THE CRUISE OF THE DOLPHIN
THE CRUISE OF THE DOLPHIN
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH
(1 An episode from The Story of a Bad Boy the narrator being Tom
Bailey the hero of the tale.)
Every Rivermouth boy looks upon the sea as being in some way mixed
up with his destiny. While he is yet a baby lying in his cradle he
hears the dull far-off boom of the breakers; when he is older he
wanders by the sandy shore watching the waves that come plunging
up the beach like white-maned sea-horses as Thoreau calls them;
his eye follows the lessening sail as it fades into the blue
horizon and he burns for the time when he shall stand on the
quarter-deck of his own ship and go sailing proudly across that
mysterious waste of waters.
Then the town itself is full of hints and flavors of the sea. The
gables and roofs of the houses facing eastward are covered with red
rust like the flukes of old anchors; a salty smell pervades the
air and dense gray fogs the very breath of Ocean periodically
creep up into the quiet streets and envelop everything. The
terrific storms that lash the coast; the kelp and spars and
sometimes the bodies of drowned men tossed on shore by the
scornful waves; the shipyards the wharves and the tawny fleet of
fishing-smacks yearly fitted out at Rivermouth--these things and a
hundred other feed the imagination and fill the brain of every
healthy boy with dreams of adventure. He learns to swim almost as
soon as he can walk; he draws in with his mother's milk the art of
handling an oar: he is born a sailor whatever he may turn out to
To own the whole or a portion of a rowboat is his earliest
ambition. No wonder that I born to this life and coming back to
it with freshest sympathies should have caught the prevailing
infection. No wonder I longed to buy a part of the trim little
sailboat Dolphin which chanced just then to be in the market. This
was in the latter part of May.
Three shares at five or six dollars each I forget which had
already been taken by Phil Adams Fred Langdon and Binny Wallace.
The fourth and remaining share hung fire. Unless a purchaser could
be found for this the bargain was to fall through.
I am afraid I required but slight urging to join in the investment.
I had four dollars and fifty cents on hand and the treasurer of
the Centipedes (1 A secret society composed of twelve boys of the
Temple Grammar School Rivermouth.) advanced me the balance
receiving my silver pencil-case as ample security. It was a proud
moment when I stood on the wharf with my partners inspecting the
Dolphin moored at the foot of a very slippery flight of steps. She
was painted white with a green stripe outside and on the stern a
yellow dolphin with its scarlet mouth wide open stared with a
surprised expression at its own reflection in the water. The boat
was a great bargain.
I whirled my cap in the air and ran to the stairs leading down
from the wharf when a hand was laid gently on my shoulder. I
turned and faced Captain Nutter (2 Tom Bailey's grandfather.) I
never saw such an old sharp-eye as he was in those days.
I knew he would not be angry with me for buying a rowboat; but I
also knew that the little bowsprit suggesting a jib and the
tapering mast ready for its few square feet of canvas were trifles
not likely to meet his approval. As far as rowing on the river
among the wharves was concerned the Captain had long since
withdrawn his decided objections having convinced himself by
going out with me several times that I could manage a pair of
sculls as well as anybody.
I was right in my surmises. He commanded me in the most emphatic
terms never to go out in the Dolphin without leaving the mast in
the boat-house. This curtailed my anticipated sport but the
pleasure of having a pull whenever I wanted it remained. I never
disobeyed the Captain's orders touching the sail though I
sometimes extended my row beyond the points he has indicated.
The river was dangerous for sailboats. Squalls without the
slightest warning were of frequent occurrence; scarcely a year
passed that three or four persons were not drowned under the very
windows of the town and these oddly enough were generally
seacaptains who either did not understand the river or lacked the
skill to handle a small craft.
A knowledge of such disasters one of which I witnessed consoled
me somewhat when I saw Phil Adams skimming over the water in a
spanking breeze with every stitch of canvas set. There were few
better yachtsmen than Phil Adams. He usually went sailing alone
for both Langdon and Binny Wallace were under the same restrictions
Not long after the purchase of the boat we planned an excursion to
Sandpeep Island the last of the islands in the harbor. We purposed
to start early in the morning and return with the tide in the
moonlight. Our only difficulty was to obtain a whole day's
exemption from school the customary half-holiday not being long
enough for our picnic. Somehow we could not work it; but fortune
arranged it for us. I may say here that whatever else I did I
never played truant ("hookey" we called it) in my life.
