Redburn. His First Voyage
Part 2 out of 7
about the sails and yards; and we all went to pulling and hauling the
ropes, till at last the ship lay almost still on the water. Then they
loosed a boat, which kept pulling round the ship for more than an hour,
but they never caught sight of the man. It seemed that he was one of the
sailors who had been brought aboard dead drunk, and tumbled into his
bunk by his landlord; and there he had lain till now. He must have
suddenly waked up, I suppose, raging mad with the delirium tremens, as
the chief mate called it, and finding himself in a strange silent place,
and knowing not how he had got there, he rushed on deck, and so, in a
fit of frenzy, put an end to himself.
This event, happening at the dead of night, had a wonderfully solemn and
almost awful effect upon me. I would have given the whole world, and the
sun and moon, and all the stars in heaven, if they had been mine, had I
been safe back at Mr. Jones', or still better, in my home on the Hudson
River. I thought it an ill-omened voyage, and railed at the folly which
had sent me to sea, sore against the advice of my best friends, that is
to say, my mother and sisters.
Alas! poor Wellingborough, thought I, you will never see your home any
more. And in this melancholy mood I went below, when the watch had
expired, which happened soon after. But to my terror, I found that the
suicide had been occupying the very bunk which I had appropriated to
myself, and there was no other place for me to sleep in. The thought of
lying down there now, seemed too horrible to me, and what made it worse,
was the way in which the sailors spoke of my being frightened. And they
took this opportunity to tell me what a hard and wicked Me I had entered
upon, and how that such things happened frequently at sea, and they were
used to it. But I did not believe this; for when the suicide came
rushing and shrieking up the scuttle, they looked as frightened as I
did; and besides that, and what makes their being frightened still
plainer, is the fact, that if they had had any presence of mind, they
could have prevented his plunging overboard, since he brushed right by
them. However, they lay in then-bunks smoking, and kept talking on some
time in this strain, and advising me as soon as ever I got home to pin
my ears back, so as not to hold the wind, and sail straight away into
the interior of the country, and never stop until deep in the bush, far
off from the least running brook, never mind how shallow, and out of
sight of even the smallest puddle of rainwater.
This kind of talking brought the tears into my eyes, for it was so true
and real, and the sailors who spoke it seemed so false-hearted and
insincere; but for all that, in spite of the sickness at my heart, it
made me mad, and stung me to the quick, that they should speak of me as
a poor trembling coward, who could never be brought to endure the
hardships of a sailor's life; for I felt myself trembling, and knew that
I was but a coward then, well enough, without their telling me of it.
And they did not say I was cowardly, because they perceived it in me,
but because they merely supposed I must be, judging, no doubt, from
their own secret thoughts about themselves; for I felt sure that the
suicide frightened them very badly. And at last, being provoked to
desperation by their taunts, I told them so to their faces; but I might
better have kept silent; for they now all united to abuse me. They asked
me what business I, a boy like me, had to go to sea, and take the bread
out of the mouth of honest sailors, and fill a good seaman's place; and
asked me whether I ever dreamed of becoming a captain, since I was a
gentleman with white hands; and if I ever should be, they would like
nothing better than to ship aboard my vessel and stir up a mutiny. And
one of them, whose name was Jackson, of whom I shall have a good deal
more to say by-and-by, said, I had better steer clear of him ever after,
for if ever I crossed his path, or got into his way, he would be the
death of me, and if ever I stumbled about in the rigging near him, he
would make nothing of pitching me overboard; and that he swore too, with
an oath. At first, all this nearly stunned me, it was so unforeseen; and
then I could not believe that they meant what they said, or that they
could be so cruel and black-hearted. But how could I help seeing, that
the men who could thus talk to a poor, friendless boy, on the very first
night of his voyage to sea, must be capable of almost any enormity. I
loathed, detested, and hated them with all that was left of my bursting
heart and soul, and I thought myself the most forlorn and miserable
wretch that ever breathed. May I never be a man, thought I, if to be a
boy is to be such a wretch. And I wailed and wept, and my heart cracked
within me, but all the time I defied them through my teeth, and dared
them to do their worst.
At last they ceased talking and fell fast asleep, leaving me awake,
seated on a chest with my face bent over my knees between my hands. And
there I sat, till at length the dull beating against the ship's bows,
and the silence around soothed me down, and I fell asleep as I sat.
XI. HE HELPS WASH THE DECKS, AND THEN GOES TO BREAKFAST
The next thing I knew, was the loud thumping of a handspike on deck as
the watch was called again. It was now four o'clock in the morning, and
when we got on deck the first signs of day were shining in the east. The
men were very sleepy, and sat down on the windlass without speaking, and
some of them nodded and nodded, till at last they fell off like little
boys in church during a drowsy sermon. At last it was broad day, and an
order was given to wash down the decks. A great tub was dragged into the
waist, and then one of the men went over into the chains, and slipped in
behind a band fastened to the shrouds, and leaning over, began to swing
a bucket into the sea by a long rope; and in that way with much
expertness and sleight of hand, he managed to fill the tub in a very
short time. Then the water began to splash about all over the decks, and
I began to think I should surely get my feet wet, and catch my death of
cold. So I went to the chief mate, and told him I thought I would just
step below, till this miserable wetting was over; for I did not have any
water-proof boots, and an aunt of mine had died of consumption. But he
only roared out for me to get a broom and go to scrubbing, or he would
prove a worse consumption to me than ever got hold of my poor aunt. So I
scrubbed away fore and aft, till my back was almost broke, for the
brooms had uncommon short handles, and we were told to scrub hard.
At length the scrubbing being over, the mate began heaving buckets of
water about, to wash every thing clean, by way of finishing off. He must
have thought this fine sport, just as captains of fire engines love to
point the tube of their hose; for he kept me running after him with full
buckets of water, and sometimes chased a little chip all over the deck,
with a continued flood, till at last he sent it flying out of a
scupper-hole into the sea; when if he had only given me permission, I
could have picked it up in a trice, and dropped it overboard without
saying one word, and without wasting so much water. But he said there
was plenty of water in the ocean, and to spare; which was true enough,
but then I who had to trot after him with the buckets, had no more legs
and arms than I wanted for my own use.
I thought this washing down the decks was the most foolish thing in the
world, and besides that it was the most uncomfortable. It was worse than
my mother's house-cleanings at home, which I used to abominate so.
At eight o'clock the bell was struck, and we went to breakfast. And now
some of the worst of my troubles began. For not having had any friend to
tell me what I would want at sea, I had not provided myself, as I should
have done, with a good many things that a sailor needs; and for my own
part, it had never entered my mind, that sailors had no table to sit
down to, no cloth, or napkins, or tumblers, and had to provide every
thing themselves. But so it was.
The first thing they did was this. Every sailor went to the cook-house
with his tin pot, and got it filled with coffee; but of course, having
no pot, there was no coffee for me. And after that, a sort of little tub
called a "kid," was passed down into the forecastle, filled with
something they called "burgoo." This was like mush, made of Indian corn,
meal, and water. With the "kid," a. little tin cannikin was passed down
with molasses. Then the Jackson that I spoke of before, put the kid
between his knees, and began to pour in the molasses, just like an old
landlord mixing punch for a party. He scooped out a little hole in the
middle of the mush, to hold the molasses; so it looked for all the world
like a little black pool in the Dismal Swamp of Virginia.
Then they all formed a circle round the kid; and one after the other,
with great regularity, dipped their spoons into the mush, and after
stirring them round a little in the molasses-pool, they swallowed down
their mouthfuls, and smacked their lips over it, as if it tasted very
good; which I have no doubt it did; but not having any spoon, I wasn't
I sat some time watching these proceedings, and wondering how polite
they were to each other; for, though there were a great many spoons to
only one dish, they never got entangled. At last, seeing that the mush
was getting thinner and thinner, and that it was getting low water, or
rather low molasses in the little pool, I ran on deck, and after
searching about, returned with a bit of stick; and thinking I had as
good a right as any one else to the mush and molasses, I worked my way
into the circle, intending to make one of the party. So I shoved in my
stick, and after twirling it about, was just managing to carry a little
burgoo toward my mouth, which had been for some time standing ready open
to receive it, when one of the sailors perceiving what I was about,
knocked the stick out of my hands, and asked me where I learned my
manners; Was that the way gentlemen eat in my country? Did they eat
their victuals with splinters of wood, and couldn't that wealthy
gentleman my father afford to buy his gentlemanly son a spoon?
All the rest joined in, and pronounced me an ill-bred, coarse, and
unmannerly youngster, who, if permitted to go on with such behavior as
that, would corrupt the whole crew, and make them no better than swine.
As I felt conscious that a stick was indeed a thing very unsuitable to
eat with, I did not say much to this, though it vexed me enough; but
remembering that I had seen one of the steerage passengers with a pan
and spoon in his hand eating his breakfast on the fore hatch, I now ran
on deck again, and to my great joy succeeded in borrowing his spoon, for
he had got through his meal, and down I came again, though at the
eleventh hour, and offered myself once more as a candidate.
But alas! there was little more of the Dismal Swamp left, and when I
reached over to the opposite end of the kid, I received a rap on the
knuckles from a spoon, and was told that I must help myself from my own
side, for that was the rule. But my side was scraped clean, so I got no
burgoo that morning.
But I made it up by eating some salt beef and biscuit, which I found to
be the invariable accompaniment of every meal; the sailors sitting
cross-legged on their chests in a circle, and breaking the hard biscuit,
very sociably, over each other's heads, which was very convenient
indeed, but gave me the headache, at least for the first four or five
days till I got used to it; and then I did not care much about it, only
it kept my hair full of crumbs; and I had forgot to bring a fine comb
and brush, so I used to shake my hair out to windward over the bulwarks
XII. HE GIVES SOME ACCOUNT OF ONE OF HIS SHIPMATES CALLED JACKSON
While we sat eating our beef and biscuit, two of the men got into a
dispute, about who had been sea-faring the longest; when Jackson, who
had mixed the burgoo, called upon them in a loud voice to cease their
clamor, for he would decide the matter for them. Of this sailor, I shall
have something more to say, as I get on with my narrative; so, I will
here try to describe him a little.
Did you ever see a man, with his hair shaved off, and just recovered
from the yellow fever? Well, just such a looking man was this sailor. He
was as yellow as gamboge, had no more whisker on his cheek, than I have
on my elbows. His hair had fallen out, and left him very bald, except in
the nape of his neck, and just behind the ears, where it was stuck over
with short little tufts, and looked like a worn-out shoe-brush. His nose
had broken down in the middle, and he squinted with one eye, and did not
look very straight out of the other. He dressed a good deal like a
Bowery boy; for he despised the ordinary sailor-rig; wearing a pair of
great over-all blue trowsers, fastened with suspenders, and three red
woolen shirts, one over the other; for he was subject to the rheumatism,
and was not in good health, he said; and he had a large white wool hat,
with a broad rolling brim. He was a native of New York city, and had a
good deal to say about highlanders, and rowdies, whom he denounced as
only good for the gallows; but I thought he looked a good deal like a
His name, as I have said, was Jackson; and he told us, he was a near
relation of General Jackson of New Orleans, and swore terribly, if any
one ventured to question what he asserted on that head. In fact he was a
great bully, and being the best seaman on board, and very overbearing
every way, all the men were afraid of him, and durst not contradict him,
or cross his path in any thing. And what made this more wonderful was,
that he was the weakest man, bodily, of the whole crew; and I have no
doubt that young and small as I was then, compared to what I am now, I
could have thrown him down. But he had such an overawing way with him;
such a deal of brass and impudence, such an unflinching face, and withal
was such a hideous looking mortal, that Satan himself would have run
from him. And besides all this, it was quite plain, that he was by
nature a marvelously clever, cunning man, though without education; and
understood human nature to a kink, and well knew whom he had to deal
with; and then, one glance of his squinting eye, was as good as a
knock-down, for it was the most deep, subtle, infernal looking eye, that
I ever saw lodged in a human head. I believe, that by good rights it
must have belonged to a wolf, or starved tiger; at any rate, I would
defy any oculist, to turn out a glass eye, half so cold, and snaky, and
deadly. It was a horrible thing; and I would give much to forget that I
have ever seen it; for it haunts me to this day.
