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THE DESERTED SHIP.
A Real Story of the Atlantic.
VOUNG gentlemen, my name is Cupples Howe
-Cupples was my mother's maiden name Captain Howe, my neighbours call me, though I suppose I've no right to that, because, you see, I was never in the navy. Well, I can write my name, and a letter over that, and I can write my log, and read my Bible, and the newspaper, and take the sun, and do my dead reckoning, and keep some kind of accounts for my owners (leastways when I had owners, for I have left the seafaring life at this time); but I never made any professions to be a scholar. So you must not expect that I can write fine like them whose trade it is.
I will tell you how 'tis that I came to write for you at all. One of the gentlemen that have to do with your book* had been hearing some of my
*This story was written for “GooD WORDS FOR THE YOUNG."
stories over a pipe, and he said they would be just the sort to please you.
“Why don't you write them down, Captain Howe?” says he.
“Mayhap," says I, “I might make mistakes now and then in my spelling, and I never could understand stopping, and so your young gentlemen would laugh at me."
“Oh, bother,” says he, "you tell us the stories in your own words, and I'll find the spelling and the stops."
“But I don't know grammar," says I.
“Well, if you don't,” says he, “ you speak it for the most part without knowing it. So I'll only alter your words when I think the boys wouldn't be able to make out what you meant, if I didn't."
And that's how I came to write for you, young gentlemen, and he advised me to begin with the first voyage I ever took; and, indeed, it was the one best worth writing about, for I was alone by myself in a big ship for ever so long. But when I came to write it out, it took up such a lot of paper that he said I must split it up into chapters, or else there would not be room for it in your book. I wish he would have called them chapters—that's how it is in all such books as I've come acrossbut, because I'm a sailor, 'tis his fancy to call them yarns. And so, young gentlemen, to begin at the beginning.
In this present year of our Lord, 1871, I am
fifty-eight years of age. Consequently, I was thirteen when I went my first voyage in the year 1826 anno Domini. And this is how I came to go. My father was a cooper at Rotherhithe, on the Thames, and wanted to bring me up to his own trade, but nothing would serve me but the sea. I was always down at the stairs amongst the watermen, or aboard the coal brigs and the barges. Fine ships were built and repaired-West-Indiamen and such-like-in the Rotherhithe yards in those days, and to get aboard one of them was my great delight. I wasn't allowed to come prowling about the yards, for, although my father was a respectable tradesman, I was looked on as a young limb, along of the company into which I had got, and so perhaps it was supposed that I should walk off with copper-nails and suchlike; but, thank God, I never was a prig, although, young gentlemen, there 's a deal more prigging goes on at sea, anyways in the merchant service, than you fancy, because you think all sailors are fine noble chaps such as you see at the theatres. But I've lived among 'em as man and master, and I know better, you see. But at launching times I used to get aboard sometimes, and run aft with the men, shouting, when the dogshores were knocked away. If I could go to sea in a ship such as one of them, I thought I should be as happy as a prince.
I'd no wish to go aboard a man-of-war. Amongst the chaps I knew there were so many stories going about the navy captains being such Tartars-flog
ging the last man off the yard, and stringing a fellow up to the yard-arm just for being a bit cheeky. However it might be in those days, a man 's better off nowadays, I should say, in a Queen's ship. He's better fed and better clothed, and has got a decent place to sleep in, and, though he mayn't think it, he really gets more pay in the long-run, and though he's looked after a bit sharp and made smart, he hasn't half the work he'd have aboard a merchant vessel, and there's no booting and knuckle-dusting, and pistoling a man, aboard a Queen's ship, and next to no flogging, I've heard, now. But I'd no fancy for the navy in those days.
The Commercial Docks were opened half-a-dozen years or so before I was born, I've heard father say. They've made them bigger since, and now the corn and timber ships go there; but when I was a boy, the Greenland ships used to lie there. There was a whole fleet of whalers sailing out of London river in those days, and now there isn't one. I used to go and look at the whalers; but I hadn't a fancy for them either. I thought whaler’s-men led a dirty kind of life, and that they were only half sort of sailors. But just because I didn't like whalers, father made up his mind that I should go in one. Mother's brother, Captain Cupples, was master of the Priscilla-owned by the Gales, that were great people then, if I remember rightly. She was a ship about four hundred tons burden—they didn't build such monsters of ships in those days. I was to go as a kind of cabin-boy to uncle-drudge for everybody he let me be, because father had asked him to give me a sickener of the sea, and he thought he was doing both me and mother a kindness in giving me a sickener.
Uncle wasn't a bad man, but he was very hard -not a bit like mother, who was religious, too. She went to the Silver Street Chapel, and so did uncle when he was at home. It was built up in a corner like, where carts and horses couldn't get by, as if it had got there to be out of the way of the noise. Mother had rigged me out as well as father would let her for my voyage, and she took me to chapel on the last Sunday night, as we were to sail on the Monday morning after. Poor mother was crying half service-time. I'd pretty nigh a mind to say that, after all, I'd give up the sea and take to coopering; but then I thought father would crow over me, and say that it was because I was afraid to go to sea in a Greenland ship, and so I didn't.
The Priscilla was lying in the stream, with all her stores and provisions aboard. Mother went down to see me off in the captain's boat. “Tom," she says to her brother, "you 'll be kind to my boy, won't you, Tom?”
"I'll do my duty by him, Sally," says uncle.
“Oh, sir,” says mother to the young doctor, who was going off in the boat too, “ you 'll be kind to him, won't you ?—think of your own mother.” Then she gave me a hug, and the boat pushed off,