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The Belted Seas By Arthur Colton Characters: 20782

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

"I was that way," he said, "full of opinions, like one of those little terrier pups with his tail sawed off, so he wags with the stump, same way a clock does with the pendulum when the weight's gone-pretty chipper. I used to come often from the other end of Newport Street, where I was born, to Pemberton's. But that wasn't on account of Pemberton, though he was agreeable, but on account of Madge Pemberton. Madge and I were agreed, and Pemberton was agreeable, but I was restless and keyed high in those days, resembling pups, as stated.

"No anchoring to Pemberton's chimney for me," I says. "No digging clams and fishing for small fry in Long Island Sound for me. I'm going to sea."

And Madge asks, "Why?" calm and reasonable, and I was near stumped for reasons, having only the same reason as a lobster has for being green. It's the nature of him, which he'll change that colour when he's had experience and learned what's what in the boiling. I fished around for reasons.

"When I'm rich," I says, "I'll fix up Pemberton's for a swell hotel."

Madge says, "It's nice as it is," and acted low in her mind. But if she thought the less of me for wanting to go to sea, I couldn't say. Maybe not.

I left Greenough in the year '65, and went to New York, and the wharves and ships of East River, and didn't expect it would take me long to get rich.

There were fine ships and many in those days in the East River slips. South Street was full of folk from all over the world, but I walked there as cocky as if I owned it, looking for a ship that pleased me, and I came to one lying at dock with the name Hebe Maitland in gilt letters on a board that was screwed to her, and I says, "Now, there's a ship!" Then I heard a man speak up beside me saying, "Just so," and I turned to look at him.

He didn't seem like a seaman, but was an old man, and grave-looking, and small, and precise in manner, and not like one trained to the sea, and wore a long, rusty black coat; and his upper lip was shaven.

"You like her, do ye?" he said. "Now I'm thinking you know a good one when you see her."

I said I thought I did, speaking rather knowing. But when he asked if I'd been to sea, I had to say I hadn't; not on the high seas, nor in any such vessel as the Hebe Maitland. She was painted dingy black, like most of the others, and I judged from her lines that she was a fleet sailer and built for that purpose, rather than for the amount of cargo she might carry.

"Why, come aboard," he said, and soon we were seated in a cabin with shiny panels, and a hinge table that swung down from the wall between us. He looked at me through half-shut eyes, pursing his dry lips, and he asked me where I came from.

That was my first meeting with Clyde. I know now that my coming from Connecticut was a point in my favour; still I judge he must have taken to me from the start. He surely was good to me always, and that curiously.

"You want a job," he says. "You've sailed a bit on fishing smacks in the Sound. But more'n that, the point with you is you're ambitious, and not above turning a penny or two in an odd way."

"That depends on the way," I says pretty uppish, and thinking I wasn't to be inveigled into piracy that way.

"Just so?"

"Maybe I've got scruples," I says, and not a bit did I know what I was talking about. Captain Clyde rapped the table with his knuckles.

"I'm glad to hear you say it. Scruples! That's the word, and a right word and a good word. I don't allow any vicious goings-on aboard this ship. Wherever we go we carry the laws of the United States, and we stand by them laws. We're decent and we stick to our country's laws as duty is. Why now, I'm thinking of taking you, for I see you're a likely lad, and one that will argue for his principles. Good wages, good food, good treatment; will you go?" The last was shot out and cut off close behind, his lips shutting like a pair of scissors. I says, "That's what I'll do," and didn't know there was anything odd about it. It might have been the average way a shipmaster picked up a man for aught I knew. I shipped on the bark Hebe Maitland as ordinary seaman.

The shipping news of that week contained this item:

"Sailed, Bark, Hebe Maitland, Clyde, Merchandise for Porto del Rey."

Now, there is such a place as Porto del Rey, for I was there once, but not till twenty years later.

The Hebe Maitland didn't always go to the place she was billed for, and when she did she was apt to be a month late, and likely couldn't have told what she'd been doing in the meantime. Somebody had been doing something, but it wasn't the Hebe Maitland. Ships may have notions for aught I know, and the Hebe Maitland was no fool, but if so, I judge she couldn't have straightened it out without help; and if she argued and got mad about it, that was no more than appropriate, for we all argued on the Hebe Maitland.