It was impossible to tell how old this Jackson was; for he had no beard,
and no wrinkles, except small crowsfeet about the eyes. He might have
seen thirty, or perhaps fifty years. But according to his own account,
he had been to sea ever since he was eight years old, when he first went
as a cabin-boy in an Indiaman, and ran away at Calcutta. And according
to his own account, too, he had passed through every kind of dissipation
and abandonment in the worst parts of the world. He had served in
Portuguese slavers on the coast of Africa; and with a diabolical relish
used to tell of the middle-passage, where the slaves were stowed, heel
and point, like logs, and the suffocated and dead were unmanacled, and
weeded out from the living every morning, before washing down the decks;
how he had been in a slaving schooner, which being chased by an English
cruiser off Cape Verde, received three shots in her hull, which raked
through and through a whole file of slaves, that were chained.
He would tell of lying in Batavia during a fever, when his ship lost a
man every few days, and how they went reeling ashore with the body, and
got still more intoxicated by way of precaution against the plague. He
would talk of finding a cobra-di-capello, or hooded snake, under his
pillow in India, when he slept ashore there. He would talk of sailors
being poisoned at Canton with drugged "shampoo," for the sake of their
money; and of the Malay ruffians, who stopped ships in the straits of
Caspar, and always saved the captain for the last, so as to make him
point out where the most valuable goods were stored.
His whole talk was of this land; full of piracies, plagues and
poisonings. And often he narrated many passages in his own individual
career, which were almost incredible, from the consideration that few
men could have plunged into such infamous vices, and clung to them so
long, without paying the death-penalty.
But in truth, he carried about with him the traces of these things, and
the mark of a fearful end nigh at hand; like that of King Antiochus of
Syria, who died a worse death, history says, than if he had been stung
out of the world by wasps and hornets.
Nothing was left of this Jackson but the foul lees and dregs of a man;
he was thin as a shadow; nothing but skin and bones; and sometimes used
to complain, that it hurt him to sit on the hard chests. And I sometimes
fancied, it was the consciousness of his miserable, broken-down
condition, and the prospect of soon dying like a dog, in consequence of
his sins, that made this poor wretch always eye me with such malevolence
as he did. For I was young and handsome, at least my mother so thought
me, and as soon as I became a little used to the sea, and shook off my
low spirits somewhat, I began to have my old color in my cheeks, and,
spite of misfortune, to appear well and hearty; whereas he was being
consumed by an incurable malady, that was eating up his vitals, and was
more fit for a hospital than a ship.
As I am sometimes by nature inclined to indulge in unauthorized
surmisings about the thoughts going on with regard to me, in the people
I meet; especially if I have reason to think they dislike me; I will not
put it down for a certainty that what I suspected concerning this
Jackson relative to his thoughts of me, was really the truth. But only
state my honest opinion, and how it struck me at the time; and even now,
I think I was not wrong. And indeed, unless it was so, how could I
account to myself, for the shudder that would run through me, when I
caught this man gazing at me, as I often did; for he was apt to be dumb
at times, and would sit with his eyes fixed, and his teeth set, like a
man in the moody madness.
I well remember the first time I saw him, and how I was startled at his
eye, which was even then fixed upon me. He was standing at the ship's
helm, being the first man that got there, when a steersman was called
for by the pilot; for this Jackson was always on the alert for easy
duties, and used to plead his delicate health as the reason for assuming
them, as he did; though I used to think, that for a man in poor health,
he was very swift on the legs; at least when a good place was to be
jumped to; though that might only have been a sort of spasmodic exertion
under strong inducements, which every one knows the greatest invalids
will sometimes show.
And though the sailors were always very bitter against any thing like
sogering, as they called it; that is, any thing that savored of a desire
to get rid of downright hard work; yet, I observed that, though this
Jackson was a notorious old soger the whole voyage (I mean, in all
things not perilous to do, from which he was far from hanging back), and
in truth was a great veteran that way, and one who must have passed
unhurt through many campaigns; yet, they never presumed to call him to
account in any way; or to let him so much as think, what they thought of
his conduct. But I often heard them call him many hard names behind his
back; and sometimes, too, when, perhaps, they had just been tenderly
inquiring after his health before his face. They all stood in mortal
fear of him; and cringed and fawned about him like so many spaniels; and
used to rub his back, after he was undressed and lying in his bunk; and
used to run up on deck to the cook-house, to warm some cold coffee for
him; and used to fill his pipe, and give him chews of tobacco, and mend
his jackets and trowsers; and used to watch, and tend, and nurse him
every way. And all the time, he would sit scowling on them, and found
fault with what they did; and I noticed, that those who did the most for
him, and cringed the most before him, were the very ones he most abused;
while two or three who held more aloof, he treated with a little
It is not for me to say, what it was that made a whole ship's company
submit so to the whims of one poor miserable man like Jackson. I only
know that so it was; but I have no doubt, that if he had had a blue eye
in his head, or had had a different face from what he did have, they
would not have stood in such awe of him. And it astonished me, to see
that one of the seamen, a remarkably robust and good-humored young man
from Belfast in Ireland, was a person of no mark or influence among the
crew; but on the contrary was hooted at, and trampled upon, and made a
butt and laughing-stock; and more than all, was continually being abused
and snubbed by Jackson, who seemed to hate him cordially, because of his
great strength and fine person, and particularly because of his red
But then, this Belfast man, although he had shipped for an able-seaman,
was not much of a sailor; and that always lowers a man in the eyes of a
ship's company; I mean, when he ships for an able-seaman, but is not
able to do the duty of one. For sailors are of three classes--
able-seaman, ordinary-seaman, and boys; and they receive different
wages according to their rank. Generally, a ship's company of twelve
men will only have five or six able seamen, who if they prove to
understand their duty every way (and that is no small matter either, as
I shall hereafter show, perhaps), are looked up to, and thought much of
by the ordinary-seamen and boys, who reverence their very pea-jackets,
and lay up their sayings in their hearts.
But you must not think from this, that persons called boys aboard
merchant-ships are all youngsters, though to be sure, I myself was
called a boy, and a boy I was. No. In merchant-ships, a boy means a
green-hand, a landsman on his first voyage. And never mind if he is old
enough to be a grandfather, he is still called a boy; and boys' work is
put upon him.
But I am straying off from what I was going to say about Jackson's
putting an end to the dispute between the two sailors in the forecastle
after breakfast. After they had been disputing some time about who had
been to sea the longest, Jackson told them to stop talking; and then
bade one of them open his mouth; for, said he, I can tell a sailor's age
just like a horse's--by his teeth. So the man laughed, and opened his
mouth; and Jackson made him step out under the scuttle, where the light
came down from deck; and then made him throw his head back, while he
looked into it, and probed a little with his jackknife, like a baboon
peering into a junk-bottle. I trembled for the poor fellow, just as if I
had seen him under the hands of a crazy barber, making signs to cut his
throat, and he all the while sitting stock still, with the lather on, to
be shaved. For I watched Jackson's eye and saw it snapping, and a sort
of going in and out, very quick, as if it were something like a forked
tongue; and somehow, I felt as if he were longing to kill the man; but
at last he grew more composed, and after concluding his examination,
said, that the first man was the oldest sailor, for the ends of his
teeth were the evenest and most worn down; which, he said, arose from
eating so much hard sea-biscuit; and this was the reason he could tell a
sailor's age like a horse's.
At this, every body made merry, and looked at each other, as much as to
say--come, boys, let's laugh; and they did laugh; and declared it was a
This was always the way with them. They made a point of shouting out,
whenever Jackson said any thing with a grin; that being the sign to them
that he himself thought it funny; though I heard many good jokes from
others pass off without a smile; and once Jackson himself (for, to tell
the truth, he sometimes had a comical way with him, that is, when his
back did not ache) told a truly funny story, but with a grave face;
when, not knowing how he meant it, whether for a laugh or otherwise,
they all sat still, waiting what to do, and looking perplexed enough;
till at last Jackson roared out upon them for a parcel of fools and
idiots; and told them to their beards, how it was; that he had purposely
put on his grave face, to see whether they would not look grave, too;
even when he was telling something that ought to split their sides. And
with that, he flouted, and jeered at them, and laughed them all to
scorn; and broke out in such a rage, that his lips began to glue
together at the corners with a fine white foam.
He seemed to be full of hatred and gall against every thing and every
body in the world; as if all the world was one person, and had done him
some dreadful harm, that was rankling and festering in his heart.
Sometimes I thought he was really crazy; and often felt so frightened at
him, that I thought of going to the captain about it, and telling him
Jackson ought to be confined, lest he should do some terrible thing at
last. But upon second thoughts, I always gave it up; for the captain
would only have called me a fool, and sent me forward again.
But you must not think that all the sailors were alike in abasing
themselves before this man. No: there were three or four who used to
stand up sometimes against him; and when he was absent at the wheel,
would plot against him among the other sailors, and tell them what a
shame and ignominy it was, that such a poor miserable wretch should be
such a tyrant over much better men than himself. And they begged and
conjured them as men, to put up with it no longer, but the very next
time, that Jackson presumed to play the dictator, that they should all
withstand him, and let him know his place. Two or three times nearly all
hands agreed to it, with the exception of those who used to slink off
during such discussions; and swore that they would not any more submit
to being ruled by Jackson. But when the time came to make good their
oaths, they were mum again, and let every thing go on the old way; so
that those who had put them up to it, had to bear all the brunt of
Jackson's wrath by themselves. And though these last would stick up a
little at first, and even mutter something about a fight to Jackson; yet
in the end, finding themselves unbefriended by the rest, they would
gradually become silent, and leave the field to the tyrant, who would
then fly out worse than ever, and dare them to do their worst, and jeer
at them for white-livered poltroons, who did not have a mouthful of
heart in them. At such times, there were no bounds to his contempt; and
indeed, all the time he seemed to have even more contempt than hatred,
for every body and every thing.
As for me, I was but a boy; and at any time aboard ship, a boy is
expected to keep quiet, do what he is bid, never presume to interfere,
and seldom to talk, unless spoken to. For merchant sailors have a great
idea of their dignity, and superiority to greenhorns and landsmen, who
know nothing about a ship; and they seem to think, that an able seaman
is a great man; at least a much greater man than a little boy. And the
able seamen in the Highlander had such grand notions about their
seamanship, that I almost thought that able seamen received diplomas,
like those given at colleges; and were made a sort A.M.S, or Masters of
But though I kept thus quiet, and had very little to say, and well knew
that my best plan was to get along peaceably with every body, and indeed
endure a good deal before showing fight, yet I could not avoid Jackson's
evil eye, nor escape his bitter enmity. And his being my foe, set many
of the rest against me; or at least they were afraid to speak out for me
before Jackson; so that at last I found myself a sort of Ishmael in the
ship, without a single friend or companion; and I began to feel a hatred
growing up in me against the whole crew--so much so, that I prayed
against it, that it might not master my heart completely, and so make a
fiend of me, something like Jackson.
XII. HE HAS A FINE DAY AT SEA, BEGINS TO LIKE IT; BUT CHANGES HIS MIND
The second day out of port, the decks being washed down and breakfast
over, the watch was called, and the mate set us to work.
It was a very bright day. The sky and water were both of the same deep
hue; and the air felt warm and sunny; so that we threw off our jackets.
