colours which streamed gayly in the wind,) “I will insure the safety of the Cleopatra. But I am so sleepy, that if the vessel was striking on breakers, or pirates were boarding, I could hardly keep awake.” So saying, he stowed himself in his hammock, and in a few minutes nothing was to be heard but the waves of the Mississippi as they dashed against the vessel, the measured pace of the sentinel as he traversed the quarter-deck, or the heavy breathing of those of the crew, who, after a hard day’s labour, were refreshing themselves in the sweet embraces of sleep.
I too threw myself on my bed, but not to sleep. A thousand circumstances united to interest my mind and keep me wakeful. I was about to return to the land of my fathers, the, home of my childhood. Home! that endearing word !—what tender recollections crowd upon die mind, when ten thousand charms of that delightful place present themselves in all their sweetness and freshness. Long as I had been separated from my native State—long as I had traversed the various regions of the globe—long as it had been since half the wide world had interposed between me and the place where I had first tasted the pleasures and pains of life, I had not forgotten a single scene around which memory lingered with such interest. The village spire, which threw its shadow over the green, where with the companions of my boyhood; we wrestled, jumped, laughed, ran, and sported, while the ball flew rapidly round the circle—the gloomy churchyard, which, when a truant boy, I had so often shudderingly passed, when the pale moon glimmered athwart the marbles which crowded the sacred enclosure, and, to my affrighted imagination, appeared to people the dreary place with the tenants of that world from which no traveller returns—the hills I had often climbed —the green valleys I had often crossed—the mountains among which I had so often roved in pursuit of such game as they afforded, all passed in review; and I even thought with rapture on the huge rock which was shaded with the branches of my favourite walnut-tree, and where, happy as the squirrel which barked over my head, I had spent many an hour, cracking the nuts which every wind made to rattle down around me.
The various countries and scenes through which I had passed since I first became a wanderer from the land of my childhood, now that my imagination pictured those wanderings as drawing to a close, rose in all their various shades before me, and the pains and pleasures of my peregrinations were again presented in bold relief by the powerful effect of memory. Over the civilized plains of Europe and the semi-barbarous regions of Asia I had roved. I had seen the aurora borealis dance over the regions of eternal frost—the sun in vain attempt to dissolve the chains which an Arctic winter had formed—and I had felt its fervid heat where equinoctial skies shed their debilitating and pernicious influence. I had traversed the plains of Orinoco, and the banks of the La Plata: I had climbed the Cordilleras, and, with the enthusiasm of youth, beheld the setting sun gild those bright isles of the Pacific, which are sprinkled in such profusion over the surface of its broad blue waters, and whose inhabitants are as guileless and unsuspecting as their skies are bright and cloudless. I had seen the St. Lawrence rolling its majestic stream, collected from a thousand lakes, to the ocean—and I was then floating on the bosom of the father of the rivers, which, rising among the frozen lakes and interminable forests of the north, discharges its turbid waters into the Mexican Gulf, amid the orange groves and sugar-plantations of the South; while, after years of absence had elapsed, I was about to visit the parental roof, with the intention of bringing my wanderings to a close, and spending the remainder of my days in quiet contentment and peaceful happiness. Nor was my interview with the stranger of such mysterious character and appearance forgotten. His apparent connection with the pirates, who, if report stated correctly, frequented the islands which lie off the Mississippi, and whose inhuman atrocities formed a common topic of conversation at New Orleans, I felt to be ominous of the result of our voyage; and although his words afforded a ray of hope to me, I wished I had not seen him.
Such were my feelings, as I in vain wooed the god of sleep for a temporary oblivion to my perturbed ideas; and it was not until the watch had been changed the last time that I fell asleep, from which I did not wake in the morning until the vessel was already several miles on her voyage. When I went upon deck, the vessel was floating along the current between the high woods which covered both banks of the river. Scarcely a breath of wind was to be felt—the sails hung idly against the mast, and we depended on the current alone to speed us to the ocean.
If ever there was a country over which the genius of desolation might be said to hold undisputed dominion, it is the region around the mouth of the Mississippi. Below Plaquemines it is one dreary and desolate marsh, covered with cane and reeds, and sinking gradually to the dead level of the Gulf. For miles before we reached the mouth of the river, the sea could be distinctly seen from the masthead, stretching away on each side of the point of land formed by the continual depositions of this mighty stream. Subject to overflow by the rise of the Mississippi or the inundations of the Gulf, and frequently submerged to the depth of six or eight feet by the autumnal tornadoes, no animals are to be seen; and the cormorant, as he wings his lonely way along these dreary shores, finds a precious resting-place on the banks of sand-shells which the continual breaking of the waves has raised around these pestilential marshes.
At last, the bar was passed, and we found ourselves on the broad bosom of the Gulf. The sailors, delighted with the prosperous commencement of the voyage, were all mirth and glee, and while the sails were filled with breezes which were hurrying us as we fondly imagined to New York, our port of destination, the can of grog circulated freely, and mirth and dance and song swept the hours rapidly away.
Our captain was an able officer, in whom we could repose the utmost confidence—the subalterns were experienced and attentive—the crew consisted of eleven hardy, rough sons of the ocean, making in all, including myself and two other passengers, about twenty souls on board. The vessel was a new stout ship, merchant rigged, but mounting six guns and well provided with arms and ammunition, and all the necessary implements of offensive and defensive war.—The day passed away, and it was not until the forenoon of the second day after leaving the river, that any thing occurred to vary the dull monotony of a sea-voyage. I was sitting in my cabin, arranging some packages of papers, &c, when I was roused by an unusual uproar on the deck, and the boatswain’s shrill whistle calling all hands to quarters. I speedily deposited in their trunks the papers I was reviewing, and hastened to the deck—before I reached which, however, I heard several guns fired.
The cause of alarm was a vessel of suspicious appearance, which had been bearing down for some time, apparently with the intention of crossing the Cleopatra’s course, and though the British colors were at the mast, (and they were within hail,) they neglected to answer the repeated call of Captain Bowden, who at last ordered a gun to be fired over them. To this no attention was paid—few men were to be seen on deck—and the vessel continued her course in a manner which indicated an intention to lay the vessel immediately on board our ship. At this moment, Captain Bowden hailed them and ordered them to keep off, or he would fire upon them; when the decks of the vessel were instantly crowded with armed men, the British colours were hauled down and the red flag displayed, and a heavy fire of musketry opened upon us from the pirate, for such it was evident she was. The guns of the Cleopatra could be brought to bear with admirable effect, and it was soon evident that if they could be prevented from boarding us, the conflict would not long remain doubtful.
“Three to one, my brave lads,” cried Captain Bowden, as through his glass he surveyed his assailants—” but were they five to one, we shall soon make them count one to two—sweep their deck, boys; we’ll teach the rascals to keep a respectful distance.” Finding his attempt to board unavailing, the pirate hauled out of reach of our small arms, which had done great execution among his crowded decks. The cessation of the contest was however but momentary—our assailants returned to the attack with fury, and, in spite of our exertions, succeeded in grappling our vessel. His decks exhibited a motley assemblage of ferocious-looking villains, black, white, and yellow, whose horrid imprecations and oaths were enough to appall the bravest heart, as, repulsed from our bulwarks in their attempts to board, it was only to renew the assault with double desperation and rage. Several of our bravest fellows had already fallen, when twenty or thirty of these tigers took advantage of a swell of the sea which brought the vessels in contact, and sprang on board the Cleopatra, sabre in hand. They were met by our crew with such vigour that scarcely had a minute elapsed before their numbers were reduced one half, and the remainder were wavering, when a fellow threw himself on board from the piratical vessel, put himself at the head of the assailants, and with shouts and imprecations urged his followers forward. “Hell and furies!” he cried, “shall these few men escape in this way? Send them to perdition in a moment. Remember, all or nothing.” Captain Bowden threw himself before the pirate, and a combat of the most obstinate kind ensued—terrific and desperate. A pause of some moments ensued among the other combatants, who suspended the work of death to witness a contest on which so much was depending. At last, British valour rose triumphant, and the pirate dropped mortally wounded upon the deck.
“Captain Bowden for ever!” shouted Anson, as the blood spouted from the mouth of the marauder mixed with curses and execrations, while he flew to finish the work of death upon the remainder. Anson’s bravery carried him so far that he was surrounded, and a blow was aimed at him which would have speedily sent him to Davy’s Locker, had not a blow from my sabre dropped the fellow’s head from his body, and his spouting trunk fell lifeless to the deck.
“That fellow is anchored where he won’t slip his cable these hundred years,” cried Anson, as he gave the head a kick, which sent it across the deck; “but never let me taste the roast-beef of old England again, if I don’t believe that you have wielded the sabre before now.”
“Very likely, my good fellow,” I replied; “but before we think o( roast-beef, we must rid the vessel of these villains.”
“Have at the rascals, then I” shouted Anson, as he thrust his sword to the hilt through the body of a huge negro, and before he had time to drop, seized him and threw him into the ocean. “The sharks may have him and welcome, if they can stomach the black dog; I won’t have such a stinking fellow on the Cleopatra’s deck,” said Anson, as the wave splashed against the vessel from the negro’s fall. Anson, however, had no time for soliloquizing, for he was confronted by a tall, weazel-faced Frenchman, whose rapid thrusts and skilful manoeuvres it required all his attention to meet. At last, thin as was the mark, Anson’s sabre hit, and the Frenchman fell.
“Cursed poor!” said Anson, as he placed his foot on the fallen foe and extricated his weapon; “thin as your frog-soup—a fellow might read the Assembly’s Catechism through you.”
