THE STORY Of The GRAY AFRICAN PARROT
WHO WAS RESCUED BY THE LITTLE SAILOR BOY IN THE RIVER GABOON:
HOW HE WHISTLED, AND HOW HE TALKED.
His Great Battle with the Monkeys, which lasted six weeks:
and HOW HE BEHAVED DURING THE AWFUL SHIPWRECK.
TOGETHER WITH SOME ACCOUNT OF HIS LATER DAYS.
BY HARRY GRINGO 1860
The beautiful gray parrot, which I am about to tell you of, was caught when it was a little fluttering bird on the banks of the river Gaboon in Africa by a young sailor boy; and the story is simply as follows:
The sailor boy was on board a schooner lying in the river Gaboon, when the captain ordered him to lower a boat and row him on shore. There the captain left and walked away, to what is called a factory in that country; a large cluster of huts built of mud and leaves, and surrounded by a high picket fence, to keep off enemies and wild beasts which there abound. The captain went to buy gold dust, ebony, and ivory tusks of elephants; which last are very valuable for making knife handles, combs, billiard balls, and a great many other useful and ornamental articles. While the captain was gone, the sailor boy made the boat fast to the root of a tree, whose branches overhung the water, and then he lay down in the bottom of the boat, and went to sleep; knowing that the captain would be absent a long time. He did not know how long he slept, for he was very tired from working hard on board the schooner; and besides, the sun was very hot, and the hum of insects and the rippling music of the running water; made him very drowsy.
By and by, however, while he was dreaming sweetly of his dear mother in the little cottage home, and the baby and the old dog Jowler, and all the happy friends of his childhood so far away, he was awakened by a noise over his head among the trees. At first he started up and thought it might be the captain coming back, but reflecting that the captain could not return by way of the trees he lay down again, and watched and listened. Presently he heard a great fluttering of wings, hoarse croakings and whistlings in the branches of the tall trees above his head; and then peering through the thick green foliage, he saw a flock of beautiful gray and red parrots — some large, and some quite small — hopping from branch to branch, and screaming and chattering as if they were in the greatest possible terror. The large parrots would rub against the little ones, and fly off a few yards as if to entice them away; but the wings of the young ones were not strong enough to take a long or bold flight, and they could only squeak and croak faintly; and sometimes tumble off the nests and branches, when the old birds would catch them up in their claws and put them back again.
The sailor boy could not understand what all this fuss meant, and began to think there might be some venomous serpent or bird of prey in pursuit of the parrots; but he could see nothing. Still, however; he looked and listened, until presently he heard a loud chattering and rustling among some tall trees nearby, and there he saw a large troop of ring-tailed monkeys, who were skipping in crowds from limb to limb, and jabbering to each other in very great confusion. At the point where the sailor boy lay in his boat, there was a fork in the river, with steep rocky banks on each side, so that the monkeys could not get over to the parrot roost, without swimming. Now, monkeys are like cats, who never even wet their feet if they can avoid it, and will go a long way round, or take any trouble, rather than wade in the water. So it was with the troop of monkeys the sailor boy saw. There must have been many hundreds — perhaps a thousand of them — little and big, gray, tawny and mouse color; and all with very long tails, like coach whip lashes-only shorter and thicker, and without snappers. Their tails they use like pliant hooks to hold on with, by twining them round a branch and swinging backwards and forwards, head downwards, while they are feeding, with their paws full of nuts or berries.
Well, for a long time these monkeys ran up and down the high tree, chattering and making awful faces; sometimes going out on a bending limb and looking down on the water, and then leaping from branch to branch and jabbering and almost talking like human beings.
At last one old gray-headed fellow, who seemed to be a king monkey, with sharp black eyes, long white teeth and grizzled whiskers, ran down to the foot of the tree-where was a clear open spot on the rocks and sat down, leaning his chin on one paw and resting the elbow in his other paw, and looking as if he was about to make a speech.
