Gordon Stables.

Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune



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CHAPTER IV. – ON THE WINGS OF THE WIND

"Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching." So runs a line of the old Yankee war-song.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys (Duncan and Frank) were treading the deck that forenoon, talking, as sailors do, about anything or everything that suggested itself. And two subjects that always came to the front on such occasions were home life and their life on the ocean wave.

"So you thoroughly like the sea?" said Duncan.

"Well, Duncan, I never thoroughly liked anything, you know, but I think I love a sea-life better than most sorts of existence, with the exception, of course, of wandering over the hills of old Glenvoie; bird-nesting in the forests, or fishing in its beautiful streams. Only the sea has its drawbacks."

"Yes."

"Yes, for I do think it a nuisance to have to get up at all hours of the night to keep watch-blowing or calm. I always feel I should be willing to give five years of my life for another two hours' sleep, when the fellow shakes me by the shoulder and says, 'Eight bells, sir, if you please'. Just as if it would not be eight bells whether I pleased or not. Then, neither the tommy nor tack is quite up to shore standard, and one could do well enough without cockroaches about a foot and a half long-more or less-between his sheets, weevils in his biscuits, and spiders roasted and ground up with his coffee. The tea is always sea-sick too, and hens' milk44
  An egg or two beaten up with water. Used at sea when no milk is to be had.


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isn't the best, especially if the eggs be old and decrepit. But I won't grumble, Duncan."

"No, I wouldn't, if I were you. Sailors never do."

"And now you're laughing at me."

"That's nothing, Frank; one may live a long time after being laughed at."

"Well, come along below, and I'll play you something that will make the tear-drops trickle down that old-fashioned Scotch nose of yours."

"Wouldn't you rather hear the wild and martial strains of the bagpipes, my little Cockney cousin?"

"Oh, yes," answered Frank punnily, but standing well beyond the reach of Duncan's swinger of an arm. "I dearly love the bagpipes when-"

He hesitated.

"When what?" cried Duncan.

"When they're o'er the hills and far awa'."

Then Frank made a bolt for the companion-ladder.

It was high time, too.

Well, when Frank Trelawney had that fiddle of his under his bit of a Cockney chin, all his troubles, if, indeed, he had any that could be called real, were forgotten, including weevils, hard tack, cockroaches, and all. For the time being, indeed, there was no one else in the world save he himself and the violin.

And what worlds of romance and love and beauty were thus conjured up before him!

But even at the risk of differing from Frank, I think a sailor's pleasures, if he is one who calls at many and different ports, far outbalance any grievances he may have to growl about-short of shipwreck. What though the biscuit be hard, and one's bed like the biscuit! The wholesome healthy appetite one possesses, both for biscuit and sleep, makes up for all that; and one ought to be happy if he isn't.

But one chief enjoyment in a sailor's existence lies in visiting so many different lands, and seeing life in every form and shape. He cannot help being an anthropologist, and studying mankind. Not, mind you, that he lays himself out for that sort of thing; for sailors, especially young fellows, take the world as it comes, the rough with the smooth, or rather alternately, only always forgetting the rough while they revel in the smooth. But there must always be an element of comedy in Jack's delights, and when he goes on shore, take my word for it, "Jack's alive, and full of fun".

I am happy to say that drinking is much in the decrease both in the royal navy and merchant service. Why, even since I myself can remember-and I'm not a very aged individual-our blue-jackets were like babies, and if not in charge of an officer when on shore, would forget themselves, and come on board limp enough, with black eyes and broken heads, and garments drenched in gore.

Jack in those days really paid for his pint in more ways than one, for if he escaped the dangers of the shore, riot and wretchedness, the thieves and the female harpies who lay in wait to cheat and rob him, the day after coming off was for him a day of sadness and mourning.

If able to stand, he had to go on duty. Perhaps he had no more brains than a frozen turnip; perhaps his head felt so big that he borrowed a shoe-horn to put on his hat, nevertheless he was drilled on deck just all the same, and it took him four days probably to recover his appetite and equilibrium.

There was every appearance now that the Flora M'Vayne would have a pleasant voyage.

Talbot was kind to his fellows, and a rattling good crew they made. So, although they passed Madeira and the Canary Islands to the west, they looked in at Santiago, one of the largest in the group of Cape de Verde Islands.

Three days were spent here, and they managed to secure some really good water. It was only the distilled they used at sea, and this, to say the least of it, is always somewhat vapourish.

The men had leave, and behaved fairly well, returning sober and with many curios, which they hoped to take home to their sweethearts and wives, and also laden with fruit of many kinds, all of which is good for the health of the sailor.

