Kentucky's Ghost, by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
True? Every syllable.
That was a very fair yarn of yours, Tom Brown, very fair for a landsman,
but I'll bet you a doughnut I can beat it; and all on the square, too,
as I say,—which is more, if I don't mistake, than you could take oath
to. Not to say that I never stretched my yarn a little on the fo'castle
in my younger days, like the rest of 'em; but what with living under
roofs so long past, and a call from the parson regular in strawberry
time, and having to do the flogging consequent on the inakkeracies of
statement follering on the growing up of six boys, a man learns to trim
his words a little, Tom, and no mistake. It's very much as it is with
the talk of the sea growing strange to you from hearing nothing but
lubbers who don't know a mizzen-mast from a church-steeple.
It was somewhere about twenty years ago last October, if I recollect
fair, that we were laying in for that particular trip to Madagascar.
I've done that little voyage to Madagascar when the sea was like so much
burning oil, and the sky like so much burning brass, and the fo'castle
as nigh a hell as ever fo'castle was in a calm; I've done it when we
came sneaking into port with nigh about every spar gone and pumps going
night and day; and I've done it with a drunken captain on starvation
rations,—duff that a dog on land wouldn't have touched and two
teaspoonfuls of water to the day,—but someways or other, of all the
times we headed for the East Shore I don't seem to remember any quite as
distinct as this.
We cleared from Long Wharf in the ship Madonna,—which they tell me
means, My Lady, and a pretty name it was; it was apt to give me that
gentle kind of feeling when I spoke it, which is surprising when you
consider what a dull old hull she was, never logging over ten knots, and
uncertain at that. It may have been because of Moll's coming down once
in a while in the days that we lay at dock, bringing the boy with her,
and sitting up on deck in a little white apron, knitting. She was a very
good-looking woman, was my wife, in those days, and I felt proud of
her,—natural, with the lads looking on.
"Molly," I used to say, sometimes,—"Molly Madonna!"
"Nonsense!" says she, giving a clack to her needles,—pleased enough
though, I warrant you, and turning a very pretty pink about the cheeks
for a four-years' wife. Seeing as how she was always a lady to me, and a
true one, and a gentle, though she wasn't much at manners or
book-learning, and though I never gave her a silk gown in her life, she
was quite content, you see, and so was I.
I used to speak my thought about the name sometimes, when the lads
weren't particularly noisy, but they laughed at me mostly. I was rough
enough and bad enough in those days; as rough as the rest, and as bad as
the rest, I suppose, but yet I seemed to have my notions a little
different from the others. "Jake's poetry," they called 'em.
We were loading for the East Shore trade, as I said, didn't I? There
isn't much of the genuine, old-fashioned trade left in these days,
except the whiskey branch, which will be brisk, I take it, till the
Malagasy carry the prohibitory law by a large majority in both houses.
We had a little whiskey in the hold, I remember, that trip, with a good
stock of knives, red flannel, handsaws, nails, and cotton. We were
hoping to be at home again within the year. We were well provisioned,
and Dodd,—he was the cook,—Dodd made about as fair coffee as you're
likely to find in the galley of a trader. As for our officers, when I
say the less said of them the better, it ain't so much that I mean to be
disrespectful as that I mean to put it tenderly. Officers in the
merchant service, especially if it happens to be the African service,
are brutal men quite as often as they ain't (at least, that's my
experience; and when some of your great ship-owners argue the case with
me,—as I'm free to say they have done before now,—I say, "That's
my experience, sir," which is all I've got to say);—brutal men, and
about as fit for their positions as if they'd been imported for the
purpose a little indirect from Davy Jones's Locker. Though they do say
that the flogging is pretty much done away with in these days, which
makes a difference.
Sometimes on a sunshiny afternoon, when the muddy water showed a little
muddier than usual, on account of the clouds being the color of silver,
and all the air the color of gold, when the oily barrels were knocking
about on the wharves, and the smells were strong from the fish-houses,
and the men shouted and the mates swore, and our baby ran about deck
a-play with everybody (he was a cunning little chap with red stockings
and bare knees, and the lads took quite a shine to him), "Jake," his
mother would say, with a little sigh,—low, so that the captain never
heard,—"think if it was him gone away for a year in company the like
Then she would drop her shining needles, and call the little fellow back
sharp, and catch him up into her arms.
