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Title: The Log of a Sea-Waif - Being Recollections of the First Four Years of My Sea Life
Author: Bullen, Frank T., 1857-1915
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Log of a Sea-Waif - Being Recollections of the First Four Years of My Sea Life" ***

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                     THE LOG OF A SEA-WAIF


    +------------------------------------------------------------------+
    |                =By FRANK T. BULLEN.=                             |
    |                                                                  |
    | =The Log Of a Sea-Waif.= Being Recollections of the First Four   |
    | Years of my Sea Life. Illustrated. Uniform edition, 12mo.        |
    | Cloth, $1.50.                                                    |
    |                                                                  |
    | The brilliant author of "The Cruise of the Cachalot" and         |
    | "Idylls of the Sea" presents in this new work the continuous     |
    | story of the actual experiences of his first four years at       |
    | sea. In graphic and picturesque phrases he has sketched the      |
    | events of voyages to the West Indies, to Bombay and the          |
    | Coromandel coast, to Melbourne and Rangoon. Nothing could be     |
    | of more absorbing interest than this wonderfully vivid account   |
    | of foks'l humanity and the adventures and strange sights and     |
    | experiences attendant upon deep-sea voyages. It is easy to see   |
    | in this book an English companion to our own "Two Years before   |
    | the Mast."                                                       |
    |                                                                  |
    | =Idylls of the Sea.= 12mo. Cloth, $1.25.                         |
    |                                                                  |
    | "This book is truly fascinating reading.... To everything Mr.    |
    | Bullen brings enthusiasm, a passion for accuracy, and the good   |
    | writing that comes of knowledge and sincerity."--_London         |
    | Academy._                                                        |
    |                                                                  |
    | "A fresh sea-breeze blows through the whole book, and            |
    | entertainment and instruction are delightfully blended."--_The   |
    | Daily Mail._                                                     |
    |                                                                  |
    |                                                                  |
    | =The Cruise of the Cachalot.= _Round the World after Sperm       |
    | Whales._ Illustrated. 12mo. Cloth, $1.50.                        |
    |                                                                  |
    | MR. RUDYARD KIPLING writes the author:                           |
    |                                                                  |
    | "It is immense--there is no other word. I've never read          |
    | anything that equals it in its deep-sea wonder and mystery,      |
    | nor do I think that any book before has so completely covered    |
    | the business of whale-fishing, and at the same time given such   |
    | real and new sea pictures. I congratulate you most heartily.     |
    | It's a new world that you've opened the door to."                |
    |                                                                  |
    | *       *       *       *       *                                |
    |                                                                  |
    | =D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, New York.=                             |
    +------------------------------------------------------------------+



[Illustration: It was a bleak, gloomy day in January when I first beheld
her.]



                     THE LOG OF A SEA-WAIF


                    BEING RECOLLECTIONS OF
                     THE FIRST FOUR YEARS
                        OF MY SEA LIFE

                              BY

                   FRANK T. BULLEN, F.R.G.S.

           _Author of The Cruise of the Cachalot,
                   Idylls of the Sea, Etc._

                   WITH EIGHT ILLUSTRATIONS

                           NEW YORK

                    D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
                            1899

                       COPYRIGHT, 1899,
                  BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.


                              TO

                     J. ST. LÖE STRACHEY,
                              IN
                     GRATEFUL RECOGNITION
            OF HIS UNWEARYING ENCOURAGEMENT OF AND
              PERSISTENT KINDNESS TO THE AUTHOR,
                           THIS BOOK
                  IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.



PREFACE.


Notwithstanding the oft-reiterated statement that the days of sea
romance are over, it may well be doubted whether any period of our
literary history has been more prolific in books dealing with that
subject than the last twenty-five years. Nor does the output show any
signs of lessening, while the quality of the work done is certainly not
deteriorating. Writers like Kipling, Cutcliffe Hyne, Joseph Conrad, and
Clark Russell, each in his own style, have presented us with a series of
sea-pictures that need not fear comparison with any nautical writers'
work of any day, although they deal almost exclusively with the
generally considered unromantic merchant service. Having admitted this,
the question perforce follows, "Who, then, are you, that presumes to
compete with these master magicians?"

To that inevitable question I would modestly answer that the present
book is in no sense a competitor with the works of any writers of
nautical romance. But having been for fifteen years a seafarer in
almost every capacity except that of a master, and now, by the greatest
kindness and indulgence on the part of men holding high positions in the
literary world, being permitted to cater for the reading public in
sterling periodicals, it has often occurred to me how little landsmen
really know of the seaman's actual life. "Two Years before the Mast,"
although written by an American, and of life on board an American
merchantman, has long held undisputed sway as a classic upon the
subject. And for the only reason, as it seems, that no serious attempt
has been made by a Britisher to do the same thing for life in British
ships.

Still, conscious as I certainly am of small literary equipment for such
a task, I should hardly have dared to try my hand but for the
encouragement most generously and persistently given me by Mr. J. St.
Löe Strachey, who, with that large faith in another's abilities that
breeds confidence in its object, however diffident, urged me strongly to
tell the public some of my experiences of sea life. And his advice to me
was to set them down, just as they occurred, as nearly as memory would
permit. Of course, it was not possible to cover the whole field of my
experiences at once, except in the most scrappy and unsatisfactory way,
and therefore I decided to take the first four years--from the age of
twelve to sixteen. Following my friend's advice, I have written nothing
but the truth, and, in most cases, I have given the real names of ships
and individuals. If the book, then, does not please, it will be owing to
my lack of discrimination between interesting and commonplace details,
and not because the pictures given of life at sea in the forecastle are
not faithful.

And now, as I know that there are a great many people who do not read
prefaces, I will close mine by humbly commending this "autobiography of
a nobody" to that tremendous tribunal, with whom lies the verdict of
success or failure, and from whose fiat there is no appeal--the Public.

                                                        FRANK T. BULLEN.

  CAMBERWELL, _September, 1899._



                          CONTENTS.


  CHAPTER

       I.--MY FIRST SHIP

      II.--OUTWARD-BOUND

     III.--ARRIVAL AT DEMERARA

      IV.--THE MUTINY AND AFTER

       V.--THE LAND OF LIBERTY

      VI.--TO HAVANA AND AFTER

     VII.--OFF TO SEA AGAIN

    VIII.--STRUGGLES IN LIVERPOOL AND LONDON

      IX.--BOUND FOR JAMAICA

       X.--ADVENTURES OF A SHIPWRECKED CREW

      XI.--AN EVENTFUL PASSAGE HOME

     XII.--ADRIFT IN LIVERPOOL ONCE MORE

    XIII.--THE DAWN OF BETTER DAYS

     XIV.--DUE SOUTH

      XV.--EIGHT WEEKS' CALM

     XVI.--UP THE INDIAN OCEAN TO BOMBAY

    XVII.--ON THE COROMANDEL COAST

   XVIII.--HOMEWARD TO LONDON

     XIX.--A CHANGE OF NATIONALITY

      XX.--THE PASSAGE TO MELBOURNE

     XXI.--I BECOME A COLONIAL COASTER

    XXII.--PROSPERITY PALLS UPON ME

   XXIII.--ANOTHER QUEER SHIP

    XXIV.--DEEP-WATER AMENITIES

     XXV.--PROCEEDINGS AT RANGOON

    XXVI.--HOMEWARD-BOUND IN DIFFICULTIES

   XXVII.--DEEP-WATER COASTING

  XXVIII.--WHICH BRINGS US TO PORT AT LAST

    XXIX.--CONCLUSION



THE LOG OF A SEA-WAIF.



CHAPTER I.

MY FIRST SHIP.


Many boys clamour for a sea life, will not settle down to anything
ashore, in spite of the pleading of parents, the warnings of wisdom, or
the doleful experiences of friends. Occasionally at schools there breaks
out a sort of epidemic of "going to sea," for which there is apparently
no proximate cause, but which rages fiercely for a time, carrying off
such high-spirited youths as can prevail upon those responsible for them
to agree to their making a trial of a seafaring life. All this is quite
as it should be, of course, in order that Britain may continue to rule
the waves; but many a parent, whose affectionate projects for the future
of his offspring are thus rudely shattered, bitterly resents what he
naturally considers to be unaccountable folly.

In my own case matters were quite otherwise. I belonged to the ignoble
company of the unwanted. In spite of hard usage, scanty food, and
overwork, I ridiculously persisted in living, until, at the approach of
my twelfth year, an eligible opening presented itself for me to go to
sea. Being under no delusions whatever as to the prospect that awaited
me, since I had known intimately those who had experienced all the
vicissitudes of a sailor's life, I was not unduly elated at the idea.
Nevertheless, food and shelter were objects peculiarly hard of
attainment ashore, while I felt satisfied that at sea these necessaries
would be always provided, even if their quality was none of the best.

The vessel in which I obtained a berth as cabin-boy was commanded by my
uncle: a stubborn, surly, but thoroughly capable old seaman. Soured by
misfortune and cross-grained by nature, it was small wonder that he had
no friends, not even the sterling honesty of his character, or his high
ability, being sufficient to counterbalance the drawback of his
atrocious temper. His latest command was not calculated to improve him,
for she was a survival of a bygone day, clumsy as a Dutch galliot,
impoverished by her owner, who was heartily sick of seeing her afloat,
and would have rejoiced to hear that she was missing; and withal leaky
as a basket. When I first saw her huddled into a more than usually dirty
corner of the West India Docks, I was filled with wonder to see that her
cutwater was sunken between two swelling bows like the cheeks of a
conventional cherub. Though I could be no critic of marine construction,
this seemed an anomaly for which there appeared to be no excuse. Her
bowsprit and jibboom soared into the air exactly like those of the
galleons of old, and her three skimpy masts stood like broomsticks at
different angles--the foremast especially, which looked over the bows.

It was a bleak, gloomy day in January when I first beheld her. The snow,
which had fallen heavily for some days previously, was, wherever it
could be, churned into filthy slush, and where undisturbed, was begrimed
more into the similitude of soot-heaps than anything else. Everything
wore a pinched, miserable appearance. So forbidding and hopeless was the
outlook that, had it been practicable, I should certainly have
retreated. But there was no choice; I had burned my bridges.

Climbing on deck, I found such a state of confusion and dirt reigning as
I could hardly have believed possible. Owing to the parsimony of the
owner, not even a watchman had been kept on board, and, in consequence,
the decks had not smelt a broom for a month. The cargo and stores were
littered about so that progress was gymnastic, while in every corner and
hollow lay the dirty snow. Several discontented-looking men were engaged
aloft bending sails, others were gradually coaxing the cargo on deck
into the hold, but no one seemed to have any energy left. Seated upon an
up-ended beef-cask was a truculent-looking individual whom I
instinctively regarded as the boss. Him, therefore, I timidly
approached. Upon hearing my message, he rolled off his throne and led
the way aft, uttering all the time some, to me, perfectly unintelligible
sounds. I made no pretence of answering, so I suppose he took me for a
poor idiot hardly worthy of his attention. When, after some effort, he
disappeared down the cabin companion, I was close behind him, and,
understanding his gestures better than his speech, made out that here
was to be the scene of my future labours. The place was so gloomy that I
could distinguish none of its features by sight; but the atmosphere, a
rank compound of the reek of bilge-water, mouldering stores, and
unventilated sleeping-places, caught me by the throat, making my head
swim and a lump rise in my chest. A small locker by the ladder's foot,
reminding me curiously of a rabbit-hutch, was pointed out to me as my
berth, but I naturally supposed it to be a place for my bag. How could I
have dreamed that it was also to be my chamber? But everything began to
reel with me, so, blindly clutching the ladder, I struggled on deck
again, where the bitter wind soon revived me.

Henceforth no one noticed me, so I roamed about the deck, prying into
holes and corners, until the stevedores knocked off for dinner.
Presently the mate came towards where I sat, shivering and solitary, on
the windlass end, and made me understand that I was to come ashore with
him. He conducted me through a labyrinth of mean streets to a spacious
building in a wide thoroughfare, around which were congregated many
little groups of seamen of all nations. We entered the place at once,
and soon reached a large bare room crowded with seamen. Here I was told
to wait while Mr. Svensen went to seek the captain. While I stood
bewildered by the bustle of the crowded place, I heard occasional
hoarse demands for "Three A.B.'s an' one ordinary for Pernambuck!" "Cook
an' stooard for Kingston, Jamaica!" "All the croo of the _Star o'
Peace_!" and similar calls, each followed by a general rush towards the
speaker, accompanied by a rustling of discharges in the air as their
owners sought to attract attention.

After about an hour's wait I heard the cry of "Croo of the _Arabella_
here!" which was followed by the usual rush; but, to the disappointment
of the watchers, the whole of the crew had been already selected. One by
one they squeezed through the crowd into an office beyond, whither I
managed to follow. I was too much amazed at the hurly-burly to notice
who were to be my future shipmates, but I paid a sort of awe-struck
attention to the reading of the "articles." Doubtless much excuse must
be made for the officials, who have to gabble the same rigmarole over so
many times each working day; but I certainly think some attempt might
always be made that the essential parts of the agreement should be clear
to men who are about to bind themselves for a long period to abide by
it. In our case, the only words clearly accented, heard, and understood
by all, were the last three, "no spirits allowed." Each man then signed
the articles, or made his mark, ending with myself, when I found I was
entitled to receive five shillings per month, without any half-pay or
advance. Each of the men received a month's advance, in the form of a
promissory-note, payable three days after the ship left the Downs,
"providing the said seaman sails in the said ship." None of them lost
any time in getting away to seek some accommodating (?) shark to cash
their notes at an average discount of about forty per cent., most of the
proceeds being payable in kind.

This important preliminary over, I was free till next morning, when all
hands were ordered on board by ten o'clock. Not feeling at all desirous
of returning to the ship, yet being penniless, and in a strange part of
London, I made my way westward to the Strand, where I soon managed to
pick up enough for a meal. I spent the night in Hyde Park in a snug
corner, unknown to the police, that had often served me as a refuge
before. At daybreak I started East, arriving on board at about half-past
nine very tired and hungry. The mate eyed me suspiciously, saying
something which I guessed to be uncomplimentary, although I was still
unable to understand a word. But, as before, he did not interfere with
me, or set me any task.

The litter of cases, bales, etc., about the deck was fast disappearing
under the strenuous exertions of the stevedores and dock-wallopers,
while the raffle of gear aloft was reduced to as near an approach to
orderly arrangement as it could ever be expected to assume. Presently a
grimy little paddle-steamer came alongside, through the clustering swarm
of barges, and was made fast ahead and astern. An individual with a
stentorian voice, a pilot suit, mangy fur cap, and brick-red face
mounted the forecastle, bellowing out orders apparently addressed to no
one in particular. Their effect was at once evident, however, for we
began to move deliberately away from the wharf, splitting the crowd of
barges asunder amid the sulphurous remarks of their attendants. Once out
into the comparatively clear centre of the dock, we made good progress
until the last lock was reached; but there we came to a full stop. As
yet none of the crew had arrived, the vessel being handled by a
shore-gang so far. After about a quarter of an hour's delay, during
which the captain and pilot exhausted their vocabulary in abuse of the
laggards, the latter hove in sight, convoyed by a motley crowd of
tailor's "runners," boarding-masters, and frowsy looking women.

They made a funny little group. The sailors were in that happy state
when nothing matters--least of all the discounter of an advance-note;
hence the bodyguard of interested watchers, who would leave no stone
unturned to see that their debtors went in the ship, although being
under the vigilant eyes of the police, they dared not resort to violent
means. The ladies, possessing but a fast-fading interest in outward
bounders, were probably in evidence more from slackness of business than
any more sentimental cause. But having cajoled or coerced Jack to the
pierhead, he seemed unpersuadable to the final step of getting aboard.
Again and again a sailor would break loose and canter waveringly
shoreward, only to be at once surrounded by his escort and hurriedly
hauled back again. At last, exasperated beyond endurance by the
repetition of these aimless antics, the skipper sprang ashore followed
by the pilot. Bursting in upon the squabbling crowd, they seized upon a
couple of the maudlin mariners, hurling them on board as if they had
been made of rubber. With like vigour the rest were embarked, their
"dunnage" flung after them; the warps were immediately let go, and the
ship began to move ahead.

Outside the dock-gate a larger tug was waiting in readiness to hook on
as soon as we emerged, and tow us down the river. With a final shove,
accompanied by a stifling belch of greasy smoke, our sooty satellite
shook herself free of us, retreating hastily within the basin again,
while, obedient to the increasing strain on our hawser ahead, we passed
rapidly out into the crowded stream.

During the uneventful trip the shore-gang, under the direction of Mr.
Svensen and the second mate (who, being also the carpenter, was always
known as "Chips"), worked indefatigably to get the decks clear for
sea--lashing spars, water-casks, boats, etc. But their efforts were
greatly hindered by the crew, who, not being sufficiently drunk to lie
still in the forecastle, persisted in tumbling continually about the
decks, offering assistance while getting in everybody's way. In vain
were they repeatedly conducted to their doghole; no sooner were they
left than they were out again, until the hard-working "lumpers" were
ready to jump on them with rage.

Meanwhile I grew so weary of standing about that I was quite grateful
when Chips ordered me to fetch him a marlinespike. What he wanted I had
not the slightest idea; but, unwilling to confess such ignorance, I ran
forward and asked a labourer who was stowing the cable. He told me that
it was a pointed bar of iron with a hole at one end for a lanyard to
hang it round the neck by, adding that I should find some in the
fo'lk'sle, "right forrard in the eyes of her." Away I went into the
thick darkness of the men's dirty cave, groping my way into its
innermost recesses among the bags, chests, and beds with which the deck
was bestrewn. Reaching the farthest corner, I felt a great bundle of
something upon what I took for a shelf, which barred my further search.
Tugging heartily at it to get it out of my way, I suddenly felt it move!
I did not wait to investigate, but floundered back on deck again almost
witless from fright. Breathlessly I reported to Chips my discovery,
which brought him quickly to the spot with a light. Sure enough there
was a sea-bag, about six feet long, stuffed full--the draw-string
tightly closing the mouth. As soon as it was touched, there was a
movement within. Its contents were evidently alive. Chips and his
assistant promptly muzzled the bag, dragging it out on deck, and,
casting the cord adrift, turned it bottom upwards. Out there tumbled,
head foremost, a lanky nigger-lad, who had been missing since the
previous morning and given up as having deserted. On being questioned as
to the meaning of this freak, he humbly explained that, despairing of
ever getting warm again, he had put on his entire wardrobe, lain down in
his bunk, and crept into his bag, managing somehow to draw the string
tight over his head; that he had been there ever since, and was likely
to have died there, since he could not get his arms up again to let
himself out. He was dismissed to work with a grim promise of being
warmed in an altogether different fashion if he was again guilty of
skulking.

Upon arrival at Gravesend we anchored; the tremendous racket made by the
cable rushing over the windlass giving me a great fright. I thought the
bottom of the ship had fallen out. The tug departed for a berth close at
hand, the pilot and shore-gang leaving us in a wherry. I looked
longingly after them as they went, for I felt strangely that the last
link connecting me with England was now broken, and, although I had not
a single soul ashore to regret me, or one corner that I could think of
as home, there was sufficient sadness in the thought of leaving the land
of my birth to bring to my eyes a few unaccustomed tears.

Fortunately the cook, a worn-out seaman, whom, in common with most
vessels of that class, we carried for the double duty of cook and
steward, was now sober enough to get supper ready. In the emphatic
sea-phrase, he "Couldn't boil salt water without burning it;" but, as
nobody expected anything different, that passed without comment. My
regular duties now began: my uncle, the captain, giving me my first
lesson in laying the table sea-fashion, showing me where to find the
gear, and so on. The curious atmospheric compound below was appreciably
improved, but still there was a prismatic halo round the swinging lamp.
The skipper and his two officers took no notice of it, seeming quite at
their ease as they silently ate their humble meal, though I got a
racking headache. Supper over, I was ordered to "Clear away the wreck,"
and get my own meal in the pantry: a sort of little-ease in a corner of
the cuddy, wherein a man might successfully block all the crockery from
falling out by inserting his body in its midst. Hungry as I was, I could
not eat there, but stealthily seized the opportunity, as soon as the
skipper had retired to his state-room, to flee forrard to the galley
with the cook. His domain consisted of an erection about six feet
square, with sliding doors on either side, which was lashed firmly down
to ring-bolts in the deck. A coal-locker ran across it at the back, its
lid forming a seat. Between it and the stove there was just room to
turn, while most of the cooking utensils--no great store--had permanent
positions on the range.

Here, by the dim flicker of an antique contrivance of a lamp like a
handleless teapot--the wick sticking out of the spout and giving almost
as much smoke as flame,--I spent quite a pleasant hour with the ancient
mariner who ruled there, eating a hearty supper of biscuit and tea. He
was not in the best of spirits, for the drink was dying out of him; but
his garrulous, inconsequent talk amused me mightily. At last, feeling
that I might be wanted, I returned to the cabin, where I found the
captain and Chips making melody with their snores; Mr. Svensen being on
deck keeping watch, for which none of the crew were yet available. And,
finding no other corner wherein I might creep, I made just such a lair
as a dog might, in the hutch that held my scanty stock of clothing, and,
crawling into it, was soon in the land of perfect peace.



CHAPTER II.

OUTWARD-BOUND.


Something banging at the bulkhead close to my ear aroused me from a deep
sleep in great alarm. The hole in which I lay was so pitchy dark that,
even when I realised where I was, which took some little time, I fumbled
fruitlessly about for several minutes before I finally extricated
myself. When at last I stood upright on the cuddy-deck, I saw the
captain seated at the table writing. He looked up and growled, "Now
then, look lively! Didn't you hear, 'Man the windlass'?" Alas! I knew no
more what he meant than as if he had spoken in Hebrew; but I gathered
somehow that I ought to be on deck. Up I scrambled into a bitter,
snow-laden north-east wind and darkness that, but for the strange sheen
of the falling flakes, was almost Egyptian. Shivering as much with queer
apprehensions as with cold, I hurried forrard, where I found the mate
and Chips hard at work getting the hands out of the fo'lk'sle, and up on
top of it, to where the two gaunt levers of the windlass made a blacker
streak in the prevailing darkness. Tumbling up against Jem, the darky,
he said, as well as his chattering teeth would allow, "Specs yo gotter
haul back chain longer me, boy; yars a hook fer yer,"--putting into my
hand, as he spoke, a long iron hook with a cross-handle. Then, when at
last the half-dead sailors began to work the levers, and the great
clumsy windlass revolved, Jem and I hooked on to the massive links of
the cable, dragging it away from the barrel and ranging it in long
flakes beside the fore-hatch. Every few fathoms, when the chain had
worked its way right across the barrel, and the turns were beginning to
jam one another up against the bitt, Jem called out, "Fleet, oh!" Then a
couple of men descended from Mount Misery and hooked a mighty iron claw,
which was secured by a stout chain to the bitt, on to the cable before
the windlass. This held the whole weight while the turns of chain were
loosed and laboriously lifted back to the other end of the
windlass-barrel again. When thick with mud, so that each link was more
like a badly made raw brick than aught else, this primitive performance
was an uncouth job, and I could imagine many pleasanter occupations.

Two o'clock on a winter's morning, struggling with mud-besmeared masses
of iron, upon a footing so greasy that standing was a feat, hungry and
sleepy withal, there was little romance about this business. At last the
mate bawled, "She's short, sir!" and told the men to "'Vast heavin'."
Out of the gloom around the tug-boat emerged, coming close alongside to
receive her end of the big rope by which she was to drag us out to sea.
No sooner was it fast than a strange voice aft--the Channel
pilot's--roared out, "Heave right up, sir!" "Aye, aye, sir!" answered
the mate. "Heave 'way, boys!" The clatter of the pawls recommenced,
continuing until the anchor was as high as it would come. The subsequent
"catting" and "fishing" of the big "mud-hook" was all a confused dream
to me. All I knew was that I had to sit down and pull at a rope which
was wound round a capstan by the steady tramp of the crew, of whom one
would occasionally growl at me to mind my "surge," and I would feel a
jerk at my rope that shook me up dreadfully. It seemed an interminable
job; but, like everything else, came to an end at last. The mate now
walked aft, ordering Jem and my small self to coil ropes up and clear
away generally. But he called out almost immediately, "All hands lay aft
to muster!" The whole crowd slouched aft, grouping themselves at the
break of the poop, where a sort of elevated deck began just before the
mizzenmast. Each individual's name was now read out and answered to as
announced. I found that there were six able seamen, and the nigger-boy,
Jem, "foremast hands." The captain, mate, Chips, cook, and myself formed
the "afterguard."

The "crowd" were now divided into watches, the mate having first pick
for the port watch, and getting Jem over. This ceremony concluded, the
word was passed to "Pump ship." Several grumbling comments were made on
the "one-arm sailor" pumps: a mean, clumsy contrivance, only fit for the
smallest vessels, requiring twice the exertion for half the result
obtainable from any of the late patents. But the amazement and disgust
of the fellows can hardly be imagined when, after half an hour's
vigorous "Clankety, clankety, clankety, bang!"--three strokes and a
pause as the fashion is--there was no sign of a "suck." A burly
Yorkshireman, leaning up against the brake to mop his brow, said, "Well,
boys, if this ---- old scow ain't just sprung a leak, or bin left fur
'bout a month thout pumpin', we're in for a ---- fine thing ov it." There
was hardly any intelligible response, they all seemed choking with rage
and curses. However, they sucked her out, and then the big man asked
Chips quietly whether that "spell" was usual. Chips assured him that she
had not been baled out for a long time, and that she would certainly
"take up" in a day or two. Oil on the troubled waters, but very risky,
for he had only just joined himself; nor did he know anything of the old
tub's previous record.

Meanwhile the cook, or "doctor," as his sea-sobriquet is, had been busy
making coffee. Unlike any beverage called by that name ashore, even the
funny mixture sold at a halfpenny a cup at street corners being quite
luxurious in comparison with it, yet it was a godsend--boiling hot, with
plenty of sugar in it--to those poor wretches with the quenchless thirst
of many day's indulgence in the vilest liquor making their throats like
furred old drain-pipes. It calmed the rising storm, besides doing them a
vast amount of physical good. I was at once busy supplying the wants of
the officers, to whom the refreshment was heartily welcome. All the
time, we were ploughing steadily along behind the strenuous tug at a
greater rate than ever I saw the old barky go afterwards. (I have
omitted to mention that we were bound for Demerara with a general cargo,
but our subsequent destination was not settled yet.) All hands were
allowed a pretty long spell of rest, with the exception of the man at
the wheel, and one on the look-out, because, until we were well out,
sail would have been more hindrance than help. The wind increased as we
got farther down, until, as we passed out of the river, quite a sea was
rising, to which the old hooker began to bob and curtsey like a country
girl looking for a situation. The relentless tug, however, tore her
through the fast-rising waves, making them break over the bows in heavy
spray. This was uncomfortable, but the motion was far worse. All the
horrors of sea-sickness came suddenly upon me, and, like an ailing
animal, I crept into a corner on the main-hatch under the long-boat,
wishing for oblivion. Sea-sickness is a theme for jesting, no doubt, but
those who have suffered from it much, know how little room there is for
laughter at such suffering--suffering too for which, at the time, there
seems no hope of alleviation except the impossible one of the motion
ceasing.

From that morning for several days I remained in this miserable
condition, not caring a pin's point whether I lived or died, nor, with
the sole exception of the negro, Jem, did any one else on board seem to
give me one moment's thought. Not that I would lightly accuse them of
cruelty or callous indifference to suffering; but, being all fully
occupied with their work, they had little leisure to attend to a
sea-sick urchin that was of small use at his best. However, poor black
Jem never forgot me, and, although he had nothing likely to tempt my
appetite, he always brought his scanty meals to where I lay helpless
under the long-boat, trying in various quaint ways to coax me into a
returning interest in life. Fortunately for me, the wind held in a
quarter that enabled the ship to get out of the Channel fairly soon,
considering her limitations, and, once across the dreaded stretch of the
Bay of Biscay, she speedily ran into fine weather and smoother seas.

When I did eventually find my sea-legs, and resumed my duties in the
cabin, I was received with no good grace by my uncle or the doctor. The
latter had, indeed, special cause to feel himself aggrieved, since he
had borne the burden of double duty during my illness: a hardship which
he was a long time in forgetting. But she was an unhappy ship. The
skipper held aloof from everybody, hardly holding converse with the
mate. He even kept the ship's reckoning alone, not accepting the mate's
assistance in taking the sun for the longitude in the morning, but doing
it all himself after a fashion of his own, so that the chief officer was
as ignorant of the vessel's true position as I was. Then the food, both
forrard and aft, was, in addition to being strictly on the abominable
official scale which is a disgrace to a civilised country, of so
unspeakably vile a quality that it was hardly fit to give to well-reared
pigs. I have often seen the men break up a couple of biscuits into a pot
of coffee for their breakfast, and, after letting it stand a minute or
two, skim off the accumulated scum of vermin from the top--maggots,
weevils, etc.--to the extent of a couple of table-spoonfuls, before they
could shovel the mess into their craving stomachs. Enough, however, for
the present on the food-question, which, being one of the prime factors
in a sailor's life, must continually be cropping up.

The bleak, biting edge of the winter weather was now gone, the steady
north-easterly breeze blew mild and kindly, while from an almost
cloudless heaven the great sun beamed benignantly--his rays not yet so
fierce as to cause any discomfort. My sensations on first discovering
that no land was visible, that we seemed the solitary centre of an
immense blue circle, whose sharply defined circumference was exactly
joined to the vast azure dome overhead, were those of utter loneliness
and terror. For I knew nothing of the ways of navigators across this
pathless plain, nor realized any of the verities of the subject set
forth in the few books I had read. School learning I had none. Had there
been any one to whom I could have gone for information, without fearing
a brutal repulse, I should doubtless have felt less miserable; but, as
it was, use alone gradually reconciled me to the solemn silence of the
illimitable desert around. At rare intervals vessels appeared, tiny
flecks of white upon the mighty waste, which only served to emphasize
its immensity as the solitary light of a taper does the darkness of some
huge hall.

But the sea itself was full of interest. Of course I had little leisure;
but what I had was spent mostly in hanging spell-bound over the side,
gazing with ever-growing wonder and delight upon this marvellous world
of abounding life. This early acquired habit never left me, for, many
years afterwards, when second mate of one of our finest passenger
clippers, I enjoyed nothing so much as to pass an hour of my watch
below, seated far out ahead of the ship by the martingale, gazing down
into the same beautiful sea.

There were no books on board or reading matter of any kind, except the
necessary works on navigation on the captain's shelf; so it was just as
well that I could take some interest in our surroundings, if I was not
to die mentally as most of the sailors seemed to have done. As I got
better acquainted with them, even daring to pay stolen visits to their
darksome home in timorous defiance of the stern orders of my uncle, I
found to my amazement, that they could tell me nothing of what I wanted
to know. Their kindness often went the length of inventing fabulous
replies to my eager questions, but they seemed totally ignorant of
anything connected with the wonders of the ocean.

The days slipped rapidly away, until we entered the Sargasso Sea, that
strange vortex in the middle of the Atlantic. It was on a Sunday
morning, when, according to custom, no work was a-doing, except for the
doctor and me. Even our duties were less exacting than usual; so that I
was able to snatch many a short spell of gazing overside at the
constantly increasing masses of Gulf-weed that, in all its delicate
beauty of branch and bud, came brushing past our sides. That afternoon
the sea, as far as eye could reach, bore no bad resemblance to a ripe
hayfield, the weed covering the water in every direction, with hardly a
patch of blue amid the prevailing yellow. Before the light trade-wind we
were hardly able to make any headway through the investing vegetation,
which overlaid the waves so heavily that the surface was smooth as a
millpond. Through the bewildering mazes of that aquatic forest roved an
innumerable multitude of fish of every shape, size, and hue, while the
branches themselves swarmed with crustacea, so that a draw-bucket full
of weed would have furnished quite a large-sized aquarium with a
sufficiently varied population. I could have wished the day forty-eight
hours long; but I was the only one on board that derived any pleasure
from the snail-like progress we made. The captain's vexation showed
itself in many ways, but mostly in inciting Chips to order various quite
uncalled-for jobs of pulling and hauling, which provoked the watch so
much that there was a continual rumble of bad language and growling.
Even the twenty minutes' spell at the pumps, which, from its regularity
every two hours, now passed almost unnoticed, was this afternoon the
signal for a great deal of outspoken and unfavourable comment upon the
characters of ship, owner, and captain. The latter gentleman paced his
small domain with uncertain tread, as usual; but the glitter in his eye,
and the set of his heavily bearded lips, showed how sorely he was
tempted to retaliate. But he prudently forebore, well aware of his
helplessness in case of an outbreak, as well as being forced to admit
full justification for the bitter remarks that were so freely indulged
in.

Indeed, it was a serious question how long the present peace would last.
The rigging was dropping to pieces; so that a man never knew, when he
went aloft, whether he would not come crashing down by the run, from the
parting of a rotten footrope or a perished seizing. The sails were but
rags, worn almost to the thinness of muslin, every flap threatening to
strip them from the yards. There was no material for repairs, no new
rope, canvas, or "seizing-stuff;" half a barrel of Stockholm tar, and a
few pieces of old "junk" for sennit and spunyarn, representing all the
boatswain's stores on board. In fact, the absence of all those
necessaries, which are to be found on board the most poverty-stricken of
ships, for their bare preservation in serviceable condition, was a
never-failing theme of discussion in the fo'lk'sle. And one conclusion
was invariably arrived at, albeit the avenues of talk by which it was
reached were as tortuous and inconsequent as could well be. It was the
grim one that the _Arabella_ was never intended to return. This thought
tinctured all the men's ideas, embittered their lives, and made the most
ordinary everyday tasks seem a burden almost too grievous to be borne.

Had it not been for the overwhelming evidence that the condition of the
afterguard was almost as miserable as their own, the abject humility of
the mate, in spite of his really good seamanship, and the
hail-fellow-well-met way in which Chips confessed his utter ignorance of
all sailorizing whatever, I very much doubt whether there would not
have been a mutiny before we were a fortnight out. But as the villainous
food and incessant pumping were not aggravated by bullying and "working
up," matters jolted along without any outbreak. Born as I was under an
unlucky star, my insignificance nearly overthrew the peace that was so
precariously kept. The deadly dulness of the cabin was so stifling, that
I felt as if I should die there in the long, dreary evenings between
supper and bunk. Nothing to read, nobody to speak to, nothing to do, and
forbidden with threats to go forrard among the men--that I should
transgress sooner or later was a certainty. I took to creeping forrard
oftener and more openly, because no detection followed, until a sharp
rope's-ending from my uncle brought me up "with a round turn," as the
sailor says. By this time I had become rather a favourite forrard, as
well as something of a toy, being very small for my age and precocious
as might be expected from my antecedents. One man especially--Joe, the
big Yorkshireman--became strongly attached to me, endeavouring to teach
me thoroughly the rudiments of sailorizing. This was at considerable
sacrifice of his own time, which, as he was an ardent model-maker, was
sufficient proof of his liking for me.

Now I was almost destitute of clothing, and what little I did possess I
was rapidly growing out of. So the next day after my disciplinary
castigation, Joe walked aft in his watch below demanding audience of the
skipper. There was an unpleasant scowl on the old man's face, as he
came on deck to see the audacious man, that boded ill for the applicant
in any case. But when Joe boldly tackled him for a bit of light canvas
whereof he might make me a "Cunarder" (a sort of habergeon) and a pair
of trousers, the skipper's face grew black with rage. The insult, all
the grosser for its truth, was too obvious. When he found his tongue, he
burst into furious abuse of Joe for daring to come aft on such an
errand. Joe, being no lamb, replied with interest, to the delight of his
fellows, who strolled aft as far as the mainmast to hear the fun. This
unseemly wrangle, so subversive of all order or discipline, lasted for
about ten minutes, during which time I stood shivering at the foot of
the cabin ladder in dread of the sequel. Finally the old man, unable to
endure any more, roared, "Get forrard or I'll shoot ye, ye d--d ugly
thief of a sea-lawyer! I'll have ye by the heels yet, an' w'en I do
ye'll think Jemmy Smallback's gruppin' ye!" With this parting shot he
turned on his heel without waiting the retort discourteous that promptly
followed, descending abruptly into the cabin with the ironical cheers of
the delighted crew ringing unmelodiously in his ears.

Under such provocation it was little wonder that I paid for all. It must
have been balm to my relative's wounded pride to rope's-end me; at any
rate, he did so with a completeness that left nothing to be desired.
And, in order to avenge himself fully, he closed our interview by
kicking me forrard, daring me, at the same time, ever to defile his
cabin again with my mischief-making presence under pain of
neck-twisting.

Of course I was received in the fo'lk'sle with open arms. My reception
went far to mollify my sore back, for the seclusion of the cabin had
grown so hateful, that I would willingly have purchased my freedom from
it with several such coltings as I had endured, not to speak of the
honour of being welcomed as a sort of martyr. Before long I owned quite
a respectable rig-out, made up, by the dexterity of Joe, from all sorts
of odds and ends contributed by all hands at a tarpaulin muster. Now
each man vied with the other in teaching me all they knew of their
business, and I was such an apt pupil that, in a short time, they were
able to boast that there was no knot or splice known to seafarers, that
I was not capable of making in sailor fashion. Being no climbist, as
might be expected from an urchin born and bred in London streets,
getting used to the rigging was unpleasant at first; but that was
mastered in its turn, until nothing remained unlearned but the helm. The
one aim, apparently, of every man forrard was to so fit me for the work
I might be called upon to do, as that no excuse might be found for
cruelty of any sort. Whether I had the ability to meet his demands or
not, it did not seem prudent for the old man to try his hand on me again
in the colting line, and I went gaily enough on my progressive way.



CHAPTER III.

ARRIVAL AT DEMERARA.


If all sea-voyages were like the usual passage to the West Indies,
except for an occasional nasty spell of weather in the English Channel,
the sailor's life would be a very easy one. Day succeeds day under the
same limpid blue sky fringed at the horizon with a few tufts of woolly
cumuli. Placid as a sheltered lake, every wavelet melting into its
fellow like a caress, the sapphire sea greets the gazer every morning
like a glad smile of unfathomable love. Beautiful beyond description is
the tender tropical sea, and hard indeed it is to realize that this same
delightsome expanse of inexpressible loveliness can ever become the
unappeasable destroyer, before whose wrath even the deep-rooted islands
seem to shake.

The nights rival the days. During the absence of the moon the blue-black
vault appears like a robe of imperial purple, besprent with innumerable
diamonds of a lustre unknown to earth's feeble gems. So brilliant is the
radiance of the heavenly host that even the unassisted eye can detect
the disc of Venus or Jupiter, while the twin streams of the Galaxy
literally glow with diffused light, suggesting unutterable glories in
their unthinkable depths. And up from the horizon towards the zenith,
with clear yet indefinite outline, as of the uplifted finger of God,
rises the mysterious conical flame-shadow of the Zodiacal Light. Under
such a sky the sea seems to emulate the starry vault above, for in its
darkling depths there is a marvellous display of gleaming coruscations.
In the foam churned up by the vessel's bows they sparkle and glitter
incessantly, while in her wake, where the liquid furrow still eddies and
whirls from the passing of the keel, there are a myriad dancing lights
of every size and degree of brilliancy. Like a bevy of will-o'-the-wisps
they sport and whirl, glow and fade--never still, never alike, yet
always lovely.

But when the full-orbed moon in a molten glow of purest silver, before
which the eye shrinks almost with pain, traverses the purple concave as
a conquering queen escorted by her adoring subjects, the night becomes a
sweeter, softer day, in which men may sit at ease reading or working as
fancy dictates. They dare not sleep in that white glare, lest with
distorted features and sightless eyeballs, they vainly regret their
careless disregard of the pale beam's power. And as the stately
satellite settles slowly horizonwards, or ascends majestically towards
the zenith, how dazzling the mile-wide pathway of shimmering radiance
she sheds along the face of the deep! The whalers, with more poetic
feeling than one would expect, call it the "moon-glade," as though she
must needs spread a savannah of splendour for her solemn progress over
the waste of ocean.

Here, perhaps, I should pause to disarm criticism, if possible. Such
thoughts as I have feebly tried to express were undoubtedly mine in
those youthful days, in spite of squalid surroundings and brutal
upbringings. And if I could fairly reproduce the multitude of fancies
which throng my memory as being the daily attendants of my boyish
daydreams, I should fear no unfavourable reception of such a book as
they would make.

But to our voyage. Coming on deck one morning soon after daylight, I was
startled to notice that the bright blue of the sea was gone. In its
place a turbid leaden flood without a sparkling wavelet extended all
around. I asked the doctor what this strange change meant. "Gettin' near
land, I s'pose!" was his gruff reply. Nor did I get any other
explanation from the men, for none of them knew that we were in fresh
water, which, rushing down to the sea from many mighty rivers, overlaid
the heavier salt flood for a great distance from land. We did not sight
the lightship _Demerara_ until next day at noon, although we were going
at fully five knots an hour. Behind it the low palm-fringed coast lay
like a sullen black cloud-bank just appearing above the horizon, for in
truth it was almost level with the sea. Thicker and dirtier grew the
water, until, as we passed the light-vessel, we seemed to be sailing in
a sea of mud. Between her and the shore we anchored for the night and to
await the coming of the pilot; thus closing our outward passage, which
might have been as successfully performed in an open boat, so steadily
fine had we found the weather.

What a strange sensation is that of first inhaling the breeze from a
foreign shore! I stood on the forecastle that evening, hardly able to
realize that we had crossed the Atlantic, full of queer feelings as the
heavy sweet scent of the tropical forest came floating languidly off
from that dim, dark line of land. There was a continual chorus of
insects, like a myriad crickets chirping, the sharp, crisp notes
curiously undertoned by the deep bass of the sleepy line of surf upon
the beach. But this persistent music, by its unvarying monotony, soon
became inaudible, or acted as a lullaby to which we all succumbed except
the anchor-watch.

Shortly after daylight a large canoe came alongside, manned by negroes,
bearing a pompous-looking negro pilot in what he, no doubt, took to be a
very swell costume of faded serge, surmounted by a huge straw hat. He
mounted the side by the man-ropes, with the air of a conqueror. As he
stepped over the rail with a ludicrous assumption of importance, he
said, patronizingly, "Good mawnin', cap'n, hope you'se berry well, sah?"
"Mornin', pilot, same t' you," curtly answered the old man; and, in
almost the same breath, "Dy'e think there's water 'nough on the bar
frus? We're drawin' fourteen feet aft." "Neb' mine 'bout dat, cap'n;
dat'll be all right. I'se bettin' big money dis yah packet gwine beat
'nuff watah 'head ob her ter float in er linerbattle ship. Gorbress my
sole, ef I ebber see sich er front eend on er craf' in my days. Wasser
name? de _Ark_ doan' it? ha! ha! ha!"----and he threw back his head,
laughing so capaciously that the broad, glistening range of his teeth
illuminated his coal-black visage like a shutter flung suddenly open to
the sun. But the old man looked sour. Such jeering at his command by a
nigger was in some sort a reflection on himself, and, thenceforward, he
held no more converse with our sable guide than was necessary for the
working of the ship.

We were soon under way, though poor Jem and myself got in a disgusting
condition of mud by the time the anchor was up. The fo'lk'sle, too, from
the fact of the cable running through it, was like a neglected sewer,
the blocks of foul-smelling mud dropping continually from the links as
they came in through the hawsepipes. All sail was loosed previously, but
only the jib was set until the anchor was out of the ground, when,
humoured by the helm, she turned kindly off the wind, gathering way from
its pressure on her broad stern, while the "mudhook" was hove right up.
Then everything was set that would draw, the wind being fair and strong;
but, in spite of the favourable conditions, our progress against the
turbulent ebb of the great river was so slow that we were the best part
of the day going the few miles that lay between the roadstead and the
moorings.

But at last we reached the group of vessels which lay off the business
part of the town. With great skill our pilot tried a "flying moor,"
letting our anchor go while we were forging ahead at a good rate, then
immediately clewing up all sail. By the time our way was exhausted,
about ninety fathoms had been paid out on the first anchor. The second
was then let go, its cable being veered away as the first one was hove
in, until an equal amount was out on each; both were then hove in till
the moorings were taut, and the vessel swung almost on a pivot. This is
a ticklish evolution to perform successfully in a crowded anchorage;
but, in our case, the result was entirely satisfactory, saving much
labour.

The sails being furled and decks cleared up, work ceased for the day.
The curious appearance of the wide verandahed houses embowered in
strange-looking trees, the assortment of vessels of all rigs--from the
smart Yankee schooner to the stately iron coolie-ship from Calcutta--the
muddy rushing river, all claimed attention, but for one attraction that
outweighed them all. Waiting alongside were two or three bumboats well
stocked with fruit, soft-tack, eggs, and such curios as a sailor might
be supposed to covet. I had seen such fruit before, on the other side of
plate-glass windows in the West End of London, or in the avenue at
Covent Garden, but never in such generous profusion as now. One boat
especially was laden to the gunwale with giant bunches of crimson
bananas, each fruit treble the size of ordinary ones; baskets of golden
mangoes, green limes, luscious-looking oranges flecked with green, and
clusters of immature cocoa-nuts: the kind that only contain sweet juice
and delicate jelly within a soft shell covered by husk as easy to cut as
a turnip. People accustomed to regular meals of decent food cannot
imagine how the sight of these dainties affected our ill-used stomachs.
Happily there was little delay in choosing our purveyor, who promptly
hoisted great part of his stock on deck for us to choose from. In virtue
of being the only person in the fo'lk'sle who could write, I was
appointed book-keeper, my remuneration being a fair proportion of the
good things without payment. In reply to eager inquiries, the bumboatman
declared that he had no rum, saying that he very well understood the
unwritten law prohibiting the supply of intoxicants by the bumboats, and
assuring the men that if he were detected breaking it, he would forfeit
his license as well as all payment for goods he had supplied on credit.

We were a happy company that evening. A plentiful meal after such long
abstinence put every one in good spirits, although there was much
wishing for the cup that both cheers and inebriates. In spite of this
want, joviality was the order of the night. Song and dance went merrily
round, at which the two darkey boat-boys, hired by the skipper to take
him backwards and forwards to the shore, assisted with great glee. Their
fun was spontaneous and side-splitting, seeming superior to all external
influences--a well of continual merriment bubbling up. Song, quip, and
practical joke followed one another incessantly, with all the
thoughtless _abandon_ of happy children, and mirthful enjoyment that
might have thawed an anchorite. All the pent-up laughter of the passage
burst out that evening, the first really jolly one I had ever spent.

At daylight all hands were busy rigging cargogear, for our lading was
long overdue. The discharging-gang of negroes were early on board,
awaiting only our preparations to begin their work. They were akin to
the boat-boys in their behaviour. Poor, even to the most utter
raggedness of the sacking most of them were covered with--hunger-bitten,
for all the provision brought by the majority was a tiny loaf, and about
two ounces of sugar each--they were yet full to the lips with sheer
animal delight of living. Some, the haughty aristocrats of the party,
proudly displayed fragments of salt fish or rusty-looking salt pork,
flanked by a green plantain, a coco, or chunk of wooden-looking yam; but
though these favoured ones were evidently stuck up, their poorer
brethren showed no envy. Their pay was the equivalent of one shilling
per day, which, as the price of food was high, except for a very few
local products, must have been all too little to keep hunger at bay.
Yet, when they got to work, how they did go at it! They seemed to revel
in the labour, although the incessant singing they kept up ought to have
taken most of their breath. Streaming with sweat, throwing their bodies
about in sheer wantonness of exuberant strength as they hoisted the
stuff out of the hold, they sometimes grew so excited by the
improvisations of the "chantey man," who sat on the corner of the hatch
solely employed in leading the singing, that often, while for a minute
awaiting the next hoist, they would fling themselves into fantastic
contortions, keeping time to the music. There was doubtless great waste
of energy; but there was no slackness of work or need of a driver. Here
is just one specimen of their songs; but no pen could do justice to the
vigour, the intonation and the _abandon_ of the delivery thereof.

  [Music: Sis-ter Seusan, my Aunt Sal, Gwineter git a home bime-by-high!

  All gwineter lib down shin bone al, Gwineter git a home bime-by.

  Gwineter git a home bime-by-e-high, Gwineter git a home bime-by.]

The rushing, muddy stream literally swarmed with ground-sharks, who
sometimes came to the surface with a rush, looking terribly dangerous.
Yet the negroes took but little heed of them, merely splashing a bit
before diving if they had occasion to go down and clear some vessel's
moorings. Sharks and cat-fish were the only fish to be seen: neither of
them available for eating. Strange to say, the great heat troubled me
very little. Perhaps because, having for so long regarded cold as one of
the chief miseries of my life, the steady searching warmth by night and
day was grateful to my puny body. At any rate, but that the bloodthirsty
mosquitoes and sandflies tormented me cruelly, as they did all hands,
the tropical climate suited me very well. It may have been the healthy
season too, for, as far as I know, there was no illness on board any of
the ships. All our crew were in robust health, and putting on flesh
daily in consequence of the liberal diet.

I wanted much to go ashore, but dared not ask leave; but, to my
astonishment, on Sunday afternoon the mate told me to get ready and come
ashore with him. Glad as I was of the chance to see a little of this
strange land, I felt small gratification at the prospect of being his
companion; I would rather a thousand times have gone with Joe. However,
it being Hobson's choice as well as dangerous to refuse, I rigged myself
up as best I could (a queer figure I made too), got into the boat with
my inviter, and away we went. Landing at one of the "sterlings," as the
wharves are locally named, we strolled up into the main street in
silence. It was a wide avenue with quite a river running down the
centre, and doubtless on week-days would have been very lively. But at
this time it was deserted, except by a few stray dogs and sleeping
negroes. We trudged along without a word, till suddenly Mr. Svensen
hauled up at a grog-shop, the bar of which was crowded with sea-farers.
Pressing through the throng to the bar he called for some drink, and,
meeting a couple of his countrymen, entered at once into an animated
conversation with them in Norwegian. For over an hour I waited
impatiently, the air of the place being stifling and the babel of
tongues deafening. At last, in desperation, I crept in behind him and
attracted his attention. He turned sharply upon me, saying, "Vell, 'n
vat _jou_ vant?" "Please, sir," I humbly replied, "may I go an' have a
look round?" "Oh, co to hell ef jou lige, I ton'd care. Only jou ked bag
to der poad pefoar sigs o'clog, or I be tamt ef I tond trown jou coin'
off--see!" "Thank you, sir," I said gratefully, disappearing promptly
before he had time to change his mind.

What an afternoon I had, to be sure. I wandered right out of the town
through tangled paths crowded on either side by the loveliest flowers
growing wild I had ever dreamed of. I was like a boy in a dream now,
except for that haunting reality "sigs o'clog." And, to crown my
pleasures, when I had strayed as far as I dared, I came suddenly upon a
pretty villa in an open glade, the house itself being embowered in the
most gorgeous blossoms. I went up to the back of the premises to beg a
drink of water, which an amiable negress gave me with a beaming smile,
squeezing into it a fresh-fallen lime with a large spoonful of white
sugar. While I drank, a dear little white boy about five years old came
running round the corner. When he saw me he stood for a moment as if
petrified with astonishment; then, recovering his wits, darted back
again. A kindly-faced man in white, with a big brown beard, then
appeared, leading the little one. After a few inquiries he invited me
into the house to tea, treating me with so much kindness that, between
his attentions and those of his beautiful, weary-looking wife, I was
several times upon the point of bursting into tears. She plied me with
questions, soon getting all my sorrowful little life-story out of me;
and more than once I saw her furtively wipe away a tear. The little son
sat on my knee, great friends with me at once; and what with the good
fare, the pleasant talk, and the comfort of it all, I forgot everything
else in the world for a time. Suddenly I caught sight of the clock. It
was a quarter to six. I must have looked terrified, for my host, Mr.
Mackenzie, asked me with much solicitude whether I felt suddenly ill. As
soon as he heard the cause of my alarm he left the house, returning to
the front in a minute or two with a beautiful mule and a smart trap. I
took a hurried leave of my kind hostess and her child, promising to come
again if I could; and presently found myself bowling along a level road
at a great rate behind the swift hybrid, who seemed to glide rather than
trot. Arriving at the boat, nearly half an hour late, we found the mate
not yet there, one of the boat-boys volunteering the information that he
was well drunk up at the rum-mill. "That being so," said Mr. Mackenzie,
"I will see you on board." So we shoved off for the ship. During our
short transit I told my new friend how matters stood between my uncle
and myself, begging him not to inadvertently make matters worse for me.
He promised to be discreet. We reached the ship and climbed on board. I
fled forrard on the instant, while he interviewed the old man. Whatever
passed between them in their few minutes' talk, I don't know; I heard no
more of the affair. But I was never again allowed on shore while I
belonged to the _Arabella_. The mate came on board quietly and turned
in, no word reaching us forrard of any trouble about his little
flutter.



CHAPTER IV.

THE MUTINY AND AFTER.


It must be confessed that during our stay in Demerara the fellows had a
pretty good time of it. Since there were no stores on board of rope,
paint, or canvas, the work was mainly confined to washing decks or
scrubbing paintwork, a good deal of time also being wasted making
sennit, _i.e._ plaiting rope-yarns for chafing-gear. What sailorizing
was undertaken was in the nature of kill-time, and well understood as
such by the men. Nevertheless they were by no means pleased with their
easy times, for they had not yet been able to get any drink; their
displeasure being heightened by the knowledge that the mate had been
ashore and got a skinful. Any one versed in the ways of seamen should
have known that mischief was brewing, even though no definite plan of
action had yet been discussed. It only wanted a bottle or two of rum to
fire the magazine.

At last liberty day drew nigh. The cargo was all out, the ballast all
in, no cargo being obtainable for the crazy old _Arabella_ in Demerara.
I do not now even know whether it be a legal enactment that seamen shall
be allowed twenty-four hours' freedom in foreign ports, with some
portion of the wages due to them to spend, but if not, the custom is so
well established that it has all the force of law. The men were like
schoolboys at breaking-up time, half crazy with delight at the thought
of the joys (?) that awaited them ashore. They received but a few
shillings each, much to their disgust, because there was as yet little
wages due to them, and no amount of begging or bullying could avail to
get them any more. The mate's watch went first, among them my stout
friend Joe, whom I tearfully begged not to get drunk and kick up a row,
for my sake. Looking back I wonder at my temerity, for it must have been
like getting between a tiger and a shin-bone; but he took it very
meekly, and actually promised that he would come aboard sober. During
their absence the ship was strangely quiet, very little work of any kind
was done, and the waiting watch were as sulky as bears. Next morning
about eight o'clock the revellers returned, all except Joe in a
bedraggled, maudlin condition that told eloquently of their enjoyment.
Had it not been for Joe they would have all been in the lock-up, or
"chokey" as sailors invariably call it; but he had worked like a Trojan
to keep them together and out of harm as much as possible. He had quite
a triumphant air of unwonted virtue as I whispered my delight at seeing
him again, and _sober_.

Then the starboard watch, with the doctor, took their innings, with
strict injunctions not to be late the next morning, as we were going to
unmoor and drop down stream a little in readiness for sailing. The day
passed like the previous one, black Jem doing the doctor's work as well
as he could with such assistance as I could give. The next morning at
daylight preparations were made for unmooring, and at eight o'clock a
pilot came on board, a smart-looking, sharp-featured Yankee who looked
around the old hooker with undisguised contempt. Nine, ten o'clock, and
no sign of the liberty men. The old man went ashore on business, leaving
full instructions with the mate about unmooring, which he expected to be
carried on in his absence. He had barely been gone half an hour when the
starboard watch returned; but it was evident at once that they had their
own views upon the unmooring question, which by no means coincided with
the skipper's. They were all half-drunk and quarrelsome, especially the
doctor, who strutted about more like a bloodthirsty pirate than an
elderly spoiler of ships' provisions. Unfortunately, too, each man had
brought with him a plentiful supply of rum, which they at once began to
share with the port watch, all except Joe, who would have none of it.
They even invited Mr. Svensen and Chips to partake, meeting their
courteous refusal with quite gratuitous displays of bad language and
ill-temper.

At last the mate, mindful of the wigging he might certainly expect on
the skipper's return if no work was afoot, ventured to give the order,
"Man the windlass!" the pilot taking up his post on the forecastle. For
all answer there came a howl of derisive laughter from the den, where
all hands, with one exception, were busy "freshening the nip." Mr.
Svensen wisely took no notice; but, in a cajoling tone, said, "Now den
poys, gum along, mage a sdart; ids kedding lade, ju dond vant ter ked me
indo a row, do jer?" Forth strode the truculent doctor, an uncanny
figure, all asway with drunken rage. "Looky hear, yew square-headed son
of a gun, yew ain't agoin' ter horder me about any more, so I tell yer!
I ain't a goin' ter do another stroke abord the rotten barge-built old
bathin' masheen, so there!" (I suppress the every-other-word profanity
throughout). During the delivery of this speech he was wildly
gesticulating and spluttering right up against the mate's breast,
shaking his withered fists in the big man's face, and otherwise behaving
like a very maniac. The rest of them gathered around, adding to the
clamour; but the burden of all was the same, "No more work, not another
hand's-turn aboard this" (collection of all the abusive sea-epithets
known) "old lobster-pot." Joe, meanwhile, was calmly doing some trifling
job aft, by the break of the poop on the starboard side. To him
sauntered an Irishman, hitherto one of his best friends, now laboriously
polite and anxious to know whether he intended being a sneak, a
white-livered et-cetera and so forth. For all reply, Joe turned his back
on him. I was cleaning knives on the same side forrard by the galley
door, but not making much progress on account of so many distracting
episodes taking place. The babel of abuse around the unfortunate mate
was going strong all the time. A thrill of terror went through me as I
saw the Irishman suddenly lift his hand and strike Joe on the back of
the neck. He turned like a flash, shooting his right fist into Patsy's
face, with a crash that laid him out, sounding horrible to me. Without a
word Joe turned again to resume his work. Patsy gathered himself slowly
up and staggered forward, bleeding profusely, and muttering disjointed
blasphemy as he came. He passed me, going into the fo'lk'sle; but my
attention was suddenly attracted by a yell of laughter from the other
side of the deck. Peeping round the galley, I saw with amazement that
the drunken devils had actually triced the poor mate up spread-eagle
fashion in the main rigging, and were jeering him to their hearts'
content. Then they made a rush for the cabin. Chips was nowhere to be
seen. Presently they returned, bringing the ensign, which they proceeded
to hoist in the rigging, Union down, a sea signal of the most urgent
importance, denoting anything dreadful from fire to mutiny.

