Soaked in Seaweed
by Stephen Leacock
It was in August in 1867 that I stepped on board the deck
of the Saucy Sally, lying in dock at Gravesend, to fill the
berth of second mate.
Let me first say a word about myself.
I was a tall, handsome young fellow, squarely and
powerfully built, bronzed by the sun and the moon (and
even copper-coloured in spots from the effect of the
stars), and with a face in which honesty, intelligence, and
exceptional brain power were combined with Christianity,
simplicity, and modesty.
As I stepped on the deck I could not help a slight
feeling of triumph, as I caught sight of my sailor-like
features reflected in a tar-barrel that stood beside the
mast, while a little later I could scarcely repress a sense
of gratification as I noticed them reflected again in a
bucket of bilge water.
"Welcome on board, Mr. Blowhard," called out Captain
Bilge, stepping out of the binnacle and shaking hands
across the taffrail.
I saw before me a fine sailor-like man of from thirty to
sixty, clean-shaven, except for an enormous pair of
whiskers, a heavy beard, and a thick moustache, powerful
in build, and carrying his beam well aft, in a pair of
broad duck trousers across the back of which there would
have been room to write a history of the British Navy.
Beside him were the first and third mates, both of them
being quiet men of poor stature, who looked at Captain
Bilge with what seemed to me an apprehensive
expression in their eyes.
The vessel was on the eve of departure. Her deck
presented that scene of bustle and alacrity dear to the
sailor's heart. Men were busy nailing up the masts,
hanging the bowsprit over the side, varnishing the
lee-scuppers and pouring hot tar down the
Captain Bilge, with a megaphone to his lips, kept
calling out to the men in his rough sailor fashion:
"Now, then, don't over-exert yourselves, gentlemen.
Remember, please, that we have plenty of time. Keep
out of the sun as much as you can. Step carefully in the
rigging there, Jones; I fear it's just a little high for you
Tut, tut, Williams, don't get yourself so dirty with that tar,
you won't look fit to be seen."
I stood leaning over the gaff of the mainsail and
thinking--yes, thinking, dear reader, of my mother. I
hope that you will think none the less of me for that.
Whenever things look dark, I lean up against something
and think of Mother. If they get positively black, I stand
on one leg and think of Father. After that I can face
Did I think, too, of another, younger than Mother and
fairer than Father? Yes, I did. "Bear up, darling," I had
whispered as she nestled her head beneath my oil-skins
and kicked out backwards with one heel in the agony of
her girlish grief, "in five years the voyage will be over,
and after three more like it, I shall come back with
money enough to buy a second-hand fishing-net and
settle down on shore."
Meantime the ship's preparations were complete. The
masts were all in position, the sails nailed up, and men
with axes were busily chopping away the gangway.
"All ready?" called the Captain.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Then hoist the anchor in board and send a man down
with the key to open the bar."
Opening the bar! the last sad rite of departure.
How often in my voyages have I seen it; the little group
of men soon to be exiled from their home, standing about
with saddened faces, waiting to see the man with the key
open the bar--held there by some strange fascination.
Next morning with a fair wind astern we had buzzed
around the corner of England and were running down the
I know no finer sight, for those who have never seen it,
than the English Channel. It is the highway of the world.
Ships of all nations are passing up and down, Dutch,
Scotch, Venezuelan, and even American.
Chinese junks rush to and fro. Warships, motor yachts,
icebergs, and lumber rafts are everywhere. If I add to
this fact that so thick a fog hangs over it that it is entirely
hidden from sight, my readers can form some idea of the
majesty of the scene.
. . . . . .
We had now been three days at sea. My first
sea-sickness was wearing off, and I thought less of
On the third morning Captain Bilge descended to my
"Mr. Blowhard," he said, "I must ask you to stand
"What is the matter?" I inquired.
"The two other mates have fallen overboard," he said
uneasily, and avoiding my eye.
I contented myself with saying "Very good, sir," but I
could not help thinking it a trifle odd that both the mates
should have fallen overboard in the same night.
Surely there was some mystery in this.
