"The secret of a joyful life is to live dangerously." Perhaps one may judge of a man's power by his reception of that aphorism. For me, at any rate, there is but unconditional assent. To live dangerously! How nauseous to me is the maternal anxiety of some of my friends. They are so anxious for me. It is such a dangerous trade. And so on.
I have been scanning a newspaper left in the mess-room, and it has provoked me to further thought. I see, in retrospect, those myriads of nicely dressed, God-fearing suburbans in their upholstered local trains, each with his face turned towards his daily sheet, each with his scaly hide of prejudice clamped about his soul, each placidly settling the world's politics and religion to his own satisfaction, each taking his daily dram of news from the same still. I look into my own copy and read on one page of a society bazaar where Lady So-and-So and the Hon. Alicia So-and-So "presided over a very tasteful stall of dwarf myrtle-trees," etc.
In another column I am informed that some person or other, of whom I have never heard, has gone to Wiesbaden. The leading article is devoted to a eulogium of some football team, the special article asks, "Can we live on twopence a day?" You cannot imagine how unutterably turbid all this appears to me, out on the green Atlantic. It is Sunday, and so we rest; but yesterday afternoon I was out in one of the lifeboats, line-fishing for cod. The great green rollers came up from the south, and the boat rode the billows like a cockle-shell. How I would like to have had some of those city folk with me in that up-ended lifeboat, their hands red with the cold sea water and scarred with the line as it ran through their fingers to the pull of a fourteen-pounder. Dwarf myrtle-trees! Wiesbaden! God! Let them come below with me, let me take them into our boilers and crush them down among those furred and salt-scarred tubes, and make them work. They used to tell me, when I said I loathed football, that I did not know I was alive. Do they, I wonder?
Yes, the newspaper came to me like a breath of foul city air. Very much in the same way I was affected by a remark made to me by my friend the Mate. "Where I live," said he, "one child won't play with another if its father gets five shillings a week more'n t'other's father." We were talking Socialism, if I remember rightly, and that was his argument against its feasibility. I did not notice the argument; I fell to thinking how odd it must be to live in such an atmosphere. How is it we never have it in Chelsea? I have never been the less welcome because my host or hostess has as many pounds a week as I have a year. My old friend of my 'prentice days—dear old Tom, the foreman, and Jack Williams, the slinger, they get no colder welcome from us because they live in Hammersmith or Whitechapel. Have we ourselves not seen in our rooms rich and poor, artist and mechanic, writer and labourer? Nay, have we not had German clerk and Chinese aristocrat, German baron and Russian nihilist? What is it that permits us to dispense with that snobbery which seems almost a necessary of life to the people where the old Mate lives! I think it is lack of imagination in our women-folk, and the fetish of the home. For surely the utter antithesis of "home" is that same "dangerous life." These young men who economise and grow stingy in their desperate endeavour to establish a "home nest," some "Acacia Villa" in Wood Green or Croydon—what can they know of living dangerously? Their whole existence is a fleeing from danger. Safe callings, safe investments, safe drainage, safe transit, safe morality, safe in the arms of Jesus. Is it lack of imagination?
So we, who foregathered yesterday afternoon in the shipping office, are lashed together for another four months. A motley group, my friend. Outside I stood, note-book in hand, trying to find a spare fireman who wanted a job. A mob of touts, sharks, and pimps crowded round me, hustling each other, and then turning away from my call, "Any firemen here?" In despair I go over to the "Federation Office," where all seamen are registered in the books of life insurance, where they pay their premiums, and await possible engineers. I consult with the grave, elderly man in the office, and he asks for firemen in the bare, cold waiting-room. One man comes up, a pale, nervous chap, clean-shaven and quiet. I take his "Continuous Discharge" book, flick it open at the last entry—trawling! The last foreign-going voyage is dated 1902, "S. Africa," "Voyage not completed." I hand it back. "Won't do," I remark shortly, and look round for others. The man looks at the grave, elderly person, who takes the book. "Give him a chance," says the latter, in his low, official voice. "Look—S. Africa. The man's been serving his country. Give him a chance." "I would if he'd promise not to get enteric when we reach port," I say. "Never 'ad it yet, sir," says the man, and I take his book. "Benvenuto. Hurry up. She's signing on now." He runs across the road, and I follow.
When I reach the shipping office they are waiting for me. Behind the counter and seated beside the clerk is the Captain, writing our "advance notes." The clerk asks if all are present; we shuffle up closer, and he begins to read the articles to which we XXXX subscribe—signing our death-warrants, we call it. No one listens to him—he himself is paring his nails, or arranging some other papers as he intones the sentences which are more familiar to him and to us than the Lord's Prayer to a clergyman. Then, when he has finished, each one comes up for catechism—carpenter, sailors, donkeyman, fireman, all in due order. Then the officers. "Donkeyman!" calls the clerk. A huge, muscular figure with a red handkerchief round his bull throat ceases arguing with a fireman, plunges forward, and seizes the pen. He is my friend of the last voyage, the mighty Norseman.
"What is your name?"
"Johann Nicanor Gustaffsen."
"Where were you born?"
"How old are you?"
"Where do you live?"
"Ryder Street, Swansea."
And so on with each of us.
"Don't forget," says the clerk from the depths of a three-and-a-half-inch collar, "to be on the ship at nine o'clock to-morrow morning." And we troop out to make room for another crew, meet yet another coming to be paid off at the other counter, wish we were they, and eventually reach the ship.
Strange scenes sometimes, in that shipping office, or, for that matter, in any shipping office. I shall not forget that forlorn little lad we had once engaged for mess-room steward at two pounds five a month, with his red little nose and the bullied look in his eyes. It was when he went up to sign, and answer the questions given above. What was his name? "Christmas Hedge." All turned and stared at the snivelling urchin. Where was he born? "In a field."
