Redburn: Chapters 51-55
LI. THE EMIGRANTS
After the first miserable weather we experienced at sea, we had intervals of foul and fair, mostly the former, however, attended with head winds’, till at last, after a three days’ fog and rain, the sun rose cheerily one morning, and showed us Cape Clear. Thank heaven, we were out of the weather emphatically called “Channel weather,” and the last we should see of the eastern hemisphere was now in plain sight, and all the rest was broad ocean.
Land ho! was cried, as the dark purple headland grew out of the north. At the cry, the Irish emigrants came rushing up the hatchway, thinking America itself was at hand.
“Where is it?” cried one of them, running out a little way on the bowsprit. “Is that it?”
“Aye, it doesn’t look much like ould Ireland, does it?” said Jackson.
“Not a bit, honey:—and how long before we get there? to-night?”
Nothing could exceed the disappointment and grief of the emigrants, when they were at last informed, that the land to the north was their own native island, which, after leaving three or four weeks previous in a steamboat for Liverpool, was now close to them again; and that, after newly voyaging so many days from the Mersey, the Highlander was only bringing them in view of the original home whence they started.
They were the most simple people I had ever seen. They seemed to have no adequate idea of distances; and to them, America must have seemed as a place just over a river. Every morning some of them came on deck, to see how much nearer we were: and one old man would stand for hours together, looking straight off from the bows, as if he expected to see New York city every minute, when, perhaps, we were yet two thousand miles distant, and steering, moreover, against a head wind.
The only thing that ever diverted this poor old man from his earnest search for land, was the occasional appearance of porpoises under the bows; when he would cry out at the top of his voice—“Look, look, ye divils! look at the great pigs of the sea!”
At last, the emigrants began to think, that the ship had played them false; and that she was bound for the East Indies, or some other remote place; and one night, Jackson set a report going among them, that Riga purposed taking them to Barbary, and selling them all for slaves; but though some of the old women almost believed it, and a great weeping ensued among the children, yet the men knew better than to believe such a ridiculous tale.
Of all the emigrants, my Italian boy Carlo, seemed most at his ease. He would lie all day in a dreamy mood, sunning himself in the long boat, and gazing out on the sea. At night, he would bring up his organ, and play for several hours; much to the delight of his fellow voyagers, who blessed him and his organ again and again; and paid him for his music by furnishing him his meals. Sometimes, the steward would come forward, when it happened to be very much of a moonlight, with a message from the cabin, for Carlo to repair to the quarterdeck, and entertain the gentlemen and ladies.
There was a fiddler on board, as will presently be seen; and sometimes, by urgent entreaties, he was induced to unite his music with Carlo’s, for the benefit of the cabin occupants; but this was only twice or thrice: for this fiddler deemed himself considerably elevated above the other steerage-passengers; and did not much fancy the idea of fiddling to strangers; and thus wear out his elbow, while persons, entirely unknown to him, and in whose welfare he felt not the slightest interest, were curveting about in famous high spirits. So for the most part, the gentlemen and ladies were fain to dance as well as they could to my little Italian’s organ.
It was the most accommodating organ in the world; for it could play any tune that was called for; Carlo pulling in and out the ivory knobs at one side, and so manufacturing melody at pleasure.
True, some censorious gentlemen cabin-passengers protested, that such or such an air, was not precisely according to Handel or Mozart; and some ladles, whom I overheard talking about throwing their nosegays to Malibran at Covent Garden, assured the attentive Captain Riga, that Carlo’s organ was a most wretched affair, and made a horrible din.
“Yes, ladies,” said the captain, bowing, “by your leave, I think Carlo’s organ must have lost its mother, for it squeals like a pig running after its dam.”
Harry was incensed at these criticisms; and yet these cabin-people were all ready enough to dance to poor Carlo’s music.
“Carlo”—said I, one night, as he was marching forward from the quarter-deck, after one of these sea-quadrilles, which took place during my watch on deck:—“Carlo”—said I, “what do the gentlemen and ladies give you for playing?”
“Look!”—and he showed me three copper medals of Britannia and her shield—three English pennies.
