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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 7
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 7 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :620

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 7

PART II CHAPTER VII

"A very wise man believed that, if a man were permitted
to make all the ballads, he need not care who should
make the laws of a nation."
--Fletcher of Saltoun in a letter to the Marquis of Montrose.


The weather was fair enough, and we went along very steadily and pleasantly that afternoon. I was undoubtedly getting my sea-legs, which was well for me, as they were put to the test unexpectedly. I happened to be standing near Alister (we were tarring ropes), when some orders rang out in Mr. Waters' voice, which I found had reference to something to be done to some of the sails. At last came the words "Away aloft!" which were responded to by a rush of several sailors, who ran and leaped and caught ropes and began climbing the rigging with a nimbleness and dexterity which my own small powers in that line enabled me to appreciate, as I gazed upwards after them. The next order bore unexpected and far from flattering references to me.

"Hi, there. Francis!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

"Take that gaping booby up with you. I hear he's 'good at athletics.'"

The sailors who were rope-tarring sniggered audibly, and Alister lifted his face with a look of anxiety, that did as much as the sniggering to stimulate me not to disgrace myself.

"Kick off your shoes, and come along," said Francis. "Jump on the bulwarks and then follow me. Look aloft--that's up, ye know--never mind your feet, but keep tight hold of the ratlins--so, with your hands, and when you _are up aloft, don't let one hand go till you're sure of your hold with the other."

Up we went, gripping the swaying ropes with toes and fingers, till we reached the main-top, where I was allowed to creep through the "Lubber's Hole," and Francis swung himself neatly over the outside edge of the top, and there he and I stood for a few minutes to rest.

I cannot say I derived much comfort from his favourable comments on my first attempt. I was painfully absorbed by realizing that to climb what is steady, and to climb what is swaying with every wave, are quite different things. Then, in spite of warnings, I was fascinated by the desire to look down; and when I looked I felt more uncomfortable than ever; the ship's deck was like a dancing tea-tray far below; my legs and arms began to feel very light, and my head heavy, and I did not hear what Francis was saying to me, so he pinched my arm and then repeated it.

"Come along--and if the other chaps put any larks on you, keep your eyes open, and never lose a grip by one hand somewhere. So long as you hold on to some of the ship's ropes you're bound to find your way back somehow."

"I'll try," I said.

Then through the confusion in my head I heard a screaming whistle, and a voice from beneath, and Francis pricked his ears, and then suddenly swung himself back on to the ladder of ropes by which we had climbed.

"Lucky for you, young shaver," said he. "Come along!"

I desired no more definite explanation. Francis was going down, and I willingly did the same, but when my foot touched the deck I staggered and fell. It was Mr. Johnson who picked me up by the neck of my slops, saying, as he did so, "Boatswain! The captain will give an extra lot of grog to drink Mr. O'Moore's good health."

This announcement was received with a cheer, and I heard the boatswain calling to "stow your cleaning-tackle, my lads, and for'ards to the break of the fo'c'sle. Them that has white ties and kid gloves can wear 'em; and them that's hout of sech articles must come as they can. Pick up that tar-pot, ye fool! Now are ye all coming and bringing your voices along with ye? Hany gentleman as 'as 'ad the misfortin' to leave his music behind will oblige the ship's company with an ex-tem-por."

"Long life to ye, bo'sun; it's a neat hand at a speech ye are, upon my conscience!" cried Dennis, over my shoulder, and then his arm was around it, shaking with laughter, as we were hurried along by the eager crowd.

"He's a wag, that old fellow, too. Come along, little Jack! You're mighty shaky on your feet, considering the festivities that we're bound for. Step it out, my boy, or I'll have to carry ye."

"Are ye coming to the fo'c'sle?" said I, being well aware that this was equivalent to a drawing-room visitor taking tea in the kitchen. "You know it's where the common sailors, and Alister and I have our meals?" I added, for his private ear.

"Thank ye for the hint. I know it's where I hope to meet the men that offered their lives for mine."

"That's true, Dennis, I know; but don't be cross. They'll be awfully pleased to see you."

"And not without reason, I can tell ye! Didn't I beard the lion in his den, the captain in his cabin, to beg for the grog? And talking of beards, of all the fiery----, upon my soul he's not safe to be near gunpowder. Jack, is he Scotch?"

"Yes."

"They're bad to blarney, and I did my best, I can tell you, for my own sake as well as for the men. I'm as shy with strangers as an owl by daylight, and I'll never get a thank ye out of my throat, unless we've the chance of a bit of sociability. However, at last he called to that nice fellow--third mate, isn't he?--and gave orders for the rum. 'Two-water grog, Mr. Johnson,' says he. 'Ah, captain,' I said, 'don't be throwing cold water on the entertainment; they got their share of that last night. It's only the rum that's required to complete us now.' But he's as deaf to fun as he is to blarney. Is he good to you, little stowaway?"

