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The whale ships, although they may not have seen
one another since clearing the Tay, generally ar-
rive together within a few days. Rumours of their
presence on the coast get about. Fishermen report
having seen them anchored, 'wind-bound' in some

94



THE HARVEST OF THE NORTH 95

remote West Highland bay, or trawlers running
in with their fish speak of having seen square sail
to the nor'ard. Then glad hearts in Dundee read
of their arrival; a bare, brief paragraph enough,
but a wealth of incident to them. 'Lerwick,
Nov. , Dundee whaler Diana has put in; all well.
She has three whales. Spoke Eclipse with a catch
of four on Aug. 18.' A reassuring report to begin
with, and one that augurs well for the rest of the
fleet!

Fast following come reports of other arrivals at
northern harbours, but the wind has not veered
fair for the passage to Dundee, and the whalebone
will not suffer for the keeping. There they lie until
the wind goes nor'ard of east, and ensures them a
clean run to the Tay bar. Although they are
auxiliary vessels, having steam at command, they
hoard their slender remainder of coal for pilotage
waters, and finish their passage under sail. They
clear the Pentland Firth and stand on past Buchan
Ness for the Bell Rock. On, this, the last lap of
the voyage, the toil and hardship of the long, dark-
less days are forgotten, and the crew, light of
heart, have eyes for nothing but the familiar land-
marks, the sentinels of home. In anticipation of
his pay-day the steersman may wear a preoccupied
look that consorts ill with his important post, and
to the Mate's sharp demand, "How's her head?"
may make the startling answer, "Forty-five pounds,
seventeen, sir!" In due course they reach the bar,



96 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

and steaming bravely up the broad estuary of the
Tay, with flags apeak, they cast anchor in their
home waters with a gallant cheer, boasting of their
fortunes, or maybe a muttered malediction on an
unprofitable venture. When the tide serves they
weigh anchor and pass into dock, with half the
longshoremen of Dundee on the pierhead to see
them safely in. No show vessels these, with glit-
ter of brass and glint of polished teak to throw
back the waning beams of the November sun, but
gallant, seaman-like barques, with the scars of the
Arctic on their sturdy sides. The first in is greeted
with a popular ovation, for she has three whales
aboard, and there is beer in that for every dock-
side loafer. She warps into dock amid a babel of
cries and salutations. Jest and counter-jest are
bandied about, and domestic items of months back
are shouted from the housetops. A woman on
the quayside shouts, "Is that you, Jock. Man, but
ye've grown an awfu' whusker!" The subject of
her regard waves a grimy hand. "Ay, an' it's me,
an' mair nor ma whusker, Ah've grow'd a ruddy
thirst, ma lass! Ha'e ye onything i' th' bottle?"
A tall-hatted gentleman of important demeanour
(he probably has an interest in the ship) is even
made the object of an impertinent query, for this
is the day when 'sailor's license' is admitted. "Haw,

Mister Mac , ha'e ye gotten intil th' Toon

Cooncil yet?" shouts a weazened harpooner, and
the important gentleman looks annoyed. Some one



THE HARVEST OF THE NORTH 97

in the crowd cries, "De'il a bit o' in, he's ower
thrang wi' th' Skule Brod!" A boisterous guffaw
greets this sally, and the humour of the crowd
becomes more pert and personal. Amid all this
rough and rude, though hearty, expression of high
spirits there are pathetic things: eyes may be seek-
ing in vain for familiar figures and kent faces, and
'ears may hearken eagerly for a loved voice. A
stalwart young sailorman leans over the to'gallant
rail, face drawn and ghastly, listening to ill-news
from a sympathetic friend. ' . . . Puir Jean, she
wisna' ower strong ... a fortnicht come We'ds'-
day ... an' yer mither's gotten the wean; hit's
daein' gey an' weel ... a braw bairn. . . ."
The moving ship carries him beyond earshot, but
he still leans over the rail, unmindful of the cries
of his shipmates and the sharp orders of the Mate;
alone with his misery.

