David W. (David William) Bone.

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calling for tact and address and humour and .en-
durance, let those who are sceptical ask of the en-
gineer's Presbyterian relatives who would doubt-
less receive the 'romanish' cards in due season.

During the years that the 'Oddman' made his


living at the 'dockside, he provided us with ample
subject matter for discussion and conjecture. When
we had passed Port Said, homeward bound, and
the chill of the Mediterranean had dispelled the
somewhat somnolent atmosphere of our 'dog-
watch' parliaments, we began to ponder and dis-
cuss the state of our next port of call, Marseilles,
and to speculate on the prospect of our stay there.
It was inevitable that the 'Oddman' should be men-
tioned, and there was always a pleasing sense of
something new in store when we came to consider
in what particular line of business he would be en-
gaged. I had a theory that he only held to a cer-
tain occupation for as long as its conduct was diffi-
cult; that, when a routine of trade was established,
he lost all interest in it. In a way, that being an
artist of a salesman he took pleasure only in
overcoming our sailorlike conservatism in matters
of trade. With certain of his wares doing well and
a fairly brisk trade being done, he would suddenly
astonish us by disposing of his stock completely
and launching out into some new departure.

I have mentioned his use of 'trade names.' He
changed these too with as little warning. What-
ever may have been his real name, he was never at
a loss for a high-sounding tally. When he sold
Easter cards and stereoscopic lorgnettes, we un-
derstood that he was Burton. As a dealer in
works of art, his card proclaimed him Martini. I
knew him as Mortimer at the time he was busily


setting up the 'Continental News and Riviera 'Ad-
vertiser,' an essay in journalism that was largely
devoted to the doings of British- American society
in these parts.

I cannot now recall the exact argument he used
to compel me to purchase one of his stereoscopes.
It must have been specious and convincing, for,
ieven at this date coldly and dispassionately I
can remember many reasons why I should not have
spent so much money. Item: I did not want a
stereoscope. Item : I could ill afford it. Item : I
saw no beauty in the coldly silhouetted perspective
of the gadget. Nevertheless, I and every one of
my shipmates bought one of the infernal things,
together with glossy views of the Pantheon, the
Louvre, and Japanese cavalry exercising on a wide
foreign plain. Burton!

Martini! I remember the Captain's pride in
the possession of an oil painting of the Massilia
under all steam which Martini had procured for
him. There were also two paintings of ladies in a
duel a I'outrance, and a whistling beggar boy, and
a colourful representation of the Old Port with a
sky of the uttermost blue. Whatever may have
been his merits as a salesman, Martini was no
captious critic of the arts. But the plausibility of
the man! Whoo! Doubtless, if he had liked, he
could have sold me highly-tinted pictures. Fortu-
nately, a trade in dyed goat-skins from Algeria
took up his attention ( . . . I have two of them,


good value, . . . ) , and he did not ;enlist me as a
patron of the high arts.

On occasion, there would be an interval in his
periodic visits to the ships. It coincided with the
latter half of the Monte Carlo season, and it is
more than probable that the 'Oddman' would be
there looking in to see whether or not his For-
tuna car was capable of repair. In general, he re-
turned to the dockside with little evidence of an
improved estate; the croupiers, being mechanical
automatons, would be impervious to his wiles.
After such visits, he was more than ever anxious
to "do business; his dealings were perhaps more
precipitate than formerly; it was even possible to
procure 'bargains/

But now to my theory that he was ever in ill
content with a trade that seemed in process of
becoming easy and lucrative. He abandoned a
business in Algerian rugs and goatskins that
seemed to be providing him with a considerable
margin of profit. They were good rugs and ex-
cellent goatskins and, as they were brought over
at no cost of transport by the sailors of the Algiers
steamers, he could quote reasonable prices. There
were not even enough of them to supply the de-
mands. For Cotter he was then Cotter that
fine state of the market decided him to throw in
his hand. He took up employment with a firm of
Ship and Engine repairers and acted as an in-
terpreter in the difficult business of translating


'eichtp'rts' into millimetres and supplying an un-
derstandable French equivalent for the 'foo-foo
valve' and 'the key of the keelson.'

In time he was appointed a trade runner for the
firm, to canvass for business on the incoming ships.
I do not think he had any knowledge of the technics
of marine engineering when first he came on board
as the representative of Les Ateliers Forgon: I am
certain that such glib familiarity with engine room
terms as he later acquired was not very deep.
When business offered, he had his own way of
straightening out our requirements. He would
bring his foreman from the workshops and then
and there translate the directing Chief Engineer's
done into the patois of the district. He had no
light task.

