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Chapter 30

A PEEP THROUGH A PORT-HOLE AT THE SUBTERRANEAN PARTS OF A MAN-OF-WAR.


While now running rapidly away from the bitter coast of Patagonia,
battling with the night-watches--still cold--as best we may; come
under the lee of my white-jacket, reader, while I tell of the less
painful sights to be seen in a frigate.

A hint has already been conveyed concerning the subterranean
depths of the Neversink's hold. But there is no time here to
speak of the _spirit-room_, a cellar down in the after-hold,
where the sailor's "grog" is kept; nor of the _cabletiers_, where
the great hawsers and chains are piled, as you see them at a
large ship-chandler's on shore; nor of the grocer's vaults, where
tierces of sugar, molasses, vinegar, rice, and flour are snugly
stowed; nor of the _sail-room_, full as a sail-maker's loft
ashore--piled up with great top-sails and top-gallant-sails, all
ready-folded in their places, like so many white vests in a
gentleman's wardrobe; nor of the copper and copper-fastened
_magazine_, closely packed with kegs of powder, great-gun and
small-arm cartridges; nor of the immense _shot-lockers_, or
subterranean arsenals, full as a bushel of apples with twenty-
four-pound balls; nor of the _bread-room_, a large apartment,
tinned all round within to keep out the mice, where the hard
biscuit destined for the consumption of five hundred men on a
long voyage is stowed away by the cubic yard; nor of the vast
iron tanks for fresh water in the hold, like the reservoir lakes
at Fairmount, in Philadelphia; nor of the _paint-room_, where the
kegs of white-lead, and casks of linseed oil, and all sorts of
pots and brushes, are kept; nor of the _armoror's smithy_, where
the ship's forges and anvils may be heard ringing at times; I say
I have no time to speak of these things, and many more places of note.

But there is one very extensive warehouse among the rest that
needs special mention--_the ship's Yeoman's storeroom_. In the
Neversink it was down in the ship's basement, beneath the berth-
deck, and you went to it by way of the _Fore-passage_, a very
dim, devious corridor, indeed. Entering--say at noonday--you find
yourself in a gloomy apartment, lit by a solitary lamp. On one
side are shelves, filled with balls of _marline, ratlin-stuf,
seizing-stuff, spun-yarn_, and numerous twines of assorted sizes.
In another direction you see large cases containing heaps of
articles, reminding one of a shoemaker's furnishing-store--wooden
_serving-mallets, fids, toggles_, and _heavers:_ iron _prickers_
and _marling-spikes;_ in a third quarter you see a sort of
hardware shop--shelves piled with all manner of hooks, bolts,
nails, screws, and _thimbles;_ and, in still another direction,
you see a block-maker's store, heaped up with lignum-vitae
sheeves and wheels.

Through low arches in the bulkhead beyond, you peep in upon
distant vaults and catacombs, obscurely lighted in the far end,
and showing immense coils of new ropes, and other bulky articles,
stowed in tiers, all savouring of tar.

But by far the most curious department of these mysterious store-
rooms is the armoury, where the spikes, cutlasses, pistols, and
belts, forming the arms of the boarders in time of action, are
hung against the walls, and suspended in thick rows from the
beams overhead. Here, too, are to be seen scores of Colt's patent
revolvers, which, though furnished with but one tube, multiply
the fatal bullets, as the naval cat-o'-nine-tails, with a
cannibal cruelty, in one blow nine times multiplies a culprit's
lashes; so that when a sailor is ordered one dozen lashes, the
sentence should read one hundred and eight. All these arms are
kept in the brightest order, wearing a fine polish, and may truly
be said to _reflect_ credit on the Yeoman and his mates.

Among the lower grade of officers in a man-of-war, that of Yeoman
is not the least important. His responsibilities are denoted by
his pay. While the _petty officers_, quarter-gunners, captains of
the tops, and others, receive but fifteen and eighteen dollars a
month--but little more than a mere able seamen--the Yeoman in an
American line-of-battle ship receives forty dollars, and in a
frigate thirty-five dollars per month.

He is accountable for all the articles under his charge, and on
no account must deliver a yard of twine or a ten-penny nail to
the boatswain or carpenter, unless shown a written requisition
and order from the Senior Lieutenant. The Yeoman is to be found
burrowing in his underground store-rooms all the day long, in
readiness to serve licensed customers. But in the counter, behind
which he usually stands, there is no place for a till to drop the
shillings in, which takes away not a little from the most agreeable
part of a storekeeper's duties. Nor, among the musty, old account-books
in his desk, where he registers all expenditures of his stuffs, is there
any cash or check book.

The Yeoman of the Neversink was a somewhat odd specimen of a Troglodyte.
He was a little old man, round-shouldered, bald-headed, with great
goggle-eyes, looking through portentous round spectacles, which he
called his _barnacles_. He was imbued with a wonderful zeal for the
naval service, and seemed to think that, in keeping his pistols and
cutlasses free from rust, he preserved the national honour untarnished.
After _general quarters_, it was amusing to watch his anxious air
as the various _petty officers_ restored to him the arms used at
the martial exercises of the crew. As successive bundles would be
deposited on his counter, he would count over the pistols and
cutlasses, like an old housekeeper telling over her silver forks
and spoons in a pantry before retiring for the night. And often,
with a sort of dark lantern in his hand, he might be seen poking
into his furthest vaults and cellars, and counting over his great
coils of ropes, as if they were all jolly puncheons of old Port
and Madeira.

By reason of his incessant watchfulness and unaccountable bachelor
oddities, it was very difficult for him to retain in his employment
the various sailors who, from time to time, were billeted with him
to do the duty of subalterns. In particular, he was always desirous
of having at least one steady, faultless young man, of a literary
taste, to keep an eye to his account-books, and swab out the armoury
every morning. It was an odious business this, to be immured all day
in such a bottomless hole, among tarry old ropes and villainous guns
and pistols. It was with peculiar dread that I one day noticed the
goggle-eyes of _Old Revolver_, as they called him, fastened upon me
with a fatal glance of good-will and approbation. He had somehow
heard of my being a very learned person, who could both read and write
with extraordinary facility; and moreover that I was a rather reserved
youth, who kept his modest, unassuming merits in the background. But
though, from the keen sense of my situation as a man-of-war's-man all
this about my keeping myself in the _back_ ground was true enough, yet
I had no idea of hiding my diffident merits _under_ ground. I became
alarmed at the old Yeoman's goggling glances, lest he should drag me
down into tarry perdition in his hideous store-rooms. But this fate
was providentially averted, owing to mysterious causes which I never
could fathom.

Herman Melville