The walls, too, interest a man like me. There are notices in all the tongues of Europe on the walls—notices of sunken wrecks, of masters fined for submerging their loaded discs, of white lights in the China seas altered to green ones by the Celestial Government, of transport-medals awaiting their owners, of how to send money home from Salonika or Copenhagen or Yokohama or Singapore. Near the door, moreover, is a plain wooden money-box with no appeal for alms thereon—merely a printed slip pasted along the base of it: "There is sorrow on the sea." And often and often I have seen grey chief officers and beardless "fourths" drop their sixpences into the box, for the sake of that sorrow on the sea.
And now it is night—our last night ashore. The Second Engineer asks me to go up town with him. The Chief has gone to see his wife home to Cardiff, and George goes on watch at eight-bells. So for the last time I don a linen collar and shore clothes, and we go up town. We meet sundry youth from the ship-yard; they are going to that iridescent music-hall into which I plunged six weeks ago when we came in. We pay our sixpences for two hours' high-speed enjoyment, "early performance"; enjoyment being sold nowadays very much like electricity—at a high voltage but small cost per unit. Scarcely my sort, I fear, but what would you? I cannot be hypercritical on this our last night ashore. And so I strive to feel as if I were sorry to go away, as if parting were indeed that sweet sorrow I have heard it called, as if I really cared a scrap for the things they care for. True, I feel the parting from my friend, and it is no sweet sorrow either. But that is at Paddington, when the train moves, and our hands are gripped tightly—a faint foretaste of that last terror, when he or I shall pass away into the shadows and the other will be left alone for ever. It is when I ponder upon that scene that I realize what our friendship has become, that I realize how paltry every other familiar or even relative appears by comparison. Let me treasure this friendship carefully, healthfully, old friend, for, by my love of life, it is rare enough in these our modern times.
I have been wondering why this is—I think it is money, or rather business. Have you noticed how business dehumanises men? I count over in my mind dozens of men whom I know, men of age, experience, and wealth, who almost demand that I should envy them by the very way they walk the city streets. They are prosperous, they imagine. I, strolling idly through those same city streets, looking at the show, studying their faces, defied them, and said to myself, "You gentlemen are not human beings—you are business men." Not that I would tell them this; they would not understand, though they are guilty of occasional lucid intervals. They will admit, in a superior tone, that business cuts them off from a great deal. But it is evident they intend sticking to the irrefutable logic of the bank-balance. For them there is no friendship like ours. They could not afford it, bless you. How are they to know that you won't "do" them or borrow of them? No, no. The world, for them, is a place where they have a chance of besting you and me, of getting more money than you or I, of "prospering," as they call it, at another's expense.
If I say to one of these men, "I want no fortune; I have what I need now by working for it," he looks at me as though I were stark mad. If I say, to poor Sandy Jackson, for instance, who has only one lung and is mad on "getting more business"—if I say to him, "You advise me to go in for business on my own account, Sandy. Very good. What does that mean? It means that I must become dehumanised, or fail. I must have no friends who are of no use to me. I must waste no time reading or writing or dreaming dreams. I must eat no dinners abroad which are not likely to bring in business. I must toil early and late, go on spare regimen, drink little, dress uncomfortably, live respectably—for what, Sandy? For a few hundreds or thousands of pounds. May I let up then? Oh, no, Sandy, that is the business man's mirage, that letting up. He never lets up until he is let down—into the tomb. It would be against his principles. Well, Sandy, I see you're at it and apparently killing yourself by it, but I wish to be excused. It isn't good enough. I want my friends, my books, my dreams most of all. Take your business; I'll to my dreams again."
So, while we sit in the gaudy playhouse, I dream my dreams of the great books I want to write, the orations I want to deliver, the lessons I want to teach, and I wonder how long my time of probation will be. Strange that I should never make any allowance for the dangerous nature of my calling. This may be my last night ashore for ever. What of it? Well, it will be a nuisance to leave those books, lectures, and lessons to be written, given, and taught by somebody else; but I don't really mind. I only want to go along steadily to the end, and when that comes shake my friend by the hand and say "Farewell." It is plain, is it not, that I am no business man?
I am still dreaming when our noisy little crowd elbow their way out and pass up the street into a tavern. Here my friend the Second is known. He pats the fair barmaid on the cheeks, chucks the dark one under the chin, calls the landlady "old dear," and orders drinks in extenso. I am introduced to one and all, and another girl, neither dark nor fair, emerges from an inner room for my especial regard. We are invited within, and with glass in hand and girl on knee, we toast our coming voyage. One by one the girls are kissed; the landlady jocularly asks why she is left out, and a sense of justice makes me salute her chastely. You see, old man, this is the last night ashore. We bid them "good-bye," they wish us good luck, and we depart to our own place once more. The Second is silent. He has said good-bye to his girl—he hung back a moment as we left the tavern. And there is something burning in my brain, just behind the eyeballs. I have not said good-bye to my girl. Or rather I mean—but I cannot formulate to myself just what I do mean at the time. I only feel, as I turn in, that I ought to have told my friend all that happened when I met her, a month ago, and that, after all, nothing really matters, and the sooner I get away to sea again the better.
Cleared for sea. s.s. Benvenuto, for S. Africa.
It is ten-thirty this clear, cold December day; the sun shines on the turquoise patch of open Channel which I can see from the bridge where I am testing the whistle; the tide is rising; the last cases of general cargo are being lowered into Number Two Hold, and from all along the deck rise little jets of steam, for the Mate is already trying the windlass. Once more we are "cleared for sea." In an hour's time the tug Implacable, mingling her frenzied little yelp with our deeper note, will pull us out into the middle of the dock, then round, and slowly through the big gates, into the locks. The hatches are already on the after combings, and sailors are spreading the tarpaulin covers over them and battening down with the big wood wedges.
