down from marrying. 'Are you tired of me?' says she: God bless her!
Well, I explained the whole thing over again, the chance of smash, your
absence unavoidable, the point I made of having you for the best man,
and that. 'If you're not tired of me, I think I see one way to manage,'
says she. 'Let's get married to-morrow, and Mr. Loudon can be best man
before he goes to sea.' That's how she said it, crisp and bright, like
one of Dickens's characters. It was no good for me to talk about the
smash. 'You'll want me all the more,' she said. Loudon, I only pray I
can make it up to her; I prayed for it last night beside your bed, while
you lay sleeping - for you, and Mamie and myself; and - I don't know if
you quite believe in prayer, I'm a bit Ingersollian myself - but a kind
of sweetness came over me, and I couldn't help but think it was an
answer. Never was a man so lucky! You and me and Mamie; it's a triple
cord, Loudon. If either of you were to die! And she likes you so much,
and thinks you so accomplished and distingue-looking, and was just as
set as I was to have you for best man. 'Mr. Loudon,' she calls you;
seems to me so friendly! And she sat up till three in the morning fixing
up a costume for the marriage; it did me good to see her, Loudon, and to
see that needle going, going, and to say 'All this hurry, Jim, is just
to marry you!' I couldn't believe it; it was so like some blame' fairy
story. To think of those old tin-type times about turned my head; I was
so unrefined then, and so illiterate, and so lonesome; and here I am in
clover, and I'm blamed if I can see what I've done to deserve it."
So he poured forth with innocent volubility the fulness of his heart;
and I, from these irregular communications, must pick out, here a little
and there a little, the particulars of his new plan. They were to be
married, sure enough, that day; the wedding breakfast was to be at
Frank's; the evening to be passed in a visit of God-speed aboard the
Norah Creina; and then we were to part, Jim and I, he to his married
life, I on my sea-enterprise. If ever I cherished an ill-feeling
for Miss Mamie, I forgave her now; so brave and kind, so pretty and
venturesome, was her decision. The weather frowned overhead with a
leaden sky, and San Francisco had never (in all my experience) looked so
bleak and gaunt, and shoddy, and crazy, like a city prematurely old; but
through all my wanderings and errands to and fro, by the dock side or in
the jostling street, among rude sounds and ugly sights, there ran in my
mind, like a tiny strain of music, the thought of my friend's happiness.
For that was indeed a day of many and incongruous occupations. Breakfast
was scarce swallowed before Jim must run to the City Hall and Frank's
about the cares of marriage, and I hurry to John Smith's upon the
account of stores, and thence, on a visit of certification, to the
Norah Creina. Methought she looked smaller than ever, sundry great
ships overspiring her from close without. She was already a nightmare of
disorder; and the wharf alongside was piled with a world of casks, and
cases, and tins, and tools, and coils of rope, and miniature barrels of
giant powder, such as it seemed no human ingenuity could stuff on board
of her. Johnson was in the waist, in a red shirt and dungaree trousers,
his eye kindled with activity. With him I exchanged a word or two;
thence stepped aft along the narrow alleyway between the house and the
rail, and down the companion to the main cabin, where the captain sat
with the commissioner at wine.
I gazed with disaffection at the little box which for many a day I was
to call home. On the starboard was a stateroom for the captain; on the
port, a pair of frowsy berths, one over the other, and abutting astern
upon the side of an unsavoury cupboard. The walls were yellow and damp,
the floor black and greasy; there was a prodigious litter of straw, old
newspapers, and broken packing-cases; and by way of ornament, only
a glass-rack, a thermometer presented "with compliments" of some
advertising whiskey-dealer, and a swinging lamp. It was hard to foresee
that, before a week was up, I should regard that cabin as cheerful,
lightsome, airy, and even spacious.
I was presented to the commissioner, and to a young friend of his whom
he had brought with him for the purpose (apparently) of smoking cigars;
and after we had pledged one another in a glass of California port, a
trifle sweet and sticky for a morning beverage, the functionary spread
his papers on the table, and the hands were summoned. Down they trooped,
accordingly, into the cabin; and stood eyeing the ceiling or the floor,
the picture of sheepish embarrassment, and with a common air of wanting
to expectorate and not quite daring. In admirable contrast, stood
the Chinese cook, easy, dignified, set apart by spotless raiment, the
hidalgo of the seas.
