Old Jimmie Barnes' Tale 1834


For The Inquirer.


A Tough Yarn.


We have a kind-hearted old friend, something less than a hundred years old, who has experienced great vicissitudes, and has been a prodigious traveler in his day--that is, if we take his word for it. He has "many a crack and well worn tale," with which he is wont to regale the youthful fancies of the rising generation. Among others, we have heard him tell a story of what happened to him in his boyhood, which is too good to be lost. If we can keep it out of that wallet


Which Time hath ever at his back, wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
We think we shall do the lovers of the wonderful a favor.


It cannot be told better than in his own homely language, and we should do our ancient friend injustice, did we attempt to tell it otherwise. Although the facts savor somewhat of the marvellous, yet we hope our readers will "be to the faults a little blind," when they are told that the story is in the very words of a veteran of the Revolution.


The narrator should be seen and heard, for one to appreciate the cleverness of the story. We cannot transfer to paper the aged and bent form, the straggling grey hairs, the beard of six days growth, the twinkling blue eye, and the impressive gestures of the left hand, while the right is reposing upon his staff;--neither can we describe the sly humor which appears in every action--the compressed lip, and the emphatic spurt of tobacco:--but we will do our best to give his own words, as nearly as possible.


We must premise that the speaker was born in England, and came to this country while quite a lad, and that his memory appears to be somewhat remarkable--thus he begins:


"While I was cabin boy aboard a small craft that plied below London, we laid one day in the Thames, above the bridge. The Captain and crew went on shore in the afternoon, leaving me alone on board the vessel, with directions to wash the Captain's linen, scour the deck, and see that all things were kept trim and trig, alow and aloft. Well, I washed the duds as clean as a penny whistle, and hung them up among the shrouds to dry--a pretty looking sight as you would see of a summer's day. Then I scrubbed up the deck, till it was as white as a hound's tooth.


Having finished by work, I bethought me that the Captain used, after hard labor, to take a little punch. So I went into the cabin and made myself a rousing bowl--'twas real stingo, I tell you--none o' your white horse--pah! The punch being finished, I couldn't do better than follow up the example of so excellent a Captain, by smoking a pipe--and at the end of that, of laying myself down in a coil of cable for a short nap. But my nap was not so very short--for I slept 'till 9 o'clock the next morning! And what should I see when I first woke, but the shirts flying in the breeze, all torn to rags. The wind had risen in the night while I was asleep, and here was a pretty fix. Howsomdever, I down with the things, folded 'em up handsomely, and stowed 'em away, just afore the Captain and crew came alongside. The first word the Captain spoke, says he, "Jimmy, I want a shirt." So I brought him the best one there was--and that was bad enough, you may be sure. He held it up, and says he, "this is broke--bring me another." So I brought another--but thinks I, you had better have kept the first one. He looked at it, and sure enough, it was broke worse than the other. Says he, "you little rascall, how did this happen." Says I, "I never told a lie in my life, and I never will"--and then I spunked up and told the truth. He made me no reply, but turned to the cooper--


"Unhead a tight water cask."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Put in six pounds of crackers, two pounds of beef, and a keg of water."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Now put in Jimmy."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Head him up."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Tumble him overboard."

"Aye, aye, sir." No sooner said than done, and over went hogshead, Jimmy and all! The tide was running 'leven--no--thirteen knot an hour, and down the stream we went.


I should think it might be about 12 hours gone, when I heard a voice hallooing "a prize, a prize!--luff, luff--bring her under the windward bow":--the hooks were lowered, and the cask hoisted on deck; but I was in such a divil of a hurry, that I cried out "make haste, for I'm most smuddered!" The poor sailors, half scared out of their wits, let go the line, and souse went the cask again into the water. After a few more solitary hours, the tide left me high and dry on the beach. It was at a spot where cattle came down to drink, for I heard them lowing and trampling about me all day. I had no way to get out, and no way to let nobody know that I wanted to get out. After a long time, as good luck would have it, I found my knife in my pocket, and glad enough I was to find it there. So I out with it, and began cutting away at the head of the cask. I soon had a hole large enough to put my arm through, and while I was at work making it bigger, a bull came bellowing along, and thinking there was something suspicious about my house, began smelling around it. As he was reconnoitering, I put out my hand and caught him by the tail.--Away went the bull, frightened out of his wits, and away went cask and I after him--the cask bounding and cracking away as if the very divil kicked us on end. By and by the chime struck a stone, and up bounded the cask on the bull's back, I all the while holding fast by the tail! But he only ran the faster along a narrow path up the bank, smashing and crashing through the underbrush, till finally down came the cask on the stones with a prodigious bump, and broke into forty-five pieces. Out I rolled, more dead than alive--having been shut up in the dark nearly three days! I thanked my stars that it was no worse, and made for a house near by, where I was taken good care of, and was soon as well as ever.


If you will believe me, it took the best part of half a day to get the hair off my hand and wrist, where the bull's tail was wound round it!--and that's all about my going to sea in a water cask.


Independent Inquirer, May 24, 1834.

Editorial preface by William E. Ryther.


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