The Voyage of the Brig December
FACING due south towards the harbor, turning its broad moss-grown back squarely upon the humming trolley-cars and the much-admired new hall of the Knights of Pythias, together with all other modern innovations at Killick Cove, the long neglected old Dunbar house still stands as a monument to the good taste and honesty of its builder, and a suggestive contrast to all its recent neighbors. Few in the place remember when the ancient house was last painted; and saving a silvery whitening of the delicate cornice beneath its sheltering eaves, and the pale greens of the mosses on its shaded northern side, the spacious old mansion everywhere shows the sombre gray of weather-beaten native pine.
On three sides cheap modern dwellings have sprung up thickly on the once extensive grounds of the Captain Dunbar house, and squalid out-buildings in their littered back-yards now crowd closely upon its white-shuttered windows.
Between these rudely encroaching sheds and hen-houses narrow strips of the old garden flank a broad walk of uneven flagstones, sloping gently away among great trees to a gateway by the shore. Among their few old-fashioned flowers, or in a sunny corner of the garden now devoted to beans and potatoes, with faces nearly hidden from view by huge calico sunbonnets, Miss Lucy and Miss Cynthia Dunbar, sole owners and occupants of the great house, may often be seen working with the moderation of elderly and now somewhat heavy spinsters.
Late in the fall of the year, often after the first “flirt” of snow has whitened the ground, on some opportune high course of tides old Skipper Job Gaskett brings in his dory to the very garden gate a heaping load of fragrant rock-weed and kelp torn from ledges outside by the first autumnal storms. With a pitchfork Skipper Job then deposits his cargo of dressing in a heap just within the fence, and each succeeding spring ploughs it into the little garden patch, which, as he remarks, the sisters carefully keep “wed out clean as a hound’s tooth.” This work Skipper Gaskett always does gratuitously, out of genuine regard for the “Dunbar girls,” and in remembrance of their father, with whom he first went offshore.
But beyond such neighborly kindness the Misses Dunbar are noticeably sensitive in accepting services which may in the remotest degree savor of charity. Upon occasions, it is true that they are obliged to call for protection against the ravages of summer boarders, who not merely select and calmly appropriate to themselves flowers from the old garden, but constantly importune admission to the house, and with an assurance of which, so far as known, “rusticators” alone are capable, actually attempt at times to dig with their jack-knives the curious old hand-made nails from such of the narrow clapboards as are within reach from the ground.
In spite of all neglect and indignities, however, like its owners the old mansion still preserves an unmistakable air of dignity. A spirit-level would detect no sagging of its lofty corner-posts, and the massive chimney at either end rises firm and true against the sky, while masons continually patch and re-top the spindling affairs on neighboring houses scarcely a dozen years standing.
Long ago, when Captain Daniel Dunbar built his great house at Killick Cove, the firm of D. Dunbar and Son was counted most prosperous, and the Captain himself had several years previous given up going to sea as a regular vocation, though still making occasional voyages to the Spanish Main in one of his numerous vessels, by way of keeping his hand in.
But after a long period of prosperity, abruptly the tide seemed to turn strongly against the firm of Dunbar and Son. Sudden deaths ensued in the family, one after another the vessels of the firm were lost, and relentless ill-luck attended each business venture, till much of the remaining property passed into strange hands. The younger daughters, Cynthia and Lucy, succeeded in retaining the homestead and its extensive grounds, together with certain distant shore property then deemed of the slightest value. As the village grew in their direction, repeated sales for building purposes of land immediately about the old house enabled the sisters to occupy it in tolerable comfort. Very recently, however, it was known that outsiders, presumably “rusticators,” had made cautious inquiries concerning their once worthless real estate on the shore a mile or so out of town; and round about Killick Cove the opinion became general that better days were doubtless in store for the two “ Dunbar girls.”
The ill-fortune of the family had long since ceased to be commonly talked of at the Cove, but these recent rumors of a coming change for the better in their affairs awoke fresh interest in the once popular subject, and set many tongues wagging busily. Yet only a few of the older residents remembered the Dunbars in the days of their prosperity, much less the circumstances to which Captain Daniel Dunbar himself on his death-bed ascribed solely the evil days that followed. From having as a boy accompanied Captain Dunbar upon the last memorable voyage which led to his undoing, Skipper Job Gaskett’s account of it is now listened to with especial attention. The old man is not given to telling the story, but when once induced to enter upon it, overlooks no essential particulars.
