Read CHAPTER II - AT THE SIGN OF THE ANCHOR AND CHAIN of The Cruise of the Shining Light , free online book, by Norman Duncan, on

The Anchor and Chain is a warm, pleasantly noisy place by the water-side at St. John’s, with a not ungrateful reek of rum and tobacco for such outport folk as we; forever filled, too, with big, twinkling, trumpeting men, of our simple kind, which is the sort the sea rears.  There for many a mellow hour of the night was I perched upon a chair at my uncle’s side, delighting in the cheer which enclosed me-in the pop of the cork, the inspiriting passage of the black bottle, the boisterous talk and salty tales, the free laughter-but in which I might not yet, being then but seven years old, actively partake.

When in the first of it my uncle called for his dram, he would never fail to catch the bar-maid’s hand, squeeze it under the table, with his left eyelid falling and his displaced jaw solemnly ajar, informing her the while, behind his thumb and forefinger, the rest of that hand being gone, that I was a devil of a teetotaler:  by which (as I thought, and, I’ll be bound, he knew well I would think) my years were excused and I was admitted to the company of whiskered skippers upon a footing of equality.  ’Tis every man’s privilege, to be sure, to drink rum or not, as he will, without loss of dignity.

If his mates would have me drink a glass with them my uncle would not hinder.

“A nip o’ ginger-ale,” says I, brash as a sealing-captain.

’Twas the despair of my uncle.  “Lord love us!” says he, looking with horror upon the bottle.

“T’ you, sir,” says I, with my glass aloft, “an’ t’ the whole bally crew o’ ye!”

“Belly-wash!” groans my uncle.

And so, brave and jolly as the rest of them, forgetting the doses of jalap in store for me when I was got back to the Tickle, I would now have my ninny (as they called it).  Had the bar-maids left off kissing me-but they would not; no, they would kiss me upon every coming, and if I had nothing to order ’twas a kiss for my virtue, and if I drank ’twas a smack for my engaging manliness; and my only satisfaction was to damn them heartily-under my breath, mark you! lest I be soundly thrashed on the spot for this profanity, my uncle, though you may now misconceive his character, being in those days quick to punish me.  But such are women:  in a childless place, being themselves childless, they cannot resist a child, but would kiss queer lips, and be glad o’ the chance, because a child is lovely to women, intruding where no children are.

As a child of seven I hated the bar-maids of the Anchor and Chain, because they would kiss me against my will when the whiskered skippers went untouched.  But that was long ago....

I must tell that at the Anchor and Chain my uncle blundered in with Tom Bull, of the Green Billow, the owner and skipper thereof, trading the ports of the West Coast, then coast-wise, but (I fancy) not averse to a smuggling opportunity, both ways, with the French Islands to the south of us; at any rate, ’twas plain, before the talk was over, that he needed no lights to make the harbor of St.-Pierre, Miquelon, of a dark time.  ’Twas a red-whiskered, flaring, bulbous-nosed giant, with infantile eyes, containing more of wonder and patience than men need.  He was clad in yellow oil-skins, a-drip, glistening in the light of the lamps, for he was newly come in from the rain:  a bitter night, the wind in the northeast, with a black fog abroad (I remember it well)-a wet, black night, the rain driving past the red-curtained windows of the Anchor and Chain, the streets swept clean of men, ourselves light-hearted and warm, indifferent, being ashore from the wind, the cloudy night, the vicious, crested waves of the open, where men must never laugh nor touch a glass.

They must have a dram together in a stall removed from the congregation of steaming men at the long bar.  And when the maid had fetched the bottle, Tom Bull raised it, regarded it doubtfully, cocked his head, looked my shamefaced uncle in the eye.

“An’ what might this be?” says he.

“‘Tis knowed hereabouts, in the langwitch o’ waterside widows,” replies my uncle, mildly, “as a bottle o’ Cheap an’ Nasty.”

Tom Bull put the bottle aside.

Tis cheap, I’ll be bound,” says my uncle; “but ’tis not so wonderful nasty, Tom,” he grieved, “when ‘tis the best t’ be had.”

“Skipper Nicholas,” says Tom, in wonder, “wasn’t you give aforetime t’ the use o’ Long Tom?”

My uncle nodded.

“Dear man!” Tom Bull sighed.