Now, whenever we discover a dislike in us, toward any one, we should ever be a little suspicious of ourselves. It may be, therefore, that the natural antipathy with which almost all seamen and steerage-passengers, regard the inmates of the cabin, was one cause at least, of my not feeling very charitably disposed toward them, myself.
Yes: that might have been; but nevertheless, I will let nature have her own way for once; and here declare roundly, that, however it was, I cherished a feeling toward these cabin-passengers, akin to contempt. Not because they happened to be cabin-passengers: not at all: but only because they seemed the most finical, miserly, mean men and women, that ever stepped over the Atlantic.
One of them was an old fellow in a robust looking coat, with broad skirts; he had a nose like a bottle of port-wine; and would stand for a whole hour, with his legs straddling apart, and his hands deep down in his breeches pockets, as if he had two mints at work there, coining guineas. He was an abominable looking old fellow, with cold, fat, jelly-like eyes; and avarice, heartlessness, and sensuality stamped all over him. He seemed all the time going through some process of mental arithmetic; doing sums with dollars and cents: his very mouth, wrinkled and drawn up at the corners, looked like a purse. When he dies, his skull ought to be turned into a savings box, with the till-hole between his teeth.
Another of the cabin inmates, was a middle-aged Londoner, in a comical Cockney-cut coat, with a pair of semicircular tails: so that he looked as if he were sitting in a swing. He wore a spotted neckerchief; a short, little, fiery-red vest; and striped pants, very thin in the calf, but very full about the waist. There was nothing describable about him but his dress; for he had such a meaningless face, I can not remember it; though I have a vague impression, that it looked at the time, as if its owner was laboring under the mumps.
Then there were two or three buckish looking young fellows, among the rest; who were all the time playing at cards on the poop, under the lee of the spanker; or smoking cigars on the taffrail; or sat quizzing the emigrant women with opera-glasses, leveled through the windows of the upper cabin. These sparks frequently called for the steward to help them to brandy and water, and talked about going on to Washington, to see Niagara Falls.
There was also an old gentleman, who had brought with him three or four heavy files of the London Times, and other papers; and he spent all his hours in reading them, on the shady side of the deck, with one leg crossed over the other; and without crossed legs, he never read at all. That was indispensable to the proper understanding of what he studied. He growled terribly, when disturbed by the sailors, who now and then were obliged to move him to get at the ropes.
As for the ladies, I have nothing to say concerning them; for ladies are like creeds; if you can not speak well of them, say nothing.
LII. THE EMIGRANTS’ KITCHEN
I have made some mention of the “galley,” or great stove for the steerage passengers, which was planted over the main hatches.
During the outward-bound passage, there were so few occupants of the steerage, that they had abundant room to do their cooking at this galley. But it was otherwise now; for we had four or five hundred in the steerage; and all their cooking was to be done by one fire; a pretty large one, to be sure, but, nevertheless, small enough, considering the number to be accommodated, and the fact that the fire was only to be kindled at certain hours.
For the emigrants in these ships are under a sort of martial-law; and in all their affairs are regulated by the despotic ordinances of the captain. And though it is evident, that to a certain extent this is necessary, and even indispensable; yet, as at sea no appeal lies beyond the captain, he too often makes unscrupulous use of his power. And as for going to law with him at the end of the voyage, you might as well go to law with the Czar of Russia.
At making the fire, the emigrants take turns; as it is often very disagreeable work, owing to the pitching of the ship, and the heaving of the spray over the uncovered “galley.” Whenever I had the morning watch, from four to eight, I was sure to see some poor fellow crawling up from below about daybreak, and go to groping over the deck after bits of rope-yarn, or tarred canvas, for kindling-stuff. And no sooner would the fire be fairly made, than up came the old women, and men, and children; each armed with an iron pot or saucepan; and invariably a great tumult ensued, as to whose turn to cook came next; sometimes the more quarrelsome would fight, and upset each other’s pots and pans.
Once, an English lad came up with a little coffee-pot, which he managed to crowd in between two pans. This done, he went below. Soon after a great strapping Irishman, in knee-breeches and bare calves, made his appearance; and eying the row of things on the fire, asked whose coffee-pot that was; upon being told, he removed it, and put his own in its place; saying something about that individual place belonging to him; and with that, he turned aside.
