Being the Sailor Boy
Confessions and Reminiscences
Of the Son-Of-A-Gentleman
In the Merchant Navy
Being the Sailor Boy
Confessions and Reminiscences
Of the Son-Of-A-Gentleman
In the Merchant Navy
"Wellingborough, as you are going to sea, suppose you take this shooting-jacket of mine along; it's just the thing—take it, it will save the expense of another. You see, it's quite warm; fine long skirts, stout horn buttons, and plenty of pockets."
Out of the goodness and simplicity of his heart, thus spoke my elder brother to me, upon the eve of my departure for the seaport.
"And, Wellingborough," he added, "since we are both short of money, and you want an outfit, and I Have none to give, you may as well take my fowling-piece along, and sell it in New York for what you can get.—Nay, take it; it's of no use to me now; I can't find it in powder any more."
I was then but a boy. Some time previous my mother had removed from New York to a pleasant village on the Hudson River, where we lived in a small house, in a quiet way. Sad disappointments in several plans which I had sketched for my future life; the necessity of doing something for myself, united to a naturally roving disposition, had now conspired within me, to send me to sea as a sailor.
For months previous I had been poring over old New York papers, delightedly perusing the long columns of ship advertisements, all of which possessed a strange, romantic charm to me. Over and over again I devoured such announcements as the following:
To my young inland imagination every word in an advertisement like this, suggested volumes of thought.
A brig! The very word summoned up the idea of a black, sea-worn craft, with high, cozy bulwarks, and rakish masts and yards.
That fairly smelt of the salt water! How different such vessels must be from the wooden, one-masted, green-and-white-painted sloops, that glided up and down the river before our house on the bank.
How momentous the announcement; suggesting ideas, too, of musty bales, and cases of silks and satins, and filling me with contempt for the vile deck-loads of hay and lumber, with which my river experience was familiar.the newspaper bore date the fifth of the month! Fifteen whole days beforehand; think of that; what an important voyage it must be, that the time of sailing was fixed upon so long beforehand; the river sloops were not used to make such prospective announcements. Think of going on board a coppered and copper-fastened brig, and taking passage for Bremen! And who could be going to Bremen? No one but foreigners, doubtless; men of dark complexions and jet-black whiskers, who talked French.
Plenty more brigs and any quantity of ships must be lying there. Coenties Slip must be somewhere near ranges of grim-looking warehouses, with rusty iron doors and shutters, and tiled roofs; and old anchors and chain-cable piled on the walk. Old-fashioned coffeehouses, also, much abound in that neighborhood, with sunburnt sea-captains going in and out, smoking cigars, and talking about Havanna, London, and Calcutta.
All these my imaginations were wonderfully assisted by certain shadowy reminiscences of wharves, and warehouses, and shipping, with which a residence in a seaport during early childhood had supplied me.
Particularly, I remembered standing with my father on the wharf when a large ship was getting under way, and rounding the head of the pier. I remembered the yo heave ho! of the sailors, as they just showed their woolen caps above the high bulwarks. I remembered how I thought of their crossing the great ocean; and that that very ship, and those very sailors, so near to me then, would after a time be actually in Europe.
Added to these reminiscences my father, now dead, had several times crossed the Atlantic on business affairs, for he had been an importer in Broad-street. And of winter evenings in New York, by the well-remembered sea-coal fire in old Greenwich-street, he used to tell my brother and me of the monstrous waves at sea, mountain high; of the masts bending like twigs; and all about Havre, and Liverpool, and about going up into the ball of St. Paul's in London. Indeed, during my early life, most of my thoughts of the sea were connected with the land; but with fine old lands, full of mossy cathedrals and churches, and long, narrow, crooked streets without sidewalks, and lined with strange houses. And especially I tried hard to think how such places must look of rainy days and Saturday afternoons; and whether indeed they did have rainy days and Saturdays there, just as we did here; and whether the boys went to school there, and studied geography, and wore their shirt collars turned over, and tied with a black ribbon; and whether their papas allowed them to wear boots, instead of shoes, which I so much disliked, for boots looked so manly.
As I grew older my thoughts took a larger flight, and I frequently fell into long reveries about distant voyages and travels, and thought how fine it would be, to be able to talk about remote and barbarous countries; with what reverence and wonder people would regard me, if I had just returned from the coast of Africa or New Zealand; how dark and romantic my sunburnt cheeks would look; how I would bring home with me foreign clothes of a rich fabric and princely make, and wear them up and down the streets, and how grocers' boys would turn back their heads to look at me, as I went by. For I very well remembered staring at a man myself, who was pointed out to me by my aunt one Sunday in Church, as the person who had been in Stony Arabia, and passed through strange adventures there, all of which with my own eyes I had read in the book which he wrote, an arid-looking book in a pale yellow cover.
"See what big eyes he has," whispered my aunt, "they got so big, because when he was almost dead with famishing in the desert, he all at once caught sight of a date tree, with the ripe fruit hanging on it."
Upon this, I stared at him till I thought his eyes were really of an uncommon size, and stuck out from his head like those of a lobster. I am sure my own eyes must have magnified as I stared. When church was out, I wanted my aunt to take me along and follow the traveler home. But she said the constables would take us up, if we did; and so I never saw this wonderful Arabian traveler again. But he long haunted me; and several times I dreamt of him, and thought his great eyes were grown still larger and rounder; and once I had a vision of the date tree.
In course of time, my thoughts became more and more prone to dwell upon foreign things; and in a thousand ways I sought to gratify my tastes. We had several pieces of furniture in the house, which had been brought from Europe. These I examined again and again, wondering where the wood grew; whether the workmen who made them still survived, and what they could be doing with themselves now.
Then we had several oil-paintings and rare old engravings of my father's, which he himself had bought in Paris, hanging up in the dining-room.
Two of these were sea-pieces. One represented a fat-looking, smoky fishing-boat, with three whiskerandoes in red caps, and their browsers legs rolled up, hauling in a seine. There was high French-like land in one corner, and a tumble-down gray lighthouse surmounting it. The waves were toasted brown, and the whole picture looked mellow and old. I used to think a piece of it might taste good.
