The Island Treasure, or The Black Man's Ghost, by John Conroy Hutcheson.
Starting with excuses, this book was rather hard to transcribe to digital format. It was unevenly printed on a rather rough paper, so that many words were hard to read, even to the naked eye. Several of the characters in the book spoke in their own dialect or with a heavy foreign accent, so that many of the words in the book were not words in the English language. And if that were not all the copy used was somewhat spotted. But we seem to have come though those trials, and we present a very readable book.
Another strange matter with the book was that the title on the cover, on the title page, and at the start of the first chapter was "The Island Treasure", while thereafter every even-numbered page is headed "The Black Man's Ghost", which is the title under which the book was copyrighted.
The story is told from the viewpoint of a young cabin-boy, who had run away to sea from a good vicarage home. There is a most unpleasant captain, from the American "Down-East". The first-mate is pretty nasty too, while the second-mate has a very strong Danish accent, but is a good man, as is the ship's carpenter. The ship's cook, a black man from Jamaica, is the protagonist, the ghost.
The ship is wrecked intact on Abingdon Island in the Galapagos, being carried ashore by a tsunami. There is a lot of treasure on the island, dating from the buccaneers' time. We will take you no further into the story, but it is well told, and makes a good read and a good listen.
THE ISLAND TREASURE, OR THE BLACK MAN'S GHOST, BY JOHN CONROY HUTCHESON.
OFF THE TUSKAR LIGHT.
"All hands take in sail!"
"Stand by y'r tops'l halliards!"
Sharply shouted out in quick succession came these orders from Captain Snaggs, the hoarse words of command ringing through the ship fore and aft, and making even the ringbolts in the deck jingle—albeit they were uttered in a sort of drawling voice, that had a strong nasal twang, as if the skipper made as much use of his nose as of his mouth in speaking. This impression his thin and, now, tightly compressed lips tended to confirm; while his hard, angular features and long, pointed, sallow face, closely shaven, saving as to the projecting chin, which a sandy-coloured billy-goat beard made project all the more, gave him the appearance of a man who had a will of his own, aye, and a temper of his own, too, should anyone attempt to smooth him down the wrong way, or, in sea parlance, "run foul of his hawse!"
Captain Snaggs did not look particularly amiable at the present moment.
Standing by the break of the poop, with his lean, lanky body half bent over the rail, he was keeping one eye out to windward, whence he had just caught sight in time of the coming squall, looking down below the while at the hands in the waist jumping briskly to their stations and casting off the halliards with a will, almost before the last echo of his shout 'let go!' had ceased to roar in their ears; and yet the captain's gaze seemed to gleam beyond these, over their heads and away forwards, to where Jan Steenbock, the second-mate, a dark-haired Dane, was engaged rousing out the port watch, banging away at the fo'c's'le hatchway and likewise shouting, in feeble imitation of the skipper's roar,—
"All ha-ands, ahoy! Doomble oop, my mans, and take in ze sail! Doomble oop!"
But the men, who had only been relieved a short time before by the starboard watch, and had gone below for their dinner when 'eight bells' were struck, seemed rather loth at turning out again so soon for duty, the more especially as their caterer had just brought from the cook's galley the mess kid, full of some savoury compound, the appetising odour of which filled the air, and, being wafted upwards from below, made even the swarthy second-mate feel hungry, as he peered down the hatchway and called out to the laggards to come on deck.
"It vas goot, ja," murmured Jan Steenbock to himself, wiping his watering mouth with the back of his jacket sleeve and sniffing up a prolonged sniff of the odorous stew. "It vas goot, ja, and hart to leaf ze groob; but ze sheeps cannot wait, my mans; zo doomble oop dere! Doomble oop!"
Captain Snaggs, however, his watchful weather eye and quick intelligence taking in everything at a glance, liked the second-mate's slowness of speech and action as little as he relished the men's evident reluctance at hurrying up again on deck; for, although barely a second or two had elapsed from his first order to the crew, he grew as angry as if it had been a "month of Sundays," his sallow face flushing with red streaks and his sandy billy-goat beard bristling like wire, every hair on end, just as a cat's tail swells at the sight of a strange dog in its immediate vicinity when it puts up its back.
"Avast thaar, ye durned fule!" he screamed in his passion, dancing about the poop and bringing his fist down with a resounding thump on the brass rail, as if the inanimate material represented for the nonce the back of the mate, whom he longed to belabour. "Guess one'd think ye wer coaxin' a lot o' wummen folk to come to a prayer-meetin'! Why don't ye go down in the fo'c's'le an' drive 'em up, if they won't come on deck when they're hailed? Below thaar, d'ye haar?—all hands reef tops'ls!"
This shout, which the captain yelled out in a voice of thunder, finally fetched the dawdlers on deck, first one and then another crawling up the hatchway with lingering feet, in that half-hearted, dilatory, aggravating way that sailors—and some shore people, too for that matter—know well how to put on when setting to a task that runs against their grain and which they do not relish; though they can be spry enough, and with ten times the smartness of any landsmen, when cheerfully disposed for the work they have in hand, or in the face of some real emergency or imminent peril, forgetting then their past grievances, and buckling to the job right manfully, in true 'shellback' fashion, as if many-handed, like Briareus, with every hand a dozen fingers on it, and each finger a hook!
So it could be seen now.
The Denver City, a ship-rigged vessel of about thirteen hundred tons burthen, bound from Liverpool to San Francisco with a general cargo, had been two days out from the Mersey, battling against bad weather all the way from the start, with a foul wind, that shifted from the west to south-west and back again to the west, dead in her teeth, as she essayed to shape her course down Saint George's Channel to the Atlantic.
First, beating to the westward with the ebb tide, so as to give Great Orme's Head a wide berth, and then making a short board south when she had cleared Anglesey; what with the currents and the thick fog, accompanied with driving rain, that she met on nearing the Welsh coast, she nearly came to grief on the Skerries, the water shoaling rapidly on the lead being hove, shortly before the bright fixed light showing above the red on the Platters rocks loomed close in on the starboard bow. This made it a case of 'bout ship at once, Captain Snaggs thenceforth hugging the Irish side of the channel way and keeping it well on board on the port tack; and so on this second morning after leaving Liverpool, the ship was some six miles south of the Tuskar Light, with a forty-fathom bottom under her and the wind still to the southward and westward, right ahead of her true course, but shifting and veering from one point to another, and with a sudden sharp squall coming every now and then, by way of a change, to increase the labour of the men, already pretty well worn out by forty-eight hours tacking to and fro in the captain's endeavours to beat to windward in the face of the foul weather.
As the Denver City, too, reached the more open seaway, the water got rougher, a northern stream setting up the Irish Sea from Scilly meeting the incoming tide round Carnsore Point, and causing a nasty chopping sea; which, save in the sullen green hollows of the waves, was dead and lead-coloured as far as the eye could reach—as leaden, indeed, as the heavy grey sky overhead, where some fleecy floating clouds of lighter wrack, rapidly drifting across the darker background that lined the horizon all round, made the latter of a deeper tone by contrast, besides acting as the avant courier of a fresh squall—the wind just then tearing and shrieking through the rigging in short angry gusts and then sighing as it wailed away to leeward, like the spirit of some lost mariner chaunting the requiem of those drowned in the remorseless deep!
When the port watch had gone below at 'eight bells,' as mentioned before, to have their dinner, the weather had looked a little brighter, a small patch of blue sky, not quite as big as the Dutchman's proverbial pair of breeches, showing right overhead at the zenith as the ship's bell struck the midday hour, giving a slight promise of better things to come; and so, as Captain Snaggs had been trying to 'carry on' all he could from the time the vessel left the Mersey, working the hands to death, as they imagined, unnecessarily in tacking and beating about in his attempt to make a fair wind out of a foul one, instead of waiting more sensibly for a more favourable breeze, such as might reasonably be expected in another day or two at most—judging by those signs sailors know so well, as do farmers, but which are inexplainable according to any natural meteorological laws—the hands now thought, on being so suddenly summoned again on deck, and forced to leave their untasted meal just as they were in the very act, so to speak, of putting it into their mouths, and with its tantalising taste and smell vexing them all the more, that the 'old man' only roused them out again from sheer malice and devilry, to make another fresh tack or short board, with the object of 'hazing' or driving them, as only slaves and sailors can be driven in these days by a brutal captain and hard taskmaster!
This it was that made them loth to leave their snug and warm fo'c's'le, filled as it was with the grateful odour of the appetising lobscouse which Sam Jedfoot, the negro cook, a great favourite with the crew by reason of his careful attention to their creature comforts, had so thoughtfully compounded for them; and thus it was that they crawled up the hatchway from below so laggardly, in response to the second-mate's pleading order and Captain Snaggs second stentorian hail, as if they were ascending a mountain, and each man had a couple of half-hundred weights tied to his legs, so as to make his movements the slower.
"Hoo-ry oop, mans!" cried the second-mate, in his queer foreign lingo. "Hoo-ry oop, or you vill have ze skipper after yous! He vas look as if he vas comin' down ze poop ladder joost now!"
"Durn the skipper! He ain't got no more feelin' in his old carkiss than a Rock Island clam!" muttered the leading man of the disturbed watch, as he stepped out over the coaming of the hatchway on to the deck, as leisurely as if he were executing a step in the sword dance; but, the next moment, as his eye took in the position of the ship and the scene around, the wind catching him at the moment, and almost knocking him backwards down the hatchway, as it met him full butt, he made a dash for the weather rigging, shouting out to his companions behind, who were coming up out of the fo'c's'le just as slowly as he had done: "Look alive, mates! Ther's a reg'lar screamer blowin' up, an' no mistake. We'll be took aback, if we don't get in our rags in time. Look smart; an' let's show the skipper how spry we ken be when we chooses!"
The captain, or 'skipper', soon supplemented this advice by another of his roaring commands, yelled out at a pitch of voice that defied alike the shriek of the wind, and the noise of the sea, and the slatting of the huge topsails as they bellied out into balloons one moment and then flapped back again with a bang against the swaying masts, that quivered again and again with the shock, as if the next blow would knock them out of the ship.
"Forrud there! Away aloft, ye lazy skunks!" cried Captain Snaggs, when he saw the watch at last turn out, gripping the brass poop rail in front of him with both hands, so as to steady himself and prevent his taking a header into the waist below, as he seemed to be on the point of doing every minute, in his excitement. "Lay out, thaar, on the yards, ye skulking lubbers! Lay out, thaar, d'ye hear? Thaar's no time to lose! Sharp's the word an' quick the motion!"
