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Title: Hurricane Jack of The Vital Spark Author: Hugh Foulis (pseudonym of Neil Munro) * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0700751h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2007 Date most recently updated: May 2007 This eBook was produced by: Jon Jermey Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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I. HURRICANE JACK
II. THE MYSTERY SHIP
III. UNDER SEALED ORDERS
IV. A SEARCH FOR SALVAGE
V. THE WONDERFUL CHEESE
VI. THE PHANTOM HORSE AND CART
VII. HURRICANE JACK'S LUCK-BIRD
VIII. A ROWDY VISITOR
IX. THE FENIAN GOAT
X. LAND GIRLS
XI. LEAP YEAR ON THE VITAL SPARK
XII. BONNIE ANN
XIII. THE LEAP-YEAR BALL
XIV. THE BOTTLE KING
XVI. AN OCEAN TRAGEDY
XVII. FREIGHTS OF FANCY
XVIII. SUMMER-TIME ON THE VITAL SPARK
XIX. EGGS UNCONTROLLED
XXI. SUNNY JIM REJECTED
XXII. HOW JIM JOINED THE ARMY
XXIII. THE FUSILIER
XXIV. PARA HANDY, M.D.
XXV. A DOUBLE LIFE
XXVI. THE WET MAN OF MUSCADALE
XXVIII. THE END OF THE WORLD
XXIX. THE CAPTURED CANNON
XXX. AN IDEAL JOB
"STOP you!" said Para Handy, looking at his watch, "and I will give you a trate; I will introduce you to the finest sailor ever sailed the seas. He's comin' aboard the vessel in a little to say good-bye to us before he joins a kind o' a boat that's bound for Valapariza. And I right or am I wrong, Dougie?"
"That's what he said himsel', at any rate," said Dougie dubiously. "But ye canna put your trust in Jeck. He meant it right enough at the time, but that wass yesterday, and Jeck hass wan o' them memories for mindin' things that's no' to be depended on--ass short and foggy ass a winter day!"
"You'll see he'll come!" said Para Handy confidently. "Jeck's a man o' his word, a perfect chentleman! Forbye, I have the lend o' his topcoat."
"Who is the consummate and accomplished mariner?" I asked, delaying my departure from the Vital Spark.
"There's only wan in all the cope and canopy o' British shippin'" said the Captain. "'John Maclachlan'in the books, but 'Hurricane Jeck' in every port from here to Callao. You have heard me speak of him? An arm like a spar and the he'rt of a child!"
"I'll assure you there iss nothing wrong wi' his arm whatever," said the mate; "it's like a davit." But he offered no comment on the heart of the illustrious seaman.
"He'll be here in a chiffy," Para Handy assured me eagerly. "It's worth your while waitin' to meet him when you have the chance. You'll find him most agreeable; no pride nor palavers about him; chust like any common sailor. A full-rigged ship tattooed on his chest, and his hat wi' a list to starboard. A night wi' Jeck iss ass good ass a college education. You never saw such nerve!"
"I'll wait a little," I said; "life offers so few opportunities for seeing the really great."
Five minutes later, and a lanky weather-beaten person with a tightly buttoned blue serge suit, a brown-paper parcel in his hand, and a very low-crowned bowler hat at an angle of forty-five, dropped on to the deck of the Vital Spark.
"Peter," he said to the Captain anxiously, without preamble, "what did ye do wi' my portmanta?"
"I never saw it, Jeck," said Para Handy. "Iss it runnin' in your mind ye lost it?"
"Not exactly lost," said Hurricane Jack, "but it's been adrift in this old town since Friday, and I'm tackin' round my friends to see if any of them's wearin' a good Crimea shirt I had in it. No reflections upon anybody, mind--that was an A1 shirt," and he looked with some suspicion at the turned-up collar of my coat.
"Nobody here hass your shirt, Jeck, I'll assure you," protested the Captain. "What kind of a portmanta wass it?"
"It was a small tin canister," said Hurricane Jack quite frankly, and, having said so, cheered up magically, unburdened his mind of his loss, and was quite affable when I was formally presented to his distinguished notice by the Captain. He had a hybrid accent, half Scotch and half American, and I flatter myself he seemed to take to me from the very first.
"Put it there!" he exclaimed fervently, thrusting out a hand in which, on my response to the invitation, he almost crushed my fingers into pulp. "I'm nothin' but an old sailor-man, but if I can do anything for anybody at any time between now and my ship sailin', say the word, sunny boys!"
I assured him there was nothing pressing that I wanted done at the moment.
"I told ye!" exclaimed the Captain triumphantly. "Always the perfect chentleman! He thinks of everything!" He beamed upon the visitor with a pride and gratification it was delightful to witness.
"We havena anything on the boat," remarked Dougie, with what, to stupid people, might seem irrelevance. Hurricane Jack, however, with marvellous intuition, knew exactly what was indicated, looked at me with some expectancy, and I had not the slightest difficulty in inducing them all to join me in a visit to the Ferry Inn.
The bright particular star of the British mercantile marine having given the toast, "A fair slant!" three minutes later, addressed himself to the disposal of the largest quantity of malt liquor I have ever seen consumed at one breath, put down the empty vessel with unnecessary ostentation, and informed all whom it might concern that it was the first to-day.
"The chentleman," said Para Handy, alluding to me, "would take it ass a special trate, Jeck, to hear some specimens of your agility."
I did my best to assume an aspect of the most eager curiosity.
"In the old clipper tred," Para Handy informed me in a stage whisper. "Wan of the very best! Namely in all the shuppin' offices! Took a barque they called the Port Jackson from Sydney to San Francisco in nine-and-thirty days. Look at the shouthers o' him!"
"If a bit of a song, now--an old come-all-ye, or a short-pull shanty like 'Missouri River,'--would be any good to the gentleman," said Hurricane Jack agreeably, "I'll do my best endeavours as soon as I've scoffed this off. Here's salute!"
Para Handy looked a little apprehensive. "What wass runnin' in my mind," said he, "wass no' so mich a song, though there's none can touch you at the singin', Jeck, but some of your diversions in foreign parts. Take your time, Jeck; whatever you like yoursel'!" He turned again to me with a glance that challenged my closest and most admiring attention for the performance about to take place, and whispered, "Stop you, and you'll hear Mr Maclachlan!"
The gifted tar was apparently reluctant to abandon the idea of a song, and rather at a loss which of the stirring incidents of his life to begin with.
"Vino," he remarked, and then, lest there should be any mistake about the word, he spelled it. "V-i-n-o, that's wine in the Dago lingo. Wherever there's land there's liquor, and down away in the Dago countries you take a wide sheer in, see, to a place like Montevidio. Montevidio's like here, see--" and he drew some lines on the counter with spilt ale; "and down about here's Bahia, and round the Horn, say just right here, there's Valaparisa. Well, as I say, you tack in to any o' them odd places, it might be for a cargo o' beef, and you're right up against the vino. That's Dago for wine, sunny boys! V-i-n-o."
"Didn't I tell ye!" exclaimed Para Handy ecstatically, looking at me. "Jeck hass been everywhere. Speaks aal their languages like a native. Yes, Jeck; go on, Jeck; you're doin' capital, Jeck!"
"Extremely interesting!" I said to the fascinating child of the sea. "Valparaiso now; it's pretty liable to earthquake, isn't it?"
"Take your time, Jeck; don't be in a hurry," said Para Handy anxiously, as if I had been a K.C. trying to trap a witness.
"Never saw the bloomin' place but it was pitchin' like a Cardiff tramp," said Hurricane Jack. "It's the vino. V-i-n-o. Silly thing, the Dago lingo; I know it fine, all the knots and splices of it, but it's the silliest lingo between Hell and Honolulu. Good enough, I guess, for them Johnny Dagoes. What this country wants is genuine British sailormen, to sail genuine British ships, and where are they? A lot o' ruddy Dutchmen! None o' the old stuff that was in the Black Ball Line wi' me; it wasn't blood we had in our veins in them days, sunny boys, but Riga balsam and good Stockholm tar."
He suddenly put his hand into a pocket, dragged out a leather bag, and poured a considerable quantity of silver coinage on the counter.
"Set her up again, sunny boy!" he said to the barman; "and don't vast' heavin' till this little pot o' money's earned."
"Always the perfect chentleman!" said Para Handy with emotion. "Money is nothing to Jeck; he will spend it like the wave of the sea." But he gathered it up and returned it, all but a shilling or two, to the leather bag, which was by force restored to its owner's pocket.
"What," I asked, "is the strangest port you have seen?"
Hurricane Jack reflected. "You wouldn't believe me, sunny boys," said he, "if I told you."
"Yes, yes, Jeck; the chentleman'll believe anything," said Para Handy.
"The rummiest port I've struck," said Hurricane Jack, "is Glasgow. The hooker I was on came into the dock last week, the first time I've been home for three years, and I goes up the quay for a tot o' rum wi' a shipmate. Jerry Sloan, that comes out o' Sligo. It wasn't twelve o'clock--"
"At night?" asked Dougie.
"Certainly! Who wants rum in the middle o' the day? I'd been so long away, perusin' up and down the South America coasts and over to Australia, I'd clean forgot the Glasgow habits, and I tell you I got a start when I found the rum-shops battened down. There wasn't even a shebeen! They tell me shebeenin's against the law in Glasgow now. They'll soon be shuttin' up the churches!
"'This is the worst place ever I scoffed!' says Jerry, and he's a lad that's been a bit about the world. Next day Jerry and me takes a slant up-town to buy a knife, and blamed if there was a cutlery shop or an ironmonger's open in the whole village!
"'The man that makes the knives in Sheffield's dead, and they're celebratin' his funeral, or this is the slowest town on the Western Hemisphere,' says Jerry.
"Next day we took another slant to buy boiled ham, and went into a shop that was full of ham, but the son-of-a-gun who kept it said he daren't sell us anything but oranges! So the both of us went back like billy-oh to the waterside and signed for Valaparisa. That's where the vino is, sunny boys, and don't you forget it! V-i-n-o."
"Capital!" said Para Handy, and, turning again to me, remarked: "It's wonderful the things you see in traivellin'. If you'll come over to the vessel now, we'll maybe get Jeck to give a stave o' 'Paddy came round.'"
But I tore myself away on the plea of urgent business.
UP at the bar of the inn the crew of the Vital Spark mildly regaled themselves with munition ale which the Captain audibly surmised had been made on the premises after the last washing-day.
It seemed good enough, however, for a gang of young Glasgow Fair lads who were also in the bar, and made as much noise as if the liquor legislation of the past five years had been abandoned.
"They're only lettin' on," said Para Handy sadly. "Just play-actin'! It's no' on ale o' this dimensions that they're keepin' up the frolic. A barrel o' that wouldna rouse a song in a Templar lodge."
He cut himself a plug of thick black twist, and chewed it to remove as speedily as possible the flavour of Macalister's still undemobilised beer.
"I say, old chap," said the cheekiest of the Glasgow youths, "what do ye chew tobacco for?"
"Just to get oot the juice," said Para Handy. "Iss everybody weel aboot Barlinnie?"
The trippers came surging boisterously up to his end of the counter; there was about them an infectious jollity that slightly thawed even the saturnine Macphail.
"Is that your vessel at the quay?" said one of the strangers after a while. "She looks a bit battered. Needin' paintin' an' that--"
Para Handy sighed.
"Ye may weel say it!" he responded. "It would be droll if she wassna lookin' battered. Ye would read in the papers aboot the 'Mystery Ship'?"
"Often," said the Glasgow man.
"That's her," whispered Para Handy. "Q Boat 21--the chenuine article! The cammyflage iss off her, and her cannons iss back at Beardmore's, but if ye had seen her a year ago ye would call her the gem o' the sea. Am I right or am I wrong, Dougie?"
"Ye chust took the word oot o' my mooth," responded the mate with impressive alacrity. "The gem o' the ocean."
Macphail merely snorted.
"What was she for?" asked one of the trippers, quite impressed.
"That's just the very words I asked the Admirality when they took her over," said Para Handy, "and they wouldna tell me. 'Ye'll fin' oot soon enough," says they; 'she's the very packet we're lookin' for to play a prank on Jerry. She looks like a boat that would have agility.'
"They painted her streakum-strokum like the batters o' a book I have at home called John Bunyan's 'Holy War,' so that ye couldna make her oot a hundred yerds off if ye shut your eyes; they put a wireless instrument doon her funnel, and a couple o' nice wee guns at her stern, wi' a crate on the top o' them the same ass they were chickens, and put on board her an old frien' o' my own by the name o' Hurricane Jeck that's weel acquent wi' the ocean tred, and another chap for a gunner. The hold was packed wi' ammunition."
"Where did ye a' sleep?" asked one of the Glasgow company.
"It wassna a place to sleep in that wass botherin' us," explained the Captain; "the trouble wass to find a place to put doon the pail in when Dougie and me and Macphail and Jeck was takin' oor baths in the morning."
"Oh, Jerusalem!" exclaimed Macphail to himself, with his face in another mug of munition ale. "Baths!"
"Had ye navy uniforms?" asked one of the intensely interested strangers.
"The very latest!" Para Handy assured him. "I'll assure you they did it handsome."
"'Q 21' on the guernsey in red, red letters," added Dougie. "Tasty!"
"Every man a telescope and a heavily mounted blue pea-jacket," added Macphail, with an ironic humour that went over the heads of the audience.
"But whit was the mystery bit?" inquired an impatient listener. "Did ye sink onything?"
"Did we sink onything?" repeated Para Handy in an impressive whisper, after looking round the bar, to assure himself no person of German sympathies might be present. "When I tell you, chentlemen, that Hurricane Jeck wass the Admirality's man on board my boat, there iss no need to go into the question aboot sinkin'."
"Perhaps the gentleman never heard o' Hurricane Jeck," suggested the engineer maliciously.
"Perhaps not by that name," said Para Handy briskly, "but they would hear o' John Maclachlan, V.C., and that's the same chentleman."
"I mind o' readin' the name o' a V.C. like that in the papers," said an intelligent Glasgow man.
"There iss no more namely sailor in the Western Ocean tred," said Para Handy, "and no man livin' that did more to win the war than my old friend Jeck. Yon old fellow Tirpitz had a great respect for Jeck; he gave orders to aal the German submarines to beware of Jeck in parteecular. But, mind ye--Jeck Maclachlan iss aalways the perfect chentleman! He would sink your boat on ye the way ye would think it wass a favour."
"What sort o' lookin' chap is he?" asked a Glasgow man.
"A great big copious kind o' fellow wi' fur in his ears and the he'rt of a child," said Para Handy with fervour. "He wass on the China clippers in his time; there's not a quirk of navigation that Jeck iss not acquent wi', nor a British sailor that hass seen more life. Am I no' right, Dougie?"
"Chust exactly what I would say myself," responded the mate. "Jeck's a clinker! I never met a more soothin' man--very soothin'!"
"Puts ye in mind o' Steedman's Powders," interpolated Macphail in a confidential whisper to Macalister, the publican. "Whit is it ye put in that beer? It has a queer effect."
"Where did ye sail to?" asked one of the strangers, eager to get on with what gave promise of being a most thrilling narrative.
Para Handy shook his head, and had another glass under pressure. "If I had a bit o' a map and two or three days wi' ye," he said, "I could show ye where we sailed. But it wouldna be fair to Jeck. Ye'll mind this was the Mystery Ship, and though I wass in command of her, Jeck wass for the Admirality. Would I dare put it any clearer, Dougie?"
"Ye'll have to be caautious, Captain," said the mate anxiously. "Keep mind o' the regulations!"
"Don't get into trouble, whitever you do!" advised the engineer with a sardonic air.
Para Handy paid no heed to the engineer. He had sized up the Glasgow visitors as a most agreeable and vivacious party of fine young gentlemen whose acquaintance was well worth cultivating in the absence of more exhilarating elements in John Macalister's bar.
"Where are ye bidin'?" he asked them abruptly, and was informed that the bell-tent round the point, on the shore, was to be their residence for another week.
"Capital!" said Para Handy. "A tent's the very place for speakin' your mind; ye never ken who's aboot ye in a bar. Dougie and me'll go roond to the tent at supper-time and tell ye things aboot the Mystery Ship that'll make your blood run cold."
"Right-ho!" said the Glasgow gentlemen with one accord.
"Mind ye!" warned the Captain, "strictly between oorsel's! If the Admirality thocht that we wass blabbin' the way we won the war, there would be trouble. We're no' a bit feared for oorsel's--Dougie and me--but we must consuder Jeck. It wass me that wass in command o' Q Boat 21, but it wass Jeck that had the agility. Just to let ye ken--we would be sailin' oot each trip wi' oor life in oor hands, and comin' back wi'--"
"Caautious, Captain! Caautious!" implored Dougie, with his eye on the clock.
"Half-past two; bar's closed, gentlemen!" announced Macalister, and his guests streamed out.
"Be round at the tent at six," said one of the Glasgow fellows.
"Ye can depend on it!" the Captain assured him. "And just to show ye the kind o' man he wass, I'll bring Hurricane Jeck's photygraf."
"THE first time the Vital Spark and us took up the line o' mystery shippin'," said Para Handy, settling down to his yarn, "she wasna cammyflaged at aal, but in her naitural colour. I wass thinkin' to spruce her up a bit for the occasion wi' a yellow bead aboot her, and the least wee touch o' red aboot her funnel, but Hurricane Jeck, wi' the Admirality's orders, made us sail the way we were.
"'This boat, my sunny boys,' says he, "iss to look like any ordinar' packet that would be carryin' coals, or wud, or gravel,' and he wouldna let Dougie even wash his face for fear the enemy would have suspeecions she wass some vessel oot o' the usual. Indeed, I wass black affronted the way she took to sea--aal rust and tar, the deck reel-rail wi' buckets and boxes, a washin' o' clothes on the riggin', and everywhere Irish pennants. Am I right or am I wrong, Dougie?"
"Ye have it exact, Captain," promptly agreed the mate; "I have seen a bonnier boat on a valentine."
"'The thing is to look naitural,' says Jeck, and his notion aboot lookin' naitural wass to have us like a boat in a pantomime, and a crew like a wheen o' showmen. He wouldna even let me put on my jecket! And, oh, but Macphail wass the angry man! Jeck's orders wass that we were to keep her at four or five knots, but make her funnel smoke like bleezes. Macphail had to burn up all his novelettes; if he wass here himsel' he would tell ye."
"Where did ye start frae?" asked one of the Glasgow men.
"I'll tell ye that withoot wan word o' devagation," said Para Handy. "We started from Bowling, under sealed orders that Jeck had at his finger-ends, and a lot o' impudent brats o' boys on the quay cryin' 'Three cheers for the Aquitania!'"
"Oor lives in oor hands!" remarked Dougie solemnly. "We didna know but every minute would be oor next."
"There wass a lot o' talk at the time aboot submarines roond Arran, and we made oor course first for Loch Ranza," continued the Captain. "We never came on nothing--not a thing! Jeck and me and Dougie put oot the punt at Loch Ranza, and went ashore to see the polisman. We took Jenkins wi' us--he wass the English chentleman in cherge of the guns, and he would aye be scoorin' them wi' soft soap--fair made pets o' them! The polisman assured us Kilbrannan Sound wass hotchin' wi' submarines the week before, and he wass of opeenion they were shifted up Loch Fyne, for a whale wass seen at Tarbert on the Friday.
"We carried on to Tarbert, and by good luck it wass Tarbert Fair. Jeck threw open the boat for visitors, considerin' the occasion. They came on board in droves to see a mystery ship, and Jeck put roond a hat in the aid of Brutain's hardy sons. He gaithered seventeen shillin's, and we stayed three days."
"Seventeen and ninepence ha'penny," said Dougie, apparently determined on absolute accuracy.
"I stand corrected, Dougald; it wass seventeen and ninepence ha'penny," admitted the Captain, on reflection.
"It wass a chentleman's life under Jeck; ye never saw a better hand for navigaation! Duvvle the place did we go into but there was sport--a displenishin' sale at Skipness that lasted a couple o' days; a marriage at Carradale wi' fifteen hens on the table, and everybody hearty--"
"Kind, kind people in Carradale!" enthusiastically testified the mate. "That homely! Ye had just to stretch your hand, and somebody would put something in it. It wass wi' us bein' in the Navy."
"But did ye no' see ony submarines?" impatiently inquired one of the Glasgow men.
The narrator refused to be hurried. "Jeck jaloosed," he proceeded, "that the Blackwaterfoot wass the kind of a place where the Chermans might be lurkin'; we went ashore and scoured aal roond the inn, ootside and in, and up as far as Shisken, lookin' at night for signals. We followed a light for an oor, and tracked it to Shisken Inn; it wass only a man wi' a lantern."
"My goodness! aren't they cunnin'?" said Jeck at the end of the week, when there wassna ony sign o' the Chermans. "We'll have to go roond the Mull and see if they're no' in Islay.' Ye'll mind o' him lookin' the book, Dougie?"
"Fine!" said the mate, without a moment's hesitation, but with a questioning look in his eye for Para Handy.
"It wass an almanac, and Jeck wass studyin' it like a book o' Gaelic songs.
"'What are ye studyin', Jeck?' I asked him. 'Iss it the tides ye're lookin'?"
"'The tides iss aal right,' says Jeck; 'I'm lookin' to see what day the wool market's on in Port Ellen.' Man! ye couldna keep step to Jeck; he wass chokeful o' naitural agility. We got into Port Ellen chust when the market started, and they couldna trate us better than they did. The English chentleman in charge o' oor guns said he had traivelled the world, and never seen the like o't. For a couple o' days his cannons got little scourin', I'll assure you!
"Jeck looked the map on Monday, and gave a start. 'Holy sailors!' says he, 'we forgot to caal on Campbeltown, and I have fifteen cousins there!'
"We were chust goin' roond by Sanda, and it wass desperate dark, when a boat pops up and hails us. We couldna mak' oot wan word they were sayin'!"
"'Now we're into the midst of it!' said Jeck, quite cool, puttin' oot the light and takin' off his slippers. 'Heave oot the punt and start the panic party!'"
"Whit was the panic party?" asked one of the Glasgow men.
"Chust me and Dougie and Macphail. I assure you we were well put through oor drills at Bowling! Whenever a U-boat hailed ye, ye understand, we were to get in the punt in a desperate confusion, and leave the English chentleman and Jeck on the vessel, below the crate where the guns wass.
"Macphail wass first in the punt, wi' his clock and a canister he kept his clothes in; Dougie fell into the water, and wass nearly drooned, and I wass chust goin' to jump in when I minded and went back to get my papers--"
"'John Bull' and the 'Oban Times,' "explained the mate with unnecessary and misunderstanding minuteness.
"When we put off in the punt, the gallant Jeck, wi' his gunner below the crate, was usin' terrible language, bawlin' oot to the Chermans to egg them to come on. A stiff bit breeze wass blowin' from the south'ard. We waited to hear the battle and pick up Jeck and the English chentleman when it wass feenished--"
"Ye mind we were driftin', Captain," remarked the mate.
"As dark ass the inside o' a coo," pursued Para Handy, "and, as Dougie tells ye, we were driftin'. Believe it or no', but in oor hurry wi' the panic, we clean forgot the oars!"
"Oor lives in oor hands!" said Dougie lugubriously. "And me at the bailin' dish. The chentlemen's gettin' tired listenin', Peter."
"Aal night we drifted in the punt, and it wass desperate dark, but a trawler towed us in to Campbeltown in the mornin'. There wass a demonstration when we landed, us bein' in the Navy, but it wass kind o' spoiled at first for me and Dougie, wonderin' aboot the vessel. And there she wass, lyin' at the quay!"
"Criftens!" said a Glasgow man, with an air of frank disappointment; "I thocht she would be sunk by that time!"
"Not under Hurricane Jeck!" said Para Handy. "Ye'll mind o' Jeck's agility. He had sunk the other fellow, him and Jenkins, and that's the way he got the Victoria Cross. And it wassna fifteen cousins he had in Campbeltown, when the story went aboot; the half o' aal the folk in Kintyre wass cousins to him."
"I have a bit here o' the Cherman boat," said Dougie, taking a fragment of a herring-box from below his guernsey. "Jeck picked it up for a sample. Any of you chentlemen that would like a souveneer--"
"HURRICANE JECK got a great, great name wi' the Admirality for his cheneral agility, efter we sunk the Cherman submarine off Sanda," said Para Handy, "and they would be sendin' him letters every other day, but not an article in the way o' money, and Jeck got vexed. Ye never, never in your life saw a man in such a bad trum; I declare the sparks would fly from him if ye rubbed his whiskers. He wass chust wicked! Am I right or am I wrong, Dougie?"
"Ye have it chust exact, Captain," chimed in the mate promptly. "His language wass deplorable for a Christian vessel."
"And, indeed, I wassna in tremendous good trum mysel' efter a fortnight or two o' danderin' roond the islands in the search o' Mr Tirptiz, wi' my boat pented in aal the colours o' a sixpenny kahouchy ball--"
"Chust makin' a bauchle o' the boat!" said Dougie, with feeling.
"I had no money neither, and if it wass not that Jeck had a fine brass-braided deep-sea kep in the bottom o' his kist, we would be stervin'. Every noo and then he would go ashore wi' a Western Ocean chart rolled up under his oxter and the kep weel cocked, and come back wi' a dozen o' eggs, a pound or two o' poothered butter, and a hen. They're silly folk aboot them islands--chust ass Hielan' ass Mull!--and when Jeck would cock his deep-sea kep at them, and wave the chart, and say he wass offeecial forger for the Navy, they would give him the very blankets!
"We went one day for water to a creek o' a place that was called Baghmohr, and spent the efternoon in pausin' and consuderin'. There iss a trig wee cotter hoose at Baghmohr, and a lot o' ducks aboot it; Jeck went in to caal wi' his kep on, efter studying the ducks to see which wass the fattest, and all that wass at home wass a woman and a cat.
"Jeck is aye the chentleman; he took off his kep and asked the woman in Gaelic where wass her husband.
"'I don't ken where in the world he iss,' said the wife, 'but he left this mornin' wi' an empty keg on his shouther, and him singin'.'
"'Chust that!' said Jeck. 'It's a bonny place ye have here; iss there chust the two o' ye?'
"'Bonny enough,' said the wife. 'There's only me and my man and the cat and the ducks, but it iss a terrible place for scandal!'
"When Jeck came back withoot a duck I was dumfoondered. 'Surely ye hadna the right cock on your bonnet?' I says to him. 'I'm sure ye never saw finer ducks.'
"It wass then he told me aboot the keg. 'When a man goes away in them parts wi' an empty keg on his shouther, and him singin',' says Jeck,' it's no' for holy water. We'll chust wait, Peter, till he comes back! 'Oh, man! Ye couldna be up to Jeck! He iss chust a perfect duvvle for contrivance! Am I right or am I wrong, Dougie?"
"Oh, he's smert enough wi' his heid," frankly admitted the mate.
"We watched for the man comin' back wi' the keg till it was nearly dark," continued Para Handy, "and when he came, he hadna a keg at aal wi' him, but wass singin' that lood it put the fear o' daith on the very ducks.
