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- TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST - 50/78 -
The first opportunity I could get to speak to Captain Faucon, I asked him to step up to the oven and look at Hope, whom he knew well, having had him on board his vessel. He went to see him, but said that he had so little medicine, and expected to be so long on the coast, that he could do nothing for him, but that Captain Arthur would take care of him when he came down in the California, which would be in a week or more. I had been to see Hope the first night after we got into San Diego this last time, and had frequently since spent the early part of a night in the oven. I hardly expected, when I left him to go to windward, to find him alive upon my return. He was certainly as low as he could well be when I left him, and what would be the effect of the medicines that I gave him, I hardly then dared to conjecture. Yet I knew that he must die without them. I was not a little rejoiced, therefore, and relieved, upon our return, to see him decidedly better. The medicines were strong, and took hold and gave a check to the disorder which was destroying him; and, more than that, they had begun the work of exterminating it. I shall never forget the gratitude that he expressed. All the Kanakas attributed his escape solely to my knowledge, and would not be persuaded that I had not all the secrets of the physical system open to me and under my control. My medicines, however, were gone, and no more could be got from the ship, so that his life was left to hang upon the arrival of the California.
Sunday, April 24th. We had now been nearly seven weeks in San Diego, and had taken in the greater part of our cargo, and were looking out, every day, for the arrival of the California, which had our agent on board; when, this afternoon, some Kanakas, who had been over the hill for rabbits and to fight rattlesnakes, came running down the path, singing out, "Kail ho!" with all their might. Mr. H., our third mate, was ashore, and asking them particularly about the size of the sail, etc., and learning that it was "Moku--Nui Moku," hailed our ship, and said that the California was on the other side of the point. Instantly, all hands were turned up, the bow guns run out and loaded, the ensign and broad pennant set, the yards squared by lifts and braces, and everything got ready to make a good appearance. The instant she showed her nose round the point, we began our salute. She came in under top-gallant sails, clewed up and furled her sails in good order, and came-to, within good swinging distance of us. It being Sunday, and nothing to do, all hands were on the forecastle, criticising the new-comer. She was a good, substantial ship, not quite so long as the Alert, and wall-sided and kettle-bottomed, after the latest fashion of south-shore cotton and sugar wagons; strong, too, and tight, and a good average sailor, but with no pretensions to beauty, and nothing in the style of a "crack ship." Upon the whole, we were perfectly satisfied that the Alert might hold up her head with a ship twice as smart as she.
At night, some of us got a boat and went on board, and found a large, roomy forecastle, (for she was squarer forward than the Alert,) and a crew of a dozen or fifteen men and boys, sitting around on their chests, smoking and talking, and ready to give a welcome to any of our ship's company. It was just seven months since they left Boston, which seemed but yesterday to us. Accordingly, we had much to ask, for though we had seen the newspapers that she brought, yet these were the very men who had been in Boston and seen everything with their own eyes. One of the green-hands was a Boston boy, from one of the public schools, and, of course, knew many things which we wished to ask about, and on inquiring the names of our two Boston boys, found that they had been schoolmates of his. Our men had hundreds of questions to ask about Ann street, the boarding-houses, the ships in port, the rate of wages, and other matters.
Among her crew were two English man-of-war's-men, so that, of course, we soon had music. They sang in the true sailor's style, and the rest of the crew, which was a remarkably musical one, joined in the choruses. They had many of the latest sailor songs, which had not yet got about among our merchantmen, and which they were very choice of. They began soon after we came on board, and kept it up until after two bells, when the second mate came forward and called "the Alerts away!" Battle-songs, drinking-songs, boat-songs, love-songs, and everything else, they seemed to have a complete assortment of, and I was glad to find that "All in the Downs," "Poor Tom Bowline," "The Bay of Biscay," "List, ye Landsmen!" and all those classical songs of the sea, still held their places. In addition to these, they had picked up at the theatres and other places a few songs of a little more genteel cast, which they were very proud of; and I shall never forget hearing an old salt, who had broken his voice by hard drinking on shore, and bellowing from the mast-head in a hundred northwesters, with all manner of ungovernable trills and quavers in the high notes, breaking into a rough falsetto--and in the low ones, growling along like the dying away of the boatswain's "all hands ahoy!" down the hatch-way, singing, "Oh, no, we never mention him."
"Perhaps, like me, he struggles with Each feeling of regret; But if he's loved as I have loved, He never can forget!"
