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Bill Thayer

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Dialogue between a Sailor and a Mouse

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Life in a Man-of‑War

a Fore‑top-man

published by
Houghton Mifflin Company
Boston and New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Progress Homeward
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p269  The Three Dogs

A Man-of‑war Yarn

One beauteous night as our trim ship

Did over the waters homeward skip,

With stunsails, royals, and all sail,

Spread for to woo the prosperous gale;

'Twas in October or November,

Which month I can't just now remember;

But this I know, the breeze was fine,

I think too, we had crossed the line.

We crossed it, let me see, I'm right!

October third, on Sunday night;

So therefore, folks, your minds to ease,

We'll say October, if you please.

Well then, 'twas at that "witching hour"

When sleep had thrown its magic power

Over our hardy sons of Ocean,

Who lay stretched out devoid of motion,

The hard rough plank their only bed,

Some coil of rigging 'neath their head;

Still they slept sounder I will vouch,

Than scores who press a costly couch; —

As I strolled round quite free from care,

Snuffing the cooling midnight air —

Watching anon the orb of night

As she poured forth her silv'ry light —

And blessing the breeze so fair and strong

That now was urging us along;

As I gazed round with vacant eye,

Our three ships' dogs I chanced to spy,

Who, on the trunk together sat,

Engaged in quite a friendly chat.

First, there was "Bull," a curly pup,

Who was on Chili's coast picked up;

And might have run his mortal race

In that same "love inspiring" place

But that a sailor of our ship,

Who took on liberty a trip,

Beheld his yellow shaggy coat

As he reeled down towards the boat;

 p270  He grapped him, as he "damn'd his eyes,"

And bore him aboard a lawful prize.

The next was long-tailed, smooth-skinned "Tip,"

But some few weeks on board our ship;

A lanky dog of haughty mien,

Who 'mongst the men was seldom seen —-

He was a fancy reefer's cur,

(Mind you I mean to cast no slur,)

Who lived quite stylish I must own —

Had the picking of each well-picked bone,

The licking of the cock‑pit dishes,

Until he satisfied his wishes;

And all the meat too, he could find

When the young gentlemen had dined.

"Tip" soon did this high living feel,

His shape was truly quite genteel;

And as for plumpness, and all that,

As any match he was as fat.

The third dog, he was "Tip's" own brother,

But they were nothing like each other,

Except the colour of their skins —

By that you'd judge they might be twins;

For "Pincher" was a sailor pup,

To every roguish trick was up;

And 'stead of cruising every meal

Amongst the lockers, for to steal

Whatever little grub was there,

Into some mess he would repair;

And his round paunch, and sturdy limb,

Proved that the folks did not starve him. —

Those were the three that met my eyes;

I gazed upon them with surprise,

As I perceived they were intent,

Settling some knotty argument;

And as I silently drew near,

The following confab reached my ear.


"Why Tip, you give yourself quite airs

Because you live with folks down stairs;

You think I s'pose, Pincher and me

With your damn'd nonsense will agree;

Though we were brought up 'mongst the crew,

I guess we know a thing or two; —

 p271  You talk about what you've picked up,

What a conceited foolish pup!

You think no doubt, 'cause every day

The reefers choose with you to play,

(Good reason! they're as green as you,

And can find nothing else to do,)

That you must hold your head up high,

And scarcely speak to Pinch or I;

Who's fed the best? now dont tell fibs,

Just look at your poor meagre ribs;

They speak as plain as plain can be,

That you dont eat as much as me."


"Now just hear this! you low‑bred cur,

You cast at me your taunting slur;

I dont eat eh! no, not such stuff

As tough salt-beef, and musty duff;

I am above such grub I tell ye —

Delicate tit‑bits fill my belly;

I live on chicken bones and pie,

On which you oft times cast an eye,

And sigh, and grieve, and curse, and swear,

And wish that you were only there;

You mentioned too, about my shape,

Would'nt I be a pretty ape,

To have like you a clumsy waist,

To mingle 'mongst the dogs of taste?

Why Bull, when this old ship gets home,

And you and Pincher chance to roam

Amongst the curs of high degree,

And they your plebeian faces see —

You'll find as sure as you were born,

That they will laugh you both to scorn."


"Now Mr. Tip, your anger smother,

I'm most ashamed to call you brother:

In fact, the men both great and small

Hint that we are no kin at all;

But that's a yarn, for 'tis too true

The same slut bore both me and you;

But Tip, I'm sorry for to say,

We should not be compared one day; —

 p272  You are what I call reg'lar green,

That long ago the folks have seen;

But where's the wonder! 'tis quite clear

You're like some others we have here —

Who've so much knowledge theoretic,

(Some too who scarce know arithmetic.)

That believe me now, and it the fact is,

To h––––ll they always pitch the practice; —

I'll bet a dollar now, you know,

(That is, as far's your lessons go,)

How for to haul an earing out,

Or put our noble ship about,

Or knot a shroud, or splice a cable,

Or stay a mast, I'm sure you're able;

But come on deck, and leave your book,

You scarce know how to mouse a hook."


"Give me the paw Pinch, you've said true;

He knows as much as I or you!

Where would he learn it? I remark,

I'm sure not in the schooner Shark;

But yet I must indeed give in;

He can a precious twister spin

About each tangent, and each sine —

All this of course sounds very fine;

But I will bet a marrow bone,

I'll leave it to himself to own,

That he cant set, the breeze being free

A stunsail as it ought to be."


"You lie, I can! why any fool

That never even went to school,

Can set that sail; now if you can

Be silent, listen to my plan,

And if you both don't say 'tis right,

I will not speak again to night."


"Now, Pincher, listen for a minute,

You'll find, or else the devil's in it,

That he will make a blunder yet,

Before he gets that stunsail set."

 p273  Tip

"To show you curs, you cannot flout,

I'll first of all my boom get out;

Then see my tack and halliards man'd;

Walk off! the sail will soon expand:

Now then, that's done — my next regard,

To get my lizard to the yard;

My topping-lift, I'll man next thing;

Then come my guys, the boom to swing, —

Bend on the halliards, out‑haul too,

Put on the squilgee, that will do;

Clap on — all ready — hoist away —

And there it's set in style I say."


"Avast! avast! you fool afloat,

You think you've got it all by rote;

You see you lack a sailor's eye

Into each little move to spy;

You were in such a cursed flurry,

And walked away' in such a hurry,

That not one single glance you cast,

To see your inner halliards fast;

I bet I know what then befell,

Crash! there the boom is gone to h––––ll."

At this Dog "Tip" began to yell,

Those facts he could not stomach well,

But rushed on "Bull" with fierce attack

And quickly laid him on his back;

But "Pincher" soon his aid did lend

To rescue his old curly friend,

And in a moment all the three

Were joined in one complete melée; —

Loud barks and yelps re‑echoed round,

The sleepers roused them at the sound,

And many in their first surprise

Rushed to the scene with half-shut eyes.

How long it lasted I can't say,

Neither know I who gained the day —

For to escape the noise and din,

I left the deck and turned in.

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Page updated: 19 Sep 21