The Strand Magazine/Volume 1/Issue 5/Captain Jones of the Rose
Captain Jones of the "Rose."
By W. Clark Russell.
EVEN men sat in a gloomy wooden cave. Under a massive beam that ran athwart the ceiling swung a sort of coffee-pot, from the spout of which sputtered a smoking and stinking flame, whose disgusting fumes were to be everywhere tasted in the atmosphere of the darksome wooden cave. The seven men were seated, not on morocco chairs or velvet sofas, but on rude boxes, whose lids were scored by the cutting up of cake tobacco. There were one or two pillars or stanchions in this gloomy wooden cave, from which dangled several oilskin coats and oilskin leggings, and under the ceiling hung a number of bags called hammocks, with here and there a ragged blanket peeping over the edge, or an old shoe showing through the nettles. In the midst of the ceiling was a square hole called a hatch, down which this day there floated very little daylight, owing partly to the hatch being small and partly to the sky being overcast with clouds.
Had those seven men seated in this interior been cleanly shaved, and had they been apparelled in well-washed coloured shirts, sleeved waistcoats, comfortable trousers, and caps with naval peaks, they would have passed as a harmless, respectable body of seafaring men—persons who would say "mum" to a lady when addressed by her, and answer intelligently and respectfully when asked about the weather. But as they now sat they looked as sulky and wild a set of fellows as one could imagine, strangely and fearfully attired, grimy of face and hairy, booted with half-Wellingtons and belted in Wapping fashion, and timid people would have thought that they carried a murderous air because each man wore a sheath upon his hip, in which lay a very sharp blade.
The wooden cave in which these men sat, rose and fell as though it were the extreme end of a long board violently see-saw'd; and this motion, combined with the smell of the fumes of the slush-fed lamp and a vapour rising out of a small tub of boiled pork, not to mention other odours such as might be produced by well-worn, newly- greased sea-boots, bedding which had made several voyages round the world, sooty clay pipes, old ropes, stale salt water, and many mysteries of malodorous commodities stowed below in the hold and forepeak, must instantly have upset the stomach of any landsman who out of curiosity should have put his head into the little hatch to see what was inside of it.
This cave was indeed a ship's forecastle, but the seven men who sat in it were mariners who had for many years been tossed by the various oceans of the world, and could not possibly have been sea-sick, even though they should have been offered a handsome reward to try.
One of them was a large, strong man, with a shaggy head of hair and a beard like rope-yarns. He looked as though he had taken a header and come up again to blow crowned with black seaweed. This strong man suddenly, and with a sulky fury of gesture, whipped the knife out of the sheath that was strapped to his hip, and, plunging it into a lump of pork, lifted the horrid block into the air, and cried out—
"Here it is agin!"
As he pronounced these words, the little square of hatch was obscured by the inter- position of a man's body.
"The smell of that there pork," said the voice belonging to the body in the hatch, "is something to sit upon, something strong enough to lean agin. Why, a man might turn to and chop them fumes into first-class bunk-boards. Talk o' strength!"
"Come below, cook!" bawled one of the seven men.
"No; I've got to see to the capt'n's dinner. But I'm of ye if there's to be trouble. When I signed it was for wittles and a dry bottom and a ship's company. Pump, pump, and nothen to eat! Nothen to eat and pump, pump! Here's logic as don't tally with this covey's reckoning for one." And the man, violently smiting himself upon the breast, disappeared.
The powerful sailor who had held the pork aloft whilst the cook discoursed, shook it off the blade into the tub again and spat.
"It's about time," said he, "that all hands was agreed."
"All hands is agreed," said one of the sailors, "'cepting that blooming Dutchman Peter. But if he don't come into it it'll be a bad job for one of us if, on some dark night, him and me happens to be aloft together."
"That there Peter," said a sailor, "was a-boasting to me that he'd ha' shipped for a pound a month; d'ye know he'd eat a shipmate's shirt if by so doing he thought he would airn a shilling by saving his allowance."
"This is sweet meat to Peter," said one of the seven, pointing to the pork, "and a pound a month is good money to Peter; and if Peter and the likes of him could get their way, then if ye wanted to see what sort of man an English sailor looked like ye'd have to ask the master of the fust workhus as hove in sight to show him."
