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W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XLII, No. 4 (Oct 1875)
pp. 331-334.

"Cobbing" the Cook.
"Cobbing" the Cook 331



      We had sent our boats in at the island of St. Felix, in the Pacific Ocean, for a mess of fresh fish, a luxury to which our palates had for some months been strangers. We had, it is true, caught albicore and bonita, which made something of a change from the monotony of salt junk; but these were not to be compared with the really fresh fish, such as are caught on soundings. We now had some pulled up from the very base of the rocks, the flavor of which could be depended upon; and it was determined to have a genuine Yankee "chowder."

      We had good evidence on board the Alaska. for proving the truth of the old saying so common among sailors, that "the Almighty sends us grub, but the devil sends cooks." Our cook, who was a black Portuguese from one of the Cape Verde Islands, bore conspicuous marks of diabolical origin. Indeed he might well have sat for a portrait of the devil himself, horns, hoofs, tormentors and all. Unskillfulness in cookery is rather a trying evil for Jack, who is its victim, to endure; but this can be borne with a tolerable degree of philosophy, if the cook's habits be neat and cleanly. For seamen are far more fastidious in this little particular than their longshore brothers and sisters give them credit for. When, as in our case, the presiding genius of the galley is noted for the filthy condition of that department, and for the utmost carelessness and slackness about his personal habits, the nuisance becomes intolerable.

      The chowder was made, and the operation of cooking it having been supervised by some of the knowing ones, who had from time to time made flying visits to the galley, it was pronounced all right. For once they believed we might count on having a mess that would gladden both our palates and stomachs. "The Doctor" was sulky and his black mug even blacker than was natural to him, because he did not like this show of interest in the cookery, which he considered an unwarrantable interference with his prerogative. He never, of course, expressed his feelings in any such dictionary words as those I have used; but his expletives were often quite as ponderous in their way. He was cordially hated by all hands, but there was a touch of fear mingled with this hatred; for Perez was a fellow of Herculean proportions and muscle, with a savage vindictive temper.

      The tinpans rallied briskly round the cook's coppers when eight bells were struck, and each man was soon driving his spoon deep down into the savory mess, and, as he sipped the contents, smacking his lips with infinite gusto. Suddenly old Ben Knox held up something in his spoon, and rose to his feet with an expression of horror on his face.

      "What's the matter, Ben?" shouted half a dozen voices in chorus.

      "Does St. Felix fish have sich bones as them?" he asked, deliberately; and lowering his spoon, exhibited a short pipe or "dudheen," colored deeper than the most ardent meerschaum-fancier would desire – in fact, burned blacker than the cook's own visage, and still half-charged with burnt tobacco!

      In an instant the whole forecastle was up in arms. This was the feather that was to break the camel's back. There was no longer any hesitation about proceeding to active measures. A league, offensive and defensive, was at once made against the common enemy, and shouts of "Cob him! Cob him!" were raised in several quarters at once.

      "Silence!" said old Ben, who had by a kind of tacit consent assumed the leadership in the business. "Don't give him the alarm beforehand! Keep silence, and follow me."

      Up the ladder rushed all hands in procession, and made a charge upon the galley. Old Perez, all unconscious of his peril, was eating his own dinner very leisurely.

      "Come out here, you dirty black thief!" roared old Knox, seizing him by his woolly head, while another gripped hold of his arm. The tinpan of chowder went crashing to the floor of the galley, the whites of the cook's eyes rolled up for a moment until he had taken in the situation. He had

332 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      no time to seize any weapon, but down went his head as a battering-ram into the stomach of his first assailant, who tumbled to the deck on short allowance of breath. A single jerk released his brawny black arm from the grasp of Sam Lewis, before any third party could rush in to his support, and the cook stood at bay, his eyes flashing defiance.

      "Diabo! what for all dis?" he asked, backing into his citadel and seizing his tormentors.

