Deephaven and Selected Stories & Sketches - Part 6

Part 6

everything's changed from what it was when I used to follow the sea. I wonder sometimes if the sailors have as queer works aboard ship as they used. Bless ye! Deephaven used to be a different place to what it is now; there was hardly a day in the year that you didn't hear the shipwrights' hammers, and there was always something going on at the wharves. You would see the folks from up country comin' in with their loads of oak knees and plank, and logs o' rock-maple for keels when there was snow on the ground in winter-time, and the big sticks of timber-pine for masts would come crawling along the road with their three and four yoke of oxen all frosted up, the sleds creaking and the snow growling and the men flapping their arms to keep warm, and hallooing as if there wan't nothin' else goin' on in the world except to get them masts to the ship-yard. Bless ye! two o' them teams together would stretch from here 'most up to the Widow Jim's place,--no such timber-pines nowadays."

"I suppose the sailors are very jolly together sometimes," said Kate, meditatively, with the least flicker of a smile at me. The captain did not answer for a minute, as he was battling with an obstinate snarl in his line; but when he had found the right loop he said, "I've had the best times and the hardest times of my life at sea, that's certain! I was just thinking it over when you spoke. I'll tell you some stories one day or 'nother that'll please you. Land! you've no idea what tricks some of those wild fellows will be up to. Now, saying they fetch home a cargo of wines and they want a drink; they've got a trick so they can get it.

Saying it's champagne, they'll fetch up a basket, and how do you suppose they'll get into it?"

Of course we didn't know.

"Well, every basket will be counted, and they're fastened up particular, so they can tell in a minute if they've been tampered with; and neither must you draw the corks if you could get the basket open. I suppose ye may have seen champagne, how it's all wired and waxed. Now, they take a clean tub, them fellows do, and just shake the basket and jounce it up and down till they break the bottles and let the wine drain out; then they take it down in the hold and put it back with the rest, and when the cargo is delivered there's only one or two whole bottles in that basket, and there's a dreadful fuss about its being stowed so foolish."

The captain told this with an air of great satisfaction, but we did not show the least suspicion that he might have a.s.sisted at some such festivity.

"Then they have a way of breaking into a cask. It won't do to start the bung, and it won't do to bore a hole where it can be seen, but they're up to that: they slip back one of the end hoops and bore two holes underneath it, one for the air to go in and one for the liquor to come out, and after they get all out they want they put in some spigots and cut them down close to the stave, knock back the hoop again, and there ye are, all trig."

"I never should have thought of it," said Kate, admiringly.

"There isn't nothing," Cap'n Sands went on, "that'll hender some masters from cheating the owners a little. Get them off in a foreign port, and there's n.o.body to watch, and they most of them have a feeling that they ain't getting full pay, and they'll charge things to the ship that she never seen nor heard of. There were two shipmasters that sailed out of Salem. I heard one of 'em tell the story. They had both come into port from Liverpool nigh the same time, and one of 'em, he was dressed up in a handsome suit of clothes, and the other looked kind of poverty-struck.

'Where did you get them clothes?' says he. 'Why, to Liverpool,' says the other; 'you don't mean to say you come away without none, cheap as cloth was there?' 'Why, yes,' says the other cap'n,--'I can't afford to wear such clothes as those be, and I don't see how you can, either.' 'Charge 'em to the ship, bless ye; the owners expect it.'

"So the next v'y'ge the poor cap'n he had a nice rig for himself made to the best tailor's in Bristol, and charged it, say ten pounds, in the ship's account; and when he came home the ship's husband he was looking over the papers, and 'What's this?' says he, 'how come the ship to run up a tailor's bill?' 'Why, them's mine,' says the cap'n, very meaching.

'I understood that there wouldn't be no objection made.' 'Well, you made a mistake,' says the other, laughing; 'guess I'd better scratch this out.' And it wasn't long before the cap'n met the one who had put him up to doing it, and he give him a blowing up for getting him into such a fix. 'Land sakes alive!' says he, 'were you fool enough to set it down in the account? Why, I put mine in, so many bolts of Russia duck.'"

Captain Sands seemed to enjoy this reminiscence, and to our satisfaction, in a few minutes, after he had offered to take the oars, he went on to tell us another story.

