Harper's Round Table, June 9, 1896
Copyright, 1896, by Harper & Brothers. All Rights Reserved.
|published weekly.||NEW YORK, TUESDAY, JUNE 9, 1896.||five cents a copy.|
|vol. xvii.—no. 867.||two dollars a year.|
ONE OF THE OLD SAILOR'S YARNS.
BY W. J. HENDERSON,
Author of "Sea-Yarns for Boys," "Afloat with the Flag," etc.
It was a morning of yellow fog. The whole world appeared a sheet ofshifting, silent ochre. Up beyond the bluff the sallow outlines of thehouses faded upward into sinuous curves of restless mist. The sands ofthe beach looked like a reflection of the fog that wrapped the sea inits curtain of gold. The old pier jutted out an uncertain brown linewith sparkles of silver along its wet columns, like the flashes of bigguns seen through their own smoke. The swells loomed suddenly out of theyellow curtain with a quick flash of light along their crests, a curvingof brown shadows in their hollows, and then a plunge into hissing fieldsof mellow foam. It was one of those blinding mornings of dead gold, whenthe fog hangs low over the earth, and the brilliant sun, shining in aclear sky above, forces its intolerable glory downward through the mist.The human eye is helpless on such a day, and seeks vainly for a moment'srelief among the sombre shadows in the crannies of the ground. It wasjust the sort of a day to tempt the Old Sailor to sit on the end of thepier and try to look through the fog. So Henry and George walked down tothe old meeting-place, and there they found him gazing into the waterwith a meditative countenance. As usual, he did not look up when heheard their footsteps, but broke into one of his silent laughs. Theboys, without saying a word, sat down beside him, and presently heexclaimed:
"W'ich the same you is great navigators. 'Cos w'y, ye can steer straightfur this 'ere pier in thick weather without no obserwations wotsomever,relyin' on dead reckonin' an' general sagaciousness."
The boys held their peace; and presently their friend spoke again:
"But that are not so easy fur to do at sea. Leastways ef it was, Cap'nPhilander Montgomery Boggs, of the Al Kamakh an' Kangaroo liner QueenO' Spades, wouldn't 'a' made Wakaufoo w'en he were a-steerin' fur AlKamakh, w'ich the same are on the west coast o' Hindoostan, as any onecan tell wot are bin there, an' this 'ere old sailor are him."
"Won't you please to tell us about that?" asked George.
"Wot d'ye s'pose I are a-doin'? Singin'?"
George looked so humble at this rebuke that the Old Sailor burst intoanother of his hearty, silent laughs, vainly tried to see through thefog once again, and then exclaimed:
"Pickle me in a tin box full o' oil fur a bloomin' sardine ef this hereain't the werry identical kind o' day wot it happened on. I were inCalcutter, w'ich the same it ain't no sort o' place at all. I landedthere from a consid'able v'yage, an' had five hundred dollars a-comin'to me, an' I got 'em, too. So I laid out to have a good time inCalcutter. I staid there a month, an' at the end o' that interestin'period I didn't have nothin' left o' my five hundred 'cept a linenduster an' a black eye."
"Why, how was that?" exclaimed Henry.
"My son," said the Old Sailor, solemnly, "that 'ain't got nothin' to dowith this 'ere yarn wot I'm a-tellin' of. An' also it ain't perlite furto try fur to switch gentlemen off the course. Now where were I?"
"In Calcutta, sir," said George, with grave respect.
"An' not so werry good, too. Bein' as how I were on my beam ends, I madeshift to see as how I could git afloat ag'in. So I walked down to thedocks. Down in the big dry dock I see the Queen o' Spades jess readyto git out. I axed a few questions, an' I larned that she'd beenundergoin' repairs an' were to sail fur Al Kamakh the next day, with ascratch crew. I'd bin in Al Kamakh oncet, an' I thort as how, not bein'a werry pertikler pusson, I'd jess as lief go there ag'in. So I wentaboard the Queen o' Spades an' interjooced myself to Cap'n PhilanderMontgomery Boggs. An' he sez to me, sez he, 'Ye jess come right. Mysecond mate he went ashore yistiddy, an' he never come back, an' now hecan't come back nohow; an' you can have his berth ef you want it.' An'me wantin' putty much anythin', havin' nothin' to speak on 'ceptin' thelinen duster an' the black eye aforesaid, I took that berth.
"The next day we got under way. The reg'lar run o' the Queen o' Spadeswere from Al Kamakh to Kangaroo, Australey, an' she'd bin a-repairin' atCalcutter 'cos there weren't no dock big 'nuff to hold her atwixt thatan' London. She were called the Queen o' Spades 'cos she dug so manyholes in the bottom o' Al Kamakh Bay a-goin' in an' out, she drawin'twenty-seven feet of water, an' the bay havin' only twenty-nine feet inthe channel, an' it weren't much o' a channel at that. Fact is, the AlKamakh an' Kangaroo line, owin' to the permisc'ousness o' their steamersabout hittin' ground, were gin'rally knowed as the Overland Route.Howsumever that 'ain't got nothin' to do with this 'ere yarn wot I'ma-tellin' yer. Waal, we 'ain't got no such steamers here as them. W'y,the Queen o' Spades are six hundred and fifty feet long, an' are gotfour smoke-stacks, each one hundred feet high, an' big enough around furto march a company o' soldiers through in full front. An' they don'tcarry only one mast jess fur signalling an' they make twenty-two knotsan hour all the time, 'ceptin' goin' to harbors, w'en they sometimesdon't make no knots at all; 'cos w'y, they're aground. An' the cabins isall full o' gold an' diamond fancy-work an' stained glass winders tillye'd think ye was in a palace. They has to have 'em like that 'cos themost passengers is Indian princes an' rajahs an' bunnias an' jampanisan' khitmatgars an' things goin' down to Australey to drink the watersfor jungle fever; an' them fellers all has to have a floating palace, orelse they go home an' start a new war with England, an' so Tommy Atkinshas to git killed some more.
