Wednesday, 30 December 2009
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From the “Sea Stories Magazine" Vol. 5 #5, July 5, 1923. Digital capture by Philip Bolton Jr., Betty Paulo and Doug Frizzle, December 2009.
All sailors are aware of the conscious air of superiority with which the man who has spent all of his time in the deep-water trade looks down upon the man whose life has been spent in steamers, or upon the coast. Much can and has been said about this, pro and con; much of it we are forced to admit is con. Captain Asa Weaver, however, was one man who proved his superiority by deeds. After reading this you will admit that, in spite of his bluster, Captain Weaver was every inch a sailor.
“Humph!” snorted Cap’n Asa Weaver as he tipped back in his chair and puffed at his short black pipe in the smoking room of the Seamen’s Club. “Humph, I tell ye, as long’s a ship’ll float there ain’t no ‘arthly excuse fer desartin’ on her or bein’ towed inter port.”
Lem Perkins flushed a deeper shade of red under his weather-beaten skin. “Meanin’ you’re referrin’ to me, I s’pose,” he remarked.
“Not pertick’lerly, not pertick’lerly,” rumbled Cap’n Weaver. “But I’m sayin’ that I’ve been to sea—man an’ boy—nigh onto twenty-five years an’ I ain’t never asked nor took help from any blasted steam tea kittle yit. No, sir, long’s the ol’ Orion ain’t stove an’ don’t spring a leak what the pumps can’t keep under I’ll git her into port , by gum.”
“Like to ha’ seen ye git the Sachem in,” muttered Lem. “All four sticks gone plum outen her lessen ten foot above decks. ‘Spect ye could ha’ done it o’course. Mebbe ye’ll be willin’ to offer a bit o’ advice, seein’ as how ye’re such an all fired better seaman than I be.”
“I don’t aim to be l’arnin’ seamanship to others,” replied Cap’n Weaver hotly. “But ye don’t catch me payin’ salvage to no towboat robbers these hard times. No, sir, bad enough to have to pay ‘em to towin’out an’ in port.
“’Spect ye’d have fitted her with sweeps or sculled her in,” retorted Lem sarcastically.
“Might ha’ put jury rig onto her,” declared the other. ‘Though I don’t ‘spect cap’ns o’ fore’n afters could do sech things.”
Lem burst into a hearty laugh. “Jury rig!” he cried. “Sure, set up the crew’s breeches an’ a couple o’ han’kerchiefs an’ get into port ‘bout a year later. Y’re forgettin’ time’s money these days.”
“Wall, ain’t I jury rigged with this here timber leg o’ mine?” exploded old Asa. “An’ I calc’late I get about as lively as most on ye. An’ I’m sayin’ again,” he continued, “that any skipper what’ll give a line to a towboat ‘slong’s his hooker’ll float’s no deep water seaman. By Godfrey! I could slam a jury rig onto the Orion what’d shove the ol’ hooker along better’n that there tub o’ your’n could make under full sail.” Knocking the ashes from his pipe, the old skipper arose, stretched himself and stumped off.
Two days after this verbal set-to with Cap’n Lem, the one-legged old mariner stood upon the broad and spotless quarter deck of the bark Orion as, in tow of a fussy tug, she dropped down Boston harbor. To the rousing chantey of “Whiskey Johnny” the great topsail yards rose slowly from the caps, sheets were manned and one by one the huge sails were spread. Then, as with a parting toot of her whistle, the tug cast off the line, the men tallied on the braces and under a lofty pyramid of snowy canvas the Orion headed for the open sea.
She was bound for Matanzas, Cuba, and Cap’n Asa expected to see the hazy coastline of the Pearl of the Antilles rising beyond the soaring tip of his flying jibboom within ten days after passing Provincetown light. The wind was fair, the weather perfect, the sea a vast crinkled sheet of glue, and everything promised a quick and easy run. But the Atlantic, even in mid summer, is capricious, and fate had other plans for the Orion and boastful Cap’n Asa. Two days after rounding the Cape and heading southward, the barometer dropped rapidly, an ominous swell came out of the south, the sky became overcast, brownish-gray scud drifted in ragged wisps from below the horizon and the air took on a curious sickly-yellow tint.
Cap’n Weaver had been too long at sea and had made far too many voyages to the tropics not to realize what was in store. He knew that a West Indian hurricane was racing up from the Caribbean and while he did not possess the latest types of instruments and scoffed at scientific theories and government publications on hurricanes, yet he realized that the Orion was in for a “rip snorter” as he put it.
Sharp orders were bawled out, rapidly sails were furled and made snug, movable objects on deck were secured with double lashings, and soon the bark was wallowing along under lower topsails, jib and close reefed fors’l. There was little wind, and the sea ran in long oily rollers, the Orion, without enough canvas to steady her rolled horribly. But old Asa was not one to take any chances or carry sail until too late. He was owner as well as master of the Orion, all his savings of a lifetime of toil, hardship and danger were invested in the bark, and he believed in shortening sail while the shortening was good.
“Derned sight easier to put canvas onto her if it don’t blow than ‘tis to shorten if it does,” he remarked to his mate, a young Gloucester man named Haskell. “An’ looks to me like it’s goin’ to blow fit to take the whiskers offen ye.”
And had any of the Orion’s crew worn such facial adornments, Cap’n Weaver’s remark might well have been verified, for blow it did with a vengeance. Out of the west it came, a screeching, howling, maniacal blast, a savage, roaring eighty-mile gale that picked up the sea and flung it in tons of green water with the force of a battering ram upon the bark and, catching the heavily laden ship broadside on, forced her over until her port rail was buried in the hissing seas, and green water surged over her decks to the hatches. For a space it seemed as though she would go on her beam ends, as if she would never right, and then, with a crash like thunder, her main lower topsail split and was instantly torn to ribbons. Relieved of the pressure the Orion slowly staggered up, shook the cataracts of water from her decks and with two men straining at her wheel, swung on the crest of a huge comber and tore off before the hurricane.
She was a stanch, well-built Yankee ship, a fabric of good white oak and Maine pine, a ship of whom her Boothbay builders might well have been proud and Cap’n Asa had no fear of her weathering the fearful storm sweeping up from the Antilles and driving the bark eastward with the speed of a liner. Great, curling green seas reared to half the height of the crojack yard, their crests sheared off by the terrific gale that was now blowing nearly one hundred miles an hour. Equally great combers reared ahead, but as long as a stitch of canvas held, the Orion would outrun the seas, the captain felt sure, and even if the bits of remaining canvas were torn from the boltropes he had little doubt that his ship, under bare poles would drive fast enough to avoid being pooped. The mizzen topsail had long ago followed the main and only a bit of jib and fore tops’l showed, sodden gray, and hard as sheet iron against the flying scud and murk. But no canvas ever woven by man could stand the awful strain, the onslaught of the hurricane for long, and within an hour from the time the gale had burst the fore tops’l flew, like some huge frightened bird, into the turmoil, leaving a few streaming, snapping shreds of canvas attached to spars and mast. Quickly the jib followed and the Orion drove on under bare poles that bent and strained and swayed like whips to the wild pitching, staggering motions of the bark. There was nothing to be done. No human being could move across the waveswept, tossing deck. The few men above hatches had lashed themselves fast, and Cap’n Weaver and his mate had secured themselves to the mizzen rigging to port and starboard.
For hour after hour the Orion raced on, but gradually the wind fell, it came in screaming, uneven gusts, the sky lightened, and while the seas ran even higher than before, their crests curled and broke less spitefully.
Apparently the worst of the storm was past and late in the afternoon the skipper went below for a hasty meal and a quart of steaming coffee. Then, having smoked and after roughly calculating his position by dead reckoning, and knowing by the motion of the bark that she was making as good weather of it as could be expected, he turned in for a few hours’ rest.
He was aroused by being rolled unceremoniously from his bunk on to the floor. Instantly wide awake and with all his faculties on the alert, he clawed his way across the room to the door which seemed, somehow, to be near the ceiling. He half crawled, half scrambled through the main cabin and gained the companionway. That his ship was in dire straits he knew the moment he rolled from his bunk, for the slope of the deck told him she was practically on her beam ends. Dimly through the thick planking came the roar of the wind and the thunderous pounding of the seas, and as he gained the companion stairs there came a muffled, rending crash, a blow that shook the bark from stem to stern, and with a jerk that all but threw the skipper from his feet the bark heaved herself up to a nearly level keel.
“Some gosh-dinged thing carried away,” was his mental comment, and the next moment he was straining, tugging, exerting all his great strength to open the companionway doors. As he did so he staggered, grasped the casings for support and ducked his head as a demoniacal blast of wind and brine struck him with the force of a solid thing. It was impossible to stand upright, and dropping on hands and knees he literally dragged himself against the wind onto the deck as the doors slammed to with a resounding, splintering bang behind him. Holding for dear life to the skylight gratings he peered about. It was inky black, the noise was deafening, great white masses of roaring foam rose on every side and vivid lightening split the night incessantly. By its glare he could see the men, drenched, buffeted, but straining, at the wheel. He caught a glimpse of Haskell. Half buried in swirling water against the starboard rail, and he took a swift glance forward. Beyond the main mast no spars loomed black against the lightning’s flash, only a tangle of wreckage strewn across the deck remained of the foremast and its rigging, and above the roar of wind and seas there came a dull, echoing, crashing sound at regular intervals. The mast, still fast to the bark by stays and shrouds, was driving like a battering ram against the ship’s planking, and at any instant the hull might be stove. To cut free the wreckage, even to cross the decks, seemed an utter impossibility and yet it must be done; must somehow be accomplished if the bark was to be saved.
Waiting until the ship poised on a wave crest, the skipper, with a sudden rush, gained the mate’s side and quickly passed a bight of rope about his own body. Then, bending his head, he placed his mouth to Haskell’s ears and bellowed his orders.
“Got to clear away the spar,” he roared. “Kin ye get for’ard to the men?”
“Don’t know. I’ll try,” screamed back the mate.
