The Bucko Mate
A tale of a sailorman's ship and the ultimate reward of a stone-hearted reformer
Louis ARTHUR CUNNINGHAM
CRUISER, like a grey werewolf of the seas, slid up the harbor of Saint John and her chains roared soundingly through the hawsepipes as she dropped anchor.
“Sounds good to me,” said Captain Jonas Hallan. “She’s a neat-lookin’ craft, that. Here for the Dominion Day celebration, eh? What they fired the salute down at the Barracks Green for at noon.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. It was unusual to hear the old man so garrulous. A grunt was his ordinary best. But it was warm and sunny this July afternoon, and the shiny leather-cushioned chairs in the pilot rooms on the Hill of the Three Lamps were comfortable. Besides, I was the only one there with Captain Jonas, and he didn’t ever mind me much.
“July the first, eh?” he said. Then he got up and squinted through the big spy-glass at the cruiser, at the crowd of people down on Reed’s Point Wharf below us . .a gay crowd. Many women there, and the bright blues, pinks and yellows of their dresses were good to see. It is a drab place ordinarily, covered with stacks of lumber, piles of boxes, kegs and gear for the Boston and Grand Manan steamers; reeking, too, of fish and tar. But these people were going off to the warship.
“You don’t often see a crowd like that around the steps,” I said.
“Fifty year ago today,” said Captain Jonas, putting down the glass, “fifty year ago today there was a crowd like that. Aye, a better crowd,” he reflected. “More clothes the wimmen wore then, so there was more color. You write stories, eh?”
“Ever writ anything about me . . . any o’ the things you heard about me, maybe, down in George Holder’s sail-loft?”
“No, sir, I didn’t. I knew you wouldn’t like it.”
“What do they say about me?” He came back and sat down, looking out at the harbor.
Boats were putting off from shore and from the cruiser now.
The creamy flag at her stern floated gently over the blue water.
“Well, they said you had a bloody ship,” I ventured.
That seemed to give him pause. Then he snorted, “Told you what they used to call me, did they?”
“Stoneheart Hallan. You got the name when you were mate on the Three Brothers."
“Stoneheart Hallan it was,” admitted the old shipmaster.
“Never did a kind thing in all my days of sailin’ . . . that what they said?”
“Well . .
“They’re all liars. You don’t know them. I did a soft deed once, my lad. Seein’ all them people down there today made me think of it. Kind of a sad story too, it is. Maybe you’d like to hear it; then when them old weasels down on Water Street tells you that Jonas Hallan wasn’t happy unless his scuppers was runnin’ blood, you can up and give ’em the lie.”
■piFTY year ago this very day
there was a crowd down at that wharf there to see the Three Brothers come up the harbor, back from Port-o’-Spain an’ general tradin’ around the Injies. I was mate o’ the Three Brothers then . Stoneheart
Hallan, the bucko mate. That’s what they called me and I was considered pizen, though I was only a lad. I used men rough; I had to . . . seamen don’t like to be bossed by a boy even if he is as strong as an ox and able to handle a ship with the best. So down at that wharf, I stepped ashore out o’ the jolly-boat an’ dumb the steps an’ looked around. She wasn’t there . . . the girl I wanted to see. I’ll call her Alice Dwyer. It ain’t her name, but no matter. Her father owned ships and I’d knowed her since we were children together. Alius liked her and wanted her an’ kinda hoped I’d have her some day. Dark, wild nights when a sou’ easter ripped through the riggin’ an’ the salt stung our faces an’ we drove, drove, before it, I used to think o’ her and . . . hmf! Anyway, she wasn’t there. I saw a lot o’ young dudes . . . silk shirts, patent shoes an’ shiny sticks . . . an’ I see one lad lookin’ at me most appraisin’. I watched him out o’ the corner o’ me eye while I was turnin’ the papers over to Gregory Silver, our owner’s clerk. “Tea, coffee, sugar, spices, tobaccos ...” old Gregory was tickin’ off the items with relish.
“Who’s that young buck?” I asked him. “The one with the brown coat an’ curly hair. He’s watchin’ me most intent.”