Go into the keeping-room there, Tom, and ask her all about it. Bless
you! she remembers those days at dock better than I do. She could tell
you to this hour the color of my shirt, and how long my hair was, and
what I ate, and how I looked, and what I said. I didn't generally swear
so thick when she was about.
Well; we weighed, along the last of the month, in pretty good spirits.
The Madonna was as stanch and seaworthy as any eight-hundred-tonner in
the harbor, if she was clumsy; we turned in, some sixteen of us or
thereabouts, into the fo'castle,—a jolly set, mostly old messmates, and
well content with one another; and the breeze was stiff from the west,
with a fair sky.
The night before we were off, Molly and I took a walk upon the wharves
after supper. I carried the baby. A boy, sitting on some boxes, pulled
my sleeve as we went by, and asked me, pointing to the Madonna, if I
would tell him the name of the ship.
"Find out for yourself," said I, not over-pleased to be interrupted.
"Don't be cross to him," says Molly. The baby threw a kiss at the boy,
and Molly smiled at him through the dark. I don't suppose I should ever
have remembered the lubber from that day to this, except that I liked
the looks of Molly smiling at him through the dark.
My wife and I said good-by the next morning in a little sheltered place
among the lumber on the wharf; she was one of your women who never like
to do their crying before folks.
She climbed on the pile of lumber and sat down, a little flushed and
quivery, to watch us off. I remember seeing her there with the baby till
we were well down the channel. I remember noticing the bay as it grew
cleaner, and thinking that I would break off swearing; and I remember
cursing Bob Smart like a pirate within an hour.
The breeze held steadier than we'd looked for, and we'd made a good
offing and discharged the pilot by nightfall. Mr. Whitmarsh—he was the
mate—was aft with the captain. The boys were singing a little; the
smell of the coffee was coming up, hot and home-like, from the galley. I
was up in the maintop, I forget what for, when all at once there came a
cry and a shout; and, when I touched deck, I saw a crowd around the
"What's all this noise for?" says Mr. Whitmarsh, coming up and scowling.
"A stow-away, sir! A boy stowed away!" said Bob, catching the officer's
tone quick enough. Bob always tested the wind well, when a storm was
brewing. He jerked the poor fellow out of the hold, and pushed him along
to the mate's feet.
I say "poor fellow," and you'd never wonder why if you'd seen as much of
stowing away as I have.
I'd as lief see a son of mine in a Carolina slave-gang as to see him
lead the life of a stow-away. What with the officers from feeling that
they've been taken in, and the men, who catch their cue from their
superiors, and the spite of the lawful boy who hired in the proper way,
he don't have what you may call a tender time.
This chap was a little fellow, slight for his years, which might have
been fifteen, I take it. He was palish, with a jerk of thin hair on his
forehead. He was hungry, and homesick, and frightened. He looked about
on all our faces, and then he cowered a little, and lay still just as
Bob had thrown him.
"We—ell," says Whitmarsh, very slow, "if you don't repent your bargain
before you go ashore, my fine fellow,—me, if I'm mate of the
Madonna! and take that for your pains!"
Upon that he kicks the poor little lubber from quarter-deck to bowsprit,
or nearly, and goes down to his supper. The men laugh a little, then
they whistle a little, then they finish their song quite gay and well
acquainted, with the coffee steaming away in the galley. Nobody has a
word for the boy,—bless you, no!
I'll venture he wouldn't have had a mouthful that night if it had not
been for me; and I can't say as I should have bothered myself about him,
if it had not come across me sudden, while he sat there rubbing his eyes
quite violent, with his face to the west'ard (the sun was setting
reddish), that I had seen the lad before; then I remembered walking on
the wharves, and him on the box, and Molly saying softly that I was
cross to him.
Seeing that my wife had smiled at him, and my baby thrown a kiss at him,
it went against me, you see, not to look after the little rascal a bit
"But you've got no business here, you know," said I; "nobody wants you."
"I wish I was ashore!" said he,—"I wish I was ashore!"
With that he begins to rub his eyes so very violent that I stopped.
There was good stuff in him too; for he choked and winked at me, and
did it all up, about the sun on the water and a cold in the head, as
well as I could myself just about.
I don't know whether it was on account of being taken a little notice of
that night, but the lad always kind of hung about me afterwards; chased
me round with his eyes in a way he had, and did odd jobs for me without
One night before the first week was out, he hauled alongside of me on
the windlass. I was trying a new pipe (and a very good one, too), so I
didn't give him much notice for a while.