I daresay you never had occasion to assist at the farce which followed.
Our shipping laws in the United States (thanks to the inimitable Dana)
are conceived in a spirit of paternal stringency, and proceed throughout
on the hypothesis that poor Jack is an imbecile, and the other parties
to the contract, rogues and ruffians. A long and wordy paper of
precautions, a fo'c's'le bill of rights, must be read separately to each
man. I had now the benefit of hearing it five times in brisk succession;
and you would suppose I was acquainted with its contents. But the
commissioner (worthy man) spends his days in doing little else; and when
we bear in mind the parallel case of the irreverent curate, we need not
be surprised that he took the passage tempo prestissimo, in one roulade
of gabble - that I, with the trained attention of an educated man,
could gather but a fraction of its import - and the sailors nothing.
No profanity in giving orders, no sheath-knives, Midway Island and any
other port the master may direct, not to exceed six calendar months,
and to this port to be paid off: so it seemed to run, with surprising
verbiage; so ended. And with the end, the commissioner, in each case,
fetched a deep breath, resumed his natural voice, and proceeded to
business. "Now, my man," he would say, "you ship A. B. at so many
dollars, American gold coin. Sign your name here, if you have one, and
can write." Whereupon, and the name (with infinite hard breathing) being
signed, the commissioner would proceed to fill in the man's appearance,
height, etc., on the official form. In this task of literary portraiture
he seemed to rely wholly upon temperament; for I could not perceive him
to cast one glance on any of his models. He was assisted, however, by a
running commentary from the captain: "Hair blue and eyes red, nose
five foot seven, and stature broken" - jests as old, presumably, as the
American marine; and, like the similar pleasantries of the billiard
board, perennially relished. The highest note of humour was reached in
the case of the Chinese cook, who was shipped under the name of "One
Lung," to the sound of his own protests and the self-approving chuckles
of the functionary.
"Now, captain," said the latter, when the men were gone, and he had
bundled up his papers, "the law requires you to carry a slop-chest and a
chest of medicines."
"I guess I know that," said Nares.
"I guess you do," returned the commissioner, and helped himself to port.
But when he was gone, I appealed to Nares on the same subject, for I was
well aware we carried none of these provisions.
"Well," drawled Nares, "there's sixty pounds of niggerhead on the quay,
isn't there? and twenty pounds of salts; and I never travel without some
painkiller in my gripsack."
As a matter of fact, we were richer. The captain had the usual sailor's
provision of quack medicines, with which, in the usual sailor fashion,
he would daily drug himself, displaying an extreme inconstancy, and
flitting from Kennedy's Red Discovery to Kennedy's White, and from
Hood's Sarsaparilla to Mother Seigel's Syrup. And there were, besides,
some mildewed and half-empty bottles, the labels obliterated, over
which Nares would sometimes sniff and speculate. "Seems to smell like
diarrhoea stuff," he would remark. "I wish't I knew, and I would
try it." But the slop-chest was indeed represented by the plugs of
niggerhead, and nothing else. Thus paternal laws are made, thus they
are evaded; and the schooner put to sea, like plenty of her neighbours,
liable to a fine of six hundred dollars.
This characteristic scene, which has delayed me overlong, was but a
moment in that day of exercise and agitation. To fit out a schooner for
sea, and improvise a marriage between dawn and dusk, involves heroic
effort. All day Jim and I ran, and tramped, and laughed, and came near
crying, and fell in sudden anxious consultations, and were sped (with
a prepared sarcasm on our lips) to some fallacious milliner, and made
dashes to the schooner and John Smith's, and at every second corner
were reminded (by our own huge posters) of our desperate estate. Between
whiles, I had found the time to hover at some half-a-dozen jewellers'
windows; and my present, thus intemperately chosen, was graciously
accepted. I believe, indeed, that was the last (though not the least) of
my concerns, before the old minister, shabby and benign, was routed from
his house and led to the office like a performing poodle; and there, in
the growing dusk, under the cold glitter of Thirteen Star, two hundred
strong, and beside the garish glories of the agricultural engine, Mamie
and Jim were made one. The scene was incongruous, but the business
pretty, whimsical, and affecting: the typewriters with such kindly faces
and fine posies, Mamie so demure, and Jim - how shall I describe that
poor, transfigured Jim? He began by taking the minister aside to the far
end of the office. I knew not what he said, but I have reason to believe
he was protesting his unfitness; for he wept as he said it: and the old
minister, himself genuinely moved, was heard to console and encourage
him, and at one time to use this expression: "I assure you, Mr.
