Harry Castlemon.

George at the Wheel

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Tony found that there was a great deal to be done, but his services did not amount to much. He made an effort to do something, knowing what the consequences would be if he shirked his duty, and he exerted himself to such good purpose that he succeeded in blistering both his hands, and calling down upon his devoted head the hearty maledictions of the men he was trying so hard to assist. Finally, the second mate got out of all patience with him.

"Go and help the doctor wash dishes," said he, pushing the boy toward the galley. "You are only in the way here, and we can get along better without you."

It was hard for Tony to respond with a cheerful "ay, ay, sir!" when he was spoken to as if he were an unruly dog, but he managed to do it, adding that he hoped he would some day know his duty better.


"Go way! Go way from dar, boy!" exclaimed the cook, when Tony presented himself before that important personage. "Didn't de fus' mate done tol' you to turn to?"

"He did," replied the boy, "but the other one ordered me to come here and help you."

"Den dat's all right. Dar's the dinner I done save for you; but you'd bes' eat wid one hand, an' do something else wid de other, kase if de fas' mate look in hyar an' see dat you ain't doin' nuffin' but eat, he'll find work for you, suah. Dat's de kind of a man he is!"

Acting upon this advice, Tony ate his dinner by snatches, and for a short half hour he was allowed a little peace; but at the end of that time, the cargo was all aboard, the hatchways were closed, and a tug came alongside to tow the schooner to the Gulf. As she was to pick up two or three other small vessels on the way, the services of all hands, as well as those of the cook and his clumsy subordinates, were called into requisition in making up the tow.

No doubt there were many interesting sights to be seen along the river below New Orleans, but if there were, Tony never knew it. He was kept busy every moment, and between handling wet lines and hauling at the halliards and sheets, his blistered palms fared badly indeed. He ate his supper as he had eaten his dinner, holding his food with one hand and working with the other; and at ten o'clock tumbled into his hard bed, aching in every joint, and almost ready to cry with weariness and disappointment.

"I know I have made a mistake," thought the runaway, who had borne up remarkably well considering all the circumstances. Almost all the boys who leave home as he did, shed bitter tears of repentance before the first night has passed over their heads. "Bradley was right when he said, that I am not the sort of stuff that sailors are made off, for I can't stand it, to work all the time as hard as I can put in. I've made one break, and if I get the chance I'll make another; but this one will be toward home."

Tony was very homesick now; and he awoke the next morning from a fitful slumber into which he had fallen, to find that he had been attacked by another malady, that was almost as bad – sea-sickness.

He got up when all hands were called, but the officer on watch, seeing his condition, did not order him to turn to. They were now well out in the Gulf, and the shores of Louisiana were lying low in the horizon. The waves raised by the brisk wind that was blowing, tossed the little schooner about in a way, that made it impossible for Tony to keep his feet without holding fast to something; and now and then a billow, higher than the rest, would dash against her bows, and send the water in a shower all over the deck. This was the life for which Tony had so often longed; but now that he was having a little experience of it, he did not like it. The bounding and plunging of the schooner, were very different from the smooth, gliding motion of a river steamer, and Tony was frightened.

He never forgot the horrors of that day. His sea-sickness grew worse every moment, and finally prostrated Tony, who took to his bunk and stayed there, expecting every moment to be his last. When he found himself, as he supposed, standing face to face with death, his courage gave away altogether, and his hard pillow was wet with the tears that could no longer be restrained. He thought of the innumerable pleasures that had been his while he was at home, of the indulgences that had been so freely granted to him, and he wondered why in the world he had never appreciated them before. The little trials and troubles that fell to his lot, appeared very insignificant now.

"I was a fool," said Tony, bitterly, "and if I ever live to get off this vessel, I'll go as straight home as I can go. Thank goodness, I have money enough to pay my fare from Havana to New Orleans."

As Tony said this, he raised himself to a sitting posture in his bunk; took up the clothes-bag that served him for a pillow, and began throwing out its contents. He was so ill, that he did not notice that the articles were not so neatly packed away as they ought to have been. He had placed the suit he wore, when he first came aboard the schooner, in the top of the bag, so that it would not be wrinkled by the other clothes pressing upon it; but he found it at the bottom. The vest was the last article he brought to light, and to his great surprise and alarm, he found that all the pockets had been turned inside out. Then it flashed upon him, that the money he had been talking about had disappeared. Somebody had robbed him. He held the vest away from him with both hands, gazed at it a moment, and then dropped back upon his back.

