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First Published ....

June 1st, 1905

Second Edition, Revised

and much Enlarged

July 1913

Third Edition {Fourth Thousand) .

July 1914

Fourth Edition [Fifth Thousand) .

April 1 91 8

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All Rights Reserved

I yarned with ancient shipmeii beside tlie gfallcy range
And some were fond of women, but all were fond of change ;
They sang their quavering chanties, all in a fo'c's'le drone,
And I was finely suited, if I had only known.

I rested in an ale-house that had a sanded floor.

Where seamen sat a-drinking and chalking up the score ;

They yarned of ships and mermaids, of topsail sheets and

But I was discontented ; I looked for better things.

I heard a drunken fiddler, in Billy Lee's Saloon,
I brooked an empty belly with thinking of the tune:
I swung the doors disgusted as drunkards rose to dance,
And now I know the music was life and life's romance.




Don ALFONSO'a Treasure Hunt .


Port of Many Ships


Sea Superstition


A Sailor's Yarn


The Yarn of Lanky Job . . . .


From the Spanish ....


The Seal Man


The Western Islands


Captain John Ward ....


Captain John Jennings

. ^l

The Voyage of the Cygnet

• 105

Captain Robert Knox

. 124

Captain John Coxon ....

• 133

In a Castle Ruin ....

• «5i

A Deal of Cards ....

• 157

The Devil and the Old Man

' 179



NOW in the old days, before steam, there was
a young- Spanish buck who lived in Trin-
idad, and his name was Don Alfonso. Now
Trinidad is known, in a way of speaking-, among
sailormen, as Hell's Lid, or Number One Hatch, by
reason of its being very hot there. They've a great
place there, which they show to folk, where it 's like
a cauldron of pitch. It bubbles pitch out of the
earth, all black and hot, and you see great slimy
workings, all across, like ropes being coiled inside.
And talk about smell there ! — talk of brimstone ! —
why, it 's like a cattle-ship gone derelict, that 's
what that place is like.

Now by reason of the heat there, the folk ot
those parts — a lot of Spaniards mostly, Dagoes



and that — they don't do nothing but just sit
around. When they turn out of a morrang they
get some yellow paper and some leaf tobacco, and
they rolls what they calls cigarellers and sticks
them in their ears like pens. That 's their day's
work, that is— rolling them yellow cigarellers.
Well, then, they set around and they smokes —
big men, too, most of them— and they put flowers
in their hats — red roses and that — and that 's how
they pass their time.

Now this Don Alfonso he was a terror, he was ;
for they've got a licker in those parts. If you put
some of it on a piece of paint-work — and this is
gospel that I'm giving you — that paint it comes
off" like you was using turps. Now Don Alfonso
he was a terror at that licker — and that 's the sort
of Dago-boy Alfonso was.

Now Alfonso's mother was a widow, and he
was her only child, like in the play.

Now one time, when Don Alfonso was in the
pulperia (that 's Spanish for grog-shop), he was a-
bluin' down that licker the same as you or I
would be bluin' beer. And there was a gang of
Dagoes there, and all of them chewing the rag,


and all of them gfoing- for the vino — that 's the
Spanish name for wine — v-i-n-o. It 's red wine,
vino is ; they give it you in port to save water.

Now among them fancy Dagoes there was a
young Eye-talian who'd been treasure-hunting,
looking for buried treasure, in that Blue Nose
ship which went among the islands. Looking for
gold, he'd been, gold that was buried by the
pirates. They're a gay crew, them Blue Nose
fellers. What'd the pirates bury treasure for?
Not them. It stands to reason Did you ever see
a shellback go reeving his dollars down a rabbit-
warren? It stands to reason. Golden dollar coins
indeed. Bury them customs fellers if you like.
Now this young Dago, he was coming it proud
about that treasure. In one of them Tortugas, he
was saying, or off of the Chagres, or if not there
among them smelly Samballs, there 's tons of it
lying in a foot of sand with a skellinton on the
top. They used to kill a nigger, he was saying,
when they buried their blunt, so 's his ghost would
keep away thieves. There 's a sight of thieves,
ain't there, in them smelly Samballs? An' niggers
ain't got no ghosts, not that I ever heard


