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   Chapter 3 RECTUS OPENS HIS EYES.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 17800

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


I was all right the next day, and we staid on deck most of the time, standing around the smoke-stack when our noses got a little blue with the cold. There were not many other people on deck. I was expecting young Rectus to have his turn at sea-sickness, but he disappointed me. He spent a good deal of his time calculating our position on a little folding-map he had. He inquired how fast we were going, and then he worked the whole thing out, from Sandy Hook to Savannah, marking on the map the hours at which he ought to be at such and such a place. He tried his best to get his map of the course all right, and made a good many alterations, so that we were off Cape Charles several times in the course of the day. Rectus had never been very good at calculations, and I was glad to see that he was beginning to take an interest in such things.

The next morning, just after day-break, we were awakened by a good deal of tramping about on deck, over our heads, and we turned out, sharp, to see what the matter was. Rectus wanted me to wait, after we were dressed, until he could get out his map and calculate where we were, but I couldn't stop for such nonsense, for I knew that his kind of navigation didn't amount to much, and so we scrambled up on deck. The ship was pitching and tossing worse than she had done yet. We had been practising the "sea-leg" business the day before, and managed to walk along pretty well; but this morning our sea-legs didn't work at all, and we couldn't take a step without hanging on to something. When we got on deck, we found that the first officer, or mate,-his name was Randall,-with three or four sailors, was throwing the lead to see how deep the water was. We hung on to a couple of stays and watched them. It was a rousing big lead, a foot long, and the line ran out over a pulley at the stern. A sailor took the lead a good way forward before he threw it, so as to give it a chance to get to the bottom before the steamer passed over it and began to tow it. When they pulled it in, we were surprised to see that it took three men to do it. Then Mr. Randall scooped out a piece of tallow that was in a hollow in the bottom of the lead, and took it to show to the captain, whose room was on deck. I knew this was one way they had of finding out where they were, for they examined the sand or mud on the tallow, and so knew what sort of a bottom they were going over; and all the different kinds of bottom were marked out on their charts.

As Mr. Randall passed us, Rectus sung out to him, and asked him where we were now.

"Off Hatteras," said he, quite shortly.

I didn't think Rectus should have bothered Mr. Randall with questions when he was so busy; but after he went into the captain's room, the men did not seem to have much to do, and I asked one of them how deep it was.

"About seventeen fathoms," said he.

"Can we see Cape Hatteras?" I said, trying to get a good look landward as the vessel rolled over that way.

"No," said the man. "We could see the light just before day-break, but the weather's gettin' thick now, and we're keepin' out."

It was pretty thick to the west, that was true. All that I could see in the distance was a very mixed-up picture of wave-tops and mist. I knew that Cape Hatteras was one of the most dangerous points on the coast, and that sailors were always glad when they had safely rounded it, and so I began to take a good deal of interest in what was going on. There was a pretty strong wind from the south-east, and we had no sail set at all. Every now and then the steamer would get herself up on top of a big wave, and then drop down, sideways, as if she were sliding off the top of a house. The mate and the captain soon came out on deck together, and the captain went forward to the pilot-house, while Mr. Randall came over to his men, and they got ready to throw the lead again. It didn't seem to me that the line ran out as far as it did the last time, and I think I heard Mr. Randall say, "Fourteen." At any rate, a man was sent forward to the pilot-house, and directly we heard the rudder-chains creaking, and the big iron arms of the rudder, which were on deck, moved over toward the landward side of the vessel, and I knew by that that the captain was putting her head out to sea. Mr. Randall took out the tallow from the lead and laid it in an empty bucket that was lashed to the deck. He seemed to be more anxious now about the depth of water than about the kind of bottom we were passing over. The lead was just about to be thrown again, when Rectus, who had taken the tallow out of the bucket, which stood near us, and had examined it pretty closely, started off to speak to Mr. Randall, with the tallow in his hand.

"'HOLD YOUR TONGUE!' ROARED MR. RANDALL."

"Look here!" said Rectus, holding on to the railing. "I'll tell you what would be a sight better than tallow for your leads. Just you get some fine, white Castile-soap, and--"

"Confound you!" roared Mr. Randall, turning savagely on him. "Hold your tongue! For three cents I'd tie you to this line and drag the bottom with you!"

Rectus made no answer. He didn't offer him the three cents, but came away promptly, and put the piece of tallow back in the bucket. He didn't get any comfort from me.

"Haven't you got any better sense," I said to him, "than to go, with your nonsense, to the first officer at such a time as this? I never saw such a boy!"

"But the soap is better than the tallow," said Rectus. "It's finer and whiter, and would take up the sand better."

"No, it wouldn't," I growled at him; "the water would wash it out in half a minute. You needn't be trying to tell anybody on this ship what they ought to do."

"But supposing--" said he.

"No," I exclaimed, in a way that made him jump, "there's no supposing about it. If you know their business better than they do, why, just let it stand that way. It wont hurt you."