"'Whatever he went away for, it wassna in the keg he put it,' says Hurricane Jeck, 'but I'll bate ye anything he'll go back in the mornin', and Jenkins and me'll follow him up for fear that anything happens.'
"It wass hardly daylight when the man of Baghmohr wass out wi' a bowl at the well, and cold spring water didna please him, for before breakfast-time he wass leapin' like a hare across the island.
"'Put by your polishin' paste and put on your Sunday garments," said Jeck to Jenkins, 'and the two o' us'll find oot where that fellow goes for the hair o' the dog that bit him.'
"Jenkins stopped scourin' his cannon, and they started off in chase o' the Baghmohr man, for Jenkins had the greatest respect for Jeck and his agility.
"Ye'll maybe no' believe me, but they tramped six miles till they came to a clachan where everybody wass singin' like a Sunday School choir, and it a Tuesday mornin'! Every man in the place that had his wits aboot him wass doon on the shore aboot a cave wi' a great big puncheon o' rum in it. It had drifted ashore on the Sunday, but nobody put a hand on it till the Monday mornin'.
"They were singin' like hey-my-nanny when Jeck and Jenkins came in the midst o' them--Jeck wi' a terrible cock on his kep, and the North Sea chart as weel as the Western Ocean wan in his oxter, Jenkins wi' bell-moothed troosers and a white string wi' a whustle on't.
"'Biri your whustle!' commanded Jeck, and him throng buttonin' up his jecket.
"Jenkins birled his whustle the same's it wass for a British battle; Jeck cocked his kep on three hairs, turned up wan side o' his moustache, and steps in front o' the biggest man in the company. What wass it he said, Dougald?"
"Whatever ye say yoursel'. Captain," replied the mate with deference.
"I canna mind the words exactly, but Jeck assured them it wass the jyle for them. 'You are fair pollutin' the island wi' the King's rum,' said Jeck, and him sniffin'. 'Ye ken ass weel ass I do that every article that drifts ashore belongs to the Admirality. Gie me a tinny, and I'll see what will require for to be done.'
"They passed him a tinny--Jeck filled it at the spigot-hole that they had made in the puncheon, took a good sup, and said, 'Chust what I wass jalousin'--Jamaica rum. Iss that not desperate, Jenkins? Chust you taste it, to make sure.'
"Jenkins tasted near a pint, shut his eyes wan efter the other, and said it wass rum, withoot a question.
"'What ye'll do iss this,' says Jeck to the crofters, 'ye'll drive that spigot in again, put the puncheon on a cairt, and hurl it over to Baghmohr, where ye'll find oor gunboat lyin', and if ye're slippy aboot it I'll maybe let the thing blow by.'
"Jeck and Jenkins wass back at the boat by dinner-time, lookin' fine, and full o' capers, but the cairt wi' the puncheon in it didn't come till late in the efternoon. They said they had to travel seven miles to get a horse and cairt.
"We slung the goods aboard wi' the winch, and the men wass wantin' something for the salvage.
"'I dauma do it,' said Jeck,' it's against the regulations; forbye, ye didna bring your tinnies,' and in a few meenutes we had up the anchor, and were off to sea again.
"It would be near ten o'clock at night when Macphail the engineer took ill of a sudden, and nothin' would do him but a drop o' spurits. Jeck took a gimlet and bored a couple o' holes in the puncheon. He filled a cup for Macphail, and the silly fool had it swallowed before he found it wass nothing but a sample o' the Sound o' Sleat. Weren't they the blackguards! They had emptied the cask in their kegs and filled it up again wi' plain sea water! Oh, my! but Jeck wass angry!"
"WE were, wan time yonder, perusin' up and doon the Long Isle looking for mines," said Para Handy. "We looked high, and we looked low, on sea and land; many a droll thing we found drifting, but never came on nothing more infernal than oorsel's. Hurricane Jeck had a terrible skill for mines. At night he would take the punt, wi' a bit o' a net in her, and splash the mooths o' the burns for oors on end in search o' them. Not wan iota! The only thing he would get in the net would be a grilse or two, or a string o' troot; Uist is fair infested wi' them.
"But wan night yonder he came back wi' a whupper o' a cheese; he got it on the high-water mark.
"'Capital!' I says to him; 'that's something wise-like!' for I wass chust fair sick o' salmon--salmon--salmon, even-on.'
"Jeck rolled the cheese on board; sixty pounds wass in it if there wass an ounce! I never saw a cheese that better pleased the eye. Wi' a cheese like yon and a poke o' meal, ye could trevel the world.
"But Jeck wass dubious. 'She looks aal right,' he says, 'but ye canna be up to them Cherman blackguards. We'll be better to trate that cheese wi' caaution. I didna put a hand on her mysel' till I walked three times roond her lookin' for horns, and when I lifted her it wass wi' my he'rt in my mooth and a word o' prayer.'
"'Hoots, man, but ye're tumid, tumid!' I says to him. 'What harm's in a Cheddar cheese? Take her aft and put your knife in her.'
"He took oot his knife at that, and made to hand me't. 'Open her up yoursel', Peter,' says he, 'but first let me and the rest o' the crew get off a bit in the punt. I would be black affronted to be blown up wi' a Cherman cheese wi' a bomb inside o't.'
"I looked at the cheese, and, my goodness, it wass a whupper! Ye could feed an airmy on't! And I never wass as hungry in my life! There iss something aboot a cheese on board a ship that grows on ye! But I didna like the look o' Jeck, at aal, at aal, for he aye took care that the cheese wass on wan side o' the funnel, and he had a startled eye.
"'I don't care a docken for cheese,' I says to him at last, 'but Dougie's fond o't. Gie the knife to Dougie.' By this time Dougie wass in the hold wi' a tarp'lain over his heid, but he heard me fine.
"'Take it away and sink it,' he bawls; 'cheese never agreed wi' me; I promised my wife I would never taste it.'
"Jeck looked roond for Macphail, but he was off like a moose among his engines, and meh'in' like a sheep.
"The only man on the ship that wass quite cool and composed wass Jenkins, and he wass under the crate where his gun wass, and him sound sleepin'.
"'Mind ye, I'm no' sayin' there is anything wrong wi' the cheese,' says Jeck. 'She may be a topper o' a cheese for aal I ken, but chust you put your ear doon close to her, Peter, and tell me if you don't hear something tickin'.'
"I made wan jump for the punt, and rowed away like fury!
"'Heave that cursed cheese o' Satan over the side this instant, or there'll be the duvvle's own devastation!' I roared to Hurricane Jeck. 'Ye were surely oot o' yer mind to meddle w'it.'
"I came back in twenty meenutes, and found Jeck and the gunner Jenkins had the cheese below a barrel.
"'It's all right,' said Jeck; 'it wass my mistake aboot the tickin'; Jenkins couldna hear it. But aal the same, we'll better keep her at a distance till we come to some place where there's folk that is keener on cheese than we are.'
"For near a month--ay, more than a month--we pursued oor devagations roond the islands seekin' mines, and aye the cheese was in below the barrel. Nobody would touch it. Dougie had his Book oot every night, and indeed I wasna in the best o' trum mysel', wi' my ear aye cocked for clockwork and the boots never on my feet.
"Every other day Jeck would tilt the barrel up, and we could see that cursed cheese ass like a cheese ass anything, but lookin' duvelish glum. I couldna have worse nightmares if I ate it. We gave it, between us, the name o' Jerry.
"It wass the time o' the plewin' matches. The night before a plewin' match we came into Portree, and a wheen o' chentlemen were gatherin' prizes. Ye ken yoursel' the kind o' prizes they have at a plewin' match--a smoked ham for the best start-and-finish; a trooser-length o' tweed cloth from J. & A. Mackay, the merchants, for the best oots-and-ins; a gigot o' black-faced mutton for the best-groomed horse; a silver chain and pendulum for the largest faimily plew-man; and a pair o' gallowses for the best-dressed senior plewman at his own expense.
"The chentleman at the store had a fine collection o' prizes when Jeck and me went in to look at them, and Jeck's eye lighted up when he saw the gallowses. For months his breeks wass hingin' on him wi' a lump o' string.
"'What ye're needin' to complete them prizes,' says he, 'iss a fine big sonsy Cheddar cheese. I'll make a bargain wi' ye. If ye'll let me into the plewin' competition, I'll gie ye a prize o' the bonniest biggest keppuck between Barra Heid and the Butt o' Lewis.'
"The man in charge o' the prizes looked hard at Jeck, who had a gless in him, but not wan drop more than he could cairry like a chentleman, and he says quite sharp, 'What's wrong wi' the cheese?'
"'There's nothing wrong wi' the cheese,' says Jeck; 'she's a chenuine Thomas Lipton, but my mates and me iss desperate keen on the agricultooral tred, and we'll gie the cheese to promote the cheneral hilarity.'
"'Are ye sure ye can plew?' asks the other one, dubious.
"'I've been plewin' all my days,' says Jeck, quite smert; 'chust look at the boots o' me!'
"They agreed that Jeck would get into the competition, and sent doon to the vessel to fetch the cheese, and all the time they were away for't I wass in the nerves, for fear they might jolt it. 'God help the harbour o' Portree this night,' says I to Jeck, 'if they start to sample Jerry!'
"The plewin' match wass a great success. Jeck dressed himsel' in his Sunday clothes, and his Navy kep, and his hair was oiled magnificent. Ye never saw a more becomin' man between the stilts. He had got the lend o' a horse and plew from a cousin o' his on the ootskirts o' Portree.
"His plewin' wass lamentable, but he got the gallowses for bein' the best-dressed senior plewman at his own expense.
"A young man by the name o' Patrick Sinclair won the cheese, and Jeck and me helped him to hurl it in a barrow to his hoose. The whole time we were helpin' him home wi't my he'rt wass in my mooth for fear it would go off, and we laid it on the kitchen bed the same's it wass a baby!
"We got two good drams apiece from Sinclair's wife, and were no sooner oot o' the hoose than Jeck began to run for the ship ass fast as he could shift his legs, me efter him.
"'It's time we were oot o' Portree,' says he, when we got on board; 'there's likely to be trouble.'
"'Do ye think that cheese'll burst before we're started?' I asked him, busy lowsing the ropes.
"'It's no' the cheese I'm frightened for,' says Jeck, 'but it's Patrick Sinclair. I'm no' a bit vexed for him: a fine strong young man like that should be in the Navy when the land's at war, and no' idlin' his time away at plewin'. But when he opens up that cheese there'll be a desperate explosion.'
"'What do ye think'll be in it, Jeck? Will it be dunnymite?'
"'Duvvle the dunnymite!' says Jeck; 'chust chucky-stones! Jenkins an' me scooped oot the inside o' the cheese between us in the last four weeks. We sliced the top off first, and used it for a lid. Three days ago, when you and the rest wass sleepin', we filled her up to the proper weight wi' stones and tacked the top on.'"
THE Vital Spark, with the labours of the day completed, dozed in her berth inside the harbour, enveloped in an atmosphere of peace and frying mackerel. From the stove-pipe rose the pale blue smoke of pine-wood: she had been loading timber. A couple of shirts were drying on a string; the Captain felt them. "Duvvle a drop o' drouth iss in it, Dougie," he remarked to the mate impatiently; "they'll no' be dry till Monday!"
"My goodness!" said the mate. "I wish I wass a shirt! I'm that dry you could use me for a blot-sheet! And there iss Jum again wi' his mackerel for the tea; the fellow has no contrivance at the cookin'--mackerel even-on since we came roond Ardlamont! Ye would think he was stockin' an aquarium. Fried mackerel iss the thirstiest fish that ever swam the sea!"
"All right, chaps!" Sunny Jim cried from the stove; "to-morrow ye'll get boiled yins!"
Dougie cast a pathetic look at the engineer.
"Issn't that the ruffian?" said he. "Many a man that caals himself a cook would put his mind into the business noo and then and think o' something else than mackerel. It iss my opinion Jum goes doon to the slips wi' a pail at night and picks them up where the fishermen threw them over the quay in the mornin'. Man, I never, never, never wass so thirsty!"
^Macphail, the engineer, who was rather bored with mackerel himself, was in a nasty humour. "It's my opeenion," he remarked, "that that's no' a mackerel thirst at a', but the thirst ye started wi' last Setturday when ye got yer pay. There's naething 'll cure it for ye, Dougie; it would tak' far mair money than ye earn, and it's worse noo that tratin's no permitted on the Clyde."
The mate was so indignant at the suggestion that trouble seemed impending, when Para Handy hurried to the restoration of a more peaceful humour with a defence of Dougie which, to subtler instincts, would have rather appeared an added insult.
"Never you mind him, Dougie!" said he; "Macphail iss aalways jibing. And he's aal wrong aalthegither; the worst man in the world can be turned from drink if his friends go aboot the thing wi' kindness. It's aal in the kindly word! That puts me in mind o' wan time yonder my old frien'. Hurricane Jeck, made a Rechabite for life o' a man in Campbeltown that up till then wass keepin' the distilleries goin' till his wife, poor body, wass near demented. It wass aal in the kindly word, and Jeck's agility.
"It wass long afore Jeck sailed on the clippers and made his reputation. Me and him and a bit o' a boy wass on the Margaret Ann, a gaabert that made money for a man in Tarbert. At that time, even, Jeck wass a perfect chentleman; his manners wass complete. To see him stavin' up the quay ye would think he wass off a steamboat, and 'twas him, I'll assure you, had the gallant eye! 'Peter,' he would say to me, and his bonnet cocked, 'I'm goin' for a perusal up the village, chust to show them the kind o' men we breed in Kinlochaline.' My Chove! he had the step!
"There wass wan time yonder, we were puttin' oot coals in Campbeltown, and a cairter wi' the bye-name o' the Twister wass a perfect he'rtbreak to us wi' drink. He couped ower the side o' the cairt the best part o' the coals we slung to him, and came back from every rake wi' another gill in him. The cargo was nearly oot, and him no' over the side o' the quay yet wi' his horse and cairt, when his wife came doon and yoked on us for leadin' her man astray.
"'Mrs MacCallum,' Jeck said to her, calm and gentle,' there iss not a man on board this boat the day hass drunk ass much ass would wet the inside o' a flute; when wass the good-man sober last?'
"'The year they took the lifeboat over the Machrihanish; he was at the cairtin' o't,' says she, and her near greetin'.
"'It iss high time he wass comin' to a conclusion wi't!' said Hurricane Jeck. 'Away you home, and I'll send your husband back to ye a dufferent character. For the next three months have in a good supply of buttermilk!'
"The woman went away. Her man came back to the boat ten meenutes efter, worse than ever. 'No more the night,' said Hurricane Jeck; 'we'll put the rest oot in the mornin',' and the Twister made a course at wance wi' his horse and cairt for the nearest public-hoose.
"Jeck and me and the boy went efter him, and found the horse tied to a ring at the mooth o' a close. The Twister wass in the next door in the public-hoose, and so wass the rest o' Campbeltown, perhaps, for the street was like a Sunday mornin'.
"'There's goin' to be a cairt amissin' here,' said Jeck, quite blithe wi' us, and made a proposeetion. We took the horse oot o' the trams and led it through the close to a washin'-green that wass at the back. We then took off the wheels o' the cairt and rolled them in beside the horse. Between us we lifted the body o' the cairt on its side and through the close wi't, too, like hey-ma-nanny, and back on the green we put on the wheels again and yoked the horse.
"'There you are!' said Jeck. 'The first time ever a cairt wass here since they built the tenement! Stop ye till ye hear what the Twister says when he finds it!'
"Oh, man! man! I tell you it wass Jeck had the agility! He wass chust sublime!
"It took nearly half an oor for the Twister to find where his cairt wass, and we gave him twenty meenutes to himsel' before we went up to the close to see what he wass doin'.
"He had a bit o' string. First he would measure the width o' the close and then the cairt, and he was greetin' sore, sore!
"'What iss't?' says Hurricane Jeck, quite kindly.
"'Issn't this the fearful calamity that's happened?' said the cairter. 'I canna get my cairt oot.'
"'What cairt?' said Hurricane Jeck, quite cool--oh, man, he was a genius!
"'What cairt but this wan,' said the Twister. 'The horse in some way that I canna fathom broucht it in, and noo I canna get it oot!'
"'Willyum,' said Jeck, and clapped his shouther, 'that's no' a horse and cairt at all; it's just imaginaation! Hoo on earth could a cairt get in here? Chust you go home like a decent lad, and stop the drinkin' or ye'll see far worse than cairts!'
"We got him home. 'Mind what I said aboot the buttermilk!' said Jeck to the Twister's wife; 'he's fairly in the horrors!' And then we went back, took doon the cairt again and through the close, and to the yaird where it belonged, and stabled the horse as nate as ninepence.
"From that day on the Twister never tasted drink. I can tell you he got the start! It wass ten years efter that before he found oot it wass railly his cairt wass up the close, and no' a hallucinaation. And by that time it wass hardly worth while to start drinkin' again."
PARA HANDY, with his arms plunged elbow-deep inside the waist-band of his trousers, and his back against a stanchion, conveniently for scratching, touched the animal misgivingly with the toe of his boot, and expressed an opinion that any kind of pet was unnecessary on the Vital Spark so long as they had Macphail. "Forbye," said he, "you would have to pay a licence for the beast, and the thing's no' worth it."
"Your aunty!" retorted Sunny Jim, lifting the hedgehog in his cap; "it's no' a dug. Ye divna need a licence for a hedgehog ony mair nor for a mangle. There's no' a better thing for killin' clocks; a' the foreign-goin' boats hae hedgehogs. Forbye, they're lucky."
But the Captain still looked with disapproval on the animal which Sunny Jim had picked up in a ditch along the shore that morning and brought aboard in a handkerchief.
"There wass never a beast on board this boat," said he, "but brought bad luck. I once had desperate trouble with a cockatoo; Dougie himsel'll tell you; and you mind yoursel' yon dog caaled Biler that you brought, that kept me ashore till the break o' day because it didna know me in my Sunday clothes? You never can tell the meenute you would get an aawful start from a hedgehog; you don't know when you might be sittin' doon on't suddenly. It might be worse than Col Macdougall's tortoise."
"What happened wi' it?" asked Sunny Jim.
"It wass the time o' the big Tarbert fishin's," said Para Handy, "and Hurricane Jeck wass home from sea and workin' a net wi' cousins that had a skiff caaled the Welcome Back. There never wass another boat that season had the luck o' the Welcome Back--she wass coinin' fortunes. She had only to dander over in the cool o' the evening to the Skate or Ealan Buie, and pick up an eye o' fish that would load her to the gunnel, and the others would be slashin' at it on the other side o' Otter and not a bloomin' tail.
"The other Tarbert boats wass desperate. They were sure there wass something in't, and one Sunday night they asked at Hurricane Jeck for an explanation. Jeck was a man that never took a mean advantage; he wass ass open ass the day.
"'I'll not deceive you, sunny boys,' says he. 'If the Welcome Back iss gettin' fishin's, it's because she carries a luck-bird,' and he took a tortoise oot o' his top-coat pocket.
"'She's no' a bird at aal!' said one o' the MacCallums.
"'Perhaps you'll tell me what she iss, then,' said Hurricane Jeck, quite patient, and withoot a word o' divagaation. 'You can see for yoursel' she's no' an animal.'
"'I would say she was an insect,' says MacCallum, and Jeck put the tortoise back in his top-coat pocket.
"'If it wassna the Sabbath evenin',' says he, 'and me wi' my reputation to consider, I would give you a lesson in naitural history that would keep you studyin' in your bed for a day or two.'
"There wass no doubt efter that in Tarbert that the Welcome Back got her luck from Jeck's tortoise, and many a crew in Tarbert tried to buy her. But Jeck was terribly attached to her, and money wouldna tempt him. The beast had wonderful agility--not nimble, if you understand, but terrible sagacity. When Jeck would whustle to her she would come and put her heid oot to be scratched, and she knew his very step when he wass comin' doon the quay. My own he'rt never warmed to them tortoises; for aal the sport that's in them you would be better wi' a partan, but Jeck aye said she grew on you. There's beasts in nature I never could see the use o'--lollipin' about wi' neither meat nor music in them, chust like polismen; and of aal the pets a man could make a hobby of, I think the tortoise iss the most rideeculus. You might ass well be friendly wi' a floo'er-pot.
"Jeck caaled her Sarah efter an aunt he had in Stirling. He wass never very sure aboot her sect, but he said he had a feelin' in his mind that the name o' Sarah suited. When he would be chirpin' to her and caalin' her Sarah, it made my blood run cold; he couldna be more respectful if she had a sowl, and still-and-on he only bought her off a barrow in Stockwell. I think mysel' it wass the great big he'rt o' him; Jeck must aye have something to be kindly to. Isn't that so, Dougie?"
"The very man," said Dougie. "If he wassna puttin' the fear o' daith on his fellow-bein's, he wass lookin' aboot for people to give money to."
"He wass ass chentle ass a child. He would be clappin' Sarah on the back, and her wi' no more sense o' kindness than a blecknin' bottle. He could feed her from the hand. They said she would trot roond the deck behind him, cheepin' like an English curate, and when he went ashore he aalways had her in his pocket, feared the Tarbert men would steal her.
"Many a time I heard him comin' doon the quay at night, and him throng taalkin' away to Sarah in his pocket. If she had lived I don't believe he ever would have mairried. 'The best o' a tortoise,' he would say, 'iss that she never gives you any back chat.'
"There wass never a man more downed than Jeck when Sarah went and died on him. It wass the start o' the winter-time, and he said she took a chill. The Welcome Back wass at the long-line fishin', and from the day that Sarah slipped away the luck wass clean against them.
"Col Macdougall, a fisherman in Kilfinnan, wass a gentleman that offered a bonny penny for the luck-bird when she wass in life, and her eye was hardly closed in daith when Jeck wass over at Macdougall's boat wi' her remains in a pocket-naipkin.
"'If ye're on,' says he, 'for Sarah noo, you can have her at a bargain,' says Jeck, and he clapped her doon on a thwart.
"'She doesna seem to have much vivacity. What's wrong wi' her?' said Col, and he wass a man that played the bagpipes.
"'Not one article iss the matter wi' the poor wee cratur, except that she's kind o' deid,' said Hurricane Jeck. He wass, in all respects, the perfect chentleman and would never take advantage.
"'Dear me,' said Col, 'isn't that a peety! She wass worth her weight in gold when she wass livin'.'
"'And she's worth her weight in silver noo she's deid,' said Jeck. He proved to Col that the luck-bird wass ass good ass ever, and went away wi' seven-and-sixpence in his pocket, leavin' Sarah's mortal elements behind him.
"'I wouldna part wi' her,' said he, 'unless to a comfortable home.' There wass nothing wrong wi' Jeck; he had the finest feelin's.
"Col put the late lamented in behind the stove o' his skiff, and started out for splendid fishin's. They werna in't. There didna seem to be a single cod or whitin' left in aal Loch Fyne. He would go doon to the den o' his skiff and turn poor Sarah over on her back, and give her the worst abuse because she didna came to his assistance, but Sarah was no more concerned than a smoothin'-iron.
"He used her for breakin' coal, and he used her for a toaster, and the winter slipped away. It wass a period namely still in Tarbert ass the Big New Year, money bein' rife, and Col wass oot wi' his bagpipes every evening till the month o' March. He wass over wi' his boat one night at Tarbert at a horo-yally, and came back on board, himsel', wi' his bagpipes aal reel-rail below his oxter, greatly put aboot because o' the barren fishin's.
"Doon to the den o' the boat he went, and struck a match, and turned up Sarah, who wass lyin' on her back.
"'You're there,' said he, 'and the name to you of bein' lucky, but duvvle the tail iss Col Macdougall in your reverence. Paid good money for you, and there you are like a lump of stick, and the white fish laughin' at you!'
"The next meenute and Sarah put oot her heid and started walkin'!
"He wass the valiant laad, wass Col, like aal the folk he came off, but at that he started squealin', for to see a deid tortoise wi' such agility, and took his feet from the skiff the same ass if the duvvle wass efter him. He fell and staved his arm on the quay, but still had the sense to throw his bagpipes into the middle o' Loch Tarbert.
"The parish munister, Macrae, wass gettin' ready for his bed wi' a drop o' toddy, when a ring came to the door, and a meenute efter Col Macdougall grabbed him by the elbow in the lobby.
"'Oh, Mr Macrae,' said he, 'isn't this the visitaation? Yonder's Sarah skippin' aboot the boat, and her a corpse since Martinmas. I'll assure you this'll be the bonny lesson for me!'
"'Whatna Sarah?' said the munister.
"'Hurricane Jeck's tortoise,' said Col Macdougall, trumblin' aal over. 'Her ghost iss crawlin' through my boat, so I want to lead a better life, and I've drooned my bagpipes.'
"A tortoise,' said the munister, lookin' droll at Col Macdougall, who wass lamentably known to him for a musician. 'Are you sure it wass an actual tortoise?'
"'If you heard her bark!' said Col. 'She wass bitin' at the heels o' me, and her, as you might say, poor Jeck's relict since last Martinmas. I'll never touch the pipes again. Excuse me caalin', but I came to give a pound for the Foreign Missions.'
"'What you want,' said the munister, 'iss to take the temperance pledge. You have been keepin' the New Year too long.'
"'It's no' so bad as that,' said Col. 'I only saw but one o' them.'
"But Macrae took him into his study-room, and told him there wass nothing that would keep away tortoises but the temperance pledge. Col must keep teetotal for a twelvemonth, and put his promise doon in black and white.
"'And what aboot yoursel'?' said Col Macdougall, wi' his eye on the gless o' toddy.
"'I'll sign it too if you want,' said the munister with much acceptance; and Col agreed. The munister wrote out a line and said, 'I, Col Macdougall, promise to abstain from all intoxicatin' liquors for a twelvemonth,' and Col put his name to it.
"'That's aal richt,' said the munister. 'Now for me,' and he signed at the bottom, 'George Macrae, M.A., witness.'
"'That shows you,' said Para Handy, 'that it's no' aalways lucky to have any kind of beast aboot the boat. Col staved his arm, and lost his pipes, and a pound for the Foreign Missions, and his liberty for a twelvemonth.'"
"He must have been an awful idiot that didna ken a tortoise sleeps a' winter," said Macphail, the engineer.
THE only man of the crew who dared to go ashore at Bunessan was Hurricane Jack. He had joined the Vital Spark again for a season, fed up with "going foreign." It was subsequent to the deplorable incident of the minister's hens, when Para Handy and his men had to fight their way to their vessel through an infuriated populace, and the Vital Spark, for the Ross of Mull, got the unpleasant reputation of being nothing better than a buccaneer.
It was nightfall when she came grunting into Loch Lathaich, and lay-to, while Jack went ashore in the punt on an urgent search for milk and butter.
The Captain gave him money to pay for these provisions. "Take a good big can wi' ye, and don't bring less than two or three prints o' butter," he instructed Jack. "Don't let on what boat ye're on, or they'll twist the neck off ye. And for God's sake, never let your eye light on a hen!"