I could hardly believe that I was sailing in the same ship I had been in
during the night, when every thing had been so lonely and dim; and I
could hardly imagine that this was the same ocean, now so beautiful and
blue, that during part of the night-watch had rolled along so black and
There were little traces of sunny clouds all over the heavens; and
little fleeces of foam all over the sea; and the ship made a strange,
musical noise under her bows, as she glided along, with her sails all
still. It seemed a pity to go to work at such a time; and if we could
only have sat in the windlass again; or if they would have let me go out
on the bowsprit, and lay down between the manropes there, and look over
at the fish in the water, and think of home, I should have been almost
happy for a time.
I had now completely got over my sea-sickness, and felt very well; at
least in my body, though my heart was far from feeling right; so that I
could now look around me, and make observations.
And truly, though we were at sea, there was much to behold and wonder
at; to me, who was on my first voyage. What most amazed me was the sight
of the great ocean itself, for we were out of sight of land. All round
us, on both sides of the ship, ahead and astern, nothing was to be seen
but water-water--water; not a single glimpse of green shore, not the
smallest island, or speck of moss any where. Never did I realize till
now what the ocean was: how grand and majestic, how solitary, and
boundless, and beautiful and blue; for that day it gave no tokens of
squalls or hurricanes, such as I had heard my father tell of; nor could
I imagine, how any thing that seemed so playful and placid, could be
lashed into rage, and troubled into rolling avalanches of foam, and
great cascades of waves, such as I saw in the end.
As I looked at it so mild and sunny, I could not help calling to mind my
little brother's face, when he was sleeping an infant in the cradle. It
had just such a happy, careless, innocent look; and every happy little
wave seemed gamboling about like a thoughtless Little kid in a pasture;
and seemed to look up in your face as it passed, as if it wanted to be
patted and caressed. They seemed all live things with hearts in them,
that could feel; and I almost felt grieved, as we sailed in among them,
scattering them under our broad bows in sun-flakes, and riding over them
like a great elephant among lambs. But what seemed perhaps the most
strange to me of all, was a certain wonderful rising and falling of the
sea; I do not mean the waves themselves, but a sort of wide heaving and
swelling and sinking all over the ocean. It was something I can not very
well describe; but I know very well what it was, and how it affected me.
It made me almost dizzy to look at it; and yet I could not keep my eyes
off it, it seemed so passing strange and wonderful.
I felt as if in a dream all the time; and when I could shut the ship
out, almost thought I was in some new, fairy world, and expected to hear
myself called to, out of the clear blue air, or from the depths of the
deep blue sea. But I did not have much leisure to indulge in such
thoughts; for the men were now getting some stun'-sails ready to hoist
aloft, as the wind was getting fairer and fairer for us; and these
stun'-sails are light canvas which are spread at such times, away out
beyond the ends of the yards, where they overhang the wide water, like
the wings of a great bird.
For my own part, I could do but little to help the rest, not knowing the
name of any thing, or the proper way to go about aught. Besides, I felt
very dreamy, as I said before; and did not exactly know where, or what I
was; every thing was so strange and new.
While the stun'-sails were lying all tumbled upon the deck, and the
sailors were fastening them to the booms, getting them ready to hoist,
the mate ordered me to do a great many simple things, none of which
could I comprehend, owing to the queer words he used; and then, seeing
me stand quite perplexed and confounded, he would roar out at me, and
call me all manner of names, and the sailors would laugh and wink to
each other, but durst not go farther than that, for fear of the mate,
who in his own presence would not let any body laugh at me but himself.
However, I tried to wake up as much as I could, and keep from dreaming
with my eyes open; and being, at bottom, a smart, apt lad, at last I
managed to learn a thing or two, so that I did not appear so much like a
fool as at first.
People who have never gone to sea for the first time as sailors, can not
imagine how puzzling and confounding it is. It must be like going into a
barbarous country, where they speak a strange dialect, arid dress in
strange clothes, and live in strange houses. For sailors have their own
names, even for things that are familiar ashore; and if you call a thing
by its shore name, you are laughed at for an ignoramus and a landlubber.
This first day I speak of, the mate having ordered me to draw some
water, I asked him where I was to get the pail; when I thought I had
committed some dreadful crime; for he flew into a great passion, and
said they never had any pails at sea, and then I learned that they were
always called buckets. And once I was talking about sticking a little
wooden peg into a bucket to stop a leak, when he flew out again, and
said there were no pegs at sea, only plugs. And just so it was with
every thing else.
But besides all this, there is such an infinite number of totally new
names of new things to learn, that at first it seemed impossible for me
to master them all. If you have ever seen a ship, you must have remarked
what a thicket of ropes there are; and how they all seemed mixed and
entangled together like a great skein of yarn. Now the very smallest of
these ropes has its own proper name, and many of them are very lengthy,
like the names of young royal princes, such as the starboard-main-top-
gallant-bow-line, or the larboard-fore-top-sail-clue-line.
I think it would not be a bad plan to have a grand new naming of a
ship's ropes, as I have read, they once had a simplifying of the classes
of plants in Botany. It is really wonderful how many names there are in
the world. There is no counting the names, that surgeons and anatomists
give to the various parts of the human body; which, indeed, is something
like a ship; its bones being the stiff standing-rigging, and the sinews
the small running ropes, that manage all the motions.
I wonder whether mankind could not get along without all these names,
which keep increasing every day, and hour, and moment; till at last the
very air will be full of them; and even in a great plain, men will be
breathing each other's breath, owing to the vast multitude of words they
use, that consume all the air, just as lamp-burners do gas. But people
seem to have a great love for names; for to know a great many names,
seems to look like knowing a good many things; though I should not be
surprised, if there were a great many more names than things in the
world. But I must quit this rambling, and return to my story.
At last we hoisted the stun'-sails up to the top-sail yards, and as soon
as the vessel felt them, she gave a sort of bound like a horse, and the
breeze blowing more and more, she went plunging along, shaking off the
foam from her bows, like foam from a bridle-bit. Every mast and timber
seemed to have a pulse in it that was beating with Me and joy; and I
felt a wild exulting in my own heart, and felt as if I would be glad to
bound along so round the world.
Then was I first conscious of a wonderful thing in me, that responded to
all the wild commotion of the outer world; and went reeling on and on
with the planets in their orbits, and was lost in one delirious throb at
the center of the All. A wild bubbling and bursting was at my heart, as
if a hidden spring had just gushed out there; and my blood ran tingling
along my frame, like mountain brooks in spring freshets.
Yes I yes! give me this glorious ocean life, this salt-sea life, this
briny, foamy life, when the sea neighs and snorts, and you breathe the
very breath that the great whales respire! Let me roll around the globe,
let me rock upon the sea; let me race and pant out my life, with an
eternal breeze astern, and an endless sea before!
But how soon these raptures abated, when after a brief idle interval, we
were again set to work, and I had a vile commission to clean out the
chicken coops, and make up the beds of the pigs in the long-boat.
Miserable dog's life is this of the sea! commanded like a slave, and set
to work like an ass! vulgar and brutal men lording it over me, as if I
were an African in Alabama. Yes, yes, blow on, ye breezes, and make a
speedy end to this abominable voyage!
XIV. HE CONTEMPLATES MAKING A SOCIAL CALL ON THE CAPTAIN IN HIS CABIN
What reminded me most forcibly of my ignominious condition, was the
widely altered manner of the captain toward me.
I had thought him a fine, funny gentleman, full of mirth and good humor,
and good will to seamen, and one who could not fail to appreciate the
difference between me and the rude sailors among whom I was thrown.
Indeed, I had made no doubt that he would in some special manner take me
under his protection, and prove a kind friend and benefactor to me; as I
had heard that some sea-captains are fathers to their crew; and so they
are; but such fathers as Solomon's precepts tend to make--severe and
chastising fathers, fathers whose sense of duty overcomes the sense of
love, and who every day, in some sort, play the part of Brutus, who
ordered his son away to execution, as I have read in our old family
Yes, I thought that Captain Riga, for Riga was his name, would be
attentive and considerate to me, and strive to cheer me up, and comfort
me in my lonesomeness. I did not even deem it at all impossible that he
would invite me down into the cabin of a pleasant night, to ask me
questions concerning my parents, and prospects in life; besides
obtaining from me some anecdotes touching my great-uncle, the
illustrious senator; or give me a slate and pencil, and teach me
problems in navigation; or perhaps engage me at a game of chess. I even
thought he might invite me to dinner on a sunny Sunday, and help me
plentifully to the nice cabin fare, as knowing how distasteful the salt
beef and pork, and hard biscuit of the forecastle must at first be to a
boy like me, who had always lived ashore, and at home.
And I could not help regarding him with peculiar emotions, almost of
tenderness and love, as the last visible link in the chain of
associations which bound me to my home. For, while yet in port, I had
seen him and Mr. Jones, my brother's friend, standing together and
conversing; so that from the captain to my brother there was but one
intermediate step; and my brother and mother and sisters were one.
And this reminds me how often I used to pass by the places on deck,
where I remembered Mr. Jones had stood when we first visited the ship
lying at the wharf; and how I tried to convince myself that it was
indeed true, that he had stood there, though now the ship was so far
away on the wide Atlantic Ocean, and he perhaps was walking down
Wall-street, or sitting reading the newspaper in his counting room,
while poor I was so differently employed.
When two or three days had passed without the captain's speaking to me
in any way, or sending word into the forecastle that he wished me to
drop into the cabin to pay my respects. I began to think whether I
should not make the first advances, and whether indeed he did not expect
it of me, since I was but a boy, and he a man; and perhaps that might
have been the reason why he had not spoken to me yet, deeming it more
proper and respectful for me to address him first. I thought he might be
offended, too, especially if he were a proud man, with tender feelings.
So one evening, a little before sundown, in the second dog-watch, when
there was no more work to be done, I concluded to call and see him.
After drawing a bucket of water, and having a good washing, to get off
some of the chicken-coop stains, I went down into the forecastle to
dress myself as neatly as I could. I put on a white shirt in place of my
red one, and got into a pair of cloth trowsers instead of my duck ones,
and put on my new pumps, and then carefully brushing my shooting-jacket,
I put that on over all, so that upon the whole, I made quite a genteel
figure, at least for a forecastle, though I would not have looked so
well in a drawing-room.
When the sailors saw me thus employed, they did not know what to make of
it, and wanted to know whether I was dressing to go ashore; I told them
no, for we were then out of sight of mind; but that I was going to pay
my respects to the captain. Upon which they all laughed and shouted, as
if I were a simpleton; though there seemed nothing so very simple in
going to make an evening call upon a friend. When some of them tried to
dissuade me, saying I was green and raw; but Jackson, who sat looking
on, cried out, with a hideous grin, "Let him go, let him go, men--he's a
nice boy. Let him go; the captain has some nuts and raisins for him."
And so he was going on, when one of his violent fits of coughing seized
him, and he almost choked.
As I was about leaving the forecastle, I happened to look at my hands,
and seeing them stained all over of a deep yellow, for that morning the
mate had set me to tarring some strips of canvas for the rigging I
thought it would never do to present myself before a gentleman that way;
so for want of lads, I slipped on a pair of woolen mittens, which my
mother had knit for me to carry to sea. As I was putting them on,
Jackson asked me whether he shouldn't call a carriage; and another bade
me not forget to present his best respects to the skipper. I left them
all tittering, and coming on deck was passing the cook-house, when the
old cook called after me, saying I had forgot my cane.
But I did not heed their impudence, and was walking straight toward the
cabin-door on the quarter-deck, when the chief mate met me. I touched my
hat, and was passing him, when, after staring at me till I thought his
eyes would burst out, he all at once caught me by the collar, and with a
voice of thunder, wanted to know what I meant by playing such tricks
aboard a ship that he was mate of? I told him to let go of me, or I
would complain to my friend the captain, whom I intended to visit that
evening. Upon this he gave me such a whirl round, that I thought the
Gulf Stream was in my head; and then shoved me forward, roaring out I
know not what. Meanwhile the sailors were all standing round the
windlass looking aft, mightily tickled.