Two mornings later the Captain appeared at the
breakfast-table with the same shifting and uneasy look in
"Anything wrong, sir?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered, trying to appear at ease and
twisting a fried egg to and fro between his fingers with
such nervous force as almost to break it in two--"I regret
to say that we have lost the bosun."
"The bosun!" I cried.
"Yes," said Captain Bilge more quietly, "he is
overboard. I blame myself for it, partly. It was early this
morning. I was holding him up in my arms to look at an
iceberg and, quite accidentally I assure you, I dropped
"Captain Bilge," I asked, "have you taken any steps to
"Not as yet," he replied uneasily.
I looked at him fixedly, but said nothing.
Ten days passed.
The mystery thickened. On Thursday two men of the
starboard watch were reported missing. On Friday the
carpenter's assistant disappeared. On the night of
Saturday a circumstance occurred which, slight as it
was, gave me some clue as to what was happening.
As I stood at the wheel about midnight, I saw the
Captain approach in the darkness carrying the cabin-boy
by the hind leg. The lad was a bright little fellow, whose
merry disposition had already endeared him to me, and I
watched with some interest to see what the Captain would
do to him. Arrived at the stern of the vessel, Captain
Bilge looked cautiously around a moment and then
dropped the boy into the sea. For a brief instant the lad's
head appeared in the phosphorus of the waves. The
Captain threw a boot at him, sighed deeply, and went
Here then was the key to the mystery! The Captain was
throwing the crew overboard. Next morning we met at
breakfast as usual.
"Poor little Williams has fallen overboard," said the
Captain, seizing a strip of ship's bacon and tearing at it
with his teeth as if he almost meant to eat it.
"Captain," I said, greatly excited, stabbing at a ship's
loaf in my agitation with such ferocity as almost to drive
my knife into it, "you threw that boy overboard!"
"I did," said Captain Bilge, grown suddenly quiet, "I
threw them all over and intend to throw the rest. Listen,
Blowhard, you are young, ambitious, and trustworthy. I
will confide in you."
Perfectly calm now, he stepped to a locker, rummaged
in it a moment, and drew out a faded piece of yellow
parchment, which he spread on the table. It was a map
or chart. In the centre of it was a circle. In the middle
of the circle was a small dot and a letter T, while at one
side of the map was a letter N, and against it on the other
side a letter S.
"What is this?" I asked.
"Can you not guess?" queried Captain Bilge. "It is a
"Ah!" I rejoined with a sudden flash of intuition, "and
N is for North and S is for South."
"Blowhard," said the Captain, striking the table with
such force as to cause a loaf of ship's bread to bounce up
and down three or four times, "you've struck it. That part
of it had not yet occurred to me."
"And the letter T?" I asked.
"The treasure, the buried treasure," said the Captain, and
turning the map over he read from the back of it, "The
point T indicates the spot where the treasure is buried
under the sand; it consists of half a million Spanish
dollars, and is buried in a brown leather dress-suit case."
"And where is the island?" I inquired, mad with
"That I do not know," said the Captain. "I intend to sail
up and down the parallels of latitude until I find it."
"Meantime, the first thing to do is to reduce the number
of the crew so as to have fewer hands to divide among.
Come, come," he added in a burst of frankness which
made me love the man in spite of his shortcomings, "will
you join me in this? We'll throw them all over, keeping
the cook to the last, dig up the treasure, and be rich for
the rest of our lives."
Reader, do you blame me if I said yes? I was young,
ardent, ambitious, full of bright hopes and boyish
"Captain Bilge," I said, putting my hand in his, "I am
"Good," he said. "Now go forward to the forecastle and
get an idea what the men are thinking."
I went forward to the men's quarters--a plain room in
the front of the ship, with only a rough carpet on the
floor, a few simple arm-chairs, writing-desks, spittoons of
a plain pattern, and small brass beds with blue-and-green
screens. It was Sunday morning, and the men were
mostly sitting about in their dressing-gowns.
They rose as I entered and curtseyed.
"Sir," said Tompkins, the bosun's mate, "I think it my
duty to tell you that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction
among the men."
Several of the men nodded.