Rapidly uncoiling a line from a belaying pin, and making the end fast about his waist, the mate grasped the mizzen rigging, worked inch at a time around it, secured a grip on the rail and slowly, watching his chances, taking advantage of each momentary lull in the bark’s mad plunging, edged forward. Safely he gained the main rigging and was about to start on the most perilous part of his journey when a huge comber burst over the bulwarks, tore him from the rail, and hurled him with a sickening thud across the slanting deck against the port rail. Instantly the skipper began hauling in the halliards, dragging the inert body of the mate through the streaming brine across the decks, until he could reach down and raise him to his feet. He had regained his senses, but his face was covered with blood from a deep gash across his forehead, and he staggered uncertainly. He was in no condition to attempt the hazardous trip again, and Cap’n Asa, without hesitation, lashed the befuddled man to the rigging, knotted the line about his own waist and started forward. He was no young man, and was handicapped by a wooden leg, but grim determination was in his set face. He was strong and powerfully built and the safety of the bark, the lives of the men and the savings of a lifetime, were at stake.
A dozen times he was all but wrenched from the rail; seas broke over him, beating him to his knees and half smothering him. A bit of broken spar, hurled by an onrushing sea, struck his shoulder and, like a javelin, tore through his garments and left a jagged, bleeding cut in his flesh. Ropes and rigging whipping, coiling, writhing like serpents, as the water surged back and forth across the decks, tripped him and all but threw him down, but still he kept doggedly on.
And at last he triumphed. He reached the tangled, rent and broken forestays; gained the shelter of the break of the fo’c’s’le, and with a belaying pin pounded loudly on the fo’c’sle door. Cursing the men under his breath for cowards, he kept up his crashing blows until at last the door opened and in the flickering light a man’s head appeared.
“Get on deck!” bellowed the skipper. “All hands on ye. Fo’mast’s gone an’s a-stavin’ o’ the plankin’. Get axes and’ tumble out.”
Knowing their lives depended upon obeying, realizing that if the skipper could be on deck so could they, although the watch had been swept overboard as the bark had careened ere the mast gave way, the men hurried to do the skipper’s bidding. Armed with knives and choppers they came crowding out, the bo’sun leading.
“Where’s the secon’, Mr.Johnson?” roared the captain.
“Gone!” screamed back the bo’sun with his mouth to the captain’s ear. “Went overboard fust thing, along with four of the men.”
“Get busy,” yelled the skipper, lashing himself to the bitts. Then, under the old seaman’s eye and bellowed orders the crew, risking life and limb each second, working like madmen, hacked and cut and slashed at the tangled ropes and twisted rigging. It was fearful, desperate work. The seas rushed at them, broken spars seemed possessed of a maniacal, fiendish desire to slay and the wire rigging, as it parted, lashed viciously with razor-edged strands at the men’s bodies. But, one by one, the shrouds and stays that bound the fallen spars and mast were severed, the wreckage was clear of the ship, the massive sticks no longer pounded cruelly at the planks and only the steel wire backstays bound the tangle to the Orion.
“Don’t cut no more,” bellowed the skipper. “Get out a three-inch cable an’ bend it onto that there stay. Take a turn o’ cable ‘round the fo’must and pass it ‘round the capstan. Then cut away the stay an’ pay out ‘bout fifty fathom o’ cable.”
Quickly his orders were carried out. The huge hempen cable was bent onto the straining stay, a turn was taken about the stump of the mast, it was led about the capstan and through the forward chocks and, snubbing it, the men braced themselves as two of their number cut through the wires of the stay. Then, as the strands parted, and the full weight of the drifting, floating spars and rigging, with the tons of wet furled sails upon the broken yards, came upon the hawser, they slowly paid it out until the skipper ordered them to make fast. Already the bark was riding easier, taking less water on board, and as she swung slowly to the drag of the improvised sea-anchor her bow came into the wind and waves, and the weary, exhausted, panting men breathed a sigh of relief. Unless the wind increased or shifted suddenly the bark would ride in safety as long as the cable held and there was nothing to be done save wait for the storm to blow itself out.
“Get below if ye mind to,” roared the captain when he saw that everything possible had been done. Then, as the men gladly did so, he freed himself from the bitts and worked his way aft. Dawn was now breaking, and half carrying, half dragging Haskell, the skipper entered the companionway, first gruffly telling the men at the wheel they were no longer needed and could shelter themselves in the lee of the deck house, but to keep watch and notify him if the sea-anchor broke loose or anything went wrong.
A nip of brandy and a cup of coffee brought Haskell around and, having bound up the mate’s and his own wounds, the skipper filled and lit his pipe. “Take a rest,” he advised the mate as he started once more for the deck. “I’ll call ye if I want ye. Mr. Johnson’s gone—went over with four hands.”
When at last the dull day dawned across the wind-swept, tossing sea, and Haskell came on deck, he glanced about and uttered a short laugh.
“Looks like a pretty good wreck,” he remarked.
Cap’n Asa wheeled. “Wrack!” he exploded. “Ain’t no wrack about it. Soon’s ever this gale lets up a mite we’ll be getting’ erlong.”
Rapidly the wind fell, the second gale had been but the outer edge—the back kick—of the hurricane, and by noon the sun was shining brightly, the bark was riding the long oily waves easily, and Cap’n Weaver ordered the men to heave in on the cable and bring the wrecked foremast under the lee of the bark. Then, for hours, the men toiled and sweated, rigging tackles, whipping up the huge foreyards, the foretopgallant mast and foreroyal mast and following the orders of Haskell and the skipper. From the salvaged spars, shears were rigged; by dint of herculean labors the foretopgallant mast was raised and secured to the foremast stump; it was stayed fast and rigid, and as darkness fell the useless wreckage was cut adrift and the Orion rode to the wind and seas by a trysail on the mizzen.
At daybreak the tired men were at work once more. The foreroyal mast was run up and fished and stayed in place, the yards were hoisted, sails bent on, and before night fall the bark was ploughing slowly but steadily toward far distant Cuba under a jury foremast and with shortened after sails adjusted to a nicety to balance her dwarfed canvas forward.
Cap’n Asa was well pleased with the two days’ work, as well he might be. He rubbed his big calloused hands together, cast an appraising eye at the wake and chuckled. “Wish’t’Lem could see the ol’ Orion now,” he remarked to Mr. Haskell. ‘By Godfrey, I’ve seed worse lookin’ hookers than she be that was rigged that way.”
“Splendid job,” agreed the mate, “but ‘twouldn’t stand much of a blow. Guess their ain’t much likelihood of another hurricane though.”
“Never kin tell,” declared Cap’n Weaver. “I’ve knowed ‘em to come in bunches. Course there mayn’t be another for years an’ then ag’in we may run slam bang into one o’ dod-gasted things to-morrer.”
“Ain’t makin’ over five knots,” commented the mate. “Guess we’ll be eatin’ Thanksgivin’ dinner in Cuby at this rate.”
“Wall, consarn it, it’s a heap sight better to be eatin’ of it in Cuby than to be providin’ a meal for the fishes,” replied the old skipper. “An’ don’t ye fret ‘bout Thanksgivin’. We ain’t but six hundred mile to the east’ard o’ our course at that.”
Back in Salem, the hurricane which had swept the North Atlantic had been reported and incoming ships had brought tales and vivid proofs of its severity. Shattered rails, smashed boats, stove deckhouses, were almost universal on steamers that had passed through the savage storm, and all up and down the coast there were anxious waiters for tidings of sailing craft that had been in or near the path of the hurricane.
“’Spect Asa got a touch of it,” commented Cap’n Lem as he and his friends discussed the storm.
“He’ll pull through, right enough,” declared Cap’n Small. “The Orion’s a right good ship and Asa’s as good a seaman as ever stumped a deck. No need for worryin’. Might ha’ blowed him a bit offen his course though.”
But when two weeks had passed and the Orion had not been reported, either by incoming ships or from any port, Cap’n Weaver’s friends commenced to be a bit anxious. Cap’n Small, however, still insisted the Orion was safe, that she had simply been blown off her course, that she might have had sails carried away, but that she would turn up all right eventually.
But day after day slipped by and there were no tidings of the bark. Two weeks passed and she was posted as overdue. Three weeks went by and those who knew Cap’n Weaver shook their heads and when forty-five days had come and gone since the Orion sailed out of Boston and no word had come of the bark, or of wreckage which might have been from her, she was posted as missing, and the old seamen in the club spoke of Cap’n Asa as one deceased. All, that is, but Cap’n Small.
“Must ha’ went down with all hands,” declared Lem lugubriously. “Mebbe turned turtle first time the gale hit her, or got pooped. Too bad, too bad! Fine man, Asa. Well, we all got to go some day, I s’pose.”
Cap’n Small glanced up from the paper he was reading, peered over the rims of his spectacles and stroked his gray beard. “I’ll bet you the Orion turns up right as a trivet,” he declared. “Yes, sir, you’ll be arguin’ with Asa right here in this here room afore long, I’ll bet.”
“Mebbe, mebbe,” muttered Lem. “By hookey, I hope ye’re right, Sam’l.”
The following afternoon Lem fairly burst into the club room. “By glory!” he shouted. “Seed the news? Orion’s been spoken!”
“No!” exclaimed an old salt.
“Yes, sir, here ‘tis, right in the Herald. Look here!”
Wrinkling his forehead, Lem ran a stubby forefinger along the columns of the paper while the others gathered about, reading over his shoulders.
“Here it be,” announced Lem at last.
“’Steamship Jose Larrinaga, Spanish, Captain Jimenez, Cadiz for New York, arrived yesterday. Captain Jimenez reports that on September 14th, latitude 38 degrees – 10’ N., longitude 37 degrees – 15’ W., he sighted the bark Orion, Weaver, Boston for Matanzas, thirty-eight days out, proceeding under jury rig. When spoken Captain Weaver declined assistance, stating that he would make port under his own sail. He requested fresh waster and provisions, which were supplied, and asked that he be reported all well with exception of the second officer, Mr. Johnson, and four seamen, washed overboard in the hurricane that dismasted him.’”
