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Release date: 2022-07-04 07:39:34 Author:Lunan Online

By this time the luckless steward, finding, I suppose, that he had not reached Jehannum yet, began to pull himself together, and, doubtless ashamed of his being all face in the presence of the all-powerful sahibs, writhed his way worm-like towards the other door of the saloon, and disappeared within, the skipper regarding133 him meanwhile with gentle interest as if he were a crawling babe. Then turning his attention to me, the old man courteously inquired my business, and finding that I suited him, engaged me there and then as second mate.

You might as well stay to supper an?keep me company, unless you’ve got to get back anywhere.

He was peering at me curiously, and presently said, interrogatively, Well?

For some days everything went on greased wheels. Except for an air of mystery that overhung the ship, and which puzzled me not a little, she was the most comfortable craft I ever sailed in. The skipper scarcely ever appeared, although sundry strange noises and unpleasant odours proceeding from his laboratory were evidence all-sufficient that he was on the alert. I was somewhat aggrieved though by the mate’s sardonic grin every time he relieved me, and made the usual remark, still alive, eh? Still, as each quiet day succeeded a quieter night my wonderment became dulled, and I thought that either the mate was mistaken or that he had been trying to fool me.

Our ole man’s scientific, Mr. Roper.

Dinghy-wallah, sab, waitin?for speaky gentyman, sab.

I stared in utter amazement at a most extraordinary collection of queer looking instruments, models, retorts, crucibles, and specimen glasses, turning round after completing my scrutiny, and gazing into the mate’s face without speaking.

Seeing that I was expected to make some sort of a reply, I said, with a cheerful air?

The Lord only knows, piously ejaculated the mate. Looks ter me ’sif he’d ben shot clean out ov ’em, puggree an?all.

As he looked at me like a man who has just divulged130 some tremendous secret, I was more than a little puzzled what to say in reply, so I looked deeply interested, and murmured, Indeed.

Indeed, yes, growled the mate; but I’ll bet you a month’s wages you won’t say ‘indeed?like that when we’ve ben to sea a few days. I’ll tell you what it is, I’ve been with some rum pups of skippers in my time, but this one scoops the pot. He’s a good enough sailor man, too. But as fer his condemn science—well, he thinks he’s the whole Royle Serciety an?Trinity House biled down into one, an?I’m damfee knows enough to come in when it rains. He’s just worryin me bald-headed, that’s what he is. Why, if it wasn’t fer the good hash and bein?able to do pretty much as I mind to with the ship, I’d a ben a jibbin mainyac ’fore now, I’m dead shore o?that. Looky here, and he sprang up and flung a state-room door wide open, djever see anythin?like that outen a mewseeum?

Seeing that I was expected to make some sort of a reply, I said, with a cheerful air?

He was going to say something else, but just then the steward emerged from the saloon—that is to say, he shot out as if he had been fired from a balista.132 When I saw him a few minutes before he was a suave olive-complexioned Hindoo, cat-like in his neatness, and snowy in his muslin rig. Now he was a ghastly apparition, with streaming scalp-lock and glaring eyeballs, his face a cabbage-water green, and his lank body as bare as a newly-scalded pig. Apparently incapable of flight, he crouched where he fell, salaaming with trembling hands, and chattering almost monkey-like. While the mate and I stood silently regarding him, and indignation at the poor wretch’s plight was rapidly ousting my alarm at the manner of his appearance, a mild and benevolent looking man of middle-age dressed in pyjamas appeared at the saloon door.

Ah, replied the skipper, with a placid smile, he’s a bit startled I see. He trod on the plate of my new battery, and got a slight shock, I think. But where’s his close?

Now, Mr. Roper, djever strike anythin?o?this kind before. Ain’t it scientific? Ain’t he a holy terror at science? What I’d like ter know is, where do I come on in this Gypshun Hall business? Damfime goin?ter be blame well paralyzed, or whatever it is, for all the skippers erflote, n?yet—n?yet; I don’t like ter see sech ungodly carryins on aboard of any ship I’m mate of.

During the short stay we made in port after my joining, nothing further occurred to change the opinion I had already formed that I was in a very comfortable ship. The fellows forward seemed fairly well contented and willing. The food both fore and aft was wonderfully good, and so was the cooking, for a marvel. But that was because we had a Madrassee cook who had served an arduous apprenticeship in P. and O. boats, from which excellent service he had been driven by some amiable inability to comprehend the laws of meum and tuum. Here there was no chance for him to steal, and every inducement for him to earn a good name by pleasing his many masters. The result was singularly happy for all of us. The foremast hands were fairly divided into Britons and Scandinavians, all good seamen and quiet, well-behaved men. One thing, however, was noticeable, they all seemed nervously anxious to avoid the after part of the ship as much as possible. All seamen before the mast have an inbred sense of reverence for the quarter-deck, walking delicately thereon, and studiously keeping to the lee-side, unless compelled by duty to go to windward. But in the Ranee, whenever a man came aft for any purpose whatever, his movements were much like those of a man visiting a menagerie for the first time alone, and morbidly suspicious that some of the134 cage doors were unfastened. This behaviour was highly amusing to me, for I had never seen anything like it before, and I couldn’t help wondering how the helmsman would hang out a trick at the wheel when we got to sea.

As he looked at me like a man who has just divulged130 some tremendous secret, I was more than a little puzzled what to say in reply, so I looked deeply interested, and murmured, Indeed.

All right, my boy. Hullo, what do you want? to the suppliant steward, who stood in a devotional attitude awaiting permission to speak.

It was a lovely evening, the sails just drawing to a steady air, while the sea was so smooth that the vessel was almost as motionless as if in dock. As it was my watch on deck, I mounted the poop, glanced at the standard compass, cast my eye aloft to see that all was as it should be, and then turned my gaze with intense interest upon the scene below. And what a scene it was to be sure. All hands were glaring upon the high priest of the mysteries as if mesmerised, every expression gone from their faces but that of painful anxiety to know what was going to happen. The skipper was as busy as two people about his wheels and things, and the unhappy steward like an image of fear obeyed mechanically the various commands of his dread master. At last a whirring sound was heard like the humming of some huge imprisoned bee, and to this accompaniment the skipper took up his parable and proceeded to talk. I frankly confess that I know no more what he said than I should have done had he138 been speaking in Sanskrit, and I am perfectly sure that none of his audience were in any better case. Indeed, from what I could see of their faces, I believe every other sense was merged in the full expectation of an explosion, and they couldn’t have taken their strained eyes off the buzzing gadget in their midst for any consideration whatever. Suddenly a dark shadow glided across the patch of deck behind the skipper, which I recognized as a monkey belonging to one of the crew. It reached the machine, and then——What really happened nobody is ever likely to know, for in a moment there was a shriek, a perfect shower of blue sparks and a writhing, kicking, biting heap of skipper, monkey, and steward. Some of the fellows, acting upon impulse, forgot their fears and rushed to the rescue, but only succeeded in adding to the infernal riot, as they too became involved in the mysterious calamity. Others, wiser in their generation, fled forward to the fo’c’sle, from whence they gradually crept aft again near enough to watch in safety the devil’s dance that was going on. I looked on in a sort of coma of all the faculties, until the mate touched me on the shoulder, and said in a sepulchral voice?

Indeed, yes, growled the mate; but I’ll bet you a month’s wages you won’t say ‘indeed?like that when we’ve ben to sea a few days. I’ll tell you what it is, I’ve been with some rum pups of skippers in my time, but this one scoops the pot. He’s a good enough sailor man, too. But as fer his condemn science—well, he thinks he’s the whole Royle Serciety an?Trinity House biled down into one, an?I’m damfee knows enough to come in when it rains. He’s just worryin me bald-headed, that’s what he is. Why, if it wasn’t fer the good hash and bein?able to do pretty much as I mind to with the ship, I’d a ben a jibbin mainyac ’fore now, I’m dead shore o?that. Looky here, and he sprang up and flung a state-room door wide open, djever see anythin?like that outen a mewseeum?

A long confab succeeded to the accompaniment of many cigars and sundry pegs, but not another word about the skipper and his hobbies did the mate let slip. No; we discussed, as housewives are said to do when they meet, the shortcomings of those over whom we were put in authority, compared notes as to the merits and demerits of skippers we had served under, and generally sampled the gamut of seafaring causeries, until, with my head buzzing like a mosquito in a bottle, I gave the mate good-night, and retired to my bunk in an enviable state of satisfaction at my good fortune. Next morning I was up at coffee-time, and while sitting on the after-hatch coamings enjoying the enlivening drink and chatting with the mate, a most unearthly howl fairly made my whiskers bristle. I looked at Mr. Martin, whose face wore a sarcastic grin, but never a word spake he. Another nerve-tearing yell resounded, starting me to my feet, while I exclaimed?

Oh, it’s only some o?the ole man’s harmless fads he’s a exercisin? You’ll git used ter them chunes presently.

Oh, it’s only some o?the ole man’s harmless fads he’s a exercisin? You’ll git used ter them chunes presently.

One evening, however, when we were drawing near the line, I came on deck at four bells to find the mate’s watch busy rigging up a sort of theatre aft. An awning had been stretched over the front of the poop, weather cloths were hung along each side, and seats arranged. As soon as I appeared, looking round me in astonishment, the mate approached me and said, th?entertainment’s goin?ter begin. Before I had time to question him as to his meaning, the old man emerged from the cabin loaded with sundry strange-looking137 machines, and followed by the steward bearing more. For a few minutes he was mighty busy placing his menagerie in order, and then he turned to me and said briskly, Now, Mr. Roper, I’m all ready, go forrard and invite the hands aft to the lecture. Aye, aye, sir, I answered mechanically, and departed. I found all hands outside the forecastle, evidently waiting for the summons, but looking as unlike men expecting a treat as one could possibly picture. But they all shambled aft in silence, and took their seats with eyes fixed upon the strange-looking assemblage of machinery in the centre.

Oh, it’s only some o?the ole man’s harmless fads he’s a exercisin? You’ll git used ter them chunes presently.

I went cold all over. That infernal coolie was after me for his fare, and I hadn’t a pice. I’d forgotten all about him. I did the only thing possible, owned up to the mate that I had a southerly wind in my pockets, and he came to the rescue at once, paying the dinghy-wallah a quarter of what he asked (two rupees), and starting him off. Then we sat down to a sumptuous supper, such as I had not tasted for many months, for I came out before the mast, and the grub in the Sailors Home (where I had been staying) was pretty bad. Over the pleasant meal Mr. Martin thawed out completely, and at last, in a burst of confidence, he said?

Dinghy-wallah, sab, waitin?for speaky gentyman, sab.

Seeing that I was expected to make some sort of a reply, I said, with a cheerful air?

Oh yes, sir, drawled the mate, ’eer ’e is, what’s left ov ’im.

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