At the far end of King William Dock ropes are
run out, and the ship is made fast to the quay wall.
With the fastening of the moorings the voyage is
over and the crew are at liberty. Their friends on
the quayside do not wait for a gangway to be put
out, but clamber aboard over the rail, and the
whaler's 'decks are soon crowded as they have
never been since she last set out. Friends and rela-
tives greet the whalemen openly, being free of the
ship, and the 'emblem of amity,' the humble 'hauf-
mutchkin,' passes from hand to hand, and never
travels far. Others there are. to meet the wan-



98 * BROKEN STOWAGE'.

derers whose movements are less open; keen-eyed
persons slink furtively down the fo'cas'le scuttle,
taking advantage of the preoccupation of the ship's
officers. They are 'share-discounters,' and though
undoubtedly useful to sailormen, their methods are
not looked upon favourably by those in authority.
Tailors' runners and boarding masters follow in
their wake, for they, too, have a fear of the Mer-
chant Shipping Act, which provides for their pun-
ishment if they board a ship within a certain num-
ber of hours of her arrival. Cabs rattle down
over the cobble-stones on the quay and range them-
selves at the gangway. They have deserted the
neighbourhood of the Exchange on hearing word
of the whaler's arrival. The Captain comes
ashore, accompanied by the tall-hatted gentleman,
who has evidently forgotten his annoyance in the
sense of assured prosperity which he gathers from
the Captain's report. In groups and parties the
crew leave the ship, talking loudly and boisterously,
impatient of the occasional restraining hand of
their womenfolk. A police watchman takes charge
of the deserted ship and paces the deck in a busi-
ness-like manner. Some captive bears, in hutches
on deck, start howling lugubriously for the meal
which has been overlooked. The watchman finds
some scraps in the galley, throws them a bite, and
silence is over the ship. Bustle and movement
being absent, one notices the dreadful stench that
pervades her, though one reflects that she would



THE HARVEST OF THE NORTH 99

have a sorry welcome without it. Dirt and grime
and rust, litter and stench, coal-tar within and
without, she carries a goodly share of the harvest
of the North within her sturdy timbers.



XIV
LA CANTINIERE

TTTHEN 'daylight comes there is no one astir
on the Quai 'du Lazaret: save fisher-folk
and the pilots, the Marseillais lie long abed. Only
the ship-watch sees the first rosy flush on the dis-
tant hills of La Couronne and marks the sun's
first alighting on the city a glint of gold where
his pilot rays strike on the Christ on the pinnacle
of Notre Dame de la Garde.

At five, the armed Customs officer comes out on
the open quay, stretching lustily, and saying "Ah
la, la" between his yawns. Soon he is joined by
another watcher of the night the Garde Sani-
taire, whose duty it is to see that no plague germs
are landed surreptitiously from the East Indiaman
at the Quai. The two half-slept Gardiens seat
themselves on soft bales of silk cuttings, say "All-
la, la" together, and exchange yawns in that mys-
terious sympathy that has puzzled scientists and
others since yawns were.

So till six when Madame Bartelmy comes by
the dockhead and sets her business in order for the
day. Unlocking, she sets down the hinged flaps of
her buvette ambulante, a stall arrangement for the

100



LA CANTINIERE 101

sale of drinks, that stands chained to the wall 'dur-
ing the night, and the quiet of the 'dockside is
broken by a merry clink of the glasses she sets out
in polished array.

"Bonjour, Madame! Madame Bartelmy, bon-
jour!." The Gardes raise their kepis in courteous
salute.

"Bonjour, Messieurs," says Madame, and she
pours out a liberal 'morning' for her early cus-
tomers.

Madame is of about fifty, but as yet no sign of
grey is permitted to appear in her neatly coiffured
hair. Wrinkles but few. The grande secret is
hers, and her pleasant face shows little trace of
care. To the waist she is trim, in a close-fitting
bodice, and from there voluminous skirts bunch
out fold upon fold like crinoline almost. She
wears a blue apron at her work, and from a bulg-
ing pocket peeps a neatly folded Petit Marseillais.

A young boy assistant joins her at the stall, car-
rying a large basket of fine French bread in long
sticks, hard dry sausages, round fresh grapes and
a plentiful supply of coloured paper to take the
place of plates in the hands of Messieurs les
ouvriers. Then the workmen come not sullenly
hurrying to heel, but lounging 'down the 'dockside
in parties of two and four, calling greetings to one
another, shaking hands right hand and left. It
is bonjour, indeed, and Madame' s quick hands are
taxed by rapid service as the men purchase their



102 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

breakfast a foot or so of the fine brea'd, a saus-
age of unknown ingredients and after, a glass of
wine to send all home. Then comes a lighting of
cigarettes with vile sulphur matches that need a
minute's shielding in the hollowed hands before
anything can be done.

Tout a I'heure, a cracked bell is set a-dinning,
and the men go to work.

Now, a short rest for Madame while the small
boy polishes the glasses anew. The Petit Mar-
seillais is carefully unfolded, and after the major
points of news have been scanned, Madame turns
to the enthralling serial, 'Vertige d'amour.' There
are six quarter columns of concentrated emotion,
but Madame is a quick reader and la suite a de-
main may be reached before the first of the carters
comes in, leading his line of five stout horses and a
long empty cart.