I've spoken of Captain Clyde. The crew, except one man called "Irish," were all Yankee folk that Clyde had trained, and most of them had been caught young and sailed with him already some years. I never saw so odd an acting crew in the way of arguing. I've seen Clyde and the bos'n with the Bible between them, arguing over it by the hour. It was a singular crew to argue. Stevey Todd here, who was cook, was a Baptist and a Democrat, and the mate he was a Presbyterian and Republican, and the bos'n he was for Women's Rights, and there was a man named Simms, who was strong on Predestination and had a theory of trade winds, but he got to arguing once with a man in Mobile, who didn't understand Predestination and shot him full of holes, supposing it might be dangerous. It was a singular crew, and especially in the matter of arguing.

They were all older than I. Stevey Todd was a few years older. I recognised Abe Dalrimple here, for he came from Adrian, though I'd seen him but seldom before. Three more I'll name, Kid Sadler, J. R. Craney, and Jimmy Hagan, who was called Irish; for they were ones that I had to do with later. I never met another crew like the Hebe Maitland's. I guess there never was one.

Aboard and under Clyde's eye they were a quiet crew, even Sadler, who wasn't what you'd call submissive by nature, but in port, Clyde would now and then let them run riotous. He was a little, old, dried up, and odd man with a vein of piousness in him, and he could handle men in a way that was very mysterious.

The fourth day out of New York, as I recollect it, was fair, the sun shining, and everything peaceful except on board the Hebe Maitland. But on the Hebe Maitland the men were running around with paint pots and hauling out canvas from below. Nobody seemed to tell me what was the matter. The Hebe Maitland's hull was any kind of a dingy black, but the rails, canvas, tarpaulins, and companion were all white. By the end of the day almost everything had modified. They'd got a kind of fore-shortening out of the bowsprit, and another set of canvas partly up that was dirty and patched. The boats were shifted and recovered, cupola taken off the cabin, and the whole look of the ship altered in mid-sea. Then Clyde came out of his cabin with a board in his hand, and they unscrewed the Hebe Maitland's name from forward under the anchor hole, and the Hebe Maitland in gilt was the Hawk in white.

I went off and sat down on a coil of rope, and the more I thought it over, the more I didn't make it out.

After that I heard lively talking forward a little, and there was Captain Clyde, the bos'n, mate, Stevey Todd, and some others arguing.

The bos'n was saying he hadn't "sworn no allegiance to no country but the United States, an' there ain't no United States laws," he says, "against dodging South American customs that I ever see nohow, and being I never see a South American man that took much stock in 'em either, I ain't so uppish as to differ."

Then Stevey Todd chimed in and made a tidy argument, quoting Scripture to prove that "actions with intent to deceive, and deception pursuant," weren't moral, and, moreover, he says: "Shall we lose our souls because S. A. customs is ridiculous? Tell me that!"

"Shucks!" says the mate; "we're saved by grace!"

Then Captain Clyde took it up and his argument was beautiful. For he said S. A. customs were oppressive to the poor of that country by wrongfully preventing them from buying U. S. goods; so that, having sworn to the U. S., we weren't bound by S. A. laws further than humanity or the Dago was able to enforce; "which," he says, "I argue ain't either of 'em the case."

"That's a tart argiment, Captain Clyde," says the bos'n. "I never heerd you make a tarter."

They went on that way till it made my head ache, and before I knew it I was arguing hard against the bos'n, the captain egging me on.

I sailed with that crew four years. They were smugglers. I'm free to say I loved Clyde, and liked the crew. For, granting he was much of a miser and maybe but a shrewd old man, to be corrupting folks with his theories, though I'm not so sure about that, not knowing what he really thought; yet, he was a bold man, and a kind man, and I never saw one that was keener in judgment. You might say he had made that crew to suit him, having picked out the material one by one, and they were most of all like children of his bringing up. I judge he had a theory about arguments, that so long as they talked up to him and freed their opinions, there wouldn't be any secret trouble brewing below, or maybe it was only his humour. It was surely a fact that they were steady in business and a rare crew to his purpose, explain it as one may. He taught me navigation, and treated me like a son, and it's not for me to go back on him. I don't know why he took to me that way, and different from the rest. He taught me his business and how he did it. I was the only one who knew. He was absolute owner as well as captain, and his own buyer and seller as well. He carried no cargoes but his own, which he made up for the most part in New York or Philadelphia, and would bill the Hebe Maitland maybe to Rio Janeiro. Then the Hawk would maybe deliver the biggest part off the coast of Venezuela in the night, and the Hebe Maitland would, like as not, sail into Rio by-and-by and pay her duty on the rest, and take a cargo to New York as properly as a lady going to church.

