"Captains Courageous": A Story of the Grand Banks
Chapter VI

Public Domain

The thing that struck him most was the exceedingly casual way in which some craft loafed about the broad Atlantic. Fishing-boats, as Dan said, were naturally dependent on the courtesy and wisdom of their neighbours; but one expected better things of steamers. That was after another interesting interview, when they had been chased for three miles by a big lumbering old cattle-boat, all boarded over on the upper deck, that smelt like a thousand cattle-pens. A very excited officer yelled at them through a speaking-trumpet, and she lay and lollopped helplessly on the water while Disko ran the “We’re Here” under her lee and gave the skipper a piece of his mind. “Where might ye be--eh? Ye don’t deserve to be anywheres. You barn-yard tramps go hoggin’ the road on the high seas with no blame consideration fer your neighbours, an’ your eyes in your coffee-cups instid o’ in your silly heads.”

At this the skipper danced on the bridge and said something about Disko’s own eyes. “We haven’t had an observation for three days. D’you suppose we can run her blind?” he shouted.

“Wa-al, I can,” Disko retorted. “What’s come to your lead’? Et it’? Can’t ye smell bottom, or are them cattle too rank?”

“What d’ye feed ‘em?” said Uncle Salters with intense seriousness, for the smell of the pens woke all the farmer in him. “They say they fall off dretful on a v’yage. Dunno as it’s any o’ my business, but I’ve a kind o’ notion that oil-cake broke small an’ sprinkled--”

“Thunder!” said a cattle-man in a red jersey as he looked over the side. “What asylum did they let His Whiskers out of?”

“Young feller,” Salters began, standing up in the fore-rigging, “let me tell yeou ‘fore we go any further that I’ve--”

The officer on the bridge took off his cap with immense politeness. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I’ve asked for my reckoning. If the agricultural person with the hair will kindly shut his head, the sea-green barnacle with the wall-eye may perhaps condescend to enlighten us.”

“Naow you’ve made a show o’ me, Salters,” said Disko, angrily. He could not stand up to that particular sort of talk, and snapped out the latitude and longitude without more lectures.

“‘Well, that’s a boat-load of lunatics, sure,” said the skipper, as he rang up the engine-room and tossed a bundle of newspapers into the schooner.

“Of all the blamed fools, next to you, Salters, him an’ his crowd are abaout the likeliest I’ve ever seen,” said Disko as the “We’re Here” slid away. “I was jest givin’ him my jedgment on lullsikin’ round these waters like a lost child, an’ you must cut in with your fool farmin’. Can’t ye never keep things sep’rate?”

Harvey, Dan, and the others stood back, winking one to the other and full of joy; but Disko and Salters wrangled seriously till evening, Salters arguing that a cattle-boat was practically a barn on blue water, and Disko insisting that, even if this were the case, decency and fisher-pride demanded that he should have kept “things sep’rate.” Long Jack stood it in silence for a time, --an angry skipper makes an unhappy crew, --and then he spoke across the table after supper:

“Fwhat’s the good o’ bodderin’ fwhat they’ll say?” said he.

“They’ll tell that tale ag’in’ us fer years--that’s all,” said Disko. “Oil-cake sprinkled!”

“With salt, o’ course,” said Salters, impenitent, reading the farming reports from a week-old New York paper.

“It’s plumb mortifyin’ to all my feelin’s,” the skipper went on.

“Can’t see ut that way,” said Long Jack, the peacemaker. “Look at here, Disko! Is there another packet afloat this day in this weather c’u’d ha’ met a tramp an’, over an’ above givin’ her her reckonin’, --over an’ above that, I say, --c’u’d ha’ discoorsed wid her quite intelligent on the management av steers an’ such at sea’? Forgit ut! Av coorse they will not. ‘Twas the most compenjus conversation that iver accrued. Double game an’ twice runnin’--all to us.” Dan kicked Harvey under the table, and Harvey choked in his cup.

“‘Well,” said Salters, who felt that his honour had been somewhat plastered, “I said I didn’t know as ‘twuz any business o’ mine, ‘fore I spoke.”

“An’ right there,” said Tom Platt, experienced in discipline and etiquette--”right there, I take it, Disko, you should ha’ asked him to stop ef the conversation wuz likely, in your jedgment, to be anyways--what it shouldn’t.”

“Dunno but that’s so,” said Disko, who saw his way to an honourable retreat from a fit of the dignities.

“‘Why, o’ course it was so,” said Salters, “you bein’ skipper here; an’ I’d cheerful hev stopped on a hint--not from any leadin’ or conviction, but fer the sake o’ bearin’ an example to these two blame boys of aours.”

“Didn’t I tell you, Harve, ‘twould come araound to us ‘fore we’d done’? Always those blame boys. But I wouldn’t have missed the show fer a half-share in a halibutter,” Dan whispered.

“Still, things should ha’ been kep’ sep’rate,” said Disko, and the light of new argument lit in Salters’s eye as he crumbled cut plug into his pipe.

