Afloat at Last
by John Conroy Hutcheson ___________ This short book tells the adventures over just one voyage to Shanghai of the hero, Allan Graham, whose father is a country vicar. Allan is obtained a place as an apprentice aboard the Silver Queen, which he joins at Wapping Docks. An Irish bosun, Tim Rooney, takes a liking to the lad and helps him learn the ropes. Hutcheson nearly always has an Irish co-hero in his books. We get a good description of how the vessel is warped out of the dock, how she makes her way down river, assisted by a steam-tug, and then down the English Channel and into the wide Atlantic Ocean. Allan begins to learn a bit about navigation and ship-handling, when the movement of the vessel in the Bay of Biscay causes him to retire with sea-sickness. A stowaway is found on board, in the forepeak. Allan finds an ally in the Chinese cook, Ching Wang. On the other hand the Portuguese steward, Pedro, hates that cook.
They round the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), cross the Indian Ocean, and get into the Malay seas, where they notice a proa following them. After negotiating the tail end of a typhoon, they think they have escaped these possible pirates, pass through another typhoon, in which all their storm sails are blown out, yet see the pirates again. They are blown onto the Pratas shoal, aground, in which predicament the pirates attack. Ching Wang and Allan manage to get away in one of the pirates' small boats, and sail to where they can get help for the Silver Queen from a patrolling British Naval vessel, the Blazer. Rescued, eventually they get to Shanghai, where they receive their mails—it is extraordinary how the mails are always waiting for them, no matter how fast a vessel has travelled. Back home with an uneventful voyage, and that's the end of the story. The book is very helpful in teaching you the basics of reading these old nautical novels. N.H. ___________ AFLOAT AT LAST
BY JOHN CONROY HUTCHESON
IN THE RECTORY GARDEN.
"And so, Allan, you wish to go to sea?"
"Yes, father," I replied.
"But, is there no other profession you would prefer—the law, for instance? It seems a prosperous trade enough, judging from the fact that solicitors generally appear well to do, with plenty of money— possibly that of other people—in their possession; so, considering the matter from a worldly point of view, you might do worse, Allan, than join their ranks."
I shook my head, however, as a sign of dissent to this proposition.
"Well then, my boy," went on father in his logical way, anxious that I should clearly understand all the bearings of the case, and have the advantages and disadvantages of each calling succinctly set before me, "there is medicine now, if you dislike the study of Themis, as your gesture would imply. It is a noble profession, that of healing the sick and soothing those bodily ills which this feeble flesh of ours is heir to, both the young and old alike—an easier task, by the way, than that of ministering to 'the mind diseased,' as Shakespeare has it; although, mind you, I must confess that a country physician, such as you could only hope to be, for I have not the means of buying you a London practice, has generally a hard life of it, and worse pay. However, this is beside the question; and I want to avoid biassing your decision in any way. Tell me, would you like to be a doctor—eh?"
But to this second proposal of my father as to my future career, I again signified my disapproval by shaking my head; for I did not wish to interrupt his argument by speaking until he had finished all he had to say on the subject, and I could see he had not yet quite done.
"H'm, the wise man's dictum as to speech being silvern and silence gold evidently holdeth good with the boy, albeit such discretion in youth is somewhat rare," he murmured softly to himself, as if unconsciously putting his thoughts in words, adding as he addressed me more directly: "You ought to get on in life, Allan; for 'a still tongue,' says the proverb, 'shows a wise head.' But now, my son, I've nearly come to the end of the trio of learned professions, without, I see, prepossessing you in favour of the two I have mentioned. You are averse to the law, and do not care about doctoring; well then, there's the church, last though by no means least—what say you to following my footsteps in that sacred calling, as your brother Tom purposes doing when he leaves Oxford after taking his degree?"
I did not say anything, but father appeared to guess my thoughts.
"Too many of the family in orders already—eh? True; still, recollect there is room enough and work enough, God knows, amid all the sin and suffering there is in the world, for you also to devote your life to the same good cause in which, my son, I, your father, and your brother have already enlisted, and you may, I trust, yet prove yourself a doughtier soldier of the cross than either of us. What say you, Allan, I repeat, to being a clergyman—the noblest profession under the sun?"
"No, father dear," I at length answered on his pausing for my reply, looking up into his kind thoughtful gray eyes, that were fixed on my face with a sort of wistful expression in them; and which always seemed to read my inmost mind, and rebuke me with their consciousness, if at any time I hesitated to tell the truth for a moment, in fear of punishment, when, as frequently happened, I chanced to be brought before him for judgment, charged with some boyish escapade or youthful folly. "I don't think I should ever be good enough to be a clergyman like you, father, however hard I might try; while, though I know I am a bad boy very often, and do lots of things that I'm sorry for afterwards, I don't believe I could ever be bad enough to make a good lawyer, if all the stories are true that they tell in the village about Mr Sharpe, the attorney at Westham."
The corners of father's mouth twitched as if he wanted to smile, but did not think it right to do so.
"You are shrewd in your opinions, Allan," he said; "but dogmatic and paradoxical in one breath, besides being too censorious in your sweeping analysis of character. I should like you to show more charity in your estimate of others. Your diffidence in respect of entering the church I can fully sympathise with, having felt the same scruples myself, and being conscious even now, after many years, of falling short of the high ideal I had originally, and have still, of one who would follow the Master; but, in your wholesale condemnation of the law and lawyers, judging on the ex uno disce omnes principle and hastily, you should remember that all solicitors need not necessarily be rogues because one of their number has a somewhat evil reputation. Sharpe is rather a black sheep according to all report; still, my son, in connection with such rumours we ought to bear in mind the comforting fact that there is a stratum of good even in the worst dispositions, which can be found by those who seek diligently for it, and do not merely try to pick out the bad. Who knows but that Sharpe may have his good points like others? But, to return to our theme—the vexed question as to which should be your occupation in life. As you have decided against the church and the law, giving me your reasons for coming to an adverse conclusion in each instance, pray, young gentleman, tell me what are your objections to the medical profession?"
"Oh, father!" I replied laughing, he spoke in so comical a way and with such a queer twinkle in his eye, "I shouldn't care at all to be only a poor country surgeon like Doctor Jollop, tramping about day and night through dirty lanes and sawing off people's sore legs, or else feeling their pulses and giving them physic; although, I think it would be good fun, father, wouldn't it, just when some of those stupid folk, who are always imagining themselves ill wanted to speak about their fancied ailments, to shut them up by saying, 'Show me your tongue,' as Doctor Jollop bawls out to deaf old Molly the moment she begins to tell him of her aches and pains? I think he does it on purpose."
"Not a bad idea that," said he; "and our friend the doctor must have the credit of being the first man who ever succeeded in making a woman hold her tongue, a consummation most devoutly to be wished-for sometimes— though I don't know what your dear mother would say if she heard me give utterance to so heretical and ungallant a doctrine in reference to the sex."
"Why, here is mother now!" I exclaimed, interrupting him in my surprise at seeing her; it being most unusual for her to leave the house at that hour in the afternoon, which was generally devoted to Nellie's music lesson, a task she always superintended. "She's coming up the garden with a letter in her hand."
"I think I know what that letter contains," said father, not a bit excited like me; "for, unless I'm much mistaken, it refers to the very subject about which we've been talking, Allan,—your going to sea."
"Does it?" I cried, pitching my cap up in the air in my enthusiasm and catching it again dexterously, shouting out the while the refrain of the old song— "The sea, the sea, a sailor's life for me! Hurrah! Hurrah!"
Father sighed, and resumed his "quarter-deck walk," as mother termed it, backwards and forwards along the little path under the old elm-tree in front of the summer-house, with its bare branches stretched out like a giant's fingers clutching at the sky, always turning when he got up to the lilac bush and retracing his steps slowly and deliberately, as if anxious to tread in his former footprints in the very centre of the box- edged walk.
I think I can see him now: his face, which always had such a bright genial look when he smiled, and seemed to light up suddenly from within when he turned to speak to you, wearing a somewhat sad and troubled air, and a far-away thoughtful expression in his eyes that was generally there when he was having a mental wrestle with some difficulty, or trying to solve one of those intricate social problems that were being continually submitted for his consideration. And yet, at first glance, a stranger would hardly have taken him to be a clergyman; for he had on an old brown shooting-jacket very much the worse for wear, and was smoking one of those long clay pipes that are called "churchwardens," discoloured by age and the oil of tobacco, and which he had lit and let out and relit again half a dozen times at least during our talk.
"Very unorthodox," some critical people will say.
Aye, possibly so; but if these censors only knew father personally, and saw how he fulfilled his mission of visiting the fatherless and widow in their affliction, in addition to preaching the gospel and so winning souls to heaven, and how he was liked and loved by every one in the parish; perhaps they could condone his "sin of omission" in the matter of not wearing a proper clerical black coat with a stand-up collar of Oxford cut and the regulation white tie, and that of "commission" in smoking such a vulgar thing as a common clay pipe!
Presently, after his second turn as far as the lilac bush and back, father's face cleared, as if he had worked out the question that had been puzzling him; for, its anxious expression vanished and his eyes seemed to smile again.
"I suppose it's a family trait, and runs in the blood," he said. "Your grandfather,—my father, that is, Allan,—was a sailor; and I know I wanted to go to sea too, just like you, before I was sent to college. So, that accounts for your liking for it—eh?"
"I suppose so," I answered without thinking, just echoing his words like a parrot; although, now I come to consider the thing fully, I really can see no other reason than this hereditary instinct to account for the passionate longing that possessed me at that period to be a sailor, as, beyond reading Robinson Crusoe like other boys, I was absolutely ignorant of the life and all concerning it. Indeed, up to then, although it may seem hardly credible, I had only once actually seen the sea, and a ship in the distance—far-away out in the offing of what appeared to me an immeasurable expanse of space. This was when father took my sister Nellie and me for a day's visit to Brighton. It was a wonderful experience to us, from the contrast the busy town on the coast offered to the quiet country village where we lived and of which my father was the pastor, buried in the bosom of the shires away from the bustling world, and out of contact with seafaring folk and those that voyage the deep.