At this instant, another vessel, which was within a few miles at the commencement of the struggle, and which, as the firing commenced, had approached us rapidly, now neared us sufficiently to enable us to discover, that, like the vessel with which we were already engaged, she was a pirate.’ When she was within fifty yards of us, her crew gave a shout, which was instantly echoed from our first assailants, and our decks were again crowded with a motley crew of desperadoes. “There is but one alternative,” said Captain Bowden to me, “we must conquer or die. Our situation is indeed desperate, but it cannot be so bad as to be hopeless.” So saying, he put himself at the head of the few remaining, and few indeed they were, for of the brave men who were so cheerful and happy in the morning, but six or eight were left—the rest lay mixed with the foes who were piled in slaughtered heaps around. Our charge was murderous, and the screams of the wounded and groans of the dying were heard above the dash of the waters, the din of the conflict, or the shouts of the combatants. The tide was quickly turned, and the deck was on the point of being speedily cleared, when a figure of the most athletic appearance, his face covered with blood from a sabre-wound in his head, around which a handkerchief was tightly bound, and his features distorted with rage, leaped from the deck of our first opponent, and, with sabre in hand, rushed upon Captain Bowden.
“Curse on your cowardice!” cried he to his followers, “shall two men drive you to the devil? If you want the whole prize, fight; if not, wait till you are obliged to share it with Lafitte.” The conflict was terrible. As Anson endeavoured to parry a blow aimed at Captain Bowden, the buccaneer, by a sudden wheel of his sabre, severed his shoulders from his body—I was covered with his blood—and giving a single groan, he fell lifeless art my feet.
“Poor fellow, thou shalt not die unrevenged,” I cried, and closed with his murderer.
By a violent effort, and before he could save himself from my impetuous attack, I had dashed him to the deck, and was on the point of transfixing him with my sabre, when my feet, which were wet with blood, slipped, and I fell upon my antagonist. He was too much injured by the fall to be able to avail himself of the advantage my accident had given him; but. I was instantly seized by a half-dozen of the pirates, and should have been speedily sacrificed, had not Captain Bowden thrown himself among them, and with his death-dealing sabre freed me from their grasp. I was hardly on my feet before the cry, “They are boarding us on the starboard quarter!” was heard; and I perceived a fresh band of murderers were already on board.
“If we must die, let us sell our lives at as dear a rate as possible,” said I to Captain Bowden; and we rushed upon the gang who were pouring upon the starboard quarter of the Cleopatra. Our swords soon thinned their numbers, but we were weary with slaughter, and there appeared no end to our toils. Four only of our crew were left, and we felt that we must soon sink under the overwhelming force which was pouring upon us from all sides. At that instant, a volley of musketry killed every man of our crew, who had hitherto escaped to assist us in stemming the torrent, and Captain Bowden and myself were surrounded by wretches, whose yells, oaths, and imprecations made them more resemble demons than human beings. To prevent being placed in a situation where we could not keep our enemies at bay, we retreated, or were rather carried by the crowd of assailants, to the corner of the vessel, where a pile of slain rose around us, and the deck was flooded with gore.
“Fools, to throw away your lives in this manner,” shouted a stentorian voice, from a person who was seen struggling through the crowd of assailants; “give them the cold lead!” And this order was obeyed by a volley of balls, which brought Captain Bowden to the deck, while the life-blood flowed in torrents from his numerous wounds. “Oh, my dear wife and children! Great God, protect them!” was all he could utter before he was a lifeless corpse. The man who had given the order, and who, from his commanding manner, appeared to be the chief of pirates, had cleared his way through the assailants, and, with his drawn sabre, now confronted me. I rejoiced to see him, for his strength and the manner in which he wielded his instrument of death, convinced me that, if he conquered, my death could not be lingering—and if he fell, I should have the satisfaction of freeing the world of a monster.
The combat was obstinate: I fought with the hopelessness of desperation, and pressed my assailant so closely, that he found himself unable to resist the assault, when, by an unlucky blow, my sabre was snapped in a dozen pieces, and I stood before him unarmed and defenceless. Baring my bosom, I inwardly commended myself to my Maker, and told him to strike; but, to my surprise, he dropped the point of his weapon, and looking me earnestly in the face, as he wiped the blood from his brow, exclaimed—”Not when unarmed; brave men honour the brave—you are safe—remember Lafitte!” and I instantly recognised him as the person who had so strongly attracted my attention while on our voyage from New Orleans to the English Turn.
“Who is this, that preaches safety?” exclaimed a voice half choaked with rage, and in tones that made me shudder; “may damnation seize me, if he shall not atone with his blood for the murder of my brother!’ So saying, he fired a pistol, which would have shattered my brains, had not Lafitte, by an instantaneous and dexterous movement of his sabre, thrown his pistol into the air when the assassin was in the act of firing, by which means I was preserved, although I was so near that my face was severely burnt by the discharge.
“Were it not, Laborde,” said Lafitte, “that I apprehend the injury on your head has made you raving, this act of rebellion to my authority would be your last. But be careful how you tempt my forbearance too far.”
“Cowardly miscreant!” cried Laborde, “you think to rob me of my victim—but should hell, with all its legions arrayed against me, appear, I would be revenged. This vessel is my prize! this sabre shall keep possession, and this sabre shall revenge my brother.”
“Touch but a hair of this man’s head to injure him,” answered Lafitte, in a voice which showed he was accustomed to command, “and your life shall answer for that crime.”
“I care not for your threats—I bid defiance to your power; this fellow dies—nor shall heaven or hell prevent,” cried Laborde, as he flew at me with his sabre, but found his progress arrested by the herculean strength of Lafitte. “Here,” said the latter, calling some of his crew,’” take this fellow, and secure him in his vessel till he becomes more rational, and his rage has time to cool, or, by the powers above, he dies! —my authority shall not be trifled with.” He was seized, and by main strength dragged towards his ship, struggling and roaring like a mad bull, when, by a sudden exertion, he freed his arms, plunged a dagger to the heart of one of those who were endeavouring to secure him, and before Lafitte, who was giving some orders about clearing the vessels, was aware of his approach, he received a blow upon his head, which dropped him, stunned and senseless, to the deck. Lafitte’s sabre flew from his hand and fell at my feet, and ere Laborde could reach me, I was ready to receive him, as he rushed upon his devoted prey with the fury of a tiger.
“Now, cursed wretch, thou shalt die!—Lafitte himself cannot save thee!” cried Laborde, his eyes flashing fire, his features distorted with rage, and yelling like a maniac. His ungovernable rage threw him off his guard, and as he made a desperate plunge at my breast, I parried the blow; his heart received the point of my weapon, and he fell lifeless upon the blood-covered deck. What would have been my fate from the rest of these wretches, had not Lafitte at that moment recovered his feet and stilled the commotion which was rising, is unknown. “Brave fellows,” said he, “in Laborde you behold the fate of him who dares to disobey my orders—shun his example. Let these vessels be taken to Barataria, and in them we shall find treasure equal to our utmost expectations, and which shall be equally shared by all.” A shout of approbation, and “Long live Lafitte!” rent the air. The decks were cleared of the dead, who, as well as the badly wounded, were committed to the waves; and when the setting sun threw his last rays on the topmasts of the Cleopatra, we were in full sail for the Island of Barataria, which I found was the rendezvous of the pirates who frequented the Gulf, and of whom Lafitte was the acknowledged chief.
The Island of Barataria, at which we arrived on the day after the capture of the Cleopatra, is one of those low, sunken islands, or rather clusters of sand-bars, which are so numerous in the Gulf of Mexico, hardly elevated above the reach of the equinoctial tornado, and, owing to the drought and heat, scarcely habitable for a considerable part of the year. Here, after considerable difficulty from intricacies of navigation, or unskillfulness of the pilot, we found ourselves at anchor, and Lafitte, accompanied by myself, immediately went on shore. A few groves of orange-trees, scattered peach-trees, and luxuriant vines were to be seen, which contrasted strongly with the few miserable huts which formed the establishment of these outlaws of civilization—this congregated mass of refuse from every nation under heaven. Plunder, assassination, and murder were here legalized. Power formed the only law; and every species of iniquity was here carried to an extent, of which no person who had not witnessed a similar den of pollution could form the most distant idea. In this place, which, as one of the pirates himself observed, “was a hell on earth, and well stocked with devils of all ranks and degrees,” were to be seen a few women, who vied with the men in trampling on all decency and decorum, and whose language and manners were a compound of all the vileness and profanity which could be collected from the wretches with whom they associated. If my first impressions were unfavourable, subsequent observations did nothing to remove them. The crews of the piratical vessels were landed—and when a division had been made of the plunder, commenced a scene of intoxication, gambling, quarrelling, and murder, which still chills my blood to remember, and which the sabre of Lafitte was required sometimes to subdue. He alone seemed to possess any command over his passions, and his voice was never heard among them in vain; while he shared the danger equally with the meanest sailor, whatever plunder was acquired was divided among them with the most scrupulous exactness. His influence over them was great, and their confidence in him unbounded.
Nearly three weeks passed away, and although I suffered at no time any contumely or insults from the pirates, and Lafitte always treated me in the most respectful manner, frequently requesting me to give myself no uneasiness, as, for whatever loss in property I might have sustained on board the Cleopatra, I should receive ample compensation, still I felt my situation irksome in the extreme. My anxiety was observed by Lafitte.
“I see,” said he, “you are anxious to leave us. I do not wish to detain you, for such company cannot be agreeable. Be patient a few days longer, and I will enable you to depart in safety. Would to heaven I could accompany you!” “And why can you not?” I asked; “what should make you hesitate? Such a life as this—one unvarying round of danger, fatigue, and crime, surely can possess no charms to a man whose very actions prove that he was born to a nobler, a better fate.”
