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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




AFTER a three months' absence, I found myself in San
Francisco again, without a cent. When my credit was
about exhausted, (for I had become too mean and lazy, now, to
work on a morning paper, and there were no vacancies on the
evening journals,) I was created San Francisco correspondent
of the Enterprise, and at the end of five months I was out
of debt, but my interest in my work was gone; for my correspondence
being a daily one, without rest or respite, I got
unspeakably tired of it. I wanted another change. The vagabond
instinct was strong upon me. Fortune favored and I
got a new berth and a delightful one. It was to go down to
the Sandwich Islands and write some letters for the Sacramento
Union, an excellent journal and liberal with employés.

We sailed in the propeller Ajax, in the middle of winter.
The almanac called it winter, distinctly enough, but the weather
was a compromise between spring and summer. Six days out
of port, it became summer altogether. We had some thirty
passengers; among them a cheerful soul by the name of Williams,
and three sea-worn old whaleship captains going down
to join their vessels. These latter played euchre in the smoking
room day and night, drank astonishing quantities of raw
whisky without being in the least affected by it, and were the
happiest people I think I ever saw. And then there was“the
old Admiral—” a retired whaleman. He was a roaring, terrific
combination of wind and lightning and thunder, and earnest,
whole-souled profanity. But nevertheless he was tenderhearted


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as a girl. He was a raving, deafening, devastating
typhoon, laying waste the cowering seas but with an unvexed
refuge in the centre where all comers were safe and at rest.
Nobody could know the “Admiral” without liking him; and
in a sudden and dire emergency I think no friend of his would
know which to
choose—to be
cursed by him or
prayed for by a less
efficient person.

His title of “Admiral”
was more
strictly “official”
than any ever worn
by a naval officer
before or since, perhaps—for
it was the
voluntary offering
of a whole nation,
and came direct
from the people
themselves without
any intermediate
red tape—the
people of the Sandwich
Islands. It
was a title that
came to him freighted with affection, and honor, and appreciation
of his unpretending merit. And in testimony of the genuineness
of the title it was publicly ordained that an exclusive
flag should be devised for him and used solely to welcome his
coming and wave him God-speed in his going. From that
time forth, whenever his ship was signaled in the offing, or he
catted his anchor and stood out to sea, that ensign streamed
from the royal halliards on the parliament house and the nation
lifted their hats to it with spontaneous accord.

Yet he had never fired a gun or fought a battle in his life.


Page 446
When I knew him on board the Ajax, he was seventy-two
years old and had plowed the salt water sixty-one of them.
For sixteen years he had gone in and out of the harbor of
Honolulu in command of a whaleship, and for sixteen more
had been captain of a San Francisco and Sandwich Island passenger
packet and had never had an accident or lost a vessel.
The simple natives knew him for a friend who never failed
them, and regarded him as children regard a father. It was a
dangerous thing to oppress them when the roaring Admiral
was around.

Two years before I knew the Admiral, he had retired from
the sea on a competence, and had sworn a colossal nine-jointed
oath that he would “never go within smelling distance of the
salt water again as long as he lived.” And he had conscientiously
kept it. That is to say, he considered he had kept it,
and it would have been more than dangerous to suggest to
him, even in the gentlest way, that making eleven long sea voyages,
as a passenger, during the two years that had transpired
since he “retired,” was only keeping the general spirit of it
and not the strict letter.

The Admiral knew only one narrow line of conduct to pursue
in any and all cases where there was a fight, and that was
to shoulder his way straight in without an inquiry as to the
rights or the merits of it, and take the part of the weaker
side.—And this was the reason why he was always sure to be
present at the trial of any universally execrated criminal to
oppress and intimidate the jury with a vindictive pantomime
of what he would do to them if he ever caught them out of
the box. And this was why harried cats and outlawed dogs
that knew him confidently took sanctuary under his chair in
time of trouble. In the beginning he was the most frantic
and bloodthirsty Union man that drew breath in the shadow
of the Flag; but the instant the Southerners began to go down
before the sweep of the Northern armies, he ran up the Confederate
colors and from that time till the end was a rampant
and inexorable secessionist.

