MoboReader > Literature > Nature and Human Nature


Nature and Human Nature By Thomas Chandler Haliburton Characters: 34703

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Whoever has taken the trouble to read the "Wise Saws" of Mr Slick, will be prepared to resume the thread of his narrative without explanation, if indeed these unconnected selections deserve the appellation. But as this work may fall into the hands of many people who never saw its predecessor, it may be necessary to premise that our old friend Sam, having received a commission from the President of the United States, to visit the coast of Nova Scotia, and report to him fully on the state of the fisheries, their extent and value, the manner in which they were prosecuted, and the best mode of obtaining a participation in them, he proceeded on his cruise in a trading vessel, called the "Black Hawk," whereof Timothy Cutler was master, and Mr Eldad Nickerson the pilot. The two preceding volumes contained his adventures at sea, and in the harbours of the province, to the westward of Halifax. The present work is devoted to his remarks on "nature and human nature."

While amusing himself fishing within three miles of the coast, off La Haive, in contravention of the treaty, he narrowly escaped capture by the British cruiser "Spitfire," commanded by Captain Stoker. By a skilful manoeuvre, he decoyed the man-of-war, in the eagerness of the chase, on to a sand-bar, when he dexterously slipt through a narrow passage between two islands, and keeping one of them in a line between the "Black Hawk" and her pursuer, so as to be out of the reach of her guns, he steered for the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, and was soon out of sight of the islands behind which his enemy lay embedded in the sand; from this point the narrative is resumed in Mr Slick's own words.1

1 His remarks on the fisheries I have wholly omitted, for they have now lost their interest. His observations on "nature and human nature" are alone retained, as they may be said to have a universal application.--ED.

"I guess," said I, "Captain, the 'Spitfire' will have to put into Halifax to report herself and be surveyed, so we may pursue our course in peace. But this 'Black Hawk' is a doll, ain't she? don't she skim over the water like a sea gull? The truth is, Cutler, when you ain't in a hurry, and want to enjoy yourself at sea, as I always do, for I am a grand sailor, give me a clipper. She is so light and buoyant, and the motion so elastic, it actilly exilerates your spirits. There is something like life in her gait, and you have her in hand like a horse, and you feel as if you were her master, and directed her movements. I ain't sure you don't seem as if you were part of her yourself. Then there is room to show skill and seamanship, and if you don't in reality go as quick as a steamer, you seem to go faster, if there is no visible object to measure your speed by, and that is something, for the white foam on the leeward side rushes by you in rips, raps, and rainbows like Canadian rapids.

"Then if she is an atrysilly1 like this, and she is doing her prettiest, and actilly laughs again, she is so pleased, why you are satisfied, for you don't make the breeze, you take it as you find it, like all other good gifts of Providence, and say, 'ain't she going like wink, how she forges ahead, don't she?' Your attention is kept alive, too, watchin' the wind, and trimmin' sail to it accordingly, and the jolly 'Oh, heave oh,' of the sailors is music one loves to listen to, and if you wish to take a stretch for it in your cloak on deck, on the sunny or shady side of the companion-way, the breeze whistles a nice soft lullaby for you, and you are off in the land of Nod in no time."

1 The Atricilla, or laughing sea-gull. Its note resembles a coarse laugh. Hence its name. It is very common in the Bahamas.

"Dreaming of Sophy Collingwood," sais the Captain, "and the witch of Eskisooney, eh?"

"Yes, dreamin' of bright eyes and smilin' faces, or anythin' else that's near and dear, for to my idea, the heart gives the subject for the head to think upon. In a fair wind and a charmin' day like this, I never coiled up on the deck for a nap in my life, that I had'nt pleasant dreams. You feel as if you were at peace with all the world in general, and yourself in partikeler, and that it is very polite of folks to stay to home ashore, and let you and your friends enjoy yourselves without treadin' on your toes, and wakin' of you up if asleep, or a jostlin' of you in your turn on the quarter-deck, or over-hearin' of your conversation.

