Read MORTON : CHAPTER XI of An Old Sailor's Yarns , free online book, by Nathaniel Ames, on

O for a horse with wings!


Morton’s low spirits and anxiety, on his return home, arose entirely from his having ascertained that there was no vessel then fitting out for the Pacific, except whalemen; and as their route always depends upon circumstances, and can never be calculated beforehand with any degree of certainty, he declined several advantageous offers in them. A few days after the éclaircissement with his father, he learned to his inexpressible joy, that there was a ship fitting out at Salem for what was in those days somewhat facetiously denominated a “trading voyage;” that is, an exclusively smuggling one.

To Salem, then, he hastened, furnished with most ample and satisfactory letters of introduction and recommendation. He waited upon the owners of the ship, and was by them referred to Captain Slowly, then on board. At the very first glimpse of this gentleman, he felt convinced that there was no chance for a situation on board. Captain Slowly was one of those mahogany-faced, moderate, slow-moving, slow-speaking, slow-eating people, that one occasionally meets with in New England, who are the very reverse of Yankee inquisitiveness, and never answer the most ordinary question, not even “What o’clock is it?” in less than half an hour; men who, in short, as they never ask any questions themselves, think it not worth their while to answer any. We have been several times horrified by such people, and our fingers have always itched to knock them down.

“Good morning, Captain Slowly,” said our friend Morton.

The captain, hearing himself addressed, went on very deliberately with the examination of a jib-sheet block that he held in his hand, turning it over and over, and spinning the sheave round with his finger, much after the manner of a monkey, with any object he does not understand as, for instance, a nut that he cannot crack and at last replied,


“I understand,” said Morton, almost mad with impatience, “that you are in want of a first officer; or at least, so says Mr..”

Captain Slowly, having cast the stops off a coil of running rigging, the main-top-gallant clewline, that lay at his feet, and fathomed it from one end to the other, examining all the chafed places with great attention, answered with, “Was you wanting to go out in the ship?”

“Yes sir,” said Morton, who saw what kind of a dead-and-alive animal he had to deal with, and was determined to have an answer from him, if he beat it out with his fists; and though his heart revolted at the bare thoughts of passing at least a year in the same ship with such a stupid creature, yet it seemed to be his only chance for reaching the coast of Mexico in season; “yes sir, and the owners have directed me to you; they know that I am very desirous of going out in the ship, and they approve very much of my recommendations and certificates. My name is Charles Morton; I am the son of old General Jonathan Morton, of New Bedford; I was out last voyage with Captain Isaiah Hazard, of Nantucket, in the whaling ship Orion; I am perfectly well acquainted with the west coast of South America, from Baldivia to St. Joseph, and up the Gulf of California; I am about five-and-twenty years of age, and have been three voyages as mate of a vessel; for further particulars, I beg leave to refer you to the papers in my pockets; I am somewhat in a hurry, and should feel very much obliged if you would let me have your answer as speedily as possible.”

Captain Slowly, who had never heard an oration of one quarter part the length addressed to himself before, seemed for a few minutes completely bewildered. At last, after drawing a prodigious long breath, he ejaculated, “Well, I declare, I never.”

Morton, having waited a reasonable time to give the man a chance to recover his scattered faculties, at last asked, “Well, Captain Slowly, what do you think of it? shall we make a bargain?”

The captain was now completely startled out of his half existent state, and began to talk and act like a man of middle earth; that is, he began to ask questions.

“Well, let’s see; you say you was ’long of old Captain Isaiah Hazard?”

“Yes; are you acquainted with him?”

“I’ve heard tell on him. Let’s see, where do you belong?”

“To New Bedford; are you much acquainted down that way?”


“Perhaps, then, you may know my father, old General Morton?”

“I’ve heard tell on him”A pause, during which Captain Slowly took a fresh chew of tobacco, and Morton looked at his watch with great impatience“Well, let’s see; what kind of a time did you have on’t ’long with old Captain Hazard?”

“Very good.”

“Make a pretty good v’y’ge?”

“Middling: thirty-two hundred barrels.”

“Well, I declare” another pause “well, let’s see. Calculate to go round that way again?”

“Yes; and that’s what I have called to see you about: the owners approve of me, and have sent me down to you, and I wish you would give me an answer.”