His new job was perhaps more entertaining than
the former dealings in odd commodities. Leisure !
There was no great hustle required after the morn-
ing's round of the docks had been made and op-
portunity frequently offered for a comfortable seat
on the Chief Engineer's settee and an unstinted
flow of conversation. Philosophy, Josephus'
works, the Scottish League ties, the imminence of
social legislation, were all talked out, and no small
amount of shrewd observation of events was
voiced by the 'Oddman.'

When last I was in Marseilles, he was still on
this employment. He had been at it for over a
year, a considerably longer time than he had ever


'devoted to a specialty. Mainly, He secured tHe
repair and adjustment of the smaller deck and en-
'gine fittings, but there were occasions when some
stress of weather brought grist to his mill in the
shape of a modest contract. As we understood he
was paid on a commission basis, we could see no
great profit accruing to him from his business. It
was difficult to conjecture just why he held out for
so long. I am convinced that he sticks to it in the
hope of some day proving his merit by securing a
major contract say, the provision and fitting of a
new engine bed-plate in record time. He will not
consider the possibilities of this job to be exhausted
until he has overcome the natural bias of Scots
Chief Engineers in favour of the economy of an
;engine repair completed on the Clydeside.

The 'Oddman' talks quite like a craftsman now.
Knowing the Scottish dialect to be the right native
tongue of marine engines, he has set himself to ac-
quire the accent and the mode of expression. My
last recollection of his ability in this, is of a small
remark he made when some adjustment of the rud-
der was under way. He had objected to the meas-
ures proposed (as not giving his firm the right
scope for a long and detailed bill).

"Chief," he said! "I think thae pintles are a
wee thing light for the job !"



A RT at sea is an old, long story: it began with
the warm blood of a sacrificial lamb, smeared
on the rude sails of early voyagers, rose to a
height in the 'greate shippes,' begilded and carven,
of the sixteenth century, and now lingering, exists
in crude sea pictures, painted on the lid of a sea-
chest, in fanciful embellishment of gear and cord-
age, and in the tattooing borne on the bodies of
those who follow the sea. In this lowly form it
is but the last shred of a vanishing estate, like the
dairymaids' chalking of the milk pans, the carter's
bedecking of his horse; it is a survival of a time
when folk took pride in their arts and handcraft,
and gloried in the labour of their hands rather
than in the hire it brought. Part of this may have
been a matter of superstition, a deferring to the
gods (as Hindus at Saraswati prostrate them-
selves and worship the emblems or materials by
which they make their bread), but surely that can-
not now be so. It could be no superstition that
made Owen Evans (skipper of a 'fly-boat' on the
Manchester have a presentation of Car-
narvon Castle painted on the inboard end of his




scuttle-butt (paid a sign-painter seven shillings to
'do it, he told me), for what harm of tempest could
befall him, unless his horse were to go lame? And
besides, what particular saving virtue could there
be in Carnarvon Castle, however well designed?
Had it been a 'Mary and the Child,' like the pa-
tron's steering board on a Bastia felucca, or a
bejewelled Ikon, like that they carry on the bridge
of a Russian battleship, one could have under-
stood, but Carnarvon Castle! It was just that
good Evans had an eye for the beautiful, and, to
the extent of seven shillings of his scanty means,
he was a patron of the arts.

Out at sea we are no longer allowed to decorate
our ships; seafaring has become distinctly a busi*
ness, a traffic, a trade, with no call for unnecessary
embellishment. First, the gilt-work on the stern
was done away with; it was a needless expense;
the cost was better put into timely advertising.
Then the shapely figurehead, symbol of grace and
elegance, gave place to an iron scroll, an affair of
stunted proportions that sate heavy over the sheer-
ing forefoot. The carving of a spar end was time
wasted, when the carver might be more profitably
employed in scaling rusty bulwarks. Then came
the steamship, gaunt and bare of ornament, work-
ing through the tides in feverish haste, an ill thing
to beautify, a monster of mechanics whose only
beauty was that she floated, and, floating, bor-
rowed a grace of movement from the restless sea.


