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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Monikins - Chapter 7. Touching An Amphibious Animal, A Special Introduction, And Its Consequences
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The Monikins - Chapter 7. Touching An Amphibious Animal, A Special Introduction, And Its Consequences Post by :deano Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3440

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The Monikins - Chapter 7. Touching An Amphibious Animal, A Special Introduction, And Its Consequences

CHAPTER VII. TOUCHING AN AMPHIBIOUS ANIMAL, A SPECIAL INTRODUCTION, AND ITS CONSEQUENCES


I soon took an interest in my new acquaintance. He was communicative, shrewd, and peculiar; and though apt to express himself quaintly, it was always with the pith of one who had seen a great deal of at least one portion of his fellow-creatures. The conversation, under such circumstances, did not flag; on the contrary, it soon grew more interesting by the stranger's beginning to touch on his private interests. He told me that he was a mariner who had been cast ashore by one of the accidents of his calling, and, by way of cutting in a word in his own favor, he gave me to understand that he had seen a great deal, more especially of that castle of his fellow-creatures who like himself live by frequenting the mighty deep.

"I am very happy," I said, "to have met with a stranger who can give me information touching an entire class of human beings with whom I have as yet had but little communion. In order that we may improve the occasion to the utmost, I propose that we introduce ourselves to each other at once, and swear an eternal friendship, or, at least, until we may find it convenient to dispense with the obligation."

"For my part, I am one who likes the friendship of a dog better than his enmity," returned my companion, with a singleness of purpose that left him no disposition to waste his breath in idle compliments. "I accept the offer, therefore, with all my heart; and this the more readily because you are the only one I have met for a week who can ask me how I do without saying, 'Come on, cong portez- vous.' Being used to meet with squalls, however, I shall accept your offer under the last condition named."

I liked the stranger's caution. It denoted a proper care of character, and furnished a proof of responsibility. The condition was therefore accepted on my part as frankly as it had been urged on his.

"And now, sir," I added, when we had shaken each other very cordially by the hand, "may I presume to ask your name?"

"I am called Noah, and I don't care who knows it. I am not ashamed of either of my names, whatever else I may be ashamed of."

"Noah--?"

"Poke, at your service." He pronounced the word slowly and very distinctly, as if what he had just said of his self-confidence were true. As I had afterward occasion to take his signature, I shall at once give it in the proper form--"Capt. Noah Poke."

"Of what part of England are you a native, Mr. Poke?"

"I believe I may say of the new parts."

"I do not know that any portion of the island was so designated. Will you have the good-nature to explain yourself?"

"I'm a native of Stunin'tun, in the State of Connecticut, in old New England. My parents being dead, I was sent to sea a four-year-old, and here I am, walking about the kingdom of France without a cent in my pocket, a shipwrecked mariner. Hard as my lot is, to say the truth, I'd about as leave starve as live by speaking their d--d lingo."

"Shipwrecked--a mariner--starving--and a Yankee!"

"All that, and maybe more, too; though, by your leave, commodore, we'll drop the last title. I'm proud enough to call myself a Yankee, but my back is apt to get up when I hear an Englishman use the word. We are yet friends, and it may be well enough to continue so until some good comes of it to one or other of the parties."

"I ask your pardon, Mr. Poke, and will not offend again. Have you circumnavigated the globe?"

Captain Poke snapped his fingers, in pure contempt of the simplicity of the question.

"Has the moon ever sailed round the 'arth! Look here, a moment, commodore"--he took from his pocket an apple, of which he had been munching half a-dozen during the walk, and held it up to view--"draw your lines which way you will on this sphere; crosswise or lengthwise, up or down, zigzag or parpendic'lar, and you will not find more traverses than I've worked about the old ball!"

"By land as well as by sea?"

"Why, as to the land, I've had my share of that, too; for it has been my hard fortune to run upon it, when a softer bed would have given a more quiet nap. This is just the present difficulty with me, for I am now tacking about among these Frenchmen in order to get afloat again, like an alligator floundering in the mud. I lost my schooner on the northeast coast of Russia--somewhere hereabouts," pointing to the precise spot on the apple; "we were up there trading in skins-and finding no means of reaching home by the road I'd come, and smelling salt water down hereaway, I've been shaping my course westward for the last eighteen months, steering as near as might be directly athwart Europe and Asia; and here I am at last within two days' run of Havre, which is, if I can get good Yankee planks beneath me once more, within some eighteen or twenty days' run of home."

"You allow me, then, to call the planks Yankee?"

"Call 'em what you please, commodore; though I should prefar to call 'em the 'Debby and Dolly of Stunin'tun,' to anything else, for that was the name of the craft I lost. Well, the best of us are but frail, and the longest-winded man is no dolphin to swim with his head under water!"

"Pray, Mr. Poke, permit me to ask where you learned to speak the English language with so much purity?"

"Stunin'tun--I never had a mouthful of schooling but what I got at home. It's all homespun. I make no boast of scholarship; but as for navigating, or for finding my way about the 'arth, I'll turn my back on no man, unless it be to leave him behind. Now we have people with us that think a great deal of their geometry and astronomies, but I hold to no such slender threads. My way is, when there is occasion to go anywhere, to settle it well in my mind as to the place, and then to make as straight a wake as natur' will allow, taking little account of charts, which are as apt to put you wrong as right; and when they do get you into a scrape it's a smasher! Depend on yourself and human natur', is my rule; though I admit there is some accommodation in a compass, particularly in cold weather."

"Cold weather! I do not well comprehend the distinction."

"Why, I rather conclude that one's scent gets to be dullish in a frost; but this may be no more than a conceit after all, for the two times I've been wrecked were in summer, and both the accidents happened by sheer dint of hard blowing, and in broad daylight, when nothing human short of a change of wind could have saved us."

