Seven Frozen Sailors, Page 2George Manville Fenn
THE ENGLISH SAILOR'S YARN.
You see, I haven't the trick of putting it together, or else, I daresay, I could spin you no end of a yarn out of many a queer thing I'vecome across, and many a queer thing that's happened to me up and down.
Well, yes, I've been wrecked three times, and I've been aboard when afire's broken out, and I've seen some fighting--close work some of it,and precious hot; and I was once among savages, and there was one thatwas a kind of a princess among 'em--But there, that's no story, andmight happen to any man.
If I were Atlantic Jones now, I could tell you a story worth listeningto. Atlantic Jones was made of just the kind of stuff they make heroesout of for story books. He _was_ a rum 'un was J. If I could spin ayarn about anything, it ought to be about him, now. I only wish Icould.
Why was he called Atlantic? I can't rightly say. I don't think he waschristened so. I think it was a name he took himself. It was to passoff the Jones, which was not particularly imposing without the firstpart for the trade he belonged to. He was a play-actor.
I don't think he had ever done any very great things at it before I metwith him; anyhow, he was rather down on his luck just then, and shabby--well, anything nearer rags, and yet making believe to have an air ofgentility about it, I never came across. I don't remember ever having aboot-heel brought so directly under my observation which was sowonderfully trodden down on one side. In a moment of confidence, too,he showed me a hole in the right boot-sole that he had worn benefitcards over, on the inside--some of the unsold ones remaining from hislast ticket night.
I was confoundedly hard up myself about that time, having just comeashore from a trip in one of those coffin-ships, as they call them now."Run" they wanted to make out, but it wasn't much of a run, either. Thecraft was so rotten, there were hardly two planks sticking properlytogether, and the last man had scarcely got his last leg into the boat,when the whole ricketty rabbit-hutch went down, and only as many bubblesas you could fill a soup-plate with stayed a-top to mark thewhereabouts. But the owners wanted to press the charge, and for a whileI wanted to lie close, and that's why I came to London, which is a bigbag, as it were, where one pea's like another when they're well shakenup in it.
You'll say it was rather like those birds who, when they hear thesportsman coming, dive their heads into the sand, and leave the otherthree-quarters of them in full view to be shot at, thinking no one elsecan see it, because they don't happen to be able to see it themselves.You'll say it was like one of them, for me, a sailor, wanting to keepdark from the police, to go skulking about in waterside taverns andcoffee-houses Wapping and Rotherhithe way; well, perhaps it was.
It was at a coffee-house in Wapping I met Atlantic Jones, and he scaredme a bit the first time I met him. It wasn't a pretty kind ofcoffee-house, not one of those you read about in that rare old book, the_Spectator_, where the fops, and dandies, and bloods, "most didcongregate," where they "quaffed" and "toasted" in the good old style,which, by the way, must have been somewhat of an expensive old style,and, thank goodness, even some of us third or fourth-raters, nowadays,can spend an odd half-hour or so from time to time very much as thebiggest nobs would spend it, though we have but a few silver pieces inour pocket.
To the good old style of coffee-house my fine gentleman, with thebrocaded coat-tails, dainty lace ruffles, and big, powdered periwig,would be borne, smoothly (with an occasional jolt or two that went fornothing) in a sedan chair; and on his arrival there, if it werenight-time, would call for his wine, his long pipe, his newspaper, andhis wax-candles, and sit solemnly enjoying himself, while humbler folksblinked in the dim obscurity surrounding him, for most likely it was noteverybody frequenting the place who could afford to be thus illuminated.
No; this was one of the most ordinary, common, and objectionable kind ofcoffee-shops, where the most frequent order was for "half a pint andslices;" where the half-pint was something thick and slab, whichanalytical research might have proved to be artfully compounded ofparched peas and chicory, with a slight flavouring of burnt treacle;while the slices were good old, solemn, stale bread, with an oleaginoussuperficial surface, applied by a skilled hand, spreading over broadersurfaces than scarcely would have seemed credible; so that regularcustomers, when they wanted to have their joke, would pick up a a slice,and turn it about, and hold it up to the light and put a penny in theirright eye, making believe they had got an eye-glass there, and say,"Look here, guv'nor! which side is it? I'm only a arskin' fear itshould fall on my Sunday go-to-meeting suit, and grease it."
