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Александр Дюма
Captain Paul

Captain Paul
Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas

Captain Paul

INTRODUCTION

The admirers of "The Pilot," one of the most magnificent of Cooper's novels, have evinced a general feeling of regret, in which we ourselves have deeply participated, that the book, once finished, we altogether lose sight of the mysterious being whom we had followed with such intense interest, through the narrows of the Devil's Grip, and the Cloisters of St, Ruth. There is in the physiognomy, in the language, and in the actions of this person, introduced in the first place by the name of John, and afterwards under that of Paul, a melancholy so profound, a grief so bitter, a contempt of life of so intense a nature, that every reader desires to become acquainted with the motives which influenced so brave and generous a heart. For ourselves, we acknowledge that we have more than once been tempted, however indiscreet, to say the least of it, it might have been, to write to Cooper himself, and ask him for information regarding the early career and closing years of this adventurous seaman – information which we have vainly searched for in his narrative. I thought that such a request would be readily forgiven by him to whom it was addressed, for it would have been accompanied by the expression of the most sincere and ardent admiration of his work; but I was restrained by the reflection that the author himself, perhaps, knew no more of that career, of which, he had given us but an episode, than that portion of it which had been illuminated by the sun of American Independence: for, in fact, this brilliant meteor had passed from the clouds which environed his birth to the obscurity of his death in such a manner, that it was quite possible the "poet historian," being far distant from the place where his hero was born, and from the country in which he died, knew no more of him than what he has transmitted to us. The very mystery which surrounded him, may have been the cause of his selecting Paul Jones to play a part in his annals. Urged by these considerations, I resolved upon obtaining, by my own research, those details which I had so often desired to receive from others. I searched through the archives of the Navy; all I found there was a copy of the letters of marque granted to him by Louis XVI. I examined the annals of the Convention; I only found in them the Decree passed at the time of his death. I questioned his contemporaries; they told me that he was buried in the cemetery of Père la Chaise. This was all the information I could gather from my first attempts.

I then consulted our living library – Nodier, the learned – Nodier, the philosopher – Nodier, the poet. After reflecting for a few moments, he mentioned a small book written by Paul Jones himself, containing memoirs of his life, bearing this motto, "Munera sunt Laudi." I started off to hunt for this precious relic; but it was in vain I searched through libraries, rummaged the old book-stalls – all that I could find was an infamous libel, entitled, "Paul Jones, ou Prophétie sur l'Amérique, l'Angleterre, la France, l'Espagne et la Hollande" which I threw from me with disgust, before I had got through the fourth page, marvelling that poisons should be so enduring, and be perfectly preserved, whilst we search in vain for wholesome and nutritious food – I therefore renounced all hope in this quarter.

Some time afterwards, while taking a voyage along our coast, having started from Cherbourg, I visited St. Malo, Quimper, and l'Orient. Upon my arrival at the latter place I recollected having read in a biography of Paul Jones, that this celebrated seaman had been three times in that port. This circumstance had struck me – I had noted down the dates, and had only to open my pocket-book to ascertain them. I examined the naval archives, and in them I actually found entries of the sojourn which the two frigates, the Hanger, of eighteen guns, and the Indienne, of thirty-two, had made in these roads. As to the reasons for their coming there, whether from ignorance or neglect, the secretary who had kept the register had omitted to assign them. I was just leaving the office without further information, when I thought of inquiring of an old clerk who was sitting there, whether there was no traditional recollection in the country as to the captain of these two ships. The old man told me that in 1784, he being then a boy, and employed in the Quarantine Office at Havre, had seen Paul Jones there. He was at that time a commodore in the fleet of the Count de Vaudreuil. The renowned courage of this officer, and his extraordinary exploits, had made such an impression upon him, that upon his, the clerk's, return to Brittany, he spoke of him to his father, who then had charge of the Chateau d'Auray. Upon hearing the name of Paul Jones, the old man started, and made a sign to him to be silent – the young man obeyed, though not without astonishment. He frequently afterwards questioned his father upon the subject, but he always refused to satisfy his curiosity. It was not till after the death of the Marchioness d'Auray, the emigration of her son, the Marquis, and the dispersion of the family at the Revolution, that the old man felt himself permitted to reveal, even to his son, the strange and mysterious history, in which that of the object of my inquiries was so singularly blended. Although nearly, forty years had passed away since his father had related that eventful history, it had made so deep an impression upon him that he repeated it to me, as he assured me, nearly word for word.