The other represented three old-fashioned French men-of-war with high castles, like pagodas, on the bow and stern, such as you see in Froissart; and snug little turrets on top of the mast, full of little men, with something undefinable in their hands. All three were sailing through a bright-blue sea, blue as Sicily skies; and they were leaning over on their sides at a fearful angle; and they must have been going very fast, for the white spray was about the bows like a snow-storm.
Then, we had two large green French portfolios of colored prints, more than I could lift at that age. Every Saturday my brothers and sisters used to get them out of the corner where they were kept, and spreading them on the floor, gaze at them with never-failing delight.
They were of all sorts. Some were pictures of Versailles, its masquerades, its drawing-rooms, its fountains, and courts, and gardens, with long lines of thick foliage cut into fantastic doors and windows, and towers and pinnacles. Others were rural scenes, full of fine skies, pensive cows standing up to the knees in water, and shepherd-boys and cottages in the distance, half concealed in vineyards and vines.
And others were pictures of natural history, representing rhinoceroses and elephants and spotted tigers; and above all there was a picture of a great whale, as big as a ship, stuck full of harpoons, and three boats sailing after it as fast as they could fly.
Then, too, we had a large library-case, that stood in the hall; an old brown library-case, tall as a small house; it had a sort of basement, with large doors, and a lock and key; and higher up, there were glass doors, through which might be seen long rows of old books, that had been printed in Paris, and London, and Leipsic. There was a fine library edition of the Spectator, in six large volumes with gilded backs; and many a time I gazed at the word "London" on the title-page. And there was a copy of D'Alembert in French, and I wondered what a great man I would be, if by foreign travel I should ever be able to read straight along without stopping, out of that book, which now was a riddle to every one in the house but my father, whom I so much liked to hear talk French, as he sometimes did to a servant we had.
That servant, too, I used to gaze at with wonder; for in answer to my incredulous cross-questions, he had over and over again assured me, that he had really been born in Paris. But this I never entirely believed; for it seemed so hard to comprehend, how a man who had been born in a foreign country, could be dwelling with me in our house in America.
As years passed on, this continual dwelling upon foreign associations, bred in me a vague prophetic thought, that I was fated, one day or other, to be a great voyager; and that just as my father used to entertain strange gentlemen over their wine after dinner, I would hereafter be telling my own adventures to an eager auditory. And I have no doubt that this presentiment had something to do with bringing about my subsequent rovings.
But that which perhaps more than any thing else, converted my vague dreamings and longings into a definite purpose of seeking my fortune on the sea, was an old-fashioned glass ship, about eighteen inches long, and of French manufacture, which my father, some thirty years before, had brought home from Hamburg as a present to a great-uncle of mine: Senator Wellingborough, who had died a member of Congress in the days of the old Constitution, and after whom I had the honor of being named. Upon the decease of the Senator, the ship was returned to the donor.
It was kept in a square glass case, which was regularly dusted by one of my sisters every morning, and stood on a little claw-footed Dutch tea-table in one corner of the sitting-room. This ship, after being the admiration of my father's visitors in the capital, became the wonder and delight of all the people of the village where we now resided, many of whom used to call upon my mother, for no other purpose than to see the ship. And well did it repay the long and curious examinations which they were accustomed to give it.
In the first place, every bit of it was glass, and that was a great wonder of itself; because the masts, yards, and ropes were made to resemble exactly the corresponding parts of a real vessel that could go to sea. She carried two tiers of black guns all along her two decks; and often I used to try to peep in at the portholes, to see what else was inside; but the holes were so small, and it looked so very dark indoors, that I could discover little or nothing; though, when I was very little, I made no doubt, that if I could but once pry open the hull, and break the glass all to pieces, I would infallibly light upon something wonderful, perhaps some gold guineas, of which I have always been in want, ever since I could remember. And often I used to feel a sort of insane desire to be the death of the glass ship, case, and all, in order to come at the plunder; and one day, throwing out some hint of the kind to my sisters, they ran to my mother in a great clamor; and after that, the ship was placed on the mantel-piece for a time, beyond my reach, and until I should recover my reason.
I do not know how to account for this temporary madness of mine, unless it was, that I had been reading in a story-book about Captain Kidd's ship, that lay somewhere at the bottom of the Hudson near the Highlands, full of gold as it could be; and that a company of men were trying to dive down and get the treasure out of the hold, which no one had ever thought of doing before, though there she had lain for almost a hundred years.
Not to speak of the tall masts, and yards, and rigging of this famous ship, among whose mazes of spun-glass I used to rove in imagination, till I grew dizzy at the main-truck, I will only make mention of the people on board of her. They, too, were all of glass, as beautiful little glass sailors as any body ever saw, with hats and shoes on, just like living men, and curious blue jackets with a sort of ruffle round the bottom. Four or five of these sailors were very nimble little chaps, and were mounting up the rigging with very long strides; but for all that, they never gained a single inch in the year, as I can take my oath.
Another sailor was sitting astride of the spanker-boom, with his arms over his head, but I never could find out what that was for; a second was in the fore-top, with a coil of glass rigging over his shoulder; the cook, with a glass ax, was splitting wood near the fore-hatch; the steward, in a glass apron, was hurrying toward the cabin with a plate of glass pudding; and a glass dog, with a red mouth, was barking at him; while the captain in a glass cap was smoking a glass cigar on the quarterdeck. He was leaning against the bulwark, with one hand to his head; perhaps he was unwell, for he looked very glassy out of the eyes.
The name of this curious ship was La Reine, or The Queen, which was painted on her stern where any one might read it, among a crowd of glass dolphins and sea-horses carved there in a sort of semicircle.
And this Queen rode undisputed mistress of a green glassy sea, some of whose waves were breaking over her bow in a wild way, I can tell you, and I used to be giving her up for lost and foundered every moment, till I grew older, and perceived that she was not in the slightest danger in the world.
A good deal of dust, and fuzzy stuff like down, had in the course of many years worked through the joints of the case, in which the ship was kept, so as to cover all the sea with a light dash of white, which if any thing improved the general effect, for it looked like the foam and froth raised by the terrible gale the good Queen was battling against.
So much for La Reine. We have her yet in the house, but many of her glass spars and ropes are now sadly shattered and broken,—but I will not have her mended; and her figurehead, a gallant warrior in a cocked-hat, lies pitching headforemost down into the trough of a calamitous sea under the bows—but I will not have him put on his legs again, till I get on my own; for between him and me there is a secret sympathy; and my sisters tell me, even yet, that he fell from his perch the very day I left home to go to sea on this my first voyage.
