A Tale of the Sea
DAVID W. BONE
AUTHOR OF "BROKEN STOWAGE"
3 HENRIETTA STREET
All Rights Reserved
First published 1910. Reprinted (twice) 1910.
Reprinted 1911. Popular Edition printed 1913.
Reprinted 1916 and 1924.
Reprinted (New Readers Library) 1927.
Made and Printed in Great Britain by
The Camelot Press Limited
London and Southampton
JAMES HAMILTON MUIR
THE NEW READERS LIBRARY
1. GREEN MANSIONS by W. H. HUDSON 2. THE POLYGLOTS by WILLIAM GERHARDI 3. THE SEA AND THE JUNGLE by H. M. TOMLINSON 4. THE ROADMENDER by MICHAEL FAIRLESS 5. THE TERROR by ARTHUR MACHEN 6. LOST DIARIES by MAURICE BARING 7. THE BONADVENTURE by EDMUND BLUNDEN 8. SUCCESS by CUNNINGHAM GRAHAM 9. BIRDS AND MAN by W. H. HUDSON 10. THE BLACK MONK by ANTON TCHEKOFF 11. GOD'S COUNTRY by JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD 12. BUCOLIC COMEDIES by EDITH SITWELL 13. THE BRASSBOUNDER by DAVID W. BONE 14. THE PURPLE LAND by W. H. HUDSON 15. CALABAN'S GUIDE TO LETTERS AND LAMKIN'S REMAINS by HILAIRE BELLOC 16. OBITER DICTA by AUGUSTINE BIRRELL 17. AMARYLLIS AT THE FAIR by RICHARD JEFFERIES 18. A CRYSTAL AGE by W. H. HUDSON 19. THE KISS by ANTON TCHEKOFF 20. GOSSIP OF THE 17TH AND 18TH CENTURIES by JOHN BERESFORD 21. FUTILITY by WILLIAM GERHARDI 22. TRIPLE FUGUE by OSBERT SITWELL 23. EL OMBU by W. H. HUDSON 24. SIX SHORT PLAYS by JOHN GALSWORTHY
I. THE 'BLUE PETER' II. STEERSMANSHIP III. THE WAY OF THE HALF-DECK IV. THE 'DEAD HORSE' V. 'SEA PRICE' VI. ROUNDING THE HORN VII. A HOT CARGO VIII. WORK! IX. IN 'FRISCO TOWN X. THE DIFFICULTY WITH THE 'TORREADOR'S' XI. THE 'CONVALESCENT' XII. ON THE SACRAMENTO XIII. HOMEWARD! XIV. A TRICK AT THE WHEEL XV. ''OLY JOES' XVI. EAST, HALF SOUTH! XVII. ADRIFT XVIII. "——AFTER FORTY YEAR!" XIX. 'IN LITTLE SCOTLAND' XX. UNDER THE FLAG XXI. 'DOLDRUMS' XXII. ON SUNDAY XXIII. A LANDFALL XXIV. FALMOUTH FOR ORDERS XXV. "T' WIND'ARD!" XXVI. LIKE A MAN EPILOGUE: "1910"
THE 'BLUE PETER'
Ding ... dong.... Ding ... dong. The university bells toll out in strength of tone that tells of south-west winds and misty weather. On the street below my window familiar city noises, unheeded by day, strike tellingly on the ear—hoof-strokes and rattle of wheels, tramp of feet on the stone flags, a snatch of song from a late reveller, then silence, broken in a little by the deep mournful note of a steamer's siren, wind-borne through the Kelvin Valley, or the shrilling of an engine whistle that marks a driver impatient at the junction points. Sleepless, I think of my coming voyage, of the long months—years, perhaps—that will come and go ere next I lie awake hearkening to the night voices of my native city. My days of holiday—an all too brief spell of comfort and shore living—are over; another peal or more of the familiar bells and my emissary of the fates—a Gorbals cabman, belike—will be at the door, ready to set me rattling over the granite setts on the direct road that leads by Bath Street, Finnieston, and Cape Horn—to San Francisco. A long voyage and a hard. And where next? No one seems to know! Anywhere where wind blows and square-sail can carry a freight. At the office on Saturday, the shipping clerk turned his palms out at my questioning.
"Home again, perhaps. The colonies! Up the Sound or across to Japan," he said, looking in his Murray's Diary and then at the clock, to see if there was time for him to nip home for his clubs and catch the 1.15 for Kilmacolm.
Nearly seventeen months of my apprenticeship remain to be served. Seventeen months of a hard sea life, between the masts of a starvation Scotch barque, in the roughest of seafaring, on the long voyage, the stormy track leading westward round the Horn.
It will be February or March when we get down there. Not the worst months, thank Heaven! but bad enough at the best. And we'll be badly off this voyage, for the owners have taken two able seamen off our complement. "Hard times!" they will be saying. Aye! hard times—for us, who will now have to share two men's weight in working our heavily sparred barque.
Two new apprentices have joined. Poor little devils! they don't know what it is. It seemed all very fine to that wee chap from Inverary who came with his father to see the ship before he joined. How the eyes of him glinted as he looked about, proud of his brass-bound clothes and badge cap. And the Mate, all smiles, showing them over the ship and telling the old Hielan' clergyman what a fine vessel she was, and what an interest he took in boys, and what fine times they had on board ship, and all that! Ah yes—fine times! It's as well the old chap doesn't know what he is sending his son to! How can he? We know—but we don't tell.... Pride! Rotten pride! We come home from our first voyage sick of it all.... Would give up but for pride.... Afraid to be called 'stuck sailors' ... of the sneers of our old schoolmates.... So we come home in a great show of bravery and swagger about in our brass-bound uniform and lie finely about the fine times we had ... out there! ... And then nothing will do but Jimmy, next door, must be off to the sea too—to come back and play the same game on young Alick! That's the way of it! ...
Then when the Mate and them came to the half-deck, it was: "Oh yes, Sir! This is the boys' quarters. Well! Not always like that, Sir—when we get away to sea, you know, and get things shipshape. Oh, well no! There's not much room aboard ship, you see. This is one of our boys—Mister Jones." (Jones, looking like a miller's man—he had been stowing ship's biscuits in the tanks—grinned foolishly at the Mate's introduction: 'Mister!') "We're very busy just now, getting ready for sea. Everything's in a mess, as you see, Sir. Only joined, myself, last week. But, oh yes! It will be all right when we get to sea—when we get things shipshape and settled down, Sir!"
Oh yes! Everything will be all right then, eh? Especially when we get down off the Horn, and the dingy half-deck will be awash most of the time with icy water. The owners would do nothing to it this trip, in spite of our complaints. They sent a young man down from the office last week who poked at the covering boards with his umbrella and wanted to know what we were growling at. Wish we had him out there—off Diego Ramirez. Give him something to growl at with the ship working, and green seas on deck, and the water lashing about the floor of the house, washing out the lower bunks, bed and bedding, and soaking every stitch of the clothing that we had fondly hoped would keep us moderately dry in the next bitter night watch. And when (as we try with trembling, benumbed fingers to buckle on the sodden clothes) the ill-hinged door swings to, and a rush of water and a blast of icy wind chills us to the marrow, it needs but a hoarse, raucous shout from without to crown the summit of misery. "Out there, the watch! Turn out!" in tone that admits of no protest. "Turn out, damn ye, an' stand-by t' wear ship!"
(A blast of wind and rain rattles on my window-pane. Ugh! I turn the more cosily amid my blankets.)
Oh yes! He would have something to growl at, that young man who asked if the 'Skipp-ah' was aboard, and said he "was deshed if he could see what we hed to complain of."
He would learn, painfully, that a ship, snugly moored in the south-east corner of the Queen's Dock (stern-on to a telephone call-box), and the same craft, labouring in the teeth of a Cape Horn gale, present some points of difference; that it is a far cry from 58 deg. South to the Clyde Repair Works, and that the business of shipping is not entirely a matter of ledgers.
Oh well! Just have to stick it, though. After all, it won't always be hard times. Think of the long, sunny days drowsing along down the 'Trades,' of the fine times out there in 'Frisco, of joys of strenuous action greater than the shipping clerk will ever know, even if he should manage to hole out in three. Seventeen months! It will soon pass, and I'll be a free man when I get back to Glasgow again. Seventeen months, and then—then——
Ding ... dong.... Ding ... dong.... Ding dong....
Quarter to! With a sigh for the comfort of a life ashore, I rise and dress. Through the window I see the Square, shrouded in mist, the nearer leafless shrubs swaying in the chill wind, pavement glistening in the flickering light of street lamps. A dismal morning to be setting off to the sea! Portent of head winds and foul weather that we may meet in Channel before the last of Glasgow's grime and smoke-wrack is blown from the rigging.
A stir in the next room marks another rising. Kindly old 'Ding ... dong' has called a favourite brother from his rest to give me convoy to the harbour.
Ready for the road, he comes to my room. Sleepy-eyed, yawning. "Four o'clock! Ugh! Who ever heard of a man going to sea at four in the morning! Ought to be a bright summer's day, and the sun shining and flags flying an'——" A choked laugh.
"Glad I'm not a sailorman to be going out on a morning like this! Sure you've remembered everything? Your cab should be here now. Just gone four. Heard the bells as I was dressing——"
Rattle of wheels on the granite setts—sharp, metallic ring of shod heels—a moment of looking for a number—a ring of the door-bell.
"Perty that's tae gang doon tae th' Queen's Dock wi' luggage.... A' richt, Mister! Ah can cairry them ma'sel'.... Aye! Weel! Noo that ye menshun it, Sur ... oon a mornin' like this.... Ma respeks, gents!"
There are no good-byes: the last has been said the night before. There could be no enthusiasm at four on a raw November's morning; it is best that I slip out quietly and take my seat, with a last look at the quiet street, the darkened windows, the quaint, familiar belfry of St. Jude's.
"A' richt, Sur. G'up, mere! Haud up, mere, ye!"
At a corner of the Square the night policeman, yawning whole-heartedly, peers into the cab to see who goes. There is nothing to investigate; the sea-chest, sailor-bag, and bedding, piled awkwardly on the 'dickey,' tell all he wants to know.
"A sailor for aff!"
Jingling his keys, he thinks maybe of the many 'braw laads' from Lochinver who go the same hard road.
* * * * *
Down the deserted wind-swept streets we drive steadily on, till house lights glinting behind the blinds and hurrying figures of a 'night-shift' show that we are near the river and the docks. A turn along the waterside, the dim outlines of the ships and tracery of mast and spar looming large and fantastic in the darkness, and the driver, questioning, brings up at a dim-lit shed, bare of goods and cargo—the berth of a full-laden outward-bounder. My barque—the Florence, of Glasgow—lies in a corner of the dock, ready for sea. Tugs are churning the muddy water alongside, getting into position to drag her from the quay wall; the lurid side-light gleams on a small knot of well-wishers gathered at the forward gangway exchanging parting words with the local seamen of our crew. I have cut my time but short.