In a moment, down came dozens and dozens of other monkeys, rolling over one another, scrambling, biting, and chattering gibberish, as monkeys do. Then they all squatted down in circles, around the old monkey, with their long tails curled about their bodies, sitting as thick as bees, and looking like one dense mass of monkeys. During all this time the noise became louder and louder, and the screechings and jabbering of all together, made the forest ring again. But in the very height of this hubbub, by a grinning sign from their king, all at once the noise ceased. You might have heard a leaf drop; and the gentle breeze went sighing through the trees, and the river went murmuring musically over its rocky bed, and there was no sound save the splash of a fish, or a large drop of dew falling upon the water. Even the parrots, frightened as they were, hushed up all at the same time; so sudden and dead was the silence.
Meanwhile the great army of monkeys all sat perfectly still, with their thousands of eyes fixed upon the big fellow in the centre of the ring, as if attentively listening to what he was saying. For as much as five minutes this silence was unbroken, until in an instant there arose a wild screaming shriek from them all that made the forest ring again; and at the same time the parrots and hundreds of other birds and insects and some wild animals prowling near, all set up such a noise as scarcely ever was heard in Africa. Then for the second time the monkeys became quiet, with their clusters of black piercing eyes, like so many glittering jet black beads all fixed upon the white-headed old monkey as before. Only a moment now passed when this white-whiskered old brute gave a mighty bound over the heads of his companions, which carried him a long way up the tree; then he was quickly followed in the most orderly manner by another and another — the oldest and largest and strongest of all — until at least a hundred were climbing in a straight line up to the very highest branch; which drooped over towards the bending branches of the trees on the opposite side of the narrow fork to the river.
So soon as the leader of the band reached the end of the branch, he shook it with all his might, as did those who followed him, to see if it was strong enough to bear their weight. Then he wound his long tail around the limb and let his body fall down clear of everything; then came another big and powerful monkey, who slipped down over the leader’s back with his tail twined about his neck and paws; and then came another and another, until a long black and gray line was formed — all of monkeys — and the last one’s nose nearly touched the water. Then this long line began to swing to and flu; with a little swing at first, but presently, like an enormous pendulum to a clock, and making a rushing noise in the air. Nor were there any kinks to this great line; but all was a heavy black and gray looking rope, composed of tails, paws, necks, and bodies of monkeys, all sustained by the old king monkey holding on by his tail to the branch of the tree above. Every moment, too, the swing made greater sweeps, until at last the lower monkey caught hold of a lofty limb on the other side and the whole mass became stationary, like a great loop or living bridge over the water and during all this time the greatest mass of monkeys at the foot of the tree, remained as quiet as if they were playing Quaker Meeting; never stared or uttered a single chatter; and only looked at the operation going on over their heads. But no sooner had the bridge been made, than a movement began among them, and without the least noise or confusion they ran nimbly up the tree — the little ones first — and then they skipped lightly over the living bridge and down to the foot of the opposite tree, until everyone had crossed. Then the king monkey let go his hold on the branch and fell with a terrible swing; but this time he was at the lower end of the line, and when it had done swinging, he turned round and climbed up over the other monkeys, and all the rest followed him in succession, until there was none left; and every one of the entire troop had got over the river without so much as wetting a paw or even a tail.
There was not a sound to be heard during the time they were crossing the bridge; but the moment the last monkey let go his hold on the branch, the chattering and screeching began again, and they sprang by fifties towards the trees where the parrots were. The poor parrots screamed, and fluttered, and whistled and flew from tree to tree in the greatest fright and distress at the approach of their enemies; and some of the boldest who had young, flew at the monkeys and bit them sharply with their hard curved beaks, till the monkeys howled with pain; but all was useless, and in a few moments these savage beasts were leaping about the nests, biting, and killing, and sucking the blood of the little fledglings, while their feathers came floating in brilliant clouds and bunches through the air; and all the time the monkeys were wild with delight, in devouring their prey.
There was one nest away out on the end of a quivering branch, where was a poor little parrot just fledged, clinging with its tender claws to a limb. It had moved out as far as it possibly could, when that same gray-headed, white-toothed, old savage king monkey spied it, and with a tremendous jump, he leaped to the spot, and in another moment would have clutched it in his sinewy paw; but just then the limb bent and broke, and down came both together. The monkey caught at a stronger limb below, and went screeching with baffled rage up the tree, but the little trembling parrot fell fluttering and fluttering — now lodging a moment among the leaves — then falling again — all the while clinging to the broken twig, till finally it came softly down in the boat, on the breast of the little sailor boy.