"You did this job up shrewd, Kent," said I, by and by; "how did you
steer in?"—for it did not often happen that the Madonna got fairly out
of port with a boy unbeknown in her hold.
"Watch was drunk; I crawled down ahind the whiskey. It was hot, you bet,
and dark. I lay and thought how hungry I was," says he.
"Friends at home?" says I.
Upon that he gives me a nod, very short, and gets up and walks off
The first Sunday out that chap didn't know any more what to do with
himself than a lobster just put on to boil. Sunday's cleaning day at
sea, you know. The lads washed up, and sat round, little knots of them,
mending their trousers. Bob got out his cards. Me and a few mates took
it comfortable under the to'gallant fo'castle (I being on watch below),
reeling off the stiffest yarns we had in tow. Kent looked on at euchre
awhile, then listened to us awhile, then walked about uneasy.
By and by says Bob, "Look over there,—spry!" and there was Kent,
sitting curled away in a heap under the stern of the long-boat. He had a
book. Bob crawls behind and snatches it up, unbeknown, out of his hands;
then he falls to laughing as if he would strangle, and gives the book a
toss to me. It was a bit of Testament, black and old. There was writing
on the yellow leaf, this way:—
from his Affecshunate mother
who prays, For you evry day, Amen,"
The boy turned first red, then white, and straightened up quite sudden,
but he never said a word, only sat down again and let us laugh it out.
I've lost my reckoning if he ever heard the last of it. He told me one
day how he came by the name, but I forget exactly. Something about an
old fellow—uncle, I believe—as died in Kentucky, and the name was
moniment-like, you see. He used to seem cut up a bit about it at first,
for the lads took to it famously; but he got used to it in a week or
two, and, seeing as they meant him no unkindness, took it quite cheery.
One other thing I noticed was that he never had the book about after
that. He fell into our ways next Sunday more easy.
They don't take the Bible just the way you would, Tom,—as a general
thing, sailors don't; though I will say that I never saw the man at sea
who didn't give it the credit of being an uncommon good yarn.
But I tell you, Tom Brown, I felt sorry for that boy. It's punishment
bad enough for a little scamp like him leaving the honest shore, and
folks to home that were a bit tender of him maybe, to rough it on a
trader, learning how to slush down a back-stay, or tie reef-points with
frozen fingers in a snow-squall.
But that's not the worst of it, by no means. If ever there was a
cold-blooded, cruel man, with a wicked eye and a fist like a mallet, it
was Job Whitmarsh, taken at his best. And I believe, of all the trips
I've taken, him being mate of the Madonna, Kentucky found him at his
worst. Bradley—that's the second mate—was none too gentle in his ways,
you may be sure; but he never held a candle to Mr. Whitmarsh. He took a
spite to the boy from the first, and he kept it on a steady strain to
the last, right along, just about so.
I've seen him beat that boy till the blood ran down in little pools on
deck; then send him up, all wet and red, to clear the to'sail halliards;
and when, what with the pain and faintness, he dizzied a little, and
clung to the ratlines, half blind, he would have him down and flog him
till the cap'n interfered,—which would happen occasionally on a fair
day when he had taken just enough to be good-natured. He used to rack
his brains for the words he slung at the boy working quiet enough
beside him. It was odd, now, the talk he would get off. Bob Smart
couldn't any more come up to it than I could: we used to try sometimes,
but we had to give in always. If curses had been a marketable article,
Whitmarsh would have taken out his patent and made his fortune by
inventing of them, new and ingenious. Then he used to kick the lad down
the fo'castle ladder; he used to work him, sick or well, as he wouldn't
have worked a dray-horse; he used to chase him all about deck at the
rope's end; he used to mast-head him for hours on the stretch; he used
to starve him out in the hold. It didn't come in my line to be
over-tender, but I turned sick at heart, Tom, more times than one,
looking on helpless, and me a great stout fellow.
I remember now—don't know as I've thought of it for twenty years—a
thing McCallum said one night; McCallum was Scotch,—an old fellow with
gray hair; told the best yarns on the fo'castle always.
"Mark my words, shipmates," says he, "when Job Whitmarsh's time comes to
go as straight to hell as Judas, that boy will bring his summons. Dead
or alive, that boy will bring his summons."