The starboard watch, which had been waiting for the others, at once rounded the weather braces, so as to take the wind out of the sails as the men raced aloft, each anxious now to be first out on the yard; and, the reef tackle being hauled out, the spilling lines were clutched hold of, and the heavy folds of the canvas gathered up, the men at the yard-arms seeing to the earring being clear and ready for passing, with the hands facing to leeward, so as to lighten the sail and assist the weather earring being hauled out, as they held the reef-line, and again facing to windward and lightening the sail there in the same fashion, so as to haul out the lee-earring before the signal was given by those out at the end of the yard-arms to "toggle away!"
It was risky work, especially as the ship was rather shorthanded, to attempt reefing the three topsails all at once, but the job was at last accomplished to the captain's apparent satisfaction, for he sang out for them to come down from aloft; when, the topsail halliards being brought to the capstan, the yards were bowsed again, the slack of the ropes coiled down, and everything made comfortable.
Captain Snaggs, however, had not done with them yet.
"Clew up an' furl the mainsail!"
"Man the jib down-haul!"
"Brail up the spanker!"
He shouted out these several orders as quickly as he could bawl them, the creaking of the cordage and rattling of the clew-garnet blocks forming a fitting accompaniment to his twangy voice; while the plaintive 'Yo—ho—hoy—e! Yo—ho—hai—e!' of the men, as they hauled upon the clewlines and leech and buntlines of the heavy main course, chimed in musically with the wash of the waves as they broke over the bows, dashing high over the yard-arms in a cataract of spray, and wetting to the skin those out on the fo'c's'le furling the jib—these having the benefit also of a second bath below the surface as well, when the ship dived under as they got on to the footrope of the jib-boom, plunging them into the water up to their middles and more.
"I guess, we're going to hev it rougher yet," said the captain presently, when the second-mate came aft, after seeing all snug forward, to ask whether he might now dismiss the port watch to their long delayed dinner. "Thet thaar squall wer a buster, but thaar's worse comin', to my reck'nin'. We'd best take another reef in them topsails an' hev one in the foresail, too."
"Verra goot, sir!" replied Jan Steenbock, the mate, respectfully, as he made his way forward again to where the men were waiting, anxious to go below to their lobscouse—cold, alas! by now. "Verra goot!"
Captain Snaggs smiled contemptuously after him, and then broke into a laugh, which was shared in by the first-mate, an American like himself, but one of a stouter and coarser stamp and build, albeit he boasted of a more romantic sort of name—Jefferson Flinders, to wit. This worthy now sniggering in sympathy, as he came up the after companion and took his place by the captain's side, having been roused out before his time by the commotion on deck.
"A rum coon thet, sir," said he to the captain, in response to his laugh. "He'll be the death of me some day, I reckon, with thet durned 'verra goot!' of his'n, you bet, sir!"
"We've a rum lot o' hands altogither aboard, Flinders—chaps ez thinks they hev only come to sea to eat an' enj'y themselves, an' don't want to work fur thaar grub; but, I guess I'll haze' 'em, Flinders, I'll haze' 'em!" snapped out Captain Snaggs, in reply, his wiry billy-goat beard bristling again as he yelled out in a louder tone,—"Forrud thaar! Mister Steenbock; what air ye about, man—didn't I tell ye I want another reef taken in them topsails? Away aloft with ye agen; lay out thaar, an' look spry about it!"
The halliards were therefore again let go, and the same performance gone through as before, with the addition of the men having to go up on the fore yard after they had finished with the topsails, and take a reef as well in the foresail—another piece of touch work.
As the ship was then found not to steer so well close-hauled, without any headsail, on account of the jib being lowered down, the foretopmost staysail was hoisted in its place and the bunt of the spanker loosened, to show a sort of 'goose-wing' aft,—this little additional fore and aft sail now giving her just the steadying power she wanted for her helm, and enabling her to lie a bit closer to the wind.
"Thet will do, the port watch!" cried Captain Snaggs at length, and the men were scampering back to the fo'c's'le in high glee, glad of being released at last, when, as if he'd only been playing with them—as a cat plays with a mouse—he arrested their rush below with another shout,—
"Belay thaar! All hands 'bout ship!"
"Ha! ha!" sniggered Jefferson Flinders, the first-mate, behind him, enjoying the joke amazingly; "guess ye had 'em thaar, cap. Them coons 'll catch a weasel asleep, I reckon, when they try working a traverse on a man of the grit of yourn!"
"Bully for ye," echoed the captain, grinning and showing his yellow teeth, while his pointed beard wagged out. "Say, Flinders, I'll fix 'em!"
The men, though, did not relish the joke; nor did they think it such an amusing one! It might, certainly, have been necessary to put the ship about, for the leeway she was making, coupled with the set of the cross tides, was causing her to hug the Irish coast too much, so that she was now bearing right on to the Saltee rocks, the vessel having covered the intervening twenty odd miles of water that lay between the Tuskar and this point since the hands had been first called up; but Captain Snaggs could have done this just as well off-hand after the topsails were reefed, without waiting until the men were ready to go below again before giving the fresh order.
It was only part and parcel of his tyrannical nature, that never seemed satisfied unless when giving pain and annoyance to those forced to serve under him.
And so, the men grumbled audibly as they came back once more from the fore hatch, manning the sheets and braces, when the skipper's warning shout was heard,—
"Tacks and sheets!" the next order followed; when the head sails were flattened and the ship brought up to the wind.
"Mainsail haul!" and the ponderous yards were swung round as the Denver City payed off handsomely, close-reefed as she was, on the starboard tack, shaping a course at a good right angle to her former one, so as now to weather the Smalls light, off the Pembroke shore, at the entrance to the Bristol Channel—a course that required a stiff lee helm, and plenty of it, as the wind had now fetched round almost due south, well before the beam.
"Thet will do, the watch!" then called out Captain Snaggs once more; but the men were not to be taken in a second time, and waited, grouped about the hatchway, to see whether he would call them back again.
He did not, however.
So, their stopping there made him angry.
"Thet'll do, the watch! D'ye haar?" he shouted a second time. "If ye want to go below fur y'r grub, ye'd better go now, fur, I guess I won't give ye another chance, an' yer spell in the fo'c's'le 'll soon be up. Be off with ye sharp, ye durned skallawags, or I'll send ye up agen to reef tops'ls!"
This started them, and they disappeared down the hatchway in 'a brace of shakes,' the skipper turning round to the first-mate then, as if waiting for him to suggest some further little amusement for the afternoon.
Mr Jefferson Flinders was quite equal to the occasion.
"Didn't you call all hands, cap, jist now?" asked he, with suspicious innocence; "I thought I kinder heerd you."
"Guess so," replied Captain Snaggs. "Why?"
"'Cause I didn't see thet precious nigger rascal, Sam Jedfoot. The stooard an' thet swab of a Britisher boy ye fetched aboard at Liverpool wer thaar, sir, an' every blessed soul on deck but thet lazy nigger."
"'Deed, an' so it wer, I guess," said the captain musingly, as if to himself; and then he slipped back from the binnacle, where he had been talking to the first-mate, to his original position on the break of the poop, when, catching hold of the brass rail as before, he leant over and shouted forward at the pitch of his twangy voice; "Sam Jedfoot, ye durned nigger, ahoy thaar! Show a leg, or ye'll lump it!"
"A GEN'LEMAN OB COLOUR."
"Thet swab of a Britisher boy," so opprobriously designated by the first-mate as having been "fetched aboard at Liverpool" by the captain, as if he were the sweepings of the gutter, was really no less a personage, if I may be allowed to use that term, than myself, the narrator of the following strange story.
I happened, as luck would have it, to be standing just at his elbow when he made the remark, having come up the companion way from the cabin below the poop by the steward's directions to tell Captain Snaggs that his dinner was ready; and, as may be imagined, I was mightily pleased with his complimentary language, although wondering that he gave me the credit of pulling and hauling with the others in taking in sail on 'all hands' being summoned, when every idler on board ship, as I had learnt in a previous voyage to New York and back, is supposed to help the rest of the crew; and so, of course, I lent my little aid too, doing as much as a boy could, as Mr Jefferson Flinders, the captain's toady and fellow bully, although he only played second fiddle in that line when the skipper was on deck, could have seen for himself with half an eye.
Oh, yes, I heard what he said; and I believe he not only called me a 'swab,' but an 'ugly' one as well!
Indeed, I heard everything, pretty nearly everything, that is, and was able to see most of what occurred from the time when we were off the Tuskar Light until Captain Snaggs hailed the cook to come aft; for I was in and out of the cuddy and under the break of the poop all the while, except now that I went up the companion, and stood by the booby hatch over it, waiting for the captain to turn round, so that I could give him the steward's message.
But the skipper wasn't in any hurry to turn round at first, sticking there grasping the rail tightly, and working himself up into a regular fury because poor Sam didn't jump out of his galley at the sound of his voice and answer his summons; when, if he'd reflected, he would have known that the wind carried away his threatening words to leeward, preventing them from reaching the negro cook's ears, albeit these were as big and broad as the bell-mouth of a speaking trumpet.
The captain, though, did not think of this.
Not he; and, naturally, not recognising the reason for the negro's non-appearance immediately on his calling him, he became all the more angry and excited.
"Sam—Sambo—Sam Jedfoot!" he roared, raising his shrill voice a pitch higher in each case, as he thus successively rang the changes on the cook's name in his queer way, making the first-mate snigger behind him, and even I could not help laughing, the captain spoke so funnily through his nose; while Jan Steenbock, the second-mate, who was standing by the mainmast bitts, I could see, had a grim smile on his face. "Sam, ye scoundrel! Come aft hyar at once when I hail, or by thunder I'll keelhaul ye, ez safe ez my name's Ephraim O Snaggs!"
The bathos of this peroration was too much for Jan Steenbock, and he burst into a loud "ho! ho!"
It was the last straw that broke the camel's—I mean the captain's— back, and he got as mad as a hatter.
"Ye durned Dutch skunk!" he flamed out, the red veins cross-hatching his face in his passion. "What the blue blazes d'ye mean by makin' fun o' yer cap'n? Snakes an' alligators, I'll disrate ye—I'll send ye forrud; I'll—I'll—"
"I vas not means no harms, cap'n," apologised the other, on the skipper stopping in his outburst for want of breath, the words appearing to be choking in his mouth, coming out too quick for utterance, so that they all got jumbled together. "I vas hab no bad respect of yous, sare. I vas only lafs mit meinselfs."