Plenty of fruit was also secured for the saloon, so they put to sea again in capital heart and spirits.

One little incident is perhaps worth noting. A huge bunch of bananas was hung up to ripen against the saloon bulkhead. That was right enough; but when a venomous little snake-slender in form and about the colour of hedge-sparrow's egg-popped out his head and neck, and whispered angrily at Conal, then Conal called his comrades, and a court of inquiry was held. It was believed to be the best plan to take the bunch of bananas on deck by means of a blacksmith's tongs, and shake it over the sea.

But that beautiful green demon of the jungle thought perhaps that he did not merit the honour of a sailor's grave, so he popped out and skipped gaily into Duncan's cabin.

"Here's a pretty go," said Conal; "and I should be sorry to sleep in that state-room until the reptile is found."

So a search was instituted instanter, and a dangerous one it was. But wherever it had taken refuge that snake could not be found.

The young fellows took rugs on deck that night, and slept on the planks.

Theirs was the forenoon watch, and when turning out to keep it, lo! that little green demon glided quietly out from Conal's very bosom, and went leaping and rolling along the deck, aft, finally tumbling down the skylight and on to the table where the captain was lingering over his breakfast.

For more than a week that snake-known to be one of the most poisonous there is-was the terror of the ship. He was in entire command fore and aft, and the skipper was nowhere. The awful, though lovely thing, appeared in so many places, moreover, that it was believed to be ubiquitous. Sometimes it would glide out of a sea-boot or a sou'wester hat. It was twice found in the sleeve of an oilskin-jacket, once it curled up for the night with Viking, and once in the pocket of the man at the wheel.

This sailor had dived his hand into the outside pocket of his coat to find his "baccy", when, instead of this, he felt the cold wriggling-wriggling thing; he gave a whoop like a Somali Indian with six inches of square-0 gin in his stomach! The scream started the snake from his lair, and he went girdling along the deck and disappeared below as usual.

But he was smashed at last and heaved far into the sea.

Strange to say, Mr. Snakey, as he was called, appeared again all alive and beautiful next morning.

"He's the d-l for sartin," said a blue-jacket. "Dead one day and squirming around the next. Yes, Bill-what else can he be but the d-l, and maybe just the same bloomin' old snake as tempted Mother Heve in the Garding of Heden!"

But this snake was killed next, and there was no more trouble after this.

Captain Talbot, however, issued an order that before bananas were again brought on board the bunches were to be well examined. Or, in doctor's parlance, when taken, they must be well shaken.

Ascension was their next place of call. It is generally called a rock in mid-ocean. It is somewhat more than that, being over seven miles in length and fully six broad. It is hilly, its chief peak being about three thousand feet in height.

Well, the Flora M'Vayne was enabled to get coals here anyhow, and they found the place what I might call semi-garrisoned. Moreover a gun-boat lay here. The officers of the Flora visited her, and were hospitably received, and invited to dinner, everyone both afloat and on shore being anxious to receive news from England, while the papers the Flora had brought were a sort of godsend.

The beautiful island of St. Helena did not lie in their direct route, but Tristan d'Acunha-more than a thousand miles directly south-did, and here they determined to cast anchor for a spell, and give the islanders a treat.

(I have given the ordinary name to this lonesome isle of the ocean, but correctly, I believe it should be Tristan Da Cunha-pronounced Coon'ya. It is really a group of three, the chief being about twenty-one miles in circumference, and having in its centre a very lofty mountain peak more nearly 8000 feet than 7000 in height.)

They found about one hundred souls living on this isle. The settlement, or glen in which they have their habitat, is fairly fertile, and the ubiquitous Scot is so much in evidence here that the village is called New Edinburgh.

It is in reality a republic, and the oldest man is chief or governor. The cattle and sheep number about two thousand, and belong, of course, all in common. Well, they are happy enough, and crime is unknown, the chief reason of this being perhaps that drink is also unknown.

There were some really very pretty girls here, but when they were assembled an evening or two after the Flora's arrival in a barn to listen to the strains of Frank's fiddle, recitations, and songs, those girls looked laughably quaint in their strange old-fashioned dresses.

The concert was a great success, and really the skirl of Duncan's Highland bagpipe as he strode back and fore on the rude stage, quite brought down the house, to use theatrical parlance. It almost brought down the barn too, so thrilling and loud was it. Never mind, Duncan received no less than three hearty encores, and surely that was enough to please anyone.

"What a lonely life to lead!" said Conal next day at breakfast.

