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Redburn. His First Voyage by Herman Melville

Part 7 out of 7

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money;" and he extended his open palm across the desk.

"Shall I pitch into him?" whispered Harry.

I was thunderstruck at this most unforeseen announcement of the state of
my account with Captain Riga; and I began to understand why it was that
he had till now ignored my absence from the ship, when Harry and I were
in London. But a single minute's consideration showed that I could not
help myself; so, telling him that he was at liberty to begin his suit,
for I was a bankrupt, and could not pay him, I turned to go.

Now, here was this man actually turning a poor lad adrift without a
copper, after he had been slaving aboard his ship for more than four
mortal months. But Captain Riga was a bachelor of expensive habits, and
had run up large wine bills at the City Hotel. He could not afford to be
munificent. Peace to his dinners.

"Mr. Bolton, I believe," said the captain, now blandly bowing toward
Harry. "Mr. Bolton, you also shipped for three dollars per month: and
you had one month's advance in Liverpool; and from dock to dock we have
been about a month and a half; so I owe you just one dollar and a half,
Mr. Bolton; and here it is;" handing him six two-shilling pieces.

"And this," said Harry, throwing himself into a tragical attitude, "this
is the reward of my long and faithful services!"

Then, disdainfully flinging the silver on the desk, he exclaimed,
"There, Captain Riga, you may keep your tin! It has been in your purse,
and it would give me the itch to retain it. Good morning, sir."

"Good morning, young gentlemen; pray, call again," said the captain,
coolly bagging the coins. His politeness, while in port, was invincible.

Quitting the cabin, I remonstrated with Harry upon his recklessness in
disdaining his wages, small though they were; I begged to remind him of
his situation; and hinted that every penny he could get might prove
precious to him. But he only cried Pshaw! and that was the last of it.

Going forward, we found the sailors congregated on the forecastle-deck,
engaged in some earnest discussion; while several carts on the wharf,
loaded with their chests, were just in the act of driving off, destined
for the boarding-houses uptown. By the looks of our shipmates, I saw
very plainly that they must have some mischief under weigh; and so it
turned out.

Now, though Captain Riga had not been guilty of any particular outrage
against the sailors; yet, by a thousand small meannesses--such as
indirectly causing their allowance of bread and beef to be diminished,
without betraying any appearance of having any inclination that way, and
without speaking to the sailors on the subject--by this, and kindred
actions, I say, he had contracted the cordial dislike of the whole
ship's company; and long since they had bestowed upon him a name
unmentionably expressive of their contempt.

The voyage was now concluded; and it appeared that the subject being
debated by the assembly on the forecastle was, how best they might give
a united and valedictory expression of the sentiments they entertained
toward their late lord and master. Some emphatic symbol of those
sentiments was desired; some unmistakable token, which should forcibly
impress Captain Riga with the justest possible notion of their feelings.

It was like a meeting of the members of some mercantile company, upon
the eve of a prosperous dissolution of the concern; when the
subordinates, actuated by the purest gratitude toward their president,
or chief, proceed to vote him a silver pitcher, in token of their
respect. It was something like this, I repeat--but with a material
difference, as will be seen.

At last, the precise manner in which the thing should be done being
agreed upon, Blunt, the "Irish cockney," was deputed to summon the
captain. He knocked at the cabin-door, and politely requested the
steward to inform Captain Riga, that some gentlemen were on the
pier-head, earnestly seeking him; whereupon he joined his comrades.

In a few moments the captain sallied from the cabin, and found the
gentlemen alluded to, strung along the top of the bulwarks, on the side
next to the wharf. Upon his appearance, the row suddenly wheeled about,
presenting their backs; and making a motion, which was a polite salute
to every thing before them, but an abominable insult to all who happened
to be in their rear, they gave three cheers, and at one bound, cleared
the ship.

True to his imperturbable politeness while in port, Captain Riga only
lifted his hat, smiled very blandly, and slowly returned into his cabin.

Wishing to see the last movements of this remarkable crew, who were so
clever ashore and so craven afloat, Harry and I followed them along the
wharf, till they stopped at a sailor retreat, poetically denominated
"The Flashes." And here they all came to anchor before the bar; and the
landlord, a lantern-jawed landlord, bestirred himself behind it, among
his villainous old bottles and decanters. He well knew, from their
looks, that his customers were "flush," and would spend their money
freely, as, indeed, is the case with most seamen, recently paid off.

It was a touching scene.

"Well, maties," said one of them, at last--"I spose we shan't see each
other again:--come, let's splice the main-brace all round, and drink to
the last voyage!"

Upon this, the landlord danced down his glasses, on the bar, uncorked
his decanters, and deferentially pushed them over toward the sailors, as
much as to say--"Honorable gentlemen, it is not for me to allowance your
liquor;--help yourselves, your honors."

And so they did; each glass a bumper; and standing in a row, tossed them
all off; shook hands all round, three times three; and then disappeared
in couples, through the several doorways; for "The Flashes" was on a

If to every one, life be made up of farewells and greetings, and a
"Good-by, God bless you," is heard for every "How d'ye do, welcome, my
boy"--then, of all men, sailors shake the most hands, and wave the most
hats. They are here and then they are there; ever shifting themselves,
they shift among the shifting: and like rootless sea-weed, are tossed to
and fro.

As, after shaking our hands, our shipmates departed, Harry and I stood
on the corner awhile, till we saw the last man disappear.