Oh, he was getting gay about that buried
treasure. Gold there was, and silver dollars and
golden jewels, and I don't know what all. "And
I knows the place," he says, " where it 's all lying,"
and out he pulls a chart with a red crost on it,
like in them Deadwood Dicky books. And what
with the vino and that there licker, he got them
Dagoes strung on a line. So the end of it was
that Don Alfonso he came down with the blunt.
And that gang of Dagoes they charters a brigantine
— she'd a Bible name to her, as is these Dagoes' way
— and off they sails a galley-vaunting looking for
gold with a skellinton on the top. Now one dusk,
just as they was getting out the lamps and going
forward with the kettle, they spies a land ahead
and sings out "Land, O!" By dark they was
within a mile of shore, hove-to off of a light-house
that was burning a red flare. Now the old man
he comes to Alfonso, and he says, " I dunno what
land this may be. There 's no land due to us this
week by my account. And that red flare there;
there 's no light burning a flare nearer here than
Sydney." "Let go your anchor," says Don Alfonso,
" for land there is, and where there 's land there's


rum. And lower away your dinghy, for I'm gfolng-
in for a drink. You can take her in, mister, with
two of the hands, and then lay aboard till I whistle."
So they lower the dinghy, and Don Alfonso takes
some cigarellers, and ashore he goes for that there

Now when he sets foot ashore, and the boat
was gone off, Don Alfonso he walks up the quay
in search of a pulperia. And it was a strange
land he was in, and that 's the truth. Quiet it was,
and the little white houses still as corfins, and
only a lamp or two burning, and never a sound
nor a song. Oh, a glad lad was Don Alfonso when
he sees a nice little calaboosa lying to leeward,
with a red lamp burning in the stoop. So in he
goes for a dram — into the grog-house, into a little
room with a fire lit and a little red man behind the
bar. Now it was a caution was that there room,
for instead of there bein' casks like beer or vino
casks, there was only corfins. And the little red
man he gives a grin, and he gives the glad hand
to Don Alfonso, and he sets them up along the
bar, and Alfonso lights a cigareller. So then the
Don drinks, and the little red man says, "Salue."


And the Utile red man drinks, and Alfonso says,
"Drink hearty." And then they drinks two and
two together. Then Alfonso sings some sort of a
Dago song, and the little red man he plays a tune
on the bones, and then they sets them up again
and has more bones and more singing. Then
Alfonso says, "It's time I was gettin' aboard";
but the little man says, " Oh, it 's early days yet —
the licker lies with you." So every time Alfonso
tries to go, the little red man says that. Till at
last, at dawn, the little red man turned into a little
red cock and crowed like a cock in the ox yard.
And immejitly the corfins all burst into skellintons,
and the bar broke into bits, and the licker blew up
like corpse-lights — like blue fire, the same as in
the scripters. And the next thing Don Alfonso
knowed he was lying on the beach with a head on
him full of mill-wheels and the mill working over-

So he gets up and sticks his head in the surf,
and blows his whistle for the boat to come. But
not a sign of a boat puts in, and not a sign of a
hand shows aboard, neither smoke nor nothin'.
So when he'd blew for maybe an hour he sees a


old skellinton of a boat lyings bilged on the sand.
And he went off in her, paddling- with the rud-
der, and he got alongside before she actually

Now, when he gets alongside, that there brigan-
tine was all rusty and rotted and all grown green
with grass. And flowers were growing on the
deck, and barnacles were a foot thick below the
water. The gulls had nested in her sails, and the
ropes drifted in the wind like flags, and a big red
rose-bush was twisted up the tiller. And there in
the grass, with daisies and such, were the lanky
white bones of all them Dagoes. They lay where
they'd died, with the vino casks near by and a
pannikin of tin that they'd been using as a dice-
box. They was dead white bones, the whole crew
— dead of waiting for Don Alfonso while he was
drinking with the little red man.

So Don Alfonso he kneels and he pra3's, and
"Oh," he says, "that I might die too, and me
the cause of these here whited bones, and all
from my love of licker ! Never again will I touch
rum," he says. " If I reach home," he says — he
was praying, you must mind — "you'll see I never


will." And he hacks through the cable with an
axe and runs up the rotten jib by pully-hauly.