I was pretty mad, I must say, for I didn't want to see a fellow like Rectus trying to run the ship. But you couldn't stay mad with Rectus long. He didn't mean any wrong, and he gave no words back, and so, as you might expect, we were all right again by breakfast-time.

The next morning we were surprised to feel how warm it was on deck. We didn't need our overcoats. The sea was ever so much smoother, too. There were two or three ladies on deck, who could walk pretty well.

About noon, I was standing on the upper deck, when I saw Rectus coming toward me, looking very pale. He was generally a dark sort of a boy, and it made a good deal of difference in him to look pale. I was sure he was going to be sick, at last,-although it was rather queer for him to knock under when the voyage was pretty nearly over,-and I began to laugh, when he said to me, in a nervous sort of way:

"I tell you what it is, I believe that we've gone past the mouth of the Savannah River. According to my calculations," said he, pointing to a spot on his map, which he held in his hand, "we must be down about here, off the Georgia coast."

I have said that I began to laugh, and now I kept on. I just sat down and roared, so that the people looked at me.

"You needn't laugh," said Rectus. "I believe it's so."

"All right, my boy," said I; "but we wont tell the captain. Just let's wait and have the fun of seeing him turn around and go back."

Rectus didn't say anything to this, but walked off with his map.

"RECTUS SHOWED ME THE MAP."

Now, that boy was no fool. I believe that he was beginning to feel like doing something, and, as he had never done anything before, he didn't know how.

About twelve o'clock we reached the mouth of the Savannah (without turning back), and sailed twenty miles up the river to the city.

We were the first two persons off that vessel, and we took a hack to the hotel that the purser had recommended to us, and had the satisfaction of reaching it about ten minutes ahead of the people who came in the omnibus; although I don't know that that was of much use to us, as the clerk gave us top rooms, any way.

We went pretty nearly all over Savannah that afternoon and the next day. It's a beautiful city. There is a little public square at nearly every corner, and one of the wide streets has a double row of big trees running right down the middle of it, with grass under them, and, what seemed stranger yet, the trees were all in leaf, little children were playing on the grass, and the weather was warm and splendid. The gardens in front of the houses were full of roses and all sorts of flowers in blossom, and Rectus wanted to buy a straw hat and get his linen trousers out of his trunk.

"No, sir," said I; "I'm not going around with a fellow wearing a straw hat and linen breeches in January. You don't see anybody else wearing them."

"No," said he; "but it's warm enough."

"You may think so," I answered; "b

ut I guess they know their own business best. This is their coldest season, and if they wore straw hats and linen clothes now, what would they put on when the scorching hot weather comes?"

Rectus didn't know, and that matter was dropped. There is a pretty park at the back of the town, and we walked about it, and sat under the trees, and looked at the flowers, and the fountain playing, and enjoyed it ever so much. If it had been summer, and we had been at home, we shouldn't have cared so much for these things; but sitting under trees, and lounging about over the green grass, while our folks at home were up to their eyes, or thereabouts, in snow and ice, delighted both of us, especially Rectus. I never heard him talk so much.

We reached Savannah on Tuesday, and were to leave in the steamer for St. Augustine Thursday afternoon. Thursday morning we went out to the cemetery of Bonaventure, one of the loveliest places in the whole world, where there are long avenues of live-oaks that stretch from one side of the road to the other, like great covered arbors, and from every limb of every tree hang great streamers of gray moss, four and five feet long. It was just wonderful to look at. The whole place seemed dripping with waving fringe. Rectus said it looked to him as if this was a graveyard for old men, and that every old fellow had had to hang his beard on a tree before he went down into his grave.

This was a curious idea for Rectus to have, and the colored man who was driving us-we went out in style, in a barouche, but I wouldn't do that kind of thing again without making a bargain beforehand-turned around to look at him as if he thought he was a little crazy. Rectus was certainly in high spirits. There was a sort of change coming over him. His eyes had a sparkle in them that I never saw before. No one could say that he didn't take interest in things now. I think the warm weather had something to do with it.

"I tell you what it is, Gordon," said he,-he still called me Gordon, and I didn't insist on "Mr.," because I thought that, on the whole, perhaps it wouldn't do,-"I'm waking up. I feel as if I had been asleep all my life, and was just beginning to open my eyes."

A graveyard seemed a queer place to start out fresh in this way, but it wasn't long before I found that, if Rectus hadn't really wakened up, he could kick pretty hard in his sleep.

