Chapter 184288218

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Url
Full Date1898-01-22
Page Number5
Word Count2491
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 - 1918)
Trove TitleThe Captain of the Rajah
article text



It is twenty-five years since any human being saw the face of the Rajah's captain, but no photograph is needed to call it back from the Atlantic. For my brief misap-

prehension concerning its possessor, I was indebted to the conscientious old man whose business it became to. find a. crow for the schooner. He assured-melwith a, look of really disturbed eincerity-that 'X; should find a father in the skipper, arid my; extreme youth probably justified the as- !i sumption that such a relative was precisely! what I needed. . , There' isva dash of gray through my hair now, but at that time I was a mere strip ling, filled with enthusiasm for my pro fession, and serving as a forces tie lad on board the fore, and aft schooner Rajah, of New York. The first time I saw the vessel was jn the late afternoon of a sweltering mid summer's day. Great, black ragged clouds were sailing up 'Put of the north-west, promising wind and rain. Nor was the promise long delayed. They gathered thick and threatening until the heavens were entirely overcast, then a long rever berating rumble announced the opening of the ariol cannonade. Next came the rain, faintly, growing heavier, until it seemed to assume the proportions of a deluge. It all comes back vividly enough. I picture myself once again in the dirty, tobacco begrimmed shipping office of Timson and Son, on South street, watch ing the shaky, avaricious fingers of old Timson'scratohingaway at his apology for a desk. At another table in an equally advanced stage of dilapidation and decay sits the junior member of the firm, revel ling in the rather foxy and suspicious as pect so entirely characteristic of his sire. A greasy, wooden railing extends across the centre of-the office, and several very smoky nautical prints, - models of muddy coloring, hang upon the grimy walls. On one side of the railing, lounging on a long, time stained bench, are four hardv looking, weather beaten seamen, while a lad stands deferentially beside the ven erable piece of furniture, knowing too much to exhibit sufficient familiarity to occupy oven a limited share of it in the absence of an invitation from the auto crats of the forecastle. "While the men wait for the filling out of the articles which the shipping crimp has in prepara tion, they exchange rather audible criti cisms concerning the pictures and their owner, and by way of variety, occasionally aim a marvellously-well directed broadside of tobacco juice at the large solitary “kit” in the shape of a sawed down mackerel pail which reposes on the sanded -floor several feet away. At last old Timson pushes back his chair, wipes his pen on the few scant locks of hair which still struggle for, existence, approaches the railing, spreads his legs far apart; and eyeing the articles as though some bitter antipathy existed between himself and them, jerks out in one sentence; * . . “ Ship’sriameRajahCaptainHerringbound .toRiosoaman'swages twenty fivedollarsmori tbonemonth’sadvancoshipoutandhomosigm- fyoucanwriteortouohpen.” . Which.beirig interpreted stands: Ship's name, the Rajah ; Captain Her ring ; bound to Rio de Janeiro ; seaman's wages twenty-five dollars per month ; one month's advance; all hands ship for the voyage out to Rio and return to New York. Sign your name to the articles if „ able to write, otherwise touch the shipping master’s pen after he signs your cross. X remember the rain had ceased when we shouldered our dunnage, and, preceded by Timson. senior, marched down South street to - our ship. When the dock was reachod'the sun's upper limb was just dip ping behind the Jersey bills, .\vhilo away in the eastward a glorious rainbow arched the heavens, recalling the sailor’s rhyme: “A rainbow in.the morning is the sailor’s warn ing ; - “ A rainbow at night is the sailor’s delight. ” At the head of the pier, lying stern on to us, wi th bunting at each one.of the top mast beads, was the .Rajah, and as wc drew close to her the sunset gun on the fort across tho river boomed but tidings that the day was done. “Haul down ! ” exclaimed a tall, hand some man who was handllng the fore sig nal'halyards, and the flags came fluttering to the dock. “ Spread that hunting in the rigging to dry,” continued tho speaker, who proved to bo George Sinclair, chief mate of the Rajah. I saw him eye each man critically as we tumbled over the tail. Then ho sung out for tbo cook, and the blackest face I have ever seen shot out of tho galley door. “Yes, sah?” . “ Toll