Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Cabin Boy (part 2)

Chapter 1

Captain Harry Stowe strolled along the harbour surveying the landscape with more than his usual exuberant step. Workmen clamoured to be heard above the din of the harbour side, always busy with fresh cargo to be exported, as well as exotic spices to be hauled away. The marketing stalls at the side produced an intensity of noise no less than the workmen. The stall owners could be heard bartering their goods, usually those provided by the ocean, with the women folk of the nearby village, who held ever penny they had with a tight fist. At the price agreed, they carefully counted the coins and handed them over, with a slight smile at their expertise of procuring their day’s meal at a good bargain. Whereupon on the leave of the ladies, the stall owner would dance a little jig for joy at his superior business abilities, having gotten more than what he had hoped for. It was not a bad scene, since both parties were satisfied with the outcome.

Captain Stowe had a particular gait uncommon among the men of his class. Merchants and workmen need only to hear the vigorous and purposeful stride along the wharf before lifting their heads in greeting to the indefatigable Captain. Yes, Captain Stowe was respected all along the harbour and surrounding villages for an honest and upright name. Those who knew him testified of his uprightness and generosity. While it was true that he demanded much from everyone- including himself, Captain Stowe, always the first at a troubled scene, ready to lend a spacious hand to those less fortunate than he, established his good name by compassion. His deep blue eyes were often found twinkling in amusement at the delight of the village children who had just received a penny from ‘the fun man’; his home often the sanctuary of the sick or injured, and his energies drained frequently in search of jobs for the unemployed. Having established his character, let us move on to his uncommon cause of gaiety today.

The object of Captain Stowe’s excessive animation became apparent as he hurried down the steps and paused along the footpath. Out in the distance, half blanketed by the light mist lay a beautiful little steamer which gleamed in the morning light. Freshly painted and refurbished, the gay vessel fairly sparkled. The Captain was astonished at the change worked in so few days. It was bought from an old skipper, who was wroth to part with his treasure. Only with the extraction of a promise to cherish the craft all its days would the skipper begin to consider selling it. Already, the Captain found it no hard task to keep his promise. The name ‘Lady Mabel’ beckoned to the Captain. Quickening his steps, the Captain closed the distance between the boat and him.

A shout of, “Captain’s here!”, greeted him as he appeared on the gangway.

“How’s it all going, my lads?” inquired the Captain cheerily of his crew.

“Fine, sir,” replied the foreman, with the others nodding their heads in unison. It was then that the Captain noticed a youth slouching by the deck.

“Why, what have we here? A boy! Perhaps the son of one of you lads?”

“No, Captain. This here lad came early this mornin’ skulking ‘round here. Asked ‘im what ‘e wanted, and all I’s got is he wants to see the Capt’n.” responded the foreman with facial grimaces comical to see, as he smiled at the boy.

“Yes, boy, what can I do for you, son?” asked the Captain, motioning with his hand to signal to the lad to come forward.

A most unprepossessing boy appeared, with his dirty shock of red hair, grimy fingers and rags for clothes. Moreover, the black eyes glared defiance at the Captain was enough to put off anyone. Anyone, that is, except the Captain. What others detested in the boy only served heighten the sympathy of the Captain. He took of his coat and wrapped it around the shivering boy. Placing an arm around the boy’s shoulders, he prompted again,


“I want a job,” mumbled the youth sulkily. “And I don’t need this” said the ungrateful boy as he shook off the kind arm around his shoulders and returned the coat. “I’m tougher ‘an you all,” he sneered.

“Well, boy- by the way- you haven’t given me your name.”

“Jim Stebbler.”

Memories struggled to rise in the Captain’s mind. Jim Stebbler? Wasn’t he the thieving lout by the alleyway, the scum of the village, and the partaker of the worst possible company? He had never worked before, so why now? Was he up to more mischief? Jim saw the hesitancy in the Captain’s expressive face. Laughing loudly, in a tone which brooked ill for everyone there, he retaliated,

“You’re too good for Jim Stebbler, are ya?” Well, well, we’ll see. Me who’s always a-thievin’ in the alley and want honest work fer a change; me who’s avoided by everyone cause I stink, and as likely ter nick a few coins for a living; me who’s got no friends ter talk to, so that I welcome any who’d talk to a fella like me- yes, I’m too dirty for the likes of you!” He spat on the floor.


He had turned away and was shuffling off when the Captain called his name. Reluctantly, he came back. The Captain thought long and hard. Everyone waited in silence and anticipation at the Captain for his decision. The all thought that the boy’s words had stung the pride of the Captain, and anxious to prove his justice and generosity, would be forced to accept the demands of the boy. But the truth couldn’t be further from that. In fact, he was thinking of his own past some years back, not unlike the sad spectacle before him, going his own way without father or mother, until a kind benefactor picked him up, and pointed him in the heavenly direction which made him into the man he was today. The remembrance stirred him. He had to do something for the lad, something to help him on his way. But what? Offer him a job aboard the ship, a brand new vessel, and his pride and joy? Slowly, the Captain’s furrowed brows smoothed out, and his clouded eyes cleared. Selfless blue eyes met defiant black eyes before he spoke.

“Jim, I offer you the position of cabin boy on my ship. Your duties would be to wait on me, help the cook serve the dishes and wait on others at the table, and tidy the deck every day. Also, your tasks will include scrubbing the cabins, toilets and bunk rooms every day. You may also have the position of valet to me. In return for your service, you will have food and lodging, and be paid a pound a week.”

At this, murmurs ran through the sailors. Cabin boys were never paid this much or even treated this well. Food and lodging coupled with a pound a week in the deal! And to be a valet of the master, why that was an honour to die for!

“Do you understand?” the Captain clarified.


“Of course, however,” continued the Captain once the boy understood his responsibilities, “there are rules for the crew of my boat that you might as well be told of now. These are formed to ensure the safety and happiness of everyone on the ship. Whoever breaks the rules will be punished accordingly. The first rule is kindness. Kindness to everyone and everything is mandatory. The second is honesty. Every man has his share and no more. No stealing or deceitfulness on board this ship. It will not be tolerated. The third rule is orderliness and punctuality. Everyone on the ship has a schedule, that I expect to be followed so that the ship may be run smoothly. The 4th rule: no swearing or using of God’s name in vain. 5th: Respect for the people of different races and for the property of others. As cabin boy in a ship, you may expect much travelling to foreign lands, and meeting of people with cultures much different from yours. My men must learn to accept that and not mock those, for all are equal creatures in God’s sight. The 6th rule is diligence. Hard work always has its own rewards. The last rule is not a rule in the sense of the word, but an obligation that I expect to be minded. This last is that everyone on board ‘Lady Mabel’ has to drop work at 7pm at to attend the evening service held every day by the chaplain. Are all that I have mentioned clear to you, Jim?”

“Yes Captain.”

“Excellent. I think we would get one well enough. Welcome aboard the ‘Lady Mabel’!!” announced Captain Stowe.

Cheers met the boy as he climbed up the deck. Even though the men had their own doubts and reservation as to the wisdom of the Captain’s decision, they respected the Captain, and were sincerely glad for the boy. They pitied him, and prayed fervently that he too might find the saving power and love of the Lord Jesus Christ which will work a greater change in his life than in any other favourable circumstances put together.

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