"Come en there, you!" is my greeting from the harassed Chief Mate. "Are you turned a —— passenger, with your gloves and overcoat? You sh'd have been here an hour ago! Get a move on ye, now, and bear a hand with these warps.... Gad! A drunken crew an' skulkin' 'prentices, an' th' Old Man growlin' like a bear with a sore——"
Grumbling loudly, he goes forward, leaving me the minute for 'good-bye,' the late 'remembers,' the last long hand-grip.
Into the half-deck, to change hurriedly into working clothes. Time enough to note the guttering lamp, evil smell, the dismal aspect of my home afloat—then, on deck again, to haul, viciously despondent, at the cast-off mooring ropes.
Forward the crew—drunk to a man—are giving the Chief Mate trouble, and it is only when the gangway is hauled ashore that anything can be done. The cook, lying as he fell over his sailor bag, sings, "'t wis ye'r vice, ma gen-tul Merry!" in as many keys as there are points in the compass, drunkenly indifferent to the farewells of a sad-faced woman, standing on the quayside with a baby in her arms. Riot and disorder is the way of things; the Mates, out of temper with the muddlers at the ropes, are swearing, pushing, coaxing—to some attempt at getting the ship unmoored. Double work for the sober ones, and for thanks—a muttered curse. Small wonder that men go drunk to the sea: the wonder is that any go sober!
At starting there is a delay. Some of the men have slipped ashore for a last pull at a neighbourly 'hauf-mutchkin,' and at a muster four are missing. For a time we hold on at single moorings, the stern tug blowing a 'hurry-up' blast on her siren, the Captain and a River Pilot stamping on the poop, angrily impatient. One rejoins, drunken and defiant, but of the others there is no sign. We can wait no longer.
"Let go, aft!" shouts the Captain. "Let go, an' haul in. Damn them for worthless sodjers, anyway! Mister"—to a waiting Board of Trade official—"send them t' Greenock, if ye can run them in. If not, telephone down that we're three A.B.'s short.... Lie up t' th' norr'ard, stern tug, there. Hard a-port, Mister? All right! Let go all, forr'ard!" ... We swing into the dock passage, from whence the figures of our friends on the misty quayside are faintly visible. The little crowd raises a weakly cheer, and one bold spirit (with his guid-brither's 'hauf-pey note' in his pocket) shouts a bar or two of "Wull ye no' come back again!" A few muttered farewells, and the shore folk hurry down between the wagons to exchange a last parting word at the Kelvinhaugh. '... Dong ... ding ... DONG ... DONG....' Set to a fanfare of steam whistles, Old Brazen Tongue of Gilmorehill tolls us benison as we steer between the pierheads. Six sonorous strokes, loud above the shrilling of workshop signals and the nearer merry jangle of the engine-house chimes.
Workmen, hurrying to their jobs, curse us for robbing them of a 'quarter,' the swing-bridge being open to let us through. "Come oon! Hurry up wi' that auld 'jeely-dish,' an' see's a chance tae get tae wur wark," they shout in a chorus of just irritation. A facetious member of our crew shouts:
"Wot—oh, old stiy-at-'omes. Cahmin' aat t' get wandered?"—and a dockman answers:
"Hello, Jake, 'i ye therr? Man, th' sailormen maun a' be deid when th' Mate gied you a sicht! Jist you wait tae he catches ye fanklin' th' cro'-jeck sheets!"
We swing slowly between the pierheads, and the workmen, humoured by the dockman's jest, give us a hoarse cheer as they scurry across the still moving bridge. In time-honoured fashion our Cockney humorist calls for, 'Three cheers f'r ol' Pier-'ead, boys,' and such of the 'boys' as are able chant a feeble echo to his shout. The tugs straighten us up in the river, and we breast the flood cautiously, for the mist has not yet cleared and the coasting skippers are taking risks to get to their berths before the stevedores have picked their men. In the shipyards workmen are beginning their day's toil, the lowe of their flares light up the gaunt structures of ships to be. Sharp at the last wailing note of the whistle, the din of strenuous work begins, and we are fittingly drummed down the reaches to a merry tune of clanging hammers—the shipyard chorus "Let Glasgow flourish!"
Dawn finds us off Bowling, and as the fog clears gives us misty views of the Kilpatrick Hills. Ahead, Dumbarton Rock looms up, gaunt and misty, sentinel o'er the lesser heights. South, the Renfrew shore stretches broadly out under the brightening sky—the wooded Elderslie slopes and distant hills, and, nearer, the shoal ground behind the lang Dyke where screaming gulls circle and wheel. The setting out is none so ill now, with God's good daylight broad over all, and the flags flying—the 'Blue Peter' fluttering its message at the fore.
On the poop, the Captain (the 'Old Man,' be he twenty-one or fifty) paces to and fro—a short sailor walk, with a pause now and then to mark the steering or pass a word with the River Pilot. Of medium height, though broad to the point of ungainliness, Old Jock Leish (in his ill-fitting broadcloth shore-clothes) might have passed for a prosperous farmer, but it needed only a glance at the keen grey eyes peering from beneath bushy eyebrows, the determined set of a square lower jaw, to note a man of action, accustomed to command. A quick, alert turn of the head, the lift of shoulders as he walked—arms swinging in seaman-like balance—and the trick of pausing at a windward turn to glance at the weather sky, marked the sailing shipmaster—the man to whom thought and action must be as one.
Pausing at the binnacle to note the direction of the wind, he gives an exclamation of disgust.
"A 'dead muzzler,' Pilot. No sign o' a slant in the trend o' th' upper clouds. Sou'west, outside, I'm afraid.... Mebbe it's just as weel; we'll have t' bring up at th' Tail o' th' Bank, anyway, for these three hands, damn them.... An' th' rest are useless.... Drunk t' a man, th' Mate says. God! They'd better sober up soon, or we'll have to try 'Yankee music' t' get things shipshape!"
The Pilot laughed. "I thought the 'Yankee touch' was done with at sea now," he said. "Merchant Shippin' Act, and that sort of thing, Captain?"
"Goad, no! It's no bye wi' yet, an' never will be as long as work has to be done at sea. I never was much taken with it myself, but, damn it, ye've got to sail the ship, and ye can't do it without hands. Oh, a little of it at the setting off does no harm—they forget all about it before long; but at the end of a voyage, when ye're getting near port, it's not very wise. No, not very wise—an' besides, you don't need it!"
The Pilot grins again, thinking maybe of his own experiences, before he 'swallowed part of the anchor,' and Old Jock returns to his walk.
Overhead the masts and spars are black with the grime of a 'voyage' in Glasgow Harbour, and 'Irish pennants' fluttering wildly on spar and rigging tell of the scamped work of those whose names are not on our 'Articles.' Sternly superintended (now that the Mate has given up all hope of getting work out of the men), we elder boys are held aloft, reeving running gear through the leads in the maintop. On the deck below the new apprentices gaze in open-mouthed admiration at our deeds: they wonder why the Mate should think such clever fellows laggard, why he should curse us for clumsy 'sodgers,' as a long length of rope goes (wrongly led) through the top. In a few months more they themselves will be criticising the 'hoodlums,' and discussing the wisdom of the 'Old Man' in standing so far to the south'ard.
Fog comes dense on us at Port Glasgow, and incoming steamers, looming large on the narrowed horizon, steer sharply to the south to give us water. Enveloped in the driving wraiths we hear the deep notes of moving vessels, the clatter of bells on ships at anchor, and farther down, loud over all, the siren at the Cloch, bellowing a warning of thick weather beyond the Point. Sheering cautiously out of the fairway, we come to anchor at Tail of the Bank to wait for our 'pier-head jumps.' At four in the afternoon, a launch comes off with our recruits and our whipper-in explains his apparent delay.
"Hilt nor hair o' th' men that left ye hae I seen. I thocht I'd fin' them at 'Dirty Dick's' when th' pubs opened ... but no, no' a sign: an' a wheen tailor buddies wha cashed their advance notes huntin' high an' low! I seen yin o' them ower by M'Lean Street wi' a nicht polis wi 'm t' see he didna get a heid pit on 'm!—'sss! A pant! So I cam' doon here, an' I hiv been lookin' for sailormen sin' ten o'clock. Man, they'll no' gang in thae wind-jammers, wi' sae mony new steamers speirin' hauns, an' new boats giein' twa ten fur th' run tae London.... Thir's th' only yins I can get, an' ye wadna get them, but that twa's feart o' th' polis an' Jorgensen wants t' see th' month's advance o' th' lang yin!"
The Captain eyes the men and demands of one:
"Been to sea before?"
"Nach robh mhi? Twa years I wass a 'bow rope' in the I-on-a, an' I wass a wheelhouse in the Allan Line."
A glance at his discharges confirms his claim, slight as it is, to seamanship, and Duncan M'Innes, of Sleat, in Skye, after being cautioned as to his obligations, signs his name and goes forward.
Patrick Laughlin has considerable difficulty in explaining his absence from the sea for two years, but the Captain, after listening to a long, rambling statement... "i' th' yairds ... riggin' planks fur th' rivitter boys.... Guid-brither a gaffer in Hamilton's, at the 'Poort' ... shoart time" ... gives a quick glance at the alleged seaman's cropped head and winks solemnly at the Shipping-master, who is signing the men on. Hands being so scarce, however, Patrick is allowed to touch the pen.
One glance at the third suffices. Blue eyes and light colourless hair, high cheek-bones and lithe limbs, mark the Scandinavian. Strong, wiry fingers and an indescribable something proclaim the sailor, and though Von Shmit can hardly say 'yes' in English, he looks the most likely man of the three.
The Shipping-master, having concluded his business, steps aboard his launch, leaving us with a full crew, to wait the weather clearing, and the fair wind that would lift us down Channel.
* * * * *
Daybreak next morning shows promise of better weather, and a light S.S.E. wind with a comparatively clear sky decides the Old Man to take the North Channel for it. As soon as there is light enough to mark their colours, a string of flags brings off our tug-boat from Princes Pier, and we start to heave up the anchor. A stout coloured man sets up a 'chantey' in a very creditable baritone, and the crew, sobered now by the snell morning air, give sheet to the chorus.
'Blow, boy-s, blow,—for Califor-ny, oh! For there's lot's of gold, so I've been told, On the banks—of Sa-cramen-to!'
The towing-hawser is passed aboard, and the tug takes the weight off the cable. The nigger having reeled off all he knows of 'Californy,' a Dutchman sings lustily of 'Sally Brown.' Soon the Mate reports, "Anchor's short, Sir," and gets the order to weigh. A few more powerful heaves with the seaman-like poise between each—"Spent my mo-ney on Sa-lley Brown!"—and the shout comes, "Anchor's a-weigh!"
Down comes the Blue Peter from the fore, whipping at shroud and backstay in quick descent—our barque rides ground-free, the voyage begun!
The light is broad over all now, and the Highland hills loom dark and misty to the norr'ard. With a catch at the heart, we pass the well-known places, slowly making way, as if the flood-tide were striving still to hold us in our native waters. A Customs boat hails, and asks of us, "Whither bound?" "'Frisco away!" we shout, and they wave us a brief God-speed. Rounding the Cloch, we meet the coasting steamers scurrying up the Firth.
