by Herman Melville

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter LXXXII. What Remains of a Man-of-War's-Man After His Burial at Sea.

Upon examining Shenly's bag, a will was found, scratched in pencil, upon a blank leaf in the middle of his Bible; or, to use the phrase of one of the seamen, in the midships, atween the Bible and Testament, where the Pothecary (Apocrypha) uses to be.

The will was comprised in one solitary sentence, exclusive of the dates and signatures: "In case I die on the voyage, the Purser will please pay over my wages to my wife, who lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire."

Besides the testator's, there were two signatures of witnesses.

This last will and testament being shown to the Purser, who, it seems, had been a notary, or surrogate, or some sort of cosy chamber practitioner in his time, he declared that it must be "proved." So the witnesses were called, and after recognising their hands to the paper; for the purpose of additionally testing their honesty, they were interrogated concerning the day on which they had signed--whether it was Banyan Day, or Duff Day, or Swampseed Day; for among the sailors on board a man-of-war, the land terms, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, are almost unknown. In place of these they substitute nautical names, some of which are significant of the daily bill of fare at dinner for the week.

The two witnesses were somewhat puzzled by the attorney-like questions of the Purser, till a third party came along, one of the ship's barbers, and declared, of his own knowledge, that Shenly executed the instrument on a Shaving Day; for the deceased seaman had informed him of the circumstance, when he came to have his beard reaped on the morning of the event.

In the Purser's opinion, this settled the question; and it is to be hoped that the widow duly received her husband's death-earned wages.

Shenly was dead and gone; and what was Shenly's epitaph?

--"D. D."--

opposite his name in the Purser's books, in "Black's best Writing Fluid"--funereal name and funereal hue--meaning "Discharged, Dead."

Return to the White-Jacket Summary Return to the Herman Melville Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson