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the amount of the captain's practice, was admirably well suited for his
station, in the great requisite of a kickee. But, the last hold of the
land loosened by the departure of the pilot, our navigator came forth in
his true colors, and showed the stuff of which he was really made. The
first thing he did was to cause a pull to be made on every halyard,
bowline, and brace in the ship; he then rattled off both mates, in
order to show them (as he afterwards told me in confidence) that he was
captain of his own vessel; gave the people to understand he did not like
to speak twice on the same subject and on the same occasion, which he
said was a privilege he very willingly left to Congressmen and women;
and then he appeared satisfied with himself and all around him.

A week after we had taken our departure, I ventured to ask Captain Poke
if it might not be well enough to take an observation, and to resort to
some means in order to know where the ship was. Noah treated this idea
with great disrespect. He could see no use in wearing out quadrants
without any necessity for it. Our course was south, we knew, for we were
bound to the south pole; all we had to do was to keep America on the
starboard, and Africa on the larboard hand. To be sure, there was
something to be said about the trades, and a little allowance to be made
for currents now and then; but he and the ship would get to be
better acquainted before a great while, and then all would go on like
clockwork. A few days after this conversation, I was on deck just as day
dawned, and to my surprise Noah, who was in his berth, called out to the
mate, through the skylight, to let him know exactly how the land bore.
No one had yet seen any land; but at this summons we began to look about
us, and sure enough there was an island dimly visible on the eastern
board! Its position by compass was immediately communicated to the
captain, who seemed well satisfied with the result. Renewing his
admonition to the officer of the deck to take care and keep Africa on
the larboard hand, he turned over in his bed to resume his nap.

I afterwards understood from the mates, that we had made a very capital
fall upon the trades, and that we were getting on wonderfully well,
though it was quite as great a mystery to them as it was to me, how
the captain could know where the ship was; for he had not touched his
quadrant, except to wipe it with a silk handkerchief, since we left
England. About a fortnight after we had passed the Cape de Verds, Noah
came on deck in a great rage, and began to storm at the mate and the
man at the wheel for not keeping the ship her course. To this the
former answered with spirit, that the only order he had received in a
fortnight, was "to keep her jogging south, allowing for variation," and
that she was heading at that moment according to orders. Hereupon, Noah
gave Bob, who happened to pass him just then, a smart application a
posteriori, and swore "that the compass was as big a fool as the mate;
that the ship was two points off her course; that south was hereaway,
and not thereaway; that he knew by the feel of the wind that it had no
northin' in it, and we had got it away on the quarter, whereas it ought
to be for'ard of the beam; that we were running for Rio instead of
Leaphigh, and that if we ever expected to get to the latter country, we
must haul up on a good taut bowline." The mate, to my surprise, suddenly
acquiesced, and immediately brought the ship by the wind. He afterwards
told me, in a half-whisper, that the second mate having been sharpening
some harpoons, had unwittingly left them much too close to the binnacle;
and that, in fact, the magnet had been attracted by them, so as to
deceive the man at the wheel and himself, fully twenty degrees as to the
real points of the compass. I must say this little occurrence greatly
encouraged me, leaving no doubt about our eventual and safe arrival as
far, at least, as the boundary of ice which separates the human from the
monikin region. Profiting by this feeling of security, I now began to
revive the intercourse with the strangers, which had been partially
interrupted by the novel and disagreeable circumstances of a sea life.

The Lady Chatterissa and her companion, as is much the case with females
at sea, rarely left the gynecee; but as we drew near the equator, the
philosopher and the young peer passed most of their time on deck, or
aloft. Dr. Reasono and I spent half of the mild nights in discussing
subjects connected with my future travels; and as soon as we were well
clear of the rain and the thunder and lightning of the calm latitudes,
Captain Poke, Robert, and myself began to study the language of
Leaphigh. The cabin-boy was included in this arrangement, Noah
intimating we should find it convenient to take him on shore with
us, since a wish to conceal my destination had induced me to bring
no servant along. Luckily for us, the monikin ingenuity had greatly
diminished the labor of the acquisition. The whole language was spoken
and written on a system of decimals, which rendered it particularly
easy, after the elementary principles were once acquired. Thus, unlike
most human tongues, in which the rule usually forms the exception,
no departure from its laws was ever allowed, under the penalty of the
pillory. This provision, the captain protested, was the best rule
of them all, and saved a vast deal of trouble; for, as he knew
by experience, a man might be a perfect adept in the language of
Stunin'tun, and then be laughed at in New York for his pains. The
comprehensiveness of the tongue was also another great advantage;
though, like all other eminent advantages or excessive good, it was
the next-door neighbor to as great an evil. Thus, as my Lord Chatterino
obligingly explained, "we-witch-it-me-cum" means "Madam, I love you from
the crown of my head to the tip of my tail; and as I love no other half
as well, it would make me the happiest monikin on earth, if you would
consent to become my wife, that we might be models of domestic propriety
before all eyes, from this time henceforth and forever." In short, it
was the usual and most solemn expression for asking in marriage; and,
by the laws of the land, was binding on the proposer until as
formally declined by the other party. But, unluckily, the word
"we-switch-it-me-cum" means "Madam, I love you from the crown of my head
to the tip of my tail; and, if I did not love another better, it would
make me the happiest monikin on earth, if you would consent to become
my wife, that we might be models of domestic propriety before all eyes,
from this time henceforth and forever." Now this distinction, subtle and
insignificant as it was to the eye and the ear, caused a vast deal of
heart-burning and disappointment among the young people of Leaphigh.
Several serious lawsuits had grown out of this cause, and two great
political parties had taken root in the unfortunate mistake of a young
monikin of quality, who happened to lisp, and who used the fatal word
indiscreetly. That feud, however, was now happily appeased, having
lasted only a century, but it would be wise, as we were all three
bachelors, to take note of the distinction. Captain Poke said he
thought, on the whole, he was perfectly safe, as he was much accustomed
to the use of the word "switchel"; but he thought it might be very
well to go before some consul as soon as the ship anchored, and enter
a formal protest of our ignorance of all these niceties, lest some
advantage should be taken of us by the reptiles of lawyers; that he in
particular was not a bachelor, and that Miss Poke would be as furious
as a hurricane, if by accident, he should happen to forget himself. The
matter was deferred for future deliberation.

About this time, too, I had some more interesting communications with
Dr. Reasono, on the subject of the private histories of all the party of
which he was the principal member. It would seem that the philosopher,
though rich in learning, and the proprietor of one of the best developed
caudce in the entire monikin world, was poor in the more vulgar
attributes of monikin wealth. While he bestowed freely, therefore, from
the stores of his philosophy, and through the medium of the academy
of Leaphigh, on all his fellows, he was obliged to seek an especial
recipient for his surplus knowledge, in the shape of a pupil, in order
to provide for the small remains of the animal that still lingered in
his habits. Lord Chatterino, the orphan heritor of one of the noblest
and wealthiest, as well as one of the most ancient houses of Leaphigh,
had been put under his instruction at a very tender age, as had my Lady
Chatterissa under that of Mrs. Lynx, with very much the same objects.
This young and accomplished pair had early distinguished each other,
in monikin society, for their unusual graces of person, general
attainments, mutual amiableness of disposition, harmony of thought, and
soundness of principles. Everything was propitious to the gentle flame
which was kindled in the vestal bosom of Chatterissa, and which was met
by a passion so ardent and so respectful, as that which glowed in the
heart of young No. 8 purple. The friends of the respective parties,
so soon as the budding sympathy between them was observed, in order to
prevent the blight of wishes so appropriate, had called in the aid of
the matrimonial surveyor-general of Leaphigh, an officer especially
appointed by the king in council, whose duty it is to take cognizance of
the proprieties of all engagements that are likely to assume a character
as grave and durable as that of marriage. Dr. Reasono showed me the
certificate issued from the Marriage Department on this occasion, and
which, in all his wanderings, he had contrived to conceal within the
lining of the Spanish hat the Savoyards had compelled him to wear, and
which he still preserved as a document that was absolutely indispensable
on his return to Leaphigh; else he would never be permitted to travel
afoot in company with two young people of birth and of good estates, who
were of the different sexes. I translate the certificate, as literally
as the poverty of the English language will allow.