In my boyhood days [he will begin], you want to always recollect there was a big amount of shipping owned right here to this Cove. Nobody would n’t think it at this day o’ the world, when things has all run out and dreened away with us chock down to low-water mark, till I think’s likely if ever a square-rigger should heave in sight off here, folks would come streaking of it down from clean back here amongst the junipers to have a look at her, same’s if she was some brand new git-up of a flying machine. But once was the time round here when all the likely young bucks in town wa’n’t obliged to pack up their kits and strike off somewheres else for a living, same’s now’days. There was room and to spare for ’em all aboard our own vessels right to home here going fishing or a-coasting, ary one; or if they’d lievser go off-shore foreign, they could ’most always take their pick of Cap’ns that was their own towneys, and go any place on God’s whole footstool where salt water flowed.
Cap’n Dan’l Dunbar he come by consid’ble of a West Injy business from his old sir, — that was old Cap’n Tristam Dunbar; but Cap’n Dan’l he took holt and struck out for himself like a good one too, and the time he turned to and built him his big new house here to this Cove, he owned a controllin’ interest in jest an even dezen of them little old wall-sided, apple-bowed West Injy molasses brigs; one of ’em named for every blessed month of the year, they was. Nary one of the lot wa’n’t of any great bigness, nor they wa’n’t so very beautysome to look at, maybe, and consid’ble dull, too, the heft of them little brigs was, so’s an eight-knot stick was about the best a man could get out of ’em; but they was master burdensome little creators, and ’t was seldom ever but what their owners shared-up big in them days.
This ’ere December was the last one ever Cap’n Dan’l sot up here to home, and she was built right atop of his long sou’west w’arft that stood pretty nigh abreast of his house, there. Take it any real good low drecn of tides now’days, and the remains of the w’arft come out of water their whole bigness, clean to the aidge of the channel. It’s all filled in there at this day o’ the world so’s even a plaguey little smoke-boat won’t have a beatin’-channel up there till anear half-tide; but them days we’d count on twelve foot draft chock at lowwater slack, without it was an extry low dreen.
I was sixteen year old the winter they put up the December, and had been going then steady sence there was the bigness of a thole-pin to me. I’d been cook two trips to the Cape Shore aboard of old Skip’ Theron Marston in the pinkey Waterloo, and I ’d been to the Bay quite a few salt trips along of his brother; and besides that I’d had me a good try at going a-coasting aboard of old Uncle Billy Goodsoe in his plaguey old tops’l schooner Radiant, till she went to work and opened-up on us scand’lous one time to the east’ard of Monhegan and like to drownded her whole crowd.
Thinks I to myself then, thinks I, Guess by fire! I’d full better take the hint, and quit going in them old sleds for good; so come to have ’em set up the brig that fall right square a-front of mother’s, I took great notion to go offshore a spell aboard of Cap’n Dan’l. Now seems’s though Cap’n Dan’l’s son Abner had turned to and coaxed the old sir someways into letting him cut a model for his new brig, and a master mess he made of it too, as it turned out. This ’ere Abner Dunbar was always one of them kind of cur’us genii from a boy up. He never went much of any, being as he ’most always was porely; I can’t say myself as ever I seen him so much as set foot in a skift, but still he might. Maybe you would n’t called him a reg’lar-built invaleed; but seems‘s though he was always kind of sickly and ailing like. Someways Abner was smart as a whip, though; and everybody allowed he had a complete head on him for business, so he stopped to home in the office mostly, and done up all the writin’s and headwork.
If only he’d stuck to his desk, and left alone of things he knowed no more about than the child unborn, I think’s likely matters might worked altogether different, but Cap’n Dan’l always sot great store by Abner’s say-so on ’most every namable thing there was going; so nothing would do this time but that Abner Dunbar should turn to and whittle out his idee of a packet that would go like a scalt hog, and same time beat all creation for luggin’. Many’s the time I’ve heard tell since how there was a plenty round here them days that shook their heads and allowed that model did n’t have no more run to her than a plaguey hoss-trough, and wa’n’t a mite of good anyways. Seems’s though folks laughed more’n a little to see the way Abner Dunbar would set there on his high stool in the counting-room at the head of the w’arft, and lay it down to the old sir jest how vessels had ought to be built! Some of ’em would take and cod Abner about his new git-up of a model, too, till they’d have him real het up over it. I know they said one time old Cap’n Richard Furber he dropped into the counting-room right after Abner Dunbar had hung up his model for folks to look at.
