The Wrecker

Page 76

"Americans?" he said grimly. "Do you call these Dutchmen and Scattermouches [1] Americans? I've been fourteen years to sea, all but one trip under American colours, and I've never laid eye on an American foremast hand. There used to be such things in the old days, when thirty-five dollars were the wages out of Boston; and then you could see ships handled and run the way they want to be. But that's all past and gone; and nowadays the only thing that flies in an American ship is a belaying-pin. You don't know; you haven't a guess. How would you like to go on deck for your middle watch, fourteen months on end, with all your duty to do and every one's life depending on you, and expect to get a knife ripped into you as you come out of your stateroom, or be sand-bagged as you pass the boat, or get tripped into the hold, if the hatches are off in fine weather? That kind of shakes the starch out of the brotherly love and New Jerusalem business. You go through the mill, and you'll have a bigger grudge against every old shellback that dirties his plate in the three oceans, than the Bank of California could settle up. No; it has an ugly look to it, but the only way to run a ship is to make yourself a terror."

[1] In sea-lingo (Pacific) DUTCHMAN includes all Teutons and folk from the basin of the Baltic; SCATTERMOUCH, all Latins and Levantines.

"Come, Captain," said I, "there are degrees in everything. You know American ships have a bad name; you know perfectly well if it wasn't for the high wage and the good food, there's not a man would ship in one if he could help; and even as it is, some prefer a British ship, beastly food and all."

"O, the lime-juicers?" said he. "There's plenty booting in lime- juicers, I guess; though I don't deny but what some of them are soft." And with that he smiled like a man recalling something. "Look here, that brings a yarn in my head," he resumed; "and for the sake of the joke, I'll give myself away. It was in 1874, I shipped mate in the British ship Maria, from 'Frisco for Melbourne. She was the queerest craft in some ways that ever I was aboard of. The food was a caution; there was nothing fit to put your lips to--but the lime-juice, which was from the end bin no doubt: it used to make me sick to see the men's dinners, and sorry to see my own. The old man was good enough, I guess; Green was his name; a mild, fatherly old galoot. But the hands were the lowest gang I ever handled; and whenever I tried to knock a little spirit into them, the old man took their part! It was Gilbert and Sullivan on the high seas; but you bet I wouldn't let any man dictate to me. 'You give me your orders, Captain Green,' I said, 'and you'll find I'll carry them out; that's all you've got to say. You'll find I do my duty,' I said; 'how I do it is my lookout; and there's no man born that's going to give me lessons.' Well, there was plenty dirt on board that Maria first and last. Of course, the old man put my back up, and, of course, he put up the crew's; and I had to regular fight my way through every watch. The men got to hate me, so's I would hear them grit their teeth when I came up. At last, one day, I saw a big hulking beast of a Dutchman booting the ship's boy. I made one shoot of it off the house and laid that Dutchman out. Up he came, and I laid him out again. 'Now,' I said, 'if there's a kick left in you, just mention it, and I'll stamp your ribs in like a packing-case.' He thought better of it, and never let on; lay there as mild as a deacon at a funeral; and they took him below to reflect on his native Dutchland. One night we got caught in rather a dirty thing about 25 south. I guess we were all asleep; for the first thing I knew there was the fore-royal gone. I ran forward, bawling blue hell; and just as I came by the foremast, something struck me right through the forearm and stuck there. I put my other hand up, and by George! it was the grain; the beasts had speared me like a porpoise. 'Cap'n!' I cried.--'What's wrong?' says he.--'They've grained me,' says I.-- 'Grained you?' says he. 'Well, I've been looking for that.'---- 'And by God,' I cried, 'I want to have some of these beasts murdered for it!'--'Now, Mr. Nares,' says he, 'you better go below. If I had been one of the men, you'd have got more than this. And I want no more of your language on deck. You've cost me my fore-royal already,' says he; 'and if you carry on, you'll have the three sticks out of her.' That was old man Green's idea of supporting officers. But you wait a bit; the cream's coming. We made Melbourne right enough, and the old man said: 'Mr. Nares, you and me don't draw together. You're a first-rate seaman, no mistake of that; but you're the most disagreeable man I ever sailed with; and your language and your conduct to the crew I cannot stomach. I guess we'll separate.' I didn't care about the berth, you may be sure; but I felt kind of mean; and if he made one kind of stink, I thought I could make another. So I said I would go ashore and see how things stood; went, found I was all right, and came aboard again on the top rail.--'Are you getting your traps together, Mr. Nares?' says the old man.--'No,' says I, 'I don't know as we'll separate much before 'Frisco; at least,' I said, 'it's a point for your consideration. I'm very willing to say good-by to the Maria, but I don't know whether you'll care to start me out with three months' wages.' He got his money-box right away. 'My son,' says he, 'I think it cheap at the money.' He had me there."

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book