"Anything at aal but hens!" implored Dougie. "They watch their hens like hawks. A body might lift a horse in Bunessan, and no' much said aboot it, but the loss o' a hen makes them fair demented."
"Right-oh! sunny boys," said Hurricane Jack, and rowed off into the darkness.
He was gone for hours, and in the absence of the punt nobody could get ashore to look for him.
"I doot Jeck's in trouble," said Para Handy about midnight. "He has too flippant a style wi' him aal-together! After yon calamity we had wi' the Bunessan folk last Candlemas they're no' to be trifled wi'. We'll chust need to go roond to Tobermory and look for him in the polis-office. Wassn't I stupid to gie him the half-croon?"
It was the early hours of the morning, and the crew were sound asleep on the Vital Spark when Jack came aboard again with a clatter to wake the dead, and apparently with some companion who required assistance.
"Bless my sowl!" said the Captain, sitting up on the edge of his bunk. "Who on aal the earth hass he wi' him here? He's far too flippant, Jeck, for a coastin' sailor!"
"No consideration! Not the least!" said Macphail, the engineer, bitterly. "There's my sleep sp'iled for the night!"
"Perhaps it's a chentlcman he hass wi' him," said Dougie hopefully, listening to some terrific banging up on deck. "It sounds like a chentleman from the hotel, that would have a gless or two in him. Jeck wouldna bring him unless he had something wi' him in his pocket. Light you the lamp, Peter."
The Captain was fumbling at the lamp when a shout of "Stand from under!" came from Hurricane Jack on deck, and some frantic object, kicking wildly, landed between the bunks.
"Holy smoke!" exclaimed Para Handy, and the next moment he was doubled up on the floor from a violent impact in the pit of the stomach.
For ten minutes pandemonium reigned in the sailors' narrow quarters, without its occupants being able to form any idea of the nature of this alarming visitation. The wooden sides of the bunks resounded with blows; a galvanised pail and a box of potatoes were flung back and forward with the wildest racketing; sea-boots were flying; it looked as if the visitor meant to batter the Vital Spark to pieces.
Para Handy had gathered himself together and gone under the blankets again. "I'm done for!" he proclaimed, gasping. "Whoever Jeck's friend iss, he iss no chentleman."
"It's an Englishman," said Dougie, sniffing, his nose the only part of him uncovered as he cowered in his bunk. "Ye can feel the smell o' him, he's in the horrors. Light you the lamp, Peter. Man! don't be tumid!"
There was an interval of silence, broken only by the Captain's groans and the visitor's noisy breathing. Macphail cautiously put out a leg, with the idea of rising to light the lamp himself, slipped on the potatoes with which the floor was strewn, and fell on the top of the Captain, who, putting up his hands to clear himself, seized an unmistakable frantic pair of horns!
"It's no' an Englishman at aal!" he yelled in terror; "it's the duvvle! He has on a wincey shirt, and I have him by the horns!"
Dougie's instant and vociferous praying was interrupted by the descent of Hurricane Jack with a lantern he had lit on deck, which revealed the mysterious and turbulent visitor as a shaggy yellow goat.
"What iss all the commotion?" angrily demanded the Captain, skipping briskly out of his bunk. "Ye're far too flippant, Jeck! Did ye get my butter and my milk?"
"I had the milk, right enough," said Hurricane Jack, "but I put the can down at my feet till I would talk wi' the fellow that had the goats, and this one emptied it before I noticed. It was milk I went for, and milk I was bound to bring, and the only way I could do it was to bring her ladyship here, the goat. Isn't she a topper?"
The goat, as if calmed by the presence of light on the subject, was lying down, peaceably chewing the top of a sea-boot with the utmost gusto.
"But did ye bring the butter?" pursued the Captain.
"There's no' an ounce of butter in Bunessan," said Hurricane Jack. "That's another reason for me bringin' ye the goat. If we're wantin' butter we must make it oorsel's. A coo's oot o' the question on the Vital Spark, for we havena the accommodation, but a goat can pick up its livin' anywhere, and it's far more hyginkic than a coo."
"I'm warnin' ye it's no' me that'll milk it, I wou'dna lower mysel'!" loudly declared Dougie. "I'll leave the vessel first!"
"Where's my half-croon?" inquired the Captain, having rescued half a boot from the still unsatiated visitor.
"It's cost me more than half-a-croon to get that valuable goat," said Hurricane Jack. "There's a swab o' an Irishman yonder on the roadside wi' a herd o' thirty goats he's takin' aboot the country, but I couldna go away wi' wan as long as he could coont them. It took me more than half-a-croon, but I left him yonder thinkin' he had a herd o' fifty."
"It's no' me that'll milk that brute!" again protested Dougie. "I wadna be in the same boat wi't. Look at its eye! Fierce! Fair wicked! Forbye, ye canna make butter wi' a goat's milk."
"Ye can!" said the Captain; "it's ass easy ass anything. The best o' butter!" He was looking now with more friendly eyes on the visitor, who was finishing off supper with a sock of the engineer's. The odd thing was that the engineer seemed in no way worried about his sock; he was in a helpless paroxysm of laughter, lying in his bunk.
A violent altercation rose between the Captain, Jack, and Dougie--first, as to whether goat's milk would make butter, and second, as to which of the crew should be what the Captain called the "dairymaid." It came to wrestling. Pandemonium prevailed again, and the goat, apparently much refreshed by its meal, leapt into the fray with strict impartiality, butting at anything soft or hard that lay in the way of its lowered horns. Though seriously handicapped by the narrowness of the fo'c'sle limits, it had all the honours of the battle, and the three men ignominiously rushed on deck.
Macphail was still convulsed in his bunk, safe out of the conflict, and the goat turned joyfully to a change of diet in the form of raw potatoes.
Para Handy's head appeared in the companion.
"Macphail," he said coaxingly, "we forgot to bring her ladyship up wi' us. Slip you that piece o' marlin' roond her neck, and take her up on deck till we'll consuder who iss to be the master of this vessel."
"Come doon and get the beast yoursel'," retorted the engineer. "The dairy's no' in my department."
"At least ye'll put up oor clothes," implored the Captain; "Dougie and me'll get oor daith o' cold."
And now the mate's head appeared at the top of the companion. "Don't be stickin', Macphail," he pleaded piteously. "It's a cold east wind, and I want my garments. The Captain and me hass compromised the situation. I'm willing to do the milkin' and Jeck'll churn."
"Good luck to the churnin' then!" shouted the engineer. "The whole lot o' ye's a lot o' Hielan' stots. Your goat's a billy!"
A WHITE elephant would have been no more awkward a gift to the Vital Spark than the yellow goat which Hurricane Jack purloined from the Irish goat-herd in Bunessan. It had apparently been nurtured in the principles of Sinn Fein, and was utterly unamenable to restraint, law, order, or the chastening influence of a stiff rope's end. From dawn to dark it was up to mischief, and gave as much trouble as a cargo of rattlesnakes.
On account of its incorrigible bad character and its presumable origin, they called it Michael, and Hurricane Jack professed to have great expectations of the luck that would go with it as a mascot. But this consideration weighed less with the rest of the crew than the possibility of selling it at a pleasing price at some port of call remote from Mull.
"A capital goat!" said Para Handy. "Everything's complete! There's money in him! A fine big strappin' goat like that would be worth a pound."
"Ay, and more nor a pound!" calculated Dougie. "We would get far more than that even if we were selling his remains for venison."
"Naebody in their senses wants a billy-goat," said Macphail, the engineer, unfeelingly. "But perhaps ye could pass him off for a she if ye shaved him."
Michael really might have been shaved on the strength of the ironical suggestion; but already it was manifest that he was a goat to take no liberties with. He had broken away through the night from the stanchion to which they had tethered him, and roamed about the vessel, haughty and truculent, his eye for ever cocked for anything to butt at, and his appetite unappeasable.
The Captain had put his trousers over the stove to dry the night before; in the morning all that was left of them was the blade of a pocket-knife, and Michael chewed his cud with an air of magnificent detachment.
Dougie was sent ashore on Oronsay for a bag of grass, and came back with withered bog hay, which Michael refused to put a tooth to, and strewed about the deck until it looked like the Moor of Rannoch in a droughty spring.
Two or three turnips that were in the bag seemed more to the passenger's fancy: they quickly disappeared, with the most stimulating effect on the consumer, who caught the Captain bending twice to tap his pipe on his boot, and on each occasion butted him clean across the hatches.
"I'll have his he'rt's blood!" roared Para Handy, dancing with rage. "It iss not a Fenian goat will be the master of my boat, and affront me behind my back! Get me a coal-slice or a shovel, Macphail, and I'll give him a bit o' Boyne Water!"
But Macphail, discretion itself, refused to involve himself in any way in a vulgar brawl, and retired among his engines.
For the rest of the day Michael was content to keep the ship's company interned abaft the funnel. Even Hurricane Jack, with a wonderful reputation for encounters with all sorts of wild forest animals in his voyages with the China clippers and the Black Ball Line, showed the utmost respect for Michael's lowered horns.
They threw lumps of coal at him till Macphail rebelled, finding himself in danger of being left with insufficient fuel to keep up a head of steam: the goat was no more affected than if it had been hailstones.
It was Dougie who had at last discovered that even an Irish goat has some human susceptibilities.
"There's no use o' batterin' away at that duvvle o' a beast," he said, "we should try kindness. I wonder would he take a lozenger?" Since he had stopped smoking a month before, the mate incessantly devoured pan drops of a highly peppermint nature; he never sailed from the Clyde without a half-stone of them. Pan drops appeared to be a passion with Michael; he devoured them readily from Dougie's hand, and became the most friendly goat in Britain, following the mate about the ship continually with his nose in the pocket where the sweets were.
In the Sound of Islay, Dougie's store of imperial pan drops went done, and Michael became more wicked than ever. He would tolerate no sound or movement of any kind on board his vessel. If timbers creaked--and creaking was a feature of the Vital Spark--he laid out with horns and hoofs at the nearest part of the bulkwark; if the man at the helm altered the course, the goat swept down on him at fifty knots.
The Captain positively wept! "I don't believe that's a human goat at aal!" he declared. "It's something super-canny. Iss it the will o' Providence that we're to be gybin' and yawin' aboot the Atlantic Ocean aal the rest o' oor days because a brute like that'll no' let us steer for harbour?"
"We could trap him," suggested Hurricane Jack. "I've seen them trappin' the elephants in India."
"What way would ye trap him?" inquired the Captain eagerly.
"We would need a pit, but the hold would do if we could get the hatches off--and then--and then we would need some cable, and a lot o' trees," explained Jack weakly.
"And whar the bleezes are ye gaun to get the trees?" asked the engineer indignantly. "Are ye gaun to grow them? I'll be clean oot o' coal to-morrow mornin', and ye daurna touch the sails."
"There iss nothing for it but abandon the ship and take to the punt," said Dougie lugubriously. "We're no far from Port Askaig."
"We'll do better than that!" said the Captain, with an inspiration; "ye'll row ashore yoursel' and bring back a poke o' sweeties. That'll maybe keep that cratur in trim till we reach Port Ellen."
Dougie succeeded in getting into the punt with difficulty, for Michael objected to having the only source of pan drops desert him. Half an hour later, a further supply of his favourite provender quite restored him to amiability, and they were able, at Port Ellen, to lead him ashore on a string.
"If we'll no' sell him we can wander him," was the Captain's idea. "Many a wan would be gled to have him."
"He would look fine in a great big park," remarked Hurricane Jack. "I've seen goats just like that one on the River Plate. They make wineskins o' them. Exactly the same in Bilbao."
"Watch you his eye. I don't like the look o't," said Macphail, as they went up the quay.
At that very moment Dougie's second supply of sweets was finished, and Michael, with the old Fenian ferocity aroused again, escaped from his halter, and proceeded to give animation to the scenery and populace of Port Ellen.
The first thing he altered was the structure of a shipping-box, whose vivid red colour apparently displeased him. A man who emerged from it was instantly butted back among its debris. The goat put its head through a large framed map of the Royal Route, and, thus embellished, swept up the town with the proud and lofty gait of a stag.
"I'm gaun to clear oot o' this for wan thing!" cried Macphail, and bolted back to the vessel.
The others would have liked to follow him, but were irresistibly compelled to follow their property as he strewed terror and havoc in his track. Port Ellen shops hastily put up their shutters, unable to rescue barrels and boxes of goods displayed at their doors; into the only one too late of closing its door the goat went bounding furiously, but calmed down instantly at the odour of peppermint.
Dougie went immediately after him.
"A pound of imperial pan drops!" he gasped to the shopkeeper, who proceeded to weigh them out, all unsuspicious of the commotion in the street.
There was a woman customer at the counter.
"Do ye care for lozengers?" Dougie asked her, calmly patting Michael.
"I whiles take them," she admitted.
"Then here's a present for ye," said Dougie, hurriedly thrusting the sweets in her hand. "Give wan or two to the goat; he's desperate fond o' them."
"Come away oot o' this!" he commanded his shipmates, as he hurriedly quitted the shop. "I have Michael planted on a wife, and he'll bide wi' her ass lang ass her poke holds oot."
"Whatna cairry on! It iss chust lamentable!" panted Para Handy, as they sped for their vessel.
The Vital Spark was leaving the quay when an infuriated carter ran up and bawled, "Stop you a meenute till I talk to ye!"
"What are ye wantin'?" asked the Captain. "I'm wantin' a word wi' a bowly-legged man ye have there wi' whiskers on him, that tried to come roond my wife wi' a poke o' lozengers," roared the jealous carter.
"No offence at aal, at aal!" cried Dougie, answering for himself. "I wassna flirtin' wi' her; tell her to keep the sweeties for the goat. He's quite a good goat, and answers to the name of Michael."
"Take oot the chart and score oot Port Ellen," said the Captain a little later; "that's another place we daurna enter in the Western Isles!"
ON the morning of Hallowe'en the Vital Spark puffed into the little creek where the cargo of timber was already waiting for her. The Land Girls who had felled, and snedded, and sawn the trees in the forest two miles off, and driven the logs down to the water's edge, completed their job by waiding knee-deep in Loch Fyne, leading the horses that dragged the logs from the beach right out to the vessel's quarter, where the steam-winch picked them up and lowered them into the hold.
Amazing young women! It was the first time Para Handy and his crew had seen their kind. Those girls, in their corduroy breeches, leggings, strong boots and smocks, with their bobbed hair, and Englified accent, made as much sensation as if they had been pantomime princesses.
They were not unconscious of the impression they created. They put, accordingly, a lot of sheer swank into their handling and hauling of the timber; one or two boldly smoked cigarettes; a little plump one, apparently known as Podger, who had come from a Midlothian Manse, actually stammered out a timid "d-d-damn!" in the hearing of the crew, and blushed furiously as she did so.
"My goodness! chust look at them! Aren't they smert?" said Para Handy. "If they were in Gleska they would make money at the dancin'."
Dougie could not keep his gaze off them.
"I wish my wife could see them!" he remarked regretfully. "She never gets over the door to see anything. I'll wudger ye it would open her eyes. Chust fancy them wi' troosers!"
"That's the latest style, sunny boys," intimated Hurricane Jack, with all the assurance of a man of the world, up to date in all new movements. "First the vote and then the breeches. Ye can see them's no common carteresses--born ladies!"
Jack's natural gallantry, even at the age of fifty-five, had made him oil his hair, put on his best peajacket, and borrow a pair of misfit boots which Dougie had bought a week or two before in Greenock, found far too small for him, and intended to take back to the vendor. They fitted Hurricane Jack like a glove.
"If my wife wass to go aboot in troosers wi' her hair cowed, I would bring her before the Session," said the Captain. "It's not naiture! There is not wan word aboot women wearin' breeches between the two boards o' the Bible."
"You look the Book o' Hezekiah!" said Hurricane Jack. "In the fifteenth chapter ye'll see there that a time would come, accordin' to the prophets, when women would arise in Babylon and put their husband's garments on, and the men go forth in frocks."
The Captain was plainly staggered. He had overlooked that bit. "Go you doon, Dougie," he said, "and look your Bible to see if Jeck iss right. I thocht I knew every word o' Hezekiah by he'rt."
Twenty minutes later the mate came back with the Bible and his specs on. "I canna put my hand on Hezekiah at aal, at aal," he admitted. "What way do ye spell it?"
Hurricane Jack took the Bible from him and hurriedly flicked through its pages; then he turned to the dedication to "The Most High and Mighty Prince James by the Grace of God, King of Britain, France, Ireland, Defender of the Faith."
"Tach!" he said; "no wonder ye canna find it! You might as well look a last year's almanac for the Battle o' Waterloo, as look in a Bible that's oot o' date completely for the Prophet Hezekiah."
"Anyway," said Dougie fervently, "ye'll never in aal your life see me in a frock. I never thocht much o' Hezekiah. He wass a waverer."
"I'll bate ye a pound to your pair o' boots ye'll wear a frock this winter," challenged Hurricane Jack.
"Done wi' ye!" said Dougie. "Ye may as weel hand over the money."
By the time the vessel was loaded, her crew and the surprising ladies were on terms of the utmost cordiality. Old Macphail stood off--reserved and cynical. He knew about women, all they were up to, all they were capable of: for twenty years he had been studying them in novelettes. The profound impression created on his shipmates by these bob-haired, be-breeched huzzies merely amused him.
That was why he was not invited to the Hallowe'en party.
It was to take place that night at the forest huts, two miles off, where the girls lived and worked. The Captain and Hurricane Jack were to come in their Sunday clothes; Dougie's despair was that his Sunday clothes were in Glasgow.
"That's all right!" said the girls, languishing round him till his shyness made his very whiskers tickle him. "The wood manager is from home; he's just your build of a man--with a suit in his wardrobe to fit you like a halo. We'll parcel it up and send it down to you in an hour."
"Nothing fancy, I hope?" said Dougie nervously. "I canna stand knickerbockers. I never had them on my person."
"It's quite all right!" Podger assured him. "Mr Taylor's taste is chaste. You can turn up the foot of the legs a little--that will be more convenient for the dancing."
"But I'm no' goin' to dance!" protested Dougie in alarm. "The only dance I ken iss Paddy O'Rafferty."
"Then we'll have it every now and then," said Podger, beaming on him. "But you needn't join in anything else. You can sit out on the doorstep and hold our hands."
"My gracious!" said the mate to himself, "we're seem' life!"
In Mr Taylor's morning coat and a pair of shepherd-tartan trousers, Dougie was unmistakably the most conspicuous guest at the Land Girls' party. The garments were obviously made for an ampler person, but by the time the borrower had worked his way through several plates of mashed potatoes, which, he was assured, were full of threepenny-bits, but found loaded with nothing but buttons, and had consumed apples, nuts, cold ham, and tea till he perspired, there was not a single crease in the waistcoat.
"Mind, I'm no' goin' to dance wan step!" he confided to Hurricane Jack and the Captain. "It iss twenty years since I shook a foot at a pairty, and the only dance I ken iss Paddy O'Rafferty."
"I doot it's oot o' date; I'm no' goin' to dance mysel'," said Para Handy.
"Wi' a splendid pair o' shepherd-tartan troosers like that," said Hurricane Jack, "the thing for you to do, Dougie, is to drape yoursel' over the stern o' the piano and turn the music. Be up an' doin', man! Cairry yoursel' like a sailor!"
To Dougie's horror Podger came up at this stage with a partner for him.
"Here's a lady who is dying to dance with you," she announced. "Her Sunday name is Miss Mathilde Vavasour MacKinlay, but you can call her 'Tilda. In the Greek that means 'very choice.'"
"I can see that," said Dougie gallantly, "but if it's dancin' she wants, she'll better take the Captain. Wi' aal them buttons I swallowed, I'm no' in trum at aal, and the Captain's a fine strong dancer."
"Me!" cried Para Handy, horrified. "I daurna dance a step for palpitation! Jeck's the chentleman for 'Tulda! He hass great experience in Australia, and the boots for't. There's no a man on the roarin' deep more flippant on his feet."
Hurricane Jack's performance for the rest of the evening justified this testimony; he went through the country dances like a full-rigged ship among the lug-sail young lads who were in the party, and refrained from the waltzes and fox-trots only on the grounds of moral disapproval.
It was shortly after midnight when Podger, all in a tremble, pale with apparent alarm, though really from more application of powder than usual, came in to intimate that Mr Taylor had unexpectedly returned, and was to join the party as soon as he had had supper.
"And he'll want to wear these very clothes!" she said to Dougie; "what on earth are we to do?"
"I'll go back to the boat and shift," said Dougie agreeably; he had discovered a very obvious defect in the trousers. The pockets had been sewn up by Podger, and he had nowhere to put his hands.
"There's no time for that. He'll want them in fifteen minutes," said Podger. "We could loan you quite a good waterproof. He'd bring down the house if he found we had meddled with his wardrobe."
"'Dalmighty! What am I to do?" bleated Dougie. "This iss a bonny babble! And there iss not a pair of breeches in the company will fit me."
"Ye'll no' get mine, whatever!" firmly declared Para Handy.
"Ye havena, by any chance, a kind o' kilt?" inquired Hurricane Jack, who took contretemps of this sort with amazing calmness and resource.
"The very thing!" cried Podger. "There's 'Tilda's tartan skirt! It's good enough for a kilt. Go out to the hut at the back and we'll throw it in to you."
Twenty minutes later, attired, with the aid of Jack and the Captain, in a tartan skirt and a knitted jumper of a vivid yellow, Dougie was coaxed back to the ballroom.
A roar of uncontrollable laughter greeted his appearance. He stood for a moment, blinking and confused, in the middle of the room, in a nether garment much too short for a skirt and yet too long for a kilt, to which in other respects it bore no earthly resemblance.
"Dougie will now oblige wi' the Reel o' Hullichan for the sake of the cheneral hilarity," announced the Captain.
"I'll see you aal to the duvvle first!" cried the mate; "I didna come here for guisin'."
He bolted from the company, and an hour or two later, when Para Handy and Jack got back to their ship, they found him in bed still painfully conscious that he had been made to look ridiculous.
"Hoots, man!" said Hurricane Jack, "what for did ye run away? It wass chenerally admitted that ye were the belle o' the ball. Didn't I tell ye frocks wass goin' to be aal the go for men this winter, accordin' to the Prophet Hezekiah? I never, never, in aal my life got a better bargain in a pair o' boots'"
THE last cart of coals was no sooner out of the Vital Spark than the crew were up at the Ferry Inn with a bright new tin can Para Handy had bought three days before from a tinker in Ardrishaig. It would hold a gallon. To carry a gallon of ale from the Ferry Inn to the quay obviously did not require two sturdy sailormen and an engineer, but it was thought best that all of them should accompany the can to obviate any chance of accident.
"I have seen a can couped before noo," the Captain had remarked, with his eye on the engineer, who had offered to go alone; "it takes a steady hand and a good conscience to cairry a gallon o' ale withoot spillin'."
"Wha are ye yappin' at noo?" asked the engineer truculently.
"I am not yappin' at nobody," replied the Captain calmly. "I wass chust mindin' some droll things that happened in the way o' short measure wi' the last can that we had. Keep you calm, Macphail, and don't put on a bonnet that your heid doesna fit!"
They went into the back room of the public-house, and, sitting down, carefully sampled a schooner each before presenting the wholesale order for a canful.
"What way did Jeck no' come?" inquired Dougie. "I thocht he wass at oor back."
"Ye'll no' see Jeck for an oor or two," replied Para Handy. "He's away gallivantin'. I'm sure ye saw him washin' his face? If ye were to go over twenty minutes efter this to Mary Maclachlan's delf and sweetie-shop, I'll wudger ye'll get Hurricane Jeck languishin' on the lady wi' his bench on the coonter, and smellin' like a valenteen wi' hair-oil. The last time we were here she made a great impression on Jeck wi' her conversation lozenges. He's no much o' a hand at flirtin' by word o' mooth, but he's desperate darin' when it comes to swappin' sweeties."
"I havena seen a conversation lozenger since the war," said Dougie. "They'll no' be printin' them."
"If they're no'," said Para Handy, "it's a blue look-oot the night for Jeck! There wass never a gallanter man in oilskins, but he's tumid, tumid among women. It's my belief that Jeck would make a match of it wi' his namesake Mary Maclachlan if only he could summons up his nerve to ask her."
Macphail gave a sardonic laugh. "If bounce would dae, Jeck would be the champion lady-killer," he remarked unkindly. "The man's no' thinkin' o' merrage, in my belief; he has nerve enough to sample, every noo and then, the sweetie boxes on the coonter."
There was genuine indignation in the Captain's reception of a remark so unflattering to the absent shipmate. He had to call in another schooner for himself and Dougie; Macphail this time he overlooked.
"Amn't I the forlorn poor skipper o' a boat to have an enchineer like you, Macphail, that's aalways makin' light o' other people!" he retorted. "Ye have chust been sailin' dubs aal your days, when Jeck wass makin' his name in the Black Ball Line and the China clippers. He wass sailin' roond the Horn before ye learned your tred in the gasfitter's shop in Paisley--that's where ye came from, and all ye ever learned aboot engines, or I'm mistaken!"
"I'm no' sayin' onything against the chap," said the engineer, "except that I don't think ony wise-like woman would ever mairry him. The man's fifty if he's a day!"
"He iss not a brat o' a boy, I admit," said the Captain, "but he's in the prime o' life and cheneral agility."
"It's time he wass married, anyway," chimed in Dougie. "It's a poor life, ludgin's. Are ye sure, Peter, he has a chenuine fancy for Miss Maclachlan?"
"She has him that tame he would eat oot o' her hand and jump through girrs," said the Captain. "Did he no' tell me himsel'? It's costin' him half his wages for hair-oil, pan drops, and 'Present-for-a-good-Boy' mugs every time he's in Lochfyne and goes to see her, but he canna, for his life, screw up his nerve to ask her."
"It's Leap Year; maybe she'll ask hersel'," suggested the engineer.
Para Handy's visage glowed at the suggestion. He banged the table.
"For a low-country man," he exclaimed, "ye have sometimes a wonderful sagacity, Macphail. If Mary Maclachlan would only put the word to Jeck and save him from confusion, it would be capital!"
"We could give her a bit o' a hint," proposed Dougie. "Break it to her gently that Jeck is bashful."
"I have a wonderful lot o' nerve mysel'," said the Captain, "but I'm no' wan' o' them gladiators to risk my life in a delf shop. Perhaps Macphail would venture to put the position to Miss Maclachlan."
"Seein' it wass his idea--" said Dougie.
"I'll dae better than that," said the engineer; "if ye ring the bell for ink and a pen and paper, I'll write a nice wee letter for Jeck frae Miss Maclachlan that'll bring things to a heid and show if he's in earnest."
Macphail's forged Leap Year letter was a masterpiece of tact. It indicated that the ostensible writer was fully aware of the difficulty a sensitive gentleman might have in expressing his feelings to a young lady as sensitive as himself, and pointed out that as this was Leap Year, she was justified in making the first overtures. She remarked that Jack was no longer a youth, and was arriving at that period of life when he required some one to look after him. It was a position she felt thoroughly qualified to occupy. Though he might be of the impression that she was happy in her present position, it was far from being the case, and she was willing to change her condition on the slightest encouragement from him.