Not long after, the boy came along again; and seeing his pot removed, made a violent exclamation, and replaced it; which the Irishman no sooner perceived, than he rushed at him, with his fists doubled. The boy snatched up the boiling coffee, and spirted its contents all about the fellow’s bare legs; which incontinently began to dance involuntary hornpipes and fandangoes, as a preliminary to giving chase to the boy, who by this time, however, had decamped.
Many similar scenes occurred every day; nor did a single day pass, but scores of the poor people got no chance whatever to do their cooking.
This was bad enough; but it was a still more miserable thing, to see these poor emigrants wrangling and fighting together for the want of the most ordinary accommodations. But thus it is, that the very hardships to which such beings are subjected, instead of uniting them, only tends, by imbittering their tempers, to set them against each other; and thus they themselves drive the strongest rivet into the chain, by which their social superiors hold them subject.
It was with a most reluctant hand, that every evening in the second dog-watch, at the mate’s command, I would march up to the fire, and giving notice to the assembled crowd, that the time was come to extinguish it, would dash it out with my bucket of salt water; though many, who had long waited for a chance to cook, had now to go away disappointed.
The staple food of the Irish emigrants was oatmeal and water, boiled into what is sometimes called mush; by the Dutch is known as supaan; by sailors burgoo; by the New Englanders hasty-pudding; in which hasty-pudding, by the way, the poet Barlow found the materials for a sort of epic.
Some of the steerage passengers, however, were provided with sea-biscuit, and other perennial food, that was eatable all the year round, fire or no fire.
There were several, moreover, who seemed better to do in the world than the rest; who were well furnished with hams, cheese, Bologna sausages, Dutch herrings, alewives, and other delicacies adapted to the contingencies of a voyager in the steerage.
There was a little old Englishman on board, who had been a grocer ashore, whose greasy trunks seemed all pantries; and he was constantly using himself for a cupboard, by transferring their contents into his own interior. He was a little light of head, I always thought. He particularly doated on his long strings of sausages; and would sometimes take them out, and play with them, wreathing them round him, like an Indian juggler with charmed snakes. What with this diversion, and eating his cheese, and helping himself from an inexhaustible junk bottle, and smoking his pipe, and meditating, this crack-pated grocer made time jog along with him at a tolerably easy pace.
But by far the most considerable man in the steerage, in point of pecuniary circumstances at least, was a slender little pale-faced English tailor, who it seemed had engaged a passage for himself and wife in some imaginary section of the ship, called the second cabin, which was feigned to combine the comforts of the first cabin with the cheapness of the steerage. But it turned out that this second cabin was comprised in the after part of the steerage itself, with nothing intervening but a name. So to his no small disgust, he found himself herding with the rabble; and his complaints to the captain were unheeded.
This luckless tailor was tormented the whole voyage by his wife, who was young and handsome; just such a beauty as farmers’-boys fall in love with; she had bright eyes, and red cheeks, and looked plump and happy.
She was a sad coquette; and did not turn away, as she was bound to do, from the dandy glances of the cabin bucks, who ogled her through their double-barreled opera glasses. This enraged the tailor past telling; he would remonstrate with his wife, and scold her; and lay his matrimonial commands upon her, to go below instantly, out of sight. But the lady was not to be tyrannized over; and so she told him. Meantime, the bucks would be still framing her in their lenses, mightily enjoying the fun. The last resources of the poor tailor would be, to start up, and make a dash at the rogues, with clenched fists; but upon getting as far as the mainmast, the mate would accost him from over the rope that divided them, and beg leave to communicate the fact, that he could come no further. This unfortunate tailor was also a fiddler; and when fairly baited into desperation, would rush for his instrument, and try to get rid of his wrath by playing the most savage, remorseless airs he could think of.
While thus employed, perhaps his wife would accost him—
“Billy, my dear;” and lay her soft hand on his shoulder.
But Billy, he only fiddled harder.
“Billy, my love!”
The bow went faster and faster.
“Come, now, Billy, my dear little fellow, let’s make it all up;” and she bent over his knees, looking bewitchingly up at him, with her irresistible eyes.
Down went fiddle and bow; and the couple would sit together for an hour or two, as pleasant and affectionate as possible.