"Steam for eleven o'clock," said the Chief last night. Right! The gauges are trembling over the 150 mark now—enough to get away with. "Open everything out, Mr. McAlnwick," says the Second as he strolls round for a last look before going on deck. I carry out the order, glance at the water-level in the boilers, and then go for'ard to see how many of my firemen are missing. They should all be here by now. No, two short still. Old Androwsky rears himself up and points with the stem of his pipe at the quay. The ship has moved away, and the two men with sailors' bags and mattresses are watching us. They will get aboard in the locks.
The Skipper is in uniform on the bridge, and the Mate is, as usual, in a hurry. The mooring winch is groaning horribly as she hauls on a cable running from the stern to the quay while the tug pulls our head slowly round. Right down to the centre of the loading disc now. The Second Mate rushes to the fiddle-top, and shouts for "more steam"—the winch has stuck—and a howl from below tells him that the donkeyman is doing his best. As I go below again the sharp clang of the telegraph strikes my ear—"Stand by."
The steam is warming the engine-room, and there is, in the atmosphere down here, a peculiar pungent smell, always present when getting away. It is, I suppose, the smell of steam, if steam has any smell. "Give 'er a turn, Mr. McAlnwick." The Chief looks down from the deck-door, and I answer "All right, sir." We are moving into the locks now, and as I start the little high-speed reversing engine the telegraph pointer moves round to "Slow ahead" with a sharp clang. "Ash-pit dampers off!" cries George the Fourth, and runs to close the drain-cocks. There is a sudden loud hammering as I open the throttle, and she moves away under her own steam. Then she sticks on a dead-centre, a point du mort, as the French mecaniciens say, and George rushes to open the intermediate valve, kicking open the water-service cock as he goes past it. At last she goes away, slow, solemn, and steamy, three pairs of eyes watching every link and bar for "trouble." "All right?" asks the Chief from above, and the Second, standing by the staircase, answers "All right, sir." Then "clang" goes the telegraph round to "Stop," and I close the throttle. "We're in the locks," says George, fiddling with an oil-cup which is loose on the intermediate pressure rod. "We're in the locks, and we soon shall cross the bar." And as he busies himself with one thing and another he hums the tune which has swept over Swansea like some contagious disease of late:
"When there isn't a girl about, You do feel lonely! When there isn't a girl about To call your only! You're absolutely on the shelf, Don't know what to do with yourself, When there isn't a girl about!"
"Said good-bye to her, Mac?" he asks. I nod evasively. He has been home to Sunderland since we got in, and I found him asleep on the gallery floor, with his head in the ash-pit, the night of his return. He is better now, and since I know he has brought back a photograph from the north, I am in hopes of his having fallen in love. (Clang! Slow ahead.) It is high time, I think. His constitution won't stand everything, you know. And it seems such a pity for a fine young chap to——(Clang! Stop.) George is recording the bridge orders on the black-board on the bunker bulkhead, and I wonder——(Clang! Slow ahead.) A pause; then—Clang! FULL AHEAD.
"Let her go away gradually, mister," says the Second as he goes round to have a look at the pumps. Cautiously the stop-valve is opened out, and the engines get into their sixty-two per-minute stride. The firemen are at it now, trimmers are flogging away the wedges from the bunker doors, and the funnel damper is full open. And then, and then—how shall I describe the sensation of that first delicate rise and fall of the plates. I experience a feeling of buoyant life under my feet! It means we are out at sea, that we have crossed the bar. The Chief and Second have gone to get washed for dinner, George is on deck shutting off steam and watching the steering engine for defects, and I am left alone below with a greaser. I experience a feeling of exultation as I watch my engines settle down for their seven-day run to the Canary Islands. How can I explain how beautiful they are?
"All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all!"
Yes, that is how I feel just now as I pace round and round, alert for a leaky joint or a slackened nut. The solemn music of the plunging rods is all the sweeter for that I have not heard it for six weeks. We are out at sea!
And now George comes down again, and I go on deck to get my dinner. We are crossing Swansea Bay, among the brown-sailed trawlers and the incoming steamships. The sun shines brightly on us as we bear away southward towards Lundy, and I stare out silently across the broad Channel, thinking. Oh, my friend, stand by me now, in this my hour of need! How foolish! I am alone at sea, and my friend is in London, puzzling over my behaviour to him.
The cool breeze against my face arouses me. The mood of exultation in my engines, the mood of blank despair, both have passed, and I am, I hope, myself again. Once more "the kick o' the screw beneath us and the round blue seas outside." Once more the wandering fever is in my blood, and, as the winter's day fades away, I stand against the rail looking eastward at the flashing lights, calmer than I have been since that night—a month ago. I am an ocean tramp once more, and count it life indeed.
"And out at sea, behold the dock-lights die, And meet my mate, the wind that tramps the world."
I have been looking into some of my books, now that the sea is so calm and the weather so enchantingly fair. I find a pleasurable contrast in dipping into such volumes as Boswell's "Johnson," Goldsmith's "Beau Nash," and Lady Montague's "Letters." The life they depict is so different, the opinions they express so dissimilar from those I have myself gradually grown to affect. And what an amazing farrago is that same Boswell! Surely, if ever a book was written con amore, it is that one. Compare it with the "Life of Beau Nash." Each is the biography of a remarkable man, but what a difference! In every line Goldsmith displays a certain forced interest. I do not know, but I am almost positive he cared very little for his subject; I feel that the work is only being carried on for the sake of gain. Regarded so, it is a masterly little Life. Two hundred small pages—Nash merits no more on the roll of fame.
