I must now run back a little, and tell of my first going aloft at middle watch, when the sea was quite calm, and the breeze was mild.
The order was given to loose the
Now, when the order was passed to loose the skysail, an old Dutch sailor came up to me, and said, “Buttons, my boy, it’s high time you be doing something; and it’s boy’s business, Buttons, to loose de royals, and not old men’s business, like me. Now, d’ye see dat leelle fellow way up dare?
All the rest joining in, and seeming unanimous in the opinion, that it was high time for me to be stirring myself, and doing
It was a long road up those stairs, and I began to pant and breathe hard, before I was half way. But I kept at it till I got to the
For a few moments I stood awe-stricken and mute. I could not see far out upon the ocean, owing to the darkness of the night; and from my lofty perch, the sea looked like a great, black gulf, hemmed in, all round, by beetling black cliffs. I seemed all alone; treading the midnight clouds; and every second, expected to find myself falling-falling-falling, as I have felt when the nightmare has been on me.
I could but just perceive the ship below me, like a long narrow plank in the water; and it did not seem to belong at all to the yard, over which I was hanging. A gull, or some sort of sea-fowl, was flying round the truck over my head, within a few yards of my face; and it almost frightened me to hear it; it seemed so much like a spirit, at such a lofty and solitary height.
Though there was a pretty smooth sea, and little wind; yet, at this extreme elevation, the ship’s motion was very great; so that when the ship rolled one way, I felt something as a fly must feel, walking the ceiling; and when it rolled the other way, I felt as if I was hanging along a slanting pine-tree.
But presently I heard a distant, hoarse noise from below; and though I could not make out any thing intelligible, I knew it was the mate hurrying me. So in a nervous, trembling desperation, I went to casting off the
After this feat, I got down rapidly on deck, and received something like a compliment from Max the Dutchman.
This man was perhaps the best natured man among the crew; at any rate, he treated me better than the rest did; and for that reason he deserves some mention.
Max was an old bachelor of a sailor, very precise about his wardrobe, and prided himself greatly upon his seamanship, and entertained some straight-laced, old-fashioned notions about the duties of boys at sea. His hair, whiskers, and cheeks were of a fiery red; and as he wore a red shirt, he was altogether the most combustible looking man I ever saw.
Nor did his appearance belie him; for his temper was very inflammable; and at a word, he would explode in a shower of hard words and imprecations. It was Max that several times set on foot those conspiracies against Jackson, which I have spoken of before; but he ended by paying him a grumbling homage, full of resentful reservations.
Max sometimes manifested some little interest in my welfare; and often discoursed concerning the sorry figure I would cut in my tatters when we got to Liverpool, and the discredit it would bring on the American Merchant Service; for like all European seamen in American ships, Max prided himself not a little upon his naturalization as a Yankee, and if he could, would have been very glad to have passed himself off for a born native.
But notwithstanding his grief at the prospect of my reflecting discredit upon his adopted country, he never offered to better my wardrobe, by loaning me any thing from his own well-stored chest. Like many other well-wishers, he contented him with sympathy. Max also betrayed some anxiety to know whether I knew how to dance; lest, when the ship’s company went ashore, I should disgrace them by exposing my awkwardness in some of the sailor saloons. But I relieved his anxiety on that head.
He was a great scold, and fault-finder, and often took me to task about my short-comings; but herein, he was not alone; for every one had a finger, or a thumb, and sometimes both hands, in my unfortunate pie.