Harry Castlemon.

Frank Nelson in the Forecastle. Or, The Sportman's Club Among the Whalers



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"Belay that!" cried the coxswain, jumping to his feet. "You're a soldier yourself and a tale-bearer besides, Calamity, and any more such language as that will breed a row that'll have to be settled by you and me the very first time we get ashore. That's a word with a bark on it!"

Calamity, like the coward he was, slunk back out of sight immediately, and in a few minutes got up and walked away.

CHAPTER IX
"THERE SHE BLOWS."

IT soon became evident to all on board the Tycoon that Captain Barclay – that was the name of the master of the ship – was in a great hurry. Whaling captains, while on fishing-grounds, generally try to get over as much space as they can while daylight lasts, and to remain as nearly in one spot as possible during the night. By following this plan they can hunt over every mile of the ground, and lose no chance of finding the game of which they are in search. Captain Barclay, however, carried all the sail he could crowd, both night and day. The old sailors, Lucas and Barton among the rest, knew where he was going, and when Frank heard them express their opinions he had new cause for uneasiness.

"He's bound for the Sandwich Islands," said Lucas, one day. "He hasn't got men enough aboard here to do anything, and he's going after a crew."

"Then we can make up our minds that we have seen the last of the Stranger," said Frank.

"Why, bless you," said Lucas, "I never did expect to see her again. I never said so before because I saw that you kept hankering after her, and I wanted you to keep your spirits up as long as you could."

Frank's last hope was gone now, and it was only by a great effort of will that he kept himself from giving away utterly to his despondent feelings. "I have seen the last of my friends," thought he. "I have no one to rely on except myself. I must drag out a miserable existence here till I see a chance to escape, and then get home as best I can. I might just as well make up my mind to it."

And he did. He accepted what he believed to be the inevitable, as gracefully as he could, and worked hard to keep his thoughts from wandering back to the pleasant little cabin of the Stranger, in which he had spent so many happy hours. He learned rapidly when once he made up his mind to it, and won many a word of praise and encouragement from Lucas and Barton, who declared that he was as handy as a pocket in a shirt. His services speedily attracted the attention of the mate, who one day addressed him something after this fashion, only using much stronger language —

"I have half a mind to trice you up, Gentleman Black!"

It happened just after a sudden squall, which struck the ship and threw her over almost to her beam ends. The topsails were clewed up, and when the crew were ordered aloft, Frank was the first to mount the rigging. He made his way to the main royal, and stowed it as quickly and neatly as if he had been accustomed to the business all his life.

He had learned this part of a seaman's duty more readily than the rest, because he took the most interest in it. He felt excited and exhilarated when he found himself clinging to the swaying yard, with the wind whistling about his ears and the white-caps rolling beneath him, while the ship lay over at such an angle that, had he lost his hold, he would have fallen into the water thirty feet from her side. He was always among the first to respond to an order to reef or furl topsails, and perhaps he liked this duty best because there was danger in it.

Having performed the work of stowing the royal, Frank descended to the deck, where he was met by the first officer, who had kept his eye on him while he was aloft. "Yes, sir, I've the best notion in the world to trice you up!" he repeated.

"What for, sir?" asked Frank, opening his eyes in great surprise.

The young sailor was well satisfied with the work he had just performed, and wondered what he had done that was wrong. By strict attention to his work he had thus far succeeded in keeping out of any serious difficulty since the affair of the handspike. True, he had been sworn at, had been sent aloft several times to slush down the masts, and had worked industriously for three hours knocking the rust off the anchor, and all because the mate thought he was a trifle too "airy" sometimes; but these were light punishments compared with those which some of the men received. He had seen a sailor knocked down with a belaying pin as fast as he could get up, and another hauled up by the wrists until he swung clear of the deck, and a fifty-pound snatch-block made fast to his feet.

"I am not conscious of having done anything out of the way," continued Frank.

"O, your conscience don't trouble you, then," angrily exclaimed the officer, who did not understand Frank's fine language. "Well, your back will trouble you in less than a minute if you use any jaw to me."

"I meant, sir, that I didn't know I had done anything wrong," exclaimed Frank.

"Then why didn't you say so?" growled the mate. "You're a nice lad, I do think, to come aboard here with your smooth, oily tongue, and talk us all into believing that you are a landsman! You told me that you didn't know anything about a ship."

"Yes, sir, and I told you the truth. I have had time to learn something since then."

