SONS OF ORPHEUS---Chapter 5
Alex was surprised at the number of ships anchored at the nearby quays. He had heard a few tales from sailors who had visited the port in the past and assumed that Sydney was little more than a provincial town. Even from the deck of the Orpheus, it was clear that the bustling town was bigger than he had been led to believe. Once he had completed his duties, he was free to explore the city. Alex decided to head to a nearby tavern, which was visible from where he was standing on the deck. He joined several fellow officers.
They could hear the sounds of the patrons before they entered and once inside, the smell of over-heated bodies, intermingling with the aroma of roasted beef was almost overpowering. Alex suggested they head for a table where there were several empty seats.
‘Are these seats taken?’ Alex asked politely.
‘Don’t look like it matey, now does it,’ a half drunken sailor answered.
Alex ignored the reply and took a seat next to a well-dressed gentleman. The tavern attracted a wide range of clientele, due to its proximity to the port area.
‘What can I get you Sir?’ The waitress ignored the bawdy remarks from several sailors behind her.
Alex felt uncomfortable at the apparent lack of manners on the part of the men, but chose to leave it, preferring to get a few tankards on the table instead. The waitress reappeared a few minutes later with a tray of overflowing frothy tankards.
‘Ah-----that’ll hit the spot, I’d say,’ one of Alex’s companions uttered greedily.
Jack was still aboard the Emerald. He was quite content to lean nonchalantly on the railings as the passengers disembarked, and the crew unloaded the cargo from the holds. He laughed at the men cursing and teasing one another, sometimes to the point that the Captain had to curtail their exchanges.
Jack’s thoughts strayed to his immediate future. The Cook had made it clear that he would be quite happy for Jack to continue in his position as “assistant Cook”. Although he had enjoyed his time in the galley, Jack was unsure.
‘I don’t think I want to be cooking the same stuff, day after day. It’ll drive me round the twist’
‘There’s many a lad who’d love to have your job, but I can see your point, especially with the likes of what we can see from here in good old Sydney town then,’ the Cook acknowledged. ‘I hear that Australia’s bloody hot and has beasts and insects that’re pretty nasty, like sharks, crocodiles, snakes and dangerous spiders. I don’t fancy coming across them now do I.’
A shiver rippled down Jack’s spine at the prospect of encountering even one of these scary creatures. Jack’s thoughts were interrupted by the cook.
‘I have a little surprise for you Jack. Here, take this,’ he added and handed Jack a large coin. It was a guinea; a coin that Jack had never seen, but he knew its value was far more than anything he had ever possessed.
‘Make it last lad, cause there won’t be any more of those for a long time. The Captain reckons we’ill be setting sail in a week for the return voyage back to Liverpool, so you better get a good look at Sydney. Watch those tarts in the tavern, ‘cause sure as eggs they’ll ‘ave ya money’, he added, barely able to keep a straight face.
Adi looked down at his threadbare clothing.
‘Well for starters, I’d like to get some decent clothes, and maybe some real shoes instead of these sad looking things.’ He glanced at his guinea. ’Will that buy me much?’
‘Be careful Jack, ‘cause there’s plenty of crooks out there who will be only too happy to rip you off, so maybe I better come with you. You wanna go now?’ he added.
‘Sure. Let’s go. I feel like some real fresh meat too and I think I know where I want to go,’ he added, looking towards the tavern near the docks where the unmistakeable waft of roast meat was coming from. They made their way down the boarding plank, dodging the busy crew who had yet to complete their unloading.
Jack and Dick dodged the sweaty workers on the key and arrived at the tavern a few moments later. They had decided that shopping for clothes could wait until they had sampled the roasting meat and a tankard or two of ale. Other members of the crew also joined them.
The tavern was particularly busy, with sailors from several ships competing for service with numerous locals, some of whom looked decidedly shifty. In one corner a group sat around the bench, talking in whispers, whilst observing each new arrival. They were dressed in rough clothing that had seen better days. Every few seconds they broke out into raucous laughter, drawing glances from those at the next bench.