“Didn’t I tell you!” cried Cap’n Small triumphantly. “Catch old Asa taking any help from a steamer. I’ll bet he makes Mantanzas at that. Shouldn’t be surprised to hear from him any day.”
“Wall, it’ll be some days yit,” Lem reminded him. “This Spaniard spoke him the 14th, and he was a dumb sight closer to Africy than to Cuba then—long about the lat’tude o’ the Azores an’ ‘bout two thousan’ mile offen shore. Putty consid’able o’ a voyage from there to Cuby under jury rig.”
“Humph,” muttered the other. “What gets me is where in blazes he’s been twixt the time the hurricane hit him and the 14th. Thirty-eight days out of Boston then. Must have run into the blow ‘bout four days after clearing. Smotherin’ herrin’s, he could most have sailed acrost the Atlantic under bare poles in thirty days!”
“Dunno,” replied Lem and then, Cap’n Asa’s taunts regarding seamanship still rankling in his mind, he added sarcastically, “Mebbe seein’ as how he’s sech a all-fired fine seaman he anchored in mid ocean an’ waited fer it to ca’m down. Anyhow, I’m a takin’ the Sachem out to Cuby nex’ week an’ mebbe I’ll see him down there. Guess I’ll git a rise outen him—his talkin’ ‘bout the time he kin make under jury rig.”
But instead of waiting for it to calm down as Lem had jocularly suggested, Cap’n Weaver had been bucking the wildest and most tempestuous weather that had swept the Atlantic in the memory of the oldest seamen. Under her jury rig the Orion had proceeded remarkably well, and as the wind had dropped to a steady stiff breeze her skipper had cautiously added more and more canvas to her. Fore and maintopgallant and mizzen staysails were spread and the main-topgallant sail set and though her canvas was, of necessity, mainly low, yet the bark did very well and sailed steadily on her course at a good six knots. The fact that she was more than half a thousand miles to the eastward of where she should have been was a small matter, for on the long slant which would bring her to Cuba, the offing amounted to little and was, in partially crippled condition, an advantage if anything, as it brought the wind fair on her beam, which was her best sailing point.
But, as Cap’ Asa had said, hurricanes are uncertain things, and on the fourteenth day after her jury foremast had been rigged, and with the lookout on the main crosstrees straining his eyes for the hoped-for smudge that would be the low-lying Bahamas, the wind dropped suddenly and left the Orion drifting motionless upon a flat shimmering sea.
“Danged if I like the look o’ this,” declared the skipper to Mr. Haskell, as he paced the deck in undershirt and trousers, “Glass’s droppin’ like blazes an’ the’s a dead feelin’ in the air. An’ look at that there sun. Jest like a’ ol’ copper kittle a hangin’ up there. Bet ye we’re in fer another blow.”
Cap’n Asa was taking no chances, the canvas was stripped from yards until only a scrap of sail showed on main and mizzen, and not any too soon.
With sundown the blow came, and by eight bells it was a living gale. The skipper knew another hurricane was near and had the Orion not been crippled forward the captain might have scudded far enough to the east to have run out of the worst of the storm. But he dared not spread sail on the jurymast and without headsails it was a terrific struggle to keep the bark from broaching to and coming up into the wind, to say nothing of working an easting. Each time a huge sea would sweep under her counter and lift her stern soaring on a wave crest she would swing as on a pivot, and although her helm was hard over and the weight of two men strained at the wheel, the Orion seemed determined to take the bit in her teeth.
And this time the whirling, raging, cyclonic storm was not content with following up the Gulf Stream and blowing itself out off the New England coast. Instead, it veered eastward off Hatteras, tore off across the Atlantic as if bound to wreak its fury on the Azores and, directly in its path was the crippled Orion. It drove her like a mad thing, buffeted and spun her like a teetotum, hurled her plunging into the green troughs, bore her down until her yardarms were buried in the waves, overwhelmed her with tons of hissing green seas, ripped boats from davits, wrenched the green heart rails free, battered deckhouses and then, having done its worst, sped screaming, screeching, howling like a demon, on its way, to lose itself in the vast reaches of the North Atlantic.
And when it has passed, the Orion rose and fell heavily upon the tortured sea, a battered, sodden, broken thing—little more than a hulk—with only three splintered stumps standing above her decks where once had towered the lofty spars and maze of rigging. A hopeless wreck she seemed, a water-logged derelict. But Cap’n Asa Weaver, despite his age and his wooden leg, was not beaten even yet. The moment it was possible for a human being to stand upon the deck the pumps were manned, and while the gang sweated and worked at the brakes and the water gurgled and streamed from the scuppers, Haskell, the skipper and the rest of the crew, labored desperately to clear away the wreckage and to salvage what they could. To everyone’s surprise and relief the pumps gained on the water in the hold, at last they sucked and the Orion floated as buoyantly as ever. Only a few spars remained this time, the greater part having been swept clear away by the hurricane, but below hatches were spare yards and royalmasts, as well as a complete suit of sails. Spurred on by the indomitable captain and by Haskell, the men worked incessantly, rigging shears, splicing rigging, hoisting spars, until at last, above the pathetic stumps of masts, rose the jury rig—low, outlandish and bizarre—but a rig that would carry sail, that would urge the bark onward and that would weather any ordinary blow.
“Dunno what ye’d call the ol’ hooker now,” remarked Cap’n Asa as he surveyed his handiwork. “Sort o’ ‘maphrodite barkentine. I reckon, with them there yards for’ard an’ for’naft on mizzen and main. Don’ recollec’ ever seein’ a barkentine with lug sails though. By Judas, I’d like to have Lem here now!”
But whatever the weird rig of the Orion might have been called in maritime parlance, it served its purpose, and to a fair breeze and over a reasonably calm sea the Orion once more forged ahead toward far distant Cuba. Far to the east and north, she had driven—more than halfway across the Atlantic—and back to the latitude of Boston, and Haskell, absolutely amazed at the skipper’s course, voiced his surprise.
“Ain’t you puttin’ into port for repairs!” he asked. “It’s a fair wind for Boston or New York, and Funchal’s pretty close.”
The skipper slowly looked the mate over from top to toe as if studying some strange new specimen. “Puttin’ inter port!” he exclaimed at last. “Yep, puttin’ inter Matanzas. Sufferin’ Johah, d’ye think I’d be a-puttin’ back to Boston after thirty-six days out an’ weatherin’o’ two o’ the dod-gastedest hur’canes whatever took the sticks outen a ship? No, by glory! I ain’t a-flyin’ in the face o’ Providence I hope—like the Flyin’ Dutchman—but by the grace o’ God an’ that there jury rig I’m a-goin’ fer to make Matanzas if it takes me all winter.”
Haskell shook his head but said nothing. He knew the old skipper too well to argue, but he was beginning to think that Asa had taken leave of his senses. He was forced to admit to himself, however, that, barring accidents or severe storms, there was no reason why the Orion should not make Cuba under her jury rig, although he dared not hazard a guess as to when she would arrive. However, it was not his affair, and like a proper seaman and mate he used his best skill and knowledge in getting the most out of the plodding old bark.
Two days later a faint smudge of smoke showed on the eastern horizon. Presently masts and funnel rose above the rim of the sea and rapidly a dingy tramp steamer bore down toward the wallowing Orion.
Evidently she thought the bark in need of assistance and up to her masthead ran a string of bright bunting.
“Wants to know if you want help an’s askin’ your name an’ information,” said Haskell as he slowly deciphered the code flags in the thumb-worn book in his hands.
Cap’n Asa snorted. “When I want help from any greasy ol’ steam tank I’ll set signals,” he retorted. “Reckon I’ll git him to report us, though. No use lettin’ the folks at home get a –frettin’ an’ thinkin’ we’ve all gone to Davy Jones. An’,” he added as an afterthought, “’pears like we might be some consid’able spell gettin’ to Matanzas an’ ye might ask him fer water an’ salt po’k. Guess we’ve got enough else.”
So, the pork and water having been duly delivered, the Jose Larrinaga once more churned on her interrupted way toward New York, and her bearded officers shrugged shoulders and made various comments on the crazy Yankees.
Three weeks after the Larrinaga had left the Orion astern a man peered forth across the indigo sea from the lighthouse at Matanzas and rubbed his eyes. Never in his life had he seen such a craft as was now approaching the harbor. Above her long, weather-beaten hull rose three short slender spars. Upon the foremast was a single square sail; upon the others rectangular areas of canvas that seemed a cross between lugsails and staysails, and fluttering from her rigging, was the Stars and Stripes. The Orion has arrived.
“Reckon I bust all records fer long v’ges twixt Boston an’ Cuby,” chuckled Cap’n Asa to the consul, who was also the skipper’s agent. Fifty-nine days outen Boston, but here safe an’ soun’. Yes, sir, I allers did allow there wa’nt no excuse fer not gettin’ inter po’t’s long’s a ship wa’nt sinkin’.”
“Of course you’ll refit here,” said the consul, after expressing his admiration and amazement at Cap’n Asa’s accomplishment and complimenting him upon it. “I can easily secure spars from Havana or even from the States while your discharging and loading.”
“Refit nothin’” ejaculated the skipper. “Look a-here. I’ve brung the ol’ gal dumb nigh two thousan’ mile under that there misfit rig an’ by glory I’m a-goin’ fer to take her home with it. Yes, sir, I’ve busted all records for takin’ time a-gittin’ here an’ derned if I don’t break another gittin’ back. Sufferin’ codfish, I’m a-gittin’ everlastin’ly stuck on that there jury rig. Yes, sir, slow but sure, an’ I’m aimin’ fer to prove to some ol’ shellbacks to home jus’ what a real seaman kin do under jury rig.”
The morning following this declaration of the captain’s, Haskell glanced seaward to see a trim three-masted schooner slipping into port. The next instant he bawled down the companionway to Cap’s Asa, “Look who’s here,” he shouted. “The Sachem’s a-coming into port!”
“Wall I vow!” exclaimed the skipper, as he studied the oncoming schooner. “Derned ef ‘taint Lem at that.”
