Read CHAPTER SIX - THE DUTCH SAILOR’S YARN. of Seven Frozen Sailors , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

As for my name, it is Daal, Van Daal; and if there be any of my kinsfolk going about saying that they have the right to put a “Van” before their name, and that they come of the Van Daals, who were a great family in the seventeenth century, and one of whom was boatswain of Admiral Van Tromp’s flag-ship, all I can answer is that they say the thing that is not; and that people who say such things deserve to be beaten by the beadle all up and down the United Provinces.  When I was a little boy, and went to school to the Reverend Pastor Slagkop, there was a boy named Vries ­Lucas Vries ­who did nothing but eat gingerbread and tell lies.  Well, what became of him?  He was hanged before he was thirty ­hanged at the yard-arm of a Dutch seventy-four at Batavia for piracy, mutiny, and murder:  to which shameful end he had clearly been brought by eating gingerbread and telling fibs.  Mind this, you little Dutch boys, and keep your tongues between your teeth and your stuyvers in your pockets, when you pass the cake shops, if you wish to escape the fate of Lucas Vries.

And yet I dare say that ­ah! so many years ago ­I was as fond of gingerbread as most yunkers of my age, and that I did not always tell the strict truth either to my parents at home, or to the Reverend Pastor Slagkop at school (he was a red-headed man who always hit you with his left hand, and he had but one eye, which glared viciously upon you while he beat you).  But now that I am old, it is clear that I have a right to give good advice to the young:  even to the warning them not to be guilty of the transgressions of which I may have been guilty ever so many years ago; because I have seen so much of the world, and have passed through so many dangers and trials, and have not been hanged.  And this has always been my motto.  When you are young, practise just as much or as little as you are able; but never forget to preach, whenever you can get anybody to listen to you.  To yourself, you may do no good; but you may be, often, of considerable service to other people.  A guide-post on the dyke of a canal is of some use, although it never goes to the place the way to which it points out.

That which is now the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Heaven preserve the King thereof, and the Crown Prince, and all their wives and families, and may they live long and prosper:  such is the hope of Jan Daal, who drinks all their good healths in a tumbler of Schiedam) was in old times known (as you ought to be well aware, little boys) as the Republic, of the United Provinces; and there was no King ­only a kind of ornamental figurehead, not very richly gilt, who was a Prince of the House of Orange, and was called the Stadtholder:  the real governors and administrators of the Confederation being certain grand gentlemen called Their High Mightinesses.  And very high and mighty airs did they give themselves; and very long robes, and very large periwigs, as flowing as a ship’s mainsail, did they wear, so I have heard my old father say many a time, ever so many years ago.  Mynheer Van Bloomersdaal, in his “Pictures of the Glories of Holland” ­how I hated that book when I had to learn a page of it, every day, by heart, and how I love it, now that nobody can compel me to remember even a line of it; but I do so for my own pleasure, ­Mynheer Van Bloomersdaal, I say, has told us that the United Provinces are seven in number, and consist of Holland Proper, with Gueldres, Zealand, Friesland, Utrecht, Groningen, and Over-Yssel.  By the deep, seven.  Always be sure that you are right in your soundings; and take care to put fresh tallow in your lead, to make sure what bottom you are steering to.

I think that I must have been born some time toward the end of the last century, or the beginning of the present one, in the great city of Amsterdam, which, after all, has the greatest right to be called the capital of Holland; for The Hague, where the King lives and the Chambers meet, is, though a mighty fine place, only a big village, and a village is not a city any more than a treykschuyt is a three-decker, or a boatswain an admiral.  At the same time, mind you, if I was put on my oath before a court-martial, I would not undertake to swear that I may not have been born at Rotterdam, at Dordrecht, at Leyden, at Delft, or even at The Hague itself; for, you see, my father was a peddler, and was continually wandering up and down the country (or rather the canals, for he mostly travelled by treykschuyt), selling all kinds of small matters to whomsoever would buy, that he might keep his wife and small children in bread, cheese, and salt herrings:  which were pretty well all we had to live upon.  But what does it matter where a fellow was born?  The great thing is to be born at all, and to take care to keep your watch, and to turn cheerfully out of your bunk when the hands are turned up to reef topsails in a gale.

