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The Wooing of Mistress Polly: A Romance of the Boxer and Enterprise
By ELLA MATTHEWS BANGS
OVERLOOKING the flashing blue of a bay, emerald-gemmed by clustering islands, stands a fair New England city. The harbor pulsates with the life of ocean steamer and coast-wise craft, of coal barges, fishing and pleasure boats of endless variety, and occasionally with the more imposing ships of war, part of the country's navy. Summer cottages dot the island and Cape shores, file among the throng of busy workers, or more leisurely tourists, there mingle, not infrequently, uniformed men from the forts protecting the harbor and city.
The town itself adds to its natural beauty of situation, with ocean outlook and mountain background, the prosperous air of a modern city, but, as in fancy, Time, the Necromancer, turns backward for us his pages, marvelous changes take place before our eyes. The harbor grows quiet, only now and then a white sail catches the breeze or the paddles of a dory flash in the sunshine. Gone are the attractive residences of nearby islands which now rise green-clad in their primeval freshness, broken only here and there by an unpretentious farm house and visited but occasionally by picknickers or land surveyors. Gone are the warehouses along the water front, wharfs and piers are gone with them, giving place to sloping banks of green; gone, too, the towering business blocks. The bold promontory of White Head stands out its own defender, while Forts Williams, McKinley and Lovett are undrempt of and the sea-farers' guiding Light at Portland Head, the first to be erected upon the New England coast, has only within the last decade flashed over the dark waters of the Bay.
Forts Preble and Scammel, indeed, are here, the former but newly completed, while in place of the Fort Scammel of our own days stands an unfamiliar but picturesque blockhouse, octagonal, built entirely of timber, its eight sides meeting in a pointed roof. On the low, upright, center timber of the roof stands a carved eagle, also of wood, with extended wings. Each of the eight sides of the blockhouse displays an embrasure, or port hole, and a gun. The upper story, which projects two or three feet beyond the lower, contains the battery. The buildings, including blockhouse and barracks, are clapboarded and their white-painted sides glisten in the sunshine, and all enclosed in an earthern rampart, present a quaint picture in green and white.
In the town swift electrics give place to cars drawn by horses, then, as still backward the pages turn, these disappear and a lumbering stagecoach provides the only means of travel upon the public highway, while through the sparsely settled streets and lanes of the city, now shrunken to a little town, pedestrians make their way over unpaved walks, for few are so fortunate as to own a private carriage.
still the pages turn, let us pause at one written over with events of
the early years of the nineteenth century, for it is here that our
* * *
The year was 1813; the month was June. It was June as well in the hearts of two young people whom we see, one a stalwart young man with clear, blue eyes and cheeks tanned to deeper tints than Nature selected, as he stood waiting at the end of a box-bordered walk leading to the street from the residence of a well-to-do citizen of little Portland. Down this walk came tripping the second figure, slim and girlish, in a white gown, scant of skirt and short of waist. The crimson border of the mantle over her shoulders repeated its color in her cheeks, while a fetching little curl of dark hair fell out on either side the round face from within the confines of the twilled, silk bonnet.
One could not wonder that the blue eyes down by the gate watched the winsome figure with undisguised pleasure, and his own face was far from displeasing as he greeted her with,
"Good day to you, Mistress Polly. How uncommonly in luck I am to be passed here at just this minute. And where might you be going, may I ask?"
The white gowned figure courtesied in mock obeisance. "I might ask the same question of you, Master Brian," she returned, "though in truth, you seem in no great haste to be going anywhere."
"As to that," the other began, "the answer to your question might answer mine, as well, for I am minded to walk along with you, an' you do not object."
"Well, then, I am going a-shopping, and that will suit you well, I'm thinking," with a laughing glance from her dark eyes. "Shopping, is it?" with feigned dismay.
" 'Tis so," with a nod, "an' you must know, I am about to go on a journey."
"A journey?" in surprise. "And where, pray?"
"Only up to Portsmouth."
As a matter of fact, Polly Freeman in all her eighteen years, had never been so far from home as Portsmouth, but she referred to it now as to an every day occurrence.
