The Cruise of the "Idlewild"
by Theodore Dreiser
It would be difficult to say just how the trouble aboard
the Idlewild began, or how we managed to sail
without things going to smash every fifteen minutes; but
these same constitute the business of this narrative. It
was at Spike, and the weather was blistering hot. Some of
us, one in particular, were mortal tired of the life we
were leading. It was a dingy old shop inside, loaded with
machines and blacksmithing apparatus and all the
paraphernalia that go to make up the little depots and
furniture that railways use, and the labor of making them
was intrusted to about a hundred men all told--carpenters,
millwrights, woodturners, tinsmiths, painters, blacksmiths,
an engineer, and a yard foreman handling a score of
"guineas," all of whom were too dull to interest the three
or four wits who congregated in the engine room.
Old John, the engineer, was one of these--a big, roly-poly
sort of fellow, five foot eleven, if he was an inch, with
layers of flesh showing through his thin shirt and tight
trousers, and his face and neck constantly standing in
beads of sweat. Then there was the smith, a small, wiry man
of thirty-five, with arms like a Titan and a face that was
expressive of a goodly humor, whether it was very brilliant
or not--the village smith, as we used to call him. Then
there was Ike, little Ike, the blacksmith's helper, who was
about as queer a little cabin boy as ever did service on an
ocean-going steamer or in a blacksmith's shop--a small
misshapen, dirty-faced lad, whose coat was three, and his
trousers four, times too large for him--hand-me-downs from
some mysterious source; immensely larger members of his
family, I presume. He had a battered face, such as you
sometimes see given to satyrs humorously represented in
bronze, and his ears were excessively large. He had a big
mouthful of dirty yellow teeth, two or three missing in
front. His eyes were small and his hands large, but a
sweeter soul never crept into a smaller or more misshapen
body. Poor little Ike. To think how near he came to being
driven from his job by our tomfoolishness!
I should say here that the Idlewild was not a boat
at all, but an idea. She evolved out of our position on
Long's Point, where the Harlem joins the Hudson, and where
stood the shop in which we all worked, water to the south
of us, water to the west of us, water to the north of us,
and the railroad behind us landward, just like the four--or
was it the six? hundred--at Balaklava. Anyhow, we got our
idea from the shop and the water all around, and we said,
after much chaffering about one thing and another, that we
were aboard the Idlewild, and that the men were the
crew, and that the engineer was the captain, and I was the
mate, just as if everything were ship-shape, and this were
a really and truly ocean-going vessel.
As I have said before. I do not know exactly how the idea
started, except that it did. Old John was always admiring
the beautiful yachts that passed up and down the roadstead
of the Hudson outside, and this may have had something to
do with it. Anyhow, he would stand in the doorway of his
engine room and watch everything in the shape of a craft
that went up and down the stream. He didn't know much about
boats, but he loved to comment on their charms, just the
"That there now must be Morgan's yacht," he used to say of
a fine black-bodied craft that had a piano-body finish to
it, an' "That there's the Waterfowl, Governor
Morton's yacht. Wouldn' ja think, now, them fellers'd feel
comfortable a-settin' back there on the poop deck an'
smokin' them dollar cigars on a day like this? Aw, haw!"
It would usually be blistering hot and the water a flashing
blue when he became excited over the yacht question.
"Right-o," I once commented enviously.
"Aw, haw! Them's the boys as knows how to live. I wouldn'
like nothin' better on a day like this than to set out
there in one o' them easy chairs an' do up about a pound o'
tobacco. Come now, wouldn't that be the ideal life for your
"It truly would," I replied sadly but with an inherent
desire to tease, "only I don't think my Uncle Dudley is
doing so very badly under the circumstances. I notice he
isn't losing any flesh."
"Well, I dunno. I'm a little stout, I'll admit. Still, them
conditions would be more congenial-like. I ain't as active
as I used to be. A nice yacht an' some good old fifty-cent
cigars an' a cool breeze'd just about do for me."
"You're too modest, John. You want too little. You ought to
ask for something more suited to your Lucullian instincts.
What do you say to a house in Fifth Avenue, a country place
at Newport, and the friendship of a few dukes and earls?"
"Well, I'm not backward," he replied. "If them things was
to come my way I guess I could live up to 'em. Aw, haw!"
"Truly, truly, John, you're quite right, but you might
throw in a few shovelfuls of shavings just to show that
there are no hard feelings between you and the company
while you're waiting for all this. I notice your steam is
getting low, eh? What?"
"Hang the steam! If the road was decent they'd give a man
coal to burn. It takes a hundred tons of shavin's a day to
keep this blinged old cormorant goin'. Think of me havin'
to stand here all day an' shovelin' in shavin's! Seems to
me all I do here is shovel. I'm an engineer, not a fireman.
They ought to gimme a man for that, by rights."
"Quite so! Quite so! We'll see about that later--only, for
the present, the shavings for yours. Back to the shovel,
John!" The tone was heavily bantering.
"Well, the steam was gettin' a little low," John would
cheerfully acknowledge, once he was able to resume his
position in the doorway. It was these painful interruptions
which piqued him so.
Out of such chaffering and bickering as this it was that
the spirit of the Idlewild finally took its rise. It
came up from the sea of thought, I presume.
"What's the matter with us having a boat of our own, John?"
I said to him one day. "Here we are, out here on the
bounding main, or mighty near it. This is as good as any
craft, this old shop. Ease the thing around and hoist the
Jolly Roger, and I'll sail you up to White Plains. What's
the matter with calling her the Idlewild? The men
will furnish the idle, and the bosses will furnish the
wild, eh? How's that for an appropriate title?"
"Haw! Haw!" exclaimed stout John. "Bully! We'll fix 'er up
to-day. You be the captain an' I'll be the mate an'--"
"Far be it from me, John," I replied humbly and generously,
seeing that he had the one point of vantage in this whole
institution which would serve admirably as a captain's
cabin--with his consent, of course. It was more or less
like a captain's cabin on a tug-boat, at that, picturesque
and with a sea view, as it were. "You be the captain and
I'll be the mate. Far be it from me to infringe on a good
old sea dog's rights. You're the captain, all right, and
this is a plenty good enough cabin. I'm content to be mate.
Open up steam, Cap, and we'll run the boat up and down the
yard a few times. Look out the window and see how she
blows. It's ho! for a life on the bounding main, and a
jolly old crew are we!"
"Right-o, my hearty!" he now agreed, slapping me on the
back at the same time that he reached for the steamcock and
let off a few preliminary blasts of steam--by way of
showing that we were moving, as it were. The idea that we
were aboard a real yacht and about to cruise forth actually
seized upon my fancy in a most erratic and delightsome way.
It did on John's, too. Plainly we needed some such idyllic
dream. Outside was the blue water of the river. Far up and
down were many craft sailing like ourselves, I said.
Inside of fifteen minutes we had appointed the smith,
bos'n, and little Ike, the smith's helper, the bos'n's
mate. And we had said that the carpenters and turners and
millwrights were the crew and that the "guineas" were the
scullions. Mentally, we turned the engineroom into the
captain's cabin, and here now was nothing but "Heave ho-s"
and "How does she blow thar, Bill-s?" and "Shiver my
timbers-s" and "Blast my top-lights-s" for days to come. We
"heaved ho" at seven o'clock in the morning when the engine
started, "lay to and dropped anchor" at noon when the
engine stopped, "hoisted and set sail" again at one, for
heaven knows what port, and "sighted Spike" and "put hard
to port" at six. Sometimes during the day when it was hot
and we were very tired we took ideal runs to Coney and
Manhattan Beach and Newport, where the best of breezes are,
in imagination, anyhow, and we found it equally easy to
sail to all points of the compass in all sorts of weather.
