I took a last look to windward, over the cold southern ocean, where the sharp evening breeze was rolling the short seas into little patches of white. The horizon was clear, and there was no prospect for some time of any sudden call to shorten sail. The sky was a perfect blue vault in which the stars were twinkling, while the red of the recent sunset held fair on the jibboom end, showing that the quartermaster at the wheel knew his business. I edged toward the door of the house, and then seeing that my actions were not creating too much notice from the poop, I slid back the white panel and entered. The fog from damp clothes and bad tobacco hung heavy in the close air and made a blue halo about the little swinging lamp on the bulkhead. Chips, who was sitting on his sea-chest, waved his hand in welcome, and the “doctor” nodded and showed his white teeth. The bos’n was holding forth in full swing in an argument with one of the quartermasters, and Jim, the fellow I noticed in the morning, was listening. He arose as I entered, as also did the quartermaster, but the rest remained seated. I waved my hand in friendly acknowledgment and lit my pipe at the lamp, while they reseated themselves.
“Yah, good mornin’ to ye—if it ain’t too late in the day,” said Chips. “Sit ye down an’ listen to me song, for ‘tis a quare ship, an’ th’ only thing to do is to square our luck wid a good song. Cast loose, bos’n.”
We were all new men to the vessel except the carpenter, and had never even sailed in the same ship before on any previous voyage. Yet the bos’n “cast loose” without further orders, and the “doctor” joined in with his bass voice. Then Chips and the rest bawled forth to the tune of “Blow a man down,” and all the dismal prospect of the future in an overloaded ship, with bad food and a queer skipper, was lost in the effort of each one trying to out-bellow his neighbor. Sailors are a strange set. It takes mighty little to please one at times when he should, with reason, be sad; while, again, when everything is fair, nothing will satisfy his whims.
When the yarn spinning and singing were over, I turned out for my first watch well pleased with my shipmates.
During the following days all hands were so busy bending new sails and reeving running gear for our turn of the Cape that there was little time for anything else. Much of this work could have been avoided had the ship been under better command when she cleared, but Trunnell had no authority to do anything, and the agents were waiting until the skipper took command and could attend to the necessary overhauling.
At meals I saw little of either Trunnell or Captain Thompson and his third mate, but in the short hours of the dog-watch in the evening I had a chance to talk with them upon other subjects than those relating immediately to the running of the ship.