MR. MIDSHIPMAN EASY

Jack Easy, the hero of Captain Marryat’s story, was “no fool, but a bit of a philosopher.” He had been spoiled by an indulgent mother and a foolish father, who was continually prosing about “equality and the rights of man.” Indeed, Jack could even out-talk his father upon this subject. “There was no end to Jack’s arguing the point, though there seldom was point to his argument.” At sixteen he resolved to leave school and go to sea; and though Mr. Easy was unwilling, Jack insisted on his “rights” as his father’s “equal,” and the old man yielded. He was to sail as midshipman on the sloop-of-war Harpy, with Captain Wilson, a relative of his father’s. He set out for Portsmouth with plenty of money in his pockets, and squandering this he loitered three weeks in the town without reporting to his ship. When Captain Wilson heard of this he sent Mr. Sawbridge, his lieutenant, to summon the boy. Mr. Sawbridge peremptorily ordered Jack on board; but the officer was not in uniform, and Jack did not understand naval etiquette. He pertly refused to go until he should be ready, arguing his “equality” with any officer. Lieutenant Sawbridge departed, threatening that if Jack did not appear that night a file of marines should arrest him in the morning. He reported Jack’s disobedience to the Captain, but the latter, hoping to undo the father’s foolish lessons, resolved to discipline the boy gradually and gently. He sent a note inviting him to breakfast at nine on the following morning, which invitation Jack politely accepted. The next few pages give Jack’s first experience of “equality” at sea.

Cyrus Townsend Brady

Equality at Sea by Captain Frederick Marryat

(From Mr. Midshipman Easy.)

The next morning Jack Easy would have forgotten all about his engagement with the captain, had it not been for the waiter, who thought that after the reception which our hero had given the first lieutenant, it would be just as well that he should not be disrespectful to the captain. Now Jack had not hitherto put on his uniform, and he thought this a fitting occasion, particularly as the waiter suggested the propriety of his appearance in it. Whether it was from a presentiment of what he was to suffer, Jack was not at all pleased, as most lads are, with the change in his dress. It appeared to him that he was sacrificing his independence; however, he did not follow his first impulse, which was to take it off again, but took his hat, which the waiter had brushed and handed to him, and then set off for the captain’s lodgings. Captain Wilson received him as if he had not been aware of his delay in joining his ship, or his interview with his first lieutenant, but before breakfast was over, Jack himself narrated the affair in a few words. Captain Wilson then entered into a detail of the duties and rank of every person on board of the ship, pointing out to Jack that where discipline was required it was impossible, when duty was carried on, that more than one could command; and that that one was the captain, who represented the king in person, who represented the country; and that, as the orders were transmitted from the captain through the lieutenant, and from the lieutenant to the midshipmen, who, in their turn, communicated them to the whole ship’s company, in fact, it was the captain alone who gave the orders, and that every one was equally obliged to obey. Indeed, as the captain himself had to obey the orders of his superiors, the admiral and the admiralty, all on board might be said to be equally obliged to obey. Captain Wilson laid a strong emphasis on the word equally, as he cautiously administered his first dose; indeed, in the whole of his address he made use of special pleading, which would have done credit to the bar; for at the same time that he was explaining to Jack that he was entering a service in which equality could never for a moment exist, if the service was to exist, he contrived to show that all the grades were levelled, by all being equally bound to do their duty to their country, and that, in fact, whether a seaman obeyed his orders, or he obeyed the orders of his superior officer, they were in reality only obeying the orders of the country, which were administered through their channels.

