A bright pleasant evening after a squall, in which the art of angling is introduced in a way which would have added to the knowledge of izaac walton himself.
"I beg pardon, messmate," said Ben, as he and my father became more sociable; "but may I make so bold as to ask you how you contrived to get that seam across your figure-head? You did say something about a Frenchman, if I heard right; and as the war is now of two years' standing, I suppose you've had a rap or two at Mounseer."
"'Xpect I have," replied my father. "Well, old chap, I'll just wet my whistle, and then I'll tell you all about it, and it won't take long, neither. The boats were ordered away—"
"Of what ship, messmate?"
"Very true, I began in the middle. Well, it was in the ship I now belongs to, the 'Oudacious'—we were with the squadron off Ferrol; signal made to chase southeast—clapped every stitch on her after two gun-boats who were running down in-shore. Light winds—got well in for the land, and then it fell calm. Gun-boats four miles off using their sweeps—our boats in chase—I was coxswain of the first pinnace—a devilish fast boat, messmate, I can tell you, with a smart brass gun—pulled two feet to their one, and came up with them hand-over-hand—both cutters and the other pinnace well up with us—the old launch half a mile astern. Now you see, sir, I've got the picture for you, haven't I?"
"Just exactly," replied old Ben.
"Well, then, it was a long pull; and that reminds me that I'll have a long pull now, so hand me the porter, messmate." My father took a tremendous long pull at the pewter, and then handing it to Ben, he recommenced:
"We were soon within gun-shot, and they turned their heads toward us and blazed away: very pretty shot they fired, for they cut away three of our starboard oars before we were near enough to return the fire with our small gun. However, the second pinnace and cutters came up and shared the shot with us; and at last the old fat launch came grunting along, for all the world like an old board, pitching into them round and grape. Now the first lieutenant was in the launch, and, of course, commanded, and he ordered the boats to separate more, which was very right, as it divided the shot; and then he passed the word that when he sounded the bugle we were all to pull to the headmost gun-boat and board her. D'ye understand, messmate?"
"Perfectly," replied Ben, taking his pipe out to reply.
"Well, then, just hand me the pot." My father drained it this time, and told me to go for another.
"Then I shall lose the story," replied I.
"No, boy, you won't," replied Ben; "I'll answer for it your father will heave-to till you come back."
"So I will, Jack," replied my father. And having with every expedition executed my task, my father then continued:
"Well, there we all were, waiting for the bugle, each boat creeping on a little every moment, so as to have a fair start, as they do in a race; when at last the signal was given, and away we all went like smoke, with our oars bending double. The first pinnace reached the gun-boat first; then the cutters banged alongside of her—all three of us to windward—while the second pinnace and launch took her to leeward. There's not much climbing in getting on board of a gun-boat; indeed, we were at it before we were out of the boat, for the Frenchmen had pikes as long as the spanker-boom; but we soon got inside of their points, and came to close work. They stood a good tussle, I will say that, and so they always do. We may laugh at 'em, and call 'em Johnny Crapows, but they are a right brave nation, if they aren't good seamen; but that I reckon's the fault of their lingo, for it's too noisy to carry on duty well with, and so they never will be sailors till they larn English."
"I never heard them carry on duty in French," said Ben; "it quite beats my comprehension how they can do it at all."
"Well, I have," replied my father; "and every word they use is as long as the maintop bowling, and the mast is over the side before they can get them out. Why, would you believe it? I once asked one of those fellows what he called the foremast in his language, and what d'ye think he said? Why, I'm blowed if he didn't call it a 'Mar-darty-marng' (and that's the only bit of French I know); but how is it possible to work a ship in such gibberish?"
"Quite unpossible," replied Ben.
"Well, as I've yawed a little out of my course, suppose we have another swig before I takes a fresh departure?"
