A Yarn of Sailor Ben's
IN the blue shadow of the Life-Saving Station sat Sailor Ben painting a toy boat. He ran a red stripe around the hull.
"That brightens her a bit," remarked Sailor Ben. "I hopes the little lad will like her. Anyhow, she's wuth the half-dollar—every cent."
"That's gay!" said a small boy in a sailor-suit, who just then came clown the board walk from the hotel. "She 'll scoot along, won't she?"
"Sure-ly," answered Sailor Ben, solemnly; "she can't help herself. She's the model image of the 'Speedy Susan,' and that was the slickest little brig I ever see point forefoot toward blue water."
"Was she wrecked?" asked the boy.
"O' course she were," answered the old sailor. "She were bound to be—always sailing smack up ag'in' all the coral reefs she could find. She was tradin' in the South Pacific, and she had a fancy for coral reefs. She could n't keep clear of 'em. We hauled her off a matter of a dozen times, but it was n't no sort o' use. She'd made up her mind to be wrecked—and wrecked she were, on the Tapioca Islands."
"Tapioca?" the boy asked, smiling doubtfully.
"Tapioca is what we called 'em. It may 'a' been Tappy-appy-oca or Tapioca-oca, but it don't signify. That ain't the point. The point is here: How did the Cook and the Bo's'n—that was me—get away from the cannibal savages?" asked Sailor Ben, very impressively. "You might read your 'Swiss Family Crusoe' forty times without comin' within forty fathom of guessin' that little riddle."
"Tell me about it," said the boy eagerly.
"Are you sure you can lie by while I'm tellin' it? I don't like to have you signaled for just as I get all sail drawin'."
"I can wait for half an hour," the boy answered. "They 've all gone in bathing."
"Then put a stopper on that little chatterbox, open both your hearin'-ports, and—don't believe all an old sailor tells you when he's spinnin' yarns to a little landlubber," said Sailor Ben, with a good-natured chuckle. "Here's the way it goes:"
As I remarked in the start, the Speedy Susan wrecked herself off the Tappy-appy-oca Islands in the South Pacific. I was a green youngster then, but with the makin's of a sailor about me. After the brig bumped coral and filled, she thought she'd make a call on Mr. Davy Jones. Not havin' been invited, I made up my mind to stay above water as long as I could.
"Come," says I to the Cook, "you and me ain't captains o' this ungrateful craft. Our betters may go down in glory with the ship, but bo's'ns and cooks can't be spared like officers, and swimmin' ashore is all we 're good for."
The Cook was a level-headed kind of a darky,—he made the best plum-duff I ever see,—and he says: "All right, sah." So over we went like a couple o' flying-fish, and come up like two porpoises. But it was a powerful stretch to swim, bein' a matter o' forty mile or so; and I mistrust whether we might n't 'a' joined Mr. D. Jones's party down below if it had n't been for the Bo's'n (me). When I heard Snowball (the Cook, you mind) puffing grampus-fashion, I says to him, says I:
"Snowball, you sunburnt sea-cook, float on your back and I 'll tow you a bit." So he did, and I grappled his wool and towed him as easy as if he were the Lord Mayor o' London in his kerridge. When I began to puff like a steam-tug, Snowball played horse for me while I lay baskin' like a lazy whale o' Sunday. So we went—Bo's'n tugging Cook, and Cook repayin' the compliment till we got in soundin's.
I'm not a-goin' to describe the Tappy-appy Islands. You 've got your Jography, and you can read about 'em any time. The only thing that's pecooliar about the islands you 'll see as I get along with my facts.
We come ashore in good shape, water-logged, but sound in every timber, and chipper as marines in a ca'm. We had nothin' but our togs to look after, and we set there makin' observations on the weather and the good qualities of our late shipmates, till we had drained off some. Then we begun to talk of explorin' a bit.
We had n't fixed on a plan when somethin' happened that knocked our plans into a cocked hat. Up came a lot of natives rigged out in feathers and things, jabberin' seventeen to the dozen, and maybe more. They surrounded us, and we hauled down our flags without firin' a gun—which we had n't any. They fitted us out with grass-rope bracelets, tied us into two shipshape bits o' cargo, shouldered us, and set sail inland, singin' songs o' triump'.
"Cook," says I, "we 're a-goin' int' the interior."
"I'm afeared we be," he pipes up sorrowful enough, thinkin' I meant they was cannibals.
"Avast!" says I. "Men don't sing when they 're hungry."
