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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 9
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 9 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :3035

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 9

PART II CHAPTER IX

"One, two, three, and away!"


We three were fast friends when our voyage ended, and in planning our future we planned to stick together, "Like the three leaves of the shamrock," as Dennis O'Moore said.

The captain would have kept Alister as one of his crew, but the Scotch lad had definite plans for looking up a cousin on this side of the Atlantic, and pushing his fortunes by the help of his relative, so he did not care to make the return voyage. The captain did not offer the berth to me, but he was very kind, and returned my money, and gave us a written paper testifying to our good conduct and capabilities. He also gave Alister his address, and he and the other officers collected a small sum of money for him as a parting gift.

That afternoon we three crossed the harbour, and went for a walk in the pine-woods. How I longed for Charlie! I would have given anything if he could have been there, warmed through by the hot sun, refreshed by the smell of pines, resting his poor back in the deep moss, and getting excited over the strange flowers that grew wild all round our feet. One never forgets the first time one sees unknown flowers growing wild; and though we were not botanical, like Charlie, we had made ourselves very hot with gathering nosegays by the time that Dennis summoned us to sit down and talk seriously over our affairs. Our place of council was by the side of a lake, which reflected a sky more blue than I had ever seen. It stretched out of sight, and all about it were pines--pines. It was very lovely, and very hot, and very sweet, and the little black flies which swarmed about took tiny bits out of our cheek, and left the blood trickling down, so cleverly, that one did not feel it--till afterwards. We did feel the mosquitoes, and fought with them as well as we could, whilst Dennis O'Moore, defending his own face with a big bunch of jack-in-pulpits striped like tabby cats, explained his plans as follows:

Of course we had no notion of going home awhile. Alister and I had come away on purpose; and for his own part it had always been the longing of his soul to see the world. Times out of mind when he and Barney were on board one of these emigrant ships, that had put into the bay, GOD-speeding an old tenant or acquaintance with good wishes and whisky and what not, he had been more than half inclined to give old Barney and the hooker the slip, and take his luck with the outward bound. And now he was here, and no blame for it, why would he hurry home? The race of the O'Moores was not likely to become extinct for the loss of him, at the worst; and the Squire wouldn't grudge him a few months' diversion and a peep at the wide world. Far from it; he'd send him some money, and why not? He (Dennis) was a bit of a favourite for his mother's sake, and the Squire had a fine heart. The real difficulty was that it would be at least a month before the Squire could get a letter and Dennis could get his money; but if we couldn't keep our heads above water for a month we'd small chance of pushing our way in the world.

It is needless to say that I was willing to fall in with Dennis O'Moore's plans, being only too thankful for such companions in my wanderings. I said so, and added that what little money I had was to be regarded as a common purse so long as it lasted.

When Alister was appealed to, he cast in his lot with no less willingness, but it seemed that he must first look up a relation of his mother's, who lived in Halifax, and to whom his mother had given him a letter of introduction. Alister had never told us his history, and of course we had not asked for it; but on this occasion some of it crept out. His father had been the minister of a country parish in Scotland, but he had died young, and Alister had been reared in poverty. Dennis and I gathered that he had well-to-do relatives on his father's side, but, as Dennis said, "more kinship than kindness about them." "Though I wouldn't wonder if the widow herself had a touch of stiff-neckedness in her," he added.

However that might be, Alister held with his mother, of course, and he said little enough about his paternal relations, except one, whom he described as "a guid man, and _verra canny, but hard on the failings of the young." What youthful failings in our comrade had helped to snap the ties of home we did not know, but we knew enough of Alister by this time to feel sure they could not have been very unpardonable.

It was not difficult to see that it was under the sting of this man's reproaches that the lad had taken his fate into his own hands.

"I'm not blaming him," said Alister in impartial tones; and then he added, with a flash of his eyes, "but I'll no be indebted to him!"

We had returned to the town, and were strolling up the shady side of one of the clean wooden streets, when a strange figure came down it with a swinging gait, at a leisurely pace. She (for, after a moment's hesitation, we decided that it was a woman) was of gipsy colouring, but not of gipsy beauty. Her black hair was in a loose knot on her back, she wore a curious skull-cap of black cloth embroidered with beads, a short cloth skirt, a pair of old trousers tucked into leather socks, a small blanket with striped ends folded cunningly over her shoulders, and on her breast a gold cross about twice as large as the one concealed beneath the Irish boy's shirt. And I looked at her with a curious feeling that my dreams were coming true. Dark--high-cheeked--a blanket--and (unless the eyes with which I gazed almost reverentially at the dirty leather socks deceived me) moccasins--she was, she must be, a _squaw_!