But upon the Sachem’s deck captain, officers and crew stood in absolute amazement as they recognized, in the weird and battered craft in the harbor, the bark Orion. Hardly had the anchor plunged over before Lem was being pulled rapidly to the bark and despite their differences of opinion and heated arguments the two old salts blew their noses loudly and wiped suspicious moisture from their eyes as they grasped hands once more upon the Orion’s decks. But soon they were at it hammer and tongs again.
“Didn’t I tell ye I’d git the old Orion into po’t under her own canvas even if all three sticks was took outen her?” crowed Cap’n Asa as, in the bark’s cabin they sat smoking and chinning. “Like fer to see ye ha’ done it with that there three sticker o’ yourn.”
“Huh,” snorted Lem. “An’ took fifty nine day a-getting’ here. Why, by gum, the Sachem could ha’ drifted here without nary a stick or stitch in three months. Didn’t I tell ye time was money these days! Why, ye ol’ shellback, ye could ha’ made a dozen v’yages back and forth in that time. Where’s the savin’ or the sense in what ye done? An’ now ye’re aimin’ to temp’ Providence by a sailin’ back under these here contraptions. I vow, Asa, I’m beginnin’ fer to think ye’re plumb crazy.”
Asa fairly bristled. “Dod gast ye, Lem!” he retorted hotly. “Ain’t ye got no respect fer seamanship! By Judas ‘pears like all ye thought on was money same’s them consarned steam skippers. An’ ye’re a-sayin’ that there wall-sided ol’ canal boat o’ yourn could ha’ done better, eh? I swan, I—I—by glory, I’ll bet ye the Orion kin outsail ye right now, jury rig an’ all.”
Lem fairly roared with laughter. For once he had gotten a “rise” out of old Asa and he thoroughly enjoyed it. “Want me to take home a message for ye?” he asked. “I’m a-clearin’ nex’ Tuesday an’ ye might want ter let the folks to home know ye won’t be home to Christmas.”
“Clearin’ Tuesday be ye?” cried Asa, ignoring the other’s facetious suggestion. Waal, by Judas, I’m a-clearing’ Sat’rday. An’ by glory I’ll take any messages ye min’ to send. Think that there dumb swizzled barge ye call a ship kin sail do ye? An’ think I’m crazy, eh? By the etarnal, I’ll—yes, sir—I’ll bet ye a hundred dollars the Orion’s into Boston afore the Sachem now!”
“Now I know ye’re plumb looney,” declared Lem chuckling. “But idjits hadn’t oughta have so derned much money to throw away, an’ I’ll take ye up jus’ to l’arn ye a lesson, Asa, an’ I’ll bet ye another hundred ye don’t sight Minot’s Ledge lessen two weeks arter I’ docked.”
Two days later the Orion cleared and as she slipped seaward, Lem stood on the Sachem’s quarter deck and cupped his hands to his lips. “I’ll heave ye a towline some’eres nor’ard o’ the Bahamas,” he yelled. “Hate to have ye missin’ Thanksgivin’ an’ Christmas to home.”
But neither north of the Bahamas or elsewhere on the homeward voyage did those on the Orion sight the Sachem. With a fair steady wind and a calm sea the bark kept steadily on, and while old Asa, once he had cooled off, realized that he had as good as thrown away his hundred dollars—with a fair likelihood of losing the second hundred as well—yet he consoled himself with the thought that he had not knuckled under to Lem and that he was upholding the traditions of the old Yankee seamen. And the Orion made wonderfully good time considering her jury rig. Sixteen days after clearing from Matanzas she was off Monomoy, and Haskell, gazing shoreward through his glasses, described two slender masts rising above the horizon and canted at a sharp angle.
“Reckon some craft’s taken the ground yonder,” her remarked as Cap’n Asa came up the companionway. “Think we’d better run in a bit an’ see if she wants help?”
“Humph, ‘spect we might as well have a look,” assented the skipper, and the Orion’s course was shifted a trifle.
Gradually the masts of the stranded vessel grew more distinct and presently a powerful tug was standing by.
“Don’t guess we can help none,” announced the mate. “Must ha’ struck pretty derned hard—took the fo-must outen her.”
Cap’n Asa was studying the vessel, whose hull, wedged fast in the sand and canted over, was now visible. “By Judas!” he burst out suddenly. “Derned if ‘tain’t. Yep, I’ll be eve’lastin’ly b’iled if ‘tain’t the Sachem! By glory, Mr. Haskell, I’m aimin’ fer to collec’ two hundred dollars from that there Lem, by Godfrey!”
Ten minutes later the yawl boat was dancing shoreward with Cap’n Weaver, his weather-beaten face wreathed in a broad grin, in the stern. Approaching close to the stranded schooner he stood up, waved a hand to the figure on the Sachem’s after deck and bellowed out: “Want a tow line, Lem? Waal, I’ll be a waitin’ fer ye up to the club an’ I kin use two hundred dollars fer Christmas, I reckon. Guess ye got to admit there’s suthin’ in seamanship arter all—an’ don’ fergit time’s money, Lem. ‘Pears like ye got a-plenty o’ the fust an’ that there salvage tug’s goin’ fer to git a chunk o’ t’ other. So long, Lem!”
This is the first poem that we have come across if you do not count the songs that are sometimes quoted in AHVs fiction and nonfiction. We suspect that the artwork with Sea Stories is also by AHV.
Full and By
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Originally published in Sea Stories Magazine, October 1927. Digital capture by Philip Bolton Jr. and Doug Frizzle December 2009.
A ship there was and she put to sea,
Avast! keep her full and by.
The captain paced the quarter-deck
At home a Methodist elect,
A good man he as ever slept.
As she goes! keep her full and by.
The mate was another breed of cats,
Damn! keep her full and by.
He cursed the men and he made them work,
The miserable, low-down, dirty Turk,
And his Billingsgate whisper to those who shirked
Was "Hell! keep her full and by."
The cap'n and mate they supped alone,
Hi! keep her full and by.
The cook brought on an old plum duff,
A measly mongrel kind of stuff
That held plum pudding up to bluff.
Steady! she's full and by.
Now cookie played for the cap’n’s grace.
Four points! full and by.
And he put the pudding plum end up
Toward the cap’n’s coffee cup
So that the mate for plums was stuck.
Ha, ha! keep her full and by.
But the mate was onto cookie’s curves.
Hard down! keep her full and by.
And he told the cook in the next menu
To put the plum end "his end to,"
So he could masticate a few;
Wear ship! keep her full and by.
And cookie did as he was told,
Aye! keep her full and by.
And he placed the plum end toward the mate,
But the cap'n smiling raised the plate
And turning it began to state—
"Tack! she's full and by."
The plum end tacked from starboard to port.
Steady! keep her full and by.
I bought that plate of a wandering Jew,
And I paid him a quarter, Bob, and two,
And I think it a daisy, mate, don't you?”
“Now! is she full and by?”
Then came the blood in the bad mate's eye.
Tack! keep her full and by.
He seized the plate with a desperate clutch,
And he turned it round with a Billingsgate touch,
And he said "Old Man you paid too damned much!"
“And the ship sails full and by."
Sunday, 20 December 2009
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Sea Stories Magazine, 1924 January 20. Digital capture by Philip Bolton Jr., Betty Paulos and Doug Frizzle 2009, December.
This is the story of the happenings aboard a whale ship as related by one of the mates to some old cronies who were gathered together and were swapping yarns, inexplicable happenings, and superstitions.
Old Captain Daniel Taber, of the
The captain comes on deck and shoots him in cold blood, and then refuses to give him a regular burial. What follows makes this a thoroughly interesting yarn, and verifies Captain Lampson’s statement that what he related was gospel truth.
The grizzled, weather beaten old seamen, gathered in the snug “Whaleman’s Club” in that once greatest of whaling ports,
“Did any of ye ever see a ghost?” queried Cap’n Lampson as he rammed his pipe full of tobacco and struck a match.
One after the other the circle of old whalemen shook their heads.
“Well, I did,” asserted Lampson peering from beneath his heavy brows at his companions as if challenging them to contradict him.
“I ain’t never told it before,” muttered Lampson, after a moment’s thoughtful silence. “But it’s gospel truth for all that.”
“Hey, sheet home and square away,” burst out nervous little Lemuel Potter. “Stop fillin’ an’ backin’ and get on yer course and let’s have the yarn. Course it’s true—don’t none of us doubt it.” He winked slyly at the others.
“It happened when I was second mate of the old
“Um, um, I knowed him,” commented Cap’n Josiah as Lampson touched another match to his pipe. “Lost at sea I recollect. Went crazy or somethin’.”
Yep, that’s part of this here yarn,” assented Lampson. “Well, as I was sayin’ Taber was skipper and the first mate was a chap named Dickson. Come for Si’sconsett and same sort of breed as the Old Man. Tough! Say, you could have heaved a iron at him and his hide would have turned the point, I’ll bet! ‘Course I ain’t sayin’ as greenies
Can be treated like a Sunday School class and officers has got to beat sense into their everlastin’ thick skulls with a handspike or a ropes’ end now and again. But there ain’t no use beatin’ ‘em up if they ain’t got the sense to learn and some on ‘em can’t never learn the difference ‘twixt a main yard and a cuttin’ stage. And there ain’t a mite of use cripplin’ ‘em so they can’t work or killin’ of ‘em. I don’t allow I’m so everlastin’ soft or tender hearted, but by glory, what I seen aboard the old
“And the old rascal pretended to be plumb religious too. Deacon of the church he were and read the Bible every day and was always quotin’ Scripture. An’ superstitious! Godfrey’s boots, he was fuller of superstitions than a shad is of bones! Howsomever, we had pretty fair luck, cruisin’ round the
“Course there wasn’t nothin’ done, though the hands hated the skipper and mate like poisen, and if they’d been real seamen they’d have mutinied inside three weeks. But the Old Man and Dickson had ‘em cowed. After they’d been beat up an’ had bones broken and two more had got bullets through ‘em—though they weren’t killed—they done what they was told on the jump.
“’But the Old Man had overdid it.”