Seeing I could not effect my object that night, I thought it best to
defer it for the present; and returning among the sailors, Jackson asked
me how I had found the captain, and whether the next time I went, I
would not take a friend along and introduce him.
The upshot of this business was, that before I went to sleep that night,
I felt well satisfied that it was not customary for sailors to call on
the captain in the cabin; and I began to have an inkling of the fact,
that I had acted like a fool; but it all arose from my ignorance of sea
And here I may as well state, that I never saw the inside of the cabin
during the whole interval that elapsed from our sailing till our return
to New York; though I often used to get a peep at it through a little
pane of glass, set in the house on deck, just before the helm, where a
watch was kept hanging for the helmsman to strike the half hours by,
with his little bell in the binnacle, where the compass was. And it used
to be the great amusement of the sailors to look in through the pane of
glass, when they stood at the wheel, and watch the proceedings in the
cabin; especially when the steward was setting the table for dinner, or
the captain was lounging over a decanter of wine on a little mahogany
stand, or playing the game called solitaire, at cards, of an evening;
for at times he was all alone with his dignity; though, as will ere long
be shown, he generally had one pleasant companion, whose society he did
The day following my attempt to drop in at the cabin, I happened to be
making fast a rope on the quarter-deck, when the captain suddenly made
his appearance, promenading up and down, and smoking a cigar. He looked
very good-humored and amiable, and it being just after his dinner, I
thought that this, to be sure, was just the chance I wanted.
I waited a little while, thinking he would speak to me himself; but as
he did not, I went up to him, and began by saying it was a very pleasant
day, and hoped he was very well. I never saw a man fly into such a rage;
I thought he was going to knock me down; but after standing speechless
awhile, he all at once plucked his cap from his head and threw it at me.
I don't know what impelled me, but I ran to the lee-scuppers where it
fell, picked it up, and gave it to him with a bow; when the mate came
running up, and thrust me forward again; and after he had got me as far
as the windlass, he wanted to know whether I was crazy or not; for if I
was, he would put me in irons right off, and have done with it.
But I assured him I was in my right mind, and knew perfectly well that I
had been treated in the most rude and un-gentlemanly manner both by him
and Captain Riga. Upon this, he rapped out a great oath, and told me if
I ever repeated what I had done that evening, or ever again presumed so
much as to lift my hat to the captain, he would tie me into the rigging,
and keep me there until I learned better manners. "You are very green,"
said he, "but I'll ripen you." Indeed this chief mate seemed to have the
keeping of the dignity of the captain; who, in some sort, seemed too
dignified personally to protect his own dignity.
I thought this strange enough, to be reprimanded, and charged with
rudeness for an act of common civility. However, seeing how matters
stood, I resolved to let the captain alone for the future, particularly
as he had shown himself so deficient in the ordinary breeding of a
gentleman. And I could hardly credit it, that this was the same man who
had been so very civil, and polite, and witty, when Mr. Jones and I
called upon him in port.
But this astonishment of mine was much increased, when some days after,
a storm came upon us, and the captain rushed out of the cabin in his
nightcap, and nothing else but his shirt on; and leaping up on the poop,
began to jump up and down, and curse and swear, and call the men aloft
all manner of hard names, just like a common loafer in the street.
Besides all this, too, I noticed that while we were at sea, he wore
nothing but old shabby clothes, very different from the glossy suit I
had seen him in at our first interview, and after that on the steps of
the City Hotel, where he always boarded when in New York. Now, he wore
nothing but old-fashioned snuff-colored coats, with high collars and
short waists; and faded, short-legged pantaloons, very tight about the
knees; and vests, that did not conceal his waistbands, owing to their
being so short, just like a little boy's. And his hats were all caved
in, and battered, as if they had been knocked about in a cellar; and his
boots were sadly patched. Indeed, I began to think that he was but a
shabby fellow after all; particularly as his whiskers lost their gloss,
and he went days together without shaving; and his hair, by a sort of
miracle, began to grow of a pepper and salt color, which might have been
owing, though, to his discontinuing the use of some kind of dye while at
sea. I put him down as a sort of impostor; and while ashore, a gentleman
on false pretenses; for no gentleman would have treated another
gentleman as he did me.
Yes, Captain Riga, thought I, you are no gentleman, and you know it!
XV. THE MELANCHOLY STATE OF HIS WARDROBE
And now that I have been speaking of the captain's old clothes, I may as
well speak of mine.
It was very early in the month of June that we sailed; and I had greatly
rejoiced that it was that time of the year; for it would be warm and
pleasant upon the ocean, I thought; and my voyage would be like a summer
excursion to the sea shore, for the benefit of the salt water, and a
change of scene and society.
So I had not given myself much concern about what I should wear; and
deemed it wholly unnecessary to provide myself with a great outfit of
pilot-cloth jackets, and browsers, and Guernsey frocks, and oil-skin
suits, and sea-boots, and many other things, which old seamen carry in
their chests. But one reason was, that I did not have the money to buy
them with, even if I had wanted to. So in addition to the clothes I had
brought from home, I had only bought a red shirt, a tarpaulin hat, and a
belt and knife, as I have previously related, which gave me a sea
outfit, something like the Texan rangers', whose uniform, they say,
consists of a shirt collar and a pair of spurs.
But I was not many days at sea, when I found that my shore clothing, or
"long togs," as the sailors call them, were but ill adapted to the life
I now led. When I went aloft, at my yard-arm gymnastics, my pantaloons
were all the time ripping and splitting in every direction, particularly
about the seat, owing to their not being cut sailor-fashion, with low
waistbands, and to wear without suspenders. So that I was often placed
in most unpleasant predicaments, straddling the rigging, sometimes in
plain sight of the cabin, with my table linen exposed in the most
inelegant and ungentlemanly manner possible.
And worse than all, my best pair of pantaloons, and the pair I most
prided myself upon, was a very conspicuous and remarkable looking pair.
I had had them made to order by our village tailor, a little fat man,
very thin in the legs, and who used to say he imported the latest
fashions direct from Paris; though all the fashion plates in his shop
were very dirty with fly-marks.
Well, this tailor made the pantaloons I speak of, and while he had them
in hand, I used to call and see him two or three times a day to try them
on, and hurry him forward; for he was an old man with large round
spectacles, and could not see very well, and had no one to help him but
a sick wife, with five grandchildren to take care of; and besides that,
he was such a great snuff-taker, that it interfered with his business;
for he took several pinches for every stitch, and would sit snuffing and
blowing his nose over my pantaloons, till I used to get disgusted with
him. Now, this old tailor had shown me the pattern, after which he
intended to make my pantaloons; but I improved upon it, and bade him
have a slit on the outside of each leg, at the foot, to button up with a
row of six brass bell buttons; for a grown-up cousin of mine, who was a
great sportsman, used to wear a beautiful pair of pantaloons, made
precisely in that way.
And these were the very pair I now had at sea; the sailors made a great
deal of fun of them, and were all the time calling on each other to
"ftoig" them; and they would ask me to lend them a button or two, by way
of a joke; and then they would ask me if I was not a soldier. Showing
very plainly that they had no idea that my pantaloons were a very
genteel pair, made in the height of the sporting fashion, and copied
from my cousin's, who was a young man of fortune and drove a tilbury.
When my pantaloons ripped and tore, as I have said, I did my best to
mend and patch them; but not being much of a sempstress, the more I
patched the more they parted; because I put my patches on, without
heeding the joints of the legs, which only irritated my poor pants the
more, and put them out of temper.
Nor must I forget my boots, which were almost new when I left home. They
had been my Sunday boots, and fitted me to a charm. I never had had a
pair of boots that I liked better; I used to turn my toes out when I
walked in them, unless it was night time, when no one could see me, and
I had something else to think of; and I used to keep looking at them
during church; so that I lost a good deal of the sermon. In a word, they
were a beautiful pair of boots. But all this only unfitted them the more
for sea-service; as I soon discovered. They had very high heels, which
were all the time tripping me in the rigging, and several times came
near pitching me overboard; and the salt water made them shrink in such
a manner, that they pinched me terribly about the instep; and I was
obliged to gash them cruelly, which went to my very heart. The legs were
quite long, coming a good way up toward my knees, and the edges were
mounted with red morocco. The sailors used to call them my "gaff-
topsail-boots." And sometimes they used to call me "Boots," and
sometimes "Buttons," on account of the ornaments on my pantaloons and
At last, I took their advice, and "razeed" them, as they phrased it.
That is, I amputated the legs, and shaved off the heels to the bare
soles; which, however, did not much improve them, for it made my feet
feel flat as flounders, and besides, brought me down in the world, and
made me slip and slide about the decks, as I used to at home, when I
wore straps on the ice.
As for my tarpaulin hat, it was a very cheap one; and therefore proved a
real sham and shave; it leaked like an old shingle roof; and in a rain
storm, kept my hair wet and disagreeable. Besides, from lying down on
deck in it, during the night watches, it got bruised and battered, and
lost all its beauty; so that it was unprofitable every way.
But I had almost forgotten my shooting-jacket, which was made of
moleskin. Every day, it grew smaller and smaller, particularly after a
rain, until at last I thought it would completely exhale, and leave
nothing but the bare seams, by way of a skeleton, on my back. It became
unspeakably unpleasant, when we got into rather cold weather, crossing
the Banks of Newfoundland, when the only way I had to keep warm during
the night, was to pull on my waistcoat and my roundabout, and then clap
the shooting-jacket over all. This made it pinch me under the arms, and
it vexed, irritated, and tormented me every way; and used to incommode
my arms seriously when I was pulling the ropes; so much so, that the
mate asked me once if I had the cramp.
I may as well here glance at some trials and tribulations of a similar
kind. I had no mattress, or bed-clothes, of any sort; for the thought of
them had never entered my mind before going to sea; so that I was
obliged to sleep on the bare boards of my bunk; and when the ship
pitched violently, and almost stood upon end, I must have looked like an
Indian baby tied to a plank, and hung up against a tree like a crucifix.
I have already mentioned my total want of table-tools; never dreaming,
that, in this respect, going to sea as a sailor was something like going
to a boarding-school, where you must furnish your own spoon and knife,
fork, and napkin. But at length, I was so happy as to barter with a
steerage passenger a silk handkerchief of mine for a half-gallon iron
pot, with hooks to it, to hang on a grate; and this pot I used to
present at the cook-house for my allowance of coffee and tea. It gave me
a good deal of trouble, though, to keep it clean, being much disposed to
rust; and the hooks sometimes scratched my face when I was drinking; and
it was unusually large and heavy; so that my breakfasts were deprived of
all ease and satisfaction, and became a toil and a labor to me. And I
was forced to use the same pot for my bean-soup, three times a week,
which imparted to it a bad flavor for coffee.
I can not tell how I really suffered in many ways for my improvidence
and heedlessness, in going to sea so ill provided with every thing
calculated to make my situation at all comfortable, or even tolerable.
In time, my wretched "long togs" began to drop off my back, and I looked
like a Sam Patch, shambling round the deck in my rags and the wreck of
my gaff-topsail-boots. I often thought what my friends at home would
have said, if they could but get one peep at me. But I hugged myself in
my miserable shooting-jacket, when I considered that that degradation
and shame never could overtake me; yet, I thought it a galling mockery,
when I remembered that my sisters had promised to tell all inquiring
friends, that Wellingborough had gone "abroad" just as if I was visiting
Europe on a tour with my tutor, as poor simple Mr. Jones had hinted to
Still, in spite of the melancholy which sometimes overtook me, there
were several little incidents that made me forget myself in the
contemplation of the strange and to me most wonderful sights of the sea.