Gregory peers around then—he was a grey, bandylegged old feller—an’ looks wise and cunnin’.
“His name’s Howard Evans . . . father’s a shipowner. He’s been away to Lower Canada for some years. Up in Quebec he learned a lot o’ them dandified ways o’ his. Now he’s been hangin’ around Alice Dwyer quite a bit since he came here, an’ she seems to like it. Looks as if he was in love with her an’ maybe heard how you an’ her was good friends.”
“So that’s it,” I says, detectin’ enmity in the look
Evans give me.
hands scuttlin’ aloft if it was on shipboard, but my man just stares back an’ grins insolent-like, an’ holds his nose up in the air like someone had left a dead cat in his neighborhood a fortnight ago.
“I’ll knock that outen you, m’lad,” says I, quiet to meself, “before many days is over,” and I dumb the hill and went on up Prince William Street to the head o’ Chapman’s Hill where I lived. I kept thinkin’ of Alice. Every trip I made I seemed to like her better an’ I’d almost got up courage on this here v’yage to put the question to her. Probably I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do it, for sailors is notoriously shy, if I hadn’t seen this Evans an’ heard from Gregory Silver’s lips that he’d been tryin’ to replace me in her affections. So, “This very night,” said I, “when I’m sittin’ in the parlor with Alice an’ everything’s quiet, I’ll propose to her, an’ maybe I’ll be lucky enough to hear her say ‘yes’ to the question I’ve been ponderin’ so long.”
“Rivals, eh? Surely she won’t overlook a real seaman for a suit o’ clothes an’ a swagger stick.” With that I gave Mr. Evans a look that’d send all
ALL that day I didn’t set eyes on her. The Three Brothers was towed to her berth at the North Market Wharf, an’ there was the usual tear an’ confusion of discharging cargo, with old man Silver and Jonathan Gilbert, the owner, pokin’ around here, there and everywhere, an’ watchin’ the goods come ashore with an avaricious gleam in their eyes. I tell you we worked fast an’ I lived up to me name that day. The way I drove them men was somethin’ awful, but then I was thinkin’ of Alice Dwyer an’ prayin’ for courage to get down on me marra-bones to her that night an’ tell her I couldn’t sail again unless she consented to become Mrs. Jonas Hallan.
Mrs. Jonas Hallan . . . hmf! Evenin’ came—one o’ those warm, quiet evenin’s—a Wednesday, an’ it seemed every church bell in the town was ringin’. Over in the west there, at Lancaster, the sky was all red an’ gold, streaked like a lovely cloak I see once on a Arab chief in Aden. I polished meself up an’ got all tricked out in shore-goin’ togs, with a touch o’ pomade on me hair, which was inclined to be the least bit wild. An’ when I see meself in the bit of lookin’ glass in the cabin, I says; “Mr. Evans will have to pile on sail to get ahead o’ me.” I felt sure that white-faced young
milksop wouldn’t stand a chance against a right upstandin’ sailorman like me, that could fell the biggest an’ ugliest foremasthand that ever got crazy with drink an’ came hell-bent for homicide at me with a belayin’ pin waved aloft.
When prayer-meetin’ was over, I went to Alice’s house an’ soon was sittin’ in the parlor. Everything that happened in that room is vivid an’ real to this day, an’ I never can forget the room itself. It had a green rug bordered with red posies, an’ mahogany chairs an’ rockers and a kind of sofa with gargoyles’ heads on it. There was a pitcher of the Battle o’ Waterloo an’ another of a lot o’ Scotsmen marchin’ an’ blowin’ bagpipes. Then there was little teak-wood pagodas an’ chests an’ bits o’ brass an’ ivory that her father’s shipmasters brung back from their v’yages.