But the former, twelve hundred closely printed pages. No paltry little anecdote or incident, germane or not, is too contemptible for him. The identity of some obscure school, the mastership of which Johnson never held, is argued about until one is weary of the thing. The illegible note, written for his own eye alone, is construed in a dozen ways, and judgment delivered as though the fate of empires hung thereon. The smug complaisance with which he cites some prayer or comment to illustrate his idol's religious orthodoxy would have angered me once—did anger me once—but out here, on the broad blue ocean, I smile at the toady, and marvel at the wondrous thing he has wrought.
Pleasant, too, to turn the leaves of my Dryden, and glance through some of those admirably composed prefaces, those egotistical self-criticisms so full of literary pugnacity, in an age when pluck in a poet needed searching for. I often say to folk who deplore Bernard Shaw's prefatory egotism that if they would read Dryden they would discover that Shaw is only up to his own masterly old game of imitating his predecessor's tactics. But Shaw is quite safe. He knows people do not read the literature of their own land nowadays.
I had a laugh last evening all to myself when I noticed that, in a hasty re-arrangement of my book-shelves, Gorky stood shouldering old Chaucer! Could disparity go further? And yet each is a master of his craft, each does his work with skill—with "trade finish," as we say. And so it seemed to me that, after all, one might leave the "Romaunt of the Rose" side by side with "Three of Them," on condition that each is read and re-read, if only for the workmanship.
Cellini, too, draws me as regularly and irresistibly as the moon makes our tides. Here is richness. The breathless impetuosity of the whole narrative, the inconceivable truculence of the man, fascinates me, who am so different. When I looked at that "Perseus" in Florence, when I leaned over the medal-cases in South Kensington and stared hard at the work of his murderous hands, I felt awed and baffled. How could he do it—he with his dagger just withdrawn from some rival's shoulders, his fingers just unclasped from some enemy's windpipe? Then, again, the virile cheerfulness of the man! God is ever on his side, Justice is his guardian angel. And while musing upon him some few days back, I fell to wondering if I might not imitate him. I mean, why could not I take the life of some such man (and I know one at least who could sit for the portrait), and write a fictitious autobiography in that truculent, bombastic, interesting style? I have the material, and I believe I could do it. What do you think, old friend? It is already one of my plans for the future, when I am done wandering.
That last word reminds me of my Borrow. Who can describe the bewildering delight when one first plunges into "Lavengro" and the "Romany Rye"? To take them from the book-case and carry them out to Barnet, where the Kingmaker fell, and read with the wind in your face and the Great North Road before your eyes—is that too much to ask of mine ancient Londoner? Believe me, the thing is worth doing. No man ever put so divine an optimism into his books, so genuine a love of "nature." Says Mr. Petulengro: "There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise the wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?"
One of the most precious memories of my younger manhood is brought back to me as I write those words. It was a Sunday afternoon in late autumn, in one of those unfrequented ways which slant off from the Great North Road beyond Hadley Heath, where the green turf bordered the brown road and the leaves covered the earth beneath the trees with a carpet of flaming cloth-of-gold. I had left my book and bicycle to one side, and, seated upon a low grey stone wall, I watched the sun go down. Behind me, across the intervening meadows, rose clouds of dust, redolent of waste gases, where thundered an ever-increasing traffic of swift vehicles. In front a vaporous mist was rising from the land; the shadows broadened, and the red western glow grew deeper, while in the middle distance a tiny child, clad in green cloak and little red hood, stood conning her Sunday story—a jewel of quiet colour in the gathering autumn twilight. And so, as I listened to the roar from the macadamed highway and looked out upon that evening glory, it was as though I heard, far off, the throbbing pulse of the great world's mighty hand, while I sat still in the heart of it.
"Life is very sweet, brother: who would wish to die?"
Is all this too bookish for an ocean tramp? Alas! I fear I grow too cocksure of my literary attainments out here, with none to check me. It is in London where a man finds his true level in the book world, as Johnson shrewdly observed. In the evening, when we are gathered over the fire, and opinions fly across and rebound, when one hears bookmen talk of books, and painters talk of art—that is the time when I feel myself so unutterably insignificant. Often I have looked across at T——, or G——, or ——, someone I know even better than them, and I feel discouraged. You men have done things, while I—well, I talk about doing things, and try, feebly enough, to make my talking good; but to what end? T—— has his work in many a public building and sacred edifice; G—— has his books on our tables and in the circulating libraries; and you have done things, too, in dramatic literature.
Meanwhile I am an engine-driver on the high seas! I know my work is in the end as honourable and more useful than yours, but I cannot always keep back a jealous feeling when I think of the years sliding by, and nothing done. Nothing ever finished, not even—but there! That chapter of my life is finished and done with, incomplete as the story will be always. Often and often, under the stars at midnight, I think that if she would stand by me, I could be nearer success—I could take hold of life and wrench away the difficulties of it. And then again comes a more valiant, manly mood. I say to myself, I will do something yet. I will reach the heights, and show her that one man at least can stand on his own feet. I will show her that she need have no need to be ashamed of him, though no carpet-knight, only an engine-driver. And I recall that brave song in the "Gay Pretenders":
"I am not what she'd have me be, I am no courtier fair to see; And yet no other in the land, I swear, shall take my lady's hand!"
Well, that is my high resolve sometimes, and I will try to keep it in front of me always, and so do something at last.
Well, well, this is sad talk for the day before Christmas! Come away from books and trouble, out on deck, where there is a breeze. The mighty Norseman is ready to cut my hair, and is waiting abaft the engine-room under the awning.