“S’long’s the mates and boat steerers and other officers hang together and don’t chum with the greenies too much there ain’t no danger of trouble, but ‘ceptin the mate there weren’t a man jack aboard the Helena what wasn’t sore against the skipper and the mate. As a result, all hands for’ard was hand in glove and thicker’n molasses.
“Yep, I didn’t have no use for them two either, and the hands knowed it. ‘Course I had to follow orders and all that, but when it come to dirty, bloody, no sense brutality I left it to them as hatched it. Had a good many words with Cap’n Dan’el over it too, but he seen he couldn’t scare me and he needed me and at last he give it up.
“Then off Noronha we begun to have bad luck. Couldn’t raise a whale, no wind, and just rolled and wallowed along fit to slat the sticks out of her for three mortal weeks. Seems like the calm and no whales made the Old Man worse. He used to pace the after deck with his head down and just his singlet and drawers on talkin’ to himself and glowering like a mad bull for hours at a time. Then he’d set down below porin’ over his Bible and mutterin’ to himself.
“Least little thing’d drive him into a tantrum and he seemed to take unholy joy makin’ the hands work. Yes, sir, there, with never a breath of wind, he’d have ‘em ordered aloft to shorten sail, then, soon’s ever that was done, he’d roar out to put on every stitch the old bark’d carry.
“I tell ye it was fair hell aboard the
“The next minute he comes racin’ up the companion. ‘Damn ye,’ he yells, catchin’ sight of Chips just stoopin’ over the skylight to see where his hammer’d gone. “Ye will try to murder me! Take that, ye blankety blank son of Satan!’ With that he whips out his gun and afore Chips knows what’s up he plugs him.
“Chips let’s out a yell, claps his hand to his chest and lurches for’ard. Afore he’d taken three steps the skipper blazes away again and Chips jerks up and pitches down on his face abaft the mainmast. The Old Man shoves his revolver back in his pocket. ‘Mr. Lampson,’ says he, a nasty twisted smile on his face. ‘Have that carrion pitched over the rail and clean up the muss on the deck.’
“Well, sir, I was just about ready to tell the old murderer just what I thought of him. It was cold blooded murder—nothin’ less and I could see the hands for’ard edging toward the spades and irons by the bench and lookin’ everlastin’ ugly, ‘cause Chips was a prime fav’rite and they’d seen the whole bloody rumpus. But I managed to hold myself. Howsomever, I was sick of him and his ways. ‘You’re not meanin’, sir,’ I says, ‘that he’ll not be given burial?’
“The skipper swung round and I thought for a spell he was goin’ to plug me next. ‘Burial!’ he snorted. ‘Wastin’ Christian burial on a sneakin,’ underhanded, murderin’ dog like him. Obey my orders, Mr. Lampson or, by the eternal, you’ll follow him!’
“By that time I was het up and didn’t give a cuss what happened. I laughed,” Ye may be able to shoot down your men—even your carpenter—Cap’n Taber,’ says I, ‘But you’ll find it a different matter if you try it on your mates. If you don’t want to give proper burial to Chips it’s on your conscience, not mine. But, mark me, you’ll be damned sorry for it before this cruise is done.’
“I thought he was goin’ to shoot for sure. He half pulled his gun, his lips drew back over his yellow teeth and he crouched for’ard.
“Just then Dickson stepped over, ‘No use startin’ a row ‘twixt officers,’ he says ‘’specially over a bit of worthless carrion like that,’ he nodded towards Chips still lyin’ there with a widenin’ stain of blood around him. ‘Maybe, if ye think so much of proper obsequies over the body ye can ‘tend to it yourself.’
“’I will,’ says I, ‘I expect Chips’ soul’ll rest easier than if his murderer said prayers over him.’
“By glory, you should have seen the look the skipper gave me at that. He was so crazy mad he couldn’t even speak. Just gulped and ground his teeth and got purple and reached for his gun. But the mate said somethin’ and began talkin’ and I turned and went for’ward.
“I called to a couple of hands to pick up Chips’ body. Told the sailmaker—who was also cooper—to sew him up and ordered the blacksmith to knock a few links off an old chain to put at his feet.
“It was too late to get Chips sewed and bury him that night so the hands takes him for’ard and I tells ‘em the skipper won’t read the service, but I’ll attend to it first thing the next morning.
“Yes, sir,’ says the cooper, a dried up little old Irishman named Tiernan, “We heard the talk, Misther Lampson and the boys is wid yez, sir. B gorra ‘tis a murtherin’ haythen, is the Ould Man. And by the same token the mate is worse. Thank yez, sir, for seein’ as poor Chips has dacent burial, sir’”
“Well, next mornin’ along about six bells, I went for’ard and seen Chips’ body neat sewed in a bit of old canvas ready for the service. The Old Man wouldn’t back the yards and I didn’t ask him. I called the men and they lifted Chips onto a hatch cover and with bare hands carried him over to the rail. I read the service, lifted my hand, and as the hatchcover was tipped Chips dropped with a splash into the sea. He sunk kind of slow and, the bark bein’ under way, he went slippin’ aft, sinkin’ all the time and in the clear water you could see him like a light blurr of green gettin’ smaller and fainter, sort of as if he hated for to take that long v’yage of Lord knows how many thousand fathoms down to Davy Jones.
“The wind was mighty light—we weren’t makin’ over three or four knots—and it kept fallin’ till we was just makin’ steerage way. Long about eight bells it was nigh dead calm and was gettin’ foggy. You know what a south Atlantic fog is. Not one of them thick greasy fogs like we have up north or on the banks, but a wispy sort of thing, driftin’ along like smoke. One minute you could see a couple of miles clear as is, next minute all shut off to starboard and clear to port. Then ‘tother way about. First you could see the mastheads sharp against the smoky lookin’ sky and by the time you’d winked twice the riggin’ faded away at the topmast caps. Worst sort of fog for navigatin’ if there was ships about. But of course down there, with the whole ocean clear, there weren’t no danger. Only trouble was there weren’t much chance of raisin’ a whale. All the afternoon we was driftin’ about in it, sometimes fillin’ an’ drawin’ ahead a few knots, then sails slattin’ and just rollin’. The sun went down in a bank of murk and the moon give a sort of ghostly look to the sea. One minute hid back a mass of fog and balcker’n Jonah’s pocket, the next shinin’ through and makin’ it light as day with the clouds of fog white, like driftin’ snow.
“I was standin’ at the port rail aft by the mizzen riggin’, the mate was below and Cap’n Dan’el was pacin’ the deck to starboard.
“Suddenly I heard him let out a sort of gasp and wheelin around I seen him lookin’ aft with his head sort of bent forward starin’.
“Next minute he goes runnin’ aft reachin’ for his hip pocket. Wonderin’ what in thunderation was up I walked aft too. The Old Man was ahead of me and as he reached the taffrail he ripped out a string of cuss words. ‘Damn ye!’ he yelled. ‘Keep off! Get back where ye belong. Take that, damn ye!’
“With that he let drive and then I sees, Bobbin’ up and down in the wake, and sort of twistin’ an’ twirlin’, was a sort of gray-white thing, shapeless but sort of humanlike at that. Soon’s I seen it I knowed what ‘twas. It was Chips! Yes, sir, either the chain had bust through that rotten old canvas and let him bob up or there wasn’t weight enough to keep him down or somethin’. Anyhow he’d floated up, and getting’ in a current or maybe drawn along by the suction of the wake, there he be astern of us like he was follerin’ the old
“At the first shot the man at the wheel had looked back and when he see what ‘twas he let out a awful screech and dropped the wheel and started for’ard.
“’Twixt grabbin’ the wheel and yellin’ for the blasted idiot to come back, I had enough to do without watchin’ that corpse, though I heard the skipper poppin’ away.
“The feller came slinkin’ back whiter’n a sheet and without lookin’ aft took the wheel and when I look back Chips had disappeared and the Old Man was standin’ with his empty gun lookin’ dazed and his red face the color of putty. A wisp of fog had drifted past the stern and shut out everything more’n a biscuit toss away and of course I couldn’t say as Chips has sunk or was just hidden by the fog. At the sound of the shootin’ Dickson had come rushin’ up on deck and had pulled his gun and was askin’ the skipper what was up.
“The Old Man began to cuss excited. ‘That there blankety blank son of a wharf rat,’ he says. ‘Follerin’ us along and tryin’ to board us. By the eternal, I settled him though.’
“Dickson gave a short, hard laugh. ‘Better come below and have a shot of rum. Cap’n,’ he says. ‘Guess Chips won’t trouble you none. I’ve seen corpses do the same thing before now. ‘Tain’t nothin’to fret over.
“As they passed me by I could see the Old Man was shakin’ and his mouth was tight shut, but he went below with Dickson. Then the cooper came aft with a parcel of the hands and wanted to know what the shootin’ was about.
“When I told ‘em they looked scairt an’ gathered together in a bunch and looked nervously to starboard an’ port as if expectin’ to see Chips bobbin’ up again.
“The cooper shook his head serious. ‘Shure, sir, ‘tis bad business that do be,’ he said solemnly. ‘Poor ould Chips is onaisy an’ll be hangin’ ‘round afther us and bad luck he’ll be bringin’. Praise be ‘tis not afther anny av us uor yez he do be afther, Mr. Lampson.”
“Go for’ard,” I said, ‘and stop talkin’ that rot. Didn’t you never know of a body floatin’ up before? There ain’t nothin’ supernatural about it. We ain’t made a dozen knots since we dripped him over this mornin’ and there’s currents here’bouts runnin’ faster than we’ve been sailin’.”
“They didn’t say nothin’ and went for’ard. At four bells the skipper came on deck again and I went below to get some tobaccer. Just as I was startin’ out of my berth I heard a scream from the deck that sent shivers down my back. Mut’ny,’ I thought, an’ grabbin’ a gun I went up the companion in two jumps. Just before I reached the deck I heard the skipper yellin’ in a sort of choked, gurglin’ voice, “Do—do ye see him?’ he said. Then I heard the hand at the wheel.