"Capital!" exclaimed the Captain when the note was finished. "Chust the way a girl like Miss Maclachlan would put it. If I wass not a merried man and got a letter like that I would merry the girl, even if she was a bleck from South Australia."
"It should save a desperate lot o' hair-oil, that!" was Dougie's view. "I wonder where they'll get a hoose?"
A discreet boy, with instructions to say the letter was given him by a girl, was sent with it to the vessel, and the can and its convoy an hour or two later got on board.
Hurricane Jack was invisible. More remarkable was the fact that his dunnage bag and all his belongings were gone too. Inquiries on the quay brought out the information that he had left with the Minard Castle an hour ago, having got, as he explained to one informant, an unexpected letter which made his instant departure imperative.
"Holy sailors!" exclaimed Para Handy, "isn't this the bonny caper? Do ye think we scared him?"
Para Handy and Macphail went down to the delf and sweetie-shop to make inquiries, and found it in charge of Miss Maclachlan's sister.
"Did ye see any word o' Hurricane Jeck the night?" he inquired.
"He was here two hours or more ago, and only stopped a minute," said the girl.
"Did he see your sister Mary?" asked the Captain.
"Hoo could he see Mary?" replied the girl. "She was merried a week ago to Peter Campbell, and she's left the shop."
IT was Macphail the engineer who first discovered the fame of Bonnie Ann, and the little shop, half dairy, half greengrocery, where that gifted lady had far more young customers for her occult powers than for her excellent potted-head and home-made soda scones. The occult department of her thriving business was carried on behind the shop, in a room where she read tea-cups, disclosed the future vicissitudes of any love affair with the aid of a pack of cards, or--for a somewhat larger fee--took cataleptic fits, in the course of which she held communication with the dead.
Nor even then was Bonnie Ann's versatility exhausted; she called this chamber of hers a "Beauty Parlour and Seance Saloon," and could guarantee the most ravishing complexions, busts of an agreeable contour, lustrous long hair, fascinating eyelashes, finger-nails to do credit to any lady, and an infallible cure for chilblains, corns, and cuticular blotches.
The notorious Madame Blavatsky was a bungling amateur in the magic arts compared with the shy, almost morbidly unostentatious Ann, who never advertised.
Macphail, having gone to Bonnie Ann for treatment of an ingrowing toe-nail, had been privileged to witness a trance performance, in which she conversed fluently with Mary Queen of Scots, and he returned to the Vital Spark immensely impressed.
"I'm tellin' ye, there's something in't!" he declared to his shipmates. "She had Bloody Mary to the life, and I ken, for I've read history. Ye can get it a' in 'The Scottish Chiefs.'"
"Did she read the palm o' your hand?" inquired Para Handy, his interest wakened.
"There's nane o' that hanky-panky about Bonnie Ann," replied the engineer. "Pure science! She throws hersel' into a trance till ye only see the whites o' her eyes, and then ye hear the depairted jist the same's they were in the room. She's weel in wi' the Duke o' Wellington; he tell't her three years ago we would win the war."
Dougie, the mate, was not surprised to hear of these wonderful manifestations. "The papers iss full o' them," he said. "It's aal the go wi' the titled gentry and Epuscopalian munisters. I heard mysel', wan night, a noise I couldna understand inside a kitchen dresser."
"I'm no' sayin' whether I believe in the spirits or no'," remarked Para Handy cautiously. "There iss spirits in the Scruptures, though they were different in the Holy Land, and no' up to capers--shiftin' sideboards, spillin' oil on the ceilin', rappin' in coal scattles. But if Bonnie Ann hass the gift, we should give her a trial to see what she can make o' Hurricane Jeck."
Three weeks before, Hurricane Jack, alarmed at the apparent intentions of a lady who wished to take advantage of her Leap Year privilege and propose to him, had disappeared. He had left the Vital Spark without warning, and never been heard of since. Convinced--or almost convinced--that Jack had drowned himself--for they knew the lady--his three shipmates proceeded to Bonnie Ann's shop at night, and began negotiations diplomatically with an order for turnips and cabbages.
"Could we hae a word wi' ye at the back?" inquired Macphail in a husky whisper over the counter. "I wass tellin' my mates aboot Bloody Mary."
Bonnie Ann, who apparently had got the adjective to her name from an ironic customer, looked at her watch, and intimated that it was shutting-up time.
"Forbye," she added, "if it's Mary Queen o' Scots ye're wantin', it's no her nicht oot; I couldna get her. A lot o' you sailor chaps thinks a beauty parlour and seance saloon is jist like a shebeen that ye can come intae ony oor o' the day or nicht and ring for the depairted the same's it was a schooner o' beer."
"It's no' Bloody Mary we're wantin'," explained Para Handy soothingly. "We'll no' put ye to the slightest bother. To let ye ken--a shipmate o' oors, Jack Maclachlan, went missin' three weeks ago. He's no' in the polls-office, he's no' in his uncle's hoose in Polmadic, and he must be deid, fair play or foul. Could ye help us, Ann, to find oot something aboot Jeck?" He bent upon Bonnie Ann a gaze of compelling languishment.
"Awa' into the back," she said, "and I'll put up the shutters and jine ye in a meenute."
They were seated in the beauty parlour and seance saloon when she joined them.
She lit the gas and turned it down to a peep, after first having lowered the blind. Picking up, and gazing intently at, a crystal ball, the size of a satisfactory Seville orange, she muttered, "There's a man missin'. He has a tattoo mark on his airm--it's blue. He's been missin' three weeks; his friends is anxious to hear aboot him."
"And that's the God's truth," exclaimed Dougie, awestruck by this swift, unerring comprehension of the situation. "He had a lend o' my pocket-naipkin."
"He's a sailor," continued Bonnie Ann. "The initials o' his name is J. M'L., and he's a Scotchman. He traivelled a lot on boats. He wasna a teetotaller and whiles his language was coorse--"
"Holy Frost! Jeck to the life!" exclaimed Para Handy. "I doot he iss done for; he never even came for his pay. Iss he on deck or under hatches, Annie?"
"Did I no' tell ye!" cried Macphail triumphantly. "Never mind the glessy, Annie; throw us a trance, and get in touch wi' somebody that was in the sea tred when he was in the body. There's nae use botherin' Bonnie Mary o' Argyll to ask for Jeck: if he's in the Better Land, he'll be doon aboot the quay, or in a beershop whaur she wouldna care to venture."
"I could try the Duke o' Wellington," suggested Bonnie Ann. "Mind, I'm no' guaranteein' ony communication; the Duke, whiles, tak's a lot o'humourin'."
Para Handy looked dubious. "Is there no' a wee chape skipper chap could do thejob? His Grace would be an expensive pairty. If Jeck iss there at aal, I'll wudger he's weel kent."
"In life he wass a toppin' singer, and he could play the trump," remarked Dougie helpfully.
Bonnie Ann put the crystal ball back on the chimney-piece, and pulled out a little table to the middle of the room.
"Ye'll hae to help yoursel's," she intimated, having placed chairs for them round the table. "Draw in."
"Don't put yoursel' to any bother, Annie," huskily implored the Captain, under a misapprehension. "We're chust efter a splendid tea."
"I wasna gaun to offer ye onything," said Bonnie Ann. "Ye needna be sae smert! A' put your baith hands flet on the table wi' me and concentrate your minds on--what did ye say the chap's name was--Maclachlan?"
"Better kent as Hurricane Jeck," explained Macphail, who entered into the ceremony with absolute enthusiasm. "If ye put some tumblers on the table he'll be wi' us in a jiffy."
This suggestion that the spirit of their departed shipmate was to join the company alarmed Para Handy, who hastily withdrew his hands.
"Bless my sowl!" he exclaimed, "are ye thinkin' to bring Jeck here in the spirit?"
"I thocht that was whit ye wanted," answered Bonnie Ann peevishly. "It's shairly no' to play catch-the-ten we're gaithered here!"
"And it's no' to see the ghost o' Jeck Maclachlan, I'll assure ye!" exclaimed Para Handy. "Take my advice, and don't you bother him, Annie. He wass a tricky lad in life, and dear knows what he would be up to in the spirit! Am I no' right, Dougie?"
"Ye're quite right, Captain," agreed the mate emphatically. "We're no' wantin' to see himsel' at aal, but chust to get the news o' him. Let him keep his distance! Could ye no' get him, Annie, to do something in the air wi' a tambourine?"
"As shair's daith I canna come the tambourine the nicht," pleaded Bonnie Ann; "I'm deid tired--bakin' a' the aiftemoon. There's naething for't but to ask the Duke o' Wellington for your frien'."
"I don't believe the Duke's a bit o' good; he'll go on haverin' aboot the battle o' Waterloo, and that's the wan battle Jeck wass never in," declared the Captain.
Macphail looked at the skipper with disgust. "Ye're makin' a fair cod o' the thing," he exclaimed. "Gie the woman a chance! Fling us a trance, Annie, and see whit the Duke says."
Bonnie Ann sat back in her chair, shut her eyes, and in a minute or two was in wireless communication with the Iron Duke, who, in a falsetto baritone through her lips, conveyed the information that he had seen John Maclachlan in the last two days.
"What happened to Jeck?" inquired Para Handy, in an awestruck whisper.
The unfortunate seaman, it appeared, had fallen over the side of a ship in a storm, swam three days, and perished within sight of land.
"That's Jeck, sure enough!" exclaimed Dougie. "He was a capital sweemer!"
"Iss he happy, Annie?" whispered Para Handy. "Ask His Grace what sort o' trum he's in."
"The life and soul o' the place!" replied the Duke of Wellington. "As happy's the day's long. He sends his best respects to all concerned."
Having recovered from her trance, Bonnie Ann briskly collected a fee of five shillings which the crew of the Vital Spark made up with difficulty between them; saw her clients off the premises as quickly as possible, shut up her shop, and retired to the beauty parlour to make herself some supper.
The crew made for the quay in a state of considerable mental excitement, solemnised by the knowledge of their shipmate's fate, and were staggered to find Hurricane Jack himself on board the Vital Spark! He had arrived by the Minard Castle.
"'Dalmighty! where were ye, Jeck?" inquired Para Handy, who was first to recover himself.
"Oh, jist perusin' about the docks o' Gleska," said Jack airily. "I fell in wi' a lot o' fellows."
"Of aal the liars ever I heard," said the Captain viciously, "the worst iss the Duke o' Wellington!"
SUNNY JIM, back again on one of his periodical short spells of long-shore sailoring, went ashore on Friday morning with a can for milk, and an old potato-sack for bread, and, such is the morning charm of Appin, that he made no attempt to get either of them filled until he reached the inn at Duror. He wasn't a fellow who drank at any time excessively, but, Glasgow-born, he felt always homesick in foreign parts unless he could be, as Para Handy said, "convenient and adjaacent to a licensed premise." In a shop beside the inn he got his bread, and he might have got the milk a mile or two nearer Kintallen quay, from which he had come, but a sailor never goes to a farm for milk so long as he can get it at an inn.
"A quart," he said to the girl at the bar, and pushed the can across the counter. As she measured out and filled his can with ale, he sternly kept an averted eye on a bill on the wall which spoke in the highest terms of Robertson's Sheep Dips.
"What in the world do ye ca' this?" he exclaimed, regarding the can's contents with what to an unsophisticated child would look like genuine surprise. "Michty! what thick cream! If the Gleska coos gave milk like that, the dairies would mak' their fortunes."
"Was it not beer you wanted?" asked the girl, with sleeves rolled up on a pair of arms worth all the rest of the Venus de Medici, and a roguish eye.
"Nut at all!" said he emphatically. "Milk. What ye sometimes put in tea."
"Then it's the back of the house you should go to," said the girl. "This is not the milk department," and she was about to empty the can again, but not with unreasonable celerity, lest the customer should maybe change his mind.
"Hold on!" said Sunny Jim, with a grasp at it. "Seein' it's there, I'll maybe can make use o't. See's a tumbler, Flora."
For twenty minutes he leaned upon the counter and fleeted the time delightfully as in the golden world. He said he was off a yacht, and, if not officially, in every other sense the skipper. True, it was not exactly what might be called the yachting season, but the owners of the yacht were whimsical. Incidentally, he referred to his melodeon, and at that the girl declared he was the very man she had been looking for.
"Oh, come aff it, come aff it!" said Sunny Jim, with proper modesty, but yet with an approving glance at his reflection which was in the mirror behind her. "I'm naething patent, but I'll admit there's no' a cheerier wee chap from here to Ballachulish."
"Ye would be an awful handy man at a ball," said the girl, "with your melodeon. We're having a leap-year dance tonight, and only a pair of pipers. What's a pair of pipers?"
"Two," said Sunny Jim promptly.
"You're quite mistaken," replied the girl with equal promptness; "it's only two till the first reel's by, and then it's a pair o' bauchles no' able to keep their feet. You come with your melodeon, and I'll be your partner."
He went back to the Vital Spark delighted, looked out his Sunday clothes and his melodeon, and chagrined his shipmates hugely by the narrative of his good fortune.
"What's a leap-year baal?" asked Para Handy. "Iss there a night or two extra in it? No Chrustian baal should last over the week-end."
"It's a baal where the women hae a' the say," explained Macphail, the engineer, whose knowledge was encyclopaedic.
"Iss that it?" said Para Handy. "It's chust like bein' at home! It's me that's gled I'm not invited. Take you something wise-like wi' ye in your pocket, Jum; I wouldna be in their reverence."
"I would like to see it," said Dougic. "Does the lady come in a kind of a cab for you?"
"It's only young chaps that's invited," explained Sunny Jim, with brutal candour.
The Captain looked at him reproachfully. "You shouldna say the like o' that to Dougie," he remonstrated. "Dougie's no' that terrible old."
"I was sayin' it to baith o' you," said Sunny Jim. "It's no' a mothers' meetin' this, it's dancin'."
"There's no man in the shippin' tred wi' more agility than mysel'," declared the indignant skipper. "I can stot through the middle o' a dance like a tuppenny kahoochy ball. Dougie himsel'll tell you!"
"Yes, I've often seen you stottin'," agreed the mate, with great solemnity. Para Handy looked at him with some suspicion, but he presented every appearance of a man with no intention to say anything offensive.
"You havena an extra collar and a bit o' a stud on you?" was the astonishing inquiry made by Dougie less than twenty minutes after Sunny Jim had departed for the Duror ball. "I wass thinkin' to mysel' we might take a turn along the road to look at the life and gaiety."
"Dougie, you're beyond redemption!" said Para Handy. "A married man and nine or ten o' a family, and there you're up to all diversions like a young one!"
"I wassna going by the door o' the ball," the mate exclaimed indignantly. "You aye take me up wrong."
"Oh, ye should baith gang," suggested the engineer, with malicious irony. "A couple o' fine young chaps! Gie the girls o' Appin a treat. Never let on you're mairried. They'll never suspect as lang's ye keep on your bonnets."
"I think mysel' we should go, Dougie, and we might be able to buy a penny novelle for Macphail to read on Sunday," said the Captain. "Anything fresh about Lady Audley, Macphail?"
Macphail ignored the innuendo. "Noo's your chance," he proceeded. "Everything's done for ye by the fair sect: a lady M.C. to find ye pairtners; the women themsel's comin' up to see if your programme's full, and askin' every noo and then if ye care for a gless o' clairet-cup on draught. I wouldna say but ye would be better to hae a fan and a Shetland shawl to put ower your heids when you're comin' hame; everything's reversed at a leap-year ball."
He would simply have goaded the Captain into going if the Captain had not made up his mind as soon as Dougie himself that he was going in any case.
"Two-and-six apiece for the tickets," said the man at the door when Para Handy and his mate came drifting out of the bar and made a tentative attempt at slipping in unostentatiously.
"Not for a leap-year dance, Johnny," said the Captain mildly. "Everything is left to the ladies."
"Except the payin'; that's ass usual," said the doorkeeper, and the Captain and his mate regretfully paid for entrance. The room was crowded, and the masculine predominated to the extent that it looked as if every lady had provided herself with half-a-dozen partners that she might be assured of sufficient dancing. One of the pipers had already lapsed into the state so picturesquely anticipated by the girl whom Sunny Jim called Flora; the other leant on a window-sill, and looked with Celtic ferocity and disdain upon Sunny Jim, who was playing his melodeon for the Flowers of Edinburgh.
"You're playin' tip-top, Jum. I never heard you better," said the Captain to him at the first interval; and the musician was so pleased that he introduced his shipmates to Flora.
"We're no' here for the baal at aal, at aal, but chust to put bye the time," the Captain explained to her. "I see you're no' slack for pairtners."
"Not at present," she replied; "but just you wait till the supper's bye and you'll see a bonny difference."
She was right, too. The masculine did certainly not predominate after midnight, being otherwise engaged. The fact that Flora was a wallflower seemed to distress Sunny Jim, who would gladly now relinquish his office of musician to the piper.
"That's a charmin' gyurl, and a desperate sober piper," said the Captain to his mate, who spent most of the time looking for what he called the "commytee," and had finally discovered, if not the thing itself, at all events what was as good. "Jum's doin' capital at the melodeon, and it would be a peety if the piper took his job."
They took out the piper, and by half an hour's intelligent administration of the committee's refreshments rendered him quite incapable of contributing any further music to the dancers.
"Now that's aal right," said the Captain cheerfully, returning to the hall. "A piper's aal right if ye take him the proper way, but I never saw one wi' a more durable heid than yon fellow. Man, Jum's doin capital! Hasn't he got the touch! It's a peety he's such a strong musician, for, noo that the pipers hass lost their reeds, he's likely to be kept at it till the feenish."
"Lost their reeds!" said Dougie.
"Chust that!" replied the Captain calmly. "I took them oot o' their drones, and I have them in my pocket. It's every man for himsel' in Duror of Appin. You and me'll dance with Flora."
Nothing could exceed the obvious annoyance of Sunny Jim when he saw his shipmates dance with Flora to the music of his own providing. Again and again he glanced with impatient expectancy towards the door for the relieving piper.
"The piper'll be back in a jiffy, Jum," said Para Handy to him, sweeping past with Flora in a polka or a schottische. "He's chust oot at the back takin' a drop of lemonade, and said he would be in immediately."
"You're doing magnificent," he said, coming round to the musician again as Dougie took the floor with Flora for the Haymakers. "Ye put me awful in mind of yon chap, Paddy Roosky, him that's namely for the fiddle. Man, if ye chust had a velvet jecket! Flora says she never danced to more becomin' music."
"That's a' richt," said the disgusted musician; "but I'm gettin' fed up wi' playin' awa' here. I cam' here for dancin', and I wish the piper would look slippy."
"He'll be in in wan meenute," said Para Handy, with the utmost confidence, turning over the pipe reeds in his trousers pocket. "It's a reel next time, Jum; you might have given us 'Monymusk' and 'Alister wears a cock't bonnet'; I'm engaged for it to Flora."
Dance after dance went on, and, of course, there was no relieving piper. The melodeonist was sustained by the flattering comments of his shipmates on his playing and an occasional smile from Flora, who was that kind of girl who didn't care whom she danced with so long as she got dancing.
"Special request from Flora--would ye give us The Full-Rigged Ship' the next one? That's a topper," said the Captain to him. Or, "Compliments of Flora, and would you mind the Garaka Waltz and Circassian Circle for the next, Jum? She says she likes my style o' dancin'."
"I wish to goodness I'd never learned to play a bloomin' note," said Sunny Jim.
But he played without cessation till the ball was ended, the fickle Flora dancing more often with his shipmates than with anybody else.
As they took the road to Kintallen quay at six o'clock in the morning. Para Handy took some chanter reeds from his pocket and handed them to Sunny Jim.
"You should learn the pipes, Jum," he remarked. "They're no' so sore on you ass a melodeon. Man, but she wass a lovely dancer, Flora! Chust sublime! Am I no' right, Dougie?"
"A fair gazelle! The steps o' her!" said the mate poetically.
"And we were pretty smert on oor feet oorsel's," said Para Handy. "It doesna do to have aal your agility in your fingers."
THE Vital Spark at nightfall put into the little bay where her cargo of timber was assembled. On an ingenuous excuse of "takin' the air," Hurricane Jack, who had not been there before, went ashore at the earliest possible moment in the dark, and, trusting to an instinct usually unerring, searched for some place of cheer.
He came on the inn through a back yard, where were several vans and dogcarts, and a curious sort of chariot, highly ornamental to the feel, that puzzled him considerably, till he struck a match, and found it was a hearse.
The hearse, however, engaged his attention less intently than the enormous array of empty bottles which were piled up all round the yard. Crates were full of them, barrels were brimming over with them; they were in layers ten deep under the stable eaves, and tinkling with the water that fell through them from a broken rhone.
"Whatever they are in this place," said Jack to himself, "they're no' nerrow-mindcd. They must have a fine cheery winter of it! If they drank all that, there must have been great tred wi' the hearse."
He opened that solemn vehicle, looked inside, and found it too was filled with the relics of conviviality, mostly wine-bottles.
"English gentlemen. Towerists. Shooters. The money them folk waste!"
He shook some of the bottles, to make certain they were empty. "No fears o' them!" he reflected cynically. "It makes me sad. Puttin' bottles in a hearse--it's no respectable; I wonder what the ministers would say!"
There was no access to the inn from the yard that he could find, so to save time he climbed a wall, and found himself on the other side of it, by that marvellous intuition of his, exactly at the door of the bar where all the winter business of the inn was done.
Nobody was inside but the innkeeper, who was washing tumblers in the light of a hanging paraffin-lamp, and was suspiciously flushed.
"A wet night," said Hurricane Jack, taking off his soaking cap and slapping it against the skirt of his oilskin coat to get rid of part of its moisture. "I'll take a small sensation."
The landlord looked surprised. "I thought you were from Balliemeanach," said he, "to order the hearse. Where in the world did ye come from?"
"From the boundin' deep," said Hurricane Jack. "My ship's outside there, as ye might say, on the doorstep."
The landlord looked immensely relieved. "As sure as death," said he, "I thought ye were from Balliemeanach. Maclean the wudman had a couple o' glesses o' Cream de Mong here yesterday, and I havena slept a wink since, wonderin' would he get over it."
"Cream de Mong," said Hurricane Jack, with genuine interest; "if it's anything like that, I'll try it."
The landlord produced a bottle of green liqueur from below the counter. "Mind ye," he said, "it's at your own risk. I don't fancy the look o't mysel'. It was in the cellar when I came here three years ago, and I hadna the nerve to offer it to any one till Maclean was here in desperation yesterday, and me withoot a drop o' spirits in the hoose."
Hurricane Jack picked up the bottle, looked at it, and put it down again, "Starboard Light," he remarked. "I've seen it. They take it in cabins. I wouldn't use it to oil my hair. What I'm wantin's something to drink."
A bottle of beer was promptly uncorked and put before him. "Ninepence," said the landlord.
"Holy sailors!" exclaimed Hurricane Jack. "I could buy wine for that on the Rio Grande."
"There's a penny for the bottle," said the landlord. "Eightpence if ye bring back the bottle."
Jack, two seconds after, handed him back the empty bottle and eightpence.
"Ye're surely keen on empty bottles," he remarked.
"A penny apiece, and glad to get as many as I can; they call me the Bottle King," said the landlord. "But someway, this while back, my mind's a' reel-rall."
Para Handy and Dougie were going to bed, and Macphail was there already, when Hurricane Jack got back to the ship and excitedly demanded a large spale basket.
"What on earth are ye goin' to do wi' a spale basket, Jeck?" inquired the Captain. "Were ye fishin'?"
"No, nor fishin'!" retorted Jack; "but there's a man up yonder at the inn that calls himsel' the Bottle King, and payin' a penny apiece for them. I think I can put a lot o' tred in his way." He had already found a basket.
Para Handy looked at him uneasily. "Iss it Peter Grant?" he asked. "Ye'll no' get roond Peter wi' aal your agility. If it's buyin' bottles he is, ye'll no' put him off wi' jeely jars. Where in the name o' fortune are ye goin' to get the bottles? There iss not wan bottle in this boat, unless it's under Macphail's pillow."
"Hoots, man!" said Dougie, remonatrative; "give Jeck a chance! Jeck never yet put oot his hand farther than he could streetch his arm."
"Come on the pair o' ye, and see a pant!" said Hurricane Jack. "We'll have to look slippy afore Grant shuts his shop."
"I hope it's nothing that'll be found oot," said Para Handy, still uneasy. "Ye're a duvvle for quirks, Jeck, and I wouldna like the ship to get into trouble."
Ten minutes later they all trailed up to the inn with the empty basket.
The innkeeper was still washing tumblers when the Captain and Dougie, carrying a spale basket of empty bottles between them, came into his bar, and Hurricane Jack behind them.
"Three pints o' ale," said Jack, with the utmost confidence, "and here's two dozen bottles. We're glad to get rid o' them." The Bottle King was frankly surprised at such a consignment from such a quarter.
"Wherever ye got them bottles, it wasna here," he said. "At least, as far as I can mind. My heid's a' reel-rail, but it doesna maitter. I'm willin' to tak' them," and, having emptied the basket, he produced the beer for his customers.
"Are ye sure they're no' worth more than a penny the piece?" inquired Para Handy. "We were gettin' tuppence for them in Port Askaig. Am I right, Dougie, or am I wrong?"
"It wass tuppence in Port Askaig, and tuppence ha'penny in Port Ellen," replied the mate, with unhesitating assurance. "Bottles is scarce. They're no' makin' them. And ye never in your life saw bonnier bottles than them; they're the chenuine gloss."
"Pure plate-gless," said Hurricane Jack. "Look at the labels--' Sherry Wine'--I'll wager there's a lot o' money in them."
"We have a ship-load yonder o' them," said tho Captain. "Could ye be doin' wi' a gross or two? Chust for the turnover. We must aal put oor hand to the plew to help the government, Mr Grant."
The Bottle King for a moment suspended his washing of tumblers, with tremulous hands put on a pair of spectacles, and looked more closely at his purchase.
"God bless me!" he exclaimed; "them's my own wine bottles! Where did ye get them?"
"We got them in a hearse behind the hoose here," frankly admitted Hurricane Jack. "There's a thoosand deid men yonder, if there's wan."
"My Chove! aren't you the ruffians?" cried Peter Grant. "Sellin' me my own bottles! I never could mind where I put them, and me lookin' for them high and low since the Old New Year. Buttach! It doesna maitter; they caal me the Bottle King."
"BY Chove! but they're bad the night!" said Dougie, running a grimy paw across his forehead.
"Perfectly ferocious!" said Para Handy, slapping his neck. "This fair beats Bowmore, and Bowmore iss namely for its mudges. I never saw the brutes more desperate! You would actually think they were whustlin' on wan another, cryin', 'Here's a clean sailor, and he hasna a collar on; gather about, boys!"
"Oh, criftens!" whimpered Sunny Jim, in agony, dabbing his face incessantly with what looked suspiciously like a dish-cloth; "I've see'd mudges afore this, but they never had spurs on their feet afore. Yah-h-h! I wish I was back in Gleska! They can say what they like aboot the Clyde, but anywhere above Bowlin' I'll guarantee ye'll no' be eaten alive. If they found a midge in Gleska, they would put it in the Kelvingrove Museum."