After they had both drunk, my father proceeded:
"Well, messmate, I was on the gunnel as soon as the others, and a sword came down upon me like a flash of lightning. I had just time to lift my cutlass and save my head, and then I found that it was the sword of the French lieutenant who commanded the gun-boat. He was a, tall, clean-built chap, with curls hanging down like a poodle dog's—every curl not thicker than a rope yarn, and mayhap a thousand of them—and he quite foamed at the mouth (that's another fault of these Frenchmen, they don't take things coolly, but puts themselves in a passion about nothing); so thinks I to myself it won't do for you to go on chopping at that rate, for when I fended off he made my whole hand tingle with the force of his blow; so I darts at him and drives the hilt of my cutlass right into his mouth, and he fell, and his own men trod him underfoot, and on we went, hammer and tongs. By this time the boarding of the launch and pinnace to leeward, for they could not get up as soon as we did, created a divarsion, and bothered the Frenchman, who hardly knew which way to turn; however, as there were more of our men on the other side, they most on 'em faced about; and the French officer was then able to get on his knees again, and while I was busy and did not see him he just give me this cut across the figure-head, which don't add to my beauty, anyhow. Well, it was cut for cut, messmate. I just took one look at the beggar, and I drove my cutlass into his skull, just as he was rising up, and he never rose again. That's my story."
"I suppose you took the craft?"
"Yes; and her consort, too. But many lost the number of their mess, and I lost all my beauty. Just hand me the 'baccy, messmate; and, Jack, go for the next pot of beer."
I found them both smoking in silence when I returned; but, after a few minutes, my father said, "Messmate, as I have told you how I got this chalk, suppose you tell me in return how you got that nose of yours fixed so hard a starboard? That's fair play."
"Exactly so," replied Ben. "Why, d'ye see? I sarved most of my early life in the whaling line. I was three voyages to the north; but taking the black whale counts for nothing; you must go south arter the sparmacitty if you wish to see sport."
"I never was in that line," replied my father; "but I've heard fellows spin the devil's own yarns about it."
"And so they may, and tell the truth, that's sartain, shipmate. You see, the sparmacitty don't take the harpoon quite so quietly as the black whale does; he fights hard to the last, and sometimes is very free with his jaws. The very large ones are the most easy to kill; so we always look out for them when we can, as they give less trouble, and more oil; the most dangerous are the half-grown, which we call 'forty-barrel bulls,' as that's about what oil we get out of them."
"Well," said my father, "I'm blessed if ever I knew whales were called bulls before this night."
"Yes, that's our term," replied Ben; "and now to my story. We were down off the coast of Japan; when, about one hour after daybreak, the man looking out at the masthead gave the usual word when he sees a whale blowing—'There she spouts.' And this he repeats every time the fish rises. We had a clean hold at the time, for we had but just come to our fishing-ground, and we were mighty eager. The boats were down in a jiffy, and away we pulled. We were within a quarter of a mile of the whale, when, to our disappointment, he peaked his flukes—"
"What's that, messmate?" inquired my father.
"Why, you see, it's the right term after all, for the tail of sparmacitty is like the flukes of an anchor; and, of course, now you understand me."
"Yes, you mean to say he went down, I suppose."
"Of course; for how could he go down headforemost, without peaking his tail in the air?"
"One lives and larns as long as one lives," observed my father. "Heave ahead again, old boy."
"Well, as you can't know what you haven't heard anything about, I must now tell you that these animals be as regular as the bells in a man-of-war; and whenever they goes down to fed, they always stays exactly about the time allowed for dinner in a comfortable ship; that is, seventy minutes exactly. An hour, you see, is the regular time allowed, and the other ten minutes are by favor of the officer of the watch, or first lieutenant. We knew that we must wait that time for him, so we tossed up our oars, and laid by."
"I suppose them sparmacitty chaps have a watch in their pockets," said my father, smiling.
"It's a true bill, nevertheless, messmate, and they never alter: how and why they keep to their time, the Lord who gave them the sense to do so only knows. It is one of the wonders of the deep, which they only who go on the great waters can bear witness to."
"It beats my comprehension quite entirely," replied my father; "and yet I have seen animals with a great deal of sense. In one ship, we had a sheep who would chew tobacco and drink grog. Now go ahead again."
