A Student's Sea Story

AMONG the pleasantest of my recollections of old Bowdoin is the salt-air flavor of its sea experiences. The site of Brunswick is a sandy plain on which the college buildings seem to have been dropped for the good old Yankee economic reason of using land for public buildings that could not be used for anything else. The soil was a fathomless depth of dry, sharp, barren sand, out of whose bosom nothing but pitch pines and blueberry bushes emerged, or ever could emerge without superhuman efforts of cultivation. But these sandy plains, these pine forests, were neighbors to the great, lively, musical blue ocean whose life-giving presence made itself seen, heard, and felt every hour of the day and night. The beautiful peculiarity of the Maine coast, where the sea interpenetrates the land in picturesque fiords and lakes, brought a constant romantic element into the landscape. White-winged ships from India or China came gliding into the lonely solitude of forest recesses, bringing news from strange lands and tidings of wild adventure into secluded farm-houses that for the most part seemed to be dreaming in woodland solitude. In the early days of my college life, the shipping interest of Maine gave it an outlook into all the countries of the earth. Ships and shipbuilding and ship-launching were the drift of the popular thought, and the very minds of the people by this commerce had apparently

, “ suffered a sea change
Into something rare and strange.”

There was a quaintness, shrewdness, and vivacity about these men, half skipper, half farmer, that was piquant and enlivening.

It was in the auspicious period of approaching Thanksgiving that my chum and I resolved to antedate for a few days our vacation, and take passage on the little sloop Brilliant, that lay courtesying and teetering on the bright waters of Maquoit Bay, loading up to make her Thanksgiving trip to Boston.

It was a bright Indian summer afternoon that saw us all on board the little craft. She was laden deep with dainties and rarities for the festal appetites of Boston nabobs: loads of those mealy potatoes for which the fields of Maine were justly famed; barrels of ruby cranberries ; boxes of solid golden butter, ventures of a thrifty house mother emulous to gather kindred gold in the Boston market. Then there were dressed chickens, turkeys, and geese all going the same way, on the same errand; and there were sides and saddles of that choice mutton for which the sea islands of Maine were as famous as the South-Downs of England.

Everything in such a stowage was suggestive of good cheer. The little craft itself had a sociable, friendly, domestic air. The captain and mate were cousins; the men were all neighbors, sons of families who had grown up together; there was a kindly home flavor in the very stowage of the cargo. Here were Melissa’s cranberries, and by many a joke and wink we were apprised that the mate had a tender interest in that venture; there was Widder Toothacre’s butter, concerning which there were various comments and speculations, but which was handled and cared for with the consideration the Maine sailor boy always gives to “ the widder; ” there was a private keg of very choice eggs, over which the name of Lucindy Ann was breathed by a bright,-eyed, lively youngster, who had promised to bring her back the change, and as to tile precise particulars of this change many a witticism was expended.

Our mode of living on the Brilliant was of the simplest and most primitive kind. On each side the staircase that led down to the cabin, hooped strongly to the partition, was a barrel, which on the one side contained salt beef, and on the other salt pork. A piece out of each barrel, delivered regularly to the cook, formed the foundation of our daily meals; and sea-biscuit and potatoes, with the sauce of salt-water appetites, made this a feast for a king. I make no mention here of gingerbread and doughnuts, and such like ornamental accessories, which were not wanting, nor of nuts and sweet cider, which were to be had for the asking. At meal times a swing - shelf, which at other seasons hung flat against the wall, was propped up, and our meals were eaten thereon in joyous satisfaction.

A joyous, rollicking set we were, and the whole expedition was a frolic of the first water. One of the drollest features of these little impromptu voyages often was the woe-begone aspect of some unsuspecting landlubber, who had been beguiled into thinking that he would like a trip to Boston by seeing the pretty Brilliant courtesying in the smooth waters of Maquoit, and so had embarked in innocent ignorance of the physiological results of such enterprises.

I remember the first morning out.. As we were driving ahead, under a stiff breeze, I came on deck, and found the respectable Deacon Muggins, who in his Sunday coat had serenely embarked the day before, now desolately clinging to the railing, very white about the gills, and contemplating the sea with a most suggestive expression of disgust and horror.

“ Why, deacon, good morning! How are you? Splendid morning!” said I, maliciously.

