The Strand Magazine/Volume 2/Issue 10/Three in Charge

Illustrations by W. Christian Symons.

Three in Charge.

By W. Clark Russell.

I T is a little incident of ocean life now a good many years old; but human nature was the same then as it is now; and, indeed, the older I grow the more I find human nature the same now as it was then.

Business had carried me to the East Indies. I had visited Madras, whence I had proceeded to Calcutta, and from Calcutta I had made my way to Rangoon. I stayed in that place a month, by which time my health had suffered so greatly from the climate that I made up my mind to return to Europe in a sailing ship, that I might spend many long weeks among the fresh breezes of the sea, and get all the benefit I could out of the incessant changes of climate which a voyage down the Indian Ocean, and round the Cape of Good Hope, and up the two Atlantics provides you with.

There was a full-rigged ship lying at Rangoon, called the Biddy McDougal. I heard that she was to sail at much about a date that would suit my convenience, and as she looked a comfortable, stout ship, I inquired the name of the agent, called upon him, and asked if I could get a passage to England by the vessel. He answered "Yes;" she was bound to London; she was not a passenger ship, but the captain would no doubt be glad to accommodate me with a cabin. The charge would be so much—I forget the figure, but I recollect that it was moderate, something short of forty pounds. For this money I was to live on such provisions as were served up at the captain's table, but the spirits and wine I might need I must myself lay in.

Next day I went aboard the Biddy McDougal to inspect her cabin accommodation. On climbing over the gangway I was received by a tall, rather good-looking man, with a face remarkable for its expression of sternness. His skin was blackened by exposure to the sun and weather, and another shade of dye would have qualified him to pass for a native. He frowned as he surveyed me, and inquired my business on board.

"I am going to England in this ship," said I, "and I have come to see what sort of a cabin I am to sleep in."

"Oh, I beg pardon," he exclaimed, but without relaxing his stern expression. "I thought——," he broke off and muttered behind his teeth.

"I was received by a tall, rather good-looking man."

"Who are you?" said I, "the mate?"

"No, sir, I am the captain."

"Oh, indeed," I exclaimed; "pray, what name?"

"Mr. Wilson," he answered. "It is a fashion among merchant seamen who obtain command to style themselves captain. It is a piece of impertinence. The only captains at sea are in the Royal Navy. A merchant skipper is a master mariner. All merchant captains are misters. I am plain Mr. Wilson, at your service, sir."

He spoke with considerable heat; but I was willing to attribute his temper to the weather, which was certainly very trying. And then, again, his men might have given him trouble, for numerous and deep are the worries and anxieties of the British shipmaster. Much is expected of him, and little is given. His crew are slender and ignorant; they charge upon him every outrage that is perpetrated by the owner, and often would they be glad to cut his throat before the land is out of sight; he has no professional prospects, and when at last he runs his ship ashore, or loses her in a gale of wind, or by fire, and is compelled by a Court of Inquiry to withdraw from the vocation which he has pursued, if not adorned, man and boy, for perhaps forty years, there is no other port under his lee for him to bring up in than the establishment at Belvedere, which, I regret to say, is always in want of funds and always inconveniently full.

Therefore it was that when Mr. Wilson spoke with heat about shipmasters styling themselves captains, I made "allowances," as the phrase goes, and after briefly acquiescing in his views, requested to be allowed to see the cabin the agent had offered me. I viewed that cabin, and found it small and ill-lighted, but on the whole it was a better cabin than I had expected to find on board such a ship as the Biddy McDougal. The state-room, in which the meals were taken, was a tolerably cheerful interior, very plainly furnished, with a large skylight over the table, a stove for cold weather, a lamp, a clock in the skylight, and a big telescope in the companion way. There were three cabins forward and two cabins abaft. My cabin was forward, on the starboard side.

Mr. Wilson and I went on deck, and we stood conversing awhile under the shelter of an awning. I asked the number of the crew, the time the ship had occupied in making the outward passage, and so on, and then went ashore, understanding that the vessel would not sail for another week.

"I beheld an immensely stout, red-faced man."

