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The Skipper's Schooner by Jonathan F. Kelley


No better specimen of the genus, genuine Yankee nation, can be found, imagined or described, than the skippers of along shore, from Connecticut river to Eastport, Maine. These critters give full scope to the Hills and Hacketts of the stage, and the Sam Slicks and Falconbridges of the press, to embody and sketch out in the broadest possible dialect of Yankee land. One of these “tarnal critters,” it is my purpose to draw on for my brief sketch, and I wish my readers to do me the credit to believe that for little or no portion of my yarn or language am I indebted to fertility of imagination, as the incidents are real, and quite graphic enough to give piquancy to the subject.

Last spring, just after the breaking up of winter, a down-east smack or schooner, freighted with cod-fish and potatoes, I believe, rounded off Cape Ann light, and owing to head winds, or some other perversity of a nautical nature, could no further go; so the skipper and his crew—one man, green as catnip—made for an anchorage, and hove the “hull consarn” to. Here they lay, and tossed and chafed, at their moorings, for a day or two, without the slightest indication on the part of the weather to abate the nuisance. So the commander of the schooner got in his little “dug-out,” and giving the aforesaid crew special injunctions to keep all fast, he pulled off to shore to take a look around.

Now, it so fell out that in the course of a few hours' time after the departure of the skipper, a snorting east wind sprang up, and not only blew great guns, but chopped up a short, heavy sea, perfectly astonishing and alarming to Hezekiah Perkins, in the rolling and pitching schooner. It was Hez's first attempt at seafaring; and this sort of reeling and waltzing about, as a matter of course, soon discomboberated his bean basket, and set his head in a whirl and dancing motion—better conceived by those who have seen the sea elephant than described. Hez got dea-a-athly sick, so sick he could not budge from the stern sheets, where he had taken a squat in the early commencement of his difficulties. In the mean time, the skipper came down to the beach and hailed the victim:

“Hel-LO! hel-LO!”

Hez feebly elevated his optics, and looking to the windward, where stood his noble captain, he made an effort to say over something:

“Wha-a-t ye-e-e want?”

“What do I want? Why, yeou pesky critter, yeou, go for'ard thar and hist the jib, take up the anchor, put your helm a-lee, and beat up to town!”

This was all very well, provided the skipper was there to superintend, manage and carry out his voluble orders; but as the surf prevented him from coming on board, and the lightness of Hez's head militated against the almost superhuman possibility of carrying out the skipper's orders, things remained in statu quo, the skipper ashore, and Hez fervently wishing he was too.

“Ain't you a-going to stir round there, and save the vessel?” bawled the excited captain.

“How on airth,” groaned the horror-stricken mariner, “how on airth am I to help it?”

“Wall, by Columbus, she'll go clean ashore, or blow eout to sea afore long, sure as death!” responded the skipper; and before he had fairly concluded his augury, sure enough, the halser parted, the schooner slew round and made a bee-line for Cowes and a market! This rather brought Hezekiah to his oats—he riz, tottering and feeble, on his shaky pins, and crawled forward to get up the jib.

“O ye-s, now yeou're coming about it, yes, yeou be,” bawled the almost frantic skipper, as the distance between him and his vessel was increasing. “Put her abeout and head her up the ba-a-y!” But it was no kind of use in talking, for Hezekiah could not raise the jib; and his imperfect nautical knowledge, under such a snarl, completely bewildered and disgusted him with the prospect. So saying over the seven commandments and other serious lessons of youth, Hezekiah resigned himself to the tumultuous elements, and concluded it philosophical and scriptural resignation to let Providence and the old schooner fix out the programme just as they might. It is commonly reported, that our mackerel catchers, when a storm or gale overtakes them on the briny deep, lash all fast and go below, turn in and let their smacks rip along to the best of their knowledge and ability. They seldom founder or get severely scathed; and these facts, or perfect indifference, having entered the head of Hezekiah Perkins, he became perfectly unconcerned as to future developments. Night coming on, the skipper saw his schooner fast departing out to sea, and when she was no longer to be seen, he made tracks for Boston, to report the melancholy facts to the owners of the vessel and cargo, and see about the insurance.

Next morning, the skipper having discovered that the insurance was safe, he found himself in better spirits; so he walked down along the wharves, to take a look out upon the bay and shipping—when lo, and behold, he sees a vessel so amazingly like his Two Pollies, that he could not refrain from exclaiming:

“Hurrah! hurrah! By Christopher Columbus—if thar don't come my old beauty and Hez Perkins, too—hurrah!”

The overjoyed skipper went off into a double hornpipe on a single string; and as the veritable schooner came booming saucily up the bay before a spanking breeze, with her jib spread, the skipper called out in a voice of thunder and gladness:

“Hel-lo! Hez Perkins, is that yeou?”

“Hel-lo! Cap'n, I'm coming, by pumpkins! Clear the track for the Two Pollies!” And putting her head in among the smacks of Long Wharf, Hez let her rip and smash chock up fast and tight. When the captain landed on his own deck, he rushed into the arms of his brave mate Hezekiah, and they had a regular fraternal hug all round—and Hezekiah Perkins, in behalf of his wonderful skill, perseverance and luck, was unanimously voted first mate of the Two Pollies on the spot. It appeared that a change of wind during the night had driven the wandering vessel back into the bay, and Hezekiah, having got over his sick spell by daylight, crawled forward, got up the jib, and actually made the wharf, as we have described.


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