“There’s a power av vartue in keepin’ things sep’rate,” said Long Jack, intent on stilling the storm. “That’s fwhat Steyning of Steyning and Hare’s f’und when he sent Counahan fer skipper on the Marilla D. Kuhn, instid o’ Cap. Newton that was took with inflam’t’ry rheumatism an’ couldn’t go. Counahan the Navigator we called him.”

“Nick Counahan he never went aboard fer a night ‘thout a pond o’ rum somewheres in the manifest,” said Tom Platt, playing up to the lead. “He used to bum araound the c’mission houses to Boston lookin’ fer the Lord to make him captain of a towboat on his merits. Sam Coy, up to Atlantic Avenoo, give him his board free fer a year or more on account of his stories. Counahan the Navigator! Tck! Tck! Dead these fifteen year, ain’t he?”

“Seventeen, I guess. He died the year the Caspar McVeagh was built; but he could niver keep things sep’rate. Steyning tuk him fer the reason the thief tuk the hot stove--bekaze there was nothin’ else that season. The men was all to the Banks, and Counahan he whacked up an iverlastin’ hard crowd fer crew. Rum! Ye c’u’d ha’ floated the Marilla, insurance and all, in fwhat they stowed aboard her. They lef’ Boston Harbour for the great Grand Bank wid a roarin’ nor’wester behind ‘em an’ all hands full to the bung. An’ the hivens looked after thim, for divil a watch did they set, an’ divil a rope did they lay hand to, till they’d seen the bottom av a fifteen-gallon cask o’ bug-juice. That was about wan week, so far as Counahan remembered. (If’ I c’u’d only tell the tale as he told ut!) All that whoile the wind blew like ould glory, an’ the Marilla--’twas summer, and they’d give her a foretopmast--struck her gait and kept ut. Then Counahan tuk the hog-yoke an’ thrembled over it for a whoile, an’ made out, betwix’ that an’ the chart an’ the singin’ in his head, that they was to the south’ard o’ Sable Island, gettin’ along glorious, but speakin’ nothin’. Then they broached another keg, an’ quit speculatin’ about anythin’ fer another spell. The Marilla she lay down whin she dropped Boston Light, and she never lufted her lee-rail up to that time--hustlin’ on one an’ the same slant. But they saw no weed, nor gulls, nor schooners; an’ prisintly they obsarved they’d been out a matter o’ fourteen days, and they mistrusted the Bank had suspinded payment. So they sounded, an’ got sixty fathom. ‘That’s me,’ sez Counahan. ‘That’s me iv’ry time! I’ve run her slat on the Bank fer you, an’ when we get thirty fathom we’ll turn in like little men. Counahan is the b’y,’ sez he. ‘Counahan the Navigator!’

“Nex’ cast they got ninety. Sez Counahan: ‘Either the lead-line’s tuk too stretchin’ or else the Bank’s sunk.’

“They hauled ut up, bein’ just about in that state when ut seemed right an’ reasonable, and sat down on the deck countin’ the knots, an’ gettin’ her snarled up hijjus. The Marilla she’d struck her gait, and she hild ut, an’ prisintly along come a tramp, an’ Counahan spoke her.

“‘Hey ye seen any fishin’-boats now?’ sez he, quite casual.

“‘There’s lashin’s av them off the Irish coast,’ sez the tramp.

“Aah! go shake yerself,’ sez Counahan. ‘Fwhat have I to do wid the Irish coast?’

“‘Then fwhat are ye doin’ here?’ sez the tramp.

“‘Sufferin’ Christianity!’ sez Counahan (he always said that whin his pumps sucked an’ he was not feelin’ good)--’Sufferin’ Christianity!’ he sez, ‘where am I at?’ “‘Thirty-five mile west-sou’west o’ Cape Clear,’ sez the tramp, ‘if that’s any consolation to you.’

“Counahan fetched wan jump, four feet sivin inches, measured by the cook.

“‘Consolation!’ sez he, bould ez brass. ‘D’ye take me fer a dialect? Thirty-five mile from Cape Clear, an’ fourteen days from Boston Light. Sufferin’ Christianity, ‘tis a record, an’ by the same token I’ve a mother to Skibbereen!’ Think av ut! The gall av um! But ye see he could niver keep things sep’rate.

“The crew was mostly Cork an’ Kerry men, barrin’ one Marylander that wanted to go back, but they called him a mutineer, an’ they ran the ould Marilla into Skibbereen, an’ they had an illigant time visitin’ around with frinds on the ould sod fer a week. Thin they wint back, an’ it cost ‘em two an’ thirty days to beat to the Banks again. ‘Twas gettin’ on towards fall, and grub was low, so Counahan ran her back to Boston, wid no more bones to ut.”

“And what did the firm say?” Harvey demanded.

“Fwhat could they’? The fish was on the Banks, an’ Counahan was at T-wharf talkin’ av his record trip east! They tuk their satisfaction out av that, an’ ut all came av not keepin’ the crew and the rum sep’rate in the first place; an’ confusin’ Skibbereen wid ‘Queereau, in the second. Counahan the Navigator, rest his sowl! He was an imprompju citizen!

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