Three days later I paid a second visit to the ship, for by this time I had purchased what I needed, and I wished to see where the cases and parcels had been stowed. On stepping on board I beheld an immensely stout, red-faced man with a wide straw hat on his head, dressed in white drill, seated in a chair with poles attached to it under the short awning which sheltered a portion of the quarterdeck. Two or three sailors were lounging in the forepart of the ship. There was no work apparently doing. I looked about me for Mr. Wilson, the master, and seeing nothing of him, I directed my eyes in search of any individual who might resemble the mate.

"Pray, what's your business?" called out the stout, red-faced man without attempting to rise.

"I wish to see the captain," said I.

"Well, you are looking at him," he answered.

"I do not see him," I exclaimed, casting my gaze around.

"Why, ye can't be so blind as all that!" cried the stout, red-faced man in a noisy, roaring, yet greasy voice, which he followed on with a succession of hearty chuckles.

"I want to see the captain," said I, feeling much too hot and tired to be made a fool of by a rough, shapeless, red-faced lump of a man such as was he who gazed at me out of a pair of little weak, moist blue eyes, set in the midst of a countenance as round and inflamed as the newly-risen November moon at its full.

"I am the captain," said he.

"What is your name?" said I, approaching him.

"Captain Timothy Punch," he answered; "what is your business, sir?"

I informed him that I had taken a passage in the Biddy McDougal for England.

"Oh, you're the gent!" he cried, and his manner immediately became respectful. "You'll excuse me for not rising. I'm full up, flush to the hatches with gout, and pain ain't going to improve the manners of a plain sailor. If I'm a bit rough in my speech, you'll excuse me. What can I offer ye, sir?"

"Nothing, I thank you."

"A ship's fok'sle was my college," he continued, giving expression to his enjoyment of the matter of his speech by a succession of oily chuckles, "and I comes from a rough stock, sir. Ye may have heard of the famous Captain John Punch, him as was a terror to all wrong-doers down in the West Indian waters. He couldn't read or write, but he was a captain in the Royal Navy for all that, as you may h'ascertain by consulting the Admiralty lists of his day. His not being able to write was nothen; but his not being able to read was a bit inconvenient now and again; as, for instance, when he was sent away under sealed orders, or when he'd get an official letter marked 'confidential,' the inside of which he was to keep strictly secret."

He was proceeding, but I cut the garrulous old gentleman short.

"I may take it," said I, "that there has been a fresh captain appointed to this ship since I visited her a few days ago?"

"You may take it," he noisily wheezed, "that the captain of this ship is Timothy Punch. He brought the Biddy McDougal out, and he's going to take the Biddy McDougal home."

I viewed him with astonishment, but held my tongue, never doubting that the "Mr. Wilson" whom I had met, and who might have happened to be on board as a guest, or as a sightseer, when I arrived, had entertained himself at my expense by a deliberate lie.

Captain Punch again apologised for not being able to rise, yet made an effort to stir in his chair for no other purpose, however, that I could see than to force a groan that sounded like an execration. He told me that my private stock of wine and the other matters I had laid in were safely housed in the berth adjoining mine, a berth that was unoccupied, and was therefore at my service, as well as the cabin I had paid for. Nevertheless, I went below to make sure. In the cabin I found a young fellow cleaning some glasses.

"Are you the steward?" said I.

"I waits upon the captain," he answered.

"The captain?" I exclaimed.

"Captain Punch, sir," said he.

"Then it is all right so far as Punch goes," thought I; "and that fellow Wilson—if I should happen to meet him!"

"Is there a regular steward?" said I.

"I does all the waiting at this here table," answered the young fellow.

On this I told him that I was the passenger, bade him see that my cabin was clean and comfortable and in readiness for me, slipped a few rupees into his hand, and, after looking at my purchases, returned on deck.

The captain told me that the ship would certainly sail on the following Wednesday, at some hour in the forenoon, and bade me be on board not later than nine.

"We ought to ha' got away three weeks ago," he exclaimed. "It's all along of the Rangoon port authorities, as they call themselves. Every snivelling creature whose dirty little soul is wropped up in a white hide is a boss in this here flaming country, and the more snivelling he is, and the dirtier the little soul what's wropped up in him is, the more aggrevatingly does he go to work in his bossing jobs. Punch knows 'em. They've got Punch's hump up often enough, and lucky it is for these here port authorities that Punch ain't no longer the man he was;" and here he looked at his immense gouty fists, then fastened his eyes significantly upon his bloated, seemingly helpless knees.