Many was the time we visited Paris and London and Rome and
Constantinople, all in the same hour, regardless, and our
calls upon the nobility of these places were always a
matter of light comment. At night we always managed to
promptly haul up at Spike, which was another subject of
constant congratulation between the captain and the mate.
For if we had missed our trains and gotten home late!--
Regardless of the fact that we were seafaring men, we
wanted our day to end promptly, I noticed.
During the days which followed we elaborated our idea, and
the Idlewild became more of a reality than is to be
easily understood by those who have not indulged in a
similar fancy. We looked upon the shop as a trusty ship
with a wheel at the stern, where the millwright, an
Irishman by the name of Cullen, ran the giant plane, and an
anchor at the prow, where the engine-room was. And there
was a light in the captain's eye at times which, to me at
least, betokened a real belief. It is so easy to enter upon
a fancy, especially when it is pleasing. He would stand in
the doorway of his small, hot engine-room, or lean out of
the window which commanded the beautiful sweep of water so
close to our door, and at times I verily believe he thought
we were under way, so great is the power of self-hypnotism.
The river was so blue and smooth these summer days, the
passing boats so numerous. We could see the waters race to
and fro as the tides changed. It was such a relief from the
dull wearisome grind of shoveling in shavings and carrying
out ashes or loading cars, as I was occasionally compelled
to do--for my health, in my own case, I should explain. I
am sure that, as an ordinary
fifteen-cent-an-hour-shaving-carrier, I valued my title of
mate as much as I ever valued anything, and the smith, "the
village smith," was smilingly proud to be hailed as
"Bos'n." Little Ike being of an order of mind that fancied
the world ended somewhere abruptly in the Rocky Mountains,
and that you really could shoot buffaloes after you left
Buffalo, New York, did not grasp the meaning of it all at
once, but at last it dawned upon him. When he got the idea
that we really considered this a ship and that he was the
bos'n's mate with the privilege of lowering the boats in
case of a wreck or other disaster, he was beside himself.
"Hully chee!" he exclaimed, "me a bos'n's mate! Dat's de
real t'ing, ain't it! Heave ho, dere!" And he fell back on
the captain's locker and kicked his heels in the air.
"You want to remember, though, Ike," I said, once in an
evil moment--what small things regulate the good and evil
fortunes of all things!--"that this is the captain's cabin
and bos'n's mates are not much shucks on a vessel such as
the Idlewild. If you want to retain your position
you want to be respectful, and above all, obedient. For
instance, if the captain should choose to have you act as
stoker for a few minutes now and then, it would be your
place to rejoice at the request. You get that, do you?"
"Not on yer life," replied Ike irritably, who understood
well enough that this meant more work.
"That's right, though," chimed in big John, pleased beyond
measure at this latest development. "I'm captain here now,
an' you don't want to forget that. No back lip from any
bos'n's mate. What the mate says goes. The shovel for
yours, bos'n, on orders from the captain. Now jist to show
that the boat's in runnin' order you can chuck in a few
shovelfuls right now."
"Na! I will not!"
"Come, Ike," I said, "no insubordination. You can't go back
on the captain like that. We have the irons for
recalcitrants," and I eyed a pile of old rusty chains lying
outside the door. "We might have to truss him up, Cap, and
lay him down below," and to prove the significance of my
thought I picked up one end of a chain and rattled it
solemnly. The captain half choked with fat laughter.
"That's right. Git the shovel there, Ike."
Ike looked as if he doubted the regularity of this, as if
life on the briny deep might not be all that it was cracked
up to be, but for the sake of regularity and in order not
to be reduced to the shameful condition of a scullion, or
worse, "irons," which was the only alternative offered, he
complied. After he had thrown in eight scoopfuls we both
agreed that this was true order and that the organization
and dignity of the Idlewild might well be looked
upon now as established.