"You have relations there?" the young man inquired.
"An aunt and cousins. They think it high time for us to be acquainted."
Fort Scammell, Portland Harbor, as it is Today
Fort Preble, Portland Harbor
"Will you go by land, or water?"
"Mercy sakes! You don't think I'd go by water I hope, with the British likely to capture us at any minute! Oh, no, I go by stagecoach, and the day after tomorrow, if all goes well."
For a little they walked on in silence, then, after several hesitating glances at the girl, the young man spoke.
"You know, Polly, you recollect that years ago we we said we'd be married when we grew up. I've not spoken before, but now "
Here, however, the girl interrupted. "It surprises me greatly, Brian Oxnard, to know that you remember anything so foolish. II had nigh forgot it; for of course, it means nothing now."
"Means nothing now? Polly, do you think that?"
The color in the girl's cheeks deepened, but she returned airily,
"Of a truth, why not?"
"But but Polly," in boyish confusion, "let's forget that then, if it suits you, and begin all over again. Will you?"
Polly lifted her head with a proud little toss but her face was averted as she returned, "They say there be a many fine gallants in Portsmouth town, I cannot promise anybody till I've seen a few of them."
Then with another mocking courtesy she turned, and entered the shop where her errand was to be done.
Brian looked after her a moment, a hurt look in his eyes, then with uplifted head, and a new, firm look about his mouth, he went his way.
In due time Polly's little hair trunk, with her initials, P. F., in brass-headed nails, was lifted to the stage coach, and without seeing Brian again, she started on her journey to Portsmouth.
* * *
Meantime, on, land and sea the War of 1812 was in progress. Privateers from Portland and other ports were taking prizes in the shape of British brigs, sloops-of-war, and other craft. So while there were many failures among the land troops, and the American seamen were not always victorious, their many important captures caused their gallantry to become a theme of admiration wherever a group of men was found, in the bar-room at Marston's tavern, in the grocery stores, or around the family hearthstone.
Had not Capt. Lawrence on the preceding February, while in command of the sloop-of-war Hornet, encountered the British brig Peacock, off the coast of Guiana, and in fifteen minutes compelled her to strike her colors? And then all deplored the untimely death of the brave, young officer, Lawrence, who, after returning to the United States and being promoted to commander of the frigate Chesapeake then in Boston harbor, had felt it his duty, despite the fact of an ill assorted crew and imperfect equipments, to go out to meet the British frigate Shannon which was in the best of condition, and had thereby received his death wound, but had immortalized himself by his dying injunction to his men, "Don't give up the ship."
Oh, yes, of bravery there was plenty, while Portland was again and again agitated by the danger threatened in seeming reality, or more often in excited fancy, that a British fleet was heading for this port.
The Portland Committee of Safety had received word from the Secretary of the Navy, that the Enterprise with the brig Syren had been ordered here in May "for the protection of the coast in the neighborhood." The Syren, however, did not show herself, and it was not until the 13th of June that the Enterprise came into the harbor, and soon after this she was ordered to Portsmouth, and her commander, Captain Blakely, sent to the lakes.
Polly Freeman returned from visiting her Portsmouth relations during the last of July, and it was perhaps a week later that she observed casually to her friend, Ruth Ilsley, "By the way, what has become of Brian Oxnard? I haven't seen him since I came home."
"No, nor are you likes to," her friend replied. "He shipped a-board the brig Enterprise when she was here in June."
"Shipped in June? Why, it was June when I went away."
"So 'twas, and 'twas June, too, when the Enterprise come a-sailing into the bay, and pretty soon sailed out again, but, meantime, more than one young man o' the town had time to join her crew. Besides Brian there's John Vaughan and Sam Merrill, and "
But Polly heard no more. She was thinking only of Brian, and the look in his eyes when she saw him last. Supposing it were the last time she was ever to see him!
The days went on and it was the last of August when looking one morning from her window, Polly saw her father in earnest conversation with a neighbor, and as the man went on, she ran down stairs, meeting her father in the long hall running through the house.
"Any news, daddy?" she inquired.