Long he was sailing, living on dew and gulls'
eggs, sailing with them white bones in that there
blossoming old hulk. But at long last he comes
to Port of Spain and signals for a pilot, and brings
up just as sun was sinking. Thirty long years had
he been gone, and he was an old man when he
brought the whited bones home. But his old
mother was alive, and they lived happily ever after.
But never any licker would he drink, except only
dew or milk — he was that changed from what he



*' Down in the sea, very far down, under five miles
of water, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, there
is a sea cave, all roofed with coral. There is a
brig-htness in the cave, although it is so far below
the sea. And in the light there the great sea-snake
is coiled in immense blue coils, with a crown of
gold upon his horned head. He sits there very
patiently from year to year, making the water
tremulous with the threshing of his gills. And
about him at all times swim the goggle-eyed dumb
creatures of the sea. He is the king of all the
fishes, and he waits there until the judgement day,
when the waters shall pass away for ever and the
dim kingdom disappear. At times the coils of his
body wreathe themselves, and then the waters
above him rage. One folding of his coil will cover
a sea with shipwreck; and so it must be until the


sea and the ships come to an end together in that
serpent's death-throe.

"Now when that happens, when the snake is
dying-, there will come a lull and a hush, like when
the boatswain pipes. And in that time of quiet you
will hear a great beating of ships' bells, for in every
ship sunken in the sea the life will go leaping to
the white bones of the drowned. And every
drowned sailor, with the weeds upon him, will
spring alive again ; and he will start singing and
beating on the bells, as he did in life when starting
out upon a cruise. And so great and sweet will be
the music that they make that you will think little
of harps from that time on, my son.

" Now the coils of the snake will stiffen out, like
a rope stretched taut for hauling. His long knobbed
horns will droop. His golden crown will roll from
his old, tired head. And he will lie there as dead
as herring, while the sea will fall calm, like it was
before the land appeared, with never a breaker in
her. Then the great white whale, old Moby Dick,
the king of all the whales, will rise up from his
quiet in the sea, and go bellowing to his mates.
And all the whales in the world — the sperm-whales.


the razor-back, the black-fish, the rorquc, the
right, the forty-barrel Jonah, the narwhal, the
hump-back, the grampus and the thrasher — will
come to him, 'fin-out,' blowing their spray to the
heavens. Then Moby Dick will call the roll of
them, and from all the parts of the sea, from the
north, from the south, from Callao to Rio, not one
whale will be missing. Then Moby Dick will
trumpet, like a man blowing a horn, and all that
company of whales will ' sound ' (that is, dive), for
it is they that have the job of raising the wrecks
from down below.

" Then when they come up the sun will just be
setting in the sea, far away to the west, like a ball
of red fire. And just as the curve of it goes below
the sea, it will stop sinking and lie there like a
door. And the stars and the earth and the wind
will stop. And there will be nothing but the sea,
and this red arch of the sun, and the whales with
the wrecks, and a stream of light upon the water.
Each whale will have raised a wreck from among
the coral, and the sea will be thick with them —
row-ships and sail-ships, and great big seventy-
fours, and big White Star boats, and battleships,


all of them green with the ooze, but all of them
manned by singing- sailors. And ahead of them
will go Moby Dick, towing the ship our Lord was
in, with all the sweet apostles aboard of her. And
Moby Dick will give a great bellow, like a fog-horn
blowing, and stretch ' fin-oui' for the sun away in
the west. And all the whales will bellow out an
answer. And all the drowned sailors will sing their
chanties, and beat the belK into a music. And the
whole fleet of them will start towing at full speed
towards the sun, at the edge of the sky and water.
I tell you they will make white water, those ships
and fishes.

