THE VOYAGE OF THE HOPPERGRASS
THE VOYAGE OF THE HOPPERGRASS
EDMUND LESTER PEARSON
July 28 1913
(The anniversary of the sailing of the "Hoppergrass.")
I. THE BEGINNING OF THE VOYAGE
II. A MAN ON A DESERT ISLAND
III. THE LAST OF THE PIRATES
IV. WELL BURIED TREASURE
V. MIDNIGHT BURGLARS
VI. WE ARE OFFERED LODGINGS
VII. BUT WE DECIDE TO GO
VIII. HUNTING THE HOPPERGRASS
IX. THE GOLD COMPANY
X. MR. SNIDER
XI. PIRATES IN TROUBLE
XII. THE VOYAGE BEGINS AGAIN
THE VOYAGE OF THE HOPPERGRASS
THE BEGINNING OF THE VOYAGE
It was a lucky thing that the "Hoppergrass" was a large boat. When
we started there were only four of us--counting Captain
Bannister. But we kept picking up passengers--unexpected ones--
until the Captain said "we'd have the whole County on board." It
was not as bad as that but we were glad before we came home
again that we had a comfortable cabin with plenty of sleeping
She was a big white cat-boat with her name in gilt letters on
the stern. On the day when our voyage began she lay quietly at
anchor well out toward the middle of the river. It was still
early--shortly after five of a morning in July. The river was
quiet with only one or two boats moving--as quiet as the streets
of the town through which we had walked on our way to the wharf.
There had been a shower just before daylight and this had
discouraged us a little but now the sun was coming through the
clouds and there were white spirals of mist rising from the
water. Across the river on Fisher's Island two or three men were
moving about their dories and smoke poured steadily from the
chimneys of the houses. A man's head looked out of the cabin of
"There's someone on board her" said Jimmy Toppan.
"Yes" replied Captain Bannister "it's Clarence. He's havin' some
breakfast I guess. He helped me bring her up river last night
and he slept on board. He aint goin' with us but he'll help us
with this stuff."
Then he shouted: "Hey! Clarence!"
The "Hoppergrass" was Captain Bannister's boat--he had just
bought her. He did not like the name but as yet he had not found
any way of changing it. Captain Bannister was a retired seaman
but I do not know whether he had ever been a full-fledged captain
of a ship. In our town it was often the custom to call a man
"Captain" if he had ever risen as high as mate. The Captain was a
short red-faced man with such bowed legs that you could have
pushed a barrel end-ways right between them. Ed Mason thought
that the Captain's legs were bowed like that because he had been
made to sit for hours astride a barrel. Ed believed that this was
a favorite form of punishment on board ship--especially in the
I had a different idea about the Captain's legs. It was my belief
that they were what sailors call "sea-legs." I had often read in
stories about the ocean of people who were very sick and unhappy
until the got their "sea-legs." After that as near as I could make
out they could balance themselves better as they walked the deck
and they didn't mind the rolling of the ship. It seemed resonable
that a man who had followed the sea for forty years like the
Captain would get "sea-legs" for good and all. But we never dared
to ask the Captain about it.
"Hey! Clarence!" he shouted again. "What's the matter with yer?
Think we want to stand here all day?"
The others of us waiting on the wharf were Ed Mason Jimmy Toppan
and myself. My name was Sam Edwards. (It still IS Sam Edwards of
course except that some people call me Samuel now).
"You boys provide the grub" the Captain had said "an' I'll find
the boat for a week's cruise."
We were more than willing to agree to that and we got our families
to agree to it. In fact we got them so much interested in it that
they fitted us out with a plentiful supply. I had a basket which
contained among other things a whole boiled ham--one of those
hams that are all brown on the outside covered with cracker-crumbs
and sugar with cloves stuck in here and there. It makes me hungry
to think of them. Jimmy's grandmother had provided all kinds of food
including a lot of her celebrated sugar-gingerbread and a water-melon.
Jimmy was carrying the water-melon now by means of a shawl-strap. Ed
Mason brought up the rear of our procession as we came down the wharf
with a wheel-barrow full of the rest of our food--coffee and bacon
crackers pork eggs butter condensed milk (horrid stuff!) and two
or threee loaves of fresh bread. Oh and I forgot threee dozen mince
turnovers brought by Ed Mason.
The Captain snorted a little over the fresh bread and some of the
"If you'd ever had to live for months at a time on salt-hoss an'
hard tack the same's I've done you wouldn't bring soft bread on
a boat. It spiles in no time."
That did not seem to me a good argument for if the Captain didn't
like to live on these things why should he want us to bring them?
