"Captains Courageous": A Story of the Grand Banks
“I warned ye,” said Dan, as the drops fell thick and fast on the dark, oiled planking. “Dad ain’t noways hasty, but you fair earned it. Pshaw! there’s no sense takin’ on so.” Harvey’s shoulders were rising and falling in spasms of dry sobbing. “I know the feelin’. First time dad laid me out was the last--and that was my first trip. Makes ye feel sickish an’ lonesome. I know.”
“It does,” moaned Harvey. “That man’s either crazy or drunk, and--and I can’t do anything.”
“Don’t say that to dad,” whispered Dan. “He’s set ag’in’ all liquor, an’--well, he told me you was the madman. What in creation made you call him a thief? He’s my dad.”
Harvey sat up, mopped his nose, and told the story of the missing wad of bills. “I’m not crazy,” he wound up. “Only--your father has never seen more than a five-dollar bill at a time, and my father could buy up this boat once a week and never miss it.”
“You don’t know what the “We’re Here’s” worth. Your dad must hey a pile o’ money. How did he git it? Dad sez loonies can’t shake out a straight yarn. Go ahead.”
“In gold-mines and things, West.”
“I’ve read o’ that kind o’ business. Out West, too? Does he go around with a pistol on a trick-pony, same ez the circus? They call that the Wild West, and I’ve heard that their spurs an’ bridles was solid silver.”
“You are a chump!” said Harvey, amused in spite of himself. “My father hasn’t any use for ponies. When he wants to ride he takes his car.”
“No. His own private car, of course. You’ve seen a private car some time in your life?”
“Slatin Beeman he hez one,” said Dan, cautiously. “I saw her at the Union Depot in Boston, with three niggers hoggin’ her run.” (Dan meant cleaning the windows.) “But Slatin Beeman he owns ‘baout every railroad on Long Island, they say; an’ they say he’s bought ‘baout ha’af Noo Hampshire an’ run a line-fence around her, an’ filled her up with lions an’ tigers an’ bears an’ buffalo an’ crocodiles an’ such all. Slatin Beeman he’s a millionaire. I’ve seen his car. Yes?”
“Well, my father’s what they call a multi-millionaire; and he has two private cars. One’s named for me, the ‘Harvey,’ and one for my mother, the ‘Constance.’”
“Hold on,” said Dan. “Dad don’t ever let me swear, but I guess you can. ‘Fore we go ahead, I want you to say hope you may die if you’re lying.”
“Of course,” said Harvey.
“Thet ain’t ‘nuff. Say, ‘Hope I may die if I ain’t speakin’ truth.’”
“Hope I may die right here,” said Harvey, “if every word I’ve spoken isn’t the cold truth.”
“Hundred an’ thirty-four dollars an’ all?” said Dan. “I heard ye talkin’ to dad, an’ I ha’af looked you’d be swallered up, same’s Jonah.”
Harvey protested himself red in the face. Dan was a shrewd young person along his own lines, and ten minutes’ questioning convinced him that Harvey was not lying--much. Besides, he had bound himself by the most terrible oath known to boyhood, and yet he sat, alive, with a red-ended nose, in the scuppers, recounting marvels upon marvels.
“Gosh!” said Dan at last, from the very bottom of his soul, when Harvey had completed an inventory of the car named in his honour. Then a grin of mischievous delight overspread his broad face. “I believe you, Harvey. Dad’s made a mistake fer once in his life.”
“He has, sure,” said Harvey, who was meditating an early revenge.
“He’ll be mad clear through. Dad jest hates to be mistook in his jedgments.” Dan lay back and slapped his thigh. “Oh, Harvey, don’t you spile the catch by lettin’ on.”
“I don’t want to be knocked down again. I’ll get even with him, though.”
“Never heard any man ever got even with dad. But he’d knock ye down again sure. The more he was mistook the more he’d do it. But gold-mines and pistols--”
“I never said a word about pistols,” Harvey cut in, for he was on his oath.
“Thet’s so; no more you did. Two private cars, then, one named fer you an’ one fer her; an’ two hundred dollars a month pocket-money, all knocked into the scuppers fer not workin’ fer ten an’ a ha’af a month! It’s the top haul o’ the season.” He exploded with noiseless chuckles.
“Then I was right? “said Harvey, who thought he had found a sympathiser.
“You was wrong; the wrongest kind o’ wrong! You take right hold an’ pitch in ‘longside o’ me, or you’ll catch it, an’ I’ll catch it fer backin’ you up. Dad always gives me double helps ‘cause I’m his son, an’ he hates favourin’ folk. ‘Guess you’re kinder mad at dad. I’ve been that way time an’ again. But dad’s a mighty jest man; all the fleet says so.”