And perhaps nothing struck into me such a feeling of wild romance, as a
view of the first vessel we spoke. It was of a clear sunny afternoon,
and she came bearing down upon us, a most beautiful sight, with all her
sails spread wide. She came very near, and passed under our stern; and
as she leaned over to the breeze, showed her decks fore and aft; and I
saw the strange sailors grouped upon the forecastle, and the cook
look-cook-house with a ladle in his hand, and the captain in a green
jacket sitting on the taffrail with a speaking-trumpet.
And here, had this vessel come out of the infinite blue ocean, with all
these human beings on board, and the smoke tranquilly mounting up into
the sea-air from the cook's funnel as if it were a chimney in a city;
and every thing looking so cool, and calm, and of-course, in the midst
of what to me, at least, seemed a superlative marvel.
Hoisted at her mizzen-peak was a red flag, with a turreted white castle
in the middle, which looked foreign enough, and made me stare all the
Our captain, who had put on another hat and coat, and was lounging in an
elegant attitude on the poop, now put his high polished brass trumpet to
his mouth, and said in a very rude voice for conversation, "Where from?"
To which the other captain rejoined with some outlandish Dutch
gibberish, of which we could only make out, that the ship belonged to
Hamburg, as her flag denoted.
Bless my soul! and here I am on the great Atlantic Ocean, actually
beholding a ship from Holland! It was passing strange. In my intervals
of leisure from other duties, I followed the strange ship till she was
quite a little speck in the distance.
I could not but be struck with the manner of the two sea-captains during
their brief interview. Seated at their ease on their respective "poops"
toward the stern of their ships, while the sailors were obeying their
behests; they touched hats to each other, exchanged compliments, and
drove on, with all the indifference of two Arab horsemen accosting each
other on an airing in the Desert. To them, I suppose, the great Atlantic
Ocean was a puddle.
XVI. AT DEAD OF NIGHT HE IS SENT UP TO LOOSE THE MAIN-SKYSAIL
I must now run back a little, and tell of my first going aloft at middle
watch, when the sea was quite calm, and the breeze was mild.
The order was given to loose the main-skysail, which is the fifth and
highest sail from deck. It was a very small sail, and from the
forecastle looked no bigger than a cambric pocket-handkerchief. But I
have heard that some ships carry still smaller sails, above the skysail;
called moon-sails, and skyscrapers, and cloud-rakers. But I shall not
believe in them till I see them; a skysail seems high enough in all
conscience; and the idea of any thing higher than that, seems
preposterous. Besides, it looks almost like tempting heaven, to brush
the very firmament so, and almost put the eyes of the stars out; when a
flaw of wind, too, might very soon take the conceit out of these
Now, when the order was passed to loose the skysail, an old Dutch sailor
came up to me, and said, "Buttons, my boy, it's high time you be doing
something; and it's boy's business, Buttons, to loose de royals, and not
old men's business, like me. Now, d'ye see dat leelle fellow way up
dare? dare, just behind dem stars dare: well, tumble up, now, Buttons, I
zay, and looze him; way you go, Buttons."
All the rest joining in, and seeming unanimous in the opinion, that it
was high time for me to be stirring myself, and doing boy's business, as
they called it, I made no more ado, but jumped into the rigging. Up I
went, not dating to look down, but keeping my eyes glued, as it were, to
the shrouds, as I ascended.
It was a long road up those stairs, and I began to pant and breathe
hard, before I was half way. But I kept at it till I got to the Jacob's
Ladder; and they may well call it so, for it took me almost into the
clouds; and at last, to my own amazement, I found myself hanging on the
skysail-yard, holding on might and main to the mast; and curling my feet
round the rigging, as if they were another pair of hands.
For a few moments I stood awe-stricken and mute. I could not see far out
upon the ocean, owing to the darkness of the night; and from my lofty
perch, the sea looked like a great, black gulf, hemmed in, all round, by
beetling black cliffs. I seemed all alone; treading the midnight clouds;
and every second, expected to find myself falling--falling--falling, as I
have felt when the nightmare has been on me.
I could but just perceive the ship below me, like a long narrow plank in
the water; and it did not seem to belong at all to the yard, over which
I was hanging. A gull, or some sort of sea-fowl, was flying round the
truck over my head, within a few yards of my face; and it almost
frightened me to hear it; it seemed so much like a spirit, at such a
lofty and solitary height.
Though there was a pretty smooth sea, and little wind; yet, at this
extreme elevation, the ship's motion was very great; so that when the
ship rolled one way, I felt something as a fly must feel, walking the
ceiling; and when it rolled the other way, I felt as if I was hanging
along a slanting pine-tree.
But presently I heard a distant, hoarse noise from below; and though I
could not make out any thing intelligible, I knew it was the mate
hurrying me. So in a nervous, trembling desperation, I went to casting
off the gaskets, or lines tying up the sail; and when all was ready,
sung out as I had been told, to "hoist away!" And hoist they did, and me
too along with the yard and sail; for I had no time to get off, they
were so unexpectedly quick about it. It seemed like magic; there I was,
going up higher and higher; the yard rising under me, as if it were
alive, and no soul in sight. Without knowing it at the time, I was in a
good deal of danger, but it was so dark that I could not see well enough
to feel afraid--at least on that account; though I felt frightened enough
in a promiscuous way. I only held on hard, and made good the saying of
old sailors, that the last person to fall overboard from the rigging is
a landsman, because he grips the ropes so fiercely; whereas old tars are
less careful, and sometimes pay the penalty.
After this feat, I got down rapidly on deck, and received something like
a compliment from Max the Dutchman.
This man was perhaps the best natured man among the crew; at any rate,
he treated me better than the rest did; and for that reason he deserves
Max was an old bachelor of a sailor, very precise about his wardrobe,
and prided himself greatly upon his seamanship, and entertained some
straight-laced, old-fashioned notions about the duties of boys at sea.
His hair, whiskers, and cheeks were of a fiery red; and as he wore a red
shirt, he was altogether the most combustible looking man I ever saw.
Nor did his appearance belie him; for his temper was very inflammable;
and at a word, he would explode in a shower of hard words and
imprecations. It was Max that several times set on foot those
conspiracies against Jackson, which I have spoken of before; but he
ended by paying him a grumbling homage, full of resentful reservations.
Max sometimes manifested some little interest in my welfare; and often
discoursed concerning the sorry figure I would cut in my tatters when we
got to Liverpool, and the discredit it would bring on the American
Merchant Service; for like all European seamen in American ships, Max
prided himself not a little upon his naturalization as a Yankee, and if
he could, would have been very glad to have passed himself off for a
But notwithstanding his grief at the prospect of my reflecting discredit
upon his adopted country, he never offered to better my wardrobe, by
loaning me any thing from his own well-stored chest. Like many other
well-wishers, he contented him with sympathy. Max also betrayed some
anxiety to know whether I knew how to dance; lest, when the ship's
company went ashore, I should disgrace them by exposing my awkwardness
in some of the sailor saloons. But I relieved his anxiety on that head.
He was a great scold, and fault-finder, and often took me to task about
my short-comings; but herein, he was not alone; for every one had a
finger, or a thumb, and sometimes both hands, in my unfortunate pie.
XVII. THE COOK AND STEWARD
It was on a Sunday we made the Banks of Newfoundland; a drizzling,
foggy, clammy Sunday. You could hardly see the water, owing to the mist
and vapor upon it; and every thing was so flat and calm, I almost
thought we must have somehow got back to New York, and were lying at the
foot of Wall-street again in a rainy twilight. The decks were dripping
with wet, so that in the dense fog, it seemed as if we were standing on
the roof of a house in a shower.
It was a most miserable Sunday; and several of the sailors had twinges
of the rheumatism, and pulled on their monkey-jackets. As for Jackson,
he was all the time rubbing his back and snarling like a dog.
I tried to recall all my pleasant, sunny Sundays ashore; and tried to
imagine what they were doing at home; and whether our old family friend,
Mr. Bridenstoke, would drop in, with his silver-mounted tasseled cane,
between churches, as he used to; and whether he would inquire about
But it would not do. I could hardly realize that it was Sunday at all.
Every thing went on pretty much the same as before. There was no church
to go to; no place to take a walk in; no friend to call upon. I began to
think it must be a sort of second Saturday; a foggy Saturday, when
school-boys stay at home reading Robinson Crusoe.
The only man who seemed to be taking his ease that day, was our black
cook; who according to the invariable custom at sea, always went by the
name of the doctor.
And doctors, cooks certainly are, the very best medicos in the world;
for what pestilent pills and potions of the Faculty are half so
serviceable to man, and health-and-strength-giving, as roasted lamb and
green peas, say, in spring; and roast beef and cranberry sauce in
winter? Will a dose of calomel and jakp do you as much good? Will a
bolus build up a fainting man? Is there any satisfaction in dining off a
powder? But these doctors of the frying-pan sometimes loll men off by a
surfeit; or give them the headache, at least. Well, what then? No
matter. For if with their most goodly and ten times jolly I medicines,
they now and then fill our nights with tribulations, and abridge our
days, what of the social homicides perpetrated by the Faculty? And
when you die by a pill-doctor's hands, it is never with a sweet relish
in your mouth, as though you died by a frying-pan-doctor; but your last
breath villainously savors of ipecac and rhubarb. Then, what charges
they make for the abominable lunches they serve out so stingily! One of
their bills for boluses would keep you in good dinners a twelve-month.
Now, our doctor was a serious old fellow, much given to metaphysics, and
used to talk about original sin. All that Sunday morning, he sat over
his boiling pots, reading out of a book which was very much soiled and
covered with grease spots: for he kept it stuck into a little leather
strap, nailed to the keg where he kept the fat skimmed off the water in
which the salt beef was cooked. I could hardly believe my eyes when I
found this book was the Bible.
I loved to peep in upon him, when he was thus absorbed; for his smoky
studio or study was a strange-looking place enough; not more than five
feet square, and about as many high; a mere box to hold the stove, the
pipe of which stuck out of the roof.
Within, it was hung round with pots and pans; and on one side was a
little looking-glass, where he used to shave; and on a small shelf were
his shaving tools, and a comb and brush. Fronting the stove, and very
close to it, was a sort of narrow shelf, where he used to sit with his
legs spread out very wide, to keep them from scorching; and there, with
his book in one hand, and a pewter spoon in the other, he sat all that
Sunday morning, stirring up his pots, and studying away at the same
time; seldom taking his eye off the page. Reading must have been very
hard work for him; for he muttered to himself quite loud as he read; and
big drops of sweat would stand upon his brow, and roll off, till they
hissed on the hot stove before him. But on the day I speak of, it was no
wonder that he got perplexed, for he was reading a mysterious passage in
the Book of Chronicles. Being aware that I knew how to read, he called
me as I was passing his premises, and read the passage over, demanding
an explanation. I told him it was a mystery that no one could explain;
not even a parson. But this did not satisfy him, and I left him poring
over it still.
He must have been a member of one of those negro churches, which are to
be found in New York. For when we lay at the wharf, I remembered that a
committee of three reverend looking old darkies, who, besides their
natural canonicals, wore quaker-cut black coats, and broad-brimmed black
hats, and white neck-cloths; these colored gentlemen called upon him,
and remained conversing with him at his cookhouse door for more than an
hour; and before they went away they stepped inside, and the sliding
doors were closed; and then we heard some one reading aloud and
preaching; and after that a psalm was sting and a benediction given;
when the door opened again, and the congregation came out in a great
perspiration; owing, I suppose, to the chapel being so small, and there
being only one seat besides the stove.