Pinkerton, there are not many who can say so much" - from which I
gathered that my friend had tempered his self-accusations with at least
one legitimate boast. From this ghostly counselling, Jim turned to me;
and though he never got beyond the explosive utterance of my name and
one fierce handgrip, communicated some of his own emotion, like a charge
of electricity, to his best man. We stood up to the ceremony at last,
in a general and kindly discomposure. Jim was all abroad; and the divine
himself betrayed his sympathy in voice and demeanour, and concluded with
a fatherly allocution, in which he congratulated Mamie (calling her "my
dear") upon the fortune of an excellent husband, and protested he had
rarely married a more interesting couple. At this stage, like a glory
descending, there was handed in, ex machina, the card of Douglas B.
Longhurst, with congratulations and four dozen Perrier-Jouet. A bottle
was opened; and the minister pledged the bride, and the bridesmaids
simpered and tasted, and I made a speech with airy bacchanalianism,
glass in hand. But poor Jim must leave the wine untasted. "Don't touch
it," I had found the opportunity to whisper; "in your state it will make
you as drunk as a fiddler." And Jim had wrung my hand with a "God bless
you, Loudon! - saved me again!"
Hard following upon this, the supper passed off at Frank's with somewhat
tremulous gaiety. And thence, with one half of the Perrier-Jouet - I
would accept no more - we voyaged in a hack to the Norah Creina.
"What a dear little ship!" cried Mamie, as our miniature craft was
pointed out to her. And then, on second thought, she turned to the best
man. "And how brave you must be, Mr. Dodd," she cried, "to go in that
tiny thing so far upon the ocean!" And I perceived I had risen in the
The dear little ship presented a horrid picture of confusion, and its
occupants of weariness and ill-humour. From the cabin the cook was
storing tins into the lazarette, and the four hands, sweaty and sullen,
were passing them from one to another from the waist. Johnson was three
parts asleep over the table; and in his bunk, in his own cabin, the
captain sourly chewed and puffed at a cigar.
"See here," he said, rising; "you'll be sorry you came. We can't stop
work if we're to get away to-morrow. A ship getting ready for sea is no
place for people, anyway. You'll only interrupt my men."
I was on the point of answering something tart; but Jim, who was
acquainted with the breed, as he was with most things that had a bearing
on affairs, made haste to pour in oil.
"Captain," he said, "I know we're a nuisance here, and that you've had
a rough time. But all we want is that you should drink one glass of wine
with us, Perrier-Jouet, from Longhurst, on the occasion of my marriage,
and Loudon's - Mr. Dodd's - departure."
"Well, it's your lookout," said Nares. "I don't mind half an hour.
Spell, O!" he added to the men; "go and kick your heels for half an
hour, and then you can turn to again a trifle livelier. Johnson, see if
you can't wipe off a chair for the lady."
His tone was no more gracious than his language; but when Mamie had
turned upon him the soft fire of her eyes, and informed him that he was
the first sea-captain she had ever met, "except captains of steamers,
of course" - she so qualified the statement - and had expressed a lively
sense of his courage, and perhaps implied (for I suppose the arts of
ladies are the same as those of men) a modest consciousness of his good
looks, our bear began insensibly to soften; and it was already part
as an apology, though still with unaffected heat of temper, that he
volunteered some sketch of his annoyances.
"A pretty mess we've had!" said he. "Half the stores were wrong; I'll
wring John Smith's neck for him some of these days. Then two newspaper
beasts came down, and tried to raise copy out of me, till I threatened
them with the first thing handy; and then some kind of missionary bug,
wanting to work his passage to Raiatea or somewhere. I told him I would
take him off the wharf with the butt end of my boot, and he went away
cursing. This vessel's been depreciated by the look of him."
While the captain spoke, with his strange, humorous, arrogant
abruptness, I observed Jim to be sizing him up, like a thing at once
quaint and familiar, and with a scrutiny that was both curious and
"One word, dear boy," he said, turning suddenly to me. And when he had
drawn me on deck, "That man," says he, "will carry sail till your hair
grows white; but never you let on, never breathe a word. I know his
line: he'll die before he'll take advice; and if you get his back up,
he'll run you right under. I don't often jam in my advice, Loudon; and
when I do, it means I'm thoroughly posted."