Macphail, his face well lubricated, came up from among the engines, and jeered. "Midges never bothered me," said he contemptuously. "If ye had been wi' me on the West Coast o' Africa, and felt the mosquitoes, it wouldna be aboot a wheen o' gnats ye would mak' a sang. It's a' a hallucination aboot midges; I can only speak aboot them the way I find them, and they never did me ony harm. Perhaps it's no midges that's botherin' ye efter a'."
"Perhaps no'," said Para Handy, with great acidity. "Perhaps it's hummin'-birds, but the effect iss chust the same. Ye'll read in the Scruptures yonder aboot the ant goin' for the sluggard, but the ant iss a perfect chentleman compared wi' the mudge. And from aal I ever heard o' the mosquito, it'll no' stab ye behind your back withoot a word o' warnin'. Look at them on Dougie's face--quite black! Ye would never think it wass the Sunday."
It was certainly pretty bad at the quay of Arrochar. With the evening air had come out, as it seemed, the midges of all the Highlands. They hung in clouds above the Vital Spark, and battened gluttonously on her distracted crew.
"When I was at the mooth o' the Congo River--" began the engineer; but Para Handy throttled the reminiscence.
"The Congo's no' to be compared wi' the West o' Scotland when ye come to insects," said Para Handy. "There's places here that's chust deplorable whenever the weather's the least bit warm. Look at Tighnabruaich!--they're that bad there, they'll bite their way through corrugated iron roofs to get at ye! Take Clynder, again, or any other place in the Gareloch, and ye'll see the old ones leadin' roond the young ones, learnin' them the proper grips. There iss a spachial kind of mudge in Dervaig, in the Isle of Mull, that hass aal the points o' a Poltalloch terrier, even to the black nose and the cocked lugs, and sits up and barks at you. I wass once gatherin' cockles in Colonsay--"
"I could be daein' wi' some cockles," said Sunny Jim. "I aye feel like a cockle when it comes near the Gleska Fair."
"The best cockles in the country iss in Colonsay," said the Captain. "But the people in Colonsay iss that slow they canna catch them. I wass wance gatherin' cockles there, and the mudges were that large and bold, I had to throw stones at them."
"It was a pity ye hadna a gun," remarked Macphail, with sarcasm.
"A gun would be no' much use wi' the mudges of Colonsay," replied the Captain; "nothing would discourage yon fellows but a blast o' dynamite. What wass there on the island at the time but a chenuine English towerist, wi' a capital red kilt, and, man! But he wass green! He was that green, the coos of Colonsay would go mooin' along the road efter him, thinkin' he wass gress. He wass wan of them English chentlemen that'll be drinkin' chinger-beer on aal occasions, even when they're dry, and him bein' English, he had seen next to nothing aal his days till he took the boat from West Loch Tarbert. The fast night on the island he went oot in his kilt, and came back in half an oor to the inns wi' his legs fair peetiful! There iss nothing that the mudges likes to see among them better than an English towerist with a kilt: the very tops wass eaten off his stockin's."
"That's a fair streetcher, Peter!" exclaimed the incredulous engineer.
"It's ass true ass I'm tellin' you," said Para Handy. "Any one in Colonsay will tell you. He had wan of them names shed in the middle like Fitz-Gerald or Seton-Kerr; that'll prove it to ye. When he came in to the inns wi' his legs chust fair beyond redemption, he didna even know the cause of it.
"'It's the chinger-beer that's comin' oot on you,' says John Macdennott, that had the inns at the time. 'There iss not a thing you can drink that iss more deliteerious in Colonsay. Nobody takes it here.'
"'And what in all the world do they take?' said the English chentleman.
"'The water o' the mountain well,' said John,' and whiles a drop of wholesome Brutish spirits. There's some that doesna care for water.'
"But the English chentleman was eccentric, and nothing would do for him to drink but chinger, an' they took him doon to a shed where the fishermen were barkin' nets, and they got him to bark his legs wi' catechu. If it's green he wass before, he wass now ass brown's a trammel net. But it never made a bit o' odds to the mudges oot in Colonsay! I tell you they're no' slack!"
"They're no' slack here neithers!" wailed Sunny Jim, whose face was fairly wealed by the assailants. "Oh, michty! I think we would be faur better ashore."
"Not a bit!" said Dougie, furiously puffing a pipe of the strongest tobacco, in whose fumes the midges appeared to take the most exquisite pleasure. "There's no' a place ashore where ye could take shelter from them--it being Sunday," he significantly added.
"I'm gaun ashore anyway," said Macphail, removing all superfluous lubricant from his countenance with a piece of waste. "It wouldna be midges that would keep me lollin' aboot this auld hooker on a fine nicht. If ye had some experience o' mosquitoes! Them's the chaps for ye. It's mosquitoes that spreads the malaria fever."
They watched him go jauntily up the quay, accompanied by a cloud of insects which seemed to be of the impression that he was leading them to an even better feeding-ground than the Vital Spark. He had hardly gone a hundred yards when he turned and came hurriedly back, beating the air.
"Holy frost!" he exclaimed, jumping on deck, "I never felt midges like that in a' my days afore; they're in billions o' billions!"
"Tut, tut!" said Para Handy. "Ye're surely getting awfu' tumid, Macphail. You that's so weel acquent wi' them mosquitoes! If I wass a trevelled man like you, I wouldna be bate wi' a wheen o' Hielan' mudges. They're no' in't anyway. Chust imagination! Chust a hallucination! Ye mind ye told us?"
"There's no hallucination aboot them chaps," said Macphail, smacking himself viciously.
"Nut at all!" said Sunny Jim. "Nut at all! If there's ony hallucination aboot them, they have it sherpened. Gr-r-r! It's cruel; that's whit it is; fair cruel!"
"I promised I would go and see Macrae the nicht," said the engineer. "But it's no' safe to gang up that quay. This is yin o' the times I wish I was a smoker; that tobacco o' yours, Dougie, would shairly fricht awa' the midges."
"Not wan bit of it!" said Dougie peevishly, rubbing the back of his neck, on which his tormentors were thickly clustered. "I'm beginning to think mysel' they're partial to tobacco; it maybe stimulates the appetite. My! aren't they the brutes! Look at them on Jim!"
With a howl of anguish Sunny Jim dashed down the fo'c'sle hatch, the back of his coat pulled over his ears.
"Is there naething at a' a chap could dae to his face to keep them aff?" asked the engineer, still solicitous about his promised visit to Macrae.
"Some people'll be sayin' parafiine-oil iss a good thing," suggested the Captain. "But that's only for Ro'sa' mudges; I'm thinkin' the Arrochar mudges would maybe consuder paraffine a trate. And I've heard o' others tryin' whusky--I mean rubbed on ootside. I never had enough to experiment wi't mysel'. Forbye, there's none."
"I wadna care to gang up to Macrae's on a Sunday smellin' o' either paraffine-oil or whisky," said Macphail.
"Of course not!" said Para Handy. "What was I thinkin' of? Macrae's sister wouldna like it," and he winked broadly at Dougie. "Ye'll be takin' a bit of a daunder wi' her efter the church goes in. Give her my best respects, will ye? A fine, big, bouncin' gyurl! A splendid form!"
"You shut up!" said Macphail to his commander, blushing. "I think I'll gie my face anither syne wi' plenty o' saft soap for it, and mak' a breenge across to Macrae's afore the effect wears aff."
He dragged a pail over to the water-beaker, half filled it with water, added a generous proportion of soft soap from a tin can, and proceeded to wash himself without taking off his coat.
"Ye needna mind to keep on your kep," said the Captain, grimacing to Dougie. "Mima'll no' see ye. He's been callin' on Macrae a score o' times, Dougie, and the sister hasna found oot yet he's bald. Mercy on us! Did ye ever in your life see such mudges!"
"I'm past speakin' aboot them!" said the mate, with hopeless resignation. "What iss he keepin' on his bonnet for?"
"He's that bald that unless he keeps it on when he's washin' his face he doesna know where to stop," said Para Handy. "The want o' the hair's an aawful depredaation!"
But even these drastic measures failed to render Macphail inviolate from the attack of the insects, whose prowess he had underestimated. For the second time he came running back from the head of the quay pursued by them, to be greeted afresh by the irony of his Captain.
"There's a solid wall o' them up there," he declared, rubbing his eyes.
"Isn't it annoyin'?" said the Captain, with fallacious sympathy. "Mima will be weary waitin' on ye. If there wass a druggist's open, ye might get something in a bottle to rub on. Or if it wassna the Sabbath, ye might get a can o' syrup in the grocer's."
"Syrup?" said the engineer inquiringly, and Para Handy slyly kicked Dougie on the shin.
"There's nothin' better for keepin' awa' the mudges," he explained. "Ye rub it on your face and leave it on. It's a peety we havena any syrup on the boat."
"Sunny Jim had a tin o' syrup last night at his tea," said the engineer hopefully.
"But it must be the chenuine golden syrup," said Para Handy. "No other kind'll do."
Sunny Jim was routed out from under the blankets in his bunk to produce syrup, which proved to be of the requisite golden character, as Para Handy knew very well it was, and five minutes later Macphail, with a shining countenance, went up the quay a third time attended by midges in greater myriads than ever. This time he beat no retreat.
"Stop you!" said Para Handy. "When Mima Macrae comes to the door, she'll think it's no' an enchineer she has to caal on her, but a fly cemetery."
GEORGE IV., being a sovereign of imagination, was so much impressed by stories of Waterloo that he began to say he had been there himself, and had taken part in it. He brought so much imagination to the narrative that he ended by believing it--an interesting example of the strange psychology of the liar. Quite as remarkable is the case of Para Handy, whose singular delusion of Sunday fortnight last is the subject of much hilarity now among seamen of the minor coasting-trade.
The first of the storm on Saturday night found the Vital Spark off Toward on her way up-channel, timber-laden, and without a single light, for Sunny Jim, who had been sent ashore for oil at Tarbert, had brought back a jar of beer instead by an error that might naturally occur with any honest seaman.
When the lights of other ships were showing dangerously close the mate stood at the bow and lit matches, which, of course, were blown out instantly.
"It's not what might be called a cheneral illumination," he remarked, "but it's an imitataation of the Gantock Light, and it no' workin' proper, and you'll see them big fellows will give us plenty o' elbow-room."
Thanks to the matches and a bar of iron which Macphail had hung on the lever of the steam-whistle, so that it lamented ceaselessly through the tempest like a soul in pain, the Vital Spark escaped collision, and some time after midnight got into Cardwell Bay with nothing lost except the jar, a bucket, and the mate's sou'-wester.
"A dirty night! It's us that iss weel out of it," said Para Handy gratefully, when he had got his anchor down.
The storm was at its worst when the Captain went ashore on Sunday to get the train for Glasgow on a visit to his wife, the farther progress of his vessel up the river for another day at least being obviously impossible. It was only then he realised that he had weathered one of the great gales that make history. At Gourock pierhead shellbacks of experience swore they had never seen the like of it; there were solemn bodings about the fate of vessels that had to face it. Para Handy, as a ship's commander who had struggled through it, found himself regarded as a hero, and was plied with the most flattering inquiries. On any other day the homage of the shellbacks might have aroused suspicion, but its disinterested nature could not be called in question, seeing all the public-houses were shut.
"Never saw anything like it in aal my born days," he said. "I wass the length wan time of puttin' off my shippers and windin' up my watch for the Day of Chudgment. Wan moment the boat wass up in the air like a flyin'-machine, and the next she wass scrapin' the cockles off the bottom o' the deep. Mountains high--chust mountains high! And no' wee mountains neither, but the very bens of Skye! The seas was wearin' through us fore and aft like yon mysterious river rides that used to be at the Scenic Exhibeetion, and the noise o' the cups and saucers clatterin' doon below wass terrible, terrible! If Dougie wass here he could tell you."
"A dog's life, boys!" said the shellbacks. "He would be ill-advised that would sell a farm and go to sea. Anything carried away, Captain?"
A jar, a bucket, and a sou'-wester seemed too trivial a loss for such a great occasion. Para Handy hurriedly sketched a vision of bursting hatches, shattered bulwarks, a mate with a broken leg, and himself for hours lashed to the wheel.
It was annoying to find that these experiences were not regarded by the shellbacks as impressive. They seemed to think that nothing short of tragedy would do justice to a storm of such unusual magnitude.
Para Handy got into the train, and found himself in the company of some Paisley people, who seemed as proud of the superior nature of the storm as if they had themselves arranged it.
"Nothing like it in history, chentlemen," said Para Handy, after borrowing a match. "It's me that should ken, for I wass in it, ten mortal hours, battlin' wi' the tempest. A small boat carried away and a cargo o' feather bonnets on the deck we were carryin' for the Territorials. My boat was shaved clean doon to the water-line till she looked like wan o' them timber-ponds at the Port--not an article left standin'! A crank-shaft smashed on us, and the helm wass jammed. The enchineer--a man Macphail belongin' to Mother-well--had a couple of ribs stove in, and the mate got a pair o' broken legs; at least there's wan o' them broken and the other's a nesty stave. I kept her on her ooorse mysel' for five hours, and the waiter up to my very muddle. Every sea was smashin' on me, but I never mudged. My George, no! Macfarlane never mudged!"
The Paisley passengers were intensly moved, and produced a consoling bottle.
"Best respects, chentlemen!" said Para Handy. "It's me that would give a lot for the like o' that at three o'clock this mornin'. I'm sittin' here withoot a rag but what I have on me. A fine sea-kist, split new, wi' fancy grommets, all my clothes, my whole month's wages, and presents for the wife in't--it's lyin' yonder somewhere off Innellan.... It's a terrible thing the sea."
At Greenock two other passengers came into the compartment, brimful of admiration for a storm they seemed to think peculiarly British in its devastating character--a kind of vindication of the island's imperial pride.
"They've naething like it on the Continent," said one of them. "They're a' richt there wi' their volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and the like, but when it comes to the naitural elements--" He was incapable of expressing exactly what he thought of British dominance in respect of the natural elements.
"Here's a poor chap that was oot in his ship in the worst o't," said the Paisley passengers. Para Handy ducked his head in polite acknowledgment of the newcomers' flattering scrutiny, and was induced to repeat his story, to which he added some fresh sensational details.
He gave a vivid picture of the Vital Spark wallowing helplessly on the very edge of the Gantock rocks; of the fallen mast beating against the vessel's side and driving holes in her; of the funnel flying through the air, with cases of feather bonnets ("cost ten pounds apiece, chentlemen, to the War Office"); of Sunny Jim incessantly toiling at the pump; the engineer unconscious and delirious; himself, tenacious and unconquered, at the wheel, lashed to it with innumerable strands of the best Manila cordage.
"I have seen storms in every part of the world," he said; "I have even seen yon terrible monsoons that's namely oot about Australia, but never in my born life did I come through what I came through last night."
Another application of the consolatory bottle seemed to brighten his recollection of details.
"I had a lot o' sky-rockets," he explained. "We always have them on the best ships, and I fired them off wi' the wan hand, holdin' the wheel wi' the other. Signals o' distress, chentlemen. Some use cannons, but I aye believe in the sky-rockets: you can both hear and see them. It makes a dufference."
"I kent a chap that did that for a day and a nicht aff the Mull o' Kintyre, and it never brung oot a single lifeboat," said one of the Paisley men.
It was obvious to Para Handy that his tragedy of the sea was pitched on too low a key to stir some people; he breathed deeply and shook a melancholy head.
"You'll never get lifeboats when you want them, chentlemen," he remarked. "They keep them aal laid up in Gleska for them Lifeboat Setturday processions. But it was too late for the lifeboat anyway for the Vital Spark. The smertest boat in the tred, too."
"Good Lord! She didna sink?" said the Paisley men, unprepared for such a denouement.
"Nothing above the water at three o'clock this mornin' but the winch," said the Captain. "We managed to make our way ashore on a couple o' herrin'-boxes.... Poor Macphail! A great man for perusin' them novelles, but still-and-on a fellow of much agility. The very last words he said when he heaved his breath--and him, poor sowl, withoot a word o' Gaelic in his heid--wass, 'There's nobody can say but what you did your duty, Peter.' That wass me."
"Do ye mean to say he was drooned?" asked the Paisley men with genuine emotion.
"Not drooned," said Para Handy; "he simply passed away."
"Isn't that deplorable! And whit came over the mate?"
"His name wass Dougald," said the Captain sadly, "a native of Lochaline, and ass cheery a man ass ever you met across a dram. Chust that very mornin' he said to me, 'The 5th of November, Peter; this hass been a terrible New Year, and the next wan will be on us in a chiffy.'"
By the time the consolatory bottle was finished the loss of the Vital Spark had assumed the importance of the loss of the Royal George, and the Paisley men suggested that the obvious thing to do was to start a small subscription for the sole survivor.
For a moment the conscience-stricken Captain hesitated. He had scarcely thought his story quite so moving, but a moment of reflection found him quite incapable of recalling what was true and what imaginary of the tale he told them. With seven-and-sixpence in his pocket, wrung by the charm of pure imagination from his fellow-passengers, he arrived in Glasgow and went home.
He went in with a haggard countenance.
"What's the matter wi' ye, Peter?" asked his wife.
"Desperate news for you, Mery. Desperate news! The Vital Spark is sunk."
"As long's the crew o' her are right that doesna matter," said the plucky little woman.
"Every mortal man o' them drooned except mysel'," said Para Handy, and the tears streaming down his cheeks. "Nothing but her winch above the water. They died like Brutain's hardy sons."
"And what are you doing here?" said his indignant wife. "As lang as the winch is standin' there ye should be on her. Call yoursel' a sailor and a Hielan'man!"
For a moment he was staggered.
"Perhaps there's no' a word o' truth in it," he suggested. "Maybe the thing's exaggerated. Anything could happen in such a desperate storm."
"Whether it's exaggerated or no' ye'll go back the night and stick beside the boat. I'll make a cup o' tea and boil an egg for ye. A bonny-like thing for me to go up and tell Dougie's wife her husband's deid and my man snug at home at a tousy tea!... Forbye, they'll maybe salve the boat, and she'll be needin' a captain."
With a train that left the Central some hours later Para Handy returned in great anxiety to Gourock. The tragedy of his imagination was now exceedingly real to him. He took a boat and rowed out to the Vital Spark, which he was astonished to see intact at anchor, not a feature of her changed.
Dougie was on deck to receive him.
"Holy smoke, Dougie, iss that yoursel'?" the Captain asked incredulously. "What way are you keepin'?"
"Fine," said Dougie. "What way's the mistress?"
The Captain seized him by the arm and felt it carefully.
"Chust yoursel', Dougie, and nobody else. It's me that's prood to see you. I hope there's nothing wrong wi' your legs?"
"Not a drop," said Dougie.
"And what way's Macphail?" inquired the Captain anxiously.
"He's in his bed wi' 'Lady Audley,'" said the mate.
"Still deleerious?" said the Captain with apprehension.
"The duvvle was never anything else," said Dougie.
"Did we lose anything in the storm last night?" asked Para Handy.
"A jar, and a bucket, and your own sou'-wester," answered Dougie.
"My Chove!" said Para Handy, much relieved. "Things iss terribly exaggerated up in Gleska."
DURING several days on which the Vital Spark lay idle at Lochgoilhead, the crew spring-cleaned her. "My goodness! ye wouldna think she would take such a desperate lot o' tar!" said Para Handy, watching the final strokes of Dougie's brush on the vessel's quarter.
There seemed, however, to be as much of the tar on the person and clothing of himself and his shipmates as on the boat.
"Ye're a bonny-lookin' lot!" said Macphail, the engineer, who never took any part in the painting operations. "If ye just had a tambourine apiece, and could sing 'The Swanee River,' ye would do for Christy Minstrels."
But all the same, in spite of such tar as missed her when they slung it on, the Vital Spark looked beautiful and shiny, and the air for half a mile round had the odour of Archangel, where the Russians come from.
With his own good hand, and at his own expense, her proud commander had freshened up her yellow bead and given her funnel a coat of red as gorgeous as a Gourock sunset. He stood on one leg, in a favourite attitude of his when anything appealed to his emotions, and scratched his shin with the heel of his other boot.
"Man! it's chust a trate to see her lookin' so smert!" he said with admiration. "The sauciest boat in the coastin' tred! If ye shut wan eye and glance end-on, ye would think she wass the Grenadier. Chust you look at the lines of her--that sweet! I'm tellin' you he wassna slack the man that made her."
Sunny Jim wiped his brow with the cuff of his jacket, and made a new smear on his countenance which left him with a striking resemblance to the White-Eyed Kaffir. His comparatively clean eye twinkled mischievously at Macphail.
"What I say is this," said he; "there's no' much sense in bein' so fancy wi' a boat that's only gaun to cairry coals and timber inside the Cumbraes. Noo that we're blockaded, do ye no'think, Macphail, she should be cairryin' passengers?"
"Holy smoke!" ejaculated Dougie, with genuine surprise. "Ye might chust ass well say that the Admirality should put some guns on her and send her to the Dardanelles."
Sunny Jim, with his back to the Captain, winked. "There's maybe something in't," added Dougie hurriedly. "There's boats no' better carryin' passengers aal winter, and I'll warrant ye there's money in't."
"It's the chance o' a lifetime!" broke in the engineer, wanning up to the play. "Half the regular steamers will be aft the Clyde for months takin' Gleska breid and the sodgers' washin's to the Bosphorus and thereabouts; if you have ony say at a' wi' the owners, Peter, you advise them to let oot the Vital Spark for trips."
"Trups!" said Para Handy, beaming. "Man, Jum, ye hit the very thing! It wass aalways my ambeetion to get oot o' the common cairryin' tred and be a chcntleman. I aalways said a boat like this wass thrown away on coal, and wud, and herrin'; if she had chust a caibin and a place for sellin' tickets, I wouldna feel ashamed to sail her on the Royal Rowt."
Again his eye swept fondly over her bulging hull, with the tar still wet and glistening on it; the bright new yellow stripe which made her so coquettish; the crimson funnel. "Of course, ye would need a band if ye went in for trips," suggested Macphail in a ruminating way. "Yin o' thae bands that can feenish a' thegither even if they're playin' different tunes, or drap the piccolo oot every noo and then to go roond and lift the pennies."
"Ach! I wouldna bother wi' a band," said Para Handy. "A band's no use unless ye want to chase the passengers below to take refreshments, and we havena the accommodation. We maybe might get baud o' a kind o' fiddler. I mind when the tippiest boats on the Clyde had chust wan decent fiddler or a poor man wantin' the eysight, wi' a concerteena. Tiptop!"
He took a piece of twine from his trousers pocket and measured the standing room between the wheel and the engines; Sunny Jim was in a transport of delight at a joke which went so smoothly.
"Two and a half," said Para Handy firmly, like a land surveyor. "I think there would be room for a no' too broad-built fiddler, if he didna bate the time wi' his feet. Stop you till we make a calculaation for the passenger accommodation. We'll need to make it cubic."
"There's only forty cubic feet allo'ed for every lodger in the Garscube Road," said Sunny Jim. "That's the Act o' Parliament. Ye can easy get the cubic space if ye coont it longways up in the air, and there's naething to prevent it."
Para Handy stood on one leg again and scratched a shin, with a look of the profoundest calculation.
"Ye couldna have cabin passengers," suggested Dougie, snatching up an oil-can of Macphail's and pouring some of its contents into his hands to clean the tar off.
"There's no' goin' to be no caibin in this boat," said the Captain quickly. "Short runs and ready money! Gourock and Dunoon, maybe, and perhaps a Setturday to Ardentinny. I could get a dozen or two o' nice wee herrin' firkins doon at Tarbert for passengers to sit on roond the hatch."
"Do ye no' think it would look droll?" asked Dougie, a little remorseful to have awakened such ecstatic visions.
"What way would it be droll?" retorted his Captain sharply. "I'm thinkin' ye havena much o' a heid for business, Dougie. If you would just consider--a shillin' a heid to Hunter's Quay--"
"Ye would need a purser," suggested Sunny Jim.
"Allooin' I did!" replied the Captain. "Aal a purser needs is a pocket-naipkin, a fancy tie, a flooer in his jaicket, and a pleasant smile. There iss not a man on the Clyde would make a better purser than yoursel' if ye showed the right agility. I'm tellin' you there's money in't! The people'll chust come in and pay their tickets. Look at the way they crood doon at the Gleska Fair! We could put their wee tin boxes in the howld."
"Of course, we would have moonlight cruises," said Macphail. "It's just found money--no extra cost for the engineer and crew."
On the prospect of moonlight cruises the Captain pondered for a moment. "No," he said. "I'm aal for daylight sailin'; they slip in past ye in the dark withoot a ticket, or give ye a Golden Text from the Sunday School that looks like the chenuine article, and then where are ye? Forbye, it's no' that easy to watch a purser on the moonlight cruises; he would make his fortune." He looked at his bright new funnel; imaginatively peopled the narrow deck with summer trippers; smelled the pervading odour of paint and tar, and glowed all over at the thocht of his beloved vessel taking the quay at Dunoon on a Saturday afternoon with a crowd of the genteelest passengers seated on herring firkins, and a fiddle aft.
"I'll speak my mind aboot it to the owners whenever I get to Gleska!" he declared emphatically. "It's no' a chance they should let slip. They might could put up a bit o' a deck-house where a body could get a cup o' tea and a penny thing at tuppence."
"And wha would serve the tea, like?" asked Sunny Jim.
"There's nobody could do it cluverer than yoursel', Jum," said Para Handy. "You would wash your hands and put on a brattie, and every noo and then a chentleman would ship a penny in below his plate for a testimonial."
"That puts the feenish on it then!" said Sunny Jim, with emphasis. "I jined this ship for a sailorman, and no' to hand roond cookies and lift the tickets."
"And the mate would need to wear a collar," said Dougie. "It's no' a thing I fancy at aal, at aal."
"A bonny-like skipper ye would look withoot a bridge to stand on," wound up the engineer. "Besides, ye would need a Board o' Tred certificate."
The Captain's visage fell. His dream dispelled. "Perhaps ye're right," said he. "It would look a little droll. But, man, I aalways had the notion that the Vita! Spark wass meant for something better than for cairryin' coals."
PARA HANDY, on Saturday night, wound up the ship's Kew-tested 2s. 11d. tin alarm chronometer with more than usual solemnity. It stopped as usual in the process, and he had to restore it to animation, after the customary fashion, by tapping it vigorously on the toe of his boot.
"If it wassna the law o' the land," he remarked, "I would see them at the muschief afore I would be tamperin' wi' the time o' day the way God made it. We'll have to come up the quay to our beds next Setturday in broad daylight; there's no consuderation for the sailor's reputaation."
"Science!" said the mate, with bitterness. "Goodness knows what prank them fellows'll be up to next! There wass nothing wrong wi' the time the way it wass, except that it wass aalways slippin' past when ye werena thinkin'."
"There's the nock for ye, Jim," said Para Handy. "Ye'll stay up till two o'clock, and do the needful."