It was with a heavy heart and full eyes, that my poor mother parted with me; perhaps she thought me an erring and a willful boy, and perhaps I was; but if I was, it had been a hardhearted world, and hard times that had made me so. I had learned to think much and bitterly before my time; all my young mounting dreams of glory had left me; and at that early age, I was as unambitious as a man of sixty.
Yes, I will go to sea; cut my kind uncles and aunts, and sympathizing patrons, and leave no heavy hearts but those in my own home, and take none along but the one which aches in my bosom. Cold, bitter cold as December, and bleak as its blasts, seemed the world then to me; there is no misanthrope like a boy disappointed; and such was I, with the warmth of me flogged out by adversity. But these thoughts are bitter enough even now, for they have not yet gone quite away; and they must be uncongenial enough to the reader; so no more of that, and let me go on with my story.
"Yes, I will write you, dear mother, as soon as I can," murmured I, as she charged me for the hundredth time, not fail to inform her of my safe arrival in New York.
"And now Mary, Martha, and Jane, kiss me all round, dear sisters, and then I am off. I'll be back in four months—it will be autumn then, and we'll go into the woods after nuts, an I'll tell you all about Europe. Good-by! good-by!"
So I broke loose from their arms, and not daring to look behind, ran away as fast as I could, till I got to the corner where my brother was waiting. He accompanied me part of the way to the place, where the steamboat was to leave for New York; instilling into me much sage advice above his age, for he was but eight years my senior, and warning me again and again to take care of myself; and I solemnly promised I would; for what cast-away will not promise to take of care himself, when he sees that unless he himself does, no one else will.
We walked on in silence till I saw that his strength was giving out,—he was in ill health then,—and with a mute grasp of the hand, and a loud thump at the heart, we parted.
It was early on a raw, cold, damp morning toward the end of spring, and the world was before me; stretching away a long muddy road, lined with comfortable houses, whose inmates were taking their sunrise naps, heedless of the wayfarer passing. The cold drops of drizzle trickled down my leather cap, and mingled with a few hot tears on my cheeks.
I had the whole road to myself, for no one was yet stirring, and I walked on, with a slouching, dogged gait. The gray shooting-jacket was on my back, and from the end of my brother's rifle hung a small bundle of my clothes. My fingers worked moodily at the stock and trigger, and I thought that this indeed was the way to begin life, with a gun in your hand!
Talk not of the bitterness of middle-age and after life; a boy can feel all that, and much more, when upon his young soul the mildew has fallen; and the fruit, which with others is only blasted after ripeness, with him is nipped in the first blossom and bud. And never again can such blights be made good; they strike in too deep, and leave such a scar that the air of Paradise might not erase it. And it is a hard and cruel thing thus in early youth to taste beforehand the pangs which should be reserved for the stout time of manhood, when the gristle has become bone, and we stand up and fight out our lives, as a thing tried before and foreseen; for then we are veterans used to sieges and battles, and not green recruits, recoiling at the first shock of the encounter.
At last gaining the boat we pushed off, and away we steamed down the Hudson. There were few passengers on board, the day was so unpleasant; and they were mostly congregated in the after cabin round the stoves. After breakfast, some of them went to reading: others took a nap on the settees; and others sat in silent circles, speculating, no doubt, as to who each other might be.
They were certainly a cheerless set, and to me they all looked stony-eyed and heartless. I could not help it, I almost hated them; and to avoid them, went on deck, but a storm of sleet drove me below. At last I bethought me, that I had not procured a ticket, and going to the captain's office to pay my passage and get one, was horror-struck to find, that the price of passage had been suddenly raised that day, owing to the other boats not running; so that I had not enough money to pay for my fare. I had supposed it would be but a dollar, and only a dollar did I have, whereas it was two. What was to be done? The boat was off, and there was no backing out; so I determined to say nothing to any body, and grimly wait until called upon for my fare.
The long weary day wore on till afternoon; one incessant storm raged on deck; but after dinner the few passengers, waked up with their roast-beef and mutton, became a little more sociable. Not with me, for the scent and savor of poverty was upon me, and they all cast toward me their evil eyes and cold suspicious glances, as I sat apart, though among them. I felt that desperation and recklessness of poverty which only a pauper knows. There was a mighty patch upon one leg of my trowsers, neatly sewed on, for it had been executed by my mother, but still very obvious and incontrovertible to the eye. This patch I had hitherto studiously endeavored to hide with the ample skirts of my shooting-jacket; but now I stretched out my leg boldly, and thrust the patch under their noses, and looked at them so, that they soon looked away, boy though I was. Perhaps the gun that I clenched frightened them into respect; or there might have been something ugly in my eye; or my teeth were white, and my jaws were set. For several hours, I sat gazing at a jovial party seated round a mahogany table, with some crackers and cheese, and wine and cigars. Their faces were flushed with the good dinner they had eaten; and mine felt pale and wan with a long fast. If I had presumed to offer to make one of their party; if I had told them of my circumstances, and solicited something to refresh me, I very well knew from the peculiar hollow ring of their laughter, they would have had the waiters put me out of the cabin, for a beggar, who had no business to be warming himself at their stove. And for that insult, though only a conceit, I sat and gazed at them, putting up no petitions for their prosperity. My whole soul was soured within me, and when at last the captain's clerk, a slender young man, dressed in the height of fashion, with a gold watch chain and broach, came round collecting the tickets, I buttoned up my coat to the throat, clutched my gun, put on my leather cap, and pulling it well down, stood up like a sentry before him. He held out his hand, deeming any remark superfluous, as his object in pausing before me must be obvious. But I stood motionless and silent, and in a moment he saw how it was with me. I ought to have spoken and told him the case, in plain, civil terms, and offered my dollar, and then waited the event. But I felt too wicked for that. He did not wait a great while, but spoke first himself; and in a gruff voice, very unlike his urbane accents when accosting the wine and cigar party, demanded my ticket. I replied that I had none. He then demanded the money; and upon my answering that I had not enough, in a loud angry voice that attracted all eyes, he ordered me out of the cabin into the storm. The devil in me then mounted up from my soul, and spread over my frame, till it tingled at my finger ends; and I muttered out my resolution to stay where I was, in such a manner, that the ticket man faltered back. "There's a dollar for you," I added, offering it.