Always made me feel churchy and uncomfortable, that room. Silent an’ dignified it was, an’ I used to sit on the edge of the green plush chair by the pianna, silent an’ dignified too. Leastways, I tried to look dignified, but maybe I just looked funny. There I was sittin’ that night when Alice came in an’ bowled me right over. Pretty ... I never saw a prettier woman in all the ports I visited. Yellow hair she had, all curls and
ringlets and feelin’ like silk. I used to touch it when she was a youngster playin’ with the rest of us; but I was shy about touchin’ it now. “Welcome home, Jonas,” she says, holdin’ out both hands to me, and her eyes that blue an’ calm and such a soft mouth and nice teeth, an’ little peaked chin . . . She was wearin’ grey—a tight-waisted dress with lots of frills an’ flounces. Ye could tell a woman was a woman them days—she couldn’t be anything else. “Welcome home, Jonas,” she says, an’ sits down on the pianna stool right dost to me. “Tell me all about your voyage,” she goes on; so I stammered out something an’ got nervouser an’ nervouser an’ the evenin’ went by without me summonin’ up the words I wanted to say.
T WENT home cussin’ like a madman. Out on the -*• street I felt as if I could have proposed, could easy have picked her up in me arms an’ carried her off, but it’s a funny thing, when the time comes to speak, your tongue is lashed fast an’ won’t move.
So there I was, turribly in love with Alice an’ afraid to open me clam; an’ there was this Evans takin’ her to teas an’ garden parties an’ whatnot, just ’s if she was his missus already. He was a gay blade, I found out. Used to drink like all getout an’ cut up with the other young bucks an’ act most scandalous. I wondered she’d bother with him, but knew it couldn’t be anything serious ’cause she was death on liquor, due to her Uncle Lem’s havin’ drunk hisself to death. Still, you can’t tell what a woman ’ll do, an’ she looked happy and proud an’ at the same time sad when she was with Evans.
There was quite a few things, includin’ rope’s endin’, that I wanted to do to that feller, but I knew if I did sail in an’ spoil his pretty mug it wouldn’t do my cause a bit o’ good. So I let him be, and made up me mind that I’d pop the question to Alice the night before we sailed.
The mate’s the only one of a ship’s company as does any work at all in port or much at sea. The mate does plenty. We had to load in a hurry, had to ship a new crew, an’ then the carpenters took a week to lay some new deck plankin’. The crew was the biggest item, but
I was dependin’ on sharky Dan, who kept a crimpin’ joint down the hill there where that grain elevator is now, to find me some likely lads at the last minute . . . so’s they couldn’t get away. Seamen was chary o’ shippin’ aboard the Three Brothers.
7"ELL, the last night in port come around an’ I * * went for me last visit to Alice Dwyer. “It’s now or never,” says I. “If I don’t ask her now, the young dandy will be havin’ her away from me an’ when I get back to Saint John agin she’ll be Missus Howard Evans an’ I’ll be a son of a sea-cook.” So I took a tight reef in me best necktie, polished an’ fixed meself up, an’ dumb Chipman’s Hill again.
We sat in the parlor. I felt tumble uneasy an’ she didn’t look none too happy. The evenin’ wore on so fast, the clock seemed to keep right on chimin’ with no intermission at all for ticks. Finally, it got near eleven an’ I knew ’twas now or never.
“Alice,” I says, failin’ on me knees on the green rug right acrost her bows . . . “Alice,” says I, “we been friends since childhood; we grew up together an’ alius liked each other an’ I been thinkin’ this long time I’d like to marry ye. I’m only a common ordinary seafarin’ man, but I’ll make ye a good husband ...”
She smiled most sad, an’ laid a hand on me shoulder
“Get up, Jonas,” says she, “an sit beside me. First, let me give ye a kiss to show ye I do care.” An, swelp me if she didn’t up an’ kiss me! But I knowed it wasn’t the kind o’ kiss I wanted an’ when I was sittin’ by her side, she told me the facts.
“I love Howard Evans, Jonas,” she tells me. “You’ve alius been like a brother to me, so I can confide in you. He’s asked me to marry him an’ I let my head rule my heart an’ said ‘no’ to him. He drinks, Jonas, an’ acts very bad at times . . . fit to break my heart. I can’t stand that. But I know I’ll give in to him in the
end and and be miserable ever after. If only he were a strong man like you, Jonas . . . not a weaklin’ ... !” An’ she
begins to lean her head on me buzzum an’ cry like a little bebby, me pattin’ that lovely, silky yellow hair the while an’ soothin’ her an’ thinkin’ o’ what I’d do to that there Evans.