“How,” said he, “can the notorious Lafitte, the chief of pirates, the commander of outlaws, the companion of murderers, the man whose very name carries terror from Carthagena to Havana, mix in the society of civilized men? Would the laws be silent? Would not the sword of justice leap from its scabbard at the very mention of my name? And these men, these pestilential humours in the body politic, is there not quite as much hope that justice will be done them, when collected in one mass, as when scattered abroad,to pollute the fountains of society, and spread their poisonous influence through the streams of social compact and order? As to this mode of living, it is the danger alone that furnishes to me its only charms; it is not for the sake of wealth—it is not for the bad eminence of being a sovereign among pirates; but it is because, when once unfortunate circumstances have made a man an outlaw, it is difficult to obtain admission into the pale of society; it is because I would willingly set my life on the hazard of a shot to free myself from misfortunes, which have followed close upon my heels ever since I had an existence, that you find me a pirate, a native of Barataria.”
“If I understand you, then,” I replied, “you would not hesitate to leave this place and these wretches to their fate, if the past could be buried in oblivion—if your offences against the laws could be cancelled and your safety insured.”
“Were there none concerned but myself,” he answered, “you would be perfectly correct; but these men I must not forsake—their safety must depend on my own. As to the rest, I can easily hear your implied assertion of guilt without being offended; it is scarcely possible for you to feel otherwise; but it is inevitable necessity alone that compels me to endure my present situation; most gladly would I quit it, but the hope is vain, and I must content myself to use my influence in restraining the atrocities of these men in the most effectual manner possible.” “Perhaps not,” I replied. “I know the chances are indeed small, but I think there is one in which exists a possibility of effecting your wishes; and I should be happy could I be the instrument of accomplishing them.” “Name but the means by which it can be effected,” answered he with earnestness, “and I shall feel myself for ever indebted to you.”
“I shall deal frankly with you,” I replied: “I know not on which side your feelings are enlisted in the contest which is at present raging between the United States and Great Britain; but I shall put the question plainly. Would you yourself embark in the cause of America, and use your exertions to induce your men to do so, if an act of pardon and oblivion could be obtained under the Presidential seal? ”
“Most willingly,” he answered; “let but the name of pirate be buried, and I pledge myself that these men will be found among the bravest defenders of the republic.”
“Then my best exertions shall be used in your behalf—your services will soon be wanted where they will produce the most effect. Great Britain is fitting out a powerful fleet in the West Indies, which is probably destined against New Orleans, and, from your thorough acquaintance with the whole coast of the Gulf, and the necessity of collecting a formidable force at that point, the Government of the United States would no doubt listen favourably to whatever overtures might be made in your behalf. There is one favour, however, which I shall insist upon from you, and which you will not refuse—a relation of the circumstances which induced you to become what you now appear to have been from youth, a pirate by profession.”
“By profession,” said he, smiling. “l am a pirate; but the time was when I was not. If it will be gratifying to you to have a knowledge of some of the events of my past life, I shall cheerfully comply with your request, although the recital will call to my mind scenes which have wrung my heart to its centre.
The county of Westchester, in the State of New York, was my birthplace : my name is Mortimer Wilson. In what manner I acquired my present name, you will learn from my story: it is sufficient that to the pirate I am known only as Lafitte. If to be born of honest, industrious, and respectable parents, be an advantage, that advantage I enjoyed;—if to be born of parents destitute of wealth, and compelled by misfortune to use every exertion to support a helpless and dependent family, be a disadvantage, I suffered. One of my earliest impressions, and one that I distinctly remember, was a determination to be rich; for my parents felt the evils of poverty, and riches, I imagined, furnished the means of gratifying our wishes, of whatever kind they might be. I had an uncle, living in the city of New York, a merchant of respectability, who, when on a visit to my father’s, noticed with pleasure my playfulness, repartee, and independence, and obtained my parents’ consent that I should live with him in the city, with the intention of introducing me into the mercantile business, should my progress answer the expectations he had formed of me. I was then ten years old, and my situation with my uncle was as agreeable as I could wish. His family was small, an only son and daughter, affectionate and lovely; they treated me as a brother, while, being a few years younger than myself, I obtained a complete ascendency over them; and I can safely say I knew no greater delight than witnessing and partaking in their happiness. I gave my uncle, by my proficiency in my studies, by my undeviating attention to business, and the love felt for himself and family, the highest satisfaction; nor do I remember his giving me a single unpleasant word during the whole time I resided under his benevolent and hospitable roof.
I had now reached my nineteenth year—and my uncle made me proposals of establishing me in the business on my own account, if I chose; generously offering to furnish me with whatever capital it might require—but observing, at the same time, that if it was agreeable to me, he should prefer having me continue the head of the establishment with which I was well acquainted, as it was his intention to retire from business, in favour of his son, and that nothing could please him better than to see us together advancing the interest he had laboured to acquire and promote. I assured the good man that nothing could be more gratifying to me than such an arrangement, and that his pleasure should always be a law to me; while I flattered myself that I had secured the great object of my wishes, wealth and happiness.
At, this juncture, my uncle received intelligence respecting a mercantile house in Charleston, with whom he was engaged in extensive transactions, that made it necessary for me to repair immediately to that place—and no time was lost in making preparations for my departure. I sailed for Charleston—reached that city in safety—accomplished the object of my mission—transmitted an account of my success to my uncle through the post-office—and while waiting with impatience the sailing of the vessel which was to convey me to the place where my fondest wishes were concentrated, I was attacked by the fever of the country, which raged with such violence that I was entirely deprived of my reason, and, for weeks, the friends with whom I resided despaired of my life. A strong constitution, however, enabled me to survive the attack, and, after some time, gleams of returning recollection and reason began to shoot across my bewildered imagination and memory. The first that I can distinctly recollect was a strong impression of a beautiful form which appeared to be hovering around me and administering to my wants. My imagination had converted her into an angelic being; and I fancied that I had already passed the tremendous ordeal which awaits the departed spirit—had been admitted into the mansions of the blessed, and that the form which I had beheld was my guardian angel, sent to console me for the troubles of the world I imagined I had left. Perhaps the sweet music of the piano, which, from the adjoining room, distinctly reached me, as fairy fingers pressed the keys, contributed to the delusion; for that I conceived to be the music of heaven’s minstrelsy. Returning reason, however, soon dispelled all these illusory dreams; and instead of a disimbodied spirit, I found myself a tenant of earth, and subject to the mutations of time.
I said all those illusory dreams were dispelled; but it was not so—there was one from which I could not, from which I did not wish to awake; with steps light and noiseless as those made by fairy feet— eyes brilliant and sparkling, as any that ever sparkled under the delightful skies of Italy—a form which, accustomed as I had been to the beauties of the North, far surpassed all that my imagination had ever conceived—this lovely creature watched over my bed, and though to me utterly unknown, manifested a sympathetic feeling for my welfare, a solicitude for my recovery, which endeared her to me, and caused my heart to flutter with an emotion it had never before felt.
Unable to lift my hand or utter a syllable without the greatest difficulty, I lay for hours viewing with rapture the angelic creature who hung over me, as she bathed my burning brow in the cooling fluid, or administered the reviving cordial; and when I had recovered strength enough to make the attempt of expressing my gratitude, she placed her white taper fingers on my lips, and with an accent which like an electric shock thrilled through every fibre of my own heart, required me to be silent.
“I am your physician,” added she, smiling, “and if you wish restoration to health, (heaven knows how much pleasure such an event would give!) you must follow my directions implicitly.” I moved my head in token of submission to her will, pressed her hand to my lips, and the blushing girl hastily quitted the chamber. The mystery which I had been unable to solve when reflecting on my fair attendant, as before my sickness I had never seen her, was unravelled when I had so far recovered as to be able to converse. I found myself under the hospitable roof of Colonel Mornton, a brother to the merchant on whose account I had visited Charleston, and to whose house I had been removed on account of its more retired character, and where I should be less liable to be disturbed by the noise and bustle of the city.
My fair attendant was an only daughter o/ the colonel’s, who had arrived in the city from a visit to Columbia during the first week of my sickness, and by devoting herself to my attendance, had voluntarily deprived herself of the charms which that season of the year presents to youth, when all its mirth and gayety, and crowded theatres, brilliant assemblies, splendid parties, and the fascinating ball-room, more than compensate for the deserted and dreary appearance of the city during the season when the malaria compels the inhabitants to seek refuge in the elevated parts of the country, or by a journey to the north, combine objects of pleasure and health, which are frequently so widely separated.
My health returned slowly—but never were days more delightfully passed than those which glided away in the company of Mary Mornton, the lovely person who had obtained so complete an ascendency over my whole soul, that the thought that returning health, much as I desired it, would hasten my separation from one whose presence I felt to be absolutely necessary to my happiness, threw a chill over my feelings; and I dismissed the unwelcome intruder as an enemy to my peace and happiness.
I had now so far recovered as to be able to receive company, and even to attend a few select parties, where I was introduced to a young lady, an intimate acquaintance of the lovely Mary’s, of the greatest accomplishments, and, as she fondly imagined, unrivalled beauty. On the most friendly terms with Mary, Miss Hanson was always received with pleasure at Colonel Mornton’s, and now that the rounds of pleasure had once been enjoyed, she became a daily visitor. Intent only on the transcendent excellence of the lovely Mary, I had no time to make comparisons between them; and had I undertaken it, they would undoubtedly have been partial. A brother of Miss Hanson’s, whose name was George, was frequently a visitor at my residence, sometimes in company with his sister, sometimes without; and although his cold, haughty, supercilious, and overbearing manner was far from agreeable, yet his rank, his station in society, and his prospects in life, contributed to give him an ascendency in all parties, which few felt inclined to dispute.
He had returned from Europe a short time previous to my arrival in Charleston, and the imposing superiority which a sea-voyage across the Atlantic enables a man to assume as a judge of manners and men, I concluded might not wholly have been laid aside. As it concerned myself personally, I cared but little about him; but there was one subject which gave me more uneasiness than any other, and that was the marked attention he paid to Mary. Though I closely observed her, I could see nothing in her conduct to justify any apprehensions—yet I confess i felt it would be morally impossible for her to reject the superior advantages which a union with this man presented above any I could offer.