"Why, as for cheating, there's plenty of that all over the world. The first v'y'ge I went into Havana as master of the Deerhound, she had never been in the port before and had to be measured and recorded, and then pay her tonnage duties every time she went into port there afterward, according to what she was registered on the custom-house books. The inspector he come aboard, and he went below and looked round, and he measured her between decks; but he never offered to set down any figgers, and when we came back into the cabin, says he, 'Yes--yes--good ship! you put one bloon front of this eye, _so!_' says he, 'an' I not see with him; and you put one more doubloon front of other eye, and how you think I see at all what figger you write?' So I took his book and I set down her measurements and made her out twenty ton short, and he took his doubloons and shoved 'em into his pocket. There, it isn't what you call straight dealing, but everybody done it that dared, and you'd eat up all the profits of a v'y'ge and the owners would just as soon you'd try a little up-country air, if you paid all those dues according to law. Tonnage was dreadful high and too, in some ports, and they'd get your last cent some way or 'nother if ye weren't sharp.

"Old Cap'n Carew, uncle to them ye see to meeting, did a smart thing in the time of the embargo. Folks got tired of it, and it was dreadful hard times; ships rotting at the wharves, and Deephaven never was quite the same afterward, though the old place held out for a good while before she let go as ye see her now. You'd 'a' had a hard grip on't when I was a young man to make me believe it would ever be so dull here. Well, Cap'n Carew he bought an old brig that was lying over by East Parish, and he began fitting her up and loading her for the West Indies, and the farmers they'd come in there by night from all round the country, to sell salt-fish and lumber and potatoes, and glad enough they were, I tell ye. The rigging was put in order, and it wasn't long before she was ready to sail, and it was all kept mighty quiet. She lay up to an old wharf in a cove where she wouldn't be much noticed, and they took care not to paint her any or to attract any attention.

"One day Cap'n Carew was over in Riverport dining out with some gentlemen, and the revenue officer sat next to him, and by and by says he, 'Why won't ye take a ride with me this afternoon? I've had warning that there's a brig loading for the West Indies over beyond Deephaven somewheres, and I'm going over to seize her.' And he laughed to himself as if he expected fun, and something in his pocket beside. Well, the first minute that Cap'n Carew dared, after dinner, he slipped out, and he hired the swiftest horse in Riverport and rode for dear life, and told the folks who were in the secret, and some who weren't, what was the matter, and every soul turned to and helped finish loading her and getting the rigging ready and the water aboard; but just as they were leaving the cove--the wind was blowing just right--along came the revenue officer with two or three men, and they come off in a boat and boarded her as important as could be.

"'Won't ye step into the cabin, gentlemen, and take a gla.s.s o' wine?'

says Cap'n Carew, very polite; and the wind came in fresher,--something like a squall for a few minutes,--and the men had the sails spread before you could say Jack Robi'son, and before those fellows knew what they were about the old brig was a standing out to sea, and the folks on the wharves cheered and yelled. The Cap'n gave the officers a good scare and offered 'em a free pa.s.sage to the West Indies, and finally they said they wouldn't report at headquarters if he'd let 'em go ash.o.r.e; so he told the sailors to lower their boat about two miles off Deephaven, and they pulled ash.o.r.e meek enough. Cap'n Carew had a first-rate run, and made a lot of money, so I have heard it said. Bless ye! every shipmaster would have done just the same if he had dared, and everybody was glad when they heard about it. Dreadful foolish piece of business that embargo was!

"Now I declare," said Captain Sands, after he had finished this narrative, "here I'm a telling stories and you're doin' all the work.

You'll pull a boat ahead of anybody, if you keep on. Tom Kew was a-praisin' up both of you to me the other day: says he, 'They don't put on no airs, but I tell ye they can pull a boat well, and swim like fish,' says he. There now, if you'll give me the oars I'll put the dory just where I want her, and you can be getting your lines ready. I know a place here where it's always toler'ble fishing, and I guess we'll get something."

Kate and I cracked our clams on the gunwale of the boat, and cut them into nice little bits for bait with a piece of the sh.e.l.l, and by the time the captain had thrown out the killick we were ready to begin, and found the fishing much more exciting than it had been at the wharf.