Extract from the Book of Fitness, Marriage Department, Leaphigh, season
of nuts, day of brightness.

Vol. 7243, p. 82.

Lord Chatterino: Domains; 126,952 3/4 acres of land; meadow, arable and
wood in just proportions.

Lady Chatterissa: Domains; 115,999 1/2 acres of land; mostly arable.

Decree, as of record; it is found that the lands of my Lady Chatterissa
possess in quality what they want in quantity.

Lord Chatterino: Birth; sixteen descents pure; one bastardy - four
descents pure - a suspicion - one descent pure - a certainty.

Lady Chatterissa: Birth; six descents pure - three bastardies - eleven
descents pure - a certainty - a suspicion - unknown.

Decree as of record; it is found that the advantage is on the side of my
Lord Chatterino, but the excellence of the estate on the other side is
believed to equalize the parties.

(Signed) No. 6 ermine. A true copy.

(Counter signed) No. 1,000,003 ink-color.

Ordered, that the parties make the Journey of Trial together, under the
charge of Socrates Reasono, Professor of Probabilities in the University
of Leaphigh, LL.D., F. U. D. G. E., and of Mrs. Vigilance Lynx, licensed
duenna.

The Journey of Trial is so peculiar to the monikin system, and it might
be so usefully introduced into our own, that it may be well to explain
it. Whenever it is found that a young couple are agreeable (to use a
peculiar anglicized anglicism), in all the more essential requisites of
matrimony, they are sent on the journey in question, under the care of
prudent and experienced mentors, with a view to ascertain how far
they may be able to support, in each other's society, the ordinary
vicissitudes of life. In the case of candidates of the more vulgar
classes, there are official overseers, who usually drag them through a
few mud-puddles, and then set them to work at some hard labor that is
especially profitable to the public functionaries, who commonly get the
greater part of their own year's work done in this manner. But, as the
moral provisions of all laws are invented less for those who own
126,952 3/4 acres of land, divided into meadow, arable and wood, in just
proportions, than for those whose virtues are more likely to yield
to the fiery ordeal of temptation, the rich and noble, after making
a proper and useful manifestation of their compliance with the usage,
ordinarily retire to their country seats, where they pass the period of
probation as agreeably as they can; taking care to cause to be inserted
in the Leaphigh gazette, however, occasional extracts from their letters
describing the pains and hardships they are compelled to endure for the
consolation and edification of those who have neither birth nor country
houses. In a good many instances the journey is actually performed by
proxy But the case of my Lord Chatterino and my Lady Chatterissa formed
an exception even to these exceptions. It was thought by the authorities
that the attachment of a pair so illustrious offered a good occasion to
distinguish the Leaphigh impartiality; and on the well-known principle
which induces us sometimes to hang an earl in England, the young couple
were commanded actually to go forth with all useful eclat (secret orders
being given to their guardians to allow every possible indulgence, at
the same time), in order that the lieges might see and exult in the
sternness and integrity of their rulers.

Dr. Reasono had accordingly taken his departure from the capital for the
mountains, where he instructed his wards in a practical commentary of
the ups and downs of life, by exposing them on the verges of precipices
and in the delights of the most fertile valleys (which, as he justly
observed, was the greater danger of the two), leading them over flinty
paths, hungry and cold, in order to try their tempers; and setting up
establishments with the most awkward peasants for servants, to ascertain
the depth of Chatterissa's philosophy; with a variety of similar
ingenious devices, that will readily suggest themselves to all who have
any matrimonial experience, whether they live in palaces or cottages.
When this part of the trial was successfully terminated (the result
having shown that the gentle Chatterissa was of proof, so far as mere
temper was concerned), the whole party were ordered off to the barrier
of ice, which divides the monikin from the human region, with a view to
ascertain whether the warmth of their attachment was of a nature likely
to resist the freezing collisions of the world. Here, unfortunately,
(for the truth must be said), an unlucky desire of Dr. Reasono, who was
already F. U. D. G. E., but who had a devouring ambition to become also
M. O. R. E., led him into the extreme imprudence of pushing through
an opening, where he had formerly discovered an island, on an ancient
expedition of the same sort; and on which island he thought he saw a
rock, that formed a stratum of what he believed to be a portion of the
forty thousand square miles that were discomposed by the great eruption
of the earth's boiler. The philosopher foresaw a thousand interesting
results that were dependent on the ascertaining of this important
fact; for all the learning of Leaphigh having been exhausted, some five
hundred years before, in establishing the greatest distance to which any
fragment had been thrown on that memorable occasion, great attention had
latterly been given to the discovery of the least distance any fragment
had been hurled. Perhaps I ought to speak tenderly of the consequences
of a learned zeal, but it was entirely owing to this indiscretion that
the whole party fell into the hands of certain mariners who were sealing
on the northern shores of this very island, (friends and neighbors, as
it afterwards appeared, of Captain Poke), who remorselessly seized upon
the travellers, and sold them to a homeward-bound India-man, which they
afterwards fell in with near the island of St. Helena - St. Helena! the
tomb of him who is a model to all posterity, for the moderation of his
desires, the simplicity of his character, a deep veneration for
truth, profound reverence for justice, unwavering faith, and a clear
appreciation of all the nobler virtues.