“That is the most charming creature I ever saw,” said George to me, one evening, as we were together sitting on a sofa, while Mary and his sister were playfully discussing some question of fashion or taste, in another part of the room; “I have visited Paris and London, but, among all their fashionable circles and their beauties, I never saw a Mary Mornton. Who could have thought that the rosebud that I so heedlessly overlooked three years ago, when I left Charleston for Europe, would so soon have expanded into so beautiful a flower?”
“Perhaps no one,” I replied, with an air of indifference which ill accorded with my feelings. The compliment my heart told me was just, and I was inwardly pleased to hear it awarded, although I felt fearful of the result, should his preference be openly avowed. “Mary is indeed a fine girl—but I must be permitted to say the same of the greater part of the Charleston fair with whom I have had the happiness to become acquainted.”
“Ah, Mortimer,” said George, tapping me on the shoulder, “that maidenly blush of yours gives the lie to the pretended coldness of your words; but you had better be upon your guard, and not suffer her to run away with your heart—for it is well understood that Mary is to be mine.”
I started to my feet as he pronounced the last words, and was in the act of demanding an explanation, when I fortunately reflected that, by so doing, I must disclose what I most wished to conceal, and that I had no right whatever to make the demand; so I carelessly answered him, “that I did not consider my heart in so much danger as he supposed,” and that “Mary, if he obtained her, would doubtless make an agreeable companion.”
At this moment, Mary came laughing up to us, and taking my hand, “Mortimer,” said she, “our Miss Hanson insists on our passing the afternoon with her to-morrow, and I have promised you shall comply with her request. May I say you will do so?”
“Certainly,” I answered; “l am too much indebted to you to make objections to what you propose.”
“Then I propose,” said Mary, “that you invite our friend George to forget Europe and become an American. He talks and acts as stately as if he thought of nothing less than Catholic Cathedrals, London Monuments, or Egyptian Pyramids. Now, George,” continued she, peeping archly in his face, “tell me seriously and soberly—did the belles of London or Paris eclipse the stars of our Western hemisphere?”
“Upon my honour, Mary,” he replied, “the question has been fairly put, and shall be as plainly and promptly answered; it is, no! no!”
“Such, I knew, would be your answer,” replied the lovely girl. “I give you full credit for the sincerity of your reply.”
“My answer was given in sober earnest,” said George; ” and I again repeat, that the most fashionable circles of London or Paris cannot produce a parallel, in loveliness and beauty, to Mary”—
“Stop,” said she, interrupting him, “not another word of your European gallantry. Remember, Mary Mornton is a plain American girl, unaccustomed to compliments, and upon whom all such fine sayings are entirely thrown away.”
“You seem to speak, Mary,” he answered, “as if I had forgotten my country; I protest against such a supposition.”
“To-morrow we will see,” replied she, smiling, “whether I am correct.”
The carriage at this moment drove up to the door, and as I handed Miss Hanson into it, she pressed my hand and whispered, “You will not forget your promise—remember, my happiness depends on you!”
“Be assured I will not,” I hastily replied, as she drew her veil over her beautiful features—and the carriage drove off.
“Mary,” said I, after they departed, “you were too unmercifully severe with our friend George; it is well you are not a man, or you would be called out to answer for your plainness.”
“I know him well,” she answered; “at least as well as a person can know such a compound of hauteur and hypocrisy—and I neither fear nor love him. It is a disadvantage under which we girls labour, that we are obliged to listen to the impertinence of fools, and we are charged with doing so because it pleases us.”
She looked down and sighed, as she pronounced the last words; and I felt so confounded at the consequences I found myself involuntarily drawing from his assertion, ” She is to be mine,” and her implied admission, “I must endure him,” that I had no inclination to speak—and there was a silence of a minute or two.
“I see,” said Mary, “my company is tiresome after that which we have enjoyed this afternoon, and, with your leave, I will bid you good evening.”
“You must not!” I replied, eagerly, taking her by the hand and reseating her beside me on the sofa; “forgive my rudeness; attribute it to ill-health; to ill-breeding; to want of confidence; to any thing rather than the cause you have named; rather than indifference to your company.”
“Well,” she replied, “I forget it all; but you must remember that as I am still your physician, you have no right to indulge in reflections which would injure your health by being pursued, and of which I am ignorant. I see,” continued she, smiling archly in my face, “you are afflicted with that awful disorder, jealousy! you are afraid of George— and well you may be, for he is a dangerous fellow.”
“I am not without apprehension on his account,” I answered. “You admit that you do not love him, and yet you are to be his.”
“To be his! Mary Mornton to be his!” interrupted the lovely girl, rising from the sofa, her countenance flushed with animation: “Who told you so! George has not dared to intimate any thing of the kind— yet why should he not! He has no idea that any person could differ with him on this subject; but he is mistaken : never, never will Mary Mornton consent to receive that man for a husband: death would be a preferable bridegroom!”
“But who will blame George for endeavouring to possess such excellence?” I replied. “For desiring the happiness of calling such a treasure his own! Yes, Mary, you will believe me when I tell you, that though I would rather die a thousand deaths than witness such an event, yet his feelings are so far in unison with my own, that I feel more disposed to pity than to blame him.”
“No more, Mortimer, no more; so far I will believe that you are in earnest, that you do not intend what you have said to be merely complimentary; yet, let me entreat you to be cautious: should George become apprehensive on my account, his suspicions might fall on you, and remember the consequences would be fatal.”
“Only say, Mary, that you would feel an interest in my happiness, and forgive me for doubting it, after the proofs I have already received; only say that the most ardent attachment of a person as unworthy as I am would not be viewed with indifference by you, and I could venture the displeasure of a world.”
“You are becoming too serious for a sick man,” said Mary, smiling. “But if it would be any pleasure to know that 1 feel interested in your happiness, or willing to contribute to it, (since I have never been in the habit of dissembling my sentiments,) I shall tell you frankly, that if the sincerest wishes for your welfare will be the means of averting evil, you will long be happy.”
I was in the act of attempting to express the emotions of my throbbing heart, when Mary again placed her finger on her lips, and, blushing in all the loveliness of innocence, half returned my embrace as I clasped her to my bosom.
The next day came, and, accompanied by the lovely Mary, we repaired to the mansion of General Garrett, with whom George and Miss Hanson resided. We were received with all that attention, that ease and courtly politeness, which distinguish the well-bred in all countries Miss Hanson received the compliments that were paid her without embarrassment, and George almost forgot the air of a man who had seen “vastly fine things in his day.” He soon seated himself by me. “Mortimer,” said he, “I vow I would be sick half a year myself, if by that means I could secure the company of Mary, as you have done.”
“There is little pleasure in sickness,” I replied, “yet I acknowledge it might be something of a temptation to suffer, if we could be certain of having the hours cheered by the attendance of such girls as Miss Hanson and Mary.”
“But every one,” he continued, “would not be noticed as you have been; it is natural, I believe, for the female sex to bestow their sympathy and their love on strangers, with whom they are unacquainted, and of whose character they can know nothing.”
There was an ill-natured emphasis given to this last sentence, which I suspect slightly crimsoned my countenance; but instantly regaining my composure, without appearing to notice the manner in which the words were spoken, I replied, “I believed he must be mistaken, for, although I was a stranger, and felt most sensibly the favours which had been conferred upon me by the polite attentions of the Charleston fair, yet, I never could believe that a man who conducted himself as became a gentleman, would suffer, in their estimation, by time or acquaintance.”
“Perhaps not,” answered he, coldly, “but”—
“Gentlemen,” said Mary, interrupting him, “I take the liberty of protesting in Miss Hanson’s name and my own, against your having all the conversation to yourselves; we must be permitted to assist you.” And her eyes met mine with an expression which said, “Remember— beware!”
“Certainly,” said I, and she took her seat between us on the sofa, while Miss Hanson placed herself beside me, and, with her usual gayety and volubility, commenced a conversation. But a few minutes, however, elapsed, before a servant entered with a message, requesting Mary to return immediately, as her mother had been taken seriously ill since we had left home. The carriage was immediately ordered, and Mary took advantage of the momentary absence of Mr. Hanson to request me to spend the afternoon where I then was.
“I shall obey you, though unwillingly,” I replied.
“I know it, I feel it,” answered she, smiling; “still you must obey. Remember, I am to be your guardian angel. Come, George, (who at that moment entered the room,) you shall be my beau; Mortimer I shall leave to make your sister amends for my absence.”
George bowed apart, and, with little abatement of his customary hauteur, handed Mary into the carriage, who kissed her hand to me as the carriage drove off; and I found myself alone with the beautiful and accomplished Miss Hanson.
“Ah, Mortimer,” said she, as we seated ourselves on the sofa, “how happy am I to have this opportunity of convincing you how much I am interested in your welfare; any thing that my fortune can command, or my influence accomplish, is at your disposal.”
“I fully estimate the value and kindness of your offer,” I replied; “and should circumstances make it necessary, shall not hesitate to avail myself of its advantages. Now, however, I must think of nothing but my return to my friends at the North, from whom I have been so long absent.”
“Then,” said she, “you intend to leave us; but, when among your friends at the North, you must remember there are some at the South by whom you will never be forgotten.” “And, there are some,” I replied, “who, while this heart shall continue to beat, will be remembered with feelings of purest delight; and, though I am compelled to leave them now, they will never be effaced from my recollection.”
I spoke with an earnestness and warmth of which I was insensible, till I perceived the cheek of my fair companion suffused with blushes— and I hastened to correct the impression which I found I had made, by saying, “that the kindness and tenderness with which I had been treated since I had arrived in Charleston, could not but leave the most lively impressions on my mind with regard to its inhabitants, and would ever be remembered with gratitude.”