“Gracious ever, you!” says old Cap’n Dick, the minute he come to clap eye on the thing, “tell us where’s the other one gone to?”
“Other one?” Abner says right away. “What other one?”
“Why you,” says the old sir, jes’ sober as could be, “the one you went to work and sawed that one offn!”
Well, anyways, Cap’n Dan’l give me a good winter’s job of it in the shipyard there, a-turning trunnels and choring round one way and another; and in the springtime I shipped aboard of him for a West Injy trip in his brand new brig. He’d been stopping ashore quite a few years then, you understand; but he allowed the fever was on him again bad as ever, and he’d got to sniff salt water afloat once more, if it took a leg. The old Cap’n always was counted a master hand to carry on till everything was blue; and especially take it when he was some younger, they all said he’d lug sail till the sticks went out of his vessel, but he’d have every inch of go there was in her. They said he never once knowed what fear was since he first went, and from all ever I seen of him myself, I guess likely it’s the truth he never! He had an extry good learning, according to all tell, and soon’s ever it come down to navigation, he was always right to home. Maybe the old sir was a little grain stubborn in regards to carrying on, but stubborn or not, seems’s though he’d always held the best of luck, and it’s dead sure nobody out of this Cove commenced to make the quick passages he did, take ’em by and large.
Then again, Cap’n Dan’l was such a nice, clever soul to go along of; as square as a brick in all his dealin’s hisself; awful loath to believe no hurt of anybody else, and the quickest to turn to and help ary pore devil in trouble that ever I seen yet. If they raised up more like what he was, round hereabouts at this day o’ the world, I cal’late we would n’t be where we be now.
But mother, she acted queer about it, that time. She never wanted I should have nothing at all to do with the brig, nor for that matter, with Cap’n Dan’l neither. Mother she was always and forever jes’ so kind of old-fashioned and sot in her ways like, same’s the heft of them old seed-folks was, you know; and in particular she always sot a master store by signs and forerunners, and all such-like works. It wa’n’t that mother held the least mite of a grutch against Cap’n Dan’l Dunbar, you understand, without it was that he took a sight too big chances of late by never paying no heed to forerunners in any shape, nor yet to the talk of two or three old ancient women-folks that lived here them days, and that I will say myself, prob’ly knowed their business a sight better than what Cap’n Dan’l ever give credit for. I ’ve seen that plain enough since, if I could n’t just to the time.
Cap’n Dan’l Dunbar, you see, was all the one of the cap’ns to this Cove them days that ever dasst quit going up and buying his luck offn old Aunt Polly Belknap afore ever he’d fill away with his vessel on ary v’yage; that much I’m knowing to for a fact.
“They ’re nothing in God’s world only a parcel of set-fired old fly-by-nights, anyways!” he says the time the December was fitting out; and he allowed right and left that in room of hearkening to no such old women’s gossup-talk, anybody had full better give ’em the go-by complete, and have no truck along of ’em at all. There was three or four of us young squirts here then that, boy-like, cal’lated we knowed it all, and it seemed real kind of smart and cute to us the way Cap’n Dan’l turned to and snapped his fingers at them old women-folks and all their works. ’T was same’s if he up and says to ’em that time, “Take holt and do your dingdest; I’m done with ye this time, clip and clean!”
There was two more from here besides me that signed articles aboard of Cap’n Dan’l to go off-shore along of him in the new brig, though mother she stuck it out to the last that the vessel was bound to be an onlucky creatur’, spite o’ fate. For one thing, she claimed there ’d been nails drove aboard of her Sundays, to her own knowing; the keel too was stretched of a Friday; and then come to take it the very day of the launch, there was three big crows flew straight acrost the vessel’s bow not half an hour’s time afore the dogshore was knocked away! And come to have her turn to, and stick on the ways over a whole tide the way she done, and there was plenty of folks that would n’t stowed their dunnage aboard for love nor money.
