We were now, for the second time, heading away from our port; and when the Mate set us to slap the paint on the burned patch, we understood the Old Man's manoeuvre, which had the object of preventing the tow-boat from rounding to on our starboard side. Her skipper would there have assuredly seen evidences of our plight, and would not have been slow to take advantage of it.
The tug neared us rapidly (they lose no time on the Pacific slope), and the Captain recognised her as the Active.
"She's one of Spreckel's boats," said he, shutting his glass. "Cutbush runs her, an' he's a dead wide ane. If he smells a rat, Mister, we'll be damned lucky if we get into harbour under a couple o' thousand."
We were all excited at the game, though it mattered little to us what our owners paid, as long as we got out of our hot corner. Straight for us he came, and when he rounded our stern and lay up on the lee quarter, the bo'sun voiced the general opinion that the Old Man had done the trick.
"Morn, Cap.! Guess ye've bin a long time on th' road," sang out the tow-boat's skipper, eyeing our rusty side and grassy counter.
"Head winds," said the Old Man, "head winds, an' no luck this side o' th' Horn."
"Ye're a long way to th' norrard, Cap. Bin havin' thick weather outside?"
"Well, not what ye might call thick, but musty, these last few days. We were lookin' to pick up the Farallones." (The unblushing old Ananias!)
There ensued a conversation about winds and weather, ships and freights, interspersed with the news of five months back. The talk went on, and neither seemed inclined to get to business. At last the tow-boat man broke the ice.
"Wall, Cap., I reckon ye don't want t' stay here all day. Wind's easterly inside, an' there ain't none too much water on th' bar. Ye'd better give us yer hawser 'n let's git right along."
"Oh! no hurry, Capt'in; there's no hurry. What's a day here or there when ye'r well over the hundreds? I can lay up to th' pilot ground on th' next tack.... Ye'll be wantin' a big figure from here, an' my owners won't stand a long pull."
"Only six hundred, Cap., only six hundred, with your hawser."
The Old Man started back in amazement.
"Six hundred dollars, Capt'in. Did you say six hundred? Holy smoke! I don't want t' buy yer boat, Capt'in.... Six hundred—well, I'm damned. Loose them royals, Mister! Six hundred, no damn fear!"
Quickly we put the royals on her, though they were little use, the wind having fallen very light. The tow-boat sheered off a bit, and her skipper watched us sheeting-home, as if it were a most interesting and uncommon sight.
He gave his wheel a spoke or two and came alongside again.
"All right, Cap. Give us yer hawser 'n I'll dock ye for five-fifty!"
The Old Man paid no attention to his request, but paced fore and aft the weather side, gazing occasionally at the lazy royals, then fixing the man at the wheel with a reproachful eye. At last he turned to leeward with a surprised expression, as if astonished to find the tow-boat still there.
"Come, Cap.! Strike it right naow! What d'ye offer? Mind the wind, as there is ov it, is due east in the Strait."
The Old Man thought carefully for quite a time. "Hundred 'n fifty, 'n your hawser," he said.
The Captain of the Active jammed his telegraph at full speed ahead.
"Good morn', Cap.," he said. "Guess I'll see ye in 'Frisco this side o' the Noo Year." He forged rapidly ahead, and when clear of the bows took a long turn to seaward. The Mate took advantage of his being away and wiped off the paint on the burned patch, which was beginning to smell abominably. Fresh paint was hurriedly put on, and the stages were again aboard when the Active, finding nothing to interest her on the western horizon, returned—again to the lee quarter.
"Saay, Cap., kan't we do a deal; kan't we meet somewhere?" said Cutbush, conciliatory. "Say five hundred or four-eighty, 'n I'll toss ye for th' hawser?"
"I can't do it, Capt'in.... I'd lose my job if I went," (here the Old Man paused to damn the steersman's eyes, and to tell him to keep her full) "if I went that length."
The tow-boat again sheered off, and her skipper busied himself with his telescope.
"Wall, Cap., she may be a smart barque, but I'm darn ef ye can beat her though the Golden Gate the way th' wind is. Saay! Make it three-fifty? What the hell's about a fifty dollars. Darn me! I've blown that in half-hour's poker!"
"Aye, aye! That's so; but I'm no' takin' a hand in that game. Set the stays'ls, Mister, 'n get a pull on the fore 'n main sheets!"
We went about the job, and the Active took another turn, this time to the south'ard. Munro, aloft loosing the staysails, reported a steamer away under the land. She was sending up a dense smoke, and that caused the Old Man to account her another tow-boat out seeking.
"That'll fetch him," he said to the Mate, "'n if he offers again I'll close. Three-fifty's pretty stiff, but we can't complain."
"Egad, no!" said the Mate; "if I'd been you I'd have closed for five hundred, an' be done with it."
"Aye, aye, no doubt! no doubt! But ye're not a Scotchman looking after his owners' interest."
Soon we saw the Active smoking up and coming towards us with 'a bone in her mouth.' Cutbush had seen the stranger's smoke, and he lost no time. He seemed to be heading for our starboard side, and we thought the game was up; but the Old Man kept off imperceptibly, and again the tug came to port.
"Changed yer mind, Cap.? Guess I must be gwine back. Got t' take the Drumeltan up t' Port-Costa in th' mornin'. What d'ye say t' three hundred?"
The Old Man called the Mate, and together they held a serious consultation, with many looks to windward, aloft, and at the compass. The stranger was rapidly approaching, and showed herself to be a yellow-funnelled tow-boat, with a business-like foam about her bows. Spreckel's man was getting fidgety, as this was one of the opposition boats, and he expected soon to be quoting a competitive figure. To his pleased surprise, the Old Man came over to leeward, and, after a last wrangle about the hawser, took him on at the satisfactory figure of three hundred dollars.
We put about, and the Mate had another little deal in burned paint. Courses were hauled up, and the Active came along our starboard side to pass the towing wire aboard. The paint hid the patch, and in the manoeuvre of keeping clear of our whisker-booms, the smell escaped notice, and the marks of our distress were not noticed by her crew. We hauled the wire aboard and secured the end, and the Active's crew heard nothing significant in the cheer with which we set about clewing-up and furling sail.
The afternoon was far spent when we reached the pilot schooner. She was lying at anchor outside the bar, the wind having died away; and as she lifted to the swell, showed the graceful underbody of an old-time 'crack.' The pilot boarded us as we towed past. Scarce was he over the rail before he shouted to the Old Man, "What's the matter, Cap'n? Guess she looks 's if she had a prutty hot cargo aboard."
"Hot enough, Pilot! Hot enough, b' Goad! We've bin afire forr'ard these last seven days that we know of, and I'm no' sayin' but that I'm glad t' see th' beach again."
"Wall, that's bad, Cap'n. That's bad. Ye won't make much this trip, I guess, when the 'boys' have felt ye over.' He meant when the 'Frisco sharps had got their pickings, and the Old Man chuckled audibly as he replied.
"Oh, we'll chance that—aye, we'll chance that. It's no' so bad 's if Cutbush was gettin' his figger."
"What's he gettin', anyway?"
"Oh, he's doin' verra well. He's doin' verra well," said the Old Man evasively.
We were now approaching the far-famed Golden Gate, the talk of mariners on seven seas. We boys were sent aloft to unrig the chafing gear, and took advantage of our position and the Mate's occupation to nurse the job, that we might enjoy the prospect. The blue headland and the glistening shingle of Drake's Bay to the norrard and the high cliffs of Benita ahead: the land stretching away south, and the light of the westing sun on the distant hills. No wonder that when the Mate called us down from aloft to hand flags there was much of our work left unfinished.
At Benita Point we had a busy time signalling news of our condition to the ship's agents at 'Frisco. After we passed through the Narrows, we had a near view of the wooded slopes of Saucilito, with the white-painted houses nestling comfortably among the trees. Away to the right the undulating plains of the Presidio reached out to the purple haze of the distant city. The Pilot, seeing admiration in our eyes, couldn't help blowing, even to us boys, and exclaimed aloud on the greatness of the U-nited States in possessing such a sea-board.
"Saay, boys," he said. "Guess yew ain't got nothin' like this in th' old country!"
Young Munro, who was the nearest, didn't let the Pilot away with that, and he mentioned a 'glint of Loch Fyre, when the sun was in the west'ard.' "And that's only one place I'm speakin' of."
The sun was low behind us as we neared the anchorage, and a light haze softened and made even more beautiful the outlines of the stately City. As we looked on the shore, no one had mind of the long dreary voyage. That was past and done. We had thought only for the City of the West that lay before us, the dream of many long weary nights.
But, as I gazed and turned away, I was sharply minded of what the sea held for us. Houston had been carried on deck, "t' see th' sichts," as he said. His stretcher stood near me, and the sight of his wan face brought up the memory of bitter times 'off the Horn.' Of the black night when we lost Duncan! Of the day when Houston lay on the cabin floor, and the master-surgeon and his rude assistants buckled to 'the job'! Of the screams of the tortured lad—"Let me alane! Oh, Christ! Let me al——" till kindly Mother Nature did what we had no means to do! ... "Man, but it was a tough job, with her rolling and pitching in the track o' th' gale!" The Old Man was telling the Pilot about it. "But there he is, noo! As sound as ye like ... a bit weak, mebbe, but sound! ... We'll send him t' th' hospital, when we get settled down.... No' that they could dae mair than I've dune." Here a smile of worthy pride. "But a ship 's no' the place for scienteefic measures—stretchin', an' rubbin', an' that.... Oh, yes! Straight? I'll bate ye he walks as straight as a serjunt before we're ready for sea again!"
As we drew on to the anchorage, a large raft-like vessel with barges in tow made out to meet us. The Old Man turned his glasses on her and gave an exclamation of satisfaction.
"Meyer's been damn smart in sending out the fire-float," he said to the Mate, adding, "Get the foreyard cock-billed, Mister; and a burton rigged to heave out the cargo as soon 's we anchor. There's the tow-boat whistlin' for ye to shorten in th' hawser. Bear a hand, mind ye, for we've a tough night's work before us."
* * * * *
But all was not pleasant anticipation aboard of the screw tug Active, towing gallantly ahead, for Captain John Cutbush had discovered his loss, and the world wasn't big enough for his indictment of Fortune.