"Well, we had waited about half an hour, when we saw a whiff at the masthead of the ship; we knew that it was to direct our attention to some other point, so we looked round the horizon, and perceived that there was a 'school' of young bulls, about three miles from us. We were four boats in all; and the first mate desired my boat and another to go in chase of them, while he remained with the other two, for this old whale to come up again. Well, off we went, and soon came up with the school: they are the most awkward part of whale fishing; for they are savage, and, moreover, easily 'gallied,' that is, frightened. I picked out one, and tried to come up with him; but he was very shy, and at last he raised his head clean out of the water, and set off at the rate of ten miles an hour; this showed that he was aware of danger. I had just thought of giving him up, and trying for another, when he suddenly turned round and came right toward the boats. That we knew meant mischief; but, in coming toward us, he passed close to the other boat and the steersman gave him the harpoon right well into him. This made him more savage, and he stood right for my boat, plowing up the sea as he rushed on. I was all ready in the bow with the harpoon, and the men were all ready with their oars to pull back, so as to keep clear of him. On he came, and when his snout was within six feet of us we pulled sharp across him; and as we went from him, I gave him the harpoon deep into the fin. 'Starn all!' was the cry as usual, that we might be clear of him. He 'sounded' immediately, that is, down he went, headforemost, which was what we were afraid of, for you see we had only two hundred fathoms of line in each boat; and having both harpoons in him, we could not bend one to the other, in case he 'sounded' deep, for sometimes they will go down right perpendicular, and take four lines, or eight hundred fathoms, with them; so we expected that we should this time lose the whale as well as our lines, for when they were run out we must either cut or go down with him. Well, the lines ran out so swift that we poured water on them that they might not fire—and we thought that it was all over, for the lines were two-thirds out, and he was going down as fast as ever, when all of a sudden he stopped. We were hauling in the slack lines, when we saw him rise again, about a quarter of a mile off. It was a hurrah, for we now thought that we had him. Off he set with his nose up, right in the wind's eye, towing the two boats at the rate of twelve miles an hour; our stems cleaving through the sea, and throwing off the water like a plume of feathers on each side of the bows, while the sun's rays pierced through the spray and formed bright rainbows. We hoped soon to tire him, and to be able to haul in upon our lines, so as to get near enough to give him our lances; but that was only hope, as you'll hear. Of a sudden, he stopped, turned round, and made right for us, with his jaws open; then, all we had to do was to balk him, and give him the lance. He did not seem to have made up his mind which boat he would attack—we were pretty near together, and he yawed at one, and then at the other. At last he made right for the other boat, and the boatsetter dodged him very cleverly, while we pulled up to him, and I put the lance up to the stock into his side. He made a plunge as if he were going to 'sound' again; and as he did so, with his flukes he threw our boat into the air a matter of twenty feet, cutting it clean in half, and one of the boat's thwarts came right athwart of my nose, and it never has been straight since. So now you have it, messmate; and I shouldn't mind if you passed the beer this way, for this long yarn has made my throat somewhat dry."
"When you've had your swig, old chap, you may as well tell us how the matter ended," observed my father.
"Why, it just ended in our losing the whale in the first place, and the boat with her gear in the second. We were picked up by the other boat, and there was no time to be lost, for the sharks were brought together by the scent of the whale's blood; the whale sounded again, and we were obliged to cut the line and return on board. But God bless you, messmate, I could tell you many a longer yarn than that, and mayhap I shall some day or another."
"Well, I hope you will," replied my father; "but your fishing story has put me in mind of rather a curious fish, caught by a lad on board of a man-of-war; and suppose I finish what's at the bottom of this here pot; send Jack for another, and when he comes back, I'll tell you all about it."
"There's nothing gives me more satisfaction," replied Ben, "than to pass away the evening in a sober, quiet way, as we are doing now, telling and listening to long yarns. Ain't you sleepy, Jack?"
"Oh! no," replied I, "not a bit. I'll run for the porter; and don't let father begin till I come back, Ben. The house will be shut up soon: shall I get more than a pot?"
"Yes, Jack; but not more beer," replied my father, putting some silver into my hand; "get one pot of beer and a bottle of rum. We'll have that by way of a nightcap, old boy."
I ran for the beer and liquor, and was soon back. My father and Ben refilled their pipes, and the former commenced as follows:
"When I was quartermaster on board of the 'Melpomene,' we had an old chap for first lieutenant whose name was Fletcher. He was a kind-hearted man enough, as he never worried the ship's company when there was no occasion; but, at the same time, he was what you call a great stickler for duty—made no allowances for neglect or disobedience of orders, although he would wink at any little skylarking, walking aft, shutting his eyes, and pretending not to see or hear it. His usual phrase was, 'My man, you've got your duty to do, and I've got mine.' And this he repeated fifty times a day; so at last he went by the name of 'Old Duty.' I think I see him now, walking up and down with his spy-glass under his left arm, and the hand of the other pushed into his breast, as if he were fumbling for a flea. His hat was always split and worn in the front, from constantly taking it off, instead of touching it, when he came on the quarter-deck; and, as soon as it was too far gone in front to raise the purchase off his head, he used to shift it end for end, bringing the back part in front, and then he would wear it, until, as the Yankees say, it was in 'taterations altogether,' and he was forced to bend a new one.