"I want two," said he.
"Take that or nothing," I answered; "it is all I have."
I thought he would strike me. But, accepting the money, he contented himself with saying something about sportsmen going on shooting expeditions, without having money to pay their expenses; and hinted that such chaps might better lay aside their fowling-pieces, and assume the buck and saw. He then passed on, and left every eye fastened upon me.
I stood their gazing some time, but at last could stand it no more. I pushed my seat right up before the most insolent gazer, a short fat man, with a plethora of cravat round his neck, and fixing my gaze on his, gave him more gazes than he sent. This somewhat embarrassed him, and he looked round for some one to take hold of me; but no one coming, he pretended to be very busy counting the gilded wooden beams overhead. I then turned to the next gazer, and clicking my gun-lock, deliberately presented the piece at him.
Upon this, he overset his seat in his eagerness to get beyond my range, for I had him point blank, full in the left eye; and several persons starting to their feet, exclaimed that I must be crazy. So I was at that time; for otherwise I know not how to account for my demoniac feelings, of which I was afterward heartily ashamed, as I ought to have been, indeed; and much more than that.
I then turned on my heel, and shouldering my fowling-piece and bundle, marched on deck, and walked there through the dreary storm, till I was wet through, and the boat touched the wharf at New York.
Such is boyhood.
From the boat's bow, I jumped ashore, before she was secured, and following my brother's directions, proceeded across the town toward St. John's Park, to the house of a college friend of his, for whom I had a letter.
It was a long walk; and I stepped in at a sort of grocery to get a drink of water, where some six or eight rough looking fellows were playing dominoes upon the counter, seated upon cheese boxes. They winked, and asked what sort of sport I had had gunning on such a rainy day, but I only gulped down my water and stalked off.
Dripping like a seal, I at last grounded arms at the doorway of my brother's friend, rang the bell and inquired for him.
"What do you want?" said the servant, eying me as if I were a housebreaker.
"I want to see your lord and master; show me into the parlor."
Upon this my host himself happened to make his appearance, and seeing who I was, opened his hand and heart to me at once, and drew me to his fireside; he had received a letter from my brother, and had expected me that day.
The family were at tea; the fragrant herb filled the room with its aroma; the brown toast was odoriferous; and everything pleasant and charming. After a temporary warming, I was shown to a room, where I changed my wet dress, an returning to the table, found that the interval had been we improved by my hostess; a meal for a traveler was spread and I laid into it sturdily. Every mouthful pushed the devil that had been tormenting me all day farther and farther out of me, till at last I entirely ejected him with three successive bowls of Bohea.
Magic of kind words, and kind deeds, and good tea! That night I went to bed thinking the world pretty tolerable, after all; and I could hardly believe that I had really acted that morning as I had, for I was naturally of an easy and forbearing disposition; though when such a disposition is temporarily roused, it is perhaps worse than a cannibal's.
Next day, my brother's friend, whom I choose to call Mr. Jones, accompanied me down to the docks among the shipping, in order to get me a place. After a good deal of searching we lighted upon a ship for Liverpool, and found the captain in the cabin; which was a very handsome one, lined with mahogany and maple; and the steward, an elegant looking mulatto in a gorgeous turban, was setting out on a sort of sideboard some dinner service which looked like silver, but it was only Britannia ware highly polished.
As soon as I clapped my eye on the captain, I thought myself he was just the captain to suit me. He was a fine looking man, about forty, splendidly dressed, with very black whiskers, and very white teeth, and what I took to be a free, frank look out of a large hazel eye. I liked him amazingly. He was promenading up and down the cabin, humming some brisk air to himself when we entered.
"Good morning, sir," said my friend.
"Good morning, good morning, sir," said the captain. "Steward, chairs for the gentlemen."
"Oh! never mind, sir," said Mr. Jones, rather taken aback by his extreme civility. "I merely called to see whether you want a fine young lad to go to sea with you. Here he is; he has long wanted to be a sailor; and his friends have at last concluded to let him go for one voyage, and see how he likes it."
"Ah! indeed!" said the captain, blandly, and looking where I stood. "He's a fine fellow; I like him. So you want to be a sailor, my boy, do you?" added he, affectionately patting my head. "It's a hard We, though; a hard life."
But when I looked round at his comfortable, and almost luxurious cabin, and then at his handsome care-free face, I thought he was only trying to frighten me, and I answered, "Well, sir, I am ready to try it."
"I hope he's a country lad, sir," said the captain to my friend, "these city boys are sometimes hard cases."
"Oh! yes, he's from the country," was the reply, "and of a highly respectable family; his great-uncle died a Senator."
"But his great-uncle don't want to go to sea too?" said the captain, looking funny.
"Oh! no, oh, no!— Ha! ha!"
"Ha! ha!" echoed the captain.
A fine funny gentleman, thought I, not much fancying, however, his levity concerning my great-uncle, he'll be cracking his jokes the whole voyage; and so I afterward said to one of the riggers on board; but he bade me look out, that he did not crack my head.
"Well, my lad," said the captain, "I suppose you know we haven't any pastures and cows on board; you can't get any milk at sea, you know."
"Oh! I know all about that, sir; my father has crossed the ocean, if I haven't."
"Yes," cried my friend, "his father, a gentleman of one of the first families in America, crossed the Atlantic several times on important business."
"Embassador extraordinary?" said the captain, looking funny again.
"Oh! no, he was a wealthy merchant."
"Ah! indeed;" said the captain, looking grave and bland again, "then this fine lad is the son of a gentleman?"
"Certainly," said my friend, "and he's only going to sea for the humor of it; they want to send him on his travels with a tutor, but he will go to sea as a sailor."
The fact was, that my young friend (for he was only about twenty-five) was not a very wise man; and this was a huge fib, which out of the kindness of his heart, he told in my behalf, for the purpose of creating a profound respect for me in the eyes of my future lord.
Upon being apprized, that I had willfully forborne taking the grand tour with a tutor, in order to put my hand in a tar-bucket, the handsome captain looked ten times more funny than ever; and said that he himself would be my tutor, and take me on my travels, and pay for the privilege.
"Ah!" said my friend, "that reminds me of business. Pray, captain, how much do you generally pay a handsome young fellow like this?"