He had seen our flags off Benita, but had not troubled to read the message, as he saw the answering pennant flying from the Lighthouse. In scanning the anchorage for a convenient berth to swing his tow in, the fire-float caught his eye.
"Hello! somethin' afire in th' Bay!" He turned his glasses among the shipping, in search of a commotion, but all was quiet among the tall ships.
"But where's she lyin'-to fer? There ain't nothin' this side ov Alcatraz, I reckon."
Then a dread suspicion crossed his mind, that made him jump for the signal-book. He remembered the flags of our last hoist, and feverishly turned them up.
Muttering oaths, he dropped the book and focussed his glasses on the tow. The track of the fire was patent to the world now, and we were unbending the sails from the yards above the fore-hatch.
"She's afire right 'nuff, 'n I never cottoned. Roast me for a ——. 'N that's what the downy old thief was standin' t' th' norrard for, 'n I never cottoned! 'N that's what he took me on at three hundred for, 'n Meyer's boat almost along-side. Three —— hundred 'n my —— hawser. Waal—I'm—damned! The old limejuice pirate! Guess I should 'a known him for a bloody sharp when I saw Glasgow on her stern."
He stopped cursing, to blow his whistle—a signal for us to shorten in the towing hawser. In the ensuing manoeuvres he was able to relieve his feelings by criticising our seamanship; he swung us round with a vicious sheer, eased up, and watched our anchor tumbling from the bows. He gazed despairingly at his Mate, who was steering.
"Here's a ruddy mess, Gee-orge," he said. "Three thousan' dollars clean thrown away. What'll the boss say. What'll they say on th' Front?"
George cursed volubly, and expended much valuable tobacco juice.
"Here's a boomer fer th' 'Examiner,' Geeorge; here's a sweet headline fer th' 'Call'!
"'Cap'n Jan Cutbush done in th' eye!!'
"'Cap'n Jan S. Cutbush, th' smartest skipper on th' Front, done in the bloody eye by a bargoo-eatin' son ef a gun ef a grey-headed limejuicer!!!'"
Scarcely was our anchor down in 'Frisco Bay than the boarding-house 'crimps' were alongside, beaming with good-fellowship, and tumbling over one another in their anxiety to shake 'Jack' by the hand, and to tell him of the glorious openings and opportunities for smart sailormen ashore. The Mate vainly endeavoured to prevent them boarding the ship, but with the ordinary harassing duties incident on arrival, and the extraordinary matter of a serious fire in the hold, he could not do everything; so the 'crimps' installed themselves in the fo'cas'le, and the grog (Welcome-home Brand) was flowing far and free.
The starboard watch were aloft furling the tops'ls, and only the presence of the Captain and Mates at the foot of the rigging kept them from joining the hilarious crowd in the fo'cas'le. The Mate's watch had been employed at the ground tackle, and had dodged in and out of the fo'cas'le; so that, in a very short time, they were all 'three sheets in the wind,' and making for trouble. Vootgert, the Belgian, was the first to fall foul of the Mate, and that sorely-tried Officer could hardly be blamed for using all four limbs on the offending 'squarehead.' Seeing their shipmate thus handled, the watch would have raised a general melee, but the boarding-house 'crimps,' having no liking for police interference, succeeded in calming the valiant ones by further draughts of their fiery panacea. To us boys (who had heard great tales of revolvers and other weapons being freely used by ship captains in preventing their men from being 'got at') these mutinous ongoings were a matter of great wonderment; but, later, we learned that freights were low, and we were likely to be many months in 'Frisco; that crews' wages and victualling, when the ship is earning no money, reflect on the professional character of an old-time shipmaster, and that to baulk the 'crimps' on arrival means an expensive delay in making up a crew when the ship is again ready for sea.
Wee Laughlin and the nigger were the first to yield to the eloquence of their visitors. No one was surprised that the Mate let Laughlin clear without interference. A poor sailor, though a lot had been licked into him since he left the 'Poort,' he was not worth keeping. His kind could be picked up on the Water Front any day. He had come on board at Greenock—a pierhead jump, with his wardrobe on his back and a 'hauf-mutchkin' of very inferior whisky in his pocket. Now, to our astonishment, he threw a well-filled bag over the side before he slid down the rope into the 'crimp's' boat. Long intending to desert when we arrived, he had taken as much of his pay in clothes and slop-chest gear as the Old Man would allow. It was said, too, that a lot of poor Duncan's clothes never came to auction, and more than one suspected Wee Laughlin of a run through Duncan's bag before the Old Niven got forward and claimed what was left.
That well-filled bag!
To the Second Mate, who was eyeing his departure, he flung a salutation, first seeing that his line of retreat was clear. "Weel, so long, Mister, ye Hielan' ——, ye can pit ma fower pun ten i' yer e'e 'n ca' yersel' a bloody banker!"
No one saw the nigger go, but gone he was, bag and baggage; and loud were the curses of the cook, to whom he owed four pounds of tobacco for losses at crib.
While all this was going on, and the 'crimps' were marking down their prey, the crew of the fire-float had located the fire and cut a hole in the 'tween-decks above the hottest part. Through this a big ten-inch hose was passed, and soon the rhythmic clank-clank of their pump brought 'Frisco Bay to our assistance.
Darkness fell on a scene of uproar. Everything was at sixes and sevens forward, and the discipline of five months was set at naught. Drunken men tumbled over the big hose and slippery decks, and got in the firemen's way; steam enveloped the decks as in a fog; dim figures of men struggled and quarrelled; curses and hoarse shouts came from the fo'cas'le, whence the hands were being driven by the rising smoke and steam; rushing figures transferred their few belongings to safer quarters; and through all throbbed the steady clank-clank of the fire-engine.
A strange contrast to the quiet and peaceful scene about us—with a low moon over San Rafael, and the lights of the shipping reflected in the placid water. A few fishing-boats were drifting out on the tide, with creak of oar and rowlock; and above all was the glare of the lighted streets and harbour lights of the great city.
Not long had we to contrast the scenes, for the Mate, and the Old Man himself, were at our backs, man-driving the few sober hands, to make up for their inability to handle the skulkers. They did not spare themselves in driving, and at salving the gear in the lamp-room the Captain made a weird picture, black and grimy, with a cloth over his mouth, passing the lamps out to the boys.
With such a volume of water pouring below, it was necessary to get a pump in position to keep our craft afloat. She was now far down by the head and had a heavy list, and as the ship's pumps would not draw, the Firemaster arranged to put one of his pumps into the fore-peak. To make this efficient, we had to raise the sluice in the forrard bulkhead; and even the Old Man looked anxious when the Carpenter reported that the sluice was jammed, and that the screw had broken in his hands. The stream of water into the hold was immediately stopped, and all available hands (few enough we were) were put to clearing the fore-peak, that the sluice could be got at. In this compartment all the ship's spare gear and bos'un's stores were kept, and the lower hold held ten tons of the ship's coal. The small hatchway made despatch impossible, and the want of a winch was keenly felt. It was back-breaking work, hauling up the heavy blocks, the cordage, sails and tarpaulins, chains, kegs and coils, and dragging them out on deck. A suffocating atmosphere and foul gases below showed that the seat of the fire was not far off, and often the workers were dragged up in a semi-conscious state. The Mate was the first to go down, and he hung out till nature rebelled, and he was dragged up and put in the open air. There the aggrieved Belgian saw him, and, maddened by drink, took advantage of his exhaustion to kick him viciously in the ribs; but Jones promptly laid the Dutchman out with a hand-spike.
In a moment the drink, discontent, excitement, and overwork found vent in furious riot: shipmates of five months' standing, comrades in fair weather and foul, were at each other's throats, and amid the smoke and steam no man could name his enemy. Welsh John, in trying to get young Munro out of harm's way, was knocked down the open hatch, and he lay, groaning, with a broken arm, amid the steam and stench. Hicks, the bo'sun, was stabbed in the cheek, and someone knocking the lamps over, added darkness to the vicious conflict. Blind and blaspheming, animals all, we fought our way to the doors, and the malcontents, in ill plight themselves, cared little to follow us.
Meantime the Firemaster, seeing how matters stood, called his men together and turned a hose into the fo'cas'le. The thin, vicious stream proved too much for the mutineers, and we were soon in possession again. John was taken up from the fore-peak (he was far through) and carried aft. The mutineers, such as were fit, were put down below to dig coals till they could dig no more; and again the work went on—weary, body-racking work.
With aching eyes and every muscle in revolt, we toiled on in silence, not even a curse among us. Silence, broken only by the rattle of the block-sheave, as the baskets of coal were hove up and emptied. There was now no need for the Old Man to hold himself in readiness, with something in his pocket that bulged prominently, for there was not an ounce of fight left in the crowd, and 'Smith and Wessons' are ill-fitting things to carry about. Two hours we had of this, and give in was very near when the welcome news came up that they had got at the sluice, that the water was trickling through. Soon after, the sluice was prised up, and the pent-up water rushed into the peak. The Firemaster passed his pipe below, and again the pumps were set agoing.
We staggered out into the fresh morning air, red-eyed and ragged, and a madhouse gang we looked in the half-light of an early Californian dawn. Faces haggard and blackened by the smoke, eyes dazed and bloodshot, and on nearly everyone evidence of the ten minutes' sanguinary encounter in bruised eyes and bloody faces. The Mate called a muster to serve out grog, and of our crew of twenty-seven hands only fifteen answered the call. The Old Man tried to make a few remarks to the men. He had been frequently to the bottle through the night, for his speech was thick and his periods uncertain.
"No bloody nozzush, b' Goad ... tan' no nozzush, Mis'r——" was about the burden of his lay.
With a modest glass of strong rum to raise our spirits momentarily, we lingered before going below to note the wreck and confusion that our once trim barque was now in. She was still down by the head, and listed at an awkward angle. The decks were littered with gear and stores, muddy and dirty as a city street on a day of rain. Aloft, the ill-furled tops'ls hung bunched below the yards, with lazy gaskets streaming idly in mid-air; and the yards, 'lifted' at all angles, gave a lubberly touch to our distressed appearance. The riding-light, still burning brightly on the forestay, though the sun was now above the horizon, showed that we had lost all regard for routine.