But notwithstanding his religious studies and meditations, this old
fellow used to use some bad language occasionally; particularly of cold,
wet stormy mornings, when he had to get up before daylight and make his
fire; with the sea breaking over the bows, and now and then dashing into
So, under the circumstances, you could not blame him much, if he did rip
a little, for it would have tried old Job's temper, to be set to work
making a fire in the water.
Without being at all neat about his premises, this old cook was very
particular about them; he had a warm love and affection for his
cook-house. In fair weather, he spread the skirt of an old jacket before
the door, by way of a mat; and screwed a small ring-bolt into the door
for a knocker; and wrote his name, "Mr. Thompson," over it, with a bit
of red chalk.
The men said he lived round the corner of Forecastle-square, opposite
the Liberty Pole; because his cook-house was right behind the foremast,
and very near the quarters occupied by themselves.
Sailors have a great fancy for naming things that way on shipboard. When
a man is hung at sea, which is always done from one of the lower
yard-arms, they say he "takes a walk up Ladder-lane, and down
Mr. Thompson was a great crony of the steward's, who, being a handsome,
dandy mulatto, that had once been a barber in West-Broadway, went by the
name of Lavender. I have mentioned the gorgeous turban he wore when Mr.
Jones and I visited the captain in the cabin. He never wore that turban
at sea, though; but sported an uncommon head of frizzled hair, just like
the large, round brush, used for washing windows, called a Pope's Head.
He kept it well perfumed with Cologne water, of which he had a large
supply, the relics of his West-Broadway stock in trade. His clothes,
being mostly cast-off suits of the captain of a London liner, whom he
had sailed with upon many previous voyages, were all in the height of
the exploded fashions, and of every kind of color and cut. He had
claret-colored suits, and snuff-colored suits, and red velvet vests, and
buff and brimstone pantaloons, and several full suits of black, which,
with his dark-colored face, made him look quite clerical; like a serious
young colored gentleman of Barbados, about to take orders.
He wore an uncommon large pursy ring on his forefinger, with something
he called a real diamond in it; though it was very dim, and looked more
like a glass eye than any thing else. He was very proud of his ring, and
was always calling your attention to something, and pointing at it with
his ornamented finger.
He was a sentimental sort of a darky, and read the "Three Spaniards,"
and "Charlotte Temple," and carried a lock of frizzled hair in his vest
pocket, which he frequently volunteered to show to people, with his
handkerchief to his eyes. Every fine evening, about sunset, these two,
the cook and steward, used to sit on the little shelf in the cook-house,
leaning up against each other like the Siamese twins, to keep from
falling off, for the shelf was very short; and there they would stay
till after dark, smoking their pipes, and gossiping about the events
that had happened during the day in the cabin. And sometimes Mr.
Thompson would take down his Bible, and read a chapter for the
edification of Lavender, whom he knew to be a sad profligate and gay
deceiver ashore; addicted to every youthful indiscretion. He would read
over to him the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife; and hold Joseph up
to him as a young man of excellent principles, whom he ought to imitate,
and not be guilty of his indiscretion any more. And Lavender would look
serious, and say that he knew it was all true-he was a wicked youth, he
knew it--he had broken a good many hearts, and many eyes were weeping for
him even then, both in New York, and Liverpool, and London, and Havre.
But how could he help it? He hadn't made his handsome face, and fine
head of hair, and graceful figure. It was not he, but the others, that
were to blame; for his bewitching person turned all heads and subdued
all hearts, wherever he went. And then he would look very serious and
penitent, and go up to the little glass, and pass his hands through his
hair, and see how his whiskers were coming on.
XVIII. HE ENDEAVORS TO IMPROVE HIS MIND; AND TELLS OF ONE BLUNT AND HIS
On the Sunday afternoon I spoke of, it was my watch below, and I thought
I would spend it profitably, in improving my mind.
My bunk was an upper one; and right over the head of it was a bull's-
eye, or circular piece of thick ground glass, inserted into the deck
to give light. It was a dull, dubious light, though; and I often found
myself looking up anxiously to see whether the bull's-eye had not
suddenly been put out; for whenever any one trod on it, in walking the
deck, it was momentarily quenched; and what was still worse, sometimes a
coil of rope would be thrown down on it, and stay there till I dressed
myself and went up to remove it--a kind of interruption to my studies
which annoyed me very much, when diligently occupied in reading.
However, I was glad of any light at all, down in that gloomy hole, where
we burrowed like rabbits in a warren; and it was the happiest time I
had, when all my messmates were asleep, and I could lie on my back,
during a forenoon watch below, and read in comparative quiet and
I had already read two books loaned to me by Max, to whose share they
had fallen, in dividing the effects of the sailor who had jumped
overboard. One was an account of Shipwrecks and Disasters at Sea, and
the other was a large black volume, with Delirium Tremens in great gilt
letters on the back. This proved to be a popular treatise on the subject
of that disease; and I remembered seeing several copies in the sailor
book-stalls about Fulton Market, and along South-street, in New York.
But this Sunday I got out a book, from which I expected to reap great
profit and sound instruction. It had been presented to me by Mr. Jones,
who had quite a library, and took down this book from a top shelf, where
it lay very dusty. When he gave it to me, he said, that although I was
going to sea, I must not forget the importance of a good education; and
that there was hardly any situation in life, however humble and
depressed, or dark and gloomy, but one might find leisure in it to store
his mind, and build himself up in the exact sciences. And he added, that
though it did look rather unfavorable for my future prospects, to be
going to sea as a common sailor so early in life; yet, it would no doubt
turn out for my benefit in the end; and, at any rate, if I would only
take good care of myself, would give me a sound constitution, if nothing
more; and that was not to be undervalued, for how many very rich men
would give all their bonds and mortgages for my boyish robustness.
He added, that I need not expect any light, trivial work, that was
merely entertaining, and nothing more; but here I would find
entertainment and edification beautifully and harmoniously combined; and
though, at first, I might possibly find it dull, yet, if I perused the
book thoroughly, it would soon discover hidden charms and unforeseen
attractions; besides teaching me, perhaps, the true way to retrieve the
poverty of my family, and again make them all well-to-do in the world.
Saying this, he handed it to me, and I blew the dust off, and looked at
the back: "Smith's Wealth of Nations." This not satisfying me, I glanced
at the title page, and found it was an "Enquiry into the Nature and
Causes" of the alleged wealth of nations. But happening to look further
down, I caught sight of "Aberdeen," where the book was printed; and
thinking that any thing from Scotland, a foreign country, must prove
some way or other pleasing to me, I thanked Mr. Jones very kindly, and
promised to peruse the volume carefully.
So, now, lying in my bunk, I began the book methodically, at page number
one, resolved not to permit a few flying glimpses into it, taken
previously, to prevent me from making regular approaches to the gist and
body of the book, where I fancied lay something like the philosopher's
stone, a secret talisman, which would transmute even pitch and tar to
silver and gold.
Pleasant, though vague visions of future opulence floated before me, as
I commenced the first chapter, entitled "Of the causes of improvement in
the productive power of labor." Dry as crackers and cheese, to be sure;
and the chapter itself was not much better. But this was only getting
initiated; and if I read on, the grand secret would be opened to me. So
I read on and on, about "wages and profits of labor," without getting
any profits myself for my pains in perusing it.
Dryer and dryer; the very leaves smelt of saw-dust; till at last I drank
some water, and went at it again. But soon I had to give it up for lost
work; and thought that the old backgammon board, we had at home,
lettered on the back, "The History of Rome" was quite as full of matter,
and a great deal more entertaining. I wondered whether Mr. Jones had
ever read the volume himself; and could not help remembering, that he
had to get on a chair when he reached it down from its dusty shelf; that
certainly looked suspicious.
The best reading was on the fly leaves; and, on turning them over, I
lighted upon some half effaced pencil-marks to the following effect:
"Jonathan Jones, from his particular friend Daniel Dods, 1798." So it
must have originally belonged to Mr. Jones' father; and I wondered
whether he had ever read it; or, indeed, whether any body had ever read
it, even the author himself; but then authors, they say, never read
their own books; writing them, being enough in all conscience.
At length I fell asleep, with the volume in my hand; and never slept so
sound before; after that, I used to wrap my jacket round it, and use it
for a pillow; for which purpose it answered very well; only I sometimes
waked up feeling dull and stupid; but of course the book could not have
been the cause of that.
And now I am talking of books, I must tell of Jack Blunt the sailor, and
his Dream Book.
Jackson, who seemed to know every thing about all parts of the world,
used to tell Jack in reproach, that he was an Irish Cockney. By which I
understood, that he was an Irishman born, but had graduated in London,
somewhere about Radcliffe Highway; but he had no sort of brogue that I
He was a curious looking fellow, about twenty-five years old, as I
should judge; but to look at his back, you would have taken him for a
little old man. His arms and legs were very large, round, short, and
stumpy; so that when he had on his great monkey-jacket, and sou'west cap
flapping in his face, and his sea boots drawn up to his knees, he looked
like a fat porpoise, standing on end. He had a round face, too, like a
walrus; and with about the same expression, half human and half
indescribable. He was, upon the whole, a good-natured fellow, and a
little given to looking at sea-life romantically; singing songs about
susceptible mermaids who fell in love with handsome young oyster boys
and gallant fishermen. And he had a sad story about a man-of-war's-man
who broke his heart at Portsmouth during the late war, and threw away
his life recklessly at one of the quarter-deck cannonades, in the battle
between the Guerriere and Constitution; and another incomprehensible
story about a sort of fairy sea-queen, who used to be dunning a
sea-captain all the time for his autograph to boil in some eel soup, for
a spell against the scurvy.
He believed in all kinds of witch-work and magic; and had some wild
Irish words he used to mutter over during a calm for a fair wind.
And he frequently related his interviews in Liverpool with a fortune-
teller, an old negro woman by the name of De Squak, whose house was
much frequented by sailors; and how she had two black cats, with
remarkably green eyes, and nightcaps on their heads, solemnly seated on
a claw-footed table near the old goblin; when she felt his pulse, to
tell what was going to befall him.
This Blunt had a large head of hair, very thick and bushy; but from some
cause or other, it was rapidly turning gray; and in its transition state
made him look as if he wore a shako of badger skin.
The phenomenon of gray hairs on a young head, had perplexed and
confounded this Blunt to such a degree that he at last came to the
conclusion it must be the result of the black art, wrought upon him by
an enemy; and that enemy, he opined, was an old sailor landlord in
Marseilles, whom he had once seriously offended, by knocking him down in
So while in New York, finding his hair growing grayer and grayer, and
all his friends, the ladies and others, laughing at him, and calling him
an old man with one foot in the grave, he slipt out one night to an
apothecary's, stated his case, and wanted to know what could be done for
The apothecary immediately gave him a pint bottle of something he called
"Trafalgar Oil for restoring the hair," price one dollar; and told him
that after he had used that bottle, and it did not have the desired
effect, he must try bottle No. 2, called "Balm of Paradise, or the
Elixir of the Battle of Copenhagen." These high-sounding naval names
delighted Blunt, and he had no doubt there must be virtue in them.
I saw both bottles; and on one of them was an engraving, representing a
young man, presumed to be gray-headed, standing in his night-dress in
the middle of his chamber, and with closed eyes applying the Elixir to
his head, with both hands; while on the bed adjacent stood a large
bottle, conspicuously labeled, "Balm of Paradise." It seemed from the
text, that this gray-headed young man was so smitten with his hair-oil,
and was so thoroughly persuaded of its virtues, that he had got out of
bed, even in his sleep; groped into his closet, seized the precious
bottle, applied its contents, and then to bed again, getting up in the
morning without knowing any thing about it. Which, indeed, was a most
mysterious occurrence; and it was still more mysterious, how the
engraver came to know an event, of which the actor himself was ignorant,
and where there were no bystanders.