Rashers of quite unbelievable rancidness, and "nice eggs," in boilingwhich poultry, in its early promise, was not unfrequently made anuntimely end of, were the chief articles of consumption. The newspapersand periodicals--which, somehow, always appeared to be a week old--weremarked by innumerable rings, where the customers had stood theircoffee-cups upon them, and there were thousands of brisk and livelyflies forever buzzing round about the customers' heads and settling ontheir noses; and thousands more of sleepy flies, stationary on the wallsand ceiling, and thickly studding the show rasher in the window; andthousands and thousands more dead flies, lying about everywhere, andturning up as little surprises in the milk jug and the coffee-grounds,on the butter, or under the bacon, when you turned it over.
Not in the eggs, by-the-bye. You were pretty safe from them there--theembryo chick was the worst thing that could happen to you.
Not altogether a nice kind of place to pass one's evenings in, you arethinking. Well, no; but it was uncommonly quiet and snug, anduncommonly cheap, which was rather a point with me. I was, in truth, sohard up that night that I had stood outside the window a good twentyminutes, balancing my last coin--a fourpenny-bit--in my hand, andtossing up, mentally, to decide whether I should spend it in a bed or asupper. I decided on the latter, and entered the coffee-house, where Ihoped, after I had eaten, to be able to sleep away an hour or two inpeace, if I could get a snug corner to myself.
Several other people, however, seemed to have gone there with somethingof the same idea, and snored up and down, with their heads comfortablypillowed among the dirty plates and tea-things, while others carried onlow, muttered conversations, and one woman was telling an interminabletale, breaking off now and then to whimper.
There was one empty box, in a darkish corner, and I made for that, andordered my meal--thanking my stars that I had been so lucky as to findsuch a good place. But I was not left long in undisputed possession ofit.
While I was disposing of the very first mouthful the shop-door opened,and a blue-cheeked, anxious-looking man peeped in, as though he werefrightened--or, perhaps, ashamed--and glanced eagerly round. Then, asit seemed, finding nothing of a very alarming character, he came a stepfurther in, and stopped again, to have another look, and his eyes fellupon me, and he stared very hard indeed, and came straight to my box,and sat down opposite to me.
I can't say this made me feel particularly comfortable, for, you see,for some days past I had spent the greater part of my time slippingstealthily round corners, and dodging up and down the sneakiest courtsand alleys I could come across, with an idea that every lamp-post was apoliceman in disguise that had got his eye on me.
I can't say I felt much more comfortable at this stranger's behaviour,when he had taken his seat and ordered a cup of coffee and a round oftoast, in a low, confidential tone of voice, just, as it struck me, as adetective might have done who had the coffee-shop keeper in his pay.Then he pulled a very mysterious little brown paper-covered book fromhis pocket, consisting of some twenty pieces of manuscript, and heattentively read in it, and then fixed his eyes upon the ceiling andmumbled.
Said I to myself, "Perhaps this is some poor parson chap, learning uphis sermon for next Sunday."
But then this was only Monday night; it could hardly be that.
Presently, too, I noticed that he was secretly taking stock of me roundthe side of the book. What, after all, if the written sheets of papercontaine
d a minute description of myself and the other runaways who were"wanted?"
He now certainly seemed to be making a comparison between me andsomething he was reading--summing me up, as it were--and I felt preciousuncomfortable, I can tell you.
All at once he spoke.
"It's a chilly evening, sir."
"Yes," I said.
"A sailor, I think?"
There was no good denying that. A sailor looks like a sailor, andnothing else.
"Yes," I said, slowly.
"A fine profession, sir!" said he; "a noble profession. Shiver mytimbers!"
Now, you know, we don't shiver our timbers in reality; and if we did, weshouldn't shiver them in the tone of voice the blue-cheeked man shiveredhis, and I couldn't resist a broad grin, though I still feltuncomfortable.
"I've no objection, I'm sure," said I, "if _you_ have none."
