The Wing-and-Wing; or, Le Feu-Follet (1842)

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. 252-260.

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

[1] In August of 1799 an unidentified lugger [a small ship with squarish, slant-topped sails] approaches Portoferraio, the principal city on the island of Elba, six miles off the coast of Tuscany in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The lugger sails into the harbor “wing-and-wing,” that is, with a sail protruding from each side, and it is from this arrangement of rigging that the vessel acquires its pseudonym. With northern Italy overrun by French forces, and with the Mediterranean now a central scene of the Napoleonic Wars, any strange vessel in the area is a cause for concern. Vito Viti, magistrate at Portoferraio, queries Tommaso Tonti, an ancient mariner, about the nationality of the lugger, but the wise old man defers judgment until the stranger unfurls the union Jack of Great Britain. With the crowd of Elbans observing the lugger is Ghita — no one present knows or is concerned about her last name — a bright girl of eighteen who was recently left by her uncle to board at a local inn. Although it is observed only by the narrator, Ghita reveals a personal interest in the lugger, signs of anxiety, even alarm, appearing on her face as a coast artillery crew fires a warning shot over the vessel’s bow.

[2] After clearing himself and his ship with port officials, the captain of the lugger reports to Vito Viti and then with this magistrate proceeds to pay his respect to the deputy governor, Andrea Barrofaldi. The captain gives his name as Jack Smith; he pronounces it Jacques Smeet, revealing to the reader, though not to his Italian auditors, that he is not English but French. The papers of the Wing-and Wing are in order and appear genuine. About the ship itself there lingers some doubt. Is not the lugger a type of vessel peculiarly French and Spanish rather than English! Captain Smees (as the Italians call him) acknowledges this fact but claims that he, his crew, and the vessel all come from the isle of Guernsey, once French and still retaining many French customs and practices even after centuries of British rule. Barrofaldi, a scholar of sorts who fancies himself for his knowledge of foreign lands, quizzes Captain Smith about the politics, religion, and language of England. Smith’s superficial acquaintance with English life is sufficient to satisfy most of the deputy governor’s curiosity. He invites both Vito Viti and Smith to dine with him.

[3] After he leaves his official hosts, Captain Smith is intercepted by Ghita. That the two are in love becomes apparent at once. Ghita is concerned about the great risk run by Raoul Yvard (the captain’s real name) in bringing his vessel — its real name is Feu-Follet, French for Jack-o’Lantern — into an enemy port, for the lugger is a French privateer. Raoul Yvard has come to Elba specifically to see Ghita, whom he wishes to marry. They had met when Raoul rescued Ghita and her guardian uncle (keeper of a watchtower on the Italian coast) from captivity and slavery in the hands of Algerine corsairs. Although she loves the young mariner, Ghita cannot marry him, she feels, so long as he (like many other French revolutionaries) disavows orthodox Christianity in favor of deism. Knowing that they may be observed together, they part with an understanding that they will meet again soon.

Meanwhile, Vito Viti and Andrea Barrofaldi have had renewed doubts about the strange ship which goes under the unusual name Wing-and-Wing. They call at the tavern of Benedetta Galapo, a coquettish widow but a shrewd businesswoman, to talk again with Tommaso Tonti about the lugger. This conversation has just begun when two strangers enter the tavern and order wine. [4] One is Ithuel Bolt of the Wing-and-Wing and the other a Genoese named Filippo, a companion who serves as interpreter. Although the conversation of Bolt tells the magistrate and the deputy governor little about the Wing-and-Wing, it reveals a good deal about Bolt himself. Ithuel Bolt is a tall, angular New Hampshire Yankee, a jack-of-all-trades, who became a seaman at the age of thirty. He was soon impressed into service in the British navy by a shorthanded royal frigate; Bolt has, as a result, come to hate Great Britain and all things British. When the suspicious Barrofaldi asks him why he continues to serve on a British ship when escape would be so easy, Bolt reminds him of the distance to America and of the fact that Atlantic shipping is dominated by the British. What Bolt does not tell his Italian audience is that he has in fact escaped, along with Raoul Yvard, and has, in vengeance, joined the crew of the French privateer Feu-Follet. Some of the ambivalent character of this embittered New Englander is illustrated by his indignation at being offered a bribe for information about the Feu-Follet, followed immediately thereafter by his delight in smuggling ashore and selling three kegs of contraband tobacco.