"Then I'd kinder hev ye ter know, Mister Steenbock, thet ye'd better not laugh with yerself nor nary a body else when I'm on the poop," retorted Captain Snaggs, not believing a word of this lucid explanation, although he did not seemingly like to tell him so, and quarrel right out. "I guess though, as ye're so precious merry, ye might hev a pull taken at thet lee mainbrace. If ye wer anything of a seaman ye'd hev done it without me telling ye!"
Having administered this 'flea in the ear' to the second-mate, the captain turned round abruptly on his heel, with a muttered objurgation, having some reference to Jan Steenbock's eyes; and, as he looked aft, he caught sight of me.
"Jee-rusalem, b'y!" he exclaimed; "what in thunder air ye doin' hyar? The poop ain't no place fur cabin b'ys, I reckon."
"The steward sent me up, sir," I replied, trembling; for he looked as fierce as if he could eat me without salt, his bristly beard sticking out and wagging in the air, as he spoke in that snarling voice of his. "He t-t-old me to tell you, sir, that dinner was ready in the cabin, sir."
The ship at the moment giving a lurch to port, as a fresh blast of wind caught her weather side, sending a big sea over the waist, I rolled up against him as I answered his question.
"Then ye ken skoot right away an' tell him thet I guess I'm boss hyar," cried he, after shoving me back with an oath against the cabin skylight, which I almost tumbled over. "I'm goin' to hev my meals when I chooses, I say, younker, an' not when anybody else likes, stooard or no stooard!"
With this return message, I retreated nimbly down the companion, glad to get out of his reach, he looked so savage when he shoved me; but I had hardly descended two steps, when he called after me with a loud shout, that echoed down the passage way and made my flesh creep.
"B'y!" he yelled, making a jump, as if to grab hold of me. "B'y!"
"Ye-e-e-yes, sir," I stammered, in mortal terror, looking back up the hatchway, though too frightened to return to nearer quarters with him again. "Ye-e-yes, sir."
My alarm amused him. It was a sort of implied compliment to his bullying powers; and he laughed harshly, nodding his head.
"What in thunder air ye afeard on?" he said. "I ain't goin' to kill ye this time, b'y; it's another cuss I'm after, a kinder sort o' skunk of a different colour, I guess. Look hyar, b'y, jest ye make tracks forrud when ye've told the stooard what I've said, an' see whether thet tarnation black nigger's asleep in his galley, or what. Won't I give him fits when I catch him, thet's all—thaar, be off with ye, smart!"
I did not need any second intimation to go, but plunged down the companion stairway as if a wild bull was after me; and, telling the Welshman, Morris Jones, who acted as steward, a poor, cowardly sort of creature, that the captain did not want his dinner yet, hastened through the cuddy, and on to the maindeck beyond, coming out by the sliding door under the break of the poop, which was the 'back entrance,' as it were, to the cabin.
The ship being close-hauled, heeled over so much to leeward that her port side was almost under water, the waves that broke over the fo'c's'le running down in a cataract into the waist and forming a regular river inside the bulwarks, right flush up with the top of the gunwale, which slushed backwards and forwards as the vessel pitched and rose again, one moment with her bows in the air, and the next diving her nose deep down into the rocking seas; so, I had to scramble along towards the galley on the weather side, holding on to every rope I could clutch to secure my footing, the deck slanting so much from the Denver City laying over to the wind, even under the reduced canvas she had spread. To add to my difficulties, also, in getting forwards, the sheets of foam and spindrift were carried along by the fierce gusts— which came now and again between the lulls, when it blew more steadily, cutting off the tops of the billows and hurling the spray over the mainyard—drenched me almost to the skin before I arrived within hail of the fo'c's'le.
However, I reached the galley all right at last, if dripping; when, as I looked in over the half-door that barred all admittance to the cook's domain except to a privileged few, what did I see but Sam Jedfoot sitting down quite cosily in front of a blazing fire he had made up under the coppers containing the men's tea, which would be served out bye and bye at 'four bells', enjoying himself as comfortably as you please, and actually playing the banjo—just as if he had nothing else to do, and there was no such person as Captain Snaggs in existence!
He had his back turned to me, and so could not notice that I was there, listening to him as he twanged the strings of the instrument and struck up that 'tink-a-tink a tong-tong' accompaniment familiar to all acquainted with the Christy Minstrels, the cook also humming away serenely to himself an old ditty dear to the darkey's heart, and which I had heard the negroes often sing when I was over in New York, on the previous voyage I had taken a few months before, to which I have already alluded—when I ran away to sea, and shipped as a cabin boy on board one of the Liverpool liners, occupying a similar position to that I now held in the Denver City.
This was the song the cook chaunted, with that sad intonation of voice for which, somehow or other, the light-hearted African race always seem to have such a strange predilection. Sam touching the strings of the banjo in harmonious chords to a sort of running arpeggio movement:—
"Oh, down in Alabama, 'fore I wer sot free, I lubbed a p'ooty yaller girl, an' fought dat she lubbed me; But she am proob unconstant, an' leff me hyar to tell How my pore hart am' breakin' fo' croo-el Nancy Bell!"
He wound up with a resounding "twang" at the end of the bar, before giving the chorus—
"Den cheer up, Sam! Don' let yer sperrits go down; Dere's many a gal dat I'se know wal am waitin' fur you in de town!"
"I fancy you do want cheering up, Sam," said I, waiting till he had finished the verse. "The skipper's in a regular tantrum about you, and says you're to come aft at once."
"My golly, sonny!" cried he, turning round, with a grin on his ebony face, that showed all his ivories, and looking in no whit alarmed, as I expected, at the captain's summons, proceeding to reach up one of his long arms, which were like those of a monkey, and hang the banjo on to a cleat close to the roof of the galley, out of harm's way. "What am de muss about?"
"Because you didn't turn out on deck when all hands were called just now to reef topsails," I explained. "The 'old man' is in a fine passion, I can tell you, though he didn't notice your not being there at first. It was that mean sneak, the first-mate, that told him, on purpose to get you into a row."
"Ah-ha! Jess so, I sabby," said Sam, getting up from his seat; although he did not look any the taller for standing, being a little man and having short legs, which, however, were compensated for by his long arms and broad shoulders, denoting great strength. "I'se know what dat mean cuss do it fo'—'cause I wouldn't bring no hot coffee to um cabin fo' him dis mornin'. Me tell him dat lazy stoo'ad's place do dat; me ship's cook, not one black niggah slabe!"
"He's always at me, too," I chorussed, in sympathy with this complaint. "Mr Flinders is harder on me than even Captain Snaggs, and he's bad enough, in all conscience."
"Dat am true," replied the cook, who had been my only friend since I had been on board, none of the others, officers or men, having a kind word for me, save the carpenter, a sturdy Englishman, named Tom Bullover, and one of the Yankee sailors, Hiram Bangs, who seemed rather good-natured, and told me he came from some place 'down Chicopee way'—wherever that might be. "But, never yer mind, sonny; needer de cap'n nor dat brute ob a mate ken kill us no nohow."
"'Cheer up, Sam! Don' let your 'perrits go down—'
"Guess, dough, I'se better go aft at once, or Cap'n Snaggs 'll bust his biler!"
And so, humming away still at the refrain of his favourite ditty, he clambered along the bulwarks, making his way to the poop, where the captain, I could see, as I peered round the corner of the galley, was still waiting for him at the top of the ladder on the weather side, holding on to the brass rail with one hand, and clutching hold of a stay with the other.
I pitied the negro; but, of course, I couldn't help him. All I could do was to look on, by no means an uninterested spectator, though keeping cautiously out of sight of Captain Snaggs' watchful eye.
The wind was not making such a noise through the shrouds now, for one could distinguish above its moaning whistle the wash of the waves as they broke with a rippling roar and splashed against the side like the measured strokes of a sledge-hammer on the ship breasting them with her bluff bows, and contemptuously sailing on, spurning them beneath her fore foot; so, I was able to hear and see nearly all that passed, albeit I had to strain my ears occasionally to catch a word here and there.
He had waited so long that perhaps his anger had cooled down a bit by this time, for Captain Snaggs began on Sammy much more quietly than I expected from his outburst against him when I was up on the poop.
He was quite mild, indeed, for him, as I had learnt already, to my cost, during the short acquaintance I had of his temper since we had left the Mersey—as mild as a sucking dove, with a vengeance!
"Ye durned nigger!" he commenced; "what d'ye mean by not answerin' when I hailed ye?"
"Me no hear yer, mass' cap'n."
"Not haar me, by thunder," screeched the other, raising his voice. "Ye aren't deaf, air ye?"
"Golly, yeth, massa," said Sam eagerly. "I'se def as post."
"Ye ken haar, though, when grog time comes round, I guess!" retorted the captain. "Whar wer ye when 'all hands' wer called jest now?"
"Down in de bread room, gettin' out de men's grub wid de stooard," answered the cook, with much coolness; "me no hear 'all hands' call."
"Thet's a lie," said Captain Snaggs, furiously. "The stooard wer up hyar on deck, so ye couldn't hev been down below with him, ye durned nigger! I've a tarnation good mind to seize ye up an' give ye four dozen right away."
"Me no niggah slabe," said Sam proudly, drawing himself up and looking up at the captain, as if daring him to do his worst. "I'se one 'spectacle culled gen'leman, sah!"
"Ho! ho! thet's prime!" laughed out the skipper, astounded at his cheek; while the first-mate sniggered his aggravating "he! he!" behind him. "Oh, ye're 'a 'spectable coloured gentleman,' air ye?"
"Yeth, massa; me free Jamaica born, an' no slabe," repeated Sam, courageously, the first-mate's chuckle having put him on his mettle more than the captain's sneer. "I'se a free man!"
"Guess ye've come to the wrong shop then, my bo," said Captain Snaggs; "ye'll find ye ain't free hyar, fur I'm boss aboard this air ship, an' want all hands to know it. Ye shipped as cook, hey?"
"Yeth, massa," replied Sam, as sturdily as ever. "I'se jine as cook fo' de v'yage to 'Frisco at ten dollar de month."