However, them that knows nothing, fears nothing, as the old feller says; and there was the three of us that shipped aboard of Cap’n Dan’l. The brig was loaded for Santy Cruz and a market; dry fish in the hold; green hemlock scantling on deck, and a ter’ble big jag of it too. Then atop of all that, Abner Dunbar goes to work, and puts aboard his ventur’ of geese and turkeys and chickens; jes’ though we wa’n’t all cluttered up enough on deck already, in all conscience sakes. But Cap’n Dan’l allowed he did n’t know as ever he should go again hisself after this v’yage, and the cal’lation was to make this one a payer. The December was the biggest one of the lot so fur, by rising of fifty ton; and this much I ’ll have to say for her, that she was as burdensome for her bigness as anything that swum the water. Then she was only jest fresh offn the ways, you see too, and had n’t water-soaken the least dite, so’s it appeared as if them ox-teams could n’t cart truck enough down that w’arft to fetch that vessel’s wales anywheres a-near the water’s aidge.
Finally though, they got her piled up as high as ever they dasst to on deck; high enough anyways so’s the man to the hellum could n’t see forrard no more’n you can stand chock in under the eaves of my woodshed here, and sight clean over the ritch-pole! We took one of them howling four or five days’ nor’westers same’s we’ll get in the spring o’ the year, and give it to her out through South Channel for all she was worth. Everything aboard was all brand new and strong, you know, and Cap’n Dan’l never showed her no mercy, now I tell you what! She was stiff as a church, and you could bear down on her hard as ever you wanted; she’d never seem to bung-up to it, nor complain the first mite; but there, you! she steered same’s a plaguey hen-coop ! Good land! it was hard up and hard down the hellum the heft of the time, and take it even then, to try and follow in that brig’s wake a-running offn the wind, would broke the back of ary eel, double quick step!
Cap’n Dan’l he never said any great, though no doubt he done some consid’ble tall thinking, for inside of the first few hours’ time, the rest-part of us aboard see plain enough what works there was liable to be if ever we was drove to scudding very long in such a contrairy, wildsteering old box as she was. But it looked as though Cap’n Dan’l come to realize pretty well what kind of a thing he’d got underneath of him, after all, for the old sir was as smart a sailor-man as ever trod a ratline, and knowed how to take care of his vessel with the best of ’em, even if he never had no great of an eye for a model. Quick’s ever we’d made out clear of Nantucket Shoals in good shape, he hauled to in under the land a grain, so’s to smoothen our water, and help out the steering; and then we run the beach down along fur as the Capes of Virginny, still holding our fresh breeze with a good rap full, and logging off nigh a sevenknot clip day and night.
Come to fetch down a piece past Hatteras though, and the wind commenced to let go, and finally backened in around to about sou’-sou’west, right plumb dead ahead, or next thing to it, you see. Well sir, if that blamed brig was scand’lous dull even with a good smart leading breeze o’ wind to force her, I only wisht you might seen the actions of her soon’s ever it come to trying of her on a bowline, a-bucking into a head-beat sea! You could n’t coax her to lay up inside of seven p’ints or so of the compass, noways you could rig it, and take at that, after the sea growed the least dite hubbly, she would n’t make much better than a nach’al drift of it; seems’s though she’d got to have her three butts at every identical sea, and then go ’round it! Come to try to go in stays with her, and she would n’t make no fist of it not once in a dezen times’ trying; much as ever she’d look at it nigh enough to spill the wind from ary sail, so’s it was nothing only wear ship and wear ship the whole time.
Some days it would breezen on consid’ble fresh, and then ’t would leave go and hold moderate and thick-a-fog or rain for days to a lick. Then there’d be spells when we’d get a noonday scale, maybe; when the sun would burn out through hot enough to horn ye up same’s a burnt boot, and set every namable thing steaming the worst way. Then there’d be great long drags of stark calm, but with this ’ere old fog-sea heaving in all the while, till the tormented slatting and chafing of the gear like to drove the whole of us crazy. Bimeby, seeing as we could n’t so much as hold steerage-way the bulk of the time, in room of letting all them brand, spanging new sails slat a year’s wear out of ’em that way, Cap’n allowed he’d full better take and furl the most of ’em till there come breeze enough from somewheres to stop the old creatur’ from wallowing so like the mischeef; so that’s what we done; but in room of clearing, the weather growed muggier than ever it was, and by fire! the first thing ever we knowed, that brand-new suit of sails was all stuck with mildew fit to turn a man’s poke to look at the sight! I never was shipmates along of a suit of sails that got tetched same’s they was in that plaguey long-winded fog-mull. Of course them that stayed furled the longest got caught, the worst, but quite a few hundreds was jerked right out of the owners’ pockets in the scrape, and nach’ally Cap’n felt kind of put out about it, for he’d went to work and made a big loss at the first commencement.
