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Chapter 1

THE JACKET.


It was not a _very_ white jacket, but white enough, in all conscience,
as the sequel will show.

The way I came by it was this.

When our frigate lay in Callao, on the coast of Peru--her last
harbour in the Pacific--I found myself without a _grego_, or
sailor's surtout; and as, toward the end of a three years' cruise,
no pea-jackets could be had from the purser's steward: and being
bound for Cape Horn, some sort of a substitute was indispensable;
I employed myself, for several days, in manufacturing an outlandish
garment of my own devising, to shelter me from the boisterous weather
we were so soon to encounter.

It was nothing more than a white duck frock, or rather shirt:
which, laying on deck, I folded double at the bosom, and by then
making a continuation of the slit there, opened it lengthwise--
much as you would cut a leaf in the last new novel. The gash
being made, a metamorphosis took place, transcending any related
by Ovid. For, presto! the shirt was a coat!--a strange-looking
coat, to be sure; of a Quakerish amplitude about the skirts; with
an infirm, tumble-down collar; and a clumsy fullness about the
wristbands; and white, yea, white as a shroud. And my shroud it
afterward came very near proving, as he who reads further will find.

But, bless me, my friend, what sort of a summer jacket is this,
in which to weather Cape Horn? A very tasty, and beautiful white
linen garment it may have seemed; but then, people almost
universally sport their linen next to their skin.

Very true; and that thought very early occurred to me; for no
idea had I of scudding round Cape Horn in my shirt; for _that_
would have been almost scudding under bare poles, indeed.

So, with many odds and ends of patches--old socks, old trowser-
legs, and the like--I bedarned and bequilted the inside of my
jacket, till it became, all over, stiff and padded, as King
James's cotton-stuffed and dagger-proof doublet; and no buckram
or steel hauberk stood up more stoutly.

So far, very good; but pray, tell me, White-Jacket, how do you
propose keeping out the rain and the wet in this quilted _grego_
of yours? You don't call this wad of old patches a Mackintosh, do
you?----you don't pretend to say that worsted is water-proof?

No, my dear friend; and that was the deuce of it. Waterproof it
was not, no more than a sponge. Indeed, with such recklessness
had I bequilted my jacket, that in a rain-storm I became a
universal absorber; swabbing bone-dry the very bulwarks I leaned
against. Of a damp day, my heartless shipmates even used to stand
up against me, so powerful was the capillary attraction between
this luckless jacket of mine and all drops of moisture. I dripped
like a turkey a roasting; and long after the rain storms were
over, and the sun showed his face, I still stalked a Scotch mist;
and when it was fair weather with others, alas! it was foul
weather with me.

_Me?_ Ah me! Soaked and heavy, what a burden was that jacket to
carry about, especially when I was sent up aloft; dragging myself
up step by step, as if I were weighing the anchor. Small time
then, to strip, and wring it out in a rain, when no hanging back
or delay was permitted. No, no; up you go: fat or lean: Lambert
or Edson: never mind how much avoirdupois you might weigh. And
thus, in my own proper person, did many showers of rain reascend
toward the skies, in accordance with the natural laws.

But here be it known, that I had been terribly disappointed in
carrying out my original plan concerning this jacket. It had been
my intention to make it thoroughly impervious, by giving it a
coating of paint, But bitter fate ever overtakes us unfortunates.
So much paint had been stolen by the sailors, in daubing their
overhaul trowsers and tarpaulins, that by the time I--an
honest man--had completed my quiltings, the paint-pots were
banned, and put under strict lock and key.

Said old Brush, the captain of the _paint-room_-- "Look ye,
White-Jacket," said he, "ye can't have any paint."

Such, then, was my jacket: a well-patched, padded, and porous
one; and in a dark night, gleaming white as the White Lady of
Avenel!

Herman Melville