Jack did not altogether like this view of the subject, and the captain took care not to dwell too long upon it. He then entered upon other details which he was aware would be more agreeable to Jack. He pointed out that the articles of war were the rules by which the service was to be guided, and that everybody, from the captain to the least boy in the ship, was equally bound to adhere to them—that a certain allowance of provisions and wine were allowed to each person on board, and that this allowance was the same to all; the same to the captain as to the boy; the same in quantity as in quality; every one equally entitled to his allowance; that, although there were, of necessity, various grades necessary in the service, and the captain’s orders were obliged to be passed and obeyed by all, yet still, whatever was the grade of the officer, they were equally considered as gentlemen. In short, Captain Wilson, who told the truth, and nothing but the truth, without telling the whole truth, actually made Jack fancy that he had at last found out that equality he had been seeking for in vain on shore, when, at last, he recollected the language used by Mr. Sawbridge the evening before, and asked the captain why that personage had so conducted himself. Now, as the language of Mr. Sawbridge was very much at variance with equality, Captain Wilson was not a little puzzled. However, he first pointed out that the first lieutenant was, at the time being, the captain, as he was the senior officer on board, as would Jack himself be if he were the senior officer on board; and that, as he before observed, the captain or senior officer represented the country. That in the articles of war, everybody who absented himself from the ship committed an error, or breach of those articles; and if any error or breach of those articles was committed by any one belonging to the ship, if the senior officer did not take notice of it, he then himself committed a breach of those articles, and was liable himself to be punished, if he could not prove that he had noticed it; it was therefore to save himself that he was obliged to point out the error; and if he did it in strong language, it only proved his zeal for his country.

“Upon my honor, then,” replied Jack, “there can be no doubt of his zeal; for if the whole country had been at stake, he could not have put himself in a greater passion.”

“Then he did his duty; but depend upon it, it was not a pleasant one to him; and I’ll answer for it, when you meet him on board, he will be as friendly with you as if nothing had happened.”

“He told me that he’d soon make me know what a first lieutenant was: what did he mean by that?” inquired Jack.

“All zeal.”

“Yes, but he said that as soon as he got on board, he’d show me the difference between a first lieutenant and a midshipman.”

“All zeal.”

“He said my ignorance should be a little enlightened by and by.”

“All zeal.”

“And that he’d send a sergeant and marines to fetch me.”

“All zeal.”

“That he would put my philosophy to the proof.”

“All zeal, Mr. Easy. Zeal will break out in this way; but we should do nothing in the service without it. Recollect that I hope and trust one day to see you also a zealous officer.”

Here Jack cogitated considerably, and gave no answer.

“You will, I am sure,” continued Captain Wilson, “find Mr. Sawbridge one of your best friends.”

“Perhaps so,” replied Jack; “but I did not much admire our first acquaintance.”

“It will perhaps be your unpleasant duty to find as much fault yourself; we are all equally bound to do our duty to our country. But, Mr. Easy, I sent for you to say that we shall sail to-morrow; and, as I shall send my things off this afternoon by the launch, you had better send yours off also. At eight o’clock I shall go on board, and we can both go in the same boat.”

To this Jack made no sort of objection, and having paid his bill at the Fountain, he sent his chest down to the boat by some of the crew who came up for it, and attended the summons of the captain to embark. By nine o’clock that evening Mr. Jack Easy was safe on board his majesty’s sloop Harpy.

When Jack arrived on board it was dark, and he did not know what to do with himself. The captain was received by the officers on deck, who took off their hats to salute him. The captain returned the salute, and so did Jack very politely, after which the captain entered into conversation with the first lieutenant, and for awhile Jack was left to himself. It was too dark to distinguish faces, and to one who had never been on board of a ship, too dark to move, so Jack stood where he was, which was not far from the main bitts, but he did not stay long; the boat had been hooked on to the quarter davits, and the boatswain had called out:

“Set taut, my lads!”

And then, with a shrill whistle, and “Away with her!” forward came galloping and bounding along the men with the tackles; and in the dark Jack was upset, and half a dozen marines fell upon him; the men, who had no idea that an officer was floored among the others, were pleased at the joke, and continued to dance over those who were down, until they rolled themselves out of the way. Jack, who did not understand this, fared badly, and it was not until the calls piped belay, that he could recover his legs, after having been trampled upon by half the starboard watch, and the breath completely jammed out of his body. Jack reeled to a carronade slide, when the officers, who had been laughing at the lark as well as the men, perceived his situation—among others, Mr. Sawbridge, the first lieutenant.

“Are you hurt, Mr. Easy?” said he, kindly.

“A little,” replied Jack, catching his breath.

“You’ve had but a rough welcome,” replied the first lieutenant, “but at certain times on board ship, it is every man for himself and God for us all. Harpur,” continued the first lieutenant to the doctor, “take Mr. Easy down in the gun-room with you, and I will be down myself as soon as I can. Where is Mr. Jolliffe?”

“Here, sir,” replied Mr. Jolliffe, a master’s mate, coming aft from the booms.