My uncle looked away.  Tom Bull seemed now first to observe his impoverished appearance, and attacked it with frankly curious eyes, which roamed without shame over my uncle’s shrinking person; and my uncle winced under this inquisition.

“Pour your liquor,” growls he, “an’ be content!”

Tom Bull grasped the bottle, unafraid of the contents, unabashed by the rebuke.  “An’ Skipper Nicholas,” asks he, “where did you manage t’ pick up the young feller?”

My uncle would not attend.

“Eh?” Tom Bull persisted.  “Where did you come across o’ he?”

“This,” says my uncle, with a gentle tug at my ear, “is Dannie.”

“Ay; but whose young one?”

“Tom Callaway’s son.”

“Tom Callaway’s son!” cries Tom Bull.

There was that about me to stir surprise; with those generous days so long gone by, I will not gainsay it.  Nor will I hold Tom Bull in fault for doubting, though he stared me, up and down, until I blushed and turned uneasy while his astonished eyes were upon me.

“Tom Callaway’s son!” cries he again.

That I was.

“The same,” says my uncle.

Forthwith was I once more inspected, without reserve-for a child has no complaint to make in such cases-and with rising wonder, which, in the end, caused Tom Bull to gape and gasp; but I was now less concerned with the scrutiny, being, after all, long used to the impertinence of the curious, than with the phenomena it occasioned.  My uncle’s friend had tipped the bottle, and was now become so deeply engaged with my appearance that the yellow whiskey tumbled into his glass by fits and starts, until the allowance was far beyond that which, upon information supplied me by my uncle, I deemed proper (or polite) for any man to have at one time.  The measurement of drams was in those bibulous days important to me-of much more agreeable interest, indeed, than the impression I was designed to make upon the ’longshore world.

“No such nonsense!” exclaims Tom Bull.  “Tom Callaway died ’ithout a copper t’ bury un.”

“Tom Callaway,” says my uncle, evasively, “didn’t have no call t’ be buried; he was drown-ded.”

My uncle’s old shipmate sipped his whiskey with absent, but grateful, relish, his eyes continuing to wander over so much of me as grew above the table, which was little enough.  Presently my uncle was subjected to the same severe appraisement, and wriggled under it in guilty way-an appraisement of the waterside slops:  the limp and shabby cast-off apparel which scantily enveloped his great chest, insufficient for the bitter rain then sweeping the streets.  Thence the glance of this Tom Bull went blankly over the foggy room, pausing nowhere upon the faces of the folk at the bar, but coming to rest, at last, upon the fly-blown rafters (where was no interest), whence, suddenly, it dropped to my hand, which lay idle and sparkling upon the sticky table.

“Tom Callaway’s son!” he mused.

My hand was taken, spread down upon the calloused palm of Tom Bull, in disregard of my frown, and for a long time the man stared in puzzled silence at what there he saw.  ’Twas very still, indeed, in the little stall where we three sat; the boisterous laughter, the shuffling and tramp of heavy boots, the clink of glasses, the beating of the rain upon the windows seemed far away.

“I’d not be s’prised,” says Tom Bull, in the low, hoarse voice of awe, “if them there was di’monds!”

“They is,” says my uncle, with satisfaction.

“Di’monds!” sighs Tom Bull.  “My God!”

’Twas boredom-the intimate inspection, the question, the start of surprise.  ’Twas all inevitable, so familiar-so distastefully intrusive, too.  ’Twas a boredom hard to suffer, and never would have been borne had not the occasion of it been my uncle’s delight.  ’Twas always the same:  Diamonds? ay, diamonds! and then the gasped “My God!” They would pry into this, by the Lord! and never be stopped by my scowl and the shrinking of my flesh.  It may be that the parade my misguided guardian made of me invited the intimacy, and, if so, I have no cry to raise against the memory of it; but, whatever, they made free with the child that was I, and boldly, though ’twas most boresome and ungrateful to me.  As a child my hand was fingered and eyed by every ’longshore jack, coast-wise skipper, and foreign captain from the Turkey Cock to the sign of The King George.  And wherever I went upon the streets of St. John’s in those days there was no escape:  the glitter of me stopped folk in their tracks-to turn and stare and wonder and pass muttering on.

“Three in that one, Tom,” adds my uncle.