But the next day, the chances were, that the old feud would be renewed, which was certain to be the case at the first glimpse of an opera-glass from the cabin.
LIII. THE HORATII AND CURIATII
With a slight alteration, I might begin this chapter after the manner of Livy, in the 24th section of his first book:—“It happened, that in each family were three twin brothers, between whom there was little disparity in point of age or of strength.”
Among the steerage passengers of the Highlander, were two women from Armagh, in Ireland, widows and sisters, who had each three twin sons, born, as they said, on the same day.
They were ten years old. Each three of these six cousins were as like as the mutually reflected figures in a kaleidoscope; and like the forms seen in a kaleidoscope, together, as well as separately, they seemed to form a complete figure. But, though besides this fraternal likeness, all six boys bore a strong cousin-german resemblance to each other; yet, the O’Briens were in disposition quite the reverse of the O’Regans. The former were a timid, silent trio, who used to revolve around their mother’s waist, and seldom quit the maternal orbit; whereas, the O’Regans were “broths of boys,” full of mischief and fun, and given to all manner of devilment, like the tails of the comets.
Early every morning, Mrs. O’Regan emerged from the steerage, driving her spirited twins before her, like a riotous herd of young steers; and made her way to the capacious deck-tub, full of salt water, pumped up from the sea, for the purpose of washing down the ship. Three splashes, and the three boys were ducking and diving together in the brine; their mother engaged in shampooing them, though it was haphazard sort of work enough; a rub here, and a scrub there, as she could manage to fasten on a stray limb.
“Pat, ye divil, hould still while I wash ye. Ah! but it’s you, Teddy, you rogue. Arrah, now, Mike, ye spalpeen, don’t be mixing your legs up with Pat’s.”
The little rascals, leaping and scrambling with delight, enjoyed the sport mightily; while this indefatigable, but merry matron, manipulated them all over, as if it were a matter of conscience.
Meanwhile, Mrs. O’Brien would be standing on the boatswain’s locker—or rope and tar-pot pantry in the vessel’s bows—with a large old quarto Bible, black with age, laid before her between the knight-heads, and reading aloud to her three meek little lambs.
The sailors took much pleasure in the deck-tub performances of the O’Regans, and greatly admired them always for their archness and activity; but the tranquil O’Briens they did not fancy so much. More especially they disliked the grave matron herself; hooded in rusty black; and they had a bitter grudge against her book. To that, and the incantations muttered over it, they ascribed the head winds that haunted us; and Blunt, our Irish cockney, really believed that Mrs. O’Brien purposely came on deck every morning, in order to secure a foul wind for the next ensuing twenty-four hours.
At last, upon her coming forward one morning, Max the Dutchman accosted her, saying he was sorry for it, but if she went between the knight-heads again with her book, the crew would throw it overboard for her.
Now, although contrasted in character, there existed a great warmth of affection between the two families of twins, which upon this occasion was curiously manifested.
Notwithstanding the rebuke and threat of the sailor, the widow silently occupied her old place; and with her children clustering round her, began her low, muttered reading, standing right in the extreme bows of the ship, and slightly leaning over them, as if addressing the multitudinous waves from a floating pulpit. Presently Max came behind her, snatched the book from her hands, and threw it overboard. The widow gave a wail, and her boys set up a cry. Their cousins, then ducking in the water close by, at once saw the cause of the cry; and springing from the tub, like so many dogs, seized Max by the legs, biting and striking at him: which, the before timid little O’Briens no sooner perceived, than they, too, threw themselves on the enemy, and the amazed seaman found himself baited like a bull by all six boys.
And here it gives me joy to record one good thing on the part of the mate. He saw the fray, and its beginning; and rushing forward, told Max that he would harm the boys at his peril; while he cheered them on, as if rejoiced at their giving the fellow such a tussle. At last Max, sorely scratched, bit, pinched, and every way aggravated, though of course without a serious bruise, cried out “enough!” and the assailants were ordered to quit him; but though the three O’Briens obeyed, the three O’Regans hung on to him like leeches, and had to be dragged off.
“There now, you rascal,” cried the mate, “throw overboard another Bible, and I’ll send you after it without a bowline.”