He drew a deep breath, surveyed me with a mixture of indignation and despair, and then gave vent to his feelings; “ Tell ye what: there was one darned old fool up to Brunswick yesterday; but he ain’t there now; he’s here.” The deacon, in the weekly prayer-meeting at Brunswick, used to talk of the necessity of being “emptied of self;” he seemed to be in the way of it in the most literal manner at the present moment. In a few minutes he was extended on the deck, the most utterly limp and dejected of deacons, and vowing with energy, if he ever got out o’ this ’ere you would n’t catch him again. Of course, my churn and I were not Seasick. We were prosperous young Sophomores in Bowdoin College, and would have scorned to acknowledge such a weakness. In fact, we were in that happy state of self-opinion where we surveyed everything in creation as birds do from above, and were disposed to patronize everybody we met, with a pleasing conviction that there was nothing worth knowing but what we were likely to know, or worth doing but what we could do.

Captain Stan wood liked us, and we liked him; we patronized him, and he was quietly amused at our patronage and returned it in kind. He was a good specimen of the sea-captain in those early days in Maine: a man in middle life, tall, thin, wiry, and active, full of resource and shrewd mother wit; a man very confident in his opinions, because his knowledge was all got at first hand, — the result of a careful use of his own five senses. From his childhood he had followed the seas, and as he grew older made voyages to Archangel, to Messina, to the West Indies, and finally round the Horn ; and, having carried a very sharp and careful pair of eyes, he had acquired not only a snug competency of worldly goods, but a large stock of facts and inductions which stood him in stead of an education. He was master of a thriving farm at Harpswell, and, being tethered somewhat by love of wife and children, was mostly stationary there, yet solaced himself by running a little schooner to Boston, and driving a thriving bit of trade by the means. With that reverence for learning which never deserts the New Englander, he liked us the better for being collegians, and amiably conceded that there were things quite worth knowing taught “ up to Brunswick there,” though he delighted now and then to show his superiority in talking about what he knew better than we.

Jim Larned, the mate, was a lusty youngster, a sister’s son whom he had taken in training in the way he should go. Jim had already made a voyage to Liverpool and the East Indies, and felt himself also quite an authority in his own way.

The evenings were raw and cool, and we generally gathered round the cabin stove cracking walnuts, smoking, and telling stories, and having a jolly time generally. It is but due to those old days to say that a most respectable Puritan flavor penetrated even the recesses of those coasters, — a sort of gentle Bible and psalm-book aroma, so that there was not a. word or a joke among the men to annoy the susceptibilities even of a deacon. Our deacon, somewhat consoled and amended, lay serene in his berth, rather enjoying the yarns that we were spinning. The web of course was manycolored, — of quaint and strange and wonderful, — and as the night wore on it was dyed in certain weird tints of the supernatural.

“ Well,” said Jim Larned, “ folks may say what they ’re a mind to; there are things that there ’s no sort o’ way o’ ’countin’ for, — things yon’ve jist got to say. Well, here’s suthin to work that I don’t know nothin’ about; and come to question any man up sharp, you ’ll find he’s seen one thing o’ that sort himself; and this ’ere I ’m going to tell’s my story: —

“ Four years ago I went down to aunt Jerushy’s, at Fair Haven. Her husband ’s in the oysterin’ business, and I used to go out with him considerable. Well, there was Bill Jones there, a real bright fellow, one of your open-handed, lively fellows, and he took a fancy to me and I to him, and he and I struck up a friendship. He run an oyster smack to New York, and did a considerable good business for a young man. Well, Bill had a fellow on his smack that I never liked the looks of: he was from the Malays, or some foreign crittur or other, spoke broken English, had eyes set kind o’ edgeways ’n his head; homely as sin he was, and I always mistrusted him. ‘ Bill,’ I used to say, 'you look out for that fellow; don’t you trust him. If I was you I ’d ship him off short metre.’ But Bill he only laughed. ‘ Why,’ says he, 'I can get double work for the same pay out o’ that follow; and what do I care if he ain ’t handsome ? ’ I remember how chipper an’cheery Bill looked when he was savin’ that, just as he was going down to New York with his load o’ oysters. Well, the next night I was sound asleep in aunt Jerusha’s front chamber that opens towards the Sound, and I was waked right clear out o’ sleep by Bill’s voice screaming to me. I got up and run to the window and looked out, and I heard it again, plain as anything: 'Jim! Jim! Help! help!’ It wasn’t a common cry neither; it was screeched out, as if somebody was murdering him. I tell you, it rung through my head for weeks afterwards.”

“ Well, what came of it ? ” said my chum, as the narrator made a pause, and we all looked at him in silence.

“ Well, as nigh as we can make it out, that very night poor Bill was murdered by that very Malay feller; leastways, his body was found in his boat. He’d been stabbed, and all his money and watch and things taken, and this Malay was gone nobody knew where. That’s all that was ever known about it.”

“But surely,” said my chum, who was of a very literal and rationalistic turn of mind, “ it could n’t have been his voice you heard; he must have been down to the other end of the Sound, close by New York, by that time.”