Three times in the twenty-four hours, Blunt, while at sea, regularly
rubbed in his liniments; but though the first bottle was soon exhausted
by his copious applications, and the second half gone, he still stuck to
it, that by the time we got to Liverpool, his exertions would be crowned
with success. And he was not a little delighted, that this gradual
change would be operating while we were at sea; so as not to expose him
to the invidious observations of people ashore; on the same principle
that dandies go into the country when they purpose raising whiskers. He
would often ask his shipmates, whether they noticed any change yet; and
if so, how much of a change? And to tell the truth, there was a very
great change indeed; for the constant soaking of his hair with oil,
operating in conjunction with the neglect of his toilet, and want of a
brush and comb, had matted his locks together like a wild horse's mane,
and imparted to it a blackish and extremely glossy hue. Besides his
collection of hair-oils, Blunt had also provided himself with several
boxes of pills, which he had purchased from a sailor doctor in New York,
who by placards stuck on the posts along the wharves, advertised to
remain standing at the northeast corner of Catharine Market, every
Monday and Friday, between the hours of ten and twelve in the morning,
to receive calls from patients, distribute medicines, and give advice
Whether Blunt thought he had the dyspepsia or not, I can not say; but at
breakfast, he always took three pills with his coffee; something as they
do in Iowa, when the bilious fever prevails; where, at the boarding-
houses, they put a vial of blue pills into the castor, along with the
pepper and mustard, and next door to another vial of toothpicks. But
they are very ill-bred and unpolished in the western country.
Several times, too, Blunt treated himself to a flowing bumper of horse
salts (Glauber salts); for like many other seamen, he never went to sea
without a good supply of that luxury. He would frequently, also, take
this medicine in a wet jacket, and then go on deck into a rain storm.
But this is nothing to other sailors, who at sea will doctor themselves
with calomel off Cape Horn, and still remain on duty. And in this
connection, some really frightful stories might be told; but I forbear.
For a landsman to take salts as this Blunt did, it would perhaps be the
death of him; but at sea the salt air and the salt water prevent you
from catching cold so readily as on land; and for my own part, on board
this very ship, being so illy-provided with clothes, I frequently turned
into my bunk soaking wet, and turned out again piping hot, and smoking
like a roasted sirloin; and yet was never the worse for it; for then, I
bore a charmed life of youth and health, and was dagger-proof to bodily
But it is time to tell of the Dream Book. Snugly hidden in one corner of
his chest, Blunt had an extraordinary looking pamphlet, with a red
cover, marked all over with astrological signs and ciphers, and
purporting to be a full and complete treatise on the art of Divination;
so that the most simple sailor could teach it to himself.
It also purported to be the selfsame system, by aid of which Napoleon
Bonaparte had risen in the world from being a corporal to an emperor.
Hence it was entitled the Bonaparte Dream Book; for the magic of it lay
in the interpretation of dreams, and their application to the foreseeing
of future events; so that all preparatory measures might be taken
beforehand; which would be exceedingly convenient, and satisfactory
every way, if true. The problems were to be cast by means of figures, in
some perplexed and difficult way, which, however, was facilitated by a
set of tables in the end of the pamphlet, something like the Logarithm
Tables at the end of Bowditch's Navigator.
Now, Blunt revered, adored, and worshiped this Bonaparte Dream Book of
his; and was fully persuaded that between those red covers, and in his
own dreams, lay all the secrets of futurity. Every morning before taking
his pills, and applying his hair-oils, he would steal out of his bunk
before the rest of the watch were awake; take out his pamphlet, and a
bit of chalk; and then straddling his chest, begin scratching his oily
head to remember his fugitive dreams; marking down strokes on his
chest-lid, as if he were casting up his daily accounts.
Though often perplexed and lost in mazes concerning the cabalistic
figures in the book, and the chapter of directions to beginners; for he
could with difficulty read at all; yet, in the end, if not interrupted,
he somehow managed to arrive at a conclusion satisfactory to him. So
that, as he generally wore a good-humored expression, no doubt he must
have thought, that all his future affairs were working together for the
But one night he started us all up in a fright, by springing from his
bunk, his eyes ready to start out of his head, and crying, in a husky
voice--"Boys! boys! get the benches ready! Quick, quick!"
"What benches?" growled Max-"What's the matter?"
"Benches! benches!" screamed Blunt, without heeding him, "cut down the
forests, bear a hand, boys; the Day of Judgment's coming!"
But the next moment, he got quietly into his bunk, and laid still,
muttering to himself, he had only been rambling in his sleep.
I did not know exactly what he had meant by his benches; till, shortly
after, I overheard two of the sailors debating, whether mankind would
stand or sit at the Last Day.
XIX. A NARROW ESCAPE
This Dream Book of Blunt's reminds me of a narrow escape we had, early
It was the larboard watch's turn to remain below from midnight till four
o'clock; and having turned in and slept, Blunt suddenly turned out again
about three o'clock, with a wonderful dream in his head; which he was
desirous of at once having interpreted.
So he goes to his chest, gets out his tools, and falls to ciphering on
the lid. When, all at once, a terrible cry was heard, that routed him
and all the rest of us up, and sent the whole ship's company flying on
deck in the dark. We did not know what it was; but somehow, among
sailors at sea, they seem to know when real danger of any land is at
hand, even in their sleep.
When we got on deck, we saw the mate standing on the bowsprit, and
crying out Luff! Luff! to some one in the dark water before the ship. In
that direction, we could just see a light, and then, the great black
hull of a strange vessel, that was coming down on us obliquely; and so
near, that we heard the flap of her topsails as they shook in the wind,
the trampling of feet on the deck, and the same cry of Luff! Luff! that
our own mate, was raising.
In a minute more, I caught my breath, as I heard a snap and a crash,
like the fall of a tree, and suddenly, one of our flying-jib guys jerked
out the bolt near the cat-head; and presently, we heard our jib-boom
thumping against our bows.
Meantime, the strange ship, scraping by us thus, shot off into the
darkness, and we saw her no more. But she, also, must have been injured;
for when it grew light, we found pieces of strange rigging mixed with
ours. We repaired the damage, and replaced the broken spar with another
jib-boom we had; for all ships carry spare spars against emergencies.
The cause of this accident, which came near being the death of all on
board, was nothing but the drowsiness of the look-out men on the
forecastles of both ships. The sailor who had the look-out on our vessel
was terribly reprimanded by the mate.
No doubt, many ships that are never heard of after leaving port, meet
their fate in this way; and it may be, that sometimes two vessels coming
together, jib-boom-and-jib-boom, with a sudden shock in the middle watch
of the night, mutually destroy each other; and like fighting elks, sink
down into the ocean, with their antlers locked in death.
While I was at Liverpool, a fine ship that lay near us in the docks,
having got her cargo on board, went to sea, bound for India, with a good
breeze; and all her crew felt sure of a prosperous voyage. But in about
seven days after, she came back, a most distressing object to behold.
All her starboard side was torn and splintered; her starboard anchor was
gone; and a great part of the starboard bulwarks; while every one of the
lower yard-arms had been broken, in the same direction; so that she now
carried small and unsightly jury-yards.
When I looked at this vessel, with the whole of one side thus shattered,
but the other still in fine trim; and when I remembered her gay and
gallant appearance, when she left the same harbor into which she now
entered so forlorn; I could not help thinking of a young man I had known
at home, who had left his cottage one morning in high spirits, and was
brought back at noon with his right side paralyzed from head to foot.
It seems that this vessel had been run against by a strange ship,
crowding all sail before a fresh breeze; and the stranger had rushed
past her starboard side, reducing her to the sad state in which she now
Sailors can not be too wakeful and cautious, when keeping their night
look-outs; though, as I well know, they too often suffer themselves to
become negligent, and nod. And this is not so wonderful, after all; for
though every seaman has heard of those accidents at sea; and many of
them, perhaps, have been in ships that have suffered from them; yet,
when you find yourself sailing along on the ocean at night, without
having seen a sail for weeks and weeks, it is hard for you to realize
that any are near. Then, if they are near, it seems almost incredible
that on the broad, boundless sea, which washes Greenland at one end of
the world, and the Falkland Islands at the other, that any one vessel
upon such a vast highway, should come into close contact with another.
But the likelihood of great calamities occurring, seldom obtrudes upon
the minds of ignorant men, such as sailors generally are; for the things
which wise people know, anticipate, and guard against, the ignorant can
only become acquainted with, by meeting them face to face. And even when
experience has taught them, the lesson only serves for that day;
inasmuch as the foolish in prosperity are infidels to the possibility of
adversity; they see the sun in heaven, and believe it to be far too
bright ever to set. And even, as suddenly as the bravest and fleetest
ships, while careering in pride of canvas over the sea, have been
struck, as by lightning, and quenched out of sight; even so, do some
lordly men, with all their plans and prospects gallantly trimmed to the
fair, rushing breeze of life, and with no thought of death and disaster,
suddenly encounter a shock unforeseen, and go down, foundering, into
XX. IN A FOG HE IS SET TO WORK AS A BELL-TOLLER, AND BEHOLDS A HERD OF
What is this that we sail through? What palpable obscure? What smoke and
reek, as if the whole steaming world were revolving on its axis, as a
It is a Newfoundland Fog; and we are yet crossing the Grand Banks, wrapt
in a mist, that no London in the Novem-berest November ever equaled. The
chronometer pronounced it noon; but do you call this midnight or midday?
So dense is the fog, that though we have a fair wind, we shorten sail
for fear of accidents; and not only that, but here am I, poor
Wellingborough, mounted aloft on a sort of belfry, the top of the
"Sampson-Post," a lofty tower of timber, so called; and tolling the
ship's bell, as if for a funeral.
This is intended to proclaim our approach, and warn all strangers from
Dreary sound! toll, toll, toll, through the dismal mist and fog.
The bell is green with verdigris, and damp with dew; and the little cord
attached to the clapper, by which I toll it, now and then slides through
my fingers, slippery with wet. Here I am, in my slouched black hat, like
the "bull that could pull," announcing the decease of the lamented
A better device than the bell, however, was once pitched upon by an
ingenious sea-captain, of whom I have heard. He had a litter of young
porkers on board; and while sailing through the fog, he stationed men at
both ends of the pen with long poles, wherewith they incessantly stirred
up and irritated the porkers, who split the air with their squeals; and
no doubt saved the ship, as the geese saved the Capitol.
The most strange and unheard-of noises came out of the fog at times: a
vast sound of sighing and sobbing. What could it be? This would be
followed by a spout, and a gush, and a cascading commotion, as if some
fountain had suddenly jetted out of the ocean.
Seated on my Sampson-Post, I stared more and more, and suspended my duty
as a sexton. But presently some one cried out--"There she blows! whales!
whales close alongside!"
A whale! Think of it! whales close to me, Wellingborough;--would my own
brother believe it? I dropt the clapper as if it were red-hot, and
rushed to the side; and there, dimly floating, lay four or five long,
black snaky-looking shapes, only a few inches out of the water.
Can these be whales? Monstrous whales, such as I had heard of? I thought
they would look like mountains on the sea; hills and valleys of flesh!
regular krakens, that made it high tide, and inundated continents, when
they descended to feed!
It was a bitter disappointment, from which I was long in recovering. I
lost all respect for whales; and began to be a little dubious about the
story of Jonah; for how could Jonah reside in such an insignificant
tenement; how could he have had elbow-room there? But perhaps, thought
I, the whale which according to Rabbinical traditions was a female one,
might have expanded to receive him like an anaconda, when it swallows an
elk and leaves the antlers sticking out of its mouth.
Nevertheless, from that day, whales greatly fell in my estimation.