"Then, Master Sam, Sammy, Sambo Clubfoot, ye'll be kinder good enuff to take yer traps out of the galley an' go furrud into the fo'c's'le, as one of the foremast hands. As ye wouldn't turn out when all hands wer called jist now, ye'll hev the advantage of doin' so right through now, watch in an' watch out all the v'yage! D'ye hear thet, Sam Clubfoot?"
"Dat not my name," said the other indignantly. "I'se chris'en Sam Jedfoot."
"Well then, d'ye underconstubble what I've sed, Mister Jedfoot, if ye like thet better—thet ye're cook no longer, an' will hev to muster with the rest of the crew in the port watch? I'll put him with ye, Flinders, I know ye hev a hankerin' arter him," observed the skipper, in a stage whisper, to the first-mate, who sniggered his approval of this arrangement. "D'ye understand thet, ye durned nigger, or, hev yer ears got frizzed agen, makin' ye feel kinder deaf?"
"I'se he-ah, cap'n," replied Sam sullenly, as he turned away from under the break of the poop, and made his way forward again to where I stood watching his now changed face, all the mirth and merriment having gone out of it, making him look quite savage—an ugly customer, I thought, for any one to tackle with whom he might have enmity. "I'se he-ah fo' suah, an' won't forget neider, yer bet!"
A TERRIBLE REVENGE.
"I'm very sorry for you, Sam," I said, when he came up again to the galley, making his way forward much more slowly than he had scrambled aft to interview the skipper. "Captain Snaggs is a regular tyrant to treat you so; but, never mind, Sam, we'll soon have you back in your old place here, for I don't think there's any fellow in the ship that knows anything about cooking like you!"
"Dunno spec dere's am," he replied, disconsolately, speaking in a melancholy tone of voice, as if overcome at the idea of surrendering his regal post of king of the caboose—the cook's berth on board a merchant vessel being one of authority, as well as having a good deal of licence attached to it; besides giving the holder thereof an importance in the eyes of the crew, only second to that of the skipper, or his deputy, the first-mate. The next moment, however, the darkey's face brightened, from some happy thought or other that apparently crossed his mind; and, his month gradually opening with a broad grin, that displayed a double row of beautifully even white teeth, which would have aroused the envy of a fashionable dentist, he broke into a huge guffaw, that I was almost afraid the captain would hear away aft on the poop.
"Hoo-hoo! Yah-yah!" he laughed, with all that hearty abandon of his race, bending his body and slapping his hands to his shins, as if to hold himself up. "Golly! me nebber fought ob dat afore! Hoo-hoo! Yah-yah! I'se most ready to die wid laffin! Hoo-hoo!"
"Why, Sam," I cried, "what's the matter now?"
"Hoo-hoo! Cholly," he at last managed to get out between his convulsive fits of laughter. "Yer jess wait till cap'n want um grub; an' den— hoo-hoo!—yer see one fine joke! My gosh! Cholly, I'se one big fool not tink ob dat afore! Guess it'll do prime. Yah-yah! Won't de 'ole man' squirm! Hoo-hoo!"
"Oh, Sam!" I exclaimed, a horrid thought occurring to me all at once. "You wouldn't poison him?"
The little negro drew himself up with a native sort of dignity, that made him appear quite tall.
"I'se hab black 'kin, an no white like yer's, Cholly," said he gravely, wiping away the tears that had run down his cheeks in the exuberance of his recent merriment. "But, b'y, yer may beleeb de troot, dat if I'se hab black 'kin, my hart ain't ob dat colour; an' I wouldn't pizen no man, if he wer de debbel hisself. No, Cholly, I'se fight fair, an' dunno wish to go behint no man's back!"
"I'm sure I beg your pardon," said I, seeing that I had insulted him by my suspicion; "but what are you going to do to pay the skipper out?"
This set him off again with a fresh paroxysm of laughter.
"My golly! Hoo-hoo! I'se goin' hab one fine joke," he spluttered out, his face seemingly all mouth, and his woolly hair crinkling, as if electrified by his inward feelings. "I'se goin'—hoo-hoo!—I'se goin'— yah-yah!—"
But, what he was about to tell me remained for the present a mystery; for, just then, the squalls ceasing and the wind shifting to the northward of west, the captain ordered the lee braces to be slacked off, and we hauled round more to starboard, still keeping on the same tack, though. Our course now was pretty nearly south-west by south, and thus, instead of barely just weathering the Smalls, as we should only have been able to do if it had kept on blowing from the same quarter right in our teeth, we managed to give the Pembrokeshire coast a good wide berth, keeping into the open seaway right across the entrance to the Bristol Channel, the ship heading towards Scilly well out from the land.
She made better weather, too, not rolling or pitching so much, going a bit free, as she did when close-hauled, the wind drawing more abeam as it veered north; and Captain Snaggs was not the last to notice this, you may be sure. He thought he might just as well take advantage of it, as not being one of your soft-hearted sailors, but a 'beggar to carry on when he had the chance,' at least, so said Hiram Bangs, who had sailed with him before.
No sooner, therefore, were the yards braced round than he roared out again to the watch, keeping them busy on their legs—
"Hands, make sail!"
"Let go y'r tops'l halliards!"
"Away aloft thaar, men!" he cried, when the yards came down on the caps; "lay out sharp and shake out them reefs!"
Then, it was all hoist away with the halliards and belay, the mainsail being set again shortly afterwards and the jib rehoisted, with the foretopmast staysail stowed and the reef let out of the foresail.
Later on, the top-gallants were set, as well as the spanker; and the Denver City, under a good spread of canvas, began to show us how she could go through the water on a bowline; for, the sea having gone down a bit, besides running the same way we were going, she did not take in so much wet nor heel over half so much as she did an hour before, when beating to windward, while every stitch she had on drew, sending her along a good eight knots or more, with a wake behind her like a mill race.
During the commotion that ensued when we were bracing the yards and letting out reefs and setting more sail, I had lost sight of Sam Jedfoot, the men bustling about so much forward that I retreated under the break of the poop, out of their way; but, from here, I noticed that Sam made himself very busy when the clew-garnet blocks were hauled aft, on the mainsail being dropped, his powerful arms being as good as any two men tailed on to a rope, for there was "plenty of beef" in him, if he were not up to much in the matter of size.
After the bustle, however, I was called in to the cabin by the steward, to help wait at table, as the captain had come down to dinner at last, now that everything was going well with the ship and we were fairly out at sea, the first-mate accompanying him, while Jan Steenbock was left in charge of the deck, with strict orders to keep the same course, west sou'-west, and call Captain Snaggs if any change should take place in the wind.
"I guess the stoopid cuss can't make no durned mistake about thet," I heard the captain say to Mr Flinders, as he came down the companion hatchway, rubbing his hands, as if in anticipation of his dinner; "an', by thunder, I dew feel all powerful hungry!"
"So do I, sir," chimed in the first-mate. "I hope the stooard hez somethin' good for us to eat. I feels raal peckish, I dew!"
"Hope ye ain't too partick'ler," rejoined Captain Snaggs; "fur this 'll be the last dinner thet air conceited darkey, Sam, 'll cook fur ye, Flinders. He goes in the fo'c's'le to-morrow, an' this hyar lout of a stooard shall take his place in the galley."
"'Changey for changey, black dog for white monkey,'" observed the first-mate with a snigger. "Eh, cap?"
"Ye've hit it, Flinders, I reckon," said the other; and, as he gave a look round the cabin before taking his seat, which the Welsh steward stood behind obsequiously, although he could not draw it out, as it was lashed down to the deck and a fixture, the captain added: "Ye'd better see about gettin' the deadlights up to them stern ports, Flinders, afore nightfall. They look kinder shaky, an' if a followin' sea shu'd catch us astern, we'd be all swamped in hyar, I guess."
"Aye, aye, sir!" said the first-mate, seating himself, too; that is, as soon as he noticed that the steward, who had instantly rushed forward to the galley for the dinner, which was keeping hot there, had returned with a smoking dish, which he placed in front of the captain, dexterously removing the cover almost at the same instant—"I'll see to it the first thing when I go on deck again."
"An', Flinders," continued Captain Snaggs, ladling out a good portion of the contents of the dish into a plate, which the steward passed on to the first-mate, "I see a rope's-end hangin' down thaar, too, like a bight of the signal halliards or the boom-sheet, which some lubber hez let tow overboard. Hev it made fast an' shipshape. I hate slovenliness like pizen!"
"So do I, sir, you bet," answered the mate, with his mouth full. "I'll watch it when I go on the poop agen; but, ain't this fowl an' rice jest galumptious, cap?"
"Pretty so so," said Captain Snaggs, who seemed somewhat critical, in spite of his assertion of being ravenous and 'a reg'ler whale on poultry,' as he had observed when Jones took off the dish cover. "Strikes me, thaar's a rum sort o' taste about it thet ain't quite fowlish!"
"M-yum, m-yum; I dew taste somethin' bitterish," agreed Mr Flinders, smacking his lips and deliberating apparently over the flavour of the fowl; "p'raps the critter's gall bladder got busted—hey?"
"P'raps so, Flinders," rejoined the skipper; "but I hope thet durned nigger hasn't be'n meddlin' with it! Them darkeys air awful vengeful, an' when I hed him up jist now, an' told him he'd hev ter go forrud, I heard him mutter sunthin' about 'not forgettin''—guess I did, so."
Captain Snaggs looked so solemn as he said this, with his face bent down into his plate to examine what was on it the more closely, and his billy-goat beard almost touching the gravy, that I had to cough to prevent myself from laughing; for, I was standing just by him, handing round a dish of potatoes at the time.
"Hillo!" he exclaimed, looking up and staring at me so that I flushed up as red as a turkey cock, "what's the matter with ye, b'y?"
"N-n-nothing, sir," I stammered. "I—I couldn't help it, sir; I have got a sort of tickling in my throat."
"Guess a ticklin' on yer back would kinder teach ye better manners when ye're a-waitin' at table," he said, grimly. "Go an' tell the stooard to fetch the rum bottle out of my bunk, with a couple of tumblers, an' then ye can claar out right away. I don't want no b'ys a-hangin' round when I'm feedin'!"
Glad enough was I at thus getting my dismissal without any further questioning; and, after giving Jones the captain's message, I went out from the pantry on to the maindeck, and so forward to the galley, where I expected to find Sam.
He wasn't there, however; but, hearing his voice on the fo'c's'le, I looked up, and saw him there, in the centre of a little knot of men, consisting of Tom Bullover, the carpenter, Hiram Bangs, and another sailor, to whom, as I quickly learnt from a stray word here and there, the darkey cook was laying down the law anent the skipper and his doings.