A damp mist, the 'pride o' the morning,' was creeping in from seaward, and the siren at the Golden Gate emitted a mournful wail at intervals. Near us, at the anchorage, a big black barque, loaded and in sea-trim, was getting under weigh, and the haunting strain of 'Shenandoah,' most beautiful of sea-chanteys, timed by the musical clank of the windlass pawls, was borne on the wind to us.
"An outward-bounder, and a blue-nose at that," said Martin.
We wondered if Wee Laughlin was already in her fo'cas'le, with a skinful of drugged liquor to reckon with. The 'crimps' lose no time if they can get their man under, and Wee Laughlin, by his own glory of it, was a famous swallower.
In the half-deck, some of the boys were already turned in, and lying in uneasy attitudes, with only their boots and jackets off. Jones, who had been severely handled in the scrimmage, was moaning fitfully in his sleep, his head swathed in bloody bandages, and the pallor showing in his face through the grime and coal-dust. Hansen was the last man in. He threw himself wearily down on the sea-chests, now all of a heap to leeward, snatched a pillow from under Munro's head, and composed himself to rest.
"Mate says I'm to keep watch, 'n call him at eight bells; but, judgin' by th' way he put the grog down, I'm damn sure he'll stir tack nor sheet till midday.... Firemaster says she's under hand, 'n he'll have the fire out in two hours, 'n she can bally well look out for herself.... T' hell with an anchor watch; I can't keep my eyes open, an' 'll work ... work ... no m——"
IN 'FRISCO TOWN
We moored at Mission Wharf to discharge what cargo the fire had spared, and there we made a lubberly picture, outcast among so many trim ships. The firemen had done their duty and had left us to do ours, and we had to work our hardest to put the ship in order again. A firm of shipwrights were employed to repair the damage—the twisted stanchions, buckled beams, burnt decks, worthless pumps, and hold fittings. Old Jock was not a Scotchman for nothing, and to make their contract profitable, the 'wrights did nothing that they could wriggle out of. So we had extra work to do—their work—and from daylight to dark were kept hard at it, man-driven as only our hardcase Mate could drive. It was no wonder that we were in a state of discontent. Here we were, after a long, hard voyage, working our 'soul-case' to shreds! And there—just across the wharf—were the lights of Market Street, that seemed to beckon us to come ashore! There were angry mutterings, and only a wholesome fear of the Mate's big hands kept us at the task.
With the men forward it was even worse. The word had gone out that no money would be advanced until the cargo was discharged and the ship put to rights. No money—not even the price of a 'schooner'! And the ghost of nigh six months, salt beef waiting to be 'laid!'
Their state of mind was soon observed by the boarding-masters. Whalers were in the Bay, fitted out and ready for sea, and only a lack of sailormen kept them within the Golden Gate. To get these men—the blood-money for their shipment, rather—was the business of the 'crimps,' who showed a wealth of imagination in describing the various topping shore jobs that they held at their disposal. Now it was a 'mine manager' they were looking for in our forecastle; to-morrow it would be a fruit salesman they wanted! They secured smiling Dutch John as a decoy, and set him up behind the bar of a Water Front saloon. There, when work was over for the day, his former shipmates foregathered, and John (fairly sober, considering) put up free drinks and expanded on the goodness of a long-shore life.
"Vat jou boysh stop mit der ship on? Jou tinks dere vas no yobs on shore? De boardin'-master damn lie, eh? ... Ah vas get me four dollars a day; und der boss, ven 'e see me de glasses break, say me nodings! Ah goes from der haus, und comes to der haus in—und 'e say nod like der Mate, 'Vat jou do dere, verdamt shwine? Was fuer jou no go on mit jour vark?' ... 'ttverdam! It vas der life, mein boysh! It vas der life!"
Against such a pronouncement from their whilom shipmate, and with the plain evidence of his prosperity before their eyes, it was useless to argue. Here was John able to stand free drinks all round, and the saloon boss 'standin' by' and smiling pleasantly. Didn't John say, "Here, boss, jou gif me a light for mein cigar!" and the owner of the place handed out his silver box instanter? John! A 'Dutchman,' too,—not even the best sailorman of the 'crowd'! ... ("Here, boss, what was that job ye was talkin' about? I guess there ain't nuthin' I can't do w'en I sets my 'ead to it!") Soon the 'crimps,' ever ready at hand, were off to the ship, hot-foot, for bags and baggage!
Those who still held by the ship were visited at all hours, and the comings and goings of the tempters were not even checked by the Mate. The dinner hour was the most opportune time for them, for then they had the miserable meal to point to in scorn.
"Call yewrselves min," they said, "a sittin' hyar at yer lobscouse an' dawg biscuits, an' forty dallars a month jest waitin' t' be picked up? ... Forty dallars ... an' no more graft 'n a boy kin dew! Darn it, I wouldn't give that mess to me dawg! ... A fine lot yees are, fer sure! Ain't got no heart t' strike aout f'r decent grub 'n a soft job.... Forty dallars, I guess! ... Is thar a 'man' among ye? ... Chip in yewr dunnage an' step ashore, me bucks! A soft job in a free country, an' no damn lime juice Mate t' sweat ye araound!"
The 'spell worked'! Within a fortnight of our arrival most of the men who had signed with us had, 'Deserted. Left no effects,' entered against their names in our official Log. Soon the whalers were at sea, standing to the north, and Dutch John shorn of his proud position, was shipped as cook on a hard-case New Yorker!
The bos'un and Old Martin were still with us, and we had Welsh John and Houston safe in the hospital—about the only place in 'Frisco where no healthy 'crimp' could gain admission. For want of better game, perhaps, the boarding-masters paid some attention to the half-deck, but we had, in the Chaplain of the British Seamen's Institute, a muscular mentor to guide us aright. From the first he had won our hearts by his ability to put Browne (our fancy man) under the ropes in three rounds. It was said that, in the absence of a better argument, he was able and willing to turn his sleeves up to the stiffest 'crimp' on the Front. Be that as it may, there was no doubt about his influence with brassbounders in the port. Desertions among us—that had formerly been frequent—were rare enough when James Fell came, swinging his stick, to see what was doing on the Front!
With the crew gone, we found matters improved with us. The Mate, having no 'crowd' to rush around, was inclined to take things easy, and, when sober, was quite decent. Although but a few weeks in the country, we were now imbued with the spirit of freedom; learned to 'guess' and 'reckon'; called Tuesday 'Toosday'; and said "No, sir-rr!" when emphatic denial was called for. Eccles even tried the democratic experiment of omitting his "sir" when answering the Mate. Disastrous result!
Seamanship was shelved, for a time at least, and we were employed like longshore labourers on the ship's hull. The rust and barnacles of our outward passage had to be chipped off and scraped, and we had more than enough of the din of chipping hammers and the stench of patent compositions. One day Burke discovered his elder brother's name painted on the piles of the wharf, and when he told us with pride of the painter's position, 'Captain of a big tramp steamer,' we were consoled by the thought that we were only going through the mill as others had done before us. When the painting was finished we had the satisfaction of knowing that our barque was not the least comely of the many tall ships that lined the wharves.
At night, when work was over, we had the freedom of the City. It was good to be on the beach again. Money was scarce with us, and in a place where five cents is the smallest currency, we found our little stock go fast, if not far. If luxuries were beyond our reach, at least the lighted streets were ours, and it was with a delightful sense of freedom from ship discipline that we sauntered from 'sailor-town' to 'China-town,' or through the giant thoroughfares that span the heart of the City itself. Everything was new, and fine, and strange. The simple street happenings, the busy life and movements, the glare and gaudery of the lights, were as curious to us as if we had never landed before.
'Sailor-town'—the Water Front, was first beyond the gangway. Here were the boarding-houses and garish saloons, the money-changers' and shoddy shops. The boarding-houses were cleaner than the dinginess of an old-world seaport would allow, and the proprietors who manned their doorways looked genial monuments of benevolence. On occasions they would invite us in—"Come right in, boyees, an' drink the health o' th' haouse," was the word of it—but we had heard of the Shanghai Passage, and were chary of their advances. Often our evident distrust was received with boisterous laughter. "Saay," they would shout. "Yew needn't shy, me sucking bloody Nelsons! It's little use yew 'ud be aboard a packet!" ... "Light—the—binnacle, bo—oy!" was another salutation for brassbounders, but that came usually from a lady at an upper window, and there would be a sailorman there—out of sight, as prompters properly are.
At the clothing shop doors, the Jews were ever on the alert for custom. A cheap way of entertainment was to linger for a moment at their windows, pointing and admiring. Isaac would be at us in a moment, feeling the texture of our jackets with his bony fingers and calling on the whole street to witness that it was "a biece 'f damn good shduff!" Then it would be, "Gome into de shop, Misdur! I guess I god de tingsh you vannt!"
After we had spent a time examining and pricing his scent-bottles and spring garters, and hand-painted braces and flowered velvet slippers and 'Green River' sheath-knives, we thought it but right to tell him that Levy Eckstein of Montgomery Street was our man; that our Captain would pay no bills for us but his!
With Levy our business was purely financial; cent, per cent, transactions in hard cash. He had contracted with the Old Man to supply us with clothing, but, though our bills specified an outfit of substantial dry goods, we were always able to carry away the parcels in our smallest waistcoat pocket. "One dollar for two," was Levy's motto. If his terms were hard, his money was good, and, excepting for the Old Man's grudging advances, we had no other way of 'raising the wind.'
In 'China-town' we found much to astonish us. We could readily fancy ourselves in far Cathay. There was nothing in the narrow streets and fancily carved house fronts to suggest an important City in the States. Quaint shop signs and curious swinging lanterns; weird music and noises in the 'theatres'; uncanny smells from the eating-houses; the cat-like sound of China talk—all jumbled together in a corner of the most western city of the West!
The artisans in their little shops, working away far into the night, interested us the most, and some of our little money went to purchase small wares for the home folks. It was here that Munro bought that long 'back-scratcher'; the one he took home to his father!
Sometimes, when we could induce our Burke to make up to one of his compatriots (the blue-coated, six-foot Fenians who keep 'Frisco under martial law), we saw something of the real, the underground China-town. It was supposed to be a hazardous excursion, but, beyond treading the dark, forbidding alleys, haunts of 'Li-Johns' and 'Highbinders,' we had no sight of the sensational scenes that others told us of. We saw opium dens, and were surprised at the appearance of the smokers. Instead of the wasted and debauched beings, of whom we had read, we found stout Johns and lean Johns, lively Johns and somnolent Johns, busy and idle—but all looking as if they regarded life as a huge joke.
They laughed amiably at our open mouths, and made remarks to us. These, of course, we were unable to understand, but at least we could grin, and that seemed to be the answer expected. When our guide took us to free air again, and we found ourselves far from where we had entered, we could readily 'take it from Michael' that the underground passages offered harbour to all the queer fellows of the City. With the night drawing on, and a reminder in our limbs that we had done a hard day's work, we would go to Clark's, in Kearney, a coffee-house famed among brassbounders. There we would refresh and exchange ship news with 'men' from other ships. Clark himself—a kindly person with a hint of the Doric amidst his 'Amurricanisms'—was always open to reason in the middle of the week, and we never heard that he had lost much by his 'accommodations.'
When we returned to the streets, the exodus from the theatres would be streaming towards cars and ferry. It was time we were on board again. Often there would be a crowd of us bound for the wharves. It was a custom to tramp through 'sailor-town' together. On the way we would cheer the 'crimps' up by a stave or two of 'Mariners of England.'
THE DIFFICULTY WITH THE 'TORREADOR'S'
In the half-deck differences, sometimes leading to fisticuffs, were of daily occurrence; but, considering that we were boys, drawn from all parts, each with his town or county's claim to urge, we dwelt very happily together. Though our barque was Scotch, we were only two strong, and at times it was very difficult to keep our end up, and impress our Southron shipmates with a proper sense of our national importance. The voice of reason was not always pacific, and on these occasions we could but do our best. Our Jones (of Yorkshire) was of a quarrelsome nature; most of our bickers were of his seeking, and to him our strained relations with the 'Torreador's' was mainly due.
The Torreador had berthed next to us at Mission Wharf, and by the unwritten laws of the sea and the customs of the port of San Francisco, her crew should have fraternised with us; from the mates (who could exchange views on the sizes of rope and the chances of promotion) down to the younger apprentices (who should have visited one another to 'swap' ship's biscuit). With other ships matters might have been arranged, but the Torreador was a crack ship, and flew the blue ensign, even on week-days; her captain was an F.R.A.S., and her boys (whose parents paid heavy premiums for the glitter) wore brass buttons to everyday work, and were rated as midshipmen, no less! The day after her arrival some of them were leaning over the rail looking at our barque, and acquaintance might have been made then and there, but Jones (who fancied himself a wit) spoiled the chances of an understanding by asking them if the stewardess had aired their socks properly that morning. Such a question aroused great indignation, and for over a fortnight we were 'low bounders,' and they 'kid-glove sailors.'
Matters went ill between us, and our ships were too close together to ignore one another altogether. The 'Torreador's' contented themselves with looking smarter and more aggressively clean than ever, and with casting supercilious glances all over us when they saw us chipping and scraping the rust off our vessel's topside—(they never got such jobs to do, as their Old Man was too busy cramming them up with "Sumners" and "Deviation Curves"). We replied by making stage asides to one another on the methods of 'coddling sickly sailors,' and Jones even went the length of arraying himself in a huge paper collar when he was put over-side to paint ship. A brilliant idea, he thought it, until the Mate noticed him, and made his ears tingle till sundown.
The 'Torreador's' kept a gangway watch, and one of his duties seemed to be to cross the deck at intervals and inspect our barque, crew, and equipment in a lofty manner. He would even (if his Mate—the Chief Officer, they called him—wasn't looking) put his hands in his beckets and his tongue in his cheek. At first we greeted his appearance with exaggerated respect; we would stand to attention and salute him in style; but latterly, his frequent appearances (particularly as he always seemed to be there when our Mate was recounting our misdeeds, and explaining what lazy, loafing, ignorant, and 'sodgering' creatures he had to handle) got on our nerves.
Matters went on in this way for over a week, and everybody was getting tired of it; not only on our ship, for one day we caught a 'Torreador' openly admiring our collection of sharks' tails which we had nailed to the jib-boom. When he found himself observed he blushed and went about some business, before we had a chance to ask him aboard to see the sharks' backbones—fashioned into fearsome walking-sticks. Up town we met them occasionally, but no one seemed inclined to talk, and a 'barley' was as far away as ever. If we went to the Institute they were to be seen lolling all over the sofas in the billiard-room, smoking cigarettes, when, as everyone knows, a briar pipe is the only thing that goes decently with a brass-bound cap, tilted at the right angle. They did not seem to make many friends, and their talk among themselves was of matters that most apprentices ignore. One night Jones heard them rotting about 'Great Circle sailing,' and 'ice to the south'ard of the Horn,' and subjects like that, when, properly, they ought to be criticising their Old Man, and saying what an utter duffer of a Second Mate they had. Jones was wonderfully indignant at such talk, and couldn't sleep at night for thinking of all the fine sarcastic remarks he might have made, if he had thought of them at the time.
When our barque, by discharge of cargo, was risen in the water, we were put to send the royal-yards down on deck, and took it as a great relief from our unsailorly harbour jobs. The 'Torreador's,' with envious eyes, watched us reeving off the yard ropes. They had a Naval Reserve crew aboard to do these things, and their seamanship was mostly with a model mast in the half-deck. They followed all the operations with interest, and when Hansen and Eccles got the main royal yard on deck, in record time, they looked sorry that they weren't at the doing.
"Sumners" and "Deviation Curves" are all very well in their way, but a seamanlike job aloft, on a bright morning, is something stirring to begin the day with. A clear head to find one's way, and a sharp hand to unbend the gear and get the yard canted for lowering; then, with a glance at the fore (where fumblers are in difficulties with their lifts), the prideful hail to the deck, "All clear, aloft! Lower away!"
No wonder the 'Torreador's' were not satisfied with their model mast!
Some days later we got another chance to show them how things were done aloft, and even if we were not so smart at it as we might have been, still it was a fairly creditable operation for some boys and a sailorman. Our main topgal'nmast was found to be 'sprung' at the heel, and one fine morning we turned-to to send the yard and mast down. This was rather a big job for us who had never handled but royal-yards before; but under the able instructions of the Mate and Bo'sun, we did our work without any serious digression from the standards of seamanship. The Mate wondered what was making us so uncommon smart and attentive, but when he caught sight of the 'Torreador's' watching our operations with eager eyes, he understood, and even spurred us on by shouting, "Mister!" (the boys of the Torreador were thus addressed by their Officers) "Mister Hansen, please lay out 'n the topsl-yard, 'n unhook that bloody brace!"
At dusk the 'Torreador's' had stiff necks with looking aloft so much, and when we knocked off, with the yard and mast on deck, and the gear stopped-up, they went below and hid their elaborate model mast under a bunk in the half-deck.
Soon after this a better feeling began. Eccles met one of the 'Torreador's' up-town, and an acquaintance was made. They spent the evening together, and he learned that the other chap came from near his place. [It was really about fifty miles from there, but what's a fifty miles when one is fourteen thousand miles from home?] The next evening two of them came across. "To see the ship," they said. They brought briar pipes with them, which was rather more than we could reasonably have expected. Thereafter nightly visits were the rule, and we became as thick as thieves. We took them to our bosom, and told them of many fresh ways to rob the store-room, though they had no need to go plundering, theirs being a well-found ship. We even went the length of elaborating a concerted and, as we afterwards found, unworkable scheme to get even with a certain policeman who had caught our Munro a clip on the arm with his club when that youngster was singing "Rule Britannia" along the Water Front at half-past midnight. In the evenings our respective commanders could be seen leaning across their poop rails, engaged in genial conversation, addressing one another as "Captain" in the middle of each sentence with true nautical punctiliousness.
Once the 'Torreador's' Old Man seemed to be propounding his views on the training of apprentices with great earnestness. What he said we could not hear, but our Old Man replied that he had work enough "—— to get the young 'sodgers' to learn to splice a rope, cross a royal-yard, and steer the ship decently, let alone the trouble of keeping them out of the store-room," and that he'd "—— nae doot but they'd learn navigation —— in guid time!"
The elder boys went picnicing on the Sundays to Cliff House or Saucilito; the second voyagers played team billiards together at the Institute, and proposed one another to sing at the impromptu concerts; while the young ones—those who had only been a dog-watch at sea—made themselves sick smoking black tobacco and talking 'ship-talk' in the half-deck.
Thus we fraternised in earnest, and when the Torreador left for Port Costa to load for home we bent our best ensign (though it was on a week-day), and cheered her out of the berth.
Next week a Norwegian barque took up her vacant place. She had come out from Swansea in ninety-eight days, and was an object of interest for a while. Soon, though, we grew tired of the daily hammering of 'stock-fish' before breakfast, and the sight of her Mate starting the windmill pump when the afternoon breeze came away. We longed for the time when we, too, would tow up to Port Costa, for we had a little matter of a race for ship's gigs to settle with the 'Torreador's' and were only waiting for our Captains to take it up and put silk hats on the issue.
Welsh John was discharged from hospital at ten on a Sunday morning; before dark he was locked up, charged with riotous behaviour and the assaulting of one Hans Maartens, a Water Front saloon keeper. A matter of strong drink, a weak head, and a maudlin argument, we thought; but Hansen saw the hand of the 'crimps' in the affair, and when we heard that sailormen were scarce (no ships having arrived within a fortnight), we felt sure that they were counting on John's blood-money from an outward-bound New Yorker.
"Ye see, John hadn't money enough t' get drunk on," he said. "We saw him in hospital last Sunday, an' Munro gave him a 'half' to pay his cars down t' th' ship when he came out. Half-dollars don't go far in 'sailor-town.' I guess these sharks have bin primin' him up t' get 'm shipped down th' Bay. The J. B. Grace has been lyin' at anchor off The Presidio, with her 'Blue Peter' up this last week or more, an' nobody 's allowed aboard 'r ashore but Daly an' his gang. Maartens is in with 'em, an' the whole thing 's a plant to shanghai John. Drunk or no' drunk, John 's seen th' game, an' plugged th' Dutchman for a start."