"'Ow'd ye like t' be a stiy-at-'ome, splashin' abaht in ten fathoms, like them blokes, eh?" the Cockney asks me, with a deep-water man's contempt in his tone.
How indeed? Yearning eyes follow their glistening stern-wash as they speed past, hot-foot for the river berths.
Tide has made now. A short period of slack water, and the ebb bears us seaward, past the Cowal shore, glinting in the wintry sunlight, the blue smoke in Dunoon valley curling upward to Kilbride Hill, past Skelmorlie Buoy (tolling a doleful benediction), past Rothesay Bay, with the misty Kyles beyond. The Garroch Head, with a cluster of Clyde Trust Hoppers, glides abaft the beam, and the blue Cock o' Arran shows up across the opening water. All is haste and bustle. Aloft, spider-like figures, black against the tracery of the rigging, cast down sheets and clew lines in the one place where they must go. Shouts and hails—"Fore cross-trees, there! Royal buntline inside th' crin'line, in-side, damn ye!"
"Aye, aye! Stan' fr' under!"
...rrup! A coil of rope hurtling from a height comes rattling to the rail, to be secured to its own particular belaying-pin. Out of a seeming chaos comes order. Every rope has its name and its place and its purpose; and though we have 'sodjers' among us, before Arran is astern we are ready to take to the wind. Off Pladda we set staysails and steer to the westward, and, when the wind allows, hoist topsails and crowd the canvas on her. The short November day has run its course when we cast off the tow-rope. As we pass the standing tug, all her hands are hauling the hawser aboard. Soon she comes tearing in our wake to take our last letters ashore and to receive the Captain's 'blessing.' A heaving-line is thrown aboard, and into a small oilskin bag are put our hastily written messages and the Captain's material 'blessing.' Shades of Romance! Our last link with civilisation severed by a bottle of Hennessy's Three Star!
The tugmen (after satisfying themselves as to the contents of the bag) give us a cheer and a few parting 'skreichs' on their siren and, turning quickly, make off to a Norwegian barque, lying-to, off Ailsa Craig.
All hands, under the Mates, are hard driven, sweating on sheet and halyard to make the most of the light breeze. At the wheel I have little to do; she is steering easily, asking no more than a spoke or two, when the Atlantic swell, running under, lifts her to the wind. Ahead of us a few trawlers are standing out to the Skerryvore Banks. Broad to the North, the rugged, mist-capped Mull of Cantyre looms up across the heaving water. The breeze is steady, but a falling barometer tells of wind or mist ere morning.
Darkness falls, and coast lights show up in all airts. Forward, all hands are putting a last drag on the topsail halyards, and the voice of the nigger tells of the fortunes of—
Wee Laughlin, dismissed from the wheel for bad steering, was sitting on the fore-hatch, a figure of truculence and discontent, mouthing a statement on the Rights of Man, accompanied by every oath ever heard on Clydeside from Caird's to Tommy Seath's at Ru'glen. It was not the loss of his turn that he regretted—he was better here, where he could squirt tobacco juice at will, than on the poop under the Mate's eye—but, hardened at the 'Poort' as he was, he could not but feel the curious glances of his watchmates, lounging about in dog-watch freedom and making no secret of their contempt of an able seaman who couldn't steer, to begin with.
"'Ow wos she 'eadin', young feller, w'en ye—left?" Cockney Hicks, glancing away from the culprit, was looking at the trembling leaches of top'gal'nsails, sign of head winds.
"'Er heid? Ach, aboot Nor' thurty west!"
"Nor' thirty west? Blimy! Where th' 'ell's that? 'Ere! Give us it in points! None o' yer bloomin' degrees aboard square-sail, young feller!"
"Weel, that's a' th' wye I ken it!" Sullen, mouth twisted askew in the correct mode of the 'Poort,' defiant.
"It wis aye degrees in a' th' boats I hiv been in—none o' thae wee black chats ye ca' p'ints; we niver heeded thim. Degrees, an' 'poort' an' 'starboord '—t' hell wit' yer 'luffs' an' 'nae highers'!"
"Aye, blimy! An' I cud steer them as nate's ye like; but I'm no guid enough fur that swine o' a Mate, aft there!" He spat viciously. "'Nae higher,' sez he t' me. 'Nae higher, Sur,' says I, pitten' the wheel a bit doon. 'Up,' says he, 'up, blast ye! Ye're lettin 'r come up i' th' win',' says he. I pit th' —— wheel up, keepin' ma 'ee on th' compass caird; but that wis a fau't tae.... 'Damn ye!' says he; 'keep yer 'ee on th' to'gallan' leaches,' ... 'Whaur's that?' sez I. 'Oh, holy smoke!' sez he. 'Whit hiv we got here?' An' he cam' ower and hut me a kick, an' shouts fur anither haun' t' th' wheel! ... By ——" mumbling a vicious formula, eyes darkening angrily as he looked aft at the misty figure on the poop.
Cockney looked at him curiously.
"Wot boats 'ave ye bin in, anyway?" he said. "Them boats wot ye never steered by th' win' before?"
"—— fine boats! A ban' sicht better nor this bluidy ould wreck. Boats wi' a guid gaun screw at th' stern av thim! Steamers, av coorse! This is th' furst bluidy win'-jammer I hae been in, an' by —— it'll be th' last! An' that Mate! Him! ... Oh! If I only hid 'm in Rue-en' Street ... wi' ma crood aboot,"—kicking savagely at a coil of rope—"he widna be sae smert wi' 'is fit! Goad, no!"
"Ye' fust win'-jammer, eh?" said Cockney pleasantly. "Oh well—ye'll l'arn a lot! Blimy, ye'll l'arn a lot before ye sees Rue-hend Street again. An' look 'ere!"—as if it were a small matter—"if ye cawn't steer th' bloomin' ship afore we clears th' bloomin' Channel, ye kin count hon me fer a bloomin' good 'idin'! I ain't agoin' t' take no other bloomin' bloke's w'eel! Not much, I ain't!"
"Nor me!" "Nor me!" said the others, and Wee Laughlin, looking round at the ring of threatening faces, realised that he was up against a greater power than the Officer tramping the poop beyond.
"Wull ye no'?" he said, spitting with a great show of bravery. "Wull ye no'? Mebbe I'll hae sumthin' t' say aboot th' hidin'.... An' ye'll hae twa av us tae hide whin ye're a' it. I'm nut th' only yin. There's the Hielan'man ... him wi' th' fush scales on's oilskins. He nivvir wis in a win'-jammer afore, he telt me; an'——"
"An' whaat eef I nefer wass in a win'-chammer pefore?" M'Innes, quick to anger, added another lowering face to the group. "Wait you till I am sent awaay from th' wheel ... an' thaat iss not yet, no! ... Hielan'man? ... Hielan'man? ... Tamm you, I wass steerin' by th' win' pefore you wass porn, aye! ... An' aal t' time you wass in chail, yess!"
In the face of further enmity, Wee Laughlin said no more, preferring to gaze darkly at the unknowing Mate, while his lips made strange formations—excess of thought! The others, with a few further threats—a word or two about 'hoodlums' and 'them wot signed for a man's wage, an' couldn't do a man's work'—returned to their short dog-watch pacings, two and two, talking together of former voyages and the way of things on their last ships.
We were in the North Channel, one day out, with the Mull of Cantyre just lost to view. The light wind that had carried us out to the Firth had worked to the westward, to rain and misty weather, and all day we had been working ship in sight of the Irish coast, making little headway against the wind. It was dreary work, this laggard setting out—hanging about the land, tack and tack, instead of trimming yards to a run down Channel. Out on the open sea we could perforce be philosophic, and talk of 'the more days, the more dollars'; but here in crowded waters, with the high crown of Innistrahull mocking at our efforts, it was difficult not to think of the goodness of a shore life. As the close of each watch came round the same spirit of discontent prompted the question of the relief, officer or man. On the poop it was, "Well, Mister! How's her head now? Any sign of a slant?" On the foredeck, "'Ere! Wot th' 'ell 'ave ye bin doin' with 'er? Got th' bloomin' anchor down or wot?"
At nightfall the rain came down heavily before fitful bursts of chill wind. Ours was the first watch, and tramping the deck in stiff, new oilskins, we grumbled loudly at the ill-luck that kept us marking time.
"I wonder w'y th' Old Man don't put abaht an' run dahn th' Gawges Channel. Wot's 'e 'angin' abaht 'ere for, hanyw'y? Wot does 'e expeck?" said Cockney, himself a 'navigator'—by his way of it.
"Oh, shift o' wind, or something," said I. "I was aft at th' binnacles an' heard him talkin' t' th' Mate about it. Says th' wind 'll back t' th' south'ard if th' barometer don't rise. Told the Mate to call him if the glass went up before twelve. I see old 'Steady-all'" (we are one day out, but all properly named) "popping up and down the cabin stairs. He'll be building a reef of burnt matches round the barometers before that fair wind comes."
"Sout' vass fair vind, ass ve goes now, aind't id?" asked Dutch John, a pleasant-faced North German.
"Fair wind? 'Oo th' 'ell's talkin' 'bout fair win's, an' that Shmit at th' w'eel? 'Ow d'ye expeck a fair win' with a Finn—a bloody Rooshian Finn's a-steerin' ov 'er?" Martin, a tough old sea-dog, with years of service, claimed a hearing.
"No, an' we won't 'ave no fair win' till a lucky steers 'er! Ain't much that way myself—me bein' a Liverpool man—but there's Collins there—the nigger.... Niggers is lucky, an' West-country-men, an' South of Ireland men—if they ain't got black 'air—but Finns! Finns is the wu'st o' bloody bad luck! ... Knowed a Finn onst wot raised an 'owlin' gale agin us, just a-cos th' Ol' Man called 'im a cross-eyed son ef a gun fur breakin' th' p'int ov a marlinspike! Raised an 'owlin' gale, 'e did! No, no! Ye won't 'ave no fair win' till a lucky man goes aft. 'Ere, Collins! Your nex' w'eel, ain't it?"
Collins grinned an affirmative.
"Right-o! Well, young fellers, ye kin spit on yer 'an's fur squarin' them yards somewheres between four an' eight bells. Nuthin' like a nigger for bringin' fair win's.... An' 'e's a speshul kind o' nigger, too.... Nova Scotiaman, Pictou way ... talks the same lingo as th' 'ilandman ... 'im on th' look-out, there."
"Not the Gaelic, surely?" said I.
"Aye, Gaelic. That's it. They speak that lingo out there, black an' w'ite. Knowed lots o' niggers wot spoke it ... an' chows too!"
I turned to Collins—a broad, black nigger with thick lips, woolly hair, white, gleaming teeth—the type! He grinned.