"De ole man's a hard row to hoe, yer bet," I heard him say, "but he don't get over dis chile nohow! I'se heer tell ob him afore I ship't as how he wer the hardest cap'n as sailed out ob Libberpool."
"Then, why did you jine?" asked Hiram Bangs; "good cooks ain't so common as you couldn't git another vessel."
"Why did yer jine, Mass' Hiram, sin' yer sailed wid him afore, an' knowed he was de bery debble?"
"'Cause I wants ter go to 'Frisco," replied the other; "an', 'sides, I ain't afeared of the old skunk. He's more jaw nor actin', an' a good sailor, too, an' no mistake, spite of his bad temper an' hard words."
"Golly, Hiram, nor ain't I'se funky ob him, neider! My fader in Jamaiky he one big fetish man; an' I not 'fraid ob Captain Snaggs, or de debbel, or any odder man; an' I wants ter go ter 'Frisco, too, an' dat's de reason I'se hyar."
Presently, when I had the chance of speaking to him, I told him of the captain's suspicions; but he only laughed when I begged him to tell me if he had put anything into the cabin dinner, and what it was.
"Yah-yah, sonny! I'se tole yer so, I'se tole yer so—hoo-hoo!" he cried, doubling himself up and yelling with mirth. "I'se tole yer, 'jess wait till bymeby, an' yer see one big joke;' but, chile, yer'd better not know nuffin 'bout it; fo', den yer ken tell de troot if de cap'n ax, an' say yer knows nuffin."
This was no doubt sound advice; still, it did not satisfy my curiosity, and I was rather indignant at his not confiding in me. Of course, I was not going to tell the captain or anybody, for I wasn't a sneak, at all events, if I was only a cabin boy!
Vexed at his not confiding in me, I turned to look over the side at the scene around.
The sun had not long set, and a bit of the afterglow yet lingered over the western horizon, warming up that portion of the sky; but, above, although the leaden clouds had all disappeared, being driven away to leeward long since, the shades of evening were gradually creeping up, and the sea and everything was covered with a purple haze, save where the racing waves rushed over each other in a mass of seething foam, that scintillated out coruscations of light—little oases of brightness in the desert of the deep.
As for the ship, she was a beauty, and sailed on, behaving like a clipper, rising and falling with a gentle rocking motion, when she met and passed the rollers that she overtook in her course, as they raced before her, trying to outvie her speed, and tossing up a shower of spray occasionally over her weather bow, which the fading gleams of crimson and gold of the sunset touched up and turned into so many little rainbows, that hovered over the water in front for a moment and then disappeared, as the vessel crushed them out of life with her cutwater.
The wind still whistled through the rigging, but, now, it was more like the musical sound of an Aeolian harp, whose chords vibrated rhythmically with the breeze; while the big sails bellying out from the yards above emitted a gentle hum, as that of bees in the distance, from the rushing air that expanded their folds, which, coupled with the wash and 'Break, break, break!' of the sea, sounded like a sad lullaby.
All was quietness on deck: some of the late hands having their tea below, where one or two had already turned in to gain a few winks of sleep before being called on duty to keep the first watch. Others again, as I've already said, where chatting and yarning on the fo'c's'le, as sailors love to chat and yarn of an evening, when the ship is sailing free with a fair wind, and there's nothing much doing, save to mind the helm and take an occasional pull at the braces to keep her "full and by."
All was quiet; but, not for long!
It was just beginning to grow dark, although still light enough to see everything that was going on fore and aft, when Captain Snaggs staggered out from the cuddy, coming through the doorway underneath the break of the poop, and not going up the companion hatch, as was his usual habit when he came out on deck.
He looked as if he had been drinking pretty heavily from the bottle of rum the steward had brought in as I left the cabin, an impression which his thick speech confirmed, when, after fetching up against the mainmast bitts, in a vain attempt to work to windward and reach the poop ladder, he began to roar out my name.
"B'y! I wants thet b'y, Chawley Hills! Hillo, Chaw-ley! Chawley Hills!—Hills!—Hills! On deck thaar! Where are ye? By thunder! I'll spif-spif-splicate ye, b'y, when I catch ye! Come hyar!"
I was rather terrified at this summons, the more especially from his being drunk, but, I went all the same towards him.
He clutched hold of me the moment I came near.
"Ye d-d-durned young reptile!" he roared, more soberly than he had spoken before; and, from a sort of agonised look in his face, I could see that something more than mere drink affected him, for I had noticed him before under the influence of intoxicating liquors. "Tell me wha-at thet infarnal nigger put into the grub? Ye know ye knows all about it, fur ye looked guilty when the mate an' I wer talkin' about it at table; an' he's been pizened, an' so am I; an' he sez ye knows all about it, an' so does I; an' what is more, b'y, I'll squeeze the life out of ye if yer don't tell!"
"Oh, please, sir," I cried out; as well as the pressure of his hands on my throat would permit, "I don't know. I don't know anything."
"Cuss ye, b'y. Ye dew know; an', if chokin' won't get it out of ye, we'll try what larrupin' will do!"
So saying, he ordered a couple of the hands standing by to seize me up to the weather rigging; and taking hold of a thick piece of rope, which he had brought with him out of the cabin, he proceeded to deliver blows about my back and shoulders that made me howl again, the strokes seeming to tear the flesh from my bones.
"Won't ye tell, hey?" he exclaimed between each stroke of the improvised cat, which lashed as well, I can answer, as if it had nine tails; "won't ye tell, hey?"
At the third stroke, however, he himself fell upon the deck, putting his hands to his stomach and rolling about doubled up almost in two in his agony; although, when the paroxysm of pain had ceased for the moment, he got up on his feet once more and began lashing away at me again.
But, my deliverer was at hand.
Just as he raised his arm to deliver a fourth stripe across my back, and I shrank back in expectation of it, I heard Sam Jedfoot's voice,—
"'Top dat, massa cap?" he called out. "What fur yer lick dat b'y fur?"
"Oh, it's ye, is it?" roared the skipper, turning on him with a snarl. "I wer comin' fur ye presently, ye durned cuss! But, ez ye air hyar, why, ye scoundrel, what did ye make thet b'y do to the dinner? Me an' the mate is both pizened."
"De b'y didn't do nuffin, an' yer ain't pizened, nor Mass' Flinders, neider," said Sam calmly, interrupting the captain before he could scream out another word; "I'se dun it alone. I'se put jalap in the fowl a puppose!"
"Ye did, did ye!" yelled the captain fiercely; and there was a savage vindictiveness in his voice that I had not noticed previously, as he turned round to address the second-mate and a number of the men, who had gathered round at the noise made by the altercation, those that had turned in turning out, and even the look-out coming from off the fo'c's'le away aft to see what was going on. "Men, ye've heard this tarnation villain confess thet he's tried to pizen Mr Flinders an' myself. Now ye'll see me punish him!"
With these words, which he spoke quite calmly, without a trace of passion, he drew out a revolver from the pocket of his jacket, cocking it with a click that struck a cold chill to my heart, and made me shudder more convulsively than even the brute's lashes had done the moment before.
"Bress de Lor'! don' shoot me, cap'n!" cried poor Sam, edging away from the fatal weapon, as Captain Snaggs raised it; "don't shoot, fo' de Lor's sake!"
"I'm going to kill ye like a dog!" rejoined the other, taking aim; but Sam, quick as lightning darted into the weather rigging, making his way forward along the channels, the captain jumping after him and repeating,—"It's no use. Ye won't escape me, I tell ye, darkey; ye won't escape me! I'll kill ye ez dead ez a dog! Like a dog, d'ye haar?"
As he uttered the last words a second time, as if the repetition of the phrase pleased his cruel ear, there was another 'click,' followed by a bright flash and a sharp report; and then, uttering a wild, despairing cry, which was echoed by the men standing around, poor Sam dropped into the sea alongside, his body splashing up the water right inboard into my face as it fell!
FRIGHTENED TO DEATH!
"That's murder—murder in cold blood!"
The voice uttering this exclamation, which I at once recognised as that of Tom Bullover, the carpenter, came from amidst a mass of the men, who, attracted by the noise of the row, had gathered from forward, and were clustered together—as I could see sideways from my position there, spread-eagled in the rigging. They were standing by the long-boat, just abaft of poor Sam Jedfoot's now tenantless galley, and immediately under the bellying folds of the mainsail, that rustled and swelled out over their heads, tugging at the boltropes and rattling the clew-garnet blocks, as it was jerked by the wind, which ever and anon blew with eddying gusts as it veered and shifted.
"Who's the mutinous rascal thet spoke then?" cried Captain Snaggs, wheeling round on the instant, quick as lightning, and cocking his revolver with another ominous click, as he faced the group, aiming at the nearest man to him. "Jest ye give me another word of yer jaw, an' I'll sarve ye the same as I sarved thet durned nigger—I will so, by thunder!"
A hoarse murmur, partly of rage and partly expressive of fear, arose from the crew as they shuffled uneasily about the deck, one trying to get behind another; but neither Tom Bullover nor anyone else stepped out to answer the captain, who, seeing that he had cowed them, lowered his awkward looking weapon.
"Ye're a pack of durned skallywags, with nary a one the pluck of a skunk in the lot!" he exclaimed contemptuously, in his snarling Yankee voice; but, just then, the head sails flapping, from the helmsman letting the ship nearly broach to, forgetting to attend to his duties in his eagerness to hear all that was going on, the captain's wrath was directed towards those aft, and he wheeled round and swore at the second-mate, who was on the poop, leaning over the rail, bawling out louder than before:—"What the infernal dickens are ye about thaar, Mister Steenbock? Snakes an' alligators! why, ye'll have us all aback in another minute! Ease her off, ease her off gently; an' hev thet lubber at the wheel relieved; d'ye haar? Ha ain't worth a cuss! Get a man thet ken steer in his place. Jerusalem! Up with the helm at once!"
Fortunately, the jib only gybed, while the fore-topsail slatted a bit against the mast; and all the other sails remaining full and drawing, a slight shift of the helm sufficed to put the ship on her proper course. Still, the captain, now his blood was up, could not afford to lose such a good opportunity both for rating the second-mate for his carelessness in conning the ship and not making the helmsman keep her steady on her course, and also in giving a little extra work to the hands who had dared to murmur at his fearful vengeance on the cook for drugging his food. So he made them bustle about the deck in style, slacking off the lee braces and hauling upon these on the weather side, until we had brought the wind almost over the stern, with the yards pretty nearly square. We were now running before it, rolling from port to starboard and back again from starboard to port, almost gunwales under, with the sail we had on us now, for it was blowing a good ten-knot breeze from the nor'-nor'-west, the breeze having shifted again since sunset, right astern, instead of being dead ahead, as previously, of our proper tract for the open sea.