Finally, I left her, knowin’ she’d never be mine an’ feelin’ pretty bad about it, for she was the only woman ever caused me to tack about, I tell you. I felt so bad I went right back to the ship an’ turned in, not carin’ whether Sharky Dan got me a crew or not. It was the great love o’ me life an’ it come to naught because of Alice bein’ crazy over this young blackguard who was no good for anything except spendin’ the money his father had made.
However, I was on deck at sailin’ time an’ we cleared away, bound for Melbourne. The second mate tells me that Dan had brung the balance o’ the crew down to the wharf some hours after midnight an’ they was all stowed away safe an’ drunk in the fo’c’sle. I didn’t care. I felt I could handle the ship meself single-handed that v’yage. Real savage, I felt, an’ when, after we’d dropped down below the island, the crew was mustered I decided I’d start right by showin’ them who was mate on the Three Brothers in case any on ’em had doubts about it.
TELL, sir, they came staggerin’ aft, shepherded by ’ ’ Paddy Marney, the bosun . . . some in rags, some in tags, an’ one in a velvet gown, so to speak. Ye could have bowled me over with a bit o’ spun yarn when I see who Dan had shipped aboard . . . There, lookin’ mad an’ battered, his shirt torn half off, his coat-tails ripped up to the collar an’ one of his eyes blacker’n Ammonia Digg’s instep, was no other than me hated rival . . . Mr. Howard Evans!
“Hallan,” says he at once. “This is a outrage! My
father ’ll hear about it an’ by---”
“Shut up!” I roars. “Speak when you’re spoken to, m’lad, an’ not before. Mr. Hallan’s my name an’ I want respect from the hands. Who are you anyway? Want to be clapped in irons an’ put on bread an’ water, do you? Who’s this man, Mr. Lockhart?”
Lockhart was the second. He knowed as well as me who Evans was, an’ so did the old man, but they didn’t care a hoot. Lockhart goes through the dirty lookin’ papers Sharky Dan had handed him an’ reads out the names.
“This man’s name,” says Lockhart with never a grin, “is Biasis Biornson . . . that’s him.”
“A Swede, is it?” says I. “An’ a damn fresh one. You get forrard, Biornson, an’ do as you’re told on this v’yage or, Biasis, I’ll make ye!”
“I’ll see ye hung first,” snarls Evans. So I makes a dive for him, grabs him by the scruff o’ the neck an’ boots him clear up to the fo’c’sle door, heavin’ him in. “An’ no more funny business, ye blame Swede,” I says, “or it’s the rope’s end ye’ll get.”
“Well, sir, he pleaded an’ begged an cursed horrible at me, but it didn’t do no good. I’d made up me mind. Evan was goin’ on this v’yage to Australia, an’ I was goin’ to be his teacher, an’ if I couldn’t make a man outen him—the man Alice wanted him to be—then I’d heave him overboard some dark night an’ leave her a widda before she ever married him. “Yes,” I says to meself, “I’ll make a man o’ this here Evans—a strong, decent man a woman can be proud of, an’ I’ll bring him back to her an’, kind o’ proud an’ injured-like, say: ‘Here’s your future husband, Alice. I did this fer you . . . made a good man outen him’.” Then I’d walk away an’ she’d never see me again, but she’d alius remember me kindly and understand that I loved her so much I’d reformed my worst rival so’s she’d find him suitable for her husband.
