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collapsed upon the deck like a sack of flour.

"One hundred and three," counted the lieu-
tenant; "that was a good crack you gave him.
Shove him down among the others."

Late in the afternoon Joe woke from his fever.
He was lying chained hand and foot in a dark
prison lit only by a battle lamp. One side of him
was pressed against the bulkhead of the prison ;

N



178 A MAINSAIL HAUL

the other was riveted to a wounded man, a man in
hig-h fever, who babbled in his pain. He could
distinguish other bodies lying near him.

"Where am I?" he cried.

" Hold your jaw! " said a hoarse voice, through
the grating. " Hold your jaw. You're aboard the
frigate Swallow, if you want to know. And you'll
be hanged for a damned rogue to-morrow dawn."



THE DEVIL AND THE OLD MAN 179



THE DEVIL AND THE OLD MAN.

Up away north, in the old days, in Chester, there
was a man who never throve. Nothing he put his
hand to ever prospered, and as his state worsened,
his friends fell away, and he grew desperate. So
one night when he was alone in his room, thinking
of the rent due in two or three days and the money
he couldn't scrape together, he cried out, *' I wish I
could sell my soul to the devil like that man the
old books tell about."

Now just as he spoke the clock struck twelve,
and, while it chimed, a sparkle began to burn
about the room, and the air, all at once, began to
smell of brimstone, and a voice said :

" Will these terms suit you? "

He then saw that some one had just placed a
parchment there. He picked it up and read it
through; and being in despair, and not knowing
what he was doing, he answered, "Yes," and
looked round for a pen.



i8o A MAINSAIL HAUL

"Take and sign," said the voice again, "but
first consider what it is you do; do nothing rashly.
Consider."

So he thought awhile; then "Yes" he said,
" I'll sign," and with that he groped for the pen.

"Blood from your left thumb and sign," said
the voice-
So he pricked his left thumb and signed.

" Here is your earnest money," said the voice,
" nine and twenty silver pennies. This day twenty-
years hence I shall see you again."

Now early next morning our friend came to him-
self and felt like one of the drowned. "What a
dream I've had," he said. Then he woke up and
saw the nine and twenty silver pennies and smelt
a taint smell of brimstone.

So he sat in his chair there, and remembered
that he had sold his soul to the devil for twenty
years of heart's-desire ; and whatever fears he may-
have had as to what might come at the end of
those twenty years, he found comfort in the thought
that, after all, twenty years is a good stretch of
time, and that throughout them he could eat,
drink, merrymake, roll in gold, dress in silk, and



THE DEVIL AND THE OLD MAN i8i

be care-free, heart at ease and jib-sheet to wind-
ward.

So for nineteen years and nine months he lived
in great state, having his heart's desire in all
things; but, when his twenty years were nearly
run through, there was no Vv-retcheder man in all
the world than that poor fellow. So he threw up
his house, his position, riches, everything, and
away he went to the port of Liverpool, where he
signed on as A.B., aboard a Black Ball packet, a
tea clipper, bound to the China seas.

They made a fine passage out, and when our
friend had only three days more, they were in the
Indian Ocean lying lazy, becalmed.

Now it was his wheel that forenoon, and it being
dead calm, all he had to do was just to think of
things; the ship of course having no way on her.

So he stood there, hanging on to the spokes,
groaning and weeping till, just twenty minutes or
so before eight bells were made, up came the
Captain for a turn on deck.

He went aft, of course, took a squint aloft, and
saw our friend crying at the wheel. "Hello, my
man," he says, " why, what's all this? Ain't you



i82 A MAINSAIL HAUL

well? You'd best lay aft for a dose o' salts at four
bells to-night."

"No, cap'n," said the man, "there's no salts'll
ever cure my sickness."

"Why, what's all this?" says the old man.
" You must be sick if it 's as bad as all that. But
come now; your cheek is all sunk, and you look
as if you ain't slept well. What is it ails you, any-
way? Have you anything- on your mind? "

"Captain," he answers very solemn, "I have
sold my soul to the devil."

