Miles Wallingford; Sequel to Afloat and Ashore (1844)

Warren S. Walker (Texas Tech University)

Originally published in Warren S. Walker, Plots and Characters in the Fiction of James Fenimore Cooper (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1978), pp. 111-119.

Copyright © 1978 by Warren S. Walker.  Placed online with the kind permission of Warren S. Walker, and of Shoe String Press, Inc.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

Chapter numbers [in square brackets] have been inserted by the webmaster at approximately the point where each chapter begins, to facilitate locating particular plot incidents in the text.

— Hugh C. MacDougall

[Although published separately and described as a sequel to Afloat and Ashore, Miles Wallingford is in fact a continuation of that novel, and hence no exposition is provided. It begins in the middle of an episode suspended at the end of Afloat and Ashore.]

[1] Through the efforts of Dr. Post, Andrew Drewett is revived and put to bed to recover aboard the Wallingford. His mother and his two sisters, Helen and Caroline, come aboard the same vessel, and all four members of the Drewett family are carried to Albany. There they encounter yet another sloop containing friends and acquaintances: Major and Emily Merton and Rupert Hardinge. Asking about the welfare of several on the Wallingford, Rupert makes no inquiry whatever about Grace, an unkind cut or oversight which worsens markedly the invalid’s condition. When Lucy signals Miles to avoid further contact with Rupert and his party, Miles starts the return voyage down the river. He learns subsequently from Lucy that though the betrothal of Grace and Rupert had not been formalized, the young couple had considered themselves engaged for four years before Rupert’s fickle fancy had settled upon Emily Merton.

[2] Miles and Marble go ashore near Coeymans at the point where they anchor at the end of the first day. Near the river they admire an old stone house — the year 1698 is visible on one of its iron braces — and its surrounding garden. There they fall into a conversation with its seventy-year-old owner, a widow named Katharine Wetmore. When the old lady tells them her life story, it becomes quite apparent that she is the mother of Moses Marble! Secretly marrying, against her parents’ wishes, a Yankee schoolteacher, George Wetmore, she had had their child put out to nursing care. The heartless nurse had received her fee and then abandoned the infant boy on a slab of marble in a stonecutter’s yard. Acknowledging their marriage and the loss of their child, the Wetmores had spent thirty years and all their means seeking their lost son, even mortgaging their home for funds necessary to carry on their search in England, where a false clue had led them. But now, after many difficult years, Providence has brought her son to her very door. Moses is ecstatic at identifying one of his parents after a lonely, homeless life, though he is somewhat disconcerted by his true name: Oloff Van Duzer Wetmore. He enjoys a second surprise when he discovers that he also has a niece, Kitty Huguenin, who lives with his mother.

[3] Before his death George Wetmore had paid off the mortgage to a greedy usurer named Van Tassel. The payment receipt has been lost or misplaced and Van Tassel, claiming that the note has never been redeemed, is proceeding to foreclose on Mrs. Wetmore. [4] Miles and Moses determine to take whatever steps are necessary to settle the mortgage issue, even if that means attending the mortgage sale and themselves buying Willow Cove, as the Wetmore estate is called. [5] With this possibility in mind, Moses again joins the company on the Wallingford to sail down the river to New York and there pick up the necessary money. En route they realize that the ship moves too slowly for Marble’s purpose, that he must take a coach to the city and back if he is to arrive at Coeymans in time for the mortgage sale. He lands at the town of Hudson and continues his journey by land.

Though Miles had intended to sail slowly down the river to New York City, he is persuaded now by Grace to do otherwise. He is shocked to see how much his sister has failed, and he acquiesces quickly to her plea to be taken back to Clawbonny at once. [6] There her condition grows steadily worse, despite advice from another medical specialist, Dr. Wurtz, and despite Lucy Hardinge’s tender day-and-night care. Grace calls her brother to her side several times for long and intimate discussions. Since she is not yet of legal age to come into her inheritance, she cannot have a will executed, but Miles assures her that he will dispose of her property as she directs. He is stunned to discover that after leaving modest gifts to Lucy, to the family slaves, and to charity, Grace wishes to have the bulk of her estate, some $20,000, bestowed upon Rupert. She has written a long and forgiving letter to accompany this bequest which will make Rupert independent of Lucy’s wealth. The inheritance for Rupert is to be arranged by Miles in such a way that neither Lucy nor Mr. Hardinge will be apprised of it.