I know that, when I first began to remember anything, we were living in the city of Amsterdam, and in the very middle of the Jews’ quarter, which I shall always bear in mind as having five distinct and permanent smells ­one of tobacco, one of Schiedam, one of red herrings, one of bilge-water, one of cheese, and one of Jews.  At Cologne, on the Rhine, they say there are seventy smells, all as distinct from one another as the different ropes of a ship; but I have not travelled much on the Rhine, and know much more about Canton than of Cologne.  Although we lived among the Jews, my father was no Israelite: ­far from it.  He was a good Protestant of the Calvinistic persuasion; and, in the way of business, sold many footwarmers (little boxes of wood and wire, to hold charcoal embers), for the churches.  He chose to live among the Jews, because their quarter was a cheap one; and he could pick up the things he wanted more easily there than anywhere else; and, besides, Jews, for all the hard things that may be said about them, are not a bad sort of people to do business with.  They are hard upon sailors, it is true, in the way of cheating them; yet they will always let a poor tar have a little money when he wants any; and they are always good for a bite of biscuit, a cut of salt junk, and a rummer of Schiedam.  I wish I could say the same of all the Christians I could name, who are by no means bad hands at cheating you, and then turn you out of doors, hungry and thirsty, and without a shoe to your foot.  I don’t say that a Jew won’t swindle you out of your shoes, and your stockings, too, in the way of business; but he will always give you credit for a new set of slops, and this I have often said to our pursers aboard.  Note this:  that pursers are the biggest thieves that ever deserved to be flogged, pickled, tarred, keel-hauled, and then hanged.

I had six brothers and sisters ­so we might have called ourselves the Seven United Daals if we had had the wit to do so.  There was Adrian, the eldest.  He was a clever yunker, and was bound ’prentice to a clock-maker.  He went to England, and I have sometimes heard made a great deal of money there; but he never sent us any of it ­and what is the good of having a rich brother if he doesn’t let you share in his pay and prize-money?  My messmates always shared in my rhino when I had any; and if your brother is not your messmate I should like to know who is.  Another of my brothers, too, the second, Hendrik by name, did very well in life; for being very quick at figures and ready with his pen, old Mr Jacob Jacobson, the Israelitish money-changer, took a fancy to him and made him his clerk.  He went away when he grew up, and for many long years I heard nothing about him; but it chanced once that, being at New York, to which port I had shipped from Macao, I had a draft for a hundred and fifty dollars to get cashed; and the draft was on a firm of bankers who had their shop down by the Bowling Green, by the name of Van Daal, Peanut, and McCute.  The “Daal” struck me for a moment; but seeing the “Van” before it I concluded that the name could not belong to any of my folk, and took no more notice of it.  I presented my bit of writing at the counter, and the paymaster’s clerk ­a chap with a copper shovel in his flipper, as if he kept gold and silver by the shovelful in the hold ­he gives me back the pay-note, and he says, “Sign your name here, my man.”  So I sign my name “Jan Daal, mariner.”  So he takes it into a little caboose behind the counter; and by-and-by out comes a short fat man with big whiskers, dressed as fine as a supercargo going out to dinner with his owner, and with a great watch-chain and seals, and his fingers all over diamond rings.  “You have an odd name, my friend,” he says, looking at me very hard.  “It is Jan Daal,” I says, “and it is that which was given to me at the church font.”  He reddened a little at this, and goes on, “What church?” “Saint Niklas,” I reply, “in the good city of Amsterdam, so I have heard my mother (rest her soul) say.”  “And I, too,” he begins again, reddening more than ever, “was christened at the Oude Sant Niklas Kerke; and I am of the Daals of Amsterdam, and I am your brother Hendrik.”  On this he embraced me; and I went along with him to the caboose behind the shop; and he gave me crackers and cheese, and a dram of Schiedam, and a pipe of tobacco to smoke.  We had a long talk about old times, and he told me how well he had got on in the world, and what great bankers he and his partners, Peanut and McCute (one a Scotchman, t’other a Yankee, and both a match for all the Jacobsons that ever cheated you out of ten stuyvers in the guilder) were; but when I told him that I had met with no very great luck in life, and that the hundred and fifty dollars I was going to draw was all the money I had in the world, he did not seem quite so fond of me as before.  “And what do you call yourself Van Daal, brother of mine, for,” says I.  “It’s not fair sailing.  There are no more Vans in our family than in a brood of Mother Cary’s chickens.”  At this he looks very high and mighty, and talks about different positions in society, and industry and integrity, and all the rest of it.  “If that’s the course you mean to steer, brother,” says I, “I wish you the middle of the stream, and a clear course, and a very good morning; only take you good care that you don’t run foul of some bigger craft than yourself that’s really called Van, and will run you down and send you to the bottom with all hands.”  I was always a crusty old fellow, I dare say; but I like neither ships nor skippers that give themselves names that don’t belong to them.  If a ship’s name is the Mary Jane, let her sail as the Mary Jane, and not as the Highflier.  If she changes her name, ten to one there’s something the matter with her.  So I went back to the office, and says I to the clerk, “Now, old Nipcheese,” ­I called him “Nipcheese,” for he looked like a kind of purser ­“I want my hundred and fifty dollars ­and that’s what’s the matter with me!” He paid me, looking as sour as lime-juice that has been kept too long, and deducting (the stingy old screw!) four and a half per cent, for “commission;” and I went away, and spent my money like a gentleman, mostly in the grog-shops down by Greenwich Street.  You may be sure that when it was all gone I didn’t go for any more to my high and mighty brother, Mynheer Van Daal.  No, no; I went down to the wharf, and shipped on board a brigantine bound for New Orleans.  I heard afterward that my brother the banker, with his messmates, Peanut the Yankee and McCute the Scotchman, all went to Davy Jones’s locker ­that is to say, they were bankrupt, and paid nobody.  Now, I should like to know which of us was in the right?  If I squandered my hundred and fifty dollars (less the four and a half per cent, for commission ­and be hanged to that mouldy old Nipcheese, with his copper shovel!), it was, at least, my own cash, and I had worked hard for it; but here were my fine banker-brother and his partners, who go and spend a lot of money ­more than I ever heard of ­that belonged to other people!