"What a blazing fool a fellow makes of hisself when he goes to sea!" exclaimed a man with red hair and a broken nose. "I might ha' been a market-gard'ner had I stayed ashore. Think o' that! What did I run away from home for? For the likes of this for a parlour," said he, waving his hand round the forecastle, "and for the likes of yon," pointing to his hammock, "for a bed, and the likes of that muck," he added, pointing to the pork, "for a meal. But no growling's allowed. Ho no! Tell 'em that pickled dog ain't pork, and that wermin ain't ship's bread, and you're taken afore the magistrate and committed, and locked up, and left to rot whilst the blooming Dutchmen are getting all the jobs, because pickled dog to them is pork, and wermin a relish." He struck his fist heavily upon the chest on which he sat, and fastened his eyes upon his huge knuckles whilst he turned them about, as though he were inspecting a sample of coal.
"No use keeping all on growling," exclaimed a quiet-looking seaman, addressing the others over his folded arms. "What's to be the horder of the day?"
"A bust-up," answered the strong man, who bore the nickname of Black Sam. "Here we are, sixteen days out, two hands overboard, and not enough men by six able seamen to work the ship, wessel making water, and requiring to be pumped every four hours, meat fit to make a wulture ill, ship's bread old and wormy, and the rest of us men's stores shop-sweepings. Now this being so, I'm agoing to knock off work for one."
"And me for another———" "And me for another," went, in a growl, from mouth to mouth.
"There's the mate and there's the carpenter," continued Black Sam. "If the capt'n can work the ship with them two, well and good. But Peter he shan't have. Rather than that cuss of a Dutchman should be agin us, and on the capt'n's side, I'd—" He projected his arm, and seemed with his powerful hairy hand to strangle something in the air.
At this point the square of hatchway was again darkened, and the salt, husky voice of the carpenter called down: "Be—low there. Hain't the starboard watch got their dinner yet? Tumble up! Tumble up! The wind's drawed ahead, and the yards want trimming."
"Tumble up!" exclaimed Black Sam. "Don't you be holding your nose too long over the hatch, or it'll be you as'll be tumbling down. Can't ye smell it? Oh, it's nothen but us men's dinner. There's plenty left if ye've a mind for a bite."
"Who's that a-jawing?" exclaimed Mr. Chips, who combined the duty of second-mate with that of ship's carpenter. "Tumble up, I tell you. The wind's drawed ahead."
"Catch it and smell it for yourself," shouted a seaman, plunging his hand into the mess-kid and hurling a lump of pork through the hatch. The sailors heard the hurried steps of Mr. Chips as he went aft.
"He'll be telling the old man," said Black Sam; "let's go on deck and have it out, lads. I'll do the talking part, with your good leave. We don't want no language. Civility's a trump card in these here traverses. We all knows what we mean to get, and I'll say it for ye."
He led the way, his shipmates followed; they gained the forecastle and stood in a group gazing at the after part of the ship.
The vessel was the Rose, from Liverpool to an East African port. She was an old-fashioned, composite ship, but her lines were those of a yacht's, and there were few vessels then afloat which could look at her on a bowline. Her yards were immensely square, and she carried swinging booms and main-skysail-mast, and her burthen was between six and seven hundred tons. Such a ship as this demanded eighteen of a crew at least, not to mention master, mates, and "idlers." Instead of eighteen the Rose had sailed with ten men in the forecastle, and a cook in the galley, and the others were a carpenter, who acted as second-mate, an Only Mate, and the captain. Of the slender crew, two had been swept overboard in a gale of wind. They were foreigners, and the English Jacks did not lament their shipmates' end, but on the contrary grinned fiendishly when it was discovered that the foreigners were gone, and they hideously wished that all Dutchmen who signed articles for the red ensign of England would go and fall overboard as those two foreigners had, and as promptly, too, so that nobody concerned might be kept waiting.
During the gale in which the two Dutchmen had perished, the ship had been so strained as to oblige the hands to serve the pumps every four hours. Undermanned, leaky, the provisions rotten! There must be a limit to patience and endurance, even though the sufferer be a sailor. The seven seamen lumped together on the forecastle of the Rose stood staring aft. The cook, a pale man, lounged in his galley door, half in and half out, and his face wore an expression of sour expectation. The carpenter, as I may call him, was talking to the captain, and the Only Mate was slowly rising through the companion hatch as the body of seamen stood staring.