’Twas a moment before Tom Bull had mastered his amazement.  “Well, well!” cries he.  “Di’monds!  Three in that one!  Lord, Lord, think o’ that!  This wee feller with all them di’monds!  An’ Skipper Nicholas,” says he, drawing closer to my beaming uncle, “this here red stone,” says he, touching the ring on my third finger, “would be a jool?  A ruby, like as not?”

“’Tis that,” says my uncle.

“An’ this here?” Tom Bull continues, selecting my little finger.

“Well, now, Tom,” says my uncle, with gusto, for he delighted in these discussions, “I ’low I better tell you ’bout that.  Ye see, lad,” says he, “that’s a seal-ring, Tom.  I’m told that gentlemen wears un t’ stamp the wax o’ their corr-ee-spondence.  ’Twas Sir Harry that give me the trick o’ that.  It haves a D for Daniel, an’ a C for Callaway; an’ it haves a T in the middle, Tom, for Top.  I ’lowed I’d get the Top in somewheres, so I put it in atween the D an’ the C t’ have it lie snug:  for I’m not wantin’ this here little Dannie t’ forget that Top was t’ the wheel in his younger days.”  He turned to me, and in a voice quite broken with affection, and sadly hopeless, somehow, as I recall, “Dannie, lad,” says he, “ye’ll never forget, will ye, that Top was t’ the wheel?  God bless ye, child!  Well, Tom,” turning now to his shipmate, “ye’re a man much sailed t’ foreign parts, an’ ye wouldn’t think it ungenteel, would ye, for a lad like Dannie t’ wear a seal-ring?  No?  I’m wonderful glad o’ that.  For, Tom,” says he, most earnestly, “I’m wantin’ Dannie t’ be a gentleman.  He’s just got t’ be a gentleman!”

“A gentleman, Nick?”

“He’ve got t’ be a gentleman!”

“You’ll never manage that, Nick Top,” says Tom Bull.

“Not manage it!” my uncle indignantly complained.  “Why, look, Tom Bull-jus’ look-at them there jools!  An’ that’s on’y a poor beginnin’!”

Tom Bull laid my hand very gingerly upon the table, as though ’twere a thing not lightly to be handled lest it fall to pieces in his grasp.  He drew my left hand from my pocket and got it under the light.

“Two pearls,” says my uncle, “‘longside a emerald.  Aft o’ that you’ll be like t’ find two more di’monds.  Them’s first-water Brazil, Tom.”

Tom Bull inquiringly touched my watch-guard.

“Eighteen karat,” says my uncle.

Tom Bull drew the watch from its pocket and let it lie glittering in his hand; the jewels, set shyly in the midst of the chasing, glowed in the twilight of the stall.

“Solid,” says my uncle.

Tom Bull touched my velvet jacket with the tip of his finger.

“Imported direck,” says my uncle, “from Lon’on.  Direck, Tom-is you hearin’ me?-direck from Lon’on.  Not,” says he, with quick consideration, “that we’ve no respeck for home talent.  My, my, no!  Dannie haves a matter o’ thirteen outfits done right here in St. John’s.  You beat about Water Street for a week, Tom, an’ you’ll sight un.  Fill your glass, Tom!  We’re well met this night.  Leave me talk t’ you, lad.  Leave me talk t’ ye about Dannie.  Fill up, an’ may the Lord prosper your smugglin’!  ’Tis a wild night without.  I’m glad enough t’ be in harbor.  ’Tis a dirty night; but ‘tis not blowin’ here, Tom-an’ that’s the bottle; pour your dram, lad, an’ take it like a man!  God save us! but a bottle’s the b’y t’ make a fair wind of a head wind.  Tom,” says he, laying a hand on my head-which was the ultimate expression of his affection-“you jus’ ought t’ clap eyes on this here little ol’ Dannie when he’ve donned his Highland kilts.  He’s a little divil of a dandy then, I’m tellin’ you.  Never a lad o’ the city can match un, by the Lord!  Not match my little Dannie!  Clap eyes,” says he, “on good ol’ little Dannie!  Lord save ye, but of all the young fellers you’ve knowed he’s the finest figger of a lad-”

“Uncle Nick!” I cried, in pain-in pain to be excused (as shall be told).

“Hush, lad!” croons he.  “Never mind!”

I could not help it.

“An’ talkin’ about outfits, Tom,” says my uncle, “this here damn little ol’ Dannie, bein’ a gentleman, haves his best-from Lon’on.  Ye can’t blame un, Tom; they all doos it.”