A step beside me made me turn, startled, to see who it was, and I just
caught sight of the grim blood-besmeared visage of Patsy, who was
stowing the long cabin carving-knife in the waistband of his pants.
While I stared at him, breathlessly wondering what his little game might
be, he broke suddenly into a run aft to where Joe still pursued his
peaceful task, all undisturbed by the riot around. "Look out, Joe," I
screamed, "he's got the carving-knife!" The warning came only just in
time; for as Joe turned sharply he met the raging Patsy at close
quarters, aiming a savage stab at him. Naturally lifting his arm, he
received the descending blade through the fleshy fore-part of it; but,
with the other, he caught the Irishman by the throat, and jammed him
back against the rail. Kicking the knife, which had dropped from the
wound, far forward as he sprang, he plucked an iron belaying pin from
its socket, and brought it down with a sickening thud upon Patsy's
already battered face. Again he fell, this time to remain until dragged
forward, a limp, disfigured lump.

By this time the inverted ensign had told its tale ashore, and a large
canoe well-manned with negro policemen, under a white sergeant, was
coming off to us at a spanking pace. This sight drew all the mutineers
to the side, whence they could watch her approach, which they hailed
with the liveliest expressions of joy. Chips now put in an appearance,
looking very sheepish, and, assisted by Joe, released the mate from his
undignified suspension in the rigging. He tottered aft, looking very
unwell, and muttering bitter reproaches on the carpenter for having
abandoned him to such a fate. The police-canoe bumped against the side,
her stalwart crew clambering on board like cats. While the officer
hastened aft to hear the news from the mate, his myrmidons were amazed
to find themselves hailed with delight by the excited crew, who
fraternized with them as if they had come to convoy them to a picnic.
The mate's tale being soon told, the sergeant of police gave orders to
his men to arrest the mutineers, and, with joyful outcry, all hands
hurried forward to prepare for their departure.

During the preparations, the pilot, the mate, and the police-officer
foregathered on the poop to indulge in a smoke, and discuss the ways of
seamen in general. But though their palaver lasted a long time, there
was no sign from forrard. At last, his patience exhausted, the sergeant
strode forward to the fo'lk'sle, demanding, with many objurgations, the
reason of this delay. To his rage and dismay he found that the supply of
rum had been so plentiful, and had circulated so freely, that policemen
and sailors were involved in one common debauch. Indeed it was hard to
say which was the most drunken of the two gangs. Uproarious was the din,
nearly every man shouting some fragment of song at the pitch of his
lungs, or laughing insanely at the gorgeous fun of the whole affair.
Back came the sergeant, almost speechless with anger and apprehension,
for this no doubt meant dire disgrace to him. He was made worse, if
anything, by the unstinted laughter with which the mate and pilot
received the news. Small blame to them, the thing was so ludicrous.

Up went the police-flag again--to the main truck this time. In addition
to this the sergeant hoisted a small weft at the peak, explaining
sulkily that this was an urgent private signal for reinforcements. He
added, "An' all _I_ hope is that the infernal scoundrels 'll fall out
an' kill one another before my boss comes, or else I'm booked for a
reduction in grade that'll dock me of a quarter of pay--none too much as
it is." Before many minutes had passed a large launch was seen
approaching, rowed by fourteen men, who, unlike the first lot, were all
white. With them came our old man, whose face was a study. I just
caught one glimpse of it, and its fury scared me so that I dared not go
near him. There was now no more fooling; in double quick time all the
roysterers, policemen as well as sailors, were collected from the
fo'lk'sle, handcuffs put on them, their effects flung into the launch,
and themselves bundled after with scant ceremony. So rapid was the work
that in less than ten minutes they were all on their way ashore, making
the air resound with their discordant yells.

A painful quiet ensued. Joe and I, sole representatives of the foremast
hands, leisurely cleared up the decks, after which he busied himself
preparing a meal which should do duty for dinner and supper. The captain
went ashore again, much to my relief, for while he was on board I
couldn't get quit of the idea that in some way or other he would bring
me in responsible for his disappointment, and take his consolation out
of my poor little carcass. I had been so used to this vicarious sort of
payment of old, that the idea was a fixed one with me whenever there was
a row. In fact, I often feel the old sensation now. But to-day he seemed
unable to give vent to his feelings, so nothing disturbed the calm of
the afternoon. Joe informed me that he had gone ashore to ship a fresh
crew, and that we should certainly sail in the morning, he having heard
the old man tell the pilot as much when he took the dinner aft.

Sure enough, just before sunset the skipper returned, bringing with him
a fresh crowd in place of the old hands, who had each, we were told,
received summary sentence of two months' hard labour. Quick work,
truly. The new crew were a mixed lot. There was a Newfoundland Irishman
named Flynn, a fat-faced blubber-bodied fellow, who was for ever eating
tobacco; a stalwart fiery-headed ex-man-o'-war's man who could only be
called Ginger; a long, melancholy-looking Englishman, who signed as
George Harris; a Eurasian of gentlemanly appearance, but most foul and
filthy behaviour; a delicate, pretty-faced Liverpool Irishman, with a
fair silky beard, for cook; a broad-shouldered Greek, who had not a word
of English; and, lastly, a precious piece of ornament in the shape of a
Chinaman, pigtail and all, as if he had just come out of Foochow, whom
the captain had shipped as steward for nothing a month. Gloomy Jem, the
unfortunate negro youth, of course, remained of the old crew. In some
misty fashion he went on his melancholy way, the butt of everybody but
myself, his only relaxation an occasional incoherent chatter with me in
some dark corner, when there was no work afoot.

Next morning at daybreak we unmoored, and proceeded down the muddy
river, without hitch of any kind. The new crew worked well, glad enough,
no doubt, to leave such miserable quarters as they had lately been
enduring. You Sing, the Celestial, was a great acquisition. He was made
to understand at once, that whatever work was to be done, he must take a
hand in it, and he certainly toiled like a beaver. Beautiful weather
still favoured us, and with an occasional glimpse of what looked to my
exuberant fancy like fairyland rising out of the sparkling blue sea, we
crept steadily westwards into the great gulf of Mexico. In spite of the
miserable food and swinish forecastle, the fresh crew worked well and
peaceably. What growling they did was indulged in out of hearing, and,
after late experiences, I hardly knew the old ship. Without a single
incident worth recording, we rolled along until we sighted the Mexican
coast, which, as the position of our first calling-place was somewhat
vague, the captain proposed to skirt until he came to it. The weather
now became less settled, squalls of considerable violence being
frequent, making a great deal of sail-handling necessary. One night,
when we were suddenly called upon to shorten sail in a deluge of rain,
it happened that the long Englishman, George Harris, and Ginger, the
quondam man-o'-war's man, found themselves together furling the main
to'-gallant sail. Now, Ginger, though a big fellow, was, as usual with
his class, of very little use at furling sail under merchant-ship
conditions. Where one man is employed in the merchantman, six or seven
crowd in on board of _Andrew_; and the "bluejacket" is consequently
handicapped when he finds himself thus lonely. The sail was stiff with
wet, the wind was high, and George, in trying to make up for Ginger's
deficiency, ruptured himself badly. He got down from aloft somehow, and
took to his bunk, a very sick man. The treatment he received only
aggravated his mishap, while he grew rapidly weaker from his inability
to eat the muck, which even in his case was unchanged. Although never
very friendly with me, I was filled with pity for him, and actually so
far forgot my dread of the terrible "old man," as to creep below and
steal a few cabin biscuits, which were less coarse and whiter than ours.
It was comparatively easy to evade the officers, and I chuckled greatly
over my smartness, being richly rewarded by the gratitude of the
invalid, who made quite a hearty meal of my plunder soaked with some
sugar. But I reckoned without You Sing. That slit-eyed pagan in some
unholy fashion found me out, and at once betrayed me to the skipper, of
whom he stood in such awe, that he was ready to jump overboard at a nod
from him. I was called aft, questioned, and found guilty. There and
then, with a bight of the gaff-topsail halliards, he gave me such a
dressing down as I have never forgotten, You Sing standing by with a
face like a door-knocker for expressionless calm. Even amid my sharpest
pangs I rejoice to think I didn't howl. Perhaps I gained little by that.
At last the skipper flung me from him, saying grimly, "Now ye can go an'
thank George Harris for that." And when, twenty years after, I saw that
stern old man, reduced to earning a precarious living as a ship-keeper,
fall from a ship's side in the Millwall Dock, injuring himself so
frightfully that death would have been refreshment, I could not help
thinking of the grist which is ground by the Mills of the Gods. Joe, my
faithful ally, was furious when I went forward quivering with pain. He
was for vengeance, first on the old man, then on the placid pig who had
betrayed me; but I begged so hard that he wouldn't make matters worse
by interfering that at last he yielded. But he never settled down again
satisfactorily.

Just a week afterwards we came to a slight indentation in the coast,
where a Norwegian barque lay at anchor. From her we got the information
that the place was called Tupilco, upon which we anchored, it being our
port of call for orders. The anchor was no sooner down than Harris
crawled aft and implored the captain to take him ashore so that he might
get some medical aid. Desire of life made the poor fellow quite
eloquent, but he might as well have appealed to a bronze joss. When,
exhausted, he paused for breath, the old man said, with bitter emphasis,
"Ef I'd ben a loafin' on my shipmets s'long's _you_ hev', I'd take 'n
heave me useless carcass overboard, ye wuthless sojer. Git forrard 'n
die. It's 'bout the bes' thing you ken do." George crept forrard again
without a word.

We lay at this forsaken-looking spot for four days, holding no
communication with the shore except twice, when a launch came off,
manned by a truculent-looking crew of "dagoes," _i. e._ Greeks,
Italians, Spaniards, and half-bred Mexicans. Soon after their second
visit we weighed again, having received instructions to commence loading
at Sant' Ana, some distance along the same coast. We had an easy run
thither, with a fair wind all the way, and were pleasantly surprised to
find that, although an open roadstead like Tupilco, there was quite a
fleet of ships at anchor there. They were of all sizes and rigs, from
rakish-looking Yankee schooners to huge fullrigged ships, and of
several nationalities--British, American, and Norwegian predominating.
There was a heavy landward swell on when we passed through them to our
anchorage, and it was anything but cheering to see how they rolled and
tumbled about in far more unpleasant fashion than as though they had
been under way. In fact, some of the fore and afters had actually got
staysails set, with the sheets hauled flat aft, so as to counteract in
some measure the dangerous wallowing they were carrying on. I watched
one Baltimore schooner, with tremendously taunt spars, roll until she
scooped up the sea on either side with her bulwarks, the decks being all
in a lather with the foaming seas tearing across them, and I couldn't
help thinking what a heavenly time those Yanks must have been having
down below, for there were none visible on deck.



CHAPTER V.

THE LAND OF LIBERTY.


We came to an anchor near the middle of the roadstead in seamanlike
fashion, every sail being furled before the anchor was dropped, and the
old tub brought-to as if going into dock. Then, as it was understood
that our cargo was ready for us, preparations were immediately made for
its reception. A stout spar was rigged across the forecastle, protruding
twenty-five feet on the starboard side, with a big block lashed to its
end through which ran a five-inch rope. A derrick was rigged over the
main-hatch with a double chain purchase attached, and a powerful winch
bolted to the deck, round which the chain revolved. Numbers of iron
spikes (dogs), with rings in them, were fitted with tails of rope about
three feet long, and lengths of hawser cut for "mother-ropes." The rafts
of mahogany and cedar logs are made by driving a tailed "dog" firmly
into the side of each log a foot or so from the end. As each one is thus
spiked it is secured by a "rolling-hitch" of the tail to the
"mother-rope" (_cabo madre_ of the Spaniards), until as many are
collected as required. This operation is always performed in the river
just inside the bar, where the logs are sorted after their long drift
from the interior. Then the raftsmen, who are equipped with capacious
boats pulling six oars, and carrying about three hundred fathoms of
grass rope, secure one end of their tow-line to the mother-rope, and
pull away seaward in the direction of the ship, the steersman casting
out line as they go. Arriving at the end of their tether they anchor,
and all hands turn-to with a will to haul the raft up to the boat. This
operation is repeated as often as is necessary to cover the three or
four miles between ship and shore, until at last the long line of
tumbling logs are brought alongside their destined vessel, and secured
to the big spar on the forecastle. At whatever time they arrive all
hands must turn out to receive them, and on board the American ships the
uproar used to be fearful; oaths, yells, and showers of belaying pins
rattling against the bulwarks, bearing eloquent testimony to the
persuasive methods of discipline in vogue on board of them. The
stevedores, or stowers of the timber, arrived on board shortly after we
anchored; like the rest of the population, they were a mixed crowd of
Latins and Greeks, but all speaking Spanish. Owing to their presence we
fared much better than we should otherwise have done, for they were fed
by the ship, and by no means to be offered any such carrion as usually
fell to our lot. Their pay was high, five dollars a day; but they
certainly worked well, besides being very skilful. With our first raft
there was trouble. Flynn, the "blue-nose" Irishman, was sent upon the
uncertain row of logs alongside to sling them; but after several narrow
escapes from drowning or getting crushed between the rolling ponderous
masses, some of them over five tons in weight, he clambered on deck
again, and flatly refused to risk his bones any longer. Nor, in spite of
the skipper's fury, could any other man be persuaded to attempt so
dangerous a task. Finally, the old man turned to one of the Greeks of
the stevedore gang, and ordered him to act as slingsman. "Oah yez,
capane," said Antonio, "sposa you giva me eight dolla day." After a
little more language the old man said, "All right, 'Tonio, I'll give you
eight dollars. An' I'll stop it out of your pay, you skulking sojer you"
(to Flynn). Which was mirthful, seeing that eight dollars represented a
fortnight's pay for our shipmate.

However, Antonio proved a most expert raftsman, being almost amphibious
and smart as any eel. But the work was exceedingly severe. Lifting such
great masses of timber tried the old sticks terribly, and when she
rolled suddenly to windward, tearing the log out of water with a jerk,
you almost expected her to fall apart. When, at last, the log showed
above the rail, if she started her antics, all hands near stood by for a
run, for the log would suddenly slue inboard, and come across the deck
like a gigantic battering ram. The whole process was a series of
hairbreadth escapes. Down in the hold, where the stevedores toiled with
tackles, rousing the logs about, there were many casualties; but these
dagoes never seemed to care. For every hurt they had one remedy: plenty
of "caña," a fiery white spirit, fresh from the still. Poured into a
gash, or rubbed on a bruise, with half a pint to drink, this vitriolic
stuff seemed to meet every emergency.

The enormous rate of pay prevailing here during the height of the
season, had the inevitable effect of causing frequent desertions; so
that as much as three hundred dollars was freely offered for the run to
New York or Europe for seamen. Consequently a vigilant watch was kept by
the officers of ships, lest any of the crew should take French leave,
although getting ashore was difficult. We, however, had a very large
long-boat, for which there was no room on deck, and, contrary to the
usual practice it was put overboard, and kept astern at the end of a
small hawser. The temptation was too much for my friend Joe, who,
accompanied by the Eurasian, slipped over the bows one dark night, and
swam aft to the unwieldly ark, unheard by the officer on watch. Poor
fellow! he couldn't keep awake night and day. At daybreak, when the
skipper came on deck, and looked over the taffrail, always his first
move, the idle rope hung down disconsolately--the long-boat was gone!
Seizing his glass he mounted to the cross-trees, and scanned the
horizon, discovering the derelict far out at sea. The gig was lowered
and manned by Flynn and Jem, the skipper himself taking the tiller, and
off they went in pursuit. It was nearly noon when they returned, towing
the runaway, and half dead with thirst and fatigue. Then only did the
skipper learn that two of his best men were gone. In his hurry he had
not stayed to inquire, and now his rage knew no bounds. Judge, then, how
he felt when he discovered, by the aid of his glass, that the deserters
were no further away than our nearest neighbour, an American brig that
lay less than half a mile away. Anger overcame his prudence, and he
actually went alongside the Yank, intending to go on board and claim his
men. He was received with contumely, the American skipper refusing to
allow him over the rail. His state of mind on his return must have been
pitiable; but he sought his cabin without a word, and remained there all
the rest of the day.

In some way the news spread round the fleet, and that evening we were
boarded by the captain of the _Panuca_, a Liverpool barque, who came to
condole and relate his woeful experiences. He said that his men had
refused duty altogether, upon which he was advised to take them ashore
to the "Commandant," who would deal with them in summary fashion.
Accordingly he took them, finding the _soi-disant_ official to be a
stalwart Greek, who held the position by virtue of his election by his
fellow rascals, for law there was none. El Señor Commandante, however,
told him to leave his men with him, and he would soon bring them to
their bearings. Very reluctantly he followed this advice, since he had
no choice, and returned on board, cursing his stupidity for ever taking
them there. To his joyful surprise they returned on board, next morning,
as meek in their demeanour as if they had, indeed, been taught a lesson.
But two nights afterwards there was a desperate hubbub raised, during
which the rascals looted the cabin, and, getting into the whale-boat
hanging at the davits, went ashore with their plunder. They had strictly
followed the instructions given them by the commandant, who made them a
handsome present in return for the fine boat they brought him. When the
half-frantic captain arrived on shore, and learned the truth, he was so
enraged that he actually tried to take his boat off the beach where she
lay, narrowly escaping being shot for his pains. This tale, poured into
our skipper's sympathetic ears, somewhat reconciled him to his loss,
since he still retained his boat.

But one disaster succeeded another. A curious malady of the feet
attacked every one of the crew. It caused the legs and feet to swell
enormously, and culminated in a suppurating wound horribly painful and
slow to heal. Then a deadly encounter took place between the cook and
You Sing, which was only settled by sending the Chinaman ashore, since
the two seemed bent upon murdering one another. Worst of all, when the
ship was half-full, the timber ceased to arrive. Ship after ship sailed
away, until there were only three of us left; and the season of the
"Northers" being close upon us, when those destructive gales blow right
home all along the coast, every one began to look very glum. The
unfortunate invalid, George Harris, after lingering longer than any one
could have believed possible, was set free from his misery at last, to
the manifest relief of his shipmates, who were heartily tired of his
taking so long to die. Sounds horrible, doesn't it? But it is the naked
truth. Under such circumstances as ours were, the better part of
humanity generally disappears, or only shines in individuals who are
often, almost always, powerless to help.

Miserable as the time had been, it was not all lost upon me. As far as
the hardship went it was no worse, if as bad, as I had endured in the
London streets; and here, at any rate, it was always warm. I had learned
to chatter Spanish fluently, although much of it I would gladly unlearn
if it were possible, for I have always noticed that, in picking up a
language colloquially, one learns easiest and remembers longest the
vilenesses. And how vile the Latin tongues can be, few Englishmen can
realize. I did not grow much, not being well-enough nourished; but I was
wiry, hard as nails, and almost as brown as an Indian, being half naked
from want of clothes. At last, one morning, my uncle sent for me.
Although unconscious of any offence I was terribly frightened, but went,
shaking with dread, to meet him. To my utter amazement he spoke kindly,
saying that the ship was so old, and the season so late, that he feared
there was great danger of her never reaching home. Therefore he had
decided to send me on board the barque _Discoverer_, commanded by a
friend of his, in which, as she was a splendid vessel, I should be far
safer. She was to sail the next day, so I must go on board that night. I
only said, "Thank you, sir," but volumes could not have expressed my
gratitude. To leave this awful den, to be once more treated to a kind
word occasionally--for, since Joe was gone and Jem had been driven
ashore (which I have forgotten to mention), I had no friends at all on
board; the prospect was too delightful for contemplation.

My wardrobe being on my back I was spared the labour of packing up.
Farewells there were none to say, although, being naturally a
tenderhearted little chap, I should have been glad of a parting
God-speed. But no one said anything to me as I bundled into the boat and
was rowed alongside my new home. As soon as I climbed on board I was met
with a very chorus of welcome. The warmth of my reception amazed me,
accustomed as I had been for so long to the miserable state of affairs
on board my old ship. But I soon overcame a strong temptation to cry for
joy, and, steadily choking down the lump in my throat, set about taking
stock of my new vessel. To my inexperience she seemed a most noble ship.
Everything was on a much finer scale than anything I had yet seen in my
brief travels. She had been built for the purpose of Arctic exploration,
and consequently presented a somewhat clumsy appearance outside from the
doubling of the bow planks and stern bends, and the diagonal oaken
sheathing with which she was protected. Inboard, though, she was roomy,
clear, and comfortable as could be imagined, while her rigging and spars
were all of the very best, and in tip-top condition.

Quarters were assigned to me in the comfortable cabin of the steward,
whose helper I was supposed to be, although, from the first, I had the
free run of the ship fore and aft. Next morning we weighed with a
gentle favouring breeze, homeward bound. But I soon discovered that
there was one drawback to all this comfort--the captain was a confirmed
drunkard. While the process of getting under weigh was going on, he was
mooning about the deck with a fishy eye and an aimless amble, getting in
everybody's way, and causing much confusion by giving ridiculous orders.
Had he confined himself to that all would have been well, for the men
humoured him good-temperedly, and took no notice of his rubbish. But
when they had "catted" the anchor, they were obliged to leave it hanging
while they got some sail on her, the fall of the cat-tackle being
stretched across the deck and belayed to the opposite rail, as there was
no fo'lk'sle-head, and consequently no capstan. All hands being aft, the
skipper maundered forrard, to find his further progress stopped by this
rope. Muttering unintelligibly, he cast it off the pin to which it was
belayed. The result staggered even himself, for there was a rush and a
roar, a perfect blaze of sparks, a cloud of dust, and, with a jerk that
almost threw everybody flat, the last link of one hundred and twenty
fathoms of cable brought the ship up all standing. All hands had flown
forrard at the first bang, but they were powerless to do anything except
pray that the cable might part. It was too good for that, bearing the
terrible strain to which it was subjected of bringing a ship up, in
twenty fathoms of water, that was going nearly four knots an hour.

The mate got the old man aft into his cabin while the fellows clewed up
the canvas again, and then issued the order to man the windlass once
more. But this the men flatly refused to do, alleging that after their
forenoon's work, it was unreasonable to expect such a thing. The mate
was powerless to insist, so nothing further was done till next day but
give the sails the loosest kind of a furl. At daybreak next morning the
heavy task of getting the anchor was begun, the skipper keeping out of
sight. There was a great deal of growling and bad language; but the mate
managed to get hold of a demijohn of the old man's whisky. This he
dispensed with no niggard hand, and so the peace was kept; but it was
late in the day when she was again fairly under way for home.

After that, everything went on smoothly enough. Although, as usual, the
crew were of several nationalities, they all pulled together very well,
nor did they take the advantage they might have done of the utter
absence of any shadow of discipline on board. The whole working of the
ship devolved upon the mate, for the skipper was always more or less
drunk, and the second mate was helpless, having had his right foot
smashed by a log of mahogany in loading. What work was necessary during
the daytime was done cheerfully enough, and a general air of peace and
contentment pervaded the ship. For one thing the food was really good
and plentiful, and none of the men were of that blackguardly kind that
glory in taking every advantage of any weakness aft. Of course the
watch-keeping at night was bad. A big London boy, who was much disliked
for his lazy, dirty habits, was made to keep the look-out always in his
watch--a duty which he usually performed with his head between his
knees. The rest of the men slept the night through, seldom knowing whose
watch on deck it was; so that if sail required trimming all hands
generally turned out to it after a good deal of inviting. The captain
was supposed to keep the second mate's watch, but he set a shining
example to his crew, by sleeping it out wherever he happened to drop
when he came on deck.

I was very happy. Never since the time my troubles began, that is, at
about eight years old, had I been treated so well. Being very small, and
fairly knowing, besides having a rather sweet treble voice, I was made a
sort of plaything--an universal pet. And in the dog-watches, when seated
upon the main hatch surrounded by the crew I warbled the songs I knew,
while not another sound disturbed the balmy evening but the murmur of
the caressing waters alongside and the gentle rustle of a half-drawing
sail overhead, I felt as if my halcyon days had dawned at last. That
fortnight is one of the pleasantest recollections of my life. The
weather was delightfully fine, and by day the ship was like a huge
aviary, a multitude of brilliant-hued little birds being continually
about her, although we were out of sight of land. They were of many
kinds, but all so tame that they freely came and went through cabin and
forecastle, hunting for the cockroaches with which she was infested. On
the upper yards a small colony of kestrels kept vigilant watch,
descending like a flash upon any unwary birdling that dared to venture
far into the open. The men made many nocturnal excursions aloft after
the "pirates," as they called them, giving them short shrift when they
caught them. So the days drowsed on quietly and peacefully, seeming, to
my youthful ignorance, as nearly perfection as they could possibly be.
Not but what I felt an occasional twinge of sorrow at the continual
drunkenness of the captain. Mixing with the men forrard freely as I did,
their rough but half-pitying comments upon him and his behaviour could
not fail to impress me, although I often wondered how it was that, being
so well aware of the danger they ran by reason of such general neglect,
they were not themselves more watchful, instead of taking such advantage
as they did of the captain's fault, to sleep all night.

At last, on the fifteenth day from leaving port, on a clear starlit
night with a gentle, fair wind blowing, and all hands, including the
captain--whose watch it was--asleep, the vessel ran upon a coral reef
and became a total wreck. Having told the story in another place, I
cannot enlarge upon the circumstances attendant upon her loss here; it
must suffice to say that, after many perils, all hands escaped safely to
land upon the "cay" or sandy islet which crowned the highest point of
the reef. A fairly large quantity of food and water was saved; so that
we ran no risk of privation, even had the islet failed to furnish us
with fish, fowl, and eggs in plenty as it did. One circumstance I must
record in passing as being well worthy of notice. As soon as it was
evident that the vessel was hopelessly lost, the seamen forrard, though
perfectly well behaved, insisted that every drop of intoxicating liquor
should be thrown overboard, and, in order that it should be done
thoroughly, themselves carried it out. As the giant breakers destroyed
the upper works of the ship, much useful wreckage came ashore, and one
calm day a visit was paid to her, which was rewarded by the salvage of
several sails and a quantity of cordage. With these, comfortable tents
were rigged, and I have no doubt that, had it been necessary, we could
have put in several months on that barren patch of sand quite happily.
Huge turtle came ashore to deposit their eggs, and were easily caught.
Sea-fowl of many kinds, principally boobies and frigate-birds, swarmed
in thousands, whose eggs, especially those of the frigate-birds, were
delicious eating, although, never being pressed by hunger, we left their
rank, fishy flesh severely alone. Fish of course abounded, while the
crevices of the rocks concealed great numbers of clams and oysters, and
at night the lighting of our beacon fire attracted quite a host of crabs
from the sea, who fell victims in great numbers to their curiosity.
Hardships there were none, and I would far rather have lived there for
six months than for one week on board the old _Arabella_.

Ten days passed gaily away, during which the sail-maker and carpenter
had made a fine seaworthy craft of the pinnace in which most of us
reached the shore. Fitted with new sails and rigging and half-decked,
she was fit for a much longer voyage than was necessary to reach the
mainland of Campèche, the nearest town of which, Sisal, was barely a
hundred miles distant. But one morning as the look-out man was ascending
the rocky promontory, where a flag-staff was erected to hoist the signal
of distress we always kept flying by day, he saw a handsome barque
lying-to only about two or three miles away. The French ensign was
flying at her peak, and a boat had left her side which was being rapidly
pulled shorewards. They soon landed, and by expressive signs the officer
in charge gave us to understand that he was prepared to take us all on
board, but that we must make haste, as the vicinity was much too
dangerous to linger in longer than was absolutely necessary. Not one
word of each other's language did we understand, yet we found no
difficulty in getting at one another's meaning sufficiently near for all
practical purposes. To my amazement, however, the skipper, the mate, and
four others, refused to avail themselves of the opportunity to escape.
They said they did not want to go to Havana, where the barque would land
us, preferring to sail in the pinnace to Sisal and take their chance
there. When the French officer realized this, he looked as if he thought
the small party refusing to come with him were mad. But after an
outburst of volubility, quite wasted upon our misunderstanding, he
shrugged his shoulders and retreated towards his boat, followed by all
who were ready to go with him. His men had made good use of their time
by getting a goodly quantity of birds and eggs collected, and now
disposed themselves, with a perfect uproar of chattering, in as small a
compass as they could, while our fellows took the oars and pulled away
for the barque. Looking back, I saw the little group of our late
shipmates standing watching us from the beach: a sight so pathetic that
I could not help bursting into tears, quite forgetting that it was
entirely in accordance with their own desires that they were thus
abandoned.

[Illustration: We could have put in several months on that barren patch
of sand quite happily.]

We soon reached the ship, swarmed on board, and swung the boat up to the
davits in a twinkling, while the officer who had brought us--the chief
mate--held an animated colloquy with the captain on the poop. From the
expressive gestures used, we had no doubt but that they were discussing
the incomprehensible resolve of our captain and his followers. They
terminated their conversation by mutual shoulder-shruggings, as who
should say, "But what would you, my friend? they are English, whose ways
are past finding out." Nothing could be more cordial than our reception
by all hands. The big long-boat was cleared out for our sleeping-place,
as the barque's fo'lk'sle accommodation was too limited to admit any
more than at present occupied it; and a bountiful meal of _fazhole
blanc_, a delicious _purée_ of haricot beans, good biscuit, and _vin
ordinaire_ was served out to us.



CHAPTER VI.

TO HAVANA AND AFTER.


This seems to be an appropriate place for noticing how, at less cost,
the Frenchmen fared so much better than in any sailing ship I have ever
been in. The Board of Trade scale of provisions for the Mercantile
Marine must strike every landsman as being a most absurd compilation. On
four days of the week each man is entitled to one and a half pounds of
salt beef, including bone, accompanied by half a pound of flour, except
on Saturdays, when half a pint of rice _may_ be given, or nothing. The
other three days each bring one and a quarter pounds of salt pork and
one-third of a pint of split peas. Every day there is an allowance _per
capita_ of one pound of bread (biscuit), an eighth of an ounce of tea,
half an ounce of coffee, and three quarts of water; and each week twelve
ounces of sugar and half a pint of vinegar is allowed per man.

What scope is there here for any variety or skill in cookery? Even
supposing that the beef and pork were in any way comparable with the
same articles on shore--which they cannot be in the nature of
things--such a diet must soon become infernally monotonous. But the very
best ship's beef and pork is not nice; the second best is nasty; and
what will pass an inspector, is often utterly unfit for men to live upon
entirely for any length of time, while it would be considered loathsome
ashore. And what can be done with half a pound of flour? Lacking
_anything_ else, except a few hops, obviously the best thing to do is to
make bread, which is a little more palatable than the flinty outrage on
the name of food that is called ship's biscuit. What is usually done is
to make "duff." This is really boiled bread, with the addition of some
skimmed grease from the coppers in which the meat is boiled. As an act
of grace, but by no means of necessity, a pannikin (pint) of molasses is
doled out for all hands on duff days, but the crew are not allowed to
forget that they have no claim to this dainty by Act of Parliament.

On pork days pea-soup is made, or "yellow broth," as sailors call it.
But pease and water with a flavouring of pork (not too much lest the
soup become uneatable from salt) needs a stretch of courtesy to be
called soup. A little, very little, addition of vegetables would make it
palatable, but "'tis not i' the bond." And even if so, do you think,
reader, you would feel contented with fat pork and pea-soup for dinner
three times a week for four months on end? For breakfast and supper
(tea) there is biscuit and beef, or biscuit and pork, washed down with
the result of the modicum of coffee or tea. And that is all. For very
shame's sake, a minority of shipowners do provide a few extras: such as
butter, an occasional mess of tinned meat, and a few preserved potatoes
and pickles. But these are the exception and not the rule. Moreover,
whenever these additional helps are given, the men are always reminded
that they have no right to them, that no owner need give anything more
than the bare pound and pint of the Board of Trade scale.

Contrast this with our living on board the Bordeaux barque _Potosi_. In
the first place the bread, which was in large puffy cakes, became, under
the slightest moisture, as easy to eat and as palatable as baker's
bread. This alone was an enormous boon. Breakfast, which, like all other
meals, was taken by all hands at once, was hardly a meal in our sense of
the term. It was only a cup of coffee (exceedingly good), some bread,
and about a gill of cognac. Luncheon at noon consisted of half a pound
of meat, free of bone, and some preparation of vegetables, bread, and
half a pint of wine. Dinner at four p. m. was a grand affair. The
changes were rung upon haricot beans, lentils, vermicelli, macaroni, and
such legumes cooked with meat and flavoured so that the smell was
intensely appetizing. Bread, and half pint of wine. And there was
abundance, but no waste. Yet I am persuaded that the cost was much less
than that of our authorized scale of provisions, about which it is
difficult to speak with patience. It will, I think, be admitted that
where men are shut up to a life of such monotony as the seaman's calling
must necessarily be, their food ought at least to have some
consideration. The meal-hours form almost the only breaks in the day's
sameness, and if the food be poor in quality and without variety, it is
bound to engender bad feeling and a hatred of those of whose fault it is
the outcome. This by way of apology for such a lengthy dwelling upon the
subject, if any be needed, though I have always felt that its importance
is great enough to merit much more attention than it commonly receives.

We had a very pleasant passage. The barque was a wonderfully handy
vessel, and her equipment was so good that it excited the wondering
admiration of all our men. The discipline was quite naval in its
character, and the day's duties went on with the regularity of
clockwork. Of course we could not understand the language, and were, in
consequence, unable to know whether there was the same amount of
grumbling commentary forward, upon the sayings and doings of the
officers, as is almost universal in British ships, with the exception of
"Blue-noses" (Canadian vessels). But it was admitted by all of us that
the crew seemed well content and heartily willing, and that she was
indeed a model ship. My scanty knowledge of Spanish came in useful, for
the captain spoke that language about as well as I did. On his
discovering this fact he sent for me, and, by dint of patience,
succeeded in learning from me such facts as he wished to know, rewarding
me with many a tit-bit from his table, as well as some very useful gifts
of clothing, which, as I was almost naked, were most acceptable.

Arriving at Havana, we were handed over to the British consul, leaving
the friendly Frenchmen with much regret and three hearty cheers, which
they returned with interest _à la Française_. We were no sooner clear of
her than they began to get under way again, and, by the time we were on
the wharf, she was once more heading for home. By the orders of the
consul we were marched up to a "fonda," or eating house, facing the
Plaza de Armas, which we understood was to be our home during our stay.
A plentiful meal was set before us, but we did not appreciate it much,
every dish being saturated with the flavour of garlic. But as two
bottles of wine were apportioned to each individual, the meal was a
merry one, all hands declaring that bread and wine would suit them down
to the ground. A bundle of cigars were distributed by a
benevolent-looking old stranger, who introduced himself as the
shipping-master, and spoke excellent American, being, as he informed us,
a native of New Orleans.

After a smoke, we were conducted to a large paved room at the back of
the premises, which was simply furnished with a couple of huge tables
and sundry benches, and had in one corner an unprotected well. Here we
were told we must spread such bedding as we had, and make ourselves as
comfortable as we could, until our proper dormitory was vacated by the
recruiting party that at present occupied it. The said party were by no
means an inviting crowd. They swarmed about the big chamber we were in,
looking fit for any villainy, and ostentatiously displaying their
vicious-looking bowie-knives. All our fellows had been deprived of their
sheath-knives upon first coming ashore, under the plea that the
carrying of weapons was unlawful, though we were the only unarmed
people I saw in the city during my stay. However, we had no choice of
quarters, so we proceeded to spread such ragged blankets as we possessed
upon the flagstones against one of the bare walls, and in due time
ranged ourselves thereon. Owing, I suppose, to the unusual quantity of
wine they had drunk, all our men were soon asleep, and when some one
took away the smoky kerosene lamp, the place was pitchy dark, except
where the silver bars of moonlight, streaming through the unglazed holes
in the walls, divided the blackness into rigid sections. I could not
sleep. The novelty of the situation, the strange smells, and an
indefinable fear of that truculent crowd of armed men, kept all my
senses at highest tension. There was no door, and, through the opening
in the wall, dark shapes of men came and went softly on Heaven knows
what errands. I had reached a condition of mind when I felt as if I must
scream to relieve my pent-up feelings, when I saw some figures bending
over my sleeping shipmates as if searching for something. By this time
my eyes had become able to distinguish objects in the surrounding gloom,
and I found that there were at least twenty men in the place.

Terribly frightened, and hardly knowing what I did, I roused the
carpenter, by whose side I lay, and whispered hoarsely in his ear what I
had seen. The word was passed along, and in a few minutes we were all
afoot and straggling out into the moonlight-flooded courtyard. There we
stood like a flock of startled sheep, irresolute what to do. But some
of the knife-carrying gentry emerged after us, and began whetting their
weapons on the blocks of stone laying about--portions of a ruined wall.
This significant hint decided us, and we passed out into the silent
street, feeling to the full that we were strangers in a strange land.
Lights of any kind there were none, and the intense brilliance of the
moon cast shadows as solid as does the electric glare. A few yards of
uncertain wandering, and we were lost. There seemed to be no one about,
and yet I could have sworn I saw dark shapes gliding along in the inky
shadows. And presently I fell headlong over something in the road, my
outstretched hands striking with a splash into a pool of mud. A cold
thrill ran along my spine when I found I was lying across a corpse, and
that the sticky paste on my hands was red. We quickened our steps after
that, keeping in the middle of the streets, but as ignorant of our
direction, or our purpose, as if we had been a herd of swine devoid of
instinct. At last, from sheer weariness, we sat down upon the steps of
some large building, and drooped our heads. As if he had risen from the
ground, a "vigilante" (watchman) appeared, bearing a short spear, from
the upper third of which dangled a lantern. "Vamos, perros!" he growled,
prodding those nearest to him into instant wakefulness. No one needed a
translation, or a second bidding to "Begone, dogs!" So we tramped
wearily along, our bare feet bruised by the littering stones. As often
as we dropped for a brief rest, one of those ubiquitous sereños moved us
on again to the same monotonous epithet of contempt. I often think what
a queer-looking procession we must have been. My only garments were a
flannel singlet and a pair of canvas trousers, so stiff that they
creaked woodenly as I trotted along. Cap or boots I had none. The rest
were in much the same plight, though none were quite so naked as me.
Going along a narrow lane, whereof I read the title, "Aguacallè," on a
building at the corner, I slipped off the hummocky sidewalk into a
slough of soft slush up to my armpits, and was dragged out by my next
friend with a new covering of such evil odour that I had to keep a
respectful distance from my companions thenceforth. Finally we emerged
upon what seemed to be a wide common or piece of waste ground. Here at
last we were permitted to squat unmolested. Fear of scorpions,
centipedes, and snakes, kept me from sleep; but all my companions lay
sound in strange attitudes, under the full glare of the moon, while I
watched, wondering if the night would ever end. At the first glimmer of
dawn I aroused my companions, who were all reeking with dew, and we made
for the streets again, going as straight back to our lodgings as if we
knew the road. When we entered, the warriors had all gone. No one
belonging to the establishment was astir, so we cast ourselves down on
our rags and slept like stones until roused at eight o'clock by the
servants. Until eleven we dozed on the benches, or in whatever corners
we could find, when a plentiful breakfast revived us in spite of the
garlic.

After our meal the vice-consul paid us a visit. He listened gravely to
our complaints of the accommodation we had found. Then he invited us to
accompany him to the consul's office. On our arrival all hands were
shown into a large, bare room, while I was called upstairs to undergo a
searching cross-examination by the consul as to what clothes the men had
saved, the incidents of the shipwreck, etc. I suppose he thought that so
young a boy would be more likely to tell a true tale than those artful
rogues of sailors, as he seemed to regard them. He was not at all kind
or sympathetic: that was no part of his business, I suppose; but as he
was writing an order upon a slop-seller for some clothing for us, a
handsome young lieutenant from an English man-o'-war came in. His eyes
fastened upon me at once, and, after a hurried question or two of the
consul, he came to me and spoke pitifully, giving me two dollars out of
his pocket as a solid token of his sympathy. Then the consul had all
hands in and harangued them, telling them to be sure and keep sober
(which, as they were penniless, was rather uncalled-for advice), and by
no means to stray away from the immediate vicinity of the
shipping-office. They would be sure to get a ship in a day or two, he
said. Dismissing us with a curt good-day, he retired, while we followed
the vice-consul to the clothier's. Here the men received each a rig-out
of cheap garments, but I was treated much better; why, I do not know.
After all the men had been served and had returned to our lodging, I was
furnished with quite a nice suit of clothes, with good underclothing,
patent leather shoes, and broad-brimmed Panama hat. A brilliant red
silk sash was given me by the shopkeeper as a present, and, thus
glorified, I felt quite transformed. With many cautions as to my
behaviour, the official bade me good-day, and I was left to my own
devices. And then began one of the strangest experiences of my life.
Wherever I went, people looked kindly at me, and spoke to me as if they
were interested in me. I entered into shop after shop to spend some of
my money, but found it impossible, for the shopkeepers insisted upon
giving me what I asked for without payment, and often added to my store
of cash besides. When at last I returned to the fonda, I was loaded with
cigars, fruit, pastry, and all sorts of odds-and-ends, so that my
shipmates were loud in their welcomes. By nightfall we were all in a
very contented condition of mind, and, when the landlord politely
requested me to inform my friends that our sleeping apartment was
prepared, we felt that our comfort was complete. But our joy had a
tremendous setback when we were shown the said bedroom. It was a long
lean-to shed erected against an ancient wall of rubble that had never
known contact with a whitewash brush. The floor was of dried mud. Along
the centre of its whole length ran an open ditch, which carried in a
sluggish stream all the sewage of the house. On either side of this foul
_cloaca_ were ranged "charpoys," a sort of exaggerated camp-stool, which
constituted the entire furnishing of this primitive bed-chamber. It was
well ventilated, although there were no windows, for daylight was
visible in many places through gaps in the boarding of the outer wall
and roof. Many and vigorous were the comments passed upon the filthy
hole, but there was no suggestion of raising any complaint, as all felt
that it would be useless, and, at any rate, the place was our own, and
we could barricade the door. So spreading our blankets upon the
charpoys, we turned in, and were soon oblivious of all our surroundings.

Next day, in the course of my wanderings, I entered the fine billiard
room of the Hotel St. Isabel and chummed up with the marker. I was well
acquainted with the game, having learned how to mark in one of the
strange by-paths of my nomad life before going to sea. And this
knowledge now came in usefully, for the marker was a one-armed man who
was often sorely bothered by the management of his three tables,
especially when the players were lively American and English skippers. I
was made heartily welcome, being helpful, in a double sense, from my
knowledge of Spanish as well as my acquaintance with the game. From that
time forward the "Fonda del buen gusto" saw little of me, and that
little at uncertain intervals. I had a comfortable chamber, the best
fare the hotel afforded, while as for money, the customers supplied me
so liberally that my pockets were always full. As I could not spend it,
most of it found its way to my shipmates, for I never came across one
without handing some of it over. The idea of saving any never dawned
upon me, and, when all my old shipmates were gone afloat again, I could
always manage to find some English-speaking mariners to whom I was
welcome company for a ramble round town.

The time flew by on golden wings. All my former miseries were forgotten
in my present luxurious life, and I blossomed into that hateful thing,
an impudent boy uncontrolled by anybody, and possessing all the swagger
and assurance of a man. Such as I was, however, I attracted the
attention of a gentleman who held a most important post under government
as a civil engineer. He was a fairly constant visitor at the hotel when
in Havana, and our acquaintance ripened into a strong desire on his part
to adopt me, and save me from the ruin he could see awaited me. His only
son, a young man of three-and-twenty, was his assistant, the two being
more like brothers than parent and child. Having made up his mind, he
fitted me out with an elegant suit of clothes made to his liking, and
one day took me in his carriage to see the consul and arrange matters.
To his intense surprise and disgust the consul flatly refused to
sanction the affair, telling him that he was responsible for my return
to England, and that, as I had admitted that my father was alive, any
inquiry after me, which resulted in the discovery that I had been
allowed to remain in Cuba without my parent's consent, would make
matters very unpleasant for him. All attempts on Mr. D.'s part to shake
this decision were fruitless. The consul refused to discuss the matter
further, and closed the conversation by warning me that I was liable to
severe punishment for absenting myself so long from the home (?) where
he had placed me. What I felt I cannot describe. Mr. D., with a deeply
dejected face, bade me good-bye, his duties calling him into the
interior next day. He gave me twenty-five dollars as a parting present,
and advised me to get a ship as soon as possible for home. It may
readily be imagined that I had no hankering after the sea again. The
pleasant, aimless life I had been leading, the inordinate petting and
luxury I had grown accustomed to, had made me look upon ship-life with
unutterable loathing, and I secretly determined that if I could avoid it
I would never go to sea any more.

About this time a terrible epidemic of yellow fever set in. So great was
its virulence, that even the never-ending warfare between the royalists
and insurgents slowed down, and instead of a ragged regiment of wastrels
being despatched into the mountains about twice a week, the authorities
were hard put to it to collect recruits at all. The great bell of the
cathedral tolled unceasingly. All night long the rumble of the waggons
over the uneven causeways sounded like subdued thunder, as they passed
from house to house collecting the corpses of the victims. The harbour
was crowded with vessels denuded of their crews, and from every masthead
flew the hateful yellow flag. It was heart-breaking to see and hear the
agony of the sailors being taken ashore to hospital. They knew full well
that there was hardly a glimmer of hope that they would return. The
Chinese, who acted as nurses, were destitute of any feeling of humanity,
and the doctors were worked to death. The nuns, who gave their lives
nobly, could do little but minister such ghostly comfort as they knew
how; but the net result of the hospital treatment was, with hardly an
exception, death. Yet, in spite of the scourge, and general paralysis of
trade in consequence, life, as far as I could see, went on much the same
as ever. The inhabitants seemed determined to put a brave air on,
whatever their inner feelings might be, and I declare that I saw very
little to frighten me. One can get used to anything, especially when one
has not learned to think. Several weeks passed away, and I was still
free, though not quite so flush of money, for the customers at the hotel
were necessarily fewer.

One day I was taking a stroll down by the deserted wharves, when I
noticed a peculiar glow in the sky. It came from the heart of a gigantic
cloud that draped half the heavens, and seemed as if it hid hell behind
it. Fascinated by the sight, though my heart thumped furiously, I waited
on the wharf and watched its development. The cloud spread until the
whole dome was covered in by it, and the fierce glare took a strange
greenish tinge. All around the edge of the darkness ran an incessant
tangle of vari-coloured lightnings, and a continual rumble of thunder
seemed to make the earth vibrate. Suddenly the storm burst. Jamming
myself into a corner between some posts, whence I felt sure no wind
could dislodge me, I waited and watched. For the first few minutes I
thought I should have died of fright. Torrents of water, like the fall
of a sea, were lashed into foam as they fell, and all torn into gleaming
fragments by innumerable flashes flying in every conceivable direction.
An overpowering smell like burning sulphur pervaded all. As for the
wind, its force must have been frightful, judging from its effect upon
the shipping and houses; but where I stood only a very strong gale could
be felt, such as no seaman would think extraordinary. This lasted about
an hour (but I cannot say much for time), and then the rain ceased. What
a scene of horror the bay presented! Vessels of all kinds drifted
aimlessly about, wrecking each other, and covering the boiling mäelstrom
of the harbour with their _débris_. Overhead a louder roar occasionally
made me look up to catch sight of a flying roof like a cloud fragment
fleeting through the murky air. A large Yankee schooner was torn from
her anchors, and lifted on to a ledge beneath the Moro Castle, which
jutted out of the perpendicular cliff about a hundred feet above
high-water mark. There she remained upright, with her bottom stove in
like Columbus's egg. Of all the vessels in the harbour, the only ones
that survived without serious damage were the warships, which, with
topmasts housed and cables veered out to the clinch, were all steaming
full speed ahead, and, even then, hardly easing the tremendous strain on
the latter.

Taking advantage of a lull I emerged from my corner, drenched to the
skin, of course, and so cramped from my long crookedness, that at first
I could hardly feel my feet. As hurriedly as I could I made my way
towards the hotel, finding the roadways almost blocked with ruins. The
hotel had escaped much damage, and I was received with open arms, soon
forgetting all my fears in a good meal and cheerful talk. In spite of
the havoc it had made, the general feeling was one of thankfulness, it
being taken for granted that the hurricane would be found to have swept
away the far more dreaded "Yellow Jack." And this was literally true,
for not a single fresh case was reported from that day forward. Business
revived with a bound, for there was much work to do everywhere,
shipwrights especially commanding almost any wages they liked to ask.
About a week after the hurricane, I was standing watching the transport
of a huge steam-launch over an isthmus to the dockyard, when I felt a
hand on my shoulder. Turning sharply, I saw the yellow visage of the
vice-consul, who was accompanied by a man in uniform, to whom he gave me
in charge. I was fairly caught, and without further delay, in spite of
my vehement protestations, I was put into a boat and taken on board a
large barque, the _Sea Gem_ of St. Andrews, N. S. The captain, a
kindly-looking old gentleman, heard my impudent remarks in amused
silence, until he thought I had gone far enough. Then he stopped me with
a quiet, "That'll do, my lad, you don't want a rope's-ending, I'm sure."
I had not lost all sense, so I pocketed my grievance and crept sullenly
forward.



CHAPTER VII.

OFF TO SEA AGAIN.


The _Sea Gem_ had suffered greatly from the hurricane, but, by dint of
strenuous effort on the part of her agents, was now fairly seaworthy
again. The ravages of pestilence, however, had left her almost unmanned,
the only survivors being the second mate, the carpenter, and a couple of
American negro youths. The new captain, I learned from the
carpenter--who had taken me under his protection--had been retired for
some years, occupying a fairly well-paid post ashore in Havana. But
tempted by a lucrative offer from the agents, and greatly longing to
return home again, he had accepted the post of master of the _Sea Gem._
He had succeeded in collecting another crew to take the vessel home; but
they were, indeed, a motley crowd. Three Austrians, a Montenegrin, a
Swede, a Frenchman and two more negroes made up the complement forward,
all of whom spoke a barbarous dialect of Spanish among themselves,
although the Austrians also conversed indifferently in some Slav tongue
as well as in Italian. There was as yet no chief mate, but another
American negro had been secured for cook and steward.

No cargo being procurable, we were to proceed in ballast to Mobile for
cotton, and thence home. I had not yet lost hope of being able to escape
before sailing; and the carpenter, who seemed to be greatly amused by my
company, rather encouraged me in the idea. Strangely enough, nobody
seemed to trouble about me, and I foolishly sulked about all day, doing
nothing but brood over the possibility of getting away. At last a chance
presented itself. All the members of the new crew were taken ashore to
the consul's office to sign articles, and I, of course, went along. I
had still a good deal of money, and, as soon as I had signed, and been
ordered by the captain to go down to the boat and await his coming, I
demurely obeyed, and bolted in a contrary direction as soon as I had
turned the street corner. I was free. True, I had an uneasy feeling that
at any moment I might be arrested for desertion; but I refused to
entertain it, and hurried up town to the Hotel St. Isabel. Here I got a
shock. My old friend the billiard marker was gone, and the new man did
not look upon me at all favourably. My other acquaintances in the hotel,
too, appeared anxious to avoid me, as if they had been warned not to
give me harbourage there. So I wandered forth disconsolately, feeling as
if the place was quite strange to me. In the course of a long ramble I
fell in with a young American seaman who was outward bound, i. e. hard
up, but as full of fun as if he had just been paid off. We had a great
time together for a couple of days, getting as far away as Matanzas, and
using up my stock of dollars at an alarming rate. The third day we were
a bit weary of skylarking about, and decided to return to his
boarding-house and have a good night's rest. When we arrived there it
was past closing time, and the place was all dark and silent. It was a
big corner building, springing straight from the roadway, with flat
walls, up to a height of about fourteen feet, where a balcony ran right
round the building. To rouse the landlord was more than we dared; so,
after much scheming, we managed to find a light cart under a shed, which
we dragged from its place and up-ended under the balcony. My chum, who
was very tall, climbed up the shafts and scaled the balcony, then
lowered his long sash to me. I was speedily by his side, and together we
sought and found his room, which opened on to the balcony and was
luckily unoccupied. Feeling secure, our love of fun overcame weariness,
and after a boisterous pillow-fight we strolled out on to the balcony
again. Just then a sereño loitered round the corner and uplifted his
voice, "Ave Maria purissima, sin pecado concebida. Doce hora; noche
sereña!" As the echoes died away, he caught sight of the cart standing
where it ought not, and proceeded to investigate. Moved by the same
spirit of mischief, we hurried to the chamber, and found a big jug of
water, which Zeke carefully poured upon the head of the muttering
vigilante. The effect was amazing. Raving like a lunatic, he assaulted
the great door with feet and spear-butt, making an uproar that speedily
aroused everybody within earshot. Our house hummed like a hive, and,
before many minutes, we heard the hurried tramp of feet along the
uncarpeted corridors, and the babel of many voices--the drenched
official's shrilly predominant. Presently they entered our room, to find
us just awaking from a sound sleep! and blinking at the lanterns like
owls. So deep had been our slumbers, that it was some time before Zeke
could explain how I came to be there; but the landlord, whom I
recognized as an old acquaintance, was quite easily satisfied about me.
Clearly we were not the offenders, and the search-party passed along,
leaving us to enjoy a frantic jig at the glorious disturbance we had
aroused. How the affair was settled I never heard, for the next day was
my last of liberty.

Zeke went down to the shipping-office to look for a ship in the morning,
leaving me to my own devices. After an hour's ramble up town, I began to
feel a miserable reaction, helped on doubtless by the fact that I had
shared my last dollar with my chum, and couldn't for the life of me see
where any more were coming from. Presently I turned into a café
and called for a cup of coffee (I had not learned to drink
anything stronger). While I sat moodily sipping it, a drunken,
disreputable-looking man of about forty, roused himself from one of the
tables, and, coming over to where I was, addressed me in broad Scotch.
With maudlin tears he assured me that he was the chief mate of the _Sea
Gem_, and that he must get on board that day, but how he did not know.
He dared not go out for fear of being arrested; would I take pity on
him, and see him on board? He must have been in a queer state of mind,
for I was but a boy of thirteen, and small for my age. My pride was
touched, and I readily assented, leading him carefully down to the
wharf, and engaging a boat for him. There I would have left him, but he
held on to me like a bear, swearing he would be lost and undone without
me, so I had to go off with him. When we got alongside, the second mate
appeared at the gangway, and lowered a bowline, which I slipped over the
helpless creature's head and under his arms. Thus he was hauled on board
like a sack of flour. Then the second mate sternly ordered me to come
up. I refused. But he quietly said, "Well, then, I must come and fetch
you." That was sufficient; I mounted the side, and said good-bye to
Havana.

That a rope's-ending awaited me, I felt sure; but instead of that, the
captain called me into his cabin, and gave me a most fatherly talking
to. His kindness made me feel bad, and I promised him forthwith to be a
good boy, and forget my vagabond, independent way of living ashore.
Patting me on the head, he dismissed me to make my peace with the second
mate, who was very angry with me indeed. He received my apologies in
silence, and, although never friendly, I had no cause to complain of his
treatment afterwards. Of the mate I saw nothing for two or three days,
for, although we left Havana the next morning, he was in such a woeful
condition, after his long debauch, that he could not leave his berth.
When he did appear he seemed to have forgotten who I was. His manner to
me was extremely brutal; in fact, he was a brute all round--although a
lively regard for his own skin made him careful how he treated the
curious crowd of "dagoes" forward. They were not at all a bad lot, and,
considering their limited vocabulary, got on fairly well with the work
of the ship. The little Frenchman, in particular, was like a bundle of
watch-springs. When he once comprehended an order, it was delightful to
see him execute it. But his desperate attempts to understand what was
said were quite pathetic. He spoke a mixture of Spanish and French,
which the others did not well understand; and at last he pitched upon me
as the only one he could hold anything like a conversation with, though
how we managed it I have now no idea.

Everybody liked the old man. He was so genial, so simple, that it was a
pleasure to see him. But I am afraid he would have had a bad time of it
with a crew of Britishers. They appreciate a tight hand, and are quick
to take advantage of anything like easy-going on the part of their
officers. This polyglot crowd, however, gave no trouble; and, in spite
of the bungling stupidity of the mate, who never seemed to get quite
clear of the after-effects of his big drunk, things went on oiled
wheels.

We were drawing near our port, when one afternoon, during a fine
wholesail breeze, there was a sudden gloom which rapidly overspread the
sky. Somebody was keeping a bad look-out, doubtless, for before any sail
could be reduced, a squall of wind and hail struck the vessel, throwing
her on her beam ends. It was so sudden that, although all halliards and
sheets were let fly at once, not a yard would come down, the ship lying
over at too great an angle. And above the roaring of the wind, and the
flapping of the flying canvas, the ominous rumble of the stone ballast
rattling down to leeward could be plainly heard. The deck was like the
wall of a house, and, when I saw the foaming sea rising up on the
leeside as high as the hatches, I felt sure she was turning bottom up.
By God's mercy, we had an old suit of sails bent, which the wind
stripped from the yards and stays like muslin. Great sheets of canvas
flitted away into the darkness to leeward, while the flying running-gear
cracked like volleys of musketry. Gradually as the pressure weakened she
righted, regaining as even a keel as the shifted ballast would allow,
and we were safe. But there were many pale faces besides mine, the old
captain especially looking terribly shaken up.