The little party in the cabin, so disastrously begun, finished, under
the mellowing influence of wine and woman, in excellent feeling and
with some hilarity. Mamie, in a plush Gainsborough hat and a gown of
wine-coloured silk, sat, an apparent queen, among her rude surroundings
and companions. The dusky litter of the cabin set off her radiant
trimness: tarry Johnson was a foil to her fair beauty; she glowed in
that poor place, fair as a star; until even I, who was not usually of
her admirers, caught a spark of admiration; and even the captain, who
was in no courtly humour, proposed that the scene should be commemorated
by my pencil. It was the last act of the evening. Hurriedly as I went
about my task, the half-hour had lengthened out to more than three
before it was completed: Mamie in full value, the rest of the party
figuring in outline only, and the artist himself introduced in a back
view, which was pronounced a likeness. But it was to Mamie that I
devoted the best of my attention; and it was with her I made my chief
"O!" she cried, "am I really like that? No wonder Jim ..." She paused.
"Why it's just as lovely as he's good!" she cried: an epigram which was
appreciated, and repeated as we made our salutations, and called out
after the retreating couple as they passed away under the lamplight on
Thus it was that our farewells were smuggled through under an ambuscade
of laughter, and the parting over ere I knew it was begun. The figures
vanished, the steps died away along the silent city front; on board, the
men had returned to their labours, the captain to his solitary cigar;
and after that long and complex day of business and emotion, I was at
last alone and free. It was, perhaps, chiefly fatigue that made my heart
so heavy. I leaned at least upon the house, and stared at the foggy
heaven, or over the rail at the wavering reflection of the lamps, like a
man that was quite done with hope and would have welcomed the asylum of
the grave. And all at once, as I thus stood, the City of Pekin flashed
into my mind, racing her thirteen knots for Honolulu, with the hated
Trent - perhaps with the mysterious Goddedaal - on board; and with the
thought, the blood leaped and careered through all my body. It seemed no
chase at all; it seemed we had no chance, as we lay there bound to iron
pillars, and fooling away the precious moments over tins of beans. "Let
them get there first!" I thought. "Let them! We can't be long behind."
And from that moment, I date myself a man of a rounded experience:
nothing had lacked but this, that I should entertain and welcome the
grim thought of bloodshed.
It was long before the toil remitted in the cabin, and it was worth
my while to get to bed; long after that, before sleep favoured me;
and scarce a moment later (or so it seemed) when I was recalled to
consciousness by bawling men and the jar of straining hawsers.
The schooner was cast off before I got on deck. In the misty obscurity
of the first dawn, I saw the tug heading us with glowing fires and
blowing smoke, and heard her beat the roughened waters of the bay.
Beside us, on her flock of hills, the lighted city towered up and
stood swollen in the raw fog. It was strange to see her burn on thus
wastefully, with half-quenched luminaries, when the dawn was already
grown strong enough to show me, and to suffer me to recognise, a
solitary figure standing by the piles.
Or was it really the eye, and not rather the heart, that identified that
shadow in the dusk, among the shoreside lamps? I know not. It was Jim,
at least; Jim, come for a last look; and we had but time to wave a
valedictory gesture and exchange a wordless cry. This was our second
parting, and our capacities were now reversed. It was mine to play the
Argonaut, to speed affairs, to plan and to accomplish - if need were, at
the price of life; it was his to sit at home, to study the calendar, and
to wait. I knew besides another thing that gave me joy. I knew that my
friend had succeeded in my education; that the romance of business,
if our fantastic purchase merited the name, had at last stirred my
dilletante nature; and, as we swept under cloudy Tamalpais and through
the roaring narrows of the bay, the Yankee blood sang in my veins with
suspense and exultation.
Outside the heads, as if to meet my desire, we found it blowing fresh
from the northeast. No time had been lost. The sun was not yet up before
the tug cast off the hawser, gave us a salute of three whistles, and
turned homeward toward the coast, which now began to gleam along its
margin with the earliest rays of day. There was no other ship in view
when the Norah Creina, lying over under all plain sail, began her long
and lonely voyage to the wreck.