tho captain that tho crew have come on board.”, “Yos r sah,” and ho 'shuffled along tho deck and: disappeared down the cabin oora panionway. - . A minute later tho captain made his ap pearance; ' I disliked the man from'the'start. He gave mo abundant .opportunity for, a-closo inspection; blit an of it was as much, as ,J. d ( aro,d to take, .though I am not troubled!with many. deficiencies in jfche mattprof physitol/cpurago. If ho had comp suddenly uporfimons the impersona tion of nothing but unredeemed brutality, there would have been no such shrinking as I now confess to, but bhoro was more in his face-than, mer^jbmtalibyaocpunted for.. His green sinister eyes danced under frown ing brows. Over a pair of- colorless lips flowed a moustache black and' glossy, which ho incessantly caressed. High cheek bones, a thin prominent nose, and eyebrows that were thickest where they tho salionfc characteristics Of his face. Ho was six foot in height, broad shouldered, and tapered to the waist as big mon rarely do, ’ Ho had the activity of a 'panther, and ho never made a motion that docs not suggest all the treachery of a cat lowered for a spring. I was far too young at that time to critically study the charac teristics of the captain. He always ira- Erossod mo as being, and T : now believe ini fb have boon, a man whoso 'nktutal instincts led./Him in directions usually avoided. To say that lio'lWd a positivo thirst for human Wood would, /to some ox-' tent, bo a figurative -description; but that ho took an- absolute delight in ' torturing his spociog waaioii many oobasioris proved. The necessities of hissitfiatibn compelled’ him to have some’regard for lifo itself, hub bp was governed only by these* necessities and ?sometimes not by oven them. Ho eporiiod to be galled by-nothing quite sol much ap-having to loavp his violin! on this | aide of the grave. v , I Ify momentary Scrutiny "of too captain I \yp8 interrupted by old Timson, whosmirkod* arid gave an awkward tug at his hat brim I asTlio, handed his documents tp thri skippor and tbo act suggested-that hV had oifchor solved tHo mysteries of tho forecastle,hi mf pelf, or had acquired the nautical touch from long association with Jaok ou phbrc. j . Tho captain scowled at Timson as, ho took tho papers £s bopped to the break of the poop, swept his eyes over the gfcoup of

} men, shofc a furcivo glance at the, second mate ; %ho; wtoslacking some ,of the vun ning-riggihg'thafc had been tightened by the Train, and : indulged in an" additional scowl manifestly,.: intended for" the on tiro ship’# ‘ and collec tively. : ; As the skipper’s dyes fell athwart each one the men shifted uneasily evading His'glance. In Iho man before them the oroW J ‘ ; reodgni8od.tbe tyrant whoso coded right it Was to hound them foribng months to Come ; whose every petty spite and ill humor they wore bound to feel; They had signed away their liberty to him—be was the master, they the slaves. , Meanwhile a tug: had come alongside, and riQw the captain issued the first or ders:—r . “ Dump your traps in the forecastle, and stand hv; Mr, Sinclair!”. •, “Yes, sir n A. few minutes/lator we slid out into the East Uiver* arid with the little harbor ban tam puffing and struttingahead we rounded the Battery and ran over to the Jersey Elats. ; “ Sceyonr port chain clear for erunning,'’, called the captain.- Shortly after this the tug slackened speed, then stopped, and her captain tooted to us to cast off his line and drop our mud hook. “ Let go your port anchor," oame from the quarter dock. “ Mr. Doyle, drop your lead oyer and see what water get?” The second mate got his: sounding and rer ported “ five fathoms." “ Give her fifteen fathoms of chain, Mr, Sinclair, and put the riding light in the rigging.” .. The captain then wont below, and that was the last wo saw of him that night. - Wo found the forecastle to bo half of a square house that was built on tho deck, j It was a little more than six feet high, ton feet long, and say five feet wide between the berths. There was a row of bunks running thwartships in tho forward part, and a double tier of thorn on each side ex tending fore and aft. Doing all above deck it was light and airy—light enough in fact for . mo to observe that the bunk boards were of soft pine. and very promis ing in the way of bedfellows. . The cook’s galley was separated from the forecastle by a .bulkhead, which had: shrunken evidently from the heat of “ doc tor’s” stove. Several narrow openings showed where the boards bad once joined, and through, them now oame tho odor of the promised supper. It did not take me long to stow my few sailor togs, and just as I finished laying ! tho ground tier of my bunk with a slab liko article purchased in South street, and called'bj'courtesy a mattress, there came a volley of poundings from the cook’s side of tho house, accompanied with the order ?