As it was on Munro's account that he had come by the injuries that put him in hospital, we felt more than a passing interest in John's case, and decided to get him clear of the 'crimps' if we could. We knew he would be fined, for saloon-keepers and boarding-masters are persons of weight and influence in 'Frisco town, and, although John had nearly eight months' pay due to him, it would be considered a weakness, a sort of confession of Jack's importance, for the Captain to disburse on his account. It being the beginning of a week, we could only muster a few dollars among us, so we applied to James Peden, a man of substance on the Front, for assistance and advice.
James was from Dundee. After a varied career as seaman, whaleman, boarding-house keeper, gold seeker, gravedigger, and beach-comber, he had taken to decent ways and now acted as head-foreman to a firm of stevedores. He was an office-bearer of the local Scottish Society, talked braid Scots on occasions (though his command of Yankee slang when stimulating his men in the holds was finely complete), and wore a tartan neck-tie that might aptly be called a gathering of the clans.
To James we stated our case when he came aboard to see that his 'boy-ees made things hum.' It was rather a delicate matter to do this properly, as we had to leave it to inference that James's knowledge of these matters was that of a reputable foreman stevedore, and not that of a quondam boarding-master whose exploits in the 'crimping' business were occasionally referred to when men talked, with a half-laugh, of shady doings. It was nicely done, though, and James, recalling a parallel case that occurred to a man, "whom he knew," was pessimistic.
"Weel, lauds, Ah guess Joan Welsh 'r Welsh Joan 'll be ootward bound afore the morn's nicht. They'll pit 'm up afore Judge Kelly, a bluidy Fenian, wha'll gie 'm 'ten dollars or fourteen days' fur bein' a British sailorman alane. Pluggin' a Dutchman 's naethin'; it's th' 'Rid Rag' that Kelly's doon oan. Ah ken the swine; he touched me twinty dollars fur gie'n a winchman a clout i' the lug—an ill-faured Dago wi' a haun' on 's knife. Ah guess there's nae chance for a lime-juicer up-bye, an' ye may take it that yer man 'll be fined. Noo, withoot sayin' ony mair aboot it, ye ken fine that yer Captain 's no' gaun tae pey 't. Wi' nae sicht o' a charter an' th' chances o' 's ship bein' laid bye fur a whilie, he'll no' be wantin' mair men aboard, 'n Ahm thinkin' he'll no' be sorry tae see th' last o' this Joan Welsh. This is whaur Daly 'll come in. He'll offer t' pey th' fine, an' yer man, wi' seeven weeks' hospital ahint 'm, an' the prospeck o' a fortnicht's jile afore 'm, 'll jump at th' chance o' a spree. Daly 'll pey th' fine, gae yer man a nicht's rope fur a maddenin' drunk, an' ship 'm on th' New-Yorker i' th' mornin'. There's nae help for't; that's th' wey they dae things oot here; unless maybe ye'd pey th' fine yersels?"
This was our opportunity, and Munro asked for a loan till next week. He explained the state of our purses and the uselessness of applying to the Captain so early in the week; James was dubious. Munro urged the case in homely Doric; James, though pleased to hear the old tongue, was still hesitating when Munro skilfully put a word of the Gaelic here and there. A master move! James was highly flattered at our thinking he had the Gaelic (though never a word he knew), and when Munro brought a torrent of liquid vowels into the appeal, James was undone. The blood of the Standard Bearer of the Honourable Order of the Scottish Clans coursed proudly through his veins, and, readjusting his tartan necktie, he parted with fifteen dollars on account.
Now a difficulty arose. It being a working day, none of us would get away to attend the Court. We thought of Old Martin, the night watchman. As he slept soundly during three-fifths of his night watch, it was no hardship for the old 'shellback' to turn out, but he wasn't in the best of tempers when we wakened him and asked his assistance.
"Yew boys thinks nuthin' ov roustin' a man out, as 'as bin on watch awl night." (Martin was stretched out like a jib downhaul, sound asleep on the galley floor, when we had come aboard on Sunday night). "Thinks nuthin' at awl ov callin' a man w'en ye ain't got no damn business to.... W'en Ah was a boy, it was ropesendin' fer scratchin' a match in fo'cas'le, 'n hell's-hidin' fer speakin' in a Dago's whisper!"—Martin sullenly stretched out for his pipe, ever his first move on waking—"Nowadays boys is men an' men 's old.—— W'y"—Martin waved his little black pipe accusingly—"taint only t' other day w'en that there Jones lays out 'n th' tawps'l yardarm afore me 'n mittens th' bloody earin' 's if awl th' sailormen wos dead!" His indignation was great, his growls long and deep, but at last he consented to do our errand—"tho' ain't got no use for that damned Welshman meself!"
Arrayed in his pilot cloth suit, with a sailorlike felt hat perched rakish on his hard old head, old Martin set out with our fifteen dollars in his pocket, and his instructions, to pay John's fine and steer clear of the 'crimps.' We had misgivings as to the staunchness of our messenger, but we had no other, and it was with some slight relief that we watched him pass the nearest saloon with only a wave of his arm to the bar-keeper and tramp sturdily up the street towards the City.
At dinner-time neither John nor Old Martin had rejoined the ship. We thought, with misgiving, that a man with fifteen dollars in his becket would be little likely to remember the miserly meal provided by the ship, and even Browne (the Mark Tapley of our half-deck) said he shouldn't be surprised if the 'crimps' had got both John and Old Martin (to say nothing of our fifteen dollars). As the day wore on we grew anxious, but at last we got news of the absentees when Peden passed, on his way out to the Bay. The sentimental Scotsman of the morning had thought a lot after his liberal response to Munro's appeal, and had called round at the Police Court to see that the affair was genuine. He was now in his right senses; a man of rock, not to be moved even by a mention of Burns's 'Hielan' Mary,' his tartan tie had slipped nearly out of sight beneath the collar of his coat, and the hard, metallic twang of his voice would have exalted a right 'down-easter.'
"Yewr man was 'up' w'en Ah got raound," he said, "up before Kelly, 's Ah reckoned. Ah didn't hear the chyarge, but thyar was th' Dutchman with 's head awl bandaged up—faked up, Ah guess. Th' Jedge ses t' th' prisoner, 'Did yew strike this man?' Yewr man answers, 'Inteed to goodness, yer 'anner, he looks 's if somebody 'd struck 'm!' Wi' that a laugh wint raound, an' yewr man tells 's story." (James's Doric was returning to him, and the twang of his "u's" became less pronounced.) "He had bin in hospital, he said, wasn't very strong—here th' Dutchman looks up, wonderin' like—had ta'en a drap o' drink wi' a man he met in 'sailor-town.' There wis talk aboot a joab ashore, an' they were in Mertin's tae see aboot it, an' yer man sees this Mertin pit somethin' i' th' drink. He didna like the looks o't, he said, so he ups an' gies Mertin yin on th' heid wi' a 'schooner' gless. That wis a' he kent aboot it, an' th' Dutchman begood his yarn. Oot o' his kind-hertedness, he'd gie'n th' pris'ner a gless or twa, fower at th' maist, when th' thankless villain ups an' ca's 'm names an' belts 'm on th' heid wi' a gless. 'Pit drugs i' th' drink?' Naethin' o' th' kind! He wis jist takin' a fly oot o't wi' the haunle o' a spune.
"A bad business, says Kelly, a bad business! There's faur too miny av thim British sailormin makin' trouble on th' Front. It's tin dallars, says he, tin dallars 'r fourteen days!
"Ah saw Daly git up frae th' sate an' he his a long confab wi' yer man, but jist then yer auld watchman tramps in, an' efter speirin' aboot he ups an' peys th' fine, an' they let yer man oot. Ah seen th' twa o' them gang aff wi' Daly, an' Ah couldna verra weel ha'e onythin' tae dae wi' them when he wis bye."
This was James's news; he was not surprised to learn that they had not returned to the ship, and, as he passed on, on his way to the jetty steps, muttered, "Weel, it's a gey peety they had that five dollars ower much, for Ah doot they'll baith be under th' 'Blue Peter' before th' morn's mornin'."
When we knocked off for the day we were soon ashore looking for the wanderers, and early found plain evidence that they had been celebrating John's 'convalescence' and release. An Italian orange-seller whom we met had distinct memory of two seafaring gentlemen purchasing oranges and playing 'bowls' with them in the gutter of a busy street; a Jewish outfitter and his assistants were working well into the night, rearranging oilskins and sea-boots on the ceiling of a disordered shop, and a Scandinavian dame, a vendor of peanuts, had a tale of strange bargainings to tell.
Unable to find them, we returned to the ship. One of us had to keep Martin's watch, and the Mate was already on the track of the affair with threatenings of punishment for the absent watchman.
About ten we heard a commotion on the dock side, and looked over to see the wanderers, accompanied by all the 'larrikins' of 'sailor-town,' making for the ship. Two policemen in the near background were there to see that no deliberate breach-of-the-peace took place.
Martin, hard-headed Old Martin, who stood drink better than the Welshman, was singing 'Bound away to the West'ard in th' Dreadnought we go' in the pipingest of trebles, and Welsh John, hardly able to stand, was defying the Dutch, backed by numberless Judge Kellys, and inviting them to step up, take off their jackets and come on.
ON THE SACRAMENTO
After our cargo was discharged we left Mission Wharf for an anchorage in the Bay, and there—swinging flood and ebb—we lay in idleness. There were many ships in the anchorage, and many more laid up at Martinez and Saucilito, for the year's crop was not yet to hand, and Masters were hanging back for a rise in freights. There we lay, idle ships, while the summer sun ripened the crops and reared the golden grain for the harvest—the harvest that we waited to carry round the roaring Horn to Europe. Daily we rowed the Old Man ashore, and when he returned from the Agent's office, we could tell by the way he took a request (say, for a small advance "to buy a knife") that our ship was still unchartered, and likely to be so for some time.
To a convenient wharf the gigs of each ship came every morning, and from then to untold hours of the night the jetty steps were well worn by comings and goings. Some of the Captains (the man-driving ones, who owed no man a moment) used to send their boats back to the ship as soon as they landed, but a number kept theirs at the wharf in case messages had to be sent off. We usually hung around at the jetty, where there were fine wooden piles that we could carve our barque's name on when our knives were sharp enough. With the boats' crews from other ships we could exchange news and opinions, and quarrel over points in seamanship.
