Gordon Stables.

Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune



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Old Pen didn't care. If everyone else laughed he only nodded his head and seemed all the prouder.

I don't know whether Johnnie or he was the taller, only the grinning wee nigger used to give the singular old lady an arm, and together they used to walk up and down the deck in the most comical way imaginable.

But this was not all, for Johnnie taught her to waltz.

On board the Flora was a man who could play the clarionet, while another could bring very sweet music indeed from the guitar. This really was all the band, with, of course, Frank's fiddle. But very far indeed was it from bad, and dressed in their Sunday's best, the sailors used to be invited aft, and during that long, long voyage to the southern fields and floes of ice, many an evening concert beguiled the time.

But if the sailor musicians went aft, Frank often went forward, and it was on these occasions that old Mrs. Pen, as she was often called, was trotted out by the curly-polled nigger-boy. It is a misappropriation of a term to say "trotted out", for certainly there was very little trot about the quaint old dame. But waltzing just suited her flat feet. Yes, and there is no doubt that she liked it too. She might be down below half-asleep before the galley fire, when the fiddle and guitar began getting into tune with the clarionet; but she now pricked up her ears at once and presently prepared to negotiate the broad companion steps or stairs that led to the upper deck. This was always a very serious matter for the great king penguin. Sometimes he tried to stride from one step to another, a foot at a time. But this plan was invariably a failure, so he found it more convenient on the whole to hop, and his lower limbs were wondrously strong.

Arrived on deck, Johnnie Shingles was there to meet him, and dress him as Susie. Then the he became a she.

But the men would be at it by this time, dancing the daftest and wildest of hornpipes. No chance of their catching cold when so engaged, nor after, for as soon as they had finished a spell that they threw on their heavy jumpers and walked around defiant, enjoying the daft capers of their shipmates.

 
"Put life and mettle in their heels",
 

Then Susie and Shingles would appear on the scene arm in arm, the boy with his round face, his laughing eyes, and his two rows of alabaster teeth, looking a picture of radiant fun and good humour.

"Now, Massa Frank," he might cry, "gib me and my ole mudder a nice d'eamy valtz."

"A dreamy waltz, eh? Well, you must have it."

"I must foh shuah, sah. My mudder hab got a soft co'n, and rheumatiz, and all sorts ob tings."

There was no laughing about Susie. She took everything in grim earnest, but, with her chin resting on black Johnnie's shoulder, she evidently enjoyed both the movement and the melody, sometimes even closing her eyes.

Her partner, like herself, was barefooted even in the coldest of weather; but when once he tramped on Susie's toes, the old lady rewarded him with a dig on the cheek that made Johnnie howl, and taught him caution for all time to come.

Well, what with laughing and dancing, an evening thus spent sped away very quickly, and was worth a whole bushel of doctor's stuff.

There was no surgeon on board, I may mention parenthetically. The law does not require such an officer to be carried when the crew, all told, is under forty men.

It is really somewhat marvellous that a bird like this big king penguin, should have taken so soon and so kindly to the company and customs of human beings; but then the poor bird was exceedingly well-treated, and whenever fish was served out, Pen was always in the front rank. Ah, well, it is only one more proof of the truth that amor vincit omnia-love conquers all things.

Pen was not always dressed as Mother Gamp. No, for he had a really good outfit, to which the neater-fisted seamen were always adding. So sometimes he would appear on the quarter-deck as a man-o'-war sailor, at others as a smart and elegantly-attired artilleryman, with his cap stuck provokingly on one side, and a little cane under his left arm.

He was at times dressed as Paul Pry. And on these occasions, as he stretched his head and neck curiously out in front of him, he really seemed to say: "I hope I don't intrude".

Pen was a grand actor. Mr. Toole himself would have been nowhere in it with Pen.

Viking at first must have thought the bird something "no canny". He would start up with a wild "wowff" if Pen came anywhere near him, and quietly retire.

The monkey or ape, on the other hand, tried to get up a friendship with Pen. He would approach him with a peace-offering, crying "Ha! hah! hah!" which, being interpreted, signifieth, "Take that, old Pen, and eat it. It will taste in your mouth like butter and honey." As the peace-offering invariably consisted of a gigantic cockroach about three inches long, I think it may be doubted whether it tasted as well as the monkey would have had Pen believe. However, the presentation was kindly meant.

This huge monkey's mouth was always crammed with cockroaches. One side at all events, and that one side stuck out as if he were suffering from a huge gum-boil.

