David W. (David William) Bone.

Broken stowage online

. (page 12 of 16)
Online LibraryDavid W. (David William) BoneBroken stowage → online text (page 12 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Of another stamp was Mister Richards, who
had the next cot in a hospital in Monte Video. He
had been mate of a London barque. His ship had
sailed, and he was still laid up a sort of con-
sumption I think it was. He was a great reader.
Once he showed me something he himself had
written. It was about an old captain of his, who,
after a long, hard time at sea, had sent his son to
the same service. One verse was

The men who kept King Philip's Fleet afar,

The mariners who swept th' Spanish Main,
The men who won the fight at Trafalgar

Lie dead, but in their children live again,
Who, where th' British Ensign flaunts th' breeze,

O'er steam-press'd power, or flowing sail unfurl'd,
Shall hold high court upon the open seas,

And make an Empire of th' Ocean World.

Poor Mister ! He would have no further place in
the ordering of that Ocean Empire, for the Sister
told us quietly, that he might not hear that his
was a bad case, that he was not like to go the sea


T MET them on the cock o' the hill above
* Whistlefield, just where one can get a famous
glint of Loch Long with Glenfinart lying broad and
bonny between. I was bound over to Ardentinny
and stopped awhile to rest at the summit. It was
a fine day in early May. Breezy. Big full-bellied
clouds swept over the blue and cast deep shadows
on the hill-side.

While I rested I heard voices in angry alterca-
tion. The wranglers were far down the glen, but
the din of their bicker carried far. Words were
not easy to make out, so I concluded that some
tinkers were bound up. A turn of the low road
brought them to view. There were two. They
seemed to be heavily laden and walked haltingly^
their heads cast down, as if they were searching the

As they drew near I made out old William
Shaw, sailorman and conning rigger, of the port
of Glasgow. He carried a coil of rope over his
shoulder and a large paint-tin in his right hand.
I did not know the second man. He looked young.
He was slight in build and walked with a fine turn
of the heels that marked him a sailor. He carried,



a bunch of paint-cans that made clatter as he came
up the brae. Some paint-brush handles stood out
of his pocket, and his blue dungaree clothes were
bespattered with white.

"Hullo, Wully," I said, "I never thought of
meeting you stravaiging about the country-side.
What's this ploy you're on?"

"Hullo, young f'la-ma-lad it's you. You an'
yer bikesycical. Goad! I wissht I hid yin o' them
masel'. I'm ferr din oot wi' a' this trampinV He
threw the coil off his shoulder with an impatient
whirl, and sat down on the hill-side. "Hey, you,"
he shouted to his mate. "Ha'e a look aboot an'
see if you can fin' yer wee gantline block."

"Him," he added with scornful emphasis, "he'd
lose the hair aff his heid if it wisnae fur his kep.
First it wis the pent an' brushes that he left at th'
Bullwood, him that ta'en up wi' th' servant lassies !
Then, begoad, he be tae be leavin' Strachur
withoot th' sclimbin' irons. Noo it's th' wee
gantline block. Fa'en oot on the road atween here
an' th' Whistlefield Inn."

"But what's brought you up here with your
gantlines and blocks and climbing irons? I never
heard tell of a job at the rigging up here on the

"Ha'e ye no'," said the old man. "Ah, weel,
ye're aye learnin'. If ye had yer een aboot ye, ye'd
see that it wis pentin' flegstaffs we wis efter. No'
that bad a job, neither" clinking money, in his


pocket. "If it wisnae for him an' his wye o' lossin'
things, we'd be gaun back tae Glesca the nicht wi'
th' best pairt o' fifteen pun' i' wur pooches. We
wis ettlin' tae dae a job at Arranteeny an' feenish
up an' get ower tae Gourock by seeven o'clock, but
afore we wis hauf wy doon th' glen 'Hullo,' says
he, 'whaur's th' wee gantline block?' 'Aye, whaur
is't?' says I. 'Ye hid it when we got aff th' man's
cairt at Lach Eck side, afore we begood tae sclimb
th' hill.' 'Weel I huvnae got it noo,' says he. 'Hits
drapped off on th' road.' 'Ye'd better drap aff an'
find it,' says I. 'Hoo th' blazes can we dae that bit
job at Arranteeny wi' nae gantline block.' . . .
Sae we jist cam' awa' back up the glen, but deil a
glint o' th' block hae we seen."