"When they have got to where the sun is, the
red ball will swing open like a door, and Moby
Dick, and all the whales, and all the ships will rush
through it into an anchorage in Kingdom Come.
It will be a great calm piece of water, with land
close aboard, where all the ships of the world will
lie at anchor, tier upon tier, with the hands gathered
forward, singing. They'll have no watches to stand,
no ropes to coil, no mates to knock their heads in.
Nothing will be to do except singing and beating
on the bell. And all the poor sailors who went in


patched rags, my son, they'll be all fine in white
and gold. And ashore, among the palm-trees,
there'll be fine inns for the seamen, where you and
I, maybe, will meet again, and I spin yarns, may-
be, with no cause to stop until the bell goes."



One moonlit night in the tropics, as my ship was
slipping south under all sail, I was put to walking
the deck on the lee side of the poop, with orders to
watch the ship's clock and strike the bell at each
half-hour. It was a duty I had done nightly for
many nights, but this night was memorable to me.
The ship was like a thing carved of pearl. The
sailors, as they lay sleeping in the shadows, were
like august things in bronze. And the skies seemed
so near me, I felt as though we were sailing under
a roof of dim branches, as of trees, that bore the
moon and the stars like shining fruits.

Gradually, however, the peace in my heart gave
way to an eating melancholy, and I felt a sadness,
such as has come to me but twice in my life.
With the sadness there came a horror of the water
and of the skies, till my presence in that ship,
under the ghastly corpse-light of the moon, among


that sea, was a terror to me past power of words
to tell. I went to the ship's rail, and shut my eyes
for a moment, and then opened them to look down
upon the water rushing; past. I had shut my eyes
upon the sea, but when I opened them I looked
upon the forms of the sea-spirits. The water was
indeed there, hurrying- aft as the ship cut through ;
but in the bright foam for far about the ship I saw
multitudes of beautiful, inviting faces that had an
eagerness and a swiftness in them unlike the speed
or the intensity of human beings. I remember
thinking that I had never seen anything of such
passionate beauty as those faces, and as I looked
at them my melancholy fell away like a rag. I felt
a longing to fling myself over the rail, so as to be
with that inhuman beauty. Yet even as I looked
that beauty became terrible, as the night had been
terrible but a few seconds before. And with the
changing of my emotions the faces changed. They
became writhelled and hag-like : and in the leaping
of the water, as we rushed, I saw malevolent white
hands that plucked and snapped at me. I remember
I was afraid to go near the rail again before the
day dawned.


Not very long after that night, when I was sit-
ting" with a Danish sailor who was all broken on
the wheel of his vices and not far from his death,
I talked about the sea-spirits and their beauty and
their wildness, feeling that such a haunted soul as
my companion's would have room in its crannies
for such wild birds. He told me much that was
horrible about the ghosts who throng the seas.
And it was he who gave me the old myth of the
sea-gulls, telling me that the souls of old sailors
follow the sea, in birds' bodies, till they have served
their apprenticeship or purged their years of peni-
tence. He told m.e of two sailors in a Norway
barque, though I believe he lied when he said that
he was aboard her at the time, who illustrated his
sermon very aptly. The barque was going south
from San Francisco, bound home round the Horn,
and the two men were in the same watch. Some-
how they fell to quarrelling as to which was the
better dancer, and the one killed the other and
flung him overboard during one of the night
watches. The dead body did not sink, said my
friend, because no body dares to sink to the under-
sea during the night-time ; but in the dawn of the


next day, and at the dawn of each day till the
barque reached Norway, a white gfuli flew at the
slayer, crying- the cry of the gulls. It was the dead
man's soul, my friend said, getting her revenge.
The slayer gave himself up on his arrival at the
home port, and took poison while awaiting trial.

When he had told me this tale, the Dane called
for a tot of the raw spirits of that land, though he
must have known, he being so old a sailor, that
drink was poison to him. When he had swallowed
the liquor, he began a story of one of his voyages
to the States. He said that he was in a little
English ship coming from New York to Hamburg,
and that the ship — the winds being westerly — was
making heavy running, under upper topsails,
nearly all the voyage. When he was at the wheel
with his mate (for two men steered in the pitch and
hurry of that sailing) he was given to looking
astern at the huge comber known as "the follow-
ing sea," which topples up, green and grisly, astern
of every ship with the wind aft. The sight of that
water has a fascination for all men, and it fascin-
ated him, he said, till he thought he saw in the
shaking wave the image of an old halt man who



came limping, bent on a crutch, m the ship's wake.
So vivid was the image of that cripple, he leaned
across the wheel-box to his mate, bidding- him to
look ; and his mate looked, and immediately went
white to the lips, calling to the saints to preserve
him. My friend then told me that the cripple only
appears to ships foredoomed to shipwreck, "And,"
he said, "we were run down in the Channel and
sunk in ten minutes " by a clumsy tramp from