"Oh yass," he said. "Dat's ri'! Dey speak de Gaelic dere—dem bluenose Scotchmen, an' Ah larn it when Ah wass small boy. Ah doan' know much now ... forgot it mos' ... but Ah know 'nuff t' ask dat boy Munro how de wass. Hoo! Ho!! Hoo!!! 'Cia mar tha thu nis,' Ah says, an' he got so fright', he doan' be seasick no mo'!"
A wondrous cure!
At ten Collins relieved the wheel and we looked for the shift that old Martin had promised, but there was no sign of it—no lift to the misty horizon, no lessening in the strength of the squalls, now heavy with a smashing of bitter sleet. Bunched up against the helm, a mass of oilskins glistening in the compass light, our 'lucky man' scarce seemed to be doing anything but cower from the weather. Only the great eyes of him, peering aloft from under the peak of his sou'wester, showed that the man was awake; and the ready turns of the helm, that brought a steering tremor to the weather leaches, marked him a cunning steersman, whichever way his luck lay.
Six bells struck, the Mate stepped below to the barometers, and a gruff "Up! up!" (his way of a whisper) accompanied the tapping of the aneroid. There he found encouragement and soon had the Old Man on deck, peering with him in the wind's eye at the brightening glare of Innistrahull Light out in the west.
"Clearing, eh? And the glass risin'," said the Old Man. "Looks like nor'-west! Round she goes, Mister: we'll lose no more time. Stan' by t' wear ship!"
"Aye, aye, Sir! Stan' by t' square mainyards, the watch, there!"
Shouting as he left the poop, the Mate mustered his men at the braces.
"Square mainyards! That's th' talk," said old Martin, throwing the coils down with a swing. "Didn't Ah tell ye it wos a nigger as'd bring a fair win'!"
"But it ain't fair yet," said I. "Wind's west as ever it was; only th' Old Man's made up his mind t' run her down th' George's Channel. Might ha' done that four hours ago!"
"Wot's th' use o' talkin' like that? 'Ow th' 'ell could 'e make up 'is min' wi' a Rooshian Finn at th' w'eel, eh? Don't tell me! Ah knows as niggers is lucky an' Finns ain't; an' don't ye give me none o' yer bloody sass, young feller, cos ..." ("Haul away mainyards, there!") ... "Ho! ... io ... io.... Ho! round 'em in, me sons. ... Ho! ... io ... io.... Twenty days t' th' Line, boys! ... Ho ... io ... ho!"
A hard case, Martin!
Turning on heel, we left Innistrahull to fade away on the quarter, and, under the freshening breeze, made gallant steering for the nigger. This was more like the proper way to go to sea, and when eight bells clanged we called the other watch with a rousing shout.
"Out, ye bloomin' Jonahs! Turn out, and see what the port watch can do for ye. A fair wind down Channel, boys! Come on! Turn out, ye hungry Jonahs, and coil down for your betters!"
* * * * *
After two days of keen sailing, running through the Channel traffic, we reached the edge of soundings. The nor'-west breeze still held, though blowing light, and under a spread of canvas we were leaning away to the south'ard on a course for the Line Crossing. We sighted a large steamer coming in from the west, and the Old Man, glad of a chance to be reported, hauled up to 'speak' her. In hoists of gaily coloured bunting we told our name and destination, and a wisp of red and white at the liner's mast acknowledged our message. As she sped past she flew a cheering signal to wish us a 'pleasant voyage,' and then lowered her ensign to ours as a parting salute.
"Keep her off to her course again—sou'-west, half south!" ordered the Old Man when the last signal had been made.
"Aff tae her coorse ag'in, Sur! Sou'-west, hauf south, Sur!"
At sound of the steersman's answer I turned from my job at the signal locker. Wee Laughlin, eyes on the weather clew of the royals, was learning!
THE WAY OF THE HALF-DECK
The guttering lamp gave little light in the half-deck; its trimming had been neglected on this day of storm, so we sat in semi-gloom listening to the thunder of seas outside. On the grimy deal table lay the remains of our supper—crumbs of broken sea-biscuits, a scrap of greasy salt horse, dirty plates and pannikins, a fork stabbed into the deal to hold the lot from rolling, and an overturned hook-pot that rattled from side to side at each lurch of the ship, the dregs of the tea it had held dripping to the weltering floor. For once in a way we were miserably silent. We sat dourly together, as cheerless a quartette as ever passed watch below. "Who wouldn't sell his farm and go to sea?" asked Hansen, throwing off his damp jacket and boots and turning into his bunk. "'A life on th' ocean wave,' eh? Egad! here's one who wishes he had learned to drive a wagon!"
"And another," said Eccles. "That—or selling matches on th' highway! ... Come on, Kid! Get a move on ye and clear away! ... And mind ye jamm the gear off in the locker. No more o' these tricks like ye did in Channel—emptyin' half the bloomin' whack into th' scupper! You jamm the gear off proper, or I'll lick ye!"
Young Munro, the 'peggy' of our watch, swallowed hard and set about his bidding. His small features were pinched and drawn, and a ghastly pallor showed that a second attack of sea-sickness was not far off. He staggered over to the table and made a half-hearted attempt to put the gear away,
"What's th' matter with ye?" said Eccles roughly. "Ye've been long enough away from ye'r mammy t' be able t' keep ye'r feet. A fortnight at sea, an' still comin' th' 'Gentle Annie'! You look sharp now, an' don't——"
"You let the Kid alone," said Hansen in a dreamy, half-sleepy tone. "You let the Kid alone, or I'll twist your damn neck! Time enough for you to start chinnin' when your elders are out o' sight. You shut up!"
"Oh, all right! Ye needn't get ratty. If you want t' pamper the bloomin' Kid, it's none of my business, I s'pose.... All the same, you took jolly good care I did my 'peggy' last voyage! There was no pamperin' that I remember!"
"Different!" said Hansen, still in the same sleepy tone. "Different! You were always big enough an' ugly enough t' stand the racket. You leave the Kid alone!"
Eccles turned away to his bunk and, seeking his pipe, struck match after match in a vain attempt to light the damp tobacco. Now and then the ship would falter in her swing—an ominous moment of silence and steadiness—before the shock of a big sea sent her reeling again. The crazy old half-deck rocked and groaned at the battery as the sea ran aft, and a spurt of green water came from under the covering board. Some of the sea-chests worked out of the lashings and rattled down to leeward. Eccles and I triced them up, then stowed the supper gear in the locker.
"A few more big 'uns like that," said I, "and this rotten old house 'll go a-voyagin'! ... Wonder it has stood so long."
"Do ye think there's danger?" asked the Kid, in a falter, and turning terrified eyes on one after another.
"Course," said Hansen—we had thought him asleep—"course there is! That's what ye came here for, isn't it? This is when th' hero stands on th' weather taffrail, graspin' th' tautened backst'y an' hurlin' defiance at th' mighty elements—'Nick Carter,' chap. one!"
Eccles and I grinned. Munro took heart.
"Danger," still the drowsy tone, "I should think there is! Why, any one o' these seas might sweep the harness-cask and t'morrow's dinner overboard! Any one of 'em might——"
The door swung to with a crash, a blast of chill wind and rain blew in on us, the lamp flickered and flared, a dripping oilskin-clad figure clambered over the washboard.
"Door! door!" we yelled as he fumbled awkwardly with the handle.
"Oh, shut up! Ye'd think it was the swing-door of a pub. t' hear ye shouting!" He pulled heavily, and the broken-hinged baulk slammed into place. It was Jones, of the other watch, come in to turn us out.
"Well, I'm hanged!" He looked around the house—at the litter on the floor, at the spurting water that lashed across with the lurch of her. "Why don't some of ye bale the place out 'stead of standing by t' shout 'Door, door!' when there's no need? Damn! Look at that!" She lurched again. A foot or more of broken water dashed from side to side, carrying odds of loose gear with it. "Egad! The port watch for lazy sojers—every time! Why don't ye turn to an' dry the half-deck out? Oh no; not your way! It's 'Damn you, Jack—I'm all right!' with you chaps. Goin' on deck again soon, eh? Why should ye dry up for the other watch, eh? ... Oh! all right. Just you——"
"Oh, dry up yourself, Jones!" Hansen sat up in his bunk and turned his legs out. "What you making all the noise about? We've been balin' and balin', and it's no use! No use at all ... with that covering board working loose and the planks opening out at every roll.... What's up, anyway? ... All hands, eh?"
"Yes. 'All hands wear ship' at eight bells! We've just set the fore lower tops'l. Think we must be getting near the Western Islands by the way th' Old Man's poppin' up and down. It's pipin' outside! Blowin' harder than ever, and that last big sea stove in the weather side of the galley. The watch are at it now, planking up and that.... Well, I'm off! Ye've quarter an hour t' get your gear on. Lively, now! ..." At the door he turned, eyeing the floor, now awash. "Look here, young 'un"—to poor, woebegone Munro—"the Mate says you're not to come on deck. You stay here and bale up, an' if the damn place isn't dry when we come below I'll hide the life out o' ye! ... Oh, it's no use screwin' your face up. 'Cry baby' business is no good aboard a packet! You buck up an' bale the house ... or ... look out!" He heaved at the door, sprawled over, and floundered out into the black night.
Munro turned a white, despairing face on us elders. We had no support for him. Hansen was fumbling with his belt. I was drawing on my long boots. Both of us seemed not to have heard. This was the way of the half-deck. With Eccles it had been different. He was only a second voyager, a dog-watch at sea—almost a 'greenhorn.' There was time enough for him to 'chew the rag' when he had got the length of keeping a regular 'wheel and look out.' Besides, it was a 'breach' for him to start bossing about when there were two of his elders in the house. We could fix him all right!
Ah! But Jones! ... It was not that we were afraid of him. Either of us would have plugged him one at the word 'Go!' if it had been a straight affair between us. But this was no business of ours. Jones was almost a man. In a month or two his time would be out. There could be no interference, not a word could be said; it was—the way of the half-deck.
Swaying, sailor-like, on the reeling deck, we drew on our oilskins and sea-boots, buckled our belts, tied down the flaps of our sou'westers, and made ready. While we were at it Munro started on his task. He filled the big bucket, dragged it half-way to the door, then sat down heavily with a low cry of dismay.
"What's the matter, Kid, eh?" said Hansen kindly. "Got the blues, eh? Buck up, man! Blue's a rotten colour aboard ship! Here, hand me the bucket!"
He gripped the handle, stood listening for a chance, then swung the door out an inch or two, and tipped the bucket.
"It ... it's ... not ... that," said the youngster. "It's ... s-s-staying in here w-when you fellows are on d-deck! ... Ye ... s-said th' house m-might go ... any time! ... Let me come!..."
"No, no! Th' Mate said you weren't t' come on deck! You stay here! You'd only be in th' way! You'll be all right here; the rotten old box 'll stand a few gales yet! ... What's that?"
Above the shrilling of the gale we heard the Mate's bull roar: "All ... hands ... wear ... ship!"