Things went from good to better. We persuaded Joe, who was
the millwright's assistant, back at the "wheel," that his
dignity would be greatly enhanced in this matter if he were
to accept the position of day watch, particularly since his
labors in that capacity would accord with his bounden
duties as a hireling of the road; for, if he were stationed
in the rear (front room, actually) anyhow, and compelled,
owing to the need of receiving and taking away various
planks and boards as they came out of the planes and
molding machines, to walk to and fro, it would be an easy
matter to notice any suspicious lights on the horizon
forward and to come aft at once, or at least at such times
as the boss was not looking, or when he came to heat his
coffee or get a drink, and report.
Amiable Joe! I can see him yet, tall, ungainly,
stoop-shouldered, a slight cast in one eye, his head
bobbing like a duck's as he walked--a most agreeable and
pathetic person. His dreams were so simple, his wants so
few. He lived with his sister somewhere in Eleventh Avenue
downtown in a tenement, and carried home bundles of
firewood to her at night all this great distance, to help
out. He received (not earned--he did much more than that)
seventeen and a half cents an hour, and dreamed of what? I
could never quite make out. Marriage? A little cheap flat
somewhere? Life is so pathetic at times.
"Light on the starboard bow," or "Light on the port bow,"
were the chosen phrases which we told him he was in duty
bound to use, adding always "Sir," as respectful
subordinates should. Also we insisted on his instantly
making known to us at such times as we twain happened to be
in the engine-room together, all bell buoys, whistle buoys,
lighthouses, passing vessels and most of all the monthly
pay car as it rounded the curve half a mile up the track
about the fifteenth of every month. The matter of reporting
the approach of the pay car was absolutely without
exception. If he failed to do that we would be compelled,
sad as it might be and excellent as his other services had
been, to put him in irons. Here we showed him the irons
Joe cheerfully accepted. For days thereafter he would come
back regularly when the need of heating his coffee or
securing a drink necessitated, and lifting a straight
forefinger to his forehead, would report, "Light on the
port bow, Sir. I think it's in the steel works jist up the
track here," or "Light on the starboard, Sir. It's the fast
mail, maybe, for Chicago, jist passin' Kingsbridge."
"No thinks, Joseph," I used to reprimand. "You are not
supposed to give your thinks. If the captain wishes to know
what it is, he will ask. Back to the molding machine for
Joseph, shock-headed, with dusty hair, weak eyes and a
weaker smile, would retire, and then we would look at each
other, the captain and I, and grin, and he would exclaim:
"Pretty fair discipline, mate."
"Oh, I think we've got 'em going, Captain."
"Nothin' like order, mate."
"You're right, Cap."
"I don't suppose the mate'd ever condescend to take orders
like that, eh, mate?"
"Well, hardly, Cap."
"Still, you don't want to forget that I'm captain, mate."
"And you don't want to forget that I'm mate, Captain."
Thus we would badger one another until one of the scullion
crew arrived, when without loss of dignity on either side
we could easily turn our attention to him.
And these scullions! What a dull crew! Gnarled, often
non-English-speaking foreigners against or in front of whom
we could jest to our hearts' content. They could not even
guess the amazing things we were ordering them to do on
penalty of this, that, and the other.
Things went from better to best. We reached the place where
the fact of the shop's being a ship, and the engineer the
captain, and I the mate, and the smith the bos'n, ad
infinitum, came to be a matter of general knowledge,
and we were admired and congratulated and laughed with
until nearly all the workers of the shop, with some
trifling and unimportant exceptions, the foreman for one,
began to share our illusion--carpenters, cabinet-makers,
joiners, all. The one exception, as I say, was the foreman,
only he was a host in himself, a mean, ill-dispositioned
creature, of course, who looked upon all such ideas as
fol-de-rol, and in a way subversive of order and good work.
He was red-headed, big-handed, big-footed, dull. He had no
imagination beyond lumber and furniture, no poetry in his
soul. But the crew, the hundred-headed crew, accepted it as
a relief. They liked to think they were not really working,
but out upon a blue and dancing sea, and came back one by
one, the carpenters, the tinsmiths, the millwrights, one
and all, with cheerful grins to do us honor.
