“Humph!” said I, by way of criticism, when these verses were shown to me. “Where be the mackerel lines, Captain Jo? There’s too much love-talk aboard this ship of yours.”
“Mackerel?” said Captain Jo. “Why, where’s your bait?”
“You shall lend me an inch off your pipe-stem,” said I, and, to tease Nat, began to hum the senseless old song:
“She has ta’en a siller
An’ gi’en strokes three,
An’ chang’d my sister Masery
To a mack’rel of the sea.
And every Saturday at noon
The mack’rel comes to me,
An’ she takes my laily head
An’ lays it on her knee,
An’ kames it wi’ a kame o’ pearl,
An’ washes it i’ the sea—”
“Mackerel?” said Captain Pomery. “If ye found one fool enough to take hold at the rate we’re sailing, ye’d pull his head off.”
“Why, then, he would be off his head,” answered I: “and there are plenty here to make him feel at home.”
In truth I was nettled; jealous, as a lad in his first friendship is quick to be. Were not Nat and I of one age? Then why should he be leaving thoughts we might share, to think of woman? I had chafed at Oxford against his precocious entanglements. Here on shipboard his propensity was past a joke; with no goose in sight to mistake for a swan, he must needs conjure up an imaginary princess for his devotion. What irritated most of all was his assuming, because I had not arrived at his folly, the right to treat me as a child.
South and across the Bay of Biscay the weather gave us a halcyon passage; the wind falling lighter and lighter until, within ten leagues of Gibraltar, we ran into a flat calm, and Captain Pomery’s face began to show his vexation.
The vexation I could understand—for your seaman naturally hates calm weather—but scarcely the degree of it in a man of temperament so placid. Hitherto he had taken delight in the strains of Mr. Badcock’s flute. Suddenly, and almost pettishly, he laid an embargo on that instrument, and moreover sent word down to the hold and commanded old Worthyvale to desist from hammering on the ballast. All noise, in fact, appeared to irritate him.
Mr. Badcock pocketed his flute in some dudgeon, and for occupation fell to drinking with Mr. Fett; whose potations, if they did not sensibly lighten the ship, heightened, at least, her semblance of buoyancy with a deck-cargo of empty bottles. My father put no restraint upon these topers.
“Drink, gentlemen,” said he; “drink by all means so long as it amuses you. I had far rather you exceeded than that I should appear inhospitable.”
“Magnifshent old man,” Mr. Fett hiccuped to me confidentially, “an’ magnifshent liquor. As the song shays—I beg your pardon, the shong says—able ‘make a cat speak an’ man dumb—
old courtier of the queen’s
An’ the queen’s old courtier—”
Chorus, Mr. Bawcock, if you please, an’, by the way, won’t mind my calling you Bawcock, will you? Good Shakespearean word, bawcock: euphonious, too—