"Yes," said Morgan, "and I shouldn't care to get spliced and settle down here all my life, pretty and all as the girls are."

"Well, you would live long and be healthy anyhow if you did," said Captain Talbot.

The mate laughed as he helped himself to another huge slice of barracouta.

"Never mind that, sir. I wouldn't marry and live in Tristan if they gave me three wives."

"But aren't these girls shy?" said Frank. "Why, I asked one innocently enough to give me a kiss, and she blushed like a blood orange."

"Did she give you the kiss?" asked Morgan mischievously.

"No, that she didn't, but-I took it."

The Flora M'Vayne lay here for a whole week, fishing and curing each catch.

This was a rare holiday for the islanders, who were the gayest of the gay all the time.

One morning a sailor of the crew sought an interview with Captain Talbot on the quarter-deck.

"Well, my man?"

"Well, sir, it's like this. I've fallen in love here with the slickest-lookin' bit of a lass I ever clapped eyes upon 'twix' here, sir, and San Domingo; and if you please, capting, I wants to stay here and marry her right away, and live happy hever arterwards."

The captain laughed.

"My good fellow," he said, "I am truly sorry to disappoint you; but you signed articles for all the cruise, you know, and I fear I can't let you go. I'd be one hand short, you see."

"That you would not, sir, for there is Billy Ibsen, as good a seaman, I believe, as ever 'auled taut a lee main brace, and he'll be 'appy to exchange."

"Well then, Smith, if that's the case, and the substitute is suitable, I mustn't throw any obstacles in your way."

And so all ended well. Ibsen proved fit, and Smith went on shore. When the Flora sailed away he was the last man visible, standing on an eminence waving a red bandanna, with the girl of his choice standing modestly by his side.

Little did this island lassie think when the ship hove in sight that it was bringing her a lover and a husband.

But although rare at Tristan Da Cunha, the young ladies of that solitary rock, in the midst of the Atlantic broad and wild, do sometimes count upon the possibility of such an event, and may be heard singing:

 
"He's coming from the north that will marry me,
He's coming from the north, and oh happy I will be,
With a broad-sword by his side and a buckle on his knee,
And I know it, oh, I know it, that he'll marry me".
 

But the Tristan Da Cunha people are moral and good, and although they have no parson on board they have services on Sunday. As to marriage-well, the governor does the splicing, and it is considered quite as binding as if the ceremony had been performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Southward now they sailed away in a delightful breeze, and when the sun was slowly sinking towards the western sea, the weird wee island of Tristan appeared but as a hazy cloud far away on the northern horizon.

So strange a place our young heroes had never visited before, and for many days it seemed but an island of dreamland.

But that island, readers, is still there amidst its waste of waters, and it is within the kaleidoscope of events, that some of you may yet visit its iron-bound and surf-beaten shores.

Who knows?

CHAPTER V. – JOHNNIE SHINGLES AND OLD MR. PEN

South, straight south. South as the bird flies. And with a fair and spanking breeze too. As for birds-once past the rocky and volcanic island of Diego Alvarez, few indeed bore them company. I believe anybody might have this rocky place who had a mind to. They found it to be the home of myriads-clouds, in fact-of gulls of every sort, including the well-known Cape pigeon, the puffin, the penguin, and albatross, to say nothing of the cormorant, and that strange, strange creature on its wondrous wings, that lives in the sky most of its time, and even goes to sleep as it soars high above the clouds-the frigate-bird.

They went near enough to the island to witness one of the strangest sights in nature-the bird-laden rocks. There was little chance of landing on the island itself, owing to the terrible surf that beats for ever and aye around the cliffs; but Ibsen, who turned out to be a real handy fellow, had been here before, and pointed out to the captain some rocks in the lee of which a boat could land, and-this being spring in these regions-soon find enough eggs to keep the crew in food for a month. His knowledge was taken advantage of, and a boat under his guidance called away.

In it went Duncan and Frank.

What a scene! It beats imagination. Tier after tier on the rocky cliffs sat those birds watching their nests and eggs.

They found a little cove in the tiny islet, and at the head of this the boat was beached on the dark sand. The ground was everywhere so crowded with nests that it was with difficulty they could walk amongst them without doing damage.

How beautiful they were too! Of every shade of blue and green, with the strangest of jet-black markings, were most of them.

But the king penguins did not cohabit with any of the gull families. They thought themselves far too aristocratic for this, and here, as on other lonely isles of the great southern ocean, they dwelt in a colony all by themselves, which must have numbered about one thousand all told. This colony had footpaths leading down to the shallowest parts of the shore, whence these droll birds could easily take to the water.

