Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling

Chapter 6

The thing that struck him most was the exceedingly casual way in which some craft loafed about the broad Atlantic. Fishing-boats, as Dan said, were naturally dependent on the courtesy and wisdom of their neighbours; but one expected better things of steamers. That was after another interesting interview, when they had been chased for three miles by a big lumbering old cattle-boat, all boarded over on the upper deck, that smelt like a thousand cattle-pens. A very excited officer yelled at them through a speaking-trumpet, and she lay and lollopped helplessly on the water while Disko ran the ‘We’re Here’ under her lee and gave the skipper a piece of his mind. “Where might ye be — eh? Ye don’t deserve to be anywheres. You barn-yard tramps go hoggin’ the road on the high seas with no blame consideration fer your neighbours, an’ your eyes in your coffee-cups instid o’ in your silly heads.”

At this the skipper danced on the bridge and said something about Disko’s own eyes. “We haven’t had an observation for three days. D’you suppose we can run her blind?” he shouted.

“Wa-al, I can,” Disko retorted. “What’s come to your lead? Et it? Can’t ye smell bottom, or are them cattle too rank?”

“What d’ ye feed ’em?” said Uncle Salters with intense seriousness, for the smell of the pens woke all the farmer in him. “They say they fall off dretful on a v’yage. Dunno as it’s any o’ my business, but I’ve a kind o’ notion that oil-cake broke small an’ sprinkled —”

“Thunder!” said a cattle-man in a red jersey as he looked over the side. “What asylum did they let His Whiskers out of?”

“Young feller,” Salters began, standing up in the fore-rigging, “let me tell yeou ‘fore we go any further that I’ve —”

The officer on the bridge took off his cap with immense politeness. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I’ve asked for my reckoning. If the agricultural person with the hair will kindly shut his head, the sea-green barnacle ‘with the wall-eye may per-haps condescend to enlighten us.”

“Naow you’ve made a show o’ me, Salters,” said Disko, angrily. He could not stand up to that particular sort of talk, and snapped out the latitude and longitude without more lectures.

“Well, that’s a boat-load of lunatics, sure,” said the skipper, as he rang up the engine-room and tossed a bundle of newspapers into the schooner.

“Of all the blamed fools, next to you, Salters, him an’ his crowd are abaout the likeliest I’ve ever seen,” said Disko as the ‘We’re Here’ slid away. “I was jest givin’ him my jedgment on lullsikin’ round these waters like a lost child, an’ you must cut in with your fool farmin’. Can’t ye never keep things sep’rate?”

Harvey, Dan, and the others stood back, winking one to the other and full of joy; but Disko and Salters wrangled seriously till evening, Salters arguing that a cattle-boat was practically a barn on blue water, and Disko insisting that, even if this were the case, decency and fisher-pride demanded that he should have kept “things sep’rate.” Long Jack stood it in silence for a time — an angry skipper makes an unhappy crew — and then he spoke across the table after supper:

“Fwhat’s the good o’ bodderin’ fwhat they’ll say?” said he.

“They’ll tell that tale agin us fer years — that’s all,” said Disko. “Oil-cake sprinkled!”

“With salt, o’ course,” said Salters, Impenitent, reading the farming reports from a week-old New York paper.

“It’s plumb mortifyin’ to all my feelin’s,” the skipper went on.

“Can’t see ut that way,” said Long Jack, the peacemaker “Look at here, Disko! Is there another packet afloat this day in this weather cud ha’ met a tramp an’ over an’ above givin’ her her reckonin’ — over an’ above that, I say — cud ha’ discoorsed wid her quite intelligent on the management av steers an’ such at sea? Forgit ut! Av coorse they will not. ’Twas the most compenjus conversation that iver accrued. Double game an’ twice runnin’— all to us.” Dan kicked Harvey under the table, and Harvey choked in his cup.

“Well,” said Salters, who felt that his honour had been somewhat plastered, “I said I didn’t know as ‘twuz any business o’ mine, ‘fore I spoke.”

“An’ right there,” said Tom Platt, experienced in discipline and etiquette —“right there, I take it, Disko, you should ha’ asked him to stop ef the conversation wuz likely, in your jedgment, to be anyways — what it shouldn’t.”

