The Rivals of Acadia An Old Story of the New World

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Language: English
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CHAPTER I.

Far on th' horizon's verge appears a speck—
A spot—a mast—a sail—an armed deck!
Their little bark her men of watch descry,
And ampler canvas woos the wind from high.Lord Byron.

On a bright day in the summer of 1643, a light pleasure-boat shot gaily across the harbor of Boston, laden with a merry party, whose cheerful voices were long heard, mingling with the ripple of the waves, and the music of the breeze, which swelled the canvas, and bore them swiftly onward. A group of friends, who had collected on the shore to witness their departure, gradually dispersed, till, at length, a single individual only remained, whose eyes still followed the track of the vessel, though his countenance wore that abstracted air, which shewed his thoughts were detached from the passing scene. He seemed quite unconscious of the silence that succeeded this transient bustle, and a low murmur, which soon begun to spread along the shore, was equally disregarded. Suddenly a confused sound of many voices burst upon his ear, and hurried steps, as of persons in alarm and agitation, at once aroused him from his reverie. At the same moment, a hand was laid heavily on his shoulder, and a voice exclaimed, with earnestness,

"Are you insensible, Arthur Stanhope, at a moment, when every man's life is in jeopardy?"

"My father!" replied the young man, "what is the meaning of all this excitement and confusion?"

"Do you not know?" demanded the other; "a strange sail is approaching our peaceful coast; and, see! they have unfurled the standard of popish France."

"It is true, by heaven!" exclaimed young Stanhope; "and, look, father, yonder boat is flying before them; this is no time to gaze idly on; we must hasten to their rescue."

The vessel, which produced so much alarm, was, in fact, a French ship of considerable force, apparently well manned, and armed for offensive or defensive operations. The national flag streamed gaily on the wind, and, as it anchored just against Castle Island, the roll of the drum, and the shrill notes of the fife, were distinctly heard, and men were seen busied on deck, as if preparing for some important action. The little bark, already mentioned, was filled, chiefly, with females and children, bound, on an excursion of pleasure, to an island in the bay; and their terror was extreme, on thus encountering an armed vessel of the French, who had, on many occasions, shewn hostility to the colonists. The boat instantly tacked, and crowding sail, as much as prudence would permit, steered across the harbor towards Governor's Island. But it had evidently become an object of interest or curiosity to the French; their attention seemed wholly engrossed by it, and presently a boat was lowered to the water, and an officer, with several of the crew sprang into it, and rowed swiftly from the ship's side. They immediately gave chase to the pleasure-boat, which was however considerably ahead, and so ably managed, that she kept clear her distance; and with all the muscular strength, and nautical skill of the enemy, he found it impossible to gain upon her.

In the mean time, the alarm had spread, and spectators of every age, and either sex, thronged the shore, to witness this singular pursuit. The civil and military authorities prepared for defence, should it prove necessary; a battery, which protected the harbor, was hastily manned, and the militia drawn up, in rank and file, with a promptitude, not often displayed by the heroes of a train-band company. For several years, no foreign or internal enemy had disturbed the public repose, and the fortifications on Castle Island gradually fell into decay; and, from motives of economy, at this time not a single piece of artillery was mounted, or a soldier stationed there. The enemy, of course, had nothing to oppose his progress, should he choose to anchor in the inmost waters of the bay....