"Well," said the captain, looking grave and profound, "we are not so particular about beauty, and we never give more than three dollars to a green lad like Wellingborough here, that's your name, my boy? Wellingborough Redburn!—Upon my soul, a fine sounding name."
"Why, captain," said Mr. Jones, quickly interrupting him, "that won't pay for his clothing."
"But you know his highly respectable and wealthy relations will doubtless see to all that," replied the captain, with his funny look again.
"Oh! yes, I forgot that," said Mr. Jones, looking rather foolish. "His friends will of course see to that."
"Of course," said the captain smiling.
"Of course," repeated Mr. Jones, looking ruefully at the patch on my pantaloons, which just then I endeavored to hide with the skirt of my shooting-jacket.
"You are quite a sportsman I see," said the captain, eying the great buttons on my coat, upon each of which was a carved fox.
Upon this my benevolent friend thought that here was a grand opportunity to befriend me.
"Yes, he's quite a sportsman," said he, "he's got a very valuable fowling-piece at home, perhaps you would like to purchase it, captain, to shoot gulls with at sea? It's cheap."
"Oh! no, he had better leave it with his relations," said the captain, "so that he can go hunting again when he returns from England."
"Yes, perhaps that would be better, after all," said my friend, pretending to fall into a profound musing, involving all sides of the matter in hand. "Well, then, captain, you can only give the boy three dollars a month, you say?"
"Only three dollars a month," said the captain.
"And I believe," said my friend, "that you generally give something in advance, do you not?"
"Yes, that is sometimes the custom at the shipping offices," said the captain, with a bow, "but in this case, as the boy has rich relations, there will be no need of that, you know."
And thus, by his ill-advised, but well-meaning hints concerning the respectability of my paternity, and the immense wealth of my relations, did this really honest-hearted but foolish friend of mine, prevent me from getting three dollars in advance, which I greatly needed. However, I said nothing, though I thought the more; and particularly, how that it would have been much better for me, to have gone on board alone, accosted the captain on my own account, and told him the plain truth. Poor people make a very poor business of it when they try to seem rich.
The arrangement being concluded, we bade the captain good morning; and as we were about leaving the cabin, he smiled again, and said, "Well, Redburn, my boy, you won't get home-sick before you sail, because that will make you very sea-sick when you get to sea."
And with that he smiled very pleasantly, and bowed two or three times, and told the steward to open the cabin-door, which the steward did with a peculiar sort of grin on his face, and a slanting glance at my shooting-jacket. And so we left.
Next day I went alone to the shipping office to sign the articles, and there I met a great crowd of sailors, who as soon as they found what I was after, began to tip the wink all round, and I overheard a fellow in a great flapping sou'wester cap say to another old tar in a shaggy monkey-jacket, "Twig his coat, d'ye see the buttons, that chap ain't going to sea in a merchantman, he's going to shoot whales. I say, maty—look here—how d'ye sell them big buttons by the pound?"
"Give us one for a saucer, will ye?" said another.
"Let the youngster alone," said a third. "Come here, my little boy, has your ma put up some sweetmeats for ye to take to sea?"
They are all witty dogs, thought I to myself, trying to make the best of the matter, for I saw it would not do to resent what they said; they can't mean any harm, though they are certainly very impudent; so I tried to laugh off their banter, but as soon as ever I could, I put down my name and beat a retreat.
On the morrow, the ship was advertised to sail. So the rest of that day I spent in preparations. After in vain trying to sell my fowling-piece for a fair price to chance customers, I was walking up Chatham-street with it, when a curly-headed little man with a dark oily face, and a hooked nose, like the pictures of Judas Iscariot, called to me from a strange-looking shop, with three gilded balk hanging over it.
With a peculiar accent, as if he had been over-eating himself with Indian-pudding or some other plushy compound, this curly-headed little man very civilly invited me into his shop; and making a polite bow, and bidding me many unnecessary good mornings, and remarking upon the fine weather, begged t me to let him look at my fowling-piece. I handed it to him in an instant, glad of the chance of disposing of it, and told him that was just what I wanted.
"Ah!" said he, with his Indian-pudding accent again, which I will not try to mimic, and abating his look of eagerness, "I thought it was a better article, it's very old."
"Not," said I, starting in surprise, "it's not been used more than three times; what will you give for it?"
"We don't buy any thing here," said he, suddenly looking very indifferent, "this is a place where people pawn things." Pawn being a word I had never heard before, I asked him what it meant; when he replied, that when people wanted any money, they came to him with their fowling-pieces, and got one third its value, and then left the fowling-piece there, until they were able to pay back the money.
What a benevolent little old man, this must be, thought I, and how very obliging.
"And pray," said I, "how much will you let me have for my gun, by way of a pawn?"
"Well, I suppose it's worth six dollars, and seeing you're a boy, I'll let you have three dollars upon it"
"No," exclaimed I, seizing the fowling-piece, "it's worth five times that, I'll go somewhere else."
"Good morning, then," said he, "I hope you'll do better," and he bowed me out as if he expected to see me again pretty soon.
I had not gone very far when I came across three more balls hanging over a shop. In I went, and saw a long counter, with a sort of picket-fence, running all along from end to end, and three little holes, with three little old men standing inside of them, like prisoners looking out of a jail. Back of the counter were all sorts of things, piled up and labeled. Hats, and caps, and coats, and guns, and swords, and canes, and chests, and planes, and books, and writing-desks, and every thing else. And in a glass case were lots of watches, and seals, chains, and rings, and breastpins, and all kinds of trinkets. At one of the little holes, earnestly talking with one of the hook-nosed men, was a thin woman in a faded silk gown and shawl, holding a pale little girl by the hand. As I drew near, she spoke lower in a whisper; and the man shook his head, and looked cross and rude; and then some more words were exchanged over a miniature, and some money was passed through the hole, and the woman and child shrank out of the door.
I won't sell my gun to that man, thought I; and I passed on to the next hole; and while waiting there to be served, an elderly man in a high-waisted surtout, thrust a silver snuff-box through; and a young man in a calico shirt and a shiny coat with a velvet collar presented a silver watch; and a sheepish boy in a cloak took out a frying-pan; and another little boy had a Bible; and all these things were thrust through to the hook-nosed man, who seemed ready to hook any thing that came along; so I had no doubt he would gladly hook my gun, for the long picketed counter seemed like a great seine, that caught every variety of fish.