"And ain't you always ready for your meals, and don't you walk into them in rael right down earnest? Oh, nothing ever tastes so good to me as it does at sea. The appetite, like a sharp knife, makes the meat seem tender, and the sea air is a great friend of digestion, and always keeps company with it. Then you don't care to sit and drink after dinner as you do at an hotel of an idle day, for you want to go on deck, light your cigar, take a sweep round the horizon with your glass to see if there is any sail in sight, glance at the sky to ascertain if the breeze is likely to hold, and then bring yourself to anchor on a seat, and have a dish of chat for a dessert with the captain, if he is a man of books like you, Cutler, or a man of reefs, rocks, and sandbars, fish, cordwood, and smugglin', or collisions, wracks, and salvage, like the pilot.

"Then, if you have a decent sample or two of passengers on board, you can discuss men and things, and women and nothings, law, physick, and divinity, or that endless, tangled ball of yarn, politicks, or you can swap anecdotes, and make your fortune in the trade. And by the same trail of thought we must give one or two of these Blue-Noses now and then a cast on board with us to draw them out. "Well, if you want to read, you can go and turn in and take a book, and solitudinise to it, and there is no one to disturb you. I actilly learned French in a voyage to Calcutta, and German on my way home. I got enough for common use. It warn't all pure gold; but it was kind of small change, and answered every purpose of trade or travel. Oh, it's no use a talkin'; where time ain't the main object, there's nothin' like a sailin' vessel to a man who ain't sea-sick, and such fellows ought to be cloriformed, put to bed, and left there till the voyage is over. They have no business to go to sea, if they are such fools as not to know how to enjoy themselves.

"Then sailors are characters; they are men of the world, there is great self-reliance in them. They have to fight their way in life through many trials and difficulties, and their trust is in God and their own strong arm. They are so much in their own element, they seem as if they were born on the sea, cradled on its billows, and, like Mother Carey's chickens, delighted in its storms and mountain waves. They walk, talk, and dress differently from landsmen. They straddle as they pace the deck, so as to brace the body and keep their trowsers up at the same time; their gait is loose, and their dress loose, and their limbs loose; indeed, they are rather too fond of slack. They climb like monkeys, and depend more on their paws than their legs. They tumble up, but never down. They count, not by fingers, it is tedious, but by hands; they put a part for the whole, and call themselves hands, for they are paid for the use of them, and not their heads.

"Though they are two-handed they are not close-fisted fellows. They despise science, but are fond of practical knowledge. When the sun is over the foreyard, they know the time of day as well as the captain, and call for their grog, and when they lay back their heads, and turn up the bottom of the mug to the sky, they call it in derision taking an observation. But though they have many characteristics in common, there is an individuality in each that distinguishes him from the rest. He stands out in bold relief--I by myself, I. He feels and appreciates his importance. He knows no plural. The word 'our' belongs to landsmen; 'my' is the sailor's phrase--my ship, my captain, my messmate, my watch on deck, 'my eyes!' 'you lubber, don't you know that's me?' I like to listen to their yarns and their jokes, and to hear them sing their simple ditties. The odd mixture of manliness and childishness--of boldness and superstitious fears; of preposterous claims for wages and thoughtless extravagance; of obedience and discontent--all goes to make the queer compound called 'Jack.' How often have I laughed over the fun of the forecastle in these small fore and aft packets of ourn! and I think I would back that place for wit against any bar-room in New York or New Orleans, and I believe they take the rag off of all creation.

"But the cook is my favourite. He is a scientific man, and so skilful in compounds, he generally goes by the name of doctor. I like the daily consultation with him about dinner: not that I am an epicure; but at sea, as the business of life is eating, it is as well to be master of one's calling. Indeed, it appears to be a law of nature, that those who have mouths should understand what to put in them. It gratifies the doctor to confer with him, and who does it not please to be considered a man of importance? He is therefore a member of the Privy Council, and a more useful member he is too than many Right Honourables I know of--who have more acres than ideas. The Board assembles after breakfast, and a new dish is a great item in the budget. It keeps people in good humour the rest of the day, and affords topics for the table. To eat to support existence is only fit for criminals. Bread and water will do that; but to support and gratify nature at the same time is a noble effort of art, and well deserves the thanks of mankind. The cook too enlivens the consultation by telling marvellous stories about strange dishes he has seen. He has eaten serpents with the Siamese, monkeys in the West Indies, crocodiles and sloths in South America, and cats, rats, and dogs with the Chinese; and of course, as nobody can contradict him, says they are delicious. Like a salmon, you must give him the line, even if it wearies you, before you bag him; but when you do bring him to land his dishes are savoury. They have a relish that is peculiar to the sea, for where there is no garden, vegetables are always most prized. The glorious onion is duly valued, for as there is no mistress to be kissed, who will dare to object to its aroma?