Well, the amount of the story was, we pitch-poled and humbugged about in them latitudes till the Cap’n and all the rest-part aboard was sick and tired of the whole business in good shape. For a matter of weeks and weeks the weather done every namable thing it could to aggravate and hender us from working to the s’uth’ard; but give us the least mite of a favor’ble slant, seems’s if it would n’t nohow. As a general rule Cap’n Dan’l was ruther moderate-spoken like in his way of talking; but take it along towards the last of this ’ere master long spell of doldrums, and the old sir commenced to chafe and say-over consid’ble little, till finally, prob’ly a dezen times a day he’d up and swear that only once let him get the wind astern again, or quartering, or a-beam, or anyways else under the livin’ canopy so’s he could get way on the plaguegone old ark, and he’d come under oath to make her bones ache the worst way afore ever he’d take one solitary inch of muslin offn her!
“Set-fire!” he’d say and stomp the deck. “Let me jest only get her nose p’inted again the way we want to go, and no matter if it should blow all hell out by the roots, I’ll keep her travelin’! If she won’t wear her canvas,” he’d say, “then all is she can strip it offn her soon’s ever she gets good and ready, for there won’t be so much as a reef-p’int tetched of aboard! ” Kind of desp’rate like he was, you see, and not to blame neither for feeling that way.
Well, sir, bimeby we did make out to get our slant, sure enough. First there come a little air o’ wind from the northeast one evening a short spell after sundown ; and you can bate money there wa’n’t much time lost aboard of us in squaring away before it. Seems’s though Cap’n Dan’l could n’t take a secont’s peace of his life till every namable stitch of canvas was drawring its best, and the vessel had commenced to make up a grain for lost time. ’T wa’n’t so very long neither afore she was carrying consid’ble of a bone in her teeth, for quick’s ever the wind really once took holt to the east’ard, it breezened up quite fast, and kept pricking on all night steady, and all next day long, till come sundown again it took three men at the hellum to gurge her along, and the sweat dreened offn the chins of them three a-near one perfect stream! To come right down to the truth of the matter, there wa’n’t ary three men aboard that could lay back on that old jade’s hellum hard enough or quick enough to make her steer half decent.
The weather though held fine as a fiddle, till late the next afternoon we see a devil of a lee-set commencing to make up dead ahead, and quick’s ever the sun sot, the whole sky commenced to herm over thick and nasty-looking like, all to once. It blowed like a man, too, by that time; but still the old sir kept right on poking of it to her the worst way, and would n’t hearken a minute to the mate, nor nobody else, about snugging things down a grain afore ever it was pitch dark. It was no good talking shorten sail to him, not a mite.
“Set-fire!” he’d always say them times. “Everything is all new and strong as money can buy, and if the vessel won’t claw to wind’ard no faster ’n a toad in a bucket of tar, why she’s got to be drove good and hard while we have a favor’ble slant o’ wind! That’s all the way I know to get anywheres in her!” ’s he.
Well now, there’s no manner of doubt but what he drove her hard that night, not a mite! I never want to be aboard of nothing that’s drove no harder, — now that’s the honest truth I don’t! There was a little piece of a moon that helped out some the first part of the night; but after she sot, it shut down thick-a-rain, and dark as ary dungeon. A ter’ble weecked old sea had made up then, you understand; as rough as a grater it was, and the vessel yawed so scand’lous bad that trying to run a compass course did n’t amount to but precious little. About all ever a man could do was to watch her sharp, and try to ketch her with the hellum on every sea; but quick’s ever it growed so pitch-dark, steering the plaguey box was a sight worse ’n ever, and more ’n once she come a-near broaching to on us. That was the very thing the most of us had been scairt of her doing for hours; and finally the old man did conclude he ’d best take some of the after sail offn her, in hopes to help out on the steering a grain, though he seemed to begrutch every inch we took in.
For a short spell after that she done some better; but by midnight the sea had growed so much peekeder that she was acting bad as ever again; and I guess likely Cap’n Dan’l seen plain enough by that time that he’d ought to hove her to while he had daylight for it. ’T was blowing then right out endways, a livin’ gale o’ wind and nothing else, and the old sir allowed then that quick’s ever it come anyways light again, we’d try heaving of her to.