Clattering, he goes up the dock to a loading-
stand, sets his horses at ease, and returns to the
Buvette for his bread and wine. Others come in
and join him at the bar, cracking a jest with
Madame or talking of the state of the roads. One
by one the long carts are loaded up, and the carters
set off for their oil mills with a great cracking of
whips.

The sun grows strong, having risen high of the
Magasins 'du Port, and Madame spreads a gaily
striped awning over her stall. The official hour
has now come. All the officials of the Quai and les



LA CANTINIERE 103

Docks pass r down on their way to their affairs.
Baggy-trousered Douaniers, Sanitaires (long-
nosed fellows, these), Maitres 'du Port, Pilotes
all have to be quickly served, and the big tumbler
on the shelf, that serves as the till, grows brown
with the sous that Madame (cleverly examining
without attracting undue notice), tosses carelessly
in.

Now business slackens. The officials are saun-
tering leisurely to their desks. All the men are at
work, and even a Dago stevedore would hardly
think of a sortie so soon after starting. But there
are ways for those whom hasty rising or a block
at the bridges has delayed beyond the point of
starting.

"Allez, Marcel Fa-fen" says Madame, and
the small boy takes up a basket in which bottles are
arranged: cognac for the rich, ordinaire for the
thrifty, coupe for les pauvres. A bucket of clean
water and a cloth for the glasses completes the
equipment, and Marcel climbs up the long gang-
way leading to the ship and makes his way to the
cargo hatches, shouting as he goes, "Qui vettt
boire? Oui veut boire, apres?"



XV

SULIMAN BUX

Tll/'HEN I first knew Suliman Bux he was a
^ ' 'gharry lenga' at the Bombay Dock gates.
This particular business requires only strong legs
and unlimited pertinacity. The strong legs are
necessary that a successful gharry lenga may run
faster than a merely ordinary gharry lenga. In
such employment the race is ever to the swift.
Pertinacity is also needed in conduct of the busi-
ness the important one of running to fetch a
carriage from the nearest hackney stand immedi-
ately a white Sahib may turn out of the dock gates.
Suliman had all the attributes of success in his in-
itial calling. He was light of foot, he was not
readily discouraged. His upper body was of
small account: a weak looking chest, thin puny
arms but his legs! Ah! Like every growing
thing in India, he was all legs. Always, he was in
fine trim for running. He was never burdened by
an excess of* clothing. He wore a pocket handker-
chief, suitably disposed. Suliman Bux !

He would hang about the dock gates all day.
During the working hours in the docks, when few

104



SULIMAN BUX 105

seafaring gentlemen would require carriages, he;
could be seen playing with other small boys at a
sort of 'knuckle-taw,' a game in which he would
bend certain of his fingers far back, like a catapult,
and propel his marbles with an amazing force.

It was well not to let Suliman see you watching
his skill at the ploy, for then he would bound to
his feet and set off, his long brown legs spurring
on the hard sun-baked roadway, his shrill voice
yelling, "Gharry! . . . Oo . . . ee, gharriwal-
lahf" He was already off, hot foot, on your
service, whether you were desirous of taking a
carriage or not. It would be no matter that per-
haps gharries a-plenty were standing in the rank
near by, that a wave of your walking stick would
bring half a dozen crowding around, there was
an excitement* about Suliman's way of working
that drew attention, it was almost impossible to
ignore all that he was doing for you.

How he would run ! The intentness of the busi-
ness ! The way'he would rush to the very sorriest
looking horse in the hackney stand, hustle the
driver to pick up the handful of feed from the
poor brute's nose and stow the bag under the back
axle ! The air of it ! Almost as though the whole
world was standing still until the Sahib was served !

Suliman would then whip off a scrap of a muslin
cap and scrub, scrub with industry at the dingy
cushions, then step off the gharry at your service.
He would salaam expectantly, his small chest



106 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

panting with his exertions. Two annas was the
price. "Chllao, gharrlwallah" he would say when
he had received his 'doceur, and he would salaam
you grandly as the broken-winded arab got into
stride.