“Looks like justice, this, don’t it?” Harvey pointed to his outraged nose.
“Thet’s nothin’. Lets the shore blood outer you. Dad did it for yer health. Say, though, I can’t have dealin’s with a man that thinks me or dad or any one on the “We’re Here’s” a thief. We ain’t any common wharf-end crowd by any manner o’ means. We’re fishermen, an’ we’ve shipped together for six years an’ more. Don’t you make any mistake on that! I told ye dad don’t let me swear. He calls ‘em vain oaths, and pounds me; but ef I could say what you said ‘baout your pap an’ his fixin’s, I’d say that ‘baout your dollars. I dunno what was in your pockets when I dried your kit, fer I didn’t look to see; but I’d say, using the very same words ez you used jest now, neither me nor dad--an’ we was the only two that teched you after you was brought aboard--knows anythin’ ‘baout the money. Thet’s my say. Naow?”
The bloodletting had certainly cleared Harvey’s brain, and maybe the loneliness of the sea had something to do with it. “That’s all right,” he said. Then he looked down confusedly. “‘Seems to me that for a fellow just saved from drowning I haven’t been over and above grateful, Dan.”
“Well, you was shook up and silly,” said Dan. “Anyway, there was only dad an’ me aboard to see it. The cook he don’t count.”
“I might have thought about losing the bills that way,” Harvey said, half to himself, “instead of calling everybody in sight a thief Where’s your father?”
“In the cabin What d’ you want o’ him again?”
“You’ll see,” said Harvey, and he stepped, rather groggily, for his head was still singing, to the cabin steps, where the little ship’s clock hung in plain sight of the wheel. Troop, in the chocolate-and-yellow painted cabin, was busy with a note-book and an enormous black pencil, which he sucked hard from time to time.
“I haven’t acted quite right,” said Harvey, surprised at his own meekness.
“What’s wrong naow?” said the skipper “Walked into Dan, hev ye?”
“No; it’s about you.”
“I’m here to listen.”
“Well, I--I’m here to take things back,” said Harvey, very quickly. “When a man’s saved from drowning--” he gulped.
“Ey? You’ll make a man yet ef you go on this way.”
“He oughtn’t begin by calling people names.”
“Jest an’ right--right an’ jest,” said Troop, with the ghost of a dry smile.
“So I’m here to say I’m sorry.” Another big gulp.
Troop heaved himself slowly off the locker he was sitting on and held out an eleven-inch hand. “I mistrusted ‘twould do you sights o’ good; an’ this shows I weren’t mistook in my jedgments.” A smothered chuckle on deck caught his ear. “I am very seldom mistook in my jedgments.” The eleven-inch hand closed on Harvey’s, numbing it to the elbow. “We’ll put a little more gristle to that ‘fore we’ve done with you, young feller; an’ I don’t think any worse of ye fer anythin’ thet’s gone by. You wasn’t fairly responsible. Go right abaout your business an’ you won’t take no hurt.”
“You’re white,” said Dan, as Harvey regained the deck, flushed to the tips of his ears.
“I don’t feel it,” said he.
“I didn’t mean that way. I heard what dad said. When dad allows he don’t think the worse of any man, dad’s give himself away. He hates to be mistook in his jedgments, too. Ho! ho! Onct dad has a jedgment, he’d sooner dip his colours to the British than change it. I’m glad it’s settled right eend up. Dad’s right when he says he can’t take you back. It’s all the livin’ we make here--fishin’. The men’ll be back like sharks after a dead whale in ha’af an hour.”
“What for?” said Harvey. “Supper, o’ course. Don’t your stummick tell you? You’ve a heap to learn.”
“‘Guess I have,” said Harvey, dolefully, looking at the tangle of ropes and blocks overhead.
“She’s a daisy,” said Dan, enthusiastically, misunderstanding the look. “Wait till our mainsail’s bent, an’ she walks home with all her salt wet. There’s some work first, though.” He pointed down into the darkness of the open main-hatch between the two masts.
“What’s that for? It’s all empty,” said Harvey.
“You an’ me an’ a few more hev got to fill it,” said Dan. “That’s where the fish goes.”
“Alive?” said Harvey.
“Well, no. They’re so’s to be ruther dead--an’ flat--an’ salt. There’s a hundred hogshead o’ salt in the bins; an’ we hain’t more’n covered our dunnage to now.”
“Where are the fish, though?”
“‘In the sea, they say; in the boats, we pray,’” said Dan, quoting a fisherman’s proverb. “You come in last night with ‘baout forty of ‘em.”
He pointed to a sort of wooden pen just in front of the quarter-deck.
