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The Captain's Story

Story


There was a good deal of pleasant gossip about old Captain 'Hurricane'
Jones, of the Pacific Ocean--peace to his ashes! Two or three of us
present had known him; I, particularly well, for I had made four sea-
voyages with him. He was a very remarkable man. He was born on a ship;
he picked up what little education he had among his ship-mates; he began
life in the forecastle, and climbed grade by grade to the captaincy.
More than fifty years of his sixty-five were spent at sea. He had sailed
all oceans, seen all lands, and borrowed a tint from all climates. When
a man has been fifty years at sea, he necessarily knows nothing of men,
nothing of the world but its surface, nothing of the world's thought,
nothing of the world's learning but it's a B C, and that blurred and
distorted by the unfocussed lenses of an untrained mind. Such a man is
only a gray and bearded child. That is what old Hurricane Jones was--
simply an innocent, lovable old infant. When his spirit was in repose he
was as sweet and gentle as a girl; when his wrath was up he was a
hurricane that made his nickname seem tamely descriptive. He was
formidable in a fight, for he was of powerful build and dauntless
courage. He was frescoed from head to heel with pictures and mottoes
tattooed in red and blue India ink. I was with him one voyage when he
got his last vacant space tattooed; this vacant space was around his left
ankle. During three days he stumped about the ship with his ankle bare
and swollen, and this legend gleaming red and angry out from a clouding
of India ink: 'Virtue is its own R'd.' (There was a lack of room.) He
was deeply and sincerely pious, and swore like a fish-woman. He
considered swearing blameless, because sailors would not understand an
order unillumined by it. He was a profound Biblical scholar--that is, he
thought he was. He believed everything in the Bible, but he had his own
methods of arriving at his beliefs. He was of the 'advanced' school of
thinkers, and applied natural laws to the interpretation of all miracles,
somewhat on the plan of the people who make the six days of creation six
geological epochs, and so forth. Without being aware of it, he was a
rather severe satirist on modern scientific religionists. Such a man as
I have been describing is rabidly fond of disquisition and argument; one
knows that without being told it.

One trip the captain had a clergyman on board, but did not know he was a
clergyman, since the passenger list did not betray the fact. He took a
great liking to this Rev. Mr. Peters, and talked with him a great deal:
told him yarns, gave him toothsome scraps of personal history, and wove a
glittering streak of profanity through his garrulous fabric that was
refreshing to a spirit weary of the dull neutralities of undecorated
speech. One day the captain said, 'Peters, do you ever read the Bible?'

'Well--yes.'

'I judge it ain't often, by the way you say it. Now, you tackle it in
dead earnest once, and you'll find it'll pay. Don't you get discouraged,
but hang right on. First you won't understand it; but by-and-by things
will begin to clear up, and then you wouldn't lay it down to ^^^ear.'

'Yes, I have heard that said.'

'And it's so too. There ain't a book that begins with it. It lays over
'em all, Peters. There's some pretty tough things in it--there ain't any
getting around that--but you stick to them and think them out, and when
once you get on the inside everything's plain as day.'

'The miracles, too, captain?'

'Yes, sir! the miracles, too. Every one of them. Now, there's that
business with the prophets of Baal; like enough that stumped you?'

'Well, I don't know but--'

'Own up, now; it stumped you. Well, I don't wonder. You hadn't any
experience in ravelling such things out, and naturally it was too many
for you. Would you like to have me explain that thing to you, and show
you how to get at the meat of these matters?'

'Indeed, I would, captain, if you don't mind.'

Then the captain proceeded as follows: 'I'll do it with pleasure. First,
you see, I read and read, and thought and thought, till I got to
understand what sort of people they were in the old Bible times, and then
after that it was clear and easy. Now, this was the way I put it up,
concerning Isaac[1] and the prophets of Baal. There was some mighty
sharp men amongst the public characters of that old ancient day, and
Isaac was one of them. Isaac had his failings--plenty of them, too; it
ain't for me to apologise for Isaac; he played a cold deck on the
prophets of Baal, and like enough he was justifiable, considering the
odds that was against him. No, all I say it, 't' wa'n't any miracle, and
that I'll show you so's 't you can see it yourself.