I was the third son.  There was a fourth, called Cornelius, but he died when he was a baby.  Then came three girls ­Betje, Lotje, and Barbet.  Lotje was a steady girl, who married a ship chandler at Rotterdam.  He died poor, however, and left her with a lot of children.  I am very fond of the yunkers, and try to be as kind to them (although I am such a crusty old fellow) as I can.  Betje was a pretty girl, but too flighty, and a great deal too fond of dancing at kermesses.  She died before she was eighteen of a consumption which was brought on, I fancy, more by her going out in silk stockings and thin shoes to dance at a kermesse at the Loost Gardens of the Three Herrings at Scheveningen, than by anything else.  For ours is a damp country, where there is more mud than solid earth, and more water than either; and you should take care to go as thickly shod as you can.  But in winter time all is hard and firm; and with a good pair of skates to your heels, a good pipe of tobacco in your mouth (though I like a quid better), and a good flask of Schiedam in your pocket, there’s no fear of your catching cold.  Unfortunately, my poor Lotje could not smoke, and liked sweetmeats better than schnapps; and so, with the aid of those confounded silk stockings and dancing-pumps, she must needs die, and be buried in the graveyard of the Oude Sant Niklas Kerke.  It nearly broke my poor mother’s heart, and my father’s, too; although he was somewhat of a hard man, whose heart took a good deal of breaking.  But now that I am an old, old man, I often think over my pipe (I smoke at night instead of chewing) and my grog, about pretty Lotje, with her fair hair curled up under a scalp of gilt plating, and her great blue eyes, ­of her plump white arms, and her trim little feet, which she was all too fond, poor lass! of rigging up in silk stockings and pumps.  But I should never have a word to say against kermesses, quotha! for I must, in time, have danced away some thousands of dollars to the sound of a fiddle, and with a buxom jungvrauw for my partner, in pretty nearly all the grog-shops at pretty nearly every port on the map.  For it was always my motto that when a man’s heels feel light he should forthwith begin to foot it in a hornpipe; and when he feels thirsty, and has any rhino in his looker, he should pipe all hands for grog.  This, the wiseacres will tell me, is the way to ruin one’s health, and die poor; but I am very old, and if I had any riches I couldn’t take them away with me to Fiddler’s Green, could I?  Say!