"Waal, we didn't have no heaven-borns aboard w'en we steamed out o'Calcutter, 'cos the ship'd bin a-repairin', an' were goin' back to AlKamakh under a short crew—jess 'nuff to work her around—an' she wereto git her reg'lar people w'en she got there. But she were allpurwisioned, 'cos she were to sail right off from Al Kamakh. So wehustled her right out to sea an' turned her up to putty nigh twentyknots right off. Cap'n Philander Montgomery Boggs, sez he to me, sez he,'We are a-goin' to make a werry fine passidge.' An' him bein' Cap'n o'the ship an' me second mate, I didn't say nothin', but I were puttypertickler sure that either him or the clouds in the nor'west wasmistook. It turned out as how it were him. I've noticed that itgin'rally are that way. Clouds is seldom mistook. They gin'rally knowsw'ether they be goin' fur to rain or blow, while sailor-men sometimes isout o' their course on that p'int.
"Waal, we hadn't bin to sea more'n a day w'en it come on to blow fromthe nor'west. I dun'no' but I've told ye that I bin to sea a good manyyears. Anyhow, I never seed it blow harder. It blowed so hard that theship laid right over onto her side, an' then she slid off to leeward sofast that she couldn't be brought head to the seas. So the Cap'n decidedthat he'd have to let her run afore it, w'ich the same he done. An' w'enshe was afore it, the wind would cut the tops off the seas astarn of heran' send 'em whizzin' over the deck in solid blocks o' flyin' water, an'they'd fall into the sea ahead o' her an' kick up back waves that rolledin over the bows jess as if we was a-takin' the seas head on. The waterwere three feet deep on deck all the time, an' the crew went about inthe dingy. I 'ain't never seed nothin' like that in all my sper'ence atsea; but then ye can't most allus gin'rally tell wot'll happen in theInjun Ocean; 'cos w'y, it ain't no decent, ordinary ocean, but a sort o'heathen place, fit only fur razor-backs an' piccaroons.
"Howsumever, there we was a trollopin' off to the south-east at a rateo' speed that were puffickly disgustin'. The gale blowed itself out inabout eighteen or twenty hours, an' the old man sez he to me, sez he,'Now I reckon we'd better climb back to where we b'long.' So he puts herhead due nothe. But bless ye! it went an' fell flat calm, an' then sotin with a yaller fog with sun behind it, jess like this here werryidentical one this mornin'. The Cap'n he were putty mad, and he jessordered full speed kep' up, 'coz he sez, sez he, 'I 'ain't got no moretime fur to go buggaluggin' aroun' here,' jess like that, him bein'Cap'n Philander Montgomery Boggs o' the Queen o' Spades. Lookouts wasdoubled forrard, o' course, but we hadn't bin runnin' ahead fur more'nfour hour w'en scrape, bump, biff! we was hard an' fast agroun'. TheCap'n he danced on one leg, an' talked Greek; but there we was. An hourlater the fog lifted, an' wot d'ye think we saw?"
"Rocks and reefs all around you, with the sea breaking over them!"exclaimed Henry.
"Not so werry good," responded the Old Sailor. "The Queen o' Spadeshad run plumb straight into a small harbor, sort o' horseshoe shaped,with a long narrer p'int runnin' out on each side. There she were stuckfast in the sand, an' a werry consid'able number o' half-nakid savidgesstandin' on the shore a-grinnin' an' wavin' spears. Putty soon a bigcanoe started out from the shore an' come towards the ship. In the starno' her there were a werry tall savidge wearin' a werry big red coat withone epaulet. Cap'n Philander Montgomery Boggs sez he to me, sez he:'That are the chief, an' he are a-wearin' the coat o' some Englishossifer wot's bin wracked here.' An' that bein' werry plain fur to see,I didn't say nothin' at all. Waal, w'en the canoe got close 'nuff wecould see that them was the werry thinnest an' starvedest lookin' lot o'savidges ever knowed. W'y, their ribs stuck out so their sides lookedlike old-fashioned washboards, an' their faces looked like overgrowedEnglish walnuts. They pulled up the canoe a few yards off an' made signsthat they was hungry, an' they looked it. So the Cap'n, seein' that wewas there thort as how we'd better make friends with 'em, an' he inwitedthe King—the feller in the red coat—to come aboard an' git some grub.The steward sot out a fine lunch in the first-cabin saloon, an' theCap'n he showed the King aroun' while it were a-gettin' ready. We soonfound out as how that there King could talk consid'able English, but hewouldn't tell where he larned it. Waal, I wish you could 'a' seed thatthere King eat. The steward put out a lunch for six, an' blow me furpickles ef the bloomin' one-epauletted cannibal didn't eat it all, an'holler fur more.
"'Give poor savidge puddin',' sez he.
"'Look a-here, Kingsy,' sez the Cap'n, 'how long is it sence you filledyour hold?'
"'Werry poor island dis,' sez the King—'werry poor. Eat nuts an' wildberries. Poor