The little man, after looking about casually, had
seated himself and was filling a pipe with black
twist. "Ach, whatt's th' matter now, annyway?"
he said. "Be me sowl, ye w'd think it was iverry
panny in th' wurrld ye'd lost, t'hear ye talkin'.
Shurre, wit' th' fifteen poun' that y'ure talkin'
aboot we can buy a score av gantlin' blocks."

"Hark till 'm. A score o' gantline blocks an'
I'll lay ma share again' a happeny there's no' a
block tae be had at Arranteeny fur love nor

"Ach, you an' yerr blocks!" The little man
kicked the empty paint-cans viciously, and made off
down the glen again.

"Haw, Loughran! Haw, JeemsJ haw,


Jeemsy!" In genuine 'distress, the old man
shouted on his hasty mate. "Ach, whit are ye
ta'en on that w'y for? Ye ken fine that I'm pit oot
at no' gettin' on wi' that job doon-by. Come awa'
back here an' ha'e yer smoke."

Wee Loughran hesitated, stood about whistling
a while, then returned. I had never known old
Wully to be so conciliatory before. Clearly, the
little Irishman was the important partner in the
concern. I was curious to learn, and asked the old
sailor how they carried on the business.

"Ach, it wis jist me seein' wee Loughran therr
when he wis sclimbin' a schooner's mast. It wis
in the Queen's Dock an' he wis gaun up the pole
topmas' jist as nate as if he wis walkin' oot in
Sauchieha' Street. Therr wis nae riggin' on her
no' as much as a bit o' chafin' gear tae pit yer fit
on jist yin o' thae wee Dundalk schooners, plain
sticks aboon th' taps. Says I, therr's th' wee laud
tae pent flagstaffs doon th' watter a peyin' job
I kent it when I wis young an' soupple masel'. Sae
I got on th' crack wi' him, an' took him on at a
pun' a week an' a share o' th' profits. He's an
Isley Magee man a wee bit thrang whiles but
he can gaun up th' side o' a hoose haudin' on by
hees eyelids."

Somewhat mollified by old Wully's eulogy, the
famous climber had returned to the search. He
was peering diligently among the stunted heather
at the roadside for his lost gantline block.


"I mak' th' contraks an' mix th' pent an' tend
th' gantline while th' wee f'la 'daes th' pentin' doon.
Whiles, if it's a big job, like auld Captain Mac-
Pherson's mast at St. Catherine I dae a turn
aloft masel'. Goad, ye sh'd a seen th' pent we hid
ower therr. Ye'll mind o' th' Captain? He wis in
thae auld Quebeckers o' Allans. Retired this fif-
teen year or more. He's gotten a ship's mast
rigged up in his gairden. A' complete ! Main tap,
an' lower yaird, an' shrouds an' lifts an' fit-ropes a'
complete ! That wis a big contrack. Power days
we wis at th' riggin' an' a day an' a hauf pentin'
doon an' a' th' time th' auld yin wis stottin' aboot
bossin' th' job. It wis 'Main tap, therr ye've left
a "holiday" ddaft th' kep.' Or 'Topmast held,
ahoy. Can ye no* see that shackle is pentit black
an' no' mast colour?' A' th' time he wis merchin'
up an' doon wi' his haun's behin' his back, jist as he
used tae dae in thae auld Quebeckers. We hid a
gey job o' it, wi' a wee dram every nicht when we
cam' doon frae aloft. It feenished up wi' wee
Loughran therr forgettin' th' sclimbin' irons, an'
us hauf wye ower tae Strachur afore he missed

Now I could see the smoke of the E'dinbttrah
Castle over the hill and had to mount and away to
catch her at Ardentinny. I left Wully and his
mate still arguing, though less vehemently, about
the wee gantline block.

Perhaps in remote future years some savant will


make a sensational statement. He may say that
the old folk-songs of his ancestors possess points
of truth and actuality in their legendary embellish-
ment ! He may quote

"On the heights of Ben Lomond their galleys may steer."

