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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOmoo - PART I - Chapter IV. A SCENE IN THE FORECASTLE
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Omoo - PART I - Chapter IV. A SCENE IN THE FORECASTLE Post by :bigincome Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :930

Click below to download : Omoo - PART I - Chapter IV. A SCENE IN THE FORECASTLE (Format : PDF)

Omoo - PART I - Chapter IV. A SCENE IN THE FORECASTLE

I HAD scarcely been aboard of the ship twenty-four hours, when a
circumstance occurred, which, although noways picturesque, is so
significant of the state of affairs that I cannot forbear relating
it.

In the first place, however, it must be known, that among the crew was
a man so excessively ugly, that he went by the ironical appellation
of "Beauty." He was the ship's carpenter; and for that reason was
sometimes known by his nautical cognomen of "Chips." There was no
absolute deformity about the man; he was symmetrically ugly. But ill
favoured as he was in person, Beauty was none the less ugly in
temper; but no one could blame him; his countenance had soured his
heart. Now Jermin and Beauty were always at swords' points. The
truth was, the latter was the only man in the ship whom the mate had
never decidedly got the better of; and hence the grudge he bore him.
As for Beauty, he prided himself upon talking up to the mate, as we
shall soon see.

Toward evening there was something to be done on deck, and the
carpenter who belonged to the watch was missing. "Where's that skulk,
Chips?" shouted Jermin down the forecastle scuttle.

"Taking his ease, d'ye see, down here on a chest, if you want to
know," replied that worthy himself, quietly withdrawing his pipe from
his mouth. This insolence flung the fiery little mate into a mighty
rage; but Beauty said nothing, puffing away with all the tranquillity
imaginable. Here it must be remembered that, never mind what may be
the provocation, no prudent officer ever dreams of entering a ship's
forecastle on a hostile visit. If he wants to see anybody who happens
to be there, and refuses to come up, why he must wait patiently until
the sailor is willing. The reason is this. The place is very dark:
and nothing is easier than to knock one descending on the head,
before he knows where he is, and a very long while before he ever
finds out who did it.

Nobody knew this better than Jermin, and so he contented himself with
looking down the scuttle and storming. At last Beauty made some cool
observation which set him half wild.

"Tumble on deck," he then bellowed--"come, up with you, or I'll jump
down and make you." The carpenter begged him to go about it at once.

No sooner said than done: prudence forgotten, Jermin was there; and by
a sort of instinct, had his man by the throat before he could well
see him. One of the men now made a rush at him, but the rest dragged
him off, protesting that they should have fair play.

"Now come on deck," shouted the mate, struggling like a good fellow to
hold the carpenter fast.

"Take me there," was the dogged answer, and Beauty wriggled about in
the nervous grasp of the other like a couple of yards of
boa-constrictor.

His assailant now undertook to make him up into a compact bundle, the
more easily to transport him. While thus occupied, Beauty got his
arms loose, and threw him over backward. But Jermin quickly recovered
himself, when for a time they had it every way, dragging each other
about, bumping their heads against the projecting beams, and
returning each other's blows the first favourable opportunity that
offered. Unfortunately, Jermin at last slipped and fell; his foe
seating himself on his chest, and keeping him down. Now this was one
of those situations in which the voice of counsel, or reproof, comes
with peculiar unction. Nor did Beauty let the opportunity slip. But
the mate said nothing in reply, only foaming at the mouth and
struggling to rise.

Just then a thin tremor of a voice was heard from above. It was the
captain; who, happening to ascend to the quarter-deck at the
commencement of the scuffle, would gladly have returned to the cabin,
but was prevented by the fear of ridicule. As the din increased, and
it became evident that his officer was in serious trouble, he thought
it would never do to stand leaning over the bulwarks, so he made his
appearance on the forecastle, resolved, as his best policy, to treat
the matter lightly.

"Why, why," he begun, speaking pettishly, and very fast, "what's all
this about?--Mr. Jermin, Mr. Jermin--carpenter, carpenter; what are
you doing down there? Come on deck; come on deck."

Whereupon Doctor Long Ghost cries out in a squeak, "Ah! Miss Guy, is
that you? Now, my dear, go right home, or you'll get hurt."

"Pooh, pooh! you, sir, whoever you are, I was not speaking to you;
none of your nonsense. Mr. Jermin, I was talking to you; have the
kindness to come on deck, sir; I want to see you."

"And how, in the devil's name, am I to get there?" cried the mate,
furiously. "Jump down here, Captain Guy, and show yourself a man. Let
me up, you Chips! unhand me, I say! Oh! I'll pay you for this, some
day! Come on, Captain Guy!"

At this appeal, the poor man was seized with a perfect spasm of
fidgets. "Pooh, pooh, carpenter; have done with your nonsense! Let
him up, sir; let him up! Do you hear? Let Mr. Jermm come on deck!"

"Go along with you, Paper Jack," replied Beauty; "this quarrel's
between the mate and me; so go aft, where you belong!"

As the captain once more dipped his head down the scuttle to make
answer, from an unseen hand he received, full in the face, the
contents of a tin can of soaked biscuit and tea-leaves. The doctor
was not far off just then. Without waiting for anything more, the
discomfited gentleman, with both hands to his streaming face,
retreated to the quarter-deck.

A few moments more, and Jermin, forced to a compromise, followed
after, in his torn frock and scarred face, looking for all the world
as if he had just disentangled himself from some intricate piece of
machinery. For about half an hour both remained in the cabin, where
the mate's rough tones were heard high above the low, smooth voice of
the captain.

Of all his conflicts with the men, this was the first in which Jermin
had been worsted; and he was proportionably enraged. Upon going
below--as the steward afterward told us--he bluntly informed Guy
that, for the future, he might look out for his ship himself; for his
part, he had done with her, if that was the way he allowed his
officers to be treated. After many high words, the captain finally
assured him that, the first fitting opportunity, the carpenter should
be cordially flogged; though, as matters stood, the experiment would
be a hazardous one. Upon this Jermin reluctantly consented to drop
the matter for the present; and he soon drowned all thoughts of it in
a can of flip, which Guy had previously instructed the steward to
prepare, as a sop to allay his wrath.

Nothing more ever came of this.

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