Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 37.djvu/52
44 Southern Historical Society Papers.
was my province to answer the hail. The men in the top would have given me a shake had they known the condition of things, but they fancied I had gone below for a minute or so, and one of them answered the hail. Then came "where is the officer of the top?" It took some little time to find me in my canvass cover, and as I had heard nothing of what had been going on, they knew as well as I did that I had been asleep. The com- modore happened to be on deck. He did not punish me indi- vidually,, as I had every reason to expect, but he broke up the watch keeping in the tops. My station, when "all hands 'were called" was in the main top. Well I remember how my heart , would sink within me when I heard in the voice shouting to us in the steerage, "turn out, fellows; it's all hands reef topsails." This we always knew meant very bad weather, as the watch on deck could reef the topsails unless it was blowing very hard. To a sleepy headed growing boy, who got too little rest anyway, to have to get out of his warm hammock, hunt maybe for his shoes which were going from side to side of the ship awash in sea water, to have to crawl up into the main top, plastered every now and then against the shrouds and ratlines by the force of the wind, then to have to spend maybe an hour in the top, on the cap of the mainmast head in rain, hail or snow, strain- ing his shrill pipe to be heard through the fury of the gale, the rattling of blocks and flapping of canvass, to get some rope hauled on deck below or another one slackened, was hard lines to say the least of it.
The topsails nowadays are cut in half with another yard added between the dead hours of the night a midshipman's halves, the greatest boon to seamen. Sometimes the old huge topsails while being reefed would catch the wind the wrong way and belly over the ward and put the men in danger of being knocked from the foot ropes. As this condition of things cannot always be seen from the deck in the darkness, often with my heart in my throat would I be shouting to the persons below to luff the ship or brace the yards more in to save the men. How often I think when I heard of the hard times professional men have on shore, preachers of all others getting the most of the pitying, how men go through life never experiencing that agony that comes to