“There’s a youngster come on board with the captain. Order one of the quartermasters to get a hammock slung.”

In the meantime Jack went down into the gun-room, where a glass of wine somewhat recovered him. He did not stay there long, nor did he venture to talk much. As soon as his hammock was ready, Jack was glad to go to bed—and as he was much bruised he was not disturbed the next morning till past nine o’clock. He then dressed himself, went on deck, found that the sloop was just clear of the Needles, that he felt very queer, then very sick, and was conducted by a marine down below, put into his hammock, where he remained during a gale of wind of three days, bewildered, confused, puzzled, and every minute knocking his head against the beams with the pitching and tossing of the sloop.

“And this is going to sea,” thought Jack; “no wonder that no one interferes with another here, or talks about a trespass; for I’m sure any one is welcome to my share of the ocean; and if I once get on shore again, the devil may have my portion if he chooses.”

Captain Wilson and Mr. Sawbridge had both allowed Jack more leisure than most midshipmen, during his illness. By the time the gale was over the sloop was off Cape Finisterre. The next morning the sea was nearly down, and there was but a slight breeze on the waters. The comparative quiet of the night before had very much recovered our hero, and when the hammocks were piped up, he was accosted by Mr. Jolliffe, the master’s mate, who asked “whether he intended to rouse a bit, or whether he intended to sail to Gibraltar between his blankets.”

Jack, who felt himself quite another person, turned out of his hammock and dressed himself. A marine had, by the captain’s orders, attended Jack during his illness, and this man came to his assistance, opened his chest, and brought him all which he required, or Jack would have been in a sad dilemma.

Jack then inquired where he was to go, for he had not yet been in the midshipman’s berth, although five days on board. The marine pointed it out to him, and Jack, who felt excessively hungry, crawled over and between chests, until he found himself fairly in a hole infinitely inferior to the dog-kennels which received his father’s pointers.

“I’d not only give up the ocean,” thought Jack, “and my share of it, but also my share of the Harpy, unto any one who fancies it. Equality enough here! for every one appears equally miserably off.”

As he thus gave vent to his thoughts he perceived that there was another person in the berth—Mr. Jolliffe, the master’s mate, who had fixed his eye upon Jack, and to whom Jack returned the compliment. The first thing that Jack observed was, that Mr. Jolliffe was very deeply pockmarked, and that he had but one eye, and that was a piercer; it appeared like a little ball of fire, and as if it reflected more light from the solitary candle than the candle gave.

“I don’t like your looks,” thought Jack; “we shall never be friends.”

But here Jack fell into the common error of judging by appearances, as will be proved hereafter.

“I’m glad to see you up again, youngster,” said Jolliffe; “you’ve been on your beam ends longer than usual, but those who are strongest suffer most—you made your mind up but late to come to sea. However, they say, ‘Better late than never.’”

“I feel very much inclined to argue the truth of that saying,” replied Jack; “but it’s no use just now. I’m terribly hungry—when shall I get some breakfast?”

“To-morrow morning at half-past eight,” replied Mr. Jolliffe. “Breakfast for to-day has been over these two hours.”

“But must I then go without?”

“No, I do not say that, as we must make allowances for your illness; but it will not be breakfast.”

“Call it what you please,” replied Jack, “only pray desire the servants to give me something to eat. Dry toast or muffins—anything will do, but I should prefer coffee.”

“You forget that you are off Finisterre, in a midshipman’s berth; coffee we have none—muffins we never see—dry toast cannot be made, as we have no soft bread; but a cup of tea, and ship’s biscuit and butter, I can desire the steward to get ready for you.”

“Well, then,” replied Jack, “I will thank you to procure me that.”

“Marine,” cried Jolliffe, “call Mesty.”

“Pass the word for Mesty,” cried the marine—and the two syllables were handed forward until lost in the forepart of the vessel.

The person so named must be introduced to the reader. He was a curious anomaly—a black man who had been brought to America as a slave, and there sold.