Every stitch of canvas that had been set when the squall burst was gone,
and, as the weather gradually settled into a strong gale, there was a
desperate night's work ahead. In our position, with a great deal of land
about, it was imperatively necessary to get sail set; but before that
could be done it had to be "bent," that is, secured to the yards. Such a
task as this tests the capabilities of a crew very well. In a
man-of-war, where they can send a man to every roband, and a couple to
each earring, the job is fairly easy; but in a merchant-ship it means
almost superhuman labour, from the scarcity of hands. I shall not
attempt to describe the process, which bristles with technical details,
that cannot be grasped without a corresponding idea of the conditions of
work aloft in bad weather. Suffice it to say that by midnight the two
lower topsails, foresail, and fore-topmast staysail were set, and the
hands, thoroughly exhausted, allowed to rest a while. It was my first
experience of bad weather at sea, and I thought regretfully of the ease
and comfort of my late life. But a kind of philosophic determination not
to cry over spilt milk, which has attended me all my life, came to my
rescue, and prevented me from being too miserable.

The poor old captain, however, was severely tried. Evidently his
fortitude and ability were less than he had imagined. He looked worn and
decrepit, a settled anxiety gave him a haggard appearance, and all hands
pitied him. The fine weather had entirely forsaken us, nothing but
fierce squalls and incessantly shifting winds prevailing until we made
Dog Island, at the entrance to Mobile Bay, under the lee of which we
came to an anchor. Our troubles were even then not over, for a gale
sprang up almost immediately, which raised so ugly a sea that the lively
vessel almost plunged bows under. All hands but the captain and myself
were aloft, furling the sails forward. I stood alone by the windlass,
ready to slack or make fast such running-gear as I was called upon to
look after, when, with a tremendous bound, the ship reared herself high
in air forrard, snapping the sorely-tried cable, the released links of
which flew aft over the windlass-barrel with a deafening crash and
shower of sparks. Everything was at once dropped aloft, the hands came
sliding down backstays at their best gait, and in less than five minutes
the other anchor was let go. Cable was veered away to ninety fathoms,
and fervent hopes expressed that she would hold, for night was almost
upon us, and our position was dangerous in the extreme. Happily the wind
hauled soon after, the sea became smooth, and we rode in comparative
comfort till noon next day, when a powerful tug came down and towed us
up among the shipping to a secure berth.

A fine fleet of ships lay here, all loading cotton for Liverpool. Nor,
in spite of the number of vessels, was there any delay in commencing our
cargo, for the next day, after mooring, a gang of stevedores came on
board and set to work, with characteristic American energy, to prepare
the hold. Our captain left us for Mobile City in the same steamer that
brought them, returning with the first load of cotton, but only to bid
us farewell. He called us all aft, and, with a quivering lip, informed
us that he did not feel equal to taking the ship home. Therefore he had
determined to make way for a better man, who would be with us in a few
days. He thanked all hands for the way they had treated him, and then,
shaking hands all round, got into the boat and was rowed away to an
upward-bound steamer, which lay alongside our nearest neighbour, the
_Mary Durkee_. A hearty cheer followed him, which, if it lacked the
simultaneous volume peculiar to Britons, was certainly no less sincere.

Then the cotton began to come in. The great loosely pressed bales,
weighing some six hundredweight each, were whipped on board like magic
by a single-purchase steam-winch on board the steamer, and tumbled into
the hold as fast as they came. Below, operations commenced by laying a
single tier of bales, side by side across the ship, on the levelled
ballast, leaving sufficient space in the middle of the tier to adjust a
jack-screw. Then, to a grunting chantey, the screw was extended to its
full length, and another bale inserted. The process was repeated until
at last long wooden levers were attached to the iron bars of the screw,
and the whole gang "tallied" on until the last possible bale was
squeezed into the tier, which was then almost as solid as a beam of
timber built into the ship. It was a point of honour among stevedores to
jam as many bales into a ship as she could possibly be made to contain,
and restraint was often needed to prevent the energetic workers from
seriously injuring vessels by the displacement of deck-planks,
stanchions, bulkheads, and even beams.

On deck there was much to do. A winter passage across the Atlantic was
before us. The vessel had been greatly neglected in Havana, and a great
deal of sail-making had to be done. The mate, having obtained a demijohn
of "bug-juice" from one of the cotton-steamers, was constantly drunk; so
that all the work devolved upon the austere second mate, who toiled
early and late to keep matters in hand. Owing to the docility of the
crew, this was possible; but he was greatly relieved when one fine
morning a tall, determined-looking man with a sallow face, heavy black
moustache, and nasal twang arrived on board, and announced himself as
"Captain Jones, come to take command." Within half an hour of his
arrival, he had been all over the ship, had interviewed every member of
the crew, and had repeated at least a dozen times that he was a "down
Easter," and proposed to "run this packet Yankee fashion." With an
intuition I have always had, I determined at once that he was carrying a
good cargo of liquor; and it was as well for the besotted chief mate
that this was so, for he would not otherwise have been so friendly with
him, I'm sure. His rounds completed, he retired to the "saloon,"
catching sight of me as he went, and appointing me cabin-boy on the
spot. My first duty was to call the mate into his presence. There and
then the two of them, seated _vis-a-vis_, began to drink themselves
speechless, while I stood in attendance, filling up their glasses until
they could no longer hold them. At last they rolled off their seats, and
lay across one another insensible. I retired and informed the steward,
who lifted his hands despairingly, exclaiming, "Fo' de good Lawd, dis
gwine ter be ole hell erfloat. One on 'em's bad nuff, but skipper en
mate bofe: wa' we gwine ter do _I_ doan know." But Captain Jones'
carouse only lasted a couple of days. At the expiration of that time he
"sobered up," and, though looking very demoralized, went about the ship
like a man that knew his business thoroughly and meant doing it.
Strangely enough, he allowed the mate to go on as he had been doing,
never interfering with him in any way.

When two-thirds of our cargo was in, Captain Jones went up to the city
again. During his absence the stevedores quitted work and left us for
the Christmas holidays. By Christmas Eve there was not a steamer left in
the bay, and an aching sense of discontent manifested itself all through
the fleet. Not to speak of any festive provision, there was an actual
dearth of fresh stores of any kind, as no vessels had been down for
several days. Boats came and went from ship to ship on the same errand,
seeking wherewithal to make a Christmas dinner; but there was no hope,
all were alike unprovided. Gloom sat on every face as the prospect of a
salt-junk dinner on Christmas Day grew more definite, and the language
used about the matter was altogether improper and unseasonable. But,
just as dusk was stealing in, a solitary schooner was sighted coming
into the bay from the river under a press of canvas, which, in spite of
the light breeze prevailing, drove her along at a good pace. It was
quite dark by the time she reached us, and much to our surprise dropped
her anchor close aboard of us. As soon as she swung to the wind the
voice of Captain Jones hailed us from her deck, crying, "Send a boat
aboard!" He had no sooner spoken than a perfect chorus arose about him:
the squealing of swine, the cackling of geese, and the shrill war-cry of
turkeys. Blessed discord! filling us with visions of feasting too
delightful for speech. There was no delay in getting the boat afloat,
all hands being full of eagerness to assist.

After receiving the skipper, the boat made a tour of the anchorage,
Captain Jones standing up as each ship was passed, and shouting the good
news at the top of his voice. Then returning to the schooner, the
boatmen laboured like Trojans to transfer the stock to our deck. Besides
the poultry and pigs, there was a huge pile of fresh beef, vegetables,
and enough drinkables to furnish a carouse for the combined crews of the
whole fleet. The transhipment was barely completed when customers began
to arrive. Soon we were the centre of a flotilla of boats, whose crews
lined our rails while the skippers examined the provisions. All the
lamps in the ship were lighted and hung about, and, a rostrum being
erected, Captain Jones began his auction. It was the strangest scene I
ever witnessed on board ship. Roars of laughter punctuated every remark
of the auctioneer, and, assisted by swiftly circulating bottles of
strong waters, the fun raged furiously until long past midnight. Then,
as the last of the visitors departed uproariously, our excited crowd
quickly calmed down, and quiet reigned until a late hour on Christmas
morning. Of the subsequent feast there is no need to speak. Sufficient
to say that it laid over all my experiences on board ship, for our
skipper, having cleared a goodly sum by his "cuteness" and enterprise,
could well afford to be generous; and he was.

Four or five days elapsed before our stevedores returned, and the work
of shipping cargo re-commenced. But once they got to work again no more
time was lost. A week more saw every crevice, wherein it was possible to
jam, by the most violent means, a bale of cotton, utilized, and even
then the skipper growled because the time of year made it impossible for
him to risk carrying a few bales on deck. At last the day came on which
Captain Jones was to make his last journey to town to clear the ship for
sea. Before he went, he called all hands aft and offered to buy such
clothing as they required for the homeward passage. Being almost
destitute of "dunnage," I ventured to put in my plea for a little, but
was grievously disappointed. He would not buy me a rag, telling me that
I was not a wage-earner but a passenger, and he couldn't afford to spend
money out of his own pocket. Two days after we weighed for home.

We had fairly good weather as we were swept through the tortuous Florida
Straits by the rush of the Gulf Stream, which, whether you will or not,
carries you to the north-east at the rate of a hundred miles in
twenty-four hours. But we were hardly clear of the land before a fierce
north-westerly gale came howling down upon us, and my sufferings
commenced in real earnest. For although I was supposed to be cabin-boy,
I had to be on deck almost as much as I was in the cabin. The mate
seemed to take a curious sort of pleasure in hazing me about, as if he
had some personal grudge against me, although I never could understand
why. I was so bitterly cold-footed that I stole a pair of the captain's
stockings--I had nothing but a pair of patent-leather shoes--for
footwear. They (the stockings) were very old, and I soon wore out the
feet, which I cut off at the ankles, sewed up the openings, and put
them on again. This ingenuity led to disaster, for springing up on the
after-house one day by the side of the captain, who was leaning against
it, he saw his initials on my leg. Investigation followed, in which I
pleaded my sufferings from cold and his refusal to get me anything to
wear in Mobile. My excuse was, of course, unacceptable, and, although he
did not beat me, I was forbidden the cabin precincts any more, and
compelled to go barefoot for the remainder of the passage.

I was now in the mate's watch, and that worthy treated me with studied
brutality. I scarcely ever came within reach of him but I got a kick--he
seldom struck me with his hands.

As we got farther to the eastward the weather grew worse and worse. Gale
succeeded gale with hardly a lull between, but our vessel being in such
fine trim, we were decidedly better off than as if she had been deep in
the water. At last, however, we fell in with a regular hurricane. Every
stitch of canvas was taken in but a storm-staysail, made of the heaviest
canvas woven, under which we lay-to until she gave a tremendous
weather-lurch, and, rolling to leeward with a vicious jerk, the
triangular patch of sail blew clean out of its bolt-ropes. From that
time we lay under bare poles for eighteen hours, during much of which I
sat on the poop beside the tiller, hauling back the slack of the
wheel-ropes, more dead than alive from the wet and cold. Never having
seen such a storm at sea before, I was dreadfully frightened, until I
saw how unconcernedly the sea-birds hovered about us. Then I reasoned
that if those tiny things were so secure, surely a big ship like ours
must be much more so. Unsound as my conclusion was, it comforted me, and
I had no more fear. A few days of light fine weather succeeded this
storm, during which everything was made ship-shape again aloft. The
captain was a prime seaman, and, having completely left off his
drinking, managed everything in first-rate style. But he never forgave
me for my theft, nor did he ever check the mate for his ill-usage of me.

One lovely afternoon, to the surprise of all hands, the order was given
to shorten sail. There was not a cloud in the sky, and a gentle
south-westerly breeze was wafting us along about four knots an hour.
But, as the work of furling the upper canvas proceeded, the rumour went
round that the "glass," as seamen always term the barometer, was falling
very fast. It may have been, but for twenty-four hours we lay under
lower topsails and courses, not a trace of change in the serene weather
prevailing. In the first watch of the next night there stole over the
sky a gloomy shade, which deepened until the heavens were black. Not
black as night, or black as ink, but as if a pall of black velvet had
been suspended over the sea, scarcely higher than the mastheads. The
wind died completely away. The water was smooth as oil, and so still
that not a creaking rope or rattling sheave disturbed the deathlike
silence. When the look-out man struck four bells, the sound seemed to
wound like a sword-cut, so sharp and unnatural was its clangour. This
state of things lasted for about three hours. Then, gradually, tiny
threads of light ran waveringly in every direction, as if the solemn
dome of darkness above was cracking, and revealing an immense glow above
it. The brilliant crevices widened, grew longer and more vivid, until
the whole firmament was aglow with flashes of intensest light, while all
our spars were outlined in lambent flame. This display lasted for about
an hour, then faded away; the gloom disappeared, and the deep blue sky,
studded with innumerable stars and unflecked by a single cloud, extended
from horizon to horizon. This beautiful weather lasted for another
twenty-four hours, and then a gentle westerly breeze sprang up, which
gradually freshened, until we were flying along homeward at tremendous
speed, carrying every stitch of canvas the ship could stagger under.

Meanwhile the mate's treatment of me got worse, until one night he dealt
me a savage kick, which hurled me off the poop on to the main deck,
where I lay insensible for some time. Although no bones were broken, I
had received such severe injury that I was unable to walk for two days.
During my confinement I made a desperate resolution, and, as soon as I
resumed work again, carried it into effect by boldly approaching my
merciless tyrant, and telling him that I was a consul's passenger, as he
very well knew. I promised him that if there was any law that could
reach him, I would endeavour to have him punished for his cruelty. And
now I said, "You can kill me if you like, I don't care." Much to my
surprise, he weakened at once, and for the remainder of the voyage I
was freed from his cowardly attacks.

The brave westerly wind that was hurling us homeward acted as usual.
That is to say, it strengthened until, slowly and reluctantly, sail was
reduced to the two lower topsails and reefed foresail. The ship was so
buoyant that the mountainous seas which surrounded her, and often rose
upon either side to such a height as to make it appear as if we were
racing through a deep green valley, never broke on board. But the
skilful, courageous steering required could only be performed by a few
selected members of the crew. Several men had to be suddenly relieved of
the task, for their nerve failed them at sight of the mighty green walls
soaring above their heads, and they were within an ace of letting her
broach-to. This terrible calamity, which has been the end of so many
fine ships, occurs when the vessel swings broadside on to a great sea,
which either smashes her up or rolls her over. In the most favourable
cases much damage is bound to follow. We saw one sorrowful instance of
it in a brig, which we flew by, helpless to aid. She was just sinking,
the doomed crew clinging to the weather rigging as if to put off their
inevitable fate for a few fleeting minutes. A huge sea rose between us,
hiding her from view, and when we soared on the crest of the next one,
she was gone like a foam flake.

Thus we ran until the colour of the water told us we were nearing the
land, and soon we saw through the flying spindrift the lonely outpost of
the Fastnet rock, with its sturdy lighthouse, which looked to me like
a beckoning finger. Then mist-wreaths and snow-squalls shut out
everything from view, except a barque, which, apparently going to
Liverpool like ourselves, kept steadily on about a mile in front of us.
So exactly did we keep in her wake that it looked as if we were
following her lead. The weather got thicker, but the gale was unabated,
and still we flew before it. Suddenly we were all startled by the report
of a gun, and out of the fog on the starboard bow loomed the figure of a
lightship with three ball-crowned masts. Our leader had disappeared. As
we passed the lightship she fired another gun, and a lift in the fog
showed the name on her side--_Coningbeg_. Still we kept on, all hands
watching the skipper's troubled face. But a sudden roar of "Breakers
right ahead!" sent all hands flying to the braces. Hard down went the
helm, and round came the ship on her heel, the spray from the heavy
following sea flying high over our topsail-yards, while the tender
vessel heeled over until the lee rail was under water. Not a moment too
soon, for the furious roar of the baffled breakers sounded deafeningly,
as their fleecy crests boiled and foamed under our lee only half a dozen
cables-length away. Slowly, slowly we clawed off that ugly reef. For
more than an hour the issue was in gravest doubt; then hope began to
revive as the good ship's weatherly qualities became manifest, and it
was plain to all that we were drawing clear. The breeze now began to
take off a bit, and more sail was made. Without any further incident, we
ran steadily up-channel to Point Lynas, where we got a pilot and a tug,
which by daylight brought us safely to an anchorage in the Mersey. We
only anchored for an hour or two, waiting for high water, when we were
coaxed into the Brunswick Dock, and made solidly fast on the side next
the street. As soon as ever I could do so unobserved, I slipped down a
fender lanyard and touched England with my feet, feeling a delightful
thrill as I did so. Why, I did not know, but the fact remains. A
homeless, friendless waif, with no prospects before me, no one to
welcome me, I rejoiced to be in England again, as if I, too, felt it
good to be at home.

[Illustration: A huge sea rose between us, hiding her from view, and
when we soared on the crest of the next one she was gone like a foam
flake.]



CHAPTER VIII.

STRUGGLES IN LIVERPOOL AND LONDON.


In a very short time all hands had left the ship but myself. A decrepit
old man arrived from somewhere to act as watchman; but he took no notice
of me, and I made no advances. Not a word had been said to me by anybody
when they left the ship, and I was greatly in doubt as to whether I was
supposed to clear out like everybody else. But I was very sure that I
did not know where to go, and so I coiled myself up in my bunk and went
to sleep, as it was getting late. When I woke it was morning. A heavy
fall of snow had covered everything during the night, and the outlook
was as desolate and dreary as could be imagined. Making my way aft, I
found the cabin all locked up; so that, though I was ravenously hungry,
there was no chance of getting anything to eat. The ancient watchman was
fast asleep in the galley, into which I stole to warm my freezing bare
feet. As soon as I got the chill out of my bones I returned to the
fo'lk'sle, and found, to my delight, an old pair of boots that one of
the chaps had discarded. With these and some rags I covered my aching
feet, and then, mounting on the rail, looked long and eagerly
shorewards. Presently I made out, over the window of a small shop, the
legend, "Brunswick Dock Eating-house," and noted with satisfaction a
feather of smoke curling from one of the chimneys belonging to the
building. Hardly stopping to think, I slipped down a rope and ran across
the road, knocking boldly at the door. A ruddy-faced little girl about
my own age opened it, and said, hesitatingly, "What d'you want?" Trying
to look big, I said, "I'm a sailor belonging to that ship there, an' I
want to come an' lodge here till I'm paid off." With a doubtful glance
at my beggarly outfit, she said, "I'll go and call aunty," and ran off
upstairs. There was a glorious fire roaring in a great open fireplace at
the end of the low flagged room, so, without waiting permission, I
entered, and seated myself on a bench close to the bright blaze. In a
few minutes a sharp, business-like woman came down. In response to her
keen questions I told my story, carefully avoiding any reference to my
"passenger" status on board. Apparently she was satisfied, for in a very
short time I was supplied with such a breakfast as had long haunted my
hungry dreams. Rashers of toasted bacon, boiled eggs, new
bread-and-butter, fragrant coffee--it was just heavenly. All my miseries
were forgotten in present joys, and I ate and ate until, suddenly
looking up, I saw the little girl gazing at me with awe. No wonder she
was astonished. The way I was demolishing the food was a sight to see.
But, meeting my eye, she blushed crimson, and gabbled something in a
strange tongue (which I afterwards learned was Welsh) to her aunt, who
stood also looking at me with a good-humoured smile on her face.

Being warmed and fed, two satisfactory experiences to which I had long
been a stranger, I was in no hurry to leave such comfortable quarters
for the bleak outer world. But during the morning I ran over to the
ship, and finding there the cook, I learned that she was to be paid off
the next day. I determined to present myself with the rest at the
shipping-office, although my hopes of getting any money were very faint.
Still I knew enough of the world to be certain that, without money, I
should not be allowed to remain at my present lodgings. So at the
appointed hour I marched up to the Sailors' Home, meeting with a cordial
welcome from my shipmates, especially the little Frenchman. Better
still, as each of them received their money, they very kindly gave me a
little, the total amount thus contributed being twenty-two shillings.
Then came my turn to appear at the pay table. My heart beat fast with
apprehension as I faced Captain Jones, my head only just appearing above
the counter. His words were gruff and his manner unkind, but I believe
he was moved with pity for my forlorn position, for he actually gave me
two pounds ten shillings, pay at the rate of one pound a month. I was so
glad that I knew not what to say, but I hastily retreated lest he should
change his mind and take the money away again. As fast as my legs would
carry me, I ran back to the boarding-house to exhibit my wealth to the
landlady. I had never had so much money of my own before, and was
proportionately elated, the thought of how much I needed it never
entering my head. The landlady immediately suggested that I should treat
her and her crony from next door, who was in conversation with her, at
which proposition I felt quite a man, and inquired loftily what the
ladies would take. A little drop of "Donovans" appeared to be the
favourite liquor, a totally unknown beverage to me, but I should have
agreed had it been champagne. The little niece was dispatched for it, as
well as a couple of bottles of ginger-beer for us, who were too young
and wise to thirst for "Donovans"--which I knew, as soon as it arrived,
to be rum.

To do my landlady justice, she interested herself in getting me some
decent clothing, and promised to keep me on what remained of my money
until I got another ship or some employment ashore. But getting a ship,
I found, was an impossible task. My diminutive size and weakly
appearance obtained for me only derision when I ventured to ask for a
berth on what I considered likely-looking craft, and it soon appeared
hopeless to look in that direction any more. Help came from an
unexpected quarter. Next door to my lodging-place was the workshop of a
figure-head carver, who was a young, energetic man of great skill, and
very intimate with my landlady. He was kind enough to employ me in his
business, where I soon became useful in sharpening tools and
roughing-out work for him and his brother to finish. He paid me
sufficient for my board and lodging, which, considering that he was
teaching me his trade, was very generous. Here I was quite happy, for
my new master was kindness itself; and I believe I was really quick to
profit by all I was taught, so as to be worth my pay. But my evil genius
pursued me still. His brother became jealous of the attentions I
received, and, after I had been with them a couple of months, quarrels
between them on my account were of almost daily occurrence. This
unsatisfactory state of things culminated in my getting knocked
senseless one morning by my enemy during his brother's absence at a job.
When Mr. R. returned he was alarmed at my appearance, for I had an ugly
cut on the head which made me look quite ghastly. A tremendous row
followed, the upshot of which was that Mr. R. sorrowfully informed me
that he was obliged to send me away before serious harm was done. He
advised me to return to London, where I was better known (?), and gave me
ten shillings to pay my fare thither. I took his advice forthwith,
finding no difficulty in getting a half ticket to Euston, where I
arrived with two shillings and sixpence in my pocket.

The well-known streets looked strange to me after my long absence. In
fact, I felt more in the way than ever. I knew nobody that could or
would shelter me, and I had got out of the way of street life.
Husbanding my scanty store of coppers as well as I could, I haunted
Thames Street in the hope that I might pick up a coaster at the King's
Head, where, in those days, skippers of small craft used to get most of
their crews. There is a cook-shop with a tank of pea-soup in the window,
where for a penny I could always get a bellyfull of the thick,
comforting stuff--the best value for money in the grub line that I knew
of, and I was no bad judge. It--the tank--used to be cleaned out every
three days, and a fresh jorum of soup made. On the first day it was
comparatively thin; on the second, being filled up without removing the
solid matter settled at the bottom, it was better; but on the third day
you could almost cut it--a spoon would stand upright in it. And, anxious
to clear it out, they gave bigger penn'orths. I often used to go without
on the second day, so that I could have two separate portions on the
third; after which I felt as bloated as an alderman after a civic feast.
But the pence failed, and I picked up very few more; so that, though I
slept in any hole or corner I could find, to avoid the expense of
lodgings, the time soon came when I was face to face with starvation
again. Then a bright idea occurred to me, so obvious that I wondered why
it hadn't struck me before. I had my discharge from the _Sea Gem_. I
would seek a kindly boarding-master, and ask him to keep me till I got a
ship, paying himself out of my advance. I knew better than to go to the
so-called "Sailors' Home." They don't take in hard-up seamen there. It
is only a home for those who can pay down for their accommodation.

With my fortunate idea burning in my mind, I hastened down the West
India Dock Road, attacking the first house I saw with "boarding-house
for seamen" painted up over it. The proprietor, an old bo'sun, grumbled
at my request a good deal, but he took me in, God bless him! More than
that, he got me a ship three days after by means of his influence that
way, and once again I was freed from the misery of being masterless. The
vessel in which I was to sail was a splendid barque, reminding me
strongly of the luckless _Discoverer_, and about the same size. I shall
call her the _Bonanza_, for reasons of my own, though that was not her
name. She was bound to a port in Jamaica, with a general cargo for new
owners, and with a new captain and officers. When we came up to sign on
at "Green's Home," I found, to my delight, that I was to have twenty
shillings a month. Like all the rest, I received a month's advance, out
of which my boarding-master paid himself, and provided me with a
"donkey's breakfast" (straw-bed), hook-pot, pannikin, and plate; a
knife, and a suit of oilskins. So _he_ didn't rob me to any great
extent. He also gave me a few odds and ends of clothing, which had been
left by boarders, out of which, being a fair hand with my needle, I
managed to botch up enough garments to change. I bade him good-bye with
hearty feelings of gratitude, which he fully deserved, and took my
departure on board my ship.



CHAPTER IX.

BOUND FOR JAMAICA.


All hands had been ordered on board in the afternoon, the tide serving
about five p.m., but from some unexplained cause we did not sail at the
time appointed. This delay led to complications, for although the crew
had, for a wonder, come on board fairly sober, they all rejoiced at the
opportunity afforded them of a last carouse. By some mysterious means
some money was obtained; all hands departed for the purlieus of
Shadwell, with the result that at ten o'clock the officers were scouring
the slums hunting for them. It was a hopeless task, as the event proved,
for by midnight only two had been found, and they were both helplessly
drunk. They were dragged on board like bundles of rags, and hoisted into
their bunks, where they remained in peace. That tide being lost, the
officers had a few hours' rest, turning out again about four a.m. to
renew the search. Meanwhile the vessel was shifted into the Shadwell
Basin, ready to start the moment her crew were on board. The morning
broke cheerlessly enough with a light fall of snow, gradually increasing
to a blinding mist of white, through which occasionally a little party
came dragging some oblivious mariner, who had spent his respite in
filling himself with whatever fire-water he could obtain. At last, weary
of waiting, the skipper determined to go on, although he was still two
men short. Accordingly the warps were cast off, the tug backed in and
took hold of us, and away we went down the river through the thick veil
of snow that made the "mud pilot's" job both difficult and dangerous.
There was another boy besides me, a burly fellow of sixteen, who very
soon made it clear to me that I was not going to lead a pleasant time
with him. He had come from the _Warspite_, and knew nothing of the ways
of merchant-ships, which gave me a little advantage over him in one way.
But he was well provided with plenty of warm clothing, by the bounty of
the Marine Society, while I was so thinly clad that the piercing cold
benumbed all my faculties, and I crawled about like a snail, making a
very bad impression upon the officers. Our arrival at Gravesend came as
a blessed relief, for there was a good hot meal of fresh food ready as
soon as the anchor was down. And as all the seamen were in a deep,
drunken slumber, Bill, my colleague, and myself had a mighty feed all to
ourselves, after which we turned in, and slept unmolested till
supper-time. The skipper had gone ashore to get a couple of men in place
of the defaulters, and did not return till after dark. He brought two
sober seamen with him, who looked as though they had been outward-bound
for a very long time. Their cheeks were quite hollow with hunger, and
they had hardly more clothing than they stood in. Yet they were both
able men, proving indeed the best seamen on board. After they had eaten
a good meal, they were set to keep anchor-watch turn about, until at
midnight all hands were called to man the windlass.

I wish it was possible to give my readers an idea of the misery involved
in this operation under such conditions. First of all, the officers were
obliged to drag the sodden sleepers from their lairs; then to shake, if
possible, some gleam of sense into them, some faint idea of what was
required of them. After nearly an hour's struggle, the miserable men
were at last mustered on the fo'lk'sle head at the windlass levers,
where, exposed to the full fury of the bitter wind, they cowered more
like sheep than men. Their feelings, as the drink died out of them, and
the cold searched their very vitals, must have been horrible.
Occasionally one of them would slip down gently from the fo'lk'sle and
disappear, only to be hunted up again by the vigorous boatswain, who
kept a watchful eye upon any would-be skulkers. More by dint of the
bo'sun's energy, I believe, than any vitality in the limp crew, the
anchor was at last lifted, the hawser passed to the hovering tug, and
away we glided ghost-like down-stream. Ben, the big boy, and myself were
pretty well fagged out with hauling back the big links of cable, and
stowing them in neat fakes abaft the windlass; but the bo'sun believed
in keeping boys on the go, so we got no time to think about being tired.
Luckily for us the wind was dead on end, so that it was useless making
sail. All hands were kept busily employed clearing up the decks,
getting the running-gear into its proper places, and generally preparing
the ship for independent travelling. By daylight the weather grew
better, the wind veered to the eastward a little, and the fore-and-aft
sails were set. So we drew slowly round to the North Foreland, where the
tug slipped our hawser; all sail was set, and we were fairly started on
our voyage. As I got a little warmth into my stiffened limbs, I won back
some of the good opinion I had forfeited by my clumsy, spiritless
movements of the previous day. Being sent aloft to loose some of the
square sails, I was cheered by hearing the elderly mate remark quietly,
"That's a smart little boy," and I must confess I was not displeased to
note that Ben only succeeded in drawing down maledictions on his head
for his clumsiness and general inability to do what was required of him.
There was a vengeful gleam in his eye, as he saw how inferior he was in
smartness to myself, which boded no good to me, and from the first day
out he never lost an opportunity of doing me an ill turn.

The captain was a fine, manly specimen of a seaman, with glowing red
hair and beard, and a voice of thunder. Fiery tempered, yet easily
pacified, he was also one of the most energetic of men, and I never saw
a skipper better liked by his crew. The mate was a middle-aged man, at
least ten years the captain's senior, rather slow and sedate, but a
thorough seaman and navigator. The bo'sun, who was acting second mate,
was an old shipmate of the skipper's, and quite his equal in energy. He
was one of that fast-decaying type of seamen, a Blackwall rigger, to
whom every detail of sailorizing was as familiar as eating his
breakfast. Besides this, he was a born leader of men, who would enforce
his will regardless of consequences. No man durst give him "slack lip"
on pain of being instantly knocked endways; a feat of which, by reason
of his size and strength, he was fully capable. As a result we were a
well-disciplined crowd, from whom no growling was heard whatever the
work imposed. There were eight A.B.'s, out of whom only three were
foreigners; but not one of them calls for any special description from
me. They all had the bad old idea that boys were born slaves, who must
do all the dirty work on deck, and when below be content with their
leavings, wait upon them hand and foot, and take uncomplainingly all the
ill-treatment it was their prerogative to bestow. Being at the bottom of
the scale, I had a wretched life. For I was no match for Ben, who
unfailingly passed on his share of blows to me, so that I was seldom
without some visible marks of ill-usage. But the food was certainly
above the average. The skipper had the provisioning of the ship, and,
being a just man, he did not do as so many would have done under the
same circumstances: starve the men to fatten his own pocket. What with
the decent meals, and the masterfulness of the bo'sun, she was a
contented ship, and more work was done in a day on board than I have
ever seen before or since. As usual on this passage, fine weather
prevailed, the wind being so steady that for days together we never
touched a brace. This was taken advantage of by the skipper to
practically refit the ship, all hands being kept at work all day long
splicing, turning-in blocks, serving shrouds, fitting new running-gear,
and doing rigger's work generally. At night they all slept, with the
exception of the helmsman, the look-out man, the officer of the watch
and a boy, who had to keep near the officer to carry his commands to the
sleepers should the need arise. Really I was kept so constantly at work
that, for all I saw of the sea and its marvels, I might as well have
been ashore. Except at night, and then I was always half asleep through
getting so little legitimate opportunity for rest.

Twenty-eight days flew rapidly past without a single incident worth
noting, the same blue sky overhead, and steady breeze astern, until one
morning the beautiful shores of Jamaica loomed up ahead. A few hours
later we sailed in between the points of a sheltering coral reef to an
anchorage in the pretty little harbour of Falmouth, pompously announcing
our arrival by the firing of a four-pounder gun as the anchor was
dropped. While we were furling sails and clearing up the decks, visitors
were arriving from the four vessels in harbour as well as from the
shore, so that by the time work was over our decks were thronged. The
skipper seemed a prime favourite here, judging by the number of people
who came to see him and congratulate him upon his new command--the
largest vessel that had yet entered the little port. There were high
times forrard as well as aft, for canoe-loads of good things were
brought, and all hands invested recklessly on credit, forgetting that
as yet they had no money owing to them by the ship. Not only eatables
but sundry bottles of new rum made their appearance, which potent fluid
soon made things exceedingly lively in the fo'lk'sle. Matters
culminated, of course, in a free fight, which so alarmed me that I crept
into a corner under the heel of the bowsprit, out of the way of the
revellers. There I went to sleep so soundly that it was morning when I
again emerged at the hoarse cry of the boatswain calling us to "turn
to."

The darkies here were even merrier than my old friends of Demerara. Such
a jovial, musical lot I never saw. Living from hand to mouth on the
coarsest food, and with the oddest assortment of rags for clothing
possible to be imagined, they really seemed to be perfectly happy. The
feeblest joke was sufficient to send them into convulsions of laughter,
and the gift of an old shirt or pair of pants would keep them on the
broad grin for a couple of days. My life was so consistently miserable
from harsh treatment, that I continually envied them their careless
existence, wondering all the time how they managed to be so jolly under
what I often saw to be painful circumstances. To crown my misfortunes I
fell ill. After suffering for two or three days, I was sent ashore to
hospital. Then I was thankful for what I had thought the climax of my
misery. For in the hospital I was allowed to do pretty well as I liked.
There was no discipline, no rule of any kind. The doctor, as we called
him (I think he must have been the dispenser), was a mulatto, or
quadroon, with a comical notion of his vast importance, but a kindly
young fellow enough. Sometimes I had medicine; but only by accident, I
believe. At any rate, I soon got better, and rambled about the great
building or played on the beach outside with the darky boys of about my
own age, forgetting that such a place as the _Bonanza's_ fo'lk'sle
existed. At last I began to hope that the captain had forgotten my
existence, having some dim idea, I suppose, that I might be allowed to
spend an indefinite time in this pleasant way. But I was to be rudely
undeceived. One day, when I was presiding with much importance over a
game at cricket (much I knew about it), with twenty or thirty youngsters
of almost as many shades of colour around me, I suddenly heard my
captain calling me, with an angry note in his voice that boded me no
good. He had come up from the town to inquire about me, and had caught
me unaware. "You lazy young sodjer!" he cried, "this is how sick you
are, is it? I'll give you a lesson for this! Get down to the boat!" The
thought of returning to the ship was so terrible to me that I actually
dared to ask him to let me go--to discharge me. In a voice that shook
with fear and anxiety I told him how I had been treated, and implored
him not to take me back with him. I believe he was half-melted, but his
anger at what he thought was my skulking got the better of him. "Serve
you very well right," he said. "I'll give you a rope's-ending myself
when I've got time. Now be off with you, straight down to the boat."
With that he strode on to the hospital, while I, feeling as if I was
going to the scaffold, trudged through the sand down to the
landing-place. In about an hour he returned, but said no word more to me
as the boat danced over the wavelets back to that hateful prison. It was
"knock-off" time, and I busied myself in sweeping up decks with all the
alacrity I could muster, until I was free to fetch my many masters their
tea from the galley. They hailed me with many sarcastic queries after my
health, and the noble time they supposed I had enjoyed ashore at their
expense, commiserating Ben exceedingly for having been obliged to do my
work, as they said, while I had been loafing ashore. Happily I got over
the evening without anything worse than hard words being thrown at me.
Some grievance or another had excited the anger of a big Irishman, and
he soon monopolized all attention by a recital of his wrongs. It
appeared that the bo'sun had "got a down on him," in his opinion; but if
the bo'sun thought that he, Mike, was going to be played with, that was
just where he was all adrift. He, Mike, was a blank Fenian, so he was,
an' he'd just shwim in blood before he was put upon by any blank
dock-walloper that ever mooched around Blackwall, so he would. In the
fervour of his harangue he omitted to notice how he had raised his
voice; but he was presently reminded of it by the voice of the bo'sun at
the fo'lk'sle door, calling, "Mike, I want you a minute!" There was
complete silence in a moment, which reigned until the bo'sun repeated
his words, with the quiet addition, "You don't want me to fetch you
out, I s'pose?" Then Mike protested feebly that it was his watch below,
that he was having his supper, that various reasons, in fact, prevented
him from emerging. Like a tiger the bo'sun leapt into the crowded space.
There was a medley of arms, heads, and legs, a hubbub of inarticulate
noises, but out of it all the bo'sun and Mike emerged on deck. How they
got there, I don't believe any one knew. I heard the bo'sun imploring
Mike to stand up to him like a man, and Mike piteously reminding him
that he was by no means his match, that he was twenty years older (which
was nearly true). "Very well, then," said the boss, "not so much of your
slack next time. If you're an old man, behave like one, an' don't open
your mouth so wide, in case anybody jumps down your throat." There was
peace after that. Not even a word was said to me when I ventured to
crawl into the raffle of rags which was my bunk.

At daylight next morning all hands were called to get under way. In the
cabin the skipper had been entertaining a large party of friends, who
had been keeping up an extensive carouse all night. Uproariously they
departed their several ways as we toiled at the windlass, while boats
from all the other vessels in port came and fastened on to us to assist
us out from between the reefs. Such aid was absolutely necessary unless
the miserably slow method of warping out by a kedge-anchor was resorted
to. For in these West Indian ports there is invariably, during the
night, a gentle air from the land, which soon after daybreak dies away
to a complete calm, lasting perhaps an hour, and succeeded by the
invigorating "doctor," or sea-breeze. This latter soon gathers strength
and blows more or less forcibly all day long. In consequence of this it
becomes imperative to gain an offing before the "doctor" begins, in
order that the vessel may be able to fetch off the land in the teeth of
an increasing breeze.

Having assisted us to get about two miles out, the boats cast off from
us, and with many hearty farewells returned to port, taking with them
our pilot. A stark calm succeeded as usual, during which all hands
lounged about and whistled for a breeze, until some of the keener
observers noticed that the strong undertow was sweeping us rapidly
towards a long spit of sand that stretched seaward, about three miles to
the northward of us. Presently the mate's anxiety constrained him to
approach the captain, who, with flushed face and abstracted air, was
pacing the poop, and suggest that the anchors might be prepared for
letting go. Strange to say, the skipper received this hint with a bad
grace, answering his officer so abruptly and angrily that his words were
distinctly audible all over the ship. The mate, whose age and
experience, apart from his other undeniably good qualities, entitled him
to very different treatment, bowed and retired, evidently much hurt. A
short period of silence followed, while the vessel, her sails hanging as
if carved in stone, and her hull motionless, as if in dry dock, was
being carried along over the now visible coral bottom at the rate of
nearly four knots an hour. At last the bo'sun, unable to contain
himself, strode up to the captain and said boldly, "Cap'n----, if you
don't anchor this ship'll be ashore in another ten minutes." "Get off my
poop, you impudent rascal! How dare you come an' speak to me like that!
For two pins I'd put you in irons. D'ye think I don't know my duty? I
never heard such cheek in my life!" and he stamped with fury. But the
bo'sun simply said, "Well, don't you say you wasn't warned, that's all,"
and, turning on his heel, left the angry, unreasonable man to himself.
By this time all hands were fully possessed of the idea that only a
miracle could save the ship, for the reef seemed to be actually touching
the keel through the clear water which was carrying us so swiftly over
it. And the idea of the vessel's loss filled me with unholy joy. No one
could realize how terribly I dreaded the homeward passage, and, now that
deliverance seemed so near, I could hardly restrain my feelings.
Slinking into the empty forecastle, I waited breathlessly for the crash
I felt sure was imminent. It came, a long grinding sensation, like a
boat grounding on a pebbly beach magnified a thousand times. Almost
delirious, I danced about the place, in the middle of which unpardonable
exercise I was discovered by the bo'sun. Outraged beyond speech, he
dealt me one savage kick, which put all dancing out of my power for many
a day, and for the present stretched me motionless on the deck. Not,
however, to lie there long, for hearing my name shouted outside, I
dragged myself up, mustering all my energy, and hobbled off to obey the
call before some worse thing should befall me.

I found all hands toiling like ants, getting out anchors and hawsers,
and doing all that experience could suggest to free the vessel from the
position of danger into which she had been brought so recklessly. But
the calm was over, the sea-breeze had commenced, and was increasing so
fast that already the hitherto placid sea was beginning to foam.
Breakers, too, born of the jagged reef so close to the surface, were
rolling in steadily, although as yet they were of puny height and
weight. Being at so short a distance from the port we had left, our
plight was plainly visible to those on shore. Consequently, in a couple
of hours, every boat of sufficient size in the place was alongside.
Scores of willing hands plied every means by which good might be done,
but the steady increase in wind and sea, driving directly shoreward,
mocked all efforts at heaving the ship off. There were no steam vessels
either in Falmouth or the adjacent ports, so that, when every purchase
that could be got upon the anchors and cables laid out astern was
brought to a standstill, that branch of the work was perforce abandoned.

Then the cargo was attacked at all three hatches, everybody working as
if their very lives depended upon their labours. The negroes especially
seemed to regard the whole affair as a gigantic spree, for without
abating one jot of their labours, they yelled, sang, danced about, and
behaved generally like a pack of schoolboys just let loose without any
supervision. As the day wore on the wind increased to a strong gale, and
the rollers attained so formidable a height that at times they lifted
the vessel bodily from her jagged bed of rock, letting her fall again
with a crash that threatened to shake all her stout timbers apart. After
each of these blows she seemed to slide seawards a little, but all her
buoyancy was gone--the stern went down at an increasing angle, and the
water rose in the hold so freely that it was evident there were some
serious gaps in the hull. Still the work went on. Drogher after drogher
left us filled with salvage, while others crowded as near as they dared
to receive the bags, cases and bundles, that were constantly being
hurled overside. By nightfall all our own crew were worn out, and
transferred to one of the small craft which clung to our side receiving
the salved cargo. Each man secured what he could of his poor belongings,
but I, being unable in the scramble and confusion to get hold of the few
rags composing my stock of clothing, contented myself with carrying off
an old wide-awake hat containing five blind kittens. The anxious mother
kept me close company, much to the amusement of the toiling darkies.

All through the night the wind maintained a most unusual force, and hour
by hour the work of salvage became increasingly difficult. Every package
had to be dived for into the blackness of the hold, which was quite full
of water up to the hatch-coamings. Great torches of tarred rope, lashed
to conspicuous points, roared and flared in the gale. By their uncertain
glare the black toilers darted hither and thither with astounding energy
and a deafening incessant tumult of wild song. Every one was
mother-naked, and their ebony skins shone like those of a school of
gambolling porpoises. At each tremendous lift and heave of the doomed
vessel all hands would make a frantic rush to the side, leaping with
blood-curdling yells into the waiting droghers. But the instant it was
seen that she yet survived the shock, back they all came and attacked
the cargo with renewed vigour. At last a bigger breaker than ever came
along, rearing its hoary crest against the paling sky. Reaching the
vessel, it enwrapped her in masses of shining foam, lifting her at the
same time with such power that for half a minute she seemed all afloat.
As it receded, the ill-used hulk, as if loth to leave its embrace, slid
along the reef with a rending crash, nor stopped until all that remained
visible of her was the jibboom, pointing upward to the sky like a
warning beacon. In the whirl of weltering foam left by her sudden exit,
the droghers danced like mad things, all having been cut adrift as the
yelling crowd sprang from the sinking ship. As nothing more could
possibly be done for the present, the little fleet made sail, and stood
in towards the town with their spoil. In every conceivable and
inconceivable position the utterly wearied negroes lay about asleep,
regardless of the flying spray or such minor inconveniences as being
trampled upon by the crews. I found a snug corner out of everybody's
way, and there, cuddling my cats, I, too, fell into sweet oblivion. When
I awoke, the vessel was just taking the beach in front of the town. The
sun was only just rising, but all the population of Falmouth appeared to
be there, and intensely solicitous for our welfare. We were
immediately taken to the "hotel," only a few hundred yards away, and all
manner of creature comforts pressed upon us with kindly persistence, as
if we had been adrift for a month. Suddenly I realized that I was quite
a centre of attraction--the fact of my having rescued the kittens
appearing to appeal to all the visitors in a way that I should hardly
have believed possible. But, indeed, our reception generally was so kind
that we were all in danger of being spoiled. Within the memory of the
oldest inhabitant no wreck of such importance had occurred near the
port, and consequently, I suppose, we reaped the benefit of
long-suppressed benevolence.

[Illustration: At each tremendous lift and heave of the doomed vessel
all hands would make a frantic rush to the side.]



CHAPTER X.

ADVENTURES OF A SHIPWRECKED CREW.


The hotel to which we had been brought upon our arrival was, although
the only one in the place, far too small to stand the strain of such an
influx of visitors as we were, as far as sleeping accommodation went.
Therefore arrangements were made for our lodgment in an empty house in
town, while for all meals we were to return to the hotel. To this
sheltering place we were escorted by a delighted band of darkies, who
insisted upon carrying such traps as we possessed, and also worked like
bees to sweep and cleanse the house. Such bedding as we had was spread
upon the floor in a big front-room, and in Oriental fashion; with the
sailor's ready adaptability to circumstances, we made ourselves
comfortable. We had plenty of company, for the whole coloured population
made holiday and visited us. Few came empty handed, the majority
bringing such gifts as they thought would please us: mostly fruit,
tobacco, and rum. There was such abundance of the latter, that by
dinner-time there was a universal debauch, from which I gladly escaped.
Making my way down to the beach I found the work of salvage in full
swing, for the hull of the ship had broken apart so much that the
floatable cargo was coming ashore in great quantities. Puncheons of rum,
bundles of walking-sticks, cakes of bees-wax and innumerable cocoa-nuts
were heaped in scattered piles upon the beach, each of which was guarded
by some one, whose allies were either scouring the shores or paddling
furiously after some piece of flotsam apparently worth pursuit.
Everywhere I found friends. Such a godsend as this had not fallen to the
lot of the dusky Falmouthians before, and they were willing to recognise
even the humblest member of the crew as in some sense a benefactor. When
I got tired of roaming about the beach, I sought the hotel for something
more satisfying than fruit, and was received by the host's buxom
daughter, Marian, with great delight. She had taken charge of my hatful
of kittens, and showed me, with manifest pride, how comfortable the old
cat and her blind progeny had been made. Ungrateful puss would hardly
recognise me, her changed circumstances had made her forget old but
humble friends.

Noticing that I limped considerably, Marian inquired anxiously whether I
had cut my foot, which made me smile, since, not having worn boots for
months, my natural soles were almost as hard as tanned leather. But I
admitted that there was something hurting me a great deal, upon which
she peremptorily ordered me to sit down while she had a look. A short
search resulted in her finding the place, which she proceeded to
investigate with a needle, and presently drew therefrom a bag about as
large as a marrowfat pea, which she opened, and showed me was full of
tiny eggs. "You'se had dem chigoes mighty bad, chile," she said, "but I
gwineter put stop to 'em right now." With that she went and fetched a
tub of warm water. After bathing my feet thoroughly, she searched most
carefully for more of these pests, finding two other nests, full like
the first, of eggs, but which had caused me only a slight itching
sensation. Having removed all she could see, she made a vile compound of
tobacco-ash and kerosene, which she rubbed into the wounds, causing me
exquisite pain. It took all my fortitude to keep from screaming, and I
was unable to prevent a few big tears dropping. With many strange words
of endearment she assured me of her sympathy, but declared this heroic
treatment to be the only way of effecting a radical cure. I have no
doubt that she firmly believed in her treatment, and I must admit that
in the end it was certainly effectual; but it was so harsh that I was
quite crippled for over a week. During this miserable time I was a close
prisoner in our empty house, being generally alone during the day, while
through most of the night the drunken antics of my shipmates kept me in
constant terror. Nevertheless there was some slight consolation, for by
some means it had got about that I could sing, and I was sent for by the
officers of the garrison to warble some of my simple ditties for their
amusement. As I was unable to walk, the messengers made a rude litter,
upon which they carried me to the hotel, where I was propped up in an
armchair while I sang. The generosity of the officers provided me with
plenty of money, unfortunately of no service to me, since I dared not
refuse the constant demands of my shipmates, who, of course, had none of
their own. I made two or three friends among the better-class people in
the town, who gave me quite a respectable bag of half-worn clothes, and
also promised their aid in other directions.

At last, after the lapse of three weeks, during which time a perfunctory
sort of inquiry into the loss of the vessel was held, and the captain
acquitted of all blame, it was decided to send all the crew round to
Kingston, whence we might get shipped home. A small schooner was
chartered for this purpose, as no steamers ran round the island; and
after considerable delay, provisions for three days were put on board,
and we set sail, doubtless much to the relief of those worthies who had
been obliged to feed such a hungry horde as we were. But, to our great
disgust, we found at the first meal-time that, in addition to the stock
of food being disgracefully small, it consisted solely of ship-biscuit,
yams, and salt beef of the worst sort. If the kind providers of this
outfit could have been affected by the maledictions of our party, they
certainly would not have survived the first day of our voyage; after
that, the subject dropped from very monotony. Calms and light airs
prevailed, and all faces began to lengthen when, on the evening of the
third day, the cook announced that the last of the supply of food was
before us for supper, while our passage was only beginning. Luckily a
young shark was caught, making us a meagre breakfast. Then hunger
stared us in the face. We were at least fifteen miles off the land, with
a dead calm, and nothing but water left to supply the needs of fourteen
hungry men. No fish came to our hooks, no vessels came near us, and, as
there was nothing whatever to occupy the men's minds, the subject of
food-supply was soon discussed threadbare. Then, as often happens among
crews similarly situated, the possibility of there being a Jonah among
us was mooted, and called forth an amazing variety of opinions and
reminiscences. Unhappily for me, the bo'sun was indiscreet enough to let
out the story of my behaviour at the time of the vessel's striking on
the reef. He told it laughingly, referring, with a good deal of
satisfaction, to the swinging kick he had dealt me, the bruise from
which had not even then disappeared. But the effect of his statement
upon those ignorant and frightened men was most strange and significant.
They accepted it without question as positive proof: first, that all
their misfortunes were due to the presence of a Jonah among them, and,
secondly, that I was that Jonah!

It may be found difficult of belief that, among the crew of a London
ship in the year 1871, such a thing should have been possible; but I
solemnly declare it to be true that they at once decided that unless I
were cast overboard they would never reach Kingston. I was immediately
seized by them and commanded to say my prayers quickly, as I had only a
few minutes to live. I looked at those cruel, brutish faces and saw no
gleam of pity; I cried for mercy in incoherent terms while they only
scowled. With trembling lips, and scarcely beating heart, I tried to do
as they told me--say my prayers; but my senses were fast leaving me, and
I do not really know what I did say. Then one of them tied my hands
behind my back with a bit of fishing-line; and this act first seemed to
awaken the three negroes, who were the crew of the schooner, to the fact
that murder was intended. It almost drove them crazy with fear and
horror. Regardless of the odds against them, they rushed to my rescue,
only to be beaten back with the assurance that little would make my
tormenters serve them the same. The bitterness of death was almost past,
when, to my unbounded amazement, and renewing all my hopes of life, help
came from the most unexpected quarter. The bo'sun, who, I do not think,
had realized himself how far in earnest they were until then, suddenly
bestirred himself, making one stride across the deck to where I lay,
hardly conscious. Oh, how god-like I thought him! The scene returns to
me across the chasm of years as vividly as a photograph. His manly
figure, erect before my poor little shrinking body, and the sweep of his
strong right arm as he drove those bloodthirsty pagans back, will never
fade from my mind. "That's enough now," he said, "ye ---- idiots. Did ye
think I was goin' ter let yer drown the kid? S'elp me, ef I thought yer
really meant it, damfi wouldn't drown two or three of ye meself, ye
yelpin' cowardly scum!" For a short minute or so they faced him, their
eyes glaring with the lust of superstitious cruelty, and then (it should
be remembered that there were ten of them) they slank away, muttering
blasphemies between their clenched teeth. With a bitter laugh of
derision he stooped and cut my hands adrift from the lashing, and then
resumed his pipe as if nothing extraordinary had happened. It hardly
needs saying that I cowered close to his side, nor did I once get out of
arm's length of him during the remainder of that passage.

Happily for us a breeze sprang up, sending the schooner bustling along
at a good rate into the harbour of Savannah Le Mar, where we arrived
late that evening. By some means or other, which I don't understand,
considering our penniless condition, a good supply of yams, salt fish,
and water was obtained, and we set sail again at about ten p. m. by the
light of the incandescent moon. Our troubles were at an end for the
time, the wind holding strong and fair; so that in less than forty-eight
hours we were running in swiftly past Port Royal and up to the wharves
at Kingston.

It probably had never occurred to any one of us to doubt that when we
arrived there it would be all plain sailing for us. As shipwrecked
seamen, and in a British port, we naturally supposed that all we needed
to do was to march in a body to the Sailors' Home, show our credentials,
and be received with the warmest of welcomes. And the rest of our stay,
until ships were found for us to go home again in, would, of course, be
one delightful round of eating, drinking, and sleeping, varied by such
amusements as the place afforded. Accordingly, every man shouldered his
belongings, and off we marched, guided by friendly darkies, to the
Sailors' Home, which we entered with the air of proprietors. It was a
fine, large building, with a double row of verandahs and an air of
coolness and comfort extremely grateful to us after our miserable trip
in the schooner. We were received with great courtesy, and shown to the
dormitory, which, with its rows of clean beds and white
mosquito-curtains, looked like fairyland. We were told that breakfast
would be ready in a few minutes; so all hands had a good wash, hastening
down grubwards at the first stroke of the welcome bell. There appeared
to be scarcely any other boarders; at any rate, there were none visible
then. Coffee and bread were brought, and then a white man came, who
introduced himself as the superintendent. He called our attention to the
fact that there were three tariffs here, according to the kind of food
desired, and wished to know which of them we would choose. The bo'sun
replied that, as we were the guests of our country, we might as well
have the best, and added that, as we were somewhat sharp-set, the sooner
we got it the happier we should be. "Oh," said the official; "if that's
the case, I'm afraid I can't take you in. I've had no orders; and our
rule here is payment in advance." Blank amazement overspread every face,
and half a dozen voices volubly attempted to explain the situation. But
to all remarks, remonstrances, and objurgations, the superintendent was
adamant. He had no doubt it was all true enough; but he had no
instructions on our behalf, and, until he had, we could either pay or
go. When asked who we ought to apply to, he was blandly ignorant; but
it was increasingly evident that he wanted us gone very badly.

[Illustration: For a short minute or so they faced him, their eyes
glaring with the lust of superstitious cruelty.]

Well, there was no help for it, and so, breakfastless and dispirited, we
started off again to the town, intending to go to the shipping-office,
as the only place we could think of. In a foreign port we should, of
course, have gone to the consul at once; but here, under our own flag,
no one knew what to do. Our escort of negroes grew quite imposing as we
trudged along, and the news of our reception passed from mouth to mouth.
Floods of advice were poured upon us by our sable friends, and offers of
hospitality also without limit. Indeed, had any of our crowd been
orators, there seemed to be all the materials necessary for a very
decent riot. But, peaceably enough, we reached the shipping-office,
where we asked humbly if we might see his high-mightiness the
shipping-master. After keeping us waiting for nearly an hour, this
gentleman came out, and in bullying tones demanded our business. Our
spokesman, the bo'sun, laid our hard case before him in a most
respectful manner; but before he had finished his story the
shipping-master cut him short, roughly telling him that we had no
business to come there whining, and that he had nothing to do with us.
And with that he ordered us out of the office. Utterly amazed and
dispirited at this treatment, we retired. Upon reaching the street we
were surrounded at once by the friendly darkies, who made good their
previous promises by carrying all hands off to breakfast in their
several huts, talking and gesticulating violently all the time.
Fortunately I remembered that I had a letter of introduction to a
gentleman in the town; so, refusing all offers of hospitality, I hurried
off to present it. I was not very cordially received; but a note to the
superintendent of the Sailors' Home was at once given me, which procured
me instant admission to that institution, with a right to the best
entertainment they could give.

Meanwhile the crew had formulated a plan of campaign, romantic enough,
but promising well. It should be remembered that Port Royal, at the
entrance to Kingston Harbour is, or was, one of our most important
colonial naval stations. A huge old line-of-battle ship, called the
_Aboukir_, was then the guard-ship, and lay moored opposite the dockyard
at Port Royal, several miles from Kingston. A deputation of two, one of
which was the bo'sun, determined to board the guard-ship and lay the
case before the commodore, feeling, like all British seamen abroad,
that, although not to be lightly approached, the captain of a British
man-o'-war could always be depended upon to see justice done to any
sailor, however humble. Accordingly, they availed themselves of a
friendly fisherman's canoe, and immediately set out on their long paddle
down the bay to Port Royal. At the same time the elderly Irishman before
spoken of, volunteered to tramp out to Spanish Town, the residence of
the Governor of Jamaica--a distance of about ten miles, as nearly as I
can remember. He said he was well used to the road, having tramped
between nearly every seaport in England. And so, while the majority of
the crew lay around in the shade discussing the situation over and over
again with a deeply interested crowd of darkies, male and female, the
messenger fared forth. The Port Royal deputation reached their goal
first, and, climbing up the steep side of the great guard-ship, saluted,
and asked to see the commodore. They were promptly conducted aft before
this officer, who listened patiently to their yarn, and did not
interrupt them in its recital. When they ceased speaking, he said, "Is
that all, my men?" "Yes, yer honour." "Then go forward and get some food
at once, and, when you have done so, the second lieutenant will return
with you. You shall be cared for. Good morning." With a salute they
retreated, and, not being hungry, received a tot of grog instead. Then,
to their astonishment and delight, they saw a natty little steam-launch
alongside, into which they were invited to descend. A smart young
lieutenant in full uniform joined them, the white-clad crew jumped in,
and away they went back to Kingston. Long before they arrived at the
landing-place the anxious watchers had descried them, and, when they
touched land, there was quite an excited crowd ready to welcome them.
Straight to the shipping-office went the lieutenant, and at his brief
request the shipping-master was immediately forthcoming. Without wasting
a word the lieutenant came to the point, demanding to know whether his
commanding officer had been rightly informed by these men of the state
of their case. As the facts were undeniable there was little reply.
Sternly, scornfully, the young officer reminded the discomfited official
of his obvious duty to British seamen in distress, with an expression of
wonder at its being necessary for him to do so. "You will be good enough
to see all these men's wants immediately attended to, and a passage home
found for them at the earliest possible opportunity. The commodore
trusts he will hear no more complaints of a like nature." Then, turning
on his heel, the lieutenant bade our delighted fellows good day,
returning to his launch amid the cheers of the darkies. A clerk was at
once sent with the men to the "Home" with instructions to the
superintendent, and the trouble was over.