TT WAS no mean job. Evans was a -*■ tough customer. His whiteness an’ softness wasn’t even skin deep, an’ a fortnight hadn’t gone by afore he was in two fights an’ more than held his own. It seemed he knew about boxin’ an’ when his opponent took a swing at his lug he wasn’t there. He didn’t have anything to say to me, though I treated him worse than I did any man aboard. Nothin’ he did was right for me an’ all the lowest an’ dirtiest jobs I could think of were given to him. He knew next to nothin’ at all about ships, but Dan had signed him on as ordinary seaman Biasis Biornson, an’ ordinary seaman he was. I sent him aloft with the others, fair weather or foul, an’ would you believe it, mister, he never said a word! I see him come down from aloft, his fingertips drippin’ blood, his lip cut where he’d bit into it while he was tusslin’ with buckin’ canvas in a black squall, an’ the foot-ropes swayin’ an’ the yards jerkin’ an’ hell yawnin’ green an’ black an’ white with foam below him.
He got brown and hard, an’ the softness left his mouth an’ his jaw was set. I was makin’ a man outen him an’ took honest pride in the job. He was good material, I soon found out. He’d make Alice a fine husband. So I drove him all the harder.
“What have you got against me?” he says one day—the first he’d opened his lips since that mornin’ I see Paddy Marney pushin’ him outen the fo’c’sle. “What did I do to you?”
“No Swede never did a thing to me,” I says, pretendin’ surprise, “except one named Thoraldssen, an’ his family’s in deep mournin’.”
“You got Alice, didn’t you?” he says bitter-like. “Can’t you be content with that?”
“I got her?” I says, amazed. “How do you know?”
“Oh, I know,” says he. “I happened to be lookin’ through the parlor window that night you proposed. I saw her kiss you an’ . . . an’ I went an’ got drunk, an’ that’s how I happen to be aboard this rotten old tub with a bucko mate not fit to command a slaver.”
“So!” I says, too startled to note the insult. “Ye were peekin’ that night, eh? An’ ye saw her take a good man. No dissipated young bloods for Alice,” I says, rubbin’ it in. “When she picked me, she took the better man.”
“I’m as good a man as you, Hallan,” he says. “I’d have got over my weakness in time. I’m over it now an’ I think that you’re ...”
Of course, we fit after he said that about me, an’ I downed him. Then the old man came along an’ put an end to it before the fight was really started. A month of climbin’ shrouds an’ wrasslin’ with canvas an’ whatnot had hardened Evans. He was able, let me tell you, an’ I knew that he’d give me a mighty stiff tussle. Just how good he was, I didn’t guess.
^\NE night, on the homeward run, he come to me an’ he says very quiet, “Men have killed for bread, Hallan . . . and on account of it.”
“What d’ye mean?” I asks.
“You know,” he says. “There’s two kinds o’ bread on this ship. The men get old stale stuff you bought in port, an’ the officers get fresh-baked. The men don’t like it. I’m one o’ the men, but I’m a gentleman . . . even if my name is
Biasis Biornson an’ a girl picked a halfbaked mate instead o’ me for a husband.” “You get yourself outa here,” I snaps. “An’ none o’ yer lip. Take what ye get . . . the crowd of you. It’s too good anyway for the likes of you.”
But it wasn’t. I knew that the next night when I heard a scufflin’ in the alley behind me. I turned around and saw Evans wrasslin’ with a big brute of a Dutchman who’d been creepin’ up behind me with a bowie knife, no less, that he was goin’ to present to me. I sailed in, an’ between us we overpowered Dutchie. Mutiny it was; there was others ready to follow him. They came swarmin’ aft, but thanks to Evans’ downin’ this cutthroat, the old man and Lockhart was ready with pistols levelled.
“What d’ye want?” hollers the old man. “Decent food,” speaks up Evans. “That’s all. We’re tired of moldy bread. We can’t work with that under our belts.” “That so?” says the old man. “What happened anyway, Mr. Hallan?”
I told him about the Dutchman an’ what Evans had done. It was a decent turn, an’ some men would have been afraid to go back in the fo’c’s’le after doin’ it. But not Evans. He wasn’t afraid of anyone. He argued more with the old man, an’ finally he got what they wanted. They cheered Evans then, carryin’ him high on their shoulders. We put the Dutchman in irons an’ all was peaceful.