It is the donkeyman's business, aboard this ship, to cut the officers' hair. A marvellous man, a good donkeyman. And this one of ours is multi-marvellous, for he can do anything. He speaks Swedish, Danish, Russian, German, and excellent English. He has been a blacksmith, butcher, fireman, greaser, tinsmith, copper-smelter, and now, endlich, enfin, at last, a donkeyman. His frame is gigantic, his strength prodigious. On his chest is a horrific picture of the Crucifixion in red, blue, and green tattoo. Between the Christ and the starboard thief is a great triangular scar of smooth, shiny skin. One of his colossal knees is livid with scars. He tells me the story like this, keeping time with the click of the scissors.
"When I was a kid I was a wild devil. Why, I ran away with a circus that came to Stockholm, and my father he came after me and he nearly kill me. Then, one day, I had on—what you call 'em, mister?—long shoes, eight, ten feet long—ah! yes, we call 'em ski. Well, I go to jump thirty, forty feet, and I am only twelve years old. The strap come off my foot and I have not time to shift my balance to the other foot, and I go over and over, like a stone. I come down on my knee, and there are beer-bottles on the rocks. The English and Germans, they drink beer on the rocks—beautiful Swedish beer, better than Loewenbrau, hein! Well, they take out of my knee fifty pieces of glass—you see the marks? And my chest it is smashed bad. They cut off three rib and look inside; this is where they look into my chest. All right! They put ribs back and box all up. Oh, I was a wild devil when I was a kid!"
Such is Johann Nicanor Gustaffsen, with his huge strength, frescoed chest, and pasty face with the jolly blue eyes. I think the women like him, and, by the hammer of Thor! he can bend a bar of iron across his knee!
It is Christmas Day, and I begin it with the clock as usual. George the Fourth punches me in the ribs, grunts, "Merry new Christmas, Mac," and vanishes. There is not a breath of air stirring. Through the sultry night air the stars burn brightly. A cluster of blurred lights on the horizon show me where a liner is creeping past us in the darkness—a ship passing in the night. Clad only in dungaree trousers and singlet, I go below, on watch. The windsail hangs limp and breathless, and the thermometer stands at 120 deg. Fah. Christmas Day!
Slowly in the hot air the hours drag on. One, two, three o'clock. Then, "one bell." No breeze yet. I finish up, score my log on the black-board—Sea water 90 deg., discharge 116 deg.—and call the Second. He is awake, panting in the hot oven of his berth. If I wish him a merry Christmas he will murder me. I slink below again, and have a sea bath. Even salt water at 90 deg. Fah. is a boon after four hours in that inferno.
A mug of cocoa—strange how hot cocoa cools one—and I turn in. I hear the Skipper padding up and down in his sandals on the poop, clad only in pyjamas. At last, as the stars are paling, I fall asleep.
At seven o'clock I am aroused by the mess-room steward leaning over me, closing my ports. They are flooding the decks with sea-water to cool them, and if my ports are open I am also flooded.
Still no relief. There is a deathly quiet in the mess-room as we assembled to our Christmas breakfast of bacon and eggs, coffee, cocoa, and marmalade. Imagine such a menu in the tropics! The butter is liquid, and from each of us, clad in singlets and white ducks, the sweat streams. The day begins unpropitiously. John Thomas, the mess-room steward, balancing himself on the top step of our companion-way with three cups of boiling cocoa in his hands, slips and thunders to the bottom. There is a chaotic mixture of scalded boy, broken cups, and steam on the floor, and we giggle nervously in our Turkish bath.
George the Fourth goes on watch, and we lie listlessly under our awning, praying for a breeze. On the face of the blazing vault there is not a single cloud, on the face of the waters not a ripple. The sea is a vast pond of paraffin. The hot gases from the funnel rise vertically, and the sun quivers behind them. The flaps of the windsail hang dead, the sides of the canvas tube have fallen in like the neck of a skinny old man. Slowly the sun mounts over our heads and the air grows hotter and hotter. From the galley come sounds of quacking, and a few feathers roll slowly past us. Now and then an agonized trimmer will stagger out of a bunker hatch into the open air, his half-naked body black with coal-dust and gleaming with sweat. The Mate, in a big straw hat, paces the bridge slowly. The cook emerges from the galley and hastens aft for provisions—they are preparing our Christmas dinner. Roast duck, green peas, new potatoes, plum pudding—and the temperature is 105 deg. Fah. on deck.
One bell. I rise, and go below to change for my watch—12 to 4.
"Will you take any dinner, sir?" John Thomas rubs the sweat from his forehead and sets the soup on the table. I ponder on the madness of eating Christmas fare in that oven-like mess-room, but sentiment wins, and I sit down with the others.
"Hoondred an' twenty oonder t' win's'le," whispers George to me huskily.
"What's the sea-water?" asks the Chief.
We push the soup aside, and John Thomas brings in the roast ducks. How appetizing they would be at home! The Chief wrenches them apart in perspiring silence, and we fall to. We peck at the food; the sweat drops from our faces into the plates, the utensils slide from our hands, and so we make the best of it. But when the pudding arrives our courage fails us. We cannot face plum pudding, sentiment or no sentiment. We gulp down some lime-juice and stagger away like dying men—I to four hours' purgatory below.
Slowly (oh, so slowly!) the time drags on. The greaser draws his tattooed arm across his eyes and whispers, with the triumph of a lost soul bragging of the Circle of Fire, that he has known it "'otter'n this in the Red Sea, sir." He is an entertaining man. Often I hear tales from the wide world of waters from his lips. This is his last voyage, he tells me. He is going "shore donkeyman" in future—what you call longshoreman. His wife has a nice little business in Neath now, and "she wants 'im 'ome." Have I noticed how that high-press guide is leaking? Should he tighten up the tap-bolts in the bottom plate? I dissent, because one cannot reach them safely while she is running. It is only a trifle; better let it go. He acquiesces doubtfully, and resumes greasing. And the hours drift by.