“Dunno but that’s so,” said Disko, who saw his way to an honourable retreat from a fit of the dignities.

“Why, o’ course it was so,” said Salters, “you bein’ skipper here; an’ I’d cheerful hev stopped on a hint — not from any leadin’ or conviction, but fer the sake o’ bearin’ an example to these two blame boys of aours.”

“Didn’t I tell you, Harve, ‘twould come araound to us ‘fore we’d done? Always those blame boys. But I wouldn’t have missed the show fer a half-share in a halibutter,” Dan whispered.

“Still, things should ha’ been kep’ sep’rate,” said Disko, and the light of new argument lit in Salters’s eye as he crumbled cut plug into his pipe.

“There’s a power av vartue in keepin’ things sep’rate,” said Long Jack, intent on stilling the storm. “That’s fwhat Steyning of Steyning and Hare’s f’und when he sent Counahan fer skipper on the Manila D. Kuhn, instid o’ Cap. Newton that was took with inflam’try rheumatism an’ couldn’t go. Counahan the Navigator we called him.”

“Nick Counahan he never went aboard fer a night ‘thout a pond o’ rum somewheres in the manifest,” said Tom Platt, playing up to the lead. “He used to bum araound the c’mission houses to Boston lookin’ fer the Lord to make him captain of a tow-boat on his merits. Sam Coy, up to Atlantic Avenoo, give him his board free fer a year or more on account of his stories.

“Counahan the Navigator! Tck! Tck! Dead these fifteen year, ain’t he?”

“Seventeen, I guess. He died the year the Caspar McVeagh was built; but he could niver keep things sep’rate. Steyning tuk him fer the reason the thief tuk the hot stove — bekaze there was nothin’ else that season. The men was all to the Banks, and Counahan he whacked up an iverlastin’ hard crowd fer crew. Rum! Ye cud ha’ floated the Manila, insurance an’ all, in fwhat they stowed aboard her. They lef’ Boston Harbour for the great Grand Bank wid a roarin’ nor’wester behind ’em an’ all hands full to the bung. An’ the hivens looked after thim, for divil a watch did they set, an’ divil a rope did they lay hand to, till they’d seen the bottom av a fifteen-gallon cask o’ bug-juice. That was about wan week, so far as Counahan remembered. (If I cud only tell the tale as he told ut!) All that whoile the wind blew like ould glory, an’ the Marilla —’twas summer, and they’d give her a foretopmast — struck her gait and kept ut. Then Counahan tuk the hog-yoke an’ thrembled over it for a whoile, an’ made out, betwix’ that an’ the chart an’ the singin’ in his head, that they was to the south’ard o’ Sable Island, gettin’ along glorious, but speakin’ nothin’. Then they broached another keg, an’ quit speculatin’ about anythin’ fer another spell. The Marilla she lay down whin she dropped Boston Light, and she never lufted her lee-rail up to that time — hustlin’ on one an’ the same slant. But they saw no weed, nor gulls, nor schooners; an’ prisintly they obsarved they’d bin out a matter o’ fourteen days and they mis-trusted the Bank has suspinded payment. So they sounded, an’ got sixty fathom. ‘That’s me,’ sez Counahan. ‘That’s me iv’ry time! I’ve run her slat on the Bank fer you, an’ when we get thirty fathom we’ll turn in like little men. Counahan is the b’y,’ sez he. ‘Counahan the Navigator!’

“Nex’ cast they got ninety. Sez Counahan: ‘Either the lead-line’s tuk to stretchin’ or else the Bank’s sunk.’

“They hauled ut up, bein’ just about in that state when ut seemed right an’ reasonable, and sat down on the deck countin’ the knots, an’ gettin’ her snarled up hijjus. The Marilla she’d struck her gait, an’ she hild ut, an’ prisintly along came a tramp, an’ Counahan spoke her.

“‘Hev ye seen any fishin’-boats now?’ sez he, quite casual.

“‘There’s lashin’s av them off the Irish coast,’ sez the tramp.

“‘Aah! go shake yerself,’ sez Counahan. ‘Fwhat have I to do wid the Irish coast?’

“‘Then fwhat are ye doin’ here?’ sez the tramp.

“‘Sufferin’ Christianity!’ sez Counahan (he always said that whin his pumps sucked an’ he was not feelin’ good)—‘Sufferin’ Christianity!’ he sez, ‘where am I at?’