We took our chance, swung the door to, and dashed out. Dismayed for a moment—the sudden change from light to utter darkness—we brought up, grasping the life-lines in the waist, and swaying to meet the wild lurches of the ship. As our eyes sobered to the murk we saw the lift of the huge seas that thundered down the wind. No glint of moon or star broke through the mass of driving cloud that blackened the sky to windward; only when the gleam of a breaking crest spread out could we mark the depth to which we drove, or the height when we topped a wall of foaming water. The old barque was labouring heavily, reeling to it, the decks awash to our knees. Only the lower tops'ls and a stays'l were set; small canvas, but spread enough to keep her head at the right angle as wave after wave swept under or all but over her. "Stations!" we heard the Mate calling from his post at the lee fore braces. "Lay along here! Port watch, forrard!"
We floundered through the swirl of water that brimmed the decks and took our places. Aft, we could see the other watch standing by at the main. Good! It would be a quick job, soon over! The Old Man was at the weather gangway, conning the ship and waiting for a chance. Below him, all hands stood at his orders—twenty-three lives were in his keeping at the moment; but there was no thought of that—we knew our Old Jock, we boasted of his sea cunning. At length the chance came; a patch of lesser violence after a big sea had been met and surmounted. The sure, steady eye marked the next heavy roller. There was time and distance! ... "Helm up, there!" (Old Jock for a voice!)
Now her head paid off, and the order was given, 'Square mainyards!' Someone wailed a hauling cry and the great yards swung round, tops'l lifting to the quartering wind. As the wind drew aft she gathered weight and scudded before the gale. Seas raced up and crashed their bulk at us when, at the word, we strained together to drag the foreyards from the backstays. Now she rolled the rails under—green, solid seas to each staggering lift. At times it seemed as if we were all swept overboard there was no hold to the feet! We stamped and floundered to find a solid place to brace our feet and knees against; trailed out on the ropes—all afloat—when she scooped the ocean up, yet stood and hauled when the chance was ours. A back roll would come. "Hold all! ... Stand to it, sons! ..." With a jerk that seemed to tear at the limbs of us, the heavy yards would weigh against us. There was no pulling ... only "stand and hold" ... "hold hard." Then, to us again: "Hay ... o ... Ho.... Hay ... o! ... Round 'em in, boys! ..." Quick work, hand over hand, the blocks rattling cheerily as we ran in the slack.
"Vast haulin' foreyards! Turn all and lay aft!" We belayed the ropes, and struggled aft to where the weaker watch were hauling manfully. The sea was now on the other quarter, and lashing over the top rail with great fury. Twice the Second Mate, who was 'tending the weather braces, was washed down among us, still holding by the ropes. "Haul awaay, lauds!" he would roar as he struggled back to his perilous post. "Haul, you!"
We dragged the yards to a new tack; then to the fore, where again we stood the buffet till we had the ship in trim for heaving-to.
"All hands off the deck!" roared the Mate when the headyards were steadied. "Lay aft, all hands!"
Drenched and arm weary as we were, there was no tardiness in our scramble for safe quarters—some to the poop, some to the main rigging. We knew what would come when she rounded-to in a sea like that.
"All ready, Sir," said the Mate when he came aft to report. "All hands are off the deck!"
"Aye, aye!" Old Jock was peering out to windward, watching keenly for a chance to put his helm down. There was a perceptible lull in the wind, but the sea was high as ever. The heavy, racing clouds had broken in the zenith; there were rifts here and there through which shone fleeting gleams from the moon, lighting the furious ocean for a moment, then vanishing as the storm-wrack swept over.
It seemed a long time before the Old Man saw the 'smooth' he was waiting for. A succession of big seas raced up, broke, and poured aboard: one, higher than all, swept by, sending her reeling to the trough. Now—the chance! "Ease th' helm down!" he shouted. "Stand by, all!" Her head swung steadily to windward, the steering way was well timed.
Suddenly, as we on the poop watched ahead, a gleam of light shone on the wet decks. The half-deck door was swung out—a figure blocked the light, sprawling over the washboard—Munro! "Back!" we yelled. "Go back!"
There was time enough, but the youngster, confused by the shouts, ran forward, then aft, bewildered.
The ship was bearing up to the wind and sea. Already her head was driving down before the coming of the wave that was to check her way. In a moment it would be over us. The Mate leapt to the ladder, but, as he balanced, we saw one of the men in the main rigging slide down a backstay, drop heavily on deck, recover, and dash on towards the boy.
Broad on the beam of her, the sea tore at us and brimmed the decks—a white-lashing fury of a sea, that swept fore and aft, then frothed in a whelming torrent to leeward.
When we got forward through the wash of it, we found Jones crouching under the weather rail. One arm was jammed round the bulwark stanchion, the wrist stiffened and torn by the wrench, the other held the Kid—a limp, unconscious figure.
"Carry him aft," said Jones. "I think ... he's ... all right ... only half drowned!" He swayed as he spoke, holding his hand to his head, gasping, and spitting out. "D-damn young swine! What ... he ... w-want t' come on deck f-for? T-told ... him t' ... s-stay below!"
THE 'DEAD HORSE'
Fine weather, if hot as the breath of Hades, and the last dying airs of the nor'-east trades drifting us to the south'ard at a leisured three knots.
From the first streak of daylight we had been hard at work finishing up the general overhaul cf gear and rigging that can only be done in the steady trade winds. Now it was over; we could step out aloft, sure of our foothold; all the treacherous ropes were safe in keeping of the 'shakin's cask,' and every block and runner was working smoothly, in readiness for the shifting winds of the doldrums that would soon be with us.
The work done, bucket and spar were manned and, for the fourth time that day, the sun-scorched planks and gaping seams of the deck were sluiced down—a job at which we lingered, splashing the limpid water as fast the wetted planks steamed and dried again. A grateful coolness came with the westing of the tyrant sun, and when our miserable evening meal had been hurried through we sought the deck again, to sit under the cool draught of the foresail watching the brazen glow that attended the sun's setting, the glassy patches of windless sea, the faint ripples that now and then swept over the calm—the dying breath of a stout breeze that had lifted us from 27 deg. North. What talk there was among us concerned our voyage, a never-failing topic; and old Martin, to set the speakers right, had brought his 'log'—a slender yardstick—from the forecastle.
"... ty-seven ... ty-eight ... twenty-nine," he said, counting a row of notches. "Thirty days hout t'morrer, an' th' 'dead 'orse' is hup t' day, sons!"
"'Dead 'oss' hup t' dye? 'Ow d'ye mike that aht?" said 'Cockney' Hicks, a man of importance, now promoted to bo'sun. "Fust Sunday we wos in Channel, runnin' dahn th' Irish lights, worn't it?"
"Secon' Sunday we wos routin' abaht in them strong southerly win's, hoff th' Weste'n Isles?"
"That's so," said Martin, patting his yard-stick, "Right-o!"
"Third Sunday we 'ad th' trides, runnin' south; lawst Sunday wos fourth Sunday hout, an' this 'ere's Friday—'peasoup-dye,' ain't it? 'Ow d'ye mike a month o' that? 'Dead 'oss' ain't up till t'morrer, I reckon!"
"Well, ye reckons wrong, bo'sun! Ye ain't a-countin' of th' day wot we lay at anchor at th' Tail o' th' Bank!"
"Blimy, no! I'd forgotten that dye!"
"No! An' I tell ye th' 'dead 'orse' is hup, right enuff. I don't make no mistake in my log.... Look at 'ere," pointing to a cross-cut at the head of his stick. "That's the dye wot we lay at anchor—w'en you an' me an' the rest ov us wos proper drunk. 'Ere we starts away," turning to another side; "them up strokes is 'ead win's, an' them downs is fair; 'ere's where we got that blow hoff th' Weste'n Isles," putting his finger-nail into a deep cleft; "that time we carries away th' topmas' stays'l sheet; an' 'ere's th' trade win's wot we're 'avin' now! ... All k'rect, I tell ye. Ain't no mistakes 'ere, sons!" He put the stick aside the better to fill his pipe.
"Vat yo' calls dem holes in de top, Martin, zoone? Dot vass sometings, aind't id?"
Vootgert, the Belgian, picked the stick up, turning it over carelessly.
Martin snatched it away.
"A course it's 'sometings,' ye Flemish 'og! If ye wants to know pertiklar, them 'oles is two p'un' o' tebaccer wot I had sence I come aboard. Don't allow no Ol' Man t' do me in the bloomin' hye w'en it comes t' tottin' th' bill! ... I'll watch it! I keeps a good tally ov wot I gets, tho' I can't read nor write like them young 'know-alls' over there" (Martin had no love for 'brassbounders'), "them wot orter be aft in their proper place, an' not sittin' 'ere, chinnin' wi' th' sailormen!"
"Who's chinnin'?" said Jones, Martin's particular enemy. "Ain't said a word! Not but what I wanted to ... sittin' here, listenin' to a lot of bally rot about ye'r dead horses an' logs an' that!"
Jones rose with a great pantomime of disgust (directed especially at the old man), and went aft, leaving Munro and me to weather Martin's rage.
"Oh, shut up, Martin!" said the bo'sun. "They ain't doin' no 'arm! Boys is boys!"
"Ho no, they ain't, bo'sun: not in this ship, they ain't. Boys is men, an' men's old beggars, 'ere! I don't 'old wi' them a-comin' forrard 'ere at awl! A place fer everything, an' everybody 'as 'is place, I says! Captin' on the bloomin' poop o' her, an' cook t' th' foresheet! That's shipshape an' Bristol fashion, ain't it?"
"That's so, that's so! ... But them young 'uns is 'ere for hin-for-mashun, eh?"
Martin grumbled loudly and turned to counting his notches. "Know-alls! That's wot they is—ruddy know-alls! Told me I didn't know wot a fair win' wos!" he muttered as he fingered his 'log.'
"'Dead 'oss?'" said the bo'sun, turning to Munro. "'Dead 'oss' is th' fust month out, w'en ye're workin' for ye'r boardin'-mawster. 'E gets ye'r month's advawnce w'en ye sails, an' ye've got to work that hoff afore ye earns any pay!"
"Who vass ride your 'dead 'oss,' Martin?" asked the Belgian when quiet was restored.
"Oh, Jemmy Grant; 'im wot 'as an 'ouse in Springfield Lane. Come in t' th' Clyde in th' Loch Ness from Melb'un—heighty-five days, an' a damn good passage too, an' twel' poun' ten of a pay day! Dunno' 'ow it went.... Spent it awl in four or five days. I put up at Jemmy Grant's for a week 'r two arter th' money was gone, an' 'e guv' me five bob an' a new suit of oilskins out 'er my month's advawnce on this 'ere 'ooker!"
"Indeed to goodness, now! That iss not pad at all, indeed," said John Lewis, our brawny Welshman. "I came home in th' Wanderer, o' St. Johnss, an' wass paid off with thirty-fife poun'ss, I tell 'oo. I stayed in Owen Evanss' house in Great Clyde Street, an' when I went there I give him ten poun'ss t' keep for me. 'Indeed, an' I will, m' lad,' he sayss, 'an' 'oo can have it whenever 'oo likes,' he sayss.... Damn him for a rogue, I tell 'oo!"