He was silent for a while, and seemed to be thinking it over, then wenton reading and mumbling. Evidently he was a detective. I had met onebefore once, dressed as a countryman, and talking Brummagem Yorkshire.A detective wanting to get into conversation with a sailor was justlikely, I fancied, to start with an out-of-the-way thing like "shiver mytimbers." I made my mind up I wouldn't be pumped very dry.
"Been about the world a good deal, sir, I suppose?" he said, returningto the charge after a brief pause. "Been wrecked, I dare say--often?"
"Pretty often--often enough."
"Have you, now?" he said, laying down his book, and leaning back, tohave a good look at me as he drew a long breath. "A-h!"
I went on with my meal, putting the best face I could on it, andpretending not to notice him; but it was not very easy to do thisnaturally, and at last I dropped my bread and butter, and fixed him, inmy turn.
"You ought to know me in time," said I.
"I should be proud to!" he answered, readily. "I should take it as afavour if you'd allow me to make your acquaintance--to become friendlywith you!"
"Well," said I, still with the detective idea strong on me, "you see, Ilike to know whom it is I'm making friends with. What port do you hailfrom, pray?"
The strange man made a plunge at me, and shook my hand heartily, shakingalso the slice of bread and butter I was holding in it.
"Did you take me for a seafaring man?" he asked, in a joyful voice."You really don't mean that? That's capital!"
"Well," said I, "aren't you?"
"No," he answered, in great excitement; "of course not. I'm going to bevery shortly, if I've any luck, but I've not taken to the line yet. Seehere, sir, that's who I am."
And, so saying, he produced a large illustrated play-bill from hispocket, such as you may find stuck about the walls at the East-end, oron the Surrey side, and on which I read, "The Death Struggle. Enormoussuccess!" in large letters.
"Oh!" I said; "that's you, is it?"
I thought he was, probably, rather cracked.
But he tapped his finger-end emphatically upon one particular spot, andindicated half a line of very small type, and stooping my head so as tobring my eyes down close to it I made out, "Count Randolph, a gamblerand a roue, Mr Jones."
When I had read it, he appeared to look at me, expecting that I shouldsay something appropriate, or, at any rate, look awe-stricken. But itwas very funny to look at this long-faced, hungry-looking fellow,pitching into his buttered toast, and associate him with the wickednessset down to his account, so "Bless me!" was as much as I could possiblymanage.
"Yes, it is," said he; "but that's nothing. It's a dirty shame of themto put a fellow in that type, and leave his initial out, too! Butthat's all jealousy, you know. That's Barkins, that is! It's Barkins'shouse, and Barkins's bill, and, hang it! it's all Barkins's!"
On referring a second time to the picture-bill, there, sure enough, Ifound the name of Barkins flourishing in all sorts of type and in allmanner of places.
"Ah!" cried Mr Jones, finishing his coffee with one gulp, "it won'talways be so, that's one comfort! I've a chance here, sir,--one of athousand; and you'll see then whether I'm equal to it or not!"
"I'm sure you will be," I replied, not exactly knowing what else to say."You find your business rather hard work sometimes, don't you? and thepay sometimes a little doubtful?" I added, after a pause.
"I wish it was _only_ a little," Mr Jones replied, with a woeful grin;"but I get along, somehow--I keep alive, somehow; and it won't always beso--not when I get my chance, you know!"
I really thought I ought to say something now, so I asked when heexpected the chance, and what it was.
"Ah, that's it!" said he. "Do you know you could be a good deal ofservice to me, if you'd the time?"
"I've more time than money, worse luck!" I said. "I should be glad toearn a trifle anyhow, and should be much obliged if you could point outthe how; but as to being of service to you, I'd gladly be that fornothing."
You see, I had taken a good look at Mr Jones's ragged edges and glazedelbows by this time, and had come to the conclusion that, even gamblerand roue as he was, he must have had about as much as he could do tolook after himself.
I was mistaken. Mr Jones had influence, though he might be short ofcash.
"If you're really hard up," he said, "I can put you onto a kind of job--if you like it. They are doing `The Battle of Blenheim' at our place.It'll be eighteenpence a night. You'll have to double the armies, andbe shot down at the end of every act. But it's all easy enough."
I thought this would suit me very well for the time, and most likelyshooting down wasn't permanently injurious to the system any more thanbeing a gambler and a roue; so I thanked him very much.