But I could see that Jimmy Toppan--who liked everything done
sailor-fashion--was rather fascinated by the idea of eating
nothing but ship's food. Ed Mason and I however had read the
books by Clark Russell and we didn't want to eat biscuits full of
weevils bad meat and all the other unpleasant things they gave
to sailors. We agreed that salt horse or fresh horse either did
not strike our fancy. Anyhow we ate up the soft bread the first
day so we did not have to worry about it afterwards. We counted on
getting fish and clams for chowders and probably some lobsters at
By this time Clarence was coming ashore in the tender. He did not
sit facing the stern and pull with the oars as any ordinary
person would have done. Instead he faced the bow and used the
oars to push with. He had seen the Captain doing this and like
Jimmy it was his aim to be as much of a sailor as possible. Why
the Captain did it I cannot say unless it was for the reason
that sailors often seem to enjoy doing things in an odd and
awkward fashion so as to puzzle landsmen. Neither of them made
very good progress by it and Clarence wabbled the boat and
caught crabs every other stroke.
At last he got alongside the wharf and we put some of our things
in the boat and rowed out to the "Hoppergrass." It took two trips
to carry everything for we had bags of clothes as well as rubber
boots and oil-skins. Ed Mason and Clarence between them managed
to let the water-melon slip out of the straps so it fell into the
river and went bobbing down stream with the tide. The Captain and
I who were still in the tender went after it.
Did you ever try to fish a big water-melon out of a river? It is
about the roundest thing and the slipperyest thing and the
hardest thing to get hold of that you could imagine. It rolls
over and over and when you get it out--plop! it tumbles back
into the water and sinks out of sight. Then it comes up again--
bobbing--at some other place. Clarence and Ed were in an argument
as to which of them had dropped the melon while Jimmy stood up in
the bow and shouted directions to me.
"Gaff it! gaff it! Why don't you gaff it?"
"How can I gaff it? What can I gaff it with--you!"
"Never mind him" said the Captain. "Now look--I'll lay the boat
right across its bows. ... Now wait. ... Now! Can't you get it
I did get it that time and we took it back to the "Hoppergrass."
"You ought to have gaffed it you know" remarked Jimmy.
Captain Bannister climbed on board.
"Come on boys" he said "we want to get under way while this
breeze holds. It don't amount to much now. Sam you take Clarence
ashore and get back as quick as you can. Jimmy you can help me
on the sail an' Ed--you stow all these things below. I've got to
have standin' room."
When I got back from shore Ed had put the clothes and most of the
food into the cabin and the sail was going up.
"Now the anchor" the Captain sang out; "all of yer better take
hold ... one of yer coil up that rope ... now! all together! ...
now! ... now!"
And with the usual and very necessary grunts and groans from the
Captain the anchor slowly came out of the water. We were already
moving down river.
"Swash it round and get that mud off--I don't want any of it on
the deck. ... That's right. Now shove these jugs under the seats
... that's better. What's that striking?"
He was at the wheel listening to the North Church clock.
"Four five six. Fust rate fust rate--I like to get away on
All the clouds had disappeared and it was a fine clear morning.
We were sailing almost into the sun. Perhaps you think that I have
forgotten to tell you where we were going but one of the best
things about the beginning of that voyage was that we didn't know
exactly where we WERE going. All we had to do was to keep on down
the river turn into Sandy Island River and pretty soon we would
come out in Broad Bay. And in Broad Bay there were any number of
islands--some people said three hundred and sixty-five one for
every day of the year. Some of these islands had people living on
them but a great many of them were uninhabited. We could sail
about for a week call at half a dozen different islands every
day and still have a lot of them left over.
"Can we get to Duck Island tonight?" asked Ed Mason.
"Not 'fore tomorrer noon. We'll put in at Little Duck tonight."
We were slipping along now beside a big three-masted schooner--a
coal schooner--which was anchored in mid-stream. The crew must
have been below at breakfast for the decks were deserted except
for one man. He wore a blue shirt and he leaned over the rail
smoking a day pipe. As we passed he spelled out the name on the
stern of our boat. He did this in such a loud voice that it was
clear he wished us to hear him.
"Haitch--o--double p--e--r--HOPPER--g-r-a--double s-GRASS. HOPPER-
And then he scornfully spat into the river.
Captain Bannister's face turned a darker red and he glanced over
his shoulder at the man. Then he bent forward again peered ahead
and under the sail as if sighting our course with great care and
turned the wheel a little.
"Some folks don't have nothin' to do but mind other folks's
business for 'em" he remarked looking aloft as if speaking to
the mast head.
There was silence for a moment. We felt that the man in the blue
shirt had somehow insulted all of us.
"Not that I care what a Pennsylvania Dutchman that aint never been
anywhere 'cept between here an' Philadelphy a-shovellin' coal
says anyhow" he added.
Then he was silent again.
'"Taint as though I give her the name myself" he observed at
last. "Seein' I just got her a week ago last Saturday. I ASKED
Casper Hoyt what under the canopy possessed him to give her a name
like that. Said his father named her. Well I thought his father
must be plumb foolish or something but I didn't like to say so
to HIM. Seems too bad to waste them gilt letters or I'd a-had
another name on her 'fore this. I wanted to use as many of them
letters as I could an' I thought of callin' her for my aunt over
"What is your aunt's name?" inquired Jimmy Toppan.
"Hannah J. Pettingell."
"Isn't that too long a name?"