"Now, we had a boy on board, who entered one day when the captain landed at Torquay to dine with a friend. His name was Jack Jervis: his father and his whole tribe had been fishermen for as long as could be remembered; and Jack himself had been drafted out of his cradle into a coble; and there he had continued day and night, from one year's end to another, helping his father to fish—so, you see, it had become second nature to him; and, after he came on board, his liking for his former calling still remained with him, and he never was so happy as when his line was overboard, or when he was snooding a hook in some corner or another. He went by the name of Jack the Fisherman; and a smart, active, willing lad he was, sure enough.
"Now, there was a little difficulty between Old Duty and Jack the Fisherman. Old Duty would not allow the lines to be overboard when the ship was in harbor; as he said it was untidy in appearance, and that there was always plenty of work, and no time for fishing. So Jack hadn't pulled up his line ten or a dozen times before he was pulled up himself. 'Whose line's that?' says Old Duty. 'Mine, sir,' says Jack, touching his hat. 'I don't allow fishing, young man,' said the first lieutenant. 'You understand me?—I don't allow fishing. You've your duty to do, sir, and I've got mine.'
"Jack, who had only been two or three days on board, and who, I believe, would never have entered, had he known that there would have been such a 'weto,' as the boatswain used to call it, looked quite astonished, and said—
"'What, mayn't I fish, sir?'
"'No, my man, you must not fish without permission; and that I never give in harbor. If I catch you fishing again, you get two dozen at the gun, recollect that. You've got your duty to do, and I've got mine.'
"Well, Jack could not give up his habit, so he used to fish at night, and all night long, out of the fore-chains; but it so happened that the ship's corporal caught Jack in the middle watch, and reports him to the first lieutenant.
"'So, you've been fishing again, sir,' says Old Duty. 'No, sir,' replied Jack, 'not fishing—only laying night lines.'
"'Oh! that's it,' replied the first lieutenant; 'only laying night lines! Pray, what's the difference?'
"'Please, sir,' said Jack, touching his hat, 'the difference is—that it's not the same thing.'
"'Well, sir, I see but one difference, and I'll meet it accordingly. You've your duty to do, and I've got mine.'
"The boys' heads and ears having been pulled about and examined by the master-at-arms, they were dismissed; and Jack thought that he had got off—but he was mistaken.
"After the hammocks had been piped down, and it was dark, the boys were ordered up by the master-at-arms; Jack was seized to the gun, and had his two dozen. 'There, sir,' said Old Duty, as they cast the seizings off, 'if fishing at night is not fishing, punishment at night is not punishment. Now we're quits. You've your duty to do, and I've got mine.'
"I don't think that Jack perceived any more difference in the two dozen at night-time than the first lieutenant did between day and night fishing; however, Jack did not fish for some time afterward. But it so happened that the first lieutenant was asked on shore to dine with the port-admiral; and, although he seldom left the ship, he could not refuse such a compliment, and so he went. As soon as it was dark, Jack thought his absence too good an opportunity not to have a fish; so he goes into the mizzen-chains and drops his line. Well, he fished (but I don't know whether he caught any) till the boat was hailed in which the first lieutenant was coming on board, and then Jack thought it time to haul in his line; but, just at that moment, there was a jerk; and Jack, who knew that fish was at the bait, could not for the life of him pull up his line—for, you see, he was a fisherman heart and soul; so Jack trusted to Providence and the first lieutenant's going down below as soon as he came on deck.
