MR BUTTON was seated on a sea-chest with a fiddle under his left ear. He was
playing the "Shan van Vaught," and accompanying the tune, punctuating it, with
blows of his left heel on the fo'cs'le deck.
"O the Frinch are in the bay, - says the Shan van Vaught."
He was dressed in dungaree trousers, a striped shirt, and a jacket
baize-green in parts from the influence of sun and salt. A typical old
shell-back, round-shouldered, hooked of finger; a figure with strong hints of a
crab about it.
His face was like a moon, seen red through tropical mists; and as he played
it wore an expression of strained attention as though the fiddle were telling
him tales much more marvelous than the old bald statement about Bantry Bay.
"Left-handed Pat," was his fo'cs'le name; not because he was left handed, but
simply because everything he did he did wrong--or nearly so. Reefing or furling,
or handling a slush tub--if a mistake was to be made, he made it.
He was a Celt, and all the salt seas that had flowed between him and
Connaught these forty years and more had not washed the Celtic element from his
blood, nor the belief in fairies from his soul. The Celtic nature is a fast dye,
and Mr Button's nature was such that though he had been shanghaied by Larry Marr
in 'Frisco, though he had got drunk in most ports of the world, though he had
sailed with Yankee captains and been man-handled by Yankee mates, he still
carried his fairies about with him--they, and a very large stock of original
Nearly over the musician's head swung a hammock from which hung a leg; other
hammocks hanging in the semi -gloom called up suggestions of lemurs and arboreal
bats. The swinging kerosene lamp cast its light forward past the heel of the
bowsprit to the knightheads, lighting here a naked foot hanging over the side of
a bunk, here a face from which protruded a pipe, here a breast covered with dark
mossy hair, here an arm tattooed.
It was in the days before double topsail yards had reduced ships' crews, and
the fo'cs'le of the *Northumberland* had a full company: a crowd of packet rats
such as often is to be found on a Cape Horner, "Dutchmen" Americans--men who
were farm labourers and tending pigs in Ohio three months back, old seasoned
sailors like Paddy Button--a mixture of the best and the worst of the earth,
such as you find nowhere else in so small a space as in a ship's fo'cs'le.
The *Northumberland* had experienced a terrible rounding of the Horn. Bound
from New Orleans to 'Frisco she had spent thirty days battling with head-winds
and storms--down there, where the seas are so vast that three waves may cover
with their amplitude more than a mile of sea space; thirty days she had passed
off Cape Stiff, and just now, at the moment of this story, she was locked in a
calm south of the line.
Mr. Button finished his tune with a sweep of the bow, and drew his right coat
sleeve across his forehead. Then he took out a sooty pipe, filled it with
tobacco, and lit it.
"Pawthrick," drawled a voice from the hammock above, from which depended the
leg, "what was that yarn you wiz beginnin' to spin ter night 'bout a
"A which me-dawn?" asked Mr Button, cocking his eye up at the bottom of the
hammock while he held the match to his pipe.
"It vas about a green thing," came a sleepy Dutch voice from a bunk.
"Oh, a Leprachaun, you mane. Sure, me mother's sister had one down in
"Vat vas it like?" asked the dreamy Dutch voice--a voice seemingly possessed
by the calm that had made the sea like a mirror for the last three days,
reducing the whole ship's company meanwhile to the level of wasters.
"Like? Sure, it was like a Leprachaun; and what else would it be like?"
"What like vas that?" persisted the voice.
"It was like a little man no bigger than a big forked radish, an' as green as
a cabbidge. Me a'nt had one in her house down in Connaught in the ould days.
O musha! musha! the ould days, the ould days! Now, you may b'lave me or b'lave me
not, but you could have put him in your pocket, and the grass-green head of him
wouldn't more than'v stuck out. She kept him in a cupboard, and out of the
cupboard he'd pop if it was a crack open, an' into the milk pans he'd be, or
under the beds, or pullin' the stool from under you, or at some other divarsion.
He'd chase the pig--the crathur!--till it'd be all ribs like an ould umbrilla
with the fright, an' as thin as a greyhound with the runnin' by the marnin; he'd
addle the eggs so the cocks an' hens wouldn't know what they wis afther wid the
chickens comin' out wid two heads on them, an' twinty-seven legs fore and aft.
And you'd start to chase him, an' then it'd be main-sail haul, and away he'd go,
you behint him, till you'd landed tail over snout in a ditch, an' he'd be back
in the cupboard."
"He was a Troll," murmured the Dutch voice.
"I'm tellin' you he was a Leprachaun, and there's no knowin' the divilments
he'd be up to. He'd pull the cabbidge, maybe, out of the pot boilin' on the fire
forenint your eyes, and baste you in the face with it; and thin, maybe, you'd
hold out your fist to him, and he'd put a goulden soverin in it."
"Wisht he was here!" murmured a voice from a bunk near the knightheads.
"Pawthrick," drawled the voice from the hammock above, "what'd you do first
if you found y'self with twenty pound in your pocket?"
"What's the use of askin' me?" replied Mr. Button. "What's the use of twenty
pound to a sayman at say, where the grog's all wather an' the beef's all horse?
Gimme it ashore, an' you'd see what I'd do wid it!"
"I guess the nearest grog-shop keeper wouldn't see you comin' for dust," said
a voice from Ohio.
"He would not," said Mr. Button; "nor you afther me. Be damned to the grog
and thim that sells it!"
"It's all darned easy to talk," said Ohio. "You curse the grog at sea when
you can't get it; set you ashore, and you're bung full."
"I likes me dhrunk," said Mr. Button, "I'm free to admit; an' I'm the divil
when it's in me, and it'll be the end of me yet, or me ould mother was a liar.
'Pat,' she says, first time I come home from say rowlin', 'storms you may
escape, an wimmen you may escape, but the potheen 'ill have you.' Forty year
ago--forty year ago!"
" Well," said Ohio, "it hasn't had you yet."
" No," replied Mr. Button, "but it will."