I have treasured up this history in the recesses of my memory for nearly seven years: and it would have still remained buried there, with a mass of other recollections, destined never to see the light, had I not about six months ago read "The Pilot" for the second time, and even with much greater interest than before; for, thanks to the researches I had made, the hero was no longer to me an unknown being, appearing only for an instant, his face but partially visible, and with merely the portion of a name; he had now become a friend, almost a brother, to me – for new sympathies had been awakened in my heart besides those which had formerly been inspired by the recital of the expedition to Whitehaven. These led me to reflect that whatever of interest and disappointment I had experienced on reading' Cooper's novel, they must have been entertained alike by others, and that the anxious desire I had felt to know more of the former lover of Alice Dunscombe was not a feeling peculiar to myself, but would be participated by all those, and their number must be great, who have followed this skilful seaman from the moment of his first meeting Lieutenant Barnstaple on the English cliffs, until that in which he quitted the Alert to land on the shores of Holland.

I have, therefore, gathered up my recollections, and have written this history.

CHAPTER I – A STRANGE SAIL

Hoarse o'er her side the rustling cable rings-
The sails are furled – and anchoring, round she swings;
And gathering loiterers on the land discern
Her boat descending from the latticed stern.
'Tis mann'd – the oars keep concert to the strand,
Till grates her keel upon the shallow sand. – Byron.

Toward the close of a fine evening in the month of October, 1779, the most inquisitive among the inhabitants of the small town of Fort Louis, had assembled on the point of land immediately opposite to that on which stands the city of Lorient. The object which attracted their attention, and which was the subject of their inquiries, was a noble beautiful frigate, carrying 32 guns, which had been anchored for about a week, not in the port, but in a small cove in the roadstead, and which had been perceived for the first time early one morning, like an ocean flower which had suddenly blossomed during the night. From the elegant and coquettish appearance of this frigate, it was imagined that this was the first time of her putting to sea; she bore the French flag, for the three golden fleur-de-lis were seen glittering in the last rays of the setting sun.

That which, above all, appeared to excite the curiosity of the admirers of this spectacle, so frequent, and notwithstanding, always so interesting in a seaport, was the uncertainty as to the country in which this vessel had been built; for, having all her sails clewed up and snugly stowed around her yards, showed in the setting sun the graceful outline of her hull, and a minute elegance as to her running rigging. Some thought they could discern in her the bold and taunt masts used by the Americans, but the perfection exemplified in the finish which distinguished the rest of her construction, was in perfect contrast with the barbarous rudeness of those rebellious children of England. Others, deceived by the flag she had hoisted, were endeavouring to divine in what port of France she had been launched, but their national pride soon gave way to the conviction that she was not built in France, for they sought in vain for those heavy galleries, ornamented with sculpture, which is the compulsory decoration of the stern of every daughter of the ocean, or of the Mediterranean, born on the stocks of Brest or of Toulon; others, again, knowing that the flags were frequently used as a mask to hide the real face, maintained that the lion and the towers of Spain would have more properly been placed upon the ensign waving from her peak, than the three fleur-de-lis of France: but the latter were asked whether the straight and elegant sides and quarters of the frigate all resembled the bulging build of Spanish galleons. In short, there were some among them who would have sworn that this beautiful fairy of the waters had been brought to life among the frogs of Holland, had not the dangerous boldness of her masts and rigging fully contradicted the suggestion that she could have been built by those old but prudent sweepers of the seas. But, as we have said, for eight whole days, and ever since the first appearance of this splendid vision upon the coast of Brittany, she had been the constant theme of wonder and of conversation, for nothing had happened to give them any positive information, as not an individual from the crew had landed from the ship, under any pretext whatever. They might, indeed, have doubted whether she had a crew or not, had not they now and then seen the head of a sentinel, or of the officer of the watch, peering above the bulwarks. It appeared, however, that this vessel, although she had not communicated with the shore, could not have any hostile intention; her arrival had not seemed to give the least uneasiness to the public authorities of Lorient, for she had run under the guns of a small fort, which the recent declaration of war between England and France had caused to be put in order, and which displayed a battery of long guns of heavy calibre.

Among this crowd of idlers, however, there was a young man, who was remarked for the anxious eagerness of his inquiries: – without any one being able to devise the cause, it was easily perceived that he felt some direct interest in this mysterious vessel. His brilliant uniform was that of the mousquetaires, and as these royal guards rarely left the capital, he had, at first, directed a portion of the public curiosity to himself, but it was soon discovered that this person, whom they thought a stranger, was the young Count d'Auray, the last scion of one of the most ancient families of Brittany. The castle inhabited by his family rose above the shores of the Golf of Morbihan, at six or seven leagues, distance from Fort Louis. The family consisted of the Marquis d'Auray, a poor insane old man, who for twenty years had never been seen beyond the boundaries of his estates; of the Marchioness d'Auray, whose rigid morality, and whose ancient nobility, could alone excuse her haughty and aristocratic bearing; of the young Marquerite, a sweet girl of seventeen or eighteen years of age, delicate and pale as the flower whose name she bore; and of Count Emanuel, whom we have mentioned above, and around whom the crowd had gathered, carried away, as it always is, by a sounding title, a brilliant uniform, and noble and lordly manners.

