was coming. He and Duckling stood together on the poop, and I delivered the men's message from the quarter-deck.
Coxon was in a great rage and quite pale with it. The expression in his face was really devilish. His lips became bloodless, and when he glanced his eyes around and saw the other ships taking advantage of the fine breeze and sailing away, he seemed deprived of speech. He had sense enough, however, with all his fury, to know that in this case no good could come from passion. He seized the brass rail with both hands, and made a gesture with his head to signify that I should draw nearer.
"Who was the man who gave you that message, sir?"
"A fellow who called himself Bill Marling."
"Do they refuse to leave the forecastle?"
"They refuse to get the ship under way."
"Is the boatswain disaffected?"
"No, sir; but I fancy he knows the men's minds."
He turned to Mr. Duckling.
"If the boatswain is sound, we four ought to be able to make the scoundrels turn to."
This was like suggesting a hand to hand fight—four against twelve, and Duckling had the sense to hold his tongue. The boatswain was standing near the long-boat, looking aft, and Coxon suddenly called to him, "Lead the men aft."
I now thought proper to get upon the poop; and in a short time the men came aft in twos and threes. They were thirteen in all, including the carpenter, four ordinary seamen, the cook, and the cook's mate. The boatswain kept forward.
There was a capstan just abaft the mainmast, and here the men assembled. There was not much in the situation to move one's gravity, and yet I could scarcely forbear smiling when I looked down upon their faces fraught with expressions so various in kind, though all denoting the same feelings. Some were regular old stagers, fellows who had been to sea all their lives, with great bare arms tattooed with crucifixes, bracelets, and other such devices, in canvas or blanket breeches and flannel shirts, with the invariable belt and knife around their middle. Some, to judge from their clothes, had evidently signed articles in an almost destitute condition, their clothes being complete suits of patches, and their faces pale and thin. The foreigners were, of course, excessively dirty; and the "Portugee's" wonderfully ugly countenance was hardly improved by the stout silver earrings with which his long ears were ornamented.
The first movement of mirth in me, however, was but transient. Pity came uppermost in a few moments. I do think there is something touching in the simplicity of sailors, in the childlike way in which they go about to explain a grievance and get it redressed. They have few words and little experience outside the monotonous life they follow; they express themselves ill, are subdued by a harsh discipline on board, or by acts of cruelty which could not be tolerated in any kind of service ashore; the very negroes and savages of distant countries have more interest taken in them by the people of England than sailors, for whom scarcely a charity exists; the laws which deal with their insubordination are unnecessarily severe; and of the persons who are appointed to inquire into the causes of insubordination, scarce five in the hundred are qualified by experience, sympathy, or disinterestedness to do sailors justice.
Some such thoughts as these were in my mind as I stood watching the men on the quarter-deck.
Coxon, with his hands still clutching the rail, said, "The boatswain has piped you out to get the ship under way. Do you refuse?"
The man named Bill Marling made a step forward. The men had evidently constituted him spokesman.
"We don't mean to work this here ship," said he, "until better food is put aboard. The biscuits are not fit for dogs; and I say that the pork stinks, and that the molasses is grits."
"That's the truth," said a voice; and the Portuguese nodded and gesticulated violently.
"You blackguards!" burst out the captain, losing all self-control. "What do you know about food for dogs? You're not as good as dogs to know. Aren't you shipped out of filthy Ratcliffe Highway lodgings, where the ship's bread and meat and molasses would be eaten by you as damned fine luxuries, you lubbers? Turn to at once and man the windlass, or I'll find a way to make you!"
"We say," said the spokesman, pulling a biscuit out of his bosom and holding it up, "that we don't mean to work the ship until you give us better bread than this. It's mouldy and full of weevils. Put the bread in the sun, and see the worms crawl out of it."
"Will the skipper pitch the cuddy bread overboard and eat ourn?" demanded a voice.
"And the cuddy meat along with it!" exclaimed a man, a short, powerfully built fellow with a crisp black beard and woolly hair, holding up a piece of pork on the blade of a knife. "Let Captain Coxon smell this."
The captain looked at them for a few moments with flashing eyes, then turned and walked right aft with Duckling. Here they were joined by the pilot, and a discussion took place among them that lasted some minutes. Meanwhile I paced to and fro athwart the poop. The men talked in low tones among themselves, but none of them seemed disposed to give in. For my own part, I rather fancied that though their complaint of the provisions was justifiable enough, it was advanced rather as a sound excuse for declining to sail with a skipper and chief mate whose behaviour so far towards them was a very mild suggestion of the treatment they might expect when they should be fairly at sea, and in these two men's power. I heard my name mentioned among them and one or two remarks made about me, but not uncomplimentary. The cook had probably told them I was well-disposed, and I believe that some of them would have harangued me had I appeared willing to listen.
Presently Mr. Duckling left the captain and ordered the men to go forward. He then called the boatswain, and turning to me, said that I was to be left in charge of the ship with the pilot whilst he and the captain went ashore.
The boatswain came aft and got into the quarter-boat which Duckling and I lowered; and I then towed her by her painter to the gangway, where Duckling and the captain got into her.
As no signal was hoisted I was at a loss to conceive what course Captain Coxon proposed to adopt. Duckling and the boatswain each took an oar while Coxon steered, and away they went, sousing over the little waves which the fresh land breeze had set running along the water.
By this time all the outward-bound ships had got their anchors up, and were standing down Channel. Some of them which had got away smartly were well around the Foreland, and we were the only one of them all that still kept the ground. Captain Coxon's rage and disappointment were, of course, intelligible enough; for time to him was not only money, but credit—I mean that every day he could save in making the run to Valparaiso would improve him in his employers' estimation.
The men peered over the bulwarks at the departing boat, wondering what the skipper would do. There was a tide running to the southward, and they had to keep the boat heading towards Sandwich. Strong as the boatswain was, I could see what a much stronger oar Duckling pulled by the way the boat's head swerved under his strokes.
I stood watching them for some time and then joined the pilot, who had lighted a pipe and sat smoking on the taffrail. He gave me a civil nod, being well-disposed enough now that Coxon was not by, and made some remark about the