“Is that the only emotion which will be excited by a remembrance of the South?” asked she, with a look and manner which left no room to mistake the meaning.
“I can hardly say,” I replied, “what feelings will predominate when reason shall be left to her sway: for here I feel more under the influence of my passion than my judgment.”
“You appear determined,” said she, smiling, “to remain ignorant of the subject on which I feel a trembling anxiety to know your opinion; but whatever indifference you may manifest, my feelings will not permit me to remain in suspense. Perhaps what I have to say will lessen me in your estimation; perhaps will by you be viewed as a violation of female propriety and decorum; but I throw myself on your mercy for forgiveness. Mortimer, I Love you!—cannot live without you—you will love me—you will make me yours—then my, whole life shall be spent in making you happy!”
Heavens! what a moment! Her beautiful countenance, flushed with the purple glow of love, reposed on my bosom, and when she threw her arms around my neck, as she finished speaking, her snowy bosom throbbed against my beating heart with electric effect; her coral lips almost touched mine, and he must have been more or less than man who could have refrained from invading their vermilion sanctuary. But the hallucination was but momentary; reason assumed her station as umpire, and the passions, victorious as they had been for a moment, now bowed in quiet submission to her sceptre. A single recollection of Mary, lovely Mary, artless and unassuming, would have sufficed to have broken the chains which a thousand such females might have woven around me. But though I could not love, most sincerely did I pity her.
“My dear Miss Hanson,” I replied, as soon as I could summon resolution enough to trust my voice, “most readily do I forgive you. I know full well the emotions of the heart are uncontrollable; and you must forgive me for saying, that you have addressed me on a subject of which I as yet know nothing, and, therefore, can say nothing, except that I shall always remember with pleasure the happy hours I have spent in your company; and, that in the important affairs of love, I must be guided by the wishes of that man who has been to me a second father, and one on whom I am dependent.”
“And is it money, then, that influences you in your desires?” she replied with earnestness. “You shall have it, to the extent of your wishes; why continue to be dependent on him, when it is so easy to be independent?”
“Ah, my dear Annette,” I answered, “the warmth of your feelings makes you overlook the consequences that would flow from my acceptance of your proposals; you have forgotten that I am young, unsettled in business, destitute of property, without powerful friends, and dependent for every thing; what would the world say? what would her parents say, should the rich, the gay, and the accomplished Annette Hanson throw herself away on a stranger, friendless and homeless?”
“Say not,” said she, “that you are friendless; that will never be! All your excuses only show that you do not, that you will not love me; but I deserve to be miserable. Some more fortunate, but not faithful, girl will be blessed with that affection, that love for which I in vain have [pur]sued. Be that as it may, I trust you will be happy!”
She burst into tears, and sobbed aloud.
“Lovely girl,” said I, “my heart bleeds for you. Oh, cease those tears, I am unworthy of you—forget me—let some more deserving youth share that worth which kings might be proud to possess.”
My feelings at that moment were indescribable. Most sincerely did 1 sympathize with her: I could hardly forbear weeping. At this instant, George entered the room; he looked at us with the greatest surprise.
“I perceive,” said he, “that I have intruded.”
“Not at all,” I replied, “your presence will be a relief to us both With your leave, Annette, I will retire, and call again to-morrow, when I shall hope to find you in better health and spirits!”
“Never,” she answered; “but go—I shall expect you to-morrow.”
I returned home. But my perturbed imagination forbade mo to rest, and when at last my feverish anxiety overcame my senses, and I slumbered for a few moments, my terrific visions were far more intolerable than the waking reality. The image of the lovely Mary flitted before me; but impassable gulfs separated me forever from her; while the beautiful and weeping Annette, with dishevelled hair and disordered dress, seemed to reproach me with something of which I was unable to form the most distant idea. Morning at last arrived, and the breakfast table, with the cheerful influence and delightful company of Mary, soon dispelled these unpleasant impressions, and restored the usual elasticity of my spirits.
“Well, Mortimer, you had a pleasant visit yesterday,” said Mary, as, after breakfast, we took our customary walk in the garden, and seated ourselves beneath a cluster of rose-bushes. “Your countenance showed the impression made upon your heart.”
“If my countenance was a true index to my feelings,” I answered “I must have looked frightful, for my impressions since yesterday have been none of the most delightful.”
“I cannot say the same,” replied Mary, laughing, “for I have fairly obtained a new lover, one who thinks he combines in his own person all the excellences of his sex; and one who would not hesitate to blow out the brains of any one who should dare to hint that he was mistaken in his estimate of himself; yes, George has at length stooped so low as to tell Mary Mornton he loves her.”
“If that is the case,” I answered in the same careless manner, “I may as well give up my pretensions at once, and the sooner I leave Charleston the better.”
“You have spoken the truth,” said Mary, her countenance at once assuming the utmost seriousness; “the sooner you leave Charleston the better—danger may attend you here—perhaps misery to us both.”
“Mary,” said I, seizing her hand, “for heaven’s sake explain yourself! Suspense is worse than certainty.”
“I have, for some time,” continued she, ” seen to what point his attentions were directed, and my object in leaving you with Miss Hanson when I was sent for yesterday, was to give him an opportunity to throw in his declaration, as the lawyers call it, if he chose, and, by at once letting him know his case was hopeless, put an end to the tedious formalities of such a suitor.”
“I have the utmost confidence, Mary, in your management,” I replied; “but I have formed a very wrong opinion of George, if he is a person, who, when his pride and will, if nothing more, are interested, will quietly take ‘no’ for an answer, and tamely surrender such an object of pursuit.”
“You are perfectly correct,” answered Mary; “from all fools, good Lord, deliver me! but especially from a self-conceited, obstinate one. George looked at me with an air of some surprise, when I coolly and plainly rejected him; it was but a moment, however. ‘I know,’ said he, ‘that you can have no possible objection to me; but perhaps you are already prepossessed in favour of some one else; perhaps that beggarly speculator from the North has been tampering with your heart, and insinuating himself into your good graces; but whoever he may be, he will ere long repent his interference.’ ‘Mr. Hanson,’ I answered, ‘you are much mistaken if you suppose that such threats or dictation can produce any effect on the mind of Mary Mornton, except it is contempt for their author—my heart is as yet my own, but when I see fit to bestow that, with my affection, on any individual, I shall do it without considering myself accountable to you or any other person, my dear parents excepted.’ ‘You appear so well when angry,’ answered George, ‘that I am sorry to leave you; yet before I go, I must assure you, that I will bear no rival in my love to you.’ So saying, he left the room, and I feel confident,” continued Mary, “that evil awaits you, if you remain in this place; remember, you are under my directions, and I command you to depart for the North immediately—yes, to-day, if possible—that fellow would not hesitate to sacrifice you to his passions.”
“And is it you, Mary, that commands me to leave you? Is it you that would bid me forsake the society of the only person that can make life tolerable? Is it you that would interpose a distance between us, that might for ever prevent our union? and all because a blustering braggadocio threatens. No, let me perish first—I fear him not.”
“You talk like a boy,” said Mary, smiling. “I am not so willing to part with you as you seem to suppose, and it is to prevent a separation, which I, of all others, should most dread, that I have laid my commands upon you; and you will obey—I know you will, and live for happiness and—Mary!”
“Bewitching girl,” I replied, “you shall be obeyed, however painful your request—but think not that I can absent myself long from you: I shall soon return, be the consequences what they may.”
“When you receive my leave,” said the lovely creature, “when I have fairly disposed of George—not before, remember, not till you have my leave—if you do, it is at your peril.”
At that moment, a servant arrived with a request for me to return to the house, as a gentleman wished to speak with me. I accompanied him, and at the door was met by Mr. Mornton, who informed me that Mr. Hanson had called to see me, and was then at my lodging-room, where I repaired immediately, and found George in waiting. The cold and insolent manner with which he received my salutation, the changeableness of his countenance, and the snakelike glance of his eyes, intimated plainly the gale of the passions within.
“I concluded, after you left us, last evening,” said he, “to pay my compliments to you in person, this morning. I presume we shall remain uninterrupted.”
“Certainly, sir, if you wish.”
“I do,” he replied, and I stepped to the door and turned the key.
“Now,” said he, “I demand, without circumlocution or equivocation, the reasons of your attempt to ingratiate yourself into the affections of Miss Mornton, when you must have known her engagements to me, and especially after you had pledged yourself to my sister.”
“Your language,” I replied, “is so extraordinary and unbecoming a gentleman, that unless you state on what authority you make the demand, you will excuse me if I take no further notice of it or you, except to show you the door, where the cool air might benefit you, by producing a return of your reason.”
“I will let you know,” said he, his countenance pale with rage, “before I leave you, that I am not to be trifled with. I demand the satisfaction of a gentleman, for the imposition you have practised on my sister, and are now trying to react on Miss Mornton.”
“If your sister has given you information that has led to this conduct, she has grossly belied both herself and me. I, however, do not believe a syllable of it respecting her; and so far as Miss Mornton is concerned, she is at hand, and can speak for herself.”
I moved towards the door, when he sprang from his seat, placed his back to the door, drew a pistol from his pocket, and swore most tremendously that but one of us should leave the room alive.
“I despise you and your threats,” said I, “and would leave the room this moment in spite of you, were it not that I have no wish to injure you, and I do not intend to give you the chance of murdering me.”
“I need not,” said he, “the information of any one to assist me in detecting your villany; and no one knows my intention of giving it the chastisement it deserves. Your impudent coolness shall avail you nothing; you have affronted me in such a manner, that nothing but blood can efface the stain; you have stepped between me and happiness, and when I thought that I had secured Miss Mornton, instead of meeting a return of my love, I found that you, miscreant as you are, had interfered, and I received nothing but cold incivility and reproach!”