“No, sir, I don’t see nothin’,” said he, kind of puzzled like. What ‘twas he didn’t see I didn’t know, but next minute I was on deck and, by Judas, I seen, and I tell you I felt like a bucket of water’d been splashed over me.
“Alongside the gangway, one leg over the rail like he was just comin’ aboard was Chips! His clothes were drippin’, there was a big red splotch over the front of his shirt and his face was sort of sickly green, like a shark’s belly. By glory, my knees was shakin’, Icould feel my jaw saggin’ and my throat felt stranglin’. Then I heard a sort of groan from the skipper and a curse. I wheeled around. He was standin’ holdin’ to the mizzen riggin’ with one hand, the other pointin’ at Chips and his face the color of old canvas. ‘My God!’ he sort of moaned. ‘He’s come back!’ Then he lets got the backstay, jumped for’ard, whipped out his gun and fires and falls flat on the deck.
“I jumped to him and gave a frightened glance to where Chips’ ghost had been. He was just steppin’ onto the deck and seemed sort of fadin’ out in a wisp of fog. The next minute he was gone. I turned the skipper over just as Dickson come on deck. “Here, look after the Old Man,” says I, and ran for’ard. I’d been mortal scared, but I’d got my sense back by now. ‘Where’d he go?’ I yelled as a bunch of the men came out of the fog lookin’ scared.
“Where’d who go?” asked a boat steerer. “What’s the shootin’, Mr. Lampson?”
“Chips,” I says.
“’Chips?’” answered the boat steerer, lookin’ like he thought I was crazy, “Chips?” Why ye buried him yerself this morning,” says he.
“’Aye an’ he just come aboard,’ I said. “Skipper and me seen him and cap’n fired at him.”
“The hands looked about, frightened. They hadn’t seen him, that was sure, and I run for’ard and downthe fo’c’s’le. He wasn’t there, but of course I knowed he wasn’t. Hadn’t I seen him plump into the sea all sewed up myself and hadn’t I seen him bobbin’ about in the wake with the skipper pluggin’ his corpse? By Godfrey, I begun to feel queer. You see I hadn’t never taken no stock in ghosts and spirits and such things, but I’d seed one now. I could feel my hair bristlin’ on the back of my neck and cold chills goin’ over me.
“I came on deck slow and walked mighty cautiously over to where I’d seen Chips. Just ‘longside the rail where’d he sat was a pool of water and ‘twas stained red!
“Well, ye can bet no one turned in that night aboard the old bark. Mate had got the skipper down to his berth and the Old Man was babblin’ of Chips and ghosts and eternal damnation and what all—gone clean off his head. Dickson was tryin’ to argue with him. Tellin’ him he just had a halluc’nation or somethin’.
“’Take a man and search the ship,’ he says to me. ‘Go through her from fore peak to lazarette an’find the damned scoundrel what’s tryin’ to play ghost.’
“I knew t’wan’t a mite of use, but I called the cooper and a boat steerer and started. When over the bark from truck to ballast and from stem to stern, but of course nary a sign of anything.
“The hands were all talkin’, mutterin’ and hangin’ about together, lookin’ scared half to death. “’Tain’t surprisin’, said the boat steerer. “Chips was murdered and of course he couldn’t rest easy. Like as not he just want to have a word with the skipper.’
“The cooper sat over the rail. ‘Shure Oi tould yez he was afther the ship,’ he said. ‘Soon’s ever he come up astarn Oi knowed ‘twould be boardin’ av us he’d be afther doin’.
“Well, after a bit, the skipper went to sleep and with mornin’ it all seemed like we’d been dreamin’. The fog lifted, a good breeze came up and nothin’ happened that day. The night was clear and bright moonlight and every time I looked towards the gangway I felt myself tremblin’. But Chips didn’t come aboard again and nothin’ happened that night. Next day the cap’n come on deck. Lookin’ kind of drawed and old, but seemin’ all right, but I caught him lookin’ furtive at the gangway a couple of times and he kept mumblin’ to himself. By and by he went below and began writin’ in his journal.
“About four bells in the afternoon we raised a whale and lowered two boats. Me and Dickson sent in and got two irons into him. He was about a seventy barrel bull—stowed seventy-four barrels I recollect—and by the time we got him under the cuttin’ stage it was black dark, the night bein’ cloudy and the moon risin’ late.
“Cause all hands fell to, cuttin’ and boilin’ with the bug light glimmerin’, and gutterin’. We’d got in the junk and sperm’cetti and were gettin’ on right well when there was an all-fired yell and the hands in the blubber room came pilin’ on deck.
“’Chips!’ yelled one of ‘em. ‘His ghost’s down below!’
“I give one jump and went down. But nothin’ was there. Not a sign of Chips’ ghost. I was just about leavin’ when I heard an awful screech on deck and as my head comes above the hatch coamin’ there was a shot and I wheeled around and, by Judas, I most tumbled back to the blubber room again. Standin’ by the for’mast and sort of red in the glare of the bug light was Chips, and slumped down on the deck, yellin’ and moanin’ like he’d gone plumb crazy was the cap’n.
“I made a jump for Chips or whoever ‘t was, tripped over a tackle and went down. But I never took my eyes off him and I seen him just fade away into the blackness like he’d done afore. It wasn’t no use of course, I might have known you couldn’t catch a ghost and the skipper’d ought to known he couldn’t shoot a spirit. Well, ye can bet there weren’t no more cuttin’ in or boilin’ that night.
“Dickson cussed and threatened and I did my best, but there was open, mutiny though the hands didn’t try violence. But they wouldn’t work; nary one of ‘em, and I couldn’t much blame ‘em. All that mortal night we stood around, the men whisperin’ and’ keepin’ close together, me and Dickson on the quarterdeck—and by glory for once I was glad of his comp’ny and felt mighty friendly to him and the skipper ravin’ like a madman down below.
“Seemed like mornin’ would never come, but at last it did and with daylight the men fell to again. Cut the whale adrift about two bells in the afternoon and squared away under all plain sail. Dickson and me was on deck and we hadn’t heard nothin’ from the cap’n’s berth for some time.
“Reckon he’s sleepin’,” said the mate. “Mebbe he’ll wake up all right. What do ye think ‘bout the whole consarned business anyhow, Mr. Lampson?”
I shook my head. ‘I never had no faith in ghosts,’ I says. ‘And I’ve always laughed at superstitions. But blow me, if I don’t believe now. Did you see it?”
“Not the first time,” he said. “But I seen it last night.”
“Well, what do ye think?” I asked.
“Dickson looked about as if half expectin’ to see Chips sneakin’ up. “Twixt me and you,” he said, low and quiet, “I think Chips come back to haunt the Old Man. I’ve been a tough man in my day,” he goes on after a bit. “But I never killed no man in cold blood. I can stand for knockin’ ‘em about and I’d never stop at shootin’ in case of mutiny, but as for murder—no, sir, I ain’t for it.”
“Well,” says I, “mebbe Chips just wanted to haunt the skipper and that’s why he ain’t showed up to you, but I was pretty friendly with him and the hands, and he ought to be grateful to me for givin’ him Christian burial and so I don’t see why he’s scarin’ the liver and lights out of me and his mates for’ard.”
“’Mebbe he knowed ye didn’t believe in spirits,’ said Dickson, ‘and wanted to convince ye. But I’ll tell ye one thing,’ he says. ‘It’s been a lesson to me. By cripes, seein’ him standin’ there in the dark with the bloody shirt was enough to turn a man’s hair white.’
“Don’t think there’s anything funny about it, do ye?” I asked, though I knows as well as I want to there ain’t.
“I thought so at first,” he says, “when cap’n told me about it. But we searched the ship twice an’ there ain’t any place a body could hide away an’ not one of the hands missin’ when he came last night. An’, hell, I couldn’t be mistook about Chips.”
“Me neither,” says I. “An’ I seen him sewed up and slipped over—to say nothin’ about him being killed in the beginnin’.”
“Ain’t no doubt of it,” says the mate. “’Sides, didn’t the skipper plug three bullets into him when he was floatin’ along in the wake? No, sir, it’s Chips’ ghost all right an’ I wish to blazes I was ashore an’ out of it.
Before I could say anythin’ more there was a yell from below, then a shot.
“He’s come again!” stammered Dickson. For a minute we just stood starin’ at each other an’ then down we goes—but not lively, I tell ye.
We seed a little wisp of smoke driftin’ from Cap’n Dan’el’s berth an’ steps along mighty slow an’ shakin’, not knowin’ when Chips might show up. But when we got to the skipper’s berth an’ looked in we forgot all about the ghost. He was lyin’ there, his head lollin’ off his bunk, his eyes open an’ starin’ an’ dead as a door nail. His pistol was still in his hand an’ one side of head black with powder where he put the gun an’ blowed out his brains.
“Must have seed Chips again,” whispered Dickson. “An’ couldn’t stand it.”
“Well, sir, we couldn’t get the cooper to touch him. Said he’d be shot before he’d put palm an’ needle to sewin’ up the skipper an’ him refusin’ to give Chips decent burial. An’ all hands was with him. In the end Dickson an’ me did it and, by glory, we had to carry him up and slip him over ourselves too!
“Seemed somehow, after the cap’n’d gone, like a sort of load was lifted from the ship. The men weren’t surly and our luck changed too. We took three sparms a runnin’ and stowed over two hundred barrel or ile an’ye’d oughta have seed the way Dickson changed.
“He was skipper now, an’, by Godfrey, he went out of his way to treat the hands right. An’ seemed like poor old Chips must have been satisfied too. Mebbe he just wanted Cap’n Dan’el’s spirit to keep him company down to Davy Jones or somethin’. Anyhow he didn’t board us again an’ bimeby we begun to get over bein’ scairt for fear he would, an’ four days after we buried the Old Man we sighted St. Helena an’ put in for water and veg’tables.”
“H’m,” muttered old Cap’n Josiah, as Lampson finished speaking and knocked the ashes from his pipe. “Didn’t never see no more of the ghost, eh?”