This event gave additional celebrity to the twins throughout the vessel. That morning all six were invited to the quarter-deck, and reviewed by the cabin-passengers, the ladies manifesting particular interest in them, as they always do concerning twins, which some of them show in public parks and gardens, by stopping to look at them, and questioning their nurses.
“And were you all born at one time?” asked an old lady, letting her eye run in wonder along the even file of white heads.
“Indeed, an’ we were,” said Teddy; “wasn’t we, mother?”
Many more questions were asked and answered, when a collection was taken up for their benefit among these magnanimous cabin-passengers, which resulted in starting all six boys in the world with a penny apiece.
I never could look at these little fellows without an inexplicable feeling coming over me; and though there was nothing so very remarkable or unprecedented about them, except the singular coincidence of two sisters simultaneously making the world such a generous present; yet, the mere fact of there being twins always seemed curious; in fact, to me at least, all twins are prodigies; and still I hardly know why this should be; for all of us in our own persons furnish numerous examples of the same phenomenon. Are not our thumbs twins? A regular Castor and Pollux? And all of our fingers? Are not our arms, hands, legs, feet, eyes, ears, all twins; born at one birth, and as much alike as they possibly can be?
Can it be, that the Greek grammarians invented their dual number for the particular benefit of twins?
LIV. SOME SUPERIOR OLD NAIL-ROD AND PIG-TAIL
It has been mentioned how advantageously my shipmates disposed of their tobacco in Liverpool; but it is to be related how those nefarious commercial speculations of theirs reduced them to sad extremities in the end.
True to their improvident character, and seduced by the high prices paid for the weed in England, they had there sold off by far the greater portion of what tobacco they had; even inducing the mate to surrender the portion he had secured under lock and key by command of the Custom-house officers. So that when the crew were about two weeks out, on the homeward-bound passage, it became sorrowfully evident that tobacco was at a premium.
Now, one of the favorite pursuits of sailors during a dogwatch below at sea is cards; and though they do not understand whist, cribbage, and games of that kidney, yet they are adepts at what is called “High-low-Jack-and-the-game,” which name, indeed, has a Jackish and nautical flavor. Their stakes are generally so many plugs of tobacco, which, like rouleaux of guineas, are piled on their chests when they play. Judge, then, the wicked zest with which the Highlander’s crew now shuffled and dealt the pack; and how the interest curiously and invertedly increased, as the stakes necessarily became less and less; and finally resolved themselves into “chaws.”
So absorbed, at last, did they become at this business, that some of them, after being hard at work during a nightwatch on deck, would rob themselves of rest below, in order to have a brush at the cards. And as it is very difficult sleeping in the presence of gamblers; especially if they chance to be sailors, whose conversation at all times is apt to be boisterous; these fellows would often be driven out of the forecastle by those who desired to rest. They were obliged to repair on deck, and make a card-table of it; and invariably, in such cases, there was a great deal of contention, a great many ungentlemanly charges of nigging and cheating; and, now and then, a few parenthetical blows were exchanged.
But this was not so much to be wondered at, seeing they could see but very little, being provided with no light but that of a midnight sky; and the cards, from long wear and rough usage, having become exceedingly torn and tarry, so much so, that several members of the four suits might have seceded from their respective clans, and formed into a fifth tribe, under the name of “Tar-spots.”
Every day the tobacco grew scarcer and scarcer; till at last it became necessary to adopt the greatest possible economy in its use. The modicum constituting an ordinary “chaw,” was made to last a whole day; and at night, permission being had from the cook, this self-same “chaw” was placed in the oven of the stove, and there dried; so as to do duty in a pipe.
In the end not a plug was to be had; and deprived of a solace and a stimulus, on which sailors so much rely while at sea, the crew became absent, moody, and sadly tormented with the hypos. They were something like opium-smokers, suddenly cut off from their drug. They would sit on their chests, forlorn and moping; with a steadfast sadness, eying the forecastle lamp, at which they had lighted so many a pleasant pipe. With touching eloquence they recalled those happier evenings—the time of smoke and vapor; when, after a whole day’s delectable “chawing,” they beguiled themselves with their genial, and most companionable puffs.