When Captain Snaggs had seen everything braced round, and the boom-sheet of the spanker likewise eased off, he turned to where I was still lashed up against the main shrouds, in dread expectancy every moment of his renewing the thrashing he had commenced, and which poor Sam's plucky intervention on my behalf had for the time interrupted.
"Well, ye young cuss!" said the skipper, who had been giving all his orders from the lower deck, which he had not left since he had rolled out from the cuddy under the poop in the paroxysm of passion and pain that led to such a dread catastrophe—all that had happened, although it takes a long time to describe, having occurred within a very brief interval of his first outburst on me. "What hev ye got to say for y'rself thet I shouldn't give ye a thunderin' hidin', sich ez I hanker arter, hey? I'm jiggered, too, if I don't, ye young whelp! Fur I guess ye wer kinder in truck with thet durned nigger when he tried to pizen me an' Mister Flinders. I'll skin ye alive, though ye aren't bigger nor a spritsail sheet knot, my joker, fur ye hevn't got half enuff yet, I reckon!"
So saying, he picked up the rope's-end that he had dropped when he took out his revolver, and was evidently about to lay it on my poor trembling back again, when another groan came from the men forward, who still hung about the windlass bitts, instead of going below after squaring the yards. Tom Bullover's voice, I could hear, again taking the lead, as they advanced in a body aft, in a much more demonstrative manner than previously.
"Stow that now, and leave the boy alone," I heard him say. "You've wallopped him already; and there's been enough murder done in the ship!"
Captain Snaggs let fall the cat he had taken in his hand to thrash me with, and once more pulled out from his pocket the revolver; but, in the half-light that lingered now after the sunset glow had faded out of the sky, I noticed, as I screwed my neck round, looking to see what he was doing, that his hand trembled. The next moment he dropped the revolver on the deck as he had done the rope's-end.
"Who's talkin' of murder? Thet's an ugly word," he stammered out, evidently frightened at the result of his rage against poor Sam, and the way in which the crew regarded it. "I—I only shot thet nigger because he pizened me an' the first-mate."
"You should have put hims in ze irons," interposed the second-mate, Jan Steenbock, speaking in his deep, solemn tones from the poop above. "Ze mans vas murdert in ze cold blood!"
I could see Captain Snaggs shiver—all his coarse, bullying manner and braggadocio deserting him, as Jan Steenbock's accents rang through the ship, like those of an accusing judge; the index finger of the second-mate's right hand pointing at him, as he leant over the poop rail, like the finger of Fate!
"I did not mean to shoot the coon like to kill him, I only meant to kinder frighten the life out of him, thet's all," he began, in an exculpatory tone, regaining his usual confidence as he proceeded. "The durned cuss brought it on hisself, I reckon; fur, if he hedn't climb'd into the riggin' he wouldn't hev dropped overboard!"
"But, you vas shoot him ze first," said Jan Steenbock, in reply to this, the men on the other side of the captain giving a murmuring assent to the accusation, "you vas shoot him ze first!"
"Aye, thet's so; but I didn't mean fur to hit him, only to skear him. Guess I don't think I did, fur the ship rolled as I fired, an' the bullet must hev gone over his woolly head, an' he let go from sheer frit!"
"Dat might be," answered the second-mate, whom the men left to do all the talking; "but ze—"
"Besides," continued the captain, interrupting him, and seeing he had gained a point, "the darkey pizened my grub. He sea he put jalap in it. Ye heerd him say so y'rselves, didn't ye?"
"Aye, aye," chorussed the group of men in front of him, with true sailor's justice, "we did. We heard him say so."
"Well, then," argued Captain Snaggs, triumphantly, "ye knows what a delicate matter it is fur to meddle with a chap's grub; ye wouldn't like it y'rselves?"
"No," came from the men unanimously, "we wouldn't."
"All right, then; I see ye're with me," said the skipper, wagging his beard about as he lay down the law. "I confess I didn't like it. The nigger sed he hocussed our grub; but seeing ez how I an' the first-mate wer took so bad, I believed he'd pizened us, an' it rizzed my dander, an' so I went fur him."
"Aye, aye," sang out the men, as if endorsing this free and rather one-sided version of the affair, Hiram Bangs the captain's countryman, chiming in with a "Right you air, boss!"
"But you need not have shoot hims," insisted Jan Steenbock, perceiving that the skipper was getting the men to take a more lenient view of the transaction than he did. "Ze mans not go avays. You could put hims in ze irons!"
"So I could, me joker; though I can't see ez how it's yer place to top the officer over me, Mister Steenbock," retorted the skipper, with some of his old heat. "Ye've hed yer say, an' the men hev hed their'n; an' now I'll hev mine, I reckon! The nigger wer in fault in the fust place, an' I'm sorry I wer tew hard on him; but, now he's gone overboard, thaar's nuthin' more to be done, fur all the talkin' in the world won't bring him back agen! I'll tell ye what I'll do, though."
"What?" shouted out Tom Bullover. "What will you do?"
Captain Snaggs recognised his voice now, in spite of its being nearly dark, and he uttered an expressive sort of snorting grunt.
"Ha! ye're the coon, are ye, thet cried murder, hey?" I heard him mutter under his breath menacingly; and then, speaking out louder he said, that all could hear, "I tell ye what I'll do: I am willin' to go ashore at the first available port we ken stop at an' lay the whole of the circumstances before the British or American consul, an' take the consequences—fur you all ken give evidence against me if ye like! I can't say fairer nor thet men, can I?"
"No, cap," they chorussed, as if perfectly satisfied with this promise, "nothing can be fairer nor that!"
"All right; thet 'll do, the watch, then."
"But, thet b'y thaar?" called out Hiram Bangs, as they were all shuffling forward again, now that the palaver was over and the subject thoroughly discussed, as they thought, in all its bearings; "yer won't leather him no more? The little cuss warn't to blame; the nigger said so, hisself!"
"No, I won't thrash him agen, since he's a friend o' yer's," replied the skipper, jocularly, evidently glad that the affair was now hushed up. "Ye ken cut him down if ye like, an' take him forrud with ye."
"Right ye air, cap, so we will," said Hiram, producing his clasp knife in a jiffey and severing the lashings that bound me to the rigging, "Come along, Cholly; an' we'll warm ye up in the fo'c's'le arter yer warmin' up aft from the skipper!"
The hands responded with a laugh to this witticism, apparently forgetting all about the terrible scene that had so lately taken place, as they escorted me in triumph towards the fore part of the ship; while the captain went up on the poop and relieved Jan Steenbock, speaking to him very surlily, and telling him to go down into the cabin and see what had become of the first-mate, Mr Flinders, and if he was any better, and fit to come on duty. As for himself, he had now quite recovered from the effects of whatever the unfortunate cook had put into the stew he had eaten, and which had alarmed him with the fear of being poisoned.
I, however, could not so readily put the fearful scene I had been such an unwilling witness of so quickly out of my remembrance; and, as I went forward with the kind-hearted but thoughtless fellows who had saved me from a further thrashing, I felt quite sick with horror. A dread weight, as of something more horrible still, that was about to happen, filled my mind.
Nor did the conversation I heard in the fo'c's'le tend to soothe my startled nerves and make me feel more comfortable.
The men's tea was still in the coppers, poor Sam having made up a great fire in the galley before going off on his last journey, and this was now served out piping hot all round, the men helping themselves, for no one had yet been elected to fill the darkey's vacant place. No one, indeed, seemed anxious to remain longer than could be helped within the precincts of the cook's domain, each man hurrying out again from the old caboose as quickly as he filled his pannikin from the bubbling coppers with the decoction of sloe leaves, molasses and water, which, when duly boiled together does duty with sailor-folk for tea!
Then—sitting round the fo'c's'le, some on the edge of the hatch-coaming, some dangling their legs over the windlass bitts, and others bringing themselves to an anchor on a coil of the bower hawser, that had not been stowed away properly below, but remained lumbering the deck—all began to yarn about the events of the day. Their talk gradually veered round to a superstitious turn on the second dog-watch drawing to a close; and, as the shades of night deepened over our heads, so that I could hardly now distinguish a face in the gloom, the voices of the men sank down imperceptibly to a mere whisper, thus making what they said sound more weird and mysterious, all in keeping with the scene and its surroundings.
Of course, Sam formed the principal subject of their theme; and, after speaking of what a capital cook and good chum he was, 'fur a darkey,' as Hiram Bangs put it, having some scruples on the subject of colour, from being an American, Tom Bullover alluded to the negro's skill at the banjo.
"Aye, bo, he could give us a toon when he liked, fur he wer mighty powerful a-fingerin' them strings. He made the durned thing a'most speak, I reckon," observed Hiram Bangs; adding reflectively,—"An' the curiousest thing about him wer thet he wer the only nigger I ever come athwart of ez warn't afeard of sperrits."
"Sperrits, Hiram?" interposed one of the other hands; "what does you mean?—ghostesses?"
"Aye. Sam sed as how his father, a darkey too, in course, wer a fetish man; an' I rec'l'ects when I wer to hum, down Chicopee way, ther' wer an ole nigger thaar thet usest to say thet same, an' the ole cuss wud go of a night into the graveyard, which wer more'n nary a white man would ha' done, ye bet!"
"You wouldn't catch me at it," agreed another sailor, giving himself a shake, that sent a cold shiver through me in sympathy. "I'd face any danger in daylight that a Christian ain't afeard on; but, as for huntin' for ghostesses in a churchyard of a dark night, not for me!"
"Aye, nor me," put in another. "I shouldn't like old Sammy to come back and haunt the galley, as I've heard tell me. By jingo! I wouldn't like to go into it now that it's dark, arter the way the poor beggar got shot an' drownded—leastways, not without a light, or a lantern, or somethin' or t'other; for, they sez of folks that come by any onnateral sort o' death, that their sperrits can't rest quiet, and that then they goes back to where they was murdered, and you ken see 'em wanderin' around twixt midnight an' mornin', though they wanishes agen at the first streak of daylight."