[5] Misgivings about the nationality and intentions of the Wing-and-Wing (Ving-y-Ving, the Italians call it) continue to grow in Portoferraio. When a British frigate, Proserpine, appears, Yvard, playing his assumed role of Captain Smith, pretends to be pleased. As the frigate, distrusting the deliberately confusing signals hoisted by Ithuel Bolt, bears down upon the lugger, Yvard tells Vito Viti that he fears the frigate is actually a French vessel flying false colors. Yvard now offers, with seeming self-sacrifice, to lead the enemy warship away from Portoferraio, even though the Wing-and-Wing might be destroyed in the resulting chase. Still flying British colors, Yvard not only escapes the Proserpine but also becomes a local hero in the process.

[6] That evening, after dark, Ghita again meets Raoul and informs him that she and her uncle are seeking passage back to the mainland. She hopes that Raoul will offer to transport them in the Feu-Follet, for Ghita’s primary purpose is to remove Raoul from the danger of being detected as an enemy at Elba. [7] So confident is Yvard of his successful deception in Portoferraio, however, that he remains anchored in the harbor even after his two passengers are aboard, planning to depart in the morning. [8] nMeanwhile the Proserpine, lying a league offshore, sends Lieutenant Edward Griffin to Elba in order to apprise the authorities there of the real identity of Captain Smith and his Wing-and-Wing, With some difficulty Griffin persuades Vito Viti and Andrea Barrofaldi that the lugger is the French privateer Feu-Follet and her master none other than the notorious Raoul Yvard. The deputy governor offers to sink the lugger at dawn with fire from heavy shore batteries, but Griffin dissuades him from this course of action with the information that Captain Cuffe of the Proserpine wishes to capture the Feu-Follet intact. When Griffin signals to the Proserpine with a prearranged code of lights, the communication is upset by Ithuel Bolt, who, ascertaining the presence of the frigate nearby, releases two flare rockets. The Feu-Follet again escapes, much to the amazement of Captain Cuffe.

[9] Cuffe and his officers now devise an elaborate ruse to capture the privateer. Renting a felucca [a small Mediterranean vessel with triangular sails set obliquely to the mast], they load it with marines and fly above it a British flag. The Proserpine then shows French colors and pretends to pursue the felucca. Boats from the Proserpine close in on the pretended prey, and the ruse is carried so far as to have the frigate’s launch and the felucca exchange carronade fire. As both felucca and boats are drifting toward the lugger, Ithuel Bolt correctly analyzes the British stratagem; but Raoul is deceived until the boat crews, overtaking the decoy, make the fatal mistake of giving, in typical British fashion, three hearty cheers. The alerted Raoul fires a broadside into the felucca, killing or wounding twenty-two of those aboard. When the British abandon this small ship and pull for the shore, Raoul and Ithuel board the vessel and set it afire. They might also capture or kill all hands in the boats, but Raoul’s sense of chivalry, strengthened by Ghita’s pleas to be merciful, precludes such action. He has already inflicted heavy losses on the British.

[10] The chase has not ended, however, for after recovering its boats, the Proserpine continues the pursuit. Coming closer than Yvard realizes, the frigate fires a broadside which does substantial damage to the lugger’s rigging. Instead of trying to flee, thus crippled, in open water, Raoul reduces sail to protect his damaged spars and heads into the estuary of the Galo River on the shore of Corsica, a French island, while the frigate stands a couple of miles offshore. [11] During the night, the British attempt to burn the Feu-Follet at her anchorage. Capturing a local felucca loaded with naval stores, including tar, several British sailors, pretending to be coastal traders, pass close to the lugger. Tying to the Feu-Follet’s anchor cable, they set fire to the felucca and then flee in a small boat. Yvard and three of his ablest men climb aboard the burning felucca and separate the two vessels before the flames can spread to the lugger. [12] So great is the conflagration that the British mistakenly suppose that their objective has been achieved. Their rejoicing lasts until the following day when they land at Portoferraio and discover that the Feu-Follet has passed that city during the morning.

