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Monday, August 4, 2014

A Life of Peril Chapter Three

A short time Job on a Boat as a Mate
We had been in St. Louis about a month and I had picked up some “get by” jobs while Les went to work at a saloon sitting with a shot gun in his hands.  He made more money than we had ever made and he only worked in the evenings.

There were a couple other guys working there doing the same thing so they could trade off and take a break ever so often.  He liked it because it allowed him to sleep in late every day. Les had a new girlfriend who thought he was special because of his job. He said he could get me on but that job just didn’t fit me.

I hung around the docks and soon got acquainted with several of the Stevedores’ who got me on as extra help about every day. One of the ferry boat captains lost his first mate due to him cutting another man and being in jail.

He was looking for a mate so I told him I was experienced and would like the job. He starred at me a long time and I answered him with my best French accent after some time he shook his head and said get us ready to cast off.

I grabbed the nearest deck hand and said get us ready to cast off. He looked at me and said aye skipper and walked away laughing.  He yelled out some orders and an hour later he came back and said ready to cast off when you are sir. I went up to the captain and told him we were ready.

He quickly looked at me and then looked the boat over and shouted “cast off.”

The next thing I knew we were heading down the river. The guy at the helm seemed to know what he was doing so I went down to the lower deck and found the seaman name Josh who got the boat ready and I said good work. He laughed and said you are the new first mate are you? I said yes I am the man. He couldn’t stop laughing and said you don’t know a thing about ferries and the river do you? I had to laugh also and said, “Not a thing.”

Then I asked, “Are you going to tell the captain?”

He said, “I won’t have to for you can’t fool him. He has been on the river a long time.”

He went on and said, “I’m going to teach you everything you need to know and the rest comes by experience.”

By the time we got to the first stop I knew enough with Josh’s help to get us docked, and cargo switched.  Then we were back on the river. That was the way it went all the way south to New Orleans. By the time we got there I was doing a fair job.

The captain gave me a lot of orders and talked under his breath a lot. The things he said that way weren’t very complementary but as the days went by he talked under his breath less and less which I took to mean I was improving.

I had to ask Josh why he helped me so much and he said, “I didn’t want the old mate back for he was a bully and mean to go along with it.  I talked to some of the deck hands and they agreed to cover for your mistakes and ignore your orders when necessary and do it right.”

After we unloaded at New Orleans the captain said it was the best trip he had for a long time.

We had a couple of days off before readying the boat for the trip back to St. Louis.

Josh told me to spend the time getting to know the boat inside and out. And forget about going to shore for we would have a few hours after we were loaded to see the town.

I was all over the ferry from the engine room to the bridge. There wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen on it.

The new load was a mixed bag of goods. There were tools for the settlers and of course a lot of cotton. I enjoyed the sightseeing but was glad to be loaded and on the way up stream.

The captain was angry at the crew and me for allowing several jugs of whiskey and rum on board.  He was on me for the most of it cause was my job to see that didn’t happened.

There was a lot of moaning as I dumped the jugs over board but they quieted down when I let them keep a couple of jugs hidden away. There was a daily allowance for the crew but they always wanted more.

When I got back to St. Louis I looked up Les and he was still doing the same thing as before.  He introduced me to his new girlfriend. Seems the one he had when I left just wasn’t right.

Les seemed a bit aloof and he had other things to do besides hanging out with me. I could see that our close relationship was drawing to an end. It was time to go our separate ways and find out what we wanted to do on our own.

He was ahead of me in that direction. He had started to drink and lay up with one girl after another while I was more interested in learning about the river life.

I tried to talk him out of being a guard at the large saloon he worked at but to no avail.  He said he could take care of himself but I argued that he couldn’t defend himself from back shooters.

I became a top first mate with the help of Josh who had become my best friend on the river. I asked him why he didn’t want to take the first mates job and he said he just wasn’t interested because it put too much distance between the crew and the officers of the ferry. I could understand because being in charge, giving orders did separate the two groups.

Authority carried with it more responsibility than just obeying orders.

To be Continued

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