Whether he went to sleep or became unconscious, Tony afterward said he didn't know; but he could not remember anything that happened during the next few hours. When he came to himself it was dark, and the forecastle was dimly lighted by a smoky lantern which hung from one of the beams overhead. His sea-sickness was all gone, and he was very hungry. He was pretty strong too, he found, when he came to sit up in his bunk, and he was able to think clearly and to remember the resolution he had made that morning.

"I am not going too stay among such a heartless lot as these sailors are," thought the runaway, as he picked up the various articles of clothing that were scattered about over the blankets, and put them back into his bag. "I have been as sick as a fellow could be all day, and not a soul has been near me to see whether I was getting better or worse. I don't believe there is one among them who would care a cent if I had died. That's not like the folks at home; and right there is where I am going, with as little delay as possible."

Having put all his clothes back into his bag, Tony threw off the blankets and arose to his feet. Then, he found, that he was not as strong as he thought he was; but still he managed to make his way to the deck. The crew, who were gathered about the windlass singing songs and telling stories (it was the second dog-watch, as the hours from six to eight in the evening are called, and they are the only hours of recreation known on shipboard), paid no attention to him as he staggered toward the galley; but Mr. Sands greeted him very cordially.

"I kinder reckoned you'd come around purty soon, an' so I kep' something hot for you," said he. "Come in an' take a bite. You don't look so peart as you did yesterday, when you come to de winder an' called me Snowball."

"I don't feel so smart, either," replied Tony, in a faint voice. "I am obliged to you for thinking of me when everybody else seems to have forgotten me, and I will try to drink a cup of tea as soon as I come back. I am going to see the captain."

"What you want to see de capin' for?" demanded the cook. "Better keep away from him? I tell you. He don't like for to be pestered."

"I am not going to pester him. I want to tell him that I have been robbed. I left fifteen dollars in the pocket of my vest when I put it into my clothes-bag, and somebody has gone through it and stolen the money."

The cook did not seem to be at all surprised by this piece of news. He did not even look up from his work.

"Well, den," said he, "what made you luff your money down dar in de fo'castle. Dat ain't no way. 'Course it would be stole if you don't take care on it."

"It's gone, and I want the captain to get it back for me," said Tony.

"How can he get it back for you? Can you pick out de man who stole it?"

"No, I couldn't do that; but if the captain should find those bills in some man's pocket, wouldn't he know that he was the guilty one?" asked Tony.

"Could you sw'ar to dem bills, if you should see em?"

"Of course not," replied Tony, who began to see what the cook was trying to get at.

"Den how de ole man goin' to get your money back? How you know dat one of de crew took it? Mos' likely somebody slip down into the fo'castle an' stole it afore we luff New Orleans. You bes' drink your tea an' make no furse. You get nuffin but jaw from de ole man; I tell you dat. Nex' time look out."

Here was another disappointment for Tony. He supposed that the captain would interest himself in his case at once, and that it would be no trouble at all for him to discover the thief and restore the lost money; but now he saw that there were difficulties in the way. Suppose the captain was willing to be "pestered" for once, that he searched the crew, and found upon the person of each of them just fifteen dollars in bills? How was Tony going to prove his property? He could not even prove that he had fifteen dollars when he came aboard the schooner, for Bradley, who was the only one who was acquainted with the fact, was miles away at that moment.

"It's gone, and that's all there is about it," said Tony, to himself, as he leaned against the bulkhead, and nibbled a piece of dry toast and drank a decoction of herbs called tea, which the cook poured out for him. "It's gone, and I am penniless as well as friendless. There is only one thing I can do now, and if I live, I am going to do it."

The tea and toast tasted better than Tony thought they would; the fresh gulf breeze blew away the slight headache he had brought out of the forecastle with him, and gave him a little strength, and the boy finally mustered up ambition enough to assist the cook in his work about the galley. While he was thus engaged, the second mate came by, and seeing that Tony had got upon his feet again, he stopped at the door long enough to tell him that he belonged to his (the second mate's) watch, which would go on duty at eight o'clock and remain on until midnight. The crew of the Princeton was so small that the men were obliged to stand watch and watch, all hands being on duty during the daytime.