“ Well,” said the mate, “ all I know is that I was waked out of sleep by Bill’s voice calling my name, screaming in a real agony. It went through me like lightning; and then I find he was murdered that night. Now, I don't know anything about it. I know I heard him calling me; I know he was murdered; but how it was, or what it was, or why it was, I don’t know.”

“ These ’ere college boys can tell ye,” said the captain. “ Of course they ’ve got into Sophomore year, and there ain’t nothing in heaven or earth that they don’t know.”

“ No,” said I, “ I say with Hamlet,

‘ There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.’ ”

“ Well,” said my chum, with the air of a philosopher, “ what shakes my faith in all supernatural stories is that I can’t see any use or purpose in them.”

“ Wal, if there could n’t nothin’ happen nor be except what you could see a use in, there would n’t much happen nor be,” quoth the captain.

A laugh went round at the expense of my friend.

“ Wal, now, I ’ll tell ye what, boys,” piped the thin voice of the deacon, “folks mustn't be too presumptuous; there is providences permitted that we don’t see no use in, but they do happen, — yes, they do. Now what Jim Larned’s been a-tellin’ is a good deal like what happened to me once, when I was up to Umbagog, in the lumberin’ business.”

“Hullo!” called out Jim, “here’s the deacon’s story! I told you every man had one. Give it to us, deacon! Speak out, and don’t be bashful.”

“ Wal, really, it ain’t what I like to talk about,” said the deacon, in a quavering, uncertain voice; “ but I don’t know but I may as well, though.

“It was that winter I was up to Umbagog. I was clerk, and kep' the ’counts and books, and all that, and Tom Huly - - he was surveyor and marker — he was there with me, and we chummed together. And there was Jack Cutter — he was jest out o’ college: he was there practicing surveyin’ with him. We three had a kind 0’ pine-board sort o’ shanty built out on a plain near by the camp ; it had a fire-place and two windows and our bunks, and each of us had our tables and books and things.

“ Well, Huly he started with a party of three or four to go up through the woods to look out a new tract. It was two or three days’ journey through the woods, and jest about that time the Indians up there was getting sort o’ uneasy, and we all thought mabbe’t was sort o’ risky; howsomdever, Tom had gone off in high spirits, and told us to be sure and take care of his books and papers. Tom had a lot of books, and thought everything of ’em, and was sort o’ particular and nice about his papers; his table sot up one side by the winder, where he could see to read and write. Well, he’d been gone four days, when one night — it was a bright, moonlight night — Jack and I were sitting by the fire reading, and between nine and ten o’clock there came a strong, regular knock on the window over by Tom’s table. We were sitting with our backs to the window. 'Hullo! ’ says Jack,

‘ who’s that? ’ We both jumped up and went to the window and looked out, and see there warn’t nobody there.

“ ‘ This is curus,’ said I.

“ ‘ Some of the boys trying to trick us,’ says he. ‘Let’s keep watch; perhaps they ’ll do it again,’ says he.

“ We sot down by the fire, and ’fore long it came again.

“Then Jack and I both cut out the door and run round the house, —he one way and I the other. It was light as day, and nothin’ for anybody to hide behind, and there war n’t a critter in sight. Well, we come in and sot down, and looked at each other kind o’ puzzled, when it come agin, harder ’n ever; and Jack looked to the window, and got as white as a sheet.

“‘For the Lord’s sake, do look!’ says he. And you may believe me or not, but I tell you it’s a solemn fact: Tom’s books was movin’,—jest as if somebody was pickin’ ’em up and putting ’em down again, jest as I ve seen him do a hundred times.

“ ‘ Jack,’ says I. ‘ something’s happened to Tom! ’

“ Wal, there had. That very night Tom was murdered by the Indians! We put down the date, and a week arter the news came.”

“ Come now, captain,” said I, breaking the pause that followed the deacon’s story, “give us your story. You’ve been all over the world, in all times and all weathers, and you ain’t a man to be taken in ; did you ever see anything of this sort ? ”

“ Well, now, boys, since you put it straight at me, I don’t care if I say I have, on these ’ere very waters we ’re a-sailia’ over now, on board this very schooner, in this very cabin.”

This was bringing matters close home. We felt an agreeable shiver, and looked over our shoulders; the deacon, in his berth, raised up on his elbow, and ejaculated, “ Dew tell; ye don’t say so.”

“ Tell us about it, captain,” we both insisted. “ We’ll take your word for most anything.”