"I've heerd tell the same," chimed in Hiram Bangs, in a sepulchral voice, that made my heart go down to my toes; "but Sam, he usest to say, sez he, ez how none o' them sperrits could never touch he, cos he hed a charm agen 'em 'cause of his father bein' jest in the ring, an' one of the same sorter cusses—his 'fadder' he called him, poor old darkey! Sam told me now, only last night ez never was, how he'd of'en in Jamaiky talked with ghostesses, thet would come an' tote round his plantation! He sed, sez he, ez how he'd got a spell to call 'em by whenever he liked; thet's what he told me, by thunder!"
"Aye, bo," said Tom Bullover; "and, before poor Sam went aft this very evening, I heard him tell this younker, Charlie Hills, how thet he weren't afraid of that brute of a bullying skipper, and if he came by any harm he'd haunt him—didn't he, Charlie?"
"Ye-es," I replied, trembling, feeling horribly frightened now with all their queer talk, coming after what I had gone through before; "but, I didn't hear him say anything of haunting the ship. I'm awfully sorry for him, Tom; but I hope he won't come back again, as Hiram Bangs says."
"He will, ye bet yer bottom dollar on thet, Cholly, if he ain't made comfable down below in Davy Jones' locker, whar the poor old cuss air now," said the American sailor in his deep voice, increasing my superstitious fears by the very way in which he spoke. "Guess I wouldn't mind shakin' fins with the nigger agen if he'd come aboard in daylight, but I'm durned if I'd like to see him hyar 'fore mornin'! I'd feel kinder skeart if I did, b'y, I reckon."
I had no time to reply; for, the captain's voice hailing us from the poop at the moment made us all jump—I, for one, believing that it was Sam Jedfoot already come back to life, or his ghost!
The next instant, however, I was reassured by a hoarse chuckle passing round amongst the men; while Hiram Bangs called out, "I'm jiggered, messmates, if it ain't the old man up on deck agen!"
Like him, I then caught the sound of Captain Snaggs' nasal twang, although he spoke rather thickly, as if he had been drinking again.
"Fo'c's'le, ahoy!" he shouted; "wake up thaar an' show a leg! Let one of the hands strike eight bells, an' come aft, all ye starbow-lines, to take the first watch."
"Aye, aye, sir!" answered Tom Bullover, leading the way towards the skipper; while Hiram Bangs seized hold of the rope attached to the clapper of the bell, hanging under the break of the fo'c's'le, and struck the hour, then following in Tom's footsteps with a "Here I am, sonny, arter ye!"
I did not remain behind, you may be sure, not caring to stop in the vicinity of Sam's galley after all that talk about him. Besides this, I felt tired out, and my bunk being on a locker outside the steward's pantry, and just within the door leading into the cuddy under the poop, I was anxious to sneak in there without being seen again by the captain, so as to have a lie down, or 'turn in'—if it can be called turning in, with all my clothes on, ready to turn out at a minute's notice!
I managed to get inside, luckily unperceived by the skipper's eagle eye and was furthermore assured of a quiet 'caulk' by hearing him sing out presently to the steward to bring him up some grog, as he was going to remain on deck till the middle watch. I knew from this that I would be undisturbed by his coming below for a good four hours' spell at least; and I soon sank off to sleep, the last thing that I heard being the tramping about on deck of the men when Captain Snaggs roared out some order about making more sail, and the sluicing of the water washing from side to side, as the Denver City rolled and pitched, staggering along under a cloud of canvas, with everything set now, right before the wind.
The next thing I heard was a heavy crash of glass, and I woke up just in time to catch the tail end of a combing wave, that dashed in through one of the stern ports, washing the cabin fore and aft. The ship had evidently been pooped by a heavy following sea, that travelled through the water faster than she did before the stiff northward breeze, although we were carrying on, too, at a good rate, as I've said.
Aroused by this, I scrambled to my feet, and recognised Captain Snaggs' voice coming down the companion way; but I did not fear his seeing me, as the swinging lamp over the cuddy table had been put out, and all was in darkness below, save when a sudden bright gleam from the moon, which had risen since I had sought my bunk, shot down through the skylight as the ship rolled over to port—making it all the darker again as she listed to starboard, for her next roll the reverse way necessarily shut out the moonlight again.
Captain Snaggs, I could hear, was not only very drunk, but, as usual, in a very bad temper, as he stumbled about the foot of the companion way in the water that washed about the cabin door.
"Durn thet fool of a Flinders—hic!" he exclaimed, steadying himself before making a plunge towards his berth, which was on the left, as I knew from the sound of his voice in the distance. "I t-t-t-old him them ports would git stove in, an'—an'—order'd him to fix the deadlights; but the durned fool ain't done nary a thing, an' there ye air, streenger, thaar ye air!"
He then staggered a bit and flopped about the water; and then, all at once, as I listened, he gave vent to a queer gurgling cry of horror, that seemed to freeze my blood.
"Jerusalem!" he exclaimed, gasping as if choking for breath. "Thaar! thaar!"
A gleam shone down from the moon at the moment through the skylight; and, wonderful to relate, I saw the captain's outstretched hand pointing to—
It was standing by the cabin door leading out on to the maindeck.
The Something was the figure of poor Sam Jedfoot, apparently all dripping wet, as if he had just emerged from his grave in the sea.
His face, turned towards me, looked quite white in the moonlight, as it became visible for a second and then instantaneously disappeared, melting back again, into darkness as the moon withdrew her light, obscured by the angle of the vessel's side, as the ship made another roll in the contrary direction.
I was almost paralysed with fear, being too much frightened to utter a sound; and there I remained spellbound, staring still towards the spot where I had seen the apparition—half-sitting, half-standing on the locker, having drawn up my feet, so as to be out of the rush of the water as it washed to and fro on the floor.
As for Captain Snaggs, the sight of his victim seemed to affect him even more—at least, so I fancied, from his frenzied cry; for, of course, I could no longer see him.
"Save me! save me!" he called out, in almost as despairing and terror-stricken a tone as that of poor Sam, when he was shot and fell into the sea; and then I heard a heavy splash, as if the captain had tumbled down on his face in the pool slushing about the deck. "Save me! Take him away! The darned nigger hez got me at last!"
ON FIRE IN THE HOLD.
I think I must have swooned away with fright, for the next thing I recollect on coming to myself was the steward, Morris Jones, shaking me.
"Rouse up, you lazy lubber!" he roared in my ears. "Rouse up and help me with the cap'en; he's fell down in a fit, or something!"
Then, I noticed that Jones had a ship's lantern in his hand, by the dim light of which the cabin was only faintly illuminated; but I could see the water washing about the floor, with a lot of things floating about that had been carried away by the big wave coming in through the broken port in the stern sheets, that was also plainly discernible from the phosphorescent glow of the sea without, which every moment welled up almost on a level with the deck above, as if it were going to fetch inboard again and vamp us altogether.
"Wha—what's the matter?" I stammered out, half confused at the way in which the steward shook me; and then, recollecting all that had happened, as the fearful sight both the captain and I had seen flashed all at once on my mind, I put my hands before my face shudderingly, exclaiming, "Oh, the ghost! the ghost!"
"The ghost your grandmother!" ejaculated Jones, giving me another rough hustle. "Why, boy, you ain't awake yet. I'll douse you in the water, and give you a taste of 'cold pig,' if you don't get up and help me in a minute!"
"But I saw it," I cried, starting to my feet and looking wildly around to see if the apparition were still there. "I saw it with my own eyes; and so did Captain Snaggs, too!"
"The ghost of poor Sam Jedfoot."
Morris Jones laughed scornfully.
"You confounded fool, you're dreaming still!" he said, shaking me again, to give emphasis to his words. "I should like to know what the nigger cook's ghost were doin' in here. Where did you see his ugly phiz agen, do you say?"
"There!" I answered boldly, pointing to the corner by the cabin door, where, as the steward flashed his lantern in the direction, I could still see something black and hazy waving to and fro. "Why, there it is still, if you don't believe me!"
"Well, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed, going over to the place and catching hold of the object that had again alarmed me. "You are a frightened feller to be skeared by an old coat! Why, it's that Dutch second-mate of ourn's oilskin a-hangin' up outside his bunk that you thought were Sam's sperrit when the light shone on it, I s'pose. You ain't got the pluck of a flea, Cholly Hills, to lose your head over sich a trifle. There's no ghostesses now-a-days; and if there was, I don't think as how the cook's sperrit would come in here, specially arter the way the skipper settled him. Man or ghost, he'd be too much afeard to come nigh the 'old man' agen, with him carryin' on like that, and in sich a tantrum. I wonder Sam hadn't more sense than to cross his hawse as he did. I were too wary, and kep' close in my pantry all the time the row were on, I did. I wern't born yesterday!"
"But the cap'en saw it, too, I tell you," I persisted. "He yelled out that Sam was there before he tumbled down; and that was how I came to look and notice the awful thing. You can believe it or not, but I tell you I saw Sam Jedfoot there as plain as life—either him or his ghost!"
"Rubbish!" cried Jones, who meanwhile had put the lantern he carried on the cabin table, and was proceeding to lift up the captain's head and drag him into a sitting posture against the side of one of the settles that ran down the cuddy fore and aft. "Just you light up one of them swinging lamps, and then come and help me carry the skipper to his bunk. He's dead drunk, that's what he is; and I wonder he ain't drownded, too, lying with his nose in all thafe water sluicing round. As for the ghost he saw, that were rum, his favour-rite sperrit. He ought to 'ave seed two Sams from the lot he's drunk to-night—two bottles as I'm a living sinner, barrin' a glass or two the first-mate had, and a drop I squeezed out for myself, when I took him up some grog on deck at the end of the second dog-watch!"
"Two bottles of rum!" I exclaimed in astonishment. "Really?"
"Aye; do you think me lying?" snapped out Jones in answer; "that is, pretty nigh on, nearly. I wonder he ain't dead with it all. I 'ave knowed him manage a bottle afore of a night all to hisself, but never two, lor the matter o' that. It ought to kill him. Guess he's got a lit of 'plexy now, an' will wake up with the jim-jams!"
"What's that?" I asked, as the two of us lifted the captain, who was breathing stertorously, as if snoring; "anything more serious?"
"Only a fit of the horrors," said Jones nonchalantly, as if the matter were an every-day circumstance, and nothing out of the common; "but if he does get 'em, we must hide his blessed revolver, or else he'll be goin' round the ship lettin' fly at every man Jack of us in turn! I'll tell Mr Flinders to be on his guard when he comes-to, so that some one 'll look arter him."
