Friday, June 16, 2006

Hughes delivers a lesson...

Ashore on a certain temperate island. Although the hippocampus ['seahorse'] would not be designated officially for another twenty years, the Third Mate joins Hughes remembering lessons learned from a naturalist from Endeavor...

On a strange shore, my first instinct is to seek fresh water and possibly food. Some Impossibles have other goals. The ship’s clerk, Hughes, considers himself an amateur scientist, and thus seeks interesting specimens of flora and fauna. At this moment, Hughes is waist-deep in a seaweed pool, with a strange telescope-like device in his hand. He does not train the telescope at the horizon or onto the island. He’s peering into the pool.

"Do you care to see?" he asks me, handing me the device."Here. Swicherley made this.Do you see them?"

I look and surely see not fishes, but remarkable little horse-shaped creatures. And with one, a group of even smaller ones.

"You see? Can you see how the mother cares for the offspring?

"Well, of course. That’s what mothers do," I try to raise myself to the moment.

"But there’s something different about this mother," Hughes replied conspiratorially.

"What’s that?"

"It’s the father," exclaimed the proud amateur animalier.

"Eh?"

"With these tiny horses of the sea, it’s the male that bears and raises the children."

"The male bears the children?"

"Precisely."

"Then," I countered. "Wouldn’t that make him the female?"

"Most certainly not," mused a wounded Hughes. Then, after a spell: "Wait’ll you have young ones."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

