Frank Nelson in the Forecastle. Or, The Sportman's Club Among the Whalers
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"Suppose this deserter could prove his complaints against the master of that whaler," said Walter; "what would be the penalty?"
"One thousand dollars fine and five years in the state prison."
"And I hope he will get it all," said Eugene.
"Well, if it is so hard for a seaman to obtain satisfaction at law, what ought he to do when he is abused at sea?" asked Bab. "I understood you to say he had two remedies, and you have given only one."
"Well, there is another," said Frank. "He and his companions ought to club together, take the ship out of the hands of her officers, confine them in the cabin, and make for the nearest port, if they are navigators enough to find their way there."
"Yes," exclaimed Archie, "and swing for it the moment they reach the shore."
"No, sir. The case has been tried in the courts more than once, and would be tried oftener if sailors only knew their rights. As far as any risk I might run is concerned, I would not be afraid to belong to such a crew and take part in just such a proceeding."
"Well, I don't want you to get into any such scrape," said Archie; "I should never expect to see you again."
"I have no desire to win notoriety as a mutineer, I assure you," replied Frank, with a laugh. "As his Honor remarked" – here he waved his hand towards Featherweight, who bowed gravely – "I was only discoursing on sailors' rights."
"There," said George, as the boatswain's whistle rang through the schooner, followed by the order, given in a very hoarse voice, "Away, you gigs, away!" – "the captain is going ashore. Hadn't we better go down and keep Dick Lewis and Bob company? The old fellows will be lonely."
"That means business," said Eugene. "Uncle Dick is going ashore to see about the stores. It will not be long now before we take leave of Fr'isco."
"And what will be our next port?" asked George.
This was something that had not yet been decided, and if one might judge by what the boys said while they were descending to the deck, there was a prospect of a lively debate if the matter were left to them. Eugene wanted to go straight to Alaska. Bab, who had lately been reading "Reindeer, Dogs and Snow-shoes," was in favor of that, provided they could afterward go across to some port in Siberia and stay there long enough to see a little of the wild life in which he had been so much interested. Perk would agree to all that, in case they could stop on the way and give him a chance to try his hand at salmon-fishing in the tributaries of the Columbia river. Fred had seen quite enough of snow and ice, and thought he could have more sport in a warm country. He wanted to go to Japan. Walter said he was strongly in favor of that, for after they had seen all the sights in that country they would probably go to India, and that was what he wanted. He was impatient to ride on an elephant and see the famous Indian jugglers and serpent-charmers. Every boy wanted to go somewhere, but the trouble was that no two of them wanted to go to the same place; and Frank wondered how the matter would be decided.How astonished he would have been to know that the man in gray, who had just gone by in the whale-boat, was destined to decide it for them!
The boys spent the rest of the day in company with the trappers. Nothing more was said on the subject which had for a long time been uppermost in their minds, for the tone in which Dick's answer had been given satisfied them that it was final. The boys were all sorry, for they had become greatly attached to these two good-natured, ignorant fellows. They had been of great service to them – beyond a doubt they had saved Walter's life – and they could not but miss them when they were gone. The cousins especially would have been glad to postpone the parting moment had they possessed the power. It was not at all likely that they would ever see the mountains or the prairie again, and even if they did, the chances that they would find their old friends, the trappers, were not one in a thousand. Their meeting with them had been purely accidental this time, and it was not probable that such a combination of circumstances would ever occur again.
About supper-time Uncle Dick returned and reported that all arrangements had been made. The schooner was to be hauled alongside the dock in the morning, and they would go out with the turn of the tide. Where were they going? He didn't care. The world was before them, and when the boys had made up their minds what portion of it they wanted to see first, they could come to him with their decision. He wasn't going to bother his head about it, for he had other matters to think of. Eight o'clock the next evening would see the Stranger under way, and if the boys had any business ashore they had better attend to it the first thing in the morning.
Uncle Dick retired at an early hour, as he always did, and the boys had the quarter-deck all to themselves until eleven o'clock – or rather they had it in company with the second mate and the quartermaster on watch. A few "primary meetings" had been held immediately after supper, but they amounted to nothing. Each boy knew upon whom he could rely to second any motion he might make, but he was not so certain of the number of votes he could raise in support of it. During the two hours' conversation that took place after Uncle Dick went to bed, Fred Craven arose six times – that is, once every twenty minutes – and said gravely,
"I move you, Mr. President, that the captain of this schooner be requested to take her directly to some port in Japan."
"I second the motion," said Frank, who was speaking for Walter.