Yes, there's no doubt of it. That love for the sea, which made me wish to be a sailor as naturally as a cat loves cream, ran in my blood, and must have been bred in my bone, as father suggested.
Before, however, we could either of us pursue the psychological investigation of this theory any further, our argument was interrupted by my mother's coming to where we were standing under the elm-tree at the top of the garden.
Father at once put away his pipe on her approach, always respecting and honouring her beyond all women even as he loved her; and he greeted her with a smile of welcome.
"Well, dear?" said he sympathetically as she held out the letter she carried and then placed her hand on his arm confidingly, turning her anxious face up to his in the certainty of finding him ready to share her trouble whatever it might be. "Now tell me all about it."
"It has come, Robert!" she exclaimed, nestling nearer to him.
"Yes, I see, dear," he replied, glancing at the open sheet; for they had no secrets from each other, and she had opened the letter already, although it had been addressed to him. Then, looking at me, father added: "This is from Messrs. Splice and Mainbrace, the great ship- brokers of Leadenhall Street, to whom I wrote some time since, about taking you in one of their vessels, Allan, on your expressing such a desire to go to sea."
"Oh, father!" was all I could say.
"They inform me now," continued he, reading from the broker's communication, "that all the arrangements have been completed for your sailing in the Silver Queen on Saturday next, which will be to-morrow week, your premium as a first-class apprentice having been paid by my London agents, by whom also your outfit has been ordered; and your uniform, or 'sea toggery' as sailors call it, will be down here next Monday or Tuesday for you to try on."
"Oh, father!" I cried again, in wondering delight at his having settled everything so promptly without my knowing even that he had acceded to my wishes. "Why, you seem to have decided the question long ago, while you were asking me only just now if I would not prefer any other profession to the sea!"
"Because, my son," he replied affectionately, "I know that boys, like girls, frequently change their minds, and I was anxious that you should make no mistake in such a vital matter as that of your life's calling; for, even at the last hour, if you had told me you preferred being a clergyman or a doctor or a lawyer to going to sea, I would cheerfully have sacrificed the money I have paid to the brokers and for your outfit. Aye, and I would willingly do it now, for your mother and I would be only too glad of your remaining with our other chicks at home."
"And why won't you, Allan?" pleaded mother, throwing her arms round me and hugging me to her convulsively. "It is such a fearful life that of a sailor, amid all the storms and perils of the deep."
"Don't press the boy," interposed father before I could answer mother, whose fond embrace and tearful face almost made me feel inclined to reconsider my decision. "It is best for him to make a free choice, and that his heart should be in his future profession."
"But, Robert—" rejoined mother, but half convinced of this truth when the fact of her boy going to be a sailor was concerned.
"My dear," said father gently, interrupting her in his quiet way and drawing her arm within his again, "remember, that God is the God of the sea as well as of the land, and will watch over our boy, our youngest, our Benjamin, there, as he has done here!"
Father's voice trembled and almost broke as he said this; and it seemed to me at the moment that I was an awful brute to cause such pain to those whom I loved, and who loved me so well.
But, ere I could tell them this, father was himself again, and busy comforting mother in his cheery way.
"Now, don't fret, dear, any more," he said; "the thing is settled now. Besides, you know, you agreed with me in the matter at Christmas-tide, when, seeing how Allan's fancy was set, I told you I thought of writing to London to get a ship for him, so that no time might be wasted when he finally made up his mind."
"I know, Robert, I know," she answered, trying to control her sobs, while I, glad in the new prospect, was as dry-eyed as you please; "but it is so hard to part with him, dear."
"Yes, yes, I know," said he soothingly; "I shall miss the young scaramouch, too, as well as you. But, be assured, my dear, the parting will not be for long; and we'll soon have our gallant young sailor boy back at home again, with lots of—oh! such wonderful yarns, and oh! such presents of foreign curios from the lands beyond sea for mother, when the Silver Queen returns from China."
"Aye, you will, mother dear, you will!" cried I exultingly.
"And though our boy will not wear the Queen's uniform like his grandfather, and fight the foe," continued father, "he will turn out, I hope, as good an officer of the mercantile marine, which is an equally honourable calling; and, possibly, crown his career by being the captain of some magnificent clipper of the seas, instead of ending his days like my poor old dad, a disappointed lieutenant on half-pay, left to rust out the best years of his life ashore when the war was over."
"I hope Allan will be good," said mother simply.
"I know he will be, with God's help," rejoined father confidently, his words making me resolve inwardly that I would try so that my life should not disgrace his assuring premise.
"I must go in now and tell Nellie," observed mother after a pause, in which we were all silent, and I could see father's lips move as if in silent prayer; "there'll be all Allan's shirts and socks to get ready. To-morrow week, you said, the ship was to sail—eh, dear?"
"Yes, to-morrow week," answered father bracing himself up; "and while your mother and Nellie are looking after the more delicate portions of your wardrobe, Allan, you and I had better walk over to Westham, and see about buying some new boots and other things which the outfitters haven't got down on their list."
As he was going into such a fashionable place as Westham, the nearest county town to our parish, at mother's especial request father consented to hide the beauties of his favourite old shooting-jacket under a more clerical-looking overcoat of a greyish drab colour, or "Oxford mixture." He was induced to don, too, a black felt hat, more in keeping with the coat than the straw one he had worn in the garden; and thus "grandly costumed," as he laughingly said to mother and Nell, who watched our departure from the porch of the rectory, he and I set out to make our purchases.
Dear me! the bustle and hurry and worry that went on in the house and out of the house in getting my things ready was such that, as father said more than once in his joking way, one would have thought the whole family were emigrating to the antipodes, instead of only a mere boy like me going to sea!
And then, when everything else had been packed and repacked a dozen times or so by mother's loving hands in the big, white-painted sea-chest that had come down from London—which had my name printed on the outside in big capital letters that almost made me blush, and with such a jolly little washhand-basin and things for dressing on the top of it just inside the lid—the stupid outfitters delayed sending my blue uniform to try on in time; and it was only on the very day before I had to start that it was finished and sent home, for mother and Nellie to see how I looked in it, as I wished them to do, feeling no small pride when I put it on.
Tom, too, got away from Oxford to spend this last day with me at home; and, though he could hardly spare the time, mother believed, from his studies, I think he was more interested in some forthcoming race in which his college boat was engaged.
My last morning came round at length, and with it the final parting with mother and all at the rectory, which I left by myself. Father decided this to be the wisest course; for, as I was, as he said, making my first start in life, it was better to do so in a perfectly independent way, bidding the dear home-folks good-bye at home.
My last recollection was of father's eyes fixed on mine with a loving smile in them, and an expression of trust and hope which I determined to deserve.
The long railway journey to town, which at any other time would have been a rattle and whirr of delight and interest, seemed endlessly monotonous to me, full of sad thoughts at parting with all I loved; and I was glad enough when the train at length puffed and panted its way into the terminus at London Bridge.
Thence, I took a cab, according to father's directions, to the offices of the brokers in Leadenhall Street, handing them a letter which he had given me to establish my identity.
In return, Messrs. Splice and Mainbrace, as represented by the junior partner of the firm, similarly handed me over to the tender mercies of one of the younger clerks of the establishment, by whom I was escorted through a lot of narrow lanes and dirty streets, down Wapping way to the docks; the young clerk ultimately, anxious not to miss his dinner, stopping in front of a large ship.
"There you are, walk up that gangway," he said; and thereupon instantly bolted off!
So, seeing nothing better to be done, I marched up the broad plank he pointed out, somewhat nervously as there was nothing to hold on to, and I should have fallen into the deep water of the dock had my foot slipped, the vessel being a little way out from the wall of the wharf; and, the next instant, jumping down on the deck, I found myself on board a ship for the first time in my life.
MY FRIEND THE BOATSWAIN.
I soon made the discovery on getting there, however, that I was neither alone nor unobserved; for a man called out to me almost the same instant that my feet touched the deck.
"Hullo, youngster!" he shouted.
"Do you mean me?" I asked him politely, as father bad trained me always to address every one, no matter what their social condition might be.
"An' is it manin' yez, I am?" retorted my interlocutor sharply. "Tare an' 'ouns, av coorse it is! Who ilse should I mane?"
The speaker was a stout, broad-shouldered, middle-aged man, clad in a rough blue jersey as to the upper portion of his body, and wearing below a rather dirty pair of canvas overalls drawn over his trousers, which, being longer, projected at the bottom and overlapped his boots, giving him an untidy look.
He was busy superintending a gang of dock labourers in their task of hoisting up in the air a number of large crates and heavy deal packing- cases from the jetty alongside, where they were piled up promiscuously in a big heap of a thousand or so and more, and then, when the crane on which these items of cargo were thus elevated had been swung round until right over the open hatchway, giving entrance to the main-hold of the ship, they were lowered down below as quickly as the tackle could be eased off and the suspending chain rattle through the wheel-block above. The clip-hooks were then unhitched and the chain run up and the crane swung back again over the pile of goods on the jetty for another load to be fastened on; and, so on, continually.
The man directing these operations, in turning to speak to me, did not pause for an instant either in giving his orders to "hoist!" and "lower away!" or in keeping a keen weather-eye open, as he afterwards explained to me, on the gang, so as to see that none of the hands shirked their work; and, as I stared helplessly at him, quite unable as yet to apprehend his meaning, or know what he wished me to do, he gave a quick side-glance over his shoulder to where I stood and renewed his questioning.
"Sure an' ye can answer me if you loike, for ye ar'n't dumb, me bhoy, an' ye can spake English fast enough. Now. I'll ax ye for the last toime—whare d'ye spring from?"
