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Chapter 53


It has been said that some midshipmen, in certain cases, are
guilty of spiteful practices against the man-of-war's-man. But as
these midshipmen are presumed to have received the liberal and
lofty breeding of gentlemen, it would seem all but incredible
that any of their corps could descend to the paltriness of
cherishing personal malice against so conventionally degraded a
being as a sailor. So, indeed, it would seem. But when all the
circumstances are considered, it will not appear extraordinary
that some of them should thus cast discredit upon the warrants
they wear. Title, and rank, and wealth, and education cannot
unmake human nature; the same in cabin-boy and commodore, its
only differences lie in the different modes of development.

At sea, a frigate houses and homes five hundred mortals in a
space so contracted that they can hardly so much as move but they
touch. Cut off from all those outward passing things which ashore
employ the eyes, tongues, and thoughts of landsmen, the inmates
of a frigate are thrown upon themselves and each other, and all
their ponderings are introspective. A morbidness of mind is often
the consequence, especially upon long voyages, accompanied by foul
weather, calms, or head-winds. Nor does this exempt from its evil
influence any rank on board. Indeed, high station only ministers
to it the more, since the higher the rank in a man-of-war, the
less companionship.

It is an odious, unthankful, repugnant thing to dwell upon a
subject like this; nevertheless, be it said, that, through these
jaundiced influences, even the captain of a frigate is, in some
cases, indirectly induced to the infliction of corporal punishment
upon a seaman. Never sail under a navy captain whom you suspect
of being dyspeptic, or constitutionally prone to hypochondria.

The manifestation of these things is sometimes remarkable. In the
earlier part of the cruise, while making a long, tedious run from
Mazatlan to Callao on the Main, baffled by light head winds and
frequent intermitting calms, when all hands were heartily wearied
by the torrid, monotonous sea, a good-natured fore-top-man, by
the name of Candy--quite a character in his way--standing in the
waist among a crowd of seamen, touched me, and said, "D'ye see
the old man there, White-Jacket, walking the poop? Well, don't he
look as if he wanted to flog someone? Look at him once."

But to me, at least, no such indications were visible in the
deportment of the Captain, though his thrashing the arm-chest
with the slack of the spanker-out-haul looked a little suspicious.
But any one might have been doing that to pass away a calm.

"Depend on it," said the top-man, "he must somehow have thought I
was making sport of _him_ a while ago, when I was only taking off
old Priming, the gunner's mate. Just look at him once, White-Jacket,
while I make believe coil this here rope; if there arn't a dozen in
that 'ere Captain's top-lights, my name is _horse-marine_. If I could
only touch my tile to him now, and take my Bible oath on it, that I
was only taking off Priming, and not _him_, he wouldn't have such
hard thoughts of me. But that can't be done; he'd think I meant to
insult him. Well, it can't be helped; I suppose I must look out for
a baker's dozen afore long."

I had an incredulous laugh at this. But two days afterward, when
we were hoisting the main-top-mast stun'-sail, and the Lieutenant
of the Watch was reprimanding the crowd of seamen at the halyards
for their laziness--for the sail was but just crawling up to its
place, owing to the languor of the men, induced by the heat--the
Captain, who had been impatiently walking the deck, suddenly
stopped short, and darting his eyes among the seamen, suddenly
fixed them, crying out, "You, Candy, and be damned to you, you
don't pull an ounce, you blackguard! Stand up to that gun, sir;
I'll teach you to be grinning over a rope that way, without
lending your pound of beef to it. Boatswain's mate, where's your
_colt?_ Give that man a dozen."

Removing his hat, the boatswain's mate looked into the crown aghast;
the coiled rope, usually worn there, was not to be found; but the
next instant it slid from the top of his head to the deck. Picking
it up, and straightening it out, he advanced toward the sailor.

"Sir," said Candy, touching and retouching his cap to the Captain,
"I was pulling, sir, as much as the rest, sir; I was, indeed, sir."

"Stand up to that gun," cried the Captain. "Boatswain's mate, do
your duty."

Three stripes were given, when the Captain raised his finger.
"You------,[3] do you dare stand up to be flogged with your hat on!
Take it off, sir, instantly."

[FOOTNOTE-3] The phrase here used I have never seen either written
or printed, and should not like to be the first person to introduce
it to the public.

Candy dropped it on deck.

"Now go on, boatswain's mate." And the sailor received his dozen.

With his hand to his back he came up to me, where I stood among
the by-standers, saying, "O Lord, O Lord! that boatswain's mate,
too, had a spite agin me; he always thought it was _me_ that set
afloat that yarn about his wife in Norfolk. O Lord! just run your
hand under my shirt will you, White-Jacket? There!! didn't he
have a spite agin me, to raise such bars as them? And my shirt
all cut to pieces, too--arn't it, White-Jacket? Damn me, but
these coltings puts the tin in the Purser's pocket. O Lord! my
back feels as if there was a red-hot gridiron lashed to it. But I
told you so--a widow's curse on him, say I--he thought I meant
_him_, and not Priming."

Herman Melville