Martin laughed. "Well, ye was soft. Them blokes' bizness is keepin', ain't it?"
"Iss, indeed! Well, I tell 'oo, I got in trouble with a policeman in th' Broomielaw. It took four o' them to run me in, indeed!" pleasantly reminiscent; "an' the next mornin' I wass put up for assaultin' th' police. 'I don't know nothin' about it,' I sayss, when the old fella' asked me. 'Thirty shillins' or fourteen days,' he sayss! ... Well, I didn't haf any money left, but I told a policeman, and he said he would send for Owen Evanss.... After a while Evanss come to the office, an' they took me in. I was quite quiet, indeed, bein' sober, I tell 'oo.... 'Owen, machgen-i,' I sayss, 'will 'oo pay the thirty shillin's out of the ten poun'ss I give 'oo?' 'What ten poun'ss?' he sayss. 'What ten poun'ss?' I sayss. 'Diwedd-i, the ten poun'ss I give 'oo t' keep for me,' I sayss. 'Ten poun'ss,' he sayss, 'ten poun'ss to keep for 'oo, an' it iss two weeks' board an' lodgin' 'oo are owin' me, indeed!' 'Damn 'oo!' I sayss. 'Did I not give 'oo ten poun'ss when I wass paid off out of the Wanderer, an' 'oo said 'oo would keep it for ne and give it back again when I wanted it?' I sayss.... 'What are 'oo talkin' about?' he sayss. ''Oo must be drunk, indeed!' ... 'Have 'oo got a receipt for it, m' lad?' sayss the Sergeant. 'No, indeed,' I sayss. 'I didn't ask him for a receipt.' ... 'Oh,' he sayss, 'we've heard this pefore,' he sayss, shuttin' th' book an' signin' to the policeman to put me away. I made for Owen Evanss, but there wass too many policemen indeed.... So I had to serve the month, I tell 'oo!" John stroked his beard mournfully, muttering, "Ten poun'ss, indeed! Ten poun'ss, py damm!"
"An' didn't ye git square wi' th' bloke wot done ye?" asked the bo'sun.
"Oh, iss! Iss, indeed!" John brightened up at thought of it. "When I came out I went straight to Great Clyde Street an' give him th' best hidin' he effer got, I tell 'oo! I took ten poun'ss of skin an' hair out of him pefore th' police came. Fine! I think it wass fine, an' I had to do two months for that.... When I come out the street wass full of policemen, indeed, so I signed in this barque an' sold my advance note to a Jew for ten pob!"
Ten shillings! For what, if the discounter saw to it that his man went to sea, was worth three pounds when the ship had cleared the Channel! On the other hand, Dan Nairn, a Straits of Canso sailor-farmer (mostly farmer), had something to say.
"Waall, boy-ees, they ain't awl like that, I guess! I came acraus caow-punchin' on a Donalds'n cattle boat, an' landed in Glasgow with damn all but a stick ov chewin' tebaccer an' two dallars, Canad'n, in my packet. I put up with a Scowwegian in Centre Street; a stiff good feller too! Guess I was 'baout six weeks or more in 'is 'aouse, an' he give me a tidy lot 'er fixin's—oilskins an' sea-boots an' awl—out 'er my month's advance."
"Oh, some is good and some ain't," said Martin. "Ah knowed a feller wot 'ad an 'ard-up boardin'-'ouse in Tiger Bay. Awl th' stiffs in Cardiff use' ter lay back on 'im w'en nobody else 'ud give 'em 'ouse room—hoodlums and Dagos an' Greeks wot couldn't get a ship proper. 'E 'ad rooms in 'is 'ouse fitted up wi' bunks like a bloomin' fo'cs'le, ah' 'is crowd got their grub sarved out, same's they wos at sea. Every tide time 'e wos down at th' pier-'ead wi' six or seven of 'is gang—'ook-pots an' pannikins, an' bed an' piller—waitin' their chanst ov a 'pier-'ead jump.' That wos th' only way 'e could get 'is men away, 'cos they worn't proper sailormen as c'd go aboard a packet 'n ast for a sight like you an' me. Most of 'em 'ad bad discharges or dead-'un's papers or somethin'! 'Pier-'ead jumps,' they wos, an' they wouldn't never 'a' got a ship, only f'r that feller an' 'is 'ard-up boardin'-'ouse."
Martin picked up his precious 'log' and turned to go below. "Anyways, good or bad," he said, "them 'sharks' 'as got my ol' iron fer the last month, an' if this worn't a starvation bloomin' Scotch packet, an' a crew of bloomin' know-alls, fixing me with a fancy curl of lip, we'd a chanteyed th' 'dead 'orse' aft t'night an' ast th' Ol' Man t' splice the mainbrace."
He passed into the forecastle, and through the open door we could hear him sing a snatch of the 'dead horse' chantey:—
"But now th' month is up, ol' turk! (An' we says so, an' we 'opes so.) Get up, ye swine, an' look fer work! (Oh! Poor—ol'—man!)
"Get up, ye swine, an' look fer graft! (An' we says so, an' we 'opes so.) While we lays on an' yanks ye aft! (Oh! Poor—ol'—man!)"
At first weak and baffling, the south-east trades strengthened and blew true as we reached away to the south'ard under all sail. Already we had forgotten the way of bad weather. It seemed ages since we had last tramped the weltering decks, stamping heavily in our big sea-boots for warmth, or crouching in odd corners to shelter from the driven spray, the bitter wind and rain. Now we were fine-weather voyagers—like the flying-fish and the albacore, and bonita, that leapt the sea we sailed in. The tranquil days went by in busy sailor work; we spent the nights in a sleepy languor, in semi-wakefulness. In watch below we were assured of our rest, and even when 'on deck'—save for a yawning pull at sheet or halyard when the Mate was jealous at our idling, or a brief spell at wheel or look out—were at liberty to seek out a soft plank and lie back, gazing up at the gently swaying mastheads till sleep came again. Higher and higher, as the days went by, the southern stars rose from the sea-line, while—in the north—homely constellations dipped and were lost to view. Night by night we had the same true breeze, the sea unchanged, the fleecy trade clouds forming on the sea-line—to fade ere they had reached the zenith. There seemed no end to our pleasured progress! Ah, it is good to be alive and afloat where the trades blow. Down south, there!
But, in spite of the fine weather and the steady breeze, there were signs of what our voyage would be when the 'barefoot days' were done. Out beyond the clear sky and tender clouds, the old hands saw the wraith of the rugged Cape that we had yet to weather. The impending wrestle with the rigours of 'the Horn' sent them to their preparations when we had scarce crossed the Line. Old Martin was the fore hand. Now, his oilskins hung out over the head, stretched on hoops and broomsticks, glistening in a brave new coat of oil and blacking. Then Vootgert and Dutch John took the notion, and set to work by turns at a canvas wheel-coat that was to defy the worst gale that ever blew. Young Houston—canny Shetlander—put aside his melodeon, and clicked and clicked his needles at a famous pair of north-country hose. Welsh John and M'Innes—'the Celtic twins'—clubbed their total outfit and were busy overhauling, while Bo'sun Hicks spent valuable time and denied us his yarns while he fortified his leaky bunk by tar and strips of canvas. Even Wee Laughlin, infected by the general industry of the forecastle, was stitching away (long, outward-bound stitches) at a cunning arrangement of trousers that would enable him to draw on his two pairs at once. All had some preparation to make—all but we brassbounders!
We saw no farther than the fine weather about us. Most had been 'round the Horn' before, and we should have known but there was no old 'steady-all' to ballast our cock-a-boat, and we scorned the wisdom of the forecastle. 'Good enough t' be goin' on with,' and 'come day, go day'—were our mottoes in the half-deck. Time enough, by and by, when the weather showed a sign! We had work enough when on duty to keep us healthy! Fine days and 'watch below' were meant for lazying—for old annuals of the B.O.P., for Dicks's Standards, for the Seaside library! Everyone knows that the short dog-watches were meant for sing-song and larking, and, perhaps, a fight, or two! What did we care if Old Martin and his mates were croak, croak, croakin' about 'standin' by' and settin' th' gear handy? We were 'hard cases,' all of us, even young Munro and Burke, the 'nipper' of the starboard watch! We didn't care! We could stand the racket! Huh!
So we lazied the fine days away, while our sea harness lay stiffening in the dark lockers.
Subtly, almost imperceptibly, the weather changed. There was a chill in the night air; it was no longer pleasant to sleep on deck. The stars were as bright, the sky as clear, the sea as smooth; but when the sun had gone, damp vapours came and left the deck chill and clammy to the touch.... 'Barefoot days' were over!
Still and all, the 'times' were good enough. If the flying-fish no longer swept from under the bows in a glistening shoal, the trades yet served us well. The days drew on. The day when we shifted the patched and threadbare tropic sails and bent our stoutest canvas in their place; the day when Sann'y Armstrong, the carpenter, was set to make strong weatherboards for the cabin skylights; the day—a cloudy day—when the spars were doubly lashed and all spare fittings sent below. We had our warning; there were signs, a plenty!
All too soon our sunny days came to an end. The trades petered out in calms and squally weather. Off the River Plate a chill wind from the south set us to 'tack and tack,' and when the wind hauled and let us free to our course again, it was only to run her into a gale on the verge of the 'Forties.' Then for three days we lay hove-to, labouring among heavy seas.
The 'buster' fairly took our breath away. The long spell of light winds had turned us unhandy for storm work. The swollen ropes, stiffened in the block-sheaves, were stubborn when we hauled; the wet, heavy canvas that thrashed at us when stowing sail proved a fighting demon that called for all our strength; the never-ending small work in a swirl of lashing water found us slow and laboured at the task.
All this was quickly noted by the Mate, and he lost no time in putting us to rights. Service in New Bedford whalers had taught him the 'Yankee touch,' and, as M'Innes put it, he was 'no' slow' with his big hands.
"Lay along here, sons," he would roar, standing to the braces.... "Lay along, sons;—ye know what sons I mean! ... Aft here, ye lazy hounds, and see me make 'sojers,' sailors!!"
With his language we had no great grievance. We could appreciate a man who said things—sailor-like and above board—but when it came to knocking a man about (just because he was 'goin' t' get his oilskins,' when the order was 'aloft, an' furl') there were ugly looks here and there. We had our drilling while the gale lasted, and, when it cleared, our back muscles were 'waking up.'
Now—with moderate weather again—famous preparations began in the half-deck; everyone of us was in haste to put his weather armour to rights. Oilskins, damp and sticking, were dragged from dark corners. "Rotten stuff, anyway. We'll have no more of Blank's outfits, after this," we said, as we pulled and pinched them apart. "Oh, damn! I forgot about that stitchin' on the leg of my sea-boot," said one. "Wish I'd had time t' put a patch on here," said another, ruefully holding out his rubbers. "Too far gone for darning," said Eccles. "Here goes," and he snipped the feet part from a pair of stockings and tied a ropeyarn at the cut!