The men were somewhat sorry, I think, that they could not teach old Pen to chew 'baccy, but old Pen drew the line at this. I must, out of respect for the truth, state, however, that the bird could not be called a total abstainer, for he dearly loved a piece of "plum-duff" steeped in rum, and on this questionable delicacy I think he used at times to get about half seas over. Then he would commence wagging his head and neck very much from side to side, and indulge in a little song to himself.

Old Pen was not much of a singer, however, and never could have composed an opera. In fact his song was partly grunt, partly squeak, and partly squawk. But it pleased Pen, and that was enough.

After singing for a short time he would pinch a favourite seaman's leg. "Kack!" he would say, opening his mouth. This meant "Chuck us another sop, matie".

After receiving it he would be off, and take his usual stand near the galley fire, and begin to wink and wink, and nod and nod, till finally the lower eyelids would ascend over the beautiful irises, and Pen be wafted away into dreamland. He wasn't aboard ship any longer. He was back once more on his own little rocky sea-girt isle, with the gulls and the cormorants screaming high in the air around. Near him stood Mrs. Pen, his wife, and near her, and in front, his two youngsters-fluffy, downy, droll brats, gaping their red mouths to be fed.

On the whole, I think Pen was a curious bird, and eminently suited for a sailor's pet.

CHAPTER VI. – "BACK WATER ALL! FOR LIFE, BOYS, FOR LIFE!"

It was summer-strange, weird, and silent summer in the Antarctic Ocean.

November was wearing to a close. The days were long and sunny; so long, indeed, that the sun did not trouble himself to go down at all. At midnight he just made a feint of doing so, and lowered himself towards the horizon, but thought better of it, and was speedily mounting higher and higher again every minute.

A great, cold-looking sun it was, however, a bright and almost rayless disc of whitest light, that you could look at and even count the spots thereon.

The good barque Flora M'Vayne was still ploughing her way through the dark waters of that southern ocean, and the great glacial barrier was still far away. They could have told this even by the paucity of bird life around them. A long-winged frigate-bird went swiftly across the hawse now and then, and soared away and away towards the few fleecy clouds that hovered high in air like puffs of gunpowder smoke.

That mighty eagle of the sea-the albatross-was also a constant visitor. What a wondrous flight is his! At one moment beating up to windward, tack and half-tack, yet with a speed almost as great as that of a swallow, till one can scarcely see him, so far and far away is he; then, wheeling next moment, down he flashes on the breeze, but more quickly than any ordinary breeze e'er blew. Not straight before the wind, however, but with a kind of sidelong rush which brings into full view the vast outspread of his wondrous wings.

They were still in the "roaring forties", as that part of the ocean 'twixt the latitude of the Cape and the fifties is called. But what a wide expanse of ocean is all around them! I have stood spell-bound on the fore or main-top, not admiring so much as adoring this mighty work of a mightier Creator: a turmoil of water, water, water in every direction one can look. And it is not so much the height of the waves one wonders at-though that is indeed vast-but their tremendous breadth, the sweep, as it were, between one curling comber and another. High and of fearful force are the seas in, for example, the Bay of Biscay during a gale, but they are mere channel chops to these. And wide though the expanse of these latter, they race each other round the world with an earnestness, and even fury, that causes one to stand aghast.

I wish I had space to describe some of the sunsets our heroes beheld shortly after leaving the last land. No wonder that Duncan more than once grasped Frank by the arm, and pointed northward and west at eventide.

"Look! Oh, look!"

It was all he could say. Yet the salt tears almost blinded him as he spoke.

"Oh, to be an artist!" exclaimed Frank once.

"An artist!" cried Duncan, almost scornfully. "What artist would dare to paint the golden gray and crimson splendour that unites both sea and sky into one living gorgeous whole? Oh, Frank, even Turner himself, were he here, would throw down his brush, and confess that he was a mere caricaturist."

But in a few weeks' time the sunsets were nil, and all, all was day.

Nor did it blow so high now.

Sometimes, indeed, the sea was as calm as a mill-pond, except where rippled in patches by huge shoals of the fry of certain kinds of fish that inhabit these seas.

And these were invariably followed by denizens of the deep that preyed upon them-dancing, leaping, cooing dolphins, for example.

Some of these latter were harpooned, and their dark red flesh made an excellent change of diet from the somewhat salt provisions, eggs, or penguin flesh.

Once or twice, while the weather was calm and the surface of the sea smooth and glassy, they came upon patches of yellow-banks they were, in fact, over which they were drifting.