"Now, you see, the ship was lying at the time 'cross the tide, the wind blowing against the current: the starboard side (being to leeward as to the wind, but to windward as to the tide) had been cleared away, and manned for the boat, and Jack made sure that the first lieutenant would pull to that side; but he was mistaken. Whether it was that the first lieutenant wished to have a look round the ship or not, I do not know, but he pulled across the bows, and went round the stern, passing the larboard side: as he passed, Jack shrunk under the lee of the deadeyes and lanyards, hoping he might not be seen; but the first lieutenant, having the clear horizon on the other side, perceived the line which Jack had half hauled up, and, having an eye like a cat, makes out Jack also.
"'I see you, sir—I see you, Mr. Jervis, fishing again, sir. Very well,' cried the first lieutenant, from the sternsheets of the boat, as he passed by. 'You've your duty to do, and I've got mine.' 'That's as good as two dozen to-morrow morning at muster,' thought Jack, who cursed his luck, and, in a very melancholy mood, began to haul up his line, which, as soon as he had been discovered, he had let go down to the bottom again. Now, it so happened that, as Old Duty went up the other side, his foot slipped; and, how it was I can't tell, for they say he wasn't the least groggy, but down he fell, between the boat's gunnel and the ship's side, just like a deep-sea lead, and disappeared. There being so few men on deck, there was not much of a bustle—there was a dive or two for him with the boat-hook, but all in vain—Old Duty was gone.
"In the meantime, Jack on the other side was slowly hauling up his line; but he had not got it half-way up when he felt a heavy strain, and he thought that a large conger eel had followed the bait up, as they do sometimes, and he hauled and hauled with all his might. At last, who should he bring to the surface of the water but Old Duty, who had been sucked under the ship's bottom by the tide, and had been hooked by Jack, as he was pulling up. When Jack saw it was the first lieutenant, as he told me, his first idea was to let him down again; but that was only for a moment. The words of the first lieutenant still rang in his ears, 'You've your duty to do, and I've got mine'—so Jack did his duty. He hollows out that he had caught Old Duty, and the boat shifted round and took him on board. The old fellow was quite senseless; but as he had been but a short time in the water, he was put to bed, and resuscitated by the surgeon. The next morning he was all just as if nothing had happened, walking the deck with his right hand in his breast, and his spy-glass under his left arm, as usual.
"Well, we all told Jack that he was safe this time, but Jack seemed to think otherwise. He shook his head; and now you'll learn who was right.
"When the boys were all mustered next morning, toeing a line, and holding out their paws, the first lieutenant turns round and says, 'Jervis, you were fishing last night, against my orders.' 'Yes, sir,' said Jervis, 'and I catched a first lieutenant;' for Jack had a good deal of fun in him. 'Yes, sir, and queer fishes they are sometimes,' replies Old Duty; 'but you forget that you have also catched two dozen. You have your duty to do, and I've got mine.'
"Well, as you may suppose, there were many of us looking abaft, just to see what would take place, and were not a little astonished at the idea of his rewarding Jack with two dozen for saving his life; however, of course, we were mum. Jack was tied up; and the first lieutenant whispered a word into the ear of his master-at-arms, who again whispered to Williams, the boatswain's mate; and the effect of that whisper was, that the cat was laid on so lightly that Jack hardly felt it; so lightly, indeed, that the first lieutenant walked away aft, that he might not appear to be a party in the consarn, and Jack was cast off without having half a tear in either eye when Old Duty went up to him.
"'You fished last night against orders, and therefore you have received your punishment. You saved my life last night, and therefore it is my duty to reward you. I could not let you off this punishment, as it would be making the King pay you for me, instead of my paying you myself. I'm not a rich man, but here's ten guineas for your purse, and here's my gold watch. Spend the first usefully, and keep the other; and observe, Jack Jervis, if ever you are again caught fishing in harbor, you will as surely get two dozen for your pains. You've your duty to do, and I've got mine.'"
"Well, messmate, that's a queer story altogether, and queerer fellows in it. I wouldn't have minded sailing with that Old Duty. Suppose we drink his health?"
"With all my heart; for you're right, old chap. When we knows what we are to expect, we're always ready to meet-it; but some officers I've sailed with shift about like a dog-vane, and there's no knowing how to meet them. I recollect—But I say, Jack, suppose you turn in—your eyes are winking and blinking like an owl's in the sunshine. You're tired, boy, so go to bed. We shan't tell any more yarns to-night."
I was very tired indeed, and could not keep my eyes open any longer; so I went upstairs, and was asleep almost as soon as I laid my head upon the pillow.