"So have I," said the mate. "Now listen to me, my hearty," he added, shaking his finger at Frank. "You can't soldier any longer. You'll stand your trick at the wheel and do an able seaman's duty from this hour, or I'll haze you till you'll be glad to jump overboard. Go forward, where you belong."

"Ay, ay, sir! Now I have got myself into a scrape, sure enough," thought Frank. "The very first time I receive an order I don't understand, I shall catch it. I wish I had let that royal alone."

Frank went forward and shortly afterward the first mate followed him, holding in his hand two short pieces of rope. "Gentleman Black," said he, "I need something to larrup these fellows with, when they don't act like men, and I want you to put a long splice in these ropes and a Turk's head at each end."

"Ay, ay, sir!" answered Frank. "You can't catch me in this way, my man," he added, as the mate went aft again. "If it should ever become necessary to send down the topmasts, you will find out just how much I know about a sailor's work. I expect I shall be the first one to be 'larruped' with this when it is done."

Frank knew that such a rope as that he was at work upon, could not be used anywhere about the ship, unless it was for the purpose of beating the men. The mate gave him the task merely to try him; and he stationed himself, too, where he could watch Frank in order to make sure that he did the work himself. If he had been unable to do it, the officer would have accused him of soldiering, and that would have furnished him with an excuse for punishing Frank in some way. But he missed his object that time. The work was neatly and quickly performed, and Frank carried it to the mate, who, after closely examining it, grasped it with both hands and raised it in the air. "Let me see how it will answer the purpose for which it is intended," said he.

If Frank had flinched or dodged, it is probable that he would have felt the weight of the rope over his shoulders; and it is probable, too, that the mate would have been flat on his back the very next instant. The deck of the Tycoon was never so near being the scene of a mutiny as it was that day; and just so surely as the rope fell, just so surely would there have been trouble, and serious trouble, too – Frank did not know how serious until afterward. He little dreamed that he had eight good men to back him up. He thought he would have to depend entirely on himself, but he stood his ground as if he had had the whole crew of his old vessel, the Boxer, at his command.

The mate eyed him savagely for a moment, and then lowering the rope and telling Frank that he thought he was a very nice lad to come soldiering aboard there, when he was as able to do seaman's duty as anybody, called him some hard name and ordered him to go forward. The young sailor obeyed, glad indeed to be let off so easily; but his heart beat rapidly for a long time after that, and now and then he cast toward the officer a glance that was full of meaning.

That night all sail was made again, and while Frank was at work on the topsail yard, Lucas, who was busy at his side, poked him with his elbow and whispered hurriedly —

"Why didn't you knock him down, cap'n?"

"Be careful," whispered Frank, in reply.

"No harm done, sir," answered the boatswain's mate. "There's nobody near us except good men and true, and I'd as soon they would hear me as not. Why didn't you knock that mate down when he raised the rope on you?"

"I had no reason for doing it," replied Frank; "but I believe I should have tried it if he had struck me. I don't think I could take a blow without resenting it. I came pretty near going in the brig that time."

"No, you didn't, not by a long sight, sir, begging your pardon for speaking so plainly," said the old sailor, with a knowing shake of his head. "If you'd a done it, you'd a been walking up and down the quarter-deck now with your thumbs in the arm-holes of your vest. You'd a been master of the Tycoon, sir!"

Frank looked at Lucas in amazement.

"Fact, sir," said the old boatswain's mate, earnestly. "Me and Barton got you into this scrape, all unbeknown to us who did it, and we're bound to bring you out with flying colors, I tell you!"

"Look here, Lucas," said Frank. "Now don't you or anybody else attempt – "

"Belay what I have told you and listen to more," interrupted the sailor, hastily; "and don't be breaking in on me in that way, if you please, sir, because we hain't got much time to talk. You'll never be struck, sir, I don't think, but if you are, you'll see a tidy row. The officers know who you are – me and Barton told it to the other fellows in Calamity's hearing, and he carried it back to the cabin, as we knew he would – and the cap'n would give all his old boots and throw in a pair of new ones into the bargain, if he was well rid of you. He don't want you here; you know too much."

"Well, he can easily be rid of me and you and Barton, too," said Frank. "Let him put us ashore at the Sandwich Islands. We are willing to go."

"He'll never do that, sir. You wouldn't go ashore with a stopper on your jaw, would you?"

