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CHAPTER II

THE day was not yet broken when the ‘watch’ of the ship Vulcan, lying becalmed off the—coast, was roused by a peculiar noise aft. Going to the spot he was surprised to find a much-bedraggled monkey rubbing itself on a pile of sail-cloth. The creature had evidently swum or drifted a long distance, and was now endeavouring to restore circulation. Jerry, being a humane man, got it some biscuit, and a saucer of grog, and waited developments. These were not slow to show themselves; within twenty-four hours the commander of the ship Vulcan, 740 tons register, was a monkey named Tricky.

Time would fail me to tell of the life that monkey led them all on board the Vulcan. After the first week only two things lay between him and death at any moment. One was his inventiveness. Tricky’s wickedness was nothing if not original. Every day he was at some new villainy; and anything new on board ship is sacred. There is no Punch published on board ship; but Tricky was all the comic papers rolled into one. But that was not the main reason. There is a good deal of quiet quarrelling on board ship. The mate spared Tricky because he thought he would some day give the Captain a ‘turn’; the Captain let him live, hoping he would do something dreadful to the mate. Everybody waited to see Tricky do something to somebody else. So he rose to the highest rank in the merchant-marine, and was respected almost to idolatry by all on board the Vulcan.

One day Tricky was hanged—formally, deliberately, and judicially hanged. What had he done? He had killed the ship cat. It was a deliberate murder, with no extenuating circumstances, and a rope, with a noose, was swung over the yard-arm, and Tricky run up in the presence of all the crew. This happened about eight bells, and at dusk Tricky was still hanging there, very quiet and motionless. Next morning Tricky was still there—as live as you are. Tricky was not hanged, he was only hanging; and, as everybody knows, monkeys rather like hanging. In fact, though Tricky was still up there, he had got his hands well round the rope, and was, on the whole, fairly at home. The rope round a neck like Tricky’s was a mere boa.

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Next Morning Tricky Was Still There

The executioners were rather ashamed of themselves when they saw how matters stood; but instead of softening them, this dangling mockery of a dead monkey still further roused their wrath, and the boatswain was told off to end the drama by tossing Tricky into the sea. The boatswain was up the shrouds in a moment, and loosening the rope with one hand, and catching the monkey by the tail with the other, he swung poor Tricky a good yard over the ship’s side into the Atlantic.

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It Was Only Tricky Shaking the Salt-Water Off

When the boatswain descended upon the deck he was greeted with a sudden deluge of rain. It was only Tricky shaking the salt-water off. The monkey had climbed up the stern rope, and reached the deck before him. What would have happened next is hard to predict, but at this point the Captain, attracted by the scream of laughter which greeted the drenching of the boatswain, came up and was told the sequel to the hanging. Now the Captain was a blunt, good-natured man, and he avowed that neither man nor monkey who had ever been hanged on board his ship should ever be put to death again. This was the law on shore, he said, and he would see fair-play. So Tricky received another lease of life, and thus the ship Vulcan was kept in hot water for two months more.

About the end of that period there came a crisis. The ship was nearing port, and a heavy cleaning was in progress. Among other things the ship’s boats had to be painted. In an evil hour one of the men went below to dinner, and left his paint-pot standing on the deck. If Tricky had lost a chance he would not have been a monkey at all. Needless to say, he rose to the occasion. That his supreme hour was come was quite evident from the way he set to work at once. He began with the parrot, which he painted vermillion; then he passed the brush gaily along the newly varnished woodwork—daubed the masts and shrouds all over, obliterated the name on the life-buoys, and wound up a somewhat successful performance by emptying the pot over the Captain’s best coat, which was laid in the sun to get the creases out.

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He Began with the Parrot

I draw a veil over what happened on the Vulcan during the next quarter of an hour. There was never such a muster of the crew since they left port. Everybody seemed to have business on deck. When the Captain came up you could have heard a pin drop. I shall not repeat his language, nor try to compare with anything earthly the voice with which he ordered every man below. All I will record is—and it is to his everlasting honour—that in that awful hour the Captain was true to his vow. ‘Do you see land?’ he roared to the steersman. ‘Ay, ay, sir,’ said the man, ‘land on the larboard bow.’ ‘Then,’ said the Captain, ‘put her head to it.’

That night, late, the ship stood close in to a small island on the north coast of Scotland and a boat was solemnly sent ashore, and after that Tricky was no more seen by any of the crew of the Vulcan.

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