“Your epithets, of which you are so liberal,” I replied, “you had better reserve, in order to apply where they are more needed; and as to the satisfaction you require, you can have all that the law will give, and that is all that you will get from me. I have no intention of setting myself up as a mark for every coward to shoot at.”
“Hell and furies!” exclaimed he, gnashing his teeth with rage, “do you think to escape me in this manner? No!—Miss Mornton is too high a prize for me to part with thus easily. I again repeat, that both of us leave not this room alive; here is a pair of pistols—take your choice, and defend yourself, or, by the powers above, you shall feel the contents of the other.”
I was unarmed—my pistols, which lay in the drawer, were unloaded, and he had so much the maniac in his actions, that I thought it prudent to accept the weapon offered, but with a determination to use it only in self-defence. He cocked the pistol himself, as he handed it to me, and I had walked part of the distance across the room, to resume my seat, when, happening to cast my eyes towards him, I perceived him in the act of firing. “Stop,” said I, as I faced him and almost involuntarily presented my pistol. He fired: the ball slightly grazed the side of my head, and lodged in the wall of the chamber. Perceiving that he had not accomplished his design, and mad with desperation, he threw the pistol with all his might at my head. It struck my right arm near my shoulder, and gave it such a shock that the pistol, which I still held in my hand, was discharged; the ball passed through his heart! and he dropped dead upon the floor! I flew to him, raised him up, placed him on the sofa, and, unlocking the door, cried for help. The report of the pistols alarmed the family, and I was met at the staircase by Mr. Mornton, Mary, and the servants that attended the house.
“For God’s sake, Mortimer,” said Mr. Mornton, “what is the matter? You are as pale as death!”
“Follow me, and see for yourselves,” I answered.
The struggles of death had ceased when we entered the chamber; but the floor was swimming with blood, in the midst of which lay the pistols he had intended should accomplish his murderous design; while his right hand still grasped the dagger he had convulsively seized at the moment of falling. I briefly related the circumstances that led to the encounter and its fatal termination, and requested Mr. Mornton to give me his advice respecting the line of conduct I should pursue, promising to abide by his decision, let it be what it might.
“Mortimer,” answered Mr. Mornton, “I believe you to be innocent, and that this man has met the fate he intended for yourself; but can you establish your innocence? Your declaration will avail you nothing; his friends are powerful; you are comparatively a stranger; the penalty of the law will overtake you, unless you prevent it by an instantaneous flight. Most sincerely do I regret this unhappy occurrence, since it leaves but the alternative of flight or disgraceful death! A vessel of mine has left the wharf this morning, but will not pass the bar till you can reach it;—it is bound to Havana;—from that place you can reach New York without difficulty—or should circumstances render it possible for you to appear in this place in safety, most gladly would we welcome you to our mansion. You will decide immediately; I will myself make the necessary arrangements for seeing you on board the vessel, if you choose—there you will be in safety; if otherwise”—
I looked at Mary. She understood my meaning.
“Fly, Mortimer,” said the lovely girl, “fly! fly! Would to heaven I could fly with you! preserve a life dear to others as yourself—this storm will blow over and we will yet be happy! Innocence, in this case, will avail you nothing—you will find your enemies powerful and implacable!”
“Mary,” said I, as I clasped her convulsively in my arms, “I go because you command; because you desire; but I feel as though I should subject myself to a living death by a separation from you. Farewell! and whatever may happen, remember that Mortimer is yours and yours alone!”
I carried the fainting girl in my arms to her chamber, again pressed her to my bosom, and again kissed her snowy forehead; tore myself from her, and, in company with Mr. Mornton, hastened to the wharf.
“This gentleman,” said Mr. Mornton, to a number of boatman, who were standing on the wharf, “wishes to get on board the Speedwell before she passes the bar—name your price, and huzza for the oars.”
“We would willingly oblige you, sir,” answered one of them, “but it is plainly impossible. Father Neptune himself could not work a boat against this swell.”
“It must be done,” answered Mr. Mornton.
“It cannot be done,” answered the other.
“It will be done,” replied Mr. Mornton. “Remember, you make your own terms;” taking, as he spoke, a handful of silver dollars from his pocket.
“These fellows look tempting—to your oars, lads!”
“But, if we take three times the usual fee, you will not think it unreasonable; we cannot afford to run the risk of becoming food for sharks, in such a sea as this, for nothing.”
“Here is four times the usual amount—away, as for life or death,” said Mr. Mornton.
I pressed Mr. Mornton’s hand, entreated him to neglect no exertion in my favour, and sprang into the boat, which immediately shoved off.
“Mr. Mornton is quite flush with his cash this morning,” said the master of the boat, “but he knows his object—some speculations to add to his already overgrown fortune.”
“When George gets Mary, it will go as fast as it comes,” answered his companion.
“George doesn’t catch the finest girl in Charleston so easy,” replied the other. “I heard one of the clerks say, at the warehouse, this morning, that a young merchant from the North was all the toast now, and, if that is the case, you may depend, George’s hopes are all aback.”
“Hard to the starboard!” exclaimed the master. At that moment a wave struck us, and half-filled the boat with water. “Bale away, lads! One more such wave as that, and we shall be drinking grog in Charon’s ferry-boat.”
We however reached the Speedwell in safety, at the instant they were getting under way, and I bade a sad adieu to the place where were concentrated all my hopes, and all my fears; and I retired to the cabin, reflecting that I was separated from Mary! perhaps forever!
Our voyage was prosperous until we arrived at Key West, where we were hailed by a small black-looking vessel, bearing the Spanish colours, and ordered to send our papers on board. Some little delay occurred, and a shot was fired at us, which passed between our masts, without however doing any injury. The mate went on board with the papers, but was instantly seized and stabbed to the heart, while the rest of the boat’s crew attempted to save themselves by jumping overboard, with the hope of reaching the Speedwell by swimming. But one reached us, as repeated volleys of musketry were fired at them from the pirate, and they sank forever, while the waves were crimsoned with their blood. It was a dead calm at the time, and two boats, filled with ferocious-looking wretches, had left the vessel, evidently with the intention of boarding us; and they succeeded, after a desperate conflict, in which they lost nearly one-half of their crew. When they at last reached the deck, we were instantly overpowered; but what was the fate of the vessel I knew not, as I was knocked down at the termination of the conflict, and remained senseless for several hours. When I recovered, I found myself on board the pirate, with several of the gang standing round me, and to my inquiries, what had become of the Speedwell and crew, only one answer was given. “We sent them to h—ll, together, for their obstinate resistance, and you would have been there, too, had we not, owing to the confusion of the moment, and your being covered with blood, mistaken you for our lieutenant, and brought you on board before we discovered our error; but, cheer up, you are now safe, for d**n it, bad as we are, we would not murder any one in cold blood; but when our blood is up, look to the consequences.”
The vessel, with the plunder, was taken in among the keys, which line the coast of Cuba, and on one of which these villains had an establishment, where myself, a few of the crew, and part of the armament of the vessel were landed, while she proceeded to Havana to dispose of the plunder of the Speedwell. Day after day, and month after month, passed heavily away, and no information whatever was received of the vessel which had left us in that desolate and hopeless condition. They became raving, and it required the exertion of all the influence I possessed to keep them from murdering each other. Nor were my sensations much more agreeable than those of my companions. I reflected almost to madness, on the opinion that must be formed of me by my indulgent uncle in New York, and my adored Mary and her benevolent father in Charleston. There was no possibility of escaping from this place, as there was not wood enough on the island to construct a raft which would float a man across the waters which separated us from the land. After we had remained nearly half a year, and every project of escape had failed, a boat which had drifted from some wreck, during a storm, had struck upon the island, and its appearance was hailed with rapture by myself and my companions. In this we coasted Cuba, and arrived at Havana. Here I found the seaman who had taken care of me when on board the piratical vessel, suffering under the effects of the wound received from me, in defending the Speedwell. From him I learned, that the piratical vessel, immediately on her arrival at Havana, was seized, on the complaint of a British agent, for an attack upon one of his majesty’s vessels, and, in consequence had, with her crew, been sent to Jamaica for trial. They were found guilty of the most barbarous crimes, and every man of them executed. He was himself fortunately on shore at the time of the seizure, and by that means escaped. I had learned from my companions, that the crew of the Speedwell were all destroyed, and after taking out such articles as were deemed most valuable, she was scuttled and sunk. Once at Havana, my resolutions were soon formed, and a favourable opportunity occurring, I determined to repair immediately to Charleston, in defiance of every danger. The image of the lovely Mary, pale and weeping, as when she bid me farewell, haunted my imagination, whether sleeping or waking. I had suffered so much during my residence among the morasses of Cuba, and my complexion had by constant exposure become so sunburnt, that I was confident, should secrecy be necessary on my arrival, I stood in little danger of detection. But, be that as it would, there was no danger I would not have cheerfully encountered, to have listened to the sweet accents and enjoyed the delightful company of Mary. I left Havana, and reached Charleston in safety. The vessel anchored in the bay, and, with a palpitating heart, I proceeded in the boat for the city. It was dark when I presented myself at the door of Mr. Mornton’s residence, and, with a faltering hand, knocked for admittance.
The door was opened by the same servant who attended when I had before resided with Mr. Mornton. I was shown into the same room where I had so often sat, but, on inquiry for Mr. Mornton, I was informed that he was out on business, but would return in an hour. I told the servant I would wait his arrival—took a volume which was lying there, and seated myself with apparent composure. Everything in the room reminded me of her I most wished to see; a beautiful full length portrait of her was suspended over the mantelpiece, and on opening the book, the first thing that met my eyes were the following lines, in the well-known hand of Mary:
Ah, why delay his wished return? Forgive me,
Oh, forgive me, Mortimer, but joys deferr’d
Make my heart sick, and hope, with all its powers,
Can scarce suppress the anguish of my bosom!
But peace each murmur, fate itself may strive,
But cannot sever thy faithful heart from mine.
