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I GO TO SEA IN THE BRIG "COVENANT" OF DYSART
I came to myself in darkness, in
great pain, bound
hand and foot, and deafened by many unfamiliar noises.
There sounded in my ears a roaring of water as of a
huge mill-dam, the
thrashing of heavy sprays, the thundering of the sails, and the shrill
seamen. The whole
world now heaved
giddily up, and now rushed giddily downward; and so sick and hurt was I
and my mind so much confounded, that it took me a long while, chasing
thoughts up and down, and ever stunned again by a fresh stab of pain,
that I must be lying somewhere bound in the belly of that unlucky ship,
the wind must have strengthened to a gale.
With the clear perception of my plight, there fell
upon me a blackness of
despair, a horror of remorse at my own folly, and a passion of anger at
uncle, that once more bereft me of my senses.
When I returned again to life, the same uproar, the same confused and violent movements, shook and deafened me; and presently, to my other pains and distresses, there was added the sickness of an unused landsman on the sea. In that time of my adventurous youth, I suffered many hardships; but none that was so crushing to my mind and body, or lit by so few hopes, as these first hours aboard the brig.
I heard a gun fire, and supposed
the storm had proved
too strong for us, and we were firing signals of distress.
The thought of deliverance, even by death in the
deep sea, was welcome to
me. Yet it was no such matter; but (as I was afterwards told) a common
the captain's, which I here set down to show that even the worst man
his kindlier side. We
were then passing, it appeared, within some miles of
Dysart, where the brig was built, and where old Mrs. Hoseason, the
mother, had come some years before to live; and whether outward or
the Covenant was never suffered to go by that place by day, without a
and colours shown.
I had no measure of time; day and night were alike in that ill-smelling cavern of the ship's bowels where, I lay; and the misery of my situation drew out the hours to double. How long, therefore, I lay waiting to hear the ship split upon some rock, or to feel her reel head foremost into the depths of the sea, I have not the means of computation. But sleep at length stole from me the consciousness of sorrow.
I was awakened by the light of a hand-lantern shining in my face. A small man of about thirty, with green eyes and a tangle of fair hair, stood looking down at me.
"Well," said he, "how goes it?"
I answered by a sob; and my visitor then felt my pulse and temples, and set himself to wash and dress the wound upon my scalp.
"Ay," said he, "a sore dunt. What, man? Cheer up! The world's no done; you've made a bad start of it but you'll make a better. Have you had any meat?"
I said I could not look
at it: and thereupon he
gave me some brandy and water in a tin pannikin, and left me once more
The next time he came to see me, I was lying betwixt sleep and waking, my eyes wide open in the darkness, the sickness quite departed, but succeeded by a horrid giddiness and swimming that was almost worse to bear. I ached, besides, in every limb, and the cords that bound me seemed to be of fire. The smell of the hole in which I lay seemed to have become a part of me; and during the long interval since his last visit I had suffered tortures of fear, now from the scurrying of the ship's rats, that sometimes pattered on my very face, and now from the dismal imaginings that haunt the bed of fever.
The glimmer of the lantern, as a trap opened, shone in like the heaven's sunlight; and though it only showed me the strong, dark beams of the ship that was my prison, I could have cried aloud for gladness. The man with the green eyes was the first to descend the ladder, and I noticed that he came somewhat unsteadily. He was followed by the captain. Neither said a word; but the first set to and examined me, and dressed my wound as before, while Hoseason looked me in my face with an odd, black look.
"Now, sir, you see for yourself,"
first: "a high fever, no appetite, no light, no meat: you see for
what that means."
"I am no conjurer, Mr. Riach," said
"Give me leave, sir" said Riach;
"you've a good head upon your shoulders, and a good Scotch tongue to
with; but I will leave you no manner of excuse; I want that boy taken
this hole and put in the forecastle."
"What ye may want, sir, is a matter
to nobody but yoursel'," returned the captain; "but I can tell ye that
which is to be. Here
he is; here he
"Admitting that you have been paid
proportion," said the other, "I will crave leave humbly to say that I
have not. Paid I
am, and none too
much, to be the second officer of this old tub, and you ken very well
if I do my
best to earn it. But
I was paid for
"If ye could hold back your hand
tin-pan, Mr. Riach, I would have no complaint to make of ye," returned
skipper; "and instead of asking riddles, I make bold to say that ye
keep your breath to cool your porridge.
be required on deck," he added, in a sharper note, and set one foot
But Mr. Riach caught him by the sleeve.
"Admitting that you have been paid
to do a
murder — — " he began.
Hoseason turned upon him with a flash.
"What's that?" he cried.
"What kind of talk is that?"
"It seems it is the talk that you can understand," said Mr. Riach, looking him steadily in the face.
"Mr. Riach, I have sailed with ye
cruises," replied the captain. "In all that time, sir, ye should have
learned to know me: I'm a stiff man, and a dour man; but for what ye
say the now — fie, fie! — it comes from a bad heart and a black conscience. If ye
lad will die — — "
"Ay, will he!" said Mr. Riach.
"Well, sir, is not that enough?"
Hoseason. "Flit him
Thereupon the captain ascended the
ladder; and I, who
had lain silent throughout this strange conversation, beheld Mr. Riach
after him and bow as low as to his knees in what was plainly a spirit
derision. Even in
my then state of
sickness, I perceived two things: that the mate was touched with
liquor, as the
captain hinted, and that (drunk or sober) he was like to prove a
Five minutes afterwards my bonds were cut, I was hoisted on a man's back, carried up to the forecastle, and laid in a bunk on some sea-blankets; where the first thing that I did was to lose my senses.
It was a blessed thing indeed to
open my eyes again
upon the daylight, and to find myself in the society of men.
The forecastle was a roomy place enough, set all
about with berths, in
which the men of the watch below were seated smoking, or lying down
The day being calm and the wind fair, the scuttle
was open, and not only
the good daylight, but from time to time (as the ship rolled) a dusty
sunlight shone in, and dazzled and delighted me.
I had no sooner moved, moreover, than one of the men
brought me a drink
of something healing which Mr. Riach had prepared, and bade me lie
still and I
should soon be well again. There
were no bones broken, he explained: "A clour
on the head was
Man," said he, "it was me that gave it ye!"
Here I lay for the space of many days a close prisoner, and not only got my health again, but came to know my companions. They were a rough lot indeed, as sailors mostly are: being men rooted out of all the kindly parts of life, and condemned to toss together on the rough seas, with masters no less cruel. There were some among them that had sailed with the pirates and seen things it would be a shame even to speak of; some were men that had run from the king's ships, and went with a halter round their necks, of which they made no secret; and all, as the saying goes, were "at a word and a blow" with their best friends. Yet I had not been many days shut up with them before I began to be ashamed of my first judgment, when I had drawn away from them at the Ferry pier, as though they had been unclean beasts. No class of man is altogether bad, but each has its own faults and virtues; and these shipmates of mine were no exception to the rule. Rough they were, sure enough; and bad, I suppose; but they had many virtues. They were kind when it occurred to them, simple even beyond the simplicity of a country lad like me, and had some glimmerings of honesty.
There was one man, of maybe forty,
that would sit on
my berthside for hours and tell me of his wife and child.
He was a fisher that had lost his boat, and thus
been driven to the
deep-sea voyaging. Well,
years ago now: but I have never forgotten him.
His wife (who was "young by him," as he often told
in vain to see her man return; he would never again make the fire for
her in the
morning, nor yet keep the bairn when she was sick.
Indeed, many of these poor fellows (as the event
proved) were upon their
last cruise; the deep seas and cannibal fish received them; and it is a
thankless business to speak ill of the dead.
Among other good deeds that they did, they returned my money, which had been shared among them; and though it was about a third short, I was very glad to get it, and hoped great good from it in the land I was going to. The ship was bound for the Carolinas; and you must not suppose that I was going to that place merely as an exile. The trade was even then much depressed; since that, and with the rebellion of the colonies and the formation of the United States, it has, of course, come to an end; but in those days of my youth, white men were still sold into slavery on the plantations, and that was the destiny to which my wicked uncle had condemned me.
The cabin-boy Ransome (from whom I
had first heard of
these atrocities) came in at times from the round-house, where he
served, now nursing a bruised limb in silent agony, now raving against
cruelty of Mr. Shuan. It
heart bleed; but the men had a great respect for the chief mate, who
they said, "the only seaman of the whole jing-bang, and none such a bad
when he was sober." Indeed,
I found there was a strange peculiarity about our two mates: that Mr.
sullen, unkind, and harsh when he was sober, and Mr. Shuan would not
hurt a fly
except when he was drinking. I
asked about the captain; but I was told drink made no difference upon
I did my best in the small time
allowed me to make
some thing like a man, or rather I should say something like a boy, of
creature, Ransome. But
his mind was
scarce truly human. He
remember nothing of the time before he came to sea; only that his
made clocks, and had a starling in the parlour, which could whistle
North Countrie;" all else had been blotted out in these years of
and cruelties. He
had a strange
notion of the dry land, picked up from sailor's stories: that it was a
where lads were put to some kind of slavery called a trade, and where
apprentices were continually lashed and clapped into foul prisons. In a town, he thought
every second person a decoy, and every
third house a place in which seamen would be drugged and murdered.
To be sure, I would tell him how kindly I had myself
been used upon that
dry land he was so much afraid of, and how well fed and carefully
taught both by
my friends and my parents: and if he had been recently hurt, he would
bitterly and swear to run away; but if he was in his usual crackbrain
(still more) if he had had a glass of spirits in the roundhouse, he
It was Mr. Riach (Heaven forgive
him!) who gave the
boy drink; and it was, doubtless, kindly meant; but besides that it was
his health, it was the pitifullest thing in life to see this unhappy,
creature staggering, and dancing, and talking he knew not what.
Some of the men laughed, but not all; others would
grow as black as
thunder (thinking, perhaps, of their own childhood or their own
bid him stop that nonsense, and think what he was doing.
As for me, I felt ashamed to look at him, and the
poor child still comes
about me in my dreams.
All this time, you should know, the
meeting continual head-winds and tumbling up and down against
head-seas, so that
the scuttle was almost constantly shut, and the forecastle lighted only
swinging lantern on a beam. There
was constant labour for all hands; the sails had to be made and
hour; the strain told on the men's temper; there was a growl of
day, long from berth to berth; and as I was never allowed to set my
deck, you can picture to yourselves how weary of my life I grew to be,
impatient for a change.
And a change I was to get, as you shall hear; but I must first tell of a conversation I had with Mr. Riach, which put a little heart in me to bear my troubles. Getting him in a favourable stage of drink (for indeed he never looked near me when he was sober), I pledged him to secrecy, and told him my whole story.
He declared it was like a ballad;
that he would do
his best to help me; that I should have paper, pen, and ink, and write
to Mr. Campbell and another to Mr. Rankeillor; and that if I had told
ten to one he would be able (with their help) to pull me through and
set me in
"And in the meantime," says he,
your heart up. You're
not the only
one, I'll tell you that. There's
many a man hoeing tobacco over-seas that should be mounting his horse
at his own
door at home; many and many! And life is all a variorum, at the best.
Look at me: I'm a laird's son and more than half a
doctor, and here I am,
man-Jack to Hoseason!"
I thought it would be civil to ask him for his story.
He whistled loud.
"Never had one," said he. "I like fun, that's all." And he skipped out of the forecastle.Kidnapped