Cap’n Lampson chuckled. “Yep,” he replied, a twinkle in his keen eyes. “I did, an’ by Judas, it scairt me a dern sight worser’n the first time I seen it. I was ashore an’ dropped into a grog shop for a sip an’ when I looked up, by glory, there was Chips’ ghost a-lookin’ at me solemn like. I was all aback, gapin’ like a fish outa water. I hadn’t done nothin’ to Chips and’ yet there he be a ha’ntin’ me.
“Well, sir, fact was, Chips hadn’t been killed after all. Got a flesh would ‘crost his chest an’ lay on
Thursday, 17 December 2009
A. Hyatt Verrill and Sea Stories Magazine (1923-1928)
A. Hyatt Verrill (1874-1954) began writing articles in magazines about 1896. Born in New Haven and with his father working in sea research studies, it is natural that he eventually wrote many ‘sea stories’. AHV was a prolific author, penning over 110 books and we have located another 110 articles in various periodicals over his lifetime.
Links in these pages go to most of his books and articles. The research on his life and work was started about five years ago. Now, the major missing documentation to his life work is down to one dozen submissions.
Each missing story, or collection, has some attribution that makes it unique to Verrill’s lifetime. So it is with these nautical tales from Sea Stories Magazine.
Sea Stories Magazine, a Street & Smith publication, appears to have been sold from 1922 to 1927, as a twice monthly publication at first. It was a pulp, made from inferior paper that deteriorates quickly. The online library catalogue, WorldCat, lists only four libraries worldwide with any copies of the magazine. Of course, photocopying of these magazines is out of the question at this time. Sea Stories magazine had limited artwork. Almost every story begins with a simple line sketch with the title. The magazine covers were significantly better paper and the artwork was very well done in colour. The magazine was priced at single copies for a quarter with a yearly subscription at $2.00. At one time the magazine appeared twice a month, later once a month.
We have been fortunate to find a library graduate student, Philip Bolton Jr. who was interested in a project to capture the adventures by Verrill as published in Sea Stories Magazine. The archival copies are bound series; Philip often had to resort to holding the book open with one hand while photographing with the other. The Camera was a Sanyo HD1 which has great resolution. Even at that, there was no way that my OCR converter could deal with the bent and bowed text that resulted from the pages being photographed, not scanned flat. Connections Clubhouse has provided a service typing the Verrill manuscripts.
One of these stories, ‘And a Little Child Shall Lead Them’ is the first story that I have located with mention of Nova Scotia. This story written during prohibition, is about rum running and includes many geographic references including Pictou and New Brunswick.
Although we know when these stories were published, we can only guess when they were written. They appeared during a time when Verrill resided in NYC. After most of his ‘jungle visits’ Verrill would return and live at a seedy hotel next to the National Museum of Natural History. The hotel was notorious as a residence for mobsters; now it is an upscale condominium, sharing its original name the Endicott.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
This is the first story from Verrill that I have found that mentions Nova Scotia where we live.
Verrill's 'Sea Stories' were published in the 1920s, when Verrill lived in The Endicott Hotel in NYC, a notorious home to mobsters. The hotel became a upscale condominium in the 1990s.
And a Little Child Shall Lead Them
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Sea Stories Magazine, 1923 April. Digital capture by Philip Bolton Jr., Betty Paulos and Doug Frizzle 2009, December.
The motives that prompt sailormen to engage in
“So that’s the graft, eh?” rumbled Captain Carmichael as he straightened up in his chair and gazed from under bushy brows at the overdressed, florid-faced man across the little table. “Want me to run a cargo of booze and risk my ship and the calaboose or a fine for me and me men for five thousand while you set back safe and sound and pocket the profits. No, mister, nothing doing.”
“Got cold feet or too law-abiding?” sneered the other.
“Maybe we might sweeten the kitty a bit if that’s all,” suggested the other man. “Would ten grand tempt you?”
For a space the bull-necked, deep-chested seaman studied his companion thoughtfully. Then: “Say,” he ejaculated, “you fellows make me tired. You think you’re some pumpkins, but you don’t know no more about running in contraband than a suckling babe. You’re a bunch of pikers and dumb fools besides.
“You send a schooner down to load hootch in the Bahamas and you know blamed well Nassau’s full of spies and every keg and case you put aboard’s checked off, and then the craft sails north with faked papers and sneaks up the coast and lays to twelve or fifteen mile off shore, just advertising she’s crooked, and then a towboat or a launch goes off making enough racket to wake old Davy Jones and you get chased and catched or have a gun fight or maybe land a few hundred cases and clean up a few thousand and call it business.
“No, mister, my motter’s ‘a thing what’s worth doing at all’s worth doing well’ and you might’s well die for a sheep as a lamb. The fine ain’t no bigger if you bring in a thousand cases than if you bring in one, and big deals are what pays.”
The other snorted. “If you’re such a wise guy why don’t you do it?” he demanded. “Reckon from what I’ve heard of you you’ve had some experience running contraband before now. It would pay you a lot better than running that old schooner of yours with cargoes of lumber and coal.”
“Why don’t I!” retorted
The florid-faced man shot a keen, searching glance at the rugged, heavy-jawed captain and intense interest showed in every feature. “Look here,” he exclaimed, lowering his voice and casting a swift, furtive glance about the dingy water-front café. “Maybe we can do business after all, cap. Tell me the lay and if it listens good the money’s easy.”
For the next ten minutes the seaman spoke earnestly in hoarse whispers, and as he talked the other’s eyes sparkled, a knowing grin spread over his coarse features and he nodded approvingly from time to time.
“Damned if I don’t think you can put it over!” he cried enthusiastically as
“’Course ‘tis,” agreed the captain. “Didn’t I tell you that’s why I couldn’t swing it—and needs organization, too. You’ve got both and I’ve got the ship and the know how. Make it a fifty-fifty deal and I’ll put it through and no risk to you, either. All you got to do is hire a office like I said; hang out your sign—West Indian Trading Company, or any such name—‘tend to the cables and papers and dig up the cash. Leave the rest to me.”
For a time the other remained silent, thinking deeply, going over the captain’s plan in detail in his mind, trying to discover some fault, some flaw, some remote contingency that might lead to discovery and disaster. But he could find none. The scheme was so open, so frank, that he could see no possible cause for suspicion and, if it worked—as he felt it must—it would mean a fortune and the biggest cargo of liquor ever smuggled into the
The possibilities were staggering. He and his friends would literally be the kings of the bootleggers and could force out all competition. But why had no one ever thought of it before? There were plenty of unprincipled ship masters and owners fully as smart and as scheming as the
“Why hasn’t some one else tried it?” he demanded.
“Hell, how do you know
“H’m, that’s so,” admitted the other, “and the first one’s the guy that makes the cleanup. Sure about that place where you can transship?”
“Do you think I’m crazy or just drunk?” snorted the other. “Course I’m sure. Not sighted once a century by no ships. Why it ain’t even down on most maps.”
“Well, I can’t see any chance for a slip,” admitted the florid-faced man at last. “How long will it take to get it here?”
“Allowing three days for you to get that office and things fixed up and get
“Good enough!” exclaimed his companion, “I’m with you, Carmichael. How soon can you clear?”
“I got an offer of cargo now,” replied
“Fine! And how much ready cash’ll you want to handle your end of it?”
The other laughed and slapped the big seaman on the back. “Does seem kind of a joke, don’t it?” he exclaimed. “Just chicken feed alongside what we’ll be putting in our jeans a couple o’ months from now.”
Captain Carmichael was as good as his word. Two days after the conversation in the café, his schooner was dropping down the harbor in tow of a fussy tug. In his pocket he carried an official-looking document wherein was set forth the fact that the “schooner Ella May, British, Pictou, N.S., Jerry Carmichael, master,” had been chartered by the Antillean Trading and Development Company for the South American and West Indian trade, “said charter to enter into effect from the date upon which the present cargo was discharged and the said schooner ready for sea at the port of St. John, New Brunswick.” And with this was a second paper whereby Captain Jerry Carmichael, master and owner of the schooner Ella May, was duly appointed as agent of the Antillean Trading and Development Company with powers to transact the company’s business that were very broad indeed.
And in the meantime, back in
Upon the walls were pictures of steamships and sailing vessels, photographs of picturesque South American and West Indian ports, a huge map of the
There were stenographers and assistants; typewriters clicked incessantly and cables were sent and received with amazing prodigality. And the contents of these were beyond question. One of the first had been to a British house, ordering a large consignment of choice liquors to be shipped at once in bond to a consignee in Trinidad, others had ordered similar shipments to
Requests had been received for quotations on sugar, cocoa, cabinet woods and balsa. Whole shipments of general merchandise, of motor cars and of machinery, had been arranged for by the company with various steamship lines plying between
In due time the Ella May docked at
Without unusual incident the Ella May came to anchor off
“Well, I’ll be blowed if ‘tain’t Jerry Carmichael in the flesh!” cried the thin, lantern-jawed individual in white drill who had sprung up from a Berbice chair at the captain’s entrance. “What’s on your mind, old shipmate?”
For a space the two talked in subdued tones, for walls are thin in
The girl returned, bringing tall glasses filled with the island’s national drink—the green swizzle—and again shuffled from the room.
As the two sipped the iced beverages they discussed business, shipping, the sugar crop, everything but the matter in hand, until
There’ll be more coming your way if you handle this right,” commented
But Baxton had no intention of failing. Armed with his documentary proof that he was the accredited local representative of the Antillean Company, he visited the port officialdom, secured the necessary orders for the release of two hundred cases of the best Scotch, and before sundown had it safely aboard a St.Lucia sloop and with a native crew of two disreputable looking gigantic blacks was sailing southwestward bound ostensibly for St. Vincent. Well out of sight of land, however, the sloop’s course was changed, sail was shortened and the little craft cruised aimlessly about the
Swiftly the cargo was transferred, the two vessels parted company and a few days later once more met off
North of the frowning Venezuelan coast, still more was transferred from the sloop slipping out through the Bocas from Trinidad, and at Curacao,
All her papers were in perfect order, a cable was waiting for the skipper with instructions to load a small shipment of sugar and a few thousand billets of balsa wood, and to proceed to Rio de la Hacha for additional balsa.