I sent my baggage to the ship on the Tuesday afternoon, and at nine o'clock on the following morning I repaired on board the Biddy McDougal as she lay in the river off the town. On gaining the deck I perceived a number of seamen employed upon the ground tackle, and I seemed to catch sight of the man who had called himself "Wilson" and "captain" standing in the ship's head, and gazing down over the bows; but his face was but partially revealed, and the shadow of his wide straw hat darkened and obscured the little of his countenance that was visible. A man stood near the gangway, clothed in blue serge with a white cover to his naval cap. He was a sullen-looking fellow, with a roll of white beard and whiskers running down his cheeks under his throat, a sour mouth, and a dry twist of face which, rounding into one eye, made it look smaller than the other. As I had not yet met the mate of the ship, I supposed that this man might be that officer, and, approaching him, I said:—

"Are you the mate?"

"No," he answered, leisurely bringing his eyes down from aloft, and fastening them upon me. "I am neither the mate, nor the man that cooks the mate."

"Who are you?" said I, nettled by his brusque manner.

"Who are you, first of all?" he answered.

"I am a passenger going home in the Biddy McDougal."

His manner changed. "I ask your pardon," said he; "I took you to be another gent; someone I don't want to have nothing more to say to. You're amazingly like him, surely."

"Are you the mate?" said I.

"No, sir," he replied, "I am the captain."

"A man stood near the gangway."

I eyed him steadfastly, and then looked round the deck, scarcely knowing as yet but that I had taken my passage aboard a ship full of lunatics.

"The captain?" I cried.

"Ay," he answered, with an emphatic nod, "Captain Parfitt."

"Pray, how many captains does this ship carry?" said I, again looking round the deck in search of any signs of old Captain Punch.

"One only," said he, "and I'm that man."

"I have been aboard this vessel three times," said I, "and on each occasion have met with a new captain. The first time it was Captain Wilson—there he is," I exclaimed, pointing to the forecastle where the man Wilson who had called himself the master now stood looking towards me, and plainly visible. "Next it was Captain Timothy Punch, a gouty, red-faced man, who sat helpless in a chair on this quarter-deck. And now it is you."

A sour smile curled the man's lips.

"They haven't been quite above-board with you, sir," said he. "The long and short of it's this: Cap'n Punch was in charge during the outward voyage right enough; but he was took very bad with gout a month afore Rangoon was reached, and the command of the vessel was given to his chief mate, that there gent as you see for'rads. The ship was to sail home in charge of Mr. Wilson; but the port authorities says 'No; Mr. Wilson don't hold a certificate as master.' The ship couldn't be cleared till a proper master was had. I was asked to navigate the vessel home, and here I am. So ye may take it from me that I'm captain and nobody else."

"Well," said I, "if there's truth in the saying that there's safety in numbers, the passage should be comfortable and speedy," and with that I went below to look after my traps.

The ship sailed an hour later, but it was not until dinner time that I saw what we were to expect more or less throughout the whole of the long run to England. We were then at sea, the high sun burning over our masthead, a hot breeze blowing over the quarter, and the ship thrusting along under full breasts of canvas and wide overhanging wings of studding-sail. A bell rang to announce dinner, and I quitted the quarter-deck for the cabin. On entering I found Mr. Wilson seated at the head of the table. Captain Parfitt followed me below, and instantly exclaimed to Mr. Wilson:

"That's my place. You must clear out of that chair, please."

"I shall do nothing of the sort." said Mr. Wilson. "I am master of this ship by orders of her lawful captain. You are an interloper."

Captain Parfitt turned pale and breathed short.

"I am captain of this ship," said he, "and you are her chief mate. You will go on deck, if you please, and keep a lookout whilst I eat my dinner."

Mr. Wilson did not offer to move; merely eyed Captain Parfitt with his extraordinarily stern face. Captain Parfitt clenched his fists.

"Gentlemen," said I, "there must be some remedy for this."

"So there is, by God!" roared Parfitt. "It's mutiny. If ye ain't out of that chair in a jiffy I'll clap ye in irons."

"You?" shouted Mr. Wilson, half springing from his seat.

At this moment the door of one of the after cabins was opened, and two stout sailors appeared, bearing the immense shape of Captain Punch in a chair, to which poles had been lashed.

"Is dinner ready?" he called out.

"Is dinner ready?" he called out.