At last I saw a chance, and crowded in for the hole; and in order to be beforehand with a big man who just then came in, I pushed my gun violently through the hole; upon which the hook-nosed man cried out, thinking I was going to shoot him. But at last he took the gun, turned it end for end, clicked the trigger three times, and then said, "one dollar."
"What about one dollar?" said I.
"That's all I'll give," he replied.
"Well, what do you want?" and he turned to the next person. This was a young man in a seedy red cravat and a pimply face, that looked as if it was going to seed likewise, who, with a mysterious tapping of his vest-pocket and other hints, made a great show of having something confidential to communicate.
But the hook-nosed man spoke out very loud, and said, "None of that; take it out. Got a stolen watch? We don't deal in them things here."
Upon this the young man flushed all over, and looked round to see who had heard the pawnbroker; then he took something very small out of his pocket, and keeping it hidden under his palm, pushed it into the hole.
"Where did you get this ring?" said the pawnbroker.
"I want to pawn it," whispered the other, blushing all over again.
"What's your name?" said the pawnbroker, speaking very loud.
"How much will you give?" whispered the other in reply, leaning over, and looking as if he wanted to hush up the pawnbroker.
At last the sum was agreed upon, when the man behind the counter took a little ticket, and tying the ring to it began to write on the ticket; all at once he asked the young man where he lived, a question which embarrassed him very much; but at last he stammered out a certain number in Broadway.
"That's the City Hotel: you don't live there," said the man, cruelly glancing at the shabby coat before him.
"Oh! well," stammered the other blushing scarlet, "I thought this was only a sort of form to go through; I don't like to tell where I do live, for I ain't in the habit of going to pawnbrokers."
"You stole that ring, you know you did," roared out the hook-nosed man, incensed at this slur upon his calling, and now seemingly bent on damaging the young man's character for life. "I'm a good mind to call a. constable; we don't take stolen goods here, I tell you."
All eyes were now fixed suspiciously upon this martyrized young man; who looked ready to drop into the earth; and a poor woman in a night-cap, with some baby-clothes in her hand, looked fearfully at the pawnbroker, as if dreading to encounter such a terrible pattern of integrity. At last the young man sunk off with his money, and looking out of the window, I saw him go round the corner so sharply that he knocked his elbow against the wall.
I waited a little longer, and saw several more served; and having remarked that the hook-nosed men invariably fixed their own price upon every thing, and if that was refused told the person to be off with himself; I concluded that it would be of no use to try and get more from them than they had offered; especially when I saw that they had a great many fowling-pieces hanging up, and did not have particular occasion for mine; and more than that, they must be very well off and rich, to treat people so cavalierly.
My best plan then seemed to be to go right back to the curly-headed pawnbroker, and take up with my first offer. But when I went back, the curly-headed man was very busy about something else, and kept me waiting a long time; at last I got a chance and told him I would take the three dollars he had offered.
"Ought to have taken it when you could get it," he replied. "I won't give but two dollars and a half for it now."
In vain I expostulated; he was not to be moved, so I pocketed the money and departed.
The first thing I now did was to buy a little stationery, and keep my promise to my mother, by writing her; and I also wrote to my brother informing him of the voyage I purposed making, and indulging in some romantic and misanthropic views of life, such as many boys in my circumstances, are accustomed to do.
The rest of the two dollars and a half I laid out that very morning in buying a red woolen shirt near Catharine Market, a tarpaulin hat, which I got at an out-door stand near Peck Slip, a belt and jackknife, and two or three trifles. After these purchases, I had only one penny left, so I walked out to the end of the pier, and threw the penny into the water. The reason why I did this, was because I somehow felt almost desperate again, and didn't care what became of me. But if the penny had been a dollar, I would have kept it.
I went home to dinner at Mr. Jones', and they welcomed me very kindly, and Mrs. Jones kept my plate full all the time during dinner, so that I had no chance to empty it. She seemed to see that I felt bad, and thought plenty of pudding might help me. At any rate, I never felt so bad yet but I could eat a good dinner. And once, years afterward, when I expected to be killed every day, I remember my appetite was very keen, and I said to myself, "Eat away, Wellingborough, while you can, for this may be the last supper you will have."
After dinner I went into my room, locked the door carefully, and hung a towel over the knob, so that no one could peep through the keyhole, and then went to trying on my red woolen shirt before the glass, to see what sort of a looking sailor I was going to make. As soon as I got into the shirt I began to feel sort of warm and red about the face, which I found was owing to the reflection of the dyed wool upon my skin. After that, I took a pair of scissors and went to cutting my hair, which was very long. I thought every little would help, in making me a light hand to run aloft.
Next morning I bade my kind host and hostess good-by, and left the house with my bundle, feeling somewhat misanthropical and desperate again.
Before I reached the ship, it began to rain hard; and as soon as I arrived at the wharf, it was plain that there would be no getting to sea that day.
This was a great disappointment to me, for I did not want to return to Mr. Jones' again after bidding them good-by; it would be so awkward. So I concluded to go on board ship for the present.
When I reached the deck, I saw no one but a large man in a large dripping pea-jacket, who was calking down the main-hatches.
"What do you want, Pillgarlic?" said he.
"I've shipped to sail in this ship," I replied, assuming a little dignity, to chastise his familiarity.
"What for? a tailor?" said he, looking at my shooting jacket.
I answered that I was going as a "boy;" for so I was technically put down on the articles.
"Well," said he, "have you got your traps aboard?"
I told him I didn't know there were any rats in the ship, and hadn't brought any "trap."
At this he laughed out with a great guffaw, and said there must be hay-seed in my hair.
This made me mad; but thinking he must be one of the sailors who was going in the ship, I thought it wouldn't be wise to make an enemy of him, so only asked him where the men slept in the vessel, for I wanted to put my clothes away.
"Where's your clothes?" said he.
"Here in my bundle," said I, holding it up.
"Well if that's all you've got," he cried, "you'd better chuck it overboard. But go forward, go forward to the forecastle; that's the place you'll live in aboard here."
And with that he directed me to a sort of hole in the deck in the bow of the ship; but looking down, and seeing how dark it was, I asked him for a light.