In her there is no time to be wasted; her short-
voyage crew have no interest in their vessel; she
is strictly a machine, to be oiled and greased, and
blacked and red-leaded, but not to be embellished
that would be labour lost, energy sadly misdi-
rected. Still in odd ways one sees the mark of
more than a hireling interest. Once I saw a collier
in Methil Docks; she was black and stark, as only
a collier can be; she was piled, bridge-high, at the
coamings with slatey Scotch, and the steward was
carrying the cabin dinner along in a pocket-hand-
kerchief, but (whisper, that her owners may not
come to hear) her after ladder-rails were cleverly
cross-pointed, and had neat 'turks' heads' at handy
intervals. Some one had had a pride in her, for it
was surely the work of a watch-below; it was no
slap-up job.

In the long-voyage sailing-ship it is different.
True, there is neither time nor material for the
old-time 'fancy work,' but if the Mate is not too
modern in his ideas a little can be done. I have
memories of famous bell-lanyards, cunning jobs in
half-hitchin', round and square sennit and cock's-
combin' that would have been beautifully finished,
a credit to any clipper's poop, but for something
always coming in the way; and bucket handles,
and shackles, and boat's fenders, and an albatross's
foot that hung long in a dark corner of the aftdeck,
which (but for its having been destroyed by a
senior in the interests of sanitation) would have


made a most artistic tobacco-pouch for any one
who smoked shag. That was in small ways ; there
is now no carving of skids ('The sea is His, and
He made it,' was a favourite motto in 'hard-case,'
lime-juice packets), no gilding of head boards, but,
if the ship may not be 'fancified,' there are our sea-
chests in fo'cas'le or aftdeck, a little rough paint
from the ship's stores will not be missed, and we
may do as we like with our own.

To sailors there are only two things worth re-
producing in colour on one's gear or person. One
is a ship under sail, her flags and tackle; our hands,
'rough and tarred' as Kipling's chantymen's, are
too rude properly to portray the other.

There was always some one in the ship's crowd
a famous hand at painting ships, and, as we are an
independent folk, many pounds of hard tobacco
(the currency at sea) were earned by his talent.
Earn it he did, for it was nothing easy to satisfy
the many criticisms of his shipmates. Originality
in design or treatment was sternly repressed; there
was only one way that a ship should be painted on
the lid of one's sea-chest, 'shipshape an' Bristol
fashion.' It was a lee view, all sail set, colours and
distinguishing signal flaunting board-like from the
gaff, and a lighthouse, the particular one of one's
fancy, showing an answering signal in the middle
distance. Most preferred the Tuskar, for there
was no great mass of land to take up the picture,
and, as the ship was nearly always heading to the


right, it brought the action down to a definite
basis, the pleasure of a seaman's eye, a 'home-
ward-bounder,' standing up Channel. Devotion to
detail was the aim of the painter. Indeed, it had
to be, for his patron would be ill-pleased if there
was left a matter for sneering shipmates to point
to with scorn, to dub 'lubberly.' Even though the
ship was stiff and flat, the lighthouse proportion-
ately out of reason, the waves woolly and unreal,
the rig and trim had to be beyond question. It was
a long job, requiring patience and perseverance.
First the price and the character of the ship had to
be arranged with the patron. The price was an
easy matter, for there was a sort of tariff. A
schooner was cheap two pounds of tobacco, per-
haps, and the price rose according to the rig. A
four-masted, full-rigged ship would run to about
five or six pounds, and, if there \vas to be a pilot
boat in the offing, as high as eight. A pound of
tobacco is value for two and six it is a 'purser's
pound/ only fourteen ounces. Deciding about the
ship was a more difficult matter, especially with an
old hand who had seen some service afloat. Usu-
ally he would decide on the ship with the biggest
spread of canvas, or perhaps on one with a pe-
culiarity in her rig.

"Jest you do me th' City o y Florence, young
feller; wot Ah wos in in eighty- four. One o' them
ol' City ships, wi' single mizzen tops'l, an' a slidin'
gunter fer th' skysail pole. Single mizzen togs'l,


mind ye, an' two reef ban's, an' a gaff fer th' try-
sail on th' main!"

This was the order, and the work began. The
wood had to be prepared and a light groundwork
put on; then the sky, a grandly blue, homeward-
bound sort of sky, laid on. (Clouds were difficult,
and were seldom attempted.) Then the ship had
to be lined out, and here began the painter's
troubles. "Now! Wot did Ah tell ye 'bout that
there mizzen tops'l; two reef ban's, Ah said, an' a
tackle on th' second cringle. . . . 'Ere, young fel-
ler, look at that 'ere light'us flagstaff! 'Ow d'ye
'expeck a light'us flagstaff t' stand up in a breeze
without stays?"

