Denison Gets Another Ship by Louis Becke
Owing to reduced circumstances, and a growing hatred of the
hardships of the sea, young Tom Denison (ex-supercargo of the
South Sea Island trading schooner
) had sailed from Sydney to undertake the management of an
alleged duck-farm in North Queensland. The ducks, and the vast
area of desolation in which they suffered a brief existence,
were the property of a Cooktown bank, the manager of which was
Denison's brother. He was a kind-hearted man, who wanted to
help Tom along in the world, and, therefore, was grieved when
at the end of three weeks the latter came into Cooktown humping
his swag, smoking a clay pipe, and looking exceedingly tired,
dirty, and disreputable generally. However, all might have gone
well even then had not Mrs. Aubrey Denison, the brother's wife,
unduly interfered and lectured Tom on his "idle and dissolute
life," as she called it, and made withering remarks about the
low tastes of sailors other than captains of mail steamers or
officers in the Navy. Tom, who intended to borrow £10 from
his brother to pay his passage back to Sydney to look for a
ship, bore it all in silence, and
then said that he should like to give up the sea and become a
missionary in the South Seas, where he was "well acquainted
with the natives."
Mrs. Aubrey (who was a very refined young lady) smiled
contemptuously, and turned down the corners of her pretty
little mouth in a manner that made the unsuccessful duck-farmer
boil with suppressed fury, as she remarked that
had heard of some of the shocking stories he had been telling
the accountant and cashier of the
of the people in the South Seas, and
he wished to return there and re-associate with his vulgar and
wicked companions. Now, she added, had he stuck bravely to work
with the ducks, the Bank (she uttered the word "Bank" in the
tone of reverence as one would say "The Almighty") would have
watched his career with interest, and in time his brother would
have used his influence with the General Manager to obtain a
position for him, Tom Denison, in the Bank itself! But, judging
knowledge of his (Tom's) habits and disposition, she would be
doing wrong to hold out the slightest hope for him now,
"Look here, Maud, you're only twenty-two—two years
older than me, and you talk like an old grandmother;" and then
his wrath overpowered his judgment—"and you'll look like
one before you're twenty-five. Don't you lecture
. I'm not your husband,
thank Heaven above
! And damn the bank and its carmine ducks." (He did not say
"carmine," but I study the proprieties, and this is not a
From the weatherboard portals of the bank Tom strode out in
undisguised anger, and obtained employment on a collier,
discharging coals. Then, by an extraordinary piece of good
luck, he got a billet as proof-reader on the North Queensland
, from which, after an exciting three weeks, he was dismissed
for "general incompetency and wilful neglect of his duties." So
with sorrow in his heart he had turned to the ever-resourceful
sea again for a living. He worked his passage down to Sydney in
an old, heart-broken, wheezing steamer named the
, and stepped jauntily ashore with sixteen shillings in his
pocket, some little personal luggage rolled up in his blanket,
and an unlimited confidence in his own luck.
Two vessels were due from the South Sea Islands in about a
month, and as the skippers were both well known to and were on
friendly terms with him, he felt pretty certain of getting a
berth as second mate or supercargo on one of them. Then he went
to look for a quiet lodging.
This was soon found, and then realising the fact that
sixteen shillings would not permit him viewing the sights of
Sydney and calling upon the Governor, as is the usual procedure
with intellectual and dead-broke Englishmen who come to
Australia with letters of introduction from people who are
anxious to get rid of them, he tried to get temporary
employment by applying personally at the leading warehouses and
merchants' offices. The first day he failed; also the second.
On the third day the secretary of a milk company desired him to
call again in three days. He did, and was then
told by the manager that he "might have something" for him in a
month or two. This annoyed Tom, as he had put on his sole clean
collar that morning to produce a good impression. He asked the
official if six months would not suit him better, as he wanted
to go away on a lengthy fishing trip with the Attorney-General.
The manager looked at him in a dignified manner, and then bade
him an abrupt good-day.
A week passed. Funds were getting low. Eight shillings had
been paid in advance for his room, and he had spent five in
meals. But he was not despondent; the
, dear, comfortable old wave-puncher, beloved of hard-up
supercargoes, was due in a week, and, provided he could inspire
his landlady with confidence until then, all would be well.
But the day came when he had to spend his last shilling, and
after a fruitless endeavour to get a job on the wharves to
drive one of the many steam winches at work discharging cargo
from the various ships, he returned home in disgust.
That night, as he sat cogitating in his bedroom over his
lucklessness, his eye fell on a vegetable monstrosity from
Queensland, presented to him by one of the hands on board the
. It was a huge, dried bean-pod, about four feet long, and
contained about a dozen large black beans, each about the size
of a watch. He had seen these beans, after the kernels were
scooped out, mounted with silver, and used as match-boxes by
bushmen and other Australian gentry. It at once occurred to him
that he might sell it. Surely the thing ought to be worth at
least five shillings.
In two minutes he was out in the street, but to his disgust
found most of the shops closed, except the very small retail
Entering a little grocery store, he approached the
proprietor, a man with a pale, gargoyle-like face, and
unpleasant-looking, raggedy teeth, and showing him the bean,
asked him to buy it.