"Strike your eyes together and make one," said he, "we don't have any lights here." So I groped my way down into the forecastle, which smelt so bad of old ropes and tar, that it almost made me sick. After waiting patiently, I began to see a little; and looking round, at last perceived I was in a smoky looking place, with twelve wooden boxes stuck round the sides. In some of these boxes were large chests, which I at once supposed to belong to the sailors, who must have taken that method of appropriating their "Trunks," as I afterward found these boxes were called. And so it turned out.
After examining them for a while, I selected an empty one, and put my bundle right in the middle of it, so that there might be no mistake about my claim to the place, particularly as the bundle was so small.
This done, I was glad to get on deck; and learning to a certainty that the ship would not sail till the next day, I resolved to go ashore, and walk about till dark, and then return and sleep out the night in the forecastle. So I walked about all over, till I was weary, and went into a mean liquor shop to rest; for having my tarpaulin on, and not looking very gentlemanly, I was afraid to go into any better place, for fear of being driven out. Here I sat till I began to feel very hungry; and seeing some doughnuts on the counter, I began to think what a fool I had been, to throw away my last penny; for the doughnuts were but a penny apiece, and they looked very plump, and fat, and round. I never saw doughnuts look so enticing before; especially when a negro came in, and ate one before my eyes. At last I thought I would fill up a little by drinking a glass of water; having read somewhere that this was a good plan to follow in a case like the present. I did not feel thirsty, but only hungry; so had much ado to get down the water; for it tasted warm; and the tumbler had an ugly flavor; the negro had been drinking some spirits out of it just before.
I marched off again, every once in a while stopping to take in some more water, and being very careful not to step into the same shop twice, till night came on, and I found myself soaked through, for it had been raining more or less all day. As I went to the ship, I could not help thinking how lonesome it would be, to spend the whole night in that damp and dark forecastle, without light or fire, and nothing to lie on but the bare boards of my bunk. However, to drown all such thoughts, I gulped down another glass of water, though I was wet enough outside and in by this time; and trying to put on a bold look, as if I had just been eating a hearty meal, I stepped aboard the ship.
The man in the big pea-jacket was not to be seen; but on going forward I unexpectedly found a young lad there, about my own age; and as soon as he opened his mouth I knew he was not an American. He talked such a curious language though, half English and half gibberish, that I knew not what to make of him; and was a little astonished, when he told me he was an English boy, from Lancashire.
It seemed, he had come over from Liverpool in this very ship on her last voyage, as a steerage passenger; but finding that he would have to work very hard to get along in America, and getting home-sick into the bargain, he had arranged with the captain to' work his passage back.
I was glad to have some company, and tried to get him conversing; but found he was the most stupid and ignorant boy I had ever met with. I asked him something about the river Thames; when he said that he hadn't traveled any in America and didn't know any thing about the rivers here. And when I told him the river Thames was in England, he showed no surprise or shame at his ignorance, but only looked ten times more stupid than before.
At last we went below into the forecastle, and both getting into the same bunk, stretched ourselves out on the planks, and I tried my best to get asleep. But though my companion soon began to snore very loud, for me, I could not forget myself, owing to the horrid smell of the place, my being so wet, cold, and hungry, and besides all that, I felt damp and clammy about the heart. I lay turning over and over, listening to the Lancashire boy's snoring, till at last I felt so, that I had to go on deck; and there I walked till morning, which I thought would never come.
As soon as I thought the groceries on the wharf would be open I left the ship and went to make my breakfast of another glass of water. But this made me very qualmish; and soon I felt sick as death; my head was dizzy; and I went staggering along the walk, almost blind. At last I dropt on a heap of chain-cable, and shutting my eyes hard, did my best to rally myself, in which I succeeded, at last, enough to get up and walk off. Then I thought that I had done wrong in not returning to my friend's house the day before; and would have walked there now, as it was, only it was at least three miles up town; too far for me to walk in such a state, and I had no sixpence to ride in an omnibus.
By the time I got back to the ship, every thing was in an uproar. The pea-jacket man was there, ordering about a good many men in the rigging, and people were bringing off chickens, and pigs, and beef, and vegetables from the shore. Soon after, another man, in a striped calico shirt, a short blue jacket and beaver hat, made his appearance, and went to ordering about the man in the big pea-jacket; and at last the captain came up the side, and began to order about both of them.
These two men turned out to be the first and second mates of the ship.
Thinking to make friends with the second mate, I took out an old tortoise-shell snuff-box of my father's, in which I had put a piece of Cavendish tobacco, to look sailor-like, and offered the box to him very politely. He stared at me a moment, and then exclaimed, "Do you think we take snuff aboard here, youngster? no, no, no time for snuff-taking at sea; don't let the 'old man' see that snuff-box; take my advice and pitch it overboard as quick as you can."
I told him it was not snuff, but tobacco; when he said, he had plenty of tobacco of his own, and never carried any such nonsense about him as a tobacco-box. With that, he went off about his business, and left me feeling foolish enough. But I had reason to be glad he had acted thus, for if he had not, I think I should have offered my box to the chief mate, who in that case, from what I afterward learned of him, would have knocked me down, or done something else equally uncivil.
As I was standing looking round me, the chief mate approached in a great hurry about something, and seeing me in his way, cried out, "Ashore with you, you young loafer! There's no stealings here; sail away, I tell you, with that shooting-jacket!"
Upon this I retreated, saying that I was going out in the ship as a sailor.
"A sailor!" he cried, "a barber's clerk, you mean; you going out in the ship? what, in that jacket? Hang me, I hope the old man hasn't been shipping any more greenhorns like you—he'll make a shipwreck of it if he has. But this is the way nowadays; to save a few dollars in seamen's wages, they think nothing of shipping a parcel of farmers and clodhoppers and baby-boys. What's your name, Pillgarlic?"
"Redburn," said I.
"A pretty handle to a man, that; scorch you to take hold of it; haven't you got any other?"
"Wellingborough," said I.
"Worse yet. Who had the baptizing of ye? Why didn't they call you Jack, or Jill, or something short and handy. But I'll baptize you over again. D'ye hear, sir, henceforth your name is Buttons. And now do you go, Buttons, and clean out that pig-pen in the long-boat; it has not been cleaned out since last voyage. And bear a hand about it, d'ye hear; there's them pigs there waiting to be put in; come, be off about it, now."
