Then came reference to the well known fact that an experienced mariner can look at the compass of a new iron vessel, thousands of mile from her birthplace, and tell which way her head was pointing when she was in process of building.

Now an ancient whale-ship master fell to talking about the sort of crews they used to have in his early days. Said he:

"Sometimes we'd have a batch of college students Queer lot. Ignorant? Why, they didn't know the catheads from the main brace. But if you took them for fools you'd get bit, sure. They'd learn more in a month than another man would in a year. We had one, once, in the Mary Ann, that came aboard with gold spectacles on. And besides, he was rigged out from main truck to keelson in the nobbiest clothes that ever saw a fo'castle. He had a chestful, too: cloaks, and broadcloth coats, and velvet vests; everything swell, you know; and didn't the saltwater fix them out for him? I guess not! Well, going to sea, the mate told him to go aloft and help shake out the foreto'gallants'l. Up he shins to the foretop, with his spectacles on, and in a minute down he comes again, looking insulted. Says the mate, 'What did you come down for?' Says the chap, 'P'r'aps you didn't notice that there ain't any ladders above there.' You see we hadn't any shrouds above the foretop. The men bursted out in a laugh such as I guess you never heard the like of. Next night, which was dark and rainy, the mate ordered this chap to go aloft about something, and I'm dummed if he didn't start up with an umbrella and a lantern! But no matter; he made a mighty good sailor before the voyage was done, and we had to hunt up something else to laugh at. Years afterwards, when I had forgot all about him, I comes into Boston, mate of a ship, and was loafing around town with the second mate, and it so happened that we stepped into the Revere House, thinking maybe we would chance the salt-horse in that big diningroom for a flyer, as the boys say. Some fellows were talking just at our elbow, and one says, 'Yonder's the new governor of Massachusetts--at that table over there with the ladies.' We took a good look my mate and I, for we hadn't either of us ever see a governor before. I looked and looked at that face and then all of a sudden it popped on me! But didn't give any sign. Says I, 'Mate, I've a notion to go over and shake hands with him.' Says he 'I think I see you doing it, Tom.' Says I, 'Mate I'm a-going to do it.' Says he, 'Oh, yes, I guess so. Maybe you don't want to bet you will, Tom?' Say I, 'I don't mind going a V on it, mate.' Says he 'Put it up.' 'Up she goes,' says I, planking the cash. This surprised him. But he covered it, and say. pretty sarcastic, 'Hadn't you better take your grub with the governor and the ladies, Tom?' Says I 'Upon second thoughts, I will.' Says he, 'Well Tom, you aye a dum fool.' Says I, 'Maybe I am maybe I ain't; but the main question is, do you wan to risk two and a half that I won't do it?' 'Make it a V,' says he. 'Done,' says I. I started, him a giggling and slapping his hand on his thigh, he felt so good. I went over there and leaned my knuckle: on the table a minute and looked the governor in the face, and says I, 'Mr. Gardner, don't you know me? He stared, and I stared, and he stared. Then all of a sudden he sings out, 'Tom Bowling, by the holy poker! Ladies, it's old Tom Bowling, that you've heard me talk about--shipmate of mine in the Mary Ann.' He rose up and shook hands with me ever so hearty--I sort of glanced around and took a realizing sense of my mate's saucer eyes--and then says the governor, 'Plant yourself, Tom, plant yourself; you can't cat your anchor again till you've had a feed with me and the ladies!' I planted myself alongside the governor, and canted my eye around toward my mate. Well, sir, his dead-lights were bugged out like tompions; and his mouth stood that wide open that you could have laid a ham in it without him noticing it."

There was great applause at the conclusion of the old captain's story; then, after a moment's silence, a grave, pale young man said:

"Had you ever met the governor before?"

The old captain looked steadily at this inquirer awhile, and then got up and walked aft without making any reply.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book