WE AND THE WORLD:
A BOOK FOR BOYS.
BY JULIANA HORATIA EWING.
SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE, LONDON: NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, W.C. BRIGHTON: 129, NORTH STREET. NEW YORK: E. & J.B. YOUNG & CO.
[Published under the direction of the General Literature Committee.]
WE AND THE WORLD.
"A friend in need is a friend indeed."—Old Proverb.
I have often thought that the biggest bit of good luck (and I was lucky), which befell me on my outset into the world, was that the man I sat next to in the railway carriage was not a rogue. I travelled third class to Liverpool for more than one reason—it was the cheapest way, besides which I did not wish to meet any family friends—and the man I speak of was a third-class passenger, and he went to Liverpool too.
At the time I was puzzled to think how he came to guess that I was running away, that I had money with me, and that I had never been to Liverpool before; but I can well imagine now how my ignorance and anxiety must have betrayed themselves at every station I mistook for the end of my journey, and with every question which I put, as I flattered myself, in the careless tones of common conversation, I really wonder I had not thought beforehand about my clothes, which fitted very badly on the character I assumed, and the company I chose; but it was not perhaps to be expected that I should know then, as I know now, how conspicuous all over me must have been the absence of those outward signs of hardship and poverty, which they who know poverty and hardship know so well.
I wish I had known them, because then I should have given the man some of my money when we parted, instead of feeling too delicate to do so. I can remember his face too well not to know now how much he must have needed it, and how heroic a virtue honesty must have been in him.
It did not seem to strike him as at all strange or unnatural that a lad of my age should be seeking his own fortune, but I feel sure that he thought it was misconduct on my part which had made me run away from home. I had no grievance to describe which he could recognize as grievous enough to drive me out into the world. However, I felt very glad that he saw no impossibility in my earning my own livelihood, or even anything very unusual in my situation.
"I suppose lots of young fellows run away from home and go to sea from a place like this?" said I, when we had reached Liverpool.
"And there's plenty more goes that has no homes to run from," replied he sententiously.
Prefacing each fresh counsel with the formula, "You'll excuse me," he gave me some excellent advice as we threaded the greasy streets, and jostled the disreputable-looking population of the lower part of the town. General counsels as to my conduct, and the desirableness of turning over a new leaf for "young chaps" who had been wild and got into scrapes at home. And particular counsels which were invaluable to me, as to changing my dress, how to hide my money, what to turn my hand to with the quickest chance of bread-winning in strange places, and how to keep my own affairs to myself among strange people.
It was in the greasiest street, and among the most disreputable-looking people, that we found the "slop-shop" where, by my friend's orders, I was to "rig out" in clothes befitting my new line of life. He went in first, so he did not see the qualm that seized me on the doorstep. A revulsion so violent that it nearly made me sick then and there; and if some one had seized me by the nape of my neck, and landed me straightway at my desk in Uncle Henry's office, would, I believe, have left me tamed for life. For if this unutterable vileness of sights and sounds and smells which hung around the dark entry of the slop shop were indeed the world, I felt a sudden and most vehement conviction that I would willingly renounce the world for ever. As it happened, I had not at that moment the choice. My friend had gone in, and I dared not stay among the people outside. I groped my way into the shop, which was so dark as well as dingy that they had lighted a small oil-lamp just above the head of the man who served out the slops. Even so the light that fell on him was dim and fitful, and was the means of giving me another start in which I gasped out—"Moses Benson!"
The man turned and smiled (he had the Jew-clerk's exact smile), and said softly,
"Cohen, my dear, not Benson."
And as he bent at another angle of the oil-lamp I saw that he was older than the clerk, and dirtier; and though his coat was quite curiously like the one I had so often cleaned, he had evidently either never met with the invaluable "scouring drops," or did not feel it worth while to make use of them in such a dingy hole.
One shock helped to cure the other. Come what might, I could not sneak back now to the civil congratulations of that other Moses, and the scorn of his eye. But I was so nervous that my fellow-traveller transacted my business for me, and when the oil-lamp flared and I caught Moses Cohen looking at me, I jumped as if Snuffy had come behind me. And when we got out (and it was no easy matter to escape from the various benevolent offers of the owner of the slop-shop), my friend said,
"You'll excuse me telling you, but whatever you do don't go near that there Jew again. He's no friend for a young chap like you."
"I should have got your slops cheaper," he added, "if I could have taken your clothes in without you."
My "slops" were a very loose suit of clothes made of much coarser material than my own, and I suppose they were called "slops" because they fitted in such a peculiarly sloppy manner. The whole "rig out" (it included a strong clasp-knife, and a little leathern bag to keep my money in, which I was instructed to carry round my neck) was provided by Mr. Cohen in exchange for the clothes I had been wearing before, with the addition of ten shillings in cash. I dipped again into the leathern bag to provide a meal for myself and my friend; then, by his advice, I put a shilling and some coppers into my pocket, that I might not have to bring out my purse in public, and with a few parting words of counsel he wrung my hand, and we parted—he towards some place of business where he hoped to get employment, and I in the direction of the docks, where the ships come and go.
"I hope you will get work," were my last words.
"The same to you, my lad," was his reply, and it seemed to acknowledge me as one of that big brotherhood of toilers who, when they want "something to do," want it not to pass time but to earn daily bread.
"Deark d'on Dearka." ("Beg of a Beggar.") Irish Proverb.
"... From her way of speaking they also saw immediately that she too was an Eirisher.... They must be a bonny family when they are all at home!"—The Life of Mansie Tailor in Dalkeith.
"Dock" (so ran the 536th of the 'Penny Numbers') is "a place artificially formed for the reception of ships, the entrance of which is generally closed by gates. There are two kinds of docks, dry-docks and wet-docks. The former are used for receiving ships in order to their being inspected and repaired. For this purpose the dock must be so contrived that the water may be admitted or excluded at pleasure, so that a vessel can be floated in when the tide is high, and that the water may run out with the fall of the tide, or be pumped out, the closing of the gates preventing its return. Wet-docks are formed for the purpose of keeping vessels always afloat.... One of the chief uses of a dock is to keep a uniform level of water, so that the business of loading and unloading ships can be carried on without any interruption.... The first wet-dock for commercial purposes made in this kingdom was formed in the year 1708 at Liverpool, then a place of no importance."
The business of loading and unloading ships can be carried on without any interruption. If everything that the Penny Numbers told of were as true to the life as that, the world's wonders (at least those of them which begin with the first four letters of the alphabet) must be all that I had hoped; and perhaps that bee-hive about which Master Isaac and I had had our jokes, did really yield a "considerable income" to the fortunate French bee-master!
Loading and unloading, coming and going, lifting and lowering, shouting and replying, swearing and retorting, creaking and jangling, shrieking and bumping, cursing and chaffing, the noise and restlessness of men and things were utterly bewildering. I had often heard of a Babel of sounds, but I had never before heard anything so like what one might fancy it must have been when that great crowd of workmen broke up, and left building their tower, in a confounding of language and misunderstanding of speech. For the men who went to and fro in these docks, each his own way, jostling and yelling to each other, were men of all nations, and the confusion was of tongues as well as of work. At one minute I found myself standing next to a live Chinaman in a pigtail, who was staring as hard as I at some swarthy supple-bodied sailors with eager faces, and scant clothing wrapped tightly round them, chatting to each other in a language as strange to the Chinaman as to me, their large lustrous eyes returning our curiosity with interest, and contrasting strangely with the tea-caddy countenance of my elbow neighbour. Then a turbaned Turk went by, and then two grinning negroes, and there were lots of men who looked more like Englishmen, but who spoke with other tongues, and amongst those who loaded and unloaded in this busy place, which was once of no importance, Irish brogue seemed the commonest language of all.
One thing made me hopeful—there were plenty of boys no bigger than myself who were busy working, and therefore earning wages, and as I saw several lads who were dressed in suits the very counterpart of my own, I felt sure that my travelling companion had done me a good turn when he rigged me out in slops. An incident that occurred in the afternoon made me a little more doubtful about this.
I really had found much to counterbalance the anxieties of my position in the delightful novelty and variety of life around me, and not a little to raise my hopes; for I had watched keenly for several hours as much as I could see from the wharf of what was going on in this ship and that, and I began to feel less confused. I perceived plainly that a great deal of every-day sort of work went on in ships as well as in houses, with the chief difference, in dock at any rate, of being done in public. In the most free and easy fashion, to the untiring entertainment of crowds of idlers besides myself, the men and boys on vessel after vessel lying alongside, washed out their shirts and socks, and hung them up to dry, cooked their food, cleaned out their pots and pans, tidied their holes and corners, swept and brushed, and fetched and carried, and did scores of things which I knew I could do perfectly, for want of something better to do.
"It's clear there's plenty of dirty work to go on with till one learns seamanship," I thought, and the thought was an honest satisfaction to me.
I had always swept Uncle Henry's office, and that had been light work after cleaning the school-room at Snuffy's. My hands were never likely to be more chapped at sea than they had been with dirt and snow and want of things to dry oneself with at school; and as to coal-carrying—
Talking of coals, on board the big ship, out of which great white bales, strapped with bars of iron, were being pulled up by machinery, and caught and flung about by the "unloaders," there was a man whose business it seemed to be to look after the fires, and who seemed also to have taken a roll in the coal-hole for pleasure; and I saw him find a tin basin and a square of soap, and a decent rough towel to wash his face and hands, such as would have been reckoned luxurious in a dormitory at Snuffy's. Altogether—when a heavy hand was laid suddenly on my shoulder, and a gruff voice said,
"Well, my young star-gazing greenhorn, and what do you want?"
I replied with alacrity, as well as with more respect than the stranger's appearance was calculated to inspire, "Please, sir, I want to go to sea, and I should like to ship for America."
He was not a nice-looking man by any means—far too suggestive of Snuffy, when Snuffy was partly drunk. But after a pause, he said,
"All right. Where are your papers? What was your ship, and why did ye run?"