Those amongst us who had often voyaged to 'Frisco, and others who had been long in the port, were looked upon as 'oracles,' and treated with considerable respect. The Manydown had been sixteen months in 'Frisco, and her boys could easily have passed muster as Americans. They chewed sweet tobacco ("malassus kyake," they called it), and swore Spanish oaths with freedom and abandon. Their gig was by far the finest and smartest at the jetty, and woe betide the unwitting 'bow' who touched her glossy varnished side with his boat-hook. For him a wet swab was kept in readiness, and their stroke, a burly ruffian, was always willing to attend to the little affair if it went any farther. Our Captains came down in batches, as a rule, and there would be great clatter of oars and shipping of rowlocks as their boats hauled alongside to take them off. Rivalry was keen, and many were the gallant races out to the anchorage, with perhaps a little sum at stake just for the honour of the ship.
We had about a month of this, and it was daily becoming more difficult to find a decently clear space on the piles on which to carve 'Florence, of Glasgow.' One day the Old Man returned at an unusual hour, and it was early evident that something was afoot; he was too preoccupied to curse Hansen properly for being away from the boat on business of his own, and, instead of criticising our stroke and telling us what rotten rowers we were, as was his wont, he busied himself with letters and papers. We put off to the ship in haste, and soon the news went round that we were going up-river to Port Costa, to load for home. Old Joe Niven was the medium through whom all news filtered from the cabin, and from him we had the particulars even down to the amount of the freight. We felt galled that a German barque, which had gone up a week before, was getting two and twopence-ha'penny more; but we took consolation in the thought of what a fine crow we would have over the 'Torreador's,' who were only loading at forty-five and sixpence, direct to Hull.
On board we only mustered hands enough to do the ordinary harbour work, and raising the heavy anchors was a task beyond us; so at daybreak next morning we rowed round the ships to collect a crew. The other Captains had promised our Old Man a hand, here and there, and when we pulled back we had men enough, lusty and willing, to kedge her up a hill.
There was mist on the water when we started to 'clear hawse'—the thick, clammy mist that comes before a warm day. About us bells clattered on the ships at anchor, and steamers went slowly by with a hiss of waste steam that told of a ready hand on the levers. Overhead, the sky was bright with the promise of a glorious day, but with no mind to lift the pall from the water, it looked ill for a ready passage. We had four turns of a foul hawse to clear (the track of a week's calms), and our windlass was of a very ancient type, but our scratch crew worked well and handy, and we were ready for the road when the screw tug Escort laid alongside and lashed herself up to our quarter. They tow that way on the Pacific Coast—the wily ones know the advantage of having a ship's length in front of them to brush away the 'snags.'
A light breeze took the mist ''way down under,' and we broke the weather anchor out with the rousing chorus of an old sea song:
Old Storm-along, he's dead a-an' gone, (To my way-ay, Storm-alo-ong;) O-old Storm-along, he's dead a-an' gone, (Aye! Aye! Aye! Mister Storm-along.)
Some friends of the Captain had boarded us from the tug, eager for the novelty of a trip up-river in a real Cape Horner. One elderly lady was so charmed by our 'chantey,' that she wanted the Captain to make us sing it over again. She wondered when he told her that that was one thing he could not do. With the rare and privileged sight of frocks on the poop, there was a lot of talk about who should go to the wheel. Jones worked himself into it, and laid aft in a clean rig when the Old Man called for a hand to the wheel. There he made the most of it, and hung gracefully over the spokes with his wrists turned out to show the tattoo marks.
The skipper of the tug came aboard our ship to pilot up the river, and he directed the movements of his own vessel from our poop deck. We passed under the guns of rocky Alcatraz, and stood over to the wooded slopes and vineyards of Saucilito, where many 'laid-up' ships were lying at the buoys, with upper yards down and huge ballast booms lashed alongside. Here we turned sharply to the norrard and bore up the broad bosom of Sacramento—the river that sailormen make songs about, the river that flows over a golden bed. Dull, muddy water flowing swiftly seawards; straight rip in the channel, and a race where the high banks are; a race that the Greek fishermen show holy pictures to, when the springs are flowing!
With us, the tide was light enough, and our Pilot twisted her about with the skill and nonchalance of a master hand. One of our passengers, a young woman who had enthused over everything, from the shark's tail on the spanker-boom end ("Waal—I never!") to the curl of the bo'sun's whiskers ("Jest real sweet!"), seemed greatly interested at the frequent orders to the steersman.
"Sa-ay, Pilot!" she said, "Ah guess yew must know every rock 'bout hyar?"
"Wa-al, no, Miss, ah kyan't say 's Ah dew," answered Palinurus; "but Ah reckon tew know whar th' deep wa-r-r is!"
As we approached the shallows at the head of San Pablo Bay, the Old Man expressed an opinion as to the lack of water, and the Pilot again provided a jest for the moment.
"Oh, that's awl right, Cap.; she's only drawin' twelve feet, 'n Ah kin tak' 'r over a damp meadow 'n this trim!"
We met a big stern-wheel ferry bound down from Benicia with a load of freight wagons. She looked like an important junction adrift. Afterwards we saw a full-rigged ship towing down, and when near we made her out to be the Torreador, ready for sea. This was a great disappointment to us, for we had looked forward to being with her at Port Costa. Now, our long-dreamt-of boat-race was off (with our boat's crew in first-class trim, too!), and amid the cheering as we met and passed on, we heard a shrill and unmistakable 'cock-a-doodle-doo!' which we remembered with indignation for many a day. Tall and stately she looked, with her flags a-peak and everything in trim: yards all aloft, and squared to an inch and her sails rolled up without crease like the dummy covers on the booms of a King's yacht. A gallant ship, and a credit to the flag she flew.
We passed many floating tree trunks and branches in the river. The snows had come away from the Sierras, and there was spate on Sacramento. We rode over one of the 'snags' with a shudder, and all our jack-easy Pilot said was, "Guess that'll take some 'f th' barnacles off 'r battum, bettr'r a week's sojerin' with the patent scrubber!" All the same he took very good care that his own craft rode free of obstruction.
Rounding a bend, we came in sight of our rendezvous, but Port Costa showed little promise from the water-side, though the sight of our old friends, the Crocodile, the Peleus, and the Drumeltan, moored at the wharf cheered us. Two or three large mills, with a cluster of white houses about, composed the township; a large raft-like ferry which carried the 'Frisco mail trains bodily across the river contributed to its importance, but there was nothing else about the place to excite the remark of even an idle 'prentice boy.
A little way up-stream was a town, indeed; a town of happy memories. Benicia, with its vineyards and fruit gardens, and the low, old houses, alone perhaps in all California to tell of Spain's dominion. A town of hearty, hospitable folk, unaffected by the hustle of larger cities; a people of peace and patience, the patience of tillers of the vine.
Off Martinez, where the river is wide, we canted ship, and worked back to Port Costa against the tide. We made fast at the ballast wharf, and our borrowed crew, having completed their job, laid aft to receive the Captain's blessing, and a silver dollar to put in their pockets. Then they boarded the tug, and were soon on their way back to 'Frisco.
When Jones came from the wheel, he had great tales to tell of the attentions the ladies had paid him. He plainly wished us to understand that he'd made an impression, but we knew that was not the way of it, for Old Niven had told Eccles that the pretty one was engaged to be married to the ship's butcher, down in 'Frisco, a fairy Dutchman of about fifteen stone six.
In a Sunday morning, while Benicia's bells were chiming for early Mass, we cast off from the wharf at Port Costa and towed down Sacramento. Though loaded and in sea trim, we were still short of a proper crew, so we brought up in 'Frisco Bay to complete our complement.
Days passed and the boarding-masters could give us no more than two 'rancheros' (who had once seen the sea from Sonoma Heights), and a young coloured man, a sort of a seaman, who had just been discharged from Oakland Jail. The Old Man paid daily visits to the Consul, who could do nothing—there were no men. He went to the boarding-houses, and had to put up with coarse familiarity, to drink beer with the scum of all nations, to clap scoundrels on the back and tell them what sly dogs they were. It was all of no use. The 'crimps' were crippled—there were no men.
"Wa-al, Cap.," Daly would say to the Old Man's complaint, "what kin we dew? I guess we kyan't make men, same's yewr bo'sin 'ud make spunyarn.... Ain't bin a darned soul in this haouse fer weeks as cud tell a clew from a crojeck. Th' ships is hangin' on ter ther men like ole blue! Captens is a-given' em chickens an' soft-tack, be gosh, an' dollars fer 'a drunk' on Sundays.... When they turns 'em to, it's, 'Naow, lads, me boys! When yew'r ready, me sons!' ... A month a-gone it was, 'Out, ye swine! Turn aout, damn ye, an' get a move on!' ... Ah, times is bad, Cap.; times is damn bad! I ain't fingered an advance note since th' Dharwar sailed—a fortnight ago! Hard times, I guess, an' we kyan't club 'em aboard, same's we use ter!"
A hopeless quest, indeed, looking for sailormen ashore; but ships were expected, and when the wind was in the West the Old Man would be up on deck at daybreak, peering out towards the Golden Gate, longing for the glad sight of an inward bounder, that would bring the sorely needed sailors in from the sea.
A week passed, a week of fine weather, with two days of a rattling nor'west wind that would have sent us on our way, free of the land, with a smother of foam under the bows. All lost to us, for no ships came in, and we lay at anchor, swinging ebb and flood—a useless hull and fabric, without a crew to spread the canvas and swing the great yards!
Every morning the Mate would put the windlass in gear and set everything in readiness for breaking out the anchor; but when we saw no tug putting off, and no harbour cat-boats tacking out from the shore with sailors' bags piled in the bows, he would undo the morning's work and put us to 'stand-by' jobs on the rigging. There were other loaded ships in as bad a plight as we. The Drumeltan was eight hands short of her crew of twenty-six, and the Captain of the Peleus was considering the risk of setting off for the Horn, short-handed by three. Sailors' wages were up to thirty and thirty-five dollars a month, and at that (nearly the wage of a Chief Mate of a 'limejuicer') there were no proper able seamen coming forward. Even the 'hobos' and ne'er-do-weels, who usually flock at 'Frisco on the chance of getting a ship's passage out of the country, seemed to be lying low.