"I don't know as I ever see 'em bite faster," said the old sailor, presently; "guess it's because they like the folks that's fishing. Well, I'm pleased. I thought I'd let 'Bijah take some along to Denby in the cart to-morrow if I got more than I could use at home. I didn't calc'late on having such a lively crew aboard. I s'pose ye wouldn't care about going out a little further by and by to see if we can't get two or three haddock?" And we answered that we should like nothing better.

It was growing cloudy, and was much cooler,--the perfection of a day for fishing,--and we sat there diligently pulling in cunners, and talking a little once in a while. The tide was nearly out, and Black Rock looked almost large enough to be called an island. The sea was smooth and the low waves broke lazily among the seaweed-covered ledges, while our boat swayed about on the water, lifting and falling gently as the waves went in sh.o.r.e. We were not a very long way from the lighthouse, and once we could see Mrs. Kew's big white ap.r.o.n as she stood in the doorway for a few minutes. There was no noise except the plash of the low-tide waves and the occasional flutter of a fish in the bottom of the dory. Kate and I always killed our fish at once by a rap on the head, for it certainly saved the poor creatures much discomfort, and ourselves as well, and it made it easier to take them off the hook than if they were flopping about and making us aware of our cruelty.

Suddenly the captain wound up his line and said he thought we'd better be going in, and Kate and I looked at him with surprise. "It is only half past ten," said I, looking at my watch. "Don't hurry in on our account," added Kate, persuasively, for we were having a very good time.

"I guess we won't mind about the haddock. I've got a feelin' we'd better go ash.o.r.e." And he looked up into the sky and turned to see the west. "I knew there was something the matter; there's going to be a shower." And we looked behind us to see a bank of heavy clouds coming over fast. "I wish we had two pair of oars," said Captain Sands. "I'm afraid we shall get caught."

"You needn't mind us," said Kate. "We aren't in the least afraid of our clothes, and we don't get cold when we're wet; we have made sure of that."

"Well, I'm glad to hear that," said the cap'n. "Women-folks are apt to be dreadful scared of a wetting; but I'd just as lief not get wet myself. I had a twinge of rheumatism yesterday. I guess we'll get ash.o.r.e fast enough. No. I feel well enough to-day, but you can row if you want to, and I'll take the oars the last part of the way."

When we reached the moorings the clouds were black, and the thunder rattled and boomed over the sea, while heavy spatters of rain were already falling. We did not go to the wharves, but stopped down the sh.o.r.e at the fish-houses, the nearer place of shelter. "You just select some of those cunners," said the captain, who was beginning to be a little out of breath, "and then you can run right up and get under cover, and I'll put a bit of old sail over the rest of the fish to keep the fresh water off." By the time the boat touched the sh.o.r.e and we had pulled it up on the pebbles, the rain had begun in good earnest. Luckily there was a barrow lying near, and we loaded that in a hurry, and just then the captain caught sight of a well-known red shirt in an open door, and shouted, "Halloa, Danny! lend us a hand with these fish, for we're nigh on to being shipwrecked." And then we ran up to the fish-house and waited awhile, though we stood in the doorway watching the lightning, and there were so many leaks in the roof that we might almost as well have been out of doors. It was one of Danny's quietest days, and he silently beheaded hake, only winking at us once very gravely at something our other companion said.

"There!" said Captain Sands, "folks may say what they have a mind to; I didn't see that shower coming up, and I know as well as I want to that my wife did, and impressed it on my mind. Our house sets high, and she watches the sky and is al'ays a worrying when I go out fishing for fear something's going to happen to me,' specially sence I've got to be along in years."

This was just what Kate and I wished to hear, for we had been told that Captain Sands had most decided opinions on dreams and other mysteries, and could tell some stories which were considered incredible by even a Deephaven audience, to whom the marvellous was of every-day occurrence.

"Then it has happened before?" asked Kate. "I wondered why you started so suddenly to come in."

"Happened!" said the captain. "Bless ye, yes! I'll tell you my views about these p'ints one o' those days. I've thought a good deal about 'em by spells. Not that I can explain 'em, nor anybody else, but it's no use to laugh at 'em as some folks do. Cap'n Lant--you know Cap'n Lant?--he and I have talked it over consider'ble, and he says to me, 'Everybody's got some story of the kind they will believe in spite of everything, and yet they won't believe yourn.'"