"I have not served in a ship yet, sir," said I, "but I'm sure—"
He did not allow me to go on. With a sudden fierce look that made him more horribly like Snuffy than before, he caught me by my sleeve and a bit of my arm, and shoved me back from the edge of the dock till we stood alone. "Then where did ye steal your slops?" he hissed at me with oaths. "Look here, ye young gallows-bird, if ye don't stand me a liquor, I'll run ye in as a runaway apprentice. So cash up, and look sharp."
I was startled, but I was not quite such a fool as I looked, mind or body. I had once had a hardish struggle with Snuffy himself when he was savage, and I was strong and agile beyond my seeming. I dived deeply into my trousers-pocket, as if feeling for the price of a "liquor," and the man having involuntarily allowed me a little swing for this, I suddenly put up my shoulders, and ran at him as if my head were a battering-ram, and his moleskin waistcoat the wall of a beleaguered city, and then wrenching myself from his grasp, and dodging the leg he had put out to trip me, I fled blindly down the quay.
No one can take orange-peel into account, however. I slipped on a large piece and came headlong, with the aggravation of hearing my enemy breathing hoarsely close above me. As regards him, I suppose it was lucky that my fall jerked the shilling and the penny out of my pocket, for as the shilling rolled away he went after it, and I saw him no more. What I did see when I sat up was the last of my penny (which had rolled in another direction), as it gave one final turn and fell into the dock.
I could have cried with vexation, and partly with fatigue, for it was getting late, and I was getting tired. I had fallen soft enough, as it happened, for I found myself on a heap of seeds, some kind of small bean, and the yielding mass made a pleasant resting-place. There was no one very near, and I moved round to the back of the heap to be still more out of sight, and sat down to try and think what it was best to do. If my slops were really a sort of uniform to which I was not entitled, they would do me more harm than good. But whom could I ask? If there were an honest, friendly soul in all this crowd, and I could come across him, I felt that (without telling too much of my affairs) I could explain that I had exchanged some good shore clothes of my own for what I had been told were more suitable to the work I was looking out for, and say further that though I had never yet been at sea, I was hardy, and willing to make myself useful in any way. But how could I tell whom to trust? I might speak fair to some likely-looking man, and he might take me somewhere and strip me of my slops, and find my leather money-bag, and steal that too. When I thought how easily my fellow-traveller might have treated me thus, I felt a thrill of gratitude towards him, and then I wondered how he had prospered in his search for work. As for me, it was pretty clear that if I hoped to work my way in this wicked world, I must suspect a scoundrel in every man I met, and forestall mischief by suspicion. As I sat and thought, I sifted the beans through my fingers, and saw that there were lots of strange seeds mixed with them, some of very fantastic shapes; and I wondered what countries they came from, and with what shape and scent and colour the plants blossomed, and thought how Charlie would like some of them to sow in pots and watch. As I drove my hands deeper into the heap, I felt that it was quite warm inside, and then I put my head down to smell if there was any fragrance in the seeds, and I did not lift it up again, for I fell fast asleep.
I was awakened by a touch on my head, and a voice just above me, saying: "He's alive anyhow, thank GOD!" and sitting up among the beans I found that it was dark and foggy, but a lamp at some distance gave me a pretty good view of an old woman who was bending over me.
She was dressed, apparently, in several skirts of unequal lengths, each one dingier and more useless-looking than the one beneath it. She had a man's coat, with a short pipe in the breast-pocket; and what her bonnet was like one could not tell, for it was comfortably tied down by a crimson handkerchief with big white spots, which covered it completely. Her face was as crumpled and as dirty as her clothes, but she had as fine eyes and as kind eyes as mine had ever met. And every idea of needful wariness and of the wickedness of the world went quite naturally out of my head, and I said, "Did you think I was dead, Mother?"
"I did not; though how would I know what would be the matter wid ye, lying there those three hours on your face, and not a stir out o' ye?"
"You're very kind," I said, dusting the bean-dust off my trousers, and I suppose I looked a little puzzled, for the old woman (helping me by flicking at my sleeve) went on: "I'll not deceive ye, my dear. It was my own Micky that was on my mind; though now you've lifted your face, barring the colour of his hair, there's no likeness betwixt ye, and I'm the disappointed woman again, GOD help me!"
"Is Micky your son?" I asked.
"He is, and a better child woman never had, till he tired of everything I would do for him, being always the boy for a change, and went for a stowaway from this very port."
"Sit down, Mother; stowaways are lads that hide on board ship, and get taken to sea for nothing, aren't they?"
"They are, darlin'; but it's not for nothing they get kept at sea, ye may take your oath. And many's the one that leaves this in the highest of expictations, and is glad enough to get back to it in a tattered shirt and a whole skin, and with an increase of contintment under the ways of home upon his mind."
"And you hope Micky'll come back, I suppose?"
"Why wouldn't I, acushla? Sure it was by reason o' that I got bothered with the washin' after me poor boy left me, from my mind being continually in the docks, instead of with the clothes. And there I would be at the end of the week, with the Captain's jerseys gone to old Miss Harding, and his washing no corricter than hers, though he'd more good nature in him over the accidents, and iron-moulds on the table-cloths, and pocket-handkerchers missin', and me ruined entirely with making them good, and no thanks for it, till a good-natured sowl of a foreigner that kept a pie-shop larned me to make the coffee, and lint me the money to buy a barra, and he says: 'Go as convanient to the ships as ye can, Mother; it'll aise your mind. My own heart,' says he, laying his hand to it, 'knows what it is to have my body here, and the whole sowl of me far away.'"
"Did you pay him back?" I asked. I spoke without thinking, and still less did I mean to be rude; but it suddenly struck me that I was young and hearty, and that it would be almost a duty to share the contents of my leather bag with this poor old woman, if there were no chance of her being able to repay the generous foreigner.
"Did I pay him back?" she screamed. "Would I be the black-hearted thief to him that was kind to me? Sorra bit nor sup but dry bread and water passed me lips till he had his own agin, and the heart's blessings of owld Biddy Macartney along with it."
I made my peace with old Biddy as well as I could, and turned the conversation back to her son.
"So you live in the docks with your coffee-barrow, Mother, that you may be sure not to miss Micky when he comes ashore?"
"I do, darlin'. Fourteen years all but three days. He'll be gone fifteen if we all live till Wednesday week."
"Fifteen? But, Mother, if he were like me when he went, he can't be very like me now. He must be a middle-aged man. Do you think you'd know him?"
This question was more unfortunate than the other, and produced such howling and weeping, and beating of Biddy's knees as she rocked herself among the beans, that I should have thought every soul in the docks would have crowded round us. But no one took any notice of us, and by degrees I calmed her, chiefly by the assertion—"He'll know you, Mother, anyhow."
"He will so, GOD bless him!" said she, "And haven't I gone over it all in me own mind, often and often, when I'd see the vessels feelin' their way home through the darkness, and the coffee staymin' enough to cheer your heart wid the smell of it, and the laste taste in life of something betther in the stone bottle under me petticoats. And then the big ship would be coming in with her lights at the head of her, and myself sitting alone with me patience, GOD helping me, and one and another strange face going by. And then he comes along, cold maybe, and smells the coffee. 'Bedad, but that's a fine smell with it,' says he, for Micky was mighty particular in his aitin' and drinkin'. 'I'll take a dhrop of that,' says he, not noticing me particular, and if ever I'd the saycret of a good cup he gets it, me consayling me face. 'What will it be?' says he, setting down the mug, 'What would it be, Micky, from your Mother?' says I, and I lifts me head. Arrah, but then there's the heart's delight between us. 'Mother!' says he. 'Micky!' says I. And he lifts his foot and kicks over the barra, and dances me round in his arms, 'Ochone!' says the spictators; 'there's the fine coffee that's running into the dock.' 'Let it run,' says I, in the joy of me heart, 'and you after it, and the barra on the top of ye, now Micky me son's come home!'"
"Wonderfully jolly!" said I. "And it must be pleasant even to think of it."
But Biddy's effort of imagination seemed to have exhausted her, and she relapsed into the lowest possible spirits, from which she suddenly roused herself to return to her neglected coffee-stall.
"Bad manners to me, for an old fool! sitting here whineging and lamenting, when there's folks, maybe, waiting for their coffee, and yourself would have been the betther of some this half-hour. Come along wid ye."
And giving a tighter knot to the red kerchief, which had been disordered by her lamentations, the old woman went down the dock, I following her.
We had not to go far. Biddy's coffee-barrow was placed just as the pieman had advised. It was as near the ships as possible. In fact it was actually under the shadow of a big black-looking vessel which loomed large through the fog, and to and from which men were coming and going as usual. With several of these the old woman interchanged some good-humoured chaff as she settled herself in her place, and bade me sit beside her.
"Tuck your legs under ye, agra! on that bit of an ould sack. Tis what I wrap round me shoulders when the nights do be wet, as it isn't this evening, thank GOD! And there's the coffee for ye."
"Mother," said I, "do you think you could sit so as to hide me for a few minutes? All the money I have is in a bag round my neck, and I don't want strangers to see it."
"Ye'll just keep it there, then," replied Biddy, irately, "and don't go an' insult me wid the show of it."
And she turned her back on me, whilst I drank my coffee, and ate some excellent cakes, which formed part of her stock-in-trade. One of these she insisted on my putting into my pocket "against the hungry hour." I thanked her warmly for the gift, whereupon she became mollified, and said I was kindly welcome; and whilst she was serving some customers, I turned round and looked at the ship. Late as it was, people seemed very busy about her, rather more so than about any I had seen. As I sat, I was just opposite to a yawning hole in the ship's side, into which men were noisily running great bales and boxes, which other men on board were lowering into the depths of the vessel with very noisy machinery and with much shouting in a sort of uncouth rhythm, to which the grating and bumping of the crane and its chains was a trifle. I was so absorbed by looking, and it was so impossible to hear anything else unless one were attending, that I never discovered that Biddy and I were alone again, till the touch of her hand on my head made me jump.
"I beg your pardon, Mother," I said; "I couldn't think what it was."