One evening the ship Blackadder came in from sea. She was from the Colonies; had made a long passage, and was spoken of as an extra 'hungry' ship—and her crew were in a proper spirit of discontent. She anchored near us, and the Old Man gazed longingly at the fine stout colonials who manned her. He watched the cat-boats putting off from the shore, and smiled at the futile attempts of the ship's Captain and Mates to keep the 'crimps' from boarding. If one was checked at the gangway, two clambered aboard by the head, and the game went merrily on.
"Where's she from, Mister?" said the Old Man to the Mate who stood with him. "Did ye hear?"
"Newcastle, New South Wales, I heard," said Mr. Hollins. "Sixty-five days out, the butcher said; him that came off with the stores this morning."
"Sixty-five, eh! Thirty o' that for a 'dead horse,' an' there'll be about six pound due the men; a matter o' four or five pound wi' slop chest an' that! They'll not stop, Mister, damn the one o' them' ... Ah, there they go; there they go!" Sailors' bags were being loaded into the cat-boats. It was the case of:
The grub was bad, an' th' wages low, An' it's time—for us—t' leave 'r!
"Good business for us, anyway," said the Old Man, and told the Mate to get his windlass ready for 'heaving up' in the morning.
Alas! he left the other eager shipmasters out of his count. The Captain of the Drumeltan raised the 'blood-money' to an unheard-of sum, and two days later towed out to sea, though the wind was W.S.W. beyond the Straits—a 'dead muzzler'!
A big American ship—the J. B. Flint—was one of the fleet of 'waiters.' She was for China. 'Bully' Nathan was Captain of her (a man who would have made the starkest of pirates, if he had lived in pirate times), and many stories of his and his Mates' brutality were current at the Front. No seaman would sign in the Flint if he had the choice; but the choice lay with the boarding-master when 'Bully' Nathan put up the price.
"Give me gravediggers or organ-grinders, boys, if ye kyan't get sailormen," he was reported to have said. "Anything with two hands an' feet. I guess I'm Jan—K.—Nathan, and they'll be sailormen or 'stiffs' before we reach aout!" No one knew where she got a crew, but while the Britishers were awaiting semi-lawful service, Jan K. slipped out through the night, getting the boarding-house runners to set sail for him before they left the Flint with her crew of drugged longshoremen. At the end of the week we got three more men. Granger, a Liverpool man, who had been working in the Union Ironworks, and, "sick o' th' beach," as he put it, wanted to get back to sea again. Pat Hogan, a merry-faced Irishman, who signed as cook (much to the joy of Houston, who had been the 'food spoiler' since McEwan cleared). The third was a lad, Cutler, a runaway apprentice, who had been working ashore since his ship had sailed. It was said that he had been 'conducting' a tramcar to his own immediate profit and was anxious. We were still six hands short, but, on the morning after a Yankee clipper came in from New York, we towed out—with three prostrate figures lying huddled among the raffle in the fo'cas'le.
* * * * *
We raised the anchor about midnight and dawn found us creeping through the Golden Gate in the wake of a panting tug. There was nothing to see, for the morning mist was over the Straits, and we had no parting view of the harbour. The siren on Benita Point roared a raucous warning as we felt our way past the Head; and that, for us, was the last of the land.
When we reached the schooner and discharged our Pilot, it was still a 'clock calm,' and there was nothing for it but to tow for an offing, while we put the canvas on her in readiness for a breeze.
At setting sail we were hard wrought, for we were still three hands short of our complement, and the three in the fo'cas'le were beyond hope by reason of drug and drink. The blocks and gear were stiff after the long spell in harbour. Some of the new men were poor stuff. The Mexican 'rancheros' were the worst; one was already sea-sick, and the other had a look of despair. They followed the 'crowd' about and made some show of pulling on the tail of the halyards, but they were very green, and it was easy to work off an old sailor's trick on them—'lighting up the slack' of the rope, thus landing them on the broad of their backs when they pulled—at nothing! We should have had pity for them, for they never even pretended to be seamen; but we were shorthanded in a heavy ship, and the more our arms ached, the louder grew our curses at their clumsy 'sodgerin'.'
One of the three in the fo'cas'le 'came to' and staggered out on deck to see where he was. As he gazed about, dazed and bewildered, the Mate, seeing him, shouted.
"Here, you! What's yer name?"
The man passed his hand over his eyes and said, "Hans."
"Well, Hans, you git along to the tops'l halyards; damn smart's th' word!"
With hands to his aching head, the man staggered drunkenly. Everything was confusion to him. Where was he? What ship? What voyage? The last he remembered would be setting the tune to a Dago fiddler in a gaudy saloon, with lashings of drink to keep his feet a-tripping. Now all was mixed and hazy, but in the mist one thing stood definite, a seamanlike order: "Top'sl halyards! Damn smart!" Hans laid aft and tallied on with the crowd.
Here was a man who had been outrageously used. Drugged—robbed—'shanghai-ed'! His head splitting with the foul drink, knowing nothing and no one; but he had heard a seamanlike order, so he hauled on the rope, and only muttered something about his last ship having a crab-winch for the topsail halyards!
About noon we cast off the tug, but there was yet no wind to fill our canvas, and we lay as she had left us long after her smoke had vanished from the misty horizon.
At one we were sent below for our first sea-meal. Over our beef and potatoes we discussed our new shipmates and agreed that they were a weedy lot for a long voyage. In this our view was held by the better men in the fo'cas'le and, after dinner, the crew came aft in a body, headed by Old Martin, who said "as 'ow they wanted t' speak t' th' Captin!"
The Old Man was evidently prepared for a 'growl' from forward, and took a conciliatory stand.
"Well, men? What's the trouble? What have you to say?" he said.
Old Martin took the lead with assurance. "I speaks for all 'ans, Captin," he said.... "An' we says as 'ow this 'ere barque is short-'anded; we says as 'ow there's three empty bunks in th' fo'cas'le; an' two of th' 'ans wot's shipped ain't never bin aloft afore. We says as 'ow—with all doo respeck, Captin—we wants yer t' put back t' port for a crew wot can take th' bloomin' packet round the 'Orn, Sir!"
Martin stepped back, having fired his shot, and he carefully arranged a position among his mates, so that he was neither in front of the 'men' or behind, where Houston and the cook and the 'rancheros' stood.
The Old Man leaned over the poop-rail and looked at the men collectively, with great admiration. He singled out no man for particular regard, but just admired them all, as one looks at soldiers on parade. He moved across the poop to see them at a side angle; the hands became hotly uncomfortable.
"What's this I hear, men? What's this I hear?"
("As fine a crowd o' men as ever I shipped, Mister," a very audible aside to the Mate.) "What's this I hear? D'ye mean t' tell me that ye're afraid t' be homeward bound in a well-found ship, just because we're three hands short of a big 'crowd'?"
"Wot 'bout them wot ain't never been aloft afore," muttered Martin, though in a somewhat subdued voice.
"What about them?" said the Old Man. "What about them? Why, a month in fo'cas'le alongside such fine seamen as I see before me" (here he singled out Welsh John and some of the old hands for a pleasant smile), "alongside men that know their work." (Welsh John and the others straightened themselves up and looked away to the horizon, as if the outcome of the affair were a matter of utter indifference to them.) "D'ye tell me a month alongside men that have sailed with me before won't make sailors of them, eh? Tchutt, I know different.... Sailors they'll be before we reach the Horn." (Here one of the potential 'sailors' ran to the ship's side, intent on an affair of his own.)
The men turned to one another, sheepish.
"Ye know well enough we can't get men, even if we did put back to port," continued the Old Man. "They're no' t' be had! Ye'll have to do yer best, and I'll see" (a sly wink to the Mate) "that ye ain't put on. Steward!"
He gave an order that brought a grin of expectation to the faces of all ''ans,' and the affair ended.
A wily one was our Old Jock!
The Mate was indignant at so much talk.... "A 'clip' under the ear for that Martin," he said, "would have settled it without all that palaver"; and then he went on to tell the Old Man what happened when he was in the New Bedford whalers.
"Aye, aye, man! Aye, aye," said Old Jock, "I know the Yankee game, Mister—blood an' thunder an' belayin' pins an' six-ounce knuckle-dusters! Gun play, too, an' all the rest of it. I know that game, Mister, and it doesn't come off on my ship—no' till a' else has been tried."
He took a turn or two up and down the poop, whistling for a breeze. Out in the nor'-west the haze was lifting, and a faint grey line of ruffled water showed beyond the glassy surface of our encircling calm.
"Stan' by t' check th' yards, Mister," he shouted, rubbing his hands.... "Phe ... w! Phe ... w! Phe ... w! encouraging."
A TRICK AT THE WHEEL
"Keep 'r full an' by!"
"Full 'n by!"
Houston, relieved from the wheel, reports to the Mate and goes forward, and I am left to stand my trick.
We are in the south-east trades; a gentle breeze, and all sail set. Aloft, the ghostly canvas stands out against a star-studded sky, and the masthead trucks sway in a stately circle as we heave on the light swell. She is steering easily, asking nothing but a spoke or two when a fluttering tremor on the weather leach of the royals shows that she is nearing the wind. The light in the binnacle is dim and spluttering, the glass smoke-blackened, and one can but see the points on the compass card. South sou'-west, she heads, swinging a little west at times, but making a good course. Eccles, who should see to the lights, is stretched out on the wheel-box grating, resuming the thread of his slumbers; a muttered "'ware!" will bring him to his feet when the Mate comes round; meantime, there are stars ahead to steer by, and the binnacle-lamp may wait.
South of the Line, at four in the morning, is a fine time to see the stars, if one be but properly awake. Overhead, Orion has reached his height, and is now striding towards the western horizon. The Dog-star is high over the mizzen truck, and Canopus, clear of the weather backstays, is a friend to a drowsy helmsman. The Southern Cross is clearing the sea-line, and above it many-eyed Argus keeps watch over the Pole. Old friends, all of them, companions of many a night watch on leagues of lonely sea. A glow to the eastward marks where the dawn will break, and the fleecy trade-clouds about the horizon are already assuming shape and colour. There the stars are paling, but a planet, Jupiter, perhaps, stands out in brilliance on the fast lightening sky.
Forward one bell is struck, and the look-out chants a long-drawn, "Aw—ll's well!"