Not so those of the unfortunate shipping-master, who must have been
heartily sorry for his foolish behaviour. For late in the afternoon our
other messenger returned in state from Spanish Town in one of the
governor's carriages, accompanied by a secretary who bore a message from
the governor that made the shipping-master quake. He could only return
an abject apology, with an assurance that the shipwrecked crew were now
well cared-for, and that nothing on his part should be lacking for their
comfort. But, though we heard no more of the affair, I doubt very much
whether the shipping-master did. From the stir the event made in
Kingston, I am inclined to think it was a long time before he was
permitted to forget it.

For about a fortnight I had a rattling good time in Kingston. Confident
in the assurance that I should not be forgotten whenever a chance
presented itself of getting away, I cast all care to the winds, and set
about enjoying myself all I knew how. Moonlight fishing-excursions in
ramshackle canoes to sheltered coves around the great harbour, long
rambles in the wonderful brakes and jungles with darkies, that, though
men in years, were children in their fresh enjoyment of everything;
singing-parties along the beautiful beaches in the silky evenings, and
all with never a thought of to-morrow--oh, it was heavenly! I scarcely
saw anything of my shipmates. I didn't want to. My new associates,
although black, were full of kindliness, and as pleased with me as I was
with them; what wonder that I avoided, as far as I could, any
intercourse with men whose presence only reminded me of miserable days
better forgotten. Out of the many incidents that are mellowed by time
into a haze of half recollection, one grotesque affair stands out
sharply, and even now makes me quiver with laughter as its vivid details
reappear. A favourite pastime with the _élite_ of the coloured
population was to gather in large numbers, dressed in all their finery,
upon an old disused pier, whose crazy piles and beams actually swayed
with a stronger breeze than usual. Upon this ancient structure, when the
day's work was over, the young men and women would frisk or loll about,
according to their humour; but their chief amusement was the singing of
chanties, camp-meeting hymns, and, in fact, anything with a rousing
chorus in which all hands could join. On the night in question, song had
succeeded song until somebody sent an electric thrill through the whole
gathering by starting the negroes' great anthem of freedom, "Marching
through Georgia." You could hear the pulses of that great crowd beat
while they waited breathlessly for the last word of the sonorous verse;
and then, in one tremendous burst of melody, every one lifted up heart
and voice, while from far-away fishermen on the bay and labourers on the
hills the inspiring chorus rolled on. As verse succeeded verse the
enthusiasm rose to fever-heat; every one sprang to their feet, waving
their arms and stamping in unison until the crazy structure upon which
they stood trembled to its ancient foundations. It was a wonderful
sight, having its ludicrous side, doubtless; but the high seriousness,
and irrepressible energy of the actors, prevented all desire to laugh.
Suddenly, in the height of the chorus, there was a rending crash, and
the entire fabric collapsed in one chaotic heap of disjointed timbers
and shrieking humanity into the placid waters beneath. No one was hurt,
for the tide was high, and every darky swam like a fish; but the scene
of mad merriment on the beach, as one draggled figure after another
emerged from the wreckage, was indescribable. Not until long after
midnight did the peals of laughter entirely cease, for they rose again
and again in all quarters of the town, as the participants rehearsed the
scene to those who had not been fortunate enough to witness it.

I had begun to feel as if I had always lived there, and the thought of
leaving had quite disappeared from my mind, when one day I received a
note from the gentleman to whom I had brought the letter of
introduction, telling me to go on board a large steamer, which had
arrived at Kingston that morning, as he had seen the captain, and made
arrangements for me to be allowed to work my passage home.



CHAPTER XI.

AN EVENTFUL PASSAGE HOME.


Now that the time of my departure drew near, the same old feeling of
reluctance to leave a place to which I had become accustomed came upon
me with its usual force. Possibly because I was never very long in one
place, I have always, except in one instance, felt loth to begin
wandering again; and, even now, my mind often turns regretfully to the
many ports I have visited, and quite a painful longing seizes me to see
them all again. Therefore I am afraid I did not feel nearly as grateful
to my friend as I ought to have done; but, fully realizing how dangerous
it was for me not to take advantage of this offer, I made myself as
presentable as I could and hurried on board. The captain, a big, burly
gentleman in a smart uniform, received me with a sharp glance, and
dismissed me at once with a curt "All right; go and tell the chief
steward I've sent you to him." I thanked him, and left the presence,
very much in awe of the gorgeous surroundings and great size of
everything, so different to all my previous experience of shipboard. She
was a fairly large steamship for those days, I suppose of nearly three
thousand tons; but to me she was vast beyond conception. When I entered
the saloon, I felt utterly crushed beneath the splendour of the
place--oh, how small and shabby it would look now, beside the floating
palaces of to-day!--and I hardly dared to tread upon the thick carpet
which was laid, the vessel being in harbour. When I found the chief
steward, he cross-examined me pretty sharply as to my qualifications,
etc.; but, being short-handed, he was glad of even such help as I could
give, and promptly set me to work. Now, for the first time, I became
acquainted with the toilsome routine of housemaid's duties which have to
be performed by the steward's staff of a passenger steamer: endless
dish-washing, knife and silver-cleaning, floor-scrubbing, and
metal-polishing. And all the work had to be done by a staff of four,
exclusive of my insignificant self; so that the chief steward had no
time to play the gentleman at large that he so often appears where the
manning is on a more liberal scale. Indeed, but for the second
steward--a dapper Chinese, rejoicing in the most unappropriate name of
"Hadji"--I don't think we could ever have kept things straight. But
Hadji was a host in himself. Never in a hurry, always looking
well-groomed and smart, the amount of work that this wonderful little
man got through in a day was marvellous. Not more so, however, than his
history, of which one episode will suffice as a sample. While working on
board a large steamer of this same employ lying in Colon, there was a
terrific explosion on board--whether of gunpowder or nitro-glycerine I
have forgotten. Men, decks, fittings, were hurled skyward amidst a vast
cloud of smoke, and the fragments fell in an immense area, extending for
hundreds of yards around the unfortunate ship. When the first alarm had
subsided, the stewards of an adjacent vessel returned to their tasks
below, and found Hadji on the saloon table, having crashed through the
skylight in his descent, but unhurt, and apparently unaffrighted. It was
not easy to imagine what would disturb his smiling _sang-froid_. If in a
gale of wind a heavy sea found its way below, causing the utmost hubbub
and terror among the passengers, whether by night or day, Hadji would
appear in the thick of the _mêlée_, calmly setting everything and
everybody to rights, his pleasant smile most reassuring to behold.

But, in my admiration for this invaluable Celestial, I am forgetting
current events. The day we were to sail, I was much astonished to see
all my old shipmates march on board, having been sent by the
shipping-master for a passage to England in his anxiety to avoid another
interview with the offended powers. They were passengers in the sense
that no work was expected of them; but they lived and messed with the
crew. However, as we were at different ends of the ship, we did not come
in contact at all, for which I was grateful. Yet, strangely enough, I
got into my first and only scrape on board through them. The waste of
food from the saloon table was very great; but my instructions were to
throw all broken meats into a "dog-basket" at washing-up time, with all
sorts of dirty odds and ends, which basket was presently emptied over
the side. I managed to obtain a clean basket, into which I turned all
such broken victuals as I considered worth saving, and, watching my
opportunity, I carried this provender forward to my shipmates, who I
knew were getting only the usual miserable fare. In this benevolent work
I was discovered by the chief steward, who "clouted my ear," as he
termed it, and threatened me with all sorts of pains and penalties if I
dared to so offend again. So from thenceforth all the good food not
wanted aft went overboard as before.

We were bound to Liverpool _via_ Port-au-Prince, in the island of Hayti,
and, from a few words let fall by the passengers, I gathered that it was
just possible we might see some "fun," as they termed it. I did not then
know that Hayti was in the throes of a successful revolution against the
sovereignty of Spain and France, which eventually resulted in the
establishment of two republics in the island; one-half calling itself
the republic of Hayti, the other that of St. Domingo. At that time the
long struggle must have been drawing near its close, for on land the
triumphant negroes had things all their own way, while at sea the fleets
of France and Spain played at what they were pleased to call a blockade.
Whether any vessels trading with Hayti paid any attention to the alleged
blockade, I do not know; certainly we did not. Nothing at all in our
proceedings would have suggested to any one that we were making for a
blockaded port. Even when, as we steamed briskly up the long V-shaped
gulf, at the apex of which Port-au-Prince lies, we sighted two
grimlooking war-ships lying at anchor on either side of the fairway
with steam up, no more notice was taken of them than the usual curiosity
evinced by passengers at a strange sail. As we passed between them we
could see that one was French, the other Spanish, by their ensigns
flying. We rendered the usual sea-courtesy of dipping our flag, but of
that no notice at all was taken by them. Doubtless, as usual, they felt
none too amicably disposed towards the all-pervading _Anglais_. Right
onward we steamed into the harbour, and alongside the Company's hulk,
where such scant cargo as could be collected awaited us. The only other
vessel lying there was a long, low steamer of perhaps 700 or 800 tons,
whose raking, schooner-spars and funnel, and the light grey-blue that
everything was painted, to say nothing of the miniature stars and
stripes that floated from her flag-staff, spelt "Yankee filibuster" as
plainly as if she had been lettered with those words in characters two
feet wide. There was no sign of life on board of her, except a mere
suggestion of bluish smoke, that curled slowly from her funnel, telling
of banked fires below. For some time she was an object of the greatest
interest to all on board, until other matters occupied all our
attention.

The town was in a pitiable condition. What with the long rebellion and
civil broils, in addition to the careless, happy-go-lucky fashion in
which the farce of government was carried on, whole streets were in
ruins; business was at a standstill, and even the few merchants who
still clung to the remnants of their trade were in despair. It was no
place for white men, anyhow. The negro was master of the situation. He
had fought long and savagely for his independence, and now that he had
got it he was drunken with it as with brandy. That careless white man
who omitted, from any cause, to salute in the humblest manner any
functionary of the Government of the hour, however ludicrous in
appearance, speedily found himself in serious trouble, out of which he
did not easily extricate himself. And since new officials were
constantly emerging from the rag-tag and bob-tail, the only wise course
was to salute _every_ black man, no matter how menial his capacity might
be. One never knew whether the road-mender of to-day might not be a
general of division to-morrow, having power of life and death even while
wanting a decent pair of trousers.

A party of our fellows were allowed to go ashore, by a serious error of
judgment, and, as they strolled carelessly along one of the principal
thoroughfares, they met a company of soldiers so scarecrow-like that
they simply stood and roared with laughter. This had been crime enough,
but the sailor-men must needs aggravate their offence. The officer in
command, swelling with rage, demanded their salute. Instead of complying
they indulged in some ribaldry, in which his get-up, as well as that of
his ragged regiment, was held up to ridicule in effective fashion. This
behaviour could not be tolerated. They were surrounded, overpowered, and
dragged off to the "calabozo." Then, when they saw what their folly had
led them into, they repented sorely. It had been worth any amount of
"ko-tow" to have escaped from such a fate as now befell them. The
lock-up was apparently an ancient cow-byre, standing like an island in a
lake of sewage, which, under that blazing sun, sent up a steam of
putridity into the heavy air. Through this foul morass they were dragged
with every indignity their exulting captors could devise, and there,
more dead than alive, they were left for twenty-four hours, when the
captain managed to overcome the stubborn attitude of the sable
authorities, and induce them to accept a substantial fine. When they
were released and brought on board they looked like resuscitated
corpses, and every article of clothing they wore had to be flung
overboard. The doctor examined them with gathering anxiety upon his
face, but his only comment was "The sooner we're out of this hell-hole
the better."

Fortunately we were to sail in the morning, for every one was feverishly
anxious to be gone. That evening a passenger embarked, who came
alongside in a canoe paddled by two negroes, bringing with him several
weighty chests. He was a well-dressed black man, with an air of nervous
anxiety; and he hovered around, while his baggage was being hoisted on
board, as if he dared not trust it out of his sight. When it was all
safely embarked and carried below, to a muttered accompaniment of growls
at its weight, the canoe and its sable crew disappeared into the
darkness, while the passenger also hid himself, and rarely appeared
thenceforward.

At daybreak all hands were astir, the firemen working like sooty gnomes
down in their gloomy pit to get steam up, while dense volumes of smoke
poured from our funnels, gladdening the eyes of all hands. Amidst the
universal activity we yet found time to notice that the thin coronal of
vapour hovering above the smoke-stack of the filibuster was also getting
more palpable, and the knowing ones winked at each other meaningly. At
last a hissing from our steam-pipe betokened full pressure in the
boilers, the "old man" mounted the bridge, and all hands took their
stations. "Cast off fore and aft!" shouted the skipper. Willing hands
released the heavy hawsers from the bitts, and, with a rattle of
steam-winches and cheerful yells from the crew, we moved slowly away
from the hulk, the ensign and "house-flag" being run up at the same
time. Then, to our breathless amazement, the filibuster, apparently of
her own accord, stole from her position and came gently alongside, a
tall, romantic-looking figure mounting her bridge as she did so. So
close did she come that the figure on the bridge was able to step nimbly
on board of us. He was a spare, elegantly-built man, dressed in a
well-fitting suit of grey silk, with an immense white Panama sombrero on
his head. He was strikingly handsome, having a dark, oval face, with a
heavy black moustache and Velasquez beard, while his black, brilliant
eyes, wide set, seemed to take in everything at a glance. Shaking hands
cordially with our captain, he said a few words inaudible on deck; then
the pair descended from the bridge, and, joined by the mate, entered the
chart-room. They remained there for a couple of minutes with the door
closed, and then, coming out again, the Yankee leapt on board his own
vessel, while our two officers took their stations--the captain on the
bridge and the mate forward. Our engine-room bell clanged the order,
"Full speed ahead," and, as the engines responded, our good ship
vibrated from stem to stern under their impulse. Without any apparent
effort the Yankee kept her place by our side, not a soul visible on
board, except the tall figure lolling calmly on the bridge, meditatively
puffing at a big cigar.

The decks being cleared, there was, for a brief space, nothing to do; so
all hands, including passengers, crowded the rails, watching with
breathless interest the two war-ships which lay in grim silence where
they were when we entered the harbour. Not a word was spoken, and the
clanging chorus of the massive machinery below seemed many times louder
than we had ever heard it before. The scene was sufficiently impressive
to fix itself permanently in the memory of every one on board. There was
not a breath of wind, the water of the widening gulf lying like another
sky before us, tinted in innumerable shades by the floating clouds and
the richly-coloured hills on either hand. Every thrust of the pistons
drove us nearer those two surly sentinels laden with potential
destruction, which we all well knew might, at any moment, be let loose
upon us. But there was much comfort in an occasional glance at the
splendid old red ensign flying gallantly overhead, for everybody on
board felt how much might and majesty it represented. Nearer and nearer
we drew to the point midway between the war-ships, that now began to
show a thickening cloud of smoke at their funnels, and a white feather
of escaping steam. At last we were fairly between them. Suddenly the
silent Yankee alongside straightened himself, made us a sweeping bow,
and said, "A thousand thanks, captain. Farewell, ladies and gentlemen,
and a pleasant passage. G'lang ahead!" At his word a gong boomed below,
and the lithe vessel sprang forward like an unleashed greyhound, the
pitchy fumes from her funnel filling the clean air with the stench of
burning petroleum. Boom! boom! went two big guns from the men-of-war as
they both started in chase, while from the filibuster's masthead the
flag dipped as if in ironical courtesy. Many shots were fired after the
daring craft; but although the fountains cast up by the massive shot
apparently played all around her, none actually reached her. And as she
certainly steamed nearly two knots to their one, she was soon hopelessly
out of range. Recognising this, they gave up the chase. I suppose,
according to the rules of romance, they should now have intercepted us;
but this is fact, not fiction, and so it must be admitted that they paid
not the slightest attention to us, but returned to their old position.
Despite our good rate of speed, in less than four hours there was
nothing visible of our _protégé_ but a long grimy streak in the bright
blue sky.

Under ordinary circumstances such an adventure would have afforded an
inexhaustible topic of conversation during the remainder of the
passage, but unhappily, a much more serious matter soon claimed
everybody's attention. Those truly awful words, "Yellow fever," began to
circulate in terrified whispers, while the merry, genial doctor's face
looked terribly solemn. There was little suspense. The very next day the
first victim died--one of the men who had spent the night in that
unspeakably filthy calabozo at Port-au-Prince. Ordinary prudence forbade
any delay in disposing of the poor remains. In less than an hour after
death came the solemn little meeting, the bare-headed group at the
gangway, the long white bundle on a hatch at an open port, the halting,
diffident reading of the old sublime Service, and then the hoarse
s-s-s-s-h, and the sullen plunge into unknown depths.

[Illustration: Everybody on deck was terrified at the apparition of a
mother-naked giant, armed with the cook's axe.]

The destroyer made such strides that a large tent had to be rigged over
the main hatch as an open-air hospital, and there the brave, unwearying
doctor laboured day and night at his hopeless task. There was no
discrimination, except as far as the passengers were concerned--perhaps
because they were better seasoned to the climate. At any rate none of
them were attacked; but of the ship's company, officers, engineers,
firemen, sailors, and stewards all gave tithe to death. The disease was
terribly swift in its operation. One Friday morning our bo'sun's mate, a
huge, hirsute Irishman, suddenly complained of his head. This was at
eight a.m. At ten a.m. he was in the hospital grinding his teeth in
delirium. A few minutes after everybody on deck was terrified at the
apparition of a mother-naked giant, armed with the cook's axe, which he
had snatched from beside the galley door, rushing madly about the
decks. Not many seconds elapsed before he was alone, striking furiously
at everything in his way, while the foam flew from his gaping mouth.
Having made the round of the deck aft, he came to the weather side of
the wheel-house, within which the quarter-master was calmly steering
quite unconscious of what was happening. Suddenly the maniac caught
sight of him through the side window, and immediately rained a torrent
of tremendous blows upon the stout teak door. Poor Teddy fled out of the
lee door, and up into the main rigging just as Carney burst in. Then all
was quiet. After a while some one was courageous enough to creep along
and peer in. There was Carney, lying at full length on the grating,
having fallen upon the upturned edge of the axe, which had sunk deep
enough into his chest to have let out a dozen lives. The place was like
a slaughter-house. That afternoon one reading of the Service sufficed
for three burials, two more men having died while the maniac had
possession of the deck.

Naturally there was little levity on board. Cooped up with such an awful
scourge none felt inclined for merriment. But the ordinary routine of
work went on without a hitch. My shipmates were set to work on full
wages to supply the places of the dead, and, although they did not
relish doing firemen's duty, they were not sorry to have the prospect of
a little money when they reached home, supposing they were still alive.
My turn came. One morning at five o'clock, when, as usual, I was called
to begin my day's work, I lifted my head to rise, but it fell again
like a piece of lead. A feeling of utter helplessness had seized my
whole body, although I could not say I felt ill. But not even the awe in
which I stood of the chief steward could overcome my want of strength,
and I humbly said, "I'm not able to get up, sir." Instantly alarmed, the
steward fetched the doctor, who, after feeling my pulse, etc., pulled me
out of the bunk, and set me on my trembling legs, telling the steward to
put me to some work that did not require any running about, but on no
account to allow me to sit down. His orders were strictly obeyed, but
how I got through that dreadful day I cannot tell. I felt as if I would
gladly have given the whole world to be allowed to lay down for a little
while, and several times my legs doubled up under me, letting me sink in
a heap on the pantry deck, but there was no respite allowed me. This
stern treatment was completely successful, for by supper-time I felt
quite strong again, and I was troubled no more by any recurrence of
those alarming symptoms. What was the matter with me, I never knew; but
undoubtedly I owed my life to the doctor's wisdom, much as I hated his
treatment at the time. Day after day dragged on, each bringing with it a
death for some one of our diminishing number, while the doctor, worn
almost to a shadow, still battled with the enemy with unabated vigour.
His chief task was with those who had won through the crisis, to nurse
them back to strength again. Beef-tea with brandy was his sheet anchor,
and this potent reviver he was continually administering in tiny doses,
while commenting cheerily on its marvellous virtues, to his wasted
patients. Then, as if to fill up our cup of misfortunes, the engines
suddenly stopped. The boilers were old--in fact, too old for safe
use--and one of them had sprung a dangerous leak. The engineers attacked
the trouble with that stolid heroism for which their class is famous,
although, from its prosaic nature, little is thought or said about it by
a world that loves its heroes to glitter with pomp and circumstance, and
to do their great deeds upon some conspicuous stage. Down beneath the
boilers, where the narrow limits compelled them to lie at full length,
half roasted by the fierce heat, and scalded from head to heel by the
spurtings of boiling water, they laboured with hardly a pause for a day
and a night. They succeeded in the almost incredible task of patching up
the leaky source of our speed, doing moreover their work so well that,
although our rate of going was greatly reduced, the repairs held good
until we reached port.

The joyful day arrived at last when the faithful doctor was able to
announce that the yellow fever had left us, and that, unless some of the
convalescents died of weakness, there would be no more deaths from that
scourge. It was high time. In the short period of twenty days we had
buried thirty men, every one of whose deaths was distinctly traceable to
that foul den in Port-au-Prince. Happily the weather held fine, and the
wind held to the south-west, so that we were able to help her along with
the sails, until one morning a thrill of delight ran through the ship at
the sight of green water alongside, sure sign of our nearness to the
Channel. Presently that solitary sentinel, the Fastnet, hove in sight,
and soon behind it we saw the green hills of Ireland. All our miseries
were now forgotten, and there was a general air of joyful expectation
mixed with deep thankfulness that we had been spared. That afternoon our
negro passenger, whom we had hardly seen during the passage, made his
appearance on deck. He was evidently seeking the captain, for, as soon
as he caught sight of him, he hastened towards him and the two went
straight into the captain's state-room. From thence there soon issued
strange noises as of a foreigner under strong excitement, while now and
then the deep tones of the skipper chimed in as if he were speaking
soothingly. Suddenly the door was flung open and the captain called for
the mate. That officer responded promptly, but did not succeed in
hushing the din. On the contrary, the shrill voice of the black man rose
higher than ever, until he was fairly yelling with fury. The mate blew
his whistle, and, when the bo'sun appeared in answer to it, he received
an order to bring the carpenter with a pair of irons and three or four
men. The reinforcements manhandled the excited negro, hauling him with
scant ceremony on deck, and bundling him forward into an empty cabin,
wherein they locked him and left him to his own reflections. This
mysterious affair caused much excitement among both passengers and crew,
but it was not until after the vessel had been in dock some days that
any explanation was forthcoming. It appeared that, according to _his_
story, the negro had been First Lord of the Treasury, or whatever
grandiloquent title they had bestowed upon their keeper of the funds,
and, seizing a favourable opportunity, he had levanted with quite a
large sum (he said $100,000). Getting safely on board he had committed
his loot to the care of the captain and mate, who, however, most
unaccountably forgot all about it when he claimed it coming up Channel.
Finding that he could by no means recall it to their memories, he went
temporarily mad--insane enough, at any rate, to institute proceedings
against them for its recovery. His story, which I have given above (with
the exception of the way in which he obtained his wealth), was simply
laughed at, and he was fain to revert to his original profession of
scullion or some such occupation.

The passage up Channel was uneventful. The hateful yellow flag
(quarantine) was hoisted as we entered the Mersey; but, as soon as the
Health Officer boarded us, we learned that there would be no delay in
docking, yellow fever being innocuous in our favoured land. So the dock
gates swung wide and we passed in to our berth, the vessel being in two
hours deserted by everybody except the night watchman and me.



CHAPTER XII.

ADRIFT IN LIVERPOOL ONCE MORE.


That night I slept soundly, heedless of to-morrow; but when the day
dawned the problem of what I was to do confronted me, and a very awkward
question it was. For I was still so puny in size and so delicate-looking
that I knew it would be no easy matter to persuade any one to employ me.
Besides, I was penniless. I had little clothes but what I was wearing,
and I felt sure no boarding-master would take me in on the chance of my
paying him out of my advance-note here. My only hope was that I might be
allowed to work by the ship, at a small weekly wage, until I had earned
enough to pay for a week's board, either in the Sailors' Home or some
boarding-house where they would try and get me a ship. That hope was
soon dashed when the chief steward appeared. With unnecessary gruffness,
as I thought, he told me that I was not wanted, and the sooner I got
ashore "out of it" the better. Hadji was kinder. He gave me a cheerful
smile, a hearty shake of the hand, and half a crown, besides wishing me
luck. In a few minutes I stood outside the dock gates with all the town
before me, but not a friend or even an acquaintance, as far as I knew,
within its limits. Conscious that I had no time to lose, I wandered
about the docks until I was weary, speaking to every likely looking
officer on board the various ships I visited, and getting nothing but
plenty of good-natured chaff as well as outspoken comments upon my
childish appearance. Yes, I got one good meal; so that when night fell,
and I sought a great heap of hay in the Cobourg Dock that I had noted as
a promising place to spend the night, my precious piece of silver was
still unbroken. I slept soundly, though none too warm, my long stay in
the tropics having thinned my blood. At daylight I crept stealthily from
my nest and recommenced my tramp, but it was fruitless. Then I
remembered the wood-carver, and thought I would look him up again. But
there was another name over the shop, and I saw that another business
was being carried on there. I did not like to go into my old
boarding-house next door, feeling sure that I should be unwelcome with
only two shillings and sixpence in my pocket and no prospects. I went to
the Sailors' Home and told my story, but they refused to take me in--as
indeed I had fully expected they would.

For the next week I roamed about those wretched docks, getting more and
more discouraged every day, until, at last, I was afraid to ask for a
berth in case I got a cuff as well as a refusal. Finally, when I had
been reduced to picking scraps out of the gutter, I resolved to go to
the workhouse. How such an idea entered my head I can't imagine, but it
did, and seemed feasible too. So off I started up Brownlow Hill, but the
strains of a German band arrested my none too eager progress, and, all
hungry as I was, I stayed to listen. Perhaps the music cheered me up; at
any rate, while listening, I determined to go to my old
boarding-mistress and offer my services to her in return for a shelter
and such scraps as she could spare. She received me ungraciously enough;
but I pleaded hard, having learned well the hard lesson of not to take
"no" for an answer without a struggle, and eventually she agreed. The
place was a poor kind of cookshop, the staples of which were penny bowls
of broth and tea for the poverty-stricken dock labourers, with twopenny
plates of potato-pie for the better-off. I honestly earned my keep, and
more; but business getting slack, she told me plainly that she could not
afford to keep me much longer, and she would allow me a couple of hours
a day for a week to look for a ship, at the end of which time I must
shift for myself again. I was not altogether sorry at this chance,
slender though it was. Every day I hunted diligently about during the
time allotted me, and, after four days, I succeeded in getting a job as
cabin-boy on board a German barque, the _Greif_ of Rostock. The captain
had his wife and little daughter on board, neither of whom spoke a word
of English; but the captain said he had just discharged an English boy,
who had pleased them very well, and whose name of "Dan" I was in future
to answer to. I took up my new duties with zest, doing my best, not only
to give satisfaction in my work, but to master the (to me) awful
difficulties of the German language. For a time I succeeded admirably,
except that the ladies called me "schoufskopf" (sheep's-head) far more
frequently than Dan, being irritated, I suppose, by what they considered
my stupidity in not being able to understand them. The only person on
board who seemed inclined to be hard upon me was the mate, a huge North
German, who never missed an opportunity of giving me a blow, apparently
by way of keeping his hand in. Therefore, I exercised all the ingenuity
I possessed in keeping out of his way--no easy task--for, as soon as my
work in the cabin was finished, I was always called on deck to lend such
a hand as I was able. And I could not help noticing that, in spite of
the difficulty I had always found in getting a berth, whenever I did
succeed in finding one there was never any trouble in keeping me fully
employed. So matters progressed in fairly even fashion for three weeks,
while the _Greif_, which lay in the Huskisson Dock, was taking in a
general cargo for Demerara. I made fair progress with the language, and
was certainly something of a favourite with the bo'sun, the cook, and
the sailors. I began to hope that I should succeed at last in making
myself comfortable, as well as necessary, in some way, to the comfort of
others; and only my dread of the mate gave me any uneasiness. But one
morning the cook took advantage of some brief leisure I had to get me to
chop some firewood for him. Gaily I started to obey him, using one large
piece for a block, and was halfway through my task, when the axe struck
a knot, glanced off, and entered the deck, making an ugly mark. The next
moment I received a blow under the ear from behind which stretched me
bleeding and senseless on the deck. When I came to I felt very sick; but
there was such an uproar around me that I speedily forgot my own trouble
in my anxiety to know what was the matter. The mate stood, white as
chalk, the centre of an angry little crowd of the men, one of whom, a
tall, fair Swede, was fairly raving with excitement, and seemed by his
threatening motions to be hard put to it to keep his hands to himself.
Gradually it dawned upon me that all this row was about me. The mate had
struck me brutally and unjustly for what was a pure accident, and his
cruelty had actually caused the whole crew to resent his action. This
was really one of the strangest experiences I ever had. I have been
beaten innumerable times in all sorts of vessels, but only once was a
voice ever raised on my behalf besides this occasion, and that was by
Joe, the Yorkshireman, against my uncle in my first ship. That a mixed
crew of Germans and Scandinavians, on board a German vessel, should
raise a protest against the ill-treatment of an English boy, was an
unheard-of thing, especially when it is remembered that in those days
brutality to boys at sea, except in American ships, was the almost
invariable rule.

I was more frightened at the consequences of the mate's action than
anything else, especially as it looked as if there would be a regular
riot directly. Before, however, any blows were exchanged, the captain
arrived. His presence acted like magic. He made no noise, but just
pushed his way into the centre of the disturbance, speaking quietly to
the men, who at once dispersed to their several duties. Then he turned
to me, and said, in the same passionless voice, "Ashore mit you. If I
findt you hier in den minutes more, I schlings you oferbordt." I did not
linger. In less than five minutes I was out of the ship, and again in
the unenviable position of being masterless. There was a change in my
hitherto persistent bad luck, however. Strolling dejectedly round the
dock, I came to the very biggest sailing-ship I had ever yet seen. When
I had done admiring her enormous proportions, my attention was caught by
a new spar, which lay upon the quay nearly ready for going aloft. I
walked round it wondering, with all my might, whatever kind of mast it
could be. At last I stopped, and, according to a lifelong habit of mine,
began thinking aloud. "T'aint a schooner's topmast, 'cause there's three
sheave-holes in it; nor yet a barque's mizzen-topmast, for the same
reason. N'ther ain't a ship afloat as 'ud carry sech a stick fur a
to'-gallanm'st, nor yet fur a jibboom. _I_ never see sech a spar 'n _my_
life." "You give it up, then, I suppose?" said a grave voice behind me.
Turning sharp round I confronted a tall, distinguished-looking
gentleman, who was regarding me with an amused smile. "Yes, sir," I
said, "I thought I knew all about ships' masts; but I can't think what
this one can be for." "Well," he replied, "I'll enlighten you. It's my
ship's foreto'-gallanmast, and that third sheavehole that puzzled you so
much is for the skys'le-halliards. Now do you see?" I thanked him and
said I did; but I was none the less surprised that any ship could carry
such a mighty spar so high up. And then, by a happy inspiration, I told
him my story, right down to the last episode. He heard me in silence,
and, as soon as I had finished, turned and went on board, telling me to
follow him. Gladly enough I obeyed, until we reached the quarter-deck,
where we found the shipkeeper. Telling him to find me something to do,
the captain then turned to me, saying, "I shan't be able to take you to
sea with me, for all our gear is so heavy that we never carry any boys;
but while the ship is in Liverpool you may stay on board doing what you
can, and I will pay you twelve shillings a week, out of which you must
keep yourself. Now, be a good boy, and I'll see what I can do for you
when we sail." I was hard put to it to express my gratitude; but he cut
me short by walking away, and leaving me to realize my extraordinary
good fortune. As soon as he was gone, I hunted up the shipkeeper, who
had taken himself off somewhere, and asked him for a job. He was an
easy-going individual, not over fond of work himself, or given to
expecting much from any one else. So he said, "Oh, I can't be bothered
just now. You scull round a bit 'n have a look at the ship, 'n I'll fine
yer sutthin to do bimeby." That was good enough for me. For the next two
or three hours I exhausted all my powers of admiration over this
magnificent vessel. She was called the _Jorawur_ of London, and built
frigate-fashion, with imitation quarter galleries, which added to her
already great appearance of size. She belonged to a school that has now
departed, whereof the _Superb_, _Calcutta_, _Lady Jocelyn_, and
_Hydaspes_ (the last two converted steamships), were conspicuous
examples. She carried thirty-two A.B.'s and six petty officers, so that
she was well manned, even taking her great size and enormous spars into
account. But alas! years after, I saw her bought by a firm of Jewish
ship-knackers, who razeéd her taunt spars, sold the yards off her
mizzenmast, turning her into a barque, and finally sent her to sea with
_seven_ A.B.'s forrard. No one was surprised when she took entire charge
of the poor handful of men before she got clear of the Channel. God help
them! they could hardly get her yards round, much less shorten sail. She
was eventually picked up, almost derelict, and towed into Falmouth,
where the ill-used crew promptly refused to do any more in her, and
were, of course, clapped in gaol therefor, with that steady application
of the rights of owners so characteristic of our seaport magistrates.
But this is digression.

"Knock-off" time came, and with it the exodus of all the motley crowd of
riggers, painters, and stevedores who had been busy about the ship all
day. Seeing them depart homewards I remembered, with some misgivings,
that I too could only be considered a day-worker, and might also be
required to clear out, but whither? So I sought the shipkeeper, and
timidly approached the question whether I might be allowed to stay on
board. I found him very glad to have some one who would relieve him of
the necessity of keeping so close to the ship as he had been doing. He
at once gave me the free run of the cabin, and hastened to "clean
himself" preparatory to a cruise down town. I busied myself in hunting
up such odds and ends as lay about the staterooms available for bedding,
and before long had rigged myself quite a cosy nook, near the glowing
stove, which, as the weather was cold, was very comforting. My friend
having departed, I was left quite alone on board the huge vessel; but
this, so far from giving me any uneasiness, was just in my line--I was
more than contented. I found the keys of the pantry and store-room,
where my eager search soon discovered plenty of cuddy bread (biscuits),
half a chest of tea, sugar, oatmeal, sago, and arrowroot. There was
nothing else eatable or drinkable. This find, however, gave me great
delight. I felt no apprehensions now that I should have to spend much in
food--a fear which had somewhat daunted me before, seeing how badly I
wanted to save all my wages to get myself a few clothes and pay for a
week's board in the Sailors' Home when the _Jorawur_ sailed. Another
expedition to the galley provided me with a saucepan, with which I at
once proceeded to make myself a mighty bowl of arrowroot, thinking, in
my ignorance, that not only was it very nice to eat, but that it must be
most strengthening as well. How could I know that it was only starch? A
couple of biscuits and the half-gallon of arrowroot (plenty of sugar in
it) made me feel at peace with all the world, if even I was in rather an
inflated condition. Fed and warmed, with a good roof over my head, and a
fairly comfortable bed (if it _was_ composed of rags), I only wanted
one thing more to be perfectly happy. And even that was forthcoming--a
book. "Bleak House" lay in one of the pantry drawers waiting for me, I
felt. Putting the lamp handy and replenishing the fire, I settled down
luxuriously into my nest, all my troubles forgotten in present bliss.

When the shipkeeper came on board I don't know, for when I awoke it was
morning--five o'clock. I jumped up, hustled my bed out of sight, and lit
the fire. While it was burning up I went on deck for a wash, returning
sharp-set to a good breakfast of tea and biscuit, after which I felt
ready for anything that might come along. By the look of the shipkeeper
when at last he appeared, his last night's excursion had been anywhere
but in the paths of virtue. But his amiability was unimpaired, and it
was in quite a deprecatory tone that he requested me to "pop across the
road" and get him a drop of rum, as he didn't feel very well. Whether it
was my alacrity in obeying his request, or the speed with which I
afterwards got him a cup of tea, I don't know, but thenceforth our
relations were of the pleasantest kind. I wished, though, that he hadn't
found me quite such a miserably cold job; for that forenoon he set me to
clean out the row of 400-gallon tanks in which the sea-stock of fresh
water was carried, my slender body being easily able to slip in through
the "man-hole"--a feat that was really impossible to him. Now, some of
these tanks had over eighteen inches of water in them: all had enough to
come well above my ankles. As it was late autumn I got chilled to the
marrow, for, as I must needs bale all the water into buckets and pass it
up to him through the man-hole, I soon got wet through. Then I had to
scrub and sluice vigorously to get the thick coating of rust off, in
which process I became very much like a piece of rusty old iron myself.
As each tank was thoroughly cleansed, a pail of limewash was handed in
to me with a big brush, and I gave top, bottom, and sides a liberal
coating of it. In consequence of this occupation my appearance was
filthy beyond words; but I did not mind that, until, one day, having
come on deck for something, I met the captain. Looking at me with an
expression of the liveliest disgust, he said, "Dirty little beast!" This
cut me to the quick, as being both unkind as well as utterly undeserved.
However, I made no defence. One of the earliest lessons inculcated on
board ship is "no back answers," and the boy of gumption loses no time
in understanding that the less he says, by way of excuse, the better for
his welfare. Much injustice is thus suffered, of course, but there is
apparently no help for it. From that day forward I carefully avoided the
captain, lest he should discharge me--a fate which I dreaded.

The peculiar diet beginning to pall, even upon my palate, I hit upon a
plan which, however indefensible morally, gave me then no qualms, while
the results were extremely gratifying. The gang of painters who were
re-decorating the cabin brought their meals with them, and I supplied
them with tea out of the half-chest in the storeroom, receiving in
return a portion of their food. By this means I still kept my wages
intact. The only money I spent while on board was on one unlucky
Saturday. Fired by the description of a savoury dumpling, filled with
bacon and kidney, which I read in the late steward's cookery book, I
slipped ashore and bought the necessary ingredients. On Sunday morning I
tried my hand, and, having succeeded in making the dumpling, dropped it
clothless into a saucepan of boiling water, made up a roaring fire
under, and hungrily awaited the result. Rigidly repressing an eager
desire to peep into the pot, I watched the clock until the specified
time had elapsed. Then, my fingers trembling with excitement, I lifted
the lid and peered through the dense steam. A greyish soup with a
villainous burnt smell greeted my sight; my dumpling had melted. Crying
with vexation and disappointment, I turned the mess out into a dish, but
I couldn't eat it. It was too bad even for me. So I fell back upon sago,
and made no more experiments in cookery.

The inevitable day drew near when the ship was to sail. Her cargo of
salt (for Calcutta) was nearly all in, the riggers had bent the sails,
and a smart steward took charge of the cabin, ejecting me summarily. I
took refuge in the forecastle that night, and the next morning, having
made myself as presentable as I could (I _was_ a queer-looking little
scarecrow), I waylaid the captain and besought him to ship me for the
voyage. Giving me a half-laughing, half-pitying look, he said, "No, my
boy, there is no duty here light enough for you; I cannot take you to
sea with me. But I will take you up to the Home, and tell them to get
you a ship. You shan't have to prowl the docks again if I can help it."
I thanked him, but ventured to say that I should have liked much better
to sail in such a splendid ship as the _Jorawur_. He seemed pleased, but
shook his head decidedly, and in a few minutes we were ashore, making
for the Sailors' Home. Arriving at the great building, the captain
immediately made for the office, and sought an interview with the
superintendent. As soon as that gentleman appeared I was brought
forward, and introduced to him, with a brief summary of my adventures
and present position. My good friend the captain concluded his remarks
by paying down a fortnight's board for me, at the same time expressing a
hope that they would find me a berth as speedily as possible in some
outward-bound ship, so that I should for some time at least be beyond
the reach of homeless destitution. The superintendent readily promised
his aid, and, bidding me good-bye, the kindly captain returned to his
duties, happier, I hope, for the knowledge that he had done me a really
good turn, for which it was highly improbable I could ever repay him.

I was at once handed over to the care of one of the stewards, who led
the way up a seemingly interminable series of staircases to a cubicle on
the fourth floor. The place was built in tiers of galleries, running
right round a large central space lighted from above, and paved at the
bottom. This covered-in quadrangle was used as a promenade,
smoking-room, and lounge by the inmates, while it was, of course,
possible to take in a complete view of the whole interior from any one
of the seven galleries. Before we arrived at my berth, the steward was
in possession of most of my story, and began to regard me with more
friendly interest than I looked for, seeing that no "tip" was to be
expected from me. He seemed surprised when, in answer to his inquiry for
my "dunnage," I told him I had none but what I stood in; and at once
promised that he would see what he could do by way of beating up a few
duds for me--a promise he faithfully kept. Then he ushered me into the
snug little chamber, with its clean bed and handy lockers, and, giving
me a key of it, left me to my own devices.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE DAWN OF BETTER DAYS.


At last I felt as if I was standing on firm ground. Here, a solvent
boarder in this great institution, with thirty-six shillings in my
pocket, of which no one knew but myself, and with the superintendent
pledged to get me a ship, there did seem a prospect that the days of my
waifhood were over and done with. I looked around me at the comfort and
cleanliness of my little room, I thought of the precarious existence I
had been suffering, and I felt very thankful. Outside my door was a row
of big basins, well furnished with soap, jack towels, and abundance of
water. Off went my clothes, and I fairly revelled in a good wash. I had
barely finished when the clangour of a great gong startled me. I rushed
to the railings, and looked over to see a general move of the inmates
from all quarters towards one goal. Instinct informed me that this
strange noise was a summons for dinner; so I hastened to join the
throng, and presently found myself in an immense dining-hall filled with
long tables, at which a steady stream of men were seating themselves. At
one of these tables I took my place, in joyful anticipation of a good
dinner, when suddenly a sharp "Hi!" from the head of the board arrested
my attention. It was the steward in charge, who stood waiting to serve
out the food. He had spied a stranger. As soon as he caught my eye, he
said, "What flat are you on?" Now the barges in Liverpool are known as
"flats," and, jumping at the conclusion that I was suspected of being a
bargee-boy, I replied with much heat, "I'm not on any flat; I've just
left a two-thousand-ton ship!" Surely never did a more feeble
unintentional joke meet with a warmer reception. My neighbours roared
with delight, and, as the words were repeated from table to table, very
soon the whole vast chamber reverberated with merriment. Utterly
bewildered, I sat speechless, until it was explained to me that the
galleries in the Home were called "flats" too. They were lettered for
convenience of distinction, and the steward's query was in order to
assure himself that I occupied a room on the flat under his charge, as,
otherwise, I had no right at his table. That little matter was soon
cleared up, and feasting began. Never in my life had I sat at such a
board. Every one ate like giants, and mountains of food vanished, washed
down by huge cans of ale, served out liberally by the attendants. I am
ashamed to remember how I ate; but the blissful thought that this sort
of thing would be a regular incident of each day heightened my
enjoyment. The meal over, diners wandered forth again in very different
style to their entrance of half an hour before. Hardly knowing whither I
went, I sauntered along one of the galleries, when suddenly the words,
"To the Library," caught my eye. No longer undecided, I hurried in the
direction indicated, and found a really fine room, most comfortably
furnished, with roaring fires and an enormous number of books. There
were only three people in it; indeed, it was never well patronized. I
found a volume of Captain Cook's Travels, coiled myself up in a big
armchair, and passed at once into another world. Thenceforth, during my
stay, that peaceful chamber was my home. Except for a little exercise,
sleep, and meals, I scarcely left it, and, long ago though it is, I can
vividly remember how entirely happy I was. Occasionally I heard, through
the mighty void that separated me from the outer world, a ringing shout
of, "Where's that shipwrecked boy? Anybody seen that shipwrecked boy?"
as the huge doorkeeper, standing in the centre of the quadrangle below,
bellowed for me. The said shipwrecked urchin was far too comfortable to
desire any change in his present circumstances, and, it must be
confessed, did nothing to assist the authorities in their efforts to get
him a ship. To tell the truth, whenever I must needs go out, I used to
watch my opportunity and evade the officials downstairs. I had tasted
the sweets of life and was loth to return to the bitter.

During my seclusion in the library, however, I made the acquaintance of
several officers of ships, through whose kindness I obtained quite a
respectable lot of clothes, so that I was able to reserve my precious
little hoard to purchase sea-stock with when the inevitable day came.
But, in the meantime, I saw as little of Liverpool as I possibly could.
Apart from my love of the library and its contents, the town was
hateful to me. Its streets seemed to scowl at me, and every turning
reminded me of misery. But one day, as I was darting across the
quadrangle on my return from some errand, a long arm shot out from
behind a pillar and grabbed me. Panting with my run, I looked up and saw
the form of the doorkeeper towering over me. "Why, where ha' you been
stowed away all this time, you young rascal?" he said. "Here have I ben
shoutin' myself hoarse after you, an' never a sight of yer could I get.
Come along!" And with that he marched me off to the shipping-office in
the same building, and handed me over to one of the clerks, who
immediately brought me before a jolly-looking captain who was just
engaging his crew. What he said I don't remember; but, in a few minutes,
I had signed articles as boy at twenty-five shillings per month on board
the _Western Belle_ of Greenock, bound to Bombay, and sailing two days
after, at eight in the morning, from the Alfred Dock, Seacombe. I
received a month's advance like the rest, half of which I had to pay for
a week's board, as I had been three weeks in the Home. But with my
well-kept little hoard I had sufficient to buy my oilskins, bed,
hookpot, pannikin and plate, soap, matches, knife, etc., so that I was
better off, in those respects, than I had ever been before.

Early on the morning of the appointed day, in company with several
others of the crew who had been lodging at the Home, I was escorted
across the Mersey by the official belonging to the institution, whose
business it was to see us safe on board. Like all my companions, I had
not the slightest idea what sort of a craft I was going in, except that
she was a ship of 1225 tons register. This, however, is one of the most
common experiences of the sailor. Of late years it has become more the
practice for men to cruise round and choose a ship, handing their
discharges to the mate as a sort of guarantee that they will be shipped
when she signs articles. But, even now, thousands of men take a leap in
the dark, often finding themselves in for a most unpleasant experience,
which a little forethought on their part would have saved them. When
forethought is a characteristic of the sailor, his lot will rapidly
amend. That, however, is almost too much to hope for.

We soon arrived at our ship's side, finding her to be an old
American-built soft-wood ship, fairly comfortable looking, and with a
house on deck for the crew instead of the villainous den beneath the
top-gallant-forecastle, far in the fore-part of the ship, which is the
lair of seamen in most English ships. I was told off to the petty
officers' quarters, or "half deck," a fair-sized apartment in the after
part of the forward deck-house, with bunks for eight, and separated from
the men's berth by the galley and carpenter's shop. There was no time to
take stock. She was moving, all hands being on board, and, for a wonder,
not so drunk as usual. She was rapidly warped down to the dock gates,
where one of the powerful tugs, for which Liverpool has long been justly
famous, awaited her--the _Constitution_. The hawser was passed and
secured, the ropes which held us to the pier cast off, and away we went
down the river at a great rate--our voyage was begun. Much to the
discomfiture of our fellows a large ship, the _Stornoway_, came rushing
past us, bound into dock, having just finished the long round we were
beginning. The sight of a "homeward bounder" is always a depressing one
for Jack who is just starting again. And it is usually made harder for
him by the jocular remarks of the fortunate crew, who shout of "bright
pots and pannikins and clean donkey's breakfasts" (straw beds), usually
throwing some of their rusty tinware overboard, at the same time, to
give point to their unkind remarks.

There was little time though for thought, despondent or otherwise. We
were rapidly nearing the bar, upon which the rising wind was making a
heavy sea get up, and our jibboom had to be rigged out. What this means
is, I am afraid, impossible to make clear to a landsman. The amount of
work involved in getting the long, heavy spar into position, with all
its jungle of standing rigging, which looks to the uninstructed eye a
hopeless mass of entanglement, is enormous. When, too, it has to be done
as the ship is dragged relentlessly through a heavy head sea, as was now
the case, the difficulty and danger is certainly doubled. Yet it must be
done, and that speedily, for none of the upper spars on all three masts
are secure until what seamen call the "head gear" is set up, to say
nothing of the urgent necessity which may, at any moment, arise of
setting the head sails, as the jibs are termed collectively. So rapidly
did the sea rise, and so powerful was the tug, that before long heavy
masses of water began to come on board, and several ugly lumps came over
the forecastle head, half drowning the unfortunate men, who, in poor
physical condition, were toiling at the head gear. Some of them were, of
course, compelled to work right over the bows, where, as she plunged
along, the boiling foam now and then surged right over their heads.
Under these circumstances some disaster was inevitable. It came.
Suddenly I saw the boatswain leap from the forecastle-deck aft, a
distance of some twenty feet, yelling, while in the air, "Man
overboard!" There was hardly a minute's delay before the tug stopped,
and everybody gave a sigh of relief to see that the unfortunate man had
caught one of the life-buoys thrown to him. He placed his hands upon the
edge of the buoyant ring, which rose edgeways and fell over his head,
making him perfectly safe. But he was so eager that he got his arms
through, and, with both hands on the buoy, tried to raise himself
higher. Unfortunately he succeeded, and immediately overbalanced, his
head going down while his legs hung over the sides of the ring. Burdened
as he was with oilskins, sea-boots, and much thick clothing underneath,
it was impossible for him to regain his position, and when the boat from
the tug picked him up he was quite dead. Steaming back alongside of us
the skipper of the tug reported the sad fact, suggesting that he might
as well take the body back to Liverpool when he had finished towing us.
This was of course agreed to, and the towage resumed. But no sooner had
the news of our shipmate's death reached us, than there was a rush to
the forecastle by our crew, to divide the dead man's belongings--a piece
of barbarism quite uncommon among seamen. They made such a clean sweep
of everything, that when the captain sent to have the deceased seaman's
effects brought aft, all that was produced would hardly have filled a
large handkerchief, although he had brought two great bags and a bundle
on board with him. So passed from among us poor Peter Hill, a steady
middle-aged seaman, leaving a widow and two children to mourn their
loss, and exist as best they could without the meagre half pay he had
left them.

After this calamity the speed of the tug was reduced until the jibboom
was rigged and the anchors secured. Then the impatient tug-skipper tried
to make up for lost time. Green seas rolled over the bows as the bluff
old ship was towed through the ugly, advancing waves at a rate quite
beyond anything she could have done unaided. She strained and groaned as
if in pain, while the severity of her treatment was attested by a long
spell at the pumps, the quantity of water she had in her giving rise to
many ominous mutterings among the crew. At last the Tuskar was reached,
the topsails and lower staysails were set, and the tug let go of us,
much to our relief, as the motion at once became easier. Then came the
muster and picking for watches, when the grim fact became apparent that
we were grievously undermanned. There were but twelve A.B.'s and one
ordinary seaman forward, four tradesmen, _i.e._ bo'sun, carpenter,
sailmaker, and painter, with three boys in the half-deck, steward and
cook. Aft were the captain and two officers. Under any circumstances
this would have been a very small crew for a ship of her size; but, to
make matters worse, she was what sailors call "parish rigged," meaning
that all her gear was of the cheapest--common rope, that with a little
usage grew swollen and clumsy, often requiring the strength of one man
to pull the slack of it through the wretched "Armstrong patent" blocks,
and not a purchase of any kind to assist labour except two capstans.
Already we had gotten a taste of her quality in setting the scanty sail
she now carried; what would it be, later on, when all sail came to be
made, we could easily anticipate. The crew were, as usual, a mixed lot.
There was an elderly Yankee bo'sun's mate answering to the name of Nat,
who, in spite of his fifty years, was one of the best men on board; a
smart little Yorkshireman, very tidy and quiet; and two
Liverpool-Irishmen--dirty, slovenly, and obscene always--Flanagan and
Mahoney. They, I learned afterwards, had come home a fortnight before
from the East Indies with a fairly good pay-day, which they had never
seen a copper of, having lain in one continuous state of drunkenness in
a cellar, from the evening of their arrival, until the vampires who
supplied them with liquor had somehow obtained a claim upon all their
wages. Then, when the money was drawn, the two miserable fools were
flung into the gutter, sans everything but the filthy rags on their
backs. A jovial darky from Mauritius, with a face whose native ugliness
was heightened by an extraordinary marking from smallpox, kept all
hands alive with his incessant fun. He signed as Jean Baptiste, which
sacred appellation was immediately anglicized to Johnny the Baptist, nor
did he ever get called anything else. There was also a Frenchman from
St. Nazaire, who, though his English was hardly intelligible, had sailed
in our country's ships so long that he had lost all desire for anything
French. He was also a fine seaman, but the wrong side of forty. A
taciturn Dane, tall and thin, but a good man as far as his strength
went, was also of our company; and a brawny, hairy Nova Scotiaman, John
Bradley, able enough, but by no means willing to exert his great
strength. Lastly, of those whom I can remember, came Peter Burn and
Julius Cæsar. When the first-named signed in Liverpool, he looked like a
hale old sea-dog about fifty, worth half a dozen young, unseasoned men.
Unfortunately for us, he had come out of the experienced hands of Paddy
Finn, a well-known boarding-master renowned as a "faker-up" of worn-out
and 'long-shore sailors. Rumour had it, too, that he had recently
married a young woman, who had eloped with several years' savings,
leaving him without any prospect but the workhouse, until Paddy Finn
took him in hand for the sake of his month's advance. Be that as it may,
it was almost impossible for any one to recognise in the decrepit,
palsied old wreck that crawled aft to muster, and answered to the name
of Peter Burn, the bluff, hearty old seaman that had signed on so boldly
two or three days before. Julius Cæsar was a long, cadaverous lad,
willing and good-natured, hailing from Vermont, but so weak and
inexperienced that you could hardly feel him on a rope. The other three
men have entirely faded from my memory.

Of the petty officers with whom I lived, it only needs just now that I
note them as all Scotch, belonging, like the skipper and mate, to the
shores of the Firth of Forth, with the exception of the painter. He was
a Yarmouth man, really an A.B., but, in consequence of his great ability
in decorating, mixing paints, etc., given five shillings a month extra,
with a bunk in the half-deck. There was no sea-sobriquet for him, like
"Bo'sun," "Chips," "Sails," or "Doctor," so he was called by his
rightful surname, "Barber." The cook, or "doctor," was a grimy little
Maltese, not quite such a living libel on cookery as usual, but dirty
beyond belief. I said there were three boys in the half-deck, but that
statement needs qualifying. The eldest of the trio was as good a man as
any on board the ship, and deserves much more than passing notice. He
had been, like myself, a London Arab, although never homeless; for his
mother, who earned a scanty living by selling water-cresses, always
managed to keep a corner for him in her one room up a Shoreditch court.
But Bill was far too manly to be a burden to his mother a day longer
than he could help, so, after trying many ways of earning an honest
crust, he finally managed to get taken on board the _Warspite_
training-ship, whence he was apprenticed in the _Western Belle_ for four
years. He was now in his third year of service, a sturdy, reliable young
fellow of eighteen, not very brilliant, perhaps, but a first-class
seaman: a credit to himself and to his training. The other boy, besides
myself, was a keen urchin about my own age, on his first voyage, of
respectable parentage, and with a good outfit. Whatever his previous
experience had been I don't remember; I think he came straight from
school. Anyhow, he was artful enough to early earn the title of "a young
sailor, but a d---d old soldier," which concise character sums up all
that a seaman can say as to a person's ability in doing as little as
possible. Captain Smith, our chief, was a jolly, easy-going Scotchman of
about sixty, always good-tempered, and disinclined to worry about
anything. He had his wife and daughter with him, the latter a plain
young lady of about twenty-two. Both of them shared the skipper's good
qualities, and the ship was certainly more comfortable for their
presence. Mr. Edny, the chief mate, was a splendid specimen of manhood,
a Scotchman about thirty-five years of age, with coal-black hair and
eyes. He was the most hirsute individual I have ever seen, a shaggy
black mane, longer and thicker than any Newfoundland dog's, waving all
over his chest and back. Mr. Cottam, the second mate, was a
square-built, undersized man from the Midlands, the bane of my
existence, but a prime seaman who loved work for its own sake.



CHAPTER XIV.

DUE SOUTH


Perhaps an undue amount of space has been given to particularizing the
_Western Belle's_ crew, but my excuse must be that this was my first big
ship (the steamer didn't count), as well as my first long voyage. To me
it was the commencement of a new era. Hitherto I had not been long
enough on board any one ship to take much interest in either her or her
crew. The changes had been so numerous and rapid, that while I was
certainly accumulating a large stock of varied experiences, I was unable
to put them to much practical use, because I remained so small and weak.
But now I knew that, barring accidents, I was in for a twelve-months'
voyage; I should cross the "line" four times, round the Cape twice, and
return a regular "Sou'-Spainer," looking down from a lofty height of
superiority upon other sea-boys who had never sailed to the "Suthard."

