Harper's Round Table, August 18, 1896
Copyright, 1896, by Harper & Brothers. All Rights Reserved.
|published weekly.||NEW YORK, TUESDAY, AUGUST 18, 1896.||five cents a copy.|
|vol. xvii.—no. 877.||two dollars a year.|
THE "FLYING DUTCHMAN" UP TO DATE.
ONE OF THE OLD SAILOR'S YARNS.
BY W. J. HENDERSON.
It was the day before a great storm. Any one familiar with the face ofthe sea could have told that. The sky was a dead, dull sheet of coldleaden-gray cloud, and the color of it was reflected in a darker shadein the vast expanse of heaving waters. From the southward and eastwardlong, broad, oily swells were rolling in a formidable procession. Aseach one swept into the shallow water close to the shore it reareditself in a curving pinnacle of gray shot with green. Then it whitenedin a quivering, broken line along its crest, and rushing forward, hurleditself[Pg 1014] upon the beach in a crashing swirl of snowy foam. Not a breathof air was stirring. The atmosphere was damp and heavy, and it seemed toclog the lungs. Sounds along the shore were preternaturally clear in theintervals between the thunder-bursts of the surf, and the crowing of acock at a farm-house half a mile away could be distinctly heard. Not asail was to be seen except far away in the northeast, where the lightcanvas of a schooner showed above the wavering line of the horizon.Nearer at hand a south-bound steamer was ploughing her way seaward,rolling so perilously that the yawning throat of her fuming blacksmokestack lay wide open toward the land at every starboard lurch ofher. The Old Sailor was sitting in his accustomed place on the pier,gazing around the horizon and shaking his head. There was no doubt thatthe day or the ship in sight had aroused in his mind some reminiscenttrain of thought. So Henry and George, who had caught sight of him,determined to join him. They walked quickly out on the pier, but beforethey reached their friend, he turned his head and called out,
"Wot d'ye think of 't?"
"Of what?" asked Henry, as they paused beside him.
"O' the weather."
"It looks as if we were going to have a severe storm," said Henry.
"Werry good; werry good indeed," declared the Old Sailor, gazing aroundthe horizon once more and indulging in one of his silent laughs. "An's'posin'," he continued, "I was to go fur to ax you wot quarter wouldthe wind come in, wot'd ye say?"
"Southeast," answered George, confidently.
"Not so werry good," commented the Old Sailor. "Ye can't allus say thatthe wind are a-goin' fur to come from the same quarter as the swells isa-comin' from. I reckon we'll git this fust o' the no'theast, an' theneast, an' then southeast, an' so on around to nor'west, w'ere it'llclear off. It are a-goin' to be one o' them there cycloons wot ye readabout. An' w'en it comes, w'y, gimme plenty o' sea-room an' a good stoutmain-torps'l; that's wot."
The Old Sailor relapsed into a deep silence, and the boys waitedpatiently for several minutes, knowing that if there was any memory atwork within him it would surely work its way out. In about five minutesthe old man suddenly broke out thus:
"Ye may paral and sarve me with fish bones ef this ain't the werryidentical kind o' day wot it happened on, 'ceptin' as how it didn'treally happen till night, an' it are now not more'n five bells in thearternoon watch. I were a-takin' the brig Banana Peel out from St.Paul de Loanda to Delagoa Bay with a cargo of frankfurter sausages,condensed milk, leather shoelaces, an' beeswax. The Cap'n, JerubabelMoxon, were took sick o' coast-fever in St. Paul, an' had to be leftthere. So bein' I were the fust mate an' it were my dooty fur to takecommand an' perceed with the woyidge aroun' the Cape an' into DelagoaBay, I called at Cape Town fur some fresh purwisions an' water, and welaid at anchor in Table Bay fur two days. W'en I were a-gittin' readyfur to git under way a old boatman sez to me, sez he, 'Ef I was you, I'dwait a day or two longer. It are a-goin' to blow putty fresh from theeast'rd, an' ye won't be able fur to double the Cape.' But seein' as howthere weren't no other signs o' weather 'ceptin' his talk, I reckonedI'd go ahead, an' I did.
"Waal, boys, we hadn't no more'n got clean out to sea nor she come on instiff puffs onto the east'rd, an' in about three hours it were blowinghalf a gale. I laid the brig close-hauled on the port tack, but she madeleeway by the rood, and I knowed I were a-headin' a good deal nigher furthe antarctic continent than fur the Cape o' Good Hope. Fur three daysan' nights that easter blowed. It warn't never a whole gale, but it kep'us under short canvas, an' riz enough sea fur to keep us way down toleeward all the time, an' when it bruk we was two hundred miles sou'westo' the Cape. Now we got a southerly wind, an' in twenty-four hours wedoubled the Cape o' Good Hope, and I laid the course to weather CapeAgulhas. Blow me fur pickles, ef it didn't fall a flat calm w'en we wasoff that cape, jess like this one to-day, with a mos' disorganizin'swell a-runnin' in from the southeast. I seed that it were a-goin fur tocome on to blow, but wot could I do? We was about ten miles off theland, an' them swells a-settin' us in toward it all the time at a mos'amazin' pace. I wished as how I were back on the other side o' GoodHope, w'ere them same swells would 'a' bin a-settin' us off shore.Howsumever, it warn't no use wishin'; 'cos w'y, wishes ain'tsteam-engines or perpellers, an' won't make ships go w'en there ain't nowind.