At four o'clock the Second relieves me, looking reproachfully at the slackened windsail. Still no breeze. And the greaser, who does not go off till six o'clock, observes, "Oh, wot a—'appy Christmas!" Which would be profane if the temperature were lower.
I change into white ducks again and saunter up to the bridge to talk to my friend the Mate. If I were to paraphrase Johnson's burst of energy, I should say, "Sir, I love the Mate!"
"Merry Christmas, Mr. McAlnwick!" he shouts cheerfully from the upper bridge, and a chorus of yelping dogs joyfully take up the cry. They are the "Old Man's," but they follow the Mate up and down until they drop with fatigue. Black silky spaniel, rough-red Irish terrier, black and grey badger-toed Scotch half-breed, nameless mongrel—they all love the Mate. "Come here," he says, and I climb up to his level.
"The Old Man had a letter this mornin'," he says.
"Eh?" I remark blankly.
"Ah! His wife gave it me before we sailed an' I left it on his table this mornin'! Says he, at breakfast, 'Pshaw!' says he, 'it's a waste o' paper.'"
"Mr. Honna," I say, "perhaps he'll be sorry for saying that, eh?"
"He will, he will—some day, Mr. Mac," and he walks up and down the bridge for a bit, smoking the pipe his children gave him for a present last Christmas. I ask him:
"When shall we strike the trade wind, Mr. Honna?"
"Soon, soon. 'T ought to be here in the morning."
I climb down again, and sniff eagerly for the first beginnings of a breeze. Nothing, unless you are optimistic and like to stare at a brown streak away southward, between sky and sea.
I reach the engineers' awning aft of the engine-room, and see the Chief in his chair, the Fourth in his hammock, and the Second just come up for tea. I open my mouth and speak, when the regular throb of the engines is broken by a scream. Like a flash each one springs to his feet and looks at the others. The regular throb goes on as before, and George laughs, but the Second disappears through the door, I following. I shall not easily forget that scream.
Half-way down, a fireman, his face blanching under the coal-dust and sweat, meets us.
"What's up?" snaps the Second.
"Donkeyman, sir. In the crankpit!" He plunges downward again, and we do the same. Down into the fierce oily heat illuminated by the electrics in front of each engine. The second puts two fingers in his mouth and whistles shrilly to those above. And then we fall to work. The telegraph is flung over to "Stop," the throttle is closed, ash-pit damper put on, and the regular throb slackens, hesitates, stops. With a dexterous flick of the reversing engine the Second catches the high-press engine on the stop centre and locks her there. And then we look.
Far better for him, poor lad, if he had taken my tip and left those tap-bolts to leak. The Second says "Hand-lamp," and I give him one. People are coming down the stairs in numbers now, and the Chief rushes up to us, looks down, and turns away sickened. The ponderous cranks have blood dashed across them, the rod is streaked and lathered with it. From the bottom of the pit comes no sound, no movement. Lying on the plates is the spanner which must have spun from his hand as he fell to destruction.
"Now then, how many more?" snarls the Second. Sweat streams from his face as he pushes the intruders away and lifts a man-hole plate in the platform. I seize the hand-lamp and get down on to the tank, and the Second follows. It is not pleasant, understand, down there, where bilge collects and rats run riot, and grease is rolled into filthy black balls, and the stench is intolerable. I push on towards the pit.
* * * * *
A full moon, blood-red and enormous, hangs just above the eastern sky-line. In the west still burns the glow of the vanishing sun, and the pale sky is twinkling with innumerable stars. The regular throb of the engines drives the ship forward again, a sailor is hauling down the red ensign from the poop, and another moves to and fro, silhouetted against the southern sky, on the foc'sle-head. Just ahead of the bridge two more sailors sit busily sewing. The Old Man stands by the chart-house door talking to the Mate. The dogs lie quietly on the lower deck, their heads between their paws.
In the after-hatch, covered by the flag, lies that which is about to be committed to the deep.
The red glow fades from the west, and the moon swings upward, flooding the sea with silver light. Away southward lies a black streak on the sky-line and the windsail flickers a little. The two sailors have finished sewing, and go aft. A fireman breaks the deck silence as he hoists two firebars up from the for'ard stokehold and carries them aft. Up on the poop, under the awning, the Second Mate has removed the hand-rails on the starboard quarter, and the carpenter is lashing some hatches in an inclined position.
We by the engine-room door are silent, for there is nothing to say. We wait for the Stand by bell in silence. A heavy footfall, and the Skipper, his bronzed face hard-drawn, his snowy hair uncovered, passes us. I think, even now, he is sorry for that sneer at his wife's little trick. He is going to get the Prayer Book that lies close to his revolver in his chest.
George and I go below and make all ready. I think the Second is glad of our company, in the terrible heat. We potter about in silence: then "Stand by—Half—Slow—Stop." A few minutes' swift toil, a hurried wash, and we climb up on deck again into the moonlight. A white, silent world of waters is about us as we join the crew going aft to the poop. The awning has been partly folded back, and we see the Skipper resting his book on the tiller-gear, while the Steward stands by with a lantern. I look curiously into the faces I know so well, seeking, in the presence of death, a little more knowledge of life. I look at the Skipper, with his white hair and fierce moustache gleaming in the silver radiance of the moon, his hands fumbling with the leaves of the book. I look at the Chief, fidgeting about in the rear, meeting no one's eye, his mouth working nervously. I look at George the Fourth; he is staring like a schoolboy at the flag-covered thing on the hatch, with the firebars lashed to its sides. And then the silence is broken by the harsh, unsteady voice:
"I am the resurrection and the life."
The tension is almost unbearable now. We have not been educated to this. We are like soldiers suddenly flung into the face of the enemy.
"We therefore commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body (when the sea shall give up her dead), and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who at his coming shall change our vile body that it may be like his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself."