[7] There is a protracted death scene as Grace grows weaker, lapses tranquilly into unconsciousness, and a few minutes later passes quietly away. [8] Because Miles has fixed in his mind the angelic features of his beautiful sister during her last hour, he refuses to look upon the corpse she has left behind. A large funeral is held, attended by the numerous Clawbonny blacks and by a group of mourners most of whom are identified only as relatives. One relative who is identified is Miles’s cousin, John Wallingford, who just happened to be in the area and, hearing of Grace’s death, appeared at the last rites. (A land speculator in Western New York, Cousin lack is a bachelor of fifty whose primary interest in life seems to be money.) Mr. Hardinge, himself innocent and saintly, had sent for Rupert as Grace had begun to sink, not realizing that the girl was dying of a broken heart caused by his son’s desertion. Fortunately, Rupert does not arrive until the day of the funeral, after which he coolly accepts Miles’s note on a New York City bank for $20,000 and departs hastily.

[9] That night Miles walks alone in the moonlight to Grace’s grave, and there he finds another mourner, Lucy Hardinge. Although Miles still loves Lucy, he has, according to Mr. Hardinge, waited too long to declare his affection — the implication being that she is now committed to Andrew Drewett. Although there is evidence to make the reader suspect that this is not the case, Miles resigns himself to bachelorhood. He tells Lucy that he will never marry, that he will go to sea again until he has recovered from the loss of his beloved sister.

[10] In New York, Miles again meets his cousin, John Wallingford, whom he admires for his directness and for his apparent interest in the Wallingford family and name. So thoroughly is Miles persuaded on the latter point that he rewrites his will to make Jack his sole heir. Now that Grace is dead and Lucy lost to him, he neither has nor will have, he assumes, any other heirs. The two relatives, who had not seen each other for years until Grace’s death, now discuss Miles’s forthcoming voyage. With no cargo available for him at the moment, Miles contemplates the advisability of purchasing a cargo himself, perhaps a shipload of sugar and coffee to be sold in northern Germany, where these commodities are selling at high prices. After paying off his $20,000 to Rupert, however, Miles has but $10,000 in ready cash plus some $20,000 worth of stocks and securities from Grace’s share of the estate. Cousin Jack offers Miles a $40,000 mortgage on Clawbonny and his securities, a note payable in six months. Saying that he will now make Miles his heir, Jack indicates that he will not file the mortgage claim but simply keep it with his personal papers. Miles subsequently has some second thoughts about this whole arrangement but hopes for the best.

As Miles’s ship, the Dawn, is being loaded, Moses Marble arrives to serve as first mate on the ship. He had repurchased Willow Cove at the mortgage sale, and later, after Mrs. Wetmore had found the receipt for the original mortgage settlement, had recovered his money from Van Tassel. While Moses takes his mother and niece for some last-minute sight-seeing in the city, Miles lunches at a popular restaurant in the business district. In a compartment next to his — the stalls are separated by only a thin partition — are Rupert Hardinge, Andrew Drewett, and a mutual friend named Norton. When the conversation among these three turns to the news of Grace’s death, Rupert is quite diffident; he acknowledges once knowing her but dismisses her as a rural girl of only modest charm. Drewett, on the other hand, praises her great beauty and describes Clawbonny as a most respectable estate. Less gratifying to Miles’s ears is Andrew Drewett’s observation that although he once considered Grace’s brother a rival for the hand of Lucy Hardinge, he no longer has any fears on that score. Upon hearing this, Miles leaves the restaurant at once and orders the immediate sailing of the Dawn.