As he spoke, the steward slung the body of the unconscious man into his cot, I staggering as I lifted the captain's legs, which, although they were very thin and spindleshanky, wore bony and heavy, while I was slim and weak for my age. Besides which, the thrashing I had received the evening previously had pretty well taken all the strength out of me, combined with my subsequent fright from the ghost, which I could not help believing in, despite all Jones's sneers and assertions to the contrary. Of course, though, there was no use arguing the point with him; he was so obstinate—like all Welshmen!
However, between the two of us, we got Captain Snaggs laid in his bed, where he certainly would be more comfortable than wallowing about in the water on the cabin floor. Then, Jones and I left him, just propping up his head with the pillows, so that he should not suffocate himself. He could not well tumble out, the cot having high sides, and swinging besides with the motion of the ship, being hung from the deck above on a sort of gimbal joint, that worked in a ball and socket and gave all ways.
The steward then went back again into his bunk adjoining the pantry to have his sleep out; but I felt too excited to lie down again.
I did not like to remain there alone in the cabin after what had passed, listening to the thuds of the waves against the sides of the ship, and the weird creaking of the timbers, as if the vessel were groaning with pain, and the heavy breathing of the captain in his cot, that rose above all these sounds, for he was snoring and snorting away at a fine rate; so, I proceeded out on to the lower deck, experiencing a chill shudder as I made my exit by the door where I had seen Sam Jedfoot's spectre in the moonlight.
I almost fancied it was still there!
When I got out under the break of the poop, I found all quiet, with the port watch on duty, for Mr Flinders, the first-mate, was in charge, he having relieved the second-mate, with whom the captain had remained until he left the deck at midnight; and, an Tom Bullover and Hiram Bangs, my only friends amongst the crew, had gone below with Mr Steenbock and the rest of the starboard hands, there was nobody whom I could speak to and tell all that I had seen.
I felt very lonesome in consequence; and, although I was not a bit sleepy, having managed to get a good four hours' rest before I was awakened by Captain Snaggs coming stumbling down the companion way, as well as by the noise made by the sea smashing into the cabin at the same time, yet I was tired enough still not to be averse to stowing myself away under the lee of the long-boat. I took the precaution, however, to cuddle up in a piece of old tarpaulin that was lying about, so that the first-mate should not see me from the poop, and set me on at once to some task or other below, in his usual malicious way—Mr Flinders, like Captain Snaggs, never seeming to be happy unless he was tormenting somebody, and setting them on some work for which there wasn't the least necessity!
The moon was now shining brightly and lots of stars twinkling in the heaven, which was clear of clouds, the bracing nor'-westerly wind having blown them all away; and the Denver City was bounding along with all plain sail set before the breeze, that was right astern, rolling now and again with a stiff lurch to port and then to starboard, and diving her nose down one moment with her stern lifting, only to rise again buoyantly the next instant and shake the spray off her jib-boom as she pointed it upwards, trying to poke a hole in the sky!
What with the whistling of the wind through the cordage, and the wash of the waves as they raced over each other and broke with a seething 'whish' into masses of foam, and the motion of the ship gently rocking to and fro like a pendulum as she lurched this way and that with rhythmical regularity, my eyes presently began to close. So, cuddling myself up in the tarpaulin, for the air fresh from the north felt rather chilly, I dropped off into a sound nap, not waking again until one of the men forward struck 'six bells,' just when the day was beginning to dawn. This was in spite of my being 'not a bit sleepy,' as I said.
I roused up with a start, not; knowing where I was at first; but it was not long before the fact was made patent to me that I was aboard ship, and a cabin boy as well to boot—a sort of 'Handy Billy,' for every one to send on errands and odd jobs—the slave of the cuddy and fo'c's'le alike!
Before he had imbibed so much rum, and just prior to his going on the poop that time when he startled us all so much in the fo'c's'le by his hail for Tom Bullover and the rest of the starboard hands to come aft and relieve the port watch, Captain Snaggs, as I afterwards learnt, had spoken to the steward, telling him that he was to take over poor Sam Jedfoot's duties for awhile, until the men selected a new cook from amongst themselves. Jones was told to commence work in the galley the next evening, with especial injunctions to be up early enough to light the fire under the coppers, so that the crew could have their hot coffee at 'eight bells,' when the watches were changed—this indulgence being always allowed now in all decent merchant vessels; for Captain Snaggs, if he did haze and bully the hands under him, took care to get on their weather side by looking after their grub, a point they recollected, it may be remembered, when he appealed to them in reference to his treatment of poor Sam.
Now, Morris Jones did not relish the job; but, as the first-mate had been present when the captain gave his orders, albeit Mr Flinders was rather limp at the time, from the physicking he, like the skipper, had had from the jalap in the stew, the steward knew that he would recollect all about it, even if the rum should have made the captain forget. So, much against his inclination, he turned out of his bunk at daybreak to see to lighting the galley fire; when, whom should he chance to come right up against on his way forward but me, just as I had wriggled myself out of the tarpaulin and sat up on the deck, rubbing my half-opened eyes.
Jones was delighted at the opportunity for 'passing on' the obnoxious duty.
"Here, you young swab!" he cried, giving me a kick to waken me up more thoroughly, and then catching hold of me by the scruff of the neck and pulling me up on my feet, "stir your stumps a bit and just you come forrud along o' me. I'm blessed if I'm going to do cook an' stooard's work single-handed, an' you lazy rascallion a caulkin' all over the ship! First I finds yer snug down snoozin' in the cabin, an' now here, with the sun ready to scorch yer eyes out. Why, yer ought ter be right down 'shamed o' yerself. I'm blessed if I ever see sich a b'y for coilin' hisself away an' caulkin' all hours of the day and night!"
Jones was fond of hearing himself talk, as well as pleased to have some one he was able to bully in turn as the skipper bullied him; and so, he kept jawing and grumbling away all the while we were getting up to the galley, although that did not take very long—not by any means so long as his tongue was and the stream of words that flowed from it when he had once begun, as if he would really never end!
"Now, you young beggar," said he, opening the half-door of the cook's caboose and shoving me inside, "let us see how soon you can light a fire an' make the water in the coppers boil. I'll fill 'em for you while you're putting the sticks in; so heave ahead, an' I'll fetch a bucket or two from the scuttle butt!"
He spoke of this as if he were conferring a favour on me, instead of only doing his own work; but I didn't answer him, going on to make a good fire with some wood and shavings, which Sam used to get from the carpenter and kept handy in the corner of the galley, ready to hand when wanted. I knew by this time, from practical experience, that words on board ship, where cabin boys are concerned at all events, generally lead to 'more kicks than ha'pence,' as the saying goes!
Soon, I had a good blaze up, and the steward on his part filling the coppers, they were both shortly at boiling-point; when, going aft to his pantry, Jones fetched out a pound of coffee, which he chucked into the starboard copper, which held about four gallons, and was not quite filled to the brim. He evidently had determined to propitiate the crew at the start by giving them good coffee for once and plenty of it; as there were only eighteen hands in the fo'c's'le, now that Sam had gone, besides himself and me—leaving out the captain and mates, who belonged to the cabin, and of course did not count in, but who made our total complement in the ship twenty-three souls all told.
Jones, too, dowsed into the copper a tidy lot of molasses, to sweeten the coffee; and so, when it was presently served out promptly at 'eight bells,' he won golden opinions in this his first essay at cooking, the men all declaring it prime stuff. I think, though, I ought to have had some of the credit of it, having lighted the fire and seen to everything save chucking in the coffee and molasses, which anybody else could have done quite so well as the steward!
Jones kept me too busy in the galley to allow me time to speak to Tom Bullover and Hiram Bangs, when they turned out to relieve the port watch; but, later on, when the decks had been washed down, and the sun was getting well up in the eastern horizon, flooding the ocean with the rosy light of morning, I had an opportunity of telling my friend the carpenter of what I had seen in the cabin.
Much to my disgust, however, he laughed at my account of Sam Jedfoot's ghost having appeared, declaring that I had been dreaming and imagined it all.
"No, Charley, I wouldn't believe it if you went down on your bended knees an' swore it, not save I seed Sam with my own eyes, an' even then I'd have a doubt," said Tom, grinning in the most exasperating way. "Why, look there, now, at the skipper on the poop, as right as ninepence! If he'd been in the state you say, an' were so orfully frightened, an' had seed Sam's sperrit, as you wants to make me swallow, do you think he'd look so perky this mornin'?"
I could hardly believe my eyes.
Yes, there was Captain Snaggs, braced up against the poop rail in his usual place, with one eye scanning the horizon to windward and the other inspecting the sails aloft, and his billy-goat beard sticking out as it always did. He looked as hearty as if nothing had happened, the only sign that I could see of his drunken fit of the night before being a cut across the bridge of his long hooked nose, and a slight discolouration of his eye on the port side, the result, no doubt, of his fall on the cabin floor.
Tom Bullover could read my doubts in my face.
"You must have dreamed it, Charley, I s'pose, on account of all that talkin' we had in the fo'c's'le about ghostesses afore you went aft an' turned in, an' that's what's the matter," he repeated, giving me a nudge in the ribs, while he added more earnestly: "And, if I was you, my boy, I wouldn't mention a word of it to another soul, or the hands 'll chaff the life out of you, an' you'll wish you were a ghost yerself!"
Tom moved off as he uttered these last words with a chuckle, and accompanied by an expressive wink, that spoke volumes; so, seeing his advice was sound, I determined to act upon it, although the fear struck me that Jones, the steward, would mention it even if I didn't, just to make me the laughing-stock of the crew.
However, I had no time then for reflection; Captain Snaggs, as if to show that he had all his wits about him still, calling out for the hands forward to overhaul the studding-sail gear and rig out the booms; and, by breakfast time, when the steward and I had to busy ourselves again in the galley, the Denver City was covered with, a regular pyramid of canvas, that seemed to extend from the truck to the deck, while she was racing through the water at a rate of ten knots or more, with a clear sky above and a moderate sea below, and a steady nor'-nor'-west wind after us.
At noon, when the captain took the sun and told us forward to "make it eight bells," we learnt that we were in longitude 8 degrees 15 minutes West, and latitude 49 degrees 20 minutes North, or well to the westward of the Scilly Islands, and so really out at sea and entered on our long voyage to California.