the story of the deckhand who pretended to be a sea-captain
as related to me by the sea-captain M.— C.—, in a tavern in the port of Hamburg, in the summer of the year before the plague
Once upon a time the charter tallship A.— was moored in the port of T.— in the mountainous fjords of the far north. Upon completing their duties in between sailing-trips, the crew of this ship was accustomed to taking their repose in an establishment famous among seafaring persons for its mightily strong and heavily discounted gin-and-tonics. On the particular evening that concerns our story, a fetching young French lady tourist was also availing herself of the liquid charms of that fine grog-shop.
Now it so happened that this young lady had quite got it into her head that she should like to spend a while in the company of a sea-captain. Having determined that the recently arrived custom did indeed comprise a sailing-crew, she approached the skipper and reported to him that, in the event he was the captain of the tallship A.—, he would be permitted to purchase her a drink.
This fellow was no stranger to the company of fetching young ladies with proclivities for sea-captains, but after a day of strenuous labor he preferred to commingle further with the discount gin-and-tonics. “In fact, I am not the captain of the sailing vessel A.—,” he replied. He pointed to the deckhand. “The captain is that fine young man in the corner.” So the lady left the captain to his discount gin-and-tonics and approached the deckhand with the same proposal.
Some time later the deckhand came to the captain atremble in his boots. “Come, sirrah,” cried the captain, “what is amiss?” “Captain,” replied the deckhand, “I have spent a wonderful eventide in the company of a fetching young French lady, and she has expressed an interest in retiring with me to my cabin, but I am afraid there is a problem.” “Aha!” cried the captain, “is the problem that you have led this fetching young French lady to believe that you are the captain of our beloved ship, the mighty barquentine A.—?” “Yes, Captain,” quavered the deckhand, “that is the problem.” “Come, my good man,” said the captain, laying his hand upon the deckhand’s quaking shoulder, “I assure you, that is hardly a problem at all.”
And so the captain radioed ahead to the sailing-vessel A.— and caused it to be arranged that for the remainder of the evening the deckhand should be addressed by all the crew as “Captain,” and that the deckhand should have the use of the captain’s own quarters, while the captain himself slept in the deckhand’s humble bunk among the mates. Thus when the deckhand returned to the ship with the fetching young French lady all the crew there saluted him and called him “Captain” and “Sir” and “My lord,” and the first mate went so far as to offer the deckhand and his guest a bottle of champagne, although when the fetching young French lady acquiesced to this largesse the first mate was obliged to run to the galley and call the captain for permission. “Well, I suppose if the bottle is already open and about to go flat anyway that would be all right,” the captain replied.
So the deckhand and his guest retired anon to the captain’s capacious cabin with a (slightly flat) bottle of champagne, and although only the deckhand and the fetching young French lady know what transpired there, we might assume that the deckhand at least had a splendid time.
In the morning the captain called the crew to assemble. When the deckhand arrived with the fetching young French lady at his side, the crew resumed addressing him as “Captain,” and asked what his orders would be for the day and so on, and the fetching young French lady gazed upon the deckhand with great admiration, and clasped his arm, and looked down her fetching French nose at the other crew, so pleased was she to have secured the company of a sea-captain.
But then! came the ship’s cook to this congress, who had spent the entirety of the previous day on leave, and was unaware of all that had come to pass. “Captain,” said the cook to the captain, “I have returned, and I shall go now and arrange the victualling for our next charter.” This pronouncement was followed by a painful silence. The fetching young French lady looked from the captain to the deckhand in such confusion that the cook realized some mishap had occurred. “Captain,” said the cook to the captain, “have I done something untoward?” “I am afraid so,” said the captain, “but never you mind. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea!”
At this the fetching young French lady realized her swain was no captain, but the lowliest of deckhands, who had duped her with a fine trickery. Verily she cried out in disgust, and hastened herself away from the ship in a terrible rage, and as far as I know she was never heard from in those parts again.
That is the story of the deckhand who pretended to be a sea-captain in the harbor of T.—. Let it be a lesson to all in the perils of deceit.