“You an’ me we’ll sluice that out when they’re through. ‘Send we’ll hev full pens to-night! I’ve seen her down ha’af a foot with fish waitin’ to clean, an’ we stood to the tables till we was splittin’ ourselves instid o’ them, we was so sleepy. Yes, they’re comin’ in naow.” Dan looked over the low bulwarks at half a dozen dories rowing towards them over the shining, silky sea.
“I’ve never seen the sea from so low down,” said Harvey. “It’s fine.”
The low sun made the water all purple and pinkish, with golden lights on the barrels of the long swells, and blue and green mackerel shades in the hollows. Each schooner in sight seemed to be pulling her dories towards her by invisible strings, and the little black figures in the tiny boats pulled like clockwork toys.
“They’ve struck on good,” said Dan, between his half-shut eyes. “Manuel hain’t room fer another fish. Low ez a lily-pad in still water, ain’t he?”
“Which is Manuel? I don’t see how you can tell ‘em ‘way off, as you do.”
“Last boat to the south’ard. He f’und you last night,” said Dan, pointing. “Manuel rows Portugoosey; ye can’t mistake him. East o’ him--he’s a heap better’n he rows--is Pennsylvania. Loaded with saleratus, by the looks of him. East o’ him--see how pretty they string out all along with the humpy shoulders, is Long Jack. He’s a Galway man inhabitin’ South Boston, where they all live mostly, an’ mostly them Galway men are good in a boat. North, away yonder--you’ll hear him tune up in a minute--is Tom Platt. Man-o’-war’s man he was on the old Ohio--first of our navy, he says, to go araound the Horn. He never talks of much else, ‘cept when he sings, but he has fair fishin’ luck. There! What did I tell you?”
A melodious bellow stole across the water from the northern dory. Harvey heard something about somebody’s hands and feet being cold, and then:
“Bring forth the chart, the doleful chart; See where them mountings meet! The clouds are thick around their heads, The mists around their feet.”
“Full boat,” said Dan, with a chuckle. “If he gives us ‘O Captain’ it’s toppin’ full.”
The bellow continued:
“And naow to thee, O Capting, Most earnestly I pray That they shall never bury me In church or cloister grey.”
“Double game for Tom Platt. He’ll tell you all about the old Ohio to-morrow. ‘See that blue dory behind him? He’s my uncle, --dad’s own brother, --an’ ef there’s any bad luck loose on the Banks she’ll fetch up ag’in’ Uncle Salters, sure. Look how tender he’s rowin’. I’ll lay my wage and share he’s the only man stung up to-day--an’ he’s stung up good.”
“What’ll sting him?” said Harvey, getting interested.
“Strawberries, mostly. Punkins, sometimes, an’ sometimes lemons an’ cucumbers. Yes, he’s stung up from his elbows down. That man’s luck’s perfectly paralysin’. Naow we’ll take a-holt o’ the tackles an’ h’ist ‘em in. Is it true, what you told me jest now, that you never done a hand’s turn o’ work in all your born life? Must feel kinder awful, don’t it?”
“I’m going to try to work, anyway,” Harvey replied stoutly. “Only it’s all dead new.”
“Lay a-holt o’ that tackle, then. Behind ye!”
Harvey grabbed at a rope and long iron hook dangling from one of the stays of the mainmast, while Dan pulled down another that ran from something he called a “topping-lift,” as Manuel drew alongside in his loaded dory. The Portuguese smiled a brilliant smile that Harvey learned to know well later, and a short-handled fork began to throw fish into the pen on deck. “Two hundred and thirty-one,” he shouted.
“Give him the hook,” said Dan, and Harvey ran it into Manuel’s hands. He slipped it through a loop of rope at the dory’s bow, caught Dan’s tackle, hooked it to the stern-becket, and clambered into the schooner.
“Pull!” shouted Dan; and Harvey pulled, astonished to find how easily the dory rose.
“Hold on; she don’t nest in the crosstrees!” Dan laughed; and Harvey held on, for the boat lay in the air above his head.
“Lower away,” Dan shouted; and as Harvey lowered, Dan swayed the light boat with one hand till it landed softly just behind the mainmast. “They don’t weigh nothin’ empty. Thet was right smart fer a passenger. There’s more trick to it in a sea-way.”
“Ah ha!” said Manuel, holding out a brown hand. “You are some pretty well now? This time last night the fish they fish for you. Now you fish for fish. Eh, wha-at?”
“I’m--I’m ever so grateful,” Harvey stammered, and his unfortunate hand stole to his pocket once more, but he remembered that he had no money to offer. When he knew Manuel better the mere thought of the mistake he might have made would cover him with hot, uneasy blushes in his bunk.
“There is no to be thankful for to me!” said Manuel. “How shall I leave you dreeft, dreeft all around the Banks? Now you are a fisherman eh, wha-at? Ouh! Auh!” He bent backward and forward stiffly from the hips to get the kinks out of himself.
