Captains Courageous

by Rudyard Kipling

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 274

Captain Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling, is the story of a 15-year-old boy named Harvey Cheyne Jr., the spoiled son of a wealthy railroad tycoon. He is on an ocean liner bound for Europe when he falls overboard and is rescued by a group of cod fisherman off the coast of Newfoundland. Harvey tries to get the fisherman to take him back to port, but they refuse to do it. He also tells them that he is wealthy and his father will pay for the trip back, but the fisherman don’t believe him. When Harvey accuses the captain, Disko Troop, of taking his money, the captain is angry and punches him, but then makes Harvey join the crew and work as a fisherman for the remainder of their trip.

Under the tutelage of a rough and tough crew of fisherman, and with the assistance of Dan, the captain’s son, Harvey doffs his “spoiled little rich boy” attitude and learns some manners and the value of hard work. He learns to be a good fisherman and to respect the crew. He also appreciates that they value him for his dedication and contribution to the crew and not for his money. When the fishing schooner returns to port, Harvey wires his parents, and they retrieve their son in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where the schooner arrived in port. Harvey’s parents reward the fisherman who saved her son from the water, they offer Dan a job as the officer of a railroad fleet, and they send their son to Stanford where he will learn what he needs to know to take over his father’s railroad fleet.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1158

Harvey Cheyne is a rich, spoiled fifteen-year-old boy, bound for Europe aboard a swift ocean liner. He is so seasick that he hardly realizes it when a huge wave washes him over the rail of the ship into the sea. Luckily, he is picked up by a fisherman in a dory and put aboard the fishing schooner We’re Here. The owner and captain of the boat, Disko Troop, is not pleased to have the boy aboard but tells him that he will pay him ten dollars a month and board until the schooner docks in Gloucester the following September. It is then the middle of May. Harvey insists that he be taken to New York immediately, asserting that his father will gladly pay for the trip, but the captain, doubting that Harvey’s father is a millionaire, refuses to change his plans and hazard the profits of the fishing season. When Harvey becomes insulting, Disko promptly punches him in the nose to teach him manners.

The captain’s son, Dan, is glad to have someone his own age aboard the fishing boat, and he soon becomes a friend of the castaway. Harvey’s stories about mansions, private cars, and dinner parties fascinate him. Dan recognizes that Harvey is telling the truth and that he could not possibly make up so many details of a wealthy person’s life.

Harvey begins to fit into the life aboard the schooner. All the fishermen take an interest in his nautical education, and Long Jack teaches him the names of the ropes and the various pieces of equipment. Harvey learns quickly, partly because he is a bright young lad and partly because Long Jack whips him with the end of a rope when he gives the wrong answers. He also learns how to swing the dories aboard when they are brought alongside with the day’s catch, to help clean the cod and salt them away below the decks, and to stand watch at the wheel of the schooner as they move from one fishing ground on the Grand Banks to the next. Even Disko admits that the boy will be a good hand before they reach Gloucester in the fall.

Gradually, Harvey becomes accustomed to the sea. There are times of pleasure as well as of work. He enjoys listening while the other eight members of the crew talk and tell sea yarns in the evenings or on the days when it is too rough to lower the dories and go after cod. He discovers that the crew members come from all over the world. Disko and his son are from Gloucester, Long Jack is from Ireland, Manuel is Portuguese, Salters is a farmer, Pennsylvania is a former preacher who lost his family in the Johnstown flood, and the cook is a black man who was brought up in Nova Scotia and swears in Gaelic. These men fascinate Harvey, for they are so different from anyone he ever knew. What pleases the boy most is that they accept him on his own merits as a workman and a member of the crew and not as the heir to millions. Of all the crew, only Dan and the black cook believe Harvey’s account of himself.

One day, a French brig hails the We’re Here. Both vessels shorten sail, and Harvey and Long Jack are sent from the schooner to the brig to buy tobacco. Much to Harvey’s chagrin, he discovers that the sailors on the French boat can hardly understand his schoolboy French but that they understand Long Jack’s sign language perfectly.

The French brig figures in another of Harvey’s adventures. He and Dan go aboard the ship at a later time to buy a knife that belonged to a deceased sailor. Dan buys the knife and gives it to Harvey, thinking it has added value because the Frenchman killed a man with it. While fishing from a dory several days later, Harvey feels a weight on his line and pulls in the Frenchman’s corpse. The boys cut the line and throw the knife into the sea; it seems to them that the Frenchman returned to claim his knife.

Although they are the same age, Harvey is not nearly as handy on the schooner or in the dory as Dan, who grew up around fishing boats and fishermen, but Harvey surpasses Dan in the use of a sextant. His acquaintance with mathematics and his ability to use his knowledge seems enormous to the simple sailors. So impressed is Disko that he begins to teach Harvey what he knows about navigation.

Early in September, the We’re Here joins the rest of the fishing fleet at a submerged rock where the cod fishing is at its best, and the fishermen work around the clock to finish loading the holds with cod and halibut. The vessel that first fills its hold is not only honored by the rest of the fleet but also gets the highest price for the first cargo into port. For the past four years, the We’re Here finished first, and it wins honors again the year Harvey is aboard. All canvas is set, the flag is hoisted, and the schooner makes the triumphant round of the fleet, picking up letters to be taken home. The homeward-bound men are the envy of all the other fishermen.

As soon as the We’re Here docks at Gloucester, Harvey sends a telegram to his father informing him that he did not drown and is well and healthy. Mr. Cheyne wires back that he will take his private car and travel to Gloucester as quickly as he can leave California. Disko and the rest of the crew, except Dan and the black cook, are greatly surprised to discover that Harvey was telling the truth.

Mr. Cheyne and Harvey’s mother are overjoyed to see their son, and their happiness is further increased when they observe how much good the work aboard the fishing schooner did him. It changed Harvey from a snobbish adolescent into a self-reliant young man who knows how to make a living with his hands and who values people for what they are rather than for the money they have. Mr. Cheyne, who built up a fortune after a childhood of poverty, is particularly glad to see his son’s improvement.

Disko and the crew of the We’re Here refuse to accept any reward for themselves. Dan is given the chance to become an officer on a fleet of fast freighters that Mr. Cheyne owns. The cook leaves the sea to become a bodyguard for Harvey. In later years, when Harvey controls the Cheyne interests, the man gets a great deal of satisfaction from reminding Dan, by then a mate on one of Harvey’s ships, that he told the two boys years before that someday Harvey would be Dan’s master.

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