He hated intemperance with a more uncompromising animosity


Page 447
than any individual I have ever met, of either sex; and
he was never tired of storming against it and beseeching friends
and strangers alike to be wary and drink with moderation.
And yet if any creature had been guileless enough to intimate
that his absorbing nine gallons of “straight” whisky during
our voyage was any fraction short of rigid or inflexible abstemiousness,
in that self-same moment the old man would have
spun him to the uttermost parts of the earth in the whirlwind
of his wrath. Mind, I am not saying his whisky ever affected
his head or his legs, for it did not, in even the slightest degree.
He was a capacious container, but he did not hold enough for
that. He took a level tumblerful of whisky every morning before
he put his clothes on—“to sweeten his bilgewater,” he said.—
He took another after he got the most of his clothes on, “to settle
his mind and give him his bearings.” He then shaved, and
put on a clean shirt; after which he recited the Lord's Prayer
in a fervent, thundering bass that shook the ship to her kelson
and suspended all conversation in the main cabin. Then, at
this stage, being invariably “by the head,” or “by the stern,”
or “listed to port or starboard,” he took one more to “put him
on an even keel so that he would mind his hellum and not
miss stays and go about, every time he came up in the wind.”
—And now, his state-room door swung open and the sun of
his benignant face beamed redly out upon men and women and
children, and he roared his “Shipmets a'hoy!” in a way that
was calculated to wake the dead and precipitate the final resurrection;
and forth he strode, a picture to look at and a presence to
enforce attention. Stalwart and portly; not a gray hair; broad-brimmed
slouch hat; semi-sailor toggery of blue navy flannel
—roomy and ample; a stately expanse of shirt-front and a liberal
amount of black silk neck-cloth tied with a sailor knot;
large chain and imposing seals impending from his fob; awe-inspiring
feet, and “a hand like the hand of Providence,” as
his whaling brethren expressed it; wrist-bands and sleeves
pushed back half way to the elbow, out of respect for the warm
weather, and exposing hairy arms, gaudy with red and blue
anchors, ships, and goddesses of liberty tattooed in India ink.


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But these details were only secondary matters—his face was
the lodestone that chained the eye. It was a sultry disk, glowing
determinedly out through a weather beaten mask of mahogany,
and studded with warts, seamed with scars, “blazed” all
over with unfailing fresh slips of the razor; and with cheery
eyes, under shaggy brows, contemplating the world from over
the back of a gnarled crag of a nose that loomed vast and lonely
out of the undulating immensity that spread away from its
foundations. At his heels frisked the darling of his bachelor
estate, his terrier “Fan,” a creature no larger than a squirrel.
The main part of his daily life was occupied in looking after
“Fan,” in a motherly way, and doctoring her for a hundred
ailments which existed only
in his imagination.

The Admiral seldom
read newspapers; and
when he did he never believed
anything they said.
He read nothing, and believed
in nothing, but “The
Old Guard,” a secession
periodical published in
New York. He carried
a dozen copies of it with
him, always, and referred
to them for all required
information. If it was not
there, he supplied it himself,
out of a bountiful
fancy, inventing history,
names, dates, and every
thing else necessary to
make his point good in an
argument. Consequently
he was a formidable antagonist in a dispute. Whenever he
swung clear of the record and began to create history, the enemy
was helpless and had to surrender. Indeed, the enemy


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could not keep from betraying some little spark of indignation
at his manufactured history—and when it came to indignation,
that was the Admiral's very “best hold.” He was always
ready for a political argument, and if nobody started one he
would do it himself. With his third retort his temper would
begin to rise, and within five minutes he would be blowing
a gale, and within fifteen his smoking-room audience would
be utterly stormed away and the old man left solitary and alone,
banging the table with his fist, kicking the chairs, and roaring
a hurricane of profanity.
It got so, after a while, that
whenever the Admiral approached,
with politics in
his eye, the passengers
would drop out with quiet
accord, afraid to meet him;
and he would camp on a
deserted field.