However eager might have been the desire of those he addressed to satisfy his curiosity, they could only answer his questions in a vague and undecided manner; all they knew of the frigate being mere conjecture. The count was about retiring from the jetty, when he perceived a six-oared boat approaching it. At a moment when curiosity had been so much excited, this incident could not fail to attract all eyes. In the stern of the boat sat a young man, who appeared to be from twenty to twenty-two years of age, and who was dressed in the uniform of a lieutenant of the royal navy – he was sitting, or rather lying, upon a bearskin, one hand reclining carelessly on the tiller of the small boat, while the coxswain, who, thanks to the caprice of his officer, had nothing to do, was sitting in the bow. From the moment that it first made its appearance, every eye was directed towards it, as if it contained the means of solving the mystery which had so much puzzled them. The boat, urged on by the last efforts of its oarsmen, took the ground at eight or ten feet distance from the beach, there being too little water in that place to allow it to come nearer. Two of the sailors jumped into the sea up to their knees. The young lieutenant then rose up in a careless way, walked to the bow of the boat, and allowed the two sailors to carry him in their arms to the beach, so that not a drop of salt water should soil his elegant uniform. He then ordered his men to double the point of land which advanced about three hundred feet into the sea, and to go and wait for him on the opposite side of the battery. As for himself, he stopped a moment on the beach to arrange his dress, which had been a little disordered by the rough mode of transport he had been compelled to adopt, and then he advanced, humming a French air, towards the gate of a small fort, which he passed, after having slightly returned the military salute of the sentinel on duty.

Although nothing could, in a seaport, be more natural than that a naval officer should cross the roads and walk into a fort, the minds of the lookers-on had been so much occupied with the foreign vessel, that there was hardly one among the crowd who did not imagine that this visit to the commandant of the fort had some relation to her, so that when the young officer issued from it, he found himself surrounded so closely by the crowd, that for a moment he appeared half inclined to use the rattan which he carried in his hand, to make way through it. However after having flourished it with impertinent affectation above the heads of those who were nearest him, he appeared all at once to change his mind, and perceiving Count Emanuel, whose distinguished appearance, and elegant uniform, contrasted strikingly with the vulgar air and habiliments of the persons who surrounded him, he made a few steps towards him at the same moment that the count had advanced to meet him. The two officers merely exchanged a rapid glance, but that look at once assured both that they were persons of rank and station. They immediately saluted each other with that easy grace and affable politeness which characterized the young nobility of that period.

"By Heaven!" exclaimed the young midshipman; "my dear countryman, for I suppose that like myself you are a Frenchman, although I meet you in a seemingly hyperborean land, and in regions which, if not absolutely savage, appear sufficiently barbarous – will you have the goodness to tell me what there is so extraordinary about me, that I seem to cause quite a revolution in the country? Or is the appearance of an officer of the navy an event so rare and so extraordinary at Lorient, that his mere presence excites, in so singular a degree, the curiosity of the natives of Lower Brittany? By solving this mystery, you will render me a service which I shall be happy to reciprocate, should any opportunity present itself in which I can be useful to you."

"This will be so much the more easy," replied Count Emanuel, "as this curiosity is not founded in any feeling which you would consider offensive to your uniform or hostile to your person – and the proof of this is, my dear comrade – for I see by your epaulettes that we are of equal rank in the service of his majesty – that I participate with these honest Britons in the curiosity which they evince, although, perhaps, my motives are more weighty than theirs, in endeavouring to obtain a solution of the problem which has occupied us."

"If I can be of any assistance to you, in the inquiries which you have undertaken, I place all the algebra I possess at your disposal. Only the position we are in is not a comfortable one to carry out mathematical demonstrations. Will it please you to remove to a small distance from these honest people, whose presence would only tend to confuse our calculations."

"Certainly," replied the mousquetaire, "and the more readily, as, if I do not deceive myself, by walking this way I shall lead you nearer to your boat and your sailors."

"Oh! that is not of the slightest consequence; should this path not be convenient to you we can take another. I have plenty of time; and my men are less eager to, return on board than I am. Therefore, we will about ship, if such is your good pleasure."

"Not at all; on the contrary, let us go on, the nearer we are to the beach the better we can discuss the matter in question. Let us, therefore, walk upon this strip of land as far as we can."

The young seamen, without replying a word, conti-nued to walk on, like a man to whom the direction he was to take was perfectly indifferent, and these two young men, who had thus met for the first time, walked arm in arm, as though they had been friends from infancy, towards the end of the promontory. When they had reached the extreme point, Count Emanuel paused, and pointed towards the frigate, saying, "Do you know what ship that is?"