He was a very tall, spare-built, yet muscular form, and had a face by no means common with his race. His head was long and narrow, high cheek-bones from whence his face descended down to almost a point at the chin; his nose was very small, but it was straight, and almost Roman; his mouth also was unusually small, and his lips thin for an African; his teeth very white, and filed to sharp points. He claimed the rank of prince in his own country, with what truth could not of course be substantiated. His master had settled at New York, and there Mesty had learned English, if it could be so called: the fact is, that all the emigrant laborers at New York being Irishmen, he had learned English with the strong brogue and peculiar phraseology of the sister kingdom, dashed with a little Yankeeism.

Having been told that there was no slavery in England, Mesty had concealed himself on board an English merchant vessel and escaped. On his arrival in England he had entered on board of a man-of-war. Having no name, it was necessary to christen him on the ship’s books, and the first lieutenant, who had entered him, struck with his remarkable expression of countenance, and being a German scholar, had named him Mephistopheles Faust, from whence his Christian name had been razéed to Mesty. Mesty in other points was an eccentric character; at one moment, when he remembered his lineage, he was proud to excess, at others he was grave and almost sullen—but when nothing either in daily occurrences or in his mind ran contrary, he exhibited the drollery so often found in his nation, with a spice of Irish humor, as if he had caught up the latter with his Irish brogue.

Mesty was soon seen coming aft, but almost double as he crouched under the beams, and taking large strides with his naked feet.

“By the powers, Massa Yolliffe, but it is not seasonable at all to send for me just now, anyhow, seeing how the praters are in the copper and so many blackguard ’palpeens all ready to change net for net, and better themselves by the same mistake, ’dam um.’”

“Mesty, you know I never send for you myself, or allow others to do so, unless it is necessary,” replied Jolliffe; “but this poor lad has eaten nothing since he has been on board and is very hungry—you must get him a little tea.”

“Is it tay you mane, sir? I guess, to make tay, in the first place I must ab water, and in the next must ab room in the galley to put the kettle on—and ’pose you wanted to burn the tip of your little finger just now, it’s not in the galley that you find a berth for it—and den the water before seven bells. I’ve a notion its just impassible.”

“But he must have something, Mesty.”

“Never mind the tea, then,” replied Jack, “I’ll take some milk.”

“Is it milk massa manes, and the bumboat woman on the oder side of the bay?”

“We have no milk, Mr. Easy; you forget that we are on the blue water,” replied Jolliffe, “and I really am afraid that you’ll have to wait till dinner-time. Mesty tells the truth.”

“I tell you what, Massa Yolliffe, it just seven bells, and if the young gentleman would instead of tay try a little out of the copper, it might keep him asy. It but a little difference, tay soup and pay soup. Now a bowl of that, with some nuts and a flourish of pepper, will do him good, anyhow.”

“Perhaps the best thing he can take, Mesty; get it as fast as you can.”

In a few minutes the black brought down a bowl of soup and whole peas swimming in it, put before our hero a tin bread-basket full of small biscuit, called midshipmen’s nuts, and the pepper-caster. Jack’s visions of tea, coffee, muffins, dry toast, and milk vanished as he perceived the mess; but he was very hungry, and he found it much better than he expected; and he moreover found himself much the better after he had swallowed it. It struck seven bells, and he accompanied Mr. Jolliffe on deck.

When Jack Easy had gained the deck he found the sun shining gayly, a soft air blowing from the shore, and the whole of the rigging and every part of the ship loaded with the shirts, trousers, and jackets of the seamen, which had been wetted during the heavy gale, and were now hanging up to dry; all the wet sails were also spread on the booms or triced up in the rigging, and the ship was slowly forging through the blue water. The captain and first lieutenant were standing on the gangway in converse, and the majority of the officers were with their quadrants and sextants ascertaining the latitude at noon. The decks were white and clean, the sweepers had just laid by their brooms, and the men were busy coiling down the ropes. It was a scene of cheerfulness, activity, and order, which lightened his heart after the four days of suffering, close air, and confinement, from which he had just emerged.

The captain, who perceived him, beckoned to him, asked him kindly how he felt, the first lieutenant also smiled upon him, and many of the officers, as well as his messmates, congratulated him upon his recovery.

The captain’s steward came up to him, touched his hat, and requested the pleasure of his company to dinner in the cabin. Jack was the essence of politeness, took off his hat, and accepted the invitation. Jack was standing on a rope which a seaman was coiling down; the man touched his hat and requested he be so kind as to take his foot off. Jack took his hat off his head in return, and his foot off the rope. The master touched his hat and reported twelve o’clock to the first lieutenant—the first lieutenant touched his hat and reported twelve o’clock to the captain—the captain touched his hat and told the first lieutenant to make it so. The officer of the watch touched his hat and asked the captain whether they should pipe to dinner—the captain touched his hat and said, “if you please.”

