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The Boy Tar   By: (1818-1883)

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The Boy Tar, by Captain Mayne Reid.

This is a really extraordinary book, especially when you consider that the author was the first to write in the Wild West genre, and was also no mean naturalist. It is true that he did write a few books with a sea setting, much like those by other nautical authors. But this book, although the setting for most of the book is inside the cargo hold of a merchant vessel, doesn't really fit into any of Reid's usual genres.

The young hero is a very little lad, no more than four feet high. He has friends among the other boys of the village, but none of them seem to get up to his sort of escapades. One of these involves stowing away in the hold of a vessel bound for Peru, six months' voyage away. He stowed away, as he thought, just before she sailed, but what he didn't realise was that there was a great deal of last minute cargo yet to be loaded. When the ship finally sailed he found that he was right at the bottom of a huge amount of cargo. Luckily he found that there were some boxes of biscuits nearby, and, luckily also, some water casks. He works out that he might be able to survive the six months on these supplies. What he didn't reckon on were the rats, who soon deprived him of the biscuits. It then became imperative to get out.

The next forty chapters, no less, detail the painstaking way in which, armed only with a good knife, which eventually breaks and has to be repaired somehow, and in the dark, remember, he makes his way through layer after layer of cargo; through brandy casks, pianos, boxes of ladies' bonnets; and all this in a hold whose shape made it harder and harder the more he mounted towards the cargo hatch. This a very gripping tale, faultlessly written, and very hard to put down. Unlike other tales of the sea nobody gets killed, though some of the rats have to go, even being eaten as the boy's hunger mounts.

Of course it does have a happy ending, but not many of us could have done what he did, and certainly not many little chaps only four feet in height. Makes a superb audiobook.




My name is Philip Forster, and I am now an old man.

I reside in a quiet little village, that stands upon the sea shore, at the bottom of a very large bay one of the largest in our island.

I have styled it a quiet village, and so it really is, though it boasts of being a seaport. There is a little pier or jetty of chiselled granite, alongside which you may usually observe a pair of sloops, about the same number of schooners, and now and then a brig. Big ships cannot come in. But you may always note a large number of boats, either hauled up on the beach, or scudding about the bay, and from this, you may conclude that the village derives its support rather from fishing than commerce. Such in reality is the fact.

It is my native village the place in which I was born, and where it is my intention to die.

Notwithstanding this, my fellow villagers know very little about me. They only know me as "Captain Forster," or more specifically as "The Captain," this soubriquet being extended to me as the only person in the place entitled to it.

Strictly speaking, I am not entitled to it. I have never been a captain of soldiers, nor have I held that rank in the navy. I have only been the master of a merchant vessel, in other words, a "skipper." But the villagers are courteous, and by their politeness I am styled "Captain."

They know that I live in a pretty cottage about half a mile from the village, up shore; they know that I live alone for my old housekeeper can scarce be accounted as company; they see me each day pass through the place with my telescope under my arm; they note that I walk out on the pier, and sweep the offing with my glass, and then, perhaps, return home again, or wander for an hour or two along the shore... Continue reading book >>

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