The young seaman threw a rapid and scrutinizing glance upon the mousquetaire, and then looked towards the ship: "Yes," replied he, negligently, "it is a pretty frigate carrying two and thirty guns, with her sails bent and her starboard anchor atrip, ready to sail at the first signal given."

"Excuse me," replied Emanuel, smiling; "that is not what I ask of you. It signifies little to me how many guns she carries, or by what anchor she is holding – is not that your technical mode of speaking?"

The lieutenant smiled: in turn. "But," continued Emanuel, "what I wish to know is, to what nation she actually belongs, the port, that she is bound to, and the name of her captain."

"As to the nation she belongs to," replied the lieutenant,

"She has taken care to give us that information herself, or she is, an outrageous liar; Do you not see her flag flying from her peak? It is the flag without a stain, rather worn out from being too much used that's all. As to the place she is bound to, it is as the commandant of the fort told you, when, you asked him, – Mexico." Emanuel looked with astonishment at the young lieutenant. "And finally, as to her captain, that is a much more difficult matter.. There are some people who would swear he is a young man about my own age or yours, for; I, believe we left the cradle pretty closely the one after, the other, although the professions we follow may place a long interval between our graves. There are others who pretend he is of the same age with my uncle the Count d'Estaing, who as you doubtless know, has just been made an admiral, and who is at: this moment affording every assistance to the rebels of America, as some people, even in France, still call them. But, in short, as to his name, that is quite another thing; it is said he does not know it himself; and until some fortunate occurrence shall apprise him of it, he calls himself Paul."

"Paul?"

"Yes, Captain Paul."

"Paul, what?"

"Paul, of the Providence, of the Banger, of the Alliance, according to the name of the ship he commands. Are there not also in France some of our young nobles, who, finding their family name too short, lengthen it out by the name of an estate, and surmount the whole with a knight's casque, or a baron's coronet: so that their seals or their carriages bear the evidence of belonging to some ancient family, quite delightful to reflect upon? Well! so it is with him. At this moment he calls himself, I believe, Paul, of the Indienne, and he is proud of the appellation; if I may judge front my naval sympathies, I do not think he would exchange his frigate for the finest estate to be found between the Port of Brest and the mouth of the Rhone."

"But, tell me," rejoined Emanuel, after reflecting for a moment on the singular mixture of simplicity and sarcasm which pervaded the answers of his companion; "what is the character of this man?"

"His character – but, my dear baron – count – marquis" —

"Count," replied Emanuel, bowing.

"Well, my dear count, then, I was about to say that you pursued me from one abstraction to another, and that when I placed at you disposal all my knowledge in algebra, I did not intend that we should enter into a research of the unknown. His character! good heaven, my dear count, who can speak knowingly of the character of a man, unless it be himself – and even then – but hold – I, myself, as you now see me, have ploughed for twenty years, at one time with the keel of a brig, at another with that of a frigate, this vast expanse, which now extends itself before us. My eyes, for so I may express myself, discerned the ocean almost at the same moment that they saw the sky above it; since my tongue was able to join two words together, or my comprehension could combine two ideas, I have interrogated and studied the caprices of the ocean, and yet I do not, even to this time, know its character – and there are only four principal winds and thirty-two breezes which agitate it – that's all. How, then, can you expect that I should judge of man, torn as he is by his thousand passions."

"Nor did I ask you, my dear – duke – marquis – count?" —

"Lieutenant," replied the young sailor, bowing, as Emanuel had done before.

"I was about to say, then, my dear lieutenant, I do not ask a physiological lecture on the passions of Captain Paul. I only wish to inform myself upon two points. Firstly, whether you consider him a man of honor?"

"We must first of all understand each other as to the meaning of words, my dear count – what is your precise definition of the word honor?"

"Permit me to remark, my dear lieutenant, that this question is a most singular one. Honor! Why, honor – is – honor."

"That's it precisely – a word without a definition, like the word God! God – is God! and every one creates a God after his own fashion. The Egyptians adored him under the form of a scorpion – the Israelites, under that of a golden calf. So it is with honor. There is the honor of Camillus, and that of Coriolanus – that of the Cid, and that of Count Julian. Define your question better if you wish me to reply to it."

"I ask, then, whether his word may be relied upon?"

"I do not believe he ever failed in that regard. His enemies – and no one can arrive to his station without having them – even his enemies, I say, have never doubted that he would keep, even unto death, an oath which he had sworn to. This point is, therefore, believe me, fully settled. In this respect, he is a man of honor. Let us pass, therefore, to your second question, for if I do not deceive myself, you wish to know something farther."

"Yes, I wish to know whether he would faithfully obey an order given by his Majesty?"

"What Majesty?"

"Really, my dear lieutenant, you affect a difficulty of comprehension which would better suit the gown of a sophist, than a naval uniform."

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