"Well, Sawyer was just telling me that 'tis said the British privateer is making more trouble along the coast."
"What is she? What has happened?" the girl asked eagerly, as she clasped her hands over her father's coat sleeve.
"She's the brig Boxer," was the answer, "and news comes that on the fourth o' this month, a week ago, she captured the schooner Industry o' Marblehead, and has sailed with her for St. John."
"Where was the capture made?"
"Down by the mouth o' the Sheepscot, 'tis said. That Boxer has been pestering of us long enough, to my thinking. 'Tis time we give her sonic o' her own medicine."
"And is there no privateer of our own to go out to meet her?" It was Mrs. Freeman who thus asked, coming up to where her husband and daughter were standing.
The man turned to her with a shake of his head. "Naught at present, but 'tis hoped a vessel will be ordered here soon."
As he was speaking, little Olive and Robert, Polly's young sister and brother came near, to find what the older ones were saying, but hearing nothing of interest to them, went running off again.
The hope expressed by Freeman was realized; for on the last day of August a brig came into the harbor in search of the troublesome privateer of the British. The first news Polly bad of this was on the following day when her friend Ruth came in to see her.
"Have you heard that the Enterprise is in our harbor again?" she asked almost in the same breath as that in which she greeted her.
"The Enterprise " Polly repeated, "why that "
"Yes, that's the vessel our boys are aboard, John, and Brian and Sam."
"Will they come ashore, do you think?"
Ruth shook her blond head. "Nobody knows," she declared.
Everybody felt easier to know that a brig for defense was in the harbor, and that this was the Enterprise was satisfactory, too, as Portland boys were among her crew. Since the last visit of this vessel to this port, she had changed commanders, and it was now captain William Burrows who was in command.
On Saturday morning, the 4th day of September, a fisherman arrived in the harbor, bringing a report which ran through the town like wild fire. With their own eyes they had seen, down by the mouth of the Kennebec, the British privateer Boxer fire upon the American brig Margaretta. All was excitement, indeed little was needed to bring the populace of this, as well as other towns, to the point where they could no longer refrain from some act of retaliation, for, since the capture of the Chesapeake, public opinion could not forgive Captain Broke of the Shannon for drawing out the Chesapeake before she was prepared, and for the consequent death of her commander. As soon, therefore, as the news brought by the fishing vessel became known, the Enterprise prepared for immediate departure in search of the offending Boxer.
The southerly wind was light on this September morning, and being flood tide the brig could not sail out between the forts. Throughout the town there was more or less anxiety and excitement.
"Come, Polly," called Ruth putting her sun-bonneted head in at the Freeman doorway. "Everybody's going to see the Enterprise sail out to meet the foe. Hurry don't wait for anything."
Polly glanced at her mother, but so far out of the common course of events were affairs moving just now, that Mrs. Freeman merely nodded assent to what at another time she might have considered hardly a proper or becoming thing for her daughter to be allowed to do.
"Where are we going?" Polly asked as the two girls started out.
"Up to the old fort on the hill," Ruth answered.
So up to the green pastures lying around and beyond the Observatory, the girls hastened, by no means the only ones going in the same direction. The Enterprise was sailing again, and this time to battle and she had not seen Brian.
Once arrived at the lookout they had chosen, the girls saw the brig already underway, her sails spread, and running down toward Spring Point. Eagerly all watched her till suddenly a man exclaimed:
"Golly! What'd I tell ye? She can't stem the tide!"
It was true as the man had stated; for the Enterprise in changing her course, found herself unable to stem the tide now running full against her. The little crowd waited in wondering suspense when another voice called out:
And look they did, hardly believing what they saw, for as if by magic, every one of the brig's boats dropped into the water full of men, and arranged themselves in a line ahead of the brig, and towed her out until clear of the land. The interested spectators heard the rousing songs of the men, and answered by hearty cheers, while the boats again disappeared, and the Enterprise bore out and away toward Seguin; and to what?