"Spring from?" I repeated after him, more puzzled than ever and awed by his manner, he spoke so sharply, in spite of his jovial face and twinkling eyes. "I jumped from that plank," pointing to the gangway by which I came on board as I said this.
This response of mine seemed, somehow, to put him into all the greater rage—I'm sure I can't tell why.
"Bad cess t'ye for an omahdawn! Sure, an' it isn't springin'—joompin' I mane," he thundered in a voice that made me spring and jump both. "Where d'ye hail from, me joker? That's what I want to know. An' ye'd betther look sharp an' till me!"
"Hail from?" I echoed, completely bewildered by this time; for, being unused to sailor's talk, as I've previously mentioned, I could not make head or tail of his language, which his strong Irish brogue, equally strange to me then, made all the more difficult to be understood. I could see, of course, that he wanted to learn something of me; but what that something was I was unable to guess, although all the time anxious to oblige him to the best of my ability. He was so impatient, however, that he would hardly give me time to speak or inquire what he wanted, besides which, he frightened me by the way in which he roared out his unintelligible questions. So, unable to comprehend his meaning, I remained silent, staring at him helplessly as before.
Strange to say, though, my answer, or rather failure to answer this last interrogatory of his—for I had only repeated his own words—instead of further exasperating him as I feared, trembling the while down to my very boots, appeared to have the unexpected effect of appeasing his sudden outburst of passion, which now disappeared as quickly as it had broken out over my unoffending head.
"Be jabers, the gossoon's a born nat'ral!" he said sympathetically in a sort of stage whisper to the stevedores, although in loud enough tones for me to hear; and then, looking at me more kindly, and speaking in a gentler key than he had yet adopted, he added, accentuating every word separately and distinctly, with a racier Milesian accent than ever: "Arrah, sure, an' I didn't mane to be rough on ye, laddie; but, till me now, whar' d'ye come from, what's y'r name, an' what for are ye doin' here?"
This was plain language, such as I could understand; and, seeing that he must be some one in authority, despite his tarred clothes and somewhat unpolished exterior, I hastened to answer his string of questions, doffing my cap respectfully as I did so.
"My name is Allan Graham," I said on his motioning to those working the crane to stop a bit while I spoke, "and I came up early this morning from the country to sail in the Silver Queen. The brokers in Leadenhall Street, Messrs. Splice and Mainbrace, to whom I went first, told me to go on down to the docks and join the ship at once, sending a clerk to show me the way, which he did, pointing out this vessel to me and leaving me after saying that I was to go on board by the 'gangway,' as he called the plank I walked up by—that is why I am here!"
I uttered these last words somewhat sturdily and in a dignified tone, plucking up courage as I proceeded; for, I began to get rather nettled at the man's suspicions about me, his questions apparently having that look and bearing.
"Och, by the powers!" he ejaculated, taking no notice of my dignified demeanour; "yis, an' that's it, is it? Sure, an' will ye till me now, are ye goin' as a cabin passinger or what, avic?"
"I'm going in the Silver Queen as a first-class apprentice," I answered with greater dignity than ever, glancing down proudly at the smart blue suit I wore, with its shining gilt buttons ornamented with an anchor in relief, which mother and sister Nellie had so much admired the day before, when I had donned it for the first time, besides inspecting me critically that very morning previous to my leaving home, to see that I looked all right—poor mother! dear Nell!
"Whe-e-e-up!" whistled my questioner between his teeth, a broad grin overspreading his yet broader face. "Alannah macree, me poor gossoon! it's pitying ye I am, by me sowl, from the bottom av me heart. Ye're loike a young bear wid all y'r throubles an' thrials forenenst ye. Aye, yez have, as sure's me name's Tim Rooney, me darlint!"
"Why do you say so, sir?" I asked—more, however, out of curiosity than alarm, for I thought he was only trying to "take a rise out of me," as the saying goes. "Why should you pity me?"
"An' is it axin' why, yez are?" said he, his broad smile expanding into a chuckle and the chuckle growing to a laugh. "Sure, an' ye'll larn afore ye're much ouldher, that the joker who goes to say for fun moight jist as well go to the ould jintleman's place down below in the thropical raygions for divarshun, plaize the pigs!"
His genial manner, and the merry twinkle in his eyes, which reminded me of father's when he made some comical remark, utterly contradicted his disparaging comments on a sailor's life, and I joined in the hearty "ho, ho, ho!" with which he concluded his statement.
"Why, then, did you go to sea, Mr Rooney," I asked, putting him into a quandary with this home-thrust; "that is, if it is such a bad place as you make out?"
"Bedad, sorry o' me knows!" he replied, shoving his battered cheese- cutter cap further off his brows and scratching his head reflectively. "Sure, an' it's bin a poozzle to me, sorr, iver since I furst wint afore the mast."
"But—" I went on, wishing to pursue my inquiries, when he interrupted me before I was able to proceed any further.
"Whisht! Be aisy now, me darlint," he whispered, with an expressive wink; and, turning round sharply on the stevedores, who, taking advantage of his talking to me, had struck work and were indulging in a similar friendly chat, he began briskly to call them to task for their idleness, raising his voice to the same stentorian pitch that had startled me just now on our first introduction.
"What the mischief are ye standin' star-gazin' there for, ye lazy swabs, chatterin' an' grinnin' away loike a parcel av monkeys?" he cried, waving his arms about as if he were going to knock some of them down. "If I had my way wid ye, an' had got ye aboord a man-o'-war along o' me, it's 'four bag' I'd give ivery man Jack o' ye. Hoist away an' be blowed to ye, or I'll stop y'r pay, by the howly pokher I will!"
At this, the men, who seemed to understand very well that my friend of the woollen jersey and canvas overalls's hard voice and words did not really mean the terrible threats they conveyed, although the speaker intended to be obeyed, started again briskly shipping the cargo and lowering it down into the hold, grinning the while one to another as if expressing the opinion that their taskmaster's bark was worse than his bite.
"I must kape 'em stirrin' their stoomps, or ilse, sure, the spalpeens 'ud strike worrk the minnit me back's toorned," said he on resuming his talk with me, as if in explanation of this little interlude. "Yez aid y'r name's Grame, didn't ye? I once knew a Grame belongin' to Cork, an' he wor a pig jobber. S'pose now, he warn't y'r ould father, loike?"
"Certainly not!" cried I, indignantly. "My father is a clergyman and a gentleman and an Englishman, and lives down in the country. Our name, too, is Graham and not Grame, as you pronounce it."
"'Pon me conshinsh, I axes y'r pardin, sorr. Sure, an' I didn't mane no harrm," said my friend, apologising in the most handsome way for the unintentional insult; and, putting out a brawny hairy paw like that of Esau's, he gave a grip to my poor little mite of a hand that made each knuckle crack, as he introduced himself in rough and hearty sailor fashion. "Me name's Tim Rooney, as I tould you afore, Misther Gray- ham—sure, an' it's fond I am ov bacon, avic, an' ham, too, by the same token! I'd have ye to know, as ye're a foorst-class apprentice—which kills me enthirely wid the laffin' sure!—that I'm the bosun av the Silver Quane; an' as we're agoin' to be shipmets togither, I hopes things'll be moighty plisint atwane us, sure."
"I'm sure I hope so, too," I replied eagerly, thinking him an awfully jolly fellow, and very unlike the man I imagined him to be at first; and we then shook hands again to cement the compact of eternal friendship, although I took care this time that my demonstrative boatswain should not give me so forcible a squeeze with his huge fist as before, observing as I looked round the vessel and up at her towering masts overhead: "What a splendid ship!"
"Aye, she's all that, ivery inch of her from truck to kelson," he answered equally enthusiastically; "an' so's our foorst mate, a sailor all over from the sole av his fut to the crown av his hid."
"And the captain," I inquired, "what sort of a man is he?"
"Arrah, now you're axin' questions," he rejoined with a sly look from his roguish eyes. "D'ye happen to know what's inside av an egg, now, whither it's a chicken, sure, or ownly the yoke an' white, till ye bhrake the shill?"
"No," said I laughing. "But, we don't find chickens generally in our eggs at home."
"Wait till ye thry one on shipboord," he retorted. "Still, ye can't deny now that ye don't know for sure what's insoide the shill till ye bhrake it, an' say for yoursilf—eh?"
"No," I assented to this reasoning; "but, I don't see what that's got to do with the captain."
"Don't ye, honey?" replied he with another expressive wink. "Wait till ye can say for yourself, that's all."
"Oh!" I exclaimed, understanding now that he was shrewd enough not to commit himself to any opinion on the point; so, I did not pursue the inquiry any further.
"Sure, ye'll excuse me, Misther Gray-ham," he said presently, after another word or two on irrelevant matters; "but I must stop yarnin' now, as I expexes the foorst mate aboord ivery minnit, an' he'll be groomblin' like a badger wid a sore tail if those lazy lubbers ain't hove all the cargy in. We've got to warp out o' dock this arternoon, an' the tide'll make about 'six bells'!"
"When is that?" I asked, to know the meaning of this nautical term, which I guessed referred to the time of day, as my friend the boatswain turned round again towards the stevedores, hurrying them on and making them work with a will.
"Thray o'clock. Sure, I forgot ye didn't savvy our sailor's lingo at all, at all," he explained to me between the interval of his orders to the men, shouted out in the same high key as at first. "An', be the same token, as it's now jist toorned two bells, or one o'clock, savin' your prisince, I've got no toime to lose, me bhoy. Jist d'ye go oop that ladder there, an' wait out av harum's way till I've done me job an' can come for ye."
He pointed as he spoke to the steps or stairway leading from the main- deck, where I had been standing alongside of him, to the poop.
I at once obeyed him; and, ascending with alacrity the poop ladder, was able to see from that elevated position the capital way in which he urged on and encouraged the men, until, as if by magic, the heavy boxes and lumbering crates that had but a short time before almost covered the jetty beside the ship, were all hoisted inboard and lowered down into her hold.