Was this then the beginning of my sea-career? set to cleaning out a pig-pen, the very first thing?
But I thought it best to say nothing; I had bound myself to obey orders, and it was too late to retreat. So I only asked for a shovel, or spade, or something else to work with.
"We don't dig gardens here," was the reply; "dig it out with your teeth!"
After looking round, I found a stick and went to scraping out the pen, which was awkward work enough, for another boat called the "jolly-boat," was capsized right over the longboat, which brought them almost close together. These two boats were in the middle of the deck. I managed to crawl inside of the long-boat; and after barking my shins against the seats, and bumping my head a good many times, I got along to the stern, where the pig-pen was.
While I was hard at work a drunken sailor peeped in, and cried out to his comrades, "Look here, my lads, what sort of a pig do you call this? Hallo! inside there! what are you 'bout there? trying to stow yourself away to steal a passage to Liverpool? Out of that! out of that, I say." But just then the mate came along and ordered this drunken rascal ashore.
The pig-pen being cleaned out, I was set to work picking up some shavings, which lay about the deck; for there had been carpenters at work on board. The mate ordered me to throw these shavings into the long-boat at a particular place between two of the seats. But as I found it hard work to push the shavings through in that place, and as it looked wet there, I thought it would be better for the shavings as well as myself, to thrust them where there was a larger opening and a dry spot. While I was thus employed, the mate observing me, exclaimed with an oath, "Didn't I tell you to put those shavings somewhere else? Do what I tell you, now, Buttons, or mind your eye!"
Stifling my indignation at his rudeness, which by this time I found was my only plan, I replied that that was not so good a place for the shavings as that which I myself had selected, and asked him to tell me why he wanted me to put them in the place he designated. Upon this, he flew into a terrible rage, and without explanation reiterated his order like a clap of thunder.
This was my first lesson in the discipline of the sea, and I never forgot it. From that time I learned that sea-officers never gave reasons for any thing they order to be done. It is enough that they command it, so that the motto is, "Obey orders, though you break owners."
I now began to feel very faint and sick again, and longed for the ship to be leaving the dock; for then I made no doubt we would soon be having something to eat. But as yet, I saw none of the sailors on board, and as for the men at work in the rigging, I found out that they were "riggers," that is, men living ashore, who worked by the day in getting ships ready for sea; and this I found out to my cost, for yielding to the kind blandishment of one of these riggers, I had swapped away my jackknife with him for a much poorer one of his own, thinking to secure a sailor friend for the voyage. At last I watched my chance, and while people's backs were turned, I seized a carrot from several bunches lying on deck, and clapping it under the skirts of my shooting-jacket, went forward to eat it; for I had often eaten raw carrots, which taste something like chestnuts. This carrot refreshed me a good deal, though at the expense of a little pain in my stomach. Hardly had I disposed of it, when I heard the chief mate's voice crying out for "Buttons." I ran after him, and received an order to go aloft and "slush down the main-top mast."
This was all Greek to me, and after receiving the order, I stood staring about me, wondering what it was that was to be done. But the mate had turned on his heel, and made no explanations. At length I followed after him, and asked what I must do.
"Didn't I tell you to slush down the main-top mast?" he shouted.
"You did," said I, "but I don't know what that means."
"Green as grass! a regular cabbage-head!" he exclaimed to himself. "A fine time I'll have with such a greenhorn aboard. Look you, youngster. Look up to that long pole there—d'ye see it? that piece of a tree there, you timber-head—well—take this bucket here, and go up the rigging—that rope-ladder there—do you understand?—and dab this slush all over the mast, and look out for your head if one drop falls on deck. Be off now, Buttons."
The eventful hour had arrived; for the first time in my life I was to ascend a ship's mast. Had I been well and hearty, perhaps I should have felt a little shaky at the thought; but as I was then, weak and faint, the bare thought appalled me.
But there was no hanging back; it would look like cowardice, and I could not bring myself to confess that I was suffering for want of food; so rallying again, I took up the bucket.
It was a heavy bucket, with strong iron hoops, and might have held perhaps two gallons. But it was only half full now of a sort of thick lobbered gravy, which I afterward learned was boiled out of the salt beef used by the sailors. Upon getting into the rigging, I found it was no easy job to carry this heavy bucket up with me. The rope handle of it was so slippery with grease, that although I twisted it several times about my wrist, it would be still twirling round and round, and slipping off. Spite of this, however, I managed to mount as far as the "top," the clumsy bucket half the time straddling and swinging about between my legs, and in momentary danger of capsizing. Arrived at the "top," I came to a dead halt, and looked up. How to surmount that overhanging impediment completely posed me for the time. But at last, with much straining, I contrived to place my bucket in the "top;" and then, trusting to Providence, swung myself up after it. The rest of the road was comparatively easy; though whenever I incautiously looked down toward the deck, my head spun round so from weakness, that I was obliged to shut my eyes to recover myself. I do not remember much more. I only recollect my safe return to the deck.
In a short time the bustle of the ship increased; the trunks of cabin passengers arrived, and the chests and boxes of the steerage passengers, besides baskets of wine and fruit for the captain.
At last we cast loose, and swinging out into the stream, came to anchor, and hoisted the signal for sailing. Every thing, it seemed, was on board but the crew; who in a few hours after, came off, one by one, in Whitehall boats, their chests in the bow, and themselves lying back in the stem like lords; and showing very plainly the complacency they felt in keeping the whole ship waiting for their lordships.
"Ay, ay," muttered the chief mate, as they rolled out of then-boats and swaggered on deck, "it's your turn now, but it will be mine before long. Yaw about while you may, my hearties, I'll do the yawing after the anchor's up."
Several of the sailors were very drunk, and one of them was lifted on board insensible by his landlord, who carried him down below and dumped him into a bunk. And two other sailors, as soon as they made their appearance, immediately went below to sleep off the fumes of their drink.
At last, all the crew being on board, word was passed to go to dinner fore and aft, an order that made my heart jump with delight, for now my long fast would be broken. But though the sailors, surfeited with eating and drinking ashore, did not then touch the salt beef and potatoes which the black cook handed down into the forecastle; and though this left the whole allowance to me; to my surprise, I found that I could eat little or nothing; for now I only felt deadly faint, but not hungry.