We were jeered at from the forecastle. Old Martin went about clucking in his beard. At every new effort on our part, his head went nod, nod, nodding. "Oh, them brassbounders!" he would say. "Them ruddy 'know-alls'! Wot did I tell ye, eh? Wot did I tell 'em, w'en we was a-crossin' th' Line, eh? An' them 's th' fellers wot'll be a-bossin' of you an' me, bo'sun! Comin' th' 'hard case,' like the big feller aft there!"
Martin was right, and we felt properly humbled when we sneaked forward in search of assistance. Happily, in Dan Nairn we found a cunning cobbler, and for a token in sea currency—a plug or two of hard tobacco—he patched and mended our boots. With the oilskins, all our smoothing and pinching was hopeless. The time was gone when we could scrub the sticky mess off and put a fresh coating of oil on the fabric.
Ah! We pulled long faces now and thought that, perhaps, sing-song and larking, and Dicks's Standards and the Seaside Library are not good value for a frozen soaking off the Horn!
But there was still a haven to which we careless mariners could put in and refit. The Captain's 'slop chest'—a general store, where oilskins were 'sea priced' at a sovereign, and sea-boots could be had for thirty shillings! At these figures they would have stood till they crumbled in a sailor-town shop window, but 50 deg. S. is a world away from Broomielaw Corner, and we were glad enough to be served, even if old Niven, the steward, did pass off old stock on us.
"Naw! Ye'll no' get ye'r pick! Yell jist tak' whit 's gien' ye ... or nane ava'!"
Wee Laughlin was a large buyer. He—of us all—had come to sea 'same 's he was goin' t' church!' A pier-head jump! So far, he had borrowed and borrowed, but even good-natured Dutch John was learning English, and would say, "Jou come to mein haus, und stay mit me," or "Was fuer jou nod trink less und buy somet'ings," at each wily approach.
On the day when 'slops' were served out, the Pride of Rue-en' Street was first at the cabin door. As he was fitted and stepped along forward with his purchases, the bo'sun saw him, and called: "Hello! Oilskins an' sea-boots an' new shirts, eh? I see ye're outward bound, young feller!" Laughlin leered and winked cunning-like.
"What d'ye mean by outward bound," asked Munro. "We're all outward bound, an't we?"
"Of course; of course," said Hicks. "All outward bound! But w'en I says it that wye, I mean as Lawklin is a-spendin' of 'is 'dibs,' ... meanin' t' desert w'en we gets out! If 'e don't 'op it as soon as we anchors in 'Frisco Bay, ye kin call me a ruddy Dutchman!"
"Desert? But that's serious?"
"Ho no! Not there it ain't! Desertin' 's as easy as rollin' off a log, ... out there! D'ye think th' queer-fella' is goin' t' pay them prices for 'is kit, if 'e wos goin' t' stop by her in 'Frisco? Not much 'e ain't! An' ye kin tike it as a few more is goin' t' 'op it, or ye wouldn't see so many of 'em aft 'ere for their bloomin' 'sundries'!"
"Wel, wel, now! These prices is not pad, indeed," said Welsh John, who had joined us. "I haf paid more than three shillin' for a knife pefore!"
"Heh! Heh!" The bo'sun laughed. "When a 'Taffy' that's a-buyin' says that, ye may say it's right! ... But, blimy—the boot's on th' other foot w'en it's 'Taffy' as is a-sellin'! Heh! Heh! There wos Old Man Lewis of th' Vanguard, o' Liverpool, that I signed in! Blimy! 'e could tell ye wot 'sea price' is!"
"Good ol' 'sea price,'" said Martin. "Many an' 'appy 'ome, an' garden wit' a flagstaff, is built o' 'sea price'!"
"Right, ol' son! Right," continued the bo'sun. "Old Man Lewis owned a row of 'em, ... down in Fishguard.... I sailed in th' Vanguard out o' Liverpool t' Noo York an' then down south, 'ere—boun' t' Callao. Off th' Falklan's, the Old Man opens out 'is bloomin' slop-chest an' starts dealin'. A pound for blankits wot ye c'd shoot peas through, an' fifteen bob for serge shirts—same kind as th' Sheenies sells a' four an' tanner in th' Mawrsh! Of course, nobody 'ud buy 'em in at that price, though we wos all 'parish rigged'—us bein' 'bout eight months out from 'ome. If we 'ad been intendin' t' leave 'er, like th' queer-fella, there, it 'ud a bin all right, but we 'ad 'bout twenty-five poun' doo each of us, an' we wasn't keen on makin' th' Old Man a n'ansome presint!"
"How could he get that?"
"'Ow could 'e get it? Easy 'nuff, in them days! As soon as we 'ad a bin over th' rail, 'e 'ud 'ave us down in 'is bloomin' book—slops supplied—five pun' 'ere—six pun' there—an' so on! ... Well, I was sayin' as we was goin' south, round th' 'Orn! Winter time it was—an' cold! Cruel! Ye couldn't tell who ye'r feet belonged to till ye 'ad ye'r boots off. West an' sou'-west gales, 'ard runnin', ... an' there we wos, away t' hell an' gone south' o' th' reg'lar track!
"I wos at the wheel one day, an' I 'eard th' Old Man an' th' Mate confabbin' 'bout th' ship's position.
"'Fifty-nine, forty, south,' says th' Mate. 'Antarctic bloody exploration, I call this!' ... 'E was frappin' 'is 'an's like a Fenchurch cabby.... 'It's 'bout time ye wos goin' round, Capt'n! She'd fetch round 'Cape Stiff' with a true west wind! She'll be in among th' ice soon, if ye don't alter th' course! Time we was gettin' out o' this,' says he, 'with two of th' han's frost-bit an' th' rest of us 'bout perishin'!'
"'Oh no,' says old Lewis. 'No, indeed! Don't you make any mistike, Mister! South's th' course, ... south till I sells them fine blankits an' warm shirts!'"
ROUNDING THE HORN
Rounding Cape Horn from the eastward, setting to the teeth of the great west wind, to the shock and onset of towering seas; furious combination of the elements that sweep unchecked around the globe!
Days passed, and we fared no farther on. North we would go with the yards hard on the back-stays; to wear ship, and steer again south over the same track. Hopeless work it was, and only the prospect of a slant—a shift of wind that would let us to our journey—kept us hammering doggedly at the task.
Day after day of huge sea and swell, mountainous in calm or storm. Leaden-grey skies, with a brief glint of sunshine now and then—for it was nominally summer time in low latitudes. Days of gloomy calm, presage of a fiercer blow, when the Old Man (Orcadian philosopher that he was) caught and skilfully stuffed the great-winged albatross that flounders helplessly when the wind fails. Days of strong breezes, when we tried to beat to windward under a straining main-to'gal'nsail; ever a west wind to thwart our best endeavours, and week-long gales, that we rode out, hove-to in the trough of overwhelming seas, lurching to leeward under low canvas.
We had become sailors in earnest. We had forgotten the way of steady trades and flying-fish weather, and, when the wind howled a whole gale, we slapped our oilskin-clad thighs and lied cheerfully to each other of greater gales we had been in. Even Wee Laughlin and M'Innes were turned to some account and talked of sail and spars as if they had never known the reek of steamer smoke. In the half-deck we had little comfort during watch below. At every lurch of the staggering barque, a flood of water poured through the crazy planking, and often we were washed out by an untimely opening of the door. Though at heart we would rather have been porters at a country railway station, we put a bold front to the hard times and slept with our wet clothes under us that they might be the less chilly for putting on at eight bells. We had seldom a stitch of dry clothing, and the galley looked like a corner of Paddy's market whenever McEwan, the 'gallus' cook, took pity on our sodden misery.
In the forecastle the men were better off. Collins had rigged an affair of pipes to draw the smoke away, and it was possible, in all but the worst of weather, to keep the bogie-stove alight. We would gladly have shifted to these warmer quarters, but our parents had paid a premium for privileged berthing, and the Old Man would not hear of our flitting. Happily, we had little darkness to add to the misery of our passage, for the sun was far south, and we had only three hours of night. Yet, when the black squalls of snow and sleet rolled up from the westward, there was darkness enough. At times a flaw in the wind—a brief veering to the south—would let us keep the ship travelling to the westward. All hands would be in high spirits; we would go below at the end of our watches, making light of sodden bedclothes, heartened that at last our 'slant' had come. Alas for our hopes! Before our watch was due we would be rudely wakened. "All hands wear ship"—the dreaded call, and the Mate thundering at the half-deck door, shouting orders in a threatening tone that called for instant spur. Then, at the braces, hanging to the ropes in a swirl of icy water, facing up to the driving sleet and bitter spray, that cut and stung like a whiplash. And when at last the yards were laid to the wind, and the order 'down helm' was given, we would spring to the rigging for safety, and, clinging desperately, watch the furious sweep of a towering 'greybeard' over the barque, as she came to the wind and lay-to.
Wild, heart-breaking work! Only the old hands, 'hard cases' like Martin and Welsh John and the bo'sun, were the stoics, and there was some small comfort in their "Whoo! This ain't nuthin'! Ye sh'd a' bin shipmates with me in the ol' Boryallus!" (Or some such ancient craft.) "Them wos 'ard times!"
Twice we saw Diego Ramirez and the Iledefonsos, with an interval of a fortnight between the sightings—a cluster of bleak rocks, standing out of surf and broken water, taking the relentless battery of huge seas that swept them from base to summit. Once, in clear weather, we marked a blue ridge of land far to the norrard, and Old Martin and Vootgert nearly came to blows as to whether it was Cape Horn or the False Cape.
Fighting hard for every inch of our laboured progress, doubling back, crossing, recrossing (our track on the old blue-back chart was a maze of lines and figures) we won our way to 70 deg. W., and there, in the hardest gale of the passage, we were called on for tribute, for one more to the toll of sailor lives claimed by the rugged southern gateman.
All day the black ragged clouds had swept up from the south-west, the wind and sea had increased hourly in violence. At dusk we had shortened sail to topsails and reefed foresail. But the Old Man hung on to his canvas as the southing wind allowed us to go 'full and by' to the nor'-west. Hurtling seas swept the decks, tearing stout fittings from their lashings. The crazy old half-deck seemed about to fetch loose with every sea that crashed aboard. From stem to stern there was no shelter from the growing fury of the gale; but still the Old Man held to his course to make the most of the only proper 'slant' in six weary weeks.
At midnight the wind was howling slaughter, and stout Old Jock, dismayed at last at the furious sea upreared against him, was at last forced to lay her to. In a piping squall of snow and sleet we set to haul up the foresail. Even the nigger could not find heart to rouse more than a mournful i—o—ho at the buntlines, as we slowly dragged the heavy slatting canvas to the yard. Intent on the work, we had no eye to the weather, and only the Captain and steersman saw the sweep of a monster sea that bore down on us, white-crested and curling.
"Stand by," yelled the Old Man. "Hang on, for your lives, men! Christ! Hold hard there!"