But it is always thus. If you read of St. Peter's, they say, and then go
and visit it, ten to one, you account it a dwarf compared to your
high-raised ideal. And, doubtless, Jonah himself must have been
disappointed when he looked up to the domed midriff surmounting the
whale's belly, and surveyed the ribbed pillars around him. A pretty
large belly, to be sure, thought he, but not so big as it might have
On the next day, the fog lifted; and by noon, we found ourselves sailing
through fleets of fishermen at anchor. They were very small craft; and
when I beheld them, I perceived the force of that sailor saying,
intended to illustrate restricted quarters, or being on the limits. It
is like a fisherman's walk, say they, three steps and overboard.
Lying right in the track of the multitudinous ships crossing the ocean
between England and America, these little vessels are sometimes run
down, and obliterated from the face of the waters; the cry of the
sailors ceasing with the last whirl of the whirlpool that closes over
their craft. Their sad fate is frequently the result of their own
remissness in keeping a good look-out by day, and not having their lamps
trimmed, like the wise virgins, by night.
As I shall not make mention of the Grand Banks on our homeward-bound
passage, I may as well here relate, that on our return, we approached
them in the night; and by way of making sure of our whereabouts, the
deep-sea-lead was heaved. The line attached is generally upward of three
hundred fathoms in length; and the lead itself, weighing some forty or
fifty pounds, has a hole in the lower end, in which, previous to
sounding, some tallow is thrust, that it may bring up the soil at the
bottom, for the captain to inspect. This is called "arming" the lead.
We "hove" our deep-sea-line by night, and the operation was very
interesting, at least to me. In the first place, the vessel's heading
was stopt; then, coiled away in a tub, like a whale-rope, the line was
placed toward the after part of the quarter-deck; and one of the sailors
carried the lead outside of the ship, away along to the end of the
jib-boom, and at the word of command, far ahead and overboard it went,
with a plunge; scraping by the side, till it came to the stern, when the
line ran out of the tub like light.
When we came to haul it up, I was astonished at the force necessary to
perform the work. The whole watch pulled at the line, which was rove
through a block in the mizzen-rigging, as if we were hauling up a fat
porpoise. When the lead came in sight, I was all eagerness to examine
the tallow, and get a peep at a specimen of the bottom of the sea; but
the sailors did not seem to be much interested by it, calling me a fool
for wanting to preserve a few grains of the sand.
I had almost forgotten to make mention of the Gulf Stream, in which we
found ourselves previous to crossing the Banks. The fact, of our being
in it was proved by the captain in person, who superintended the drawing
of a bucket of salt water, in which he dipped his thermometer. In the
absence of the Gulf-weed, this is the general test; for the temperature
of this current is eight degrees higher than that of the ocean, and the
temperature of the ocean is twenty degrees higher than that of the Grand
Banks. And it is to this remarkable difference of temperature, for which
there can be no equilibrium, that many seamen impute the fogs on the
coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland; but why there should always be
such ugly weather in the Gulf, is something that I do not know has ever
been accounted for.
It is curious to dip one's finger in a bucket full of the Gulf Stream,
and find it so warm; as if the Gulf of Mexico, from whence this current
comes, were a great caldron or boiler, on purpose to keep warm the North
Atlantic, which is traversed by it for a distance of two thousand miles,
as some large halls in winter are by hot air tubes. Its mean breadth
being about two hundred leagues, it comprises an area larger than that
of the whole Mediterranean, and may be deemed a sort of Mississippi of
hot water flowing through the ocean; off the coast of Florida, running
at the rate of one mile and a half an hour.
XXI. A WHALEMAN AND A MAN-OF-WAR'S-MAN
The sight of the whales mentioned in the preceding chapter was the
bringing out of Larry, one of our crew, who hitherto had been quite
silent and reserved, as if from some conscious inferiority, though he
had shipped as an ordinary seaman, and, for aught I could see, performed
his duty very well.
When the men fell into a dispute concerning what kind of whales they
were which we saw, Larry stood by attentively, and after garnering in
their ignorance, all at once broke out, and astonished every body by his
intimate acquaintance with the monsters.
"They ar'n't sperm whales," said Larry, "their spouts ar'n't bushy
enough; they ar'n't Sulphur-bottoms, or they wouldn't stay up so long;
they ar'n't Hump-backs, for they ar'n't got any humps; they ar'n't
Fin-backs, for you won't catch a Finback so near a ship; they ar'n't
Greenland whales, for we ar'n't off the coast of Greenland; and they
ar'n't right whales, for it wouldn't be right to say so. I tell ye, men,
them's Crinkum-crankum whales."
"And what are them?" said a sailor.
"Why, them is whales that can't be cotched."
Now, as it turned out that this Larry had been bred to the sea in a
whaler, and had sailed out of Nantucket many times; no one but Jackson
ventured to dispute his opinion; and even Jackson did not press him very
hard. And ever after, Larry's judgment was relied upon concerning all
strange fish that happened to float by us during the voyage; for
whalemen are far more familiar with the wonders of the deep than any
other class of seaman.
This was Larry's first voyage in the merchant service, and that was the
reason why, hitherto, he had been so reserved; since he well knew that
merchant seamen generally affect a certain superiority to "blubber-
boilers," as they contemptuously style those who hunt the leviathan.
But Larry turned out to be such an inoffensive fellow, and so well
understood his business aboard ship, and was so ready to jump to an
order, that he was exempted from the taunts which he might otherwise
He was a somewhat singular man, who wore his hat slanting forward over
the bridge of his nose, with his eyes cast down, and seemed always
examining your boots, when speaking to you. I loved to hear him talk
about the wild places in the Indian Ocean, and on the coast of
Madagascar, where he had frequently touched during his whaling voyages.
And this familiarity with the life of nature led by the people in that
remote part of the world, had furnished Larry with a sentimental
distaste for civilized society. When opportunity offered, he never
omitted extolling the delights of the free and easy Indian Ocean.
"Why," said Larry, talking through his nose, as usual, "in Madagasky
there, they don't wear any togs at all, nothing but a bowline round the
midships; they don't have no dinners, but keeps a dinin' all day off fat
pigs and dogs; they don't go to bed any where, but keeps a noddin' all
the time; and they gets drunk, too, from some first rate arrack they
make from cocoa-nuts; and smokes plenty of 'baccy, too, I tell ye. Fine
country, that! Blast Ameriky, I say!"
To tell the truth, this Larry dealt in some illiberal insinuations
"And what's the use of bein' snivelized!" said he to me one night during
our watch on deck; "snivelized chaps only learns the way to take on
'bout life, and snivel. You don't see any Methodist chaps feelin'
dreadful about their souls; you don't see any darned beggars and pesky
constables in Madagasky, I tell ye; and none o' them kings there gets
their big toes pinched by the gout. Blast Ameriky, I say."
Indeed, this Larry was rather cutting in his innuendoes.
"Are you now, Buttons, any better off for bein' snivelized?" coming
close up to me and eying the wreck of my gaff-topsail-boots very
steadfastly. "No; you ar'n't a bit--but you're a good deal worse for it,
Buttons. I tell ye, ye wouldn't have been to sea here, leadin' this
dog's life, if you hadn't been snivelized--that's the cause why, now.
Snivelization has been the ruin on ye; and it's spiled me complete; I
might have been a great man in Madagasky; it's too darned bad! Blast
Ameriky, I say." And in bitter grief at the social blight upon his whole
past, present, and future, Larry turned away, pulling his hat still
lower down over the bridge of his nose.
In strong contrast to Larry, was a young man-of-war's man we had, who
went by the name of "Gun-Deck," from his always talking of sailor life
in the navy. He was a little fellow with a small face and a prodigious
mop of brown hair; who always dressed in man-of-war style, with a wide,
braided collar to his frock, and Turkish trowsers. But he particularly
prided himself upon his feet, which were quite small; and when we washed
down decks of a morning, never mind how chilly it might be, he always
took off his boots, and went paddling about like a duck, turning out his
pretty toes to show his charming feet.
He had served in the armed steamers during the Seminole War in Florida,
and had a good deal to say about sailing up the rivers there, through
the everglades, and popping off Indians on the banks. I remember his
telling a story about a party being discovered at quite a distance from
them; but one of the savages was made very conspicuous by a pewter
plate, which he wore round his neck, and which glittered in the sun.
This plate proved his death; for, according to Gun-Deck, he himself shot
it through the middle, and the ball entered the wearer's heart. It was a
rat-killing war, he said.
Gun-Deck had touched at Cadiz: had been to Gibraltar; and ashore at
Marseilles. He had sunned himself in the Bay of Naples: eaten figs and
oranges in Messina; and cheerfully lost one of his hearts at Malta,
among the ladies there. And about all these things, he talked like a
romantic man-of-war's man, who had seen the civilized world, and loved
it; found it good, and a comfortable place to live in. So he and Larry
never could agree in their respective views of civilization, and of
savagery, of the Mediterranean and Madagasky.
XXII. THE HIGHLANDER PASSES A WRECK
We were still on the Banks, when a terrific storm came down upon us, the
like of which I had never before beheld, or imagined. The rain poured
down in sheets and cascades; the scupper holes could hardly carry it off
the decks; and in bracing the yards we waded about almost up to our
knees; every thing floating about, like chips in a dock.
This violent rain was the precursor of a hard squall, for which we duly
prepared, taking in our canvas to double-reefed-top-sails.
The tornado came rushing along at last, like a troop of wild horses
before the flaming rush of a burning prairie. But after bowing and
cringing to it awhile, the good Highlander was put off before it; and
with her nose in the water, went wallowing on, ploughing milk-white
waves, and leaving a streak of illuminated foam in her wake.
It was an awful scene. It made me catch my breath as I gazed. I could
hardly stand on my feet, so violent was the motion of the ship. But
while I reeled to and fro, the sailors only laughed at me; and bade me
look out that the ship did not fall overboard; and advised me to get a
handspike, and hold it down hard in the weather-scuppers, to steady her
wild motions. But I was now getting a little too wise for this foolish
kind of talk; though all through the voyage, they never gave it over.
This storm past, we had fair weather until we got into the Irish Sea.
The morning following the storm, when the sea and sky had become blue
again, the man aloft sung out that there was a wreck on the lee-beam. We
bore away for it, all hands looking eagerly toward it, and the captain
in the mizzen-top with his spy-glass. Presently, we slowly passed
alongside of it.
It was a dismantled, water-logged schooner, a most dismal sight, that
must have been drifting about for several long weeks. The bulwarks were
pretty much gone; and here and there the bare stanchions, or posts, were
left standing, splitting in two the waves which broke clear over the
deck, lying almost even with the sea. The foremast was snapt off less
than four feet from its base; and the shattered and splintered remnant
looked like the stump of a pine tree thrown over in the woods. Every
time she rolled in the trough of the sea, her open main-hatchway yawned
into view; but was as quickly filled, and submerged again, with a
rushing, gurgling sound, as the water ran into it with the lee-roll.
At the head of the stump of the mainmast, about ten feet above the deck,
something like a sleeve seemed nailed; it was supposed to be the relic
of a jacket, which must have been fastened there by the crew for a
signal, and been frayed out and blown away by the wind.
Lashed, and leaning over sideways against the taffrail, were three dark,
green, grassy objects, that slowly swayed with every roll, but otherwise
were motionless. I saw the captain's, glass directed toward them, and
heard him say at last, "They must have been dead a long time." These
were sailors, who long ago had lashed themselves to the taffrail for
safety; but must have famished.
Full of the awful interest of the scene, I surely thought the captain
would lower a boat to bury the bodies, and find out something about the
schooner. But we did not stop at all; passing on our course, without so
much as learning the schooner's name, though every one supposed her to
be a New Brunswick lumberman.
On the part of the sailors, no surprise was shown that our captain did
not send off a boat to the wreck; but the steerage passengers were
indignant at what they called his barbarity. For me, I could not but
feel amazed and shocked at his indifference; but my subsequent sea
experiences have shown me, that such conduct as this is very common,
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