[13] Where the lugger, its two passengers, and its gallant commander have gone neither the authorities at Portoferraio nor the British officers know. The reader finds them at Naples just an hour before a gruesome episode, the execution of the historical Admiral Francesco Caraccioli [Caracciolo] for treason. Ghita and her uncle, Carlos Giuntotardi, have come on a most unusual mission but one that is understandable in the light of their family history. Admiral Francesco Caraccioli [Caracciolo], a Neapolitan, had a natural son of the same name who, against his father’s wishes, had wed a commoner, the sister of Carlos Giuntotardi. To them had been born a daughter, Ghita. On her parents’ death, Ghita had been reared by her uncle, a devout, monkish man who earned his living by serving as keeper of a set of watchtowers on Monte Argentaro. The admiral had rejected his disobedient son and had never learned of the existence of his granddaughter. Now that he is about to die, that granddaughter wishes to acknowledge him, pray for him in his moment of ignominy, and receive his blessing. To achieve these ends, Ghita, accompanied by her uncle, petitions the British admiral, Lord Horatio Nelson, who is now in military command of Naples. [Caracciolo is being executed for disloyalty to his king, Ferdinand IV of Naples, during that monarch’s temporary dethronement by French forces. Great Britain and her allies had restored Ferdinand, and now Admiral Nelson, principal military power in the area, was carrying out, with marked distaste, the execution ordered by the Neapolitan courts.]

Ghita gains an audience with Lord Nelson to plead for the life of the grandfather she has never seen or at least for permission to visit the condemned man. Since the British admiral speaks no Italian, the pleas are presented to Nelson’s unnamed mistress [Lady Emma Hamilton, wife of Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to Naples]. Ghita is given no hope for her grandfather’s life, but Nelson’s mistress provides her with a note which will give her access to the old man’s prison cell on a nearby English ship. Ghita’s interest is filial and devout; in their brief interview, her primary wish is for the eternal salvation of her grandfather. As she and her uncle prepare to leave the ship from which Admiral Caraccioli [Caracciolo] will be hanged in a few minutes, they are picked up by Raoul Yvard effectively disguised as a Neapolitan boatman. Besides her grief for her grandfather, Ghita feels additional anxiety that Raoul Yvard is again risking his life, walking right into the lion’s mouth, in order to be near her and serve her.

[15] Her apprehension is all too soon justified. Rowing out into the Bay of Naples with Ghita and her uncle, Raoul meets Ithuel Bolt, disguised as an Italian fisherman, at a prearranged place. Bolt picks them up in the Feu-Follet’s yawl, and they head for St. Agata, on the Cape of Sorrento, where Ghita and her uncle are to visit the latter’s sister. The yawl is hailed by the Proserpine with a query as to whether they have seen a lugger in the vicinity. Raoul could most easily answer in the negative, but hoping to mislead the British about the Feu-Follet’s location, he indicates that he has indeed seen such a ship. [16] Taken aboard the frigate, Raoul is recognized by Vito Viti and Andrea Barrofaldi, who had attended Cuffe to Naples, and shortly afterwards, one of the midshipmen identifies Ithuel Bolt as a former crew member who had deserted the ship. The two men of the Feu-Follet are now in the hands of their worst enemies. Ghita and Carlos Giuntotardi, also taken aboard, are treated courteously and given the best staterooms on the frigate.

[17] Admiral Nelson orders a court-martial to try Raoul Yvard as a French spy and Ithuel Bolt as a deserter. Officers appointed to this military court soon arrive from other British ships in the Bay of Naples. Bolt refuses to testify, claiming that he is an American and has the right to freedom despite his being impressed into British service. The court is no more successful, at first, in its case against Yvard, for none of the witnesses can prove that the prisoner is actually Raoul Yvard. All present feel quite certain that he is indeed Raoul Yvard, but the prosecution’s two chief witnesses, Viti and Barrofaldi, admit that they have never heard the man refer to himself by any name other than “Captain Smees.” [18] Finally they question Ghita; ingenuous and honest, she positively identifies the man as Raoul Yvard. She is unaware that her testimony may condemn her lover to death. Yvard is convicted of being a spy for appearing in disguise among British ships at Naples, and Admiral Nelson approves of his execution the following day. [19] Bolt is ordered back to duty after Captain Cuffe suffers some qualms of conscience about hanging for desertion an impressed seaman who may well be, as he claims he is, a citizen of another country. Furthermore, as he says, his ship is shorthanded!