One night, when they seemed more than usually cast down and disconsolate, Blunt, the Irish cockney, started up suddenly with an idea in his head—“Boys, let’s search under the bunks!” Bless you, Blunt! what a happy conceit! Forthwith, the chests were dragged out; the dark places explored; and two sticks of nail-rod tobacco, and several old “chaws,” thrown aside by sailors on some previous voyage, were their cheering reward. They were impartially divided by Jackson, who, upon this occasion, acquitted himself to the satisfaction of all.
Their mode of dividing this tobacco was the rather curious one generally adopted by sailors, when the highest possible degree of impartiality is desirable. I will describe it, recommending its earnest consideration to all heirs, who may hereafter divide an inheritance; for if they adopted this nautical method, that universally slanderous aphorism of Lavater would be forever rendered nugatory—“Expert not to understand any man till you have divided with him an inheritance.”
The nail-rods they cut as evenly as possible into as many parts as there were men to be supplied; and this operation having been performed in the presence of all, Jackson, placing the tobacco before him, his face to the wall, and back to the company, struck one of the bits of weed with his knife, crying out, “Whose is this?” Whereupon a respondent, previously pitched upon, replied, at a venture, from the opposite corner of the forecastle, “Blunt’s;” and to Blunt it went; and so on, in like manner, till all were served.
I put it to you, lawyers—shade of Blackstone, I invoke you—if a more impartial procedure could be imagined than this?
But the nail-rods and last-voyage “chaws” were soon gone, and then, after a short interval of comparative gayety, the men again drooped, and relapsed into gloom.
They soon hit upon an ingenious device, however—but not altogether new among seamen—to allay the severity of the depression under which they languished. Ropes were unstranded, and the yarns picked apart; and, cut up into small bits, were used as a substitute for the weed. Old ropes were preferred; especially those which had long lain in the hold, and had contracted an epicurean dampness, making still richer their ancient, cheese-like flavor.
In the middle of most large ropes, there is a straight, central part, round which the exterior strands are twisted. When in picking oakum, upon various occasions, I have chanced, among the old junk used at such times, to light upon a fragment of this species of rope, I have ever taken, I know not what kind of strange, nutty delight in untwisting it slowly, and gradually coming upon its deftly hidden and aromatic “heart;” for so this central piece is denominated.
It is generally of a rich, tawny, Indian hue, somewhat inclined to luster; is exceedingly agreeable to the touch; diffuses a pungent odor, as of an old dusty bottle of Port, newly opened above ground; and, altogether, is an object which no man, who enjoys his dinners, could refrain from hanging over, and caressing.
Nor is this delectable morsel of old junk wanting in many interesting, mournful, and tragic suggestions. Who can say in what gales it may have been; in what remote seas it may have sailed? How many stout masts of seventy-fours and frigates it may have staid in the tempest? How deep it may have lain, as a hawser, at the bottom of strange harbors? What outlandish fish may have nibbled at it in the water, and what un-catalogued sea-fowl may have pecked at it, when forming part of a lofty stay or a shroud?
Now, this particular part of the rope, this nice little “cut” it was, that among the sailors was the most eagerly sought after. And getting hold of a foot or two of old cable, they would cut into it lovingly, to see whether it had any “tenderloin.”
For my own part, nevertheless, I can not say that this tit-bit was at all an agreeable one in the mouth; however pleasant to the sight of an antiquary, or to the nose of an epicure in nautical fragrancies. Indeed, though possibly I might have been mistaken, I thought it had rather an astringent, acrid taste; probably induced by the tar, with which the flavor of all ropes is more or less vitiated. But the sailors seemed to like it, and at any rate nibbled at it with great gusto. They converted one pocket of their trowsers into a junk-shop, and when solicited by a shipmate for a “chaw,” would produce a small coil of rope.
Another device adopted to alleviate their hardships, was the substitution of dried tea-leaves, in place of tobacco, for their pipes. No one has ever supped in a forecastle at sea, without having been struck by the prodigious residuum of tea-leaves, or cabbage stalks, in his tin-pot of bohea. There was no lack of material to supply every pipe-bowl among us.