'Well, times had been getting rougher and rougher for prophets--that is,
prophets of Isaac's denomination. There were four hundred and fifty
prophets of Baal in the community, and only one Presbyterian; that is, if
Isaac was a Presbyterian, which I reckon he was, but it don't say.
Naturally, the prophets of Baal took all the trade. Isaac was pretty low
spirited, I reckon, but he was a good deal of a man, and no doubt he went
a-prophesying around, letting on to be doing a land-office business, but
't' wa'n't any use; he couldn't run any opposition to amount to anything.
By-and-by things got desperate with him; he sets his head to work and
thinks it all out, and then what does he do? Why he begins to throw out
hints that the other parties are this and that and t'other,--nothing very
definite, may be, but just kind of undermining their reputation in a
quiet way. This made talk, of course, and finally got to the King. The
King asked Isaac what he meant by his talk. Says Isaac, "Oh, nothing
particular; only, can they pray down fire from heaven on an altar? It
ain't much, maybe, your majesty, only can they do it? That's the idea."
So the King was a good deal disturbed, and he went to the prophets of
Baal, and they said, pretty airy, that if he had an altar ready, they
were ready; and they intimated he better get it insured, too.

'So next morning all the Children of Israel and their parents and the
other people gathered themselves together. Well, here was that great
crowd of prophets of Baal packed together on one side, and Isaac walking
up and down all alone on the other, putting up his job. When time was
called, Isaac let on to be comfortable and indifferent; told the other
team to take the first innings. So they went at it, the whole four
hundred and fifty, praying around the altar, very hopefully, and doing
their level best. They prayed an hour--two hours--three hours--and so
on, plumb till noon. It wa'n't any use; they hadn't took a trick. Of
course they felt kind of ashamed before all those people, and well they
might. Now, what would a magnanimous man do? Keep still, wouldn't he?
Of course. What did Isaac do? He graveled the prophets of Baal every
way he could think of. Says he, "You don't speak up loud enough; your
god's asleep, like enough, or may be he's taking a walk; you want to
holler, you know," or words to that effect; I don't recollect the exact
language. Mind I don't apologise for Isaac; he had his faults.

'Well, the prophets of Baal prayed along the best they knew how all the
afternoon, and never raised a spark. At last, about sundown, they were
all tuckered out, and they owned up and quit.

'What does Isaac do, now? He steps up and says to some friends of his,
there, "Pour four barrels of water on the altar!" Everybody was
astonished; for the other side had prayed at it dry, you know, and got
whitewashed. They poured it on. Says he, "Heave on four more barrels."
Then he says, "Heave on four more." Twelve barrels, you see, altogether.
The water ran all over the altar, and all down the sides, and filled up a
trench around it that would hold a couple of hogsheads--"measures," it
says: I reckon it means about a hogshead. Some of the people were going
to put on their things and go, for they allowed he was crazy. They
didn't know Isaac. Isaac knelt down and began to pray: he strung along,
and strung along, about the heathen in distant lands, and about the
sister churches, and about the state and the country at large, and about
those that's in authority in the government, and all the usual programme,
you know, till everybody had got tired and gone to thinking about
something else, and then, all of a sudden, when nobody was noticing, he
outs with a match and rakes it on the under side of his leg, and pff! up
the whole thing blazes like a house afire! Twelve barrels of water?
Petroleum, sir, PETROLEUM! that's what it was!'

'Petroleum, captain?'

'Yes, sir; the country was full of it. Isaac knew all about that. You
read the Bible. Don't you worry about the tough places. They ain't
tough when you come to think them out and throw light on them. There
ain't a thing in the Bible but what is true; all you want is to go
prayerfully to work and cipher out how 'twas done.'

[1] This is the captain's own mistake.












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