"But how can I help you in return?" I asked.
"Well, it's to that chance I spoke of," he said, confidentially. "Lookhere--I've an engagement for a tour down to the Midland counties. Thepay isn't very wonderful, to start with; but I'm to have more if we dogood business, you know; and I've stipulated that we do a nauticaldrama, and I play _Jack Brine_--that's the sailor hero, you know--myself."
"What makes you want to play a sailor? I suppose you've done it before,and made a hit?"
"Well--no; I can't say I've ever tried it. But nautical pieces used tobe a tremendous go once, and are so still down in some parts of thecountry, and--There! _I've got it in me_, I'm certain--I feel it here!"
And he tapped the breast of a dilapidated sham sealskin waistcoat as hespoke, and knit his brows with determination.
"But you haven't told me yet how I can be of service to you," said I.
"Well," he said, "look here! This is one of the acts of the piece I'mgoing to do. I've done it myself--faked it up, you know, pulling in thebest bits from one or two others; but that's nothing--and it'll goimmense! It's cram-full of business, and the situations aretremendous!"
"It ought to go, if that's the case."
"It's a certainty, dear boy! It can't help it! But there's just onething about it, do you know, that makes me uncomfortable, and that'swhere you can help me."
"And that is--"
"You see, I'm not a nautical man myself. It was very odd of you to takeme for one right off! Of course, I can put it on pretty well when Ilike; but if you want the real honest truth, I never even saw the sea inall my life--never been nearer to it than Rosherville; and as I don'thappen to be personally acquainted with any nautical men, the fact isI'm not quite certain there is not a screw loose up and down in thewords. Of course I'm all right in the shiver my timbers and douse mypig-tails parts; but it's when you get reefing your jib-boom and huggingthe shore with your lee-scupper that you don't feel altogether as ifyou'd got your sea-legs on. Look here, I'd like to go through the thingwith you quietly, and you can tell me where it isn't quite right."
I gladly agreed to render him all the assistance in my power. I thoughtif there was very much more of the same style he had been quoting thereought to have been a shipwreck or two up and down in that piece of his,and that I should be something like a Captain Boyton's swimming-dre
ss tothis poor struggling author over head and ears in a tempestuous ocean ofhis own manufacture.
I met him by appointment, therefore, next day at the stage-door of thetheatre where he was acting, and where he had promised to procure me anopening as extra or supernumerary. He got me on easily enough, and myduties, though they made me precious hot, did not require very muchgenius. I was on my mettle, and wanted to reflect as much credit aspossible upon my new friend for the introduction, so I fought away andtook forlorn hopes like one o'clock; and the prompter was good enough tosay that I evidently had something in me, and would do better presently,if I stuck to it.
After a night or two they found I was an active kind of fellow, and hadthe full use of my arms and legs, so they introduced a bit of ropeclimbing on my account, and worked in another bit specially, where I wasshot down from among the rigging, with a round of applause every night.
In the daytime, Mr Jones and I talked the nautical drama, and I set his"lee-scuppers" right for him, and got him to make things generally alittle bit more like the right thing.
At the end of a fortnight, however, I was able to get at my friends, andthrough them to stop the mouths of the angry coffin-ship owners; and soI had no more occasion to fight shy of the seaports, and resolved to goto sea again.
If it had not been for that, Mr Jones would have tried to get me intothe company he was just then joining, and I should have figured in oneor two small parts in the great drama.
However, instead of that, I bid him good-by, and thanked him, and wishedhim every success, and went my way, leaving him to go his.
I only went for a short cruise round the coast of Spain, but I met withthe pleasantest mates--bar present company, of course--I ever remembersailing with. We all of us got to be like brothers before the shiptouched land again in England, and as another vessel was in want ofhands, and about to sail in two or three days for the China Sea, I andfive others agreed to stick together and join. I took two days just todrop down and see my friends, and the next day we met together and had abit of a spree, agreeing to spend our last night at the play. I hadtold my messmates about Jones, and how I had been on the stage myself,so they looked up to me as rather an authority, as you may suppose, andpassing me over the play-bill the waiter had brought us, asked if I knewanything of the piece they were playing.