"Gentlemen, you have heard the motion," said Walter. "Are you ready for the question?"
"Mr. President," said Eugene, "I move to amend by striking out Japan and substituting Alaska."
"Second the motion," said Bab.
"You have heard the amendment. Are you ready to take action upon it?"
"Now just listen to me a minute, Mr. President, and I'll tell you what's a fact," said Perk. "I move to amend by striking out Alaska and substituting Astoria in Oregon."
"I second the motion," said George, who, being a devoted disciple of old Izaac Walton, was as fond of fishing as he was of sailing.
"Mr. President," said Archie, "I move to amend – "
"The gentleman is out of order. An amendment to an amendment is proper, but not an amendment of an amendment to an amendment."
When affairs reached this pass a hearty roar of laughter would come up through the open cabin windows, showing that there was an interested and amused listener in the person of Uncle Dick, who having gone to bed, leaving his state-room door ajar, could hear all that was said. Then speeches were made, some long and others witty, and all showing the training the boys had received in their debating societies. Eugene was particularly long-winded. According to Featherweight "he talked all manner of what," and spouted away on subjects that had not the slightest connection with the question under discussion. He talked eloquently about the American eagle, the war of 1812, and the stars and stripes, and dwelt long on the rights of sailors and other free-born citizens. He said afterward that if he couldn't gain his point any other way, he would tire his audience out, and compel them to vote for his amendment just to get rid of him. But the boys listened patiently and without once interrupting him, except by applause when he grew particularly eloquent, and the young orator finally tired himself out and took his seat in disgust. Everything was voted down; so they were no nearer a decision than they were before. There was one point, however, on which they were all agreed when the meeting broke up at eleven o'clock, and that was, that they had enjoyed themselves, and that their jaws and sides would be sure to ache for a week to come.
During the afternoon the boys had held a consultation with the boatswain's mate, who had promised to take the trappers under his especial charge during the night, and to report the first man who attempted to play any tricks upon them. After the meeting broke up the boys went forward with their friends to see them safely stowed away in the forecastle. The sailors were all up and waiting for them – not a man had yet turned in. The best bunks in the forecastle had been given up for their use, and the beds that were made up in them would have looked very inviting to almost anybody except our two backwoodsmen. Having been all their lives accustomed to sleeping on the hard ground, with nothing but a blanket or the spreading branches of some friendly tree for protection, they wanted plenty of air and elbow-room. They hesitated when they looked into the little forecastle, and drew back and shook their heads when invited to enter. Archie finally effected a compromise by bringing up a couple of blankets and spreading them on the deck near the windlass. This being perfectly satisfactory, the boys bade the trappers good-night, and went away, leaving them to the tender mercies of the sailors.
There was not much sleeping done among those foremast hands that night. They did not play any tricks upon their guests – indeed there were not many among them who would have had the hardihood to attempt it, after taking a good look at the stalwart fellows – but they crammed them "chock-a-block" with such wild stories of the sea that the trappers grew more alarmed than ever, and wondered greatly at the recklessness of the men who would willingly encounter such dangers. They told about mermaids, sea-dragons and serpents; of Vanderdecker's ghostly ship, the Flying Dutchman, which was rushing about the ocean with the speed of a railroad train, running down and sinking every craft that came in her way; of monstrous cuttle-fish which would sometimes arise suddenly out of the depths, and twining their long arms about a ship, sink with it and all the crew to the bottom; and one of the men declared that he had actually met and been swallowed by the same whale that took Jonah in out of the wet, hundreds and thousands of years before, and to prove it, exhibited the tobacco-box which had dropped out of Jonah's pocket when the whale threw him ashore. This is a staple forecastle yarn, and every one who has had an hour's conversation with a sailor, has probably heard it; but it was new to the trappers, who listened with all their ears and with unmistakable signs of terror on their faces. The simple-hearted fellows believed every word, and when the conversation lagged for a moment, spoke of the magnet Eugene had shown them, and the use for which they supposed it was intended.
This started the sailors on a new tack, and the stories that followed were more wonderful than those which had just been told. There was not a sailor on board the Stranger who had not seen some unlucky vessel tumble off the under side of the earth, her magnet proving too weak to sustain her weight; and there were two or three who had belonged to the crews of those very vessels, and who had been saved by a miracle.
The night was passed in this way, and it was daylight before the trappers lay down on their blankets to rest, but not to sleep. They could not sleep after hearing of such wonderful adventures and talking face to face with the men who had taken part in them. If they had not already made up their minds to lose no time in seeking safety among their native mountains, they would have done so now.