"What'll I stay up for?" asked Sunny Jim indignantly. "Ye can shift the handles noo; it's a' the same."
"But it's no' aal the same! If you would read the papers instead o' wastin' your time gallivanting, ye would see the Daylight Ack says two o'clock's the oor for shifting nocks. Ye daurna do it a meenute sooner."
Sunny Jim laughed. "Right-oh, Captain!" he agreed. "I'll sit up and dae the shiftin' for ye. You and Dougie better leave me your watches, too; it'll be a' the yin operation."
"Can ye see the nock, Dougie? What time iss't by the Daylight Ack?" the Captain sleepily asked next morning without turning out of his bunk.
The mate unhooked the clock, and incredulously surveyed its face. "Stop you till I get my watch," he said, crawling out of his bunk. "Them German nocks iss not dependable; ye couldna boil an egg wi' them."
A rich resonant snore came from the bunk of Sunny Jim.
"Holy sailor!" exclaimed Dougie, having consulted his watch; "it's half-past ten o'clock! No wonder I wass hungry! That's your science for you!"
"Half-past ten o'clock!" said the Captain. "And chust you listen at the way that fellow iss snorin'! Up this meenute, Jum, and make the breakfast!"
It was with difficulty Sunny Jim was wakened, and then he proved of the most mutinous temper. "Ye can mak' your breakfast for yoursel's!" he protested. "If I'm to sit up till twa o'clock in the mornin' to shift the time, I'm no' gaun to rise till my sleep's made up."
Two seconds later he was snoring more resonantly than ever, in syncopated time with MacPhail, the engineer, who had volunteered to sit up till two o'clock with him, and who had a snore of an intermittent gurgling character like one of his own steam pipes.
Between them the Captain and the mate made breakfast.
A blissful Sabbath calm was on loch and land when Para Handy put his head up through the hatch. The Vital Spark was bumping softly against her fenders at a deserted quay; the smoke of morning fires was rising in the village. The tide was ebbing, but not yet far from full.
"I didna think they could do't," said the Captain.
"Do what?" asked Dougie, finishing off the last of the marmalade.
"The tide," said Para Handy; "it's no' near where it wass at this time yesterday. It's shifted too."
"Chust what I told ye--science! The ruffians'll do anything! Do you no' think, Peter, we'll get punished some day for all this schemin' and contrivance? Chust the work of unfidels! What way iss a man to ken noo whether it's Setturday night or Sunday morning? Many a wan'll go wrong at twelve o'clock on the Setturday night and start whistling. Noo that they're startin' takin' liberties wi' clocks and tides, ye'll see they'll cairry it further and play havoc wi' the almanacs. If they can rob us o' an oor they can steal a fortnight."
"Chust that!" agreed the Captain. "I could spare them a day or two at the Whitsunday term; that's the sort o' thing they should abolish." He sighed. "Indeed, it's a solemn thing, Dougie, to see the way they're flyin' aal round to new human devices; do ye no' think me and you should go to the church this mornin'?"
"Whatever you say yoursel'," said Dougie.
The bell was ringing as they went up the street, and had ceased when they reached the church. No other worshippers were visible.
"This place needs a great upliftin'," said Para Handy piously. "On a day like this, with the things of time upset and shifted, ye would think they would be croodin' in to hear Mr M'Queen. Have ye any losengers?"
"Not wan!" said Dougie, "but maybe he'll no' be long."
The beadle was shutting the door of the church as they approached to enter. "Where are ye goin'?" he asked, with a curious look at them.
"Where would we be goin' but to hear my good frien', John M'Queen," said the Captain fervently.
"Then ye'll better come back at half-past eleven," said the beadle dryly. "This is no' the place for you at all; it's the Sunday School."
"Holy sailors!" exclaimed the Captain; "what o'clock iss't?"
"Exactly half-past nine by the summer time," said the beadle, "but it's only half-past eight by naiture."
The Captain looked at Dougie. "Aren't we," said he, "the fools to be leavin' nocks and watches to fellows like Sunny Jim and Macphail! The tricky duvvles! There's no' an inch o' a chentleman between them. It's no' wan oor but three they put us forrit, and they're still snore-snorin' yonder!"
SUNNY JIM, with his sleeves rolled up, a sweat-rag stuck in the waistband of his trousers, and his face much streaked with soot, clapped down a bowl of eggs before the Captain, rinsed his hands in a pail of water, dried them on his waistcoat, and sat down on the edge of his bunk to enjoy his breakfast.
A gloomy silence fell upon the crew when they saw the eggs. They were just plain ordinary eggs of oval shape, and no more soiled on the shells than usual, but their presence seemed momentous. Para Handy looked at them like one entranced; Dougie put a finger out and touched them gingerly; Macphail withdrew his incredulous gaze from them with a muttered exclamation, and starting furiously spreading bread with marmalade.
"Iss that eggs?" said the Captain, like one who was uncertain whether they were eggs or curling-stones.
"Oh no! Not at all!" cried Macphail, with bitter irony; "it's the best Devonshire bacon, fried kidneys, kippered herring, finnan baddies, omelets, pork sausages. Jim would never shove us off wi' eggs!"
"They're duvvelish like eggs!" said Dougie lugubriously. "I never saw a better imitation. The look o' them fairly makes me grue."
"What way's the wind, Jum?" said Para Handy mildly. "I don't feel the smell o' ham. Hurry you up, like a good laad, and bring us doon a wise-like breakfast."
"That's a' the breakfast that's gaun," said Sunny Jim. "There's no a bit o' ham in Tarbert."
"But, bless my he'rt! there's many another thing than ham a body could enjoy!" said Para Handy. "There's things like--fush, and--sausages, and--fush, that a man could eat wi' some diversion. You're awfu' nerrow, Jum! You havena no variety. Even-on it's eggs wi' you; you havena had a thing but eggs since we left Bowling."
"Tak' them or leave them!" said the cook; "the day'll come ye'll be gled to get them. I'm no' a Grand Hotel nor an Italian Warehouse; I can only gie ye what I can get, and there's dashed all left to eat in Tarbert since the Fair, unless it's rhubarb."
The Captain chipped an egg with no enthusiasm. "Goodness knows," said he, "what this country would come to withoot the hens! Everybody in the land is eatin' eggs--eggs--eggs! Half the year there's nothing in the morning for ye but an egg. What, in aal the world, iss in an egg?"
"That's what I'm aye wonderin' when I start yin," said the engineer.
"There's nothing patent in an egg; it's chust a thing ye would expect from hens. If it wassna for the salt, ye might ass weel be eatin' blot-sheet. Did ye ever see any dufierence between wan egg and another?"
"Some o' them's bigger," suggested Dougie, scooping out his own, apparently without much interest in the contents.
"That's the thing that angers me aboot an egg!" continued the Captain. "It never makes ye gled to see it on the table; ye know at wance the thing's a mere put-by because your wife or Jum could not be bothered makin' something tasty."
"We'll hae to get the hens to put their heids thegither, and invent a new kind o' fancy egg for sailors," said Sunny Jim, consuming his with ostentatious relish. "Yc can say whit ye like--there's naething bates a country egg; and I can tell ye this, the lot o' ye, it's eggs ye're gaun to get for dinner tae; there's no' a bit o' butcher meat in Tarbert!"
"Holy smoke!" exclaimed the Captain. "Eggs for dinner! Not a morsel more will I be eating; you have spoiled my breakfast on me!"
The Vital Spark had her coals discharged by noon, and the Captain went ashore to a public-house for a change of diet. The very idea of eggs again for dinner was repugnant to him, and several schooners of beer intensified his inward feelings of revolt against monotony of cuisine. There came into the bar a man he thought he knew; he said, "Hallo, Macdougall!" to him; "hoo's the fishin'?" and they had a glass together.
"What way's hersel'--the mustress keepin'?" Para Handy asked. "I hope she's splendid?"
"She's no bad at aal," said the other, with a little hesitation.
"Tell her I was askin' kindly for her health. I'm fine mysel'. Yon's a nice bit hoose ye have, Johnny; it's very creditable to aal concerned."
"It's no' that bad at aal!" replied the other, thinking for a moment. "What way do ye no' come up some night and see us?"
"Nobody would be better pleased!" said Para Handy. "Iss your mother-in-law still wi' ye?"
"Aye, she's yonder yet, but ach! ye needna mind for her; come up some night, and have your supper.... Bring the boys!" Macdougall added with effusive hospitality. So far, he had not suggested another drink.
"If I go up, I'll better go mysel'; there's four of us on board," said Para Handy.
"Bring them all! This very night at seven o'clock, and, I assure you, you'll have supper."
"Hoots! That would be puttin' the wife to bother," said the Captain, with polite solicitude. "We would chust be goin' to have a crack."
"Ye'll have a crack, and ye'll have your supper too!" said Macdougall firmly. "Mind and bring the boys! Sharp at seven, mind, and take your music."
The Captain hurried on board his vessel, watched his crew disgustedly eat eggs, which he professed disdain for, and when they had finished, told them of his invitation.
"Ye micht hae tell't us sooner!" said Macphail, with genuine vexation. "There's a supper spoiled!"
"A capital cook, Mrs Macdougall!--namely, in the place for cooking," callously said Para Handy. "I'm chust in trum mysel' for something else than eggs."
They dressed in their Sunday clothes, and went up at night to the house of John Macdougall.
"He's not at home, he's at the fishin'!" said a lady whom the Captain shook warmly by the hand, and addressed as Katrin.
"I met him in the toon at twelve the day, and he asked us to be sure and come to supper," said the Captain, much surprised.
"What was he like?" said she, with some amusement.
"A burly wise-like man, wi' a tartan kep; I ken him fine!"
She laughed; she was a cheerful body. "That's no' my man at all. Captain," said she; "but I'll tell ye who it was--his brother Peter; they're as like as peas!"
"Isn't this the bonny caper!" said Dougie, with distress. They stood like sheep.
"It's no' the first tune Peter played that trick," said the woman; "he's a rascal! If he had a house and a wife of his own, I would just advise ye to go up, and take him at his word, but seein' ye're here, ye'll just come in and have your supper."
They went in, with mingled hope and diffidence, and she boiled them eggs!
"STOP you! We'll have a fine pant oot of Dougie; he's ass timid ass a mountain hare," said Para Handy in the absence of his mate, who was ashore on one of the missions the crew of the Vital Spark entirely disapproved of--to buy some special and exclusive "kitchen" for his tea. He had an unpleasantly ostentatious way of eating ham or kippered herrings when the rest had nothing more piquant or interesting than jam.
As a consequence of some deliberation and rehearsal, when Dougie came back to the boat with his parcel he found an unusual bustle at an hour when, waiting for the tide to get her off at flood, the crew of the Vital Spark were apt to be yawning their heads off. The Captain was peeling his guernsey off, preparatory to washing himself--a proceeding in itself unusual enough to be surprising. Macphail, the engineer, was studying a map of the North Sea cut from some recent newspaper, and flourishing a one-legged compass. Sunny Jim was oiling the parts of a telescope he had won once in a raffle.
Such signs of unaccustomed activity could not but impress Dougie. "What's wrong wi' ye?" he asked; "ye're duvvelish busy!"
"We'll be busier yet before we're done!" said the Captain, gravely and mysteriously, and turned his back to look over the shoulder of Macphail at the North Sea map. "Did ye find the place, Macphail?" he asked anxiously.
"Ay!" said the engineer. "It's just aboot whaur I said it was--a dangerous place, fair hotchin' full o' mines."
"Chust that!" said Para Handy. "It's chust what I wass thinkin' to myself. Well, well; we canna help it when the King and country caals. I'm only vexed aboot the boat." He stifled a sigh, bent over the enamelled basin, and hurriedly damped himself: it must be admitted the afternoon was cold.
"There's no' even the chance o' a medal on the job," said Sunny Jim. "That's what gives me the needle!"
They behaved as if Dougie with his irritating groceries had no existence. He determined to show no curiosity.
"It might be sweepin' mines they mean," said Para Handy in a little, drying his face. "Whatever it iss, it iss goin' to be a time of trial."
"It's me that's gled I can swim," said Sunny Jim. "The very first bang, and aff goes my galoshes! It's no' sae bad for me, as if I had a wife and family."
Dougie pricked his ears.
"It's no' sweepin' mines," said the engineer emphatically. "If it was to sweep mines they wanted us they would put steel plates roond the bows and leave her light; there, wouldna be any sense in stuffin' her hold wi' cement and stones. Tak' you my word for it--she's gaun to jam the Kiel Canal. It's a risky job we're on, I'll warrant ye!"
"I wouldna care so much if it wasna for my aunty," said Sunny Jim in a doleful accent, with a wink to the engineer. "I aye made up her rent. Perhaps it's to cairry troops we're needed."
"Not at aal!" said Para Handy. "Where would ye put troops on the Vital Spark, and her hold filled up wi' causey and cement?"
Dougie's curiosity could no further be restrained. "What in aal the earth are ye palaverin' at?" he asked impatiently, and with some forebodings.
"I'm sorry to tell ye that, Dougald," said the Captain feelingly, "for it's a serious, serious business for us aal; the boat is commandeered. I have a kind o' letter here from the Admirality"--he produced it with a flourish from his trousers pocket. "Chust a line in their usual way:--' Report at Renfrew; get an extra dummy funnel and some wuden guns; fill up wi' causey and cement, and take the North Sea for it. To Captain Peter C. Macfarlane.'"
"'Peter C. Macfarlane,'" Dougie said, surprised. "I never heard o' the 'C' before; where did ye get the title?"
"They must have kent my mother was a Cameron," said Para Handy; "and they're always for the stylish thing in the Admirality. Never you mind aboot the title, Dougald; have ye an extra shirt or two and a pair o' mittens? Ye'll need them yonder."
"Where?" asked the mate, alarmed.
"In the North Sea. Amn't I tellin' ye we're commandeered!"
"I'll sec them to the muschief first!" said Dougie warmly. "If I'm to do the British Navy's work, it's no' in a cockle-shell!" But his heart was in his boots.
For once his meal had no attractions for him, and the others, for the first time, shared his private ham with surprising appetite and relish, considering the tragic possibilities they discussed. So perfectly did they sustain their parts as previously arranged among them that it never occurred to him to doubt the story.
"Of course, ye'll break the news to your mustress the best way that ye can," said the Captain, spreading jam on the bread with a soup spoon; "ye needna put the worst face on the job; chust say it's an East Coast cargo, and ye'll send a postcaird home. I hope and trust ye kept up your insurance!"
"Of course, there's aye a chance they micht take us prisoners," said Sunny Jim. "That wouldna be sae bad."
"I ken a man that's no' goin'," said Dougie with profound conviction.
"There's nane o' us can get oot o't," said the engineer, finishing the last of the ham in an absent-minded way. "I think your letter makes that quite plain, Peter?"
"It does that," said Para Handy, having scrutinised the document again, and shoved it under his plate for further reference if necessary. Dougie eyed it slyly, unobserved.
"The dashed thing is there's no' a uniform," said Sunny Jim. "I wouldna mind sae much if we wore a blue pca-jacket wi' brass buttons, and the name o' the boat on oor keps; if I'm to be drooned for my country I would like to be a wee bit tasty."
"There's a man I ken, and he's no' goin', whatever o't!" again said Dougie firmly,
The Captain had another inspiration. "Of course," said he, "they're goin' to change the name o' the boat. There's a cruiser caaled the Vital Spark, and if we were sunk it would make confusion. The Chermans would be sayin' we were the big one."
"There's one thing I can tell ye, and it's this--the man that iss not goin' on this ploy iss me!" said Dougie, and slapped his knee.
"Toots, man! ye shouldna be so tumid!" said Para Handy; "Brutain's hardy sons!"
The rule of the vessel was that a man who indulged in extras to his tea had to wash the dishes, and Dougie was left behind when the others went on deck. He lost no time in reading the document the Captain had forgetfully left below his plate, and a great illumination came to him when he found it was nothing more than a second and final notice demanding the Captain's poor-rates. "My goodness! wass there ever such a lot o' liars?" said their victim. "Spoiled my tea on me! Stop you!"
By and by he went up on deck, and found his shipmates solemnly discussing the purpose of the dummy funnel and the wooden guns.
"It's to draw their torpedo fire," the engineer suggested. "When they're bangin' awa' at us the cruiser'll slip by."
"And then it's domino wi' us!" said Sunny Jim lugubriously.
"There's wan thing I can say," said Para Handy unctuously, "and it's this--that my affairs is aal in the best condeetion; quite complete. There's no' a penny that I'm owin'."
"Except your poor-rates," broke in Dougie witheringly. "There's your letter from the Admirality. It's in Berlin the whole o' ye should be, and writin' Cherman telegrams."
WHEN tea was finished, Sunny Jim put on his Sunday clothes, turned up the foot of his trousers, oiled his boots, put his cap on carefully, with a saucy tilt to it, and then spent several minutes violently brushing what was left below it of his hair. Thus only could his curl be coaxed into that tasty wave above the forehead, and complete his fatal beauty for the girls.
"Capital!" said Para Handy. "Never saw ye nicer, Jum; chust a regular Napoleon! Don't you shift another hair, or ye'll spoil yersel'!"
"The only other thing I could recommend," said Macphail, "is to put some soap and water on a brush and gie a flourish aboot the ears."
Sunny Jim paid no attention. From the small tin box that held his dunnage he produced his mouth harmonium and a tin of Glasgow toffee, which he stowed in his jacket pockets.
"My goodness!" said Dougie, the mate, "it's a desperate thing this love; there's such expense in it! There's a sixpence away on sweeties for another fellow's dochter!"
"Of course, we'll have a bite o' something ready for ye, Jum, when ye come back," remarked the Captain with magnificent sarcasm. "Dougie'll sit up. Will a bit of cold roast chucken do, or would ye like an omelet?"
"Best respects to Liza," said the engineer rudely. "I think it's specs she's needin' if you're her fancy."
Sunny Jim calmly lighted a cigarette and buttoned up his jacket. "So long, chaps!" he said. "It's a pity ye're a' that old! Just a lot o' bloomin' fossils from the Fossil Grove, Whiteinch. Mak' yoursel's some gruel in a while, and awa' to your beds."
He was back to the Vital Spark in less than an hour in an obviously agitated state of mind.
"Bless me!" said Para Handy, starting up; "iss it that time o' night? The way time has o' slippin' past when ye're a fossil! Set you the table, Dougie, and put oot a chucken for his lordship. Maybe ye would like a drop o' something, Jum? To start wi', like. What way iss Liza keepin' in her health! My Chove! But yon's the beautious gyurl!"
"Shut up!" said Sunny Jim disgustedly. "I'm done wi' her, onywey! I wouldna trust a woman like yon the length that I could throw her!"
"That's no far," said Macphail reflectively. "Sixteen stone, if she's an ounce. Tell me this--is she wearin' specs at last?"
"It would need to be some sort o' specs she was wearin' to see onything in yon chap o' Mackay's she's awa' for a walk wi'," said Sunny Jim with feeling. "Naething at a' to recommend him but a kilt and a hack on his heel!" Dougie, who never lost his head even in the most exciting circumstances, asked the despondent lover abruptly if he had brought the tin of toffee back. In a moment of aberration Sunny Jim produced it, and put it down on the top of a barrel, and it sped so quickly round them several times that when his turn came there were only two sticky bits left in the bottom. He sucked them like one for whom toffee had no greater taste than gas-work cinders. Such is the effect of unrequited love.
He was too profoundly grieved to be reticent. "I had a tryst wi' her, right enough, chaps. Eight o'clock, she said, at the factor's corner, and just at that very meenute she went sailin' past wi' Dan Mackay, that's hame frae the Territorials at Dunoon, lettin' on he's wounded, and a' the time, I'll bate ye, it's only a hack on his heel.
"'It's eight o'clock, Liza,' says I, and gied her the wink.
"'Fancy that!' says she, as nippy's onything. 'But ye've loads o' time; they're signin' on recruits in the armoury up till ten. Did ye hear aboot the war?' says she afore I could get my breath. 'It's fairly ragin'! Corporal Mackay's gaun oot to the front as soon as his feet get better.'
"And aff she went wi' Mackay, and left me standin' like a dummy! Yon's no gentleman! He hadna a word to say for himsel'. Naething to tak' the eye aboot him but a kilt and a hack on his heel!"
"Holy smoke!" said Para Handy sympathetically. "Isn't that the desperate pity? There's nothing noo in the heids o' the gyurls but sodgers. But ye canna blame the craturs! There's something smert aboot the kilt and the cockit bonnet."
"If I wassna one o' them old fossils from Whiteinch," remarked Dougie, with rancorous deliberation, "it wouldna be the like o' Liza Cameron, the tyler's dochter, could cast up to me a war wass ragin' and go off wi' another man--aye, even if he had a hack on every heel inside his boots."
Sunny Jim was distressed almost to the verge of tears. "I'm fair sick o' this!" said he. "I'm gaun to 'list! Every quay this boat comes in to somebody's shair to chip in something aboot my age and me no' bein' married, and whitna regiment I'm gaun to. The last trip we cam' up Loch Fyne I got as mony feathers as would stuff a bolster."
"I wass aye wonderin' what for so many feathers got into the porridge," said Dougie. "Did I no' say to the Captain yesterday, 'I'm fond o' porridge and I'm fond o' chicken, but I never cared to get them both mixed'?"
"Mind ye, it's no' that I'm feared to 'list," said Sunny Jim. "I never seen a German yet I oouldna knock the napper aff, and it couldna be worse in the trenches than in the howld o' this old vessel shovellin' coal. But I'm feared they wouldna tak' me for a recruit----"
"If it's the bowly legs ye're thinkin' o'," said Macphail, "that's no ony obstacle; ye're just the very make o' a horse marine."
Para Handy measured the disconsolate lover with a calculating eye. "I doot," says he, "Jum hassna got the length for a horse marine unless they put him through a mangle first. The regiment for you, Jum, is the Bantams."
"I doot they wouldna pass me," said Sunny Jim. "But to show that woman I'm game enough, although I'm no' bloodthirsty, I'll go up this very meenute and put in my name."
"You be fly and stand on your tiptoes!" Macphail cried after him as he climbed up on the quay from the vessel's rail.
He came back in half an hour a little more disconsolate than ever. "I tell't ye!" said he, "they wouldna sign me on," and stood with his back close to a glowing stove.
"No wonder," said the engineer. "Warpin' your legs still worse wi' standin' against the fire! Did I no' tell ye to get on'the tips o' your taes?"
"You're a disgrace to the boat," said Para Handy, with genuine vexation. "I'm black affronted! If Dougald and me wass a trifle younger, it's no' wi' troosers on we would be puttin' past the time. Just bringin' a bad name on the boat--that's what ye are! What way would they no' take ye?"
"Just look at the legs o' him!" said the engineer, as if they made the question quite ridiculous.
"It would likely be his character," suggested Dougie sadly. "They're duvvelish parteecular noo aboot the character; it's no like the old Milishia."
"It's no' my legs at a'; there's naething wrang wi' my legs," said the disappointed candidate. "And they never asked aboot my character. But I kent fine a' alang they wouldna tak' me."
"What for?" asked Para Handy. "Ye have all your faculties aboot ye, and ye're in your prime."
"It was this e'e o' mine," explained Sunny Jim, and indicated his dexter optic, which had always a singularly stern expression even in his amorous hours.
"That wan?" exclaimed the Captain. "That's the best o' the pair, to my opeenion, it's aye that steady. What's wrong wi't?"
"It's gless," said Sunny Jim, blushing; "they found it oot at the first go-aff."
"Holy frost!" said Para Handy. "Five years in this boat wi' us, and we never kent it. Did I no' think ye were chust plain skeely!"
"JUMPIN' Jehosophat!" said Para Handy. "Here's Macphail. I doot they havena lifted him."
Dougie's visage fell. He had been confident that the want of an engineer would keep them idle in Tarbert for at least a week. "Isn't that the trash!" he said lugubriously. "Ye never could put dependence on him. Look you, has he any badge in his coat lapel? He iss chust the man would let on a enchineer on the Vital Spark was a special tred. Ye canna be up to the quirks o' him."
"There is nothing on his coat lapel that I can see but a patch o' egg," said Para Handy, "and he had that when he started to go to Stirling. Ye'll see we'll no' get rid o' Macphail so easy; they're gettin' gey parteecular in the airmy, and he never could keep the step."
"Oh, man! if I had jist the ither eye!" said Sunny Jim in a passionate outburst of yearning.
Macphail came down to the quay with the biscuit tin which fulfilled the function of a suitcase when he travelled. His gait was most dejected, and his general air of infestivity was accentuated by the fact that he wore his Sunday clothes and a hat that, having been picked up casually some years before at the close of a ball in Crarae, had never fitted.
"See's your canister in case ye break the bottle," suggested the Captain politely as his engineer stood on the edge of the quay and piepared to jump on board.
"We werena expectin' to see ye again withoot your kilt," said Dougie maliciously. Macphail's anatomical defects had been considered to render kilts so absurdly out of the question that his shipmates always insisted General Haig would instantly pick him for the Gordons.
Without a word the engineer sat down on his biscuit tin and burst into tears.
"Man, Macphail, I'm wonderin' at ye!" exclaimed the Captain. "Your system's chust run doon wi' travellin'; a little drop o' Brutish spurrits--have ye much left in the canister?"
"Stand back and gie the chap breath!" implored Sunny Jim. "I'll bate a pound they found there was something wrang wi' him internal. I wouldna bother, Mac, if it's checked in time ye'll maybe linger on for years."
"Tach!" said Para Handy sympathetically. "I wouldna heed them doctors, Mac; it's only guess-work wi' them. But to tell ye the truth I didna like yon chrechlin' cough ye had since ye went afore the Tribunal. The only hope I had wass ye were puttin' 't on. If I had chust a wee small drop of spurrits wi'some sugar in't--will ye no' sit on this bucket?--a canister iss cold."
"Ye may be glad they wouldna take ye!" said Dougie consolingly. "Even if it wass only for the sake o' yer wife and pickle children."
"That's the dashed thing!" sobbed Macphail shamelessly; "they're takin' me richt enough. I've passed the doctors at Stirling, and I have a ticket here to jine a regiment to-morrow at Fort Matilda."
"Oh, michty!" exclaimed Sunny Jim with envy. "Whit regiment?"
"I canna mind its name," said the engineer, drying his eyes with a piece of waste; "but it starts wi' an F, and I'm to be a private. And me!--I don't ken the least wee thing aboot the way to be a private! I was bred an engineer."
In proof of these lamentable tidings he produced an official document which declared he was physically fit in every respect, and a card with which to present himself to the office for recruits.
"Man alive! Did ye no' cough at them?" asked Para Handy. "Yon chrechlin' cough wass chust a masterpiece."
"Cough!" exclaimed Macphail. "I coughed till ye would think it was the Cloch on a foggy night, but yon chaps never heeded. They put a tape aboot my chest, and chapped me between the shoulders, and listened could they hear my circulation. I was stripped stark naked--"
"My Chove! issn't that chust desperate!" said the Captain, horrified.