"Then I like a Sunday at sea in a vessel like this, and a day like this, when the men are all clean and tidy, and the bell rings for prayers, and all hands are assembled aft to listen to the captain as he reads the Church Service. It seems like a family scene. It reminds me of dear old Minister and days gone by, when he used to call us round him, and repeated to us the promise 'that when two or three were gathered together in God's name, he would grant their request.' The only difference is, sailors are more attentive and devout than landsmen. They seem more conscious that they are in the Divine presence. They have little to look upon but the heavens above and the boundless ocean around them. Both seem made on purpose for them--the sun to guide them by day, and the stars by night, the sea to bear them on its bosom, and the breeze to waft them on their course. They feel how powerless they are of themselves; how frail their bark; how dependent they are on the goodness and mercy of their Creator, and that it is He alone who can rule the tempest and control the stormy deep. Their impressions are few, but they are strong. It is the world that hardens the heart, and the ocean seems apart from it.

"They are noble fellows, sailors, and I love them; but, Cutler, how are they used, especially where they ought to be treated best, on board of men-of-war? The moment a ship arrives in port, the anchor cast and the sails furled--what dees the captain do? the popular captain too, the idol of the men; he who is so kind and so fond of them? Why, he calls them aft, and says, 'Here, my lads, here is lots of cash for you, now be off ashore and enjoy yourselves.' And they give three cheers for their noble commander--their good-hearted officer--the sailor's friend--the jolly old blue jacket,--and they bundle into the boats, and on to the beach, like school-boys. And where do they go? Well, we won't follow them, for I never was in them places where they do go, and so I can't describe them, and one thing I must say, I never yet found any place answer the picture drawn of it. But if half only of the accounts are true that I have heerd of them, they must be the devil's own seminaries of vice--that's a fact. Every mite and morsel as bad as the barrack scenes that we read of lately.

"Well, at the end of a week back come the sailors. They have had a glorious lark and enjoyed themselves beyond anything in the world, for they are pale, sick, sleepy, tired out, cleaned out, and kicked out, with black eyes, broken heads, swelled cheeks, minus a few teeth, half their clothes, and all their money.

"'What,' says the captain, 'what's the matter with you, Tom Marlin, that you limp so like a lame duck?'

"'Nothing, your honour,' says Tom, twitching his forelock, and making a scrape with his hind leg, 'nothing, your honour, but a scratch from a bagganet.'

"'What! a fight with the soldiers, eh? The cowardly rascals to use their side arms!'

"'We cleared the house of them, Sir, in no time.'

"'That's right. Now go below, my lads, and turn in and get a good sleep. I like to see my lambs enjoy themselves. It does my heart good.'

"And yet, Cutler, that man is said to be a father to his crew."

"Slick," said Cutler, "what a pity it is you wouldn't always talk that way!" Now if there is any created thing that makes me mad, it is to have a feller look admiren at me, when I utter a piece of plain common sense like that, and turn up the whites of his eyes like a duck in thunder, as much as to say, what a pity it is you weren't broughten up a preacher. It ryles me considerable, I tell you.

"Cutler," said I, "did you ever see a colt in a pasture, how he would race and chase round the field, head, ears, and tail up, and stop short, snort as if he had seen the ghost of a bridle, and off again hot foot?"

"Yes," said he, "I have, but you are not a colt, nor a boy either."

"Well, did you ever see a horse when unharnessed from a little, light waggon, and turned out to grass, do nearly the same identical thing, and kick up his heels like mad, as much as to say, I am a free nigger now?"

"Well, I have," said he.

"Stop," said I, a touchin' of him on his arm; "what in the world is that?" and I pointed over the taffrail to the weather-bow.

"Porpoises," said he.

"What are they a doin' of?"

"Sportin' of themselves."