"They don't like the way the men keep going
overboard," he continued, his voice rising to a tone of
uncontrolled passion. "It is positively absurd, sir, and if
you will allow me to say so, the men are far from
"Tompkins," I said sternly, "you must understand that
my position will not allow me to listen to mutinous
language of this sort."
I returned to the Captain. "I think the men mean
mutiny," I said.
"Good," said Captain Bilge, rubbing his hands, "that
will get rid of a lot of them, and of course," he added
musingly, looking out of the broad old-fashioned
port-hole at the stern of the cabin, at the heaving waves
of the South Atlantic, "I am expecting pirates at any time,
and that will take out quite a few of them. However"
--and here he pressed the bell for a cabin-boy--"kindly
ask Mr Tompkins to step this way."
"Tompkins," said the Captain as the bosun's mate
entered, "be good enough to stand on the locker and stick
your head through the stern port-hole, and tell me what
you think of the weather."
"Aye, aye, sir," replied the tar with a simplicity which
caused us to exchange a quiet smile.
Tompkins stood on the locker and put his head and
shoulders out of the port.
Taking a leg each we pushed him through. We heard
him plump into the sea.
"Tompkins was easy," said Captain Bilge. "Excuse me
as I enter his death in the log."
"Yes," he continued presently, "it will be a great help if
they mutiny. I suppose they will, sooner or later. It's
customary to do so. But I shall take no step to
precipitate it until we have first fallen in with pirates. I
am expecting them in these latitudes at any time.
Meantime, Mr. Blowhard," he said, rising, "if you can
continue to drop overboard one or two more each week,
I shall feel extremely grateful."
Three days later we rounded the Cape of Good Hope
and entered upon the inky waters of the Indian Ocean.
Our course lay now in zigzags and, the weather being
favourable, we sailed up and down at a furious rate over
a sea as calm as glass.
On the fourth day a pirate ship appeared. Reader, I do
not know if you have ever seen a pirate ship. The sight
was one to appal the stoutest heart. The entire ship was
painted black, a black flag hung at the masthead, the sails
were black, and on the deck people dressed all in black
walked up and down arm-in-arm. The words "Pirate
Ship" were painted in white letters on the bow. At the
sight of it our crew were visibly cowed. It was a
spectacle that would have cowed a dog.
The two ships were brought side by side. They were
then lashed tightly together with bag string and binder
twine, and a gang plank laid between them. In a moment
the pirates swarmed upon our deck, rolling their eyes,
gnashing their teeth and filing their nails.
Then the fight began. It lasted two hours--with fifteen
minutes off for lunch. It was awful. The men grappled
with one another, kicked one another from behind,
slapped one another across the face, and in many cases
completely lost their temper and tried to bite one another.
I noticed one gigantic fellow brandishing a knotted towel,
and striking right and left among our men, until Captain
Bilge rushed at him and struck him flat across the mouth
with a banana skin.
At the end of two hours, by mutual consent, the fight
was declared a draw. The points standing at sixty-one
and a half against sixty-two.
The ships were unlashed, and with three cheers from
each crew, were headed on their way.
"Now, then," said the Captain to me aside, "let us see
how many of the crew are sufficiently exhausted to be
He went below. In a few minutes he re-appeared, his
face deadly pale. "Blowhard," he said, "the ship is
sinking. One of the pirates (sheer accident, of course, I
blame no one) has kicked a hole in the side. Let us
sound the well."
We put our ear to the ship's well. It sounded like water.
The men were put to the pumps and worked with the
frenzied effort which only those who have been drowned
in a sinking ship can understand.
At six p.m. the well marked one half an inch of water,
at nightfall three-quarters of an inch, and at daybreak,
after a night of unremitting toil, seven-eighths of an inch.
By noon of the next day the water had risen to
fifteen-sixteenths of an inch, and on the next night the
sounding showed thirty-one thirty-seconds of an inch of
water in the hold. The situation was desperate. At this
rate of increase few, if any, could tell where it would rise
to in a few days.
That night the Captain called me to his cabin. He had a
book of mathematical tables in front of him, and great
sheets of vulgar fractions littered the floor on all sides.
"The ship is bound to sink," he said, "in fact, Blowhard,
she is sinking. I can prove it. It may be six months or it
may take years, but if she goes on like this, sink she
must. There is nothing for it but to abandon her."