Probably Dennis had come to the same conclusion, when, waving the tabby-coloured _arums he said, "I'll ask her what these are," and gaily advanced to carry out his purpose.

"Ye're daft," said Alister, getting red.

"It's a North American Indian!" said I.

"It's a woman, anyhow!" retorted Dennis over his shoulder, with a twinkle of his eyelashes that drew from Alister in his broadest accent, "The lad's a pairrfect libberrteen!" an expression which he afterwards retracted and apologized for at considerable length.

Within a few feet of the squaw Dennis lifted the broad-brimmed hat which I had bought for him directly we landed, and then advancing with a winning smile, he asked the name of the flowers in very good Irish. The squaw smiled too; she touched the flowers, and nodded and said something in a soft, rapid and unknown tongue, which only made Dennis shake his head and smile again, on which she spoke in a language still dark to Alister and me, but not so to Dennis, who, to our amazement, replied in the same, and a dialogue so spirited ensued, that they both seemed to be talking at once. Alister's face was a study when Dennis put out his hand towards the squaw's gold cross, and all but touched it, and then (both chattering faster than ever) unbuttoned his throat and drew out his crucifix to show her. His last act was to give her half the tabby-striped _arums as they parted. Then he lifted the broad hat once more and stood bareheaded, as the squaw came slowly down the wooden causeway, not without one glance at us as she passed. But at the bottom of the street she turned round to look at Dennis. His hat was still in his hand, and he swung it round his head, crying, "A Dieu, Madame!"

"A Dieu!" said the squaw, and she held up the tabby-striped _arums_. Very mingled feelings seemed to have been working in Alister's mind, but his respect for the fruits of education was stronger even than his sense of propriety. He forgot to scold Dennis for his unseemly familiarity with a stranger, he was so anxious to know in what language he had been speaking.

"French," said Dennis. "There seems to be a French mission somewhere near here. She's a good Catholic too, but she has a mighty queer accent, and awful feet!"

"It's a grand thing to speak with other tongues!" said Alister.

"If ye want to learn French, I'll teach ye all I can," said Dennis. "Sh--sh! No kindness whatever. I wish we mayn't have idle time for any amount of philology!"

At the top of the hill we parted for a time, and went our ways. Alister to look up his relation, I to buy stationery and stamps for our letters home, and Dennis to convert his gold ring into the currency of the colony. We would not let him pawn his watch, which he was most anxious to do, though Alister and I pointed out how invaluable it might prove to us (it was a good hunting-watch, and had been little damaged by the sea), because, as he said, "he would feel as if he was doing _something_, anyhow."

Alister and I were the last to part, and as we did so, having been talking about Dennis O'Moore, I said, "I knew it was French when I got nearer, but I never learnt French, though my mother began to teach me once. You don't really think you'll learn it from him, do you?"

"With perseverance," replied Alister, simply.

"What good will French be to you?" I asked.

"Knowledge is a light burden, and it may carry ye yet," was Alister's reply.

When we met again, Dennis was jingling some money in his pocket, which was added to the common fund of which the miser's legacy had formed the base. I had got paper and stamps, and information as to mails, and some more information which was postponed till we found out what was amiss with the Scotch leaf of our shamrock. For there were deep furrows on Alister's brow, but far deeper was the despondency of his soul. He was in the lowest possible spirits, and with a Scotchman that is low indeed. He had made out his way to his cousin's place of business, and had heard a very satisfactory report of the commercial success, but--the cousin had gone "to the States."

Alister felt himself very much ill-used by fate, and I believe Dennis felt himself very much ill-used by Alister, that evening, but I maintain that I alone was the person really to be pitied, because I had to keep matters smooth between the two. The gloom into which Alister relapsed, his prophecies, prognostications, warnings, raven-like croakings, parallel instances, general reflections and personal applications, as well as his obstinate notion that he would be "a burden and a curse" to "the two of us," and that it would have been small wonder had the sailors cast him forth into the Atlantic, like the Prophet Jonah, as being certain to draw ill-luck on his companions, were trying enough; but it was no joke that misfortune had precisely the opposite effect upon Dennis. If there was a bit of chaff left unchaffed in all Ireland, from Malin Head to Barley Cove, I believe it came into Dennis's head on this inappropriate occasion, and he forthwith discharged it at Alister's. To put some natures into a desperate situation seems like putting tartaric acid into soda and water--they sparkle up and froth. It certainly was so with Dennis O'Moore; and if Alister could hardly have been more raven-like upon the crack of doom, the levity of Dennis would, in our present circumstances, have been discreditable to a paroquet.