One day I recollect especial that the lad was sick with fever on him,
and took to his hammock. Whitmarsh drove him on deck, and ordered him
aloft. I was standing near by, trimming the spanker. Kentucky staggered
for'ard a little and sat down. There was a rope's-end there, knotted
three times. The mate struck him.
"I'm very weak, sir," says he.
He struck him again. He struck him twice more. The boy fell over a
little, and lay where he fell.
I don't know what ailed me, but all of a sudden I seemed to be lying off
Long Wharf, with the clouds the color of silver, and the air the color
of gold, and Molly in a white apron with her shining needles, and the
baby a-play in his red stockings about the deck.
"Think if it was him!" says she, or she seems to say,—"think if it was
And the next I knew I'd let slip my tongue in a jiffy, and given it to
the mate that furious and onrespectful as I'll wager Whitmarsh never got
before. And the next I knew after that they had the irons on me.
"Sorry about that, eh?" said he, the day before they took 'em off.
"No, sir," says I. And I never was. Kentucky never forgot that. I had
helped him occasional in the beginning,—learned him how to veer and
haul a brace, let go or belay a sheet,—but let him alone generally
speaking, and went about my own business. That week in irons I really
believe the lad never forgot.
One time—it was on a Saturday night, and the mate had been oncommon
furious that week—Kentucky turned on him, very pale and slow (I was up
in the mizzen-top, and heard him quite distinct).
"Mr. Whitmarsh," says he,—"Mr. Whitmarsh,"—he draws his breath
in,—"Mr. Whitmarsh,"—three times,—"you've got the power and you know
it, and so do the gentlemen who put you here; and I'm only a stow-away
boy, and things are all in a tangle, but you'll be sorry yet for every
time you've laid your hands on me!"
He hadn't a pleasant look about the eyes either, when he said it.
Fact was, that first month on the Madonna had done the lad no good. He
had a surly, sullen way with him, some'at like what I've seen about a
chained dog. At the first, his talk had been clean as my baby's, and he
would blush like any girl at Bob Smart's stories; but he got used to
Bob, and pretty good, in time, at small swearing.
I don't think I should have noticed it so much if it had not been for
seeming to see Molly, and the sun, and the knitting-needles, and the
child upon the deck, and hearing of it over, "Think if it was him!"
Sometimes on a Sunday night I used to think it was a pity. Not that I
was any better than the rest, except so far as the married men are
always steadier. Go through any crew the sea over, and it is the lads
who have homes of their own and little children in 'em as keep the
Sometimes, too, I used to take a fancy that I could have listened to a
word from a parson, or a good brisk psalm-tune, and taken it in very
good part. A year is a long pull for twenty-five men to be becalmed with
each other and the devil. I don't set up to be pious myself, but I'm
not a fool, and I know that if we'd had so much as one officer aboard
who feared God and kept his commandments, we should have been the better
men for it. It's very much with religion as it is with cayenne
pepper,—if it's there, you know it.
If you had your ships on the sea by the dozen, you'd bethink you of
that? Bless you, Tom! if you were in Rome you'd do as the Romans do.
You'd have your ledgers, and your children, and your churches and Sunday
schools, and freed niggers, and 'lections, and what not, and never stop
to think whether the lads that sailed your ships across the world had
souls, or not,—and be a good sort of man too. That's the way of the
world. Take it easy, Tom,—take it easy.
Well, things went along just about so with us till we neared the Cape.
It's not a pretty place, the Cape, on a winter's voyage. I can't say as
I ever was what you may call scar't after the first time rounding it,
but it's not a pretty place.
I don't seem to remember much about Kent along there till there come a
Friday at the first of December. It was a still day, with a little haze,
like white sand sifted across a sunbeam on a kitchen table. The lad was
quiet-like all day, chasing me about with his eyes.
"Sick?" says I.
"No," says he.
"Whitmarsh drunk?" says I.
"No," says he.
A little after dark I was lying on a coil of ropes, napping it. The boys
were having the Bay of Biscay quite lively, and I waked up on the jump
in the choruses. Kent came up while they were telling
"How she lay
On that day
In the Bay of BISCAY O!"
He was not singing. He sat down beside me, and first I thought I
wouldn't trouble myself about him, and then I thought I would.
So I opens one eye at him encouraging. He crawls up a little closer to
me. It was rather dark where we sat, with a great greenish shadow
dropping from the mainsail. The wind was up a little, and the light at
helm looked flickery and red.
