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The Crew of the Water Wagtail   By: (1825-1894)

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It is well that mankind cannot pry into the secrets of futurity.

At all events, it is certain that if the crew of the Water Wagtail had known what was in store for them when they set sail from Bristol, one fine spring morning at the beginning of the sixteenth century, most of them would have remained at home though it is not improbable that, even with full knowledge of coming events, some of the romantic among them, and a few of the reckless, might have decided to go on.

Undoubtedly Paul Burns would have scorned to draw back, for he was a "hero of romance;" an enthusiast of the deepest dye, with an inquiring mind, a sanguine disposition, and a fervent belief in all things great and good and grand. He was also a six footer in his socks, a horse in constitution, a Hercules in frame, with a hook nose and a hawk eye and a strong jaw and all the rest of it. Paul had a good brain, too, and was well educated as education went in those days. Yes, there can be little doubt that even though Paul Burns had been able to see into the future, he would have deliberately chosen to go on that voyage.

So would Oliver Trench, for Oliver worshipped Paul! He loved him as if he had been an elder brother. He admired him, afar off, as a rare specimen of human perfection. He looked up to him, physically as well as mentally, for Oliver was at that time little more than a boy of medium size, but bold as a bull dog and active as a weasel. Yes, we are safe to say that a revelation of the disasters, dangers, sufferings, etcetera, in store, would not have deterred Oliver Trench. He would have gone on that voyage simply because Paul Burns went. That was reason enough for him. The devotion of Ruth to Naomi was mild compared with that of Oliver to Paul if words are a test of feelings for Ruth's beautiful language could not compare with the forcible expressions with which Oliver assured his friend that he would stick to him, neck or nothing, through thick and thin, to the latest hour of life!

As for the rest of the crew Big Swinton, Little Stubbs, George Blazer, Squill, and the like it was well, as we have said, that they could not see into the future.

There were forty of them, all told, including the cook and the cabin boy. We do not include Paul Burns or Oliver Trench, because the former was naturalist to the expedition a sort of semi scientific freelance; and the latter, besides being the master's, or skipper's, son, was a free and easy lance, so to speak, whose duties were too numerous to mention, and too indefinite to understand. Most of the men were what is expressed by the phrase "no better than they should be." Some of them, indeed, were even worse than that. The wars of the period had rendered it difficult to obtain good seamen at that particular time, so that merchant skippers had to content themselves with whatever they could get. The crew of the Water Wagtail was unusually bad, including, as it did, several burglars and a few pickpockets, besides loafers and idlers; so that, before leaving Bristol, a friend of the skipper, whose imagination was lively, styled it a crew of forty thieves.

The coast of Norway was the destination of the Water Wagtail . She never reached the coast of but we must not anticipate. What her object was in reference to Norway we cannot tell. Ancient records are silent on the point.

The object of Paul Burns was to gather general information. At that period the world was not rich in general information. To discover, to dare, to do if need were, to die was the intention of our big hero. To be similarly circumstanced in a small way was our little hero's ambition.

"Goin' to blow," remarked Skipper Trench, on the evening of the day on which he sailed, as he paced the deck with his hands in his pockets, and, as his son Oliver said, his "weather eye" open... Continue reading book >>

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