“Well, I expect I’m supplied with both my officers.”

“I thought that was what you was coming to. Good morning, sir.”

“Won’t you step down below, and take a little so’thing?”

“No, I thank you;” and Morton walked away, cursing him by all his gods.

After satisfying himself that there was no chance for him in Salem, he returned to Boston. Lounging about the wharves the next day, he was attracted towards a fine, large, new ship that was setting up her lower rigging. He drew near, to examine her more closely. Her guns were lying on the wharf, as were also her boats and spare spars. From the number of men employed, and the activity with which their operations were carried on, it was evident that the ship was to be off as soon as possible. Morton stepped on her deck: an elderly man, with a fine, open, manly countenance, expressive of great kindness of disposition and goodness of heart, was superintending the duty. Morton was about to address him, thinking to himself, “This is no Captain Slowly,” when the senior gave him a nod, accompanied by that peculiar half audible greeting that passes between two strangers.

“You have a noble ship here, sir,” said Charles, by way of starting the conversation.

“Yes, she is so, nipper all that; Mr. Walker, you’re getting that mainmast all over to starboard yes, yes; she’s a fine ship, that’s certain. Your countenance seems familiar to me, and yet I can’t tell where ’tis I’ve seen you.”

“I belong to New Bedford; my name is Morton.”

“Morton! what, old Jonathan Morton’s son?”

“The same, sir.”

“Why, d n it, man, your father and I were old schoolfellows and are you old Jonathan Morton’s son?”

“Yes, sir; I have followed the sea ever since I left college, and am now looking for a voyage.”

“Well, perhaps we can suit you; times are pretty brisk just now, and you will not be obliged to look long or far and are you Jonathan Morton’s son?”

After a short explanatory conversation, a bargain was made.

“And when will you be ready to commence duty?”

“I am ready this moment,” was the answer of the impetuous young man.

“No you are not. Don’t be in too big a hurry; take your own time;” and they parted, mutually pleased with each other; Morton treading upon air, and very much disposed to build castles and other edifices in that unquiet element.

Reader, if thou art a sailor, thou canst understand and appreciate the pleasure mixed with pain that fills and agitates the heart when thou hast unexpectedly obtained a voyage to thy liking. It is then that ideas come thick and fast into the mind, treading upon each other’s heels, and climbing over one another’s shoulders; the parting with much-loved friends; the anticipated delights of the voyage, seen through that bewitching, multiplying, magnifying glass, the imagination; the pride and delight that fills a seaman’s breast as his eyes run over the beautiful proportions and lofty spars of his future home; all these feelings are worth, while they last, an imperial crown. But soon comes the reality, like Beatrice’s “Repentance with his bad legs:” bad provisions, bad water, and not half enough of either; ignorant and tyrannical officers; a leaky, bad-steering, dull-sailing ship; the vexatious and harrassing duty of a merchantman, where the men are deprived of sufficient sleep, for fear that they should “earn their wages in idleness,” and of a sufficient supply of wholesome food, lest they should “grow fat and lazy.” Such is the theory and practice of most New-England merchants: it was different forty years since, and the outfit of the good ship Albatross had an eye to the comforts of the crew as well as the profits of the owners; for merchants then thought that the two were inseparable the march of intellect has proved the reverse.

Although, as I have already taken occasion to observe, Fortune is peculiarly hostile to lovers, yet she is sometimes “a good wench,” and so she proved herself, at least for a time. The passage of the Albatross from the cradle of liberty and aristocracy to Valparaiso was unusually short, considering that vessels outward bound at that period made a regular practice of stopping at Rio Janeiro, whether in want of supplies or not. She was singularly fortunate, likewise, in crossing the “horse latitudes,” not being becalmed there much over a week, a period hardly long enough to call into proper exercise the Christian virtues of patience and resignation.

Her passage into the Pacific was shortened by another fortunate circumstance: Captain Williams was an adventurous as well as a skillful seaman, and having a steady breeze from the north-east, he ran boldly through the Straits of Le Maire, and thus shortened his passage perhaps by a month; for ships have been known to be four months off Cape Horn beating to the westward, and after all obliged to bear up and run for Buenos Ayres for supplies.