Here the painter, a man of ideas, tries to assert
himself. ..." 'Ow could ye see stays 'n a
light'us flagstaff, an' it two miles off?"

By this he would rouse the wrath of the fore-
cas'le, and there would be a gathering round, and
heated argument.

"Never ye mind 'bout two mile off! Ye knows
bloody well as a light'us staff is allus well stayed !
Jest ye put in them stays, young feller, an' no
'damn shinnanikin !"

The stays go in. Work goes on smoothly for a
bit until some old hand sidles up and says, pleasant-
like, "Look a' here, me son, if ye wants things ship-
shape, jest ye cut out a bit o' th' luff o' that
tawps'l!" The patron is indignant; here is some
one interfering with his beloved single mizzen


tops'l, "with two reef ban's, mind ye." Then,
' 'Ere ! Jest you keep yer adwise till it's arst for.
Ah ain't goin' t' 'ave th' lid o' my chest spoiled by
them as ain't never bin shipmates w' single mizzen

There are angry words. Some one else breaks
in. "Ho, yes! Vs a fine 'and at spoilin' th' lid o'
yer chest. Why! Look at mine! There wos th'
James Baines as wos t' be, an' Ah tol' 'im plain as
'ow she clews up t' th' yard-arm, an' 'ere 'e goes
an' clews up t' th' bloody quarter. Rotten bad, Ah
call it! An' then 'e goes for to change th' name,
an' paints in different colours, an' makes 'er th'
bloody Wanderer o' St. Johns, a ship Ah never 'ad
no use for. 'Im!" a glance of scorn "An' calls
'isself a bloo'dy hartist!"

The poor painter has a hard time; it is an all-
hands job; even the Dutchman would have a word
to say, and in the general chorus his presumption
would pass unheeded by the elder men.

When it was finished and lay in a clean place
awaiting a rub of stolen varnish, it was a work of
technics, if not of art, and represented more faith-
fully, perhaps, the cut and rig of a ship of our
times than Vandevelde's wonderful shuyts do of

In other ways could this (desire to 'decorate be
satisfied. 'Shackles' could be made in the 'watch-
below,' or (if sufficient canvas could be had) a
cover for a sea-chest. Covers were worked of


'drawn threads, and the fringes were tasselled ancl
interlaced in a mode as delicate and formal as a
lady's needlework. Not many were done, for can-
vas was almost priceless in a 'wind-jammer,' and
there were only a few, Dutchmen and old men-o'-
warsmen, who could do it properly. 'Shackles'
were sailor handles for sea-chests. This was a
great working of rope and twisting of yarns, a
'test' in sailorising that took a long time to do ; he
was considered a good seaman who could finish off
in the approved manner. (Alas! for the mis-
shapen mass, ends out and uneven, that I spent so
many hours over, and finally, after a particularly
severe criticism by a greasy Russ, threw into the
shakins' cask among the ends and leavings of
sailor work.) Shackles were generally painted in
three bright colours, hung up to dry in odd corners,
forgotten, rediscovered when bags were being
packed and the homeward pilot aboard, and were
given to favoured shipmates or were left for
'prentices to quarrel over when they came to clear
the fo'c'sle out after the 'crowd' had gone.

Then there was tattooing, an ancient art, be-
loved of manners an'd dukes and princes. It is
not now done at sea. Few of the modern sea-
men know how to do it properly, and it is left to
'professors' of the art to set up premises in Bute
Road and Ratcliffe Highway and the Broomielaw
and Bond Street, W., where homeward bounders
and other men of position can have their sense or


sentiments suitably worked on their persons
anchors and clasped hands, hearts and crossed na-
tional flags, crosses and memorial stones. ('In
memory of mother/ I saw once on the chest of a
hard case, as bawling a blasphemous, uncharitable
dog as ever Shakespeare knew.) Mottoes were
often done. 'True till Death' has a new sig-
nificance when worked above the presentment of a
'damsel of rounded charm and muscular; 'Ven-
geance' on the forearm of a placid Scandinavian
was odd; had he been a swart Dago with a long
sheath-knife on his hip, yes; but Hans Dans! De-
cidedly odd.

Once, on a forehatch, I heard an argument
about tattooing, a quaint reasoning. "Wot's th'
use on it? W'y! If ye gets wrecked out furr'in,
an' goes under, an' gets washed ashore all broke
up them wot finds ye knows by yer marks" (he
meant crosses or a figure of Christ; often done).
"They knows as ye' re a Christian, an' they buries
ye decent. But if ye ain't got no marks, w'y!"
i(the upturned palms of unanswerable enquiry)
"'oo th' 'ell are ye?"