"I ax yours, dear. It's just the curls, and I'm the foolish woman to look at 'em. Barrin' the hair, ye don't favour each other the laste."
I had really heard a good deal about Micky, and was getting tired of him, and inclined to revert to my own affairs.
"Mother, do you know where this ship comes from?"
"I do not. But she sails with the morning for Halifax, I'm told. And that's America way, and I insensed the cook—that was him that axed me where I bought my coffee—to have an eye out for Micky, in case he might come across him anywhere."
America way! To-morrow morning! A storm of thoughts rushed through my head, and in my passionate longing for help I knelt up by the old Irishwoman and laid my hand upon hers.
"Mother dear, do help me! You are so kind, and you've a boy of your own at sea. I want to go to America, and I've no papers or anything. Couldn't I stow away as Micky did? Couldn't I stow away on this one? I can work well enough when they find me out, if I could only hide so as to get off; and you know the ships and the docks so well, you could tell me how, if only you would."
I am always ashamed to remember the feeble way in which I finished off by breaking down, though I do not know that I could have used any argument that would have gone so far with Biddy. If it had been a man who had been befriending me, I'm sure I shouldn't have played the fool, but it was a woman, so I felt doubly helpless in having to depend on her, and she felt doubly kind, and, in short, I put my face in my hands and sobbed.
For quite four hours after this I was puzzled to death by smelling stale bad tobacco about myself; then I discovered that by some extraordinary jerk in the vehemence of the embrace which was Biddy's first response to my appeal, the little black pipe had got out of her coat-pocket and tumbled down the breast of my slops.
I hope my breakdown was partly due to the infectious nature of emotion, of which Biddy was so lavish that my prospects were discussed in a sadly unbusiness-like fashion. My conscience is really quite clear of having led her to hope that I would look out for Micky on the other side of the Atlantic, but I fear that she had made up her mind that we should meet, and that this went far towards converting her to my views for stowing away on the vessel lying alongside of us. However, that important point once reached, the old woman threw herself into the enterprise with a practical knowledge of the realities of the undertaking and a zest for the romance of it which were alike invaluable to me.
"The botheration of it is," said Biddy, after some talk, tangling her bonnet and handkerchief over her face till I felt inclined to beg her to let me put her straight—"the botheration of it is, that it's near to closing-time, and when the bell rings every soul'll be cleared out, labourers and idlers, and myself among 'em. Ye'll have to hide, me darlin', but there'll be no mighty difficulty in that, for I see a fine bit of tarpaulin yonder that'd consale a dozen of the likes of you. But there's that fool of a watchman that'll come parading and meandering up and down wid all the airs of a sentry on him and none of his good looks, and wid a sneaking bull's-eye of a lantern in his hand. He's at the end of the wharf now, purshuin' to him! Maybe I'll get him to taste a dhrop of me coffee before the bell rings. Many's the cup I gave to the old watchman before him, peace to his sowl, the kindly craythur! that never did a more ill-natured thing on his beat than sleep like a child. Hide now, darlin', and keep the tail of your eye at the corner where ye'll see the ship. Maybe he'll take a nap yet, for all his airs, and then there's the chance for ye! And mind now, keep snug till the pilot's gone as I warned ye, and then it's the bold heart and the civil tongue, and just the good-nature of your ways, that'll be your best friends. The cook tells me the captain's as dacent a man as iver he served with, so you might aisy do worse, and are not likely to do better. Are ye hid now? Whisht! Whisht!"
I heard most of this through a lifted corner of the tarpaulin, under which I had the good luck to secrete myself without observation and without difficulty. In the same manner I became witness to the admirable air of indifference with which Biddy was mixing herself a cup of coffee as the watchman approached. I say mixing advisedly, for as he came up she was conspicuously pouring some of the contents of the stone bottle into her cup. Whether this drew the watchman's attention in an unusual degree, of course I do not know, but he stopped to say, "Good-evening, Biddy."
"Good-evening to ye, me dear, and a nasty damp evening it is."
"You're taking something to keep the damp out, I see, missus."
"I am, dear; but it's not for a foine milithrary-looking man like yourself to be having the laugh at a poor old craythur with nothin' but the wind and weather in her bones."
"The wind and weather get into my bones, I can tell you," said the watchman; "and I begin my work in the fog just when you're getting out of it."
"And that's thrue, worse luck. Take a dhrop of coffee, allanna, before I lave ye."
"No, thank ye, missus; I've just had my supper."
"And would that privint ye from takin' the cup I'd be offering ye, wid a taste of somethin' in it against the damps, barrin' the bottle was empty?"
"Well, I'm not particular—as you are so pressing. Thank ye, mum; here's your good health."
I heard the watchman say this, though at the moment I dared not peep, and then I heard him cough.
"My sakes, Biddy, you make your—coffee—strong."
"Strong, darlin'? It's pure, ye mane. It's the rale craythur, that, and bedad! there's a dhrop or two left that's not worth the removing, and we'll share it anyhow. Here's to them that's far—r away."
"Thank you, thank you, woman."
"Thim that's near, and thim that's far away!" said Biddy, improving upon her toast.
There was a pause. I could hear the old woman packing up her traps, and then the man (upon whom the coffee and whisky seemed to produce a roughening rather than a soothing effect) said coarsely, "You're a rum lot, you Irish!"
"We are, dear," replied Biddy, blandly; "and that's why we'd be comin' all the way to Lancashire for the improvement of our manners." And she threw the sacking round her neck, and lifted the handles of her barrow.
"Good-night, me darlin'!" said she, raising her voice as she moved off. "We'll meet again, GOD willing."
"Safe enough, unless you tumble into the dock," replied the watchman. "Go steady, missus. I hope you'll get safe home with that barra o' yours."
"GOD send all safe home that's far from it!" shouted Biddy, in tones that rose above the rumbling of the wheel and the shuffling of her shoes.
"Haw! haw!" laughed the watchman, and with increased brutalness in his voice he reiterated, "You're a rum lot, Biddy! and free of most things, blessings and all."
I was not surprised that the sound of the wheel and the shoes ceased suddenly. Biddy had set down her barrow to retort. But it was with deep gratitude that I found her postpone her own wrath to my safety, and content herself with making her enemy "a prisint of the contimpt of a rogue."
"And what would I be doing but blessing ye?" she cried, in a voice of such dramatic variety as only quick wits and warm feelings can give, it was so full at once of suppressed rage, humorous triumph, contemptuous irony, and infinite tenderness. And I need hardly say that it was raised to a ringing pitch that would have reached my ears had they been buried under twenty tarpaulins, "GOD bless ye for ivermore! Good luck to ye! fine weather to ye! health and strength to ye! May the knaves that would harm ye be made fools for your benefit, and may niver worse luck light on one hair of your head than the best blessings of Biddy Macartney!"
Something peculiar in the sound of Biddy's retreating movements made me risk another glance from an angle of the tarpaulin.
And upon my honour it is strictly true that I saw the old Irish woman drive her barrow down the dock till she passed out of sight, and that she went neither walking nor running, but dancing; and a good high stepping dance too, that showed her stockings, and shook the handkerchief on her head. And when she reached the end of the wharf she snapped her fingers in the air.
Then I drew my head back, and I could hear the watchman guffaw as if he would have split his sides. And even after he began to tramp up and down I could hear him still chuckling as he paced by.
And if I did not hear Biddy chuckle, it was perhaps because the joke on her side lay deeper down.
"The mariners shout, The ships swing about. The yards are all hoisted, The sails flutter out." The Saga of King Olaf.
The docks were very quiet now. Only a few footfalls broke the silence, and the water sobbed a little round the piles, and there was some creaking and groaning and grinding, and the vessels drifted at their moorings, and bumped against the wharves.
The watchman paced up and down, and up and down. I did not hear him very clearly from under the tarpaulin, and sometimes when he went farther away I did not hear him at all. At last I was so long without hearing him that I peeped cautiously out. What Biddy had said might be, seemed really to have happened. The watchman was sitting in a sort of arm-chair of ironbound cotton-bales; his long coat was tucked between his legs, his hat was over his nose, and he was fast asleep.
I did not need any one to tell me that now was my time; but it was with limbs that almost refused their office from sheer fright, that I crept past the sleeping man, and reached the edge of the wharf. There was the vessel moving very slightly, and groaning dismally as she moved, and there was the hole, and it was temptingly dark. But—the gangway that had been laid across from the wharf was gone! I could have jumped the chasm easily with a run, but I dared not take a run. If I did it at all it must be done standing. I tried to fetch a breath free from heart-throbs, but in vain; so I set my teeth, and pulled nerves and sinews together and jumped.
It was too much for me, and I jumped short and fell. Then my training under the half-caste told in my favour. I caught the edge of the hole with my hands, and swung suspended over the water, with quite presence of mind enough to hear and think of what was going on about me. What I heard was the watchman, who roused up to call out, "Who's there?" and then he shot a sharp ray of light from his lantern right into the hole. It was very lucky for me that I was so low, for the light went over my head, and he saw nothing of me, my dark clothes making no mark against the ship's black hull.
My head was cool enough now, and my heart steady, and I listened with an intensity that postponed fear, though my predicament was not a pleasant one, and the rippling water below me was confusing.
The suspense was no doubt shorter than it seemed, before the light disappeared, and with a thankful heart I distinctly heard the watchman flop down again among the cotton-bales. Then I drew myself up over the edge and crept noiselessly into the ship. I took care to creep beyond reach of the lantern, and then the swaying of the vessel made me feel so giddy that I had to lie still for a while where I was, before I could recover myself enough to feel about for a suitable hiding-place.
As I afterwards learnt, I was on the lower deck, which was being used for cargo instead of passengers. The said cargo seemed so tightly packed, that in spite of creeping, and groping, and knocking myself pretty hard, I could feel no nook or corner to my mind. Then I turned giddy again and reeled against the door of a cabin, which gave way so far as to let me fall inwards on to a heap of old sails, ropes, and other softish ship lumber stowed away within. As I fell my hand struck something warm, which I fancied gave a writhe out of my grasp. I groped and seized it again, and now there was no mistake. It was somebody's arm, who said in a quick undertone, "Gently, gently, sirs; I'm coming along with ye. I'll gie ye my word I'm after no harm."