The shower seemed to be over now, and we felt compelled to go home, as the captain did not go on with his remarks. I hope he did not see Danny's wink. Skipper Scudder, who was Danny's friend and partner, came up just then and asked us if we knew what the sign was when the sun came out through the rain. I said that I had always heard it would rain again next day. "O no," said Skipper Scudder, "the Devil is whipping his wife."

After dinner Kate and I went for a walk through some pine woods which were beautiful after the rain; the mosses and lichens which had been dried up were all freshened and blooming out in the dampness. The smell of the wet pitch-pines was unusually sweet, and we wandered about for an hour or two there, to find some ferns we wanted, and then walked over toward East Parish, and home by the long beach late in the afternoon. We came as far as the boat-landing, meaning to go home through the lane, but to our delight we saw Captain Sands sitting alone on an old overturned whaleboat, whittling busily at a piece of dried kelp. "Good evenin'," said our friend, cheerfully. And we explained that we had taken a long walk and thought we would rest awhile before we went home to supper. Kate perched herself on the boat, and I sat down on a ship's knee which lay on the pebbles.

"Didn't get any hurt from being out in the shower, I hope?"

"No, indeed," laughed Kate, "and we had such a good time. I hope you won't mind taking us out again some time."

"Bless ye! no," said the captain. "My girl Lo'isa, she that's Mis Winslow over to Riverport, used to go out with me a good deal, and it seemed natural to have you aboard. I missed Lo'isa after she got married, for she was al'ays ready to go anywhere 'long of father. She's had slim health of late years. I tell 'em she's been too much shut up out of the fresh air and sun. When she was young her mother never could pr'vail on her to set in the house stiddy and sew, and she used to have great misgivin's that Lo'isa never was going to be capable. How about those fish you caught this morning? good, were they? Mis Sands had dinner on the stocks when I got home, and she said she wouldn't fry any 'til supper-time; but I calc'lated to have 'em this noon. I like 'em best right out o' the water. Little more and we should have got them wet. That's one of my whims; I can't bear to let fish get rained on."

"O Captain Sands!" said I, there being a convenient pause, "you were speaking of your wife just now; did you ask her if she saw the shower?"

"First thing she spoke of when I got into the house. 'There,' says she, 'I was afraid you wouldn't see the rain coming in time, and I had my heart in my mouth when it began to thunder. I thought you'd get soaked through, and be laid up for a fortnight,' says she. 'I guess a summer shower won't hurt an old sailor like me,' says I." And the captain reached for another piece of his kelp-stalk, and whittled away more busily than ever. Kate took out her knife and also began to cut kelp, and I threw pebbles in the hope of hitting a spider which sat complacently on a stone not far away, and when he suddenly vanished there was nothing for me to do but to whittle kelp also.

"Do you suppose," said Kate, "that Mrs. Sands really made you know about that shower?"

The captain put on his most serious look, coughed slowly, and moved himself a few inches nearer us, along the boat. I think he fully understood the importance and solemnity of the subject. "It ain't for us to say what we do know or don't, for there's nothing sartain, but I made up my mind long ago that there's something about these p'ints that's myster'ous. My wife and me will be sitting there to home and there won't be no word between us for an hour, and then of a sudden we'll speak up about the same thing. Now the way I view it, she either puts it into my head or I into hers. I've spoke up lots of times about something, when I didn't know what I was going to say when I began, and she'll say she was just thinking of that. Like as not you have noticed it sometimes? There was something my mind was dwellin' on yesterday, and she come right out with it, and I'd a good deal rather she hadn't," said the captain, ruefully. "I didn't want to rake it all over ag'in, I'm sure." And then he recollected himself, and was silent, which his audience must confess to have regretted for a moment.

"I used to think a good deal about such things when I was younger, and I'm free to say I took more stock in dreams and such like than I do now.

I rec'lect old Parson Lorimer--this Parson Lorimer's father who was settled here first--spoke to me once about it, and said it was a tempting of Providence, and that we hadn't no right to pry into secrets.