I had almost forgotten to relate the most noteworthy thing in this matter; namely, that notwithstanding the general scarcity of the genuine weed, Jackson was provided with a supply; nor did it give out, until very shortly previous to our arrival in port.
In the lowest depths of despair at the loss of their precious solace, when the sailors would be seated inconsolable as the Babylonish captives, Jackson would sit cross-legged in his bunk, which was an upper one, and enveloped in a cloud of tobacco smoke, would look down upon the mourners below, with a sardonic grin at their forlornness.
He recalled to mind their folly in selling for filthy lucre, their supplies of the weed; he painted their stupidity; he enlarged upon the sufferings they had brought upon themselves; he exaggerated those sufferings, and every way derided, reproached, twitted, and hooted at them. No one dared to return his scurrilous animadversions, nor did any presume to ask him to relieve their necessities out of his fullness. On the contrary, as has been just related, they divided with him the nail-rods they found.
The extraordinary dominion of this one miserable Jackson, over twelve or fourteen strong, healthy tars, is a riddle, whose solution must be left to the philosophers.
LV. DRAWING NIGH TO THE LAST SCENE IN JACKSON’S CAREER
The closing allusion to Jackson in the chapter preceding, reminds me of a circumstance—which, perhaps, should have been mentioned before—that after we had been at sea about ten days, he pronounced himself too unwell to do duty, and accordingly went below to his bunk. And here, with the exception of a few brief intervals of sunning himself in fine weather, he remained on his back, or seated cross-legged, during the remainder of the homeward-bound passage.
Brooding there, in his infernal gloom, though nothing but a castaway sailor in canvas trowsers, this man was still a picture, worthy to be painted by the dark, moody hand of Salvator. In any of that master’s lowering sea-pieces, representing the desolate crags of Calabria, with a midnight shipwreck in the distance, this Jackson’s would have been the face to paint for the doomed vessel’s figurehead, seamed and blasted by lightning.
Though the more sneaking and cowardly of my shipmates whispered among themselves, that Jackson, sure of his wages, whether on duty or off, was only feigning indisposition, nevertheless it was plain that, from his excesses in Liverpool, the malady which had long fastened its fangs in his flesh, was now gnawing into his vitals.
His cheek became thinner and yellower, and the bones projected like those of a skull. His snaky eyes rolled in red sockets; nor could he lift his hand without a violent tremor; while his racking cough many a time startled us from sleep. Yet still in his tremulous grasp he swayed his scepter, and ruled us all like a tyrant to the last.
The weaker and weaker he grew, the more outrageous became his treatment of the crew. The prospect of the speedy and unshunable death now before him, seemed to exasperate his misanthropic soul into madness; and as if he had indeed sold it to Satan, he seemed determined to die with a curse between his teeth.
I can never think of him, even now, reclining in his bunk, and with short breaths panting out his maledictions, but I am reminded of that misanthrope upon the throne of the world—the diabolical Tiberius at Caprese; who even in his self-exile, imbittered by bodily pangs, and unspeakable mental terrors only known to the damned on earth, yet did not give over his blasphemies but endeavored to drag down with him to his own perdition, all who came within the evil spell of his power. And though Tiberius came in the succession of the Caesars, and though unmatchable Tacitus has embalmed his carrion, yet do I account this Yankee Jackson full as dignified a personage as he, and as well meriting his lofty gallows in history; even though he was a nameless vagabond without an epitaph, and none, but I, narrate what he was. For there is no dignity in wickedness, whether in purple or rags; and hell is a democracy of devils, where all are equals. There, Nero howls side by side with his own malefactors. If Napoleon were truly but a martial murderer, I pay him no more homage than I would a felon. Though Milton’s Satan dilutes our abhorrence with admiration, it is only because he is not a genuine being, but something altered from a genuine original. We gather not from the four gospels alone, any high-raised fancies concerning this Satan; we only know him from thence as the personification of the essence of evil, which, who but pickpockets and burglars will admire? But this takes not from the merit of our high-priest of poetry; it only enhances it, that with such unmitigated evil for his material, he should build up his most goodly structure. But in historically canonizing on earth the condemned below, and lifting up and lauding the illustrious damned, we do but make examples of wickedness; and call upon ambition to do some great iniquity, and be sure of fame.