"Exactly," sais I, "and do you place man below the beasts of the field and the fishes of the sea? What in natur' was humour given to us for but for our divarsion? What sort of a world would this be if every fellow spoke sermons and talked homilies, and what in that case would parsons do? I leave you to cypher that out, and then prove it by algebra; but I'll tell you what they wouldn't do, I'll be hanged if they'd strike for higher wages, for fear they should not get any at all."

"I knock under," said he; "you may take my hat; now go on and finish the comparison between Clippers and Steamers."

"Well," sais I, "as I was a sayin', Captain, give me a craft like this, that spreads its wings like a bird, and looks as if it was born, not made, a whole-sail breeze, and a seaman every inch of him like you on the deck, who looks you in the face, in a way as if he'd like to say, only bragging ain't genteel, Ain't she a clipper now, and ain't I the man to handle her? Now this ain't the case in a steamer. They ain't vessels, they are more like floating factories; you see the steam machines and the enormous fires, and the clouds of smoke, but you don't visit the rooms where the looms are, that's all. They plough through the sea dead and heavy, like a subsoiler with its eight-horse team; there is no life in 'em; they can't dance on the waters as if they rejoiced in their course, but divide the waves as a rock does in a river; they seem to move more in defiance of the sea than as if they were in an element of their own.

"They puff and blow like boasters braggin' that they extract from the ocean the means to make it help to subdue itself. It is a war in the elements, fire and water contendin' for victory. They are black, dingy, forbiddin' looking sea monsters. It is no wonder the superstitious Spaniard, when he first saw one, said: 'A vessel that goes against the tide, and against the wind, and without sails, goes against God,' or that the simple negro thought it was a sea-devil. They are very well for carrying freight, because they are beasts of burden, but not for carrying travellers, unless they are mere birds of passage like our Yankee tourists, who want to have it to say I was 'thar.' I hate them. The decks are dirty; your skin and clothes are dirty; and your lungs become foul; smoke pervades everythin', and now and then the condensation gives you a shower of sooty water by way of variety, that scalds your face and dyes your coat into a sort of pepper-and-salt colour.

"You miss the sailors, too. There are none on board--you miss the nic

e light, tight-built, lathy, wiry, active, neat, jolly crew. In their place you have nasty, dirty, horrid stokers; some hoisting hot cinders and throwing them overboard (not with the merry countenances of niggers, or the cheerful sway-away-my-boys expression of the Jack Tar, but with sour, cameronean-lookin' faces, that seem as if they were dreadfully disappointed they were not persecuted any longer--had no churches and altars to desecrate, and no bishops to anoint with the oil of hill-side maledictions as of old), while others are emerging from the fiery furnaces beneath for fresh air, and wipe a hot dirty face with a still dirtier shirt sleeve, and in return for the nauseous exudation, lay on a fresh coat of blacking; tall, gaunt wretches, who pant for breath as they snuff the fresh breeze, like porpouses, and then dive again into the lower regions. They are neither seamen nor landsmen, good whips nor decent shots, their hair is not woolly enough for niggers, and their faces are too black for white men. They ain't amphibious animals, like marines and otters. They are Salamanders. But that's a long word, and now they call them stokers for shortness.

"Then steamers carry a mob, and I detest mobs, especially such ones as they delight in--greasy Jews, hairy Germans, Mulatto-looking Italians, squalling children, that run between your legs and throw you down, or wipe the butter off their bread on your clothes; Englishmen that will grumble, and Irishmen that will fight; priests that won't talk, and preachers that will harangue; women that will be carried about, because they won't lie still and be quiet; silk men, cotten men, bonnet men, iron men, trinket men, and every sort of shopmen, who severally know nothing in the world but silk, cotten, bonnets, iron, trinkets, and so on, and can't talk of anythin' else; fellows who walk up and down the deck, four or five abreast when there are four or five of the same craft on board, and prevent any one else from promenadin' by sweepin' the whole space, while every lurch the ship gives, one of them tumbles atop of you, or treads on your toes, and then, instead of apoligisin', turns round and abuses you like a pick-pocket for stickin' your feet out and trippin' people up. Thinkin' is out of the question, and as for readin', you might as well read your fortune in the stars.