[20] Cuffe and his officers experience a reversal of feeling toward Raoul Yvard as they come to know him better. He demonstrates dignity, courtesy, and a high sense of honor as he refuses to trade his lugger for his life. The fact that he was captured because love had led him into danger earns him still further sympathy. In short, no one aboard the Proserpine now wishes to see him executed, though the admiral’s orders are to hang him that day between sunrise and sunset. Captain Cuffe dispatches Jack Clinch, master mate, to locate Nelson with a request for a reprieve. [21] Throughout the day there is no response from the admiral’s headquarters; as sunset nears, there is no sign of Clinch, and the tension mounts. [22] Finally the noose is fastened around the prisoner’s neck before three spaced rounds of cannon fire signal the last-minute reprieve.

[23] The reprieved Frenchman is now visited by his two Elban acquaintances (who still call him Sir Smees), Vito Viti and Andrea. The deputy governor had in sport been pretending to Viti his belief in the theory of subjective idealism enunciated by the English philosopher Bishop Berkeley. The magistrate, taking his old friend seriously, is outraged at this offense to Catholic sensibility. After an exchange of social amenities with Yvard and some brief discussion of a general nature, the two Italians resume their philosophical argument. It grows louder and louder, and soon a cluster of amused British officers gather outside the stateroom door to enjoy the verbal fireworks. As Raoul Yvard leans back against an open porthole, he hears Ithuel Bolt whisper directions for him to slide back through the port and drop quietly into the departing boat of Ghita and her uncle as they begin to row ashore. The boat is the yawl of the Feu-Follet. Ithuel has arranged this maneuver with Ghita and Giuntotardi, hoping that in this way, under the cover of darkness, they may escape. Though considering the chances of success slight, Raoul follows Ithuel’s instructions.

[24] The yawl moves past the stern of the ship and heads for the shore, but while they are still within earshot of the frigate, a boat drops into the water in pursuit. Lieutenant Yelverton, the first officer to be apprised of the escape, assumes that Yvard has simply jumped overboard, so he has lowered a boat and has circled the ship to pick up the swimmer. Then, spotting the yawl, he starts in pursuit toward the shore of Sorrento. The yawl veers off course and eludes Yelverton’s gig as other boats from the frigate now fan out in different directions. Suddenly, from shoreward of their own position, those in the yawl are hailed. It is Clinch returning from his mission to Nelson for Yvard’s reprieve. The refugees are talking with Clinch, at a comfortable distance, when Yelverton’s gig hails Clinch. It becomes obvious Clinch had not been talking with residents of the area but with Bolt and Yvard, and so the chase continues. The rowers in the yawl have no real chance of outrunning the well-manned cutter and gig, but they are most unexpectedly saved by Ghita’s uncle, who is at the tiller of the yawl. He steers the boat through a small natural arch in the Sorrentine escarpment, an opening that only a native could find in the dark. This is the only occasion in the novel when Carlos Giuntotardi is sufficiently drawn from his religious preoccupations to take effective action in the real world.

[25] Raoul lands with Ghita and Carlos, who will walk to the home of their relative at nearby St. Agata. Giuntotardi walks on ahead, and the two young lovers bid each other farewell. Notwithstanding her love for Raoul, Ghita rejects (as she has been doing for some time) his proposal of marriage. Her devotion to a specifically Christian God will not permit her marriage to a deist. Raoul returns to the yawl, greatly depressed, and he and Ithuel row out into the Bay of Naples, where they are soon picked up by the Feu-Follet and her anxious crew. After a joyous reunion of old shipmates, the lugger is directed toward open sea. Almost immediately, however, they are hailed in English from a small boat. It is Clinch, whom they capture but release after he is dined, wined, and thanked by Yvard for securing from Nelson the reprieve that had saved the Frenchman’s life.

[26] After releasing Clinch and his boat crew, Yvard again heads for the open sea, but he holds that course only as long as the British cutter remains in view. Then, reversing his direction, he sails back to Sorrento and St. Agata, purportedly to capture some British ship as prize in the morning but actually to see Ghita again. He thus perseveres in his role of passion’s fool. Most of the men of the Feu-Follet, including her captain, now turn in for some badly needed sleep. But the watch and the lieutenant on the quarterdeck are also exhausted; as they doze at their respective posts, the lugger runs aground on one of the Islands of the Sirens, just below the bluff on which St. Agata stands. Realizing that his dereliction of duty may cause the loss of the lugger and the death or capture of all her crew, the delinquent lieutenant commits suicide by hurling himself into the surf that boils around the island.

