She Blows! And Sparm at That!
She Blows! And Sparm at That!by William John Hopkins
AND SPARM AT THAT!
WILLIAM JOHN HOPKINS
Author of “The Clammer,” “Old Harbor,”“Burbury Stoke,” etc.
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
CAMBRIDGE · MASSACHUSETTS
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.
I wish to acknowledge my indebtednessto Mr. Clifford W. Ashley for his kindness in reading theproof of this book and in making various corrections andsuggestions.
W. J. H.
I am nearing the evening of life. Manypeople think of me, I know, as a man who has attained toas much as one can reasonably hope for in this life—ifthey think of me at all. It is not so much, after all.The things I have aimed for and missed seem, at times,much more important than those I have had. But I put thisthought by. Youth expects a good deal; and when one isyoung—and for a long time after; indeed, until a man isold—he finds hope at the bottom of the cup, enough of it todrown the taste of the bitter draught he has taken. I haveevolved the theory that a man is old only when, the cupdrained, there is no hope left in it. Thank God, I have notyet reached that point.
But I am inclined to reminiscence, and it scares mesomewhat, for proneness to reminiscence is a symptom ofage. I know that well, and garrulity is its sister. I am goingto give my inclination to reminiscence play in writingof an experience of my youth. It may help to prevent mefrom boring my friends, and if you find this narrative becomingtedious, nothing is easier than to put the bookdown.
I was born in New Bedford, on Mill Street, in 1857.My father was Timothy Taycox, a ship carpenter, and agood one; a great whacking man, with a pleasant face andthe neck of a bull. My mother was—well,she was my mother. I remember her always as kind andloving, and, indeed, so was my father; but my mother—well,I cannot seem to get beyond that—she was my mother. I musthave tried her greatly and often, but she never failedme, and I worshipped her, so far as it is in a boy whois healthy and strong and a roamer by nature. I had twobrothers, one older and one younger than myself. I mightmake a history of my relations with my brothers, especiallythe older, who used to pick upon me shamefully as longas I was unable to hold my own, but that is none of mypurpose.
My first school was on North Street. My recollectionsof that school are vivid, and interesting—to me; but Isuppose the school was not unlike other schools of its sizeand character. It was a small school, with about twenty-fivescholars. The afternoon session was over at fouro’clock, and then I set my face to the wharves, as theneedle to the pole, except in the shortest days of winter.It was often warm for long periods during the winter.Two or three of us, kindred spirits, went together, sometimesrunning all the way, sometimes merely wandering,but always bringing up at about the same place. Thatwas generally at the foot of Hamilton Street. HamiltonStreet is a little street not much more than a hundred feetlong, offset from the foot of William Street. It leadsdown very steeply from Water Street to a wharf, andits very name brings up before my mind a picture of apair of heavy horses breasting the hill vigorously, dragginga low truck loaded with barrels of oil, and stirringup with their feet the powdery black dust of the street.
These low trucks were very generally used in NewBedford. The body was hung below the axles, and clearedthe ground by perhaps eight inches. They had no sides,and the barrels of oil were rolled up on them and stoodon end, and with the continual shaking and rattlingabout they wore deep grooves into the flooring of thetruck. It was a new truck which was not grooved in ringsfore and aft of the great beam which servedfor an axle.
The basements of the buildings on that steep hill wereshipping offices, or the offices of oil merchants, or theagents of ships. Indeed, you could hardly go into an officefrom Water Street to the water-front without seeing sea-chestsstacked along the walls, with the name of someship painted on the front of each chest. Not all of theoffices of owners or agents of whalers were within thisarea, but they were not far from it. Wing’s outfittingstore, where I suppose all the business connected withtheir ships was done, was on Union Street, about a blockabove Water.
At that time and for some years after there was norailroad along the water-front, and nothing to impede thelong line of trucks and small boys wending to and fro.About where the railroad is now there was usually a rowof oil barrels on their sides, looking fresh and black andgreasy. Gaugers were apt to be busy about them. Andjust beyond, on the throat of the wharf, were two structureslike pens, enclosures fenced in with old ships’sheathing which showed plainly the nail holes, the whiteefflorescence and the greenish stain which proclaimed thefact that they had sailed thousands of miles of salt oceanwith the copper next them. These pens were on eitherside of the entrance to the wharf, and between them wasa lane, deep in powdery black dust, and just about wideenough for a truck. Over the tops of the fences of sheathingcould be seen seaweed bleached white with age, andflourishing green land weeds, nodding and waving in thewind. Under the seaweed, I was told, were barrels of oilwhich their owner had packed away there some years before.He was waiting for a rise in price. The barrels maybe there yet, but if they are they must be nearly empty.The oil will have leaked out.