When the watches had been picked I found myself under the second mate,
whom I dismissed rather summarily at the close of the last chapter,
because I shall have a great deal to say about him later on. For the
present it suffices to note that my evil genius must have been in the
ascendant, for "Jemmy the Scrubber," as we always called Mr. Cottam
behind his back, was a regular tyrant, who spared nobody, not even
himself. The men of his watch took things easily, as usual, knowing full
well that he was unable to coerce them; but I was helpless in his hands,
and he did not fail to let me know the fact. There was some compensation
for me in having Bill Smith, the sturdy apprentice before mentioned, as
my watch-mate, for he was both able and willing to lend me a helping
hand whenever possible, although of course he could not shield me from
the amiable weaknesses of Jemmy the Scrubber. Still, his friendship was
very valuable to me, and it has endured unto this day.

At the outset of the voyage I found, that if I had never earned my pay
in my life before, I was going to do so now. When there was one hand at
the wheel and one on the look-out, there were four A.B.'s, Bill and
myself, available to make or shorten sail. Consequently it became the
practice to send me up alone to loose whatever sail was going to be set
during the night, and I would go up and down from one masthead to the
other while the men did the hauling on deck. Then when the job was
finished the men retired to their several corners, more often than not
into their bunks in the fo'lk'sle, leaving me to coil up all the ropes
and then return to my post aft in front of the poop, ready to carry
Jemmy's orders when he gave any. She was a very heavy-working ship, as
before noted, making the ordinary duties of trimming sail for such a
handful of men most exhaustive; but, in addition to that, the food was
so bad that it reminded me strongly of the _Arabella_. Yet so usual, so
universal, was this shameful condition of things, that there was no more
than the ordinary quantity of "growling"; no complaints brought aft; and
things went on pretty comfortably. Of course she leaked--"made a good
drop o' water," as sailors say--but still in fine weather the pumps
would "suck" in ten minutes at four-hour intervals. But sail she
couldn't. A Rochester barge would have given her two miles in ten, and
as to "turning to windward"--that is, zig-zagging against a contrary
wind--it was a mere farce. She made so much leeway that she just sailed
to and fro on the same old track till the wind freed. Therefore it was a
weary time before we got down as far as that dreaded stretch of stormy
sea known to seamen as the "Bay," although it extends many a league
Atlantic-wards from the Bay of Biscay. Here we battered about for
several days, against a persistent south-westerly wind that refused to
let us get south, until at last it freshened into a bitter gale,
accompanied by the ugly cross sea that gives this region such unenviable
notoriety. Under two lower topsails and reefed foresail we wallowed and
drifted, watching with envious gaze the "flyers" gliding homeward under
enormous clouds of canvas, steady and dry, while we were just like a
half-tide rock, swept fore and aft by every comber that came hissing
along. Here I got a narrow squeak for my life. I was coiling up the gear
in the waist when she lurched heavily to windward, just as a green mass
of water lifted itself like a hill on that side. Before she could rise
to it, hundreds of tons of foaming water rolled on board, sweeping me
blindly off my feet and over the lee rail. Clinging desperately to the
rope I held, I waited, swollen almost to bursting with holding my
breath, but quite unconscious of the fact that I was overboard. At last
she rolled to windward again, and I was swept back by another wave,
which flung me like a swab into the tangle of gear surrounding the
mainmast, little the worse for my perilous journey. And thus she behaved
all that night, never free from a roaring mass of water that swept fore
and aft continually, leaving not a dry corner anywhere. Sundry noises
beneath the fore-hatch warned us that something heavy among the stores
had broken adrift; but it was impossible to go down and see, not only
for fear of the water getting below, but because of the accumulated gas
from the coal, which, unventilated for days, would only have needed a
spark to have blown the ship sky-high. Towards morning, however, the
weather fined down. As soon as possible the fore-hatch was taken off,
and there we found in the 'tween decks a mess awful to contemplate. The
whole of our sea-stock of salt beef and pork in tierces had broken
adrift, together with two casks of Stockholm tar, and had been hurled
backwards and forwards across the ship until every barrel was broken in
pieces. There lay the big joints of meat like miniature islands in a sea
of tar, except that, with every roll of the ship, they swam languidly
from side to side in the black flood. All hands were set to work to
collect the food--it was all we had--hoist it on deck, and secure it
there in such fashion as we could. Then it was scraped clear of the
thickest of the tar, the barrels were set up again and refilled with the
filthy stuff, into the midst of which freshly-made pickle was poured. It
was not good food before, but now, completely saturated with tar, it was
nauseous beyond the power of words to describe. Yet it was eaten, and
before long we got so used to the flavour that it passed unnoticed. This
diversion kept all hands busy for two or three days, during which the
weather was kind to us, and we gradually stole south, until the steady
trade took hold of us and helped us along into settled fine weather.

By this time all hands had settled down into their several grooves,
determined to make the best of a bad bargain. One thing was agreed
upon--that, except for her short-handedness and starvation, she was a
pretty comfortable ship. There was no driving, no rows; while the
feminine influence aft made itself felt in the general freedom from bad
language that prevailed on deck. But we were not yet low enough in
numbers, apparently. The old man, Peter Burn, who shook so much that he
was never allowed aloft, became perfectly useless. He had been an old
man-o'-war's man, living, whenever possible, a life of riot and
debauchery, for which he was now called upon to pay the penalty. At a
time of life when many men are not long past their prime, he was reduced
to childishness--a very picture of senile decay. His body, too, in
consequence, I suppose, of the foul feeding, became a horrible sight
upon the opening of more than forty abscesses, from which, however, he
seemed to feel no pain. Strange to say, his rough shipmates, who of
course had to make good his deficiency, showed no resentment at the
serious addition to their labours. With a gentleness and care that could
hardly have been expected of them, they endeavoured to make the ancient
mariner's declining days as comfortable as the circumstances would
allow, and I am sure that nowhere could the old fellow have been more
carefully looked after.

She was an unlucky ship. Her slow gait, even with favouring winds, was
something to wonder at; but, as if even that were not delay enough, we
met with a most abnormal amount of calms and light airs--hindrances that
would have made some skippers I have known unbearable to live with. But
Captain Smith was one of a thousand. Nothing seemed to ruffle his serene
good-humour. It must have been infectious, for the conditions of food
and work were so bad that a little ugly temper added thereto would
certainly have caused a mutiny. As usual I, unluckiest of urchins, was
about the worst-off person on board. Jemmy the Scrubber, unable to imbue
the rest of his watch with his own restless activity, gave me no peace
night or day. Woe betide me, if, overcome by sleep in my watch on deck
at night, I failed to hear his first call. With a bull's-eye lantern in
one hand, and a piece of ratline stuff in the other, he would prowl
around until he found me, and then--well, I was wide-awake enough for
the rest of that watch. In the half-deck I was treated fairly well,
except in the matter of food, and even that got put right in time. I
have often wondered since how four men of good standing, like our petty
officers, could deliberately cheat two boys out of their scanty share of
the only eatable food we had; but they certainly did. Every other day
except Saturday was "duff" day, when the modicum of flour allowed us was
made into a plain pudding by the addition of yeast and fat. The portion
due to each made a decent-sized plateful, and, with a spoonful of
questionable molasses, furnished the best meals we got. Now the duff for
the half-deck was boiled in a conical bag, and turned out very similar
in shape and size to a sugar-loaf. It was brought into the house in a
tin pan not wide enough to allow it to lay flat, so it stuck up
diagonally. The sailmaker always "whacked it out," marking off as many
divisions as there were candidates. So far so good. But when he cut off
his portion, instead of cutting fair across the duff, he used to cut
straight down, thus taking off half the next portion as well, owing to
the diagonal position of the duff. Then came the bo'sun, who of course
followed suit, and the others likewise, until the last two "whacks"
falling to the share of the boys was really only the size of one. For a
long time this hardship was endured in silence, until one day, at the
weekly apportionment of the sugar, much the same sort of thing took
place. Then Bill Smith broke out, and there was a rare to-do. Our
seniors were dreadfully indignant at his daring to hint at the
possibility of their being unfair, and, for some time, I feared a
combined assault upon the sturdy fellow. All their tall talk, however,
only served to stiffen his back, and, in the result, we got our fair
share of what was going.

Hitherto I had not seen any deep-sea fishing; so, when one day a school
of bonito came leaping round the bows, and the mate went out on the
jibboom end with a line, my curiosity was at fever-heat. How ever I
endured until eight bells I don't know. Once or twice the wrath of Jemmy
was kindled against me for inattention, and I got a sharp reminder of my
duties. At last eight bells struck. I had the dinner in the house in a
twinkling, and in another minute was rushing out along the boom to where
the mate had left his line while he went in to "take the sun." The
tackle was simplicity itself, consisting solely of a stout line about
the thickness of blind-cord, with an inch hook firmly seized to its end,
baited with a shred of white rag. My fingers trembled so that I could
hardly loose the neat coil the mate had left, for below me, gambolling
in the sparkling foam beaten forward from the bluff bows, were quite a
large number of splendid fish, although they did not seem nearly as
large as they were in reality. At last I got the line free, and,
bestriding the boom-end with my legs firmly locked between the jib guys,
I allowed the lure to flutter away to leeward, jerking it gently so as
to imitate a leaping squid or bewildered flying-fish. Splash! and the
graceful curve of my line suddenly changed into a straight; I had hooked
one. In a perfect frenzy of excitement I hauled madly, scarcely daring
to look below where my prize dangled, his weight fairly cutting my
hands. At last I had him in my arms, but such was the tremendous
vibration of his massive body that, although I plunged my thumbs through
his gills, I was benumbed from head to heel. All feeling left me, and my
head was beginning to swim, when I bethought me of plunging him into the
folds of the jib, which was furled on the boom. With a flash of energy I
accomplished this, falling across the quivering carcase half dead
myself. But before he was quite dead I had recovered, and, prouder than
any victorious warrior returning from the hard-won field, I bore him
inboard. I was received in the half-deck as a benefactor to my species,
for had I not provided twenty pounds of fresh food. How welcome my catch
was can hardly be comprehended by those who have never known what it
means to subsist upon beef and pork, which when dry turns white and hard
as salt itself, with the flavour of tar superadded, and that for many
weeks. The first flush of excitement over, attention was called to my
gory appearance. I had not noticed it before, but now I found that I was
literally drenched in blood, black-red from the chin downwards. What of
that? I had caught my first big fish, and nothing else mattered. Out I
went again, succeeding in a few minutes in hooking another. But one of
my watchmates must needs come interfering, and take it away from me, in
spite of my protests. I was actually bold enough to tell him that the
way he was carrying it was unsafe--the idea of me, with my five minutes'
experience, dictating to an old "shellback" like Bradley. I was right
though, for, when half way in, the fish gave a convulsive plunge and
fell, leaving his gills in Bradley's fist. I didn't say anything, but,
like the parrot, I did some tall thinking. All the fish left us
instanter, attracted doubtless by the blood of their mutilated fellow;
so, sulkily coiling up the line, I came in. There was a plentiful supper
at four bells, and, though I should now pronounce the flesh of a bonito
as dry and tasteless, then it was sweeter to me than I could express.
While it was yet in my mouth, yea! ere it was chewed, retribution
overtook me. I heard the watch on deck setting sail forward, and more
conversation ensuing upon the performance than usual. Suddenly a
shock-head thrust itself into the half-deck. The voice of Cæsar said
ominously, "Tom, th' mate wanse yer!" With a thrill of dread crawling up
the roots of my hair I obeyed, following the messenger forrard. There
stood the port watch, grouped round the mate, gazing upward at the sail
they had just been setting, the jib. Well they might. From head to tack
down its whole length ran ghastly streaks and patches of gore, a sight
that made my flesh creep. "Did _you_ do that?" said the mate in an awful
tone. There was no need for any answer; my guilt was manifest. Vengeance
lingered not, and, in a few minutes, the _manes_ of my first fish were
propitiated. Lamely I retired to complete my supper with what appetite I
could muster, and to vow that the next fishing I did I would take a sack
out with me. But the evidence of my offence was permanent, surviving the
bleaching of sun, rain, and spray throughout the whole of the voyage.
My waspish little tyrant, the second mate, could hardly rope's-end me
again for the same fault; but he made it an excuse for robbing me of a
goodly portion of each day-watch below, keeping me on deck sorting the
carpet-thrums of which he was for ever making hearthrugs. Oh, how I did
hate his fancy-work and him too. But I dared not complain or refuse,
although at night I was always getting into trouble for going to sleep,
which I really couldn't help.



CHAPTER XV.

EIGHT WEEKS' CALM.


Leisurely as our progress had been hitherto, we had always managed to
make some Southing each day. But now ensued a time unique in all my
experience. What our exact position was I do not know; but I fancy it
must have been somewhere near the Equator in the Atlantic. When the
faltering, fitful breezes first failed us, a long succession of rain
deluges set in, which at first were most heartily welcome. For, like
many other ships of her class in those days, the _Western Belle's_ store
of water-tanks contained barely enough of the precious fluid to suffice
us for half the voyage, even upon the regulation allowance of three
quarts per man each day. Rain was depended upon to replenish them in
time, and on such voyages, of course, seldom failed to afford a
bountiful supply. Now, however, it fell for whole days in one solid,
roaring downpour that, in spite of the many openings by which the decks
were drained, filled them so that it was possible to swim from poop to
forecastle in fresh water. Everybody turned out all their belongings
that were washable, and a regular carnival of soap and water took place.
Then the ports were opened and the decks cleared of water. It still
poured over the front of the poop like a small Niagara, and from thence,
as being the cleanest, we refilled all our tanks. Still the flood came
down without a break, until the incessant roar became awe-inspiring.
Many of the crew spoke of it as passing all their experience, even
hinting at the possibility of another flood. It was so heavy that the
experiment was successfully tried of scooping up drinkable water off the
sea-surface, which was like a mill-pond for its level, although all
a-foam with the falling torrent. The ship lay as nearly motionless as it
is possible for a ship to be out in mid-ocean. For Coleridge's simile of
"A painted ship upon a painted ocean" is only a poet's licence, and
grates upon a seaman as the sole picture in that wonderful work which is
not literally true. Admiral Wharton's remark that "In all the
incalculable mass of the ocean not one particle is ever absolutely at
rest," may strike most people as strange; but it is sober truth, and
therefore it is impossible for a vessel at sea ever to be perfectly
motionless.

Gradually the massive downpour abated, the sun peeped out, and the
sodden decks and gear dried up. But there was no breath of wind. And as
Captain Smith was a practical man, with all his patience, he decided to
utilize this otherwise barren time in carrying out a scheme he had
purposed leaving for some long spell of waiting in Indian harbours. We
had on deck three huge, rough spars--long logs, in fact. These were
loosed from their lashings and lifted on to the gallows, whereon the
boats usually rested. A big rip-saw was produced--the only time I ever
saw one on board ship--and the strange spectacle was witnessed of a
ship's deck being turned into a saw-pit, sailors into sawyers. Thick
slabs were sawn off the spars, after which the carpenter, and a couple
of men who could handle axe and adze, set to work to fashion them into
topsail-yards. Meanwhile, the rest of the hands toiled like beavers,
unbending sails, sending down yards, and overhauling standing rigging,
until the old ship looked as if she were in some snug dock-corner being
dismantled. All day long this work went on, no one knowing or caring
whose watch on deck it should be, and at night the weary workers lay
around promiscuously, sleeping away the hours of darkness in calm
certainty of being undisturbed. This curious interlude in an ocean
voyage developed strange faculties in our men. The iron bands, which
form part of the fittings of a ship's yards, were, owing to the
skipper's desire to have heavier spars, found to be too small. No
matter. An impromptu forge was rigged up on a barrel filled with sand, a
most ingenious bellows was made by somebody, and, as if born and bred in
a smithy, the bo'sun and two hands manipulated that ironwork in such
workmanlike fashion that it answered its purpose as well as if turned
out of a Blackwall foundry.

For many days this work went on, with apparently no more notice taken of
its strangeness than as if it were the normal course of events. But
gradually the deathly stillness of our surroundings, the utter absence
of the faintest air of wind, or sign of any other vessel in a similar
plight, began to tell upon everybody's nerves. Men took to gathering in
twos and threes in the evenings to recount their experiences of
lengthened calms, and the yarns they had heard of bygone tragedies
connected with ships that had strayed into windless seas. Even the busy
working-hours could not prevent the men from gazing uneasily over the
side where the familiar, smiling face of the sea was undergoing a
mysterious change. There is about the deep sea, even in the hottest
weather, a delicious atmosphere of cool cleanliness, a searching purity,
such as the earth can never yield, giving one the fixed idea that to
this vast, unpollutable limpidity the nations owe their health. In some
dim fashion this thought is present with all sea-farers, however dense
and unnoticing they may be. Therefore, when that familiar freshness was
found to be giving place to a stale, stagnant greasiness to which a
mawkish, uninvigorating atmosphere clung, what wonder that
uneasiness--all the more difficult to bear quietly because
undefinable--became generally manifest. Adding to the sense of
eerieness, was the fact that old Peter was failing fast. I have already
mentioned how willingly his share of the common burden was borne by his
shipmates, and how loyally they tended him, even though such service as
he needed could not be spoken of without offence. But now his mind had
completely gone. He lived in some misty past, about which he babbled
unceasingly. Often, in the still evenings, all hands would gather round
him, listening in perfect silence to his disjointed reminiscences of
desperate deeds in the way of duty, of long-drawn-out debaucheries in
filthy rookeries of home ports, as well as the well-known hells at Hong
Kong, Calcutta, or Callao. They were strange scenes, those dog-watch
gatherings, nothing distinctly visible but the red glow of the
pipes--except when the sudden glare of a match, struck to light fresh
tobacco, shed a momentary gleam over the group of haggard, bearded
faces, each beclouded with an unwonted shadow. In the midst, a placid
stream of sound, Peter's voice prattled on, its lurid language in the
strangest contrast to the gentleness of his speech. Still the days
dragged on and the faces grew longer. All the refitting was finished,
and only the ordinary routine of ship-life was left to be carried on.
Happily those duties are always, in the hands of capable officers,
sufficiently onerous to prevent time ever hanging heavily. One of the
strangest of all the strange notions current ashore about sea-life is
that sailors have nothing to do but watch the ship go along, except
during stormy weather. One would have thought that the never-ending,
ever-beginning round of work in a house that is properly kept would have
taught all landsmen and women that the great complicated machine called
a ship would demand at least equal labours to keep it fit and in working
order. But "watch and watch" was now restored, which, of course, threw a
great deal of additional time upon the men's hands, since they could
still sleep through the night, if they chose, without fear of being
disturbed. So for hours, when unemployed, men took to hanging over the
rail, watching, with an unnatural curiosity, the myriads of strange
creatures that, lured from their silent haunts in the gloomy
middle-depths of the ocean by the long-enduring stillness above, came
crawling about, blinking glassily with dead-looking eyes at the
unfamiliar light. Truly it was an uncanny sight. Not only
fish of bizarre shape abounded, but vast numbers of great
medusæ--semi-transparent simulacra of all the hideous things that ever
haunted a maniac's dream--crawled greasily about us, befouling the once
clear blue of the sea, and coating its sleek surface with stagnant
slime. And, deeper down, mighty shadows passed sluggishly to and fro,
filling the gazers with wordless terror as the days crept wearily away
and those formless apparitions gradually chose higher levels. Overhead
the sweet fathomless azure of the sky paled as if in sympathy with the
silent sea. Cloudless, indeed, but overspread with a filmy veil of
strange mist, that, while it robbed the sun of its glare, seemed to
enclose us within a dome of heat, unventilated and stale. When night
fell, instead of cool refreshment--such as comes, even in tropical
calms, after sunset at all ordinary times--there arose a foul odour of
decaying things that clung clammily to the palate like a miasma. The
densely populated ocean beneath palpitated with pale fire, the gleaming
of putrescence. Instead of the usual brisk movement seen among the
glowing denizens of the deep, everything crawled languidly, as if
infected with some universal pestilence. Moon and stars lost their
strong silver glow, and were no longer reflected in the smoothness
beneath as if shining in another heaven. And at moonrise, when the
fantastic mist-wreaths writhed about the horizon, the broad red disc of
the moon would be distorted into many uncouth shapes, or patterns of
strange design were drawn across her paling surface.

At last, one night, when old Peter was holding his usual levee, he
suddenly raised his voice, and authoritatively demanded that his
auditors should bear him on to the forecastle head. They instantly
obeyed, lifting him tenderly upon his mattress, and laying him gently by
the side of the capstan. Then all hands gathered round him in the
darkness, only the glow of the pipes fitfully illuminating the rugged
countenances. Slowly the moon rose, but sent no silvery pathway across
the sea, until suddenly, as if with a great effort, she broke through
the hampering mist-wreaths that seemed to clog her upward way. A pure,
pale beam shot right athwart our vessel, lighting up the little group of
watchers on the forecastle, and lingering as if lovingly upon the
withered, weather-scarred face of our ancient shipmate. As it did so he
smiled--a patient, happy smile--his lips unclosed, and, with a sigh of
relief like a weary child, he died.

Breaking the steadfast silence came the mate's mellow cry, "Square the
mainyard!" As the men rose to obey, a gentle breath, welcome as the
first thrill of returning health, kissed the tanned faces. Slowly the
great yards swung round, a pleasant murmuring as of a mountain rivulet
arose from the bows, and the long calm was over. In quiet attendance
upon the dead came the sailmaker, with a roll of worn canvas under his
arm in which the poor, shrivelled remains were reverently wrapped and
neatly sewn up. A big lump of coal was found and secured to the feet,
and the long parcel was borne gently aft to the gangway. There in the
moonlight we all gathered, while the skipper, with faltering,
unaccustomed voice, read the stately words of the Burial Service, all
hands standing like statues as they listened to what all admit to be one
of the most solemn as well as majestic selections known in our splendid
language. Suddenly there was a pause; the skipper raised his hand, and
those who supported the plank on which the worn-out tabernacle of old
Peter lay, gently raised its inner end. There was a subdued s-s-s-h as
the white fardel slid slowly seaward, followed by a sullen plunge. All
rushed to the side, where an ascending column of green light marked the
descent into those calm profundities of our dead. An almost inaudible
sigh of relief escaped from every lip, as if a well-nigh intolerable
burden had been removed. Undoubtedly that was the predominant feeling,
intensified by the fact that a sweet breeze was now blowing steadily. In
the blue dome above, the moon and her attendant stars were shining with
their full splendour, and from the now sparkling face of the surrounding
sea the sickly mist was rolled quite away.

Thenceforward, although our progress was wretchedly slow, of course, we
were little troubled by calms. But our tribulations were not yet all
over. Barber, the painter A.B., was taken ill; so ill as to be quite
useless, nor did he ever again that voyage recover sufficiently to
resume his place as an active member of the crew. And other men were
grievously tried by scurvy, which, though in a mild form, was painful
and weakening. How it was that they were no worse, I cannot think, for
the food was bad enough truly for the development of that malignant
disease in its worst form. But, somehow, we worried along in dogged
fashion, every one showing rare patience under their unmerited
sufferings.

And so, in laborious fashion, we crept southward and round the Cape
without any bad weather worth mentioning, until well to the eastward of
that justly dreaded point. Then one night we had a narrow escape from
serious disaster. It was our (the second mate's) watch on deck from
eight to midnight. We were jogging along before a light south-westerly
breeze, at about four knots, the weather being singularly fine for those
latitudes. Down in the cabin the skipper, his wife and daughter, and the
mate were playing cards, while the second mate, with a carelessness most
unusual with him, was hanging over the open scuttle, absorbed in
watching the game. Rees, the old Frenchman with a Welsh name, was on the
look-out, and I heard him muttering and grumbling because the officer of
the watch was oblivious of the fact that an ominous-looking cloud was
rising in the northeast, or almost right ahead. Presently from its black
bosom faint gleams of lightning showed themselves, while the subdued
murmur of the breeze we had became hushed in an unnatural quiet. With a
quickness that seemed miraculous, the threatening cloud ahead
overspread the sky, and still the second mate did not realize what was
coming. As all sail was set, the position began to look so threatening
that all the watch took the alarm, and gathered in the waist, ready for
the sudden emergency imminent. Presently the wind dropped dead, its
sudden failure arousing the supine officer, who, lifting his head, took
in the situation at a glance. But before he could issue an order, there
came a smart patter of rain, followed immediately by a roar as the
north-east wind, like a savage beast, leapt upon us, taking us flat
aback. Then there was a hubbub. Up rushed the skipper and mate, shouting
for all hands. Everything was let go at once; but the sails, jammed
backward against the masts, refused to allow the yards to come down. The
ship began to drive astern most dangerously, nor could she be got round
by any means. Presently she dipped her stern right under, taking a sea
in over the taffrail that filled the decks fore and aft. It was now a
question of minutes with us. If she could not be got round she would
certainly go down stern foremost, for again and again she drove her
broad stern under the rising sea as the now furious gale hurled her
backwards. The feeble efforts of the crew seemed utterly unavailing
against the mighty force of this sudden tempest. But, providentially, a
huge sea caught her on one bow, flinging her head off far enough for the
wind to grip the head sails. Round she spun upon her heel like a top,
and in another minute the shreds of the rending sails were thundering
above our heads as they flew to fragments. In an indescribable uproar,
wherein the howling of the gale, the reverberations of the thunder, and
the crash of our yards were all mingled, the ill-used vessel sped away
before the wind as if fleeing for her life. An almost continual glare of
lightning shed an unearthly light over all, by which the havoc that was
being wrought was plainly to be seen. How that night's work was ever
accomplished I have no idea. But when morning dawned we were
fore-reaching under the three lower topsails and fore topmast staysail,
the fluttering rags of what remained of our lighter sails being secured
in some haphazard sort of fashion to the yards. We had escaped the doom
of many a fine ship, whose crew have paid the penalty of carelessness
with their lives. It was long, however, before we overtook the labour
which those few hours involved us in. For many days we jogged along
under easy sail, getting farther and farther to the northward every day,
happily for us, and so putting a greater distance between us and bad
weather.



CHAPTER XVI.

UP THE INDIAN OCEAN TO BOMBAY.


At certain seasons of the year the minds of mariners navigating the
Indian Ocean are always, more or less, upon the tension of expectancy
concerning the possibility of their encountering one of those tremendous
meteors known as cyclones. A keen watch is continually kept upon the
mercury in the barometer for any deviation from its normal ebb and flow,
which occurs with the greatest regularity in the tropics during settled
weather. For these truly awful storms are so justly dreaded, by even the
bravest seaman, that no danger of navigation claims more attention. The
possibility of meeting, or being overtaken by one, bulks largely in the
dog-watch discussions among the foremast hands, and he who has
successfully braved an encounter with a cyclone, speaks with an
authority denied to his fellows who have never had such a painful
experience. Even to me, juvenile as I was, an almost deferential hearing
was accorded when I spoke of my Havana experience--the hurricane of the
West Indies, the typhoon of the China seas, and the cyclone of the
Indian Ocean being only different names for the same mighty atmospheric
convulsion. Happily, our leisurely progress northward was unattended by
any such deeply perilous adventure as the encounter with a cyclone would
have been. Doubts were freely expressed as to the probability of the
_Western Belle_ weathering one at any time, but especially under our
present short-handed conditions. Every day, therefore, that passed
seeing us nearer port was noted with delight, as lessening our chances
of utter extermination. And when at last we passed the latitude of Cape
Comorin and entered the Arabian Sea, there was a distinct lightening of
faces and a tendency to make little of the weary passage now gradually
nearing its end. We did not see a vessel of any description, during our
journey from the Cape, until within two hundred miles of Bombay, neither
did we sight any land. But one morning, to my amazement, I saw a vessel
nearing us, unlike any I had ever seen before--except in pictures. She
had a hull like the half of an egg cut lengthways, and was propelled by
an enormous white sail of lateen shape, or almost like one of our jibs.
She could not have been more than ten or fifteen tons capacity, and how
she stood up under such an immense spread of sail was a mystery. She
came flying along like a huge sea-bird, shooting up almost in the wind's
eye, and presently, graceful as an albatross, rounded-to under our stern
and "spilled" her sail. Seated in the after part of this queer craft
were two or three dignified-looking men in white raiment, with the
peculiar stiff headgear affected by Parsees. One of the black, unclad
natives forming her crew hooked on to our fore-chains, and, with an
agility I should have hardly believed possible, one of the white-robed
visitors seized a rope flung over the side and skipped on board.
Speaking correct English, he saluted the mate, who stood at the gangway;
then hastened aft, and, making a low salaam to the skipper, solicited
the honour of being our "dubash," or general purveyor, while we were in
harbour. To his great disappointment, however, Captain Smith was an old
Bombay trader, and always employed the same dubash; so that, after a few
compliments, our visitor politely took his leave, hoping for better luck
next time.

Thenceforward we met many native craft, or "buggalows," as they call
them, lumbering along the coast on various errands, all characterized by
a general makeshift appearance that made me wonder how ever they dared
brave the dangers of the sea at all. But that is a peculiarity of all
Eastern native craft. They are things of shreds and patches, and look as
seaworthy as a waggon with a worn-out tarpaulin set. Most of them creep
along shore pretty closely, and, at night, lower their wooden anchors
down about twenty fathoms, furl sail, and turn in--or, at least, go to
sleep. She is pretty safe to fetch up somewhere, and time doesn't
matter. If she gets run down by some bustling ship or another, it is
Kismet, and not to be helped.

At last we drew near Bombay--that Liverpool of the East--the first sight
of which is so amazing to an untravelled Briton. I was almost stupefied
with wonder at the mighty stream of traffic, the immense fleet of ships
that lay at anchor in the magnificent harbour, and the beauty of the
great city. We had shipped a white pilot, who, being anxious to get up
to the anchorage before dusk, and make one job of the mooring, was
"cracking on" to an exceedingly stiff breeze, making the old ship heel
over alarmingly. Suddenly I heard my name called. Running aft, I was met
by the second mate, who, handing me a coil of line, ordered me to go up
and reeve the signal halliards in the mizzen truck. Now, I should
premise that, like all American-built ships, we carried very long "royal
poles," or bare tapering extensions of the masts above the highest part
of the rigging. Ours were extra long--some sixteen feet or so--and
crowned at the top, which was not much thicker than a man's wrist, with
a flat piece of wood about as large as a cheese-plate, in one side of
which was a sheave for the signal halliards or flag-line. I started
aloft boldly enough; but when I reached the base of the pole, and saw to
what a height its bareness towered above me, while the staggering ship
lurched to leeward and the foaming sea roared a hundred and twenty feet
below, my heart failed me, my head swam, and all my scanty stock of
strength left me. For some time I sat with my legs clutched round the
pole, just clinging, without power to move. Then I heard the voice of
the second mate pealing up from the deck. "Hurry up there with those
halliards!" Strange as it may appear, although I felt that I was going
to certain death, my fear of him was so great that I made the attempt.
Pulling myself up, I shut my eyes and murmured a prayer. Trembling in
every nerve, but fighting against my benumbing weakness, I actually
struggled to the top. As I write, the cold sweat bursts from every pore,
for I feel again the terrible agony of that moment. Opening my eyes, I
thrust at the opening of the sheave with the end of the line; but it was
knotted, and would not go through. I _had_ tried and failed, and with my
last flash of energy I grasped the pole again in both arms, and slid
down on to the eyes of the royal rigging. Here I clung for a few minutes
to recover myself, and to be violently sick; then, feeling as if the
bitterness of death was past, I descended to the deck, walked up to Mr.
Cottam, and said, "I have tried, and I can't do it, sir--not if you kill
me." He stared at me blankly for a moment. Then turning away, as if the
situation was beyond him, he called my constant chum, Bill Smith, and
gave him the job. He, being strong as a bear and agile as a monkey, very
soon managed it; not without considerable grumbling at Jemmy for sending
a "weakly kid" like me on such an errand. The whole episode may seem
trivial; but I frankly declare that having, in my experience, faced
death many times, I have never felt such terror as I did then.

We made a "flying moor" in fine style, in spite of the great fleet of
ships surrounding us, the sails were furled, decks cleared up, and all
hands dismissed forrard to meditate upon the successful close of our
passage of seven months from Liverpool. Soon everybody's attention was
drawn to a large ship near by, whose crew were weighing anchor, homeward
bound. It was the _Stornoway_, the vessel we had seen towing into
Liverpool as we left. She had discharged and loaded in Liverpool, made
her passage out, and now, having discharged and loaded in Bombay, was
returning again. Such differences there are between sailing ships.

The morning brought a chattering crowd of coolies carrying little
shallow baskets and short hoes. At first, the idea of discharging two
thousand tons of coal by such childish means seemed absurd, and, when a
start was made, impossible. For the poor wretches--men, women, and
children--did not appear to have the faintest idea of working, or to
possess enough strength to do more than carry their attenuated bodies
about. But they were formed into lines, from the hatches to the
gangways, and, while some scratched the coal into the baskets with the
hoes, the rest passed them from hand to hand to a monotonous chant of
"Jal marck ooday, jal marck oodayleeallah, jal marck ooday." The
spelling, of course, is phonetic, and I haven't the faintest idea what
it meant. So mechanically did they "puckarow" those baskets, that often
one would pass from the hatch to the gangway empty, the coolie on the
rail going through the motions of tilting it over into the lighter and
returning it. In any case, I do not think the average weight of coal
passed in a basket was seven pounds. Yet somehow the lighters got
filled. There was such a number of coolies, and the passing was so
incessant, that it was bound to tell. The crew, apart from the
discomfort of the all-pervading coal-dust, had a very good time, as
little work being required of them as possible. And, while a plentiful
allowance of fresh meat and vegetables was provided by the ship, there
was also a bumboat in attendance that kept the men well supplied, at
their own cost, with fruit, eggs, etc. I was fortunate enough again to
be book-keeper, receiving in return as much fruit as I wanted.

Except on Sundays, matters went on in a very humdrum style, the only
incident out of the common being a picnic excursion to the rock-temples
of Elephanta. But I have no intention of describing such places, that,
indeed, are as well known to readers as the Isle of Wight. My object is
a totally different one. On Sundays I should think the bulk of the
trading population got afloat, and came ship-visiting. If our ship's
deck was a fair sample of those of the rest of the fleet, there could
have been little merchandise left in the bazaars. From the cabin to the
forecastle the decks were almost impassable for the piles of curios of
all kinds--clothes, cigars, birds, etc. The bulk of the stuff was
dreadful rubbish, almost worthless, in fact; yet, owing to the ignorance
of sailors of what can be bought in decent shops at home, the trash
fetched high prices, at least double what really good articles of the
same style and place of origin could be bought for in London. And, in
addition to that, by a system nothing short of robbery, each man was
charged two shillings and fourpence for every rupee he drew against his
hardly earned wages, while at that time the rupee was quoted officially
at one shilling and eightpence. Who pocketed the eightpence, I do not
know; but I shrewdly suspect that it was considered, like the
backsheesh levied from the tailor and the bumboat-wallah, the captain's
legitimate perquisite. I have known a captain pocket fifty rupees off a
bumboat bill of two hundred and fifty, and, of course, the keen-witted
Hindu based his charges to the men on the expectation of such a tax; so
that Jack was robbed on every hand, unless he sternly made up his mind
to spend nothing "in the country." And, as not one in a hundred sailors
have such resolution as that, there are some very pretty pickings out of
their scanty wages.

The time sped swiftly away, and soon the coal was all out and most of
the stone ballast in. No cargo was obtainable for us in Bombay, so we
were ordered to proceed to Bimliapatam on the Coromandel coast, and
after that to Coconada to complete. But, before our departure, the
time-honoured custom of giving the crew twenty-four hours' liberty must
be observed. Consequently the mate's watch duly received twenty rupees
each, and, dressed in their best, started for the shore one morning at
eight o'clock. All of them returned the following morning except
Bradley, the hirsute Bluenose who lost my fish for me on the passage
out. But oh! what a pitiful, dirty, draggled lot they were. And, in
spite of their miserable condition, they must needs get up several
fights among themselves in order to crown the delights they had been
indulging in ashore. It was quite out of the question to allow the
second mate's watch ashore that day; and this decision nearly caused our
first serious row, so eager were the other half of the crew to go and do
even as their fellows had done. But as there was nothing to prevent the
petty officers going, they all furbished up and started, taking us two
boys with them. My chum Bill Smith was of the party; but as soon as we
landed he went off with me, being far too old a hand to be led by
anybody. Of course, poor fellow! having no wages, he had contrived to
earn a little by washing, etc., and every copper was carefully hoarded
for the Bombay bazaars, where, he informed me, better bargains in
clothes could be got than anywhere in London. Up and down the crowded
lanes of the bazaar he led me, driving away with contumely the pilots
who offered to personally conduct us for a consideration, and fingering
the goods of the various shopkeepers with the air of one who is bursting
with wealth. At last, finding a booth to his mind, he entered, and
forthwith selected a great heap of things: such as soldier's trousers,
woollen shirts, dungaree jumpers and trousers, towels, caps, soap--in
fact, a regular outfit. At last the middle-aged Mussulman who ran the
show began to look suspicious, and said, "You got plenty rupee, Johnny?"
"I've got all I want, Johnny," said he. "Gimme jar o' ginger. _Ginger_,
mind; none o' yer m'lasses." The ginger was brought and added to the
heap. Then Bill said, "Now, then, Johnny, how much for the lot?" A
portentous calculation ensued, which occupied, I should think, twenty
minutes. At last the account was made up--forty-five rupees. Without
moving a muscle of his face, Bill immediately replied, "I'll give you
ten." Horror, amazement, indignation, chased one another over the
countenances of the shopkeepers. At last one of them found words. "You
make plenty laugh, Johnny; speakee barabba one time. Gib forty rupee."
"Not another pice," said Bill, pulling out his money and counting it
ostentatiously. Well, the antics those two natives did cut, to be sure!
They worked themselves up into a foaming rage, they cast their turbans
recklessly in the dust; in such English as they could command they
reviled their tormentor and all his relations to the remotest degree,
and finally came down to thirty rupees. That, they swore with sudden
solemnity, was absolutely the bottom figure, at which they would lose at
least five rupees on the transaction. "Oh, very well," said Bill, "then
I'm off." And, rising, he said, "Come along, Tom." Out we went, and
strolled leisurely along the alley for about a hundred yards, when
suddenly one of the merchants came flying after us, and, with many
smiles, besought Bill to return and "speakee barabba" now. Back we went,
and the game began again. I got thoroughly weary of it at last; but
Bill's patience was inexhaustible. He was rewarded, finally, by their
absolute submission to his terms, when, to my consternation, he refused
to have the goods unless they gave him a large bottle of pepper as
backsheesh. Surely, I thought, this will so disgust them that they will
assault us. But no; after another quarter of an hour's haggling they
yielded the last point, and, laden like a sumpter mule, Bill took his
triumphant departure.

By this time I had seen more than enough of the steaming hubbub of the
bazaars. But Bill had more business to transact; so we parted company;
and I wandered away alone, gazing with wide-eyed wonder at the
innumerable strange sights to be seen in this great humming city. No one
molested me, although many curious glances were cast at me by groups of
languid natives, of all shades, as I trudged along without any definite
idea whither I was going. At last, utterly weary, I found myself down at
the water's edge again. The afternoon was getting on, and I should soon
have to return on board; but as I had still two rupees, I thought I
would like a trip up the harbour to Mazagan, or beyond it. Full of my
project, I chartered a canoe with two men in it to take me for a sail,
bargaining, as well as I was able, in my ignorance of the language, for
a two hours' sail, ending on board my ship. We started, and, for perhaps
half an hour, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, as the canoe glided along
right up past the P. and O. moorings and the Arsenal. Then, when we were
clear of the shipping, my boatmen suddenly stopped and began an animated
discussion with me, which was somewhat complicated by the fact that
neither of us understood the other. Eventually I became convinced that
they wanted more money, and their previously mild behaviour grew
certainly more aggressive. I felt very nervous, but struggled to conceal
the fact, speaking boldly, as if accustomed to be obeyed. Finally I
produced my money, and turned my pockets inside out to show that I had
no more. Upon seeing this they held a long conversation, during which
the canoe drifted idly and I sat upon thorns. At last, much to my
relief, they turned the boat's head towards the anchorage again, and,
without another word, paddled homeward. Arriving at about a cable's
length from the ship they stopped, and demanded their money. But I,
having seen the stalwart figure of the mate standing on the forecastle
head, stood up, and, with all the voice I could muster, shouted,
"_Western Belle_, ahoy!" Mr. Edny heard me and waved his hand. This move
on my part evidently disconcerted them, and they paddled vigorously for
the gangway. As soon as the canoe touched the side, I sprang up and told
Mr. Edny what had happened. He asked me what I had promised them. I told
him one rupee. Taking eight annas from me, he went down the gangway and
offered it to them. When they set up a perfect storm of protests, he
just pitched the piece of money into the canoe and pushed it away from
the side, returning on board without taking any further notice. Needless
to say, I was heartily thankful to be well out of what at one time
looked like an ugly scrape.

Next morning the liberty men returned on board in the usual condition,
but Bradley was not with them. That night, however, he paid us a visit
by stealth, coming up the cable and rifling several of his shipmates'
chests of whatever was worth carrying off. Then he went ashore again
unperceived, showing what a very slack watch was kept. There was
consternation in the forecastle when the robbery was discovered, and a
good deal of wild talk; but Bradley was something of a "bucko," and I
very much doubt whether any of them would have said much to him had he
been there in person. Three days longer we remained at anchor, although
apparently quite ready for sea. On the second morning Bradley returned,
and climbing on board, walked aft and coolly asked the mate for a rupee
to pay his boatman with. Being curtly refused and ordered forward, he
stripped off the filthy white shirt he was wearing, and rolling it up,
flung it over to the dinghy-wallah, bidding him to "Kinnaree jao,
jildee" (get ashore quick). With this the poor beggar was perforce
content, making off hurriedly. Bradley then made for his bunk, saying no
word to any one until the afternoon, when he bade Julius Cæsar go and
tell the skipper that he was very ill. This message actually made the
old man angry. He came forward and gave the defaulter a piece of his
mind; but being evidently impressed by the look of the man, who had been
gutter-raking in all the filth of "coolie town" for three days, he sent
for the harbour doctor. That worthy, after examination, gave it as his
opinion that there was nothing the matter with the fellow but bad gin
and want of food, assuring the skipper that he would be all right as
soon as we got to sea.

Next morning we got under way and sailed, not without another protest
from Bradley, of which no notice was taken, as the medical officer, who
was then paying his final visit, adhered to his opinion. We took a
favourable wind at the harbour's mouth, and slid gently down the coast
under easy sail, the vessel being "tender" from scanty allowance of
ballast. But the weather was lovely, the wind fair, and everything
promised a delightful trip. Bradley, however, steadily got worse.
Presently an angry-looking eruption of pimples burst out all over his
body, even the inside of his mouth being invaded. Then my purgatory
commenced. No one would have anything to do with him, although he was
quite helpless. He was shifted out of the forecastle up on to the
forecastle-head, and a sort of tent rigged over him to keep the sun off.
Then I was told off to attend to him. The horror of that time will never
leave me. He was, as I have before noted, with the exception of the
mate, the most hairy man I ever saw, the black shaggy covering of his
arms and legs being at least an inch and a half long, while his chest
and back were more like a great ape's than a man's. Therefore, when all
those pimples grew until they were large as a finger-top, and so close
together that not a speck of sound flesh was visible, the task of
washing him, which I had to perform alone, was really an awful one. I
must draw a veil over the further development of those horrible
pustules.... Happily for the patient he became delirious and apparently
insensible to pain. How I kept my reason I don't know; but I thought,
and still think, that it was a frightful ordeal for a youngster under
fourteen to endure for a whole week. I had nothing else to do; no
relief, except my ordinary watch below, during which he was left quite
alone. On the eleventh day after leaving Bombay we entered Bimliapatam
Roads, and just as we did so death mercifully came to his rescue and
mine. The carpenter botched up a rough coffin, into which the
unrecognizable heap, with all its bedding, was hurriedly bundled, taken
ashore, and buried at the foot of the flagstaff without any ceremony
whatever. No one seemed to know what the disease had been; but I can
only say that having seen lepers in all stages of disfigurement, and
many other cases of terrible pestilential ravages, I have never seen
anything so awful as the case of William Bradley.



CHAPTER XVII.

ON THE COROMANDEL COAST.


Freed from that horrible incubus, I had now leisure to look about and
enjoy the varied scenes that presented themselves. The place we were
lying at was, I suppose, a typical native coast village, a big hill
facing the anchorage having a rock-hewn temple upon its sea-front. There
was no harbour or shelter of any kind, so that vessels lay all ready for
sea in case of bad weather setting in. All cargo was brought off in the
crazy "massulah" boats, which have been so often described by visitors
to Madras, and are the only craft able to stand the rough usage of the
surf-beaten beach. The fishermen went out on primitive contrivances of
three logs lashed together without any attempt at hollowing out or
fashioning bow and stern. Kneeling upon the two outer logs in the centre
of the crazy thing, the poor wretch would paddle seaward until out of
sight, his sole equipment a palm-leaf basket secured just in front of
him, and containing his fishing-tackle. Neither food nor water could be
carried, yet in this miserable condition they would remain out for many
hours, at the mercy of every wave that came along, and often being
rolled over several times in succession. The catches of fish they made
were always pitifully small, it seemed to me, sometimes consisting of
only a couple of dozen large prawns, though how they caught _them_ out
there was a mystery to me.

Our cargo was an assorted one. Jaggery, or palm sugar--looking like bags
of black mud, and almost as nice to handle,--buffalo horns and hides,
cases of castor oil, bags of myrabolums (a kind of dye-nut), and sundry
other queer things came off to us in small quantities at a time, and
were flung on board in a most haphazard fashion, owing to the constant
swell, which made the boats tumble about alongside vivaciously. All the
stowage was done by the crew under the direction of Jemmy the Scrubber,
who proved himself as capable a stevedore as he was a seaman. No one
went ashore except the skipper while we lay there, and he would gladly
have avoided the necessity, if possible, since it usually meant a
thorough drenching. On the whole, we were by no means sorry when the
news came that we were to leave and proceed down the coast to Coconada.
As we were always ready to sail, there were none of the usual
preliminaries; we just hauled in the fenders, hove the anchor up, and
started. Here our skipper's local knowledge was of great service. For we
hugged the coast closely all the way down, keeping a favourable wind,
which brought us into Coconada Bay in a few hours, while the
_Andromeda_, a big Liverpool ship that sailed at the same time for the
same port, stood off the land, got into bad weather, and did not arrive
for twenty-eight days. She had also sustained severe damage to both ship
and cargo.

While Coconada was evidently a much more important place than
Bimliapatam, we saw nothing of the town, for we lay a long way off in
the centre of a huge bay. We were near enough, though, to hear the
various cries of the wild beasts, among which the hideous noise of the
hyenas was especially noticeable. Our unhappy painter, who had remained
in Bombay hospital during the whole of our stay there, was again so ill
that he had to be landed here. But, getting convalescent, he and a
fellow patient went for a stroll one day, and, wandering out of the
town, they met a hyena. Barber was so scared that he fainted right away,
but the other man found sufficient vitality to scramble up a tree. He
had not got very high, though, before weakness overcame him, and he
fell, breaking his leg. When Barber came to there was no trace of the
hyena, but he and his fellow were in a pitiable plight. There they would
doubtless have stopped, and had their bones picked clean by the morning,
but for a party of friendly coolies who came along, and, seeing their
condition, fetched a couple of "palkees" and carried them back to
hospital again.

Here, then, we remained for three weeks, filling the hold with a
miscellaneous collection of Indian produce, of which cotton, linseed,
and myrabolums formed the staple, until the great capacity of our ship
for cargo was effectually satisfied, and she was jammed full to the
hatch coamings. Then all hands, released from their stifling labours
below, bent their energies to getting ready for sea. Meanwhile, although
our crew were certainly a most patient set of men, their discontent at
the short-handedness, which ever since leaving home had pressed so
hardly upon us all, gathered to a head, culminating in a visit of all
hands to the quarter-deck with a request to see the skipper. Genial as
ever, Captain Smith appeared, his ruddy face wearing an expression of
benign wonderment at the unusual summons. "Well, what is it, men?" said
he. Then stepped forward an elderly Yankee, who had been a bo'sun's mate
in the American navy, a shrewd, intelligent man with a rich fund of
native humour, and a prime favourite fore and aft. "We've taken the
libbaty, sir, ov comin' aft t'ask ye ef it's yeur intenshun ter sail
'thout shippin' enny more hands?" was his reply. "Well, in the first
place, Nat," answered the skipper, "there's no hands ter be got here,
an' besides, in sech a easy-workin' ship as this is, there's no hardship
in bein' a cupple o' hands short." "The good Lawd fergive ye, sir!"
exclaimed Nat; "ef thishyers a heasy-workin' ship, what mout ye reckon a
_hard_-workin' one 'ud be like? Why, cap'n, it takes two men to haul
thro' the slack ov th' braces, an' it's all a man's work to overhaul the
gear of a to'gantsle. 'Sides, sir, yew know it takes all hands to
shorten her down to the taupsles, 'n what we k'n do with her in a
squall--well, I hain't fergot thet plesant evenin' off the Cape, ef yew
have." At this vigorous reply the old man could only laugh to show his
appreciation of the home-thrusts it contained, but with native
shrewdness he changed his base, still preserving his cheery good temper.
"Mind ye, I don't say we ain't short-handed," he said--"very
short-handed; but we're gettin' out ov the Bay o' Bengal 'fore the
sou-west monsoon sets in, 'n yew know 's well 's me that it's fine
weather 'mos' all the way ter the Cape once we cross the line. 'N if we
git enny dirt offn the Cape I'll keep her under easy sail, 'n let the
'Gulhas current sweep her roun', 'n then we'll jest be home in no time.
Yew leav' it t' me. We hain't been eight months together 'thout knowin'
each other, 'n yew all know yew k'n depend on me to do the best I k'n
ter make ye comfortable. But I _can't_ get any hands in this
God-forsaken place if we only had two left forrard." That speech settled
it. If Captain Smith had been an irritable man, inclined to put on airs
of outraged dignity because his crew asked him a perfectly reasonable
question, and to rate them like a set of fractious children, there would
have been an instant refusal of duty on the part of the men, followed by
much suffering and loss on both sides, for the chaps were thoroughly in
earnest. But the skipper's frank good-humour and acceptance of the
situation disarmed them, and they returned forward with minds made up to
see the voyage out as best they could. Next day we weighed anchor and
sailed for London, the windlass revolving to the time-honoured tune of
"Good-bye, fare-you-well; hurrah, my boys, we're homeward bound."

Just prior to our departure we received on board some two or three
hundred fowls and two goats, which, added to about twenty pigs--mostly
bred on board, two large dogs, two monkeys, sundry parrots and two cats,
made the ship bear no bad resemblance to Noah's Ark. None of these
animals had any settled abiding place; they just roamed about the decks
whithersoever they would, except on the sacred precincts of the poop,
which were faithfully guarded by one of the dogs, who allowed no
intrusion by any of the grunting, clucking, or chattering crowd. But
this state of things was a great trial to all concerned. For one of the
cardinal necessities of British or American ships is cleanliness, which
is secured by copious floods of salt water, and vigorous scrubbing every
morning. Under present conditions keeping the vessel clean was
manifestly impossible, the crowd of animals even invading the men's
quarters, as well as every nook into which they could possibly squeeze
themselves. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction forward at this
state of things, and fowls were continually flying overboard, being
chased and smitten by angry men, who found everything under their hands
befouled and stinking. Still the nuisance was unabated until we were ten
days out. Just off Cape Comorin we got our first stiff breeze of the
homeward passage, and very soon, in accordance with her invariable
custom, the old ship began to take sufficient water over the rail to
flood the decks fore and aft. Then there was a commotion in the
farmyard. The watch, up to their waists in water, splashed about
collecting the squawking chickens, and driving the bewildered swine into
a temporary shelter, rigged up under the topgallant forecastle. Next
morning at least four dozen dead fowls were flung overboard, in addition
to many that had fled blindly into the sea on the previous day. This
loss so disgusted the skipper that he ordered all hands to be fed on
poultry until the stock was exhausted. At first this benevolent (?)
command gave a good deal of delight, but when the miserable, leathery
carcases, boiled in salt water, unclean and unsavory, were brought into
the forecastle, there was almost a riot. A deputation waited upon the
captain to protest and demand their proper rations of "salt horse." They
were received by the skipper with a very ill grace, and the usual
senseless remarks about sailors' fastidiousness in the matter of food
were freely indulged in by the "old man," who seemed quite out of
temper. We got no more Coromandel poultry, though, which was a blessing,
albeit they were served up to the cabin as usual. Being prepared in a
civilized fashion, I suppose, the officers found them eatable. But in
various ways the flock of fowls diminished rapidly, much to our relief,
and gradually the decks began to assume their normal cleanliness. The
pigs, numerous as they were, could be kept within bounds forward; in
fact, the dogs rarely permitted them to come abaft the foremast. As for
the two goats, they grew so mischievous, gnawing the ends of all the
ropes, and nibbling at everything except iron, that orders for their
execution went forth, and since no one would eat them, their bodies were
flung overboard.



CHAPTER XVIII.

HOMEWARD TO LONDON.


As Captain Smith had foretold, we were having an exceedingly
fine-weather passage. All the way down the Indian Ocean we were favoured
with pleasant breezes, fair for our course, and glorious weather. Every
care was taken to make the work as light as possible for the small crew,
although we in the starboard watch were sorely exasperated by the second
mate's devotion to sand and canvas--a mania that had given him his
well-earned sobriquet of "Jemmy the Scrubber." If he could only have his
watch slopping about with a few buckets of sand and rags of old canvas,
rubbing away at the dingy interior of the bulwarks, that with all his
attentions never _would_ look white, he was in his glory. But oh! how we
did hate the messy, fiddling abomination. It made our discontent the
greater to notice that the mate's watch scarcely ever touched it. Like a
sensible man, Mr. Edny preferred to have one thoroughly good scrub down
at lengthy intervals, going over the whole of the paint in one day, to
scratching like a broody hen, first here and then there, in patches, and
never making a decent job after all. It kept the watch in a chronic
state of growl, which was only prevented from breaking out into
downright rebellion by the knowledge that the second mate was always in
hot water aft, although, owing to his seven years' service in the ship,
the skipper and mate allowed him to have pretty much his own way. Apart
from this, things went on smoothly enough. Many a time did Jemmy, with
only such assistance as Bill and I could give him, set and take in the
lighter sails without disturbing the rest of the watch, who were fast
asleep in their several bunks. They knew this well, and consequently
never turned out, even upon the most urgent necessity, without a chorus
of growls at the second mate, although he never took the slightest
notice of them.

So we slowly lumbered homeward in uneventful monotony, until one morning
we made the land about East London, and congratulated ourselves that we
were near the southern limit of our journey home. Still the weather was
kind to us. No envious southerly gale battered us back from the Cape we
were striving to get round, and presently we found ourselves in the
embrace of the great Agulhas current that for ever sets steadily round
the Cape westward. Homeward bounders have reason to rejoice when they
enter the limits of this mighty marine river, for, in spite of contrary
winds or calms, they are irresistibly carried on the way they would go
at a rate that is the same for the bluff-bowed sea-waggon as for the
ocean-flyer. And one day, to my intense delight--for I had heard a tale
from Bill--the wind died completely away and the water became as smooth
as a mirror. Every bit of line in the ship that could by any
possibility serve as a fishing-line was ferreted out, and fishing
commenced. At first only the favoured few, whose lines were fifty or
sixty fathoms long, got a look in, bringing up from the bank far below
us some magnificent specimens of cod. Then, as the fish followed their
disappearing comrades up, the shorter lines came into play, and the fun
became general. It was a regular orgie of fishing. At least three
hundred splendid fish of various kinds, but chiefly cod, rewarded our
efforts, the subsequent feast being something to date from. Better
still, the weather being cool, we were able to salt down a large
quantity for use later on, so that we had fish for nearly a month
afterwards. After about eight hours of this calm a gentle south-easterly
breeze sprang up, which persisted and strengthened, until, with the dim
outlines of the high land behind the Cape of Good Hope on our starboard
quarter, we were bowling cheerily along under every rag we could muster,
our head pointing north-north-west, homeward-bound indeed.

Then the work that must be undertaken in every respectable ship on the
"home-stretch" came with a rush. Setting up rigging, rattling down,
general overhaul of running and standing gear, chipping iron-work and
painting it with red lead, scraping bright woodwork, etc., etc., kept us
all busy, although we were allowed watch and watch all along. In most
ships it is the custom while in the south-east trades, homeward-bound,
to give no afternoon watch below in order that the bulk of the
"redding-up" may be done before crossing the line. But for several
reasons our skipper did not think it advisable to tax his scanty crew
too much. As for attendance on the sails, we might have been a steamship
for all the work of that kind required--the "south-east trades" being
notoriously steady and reliable in the Atlantic, while the north-east
trades are often entirely wanting. So we had trades, from the Cape to
the line, that did not vary a point in force or direction for three
weeks; and, if she would have steered herself, she could have made that
part of the passage unmanned. The time literally flew by, being
delightfully punctuated every Sunday by a glorious feed of roast
pig--two of our large stock of home-bred porkers being sacrificed each
Saturday, and fairly apportioned among all hands.

St. Helena was sighted ten days after losing sight of the African
land--a huge black mass, towering to an enormous height, as it seemed to
me. We approached it very closely, purposing to report ourselves there,
but not to anchor. Coming round under the huge crags of the southern end
with all sail set, we had a splendid view of the cliffs, rising sheer
from the sea, whereon the gliding shadow of our ship was cast in almost
perfect resemblance. Who was responsible for the neglect, I do not know,
but suddenly down a gorge in the mountain rushed a fierce blast almost
at right angles to the wind we were carrying, and making the canvas
shake and flap with a thunderous noise. There was a great bustle to get
sail off her, but unfortunately she paid off rather smartly, and
_crack_ went the mizzen-topmast before the sails came down. A piece of
gross carelessness! for no coast of that kind should ever be approached
under sail without all due precautions for shortening down. Neglect of
such preparation has caused the loss of many a fine ship and countless
boats, with appalling sacrifice of life. It was the only spar we lost
during the whole of that voyage.

