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there was prose as well as poetry in a sailor's life, I was startled by a terrific noise, the announcement, I supposed, of some appalling danger. I heard distinctly three loud knocks on the deck at the entrance of the steerage, and then a sailor put his head down the companion-way, and in a voice loud, cracked, and discordant, screamed in a tone which I thought must have split his jaws asunder, “ LA-AR-BO-A-RD WA-T-CH A-H-0-0-y."
In spite of my sickness I started from my uncomfortable resting-place, scrambled into the steerage, and by a roll of the brig was tumbled under the steps, and suffered additional pains and apprehensions before I ascertained that the unearthly sounds which had so alarmed me were nothing more than the usual mode of " calling the watch,” or in other words, the man with the unmusical voice bad gently hinted to the sleepers below that “ turn-about was fair play," and they were wanted on deck.
To add to my troubles, the wind in the morning shifted to the south-east, and thus became a head wind, and the old brig became more restless than ever, and pitched, and rolled to leeward occasionally with a lurch, performing clumsy antics in the water which my imagination never pictured, and which I could neither admire nor applaud.
For several days we were beating about Massachusetts Bay and St. George's Bank, making slow progress on our voyage. During that time I was really seasick, and took little note of passing events, being stretched on the deck, a coil of rope, or a chest, musing on the past or indulging in gloomy reflections in regard to the future. Seasickness never paints ideal objects of a roseate hue. Although I was not called upon for much actual work, I received no sympathy for my miserable condition; for seasickness, like the toothache, is seldom fatal, notwithstanding it is as distressing a malady as is
found in the catalogue of diseases, and one for which no preventive or cure, excepting time, has yet been discovered. Time is a panacea for every ill; and after the lapse of ten or twelve days, as the brig was drawing towards the latitude of Bermuda, my sickness disappeared as suddenly as it commenced ; and one pleasant morning I threw aside my shore dress, and with it my landsman's habits and feelings. I donned my short jacket and trousers, and felt every inch a sailor!
The Bermudas are a cluster of small islands and rocks lying in the track of vessels bound from New England to the West Indies. The climate is mild, and the atmosphere remarkably salubrious, while the tract of ocean in the vicinity has long been noted for severe squalls at every season of the year. A squall at sea sual occurrence - is often the cause of anxiety, being attended with danger. Sometimes the rush of wind is so violent that nothing will resist its fury, and before the alarm is given and the canvas reduced, the masts are blown over the side or the vessel capsized. Therefore, on the approach of a squall, a vigilant officer will be prepared for the worst, by shortening sail and making other arrangements for averting the threatened danger.
I hardly knew how it happened, but one afternoon when we were a little to the northward of Bermuda, and should have kept a lookout for squalls, we were favored with a visit from one of a most energetic character. Its sudden approach from under the lee was either unnoticed or unheeded until the captain accidentally came on deck. He was instantly aware of the perilous condition of the brig, for the “white caps” of the waves could be distinctly seen, and even the roar of the wind could be heard as it rushed towards us over the water. Before any orders could be executed — before the sails could be taken in, the yards braced round, or even the helm shifted, the tempest broke over us. The rain fell in torrents, the wind blew with tremendous violence, and a scene of indescribable confusion ensued.
The captain stood near the companion-way, much excited, giving directions with energy and rapidity. “ Hard up your helm !” said he; “Hard up! Lower away the mainsail! Let go the peak halliards! Why don't you put the helm hard up? Let go all the halliards fore and aft! Clew down the fore-topsail! Haul in the starboard braces! There — steady with the helm !”
The mate and sailors were running about the decks, looking frightened and bewildered, eagerly casting loose some ropes, and pulling desperately upon others; the sails were fluttering and shaking, as if anxious to quit the spars and fly away to unknown regions; the brig felt the force of the wind, and for a few moments was pressed over on her side until her beam ends were in the the water; and what with the shouting of the captain, the answering shouts of the mate, the unearthly cries of the sailors, as they strove to execute the orders so energetically given; the struggling of the canvas, the roaring of the winds and the waves, the creaking of the cordage, the beating of the rain against the decks, and the careening of the vessel, it is not remarkable that I felt somewhat alarmed and excited, as well as deeply interested in witnessing for the first time in my life a 8quull at sea.
. The squall was of short duration; although the rain continued for a time, the wind, after a few minutes, gave but little inconvenience. In the course of an hour the murky clouds had disappeared, the sun shone out brightly as it was sinking towards the horizon, and the brig was again pursuing her way towards her destined port, urged slowly along by a light but favorable breeze.
Having got my sea legs on, I could proudly strut
about among the lumber and sheep-pens without fear of rolling overboard. I found the sailors à rough but good-natured set of fellows, with but little refinement in ideas or language. Although they amused themselves with my awkwardness, and annoyed me with practical jokes, they took a pride and pleasure in inducting me into the mysteries of their craft. They taught me the difference between a granny knot and a square how to whip a rope's end; form splices; braid sinnett; make a running bowline, and do a variety of things peculiar to the web-footed gentry. Some of them also tried hard, by precept and example, but in vain, to induce me to chew tobacco and drink grog! Indeed, they regarded the ability to swallow a stiff glass of New England rum, without making a wry face, as one of the most important qualifications of a sailor!
The “old men-of-war's-men” had passed through strange and eventful scenes; they were the type of a class of men which have long since passed away; they could spin many a long and interesting yarn, to which I listened with untiring eagerness. But no trait in their character astonished me more than their uncontrollable passion for intoxicating drinks. As cabin boy, it was my duty to serve out to the crew a half pint of rum a day. These old Tritons eagerly looked forward to the hour when this interesting ceremony came off; their eyes sparkled as they received their allotted portion of this enemy to the human race; and they practised every art to procure, by fair means or foul, an increased allowance. If by accident or shrewd management one of them succeeded in obtaining half a glass more than he was fairly entitled to, his triumph was complete. But if he imagined he had not received the full quantity which was his due, ill humor and sulky looks for the next twenty-four hours bore testimony to his anger and disappointment. These men ignored the good old proverb
that “bread is the staff of life,” and at any time, or at all times, would prefer grog to bread.
In those days it was believed that ardent spirit would strengthen the constitution, and enable a man to endure hardship and perform labor to a greater extent than would be the case if he drank nothing stronger than water. Rum was, therefore, included among the ship's stores as an important means of keeping the ship's company in good humor, reviving their spirits and energies when overcome with fatigue or exposure, and strengthening them for a hard day's work.
Those days have passed away. It is now known that those doctrines were false ; that spiritous liquors, as a drink, never benefit mankind, but have proved one of the greatest scourges with which the human race has been afflicted. It is no longer believed that grog will insure the faithful performance of a seaman's duty, and it is excluded from our ships, so far as the forecastle is concerned ; and if it were never allowed to visit the cabin, the crews, in some cases, would lead happier lives, there would be fewer instances of assault and battery, revolts and shipwrecks, and the owners and underwriters would find the balance at the end of the voyage more decidedly in their favor.
Among the customs on shipboard which attracted my particular attention, was the manner in which the sailors partook of their meals. There was no tedious ceremony or fastidious refinement witnessed on these occasions. At twelve o'clock the orders were promptly given, “ Call the watch! Hold the reel! Pump ship! Get your dinners ! ” With never-failing alacrity the watch was called, the log thrown, and the ship pumped. When these duties were performed, a bustle was seen about the camboose, or large cooking stove, in which the meals were prepared. In pleasant weather it was usual for the sailors to take their meals on deck; but no table was arranged, no table-cloth