"Jake," says he all at once, "where's your mother?"
"In—heaven!" says I, all taken aback; and if ever I came nigh what you
might call a little disrespect to your mother, it was on that occasion,
from being taken so aback.
"Oh!" said he. "Got any women-folks to home that miss you?" asks he, by
Said I, "Shouldn't wonder."
After that he sits still a little with his elbows on his knees; then he
speers at me sidewise awhile; then said he, "I s'pose I've got a
mother to home. I ran away from her."
This, mind you, is the first time he has ever spoke about his folks
since he came aboard.
"She was asleep down in the south chamber," says he. "I got out the
window. There was one white shirt she'd made for meetin' and such. I've
never worn it out here. I hadn't the heart. It has a collar and some
cuffs, you know. She had a headache making of it. She's been follering
me round all day, a sewing on that shirt. When I come in she would look
up bright-like and smiling. Father's dead. There ain't anybody but me.
All day long she's been follering of me round."
So then he gets up, and joins the lads, and tries to sing a little; but
he comes back very still and sits down. We could see the flickery light
upon the boys' faces, and on the rigging, and on the cap'n, who was
damning the bo'sen a little aft.
"Jake," says he, quite low, "look here. I've been thinking. Do you
reckon there's a chap here—just one, perhaps—who's said his prayers
since he came aboard?"
"No!" said I, quite short: for I'd have bet my head on it.
I can remember, as if it was this morning, just how the question
sounded, and the answer. I can't seem to put it into words how it came
all over me. The wind was turning brisk, and we'd just eased her with a
few reefs; Bob Smart, out furling the flying jib, got soaked; me and the
boy sitting silent, were spattered. I remember watching the curve of
the great swells, mahogany color, with the tip of white, and thinking
how like it was to a big creature hissing and foaming at the mouth, and
thinking all at once something about Him holding of the sea in a
balance, and not a word bespoke to beg his favor respectful since we
weighed our anchor, and the cap'n yonder calling on Him just that minute
to send the Madonna to the bottom, if the bo'sen hadn't disobeyed his
orders about the squaring of the after-yards.
"From his Affecshunate mother who prays, For you evry day, Amen,"
whispers Kentucky, presently, very soft. "The book's tore up. Mr.
Whitmarsh wadded his old gun with it. But I remember."
Then said he: "It's 'most bedtime to home. She's setting in a little
rocking-chair,—a green one. There's a fire, and the dog. She sets all
Then he begins again: "She has to bring in her own wood now. There's a
gray ribbon on her cap. When she goes to meetin' she wears a gray
bunnet. She's drawed the curtains and the door is locked. But she thinks
I'll be coming home sorry some day,—I'm sure she thinks I'll be coming
Just then there comes the order, "Port watch ahoy! Tumble up there
lively!" so I turns out, and the lad turns in, and the night settles
down a little black, and my hands and head are full. Next day it blows a
clean, all but a bank of gray, very thin and still,—about the size of
that cloud you see through the side window, Tom,—which lay just abeam
The sea, I thought, looked like a great purple pincushion, with a mast
or two stuck in on the horizon for the pins. "Jake's poetry," the boys
said that was.
By noon that little gray bank had grown up thick, like a wall. By
sundown the cap'n let his liquor alone, and kept the deck. By night we
were in chop-seas, with a very ugly wind.
"Steer small, there!" cries Whitmarsh, growing hot about the face,—for
we made a terribly crooked wake, with a broad sheer, and the old hull
strained heavily,—"steer small there, I tell you! Mind your eye now,
McCallum, with your foresail! Furl the royals! Send down the royals!
Cheerily, men! Where's that lubber Kent? Up with you, lively now!"
Kentucky sprang for'ard at the order, then stopped short. Anybody as
knows a royal from an anchor wouldn't have blamed the lad. I'll take
oath to't it's no play for an old tar, stout and full in size, sending
down the royals in a gale like that; let alone a boy of fifteen year on
his first voyage.
But the mate takes to swearing (it would have turned a parson faint to
hear him), and Kent shoots away up,—the great mast swinging like a
pendulum to and fro, and the reef-points snapping, and the blocks
creaking, and the sails flapping to that extent as you wouldn't
consider possible unless you'd been before the mast yourself. It
reminded me of evil birds I've read of, that stun a man with their
wings; strike you to the bottom, Tom, before you could say Jack
Kent stuck bravely as far as the cross-trees. There he slipped and
struggled and clung in the dark and noise awhile, then comes sliding
down the back-stay.