My youngest sister, Barbet, was not pretty, but she was very kind, and good, and quiet, and although she had been brought up in the very strictest principles of Protestantism (that is to say, she used to get a sound whipping, as all of us did, if she went to sleep in church or forgot the text of the sermon), she took it into her head, when she grew up, to turn Romanist, and became a nun.  She went away to a convent at Lille, in French Flanders (which, like Belgium, ought to belong to the Dutch), and we heard no more of her ­only once, many years ago ­when, for once in my life, I had made a little noise in the world by saving some poor fellow from drowning in a shipwreck, which led to the Minister of Marine sending me a gold medal and a purse full of guilders, and my name being published in the printed logs ­I mean the newspapers ­my poor sister Barbet (she had changed her name to Sister Veronica, I think, but that is all ship-shape in a nunnery) sent me a beautiful letter, saying that she always prayed for me, and enclosing me a pretty little image of Sant Niklas, worked in coloured wools, on a bit of canvas.  I was glad to hear from my sister Barbet, and to hear that Oude Sant Niklas was a Catholic as well as a Protestant saint (as a good ship, you see, is as tight a craft under one flag as under another); and I wore the image, and wear it now, next my heart, as a charm against drowning, instead of the child’s caul which I bought when I was young in High Street, Wapping, England.  It cost me ten pounds, but the dealer took it out half in “swop;” that is to say, I gave him two pounds in silver, two Spanish doubloons, a five-pound note, a green parrot, that swore quite beautifully, a coral necklace, and a lot of uncut jewels, I picked up in the Black Town at Calcutta, and that must have come to about the value of ten pounds, I reckon.

[It would seem that the dealer in High Street, Wapping, got slightly the better of honest Jan Daal in this transaction.  But business is business.  Ed.]

You may wonder, when I have told you of the humble way of business in which my father was, of the number of yunkers he had to keep, and all out of the slender profits of a peddler’s pack, and of the poor way we lived, that we went to church, or to school, at all.  But my dad was a highly respectable man, who never drank more schnapps than was good for him, except when he had the ague, which was about once every spring and autumn, and once in the winter, with, perhaps, a touch of it in the middle of the summer; and my mother was a notable housewife, who scrubbed her three rooms and her seven children, her pots and pans, and her chairs and tables, all day, and, on Saturdays, nearly all night, long.  It is fortunate for such things as pots and pans, and chairs and tables, that they haven’t any human feelings ­at least, I never heard a table talk, although I have read in the newspapers of their spinning precious long yarns for fools and madmen to listen to (but what can you expect from newspapers but lies?) ­or they would have squalled for certain, as we used to do under our mother’s never-ending scrubbing and scouring.  When the soap got into our eyes, we used to halloa, and then she used to dry our tears with a rough towel ­I mean a towel made of a bunch of twigs, tied together at one end with some string.  My mother was the most excellent woman that ever lived; but she had a strange idea in her head that all children wanted physic, and that the very bast doctor’s stuff in the world was a birch rod, and plenty of it.  Perhaps my physickings did me no harm; at least, they prepared me for the precious allowances of kicks, cuffs, and ropes-endings I got when I went to sea.

I went to sea, because, when I was about ten years old, my father thought that I had had enough schooling. I thought that I had had enough to last me for a lifetime; for the Reverend Pastor Slagkop had a monstrous heavy hand; but at least he had taught me to read and write, and to cast accounts ­and that it was about time for me to set about earning my own livelihood, which my elder brothers were already doing.  I was quite of his way of thinking, for I was a hard-working boy, and was tired of eating the bread of idleness; only my dad and I didn’t exactly agree as to the precise manner by which I should earn a living.  He wanted me to wander with him, mostly by treykschuyt, or canal-boat, up and down the United Provinces, helping him to carry his pack, and trying to sell the clocks, watches, cutlery, spoons, hats, caps, laces, stockings, gloves, and garters, in which, and a hundred things besides, he traded.  But I didn’t like the peddler business.  I was never a good hand at making a bargain, and when I had to sell things, I was just as bad a salesman.  I let the customers beat me down; and then my father, who was a just man, but dreadfully severe, beat me.  Besides, to make a good peddler, you must tell no end of lies, and the telling of lies (although sailors are often said to spin yarns as tough as the chairs and tables pretend to do) was never in my line.  Again, although I was of a roving disposition, and delighted in change, my native country had no charms for me.  At the seaports, where there were big ships, I was as pleased as Punch; but, inland, the country seemed to me to be always the same ­flat, marshy, and stupid, with the same canals, the same canal-boats, the same windmills, the same cows, the same farmhouses, the same church steeples, the same dykes, the same dams, and the same people smoking the same pipes, or sliding to market in winter time, when the canals were frozen, on the same skates.  To make an end of it, a peddler’s life was to me only one degree above that of a beggar; for you had to be always asking somebody to buy your goods; and I have always hated to ask favours of people.  I told my father so; but he would not hear of my turning to any trade, and there being no help for it, I had to help him at peddlering for a good two years, although I fancy that he lost more money than he gained by my lending him a hand.  But, when I was twelve years of age, and feeling stouter and stronger ­and I was taller for my age than most Dutch boys are ­I told my father flatly that I had had enough of peddlering, and that if he did not let me try to find some other calling, I would run away.  He told me, for an ungrateful young hound as I was, that I might run away to Old Nick if I chose ­not the Sant Niklas of the Oude Kerke, but a very different kind of customer.  “Thank you, father,” said I, beginning to tie up my few things in a bundle.  “Stop,” says he.  “Here’s five guilders for you.  I don’t want you to starve for the first few days, while you are seeking for work, graceless young calf as you are!” ­“Thank you, father, again,” I says, pocketing both the guilders and the compliment.  “And stop again, my man,” he says; “and take this along with you, with my blessing, for your impudence!” With this, he seizes me by the collar, gets my head between his legs, and, with the big leathern strap he used to bind his pack with, he gives me the soundest thrashing I ever had in my life.  That’s the way to harden boys!  It was in the middle of January, and pretty sharp weather, when we had this explanation.  It was at our home at Amsterdam; and my good mother sat crying bitterly in a corner, with my little sisters clinging to her, and squalling; but as I walked out of the house forever, I felt as hot all through me as though it had been the middle of July.