After a while I left that country in a steamer
whose sailors were of nearly every nation under
the sun, and from a Portuguese aboard her I got
another yarn. In the night watches, when I was
alone on the poop, I used to lean on the taffrail to
see the water reeling away from the screws.
While loafing in this way one night, a little while
before the dawn, I was joined by the Portuguese,
an elderly, wizened fellow, who wore earrings.
He said he had often seen me leaning over the
taffrail, and had come to warn me that there was
danger in looking upon the sea in thiit way. Men
who looked into the water, he told me, would at
first see only the bubbles, and the eddies, and the


foam. Then they would see dim pictures of them-
selves and of the ship. But at the last they always
saw some unholy thing, and the unholy thing would
lure them away to death. And it was a danger, he
said, no young man should lace, lor though the
other evil spirits, those of the earth and air, had
power only upon the body, ihe evil spirits of the
sea were deadly to the soul. There was a lad he
had known in Lisbon who had gone along the coast
in a brig, and this lad was always looking into the
sea, and had at last seen the unholy things and
flung his body to them across the rail. The brig
was too near the coast, and it blew too freshly in-
shore, for the sailors to round-to to pick him up.
But they found the lad in Lisbon when they got
home. He said he had sunken down into the sea,
till the sea opened about him and showed him a
path among a field of green corn. He had gone up
the path and come at last to a beautiful woman,
surrounded by many beautiful women, but the one
seemed to him to be the queen. She was so beauti-
ful, he said, the sight of her was like strong wine ;
but she shook her head when she saw him, as
though she could never give him her love, and


immediately he was at the surface, under the skies,
strugg-Hng towards some rocks a little distance
from him. He reached the shore and went home
to Lisbon in a fisher-boat, but he was never quite
sane after seeing* that beauty beneath the sea. He
became very melancholy, and used to go down the
Tagus in a row-boat, singing to himself and look-
ing down into the water.

Before I left that ship I had to help clean her for
her decent entry to the Mersey. I spent one after-
noon with an old man from the Clyde doing up
some ironwork, first with rope yarn and paraffin,
then with red lead. The mate left us to ourselves
all the watch, because the old man was trusty, and
we had a fine yarn together about the things of the
sea. He said that there were some who believed
in the white whale, though it was all folly their
calling him the king of all the fishes. The white
whale was nothing but a servant, and lay low,
"somewhere nigh the Poles," till the last day
dawned. And then, said the old man, 'Mie's a
busy man raising the vv^recks." When I asked him
who was the king of all the fishes, he looked about
to see that there were no listeners, and said, in a


very earnest voice, that the king" of the fish was the
sea-serpent. He lies coiled, said the old man, in
the hot waters of the Gulf, with a gold crown on
his head, and a "great sleep upon him," waiting-
till the setting of the last sun. "And then?" I
asked. " Ah, then," he answered, " there'll be fine
times going for us sailors."



*' Once upon a time there was a clipper -ihip called
the Mary, and she was lying in Panama wairlngf
for a freiglit. It was hot, and it was calm, and it
was ha^y, and the men aboard her Mere dead
sick of the sight o\' her. They had been lying
there all the summer, liaving nothing to do but
to wash her down, and scrape the royal masts
with glass, and make the chain cables bright.
And aboard of her was a bic; A.B. from Liverpool,
^vith .a tattooed chest on liim and an arm like a
spar. And thic man's name was Bill.

"Now, one day, while the captain of this clipper
was sunning in the club, there came a merchant
to him offering him a fine freight home and 'des-
patch ' in loading. So the old man went aboard
that evening in a merry temper, and bade the

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Online LibraryJohn MasefieldA mainsail haul → online text (page 1 of 9)