By the time we had got the kites off her we had opened out the great
gorge, in which, as if it had been dropped from the cliffs above, lies
the town, the houses appearing curiously jumbled together. We were so
close in that the great ladder, credited, I believe, with a rung for
every day in the year, which leads up on to the cliffs from the town,
was plainly visible. Only one ship, the _Noach VIII._, of Rotterdam, one
of the regular old Dutch East Indiamen from Java, was at anchor, for
even then the prosperous days of St. Helena as a sort of ocean "half-way
house" had departed, never to return. We spelt out our name and ports of
departure and destination with the length of passage, our information
being duly acknowledged from the flag-staff. In a few minutes more we
were again in the grip of our faithful friend the south-east trade, and
feeling that another important milestone was passed on our long journey.
Placidly, equably, we jogged on, four days afterwards sighting and
signalling to the barren volcano-scarred island of Ascension, the
exclusive domain of men-o'-war, for whose behalf a large naval
establishment is maintained in highest efficiency. Another landmark
left behind. Onward we sped with freshening trades and increasing speed
until we were actually in eight degrees north latitude, so kindly had
the fair wind we took off the pitch of the Cape favoured us. But our
good fortune still held. Instead of at least a week of the detestable
doldrums we fully expected, we had only one day's detention before the
north-east trades swept down upon us, and away we went, braced sharp up
on the starboard tack to the north-westward. And now for a while, all
the tarry work being done, all hands were transformed into painters, and
varnishers. Within and without also, as far as the wash of the sea
alongside would allow, we painted and polished, until the grimy, once
shabby old packet looked quite smart and shining. The second mate was
right in his element. He begrudged himself necessary rest, and often
looked angrily at the sun when setting, as if he felt he was being
defrauded out of a few minutes more of his beloved labour. Never surely
was there a man who loved work for its own sake better than he. Never
had a ship a more energetic seamanlike officer. Yet he was by no means
appreciated aft, although his worth was undeniable. And as so often
happens, he was doomed to be a junior officer all his life, for he could
not do the simplest problem in navigation without making the most
ludicrous mistakes. However he "passed" for second mate was a mystery
known only to the examiners. Mainly, I believe, by his untiring efforts,
all our painting operations were successfully completed before we
reached the northern verge of the tropic, where changeable weather
began to appear. But, when once the paint was on, he was like a hen with
one chick. His eager eye was ever on the watch for any unfortunate who
should dare to sully the whiteness of the bulwarks within, or heave
anything overboard carelessly that might mark the glossy blackness
outside. But his great carnival was yet to come. One morning shortly
after four, under his directions, I lugged up from the fore-peak a
number of lumps of sandstone, which he busied himself till daylight in
shaping into sizable blocks, while I pounded the smaller pieces into
sand. Promptly at four bells the watch were gathered aft, and
"holystoning" commenced. This delightful pastime consists of rubbing the
decks, along the grain of the wood, with blocks of sandstone, the
process being assisted by scattered sand and water. For three days the
decks were in a continual muck of muddy sand, and Jemmy's face wore a
steady, beaming smile. When, at last, all the grit was flooded away, the
result was dazzling. The decks were really beautiful in their spotless
cleanliness. Then, to my unbounded amazement, no sooner were they dry,
than a vile mixture of varnish, oil, and coal-tar, was boiled in an
impromptu furnace on deck, and with this hideous compost the spotless
planks were liberally besmeared. I felt personally aggrieved. "Why"--I
could not help asking my chum Bill--"why, in the name of goodness all
this back-breaking holystoning only to plaster such a foul mess on the
decks immediately afterward?" "Preserves the wood," was the sententious
reply, and it was all the answer I could get. Certainly the poop was
varnished only, which made it a golden hue until the first water was
poured on it. After that it always looked as if a lot of soapsuds had
been poured over it and left to dry.

But with this final outrage on common sense, as I couldn't help
considering it, our ship-decorating came to an end. Henceforth the chief
object in view apparently was to preserve, as far as possible, the spick
and span appearance of the vessel until she reached home. Those
beautiful decks, especially, were the objects of Jemmy's constant
solicitude. He found some nail-marks one day left by somebody's boots,
and one would have thought the ship had sprung a leak like a well-mouth
by the outcry he made. As far as possible work was confined to the fore
part of the ship, and beside the ordinary routine little was done but
the plaiting of rope yarns into sennit--always a kill-time. But we were
now so far north that the variable weather of the North Atlantic began
to give us plenty of occupation in the working of the ship. Fortunately
we were not long delayed by contrary winds. The brave westerlies came to
our assistance, driving us along in fine style and at increasing speed,
until one day through the driving mist we sighted Corvo, one of the
northern outposts of the Azores. It was fortunate that we did so, for
thenceforward thickening weather and overcast skies prevented any
observation of the heavenly bodies, and "dead reckoning" was our only
means of knowing the ship's position. Now Captain Smith, though
thoroughly at home on the Indian coasts, had a great dread of his own
shores, and as the distance from land grew less he became exceedingly
nervous, until at last, when by his estimate we were well up Channel, he
dared no longer run as fast as the following gale would have driven him,
but shortened sail, much to every one else's disgust. Ship after ship
came up astern, passed us, and sped away homewards, while we dawdled
through those crowded waters, running the risk of the fair wind blowing
itself out before we had gained our port. Before we had sighted land or
light it came down a thick fog--a regular Channel fret--which is a
condition of things dreaded by all seamen on our dangerous coasts. We
hove-to, keeping the foghorn going with its melancholy bray. Thus for
six mortal hours we lay helplessly tossing in the fairway, listening to
the miserable discord of foghorns, syrens, and whistles, but unable to
see the ship's length away from us. The anxiety was exceedingly great,
for at any moment we were liable to be run down by something or another,
whose commander was more venturesome than ours. Suddenly out of the
gloom came a hoarse hail, "D'ye want a pilot, sir?" A sweeter sound was
never heard. Without a moment's hesitation the old man replied, "Yes,
where are you?" He had hardly spoken before the dim outlines of a lugger
came into view close alongside. "Are you a Trinity pilot?" asked the
skipper. "No, sir, but I can run you up to him," replied the voice. "How
much?" queried the captain. "Five pounds, sir!" came promptly back.
"All right, come aboard!" said the old man, and all hands crowded to the
side to see our deliverer from suspense. "Heave us a line, please, sir!"
came up from the darkness, where we could see the shadowy form of the
big boat tossing and tumbling in the heavy sea. The main brace was flung
out to her, and, as she sheered in towards us, a black bundle seemed to
hurl itself at us, and in a few seconds it stood erect and dripping on
deck--a man swathed in oilskins till he looked like a mummy. Only
pausing to dash the water out of his eyes, he shouted, "Square the
mainyard!" and walking aft to the helmsman ordered him to "Keep her
away." A minute before all had been miserable in the extreme, and the
bitter gale roaring overhead seemed to be withering all the life out of
us. But what a change! The man seemed to have brought fine weather with
him; the perfect confidence that every one had in him dispelling every
gloomy thought. The lesson of that little episode, so commonplace, yet
so full of instruction, has never been forgotten by me. It is so
palpable that I dare not enlarge upon it.

Meanwhile one of the lugger's crew had followed his chief, and was busy
begging tobacco, meat, and anything else the steward could find to part
with. When he had got all he could, the lugger sheered in again, and he
tumbled back on board with his booty. Very soon the fog cleared away,
and as soon as it did so we saw the light on Dungeness close aboard. We
ran up to the pilot's cruising ground and hove-to, burning a blue light
as a signal, while our friendly hoveller pocketed his five pounds and
departed, well pleased with his four hours' earnings. These men get
called some very hard names, and may perhaps occasionally deserve them;
but as long as sailing-ships exist they will be found, as we undoubtedly
found one, a very present help in time of need, and the salvation of
many a fine ship.

The Trinity pilot was some time making his appearance, for there were
many ships about, and we must needs wait our turn. But in due time we
were supplied, the yards were again squared, and away we went around the
Foreland. Presently there was a welcome sound of paddle-wheels, and up
came a tug anxious for the job of towing us up to London. But our
captain's Scotch economy forbade him to take steam while there was so
much fair wind going for nothing; and the subsequent haggling was almost
as protracted as Bill's celebrated feat in Bombay. At last, after two or
three departures of the tug in fits of irritation, a bargain was struck,
and the ever-welcome command came pealing forward, "Get the hawser
along!" No need to call all hands. Everybody came on the jump, and that
mighty rope was handled as if it had been a lead-line. In a wonderfully
short time the end was passed to the tug, a severe turn was taken with
our end round the windlass bitts, and with what the sailor calls "a fair
wind ahead," we went spinning up through the intricate channels of the
Thames estuary. All hands worked with a will to get the sails clewed up
and unbent from the yards, as it was now daylight. Such a morning's
work had not been done on board for many a day, for was not the end of
the voyage here. As for me, I was continually in hot water, for I could
not keep my eyes off the wonderful scenes through which we were passing.
It was my first home-coming to London by sea, and on the two previous
occasions of leaving, I had either no heart to look about me or I had
come down at night. Just stopping at Gravesend long enough to exchange
pilots, since the sea-pilot never takes a ship into dock, we sped onward
again, the tug straining every nerve to save the tide. Soon everything
was ready for docking, and all hands were allowed to "stand by," resting
until we should reach Blackwall.

The East India Docks at last, with the usual little group of expectant
yet nonchalant officials and the loafers in the background. Are we going
to dock at once, or will she tie up in the basin? As anxiously as if
docking was going to take a month were these questions bandied about, so
eager were all the fellows to get ashore. Joy!--she is hauled in to the
side of the basin, made fast temporarily, and the mate, with a merry
twinkle in his eye, says the closing benediction, "That'll do, men." By
this time the voracious crowd of boarding-masters' runners, tailors'
ditto, and unclassified scoundrels were swarming on board (it was before
the beneficent regulations were passed forbidding these gentry to board
an in-coming ship), and the forecastle was a perfect pandemonium. But
one by one the chaps emerged with their dunnage, and were carried off in
triumph by one or other of the sharks, until, the last one having gone,
we of the half-deck were left in peace. And now I _was_ home what was I
going to do? I felt like a stranger in a strange land, and it was with a
sense of great relief that I accepted an invitation to stay by the ship
for the present.



CHAPTER XIX.

A CHANGE OF NATIONALITY.


Much as I longed for my liberty, the certain sense of a home afforded by
the ship was so comforting that I was in considerable dread of the time
when, as I supposed, I should be paid off and sent adrift like the rest
of the crew. Therefore it was with joy that I received the welcome news
from the mate that I might remain and work by the ship, and that my
wages would be fourteen shillings a week, out of which I was to keep
myself. The future, which had begun to worry me greatly with its
possibilities of misfortune, owing to my still insignificant size, now
took a decidedly roseate hue. My arch-enemy (as I considered him), the
second mate, became quite amiable, even condescending to inform me that
the plenteous kicks and cuffs he had bestowed upon me had all been
prompted by a sincere desire for my best interests, and that, before I
was much older, I should thank him heartily for his rigorous treatment.
In this latter prophecy he was grossly in error, for I have never been
able to find any excuse for the brutality of a man to the helpless who
chance to be in his power, whether human or brute.

Pay-day came and I received my account of wages, finding that I was
entitled to nine golden sovereigns. At the appointed hour I made my way
up the East India Dock-road to Green's Home, where I foregathered with
most of my shipmates, who were dogged by villainous-looking men as
closely as if they were criminals out for an airing. While waiting, they
made frequent visits to the public-house at the back of the office,
which fairly hummed with the accumulated rascality of the neighbourhood.
But for the danger of actions for libel, I would tell some pretty little
stories of what I have seen in some of the highly respectable (see
evidence before the Licensing Committees) liquor-shops in "sailor town."
But I must refrain, comforting myself with the knowledge that such tales
have already been better told elsewhere. When at last my turn came, and
I received that little pile of gold--more money than I had ever seen at
one time before--I was almost afraid of being the possessor of so much
wealth. And knowing well, as I did, the risk I ran if any one got an
inkling of my riches, did not lessen my fears. I did not think of the
Post Office, strange to say; but, in a few minutes, formed a resolution
to lay all my money out in a stock of clothes--which, indeed, I was
urgently in need of--and depend upon my weekly earnings from the ship to
keep me. The thought of losing my employment never seems to have dawned
upon me. Full of my project, I started for Aldgate; but brought up
sharply at the Baths before I had gone a hundred yards. A nice warm
bath--what a luxury! In I went and enjoyed myself immensely. In about
half an hour I was out again and walking briskly westward, when I
stopped to make some trifling purchase--to find my money gone, purse and
all. On the instant I turned and rushed back to the Baths, flew past the
doorkeeper, and up the corridor towards the bath I had recently left.
The door stood wide open, and there was my purse on the seat, with the
money intact. I grabbed it and drew a long breath, the first, it seemed
to me, since I missed it. Going out, I met an angry man at the door, who
was anxious to know what I thought I was up to, and so on. A shilling
assuaged all his curiosity and lit up his lowering face with sudden
smiles. Clutching my purse, I made all the haste I could to Messrs.
Moses and Sons, arriving there with a sigh of thankfulness. I didn't
feel capable of owning so much money, much less taking care of it. A
gorgeously attired individual strode forward with an ironical air of
courtesy as I entered, and, bowing low, wished to know my pleasure. Ah!
if I was going to spend all my money, here was at least a chance to
taste the sweets of that power which its possession brings. With all the
hauteur I could assume, I said, as I swelled my four feet of stature in
opposition to the shopwalker's majestic presence, "I want an outfit,
something plain and substantial; say about nine or ten pounds." And as I
spoke I secretly emptied my purse in my pocket, and drawing out a few
sovereigns nonchalantly, I passed them through my fingers and dropped
them into another pocket. Out of the corner of my eye I watched my
gentleman's face. All his sarcastic attitude vanished, and for the time
he was my obsequious, humble servant. But oh! how shamelessly he made me
pay for his attendance. Even after this lapse of years I blush to think
how I was taken in--the shoddy rags which I received for my gold, and
the swelling pride with which I ordered them to be sent down to _my_
ship. When I left the huge shop I felt quite an important personage,
although I had but five shillings left out of my year's wages. Still,
such as they were, I had a complete stock of clothing, including a chest
and bedding, oilskins and sea-boots; in fact, such an outfit as I had
never owned before. When I returned on board I informed Bill of my
purchases. He applauded my resolution, but blamed me for not keeping a
little money in case of an emergency--he always did himself, he said.
For a fortnight, however, I found no reason to regret my precipitate
action. Then, on a Saturday afternoon, came the stunning intelligence
that, as there was no more work to be done, I was no longer wanted.
Fortunately I had saved enough out of my weekly wage to pay for a week's
board; so I immediately made my way to my old boarding-house in the West
India Dock-road, and was received with open arms. I paid my twelve
shillings down manfully, telling the master that I wanted a ship as soon
as possible. After finding out by cross-examination that I had been paid
off with nine pounds, he was much less cordial. In fact, he grumbled a
good deal; but finally promised to do his best to get me a ship at once.
Fortunately (as I thought at the time), before the week was out, I got a
berth on board a large American ship--the _Pharos_ of Boston, which was
lying in the South-West India Dock, loading general cargo for Melbourne.
As she was only about half full, I begged permission to come and work on
board for my food, so that I should not get into debt at the
boarding-house. The mate, who engaged me, readily granted my request; in
fact, he seemed to take no interest in the matter. So I took up my
quarters on board, becoming great friends immediately with the amiable
old mulatto steward, who, besides being a most valuable servant, was a
deeply religious man according to his lights.

And now my lines were cast in truly pleasant places. I had heard of the
good times enjoyed by boys in American ships--such floating hells for
their crews as a rule--and my experiences at present fully bore out the
truth of my information. But I very soon saw that all was not right on
board. The mate was utterly neglectful of the cargo, spending most of
his time tippling in his berth with all sorts of visitors. The second
mate, a stalwart youth of twenty, busied himself constantly with the
rigging, studiously avoiding any encroachment upon the mate's province
of attending to the shipment of the cargo. The captain rarely appeared.
He was a very old man, with an awful scowl, and, although bearing
himself erect, and smart-looking, was evidently long past the efficient
performance of his duties. The only other members of the crew on board
were the carpenter, a Finn of about sixty years of age, and the cook, a
garrulous Dane, who spent most of his time yarning at the galley door
with a huge knife in one hand as if it were his sceptre. A good deal of
drinking went on about that galley, and often at knock-off time the
stevedores had much ado to get ashore, so drunk were they. At last the
mate left--how or why I do not know--and from thenceforward no pretence
was made of tallying in the cargo at all. Not until three days before
she was advertised to sail did we get another mate, a prim little man,
who had been long master of English ships, and looked like a fish out of
water on board the _Pharos_.

Shipping day came, and, leaving the second mate, steward, and carpenter
(who were on the original articles) on board, the rest of us went down
to a shop in Ratcliff Highway to "sign on." It was a Jew tailor's, of
all places in the world, and never shall I forget my astonishment at the
sight it presented. When we got there the shop was full of as motley a
crowd of scallawags as one could collect anywhere. Apparently they were
shipping in some other American ship, from the scraps of conversation I
heard. Presently one of the fellows asked a question of the
sturdy-looking Israelite behind the counter. Looking up from his book,
that worthy said fiercely, "Get out!" The man hesitated, and muttered
some reply. With a howl like an enraged tiger the tailor snatched up a
pair of shears and sprang over the counter after him. There was a
regular scuffle among the crowd for a few seconds, as the thoroughly
scared candidate rushed for the door, just succeeding in making his
escape as the vengeful Jew reached the pavement. In another second the
tailor was back at his book as if nothing had happened. But I noticed
that nobody asked any more questions, except one man, whom I took to be
the captain of the ship signing on. After some little confusion the
first crowd took their departure, and another assortment took their
places, ready to sign in the _Pharos_. The whole proceedings were an
utter farce, though with a semblance of legality; but what surprised me
most of all was that each man received, whether he wanted it or not, two
months' advance in the form of a promissory note, payable at this shop
three days after the ship left Gravesend. Only three out of the whole
crowd signed their names, the rest modestly made their mark, and the
tailor wrote down such fantastic designations as his fancy suggested.
Then one of his assistants marshalled us all together like a flock of
sheep, and convoyed us to the office of the American Consul-General in
the city, where, in wholesale fashion, we were made citizens of the
United States of America. The ceremony was no sooner over than we were
told to go, but sharply reminded of the hour of sailing. Our guide
mysteriously disappeared, leaving us to find our way back to sailor-town
as best we could.

To my surprise and gratification I found myself shipped as an ordinary
seaman, at thirty shillings per month, three pounds of which I already
held in the form of a "promise to pay." I immediately hastened to my
boarding-house to get the said paper converted into money, but, as I
didn't owe him anything, the master refused to touch it, and further
favoured me with his opinion that I shouldn't find anybody who would
give me more than ten shillings for it. Somewhat alarmed at this, I
hurried to various places where they professed to discount seamen's
advance notes, finding to my amazement, that he had spoken the truth.
Then I suddenly remembered an old acquaintance with whom I had become
friendly, and who, being a tradesman, might be able to change my note.
Off to him I hurried, finding him both able and willing; so I got my
three pounds in full. But I afterwards learnt that the highest amount
any of the sailors had been able to get for their notes of six pounds
had been two pounds ten shillings, and of this a goodly portion had to
be taken out in clothes. And this I was told was because of the
uncertainty attaching to the payment of these notes when they were
presented. Under such conditions there was little room for wonder that
cases of disappearance of the men who had obtained these advance notes
were frequent. It was no unusual thing for half of a crew to be missing
when a vessel sailed, when, of course, those who had given anything for
the notes lost their money beyond hope of recovery.

Although it seems premature to say so, I feel bound to add that the
friend who cashed my note received his money, when it was due, without
question. Seven of the men who signed on with me did not turn up on
sailing-day, so that we left the dock shorthanded to that extent. We
anchored at Gravesend, however, and a scratch lot of "hard cases" were
found to make up our complement. For three days we lay at the Red Buoy
below Gravesend, while I wondered mightily at such delay, foreign
altogether to my notions of the despatch of Australian packets. But
finally a huge lighter painted a brilliant red came alongside, and
immediately the order was issued for all fire or light of any kind to be
extinguished, as we were going to ship gunpowder. As soon as the
officers were satisfied that there was no danger from a stray spark to
be apprehended, the transhipment began, and soon fifty tons of
explosives were transferred to the square of our main hatch, in cases
and kegs, from which a good deal of loose powder was leaking. The
stowing completed, the hatch was securely battened down for sea, the
lighter left, and the order was given to man the windlass. Hitherto I
had been agreeably surprised to see how quietly the work went on,
altogether a different state of affairs to what I had expected on board
a Yankee ship. But the reason was not far to seek. Vicious as the
captain looked, he was utterly helpless to inaugurate a reign of terror
on board, for he had no truculent set of officers to back him. The mate
was a quiet, elderly man, looking as unlike a seaman as possible, and
certainly was not the man to develop into a bully. The second mate was
too young, although as smart a man as ever stepped, to tackle the whole
crew single-handed, even had he felt disposed; and, of course, the
ancient carpenter counted for nothing. Half the crew were exceedingly
hard citizens, who looked as if all the ways of "Western Ocean
blood-boats" were familiar to them; the other half were Norwegians and
Swedes, who were unable to speak English, and ready to endure any kind
of brutality, at whoever's hands it might be presented. Poor wretches!
had they but known it, they were fortunate, for the worst that befell
them was being treated as boys by the hard-bitten members of the crew,
and made to wait on them hand and foot. On deck their lives were easy
enough and the food was really good.

In order to save the skipper trouble, I suppose, we had a Channel pilot
on board to take the ship as far as Portland. He, poor man, was sadly
out of his element with the skipper, whom he early described, to the
half-dozen passengers we carried, as an unmitigated hog. Still there was
no open breach between them until we arrived off the Wight. Then when
the pilot altered the course (we had been coming down in mid-channel),
too close in with the land, the old man walked up to the helmsman and
sternly ordered him to resume the course he had been steering, right
down the centre of the Channel. Of course there was an explosion. The
pilot protested in no measured terms against his behaviour, saying that,
as his contract was performed, he was anxious to be put ashore. The
captain, however, treated him with cool insolence, assuring him that he
wasn't going one mile out of his way to land him, and the utmost he
would do would be to put him on board any homeward-bounder we might pass
near enough. This nearly drove the pilot frantic. We could hear him all
over the ship. But, for all the impression he made upon the venerable
Yankee, he might as well have saved his breath. Then there was trouble
with the passengers. They had been led to believe that they would be
sumptuously fed and waited upon, the charterers in London having painted
in glowing colours the comforts sure to be met with in so large a ship
for seven passengers. Now, however, they found that even the cooking of
their food was a privilege for which they must fee the cook, the steward
was forbidden to wait upon them, and they were entirely thrown upon
their own resources. When they complained to the captain he calmly told
them that their difficulties were no concern of his; he had quite
sufficient annoyance in seeing them occupying his saloon, which he could
assure them was intended for the reception of a very different class of
people to them. Happily they were all fairly well used to roughing it,
and so they sensibly set about making the best of their very bad
bargain, and thenceforward ignored the scowling skipper altogether. The
unfortunate pilot was kept on board five days, and finally put on board
a homeward-bound Mediterranean steamer that we spoke half-way across the
Bay. As he went over the side he hurled his opinion of the skipper back
at him, his voice rising higher and higher, until he was no longer
audible, to the huge delight of passengers and crew alike.



CHAPTER XX.

THE PASSAGE TO MELBOURNE.


We were now fairly on the voyage, and it must be confessed at the outset
that the work of the ship, in spite of the paucity of officers, went on
with automatic regularity. No disturbance of any kind marred the general
peace, all hands seeming well content to do their duty quietly, although
fully aware of the weakness of the afterguard. My own position was a
queer one. Although I was on the articles as an ordinary seaman, and
slept in the forecastle among the men, neither of the officers ever gave
me any work to do, and I was compelled in self-defence to fall back upon
my old friend the steward for something to occupy my time. I had all my
food with him, and whenever I could do so without fear of being
discovered by the captain, he allowed me to perform a few small offices
for the unfortunate passengers. Before we had been a fortnight out, a
circumstance, which I dare not hint at the nature of, compelled me to
give up my quarters in the forecastle and take refuge in the cabin,
where I spread my nightly couch under the saloon table. The captain
never seemed to notice my existence at all, at which I used to wonder
much; but feeling that obscurity was not a bad thing for me, I kept out
of his way as much as possible. I do not think it would be possible to
find a more perfect representation of Bunyan's "Pope" than he was.
Whenever he looked at one of the men his scowl was shocking, almost
murderous, and he was continually snarling at the mate for not using
violence towards them. But the first gale we encountered revealed a new
and still more unpleasant side of his character. Although the ship was
new, and staunch as faithful building could make her, her equipment in
all details of the very best procurable, I was astonished to see how
rapidly sail was reduced, as if she had been the veriest
poverty-stricken old hulk that ever was sent to sea to sink. Long before
the gale attained its height she was "fore-reaching" under a main
lower-topsail and storm staysails, and he, the commander, like an
unquiet spirit, was prowling incessantly about the cabin, or pacing
restlessly in front of the wheel. In one hand he held a large plug of
tobacco, from which his trembling fingers tore leaf after leaf and
crammed them into his mouth until it would hold no more. Then he would
pause for a moment at the lee rail and disgorge, only to resume his
feeding an instant later. He even consulted the poor old steward, asking
him, in quite familiar tones, whether he thought the gale was taking
off, although at other times he spoke to him rather more brutally than a
costermonger would to his donkey. But the crowning act of almost lunatic
fear was to come. I was doing something in his beautiful state-room,
when I heard him descending the ladder. I could not get out without
passing him, so I hid myself behind a curtain, feeling sure that he
would not remain there more than a minute. Peeping cautiously out, I saw
him standing gazing fixedly at a large print of the Lord's Prayer that
adorned one of the panels. Presently he burst out into the most terrible
blasphemies: guttural cursings that sent cold chills of horror chasing
one another over my scalp. Then he began to moan pitifully, as if in
pain, and suddenly, to my intense relief, he hurriedly went on deck
again. I fled in to the steward, shaking from head to foot, and told him
what I had heard. "Doan tak' no notice, honey," said the kind old
fellow. "I guess he's a-gettin' mighty ole 'n scared, so's he don' know
haef wat he sez. Ennyhaow, we cain't he'p his cussedness, 'n de good
Lawd ain't a-gwine ter mek us pay fer him. I knows Him better'n dat.
Don' yew lissen t'im no mo', sonny, ef yew kin he'p it." Little need to
tell me that, I thought. There was really nothing extraordinary in the
gale. Even the passengers, apart from the discomfort of their
surroundings, were unmoved by it, for the splendid vessel behaved
herself grandly, hardly shipping a drop of water. Gradually the wind
took off; but not until every trace of bad weather was out of the sky
was any attempt made to set sail again. And when at last orders were
given to loose the topsails and staysails, the captain seemed half
afraid of his own temerity, although two or three vessels passed us with
every stitch set, their crews lining the bulwarks to stare at us in
wonder as to why we were thus wasting the fine fair wind.

This cautious navigation, however, troubled nobody but the passengers;
and even they were less disturbed by it than they would have been had
they known anything of the ship's position. But that no one in the ship
knew, with any certainty, except the old fellow himself; for he
navigated the vessel, and did not allow the mate to take an observation,
treating him in this matter, as in all others, with a contempt almost
too great for words. Why, no one could tell; for Mr. Small was a good
officer and seaman, keeping the ship in perfect order, and attending to
all his duties in a most exemplary way. The only reason that could be
imagined for the captain's behaviour to him was that he had none of the
loud-voiced bully about him, and utterly refused to beat, kick, or swear
at any member of the crew. One thing was especially noticeable: neither
of the officers ever went forward of the men's quarters after dark,
unless absolutely compelled to do so in the course of trimming or
setting sail. This reluctance, on their part, to venture into what they
had come to look upon as the men's part of the deck, was of the greatest
assistance to the crew in the pursuit of their nefarious schemes of
plunder, which were carried on here to a greater extent than I have ever
heard of elsewhere. It has been already noticed that a good deal of
drunkenness was indulged in before the vessel left the dock, owing to
the previous mate's total neglect of duty, and this was principally
focussed about the galley. Now, it so happened that the stock of
kindling-wood fell very low, and this furnished an excellent excuse for
the cook to be much in the fore-hold, seeking such stray pieces of
dunnage-wood as he might burn. He was a poor cook, but a superlatively
ingenious robber. For, finding that the 'tween decks held little worth
his attention, he wrought unceasingly to get the lower hatches lifted--a
tremendous task, from the massive weights stowed on top of them. At last
he succeeded in getting into the lower hold, and laying open the vast
accumulation of valuable cargo that lay beneath. Having done this he
informed the "hard-case" members of his exploit, and considerately
arranged the fastenings on the fore-hatch so that they could get below
when they listed. Thenceforward that forecastle was a scene of luxury
such as I believe has never been equalled in a merchant ship. Wire
chandeliers, fitted with massive wax candles, lit up the usually
darksome house, the burning of costly cigars filled it with aroma,
liquors of every kind were drunk from tin pots, and at meal-times all
sorts of canned meats, seasoned with various condiments, tickled their
palates. Yet, strange to say, there was no drunkenness. One man, the
ringleader in this systematic robbery, possessed sufficient force of
character to actually prevent any of his shipmates from "giving the show
away," as he termed it. In consequence, this eating and drinking of
luxuries went on for fully three months, and never a whisper of the
goings-on reached the officers' ears. Even the passengers shared in the
plunder. Their stores, besides being of bad quality, were so limited in
quantity and variety that they were glad to purchase from the sailors a
little of their spoil, asking no questions as to its origin. As the
various cases were emptied the cook broke them up, carried the fragments
into the galley and burnt them, so that no trace was left of the
depredations.

The nightly excursions below were attended with awful risk. In the first
place the men possessed no dark lantern, so that they carried naked
candles flaring in their hands as they crawled through the restricted
spaces between the cargo and the deck overhead. And, on first entering
the lower hold, they had to make their way over hundreds of drums of
naphtha. These were all sealed, it is true; but had there been one leaky
can in that temperature over which a naked light passed! More than that,
in their investigations the marauders penetrated as far aft as the
stern, passing among little heaps of loose gunpowder which had sifted
through the hatches of the between-decks, and writhing over kegs of
blasting-powder which were stowed right across the vessel amidships. At
first they did this unthinkingly; but when they realized it they still
went on as before. No doubt this statement of mine will stagger many who
have found no difficulty hitherto in accepting my word that this book
contains absolutely nothing but the truth, and is a record of my
personal experience. Nevertheless, I solemnly declare that I have not
deviated one iota from the simple facts of the case. What is strange to
myself about it is that I did not, could not, then realize what
frightful danger we were continually in; but ever since, when I recall
the events of that voyage, the cold sweat starts out upon me and I
tremble violently.

True to his traditions the old man kept north as soon as we were well
round the Cape, afraid to run the easting down in the usual latitudes
because of the stern vigour of the brave west winds. Consequently, we
dawdled along with variable winds and dirty weather, never keeping a
steady breeze for more than a day or two at the outside. But, as the
longest passage must come to an end at last, when nearly four months had
elapsed since leaving London, a rumour ran round the ship that we were
on the meridian of Cape Leeuwin, the south-westernmost point of
Australia. This put all hands in an exceedingly good humour, and
incidentally had strange consequences. Not that she had ever been an
uncomfortable ship, except for the mate and the passengers. There was
never an angry word or a growl heard. Orders were executed with as much
alacrity as if there had been half a dozen belaying-pin-wielding
officers prowling about, ready to knock any skulker senseless on the
instant. No doubt this was owing to some strange under-current of
feeling about their nefarious proceedings on the part of the crew, as if
they could, in some measure, set-off their wholesale robbery by the
prompt, cheerful obedience they paid to all orders. But, as I have said,
the report of our nearness to port sent a glow of unusual cheerfulness
through the ship. Under its influence the prime mover in the plundering
felt so benevolent that he actually went and fetched a bottle of brandy
out of his chest, and, hiding it in the breast of his jumper, brought
it to the old carpenter as he sat solitary in his berth at the after-end
of the forward-house. Chips was profuse in his thanks, earnest in his
protestations that he would be _very_ careful not to take too much and
so let the officers into the secret. No sooner was he left alone,
however, than, pouring himself out about half a pint of the glowing
"Three Star," he drank it off at a draught. His age fell from him like a
shed garment. With a strange glitter in his eye he seized the bottle
again, and treated this new man that had entered into him to another
jorum like the first. Then, on the instant, all the contumely that he
had so long and patiently endured from the skipper rushed into his
mind--a hateful burden of memories too heavy to be longer tamely borne.
Flinging wide his door he stepped on deck and solemnly marched aft, high
determination apparent in every motion of his transformed body. Halting
before the cabin door, he shouted, "Cap'n Collier, ye mouldy-headed old
son of a gun, come out here! I'm jest goin' ter lam de measly ole hed
off'n ye!" The rest of his harangue was unfit for publication.
Sufficient to say that, in spite of his deficient acquaintance with the
English language, he showed himself marvellously fluent in all the
quaint profanity of which Americans are the acknowledged masters. Thrice
was he forcibly removed to his berth by the two officers, redoubling his
efforts to induce the captain to appear, and thrice he burst forth again
and clamoured for the old man's blood. At last, seeing that nothing else
would suffice, he was put in irons, his feet were lashed together, and,
thus bound, he was cast into his bunk to "sober up," while the second
mate searched his berth for the _fons et origo mali_. He soon found it,
and brought it aft to the captain. Then a close examination of the
fore-hatch was made, revealing the fact that it was unlocked, although
the cook swore that he _had_ always locked it before he returned the
keys to the second mate. However, it was now made secure, and the keys
brought aft and given to the captain. Neither of the officers
remembered, though, that a spacious ventilator through the fore-part of
the house led directly down into the hold. This was accordingly left
unfastened, and every night one or other of the unhappy foreigners were
compelled to slide down it and pass up such stores as they could lay
their hands on. And so the game went merrily on.

Meanwhile the weather holding fine and the wind fair, we drew rapidly
nearer to the end of the passage. For my part, easy as my lot had been,
I was thoroughly sick of it. I had never been aloft all the passage, nor
had I been allowed to take any part in the ordinary work of the ship.
Consequently I felt as if I were losing all my knowledge of my business,
and I had gloomy forebodings of my sufferings in the next ship. Moreover
I felt very uneasy in my mind as to the probable outcome of the
goings-on in the forecastle and galley. I had been so much amongst it
that I felt sure it would be difficult for me to clear myself if it came
to court, and as each day passed I felt more and more certain that there
would be a wholesale arrest as soon as the vessel arrived. Therefore I
was thoroughly unquiet, longing for the passage to end, yet dreading
the arrival in port. But, so far as I could see, these dismal
reflections troubled the crew not at all. The seasoned hands had
evidently prepared a plan of campaign, and had made ample provision for
a lengthy tramp up-country, by stocking their bags with such preserved
foods as they fancied. In addition each man had a fine gun, out of a
case they had found, and a goodly quantity of cigars and spirits. Such
utter recklessness, in the face of their probable wholesale arrest
before the ship came alongside the wharf, was hard to understand; yet so
they acted.

At last the long-looked-for light on Cape Otway was sighted, and before
a splendid westerly breeze we sped through Bass's Straits, and northward
for Port Phillip Heads. Without any hindrance, except to take up a
pilot, we raced onwards until we reached the anchorage off Williamstown,
where, with the red flag flying at our mainmast head in token of the
dangerous nature of our cargo, we brought up and furled all sail, 155
days out from London. It was the longest passage that any vessel had
made for years, and great was the astonishment manifested by all who
boarded us to hear of it. None of them could understand how it was that
so fine a ship could possibly have taken the time, especially as another
ship, belonging to the same owners, and admittedly a much slower vessel,
had been in port a fortnight, having left London one month after us.
Captain Collier told the reporters a terrible tale of the severity of
our passage, which did great credit to his imagination, but left his
veracity derelict. Four days passed at the Williamstown anchorage before
we finally got rid of our powder--days of utter misery for every one
concerned in the depredations, for they were in momentary expectation of
the arrival of a police-boat with orders for their arrest. To this day
it is a mystery to me why this did not happen. Of course the skipper
could not know how far the robbery had gone, but that "broaching of
cargo" had been indulged in he must have been well aware. But he was so
utterly contemptuous of all things English, that he may have felt quite
indifferent as to what became of Englishmen's property. As his ship was
chartered by a London firm it was doubtless their loss. At any rate, he
did not trouble himself to order any examination of the hold, or make
any inquiry into the suspicious circumstances that had taken place on
the passage. At last, all being ready, we weighed anchor and were towed
over to the Sandridge Pier. We arrived there late in the afternoon, so
that by the time we were moored it was dusk. The decks were cleared up,
and all hands sent to supper. About an hour afterwards every man
forrard, with the exception of the young foreigners, who had hardly
learned English, shouldered their bags and walked ashore. The old man
was parading the poop as the row of deserters marched up the pier, but
he either did not or would not see them. So they disappeared, and we saw
them no more. Nor did we hear of them again, although two days
afterwards a reward of four pounds each was offered for their
apprehension--a piece of folly almost inconceivable in its fatuity. Of
course the cook had gone along with them, the danger of his position far
outweighing the loss of twenty pounds in wages which he thus forfeited.

As far as I was concerned, things ran along as smoothly as heart could
wish. But I was unsettled, nor could all the kindness of the worthy
steward avail to satisfy me. Theoretically, I ought to have been
exceedingly comfortable. I had literally nothing to do but avoid the
skipper; I had thirty shillings a month as wages, abundance of good
food, and I was on the best of terms with every soul on board but one.
Yet, somehow, I longed to be out of it all, and could not bring myself
to face the possibility of going to sea again in the ship. I took to
frequenting the large coasting-steamers, which used to lie at the shore
end of the pier, and at last made great friends with the chief cook of
one of them: the _Wonga Wonga_. This worthy was a herculean negro,
rejoicing in the name of Sam White, which, as a piece of charcoal would
have made a white mark on him, was somewhat inappropriate. At the close
of a delightful evening spent in his company on board the _Wonga Wonga_,
I made bold to ask him if he could get me a passage to Sydney with him.
Oh, there could be nothing easier than that, according to him; it was
only necessary for him to speak the word, and he could take half a dozen
friends up with him. But it was usual to make him a small present. I, of
course, had no money; but I timidly offered him a gold scarf-pin, which
had been given me by the passengers as a present (I afterwards learnt
that it was worth fifty shillings). He was graciously pleased to accept
it, and told me to bring my dunnage along at once. In a fever of
excitement I returned on board the _Pharos_, and packed up all my
belongings, now swollen to a goodly heap by the many articles of
clothing given me by the passengers when they left. When I had completed
my packing, I could scarcely drag the great pile of chest, bag, and
bundle along the deck, and I dared not ask any one on board to help me.
But I had plenty of resource; so I hooked on the yardarm cargo-tackle to
the lot (all well lashed together), and after a struggle succeeded in
hoisting it high enough to swing on to the wharf, having first seen that
the watchman was comfortably dozing in the galley. Very carefully I
lowered my precious cargo on to the pier, then crept ashore, and dragged
it under a railway truck, while I went back to the _Wonga Wonga_, and
enlisted the services of the cook's mate to come and carry it up to
their ship, and place it under Mr. White's care. Then I got my final
instructions. I was to return on board the _Pharos_, and remain there
till the next day at dinner-time, when I must hasten on board the
steamer, where Mr. White would receive me, and in an hour I should be on
my way to Sydney. Making my grateful acknowledgments, I returned on
board, and upon a heap of old canvas slept dreamlessly until morning.



CHAPTER XXI.

I BECOME A COLONIAL COASTER.


Surely never morning contained so many hours as did this one. Never
before, in all my varied experience, had I felt time to be so
leaden-footed. For, do what I would, the thought that at the last moment
some hindrance would arise and prevent me from following all my earthly
possessions would not be put aside. My good old friend, the steward,
noted my nervous condition, and at last called me into the pantry and
asked me, in kindly, serious tones, what was the matter. In a few broken
words I told him all, so fully did I trust him. He was silent for a
couple of minutes, then he said, "Well, Tommy, my boy, I'm sorry you'se
gwine; but I couldn't wish to keep ye here. It's no place for ye. And,
alldough I'm 'fraid I'm not doin' de right ting to let ye go, I cain't
fine it in me heart to stop ye. I only hope you'll be a good boy an' do
well, and I shall pray God to bless ye. I don't s'pose you've got any
money, so here's ten dollars for ye. Don't let anybody know you've got
it, or you'll be sure to get it stole; an' if de times should be bad in
Sydney it'll keep ye fur a while. Good-bye, my son." And with that he
kissed me. That broke me all up. I declare that, never since I lost my
dear old aunt, had I ever felt the genuine thrill of human affection as
I felt it then at the touch of that good old coloured man, whose memory
I shall cherish as long as I live.

At last the whistle sounded for dinner, and, almost immediately after, I
heard the hoarse notes of the _Wonga Wonga's_ warning that she was ready
to depart. Like an eel I glided over the side, and off up the pier I
ran, catching a glimpse between the trucks of the grim figure of Captain
Collier as he prowled up and down the sacred limits of his poop. When I
reached the steamer, she was in a great state of bustle. A host of
passengers with their baggage were embarking, and it was one of the
easiest of tasks to slip on board unnoticed. I rushed below to the
cook's quarters, finding him in the thick of preparations for the saloon
dinner. Hardly looking at me, he uttered a few hurried instructions: the
purport of them being that I must creep down through a dim alleyway into
the chain-locker, and there remain until he should send for me. At the
same time he gave me a hunk of bread and meat. Then it dawned upon me
that I was nothing but a "stowaway" after all, especially as he
whispered a final command to me not to mention his name upon any
account. It was a shock indeed, but there was no place for repentance; I
had burned my bridges. So wriggling through the dark crevice he had
indicated, I wormed my way along until I reached the chain-locker, where
I made myself as comfortable as the rugged heaps of chain-cable would
allow. Overhead I heard, as if at an immense distance, the hurry-scurry
of departure, and presently, that all-pervading vibration following the
deep clang of the engine-room gong that told me we were off. Satisfied,
so far, that I was unlikely to return, I went to sleep, and, despite the
knobby nature of my couch, slumbered serenely. How long I had thus been
oblivious of my strange surroundings I don't know, but it suddenly
occurred to me that some one was pulling my legs as they protruded
beyond the bulkhead of the chain-locker.

"Sailor-man, by his boots, sir!" said a gruff voice, answered by
another, "All right, rouse him up!" Roused up I was accordingly, and,
sliding forward, I confronted an elderly man in uniform, whom I took to
be the mate, and a stalwart fellow in a guernsey--apparently a
quarter-master. In answer to their inquiries, I told them that I had run
away from an American ship at Sandridge, and, being anxious to get to
Sydney, had stowed away. "Why didn't you come and ask me for a passage?"
said the officer. "I didn't dare to risk a refusal," I answered. "Don't
you know you can be punished for stowing away?" queried my interlocutor,
severely. "No, sir," I replied, "an' I don't care much. I'm satisfied to
know that, unless you head me up in a beef-cask and throw me overboard,
I shall get to Sydney anyhow." At this impudent reply he frowned a
little; but being, as I afterwards found, one of the best-tempered men
in the world, he merely said, "Well, come along on deck and we'll see if
we can't find you something to do."

Thenceforward I was regarded as one of the crew, and very pleased I was
to find things turn out so comfortably. On the third day out we arrived
off Sydney Heads, and went up the magnificent bay to the city amid
scenes of loveliness that I do not believe can be surpassed by any
harbour in the wide world. Mr. White had kept me at arm's length all the
passage, apparently prepared to deny all knowledge of me should I show
any signs of discovering our bargain to any one; but now, as we neared
the A.S.N. Company's wharf, he called me to him and endeavoured to make
me believe that my good treatment was entirely owing to his having
interested himself on my behalf. I didn't believe a word he said, but I
had thoroughly learned how unwise it was to make enemies needlessly, so
I pretended to be grateful for his protection. He inquired what my plans
were, and, finding that I had none, offered me the hospitality of his
home until he should be able to find me a berth in one of the steamers.
This offer I accepted, feeling glad to have somewhere to go to as well
as to avoid the necessity of breaking into my little stock of money. So
we parted for the time on the best of terms, and I returned to my work
until knock-off time, when it was understood that I was to accompany him
ashore. While I was washing I was agreeably surprised to be called by
the mate, who with great kindness presented me with a sovereign, and
promised to do his best to get me a berth as lamp-trimmer. He also gave
me some good advice as to the company I got into, warning me to beware
of the larrikins that infested certain quarters of the town. I thanked
him as earnestly as I was able, telling him that I was going to lodge
for the present with one of the crew, and, bidding him good-bye, went
down the gangway and through the warehouse to wait for the cook as we
had arranged. He soon joined me, followed by his two mates bearing my
chest, which was put upon a lorry and conveyed up town. I found his wife
a kindly, slatternly white woman, and his home a weather-board house in
Lower York Street, with hardly any pretensions to comfort. Still, I
reasoned, it would do for the time as well as any other place I should
be likely to find, and, from the stories I had heard of "down town"
Sydney, was probably a great deal safer.

I spent a week ashore wandering wherever I had a mind to, and seeing the
beautiful place thoroughly; but I made no acquaintances. One thing was
early impressed upon my mind, and subsequent experience only confirmed
my belief, that Sydney was the most shamelessly immoral place I had ever
seen. That, of course, was twenty-seven years ago, so may not be at all
the case to-day. At the end of the week I was overjoyed to get a berth,
without anybody's assistance, as lamp-trimmer on board a pretty little
steamer, called the _Helen M'Gregor_, that ran regularly between Sydney
and the town of Grafton on the Clarence River, calling at Newcastle and
sundry places on the river _en route_. By closely observing the duties
of the "lamps" on board the _Wonga Wonga_, I had been fairly well
prepared to take such a berth; but I thought, with a bitter smile, how
little my sailorizing would avail me now. Still, the wages were two
pounds ten shillings per month, the same as the A.B.'s had been paid on
the outward passage, so I was well content.

My lamp-room was a mere cupboard by the side of the funnel, on deck, and
just abaft the galley. To do my work I had to kneel on a hot iron plate
in front of the said cupboard, exposed to whatever weather was going.
But the cook had all my sympathies. In his tiny caboose he had to
prepare meals for seventy or eighty people, while all his pastry-making,
butchering, etc. (for we carried live sheep and fowls with us), must
needs be done on deck. Now the vessel, though exceedingly pretty to look
at in harbour, was utterly unfit to cope with the tremendous seas that
sweep along the eastern shores of Australia. Somewhere, in one of Henry
Kingsley's books (the "Hillyars and Burtons," I think), he speaks of a
little steamer climbing one of those gigantic seas like a bat clinging
to a wall. That was a common experience of ours. Her motions were
frightful. I have seen every soul on board sea-sick while she crawled
up, up, up one mountainous wave after another, plunging down into the
abysses between them as if she would really turn a complete summersault.
Everybody was black and blue with being flung about, and the passengers,
who had perforce to be battened down in the sweltering saloon, or second
cabin, suffered misery untellable. Yet even that wretchedness had its
ludicrous side. To see our fierce little hunchback cook astride of a
half-skinned sheep, to which he held on with a death-like grip, his
knife between his teeth and a demoniacal glare in his eye, careering
fore and aft in a smother of foam, surrounded by the _débris_ of the
preparing dinner, made even men half dead with fatigue and nausea laugh.
But it was terrible work. As for me, I got no respite at all at night.
For I had to keep the lamps burning; and she thought nothing of hurling
both the big side-lanterns out of their slides on deck, or shooting both
binnacle-lights at once into the air, leaving the helmsman staring at a
black disc instead of the illuminated compass-card. And often, as I
painfully made my way forrard with the side-lights, after a long
struggle with wetted wicks and broken glass, she would plunge her bows
under a huge comber, lifting a massive flood over all, which seized me
in its ruthless embrace and swept me, entangled with my burden, the
whole length of the deck, till I brought up against the second-cabin
door right aft, with a bang that knocked the scanty remnant of breath
out of my trembling body. Down in the engine-room the grey-headed
chief-engineer stood by the grunting machinery, his hand on the
throttle-valve, which he incessantly manipulated to prevent the
propeller racing the engines out of their seats whenever she lifted her
stern out of the water and the screw revolved in thin air. For the
old-fashioned low-pressure engines had no "governor," and consequently,
no automatic means of relieving the terrific strain thrown upon them in
such weather as this. And the firemen, who _had_ to keep steam up,
though they were hurled to and fro over the slippery plates like toys,
were probably in the most evil case of all.

She must have been staunchly built, for she bore the fearful buffeting
without any damage worth speaking of, except to the unfortunates who
were compelled to attend to their duties under such difficulties. And
after the gale blew itself out, and the glorious sun mounted
triumphantly in the deep blue dome above, the scene was splendid beyond
description. We always kept fairly close in with the land, except when
crossing a deep bight, and the views we obtained of the magnificent
scenery along that wonderful coast were worth enduring a good deal of
hardship to witness. We arrived off the entrance to the Clarence River
just at dark, and, to my great astonishment, instead of going in, sail
was set, the fires were damped down, and we stood "off and on" until
daylight. As soon as there was sufficient light to distinguish objects
on shore, we stood in; all passengers were ordered below and everything
was battened down. All hands perched themselves as high as they could on
the bridge, upper-deck, and in the rigging, while we made straight for
the bar. These precautions had filled me with wonder, for I knew nothing
of bar harbours. But when, on our nearer approach, I saw the mighty
stretch of turbulent breakers rolling in mountains of snowy foam across
the river's mouth, I began to understand that the passage through _that_
would mean considerable danger. Every ounce of steam we could raise was
on her, and the skipper, a splendid specimen of a British seaman, stood
on the bridge, the very picture of vigorous vigilance. We entered the
first line of breakers; all around us seethed the turmoil of snowy
foam, with not a mark of any kind to show the channel, except such
bearings as the skipper knew of on the distant shore. Perched upon the
rail, a leadsman sounded as rapidly as he could, calling out such depths
of water as amazed me, knowing our draught. Along came an enormous wall
of white water, overwhelming the hull and hiding it from sight.
"Lead--quick!" yelled the skipper above the thunder of the sea; and Joe
screamed, "Two, half one, quarter less two." Ah! a long and grinding
concussion as she tore up the ground, then along came another mighty
comber over all. When it had passed we were over the bar and in smooth
water, only the yeasty flakes of the spent breakers following us as if
disappointed of their prey. A very few minutes sufficed to dry up the
decks, and the passengers appeared well pleased to be in the placid
waters of the river and at peace once more. What a lovely scene it was!
At times we sped along close to the bank, while a great stretch of river
extended on the other side of us a mile wide, but too shallow for even
our light draught. On gleaming sand-patches flocks of pelicans performed
their unwieldy gambols, and shoals of fish reflected the sunlight from
their myriad glittering scales. Turning a sharp bend we would disturb a
flock of black swans that rose with deafening clamour in such immense
numbers as to darken the sky overhead like a thunder-cloud. And, about
the bushes that clothed the banks, flew parrots, cockatoos, and magpies
in such hosts as I had never dreamed of. For an hour we saw no sign of
inhabitants; then, suddenly, we sighted a little village with a rude
jetty and about half a dozen houses. All the population, I suppose,
stood on the pier to greet us, who came bearing to them in their lonely
corner a bit of the great outside world. Our skipper, though noted for
his seamanship, was equally notorious for his clumsiness in bringing his
vessel alongside a wharf, and we came into the somewhat crazy structure
with a crash that sent the shore-folk scurrying off into safety until it
was seen to be still intact. We were soon fast, and all hands working
like Chinamen to land the few packages of goods, for we had a long way
to go yet and several other places to call at. Our discharging was soon
over, the warps cast off, and, followed by (as I thought) the wistful
looks of the little community of Rocky Mouth, we proceeded up the river
again. Occasionally we sighted a homestead standing among a thick
plantation of banana trees, each laden with its massive bunch of fruit,
and broad acres of sugar-cane or maize. From amongst the latter as we
passed rose perfect clouds of cockatoos and parrots, screaming
discordantly, and making even the dullest observer think of the heavy
toll they were levying upon the toiling farmer. Again and again we
stopped at villages, each bearing a family likeness to the first, but
all looking thriving, and inhabited by well-fed, sturdy people. Just
before sunset we arrived at Grafton, having passed but two vessels on
our journey up--one a handsome brigantine, whose crew were laboriously
towing her along at a snail's pace in a solitary boat, and the other a
flat-bottomed stern-wheel steamer of so light a draught that she looked
capable of crossing a meadow in a heavy dew. There was a substantial
jetty built out from the steep bank, to the end of which, after
considerable fumbling about, we moored. The only house visible was a
rather fine dwelling whose front verandah overlooked the jetty from the
top of the bank. But, when work was done for the evening and I climbed
up the bank, I was surprised to find quite a considerable town, with
well-laidout streets and every appearance of prosperity. There was
little inducement to remain, however, and I soon hurried on board again
to enjoy some grand fishing over the side.

Here we remained for a week discharging our cargo and reloading with
maize, cases of preserved beef and mutton, and bags of tin ore. Just
before sailing we received a good deal of farm produce, including
several hundred bunches of bananas, for which there was always a good
demand in Sydney. In order not to miss a tide we sailed sometime before
daylight one morning, and, when about twenty miles down the river, ran
into the region of a bush fire. As we had to hug the bank rather closely
just there, we had an anxious time of it, the great showers of sparks
and sheets of flame reaching out towards us as if determined to claim
us, too, among their victims. The sight was terribly grand; the
blood-red sky overhead and the glowing river beneath making it appear as
if we were between two furnaces, while the deep terrific roar of the
furious fire so near drowned every other sound. All hands were kept on
the alert dowsing sparks that settled on board of us, and right glad
was everybody when we emerged into the cool and smoke-free air beyond.
After that we had a most humdrum passage all the way to Sydney.

I made at least twenty trips afterwards, all very much alike in their
freedom from incidents worth recording here--except one, which made a
very vivid impression upon me of the hardships endured by settlers in
that beautiful country. It had been raining steadily for several days,
making our transhipment of cargo a miserable operation; and it was
noticed by all of us, as we lay at Grafton jetty, how rapidly the river
was running. Before dark one evening the skipper ordered the warps to be
cast off, and we hauled out into the fairway, anchoring there with a
good scope of cable. All night long the rain poured down harder than
ever. When daylight broke, so thick was the obscurity caused by the
deluge of rain, that we could hardly make out the familiar outlines of
things ashore, even at that short distance. But we could both feel and
see that the river was now a torrent, bringing down with it massive
trees and floating islands of _débris_ torn from the banks higher up.
Towards noon the rain took off, and revealed to us a disastrous state of
affairs ashore. The river had risen over twenty feet; so that we now
floated on a level with the top of the bank, and might have steamed over
the wharf at which we had lain the previous evening. It became necessary
for our skipper to go ashore, although it was a most dangerous task
navigating the boat through that raging, tumultuous current. But the
sight of those poor folks' plight in the town made us forget all else.
The turbid flood was everywhere; all the houses standing like islands in
a muddy sea, and boats plying busily to and fro, carrying loads of
stricken people who had seen the labour of years destroyed in a night.
And all down the river the tale was the same: homes, crops,
stock--everything that had been slowly and painfully accumulated by
years of self-sacrifice--buried under the all-devouring flood. It was
too pitiful for words. How terribly true those words of warning returned
now which I had read some months before in one of the Sydney newspapers,
"Beware of the rich alluvial soil along the banks of rivers." As far as
I remember, but little notice was taken of the matter in Sydney; for
there had been a great flood on the Hunter River, much nearer to them,
at about the same time, and that seemed to occupy most of the public
attention. So many pathetic incidents were witnessed by us on that trip
that it would be invidious to make a selection, even if it were not
outside the scope of my purpose to do so; but one scene, from the
intensity of its pathos, has haunted me ever since. A certain homestead
on the shores of a lovely bend of the river, some twenty miles from
Grafton, was one of the most familiar of our landmarks. The man and his
wife were a splendid couple, full of energy and ability, and they had,
by their own unaided efforts, made such a home of this out-of-the-way
corner as gladdened the eyes to look upon. Whenever we went up or down
there the worthy couple would be surrounded by their vigorous group of
sunburnt youngsters, shouting greetings to us as if we were all old
friends. At this particular season they had a more than ordinarily fine
crop of sugar-cane, for which they had already received a good offer
from the manager of a new sugar-mill erected in one of the reaches above
Grafton. When we passed down after the flood, there, on a heap of muddy
rubbish, sat the man, his head bowed on his knees and his children
crouching near in the deepest wretchedness. Blowing our whistle, as
usual, we roused him; but after a momentary glance his head fell again.
All was ruin and desolation, utter and complete. Even the grove of
banana trees that used to embower his house had been swept away. And his
wife was nowhere to be seen.

[Illustration: Twenty miles down the river we ran into the region of a
bush fire.]



CHAPTER XXII.

PROSPERITY PALLS UPON ME.


As I grew better acquainted with the conditions of life on board the
coasting steamers, I became extremely dissatisfied with my treatment on
board the _Helen M'Gregor_. For while I had the usual duties of a
lamp-trimmer to attend to, I was also compelled to work at all hours as
one of the crew, while the heavy weights I was ordered to handle were
far beyond my strength, and several times I was severely hurt. So that
at a fitting opportunity I left her, taking up my abode with a
shoemaker, who had a large connection among steamer-hands, and for two
or three weeks led the unprofitable life of a gentleman at large. This
was bad for me in many ways. The company I was thrown amongst was
doubtful; I did not then know how much so, and, although I did not get
involved in any of their shadier exploits, I began to drink pretty
heavily, and, to put it briefly, go to the devil generally. This career
was fortunately put a stop to by the emptying of my purse, which
compelled me to get employment again.