But he found his match
at last, and before a full
company. At one time or
another, everybody had
entered the lists against
him and been routed, except the quiet passenger Williams. He
had never been able to get an expression of opinion out of him
on politics. But now, just as the Admiral drew near the door
and the company were about to slip out, Williams said:

“Admiral, are you certain about that circumstance concerning
the clergymen you mentioned the other day?”—referring
to a piece of the Admiral's manufactured history.

Every one was amazed at the man's rashness. The idea of
deliberately inviting annihilation was a thing incomprehensible.
The retreat came to a halt; then everybody sat down again
wondering, to await the upshot of it. The Admiral himself
was as surprised as any one. He paused in the door, with his
red handkerchief half raised to his sweating face, and contemplated
the daring reptile in the corner.


Page 450

Certain of it? Am I certain of it? Do you think I've been
lying about it? What do you take me for? Anybody that
don't know that circumstance, don't know anything; a child
ought to know it. Read up your history! Read it up —
— — —, and don't come asking a man if he's certain
about a bit of A B C stuff that the very southern niggers know
all about.”

Here the Admiral's fires began to wax hot, the atmosphere
thickened, the coming earthquake rumbled, he began to thunder
and lighten. Within three minutes his volcano was in full
irruption and he was discharging flames and ashes of indignation,
belching black volumes of foul history aloft, and vomiting
red-hot torrents of profanity from his crater. Meantime Williams
sat silent, and apparently deeply and earnestly interested
in what the old man was saying. By and by, when the lull
came, he said in the most deferential way, and with the gratified
air of a man who has had a mystery cleared up which had
been puzzling him uncomfortably:

Now I understand it. I always thought I knew that piece
of history well enough, but was still afraid to trust it, because
there was not that convincing particularity about it that one
likes to have in history; but when you mentioned every name,
the other day, and every date, and every little circumstance,
in their just order and sequence, I said to myself, this sounds
something like—this is history—this is putting it in a shape
that gives a man confidence; and I said to myself afterward, I
will just ask the Admiral if he is perfectly certain about the
details, and if he is I will come out and thank him for clearing
this matter up for me. And that is what I want to do now—
for until you set that matter right it was nothing but just a
confusion in my mind, without head or tail to it.”

Nobody ever saw the Admiral look so mollified before, and
so pleased. Nobody had ever received his bogus history as
gospel before; its genuineness had always been called in question
either by words or looks; but here was a man that not only
swallowed it all down, but was grateful for the dose. He was
taken a back; he hardly knew what to say; even his profanity


Page 451
failed him. Now, Williams continued, modestly and earnestly:

“But Admiral, in saying that this was the first stone thrown,
and that this precipitated the war, you have overlooked a circumstance
which you are perfectly familiar with, but which has
escaped your memory. Now I grant you that what you have
stated is correct in every detail—to wit: that on the 16th of
October, 1860, two Massachusetts clergymen, named Waite
and Granger, went in disguise to the house of John Moody, in
Rockport, at dead of night, and dragged forth two southern
women and their two little children, and after tarring and
feathering them conveyed them to Boston and burned them
alive in the State House square; and I also grant your proposition
that this deed is what led to the secession of South Carolina
on the 20th of December following. Very well.” [Here
the company were pleasantly surprised to hear Williams proceed
to come back at the Admiral with his own invincible weapon
—clean, pure, manufactured history, without a word of truth
in it.] “Very well, I say. But Admiral, why overlook the
Willis and Morgan case in South Carolina? You are too well
informed a man not to know all about that circumstance. Your
arguments and your conversations have shown you to be intimately
conversant with every detail of this national quarrel.
You develop matters of history every day that show plainly
that you are no smatterer in it, content to nibble about the
surface, but a man who has searched the depths and possessed
yourself of everything that has a bearing upon the great question.
Therefore, let me just recall to your mind that Willis
and Morgan case—though I see by your face that the whole
thing is already passing through your memory at this moment.
On the 12th of August, 1860, two months before the Waite
and Granger affair, two South Carolina clergymen, named John
H. Morgan and Winthrop L. Willis, one a Methodist and the
other an Old School Baptist, disguised themselves, and went
at midnight to the house of a planter named Thompson—
Archibald F. Thompson, Vice President under Thomas Jefferson,—and
took thence, at midnight, his widowed aunt, (a
Northern woman,) and her adopted child, an orphan named