I was taken aback, but thought it well to keep up my position, which appeared to be one of advantage. The young man (for it was a youngster's voice) was evidently no ship's officer. If he were a dockyard pilferer, it was a nuisance, and a complication in my affairs, but I might pull through the difficulty with presence of mind.
"Speak low!" I whispered sharply. "What's your name, and where do you come from?"
"Alister Auchterlay, they call me" (the whisper was a reluctant one, but I jogged his arm rather fiercely to shake the truth out of him). "I come from Aberdeenshire. But, man! if ye're for having me up in court, for GOD'S sake let me plead in another name, for my mother taks the papers."
"What are you doing here?" I whispered in a not very steady whisper, as I think my prisoner detected.
"I'm just stowing away," he said eagerly; "I'm no harming a thing. Eh, sir, if you're a ship's 'prentice, or whatever may be your duties on this vessel, let me bide! There's scores of stowaways taken every day, and I'll work as few could."
"Do, do try and speak low," I whispered; "or we shall both be found out I'm stowing away myself!"
"Whew, laddie! How long will ye have been in Liverpool?"
"Only to-day. How long have you been here?"
"A week, and a sore week too."
"You've no friends here, have you?"
"Freens, did ye say? I've no freens nearer than Scotland."
"You must have had a hard time of it," I whispered.
"Ye may say so. I've slept four nights in the docks, and never managed to stow till to-night. There's a watchman about."
"I know," said I.
"I shouldn't have got in to-night, but the misconducted body's asleep, though I'll say it's the first time I saw him sleeping these four days. Eh, sirs! there's an awful indifference to responsibility, when a man does a thing like yon. But it'll be whisky, I'm thinking; for I heard him at clishmaclavers with one of these randy, drucken old Eirishers."
My blood boiled. "She was not drunk!" said I. "And she's—she's a great friend of mine."
"Whisht! whisht, man! We'll be heard. I ask your pardon, I'm sure."
I made no reply. The Scotchman's tone was unpleasantly dry. Besides it was very difficult to give vent to one's just indignation in whispers, and I still felt giddy, though I was resting my back against some of the lumber, rather comfortably.
"You'll no be Eirish, yourself?" the Scotchman asked in his own accent, which was as strong in its way as Biddy's.
"I'm English," I said.
"Just so. And edyucated, I dare say?"
"I suppose so."
"Ye've not forgiven me that I wronged the old lady? Indeed, but I ask your pardon, and hers no less. It's not for the best of us to sit in judgment on the erring, as my mother has often said to me, unless it comes in the plain path of duty. But maybe your own temper would be a bit soored if your head was as light and your heart as sick as mine with starvation and hope deferred—"
"Are you hungry?" I interrupted.
"I'll not be sorry when we get a meal."
"What have you had to-day?" I asked.
"I've been in the dock all day," he answered evasively, "but I'm no great eater at the best of times, and I chewed two bits of orange-peel, not to speak of a handful of corn where there was a big heap had been spilt by some wasteful body or another, that had small thoughts of it's coming to use. Now hoo in this world's a man to make honest profit on a commodity he entrusts—"
"Sh! sh! You're raising your voice again," said I. "Where's your hand? It's only a cake, but it'll be better than nothing." And I held out the cake Biddy had made me put in my pocket.
"I'll no take it from ye. Keep it for your own needs; I'm harder than yourself, it's likely," he said, pushing my hand aside, and added almost peevishly, "but keep the smell of it from me."
"I can spare it perfectly," I whispered. "I've had plenty to eat quite lately."
I shall never forget how he clutched it then. I could hear his teeth clash with the eagerness of his eating. It almost frightened me in the darkness.
"Eh! man, that was good!" he gasped. "Are ye sure indeed and in truth ye could spare it all? I didn't think they made such bannocks out of Scotland. But we've much to learn in all matters, doubtless. Thank ye a thousand times."
"The old Irishwoman gave it me!" I said with some malice. "She made me put it in my pocket, though she had given me a good meal before, for which she would take nothing."
"It was leeberal of her," said Alister Auchterlay. "Verra leeberal; but there are good Christians to be met with, amongst all sorts, there's not a doot aboot it."
I should probably have pursued my defence of Biddy against this grudging—not to say insulting—tribute to her charity, if I had not begun to feel too tired to talk, and very much teased by the heaving of the vessel.
"I wish the ship would be quiet till we start," I said. "We're not at sea yet."
In reply to this Alister at some length, and with as much emphasis as whispering permitted, explained to me that a ship could not, in the nature of things, keep still, except in certain circumstances, such as being in dry dock for repairs or lying at anchor in absolutely still water.
"Good gracious!" I interrupted. "Of course I know all that. You don't suppose I expect it not to move?"
"I understood ye to say that ye wushed it," he replied with dignity, if not offence.
"I don't know what I wish!" I moaned.
My companion's reply to this was to feel about for me and then to begin scrambling over me; then he said—"Move on, laddie, to your right, and ye'll find space to lie on the flat of your back, close by the ship's side. I'm feared you're barely fit for the job ye've undertaken, but ye'll be easier if ye lie down, and get some sleep."
I moved as he told me, and the relief of lying flat was great—so great that I began to pull myself together again, and made ready in my mind to thank my unseen companion for the generosity with which he had evidently given me the place he had picked for himself. But whilst I was thinking about it I fell fast asleep.
When I woke, for the first minute I thought I was at home, and I could not conceive what Martha could be doing, that there should be, as far as one could hear, chimney-sweeping, cinder-riddling, furniture-moving, clock-winding, and Spring-cleaning, of the most awful nature, all going on at once, and in a storm of yelling and scolding, which was no part of our domestic ways. But in another minute I knew where I was, and by the light coming through a little round porthole above me, I could see my companion.
He was still sleeping, so that I could satisfy my keen curiosity without rudeness. He had indeed given up the only bit of space to me, and was himself doubled up among lumber in a fashion that must have been very trying to the length of his limbs. For he was taller than I, though not, I thought, much older; two years or so, perhaps. The cut of his clothes (not their raggedness, though they were ragged as well as patched) confirmed me in my conviction that he was "not exactly a gentleman"; but I felt a little puzzled about him, for, broad as his accent was, he was even less exactly of the Tim Binder and Bob Furniss class.
He was not good-looking, and yet I hardly know any word that would so fittingly describe his face in the repose of sleep, and with that bit of light concentrated upon it, as the word "noble." It was drawn and pinched with pain and the endurance of pain, and I never saw anything so thin, except his hands, which lay close to his sides—both clenched. But I do think he would have been handsome if his face had not been almost aggressively intelligent when awake, and if his eyebrows and eyelashes had had any colour. His hair was fair but not bright, and it was straight without being smooth, and tossed into locks that had no grace or curl. And why he made me think of a Bible picture—Jacob lying at the foot of the ladder to heaven, or something of that sort—I could not tell, and did not puzzle myself to wonder, for the ship was moving, and there was a great deal to be seen out of the window, tiny as it was.
It looked on to the dock, where men were running about in the old bewildering fashion. To-day it was not so bewildering to me, because I could see that the men were working with some purpose that affected our vessel, though the directions in which they ran, dragging ropes as thick as my leg, to the grinding of equally monstrous chains, were as mysterious as the figures of some dance one does not know. As to the noises they made, men and boys anywhere are given to help on their work with sounds of some sort, but I could not have believed in anything approaching to these, out of a lunatic asylum, unless I had heard them.
I could hear quite well, I could hear what was said, and a great deal of it, I am sorry to say, would have been better unsaid. But the orders which rang out interested me, for I tried to fit them on to what followed, though without much result. At last the dock seemed to be moving away from me—I saw men, but not the same men—and every man's eye was fixed on us. Then the thick brown rope just below my window quivered like a bow-string, and tightened (all the water starting from it in a sparkling shower) till it looked as firm as a bar of iron, and I held on tight, for we were swinging round. Suddenly the voice of command sang out—(I fancied with a touch of triumph in the tone)—"Let go the warp!" The thick rope sprang into the air, and wriggled like a long snake, and it was all I could do to help joining in the shouts that rang from the deck above and from the dock below. Then the very heart of the ship began to beat with a new sound, and the Scotch lad leaped like a deerhound to the window, and put his arm round my shoulder, and whispered, "That's the screw, man! we're off!"
"He that tholes o'ercomes." "Tak' your venture, as mony a gude ship has done." Scotch Proverbs.
I am disposed to think that a ship is a place where one has occasional moments of excitement and enthusiasm that are rare elsewhere, but that it is not to be beaten (if approached) for the deadliness of the despondency to be experienced therein.
For perhaps a quarter of an hour after our start I felt much excited, and so, I think, did my companion. Shoulder to shoulder we were glued to the little round window, pinching each other when the hurrying steps hither and thither threatened to come down our way. We did not talk much, we were too busy looking out, and listening to the rushing water, and the throbbing of the screw. The land seemed to slip quickly by, countless ships, boats, and steamers barely gave us time to have a look at them, though Alister (who seemed to have learned a good deal during his four days in the docks) whispered little bits of information about one and another. Then the whole shore seemed to be covered by enormous sheds, and later on it got farther off, and then the land lay distant, and it was very low and marshy and most dreary-looking, and I fancied it was becoming more difficult to keep my footing at the window; and just when Alister had been pointing out a queer red ship with one stumpy mast crowned by a sort of cage, and telling me that it was a light-ship, our own vessel began to creak and groan worse than ever, and the floor under our feet seemed to run away from them, and by the time you had got used to going down, it caught you and jerked you up again, till my head refused to think anything about anything, and I half dropped and was half helped by Alister on to the flat of my back as before.
As to him, I may as well say at once, that I never knew him affected at sea by the roughest wind that could blow, and he sat on a box and looked at me half pityingly, and half, I suppose, with the sort of curiosity I had felt about him.