I walked from Amsterdam to Rotterdam steadily, bent upon going to sea.  Of course, I had never as yet made a voyage, even in a fishing-boat; but I had been up and down all the canals in Holland ever since I was a child; and I fancied that the ocean was only a very large canal, and that a sea-going ship was only a very big treykschuyt.  In a large port like Rotterdam I thought that there would be no difficulty in finding a craft, the skipper of which would give me a berth aboard; and, indeed, throughout a very long life I have usually found that it does not matter a stuyver how poor, ignorant, and friendless a boy may be, there is always room for him at sea, if he sets his mind steadily on finding a ship.  Mind, I don’t say that he won’t be the better sailor for the book-learning he may have been lucky enough to pick up.  I never despised book-learning, although no great scholar myself; but a boy should learn to use his hands as well as his eyes.  He should have a trade, never mind what it is; but it must be a trade that he can earn pay, and lay a little prize-money by, now and then; and a scholar without a trade is but a poor fellow.  He may turn parson, or schoolmaster, to be sure; but it would be a mighty queer ship, I reckon, aboard which the captain was a parson, and the bo’sun a schoolmaster, and the crew a pack of loblolly-boys, with their brains full of book-learning, and nothing else.

I wasn’t so very quick, though, as I thought, in my boyish foolishness, that I should be, in finding a ship at Rotterdam.  Indeed, when I got down to the Boompjes, and boarded the craft lying at anchor there, I think I must have tried five-and-twenty before I could find a skipper who would as much as look at me, much less offer me a berth.  “If you please, do you want a boy?” was my invariable question.  Some of the skippers said that they had more boys than they knew what to do with; others, that boys were more trouble than they were worth, which worth did not amount to the salt they ate.  Off the poop of one ship I was kicked by a skipper, who had had too much Schiedam for breakfast; from the gangway of another I was shoved ashore by a quartermaster, who didn’t like boys; one bo’sun’s mate gave me a starting with a rope’s-end, as he swore that I had come aboard to steal something; and another pulled my ears quite good-naturedly (although he made my ears very sore), and told me to go back to school, and mind my book, and that a sailor’s life was too rough for me.  There was one captain ­he was in the China trade ­who said that he would take me as a ’prentice if my father would pay a hundred and fifty guilders for my indentures; and another, who offered to ship me as cook’s mate; but I knew nothing about cooking, and had to tell him so, with tears in my eyes.  I was nearly reduced to despair, when one skipper ­he was only the master of a galliot, trading between Rotterdam and Yarmouth, in England ­seeing that I was a stout, bright-eyed lad, likely to be a strong haul on a rope, and a good hand at a winch or a windlass, told me that he would take me on first for one voyage, and see what wages I was worth when we came back again.  He advanced me a guilder or two, to buy some sea-going things; so that, with the trifle my father had given me, when he dismissed me with his blessing and a thrashing, I did not go to sea absolutely penniless.