That night, in the dead of darkness, while,the crew
were busy at the pumps, the Captain and I built a raft.
Unobserved we cut down the masts, chopped them
into suitable lengths, laid them crosswise in a pile and
lashed them tightly together with bootlaces.
Hastily we threw on board a couple of boxes of
food and bottles of drinking fluid, a sextant, a
cronometer, a gas-meter, a bicycle pump and a few other
scientific instruments. Then taking advantage of a roll in
the motion of the ship, we launched the raft, lowered
ourselves upon a line, and under cover of the heavy dark
of a tropical night, we paddled away from the doomed
The break of day found us a tiny speck on the Indian
Ocean. We looked about as big as this (.).
In the morning, after dressing, and shaving as best we
could, we opened our box of food and drink.
Then came the awful horror of our situation.
One by one the Captain took from the box the square
blue tins of canned beef which it contained. We counted
fifty-two in all. Anxiously and with drawn faces we
watched until the last can was lifted from the box. A
single thought was in our minds. When the end came the
Captain stood up on the raft with wild eyes staring at the
"The can-opener!" he shrieked. "Just Heaven, the
can-opener."He fell prostrate.
Meantime, with trembling hands, I opened the box of
bottles. It contained lager beer bottles, each with a patent
tin top. One by one I took them out. There were
fifty-two in all. As I withdrew the last one and saw the
empty box before me, I shroke out, "The thing! the
thing! oh, merciful Heaven! The thing you open them
I fell prostrate upon the Captain.
We awoke to find ourselves still a mere speck upon
the ocean. We felt even smaller than before.
Over us was the burnished copper sky of the tropics.
The heavy, leaden sea lapped the sides of the raft. All
about us was a litter of corn beef cans and lager beer
bottles. Our sufferings in the ensuing days were
indescribable. We beat and thumped at the cans with our
fists. Even at the risk of spoiling the tins for ever we
hammered them fiercely against the raft. We stamped on
them, bit at them and swore at them. We pulled and
clawed at the bottles with our hands, and chipped and
knocked them against the cans, regardless even of
breaking the glass and ruining the bottles.
It was futile.
Then day after day we sat in moody silence, gnawed
with hunger, with nothing to read, nothing to smoke, and
practically nothing to talk about.
On the tenth day the Captain broke silence.
"Get ready the lots, Blowhard," he said. "It's got to
come to that."
"Yes," I answered drearily, "we're getting thinner every
Then, with the awful prospect of cannibalism before us,
we drew lots.
I prepared the lots and held them to the Captain. He
drew the longer one.
"Which does that mean," he asked, trembling between
hope and despair. "Do I win?"
"No, Bilge," I said sadly, "you lose."
. . .
But I mustn't dwell on the days that followed--the long
quiet days of lazy dreaming on the raft, during which I
slowly built up my strength, which had been shattered by
privation. They were days, dear reader, of deep and quiet
peace, and yet I cannot recall them without shedding a
tear for the brave man who made them what they were.
It was on the fifth day after that I was awakened from a
sound sleep by the bumping of the raft against the shore.
I had eaten perhaps overheartily, and had not observed
the vicinity of land.
Before me was an island, the circular shape of which,
with its low, sandy shore, recalled at once its identity.
"The treasure island!" I cried. "At last I am rewarded
for all my heroism."
In a fever of haste I rushed to the centre of the island.
What was the sight that confronted me? A great hollow
scooped in the sand, an empty dress-suit case lying
beside it, and on a ship's plank driven deep into the sand,
the legend, "Saucy Sally, October, 1867."So! the
miscreants had made good the vessel, headed it for the
island of whose existence they must have learned from
the chart we so carelessly left upon the cabin table, and
had plundered poor Bilge and me of our well-earned
Sick with the sense of human ingratitude I sank upon
The island became my home.
There I eked out a miserable existence, feeding on sand
and gravel and dressing myself in cactus plants. Years
passed. Eating sand and mud slowly undermined my
robust constitution. I fell ill. I died. I buried myself.
Would that others who write sea stories would do as