Then the sailor boy took the little bird in his hands, smoothed its soft plumage, and put it gently into the bosom of his shirt. He had scarcely done so, however, when nearly the whole tribe of those monkeys set up a loud chattering screech, snapping their white long teeth, and crowding about the trees, hanging by their tails from every projecting limb, and jabbering and grinning; as if to make war upon the sailor boy, for rescuing the young parrot from their clutches. Upon this, the sailor boy, who was a brave little fellow and nothing daunted, caught up an oar to knock the first monkey on the head who dared to come within reach; but just then the captain came in sight, the monkeys went howling and scampering away, and the boat returned to the schooner.
HOW HE WHISTLED, AND HOW HE TALKED
The first thing the sailor boy did after getting on board the schooner, was to make a nice mess of warm soaked biscuits for the little parrot, which was eaten with great relish; then he stood him on the window sill of the captain’s cabin and in the course of a few days he got quite accustomed to the vessel and became familiar with the sailors, and particularly with the little sailor boy who had saved his life. The only sounds he could utter at first were, Jok! Jok! Jok! in a faint croaking way; but soon he got to call the sailor boy by his name, Billy! and to say other words besides. He grew, also, very fast, his tail-feathers came out long and beautiful, his wings soft and glossy, and the bright plumage on his head and neck shone in the sunlight. The sailor boy would take him his breakfast of ripe fruit or soaked biscuit every morning, smooth his feathers, pet him on the head, and talk kindly to him; when the parrot would cock his head on one side, look steadily at him with one eye, and make a low purring noise like a kitten; until in a short time he became very tame and happy.
This went on for many weeks, the schooner going from place to place, the captain buying gold dust and ivory, and the parrot learning more and more every day. But on one occasion, when the sailor boy was waiting for the captain on shore, he was detained until late at night; and as the climate was very unhealthy, the poor boy caught a fever, and became very ill: in fact, he would have died perhaps, had not a man-of-war arrived in the harbor where the schooner was anchored.
Now, a man-of-war is a ship, commanded by navy officers, and has a great many sailors on board, together with cannon, and powder, and everything to protect the citizens of the nation to which they belong. They have, likewise, surgeons and doctors on board; and the ship goes sailing from port to port, and cruising at sea for two or three years, without going home.
When the man-of-war, I speak of arrived, a boat came alongside from the schooner, to ask assistance or some medicine for the sick sailor boy. But one of the doctors, who was a very kind man, went on board himself, and as soon as he saw Billy, and felt his pulse, he declared he must be taken to the man-of-war, where there was more room and comfort than in the schooner, and where he could be better attended to.
Accordingly, he was taken up in his hammock — which is a swinging little narrow bed, suspended from the ceiling of a vessel by hooks at the ends and placed carefully in a boat and carried on board the big ship, where his hammock was hung up in a cool clean spot. When, however, they were about to carry Billy from the schooner, one of the men gave the parrot a rude push to put him out of the way, not knowing to whom he belonged; but the bird gave him a sharp pinch on the finger with his beak, and then ducking under the bed-clothes, nestled close beside the sailor boy’s ann. So the doctor told the man to let the bird alone, and he was carded in the same hammock with Billy to the man-of-war.
Soon after this, Billy became much worse, and so delirious and light-headed with fever, that he lost all consciousness. There he lay in his bed, tossing from side to side, raving and moaning; with his head as hot as fire, and his skin parched up with the fever, Talking, too, in his uneasy slumber, of his dear mother, and the dog Jowler, sometimes laughing, and then crying; all through the lonely days, and lonely nights. Poor little fellow, his thoughts went back to his pleasant home in the cottage, and the gentle love of his mother, at whose knees he prayed; and who he knew was praying for her dear little sailor boy, every hour of her life. How sad it was.
Yet the doctors, and his attendants, nursed him kindly, and did all they could to allay his fever, by giving him cool lemonade to drink, and bathing his hot forehead with cool vinegar and water.