£ seri’ in hyar fo’ de grub !” I promptly responded to tho summons, for in addition to playing to the crew, and acting as chambermaid of the forecastle, it was my duty to oarry the men’s meals in to them, wash the dishes, and return them to tho galley. The cook passed mo*a big dripping pan filled with salt beef hash, brown and inviting, several loaves of - bread, some raw sugar, .and a, pan of treacle—the latter was.for making the broad palatable, in tho absence of butter. I make a second journey for the coffee pot -and mugs, lit the swinging lan torn,.then indicated four, places on the floor with a like number of tin plates and cups. ' “Tut down your oWn v plate, too, boy,, and we’U'see howler can .behave ’round the mess kit,” said one of the seamen who was watching ray operations. “Luck out thof yeas always wait til yer betters is helped, and then, ye’ll bo welcome to thor lavings” said another. As in fancy I see again the Dajah’s forecastle, and the crow sitting around on the lids of the lockers outside the lower berths, with supper spread out on the'deck at their feet, and thosraoky lamp throwing a sombre light through tho little place in Which wo were to spend months together, let me tell yon something about the men who were my messmates on that summer evening long ago. I have stated that there wore five fore castle hands all told—four seamen and my self—and I doubt if'there was, with but one exception, anything to attract par ticular attention to ua as individuals. Tho exception was seated on. tho forward locker, with a tin plate resting onhis, agroat hunk of broad which ho had torn from one of the loaves graspoddn his hard* tar-stained hand, while a tin cup of steaming coffee occupied a place on tho seat beside ,him. Ho had signed the name of John , Winter on the shipping master’s rolls. In height ho was something over six an, extraor dinary spread between tho shoulders, . Jong sinewy arms, a chest and nook massive as Sampson’s, and, crowning all, a well shaped head with a profusion of heavy black curls. A face that otherwise would have been handsome was disfigured by a long, deep soar.extending from between his eyes dia gonally across his right chook,' and ending on his neck beneath tho oar; and now as he sits where tho lantern has full play up on his face, it shows up a savage red even against the leather colored skin. I never learned the story of that scar, bub that it waa associated with some terrible history in tho man’s life I have never doubted— in fact he once hinted as much, hut that was all. The next most interesting character in tho group was a little, wiry, red-headed Irishman by the. name of Burns, with a brogue as broad as a newly - arrived aider man at- Oastlo. Garden. ? The, redeeming feature of his homoly faco wbro a pair of kindly twinkling blue oyes. Ho was a fair seaman, of a naturally jolly disposition and on a different kind of a ship would have kept the forecastle hands ohoorfuland willing from tho contagion of his good humor and animal spirits, Tho re maining .soaman wore mild-faced, mild mannered Dutchmen (in fact they wore Gorman, bub Jackjoalls anyone “ Dutch ” whosays’jyahfor yes). They had deserted their jastshipin Anticipation of exchang ing tho former daily food of sauerkraut and pickled herring for the “living" of an American vessel, and the; few. stivers per month fqv“wages that' with, the exercise of their, characteristichusbandry would in a few voyages permit them to return, to tho fatherland financially prosperous. It was easy to sco what they woro to one another.'. .They had. the same yellowish hair, soft: blue eves, aud a dozen other points of physical resemblance which testified their oloae relationship, They sat ,sido\by sffio eating in, silence except when one Would oncean a while address a few words, to jthp, other in the mother tongue, and iblip brother would as softly answer; As reader will bo well with ino boforo : vtho’ jtory it -with any de gree iofintorosb, so; that .the ceremony’ of furthor introd,uotion ;may profitably bo dis pensed Tvijblii Supper ovor, t)io men wore numborcttlifor the anohorrwatehos by the mate, after which fhpy produced their never failing plug and pipe. Ohippingr off ra fety jpiedps of tobacco, they orumblod-it in their palms, and-.packed it into -tho; black bowl; A light from the forecastle lantern, • their they stopped out on dock ojio after pnothcr; and I qoulfl soe jtho firo in thoir’ pipes, dike- glow -worms flitting, about as I gathered up the measkit and made things tidy. (xo bh coktinusd.)