"Just as you begin, that lovely-lookin', rosy-cheeked, wicked-eyed gall, that came on board so full of health and spirits, but now looks like a faded striped ribbon, white, yeller, pink, and brown--dappled all over her face, but her nose, which has a red spot on it--lifts up a pair of lack-lustre peepers that look glazed like the round dull ground-glass lights let into the deck, suddenly wakes up squeamish, and says, 'Please, Sir, help me down; I feel so ill.' Well, you take her up in your arms, and for the first time in your life hold her head from you, for fear she will reward you in a way that ain't no matter, and she feels as soft as dough, and it seems as if your fingers left dents in her putty-like arms, and you carry her to the head of the stairs, and call out for the stewardess, and a waiter answers, 'Stewardess is tight, Sir.'

"'I am glad of it, she is just the person I want. I wish all the other passengers were tight also.'

"'Lord, Sir, that ain't it--she is mops and brooms.'

"'Mops and brooms, I suppose she is, she must have plenty use for them, I reckon, to keep all snug and tidy down there.'

"'Good gracious, Sir, don't you understand, she is half seas over.'

"'True, so we all are, the captain said so to-day at twelve o'clock, I wish we were over altogether. Send her up.'

"'No, no, Sir, she is more than half shaved.'

"'The devil! does she shave? I don't believe she is a woman at all. I see how it is, you have been putting one of the sailors into petticoats.' And the idea makes even the invalid gall laugh.

"'No, no, Sir, she is tipsy.'

"'Then why the plague couldn't you say so at once. I guess you kinder pride yourself in your slang. Help me to assist this lady down to her friends.'

"Well, when you return on deck, lo and behold, your seat is occupied, and you must go and stand by the rail till one is vacant, when another gall that ain't ill, but inconveniently well, she is so full of chat, says, 'Look, look, Sir, dear me, what is that, Sir? a porpoise. Why you don't, did you ever! well, I never see a porpoise afore in all my born days! are they good to eat, Sir?'

"'Excellent food for whales, Miss.'

"'Well I never! do they swallow them right down?'

"'I guess they do, tank, shank, and flank, at one gulp.'

"'Why how in the world do they ever get--' but she don't finish the sentence, for the silk man, cotten man, iron man, or trinket man, which ever is nearest, says, 'There is a ship on the lee-bow.' He says that because it sounds sailor-like, but it happens to be the weather-bow, and you have seen her an hour before.

"'Can you make her out?' sais he; that's another sea tarm he has picked up; he will talk like a horse-marine at last.

"'Yes,' sais you, 'she is a Quang-Tonger.'

"'A Quang-Tonger?' sais the gall, and before the old coon has disgested that hard word, she asks, 'what in natur is that?'

"'Why, Miss, Quang-Tong is a province of China, and Canton is the capital; all the vessels at Canton are called Quang-Tongers, but strangers call them Chinese Junks. Now, Miss, you have seen two new things to-day, a bottle-nosed porpoise and--'

"'Was that a bottle-nosed porpoise, Sir? why you don't say so! why, how you talk, why do they call them bottle-noses?'

"'Because, Miss, they make what is called velvet corks out of their snouts. They are reckoned the best corks in the world. And then, you have seen a Chinese Junk?'

"'A Chinese Junk,' sais the astonished trinket man. 'Well I vow! a Chinese Junk, do tell!' and one gall calls Jeremiah Dodge, and the other her father and her sister, Mary Anne Matilda Jane, to come and see the Chinese Junk, and all the passengers rush to the other side, and say, 'whare, whare,' and the two discoverers say, 'there, there;' and you walk across the deck and take one of the evacuated seats you have been longin' for; and as you pass you give a wink to the officer of the watch, who puts his tongue in his cheek as a token of approbation, and you begin to read again, as you fancy, in peace.

"But there is no peace in a steamer, it is nothin' but a large calaboose,1 chock full of prisoners. As soon as you have found your place in the book, and taken a fresh departure, the bonnet man sais, 'Please, Sir, a seat for a lady,' and you have to get up and give it to his wife's lady's-maid. His wife ain't a lady, but having a lady's-maid shows she intends to set up for one when she gets to home. To be a lady, she must lay in a lot of airs, and to brush her own hair and garter her own stockins is vulgar; if it was known in First Avenue, Spruce Street, in Bonnetville, it would ruin her as a woman of fashion for ever.