The agony of suspense was intolerable; I longed to inquire for Mary, but prudence forbade. I perceived that the servant had entirely forgotten me, and I waited impatiently the arrival of Mr. Mornton. I walked the room; I listened to every step, with the hope of catching the sound of the light and fairy footfall of the lovely Mary. The hour passed away, and Mr. Mornton arrived. I spoke; he knew my voice instantly, and seized me by the hand.
“Good heavens! Mortimer, can it be you?” exclaimed Mr. Mornton, “or is it only an illusion, to mock my senses and aggravate my misfortunes?”
“It is no illusion—I am your own Mortimer,” I replied. “Oh! where is Mary? for heaven’s sake, let me see her!—let me fly to her!”
“Good God!” answered Mr. Mornton, grasping my hand convulsively, ” are you yet to hear the fatal story? are you yet to learn that Mary is in heaven? Yes, she is gone—gone forever!” added he, as the tears trickled down his cheeks, and fell warm upon my hand.
I could not weep; I could not speak; and it was with difficulty I could support myself from sinking to the floor. The agonies of expiring nature, I am convinced, will never exceed those of that moment, when every prospect of happiness was at one fell blow destroyed, and hope, the last anchor of the wretched, torn from its moorings.
“O God!” I cried, when my agitated feelings permitted the power of utterance, “why was I spared to endure this extremity of wretchedness? why was I preserved to suffer the agonies of a living death?”
“My dear Mortimer, accuse not Omnipotence rashly,” said Mr. Mornton. “I loved her as well as you. Ah! I feel too well I loved her; my heart was bound up in the happiness of Mary; but nothing earthly could save her from the conqueror’s arms. Oh ! Mortimer, these hands closed her eyes; this bosom received her last sigh; and her dying exclamation, ‘My dear father, I am hastening to the company of my dear Mortimer!’ still sounds in my ears.”
His grief found vent in tears; and I, summoning all my fortitude, ventured to make an inquiry respecting her decease, and the time the heart-rending event took place.
“You well remember,” answered Mr. Mornton, “the manner in which you left Charleston. Though it was immediately known that Mr. Hanson fell by your hands, my endeavours were successfully exerted in preventing any attempt to pursue you till you were safe beyond their reach; and as the event was one of no uncommon occurrence, it soon ceased to be a subject of remark, and Mary flattered herself that soon you would be able to return to this place, and visit your friends in safety. In the mean time, no information whatever was received of the Speedwell, and we began to fear that she had perished at sea, and all on board had been lost. It was not until after several months of painful suspense, that the account of the execution of the pirates reached us in the papers from Jamaica:—in their confession, the capture of the Speedwell and the murder of all her crew occupied a prominent place, and accounted with awful certainty for your long silence.”
I here interrupted Mr. Mornton with a short account of the loss of the Speedwell, the manner in which I was preserved from death, my residence on the island, and my escape to Havana. After I had closed, he proceeded:
“Though I endeavoured to conceal the fatal event from Mary, it was in vain; the account was copied in the City Gazette, and was immediately noticed by her. This was the termination of Mary’s hopes—the deathblow to her happiness. The roses fled from her lips; society lost its charms; she refused to see company; and was evidently hastening to that place where the weary are at rest. Although I was much alarmed about her, I could not persuade her to believe she was in danger. She always met me with a smile, but it only served to render more visible to the watchful eye of parental anxiety the hectic flush of her lily countenance. Hoping that a change of objects, a sea-voyage to New York, and the diversity of objects which we should meet with in that place, might have a beneficial effect in restoring her to health, I proposed her accompanying me to the northern metropolis. Accustomed to yield implicit obedience to my wishes, she made no objection to the proposal, although she assured me it would do her no good; and the result verified the prediction. She declined rapidly on our voyage home, was carried from the vessel to her chamber, which she never again left. Annette watched over her with the tender anxiety of a sister, and alleviated the wearisome hours of sickness by every consolation in the power of friendship to bestow. Not a murmur escaped her. ‘My dear father,’ she would say, ‘weep not for me! we shall again meet, to be forever happy.’ While life lasted, of earthly objects you were uppermost in her affections, and the last quivering accents of her tongue vibrated with your name!”
“Lovely martyr!” I exclaimed, when he ceased speaking. “Oh, why could not I have flown to thee! why could not my bosom have received the fatal arrow, that I might have accompanied thee to a brighter and a better world! And, endeared Annette, heaven will bless thee for thy kindness to my departed Mary. May thy hopes never be blighted, like those of that lovely victim; but may the smiles of heaven shower down blessings upon thee, and thy pathway of life be strewed with flowers.”
“Though I would not deny you the sacred luxury of grief,” said Mr. Mornton, “I would entreat you not to indulge in it to excess. Tears will relieve your bursting heart, and reflection will give you fortitude to support your loss. You will retire to your chamber, for we shall never be tired of conversing and thinking of our Mary.”
“No—never!” I replied, wringing his hand, as he accompanied me to my chamber, and left me, as he concluded, to my repose. Vain attempt! my burning brain forbade the most distant approach of rest. I reflected on my loss until my imagination could bear it no longer. I became bewildered, and the last that I can recollect was my smiting my forehead and exclaiming—” Oh, Mary! would to heaven I had died with thee!”
In what manner I left Charleston, is to me utterly unknown. It was on the fifth day after I landed at Charleston, that I found myself within ten miles of Savannah, in Georgia, nearly destitute of clothing, and emaciated almost to a skeleton. The events through which I had passed appeared like a distressing dream, from which I had just awakened, and it was a considerable time before I recovered a full sense of the distressing reality of my situation. I immediately proceeded to Savannah, where the kindness of a few individuals, among whom was the captain of a South American privateer, then fitting out at that port, relieved my necessities, and by his persuasion I consented to engage in the service, as second in command. I was accordingly, by my request, introduced to the crew, who were already enlisted, as a brother of the captain, recently arrived from the North; and the name of Lafitte, which I then assumed, have continued to bear. My fortunes were desperate; life was a burden; I had nothing to lose; the situation was one which well accorded with my feelings, and I did not hesitate to accept. Our commission was from the republican government of Buenos Ayres. For several years we were prosperous; I had amassed a considerable fortune, and entertained serious thoughts of returning to New York, when, one evening, as we were on a cruise off St. Domingo, looking for some merchantmen which we knew were daily expected from Spain, we fell in with a British vessel of superior force, who ordered us, under pain of being fired into, to send our boat on board and heave to till morning. Captain Lafitte refused, a short altercation ensued, and an action of the most desperate kind commenced. The British vessel was carried by boarding, after great slaughter. Captain Lafitte was killed early in the engagement—I was severely wounded by a sabre in the head—and the third in command, vindictive in disposition and exasperated by opposition, ordered no quarters to be given, and the conquered were exterminated. By this time, the government under whose orders we were acting had been put down by the Royalists, who had effected a counter revolution. We were declared to be acting without orders from any government, and, refusing to surrender ourselves for trial, were outlawed and a reward offered for our heads. It became necessary to provide for ourselves. On the death of Captain Lafitte, I succeeded to the command, and we established ourselves on the north-west part of the Gulf, and lived on our enemies. When the South Americans were again found in arms, I espoused their cause, but a majority of my men declined acting in concert with their marine, or having our fate linked with theirs. Our numbers had increased so much, that I added two vessels to our establishment, appointed Laborde second in command, and took possession of this island, where we have successfully maintained ourselves against any attempts made against us. My correspondence with New Orleans is direct, and I receive information almost weekly of the important events going on. When the present war broke out between the United States and Great Britain, we declared ourselves on the side of the former, and have acted accordingly; and, though we fight with the halter round our necks, being considered by the government as pirates, still, unless we are driven to extremities, we shall be found faithful friends to the republic.
“Thus, sir, I have given you a short account of the manner in which I became chief of this establishment; and I can sincerely say, that if our present disabilities could be removed, most cheerfully would we perform any duty which might be assigned us in aid of the government.”
“My most persevering exertions shall be used in your favour,” I replied, “and I have reason to believe with success. I am not entirely unknown to some of the officers of the government at Washington, and a representation of your wishes would undoubtedly meet with .immediate attention from the executive.”
“For your friendly proposal, I thank you,” Lafitte replied; “it promises to restore me to that world which was once enlivened by the bewitching influence of Mary.”
“Lafitte,” said I, “I should have thought that the perils you have passed through would have obliterated every trace of that victim of love from your memory.”
“When this tide ceases to ebb and flow—when yonder Mississippi rolls its turbid waters to the frozen north—when the needle forgets to point to the pole—when this heart palpitates for the last time—then, and not till then, shall I cease to remember Mary. Forget her!—impossible!”
And he drew from his bosom a small morocco case, suspended by a ribbon, from which, wrapped in a paper, he took a beautiful miniature portrait of Mary. He kissed it with enthusiasm.
“This,” said Lafitte, “that lovely girl gave me at our last sad parting, and with such a memento daily before me, could I forget her? Well, well do I remember how the angelic Mary appeared at that moment; her long hair, with curling tresses, twining around her snowy neck, and slightly veiling her swelling bosom. Pale, ah! deadly pale were those lips I had so often kissed, in the fervour of unalloyed innocence and love.”
He again kissed the portrait, and was replacing it, when I observed that the envelope contained a number of lines of poetry, in the handwriting of Lafitte. I extended my hand for the paper.
“You are welcome to read them,” said Lafitte, smiling: “it has, I believe, been observed that every poet is a lover, and, by a parity of reasoning, every lover ought to be a poet. To that title, however, I make no pretensions—it is my first and last attempt; they were written during our first cruise, and when my heart bled at every recollection of Mary!—the evening was beautiful; the moon rode in silvery splendour through the clear blue heavens; not a breath disturbed the sleeping waters, and from the bosom of the waves the stars which glittered in the skies were reflected in all their brightness. Mary occupied my thoughts; I remembered the evenings I had spent in her delightful society; I reflected on my loss until my ideas assumed this form; they were committed to paper, and have since served to enclose this precious relic of former happiness.” They were as follows:
LINES TO THE MEMORY OF MARY MORNTON.