‘Twas all hands t’ the pumps for poor Tom Bull.  “Dear man!” he gasped, his confusion quite accomplished.

“An’ paid for,” says my uncle.

Tom Bull looked up.

“’Tis all,” says my uncle, solemnly jerking thumb down towards the bowels of the earth, “paid for!”

Tom Bull gulped the dregs of his whiskey.

By-and-by, having had his glass-and still with the puzzle of myself to mystify his poor wits-Tom Bull departed.  My uncle and I still kept to the stall, for there was an inch of spirits in my uncle’s glass, and always, though the night was late and stormy, a large possibility for new company.  ’Twas grown exceeding noisy in a far corner of the place, where a foreign captain, in from the north (Fogo, I take it), loaded with fish for Italian ports, was yielding to his liquor; and I was intent upon this proceeding, wondering whether or not they would soon take to quarrelling, as often happened in that tap-room, when Tom Bull softly came again, having gone but a step beyond the threshold of the place.  He stepped, as though aimlessly, to our place, like a man watched, fearing the hand of the law; and for a time he sat musing, toying with the glass he had left.

“Skipper Nicholas,” says he, presently, “I ’low Dannie Callaway haves a friend t’ buy un all them jools?”

“This here little ol’ Dannie,” says my uncle, with another little reassuring tug at my ear, “haves no friend in all the world but me.”

’Twas true.

“Not one?”

“Nar a friend in all the world but ol’ Nick Top o’ Twist Tickle.”

“An’ you give un them jools?”

“I did.”

There was a pause.  Tom Bull was distraught, my uncle quivering; and I was interested in the rain on the panes and in the foreign captain who was yielding to his liquor like a fool or a half-grown boy.  I conceived a contempt for that shaven, scrawny skipper-I remember it well.  That he should drink himself drunk like a boy unused to liquor!  Faugh!  ’Twas a sickening sight.  He would involve himself in some drunken brawl, I made sure, when even I, a child, knew better than to misuse the black bottle in this unkind way.  ’Twas the passage from Spain-and the rocks of this and the rocks of that-and ’twas the virtues of a fore-and-after and the vices of an English square rig for the foremast.  He’d stand by the square rig; and there were Newfoundlanders at his table to dispute the opinion.  The good Lord only knew what would come of it!  And the rain was on the panes, and the night was black, and the wind was playing devil-tricks on the great sea, where square-rigged foremasts and fore-and-afters were fighting for their lives.  A dirty night at sea-a dirty night, God help us!

“Skipper Nicholas,” says Tom Bull, in an anxious whisper, “I’m tied up t’ Judby’s wharf, bound out at dawn, if the wind holds.  I ’low you is in trouble, lad, along o’ them jools.  An’ if you wants t’ cut an’ run-”

In the pause my uncle scowled.

’Twas kind of intention, no doubt, but done in folly-in stupid (if not befuddled) misconception of the old man’s mettle.  My uncle sat quite still, frowning into his glass; the purple color crept into the long, crescent scar of his scalp, his unkempt beard bristled like a boar’s back, the flesh of his cheeks, in composure of a ruddy hue, turned a spotty crimson and white, with the web of veins swelling ominously.  All the storm signals I had, with the acumen of the child who suffers unerring discipline, mastered to that hour were at the mast-head, prognosticating a rare explosion of rage.  But there was no stirring on my uncle’s part; he continued to stare into his glass, with his hairy brows drawn quite over his eyes.

The blundering fellow leaned close to my uncle’s ear.  “If ’tis turn-tail or chokee for you, along o’ them jools,” says he, “I’ll put you across-”

My uncle’s eyes shifted to his staff.

My uncle’s great right hand was softly approaching his staff.

My uncle fetched him a smart crack on the pate, so that the man leaped away, in indignation, and vigorously rubbed his head, but durst not swear (for he was a Methodist), and, being thus desperately situated, could say nothing at all, but could only petulantly whimper and stamp his foot, which I thought a mean thing for a man to do in such circumstances.  “A poor way,” says he, at last, “t’ treat an old shipmate!” I thought it marvellously weak; my uncle would have had some real and searching thing to say-some slashing words (and, may be, a blow).  “An you isn’t a thief,” cries Tom Bull, in anger, “you looks it, anyhow.  An’ the rig o’ that lad bears me out.  Where’d you come by them jools?  Eh?” he demanded.  “Where’d you come by them di’monds and pearls?  Where’d you come by them rubies an’ watches? You-Nick Top:  Twist Tickle hook-an’-line man!  Buyin’ di’monds for a pauper,” he snorted, “an’ drinkin’ Cheap an’ Nasty!  Them things don’t mix, Nick Top.  Go be hanged!  The police ’ll cotch ye yet.”