The captain, whose name was Jones, was a tall, lean, gaunt man, his face of the colour of sulphur, his appearance decidedly Yankee, though he happened to belong to Limehouse. He wore square-toed boots, a cloak that might have been taken from the shoulders of a stage bandit, and a sugar-loafed hat. The hair on his face consisted. of a beard that fell from under his chin like a goat's, and his eyes were black, brilliant, and restless.
The Only Mate, whose name was Johnson, was about half the captain's height. The ocean had done its work with him, had withered up his face, dried the marrow out of his bones, put a turn in either leg, that his walk was like a pantomime clown's. Instead of being an Only Mate, he should have formed the eighth part of a mate. You would have thought that eight at least of such men as Mr. Johnson should go to the making of an Only Mate for the Rose, had you sent your glance from his dried and kinked figure to the body of men forward, more particularly to the giant Black Sam, who, with the rest, continued to gaze aft. The carpenter, or second mate, was a brown-faced man of about fifty, but brine had taken the place of blood in his veins, and he looked sixty, with his white locks and rounded back and long, hanging arms, whose fingers were curled in the manner of fish-hooks. At the wheel stood the Scandinavian seaman, Peter, the like of whom you may see any day blowing in a German band in the streets of London: veal-coloured, freckled, yellow-haired, a figure loosely put together, and as meaningless an expression of countenance as a dab's.
The captain was puffing at a long cigar that drooped between his lips. Presently he pulled his cigar from his mouth, and shouted: "We don't want all hands. The starboard watch can trim sail. Trim sail, the starboard watch!" and replacing his cigar, he fell to swiftly striding the quarter-deck to and fro.
The seven sailors marched aft, and came to a stand a little abaft the mainmast. Black Sam advanced himself by a step, and exclaimed:—"Capt'n Jones, us men don't mean to do no more work until our wrongs are righted."
The captain, speaking with his cigar in his mouth, halted opposite the men, and said: "What are your wrongs? Are ye too well fed? Are ye growing too fat for the want of work? Say the word, and I'll right them wrongs for you fast enough."
"Ye've got a sow under that there longboat, Capt'n Jones," said Black Sam. "Would ye give her the wittles us men have to live on and work hard on? No. And vy? Because the life and health of a sow is of more consequence to the likes of such men as you and the owners of this wessel than the life and health of a sailor."
Captain Jones clenched his fist and glared. But what is the good of one man clenching his fist and glaring at seven savage, hairy, resolved British seamen, and the captain might well know that he was but one man to the whole ship's company, for the Only Mate stood at the rail looking over the side as though he were a passenger, willing to listen, but rather anxious not to be "involved," whilst the carpenter had stepped aft, and was dividing his attention between the compass-card and the main-royal. The captain looked around him. He then puffed for some moments in silence at his cigar, whilst an expression entered his face that would have persuaded shrewder observers than the sailors he confronted that he intended to keep his temper.
"What have you to complain of?"
Several sailors spoke at once. Black Sam elevated his immense, hairy fist.
"We complain of this," said he; "first, the ship ain't seaworthy.'
"Lie number one," said the captain.
"She ain't seaworthy," continued Black Sam, with a menacing note of storm in his deepening voice. "You're as good a sailor as we are, I suppose, and ye must know that a ship that needs to be pumped out every four hours ain't seaworthy."
"Next?" said the captain.
"All the wittles is rotten to the heart. Is this food for a man?" and Black Sam, putting his hand in his breast, pulled out a biscuit and extended it to the captain. But the captain looked elsewhere, and Black Sam, with his face full of blood, dashed the biscuit on to the deck at the captain's feet, on which one of the sailors cried out, "See how they run!"
"Lie number two," said the captain. "Next?"