And he may produce as evidence auld Wully
Shaw's wee gantline block discovered on the cock
o' the hill above Glenfinart.


Holyhead at daybreak we turn into the
George's Channel, steaming south with the
last outrunning of the ebb. Broad on the port
beam the coast of North Wales looms up, a dark
rugged mass against the faint grey of early dawn.
Holyhead's town lights glimmer bravely against
the dark of the land, and, clear of the Headland,
the South Stack light flashes at minute intervals.
Ahead lies the open channel, its broad surface
scarce ruffled by a light east wind. Here and there
twinkling ship-lights stud the darkling western sea-
line; astern and to the east a confusion of smoke
wrack, lowering over a cluster of steaming lights,
shows the outbound tideload from the Mersey on
the way to sea. First clear of the pierheads we
lead the fleet, but our turn will be short now. Our
twelve knots at the very best can show poor heels
to the two 'fourteens' who are racing up astern;
already the foremost is hauling out west to give us
sea-room in passing. "After all, speed isn't every-
thing," we say, looking resolutely ahead. Some-
where in the gloom of the foredeck 'one bell' is
struck. Half-past four! The lascar on look-out



shouts the watch-cry, a long drawn-out Koob
dek-ta hai that sounds all but wakeful. A gruff,
"Aye, aye," answers the hail, and the Mate, up
there, resumes his pacing tap, tap, terap! The
madman's promenade ten paces and a turn, ten
a halt a sharp order to the steersman; the gear
creaks to a vicious strain, and with our head
swinging wildly to sudden helm we sheer under
the stern of a schooner, close enough to note a
glimmer on her decks someone striving to prick
up an ill-burning sidelight.

At proper course again we speed on; the tap,
tap, terap resumed. From far down in the bowels
of the ship come the noises of the stokehold that
tell of action below, in contrast to the quiet of the
deserted decks. A shovel clangs harshly on the
footplates, an imperative call for more coal to
feed the throbbing monster; wrangling voices, pro-
test and abuse, are borne up through the fiddley-
gratings, choice wafts of Bombay-babbery, that
only cease with the clash of furnace doors and the
stoker's warning shout to his mate at the back fires.
A burst of green smoke rises straight from the fun-
nel, the measured throb of the engines seems
louder to our ears; we should do well now, with
a fresh gang below and the fires cleane'd and set

Un'der the great glare of the South Stack a tiny
point of light spurting out an'd in in sharp, vicious
flashes shows the Morse signalman at his key-


board, taking tally of the ships that pass by night.
On the bow an inward-bound steamer is 'wink-
wink-winking' a long message for the dock people
at Liverpool, and, south away, an old-fashioned
Johnston boat is throwing brilliant fireballs her
Company's night signal. No new-fangled talking-
lamps for her stout old captain. He still believes
in guns and red and green fireworks a brave show
to catch the eye of a sleepy signalman.

"Vick E! There's that Booth liner finished
now, and old 'fireworks' has got his red flare. Call
him up, mister, and give our name !" A new voice
on the bridge; two tap tap teraps. The Cap-
tain has come on deck to set his channel course.

"Aye, aye, sir!" Our lamp flicks away at the
spelling, gleaming 'longs' and 'shorts' on the bridge
spars and upperworks.

"R D ! All right," says the Captain, reading
the answering twinkle ashore. "He's got it. Spell
'Thanks' and call off!"

The Stack has just time to acknowledge before
our 'next astern' picks him up, and again the
'wink-wink-winking' goes on something about
the weather in the bay. The Stack will be glad
when it comes daylight enough for the flagman to
have an innings. It should not now be long de-
layed; already the gloom is lightening; and
through a high rift in the misty cloud-bank that
palls the east keen steel-blue sky shows the first