But all through his illness and suffering, the parrot never left him. There he perched at the head of the hammock, looking down at the sick boy’s face, or watching the doctor; and, indeed noticing everything that was done, and listening to everything that was said, quite as if he understood it all. Then he would begin with Jok! Jok! Whistle a low little note as sweet as a flute; and suddenly scream out “Doctor! Doctor! lemonade for Billy — lem-on-ade and then murmur as if hushing a baby to sleep. By and by, he caught the words that came from the sailor boy’s lips: “Dear mother! Mother dear! Don’t cry! All right! Jok! Jok!” and then he would polish his bill against the cords of the hammock, and remain perfectly still for a long time. Again, he would move slowly down, one foot over the other, and shaking his head, until he came to the pillow, where he would look at Billy, sideways, for ever so long; perhaps, ruffle up his beautiful plumages, or put his head down, and rub it gently against the sufferer’s cheek; then softly back to his perch again, and make believe go to sleep. In these times when sailor boy was sleeping, as he did sometimes, sweetly, with a smile on his lips, if anybody came near to make a noise, or jar the hammock, the parrot would reach out his beak and give such a pinch on the ear, or the hair, or anywhere he could get hold of that people kept their distance. And then, too in the long nights if it became too cool, or the sailor boy restlessly tossed the clothes aside, the devoted bird would creep down to the hammock, seize the sheet or coverlet in his beak, and pull them up all smooth and straight; give a quiet, little, low whistle, and return to his perch; but always wide awake and looking out for his charge.
So things went on for a long time, Billy getting better, and his parrot learning more words, until at last he was able to leave the hammock and sit in the cool breeze on deck: and by this time the sailors on board got to be very fond of the boy and his parrot, and they made a song about them, which was this
The sailor boy lay in his hammock one day,
The doctor believed he would die, Sir;
But the parrot looked cheerful, as much as to say,
“Dear doctor!’tis all in my eye, Sir!”
The sailor boy dreamed, and he cried in his sleep:
“Dear mother, 0! do not take on so;”
And the parrot looked sad, as f he would weep,
And dropped a big tear on his pillow
The sailor boy smiled, and jumped out of bed,
The doctor declared he was cured, Sir;
The parrot he whistled and, chuckling, said,
“I told you he never would die, Sir!”
EVENTS PRECEDING THE GREAT BATTLE
Now you must know, that on board a man-of-war, there is an officer called a boatswain who carries a silver whistle, upon which lie blows shrill sharp notes, that can be heard above the howling of a gale of wind, the patter of the rain, or the noise of the waves.; and when he whistles, it attracts the attention of the crew, and they listen for the order which is sure to follow. For instance the boatswain chirps, like a goldfinch, a clear ringing sound, and then roars out: “All hands! reef topsails! tumble up!” and so on. Well! the parrot, after a little practice, not only learned to whistle like the boatswain, but he gave the orders too; and so soon as the boatswain began, the parrot would whistle with him, in exactly the same key, and cry : - “All hands! tumble up! be smart, boys! hurrah! Hurrah!” quite as if there were half a dozen boatswains on board, so often did he repeat the words. This made the sailors merry and kept them in good humor; and even when they were cross and tired, they did their work cheerfully, without grumbling. Sometimes, however, the parrot would talk this way, without any orders being given; and suddenly when the ship was quiet at night, he would sing out, in his shrill clear voice. “I say, boys! all hands! tumble up! grog ho!” Many would spring out of their hammocks in readiness to goon deck, thinking it was the boatswain; but when, they discovered where the words came from, they would only laugh and say, “Why, ‘tis only Billy’s parrot;” and go to sleep again.
There is also on board a man-of-war a clergyman, who is called a chaplain, and on Sundays all the crew are assembled on the quarterdeck to hear the church service. The awnings are spread, a pulpit is made for the chaplain, near the main mast, and draped with flags; benches are arranged between the guns; the captain and his officers are there in full uniform, and the sailors are dressed in clean white shirts and trousers, with their hats off; all in the most solemn and orderly manner. Then, while the great ship sails tranquilly along over the mighty deep, with nothing to disturb the scene, except perhaps a school of porpoises playing around the bows, or a sail flapping against a mast, the chaplain and sailors worship God, and pray for those who go down to the sea in ships.