Men were now kept constantly in the chains, and sometimes the danger was so great that the anchors were let go to wait for even the lightest breeze.

This might have delayed the voyage somewhat, but nevertheless it was not time wholly misspent, for where the bottom is near to the surface fish are always found in abundance. So boats would be lowered, and real good hand-line sport enjoyed.

In this old Pen participated. But the first day he started fishing he swam so fast and so far away, that those in the boat imagined they would never see him more.

Then little Johnnie began to weep.

"Oh, poll deah Pen! Oh, my ole mudder Sue," he cried. "He done gone away foh ebbermoh."

But Johnnie's "weeps" were quite a useless expenditure of lachrymal fluid. This was evident enough when Pen came racing back again with a great silvery fish held proudly aloft. He delivered this, and went back for another. And this again and again, till a breath of wind springing up, it was deemed advisable to return to the Flora, who was "titting" at her anchor as if eager to be on the wing again.

That Pen loved the darkie was evident enough, for one day, when bent on to his line and hauling away with all his might, a huge bonito pulled the little lad right overboard, the strange bird went grunting and squawking round him in terrible distress.

Johnnie's position just then was not an enviable one, for although he could swim like a herring, there was many a monster shark hovering near that would have been pleased indeed to make a meal of the boy.

These sharks were sometimes caught, and although their flesh had no great flavour, parts of it served sometimes to eke out breakfast or supper.

There are dangers innumerable in those Antarctic seas, and one of the most terrible is that of striking on a sand-bank or running foul of a sunken rock. These not being on the chart, the navigator has to sail along literally with his life in his hand, trusting all to blind chance. A bank does give some evidence before the ship gets on if there is an outlook in the foretop, and the cry of, "Below there! shoal water ahead!" is all too common. Next comes the shout of, "Ready about! Stand by tacks and sheets!"

But the rock hides its awful head and gives no sign. The ship strikes, then backward reels, and mayhap sinks before there is time to provision, water, arm, man, and lower the boats.

Ice at last.

But the Antarctic sea was wonderfully open this season, and the ice loose.

It lay in streams of small pieces at first, athwart the world, as Jack termed it; athwart the ship's course, at all events, so these they had to sail through. The good Flora was strong enough to negotiate them, but the battering and thumping along the vessel's sides, as heard below, was tremendous.

These ice streams became more and more numerous, and the pieces, or "berglets", got bigger and bigger, and, of course, more fraught with danger to the ship's vitality.

It grew appreciably colder too, but so slowly had they come into these regions of perpetual snow, that the change in temperature had no detrimental effect upon the health of either the officers or men.

It certainly had none on old Pen. In fact, the colder it got the more he seemed to like it. And now when waltzing with Johnnie, he used to sing in his own droll and dismal way.

Viking also believed in the cold, and the races and gambols he had up and down the deck, when he could induce anyone to throw a belaying-pin for him were wild in the extreme.

Moreover, he had a football, which Duncan had presented him with, and he got no end of fun out of this. He threw it in front of him, he hurled it along in front of him, and swung it about, and one day, when he fairly tossed it overboard, he made no bother about the matter, but rushing astern, jumped right overboard after it, quite regardless of the fact that the ship was going on at the rate of eight knots an hour.

As quickly as possible she was hove to and a whaler lowered.

Vike was found quite a quarter of a mile astern-but he had stuck to his ball.

He dearly loved it, and, strangely enough, he put it to bed every night as children do their dolls, covering it carefully up with a corner of the rug on which he slept.

Icebergs at last. A good thing it was for the Flora, that there was but little wind, for to strike against one of these huge bergs-bigger many of them were than St. Paul's Cathedral-would have meant certain destruction.

Yet although the wind was often but light, a current seemed to run rapidly enough, and the huge unbroken waves towered high above them, and more than once they narrowly escaped disaster from a huge berg being hurled down upon the vessel as if by Titanic force, as she wallowed in the trough of the sea.

Even sailing past to leeward of such ice as this took the wind for a time clean out of the sails.

Strangely enough, they reached the Antarctic Circle on Christmas day.

This was a sort of double event. Either would have been celebrated, but now both events must be rolled into one.

One would hardly imagine that King Christmas would venture into these lonely regions, but the old fellow is good-hearted, and where'er on earth a Briton goes there goes Christmas also.

Well, with the exception of Johnnie Shingles and the monkey-who, by the way, had been furnished with a brand-new scarlet flannel jacket to keep him cosy-there was not a soul on board who had not before leaving home been presented with a bunch of gay ribbons, by sweetheart or wife, to help to deck a great garland that was made, and hoisted high aloft and abaft on this auspicious morning.