I have been at sea sixty years; yet well do I recollect the first day that I shipped on board the galliot Jungvrauw, at Rotterdam, bound for Great Yarmouth, England.  When I got on board the vessel was just wearing out of port, and, thinking that about the best thing I could do was to begin to make myself useful at once, I tailed on to a rope that some of the crew were hauling in; and the next thing I began to learn was to coil a rope.  There’s only two ways to do it ­a right one and a wrong one.  The right way is to coil it the way the sun goes round.  And then I learned that about the surest manner in which a young sailor can get a knowledge of his trade is to watch how his shipmates set about doing their work.  He may be laughed at, grumbled at, or sworn at, but at last he’ll learn his duty, and that’s something.

If I were to tell you all the wonderful things that have happened to me, man and boy, as carpenter, bo’sun, third mate, second mate, and first mate ­I never had the luck to rise to be a skipper ­I am afraid that you wouldn’t believe half the yarns I could spin for you.  I’ve been in both the Indies, and in both the Americas, and in our own Dutch Colony of Java, and in China and Japan (where the Dutch used to have a mighty fine factory) over and over again.  I’ve been in action; and was wounded once by a musket-ball, which passed right through the nape of my neck.  I’ve been a prisoner of war, and I was once nearly taken by a Sallee rover.  I’ve had to fight with the Dutch for the French, and with the French against the Dutch, and with the Dutch for the English.  I’ve had the yellow fever over and over again.  I’ve had my leg half bitten off by a shark; and if anybody tells you that a shark won’t eat niggers, tell him, with my compliments, that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, for I saw a shark bite a nigger that had fallen overboard, right in two, in the harbour of Havana.  I don’t say that the shark doesn’t like white flesh best.  The black man, perhaps, he locks upon as mess beef, not very prime; but the white man he considers as pork or veal, and the nicer of the two.  At all events he’ll eat nigger if he’s hungry, and a shark’s always hungry.

Perhaps the strangest thing that ever happened to me in the coarse of all my voyages was in connection with a lot of swallows, and I’ll wind up my yarn with this one, first because it’s short, and next because I think it’s got something that’s pretty about it, and will please the yunkers and the vrauws; and, old man-like, I always like to please them.  It was about thirty years ago, and in the middle of September, that I signed articles at Liverpool as second mate of a brig bound to Marseilles, Barcelona, in Spain, Gibraltar (that belongs to the Englanders), Oran, and Algiers.  The middle of September mind.  The name of the brig was the Granite, and the skipper, Captain Marbles, a Yorkshireman, was about the hardest commander I ever sailed under.  He never swore at the men, ­that they wouldn’t have much minded; but he was always turning up the hands for punishment; and punishment in the merchant service, thirty years ago, was little less severe than it was in the navy.  Indeed, it was often more unjust, and more cruel; for when a merchant skipper flogged a man he was generally drunk, or in a fearfully bad temper; whereas on board a man-o’-war a sailor was never punished in cold blood, and had at least some show of a trial.  I must do Captain Marbles the credit to say that he was never half seas over; but on the other hand he was always in a bad temper.  On me he dared not lay a finger, for I was an officer, and I would have knocked him down with a marlinspike had he struck me; but he led the foremast-men and the boys, of whom we had at least half a dozen aboard ­principally, I fancy, because the Captain liked to torture boys ­a terrible life.  Well, we had discharged cargo at Marseilles, and taken in more at Barcelona.  We had put in at Gibraltar, and after clearing out from the Rock were shaping our course with a pretty fair wind for Gran, when, one evening ­ now what in the world do you think happened?