"I don't care!" cried Macphail in an excess of indignation. "I'm no' gaun to go, and that's a' aboot it!" He incautiously rose from his seat and stamped the deck.
"Wi' a little wee drop sugar in't, there's nothing better for a cough," said the Captain, hurriedly opening the biscuit tin. He looked disappointed. "Tach!" he said. "There's only an empty gill bottle and wan other garment. That iss not the way a chentleman would be travellin' from Stirling."
"See here!" said Sunny Jim with some eagerness. "Did they tak' your photograph?"
"No," said the melancholy engineer.
"Then gie me your tickets and I'll go to Fort Matilda in the name o' Dan Macphail. They'll never ken the difference. If it wasna this e'e o' mine was gless, I would hae 'listed a year ago. I've tried, and I've better tried to jine, but they'll no' let ye jine wi' a glessy yin unless ye have lots o' influence."
"Ye canna hide that eye on them; it looks that flippant!" said the Captain incredulously.
Macphail hurriedly handed over his documents lest any debate should diminish the young man's ardour.
"They canna go back on the doctor's line!" said Sunny Jim. "It says here Dan Macphail is medically fit--that's me, and I'm faur better value for the British Airmy wi' my glessy than Macphail would be wi' a full set o' een and his Sunday specs and his he'rt no' in it. It's the chance o' my life!"
"I wash my hands of it!" said Dougie, who had not yet recovered from his disappointment at the engineer's return. "It is against the Defence o' the Realm to pass gless eyes on the British Airmy, and ye'll get this boat in trouble."
"I jist have time to catch the boat for Greenock," said Sunny Jim. He put the documents in his pocket, buttoned his jacket, and climbed ashore.
THREE weeks after Sunny Jim stole into the Scottish Fusiliers under false pretences with the name and papers of Macphail, the engineer, and a glass eye he had previously made a dozen vain attempts to foist on recruiting officers as the natural article, he turned up in his uniform on the Vital Spark. He carried himself so erect that he had a rake aft like a steamer's funnel, his chest preceding him by about nine inches, and his glengarry bonnet cocked on three hairs. Every button glinted.
"Jumpin' Jehosophat!" exclaimed the Captain. "It's on you they've made the dufference! Wi' a step like that ye would make a toppin' piper. Ye're far more copious aboot the body than ye were."
"Broader in every direction!" said Dougie, with genuine admiration. "By the time they're done wi' ye, ye'll be a fair Goliath."
Macphail looked sourly on his substitute, but even he could not restrain surprise. "I take the credit," said he, "for the makin' o' ye; if it wasna for my testimonials ye wouldna be in the airmy yet."
Sunny Jim saluted his old shipmates with a rapid movement that threw his bonnet on to two hairs and an eyebrow, then cut away the right hand smartly.
"Cheer up, chaps!" he said; "the war's near by; I'm gaun oot wi' the very next draft to put the feenisher on it."
"Did they no' say nothin' aboot your eye?" asked Para Handy, intently regarding that notorious organ.
"Oh, they just passed the remark that it was a fair bummer for the shootin'-ranges, seein' I wouldna need to shut it," said Sunny Jim. "But we had a kind o' a pant wi't the first day I was on parade. I was daein' the Swedish exercise, and sweatin' that much the glessy yin near slipped oot. I put up my hand to kep it, and the sergeant-major says, 'Whit's wrang wi' your eye, Macphail?'
"'There's something in it,' says I.
"'Then fall to the rear three paces and tak' it oot,' says he, 'and no' mak' a bloomin' demonstration o' the squad; the folk that's lookin' on'll think ye're greetin'.'
"I took it oot and slips it into my pocket, and when I steps into the ranks again the sergeant-major nearly fainted.
"'Gless!' said he, when I explained it was a fancy yin. 'Man, it's no' a sodger you should be, but a war correspondent; ye have half the full equipment for the job!'"
"And whit kind o' a situation hae ye?" asked Macphail.
"Oh, I'm a cook," said Sunny Jim. "It's really a chef's job, for ye hae to be parteecular."
"Oh, my goodness!" cried Macphail. "The Scottish Fusiliers is gaun to suffer."
"No fears!" said Sunny Jim; "cookin' in a camp is no' like cookin' in a coal-boat; it's no' a pound o'boiled beef ham and a quarter loaf that's yonder; the place is fair infested wi' the best o' butcher meat."
"Still-and-on it must be a hard life, James," suggested Para Handy. "Everything by word o' command, and no time for to pause and to consuder."
"It's a gentleman's life," declared the young recruit. "Naething hard aboot it, except that ye have to keep your teeth brushed. I don't think I could think o' goin' back to follow the sea when the war's past; sodgerin' puts ye aff the notion o' a sedimentary life. I'm thinkin' o' gaun in for bein' a major; the best yins does it, and ye get a horse."
They gave the ambitious son of Mars a cup of tea, and two boiled eggs to it; he politely disposed of them, though it was evident such fare was rather homely for a chef. His new fastidiousness only came out when he asked for a saucer; he forgot that the only one on board was used for the engineer's black soap.
"The only thing that's wrang wi' the Fusiliers is that they spoil ye," he explained apologetically. "Every other day there's a duff."
"Whit like iss the other chentlemen in the business wi' ye?" inquired Dougie.
"The very best!" said Sunny Jim, with enthusiasm. "It's yonder ye meet wi' genteel society; regular gentlemen, tip-top toffs right enough. The chap that's lyin' next to me in the hut's in a capital business o' his ain aboot Dairy; I think it's linen drapery, for every sleeve he has is filled to the brim wi' hankies."
"Jehosophat!" said Para Handy. "Dougie will boil another egg for ye this meenute."
"I hope," said Macphail, "that ye'll no' mak' a Ned o' yoursel' in ony way in the airmy, seein' ye're there in the name o' Dan Macphail. The Macphails was aye respectable, and I wouldna care to have my reputation spoiled."
Dougie laughed derisively. "The Macphails!" he exclaimed. "Everybody kens they came from Ireland--Fenians and Sinn Feiners."
"Your reputation," said Sunny Jim indignantly. "Ye're aye takin' oot your reputation and polishin' it up the same's it was a trombone or a comet; no' much o' a reputation, and ye needna bother. To tell ye the truth, I found your reputation was the worst thing I could tak' wi' me to the Fusiliers. By George, they had your history in their books!"
"It's a lie!" shouted the engineer, reddening.
"It's as true as I'm tellin' ye! I wasna jined a week when I went to my officer and telit him straight I wasna Macphail at a'; and wasna gaun to stand the brunt o' bein' Dan Macphail. For the recruitin' officer had Dan Macphail doon in his books for a married man wi' five o' a family, and they were gaun to tak' so much aff my pay every week for your wife's allooance!"
THE rain came down on Tarbert in a torrent. Dougie, while the cards were being shuffled and dealt again, put his head out by the scuttle, and looked up the deserted quay at the blurred lights of the village.
"What in the wide world are ye doin' there?" querulously demanded Para Handy. "If ye keep that scuttle open any longer we'll be swamped! Come in and take your hand; it's no' ke-hoi we're playin'."
"It's a desperate night," said Dougie, shivering in an atmosphere that, now the hatch was closed, was stuffier than that of an oven. "Rain even-on; ass black ass the Earl o' Mansfield's waistcoat, and nothin' stirrin' in the place but the smell o' frying herrin'."
"Herrin'!" exclaimed the Captain, starting to his feet, and slamming down his cards. "That puts me in mind I wass to caal the night on Eddie Macvean, the carter. I clean forgot! I'm sorry to leave ye, laads, but ye'll get your revenge to-morrow, maybe."
A minute later, and he was off the Vital Spark, with two-and-ninepence in his pocket, the total amount of gambling currency on the boat, not counting Dougie's lucky sixpence.
It was discovered by his shipmates, left behind, that the cards he had abandoned were "rags" without exception.
Macvean was apparently alone in his house when the Captain entered, sitting quite disconsolately by his fire, smoking.
"I wass up the toon for a message, Eddie," explained the visitor, "and I thocht I would gie ye a roar in the passin'. What way are ye keepin', this weather?"
"I canna compleen," replied the carter in a doleful tone, as if he bitterly regretted his obviously robust condition of health. "Are ye fine yoursel'?"
"What way iss the mustress?" politely continued the Captain. "I hope she's keepin' muddlin' weel."
Eddie Macvean sighed profoundly. "That's the trouble in this hoose," he remarked; "there's no come and go in her. She's that dour! I got the finest offer o' a wee coal business in Lochgilphead, but she's that taken up wi' Tarbert for gaiety and the like, she'll no' hear tell o' flittin'."
"Chust that!" commented Para Handy sympathetically. "Did ye no' try coaxin' her?"
"It's no' the poker I would try wi' Liza Walker, you may be sure, Peter! I have been throng coaxin' her aal this week wi' that much patience ye would think I wass coortin', but she'll no budge! She says if I'm goin' to take her to Lochgilphead, it'll be in her coffin. Nothin' for her but gaiety! It's them Young Women's Guilds that's leadin' them off their feet!"
"Iss she oot at the Guild the night?" inquired the Captain, with a well-simulated air of regret at the lady's absence.
"No," said the husband sadly, "she's away to her bed wi' a tirravee of a temper."
There was a loud banging on the wall which divided the room of Macvean's house from the kitchen; he darted next door with significant alacrity, and was gone ten minutes.
"I canna make her oot at aal, at aal!" he remarked on returning. "She's tellin' me where I'll get clean stockin's for mysel', and to send oot a pair o' sheets she has in the bottom of the kist for manglin'."
"Iss she angry?" inquired Para Handy.
"That's the duvvelish thing aboot her noo," replied the distracted husband. "She's quite composed, and caalin' me Edward. She says I wass a good man to her nearly aal the time we were togither."
"God bless me!" exclaimed Para Handy, staggered. "Ye should get the doctor. Never let the like o' that go too far! It might be something inward!"
There was another banging on the wall; Macvean went out again, and came back more confounded than ever.
"I never saw Liza in my life like that before!" he said. "She says she's quite resigned, and the only account against her iss a gallon of paraffin oil she got last Tuesday in the merchant's. I think she's kind o' dazed. She's wantin' a drink o' water."
"If I was you, Eddie, I would get the doctor," advised the Captain firmly. "Ye would be vexed if anything happened to her, and she died on ye in weather like this."
The carter returned from his wife's bedside with the empty cup and a look of greater anxiety.
"She says there's nothing wrong wi' her; no pain nor nothing, except that when she dovers over she dreams she's in Lochgilphead poorhouse, and wakens wi' a start. Her voice is aal away to a whisper. When I spoke aboot the doctor she said I wassna to let him in the door ass long ass she had aal her faculties. I'm to gie ye her best respects, and tell ye her faith wass aye in the Protestant releegion. 'Tell Captain Macfarlane,' she says,' to be a sober man, and be good to his family.'"
"It's the munister she's needin', Eddie, or a drop o' spirits," said the Captain gravely, though a little annoyed at the imputation. "Slip you oot and rouse the munister; he'll be in his bed. Or, do ye think yoursel' ye would try the spirits first?"
But another knocking summoned the carter, who returned to the kitchen, weeping. "There's something desperate wrong wi' Liza!" he blubbered; "she wants me to go round to the baker's shop and order a seed-cake."
"What for?" asked Para Handy, astonished.
"Goodness knows!" said Macvean; "the only seed-cake ever I saw wass at New Year or a funeral. I'm vexed I ever spoke about Lochgilphead! Do ye think yoursel' there is any danger, Peter?"
The Captain had no time to answer, for another knocking had called away his host, who returned in a little wringing his hands.
"There iss nothing for it but to go for the doctor," he said. "She's ramblin'; she says I'm to try and keep the hoose together, and no' pairt wi' her mother's sofa."
"I'll go ben and see her," said Para Handy.
An oil-lamp on the chimney-piece lit up the room where Mrs Macvean was lying. The Captain was surprised to find her looking remarkably well, with the hue of health on her face, though a little embarrassed by his unexpected appearance. She whipped off her nightcap.
"What way are ye keepin', Mrs Macvean?" he asked, in sympathetic tones.
The patient paid no heed to him, beyond putting up her hands to feel if her hair was tidy. In a feeble voice she remarked to her husband, "Edward, ye'll give my Sunday frock to Aunty Jennet, and my rings to Mary MacMillan; she wass kind, kind to me!"
"'Dalmighty!" said the Captain, scratching his ear. "Do ye no' think the least wee drop o' spirits would lift ye, Liza?"
"Nothing'll lift me noo but John Mackay, the joiner," sobbed the patient. "Tell him to keep my held away from them M'Callums when he's carryin' me doon the stairs.... And oh, Edward!" she continued, "I hope ye'll be happy in Lochgilphead, though it's a place I never cared for."
Her husband by now was prostrate with emotion, incapable of speech.
"Did ye order the seed-cake?" she asked.
"It's aal right aboot the seed-cake," broke in Para Handy. "Mrs Cleghom, the baker's widow, iss takin' it in hand. I wudger ye she'll make a topper! She's terrible vexed to hear ye're poorly, and says ye're no' to bother. She's comin' in in the mornin' to make Eddie's breakfast."
Mrs Macvean at this sat up in bed with an amazing recovery of strength and speech, her visage purple with indignation.
"Comin' here!" she cried. "She'll no' put a leg inside this door if I can help it! I can see, noo, Edward, what ye're plottin'--to get me oot o' the road and mairry the bakehoose, but I'm no deid yet! It's only you and your Lochgilphead--"
"It's aal right aboot Lochgilphead, Liza," said the Captain soothingly. "Edward's changed his mind; he's goin' to cairry on in Tarbert."
"Cairry on!" exclaimed the wife. "He'll no' cairry on wi' Susan Cleghorn anyway, and I'm goin' wi' him to Lochgilphead. If he had chust asked me the right way, I would be quite agreeable from the start. Away oot o' this, the pair o' ye, till I get on my garments!"
"PHILANDERIN'; what in the world's philanderin'?" inquired Dougie, honestly eager for the definition of a word which Macphail the engineer had recently learned from a Blue Bell novelette, and was apt to drag into every conversation about the female sex.
"It's the same as flirtin', but fancier, if ye follow me," replied Macphail. "Many a chap starts flirtin' jist to pass the time and get the name o' being a regular teaser, and finds himsel' merried withoot knowin' hoo the devil it happened to him. A philanderer's different. He has a' his wits aboot him and doesna mak' a pet o' any woman in particular. He'll have half a dozen o' them knittin' socks for him at the same time in different localities, but the last thing he would think o' wastin' money on would be a bride's-cake. There's no philanderers in lodgin's; they're all supportin' poor old mothers."
"The best philanderer I ever kent," said Para Handy, "wass Hurricane Jeck. He wass a don at it when he wass younger. He would cairry on wi' a whole Dorcas meetin' if they didna crood roond him aal at wance. Ye never saw a more nimble fellow, and there he iss--no' merried yet, nor showin' any signs o't."
"Hurricane Jeck's no' my notion o' a proper philanderer," commented the engineer with some acidity. "He hasna the knowledge for't--a chap that never opens a book!"
"There's no books needed," retorted the Captain. "Jeck had the gift by nature. I'm speakin' o' the time before he went sailin' foreign, when he had his whuskers. We were on the Mary Jane thegither, and faith I wasna slack mysel', though I never had his agility. He wass ass smert ass salt on a sore finger. There wassna a port inside o' Paddy's Milestone where Jeck wass not ass welcome wi' the girls ass Royal Cherlie! But I can tell ye it took some management!
"I mind that wan time Jeck got into a nesty babble wi' a couple o' girls in Gleska.
"He wass very chief at the time wi' a young weedow wife in Oban that had a pickle money o' her own. If Jeck wass not a rover he would have merried her, for she was a fine big bouncin' woman quite suitable for a sailor, but he couldna make up his mind between her and a girl called Lucy Cameron he wass walkin' oot wi' any time the vessel wass in Gleska.
"Wan time yonder when the Mary Jane wass in Oban the weedow trysted Jeck to take her to the Mull and Iona Soiree, Concert, and Ball in the Waterloo Rooms in Gleska. Jeck wass always the perfect chentleman; he would promise anything if it wassna that week.
"The night o' the Mull and Iona Gaitherin' came on, and Jeck clean forgot his engagement wi' Mrs Maclachlan. That very night he was booked for Hengler's Circus wi' Lucy Cameron. It wassna till the weedow came to his lodgin's in a cab, wi' a fine new pair o' white kid gloves for him and a flooer for his button-hole, that the poor chap minded o' his promise.
"A lad less nimble in his wits would have thocht the poseetion hopeless, but Jeck wassna so easy daunted. Though he wass dressed aal ready for the Circus, he went to the Mull and lona, clapped Mrs Maclachlan doon among a wheen o' freen's o' hers from Tobermory chust before the soiree started; took a bloodin' nose, by his way of it, and wass oot in the street again in ajeffy, skelpin' it for Lucy Cameron's."
"Wasn't that the rogue?" exclaimed Dougie admiringly.
"When the Mull and Iona wass singin' the chorus o' Farewell to Fuinary, or maybe aboot the time the orangers wass passin' roond in the Waterloo Rooms, Jeck wass sittin' across the street in Hengler's wi' Lucy Cameron, clappin' his hands at my namesake, Handy Andy the clown.
"Every noo and then he would take oot his watch when Lucy wassna lookin', and calculate hoo far the Mull and Iona folk would be in their programme, and in twenty meenutes his nose began to blood again.
"'Beg pardon!' says Jeck--for he was aalways the perfect chentleman--' but I'll have to go oot a meenute for a key to put doon my back.' And away he went like the wind across the street to the Waterloo Rooms.
"He was chust in time for the start o' the Grand March.
"'Are ye better?' asked the weedow, quite anxious, never jalousin' Jeck wass a fair deceiver.
"'Tip-top!' says Jeck, and into the Grand March wi' her like a trumpeter. It wass chenerally allooed there wassna a handsomer couple on the floor. He feenished Triumph wi' the weedow, saw her settled wi' another pairtner for Petronella, and then skipped like a goat across to Hengler's. Little did Lucy Cameron ken her lad wass at the dancin'!
"Every twenty meenutes Jeck wass oot o' the circus on some excuse or other, and puttin' in a dance wi' the Oban weedow, then back again to Lucy. He wass so busy between the two o' them he couldna even get a drink, and at the Mull and Iona his condeetion was noticed. At the circus Lucy wass wonderin' too, for he aye came back wi' an oranger, or a poke o' sweeties from the baal, and a smell o' lavender, but as right as a Rechabite.
"For four mortal oors Jeck ran the ferry this way; when the circus wass feenished he took Miss Cameron home, and then back to the Waterloo Rooms, where he made a night o't.
"He told me aal aboot it himsel' next day. 'If I hadna my health, Peter,' he said, 'I couldna do it. And the dash thing iss they're both fine girls! I wass nearly poppin' the question to Lucy, and Mrs Maclachlan wass most attractive.'
"The thing would have passed aal right if it wassna that the 'Oban Times' next week gave an account o' the Mull and Iona, wi' Jeck's name among the chentlemen that wass present, and Lucy saw it. She wass desperate angry!
"Jeck denied it; said it wass aalthegither a mistake; that somebody must have been tradin' on his reputation; but Lucy's mother had a lodger in the polls force that made an investigation, and it wass all up wi' poor Jeck and the Cameron family.
"And it didna stop there neither, for the polisman informed the Oban weedow the way Jeck had been cairryin' on, and the next time Jeck made a caal on her in Oban to clinch things for a merrage, Mrs Maclachlan wouldna speak to him."
"That shows ye," said the engineer, "that he wasna a rale philanderer; a philanderer's never found oot."
"TALKIN' aboot the health," said Para Handy, "the drollest man I ever saw that made a hobby o' his health wass a pairty in Muscadale caaled the Wet Man."
"What in the name o' goodness did they caal him that for?" asked the mate.
"Chust because he wass never dry," replied the Captain. "He went aboot damp for forty years, and would be livin' yet if it wassna for the doctors. They took him to a cottage hospital in Campbeltoon, dried his clo'es on him, and packed him in a bed wi' hot-water bottles. He drank every drop that wass in the bottles before the mornin', and efter that they wouldna gie him any more, so he withered like the rose o' Sharon in the Scruptures. Died o' drooth, like a geranium in a flooer-pot! He wass over ninety years o' age, wi' aal his faculties aboot him till the end, and never used a towel."
"My goodness!" exclaimed the mate.
"Many a time I'll be thinkin'," said Para Handy, "that the man in Muscadale wass born a bit before his time. If he wass spared another fifty years the world would see there iss a lot o' nonsense aboot science and the droggists' shops, and that long life iss aal a maitter o' moisture."
"If bein' wet would keep us healthy," interjected Macphail the engineer, "we would never dee at a' in the West Coast shippin' tred."
"There iss a lot o' rubbidge talked regairdin' damp," continued the Captain. "Colin MacClure in Muscadale proved it. He wass fifty years o' age when he took a desperate cold that he couldna get rid o' till he fell wan day in the watter in the Sound o' Jura, and when they fished him oot he hadna a vestige. A chrechlin' cough he had wass gone completely.
"From that day he wass a changed man, and pinned his faith in watter, ootside and in. He couldna pass a pump-well withoot a swig at it, and when any other fisherman would be takin' a Chrustian dram in moderation wi' his frien's, nothin' but a barrel and a bailin'-dish would serve the Wet Man o' Muscadale."
"Issn't that chust duwelish!" exclaimed Dougie. "I would say there iss nothing worse for a man's inside than watter; look at the way it rots your boots!"
"He got heavy, heavy on the watter; aye nip-nippin' at it when he thocht that nobody wass lookin'. Many a time his wife--poor body!--had to go and look for him at the river-side and bring him home."
"I can take a little watter in moderation," said the mate; "a drop o't in your tea does herm to nobody, but it's ruinaation to be always tipplin' at it."
"It would be diabetes," suggested the engineer.
"There wassna a diabete in Colin's composeetion," said the Captain. "His constitution wass grand. He could eat tackets and sleep like a babe on a slab o' granite. A big bold healthy fisherman wi' a noble whusker on him!--wan o' the chenuine old MacClures that's in the 'History o' the Clans.' If there wass any germs o' any kind in the Wet Man o' Muscadale they would need to wear life-belts. The only time that Colin wass in danger for his health was in frosty weather; he would get ass hard then ass a curlin'-stone, and the least bit jar against the corner o' a hoose would knock a chip off him.
"'Be wet and ye'll be weel!' wass Colin's motto; he could prove it wi' the Bible. 'Noah,' he would say, 'made a fair hash o' the business in landin' on Ben Ararat; if it wassna for that, we would be sweemin' aboot the deep the day like fishes, in the best o' health and trum, and no need for your panel doctors. Ye never heard o' a herrin' yet that had lumbago.'
"From the day that he wass picked oot o' the Sound o' Jura, he never let his clo'es dry on his back for fear o' trouble, and the very sight o' a dry shirt on a washin'-green would make him shiver. He wass the wan man in Scotland ye would find lamentin' if it wassna rainin'. Colin's notion o' comfort wass a good big hole in the roof o' the hoose, a dub on the hearth, a thin alpaca jecket stickin' to his ribs, all plashin', and his sea-boots full o' waiter."
"Did he no' get rheumatism?" inquired the mate, astounded.
"Not him! He wass ass flippant on his feet ass an Irish ragman, and never spent a penny on his health till the day they buried him. He cairried his notion to a redeeculous degree, for he was staunch teetotal."
"If he was livin' the day he would get a' the watter he needed in half a mutchkin," suggested the engineer cynically.
"That wouldna do for the Wet Man o' Muscadale," said the Captain. "Ye see, he had to be wet ootside ass well ass in. Many a sore trauchle his wife had wettin' him wi' a watterin'-can in the summer, the same's he wass a bed o' syboes. She wass a poor wee cricket o' a low-country woman, and darena even dry the blankets efter washin' them for fear that Colin would get a cold. On their golden weddin' day she said to a neebour, 'Bonny on the golden weddin'! My man's yonder sittin' on the ebb and steepin' like a lump o' dulse.'
"The Wet Man thrived so weel on the watter treatment that a lot o' the folk in the countryside aboot began to follow his example, and then nothin' would do for Colin but to start a new releegion. At first he thocht, himsel', o' joinin' the Baptists, thinkin' that the Baptist churches had a pond in them the same ass the Greenheid Baths in Gleska, but when he heard that the Baptists only got a splash in a kind o' boyne and then came oot and dried themsel's, he wass fair disgusted.
"'They're chust a lot o' back-sliders,' he says; 'they havena the fundamentals o' releegion in them!' So he started a body o' his own they caaled the MacClurites. The other denominations gave them the by-name o' the Muscadale Dookers, and they suffered a lot o' persecution, them bein' so close on Campbeltoon. The MacClurites never used oilskins nor umberellas; they're tellin' me the second cheneration o' them had web feet and feathers on them chust like jucks.
"The MacClurites quarrelled among themsel's aboot the doctrine; some sayin' salt watter wasna the naitural element o' salvaation, and others that ye werena proper wet unless ye fell in the Sound o' Jura. It clean broke up the MacClurites, and they aal went back to the Wee Free Church ass dry ass anything, and died in the prime o' life at seventy or eighty.
"But Colin MacClure never flinched nor bowed the knee to Ramoth-Gilead. When the laird put rhones and a galvanised roof on his dwellin', he took his abode below high-water mark in a skiff turned upside doon that wass aalways flooded at every tide."
"He would be a' mildew," said the engineer.
"Fair blue-moulded!" said the Captain. "For fifty years the clo'es wass never dry on him; ye would think it wass gress wass growin' in his back, but he went aboot to the very last wi' wonderful agility. It is from scenes like them that Scotia's grandeur springs."
THERE was absolutely nothing to do to pass the time till six o'clock, and Hurricane Jack, whose capacity for sleep under any circumstances and at any hour of the day or night was the envy of his shipmates, stretched himself out on the hatches with a fragment of tarpaulin over him. In about two seconds he was apparently dreaming of old days in the China clipper trade, and giving a most realistic imitation of a regular snorter of a gale off the Ramariz.
"There's some people iss born lucky," remarked the Captain pathetically. "Jeck could go to sleep inside a pair o' bagpipes and a man playin' on them. It's the innocent mind o' him."
"It's no' the innocent mind o' him, whatever it iss," retorted Dougie with some acidity. "It's chust fair laziness; he canna be bothered standin' up and keepin' his eyes open. Ye're chust spoilin' him. That's what I'm tellin' ye!"
Para Handy flushed with annoyance. "Ye think I'm slack," he remarked; "but I'm firm enough wi' Jeck when there's any occasion. I sent him pretty smert for the milk this mornin', and him wantin' me to go mysel'. I let him see who wass skipper on this boat. A body would think you wass brocht up on a man-o'-war; ye would like to see me aye bullyin' the fellow. There's no herm in Jeck Maclachlan, and there iss not a nimbler sailor under the cope and canopy, in any shape or form!"
Dougie made no reply. He sat on an upturned bucket sewing a patch on the salient part of a pair of trousers with a sail-maker's needle.