On these occasions, the parrot, who had now got to be at home on board the vessel, and could fly from mast to mast, and climb the rigging, or hop about the guns, used to crawl out by a large rope directly over the chaplain’s pulpit, and sit very quiet and attentive during the service. He never spoke for several Sundays, until he seemed to have learned nearly all the responses; when one day, as the chaplain opened the Prayer Book, a voice exclaimed: “Let us pray!” — and shortly after “Good Lord, deliver us” and, “Amen!” But so closely was the chaplain’s tone imitated, that no one ever suspected it was the parrot. Then, too, when the music struck up, the bird would ruffle out his feathers, as if blowing a trumpet and whistle in perfect harmony with the flutes and clarionets; stopping sometimes to hear if he had got the tune; and then going on as sweetly as possible. In fact, he soon became a tolerably good musician, and learned to whistle almost any air that anybody would have the patience to teach him.
On week days, at the first peep of dawn, he was up and ready for his breakfast. He would walk carefully up the ladder from the lower deck, saluting everybody he met with — “How are you Jack! Copper’s hot! Grog O!” and then go forward to the kitchen fire, and cry out — “Cooks and coals! Tongs and toast! Coffee and cakes!” and with “Rub-a-dub-dub! I want my grub!” when the cooks would place a tin platter of breakfast before him, and he would say no more. When he had finished, if the weather was cold or stormy, he would wander all over the ship till he found Billy, when he would pinch him gently on the feet to attract his attention, muttering, “Mind your toes,” and then scratch his way up to Billy’s shoulder, where, only stopping to give his friend a kiss with his curved beak, he would whisper, “Blow your fingers, Billy!” and creep into the breast of the sailor boy’s jacket; and remain there until the weather got pleasant again.
When dinner-time came, and while the captain and the officers were dining in the cabin, Polly would watch a chance when the door was left open, toddle slowly in, saying in a jolly voice —“Here I am! all right! Here’s a hand of a true-hearted sailor! Grog O! Hurrah!” Then he would manage to hop on the back of the captain’s chair, and say in a coaxing way—”Plum pudding and pease, if you please: Crackers and cheese! Here steward! Bear a hand! Hurrah. Jok! Jok!” and conclude with a gurgling noise in his throat, like pouring wine out of a bottle. Upon this, the captain and officers would laugh, and hand him a bit of biscuit, or an orange, or give him a few sips of wine out of a glass. Then Polly would remain very quiet till the dessert came, but all the time eyeing everybody, with his head turned first to one side, and then to the other, as if listening to the conversation, and understanding itall. When the dessert came, he would shout “Sugar and lemons! Peaches and melons! Be smart steward!” and end with a low whistle of a chorus, or a croak of satisfaction.
After he had eaten his nice titbits in the cabin, he would wander off to the forecastle of the ship; walking always as if he had corns, and picking his way as if afraid of treading on some one’s toes; crying in a hoarse voice—“Clear the track for Fancy Jack!” till he came to where the pigs and chickens were kept. Then he would select some convenient perch where he could look down into the coops and pens, and scream - “Pee-week! pee-week! Cluck! cluck! Quack! quack!” This would make the pigs, and ducks, and chickens flutter and run about, when he would sing — “Piggy, Wiggy, come and be killed, Clucky, Ducky, go and be grilled”; and end by squeaking, crowing, quacking, and laughing with all his might.
But always at night, soon after sunset, when the hammocks were hung up below, Polly was sure to be at the hooks of Billy’s hammock, where he usually slept; but if the weather was cool, he would creep under the bed-clothes, and snuggle up under Billy’s arm, as cosy as could be. Talking, too, to Billy, and trying to give an account of what he had done during the day very bright at first, but getting drowsy, he would murmur a jumble of odd words, give a faint whistle, and say— “Baby’s a lady! Jowler’s a growler!” and drop sound asleep.
BATTLE WITH THE MONKEYS
It so happened, that the man-of-war cruised up and down the coast of Africa for more than two years, going first to one port, and then to another, until one day she sailed into Liberia, which is an American settlement, where colored people go from the United States and where they have established a free Republic, like our own.
While the ship was anchored in that port, a man came alongside in a boat, and presented the captain with two monkeys. One was a large fellow — quite as big as a small boy of a reddish brown color, with coarse hair, a short stump of a tail, not more than three inches long, and a very ugly, wicked face. The other, was a long, ring-tailed, Howling Monkey, with terrible sharp teeth, and very savage. He was, in fact, of the same species, and the sailor boy thought, the very same beast that he saw in the river Gaboon, from whose clutches he had rescued the parrot, when the nests were attacked.