The Mate, who until now has been leaning lazily over the poop rail, comes aft, yawning whole-heartedly, as men do at sea. He peers into the dimly-lighted binnacle, turns his gaze to the sail aloft, sniffs the wind, and fixes me with a stern though drowsy eye.
"H-mm! You, is it?" (I have but a modest reputation as a steersman.) "Jest you keep 'r full now, or I'll teach ye steerin' in your watch below. Keep 'r full, an' no damned shinnanikin!" He goes forward.
'Shinnanikin' is a sailor word; it means anything at all; it may be made an adjective or a verb, or almost any part of speech, to serve a purpose or express a thought. Here it meant that there was to be no fooling at the helm, that she was to be steered as by Gunter himself. "Full an' by," was the word. "Full an' by, an' no damned shinnanikin!" Right!
The light grows, and the towering mass of canvas and cordage shows faint shadows here and there. The chickens in the quarter coops stir and cackle; a cock crows valiantly. Eccles, sleeping his watch on the lee side of the poop, stirs uneasily, finds a need for movement, and tramps irresolutely up and down his appointed station. From somewhere out of sight the Mate shouts an order, and he goes forward to take in the sidelights; dim and sickly they shine as he lifts them inboard.
There is now some sign of life about the decks. A keen smell of burning wood and a glare from the galley show that the cook has taken up the day's duties. Some men of the watch are already gathered about the door waiting for their morning coffee, and the 'idlers' (as the word is at sea), the steward, carpenter, and sailmaker, in various states of attire, are getting ready for their work.
Two bells marks five o'clock, and the crowd about the galley door grows impatient. The cook has a difficulty with his fire, and is behind time.
"Come on, 'doctor'!" shouts Old Martin; "get a move on yer! Them tawps'l 'alyards is screechin' fer a pull, an' th' Mate's got 'is heagle heye on that 'ere fore-tack. 'E'll be a-floggin' th' clock afore ye knows it!"
The Mate hears this, as Martin intended he should, and scowls darkly at that ancient mariner. Martin will have his 'old iron' worked up for that before the watch is out. He's a hard case. Coffee is served out, and the crowd disperses. It is now broad daylight, and the sun is on the horizon. The east is a-fire with his radiance; purest gold there changing to saffron and rose overhead; and in the west, where fading stars show, copper-hued clouds are working down to the horizon in track of the night. Our dingy sails are cut out in seemly curves and glowing colours against the deep of the sky; red-gold where the light strikes, and deepest violet in the shadows. Blue smoke from the galley funnel is wafted aft by the draught from the sails, and gives a kindly scent to the air; there is no smell like that of wood fires in the pride of the morning. This is a time to be awake and alive; a morning to be at the wheel of a leaning ship.
Presently I am relieved for a few minutes that I may have my coffee. Being the last man, I get a bo'sun's share of the grounds. To my protests the cook gives scant heed.
"Ach, sure! Phwat are yez growlin' at? Sure, if ye'd been in my last ship, yez wouldn't have none at all! Devil the coffee would yez get till eight bells ov a marnin', an' tay at thatt, bedad!"
The 'doctor,' being Irish, is beyond argument, so I take my pannikin along to our quarters to sift the grounds as best I can. There is naught but dry ship's biscuit to put down with it, for it is well on in the week—Thursday, indeed—and only Hansen among us can make his week's rations last out beyond that; he was bred in the north. The half-deck is in its usual hopeless disorder—stuffy and close and dismal in the shuttered half-light. Four small ports give little air, and sea clothes hanging everywhere crowd up the space. The beams, blackened by tobacco smoke, are hacked and carved, covered by the initials and remarks of bygone apprentices. Only the after one is kept clear; there the Board of Trade inscription (slightly altered by some inspiring genius), reads, "Certified to suffocate eight seamen." A dismal hole on a bright morning! Happily, one has not far to go for a breath of keen air. Ten minutes is my time, and I am back at the wheel again.
The Mate is seated on the cabin skylight, smoking. This is his time to consider the trim of the sails. It is no matter that the evening before the gear was sweated up to the tautest of sailing trim; the wind is unchanged, but morning shows wrinkles in the clew of the royals or a sag in the foot of a topsail. Ropes give mysteriously, and this must all be righted before the Old Man comes on deck. So he smokes leisurely and considers the trim.
The day's work begins at half-past five. The Mate strikes three bells himself, exact, on the tick of the minute, and goes forward to turn the men to.
"Fore tack," as Martin said, is the first order. The Mate signs to me to luff her up, and when the sail shakes the tack is hove hard down. Then sheets and halyards are sweated up, ropes coiled, and a boy sent aloft to stop up the gear. At the main they have the usual morning wrestle with the weather topsail sheet—a clew that never did fit. Macallison's loft must have been at sixes and sevens the day they turned that sail out; a Monday after Glasgow Fair, belike. When the trim is right, wash deck begins. A bucket and spar is rigged, and the clear sparkling water is drawn from overside. This is the fine job of the morning watch in summer seas. The sound of cool sluicing water and the swish of scrubbing brooms is an invitation that no one can resist. There is something in it that calls for bare feet and trousers rolled above the knee. There is grace in the steady throwing of the water—the brimming bucket poised for the throw, left foot cocked a few inches above the deck, the balance, and the sweeping half-circle with the limpid water pouring strongly and evenly over the planking; then the recovery, and the quick half-turn to pass the empty bucket and receive a full—a figure for a stately dance!
Now it is six, and I strike four bells. Martin has the next trick, but I see no signs of my relief. The Mate will have him at some lowly 'work-up' job, cleaning pig-pens or something like that, for his hint about flogging the clock in the morning. The cranky old 'shellback' is always 'asking for it.'
In the waist a row begins, a bicker between the sailmaker and bo'sun. Old Dutchy is laying it off because someone has spilt water on the main-hatch, where a sail is spread out, ready for his work. In course, the bo'sun has called him a 'squarehead,' and 'Sails,' a decent old Swede, is justly indignant at the insult; only Germans are squareheads, be it known. "Skvarehedd! Jou calls me skvarehedd! Ah vass no more skvarehedd as jou vass," he says, excited. "Jou tinks d' sheep vass jours, mit jour vash-backet und deck-scrub. Dere vass no places for d' sailmake, aindt it? Skvarehedd! Skvarehedd jourselluf, dam Cockney loafer!" There are the makings of a tidy row, but the Mate, coming from forrard, cuts it short.
"Now, then, you men there, quit yer chinning an' get on with the work!"
'Sails' tries to explain his grievance, but meets with little sympathy.
"Squarehead? Well, what the hell's th' odds, anyhow? If ye ain't a squarehead, ye'r as near it 's can be!"
This is rough on old 'Sails,' whose proud boast is that he has been "for thirty jahrs sailmake mit British sheeps in!" He goes sorrowfully to his work, and bends over his seam with many shakings of the head. "Skvarehedd!"
Time is drawing on, and I am getting tired of my long trick, when I see Martin coming round the deck-house. He has donned the familiar old red flannel shirt that he stands his wheel in, and, bareheaded as he always is at sea, he looks a typical old salt, a Western Ocean warrior. He mounts the lee ladder, crosses to windward in the fashion of the sea, and stands behind me. Here, I thought, is a rare chance to get at Martin. I give him the Mate's last steering order as I got it.
"Full an' by," I said, concealing a foolish grin; "full an' by, and no damned shinnanikin!" Martin looked at me curiously. "No shinnanikin," was a new order to a man who could steer blindfold, by the wind on his cheek; to a man who had steered great ships for perhaps half a century. On the other hand, orders were orders, meant to be repeated as they were given, seamanlike.
Martin squared himself, put a fresh piece of tobacco in position, and gripped the spokes. "Full 'n' by," he said, lifting his keen old eyes to the weather clews of the royals, "full 'n' by, 'n' no damned shinnanikin, it is!"
"She'll be one o' them 'oly Joes; them wot cruises among th' Islands wi' tracks an' picter books for th' bloomin' 'eathens!"
"'O—ly Joes! 'Oly Joes b' damn," said Martin. "'Oly Joes is schooners same's mission boats on th' Gran' Banks! ... 'Oly Joes! She's a starvation Britisher, that's wot she is; a pound an' pint ruddy limejuicer by th' set o' them trucks; sailor's misery in them painted bloomin' ports o' her."
The subject of discussion was a full-rigged ship, standing upright in mid-Pacific, with all her canvas furled; looking as she might be in Queenstown Harbour awaiting orders. The south-east trades had blown us out of the tropics, and we held a variable wind, but there was nothing in the clean, fresh morning to cause even a Killala pilot to clew up, and the strange sight of an idle ship in a working breeze soon drew all hands from work and slumber, to peer over the head rail, to vent deep-sea logic over such an odd happening.
One of the younger hands had expressed an opinion, and Martin, who held that "boys an' Dutchmen should only speak when spoke to," was scornfully indignant.
"'O—ly bloomin' Joe! ... 'Ow should she be an 'oly Joe, me young 'know-all'? Wot d'ye know 'bout 'oly Joes, anyway?"
"Well! ... 'eard as 'ow they clews up at eight bells o' a Saturd'y night an' prays, solid on, till they sets tawps'ls, jack-easy, ov a Monday mornin'!"
The laugh of derision sent him shamefaced to the fo'cas'le, and we talked about till there was a call for all hands to haul courses up and stand by to work ship. We hauled sharp up to windward, and, as we drew on, we saw what was the matter, and the sight caused our Old Man to dive below to his charts, cursing his wayward chronometer.
We saw the loom of a low island, scarce raised above the sea, with the surf breaking lightly, and the big ship piled up, all standing, on the verge of the weather reef. She looked to be but lately gone on, for her topsides were scarce weather-beaten. The boats were gone from her skids, and the davit tackles, swinging lubberly overside, told that her crew had left her. Aloft, she seemed to be in good trim, and her sails were as well stowed as if she were lying in the Canning Dock with her nose against the Custom House. We lay-to for some time with our ensign apeak, but saw no sign of life aboard of the wreck, and when we fired a charge from our signal-gun (a rusty six-pounder), only a few sea-birds rose at the report. We were about to bear off on our course again when we saw two sail rounding the reef from the west side, and beating out.