Know anything, indeed!
Ha! ha! That was not bad.
Why, it was Jones's piece, and Atlantic Jones, in great letters, was toappear in his great character of _Jack Brine_, the Bo's'en of the Bay ofBiscay.
Of course we went. We were there for that matter a good hour beforethere was any absolute necessity, and stood waiting at the doors. Thereweren't many other people waiting there, by the way. There was onesmall boy, if I remember right. Not another soul; and at first weweren't quite sure we had not mistaken the night. However, that was notso. The doors did open a few minutes late, and then we made a rush inall at once, paying a shilling and sixpence each all round for seats inthe dress circle.
After we'd been there some little time, and the small boy had been thesame time in the last seat in the pit, from which he stared up at uswith his eyes and mouth wide open, we caught sight of some one peepingin a frightened kind of way round the curtain. It was Jones, and we allgave him a cheer to encourage him, and let him know we had ralliedround.
He didn't seem encouraged, but ran away again; and the money-taker,having plenty of spare time on his hands, as it seemed, came and told usto keep steady if we wanted to stop where we were.
My mates were, some of them, inclined to run rusty at the advice, forwe'd done no more than make things look a bit cheerful under ratherdepressing circumstances, only we would not have a row with him, forJones's sake. After a while, one or two more people dropped in, up anddown, and we were, maybe, thirty in all, when the curtain went up atlast, and business began in earnest.
I've spent a good many roughish nights, and suffered a tidy lot in 'em,but I wouldn't engage under a trifle for another such night as that was.I pitied poor Jones from the bottom of my heart.
You see, he was a well-meaning kind of fellow, but there wasn't a greatdeal of him, and he hadn't all the voice he might have had: and when hesang out as loud as he could, but rather squeaky, "Avast there, youland-lubbers, or I'll let daylight into you!" someone said, "Don't hurt'em, sir; they mightn't like it!"
About the end of the second act he began to show signs of being deadbeat, and I sent him round a pot of stout to help him on, for Iregularly felt for him. We applauded all we could, too. The pitceiling was a sufferer that night, so I don't deceive you; but it was nogood. No one else applauded a bit. Some of them hissed. Indeed, if ithad not been for my mates being my mates, and sticking to me and Jones,as in duty bound, I believe they'd have hissed, too. As it was, whenthe act-drop fell, and we all went out for a liquor, they weren'tover-anxious to come back again, only they did, of course.
The last act was very cruel. I think the stout had got into Jones'shead, and into his legs, too; for he was all over the stage, and, wefancied, half his time, didn't know what he was up to. Then came thegreat situation, where he was to board the pirate schoonersingle-handed, and rescue his lady-love--and, in the name of everythingthat is awfully dreadful, what do you think happened to Jones then?
It might have been something wrong in the scenery, or it might have beensomething wrong with Jones, but he appeared on the upper deck of thepirate boat, and was going to jump down on the lower deck, flourishing acutlass, when he somehow slipped, and caught behind.
I shall never forget it. He caught somehow by the trousers, and hungthere, dangling like an old coat on a peg. Then he tore himself loosewith a great wrench, while every one in the house was screaming withlaughter, and rushed off the stage.
We took poor Jones away that night, and we liquored him up a lot, and hewept as he told us what he had gone through, and somehow we couldn't,laugh much as we listened to him.
I don't know how it happened. I think he said he would go on board withus, and have a final glass, and he was to come back in a boat that hadtaken some goods on board from the shore. I don't know how it was, Isay; but six hours after we had got fairly out to sea, some one found apair of legs sticking out from behind something, and at the end of theselegs were Jones's head and body.
When we had shaken him out of a dead sleep, he asked to be put on shoreat once, and talked wildly of bringing an action against the skipper.But the skipper put it to Jones in a jocular kind of way, that thegeneral practice was to keel-haul stowaways, when you felt inclined totreat them kindly, or heave them overboard with a shot tied to theirheels, if you didn't; so Jones calmed down after a while, and made uphis mind to go to China with us quietly, and make no more fuss about it.
I don't think a man on board wanted to act unkindly to poor Jones; and,'pon my soul, I'd not have sat by quietly and seen it. But Jonestempted Providence, as it were, and was the unluckiest beggar alive.