[11] Now, in 1803, a renewal of hostilities has begun between France and Great Britain, and the sea phase of this conflict requires a substantial increase in manpower for the British navy. This, in turn, leads to another period of impressment of seamen from the vessels of neutral countries, especially the United States. Miles becomes aware of the seriousness of this situation while just barely clear of the New York harbor as the departing pilot points out to him the distant sail of the Leander, a British man-of-war that has been prowling the area for weeks. [12] The Dawn manages to outrun the Leander only [13] to fall captive to the Speedy, a British frigate, which promptly impresses or imprisons all but four of the Americans and confiscates the ship’s cargo, sending the vessel toward Plymouth, England, manned by a “prize crew.” Lord Harry Dermond, Captain of the Speedy, justifies this illegal seizure of a neutral ship by two very specious claims: 1) that its destination, Hamburg, now lies within the sphere of enemy influence, and 2) that the sugar aboard came from Santo Domingo, a French colony. It does Miles no good to protest that he had bought the sugar in New York or that when it had been produced in the West Indies, England and France were not at war. An ill-mannered supernumerary lieutenant named Sennit is placed in command of the “prize” with a crew of ten British sailors. [14] Once the Speedy is out of sight, the four Americans aboard (Miles, Moses, Neb, and Diogenes, the black cook) recapture the vessel, by means of a carefully planned ruse, and set the “prize crew” adrift in a well-provisioned yawl. Before they lose sight of the yawl, they see that it will make contact with an English West Indiaman bound for some Caribbean port.

[15] With almost superhuman exertion, the four Americans manage to operate the ship, but they are soon overtaken by the French lugger Pollison, a privateer. Expecting help from the Pollison, since they had been abused by the enemy of France, Miles is unpleasantly surprised by their being made French captives and by the strategy Captain Gallois adopts to rationalize his own cupidity. He claims that the Dawn is still legally a British prize and that it is his duty to capture it as enemy property. [16] By means of another ruse, Miles and his three men recapture their ship for the second time. Off the coast of France they are pursued by a French-built British frigate named Fortunée. This would-be captor they elude by flying a tricolor and sailing within the range of powerful French shore batteries where the Fortunée dares not follow.

[17] As they near the English Channel on the following day, they sight no fewer than six sails. One is that of the Pollison, which is about to retake the Dawn when it is beset by a British sloop-of-war and flees southward. [18] The remaining sails belong to two British frigates (the Speedy and the Black Prince) and two French frigates (the Cerf and the Désirée) which now engage in a five-hour battle finally won by the British. [19] While the crew of the Speedy is occupied in this conflict, several of her American captives from the Dawn make their escape in an open boat, but they are soon chased by a well-manned cutter. Desperately in need of more hands and anxious to aid his former crewmen, Miles sails within range of the Speedy’s guns in order to throw a line to his men. Immediately tacking, Miles is beginning to pull his captured crewmen out of the clutches of the cutter when the towline detaches and the escapees are recaptured.

Realizing the virtual impossibility of carrying the shorthanded Dawn through the heavy ship traffic of the English Channel, Miles and Moses now decide to bypass Great Britain on the west instead, by way of the Irish Channel. [20] After outdistancing a brig that gives chase off Wales, they are forced to seek a safe anchorage along the Irish coast in order to ride out a rising gale blowing from the northeast. [21] The tempest increases so much that their anchor cables part, and the Dawn is driven back down the Irish Channel and into the Atlantic again. Still rising, the fury of the storm finally carries away most of the ship’s rigging and spars. While they are trying to clear the wreckage, huge seas crash upon the deck of the Dawn, sweeping overboard Neb in the ship’s launch, Diogenes in the caboose (galley], and Moses Marble in a great tangle of spars and sails, and leaving Miles the sole member of the ship’s company. With six feet of water in the hold of the wreck, Miles, abandoning all hope of saving either the Dawn or himself, lapses into a stupor in which he sees alternately the faces of Lucy and of his three lost shipmates. [22] As the Dawn settles deeper and deeper in the water, Miles finally rouses himself and constructs a raft of spars decked with a hatch cover. He abandons the ship just a few hours before it sinks. [23] After drifting for some time and wondering just how long the raft will hold together in the still rough seas, Miles is picked up by Moses and Neb in the ship’s launch.