A pause, and he closes the book. Two of the men quietly slacken the ropes which hold the body in position, another pulls off the flag, and the dark mass on the planks plunges downward into the oily sea. Another pause, while I picture it rushing "down to the dark, to the utter dark, where the blind white sea-snakes are," and the Chief motions furtively with his fingers.
In a few minutes we are under way.
* * * * *
It is eight bells, midnight, once more. The sky to the southward is a jet-black mass of clouds, and the windsail is yawing in a strong, cool breeze. Away to the westward the moon still throws her glory over the face of the waters and I go below, thinking of the night coming, when no man shall work.
And so ends our Christmas Day.
It is Sunday, and I lie under the awning by the engine-room door, lazily reading "Faust." There is a speck on the sky-line—the mail boat, bringing a letter from my friend. I look round at the translucent opal of the bay, the glittering white of the surf on the reef, the downward swoop on an albatross, and I listen to the dull roar of the breakers, to the solemn tang-tang of the bell-buoy on the bar, and the complaisant "ah-ha-a-a" of some argumentative penguin. Even the drab-coloured African hills in the distance, and the corrugated Catholic church (shipped in sections) with the sun blazing on its windows, are beautiful to me to-day, for I am not of those who think religion is ugly because it is corrugated, or that hills are repulsive because they are not in the guide-book. I am at peace, and so are the rest. My friend the Mate is fishing, but that, of course, is trite; the Mate is always fishing. I fancy the cod nudge each other and wink when they see his old face looking down into those opalescent depths, and watch him feeling at his lines for a bite. How they must have joked together this morning when he gave a shout and called for help, for he could not lift the line! We all responded to the call, and the line came up slowly. "Must be a whopper," muttered the Mate, and refused my callous suggestion that it was a coal-bag which had got entangled in the hook. At last, after an eternity of hauling, came up part of an iron bedstead, dropped from some steamer in the long ago. But the true fisherman has reserves of philosophy to cope with such slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Meanwhile the speck has enlarged itself into a blot with a tag above it and some cotton-woolly smoke. "'Tis the Nautilas," observes the Mate, and he calls it "Naughty Lass" with hibernian unconsciousness of his own humour. I wonder, now, why it is that we sailor-men invariably display such frantic feminine interest when another craft heaves in sight. The most contemptible fishing boat in the Bay of Biscay, when she appears on the horizon, receives the notice of all hands—the old as well as the young. And when we pass a sister ship, the Aretino or the Cosimo or the Angelo; in mid-ocean, we talk about her and criticise her, and rake out her past history, for days. I sometimes think, from hints the Mate drops, that our own Benvenuto has a past, a St. John's Wood past I mean, not a Haymarket past. But he will have no talk by others against the ship. "What's the matter with the ship?" he will shout. "Damn it all, I like the ship! She's a good old ship, an' I glory in her!" So we talk scandal about the others instead.
Here, on the ragged edge of the Empire, things are managed expeditiously by the authorities. Scarcely an hour after the Nautilas has dropped her pick the tugboat comes out again and flings us our mail. Bosun and donkeyman trudge aft and take the letters for the foc'sle, the mess-room steward deposits a letter in my lap, and I think of my friend. At this moment he is engaged in repartee with the housekeeper as she lays the table for tea. The heavy twilight is settling down over the river outside; lovers are pacing the walk as they return from their Sunday tramp. Possibly, too, that fantastic scene which he has described to me is now enacting. He is at the piano; the housekeeper, in tears, is on her knees beside him, and they raise their melodious voices "for those in peril on the sea." How affecting, for one to be so remembered! I thank them both with all my heart.
And now he tells me that his play goes well, and I am glad. It will indeed be a red-letter day when I pay my shilling and climb into the gallery to see his work. No, I shall not criticise. Probably I shall hardly listen. I shall be thinking many thoughts, dreaming dreams, feeling simply very glad and very proud.
I sympathise always with his struggles with his personnel, but I think, though, he hardly allows enough for the point of view. These actors and actresses are not literary. (They should be, I know.) They look at an author's work as a man looks at the universe—a small part at a time. That trite old paradox that, to the actor, the part is greater than the whole, should never be forgotten. Remember, too, how "touchy," as he calls it, they must be, in the nature of things. Their touchiness, their affectation, their lack of culture—all are inherent in them. Their success is always immediate, using the word in its literal sense as a metaphysician would use it; the author's success is mediate, through time and trial. So one should not be discouraged because they fail to appreciate one's efforts to give them the atmosphere of the period. They will get the atmosphere intuitively, or not at all.
He complains of "loss of time," "thankless task," "inefficiency," and the like. Now, I think that is grumbling without cause. Take my own case, for example. I have no problems of dramatic art to wrestle with, only the problem of coal consumption. But it is ultimately the same thing, i.e., energy. My friend mourns the shameful loss of energy incident to the production of a decent presentment of his dramatic conception. I, as an engineer, mourn over the hideous loss of coal incidental to the propulsion of the ship. The loss in his case, I suppose, is incalculable: in mine it is nearly seventy per cent. Think of it for a moment. The Lusitania's furnaces consume one thousand tons of coal per day, seven hundred of which are, in all probability, lost in the inefficiency of the steam-engine as a prime mover. It runs through the whole of our life, my friend! Waste, waste, waste! What we call the perfect cycle, the conversion of energy into heat and heat into energy, cannot, in practice, be accomplished without loss. What may interest you still more is that we cannot, even in theory, calculate on no loss whatever in the progress of the cycle, and by this same "entropy loss," as we call it, some of our more reckless physicists foresee the running down of the great universe-machine some day, and so eliminating both plays and steam-engines from the problem altogether. But this is my point. Prodigious loss is the law of nature which she imposes both on artist and artisan. Indeed, artist and artisan have their reason of being in that loss, as I think you will admit.