But come daylight, and things looked to be worse ’n ever. The sea was something jest fairly scand’lous, and to take sail offn her and heave to after things had come to such a pass, was no fool of a job, now I can tell you what! We could see the fore to’gallant-mast in particular buckling same’s an Injin’s bow, and to send men aloft on it was jest only a clear temptation of Providence. Besides that though, the vessel threatened to broach to on us at every hand’s turn, spite of everything; and when she made out to do that trick, every soul knowed well it meant good-by to any God’s quantity of gear aloft, if nothing worse.
Cap’n Dan’l he allowed right off he did n’t have the heart to order hands aloft in such a chance as that, especially seeing that only for him the sails would been taken offn the vessel hours before. The old sir had drove her too long, and all the thing we could do now was to try our dingdest to keep her going, and stand from under till something carried away, without she got pooped by a sea first, and that seemed like enough to happen any minute. We never had very long to wait though, to see what way the cat was going to jump. All of a sudden the headstrong old jade fetched a rank sheer right a-top of a master great comber of a sea, and come to on us, with four of the best men aboard jamming the hellum nigh square acrost her stern, trying to keep her off!
Well sir, I guess likely then you’d thought there was hell to pay, and no pitch hot, as the old feller says, sure enough! Crackety-crack! Snappetysnap! Bang, whango! Down on deck come the very worst old snarl of spars and sails and rigging ever you seen since Adam was an oakum-boy, and almost the very same secont there was a big overgrowed green sea come cockling aboard of us nigh ten-foot deep a-top of the deckload on the larboard side, forrard, and by the time that sea got good and through with its work, the brig never bothered with no deck-load nor nothing else to speak of forrard of the main-chains, for every blame’ coop in Abner Dunbar’s choice ventur’ of geese and turkeys was sailing clean away to loo’ard, hell-bent for the Spanish Main on its own hook!
’T was nothing in the world only a meracle that some of us wa’n’t swep’ offn her at the same time; but as luck would have it, someways or another every soul made out to keep a hand-holt, though a number of ’em had dretful narrow squeaks of it that time.
But after all, though, broaching-to that way was some consid’ble benefits to us in one sense, even if it did knock the profits of the trip all galley-west. By losing the heft of that deck-load, the brig come out of water a good two foot forrard, and after that ’ere, seems’s though steering of her was another story. We made out to keep her off again afore any great sight more damage was done, and run quite comfortable to what she had for the last twelve hours’ time. The breeze o’ wind commenced to mortify down a grain pretty quick afterwards, anyways, and in a few days’ time more the sea smoothened down too, so’s we got a chance to turn to and repair-up what little we could with the extry spars aboard. The vessel held tight as a cup, and never made no water at all, for wood and iron could n’t be put together no stouter than what she was. We run clear of a plaguey pumping job anyways, and that was a mercy; but the thing of it was, that without we had half a gale o’ wind plumb in the stern, the vessel was so tormented dull that it took a month of Sundays to get any place with her, and still, come to take the wind fair, ’t would puzzle the old boy hisself to steer her.
But there, to cut a blame’ long story short, we did finally make out to shove her nose into Santy Cruz, and nobody wa’n’t the leastways sorry to let go anchor under foot. The place was always chock-a-block with shipping them days, and Cap’n Dan’l he was busy as the devil in a gale o’ wind squinting right and left through his old spy-glass, a-picking out this vessel and that one from in amongst the fleet, for seems’s though he was ter’ble well acquainted along of ’most everybody that went. Pretty quick he gets eye on the old brig Layfayette, that belonged them days right acrost here to Kunkett Harbor. The master of her was one of them Kunkett Corner McIntires; old Alexander McIntire he was, and no better’n what he ought to been neither, according to all tell.
The most of us aboard had heard tell many a time of old Cap’n Sandy McIntire, and his smuggling scrapes up round home there, and how the cutter’s folks was laying their plans to nab him one of these fine days. We all took notice that the pumps was going consid’ble lively aboard of him this time, but never give it a secont thought for the reason the vessel was twice old enough to vote, and had the name of leaking like a basket. Pretty quick we see a boat put away from her with quite few in her, and Cap’n Sandy come over aboard of us, along with two or three others of them Kunketters in his crew.
Cap’n Sandy he allowed right off he was in a peck of trouble, and no mistake. Lord Harry, you! His face was drawed out nigh the length of the old green ambril he’d always have by him them days, fair or foul. Seems’s though his vessel was all loaded, and he’d made a start for home only the day afore, but missstayed in turning to wind’ard going out, and went ashore a short ways outside the p’int. There was no end of help handyby, though; and so they made out to kaidge her clear again afore night; but she leaked scand’lous bad, he says, and he cal’lated the whole fore-foot was gone from offn her. Some of us youngsters aboard the December nigh laughed in the old reynuck’s face to hear him turn to and take on, and whine same’s a dog over his big leak, when we knowed it for a fact it was seldom ever he dasst leave go of his pump-brakes for over a watch or two at the furthest!