Raoul Yvard sends Ithuel Bolt in an armed boat to capture an approaching felucca while he himself directs the work to dislodge the lugger from its rocky berth. The felucca is captured and brought alongside the Feu-Follet, but the crew of the small boat has fled ashore at the approach of the armed privateersmen. [27] Raoul, knowing that these escaped seamen will quickly give the alarm that will bring his enemies down upon him, works diligently to extricate the Feu-Follet, lightening his ship by landing on the islet all but a few basic supplies. By dawn the lugger is free, but with daylight come eight British boats, the whole fleet having been alerted to the location of the stranded Feu-Follet. Both the lugger and the captive felucca are anchored to repel the attack. Two of the Feu-Follet’s guns are mounted on the deck of the felucca, four are kept aboard the lugger itself, and the remaining four are set up behind the stones of a ruin on the nearest islet. To Raoul’s great surprise, Ghita and her uncle row out to their anchorage at this critical moment to be present during the forthcoming battle. Ignoring Raoul’s pleas that she return at once to the safety of the shore, Ghita refuses to leave.

[28] The first British onslaught is repulsed with heavy losses, thirty-three of the attackers being killed and still more wounded. Regrouping his boats, Sir Frederick Dashwood, commanding the expedition, hurls them all against the rocky islet and overruns the central position of the defense. The French make a determined stand, but the sheer weight of superior numbers prevails. Sir Frederick himself is killed, and Raoul Yvard is mortally wounded. The latter orders his first lieutenant, Jules Pintard, to flee in the Feu-Follet and save that noble ship. [29] Both the lugger and the felucca (commanded by Bolt) run for the open sea. The felucca soon outruns the British ships, and for a while the lugger seems to be doing the same. She moves even more swiftly than before because most of her ballast had been removed while she was being freed from the rocks. Her lightness proves to be a liability, however, when she encounters strong sirocco winds. When a heavy squall strikes the French vessel, and the Proserpine, coming within range, starts to fire at her, she capsizes. By the time the weather clears, a few minutes later, the Feu-Follet has disappeared, sunk with all hands aboard. Nothing but one of her flags is found, identifiable by the wing-and-wing emblem it bears.

[30] At the conclusion of the battle, all surviving British forces return to their ships except for Lieutenant Winchester and a small detachment of men who remain to bury the dead of both sides. Ghita, her uncle, and a French surgeon remain to attend the dying Raoul Yvard. The men soon retire for the night, and Ghita keeps her vigil with her beloved. Raoul is less reluctant to die now than he was while he still had hopes of marrying Ghita. Gazing at the stars and speculating about their creation, Raoul passes imperceptibly from one world to the next, and it is some time before Ghita realizes that he has actually died. He is buried in consecrated ground at St. Agata, his funeral attended by many residents of the town plus several British officers who have come to pay their last respects to this gallant foe.

Ghita lives with her uncle until his death and then retires to a convent for the remainder of her days. Several of the British officers receive promotions for their respective roles in the destruction of the Feu-Follet. Some years later Ithuel Bolt returns to America with a sizable sum of money about which he does not care to talk. There he “gets religion,” becomes known generally as Deacon Bolt, and devotes his time to the abolition and temperance causes.

Annunziate, Antoine, Andrea Barrofaldi, Benoit, Ithuel Bolt, Ben Brown, Daniele Bruno, Admiral Francesco Caraccioli [Caracciolo], Ghita Caraccioli [Caracciolo], Catfall, Jack Clinch, Captain Richard Cuffe, Sir Frederick Dashwood, Filippo, Benedetta Galapo, Carlos Giuntotardi, Lieutenant Edward Griffin, [Lady Emma Hamilton, active but never named in novel], Jacques, Josef, Captain Lyon, Lieutenant Archy McBean, Medford, Lord Horatio Nelson, Lieutenant O’Leary, Pietro, Lieutenant Jules Pintard, Midshipman Roller, Lieutenant Spriggs, Lieutenant Stothard, Strand, Tim, Tommaso Tonti, Vito Viti, Lieutenant Winchester, Lieutenant Yelverton, Captain Raoul Yvard.