"They are gone," said I.

"Thank heaven!" said Harry.


That same afternoon, I took my comrade down to the Battery; and we sat
on one of the benches, under the summer shade of the trees.

It was a quiet, beautiful scene; full of promenading ladies and
gentlemen; and through the foliage, so fresh and bright, we looked out
over the bay, varied with glancing ships; and then, we looked down to
our boots; and thought what a fine world it would be, if we only had a
little money to enjoy it. But that's the everlasting rub--oh, who can
cure an empty pocket?

"I have no doubt, Goodwell will take care of you, Harry," said I, "he's
a fine, good-hearted fellow; and will do his best for you, I know."

"No doubt of it," said Harry, looking hopeless.

"And I need not tell you, Harry, how sorry I am to leave you so soon."

"And I am sorry enough myself," said Harry, looking very sincere.

"But I will be soon back again, I doubt not," said I.

"Perhaps so," said Harry, shaking his head. "How far is it off?"

"Only a hundred and eighty miles," said I.

"A hundred and eighty miles!" said Harry, drawing the words out like an
endless ribbon. "Why, I couldn't walk that in a month."

"Now, my dear friend," said I, "take my advice, and while I am gone,
keep up a stout heart; never despair, and all will be well."

But notwithstanding all I could say to encourage him, Harry felt so bad,
that nothing would do, but a rush to a neighboring bar, where we both
gulped down a glass of ginger-pop; after which we felt better.

He accompanied me to the steamboat, that was to carry me homeward; he
stuck close to my side, till she was about to put off; then, standing on
the wharf, he shook me by the hand, till we almost counteracted the play
of the paddles; and at last, with a mutual jerk at the arm-pits, we
parted. I never saw Harry again.

I pass over the reception I met with at home; how I plunged into
embraces, long and loving:--I pass over this; and will conclude my first
voyage by relating all I know of what overtook Harry Bolton.

Circumstances beyond my control, detained me at home for several weeks;
during which, I wrote to my friend, without receiving an answer.

I then wrote to young Goodwell, who returned me the following letter,
now spread before me.

"Dear Redburn--Your poor friend, Harry, I can not find any where. After
you left, he called upon me several times, and we walked out together;
and my interest in him increased every day. But you don't know how dull
are the times here, and what multitudes of young men, well qualified,
are seeking employment in counting-houses. I did my best; but could not
get Harry a place. However, I cheered him. But he grew more and more
melancholy, and at last told me, that he had sold all his clothes but
those on his back to pay his board. I offered to loan him a few dollars,
but he would not receive them. I called upon him two or three times
after this, but he was not in; at last, his landlady told me that he had
permanently left her house the very day before. Upon my questioning her
closely, as to where he had gone, she answered, that she did not know,
but from certain hints that had dropped from our poor friend, she feared
he had gone on a whaling voyage. I at once went to the offices in
South-street, where men are shipped for the Nantucket whalers, and made
inquiries among them; but without success. And this, I am heartily
grieved to say, is all I know of our friend. I can not believe that his
melancholy could bring him to the insanity of throwing himself away in a
whaler; and I still think, that he must be somewhere in the city. You
must come down yourself, and help me seek him out."

This! letter gave me a dreadful shock. Remembering our adventure in
London, and his conduct there; remembering how liable he was to yield to
the most sudden, crazy, and contrary impulses; and that, as a
friendless, penniless foreigner in New York, he must have had the most
terrible incitements to committing violence upon himself; I shuddered to
think, that even now, while I thought of him, he might no more be
living. So strong was this impression at the time, that I quickly
glanced over the papers to see if there were any accounts of suicides,
or drowned persons floating in the harbor of New York.

I now made all the haste I could to the seaport, but though I sought him
all over, no tidings whatever could be heard.

To relieve my anxiety, Goodwell endeavored to assure me, that Harry must
indeed have departed on a whaling voyage. But remembering his bitter
experience on board of the Highlander, and more than all, his
nervousness about going aloft, it seemed next to impossible.

At last I was forced to give him up.

* * * * *

Years after this, I found myself a sailor in the Pacific, on board of a
whaler. One day at sea, we spoke another whaler, and the boat's crew
that boarded our vessel, came forward among us to have a little
sea-chat, as is always customary upon such occasions.

Among the strangers was an Englishman, who had shipped in his vessel at
Callao, for the cruise. In the course of conversation, he made allusion
to the fact, that he had now been in the Pacific several years, and that
the good craft Huntress of Nantucket had had the honor of originally
bringing him round upon that side of the globe. I asked him why he had
abandoned her; he answered that she was the most unlucky of ships.

"We had hardly been out three months," said he, "when on the Brazil
banks we lost a boat's crew, chasing a whale after sundown; and next day
lost a poor little fellow, a countryman of mine, who had never entered
the boats; he fell over the side, and was jammed between the ship, and a
whale, while we were cutting the fish in. Poor fellow, he had a hard
time of it, from the beginning; he was a gentleman's son, and when you
could coax him to it, he sang like a bird."

"What was his name?" said I, trembling with expectation; "what kind of
eyes did he have? what was the color of his hair?"

"Harry Bolton was not your brother?" cried the stranger, starting.

Harry Bolton!

It was even he!

But yet, I, Wellingborough Redburn, chance to survive, after having
passed through far more perilous scenes than any narrated in this, My
First Voyage--which here I end.

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