By some means, needless to record here, I found myself, not so many years ago, “on the beach” at Melbourne, in Australia.
To be on the beach is not an uncommon occurrence for a sailor in any part of the world; but, since the question is suggested, I will say that I was not a very dissipated young fellow of twenty-five, for up to that time I had never even tasted rum in any form, although I had followed the sea for seven years.
I had held a mate’s berth, and as I did not care to ship before the mast on the first vessel bound out, I had remained ashore until a threatening landlord made it necessary for me to become less particular as to occupation.
It was a time when mates were plenty and men were few, so I made the rounds of the shipping houses with little hope of getting a chance to show my papers. These, together with an old quadrant, a nautical almanac, a thick pea coat, and a pipe, were all I possessed of this world’s goods, and I carried the quadrant with me in case I should not succeed in signing on. I could “spout it,” if need be, at some broker’s, and thus raise a few dollars.
As I made my way along the water front, I noticed a fine clipper ship of nearly two thousand tons lying at a wharf. She was in the hands of a few riggers, who were sending aloft her canvas, which, being of a snowy whiteness, proclaimed her nationality even before I could see her hull. On reaching the wharf where she lay, I stopped and noticed that she was loaded deep, for her long black sides were under to within four feet of her main deck in the waist.
Her high bulwarks shut off my view of her deck; but, from the sounds that came down from there, I could tell that she was getting in the last of her cargo.
I walked to her stern and read her name in gilt letters: “Pirate, of Philadelphia.” Then I remembered her. She was a Yankee ship of evil reputation, and although I wanted to get back to my home in New York, I turned away thankful that I was not homeward bound in that craft. She had come into port a month before and had reported three men missing from her papers. There were no witnesses; but the sight of the rest of the crew told the story of the disappearance of their shipmates, and the skipper had been clapped into jail. I had heard of the ruffian’s sinister record before, and inwardly hoped he would get his deserts for his brutality, although I knew there was little chance for it. He belonged to the class of captains that was giving American packets the hard name they were getting, so I heartily wished him evil.
As I turned, looking up at the beautiful fabric with her long, tapering, t’gallant masts, topped with skysail yards fore and aft, and her tremendous lower yards nearly ninety feet across, I thought what a splendid ship she was. It made me angry to think of what a place she must be for the poor devils who would unwittingly ship aboard her. Only a sailor knows how much of suffering in blows and curses it cost to accomplish all that clean paint and scraped spar.
“Kind o’ good hooker, hey?” said a voice close aboard me, and looking quickly aft I saw a man leaning over the taffrail. He was a strange-looking fellow, with a great hairy face and bushy head set upon the broadest of shoulders. As for his legs, he appeared not to have any at all, for the rail was but three feet high and his shoulders just reached above it; his enormously long arms were spread along the rail, elbows outward, and his huge hands folded over the bowl of a pipe which he sucked complacently.
“Not so bad to look at,” I answered, meaningly.
“She is a brute in a seaway, but she keeps dry at both ends,” assented the fellow, utterly ignoring my meaning. “It’s always so with every hooker if she’s deep. Some takes it forrad and aft, and some takes it amidships. It’s all one s’long as she keeps a dry bilge. Come aboard.”
I hesitated, and then climbed up the mizzen channels, which were level with the wharf.
“Short handed?” I suggested, reaching the deck.
“Naw, there’s nobody but me an’ the doctor in the after guard; we’ll get a crew aboard early in the morning, though; skipper, too, if what they say is kerrect.”
“Where’s the captain?” I asked.
He looked queerly at me for a moment; then he spread his short legs wide apart, and thrust his great hands into his trousers pockets before speaking.
“Ain’t ye never heard? Limbo, man, and a bad job, too.” Here he made a motion with his hand around his neck which I understood.
I hesitated about staying any longer, and he spoke up.
“Got a hog-yoke, I see,” he said, “Be ye a mate?”
I told him I had been.
“Well, sink me, my boy, that’s just what I am aboard here, and they’ll be looking for another to match me. I saw what ye were when I first raised ye coming along the dock, and sez I, ye’re just my size, my bully.”
As he could have walked under my arm when extended horizontally, I saw he had no poor opinion of himself. However, his words conveyed a ray of hope.
“Is the mate with the skipper?” I asked.