"Your chief mate is a mutineer. He refuses to obey my orders," cried Captain Parfitt.

"Up ye get, Wilson; that's my seat," said Captain Punch, taking no notice of Parfitt.

Mr. Wilson at once made way, and the two sailors, broadly grinning, with much pushing and shoving, hove, or rather prized old Punch into the chair of honour. Mr. Wilson swiftly seated himself at the foot of the table.

"Sit ye down, sir; sit ye down," cried old Punch to me. "Who's got the lookout on deck?"

"The ship's watching herself," sulkily growled Captain Parfitt.

"Hadn't ye better go tip and look after her?" said Punch to Parfitt.

"What am I to understand?" shouted Parfitt.

"Why this," interrupted Captain Punch, "that this is a ship as could very well ha' found her way home without ye. You wasn't wanted; but since ye've made up your mind to come, why, durn my eyes, ye'll have to take things as ye find 'em. Mr. Wilson's the captain-helect by my authority, and whilst I've got lungs to blow a breath of air out with I'm the gorramighty of the Biddy McDougal. Understand that."

Without answering a word Captain Parfitt flung his cap down upon the locker and took his seat at the table abreast of me. On this Captain Punch bade Mr. Wilson tell the ship's carpenter—who it seems acted as second mate—to keep a lookout until he was relieved from the cabin.

"Seeing that I have paid for my passage aboard this ship, and that it is highly desirable, absolutely essential in a word, that I should have some head to refer to, some person in supreme authority to complain to and to appeal to in case of discomfort or difficulty, I should be glad to know, gentlemen, which of you I am to consider as captain of the Biddy McDougal?" said I, hoping by this stilted but nevertheless resolutely uttered address to clear the air somewhat and do some good.

"I am captain," said Punch, with his mouth full of beef.

"Yes, and I am in charge," said Captain Parfitt.

"You mean, I am in charge," cried Mr. Wilson.

"I am captain of this ship, and the supreme head, sir," cried Punch, addressing me, "but Mr. Wilson represents me whilst I'm off duty through illness, and so long as he represents me he is master helect, as I afore said, and there's no man aboard this ship who's going to say contrairy."

"Yes, there is," said Captain Parfitt; "but I don't mean to waste no words on either of ye. You know where my authority comes from. I'm master of the Biddy McDougal till I've berthed her in the dock she's bound to, and if this here mate of yours interferes with me I'll log him for mutiny, break him, and send him forrads, as ye both know I've got the power to do. And if that don't answer—" he interrupted himself by exclaiming: "But I don't want no words," and so saying he rose, having eaten little or nothing, and went on deck.

Well, as may be supposed, this was but the first of a long series of uncomfortable quarrels. I cannot positively say that Captain Parfitt did not log Mr. Wilson for mutiny, and order him forward into the forecastle to work before the mast. This I cannot say, but it is certain that Mr. Wilson did not go forward; on the contrary, he remained very much aft, giving instructions without regard to Captain Parfitt's orders, and acting in all ways as though he, and he alone, were master of the vessel.

That very same day, I remember—I mean that day on which the quarrel at that table happened—Mr. Wilson came on deck whilst Captain Parfitt was pacing the weather side, keeping a look-out, and with an air of aggression stared into the compass, then looked aloft, also very aggressively, and then sent his eyes round the sea-line, making a motion with his head that was offensive with its suggestion of criticism. Presently, taking his stand abreast of the mizenmast to leeward, he asked the man at the wheel how the ship's head was. The fellow replied.

"Let her come to three-quarters of a point," called out Mr. Wilson; "and, Captain Parfitt, you will be so good as to trim sail."

"Keep her as she goes!" roared Parfitt.

"You are making too much westing," exclaimed Mr. Wilson.

"Leave the deck, sir," bawled Parfitt.

"By what chart are you sailing, I should like to know?" sneered Mr. Wilson. "Why damme, man, we aren't bound to Madras."

An angry quarrel followed, a mere affray of words indeed, but it was hard to guess at what instant the blow would not come, with a long and shameful scuffle on top of it. The sailors forward stood staring aft, thoroughly enjoying the spectacle of the two men gesticulating and bawling at each other. Presently, up through the hatch came Captain Punch, borne by a brace of sailors, who struggled up the steep companion steps with purple faces, panting and blowing, whilst Punch sat holding on tightly and cursing the builder of the ship for constructing a companion-way that gave a man no room to turn in.