“No,” says my uncle, gently; “not yet.”

Tom Bull stamped out in a rage.

“No,” my uncle repeated, wiping the sweat from his brow, “Tom Bull forgotten; the police ’ll not cotch me.  Oh no, Dannie!” he sighed.  “They’ll not cotch me-not yet!”

Then out of the black night came late company like a squall o’ wind:  Cap’n Jack Large, no less! newly in from Cadiz, in salt, with a spanking passage to make water-side folk stare at him (the Last Hope was the scandal of her owners).  He turned the tap-room into an uproar; and no man would believe his tale.  ’Twas beyond belief, with Longway’s trim, new, two-hundred-ton Flying Fish, of the same sailing, not yet reported!  And sighting Nicholas Top and me, Cap’n Jack Large cast off the cronies he had gathered in the tap-room progress of the night, and came to our stall, as I expected when he bore in from the rain, and sent my uncle’s bottle of Cheap and Nasty off with contempt, and called for a bottle of Long Tom (the best, as I knew, the Anchor and Chain afforded), which must be broached under his eye, and said he would drink with us until we were turned out or dawn came.  Lord, how I loved that man, as a child, in those days:  his jollity and bigness and courage and sea-clear eyes!  ’Twas grand to feel, aside from the comfort of him, that he had put grown folk away to fondle the child on his knee-a mystery, to be sure, but yet a grateful thing.  Indeed, ’twas marvellously comfortable to sit close to him.  But I never saw him again:  for the Last Hope went down, with a cargo of mean fish, in the fall of the next year, in the sea between St. John’s and the West Indies.

But that night-

“Cap’n Jack,” says I, “you quit that basket.”

He laughed.

“You quit her,” I pleaded.  “But ecod, man!” says I, “please quit her.  An you don’t I’ll never see you more.”

“An’ you’ll never care,” cries he.  “Not you, Master Callaway!”

“Do you quit her, man!”

“I isn’t able,” says he, drawing me to his knee; “for, Dannie,” says he, his blue eyes alight, “they isn’t ar another man in Newf’un’land would take that basket t’ sea!”

I sighed.

“Come, Dannie,” says he, “what’ll ye take t’ drink?”

“A nip o’ ginger-ale,” says I, dolefully.

Cap’n Jack put his arm around the bar-maid.  “Fetch Dannie,” says he, “the brand that comes from over-seas.”

Off she went.

“Lord love us!” groans my uncle; “that’s two.”

“’Twill do un no harm, Nick,” says Cap’n Jack.  “You just dose un well when you gets un back t’ the Tickle.”

“I will,” says my uncle.

He did....

And we made a jovial night of it.  Cap’n Jack would not let me off his knee.  Not he!  He held me close and kindly; and while he yarned of the passage to my uncle, and interjected strange wishes for a wife, he whispered many things in my ear to delight me, and promised me, upon his word, a sailing from St. John’s to Spanish ports, when I was grown old enough, if only I would come in that basket of a Lost Hope, which I maintained I never would do.  ’Twas what my uncle was used to calling a lovely time; and, as for me, I wish I were a child again, and Cap’n Jack were come in from the rain, and my uncle tipping the bottle of Long Tom (though ’twere a scandal).  Ay, indeed I do!  That I were a child again, used to tap-room bottles, and that big Cap’n Jack had come in from the gale to tell me I was a brave lad in whom he found a comfort neither of the solid land nor of water-side companionship.  But I did not think of Cap’n Jack that night, when my uncle had stowed me away in my bed at the hotel; but, rather, in the long, wakeful hours, through which I lay alone, I thought of Tom Bull’s question, “Where’d ye get them jools?”

I had never before been troubled-not once; always I had worn the glittering stones without question.

“Where’d ye get them jools?”

I could not fall asleep:  I repeated the twenty-third psalm, according to my teaching; but still I could not fall asleep....