"I'm feared the life 'll be a bit over rough for ye," he said kindly. "Would ye think of going up and disclosing yourself before we're away from all chance of getting ashore?"
"No, no!" said I, vehemently, and added more feebly, "I dare say I shall be all right soon."
"Maybe," said the Scotchman.
He went back to the window and gazed out, seeing, I have no doubt, plenty to interest him; though my eyes, if opened for a moment, only shrank back and closed again instinctively, with feelings of indescribable misery. So indefinite time went on, Alister occasionally making whispered comments which I did not hear, and did not trouble myself to ask questions about, being utterly indifferent to the answers. But I felt no temptation to give in, I only remember feeling one intense desire, and it amounted to a prayer, that if these intolerable sensations did not abate, I might at any rate become master enough of them to do my duty in their teeth. The thought made me more alert, and when the Scotch lad warned me that steps were coming our way, I implored him to hide deeper under the sails, if he wished, without consideration for me, as I had resolved to face my fate at once, and be either killed or cured.
"Thank ye kindly," said Alister, "but there's small use in hiding now. They can but pitch us overboard, and I've read that drowning is by far an easier death than being starved, if ye come to that."
It was in this frame of mind that a sailor found us, and took us prisoners with so little difficulty that he drew the scarcely fair conclusion that we were the cheekiest, coolest hands of all the nasty, sneaking, longshore loafers he had ever had to deal with in all his blessed and otherwise than blessed born days. And wrathful as this outburst was, it was colourless to the indignation in his voice, when (replying to some questions from above) he answered,
"Two on 'em!"
Several other sailors came to the help of our captor, and we were dragged up the ladder and on deck, where the young Scotchman looked to better advantage than down below, and where I made the best presentment of myself that my miserable condition would allow. We were soon hauled before the captain, a sensible-faced, red-bearded man, with a Scotch accent rather harsher than Alister's, in which he harangued us in very unflattering phrases for our attempt to "steal a passage," and described the evil fate of which we were certain, if we did not work uncommonly hard for our victuals.
With one breath I and my companion asserted our willingness to do anything, and that to get a free passage as idlers was our last wish and intention. To this, amid appreciating chuckles from the crew, the captain replied, that, so sneaks and stowaways always said; a taunt which was too vulgar as repartee to annoy me, though I saw Alister's thin hands clenching at his sides. I don't know if the captain did, but he called out—"Here! you lanky lad there, show your hands."
"They're no idle set," said Alister, stretching them out. He lifted his eyes as he said it, and I do not think he could have repressed the flash in them to save his life. Every detail of the scene was of breathless interest to me, and as I watched to see if the captain took offence, I noticed that (though they were far less remarkable from being buried in a fat and commonplace countenance) his eyes, like Alister's, were of that bright, cold, sea-blue common among Scotchmen. He did not take offence, and I believe I was right in thinking that the boy's wasted hands struck him much as they had struck me.
"Don't speak unless I question you. How long will ye have been hanging round the docks before ye'd the impudence to come aboard here?"
"I slept four nights in the docks, sir."
"And where did ye take your meals?"
A flush crept over Alister's bony face. "I'm no' a great eater, sir," he said, with his eyes on the deck: and then suddenly lifting a glance at me out of the corner of them, he added, "The last I had was just given me by a freen'."
"That'll do. Put your hands down. Can you sew?"
"I ask your pardon, sir?"
"Is the fool deaf? Can ye use a needle and thread?"
"After a rough fashion, sir, and I can knit a bit."
A man with a gold band round his cap stepped forward and touched it.
"Take him to the sail-maker. He can help to patch the old fore-stay-sail on the forecastle. And you can—"
The rest of the order was in a low voice, but Mr. Waters saluted again and replied, "Yes, sir."
The captain saluted Mr. Waters, and then as Alister moved off, he said, "You're not sick, I see. Have you sailed before?"
"From Scotland, sir."
Whether, being a Scotchman himself, the tones of Alister's voice, as it lingered on the word "Scotland," touched a soft corner in the captain's soul, or whether the blue eyes met with an involuntary feeling of kinship, or whether the captain was merely struck by Alister's powerful-looking frame, and thought he might be very useful when he was better fed, I do not know; but I feel sure that as he returned my new comrade's salute, he did so in a softened humour. Perhaps this made him doubly rough to me, and I have no doubt I looked as miserable an object as one could (not) wish to see.
"You're sick enough," he said; "stand straight, sir! we don't nurse invalids here, and if you stop you'll have to work for your food, whether you can eat it or not."
"I will, sir," said I.
"Put out your hands."
I did, and he looked keenly, first at them, and then, from head to foot, at me. And then to my horror, he asked the question I had been asked by the man who robbed me of my shilling.
"Where did you steal your slops?"
I hastened to explain. "A working-man, sir, in Liverpool, who was kind enough to advise me, said that I should have no chance of getting work on board ship in the clothes I had on. So I exchanged them, and got these, in a shop he took me to," and being anxious to prove the truth of my tale, and also to speak with the utmost respect of everybody in this critical state of my affairs, I added: "I don't remember the name of the street, sir, but the shop was kept by a—by a Mr. Moses Cohen."
"Mr. Moses Cohen, sir."
When I first uttered the name, I fancied I heard some sniggering among the sailors who still kept guard over me, and this time the captain's face wrinkled, and he turned to another officer standing near him and repeated,
"Mister Moses Cohen!" and they both burst into a fit of laughter, which became a roar among the subordinates, till the captain cried—"Silence there!" and still chuckling sardonically, added, "Your suit must have been a very spic and span one, young gentleman, if Mister Moses Cohen accepted it in lieu of that rig out."
"I paid ten shillings as well," said I.
The laughter recommenced, but the captain looked wrathful. "Oh, you paid ten shillings as well, did you? And what the thunder and lightning have you tried to steal a passage for when you'd money to pay for one?"
"I didn't mean to steal a passage, sir," said I, "and I don't mean it now. I tried to get taken as a sailor-lad, but they seemed to expect me to have been to sea before, and to have some papers to show it. So I stowed away, and I'm very sorry if you think it dishonest, sir, but I meant to work for my passage, and I will work hard."
"And what do you suppose an ignorant land-lubber like you can do, as we don't happen to be short of public speakers?"
"I thought I could clean things, and carry coals, and do rough work till I learnt my trade, sir."
"Can you climb?" said the captain, looking at the rigging.
"I've never climbed on board ship, sir, but I was good at athletics when I was at school, and I believe I could."
"We'll see," said the captain significantly. "And supposing you're of no use, and we kick ye overboard, can ye swim?"
"Yes, sir, and dive. I'm at home in the water."
"It's more than you are on it. Bo'sun!"
"Take this accomplished young gentleman of fortune, and give him something to do. Give him an oil-rag and let him rub some of our brass, and stow his own. And, bo'sun!"
"Take him first to Mr. Johnson, and say that I request Mr. Johnson to ascertain how much change Mister Moses Cohen has left him, and to take charge of it."
The captain's witticisms raised renewed chuckling among the crew, as I followed the boatswain, duly saluting my new master as I passed him, and desperately trying to walk easily and steadily in my ordinary boots upon the heaving deck.
Mr. Johnson was the third mate, and I may as well say at once that his shrewdness and kindness, his untiring energy and constant cheerfulness, make his memory very pleasant to me and to all who served with him, and whose reasons for being grateful to him belong to all hours of the day and night, and to every department of our work and our play.
I was far too giddy to hear what the boatswain said to Mr. Johnson, but I was conscious that the third mate's eyes were scanning me closely as he listened. Then he said, "Have you got any money, youngster?"
"Here, sir," said I; and after some struggles I got the leather bag from my neck, and Mr. Johnson pocketed it.
"Ran away from school, I suppose?"
I tried to reply, and could not. Excitement had kept me up before the captain, but the stress of it was subsiding, and putting my arms up to get my purse had aggravated the intense nausea that was beginning to overpower me. I managed to shake my head instead of speaking, after which I thought I must have died then and there of the agony across my brow. It seemed probable that I should go far to pay for my passage by the amusement I afforded the crew. Even Mr. Johnson laughed, as he said, "He seems pretty bad. Look after him, and then let him try his hand on those stanchions—they're disgraceful. Show him how, and see that he lays on—"
"Aye, aye, sir."
"And, bo'sun! don't be too rough on him just yet. We've all of us made our first voyage."
"Very true, sir."
I could have fallen at the man's feet for those few kind words, but his alert step had carried him far away; and the boatswain had gripped me by the arm, and landed me on a seat, before I could think of how to express my thanks.
"Stay where ye are, young stowaway," said he, "and I'll fetch the oil and things. But don't fall overboard; for we can't afford to send a hexpedition on a voyage of discovery harter ye."
Off went the boatswain, and by the time he came back with a bundle of brass rods under his arm, and an old sardine-tin full of a mixture of oil, vinegar, and sand, and a saturated fragment of a worn-out worsted sock, I had more or less recovered from a violent attack of sickness, and was trying to keep my teeth from being chattered out of my aching head in the fit of shivering that succeeded it.
"Now, my pea-green beauty!" said he, "pull yourself together, and bear a hand with this tackle. I'll carry the stanchions for you." I jumped up, thanked him, and took the oil-tin and etceteras, feeling very grateful that he did carry the heavy brass rods for me on to the poop, where I scrambled after him, and after a short lesson in an art the secret of which appeared to be to rub hard enough and long enough, he left me with the pointed hint that the more I did within the next hour or two, the better it would be for me. "And wicee the worser—hif ye learnt what that means when ye wos at school," he added.
Fully determined to do my best, I rubbed for the dear life, my bones and teeth still shuddering as I did so; but whatever virtue there was in my efforts was soon its own reward, for the vigorous use of my arms began to warm me, so greatly to the relief of my headache and general misery, that I began to hold myself up, and drink in the life-giving freshness of the salt breezes with something that came quite close to hope, and was not far off enjoyment. As to the stanchions, I was downright proud of them, and was rubbing away, brightening the brass, and getting the blood comfortably circulated through my body, when, with the usual running and shouting, a crowd of men poured on to the poop with long-handled scrubbing-brushes and big tubs, &c., followed by others dragging a fire-hose. No time was lost in charging the hose with water (a plentiful commodity!), and this was squirted into every hole and cranny in all directions, whilst the first lot of men rubbed and scrubbed and brushed most impartially all over the place.