"What is it all about?" shouted the old fellow, as his bearers dumped him down upon the deck.

"The ship's being headed for Madras," cried Mr. Wilson, with a contemptuous laugh.

"He's a liar, and he knows he's a liar," said Parfitt.

"You're making too westerly a course to suit me," exclaimed Captain Punch, and he ordered the man at the wheel to shift the helm by a spoke or two.

"Up through the hatch came Captain Punch."

"D'ye suppose," cried Captain Parfitt, approaching Captain Punch close, and snorting his words into the old seaman's jolly, round, brick-red face, "that I've taken charge of this sugar-box to larn navigation from you?"

"I ain't deaf—keep your distance," responded Captain Punch. "This sugar-box is going to get home, and I don't mean to let you put her ashore betwixt this and the London Docks, and so I tell 'ee. I've heard of navigators, you must know, whose reckoning by account has landed them by four degrees of longitude inland—same thing may happen with some folks' sextants. My course is your course, and you'll please to stick to it."

"There's not even yet southing enough," said Mr. Wilson.

"Yes, there is," cried Captain Punch. "you don't want to teach me navigation, do 'ee?"

Captain Parfitt rushed into the cabin and returned with a chart, which he laid open on the deck at Captain Punch's feet. He then went down on his knees and indicated the course with a square thumb, occasionally pounding the chart with his fist until the deck echoed again to the blows, whenever Captain Punch laughed or shook his head or uttered any observation that was distasteful to Captain Parfitt.

I left them disputing, and walked some distance forward to smoke a pipe. After a while Captain Parfitt left the deck, taking his chart below with him, and somewhat later Captain Punch was borne into the cabin by the two sailors. When Mr. Wilson found himself alone he stepped over to the wheel, and I guessed by the twirl which the man at the helm gave the spokes that Mr. Wilson had shifted the course.

This, indeed, proved the case. Scarcely had ten minutes elapsed when Captain Punch's servant arrived on deck and called out to Mr. Wilson:

"The capt'n's orders are that the ship is to be brought to the course which she was steering when he was carried below."

"My compliments to Captain Punch," answered Mr. Wilson, "and tell him that he has given me charge of this vessel, and that I'm not going to learn navigation at my time of life from any man alive, be his name Parfitt, or be his name Punch, or be his name Judy, by thunder!"

"I left them disputing."

This insolent speech reached the ears of Captain Punch, who was below in the cabin under the skylight, which lay wide open. The roar that followed was that of a bull. It was by no means inarticulate, however. The sea-words the old fellow employed were so much to the purpose that Mr. Wilson, going to the skylight, cried down: "It's all right, sir, it's all right, don't excite yourself," and he then audibly directed the man at the wheel to bring the ship to the course commanded by Captain Punch.

I was astonished to find Mr. Wilson acting in opposition to Captain Punch. He had shipped as Punch's first mate, and Punch was indisputably his chief, however Parfitt might have stood in this complicated business. But I speedily discovered that Mr. Wilson was an extraordinarily conceited and very bad-tempered man. He guessed that old Punch was not going to improve in health; and so, since Punch had made him master of the ship, he was clearly determined to remain master at all costs, in defiance even of Punch himself.

All three men had notions of their own as to the courses to be steered. One was always something to the eastward or something to the southward of the others. Captain Punch had a tell-tale compass in his cabin, and when he was too ill with the gout to be carried on deck he would send his servant to the man at the wheel with instructions to luff or to let her go off as it might happen. But these alterations in the direction pursued by the ship he was able to contrive to his own satisfaction only when the carpenter happened to have the watch, for if an order came from Punch when Captain Parfitt or Mr. Wilson was on deck it was instantly countermanded, with the result that when the captains met in the cabin they would quarrel wildly for an hour at a time, threatening one another with the law, sneering at one another's experiences, often clenching fists; indeed, and on more than one occasion, very nearly coming to blows.