The merchant looked at it with some interest and asked Tom
what it was called.
Tom said it was a
. (He didn't know what a
was; but it sounded well, and was all the Latin he knew, having
heard from his mother that a dissolute brother of hers had been
afflicted with that complaint, superinduced by spirituous
The grocer-man turned the vegetable over and over again in
his hand, and then asked the would-be vendor if he had any
more. Tom said he hadn't. The
, he remarked, was a very rare bean, and very valuable. But he
would sell it cheap—for five shillings.
"Don't want it," said the man rudely, pushing it away
contemptuously. "It's only a faked-up thing anyway, made of
Tom tried to convince him that the thing was perfectly
genuine, and actually grew on a vine in North Queensland; but
the Notre Dame gargoyle-featured person only heard him with a
snort of contempt. It was obvious he wouldn't buy it. So,
sneeringly observing to the grocer that no doubt five shillings
was a large sum for a man in such a small way of
business as he was, Tom went out again into the cold world.
He tried several other places, but no one would even look at
the thing. After vainly tramping about for over two hours, he
turned away towards his lodging, feeling very dispirited, and
thinking about breakfast.
Turning up a side street called Queen's Place, so as to make
a short cut home, he espied in a dimly-lighted little shop an
old man and a boy working at the cobbler trade. They had
honest, intelligent faces, and looked as if they wanted to buy
very badly. He tapped at the door and then entered.
"Would you like to buy this?" he said to the old man. He did
not like to repeat his foolish Latin nonsense, for the old
fellow had such a worn, kindly face, and his honest, searching
eyes met his in such a way that he felt ashamed to ask him to
buy what could only be worthless rubbish to him.
The cobbler looked at the monstrosity wonderingly. "'Tis a
rare big bean," he said, in the trembling quaver of old age,
and with a mumbling laugh like that of a pleased child. "I'll
give you two shillin's for it. I suppose you want money badly,
or else you wouldn't be wanderin' about at ten o'clock at night
tryin' to sell it. I hope you come by it honest, young
Tom satisfied him on this score, and then the ancient gave
him the two shillings. Bidding him good-night, Tom returned
home and went to bed.
(Quite two years after, when Denison returned to
Sydney from the South Seas with more money "than was good for
his moral welfare," as his sister-in-law remarked, he sought
out the old cobbler gentleman and bought back his
bean for as many sovereigns as he had been given shillings for
Next morning he was down at the wharves before six o'clock,
smoking his pipe contentedly, after breakfasting sumptuously at
a coffee-stall for sixpence. There was a little American barque
lying alongside the Circular Quay, and some of the hands were
bending on her head-sails. Tom sat down on the wharf stringer
dangling his feet and watching them intently. Presently the
mate appeared on the poop, smoking a cigar. He looked at Tom
critically for a moment or so, and then said—
"Looking for a ship, young feller?"
The moment Tom heard him speak, he jumped to his feet, for
he knew the voice, last heard when the possessor of it was mate
of the island trading schooner
, a year before in Samoa.
"Is that you, Bannister?" he cried.
"Reckon 'taint no one else, young feller. Why, Tom Denison,
is it you? Step right aboard."
Tom was on the poop in an instant, the mate coming to him
with outstretched hand.
"What's the matter, Tom? Broke?"
"Sit down here and tell me all about it. I heard you had
. Say, sling that dirty old pipe overboard, and take one of
these cigars. The skipper will be on deck presently, and the
sight of it
would rile him terrible. He hez his new wife aboard, and she
considers pipes ez low-down."
Tom laughed as he thought of Mrs. Aubrey, and flung his clay
over the side. "What ship is this, Bannister?"
, of 'Frisco. We're from the Gilbert Islands with a cargo of
"Who is your supercargo?"
"Haven't got one. Can't get one here, either. Say, Tom,
you're the man. The captain will jump at getting you! Since he
married he considers his life too valuable to be trusted among
natives, and funks at going ashore and doing supercargo's work.
Now you come below, and I'll rake out enough money to get you a
high-class suit of store clothes and shiny boots. Then you come
back to dinner. I'll talk to him between then and now. He knows
a lot about you. I'll tell him that since you left the
you've been touring your native country to 'expand your mind.'
Boston, as ugly as a brown stone jug, and highly intellectual.
all right, and as good a sailor-man as ever trod a deck, but
boss, runs the ship, and looks after the crew's morals. Thet's
why we're short-handed. But she'll take to you like
lightning—when she hears that you've been 'expanding your
mind.' Buy a second-hand copy of Longfellow's, poems, and tell
her that it has been your constant companion in all your
wanderings among vicious cannibals, and she'll just decorate
your cabin like a prima-donna's boudoir, darn your socks, and
make you read some of her own poetry."
That afternoon, Mr. Thomas Denison, clean-shirted and looking
eminently respectable and prosperous, and feeling once more a
man after the degrading duck episode in North Queensland, was
strolling about George Street with Bannister, and at peace with
the world and himself. For the skipper's wife had been
impressed with his intellectuality and modest demeanour, and
was already at work decorating his cabin—as Bannister had