"No, I would not," replied Frank, emphatically. "I'd tell the consul all I know about this ship and the way men are treated here, and have the captain and all his officers, except Mr. Gale, arrested. I could not be hired to keep my mouth shut."

"Ah, ha! I thought so. The cap'n knows it, too."

"What is he going to do with us?"

"None of us know. The men don't want you to leave if they've got to stay, because they say that things ain't half as bad as they were before you came aboard. We know what we're going to do, and I've been waiting for a good chance to tell you. We're going to take the ship out of the hands of these villains, and put you in command. Hold on a bit, sir," he added, seeing that Frank was about to speak; "I know just what I am saying, and it is too late to find fault, for everything is fixed. Me and Barton spoke to some of the men about it, and there's six good men besides us that you can depend on every time. We know that you've got the brains and the book-learning to see us safe through the consul's court, and we'll do just whatever you say, all except one thing: when we get the ship, Calamity and the first mate have got to go overboard. That we've struck hands on. Lay in from the yard now, sir. Keep a stiff upper lip, and don't take no slack from nobody. When you get a good ready, sing out; and while me and Barton makes a dash for the cap'n's pistols – Calamity told us where he keeps 'em – the other six will take care of the officers on deck. We've got everything fixed, as I told you, and we're just aching to begin the work."

The old boatswain's mate followed his remarks with sundry winks, nods and contortions of his face which Frank could not understand, but which no doubt meant a good deal.

Frank descended to the deck and went through the rest of his duties like one in a dream. He had told his friends on board the Stranger that, had he been in the deserter's place, he would not have been restrained, by any fear of falling into the clutches of the law, from joining with his companions and taking the vessel out of the control of her officers. Now he was placed in a similar situation, and had only to "sing out" to make himself monarch of all he surveyed. Eight sturdy, determined men stood ready to obey his orders – a sufficient number to overpower the captain and his two tyrannical mates before they could think twice. Lucas did not have time to tell him who his friends were, but Frank believed that he could pick them all out. He had wondered at the respect which the foremast hands had shown him ever since his advent among them, and rightly attributed it to the influence of Lucas and Barton. Frank wondered if the third mate, Mr. Gale, was one of them. That officer always treated him with the utmost consideration, and once, while he was serving Frank with some clothing from the slop-chest, he so far forgot himself as to address him as "sir." He noticed the mistake as soon as he made it, but he did not recall the word. The old boatswain's mate and coxswain were indeed resolved to bring him out of his troubles with flying colors. They meant to promote him rapidly. Did anybody ever hear of a person creeping in at the hawsehole, and working his way into the captain's berth in three weeks? Frank laughed at the idea.

"I'm a nice specimen to be put in command of a ship," he thought. "I hardly know the topsail halliards from the jib downhaul. But I feel better than I did an hour ago. If my presence here really acts as a restraint upon the captain, I am glad of it. As long as that state of affairs continues he and his officers are secure in their positions; but now that I have the power to prevent it, no one shall be triced up by the wrists with a fifty-pound weight at his feet, or beaten as unmercifully as that man was beaten the other day."

Frank carried a light heart from that day forward, and often wondered, when he saw the captain in one of his angry, swearing moods, what that gentleman would think if he knew that he was treading on a mine that was liable to be exploded at any moment. He did not have a chance to talk to Lucas again, but the sailor looked whole volumes at him every time they met, and Frank thought the old fellow meant to reproach him because he did not "sing out."

Frank by this time began to feel and look like a sailor. He had discarded his black suit and drawn a full seaman's rig from the slop-chest – red shirts, coarse trowsers, woollen stockings, heavy boots and tarpaulin. His hands were becoming hardened, so that he could haul on the ropes or take a three hours' pull about the ship, without setting his palms on fire as he had done at first. There was one thing he could not bring himself to do, and that was to go barefooted, like the rest of the crew. There was something too slovenly about that to suit Frank, who, during his experience on ship-board, had always been accustomed to see men neatly and completely dressed.

Although Captain Barclay was in a great hurry, he did not neglect to keep himself and crew in readiness to seize upon the first opportunity that was presented for adding to his stock of oil in the hold. The boats were always ready for lowering, the mast-head had been manned for two weeks; and Frank took his turn with the rest. He did his duty faithfully while acting as lookout, hoping to be the first to discover a whale. He wanted to see one; but when it came to getting into a small boat and pulling out to attack him – well, Frank wasn't so anxious for that. He drew a long breath and his heart would beat a little faster than usual whenever he thought of it. He had heard many thrilling stories related during the night-watches, and had come to the conclusion that a sperm whale was made to be looked at from a distance and not to be approached in a small boat.

