Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page




The History of Jacko I., edited by Andrew Lang


The ship ‘Roxalana’ of Marseilles lay anchored in the Bay of Loando, which as we all know is situated in South Guinea. The ‘Roxalana’ was a merchant vessel, and a brisk traffic had been going on for some time with the exchange of the European goods with which the ship had been laden, for ivory and other native produce. All hands were very busy getting on board the various provisions and other stores needed for a long voyage, for it was in the days of sailing vessels only, and it would be some time before they could hope to return to Marseilles.

Now the captain of the ‘Roxalana’ was a mighty hunter, and seeing that all was going on well under the first officer’s direction, he took his gun and a holiday and went up country for one more day’s sport.

He was as successful as he was brave, and he had the great good luck to meet a tiger, a young hippopotamus, and a boa constrictor. All these terrible creatures fell before the unerring aim of the Provençal Nimrod, and after so adventurous a morning’s work the captain naturally began to feel tired and hungry, so he sat down under the shade of some trees to rest and have some lunch.

He drew a flask of rum out of one pocket, and having uncorked it placed it on his right side; from his other pocket he produced a huge guava, which he laid on his left side, and finally he drew a great wedge of ship biscuit from his game bag and put it between his knees. Then he took out his tobacco pouch and began to fill his pipe  so as to have it ready at hand when he had finished his meal.

The Captain stares in outrage at the spilled rum


Imagine his surprise when, having filled his pipe, he found the flask had been upset and the guava had disappeared!

I am afraid the captain made use of some very strong language, but there was nothing for it but to make the best of the biscuit, the sole relic of his feast. As he munched it he warily turned his head from side to side, watching for the thief, when all of a sudden something fell upon his head. The captain put up his hand and found—the skin of his guava. Then he raised his eyes and saw a monkey dancing for joy at his own pranks in the tree just above him.

As I have already shown the captain was an excellent shot. Without stirring from his seat, he took up his gun and with a shot snapped the end of the branch on which his persecutor was sitting.

Down came branch and monkey, and the captain at once captured the latter before it had time to recover from the surprise of its rapid fall.

He was small and quite young, only half grown, but of a rather rare kind, as the captain, who had an ever-ready eye to the main chance, at once perceived.

‘Ah ha!’ said he, ‘this little fellow will be worth fifty francs if he’s worth a farthing by the time we get back to Marseilles.’

So saying he popped the monkey into his game-bag and buttoned it carefully up. Then, feeling that a piece of biscuit was not quite a sufficient lunch after the fatigues of his morning’s sports, he retraced his steps and returned to his ship in company with his monkey, whom he named ‘Jacko.’

Before leaving Loando the captain, who was fond of pets, bought a beautiful white cockatoo with a saffron crest and jet black beak. ‘Cataqua’ (that was his harmonious name) was indeed a lovely creature and extremely  accomplished into the bargain. He spoke French, English, and Spanish equally well, and sang ‘God save the King,’ the ‘Marseillaise,’ and the Spanish National Anthem with great perfection.

The aptitude for languages made him a ready pupil, and his vocabulary was largely increased by daily association with the crew of the ‘Roxalana,’ so that before they had been very long at sea Cataqua swore freely in the purest Provençal, to the delight and admiration of his captain.

The captain was very fond of his two pets, and every morning, after inspecting the crew and giving each man his orders for the day, he would go up to Cataqua’s cage, followed by Jacko, and give the cockatoo a lesson. When this was well said he would reward his pupil by sticking a lump of sugar between the wires of the cage, a reward which delighted Cataqua whilst it filled Jacko with jealousy.

He too loved sugar, and the moment the captain’s back was turned he would draw near the cage and pull and pinch till the lump of sugar generally changed its destination, to the despair of Cataqua, who, crest erect and with brandished claw, rent the air with shrieks of rage mingled with angry oaths.

Jacko meanwhile stood by affecting an innocent air and gently sucking the sugar which he had stowed away in one of his pouches. Unluckily none of Cataqua’s owners had taught him to cry ‘stop thief’ and he soon realised that if Jacko were to be punished he must see to it himself.