Page 452
Mortimer Highie, afflicted with epilepsy and suffering at the
time from white swelling on one of his legs, and compelled to
walk on crutches in consequence; and the two ministers, in
spite of the pleadings of the victims, dragged them to the bush,
tarred and feathered them, and afterward burned them at the
stake in the city of Charleston. You remember perfectly well
what a stir it made; you remember perfectly well that even
the Charleston Courier stigmatized the act as being unpleasant,
of questionable propriety, and scarcely justifiable, and likewise
that it would not be matter of surprise if retaliation ensued.
And you remember also, that this thing was the cause of the
Massachusetts outrage. Who, indeed, were the two Massachusetts
ministers? and who were the two Southern women they
burned? I do not need to remind you, Admiral, with your
intimate knowledge of history, that Waite was the nephew of
the woman burned in Charleston; that Granger was her cousin
in the second degree, and that the woman they burned in Boston
was the wife of John H. Morgan, and the still loved but
divorced wife of Winthrop L. Willis. Now, Admiral, it is
only fair that you should acknowledge that the first provocation
came from the Southern preachers and that the Northern ones
were justified in retaliating. In your arguments you never
yet have shown the least disposition to withhold a just verdict
or be in anywise unfair, when authoritative history condemned
your position, and therefore I have no hesitation in asking you
to take the original blame from the Massachusetts ministers, in
this matter, and transfer it to the South Carolina clergymen
where it justly belongs.”

The Admiral was conquered. This sweet spoken creature
who swallowed his fraudulent history as if it were the bread
of life; basked in his furious blasphemy as if it were generous
sunshine; found only calm, even-handed justice in his rampart
partisanship; and flooded him with invented history so sugar-coated
with flattery and deference that there was no rejecting
it, was “too many” for him. He stammered some awkward,
profane sentences about the — — — — Willis and


Page 453
Morgan business having escaped his memory, but that he
“remembered it now,” and then, under pretence of giving Fan
some medicine for an imaginary cough, drew out of the battle
and went away, a vanquished man. Then cheers and laughter
went up, and Williams, the ship's benefactor was a hero. The
news went about the vessel, champagne was ordered, an enthusiastic
reception instituted
in the smoking
room, and everybody
flocked thither
to shake hands with
the conqueror. The
wheelsman said afterward,
that the
Admiral stood up
behind the pilot
house and “ripped
and cursed all to
himself” till he
loosened the smokestack
guys and becalmed
the mainsail.

The Admiral's
power was broken. After that, if he began an argument,
somebody would bring Williams, and the old man would grow
weak and begin to quiet down at once. And as soon as he was
done, Williams in his dulcet, insinuating way, would invent
some history (referring for proof, to the old man's own excellent
memory and to copies of “The Old Guard” known not
to be in his possession) that would turn the tables completely
and leave the Admiral all abroad and helpless. By and by
he came to so dread Williams and his gilded tongue that he
would stop talking when he saw him approach, and finally
ceased to mention politics altogether, and from that time forward
there was entire peace and serenity in the ship.