| The Man Without A Country |
Y THIS TIME the men were all beside themselves, wishing there was any way to make him turn over two pages; but he had not quite presence of mind for that; he gagged a little, coloured crimson, and staggered on-
"For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name.
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,
Despite these titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self-"
and here the poor fellow choked, could not go on, but started up, swung the book into the sea, vanished into his state-room, "And by Jove," said Phillips, "we did not see him for two months again. And I had to make up some beggarly story to that English surgeon why I did not return his Walter Scott to him."
That story shows about the time when Nolan's braggadocio must have broken down. At first, they said, he took a very high tone, considered his imprisonment a mere farce, affected to enjoy the voyage, and all that; but Phillips said that after he came out of his state-room he never was the same man again. He never read aloud again unless it was the Bible or Shakespeare, or something else he was sure of. But it was not that merely. He never entered in with the other young men exactly as a companion again. He was always shy afterwards, when I knew him-very seldom spoke, unless he was spoken to, except to a very few friends. He lighted up occasionally-I remember late in his life hearing him fairly eloquent on something which had been suggested to him by one of Fléchier's sermons-but generally he had the nervous, tired look of a heart-wounded man.
When Captain Shaw was coming home-if, as I say, it was Shaw-rather to the surprise of everybody they made one of the Windward Islands, and lay off and on for nearly a week. The boys said the officers were sick of salt-junk, and meant to have turtle-soup before they came home. But after several days the Warren came to the same rendezvous; they exchanged signals; she sent to Phillips and these homeward-bound men letters and papers, and told them she was outward-bound, perhaps to the Mediterranean, and took poor Nolan and his traps on the boat back to try his second cruise. He looked very blank when he was told to get ready to join her. He had known enough of the signs of the sky to know that till that moment he was going "home." But this was a distinct evidence of something he had not thought of, perhaps-that there was no going home for him, even to a prison. And this was the first of some twenty such transfers, which brought him sooner or later into half our best vessels, but which kept him all his life at least some hundred miles from the country he had hoped he might never hear of again.
It may have been on that second cruise-it was once when he was up the Mediterranean,-that Mrs. Graff, the celebrated Southern beauty of those days, danced with him. They had been lying a long time in the Bay of Naples, and the officers were very intimate in the English fleet, and there had been great festivities, and our men thought they must give a great ball on board the ship. How they ever did it on board the Warren I am sure I do not know. Perhaps it was not the Warren, or perhaps ladies did not take up so much room as they do now. They wanted to use Nolan's state-room for something, and they hated to do it without asking him to the ball; so the captain said they might ask him, if they would be responsible that he did not talk with the wrong people, "who would give him intelligence." So the dance went on, the finest party that had ever been known, I dare say; for I never heard of a man-of-war ball that was not. For ladies they had the family of the American consul, one or two travellers who had adventured so far, and a nice bevy of English girls and matrons, perhaps Lady Hamilton herself.
Well, different officers relieved each other in standing and talking with Nolan in a friendly way, so as to be sure that nobody else spoke to him. The dancing went on with spirit, and after a while even the fellows who took this honorary guard of Nolan ceased to fear any contretemps. Only when some English lady-Lady Hamilton, as I said, perhaps-called for a set of "American dances," an odd thing happened. Everybody then danced contra-dances. The black band, nothing loath, conferred as to what "American dances" were, and started off with "Virginia Reel," which they followed with "Money Musk," which, in its turn in those days, should have been followed by "The Old Thirteen." But just as Dick, the leader, tapped for his fiddles to begin, and bent forward, about to say, in true negro state, "'The Old Thirteen,' gentlemen and ladies!" as he had said "'Virginny Reel,' if you please!" and "'Money-Musk,' if you please!" the captain's boy tapped him on the shoulder, whispered to him, and he did not announce the name of the dance; he merely bowed, began on the air, and they all fell to-the officers teaching the English girls the figure, but not telling them why it had no name.
But that is not the story I started to tell. As the dancing went on, Nolan and our fellows all got at ease, as I said: so much so, that it seemed quite natural for him to bow to that splendid Mrs. Graff and say:
"I hope you have not forgotten me, Miss Rutledge. Shall I have the honour of dancing?"
He did it so quickly, that Fellows, who was with him, could not hinder him. She laughed and said:
"I am not Miss Rutledge any longer, Mr. Nolan; but I will dance all the same," just nodded to Fellows, as if to say he must leave Mr. Nolan to her, and led him off to the place where the dance was forming.
Nolan thought he had got his chance. He had known her at Philadelphia, and at other places had met her, and this was a godsend. You could not talk in contra-dances as you do in cotillions, or even in the pauses of waltzing; but there were chances for tongues and sounds, as well as for eyes and blushes. He began with her travels, and Europe, and Vesuvius, and the French; and then, when they had worked down, and had that long talking time at the bottom of the set, he said boldly-a little pale, she said, as she told me the story years after-
"And what do you hear from home, Mrs. Graff?"
And that splendid creature looked through him. Jove! how she must have looked through him!
"Home!! Mr. Nolan!!! I thought you were the man who never wanted to hear of home again!"-and she walked directly up the deck to her husband, and left poor Nolan alone, as he always was.-He did not dance again. I cannot give any history of him in order; nobody can now; and, indeed, I am not trying to.
These are the traditions, which I sort out, as I believe them, from the myths which have been told about this man for forty years. The lies that have been told about him are legion. The fellows used to say he was the "Iron Mask;" and poor George Pons went to his grave in the belief that this was the author of "Junius," who was being punished for his celebrated libel on Thomas Jefferson. Pons was not very strong in the historical line.
A happier story than either of these I have told is of the war. That came along soon after. I have heard this affair told in three or four ways-and, indeed, it may have happened more than once. But which ship it was on I cannot tell. However, in one at least, of the great frigate-duels with the English, in which the navy was really baptised, it happened that a round-shot from the enemy entered one of our ports square, and took right down the officer of the gun himself, and almost every man of the gun's crew. Now you may say what you choose about courage, but that is not a nice thing to see. But, as the men who were not killed picked themselves up, and as they and the surgeon's people were carrying off the bodies, there appeared Nolan, in his shirt-sleeves, with the rammer in his hand, and, just as if he had been the officer, told them off with authority-who should go to the cock-pit with the wounded men, who should stay with him-perfectly cheery, and with that way which makes men feel sure all is right and is going to be right. And he finished loading the gun with his own hands, aimed it, and bade the men fire. And there he stayed, captain of that gun, keeping those fellows in spirits, till the enemy struck-sitting on the carriage while the gun was cooling, though he was exposed all the time-showing them easier ways to handle heavy shot-making the raw hands laugh at their own blunders-and when the gun cooled again, getting it loaded and fired twice as often as any other gun on the ship. The captain walked forward by way of encouraging the men, and Nolan touched his hat and said:
"I am showing them how we do this in the artillery, sir."
And this is the part of the story where all the legends agree; the commodore said:
"I see you do, and I thank you, sir; and I shall never forget this day, sir, and you never shall, sir."
And after the whole thing was over, and he had the Englishman's sword, in the midst of the state and ceremony of the quarter-deck, he said:
"Where is Mr. Nolan? Ask Mr. Nolan to come here."
And when Nolan came, he said:
"Mr. Nolan, we are all very grateful to you to-day; you are one of us to-day; you will be named in the despatches."