And I was right. When they got us up to their town, they cast us loose, and gave us free board and fair lodgin's, considerin'—for you would n't be wantin' electric-bells and bills-o'-fare in such outlandish regions.
Skippin' the months when we was just gettin' acquainted with their ways, I 'll get on to the adventure part. I 'll say no more than that we lived in clover, till Cook he begun to be homesick. I did n't mind it myself.
"Cook," says I, "it's a kind of copper-colored vacation when you look at it right—reg'lar rations and nothin' to do."
"It ain't like New Bedford," was all he'd say; and the same I could n't deny.
But I'd picked up their lingo till I could convairse fair and free like a genteel Tappyappyocan, passin' the time o' day with the best of 'em. But the Cook was diff'rent; he had a wife and little kids at home, and there was n't any way of hearin' from them. He had been the darkest darky on the islands, but he faded to the shade of a chaplain's every-day coat at the end of a long cruise. I felt sorry for him.
So one clay, though I had an invitation to play tenny-tenny hop-hop—which, queerly enough, was n't unlike tennis and hop-scotch mixed up together—I politely begged off, and piloted the Cook down to the "sad sea waves" (as I once heard a sweet-singin' young woman remark).
"Cooky," says I, "you are most shockin' pale, and unstiddy upon your pins. Are you land-sick?"
"Ter tell de trufe, sah," says he, pipin' his eye, "I am wantin' powerful to git back ter ole New Bedford; and I don't see dat dese oncivilized colored pussons are goin' ter let us go."
"Well, cheer up," says I; "for I 've calculated a course that ought 'er fetch us clear."
I made out a chart of my idee, and the black Cook he "yah-yahed" till he reminded me of a fancy hyena what I once seen in a cirkis. But it was no wonder.
The way of it was this: the chief of the Tappyappyocans was goin' to give a big blow-out—a regular plum-duff and soft-Tommy spread: plenty o' the best, and charge it to the steward; and he set great store by makin' a show for reasons that I happen to know. That's what made me think of my plan, and that's why the Cook grinned.
So back we went to find the chief,—Tiffin, I called him,—and I hailed him till he came out from his hut where he'd been palaverin' with his chief cook.
"Tiffin," says I, "great Chief of the Tappyappies" (for these benighted heathen likes titles, and has no idee of the glorious offhand ways of a republic like ours), "you 're goin' to give a noble eatin'-match?"
"True, Moonface," says he; for that's the name I went by, though I was more like a beet in the face than like the moon.
"I s'pose you want things to go off in tip-top style?" I went on as easy as you please.
"You know well, Moonface," says he, his complexion gettin' a shade darker, "that my brother, the chief of the—er—er—Succotash Islands" (that's where my memory's not what it should be—I don't rightly remember the Jography name) "is to dine with me, and he has far and away the champion cook o' these parts. Three wars have we fit over that there cook."
"I don't recall mentionin' the fact previously," I remarks, "but Snowball here—he's the boss medicine-man over a galley-stove that I ever saw" (that's the sense of what I said)—"in fact, he's the chief cook and first-chop bottle-washer of your pale brothers!"
"Well, well!" says the chief, after a spell, and lookin' at Snowball with int'rest. "You do surprise me."
"Yes, sirree!" I went on, slapping the cook on the shoulder, and 'most keelin' him over. "But to tell you the plain facts o' the case, his heart pants for the land of his people." (These savages delight in poitry talk, and I had picked it up along with their lingo.) "His neck is stretched with gazin' to-wards the land o' the free and the home o' the brave!"
O' course he never knew the words was a quotation from a popular ballad, and it moved him—it came so sudden. Still, he did n't give right in. He saw where I was a-steerin', but did n't choose to let on. So at last I purtended to be a little hurt and huffy.
"All correct," I says; "if Cook and me can't go home to my country 't is of thee, you sha'n't serve up to your dusky friend the great food of the pale brothers!" And I whistled "Yankee Doodle" slow and solemn, like a hymn tune.
That was too much for him.
"If I might have plenty of this great puddin', I maybe would let you go," he says, after a long think. "But I'd like to taste a sample fust."
"It's a go!" I says, takin' him up right off.
Now, the queer point about these islands was the fact that a humpin' big mount'in rose right in the middle o' the largest one. It was a played-out volcano, and the top of its peak was covered with real snow. That's what put the notion into my mind first off.