All three men are moved to tears by their almost miraculous survival and their unlikely reunion on the open sea. Although their physical safety is assured when they are picked up by a passing ship, their prospects are still not very cheering. As they are taken aboard the British frigate Briton, they are immediately declared prisoners by Captain Rowley for having stolen a British “prize ship” (their own vessel, the Dawn!) and for having caused the deaths of the “prize crew” by setting them adrift in a small boat. No credence is given to Miles’s statement that he saw the prize crew picked up by a West Indiaman. [24] For three months they are well-treated captives aboard the Briton, and during that time they witness a sea battle in which the Briton vanquishes a French frigate. [25] When the Briton meets the Speedy, however, and the prisoners are transferred to the latter vessel, the situation of the Americans worsens. Miles is placed in loose-fitting irons, and Moses and Neb, set to work as regular seamen, are put under steady pressure to join the British service. Another five months elapse before the Speedy completes her patrolling assignment and returns to Plymouth, where the three Americans are to be tried by an Admiralty court. In the excitement of docking a French captive of the Speedy, Miles and his companions escape and proceed up the English Channel in a launch. Being passed unobserved by an English vessel, they are picked up by an American tobacco ship and carried to Hamburg, their original destination, where Miles expects to find letters from home and papers which will establish his credit in Germany. His expectations are not realized; no communication of any kind awaits him at Hamburg. Penniless now in a foreign land, the three sign aboard the Schuylkill of Philadelphia in order to earn their passage back to America. This they do, after a lateral voyage to Spain, arriving in their own country on September 7, 1804; pooling their pay, they find that their total combined assets are one hundred and thirty-two dollars.

[26] Proceeding to New York City, they take quarters at a low-cost rooming house for seamen. Long thought dead, the men create a small stir by their return, though their homecoming this time is not as happy as those from earlier voyages had been. During their absence John Wallingford had died, apparently intestate, and the administration of his estate had passed into the hands of a distant relative, one Thomas Daggett. Most of Cousin Jack’s papers and securities have not been acquired by Daggett, but he had come into possession of the mortgage note on Clawbonny. When this note had been long overdue, Daggett had placed Clawbonny, worth $35,000, on mortgage sale and (through an agent) had purchased the estate for a mere $5,250 — the only bid. Miles is financially ruined. Besides having lost his ship, its cargo, and his ancestral home, Miles is now indebted for the remaining $35,000 of the loan from his cousin.

Miles and Marble meet Rupert outside the mansion where he and his wife, Emily, now live. Supported by an allowance from Lucy and the $20,000 bequest from Grace, Rupert condescends to speak briefly with his former friend and benefactor and to explain why he cannot entertain such members of the lower class as seamen. As they continue their walk Miles and Moses are interviewed by two newspaper editors, one blindly pro-British (who attributes all of Miles’s suffering at sea to the French) and the other blindly pro-French (who blames the British for Miles’s losses). [27] Back at the rooming house they are accosted by Mr. Meekly, Thomas Daggett’s attorney, and a sheriff’s deputy who, armed with a court order, arrest Miles and take him to a debtors’ prison where he is to remain until he can pay his debts or have someone post a bond for $60,000. He has little hope of such help from anyone. He quickly rejects the patronizing gesture of Rupert, who sends him in his great distress a $20 bill; it is returned via the same messenger who bore it to the jail.