There were a g

ood many countries in South America to choose from. It wasn't wise to visit the same one right along, though there was apt to be a new government when we came again. Clyde knew all about it. I'm not saying but what an odd official of a government here and there was acquainted with the merits of a percentage, being instructed in it by the same. For all that there was excitement. It was a great life. Sometimes I catch myself heaving a sigh for the old man that's dead, and saying to myself, "That was a great life yonder."

My recollection is, it was a sub-agent in Cuba who turned evidence on Clyde at last, for a gunboat missed us by only a few miles coming down by St. Christopher, as I heard afterward. Then a Spanish cruiser ran us down, at last, under a corner of a little island among the Windwards, about thirty miles east of Tobago, where Clyde's cleverness came to nothing.

It was growing twilight, we driving close off the low shores of the island. The woods were dark above the shore, and half a mile out was the black cruiser, with a pennon of smoke against the sky, and the black water between. I went into Clyde's cabin and found him talking to himself.

"We'll be scuttling her, Tom," he says.

With that he gave a jerk at the foot of his bunk, and the footboard came off, and there underneath were four brown canvas bags tied up with rope. Now, I never knew before that day that Clyde didn't keep his money in a bank, same as any other civilised gentleman, and it shows how little I knew about him, after all. He sat there holding up eagles and double pesos to the lamplight, with his eyes shining and his wrinkled old mouth smiling.

"What are you going to do with that?" I says, surprised at the sight of it, and he kept on smiling.

"I guess you and I will take the shiners ashore," he says; "I'd give you a writing, but it would do you no good, Tommy. I'm what they called tainted."

"I don't know what you mean by that," I says. "Scuttled she is, if you say so. Shall we row for Tobago?"

"Well, I'll tell you how it is, Tommy," he says. "I don't know what the Dagos will do, and they're pretty likely to get us anyhow, but we'll give 'em a hunt. But I've got a fancy you ain't got to the end of your rope yet, lad," and he says no more for a minute or two, and then he heaves a sigh and says: "The shiners are yours if they cut me off. I won't give you no more advice, Tommy, but I wish you luck."

But I don't see why he had such a notion that he was near his own end.

It was a hard thing to do, to blow a hole in the bottom of the good ship. The night was dark now, but the lights of the cruiser in plain sight, and we knew she'd stand off until morning, or as long as the Hebe Maitland's lanterns burned at the masts. The crew put off in three boats to round the island and wait for us, and Clyde and I took the fourth boat, and stowed the canvas bags, and went ashore, running up a little reedy inlet to the end. We buried them in the exact middle of a small triangle of three trees. Then we rowed out, and I threw the spade in the water, and when we rounded the island, taking a last look at the Hebe Maitland, she was dipping considerable, as could be seen from the hang of her lanterns. Clyde changed to another boat and put Sadler, Craney, Irish, Abe Dalrimple, and Stevey Todd, into mine.

I noticed it as curious about us, that so long as the old man was at hand, telling us what to do, we all acted chipper and cheerful, but as soon as we'd drifted apart, we grew quieter, and Stevey Todd began to act scared and lost, and was for seeing Spanish cruisers drop out of the air, and for calling the old man continually. Somehow we dropped apart in the dark.

I've sometimes fancied that Clyde put me in that boat with those men because it was the lightest boat, and because Sadler, Craney, and Little Irish were powerful good rowers, and Abe he had this that was odd about him for a steersman, for though he was always a bit wandering in his mind, yet he could tell land by the smell. Put him within twenty miles of land at sea, no matter how small an island, and he'd smell the direction of it, and steer for it like a bullet, and that's a thing he don't understand any more than I. I never made out why Clyde took to me that way, as he surely did, and left me his shiners as sure as he could, and gave me what chance he could for getting away, or so I fancied. Just so surely I never saw him again, when once we'd drifted apart that night among the Windwards.

A New Orleans paper of the week after held an item more or less like this:

"An incoming steamer from Trinidad, reports the overhauling of a smuggler, The Hawk, by the Spanish cruiser, Reina Isabella. The smugglers scuttled the ship and endeavoured to escape, but were captured, and are thought to have been all hanged. This summary action would seem entirely unjustifiable, as smuggling is not a capital offence under any civilised law. The disturbed state of affairs under our Spanish-American neighbours may account for it. The Hawk is stated to be an old offender. No American vessel of this name and description being known however, it is not likely that there will be any investigation."

The New York Shipping News of three months later had this:

"The bark, Hebe Maitland, Mdse., Clyde, Cap., which left this port the 9th of April, has not yet been heard from."