"Oh, very," said I. "And you should hear what the men tell about other captains. They all like this one."

"He has an air of uprightness about him; and so has that brother-in-adversity of yours, more polish to him! He must be a noble fellow, though. I can't get over _his volunteering, without the most distant obligation to risk his life for me--not even a sailor. And yet he won't be friendly, do what I will. As formal as you please--that's pride, I suppose--he's Scotch too, isn't he? Blarney's no go with him. Faith, it's like trying to butter short-bread with the thermometer at zero. By Jove, there he is ahead of us. Alister, man! Not the ghost of a look will he give me. He's fine-looking, too, if his hair wasn't so insanely distracted, and his brow ridged and furrowed deep enough to plant potatoes in. What in the name of fortune's he doing to his hands?"

"He's _washing them with a lump of grease," said I. "I saw Francis give it him. It's to get the tar off."

"That indeed? Alister! _Alister_! Have ye no eyes in the back of ye? Here's Jack and myself."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Alister, stiffly.

"Oh, confound your _sir_-liness!" muttered Dennis, and added aloud, "Is that pomatum for your hair?"

Alister laughed in spite of himself.

"More like hair-_dye_, sir," said he, and rubbing desperately at his fingers, he added, "I can't get them decent."

"Ah, let them rest!" said Dennis. "It's painting the lily to adorn them. On ye go; and mind ye keep near to us, and we'll make a landlubber's parliament in a corner to ourselves."

My first friend had thawed, and went cheerfully ahead of us, as I was very glad to see. Dennis saw it too, but only to relapse into mischief. He held me back, as Alister strode in front, and putting out his thumb and finger, so close to a tuft of hay-coloured hair that stood cocked defiantly up on the Scotchman's crown that I was in all the agony he meant me to be for fear of detection, he chattered in my ear, "Jack, did ye ever study physiognomy, or any of the science of externals? Look at this independent tuft. Isn't the whole character of the man in it? Could mortal man force it down? Could the fingers of woman coax it? Would ye appeal to it with argument? Would hair's grease, bear's grease ----"

But his peroration was suddenly cut short by a rush from behind, one man tumbling over another on the road to the forecastle. Dennis himself was thrown against Alister, and his hand came heavily down on the stubborn lock of hair.

"It's these fellows, bad manners to them," he explained; but I think Alister suspected a joke at his expense, and putting his arms suddenly behind him, he seized Dennis by the legs and hoisted him on to his back as if he had been a child. In this fashion the hero of the occasion was carried to a place of honour, and deposited (not too gently) on the top of an inverted deck-tub, amid the cheers and laughter of all concerned.

Round another tub--a shallow oak one, tidily hooped with cooper--which served as spittoon, a solemn circle of smokers was already assembled. They disturbed themselves to salute Dennis, and to make room for others to join them, and then the enlarged circle puffed and kept silence as before. I was watching the colour come and go on the Irish boy's face, and he was making comical signs to me to show his embarrassment, when Mr. Johnson shouted for the grog-tub to be sent aft, and the boatswain summoned me to get it and follow him.

The smokers were not more silent than we, as the third mate slowly measured the rum--half a gill a head--into the grog-tub. But when this solemnity was over and he began to add the water, a very spirited dialogue ensued; Mr. Johnson (so far as I could understand it) maintaining that "two-water grog" was the rule of the ships on their line, and the boatswain pleading that this being a "special issue" was apart from general rules, and that it would be more complimentary to the "young gentleman" to have the grog a little stronger. How it ended I do not know; I know I thought my "tot" very nasty, and not improved by the reek of strong tobacco in the midst of which we drank it, to Dennis O'Moore's very good health.

When the boatswain and I got back to the forecastle, carrying the grog-tub, we found the company as we had left it, except that there was a peculiarly bland expression on every man's face as he listened to a song that the cook was singing. It was a very love-lorn, lamentable, and lengthy song, three qualities which alone would recommend it to any audience of Jack Tars, as I have since had many occasions to observe. The intense dolefulness of the ditty was not diminished by the fact that the cook had no musical ear, and having started on a note that was no note in particular, he flattened with every long-drawn lamentation till the ballad became more of a groan than a song. When the grog-tub was deposited, Dennis beckoned to the boatswain, and we made our way to his side.

"Your cook's a vocal genius, anyhow, bo'sun," said he. "But don't ye think we'd do more justice to our accomplishments, _and keep in tune_, if we'd an accompaniment? Have ye such a thing as a fiddle about ye?"