Here, below, another gang of stevedores, not less busy than those above, took charge of the stowage of the cargo, slamming the chests and crates about, and so ramming and jamming them between the decks by the aid of jack-screws, that they were soon packed together in one homogeneous mass—so tightly squeezed that not even a cockroach could have crawled in between them, not a single crack or cranny being left vacant.
"Thare now! Sure, an' that job's done wid anyhow for this v'yge, plaize the pigs, ma bouchal!" exclaimed the boatswain with a jolly laugh, after seeing the main-hatchway covered and battened down, and a tarpaulin spread over it to make all snug, gazing round with an air of proud satisfaction, as he slowly made his way up the poop ladder again and came up to where I was standing by the rail looking over. "Don't ye think we've made pretty sharp work of it at the last, sorr, eh?"
"I'm sure you have, Mr Rooney," I replied enthusiastically. For, I could not help admiring the way in which he had got the stevedores to work so steadily and speedily in getting in the cargo and clearing the ship's deck, so that it was now trim and orderly in place of being littered over with lumber as previously—the active boatswain helping one here, encouraging another there, and making all laugh occasionally with some racy joke, that seemed to lighten their labour greatly and cause them to set to their task with redoubled vigour.—"It's wonderful how you managed them."
"Arrah, sure it's a way I've got wid me, honey," said he with a wink. Still, I could see he was pleased with my remark all the same, from the smile of contentment that overspread his face as he added: "Bless ye though, me darlint, sure an' it's ownly blarney arter all!"
"And what is that?" I asked.
"Faix, ya moost go owver to old Oireland to larn, me bhoy," he answered with a laugh. "Wait till ye kiss the blarney stone, an' thin ye'll know!"
"I suppose it's what father calls the suaviter in modo," said I, laughing also, he put on such a droll look. "And I think, Mr Rooney, you possess the fortiter in re, too, from the way you can speak sometimes."
"Bedad, I don't ondercumstubble," he replied, taking off his cap and scratching his head reflectively, rather taken aback by my Latin quotation; "though if that haythen lingo manes soft sawder, by the powers I've got lashins av it! Howsomedevers, youngster, we naydn't argify the p'int; but if the foorst mate were ownly aboord, d'ye know what I'd loike to do?"
"What?" I inquired.
"Why, trate them dock loompers to grog all round. They've worruked loike blue nayghurs; specially that l'adin' man av theirs, that chap there, see him, wid the big nose on his face? I'd loike to pipe all hands down in the cabin to splice the main-brace, if ownly the foorst mate were aboord," he repeated in a regretful tone. Adding, however, the next moment more briskly: "An', by the blissid piper that played before Moses, there he is!"
WARPING OUT OF DOCK.
While the boatswain was still speaking, and expressing his regret at not being able to show the stevedores that he properly appreciated the mode in which they had done their work, I noticed a boy come out from somewhere on the deck below, just underneath where we were standing, and make his way towards the forepart of the ship, apparently in a great hurry about something or other.
I wondered what he was going to do, and was puzzling my head about the matter, not liking to interrupt Tim Rooney, when the boy himself the next instant satisfied my curiosity by going up to the ship's bell, which was suspended in its usual place, under the break of the forecastle, just above and in front of the windlass bits away forward; when, catching hold of a lanyard hanging from the end of the clapper, he struck four sharp raps against the side of the bell, the sound ringing through the air and coming back distinctly to us aft on the poop. I should, however, explain that I, of course, was not familiar with all these nautical details then, only learning them later on, mainly through Tim Rooney's help, when my knowledge of ships and of sea terms became more extended.
Just as the last stroke of the bell rang out above the babble of the men's voices and the shuffling noise of their feet moving about, the four strokes being sounded in pairs, "cling-clang, cling-clang!" like a double postman's knock, a slim gentlemanly young man, with brown hair and beard and moustache, who was dressed in a natty blue uniform like mine, save that he wore a longer jacket and had a band of gold lace round his cap in addition to the solitary crown and anchor badge which my head-gear rejoiced in, appeared on top of the gangway leading from the wharf alongside. The next instant, jumping down from the top of the bulwarks on to the main-deck, a couple of strides took him to the foot of the poop ladder, quickly mounting which, he stood beside us.
"Sure, an' it's proud I am to say yez, sorr," exclaimed the boatswain, touching the peak of his dilapidated cheese-cutter in salute, and with a smile of welcome on his genial face; "though it's lucky, bedad, ye didn't come afore, Misther Mackay, or faix ye'd have bin in toime to be too soon."
"How's that, Rooney?" inquired the other with a pleasant laugh, showing his nice white teeth. "Instead of being too early, I'm afraid I am a little late."
"The divil a bit, sorr," replied Rooney. "We've only jist this viry minnit struck down the last av the cargo; an' if ye'd come afore, why, it's ruckshions there'd a bin about our skulkin', I know."
"No, no," laughingly said the young officer; who, I suppose, was older than he looked, for Tim Rooney told me in a loud whisper while he was speaking that he was the "foorst mate" of the ship. "I'm not half such a growler as you are, bosun; but, all the same, I'm glad you've got the job done. Who's been looking after the dock mateys below, seeing to the stowage?"
"Misther Saunders, sorr," promptly answered Rooney. Adding aside for my enlightenment as to who this worthy might be: "The 'sicond mate,' sure, mavourneen."
"Ah, then we need have no fears about its being well done," rejoined Mr Mackay, or the first mate, as I'd better call him. "Who is our friend here alongside of you, bosun? I don't recollect having the pleasure of seeing him before. Another youngster from Leadenhall Street—eh?"
He looked at me inquiringly as he asked the question.
"Yes, sorr. He's Misther Gray-ham, sorr; jist come down to jine the Silver Quane, sorr, as foorst-class apprentice," replied the boatswain with a sly wink to the other, which I was quick enough to catch. Adding in a stage whisper, which I also could not help overhearing: "An' it's foorst-class he is entoirely—a raal broth av a bhoy, sure."
"Indeed," said Mr Mackay, smiling at the Irishman's irony at my expense, in return no doubt for my whimsical assumption of dignity when telling him who I was. "I suppose he's come to fill the place of young Rawlings, who, you may remember, cut and run from us at Singapore on our last voyage out?"
"I s'pose so, sorr," rejoined Tim laconically.
"I'm very happy, I am sure, to see you on board and make your acquaintance," said the pleasant-faced young officer, turning to me in a nice cordial way that increased the liking I had already taken to him at first sight. "Have you got your traps with you all right, Mr Graham?"
"My father sent on my sea-chest containing all my clothes and things last night by the goods train from our place, addressed to the brokers in Leadenhall Street, as they directed, sir; so I hope it will arrive in time," I replied, quite proud of a grown-up fellow like Mr Mackay addressing me as "Mister."
"You needn't be alarmed about its safety, then, I suppose," observed he jokingly. But, of course, although he might have thought so from my manner, I had really no fears respecting the fate of my chest, and of its being forthcoming when I wanted it. Indeed, until that moment, I had not thought about it at all; for I knew father had despatched it all right from Westham; and when he attended to anything no mishap ever occurred—at least that was our opinion at home!
Fancying, from the expression of my face as these thoughts and the recollection of those I had left behind at the rectory flashed through my mind, that I was perhaps worrying myself about the chest, which of course I wasn't, Mr Mackay hastened, as he imagined, to allay my fears.
"There, there! don't bother yourself about your belongings, my boy," said he kindly; "your chest and other dunnage came down to the ship early this morning from the brokers along with that of the other youngsters, and you'll find it stowed in that after-deckhouse below there, where you midshipmen or apprentices will all live together in a happy family sort of way throughout the voyage."
"Thank you, sir," I answered, much obliged for his courtesy and information; although, I confess, I wondered where the "house" was of which he spoke, there being nothing like even a cottage on the deck, which with everything connected with it was utterly strange to me.
My face must again have reflected my thoughts; for even Tim Rooney noticed the puzzled expression it bore, as I looked over the poop rail in the direction Mr Mackay pointed.
"I don't think, sorr, the young gintleman altogether onderconstubbles your manin'," he remarked to the mate in that loud whisper of his which the poor man really did not intend me to hear, as I'm sure he wouldn't have intentionally hurt my feelings. "Sure an' it's a reg'ler green hand the bhoy is entoirely."
"Never mind that now; he'll soon learn his way to the weather earring, if I don't mistake the cut of his jib," retorted Mackay in a lower tone of voice than the other, although I caught the sense of what he said equally well, as he turned to me again with the evident desire of putting me at my ease. "Have you seen any of your mess-mates yet, my boy—eh?"
"No, sir," I answered, smiling in response to his kindly look. "I have seen no one since I came on board but you and Mr Rooney, who spoke to me first; and, of course, those men working over there."
"Sure, sorr, all av 'em are down below a-grubbin' in the cuddy since dinner-toime," interposed my friend the boatswain by way of explanation, on seeing the mate looked surprised at hearing that none of the other officers were about when all should have been so busy. "Ivery man Jack av 'em, sorr, barrin' Misther Saunders; who, in coorse, as I tould you, sorr, has bin down in the hould a-sayin' to the stowage of the cargy, more power to his elbow! An', be the same token, I thinks I sayed him jist now coom up the main-hatchway an' goin' to the cuddy too, to join the others at grub."
"Oh!" ejaculated Mr Mackay with deep meaning, swinging round on his heel, all alert in an instant; and taking hold of a short bar of iron pointed at the end, lying near, which Tim Rooney told me afterwards was what is called a "marling-spike," he proceeded to rap with it vigorously against the side of the companion hatchway, shouting out at the same time so that he could be heard all over the ship: "Tumble up, all you idlers and stowaways and everybody! Below there—all hands on deck to warp out of dock!"