They are really droll, whether walking, standing, running, or swimming. They stand quite erect on their sturdy legs, so that a line dropped from their beaks would almost fall between their broad webbed feet. Wings they have none, a pair of broad flappers doing duty for these, which seems to aid considerably their progress in running. But these flappers are really paddles or oars in the water, and I know of few birds that can swim so fast or turn so quickly in the sea.

On the arrival of the boat's crew there was a general panic among this community. As regards the male birds, tall as they were, they did not show a very great amount of courage.

Sauve qui peut was their motto, and let the females take care of themselves. Like the pigs in New Testament times, when the cast-out devils got leave to go into them, they ran headlong down a steep place into the sea. Their motions as they waddled and scurried along, oftentimes tumbling over a stone or a tussock heap, were grotesque in the extreme, and everyone roared with laughter.

With the exception of little Johnnie Shingles. I'm sure I cannot tell you how he came to be called Johnnie Shingles, for pet names grow on board ship just as they do on shore. Johnnie was picked up somewhere abroad, and was looked upon as part and parcel of the good barque Flora M'Vayne. He was a nigger of purest, blackest breed, probably four feet four inches high, and in age something between nine and nineteen. Nobody knew and nobody cared. Johnnie Shingles was just Johnnie Shingles, no more and no less. Well, he couldn't have been much less. He was very funny, however, and consequently a favourite with everybody on board, from Mate Morgan to the monkey. His duty on board was really to be at the beck and call of all hands, and to clean and feed the pets, including Viking, the red-tailed gray parrot, and Jim the ape.

Well, you see, Johnnie was never allowed to land from the boat like any of the crew, but as soon as he came within reasonable distance of the shore he was simply thrown overboard, and left to struggle in through the surf as best he could.

But Johnnie didn't mind the surf much, and he didn't mind the sharks. Nor do I think the sharks minded Johnnie. In fact, my knowledge of sharks generally causes me to come to the conclusion, that they are somewhat particular in their tastes, and much prefer a white man to a black.

Well, at this islet, Johnnie Shingles was as usual pitched ceremoniously into the water, when about seventy yards from the landing-place. But as ill-luck would have it he met the whole shoal of male penguins putting out to sea. These birds are extremely bold and audacious in the water.

"Hillo!" one of the foremost shouted or seemed to shout, "here goes another o' them. Let us all pitch into him!"

And suiting the action to the word they seized poor Johnnie by the seat of his white ducks and dived with him under the water. Johnnie got up, but only to be seized by another, while half a dozen at least dabbed and pecked at him, till, had he been a white boy, he would have been black and blue.

I believe that if, in answer to his shrieks the boat had not put back, and laid those penguins dead with their oars right and left, poor Johnnie Shingles would have lost the number of his mess. Even after the angry king penguins had been routed nothing could for a time be seen of the little nigger boy. But presently up popped a penguin, and close behind it up popped Johnnie.

He came up smiling, as prize-fighters say, but he had got that penguin by the hind-leg all the same, and kick as it would Johnnie held fast till he and it were landed all alive in the boat.

Now, I do not know whether that king penguin had a wife and a family of eggs or not, but if he had he very soon forgot them and settled down to ship life as if he had been to the manner born. In fact, he became a general favourite on board owing to his grave and peculiar gait.

Old Pen, as he was called, became specially attached to Johnnie Shingles, and stuck to him as Johnnie had clung to him before they were hauled into the boat.

As to the penguin's eggs: they lay but two, a big and a bigger. They are good to eat-scrambled. But I am unable to say whether the king bird or cock comes out of the big shell, and the hen out of the smaller, or vice vers?.

This particular king had very intelligent eyes, with which he would stare at one fixedly for a minute at a time with his head on one side. Indeed, he was always, to all appearance, seeking for information everywhere, and there was not much on deck that he did not examine.

The coiled ropes were a source of great amusement to him, and after unravelling one end he would seize it, and walk straight off with it as men do with a hawser. When the men were washing down decks, before the weather got very cold he was never tired examining their naked toes. He used to straddle quietly up and separate them with his beak as a starling would.

If the men jumped and cried "Oh-h!" Old Pen held back his head and chuckled quietly to himself.

"I only wanted to know if you were web-footed," he appeared to say.

Well, if old Pen was grotesque and amusing when dressed only in his own feathers, he was infinitely more droll when the men dressed him up as a funny old girl with a black bonnet, a short dark skirt, a shawl, a pair of frilled white trousers, and a gingham umbrella.



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