In the dim half-light the near land, the shadowy
sails of drifting coasters, the sheering, smoke-
wreathed hulls of the following fleet, take shape
and colour. The longshore lights, so late a galaxy
of radiant points, are paling to extinction; the sea,
borrowing from tire lightening zenith, shows a
shimmer of grey, with patches of deep shadow
where our side-wave breaks the placid surface.
Holyhead breakwater grows sightly to the eye,
standing clear of the distant shore. A railway
steamer lies berthed within, with a curl of smoke
drifting from her two shapely funnels the Irish
mail in readiness. The lighthouse tower standing
bold on the summit of the South Stack shows white
against a backing of the rugged Head, and when it
is light enough the keeper shuts off his displaced
thousands of candle-power. Our turn of leader-
ship is up now. In spite of our efforts the first of
the 'fourteens' a huge China trader goes forg-
ing past, giving us a choking waft of black, sul-
phurous Welsh in the passing.

Out in the open the breeze comes with the dawn.
A freshening wind rouses the channel to sparkle,
and glitter, and play of light and shade. The calm
under the lee of the land is swept by rippling ed-
"dies; the sails of the coasters shiver and blow out,
then stand full to the favouring land breeze, and
the shapely hulls lean away south across Carnar-
von Bay. Fast as the light grows the mist breaks
up and re-forms in endless fantastic wraiths, all


aglow with a tinge of rose that fades through violet
hues to deep, stubborn shadows where the clouds
overhang. Iridescent plumes of trailing vapour
strike out from the dark ridges of the land; the
mist caps of the high Welsh peaks are doffed at
coming of the day. The sun's pilot-rays turn the
zenith, and flaming scarlet takes the place of rose.
Deep azure sky shows through in ever-widening
patches, and the night clouds, banking in the west,
make a last sullen stand against the vanguard of
the morn. Then, in a burst of radiant glory, the
sun comes up, clearing the horizon, with scarce a
wisp of windy cloud to mar his rising.


A l A HE gaunt, iron light-standard, cluster of low
huts, mosque dome and minaret, and a
ruined, dismantled fort that now mark the site of
the once prosperous Damietta have faded away
on the quarter, sinking back into the quivering
heat haze as they had scarce emerged; and steam-
ing athwart the muddy outflow of the Nile we
drew near Port Said the Half-Way House;
caravanserai for voyagers on the long sea-route to
the East.

A high lighthouse rises up over the turgid water
a sightly guiding mark on the low isthmus where
the level desert stands long unseen from seaward.
Lesser buildings, gay of gaudy paintwork and
fanciful balconies, cluster at its base, and clearing
the housetops, the masts, spars, and flags of ships
in the harbour stand out. Far stretching east and
west the bleak flats of Balah and Menzaleh lie
bare to the scorching sun, void of vegetation, un-
broken by mound or eminence, save where the rude
huts of the Arabs mark the skyline, distorted by
mirage that shimmers on the sandy plain. Clear-



ing to definite proportions as we draw on, the long
breakwater shows up. Nearly a mile of solid
masonry, it stretches its smooth formal blocks out
to sea a windward barrier to the heavy seas that
come with northerly gales. At the centre of the
sea-wall stands a statue of De Lesseps, a huge
massive figure dominating the entrance to the
Canal a statue with the 'action' of the polite
gentleman at the door of a Polyseum. "Walk
this way, sir," it seems to beckon. "Suez Canal,
sir? Straight on, sir, and last turn to the left!"

Off the outer buoy we bring up to take a pilot
on board. He comes off to us in fine style, towing
in the wake of a powerful Canal tug, but, to our
disappointment, the 'brither Scot' (for whom
Weekly Mails, News, and Glasgow Heralds lie
parcelled up, ready at hand) is not our man this
time. A lanky Greek boards to take us in; a
swarthy Dago, who, though knowing little Eng-
lish, can tell us the news of the day by 'juggling'
of his hands. Slow, to pass a monster sand-
dredger the latest from the Pudzeoch we
steam into the harbour and lace up to buoys
abreast of the Cafe Khedivial. As we are taking
no coal the Port Captain has given us the favoured
berth, well within hearing of the Viennese Orches-
tra, and so near the Boulevard that a clap of our
hands would bring attentive gargons to the cafe