Polly was not the only one whose sleep that night was disturbed by dreams of cannon shot, and bursting shells, and Sabbath morning found the little town early astir, and thrilling with excitement. That a battle was to take place between the Enterprise and her enemy, the Boxer, none doubted, and at an early hour people began to gather at the Observatory, the highest point in Portland; for from here, the morning being clear, Captain Moody could with his glass sweep the bay as far down as the point of Seguin, and the open water beyond.
Only a few friends were admitted to the tower; the remainder waited below eager for any word which might come to them from Captain Moody, and when the first communication was received, a cheer went up from the anxious crowd, notwithstanding the fact that it was the Sabbath day.
The message which had come was that Captain Moody could see the smoke of the Boxer's challenge-gun, and that of the Enterprise accepting it.
As for Polly Freeman, how she longed to join the crowd up by the Observatory, but she dared not hint such a thing as going, knowing only too well how emphatically it would be denied her by her father and mother. So she sat through the parson's long sermon, though it is to be feared she was little benefitted by the discourse, and even her father started occasionally, and half turned at the sound of something going on in the street outside.
The service ended at last, and it was a relief to be out of doors at least. Going toward home her father said:
"I reckon I'll run up to the hill and see if anything's been heard."
"Oh, father, can I go too?" Polly's eager voice broke in.
Her mother turned to her. "Fie, child," she exclaimed, "why should you go! 'Tis doubtful if they've heard anything, and if they have, your father'll come and tell us."
So again there was nothing but to wait, while out on the Bay a battle was going on, and Brian was there. He might even now be wounded, he might be but she would not, could not, let her thoughts go beyond that. Surely she would see him again, just once, at least, to tell him that she was but teazing that last day they spoke together; for it did mean something to her, that old promise, and she had been waiting, hoping he might speak of it.
Meantime from the Observatory on the hill there was little to be learned. According to Captain Moody's report, it was several hours before the Enterprise obtained sea-room, and ceased maneuvering for an advantageous position. Believing the battle over, the crowd began to disperse when the keeper of the tower announced that he saw the smoke of guns. The fight had begun, but the engaging brigs were beyond his range of vision.
Through the long night hours, wives, mothers, sisters and sweethearts waited, dreading the news that morning might bring, but eager for the first word to tell of what had taken place out forty miles from the harbor, and too great a distance for the sound of booming guns to reach. Daylight crept over the town and the sparkling bay, and still no news; then, at last from his observation Captain Moody discerned a speck on the horizon, it grew larger, and then the glorious news spread in a wave of excitement over the waiting town, he signalled the victorious Enterprise sailing into the harbor and leading her prize under the same flag! Up they came to Union wharf, where all who wished were at liberty to go aboard.
There was great rejoicing throughout the town, people could talk of nothing else, and some who had not spoken together for years, now met and shook hands in mutual congratulations. In the midst of this exultation came the knowledge that the victory had been at the same time a tragedy, for both young commanders had lost their lives, and each wrapped in his own flag knew nothing of the excitement attending their arrival in the harbor.
When Mr. Freeman returned from his visit to the wharf, Polly, a little of the usual bright color gone from her cheeks, met him at the door.
"What what have you heard?" she asked breathlessly.
"I've heard and seen considerable," he returned with trying deliberation. "The Boxer is pretty well cut up, for a fact, hull and rigging, and on one side of her I could reach as many as two shot holes wherever I stretched out my arms."
"And is it true that both Captains are killed?" asked Mrs. Freeman.
"Ay, poor fellows, both dead. Captain Blyth o' the Boxer killed instantly, by an eighteen pound shot. Captain Burrows lived eight hours after his hurt, and as nigh as we can make out, the men o' both crews had reason to be proud o' their commanders."
Tears were in the eyes of both mother and daughter, and after a moment's pause, Polly faltered another inquiry.
"The crew was was any hurt of them?"
The man nodded. "Ay, though but a few on our side, marvelously few. One, Waters, his name is, from Georgetown near Washington, has a mortal hurt, so they say, and ten or a dozen more or less wounded."
"Any of them from here?" Polly's lips could hardly form the words.
"Yes, so I hear, but there's so many rumors flying 'round I don't feel certain whether 'tis John, or Brian, or both."