I went to thank Evans for what he done. “I don’t want yer thanks,” he says. “I didn’t do it for your sake, but for hers. She loves you—I don’t know why—an’ it’s her I want to see happy. If it hadn’t been for her I’d have given the Dutchman a hand to chuck you to the sharks. I did this for Alice.” An’ that was the best I got from him right out to Melbourne.
T-XO WEVER, I learned what was in his head the day we reached home. We docked at the North Market Wharf one fine morning, an’ I sort of knew Alice would be down to meet us. They must have known that Evans was aboard the Three Brothers, for there’d be an investigation an’ some o’ Sharky Dan’s followers would let it be known that Evans was not dead ... if you’d call it any better to be sailin’ under a man like Stoneheart Hallan.
I went ashore feelin’ fine. Evans had proved himself. He was a man fit for any woman, an’ I was ready to tell Alice so, an’ wish the two on ’em all happiness, at
the same time claimin’ modest credit for the part I’d played in reformin’ Evans. I’d tell her what I’d done for her an’ him, an’ go away like a sad hero in the stories renouncin’ the girl he loves.
I was standin’ on the wharf thinkin’ o’ that when I hears this:
“Put up yer hands, Hallan, an’ fight like a man. We’re on shore now an’ there’s somethin’ cornin’ to you !”
And here was Mr. Evans with murder in his eye, bearin’ down upon me. If ever a man thought he had his quarrel just, as Shakespeare says, Evans was him. He sailed into me like a madman. I got a nasty clip on the left eye afore I knew it; then my nose ran red. I couldn’t seem to hit him at all. I couldn’t realize what was happenin’. Here was me thinkin’ Evans and Alice would look on me as their kind friend an’ benefactor an’ insteád o’ that, Evans was out to murder me.
“You’ll be her husband, yes,” he was hissin’ at me, “after you’re out o’ the hospital.”
“You darn young fool,” I hollers, dodgin’ a vicious jab, “She’s never gonna ...”
Then he hit me somewheres with somethin’ an’ knocked me flat. Sir, I saw red then ... I crawls up to me feet an’ advances upon him ready to tear his heart out . . . if I could . . . Then I hears a sweet voice sayin’ :
“Jonas Hallan . . . you’re a brute and a coward ... a low coward! Leave the boy alone. I’ve heard how you treated him on that hell-ship. Tried to kill him, you did. But he’s alive, thank God, and restored to me to nurse him back to health.”
“Aren’t you . . . aren’t you engaged to him?” asks Evans. “Aren’t you, Alice?”
“Never,” she says. “I despise him, the bully. Did he let you think we were engaged? Could you believe that?”
“But I saw you kiss him, Alice . . . !” “A good-by kiss . . . because we had been as sister an’ brother. But I never want to see him again. He lied to you ... he tried to kill you.”
An’ they walked away arm-in-arm, an’ not long afterward they was married . . .
VJiXE SAT for a long time silent after *’ the old man had finished his sad story. I knew he had never married and often wondered why, for they said he was, in his youth, as fine a man as one could find.
The people were coming up from the wharf now, and we watched them pass the windows. Captain Jonas got up and strolled to the door. Presently, I followed and stood beside him. In silence we watched the passers-by. Then a marooncolored landau came up the steep Hill of the Three Lamps. In the open rear-seat was a stately, white-haired old lady who smiled benignantly at the young folk in the str.eet. She perceived us as she passed, stared at Captain Jonas and the smile faded from her face, replaced there by a look of frozen contempt.
“Do you mean to say, captain,” I demanded, “that the heroine of your story was . . . was Mrs. Henry Gilligan?”
“It was,” he admitted dully. “I saw her goin’ down the hill ... it made me think o’ fifty years ago.”
“And was Henry Gilligan . . . was Henry the Howard Evans of your yarn?” “He was.”
“But,” I protested, “it’s a known fact that she nagged and hag-rode poor Henry to an early grave. He never had a minute’s peace.”
“Oh, well,” said Captain Jonas, squinting down the length of his umbrella, which, rain or shine, he carried: “there should be one bright spot even in the saddest stories of the saddest lives.” And he hobbled away.