Frank Nelson in the Forecastle. Or, The Sportman's Club Among the Whalers
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Finally the last barrel of oil was lowered into the hold, and the captain, to the surprise of his men, who had never known him to be guilty of an act of kindness before, sent all the crew except a boatsteerer's watch below to sleep. And a glorious sleep they had too after their days and nights of labor. Frank felt like another person when he came on deck in the morning, and went to work with a light heart to assist in cleaning up the ship. This required perseverance and the outlay of a good deal of strength, but it was done in good time, and when the deck was wiped down and the brightwork cleaned, the Tycoon looked as though she had never been near a whale. By this time land was in plain sight, and Frank and Lucas found opportunity to hold several whispered consultations as to the course they ought to pursue to secure their release. On two points Frank had made up his mind: If he went ashore, Lucas and Barton must be permitted to go also; and he would not purchase his freedom by entering into any agreement whatsoever with the captain of the Tycoon. The last one of these consultations was broken up by the sudden appearance of the third mate.
"Nelson," said he, "the old man wants to see you in the cabin."
"Ay, ay, sir!" replied Frank.
"And you had better take a friend's advice," continued the officer, in a low tone, as the young sailor was about to pass him, "and agree to what he has to propose."
Frank did not say whether he would or not. He wanted first to hear what it was that the captain had to propose. He went into the cabin and found the skipper and his two mates seated at a table there. The former had some shipping articles before him, and the first mate was reading a well-thumbed copy of Bowditch. This was encouraging. If the three officers had been examining the law, they no doubt learned that they were liable to some heavy penalties for what they had done.
"Nelson," said the captain, as Frank came in, "you haven't signed articles yet."
"No, sir," said Frank.
"Well, just put your name to them now," continued the captain, pushing them across the table. "There's a chair and there's a pen."
"I beg to be excused, sir," replied Frank.
"Won't you do it?"
"I'd rather not, sir."
"Suit yourself," said the captain indifferently. "I am only advising you as a friend. You will lose your work if you don't. You can't collect a cent from the ship if you stay aboard of her ten years."
"I am sorry to differ with you, sir, but I know better than that."
"Be careful how you speak," said the captain, starting up in his chair. "I have stood a good deal from you, and you don't want to say too much. You are not talking to Mr. Gale now."
"You haven't stood more than I have, sir," returned Frank. "It is high time I should speak plainly, as I never had the chance before and may never have it again. I know that when seamen are shipped on American whaling vessels without the rate of their pay being specified, they are entitled on their discharge in a foreign port, to the sum of twenty dollars a month as extra wages."
"How do you happen to know so much about law, Nelson?" asked the first mate.
"The way I happen to know so much about these matters is because I read up, expecting at one time to go as consul's clerk to some port in the Mediterranean."
The captain and his mates opened their eyes and looked at one another.Here was a foremast hand who must hold a high social position when he was ashore, else he would not number among his friends those who had influence enough to secure government appointments.
"Then you won't sign these articles?" continued the captain, after thinking a moment.
"By no means, sir. I don't want to go to sea for two or three years. I want to go ashore."
"I am willing you should go, if you will promise not to enter any complaints."
"If I should promise that, captain, I should tell a falsehood, and that is something I'll not do."
"Will a hundred dollars be any inducement to you?"
"Not the slightest."
"A hundred dollars besides your wages, I mean."
"No, sir," repeated Frank. "You are liable for two hundred dollars for every foremast hand aboard this vessel, except Calamity."
"How do you make that out?"
"You carried them to sea without making a contract with them."
"That'll do. You can go on deck," said the captain.
"But before I go, sir, I demand to see the American consul of the first port at which we touch," said Frank.
"Very well, you can see him, but you can't go ashore. If one goes all must go, and the first thing I know the ship will be deserted. I'll bring the consul aboard to see you."
"That will be perfectly satisfactory, sir. Victory!" whispered Frank to himself as he went up the ladder. "The people triumphant! The ring broken all to smash! A captain cowed in his own cabin by a foremast hand! Hurrah for sailors' rights! We're going to see the consul, Lucas!"
"Aha!" exclaimed the old sailor, with an admiring glance at Frank. "I knew you had the brains, sir. But I'm sorry we're going to get off so easy. Me and the rest wanted to see you on that quarter-deck."
"And a pretty figure I'd make up there, wouldn't I?" returned Frank. "I'm glad you didn't have a chance to carry out your plans."
"What do you think of him, any how?" asked the first mate, after Frank had left the cabin.
"I think I've got an elephant on my hands," answered the captain. "I don't want to keep him, and I don't know how to get rid of him. I wish Billings had been in Guinea before he brought him aboard here."
"You don't intend to let him see the consul?"
"Am I as green as that?" cried the skipper. "He's got too smooth a tongue in his head and swings it about too loose and reckless. He and them two men who were shipped with him must be kept close while I am ashore after a crew."