"So you're the captain, eh?" lazy old Jack, the partner of
car-loading Carder, asked of the engineer, and John looked
his full dignity at once.
"That I am, Jack," he replied, "only able seamen ain't
supposed to ask too many familiar questions. Are they,
"Well, I should say not," I replied, arriving with a basket
of shavings. "Able seamen should always salute the captain
before addressing him, anyhow, and never fail to say
Sir. Still, our crew is new. It's not very
able and the seamen end of it is a little on the
fritz, I'm thinking. But, all things considered, we can
afford to overlook a few errors until we get everything
well in hand. Eh, Captain?"
"Right, mate," returned the captain genially. "You're
Before I could start an argument on this score, one of the
able seamen, one who was thus discourteously commented on,
observed, "I don't know about that. Seems to me the mate of
this here ship ain't any too much shucks, or the captain
The captain and I were a little dismayed by this. What to
do with an able seaman who was too strong and too dull to
take the whole thing in the proper spirit? It threatened
smooth sailing! This particular person was old Stephen
Bowers, the carpenter from the second floor who never to us
seemed to have quite the right lightness of spirit to make
a go of all this. He was too likely to turn rough but
well-meant humor into a personal affront to himself.
"Well, Captain, there you are," I said cautiously, with a
desire to maintain order and yet peace. "Mutiny, you see."
"It does look that way, don't it?" big John replied, eyeing
the newcomer with a quizzical expression, half humorous,
half severe. "What'll we do, mate, under such
"Lower a boat, Captain, and set him adrift," I suggested,
"or put him on bread and water, along with the foreman and
the superintendent. They're the two worst disturbers aboard
the boat. We can't have these insubordinates breaking up
This last, deftly calculated to flatter, was taken in good
part, and bridged over the difficulty for the time being.
Nothing was taken so much in good part or seemed to soothe
the feelings of the rebellious as to include them with
their superiors in an order of punishment which on the very
first day of the cruise it had been decided was necessary
to lay upon all the guiding officers of the plant. We could
not hope to control them, so ostensibly we placed them in
irons, or lowered them in boats, classifying them as
mutineers and the foreman's office as the lock-up. It went
"Oh no, oh no, I don't want to be put in that class," old
Bowers replied, the flattering unction having smoothed his
ruffled soul. "I'm not so bad as all that."
"Very well, then," I replied briskly. "What do you think,
The latter looked at me and smiled.
"Do you think we kin let him go this wunst?" he inquired of
"Sure, sure," I replied. "If he's certain he doesn't want
to join the superintendent and the foreman."
Old Bowers went away smiling, seemingly convinced that we
were going to run the boat in shipshape fashion, and before
long most of the good-natured members of the crew consented
to have themselves called able seamen.
For nearly a month thereafter, during all the finest summer
weather, there existed the most charming life aboard this
ideal vessel. We used the shop and all its details for the
idlest purposes of our fancy. Hammers became belaying pins,
the machines of the shop ship's ballast, the logs in the
yard floating debris. When the yard became too cluttered,
as it did once, we pretended we were in Sargasso and had to
cut our way out--a process that took quite a few days. We
were about all day commenting on the weather in nautical
phrases, sighting strange vessels, reporting disorders or
mutiny on the part of the officers in irons, or the men, or
announcing the various "bells," lighthouses, etc.
In an evil hour, however, we lit upon the wretched habit of
pitching upon little Ike, the butt of a thousand quips.