Of course there were no turkeys!

Alas! there were no geese.

As for cooking an albatross-well, that has been tried before, and a more unsatisfactory dish I have never tasted. Fishy, oily, and as for downright toughness the wife of Beith with her iron teeth could make but a poor show in front of it.

But some splendid corn-beef took the place of more civilized dishes both fore and aft.

Then there was the pudding. Ah! that indeed!

And a splendid success this, or these, were. The cook went in that day for beating all previous records. And it was universally admitted that he did.

The Flora M'Vayne was an almost temperate ship, that is, the men had to content themselves with one glass of rum each per diem, man-o'-war fashion. But on this bright Christmas day there was but little limit or stint. Only, to everyone's credit be it said, there was no excess.

The evening, up till two bells (9 o'clock), was spent in games, in yarning, in dancing, and fun.

Both Vike and old Pen had dined right heartily, and were in rare form.

One of the chief dances to-night was the Scots strathspey and reel, and Duncan had got his bagpipes in order for the occasion, and as he played the fun grew fast and furious.

So excited did both Vike and Pen become at last that they must too chime in, the dog with a high falsetto howl, the bird with double grunt and squawk, so that Duncan's melody was somewhat interfered with.

This, however, did not discourage the Scotch portion of the crew. They only cracked their thumbs, danced the nimbler, and hooched the wilder, till with the frantic merriment the very sails did shiver.

It was indeed a joyous night. Vike and Pen, although they had a truly excellent feed, did not give way to excess, but the monkey being only one remove from a human being, ate so much pudding and so many nuts and cockroaches, that he suffered next morning from a violent headache. He was seen squatting on the capstan, clasping his brow with his left hand, and looking the very picture of Simian misery.

Frank took pity on him.

"I know what will cure you," he said. "I know what a Christmas headache is; I've been there myself."

So he bound up the poor beastie's head with a handkerchief wrung out of ice-cold water, and the monkey felt really better, and was grateful in consequence.

For some natural reason or another, they now came into a sea of open water, and much to the delight and excitement of all hands, sighted a school of Right whales.

The main-yard was instantly hauled aback, and all preparations speedily made to attack one at least of this great shoal.

I do not suppose that these leviathans of southern polar seas had ever had their gambols so rudely broken in upon before.

Three boats were sent against them, each with one experienced harpooner. The captain commanded one, Morgan another, and the third whaler was given in charge of brave young Duncan. To tell the truth, he had really no experience of such "fishing", but the spectioneer that sat beside him had.

Surely it was a pity to disturb the enjoyment of those great ungainly monsters on so glorious a day. Thus thought Conal at all events, for without doubt the whales had assembled for a real frolic.

It was a sort of whales' ball.

Sometimes nothing was seen but the white spray or foam they raised, at other times their enormous bodies were seen shining silvery in the summer sun, for in their glee they actively leapt over each other's backs.

But the noise they made is indescribable, as they lashed the water with flippers and tails.

In the captain's boat only was the harpoon gun, and he alone would fire it. When a much younger man he had been whaling in the far-off Arctic, and knew a Right whale from a finner or sperm.

Yet his was not the newest-fashioned mode of whaling. He used no explosive shells or bullets, which he looked upon as cruel in the extreme. I should be sorry indeed to argue the point either pro or con, for there is cruelty on both sides, but probably less with the shell, which may cause almost instantaneous death.

Was Captain Talbot going to attack that school of whales during their extraordinary gambols? He knew better. Were a whales' ball to take place in the midst of even a fleet of men-o'-war I should be sorry for some of the ships.

But see yonder, ploughing slowly along towards the herd, comes a huge and solitary leviathan.

Talbot hastily signals to the mate and to Duncan. The latter takes the steering oar, and, bidding him be cautious, the spectioneer, his great whale lance in his hand, goes cautiously forward to the bows, and the boat is kept on a line parallel to the great beast's course.

Nearer and nearer creeps the captain's boat. The excitement is intense. Will the whale dive before he gets close enough, the men are wondering?

Nearer and still more near.

Everyone holds his breath.

"Lie on your oars, men! Still and quiet!"

The boat drifts a little way further, but the gun is trained.

Bang!

The echoes reverberate from every berg, or far or near. The line all neatly coiled in the bows is whirling out, till the gunwale begins to fire. But it as speedily stops.



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