"And what will you do with them then? They can raise a row with one consul as well as another."
"I know it. Shall I turn them adrift in a boat or put them on some vessel bound for the States, or set them ashore on some island, and let them shift for themselves?"
"You might transfer them to Gale's boat, and some day when they are off after a whale, clear out and leave them," suggested the third mate. "Gale is a milk-and-water fellow, and not the man at all to get along with a hard crew."
"Well, I must put one of those plans into execution," said the captain, "and circumstances shall decide which it shall be. I am in as great a hurry to see the last of Nelson as he is to see the last of me. I'd knock him overboard if I had a good chance."
"Don't do that, cap'n," said the mate, hastily. "The first one of us who lays an ugly hand on him is booked for Davy's Locker, sure!"
"That's what I am afraid of," said the captain, who being unable to control himself any longer, began to relieve his mind by swearing. "I know how things are going, and besides, Calamity has kept his eyes and ears open."
Two days after this conversation took place between the captain and his mates, the Tycoon dropped her anchor near the spot where the Stranger lay three days afterward. One of the boats was called away at once, a crew selected for her, and the captain started for the shore. Frank felt jubilant when he saw him go off, but Lucas looked rather down-hearted. "He hasn't got a single one of our friends in that boat, sir," said the sailor.
"Of course not," replied Frank. "He wouldn't take them if he knew who they were, for he wants the first chance at the consul himself."
"Yes, and he'll have the last chance too, sir. We'll never see him."
"Very well, if he doesn't bring him off as he promised, I'll jump overboard and swim ashore. I can make the island very easily. You won't pull a boat in pursuit of me."
"No, sir, and nobody else shall. Neither shall the mudhook be hove up till you've had a chance to say a word for us."
"Nelson, the first mate wants to see you in the cabin," said Mr. Gale, coming forward at this moment. "He is going to offer you something to keep still, and you had better take it."
"If that is all he wants it will be of no use for me to go," answered Frank, "for my mind is made up."
"Go and talk to him, anyhow," said the officer. "Perhaps you can strike some sort of a bargain. I want to see you safe off this craft, and now is your chance, if ever."
"Nelson!" shouted the mate, from the top of the companion ladder.
"Coming, sir," replied Frank.
He went, and was not a little astonished at the reception he met as he entered the cabin. The door was suddenly closed behind him, and before he could think twice he was powerless, his ankles and wrists being heavily ironed. "Not a word out of you," said the first mate, covering Frank's head with a cocked revolver. "You'll find out now who controls this ship – you or her proper officers."
"You ain't as smart as some folks seem to think," said the second mate, with a grin. "If you were bound to blab, why didn't you take the hundred dollars the cap'n offered you, and wait till you got ashore before you began to swing your chin?"
Frank made no reply, and could offer no resistance, as the two mates dragged him out of the cabin along a narrow passageway that led to the hold. They stowed him away among the oil casks and left him to his meditations. This was the way Frank saw the consul at the port of Honolulu.
Having disposed of Frank, the officers made their way back to the cabin, and one of them mounting the companion ladder, called out: "Mr. Gale, tell Lucas that Nelson has got his money, and ask him to come down and get his!"
Lucas came, wondering what arguments the mates had brought to bear upon Frank to work so great a change in his feelings all at once, and when he reached the foot of the ladder he found out what they were – a revolver and a pair of handcuffs. The former held him passive while the irons were slipped on, and then he also was carried to the hold and stowed away, but at such a distance from Frank that the two could hold no conversation. Barton was served in the same manner, and the officers having secured the men of whom they stood the most in fear, breathed freely once more, and told each other that they were still masters of the Tycoon.
The prisoners were kept in the hold almost twelve hours – long enough for the captain to bring his crew of natives on board and get his vessel well out to sea. Then they were released and ordered on deck. Frank was disposed to make the best of his disappointment, knowing that he could not help himself, but Lucas was inclined to smash things. He hunted up his friends as soon as he could – those who had promised to stand by him and Frank through thick and thin – and laid down the law to them in stronger language than we care to quote. "Why, what's the matter?" asked the sailors, as soon as their angry mate gave them a chance to speak. "Where have you been so long?"
"That's what's the matter," replied Lucas, showing his wrists.
"That's where I've been so long," he added, tapping the marks the irons had left. "Sailed the blue water, man and boy for thirty-five years, I have, and never had the darbies on me before. Me and Cap'n Nelson's both been there, and Barton too; and here you chaps stood around like so many bumps on a log, and never lifted a hand to help us!"
"What could we have done, even if we had known that you were in trouble, while the mates were walking around with their pistols strapped to their waists and holding us tight to our work?" asked one of the sailors.
Lucas opened his eyes at this. Did the mates know of the plans that had so often been discussed in the forecastle? It looked like it.
"Somebody's been talking while Calamity was about," said the boatswain's-mate. "Never mind; we've missed one chance, but we'll have better luck next time. The ship's going to Japan, and she'll have another man on her quarter-deck when she comes back."