The swallow, you know, is a bird that, like our stork, cannot abide the cold.  He is glad enough to come and see us in summer, when the leaves are green, and the sun shines brightly; but so soon as ever the weather begins to grow chilly, off goes Mr Swallow to the Pyramids of Egypt, or the Desert of Sahara, or some nice, warm, comfortable place of that kind.  He generally arrives in our latitudes about the second week in April; and he cuts his stick again for hot winter quarters toward the end of September.  I’ve heard book-learned gentlemen say that the birds almost always fly in a line, directly north and south, influenced, no doubt, by the magnetic current which flows forever and ever in that direction.  Well, on the afternoon to which my yarn relates, our course was due south, and, just before sunset, we saw a vast space of the sky astern absolutely darkened by the largest flight of birds I ever saw, winging their way together.  As a rule, I’ve been told, the swallows don’t migrate in large flocks, but in small families.  This, however, must have been an exception to the rule, for they appeared absolutely to number thousands; and what should they do when they neared us but settle down in their thousands on the masts and rigging of the brig Granite.  They were tired, poor things, no doubt, with long flying; and I have been told that it is a common custom for them to rest themselves on the riggings of ships.  But there were so many of them this time that the very deck was covered with them, and vast numbers more fluttered below, into the forecastle and the captain’s cabin.  The skipper ordered the hatches to be battened down, and all was made snug for the night.  In the morning the birds on the deck and the rigging were gone, but we had still hundreds of swallows in the hold and in the cabin, and the noise the poor creatures made to be let out was most pitiable ­indeed, it was simply heartrending.  It was like the cry of children.  It sounded like, “For God’s sake, let us go free!” Captain Marbles ­I have said so before ­was a hard man, but he could not stand the agonised twittering of the wretched little birds; and as he ordered me to have the hatches opened, I noticed that there were two great tears coursing down his stern, weather-beaten cheeks.  He had, for the first time in his life, perhaps, become acquainted with a certain blessed thing called PITY.  Nor did we fail to notice afterward that he was not half so hard on the boys we had aboard.  Perhaps he remembered the cry of the swallows.

That’s my yarn.  There’s nothing very grand about it; but, at least, it’s true.  As true, I mean, as old sailors’ yarns usually are.

“Gone!” cried the doctor, as the Dutchman, a minute before solid in appearance, suddenly collapsed into air and moisture, which directly became ice.  “If I hadn’t been so polite I might have stopped him.  I suppose the effort of telling their histories exhausts them.”

“Well, sir, it’s jolly interesting!” said Bostock.

“Yes, my man,” said the doctor; “but there’s no science in it.  What is there in his talk about how he came here, or for me to report to the learned societies?”

“Can’t say, I’m sure, sir,” I said; “only, the discoveries.”

“Yes, that will do, Captain.  But come, let’s find another?”

We all set to eagerly, for the men now thoroughly enjoyed the task.  The stories we heard enlivened the tedium, and the men, far from being afraid now, went heartily into the search.

“Shouldn’t wonder if we found a nigger friz-up here, mates,” said Binny Scudds.

“Or a Chine-hee,” said one of the men.

“Well, all I can say,” exclaimed Bostock, “is this here, I don’t want to be made into a scientific speciment.”

“Here y’are!” shouted one of the men.  “Here’s one on ’em!”

“Get out!” said Binny Scudds, who had run to the face of a perpendicular mass of ice, where the man stood with his pick.  “That ain’t one!”

“Tell yer it is,” said the man.  “That’s the ’airs of his ’ead sticking out;” and he pointed to what appeared to be dark threads in the white, opaque ice.

“Tell you, he wouldn’t be standing up,” said Binny Scudds.

“Why not, if he was frozen so, my men?” said the doctor.  “Yes; that’s a specimen.  This ice has been heaved up.”

“Shall we fetch him out with powder,” said Bostock.

“Dear me, no!” said the doctor.  “Look! that ice is laminated.  Try driving in wedges.”

Three of the men climbed onto the top, and began driving in wedges, when the ice split open evenly, leaving the figure of what appeared to be a swarthy-looking Frenchman, exposed as to the face; but he was held in tightly to the lower half of the icy case, by his long hair.

“Blest if he don’t look jest like a walnut with one shell off!” growled Scudds; but he was silent directly, for the Frenchman opened his eyes, stared at us, smiled, and opened his lips.

“Yes; thank you much, comrades.  You have saved me.  I did not thus expect, when we went drift, drift, drift north, in the little vessel, with the rats; but listen, you shall hear.  I am a man of wonderful adventure.  You take me for a ghost?”

Bostock nodded.

“Brave lads! brave lads!” said the Frenchman; “but it is not that I am.  I have been taken for a ghost before, and prove to my good friends that I am not.  I prove to you I am not; but a good, sound, safe, French matelot! ­sailor, you call it.”

“I should like to hear you,” said Binny Scudds, in a hoarse growl.

“You shall, my friend, who has helped to save me.”

“Let it be scientific, my friend,” said the doctor.

“It shall, sir ­it shall,” said the Frenchman.