So one day, when the monkey after safely abstracting the sugar pushed a paw between the bars of the cage to gather up some remaining crumbs, Cataqua, who was gently swinging, head down, and apparently unconscious of what was going on, suddenly caught Jacko’s thumb in his beak and bit it to the bone.

Jacko uttered a piercing shriek, rushed to the rigging and climbed as far as he could, when he paused, clinging on by three paws and piteously brandishing the fourth in the air.

Dinner-time came, and the captain whistled for Jacko, but contrary to all customs no Jacko came. The captain whistled again, and this time he thought he heard an answering sound which seemed to come from the sky. He raised his eyes and beheld Jacko still waving his injured paw. Then began an exchange of signals, with the result that Jacko firmly refused to come down. Now the captain had trained his crew to habits of implicit obedience and had no notion of having his orders resisted by a monkey, so he took his speaking trumpet and called for Double Mouth.

Double Mouth was the cook’s boy, and he had well earned his nickname by the manner in which he took advantage of his culinary position to make one meal before the usual dinner hour without its interfering in the least with his enjoyment of a second at the proper time. At the captain’s call Double Mouth climbed on deck from the cook’s galley and timidly approached his chief.

The captain, who never wasted words on his subordinates, pointed to Jacko, and Double Mouth at once began to give chase with an activity which proved that the captain had chosen well. As a matter of fact Jacko and Double Mouth were dear friends, the bond of sympathy which united them being one of greediness, for many a nice morsel Jacko had to thank the cook’s boy for. So when the monkey saw who was coming, instead of trying to escape him he ran to meet him, and in a few minutes the two friends, one in the other’s arms, returned to the deck where the captain awaited them.

The captain’s one treatment for wounds of all kinds consisted of a compress steeped in some spirit, so he at once dipped a piece of rag in rum and bandaged the patient’s thumb with it. The sting of the alcohol on the wound made Jacko dance with pain, but noticing that the moment the captain’s back was turned Double Mouth rapidly swallowed the remains of the liquid in which the rag had been dipped, he realised that however painful as a dressing it might possibly be agreeable to the palate. He stretched out his tongue and very delicately touched the bandage with its tip. It was certainly rather nice, and he licked more boldly. By degrees the taste grew on him, and he ended by putting his thumb, bandage and all, into his mouth and sucking it bodily.

The result was that (the captain having ordered the bandage to be wetted every ten minutes) by the end of a couple of hours Jacko began to blink and to roll his head, and as the treatment continued he had at length to be carried off by Double Mouth, who laid him on his own bed.

Jacko slept without stirring for some hours. When he woke the first thing which met his eyes was Double Mouth busy plucking a fowl. This was a new sight, but Jacko seemed to be particularly struck by it on this occasion. He got up from the bed and came near, his eyes steadily fixed on the fowl, and carefully watched how the whole operation proceeded. When it was ended, feeling his head a little heavy still, he went on deck to take the air.

The weather was so settled and the wind so favourable that the captain thought it only a waste to keep the poultry on board alive too long, so he gave orders that a bird should be served daily for his dinner in addition to his usual rations. Soon after a great cackling was heard amongst the hencoops and Jacko climbed down from the yard where he was perched at such a rate that one might have thought he was hastening to the rescue. He tore into the kitchen, where he found Double Mouth already plucking a newly killed fowl, till not an atom of down was left on it.

Jacko showed the deepest interest in the process, and on returning to deck he, for the first time since his accident, approached Cataqua’s cage, carefully keeping beyond range of his beak however. After strolling several times round, he at last seized a favourable moment and clutching hold of one of Cataqua’s tail feathers, pulled hard till it came out regardless of the cockatoo’s screams and flappings. This trifling experiment caused Jacko the greatest delight, and he fell to dancing on all fours, jumping up and falling back on the same spot which all his life was the way in which he showed his supreme content about anything.

Meantime the ship had long lost sight of land and was in full sail in mid ocean. It appeared unnecessary to the captain, therefore, to keep his cockatoo shut up in a cage, so he opened the door and released the prisoner, there being no means of escaping beyond the ship. Cataqua instantly took advantage of his freedom to climb to the top of one of the masts, where, with every appearance of rapture, he proceeded to regale the ship’s company with his entire large and varied vocabulary, making quite as much noise by himself as all the five-and-twenty sailors who formed his audience.