The frequent changing of the ship's course, together with the incessant interference of these men one with another, considerably delayed our passage, and there were times when I would think that we should never double the Cape of Good Hope at all; but that, on the contrary, the three captains would quarrel themselves out of all perception of the ship's true reckoning, and end either in putting the vessel ashore, or in sending a boat to land on the first bit of coast they might sight to learn from the natives of the place where we were. Often, as I could observe, they differed merely to spite one another. For instance, Captain Parfitt, on quitting the deck, would leave the ship under all plain sail, royals set, and tacks boarded; but Wilson, who kept watch and watch with the ship's carpenter (acting, in this respect, as chief mate, though the moment he arrived on deck he asserted himself as captain, took command, and carried out his own ideas of steering and of carrying sail, and the like, without the least regard to the views and instructions of Punch and Parfitt)—Wilson, I say, on relieving the deck after Parfitt had gone below, would look up at the sails, and then round upon the sea, as though studying the weather, then coolly sing out orders to clew up this and haul down that, paying not the least regard to the wishes of Parfitt, who, on hearing the men crying out at the ropes, would rush on deck and ask Wilson what he meant by shortening sail in the face of a high barometer; whilst through the skylight you might hear the voice of Captain Punch roaring out to know what sail the ship was carrying, and what that fellow Wilson meant by altering the course by three-quarters of a point.

We were to call at Capetown, and I had made up my mind, if heaven ever permitted us to cast anchor in Table Bay, to go ashore and represent the state of the ship to those who might be empowered to deal with the three captains; though I would sometimes think that it was doubtful whether there was any remedy within the reach of the authorities to apply, for it was certain that Punch was still in command of the ship, and next that, being in command, he had a right to entrust the charge of the vessel to the chief mate whilst he was confined below by illness, so that, despite the Rangoon authorities, Parfitt had no official representation on board, had no claim upon the obedience of Mr. Wilson, and could achieve no end by logging him or by threatening. Indeed, Parfitt seemed to have guessed as much, for often as he talked of "breaking" the mate, as he called Wilson, and sending him forward, I do not think that he ever attempted to do so, though repeatedly and sarcastically invited to the attempt by both Captain Punch and Wilson himself.

It came at last to pass that on a certain day we were supposed to be off the Cape of Good Hope. We were then exactly two months and three weeks out from Rangoon; that is to say, we had occupied eleven weeks in measuring the Indian and the Southern Oceans down to that part of the sea where we were supposed to be. I say supposed, not, as you may conclude, because the three captains, as I call them, had lost all reckoning and knew no longer where the ship was, but because the weather had been so thick for no less a period than ten days that never once was the sun, the moon, or a star to be seen, and the position, therefore, of the Biddy McDougal was wholly calculated by what is termed dead reckoning.

Dead reckoning means briefly the finding out of the speed of a ship through the water per hour by means of a contrivance called the reel log. When the speed is ascertained it is entered in the log book. Allowance is then made for what is called lee-way, if any lee-way exist, and the sum of the speed, together with the courses which may have been steered, enables the mariner to mark down upon his chart with more or less accuracy the points of latitude or longitude at which his ship has arrived.

The three captains were agreed in their dead reckoning. They could find no cause for a quarrel in the indication of the reel log. The allowance for lee-way was assented to and the courses steered were admitted, but, unhappily, the three captains had been at loggerheads over the reckoning before the thick weather came on. Captain Punch had made the ship's situation a degree or two more southerly than Mr. Wilson found it. Wilson's longitude was several leagues to the eastward of Captain Parfitt's. Hence, when the day arrived which, according to Parfitt's reckoning, should show the ship to the westwards of Agulhas, the arguments and quarrels were incessant, because Wilson swore that the ship's longitude was at least sixty miles east of that Cape, whilst Punch, on the other hand, persisted in maintaining that the latitude was not what Wilson and Parfitt represented, and that the vessel's course, therefore, required more northing.

So matters stood on a dull, heavy, thick day, as well I remember. There was a light breeze off the port bow, and a long ocean swell was sluggishly rolling up from the southward. I do not recollect that the lead was hove. Every man of the three skippers was cocksure of the ship's position on his own account, but I do not say that any one of them ever once ordered a cast of the lead to be taken. There was nothing to be seen. The sea line was shrouded by vapour to within two or three miles of the vessel. Occasionally there was a rumble of thunder in the south, but no lightning.

