In a few minutes Desmond found himself among a gang of men who were working at a new gallivat in process of construction for Angria’s own use. He received his orders in dumb show from the foreman of the gang. Miserable as he was, he would not have been a boy if he had not been interested in his novel surroundings; and no intelligent boy could have failed to take an interest in the construction of a gallivat. It was a large rowboat of from thirty to seventy tons, with two masts, the mizzen being very slight. The mainmast bore one huge sail, triangular in form, its peak extending to a considerable height above the mast. The smaller gallivats were covered with a spar deck made of split bamboos, their armament consisting of pettararoes fixed on swivels in the gunwale. But the larger vessels had a fixed deck on which were mounted six or eight cannon, from two to four pounders; and in addition to their sail they had from forty to fifty oars, so that, with a stout crew, they attained a rate of four or five miles an hour.
One of the first things Desmond learned was that the Indian mode of ship building differed fundamentally from the European. The timbers were fitted in after the planks had been put together; and the planks were put together, not with flat edges, but rabbited, the parts made to correspond with the greatest exactness. When a plank was set up, its edge was smeared with red lead, and the edge of the plank to come next was pressed down upon it, the inequalities in its surface being thus shown by the marks of the lead. These being smoothed away, if necessary several times, and the edges fitting exactly, they were rubbed with da’ma, a sort of glue that in course of time became as hard as iron. The planks were then firmly riveted with pegs, and by the time the work was finished the seams were scarcely visible, the whole forming apparently one entire piece of timber.
The process of building a gallivat was thus a very long and tedious one; but the vessel when completed was so strong that it could go to sea for many years before the hull needed repair.
Desmond learned all this only gradually; but from the first day, making a virtue of necessity, he threw himself into the work and became very useful, winning the good opinion of the officers of the dockyard. His feelings were frequently wrung by the brutal punishments inflicted by the overseer upon defaulters. The man had absolute power over the workers. He could flog them, starve them, even cut off their ears and noses. One of his favorite devices was to tie a quantity of oiled cotton round each of a man’s fingers and set light to these living torches.