Whilst this exhibition was taking place on deck a different scene was being enacted below. Jacko had as usual approached Double Mouth at plucking time, but this time the lad, who had noticed the extreme attention with which the monkey watched him, thought that possibly there might be some latent talent in him which it was a pity not to develop.

Double Mouth was one of those prompt and energetic persons who waste no time between an idea and its execution. Accordingly he quietly closed the door, put a whip into his pocket in case of need, and handed Jacko the duck he was about to pluck, adding a significant touch to the handle of the whip as a hint.

But Jacko needed neither hint nor urging. Without more ado he took the duck, placed it between his knees as he had seen his tutor do, and fell to with a will. As  he found the feathers giving place to down and the down to skin, he became quite enthusiastic, so much so that when his task was done he fell to dancing for joy exactly as he had done the day before by Cataqua’s cage.

Double Mouth was overjoyed for his part. He only regretted not having utilised Jacko’s talents sooner, but he determined to do so regularly in the future. Next day the same operation took place, and on the third day, Double Mouth, recognising Jacko’s genius, took off his own apron and tied it round his pupil, to whom from that moment he resigned the charge of preparing the poultry for the spit. Jacko showed himself worthy of the confidence placed in him, and by the end of a week he had quite distanced his teacher in skill and quickness.

Meantime the ship was nearing the Equator. It was a peculiarly sultry day, when the very sky seemed to sink beneath its own weight; not a creature was on deck but the man at the helm and Cataqua in the shrouds. The captain had flung himself into his hammock and was smoking his pipe whilst Double Mouth fanned him with a peacock’s tail. Even Jacko seemed overcome by the heat, and instead of plucking his fowl as usual, he had placed it on a chair, taken off his apron, and appeared lost in slumber or meditation.

His reverie, however, did not last long. He opened his eyes, glanced round him, picked up a feather which he first stuck carelessly in his mouth and then dropped, and at length began to slowly climb the ladder leading on deck, pausing and loitering at each step. He found the deck deserted, which apparently pleased him, as he gave two or three little jumps whilst he glanced about to look for Cataqua, who with much gesticulation was singing ‘God save the King’ at the top of his voice.

Then Jacko seemed to forget his rival’s existence altogether, and began lazily to climb the rigging on the opposite side, where he indulged in various exercises, swinging by his tail head down, and generally appearing  to have only come with a view to gymnastics. At length, seeing that Cataqua took no notice of him, he quietly sidled that way, and at the very moment that the performance of the English National Anthem was at its height, he seized the singer firmly with his left hand just where the wings join the body.

Cataqua uttered a wild note of terror, but no one was sufficiently awake to hear it.

‘By all the winds of heaven!’ exclaimed the captain suddenly. ‘Here’s a phenomenon—snow under the Equator!’

‘No,’ said Double Mouth, ‘that’s not snow, that’s—ah, you rascal!’ and he rushed towards the companion.

‘Well, what is it then?’ asked the captain, rising in his hammock.

‘What is it?’ cried Double Mouth from the top of the ladder. ‘It’s Jacko plucking Cataqua!’

The captain was on deck in two bounds, and with a shout of rage roused the whole crew from their slumbers.

‘Well!’ he roared to Double Mouth, ‘what are you about, standing there? Come, be quick!’

Double Mouth did not wait to be told twice, but was up the rigging like a squirrel, only the faster he climbed the faster Jacko plucked, until when the rescuer reached the spot it was a sadly bare bird which he tore from Jacko’s vindictive hands and carried back to his master.

Needless to say that Jacko was in dire disgrace after this exploit. However, in time he was forgiven and often amused the captain and crew with his pranks.

When the ‘Roxalana’ reached Marseilles after a quick and prosperous voyage, he was sold for seventy-five francs to Eugène Isabey the painter, who gave him to Flero for a Turkish hookah, who in his turn exchanged him for a Greek gun with Décamps.