To begin with, I never knew a man so sea-sick that it didn't kill rightoff. I never knew a man with more unreliable legs on him; so that therewas no saying where he'd be to a dozen yards or so when he once started.And he fell overboard twice. So all this made him rather alaughingstock among the regular hands. But he was so good-natured, andstood the chaff so good-humouredly, that we got all of us to take amighty fancy to his company.
Poking fun upon one subject only he did not take to kindly, and that wasthe famous _Jack Brine_ impersonation, which we presently found out,very much to our surprise, he looked upon as little short of perfection.
"I don't regret this affair altogether," said he, one day. "You see,all I want is actual experience of the perils of the ocean."
Before long he had them, too.
The reason why we had been required to join in such a hurry was thatseveral of the foreign sailors had run at the last moment, and there wasa great difficulty in
obtaining any Englishmen willing to sail withthem. With the exception of the skipper, we six sailors, and AtlanticJones, the rest were all Lascars--savage, sneaking, bloodthirstywretches, that there was no trusting a moment out of your sight. I hadnever before made a voyage with that kind of company, and, if I can helpit, never will again. However, we felt no particular uneasiness aboutthem. Any one of us, we simply consoled ourselves by reflecting, couldquite easily thrash half a dozen of the foreign beggars in a fair fight.The worst of it was, though, when the fight did come, it was not a fairone.
I began by telling you that I was a bad storyteller; I must finish bytelling you so again. And after all, what story have I left to tell,which would not be to you, sailors like myself, a thrice-told tale? Itcame about, in the usual way, with a night surprise. I woke up with aman's hand tightening on my throat, with a gleaming knife before myeyes. Then--thud! thud!--it came down on me, through the thick blanketsI had twisted round me. Lucky for me they were so thick!
This was all I saw; then the light was knocked out, and I heard theblack wretch's naked feet pattering on the steps, as he went up swiftlyto the deck above, then a deep groan from the bunk of one of my oldmessmates--it was one called Adams.
I was horribly cut about, and bleeding fast; but I managed to creep out,and feel through the darkness. I came, just within a few feet, upon aman's body, stretched out, lying on its face. Though it was dark aspitch, I had no need to touch it twice to know that it was a dead body.Then I got to Adams, and called him by name.
He answered faintly, "Yes!"
I asked him where the crew were, and whether he knew what had happened.
They were all killed, he thought, and the Lascars had got the vessel intheir hands.
We were doubtless supposed to be murdered, too. It must have all beendone very quickly. Adams had heard no sound from the deck above, and Ihad heard none.
The crippled condition in which we were, and the darkness, rendered usalmost entirely helpless; but I managed somehow--partly on my feet,partly on my hands and knees--to crawl up the ladder. The hatchway wasclosed above me. We were prisoners.
I could from this place make out that a wild debauch was going on on theafter-deck, and I heard one of the scoundrels shrieking out a song, in awild, discordant voice. They had broken open the stores, and weregetting mad drunk with rum.
I crawled back to tell the news, and to think what could be done.
Adams was almost fainting from loss of blood. For myself, I wasscarcely good for anything--not for a struggle, that was certain. Imight defend myself for a time. I would try, anyhow. I could only die.
All at once we heard the hatchway opening stealthily.
"Whist!" said Jones's voice. "Who's alive down there?"
"Two!" I answered. "Adams and I--Tom Watson. We are both badlywounded."
"Thank heaven you are not dead!" he said. "You can save yourselves, ifyou've strength enough to lower yourselves into a boat. I've got itdown into the water. Will you try?"
We went at once, and gained the deck. Only one of the villains was onthe watch forward. We could see the dark figures of the rest sprawlingabout in the semi-darkness far aft, and we went down on our hands andknees, and crawled in the shadow to the side. But just as we reachedit, the moon came out from behind a cloud, and the man fired, andshouted loudly.
Adams went down, and we two only were left.
"Save yourself! Jump!" cried Jones. "I'll keep 'em back! Avast there,you black-hearted swabs, or I'll chop you to pieces!" And as five ofthem, the soberest of the lot, came rushing on us in a body, he laidabout him right and left with a large cutlass, much heavier than Ishould have believed he could use, and the beggars rolled over, slashedand mangled beneath his strokes.