Being incapable of grasping the true edge of our humor, he
was the one soul who was yet genial enough to take it and
not complain. We called upon him to shovel ashes, to split
the wood, to run aft, that was, to the back gate, and see
how the water stood. More than once he was threatened with
those same "irons" previously mentioned, and on one
occasion we actually dragged in a length, pretending to
bind him with it and fasten him to the anvil (with the
bos'n's consent, of course), which resulted in a hearty
struggle, almost a row. We told him we would put him in an
old desk crate we had, a prison, no less, and once or
twice, in a spirit of deviltry, John tried to carry out his
threat, nailing him in, much against his will. Finally we
went to the length of attempting to physically enforce our
commands when he did not obey, which of course ended in
It was this way. Ike was in the habit of sweeping up his
room--the smith's shop--at three o'clock in the afternoon,
which was really not reasonable considering that there were
three hours of work ahead of all of us, and that he was
inclined to resent having his fine floor mussed up
thereafter. On the other hand I had to carry shavings
through there all this time, and it was a sore temptation
to drop a few now and then just for the devil's sake. After
due consultation with the captain, I once requested him to
order that the bos'n's mate leave the floor untouched until
half past four, at least, which was early enough. The
bos'n's mate replied with the very cheering news that the
captain could "go to the devil." He wasn't going to kill
himself for anybody, and besides, the foreman had once told
him he might do this if he chose, heaven only knows why.
What did the captain think that he (the bos'n's mate) was,
Here at last was a stiff problem. Mutiny! Mutiny! Mutiny!
What was to be done? Plainly this was inconveniencing the
mate and besides, it was mutiny. And in addition it so
lacerated our sense of dignity and order that we decided it
could not be. Only, how to arrange it. We had been putting
so much upon the bos'n's mate of late that he was becoming
a little rebellious, and justly so, I think. He was always
doing a dozen things he need not have done. Still, unless
we could command him, the whole official management of this
craft would go by the board, or so we thought. Finally we
decided to act, but how? Direct orders, somehow, were
somewhat difficult to enforce. After due meditation we took
the bos'n, a most approving officer and one who loved to
tease Ike (largely because he wanted to feel superior
himself, I think), into our confidence and one late
afternoon just after Ike had, figuratively speaking,
swabbed up the deck, the latter sent him to some other part
of the shop, or vessel, rather, while we strewed shavings
over his newly cleaned floor with a shameless and lavish
hand. It was intensely delicious, causing gales of laughter
at the time--but--. Ike came back and cleaned this up--not
without a growl, however. He did not take it in the
cheerful spirit in which we hoped he would. In fact he was
very morose about it, calling us names and threatening to
go to the foreman [in the lock-up] if we did it again.
However, in spite of all, and largely because of the
humorous spectacle he in his rage presented we did it not
once, but three or four times and that after he had most
laboriously cleaned his room. A last assault one afternoon,
however, resulted in a dash on his part to the foreman's
"I'm not goin' to stand it," he is declared to have said by
one who was by at the time when he appeared in front of
that official. "They're strewin' up my floor with shavin's
two an' three times every day after I've cleaned it up for
the day. I'll quit first."
The foreman, that raw, non-humorous person previously
described, who evidently sympathized with Ike and who, in
addition, from various sources, had long since learned what
was going on, came down in a trice. He had decided to stop
"I want you fellows to cut that out now," he declared
vigorously on seeing us. "It's all right, but it won't do.
Don't rub it in. Let him alone. I've heard of this ship
stuff. It's all damn nonsense."
The captain and mate gazed at each other in sad solemnity.
Could it be that Ike had turned traitor? This was anarchy.
He had not only complained of us but of the ship.--the
Idlewild! What snakiness of soul! We retired to a
corner of our now storm-tossed vessel and consulted in
whispers. What would we do? Would we let her sink or try to
save her? Perhaps it was advisable for the present to cease
pushing the joke too far in that quarter, anyhow. Ike might
cause the whole ship to be destroyed.