"Oh," said the old man, "why that's bad.
That 's powerful bad. I never thought them sort
of things ever happened outside a book."

" But," said our friend, "that's not the worst
of It, Captain. At this time three days hence the
devil will fetch me home."

"Good Lord!" groaned the old man ; "Here's
a nice hurrah's nest to happen aboard my ship.
But come now," he w^ent on, "did the devil give
you no chance— no saving-clause like? Just think
quietly for a moment."

"Yes, Captain," said our friend, "just when I
made the deal, there came a whisper in my ear.



THE DEVIL AND THE OLD MAN 183

And," he said, speaking very quietly, so as not to
let the mate hear, " If I can give the devil three
jobs to do which he cannot do, why then. Captain,"
he says, " I'm saved, and that deed of mine is
cancelled."

Well, at this the old man grinned and said,
*' You just leave things to me, my son. Fll fix the
devil for you. Aft there, one o' you, and relieve
the wheel. Now you run forrard, and have a ^oo(\.
watch below, and be quite easy in your mind, for
I'll deal with the devil for you. You rest and be
easy."

And so that day goes by, and the next, and the
one after that, and the one after that was the day
the Devil was due.

Soon as eight bells was made in the morning
watch, the old man called all hands aft.

" Men," he said, " I've got an all-hands job for
you this forenoon."

•* Mr. Mate," he cried, "get all hands on to the
main-tops'l halliards and bowse the sail stiff up and
down."

So they passed along the halliards, and took the
turns off, and old John Chantyman piped up —



i84 A MAINSAIL HAUL

There 's a BL-iclc Ball clipper
Comin' down the river.

And away the yard went to the mast-head till the
bunt-robands jammed in the sheave.

" Very well that," said the old man. " Now <^ct
my ding^hy off o' the half-deck and let her drag"
alongside."

So they did that, too.

"Very well that," said the old man. "Now
forrard with you, to the chain-locker, and rouse
out every inch of chain you find there."

So forrard they went, and the chain was lig'hted



up



and flaked alonof the deck all clear for



'&



runnmg".

"Now, Chips," says the old man to the car-
penter, "just bend the spare anchor to the end of
that chain, and clear away the fo'c's'le rails ready
for when we let go."

So they did this, too.

"Now," said the old man, "get them tubs of
slush from the g-alley. Pass that slush along there,
doctor. Very well that. Now turn to, all hands,
and slush away every link in that chain a good
inch thick in grease."



THE DEVIL AND THE OLD MAN 185

So they did tliat, too, and wondered what the
old man meant.

"Very well that," cries the old man. "Now
get below all hands ! Chips, on to the fo'c's'le head
with you and stand by! I'll keep the deck, Mr.
Mate! Very well that."

So all hands tumbled down below; Chips took
a fill o' baccy to leeward of the capstan, and the
old man walked the weather-poop looking- for a
sign of hell-fire.

It was still dead calm — but presently, towards
six bells, he raised a black cloud away to leeward,
and saw the glimmer of the lightning in it; only
the flashes were too red, and came too quick.

** Now," says he to himself, "stand by."

Very soon that black cloud worked up to wind-
ward, right alongside, and there came a red flash,
and a strong sulphurous smell, and then a loud
peal of thunder as the devil steps aboard.

" Mornin', cap'n," says he.

" Mornin', Mr. Devil," says the old man, "and
what in blazes do you want aboard 7ny ship? "

"Why, Captain," said the devil, " I've come for
the soul of one of your hands as per signed agree-



i86 A MAINSAIL HAUL

ment: and, as my time's pretty full up in these
wicked days, I hope you won't keep me waiting"
for him longer than need be."

"Well, Mr. Devil," says the old man, "the
man you come for is down below, sleeping, just at
this moment. It's a fair pity to call him up till
it 's right time. So supposin' I set you them three
tasks. How would that be? Have you any objec-
tions?"