That afternoon me and the Cook climbed that peak and fetched down baskets full of snow and chunks of ice. Then we cut two sections of bamboo—one as big as a water-butt and the other not quite so big. There was plenty of salt along shore, and we toted some to the grove.
The Cook he loaded the littler bamboo nearly to the muzzle with goat's milk, and dumped in a couple o' dozen o' turtle-eggs, and sweetened the mess to taste with sugar-cane juice—and then we fixed on a long bamboo pole to the small cask inside, and round I went as if it was a capstan-bar. Round and round, round and round! And round, some more—till my back was breakin' with it.
But it froze stiff; and when we fished it out, it was a kind of oncivilized ice-cream. The Cook he tasted it, in the way o' duty; but he looked worser than when he was homesickest.
"No, thanky," says I, when he offered me a dose; "but don't look blue, Cooky. It 'll go down with these heathens—you see if it don't."
It did. You orter 've seen the chief smile when he got some—why, his grin lit up the landscape.
"Moonface Medicine-man," says he, as he scraped the sides o' the bamboo bowl we gave him, "your chill-puddin' is the finest thing I ever saw! Prepare a hundred calabashes for the Chief of the Succotash Islands, and you shall go free. I will make him knock his head to the dust!"
"It's a bargain, great Chief!" says I, and he marched back to his hut as proud as a new commodore on Sunday. You see, we were careful to give the chief a safe dose, and we fired the rest into the bushes.
Well, just before the great day we set a gang of natives to totin' down snow and ice, cuttin' bamboo for freezers, crushin' sugarcane, and gatherin' turtle-eggs. We made enough o' the awful stuff to sink an Indiaman, and left it packed in snow in a cool place in the woods.
The day of the grand barbecue came.
First our chief he put on a poor face, and trotted out regular old played-out native dishes—bong-bong, and maboo-taboo fried cush-cush—common dishes as a third-rate chief might have 'most any day. I see the other chief's lip curlin' up till it most hid his snub-nose—with scorn, and with pride in his own cook. But our chief was just a-leadin' old Succotash on—foolin' him, you see.
Then come dessert. Our chief he remarks careless and easy:
"I have a new dish, royal brother, if you will try it?"
"Don't care if I do," says the other, as if not carin' particular about it.
Our chief he whacked a gong, and in came a string of mahogany slaves proudly supportin' fancy calabashes loaded with that outlandish ice-cream.
"What, may I ask, is this?" asks the royal guest, a trifle oneasy, mistrustin' the other royal humbug was a-savin' his trumps for the last trick.
"Moonface chill-puddin'!" says our chief, impressive and grand.
It was set out, and at the word o' command every noble guest dipped into his calabash. Words o' mine can't describe it. I'd have to talk French to do it. It was like the finish of a tub-race. When I saw them all a-eatin' fast when they could, and a-tryin' to warm their froze noses when they could n't, I nudged Snowball on the sly.
"Cook," I whispers, "we 'll start now, I guess. Those fellers don't mean to stop as long as they can lift a spoon—and I'm afraid they 'll overdo this thing. If we waits till dyspepsy sets in, we 'll never see Hail Columbia any more."
He saw the sense o' my remark, and we got out and scooted. I hoped they would n't eat more than human natur' would stand—but when I thought o' that mixture, my heart kind of rose in my throat.
We did n't get away too early. Our dugout had a start, but soon we made out a war-canoe putting after us.
"Can they overhaul us?" I asks the Cook.
"No, sah!" he says, positive-like, and with a grin. "You jest wait till that p'ison git a fa'r chance!"
And by the time they got within hailin' distance, most o' the paddlers had keeled over, one by one, into the hold o' their canoe. Then she came to a dead halt. It was just in time, too, for the chief he stood up near the idol they had for a bow, waving his club, and his voice came faint over the water:
"If I catch you, you have to eat your own chill-puddin'! All my people are tumbled over with bad magic!"
"Adoo, Chief!" I sings out. "We was afraid you'd eat too much!"
He bowled a war-club at us, but he was n't feelin' strong, and then he keeled over; and that was the last of the Tappy-appy-ocas.
"Now, here's your boat," said Sailor Ben, as he finished his story. "Let her get good and dry, or you 'll be gettin' your clothes mussed up with it."
"Thank you ever so much for the boat, and for the story, too," said the little boy, as he took the new boat daintily by the mast-head.
"I hope," said Sailor Ben, looking after his little friend, and picking up his paint and brushes, "that the little landlubber did n't believe all that nonsense. He seemed rather serious and solemn over it."