"And you prefer this peculiar sort of navigation?"

"To all others, especially in the sealing business, which is my raal occupation. It's the very best way in the world to discover islands; and everybody knows that we sealers are always on the lookout for su'thin' of that sort."

"Will you suffer me to inquire, Captain Poke, how many times you have doubled Cape Horn?"

My navigator threw a quick, jealous glance at me, as if he distrusted the nature of the question.

"Why, that is neither here nor there; perhaps I don't double either of the capes, perhaps I do. I get into the South Sea with my craft, and it's of no great moment how it's done. A skin is worth just as much in the market, though the furrier may not happen to have a glossary of the road it has travelled."

"A glossary?"

"What matters a signification, commodore, when people understand each other? This overland journey has put me to my wits, for you will understand that I've had to travel among natives that cannot speak a syllable of the homespun; so I brought the schooner's dictionary with me as a sort of terrestrial almanac, and I fancied that, as they spoke gibberish to me, the best way was to give it to them back again as near as might be in their own coin, hoping I might hit on su'thin' to their liking. By this means I've come to be rather more voluble than formerly."

"The idea was happy."

"No doubt it was, as is just evinced. But having given you a pretty clear insight into my natur' and occupation, it is time that I ask a few questions of you. This is a business, you must know, at which we do a good deal at Stunin'tun, and at which we are commonly thought to be handy,"

"Put your questions, Captain Poke; I hope the answers will be satisfactory."

"Your name?"

"John Goldencalf--by the favor of his majesty, Sir John Goldencalf, Baronet." '

"Sir John Goldencalf--by the favor of his majesty, a baronet! Is baronet a calling? or what sort of a crittur or thing is it?"

"It is my rank in the kingdom to which I belong."

"I begin to understand what you mean. Among your nation mankind is what we call stationed, like a ship's people that are called to go about; you have a certain berth in that kingdom of yours, much as I should have in a sealing schooner."

"Exactly so; and I presume you will allow that order, and propriety, and safety result from this method among mariners?"

"No doubt--no doubt, we station anew, however, each v'yage, according to experience; I'm not so sure that it would do to take even the cook from father to son, or we might have a pretty mess of it."

Here the sealer commenced a series of questions, which he put with a vigor and perseverance that I fear left me without a single fact of my life unrevealed, except those connected with the sacred sentiment that bound me to Anna, and which were far too hallowed to escape me even under the ordeal of a Stunin'tun inquisitor. In short, finding that I was nearly helpless in such hands, I made a merit of necessity, and yielded up my secrets as wood in a vice discharges its moisture. It was scarcely possible that a mind like mine, subjected to the action of such a pair of moral screws, should not yield some hints touching its besetting propensities. The Captain seized this clew, and he went at the theory like a bulldog at the muzzle of an ox.

To oblige him, therefore, I entered at some length into an explanation of my system. After the general remarks that were necessary to give a stranger an insight into its leading principles, I gave him to understand that I had long been looking for one like him, for a purpose that shall now be explained to the reader. I had entertained some negotiations with Tamahamaah, and had certain investments in the pearl and whale fisheries, it is true; but on the whole my relations with all that portion of mankind who inhabit the islands of the Pacific, the northwest coast of America, and the northeast coast of the old continent, were rather loose, and generally in an unsettled and vague condition; and it appeared to me that I had been singularly favored in having a man so well adapted to their regeneration thrown as it were by Providence, and in a manner so unusual, directly in my way. I now frankly proposed, therefore, to fit out an expedition, that should be partly of trade and partly of discovery, in order to expand my interests in this new direction, and to place my new acquaintance at its head. Ten minutes of earnest explanation on my part sufficed to put my companion in possession of the leading features of the plan. When I had ended this direct appeal to his love of enterprise, I was answered by the favorite exclamation of--

"King!"

"I do not wonder, Captain Poke, that your admiration breaks out in this manner; for I believe few men fairly enter into the beauty of this benevolent system who are not struck equally with its grandeur and its simplicity. May I count on your assistance?"

"This is a new idee, Sir Goldencalf--"

"Sir John Goldencalf, if you please, sir."

"A new idee, Sir John Goldencalf, and it needs circumspection. Circumspection in a bargain is the certain way to steer clear of misunderstandings. You wish a navigator to take your craft, let her be what she will, into unknown seas, and I wish, naturally, to make a straight course for Stunin'tun. You see the bargain is in apogee, from the start."

"Money is no consideration with me, Captain Poke."

"Well, this is an idee that has brought many a more difficult contract at once into perigee, Sir John Goldencalf. Money is always a considerable consideration with me, and I may say, also, just now it is rather more so than usual. But when a gentleman clears the way as handsomely as you have now done, any bargain may be counted as a good deal more than half made."

A few explicit explanations disposed of this part of the subject, and Captain Poke accepted of my terms in the spirit of frankness with which they were made. Perhaps his decision was quickened by an offer of twenty Napoleons, which I did not neglect making on the spot. Amicable and in some respects confidential relations were now established between my new acquaintance and myself; and we pursued our walk, discussing the details necessary to the execution of our project. After an hour or two passed in this manner, I invited my companion to go to my hotel, meaning that he should partake of my board until we could both depart for England, where it was my intention to purchase without delay a vessel for the contemplated voyage, in which I also had decided to embark in person.

We were obliged to make our way through the throng that usually frequents the lower part of the Champs Elysees during the season of good weather and towards the close of the day. This task was nearly over when my attention was particularly drawn to a group that was just entering the place of general resort, apparently with the design of adding to the scene of thoughtlessness and amusement. But as I am now approaching the most material part of this extraordinary work, it will be proper to reserve the opening for a new chapter.

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