On occasion, Suliman would have difficulties in
the conduct of his business, and this was where his
pertinacity would be useful. Certain Sahibs, not
properly conscious of the dignity of their high sta-
tion as 'white gen-tlee-man,' might have a demo-
cratic desire to walk. The cooler airs of the eve-
ning, the afterglow of rosy sunset, might tempt
them to a stroll over to the Queens Road or the
Maidan. It was Suliman's business to discourage
such persons. Legs were certainly of value to a
( gharry lenga* (that much he was prepared to ad-
mit), but he could see no good purpose served by
undue exercise of these limbs by those whom he
considered his clients. It was neither right nor
proper that a real Sahib should walk on the street
like an ordinary person when Suliman was at hand
to procure a conveyance. He objected. He
would shew his dissatisfaction by accompanying
you for a mile if you could stand it for as long
marching a-step (but cleverly out of reach of your
cane), and murmuring now and anon, "Sahib!
. . . Oh, Sahib, gharri mungta? . . . Hum
gharri lenga, Sahib?" (Sir, do you want a carriage,
Sir? . . . Shall I bring a carriage, Sir?)

Some* time passed. All that was before the hair!



SULIMAN BUX 107

came on his face. With the coming of the years,
younger and more active chokras did him out of
business. There was not much in it, anyway. Cer-
tainly not enough to gratify the ambitions that I
am sure Suliman possessed. He was no longer
content to hang around the dock gates. He was
now somewhat broadened and carried some
weight: the meagre rations that did tolerably well
to support the light frame of a gharry lenga, had
somehow to be supplemented to meet the demands
of a swiftly growing body. He passed into the
dock and went aboard the ships to do a trade in
'pos'karts' and second-hand magazines. Unable
to read, he invented a code of markings to enable
him to identify his good-selling lines in the latter,
the covers of his periodicals were blazed to him
by dabs of cochineal or betel. He knew the 'By-e-
shtander 9 by a half-moon, the Police Gazette by a
line, Dainty Novelettes by a rude bull's-eye. Suli-
man understood his trade. By a ready wit, he saw
that Police Gazettes and Dainty Novelettes were
the right reading for sailormen. Also, he* learnt
the times and seasons for his goods. At the pre-
cise psychological moment when one was thinking
it was too hot to write a long letter, when one
was wishing that post cards were on hand, Hutt,
Suliman would appear from out the arches of a
dock crane with fine pictorial views of Malabar
Hill and the Parsee Tower of Silence. Fine pic-
ture post cards giving opportunity for an open-



io8 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

ing to one's brief hot-weather correspondence,
'What do you think of this view?'

A small measure of prosperity came to him at
this phase of his career. I noted, from time to
time, that he was adding to his wardrobe. It is by
personal adornment that one may gauge prosperity
among the shipboard pedlers at Bombay. A little
at a time. First come shoes, raw country-hide ones
with curly upturned toepieces it is not until a
position is assured that the shiniest of patent
leathers are worn. Caps and turbans follow
streaked, as affairs go well, with cunning threads
of silver or gold. It is sometime later before
jacket and 'waskut' appear, concessions as they
are to an European way of life that may only be
balanced by an enhancement of trade. Suliman ac-
quired a wardrobe. ^ I saw it being put on, piece
by piece. :

From 'pos'lcarts* and the By-e-shtander (and
Dainty Novelettes,} he came to be a 'box-wallah.'
His stock of braces, buttons and bootlaces, black-
ing and bianco, were kept in an old Fry's choco-
late box, a shabby old thing which I am sure Suli-
man despised by the way he slapped it about in
his dealings. As his business flourished, he pro-
cured a handsome cabinet of polished teak with a
glass lid, and even I saw the pride with which he
took out his key and unlocked the lid in order that
one would feel the confidence of his open show,
as opposed to the suspicion that might be engen-



SULIMAN BUX 109

Hered by other 'box-wallahs' in permitting an in-
spection only through the glass lid.

His wares! Cheap safety razors that were in-
ordinately safe; fountain pens that objected to
fount or founted unduly; patent strops that
rolled up and clipped the fingers if one released
the grip ; tinted eye-glasses that gave one an even
more grotesque view of dockside life; buttons,
beads, needles, thread collar-e-shtuds. All these
he had. He did business. He prospered. He
had a marvellous memory for faces. He had a
way of insinuating that he was really an old friend.
He would glow with a fine proud smile on first
meeting, as though his whole thought had been in
your interest since last you had been in the port.
He did not at this date use the term 'Sahib'
so often. 'Marster' had become his form of ad-
'dress. "Arre, Marster," he would say to a new-
comer, in appeal for custom, "... I savvy you
long time comin' Bombay!"