"I'm not afraid, sir," says he; "but I cannot do it."
For answer Whitmarsh takes to the rope's-end. So Kentucky is up again,
and slips and struggles and clings again, and then lays down again.
At this the men begin to grumble a little low.
"Will you kill the lad?" said I. I get a blow for my pains, that sends
me off my feet none too easy; and when I rub the stars out of my eyes
the boy is up again, and the mate behind him with the rope. Whitmarsh
stopped when he'd gone far enough. The lad climbed on. Once he looked
back. He never opened his lips; he just looked back. If I've seen him
once since, in my thinking, I've seen him twenty times,—up in the
shadow of the great gray wings, a looking back.
After that there was only a cry, and a splash, and the Madonna racing
along with the gale twelve knots. If it had been the whole crew
overboard, she could never have stopped for them that night.
"Well," said the cap'n, "you've done it now."
Whitmarsh turns his back.
By and by, when the wind fell, and the hurry was over, and I had the
time to think a steady thought, being in the morning watch, I seemed to
see the old lady in the gray bunnet setting by the fire. And the dog.
And the green rocking-chair. And the front door, with the boy walking in
on a sunny afternoon to take her by surprise.
Then I remember leaning over to look down, and wondering if the lad were
thinking of it too, and what had happened to him now, these two hours
back, and just about where he was, and how he liked his new quarters,
and many other strange and curious things.
And while I sat there thinking, the Sunday-morning stars cut through the
clouds, and the solemn Sunday-morning light began to break upon the sea.
We had a quiet run of it, after that, into port, where we lay about a
couple of months or so, trading off for a fair stock of palm-oil, ivory,
and hides. The days were hot and purple and still. We hadn't what you
might call a blow, if I recollect accurate, till we rounded the Cape
again, heading for home.
We were rounding that Cape again, heading for home, when that happened
which you may believe me or not, as you take the notion, Tom; though why
a man who can swallow Daniel and the lion's den, or take down t'other
chap who lived three days comfortable into the inside of a whale, should
make faces at what I've got to tell I can't see.
It was just about the spot that we lost the boy that we fell upon the
worst gale of the trip. It struck us quite sudden. Whitmarsh was a
little high. He wasn't apt to be drunk in a gale, if it gave him warning
Well, you see, there must be somebody to furl the main-royal again, and
he pitched onto McCallum. McCallum hadn't his beat for fighting out the
royal in a blow.
So he piled away lively, up to the to'-sail yard. There, all of a
sudden, he stopped. Next we knew he was down like heat-lightning.
His face had gone very white.
"What's to pay with you?" roared Whitmarsh.
Said McCallum, "There's somebody up there, sir."
Screamed Whitmarsh, "You're gone an idiot!"
Said McCallum, very quiet and distinct: "There's somebody up there, sir.
I saw him quite plain. He saw me. I called up. He called down. Says he,
'Don't you come up!' and hang me if I'll stir a step for you or any
other man to-night!"
I never saw the face of any man alive go the turn that mate's face went.
If he wouldn't have relished knocking the Scotchman dead before his
eyes, I've lost my guess. Can't say what he would have done to the old
fellow, if there'd been any time to lose.
He'd the sense left to see there wasn't overmuch, so he orders out Bob
Bob goes up steady, with a quid in his cheek and a cool eye. Half-way
amid to'-sail and to'-gallant he stops, and down he comes, spinning.
"Be drowned if there ain't!" said he. "He's sitting square upon the
yard. I never see the boy Kentucky, if he isn't sitting on that yard.
'Don't you come up!' he cries out,—'don't you come up!'"
"Bob's drunk, and McCallum's a fool!" said Jim Welch, standing by. So
Welch wolunteers up, and takes Jaloffe with him. They were a couple of
the coolest hands aboard,—Welch and Jaloffe. So up they goes, and down
they comes like the rest, by the back-stays, by the run.
"He beckoned of me back!" says Welch. "He hollered not to come up! not
to come up!"
After that there wasn't a man of us would stir aloft, not for love nor
Well, Whitmarsh he stamped, and he swore, and he knocked us about
furious; but we sat and looked at one another's eyes, and never stirred.
