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January 27 , 2010

Barney Blake, The Boy Privateer

The Cruise of the Queer Fish


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It was upon a bright morning of the month of May, 1813, as I, a sailor just paid off from my last ship, was wandering along the wharves of Boston, that I was hailed by an old messmate, named Tony Trybrace.

"Ship ahoy!" cried Tony.

"The Barney Blake," I responded. "Out of employment, with compass gone, and nothing to steer by."

"What!" cried Tony, giving me his flipper. "Do you want a ship? A strange wish to go unsatisfied in these times."

"Yes," I hesitatingly rejoined, "but, you see, I've never been in the navy—always sailed in a merchantman—and—"

"Nonsense!" cried Tony. "That kind of blarney won't do for these times. I shipped the other day on as cracky a craft as ever kicked the spray behind her. Come and join us."

"What! on a man-o'-war?"

"Better than that. On a bold privateer! Look out there to windward," said Tony, directing my attention with his pointing hand, "and tell me what you think of her. That's her, the brigantine, with her r'yals half furled."

The vessel indicated to me by my friend did not go back on his off-hand description of her.

"She's a splendid ship!" I exclaimed. "What name does she go by?"

"The Queer Fish," was the reply. "She has six guns—eighteen-pounders—three on each side—with the prettiest thirty-pound brass swivel at her starn, this side of Davy Jones. She starts to-morrow for a year's cruise. Will you go?"


"Spoken like a Yankee tar. Come."

A boat of the privateer was in waiting, and in a few moments we were in it.

Scarcely had we pulled half way before a funny looking old fellow, squint-eyed, red-whiskered, and enormously wide-mouthed, whom they called Old Nick—a Norwegian by birth, was detected by the second mate attempting to take a pull at a green bottle, which he slyly whisked from the inside breast pocket of his pea-jacket. He was rowing at the time, and it required much sleight of hand to disengage one of his hands for the purpose in view. Nevertheless, he succeeded, took a long pull at the bottle, thinking no one saw him, corked it up again, and was about to return it to his pocket, when, at a wink from the second mate, Tony Trybrace, accidentally on purpose, skipped the plunge of his oar and brought it up against the old fellow with such a jostle that overboard flew the bottle, where it bobbed about.

Every one who saw the trick burst into fits of laughter. For a moment Old Nick seemed undetermined what course to pursue. Then nature vindicated her sway. He dropped his oar, rose in his seat, and plunged overboard after the green bottle and its precious contents!

He made straight for the bottle, recovered it, took a long pull at it while he trod water, returned it to his bosom, and made a back track to the yawl.

"You'll git up early in de morgen to rob ein Deitcher of his schnapps," he growled, as he clambered over the gunwale.

So, with many a laugh and jeer at the old fellow's expense, we pulled the balance of the way without further incident, and were soon upon the deck of the Queer Fish Privateer.

I was pleased with her more than ever upon a closer acquaintance. Everything was trim and tidy. Her decks were almost spotless, and nothing could exceed the beauty of her long bright swivel. She was polished up like a looking-glass, and I longed to hear her speak, with an iron pill in her throat.

Tony Trybrace had told nothing but the truth, when he had said that the people of the privateer were the jolliest afloat. They were a comical set from Captain Joker down to Peter Pun, the cabin-boy. Tony was the boatswain, and, as soon as we were aboard, he escorted me down to the cabin, to see the captain and sign the ship's papers.

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