We came in sight of the island in question, just as Dr. Reasono
concluded his interesting narrative; and, turning to Captain Poke, I
solemnly asked that discerning and shrewd seaman, -

"If he did not think the future would fully avenge itself of the
past - if history would not do ample justice to the mighty dead - if
certain names would not be consigned to everlasting infamy for chaining
a hero to a rock; and whether HIS country, the land of freemen, would
ever have disgraced itself, by such an act of barbarism and vengeance?"

The captain heard me very calmly; then deliberately helping himself to
some tobacco, he replied, -

"Harkee, Sir John. At Stunin'tun, when we catch a ferocious critter', we
always put it in a cage. I'm no great mathematician, as I've often told
you; if my dog bites me once, I kick him - twice, I beat him - thrice, I
chain him."

Alas! there are minds so unfortunately constituted, that they have
no sympathies with the sublime. All their tendencies are direct and
common-sense like. To such men, Napoleon appears little better than one
who lived among his fellows more in the character of a tiger than in
that of a man. They condemn him because he could not reduce his own
sense of the attributes of greatness to the level of their home-bred
morality. Among this number, it would now seem, was to be classed
Captain Noah Poke.

A wish to relate the manner in which Dr. Reasono and his companions
fell into human hands, has caused me to overlook one or two matters
of lighter moment, that should not, in justice to myself, however, be
entirely omitted.

When we had been at sea two days, a very agreeable surprise for the
monikin party was prepared and executed. I had caused a certain number
of jackets and trousers to be made of the skins of different animals,
such as dogs, cats, sheep, tigers, leopards, hogs, etc., etc., with the
proper accompaniments of snouts, hoofs, and claws; and, when the ladies
came on deck, after breakfast, their eyes were no longer offended by our
rude innovations upon nature, but the whole crew were flying about the
rigging, like so many animals of the different species named. Noah
and myself appeared in the characters of sea-lions, the former having
intimated that he understood the nature of that beast better than any
other. Of course, this delicate attention was properly appreciated, and
handsomely acknowledged.

I had taken the precaution to order imitation-skins to be made of
cotton, which were worn in the low latitudes; and, as we got near the
Falkland Islands, the real skins were resumed, with promptitude, and I
might add, with pleasure.

Noah had, at first, raised some strong objections to the scheme, saying
that he should not feel safe in a ship manned and officered altogether
by wild beasts; but, at last, he came to enjoy the thing as a good joke,
never failing to hail the men, not by their names as formerly, but,
as he expressed it himself, "by their natur's"; calling out "You cat,
scratch this"; "You tiger, jump here"; "You hog, out of that dirt"';
"You dog, scamper there"; "You horse, haul away," and divers other
similar conceits, that singularly tickled his fancy. The men themselves
took up the ball, which they kept rolling, embellished with all sorts of
nautical witticisms; their surname - they had but one, viz. Smith - being
entirely dropped for the new appellations. Thus, the sounds of "Tom
Dog," "Jack Cat," "Bill Tiger," "Sam Hog," and "Dick Horse," were flying
about the deck from morning to night.

Good humor is a great alleviator of bodily privation. From the time the
ship lost sight of Staten Land, we had heavy weather, with hard gales
from the southward and westward; and we had the utmost difficulty in
making our southing. Observations now became a very difficult matter,
the sun being invisible for a week at a time. The marine instinct of
Noah, at this crisis, was of the last importance to all on board. He
gave us the cheering assurance, however, from time to time, that we were
going south, although the mates declared that they knew not where the
ship was, or whither she was running; neither sun, moon, nor star having
now been seen for more than a week.

We had been in this state of anxiety and doubt for about a fortnight,
when Captain Poke suddenly appeared on deck, and called for the
cabin-boy, in his usual stentorian and no-denial voice, by the name of
"You Bob Ape"; for the duty of Robert requiring that he should be much
about the persons of the monikins, I had given him a dress of apes'
skins, as a garb that would be more congenial to their tastes than
that of a pig, or a weasel. Bob Ape was soon forthcoming, and, as he
approached his master, he quietly turned his face from him, receiving,
as a matter of course, three or four smart admonitory hints, by way of
letting him know that he was to be active in the performance of the
duty on which he was about to be sent. On this occasion I made an odd
discovery. Bob had profited by the dimensions of his lower garment,
which had been cut for a much larger boy (one of those who had broken
down in essaying the true Doric of "Sir"), by stuffing it with an old
union-jack-a sort of "sarvice," as he afterwards told me, that saved
him a good deal of wear and tear of skin. To return to passing events,
however; when Robert had been duly kicked, he turned about manfully, and
demanded the captain's pleasure. He was told to bring the largest and
fairest pumpkin he could find, from the private stores of Mr. Poke, that
navigator never going to sea without a store of articles that he termed
"Stunin'tun food." The captain took the pumpkin between his legs, and
carefully peeled off the whole of its greenish-yellow coat, leaving it
a globe of a whitish color. He then asked for the tar-bucket, and, with
his fingers, traced various marks, which were pretty accurate outlines
of the different continents and the larger islands of the world. The
region near the south pole, however, he left untouched; intimating that
it contained certain sealing islands, which he considered pretty much as
the private property of the Stunin'tunners.

"Now, Doctor," he said, pointing to the pumpkin, "there is the 'arth,
and here is the tar-pot - just mark down the position of your island of
Leaphigh, if you please, according to the best accounts your academy has
of the matter. Make a dab here and there, if you happen to know of any
rocks and shoals. After that, you can lay down the island where you were
captured, giving a general idee of its headlands and of the trending of
the coast."

Dr. Reasono took a fid, and with its end he traced all the desired
objects with great readiness and skill. Noah examined the work, and
seemed satisfied that he had fallen into the hands of a monikin who had
very correct notions of bearings and distances, one, in short, on whose
local knowledge it might do to run even in the night. He then projected
the position of Stunnin'tun, an occupation in which he took great
delight, actually designing the meeting-house and the principal tavern;
after which, the chart was laid aside.




CHAPTER XIV. HOW TO STEER SMALL - HOW TO RUN THE GAUNTLET WITH A
SHIP - HOW TO GO CLEAR - A NEW-FASHIONED SCREW - DOCK, AND CERTAIN
MILE-STONES.


Captain Poke no longer deliberated about the course we were to steer.
With his pumpkin for a chart, his instinct for an observation, and his
nose for a compass, the sturdy sealer stood boldly to the southward; or,
at least, he ran dead before a stiff gale, which, as he more than once
affirmed, was as true a norther as if bred and born in the Canadas.

After coursing over the billows at a tremendous rate for a day and a
night, the captain appeared on deck, with a face of unusual meaning,
and a mind loaded with its own reflections, as was proved by his winking
knowingly whenever he delivered himself of a sentiment; a habit that
he had most probably contracted, in early youth, at Stunin'tun, for it
seemed to be quite as inveterate as it was thoroughbred.

"We shall soon know, Sir John," he observed, hitching the sea-lion skin
into symmetry, "whether it is sink or swim!"

"Pray explain yourself, Mr. Poke," cried I, in a little alarm. "If
anything serious is to happen, you are bound to give timely notice."



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 14 of 34)