"Brian wounded more or less seriously." The words seemed to repeat themselves in the girl's ears till she could hear nothing else.
Meantime the whole town was buzzing with excitement and pride in the gallant Enterprise, with lamentations for the dead Captains one as brave as the other as could but be admitted and with eager attention to the wounded. Many and varied were the accounts of the battle, and few, perhaps, had a clear idea of just what had taken place out beyond the range of Captain Moody's glass, until the following official account appeared in the Portland Gazette of September 13th, 1813.
GALLANT NAVAL ACTION AND VICTORY.
"On Monday last, 6th inst., anchored in this harbor, the U. S. brig Enterprise (late William Burrows, commander), accompanied by H. B. M. Brig Boxer (late Captain Samuel Blyth, commanded), her prize, captured on the 5th inst. after a well fought action of 45 minutes. The following particulars of the engagement are given by the Officers of the Enterprise:
"Sept. 5th, at 5 A.M. light winds from N. N. W. Pemaquid bearing North 8 miles distant, saw a brig at anchor in shore, and made sail on a wind, with the larboard tacks on board. At half past 7, the brig weighed and fired 3 shots at a fishing boat, for the purpose of ascertaining what we were (as we have since learnt). At half past 8 the brig fired a shot as a challenge, and hoisted three English Ensigns, and immediately bore up for us. At 9 we tacked, kept away South and prepared for action. At half past 9 it fell calm, the enemy bearing N. N. W. distant four miles. At half past 11 a breeze sprung up from S. W. which gave us the weather gauge, we manuvred to the windward, until 2 P.M. we shortened sail, hoisted 3 ensigns and fired a shot at the enemy. At 3 P.M. tacked and bore up for the enemy, taking him to be one of H. M.'s brigs of the largest size. At quarter past 3, the enemy being within half pistol shot, gave three cheers and commenced the action by firing her starboard broadside, when the action became general. At 20 minutes past 3 P.M. our brave commander fell, and while lying on deck, refused to be carried below, raised his head and requested that the flag might never be struck. At half past 3 we ranged ahead of the enemy, fired our stern chaser, rounded to on the starboard tack and raked him with our starboard broadside. At 35 minutes past 3 the enemy's main topmast and topsail came down. We then set the foresail and took a position on his starboard bow and continued to rake him until 45 minutes past 3, when he ceased firing and cried for quarter; saying that as their colors were nailed they could not haul them down.
"We then took possession of the brig which proved to be H. B. M.'s brig, Boxer.
"Sixty-four prisoners were taken, including 17 wounded. The number of the enemy killed cannot be exactly ascertained as many were hove overboard before we took possession, Capt. Blyth being one of the slain who fell in the early part of the action.
"When the sword of the vanquished enemy was presented to the dying conqueror he clasped his hands and said, 'I am satisfied, I die contented.' And then consented, nor till then would he consent, to be carried below.
"The Enterprise had two men killed and 12 wounded in the action; among the latter were her Commander, who expired on the night following, and midshipman Waters, supposed mortally.
"The brave BURROWS was wounded in the early part of the engagement and command devolved on Lt. M'Call; the result of the action furnishes an eulogium upon the skill and bravery of the officers and crew of the Enterprise, highly honorable to themselves and country.
"The two vessels suffered much in the action, but the injury done to the Boxer was incomparably the greatest, & shows that the fire of the Americans was much superior to that of the English. The Boxer had her main and fore-top mast shot away; her rigging and sails cut to pieces, and received a great deal of damage in her hull."
As to Brian Oxnard, he was indeed, one of the twelve men wounded in action, and inquiry brought out the fact that while not dangerously, he was painfully injured, and would not be able to see his friends for several days at least.