"Why no," said the devil, "fire away as soon
as you like."

"Mr. Devil," said the old man, " you see that
main-tops'l yard? Suppose you lay out on that
main-tops'l yard and take in three reefs single-
handed."

"Ay, ay, sir," the devil said, and he ran up the
ratlines, into the top, up the topmast rigging and
along the yard.

Well, when he found the sail stiff up and down,
he hailed the deck:

"Below there! On deck there! Lower away ya
halliards!"

" I will not," said the old man, " Nary a lower."

" Come up your sheets, then, " cries the devil.



THE DEVIL AND THE OLD MAN 187

"This main-topsail's stiff up-and-down. How'm I
to take in three reefs when the sail's stiff up-and-
down?"

"Why," said the old man, ^^ you caii'i do it.
Come out o' that! Down from aloft, you hoof-
footed son. That's one to me."

"Yes," says the devil, when he got on deck
again, "I don't deny it, cap'n. That 's one to you."

"Now, Mr. Devil," said the old man, going
towards the rail, " suppose you was to step into
that little boat alongside there. Will you please? "

"Ay, ay, sir," he said, and he slid down the
forrard fall, got into the stern sheets, and sat
down.

"Now, Mr. Devil," said the skipper, taking a
little salt spoon from his vest pocket, " supposin'
you bail all the water on that side the boat on to
this side the boat, using this spoon as your dipper."

Well! — the devil just looked at him.

"Say!" he said at length, "which of the New
England States d'ye hail from anyway? "

"Not Jersey, anyway," said the old man,
"That's two up, alright; ain't it, sonny?"

"Yes," growls the devil, as he climbs aboard.



i88 A MAINSAIL HAUL

"That's two up. Two to you and one to play.
Now, what's your next contraption?"

"Mr. Devil," said the old man, looking very
innocent, "you see, I've ranged my chain ready
for letting- go anchor. Now Chips is forrard there,
and when I sing out, he'll let the anchor go. Sup-
posin' you stopper the chain with them big hands
o' yourn and keep it from running out clear. Will
you, please? "

So the devil takes off his coat and rubs his hands
together, and gets away forrard by the bitts, and
stands by.

"All ready, cap'n," he says.

"All ready. Chips?" asks the old man.

"All ready, sir," replies Chips.

" Then, stand by — Let go the anchor," and clink,
clink, old Chips knocks out the pin, and away goes
the spare anchor and greased chain into a five
mile deep of God's sea. As I said, they were in
the Indian Ocean.

Well — there was the devil, making a grab here
and a grab there, and the slushy chain just slipping
through his claws, and at whiles a bight of chain
would spring clear and rap him in the eye.



THE DEVIL AND THE OLD MAN 189

So at last the cable was nearly clean gone, and
the devil ran to the last hig link (which was seized
to the heel of the foremast), and he put both his
arms through it, and hung on to it like grim death.

But the chain gave such a y'a?tk when it came-
to, that the big link carried away, and oh, roll and
go, out it went through the hawsehole, in a shower
of bright sparks, carrying the devil with it. There
is no devil now. The devil 's dead.

As for the old man, he looked over the bows
watching the bubbles burst, but the devil never
rose. Then he went to the fo'c's'le scuttle and
banged thereon with a handspike.

" Rouse out, there, the Port Watch! " he called,
" an' get my dinghy inboard."



NOTE

Nearly all these stories and one of the historical
papers first appeared in the Manchester Guardian ;
one tale is reprinted from the Nation and one from
the Pall Mall Ma<razine. The four remaining
historical papers are reprinted from the Gentleman's
Magazine.

I thank the Editois and Proprietors of all these
periodicals for permission to include the papers in
this volume.




CHISWICK PKTSS : CHARLES WHITTINGHAM AND CO.
TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE, LONDON.



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Online LibraryJohn MasefieldA mainsail haul → online text (page 9 of 9)