But seems’s though this ’ere master leak of hisn wa’n’t the whole of his troubles, neither. Only that last night one of his crew, some kind of a Cape Verde nigger or other outlandishman, he says, went to work and died aboard of him.
Cap’n McIntire said the man had been feeling consid’ble streaked like for quite a spell, so’s they give him salts four or five days running, never once mistrusting but what he’d doctor-up fine as silk again, till all of a sudden he took this ’ere kind of a bilious attack, and slipped his wind afore ever they knowed it. They cal’lated to give him his funeral that afternoon, and Cap’n Sandy wanted the old sir should loan him a set of colors to heave over the body in room of a pall, being as his own colors was old and covered with patches the whole bigness. Cap’n Dan’l passed him over an extry set he had aboard, and bimeby off he went.
Well, the old sir turned to and got shut of his dry fish and what little pod of lumber there was left, quick’s ever he could, and then was all carried away with casting about on shore to scare up a return cargo that was liable to pay the best money, and help offset the big loss he’d made on the trip out. Jest about then all hands of us took notice that old rat of a McIntire was following Cap’n Dan’l up dretful sharp these days. Time and again them two would stop below for hours with their heads together, and pretty quick young Joey Furber, the cabin-boy (him that keeps store up street a piece now’days) he let on to us fellows forrard in regards to a long confab he could n’t help overhearing below there one time when them two cal’lated they was all soul alone. Seems’s though Joey was chock in aft there to work somewheres unbeknownst to ’em, and after they’d once commenced their talk he dassent speak out noways, but figured he’d full better lay low till they went on deck again.
According to the tell of the boy, Cap’n McIntire was trying his prettiest to coax the old sir into smuggling home a big lot of rum; that was the gist of the whole matter. There was any God’s quantity of such works carried on them days, you know, and old Sandy McIntire always had the name of dipping into ’em pretty steep, so I guess likely you could n’t learn him no great in regards to the business. This time he went on to tell about the ungodly profits so and so had made by this ’ere running in liquors, and how such and such a cap’n had paid for his vessel clip and clean in no time at all, and so forth and so on, — a dretful earful of it he give Cap’n Dan’l that time.
But seems’s though at first the old sir kicked same’s a steer, and growed real het-up over it, too. Joey allowed he fetched the table a lingin’ old thump with his fist, and vowed he never once had gone into no such works so fur, and cal’lated he was ’most too old to commence now. Of course he must have knowed well that the heft of ’em in the West Injy trade them days always forelaid to smuggle home more or less goods, and wa’n’t thought none the less of for it neither, by no manner of means; but all that never counted for nothing with Cap’n Dan’l. He’d always acted kind of odd like, and set in regards to them kind of things, and give ’em a wide berth.
Well, seems’s though old McIntire up and took a fresh holt, and commenced to tell what a grand good chance Cap’n Dan’l had at his place to home there for landing goods by night-times; ’t was seldom ever you’d run acrost such another fitting chance on the whole coast, says he. ’T wa’n’t as though the stuff had got to be all boated ashore from the vessel laying clean off to anchor in the stream, same’s they done in lots of places, and then like ’s not have to hip every kag of it up the beach amongst the kelps by main strength and stupidness, over big high laidges o’ rock chock into the junipers maybe, afore ever they’d have it hid away in good shape! Cap’n Dan’l’s shore, he went on, was consid’ble bold-to, with good water clean to his w’arft at all times of tide; nary neighbor handy-by, and a warehouse all waiting for ye right at the head o’ the dock; take and haul the vessel in alongside, put on the help, and jerk the whole business out of her in a single night, easy as rolling offn a log! No trouble at all, he says, for ary man same’s Cap’n Dunbar to fix it all right along of the revenue chaps, and there he was with his money doubled or thribbled! Oh, McIntire he was a tonguey old reynuck them days, and he talked it to Cap’n Dan’l for all he was worth; but seems’s though the old sir never appeared to weaken none, not that time.