"There ye are!" resumed the Captain. "Darnin' away at your clothes and them beyond redemption! Ye're losin' aal taste o' yoursel'; what ye're needin's new garments aalthegither. Could ye no', for goodness sake, buy a web o' homespun somewhere in the islands and make a bargain wi' a tyler?"
"Tylers!" exclaimed Dougie. "I might as weel put mysel' in the hands o' Rob Roy Macgregor! They're askin' £6, 10s. the suit, and it's extra for the trooser linin'."
Para Handy was staggered. He had bought no clothes himself since his marriage, and had failed to observe the extraordinary elevation in the cost of men's apparel.
"Holy Frost!" he cried. "That's a rent in itsel'! If that's the way o't, keep you on plyin' the needle, Dougie. It's terrible the price o' everything nooadays. I think, mysel', it's a sign o' something goin' to happen. It runs in my mind there wass something aboot that in the Book o' Revelations. I only paid £2, 10s. for a capital pilot suit the year I joined the Rechabites."
The mate suspended his sewing, and looked up suspiciously at the skipper.
"It's the first time ever I heard ye were in the Rechabites," he remarked significantly. "Hoo long were ye in them?"
"Nearly a week," replied Para Handy, "and I came oot o' them wi' flyin' colours at the start o' the Tarbert Fair. It wass aal a mistake, Dougie; the tyler at the time in Tarbert took advantage o' me. A fisherman by the name o' Colin Macleod from Minard and me wass very chief at that time, and he wass a Freemason. He would aye be givin' grips and makin' signs to ye. By his way o't a sailor that had the grip could trevel the world and find good company wherever he went, even if he didna ken the language.
"Colin wass high up in the Freemasons; when he had all his medals and brooches on he looked like a champion Hielan' dancer.
"He wass keen, keen for me to join the craft and be a reg'lar chentleman, and at last I thocht to mysel' it would be a great advantage.
"'Where will I join?' I asked him.
"'Ye'll join in Tarbert; there's no' a Lodge in the realm o' Scotland more complete,' says Colin. 'And the first thing ye'll do, ye'll go up and see my cousin the tyler; he'll gie ye a lot o' preluminary instruction.'
"The very next time I wass in Tarbert I went to the tyler right enough for the preluminaries.
"'I wass thinkin' o' joinin' the Lodge,' I says to him, 'and Colin Macleod iss tellin' me ye're in a poseetion to gie me a lot o' tips to start wi'. What clothes will I need the night o' the meetin'?'
"He was a big soft-lookin' lump o' a man, the tyler, wi' a smell o' singed cloth aboot him, and the front o' his jecket aal stuck over wi' pins; and I'll assure ye he gave me the he'rty welcome.
"'Ye couldna come to a better quarter!' he says to me, 'and it'll no' take me long to put ye through your faoin's. There's a Lodge on Friday, and by that time ye'll be perfect. Of course, ye'll have the proper garments?'
"'What kind o' garments?' says I. 'I have nothing at aal but what I'm wearin'; my Sabbath clothes iss all in Gleska.'
"'Tut! tut!' says he, quite vexed. 'Ye couldna get into a Lodge wi' clothes like that; ye'll need a wise-like suit if ye're to join the brethren in Tarbert. But I can put ye right in half a jiffy.'
"He jumped the counter like a hare, made a grab at a pile o' cloth that wass behind me, hauled oot a web o' blue-pilot stuff, and slapped it on a chair.
"'There's the very ticket for ye!' he says, triumphant. 'Wi' a suit o' that ye'll be the perfect chentleman!'
"I wassna needin' clothes at aal, but before I could open my mouth to say Jeck Robe'son he had the tape on me. Noo there's something aboot a tyler's tape that aye puts me in a commotion, and I lose my wits.
"He had the measure o' my chest in the time ye wud gut a herrin', and wass roond at my back before I could turn mysel' to see what he wass up to. 'Forty-two; twenty-three,' he bawls, and puts it in a ledger.
"He wass on to me again wi' his tape, like a flash o' lightnin'; pulled the jecket nearly off my back and took the length o' my waistcoat, and oh! my goodness, but he smelt o' Harris tweed, and it damp, singein'!
"'Hold up your arm!' says he, and he took the sleeve-length wi' a flourish, and aal the time he wass tellin' me what a capital Lodge was the Tarbert one, and aboot the staunchness o' the brethren.
"'Ye'll find us a lot o' cheery chaps,' he says; 'there's often singin'. But ye'll have to come at first deid sober, for they're duvvelish particular.'
"By this time he wass doon aboot my legs, and the tape wass whippin' aal aboot me like an Irish halyard. I wass that vexed I had entered his shop withoot a dram, for if I had a dram it wasna a tyler's tape that Peter Macfarlane would flinch for.
"By the time he had aal my dimensions, fore and aft, in his wee bit ledger, I wass in a perspiration, and I didna care if he measured me for a lady's dolman.
"'Do ye need to do this every time?' I asked him, put aboot tremendous.
"'Do what?' says the tyler.
"'Go over me wi' a tape,' says I.
"'Not at aal,' he says, quite he'rty, laughin'. 'It's only for the first initiation that ye need consider your appearance. Later on, no doot, ye'll need regalia, and I can put ye richt there too.'
"'It's only the first degree I'm wantin' to start wi',' I says to him; 'I want to see if my health'll stand it.'
"'Tach!' says the tyler; 'ye'll get aal that's goin' at the wan go-off. There's no shilly-shallyin' about oor Lodge in Tarbert. Come up to the shop to-morrow, and I'll gie the first fit on.'
"I went to him next day in the afternoon, and ye never in aal your life saw such a performance! The tape wass nothin' to't! He put on me bits o' jeckets and weskits tacked thegither, withoot any sign o' sleeves or buttons on them; filled his mooth to the brim wi' pins, and started jaggin' them into me.
"'Mind it's only the first degree!' I cries to him. 'Ye maybe think I'm strong, but I'm no' that strong!'
"Him bein' full o' pins, I couldna make oot wan word he wass mumblin', but I gaithered he wass tellin' me something aboot the grips and password. And then he fair lost his heid! He took a lump of chalk and began to make a regular cod o' my jecket and weskit.
"' Stop! Stop!' I cries to him. 'I wass aye kind o' dubious aboot Freemasons, and if I'm to wear a parapharnalia o' this kind, all made up o' patches pinned thegither, and chalked aal o'er like the start o' a game o' peever, I'm no' goin' to join!'
"The tyler gave a start. 'My goodness!' he says, 'it's no' the Freemasons ye were wantin' to join?'
"'That wass my intention,' I told him. 'And Colin said his cousin the tyler in Tarbert wass the very man to help me. That's the way I'm here.'
"'Isn't that chust deplorable!' says the tyler, scratchin' his heid. 'Ye're in the wrong shop aalthegither! The tyler o' the Mason's Lodge in Tarbert's another man aalthegither, that stands at the door o' his Lodge to get the password. I'm no' a Mason at aal; I'm the treasurer o' the Rechabites.'
"'The Rechabites!' says I, horror-struck. 'Aren't they teetotal?'
"'Strict!' he says. 'Ye canna get over that--to start wi'. And ye're chust ass good ass a full-blown Rechabite noo, for I've given yc aal I ken in the way o' secrets.'
"So that's the way I wass a Rechabite, Dougie. I wass staunch to the brethren for seven days, and then I fair put an end to't. I never went near their Lodge, but the suit o' clothes came doon to the vessel for me, wi' a wee boy for the money. It wass £2, 10s., and I have the weskit yet."
"£2, 10s. and aal that sport!" said Dougie ruefully. "Them wass the happy days!"
"WHEN men gets up in years--say aboot eighty or ninety--there should be something done wi' them," said Para Handy.
"What in the world would ye do wi' them?" asked Dougie. "Ye darena wander them."
"Ye canna wander them nooadays; the Government iss watchin' them like hawks, and, anyway, they'll never venture half a mile from the Post Office where they get their Old Age Pensions. I would put them aal oot on the island o' St Kilda, wi' a man in cherge. Any old man of ninety that wass dour and dismal I would ship him yonder wi' aal his parapharnalia. I'm no sayin' but here and there ye'll find an old chap worth his keep--chust as jolly and full o' mischief as if he wass a young man, but most o' them's a tribulation to their frien's, and always interferin'. Hurricane Jeck could tell ye."
The Captain's startling scheme for dealing with nonagenarians originated in a conversation on longevity among the people of Arran.
"Jeck," he continued, "had his life fair spoiled on him wi' an uncle he had in Govan. He wass ninety-two if he wass a day, but wasna pleased wi' that; he would aye be braggin' that he wass a hundred. He lived by himsel' in a but-and-ben, and he made poor Hurricane's life a torment.
"Jeck at the time wass in his prime, and sailin' back and forrit, skipper o' a nice wee boat they caaled the Jenet. It wass years before he started goin' foreign. A more becomin' man on a quay ye never clapped an eye on--ass trig's a shippin'-box, and always wi' a nate wee roond broon hat.
"His Uncle Wilyum wass a tyrant. In his time he wass a landscape gairdner--"
"What iss a landscape gairdner?" asked Dougie.
"A landscape gairnder iss a man that scapes gairdens.... But for twenty years old Wilyum lived on his money and spent his time contrivin' what way he would make his nephew Jeck a credit to the Second Comin' and the family o' Maclachlan.
"He had every failin' that a man could have, Uncle Wilyum--he wass lame wi' rheumatism, as deaf's a post, teetotal to the worst degree, and never went to church but made a patent kind o' releegion o' his own oot o' the 'Christian Herald' and the 'Gospel Trumpet.' Chust an old pagan! Ye would be sick listenin' to him on the prophet Jeremiah and the Second Comin' and the opening o' Baxter's Seven Phials."
"Whatna man was Baxter?" inquired the mate.
"Chust Baxter!" replied Para Handy petulantly. "The man that wass a prophet and wrote the 'Christian Herald.'
"Nobody could be nicer to an uncle up in years than Jeck. Many a firkin o' herrin' and scores o' eggs he brocht from the Hielan's for the old chap. He wass his only livin' relative except a sister o' his that lived in Colonsay, and any money that the old man left wass likely to be Jeck's.
"Money wass the last thing Jeck at the time had his mind on; he wass a born rover that asked for nothing better than to dodge aboot the Western Hielan's in his own dacent boat, or go percolatin' roond the Broomie-law wi' a cheery frien' or two when his vessel wass in Clyde.
"There wass no more harm in Jeck than in a goldfish, but the silly old body thocht he was a limb o' Satan, and never missed a chance to board him wi' a bundle o' tracts. Jeck had no sooner his foot on shore in Gleska than Uncle Wilyum, wi' his sticks, would hirple up and follow him every place he went to keep him oot o' temptation.
"He put the peter on't at last wan time he went efter Jeck to the Oban and Lorn Soiree and Ball in the Waterloo Rooms, and found him wi' a clove hitch round the waist o' a bouncin' girl and them throng waltzin'.
"I can tell you Jeck got Jeremiah from his Uncle Wilyum that night!
"'The like o' you dancin' there wi' a wanton woman, and us on the verge!' says the old chap, groanin'.
"'What verge?' says Jeck.
"'Did ye no' hear? 'says his uncle, lookin' fearful unsatisfactory.
"'No,' says Jeck.
"'That's what I wass thinkin',' says his uncle, whippin' oot a 'Christian Herald,' and showin' him a bit o' Baxter that said the end o' the world wass fixed for that day fortnight.
"'Chust that!' says Jeck. 'I heard a kind o' rumour aboot it doon at Greenock; but I'm no' botherin', for I'm goin' to take the boat for't when the time comes.'
"My goodness, but the old man wass staggered! It had never entered his head to take to the sea for't when the end o' the world came, and he cocked his ears when he heard that Jeck wass goin' to get the better o' the Prophet Baxter wi' the Jenet.
"'Will ye take me wi' ye?' he says to his nephew.
"'Wi' aal the pleesure in the world,' says Jeck, who wass aye the perfect chentleman. 'Get you your bits o' sticks collected; we'll put them in the hold for broken stowage, and ye'll come wi' me on Wednesday. We'll be roond the Mull before the trouble breaks oot.'
"Jeck wass only in fun, and you can imagine his consternation when a lorry came doon to his boat next day wi' aal Uncle Wilyum's plenishin', and the old man on the top o' a chest o' drawers wi' a bundle o' Baxter's prophecies!
"There's one thing aboot Jeck--he's never bate!
"He took the old man on board wi' all his dunnage, and started oot for Colonsay, where he wass takin' coals.
"It was the dreariest trip he ever made in aal his life; for when the old man wassna takin' his meat or sleepin', he wass greetin' aboot the end o' aal things and swabbin' his heid-lights even-on wi' a red bandana hanky, or groanin' over the 'Christian Herald.'
"'Tach! I wouldna bother aboot the Prophet Baxter,' says Jeck to him at last. 'Perhaps he wass workin' wi' a last year's almanack, and fairly oot o't wi' his calculations.'
"But Uncle Wilyum said that wass blasphemy, and kept on reelin' oot fathoms o' Jeremiah, till poor Jeck wass near demented.
"'What place iss this?' says Uncle Wilyum when they came to Colonsay, and Jeck began dischairgin' coal.
"'It's the end o' the world,' says Jeck, quite blithe. 'Away you ashore and see your sister Mary, and I'll send up your furniture ass soon ass the coals iss done.'
"'For aal the time we have thegither,' wailed his Uncle Wilyum, 'is it worth my while?'
"'Worth your while!" cried Jeck. 'Of course it's worth your while! I'll bate ye Baxter never heard o' the Isle o' Colonsay. It's forty years since ye saw your sister. Away and spend your money on her like a chentleman.'
"Uncle Wilyum went ashore wi' his bundle o' the prophets, and settled down wi' his sister, waitin' for the day o' tribulation. He lingered seven years, and shaved himsel' every mornin', so as to be ready; but Baxter failed him at the last, and he died o' influenza, leavin' his pickle money to his sister."
"That wass a pity for Jeck," said Dougie.
"Tach! Jeck didna care a docken! He wass enjoyin' life."
As soon as it grew dark, when the quay was quite deserted and the village seemed wholly asleep, the crew of the Vital Spark set briskly about getting the gun ashore.
They passed two unrailed gang-planks between the vessel and the slip, took the tarpaulins off the mysterious mass of inert material at the bow and revealed a German 18-pounder, without its breech-block, exceedingly battered and rusty. Hurricane Jack fastened a stout rope to the gun itself, and going behind lifted up the trail of the carriage with an effort.
"Tail you on to the rope and pull like bleezes," he cried to Dougie; "Macphail and Peter'll shove roond the wheels o' her, and I'll hold up this cursed contrivance.... Aalthegither, boys; heave!"
Para Handy took up the task allotted to him, almost weeping. "Holy Frost!" he wailed; "isn't this the bonny babble we're in? I wish we had never seen the blasted thing; it's aal your fault, Jeck."
"There'll be trouble aboot this, you'll see!" said Macphail, putting all his propulsive vigour into a wheel spoke. "I knew from the beginnin'. But ye wouldna listen to me!"
"Shut up, and haul like Horse Artillery!" growled Hurricane Jack. "Ye're no' in the Milishy."
By almost superhuman efforts they got the gun on to the slip, and up to the level of the wharf.
"What are we to do noo?" panted the Captain. "We canna leave it here; mind you, it's no' Crarae; there's a polisman in the place."
"We'll hurl it doon the quay and oot on the ebb," said Hurricane Jack with confidence and alacrity. "Ye can put anything ye like under high-water-mark, there's no law against it. If we get it oot on the ebb noo it'll be covered wi' the tide afore the mornin'," and he picked up the trail again.
They trundled the piece noisily over the granite pier, perspiring at the task; the weapon had never heard such lurid language in the process since it left the Hindenburg Line.
"If anybody catches us at this!" moaned Dougie apprehensively, blowing like a whale.
They were just on the verge of the sand when Macnaughton appeared in his official glazed tippet, but without his helmet. He had just been making his last round for the night.
"What in the name o' goodness are ye doin' here?" he inquired sternly. "Whose cairt have ye there?"
"It's no' a cairt," said Hurricane Jack, letting down the trail. "It's a quite good cannon the War Office sent for a War Memorial for the place. We're jist dischargin' it."
"Dischargin' it!" exclaimed the constable, horrified; "ye'll waken the whole community!" He came closer, peered in the dark at the weapon, and had a sudden inspiration.
"I know your capers fine!" he exclaimed, throwing back his tippet to show his metal buttons. "We're no' that far behind in this place but we ken aboot that gun; it's the hue and cry o' the county."
"What did ye hear aboot it?" asked Hurricane Jack, coolly taking a seat on the carriage.
"I have it aal here in my book," said the constable, slapping his tail-pocket. "I might have ken't when I saw your boat come in this eftemoon wi' a tarp'lin over the bows o' her, that you were up to some o' your dydoes. Ye got the gun from a hawker in Lochgilphead."
"Right enough!" acknowledged the Captain soothingly. "But it wass his own gun; the burgh that got it from the War Office for a souvineer got sick o't, and gave him't for old metal."
"We took it for a speculation," added Hurricane Jack. "Ye would think there's many a place in Loch Fyne would like a chenuine German cannon."
"We were goin' to make oor fortune wi't," said Macphail, with bitter sarcasm. "Jeck assured us there was money in't."
"I ken aal aboot it," said the constable, with an air of profound omniscience. "Ye've been cairryin' that lumber up and doon the loch for the last three weeks tryin' to palm it off on His Majesty's lieges. It's aal in my book! Ye offered it for a pound in Caimdow; the price wass down to ten shillin's at Strachur; ye couldna sell't for a shillin' in Crarae, and ye left it on the quay there, but they made ye shift it."
"It's the God's truth--every word o't," confessed Hurricane Jack. "A German cannon's worse than a drunken reputation; ye canna get rid o't."
The crew of the Vital Spark stood in the rain and dark round the degraded and rejected relic of Imperial power, and violently abused Jack. "A bloomin' eediot! I told him it would be left on oor hands!" cried Macphail. "Whit could ony-body dae wi' a cannon?"
"There might be another war at any time," suggested Hurricane Jack defensively.
"I never wass ass black affronted in my life," bleated Para Handy. "The whole loch-side iss laughin' at us. The very turbine steamers blows their whistles when they pass and cry 'Hood, ahoy!' It's no' like a thing ye could break in bits and burn in Macphail's furnace; it's solid iron in every pairt. Nobody hass a kind word for it; we tried to get a minister to put it in his glebe, or foment the door o' his manse, and he put his dog on us."
"Ye'll take it oot o' here anyway," said the constable firmly. "We have plenty o' trash o' oor own. It's a mercy I came on ye tryin' to leave it here and spoil the navigation!"
"I never dreamt that a gun wass so ill to manoeuvre," remarked the imperturbable Jack. "Do ye no' think, sergeant, there's anybody in the place would care for it for an orniment? Anybody wi' a bit o' a gairden: they could cover it wi' fuchsias."
"No expense at aal!" added Para Handy eagerly. "We would put it in poseetion. Many a wan would be gled to have it if it wass in London or in Gleska. It's a splendid cannon! Captured by the Australian Airmy. Cost the British Government £50 to take to Loch Fyne."
"I don't care if it cost £100," said the constable fiercely; "it's no' goin' to be panned off on this community that suffered plenty wi' the war. Get it back on board your ship at wance, like dacent lads, and don't make any trouble."
"'Dalmighty!" cried the Captain, wringing his hands, "are we goin' to have this Cherman abomination on oor decks the rest o' oor naitural lifes?... It's all your fault, Jeck, ye said there wass a fortune in it."
"My mistake!" admitted Hurricane Jack, most handsomely. "I wash my hands noo o' the whole concern."
"I would wash my hands too, if they werena aal blistered," said Dougie piteously. "What are we to do wi' the cursed thing? There iss no place we dare leave it."
"Could ye no' put it over the side o' the boat somewhere doon about Kilbrannan?" suggested the constable.
They stared at one another, utterly astounded.
"My Chove!" said Para Handy. "We never thocht o' that! Aren't you the born eediot, Jeck, that would have us cairtin' it up and doon the ocean for the last three weeks!"
"I didna want to see a good gun wasted," explained Hurricane Jack, rather lamely, and he picked up the trail again. "But maybe that's the best way oot o' the difficulty; get a ha'd o' the rope again, and pull, Dougie."
As the Vital Spark, outrageously belching sparks and cinders from fuel eked out by wood purloined some days before from a cargo of pit-props, swept round the point of Row, Para Handy gazed with wonder and admiration at the Gareloch, full of idle ships.
"My word!" he exclaimed, "isn't that the splendid sight! Puts ye in mind o' a Royal Review!"
"I don't see onything Royal aboot it," growled the misanthropic engineer, Macphail. "It's a sign o' the terrible times we're livin' in. If there was freights for them boats, they wouldna be there, but dashin' roond the Horn and makin' work for people."
"Of course! Of course! You must aye be contrairy," said the Captain peevishly. "Nothing on earth'll please you; ye're that parteecular. It's the way they chenerally make work for people that spoils ships for me. I like them best when they're at their moorin's. What more could ye want in the way o' a bonny spectacle than the sight o' aal them gallant vessels and them no' sailin'?"
Macphail snorted as he ducked his head and withdrew among his engines. "There's enough bonny spectacles on board this boat to do me for my lifetime," he said in a parting shot before he disappeared.
Para Handy turned sadly to the mate. "Macphail must aye have the last word," he said. "The man's no' worth payin' heed to. Greasin' bits o' enchines every day o' your life makes ye awfu' coorse. I'm sure that's a fine sight, them ships, Dougie? There must be nearly half a hundred there, and no' a lum reekin'."
"They're no bad," answered Dougie cautiously. "But some o' them's terrible in need o' a stroke o' paint. Will there be anybody stayin' on them?"
"Ye may depend on that!" the Captain assured him. "There iss a man or two in cherge o' every vessel, and maybe a wife and femily. The British Mercantile Marine iss no' leavin' ocean liners lyin' aboot Garelochheid wi' nobody watchin' them. A chentleman's life! It would suit me fine, instead o' plowterin' up and doon Loch Fyne wi' coals and timber. Did I no' tell ye the way Hurricane Jeck spent a twelvemonth on a boat laid up in the Gareloch when tred was dull aboot twenty years ago?"
"Ye did not!" said Dougie.
"She wass a great big whupper o' a barquenteen caaled the Jean and Mary, wi' a caibin the size o' a Wee Free Church, and fitted up like a pleesure yacht. She had even a pianna."
"God bless me!" gasped the mate, half incredulous.
"Jeck had the influence in them days, and he got the job to look efter her in the Gareloch till the times got better. The times wass good enough the way they were for Jeck, wance he had his dunnage on board. 'Never had a job to bate it!' he says; 'I wouldna swap wi' the polisman in the Kelvingrove Museum.'"
"I would think he would be lonely," said Dougie dubiously. "A great big boat wi' nobody but yersel' in it at night would be awfu' eerie."
The Captain laughed uproariously. "Eerie!" he repeated. "There iss nothin' eerie any place where Hurricane Jeck iss; he had the time o' his life in the Jean and Mary.
"Wance they got their boat clapped doon in the Gareloch and Jeck in charge o' her, the chentlemen in Cardiff she belonged to forgot aal aboot her. At least they never bothered Jeck except wi' a postal-order every now and then for wages.
"The wages wassna desperate big, and Jeck put his brains in steep to think oot some contrivance for makin' a wee bit extra money.
"It came near the Gleska Fair, and there wassna a but-and-ben in Garelochheid that wassna packed wi' ludgers like a herrin'-firkin. When Jeck would be ashore for paraffin-oil or anything, he would aye be comin' on poor craturs wantin' ludgin's, so he filled the Jean and Mary wi' a fine selection. For three or four weeks the barquenteen wass like an hotel, or wan o' them hydropathics. Jeck swithered aboot puttin' up a sign to save him from goin' ashore to look for customers.
"Ye never saw a ship like it in aal your life! It wass hung from end to end wi' washin's aal July, and Jeck gave ludgin's free to a man wi' a comacopia that he played on the deck from mornin' till night."
"Wass it no' a terrible risk?" asked Dougie.
"No risk o' any kind, at aal, at aal. The owners wass in Cardiff spendin' their money, and they never saw the Gareloch in their lifes but in the map. Jeck kent he wass doin' a noble work for the health o' the community--far better than the Fresh Air Fortnight!
"When the Fair wass feenished, and his ludgers went away, I'll assure ye they left a bonny penny wi' the landlord o' the Jean and Mary. He thocht the season wass done, but it wasna a week till he wass throng again wi' a lot o' genteel young divinity students that came from Edinburgh wi' a banjo.
"'Gie me a bottle o' beer and a banjo playin', and it's wonderful the way the time slips by,' says Jeck. He learned them a lot o' sailor songs like 'Ranza, Boys!' and 'Rollin' doon to Rio,' and the folk in Garelochheid that couldna get their night's sleep came oot at last in a fury to the ship and asked him who she belonged to.
"'Ye can look Lloyd's List,' says Jeck to them, quite the chentleman, 'and ye'll see the name o' the owners. But she's under charter wi' a man that's aal for high jinks and the cheneral hilarity--and his name iss John Maclachlan. If there iss any o' ye needin' ludgin's, say the word and I'll put past a fine wee caibin for ye, wi' a southern exposure.'
"They went away wi' their heids in the air. 'I ken what's wrong wi' them,' says Jeck. 'Oh, man! if I chust had the spirit licence!'
"That wass his only tribulation: he had ass good an hotel below his feet as any in the country, but he dauma open a bar.
"The summer slipped by like a night at a weddin'; the comacopia man went back to his work, but Jeck fell in wi' an old pianna-tuner that could play the pianna like a minister's wife, and aal the autumn Jeck gave smokin' concerts on the Jean and Mary, where all the folk in cherge o' the other vessels paid sixpence apiece and got a lot o' pleesure.
"'If I had chust a brass band!' says Jeck, 'and a wise-like man I could trust for a purser, I would run moonlight trips. But it would be an awful bother liftin' the anchor; perhaps I'm better the way I am; there's no' the responsibility wi' a boat at moorin's.'
"But the time he showed the best agility wass when he had a weddin' on the ship. The mate o' another vessel was gettin' spliced in his good-mother's hoose in Clynder, where there wasna room for dancin'.
"Jeck hired the Jean and Mary to them; the company came oot in boats from aal ends o' the Gareloch, wi' a couple o' pipers and that many roasted hens ye couldna get eggs in the shire for months efter it. They kept it up till the followm' efternoon, wi' the anchor lamp still burnin' and aal the buntin' in the vessel flyin'.
"A well-put-on young Englishman from Cardiff came alongside in a motor-lench in an awfu' fury, and bawled at Jeck what aal this carry-on meant. There wass sixty people on board if there wass a dozen.
"'Some frien's o' my own,' says Jeck, quite nimble, and aye the chentleman. 'I have chust come into a lot o' money, and I'm givin' them a trate.'
"But that was the last o' Jeck's command in the Jean and Mary; the poor duvvle had to go back and work at sailorin'."
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