When death, dread monarch 1 hurls the relentless dart
And lays in dust the wise, the good, the great,
Deep streams of sorrow flow from every heart,
And nations mourn beneath the stroke of fate.
When the dark tomb its jaws insatiate close
On those dear forms whose souls were twined
No stoic’s self could blame the tear that flows,
Or chase the memory from those painful hours.
Then let the muse indulge in sighs and tears,
O’er love that’s past, and joys for ever flown—
Oh, why so short our bliss?—it but appears,
Charms our fond hearts, and Is for ever gone.
Frail are our joys as is yon opening flower
That spreads its fragrant bosom to the skies:
Plucked by the intruder’s hand, In one short hour
Its bloom is withcr’d and its fragrance dies.
Swift pass the hours where friendship spreads her charms,
In dreams of bliss the months unheeded roll;
Nor dream we aught that tear from our fond arms
Those dear delights that twine around the soul.
Oh, happy moments still I think I view,
That tender bosom, and that mild blue eye,
Melting in love—then blame the joys that flew.
With winged haste, to pass away and die.
Yes; they are dead! yet memory lives to fling
Her snowy fingers o’er the engraven heart.
And trace those lines of love, which read, will bring
Remembrance of those joys from which we
Then all farewell—or bliss, or weal, or woe—
All are forgotten, buried—from this hour;
The muse resigns her harp to tears that flow
O’er love’s sweet memory, and her pleasing
As I finished reading, my eye met Lafitte’s, and I saw a tear trembling in his eye, which was hastily wiped away.
“Who comes here?” said Lafitte, lifting his glass to his eye, and mine took the same direction.
A sloop of war had just hove in view, and the British flag was flying at her peak. Lafitte replaced the portrait in his bosom, and hastened to give orders for clearing his vessels for action. This was speedily done, and all hands were at quarters. In the mean time, the sloop had anchored, and a boat, fully manned, with the white flag flying, was approaching the shore. The bearer of the flag presented Lafitte with a letter, to which he respectfully requested an answer. Lafitte ordered some refreshments for the boat’s crew, as he requested me to accompany him to the hut we had just left, and which he always occupied when on shore. He seated himself at the table, and breaking the seal, read as follows:—
“To Captain Lafitte, Commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Flotilla, in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Sir—His Britannic Majesty’s forces will soon visit the south-western part of the United States with an overwhelming force, and I, as commander of his Majesty’s Navy on the American station, am authorized to offer you any office in my power to bestow, together with any sum of money you may demand, if you will consent to become chief conductor of the flotilla which will be employed on this service, and which your intimate acquaintance with these shores enables you to do with so much honour to yourself and advantage to his Majesty’s service. On your answer will depend whether we are to consider and treat you as a friend or an enemy.
“With sentiments of the greatest respect, I remain your servant,
“A. Cochran, Admiral, &c.
At Sea, September, 1814.”
Lafitte took his pen, and, without saying a word, endorsed on the margin of the letter—” No terms with tyrants!” enclosed it in an envelope, redirected it, and handed it to the officer, with “You have my answer!” The boat returned to the vessel, which immediately weighed anchor and stood out to sea.
“These fellows, if they dared, would destroy us without ceremony,” said Lafitte, as they disappeared before a fine breeze; “but when favour is wanted, they are liberal of their promises to excess, and submissive as lambs. I shall not be troubled with them anymore, unless they see fit to make an attempt upon my establishment, when they will find more sand-bars than clear seas, and more iron than silver. But there is another vessel in sight. It is my trader, from New Orleans. I shall now be able to liberate you, and, in a few days, land you at New Orleans or Mobile, as you may choose.”
Lafitte was true to his word. On the third day after the schooner’s arrival, for such was her character, I went on board, and sailed for Mobile, as from there greater facilities were offered for reaching Washington than from New Orleans. Before I left Lafitte, I was persuaded, should my mission to Washington prove successful, to return myself with the glad news to him, in person. I landed at Mobile, reached Washington, succeeded in obtaining full pardon for Lafitte and his associates, and returned to New Orleans just as the storm, which had so long been gathering, burst with all its fury upon the coast of Louisiana. I immediately returned in a government vessel to Barataria, and was received by Lafitte with the warmest expressions of gratitude. He had, a few days previous, returned from a successful cruise, in which, among others, he had succeeded in capturing a British transport, containing a large quantity of cannon, arms, &c., destined for the attack upon New Orleans. On my arrival, Lafitte called his followers together, communicated to them the intelligence of the free and full pardon guarantied them, and upon what conditions it had been received; and gave them liberty to accept or reject the offer. “Long live the President of the United States!” and “Long live Lafitte!” repeatedly rent the air, and they unanimously resolved to follow him as their leader.
“Brave fellows,” said Lafitte, “we will prove by our swords our high sense of the favour conferred!”
All hands were now busily engaged in conveying on board the vessels the valuable property which had been collected at that place, and the quantity of specie dragged from its various lurking-places far exceeded in quantity my idea of Lafitte’s wealth. We arrived in safety at New Orleans, and were received by Commodore Patterson, who commanded on the station, with every mark of respect. Lafitte had an honourable command assigned him, and his heroic conduct, previous to and on the ever-memorable eighth of January, is already deeply marked on the page of history.
When the British, confounded at their loss and covered with disgrace, had retired to their shipping, and all apprehension of a renewed attack had subsided, New Orleans exhibited a scene of unbounded gayety and glee. A splendid ball was given in honour of General Jackson, at which most of the officers of the army and navy were present, and all the beauty and bravery of the South appeared to be concentrated on the occasion. In the course of the evening, my attention was strongly engaged by the appearance of a young lady who entered the apartment leaning on the arm of the mayor of the city. She was very beautiful, yet the freshness of youth seemed to have passed away, and a slight shade of melancholy gave her a most interesting appearance. Intimately acquainted with the mayor, I was introduced as a friend to Miss Hanson, from Charleston, and chance soon gave me an opportunity of entering into conversation with his fair companion. The conversation turned on the remarkable deliverance New Orleans had received from the invading enemy.
“I little thought,” said Miss Hanson, “when I left Charleston, two years ago, to reside in this city, that I was to witness such a scene of turmoil as that through which we have just passed; and but a few days since, my expectations were still more faint, of beholding such a happy termination of our troubles as this evening affords.”
“It did appear extremely improbable,” I replied, “and our friends in different parts of the Union will heartily rejoice at our escape from such watchwords as ‘Beauty and booty.’”
“It makes me shudder,” she answered, “to think of the danger from which we have been rescued! Not a fortnight ago, I sincerely wished myself at Charleston; but now we are safe and happy.”
“Are you a native of Charleston?” I inquired. “A few years ago, I was considerably acquainted in that city.”
“I am,” she replied; “it is but two years since, at the earnest entreaties of my uncle, who is at present mayor of this city, I left Charleston, and accompanied him here.”
“Were you acquainted at Charleston with a young lady by the name of Mary Mornton?” I asked.
“I was acquainted with her,” replied Miss Hanson; “she was my most intimate friend; but Mary reposes quietly in the grave, the victim of unfortunate love; often have I wished I could have slept with her.”
“Was her lover a villain?” I inquired.
“Oh, no! he was as far from that, as day is from night,” she answered with earnestness; “he was one of the most amiable and engaging persons I have ever seen. An unfortunate affair drove him from Charleston, and the vessel in which he sailed was taken by the pirates, and all on board murdered! Mary’s tender heart was unable to sustain the shock, and she added another to the number of those who have fallen victims to the effect of that pleasing, painful passion, faithful love. No,” she added, “it is impossible for Mortimer Wilson to be a villain.”
“You speak with warmth,” I replied; “but you are perfectly pardonable; it is so difficult to find such a person, that it is no wonder he should attract universal admiration.” She blushed deeply. “Are you acquainted with Lafitte?” I continued.
“I have never seen him,” she replied, “nor have the least anxiety to become acquainted with him; after all his heroism and courage, he is but a pirate, a murderer.”
“Our hearsay opinions are sometimes incorrect,” I answered. “I once thought as you do. You shall have an opportunity of correcting your unfavourable impressions, as I have done; pardon my absence a moment.”
I flew to another room, where I found Lafitte in conversation with several officers. There was an air of melancholy in his features, and I beckoned him to follow me. He took my hand and pressed it in his.
“Once,” said he, “I, too, could be happy; but where is Mary!”
“You can still be happy, if loveliness and disinterested affection can make you so, without Mary,” I replied.
He was about to speak, but I placed my finger on my lips, and we, in a moment, found ourselves alongside of Miss Hanson.
“Miss Hanson,” said I, “I have the pleasure of making you acquainted with Captain Lafitte, of the South American service, and a volunteer in defence of our city.”
She extended her hand with a kind of involuntary shudder; but at the moment their eyes met, her countenance was instantly suffused with the deepest crimson; but as instantly became deadly pale. She tottered towards him—” Oh, Mortimer!” “Oh, Annette !”—and they were locked in each other’s arms. Her sensations were too overpowering, she fainted in his arms, and was carried to another apartment, where, when she recovered, a full understanding of the remarkable circumstances in which they found themselves and reconciliation took place. Annette’s friends were not more astonished than delighted. Lafitte had never forgotten Annette; she was second only to Mary; and if she could not fill the void in his heart which the death of that lovely victim had caused, he felt towards her all the affection which the warmest feelings of gratitude could inspire. Annette’s attachment remained unaltered; and before I left New Orleans, I saw her made the happiest of mortals, by her union with the adored Mortimer Wilson.