So the Reina Isabella thought she got all the crew of the Hebe Maitland, likely she thinks so yet, for I don't know of anybody that ever dropped around to correct her; but being as we rowed all night to westward and were picked up next morning by an English steamer bound for Colon on the Isthmus of Panama, and were properly landed in course of time, I argue there were some of them she didn't get. Their names, as standing on Clyde's book, were, "Robert Sadler, James Hagan, Stephen Todd, Julius R. Craney, Abimelech Dalrimple, Thomas Buckingham."

Kid Sadler, as he was known there and then and since, was a powerful man, bony and tall, with a scrawny throat, ragged, dangling moustache, big hands, little wrinkles around his eyes, and a hoarse voice. I wouldn't go so far as to say I could give you his character, for I never made it out; yet I'd say he was given to sentiment, and to turning out poetry like a corn-shucker, and singing it to misfit and uneducated tunes, and given to joyfulness and depression by turns, and to misleading his fellow-man when he was joyful, and suffering remorse for it afterward pretty regular, taking turns, like fever and chills; which qualities, when you take them apart, don't seem likely to fit together again, and I'm not saying they did fit in Sadler. They appeared to me to project over the edges. I never made him out.

Hagan I never knew to be called any name but "Irish," or "Little Irish," except by Clyde himself. He was small and chunky in build, and nervous in his mind, and had red fuzzy hair that stuck up around his head like an aureole. Generally silent he was, except when excited, and seemed even then to be settled to his place in this world, which was to be Sadler's heeler. He followed Sadler all his after days, so far as I know, same as Stevey Todd did me. I don't know why, but I'd say as to Irish, that he was a man without much stiffness or stay-by, if left to himself, whereas Sadler was one that would rather be in trouble than not, if he had the choice.

As to Craney, I'll say this. When Clyde and I were coming out of the inlet, he gave me a hundred and forty dollars, and he says,

"Look out for Craney," but I had no notion what he meant by it. Now, soon after we landed in Colon, Craney and Abe Dalrimple got a chance for a passage to New York, and my hundred and forty went off somewhere about the same time. Sadler, Irish, nor Stevey Todd didn't take it, for they didn't have it, not to speak of other reasons. Abe's given to wandering in his mind, but he don't wander that way either. Now, there were thieves enough in Colon, and Craney never owned to it, but I'll say he showed a weakness afterward for putting cash into my pocket, that I shouldn't have said was natural to him without further reasons. But supposing he'd been there before, he surely put more back in the end than he ever took out. On the other hand, if I'd had the money in Colon I might have gone back to the Windwards and to the triangle of three trees, with Sadler, Irish, and Stevey Todd, and so back to Greenough and Madge Pemberton, and been a hotel-keeper maybe, which is a good trade in Greenough. Craney was ambitious and enterprising. He had, as you might say, soaring ideas, and he'd been a valuable man to Clyde for the complicated schemes he was always setting up. He was a medium-sized man, with light hair and eyebrows, and a yellowish face, and a frame lean, though sinewy, and had only one good eye, the other pale like a fish's. His business eye always looked like it was boring a hole in some ingenious idea. As an arguer on the Hebe Maitland his style was airy and gorgeous, contrary to the style of Stevey Todd, who was a cautious arguer, and gingerly.

Craney was about forty years old at the time of the Hebe Maitland's loss, and Sadler about the same.

There were four of us then, left at Colon, after Craney and Abe had gone. Pretty soon we were badly off. We couldn't seem to get berths, and not much to eat. One day I up and says:

"I'm going across the Isthmus. Who else?" and Sadler says, "One of 'em's me," and we all went, footing thirty miles the first day, and slept among the rocks on a hillside.

The fourth day we went down the watershed to the town of Panama. There we found a ship ready in port that was short of hands, and shipped on her to go round the Horn. She was named the Helen Mar.

* * *

Captain Buckingham paused to fill his pipe again, and Stevey Todd said:

"'Intent to deceive and deception pursuant,' was my words, and I never give in," and Uncle Abimelech piped up to a crazy tune:

"You can arguy here and arguy there,

But them that dangles in the air

They surely was mistook somewhere,

They ain't got good foundations."

"Aye," said Captain Buckingham thoughtfully. "It was so. I heard Sadler tune that to his banjo the night we got to Colon. Abe's got that kind of a memory, which is loose but gluey. It was so. Sadler meant old man Clyde."

* * *

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