“I have not cleaned boat to-day. Too busy. They struck on queek. Danny, my son, clean for me.”
Harvey moved forward at once. Here was something he could do for the man who had saved his life.
Dan threw him a swab, and he leaned over the dory, mopping up the slime clumsily, but with great good-will. “Hike out the foot-boards; they slide in them grooves,” said Dan. “Swab ‘em an’ lay ‘em down. Never let a foot-board jam. Ye may want her bad some day. Here’s Long Jack.”
A stream of glittering fish flew into the pen from a dory alongside.
“Manuel, you take the tackle. I’ll fix the tables. Harvey, clear Manuel’s boat. Long Jack’s nestin’ on the top of her.”
Harvey looked up from his swabbing at the bottom of another dory just above his head.
“Jest like the Injian puzzle-boxes, ain’t they?” said Dan, as the one boat dropped into the other.
“Takes to ut like a duck to water,” said Long Jack, a grizzly-chinned, long-lipped Galway man, bending to and fro exactly as Manuel had done. Disko in the cabin growled up the hatchway, and they could hear him suck his pencil.
“Wan hunder an’ forty-nine an’ a half--bad luck to ye, Discobolus!” said Long Jack. “I’m murderin’ meself to fill your pockuts. Slate ut for a bad catch. The Portugee has bate me.”
Whack came another dory alongside, and more fish shot into the pen.
“Two hundred and three. Let’s look at the passenger!” The speaker was even larger than the Galway man, and his face was made curious by a purple cut running slantways from his left eye to the right corner of his mouth.
Not knowing what else to do, Harvey swabbed each dory as it came down, pulled out the foot-boards, and laid them in the bottom of the boat.
“He’s caught on good,” said the scarred man, who was Tom Platt, watching him critically. “There are two ways o’ doin’ everything. One’s fisher-fashion--any end first an’ a slippery hitch over all--an’ the other’s--”
“What we did on the old Ohio!” Dan interrupted, brushing into the knot of men with a long board on legs. “Git out o’ here, Tom Platt, an’ leave me fix the tables.”
He jammed one end of the board into two nicks in the bulwarks, kicked out the leg, and ducked just in time to avoid a swinging blow from the man-o’-war’s man.
“An’ they did that on the Ohio, too, Danny. See?” said Tom Platt, laughing.
“‘Guess they was swivel-eyed, then, fer it didn’t git home, and I know who’ll find his boots on the main-truck ef he don’t leave us alone. Haul ahead! I’m busy, can’t ye see?”
“Danny, ye lie on the cable an’ sleep all day,” said Long Jack. “You’re the hoight av impidence, an’ I’m persuaded ye’ll corrupt our supercargo in a week.”
“His name’s Harvey,” said Dan, waving two strangely shaped knives, “an’ he’ll be worth five of any Sou’ Boston clam-digger ‘fore long.” He laid the knives tastefully on the table, cocked his head on one side, and admired the effect.
“I think it’s forty-two,” said a small voice over-side, and there was a roar of laughter as another voice answered, “Then my luck’s turned fer onct, ‘caze I’m forty-five, though I be stung outer all shape.”
“Forty-two or forty-five. I’ve lost count,” the small voice said.
“It’s Penn an’ Uncle Salters caountin’ catch. This beats the circus any day,” said Dan. “Jest look at ‘em!”
“Come in--come in!” roared Long Jack. “It’s wet out yondher, children.”
“Forty-two, ye said.” This was Uncle Salters.
“I’ll count again, then,” the voice replied meekly.
The two dories swung together and bunted into the schooner’s side.
“Patience o’ Jerusalem!” snapped Uncle Salters, backing water with a splash. “What possest a farmer like you to set foot in a boat beats me. You’ve nigh stove me all up.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Salters. I came to sea on account of nervous dyspepsia. You advised me, I think.”
“You an’ your nervis dyspepsy be drowned in the Whale-hole,” roared Uncle Salters, a fat and tubly little man. “You’re comin’ down on me ag’in. Did ye say forty-two or forty-five?”
“I’ve forgotten, Mr. Salters. Let’s count.”
“Don’t see as it could be forty-five. I’m forty-five,” said Uncle Salters. “You count keerful, Penn.”
Disko Troop came out of the cabin. “Salters, you pitch your fish in naow at once,” he said in the tone of authority.
“Don’t spile the catch, dad,” Dan murmured. “Them two are on’y jest beginnin’.”
“Mother av delight! He’s forkin’ them wan by wan,” howled Long Jack, as Uncle Salters got to work laboriously; the little man in the other dory counting a line of notches on the gunwale.