1 Calaboose is a Southern name for jail.

"Now bonnet man wouldn't ask you to get up and give your place to his wife's hired help, only he knows you are a Yankee, and we Yankees, I must say, are regularly fooled with women and preachers; just as much as that walking advertisement of a milliner is with her lady's-maid. All over America in rail carriages, stage coaches, river steamers, and public places, of all sorts, every critter that wears a white choker, and looks like a minister, has the best seat given him. He expects it, as a matter of course, and as every female is a lady, every woman has a right to ask you to quit, without notice, for her accommodation. Now it's all very well and very proper to be respectful to preachers; and to be polite and courteous to women, and more especially those that are unprotected; but there is a limit, tother side of which lies absurdity.

"Now if you had seen as much of the world as I have, and many other travelled Yankees, when bonnet man asked you to give up your seat to the maid, you would have pretended not to understand English, and not to know what he wanted, but would have answered him in French and offered him the book, and said certainly you would give it to him with pleasure, and when he said he didn't speak French, but what he desired was your place for the lady, you would have addressed her in German, and offered her the book, and when they looked at each other, and laughed at their blunder, in thus taking you for a Yankee, perhaps the man next to you would have offered his seat, and then when old bonnet man walked off to look at the Chinese Junk, you would have entered into conversation with the lady's-maid, and told her it was a rise you took out of the old fellow to get her along-side of you, and she would enjoy the joke, and you would have found her a thousand times more handsome and more conversational and agreeable than her mistress.

"But this wouldn't last long, for the sick gall would be carried up on deck agin, woman like, though ill, very restless, and chock full of curiosity to see the Chinese Junk also; so you are caught by your own bam, and have to move again once more. The bell comes in aid, and summons you to dinner. Ah, the scene in the Tower of Babel is rehearsed; what a confusion of tongues! what a clatter of knives and forks and dishes! the waiter that goes and won't come back; and he who sees, pities but can't help you; and he who is so near sighted, he can't hear; and he who is intercepted, and made prisoner on his way.

"What a profusion of viands--but how little to eat! this is cold; that under-done; this is tough; that you never eat; while all smell oily; oh, the only dish you did fancy, you can't touch, for that horrid German has put his hand into it. But it is all told in one short sentence; two hundred and fifty passengers supply two hundred and fifty reasons themselves, why I should prefer a sailing vessel with a small party to a crowded steamer. If you want to see them in perfection go where I have been it on board the California boats, and Mississippi river crafts. The French, Austrian, and Italian boats are as bad. The two great Ocean lines, American and English, are as good as anything bad can be, but the others are all abominable. They are small worlds over-crowded, and while these small worlds exist, the evil will remain; for alas, their passengers go backward and forward, they don't emigrate--they migrate; they go for the winter and return for the spring, or go in the spring and return in the fall.

"Come, Commodore, there is old Sorrow ringing his merry bell for us to go to dinner. I have an idea we shall have ample room; a good appetite, and time enough to eat and enjoy it: come, Sir, let us, like true Americans, never refuse to go where duty calls us."

After dinner, Cutler reverted to the conversation we had had before we went below, though I don't know that I should call it conversation, either; for I believe I did, as usual, most of the talking myself.

"I agree with you," said he, "in your comparative estimate of a sailing vessel and a steamer, I like the former the best myself. It is more agreeable for the reasons you have stated to a passenger, but it is still more agreeable to the officer in command of her on another account. In a sailing vessel, all your work is on deck, everything is before you, and everybody under your command. One glance of a seaman's eye is sufficient to detect if anything is amiss, and no one man is indispensable to you. In a steamer the work is all below, the machinery is out of your sight, complicated, and one part dependent on another. If it gets out of order you are brought up with a round turn, all standing, and often in a critical situation too. You can't repair damage easily; sometimes, can't repair at all.

"Whereas carrying away a sail, a spar, a topmast, or anything of that kind, impedes but don't stop you, and if it is anything very serious there are a thousand ways of making a temporary rig that will answer till you make a port. But what I like best is, when my ship is in the daldrums, I am equal to the emergency; there is no engineer to bother you by saying this can't be done, or that won't do, and to stand jawing and arguing instead of obeying and doing. Clippers of the right lines, size, and build, well found, manned, and commanded, will make nearly as good work, in ordinary times, as steamers. Perhaps it is prejudice though, for I believe we sailors are proverbial for that. But, Slick, recollect it ain't all fair weather sailing like this at sea. There are times when death stares you wildly in the face."

"Exactly," sais I, "as if he would like to know you the next time he came for you, so as not to apprehend the wrong one. He often leaves the rascal and seizes the honest man; my opinion is, he don't see very well."

"What a droll fellow you are," said he; "it appears to me as if you couldn't be serious for five minutes at a time. I can tell you, if you were on a rocky lee-shore, with the wind and waves urging you on, and you barely holding your own, perhaps losing ground every tack, you wouldn't talk quite so glibly of death. Was you ever in a real heavy gale of wind?"

"Warn't I," said I; "the fust time I returned from England it blew great guns all the voyage, one gale after another, and the last always wuss than the one before. It carried away our sails as fast as we bent them."

"That's nothing unusual," said Cutler; "there are worse things than that at sea."

"Well, I'll tell you," sais I, "what it did; and if that ain't an uncommon thing, then my name ain't Sam Slick. It blew all the hair off my dog, except a little tuft atween his ears. It did, upon my soul. I hope I may never leave--"

"Don't swear to it, Slick," said he, "that's a good fellow. It's impossible."

"Attestin' to it will make your hair stand on eend too, I suppose," said I; "but it's as true as preachin' for all that. What will you bet it didn't happen?"

"Tut, man, nonsense," said he, "I tell you the thing is impossible."

"Ah!" said I, "that's because you have been lucky, and never saw a riprorious hurricane in all your life. I'll tell you how it was. I bought a blood-hound from a man in Regent's Park, just afore I sailed, and the brute got sea-sick, and then took the mange, and between that and death starin' him in the face, his hair all came off, and in course it blew away. Is that impossible?"

"Well, well," said he, "you have the most comical way with you of any man I ever see. I am sure it ain't in your nature to speak of death in that careless manner, you only talked that way to draw me out. I know you did. It's not a subject however to treat lightly, and if you are not inclined to be serious just now, tell us a story."

"Serious," sais I, "I am disposed to be; but not sanctimonious, and you know that. But here goes for a story, which has a nice little moral in it too.

"'Once on a time, when pigs were swine, and turkeys chewed tobacco, and little birds built their nests in old men's beards.'

"Pooh!" said he, turning off huffy like, as if I was a goin' to bluff him off. "I wonder whether supper is ready?"

"Cutler," sais I, "come back, that's a good fellow, and I'll tell you the story. It's a short one, and will just fill up the space between this and tea-time. It is in illustration of what you was a sayin', that it ain't always fair weather sailing in this world. There was a jack-tar once to England who had been absent on a whaling voyage for nearly three years, and he had hardly landed when he was ordered off to sea again, before he had time to go home and see his friends. He was a lamentin' this to a shipmate of his, a serious-minded man, like you.

"Sais he, 'Bill, it breaketh my heart to have to leave agin arter this fashion. I havn't seen Polly now goin' on three years, nor the little un either.' And he actilly piped his eye.

"'It seemeth hard, Tom,' said Bill, tryin' to comfort him; 'it seemeth hard; but I'm an older man nor you be, Tom, the matter of several years;' and he gave his trowsers a twitch (you know they don't wear galluses, though a gallus holds them up sometimes), shifted his quid, gave his nor'wester a pull over his forehead, and looked solemncholly, 'and my experience, Tom, is, that this life ain't all beer and skittles.'

"Cutler, there is a great deal of philosophy in that maxim: a preacher couldn't say as much in a sermon an hour long, as there is in that little story with that little moral reflection at the eend of it.

"'This life ain't all leer and skittles.' Many a time since I heard that anecdote--and I heard it in Kew Gardens, of all places in the world--when I am disappointed sadly, I say that saw over, and console myself with it. I can't expect to go thro' the world, Cutler, as I have done: stormy days, long and dark nights, are before me. As I grow old I shan't be so full of animal spirits as I have been. In the natur of things I must have my share of aches, and pains, and disappointment, as well as others; and when they come, nothing will better help me to bear them than that little simple reflection of the sailor, which appeals so directly to the heart. Sam, this life ain't all beer and skittles, that's a fact."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top