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Chapter 78

DISMAL TIMES IN THE MESS.


It was on the first day of the long, hot calm which we had on the
Equator, that a mess-mate of mine, by the name of Shenly, who had
been for some weeks complaining, at length went on the sick-list.

An old gunner's mate of the mess--Priming, the man with the hare-
lip, who, true to his tribe, was charged to the muzzle with bile,
and, moreover, rammed home on top of it a wad of sailor
superstition--this gunner's mate indulged in some gloomy and
savage remarks--strangely tinged with genuine feeling and grief--
at the announcement of the sick-ness of Shenly, coming as it did
not long after the almost fatal accident befalling poor Baldy,
captain of the mizzen-top, another mess-mate of ours, and the
dreadful fate of the amputated fore-top-man whom we buried in
Rio, also our mess-mate.

We were cross-legged seated at dinner, between the guns, when the
sad news concerning Shenly was first communicated.

"I know'd it, I know'd it," said Priming, through his nose.
"Blast ye, I told ye so; poor fellow! But dam'me, I know'd it.
This comes of having _thirteen_ in the mess. I hope he arn't
dangerous, men? Poor Shenly! But, blast it, it warn't till White-
Jacket there comed into the mess that these here things began. I
don't believe there'll be more nor three of us left by the time
we strike soundings, men. But how is he now? Have you been down
to see him, any on ye? Damn you, you Jonah! I don't see how you
can sleep in your hammock, knowing as you do that by making an
odd number in the mess you have been the death of one poor
fellow, and ruined Baldy for life, and here's poor Shenly keeled
up. Blast you, and your jacket, say I."

"My dear mess-mate," I cried, "don't blast me any more, for
Heaven's sale. Blast my jacket you may, and I'll join you in
_that;_ but don't blast _me;_ for if you do, I shouldn't wonder
if I myself was the next man to keel up."

"Gunner's mate!" said Jack Chase, helping himself to a slice of
beef, and sandwiching it between two large biscuits--"Gunner's
mate! White-Jacket there is my particular friend, and I would
take it as a particular favour if you would _knock off_ blasting
him. It's in bad taste, rude, and unworthy a gentleman."

"Take your back away from that 'ere gun-carriage, will ye now,
Jack Chase?" cried Priming, in reply, just then Jack happening to
lean up against it. "Must I be all the time cleaning after you
fellows? Blast ye! I spent an hour on that 'ere gun-carriage this
very mornin'. But it all comes of White-Jacket there. If it
warn't for having one too many, there wouldn't be any crowding
and jamming in the mess. I'm blessed if we ar'n't about chock a'
block here! Move further up there, I'm sitting on my leg!"

"For God's sake, gunner's mate," cried I, "if it will content
you, I and my jacket will leave the mess."

"I wish you would, and be ------ to you!" he replied.

"And if he does, you will mess alone, gunner's mate," said Jack
Chase.

"That you will," cried all.

"And I wish to the Lord you'd let me!" growled Priming,
irritably rubbing his head with the handle of his sheath-knife.

"You are an old bear, gunner's mate," said Jack Chase.

"I am an old Turk," he replied, drawing the flat blade of his knife
between his teeth, thereby producing a whetting, grating sound.

"Let him alone, let him alone, men," said Jack Chase. "Only keep
off the tail of a rattlesnake, and he'll not rattle."

"Look out he don't bite, though," said Priming, snapping his
teeth; and with that he rolled off, growling as he went.

Though I did my best to carry off my vexation with an air of
indifference, need I say how I cursed my jacket, that it thus
seemed the means of fastening on me the murder of one of my
shipmates, and the probable murder of two more. For, had it not
been for my jacket, doubtless, I had yet been a member of my old
mess, and so have escaped making the luckless odd number among
my present companions.

All I could say in private to Priming had no effect; though I
often took him aside, to convince him of the philosophical
impossibility of my having been accessary to the misfortunes of
Baldy, the buried sailor in Rio, and Shenly. But Priming knew
better; nothing could move him; and he ever afterward eyed me as
virtuous citizens do some notorious underhand villain going
unhung of justice.

Jacket! jacket! thou hast much to answer for, jacket!

Herman Melville