The last line, being the conclusion, he roared out at the top of his voice, breaking each word up into half a dozen syllables. This was very popular, and Jack was called upon every night to give them his "sentimental song." No one called for it more loudly than I, for the complete absurdity of the execution, and the sailors' perfect satisfaction in it, were ludicrous beyond measure.
The next day, the California commenced unloading her cargo; and her boats' crews, in coming and going, sang their boat-songs, keeping time with their oars. This they did all day long for several days, until their hides were all discharged, when a gang of them were sent on board the Alert, to help us steeve our hides. This was a windfall for us, for they had a set of new songs for the capstan and fall, and ours had got nearly worn out by six weeks' constant use. I have no doubt that this timely reinforcement of songs hastened our work several days.
Our cargo was now nearly all taken in; and my old friend, the Pilgrim, having completed her discharge, unmoored, to set sail the next morning on another long trip to windward. I was just thinking of her hard lot, and congratulating myself upon my escape from her, when I received a summons into the cabin. I went aft, and there found, seated round the cabin table, my own captain, Captain Faucon of the Pilgrim, and Mr. R-----, the agent. Captain T----- turned to me and asked abruptly--
"D-----, do you want to go home in the ship?"
"Certainly, sir," said I; "I expect to go home in the ship."
"Then," said he, "you must get some one to go in your place on board the Pilgrim."
I was so completely "taken aback" by this sudden intimation, that for a moment I could make no reply. I knew that it would be hopeless to attempt to prevail upon any of the ship's crew to take twelve months more upon the California in the brig. I knew, too, that Captain T----- had received orders to bring me home in the Alert, and he had told me, when I was at the hide-house, that I was to go home in her; and even if this had not been so, it was cruel to give me no notice of the step they were going to take, until a few hours before the brig would sail. As soon as I had got my wits about me, I put on a bold front, and told him plainly that I had a letter in my chest informing me that he had been written to, by the owners in Boston, to bring me home in the ship, and moreover, that he had told me that I was to go in the ship.
To have this told him, and to be opposed in such a manner, was more than my lord paramount had been used to.
He turned fiercely upon me, and tried to look me down, and face me out of my statement; but finding that that wouldn't do, and that I was entering upon my defence in such a way as would show to the other two that he was in the wrong,--he changed his ground, and pointed to the shipping papers of the Pilgrim, from which my name had never been erased, and said that there was my name,--that I belonged to her,--that he had an absolute discretionary power,--and, in short, that I must be on board the Pilgrim by the next morning with my chest and hammock, or have some one ready to go in my place, and that he would not hear another word from me. No court or star chamber could proceed more summarily with a poor devil, than this trio was about to do with me; condemning me to a punishment worse than a Botany Bay exile, and to a fate which would alter the whole current of my future life; for two years more in California would have made me a sailor for the rest of my days. I felt all this, and saw the necessity of being determined. I repeated what I had said, and insisted upon my right to return in the ship.
I "raised my arm, and tauld my crack, Before them a'."
But it would have all availed me nothing, had I been "some poor body," before this absolute, domineering tribunal. But they saw that I would not go, unless "vi et armis," and they knew that I had friends and interest enough at home to make them suffer for any injustice they might do me. It was probably this that turned the matter; for the captain changed his tone entirely, and asked me if, in case any one went in my place, I would give him the same sum that S----- gave Harris to exchange with him. I told him that if any one was sent on board the brig, I should pity him, and be willing to help him to that, or almost any amount; but would not speak of it as an exchange.
"Very well," said he. "Go forward about your business, and send English Ben here to me!"
I went forward with a light heart, but feeling as angry, and as much contempt as I could well contain between my teeth. English Ben was sent aft, and in a few moments came forward, looking as though he had received his sentence to be hung. The captain had told him to get his things ready to go on board the brig the next morning; and that I would give him thirty dollars and a suit of clothes. The hands had "knocked off" for dinner, and were standing about the forecastle, when Ben came forward and told his story. I could see plainly that it made a great excitement, and that, unless I explained the matter to them, the feeling would be turned against me. Ben was a poor English boy, a stranger in Boston, and without friends or money; and being an active, willing lad, and a good sailor for his years, was a general favorite. "Oh, yes!" said the crew, "the captain has let you off, because you are a gentleman's son, and have got friends, and know the owners; and taken Ben, because he is poor, and has got nobody to say a word for him!" I knew that this was too true to be answered, but I excused myself from any blame, and told them that I had a right to go home, at all events. This pacified them a little, but Jack had got a notion that a poor lad was to be imposed upon, and did not distinguish very clearly; and though I
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