Now ! Ah ! Now, I would like to see Suliman
Bux at his old trade as a.' gharry lenga' Ye Gods !
He has grown fat ! He weighs about fifteen stone.
His cheeks bulge. He shows every sign of excess
in the succulent ghee. He has a red-dyed whisker,
not the flowing beard that adds dignity to a man
of stature, but straggling wisps, untended like
cocoa-matting. His 'waskut,' in the proportion of
circumference at top and bottom, is like a crinoline.
His polished wood box is still with him, but now



i io 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

contains only a small proportion of his wares. He
employs a coolie to carry his many bundles. He
has brassware and sandal-wood articles, silks,
china, ebony elephants, carpets, silverwork. Give
him but the word, and he will measure you for a
longshore suit of what he fondly asserts to be the
latest London cut. He is no longer a mere 'box-
wallah,' he has become a 'marchant.'

He chews betelnut, sitting in odd corners of the
'dock sheds during the heat of the day. Certainly,
he bustles in the cooler hours and on Sundays. He
presents a card. Suliman Bux is not now his name.
He is one of the great firm of 'Messrs Cheep Jack
and Compny. Navil, civel, and Mility taylors and
general orders supplied.' As he talks, a wonder-
fully fluent colloquial English it is, too, he may
carelessly whisk aside his alpaca long-coat to ex-
pose a fancy silk waskut, the buttons arrayed in
sequence being our Uncle Sam's gold dollars. Suli-
man has arrived at the height of his prosperity.
He has two wives and owns an interest in a race-
horse that is entered in the second Monsoon
Meeting! What do you think of that now?




"C^OR long voyages foreign away sail-power
A still survives in a few ill-found, undermanned
vessels, whose stunted spars and feeble spread of
canvas are but pathetic relics of a stately fleet.
The demands of the day have called for a greater
carrying capacity and quicker transport. Steam,
the mighty revolutionary, has ousted the square
rigger from nearly every sea route, and the spec-
tacle of lofty ships, still staunch and seaworthy,
lying idly at their rusty moorings, is to be seen at
every port in the Kingdom.

In home waters the coasting trade, though now
largely exploited by an ever-increasing fleet of
steamers, has still a place and purpose for the
smaller sailing vessels, and never a wind blows east
or west outside the citadels of commerce, but there
are sailing craft to set out or put in coasters,
humble units of the great fleet that flies the Red
Ensign.

They are vessels of no great burthen, these sea-
worthy little ships that set about bravely at van-
tage of the unbought wind. Most are of a light
'draught of water, that they may the more readily

in



ii2 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

cross the shallow bars of minor seaports an'd pick
up cargo that the deeper steamers could not ven-
ture in for. They are of many rigs barques,
brigantines, brigs, dandys but the most favoured
is that of topsail schooner, a fine rig for a small
crew a handy sail plan. 'Fore and aft' to lie
close when winds are contrary, and a square top-
sail to spread to a favouring breeze. Among
them are many ancient hulls stout old wooden
walls that have stood the stress of wind and
weather for nigh on half a century. Built in some
snug harbour, away from the feverish haste and
bustle (and 'scamped' labours) of the great ship-
building centres, they have good workmanship in
them the finer touches of the shipwright's art
that few owners will pay for in these cut-throat
'days; many have lines and finish that would dis-
credit no lordly brewer on a yachting trip.

Taking such cargoes as the bustling steam
coasters despise (and these grow less and less as
the years go on), they strive to earn a livelihood if
not a competence for those who own and man
them. In them, alone of all the merchant service,
there is no place for the foreign seaman, indeed,
the little to be made would offer no inducement to
bring Hans Dans and Yon Smit from the steam-
heated forecastle of a steamer.

Noting the port of registry on the stern of a
coaster, it may be taken that the crew are natives
of that part of the country family ships as like



COASTING DAYS 113

as not, witH a stout captain who may also be the
owner, and his sons and nephews to bear hand at
sheet and halyard, and learn to sail the vessel when
the old man has gone the long road. Although
nothing great at the science of navigation, the men
who sail the coasters are sterling seamen, never at
a loss for a sure course in home waters, ready of
hand and eye for the many dangers to be met and
overcome peril of shoal and sandbank, tempest,
tide-race, and, greatest of all, the dank clammy
fog-wraiths that cloud the seaman's master-sense
when he has direst need of a clear outlook.

Coasters are run on lines of economy, as needs
must when freights are low and competition close.
Every breath of wind is made to serve a passage,
and when a port is made (difficult of entry and
requiring a steam escort for the winding channels) ,
it is nothing uncommon for the coaster to drop
anchor at the bar and await the coming of some
inward-bound neighbour, so that a better bargain
may be struck with the tugman. A tide or more on
the passage is no great matter, but an outlav of
hard cash has to be considered with care.


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Online LibraryDavid W. (David William) BoneBroken stowage → online text (page 6 of 16)