Nevertheless, even yet there were ways and ways of keeping
her afloat and punishing an insubordinate even when no
official authority existed. Ike had loved the engineroom,
or rather, the captain's office, above all other parts of
the vessel because it was so comfortable. Here between
tedious moments of pounding iron for the smith or blowing
the bellows or polishing various tools that had been
sharpened, he could retire on occasion, when the boss was
not about and the work not pressing (it was the very next
room to his) and gaze from the captain's door or window out
on the blue waters of the Hudson where lay the yachts, and
up the same stream where stood the majestic palisades. At
noon or a little before he could bring his cold coffee,
sealed in a tin can, to the captain's engine and warm it.
Again, the captain's comfortable locker held his coat and
hat, the captain's wash bowl--a large wooden tub to one
side of the engine into which comforting warm water could
be drawn--served as an ideal means of washing up. Since the
bos'n's mate had become friendly with the captain, he too
had all these privileges. But now, in view of his
insubordination, all this was changed. Why should a
rebellious bos'n's mate be allowed to obtain favors of the
captain? More in jest than in earnest one day it was
announced that unless the bos'n's mate would forego his
angry opposition to a less early scrubbed deck--
"Well, mate," the captain observed to the latter in the
presence of the bos'n's mate, with a lusty wink and a leer,
"you know how it goes with these here insubordinates, don't
you? No more hot coffee at noon time, unless there's more
order here. No more cleanin' up in the captain's tub. No
more settin' in the captain's window takin' in the cool
mornin' breeze, as well as them yachts. What say? Eh? We
know what to do with these here now insubordinates, don't
we, mate, eh?" This last with a very huge wink.
"You're right, Captain. Very right," the mate replied.
"You're on the right track now. No more favors--unless--
Order must be maintained, you know."
"Oh, all right," replied little Ike now, fully in earnest
and thinking we were. "If I can't, I can't. Jist the same I
don't pick up no shavin's after four," and off he strolled.
Think of it, final and complete mutiny, and there was
nothing more really to be done.
All we could do now was to watch him as he idled by himself
at odd free moments down by the waterside in an odd corner
of the point, a lonely figure, his trousers and coat too
large, his hands and feet too big, his yellow teeth
protruding. No one of the other workingmen ever seemed to
be very enthusiastic over Ike, he was so small, so queer;
no one, really, but the captain and the mate, and now they
had deserted him.
It was tough.
Yet still another ill descended on us before we came to the
final loss, let us say, of the good craft Idlewild.
In another evil hour the captain and the mate themselves
fell upon the question of priority, a matter which, so long
as they had had Ike to trifle with, had never troubled
them. Now as mate and the originator of this sea-going
enterprise, I began to question the authority of the
captain himself occasionally, and to insist on sharing as
my undeniable privilege all the dignities and emoluments of
the office--to wit: the best seat in the window where the
wind blew, the morning paper when the boss was not about,
the right to stand in the doorway, use the locker, etc. The
captain objected, solely on the ground of priority, mind
you, and still we fell a-quarreling. The mate in a stormy,
unhappy hour was reduced by the captain to the position of
mere scullion, and ordered, upon pain of personal assault,
to vacate the captain's cabin. The mate reduced the captain
to the position of stoker and stood in the doorway in great
glee while the latter, perforce, owing to the exigencies of
his position, was compelled to stoke whether he wanted to
or no. It could not be avoided. The engine had to be kept
going. In addition, the mate had brought many morning
papers, an occasional cigar for the captain, etc. There was
much rancor and discord and finally the whole affair, ship,
captain, mate and all, was declared by the mate to be a
creation of his brain, a phantom, no less, and that by his
mere act of ignoring it the whole ship--officers, men,
masts, boats, sails--could be extinguished, scuttled, sent
down without a ripple to that limbo of seafaring men, the
redoubtable Davy Jones's locker.
The captain was not inclined to believe this at first. On
the contrary, like a good skipper, he attempted to sail the
craft alone. Only, unlike the mate, he lacked the curious
faculty of turning jest and fancy into seeming fact. There
was a something missing which made the whole thing seem
unreal. Like two rival generals, we now called upon a
single army to follow us individually, but the crew, seeing
that there was war in the cabin, stood off in doubt and, I
fancy, indifference. It was not important enough in their
hardworking lives to go to the length of risking the
personal ill-will of either of us, and so for want of
agreement, the ship finally disappeared.