"Be jabers, that'll fetch 'em, sorr," cried Tim with a huge grin, much relishing this summoning of the laggards to work. "Sure, yer honour, ye're the bhoy to make 'em show a leg when ye wants to, an' no misthake at all, at all!"
"Aye, and I want them now," rejoined the other with emphasis. "We have got no time to lose; for, the tide is making fast, and the tug has been outside the lock-gates waiting for the last half-hour or more to take us in tow as soon as we get out in the stream. Below there—look alive and tumble up before I come down after you!"
In obedience to this last hail of Mr Mackay, which had a sharp authoritative ring about it, a short, podgy little man with a fat neck and red whiskers, who, as I presently learned, was Mr Saunders, the second mate, came up the companion way; and as I perceived him to be wiping his mouth as he stepped over the coaming of the hatchway, this showed that the boatswain's surmise of his being engaged "grubbing" with the others was not far wrong.
Mr Saunders was followed up from below by a couple of sturdy youths, who appeared to be between eighteen and nineteen or thereabout; and, behind them again, the last of the file, slowly stepped out on to the deck a lanky boy of about the same age as myself—which I forgot to mention before was just fifteen, although I looked older from my build and height.
"You're a nice lot of lazy fellows to leave in charge of the work of the ship!" cried Mr Mackay on the three presenting themselves before him, slowly mounting the companion stairs, one after the other, as if the exertion was almost too great for them, poor fellows, after their dinner! "Here, you Matthews, look sharp and stir your stumps a bit—one would think you were walking in your sleep. I want you to see to that spring forwards as we unmoor!"
The boatswain had already descended from the poop and gone to his station in the fore part of the ship; and now, with the first mate's words, all was stir and action on board.
The tallest of the two youths immediately dashed off towards the bows of the ship with an alacrity that proved his slow movements previously had been merely put on for effect, and were not due to any constitutional weakness; for, he seemed to reach the forecastle in two bounds, and I could see him, from a coign of vantage to which he nimbly mounted on top of the knightheads, giving orders to a number of men on the wharf, who had gathered about the ship in the meantime, and directing them to pass along the end of the fore hawser round a bollard on the jetty, near the end of the lock-gates by which entrance was gained from the adjacent river to the basin in which the vessel was lying.
Tom Jerrold, the second youth—I heard him called by that name—was sent to look after another hawser passed over the bows of the ship on the starboard side, the end of the rope being bent round a capstan in the centre of the wharf.
Then, on Mr Mackay's word of command, the great wire cables mooring the ship to the jetty were cast off; and, a gang of the dock labourers manning the capstan, with their broad chests and sinewy arms pressed against the bars, as they marched round it singing some monotonous chorus ending in a "Yo, heave, ho!" the ship began to move—at first slowly inch by inch, and then with increased way upon her as the vis inertiae of her hull was overcome—towards the lock at the mouth of the basin, the gates of which had been opened, or rather the caisson floated out shortly before, as the tide grew to the flood.
Dear me! What with the constant and varied orders to the gang of men working the capstan, and the others easing off the hawser that had been passed round the bollard, keeping a purchase on it and hauling in the slack as the vessel crept along out of the dock so as to prevent her "taking charge" and slewing round broadside on at the entrance where she met the full force of the stream, I was well-nigh deafened with the hoarse shouts and unintelligible cries that filled the air on all sides, everybody apparently having something to say, and all calling out at once.
"Bear a hand with that spring!" Mr Mackay would roar out one instant in a voice that quite eclipsed that of Tim Rooney, loud as I thought that on first going on board. "Easy there!" screamed Matthews from his perch forwards, not to be outdone; while the boatswain was singing out for a "fender" to guard the ship's bows from scrunching against the dock wall, and Tom Jerrold overseeing the men at the bollard on the wharf calling out to them to "belay!" as her head swung a bit. Even lanky young Sam Weeks, the other middy like myself, had something or other to say about the "warp fouling," the meaning of which I did not catch, although he seemed satisfied at adding to the general hubbub. All the time, too, there was the red-headed Mr Saunders, the second mate, who had stationed himself in the main-chains, whence he could get a good view of what was going on both forward and aft alike, continually urging on the men at the capstan to "heave with a will!"—just as if they wanted any further urging, when they had Mr Mackay at them already and their tramping chorus, "Yo, heave, ho" to fall back upon!
It was a wonder, with so many contradictory commands, as these all seemed to my ignorant ears, that some mishap did not happen. But, fortunately, nothing adverse occurred to delay the ship; and those on shore being apparently as anxious to get rid of the Silver Queen as those on board were to clear her away from the berth she had so long occupied when loading alongside the jetty, she was soon by dint of everybody's shouting and active co-operation warped out of the basin into the lock, drifting thence on the bosom of the tideway into the stream.
Here, a little sturdy tug of a paddle steamer, which had been waiting for us the last hour or more, puffing up huge volumes of dense black smoke, and occasionally sounding her shrill steam whistle to give vent to her impatience, ranged up alongside, someone on her deck heaving dexterously a line inboard, which Tim Rooney the boatswain as dexterously caught as it circled in the air like a lasso and fell athwart the boat davits amidships.
The line was then taken forwards by Tim Rooney outside the rigging, he walking along the gunwale till he gained the forecastle; there, another man then lending a hand, the line was hauled in with the end of a strong steel hawser bent on to it, that had been already passed over the stern of the tug, and the bight carried across the "towing-horse" and firmly fastened to the tug's fore-deck, while our end on reaching the forecastle of the Silver Queen was similarly secured inboard, Tim satisfying himself that it was taut by jumping on it.
"Are you ready?" now hailed the master of the tug from the paddle-box of his little vessel, calling out to Mr Mackay who was leaning over the poop of ours which seemed so big in comparison, the hull of the ship towering above the tug and quite overshadowing her. "Are you ready, sir?"
"Aye, aye!" sang out Mr Mackay in answer. "You can start as soon as you like. Fire up and heave ahead!"
Then, the steamer's paddles revolved, the steel hawser, stretched over her towing-horse astern and attached to our bows, tightened with a sort of musical twang as it became rigid like a bar of iron; and, in another minute or so, the Silver Queen was under good way, sailing down the Thames outwards bound.
"Fo'c's'le, ahoy there!" presently shouted out Mr Mackay near me all of a sudden, making me jump round from my contemplation of the river, into which I was gazing down from over the stern, looking at the broad white foaming wake we left behind us as we glided on. "Is the bosun there?"
"Aye, aye, sorr," promptly replied Tim Rooney, showing himself from behind the deck-house between the mainmast and foremast, which had previously hidden him from the view of the poop. "I'm here, sort."
"Then send a hand aft to the wheel at once," rejoined Mr Mackay. "Look sharp, we're under steerage-way."
"Aye, aye, sorr," answered the boatswain as before; and as he spoke I could see a tall seaman making his way aft in obedience to the first mate's orders; and, before Mr Mackay had time to walk across the deck, he had mounted the poop, cast off the lashings that prevented the wheel from moving, and was whirling the spokes round with both hands in thorough ship-shape style.
This man's name was Adams, as I subsequently learnt; and he was the sailmaker—one of the best sailors on board, and one of the old hands, having sailed with Tim Rooney, as the latter told me, the two previous voyages. That sort of man, in the boatswain's words, who was always "all there" when wanted.
I am anticipating matters, however, Mr Mackay being not yet done with Tim; for, after telling Adams to go aft to take his trick at the wheel, the worthy boatswain was just about disappearing again behind the forward deck-house as before to resume some job on which he seemed very intent, when his steps were once more arrested by the mate's hail, "Bosun!"
"Aye, aye, sorr," cried Tim Rooney rather savagely as he stopped and faced round towards the break of the poops on which Mr Mackay stood by the rail; and I'm sure I heard him mutter something else below his breath even that distance off.
"Is the anchor all clear?" asked the first mate. "You know we shall want it for bringing up at Gravesend."
"Yis, sorr," said the other. "I ased off the catfalls an' shank painter iver since the mornin'; an', sure, the blissid anchor is a-cockbill, all riddy to lit go whin ye gives the worrud."
"And the cable—how many shackles have you got up?"
"Thray lingths, sorr. I thought that enough for the river, wid a fower fathom bottom; so, I've bitted it at that, an' me an' Jackson are a- sayin' about clearin' the cable range now."
"That's right," replied Mr Mackay, apparently satisfied that at last everything forward was going on as it should; for he turned away from the poop rail and entered into conversation with a stout thickset strange man, dressed in sailor's clothes, but with a long black oilskin or waterproof over his other garments reaching down to his heels, although it wasn't raining at all, being a bright, fine afternoon.
Not only had this new-comer arrived on board without my noticing him, although I had been looking out all the time, but he managed to get up on the poop in the most mysterious way. I was certain he had not been anywhere near the moment before, and yet, now, there he was.
He must be the captain at last, I thought, having been expecting to see that personage appear on the scene every moment; and my impression of his being one in authority was confirmed a moment later, when, from his giving some order or command, Mr Mackay left him hastily, and coming further aft took up a position nearer me, close to Adams, just abaft the binnacle. The oilskin man, however, remained on the weather side of the poop at the head of the ladder, whence he had a good look-out ahead, clear of all intervening obstacles, and from which post he proceeded to direct the steering of the ship by waving his arms this way and that as if he were an animated windmill
The first mate interpreted as quickly these signals for the benefit of Adams, passing on the words of warning they conveyed, "Hard up!" or "Down helm!" or "Steady!" as the case might be. These frequent and often contradictory orders were necessary, when, owing to some unexpected bend in the river, the Silver Queen would luff up suddenly and shoot her head athwart stream hard a-port, or else try to "take the bit between her teeth," and sheer into the shore on the starboard hand as if she wanted to run up high and dry on the mud, loth to leave her native land.
She required good steering.