One bright day Frank was sitting on the fore-royal yard, his back braced against the shroud-stay, one hand grasping the halliards and his feet swinging in the air a hundred feet above the deck. There was not a sail in sight – nothing but the ocean beneath and the blue sky above. The old boatswain's mate, who now held the position of boat-steerer, was sitting on the main-royal yard behind him, and both were keeping a bright lookout for whales. A prize of a pair of boots had been offered to the first man who raised a whale, and that to a sailor who, out of small wages, has to pay high prices for everything he draws from the slop-chest, is an object worth working for. Frank did not care for the boots – he hoped to be safely off the Tycoon long before the pair he then had on was worn out – but he did care for the honor of discovering the first spout, so he kept his eyes roaming everywhere. But half his watch had expired and he had seen nothing yet.

"Hem! hem!" said a voice behind and above him.

Frank looked around, and saw the old boatswain's mate winking and nodding at him as he always did both before and after making any confidential communication. More than that, he was holding his clenched hand against his breast, and pointing with his thumb out over the water. His meaning flashed upon Frank in an instant. His eyes scanned almost every inch of the watery waste that lay between him and the horizon, but he could see nothing that he thought looked as a spout ought to look.

"Sing out, sir!" whispered the old sailor, excitedly. "There's grease!"

"I don't see it," whispered Frank, in reply.

"What's the odds? I do. Sing out, sir!"

"There she blows!" shouted Frank, taking the old sea-dog at his word.

The flapping of the sails below him showed that his wild yell had reached the ears of at least one of the sailors on deck – the wheelsman – and that it had excited him so that he forgot for a moment to attend to his business. Then the captain's hoarse voice was heard. "Keep her steady there, can't you? Where away?"

"I am sure I don't know," said Frank, in a low tone, as he looked impatiently around.

"Three points off the weather bow!" shouted the boatswain's mate. "Three miles off and coming this way. Sperm whale. Flukes! flukes!" he added, as the whale went down with a farewell flourish of his tail.

"Dear me, I wish I could see it," thought Frank.

"Lay down from aloft!" commanded the captain. "See the boats all clear and stand by to lower."

When Frank descended to the deck in obedience to this order, he found the captain and all his mates in the rigging, the former sweeping the horizon with his glass. "There she blows!" he cried, gleefully. "Close aboard! Back the main topsail and lower away!"

Frank sprang to the falls of the boat to which he belonged, and by the time it was fairly settled in the water, he was in his seat with his oar in his hand. Much scrambling and confusion followed; but a few oaths from the captain restored order, and almost before he knew it Frank was flying over the waves in pursuit of his first whale – the whale he had raised, but which he had not yet seen.

CHAPTER X
FRANK'S FIRST WHALE

ALL this happened in much less time than we have taken to describe it. To Frank, whose brain was in a great whirl, it seemed that scarcely half a minute had elapsed after the raising of the whale, before he was in the boat and pulling for dear life. He afterwards recalled every exciting incident of that hour, and wondered that he did not feel any fear. Perhaps it was because he was too busy to think. He was not so busy, however, but that he could take note of and marvel at one thing, and that was the great change that had suddenly come over the captain. He looked and acted like a different man. He even smiled, and that was something Frank had never seen him do before. Holding the steering-oar with one hand and assisting the stroke-oar with the other, he kept up a running fire of small-talk to encourage his men.

"Now, my good sons," said he, in a low voice and in much such a tone as an affectionate father might use, "all my 'lay' in that whale will go straight to your credit just as soon as we get back to the ship, if you will only put me alongside of him so that I can get one chance at him with the lance. I declare, it has been so long since I used a lance that I don't know how it seems, and I shall get all out of practice if you don't take pity on me. We must beat that other boat anyhow, and if you pull this way, you are sure to do it. That's it; pick her right up out of the water and walk along with her. She isn't a feather's weight to such long-armed, broad-shouldered fellows as you are. That's the way to do it; only raise her just an inch higher, my lads. She touched that wave; I felt it, didn't you? There! she didn't touch that one and I know it. Keep her there, my good lads. She's in the air now. Talk about your balloons! Give me this boat and crew and I'll go anywhere they can!"



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