The moment these monkeys came on board, the parrot, who was perched up the rigging, and always saw everything that took place, began to whistle, and croak and talk, saying all the bad words he could lay his tongue to; and then he danced about, as if he was on hot plates; first on one foot, and then on the other as if he was in a very great rage, as indeed he was. Then, presently, he crept down to the deck to where the Howler was sitting with his head in his paws, looking as miserable as possible: and suddenly Polly seized his tail by the root, and gave him such a sharp nip with his hard curved beak, that the monkey jumped ten feet, and yelled with pain; but the moment he saw the parrot he wheeled round, showed his long white teeth, and was about to make a spring; but Polly, who was now large, and strong on the wing, flew to a rope high in the air, and laughed so loud you might have heard it all over the ship. “Ho! ho! Ha! ha! Wide awake! Tumble up! Be smart! Flog away!”
Meanwhile the other monkey sat quietly on his rump, scratching himself as monkeys do, and looking as if he enjoyed the sport. But soon Polly came very slyly behind him, and gave him just such another pinch as he gave the Howler, on the very point, and tenderest part of his stumpy tail; so that he, too, screeched and made a jump to catch the parrot; but the bird was too quick for him, and flew away.
From this time the battle begun. No matter where those monkeys hid themselves, the parrot would be sure to find them, when they least expected an attack; and that sharp, pitiless beak pinched and squeezed them till the blood came. Sometimes they would set off in chase of the parrot, skipping up the rigging — as only monkeys can; leaping from rope to rope, and running from one mast to the other; until just as they thought they were about to catch their tormentor, Polly would fly to some far-away point where the monkeys could not get without going down, and beginning from the deck again. Then Polly would scream in triumph, and abuse them, and jeer at them with all his might; and the captain and the sailors would look up and laugh; because they had heard the parrot’s story, and hoped no harm would come to him.
Then at night, too, when the monkeys were sound asleep in the boats, or under a sail, or perhaps inside the muzzle of a cannon, suddenly Polly would pounce upon them, give them a terrible snap, and be off again, chuckling, and whistling; while the monkeys howled and screeched with rage and pain, and wandered about without knowing where they could lay their heads to be in peace and quiet.
Sometimes the sailors gave the monkeys sugar soaked in rum, which they were very fond of; so much so, that they soon became tipsy, and went reeling about the decks nearly blind, and quite stupid. Then was Polly’s greatest sport. He would steal softly behind them, and seize them by the ears, or tails, and make his hard, sharp beak meet in their hides, crying — “Grog O! Bad boys! Fire and rum! Hurrah!” and then whistle the Rogue’s March.
This great battle, or rather this monkey and parrot war, had now lasted six long weeks. The monkeys were worn down to bones, and tails, and their skins were full of holes, and they led the most wretched existence in the world; while, at the same time, Polly was as bright as could be, not a feather of his beautiful plumage rumpled, and as fat and saucy as ever. Well! One morning after the monkeys had passed a sleepless night, and had been nearly worried to death; the long-tailed howler sat down on the deck, and made just such another frightful noise as he did when the sailor boy first saw him in the river Gaboon. Upon this, the stumpy-tailed red monkey came and sat opposite to him, where they remained staring at each other with their chins resting on their paws, for as much as five minutes. Then they both gave a volley of chattering savage howls, and bounded up the rigging of the mast where the parrot was perched, whistling and laughing to himself But Polly had been watching them all the while, and, indeed, for the past six weeks had hardly taken his eyes off them: going without the nice tidbits from the captain’s table sometimes, so anxious was he to fight his enemies.