One afternoon the four owners of the Dolphin exchanged significant
glances when Mr. Grimshaw announced from the desk that there would
be no school the following day he having just received
intelligence of the death of his uncle in Boston. I was sincerely
attached to Mr. Grimshaw but I am afraid that the death of his
uncle did not affect me as it ought to have done.
We were up before sunrise the next morning in order to take
advantage of the flood-tide which waits for no man. Our
preparations for the cruise were made the previous evening. In the
way of eatables and drinkables we had stored in the stern of the
Dolphin a generous bag of hard-tack (for the chowder) a piece of
pork to fry the cunners in three gigantic apple pies (bought at
Pettingil's) half a dozen lemons and a keg of spring water--the
last-named articles were slung over the side to keep it cool as
soon as we got under way. The crockery and the bricks for our camp-
stove we placed in the bows with the groceries which included
sugar pepper salt and a bottle of pickles. Phil Adams
contributed to the outfit a small tent of unbleached cotton cloth
under which we intended to take our nooning.
We unshipped the mast threw in an extra oar and were ready to
embark. I do not believe that Christopher Columbus when he started
on his rather successful voyage of discovery felt half the
responsibility and importance that weighed upon me as I sat on the
middle seat of the Dolphin with my oar resting in the rowlock. I
wonder if Christopher Columbus quietly slipped out of the house
without letting his estimable family know what he was up to?
Charley Marden whose father had promised to cane him if he ever
stepped foot on sail or row boat came down to the wharf in a sour-
grape humor to see us off. Nothing would tempt him to go out on
the river in such a crazy clam-shell of a boat. He pretended that
he did not expect to behold us alive again and tried to throw a
wet blanket over the expedition.
"Guess you'll have a squally time of it" said Charley casting off
the painter. "I'll drop in at old Newbury's" (Newbury was the
parish undertaker) "and leave word as I go along!"
"Bosh!" muttered Phil Adams sticking the boathook into the
string-piece of the wharf and sending the Dolphin half a dozen
yards toward the current.
How calm and lovely the river was! Not a ripple stirred on the
glassy surface broken only by the sharp cutwater of our tiny
craft. The sun as round and red as an August moon was by this
time peering above the water-line.
The town had drifted behind us and we were entering among the
group of islands. Sometimes we could almost touch with our boat-
hook the shelving banks on either side. As we neared the mouth of
the harbor a little breeze now and then wrinkled the blue water
shook the spangles from the foliage and gently lifted the spiral
mist-wreaths that still clung alongshore. The measured dip of our
oars and the drowsy twitterings of the birds seemed to mingle with
rather than break the enchanted silence that reigned about us.
The scent of the new clover comes back to me now as I recall that
delicious morning when we floated away in a fairy boat down a river
like a dream!
The sun was well up when the nose of the Dolphin nestled against
the snow-white bosom of Sandpeep Island. This island as I have
said before was the last of the cluster one side of it being
washed by the sea. We landed on the river-side the sloping sands
and quiet water affording us a good place to moor the boat.
It took us an hour or more to transport our stores to the spot
selected for the encampment. Having pitched our tent using the
five oars to support the canvas we got out our lines and went
down the rocks seaward to fish. It was early for cunners but we
were lucky enough to catch as nice a mess as ever you saw. A cod
for the chowder was not so easily secured. At last Binny Wallace
hauled in a plump little fellow clustered all over with flaky
To skin the fish build our fireplace and cook the chowder kept us
busy the next two hours.
The fresh air and the exercise had given us the appetites of
wolves and we were about famished by the time the savory mixture
was ready for our clam-shell saucers.
I shall not insult the rising generation on the seaboard by telling
them how delectable is a chowder compounded and eaten in this
Robinson Crusoe fashion. As for the boys who live inland and know
not of such marine feasts my heart is full of pity for them. What
wasted lives! Not to know the delights of a clambake not to love
chowder to be ignorant of lobscouse!
How happy we were we four sitting cross-legged in the crisp salt
grass with the invigorating seabreeze blowing gratefully through
our hair! What a joyous thing was life and how far off seemed
death--death that lurks in all pleasant places and was so near!
The banquet finished Phil Adams drew from his pocket a handful of
sweet-fern cigars; but as none of the party could indulge without
imminent risk of becoming ill we all on one pretext or another
declined and Phil smoked by himself.
The wind had freshened by this and we found it comfortable to put
on the jackets which had been thrown aside in the heat of the day.
We strolled along the beach and gathered large quantities of the
fairy-woven Iceland moss which at certain seasons is washed to
these shores; then we played at ducks and drakes and then the sun
being sufficiently low we went in bathing.