Aye, and careful watching too, on the part of the helmsman; for, in addition to the natural turnings and windings of the channel-way, which were many, the Thames curving about and twisting itself into the shape of a corkscrew between London Bridge and the Nore, the tug had besides continually to alter her course, thus, naturally, making us change ours too, as the tow-rope slackening one moment would cause the ship's bows to fall off, and then tightening like a fiddle-string the next instant her head would be jerked back again viciously into its former position, right astern of the little vessel at whose mercy we were, as if she insisted on the Silver Queen following obediently in her wake.
This eccentric mode of procedure, however, must not be altogether ascribed to any contrariness of disposition on the part of the gallant tug, which, in spite of occasional stoppages and frequent alterations of course, yet towed us along steadily down the river—a pigmy pulling a giant. Such a monster we seemed, lumbering behind her as she panted and puffed huge volumes of black smoke from her tall striped funnel, with much creaking of her engines and groaning of her poor strained timbers, and the measured rhythmical beat of her paddle-floats on the surface of the water, that sounded as if she were "spanking" it out of spite.
No, it wasn't the fault of the little, dirty, toiling tug, whose daily drudgery did not give her time to look after her toilet and study her personal appearance like those bigger craft she had always tacked on to her tail. For these turnings and twistings we had to take in our downward journey to Gravesend and the open sea beyond; the innumerable backings and fillings and bendings this way and that, now going ahead full speed for a couple of minutes, now coming to a full stop with a sharp order to let her drift astern, were all due to the fact of the tug having to keep clear, and keep us clear, too, of the innumerable inward- bound steamers, passenger boats, and other vessels coming up stream. The tideway being crowded with craft of all sorts, navigation was exceedingly difficult for a heavily-laden ship in tow, especially in that awkward reach between Greenwich and Blackwall, where the river, after trending south by east, makes an abrupt turn almost due north. This place I thought the worst part of the journey then when I first saw it; and, I am of the same opinion still, although now better acquainted with the Thames and all its mysteries.
On the bustle that ensued when she began to warp out of dock, I had left the poop, along with the boatswain and the others, going down the ladder at the side on to the main-deck; but, when arrived there, I soon discovered that an idler like myself, standing by with nothing to do, was in the way alike of the ropes that were being thrown and dragged about and of the men handling them—this knowledge being brought home very practically by my getting tripped and knocked about from pillar to post by those rushing here and there to execute the various orders hoarsely bawled out to them each instant, and which would not admit of delay.
"Look out there!" would shout one, nearly strangling me with the bight of a line circling in the air round my unfortunate head. "By your leave!" would cry another, jamming me, most certainly without my consent, against the bulwarks, and making me feel as flat as a pancake all over. So, first pushed this way and then driven that, and mauled about generally, I got forced away by degrees from the forward part of the deck, where I had taken up a position in the thick of the fray, back again to my original starting-point, the poop; and here, now, ensconcing myself by the taffrail at the extreme end of the vessel, I thought there was no danger of anyone asking me to get out of the way or move on any further, unless they shoved me overboard altogether.
DOWN THE RIVER.
I remained for some time very quiet on the poop, for Mr Mackay was too busy giving his orders, first as we worked out of dock and, afterwards, in directing the steersman, when we were under way, to notice me; and seeing him so occupied, of course I did not like to speak to him.
I did not like to talk to Adams either for he was equally busy, besides which I did not know him then; and the same obstacle prevented my entering into conversation with the fat man in the oilskin, although I felt sure he could tell me a lot I wanted to know, I having a thousand questions simmering in my mind with reference to the ship and her belongings, and all that was going on around me on board the Silver Queen, in and on the river, and on either shore.
Still, I had plenty to interest me, even without speaking, my thoughts being almost too full, indeed, for words; for, the varied and ever- varying panorama through which we were moving was very new and strange to one like myself who had never been on board a vessel of any sort before, never sailed down the river Thames, never before seen in all its glory that marvellous waterway of all nations.
I was in ecstasies every moment at the world of wonders in which I now found myself;—the forests of masts rising over the acres of shipping in the East and West India docks away on our right, looking like the trunks of innumerable trees huddled together, and stretching for miles and miles as far as the eye could see; the deafening din of the hammermen and riveters, hammering and riveting the frames of a myriad iron hulls of vessels building in the various shipwright yards along the river bank from Blackwall to Purfleet; the shriek of steam whistles in every key from passing steamers that seemed as if they would come into collision with us each moment, they sheered by so dangerously near; the constant succession of wharfs and warehouses, and endless rows of streets and terraces on both sides of the stream; the thousands of houses joined on to other houses, and buildings piled on buildings, forming one endless mass of massive bricks and mortar, with the river stealing through it like a silver thread, that reached back, behind, up the stream to where, in the dim perspective, the dome of Saint Paul's, rising proudly above a circlet of other church spires, stood out in relief against the bright background of the crimson sky glowing with the reflection of the setting sun just sinking in the west,—all making me wonder where the people came from who lived and toiled in the vast city, whose outskirts only I saw before me, seemingly boundless though my gaze might be.
All this flashed across me; but most wonderful of all to me was the thought that my dream of months past was at length realised; and that here I was actually on board a real ship, going towards the sea as fast as the staunch little Arrow tug could tow us down the river, aided by a good tide running under us three knots the hour at least.
It was almost incredible; and, unable to contain myself any longer I felt I must speak to somebody at all hazards.
My choice of this "somebody," however, was a very limited one, for Mr Mackay and the mysterious man in the oilskin coat, and Adams, the steersman, the only persons on the poop besides myself, were all too busy to talk to me; albeit the former good-naturedly gave me an occasional kindly glance, as if he wished me to understand that his silence was not owing to any unfriendliness, or intended to make me "keep my distance," as I might otherwise have thought.
As for Mr Saunders, the second mate, he had dived down the companion way into the cuddy below as soon as we had got out into the river and were in tow of the tug; and was probably now engaged in finishing his interrupted dinner, as his services were no longer required on deck. Matthews, the biggest of the three young fellows who had come up with him to help unmoor the ship and warp out of dock, had also followed his example in the most praiseworthy fashion.
Jerrold, the other youth, in company with the lanky boy of my own size were still hovering about, though neither had spoken to me; and the two were just now having a chat together by the door of the after-deckhouse, which Mr Mackay had pointed out to me as set apart for the accommodation of us "middies," or apprentices, although I had not yet had an opportunity of inspecting its interior arrangements.
But, strange to say, the noisy gangs of men, who had been only a short time before bustling about the deck below, rushing from the forecastle aft and then back again, and pulling and hauling and shoving everywhere, so effectively as to push me to the other end of the ship and almost overboard, seemed to have disappeared in almost as unaccountable a fashion as the man in the oilskin had made his appearance.
Beyond this latter gentleman, therefore, and Mr Mackay, and Adams the steersman—to whom I was going to speak once only Mr Mackay shook his head—and my fellow apprentices on the main-deck below, I could only see Tim Rooney forward, with a couple of sailors helping him to range the cable in long parallel rows along the deck fore and aft, the trio lifting the heavy links by the aid of chain-hooks and turning it over with a good deal of clanking, so as to disentangle the links and make it all clear for running out without fouling through the hawse-hole when the anchor was let go.
The boatswain looked quite as busy as Mr Mackay, if not more so, his work being more noisy at any rate; but he wore so good-humoured an expression on his face, and had made friends so nicely with me after our little difficulty when I first came on board, that I thought I really could do no great harm in speaking to him and asking him to solve some of the difficulties that were troubling me about everything.
So resolving, I made my way down the poop ladder for the third time, passing my fellow apprentices, who did not speak, though the lanky one, Sam Weeks, put out his tongue at me very rudely; and, at last I came to where Rooney was standing by the windlass bitts below the topgallant forecastle.
"Hullo, Misther Gray-ham!" he cried on seeing me approach, "I was jist a wondtherin' how long ye'd be acting skipper on the poop! You looked all forlorn up there, ma bouchal, loike Pat's pig whin he shaved it, thinkin' to git a crop o' wool off av its back. Aren't ye sorry now ye came to say, as I tould ye—hey?"
"Not a bit of it," said I stoutly. "I'm more glad than ever now that I came; and I wouldn't go back on shore if I could."
"Be jabers, that's more'n you'll say, me bhoy, a fortnight hince!" he retorted with a grim chuckle, while the other men grinned in appreciation of the remark. "Sure now, though, there's no good anyhow in fore-tastin' matthers, as the ould jintleman aid whin he onhitched the rope from off his nick which he was agoin' to hang himsilf wid. Is there innythin' I can do in the manetoime to oblige ye, Misther Gray- ham?"
"I wish you would tell me a lot of things," I replied eagerly.
"Be aisy, me darlint," he rejoined in his funny way; "an' if ye can't be aisy, be as aisy as ye can! Now, go on ahid wid ye'r foorst question—'one dog, one bone,' as me ould friend Dan'l sez."
"Well, what have become of all the sailors?" I asked to begin with.
"The sailors? Why, here we are, sure, all aloive an' kickin'! What do ye take me an' me lazy mates here for, ma bouchal?"
"Oh, but I mean all those men you were ordering about when I first came on board," I said.
"Bedad, my hearty, there's no doubt but ye ought for to go to say, as ye aid y'rsilf," rejoined the boatswain indignantly. "It shows how grane yez are to misthake a lot av rowdy rapscallion dock loompers for genuine Jack Tars! Them fellers were ownly the stevedores, hired at saxpence the hour to load the ship; an' they wint off in a brace av shakes, as you must have sayn for y'rsilf, whin their job was done! No, me bhoy, them weren't the proper sort av shellbacks. There's ownly fower raal sailors, as ye call's 'em, now aboard, barrin' Misther Mackay and the second mate; an' them's Adams over thar aft at the wheel, these two idle jokers here beside me, the ship's bhoy, an' thin mesilf—though, faix, me modesty forbids me say'n it, sure!"