The Port Said 'queer-fellows' in their boats are


gathered at the buoys to meet us. Hotel touts,
boatmen, pedlars, lace-wallahs, ship-chandlers,
coal agents, they swarm about us before our warps
are run out a horde of modern Babylonians,
wrangling over places, shouting shrill trade cries,
praying custom, patronage, or 'backsheesh' in a
hundred clamorous tongues. Our decks, for the
nonce, are turned into a market-place: portman-
teaux and home-like 'placks' are rapidly emptied,
turned upside down, and the wares arranged atop;
every standard of ship's furniture is made to serve
as booth and showstand on the hatches, on winch
covers, deck chairs, everywhere, a glittering as-
sortment of the thousand useless articles for which
a sale seems only to be found at Port Said. On
one hand we are offered 'scarabs' priceless an-
tiques (from Brummagem) ; on the other, Maltese
lace, some real most Nottingham. In hushed
confidential tones 'Scotch' whisky, at a modest
price, is brought to our notice. Ye gods ! Bonnie
Shottland brandt! 'In Hamburg gemacht!'

"Hoo are ye, Mackay," says a voice. "Auch-
termuchty! Ecclefechan, an' Mullguy! Hooch

We turn. Who is this, who 'dares to parody a
Man we Know? Who but 'Ferguson' 'Jock
Ferguson' 'Jock Ferguson, b'lang Greenock,' as
he tells us, and again mutters the test formula as
proof. No proof is needed. 'Jock,' as an old
friend, gets a handshake, and his fellow-pedlars


slink away from such a token of bias, and hurry
off in search of greenhorns.

"Wed, Jock, hoo'sa' wi' ye?"

"Verrr-y goot, mister" ('Jock's' r's are won-
derful). "How you was yourrr-sel', mister? You
want anyt'ing dis time? Turrr-kish d'light, cigar-
rett. . . . Oh, blenty noose! All mafeesh de
Turk! De bloody Sultan got it de sack!" Here
'Jock' spits vehemently, to show a free-born
Arab's contempt of Turks and Sultans. "Oh, yes!
Blenty trr-uble in Constant. Four, five thous'
beoble kill it. Dey got a new Sultan now. . . .
No ! No monsoon broke yet. Ah wass aboard
'dat Paddy Hendisen boat an' dey tel' me dey had
fine weather all de way. T'ree box cigarette, sir?
Nine bob, sir, as shair's daith, sir. . . . Oh, well
seven an' six. Ye're a 'hard case,' Mackay.
Ah'm givin' you sheap, for you all de time deal
wi' 'Jock Ferguson' !"

At Port Said the peculiar circumstance of an
unlimited and ever-changing supply of visitors,
who stay but an hour or more in the Port, lends
itself to boundless rogueries; and the pedlars and
shopkeepers 'queer-fellows' all reap a heavy
harvest among the ships, hourly arriving or de-
parting on oversea voyages. Passengers, after
the experience of a week or more on shipboard
(where all the buying is done by purser's account),
welcome the novelty of being able to actually
spend their money, and do not seem to be greatly


concerned at the worthless rubbish that the pedlars

Chief among the 'queer-fellows' who ply their
nimble tongues at such a market, 'Jock' became
early alive to the unsuitableness of his patronymic
Mahommed Dessoukeh, no less to purposes
of his sort of trade. Like as not, he has never
heard of Mark Twain and the real original 'Jock,'
but, from wherever he got his alias, 'Jock Fergu-
son, b'long Greenock,' he became, and great is his
profit. Such success as was his induced others to
follow his example, and the 'clan' has grown.
Arabs, Greeks, Levantines, Jews, Copts, have all
taken the whim, and now John Fergusons, Joe
Fergusons, Macleans, Macnabs, and Mackays are
met at every turn, each with a sorry goose to cook;
and the visitors are asked, in every tongue in
Europe, to step up and provide the stuffing. To
'Jock's' broad shoulders it may be due that his
particular alias is not yet assumed by any other.
Some poaching there may be on his preserve the
custom of officers and engineers on the regular
liners, but his business is pretty safe, as nearly
every one counts a purchase cheap, if only to
hearken to the quaint jargon that goes freely with
'Jock's' wares. A specious rogue none more
plausible 'Jock' but follows the custom of the
East, the system of trading that brings the element
of chance beloved of Asiatics to the making
of a bargain. At Port Said the value of any com-


modity is just exactly what can be got for it
good reasoning and if one is only properly scorn-
ful at a request for, say, six shillings for a box of
cigarettes, 'Jock' or his prototype may come along
(when the bell to 'clear ship' is rung) and pocket
two bob with a cheery "Thank ye, sir!" Six shil-
lings is 'asking price,' which he demands on the
chance of his meeting a 'gull,' and, indeed, it is
astonishing how often he hears the wings a-flutter.