With the captain, vessel, and some of the crew in Boston on a mission of diplomatic emergency, the Third Mate and several other crewmembers stay on in New Bedford. What follows are his observations…
I am fond of taverns.
As one who has chosen to hand, reef, and steer aboard His Majesty’s Ship Impossible across the Western Ocean; as one who has also toiled a-land for various unpleasant personages in numerous bothersome endeavors; and, as one who has found himself far from home on many occasions, a tavern is a refuge, a hearth, and often affording of agreeable company.
There is little about a tavern that is unanticipated, though there may be much that is exhilarating. The familiarity of a publick house is comfort. If one enters a drinking house in London, or Boston, or Halifax, one can be sure that there will be a certain atmosphere, certain identifiable personages, whether one is familiar with the locality or not. There is the fellow with the blossomy nose. There is the young woman who should not be there and the older one who should be. There are the young toughs who are not tough enough, and the quiet ponderers they admire. There are the wayfarers, the seafarers, and the wanderers – if only from just around the corner. There is the one who pours and the one who brings the meat. There may be musicians. As Mr Boswell claims Mr. Johnson said: "Taverns sell meat and drink, and will sell them to any body who can eat and can drink."
Thus it is in this country where Hughes, Swicherley, Armstrong, the two Toms, and I find ourselves.
In a new port, one seeks a tavern. Here is a clean victual house called Elnathan Russell’s, operated by the same, a Quaker with no desire to turn or alter his clientele’s drinking habits. That same Russell, his wife and his daughter (to whom our Armstrong has taken a liking) operate the house, sure enough, with rooms for lodging and a parlor for food and entertainment. But the sea in the parlor is "quite on" this particular evening, or in lubber’s parlance, "abuzz".
This particular port now is called New Bedford. I say "now," because it has had several designations. The poor little borough doesn’t seem able to hold a moniker, or perhaps has taken to collecting them. Until fairly recently it was known as Bedford Village, before that, Dartmouth. Back when it was free of Russells and Rotchs, the Wampanoags called it Cushena (which to my ears sounds Gaelic, or possibly even Irish). This information has been gotten to me by local wag Sam Eldridge Allen.
"’Old Dartmouth,’ ‘Bedford Village,’ ‘New Bedford,’ why not just call it ‘Port Village’ or ‘Docks Town’ and be done with it?" Sam started.
"Because the town is…" I attempted to converse.
"…In no need of special clever names. I didn’t fight in that war for this sort of naming and re-naming. You may as well name it ‘South Boston,’ because it’s south of Boston. Or ‘South Town.’ Or ‘Town South by the Coast.’ Or ‘Riverton,’ because it’s on this here Acushnet River," Sam suggested.
"According to the charts, you already have a Riverton," I pointed out.
"That’s ‘Tiverton,’" called a woman named Ann who had entered with a well-dressed fellow who looked like a banker.
"I rather like the ‘South by Coast’ one," I mused. "Reminds me of ‘Shoreham-by-Sea,’ and all."
The woman aforementioned spoke up: "You a bloody-backed regular?"
By this, I assumed she was using the now-defunct term of derision indicating brutal colonizers with sights trained on American land and possessions, as some sort of insult. Besides which, I am not one of the army’s King’s men; I am a volunteer in the Navy. "My coat, madam, is blue."
"Cheap blue British cloth. I can smell you lobster backs from a mile, like a goat’s passed gas. You king-cuddlers are all alike. You burned down homes and businesses, because you knew you couldn’t win against us! And so you lost the war. We should sew a huge red ‘L’ on yer blue jacket, just to show what losers you are."
Hughes, our ship’s clerk, who has no patience for insolence or sore winners, spoke up: "Madam, I wouldn’t trust you with needle and thread. I wouldn’t have you mend sail, let alone embroider and…"
"It’s another one! And I wouldn’t mend sail for you, either, you son of a lousy sailor’s mother! We have real sailors here in America, like John Paul Jones."
The crowd hushed, oohed, and I heard someone call "Huzzah!"
"To the late Commander Jones!" called another, surprising this Ann, who apparently didn’t know Jones was dead.
We all raised our glasses, tankards, and pots, drank to Jones, whom the entire house respected and admired. There were some aboard Impossible who had even met Jones when they served on H.M.A.V. Tourniquet, after this aforementioned war against the colonies. Armstrong (one of that ship’s company) beamed proudly, splendidly showing, in fact, the shirt Jones had given him, since he had none at the time of their meeting.
Ann the harridan persisted. "That is not the shirt of a fine naval man!"
"I wear it on special occasions. He give it to me just as the empress of Russia give it to him!" answered Armstrong.
"Oh, so the Russian empress, then?" she laughed mockingly. "You redbacks are liars with lies upon tales. I’ll have no more of ye."
Swicherley muttered, "You haven’t had any of us. And, shrew, you never will."
From outside came a call and the tavern door opened. In walked the beggar who had accosted me this afternoon. At that time I had told him I had no coin, but now I indeed had, and went to him with a piece.
"Thanks be to ye, sirrah,Ye have shown me a great kindness, me who has lost his home these many years, and me family, too. Look here, all of you," he addressed the room, "And see what good can come of bad. This fellow has promised and given me, proving his kind are not all to be blamed for the actions of some. Many praises, thanks to you. And joy to the company."
I asked him if he needed to eat, for one could not help but observe he was quite badly nourished. Swicherley offered his own seat and a plate of stew. Even Hughes, who rarely shows such care, called for more ale.
"Go give your good money to the dog. ’His food the land-crab, lizard, and frog, His drink a wish-wash of six-water grog,’" that woman Ann sang sharply, occasioning chuckles from some and tsk-tsk’s of scorn from those who recognized the slur. "Asking for handouts, just because he lost his family in a fire. What makes him so especial? He makes me sick with his begging. And begging from these limeys! Have you no dignity, man?"
"Have you no decency, woman?" the well-dressed fellow who had been her escort piped up. "You do not, I dare say."
Another townsman called out: "No, you have no decency, woman, and your tongue is cruel and inhumane."
"We fought and some died for freedom in this land, but you mock that self-same freedom with your free-wagging tongue," hissed Sam hoarsely, about to lose composure.
"Stop your fussing," that woman answered. "Or must I ask the innkeeper to send you all out?"
Elnathan Russell stepped out from behind his serving-board. "Madam, I stand before thee, that innkeeper. Thou hast upset the peace in my establishment. Thou hast spoken ill toward every soul within, and towards those not here to defend their selves. I understand some manners of speech are indeed free, but thou hast taken imprudent liberties here. I beg ye leave and show here again only when thou hast remorsed and repented. To aid thee in this effort, I call mine daughter, Sarah, to provide succor."
At this, Sarah Russell came forth. Sarah Russell outweighed me, certainly, and could have taken me two out of three falls. She had, however, a pleasant enough demeanor I did not wish ever to alter. She walked to this Ann, who cowered sheepishly, gathered her things and ran out the door, to everyone’s relief and cheers.
"I think I shall look more closely into this Quakerism," Hughes confided to me. "Seems to curtail quite a lot of ill-will."