"And are you really the only sailors on board?" I said, much surprised at this piece of information, being under the impression that the others had all gone below.
"Iv'ry ha'porth," he answered; "that is, lavin' out ye're brother middies, or 'foorst-class apprentices' loike y'rsilf, Misther Gray-ham— faix, though, they aren't sailors yit by a long shot. There's that Portygee stooard, too, that the cap'an's got sich a fancy for, I'm sure I can't till why, as he's possissed av the timper av ould Nick himsilf, an' ain't worth his salt, to me thinkin'!"
"And is that the captain up there now with Mr Mackay?" I asked.
"That the skipper? Bless ye, no, me lad—that's ownly the river pilot!"
"Where is the captain, then?" was my next query, without stopping to think.
"By the powers, ye bates Bannagher for axin' quistions, Misther Gray- ham!" cried Tim, amused at my cross-examination of him—just as if he were in a court of justice, as he afterwards said when he brought up the matter one day.—"Sure, how can I till where he or any other mother's son is that I can't say before my eyes? I can till you, though, where I belaives him to be this blissid minnit; an' that is, by the 'Crab an' Lobster' at Gravesend, lookin' out for to say if he can say the Silver Quane a-sailin' down the sthrame."
"And will he come on board there?" I asked.
"Arrah, will a dook swim?" replied the boatswain in Irish fashion. "Av coorse he will, in a brace av shakes. Ould Jock Gillespie ain't the sort av skipper to lit the grass grow under his cawbeens, whin he says his ship forninst him!"
"Oh, he'll come on board at Gravesend," I repeated after him, my mind greatly relieved; for I had been much concerned as to how and when the captain would make his appearance as well as the remainder of the crew, having read enough about ships to know that the Silver Queen could not well be navigated with such a small number of hands as were only in her then. "And will he bring any more sailors with him?"
"Aye, sonny, the howl bilin' av the crew, barrin' us chaps here alriddy. Yis, an' our say pilot will come aboord there, the river one lavin' us there."
"I'm glad of that," I said. "I thought there weren't enough on board to sail the ship, with only you four men and the boy who struck the bell!"
"Did ye? Then, sure, ye've got the makin's av a sailor in yez afther all, as Misther Mackay aid whin he foorst clapped eyes on ye. An', sure, it's now me toorn to be afther axin' quistions, me bhoy—don't ye feel peckish loike?"
"Peckish?" I echoed, unable to understand him.
"Now, don't go on loike an omadhawn, an' make me angry, as ye did at foorst," he cried. "I mane are yez houngry? For I don't belaive you've hid a bit insoide yer little carcase since ye came aboord this forenoon; an' we're now gittin' through the foorst dog-watch."
I declare I never thought of it before, but, now he mentioned it, I did feel hungry—very much so, indeed, not having tasted a morsel since the hasty meal that morning before leaving home; when, as might be supposed, I did not have over much of an appetite, with the consciousness that it might possibly be the last time I should breakfast with father and mother and sister Nell. The parting with Tom did not affect me much, as he had got priggish and rather above a boy like me since he had been to Oxford.
"By the powers!" exclaimed the kind Irishman when I confessed to feeling "peckish," as he called it, telling him I had not had anything since eight o'clock that morning, "ye must be jist famished, me poor gossoon; an' if I'd been so long without grub, why it's atin' me grandfather I'd be, or my wife's sister's first coosin, if I had one! But, now I've got this cable snug, jist you come along o' me, me bhoy, an' we'll say what that Portygee stooard hez lift in his panthry; for I've got no proper mess yit an' have to forage in the cabin."
"I thought you said, though, he was bad tempered," I observed as I followed the boatswain along the deck towards the door opening into the cuddy from the main-deck under the break of the poop, and only used generally by the steward and cook going to and from the galley forward, the other entrance by the companion way, direct down from the poop, being reserved for the captain and officers, as a rule. "Perhaps he'll say he has nothing left, now that the others have all had their dinner?"
I said this rather anxiously; for, now that I came to think of eating at all, I felt all the hungrier, although until Tim asked me the question I had not once thought about the matter, nor experienced the slightest qualm from that neglected little stomach he had pitied!
"Bedad, whatsomedever he may say, me lad, he'll have to git somethin' for us to ate, an' purty sharp too, if he's forced to fry that oogly ould mahogany face av his!"
So saying, Tim entered the door of the passage leading into the cuddy, which seemed very dark coming in from the open deck, and was all the darker as we proceeded, the skylight in the poop having been covered over to protect the glass-work while the ship was loading in the dock, and the tarpaulin not having been yet taken off.
It was like going from the day into the night at one jump; but, after fumbling after my leader for a step or two, almost feeling my way and stumbling over the coaming at the entrance, placed there to prevent the water the ship might take in over the side when at sea from washing in from the main-deck, I all at once found myself in a wide saloon stretching the whole length of the after part of the ship, with a series of small cabins on either side and two larger ones at the end occupying the stern-sheets. The doors of the latter, however, were closed so that no light came through the slanting windows that opened out on either side of the rudder-post, above which is usually fitted what is called the stern gallery on board of an East Indiaman or man-of-war.
The skylight above being now blocked up and the ports and side scuttles closed, the cuddy was only dimly illuminated by a couple of glass bull's-eyes let into the deck above, and one of the swinging lamps that were suspended at intervals over the long table that occupied the centre of the saloon, the rest being untrimmed and only this one lit.
The light was certainly dim, but quite enough for me to see how finely fitted-up the saloon was, with bird's-eye maple panelling to the cabins and gilt-mouldings; while the butt of the mizzen-mast that ran up through the deck and divided the table, was handsomely decorated all round its base, the Silver Queen having been originally intended for the passenger trade, although since turned into a cargo ship, and now going out to Shanghai with a freight of Manchester goods, and Sheffield and Birmingham hardware.
A nicely-cushioned seat with a reversible back, so that people could either face their cabins or the table as they pleased by shifting it this way and that, was fixed along either side of the table; and at the extreme aftermost end of this, behind the mizzen-mast, I saw Mr Saunders and Matthews. They were comfortably enjoying themselves over their tea, judging by the cups and saucers before them, and other accompaniments of that meal; and evidently not hurrying themselves about it, for it was more than an hour since they had left the deck.
Our appearance did not at all discompose them; both looking up at our entrance, while Mr Saunders motioned to Tim to take a seat beside him.
"Hullo, bosun! Come in to forage—eh?" he cried, with his mouth still full and his jaws wagging away, "Bring yourself to an anchor, old ship; and bear a hand."
"Thank ye kindly, Misther Saunders; I will sorr, savin' y'r prisince," said Tim Rooney, seating himself, however, on the other side of the table close to the end of the passage way by which we had entered. "I thought it toime to have a bit atwane me teeth as I haven't tasted bit nor sup since dinner, an' that war at eight bells. This youngster, too, wor famished, an' so I brought him along o' me."
"I'm sure you're welcome," answered the second mate, losing no time though at his eating, but still keeping up his knife and fork play while talking. "Ah, the new apprentice Mr Mackay was telling me about just now—eh?"
"Yes, sir," said I for he glanced over towards me as he spoke.
"Well, I hope you'll get on well with your shipmates."
He did not say any more, completing his sentence by draining his tea- cup; and my friend the boatswain, apparently taking this as a hint, shouted out in a tone that made my ears tingle: "Ahoy there, stoo-ard!"
"Yase, yase, I coom," replied someone in a queer squeaky voice, that had a strong foreign accent, from somewhere in the darkness beyond the foot of the the companion way, where the gleam of the solitary saloon lamp did not quite penetrate; "I coom, sare, queek, queek."
"Ye'd betther come sharp, sharp, or I'll know the rayson why," growled Tim Rooney, however, before he could say any more a little dark man with black crinkly hair like a negro's emerged into the light, looking by no means amiable at being disturbed by the boatswain's hail.
"What you want—hey?" he asked angrily. "I got my bizness to do in pantry, 'fore ze cap'in coom aboard."
"What do I want, me joker?" returned Tim, in no way put out by his rude address. "I want somethin' to ate for me an' this young jintleman here. D'ye hear that?"
"Zere's nuzzing left," surlily answered the man. "You should coom down in ze propare time."
"The dickens I should? Confound y'r impudence, ye mangy Porteegee swab! Allow me to till ye, Misther Paydro Carvalho—an' be the powers it's a sin ag'in the blessed Saint Pater to name such an ugly thafe as ye afther him—that I'll pipe down to grub whin I loikes widout axin y'r laive or license. Jist ye look sharp, d'ye hear, an' git us somethin' to ate at once!"
To emphasise his words, the boatswain jumped up from his seat as he spoke; and the other, thinking he was going to make an attack on him, dodged to the opposite side of the table so as to have this as a sort of bulwark in between the irate Irishman and himself, vehemently protesting all the while that there was "nuzzing" he could put on the table.
"Nonsense, steward," interposed the second mate, who with Matthews seemed highly amused at the altercation, the two grinning between their bites of bread and butter. "There's that tin of corned-beef you opened for me just now, bring that."
"An' tay," roared out Tim Rooney, resuming his seat again, which seeing, the dark little man, who had grown almost pallid with fright, swiftly retreated into the darkness of his pantry, muttering below his breath; while Tim, turning to me, asked, "Ye'd loike some tay wid y'r grub, Misther Gray-ham, wouldn't ye now?"
"Yes," I said.
"Tay for two, ye spalpeen!" he thereupon roared out a second time; "an' ye'd betther look sharp, too, d'ye hear?"
The answer to this was a tremendous smash from the pantry, and the sound of things clattering about and rolling on the floor, as if all the crockery in the ship was broken, whereat Tim and the second mate and Matthews burst altogether into one simultaneous shout of laughter.
"Tare an' 'ouns, he's at it ag'in!" cried the boatswain when he was able to speak; "he's at it ag'in!"