Jack noticed a young lady, balancing a tray of tankards on her shoulder, trying to squeeze past a group standing near the bar. As she passed by a bench, one of the men reached out and slapped her behind. The response was immediate and effective. She brought her free hand down in a vicious whack across the offending man’s face.
‘Keep ya filthy hands off me you dirty bastard!’ she yelled.
The man’s friends broke out into laughter as they teased their mate. He stood up; his face contorted with rage and made a move towards the waitress. Several hands grabbed at him, forcing him back to his bench.
‘I’d leave it boyo. Yu’s askin’ for trouble----just leave it,’ one of his mates said.
The incident was over in seconds. He continued to drink and the waitress carried on as if nothing had happened.
‘I guess he’ll learn the hard way then eh?’ Dick
‘Keep your wits about you boy, ‘cause I don’t like the look of some of these bastards, and save your money. I’m gona buy this for ya,’ Dick added.
The smell of the beef was almost overwhelmed by the odour of unwashed bodies and the cloying smell of cheap tobacco. The noise in the crowded tavern was enough to make it almost impossible to make oneself heard. As they made their way towards a bench-like table, Jack accidentally bumped against a young man similar in age to him, almost causing him to trip. Jack politely apologised and the young man just nodded his head in acknowledgement and continued on to the same table where he and Dick were headed. When Jack and Dick sat, the young man squeezed in beside them. He was with a group of sailors from another ship.
Adi looked around at the strange scene. The young man sitting next to him appeared to be observing the rambunctious behaviour of those around him as the waitress took the order from the older, better dressed gentleman further along the table. Adi’s observations were interrupted by the clumsy placement of tankards of ale in front of him and his companions.
‘Drink up boy,’ Doctor Thomas encouraged. Adi had not enjoyed the wine that Captain Smith and Doctor Thomas had offered him and was a little reluctant to try this new beverage. His friends were insisting that he try the ale.
‘Come on Adi, be a man ----drink up!’ shouted one of the crew. ‘Ale never hurt anyone.
Adi reluctantly raised the tankard to his lips and took a swig of the golden fluid. It tasted sweet and yet slightly bitter; not unpleasant and certainly more drinkable than the wine he had tried before. To his left, the young man was observing his reaction closely.
Jack waited for his food and beer to arrive. Unlike Adi, he had experienced beer, whisky and on occasion some of the cheaper spirits available in Ireland and Liverpool.
‘Go for it Jack!’ they chorused. ‘Give ‘im another!’ someone encouraged.
‘Hey, leave him alone. Don’t want some hussy taking advantage of ‘im now do we?’ Dick responded.
‘We’ll make a man of ‘im yet,’ added another. Jack continued to drink his ale, although, not as greedily as his companions.
Adi wondered at the antics of the men who were trying to get Jack to drink but remembered the older men in his village were also quite capable of pressuring younger men into taking on more than they were ready for, and then laughing at the results.
Two waitresses appeared with trays of food and placed them before the men from both ships. A pleasing aroma arose from the steaming food, trapped in clouds of steam. Along with huge quantities of roasted beef and gravy, there were bowls containing crispy brown potatoes and boiled cabbage.
The noisy discussions from the men were replaced by the serious matter of contented eating. Jack and Adi needed no encouragement to join in.
Eventually, after much belching and secret farting, the men began to settle into more drinking and jovial discussion about how they were going to spend their wages. The men from the Emerald and the Plymouth began to swap tales and experiences, leaving Jack and Adi to enter into a dialogue of their own.
‘I’m Adi. These are my crew mates,’ he indicated towards the now noisy men at his end of the table.
‘Yeah, I figured that out. I’m Jack, and these noisy buggers are from the Emerald. Was that your ship we passed on the way through to the docks - that whaler?’ he asked. ‘Looked like it had been through a storm or two.’