And so she did, but Lucas did very little toward bringing about the change. It was Captain Barclay himself; but of course he did not intend to do it.
Almost the first man Frank saw when he came on deck after his release was the third mate. "Nelson," said he, earnestly, "I had no hand in this business. If I had known what those men intended to do, I should have warned you."
"I believe you, sir," replied Frank. "I lay nothing to your charge, as you will find when the day of settlement comes."
Frank looked toward the Islands which the ship was fast leaving behind, then at the dusky, muscular Kanakas who thronged the deck, and went to work with a heavy heart. He had already had more than enough of whaling. He did not mind the dangerous, laborious duties he had to perform so much as he did the life he led in the forecastle. Of course it was kept neat and clean, like the rest of the ship, but it smelled horribly of tar and bilge water, and the men into whose company he was thrown there, were not just the sort he would have selected for associates had he been permitted to choose. It was bad enough before, but now here were a score and more of heathen with whom he had to bunk. Frank did not know how he could stand it. The only thing that had kept him up thus far was the belief that all this would end very shortly; but that hope was gone now, and time only would show what was in store for him.
Frank worked hard while on duty and talked a good deal when on watch, to keep himself from thinking too much. He had the satisfaction of seeing that the captain and his two mates did not treat the crew with any more severity than they had always done, and some of the old members of the ship's company were often heard to declare that they did not act like the same men. As for the natives, Frank very soon found reason to change the opinions he had formed of them. They had all seen service in whalers, and proved to be the neatest and most peaceable portion of the crew. More than that, they did not swear, and it was some relief to work by the side of men who could talk without putting an oath or two in every sentence they uttered.
As soon as the ship was fairly under way the mast-head was manned, and the sailors set about preparing themselves for the real business of the voyage. A complete change was made in the boats' crews, and Frank, to his delight, found himself with Lucas, Barton, and two other foremast hands, assigned to the third mate's boat. Frank held his old position as bow-oarsman, and Lucas was boat-steerer. He soon proved himself to be a good one too. He did not fall overboard again, or give Frank any more opportunities to take his place and strike a whale he had missed. During the next three weeks nine whales were added to the stock already in the hold, and of this number four were captured by Mr. Gale's boat. Frank very soon got over his nervousness, and as a consequence went just as far the other way, and was inclined to be a little too daring. He had an uncomfortable habit of wrapping a line about a thwart when he could not hold it, and Lucas, after repeatedly telling him never to do it again, got out of patience, and Frank was moved toward the other end of the boat – "promoted backward." He was seated at the stroke-oar, and the bow-oar given into the hands of Barton, who knew too much of the nature of the game they were hunting to run any risks.
Meanwhile the Tycoon was rapidly approaching her cruising grounds, and one morning the captain told his officers that the Mangrove Islands lay directly in their course two hundred miles distant, and that it was his intention to stop there for water and terrapins. That same day a whale was raised, and the captain and the third mate set off to capture it. The two boats pulled side by side for a mile or more, and then the whale took the alarm and made off. "Never mind, Mr. Gale," shouted the captain. "You keep on after him, and I'll follow you with the ship."
Mr. Gale promptly hoisted his sail and went in pursuit. The whale led them a long chase, but getting a little over his fright at last, he allowed the boat to approach within striking distance, and gave Lucas a chance to throw his harpoons into him. Then a most terrific fight ensued, which was so long and so stubbornly contested that Frank began to think he had never seen an ugly whale before. The monster seemed determined to destroy his enemies; but the mate kept at him, and by his excellent management succeeded in taking his boat through the struggle without the loss of any of her crew, and with so little damage that an hour's work by the ship's carpenter would make her fit for sea again. When it was ended and the whale rolled over with his fin out, the mate seized one of the flags, and turned to signal his triumph to the ship.
"It's lucky you wasn't in the bow," said Lucas, drawing his hand across his dripping forehead and nodding to Frank. "If you'd been here with the line wrapped around a thwart when he sounded the last time, there wouldn't have been one of us left to tell the story of this fight!"
"Pass that bucket aft and I'll bail her out," said Frank, drawing a long breath and glad that the danger was over. "He hit us a pretty hard blow with his jaw, and the water is running in here like a small Niagara. What's the matter, Mr. Gale?"
This question was called forth by an exclamation of wonder from the third mate. When he turned to signal the ship he stopped suddenly, looked all around the horizon, and then the flag dropped from his hands. The Tycoon was almost hull down – nothing but her topsails were visible. During the five hours that the brave officer had been pursuing and battling with the whale, the ship was standing away from him instead of coming to his relief, and he had been too busy to see it until this moment.
"What's the matter, sir?" repeated Frank.
Mr. Gale sat down, his face whiter now than it had been at any time during the deadly fight he and his men had just passed through, and pointed toward the Tycoon's receding topsails.