“‘Thirty-five mile west-sou’west o’ Cape Clear,’ sez the tramp, ‘if that’s any consolation to you.’

“Counahan fetched wan jump, four feet sivin inches, measured by the cook.

“‘Consolation!’ sez he, bould as brass. ‘D’ye take me fer a dialect? Thirty-five mile from Cape Clear, an’ fourteen days from Boston Light. Sufferin’ Christianity, ’tis a record, an’ by the same token I’ve a mother to Skibbereen!’ Think av ut! The gall av um! But ye see he could niver keep things sep’rate.

“The crew was mostly Cork an’ Kerry men, barrin’ one Marylander that wanted to go back, but they called him a mutineer, an’ they ran the ould Marilla into Skibbereen, an’ they had an illigant time visitin’ around with frinds on the ould sod fer a week. Thin they wint back, an’ it cost ’em two an’ thirty days to beat to the Banks again. ’Twas gettin’ on towards fall, and grub was low, so Counahan ran her back to Boston, wid no more bones to ut.”

“And what did the firm say?” Harvey demanded.

“Fwhat could they? The fish was on the Banks, an’ Counahan was at T-wharf talkin’ av his record trip east! They tuk their satisfaction out av that, an’ ut all came av not keepin’ the crew and the rum sep’rate in the first place; an’ confusin’ Skibbereen wid ‘Queereau, in the second. Counahan the Navigator, rest his sowl! He was an imprompju citizen!”

“Once I was in the Lucy Holmes,” said Manuel, in his gentle voice. “They not want any of her feesh in Gloucester. Eh, wha-at? Give us no price. So we go across the water, and think to sell to some Fayal man. Then it blow fresh, and we cannot see well. Eh, wha-at? Then it blow some more fresh, and we go down below and drive very fast — no one know where. By and by we see a land, and it get some hot. Then come two, three nigger in a brick. Eh, wha-at? We ask where we are, and they say — now, what you all think?”

“Grand Canary,” said Disko, after a moment. Manuel shook his head, smiling.

“Blanco,” said Tom Platt.

“No. Worse than that. We was below Bezagos, and the brick she was from Liberia! So we sell our feesh there! Not bad, so? Eh, wha-at?”

“Can a schooner like this go right across to Africa?” said Harvey.

“Go araound the Horn ef there’s anythin’ worth goin’ fer, and the grub holds aout,” said Disko. “My father he run his packet, an’ she was a kind o’ pinkey, abaout fifty ton, I guess — the Rupert — he run her over to Greenland’s icy mountains the year ha’af our fleet was tryin’ after cod there. An’ what’s more, he took my mother along with him — to show her haow the money was earned, I presoom — an’ they was all iced up, an’ I was born at Disko. Don’t remember nothin’ abaout it, o’ course. We come back when the ice eased in the spring, but they named me fer the place. Kinder mean trick to put up on a baby, but we’re all baound to make mistakes in aour lives.”

“Sure! Sure!” said Salters, wagging his head. “All baound to make mistakes, an’ I tell you two boys here thet after you’ve made a mistake — ye don’t make fewer’n a hundred a day — the next best thing’s to own up to it like men.”

Long Jack winked one tremendous wink that embraced all hands except Disko and Salters, and the incident was closed.

Then they made berth after berth to the northward, the dories out almost every day, running along the east edge of the Grand Bank in thirty — to forty-fathom water, and fishing steadily.

It was here Harvey first met the squid, who is one of the best cod-baits, but uncertain in his moods. They were waked out of their bunks one black night by yells of “Squid O!” from Salters, and for an hour and a half every soul aboard hung over his squid-jig — a piece of lead painted red and armed at the lower end with a circle of pins bent backward like half-opened umbrella ribs. The squid — for some unknown reason — likes, and wraps himself round, this thing, and is hauled up ere he can escape from the pins. But as he leaves his home he squirts first water and next ink into his captor’s face; and it was curious to see the men weaving their heads from side to side to dodge the shot. They were as black as sweeps when the flurry ended; but a pile of fresh squid lay on the deck, and the large cod thinks very well of a little shiny piece of squid tentacle at the tip of a clam-baited hook. Next day they caught many fish, and met the Carrie Pitman, to whom they shouted their luck, and she wanted to trade — seven cod for one fair-sized squid; but Disko would not agree at the price, and the Carrie dropped sullenly to leeward and anchored half a mile away, in the hope of striking on to some for herself.