Yes, she went down. The Idlewild was gone, and with
her, all her fine seas, winds, distant cities, fogs,
For a time indeed, we went charily by each other.
Still it behooved us, seeing how, in spite of ourselves, we
had to work in the same room and there was no way of
getting rid of each other's obnoxious presence, to find a
common ground on which we could work and talk. There had
never been any real bitterness between us--just jest, you
know, but serious jest, a kind of silent sorrow for many
fine things gone. Yet still that had been enough to keep
everything out of order. Now from time to time each of us
thought of restoring the old life in some form, however
weak it might be. Without some form of humor the shop was a
bore to the mate and the captain, anyhow. Finally the
captain sobering to his old state, and the routine work
becoming dreadfully monotonous, both mate and captain began
to think of some way in which they, at least, could agree.
"Remember the Idlewild, Henry?" asked the ex-captain
one day genially, long after time and fair weather
had glossed over the wretched memory of previous quarrels
"That I do, John," I replied pleasantly.
"Great old boat she was, wasn't she, Henry?"
"She was, John."
"An' the bos'n's mate, he wasn't such a bad old scout, was
he, Henry, even if he wouldn't quit sweepin' up the
"He certainly wasn't, John. He was a fine little fellow.
Remember the chains, John?"
"Haw! Haw!" echoed that worthy, and then, "Do you think the
old Idlewild could ever be found where she's lyin'
down there on the bottom, mate?"
"Well, she might, Captain, only she'd hardly be the same
old boat that she was now that she's been down there so
long, would she--all these dissensions and so on? Wouldn't
it be easier to build a new one--don't you think?"
"I don't know but what you're right, mate. What'd we call
her if we did?"
"Well, how about the Harmony, Captain? That sounds
rather appropriate, doesn't it?"
"The Harmony, mate? You're right--the
Harmony. Shall we? Put 'er there!"
"Put her there," replied the mate with a will. "We'll
organize a new crew right away, Captain--eh, don't you
"Right! Wait, we'll call the bos'n an' see what he says."
Just then the bos'n appeared, smiling goodnaturedly.
"Well, what's up?" he inquired, noting our unusually
cheerful faces, I presume. "You ain't made it up, have you,
you two?" he exclaimed.
"That's what we have, bos'n, an' what's more, we're
thinkin' of raisin' the old Idlewild an' renamin'
her the Harmony, or, rather, buildin' a new one.
What say?" It was the captain talking.
"Well, I'm mighty glad to hear it, only I don't think you
can have your old bos'n's mate any longer, boys. He's gonna
"Gonna quit!" we both exclaimed at once, and sadly, and
John added seriously and looking really distressed, "What's
the trouble there? Who's been doin' anything to him now?"
We both felt guilty because of our part in his pains.
"Well, Ike kind o' feels that the shop's been rubbin' it
into him of late for some reason," observed the bos'n
heavily. "I don't know why. He thinks you two have been
tryin' to freeze him out, I guess. Says he can't do
anything any more, that everybody makes fun of him and
shuts him out."
We stared at each other in wise illumination, the new
captain and the new mate. After all, we were plainly the
cause of poor little Ike's depression, and we were the ones
who could restore him to favor if we chose. It was the
captain's cabin he sighed for--his old pleasant
"Oh, we can't lose Ike, Captain," I said. "What good would
the Harmony be without him? We sorely can't let
anything like that happen, can we? Not now, anyhow."
"You're right, mate," he replied. "There never was a better
bos'n's mate, never. The Harmony's got to have 'im.
Let's talk reason to him, if we can."
In company then we three went to him, this time not to
torment or chastise, but to coax and plead with him not to
forsake the shop, or the ship, now that everything was
going to be as before--only better--and--
Well, we did.