The midshipman received his orders, and touched his hat, which he gave to the head boatswain’s mate, who touched his hat, and then the calls whistled cheerily.

“Well,” thought Jack, “politeness seems to be the order of the day, and every one has an equal respect for the other.” Jack stayed on deck; he peeped through the ports, which were open, and looked down into the deep blue waves; he cast his eyes aloft, and watched the tall spars sweeping and tracing with their points, as it were, a small portion of the clear sky, as they acted in obedience to the motion of the vessel; he looked forward at the range of carronades which lined the sides of the deck, and then he proceeded to climb one of the carronades, and lean over the hammocks to gaze on the distant land.

“Young gentleman, get off those hammocks,” cried the master, who was officer of the watch, in a surly tone.

Jack looked round.

“Do you hear me, sir? I’m speaking to you,” said the master again.

Jack felt very indignant, and he thought that politeness was not quite so general as he supposed.

It happened that Captain Wilson was upon deck.

“Come here, Mr. Easy,” said the captain; “it is a rule in the service, that no one gets on the hammocks unless in case of emergency—I never do—nor the first lieutenant—nor any of the officers or men—therefore, upon the principle of equality, you must not do it either.”

“Certainly not, sir,” replied Jack, “but still I do not see why that officer in the shining hat should be so angry, and not speak to me as if I were a gentleman as well as himself.”

“I have already explained that to you, Mr. Easy.”

“Oh, yes, I recollect now, it’s zeal; but this zeal appears to me to be the only unpleasant thing in the service. It’s a pity, as you said, that the service cannot do without it.”

Captain Wilson laughed, and walked away, and shortly afterward, as he turned up and down the deck with the master, he hinted to him that he should not speak so sharply to a lad who had committed such a trifling error through ignorance. Now Mr. Smallsole, the master, who was a surly sort of a personage, and did not like even a hint of disapprobation of his conduct, although very regardless of the feeling of others, determined to pay this off on Jack the very first convenient opportunity. Jack dined in the cabin, and was very much pleased to find that every one drank wine with him, and that everybody at the captain’s table appeared to be on an equality. Before the dessert had been on the table five minutes, Jack became loquacious on his favorite topic; all the company stared with surprise at such an unheard-of doctrine being broached on board of a man-of-war; the captain argued the point, so as to controvert, without too much offending, Jack’s notions, laughing the whole time that the conversation was carried on.

It will be observed that this day may be considered as the first in which Jack really made his appearance on board, and it also was on the first day that Jack made known, at the captain’s table, his very peculiar notions. If the company at the captain’s table, which consisted of the second lieutenant, purser, Mr. Jolliffe, and one of the midshipmen, were astonished at such heterodox opinions being started in the presence of the captain, they were equally astonished at the cool, good-humored ridicule with which they were received by Captain Wilson. The report of Jack’s boldness, and every word and opinion that he had uttered (of course much magnified), was circulated that evening through the whole ship; it was canvassed in the gun-room by the officers, it was descanted upon by the midshipmen as they walked the deck; the captain’s steward held a levee abreast of the ship’s funnel, in which he narrated this new doctrine. The sergeant of marines gave his opinion, in his berth, that it was atrocious. The boatswain talked over the matter with the other warrant officers, till the grog was all gone, and then dismissed it as too dry a subject; and it was the general opinion of the ship’s company that as soon as they arrived at Gibraltar Bay, our hero would bid adieu to the service, either by being sentenced to death by a court-martial, or by being dismissed, and towed on shore on a grating. Others, who had more of the wisdom of the serpent, and who had been informed by Mr. Sawbridge that our hero was a lad who would inherit a large property, argued differently, and considered that Captain Wilson had very good reason for being so lenient—and among them was the second lieutenant. There were but four who were well inclined toward Jack—to wit, the captain, the first lieutenant, Mr. Jolliffe, the one-eyed master’s mate, and Mephistopheles, the black, who, having heard that Jack had uttered such sentiments, loved him with all his heart and soul.