I went quietly on with my work, but when the stream threatened a group of stanchions, so highly polished that I could not endure the notion of a speck on their brightness, I lifted them out of harm's way, and with the clatter of this movement drew the attention of the plier of the hose.
"Why, bless my stars, garters, and hornaments of hall sorts!" said he; "if 'ere ain't the young gentleman of fortin on the poop deck in his Sunday pumps!" and without more ado he let fly the water, first at my feet and then upwards, till I was soused from head to foot, and the scrubbers and swabbers laughed at my gasps as I know I could not have moved their sense of humour if I had had the finest wit in the world. However, I suppose they had had to take as well as give such merriment in their time; and I keenly remember Biddy's parting hint that the "good-nature of my ways" would be my best friend in this rough society. So I laughed and shook myself, and turning up my sleeves to my elbows, and my trousers to my knees, I also denuded myself of boots and socks and put them aside.
"Is this the correct fashion?" I inquired—a joke which passed muster for very good humour; and I was squirted at no more on that occasion. The chill had made me feel most miserable again, but I had found by experience that the great thing was to keep my blood circulating, and that rubbing-up the ship's brass answered this purpose exceedingly well. I rubbed it so bright, that when the boatswain came to summon me to dinner, he signified his approval in his own peculiar fashion, which appeared to be that of an acknowledged wit.
"H'm!" said he, "I'll say that for ye, young shore-loafer, that you've learnt that the best part of polishing-paste is elbow-grease. It wasn't all parley-voo and the pianner where you was at boarding-school!"
I said I hoped not, and laughed as respectfully as it becomes the small to do at the jokes of the great.
But when I was fairly squatted in a corner of the forecastle, with my plate on my lap, in friendly proximity to Alister, I received a far worse shock than the ship's hose had given me. For under cover of the sailors' talk (and they were even noisier at their dinner than at their work) my comrade contrived to whisper in my ear, "The pilot is still on board."
I got what comfort I could out of hearing the sail-maker praise Alister as "an uncommon handy young chap," a compliment which he enforced by a general appeal to some one to "give him" a lad that had been brought up to make himself useful, and anybody else was welcome "for him" to fine gentlemen with no learning but school learning. For this side attack on me roused the boatswain to reproduce his jokes about elbow-grease versus parley-voo and the pianner, and to add a general principle on his own account to the effect that it was nothing to him if a lad had been "edicated" in a young ladies' boarding-school, so long as he'd been taught to rub brass till you could "see something more of your face than thumbmarks in it." The general and satisfactory conclusion being (so I hoped) that we were neither of us quite useless, and might possibly be spared the ignominy of a return voyage with the pilot.
About an hour and a half after dinner, when I was "rubbing-up" some "bright things" in the cook's galley, Alister looked in, and finding me alone, said, "Would ye dare to come on deck? We're passing under bonny big rocks, with a lighthouse perched up on the height above our heads, for all the world like a big man keeping his outlook with glowering eyes."
"I don't think I dare," said I. "The cook told me not to stir till these were done. Are we going slower? That pumping noise is slower than it was, I'm sure."
"We are so," said Alister; "I'm wondering if—" He ran out without finishing his sentence, but soon returned with a face rather more colourless than usual with repressed excitement. "Jack!" he gasped, "they're lowering a boat. The pilot's going ashore."
He remained with me now, sitting with his head on his hands. Suddenly a shout of two or three voices from the water was answered by a hearty cheer from the deck. By one impulse, Alister and I sprang to our feet and gripped each other by the hand; and I do not believe there were any two sailors on board who sped the parting pilot with more noise than we two made in the cook's galley.
It was gloriously true. They had kept us both. But, though I have no doubt the captain would have got rid of us if we had proved feckless, I think our being allowed to remain was largely due to the fact that the vessel had left Liverpool short of her full complement of hands. Trade was good at the time, and one man who had joined had afterwards deserted, and another youngster had been taken to hospital only the day before we sailed. He had epileptic fits, and though the second mate (whose chief quality seemed to be an impartial distrust of everybody but himself, and a burning desire to trip up his fellow-creatures at their weak points and jump upon them accordingly) expressed in very strong language his wish that the captain had not sent the lad off, but had kept him for him (the second mate) to cure, the crew seemed all of opinion that there was no "shamming" about it, and that the epileptic sailor-boy would only have fallen from one of the yards in a fit, and given more trouble than his services were worth over picking him up.
The afternoon was far from being as fine as the morning had been. Each time I turned my eyes that way it seemed to me that the grey sea was looking drearier and more restless, but I stuck steadily to some miscellaneous and very dirty work that I had been put to down below; and, as the ship rolled more and more under me, as I ran unsteadily about with buckets and the like, I began to wonder if this was the way storms came, gradually on, and whether, if the ship went down to-night "with all on board," I should find courage to fit my fate.
I was meditating gloomily on this subject, when I heard a shrill whistle, and then a series of awful noises, at the sound of which every man below left whatever he was at, and rushed on deck. I had read too many accounts of shipwrecks not to know that the deck is the place to make for, so I bolted with the rest, and caught sight of Alister flying in the same direction as we were. When we got up I looked about me as well as I could, but I saw no rocks or vessels in collision with us. The waves were not breaking over us, but four or five men standing on the bulwarks were pulling things like monstrous grubs out of a sort of trough, and chucking them with more or less accuracy at the heads of the sailors who gathered round.
"What is it, Alister?" I asked.
"It's just the serving out of the hammocks that they sleep in," Alister replied. "I'm thinking we'll not be entitled to them."
"What's that fellow yelling about?"
"He's crying to them to respond to their names and numbers. Whisht, man! till I hear his unchristian lingo and see if he cries on us."
But in a few minutes the crowd had dispersed, and the hammock-servers with them, and Alister and I were left alone. I felt foolish, and I suppose looked so, for Alister burst out laughing and said—"Hech, laddie! it's a small matter. We'll find a corner to sleep in. And let me tell ye I've tried getting into a hammock myself, and—"
"Hi! you lads!"
In no small confusion at having been found idle and together, we started to salute the third mate, who pointed to a sailor behind him, and said—"Follow Francis, and he'll give you hammocks and blankets, and show you how to swing and stow them."
We both exclaimed—"Thank you, sir!" with such warmth that as he returned our renewed salutations he added—"I hear good accounts of both of you. Keep it up, and you'll do."
Alister's sentence had been left unfinished, but I learnt the rest of it by experience. We scrambled down after Francis till we seemed to be about the level where we had stowed away. I did not feel any the better for the stuffiness of the air and an abominable smell of black beetles, but I stumbled along till we arrived in a very tiny little office where the purser sat surrounded by bags of ships' biscuits (which they pleasantly call "bread" at sea) and with bins of sugar, coffee, &c., &c. I dare say the stuffiness made him cross (as the nasty smells used to make us in Uncle Henry's office), for he used a good deal of bad language, and seemed very unwilling to let us have the hammocks and blankets. However, Francis got them and banged us well with them before giving them to us to carry. They were just like the others—canvas-coloured sausages wound about with tarred rope; and warning us to observe how they were fastened up, as we should have to put them away "ship-shape" the following morning, Francis helped us to unfasten and "swing" them in the forecastle. There were hooks in the beams, so that part of the business was easy enough, but, when bedtime came, I found that getting into my hammock was not as easy as getting it ready to get into.
The sail-maker helped Alister out of his difficulties at once, by showing him how to put his two hands in the middle of his hammock and wriggle himself into it and roll his blankets round him in seaman-like fashion. But my neighbours only watched with delight when I first sent my hammock flying by trying to get in at the side as if it were a bed, and then sent myself flying out on the other side after getting in. As I picked myself up I caught sight of an end of thick rope hanging from a beam close above my hammock, and being a good deal nettled by my own stupidity and the jeers of the sailors, I sprang at the rope, caught it, and swinging myself up, I dropped quietly and successfully into my new resting-place. Once fairly in and rolled in my blanket, I felt as snug as a chrysalis in his cocoon, and (besides the fact that lying down is a great comfort to people who are not born with sea-legs) I found the gentle swaying of my hammock a delightful relief from the bumping, jumping, and jarring of the ship. I said my prayers, which made me think of my mother, and cost me some tears in the privacy of darkness; but, as I wept, there came back the familiar thought that I had "much to be thankful for," and I added the General Thanksgiving with an "especially" in the middle of it (as we always used to have when my father read prayers at home, after anything like Jem and me getting well of scarlet fever, or a good harvest being all carried).
I got all through my "especially," and what with thinking of the workman, and dear old Biddy, and Alister, and Mr. Johnson, and the pilot, it was a very long one; and I think I finished the Thanksgiving and said the Grace of our LORD after it. But I cannot be quite sure, for it was such a comfort to be at peace, and the hammock swung and rocked till it cradled me to sleep.
A light sleep, I suppose, for I dreamed very vividly of being at home again, and that I had missed getting off to sea after all; and that the ship had only been a dream. I thought I was rather sorry it was not real, because I wanted to see the world, but I was very glad to be with Jem, and I thought he and I went down to the farm to look for Charlie, and they told us he was sitting up in the ash-tree at the end of the field. In my dream I did not feel at all surprised that Cripple Charlie should have got into the ash-tree, or at finding him there high up among the branches looking at a spider's web with a magnifying-glass. But I thought that the wind was so high I could not make him hear, and the leaves and boughs tossed so that I could barely see him; and when I climbed up to him, the branch on which I sat swayed so deliciously that I was quite content to rock myself and watch Charlie in silence, when suddenly it cracked, and down I came with a hard bang on my back.