Underfoot we felt the ship falter in swing—an ominous check in her lift to the heaving sea. Then out of the blackness to windward a swift towering crest reared up—a high wall of moving water, winged with leagues of tempest at its back. It struck us sheer on the broadside, and shattered its bulk aboard in a whelming torrent, brimming the decks with a weight that left no life in the labouring barque. We were swept to leeward at the first shock, a huddled mass of writhing figures, and dashed to and fro with the sweep of the sea. Gradually, as the water cleared, we came by foothold again, sorely bruised and battered.
"Haul away again, men!" The Mate, clearing the blood of a head wound from his eyes, was again at the foretack giving slack. "Hell! what ye standing at? Haul away, blast ye! Haul an' rouse her up!"
Half-handed, we strained to raise the thundering canvas; the rest, with the Second Mate, were labouring at the spare spar, under which Houston, an ordinary seaman, lay jammed with his thigh broken. Pinching with handspikes, they got him out and carried aft, and joined us at the gear; and at last the sail was hauled up. "Aloft and furl," was the next order, and we sprang to the rigging in time to escape a second thundering 'grey-beard.'
It was dark, with a black squall making up to windward, as we laid out on the yard and grappled with the wet and heavy canvas. Once we had the sail up, but the wind that burst on us tore it from our stiffened fingers. Near me a grown man cried with the pain of a finger-nail torn from the flesh. We rested a moment before bending anew to the task.
"Handy now, laads!" the Second Mate at the bunt was roaring down the wind. "Stick t it, ma herts, ... hold aal, now! ... Damn ye, hold it, you. Ye haandless sojer! ... Up, m' sons; up an' hold aal."
Cursing the stubborn folds, swaying dizzily on the slippery footropes, shouting for hold and gasket, we fought the struggling wind-possessed monster, and again the leach was passed along the yard. A turn of the gasket would have held it, but even the leading hands at the bunt were as weak and breathless as ourselves. The squall caught at an open lug, and again the sail bellied out, thrashing fiendishly over the yard.
There was a low but distinct cry, "Oh, Christ!" from the quarter, and M'Innes, clutching wildly, passed into the blackness below. For a moment all hands clung desperately to the jackstay, fending the thrashing sail with bent heads; then some of the bolder spirits made to come off the yard.... "The starboard boat .... Who? ... Duncan ... It's Duncan gone.... Quick there, the star ... the lashings!"
The Second Mate checked their movement.
"No! No! Back, ye fools! Back, I say! Man canna' help Duncan now!"
He stood on the truss of the yard, grasping the stay, and swung his heavy sea-boot menacingly.
"Back, I say! Back, an' furl the sail, ... if ye wouldna' follow Duncan!"
Slowly we laid out the yard again, and set sullenly to master Duncan's murderer.
A lull came. We clutched and pounded at the board-like cloths, dug with hooked fingers to make a crease for handhold, and at last turned the sail to the yard, though lubberly and ill-furled.
One by one, as our bit was secured, we straggled down the rigging. Some of the hands were aft on the lee side of the poop, staring into the darkness astern—where Duncan was. Munro, utterly unmanned, was crying hysterically. In his father's country manse, he had known nothing more bitter than the death of a favourite collie. Now he was at sea, and by his side a man muttered, "Dead?—My God, I hope he's dead, ... out there!"
The Old Man crossed over from the weather side, and addressing the men, said: "The Second Mate tells me ye wanted t' get t' th' boat when M'Innes .... went.... I'm pleased that ye've that much guts in ye, but I could risk no boat's crew in a sea like this.... Besides, I'm more-ally certain that M'Innes was dead before he took the water. Eh, Mister?"
"Aye ... dead," said the Mate. "I saw him strike the to'gal'nt rail, and no man could live after a blow like that. Dead, sure!"
Old Jock returned to his post under the weather-cloth, and the Mate ordered the watch below.
So Duncan took his discharge, and a few days later, in clearing weather, his few belongings were sold at the mast. It was known that he wasn't married, but Welsh John, who knew him best, said he had spoken of his mother in Skye; and the Old Man kept a few letters and his watch that he might have something besides his money to send to Duncan's relatives.
As if Duncan had paid our toll for rounding the storm-scarred Cape, the weather cleared and winds set fair to us after that last dread night of storm. Under a press of canvas we put her head to the norrard, and soon left the Horn and the 'Roaring Forties' astern.
* * * * *
One night, in the middle watch, when we had nearly run out the south-east trades, I went forward, looking for someone to talk to, or anything to relieve the tedium of my two hours on the lee side of the poop. I found Welsh John sitting on the main-hatch and disposed to yarn. He had been the most intimate with Duncan, harkening to his queer tales of the fairies in Knoidart when we others would scoff, and naturally the talk came round to our lost shipmate.
It was bright moonlight, and the shadow of sails and rigging was cast over the deck. Near us, in the lee of the house, some sleepers lay stretched. The Mate stepped drowsily fore and aft the poop, now and then squinting up at the royals.
"I wonder what brought Duncan to a windjammer," I said. "He was too old to be starting the sea, an' there were plenty of jobs on the river for a well-doin' man like him."
Welsh John spat carefully on the deck, and, after looking round, said, "Tuncan was here, indeed, because he thought the police would bother him. He told me he wass in a small steamboat that runs from Loch Fyne to the Clyde, an' the skipper was a man from Killigan or Kalligan, near Tuncan's place."
"Kyle-akin," I suggested.
"That iss it, Kyle-akin; an' he was very far in drink. They started from Inverary for the river, and it wass plowin' strong from the south-east, an' the small boat wass makin' very bad weather, indeed. The skipper wass very trunk, an' Tuncan, who wass steerin', said they should put in to shelter for the night. But the skipper wass quarrelsome, an' called Tuncan a coward an' a nameless man from Skye, an' they came to plows. Tuncan let go the tiller, an' the small boat came broadside on, and shipped a big sea, an' when Tuncan got to the tiller an' put it up, the skipper was gone. They never saw him, so they came on to the Clyde, where Tuncan left the poat. An' they were askin' questions from him, an' Tuncan was afraid; but indeed to goodness he had no need to pe. So he shipped with us—a pier-head jump it wass...."
A sleeper stirred uneasily, rolled over, and cursed us for a pair of chatterin' lawyers.
We were both quiet for a moment or two; then the strident voice of the Mate rang out, "Boy! Boy! Where the hell have you got to now? Lay aft and trim the binnacle!"
I mounted the poop ladder, muttering the usual excuse about having been to see the side-lights. I trimmed the lamps, and as it was then a quarter to four, struck one bell and called the watch. As I waited on the poop to strike the hour, the men were turning out forward, and I could hear the voice of the eldest apprentice chiding the laggards in the half-deck. I thought of Duncan, and of what Welsh John had told me.
"Aye, aye, that was Duncan. That was the way of it. I always wond——"
The Mate, anxious to get his head on pillow, had flogged the clock and had struck eight bells himself.
A HOT CARGO
Shorefolk can have but a hazy idea of all that it means to the deep-water sailor when at last, after long voyaging, the port of his destination heaves in sight. For months he has been penned up on shipboard, the subject of a discipline more strict than that in any way of life ashore. The food, poor in quality, and of meagre allowance at the best, has become doubly distasteful to him. The fresh water has nearly run out, and the red rusty sediment of the tank bottoms has a nauseating effect and does little to assuage the thirst engendered by salt rations. Shipmates have told and retold their yarns, discussions now verge perilously on a turn of fisticuffs. He is wearying of sea life, is longing for a change, for a break in the monotony of day's work and watch-keeping, of watch-keeping and day's work.
A welcome reaction comes on the day when he is ordered to put the harbour gear in readiness. Generally he has only a hazy notion of the ship's position (it is sea fashion to keep that an Officers' secret), and the rousing up of the long idle anchor chains and tackle is his first intimation that the land is near, that any day may now bring the shore to view, that soon he will be kicking his heels in a sailor-town tavern, washing off his 'salt casing' with lashings of the right stuff.
This was in part our case when we were a hundred and forty days out from the Clyde. The food was bad and short allowance; the key of the pump was strictly guarded, but we had excitement enough and to spare, for, six days before our 'landfall,' the bo'sun discovered fire in the fore-hold that had evidently been smouldering for some time, was deep-seated, and had secured a firm hold.
It was difficult to get at the fire on account of the small hatchway, and notwithstanding the laboured efforts of all hands, we were at last obliged to batten the hatches down and to trust to a lucky 'slant' to put us within hail of assistance. The water which we had so fruitlessly poured below had all to be pumped out again to get the ship in sailing trim; and heart-breaking work it was, with the wheezy old pump sucking every time the ship careened to leeward. Anxiety showed on all faces, and it was with great relief that, one day at noon, we watched the Mate nailing a silver dollar to the mizzenmast. The dollar was his who should first sight the distant shore.
We held a leading wind from the norrard, and when, on the afternoon of a bright day, we heard the glad shout from the fore-tops'l yard—"Land-oh"—we put a hustle on our movements, and, light at heart, found excuse to lay aloft to have a far-away look at God's good earth again. It was the Farallone Islands we had made—thirty miles west from the Golden Gate—a good landfall. Dutch John was the lucky man to see it first, and we gave him a cheer as he laid aft to take the dollar off the mast.
In the second dog-watch we hung about the decks discussing prospective doings when we set foot ashore, and those who had been in 'Frisco before formed centres of inquiry and importance. From the bearing of the land, we expected orders to check in the yards, but, greatly to our surprise, the Mate ordered us to the lee fore-brace, and seemed to be unable to get the yards far enough forrard to please him. When Wee Laughlin came from the wheel at eight bells, we learned that the ship was now heading to the nor'east, and away from our port; and the old hands, with many shakings of the head, maintained that some tricky game was afoot. The Old Man and the Mate were colloguing earnestly at the break of the poop; and Jones, who went aft on a pretence of trimming the binnacle, reported that the Old Man was expressing heated opinions on the iniquity of salvage. At midnight we squared away, but as we approached the land the wind fell light and hauled ahead. Wonder of wonders! This seemed to please the Captain hugely, and his face beamed like a nor'west moon every time he peered into the compass.
Dawn found us well to the norrard of the islands, and close-hauled, standing into the land. From break of day all hands were busy getting the anchors cleared and the cables ranged. Some were engaged painting out the rusty bits on the starboard top-side. A 'work-up' job they thought it was until the Mate ordered them to leave the stages hanging over the water abreast of the fore-hatch. Here the iron plating was hot, the paint was blistered off, and every time the ship heeled over there was an unmistakable sssh as the water lapped the heated side. This, and the smell of hot iron, was all that there was to tell of our smouldering coal below, but 'Frisco men from the Water Front are sharp as ferrets, and very little would give them an inkling of the state of affairs. Presently we raised the land broad on the port bow, and two of us were perched on the fore-to'gal'nt yard to look out for the pilot schooner; or, if luck was in our way, a tow-boat. The land became more distinct as the day wore on, and the bearing of several conspicuous hills gave the Captain the position he sought. Before noon we reported smoke ahead, and the Mate, coming aloft with his telescope, made out the stranger to be a tow-boat, and heading for us. We were called down from aloft, and the ship was put about.