My next ship was one of the finest on the coast, the last new vessel of
the Australasian Steam Navigation Company's (A.S.N.) fleet, which was
called the _Wentworth_. To my juvenile ideas she was a floating palace,
everything on board being on a grand scale as compared with the little
_Helen M'Gregor_. The mate was a huge Scotchman named Wallace, rough as
a bear, but very just and straightforward. When he engaged me, he gave
me to understand that my duties consisted solely in attending to the
lamps and polishing the ornamental brass-work about the deck, and that I
was on no account to do anything else or take orders from anybody but
himself or the captain. This, added to the fact that my wages were now
to be three pounds ten shillings a month, made me feel quite an
important personage--in fact, I was almost "too big for my boots."
Everything on board was so excellent in quality, and so well managed,
that I felt great pride in my ship, and I determined that, as I had only
one master to please, I would do all I could to succeed. The first thing
I resolved was that no ship in harbour should have such dazzling brass
as mine, and, after I had polished it all, I used to go round the other
ships and look at theirs. If there was one that I thought looked more
brilliant than mine, I would come back and go over my polishing again
until I was satisfied, and so I gradually got the reputation of being
smart at brass-cleaning anyhow. I lived entirely alone in a little
cubicle by my lamp-room, which was a spacious apartment, well fitted and
quite sheltered from the weather, being on the main-deck. In return for
trimming the cook's lamps, I received all my meals from the saloon
messes, and thus I lived better than I have ever done before or since.
Not that the men fared indifferently. The food supplied to them was of
the best quality, and as for quantity--well, they had steaks, chops, and
potatoes, with unlimited baker's bread, for breakfast; roast joints and
potatoes for dinner, and for supper the same as for breakfast. The waste
was shameful. The first two or three hands to arrive on the spot where
they took their meals, would cut all the brown off a ten or twelve-pound
joint. When the laggards came along, if the appearance of the meat was
not to their liking, which was usually the case, they would just fling
it over the side and go to the galley for more. The cook dared not
complain, as the officers always took the crew's part. This partiality
was owing to the system obtaining, whereby a contractor ashore supplied
all provisions at so much per head, finding cooks and stewards himself.
And any suggestion upon the part of his servants that food was being
wasted was always fiercely resented by every member of the crew, who
would immediately accuse them of trying to fatten their employer at the
sailor's expense. The result was that as much food was wasted each
passage as would have supplied another ship of the same size.

Those were the palmy days of Australian coasters. A.B.'s received £7 per
month, and one shilling and sixpence per hour overtime when in harbour,
while the day consisted of eight hours only. Firemen got £10, and
trimmers £8 per month, with overtime in addition like the sailors. And,
in justice to them, it must be said that they seemed to value their
privileges, and did not behave in the senseless way that deep-water
sailors usually do. They spent a lot of money on dress and
theatre-going, it is true; but many of them owned house-property or
land. Nor was their life a hard one. There was none of that tremendous
drive and tear seen on the American coast, where high wages are paid--as
if the officers are determined to get the last ounce of energy out of
every man because he was well paid. No; take it all round, it was the
most comfortable sea-service that ever I saw or heard of, and I never
ceased to wonder at it, or imagine that it was much too good to last.
From all reports that have reached me of late years, my ideas on the
latter point seem to have been well founded, for I hear that neither pay
nor conditions of service are in any degree comparable with what then
obtained.

As for me, I led a gentleman's life. Called at daylight to take in the
lamps, I was able to finish all my work before ten a. m., and from
thenceforward I was my own master. So heavily did the time hang when at
sea, that I took in washing from both sailors and firemen at the rate of
three shillings and sixpence per dozen, and thus earned a lot of extra
money. Unfortunately, I had no ideas of thrift; and so, although I must
have been in receipt of at least thirty shillings weekly, I never saved
a penny. My earnings used to leak away as if all my pockets were sieves.
But, on the other hand, the comfortable life, abundance of good food,
and freedom from ill-usage, had such an effect upon my hitherto puny
body, that I began to look and feel as if I was capable of doing a good
day's work, and should, therefore, not now be ashamed to ask for
employment. I no longer felt like a sailor, nor did the prospect of a
return to the old life ever enter my head--in fact, I am afraid I never
thought of the future at all. My life was very pleasant; and there was
nobody in the world who cared a row of pins what became of me--what more
natural than that I should, like any other pampered animal, live
contentedly in the present?

Our usual trip was between Sydney and Melbourne, and it generally
occupied from eight to ten days. Anything more delightful than the
ordinary run along the coast would be hard to imagine. I got to know
every landmark between the two ports as intimately as one knows the
route between his work and his own street-door. But, although I was
always interested in the Australian scenery, I felt delighted to hear
one trip that we were bound to Auckland next voyage. I had heard so much
of New Zealand that I had got to regard it as a sort of fairy-land--a
group of Islands of the Blest. We left Sydney on Christmas Eve for our
Auckland trip, much to the disgust of everybody on board except myself;
but as we carried the mails no delay could be allowed. The next day we
were, of course, out of sight of land, steering straight across that
stretch of the Pacific that lies between Australia and New Zealand; the
sea was like a lake of glowing oil, and the sky a fleckless dome of
deepest blue, with one mighty globe of molten gold hanging in its midst.
Festivities began early--so early, indeed, that by dinner-time some of
the fellows were getting very frivolous. There was a Gargantuan feed,
of course; and, after that--well, it was surely expecting too much of
human nature to suppose that steam would or could be kept up as usual.
At any rate it wasn't. It went down, down, down, until, by four p.m.,
the propeller was just feebly revolving, the vessel making no more than
two knots at the outside. By dusk I verily believe that the only two
sober males on board were the captain and myself. Drunkenness reigned
supreme in saloon, stokehold, and forecastle. By-and-by the screw
stopped altogether, and we lay almost motionless. A few of the more
vigorous revellers made spasmodic efforts to "keep it up"; but gradually
the "fun" fizzled out, and general sleep succeeded. How long it lasted I
don't know, for I turned in as usual; but in the morning she was going
again, though at no great speed, it is true. The only redeeming feature
about the whole orgie was the absence of quarrelling. General
good-humour prevailed everywhere on board, and not a word was said in
recrimination after the resumption of work. A day late, we sighted the
Three Kings--those solitary rocks off the north point of New Zealand
that stand up so sternly out of the blue waste about them. When we made
them out, it was in the tremulous lovely light of dawn--beautiful beyond
expression in those latitudes--and their rugged outlines stood out
sharply against the tenderly tinted sky, through that lucent atmosphere,
like the shadows cast by an electric beam. Then, as the sun sprang into
the smiling heaven, they were gilded, and became like some fantastic
ruin in black marble fringed with fiery rays and floating on a sea of
many-coloured flame. A few hours' run brought us to the Gulf of Hauraki,
up which we steamed amidst some of the most beautiful scenery in the
world. As we glided onward to where, apparently, a huge mountain
completely blocked up the apex of the gulf, a lovely island was pointed
out to me on the starboard hand as the earthly paradise of Sir George
Grey--Tiri-tiri. Here I was told it was his custom to receive troops of
his Maori friends, and entertain them for days, mingling with them
without the slightest consciousness of any difference of rank or colour
between him and them. No wonder they loved him, and will hand his memory
down to their remotest descendants as the great white chief who loved
them and justice.

Nearer and nearer we drew to Rangitoto, the frowning peak that loomed
heavily right in our path. At last, when within a very short distance of
it, we made a sharp turn, and, skirting a reef that extended some
distance from its base, we presently opened up Auckland Harbour, which,
if not so picturesque as its approaches might have led one to expect,
had all the merits that a good harbour should have--pre-eminently, the
chief one of being safe with all winds. In a few minutes we were
alongside the wharf, and besieged by an eager crowd who had been
anxiously awaiting us, as we were so much over our time. As was my
constant habit, I began at once to inquire as to the fishing
possibilities of the place, learning, to my intense delight, that the
harbour literally swarmed with fish of all kinds, and that even from
the wharf they could be caught in enormous quantities. That settled my
spare-time occupation for me. During our three visits to the city,
although our stay lasted a week each time, I only went "up town" twice,
and then strictly on business. My beloved sport claimed all my
attention. For some reason, perhaps to avoid accidents, the authorities
did not permit fishing from the wharf in working hours. So at daylight,
enthusiastic fishermen like myself would gather along its lee edge,
where the furious current boiled and bubbled around the piles, and
eagerly try to "jag" a few of the tiny mackerel that clustered in shoals
wherever there was an eddy. As soon as one was caught he would be
impaled on a large hook, fastened to the end of a long, stout line, and
cast out into the current without any other gear attached. As the line
"slithered" through one's fingers an eager watch was kept where the bait
might be expected to be. Presently, like a bar of silver, a huge fish
would leap into the air, and it was pull for your life. There was no
finesse, no sport, in the angler's sense of the term, but I doubt if any
angler ever enjoyed his fishing more than I did. This particular kind of
fishing, however, always had to cease at six o'clock, that is, when work
began. At other times I fished on the bottom from the ship, and was
often at a serious loss to know what to do with the enormous numbers I
caught. But even then I did not realize how vast were the shoals of fish
in the harbour, until one day I took an oar in a boat conveying a
pleasure party from our vessel down the bay. When near the reef which
fringed Rangitoto Mountain, the numbers of kauwhai (a fish much like an
overgrown mullet, and averaging four or five pounds in weight) were so
great, that each dip of the oar slew them until the water around us was
reddened with their blood. They were a fish of most delicate flavour,
and would have commanded a high price in any civilized fish-market. But
the people of Auckland seemed quite indifferent to the piscatorial
advantages they enjoyed.

So in this pleasant, easy-going fashion the months passed away, until
one day we left Sydney for Melbourne in the teeth of a southerly gale.
It was hopeless to expect that we should make any progress; but I was
told, that because we had the mails on board, we were bound to "show
willing." We managed to get round the South Head, and there we stuck;
the engines doggedly pounding away, green seas coming over all,
passengers all sea-sick, and we not gaining an inch against the fierce
wind that roared up from its icy breeding-place in the Antarctic
regions. At last the "governor" carried away, and all attempts to repair
it were ineffectual. This, coupled with the fact that night was coming
on, determined our skipper to run back and anchor in Watson's Bay, just
behind the North Head, for shelter. The word was given, and she spun
round as if rejoicing to be freed from the enormous strain she had been
undergoing. As we drew rapidly near the mouth of the harbour the sight
was one of the grandest conceivable. From the summit of the North
Head--a gigantic cliff over four hundred feet high--fountains of spray
shot up forty or fifty feet into the air, the incalculable pressure of
those tremendous waves, rolling up against it from their thousand-league
journey, having forced the reluctant sea upwards through the interstices
of that massy cliff to such a stupendous height. We flew in through the
entrance and immediately all was still. As we rounded to in the quiet
little bay and dropped anchor, it was almost impossible to realize what
a tormented waste of boiling sea we had just left, since here we lay
perfectly motionless, without a ripple on the waters around. As it was
dusk I prepared the "riding-lamp," which is always suspended from the
fore-rigging of a vessel at anchor; but, for some stupid reason of my
own, I did not place it in its position. Then I forgot all about it. The
captain was the first to discover its absence, and, blowing his whistle
for the chief officer, he reproved him sternly for his inattention to
this important detail. Smarting at this, the mate called me and asked
why I had not put the light up. I made some idiotic excuse, telling him
that it was already lighted and awaited his orders. He was almost
speechless with rage; but controlled himself so far that he presently
said calmly, "Well, go and hang it up." I did so promptly, and soon
thought no more about it. There was just this shade of excuse for
me--that I had never been anchored in a fairway before, since I had been
a lamp-trimmer, except up the Clarence River, and there the gangway-lamp
sufficed.

We resumed our voyage on the morrow, and returned to Sydney without
incident worth remembering. On the first morning after our arrival the
mate called me, and, giving me the balance of my month's money,
discharged me. Not a word was said, but I felt sure of the reason, and
did not feel sufficiently courageous to try and appease him.
Nevertheless I was very sore, for I knew that, while I had had one of
the best ships on the coast, I had also done my work thoroughly well,
for over and over again the mate had commended me upon it. I slunk
ashore like a beaten dog, not caring what became of me, and, returning
to my old lodgings at the shoemaker's, set about spending my little
stock of cash in reckless fashion. It did not last long, of course, and
I was soon fain to look for a ship; but, strange to say, I hadn't the
heart to try for another berth as a lamp-trimmer. It suddenly occurred
to me that I would like to go "home" again. That is one of the most
incomprehensible things imaginable to me. Never, during the first
thirteen years of my life at sea, did I have any home in England, or one
friendly face to welcome me back there. Yet, however well I was treated
in foreign countries or in the Australasian colonies, I always felt a
longing to get back to my own country again; and the sight of my
home-land never failed to make a lump come in my throat and raise a
feeling of wordless love for her in my breast. Why a homeless waif
should thus love his native land, I do not profess to understand; but it
is a solid fact, and one that has to be reckoned with, since I do not
for a moment suppose that I am any different to the ordinary run of
people.

In consequence of this strange longing to see the white cliffs of
England once more, I neglected the intercolonial steamers altogether,
and spent much of my time hanging about Circular Quay watching the
proceedings on board the splendid clipper-ships that lay in that
beautiful cove discharging their outward cargoes of merchandise, or
filling their capacious holds with the wool, tin, copper, and meat of
the Colonies for transhipment to the mother country. But, owing to a
diffidence that has always afflicted me, I did not venture on board any
of them to ask whether my services were required, although I was now a
sturdy youngster, well able to do a day's work and looking like it. One
day, as I was prowling round one of the outlying wharves, I got into
conversation with a burly Londoner, who was second mate of an old barque
lying there, apparently waiting for freight, which was not forthcoming
for any such out-of-date craft as she was. This individual informed me
that his ship was in want of two ordinary seamen, and that if I would go
to a certain hotel (_Anglicè_, public-house) in the vicinity, I should
find the skipper there, and that he would probably engage me at once if
I was willing. This was by no means the kind of ship that I had proposed
going home in; but I was heartily weary of being ashore doing nothing
(my money was all gone), so I turned my steps towards the skipper's
haunt at once. I found it without any difficulty--indeed, the place was
fairly well known to me by sight--and, entering, I inquired of a
red-faced man (who, in his shirt-sleeves, with unbuttoned vest, was
leaning over the bar from the inside, smoking a "churchwarden" pipe) if
he could tell me where I might be likely to find Captain Bunker. He
turned a liquorish eye upon me, and murmured, between the puffs of
smoke, "What might ye be wantin' of him?" "I'll tell him when I see
him," was my ready reply; at which he removed his pipe and laughed most
unmusically, much to my annoyance, as I did not feel like being made
game of. At last he said, "I'm Captain Bunker, m' lad; whadjer want of
me?" For a moment I stared at him incredulously; and then, the
conviction dawning on me that he was speaking the truth, I told him my
errand. Immediately he assumed a magisterial air, and began to
cross-examine me as to my qualifications, etc. My replies being
satisfactory, he then tried to cut me down in the wages. But I held out
for three pounds per month, and, strange to say, succeeded in getting
his consent to give it to me; but not before he assured me that, if I
couldn't fulfil what he was pleased to call the duties of an ordinary
seaman, he would stop my pay altogether. As, in addition to my
confidence in my own abilities, I knew that he was talking nonsense, I
made no complaint about this; and he drew me a glass of ale to clinch
the bargain. Then he told me I might go on board and consider myself one
of the crew, and that he would "sign me on" with the other new hands in
a day or two.



CHAPTER XXIII.

ANOTHER QUEER SHIP.


Having thus satisfactorily arranged for my future during some months, at
all events, I lost no time in getting on board my new ship, finding her
fairly comfortable, although the crew's quarters were under the
top-gallant forecastle--that abominable place that no men should ever be
housed in. She was called the _Harrowby_, a barque of some five hundred
tons, and, as nearly as I could judge, about twenty years old. She had
been absent from England nearly two years, having been running backwards
and forwards between the Colonies and Mauritius for some time, and was
now, in the absence of any other freight offering, going in ballast to
Rangoon for a cargo of rice to the United Kingdom. Of her original crew
but half was left: the captain, mate, and second mate aft, two
apprentices, the carpenter, and three seamen forward. The mate was a
tall, wiry, red-headed Cumberland man, stern and morose, but a good
seaman, and inflexibly just. The second mate was so fat and easy-going
that he looked more like an East-end Jew tailor than a sailor; but he
was a very jolly fellow, knowing his business well, and thoroughly
independent, so that he stood not the slightest in awe of his superior
officers, but did pretty much as he liked. The two apprentices were
gentlemanly lads, whose parents had paid heavy premiums for their
indentures in this old tub, where they were just loblolly boys, at every
one's beck and call, no one pretending to teach them anything, and kept
on precisely the same level as the crew, except that they had a little
pigstye of a berth to themselves beside the carpenter's in a house on
deck. Poor lads! they were bitterly disillusioned, and full of projects
for showing up this shameful neglect when they got home again. At this
time one of them was acting as cabin-boy, and the other was playing at
cook, with such casual direction as he could get from Hansen, an old
Danish seaman. But, generally speaking, the hands went ashore to dinner
and chalked their bills up to the skipper's account. The old carpenter
was a philosopher in his way. Nobody interfered with him, and he just
muddled along from day to day, finding himself enough work to keep him
from being actually idle, and coming forrard every evening for a smoke
and a yarn with old Hansen, who, with a lanky Irishman and a pimply
faced young cockney, formed for the present the whole of the crew
forrard.

To my amazement I learned that for nearly a fortnight the vessel had
been ready for sea, but the old man was so enamoured of his snug
quarters behind the bar of the little pub, that he could not tear
himself away. Nobody seemed to care very much. They killed time in a
variety of ways, making believe to do some work, but principally
occupied in "dodging Pompey." This state of things was broken into by
my advent. Whether the act of engaging me had recalled Captain Bunker to
a sense of his duty or not, I can not tell; but in the course of a
couple of days we were joined by an elderly Yankee A.B., rejoicing in
the name of Oliver Peck, an ex-mounted policeman, whom we always called
Joe; a tall, merry Suffolk man, who was the very incarnation of
good-humour; a white-faced Scotchman, who said he had been chief cook of
a huge steamship called the _Mikado_, and had just shipped with us as
cook to work his passage home; another ordinary seaman, like myself, a
Londoner, but twice the man I was; and a delicate, artful little fellow,
about my own age, who shipped as cabin-boy. Now we had a full crew, and
soon the skipper made his appearance on board, marching us up to the
shipping-office with him in great pomp and putting us all on the
articles. Having once broken the spell that had bound him to the pub, he
kept free, remaining on board that night, and hauling off into the
channel at daylight ready to sail. But while we were actually getting
under way a boat came alongside, bearing a lady in deep mourning and an
official, who mounted the side, and solemnly presenting the skipper with
a piece of stamped paper, informed him that he had come to stop the ship
until all charges due to Mrs. Blank, landlady of the St. Margaret's
Hotel, for board, lodging, and refreshments supplied, had been settled.
The old man made a ghastly attempt to smile, but the thing was too
palpable. Besides, all his crew were witnesses of his attempt to pay the
widow with the "foretopsail sheet," as sailors say, and, hugely as
_they_ enjoyed the spectacle, he looked as if he had been suddenly
attacked by _cholera morbus_. There was no help for it; he had to pay
up, although how he did it I don't know. At any rate he succeeded in
satisfying the bailiff, who bade him an elaborate farewell and descended
to the boat, where the widow was volubly holding forth, in our delighted
hearing, upon the many delinquencies of our skipper. The news of the
settlement of her claim only seemed to add fuel to her fire, and, as
long as she was within hearing, she continued to favour us with a minute
account of the many acts and deeds of meanness of which Captain Bunker
had been guilty. As the shrill sounds grew fainter, I could not help
thinking that it was an inauspicious commencement for our voyage; and,
in accordance with an old mental trick of mine, began to run over in my
mind the probable state of my feelings had I been in the skipper's
place. There was quite a little spell of silence after the boat's
departure, during which all hands looked first at one another and then
at the rubicund face of the skipper, which bore a peculiar vacant smile,
but not the slightest symptom of shame. At last the uneasy quiet was
broken by the harsh voice of Mr. Messenger, our chief, shouting, "Man
the windlass!" In an instant we were all busy again, and did not cease
our labours until the old barque, under all canvas, was gliding gently
down the beautiful bay towards the wide Pacific.

At first my hopes were high that we should be going north about, for, in
addition to a strong desire to avoid the unpleasantness inseparable
from working to the westward through the Great Australian Bight, I was
anxious to see something of the East Indian Archipelago. But the thought
of Torres Straits, with its intricacies and baffling currents, was
evidently too much for Captain Bunker's courage or confidence in his
navigating ability, for we made the best of our way to the southward as
soon as we were well clear of the Heads. At the picking of watches I
found myself, much to my satisfaction, under the second mate, who seemed
to have some little liking for me as his townsman. My watch-mates were
the Yankee, Oliver, the ex-policeman, and the Suffolker. As I could
steer, and, except for being rather a light weight on a rope, was well
up to my work, we felt pretty well manned on our side. But the mate's
watch came worse off, as their "ordinary" could not steer. Oh, it was
weary work after my late life of ease! The deadly slowness of our
progress, too, down the coast I had been used to skirt with the
regularity of a railway-train, was hard to bear. And, in addition to all
this, I soon found that my poor three pounds a month was rankling in the
skipper's mind, and he was determined to try and reduce it if possible.
I got a friendly hint or two from the second mate, who, although he
liked me well enough, certainly did not intend to openly side with me
against the old man. In most matters, it is true, he treated the skipper
with such scant courtesy that I was amazed, but he put in no word of
backing for me. A fortnight passed away, and we had all fairly shaken
down into sea-life, while I, by strenuous efforts, had managed to
recall all my previous experience and use it, with the added benefit of
my additional strength. What troubled me most were the stun'sails.
Studding-sails, as the word should be spelt, are the _betes noire_ of
seamen. Modern vessels have practically discarded them, happily for
their crews; but such vessels as the _Harrowby_ cling to them as long as
they live. They are temporary sails, which in fair weather are set at
the ends of some of the yards, thereby extending the spread of canvas
(when they are carried on both sides) to nearly double its normal width.
They are set by means of booms, which slide along in two hoops screwed
into bands on the yards. These booms vary in size, of course, with the
ship, and also with the height at which they are carried; but even a
top-gallant stun'sail-boom, the size of an average scaffold-pole, which
has to be rigged out by one man, or even a boy, is a quite heavy enough
piece of timber to have loose on your hands, or hand (since you _must_
hold on), while swaying on a footrope some eighty or ninety feet above
the deck. Then the sails themselves, with their complicated gear,
require deft handling to get them adjusted in their lofty positions, and
as the upper ones need to be taken into the tops, there is some fancy
gymnastic work involved in handling them, which generally falls to the
boys. But when they _are_ set, if there is any wind worth mentioning,
and the vessel does not steer well, the helmsman has a bad time, for
their gear being necessarily slight and simple, catching them aback is
apt to bring them down by the run in a raffle of ropes, torn canvas,
and splintered booms. These delights on a dark, wet night cannot be
explained; they must be endured to be appreciated. No doubt a ship with
stun'sails set below and aloft, flying along with a steady breeze just
abaft the beam, the golden sunlight glancing on her canvas, and making
her look like a mountain of snow, while the sparkling wavelets leap
around her or are churned into lovely wreaths of dazzling foam by the
eager sheer of her cutwater, makes a magnificent picture, and one that
will be soon only seen in pictures. But when one remembers the cruel
toil and deadly danger attached to these "flying kites," as sailors term
them, one can only feel devoutly thankful that their day is done.
Unfortunately, in the _Harrowby_ we were continually harassed by these
wretched things, which was the more aggravating as she was a dull
sailer, to whom they made not a shadow of difference as far as any
acceleration of her speed went. But we accepted them grumblingly, as
sailors do any other crook in their never very straight lot.
Nevertheless I felt pretty sure that, sooner or later, I should suffer
in some severe way from them, and the fulfilment of my forebodings was
not long delayed. We got a heavy breeze from the north-east off Cape
Leeuwin, and the skipper, laudably anxious to get round that awkward
corner and up north into finer weather, carried on all the sail the old
barkey could stagger under, including topmast and lower stun'sails. Now
the _Harrowby_ steered none too well at the best of times, for she was
fitted with the old-fashioned chain and barrel steering-gear, that made
a two hours' trick at the wheel a fairly stiff ordeal for a youngster
like me. By dint of the hardest trying, however, I had managed so far to
get along without more than an occasional growl from the skipper to the
effect that I was making a devilish bad course. At last, on the night in
question, I came aft at four bells, fully equipped in oilskins, for it
was raining as well as blowing. As I reached to take the spoke from
Oliver, he muttered, "Yew'd better shed them oilskins, er she'll sweat
yer hull soul out. She's kickin' like a broncho." I took his advice,
preferring to get wet than to be hampered by too many coverings at such
a task. It was as dark as the inside of a coal-sack, so that there was
nothing to steer by but the compass and the "feel" of the wheel, which
every sailor knows is not conducive to keeping a straight course, as the
compass, however lively, never moves at the same moment the ship's head
does, and consequently you can't meet her with the helm as quickly as
when the stars or clouds are visible and indicate her slightest
movement. Besides, the "old man" was on deck, and, before I had time to
get into her present peculiarities, he was at me with, "Now, then! mind
y'r weather hellum. Where th' ---- er ye goin' with the ship? Meet
her--meet her! Blast your eyes, meet her! Goin' to sleep--er what?" and
so on. I might have done fairly well but for this brutal nagging; but
now I certainly steered badly, and the thought of wiping her up into the
wind and bringing all that raffle of stun'sails and gear down about the
ears of the watch on deck made me as nervous as a cat. However, I
sculled her along somehow--about two points each way, I reckon--the "old
man" keeping up a running commentary all the time, until suddenly, along
came a howling big sea, hitting her on the weather-quarter and sending a
dense mass of spray right over the quarter-deck, drenching my tormentor
and twisting her up into the wind till the weather-leech of the lower
stun'sails began to flap. Down sprang the second mate to my assistance,
and hove the wheel up so that she spun off the wind again like a
weather-cock. "Oh, we can't have any more of this!" yelled the old man.
"That ---- fellow's no good. 'Nother hand to the wheel!" "'Nother hand to
the wheel!" roared the second mate; and I declare I wasn't sorry, though
my pride was sorely hurt at the injustice of the thing. The Suffolker
came aft, good-humoured as was his wont, and smiled pleasantly as he
took the wheel from my clammy hands. He favoured me with a sly wink,
too, as much as to say, "Now you'll see some fun!" As I went forrard
along the lee alley-way, the old man followed me, saying. "I'll log ye
to-morrow. I'll show ye how ter come aboard my ship on false pretences."
This did my business, and I turned savagely round, saying, "I _can_
steer as well as any man in the ship if I'm let alone, and you know
that. You only want an excuse to stop my wages----" Further remarks were
drowned in a tremendous roar of tumbling water and cracking spars as the
ship flew up into the wind, taking a mighty mass of black sea over all,
and bringing the stun'sails down with an uproar truly terrific. "All
hands on deck! Tumble up, there! Shorten sail!" screamed the skipper,
fairly dancing in his excitement. Well, there _was_ a mess, and no
mistake! It took us three hours of hard struggle before we got her clear
and shortened down, and during that time there were as many curses
levelled at the old sinner as would have sunk the British Navy if their
weight had been proportionate to the wishes of their utterers. For my
part I was speechless with delight, for I felt if ever a poor fellow was
vindicated promptly it was me. The diversion gave us all sore bones,
though; and when, at last, we got below, we were almost too weary to
growl. Stripping off our drenched rags we tumbled into our bunks, and
slept so soundly that the two hours and a half left of our watch seemed
only like five minutes. I took my usual trick at the wheel again without
comment; but after breakfast, to my amazement, I was called down into
the cabin. The skipper solemnly read to me an entry in the Official
Logbook to the effect that on the night of ----, in lat. --, long. --, it
having been found that I could not steer, I was sent from the wheel as
unfit for my work, and, in consequence, my wages were reduced to one
pound per month. This libel was signed by the second mate as a witness.
I was then invited to sign it; but I refused, saying that the entry was
false, and appealing to the second mate to support my protest. He,
standing behind the skipper, gave me a reassuring wink which cheered me
mightily, and after bandying a few more compliments with the skipper, I
was told to "Get out of my cabin." The events of the past night were
the subject of a good deal of comment forrard, and the general
conclusion arrived at was that the old man was no good, and any
deference or politeness towards him might usefully be dropped in future.

But something happened that day which, although in no wise the skipper's
fault, made the feeling of insubordination ten times stronger than it
otherwise would have been. Hitherto we had been living fairly well upon
fresh meat and vegetables, although the cooking was very bad. The
pasty-faced Scotchman who had shipped as cook _might_ have been cook of
the _Mikado_ as he said; but, if so, he had certainly forgotten the most
elementary portion of his duties. Having just come to an end of the
fresh provisions, he informed us pompously that he was going to make us
"duff" to-day, "An', ma wurrd," said he, with an air, "a'll gie ye
somethin' ye _can_ eat! Ye dinna ken whatn' duff's like aboord ther
win'jammers." As may be imagined, we were in high glee at the prospect
of such a notable benefit as high-class duff would be. The last stroke
was hardly off the bell at seven bells before I was at the galley with
the kid, my mouth watering in anticipation of this superlative duff. But
it strikes me that the subsequent proceedings were important enough for
a new chapter.



CHAPTER XXIV.

DEEP-WATER AMENITIES.


The cook stood by the galley stove, swelling with conscious dignity, as
of a man whose position is unassailable--above criticism. "Now then,
cook!" I cried, "where's that duff?" For all answer he seized his
"tormentors"--a sort of miniature pitchfork--and began jabbing them down
into the seething copper. "Look out, cook!" I said, in terror, "you'll
bust the duff-bag, won't you?" No answer deigned he, but presently, with
a mighty heave of both hands, he produced a square grey mass of
something unlike anything edible that ever I had seen. This he dumped
into the kid without a word, and waved his hand to bid me begone. Too
much amazed to speak, I bore the ugly thing into the fo'lk'sle, setting
it down in the midst of my expectant watch-mates, and silently retired
to my corner in hungry anticipation of some fun presently. Joe
approached the kid, knife and plate in hand, but on seeing the contents,
drew back with a start and an exclamation of "What the ---- is _that_?"
"Duff, the cook calls it," I murmured softly. "Well, I'll be ---- if ever
I see or smelt anything like it in all my life," said he; "but p'raps it
eats better'n it looks, so here goes." So saying, he attacked it with
his knife, but only succeeded in removing some sodden, sloppy morsels
from the outside of the lump. Upon the stuff itself he could make no
impression; it was like a piece of indurated gutta-percha. Heavens! how
he did swear. Then Oliver had a try; but in a minute he, too, was
reciting the commination service. For the mess was hopeless. It was
nothing but a mixture of flour and water, without yeast or fat, which
had been roughly moulded into a square, and, without any covering, had
been dropped into a cauldron of boiling, dirty sea-water. Of course it
had hardened and toughened, as well as attracted to itself all the
suspended grime in the water, until it had emerged the outrageous
abomination before us. The men's wrath was really too great for ordinary
bad language; they wanted to kill somebody. Presently Joe snatched up
the kid and rushed to the galley with it, but the cook had wisely
retreated to the cabin. Thither the furious men followed him, shouting
in strident tones for him to "Come out of that!" they wanted to speak to
him. Of course the old man showed himself first, blustering grandly
about the impudence that thus invaded the holy calm of his cabin. This
precipitated matters, and in about a minute there was a furious row. It
culminated presently in Joe hurling the kid and its slippery contents
right into the cabin, and striding forward with a savage string of oaths
to the effect that not another stroke would _he_ do until he got
something that he could eat. Quiet reigned for a brief space, until
presently Harry, the cabin-boy, poked his nose round the fo'lk'sle
door, saying with a grin, "Cook's awful sorry he spiled the duff, but
he's coming forrard presently with a tin o' soup and bully as soon's the
old man's back's turned. Don't go fer him, pore beggar! he's nearly
frightened to deth." The wrath having been mostly diverted to the
skipper, this proposition was not unfavourably entertained, and in due
time the cook sneaked forrard with a hang-dog air, a huge tin of
preserved soup under his apron. And so it came to pass that peace was
patched up for the time, although this outbreak of hostilities made the
way plain and easy for a succession of rows, until the skipper's
authority was a thing of naught. To make matters worse we actually fell
short of provisions. This was a most scandalous thing to happen, for we
were only six weeks out from Sydney, where all sorts of ship's
consumable stores were both excellent and cheap. And we were informed by
one of the apprentices that he knew for a fact that the owners had
ordered Captain Bunker to provision the ship fully in the colonies for
this very reason. We were stinted in everything; but by the connivance
of the cabin-boy, Harry, who used to leave the pantry door unlocked, I
made many a nightly raid upon its contents, such as they were. Many a
time I had to crouch in its dark recesses, while the old man, prowling
about on his bare feet, was peering in and inquiring querulously, "Who's
there? I thought I heard somebody!" The instant his back was turned I
would bolt for the fo'lk'sle, with my cap full of sugar or the breast of
my jumper full of cuddy biscuits, or whatever spoil was comeatable.
These nocturnal depredations were a source of endless delight to the
second mate. His fat sides would shake with silent laughter as he
watched the stealthy glidings to and fro, and heard the mutterings of
the suspicious skipper, who never dared say a wry word to him. One
night, at the wheel, I was telling him how savagely hungry I was, when,
to my amazement, he replied, "Well, there's a meat pie on the swingin'
tray, why don't ye go an' pinch it?" "What?" I said in a horrified
whisper, "an' have the old man come out an' catch me! Why he'd put me in
irons for a month." "G'way," he muttered scornfully, "he'd never hear
ye. No man thet smokes ez much ez he does is a light sleeper. You ain't
got pluck enough, that's what's the matter with _you_. Yew'd rather go
hungry than run a little risk." The fact was, I didn't trust him any too
much, for it occurred to me that it might fall in with his notions of
fun to see the old man come out and muzzle me in the very act of
embezzling that pie. His next move, however, completely dissipated all
my fears. For he rolled off the hen-coop, where he had been lolling, and
disappeared below, returning in a few minutes with the information that
he had lashed the old man's state-room door-handles together, so that he
couldn't get out if he did wake. I immediately resigned the wheel to
him, shot down into the darkness, and had that pie on deck before you
could count ten. I sat on the break of the poop and ate it, while the
second mate steered as well as he could for laughing at the precipitous
disappearance of the pie. When I had concealed it all, I replaced the
empty dish on the swinging tray, and returned to the wheel. Then the
second mate cast adrift the lashings on the door, and all resumed its
normal calm, preceding the hurricane at breakfast-time, when the loss
was discovered. But there was no breach of confidence, and the vanished
pie took its place among the unsolved mysteries of life for Captain
Bunker.

As we crept closer and closer to our port, favoured by fine weather,
discipline disappeared altogether as far as the skipper was concerned.
Work still went on as usual out of deference to the officers, with whom
the chaps felt they had no quarrel, but if the old man opened his mouth
he was sure to be insulted by somebody. I have not told--indeed, I dare
not tell--a tithe of the things that were said to him; the only persons
preserving any show of deference towards him being old Hansen and the
boys. The officers, of course, did not openly flout him--they just
ignored him, while he almost cringed to them. And then one day, a week
before our arrival off the mouth of the Irrawaddy, Harry came forrard
and told us something that made sport for all hands for the rest of that
voyage. Everybody was hungry now, fore and aft, the commons being
woefully short. But at the usual time for taking the forenoon sights for
longitude, the skipper being in his state-room with the door shut, Harry
went to call him, supposing him to be asleep. After knocking two or
three times, Harry heard a muffled voice within saying, "Go away, I'm at
my devotions." Such a statement took Harry's breath away for a moment,
but yielding to an uncontrollable impulse, he stooped and peeped through
the keyhole. There sat Captain Bunker, a square tin of biscuits between
his knees, a pot of jam open by his side, and his mouth bulging with the
delicate food. Harry had seen enough; and in ten minutes it was all over
the ship. From that time forward, "Don't disturb me, I'm at my
devotions," was heard whenever it was possible to drag it in, until the
monotonous repetition of the phrase became wearisome as a London
catch-word. It annoyed the skipper almost to madness; but that only gave
delight to the men, who felt that at last they had got hold of a cheap
and effective way of repaying him for the hardships they were enduring
through him.

We were favoured with splendid weather, although the north-east monsoon,
being almost "dead on end"--that is, blowing right from the direction in
which we had to go--made our progress exasperatingly slow; and as the
scanty stock of bad provisions got lower and lower the gloomiest
anticipations prevailed. But we managed to reach Elephant Point before
we were quite starved, and with the utmost joy received a white pilot on
board, who, finding that he was likely to hunger if he had to make any
lengthened stay with us, used all his skill to get us into port quickly.
There were some fine screw-tugs plying on the Irrawaddy, but, of course,
we could not avail ourselves of their assistance, the towage being
enormously high, and our old man most anxious to curtail expenses to
balance his waste in other directions. So we were treated to an
exhibition of backing and filling up the river on the flood, just as the
old Geordie colliers do to this day up the Thames: a feat of seamanship
requiring a great deal of skill for its successful accomplishment. Of
course the tide will carry a vessel up the river, but it is necessary to
keep her under control, and, with the wind blowing straight down the
river, the only way of doing this is to stand across the stream, say on
the starboard tack, with all sails full; then, when as far as possible
has been sailed, to haul the yards aback, and go stern foremost back
again. In this manner we worked up the noble stream, finding ourselves
at the turn of the tide within a few miles of our destination, at a spot
known as Monkey Point. Here we anchored for the night, the rushing of
the swift ebb past us keeping up a continual undertone of energy, and
straining our cable out taut as if we were stemming a gale. All manner
of bloodthirsty insects boarded us in battalions, lured in our
direction, doubtless, by the smell of fresh supplies of food, and
through their united efforts we spent a most miserable night. So much
were we tormented, that when daylight called us to resume our journey we
were languid and worn-out, hardly able to tear the anchor from its
tremendous hold upon the thick, elastic mud forming the bed of the
river. We got under way at last, however, and then another couple of
hours brought us up to the anchorage off the city, where a great fleet
of steamers and ships lay loading rice, mostly for India, for the relief
of a famine which was then raging.

We moored with an anchor ahead and another astern, as is usual in
crowded anchorages, so that the vessel, as I have before explained,
swings round and round as if moored to a post, taking up little more
room than her own length. In many respects this was the strangest place
that I had yet visited, the pointed spires of the numerous pagodas
rising out of the dense leafage giving the city a truly Eastern
appearance, while the lofty shining summit of the great pagoda dominated
everything else. As soon as the work of furling sails and clearing up
decks was done--as the skipper had hurried ashore--we were allowed the
remainder of the day to rest, and, rigging up an awning over the
forecastle, we proceeded to enjoy ourselves. Here the boats are
propelled by the boatmen in exactly the same way as a gondola is, and
the way those fellows managed their cumbrous craft in the swift current
was something compelling all our admiration. The native vessels, too,
that came majestically gliding down from far up country laden with rice
for shipment, were the most interesting that I had yet seen. They were
of large size, some of them carrying fifty tons of cargo, and roofed in
by a deeply slanting covering of bamboo mats to protect the cargo. Both
stern and bow rose in a graceful curve, while the stem often towered
high in air--a perpendicular beam of teak most richly carved into
elaborate designs of the quaintest and most eerie character. A tiny deck
aft accommodated the steersman, who with great effort manipulated a
gigantic oar working through a hole in the stern, also richly carved and
decorated in some cases with gilding. But the men--the yellow,
almond-eyed Burmese--not satisfied with the prodigious amount of labour
expended on the adornment of their craft, decorated their own bodies so
elaborately that it was difficult to understand however they could have
borne the tedium of the tattooing, to say nothing of the pain. No people
in the world carry the practice of tattooing to such artistic lengths as
the Burmese universally do. Every man we saw had a magnificent series of
designs covering his trunk to the waist, executed in vermilion, and
representing flowers, animals, and graceful whorls filling in any spaces
too small to allow of anything else being tattooed there. From the waist
to the knees they were tattooed in blue, the designs being plainer and
not so artistic as above. They were a jolly, cheerful lot; but
dignified, too, having none of the exuberance of the negro about them.

Just across the river, opposite to where we lay, was a great saw-mill,
where a herd of a dozen elephants were gravely occupied in drawing
teak-logs from rafts in the water up through the mud, and piling them in
stacks well above high-water mark. They worked in couples, and seemed to
need no directing what to do. Two or three natives lounged about among
them; but every effort they made was apparently the result of their own
initiative as far as could be seen. They worked in couples--sedately,
ponderously; but the sum-total of their labour was quite in keeping with
their huge bulk. One enormous beast was apparently the foreman (our
fellows called him the bo'sun). He roamed about leisurely, bearing in
his trunk a couple of yards of massive chain, which he flourished now
and then as if it were a scourge which he would use upon his toiling
charges should he see fit to encourage them to more strenuous effort.
But as we stared at the strange sight with intense interest, there was a
jet of steam from the mill, a deep whistle sounded, and on the instant
every elephant dropped whatever he had in his trunk and, with quickened
steps, made for his quarters. It was "knock-off time."

Work proceeded in a very easy-going fashion, for the captain had taken
up his quarters on shore and did not return for several days, being
supposed by all of us to have entered upon a steady course of spree. We
got the hold ready to receive the cargo, and did such other duties as
were required of us, without any undue strain upon our energies, while
our bumboatman kept us well supplied with all such luxuries, in the way
of fruit, soft-tack, eggs, etc., as sailors delight in in Indian ports.
Matters proceeded in this way until one day an order came off from the
skipper that an anchor-watch must be kept. This meant that, instead of
one man keeping watch all night, and being free from any other duty,
every man must take one hour's watch in addition to his day's work. Now,
this sort of vigil is only kept during a temporary anchorage, never as a
harbour duty; and, consequently, there was an instant refusal to obey
unless the day's work was shortened. The officers, having no authority
to do this, refused to entertain the idea, and the result was that no
regular watch was kept at all. Two or three nights passed until, in the
midst of a tremendous storm of thunder, lightning, and rain, I was
roused by old Hansen with the words, "Tom, id's your vatch, und de olt
man's 'longside, kigging up de fery teufel 'cause dere's nopody avake."
I was lying on the forecastle head under the awning, nearly stifled with
the heat; and, muttering a blessing upon the old man, I pulled off my
sole garment, and sallied forth into the black, steaming deluge in the
costume of Adam before the fall. As I reached the gangway the old man
just climbed on board; and at that moment a flash of lightning revealed
everything as if in full noonday glare--especially my shining white
skin. He was just angry drunk; and the sight of me standing there, naked
and not ashamed, nearly made him split with rage. He howled like a hyena
for the mate, who, startled beyond measure, came rushing out of his
cabin into the flood. Turning savagely to him, the skipper, almost
unintelligibly, demanded the reason of this disgraceful state of
affairs--pointing to me, standing, like Lot's wife, under the incessant
play of the lightning. It was an irresistibly funny tableau. Over the
rail peered the black faces and glaring eyeballs of the Hindu boatmen
who had brought the skipper off, their impassive faces showing no sign
of the wonder they must have felt at these unprecedented proceedings.
The hissing downpour of rain descended pitilessly, its noise almost
drowning the infuriated voice of Captain Bunker, who, foaming with
rage, berated the saturnine mate. Every other second we were all
invisible to each other--the darkness engulfed us. Then a rending glare
of white light revealed us all again, standing as if posing for our
portraits. The mate tired of it first, and, turning to me, said grimly,
"Go an' get some close on. Y'ought ter be 'shamed o' yerself comin' aft
like that." I instantly retreated forrard, while the old man, still
raging, followed the mate as he returned to his cabin without deigning a
word of reply. I rigged myself hurriedly and came aft again, prepared to
keep the rest of my watch under the poop-awning in such comfort as I
could. But I had hardly lit a cigar (the rupee a hundred sort), and
settled myself cosily in the skipper's long chair, when that restless
man emerged from the companion and strolled towards me. I did not
stir--indeed, it was too late, since I was caught. I could only brazen
it out. At first I feared his rage would choke him, for he gasped as if
the flow of eloquence was literally strangling him in its frantic
efforts to find a vent. Suddenly he made two steps towards me, gurgling
as he did so, "Git off my poop or I'll kick ye down the steps!" I sprang
lightly out of my seat and stood on the defensive, saying nothing, but
backing cautiously to the ladder, which I descended with my face towards
him. I heard no more of him afterwards, for my watch was soon over, and
my relief, one of the apprentices, came on watch at once. Next day there
was a regular inquiry into the vexed anchor-watch question; and, after
much heated discussion, it was arranged that we should resume work one
hour later each morning and keep regular watch one hour each through the
night. As soon as this was settled our worthy chief departed on shore
again; and there, to our great relief, he remained.



CHAPTER XXV.

PROCEEDINGS AT RANGOON.


Freed from the annoyance of the captain's presence, we were by no means
an unhappy crowd. Lying in such a crowded anchorage there was plenty of
sight-seeing, and the coming and going of vessels was incessant, owing
to the demand for rice to feed the famishing millions on the other side
of the Bay of Bengal. Besides that, we youngsters often got a run ashore
when the mate or second mate wanted to go up town, which was pretty
frequent, as there was no restraint upon them. To while away the time of
waiting on the pier for them we used to have great fun with the boatmen,
who squatted there sucking their eternal hubble-bubbles and chattering
continually. Many a queer yarn, in queerer gibberish, did I hear from
those good-natured fellows, only understanding about one word in ten
that they said, and averaging the rest; so that I have no doubt that a
comparison between my idea of a story and the story itself must have
been exceedingly funny. But one day, when surrounded by a knot of
Hindus, I suddenly remembered that when I was quite a child I had read
in _Chambers' Miscellany_ a number of stories of Hindu mythology, all of
which were as fresh in my memory as the alphabet. Accordingly I
commenced to repeat the "Avatar of the Fish" in such broken English, and
occasional native words, as I thought would best convey my meaning. The
effect was wonderful. Usually undemonstrative, they seemed fairly
startled out of all their reserve, and over the ring of eager black
faces wave after wave of conflicting expressions chased one another,
while broken ejaculations burst irrepressibly from their parted lips. As
the well-known names of Rama, Vishnu, Siva, Ganesh and Co. rolled
trippingly off my tongue, their delight knew no bounds; and when at last
I halted for lack of breath, they were ready to give me anything they
possessed. Thenceforward I was a prime favourite among them. Well for me
that it was so, for very shortly afterwards an event happened that
nearly brought my career to a premature close. I had been shaking hands
with them all round, and boy-like, had been showing off my strength by
squeezing their delicate hands in mine, extorting from them all sorts of
queer grimaces and expressions of wonder at my strength of wrist.
Presently a Mussulman joined the group. He had just come up from the
water, where he had been bathing, after having his poll shaven. Clad
only in a waist-cloth, his torso was fully revealed, its splendid
proportions showing a development that many a pugilist would have
envied. Our proceedings did not appear to please him, for he wore a most
diabolical scowl, which, as he was anything but handsome, gave me a
serious disrelish for his company. But suddenly, as if by an
uncontrollable impulse, he thrust out his hand to me, making signs for
me to try my strength on him. I would have refused, but pride forbade;
so I placed my hand in his and waited for his grip, determined to show
no sign even if the blood should spurt from my finger-tips. We stood
facing one another thus for almost a minute, when, without warning, he
lifted my arm high, and at the same time thrust me backwards towards the
edge of the wharf, which was thirty feet above the mud (the tide being
out) and totally unprotected. Another second and I should have been
over, when the whole crowd of boatmen rushed at him, and, dragging him
off me, forced him to retreat up the wharf shorewards. Mad with rage I
seized a log of wood and rushed after him; but the remainder of my
friends surrounded me, and implored me not to pursue him, as I should
certainly be killed. And, indeed, as soon as I cooled down somewhat, the
justice of their contention was evident, for in those tortuous alleys
one might be attacked from a dozen differing directions at once, and
never see the aggressor. Therefore I felt glad that I had not been
allowed to have the way my mad folly would have led me, and thankfully
meditated upon my undoubtedly narrow escape. The affair made a deep
impression upon me, for it was the only time in all my experience that I
was ever attacked abroad.

The loading of our vessel proceeded very slowly, which was not to be
wondered at, since all the energies of the shipping people seemed to be
absorbed by the demands of the big steamships that were incessantly
carrying rice to Calcutta because of the famine. But, slow as it was,
it gradually approached completion, and the important question began to
occupy all our minds: Were we going to get any liberty or money? Since
the night of the skipper's surprise-visit, we had only seen him once,
and that was when he returned on shore the next morning. The officers
were warily approached upon the subject, but they knew no more than we
did of the skipper's movements or intentions. At last, after a prolonged
council of war, it was decided to send him a letter, signed by one of
the A.B.'s on behalf of the rest. But then the difficulty arose: who was
to write the important document? Not one of the men was capable of doing
so--in fact, I was the letter-writer in ordinary for all hands. So I was
approached as to my willingness to do what was required. I readily
consented, only stipulating that I should be held blameless in the event
of trouble ensuing. "Oh, of course," said they all, "we wouldn't let you
take the blame." Well, I wrote the letter, and, although I was no hand
at composition, I remember that it was exceedingly terse and to the
point. With a good deal of pride I read it to the assembled conclave,
and all agreed that it was a model of what such a letter ought to be.
But when it came to signing the document, I was disgusted to find that
each man was anxious that some other fellow should have the honour. All
professed readiness to take the responsibility, but when it came to
putting their names to paper they hung back. At last, to my secret
amusement, the old Dutchman, Hansen, said, "Oh, all righd, put my name
to id; I tondt care for te oldt man nodt a liddle pidt." It struck me
at once that the old fellow had no idea of the vigour of the language
used, but that was none of my affair. So "Hans Hansen" was appended to
the letter; it was enclosed in an envelope, and sent per the "dubash" to
the "British Burmah Bar," where the old man was living. In a perfect
fever of excitement I awaited the result. It was not long delayed.
Shortly after dinner the skipper came on board in a perfect fury, and,
before he had got his foot over the rail, yelled for Hansen. The poor
old Dutchman paddled aft, shaking like a feather-vane in a gale of wind,
and, when he got to where the old man was standing, he looked as if his
legs would double up under him. Good heavens! how the skipper did rave.
Seeing who he had to deal with he just spread himself, so to speak, and,
much to his satisfaction, succeeded in scaring Hansen nearly to death.
Suddenly my name was called, and, in a moment, I recognized that I had
been given away. Well, I had to face the music; so I determined to put
the best face I could upon the matter, and, in any case, to show no
cowardice. I strolled quietly aft, and received the old sinner's
broadside with a perfectly unmoved front. He threatened me with
prison--almost hanging--for the unparalleled crime I had committed; but
I smiled sweetly, and, as soon as I could get in a word, I told him he
couldn't do anything to me at all. Then he changed his tactics, and
tried to wheedle me into saying that the men had compelled me to write,
and begged me to tell him whose composition it was. Having by this time
grown bolder, I told him that I was the author, and that I felt proud of
it. This so enraged him that he ran at me foaming and screaming to me to
get out of his cabin. But, even then, his prudence did not desert him,
for he never ventured to strike me, and both the officers remained
strictly neutral. And, after all, the desired end was attained for every
one except myself, for the next day liberty was announced, with cash to
the extent of twenty rupees each. But from this I was to be excluded.
However, after the other fellows had gone, my fellow ordinary seaman and
I were told by the mate that we might go too, if we chose, but that he
had no money to give us. We had a couple of rupees between us, enough to
get ourselves something to eat, so we gladly availed ourselves of his
permission and were soon ashore.

From the first hour of our arrival I had looked with longing eyes upon
the mighty mass of the Golden Pagoda, and never ceased hoping that I
might be able to see it near at hand; and now I determined to lose no
time in realizing my desires. Bill wanted to go down town, and hunt up
some of our shipmates for the purpose of borrowing a little from them;
but I dissuaded him, and, after a bottle of beer each, and the purchase
of a fistful of cigars for the equivalent of twopence, we trudged off.
There was no mistaking the way, for the road was broad and the pagoda
itself was our guide; but I have ever since rejoiced that I did not know
how far it was, or I certainly should never have visited it. The fierce
sun glared down upon the white dusty road so that it was like walking
in an oven; gharries and ekkas rolled tantalizingly by, and our throats
became like leather. But we persevered, and after I am afraid to say how
long, we came at last to the imposing avenue of colossal black marble
monsters leading to the first plateau. Immensely broad flights of steps
led up to an enormous platform, around which we roamed, bewildered by
the wonderful array of uncouth monsters grouped everywhere. Then up more
steps on to another plateau from whence sprang the central mass, a sort
of pyramid without angles, and rising in broad steps of masonry which,
flat at first, gradually sloped upward until they were lost in the
glittering cone of the towering summit. Around the base of this vast
structure were small temples like porticoes leading to the interior of
the main building; but far as we could see, each of them was
self-contained, and no entrance to the central edifice was visible. I
made many inquiries whether that great pyramid was solid, or contained
chambers of any sort; but the answers I got were so conflicting that I
could come to no conclusion at all. The strangest feature of the whole
wonderful place was the number of elaborately decorated bells of all
sizes which hung about, some of them on the most flimsy erections. They
emitted, when struck, tones of the most silvery sweetness, such as I
have never heard from bells (except specimens from the same country)
before or since. And presently we came upon one in a secluded corner
that must be, I should think, one of the largest bells in the world,
although I have never seen any mention of it in books or articles where
big bells are spoken of. It was hanging under a sort of conical shed,
suspended from a gallows built of huge baulks of teak, but its lip was
only about eighteen inches off the ground. It was covered with
inscriptions--in Burmese, I suppose--but had no other enrichment.
Curious to hear its tone, I struck it with a large deer-horn, of which
there were many lying about; but there was no response. Harder and
harder I struck, until at last Bill hove a massive fragment of stone
against it with all his force; but still not a sound could be heard--no,
not so much as an iron wall would have given back. Baffled in sampling
its tone, we tried to measure it roughly, and found that with
outstretched arms we could reach round it in four times. This would make
its circumference about twenty feet. Then, lying flat on my back, I
tried to measure its thickness of metal; but my arm was not long
enough--it was much thicker than I could reach in from outside. Its
height I should estimate at twelve feet; but that is very rough, since
we had no pole. Altogether a grandfather of bells. Gilding was going on
in all directions, the workmen perched upon flimsy bamboo scaffolding in
all sorts of precarious positions; and I remember trying to calculate
how much gold it must take to keep so great a place brilliant. I did not
then know that the gold-leaf was one of the principal offerings made by
worshippers, although, when we presently entered one of the temples, and
witnessed the worship, the strangeness of the proceedings ought to have
enlightened me. Yellow-garbed, close-shaven Phoongyees were squatting
all over the pavement of the building, apparently absorbed in reverent
adoration of the row of idols ranged along the inner end of the place.
Yet, at the same time, more workmen were busily engaged in gilding the
idols themselves--one, especially, was plastering the face of the
central figure with it, until it shone in that dim hall like a setting
sun. I was speechless with wonder at what seemed such a strange mixture
of irreverence and worship. While I stood silently gazing at the strange
scene, a voice near me said, in most perfect high-bred English, "I
suppose you don't believe in this, do you?" I turned sharply; and there
at my elbow stood a Chinaman, simply dressed in white silk, with purple
cap and shoes. A delightful subtle scent exhaled from his robes, and a
gentle smile played about his calm, intellectual face. In fact,
"gentleman" was writ large upon him; but I could not grasp the idea that
it was he who had spoken. As soon as my bewilderment had passed a
little, I said, "Was it you that spoke just now?" He nodded, and
repeated his question. "Of course not," I answered; "neither do you, I
should imagine?" With the slightest possible shrug of his shoulders, he
said, "Why not? I do not claim to be wiser than the myriads of my
ancestors whose faith it was. What sufficed them may surely content me."
"But," I replied eagerly, "you have evidently studied in some
English-speaking country, and you must have read our books. Did they not
alter your opinions as to the wisdom of your ancestors?" "I have taken
my B.A. degree at Cambridge," said he, "and I am fairly conversant with
Western literature; but upon religious topics I do not profess any
opinions. The subject is far too vast for me to attempt to take up,
since it would necessarily mean the exclusion of all others; and I have
much to do. Consequently I accept unquestioningly that form of religion
in which I was born, taking the line of least resistance. But I must bid
you good day, hoping you will enjoy your visit." And before I could say
another word he was gone. I felt very small and ignorant beside this
exquisite Oriental, whose gracious manners and beautiful voice have
haunted me ever since, and, although I am fully conscious how poor a
figure I must have cut beside so gifted and highly educated a man, I
have never ceased to regret that I did not have a longer enjoyment of
his pleasant company. While I still stood musing over this strange
encounter, a heavy hand was laid upon my shoulder, and, turning sharply
round, I was confronted by our second mate, whose ill-fitting clothes,
gross, animalized face and boisterous behaviour, formed a complete
contrast to the dainty gentleman who had just quitted my side. "Hullo!"
he said with a sneer, "what you doin' ere, hay? Goin' ter turn
Me'ommedun?" I made some jesting reply, looking anxiously meanwhile at
his cigar, and then at the silent row of priests, in grave doubt as to
how they might take his noisy behaviour in their sacred building. But
they were apparently used to it, for they took not the slightest notice.
"Got 'ny money?" he queried with a grin, knowing pretty well how
unlikely it was. Upon my telling him how poorly we were off, he
kindly gave me two rupees and then went on his way.

[Illustration: "I suppose you don't believe in this, do you?"]