When at last she headed northeast from the Colombian coast she was full, the sugar serving admirably for ballast and light, cork-like balsa filling the hold to the hatches and overflowing in generous deck load.
Well out of sight of the steamer lanes she held her course, and four days later the lookout in the crosstrees made out a low-lying smudge of land upon the horizon off the starboard bow.
In the lee of the lonely forsaken islet, the almost unknown bit of land scarcely a mile in circumference, rising barely a dozen feet above the waves and over one hundred miles from any land, the Ella May dropped anchor.
It was an ideal spot for Carmichael’s purpose, a seagirt no-man’s land whose ownership was claimed by Britain, France, and Holland, but not worth squabbling over; the abode of countless thousands of sea birds from which it had received the name of Aves Island, and so far from the beaten track of steam or sail that, as Jerry had assured his florid-faced companion in New York, it was not sighted once in a century.
And here on this God-forsaken bit of guano-covered rock the crew of the Ella May labored like demons at a strange occupation while, from dawn until dark, the staccato exhaust of a gasoline motor frightened the screaming sea birds from their nests. Although balsa is the lightest of woods, handling ten-foot billets for hour after hour is hot, heavy, back-breaking work. But Jerry had chosen his crew from among those he knew and could rely on, the reward in store was great, there was no complaint and at the close of ten days of unremitting toil the Ella May’s sails were hoisted, her anchor rose slowly to the catheads and she headed for the Windward Passage and distant New York.
Two months to the day from the time the Ella May had set sail for
Without delay hatches were lifted,
Each straight log was neatly marked at the end with a red circle and a cross, as called for on the invoices and manifest, and as hundreds of the billets were piled in orderly stacks inside the dock shed, Jerry and his friends were in high spirits.
There had been the usual search of the schooner for contraband, but nothing was found, not even a flask among the possessions of the crew, and not a paper among the mass of documents tracing the schooner’s movements since she had cleared from
Everything had gone smoothly every detail had worked out exactly as
“You’re a wonder, captain,” declared Jerry’s companion admiringly as, seated in his luxurious car
“Not a mite,” replied the skipper. “Everything went fine as silk and smooth as oil. By glory, didn’t I tell you I’d do it? But say, wouldn’t them customs chaps get the jolt of their lives if they knew what was going on under their noses?”
“You said it,” chuckled the other. “Do you think there’s any chance they might get wise? There’s a hundred grand for each of us in this and I get nervous as a cat thinking of what might happen.”
“Not a chance,”
Upon the wharf, old Tom, the watchman, surveyed the great tiers of logs speculatively. They had awakened memories of the past. It was from just such a schooner as the Ella May that they had been discharging logs—rosewood from west Africa—when one of the billets had slipped and crushed his leg, ending his sailor days forever and compelling him to stump about on a timber leg for the rest of his days.
That was twenty-odd years ago, he remembered, with a vague sort of surprise that the years had fled so rapidly, and they surely had treated him square, he thought. Yes, given him the job as watchman for life; not much pay in it, but better than nothing, by gum! Yes, sir, didn’t know what would have become of Hetty and little Bobbie after Jack was lost when his ship was torpedoed if he hadn’t had this job. But how about it when he died?
He was getting old—couldn’t last much longer—but perhaps he’d hold out until Bobbie was big enough to work. Fine little kiddie, Bobbie, bound he was going to be a sailor, too—just like his dad and his gran’ther. And what was that the little rascal had asked him? By gum, yes, that was it, he’d almost forgotten it—a boat. “Make me a boat, gran’ther,” he’d pleaded, “a boat just like the one daddy was in.”
The old fellow chuckled. Fine way to pass the long night—whittling out a boat for Bobbie—and patiently he commenced searching about for a bit of clear pine from which to carve the hull of the toy. Bits of oak there were—old hatch wedges and skids, broken fir and spruce scantlings, odds and ends of a dozen different varieties of wood, but not a block of pine to be found.
Vaguely he remembered having seen just such a piece as he wanted somewhere, and, striving to focus his thoughts, to remember where it had been, he unconsciously poked at one of the balsa logs with his wooden leg. To his amazement, it moved easily and, his curiosity aroused, he stooped, grasped one end of the billet and exclaimed in surprise. “I’ll be blowed! Don’t weigh scarcely nothin’. Why in blazes couldn’t it ha’ been a log like that that tumbled down atop o’ me? Wonder what dumb kind o’ wood ‘tis annyhow.”
Curious to learn more of the strange light wood, the old fellow drew out his pocket knife and tried its edge on the log. It cut like cheese and his eyes lit up. If only he had a bit of that wood it would be just the thing.
Possibly, he thought, there might be a piece splintered or chipped from a log, and with his flash light he sought diligently but to no avail. Too dumb bad, so his thought ran, he just wanted one bit of the stuff to make that toy boat so Bobbie wouldn’t be disappointed and here were hundreds of the logs with hundreds more still on the schooner. Surely the owner could spare a little piece; he couldn’t grudge the kiddie that. But no, that wouldn’t be right—to cut a piece from a log for the boat.
He was there to protect property, not to make use of it, and slowly, with disappointment in his old eyes, he closed the knife, slipped it in his pocket and stumped with bent head to the little cubby-hole with its broken-down chair. But his mind kept turning to Bobbie and his boat, to the light, soft wood which would be just the perfect material for the toy, to the fact that there were hundreds of logs and all he wished was a few inches from one.
Of course he couldn’t help himself. Why hadn’t he remembered Bobbie’s boat sooner, before the schooner’s captain left, so he could have asked permission? Then he glanced up and temptation stared him in the face. Hanging upon the wall was an old saw, one some careless had left behind and that had been kept awaiting a claimant, and hardly knowing what he was doing, the old man rose, grasped the saw and with his inner consciousness telling him not to and his love for his grandchild urging him on, he walked slowly toward the pile of logs. He’d tell the captain or the agent in the morning, he declared to himself, would explain why he needed the bit of wood. Would offer to pay for it out of his scanty wages if necessary.
Thus salving his conscience, he selected a smooth, straight log, gauged the length he would need for the boat and drew the saw across the wood. It bit in easily—it was almost like sawing tallow—and in no time it had sunk to the depth of an inch. Then, with an odd rasping, grating noise it slid uselessly across some hard material.
“Shucks!” exclaimed the old man. “Derned stuff’s got a hard heart after all. Just soft outside. Reckon I’ll have to split off-a piece of it. Mebbe it’s thick enough. Withdrawing the saw, the watchman opened the heavy blade of knife, inserted the point at the bottom of the scarf made by the saw and, using his knife chisellike, he endeavored to split off the soft wood. For a few moments the balsa refused to split, the blade merely digging into the wood, and then, as he exerted more strength, the wood suddenly gave, a section split off and hung dangling by a few fibers and the old man stood gazing, speechless, dumfounded, at what he saw. Resting within a hollow in the log was a dark brown bottle!
“Wall, I’ll be blowed!” ejaculated
“I swan!” he cried. “The derned log’s full o’ booze. By Godfrey, darned if I ain’t run onto somethin’!”
It was overwhelming, incredible. If every log contained liquor
Perhaps he should notify
But how could he reach him? It was nearly midnight; the captain would be at home, and it would be too risky to tell him of discovery over the telephone. And perhaps Captain Carey wouldn’t believe him, would laugh at him. Well, he’d first be sure there was more of the stuff, and rising, he moved to the pile of logs and selecting them at random sawed into them.
Years ago drink had been his curse; it had nearly cost him his life, and he had vowed never to touch it again. But now, suddenly, with all this vast store of liquor within reach, with the excitement and nerve tension he was under, an almost irresistible temptation came over him to taste the fiery stuff once more. And with this long-forgotten desire came another thought. What business was it of his anyway?
If the customs men could be fooled let them be fooled. He could say nothing, could hide the bottles from the log he had split, could toss the log into the river and later dispose of the stuff of what to him, would be a small fortune. But the next instant he had hurled this half-formed thought from him. It had been bad enough to try to take that bit of wood for Bobbie’s boat, even though it had led to such startling results.
And at thought of
But there was still that log with the gaping hole and the remaining bottles. He must get rid of that, for he had decided that he must wait for morning and then notify Captain Carey personally, and he knew that with that telltale log the secret would be out as soon as the stevedores arrived. The others, those with only the saw marks might escape notice—he could roll them over so the marks were hidden—but the other must be destroyed. So working carefully, he managed to extract the six remaining bottles from the log, half dragged and half rolled it to the end of the dock and dumped it into the stream. To hide the liquor was not hard—no one ever bothered about his tiny “office” as he called it—and thus having settled definitely on his plans, he seated himself comfortably and, almost unwittingly, started whittling the form of a tiny hull from a bit of balsa wood.
Captain Carey had not finished dressing when old Tom rang his bell
“It’s up to Uncle Sam, now,” he announced. “Now, tell me
Once more the old sailor related his story, not sparing himself, going into the most minute details, baring his thoughts and temptations.
“And I reckon you’ll not be wantin’ me down on that job no more, Cap’n Carey,” he ventured. “I done wrong, cap’n, to take that
“What did you do with it?” demanded Captain Carey with an odd note in his voice.
Old Tom fished
“By— Say, ye don’t mean that—honest to goodness—do ye?” cried
“Absolutely,” declared Captain Carey smiling. “And a pension when you’re ready to quit. But I want you to do me a favor, too, Tom. I want you to take this bit of wood home, make
As Captain Carey spoke, he handed the half-finished boat to the old man and with it a little wad of crisp new bills.
“But—but—by gum!” stammered
“It’s all right, Tom,” he announced as he returned. “Got ‘em all; rounded up
“Aye, cap’n,” muttered
- ► 2015 (35)
- ► 2014 (55)
- ► 2013 (41)
- ► 2012 (88)
- ► 2011 (104)
- ► 2010 (43)
- ▼ December (6)
- ► 2008 (48)
- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.