At the age of eighteen, after a sea-experience of six years from the time when I dodged about London streets, a ragged Arab, with wits sharpened by the constant fight for food, I found myself roaming the streets of New Bedford, Massachusetts. How I came to be there, of all places in the world, does not concern this story at all, so I am not going to trouble my readers with it; enough to say that I WAS there, and mighty anxious to get away. Sailor Jack is always hankering for shore when he is at sea, but when he is "outward bound" - that is, when his money is all gone - he is like a cat in the rain there.

So as MY money was all gone, I was hungry for a ship; and when a long, keen-looking man with a goat-like beard, and mouth stained with dry tobacco-juice, hailed me one afternoon at the street- corner, I answered very promptly, scenting a berth. "Lookin' fer a ship, stranger?" said he. "Yes; do you want a hand?" said I, anxiously. He made a funny little sound something like a pony's whinny, then answered, "Wall, I should surmise that I want between fifty and sixty hands, ef yew kin lay me onto 'em; but, kem along, every dreep's a drop, an' yew seem likely enough." With that he turned and led the way until we reached a building around which were gathered one of the most nondescript crowds I had ever seen. There certainly did not appear to be a sailor among them. Not so much by their rig, though that is not a great deal to go by, but by their actions and speech. One thing they all had in common, tobacco chewing but as nearly every male I met with in America did that, it was not much to be noticed. I had hardly done reckoning them up when two or three bustling men came out and shepherded us all energetically into a long, low room, where some form of agreement was read out to us. Sailors are naturally and usually careless about the nature of the "articles" they sign, their chief anxiety being to get to sea, and under somebody's charge. But had I been ever so anxious to know what I was going to sign this time, I could not, for the language might as well have been Chinese for all I understood of it. However, I signed and passed on, engaged to go I knew not where, in some ship I did not know even the name of, in which I was to receive I did not know how much, or how little, for my labour, nor how long I was going to be away. "What a young fool!" I hear somebody say. I quite agree, but there were a good many more in that ship, as in most ships that I have ever sailed in.

From the time we signed the articles, we were never left to ourselves. Truculent-looking men accompanied us to our several boarding-houses, paid our debts for us, finally bringing us by boat to a ship lying out in the bay. As we passed under her stern, I read the name CACHALOT, of New Bedford; but as soon as we ranged alongside, I realized that I was booked for the sailor's horror - a cruise in a whaler. Badly as I wanted to get to sea, I had not bargained for this, and would have run some risks to get ashore again; but they took no chances, so we were all soon aboard. Before going forward, I took a comprehensive glance around, and saw that I was on board of a vessel belonging to a type which has almost disappeared off the face of the waters. A more perfect contrast to the trim-built English clipper-ships that I had been accustomed to I could hardly imagine. She was one of a class characterized by sailors as "built by the mile, and cut off in lengths as you want 'em," Bow and stern almost alike masts standing straight as broomsticks, and bowsprit soaring upwards at an angle of about forty-five degrees. She was as old-fashioned in her rig as in her hull; but I must not go into the technical differences between rigs, for fear of making myself tedious. Right in the centre of the deck, occupying a space of about ten feet by eight, was a square erection of brickwork, upon which my wondering gaze rested longest, for I had not the slightest idea what it could be. But I was rudely roused from my meditations by the harsh voice of one of the officers, who shouted, "Naow then, git below an' stow yer dunnage, 'n look lively up agin." I took the, broad hint, and shouldering my traps, hurried forward to the fo'lk'sle, which was below deck. Tumbling down the steep ladder, I entered the gloomy den which was to be for so long my home, finding it fairly packed with my shipmates. A motley crowd they were. I had been used in English ships to considerable variety of nationality; but here were gathered, not only the representatives of five or six nations, but 'long-shoremen of all kinds, half of whom had hardly ever set eyes on a ship before! The whole space was undivided by partition, but I saw at once that black men and white had separated themselves, the blacks taking the port side and the whites the starboard. Finding a vacant bunk by the dim glimmer of the ancient teapot lamp that hung amidships, giving out as much smoke as light, I hurriedly shifted my coat for a "jumper" or blouse, put on an old cap, and climbed into the fresh air again. For a double reason, even MY seasoned head was feeling bad with the villainous reek of the place, and I did not want any of those hard-featured officers on deck to have any cause to complain of my "hanging back." On board ship, especially American ships, the first requisite for a sailor who wants to be treated properly is to "show willing," any suspicion of slackness being noted immediately, and the backward one marked accordingly. I had hardly reached the deck when I was confronted by a negro, the biggest I ever saw in, my life. He looked me up and down for a moment, then opening his ebony features in a wide smile, he said, "Great snakes! why, here's a sailor man for sure! Guess thet's so, ain't it, Johnny?" I said "yes" very curtly, for I hardly liked his patronizing air; but he snapped me up short with "yes, SIR, when yew speak to me, yew blank lime-juicer. I'se de fourf mate ob dis yar ship, en my name's Mistah Jones, 'n yew, jest freeze on to dat ar, ef yew want ter lib long'n die happy. See, sonny." I SAW, and answered promptly, "I beg your pardon, sir, I didn't know." Ob cawse yew didn't know, dat's all right, little Britisher; naow jest skip aloft 'n loose dat fore-taupsle." "Aye, aye, sir," I answered cheerily, springing at once into the fore-rigging and up the ratlines like a monkey, but not too fast to hear him chuckle, "Dat's a smart kiddy, I bet." I had the big sail loose in double quick time, and sung out "All gone, the fore-taupsle," before any of the other sails were adrift. "Loose the to-gantsle and staysles" came up from below in a voice like thunder, and I bounded up higher to my task. On deck I could see a crowd at the windlass heaving up anchor. I said to myself, "They don't waste any time getting this packet away." Evidently they were not anxious to test any of the crew's swimming powers. They were wise, for had she remained at anchor that night I verily believe some of the poor wretches would have tried to escape.

The anchor came aweigh, the sails were sheeted home, and I returned on deck to find the ship gathering way for the heads, fairly started on her long voyage.

What a bear-garden the deck was, to be sure! The black portion of the crew - Portuguese natives from the Western and Canary Islands - were doing their work all right in a clumsy fashion; but the farmers, and bakers, and draymen were being driven about mercilessly amid a perfect hurricane of profanity and blows. And right here I must say that, accustomed as I had always been to bad language all my life, what I now heard was a revelation to me. I would not, if I could, attempt to give a sample of it, but it must be understood that it was incessant throughout the voyage. No order could be given without it, under the impression, apparently, that the more curses the more speed.

Before nightfall we were fairly out to sea, and the ceremony of dividing the crew into watches was gone through. I found myself in the chief mate's or "port" watch (they called it "larboard," a term I had never heard used before, it having long been obsolete in merchant ships), though the huge negro fourth mate seemed none too well pleased that I was not under his command, his being the starboard watch under the second mate.

As night fell, the condition of the "greenies," or non-sailor portion of the crew, was pitiable. Helpless from sea-sickness, not knowing where to go or what to do, bullied relentlessly by the ruthless petty officers - well, I never felt so sorry for a lot of men in my life. Glad enough I was to get below into the fo'lk'sle for supper, and a brief rest and respite from that cruelty on deck. A bit of salt junk and a piece of bread, i.e. biscuit, flinty as a pantile, with a pot of something sweetened with "longlick" (molasses), made an apology for a meal, and I turned in. In a very few minutes oblivion came, making me as happy as any man can be in this world.