      "Why don't you lay hold of him, you lubbers?" gasped old Ben, who was struggling to rise, but half doubled up with pain from the "butting" operation he had undergone.

      This was very good advice, no doubt; but was not easy to follow, the enemy having great advantages of position, which he seemed determined to hold.

      "Gi' me that handspike!" said Sam Lewis, half frantic with rage, to one of the boys who was looking on. "Gi' me that, and I'll fetch him."

      But as he received it from the boy, a heavy potlid met him full in the forehead, knocking both him and his weapon into the scuppers. A rush was made by several more, but it was not quick enough. The tall form stood erect, barring the entrance to the galley, and the tormentors gleamed high in air. We all fell back.

      The matter was now getting serious. We had set out to cob the cook; and thus far were making but a cobbling job of it. But with a sudden crash, the weather-galley door was now driven in, striking old Perez with considerable force upon the back of the head, and he pitched forward with an impetus that sent him right in among us, dropping his tormentors as he fell.

      The galley had as usual, two doors, and the weather one had been fastened on the inside. The credit of this manoeuvre was due to the infuriated Ben Knox, who, had thus turned the cook's position and taken him in the rear, rushing forward over the fallen door to complete the victory. Now was the moment for a general attack, and the poor Portuguese was overwhelmed by numbers, and forcibly dragged to his fate. Plucky to the last, he disdained to cry out for help, though he might, by so doing, have raised an alarm and brought the officers from their dinner.

      Panting and helpless in the grasp of many strong arms he was bundled bodily along the deck to the windlass-end, over which he was curved head downward on one side, and feet on the other. He was held down in this attitude by main force, while old Ben Knox armed with a thin barrel-stave swung it high over his head, and brought it down with all his power of muscle across that part of the cook's body which was thus elevated to receive the blow.


      A hurried step was audible from the quarter-deck. and the mate's face appeared as he came past the try-works.

      "Avast there! What's going on?"

      The habit of obedience to constituted authority is strong with sailors, and always has its due effect in well-regulated ships. At the words "Avast there!" the whole programme was changed, and all hands looked at the captain who, with the other officers about him, now made his appearance on the stage.

      "What's the meaning of all this?" asked Captain Hathaway, "Cobbing the cook, eh?"

      "Yes sir," responded old Ben, whose tongue was loosened, now that he had a chance to reply to a direct question. " See here, sir, would you like such seasoning as that in your chowder, sir, if it was your case?" And he held aloft the old black pipe, as if to say, that provocation would justify anything, even to mutiny.

      "Did you find that in your chowder?"

      "Yes sir, I fished it out of my own pan."

      "Well, well," said the old man, who felt good-natured after dinner, and whose dinner, by the way, was not served up from the same copper as ours. "It's bad enough, I'll admit; but its dropping into the chowder was an accident that might have happened to anybody else as well as to old Perez. There's fish enough left, and you can begin anew, and have another chowder – but don't let me see nor hear any more of this sort of work." His tone was now firm and decided. "If there's any cobbing to be done in this ship, I'll do it myself. Go to your duty, now, all of you. Cook, be off to your galley, and cook them another chowder, if they want it – without any pipes or tobacco in it."

      There was no reply to be made to this, and we all went away to nurse our wrath.

"Cobbing" the Cook 333

Old Knox by reason of his lame stomach and short wind, and Sam with his broken head, had special reasons for cherishing unpleasant memories of the little episode; while the Portuguese himself, secret and reticent as ever, cooked another mess as he had been ordered, and cherished thoughts of vengeance.

      And now, from this day forward, began a sort of "reign of terror" in the Alaska's forecastle. Dark hints were thrown out by certain alarmists that we were all in peril of being poisoned by the deep and mysterious "Doctor." The contagion spread among us until all were more or less infected; and some "had it so bad" that they confined themselves to a diet of hard tack and sweetened water. The coffee and the "scouse" underwent rigid and suspicious examination; the steward received confidential cautions from one and another to be careful of the key of the medicine-chest; and a "round-robin" was signed and handed in to headquarters, praying for the cook's removal from office. But the old man only laughed at it, and ridiculed all fears on this head. He would answer for the cook, he said, that if we let him alone, he would do as well as heretofore – which he knew was not saying much. No one cared to show any open hostility towards the cook, for our taste of his prowess had not been at all encouraging. But there was a dread and uneasiness upon all hands, which made a very uncomfortable state of things.