Thus it remained throughout the day, and throughout the day the three captains did nothing but alter one another's directions to the man at the wheel. All day long Captain Punch was in a towering passion. He said that he knew the ship's whereabouts as surely as though Table Bay lay open before him, that Parfitt was out by leagues, and Wilson utterly wrong, that both men might thank God that he was too much afflicted to occupy his proper post on deck in such damp and filthy weather, or—and here he would shake his immense gouty fist at the skylight and bid his servant step on deck and ascertain how the ship's head was, and then on learning that the course which he had ordered Parfitt and Wilson to steer had been changed by one or the other of them he would roar out like a bull, using many strong and terrible words, once even going to the length of threatening to take Captain Parfitt's life if he interfered with his orders to the helmsman.

When I went to bed that night I was unable to sleep for some time owing to the argument which the three captains were holding in their cabin. I could hear such exclamations as, "My life's as precious to me as yourn is to you"; "North-east, d'ye say! Good angels! And yet they granted ye a certificate?" "If the chronometers are out that's not my fault, but if my calculations wasn't within a second of the right spot afore this blooming muck drawed up and hid the sky I'll give up, own that I'm no sailor man, and I'll call ye both my masters."

To such stuff as this I lay listening; then I heard some sailors come below to cart old Captain Punch away to bed.

There was an interval of agreeable silence and I fell asleep.

I was awakened by an uproar on deck, by the shouts of men, the bawling of Captain Punch in his cabin, by a hurry of footsteps and a sullen flapping of canvas. The ship lay over at a sharp angle; I believed at first that a heavy squall had burst upon her and heeled her down, but she lay perfectly motionless, with a singular noise of creaking threading the above-board clamour and a frequent, dull, thunderous thump as of water striking her.

In a moment I realised that the ship was ashore!

"It was Captain Punch."

I partially clothed myself in a few minutes, rushed out, and with great difficulty, so acute was the angle of the ship's deck, reached the companion steps. All was in darkness. I put out my hands and touched a figure, and now grew sensible of somebody just in front of me panting heavily, and from time to time groaning. It was Captain Punch, in whom the agony and helplessness of the gout had been temporarily conquered by wrath and terror. He reached the deck unaided and fell a-roaring. There was little to be seen. Here and there a man held a lantern, but the light was feeble and the illumination merely confused the sight. The ship lay over with her broadside to the sea; the dark heave of swell burst against the bilge and recoiled in milk that flung a dim sheen upon the atmosphere of the night, making the quietly flapping sails glance out. It was very thick; there was nothing of the land to be seen. The carpenter was sounding over the side, and I heard him bawl out the depth, but there was no depth. The Biddy McDougal was hard and fast upon the African strand, with Parfitt and Wilson yelling out contradictory orders, and Punch bawling to his men to obey him and nobody else.

Just before daylight the weather cleared; dawn disclosed the high coast along our starboard beam, and I gathered from the tempestuous discourse of the three captains that we had gone ashore somewhere near Cape Hanglip and Sandown Bay, proving that though Captain Parfitt's calculations had come nearest the truth, all three men had been heavily out in their reckoning.

Scarcely had the sun risen when a gunboat hove in sight, bound from the eastwards to Simon's Town. She sighted our ship ashore, and sent boats. I was heartily glad to get aboard of her. Captain Parfitt and five of the crew also went aboard; but old Punch declined to leave the neighbourhood of the vessel. He said that there was no immediate danger, that he would go ashore, and make shift under canvas until assistance should be sent from Capetown. Wilson remained with him.

The ship was ultimately got off, and navigated to England by Wilson with Captain Punch in the cabin; but by that time I had received my luggage from the hold of the Biddy McDougal, had transferred it to another vessel, and was abreast of Ascension on my way to England.

I find something heroic in the fancy of Punch's gout-ridden shape camping it out abreast of the stranded vessel, whose situation he wholly though improperly attributed to Parfitt's ignorance as a navigator. So far as passengers are concerned, perhaps there is no great matter of a moral to be gathered from this brief narrative; yet, even in these advanced seafaring times, ships may be found at sea with more than one commander, though one only has any claim to the title. Will any shipmaster tell me that amongst his passengers he does not occasionally meet with a nautical man—sometimes a yachtsman, and sometimes a naval officer—who has the highest possible opinion of his own judgment, and who will lose no opportunity of giving his opinion, and vexing the soul of the legitimate skipper by impertinent criticism, by offers of help, and by downright counsel? "Intending" passengers will do well sometimes, perhaps, to inquire before embarking how many captains are going in charge of the ship.