‘So many questions,’ Adi retorted with a smile on his face. ‘It lost mast---before I join,’ he added.
Jack’s natural curiosity got the better of him. Adi’s strange accent and slightly hesitant manner of speaking intrigued him.
‘So what you doing with that lot then? You don’t exactly look like the others,’ he laughed. ‘Sort of a bit darker, if you know what I mean.’
‘Mmmm – what about your red devil hair? Does not fit with them others either, does it?’ Adi teased back. ‘Is it real?’
‘Cheeky bugger,’ Jack replied, not sure if he was annoyed or amused. ‘I’ve seen darkies like you in Liverpool, but you aren’t quite so dark, sort of just toasted a bit,’ he said, laughing at his own joke.
‘Where’s Liverpool?’ Adi asked, missing Jack’s barbs.
‘A long way from here. What about you? Are you a native from ‘ere then?’
‘Native? ---what you mean?’ Adi replied.
‘Mmmm-----I think you’ve got a lot to learn.’
Jack suddenly remembered the guinea in his pocket and his need to get some new clothes. He noticed that Adi was similarly dressed in others’ off casts.
‘What say we get out of here?’ Jack suggested. ‘I wanna find some decent duds, ‘cause these ones are just about falling off. Looks like there are shops up the road.’
Adi understood most of what Jack had said and quickly agreed. He remembered the Doctor had said he was holding some money for him.
‘Wait,’ Adi said. ‘I’ll ask the Doctor for my money. He’s saving it for me, for clothes too.’
He left his seat and approached the red-faced doctor. After a few mumbled remarks the Doctor handed over a handful of coins.
‘Don’t spend them all at once lad, and remember what I said about being careful. Come back to the Plymouth before nightfall, cause it isn’t safe round here then,’ the Doctor advised.
Others had also noted the exchange of money. Adi returned to Jack and they left the tavern together.
Once outside, they welcomed the cleaner air and quickly found a bench to sit on and take stock of their surroundings. Away from the tavern, the street was busy and loud. Street vendors implored passers-by to buy their wares, including, fruit and vegetables from outlying farms, alongside others who were selling clothing and cheap housewares. As the boys watched, they settled into a friendly conversation.
‘So strange-------so different,’ Adi said.
‘It’s a bit like Liverpool actually. Even the way many of them speak,’ Jack added. Some of them look a bit shifty though.’
‘What is shitty?’
‘Shifty----not shitty,’ Jack laughed. ‘Mmmmm----let me see----I suppose it’s like I’m not sure I would trust them much,’ Jack said. He was once again reminded that Adi had much to learn about English.
‘Yes---a good word---shifty. I like it. Maybe you are shifty, Jack,’ Adi teased.
‘Hang round long enough and you’ll find out soon enough.’
Passers-by glanced at them, noting their very different appearances; Jack with his red hair and freckled complexion, while Adi was darker with long wavy black hair. Jack and Adi were oblivious to this and continued to share their respective backgrounds, leaving lots of gaps for future discussions. One concern they had in common was their questions about what the future might hold for them. For now they put this aside and started to amble along the street towards the area known as The Rocks.
Back at the tavern, Dick noticed that Jack had disappeared, along with the young man he had been talking to. He was sitting next to the Doctor, who was by now quite drunk. He would never have set the boy loose if he had been in a more sober frame of mind.
‘Where’d the two young lads go?’ he asked no one in particular. He temporarily came to his senses.
‘I think your l-lad went with ours. Young Adi said somethin’ about going to get some---new gear, so I gave ‘im some coins,’ he slurred. ‘Maybe not such a good idea, ‘cause he’s never seen a city before, particularly one---so different from his homeland.’
‘That’s for bloody sure,’ replied a worried Dick. ‘I’m gona go and look for them. They can’t have gone too far. You stay here Doctor and we’ll meet back at the Plymouth later.’ Dick motioned to the waitress to pay the bill, and then left the tavern.