I describe these things, naturally enough, as the pictureof them forms in my mind; and that is as they appearedin the summer. For I just aboutlived along the wharves and on the water during the summers. I remembervery clearly the five old hulks which lay in the dockat the foot of Union Street. One of them was the barkPhenix. I cannot now recall the names of the others. Allof them were stripped of everything down to their masts.Not a yard nor a topmast was left, nor anything removablewithout breaking them up. As I recall their condition,even the copper was gone from their sides, as far asI could see. They looked battered but mighty, and theyfilled me with sadness. I never ventured on board of them,but I examined them minutely and repeatedly from thewharves on either side, and I knew every patch and stain.I have sat by the hour atop of a pile to which hawserswere made fast, and I have sailed in imagination throughstorm and through sunny seas in those old ships, andhave had all kinds of hair-raising adventures.
It was a rare occasion when any one of the wharves—atany rate the three or four wharves from Union Streetnorth—had no ships lying beside it. There were usuallytwo or three beside each wharf, and sometimes more; dischargingor fitting or being repaired. My father was alwaysat work upon some ship, on a staging in the dockalongside. I never tired of watching him at work, andwould sit for hours on the stringpiece just above him oron the wharf opposite, while he removed from the side orthe bottom of the vessel “hove-down” ribs which hadbegun to rot, and put others in their places; or renewedthe planking on the bottom.
“Heaving down” for repairs was a common occurrence.A tackle was fastened to the mast and to a specialheaving-pile on the wharf. There were several of theseheaving-piles on each wharf, each firmly anchored bygreat masses of rock. I have seen scores of ships hauleddown. The sails were always unbent—stripped—fromthe yards almost the first thing after a ship came in, butthe yards were often in place on a vesselwhen she was hove down. They were braced well around, of course, orshe could not have been hove over very far before hermain yard would touch the wharf. Then they heaved onthe tackle, and the vessel was heaved over upon her bilge,exposing the bottom on one side. I have often seen a vessel’skeel entirely exposed in this way. The exposed sideof the bottom was as easily got at in this position as if shehad been in dry dock; perhaps rather more easily. Thecarpenters worked from float stages alongside, and theship was let up little by little as they worked up from thekeel. First the copper was ripped off, then the sheathing,and then the planking, and then the ribs taken out, ifany of them needed to be replaced. I have seen the barebones of many a ship exposed in this way, and it wouldbe possible to rebuild a ship completely, first one side andthen the other, without taking her out of the water. Ihave no doubt that it has been done.
As long as I was pretty small I was fairly well contentedto sit on the stringpiece, with the sun on my back,and watch my father; or to sit on one of the low, smooth,round-butted mooring-piles—always called “spiles” inNew Bedford—and gaze out over the harbor. It wasa beautiful harbor. It is a beautiful harbor now; butthere seems to me to be something lacking, and less ofthat atmosphere of peace and serenity which I loved. Althoughthere are still a few of the old square-riggersleft there are many days and weeks together when notone of them is at the wharves, and I have not seen a vesselhove down in many years. It is no longer to be expectedthat, as one turns into Hamilton Street, therewill appear the once familiar tracery of masts and yardshanging like a net before his eyes; not a forest of masts,perhaps, but enough of them to warm his heart. Some ofthe yards had sails hanging from them and flappinggently in the breeze, and on some the sails were neatlyfurled, but most of them were bare.A jobbing wagon would be driven upon the wharf in a whirl of the blackdust, and would discharge its load of sailors, many ofthem natives of one of the Western Islands, or of Brava,some very black, as I recall them, with great hoops of thingold in their ears; and their dunnage, some of it in sea-chests,but much done up in shapeless bundles in a gaycolored cloth or in a sheet. They were fine, upstandingmen, talking and laughing among themselves, and thefamiliar way in which they handled the lances and harpoonsand the other boat-gear excited my envy. They hadcome from the home of such gentry in South Water Street,a part of the town known as Fayal. Fayal—the SouthWater Street Fayal—had an unsavory reputation.
These men and the white sailors who came with themwere bound for the vessel with sails on her yards, forshe was about ready to set out on a voyage of two orthree or four years. In those days voyages averaged betweenthree and four years in length. There was alwaysgreat confusion, as it seemed to me: piles of boxes andbarrels and casks, a mate or two shouting orders, sweatingmen getting the things aboard, some lengths of chaincable, coils of new rope which creaked as they werehandled, and innumerable