Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 58

A QUARTER-DECK OFFICER BEFORE THE MAST.


As we were somewhat short-handed while we lay in Rio, we received
a small draft of men from a United States sloop of war, whose
three years' term of service would expire about the time of our
arrival in America.

Under guard of an armed Lieutenant and four midshipmen, they came
on board in the afternoon. They were immediately mustered in the
starboard gangway, that Mr. Bridewell, our First Lieutenant, might
take down their names, and assign them their stations.

They stood in a mute and solemn row; the officer advanced, with his
memorandum-book and pencil.

My casual friend, Shakings, the holder, happened to be by at the
time. Touching my arm, he said, "White-Jacket, this here reminds
me of Sing-Sing, when a draft of fellows in darbies, came on from
the State Prison at Auburn for a change of scene like, you know!"

After taking down four or five names, Mr. Bridewell accosted the
next man, a rather good-looking person, but, from his haggard
cheek and sunken eye, he seemed to have been in the sad habit,
all his life, of sitting up rather late at night; and though all
sailors do certainly keep late hours enough--standing watches at
midnight--yet there is no small difference between keeping late
hours at sea and keeping late hours ashore.

"What's your name?" asked the officer, of this rather rakish-
looking recruit.

"Mandeville, sir," said the man, courteously touching his cap.
"You must remember me, sir," he added, in a low, confidential
tone, strangely dashed with servility; "we sailed together once
in the old Macedonian, sir. I wore an epaulet then; we had the
same state-room, you know, sir. I'm your old chum, Mandeville,
sir," and he again touched his cap.

"I remember an _officer_ by that name," said the First Lieutenant,
emphatically, "and I know _you_, fellow. But I know you henceforth
for a common sailor. I can show no favouritism here. If you ever
violate the ship's rules, you shall be flogged like any other
seaman. I place you in the fore-top; go forward to your duty."

It seemed this Mandeville had entered the Navy when very young,
and had risen to be a lieutenant, as he said. But brandy had been
his bane. One night, when he had the deck of a line-of-battle
ship, in the Mediterranean, he was seized with a fit of mania-a-
potu, and being out of his senses for the time, went below and
turned into his berth, leaving the deck without a commanding
officer. For this unpardonable offence he was broken.

Having no fortune, and no other profession than the sea, upon his
disgrace he entered the merchant-service as a chief mate; but his love
of strong drink still pursuing him, he was again cashiered at sea, and
degraded before the mast by the Captain. After this, in a state of
intoxication, he re-entered the Navy at Pensacola as a common sailor.
But all these lessons, so biting-bitter to learn, could not cure him
of his sin. He had hardly been a week on board the Neversink, when he
was found intoxicated with smuggled spirits. They lashed him to the
gratings, and ignominiously scourged him under the eye of his old
friend and comrade, the First Lieutenant.

This took place while we lay in port, which reminds me of the
circumstance, that when punishment is about to be inflicted in
harbour, all strangers are ordered ashore; and the sentries at the
side have it in strict charge to waive off all boats drawing near.

Herman Melville