"Waal, there we was, a-buggaluggin' aroun' in the mos' permiskousfashion, like a fly in a plate o' butter. Night come on darker'n theinside o' an empty mess-chest with the lid shut down. We was a-rollin'an' a-rollin' so that I were more'n half afeard as how we'd roll themasts out o' the bloomin' hooker, an' most o' the men was on deckhangin' on fur dear life, an' waitin' to hear the wind begin fur tohowl. But I kinder b'lieved myself that we wouldn't get it aforemornin'. Waal, all on a suddent down to the south'ard an' west'ard, onour stabboard quarter, there comes one o' the mos' awful ear-splittin'screeches I ever heerd in all my life. We all held our breath, an' Ireckon most on us turned white. 'Cos w'y, none on us ever heerd any sichsound afore. In about three minutes we heerd it ag'in. Then the wholesky down there lit up with a big green flash, as ef all the greenfireworks on 'arth'd gone off at oncet.
"'Wot in bloomin' Africa are it?' sez I to Hiram Sink, my mate, sez I.
"'Ghosts, sure,' sez he to me, sez he.
"I were jess a-goin' to tell him that ghosts didn't walk aroun' at seaan' set off fireworks, w'en a shout from the hands forrad stopped me.There, broad off our stabboard quarter, about a mile away, were a briglined out against the sky in a reg'lar skellington o' waverin' fire. Itwere the palest greenest sort o' fire, an' she looked like the ghost o'a brig.
"'The Flyin' Dutchman!' sez Hiram Sink, sez he.
"'By the great anchor flukes, them's it!' sez I.
"An' at that werry identical minute there were another one o' them awfulscreeches, an', pst! that there brig jess went out, like as ef ye'dturned off the gas.
"'We 'ain't got no show to git out o' this,' sez Hiram Sink, sez he.
"'Nary show. We got to go on them rocks sure,' sez I to he, sez I.
"A werry few minutes arter that a hand forrard yells, 'Steamer on thestabboard bow!'
"An', sure 'nuff, we could see the lights in her cabin. Nex' thing Iknowed, there were a launch off our quarter, an' a voice hailed us,
"'Aboard the brig there!'
"'Hello!' sez I. 'Who on 'arth are you?'
"'I'm the owner o' that steam-yacht up there, an' I want to come aboardyou,' sez he.
"'Come on, then,' sez I.
"So the launch come alongside, an' the man comes aboard. He sartinlywere a pikooliar pusson. His face were so full o' wrinkles it lookedlike it were made o' rope, an' he had a stiff mustache as white aschalk. His eyes was little an' black an' piercin'. But he were dressedin the swellest kind o' yachtin' toggery ye ever seed, an' spite o' hislookin' a hundred years old, he skipped over the side like a midshipman.He come up to me with a jolly laugh, slapped me on the back, an' sez heto me, sez he,
"'How'd ye like the show?'
"'Wot show?' sez I to he, sez I.
"'W'y, my show down yonder—shrieks, lightnin', ghost ship, an' allthem—eh?'
"'W'y,' sez I to he, sez I, 'we thort it were the Flyin' Dutchman.'
"'So it were,' sez he to me, sez he, jess like that, me bein' Cap'n o'the brig, an' him a grinnin' Methuselah in yachtin' togs.
"'Wot d'ye mean?' sez I.
"'I'm the Flyin' Dutchman, the only one in the business, Cap'n G. W.Vanderdecken,' sez he.
"'But it ain't reg'lar at all,' sez I. 'Wot are you a-doin' of with asteam-yacht an' them clothes?'
"'Wot did ye expect? W'y, I'm up to date, I am,' sez he, laffin' likehe'd bust hisself. 'I ain't no old moth-eaten barnacle-covered, worn-outspook. I'm a real, live, wide-awake Flyin' Dutchman, right down here inmy own partikler latitoods, an' out an' 'tendin' to business w'enthere's thick weather a-brewin'. It'll blow a livin' gale by mornin'.'
"An' with that he went into sech a fit o' laffin' I thort he'd puttywell choke hisself to death, an' I 'mos' wished he would, him a-comin'aroun' scarin' sailor-men, an' makin' fun o' 'em w'en they was in dangero' shipwrack an' death.
"'Waal,' sez I to he, sez I, 'ef you be the Flyin' Dutchman, you'dbetter go back to wherever you come from, an' let us get wracked inpeace. We ain't in no humor to be laffed at,' sez I to he, sez I, jesslike that.
"'W'y,' sez he, 'ye might jess as well laff as cry, 'cos w'y, arterye're all dead ye can't do nothin'.'
"'Waal,' sez I, gittin' putty mad, 'there's one thing I can do afore Igoes to Davy Jones's locker; I can throw you overboard.'
"I made a move toward him, an' he jumped back an' pulled a whistle outo' his pocket an' blowed it. The nex' second the air jess shook withthem awful screams ag'in, an' the yacht blazed up in streaks o' fire. Istopped like I were shot.
"'Good show, ain't it?' sez he. 'There ain't nothin' like it a-scourin'the high seas.'
"With that he dances aroun' on one leg an' laffs ag'in like a crazyhyena.
"'Look here,' sez I to he, sez I, 'I don't see wot business you got witha steam-yacht, anyhow.'
"'W'y,' sez he to me, sez he, 'you made one kick about that already. Wotd'ye s'pose? D'ye think I'm goin' to be behind the times? 'Ain't I gotas good a right to have all the modern improvements as any other manafloat?'
"'But the last time I seed you,' sez I, 'were about ten year ago, an'you had a old-fashioned sailin'-vessel then.'
"'An' wot good were she?' sez he, speakin' kind o' mad like. 'I couldn'tgit to wind'ard in her in any sort o' weather at all.'
"'O' course not,' sez I to he, sez I. 'Ye ain't expected to git towind'ard. You're expected to be