For it was no light matter to have lost our one hope of a friend in this strange land; and yet this was practically what it meant, when we knew that Alister Auchterlay's cousin had gone to the States. But the idea of kinship at last suggested something more sensible than jokes to Dennis O'Moore.

"Why, I've a cousin of my own in Demerara, and I'd forgotten him entirely!" he suddenly announced.

"You haven't a cousin in New York, have you?" I asked, and I proceeded to explain, that having done my business, I had been drawn back to the harbour by all the attractions shipping has for me, and had there been accosted by the mate of a coasting-vessel bound for New York with salt fish, who was in want of hands both to load and man her. The _Water-Lily had been pointed out to me from a distance, and we might go and see her to-morrow morning if we liked. With the prospect of living for at least a month on our slender stocking, the idea of immediate employment was very welcome, to say nothing of the attraction of further adventures. Alister began to cheer up, and Dennis to sober down. We wrote home, and posted our letters, after which we secured a decent sleeping-room and a good meal of broiled salmon, saffron-coloured cakes, and hot coffee, for a very reasonable sum; but, moderate as it was, it confirmed us in the conviction that we could not afford to eat the bread of idleness.

Next day we were early at the wharf. The _Water-Lily was by no means so white as she was named, and the smell of the salt fish was abominable. But we knew we could not pick and choose when we wanted employment, and wanted to be together; and to this latter point we had nailed our colours. With Alister and me the mate came to terms at once, but for a time he made difficulties about Dennis. We "stowaways" had had so much dirty work to do in all weathers for the past fortnight, that we looked sailor-like enough, I dare say; and as it had honestly been our endeavour to learn all we could, and shirk nothing, and as the captain's paper spoke well of us, I think the mate got a very good bargain--for we were green enough to take lower wages than the customary rate on the strength of a long string of special reasons which he made us swallow. This probably helped towards his giving in about Dennis. The matter about Dennis was that he looked too much of the fine gentleman still, though his homespun suit had seen salt water, and was far from innocent of tar and grease, for he had turned his hand to plenty of rough work during the voyage, partly out of good-nature, and partly to learn all he could get the sailors to teach him. However, his coaxing tongue clinched the bargain at last; indeed the mate seemed a good deal struck by the idea that he would find it "mighty convenient" to have a man on board who was a good scholar and could help him to keep the log. So we signed articles, and went to our duty.

The _Water-Lily was loaded, and we sailed in her, and we got to New York. But of all the ill-found tubs that ever put to sea, I should think she might have taken the first prize. We were overhauling her rotten rigging, taking off, putting on, and mending chafing gear every bit of our time, Sunday included. The carpenter used horrible language, but for his vexation I could have forgiven him if he had expressed it more decently, for he never had a moment's rest by day; and though a ship's carpenter is exempt from watches and allowed to sleep at night as a rule, I doubt if he had two nights' rest between Halifax and New York.

As Dennis put it, there was "any amount of chicanery about the whole affair." Some of our pay was "set against" supplying "duds" for Dennis to do dirty work in; Alister was employed as sail-maker, and then, like the carpenter, was cheated of his rest. As to food, we were nearly starved, and should have fared even worse than we did, but that the black cook was friendly towards us.

"Dis _Water-Lily ob ours a leetle ober-blown, Dennis, I'm tinking," said Alfonso, showing all his white teeth. "Hope she not fall to pieces dis voyage."

"Hope not, Alfonso. She hasn't lost her scent, anyhow!" At which allusion to our unsavoury cargo Alfonso yelled with laughter.

For our favour with the cook (and it means hot coffee, dry socks, and other little comforts being in favour with the cook) we had chiefly to thank Dennis. Our coal-black comrade loved jokes much, but his own dignity just a little more; and the instinctive courtesy which was as natural to Dennis as the flow of his fun, made him particularly acceptable to Alfonso.

And for the rest, we came to feel that if we could keep the _Water-Lily afloat to the end of her voyage, most other considerations were minor ones.

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