The boatswain was delighted. Of course there was a fiddle, and I was despatched for it. I should find it hanging on a hook at the end of the plate-rack, and if the bow was not beside it it would be upon the shelf, and there used to be a lump of resin and a spare string or two in an empty division of the spice-box. The whole kit had belonged to a former cook, a very musical nigger, who had died at sea, and bequeathed his violin to his ship. Sambo had been well liked, and there were some old hands would be well pleased to hear his fiddle once more.

It took me some little time to find everything, and when I got back to Dennis another song had begun. A young sailor I did not know was singing it, and the less said about it the better, except that it very nearly led to a row. It was by way of being a comic song, but except for one line which was rather witty as well as very nasty, there was nothing humorous about it, unless that it was funny that any one could have been indecent enough to write it, and any one else unblushing enough to sing it. I am ashamed to say I had heard some compositions of a similar type at Snuffy's, and it filled me with no particular amazement to hear a good deal of sniggering in the circle round the spittoon, though I felt miserably uncomfortable, and wondered what Mr. O'Moore would think. I had forgotten Alister.

I was not likely soon to forget his face as I saw it, the blood swelling his forehead, and the white wrath round his lips, when he gripped me by the shoulder, saying, in broader Scotch than usual, "Come awa' wi' ye, laddie! I'll no let ye stay. Come awa' oot of this accurst hole. I wonder he doesna think black burning shame of himsel' to stand up before grey-heided men and fill a callant's ears with filth like yon."

Happily just indignation had choked Alister's voice as well as his veins, and I don't think many of the company heard this too accurate summary of the situation. The boatswain did, but before he could speak, Dennis O'Moore had sprung to the ground between them, and laying the fiddle over his shoulder played a wild sort of jig that most effectually and unceremoniously drowned the rest of the song, and diverted the attention of the men.

"The fiddle's an old friend, so the bo'sun tells me," he said, nodding towards the faces that turned to him.

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Why, I'm blessed if it isn't Sambo's old thing."

"It's your honour knows how to bring the heart out of it, anyhow."

"My eyes, Pat! You should ha' heerd it at the dignity ball we went ashore for at Barbadoes. Did you ever foot the floor with a black washerwoman of eighteen stun, dressed out in muslin the colour of orange marmalade, and white kid shoes?"

"I did not, the darlin'!"

As the circle gossiped, Dennis tuned the fiddle, talking vehemently to the boatswain between whiles.

"Bo'sun! ye're not to say a word to the boy. (Sit down, Alister, I tell ye!) I ask it as a favour. He didn't mince matters, I'll allow, but it was GOD'S truth, and no less, that he spoke. Come, bo'sun, who's a better judge of manners than yourself? We'd had enough and to spare of that, (Will ye keep quiet, ye cantankerous Scotchman! Who's harming ye now? Jack, if ye move an inch, I'll break this fiddle over your head.) Bo'sun! we're perishing for our grog, are ye aware?"

The diversion was successful. The boatswain, with a few indignant mutterings, devoted himself to doling out the tots of grog, and then proposed Dennis O'Moore's health in a speech full of his own style of humour, which raised loud applause; Dennis commenting freely on the text, and filling up awkward pauses with flourishes on Sambo's fiddle. The boatswain's final suggestion that the ship's guest should return thanks by a song, instead of a sentiment, was received with acclamations, during which he sat down, after casting a mischievous glance at Dennis, who was once more blushing and fidgeting with shyness.

"Ye've taken your revenge, bo'sun," said he.

"Them that blames should do better, sir," replied the boatswain, folding his arms.

"A song! a song! Mr. O'Moore!" shouted the men.

"I only know a few old Irish songs," pleaded Dennis.

"Ould Ireland for ever!" cried Pat Shaughnessy.

"Hear! hear! Encore, Pat!" roared the men. They were still laughing. Then one or two of those nearest to us put up their hands to get silence. Sambo's fiddle was singing (as only voices and fiddles can sing) a melody to which the heads and toes of the company soon began to nod and beat:


"La, l()e) l(=a) la la, la la la, l(=a) l()e) la, la
L(=a), le l(=a) la la, la la la, la--l()e) la la,"


hummed the boatswain. "Lor' bless me, Mr. O'Moore, I heard that afore you were born, though I'm blessed if I know where. But it's a genteel pretty thing!"

"It's all about roses and nightingales!" shouted Dennis, with comical grimaces.

"Hear! hear!" answered the oldest and hairiest-looking of the sailors, and the echoes of his approbation only died away to let the song begin. Then the notes of Sambo's fiddle also dropped off, and I heard Dennis O'Moore's beautiful voice for the first time as he gave his head one desperate toss and began:


"There's a bower of roses by Bendemeer's stream,
And the nightingale sings round it all the night long.
In the time of my childhood 'twas like a sweet dream
To sit in the roses and hear the bird's song."