I never before or since have seen a man fight like Atlantic Jones didthen. Stripped to the waist, his long hair flying in the wind, hishands red with blood, his body bespattered, too, he looked more like afiend than a human being, much less a very bad play-actor; but all thewhile he fought he never once ceased yelling out the silly gibberish hethought was sailors' talk.
They fell back at last enough to allow us to reach the boat, and wepushed off. They fired on us then, furiously, and I did all I could tomake Jones lie down, to be out of harm's way, but he would not--continuing to yell defiance and wave his cutlass. Those left alive weretoo drunk, fortunately for us, to make any decisive effort to stop us;and we drifted away, for the oars had fallen into the water.
This would be a longer tale--and it's long enough now, I'm sure--if Iwere to tell you what we suffered those four days we drifted in the opensea. Then, more dead than alive, I was taken on board a passing ship;and Jones, who had tended me the while with every possible care, thoughhis own sufferings were at times intense, nursed me through a longillness.
I told you I never could tell a tale. My tale ought to have begun whereit's left off, pretty nearly.
The last time I saw Jones he was at his play-acting again at the HullTheatre. He was a sailor once more, and had a deuce of a set-to withsome Lascars. But the audience didn't seem to think much of it. Theygoosed him, and shied orange-peel.
Very low-spirited he was, poor chap, when I met him at the stage-doorafterwards, and he didn't cheer up much when I stood some beer.
Next day I picked up with a skipper, and got off on a whaling voyage.Rare game it was, ketching the big fish, I can tell you, only one daythey put me ashore on an iceberg to pick a hole for an ice-anchor, so asto get the ship on the lee when it came on to blow.
I didn't take no notice though, but kept on picking away, till all atonce there came on such a fog that I could hardly see my boots.
That there fog lasted three days, and when it was gone, there was noship nowhere, and the iceberg drifting away doo north as hard as ever itcould go.
I wouldn't ha' cared if it hadn't been so cold, for I got plenty ofseals and sea-birds, snaring 'em when they was asleep; but the cold wasawful, and when we got stuck fast--froze up at last--I was glad to get agood run over the solid ice, which I did till I came to the edge of abig basin, like, where I lay down, tired out, and dropped off to sleep.You've just come, I suppose?
The doctor nodded.
"Ah! and it's as cold as ever," said the English sailor. "Now, ifAtlantic Jones--Heigh--was--he--here--hum! Well, I am sleepy. Got atot of grog, mates?"
The doctor reached out his hand for the case-bottle; but, as he did so,there seemed to be a mist come on suddenly where the English sailor sat;and, when it cleared away, there was a lot of moisture freezing hard, anempty tobacco-box, and the rusty blade of a knife.
"As-tonishing!" said the doctor. "Suspended animation!"
"But where's he gone now?" I says.
"Into his original constituents," said the doctor; and our fellows allshuffled out of the tent, with their fur caps lifted up by their hair,and wouldn't go in again; so we had to move the bit of a camp farther upalong the edge of the big basin, and scrape and clear the snow off thetransparent ice--where, hang me! if there wasn't another fellow a fewinches down.
"Yes," says the doctor; "this place is full of relics of the past, andif we searched we should find hundreds. Get him out!"
"But what's the good?" growled Scudds, "if they on'y melts away again?"
"We must do it for scientific reasons," says the doctor. "Out with him,men!"
There was no help for it, so at it we went; and now our chaps got oversome of their scared feelings, all but the doctor's nevvy, who didnothing but shiver, and nearly jumped out of his ice-boots, when, afterthawing, the rough figure we had got out of the ice sat up suddenly, andexclaimed--
"An' did somebody say how did I get here?"
"We thought it," said the doctor.
"Bedad! I heard ye," said the figure. "Give's a taste of rum,
which isthe best makeshift for poteen, and I'll tell ye. But it's very cowld."
He cowered close over the lamp, trying to warm his hands; and I noticedthat when they handed him some rum, he put it down by his side, going ontalking like to the lamp, as he spun away at his story.