Sixty-Nine Year Old: Mr Pike

I was interested. Here was a man, a live man. I was in no hurry to go into the cabin, where I knew Wada was unpacking my things, so I paced up and down the deck with the huge Mr. Pike. Huge he was in all conscience, broad-shouldered, heavy-boned, and, despite the profound stoop of his shoulders, fully six feet in height.

“You are a splendid figure of a man,” I complimented.

“I was, I was,” he muttered sadly, and I caught the whiff of whiskey strong on the air.

I stole a look at his gnarled hands. Any finger would have made three of mine. His wrist would have made three of my wrist.

“How much do you weigh?” I asked.

“Two hundred an’ ten. But in my day, at my best, I tipped the scales close to two-forty.”

“And the Elsinore can’t sail,” I said, returning to the subject which had roused him.

“I’ll take you even, anything from a pound of tobacco to a month’s wages, she won’t make it around in a hundred an’ fifty days,” he answered. “Yet I’ve come round in the old Flyin’ Cloud in eighty-nine days–eighty-nine days, sir, from Sandy Hook to ‘Frisco. Sixty men for’ard that was men, an’ eight boys, an’ drive! drive! drive! Three hundred an’ seventy-four miles for a day’s run under t’gallantsails, an’ in the squalls eighteen knots o’ line not enough to time her. Eighty-nine days–never beat, an’ tied once by the old Andrew Jackson nine years afterwards. Them was the days!”

“When did the Andrew Jackson tie her?” I asked, because of the growing suspicion that he was “having” me.

“In 1860,” was his prompt reply.

“And you sailed in the Flying Cloud nine years before that, and this is 1913–why, that was sixty-two years ago,” I charged.

“And I was seven years old,” he chuckled. “My mother was stewardess on the Flyin’ Cloud. I was born at sea. I was boy when I was twelve, on the Herald o’ the Morn, when she made around in ninety-nine days–half the crew in irons most o’ the time, five men lost from aloft off the Horn, the points of our sheath-knives broken square off, knuckle-dusters an’ belayin’-pins flyin’, three men shot by the officers in one day, the second mate killed dead an’ no one to know who done it, an’ drive! drive! drive! ninety-nine days from land to land, a run of seventeen thousand miles, an’ east to west around Cape Stiff!”

“But that would make you sixty-nine years old,” I insisted.

“Which I am,” he retorted proudly, “an’ a better man at that than the scrubby younglings of these days. A generation of ‘em would die under the things I’ve been through.”

Jack London, The Mutiny of the Elsinore

Published in: 69 Years Old | on March 14th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

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  1. On March 20, 2012 at 11:54 Wayne Said:

    Mr Pike comes courtesy of @bazzargh via this piece for the Guardian:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2012/mar/14/literary-lifespan-project-three-score-ten?INTCMP=SRCH

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