I woke and sat up, and found that the latter part of my dream had come true, as a lump on the back of my head bore witness for some days. Francis had playfully let me down "with a run by the head," as it is called; that is, he had undone my hammock-cord and landed me on the floor. He left Alister in peace, and I can only think of two reasons for his selecting me for the joke. First that the common sailors took much more readily to Alister from his being more of their own rank in birth and upbringing, though so vastly superior by education. And secondly, that I was the weaker of the two; for what I have seen of the world has taught me that there are plenty of strong people who will not only let the weaker go to the wall, but who find an odd satisfaction in shoving and squeezing them there.
However, if I was young and sea-sick, I was not quite helpless, happily; I refastened my hammock, and got into it again, and being pretty well tired out by the day's work, I slept that sleep of the weary which knows no dream.
"Yet more! The billows and the depths have more: High hearts and brave are gathered to thy breast! * * * * * * * Keep thy red gold and gems, thou stormy grave! Give back the true and brave!"—FELICIA HEMANS.
"To them their duty was clear, and they did it successfully; and the history of the island is written briefly in that little formula!"—Daily Telegraph, Dec. 5, 1878.
I did not feel as if I had been asleep five minutes, when I was rudely awakened, of course by noise, whistling, and inarticulate roaring, and I found that it was morning, and that the boatswain's mate was "turning the hands up" to wash decks. Alister was ready, and I found that my toilet was, if possible, shorter than at Snuffy's in winter.
"We puts hon our togs fust, and takes our shower-baths harterwards," the boatswain humorously explained, as he saw me trying to get the very awkward collar of my "slops" tidy as I followed with the crowd.
The boatswain was a curious old fellow. He was born in London, "within sound of Bow bells," as he told me; but though a Cockney by birth, he could hardly be called a native of anywhere but the world at large. He had sailed in all seas, and seemed to have tried his hand at most trades. He had at one time been a sort of man-of-all-work in a boys' school, and I think it was partly from this, and partly out of opposition to the sail-maker, that he never seemed to grudge my not having been born a poor person, or to fancy I gave myself airs (which I never did), or to take a pleasure in making me feel the roughest edge of the menial work I had to do, like so many of the men. But he knew very well just where things did feel strangest and hardest to me, and showed that he knew it by many a bit of not unkindly chaff.
His joke about the shower-bath came very strictly true to me. We were all on the main deck, bare-armed and bare-legged, mopping and slopping and swabbing about in the cold sea-water, which was liberally supplied to us by the steam-pump and hose. I had been furnished with a squeegee (a sort of scraper made of india-rubber at the end of broom-stick), and was putting as much "elbow-grease" into my work as renewed sea-sickness left me strength for, when the boatswain's mate turned the hose upon me once more. I happened to be standing rather loosely, and my thoughts had flown home on the wings of a wonder what Martha would think of this way of scrubbing a floor—all wedded as the domestic mind is to hairy flannel and sticky soap and swollen knees,—when the stream of sea-water came in full force against my neck, and I and my squeegee went head-over-heels into the lee scuppers. It was the boatswain himself who picked me out, and who avenged me on his subordinate by a round of abuse which it was barely possible to follow, so mixed were the metaphors, and so cosmopolitan the slang.
On the whole I got on pretty well that day, and began to get accustomed to the motion of the ship, in spite of the fact that she rolled more than on the day before. The sky and sea were grey enough when we were swabbing the decks in the early morning; as the day wore on, they only took the deeper tints of gathering clouds which hid the sun.
If the weather was dull, our course was not less so. We only saw one ship from the deck, a mail-steamer, as neat and trim as a yacht, which passed us at a tremendous pace, with a knot of officers on the bridge. Some black objects bobbing up and down in the distance were pointed out to me as porpoises, and a good many sea-gulls went by, flying landwards. Not only was the sky overcast, but the crew seemed to share the depression of the barometer, which, as everybody told everybody else, was falling rapidly. The captain's voice rang out in brief but frequent orders, and the officers clustered in knots on the bridge, their gold cap-bands gleaming against the stormy sky.
I worked hard through the day, and was sick off and on as the ship rolled, and the great green waves hit her on the bows, and ran away along her side, and the wind blew and blew, and most of the sails were hauled in and made fast, and one or two were reefed up close, and the big chimney swayed, and the threatening clouds drifted forwards at a different pace from our own, till my very fingers felt giddy with unrest; but not another practical joke did I suffer from that day, for every man's hand was needed for the ship.
In the afternoon she had rolled so heavily in the trough of the large waves, that no one made any pretence of finding his sea-legs strong enough to keep him steady without clutching here and there for help, and I had been thankful, in a brief interval when nobody had ordered me to do anything, to scramble into a quiet corner of the forecastle and lie on the boards, rolling as the ship rolled, and very much resigned to going down with her if she chose to go.
Towards evening it was thick and foggy, but as the sun set it began to clear, and I heard the men saying that the moon (which was nearly at the full) would make a clear night of it. It was unquestionably clearer overhead, and the waves ran smoother, as if the sea were recovering its temper, and Alister and I went below at 9 P.M. and turned into our hammocks for a few hours' sleep, before taking our part in the night-watch that lasts from 12 midnight till 4 A.M.
It is astonishing what a prompt narcotic the knowledge that you'll have to be up again in an hour or two is. Alister and I wasted no time in conversation. He told me the fall in the barometer was "by-ordinar" (which I knew as well as he); and I told him the wind was undoubtedly falling (which he knew as well as I): and after this inevitable interchange of the uppermost news and anxieties of the occasion, we bade GOD bless each other, and I said the prayers of my babyhood because they were shortest, and fell fast asleep.
The noises that woke us were new noises, but they made up the whole of that peculiar sound which is the sum of human excitement. "We are going down this time," was my thought, and I found myself less philosophical about it than I had imagined. Neither Alister nor I were long in putting on our clothes, and we rushed up on deck without exchanging a word. By the time we got there, where the whole ship's crew had gone before us, we were as wildly excited as any one of them, though we had not a notion what it was all about. I knew enough now for the first glance to tell me that the ship was in no special danger. Even I could tell that the gale had gone down, the night was clear, and between the scudding of black clouds with silver linings, the moon and stars shone very beautifully, though it made one giddy to look at them from the weird way in which the masts and yards seemed to whip across the sky.
We still rolled, and when the side of the ship went up, it felt almost overhead, and I could see absolutely nothing of the sea, which was vexatious, as that was obviously the point of interest. The rigging on that side was as full of men as a bare garden-tree might be of sparrows, and all along the lee bulwarks they sat and crouched like sea-birds on a line of rock. Suddenly we rolled, down went the leeside, and I with it, but I caught hold of the lowest step of the forecastle ladder and sat fast. Then as we dipped I saw all that they were seeing from the masts and rigging—the yet restless sea with fast-running waves, alternately inky black, and of a strange bright metallic lead-colour, on which the scud as it drove across the moon made queer racing shadows. And it was on this stormy sea that every eye from the captain's to the cook's was strained.
Roll! down we went again to starboard, and up went the bulwarks and I could see nothing but the sky and the stars, and the masts and yards whipping across them as before, though the excitement grew till I could bear it no longer, and scrambled up the ladder on to the forecastle, and pushed my way to the edge and lay face downwards, holding on for my life that I might not be blown away, whilst I was trying to see what was to be seen.
I found myself by Alister once more, and he helped me to hold on, and pointed where every one else was pointing. There was a lull in the eager talking of the men, and the knot of captain and the officers on the bridge stood still, and Alister roared through the wind into my ear—"Bide a wee, the moon 'll be out again."
I waited, and the cloud passed from her face or she sailed from beneath it, and at the same instant I saw a streak of light upon the water in which a black object bobbed up and down as the porpoises had bobbed, and all the men burst out again, and a crowd rushed up on to the forecastle.
"It's half-a-mile aft."—"A bit of wreck."—"An old sugar hogshead."—"The emperor of the porpoises."—"Is it the sea sarpint ye're maning?"—"Will hany gentleman lend me 'is hopera-glass?"—"I'm blessed if I don't think we're going to go half speed. I sailed seven years in the Amiable with old Savage, and I'm blessed if he ever put her a point out of her course for anything. 'Every boat for herself, and the sea for us all,' he used to say, and allus kept his eyes forwards in foul weather."—"Aisy, Tom, aisy, ye're out of it entirely. It's the Humane Society's gold medal we'll all be getting for saving firewood."—"Stow your jaw, Pat, that's not wreck, it's—"
At this moment the third mate's voice rang through the ship—
"A boat bottom up!"
The men passed from chaff to a silence whose eagerness could be felt, through which another voice came through the wind from the poop—"there's something on her!" and I turned that way, and saw the captain put down his glass, and put his hand to his mouth; and when he sang out "A MAN!" we all sprang to our feet, and opened our lips, but the boatswain put up his hand, and cried, "Silence, fore and aft! Steady, lads! Look to the captain!"
The gold cap-bands glittered close together, and then, clear to be seen in a sudden gleam of moonlight, the captain leaned forward and shouted to the crew, "Fo'cs'le there!" And they sang out, "Aye, aye, sir!"
"Volunteers for the whaleboat!"
My heart was beating fast enough, but I do not think I could have counted a dozen throbs, before, with a wild hurrah, every man had leaped from the forecastle, Alister among them, and I was left alone.
I was just wondering if I could possibly be of use, when I heard the captain's voice again. (He had come down, and was where the whaleboat was hanging, which, I learned, was fitted like a lifeboat, and the crew were crowding round him.)
"Steady, lads! Stand back. Come as you're called. Thunder and lightning, we want to man the boat, not sink her. Mr. Johnson!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"A! B! C! D!" &c.
"Here, sir!" "Here, sir!" "Here, sir!"
"Fall back there! Thank you all, my lads, but she's manned."
A loud cheer drowned every other sound, and I saw men busy with the boat, and Alister coming back with a dejected air, and the captain jumping up and down, and roaring louder than the wind: "Steward! rum, and a couple of blankets. Look sharp. Stand back; in you go; steady! Now, mind what I say; I shall bear up towards the boat. Hi, there! Stand by the lowering-tackle, and when I say 'Now!' lower away handsomely and steadily. Are you ready, Mr. Johnson? Keep steady, all, and fend her off well when you touch the water. Mr. Waters! let her go off a point or two to the north'ard. Half speed; port a little—steady! All ready in the boat?"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"GOD bless you. Steady—ready—Now!"