"Your ship's stores are rotten to the heart," said Black Sam. "The wessel's taking in water faster than she should, and you know it. The crew are about seven less than the complement of such a vessel ought to be, and that you know also. And here we are to tell you this; that we're willing to go on pumping the wessel out for the next three days for our lives' sake, but not for yourn; but that we don't do another stroke of work unless you shifts your hellum and heads for the nearest port, where ye can ship more hands and wittles fit for men to eat. But if at the end of three days nothen's done, then we shall give up pumping, take the boats, and leave you, and Mr. Chips, and the mate to keep the ship afloat by yourselves, if ye can. That's your mind, mates?"
"That's our mind!" was echoed in a hurricane chorus.
The captain looked up aloft at his canvas, then around at the sea, then at his Only Mate, and at Chips the carpenter, and at Peter at the wheel. His sulphur-coloured face was dark with temper. Nevertheless he spoke deliberately:
"This ship's going to make her passage. The leak's nothing, the stores are first-class, and there are more of you than are wanted to do the work of the vessel."
He called to Mr. Johnson, the Only Mate, who approached him with a glance at the men that was certainly not remarkable for spirit.
"Mr. Johnson," said the captain, "you've heard what's passed?"
"I have, sir," answered the Only Mate.
"These fellows will go forward," continued the captain; "they will swing in their hammocks, and they will smoke their pipes; but no more stores are to be served out to them—no, not so much as a fragment of that excellent bread which lies wasted on the deck here—until they consent to turn to. Then, I don't doubt, it will be all plain sailing again. Go forward now!" he cried, in a voice the sudden ring of which was like the report of a pistol. "Mr. Johnson, I'll take the wheel; whilst you, Mr. Chips and Peter, trim sail."
"Peter!" roared Black Sam, "we men have knocked off work till we're righted. If you lend the capt'n a hand, and side with him agin us———"
And again he advanced his enormous arm and caused his fist to writhe.
"Mr. Cheeps," said Peter, "take this vheel; I am onvell;" and letting go the spokes, the Dutchman marched forward and joined his shipmates, who roared out a defiant huzza as the whole eight of them, with the cook in their wake, made their way to the forecastle and disappeared.
Sailors have no friends, and Captain Jones knew it. There are societies in Great Britain for the prevention of the ill-usage of most things living, from women to dogs, from children to dicky-birds, but there is no society for the prevention of cruelty to sailors. Captain Jones knew that he had the power to starve his men into compliance. Nevertheless, he passed a very uneasy night. When the morning broke, he and the Only Mate and Mr. Chips were nearly dead of fatigue, for wind had risen in the hours of darkness, and the ship was a big one, and there were but two men, the third being at the wheel, to let go and clew up, and haul down and make snug as best two men might. When the morning broke, Captain Jones looked as if he had just come out of hospital; Mr. Chips, who stood at the wheel, might readily have passed for a man of seventy; and the Only Mate, who was lighting the galley-fire, showed as if he had been towed overboard during the greater part of the night.
"Those blackguards in the forecastle will be wanting their breakfast," said the captain, and you'll have them laying aft presently and asking to turn to."
The men, however, did not show themselves. They perfectly understood that the ship could not be navigated as things went, and that the captain must come round to their views before the day had passed, and, indeed, long before the day passed should a change of weather happen presently, and they grinned man after man as they furtively peeped through the scuttle and saw old Chips at the wheel looking seventy years old, and Captain Jones as though he was just come out of hospital, and the Only Mate as though he had been towed overboard: and they preserved their grin, man after man, as they looked aloft and saw the unfurled royals and topgallant-sails fluttering, and the staysails hanging loose, and the yards very ill-braced indeed.
"We've got yesterday's muck pork," said Black Sam, "and the bread barge ain't empty. If the old man were the devil himself, we'd weather him out. But the ship mustn't be allowed to sink this side of three days;" and forthwith the sailors grimly rose through the hatch, and in silence walked to the pumps, which they plied until they sucked, and then returned to the fore-castle. But there was no novelty in this proceeding, for they had kept their faith with the captain, and at every four hours throughout the night a gang had turned out to pump the ship.
Whilst Captain Jones, sitting on the skylight, was drinking some coffee which the Only Mate had boiled, the carpenter (Mr. Chips) munching a biscuit at his side, and the Only Mate munching another biscuit at the wheel, a sail hove in view. The breeze was light and the sea smooth. Captain Jones hoisted the English ensign union down, and at about nine o'clock in the morning the two vessels were nearly abreast of each other, the Rose with her topsail to the mast, the yards having been swung by Captain Jones and Mr. Chips taking the braces to the quarter-deck capstan. The stranger was a large, light barque, painted black. She, too, had backed her topsail.