One by one the pipes were rested on the smokers' knees; they wanted their mouths to hear with. I don't think the assembled company can have looked much like exiles from flowery haunts of the nightingale, but we all shook our heads, not only in time but in sympathy, as the clear voice rose to a more passionate strain:


"That bower and its music I never forget;
But oft when alone in the bloom of the year,
I think--is the nightingale singing there yet?
Are the roses still bright by the calm Bendemeer?"


I and the oldest and hairiest sailor were sighing like furnaces as the melody recommenced with the second verse:


"No, the roses soon withered that hung o'er the wave,
But some blossoms were gathered while freshly they shone,
And a dew was distilled from their flowers, that gave
All the fragrance of summer when summer was gone."


If making pot-pourri after my mother's old family recipe had been the chief duty of able-bodied seamen, this could not have elicited more nods of approbation. But we listened spell-bound and immovable to the passion and pathos with which the singer poured forth the conclusion of his song:


"Thus memory draws from delight, ere it dies,
An essence that breathes of it many a year;
Thus bright to my soul--as 'twas then to my eyes--
Is that bower on the banks of the calm Bendemeer."


And then (as somebody said) the noise we made was enough to scare the sea-gulls off the tops of the waves.

"You scored that time, Mr. O'Moore," said the boatswain. "You'd make your fortune in a music-hall, sir."

"Thank ye, bo'sun. Glad I didn't give ye your revenge, anyhow."

But the boatswain meant to strike nearer home. A ship's favourite might have hesitated to sing after Dennis, so Alister's feelings may be guessed on hearing the following speech:

"Mr. O'Moore, and comrades all. I believe I speak for all hands on this vessel, when I say that we ain't likely to forget sech an agreeable addition to a ship's company as the gentleman who has just given us a taste of the nightingale's quality" (loud cheers). "But we've been out-o'-way favoured as I may say, this voyage. We mustn't forget that there's two other little strangers aboard" (roars of laughter). "They 'olds their 'eads rather 'igh p'raps, for _stowaways_" ("Hear! hear!"), "but no doubt their talents bears 'em out" ("Hear, hear!" from Dennis, which found a few friendly echoes). "Anyway, as they've paid us a visit, without waiting to ask if we was at 'ome to callers, we may look to 'em to contribute to the general entertainment. Alister Auchterlay will now favour the company with a song."

The boatswain stood back and folded his arms, and fixed his eyes on the sea-line, from which attitude no appeals could move him. I was very sorry for Alister, and so was Dennis, I am sure, for he did his best to encourage him.

"Sing 'GOD save the Queen,' and I'll keep well after ye with the fiddle," he suggested. But Alister shook his head. "I know one or two Scotch tunes," Dennis added, and he began to sketch out an air or two with his fingers on the strings.

Presently Alister stopped him. "Yon's the 'Land o' the Leal'?"

"It is," said Dennis.

"Play it a bit quicker, man, and I'll try 'Scots wha hae.'"

Dennis quickened at once, and Alister stood forward. He neither fidgeted nor complained of feeling shy, but as my eyes (I was squatted cross-legged on the deck) were at the level of his knees, I could see them shaking, and pitied him none the less, that I was doubtful as to what might not be before _me_. Dennis had to make two or three false starts before poor Alister could get a note out of his throat, but when he had fairly broken the ice with the word "Scots!" he faltered no more.

The boatswain was cheated a second time of his malice. Alister could not sing in the least like Dennis, but he had a strong manly voice, and it had a ring that stirred one's blood, as he clenched his hands, and rolled his Rs to the rugged appeal:


"Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!"


Applause didn't seem to steady his legs in the least, and he never moved his eyes from the sea, and his face only grew whiter by the time he drove all the blood to my heart with


"Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!"


"GOD forbid!" cried Dennis impetuously. "Sing that verse again, me boy, and give us a chance to sing with ye!" which we did accordingly; but as Alister and Dennis were rolling Rs like the rattle of musketry on the word _turn_, Alister did turn, and stopped suddenly short. The captain had come up unobserved.

"Go on!" said he, waving us back to our places.

By this time the solo had become a chorus. Beautifully unconscious, for the most part, that the song was by way of stirring Scot against Saxon, its deeper patriotism had seized upon us all. Englishmen, Scotchmen, and sons of Erin, we all shouted at the top of our voices, Sambo's fiddle not being silent. And I maintain that we all felt the sentiment with our whole hearts, though I doubt if any but Alister and the captain knew and sang the precise words:


"Wha for Scotland's king and law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa',
Let him on wi' me!"

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