There he stood on the extreme end of the main-yard — a long piece of timber from which the main-sail hangs — apparently asleep, but still with one eye open, and waiting to see what the monkeys intended to do. They stole cautiously along the yard, hiding themselves as much as they could behind the sails and ropes, until they came near enough to make a bold spring and destroy the parrot. But still Polly did not fly, and rocked backwards and forwards, as if he was sound asleep. Just then the monkeys, after crouching a moment, gave a wonderful leap; but the parrot, as they came bounding through the air, ducked round with his head down, and holding on by his claws, shouted — “Tumble up, boys! Be smart”! — and at that instant the monkeys went flying over the spot where they expected to clutch him missed their footing on the yard, and then went whirling, one over the other, outside the ship, until they struck the clear blue waves, and plunged down beneath the deep and cruel water. They came up to the surface once or twice, struggling, and fighting, and screeching in each other’s arms; but long before the ship sailed by, they went down again head-foremost, and nothing was ever seen of them, except the tips of their tails. When, however, they finally disappeared, Polly resumed his position fluttered his wings, screamed and laughed “Ho! Hot Coals and fire! Bad boys! Down goes the dead men! Hurrah!” and then whistling a lively jig, came toddling down to the deck to see and talk with the little sailor-boy, as if nothing had happened.
THE AWFUL SHIPWRECK
Nothing occurred for a long time after the destruction of the monkeys worthy of relating. The parrot had become a general favorite on board, and the sailors never got tired of hearing the funny remarks he made, and the wonderful way he whistled. One day, however, the joyful news came that the ship was ordered to the United States, which made everybody happy; for she had been a long time away, and the crew were anxious to see their friends again. Polly, too, was greatly delighted, and when the anchor was raised, he shouted— “Hurrah boys! Be smart! Sweethearts and wives! Hurrah!” and whistled “Home! Sweet Home!”
All sail was spread, and leaving the coast of Africa, the man-of-war sailed pleasantly along through the warm tropical seas with a brisk breeze, and steered towards North America. At the end of a couple of months, as the ship approached the coast, the equinoctial gale came on. The lofty sails were furled, the hatches were put on, the ship lay over on her side by the force of the wind — which howled mournfully through the rigging -- the rain came down in torrents, and the waves washed over the decks; and though the sailors were drenched and half frozen with cold, yet they did their duty manfully, as the ship struggled on. So passed the first day and night: but the next, the gale increased; some of the sails were blown away, and the angry seas raged, as if bent on destroying the vessel. Everything was done that the crew could do in such a frightful storm; but then there are times when the wrath of Heaven is poured out, and nothing, built or guided by the feeble hands of man, can stand against it.
When the next night cast its gloom around, the ship labored and plunged about like a drunken man. She was getting near the land, too; but the night was so black, and the tempest so violent, that no one could see any distance; but as day again dawned, and while the ship was driving helplessly on, a piercing cry arose from the lookouts, “Breakers! breakers! ahead!” and the next minute a great line of white water was seen rolling over the shoals of Nantucket! Shortly after, the ship struck heavily on a sand bar, dashed forward again, and then grating over the hard ridges of sand, while the waves swept her decks. She gave a terrible shock and stood still. Fortunately, she had passed the most dangerous part, and the first line of breakers warded off the waves; but yet her position was very dangerous indeed. She rose and fell every moment, thumping violently on the shoals; the masts reeling and bending like coach whips, the sails shaking with a noise like thunder, the ropes flying and snapping together, and everything in fearful confusion.
But still the captain’s orders were obeyed; the crew took in the sails, secured the ropes, lowered the tall masts and yards, and did all in their power to save the ship. And by a merciful Providence the wind abated; and presently it fell calm, though the sea still raged and made the vessel strike heavily. Then all hands took measures to lighten her as much as possible, so that she might float over the sand-bar into deep water again. They first broke the water casks, and pumped the water into the sea; then nearly all the provisions were cast overboard; then went the round shot and ballast; and, in short, everything that could be spared. Then the boats were lowered, and anchors and chains carried out ahead of the ship to pull her off. But even all this was not enough; and then the cannon were pitched out of the portholes — all but one, which was fired every minute, as a signal of distress, to the people on shore. All, however, was of no avail; the good ship, which had sailed gallantly around the world, was about to meet her fate, for a large hole was knocked in her bottom, and the captain and officers saw there was no hope of saving her. During all this time, from the very moment the noble ship struck, the parrot seemed to know the danger; and though, no doubt, very much frightened, put the best face possible upon the matter. “All hands! Be smart! Tumble up! Hurrah!” Polly cried; then following the sailors below, while they were getting up the provisions and ballast, he sang out —“All right! Cheer up, lively lads! Work sharp! Huff ah!” as if to encourage them, as indeed he did.