These are the decorative arts. Of music there
is less to be said; not that it is of little interest or
less importance, rather because it is a more deli-
cate matter to handle. Who, watching men at
heavy manual labour, say, hoisting a weight to a
height, has not felt a stirring within, a desire to
hold the breath while the men pull, an instinct to


breathe generously when the pull is given? That
instinct is parent to sea-music, to the 'chanties' that
seamen sing when straining at the ropes, when
heaving, heavy chested, on the bars of a windlass.
No one knows aught of the men who set the tunes
to the chanties. The words are anybody's, any
words may do. Usually they are gross and un-
printable, but the tunes are different. They are
unchanging, no one dares meddle with them; they
are handed down from aged salt, about to hail
his Pilot, to wonder-eyed youngsters with the hay-
seed in their hair. They, too, are unprintable, but
that because there is no mode of writing music that
could properly express the quick-changing swing,
the quaint indescribable inflection, and the chal-
lenging note that comes before a thundering
chorus. They are the seaman's own, and will die
with him when the sea is only a place for black
smoke and whirling screws.

There are some songs, too, sung at sea and sel-
dom elsewhere. Most begin with, 'Come, all ye
jolly sailormen, an' listen to my song.' The tunes
are very old, almost ancient, and they are usually
sung by the older hands. They are 'Bound away
to the West'ard,' The City o' Baltimore,' and
'Henry Martin.' There is a fine swing about them,
but now the blatant influence of the 'alls is in the!
forecas'le, and they are not much sung. Welsh
sailors have a gift: they are great hands at singing
in parts. They have a fine sense of harmony, and


a man out of tune among a Welsh 'crowd' would
be about as happy as a soldier in a Liverpool fore-
cas'le. Their songs are not sailor songs though,
and may not be put down as sea-music.

Dutchmen are rare instrumentalists. Never was
a Dutchman who couldn't play some humble in-
strument, but their music is of the 'dans-haus'
order, reminiscent of Shkipper Strasse or a Bier-
garten in Altona. Once I was shipmates with a
Finn who played the fiddle. He used to play
sailor music. He would sit on the forehatch o'
nights and play even on without effort. He would
make it up as he went along, a weird, melancholy
thing of his own, something about wind and a black
night, he would say. His watchmates thought it
uncanny, and left him alone. Once a braggart boy
cursed him for a screechin' devil. He was called
off by the old bosun : "Don't ee go vor tu vex un,
me son; them Finns hain't vair volk !"

Old Garge thought that if the Finn were vexed
he might raise a gale of wind on us by his uncanny

That was our music, that and the chanties, never
a great art perhaps, but assuredly an expression of
deep feeling. Those who have heard know it
those who have heard Renzo on a blustering,
windy night, and the ship staggering in the track of
a gale, or Shenandoah borne over the water in the
first grey flush of an early dawn.

Poetry has no beginning at sea; it is a borrowed


art, a loan but lightly treasured. Once there went
poets to the deep. They told of takings at sea, of
the sack of cities, of victories on the main, or of
the deeds of the great captains. Few wrote of the
life they must have known so well. After all, they
could have been but poor poets, since they and
their lines are forgotten, while William Falconer
(whose hands must have reeked of tar, the palms
hardened by grip of shroud and halliard, when he
wrote his 'Shipwreck') stands still a mentor to his
sea-fellows. The lines

And he who strives the tempest to disarm
Will never first embrail the lee yard-arm,
The master &iid; obedient to command,
To raise the tack the ready sailors stand,
Gradual it loosens, while th' involving clew,
Swelled by the wind, aloft unruffling flew,
The sheet and weather-brace they now stand by ;
The lee clew-garnet and the bunt-lines ply.
Thus all prepared, "Let go the sheet," he cries;
Impetuous round the ringing wheel it flies,
Shivering at first, till, by the blast impell'd,
High o'er the lee yard-arm the canvas swell'd;
By spilling lines embraced, with brails confined,
It lies at length unshaken by the wind.

are even now quoted in nautical text-books as a
standard in seamanship.

The making of verse is little liked by sailormen,
unless it be a new rig to an old chanty or a rhyming
lampoon. One who could work into doggerel
verse the peculiarities of his shipmates was, in a
way, admired, though never popular.

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Online LibraryDavid W. (David William) BoneBroken stowage → online text (page 11 of 16)