Disco said nothing till after supper, when he sent Dan and Manuel out to buoy the ‘We’re Here’s’ cable and announced his intention of turning in with the broad-axe. Dan naturally repeated these remarks to the dory from the Carrie, who wanted to know why they were buoying their cable, since they were not on rocky bottom.

“Dad sez he wouldn’t trust a ferryboat within five mile o’ you,” Dan howled cheerfully.

“Why don’t he git out, then? Who’s hinderin’?” said the other.

“‘Cause you’ve jest the same ez lee-bowed him, an’ he don’t take that from any boat, not to speak o’ sech a driftin’ gurry-butt as you be.”

“She ain’t driftin’ any this trip,” said the man angrily, for the Carrie Pitman had an unsavory reputation for breaking her ground-tackle.

“Then haow d’you make berths?” said Dan. “It’s her best p’int o’ sailin’. An’ ef she’s quit driftin’, what in thunder are you doin’ with a new jib-boom?” That shot went home.

“Hey, you Portugoosy organ-grinder, take your monkey back to Gloucester. Go back to school, Dan Troop,” was the answer.

“O-ver-alls! O-ver-alls!” yelled Dan, who knew that one of the Carrie’s crew had worked in an overall factory the winter before.

“Shrimp! Gloucester shrimp! Git aout, you Novy!”

To call a Gloucester man a Nova Scotian is not well received. Dan answered in kind.

“Novy yourself, ye Scrabble-towners! ye Chatham wreckers! Git aout with your brick in your stockin’!” And the forces separated, but Chatharn had the worst of it.

“I knew haow ‘twould be,” said Disko. “She’s drawed the wind raound already. Some one oughter put a deesist on thet packet. She’ll snore till midnight, an’ jest when we’re gettin’ our sleep she’ll strike adrift. Good job we ain’t crowded with craft hereaways. But I ain’t goin’ to up anchor fer Chatham. She may hold.”

The wind, which had hauled round, rose at sundown and blew steadily. There was not enough sea, though, to disturb even a dory’s tackle, but the Carrie Pitman was a law unto herself. At the end of the boys’ watch they heard the crack-crack-crack of a huge muzzle-loading revolver aboard her.

“Gory, glory, hallelujah!” sung Dan. “Here she comes, Dad; butt-end first, walkin’ in her sleep same’s she done on ‘Queereau.”

Had she been any other boat Disko would have taken his chances, but now he cut the cable as the Carrie Pitman, with all the North Atlantic to play in, lurched down directly upon them. The ‘We’re Here’, under jib and riding-sail, gave her no more room than was absolutely necessary — Disko did not wish to spend a week hunting for his cable — but scuttled up into the wind as the Carrie passed within easy hail, a silent and angry boat, at the mercy of a raking broadside of Bank chaff.

“Good evenin’,” said Disko, raising his head-gear, “an’ haow does your garden grow?”

“Go to Ohio an’ hire a mule,” said Uncle Salters. “We don’t want no farmers here.”

“Will I lend YOU my dory-anchor?” cried Long Jack.

“Unship your rudder an’ stick it in the mud,” bawled Tom Platt.

“Say!” Dan’s voice rose shrill and high, as he stood on the wheel-box. “Sa-ay! Is there a strike in the o-ver-all factory; or hev they hired girls, ye Shackamaxons?”

“Veer out the tiller-lines,” cried Harvey, “and nail ’em to the bottom!” That was a salt-flavoured jest he had been put up to by Tom Platt. Manuel leaned over the stern and yelled: “Johanna Morgan play the organ! Ahaaaa!” He flourished his broad thumb with a gesture of unspeakable contempt and derision, while little Penn covered himself with glory by piping up: “Gee a little! Hssh! Come here. Haw!”

They rode on their chain for the rest of the night, a short, snappy, uneasy motion, as Harvey found, and wasted half the forenoon recovering the cable. But the boys agreed the trouble was cheap at the price of triumph and glory, and they thought with grief over all the beautiful things that they might have said to the discomfited Carrie.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38