I know I had a dream-book then that I picked up in a shop in Bristol once when I was there on the Ranger, and all the young folks were beset to get sight of it. I see what fools it made of folks, bothering their heads about such things, and I pretty much let them go: all this stuff about spirit-rappings is enough to make a man crazy. You don't get no good by it. I come across a paper once with a lot of letters in it from sperits, and I cast my eye over 'em, and I says to myself, 'Well, I always was given to understand that when we come to a futur' state we was goin' to have more wisdom than we can get afore'; but them letters hadn't any more sense to 'em, nor so much, as a man could write here without schooling, and I should think that if the letters be all straight, if the folks who wrote 'em had any kind of ambition they'd want to be movin' back here again. But as for one person's having something to do with another any distance off, why, that's another thing; there ain't any nonsense about that. I know it's true jest as well as I want to," said the cap'n, warming up. "I'll tell ye how I was led to make up my mind about it. One time I waked a man up out of a sound sleep looking at him, and it set me to thinking. First, there wasn't any noise, and then ag'in there wasn't any touch so he could feel it, and I says to myself, 'Why couldn't I ha' done it the width of two rooms as well as one, and why couldn't I ha' done it with my back turned?' It couldn't have been the looking so much as the thinking. And then I car'd it further, and I says, 'Why ain't a mile as good as a yard? and it's the thinking that does it,' says I, 'and we've got some faculty or other that we don't know much about. We've got some way of sending our thought like a bullet goes out of a gun and it hits. We don't know nothing except what we see. And some folks is scared, and some more thinks it is all nonsense and laughs. But there's something we haven't got the hang of.' It makes me think o' them little black polliwogs that turns into frogs in the fresh-water puddles in the ma'sh.

There's a time before their tails drop off and their legs have sprouted out, when they don't get any use o' their legs, and I dare say they're in their way consider'ble; but after they get to be frogs they find out what they're for without no kind of trouble. I guess we shall turn these fac'lties to account some time or 'nother. Seems to me, though, that we might depend on 'em now more than we do."

The captain was under full sail on what we had heard was his pet subject, and it was a great satisfaction to listen to what he had to say. It loses a great deal in being written, for the old sailor's voice and gestures and thorough earnestness all carried no little persuasion.

And it was impossible not to be sure that he knew more than people usually do about these mysteries in which he delighted.

"Now, how can you account for this?" said he. "I remember not more than ten years ago my son's wife was stopping at our house, and she had left her child at home while she come away for a rest. And after she had been there two or three days, one morning she was sitting in the kitchen 'long o' the folks, and all of a sudden she jumped out of her chair and ran into the bedroom, and next minute she come out laughing, and looking kind of scared. 'I could ha' taken my oath,' says she,'that I heard Katy cryin' out mother,' says she, 'just as if she was hurt. I heard it so plain that before I stopped to think it seemed as if she were right in the next room. I'm afeard something has happened.' But the folks laughed, and said she must ha' heard one of the lambs. 'No, it wasn't,'

says she, 'it was Katy.' And sure enough, just after dinner a young man who lived neighbor to her come riding into the yard post-haste to get her to go home, for the baby had pulled some hot water over on to herself and was nigh scalded to death and cryin' for her mother every minute. Now, who's going to explain that? It wasn't any common hearing that heard that child's cryin' fifteen miles. And I can tell you another thing that happened among my own folks. There was an own cousin of mine married to a man by the name of John Hathorn. He was trading up to Parsonsfield, and business run down, so he wound up there, and thought he'd make a new start. He moved down to Denby, and while he was getting under way, he left his family up to the old place, and at the time I speak of, was going to move 'em down in about a fortnight.

"One morning his wife was fidgeting round, and finally she came down stairs with her bonnet and shawl on, and said somebody must put the horse right into the wagon and take her down to Denby. 'Why, what for, mother?' they says. 'Don't stop to talk,' says she; 'your father is sick, and wants me. It's been a worrying me since before day, and I can't stand it no longer.' And the short of the story is that she kept hurrying 'em faster and faster, and then she got hold of the reins herself, and when they got within five miles of the place the horse fell dead, and she was nigh about crazy, and they took another horse at a farm-house on the road. It was the spring of the year, and the going was dreadful, and when they got to the house John Hathorn had just died, and he had been calling for his wife up to 'most the last breath he drew. He had been taken sick sudden the day before, but the folks knew it was bad travelling, and that she was a feeble woman to come near thirty miles, and they had no idee he was so bad off. I'm telling you the living truth," said Captain Sands, with an emphatic shake of his head. "There's more folks than me can tell about it, and if you were goin' to keel-haul me next minute, and hang me to the yard-arm afterward, I couldn't say it different. I was up to Parsonsfield to the funeral; it was just after I quit following the sea. I never saw a woman so broke down as she was.