"There is no use in hailing," said Captain Jones, addressing the Only Mate; "lower that quarter-boat, Mr. Johnson, and go aboard with Mr. Chips. Tell the captain of the barque that my men have refused duty; and ask him if he can oblige us with the loan of a couple of hands to carry the barque to ———," and he named a convenient port.
Forthwith a boat was lowered, and in a few minutes Mr. Chips and the Only Mate were pulling away as for their lives for the big, light barque. The captain, grasping the wheel, stood watching. Now and again a hairy head showed in the forecastle hatch, and the noise of a hoarse laugh floated aft to the ears of Captain Jones. The boat gained the side of the barque, a rope's end was thrown, and the Only Mate made the boat fast to it. Both men then clambered over the side of the vessel and disappeared.
The captain gazed eagerly, and whilst he stood looking a hoarse voice roared the following weather-worn lines through the forecastle scuttle:—
"You Parliament of England, you Lords and Commons too,
Consider well what you're about, and what you mean to do;
You're now at war with Yankees: I'm sure you'll rue the day.
You roused the sons of Liberty in North Americay."
The time passed, Captain Jones stood at the wheel with his eyes fixed upon the barque. Suddenly he ran to the companion way, picked a telescope out of its brackets, and, kneeling at the rail, directed the glass at the barque. He remained motionless with his eye at the telescope for some minutes, then stood up and sent a glance and a look tha swept the wide platform of his own decks, and his hollow, gaunt countenance wore an expression or perplexity, dismay, and wrath, all combining in a look that made him appear more than ever as though just out of hospital.
"Now and again a head showed in the forecastle hatch." "By this and by that and by t'other," he roared, using words which, as they cannot be described, must be left to the imagination, "who'd ha' thought it of two such this and that and something else sniggering whelps?" and even as he thus used language which cannot be written, the barque swung her yards so as to fill upon the sails, and letting go Captain Jones's boat, which dropped quietly rocking astern, slided along her course, her flying jibboom end pointing at something west of north.
Captain Jones stood looking as though bereft of his reason, and many and awful were the sea-words which leapt from his lips. Again he looked along his deserted decks. There was nothing to be seen in the shape of human nature but a single head showing in the fore-scuttle, and this head appeared to be graphically describing what its eyes beheld to the hidden mob beneath, else how should Captain Jones account for the continuous roar of derisive laughter which saluted his ears? He stood alone upon his deck: either the Only Mate and the carpenter had been kidnapped or they had deserted him; and Captain Jones was perfectly right in not doubting for a moment that they had deserted him.
He rushed forwards.
"Men," he bawled, "up with ye! You shall have your way. I'm a lonely man. Don't stop to consider. Ye shall have your way, but you must bear a hand."
Upon this, up through the hatch, with the agility of a seaman, sprang Black Sam. He was followed by the cook and Peter, and in a jiffy all hands were on deck.
"See that barque?" roared the captain. "The mate and Mr. Chips have deserted me for her. They've stolen my boat. No! I'm not going to stop to pick her up. She'll be fifteen pound against Mr. Johnson, and six months atop of it for robbery. I'm going to follow that barque; I'm going to get those two men out of her. If the barque don't surrender 'em I'm going to run her down. Turn to now, my lads, and you shall have your way.'
"Well, we see you're in a hurry, capt'n," said Black Sam, "and as ye know what our wrongs is, and as ye mean to right 'em in the manner I took the liberty of pointing out yesterday, vy, we'll turn to. Give your orders, and you'll find us willing."
The captain forthwith gave his orders. His commands would not be understood by the landsman. Enough if I say that in a very short time the Rose, fully clothed in canvas, was standing with her head direct for the barque, an able seaman at her wheel, the captain pacing the quarter-deck, the cook preparing breakfast for the men in the galley, and the sailors, each of them with a glass of grog in him, looking at the distant figure of the barque over the bows.