      It was hoped that the object of our fears would run away from the ship at Tahiti. We had been in port a week before he was given a good opportunity for so doing, by being sent ashore on liberty. Sam Lewis and old Ben were both in the same watch, and were observed to sail in company from the time they landed; for they considered themselves liable to be special butts for the cook's vengeance, and neither of them dared to tackle the giant single-handed. They separated at night, however, as they had made arrangements to sleep at different houses. It was about nine o'clock in the evening when a wherry, pulled by a native boatman, came alongside, and in it was Sam, with his head tied up and smarting with pain, one of his ears having been cut off close to his head! He had ventured out in the evening alone, and while in a retired part of the road, the tall form of Perez suddenly started up directly in front of him. There was no escape for him; the suddenness of the attack was such, that he had not even time to cry out before he was seized like a pig by the ear, and the next instant, his assailant was off like a deer, bearing the cartilage as a trophy, while poor Sam was left holding on the stump, and in the midst of his agony, giving thanks that his throat was not cut instead of his ear.

      We had hardly got Sam's wound dressed and made him as comfortable as the ship's resources would admit, when Knox himself arrived in a little canoe, and clambered, swearing and grumbling, up the side. To our astonishment, he was maimed in the same manner as his chum; only he had lost the right ear and Sam the left. Ben was very drunk, or at least had been before the pain and bleeding had partially sobered him, and was unable to give any I account of the circumstances. The last he knew, he lay down to sleep in the back room of a native house, and was woke by the pain of his wound, to find himself minus an ear. There was no one but himself in that part of the house at the time; and the Kanakas had seen no one. The person who had thus curtailed Ben of his fair proportions, must have entered and departed by the little backdoor, and there could be no doubt that both he and Sam had suffered by the same hand.

      The cook did not report himself next morning. Not coming on board, he was simply considered as "missing," and as by this time, the captain, as well as everybody else, felt relieved to be well rid of him, nothing was said to the French authorities about his absence for three or four days, when, as we were nearly ready for sea, the captain reported him as a deserter. But he offered no reward for his arrest, and gave the police to understand that he was quite indifferent about any special effort at recapture. The singular circumstances of our two men having their ears cut off, were of course known on shore, but the black was most effectually "missing," for nothing had been seen of him since that night. His manner of revenging himself was truly an odd one, and had in it something characteristic of the African stock from which he came. He had completed his purpose of squaring accounts with his. two principal enemies, and was satisfied.

334 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      Visiting Tahiti a year afterwards we learned that our man had never been captured. But in a recent skirmish with a mountain tribe which still held out in the fastnesses against the French military power, a gigantic negro, fighting on the side of the mountaineers had been killed, and his body brought off by the troops in their retreat. This man had been noted for his prowess and daring on several previous occasions, and it was made a point of honor to secure his body, though several soldiers were killed or wounded in doing so. About the neck of this black Hercules were found suspended a number of savage trophies, and among the rest, several human ears, all of which seemed to have been cut from white men. They were naturally supposed to have belonged to French soldiers, who had from time to time lost their lives in previous conflicts. But my mutilated shipmates could have testified whence two of them came, though they might not have been able to identify their own among the strange collection. They both have reason to be thankful that the revenge of Perez did not take a more deadly form instead of this eccentric one – for they can still laugh over their attempt at "cobbing the cook," as a curious episode in their lives, and a foundation for a thrilling yarn which they well know how to embellish.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: "Cobbing" the Cook.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 42, No. 4 (Oct 1875)
Pages: 331-334