I hardly know which more roused my amazement and admiration—the behaviour of the men or the behaviour of the whaleboat. Were these alert and silent seamen, sitting side by side, each with his oar held upright in his hand, and his eyes upon his captain, the rowdy roughs of the forecastle? And were those their like companions who crowded the bulwarks, and bent over to cheer, and bless, and envy them?
As to boats—the only one I had been accustomed to used to be launched on the canal with scraping and shoving, and struggling and balancing, and we did occasionally upset her—but when the captain gave the word, the ship's whaleboat and its crew were smoothly lowered by a patent apparatus till it all but touched the big black waves that ran and roared at it. Then came a few moments of intense anxiety till the boat was fairly clear of the ship; but even when it was quite free, and the men bending to their oars, I thought more than once that it had gone down for ever on the other side of the hills and dales of water which kept hiding it completely from all except those who were high up upon the masts. It was a relief when we could see it, miserable speck as it looked, and we all strained our eyes after it, through many difficulties from the spiteful ways of the winds and waves and clouds, which blinded and buffeted and drenched us when we tried to look, and sent black veils of shadow to hide our comrades from our eyes. In the teeth of the elements, however, the captain was bearing up towards the other boat, and it was now and then quite possible to see with the naked eye that she was upside down, and that a man was clinging to her keel. At such glimpses an inarticulate murmur ran through our midst, but for the most part we, who were only watching, were silent till the whaleboat was fairly alongside of the object of her gallant expedition. Then by good luck the moon sailed forth and gave us a fair view, but it was rather a disappointing one, for the two boats seemed to do nothing but bob about like two burnt corks in the moonlight, and we began to talk again.
"What's she doing?"—"The LORD knows!"—"Something's gone wrong."—"Why doesn't she go nearer?"—"'Cos she'd be stove in, ye fool!"—"Gude save us! they're both gone."—"Not they, they're to the left; but what the winds and waves they're after ——"—"They're trying to make him hear, likely enough, and they might as well call on my grandmother. He's as dead as a herring."—"Whisht! whisht! He's a living soul! Hech, sirs! there's nought but the grip o' despair would haud a man on the keel of 's boat in waves like yon."—"Silence, all!"
We turned our heads, for a voice rang from the look-out—
"Man overboard from the whaleboat!"
The men were so excited, and crowded so together, that I could hardly find a peeping-place.
"He's got him."—"Nay, they're both gone."—"Man! I'm just thinking that it's ill interfering with the designs of Providence. We may lose Peter and not save Paul."—"Stow your discourses, Sandy!"—"They're hauling in our man, and time they did."
The captain's voice now called to the first mate—
"Do you make it one or both, Mr. Waters?"
We hurrahed again, and the whaleboat-men replied—but their cheer only came faintly to us, like a wail upon the wind.
Several men of our group were now called to work, and I was ordered below to bring up a hammock, and swing it in the steerage. I was vexed, as I would have given anything to have helped to welcome the whaleboat back.
When the odd jobs I had been called to were done with, and I returned to the deck, it was just too late to see her hauled up. I could not see over the thick standing group of men, and I did not, of course, dare to push through them to catch sight of our heroes and the man they had saved. But a little apart from the rest, two Irish sailors were standing and bandying the harshest of brogues with such vehemence that I drew near, hoping at least to hear something of what I could not see. It was a spirited, and one would have guessed an angry dialogue, so like did it sound to the yapping and snapping of two peppery-tempered terriers. But it was only vehement, and this was the sum of it.
"Bedad! but it's quare ye must have felt at the time."
"I did not, unless it would be when Tom stepped out into the water, GOD bless him! with the rope aisy round his waist, and the waves drowning him intirely, and the corpse holding on to the boat's bottom for the dear life."
"Pat!" said the other in mysterious tones, "would that that's hanging round his neck be the presarving of him, what?"
"And why wouldn't it? But isn't he the big fool to be having it dangling where the wash of a wave, or a pickpocket, or a worse timptation than either might be staling it away from him?"
"And where else would he put it?"
"Did ye ever git the sight of mine?"
"I did not."
"On the back of me?"
"Look here, now!" cried Pat, in the tones of one whose patience was entirely exhausted. His friend drew nearer, and I also ventured to accept an invitation not intended for me, so greatly was my curiosity roused by what the men said.
Pat turned his back to us as rapidly as he had spoken, and stooping at about half-leap-frog-angle, whipped his wet shirt upwards out of his loosely-strapped trousers, baring his back from his waist to his shoulder-blades. The moon was somewhat overcast, but there was light enough for us to see a grotesque semblance of the Crucifixion tattooed upon his flesh in more than one colour, and some accompanying symbols and initials which we could hardly distinguish.
"Now am I safe for Christian burial or not, in the case I'd be misfortunate enough to be washed up on the shores of a haythen counthry?"
"Ye are so!"
I never saw a funnier sight than Pat craning and twisting his head in futile efforts to look at it under his own arm.
"It's a foin piece of work, I'm told," said he.
"They tould ye no less than the truth that said that, Pat. It's a mighty foin piece of work."
"They all say so that see it," sighed Pat, tucking his shirt in again, "and that'll be ivry soul but meself, worse luck!"
Pat ran off, and as I turned I saw that the crew of the whaleboat were going below with a crowd of satellites, and that a space was cleared through which I could see the man they had saved still lying on the deck, with the captain kneeling at his head, and looking back as if he were waiting for something. And at that moment the moon shone out once more, and showed me a sight that I'll forget when I forget you—Dennis O'Moore!
* * * * *
It was a lad that they had saved, not a full-grown man, except in the sense of his height, which was nearly an inch beyond Alister's. He was insensible, and I thought he was dead, so death-like was the pallor of his face in contrast with the dark curls of his head and the lashes of his closed eyes. We were dipping to leeward, his head rolled a little on the rough pillow that had been heaped to raise him, and his white face against the inky waves reminded me of the face of the young lord in Charlie's father's church, who died abroad, and a marble figure of him was sent home from Italy, with his dog lying at his feet. His shoulders were raised as well as his head, and his jacket and shirt had both been washed open by the waves.
And that was how I got the key to the Irishmen's dialogue. For round the lad's throat was a black ribbon, pendant from which a small cross of ebony was clear to be seen upon his naked breast; and on this there glittered in the moonlight a silver image of the Redeemer of the World.
"Why, what's that to you, if my eyes I'm a wiping? A tear is a pleasure, d'ye see, in its way; 'Tis nonsense for trifles, I own, to be piping, But they that ha'n't pity, why I pities they. * * * * * * * * The heart and the eyes, you see feel the same motion, And if both shed their drops, 'tis all the same end; And thus 'tis that every tight lad of the ocean Sheds his blood for his country, his tears for his friend." CHARLES DIBDIN.
If one wants to find the value of all he has learned in the way of righteousness, common-sense, and real skill of any sort; or to reap most quickly what he has sown to obedience, industry, and endurance, let him go out and rough it in the world.
There he shall find that a conscience early trained to resist temptation and to feel shame will be to him the instinctive clutch that may now and again—in an ungraceful, anyhow fashion—keep him from slipping down to perdition, and save his soul alive. There he shall find that whatever he has really learned by labour or grasped with inborn talent, will sooner or later come to the surface to his credit and for his good; but that what he swaggers will not even find fair play. There, in brief, he shall find his level—a great matter for most men. There, in fine, he will discover that there being a great deal of human nature in all men, and a great deal that is common to all lives—if he has learned to learn and is good-natured withal, he may live pretty comfortably anywhere—
"As a rough rule, The rough world's a good school,"—
and if there are a few parlour-boarders it is very little advantage to them.
For my own part I was almost startled to find how quickly I was beginning to learn something of the ways of the ship and her crew; and though, when I asked for information about all the various appliances which come under the comprehensive sea-name of "tackle," I was again and again made the victim of a hoax, I soon learned to correct one piece of information by another, and to feel less of an April fool and more of a sailor. Reading sea-novels had not really taught me much, for there was not one in all that the Jew-clerk lent or sold me which explained ship's language and customs. But the school-master had given me many useful hints, and experience soon taught me how to apply them.
The watch in which Alister and I shared just after we picked up Dennis O'Moore, was naturally very much enlivened by news and surmises regarding our new "hand." Word soon came up from below that he was alive and likely to recover, and for a brief period I found my society in great request, because I had been employed in some fetching and carrying between the galley and the steerage, and had "heard the drowned man groan." We should have gossiped more than we did if the vessel had not exacted unusual attention, for the winds and the waves had "plenty of mischief in 'em" yet, as I was well able to testify when I was sent aft to help the man at the wheel.
"That'll take the starch out o' yer Sunday stick-ups!" said the boatswain's mate, on hearing where I was bound for, when he met me clinging to the wet deck with my stocking-feet, and catching with my hands at every bit of tackle capable of giving support. And as I put out all my strength to help the steersman to force his wheel in the direction he meant it to go, and the salt spray smacked my face and soaked my slops, and every wind of heaven seemed to blow down my neck and up my sleeves and trousers—I heartily agreed with him.
The man I was helping never spoke, except to shout some brief order into my ear or an occasional reply to the words of command which rang over our heads from the captain on the bridge. Of course I did not speak, I had quite enough to do to keep my footing and take my small part in this fierce bitting and bridling of the elements; but uncomfortable as it was, I "took a pride and pleasure in it," as we used to say at home, and I already felt that strenuous something which blows in sea-breezes and gives vigour to mind and body even when it chills you to the bone.
That is, to some people; there are plenty of men, as I have since discovered, who spend their lives at sea and hate it to the end. Boy and man, they do their hard duty and live by its pitiful recompense. They know the sea as well as other mariners, are used to her uncertain ways, bear her rough usage, control her stormy humours, learn all her moods, and never feel her charm.