“ Well, ithappened about five years ago. It’s goin’ on now eight years ago that my father died. He sailed out of Gloucester ; had his house there; and after he died, mother she jest kep’ on in the old place. I went down at first to see her fixed up about right, and after that I went now and then, and now and then I sent money. Well, it was about Thanksgiving time, as it is now, and I’d ben down to Boston, and was coming back pretty well loaded with the things I’d been buying in Boston for Thanksgiving at home: raisins and sugar, and all sorts of West Ingy goods, for the folks in Harpswell. Well, I meant to have gone down to Gloucester to see mother, but I had so many ways to run and so much to do I was afraid I wouldn’t be back on time; and so I did n ’ t see her.

“Well, we was driving back with a good stiff breeze, and we’d got past Cape Ann, and I’d gone down and turned in, and was fast asleep in my berth. It was past midnight, — every one on the schooner asleep except the mate, who was up on the watch. I was sleepin’ as sound as ever I slept in my life, not a dream, nor a feelin’, no more ’n’ if I had been dead, when suddenly I waked square up; my eyes flew open like a spring, with my mind clear and wideawake, and sure as I ever see anything I see my father standing right in the middle of the cabin looking right at me.

I rose right up in my berth, and says I,-

“ ‘ Father, is that you? ’

“ 'Yes,’ says he; 'it is me.’

“‘Father,’ says I, ‘what do you come for ? ’

“‘Sam,’ says he, ‘do you go right back to Gloucester and take your mother home with you, and keep her there as long as she lives.’

“And says I, ‘ Father, I will.’ And as I said this he faded out and was gone. I got right up and run up on deck, and called out, ‘ ’Bout ship!’ Mr. More — he was my mate then — stared at me as if he did n’t believe his ears. ‘ ’Bout ship,’ says I. ‘I’m going to Gloucester. ’

“ Well, he put the ship about, and then came to me and says, ‘ What the devil does this mean? We ’re way past Cape Ann; it’s forty miles right back to Gloucester.’

“ 'Can’t help it,’ I said; 'to Gloucester I must go as quick as wind and water will carry me. I’ve thought of matters there that I must attend to, no matter what happens.’

“ Well, Ben More and I were good friends always, but I tell you all that day he watched me in a curious kind of way to see if I were n’t took with a fever or suthin, and the men they whispered and talked among themselves. You see they all had their Own reasons for wanting to be back to Thanksgiving, and it was hard on ’em.

“ Well, it was just about sun up we got into Gloucester, and I went ashore, and there was mother looking pretty poorly, jest making her fire and getting on her kettle. When she saw me she held up her hands and burst out crying,-

“ ‘Why, Sam, the Lord must ’a’ sent you. I’ve ben sick and all alone, having a drefful hard time, and I’ve felt as if I couldn’t hold out much longer.’

“‘Well,’ says I, ‘mother, pack up your things, and come right aboard the sloop; for I’ve come to take you home, and take care of you; so put up your things.’

“ Well, I took hold and helped her, and we put things together lively; and packed up her trunks, and tied up the bed and pillows and bedclothes, and took her rocking-chair and bureau and tables and chairs down to the sloop. And when I came down, bringing her and all her things, Ben More seemed to see what I was after; but how or why the idea came into my head I never told him. There’s things that a man feels shy of tellin', and I did n’t want to talk about it.

“ Well, when we was all aboard, the wind sprung up fair and steady, and we went on at a right spanking pace; and the fellows said the Harpswell girls had got hold of our rope, and was pulling us with all their might; and we came in all right the very day before Thanksgiving. And. my wife was as glad to see mother as if she’d expected her, and fixed up the front chamber for her, with a stove in ’t, and plenty of kindlings. And the children was all so glad to see grandma, and we had the best kind of a Thanksgiving.”

“Well,” said I, ‘ ‘ nobody could say there was n’t any use in that spirit’s coming, —if spirit it was; it had a most practical purpose.”

“Well,” said the captain, “I’ve been all round the world, in all sorts of countries ; seen all sorts of queer, strange things, and seen so many things that I never could have believed if I hadn’t seen ’em that I never say I won’t believe this or that. If I see a thing right straight under my eyes, I don’t say it could n’t ’a’ ben there ’cause college folks say there ain’t no such things.”

“ How do you know it wasn’t all a dream? ” said my chum.

“How do I know? ’Cause I was broad awake, and I gen’lly know when I ’m awake and when I ’m asleep. I think Mr. More found me pretty wideawake.”

It was now time to turn in, and we slept soundly while the Brilliant plowed her way. By daybreak the dome of the State House was in sight.

“ I ’ve settled the captain’s story,” said my chum to me. “ It can all be accounted for on the theory of cerebral hallucination.”

“ All right,” said I ; “ but it answered the purpose beautifully for the old mother.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe.