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Chapter 51


We had not lain in Rio long, when in the innermost recesses of
the mighty soul of my noble Captain of the Top--incomparable Jack
Chase--the deliberate opinion was formed, and rock-founded, that
our ship's company must have at least one day's "_liberty_" to go
ashore ere we weighed anchor for home.

Here it must be mentioned that, concerning anything of this kind,
no sailor in a man-of-war ever presumes to be an agitator, unless
he is of a rank superior to a mere able-seaman; and no one short
of a petty officer--that is, a captain of the top, a quarter-
gunner, or boatswain's mate--ever dreams of being a spokesman to
the supreme authority of the vessel in soliciting any kind of
favor for himself and shipmates.

After canvassing the matter thoroughly with several old quarter-
masters and other dignified sea-fencibles, Jack, hat in hand,
made his appearance, one fine evening, at the mast, and, waiting
till Captain Claret drew nigh, bowed, and addressed him in his
own off-hand, polished, and poetical style. In his intercourse
with the quarter-deck, he always presumed upon his being such a
universal favourite.

"Sir, this Rio is a charming harbour, and we poor mariners--your
trusty sea-warriors, valiant Captain! who, with _you_ at their
head, would board the Rock of Gibraltar itself, and carry it by
storm--we poor fellows, valiant Captain! have gazed round upon
this ravishing landscape till we can gaze no more. Will Captain
Claret vouchsafe one day's liberty, and so assure himself of
eternal felicity, since, in our flowing cups, he will be ever
after freshly remembered?"

As Jack thus rounded off with a snatch from Shakspeare, he
saluted the Captain with a gallant flourish of his tarpaulin, and
then, bringing the rim to his mouth, with his head bowed, and his
body thrown into a fine negligent attitude, stood a picture of
eloquent but passive appeal. He seemed to say, Magnanimous
Captain Claret, we fine fellows, and hearts of oak, throw
ourselves upon your unparalleled goodness.

"And what do you want to go ashore for?" asked the Captain,
evasively, and trying to conceal his admiration of Jack by
affecting some haughtiness.

"Ah! sir," sighed Jack, "why do the thirsty camels of the desert
desire to lap the waters of the fountain and roll in the green
grass of the oasis? Are we not but just from the ocean Sahara?
and is not this Rio a verdant spot, noble Captain? Surely you
will not keep us always tethered at anchor, when a little more
cable would admit of our cropping the herbage! And it is a weary
thing, Captain Claret, to be imprisoned month after month on the
gun-deck, without so much as smelling a citron. Ah! Captain Claret,
what sings sweet Waller:

'But who can always on the billows lie?
The watery wilderness yields no supply.'
compared with such a prisoner, noble Captain,
'Happy, thrice happy, who, in battle slain,
Press'd in Atrides' cause the Trojan pain!'
Pope's version, sir, not the original Greek."

And so saying, Jack once more brought his hat-rim to his mouth,
and slightly bending forward, stood mute.

At this juncture the Most Serene Commodore himself happened to
emerge from the after-gangway, his gilded buttons, epaulets, and
the gold lace on his chapeau glittering in the flooding sunset.
Attracted by the scene between Captain Claret and so well-known
and admired a commoner as Jack Chase he approached, and assuming
for the moment an air of pleasant condescension--never shown to
his noble barons the officers of the ward-room--he said, with a
smile, "Well, Jack, you and your shipmates are after some favour,
I suppose--a day's liberty, is it not?"

Whether it was the horizontal setting sun, streaming along the
deck, that blinded Jack, or whether it was in sun-worshipping
homage of the mighty Commodore, there is no telling; but just at
this juncture noble Jack was standing reverentially holding his
hat to his brow, like a man with weak eyes.

"Valiant Commodore," said he, at last, "this audience is indeed
an honour undeserved. I almost sink beneath it. Yes, valiant
Commodore, your sagacious mind has truly divined our object.
Liberty, sir; liberty is, indeed, our humble prayer. I trust your
honourable wound, received in glorious battle, valiant Comodore,
pains you less today than common."

"Ah! cunning Jack!" cried the Commodore, by no means blind to the
bold sortie of his flattery, but not at all displeased with it.
In more respects than one, our Commodore's wound was his weak side.

"I think we must give them liberty," he added, turning to Captain
Claret; who thereupon, waving Jack further off, fell into
confidential discourse with his superior.

"Well, Jack, we will see about it," at last cried the Commodore,
advancing. "I think we must let you go."

"To your duty, captain of the main-top!" said the Captain, rather
stiffly. He wished to neutralise somewhat the effect of the
Commodore's condescension. Besides, he had much rather the
Commodore had been in his cabin. His presence, for the time,
affected his own supremacy in his ship. But Jack was nowise cast
down by the Captain's coldness; he felt safe enough; so he
proceeded to offer his acknowledgments.

"'Kind gentlemen,'" he sighed, "your pains are registered where
every day I turn the leaf to read'--Macbeth, valiant Commodore and
Captain!--what the Thane says to the noble lords, Ross and Angus."

And long and lingeringly bowing to the two noble officers, Jack
backed away from their presence, still shading his eyes with the
broad rim of his hat.

"Jack Chase for ever!" cried his shipmates, as he carried the
grateful news of liberty to them on the forecastle. "Who can talk
to Commodores like our matchless Jack!"

Herman Melville