The Rose, as I have said, was a clipper. The wind had somewhat freshened, and in this pursuit the vessel brought it about a point before the beam. Far ahead leaned the barque, tall and unsightly, heeling out to the sun a space of green copper, whilst at this moment a fore-topmast studdingsail went slowly soaring to the yardarm. Captain Jones gave a loud laugh of contempt. He knew that his ship could sail three feet to the barque's one, even though the chase should heap the canvas of a Royal George upon herself. He went on to his forecastle and sent a man aft for a large black board, upon which he wrote in chalk:—
give 'em up or—
I'll run you down.
As the Rose overhauled the barque—and had she been a steamer she could not have overtaken her more swiftly—the black board was held on high by a couple of seamen so that it could be read on board the stranger. Captain Jones on the forecastle head watched the chase through his glass. The words "Martha M. Stubbs, Windsor, N.S.," were written in large white letters upon her stern. Nothing was to be seen of Mr. Chips and the Only Mate. A man wearing a fur hat, resembling Robinson Crusoe's, paced the short poop of the barque. He carried a glass in his hand, and to judge by the frequent glances he directed at the Rose, it was to be guessed that he had interpreted the handwriting on the black board.
The breeze freshened. Sheets and tacks strained to the increased pressure. The Rose, with foam midway to the hawsepipe, went shearing alongside the barque within pistol shot.
"Hard up!" shrieked the man in the Robinson Crusoe cap, and the fellow at the helm made the spokes spin like the driving wheel of a locomotive.
"Hard up and into him!" roared Captain Jones, and round fizzed the wheel of the Rose in true firework fashion.
For the next two hours the Rose was occupied in endeavouring to run down the barque, the barque on her side cutting a hundred nimble nautical capers to evade the shearing stem of the enraged Jones. But at the end of two hours it had become plain to the man in the Robinson Crusoe hat that the Rose was in earnest. He then gave up, backed his main-topsail yard, and sent the Only Mate and Mr. Chips aboard the Rose in a boat pulled by two men. Captain Jones at once put Mr. Chips into irons and sent the Only Mate to his cabin. He then called to the two fellows who were sitting in the boat under the gangway: "Are ye undermanned?"
"I thought so," said Captain Jones. "Step on board, my livelies, and have a glass of grog afore you return."
The two men cheerfully crawled over the side, but instead of giving them a glass of grog apiece, Captain Jones ordered them forward to turn to with the rest of his crew, and with his own hand let go the line which held the barque's boat to the Rose. Sail was then trimmed, and in less than three hours the barque was hull down, though still in pursuit of the Rose.
The Only Mate admitted, with a countenance of hate and loathing, that he was sick of the Rose, sick of Captain Jones, that he hadn't any intention of working a big vessel of 700 tons single-handed with old Chips, the carpenter, and that when he boarded the Nova Scotiaman and heard that she was very short-handed, he accepted the captain's handsome offer of a number of dollars for the rest of the run to Windsor, as did Mr. Chips. The Only Mate added that both he and Mr. Chips were in debt to the Rose as it was, and that Captain Jones would have been welcome to their clothes and nautical instruments had the Nova Scotiaman succeeded in getting clear off.
Captain Jones's troubles were not yet at an end. He wished to put into Lisbon, but the crew refused to work the ship unless he returned to England.
"We're not going to be convarted into blooming distressed mariners," said the crew of the Rose. "No Consuls for us. We know them gents. They'll find everything all right, stores sweet, crew plentiful, ship tight, and we know how it'll be: a blooming Portugee jail, then a trip home, and a blooming magisterial inquiry, and six weeks' o' quod;" and so blooming, they forced Captain Jones to sail his ship home.
He arrived at Swansea, and handed the Only Mate and Mr. Chips over into the hands of justice. He offered to ship two more hands if his old crew would sail with him, but they said no, not if he shipped two hundred more hands; and so they were taken before the magistrates, who found the captain in the right, and punished the men by a term of imprisonment far in excess of any penalty of jail and hard labour which they would have inflicted upon a man who had merely broken his wife's skull with his heel, or who had only been systematically starving and cruelly beating his child of ten ever since the neighbours could remember.
Captain Jones shipped a fresh crew and another Only Mate and a new carpenter, but though he stopped his leak he did not ship fresh stores. He sailed out of Swansea Bay October 11, 1869, and has not since been heard of.