“The second mate is, yep; but he won’t raise bail. The old man might though, quien sabe? The agents will hail us to-night and settle matters, for we’re on the load line and nigh steved. We can’t wait.”
I reflected a moment. Here was a possible chance for a mate’s berth, and perhaps the skipper would not get bail, after all. In that case I thought I could hardly manage better, for my fear of the little mate was not overpowering. I was not exactly of a timid nature,—a man seldom rises to be mate of a deep-water ship who is,—but I always dreaded a brutal skipper on account of his absolute authority at sea, where there is no redress. I had once been mixed up in an affair concerning the disappearance of one, on a China trader—but no matter. The affair in hand was tempting and I waited developments.
The little mate saw my course and laid his accordingly.
“S’pose you come around about knock-off time. The agents will be along about then—Sauers and Co.; you know them; and I’ll fix the thing for you.”
“All right,” I said, and after a little conversation relating to the merits of various ships, the Pirate in particular, I left and made my way back to my lodgings.
I notified my landlord of my proposed voyage, and he was as gracious as could be expected, at the same time expressing some wonderment at the suddenness of my good fortune.
The more I thought of the matter, the more I felt like trying elsewhere for a berth; but the time flew so rapidly that I found myself on the way to the ship before my misgivings took too strong hold of me.
As I turned down the principal thoroughfare, feeling in a more humorous frame of mind at the many possibilities open to me, I heard a shout. The sound came from a side street, and I looked to see what it meant. Through the door of a saloon a man shot head-long as if fired from a gun. He struck in the gutter and staggered to his feet, where he was immediately surrounded by the crowd of men that had followed him. This promised much in the way of diversion, and I stopped to see what hidden force lurked behind the door of the saloon. As I did so, a short fellow with a great bushy head emerged, struggling with half a dozen men who bore down upon him and tried to surround and seize him. The little man’s face was red from exertion and liquor, but when I caught a glimpse of his great squat nose and huge mouth I had no difficulty in recognizing my acquaintance on the Pirate. He backed rapidly away from his antagonists, swinging a pair of arms each of which seemed to be fully half a fathom long while every instant he let out a yell that sounded like the bellow of a mad bull. Suddenly he turned and made off down the street at an astonishing pace for one with such short legs, still letting out a yell at every jump.
The men who had set upon him hesitated an instant before they realized he was getting away; then they started after him, shouting and swearing at a great rate. He was up to me in an instant, and as he dashed by I narrowly missed a clip from his hand, which he swung viciously at me as he passed. I saw in a moment he couldn’t escape at the rate he was moving, in spite of his tremendous exertions, so I stepped aside to watch him as the crowd rushed past in pursuit.
The little mate’s legs were working like the flying pistons of a locomotive, and his bush hair and beard were streaming aft in the breeze as he neared the corner. Suddenly he stopped, turned about, and dashed right into the foremost of the crowd, letting out a screech and swinging his long arms.
“Git out th’ way! Th’ devil’s broke loose an’s comin’ for ye,” he howled as he sent the foremost man to the pavement. “Don’t stop me. I ain’t got no time to stop. Don’t stop a little bumpkin buster what’s got business in both hands. Stand away, or I’ll run ye down and sink ye,” and he tore through the men, who grabbed him and grappled to get him down. In a second he was going up the street again in exactly the opposite direction, having hurled over or dashed aside the fellows who had seized him.
“Soo—oo—a-y!” he bellowed as he passed. Then he rushed to a doorway where stood a boy’s bicycle. He jumped upon the saddle with another yell as he pushed the machine before him, and the next instant was whirling down the thoroughfare with the rapidity of an express train, bawling for people to “Stand clear!” In another moment he was out of sight, in a cloud of dust, and his yells fell to a drone in the distance.
I was in no hurry to get down to the dock, so I strolled around the streets for some time. Then, thinking that the little mate had about run himself out, I made my way to the wharf where the Pirate lay.
As I drew near the ship, I was aware of a bushy head above her port quarter-rail, and in a moment the little mate, Trunnell, looked over and hailed me. He was smoking so composedly and appeared so cool and satisfied that I could hardly believe it was the same man I had seen running amuck but an hour before.
“Have a good ride?” I asked.