Great preparations were in progress for appropriate services for the two brave young Captains, neither of whom had seen thirty years. Little else was thought or spoken of throughout the town, while from the neighboring towns and villages, people flocked in to see this unusual spectacle, for never before had Portland witnessed so imposing a scene. From early morning the spectators came, on horseback, on foot and often by ox team, while the Portland Gazette gave to all who were not so fortunate as to be present, a graphic account of the last honors paid to these naval heroes, in the following notice:
The remains of the intrepid and gallant William Burrows, late commander of the U. S. brig Enterprise, and his brave competitor, Samuel Blyth, late commander of His B. M. brig Boxer, were buried in this town on Wednesday last, with military and civic honors. The procession was formed in front of the Court-House, at 9 o'clock A.M. under the direction of Robert Ilsley and Levi Cutter, Esq., assisted by twelve Marshals, and proceeded under escort of the Portland Rifle Company, Capt. Shaw's Infantry & Capt. Smith's Mechanic Blues the whole commanded by Captain Abel Atherton to the lower end of Union Wharf, where the corpses were landed from each vessel, from barges, rowed at minute strokes, by ship master and mates, accompanied by many other barges and boats. During the approach of the barges from the vessels to the shore, solemn music was performed by a full band, and minute guns were fired alternately from each vessel.
The long procession was formed of State, county and town officers, Military escort, the clergy, Navy agent, and various other organizations, with the remains of the two Captains each followed by its officers as mourners, and its crews, as well as many citizens, and as it slowly wound its way from the wharf to Middle Street, and the Meetinghouse of the Second Parish, great crowds of people lined the streets, gathered on the tops of buildings, or looked from windows and doorways, as the imposing parade passed along. Ware house and shops were closed, bells were tolled and the shipping in the harbor wore their colors at half mast, while, as the Gazette stated, "The highest degree of order prevailed, and solemn silence was kept. The account of the services from the same source of information, was as follows:
"The solemnities of the sanctuary commenced by singing an appropriate Hymn the Throne of Grace was then addressed by the Rev. Mr. Payson, in a prayer adapted to the melancholy occasion couched in language to command the attention and affect the feelings of his numerous auditory, and expressive of the feelings and sentiments of a Christian and Minister of Peace. An Anthem was sung by a full choir, and this part of the solemnities was closed with a Bendiction."
Graves of the Captains of the Enterprise and Boxer
Among the throng which gathered near the newly made graves were the five members of the Freeman family, each impressed in his, or her own way by the solemn occasion. The burying ground, old even at this day, was up on the hill not far from the towering Observatory from which the beginning of the battle had been so anxiously watched.
The sunshine of the September day flashed over the lapping waters. A soft haze wrapped the more distant islands of the harbor and mountains on the opposite horizon and the solemn sound of tolling bells and minute guns alone broke the silence, the guns of Forts Preble and Scammel repeating the minute firing of the companies of Artillery. Following the burial six vollies were discharged, three each for the two heroes, the colors were unfurled, music struck up, and gradually the spectators surged away leaving the brave, young commanders, though enemies in life, yet friends in death, and lying side by side in their last resting place, while below, and just away, the sea which had been their battle field, sounds a never ceasing requiem.
* * *
Coming down from the burying ground, Polly, her tear-stained face telling of her emotion, found herself beside Mrs. Oxnard, Brian's mother.
"How beautiful and sad it all was," she began.
The woman nodded, not trusting herself to speak till a moment later she said, "When we think there might have been more than two up there," with a backward glance, "how thankful we should be as it is."
"There is like to be a third," Polly returned in a low voice. "Ay, poor Leftenant Waters, he cannot live, they say."
"Brian is waiting all eagerness, I know, for me to tell him all I have seen. I would he might have been here, too."
"He is better I hear."
"Oh, yes, much better."
"Does is he able to see his friends?"
The older woman turned, looking into the other's face. "He will be able to see one of his friends about this time tomorrow, I'm thinking," she answered with a smile which deepened the color in Polly's cheeks.
Acting upon this hint, the girl on the following morning found herself at the Oxnards' door. She thought she knew just what she would say first to Brian, but when she saw him sitting so white and wan, his blue eyes unusually large and wistful, she forgot all the little speech she had prepared, and going toward him with both hands outstretched, she cried:
"Oh, Brian, I didn't mean it I do remember "
A new, eager look came into the white face; he, too, reaches out both hands, and
But we do not hear his response for Time, the Necromancer who has allowed us this glimpse among his backward pages, abruptly closes the volume, and we may read no more.