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Text - "Afloat at Last. A Sailor Boy's Log of his Life at Sea" John Conroy Hutcheson


I soon made the discovery on getting there, however, that I was neither alone nor unobserved; for a man called out to me almost the same instant that my feet touched the deck. "Hullo, youngster!" he shouted. "Do you mean me?" I asked him politely, as father bad trained me always to address every one, no matter what their social condition might be. "An' is it manin' yez, I am?" retorted my interlocutor sharply. "Tare an' 'ouns, av coorse it is! Who ilse should I mane?" The speaker was a stout, broad-shouldered, middle-aged man, clad in a rough blue jersey as to the upper portion of his body, and wearing below a rather dirty pair of canvas overalls drawn over his trousers, which, being longer, projected at the bottom and overlapped his boots, giving him an untidy look. He was busy superintending a gang of dock labourers in their task of hoisting up in the air a number of large crates and heavy deal packing- cases from the jetty alongside, where they were piled up promiscuously in a big heap of a thousand or so and more, and then, when the crane on which these items of cargo were thus elevated had been swung round until right over the open hatchway, giving entrance to the main-hold of the ship, they were lowered down below as quickly as the tackle could be eased off and the suspending chain rattle through the wheel-block above. The clip-hooks were then unhitched and the chain run up and the crane swung back again over the pile of goods on the jetty for another load to be fastened on; and, so on, continually. The man directing these operations, in turning to speak to me, did not pause for an instant either in giving his orders to "hoist!" and "lower away!" or in keeping a keen weather-eye open, as he afterwards explained to me, on the gang, so as to see that none of the hands shirked their work; and, as I stared helplessly at him, quite unable as yet to apprehend his meaning, or know what he wished me to do, he gave a quick side-glance over his shoulder to where I stood and renewed his questioning. "Sure an' ye can answer me if you loike, for ye ar'n't dumb, me bhoy, an' ye can spake English fast enough. Now. I'll ax ye for the last toime-whare d'ye spring from?" "Spring from?" I repeated after him, more puzzled than ever and awed by his manner, he spoke so sharply, in spite of his jovial face and twinkling eyes. "I jumped from that plank," pointing to the gangway by which I came on board as I said this. This response of mine seemed, somehow, to put him into all the greater rage-I'm sure I can't tell why. "Bad cess t'ye for an omahdawn! Sure, an' it isn't springin'-joompin' I mane," he thundered in a voice that made me spring and jump both. "Where d'ye hail from, me joker? That's what I want to know. An' ye'd betther look sharp an' till me!" "Hail from?" I echoed, completely bewildered by this time; for, being unused to sailor's talk, as I've previously mentioned, I could not make head or tail of his language, which his strong Irish brogue, equally strange to me then, made all the more difficult to be understood. I could see, of course, that he wanted to learn something of me; but what that something was I was unable to guess, although all the time anxious to oblige him to the best of my ability. He was so impatient, however, that he would hardly give me time to speak or inquire what he wanted, besides which, he frightened me by the way in which he roared out his unintelligible questions. So, unable to comprehend his meaning, I remained silent, staring at him helplessly as before. Strange to say, though, my answer, or rather failure to answer this last interrogatory of his-for I had only repeated his own words-instead of further exasperating him as I feared, trembling the while down to my very boots, appeared to have the unexpected effect of appeasing his sudden outburst of passion, which now disappeared as quickly as it had broken out over my unoffending head. "Be jabers, the gossoon's a born nat'ral!" he said sympathetically in a sort of stage whisper to the stevedores, although in loud enough tones for me to hear; and then, looking at me more kindly, and speaking in a gentler key than he had yet adopted, he added, accentuating every word separately and distinctly, with a racier Milesian accent than ever: "Arrah, sure, an' I didn't mane to be rough on ye, laddie; but, till me now, whar' d'ye come from, what's y'r name, an' what for are ye doin' here?" This was plain language, such as I could understand; and, seeing that he must be some one in authority, despite his tarred clothes and somewhat unpolished exterior, I hastened to answer his string of questions, doffing my cap respectfully as I did so. "My name is Allan Graham," I said on his motioning to those working the crane to stop a bit while I spoke, "and I came up early this morning from the country to sail in the Silver Queen. The brokers in Leadenhall Street, Messrs. Splice and Mainbrace, to whom I went first, told me to go on down to the docks and join the ship at once, sending a clerk to show me the way, which he did, pointing out this vessel to me and leaving me after saying that I was to go on board by the 'gangway,' as he called the plank I walked up by-that is why I am here!" I uttered these last words somewhat sturdily and in a dignified tone, plucking up courage as I proceeded; for, I began to get rather nettled at the man's suspicions about me, his questions apparently having that look and bearing. "Och, by the powers!" he ejaculated, taking no notice of my dignified demeanour; "yis, an' that's it, is it? Sure, an' will ye till me now, are ye goin' as a cabin passinger or what, avic?" "I'm going in the Silver Queen as a first-class apprentice," I answered with greater dignity than ever, glancing down proudly at the smart blue suit I wore, with its shining gilt buttons ornamented with an anchor in relief, which mother and sister Nellie had so much admired the day before, when I had donned it for the first time, besides inspecting me critically that very morning previous to my leaving home, to see that I looked all right-poor mother! dear Nell! "Whe-e-e-up!" whistled my questioner between his teeth, a broad grin overspreading his yet broader face. "Alannah macree, me poor gossoon! it's pitying ye I am, by me sowl, from the bottom av me heart. Ye're loike a young bear wid all y'r throubles an' thrials forenenst ye. Aye, yez have, as sure's me name's Tim Rooney, me darlint!" "Why do you say so, sir?" I asked-more, however, out of curiosity than alarm, for I thought he was only trying to "take a rise out of me," as the saying goes. "Why should you pity me?" "An' is it axin' why, yez are?" said he, his broad smile expanding into a chuckle and the chuckle growing to a laugh. "Sure, an' ye'll larn afore ye're much ouldher, that the joker who goes to say for fun moight jist as well go to the ould jintleman's place down below in the thropical raygions for divarshun, plaize the pigs!" His genial manner, and the merry twinkle in his eyes, which reminded me of father's when he made some comical remark, utterly contradicted his disparaging comments on a sailor's life, and I joined in the hearty "ho, ho, ho!" with which he concluded his statement. "Why, then, did you go to sea, Mr Rooney," I asked, putting him into a quandary with this home-thrust; "that is, if it is such a bad place as you make out?" "Bedad, sorry o' me knows!" he replied, shoving his battered cheese- cutter cap further off his brows and scratching his head reflectively. "Sure, an' it's bin a poozzle to me, sorr, iver since I furst wint afore the mast." "But" I went on, wishing to pursue my inquiries, when he interrupted me before I was able to proceed any further. "Whisht! Be aisy now, me darlint," he whispered, with an expressive wink; and, turning round sharply on the stevedores, who, taking advantage of his talking to me, had struck work and were indulging in a similar friendly chat, he began briskly to call them to task for their idleness, raising his voice to the same stentorian pitch that had startled me just now on our first introduction. "What the mischief are ye standin' star-gazin' there for, ye lazy swabs, chatterin' an' grinnin' away loike a parcel av monkeys?" he cried, waving his arms about as if he were going to knock some of them down. "If I had my way wid ye, an' had got ye aboord a man-o'-war along o' me, it's 'four bag' I'd give ivery man Jack o' ye. Hoist away an' be blowed to ye, or I'll stop y'r pay, by the howly pokher I will!"

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