John was a nice man; stiddy and pleasant-spoken and straightforrard and kind to his folks. He belonged to the Odd Fellows, and they all marched to the funeral. There was a good deal of respect shown him, I tell ye.

"There is another story I'd like to have ye hear, if it's so that you ain't beat out hearing me talk. When I get going I slip along as easy as a schooner wing-and-wing afore the wind.

"This happened to my own father, but I never heard him say much about it; never could get him to talk it over to any length, best I could do.

But gran'ther, his father, told me about it nigh upon fifty times, first and last, and always the same way. Gran'ther lived to be old, and there was ten or a dozen years after his wife died that he lived year and year about with Uncle Tobias's folks and our folks. Uncle Tobias lived over on the Ridge. I got home from my first v'y'ge as mate of the Daylight just in time for his funeral. I was disapp'inted to find the old man was gone. I'd fetched him some first-rate tobacco, for he was a great hand to smoke, and I was calc'latin' on his being pleased: old folks like to be thought of, and then he set more by me than by the other boys. I know I used to be sorry for him when I was a little fellow. My father's second wife she was a well-meaning woman, but an awful driver with her work, and she was always making of him feel he wasn't no use. I do' know as she meant to, either. He never said nothing, and he was always just so pleasant, and he was fond of his book, and used to set round reading, and tried to keep himself out of the way just as much as he could. There was one winter when I was small that I had the scarlet-fever, and was very slim for a long time afterward, and I used to keep along o' gran'ther, and he would tell me stories. He'd been a sailor,--it runs in our blood to foller the sea,--and he'd been wrecked two or three times and been taken by the Algerine pirates. You remind me to tell you some time about that; and I wonder if you ever heard about old Citizen Leigh, that used to be about here when I was a boy. He was taken by the Algerines once, same's gran'ther, and they was dreadful f'erce just then, and they sent him home to get the ransom money for the crew; but it was a monstrous price they asked, and the owners wouldn't give it to him, and they s'posed likely the men was dead by that time, any way. Old Citizen Leigh he went crazy, and used to go about the streets with a bundle of papers in his hands year in and year out. I've seen him a good many times. Gran'ther used to tell me how he escaped. I'll remember it for ye some day if you'll put me in mind.

"I got to be mate when I was twenty, and I was as strong a fellow as you could scare up, and darin'!--why, it makes my blood run cold when I think of the reckless things I used to do. I was off at sea after I was fifteen year old, and there wasn't anybody so glad to see me as gran'ther when I came home. I expect he used to be lonesome after I went off, but then his mind failed him quite a while before he died.

Father was clever to him, and he'd get him anything he spoke about; but he wasn't a man to set round and talk, and he never took notice himself when gran'ther was out of tobacco, so sometimes it would be a day or two. I know better how he used to feel now that I'm getting to be along in years myself, and likely to be some care to the folks before long. I never could bear to see old folks neglected; nice old men and women who have worked hard in their day and been useful and willin'. I've seen 'em many a time when they couldn't help knowing that the folks would a little rather they'd be in heaven, and a good respectable headstone put up for 'em in the burying-ground.

"Well, now, I'm sure I've forgot what I was going to tell you. O, yes; about grandmother dreaming about father when he come home from sea.

Well, to go back to the first of it, gran'ther never was rugged; he had ship-fever when he was a young man, and though he lived to be so old, he never could work hard and never got forehanded; and Aunt Hannah Starbird over at East Parish took my sister to fetch up, because she was named for her, and Melinda and Tobias stayed at home with the old folks, and my father went to live with an uncle over in Riverport, whom he was named for. He was in the West India trade and was well-off, and he had no children, so they expected he would do well by father. He was dreadful high-tempered. I've heard say he had the worst temper that was ever raised in Deephaven.