Tony awoke the next morning to pass through the hardest day he had yet experienced on shipboard. His troubles began at once, for everybody, including Mr. Sands, seemed to have got up cross. While he was engaged in washing down the deck, he was thoroughly drenched by a bucket of water which was thrown into his face by the first-mate, who would not allow him to go below to change his clothing, but ordered him into the galley as soon as the scrubbing was done.

"Get out o' hyar, boy!" exclaimed the cook, when his assistant presented himself before him with dripping garments. "I done wash dis galley dis mornin', an' now you muss it all up again."

"What am I to do?" asked Tony, in some alarm. "The mate won't let me change my clothes and you don't want me here."

"Well, den, go into de cabin an' set de table afore de ole man gets up," commanded Mr. Sands.

Tony stopped long enough to wring some of the water out of the legs of his trowsers (that brought him a blessing from the second-mate, who told him in rather sharp language, that that part of the deck had been swabbed up once), and after drying his hands on one of the cook's towels, he hurried into the cabin. When he was putting up the leaves of the table, he heard the captain moving about in his stateroom and he made all the haste he could, hoping to complete his work before that officer came out; for he noticed with no little uneasiness, that he was leaving a trail behind him wherever he went. It could be plainly seen, too, dingy as the carpet was; and it was the first thing that caught the captain's eye when he opened the door of his stateroom, which he did, before Tony had fairly begun setting the table.

"What's that?" roared the captain, looking first at the carpet and then at Tony.

"The mate threw a bucket of water over me, sir," replied the boy.

"Suppose he did! Haven't you sense enough to go and get on a dry suit?" demanded the captain.

"I wanted too, sir, but he wouldn't let me."

"Well, I tell you to go and do it now."

The captain took a step forward, and Tony, who had already learned to expect a kick every time he received a reprimand, sprang quickly up the ladder.

"Now, I'll see what that mate will do about it," said he, as he made his way toward the forecastle; and sure enough he did. He had scarcely taken down his bag of clothes, when he heard footsteps, and looking up saw the mate coming down the ladder. He walked straight up to Tony, and without saying a word, knocked him flat with a blow of his fist.

"Are you going to obey orders or not?" said he, looking down at the prostrate boy, who was so badly stunned, that he could not get upon his feet. "I didn't tell you to come in here. I told you to go into the galley. Now start or I'll give you another."

Tony heard the words, but they put no life into him. They seemed to come from some far away source, and to have no reference whatever to himself. He did not even know that they were addressed to him, nor did he fully comprehend the mate's threat to give him another. He knew when the officer picked him up and shook him; but when he was released, he sunk down beside his bunk again. He heard the mate say, that he thought he had received a lesson that he would not soon forget; and saw him when he ascended to the deck, but still he did not move. He must have laid there for half an hour or more, seeing everything in the forecastle and hearing all that went on on deck, but fully sensible of nothing; and during that time, no one came near him. At last his scattered faculties began to come back to him very gradually, accompanied by a splitting headache. After two or three ineffectual attempts, he succeeded in rolling into his bunk; and for the first time since he could remember, cried himself into a dreamless slumber.

His tears or the refreshing sleep he enjoyed put his head all right again, but he found, upon examination, that his face was pretty badly battered. His eyes had a long way to look to see beyond the swelling that surrounded them, and when he made his way to the deck, the crew looked at him in the greatest surprise. So did Mr. Sands, who, without saying a word, led him into the galley and placed him in front of a little piece of looking-glass that was nailed to the bulkhead. Both his eyes were as black as his hat.

"Does you feel sick?" asked the cook, in a tone of sympathy.

"Yes, I do – sick at heart," added Tony, to himself. "Things never go right with me as they do with other fellows, and I might just as well fold my hands and let them go as they please without making any effort to better myself. There's one thing about it: I'll burn up those lying books as soon as I get home, and never think of a sailor or salt water again."

"I knowed you didn't do right to go an' raise a furse wid dat fus' mate," continued the cook. "He's a bad one."

Tony replied that he didn't raise any fuss with him, and then went on to tell why the mate had knocked him down. When he had finished his story, the darkey shook his head as if to say that it was a hard case altogether; and then he whispered to Tony —

"He never luff up on you now so long as you stay aboard dis schooner. He get wusser every day, an' de fus' thing you know you find yourself overboard. Boy, you'd bes' cl'ar yourself."

"That's just what I am determined to do," answered Tony, in the same cautious whisper. "How far are we from Havana?"