“So, so; ’twas a bit of a thing to do, though I ain’t never rid one of them things afore. They wanted me to cough up stuff for the whole crowd. But nary a cough. One or two drinks is about all I can stand; so when I feels good ye don’t want to persuade me over much. Come aboard.”
He led me below, where we were joined by the “doctor,” a good-looking negro, who, having washed up his few dishes and put out the fire in his galley, came aft and assumed an importance in keeping with a cook of an American clipper ship.
We sat in the forward cabin and chatted for a few minutes, becoming better acquainted, and I must say they both acquitted themselves very creditably for members of the after guard of that notorious vessel. But I had learned long ago that there were good men on all ships, and I was not more than ordinarily surprised at my reception.
The forward cabin was arranged as on all American ships of large tonnage,—that is, with the house built upon the main deck, the forward end of which was a passage athwartships to enable one to get out from either side when the vessel was heeled over at a sharp angle. Next came the mates’ rooms on either side of two alleyways leading into the forward saloon, and between the alleyways were closets and lockers. The saloon was quite large and had a table fastened to the floor in the centre, where we now sat and awaited the appearance of the agents. Aft of this saloon, and separated from it by a bulkhead, was the captain’s cabin and the staterooms for whatever passengers the ship might carry.
While we were talking I heard a hail. Mr. Trunnell, the mate, instantly jumped to his feet and sprang up the companionway aft, his short, stout legs curving well outward, and giving him the rolling motion often noticed in short sailors. In a moment there were sounds of footsteps on deck, and several men started down the companionway.
The first that reached the cabin deck was a large man with a flowing beard and sharp eyes which took in every object in the cabin at a glance. He came into the forward saloon, and the “doctor” stood up to receive him. He took no notice of the cook, however, but looked sharply at me. Then the mate came in with two other men who showed in a hundred ways that they were captains of sailing ships. The large man addressed one of these. He was a short, stout man with sandy hair; he wore thin gold earrings, and his sun-bronzed face showed that he had but recently come ashore.
“If you don’t want to take her out, Cole,” said the large man, roughly, “say so and be done with it. I can get Thompson.”
“There’s nothing in it without the freight money. Halve it and it’s a go.”
“Andrews has the whole of it according to contract.”
“But he’s jugged.”
“He’ll need it all the more,” put in the other captain, who was one of the agents. “Colonel Fermoy has put the rate as high as he can.”
“I’m sorry, colonel,” said the stout skipper, turning to the large man.
“Halve or nothing.”
“All right, then, nothing. Mr. Trunnell,” he continued, turning to the mate, “Captain Cole will not take you out in the morning as he promised. I’ll send Captain Thompson along this evening, or the first thing in the morning. I suppose you know him, so it won’t be necessary for me to come down again. Is this your mate?” And he looked at me.
“Yessir, that’s him,” said Mr. Trunnell.
“Got your papers with you?” asked the colonel.
I pulled them out of my pocket and laid them upon the table. He glanced at them a moment and then returned them.
“All right; get your dunnage aboard this evening and report at the office at nine o’clock to-night. Eight pounds, hey?”
I almost gasped. Eight pounds for second mate! Five was the rule.
“Aye, aye, sir,” I answered.
“Done. Bear a hand, Mr. Trunnell. Jenkinson will have a crew at five in the morning. Good night.” And he turned and left, followed by all except the “doctor,” who remained with me until they were ashore. Mr. Trunnell came aboard again in a few minutes, and after thanking him for getting me the job I left the ship and went to attend to my affairs before clearing.
I had my “dunnage” sent aboard and then stopped at the office and signed on. After that, the night being young, I strolled along the more frequented streets and said farewell to my few acquaintances.
I arrived at the ship before midnight and found the only man there to be the watchman. Trunnell and the “doctor” had gone uptown, he said, for a last look around. I turned in at the bottom of an empty berth in one of the staterooms and waited for the after guard to turn to.
The mate came aboard about three in the morning, and as there was much to do, he stuck his head into a bucket of water and tried to get clear of the effects of the bad liquor he had taken. The “doctor” followed a little later, and fell asleep on the cabin floor.
“Has the old man turned up?” asked the mate, bawling into my resting place and rousing me.
“Haven’t seen any one come aboard,” I answered.
