A REPORTED TALE OF A DUTCHMAN AND A PRIVATEER
Yes, a heap of folks have admired that teapot. Hundreds of pounds we must have been offered for it, first and last, since the night my wife’s grandfather, Captain John Tackabird–or Cap’n Jacka, as he was always called–brought it into the family over the back-garden wall, and his funny little wife went for him with the broom-handle. Poor souls, they were always a most affectionate couple, and religious too, but not much to look at; and when he took and died of a seizure in the Waterloo year she wasn’t long in following.
Ay, ay–very pleasant in their lives! though not what you would call lovely. I’ve heard that, through being allowed by his mother to run too soon, Tackabird’s legs grew up so bandy, the other children used to drive their hoops between them. And next, at fifteen, what must he do but upset a bee-skip! A bee stung him, and all his hair came off, and for three parts of his natural life be went about as bald as an egg. To cap everything, he’d scarcely began courting when he lost his left eye in a little job with the preventive men; but none of this seemed to make any difference to the woman. Peters her maiden name was–Mary Polly Peters; a little figure with beady black eyes. She believed that all Captain Jacka’s defects would be set right in another world, though not to hinder her recognising him; and meantime the more he got chipped about the more she doted on what was left of the man.
Everyone in Polperro respected the couple, for Mary Polly kept herself to herself, and Captain Jacka was known for the handiest man in the haven to run a Guernsey cargo or handle a privateer, and this though he took to privateering late in life, in the service of the “Hand and Glove” company of adventurers. By and by Mr. Zephaniah Job, who looked after these affairs in Polperro–free-trade and privateering both– started a second company called the “Pride of the West,” and put Captain Jacka to command their first ship, the old Pride lugger; a very good choice, seeing that for three years together he cleared over forty per cent. on the adventurers’ capital.
The more was his disappointment when they built a new lugger, the Unity, one hundred and sixty tons, and Job gave the command to a smart young fellow called Dick Hewitt, whose father held shares in the concern and money to buy votes beside. I’ve told you how Jacka swallowed his pride and sailed as mate under this Hewitt, and how he managed to heap coals of fire on the company’s head. Well that’s one story and this is another. I’m telling now of the second boat, when Captain Jacka, or, as you might say, Providence–for what happened was none of his seeking, and the old boy acted throughout as innocent as a sucking-child–left off shaming the company as honest men, and hit them slap in their pockets, where they could feel.
The bottom of the quarrel was that Mr. Job, the agent, took a dislike to Jacka. He was one of your sour, long-jawed sort, a bit of a lawyer, with a temper like Old Nick, and just the amount of decent feeling that makes a man the angrier for knowing he’s unjust, especially when the fellow that’s hit takes it smiling instead of cursing; and more especially still when he carries but one eye in his head, and be dashed if you can tell whether its twinkling back at you out of pure sweetness of nature or because it sees a joke of its own. I believe Captain Jacka twinkled back on Mr. Job as he twinkled on the rest of the world, willing to be friends and search for the best side of everyone, if he might be allowed. But Mr. Job couldn’t be sure of this, and I’m fain to admit the old boy was a trial to him, with his easy-going ways. Job, you see, was a stickler for order; kept his accounts like the Bank of England, all in the best penmanship, with black and red ink, and signed his name at the end with a beautiful flourish in the shape of a swan, all done with one stroke–he having been a school-master in his youth, and highly respected at it until his unfortunate temper made him shy a child out of window, which drove him out of the business, as such things will. In young Dick Hewitt he had a captain to his mind: soap and tidiness and punctuality, and oil and rotten-stone for the very gun-swivels; all the crew touching caps, and nerve and seamanship on top of all. Jacka admired the young spark, for all his boastfulness; for his own part he could do anything with a ship but keep her tidy. “What’s the use of giving yourself on-necessary work?” he’d say in his mild manner, if he saw one of his hands coiling a rope or housing a sail neatly. “We may be wantin’ it any minute, and then you’ll be sorry for labour thrown away.” The dirtiness of his decks was a caution, and this was the queerer because in his own parlour you might have eaten your dinner off the floor. “I reckon,” he’d explain, “when the Lord made sea and land He meant there should be a difference, and likewise when He made man and woman,” and stuck to his untidiness afloat because it made him the gladder to be at home again. Mary Polly, though she lived within forty yards of the sea, and was proud of her husband as any mortal woman, would never step on board a boat. The sight of one (she declared) turned her stomach, and she married their only child to a house-decorator.