CAP'N Ahab Prosser would like to know that the Bible may now be printed, sold, and read in what used to be the Soviet Union - this had not prevailed for long years until Comrade Glasnost recently relented. But Cap'n Prosser is long gone. I had the story from him in my rugged youth when he was a retired master merchant mariner, and I was the boy on his street who stopped by when his big barn door was open to hear another of his 'round-the-world tales. Cap'n Prosser was the proud descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence and had a framed oil portrait of his illustrious ancestor. "A pirate, you know," Cap'n Ahab would tell people.
Cap'n Ahab was his ancestor's descendant, all right, but kinder words prevailed in his time. He had retired not only well-to-do, but with general respect as a gentleman and a scholar. State o' Maine Yankee all the way, he affected the manners of a Southern plantation colonel until Miltie Given once said of him, "You'd think he was a Pentecostal person who writes Sunday School quarterlies!" Cap'n Prosser always "dressed up," carried an ebony cane, lifted his hat to the ladies, and spoke the smallest remar ks with impeccable diction and the articulation of a Fourth of July orator. A pirate, you know.
Cap'n Ahab's Bible story always began, d had several profitable voyages to Panama and Costa Rica, down that way, with rifles and hand grenades, and I'd gone up to my place at Anticosti Island to refurbish the schooner. Turned out to be a lazy summer. I brought the wife up from Maine, and some of the grandchildren, and I'd let most of my crew go. Kept three-four hands to scrape and paint, and we put on new rigging. Marm would sit on the porch and watch deer through a theodolite and where they looked right
up under her nose she'd talk to them. I'd take the young'ns for mackerel, or we'd fly a kite, and once a week we'd get a batch of newspapers from Halifax. The idea of retiring first entered my head that summer."
So Cap'n Ahab would spin his yarn, and he said the Halifax paper had a sad story about this missionary who got into a bind over sending Bibles to Russia. There wasn't a Bible to be had in Russia, and the impoverished people were yearning for the word. So this missionary raised money, got 15,000 Bibles printed, and shipped them off in a worthy gesture. But the Russian authorities had intercepted this charitable cargo and turned it away, so now the missionary had 15,000 Bibles in a warehouse at Antwerp and
the storage charges were building up. "I could see," Cap'n Ahab would say, "that this missionary needed a friend.
"So I had a pious idea. I asked Marm if she'd like to go on a pleasure cruise, so the hands and I launched the schooner and we set out. The youngsters would lose a term in school, but they didn't seem sad about that. We went around to Halifax and chandlered, and I found this missionary and had a talk with him, and first thing you know we breezed into Antwerp and I renewed friendship with a port officer I'd done business with for years in the fireworks game. We found the Bibles, all right. They were packe d 500 to a case, and they didn't make cargo enough so I bothered to shift ballast. We did repack them, somewhat, and we changed the labels over to sardines, bombs, whisky, buggy whips, and decent things like that which could pass customs where Bibles couldn't. No great problem after that - except that it does help if you know what you're doing. Marm was having the time of her life and didn't want to come home.
"So we didn't. We got the Bibles unloaded, and a Manchurian I knew from Chinese firecracker days gave me a receipt and promised to put the Bibles in good hands. He was reliable, and I believe he did. Then we came home by way of South America, awnings on deck and since my little schooner just about sailed herself, everybody sat around and took things easy. And that's when I did retire.
"Well, I thought after all the things I'd done in my time, it would be good to quit on a righteous note. We were gone 14 months, first to last, and I never did go back to Halifax to give that missionary his receipt. Only voyage I ever made with a swept hold and not a penny coming in. But I felt good about it, and have never felt I did wrong smuggling Bibles. Only one thing puzzles me. Those Bibles were printed in English, and I always wondered who read the things."