'Jock' makes no secret of his trickery; rather he
glories in it, and even when the boot is on the other
foot, and he finds himself the holder of worthless
coin, the 'queer-fellows' take any currency it is
with no great show of anger that he says, "Done
this time, Mackay. 'Jock Ferguson' too bloody
good for dam rogue!" After a turn of business
on the saloon deck he will come below, chuckling
hugely, his broad cheery face a study in elation.

"What now, 'Jock'? Who have ye 'done' this
time?" some one will ask.

"Ah done nobody, but Ah done goot bizness!
Goot bizness, mister! Fella' up dere, he buy de
tobacco. 'How much ye want for tin, dis Pioneer
Bran'?' he say. 'Two bob,' Ah sed, 'an' Ah'm
givin' ye sheap,' Ah sed. 'Two bob,' he say. 'Bai
Jove/' " 'Jock' has the tone of it. " 'Bai
Jove,' he say. 'Dey sell dat on de ship here for
two-an'-six!' 'Dam rogue!' Ah sed. 'Dam rogue
if dey sell dat tin for two-an'-six ! Ah'm givin' you


sheap,' Ah ses. 'Ah wan' 'dat money for blay de
carte.' 'Bai Jove,' he say. 'Dese Arab is bahn
gambler; blay carte, eh?' An' den he buy four
tin Pioneer Bran' !"

"Well, what about it? Saves sixpence a tin,

u Oh, no! He doan'! 'Jock Ferguson' 'a a
'hard case'! Mind, Ah'm tellin' ye! Dem tin
Pioneer Bran' wass quarter-poun' tin de ship sell
'm half-poun' tin, ain't it? Dam fool no look,
saavy de tin!"

But it is at barter with a 'brither Scot' that
'Jock' is at his best. No turn of Clydeside 'pleas-
antry' is lost on him; every new way of putting it
is remarked attentively, to be brought forth at the
psychological moment when a bargain is to be
clinched. His 'Oot ye' the two fingers uplifted
at the right speed is worth an extra shilling of
any Govan man's money. ( Kam-a-rach-an-chew?'
he will say, tentatively, to a newcomer whose face
has been his study for a moment or more. 'Kam-
a-rach-an-chewf If he is right: business, sure!
If wrong: well, if wrong, it is no great matter,
for, be ye of Cumberland or Kamchatka, 'Jock'
can ask a fancy price in the mode of speech to
which you are most accustomed. True, 'Kam-a-
rach-an-chew' is all he has of the language of
Eden, and is not even good Gaelic, but it serves,
like 'Auchtermuchty' and 'Hooch aye!' and 'Whit


r div ye think, o' Wee Ma'greegor nooT as an intro-
ductory medium, and that is the great thing among
a horde of clamorous petitioners.

With a marvellous memory for men and faces,
'Jock' can place every Captain, Mate, and Engi-
neer in the regular lines that go by the Canal, and
he is an accurate registrar of changes and promo-
tions. If we wonder who has the luck to man the
new ship that we met in the Gulf of Suez, 'Jock'
knows. If doubtful of the whereabouts of a quon-
dam shipmate, it is 'odds on 1 that 'Jock' can tell

"Och aye! Mister Browne? Ah know dat
fella'. He come troo' three wik' pas'. Sheef-
ofsur now a 'hard case' ! Smit' ? . . . Smit' ?"
. . . doubtfully; there are many Smiths. Then
his memory serves him. "Och aye," he will say,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16

Online LibraryDavid W. (David William) BoneBroken stowage → online text (page 12 of 16)