"Too long? 'Taint as long as the 'Abbie and Elizabeth Sweetser'
that I went out to Calcutta in summer of '68. And yer see I could
use some of them letters--the H an' the P an' the G--but not
all of 'em."
"I don't think I like that name as well as 'Hoppergrass'" said
"Anything's better'n that" replied the Captain decidedly.
"Besides my aunt was a sort of benefactor of mine--she always
said I was her fav'rite nephew."
"Is she dead?"
"Died seven year ago this spring while I was in New Orleans. She
left me her second best ear-trumpet--she was deef as a post. She
had two of 'em. One was a rubber toob sort of thing--pretty nigh
four foot long. She only used that on Sundays an' when the
minister called. She left me the other an' I've got it to home
over the parlor mantelpiece."
I remembered seeing it there when I had called on the Captain. He
lived all alone on West Injy Lane in a house full of cats and
curiosities. The ear-trumpet always had a bouquet of dried flowers
stuffed in the big end and I had supposed that it was a speaking-
trumpet. I thought the Captain had used it to shout orders
through when his ship was going round Cape Horn in a gale. It
disappointed me to hear that it was nothing but his aunt's ear-
trumpet. And I couldn't see why Miss Hannah Pettingell who had
only left the Captain her ear-trumpet (and the second-best one
besides) had any right to have the boat's name changed in her
"I like the name just as it is" I said.
"Do yer?" inquired the Captain. "Well there's no accountin' for
tastes as the man said when he found the monkey eatin' glue."
This seemed to be a joke on me. Ed and Jimmy joined the Captain in
laughing and I felt rather put down. But we soon had something
else to think of for we went on another tack to enter Sandy
Island River. A bridge crossed this river not far from the mouth
and the draw had to be turned to let us through. Ed Mason got a
long fish-horn from the cabin and began to blow it. After a while
the old draw-tender who lived in a shanty quarter of a mile
away came hobbling up the road. He slowly swung open the draw
and then as we approached the bridge peered down at us.
"This yer new boat Lem?" said he to the Captain.
"This is her right enough" said our skipper.
"Sets kinder high in the water don't she?"
The aged draw-tender had the air of a man who was expected to find
fault and was quite able to do it.
"Hadn't noticed it" replied the Captain shortly.
He was attending closely to sailing the boat through the narrow
gap in the bridge. The old man cackled.
"Guess you'll find when you git her outside that them boys 'll
wish you had some more ballast in her."
Then he caught sight of the name on the stern.
"Hopper-grass! Hoppergrass! Where didger git that air name Lem?
Invent it yerself?"
"No I didn't" said the Captain. He was very much irritated and
he did not look around.
"Well then if 'taint yer own inventin' I jes as soon tell yer--
if yer ask ME--that it's the most ding-busted tom-fool name I
ever see on a cat-boat in all my born days."
"Well I didn't ask yer" shouted Captain Bannister "an' it don't
matter two cents to me WHAT you think."
The ancient cackled again. Either he was deaf or else he was
pretending not to hear in order to thorn the Captain. He kept on
with his remarks.
"Yessir the very WUST I ever see on the stern of a boat. That's
what _I_ think Lem an' you can take it or leave it."
There was nothing to do but leave it for we had already left the
bridge behind and were feoon too far away to hear the critic's
remarks. He continued to give us his opinion however for we
could see his jaw move though we could not make out a single word
This river was very different from the main stream. Narrow and
muddy it ran between high banks which were covered with marsh
grass. There were sudden twists and turns so that we never knew
what might be ahead of us. Sometimes we sailed so near the shore
that the boom swept along the bank brushing the grass. Once we
turned a corner suddenly and started up four crows who were
pecking at a dead fish and in another place a big crane jumped
clumsily up from a pool and flapped heavily away. The dark muddy
water boiled up in thousands of bubbles in our wake.
"We'll see if we can get a mess of clams at Pingree's Beach an'
then we'll have a chowder for dinner--what d'yer say boys?"
We all said that the Captain's idea was a good one. There was a
sharp turn in the river just then and he put the boat about to
round a sort of headland where the banks were eight or ten feet
"Hard-a-lee! Look out for your heads" he shouted; and when the
sail had swung over he continued: "I come up through here one
night two years ago in a boat that belonged to Dave Rodigrass--I
was bringing her up from Little Duck Island for him. It was
thicker'n burgoo an' when I got the other side o' this pint I
heard a feller sing out from this side that he was aground an' he
warned me off an' when I got here I couldn't see him an' pretty
soon he begun shoutin' from the other side. I tell yer I thought
I'd got 'em again or something an' I--"
The Captain's recollections stopped that instant for a voice--a
loud cheerful voice--arose only a few feet from us. It came from
the other side of the sail and that was all we could tell about
"Look out there!" it shouted "look out! Oh I mean: ship ahoy!
This hail came so suddenly that it made us jump and Ed Mason who
was standing up forward nearly fell overboard. He grabbed the
mast to save himself and then we all stooped to looked under the
sail. The shouting had begun again and there was a great racket
of "Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!"
A MAN ON A DESERT ISLAND