As I had by this time had quite enough of sight-seeing, besides being
hungry and thirsty, I started to look for my chum; and, after some
search, found him sitting in a shady angle of the great flight of steps,
intently watching the impassive figure of one of a long row of
mendicants that lined the side of the way up to the temple. He was quite
happy, and very much interested in the queer offerings that he had seen
made to the beggar whom he had been studying. Shreds of tobacco, a few
grains of rice, and other trifles unfamiliar to us, but of the tiniest
possible value, were being dropped into his basket by the native
passers-by, in response to the mellow note which resounded from a
triangular piece of metal which he held suspended from a stick, and
occasionally tapped with a bone. "Goin' ter give him anythin', Bill?" I
asked. "'Oo? Me? Wot djer tek me for? Lazy ole swine! I bet 'ees got
a ---- sight more brass 'n you er me'll ever 'ave. No bloomin' fear!" It
may have been fancy, but certainly I thought I saw a gleam in that
beggar's filmy eye as if Bill's contemptuous words were quite understood
by him. "Well," I said, "I'm goin' ter give 'im a tanner fer luck." And,
as I spoke, I fished out four annas and dropped the little piece of
silver into his cup. I turned to go immediately; but he stretched forth
a skinny arm, offering me a withered, blood-red flower, and murmuring
some (to me) utterly unintelligible words. Now, I would not willingly
hurt any one's feelings gratuitously; so I smiled cheerfully back,
accepted his flower, and saying, "Bote accha; Salaam, ole stockin',"
skipped off down the steps, followed grumblingly by Bill. As we went, I
told him of the second mate's gift. He immediately suggested taking a
gharry back. I was in no wise loth to agree, for the remembrance of our
morning's trudge was anything but pleasant. But, when we arrived at the
place where the vehicles were grouped, those infernal gharry-wallahs
were all so independent that they wouldn't bate a pice of three rupees
for the trip. As this was quite out of the question, we took the road
again with heavy hearts and aching feet: Bill cursing, in choicest
Bermondsey, niggers in general and gharry-wallahs in particular. For
about half a mile we trudged along, when, suddenly turning a slight bend
in the road, we sighted a gharry ambling along with one door open. A
bright thought seized me, and, whispering to Bill my idea, we hurried
noiselessly after the slowly-moving carriage. As soon as we got near
enough, we saw that the driver was soundly asleep upon his box, the
reins dangling loosely from his fingers, and the old horse plodding
along at his own sweet will. Gently we popped into the crazy old
ambulance, quietly closed the door, and lounged back like two
plutocrats. I don't think I ever enjoyed a ride more, for, slowly as we
went, we arrived at the gharry-stand in Phayre Street all too soon to
suit me. Before the gharry stopped we opened the door, and, quietly as
we had entered, were stepping out, when that unlucky Bill caught his
foot in the step, and, catching at the door to save himself, gave the
whole concern a heavy lurch. This effectually roused the driver, who
jumped down off his box and demanded his fare. Bill was furious (at
being caught, I suppose), and was proposing to slay and eat the fellow,
whose yells speedily brought all his chums round. As I was getting
nervous I offered him eight annas, at the same time trying to pacify my
burly shipmate, who was carrying on like a madman. Fortunately a white
policeman came along, before whose dignified approach all the clustering
natives stood respectfully back. To him I told the exact facts of the
story. Without a word he took the eight annas from me, gave it to the
hack-man, and uttered the single word "Jao." The effect was magical. The
crowd melted away, and we were at liberty to resume our journey. The
rest of the day passed uneventfully enough. We had a splendid dinner in
one of the bazaar dining-rooms at a rupee each, washed it down with a
bottle of Bass, and, after sundry cigars, strolled leisurely down the
pier, and sat there enjoying the coolness of the evening, until, feeling
tired of shore, we hailed the ship, and were fetched on board by the two
apprentices. A quiet night's rest succeeded; but the morning brought
diversions. The ex-policeman came on board quietly enough, as befitted a
man accustomed to discipline; but the rest, with the exception of old
Hansen, who returned early on the previous day, were in a parlous state.
Two did not return; and, later, news came that they were safely in
chowkey, having covered themselves with glory by routing a whole
brigade of native police who tried to arrest them, and caused grievous
bodily harm to several white constables who had finally carried them
off. One of them was the jolly Suffolker, who had thus falsified all my
previous estimates of his amiability; the other was Mick, the long
Irishman, at whose outburst nobody was surprised. It is hardly
necessary, perhaps, to say that no work was done that day, except a
little clearing up decks, for which of course we boys were available.
But, towards evening, the repentant revellers began to realize the
extent of their folly, and to appear, in some measure, ashamed of
themselves. Just at sunset a police-boat arrived bringing Mick, a
deplorable object, his clothes hanging from him in festoons, and his
flesh caked up with dried filth and blood. He was certainly much the
worse for wear, but filled with an unholy delight at the thought of the
glorious time he had enjoyed. It appeared, however, that the behaviour
of Charley the Suffolker had been so outrageous, and his refusal to
return to his ship so decided, that the authorities--lenient, as they
undoubtedly were, to sailors--were compelled to give him a month's hard
labour. Upon hearing his sentence he lifted up his voice and shouted,
"Hooray!" to the great annoyance of the magistrate, who had him
incontinently man-handled off to the cells.



CHAPTER XXVI.

HOMEWARD-BOUND IN DIFFICULTIES.


And now--our cargo being all on board, sails bent, and hatches battened
down--we began to look forward to the homeward passage. But our
anticipations were in no sense pleasurable, for, although we had
certainly lived well while in port, we had as yet received no stores for
sea use, and we were in grievous doubt as to the intentions of our
commander in this respect. At last, when we were fully prepared to
refuse to proceed unless we saw some reasonable prospect of being fed
while at sea, a boat-load of stores came off, accompanied by a new
recruit to take the place of Charley, who was busy mat-making in Rangoon
gaol. He was an old acquaintance of mine, having been cook of a barque
called the _Gemsbok_, which lay at Auckland during one of my visits--a
fair-haired, happy-go-lucky Englishman; but a very poor sailor, however
able he might have been as a cook. He had not been half an hour on board
before he had joined us in solemn condemnation of the scanty stock of
provisions he had accompanied on board, declaring that we should all be
starved before we got home, unless we made a wonderfully rapid passage.
But, with the carelessness of sailors, we allowed our opportunity of
protesting to slip by; and next morning, we unmoored and dropped down to
Monkey Point, ready to proceed down the river. For some unexplained
reason we lay here all day doing nothing, although everything was as
favourable as it could well be for our departure. Towards evening, when
all hands were sitting on the top-gallant forecastle, enjoying the cool
and smoking the universal cheroot of Burmah, the devil entered into
Mick, and induced him to sneak down into the forecastle and search for
something to drink. He succeeded in discovering a bottle of square
gin--the cayenne and turpentine brand at twelve annas a bottle--in
Hansen's chest, which, as is customary in all ships' fo'lk'sles, was
left unlocked. Knocking the neck of it off immediately, he poured the
contents into a hookpot, and, at one draught, swallowed about a pint of
the horrible stuff. Another drink nearly finished it; and in a few
minutes he returned to our midst, not drunk, but a raving lunatic. For a
little while we were highly amused at his antics; but presently,
yelling, "Well, so long all!" he rushed to the rail with the evident
intention of flinging himself overboard. Bill--the other ordinary
seaman--and I rushed at him, dragged him back, and, after a severe
struggle, got him to lie down. Then commenced such a night of labour as
I have never experienced before or since. Every device that his mad
cunning could suggest did he try in order to take his own life. We got
not a moment's rest. Sometimes he would feign to be asleep; but, the
moment we were off our guard, he would be at it again, startling us
almost out of our wits, and giving us a fearful struggle before we could
get him quieted again. None of the others would relieve us, or lend us a
hand--nay, they cursed us for a pair of idiots that we did not let him
go, with a wannion on him. How could we? Although we bitterly resented
the utterly uncalled-for toil, we dared not relax our vigilance: both of
us feeling that, if we did, his blood would be upon our heads. And, to
add to our miseries, a land-breeze brought off mosquitoes and sandflies
in myriads, so that, in our exposed condition, we were stung almost
beyond bearing. At last, just as the first streak of dawn appeared over
the jungle, he dropped off to sleep in reality. Before we had time to
snatch the briefest doze came the strident voice of the mate, "Man the
windlass!" Of course Mick was excused--he was ill; but we, poor
wretches, who had been engaged in a life-and-death struggle with him the
whole night through, were compelled to work as if we had enjoyed our
lawful night's rest. And we were so weary! Hardly able to crawl about
from our tremendous exertions, and continually blackguarded for our lack
of smartness, it was with no kindly feelings towards Mick that we
dragged ourselves forecastlewards at breakfast-time, when, the ship
being under way and pointed down the river, we had a short spell of
leisure. Of course he sat up and looked for his breakfast, confound him!
As I handed him his coffee, I said, "A pretty fine dance you led Bill
and me last night, Mick!" "Fhwat the divil d'yez mane?" growled he. I
told him as frankly as I could; and, as soon as I had done, he said,
"Well, I alwuz tought yez wur a pair ov ---- fules, an' now oim ---- well
sure ov ut. Fhwy'nt yez let me go, ---- yer dhirty sowls t' hell?" I
answered him never a word; but swore solemnly to myself that, come what
might, I would never again move one inch to protect a drunken man from
the consequences of his own act, and I have devoutly kept that oath.

Our progress down the river was but little faster than the flow of the
tide, for there was not sufficient breeze to keep the sails full, and we
all noticed that the old man seemed to be in an unusual state of nervous
agitation. A tiny pillar of smoke astern seemed to attract most of his
attention; so palpably, indeed, did he watch it, that we began to
whisper among ourselves that he had been paying somebody with the
"fore-topsail sheet" again. And the event proved that we were right in
our surmise, for before long a steam-launch overtook us, and a
peremptory order was given from on board of her for us to lay the
foreyard aback. Our pilot immediately complied, the launch sheered
alongside, and a red-uniformed official climbed on board. His first act
was to present the skipper with a piece of paper. But that worthy had no
need to read it; he knew well enough what it contained. Then a white
man, very well dressed, came on board, and began slanging the miserable
captain in rare style. He had been at his old games again; eating and
drinking--especially drinking--at somebody else's expense during the
whole of our stay in port, and then trying to get away without paying
his bill. This time, however, matters looked serious for him, for he
had very little money, and his bill amounted to one hundred and fifty
rupees. There was a tremendous amount of haggling done before the
hotel-keeper would accept a compromise; but at last, a number of bolts
of new canvas and several coils of rope were transferred to the launch,
and with these, I have no doubt, the creditor was very well paid indeed.
But what excuse the skipper would hatch up to satisfy his owners about
those missing stores we could none of us imagine. Undoubtedly he placed
himself completely in the power of every one on board by his mean and
dishonest behaviour. As if we had only been waiting for his
discomfiture, no sooner had the launch left us than we squared away to a
spanking breeze, which took us well clear of the land before nightfall,
fairly started on our long homeward passage.

And now we all pursued a definite course of action. It was unanimously
agreed that the skipper had fairly put himself out of court, and that to
him no respect whatever was due. The officers, on the other hand, who
did their part well under these trying circumstances, were treated by
every one with that deference which was their right, and consequently
the work of the ship went on in seamanlike fashion. We were fortunate,
too, in getting out of the Bay of Bengal before the setting in of the
south-west monsoon, when the weather is unspeakably vile. Steaming
weather, variable winds, and frequent deluges of rain make life at sea
in the Bay then a burden almost too grievous to be borne. The ropes
swell so much that they can hardly be hauled through the blocks without
any weight attached to them, and the sails become like boards for
stiffness. But we had a steady northerly wind, nights of perfect beauty,
and days of unclouded sunshine; so that but for the harassing want of
good food, which attacked us as soon as we were clear of the land, our
lot was as pleasant as any sailor can ever expect. Very little work of
any kind was done beyond the necessary handling of the sails, for no
doubt the officers felt that it would be unwise to attempt too much
under the strained conditions of things.

And now in the long night-watches, when over a quiet sea, flooded with
moonlight, the sturdy old vessel glided silent as a disembodied spirit,
not a flap of a sail or creak of a rope breaking the solemn stillness, I
spent many, many hours alone communing with my own soul. The old
boy-life was fast slipping away from me, and the ugly sordidness of much
that I had endured for the past seven years was already beginning to be
mellowed by the softening haze of time. I felt deep, hungry longings for
better things--often flushing hotly in the darkness as I remembered how
I had wasted my opportunities in Australia, and again thinking wearily
how utterly friendless and alone I was in the world. I felt that if I
only had some one to work for, some one to whom my well-being was a
matter in which they took a lively interest, that I was capable even
now--in spite of my ignorance--of doing something in the world; and I
built whole cities full of castles in the air upon the most filmy
foundations. And then all my hopes and dreams would die in thickest
darkness of despair. What gleam of bright prospect _could_ there be for
me, a mere bit of driftweed upon the awful ocean of humanity, with no
destination, except that which I shared with all mankind? So I would lay
musing, looking upward into the infinite blue overhead where the
never-ceasing glory of the stars kept me most comfortable company. These
nights were a grand counterpoise to the petty discomforts and miseries
of the day, when the discontent of their lot made the men of my watch so
humpy and disagreeable that I could hardly keep out of hot water with
them. I had no books but a Bible, for which I am now most grateful,
because I read that grand old book--a literature in itself--through and
through from end to end I know not how many times. And although I know I
had not the smallest devotional intent, I am sure that the very fact of
saturating myself from such a well of English undefiled was of the very
greatest service to me. Religion, indeed, was a byword among us. We knew
that the owners of the ship were considered a highly religious firm, and
that Captain Bunker was believed by them to be a holy man. Illogically,
we transferred some of our hatred of his hypocrisy to his employers, who
were probably not in the least to blame for our sufferings. Therefore,
in the many discussions which took place in the forecastle on things in
general, the conversation usually turned upon the general worthlessness
and scoundrelism of religious people in general, and our captain and
owners in particular. There were no arguments, for we were all of one
way of thinking, and there was no one to show us any light upon the
subject. As far as I was concerned my early piety had all gone, with the
exception of an awful fear of death, in what I felt was my unprepared
(!) condition, and an utter inability to accustom my tongue to the
continual blasphemy of sailor-talk. In other directions my language was
as foul as anybody's, so that I had nothing to brag about if I had
thought of doing so. As we drew down towards the African land, the
question of food became very serious again. The flour which had been
bought in Rangoon was already almost uneatable--full of vermin of
various kinds, and of a dirty grey colour. Our cargo was not available,
being unhusked rice, or "paddy," and the meat was the worst I had ever
seen, with the exception of that in my first ship. A portion of it
boiled, and left for a few hours, became white and hard as a piece of
marble, with the exuding salt. There was an increasing monotone of
grumbling, which nothing but the lovely weather and easy times prevented
from breaking into open revolt. At last we made the land somewhere about
East London, and it began to be whispered about among us that the old
man meant going into Algoa Bay for supplies. What foundation there was
for the rumour I don't know, but it had a marked effect upon every one's
spirits, so that she was quite a different ship. Port Elizabeth had been
the _Harrowby's_ first port at the beginning of her long voyage, and
probably that had some weight in making the skipper determine to call
there again. Some of his old cronies would doubtless welcome him, for he
had not then begun to practise leaving without settling his accounts.
Whatever the cause, the confirmation of the rumour that we were going to
put in re-invigorated us, and we all showed the utmost willingness at
every task.

The weather now began to play tricks upon us: baffling winds, fogs, and
cold, raw rain replacing the idyllic climate we had so long been
enjoying. And, as we gradually crept south, more than one gale gave us a
severe drubbing--sometimes blowing us so far off the land that we began
to fear he would give up the idea of going in, after all. But when one
morning the order came to get the anchor over the bows, and bend on the
cables, all doubts and fears were silenced, and a general air of
expectancy took their place. The next night the wind veered to the
eastward, and blew hard; but under a heavy press of sail we stood in for
the land, heading, as we believed, straight for our port. All through
the night a keen look-out was kept, but nothing was seen. When the grey,
cheerless dawn broke we were still plunging shoreward through the ugly
cross-sea, making wretched weather of it, not a dry corner to be found
forrard or aft. A dense mist prevented us from seeing many ships'
lengths ahead, but that gave none of us forrard any uneasiness, as we
believed that with all his faults the old man was a fairly good
navigator. Two of us were on the look-out, peering through the grey
veil, when suddenly on the starboard bow, not more than a mile away,
appeared the tall spectre of a lighthouse, the red and white bands upon
it just visible. A chill of horror ran through us all, added to the
next moment by the appalling cry of "Breakers right ahead!" The helm was
instantly put up and the yards squared, but oh! how lazily she answered
her helm. Then the haze lifted, and, as she slowly paid off, we saw all
along our starboard beam, and apparently not a cable's length off, the
mighty foaming range of breakers that seemed hungry for us, flinging
their tops high into the air and bellowing like a thousand savage bulls.
Just as if there was some almost irresistible attraction drawing us
broadside on to that tumult of death, we crawled along, burying the
lee-rail under water with the tremendous press of sail we were carrying,
and expecting each moment to hear a crack overhead, and see some of our
spars go, sealing our death-warrant. But our end was not yet. Presently
the most despondent among us could see that we were gaining ground, and
gradually we clawed off that frightful reef out to the friendly sea
again. A good offing having been made, we stood to the westward once
more, for the lighthouse we had seen was Cape Recife, and our objective
was but a short distance to the northward of it. We had just struck the
wrong side of it, that was all. Still, with all our efforts, it was as
much as we could do to get into Algoa Bay before dark, and anchor well
to seaward of all the other vessels, in readiness to leave again.



CHAPTER XXVII.

DEEP-WATER COASTING.


Landing that night was quite out of the question, for all the surf-boats
had been secured, and even had we possessed a good boat of our own
(which we did not) we could not have landed in this tumultuous bay as
ever was. So the anchor-watch was set, and everybody else turned in to
sleep the curious, uneasy sleep of the sailor just in port, after a long
series of watches at sea four hours on and off. But the earliest
surf-boat out in the morning came alongside, and took Captain Bunker
ashore. His last words to the mate were to "heave short" at noon, for he
would then be off with the stores, and we should weigh immediately. That
was all very well for him, but by ten o'clock a howling black
south-easter was blowing, and we had a full taste of the delights of
Algoa Bay. The gale blew right into the open harbour, and by noon the
scene was one of the most savage grandeur. Every vessel there was
plunging and straining at her moorings as if she must tear herself to
pieces or uproot the steadfast anchors, while great sheets of spray
often hid the labouring craft from view. Our position was dangerous in
the extreme. Vessels anchored in Algoa Bay for any length of time
always have a huge hawser bent to the cables, which, of course, has more
elasticity than chain, and to this they ride, even in the worst weather,
with comparative comfort. But we had no such device. In the first place
we had no hawser fit for it, in the next we had made no preparations for
such an emergency. So all that we could do was just to give her all the
chain we had got on a single anchor, and stand-by to let go the other
one in case of the first one carrying away. For hours we watched that
tortured windlass, and listened to the horrible grind of the massive
links around the iron-shod barrel thereof, wondering each moment whether
the next would be the last or not. Again we were spared, although
better-prepared vessels than ours came to grief, piling their poor
remains up among the many other relics scattered about that ravenous
shore. By nightfall the wind had taken off greatly, although the old sea
still kept her leaping and curtseying like a lunatic, and made our sleep
a mere pretence. And we all felt sure that our reverend skipper was
snugly ensconced in some red-curtained bar ashore, with a jorum of grog
and a churchwarden aglow; and would be rather relieved than otherwise to
know that his ship had come to grief, and thus prevented the catastrophe
that was surely awaiting him on his return home. Along about noon,
however, he hove in sight. When he came alongside the cargo he had
brought with him set all our mouths watering. There was a side of fresh
beef, two carcases of mutton, and a small cartload of potatoes,
cauliflowers, and onions. But of sea-stock there was hardly any. Three
packages comprised the whole--one of peas, one of flour, and one of lime
juice. Yet with an obtuseness that is even now a mystery to me, no one
raised any objection. The things were just hoisted on board, the boat
left, and, when the order was given to man the windlass, there was not a
dissentient murmur. Of course remarks were bandied about as freely as
usual upon the never-failing subject of the old man's delinquencies; but
that was because he stood upon the house aft, his knobbly face glowing
like a port sidelight, his hands upon his hips, and his whole bearing
that of a man whom a skinfull of whisky had put upon the best of terms
with himself. Up and down went the windlass-brakes cheerily, while Bill
and I hauled back the chain; but presently she gave a dive, and, when
she sprang upward again, there was a sudden grind of the cable, and out
flew several fathoms of it, tearing the chain-hooks from our hands, and
treating us to an extremely narrow escape of following them. Then there
was a chorus of language from the men on the forecastle. All sorts of
epithets were hurled at our unfortunate heads for our failure to hold
on. But while they yet spake, she gave another curtsey, and out went
some more. That was sufficient to indicate the kind of a picnic we were
in for, and no time was lost in rigging a big fourfold or "luff"-tackle,
which was stretched right along the deck from a stout ringbolt near the
mainmast, and the forrard end hooked on to the chain. The fall was then
taken to the after-capstan, and we two ordinary seamen, aided by the
skipper and the two boys, hove at it continually as the chain came
slowly in. As long as there was any scope of cable out, things went on
all right, but as soon as we were hove short, it looked as if some
damage was bound to ensue. Sail was loosed, ready to get way upon her as
soon as the anchor was off the ground, she all the time straining and
jumping at her cable like some infuriated wild beast. At last she dipped
her bows right to the level of an incoming swell, which, as it passed
under her forefoot, flung her high in air. There was a rending crash, a
shower of sparks, and she was free. "Anchor's gone, sir!" shouted the
mate, springing off the forecastle amid a chorus of "---- good job, too,"
from all hands. As hard as we could pelt we got the sail on her, and in
a few minutes were outside the Bay, the loose end of the parted cable
hanging at the bows. So closed our expensive visit to Port Elizabeth,
and before nightfall we were under all canvas, slipping down towards the
Cape with the favouring current and wind at a great rate, our starboard
anchor still hanging over the bows. All minor discomforts were
forgotten, however, in the glorious feed provided for us by the cook.
While we were revelling in the good fresh mutton and vegetables, that
worthy came into the forecastle, and received our congratulations with
the self-satisfied air of one who feels that he has deserved well of his
fellows. Presently he informed us confidentially that he had received no
orders as to the disposal of the provisions, and that it was therefore
his fixed determination to serve them out to all hands, both forrard and
aft, impartially, as long as they lasted. He kept his word right
manfully. For a week, during which we hugged the land right round the
Cape with the anchor still outboard, we lived as we had never done since
we left Sydney. Our gaunt faces filled up their sombre hollows, our
shrunken muscles developed, and we grew skittish as young colts. Then,
without warning, our luxuries all ceased, and the same grim state of
privation set in as before.

As I have so often experienced since, we took a steady southerly wind
right off the pitch of the Cape, before which we hurried homewards under
every rag of sail we could muster--every hour bringing us nearer home.
According to all the established rules on board ship, we should now have
begun that general "redding-up" to which every homeward-bounder is
subjected as soon as she gets into the south-east trades. Thanks,
however, to our skipper's peculiar notions of how to deal with his
owners' property, we had no new ratline stuff on board wherewith to
"rattle down"--as the process of fitting new rungs to the rope-ladders
leading aloft is termed. We could not reeve new running-gear for the
same reason, or fit new footropes, or repair the "service" where chafed
out aloft. We had hardly any paint, or varnish, or tar, yet the
apprentices declared that when she left home she was fully provided with
such stores for a three years' voyage--as the owners were large
ship-chandlers and never let their own ships go to sea meanly supplied.
She had been out barely two years--very little of anything had been
used--so that she was quite poverty-stricken aloft, and yet there was
nothing left to make her look respectable coming home. We all had easy
times, it is true; but that was not altogether a blessing, since
sailorizing is generally liked by seamen, who would growl like tigers at
the petty half-and-half scavenging often done on board such ships as the
_Harrowby_ under a pretence of smartening ship. So restless and
irritable did the men become that it was easy to see trouble at hand.
Only a spark was needed to kindle a big explosion. This was supplied by
the unhappy cook, who burnt most scandalously the only meal we could
really eat with any heartiness--our pea-soup. Poor wretch!--in answer to
the ferocious inquiries of the men for something to stay their gnawing
stomachs with, he could only bleat feebly that he "hadn't got nothing;
nothing at all to give 'em." They knew very well that this was true; but
our latest recruit, Sam, the ex-cook, swore he would have something to
eat or he'd know the reason why. So, snatching up the steaming kid of
soup, he rushed aft with it, and, in a voice broken with rage and
excitement, demanded the skipper of the grinning boy at the cabin door.
"Tell him I'm engaged--can't see him now!" shouted the skipper from
within. That was enough. In bounced Sam, pale with fury, and, shoving
the reeking tub of soup under the skipper's nose as he sat at the table,
hissed, "W'at kinder stuff djer think _thet_ is fer men t' eat?" Leaning
back as far as possible from the foul mess the skipper panted, "Git out
o' my cabin, yew impident scoundrel! What jer mean by darin' ter come in
'ere like thet?" Splash! and over went the kid of soup on top of the
skipper's head, which rose from out of that smoking yellow flood like a
totally new kind of Venus. The liberal anointing ran down the old man's
beard and back, even unto the confines of his trouser-legs, while he
spluttered, choked, and scooped at his eyes in utter bewilderment. As
for Sam, he stood like a statue of wrath, in full enjoyment of his
revenge, until the outraged skipper recovered his voice, and screamed
for help. Down tumbled the mate through the after-companion, but the
sight which greeted his astonished eyes fairly paralyzed him. "Seize
him! put him in irons!" yelled the skipper, "He's scalded me! th'
infernal vagbon's scalded me!" But Mr. Messenger was disinclined to
undertake the job single-handed--knowing, too, how likely it was that
any such attempt would almost certainly bring all hands on the scene
ripe for a row. Therefore, Sam, after unpacking his heart of a few
hearty curses upon skipper and ship, made good his retreat forward to
the fo'lk'sle, where his version of the encounter was received with
delirious merriment. The delight shown at this summary assault upon the
old man actually took the place of dinner, and, although no substitute
for the spoiled soup was forthcoming, nothing more was said on the
subject. When the cabin-boy came forrard that evening with his nightly
budget of stories about the common enemy, he convulsed us all by his
graphic details of the skipper's struggles to free himself from the
clinging mess congealed about him. But there was not heard one word of
pity--no, not even when Harry told us that his bald head was as red as
a beetroot. This affair kept all hands in quite a good humour for some
days, until one evening, Chips, who rarely left his lonely den, came
mysteriously into the fo'lk'sle and said oracularly, "Boys, we ort ter
be gittin' pretty cluss ter Sant Elener. I don't blieve th' ole man means
ter sight it at all; but if he don't we shall all be starved ter death
afore we cross the line. _I_ think we ort ter go aft in a body 'n tell
him 'at we ain't er-goin' ter do another hand's turn less he goes in 'n
gits some grub ter carry us home." All agreed at once, and the time for
our ultimatum was fixed for the next day at noon. But I happened to be
doing some trivial job on the main-royal yard next morning, and, before
coming down, took, as I usually did, a long look all round the horizon.
And I saw far aft on the port quarter the massive outlines of the island
of St. Helena, fully thirty or forty miles away. This so excited me that
I could not wait to descend in the usual leisurely fashion, but,
gripping the royal backstay, came sliding to the deck like a monkey.
Without losing a minute I rushed forrard and told my news. There was no
longer delay. Headed by the carpenter, all hands came aft and demanded
an interview with the skipper. As soon as he appeared the option was
given him of either going in to St. Helena, or sailing the ship himself.
He then informed us what was our exact position, and dwelt upon the
length of time it would take to beat back against the strong trade
blowing. Old Chips, however, was ready for him. He said at once, "Very
well, sir, why not go into Ascension?" "Oh, they won't let us have any
stores there: it's a Government dockyard, 'n they only supply
men-o'-war." "That be hanged for a yarn," said Chips; "w'y, I've had
stores there myself only two year 'n a half ago. Anyhow, cap'n, there it
is: you k'n do wot yer like, but we ain't a-goin' ter starve 'n work the
ship too." After a minute or two's cogitation, the old man replied
wearily, "Oh, very well, I'll go and draw up the happlication, an'
you'll all 'ave ter sign it." Artful old curmudgeon! Still, we didn't
care as long as we got some grub; so, when he called us aft again and
read out the string of fabrications he had concocted, carefully omitting
all mention of our call at Algoa Bay, all hands signed it as cheerfully
as if it had been their account of wages.

But the look-out that was kept from that day forth, and the careful
calculations of course and distance every watch, I have never seen
equalled in a ship's fo'lk'sle before or since. And when at last the
rugged burnt-up heap of volcanic _débris_ appeared above the horizon
right ahead, our relief was immense. Our simple preparations for
anchoring were soon made, and our one serviceable boat cleared for
hoisting out, for, like the majority of that class of vessels, the boats
were stowed and lumbered up with all sorts of incongruous rubbish, as if
they were never likely to be needed; and the long-boat--upon which, in
case of disaster to the ship, all our lives would depend--was so leaky
and rotten, that she would not have kept afloat five minutes in a
millpond. As we opened up the tiny bay, where the Government buildings
are clustered, we saw, fluttering from the flagstaff at the summit of a
conical hill, most prosaically like a huge "ballast"-heap, a set of
flags silently demanding our business. Our set of signals being
incomplete, we could only reply by hoisting our ensign and standing
steadily in for the anchorage. But before we came within a mile of it, a
trim cutter glided alongside, and a smart officer in naval uniform
sprang on board. With just a touch of asperity in his tone, he inquired
our business, and, upon being deferentially informed by the skipper,
immediately ordered the main-yard to be laid aback while he went below
to inspect the contents of our store-room. Apparently his scrutiny was
satisfactory, for, returning on deck, he ordered the main-yard to be
filled again, and conned the ship up to the anchorage. He then
re-entered his boat and sped away shoreward, while we, as soon as ever
the ship had swung to her anchor, just clewed up the sails, and then
made all haste to get the boat into the water. As soon as this was done,
four hands and the skipper got into her and pulled for the shore; the
old man's last words being, "I 'spect I shall be back in an hour."

To while away the time, pending their return, I started fishing; but I
never want to get among such fish as they were again. Lovely in their
hues beyond belief, but with nothing else to recommend them, they tried
my patience sorely. I have since learned that they were a sub-variety of
_Chætodon_, having teeth almost like a human being, but so keen and
powerful that they were able to sever copper-wire. After losing most of
my hooks, I at last "snooded" with a few strands of silk not twisted
together. By this means I succeeded in getting half a dozen of the
gorgeous creatures on deck. But their amazing colours, fearful
spikiness, and leathery skin effectually frightened us from eating them,
as most of us were painfully aware of the penalty for eating strange
fish. The swelled and burning head, lancinating pains, and general
debility afterwards, consequent upon fish-poisoning, make sailors very
careful to taste none but known kinds of deep-sea fish, and any queer
shape or colour among reef-fish is sufficient to bar their use as food.

At the expiration of two hours and a half our boat returned, laden to
the gunwale with bags and cases, showing plainly that here, at any rate,
the old man had not been permitted to exercise his own judgment as to
what his requirements were likely to be. In feverish haste we got the
stores on board, the skipper appearing in a high state of nervous
apprehension lest the keen-eyed watchers ashore should deem him slack in
leaving. Indeed, the report of the boat's crew was to the effect that
the skipper had been treated with very scant courtesy--not even being
allowed to say how much of this, that, or the other, he would take; and,
when he was leaving, being sternly admonished to lose no time in getting
under way, or he would certainly find himself in trouble. Such was the
haste displayed all through, that, within four hours from the time of
the officer's boarding us, we were off again, our head once more
pointing homeward.

From that time onward, until our arrival in Falmouth, we never had cause
to complain of bad food. Everything supplied us from the Naval Stores
was the best of its kind--as, of course, it should be. It filled us all
with respect for the way in which men-o'-war's men are fed, even without
the many opportunities allowed them for exchanging the service rations
for shore provisions. In consequence of this welcome change everything
on board went on greased wheels. The old man effaced himself, as usual,
never interfering with anybody, and, for a month, we were as quiet a
ship as you would find afloat. Slowly we edged our way across the belt
of calms to the northward of the Line, inch by inch, our efforts almost
entirely confined to working the ship and making sennit. By-and-bye we
came into a calm streak, where sea and sky were so much alike that it
was hard to tell where one left off and the other began: weather
beautiful beyond description, but intensely aggravating to men tired of
the ship and the voyage, and exceedingly trying to the temper of all
hands. For a week this stagnant state of things prevailed; and then, one
morning, we were all interested to find another barque within a couple
of miles of us. In that mysterious way in which two vessels will draw
near each other in a stark calm, we got closer and closer, until at last
our skipper took a notion to visit her. So the boat was got out, and we
pulled alongside of her. She was the _Stanley Sleath_ of London, from
'Frisco to London, one hundred and sixty days out. She was an iron
vessel, and never shall I forget the sight she presented as she rolled
her lower strakes out of water. Great limpets, some three inches across,
yard-long barnacles, and dank festoons of weeds, clothed her below the
water-line from stem to stern, and how she ever made any progress at all
was a mystery. She smelt just like a reef at low water; and it looked as
if the fish took her for something of that nature, for she was
accompanied by a perfect host of them, of all shapes and sizes, so that
she rolled as if in some huge aquarium. She certainly presented a
splendid field for the study of marine natural history. None of us went
on board but the skipper; but some of the watch below leaned over the
rail as we swung alongside and told us a pitiful story. Through
somebody's negligence the lid of their only water-tank had been left
off, with the result that some rats had got in and been drowned. This
had tainted all the water so vilely that no one save a sailor burning
with thirst could drink it, and nothing would disguise that rotting
flavour. The captain had his young wife on board, and she had been made
so ill that she was delirious, her one cry being for "a drink of water."
And no one seemed to have had sufficient gumption to rig up a small
condenser! It hardly seemed credible, had it not been that similar cases
were well known to most of us. We had plenty of good water, and our
skipper sent us back on board with orders to the mate to fill a
two-hundred-gallon cask, bung it up tight, and lower it overboard. We
were then to tow it back to the _Stanley Sleath_. As a cask or tank of
fresh water floats easily in the sea, this was not a difficult task, nor
were we long in executing it. It was the best deal made by our old man
for many a long day, for he got in exchange a fat sow, weighing about
fifteen stone, two gallons of rum, and a case of sugar. Followed by the
fervent thanks of her anxious commander, we rowed away from the _Stanley
Sleath_, our approach to our own vessel again being heralded by the
frantic squeals of our prize, who lay under the thwarts, her feet
securely bound but her voice in splendid working order. That evening a
breeze sprang up, and, slow as we were, we soon left our late consort
hull down. Thenceforward for nearly a fortnight we saw nothing of our
teetotal skipper. The rum had been given us in lime-juice bottles,
packed in the original case, so that nobody knew but what a case of
lime-juice had come on board. And yet, as we had an abundance of
lime-juice, we wondered why the skipper had not chosen something else in
payment for the water. The cabin-boy, as usual, got the first inkling of
the mystery. Somehow he was a prime favourite with the old man, who, I
suppose, turned to Harry in his loneliness and made something of a pet
of him, getting, in return, all his little weaknesses reported verbatim
to the fellows forrard every evening. Going to call the captain to
supper on the same evening we visited the other ship, the boy noticed an
overpowering smell of rum, and, upon tapping at the state-room door, he
heard a thick voice murmur, "'Mnor vry well shevenin'; shlay down bit."
That was enough for Harry. Peeping in, he saw the skipper lolling on his
chest, a big black bottle wedged securely down by his side, and a glass
in his hand. From that spell of drink he did not emerge until the last
of the bottles was emptied.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

WHICH BRINGS US TO PORT AT LAST.


Fortunately for us the condition of the skipper didn't count for
anything, as we made our usual progress homeward indifferent to his
pranks. The north-east trades hung far to the eastward, allowing us to
make an excellent course northward; but, as we were very light, our gain
from their favouring cant was slight. Just upon the northern verge of
the tropic we lost them altogether, and lay lolling about in windless,
stagnating ease for another week, exasperating all hands at this
unlooked-for extension of our already lengthy passage. But even this
enforced wait had its advantages. We spoke another barque--homeward
bound from Brisbane--and again our adventurous commander would go
ship-visiting. In fact, he allowed it to become known that, but for our
determined attitude about calling at Ascension, he had intended to _beg_
his way home--a peculiarly irritating practice much fancied by men of
his stamp, who thus levy a sort of blackmail upon well-found ships. They
pitch a pitiful yarn about bad weather and abnormal length of passage,
with such embroidery as their imagination suggests, and generally
succeed in getting quite a lot of things "on the cheap."

What sort of a yarn our mendacious skipper spun to this last vessel we
had no means of knowing, as the boat's crew were not allowed to board
her; but he succeeded in getting a couple of cases of preserved beef and
some small stores. Much to his disgust, however, there was no liquor of
any kind to be had. The only thing that the other ship wanted was a few
coals for the galley fire; so, while our skipper stayed on board, the
boat was sent back for them. Now it was Sunday afternoon, and when Bill
and I were ordered to go down into the fore-peak and fill three sacks
with coal, we felt much aggrieved. So, grumblingly, we dived into the
black pit forrard, and began to fill the sacks. But, suddenly, a bright
idea struck us. The only pretence at ship-smartening we were likely to
make was "holystoning" the decks, and, to this end, several lumps of
sandstone had been saved ever since we left Sydney. Now, I have before
noted in what abhorrence holystoning is held by all who have to perform
it, and here was a heaven-sent opportunity to make the job impossible.
So we carefully interspersed the lumps of stone among the coal in the
sacks, taking every precaution to leave not a fragment behind. Away it
went to the other ship; it was hoisted on board, our boat returned, a
breeze sprang up and we parted company, seeing each other no more. Two
or three days after the order was given to get up the holystones for
cleaning ship. Words could not express the wrath of the mate when it was
reported to him that none were to be found. Every bit of coal in the
fore-peak was dug over under his immediate supervision, he getting in a
most parlous mess the while, but in vain. I never saw a man get so angry
over a trifle. He swore that they had been thrown overboard by somebody,
being certain that there had been an ample store. Singularly enough, he
never dreamed of the real way of their going, and the actual
perpetrators of the certainly immoral act were never even suspected. We
had to do the best we could with ashes and brooms, but they made a poor
substitute for the ponderous scouring of the stones. I regret to say
that neither of us felt the slightest remorse for our deed, and, when we
heard the delighted comments of the men were more puffed up, I am
afraid, than we should have been by the consciousness of having acted
ever so virtuously.

And now, as we were approaching the area of heavy weather, and our
stun'sails were worn almost to muslin, we began to send down the
stun'sail gear. The first thing that happened: the ex-cook, in sending
down one of the top-gallant stun'sail-booms (a spar like a smooth
scaffold-pole), made his "rolling-hitch" the wrong way. Perfectly
satisfied that all was in order he sung out to us on deck to "hoist
away." The moment we did so, and the boom swung out of the irons in
which it had been lying, it assumed a vertical position and slid through
the hitch like lightning, just missing the rail, and plunging end-on
into the sea alongside. We were going about four knots at the time, and
when it sprang upwards again it struck us under the counter with a bang
that almost stove in the outer skin of the ship. And, instead of being
at all chagrined at such a gross piece of bungling, the offender simply
exhausted his copious vocabulary of abuse when the "old man" ventured to
rebuke him. Oh, our discipline was grand! Hardly an hour afterwards, in
taking in the fore-topmast stun'sail, the halliards carried away. The
tack and sheet, rotten as cobwebs almost, followed suit, so we lost that
too. The rest of the rags were saved for the old-rope merchant.

Still the fine weather persisted, and at last we crawled up under the
lee of Terceira in the Azores, where we got becalmed within a couple of
miles of Angra. That was on a Sunday afternoon--and if Captain Bunker
didn't actually propose to go ashore and have a donkey-ride! He was
perfectly sober, too. But this was too much for even our quiet mate's
patience. He turned upon his commander at last. I was at the wheel, and
heard him tell the skipper that if he carried out his proposal, and a
breeze sprang up while he was ashore, he, the mate, would certainly make
sail and leave him there. He was sick to death of the state of things,
and he would have no more of it. This outburst frightened the old fellow
terribly, and, with a feeble remark that he was "only joking," he
disappeared below. The calm continued all through the night, some
invisible influence setting the vessel so closely inshore that I began
to fear we were going to lose her after all. Yet nothing whatever was
done to prepare for such a contingency. The anchor was securely lashed
in its sea-position on the forecastle, and, to all outward appearance,
no notice was taken at all by the officers of our undoubtedly perilous
proximity to the shore. Just before dawn, however, a little
south-easterly breeze sprang up, to which we trimmed the yards, and soon
glided away from all danger. Gradually the wind freshened and veered
until at west-southwest it was blowing a strong steady breeze, and, with
all square-sail set, the old _Harrowby_ was bowling along at a good
eight knots for the Channel. Faithful as usual, this well-beloved wind
to the homeward-bounder never relaxed its strenuous push until the
changing hue of the water, plain for all men to see, told us that we
were once more on soundings. Oh, blessed sight, that never palls upon
the deep-water sailor, the fading away of that deep fathomless blue
which for so many, many weary watches has greeted the eye! Somehow or
other, too, the green of the Channel of Old England has a different tint
to any other sea-green. It is not a pretty colour, will not for a moment
bear comparison with the blazing emerald of some tropical shore, but it
looks welcome--it says home; and even the most homeless and hardened of
shellbacks feels a deep complacency when it greets his usually
unobservant eye. Contrary to my usual experience of the brave
westerlies, this breeze of ours did not culminate in a gale; but as we
neared the Scilly Isles it gradually took off, and the weather
brightened, until one heavenly morning at daybreak we saw under a
pale-blue sky, bathed in brilliant sunshine, those straggling outposts
of dear old England like bits of fairyland--uncut jewels scattered over
a silver sea. And here, to our intense delight, came a dandy: one of
those staunch Falmouth boats with the funny little jigger perked up aft
like the tail of a saucy cockerell. She made straight for us in a
business-like fashion, rounded to alongside, and her commander climbed
nimbly on board, while the other two men in her hove on board a splendid
mess of fish. The enterprising boatman was the runner for a Falmouth
tailor, who had come out thus far seeking customers. He was, of course,
elated to find that we were bound into Falmouth, and that his diligence
was likely to be rewarded. For few indeed are the homeward-bounders
calling at Falmouth for orders, whose crews do not liberally patronize
the Falmouth outfitters, getting good value for their money, and being
able to choose their goods with clear heads, apart from the bestial
distractions of sailor-town. And the captains of such vessels are never
loth, _of course_, to allow their men to run up a bill with the tailor,
and to forward the amount from the port of discharge, wherever it may
be.

Favoured still by fortune we sped on toward the lovely harbour, and at
four p.m. rounded the well-known old tower of Pendennis and entered the
anchorage. Sail-furling and clearing up decks was got over as if by
magic, and, by the time we were at leisure here was the prompt
tailor-man with his leather-covered trunks full of boots and clothes,
ready to reap the first-fruits of our labours.

Here we lay in serenest peace for a couple of days, the weather being
more like late spring than November, so fine and balmy as to make us
wonder whether we had not mistaken the time of year. Then orders came
for us to proceed to London. We towed out of the harbour on a lovely
afternoon, with the Channel looking like a glimpse of fairyland under
the delicate blue of the cloudless sky. Under all sail we gently jogged
along the coast, standing more to seaward as night came on, and noting,
with comfortable compassion, the outward-bounders just beginning the
long journey of which we were so near the end. I had the ten to midnight
wheel, and, in consequence of the mild weather, was lightly clad in the
usual tropical rig of shirt, trousers, and cap. Before half my "trick"
was over there was a sudden change. The wind came out from the
north-east, and piped up with a spiteful sting in it that pierced me
through. My thin blood seemed to suck up the cold until I was benumbed
and almost unable to move the wheel. But there was no chance to wrap up.
All hands were as busy as bees shortening her down, for the wind rose
faster than they could get the sail in, and at midnight it was blowing a
gale, with squalls of sleet and driving banks of fog. One o'clock came
before I was relieved, and then I had hardly enough vitality left to get
forrard, my two garments being stiff upon my lead-coloured flesh.
Somehow I got into the forecastle and changed my rig; then, rolling my
one blanket round me, I crawled into my bunk. No sleep and no warmth
could I get, nor did I feel more than half alive at eight bells. But I
dragged myself on deck and suffered, till at five a.m. the cook shouted
"Coffee!" as usual, and then the pannikin of boiling brown water did
comfort my frozen vitals.

We were now just fore-reaching under two lower topsails, reefed
foresail, and fore-topmast staysail--not even holding our own. Every
little while the big flyers outward-bound would spring out of the
fog-laden gloom, and glide past us under a pyramid of canvas like vast
spirits of the storm. Or a panting, labouring tramp-steamer would plough
her painful way up channel right in the wind's eye, digging her blunt
snout into the angry brine, and lifting it aboard in a roaring flood
that hid her for a minute entirely under a mantle of white foam. We had
even some pity to spare for the poor devils in such evil case as that on
those perishing iron decks, or being flung like a tennis-ball between
bunker, bulkhead, and furnace-door in the Gehenna below, while the
freezing floods came streaming down upon them through the grated
"fidley" above. Fifteen days did that merciless north-easter thrash and
wither us, until we felt that nothing mattered--we had reached such a
dumb depth of misery. Still, we did make _some_ progress, for on the
sixteenth day we sighted Dungeness, the first clearly distinguishable
land we had seen since leaving Falmouth. The arrival of the pilot
cheered us up, as it always does. He seems to bring with him the
assurance of safety, to be a hand stretched out from home able and
anxious to draw you thither. And, as so often happens, too, the weather
fined down almost immediately. Under his wise guidance we stole
stealthily along the coast until, off Dover, a big tug-boat sallied
out and made for us. None of us took any notice of him; we knew too well
that we were not the sort of game he was after. A ship about five times
our size was nearer his weight. Still, he came alongside and hailed us
with, "'R ye takin' steam up, cap'n?" ironically, as we all felt. "Ah!"
replied the old man, "yew're too big a swell f'r me." "Nev' mind 'bout
that," promptly came back. "I'm a-goin' up, anyhow, 'n _you_ won't make
any diff'rance ter me. Come, wot'll yer gimme?" "Ten poun'," sniggered
the old man. "Oh! Go on ahead!"--the interjection explosive, and the
order snarled down the speaking-tube to his engineer. Before, however,
the paddles had made one revolution he stopped them, and shouted back,
"Looky 'ere, I ain't foolin'; I'll take ye up fur thutty poun'. Thet
won't 'urt yer." "Can't do it," drawled the skipper. "Owners wouldn't
pay it. 'Owever, ef yew mean bizness, I'm 'lowed to go ter twenty, n'
not 'nother pice." Then the fun began. They argued and chaffed and swore
until, finally, the tug got so close that her skipper stepped off the
paddle-box on board of us, and, as he did so, we saw a bottle sticking
out of his pea-jacket pocket. They both went below, and there was
silence. When they reappeared our old man's face was glowing like
burnished copper, and Oliver muttered, "I'm off'rin' big money thet
bottle's empty, and the steam-boat man ain't a-hed much neither." But
they hadn't settled the bargain. No; the next game was to toss one
another--best two out of three--whether the tug should take us up for
twenty pounds or twenty-five. Steam won; and the old man immediately
signed to the mate to get the hawser up. Great Cæsar! how we did snake
the hatches off before the order came, forgetting that we hadn't got a
hawser fit for the job. That made no odds; the tug-boat man wasn't going
to let a little thing like that stand in his way, especially as his coal
supply was so low that every minute was precious. So he lent us his
tow-line, and in less than five minutes the _Robert Bruce_ was pelting
away homeward as if nothing was behind her at all, and we were all
admiring the first bit of speed the old _Harrowby_ had put on since we
had belonged to her. Night fell as we passed the Nore, but there was no
delay. Onward we went, until, passing everything on the way, we anchored
at Gravesend. Off went the tug with the last shovelful of coal in the
furnaces, just in time. Then down came the fog, a regular November
shroud, so thick that the mainmast was invisible from the poop. Somehow
the "mud"-pilot found us, his boat taking away our deep-water man, in
whom--such is the fickleness of mankind--we had now lost all interest.
All the next day that thick darkness persisted; but about seven in the
evening it lifted a little. The tug was alongside of us directly, so
anxious was her skipper to get his cheap job over. We were mighty smart
getting under way, being off up the river in less than half an hour from
the first glimmer of clear. All went well till we entered Long Reach,
when down came the curtain again thicker than ever. The tug turned round
and headed down the river, just keeping the paddles moving as we
dropped up with the young flood. It was a terribly anxious time. The
river was full of craft, and every minute or two there was a tempest of
howls as we bumped into some bewildered barge, or came close aboard of a
huge ocean steamer. At last the pilot could stand it no longer, and,
telling the carpenter to get his maul ready for knocking out the
ring-stopper of the anchor, he shouted, "Stand clear the chain!" At that
instant, as if by some pre-arranged signal, the fog rolled up, and in
five minutes the sky was as clear as heart could wish. The tug swung
round again, and, under a full head of steam, we rushed onwards,
entering the Millwall Docks just at the stroke of midnight. The process
of mooring in our berth was all a confused jumble of rattling chains,
hoarse orders, and breathless, unreasoning activity, succeeded by that
sweetest of all sounds to a homeward-bound sailor's ears, "That'll do,
men."

Unearthly as the hour was, most of the fellows would go ashore,
delivering themselves over to the ever-watchful boarding-house runners
like a flock of sheep. But three of us--Oliver, Bill, and myself--rolled
once more into our bunks, and, utterly wearied, soon fell fast asleep.
When we awoke in the morning the new sensation of being our own masters,
able to disregard the time, and lay in till noon if we chose, was
delightful. But just because we could do as we liked we rose at
daylight, had a leisurely wash, and, dressed in our best, climbed over
the rail and sauntered along the gloomy, grimy quays towards the
dock-gates. We had just two shillings and sixpence between us,
sufficient to get a good meal only, but we knew where we could get
more. And that is one of the first pitfalls that beset the path of the
homeward-bounder. Many skippers have sufficient thoughtfulness to
advance their crews a little money upon arriving in dock, and thereby
save them from the dangerous necessity of borrowing from those harpies
who abound and batten upon the sailor. Nothing of the kind could be
expected from our skipper, of course, so we just had to take our chance.
As I was at home and familiar with every corner, I became the guide, and
led the way to a snug eating-house in the West India Dock Road, where I
knew we could get a civilized breakfast. But Oliver hove-to at the first
pub, and swore that what _he_ needed was rum. I tried hard to dissuade
him, assuring him that he wouldn't be able to eat any breakfast if he
got drinking rum first. I might as well have tried to tie an elephant
with a rope-yarn. He had his rum: a full quartern of the famous brand
that used to be sold about sailor-town, whereof the bouquet was enough
to make a horse sick. Then I hurried him off to the coffee-shop, where,
with a lordly air, I ordered three haddocks, three hot rolls and butter,
and three pints of coffee. Oh, the ecstatic delight of that meal!--that
is, to us two youngsters. Oliver just pecked a little daintily, and
then, turning to a burly carman sitting by his side who had just
finished a mighty meal, he said coaxingly, "I say, shipmate, I ain't
touched this grub hardly, can you help me out?" With a commiserating
look the carman reached for the food, and concealed it like an expert
conjurer.



CHAPTER XXIX.

CONCLUSION.


As I had no home, and cared little where I lodged, I was easily
persuaded by Oliver to accompany him to the little beershop in the
Highway, where he had put up before. I had my misgivings, for I knew
that unsavoury neighbourhood well (it is somewhat different now); but it
was necessary to find harbourage somewhere until the ship paid off,
which was, as usual, likely to be three days longer. Bill departed unto
his own place among the purlieus of Bermondsey, and we two trudged off
to Oliver's hotel. After the glowing accounts of it I had received from
Oliver, I was dumfounded to find it a regular den; the bar filled with
loafers furtive of look and mangy of clothing, while the big taproom at
the back was just a barn of a place open to all. The fat landlord seemed
a decent fellow, but his fatter wife was a terror. She had vigour enough
to command a regiment, and woe to the loafer who crossed her. Still I
felt that it was now too late to draw back, and besides, I had little to
lose; so I had my scanty kit brought up from the ship, and saw it shoved
into a corner of the common room, where I reckoned it would be ransacked
thoroughly as soon as darkness set in. The landlord lent me a sovereign
readily enough, and, as soon as I received it, I bade good-day to
Oliver, who was fast drinking himself idiotic, and, taking the train
from Shadwell to Fenchurch Street, was whirled out of that detestable
locality. All the rest of the day I roamed about the well-known streets,
where the very buildings seemed to greet me with the air of old friends.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and, with only a couple of shillings gone
out of my sovereign, returned to my lodging shortly after ten. I found
things worse than ever. The landlady was half inclined to abuse me
because I hadn't been in to my meals, and every loafer in the place was
sponging for a drink. Outside I knew was not healthy at this time of
night for me, so I quietly asked permission to go to bed. Grumbling at
such an unreasonable request, the landlady snarled, "You'll 'ave ter
wite till yer bed's ready. 'Ow wos hi ter know as you'd wanter sleep all
day?" I said nothing, seeing it was the wisest course; but perching
myself in a corner under the big flaring kerosene-lamp, tried to read a
book I had brought in with me. I had not been thus quietly engaged for
more than five minutes, before an awfully repulsive-looking fellow came
up to me, and, pushing down my book, said, "Got enny munny in yer close,
young 'un?" I looked at him in silence for a minute, thinking hard how
best to answer him. But growing impatient he growled, "Look 'ere, giv us
the price of a drink, er I'll bash yer jor in." That settled it.
Indignation overcame prudence, and I shouted at the pitch of my voice,
"Mr. Bailey, do you allow this to go on in your house?" There was an
uproar immediately, in the midst of which Mrs. Bailey cleared the room
of the swarming loafers--my assailant escaping among them. Then, turning
indignantly to me, she abused me roundly for making a disturbance,
treating my statement as a "pack er lies." I got to bed safely, though,
and really the bed was better than I had expected, although the room was
just a bare box of a place with damp-begrimed walls, that might have
been a coal-cellar.

Rising early in the morning I went down and had an interview with
Bailey, in which I asked him to have my dunnage put away, as I was going
on a visit and should not return that night. He was pleasant enough
about it, and offered me a rum-and-milk at his expense, being greatly
amazed at my refusal. Then I escaped and took up my abode at a
lodging-house in Newman Street, Oxford Street. The time dragged rather
heavily until pay-day, as I dared not do anything costing money; but at
last I found myself once more at Green's Home, with my account of wages
in my hand, telling me that after all claims were satisfied, I was
entitled to sixteen pounds. It was a curious paying-off. Every man, as
he got his money, gave the skipper a piece of his mind; and but that a
stout grating protected the old man from his crew, I am afraid there
would have been assault and battery. I came last, with the exception of
Bill, and when I held out my account of wages to the clerk, the old
rascal said, "I've a good mind to stop yer wages as I promised yer."
What I said doesn't matter, but I never felt the poverty of language
more. And when I saw that he had given me on my certificate of discharge
an excellent character for conduct (which I didn't deserve) and a bad
character for ability (which was utterly unjust), I felt that his
malignity would pursue me long after I had seen the last of him. For
such a discharge is a millstone round a young man's neck. Captains don't
take much notice of a character for conduct--whether it be good or
bad--but they do want their men to be of some use at their work, and
will return such a discharge as mine was contemptuously. Bill took his
pay without looking at it, and, without a word passing between him and
the old man, joined me outside. We strolled away together along the East
India Dock Road, he bungling over his money all the time, till suddenly
he cried, "Why, I've got a five-pound note too much! Here, come on,
let's get out o' this, case he sends after us." And thus was I avenged.
The morality of the thing never troubled me in the least, I only felt
glad from my heart that mine enemy would have to refund all that money.

And now I have reached the limit of my book. At the outset I only
proposed to deal with the vicissitudes of my life on board ship as a
boy. And with the close of this voyage I felt that I was a boy no
longer. I was getting more confident in my ability to hold my own in the
struggle for life, and, although I saw nothing before me but a dreary
round of the drudgery of the merchant seaman's career before the mast,
the prospect did not trouble me. I had no plans, no ambitions, nobody
to work for, no one to encourage me to thrive for better things. I lived
only for the day's need, my only trouble the possible difficulty of
getting a ship. Of the future, and what it had in store for me, I
thought nothing, cared nothing. And yet I was not unhappy. If at times
there was a dull sense of want--want of something besides food and
clothing--I did not nurse it until it became a pain. Only I kept away
from sailor-town. The museums, picture galleries, and theatres kept me
fully amused, and, when I was tired, a good book was an unfailing
resource against dulness. In fact I lived in a little world of my own,
quite content with my own company and that of the creations of my fancy
or the characters of the books I devoured.

This unsatisfactory life, thank God! was soon to be entirely changed;
but that, of course, was hidden from me, nor does it come within the
scope of this book. As I write these last few words I think curiously
whether, if ever they see the light, those who read them will think
contemptuously, "This fellow seems to imagine that the commonplace
details in the life of a nobody are worth recording." Well, I have had
my doubts about that all along, and my only excuse must be that I have
been assured, upon very high authority, that a book like mine, telling
just the naked, unadorned truth about an ordinary boy's ordinary life at
sea, could not fail to be of interest as a human document. And, in spite
of the manifest shortcomings, the obvious inability to discriminate
wisely always between things that are worth the telling and things that
are not, I do confidently assert that I have here set forth the truth
impartially, as far as I have been able to do so. I feel strongly
tempted to draw a few conclusions from my experience; but I must resist
the temptation, and allow the readers to do that for themselves. In the
hope that some good may be done, some little pleasure given, by this
simple recital of a boy's experiences at sea, I now bid my readers,
respectfully,


                           SO LONG!



Transcriber's notes;


Italics displayed _like this_.

Small caps displayed LIKE THIS.

Bold displayed =like this=

p. 4 "were were" amended to "were"

p. 71 "ostentaiously" amended to "ostentatiously"

p. 321 "neven" amended to "never"

p. 326 "group" amended to "grouped"

p. 354 "standstone" amended to "sandstone"





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