"Aye, he's at it again. A rum chap, ain't he?" said Mr Saunders.
"It's ownly his nasty timper, though; an' he vints it on them poor harmless things bekase he's too much av a coward to have it out wid them that angers him," replied Tim Rooney, adding, as another crash resounded from the distance: "Jist he'r him now. Bedad he's havin' a foine fling this toime, an' no misthake at all, at all!"
"What is he doing?" I asked, seeing that the boatswain and the other two took the uproar as a matter of course, and were in no way surprised at it. "Is he breaking things?"
"No, ma bouchal," replied Tim carelessly. "He's ownly kickin' presarved mate tins about the flure av his panthry, which he kapes especial fur such toimes as he's in a rage wid anyone as offinds him, whin, instead av standin' up loike a man an' foightin' it out wid the chap that angers him, he goes and locks himsilf in the panthry an' kicks the harmless ould tins about, an' bangs 'em ag'in the bulkhead at the side, till ye'd think he was smashin' the howl ship!"
"What a funny man!" I exclaimed.
"He's all that," said the boatswain sententiously. "An' the strangest thing av all is, that whin he's done kickin' the tins about an' has vinted his passion, he'll come out av his panthry as cool an' calm as a Christian, an' do jist what ye wants him, as swately as if he'd nivir bin in a timper at all, at all. Jist watch him now."
It was as Tim Rooney explained.
While he was yet describing the steward's peculiar temperament and strange characteristics, the clattering sounds all at once ceased in the pantry; and the Portuguese presently appeared with a tray on which were clean plates and cups and saucers, which he proceeded to lay neatly and dexterously at one end of the table, looking as calm and quiet as if "butther wouldn't milt in his mouth, sure," as Tim remarked.
Making a second journey back to the pantry, he returned with a dish of cold beef and a cheese, besides a plate piled up with slices of bread and butter, which he certainly must have been cutting all the time he was kicking the tins about. Then, taking a large bronze teapot from the top of a stove in the after part of the cabin, where it had been keeping hot all the while without my noticing it before, the steward poured out a cup of tea apiece for Tim Rooney and myself, asking politely if there was anything more he could get us.
"No, thank ye, Paydro," replied Tim rubbing his hands at sight of the eatables; "this will do foorst rate, me bhoy. Misther Gray-ham, why don't ye fire away, ma bouchal? Sure an' y'r tay's gettin' cowld."
I hardly needed any pressing, feeling by this time as hungry as a hunter; the waiting having sharpened my appetite, as well as the sight of the second mate and Matthews at work at the other end of the table, they only just finishing their meal and going up on deck again as we commenced ours.
We did not lose any time, though, for all that, when once we began, I can tell you, following to the full the second mate's praiseworthy example.
No; for, we made such good use of our opportunities that in less than a quarter of an hour we had both assuaged our hunger—Tim appearing as bad in this respect as myself—by making a general clearance of everything eatable on the table, the corned-beef and bread and butter and piece of cheese vanishing as if by magic, washed down by sundry cups of tea, which, if not strong, made up for this deficiency by being as sweet as moist brown sugar could make it.
"Sure, an' that Paydro ain't such a bad sort av chap afther all," observed Tim Rooney complacently as he rose from his seat, feeling comfortable as to his interior economy, the same as I did, and at peace with all mankind. "Bedad, I'd forgive him ivrythin', for a choild could play wid me now!"
Any further remark on his part, however, was cut short at the moment by a hail from Mr Mackay down the companion.
"Bosun, ahoy, below there!"
"Aye, aye, sorr!" cried Tim Rooney starting up and making a rush for the doorway leading to the main-deck from the cuddy, "I'm a-coming, sorr!"
And the next moment he was out on the deck, "two bells," or five o'clock, as I knew by this time, just striking from the fore part of the ship as we both emerged from below the break of the poop in view of those standing above—I having followed close on Tim Rooney's heels like his very shadow.
"Oh, you're there, bosun!" exclaimed Mr Mackay as soon as he caught sight of Tim out on the deck below him. "We're just abreast of Tilbury, and the pilot thinks we had better bring up in accordance with Captain Gillespie's orders. Are you ready for anchoring?"
"Quite riddy, sorr," replied Tim, looking up at the first mate and the man in the oilskin, whom I now knew to be the Thames pilot, as they leaned over the poop rail. "Lasteways, as soon as iver I can rache the fo'c's'le."
"Carry-on then. You'll find Mr Saunders already in the bows to help you," said Mr Mackay, hailing at the same time the master of the tug that had brought us so far down the river, and who was at his post on the paddle-box waiting for the pilot's orders to "stand by," the little steamer, having already stopped her engines and now busy blowing off her waste steam, waiting for us to cast off her towing-hawser from our bollard, where it was belayed on the forecastle.
While I was noticing these details, Tim was scrambling forwards towards the windlass bitts, mounting thence on to the forecastle, where Mr Saunders and Matthews, with the other middies, were assembled.
Adams, who had been relieved from the wheel, and the other two sailors, as well as the boy who remained with the rest after coming out to strike the bell, was attending to the compressor and watching the cable on the main-deck, just below the group above, which I now joined, racing after my friend Tim.
Looking back astern as soon as I attained this elevated position in the bows of the ship, I noticed the pilot on the poop bring his arm down, whereupon Mr Mackay by his side, putting both his hands to his mouth for a speaking trumpet, shouted out towards us on the forecastle:
"Are you all ready for'ard?"
"All ready!" yelled back Mr Saunders in reply.
"Let go!" then called out Mr Mackay, the second mate supplementing his cry with a second shout—
"Stand clear of the cable!"
At the same moment, Tim Rooney giving the tumbler a smart stroke with a hammer which he had picked up from off the windlass, the cathead stopper was at once released and the anchor fell from the bows into the water with a great heavy splash, the chain cable jiggle-joggling along the deck after it, and rushing madly through the hawse-hole with a roaring, rattling noise like that of thunder!
CAPTAIN GILLESPIE COMES ABOARD.
"Oh!" I exclaimed at the same moment, drawing back hastily and tumbling over the boatswain, who with Adams was now busy hauling inboard the tackle of the disengaged cathead stopper. "I'm blinded!"
You see, I had been leaning over the bows, watching the operation of letting go the anchor; and, as the ponderous mass of metal plunged into the river, it sent up a column of spray on to the forecastle that came slap into my face, drenching my clothes and wetting me almost to the skin at the same time.
"Whisht, ma bouchal!" cried Tim Rooney, laughing at my sorry plight as I picked myself up. "One'd think ye're kilt entoirely, wid all that row ye'r makin'! Ye'll niver be a sailor, Misther Gray-ham, if ye can't stand a bit av fun!"
"Fun, you call it?" I rejoined, rather angrily, I must confess, looking down ruefully at my soaking suit. "Why, I'm wet through!"
"Niver moind that," replied he, still grinning, as was also Adams. "Sure, it's ownly y'r say chris'nin', though it's pricious little av the say there is, be the same token, in this dirthy shoal wather alongside av us now."
"But, it is salt for all that," said I, having had an opportunity of tasting it's flavour, my mouth being wide open when I got the ducking. "It is just like brine and even more nasty!"
Tim laughed all the more at the faces I made, as I spluttered and fumed, trying vainly to get rid of the taste; for, I had swallowed about half a pint at least of the stuff.
"It ain't as good as Paydro's tay that we had jist now, is it?" he observed consolingly. "Thare's too many did dogs an' cats an' other poor bastesesses in it for that, me bhoy; but, faix, ye jist wait till we gits into blue wather an' out av soundin's, it'll be a real trayte for ye to taste it thin."
"I don't know about that," I answered, getting over my little bit of temper and laughing too, he gave such a knowing wink and looked so comical—as I daresay I did, with all the shine taken out of my new uniform—"I think I've had quite enough of it already."
I do not believe I could forget anything, however trivial, that occurred that day, every incident connected with the ship and its surroundings being stamped indelibly on my mind.
The bright February afternoon was already drawing to a close, the sun having set, as usual at that time of year, about half-past five o'clock, going down just as we were in all the bustle of "bringing up;" and, as the Silver Queen had swung with the tide after anchoring, her head now pointing up stream, looking back as it were on the course she had gone over, I had an uninterrupted view from where I stood on the forecastle of the western horizon, with the hazy city still apparent between. I noticed how the warm crimson and orange tints of the after-glow changed gradually to the more sober tones of purple and madder and pale sea- green, marking the approach of evening, a soft semi-transparent mist the while rising from the surface of the water and blotting out one by one the distant objects. It was still light enough, however, to see everything all round near where we were lying, we being then just off the Lobster, midway in the stream, which at that point is about a mile wide, with Gravesend on our left or "port" hand, and the frowning fort of Tilbury guarding the entrance to the river on our right.
All seemed very quiet, as if old Father Thames and those who went to and fro on his broad bosom were thinking of going to sleep; and thus, the shades of night slowly descended on the scene, hushing the spirit of the waters to rest, the ebbing tide lapping its lullaby.
Two other vessels, large merchantmen both, were moored close to ours, and a tug far-away down the stream astern was toiling up wearily against the current with a long string of heavily-laden coal barges in tow, and making but poor headway judging from the long time she took to get abreast of us; while our own gallant little Arrow, which had pulled us along so merrily to our anchorage, was lying-to, about a cable's length off, waiting to see whether we would require her services any further, blowing off her superfluous steam in the meantime, with a turn of her paddles every now and then to show that she was quite ready for more work.
These were all the signs of life afloat in our immediate vicinity on the whilom teeming, busy tideway; and the shore on either side was equally still, only an occasional light, twinkling here and there like a Will o' the Wisp, bearing evidence that some people were stirring, or beginning to wake up as the darkness grew, with that topsy-turvy habit which those who live on land have sometimes of turning day into night!