“Well, I reckon he’ll be alongside in a few minutes; so you better stand by for a call.”
While he spoke, the watchman on deck hailed some one, and a moment later a steady tramp sounded along the main deck, and a man came through the port door and into the alleyway.
He hesitated for an instant, while a young man with rosy cheeks and light curly hair followed through the door and halted alongside the first comer.
The stranger was tall and slender, with a long face, and high, sharp features, his nose curving like a parrot’s beak over a heavy dark mustache. His face was pale and his skin had the clear look of a man who never is exposed to the sun. But his eyes were the objects that attracted my gaze. They were bright as steel points and looked out from under heavy, straight brows with a quick, restless motion I had observed to belong to men used to sudden and desperate resolves. He advanced into the cabin and scrutinized the surroundings carefully before speaking.
“I suppose you are Mr. Trunnell,” he said to me, for I had now arisen and stood in the doorway of the stateroom. His voice was low and distinct, and I noticed it was not unpleasant.
“I have that honor,” said the little mate, with drunken gravity, sobering quickly, however, under the stranger’s look.
“There are no passengers?” asked the man, as the younger companion opened the door leading into the captain’s cabin and gazed within.
“Not a bleeding one, and I’m not sorry for that,” said Trunnell; “the old man wasn’t built exactly on passenger lines.”
“You wouldn’t take a couple, then, say for a good snug sum?”
“Well, that’s the old man’s lay, and I can’t say as to the why and wherefore. He’ll probably be along in an hour or two at best, for the tug will be alongside in a few minutes. We’re cleared, and we’ll get to sea as soon as the bloody crimp gets the bleeding windjammers aboard. They ought to be along presently.”
“Em-m-m,” said the man, and stroked his chin thoughtfully. “He’ll be along shortly, will he,—and you are all ready. I think I can hear the tug coming now, hey? Isn’t that it?”
“S’pose so,” answered the mate.
“Well, just let me insinuate to you politely, my boy, that the sooner you clear, the better;” his voice was low and full of meaning, and he leaned toward the mate in a menacing manner; “and if I have to speak to you more than once, my little friend, you will find out the kind of man Captain Thompson is. Can you rise to that?”
Trunnell shrank from the stranger’s look, for he stuck his face right into the mate’s, and as he finished he raised his voice to its full volume. The liquor was still in the stout little fellow’s head, and he drew back one of his long arms as if about to strike; then quickly recovering himself, he scratched his head and stepped back a pace.
“How the bleeding thunder could I tell you were Captain Thompson, when you come aboard here and ask for a passage?” he demanded. “I meant no disrespect. Not a bit. No, sir, not a bloody bit. I’m here for further orders. Yessir, I’m here for further orders and nothin’ else. Sing out and I go.”
It was plain that the little bushy-headed fellow was not afraid, for he squared his broad shoulders and stood at attention like a man who has dealt with desperate men and knew how to get along with them. At the same time he knew his position and was careful not to go too far. He was evidently disturbed, however, for the little thin silver rings in his ears shook from either nervousness or the effects of liquor.
The tall man looked keenly at him, and appeared to think. Then he smiled broadly.
“Well, you are a clever little chap, Trunnell,” he said; “but for discernment I don’t think you’d lay a very straight course, hey? isn’t that it? Not a very straight course. But with my help I reckon we’ll navigate this ship all right. Who’s this?” and he turned toward me.
“That’s Mr. Rolling, the second mate. Didn’t you meet him at the office?
He was there only a couple of hours ago. Just signed on this evening.”
“Ah, yes, I see. A new hand, hey? Well, Mr. Rolling, I suppose you know what’s expected of you. I don’t interfere with my mates after I get to sea. Can you locate the ship and reckon her course?”
I told him I could; and although I did not like the unnautical way this stranger had about him, I was glad to hear that he did not interfere with his mates. If he were some hard skipper the agents had taken at a pinch, it was just as well for him to keep to himself aft, and let his mates stand watch as they should on every high-class ship. The young man, or rather boy, who had come aboard with him, looked at me curiously with a pair of bright blue eyes, while the captain spoke, and appeared to enjoy the interrogation, for he smiled pleasantly.