Finally though, in a few days’ time afterwards, we heard say that a survey had been called on the American brig Layfayette, and the upshot of the matter was, they condemned her then and there. Right a-top of that old McIntire showed up aboard of us again, whining and taking on ter’ble bad, and all feather-white for another confab below along of Cap’n Dan’l. In a half hour’s time, the two of ’em come on deck again; and be jiggered if the old sir did n’t up and tell the mate that by way of helping neighbor McIntire out of a hard plight, he’d agreed to ship his cargo of molasses, and lug it home for him!
So all is, we took and dropped down alongside the Layfayette the first chance; but come to get to work discharging of her, seems’s though in room of all molasses, there was enough puncheons of Santy Cruz rum in her hold to float ary ten ton mack’rel jigger! Two or three of her crew took passage home aboard of us, and the rest-part shipped aboard of other vessels; but old Cap’n Sandy he stopped down there a spell to look after his affairs one way or another, and no doubt at all but what he worked his little scheme for the last dollar there was in it; that was right plumb in his line, and the Layfayette wa’n’t the first old basket he’d got insured on chock to the handle, and sold the very same way.
The rest-part of the yarn is soon told now, and same time it’s the queerest part, by all odds. Nothing much out of the common run happened going home, but the brig was so dull it was a good deal same’s making sail on a big raft o’ logs, and we had a horrid long drag of it to the north’ard again. Cap’n Dan’l never had the first mite of trouble about landing his ventur’ there to home, and for that matter, few of ’em had, them days, if they went to work right, and wa’n’t known to be into such works up to their necks the heft of the time. But it always appeared jes’ though old Cap’n acted kind of shamefaced like, about the whole business; and I know there was folks that chuckled more ’n a little to see how the old sir hisself had finally come round to trying his hand at smuggling.
But the way it worked, he never see no benefits of it, now let me tell ye. The brig wa’n’t but barely discharged afore she took fire someways or other, and burnt chock to the water’s aidge, together with the warehouse and the biggest part of the w’arft. Amongst a mess of other stuff they hove out of her cabin that night, was the colors that old McIntire borried offn us the time of the funeral aboard of him. They was all tied up in a roll, same’s when Cap’n McIntire fetched ’em back. Cap’n Dan’l he took ’em off up home with him next day, cal’lating to put ’em aboard of another vessel right away; but seems’s though his daughter Myry undone the bundle, and come to find the colors tore quite bad, she set right down and repaired ’em up in good shape again. Myry was the oldest gal of the lot, you know, and always a little grain sickly like; that is, maybe not so very sickly, but a good deal same’s her brother Abner; noways rugged. Well, sir, Myry Dunbar she turned to and repaired-up them colors neat as a pin, and before noontime next day she took sick with yellow fever, and in two days’ time she was dead. The day she died, Abner Dunbar he come down with the fever solid, and next day but one after he was dead. There was quite a few others of ’em ketched it, but them two was all the ones round here to die of it that time.
Pore old Cap’n Dan’l was nothing only a complete wrack after it was all over, and no mistake. Seems’s though he never could do no manner of business afterwards, and everything appeared to go to the dogs with him all to once. It wa’n’t but about a year’s time afore he had to give up, and take to his bed, and after it come to that, he got through consid’able quick. I used to run in to see him about once in every so often that winter he was by the heels to bed, and if he told me it once, he told me it a dezen times, that every mite of his troubles come on him by way of judgment for his weeckedness the last time ever he went. Take warning, boy, take good warning, he kep’ saying.
There was numbers of ’em here that done their best then, trying to talk it into him that what he done that trip wa’n’t noways so weecked as what he claimed; but the old sir never once give in, but that he knowed full better than anybody else jest why the Lord A’mighty turned to and laid hand on him so master heavy like.
But same time, though, some of the cleverest and best learnt folks ever we had round here them days, always allowed there never was no call for Cap’n Dan’l Dunbar to up and buck dead against Aunt Polly Belknap and the restpart of her click the way he done that time.
Fur’s ever I’m concerned myself [Skipper Job Gaskett says in conclusion], I won’t pretend to give reason for no such cur’ous works. I don’t know but what Cap’n Dan’l had the rights of it, and still I don’t know as he done so. What I do know plaguey well is that them two youngest daughters of hisn has always had consid’ble of a hard row to hoe all their lives long; and now take it at this day o’ the world, if rusticators has come to the resicue same’s we hear tell, and cal’late to swap good money for a track of rocks and junipers forty mile from nowheres, why then, all is, glory be! So much the better for them Dunbar gals!