Nothing much happened on the trip down to St. Augustine, for we travelled nearly all the way by night. Early the next morning we were lying off that old half Spanish town, wishing the tide would rise so that we could go in. There is a bar between two islands that lie in front of the town, and you have to go over that to get into the harbor. We were on the "Tigris," the Bahama steamer that touched at St. Augustine on her way to Nassau, and she couldn't get over that bar until high tide. We were dreadfully impatient, for we could see the old town, with its trees, all green and bright, and its low, wide houses, and a great light-house, marked like a barber's pole or a stick of old-fashioned mint-candy, and, what was best of all, a splendid old castle, or fort, built by the Spaniards three hundred years ago! We declared we would go there the moment we set foot on shore. In fact, we soon had about a dozen plans for seeing the town.

If we had been the pilots, we would have bumped that old steamer over the bar, somehow or other, long before the real pilot started her in; but we had to wait. When we did go in, and steamed along in front of the old fort, we could see that it was gray and crumbling, and moss-covered in places, and it was just like an oil-painting. The whole town, in fact, was like an oil-painting to us.

The moment the stairs were put down, we scuffled ashore, and left the steamer to go on to the Bahamas whenever she felt like it. We gave our valises and trunk-checks to a negro man with a wagon, and told him to take the baggage to a hotel that we could see from the wharf, and then we started off for the fort. But on my way along the wharf I made up my mind that, as the fort had been there for three hundred years, it would probably stand a while longer, and that we had better go along with our baggage, and see about getting a place to live in, for we were not going to be in any hurry to leave St. Augustine.

We didn't go to any hotel at all. I had a letter of introduction to a Mr. Cholott, and on our way up from the wharf, I heard some one call out that name to a gentleman. So I remembered my letter, and went up and gave it to him. He was a first-rate man, and when we told him where we were going, we had quite a talk, and he said he would advise us to go to a boarding-house. It would be cheaper, and if we were like most boys that he knew, we'd like it better. He said that board could be had with several families that he knew, and that some of the Minorcans took boarders in the winter.

Of course, Rectus wanted to know, right away, what a Minorcan was. I didn't think it was exactly the place to ask questions which probably had long answers, but Mr. Cholott didn't seem to be in a hurry, and he just started off and told us about the Minorcans. A chap called Turnbull, more than a hundred years ago, brought over to Florida a lot of the natives of the island of Minorca, in the Mediterranean, and began a colony. But he was a mean sort of chap; he didn't care for anything but making money out of the Minorcans, and it wasn't long before they found it out, for he was really making slaves of them. So they just rose up and rebelled, and left old Turnbull to run his colony by himself. Served him right, too. They started off on their own accounts, and most of them came to this town, where they settled, and have had a good time ever since. There are a great many of them here now, descendants of the original Minorcans, and they keep pretty much together and keep their old name, too. They look a good deal like Spaniards, Mr. Cholott said, and many of them are very excellent people.

Rectus took the greatest interest in these Minorcans, but we didn't take board with any of them. We went to the house of a lady who was a friend of Mr. Cholott, and she gave us a splendid room, that looked right out over the harbor. We could see the islands, and the light-house, and the bar with the surf outside, and even get a glimpse of the ocean. We saw the "Tigris" going out over the bar. The captain wanted to get out on the same tide he came in on, and he did not lose any time. As soon as she got fairly out to sea, we hurried down, to go to the fort. But first, Rectus said, we ought to go and buy straw hats. There were lots of men with straw hats in St. Augustine. This was true, for it was just as warm here as we have it in June, and we started off to look for a straw-hat store.

We found that we were in one of the queerest towns in the world. Rectus said it was all back-streets, and it looked something that way. The streets were very narrow, and none of them had any pavement but sand and powdered shell, and very few had any sidewalks. But they didn't seem to be needed. Many of the houses had balconies on the second story, which reached toward each other from both sides of the street, and this gave the town a sociable appearance. There were lots of shops, and most of them sold sea-beans. There were other things, like alligators' teeth, and shells, and curiosities, but the great trade of the town seemed to be in sea-beans.[A] Rectus and I each bought one for our watch-chains.

I think we tried on every straw hat in town, and we bought a couple in a little house, where two or three young women were making them. Rectus asked me, in a low voice, if I didn't think one of the young women was a Mohican. I hushed him up, for it was none of his business if she was. I had a good deal of trouble in making Rectus say "Minorcan." Whenever we had met a dark-haired person, he had said to me: "Do you think that is a Mohican?" It was a part of his old school disposition to get things wrong in this way. But he never got angry when I corrected him. His temper was perfect.

I bought a common-sized hat, but Rectus bought one that spread out far and wide. It made him look like a Japanese umbrella. We stuffed our felt hats into our pockets, and started for the fort. But I looked at my watch and found it was supper-time. I had suspected it when I came out of the hat-shop. The sea-trip and fine air here had given us tremendous appetites, which our walk had sharpened.

So we turned back at once and hurried home, agreeing to begin square on the fort the next day.

FOOTNOTE:

[A] Sea-beans are seeds of a West Indian tree. They are of different colors, very hard, and capable of being handsomely polished. They are called "sea-beans" because great numbers of them drift up on the Florida and adjacent coasts.

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