“Everything is all ready, as I see,” the captain continued. “So I’ll go to bed awhile until my things come aboard. This young man will be third mate, Mr. Trunnell, and I’ll put him under your care. He will go ashore now and see to the trunks. But let me know the minute the crew come down, for I won’t wait for anything after that. You can let the tug take the line and be ready to pull us out.”
Then the skipper went into the captain’s cabin, and we saw him no more for several hours. The young man went back up town, and half an hour later returned with a cab containing a trunk, which was put in the after-cabin. The skipper heard the noise and bade them not reawaken him under any circumstances until the ship was well out at sea.
“If I have to get up and see to our leaving, some one will be sorry for it,” he said, in his menacing voice, and Mr. Trunnell was quite content to leave him alone.
At five in the morning the boarding master brought down the men, and a sorry lot of sailors they were. They counted nineteen all told, and half of them could not speak English. I went among them and searched their dunnage for liquor and weapons, and after finding plenty of both, I bundled the entire outfit into the forecastle and let them sort it the best they could, with the result that they all struck a fair average in the way of clothes. Those who were too drunk to be of any use I let alone, and they made a dirty mess of the clean forecastle. The rest I turned to with some energy and soon had our towing gear overhauled.
There was now a considerable crowd collecting on the dock to watch the ship clear, and as it was still too dark to see objects distinctly, I couldn’t tell what was taking place in the waist, for I had to attend sharply to the work on the topgallant forecastle. Mr. Trunnell bawled for the tug to pull away, and the ship started to leave the dock.
At that instant a man rushed through the crowd and sprang upon the rail amidships, where, seizing some of the running rigging, he let himself down to the main deck. He looked aft at Mr. Trunnell, and then seeing that the mate had command of the ship, he looked into the forward cabin and came to where I stood bawling out orders to the men who were passing the tow-line outside the rigging. I called to him and asked who he was and what he wanted, and he told me quickly that he was the twentieth man of the crew and had almost got left.
“What?” I asked; “after getting your advance money?” And I smiled as I thought of his chance of getting away without being caught.
“I never welsh, sir,” he replied, “and as I signed on, so will I work. I never skinned a ship yet out of sixpence.”
“Most remarkable,” I sneered; but the fellow had such a frank, open face that I felt sorry afterward. He was a young man and had probably not learned enough about ships to have such delicate scruples. He had a smooth face and looked intelligent, although it was evident that he was not much of a sailor.
“Well, don’t stand gaping. Get to work and show what you are made of.
Stow those slops of yours and get into a jumper quick. Where’s your bag?”
“I haven’t any.”
“Well, lay up there and help loose the maintopsail. Don’t stand here.”
He looked bewildered for a moment and then started up the fore rigging.
“Here, you blazing idiot,” I bawled. “What are you about? Don’t you know one end of a ship from another?”
The fellow came to me and spoke in a low voice.
“I have never shipped before the mast—only as cook, or steward,” he said.
“Well, you infernal beggar, do you mean to say that you’ve passed yourself off as a seaman or sailor here?” I cried.
“Then, blast you, if I don’t make a sailor of you before you get clear of the ship,” I said with some emphasis; for the idea of all hands being incapable made me angry, as the ship would be dependent entirely upon the sailors aboard, until we had taught the landsmen something. The whole outfit was such a scurvy lot it made me sick to think of what would happen if it should come on to blow suddenly and we had to shorten down to reefed topsails. The Pirate had double topsail yards fore and aft and all the modern improvements for handling canvas; but her yards were tremendous, and to lift either of her courses on the yards would take not less than half a dozen men even in good weather.
The fellow hung about while I dressed him down and told him about what a worthless specimen of humanity he was. Finally I sent him aft to help where he could, and he lent a hand at the braces in the waist under the direction of Mr. Trunnell, who stood on the break of the poop, with the young third mate beside him, and gave his orders utterly oblivious to the boy’s presence.
In a short time we made an offing, and as the pilot was on the tug, we had only to let go the line and stand away on our course. The t’gallant yards were sent up, then the royals sheeted home, and by dint of great effort and plenty of bawling we got the canvas on her fore and aft and trimmed the yards so as to make each one look as if at odds with its fellows, but yet enough to make a fair wind of the gentle southerly breeze. Then we let go the tow-line and stood to the westward, while the little tug gave a parting whistle and went heading away into the rising sun astern.
Categories: English Literature