CHAPTER XII. THE "NORAH CREINA."
I love to recall the glad monotony of a Pacific voyage, when the trades
are not stinted, and the ship, day after day, goes free. The mountain
scenery of trade-wind clouds, watched (and in my case painted) under
every vicissitude of light - blotting stars, withering in the moon's
glory, barring the scarlet eve, lying across the dawn collapsed into the
unfeatured morning bank, or at noon raising their snowy summits between
the blue roof of heaven and the blue floor of sea; the small, busy,
and deliberate world of the schooner, with its unfamiliar scenes, the
spearing of dolphin from the bowsprit end, the holy war on sharks,
the cook making bread on the main hatch; reefing down before a violent
squall, with the men hanging out on the foot-ropes; the squall itself,
the catch at the heart, the opened sluices of the sky; and the relief,
the renewed loveliness of life, when all is over, the sun forth again,
and our out-fought enemy only a blot upon the leeward sea. I love to
recall, and would that I could reproduce that life, the unforgettable,
the unrememberable. The memory, which shows so wise a backwardness
in registering pain, is besides an imperfect recorder of extended
pleasures; and a long-continued well-being escapes (as it were, by its
mass) our petty methods of commemoration. On a part of our life's map
there lies a roseate, undecipherable haze, and that is all.
Of one thing, if I am at all to trust my own annals, I was delightedly
conscious. Day after day, in the sun-gilded cabin, the whiskey-dealer's
thermometer stood at 84. Day after day, the air had the same
indescribable liveliness and sweetness, soft and nimble, and cool as
the cheek of health. Day after day the sun flamed; night after night the
moon beaconed, or the stars paraded their lustrous regiment. I was aware
of a spiritual change, or, perhaps, rather a molecular reconstitution.
My bones were sweeter to me. I had come home to my own climate, and
looked back with pity on those damp and wintry zones, miscalled the
"Two years of this, and comfortable quarters to live in, kind of shake
the grit out of a man," the captain remarked; "can't make out to be
happy anywhere else. A townie of mine was lost down this way, in a
coalship that took fire at sea. He struck the beach somewhere in the
Navigators; and he wrote to me that when he left the place, it would be
feet first. He's well off, too, and his father owns some coasting
craft Down East; but Billy prefers the beach, and hot rolls off the
A voice told me I was on the same track as Billy. But when was this? Our
outward track in the Norah Creina lay well to the northward; and perhaps
it is but the impression of a few pet days which I have unconsciously
spread longer, or perhaps the feeling grew upon me later, in the run to
Honolulu. One thing I am sure: it was before I had ever seen an island
worthy of the name that I must date my loyalty to the South Seas. The
blank sea itself grew desirable under such skies; and wherever the
trade-wind blows, I know no better country than a schooner's deck.
But for the tugging anxiety as to the journey's end, the journey itself
must thus have counted for the best of holidays. My physical well-being
was over-proof; effects of sea and sky kept me for ever busy with my
pencil; and I had no lack of intellectual exercise of a different order
in the study of my inconsistent friend, the captain. I call him friend,
here on the threshold; but that is to look well ahead. At first, I
was too much horrified by what I considered his barbarities, too much
puzzled by his shifting humours, and too frequently annoyed by his small
vanities, to regard him otherwise than as the cross of my existence. It
was only by degrees, in his rare hours of pleasantness, when he forgot
(and made me forget) the weaknesses to which he was so prone, that he
won me to a kind of unconsenting fondness. Lastly, the faults were
all embraced in a more generous view: I saw them in their place, like
discords in a musical progression; and accepted them and found them
picturesque, as we accept and admire, in the habitable face of nature,
the smoky head of the volcano or the pernicious thicket of the swamp.
He was come of good people Down East, and had the beginnings of a
thorough education. His temper had been ungovernable from the first; and
it is likely the defect was inherited, and the blame of the rupture
not entirely his. He ran away at least to sea; suffered horrible
maltreatment, which seemed to have rather hardened than enlightened him;
ran away again to shore in a South American port; proved his capacity
and made money, although still a child; fell among thieves and was
robbed; worked back a passage to the States, and knocked one morning
at the door of an old lady whose orchard he had often robbed. The
introduction appears insufficient; but Nares knew what he was doing.
The sight of her old neighbourly depredator shivering at the door in