When Lucy and Mr. Hardinge learn of Miles’s predicament, they rush to his side with strong but mixed emotions. Grateful and delighted that Miles has returned alive, they are shocked at his sudden fall from fortune. When her father leaves to seek the assistance of the family lawyer, Mr. Harrison, Lucy exacts a promise from Miles that he will accept bail bond from whatever person she sends to his cell for that purpose. [28] Soon after Lucy’s departure, Andrew Drewett appears, and the jailer receives an order to release Miles. Andrew thanks Miles again for saving his life on the Hudson near Albany but informs Miles that his present posting of bail bond was done at the request of Lucy Hardinge. Even more important pieces of news that Andrew divulges are the facts that he is not (as Miles was led to believe) engaged to Lucy and that Lucy does not love him. Andrew and Lucy are simply good friends. Elated but dazed, Miles rushes to Lucy’s house, declares his love, and proposes to her. Having awaited this offer for several years, she accepts without hesitation. The young lovers are for some time lost to the world in tearful reconciliation. When he returns to a sense of reality, Miles feels presumptuous in asking Lucy to marry the beggar that he now is.

At dinner time Mr. Hardinge returns with Mr. Harrison, and an even more striking reversal of fortune is revealed. Harrison, also John Wallingford’s attorney, had not heard of his client’s death in the “Genesee Country” of Western New York until apprised of this just now by Mr Hardinge. He informs Miles that Cousin Jack had indeed left a will and furthermore that Miles is Jack’s sole heir. Clawbonny, then, had not legally been disposed of and will be repossessed by Miles. Miles will, moreover, inherit the remainder of his cousin’s estate in properties and securities valued at more than $200,000. This day of incredible reversals is rounded off by Miles’s returning to the rooming house to spend the night with his two most faithful retainers, Moses and Neb. These two simple-hearted (though at times grotesque) friends had spent the afternoon assembling rope ladders and other equipment with which to spring Miles from the debtors’ prison.

While Miles remains in the city to attend to business and legal matters with the aid of Mr. Harrison, Lucy and Mr. Hardinge proceed at once to Clawbonny to restore that estate to its former activity and to make preparations for the wedding. [29] An invitation is sent to Rupert, but he declines with the excuse that both Emily and her father are in too poor health to make the trip up the river. The nuptials, which take place in St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, are presided over by Mr. Hardinge. Moses, in appropriate attire, serves as an attendant and is quite convinced that he has been the bridesmaid. During the several days of celebration following the marriage of Miles and Lucy, a second wedding occurs, that of Neb and Chloe.

[30] After Moses Marble’s mother dies and after his niece, Kitty, marries Horace Bright, a neighbor’s son, Moses grows restless and again hears the call of the sea. Miles purchases a ship, which he names the Smudge, and appoints Marble to serve as its first captain. The old salt makes many profitable voyages on the Smudge and dies aboard her during a return passage from Europe. Miles, Lucy, their three children, and Neb, all passengers on that voyage, are with Moses during his last moments. At his request, he is given a sea burial.

The life story of Miles in the two novels ends where it had begun, at Clawbonny. By the time Miles pens his memoirs, he and Lucy have four grown children and several grandchildren. In their old age they enjoy all those comforts of home, family, and affluence associated with the life of the landed gentry.

Diogenes Billings, Chloe Clawbonny, Cupid Clawbonny, Hector Clawbonny, Nebuchadnezzar (Neb) Clawbonny, Romeo Clawbonny, Venus Clawbonny, Vulcan Clawbonny, Lieutenant Clements, Thomas Daggett, Lord Harry Dermond, Diggins, Andrew Drewett, Caroline Drewett, Helen Drewett, Mrs. Drewett, Captain Gallios, Rev. Mr. Hardinge, Lucy Hardinge, Rupert Hardinge, Richard Harrison, Nathan Hitchcock, Kitty Huguenin, Jared Jones, Le Gros, Terence McSwale, Meekly, Captain Menneval, Emily Merton, Major Merton, Signora Montiera, Norton, Colonel Positive, Dr. Post, Lieutenant Powlett, Captain Rowley, Lieutenant Sennit, Michael Sweeny, Van Tassel, Abraham Van Vechten, Voorhees, Grace Wallingford [sister of protagonist], Grace Wallingford [daughter of protagonist], John Wallingford, Lucy Wallingford, Miles Wallingford [protagonist], Miles Wallingford [son of protagonist], Colonel Warbler, Sir Hotham Ward, Katharine Wetmore, Oloff Van Duzer Wetmore, Dr. Wurtz.