"We oughter to be dar to-morrer," replied Mr. Sands. "Now, I'll tell you what's a fac': I allers have to go ashore arter de grub, an' I'll take you along to help me tote it. If you shouldn't come back wid me, I wouldn't blame you."

As the cook said this, he winked at his assistant, who tried to respond in the same way; but he didn't succeed very well.

Tony's face would have excited the sympathy of anybody but a brutal mate. The one who had given him the blow, called upon him just as often, and expected just as much of him, as he would if the boy had been in good working condition. His creed was, that so long as a foremast hand was able to stand upon his feet, he was able to do duty; and more than that, he must attend to it or take the consequences. Tony succeeded in escaping further punishment, and it was well for him that he did so, for another blow like that might have settled the business for him for ever.

The next morning at eight o'clock, the Princeton was made fast to a jetty in the harbor of Havana, where she was to remain two or three days, or until she had discharged a portion of her cargo and taken on some more which she had been chartered to carry to Rio.

As soon as she was fairly in her berth and everything had been made snug, the doctor and his assistant made ready to go ashore – or rather the doctor did, for when Tony was about to descend into the forecastle to change his clothing, the first mate, who was always around when he was not wanted, ordered him back.

"I want to put on my shore rig," said Tony. "The captain told me to go ashore with the doctor."

"All right," was the reply. "Go as you are."

"Ay, ay, sir! I wonder if he knows what I am going to do, and if he thinks the want of good clothes will keep me from deserting this miserable craft?" thought the boy. "If he does, he doesn't know Tony Richardson. I will go with the first vessel that leaves this port for New Orleans, if I have to hang on to the rudder."

Tony did not look much like the dashing young fellow who had clambered over the Princeton's rail a few days before. His face, to quote from the doctor, was getting no better very fast; the cheap stuff of which his clothes was made, already began to show large spots of dirt and numerous signs of wear; his hands looked as though they had never been washed; and his hair wouldn't stay anywhere. No shipmaster would care to employ such a miserable looking object as he was to wait upon him at the table.

"Getting to New Orleans is the hardest part of the undertaking," said Tony, when he and the doctor were safe ashore. "If I can only reach that city, I shall be all right. Good-by, you miserable old tub," he added, shaking his fist at the schooner. "I only wish I were a man so that I could take satisfaction out of that mate. Now, doctor, I am going to leave you. Good-by!"

"Dat won't do," said the darkey, hastily. "We mustn't be friendly enough to shake hands, kase if anybody should see us, dat would fotch Mr. Sands into trouble."

"Then you take the baskets," said Tony, who had one on each arm, which the captain expected him to bring back filled with fresh vegetables.

"No, sir. I'll turn my back, an' you jes' luff 'em down an' cl'ar yourself. Dat's de bes' way. Say, boy," added the darkey, directing Tony's attention to a large steamer that lay at a pier a short distance further up the bay. "You see dat boat? Dat's de City of Baltimore. She runs between dat port an' New Orleans every three weeks. We's been in New Orleans nigh onto four weeks, an' she's never been dar, so she mus' be goin' dar now."

"I wonder if I could get a berth on her?" exclaimed Tony.

"Dunno nuffin' 'bout dat; but I'll tell you dis for a fac': Don't you luff dat boat go to New Orleans widout you. You hears me, I reckon. Hello! what's dat?"

Mr. Sands suddenly became very deeply interested in something that he thought he saw going on over toward Moro Castle, and Tony taking the hint, deposited his baskets on the ground behind him and hurried away. He quickly placed a building between himself and the cook, and looking around the corner of it saw that the latter had not yet changed his position. When he thought he had given the boy plenty of time to get out of sight, he faced about, looked all around him, and shaking his head as if he were completely mystified, picked up the baskets that Tony had dropped, and walked rapidly down the street.

"He's a good-hearted fellow," said Tony, who felt some regret at parting with his sable friend, "and he was the only one who showed me any kindness while I was on board the schooner. I hope he won't get into trouble by going back without me. Now, if I only had my money in my pocket, it would be very easy for me to reach home; and if I ever get there again I'll stay. Home is the best place, after all, and it is a great pity I couldn't see it when I was there. The old saying: 'Experience is a hard school, and none but fools learn therein,' applies to me very strongly. It takes the hard knocks to put sense into the heads of some fellows – " here he raised his hand to his face – "and if I haven't got a little now, I never shall have any."

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