Then he hopped from part to part of the ship, now saying a quick volley of words here, and whistling a lively tune there; and all the time as if he was placed in full command, and anxious to save the ship.
But as I told you, though everything was done, yet when the hole was discovered through the bottom, there was no longer hope and the captain gave orders to prepare the boats to receive the crew, in readiness to row away as soon as the ship began to break in pieces. The crew, however, were by this time worn out and exhausted by the hard labor they had endured for nearly two days and nights, that he told them to turn into their hammocks until he thought the proper time should come to abandon the vessel.
Accordingly, nearly everybody, but the officers, got into their hammocks, or lay down on dry spots about the decks to get a little sleep before taking to the boats; all, except the parrot, who never closed an eye, but went, stepping carefully around, looking first at one thing and then at another, talking and whistling in a sad tone to himself, as if he was in great distress of mind.
Well, in an hour or two, the carpenter told the captain that the lower part of the ship was beginning to break up, and would soon be in pieces. So the drum beat to quarters, the crew started up, and the boats were brought along-side. First, the poor sick men were carefully lowered down, then a little fresh water and some hard biscuit, then went the crew and officers; and, finally, the captain, who, with tears in his eyes, raised his cap to bid his noble ship farewell!
Meanwhile, the parrot had perched himself over the gangway and watched the proceedings; counting the men; calling the names of the boats — bidding them, “Cheer up, my lively lads!” “Never say die!” “Hurrah! hurrah!” But, as the captain left the ship, Polly appeared to miss somebody, and screamed, “Billy! Billy Boy! Billy!” as hard as he could scream, and then began to flutter and croak and fairly to cry with anguish. At these words some of the sailors looked around in search of the little sailor boy, but he was nowhere to be seen. Some thought he was drowned, and others said he must have been killed by a fall down the hatchway; and all were on the point of shoving off. Still the parrot, screamed — “Billy! Billy boy! Poor Billy! Hold on!” and then amid the crashing noise of the breaking timbers, and the water rushing into the hold, the bird flew rapidly down an open hatchway, and straightway alighted on Billy’s hammock. He, poor boy, was so weary with toil, and so sound asleep, that he did not hear the drum which called the crew away; and had it not been for his faithful Polly, would have perished in the wreck. The parrot, however, first shouted —“Billy!” in his ears but that not awaking him, he caught his nose in his bill and gave it a vigorous tweak, crying — “Tumble up! Be smart! Baby forever! Here we go! Hurrah!”
Billy sprang out of his hammock, nearly up to his arm-pits in water; and amid the mass of floating timber, scrambled to the hatchway, ran up the ladder, and was just in time to jump into the captain’s boat as it shoved off from the wreck. At the same time Polly flew to his shoulder, and shouted — “Hurrah boys! Billy and Baby forever! Good Lord, deliver us! Pull away!”
The boats soon reached a fishing village, where kind people were ready to receive them; and then the captain hired a vessel, and carried the crew safe and sound to Boston. The next day Billy went home to his mother, and though he had saved no clothes, except those on his back; besides losing all the pretty curiosities he had collected in Africa, for his baby sister; yet he brought the beautiful parrot, and they were all delighted to see him. Polly, too, became as great a favorite at the cottage as he had been on board the man-of-war. He made friends with old Jowler, and the Angora cat, and the poultry, and the pig, though he laughed at them a good deal. But the baby was his especial delight; and sitting on the perch over the cradle, he would whistle it to sleep with his sweet tunes, or amuse it when awake, by imitating the hens, and ducks, and the little pig.
Billy, of course, went to sea again; and by his good conduct, in the course of time, rose to be the captain, and part owner of a fine vessel. But, no matter how long he was gone, when he came home, the parrot was the first to hear his footsteps, and welcome him with every cheering word he had ever learned. And when, too, he was away on a long voyage, if a storm arose, and the waves beat harshly on the rocks near his mother’s cottage, the parrot would cry out, in the dead of the night — “Gales and sails! Pray for Billy! Pray for Billy boy! Hurrah!” Amen!