Something cold, like a frost-bite, seemed to crawl along from man to
man, looking into one another's eyes.
"I'll shame ye all, then, for a set of cowardly lubbers!" cries the
mate; and what with the anger and the drink he was as good as his word,
and up the ratlines in a twinkle.
In a flash we were after him,—he was our officer, you see, and we felt
ashamed,—me at the head, and the lads following after.
I got to the futtock shrouds, and there I stopped, for I saw him
myself,—a palish boy, with a jerk of thin hair on his forehead; I'd
have known him anywhere in this world or t'other. I saw him just as
distinct as I see you, Tom Brown, sitting on that yard quite steady with
the royal flapping like to flap him off.
I reckon I've had as much experience fore and aft, in the course of
fifteen years aboard, as any man that ever tied a reef-point in a
nor'easter; but I never saw a sight like that, not before nor since.
I won't say that I didn't wish myself well on deck; but I will say that
I stuck to the shrouds, and looked on steady.
Whitmarsh, swearing that that royal should be furled, went on and went
It was after that I heard the voice. It came straight from the figure of
the boy upon the upper yard.
But this time it says, "Come up! Come up!" And then, a little louder,
"Come up! Come up! Come up!" So he goes up, and next I knew there was
a cry,—and next a splash,—and then I saw the royal flapping from the
empty yard, and the mate was gone, and the boy.
Job Whitmarsh was never seen again, alow or aloft, that night or ever
I was telling the tale to our parson this summer,—he's a fair-minded
chap, the parson, in spite of a little natural leaning to strawberries,
which I always take in very good part,—and he turned it about in his
mind some time.
"If it was the boy," says he,—"and I can't say as I see any reason
especial why it shouldn't have been,—I've been wondering what his
spiritooal condition was. A soul in hell,"—the parson believes in hell,
I take it, because he can't help himself; but he has that solemn, tender
way of preaching it as makes you feel he wouldn't have so much as a
chicken get there if he could help it,—"a lost soul," says the parson
(I don't know as I get the words exact),—"a soul that has gone and been
and got there of its own free will and choosing would be as like as not
to haul another soul alongside if he could. Then again, if the mate's
time had come, you see, and his chances were over, why, that's the will
of the Lord, and it's hell for him whichever side of death he is, and
nobody's fault but hisn; and the boy might be in the good place, and do
the errand all the same. That's just about it, Brown," says he. "A man
goes his own gait, and, if he won't go to heaven, he won't, and the
good God himself can't help it. He throws the shining gates all open
wide, and he never shut them on any poor fellow as would have entered
in, and he never, never will."
Which I thought was sensible of the parson, and very prettily put.
There's Molly frying flapjacks now, and flapjacks won't wait for no man,
you know, no more than time and tide, else I should have talked till
midnight, very like, to tell the time we made on that trip home, and
how green the harbor looked a sailing up, and of Molly and the baby
coming down to meet me in a little boat that danced about (for we cast a
little down the channel), and how she climbed up a laughing and a crying
all to once, about my neck, and how the boy had grown, and how when he
ran about the deck (the little shaver had his first pair of boots on
that very afternoon) I bethought me of the other time, and of Molly's
words, and of the lad we'd left behind us in the purple days.
Just as we were hauling up, I says to my wife: "Who's that old lady
setting there upon the lumber, with a gray bunnet, and a gray ribbon on
For there was an old lady there, and I saw the sun all about her, and
all on the blazing yellow boards, and I grew a little dazed and dazzled.
"I don't know," said Molly, catching onto me a little close. "She comes
there every day. They say she sits and watches for her lad as ran away."
So then I seemed to know, as well as ever I knew afterwards, who it was.
And I thought of the dog. And the green rocking-chair. And the book that
Whitmarsh wadded his old gun with. And the front-door, with the boy a
So we three went up the wharf,—Molly and the baby and me,—and sat down
beside her on the yellow boards. I can't remember rightly what I said,
but I remember her sitting silent in the sunshine till I had told her
all there was to tell.
"Don't cry!" says Molly, when I got through,—which it was the more
surprising of Molly, considering as she was doing the crying all to
herself. The old lady never cried, you see. She sat with her eyes wide
open under her gray bunnet, and her lips a moving. After a while I made
it out what it was she said: "The only son—of his mother—and she—"
By and by she gets up, and goes her ways, and Molly and I walk home
together, with our little boy between us.