Again, history will corroborate my contention as to the catholicity of this loss. Imagine the French Revolution, the Lutheran Reformation, the "Catholic" Reaction, and the like, to be revolutions of the vast human engine. Consider then the loss of power. Consider the impulse, the enormous impulse, applied to the piston, and then look at the result. What losses in leakages, in cooled enthusiasms, in friction-heat, in (pardon the ludicrous analogy) waste gases! Think, too, of the loss involved in unbalanced minds, as in unbalanced engines, one mass of bigoted inertia retarding another mass! Oh, my friend, my friend, you talk of "losses" as though you playwrights had a monopoly of it. Ask men of all trades, of all faiths, and they will give you, in their answers, increased knowledge of human life.
Such, at least, is my method—digging into the hearts of men. Take, for instance, my friend the Second Officer. A tall, lean young man, with an iron jaw under his brown beard. I began to talk to him one evening because he said he never had letters from home. He had a sister, he told me, but there was no joy in the telling. "We don't hit it off," he observed grimly, and I smiled. He has no sweetheart, loves nothing but dogs. How he loves dogs! He has two at his heels all day long. He loves them almost as much as dogs love the Chief Officer, which is to distraction. He will take the solemn English terrier up on his knee and give me a lecture thereon. This same pup, I learn, is "low"—look at his nose! He is in bad health—just feel his back teeth! Saucy? Yes, certainly, but not a thoroughbred hair on him. He has worms, too, I understand, somewhere inside, and on several occasions during the voyage his bowels needed attention. I, in my utter ignorance of dog-lore, begin to marvel that the animal holds together at all under the stress of these deficiencies. Perhaps the dirt which he collects by rolling about on deck affords a protective covering. Once a week, however, his lord and master divests him of even this shadowy defence, and he emerges from a bucket, clean, soapy, and coughing violently. In all probability he rejoices in consumption as well.
The Second Officer, I say, teaches me philosophy. He has had a hard life, I think. By sheer industry he has risen from common sailor to his present berth. I say "sheer" because it seems to me that when a man has no friends or relations who care to write to him, the way of life must be very steep indeed. I was surprised, though, to learn of his loneliness. Had he, then, no kindly light to lead him on? Unconsciously he answered me. Would I come down below and have something to drink? With pleasure; and so we went. The last time I had been in that room was when his predecessor, the little man with four children and a house of his own, had extended hospitality to me. It is not a pleasant room. A spare bunk full of canvas bolts, cordage, and other stores, make it untidy; and the Steward's stores are just behind the after bulkhead, so that it smells like a ship-chandler's warehouse. Well, we sit down, and the whiskey passes. We light cigars (magnificent Campania Generals at three farthings each), and then he ferrets about in his locker. I look at the pictures. Almanack issued by a rope-maker in Manchester; photo of an Irish terrier, legs wide part, tail at an angle of forty-five to the rest of him; photo of Scotch terrier, short legs, fat body, ears like a donkey's; photo of the officers of s.s. Timbuctoo, in full uniform, my friend among them, taken on the upper deck, bulldog in the foreground. By this time the Second Officer has exhumed an oblong wooden case containing a worn violin. Ah! I have his secret. He holds it like a baby, and plucks at the strings. Then he plays.
Well, he knows, by instinct I imagine, that I care nothing for music, as music. So when I ask for hymn-tunes, he smiles soberly and complies. I hear my favourites to my heart's content—"Hark, Hark, My Soul," "Weary of Earth," "Abide With Me," and "Thou Knowest, Lord." How glad they must be who believe these words! The red sun was flooding the room with his last flaming signal as the man played:
"Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide, When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me!"
Yes, mon ami, all men know of that tremendous loss inherent in all their labours. And it is, I think, to balance that loss that they have invented religion.
It has suddenly struck me that there are many important things to be found by considering the cheap literature which floods the English and American publics week by week and month by month. I am afraid that, when at home in Chelsea, where even the idlers read Swinburne and Lord de Tabley, I had grown accustomed to the stilted point of view, calling novelettes "trashy" and beneath an intellectual man's consideration. Well, since this particular trash forms the staple brain food in the Mercantile Marine, I must needs look into it more closely. With results.
There is a question of bulk and output. This is appalling to a laborious writer, a student or a thinker. Week by week there pours forth an unending deluge of love fiction, and week by week this deluge is absorbed into the systems of millions of human beings. We speak glibly of the world-wide fame of some classic, when, in point of fact, the people familiar with that classic are isolated specks in the vast, solid mass to whom some novelettist is a household god. The classic will have, say, one votary in the family, the novelettist will capture the family en bloc. An engineer will receive a cargo of novelettes, all of which have been digested, or even feverishly devoured, by his mother, wife, or sisters. He will pass them on to the Steward, who will read them and give them to the sailors and firemen. And this obtains in every ship wherever the English language is spoken. What classic can claim a public that does not seem microscopic compared to this?
I cannot but observe, too, that Miss Anonyme often writes exceedingly well. No extraneous vapourings are admitted, and the plot is steadily developed to its inevitable conclusion of "happy ever after." The metaphors are somewhat stereotyped, and quotations from Tennyson are awkwardly handled, but—what would you for a penny? Johnson's explanation—that they write well in order to be paid well—is correct. Miss Anonyme knows her "market," and she writes for it as well as can be expected under the circumstances.
A point worth noting is that this talk about "pernicious literature" is not sincere. Literature cannot be pernicious in itself. At the present time people can get exactly what they desire, because the question of price does not arise. The finest works are to be had at every free library, and for a few pence at every book-shop, and the public carefully avoids them. Novels containing chapter after chapter of neurotic aphrodisiacs and pornography masquerading as literature are priced at "a shilling net," and are avidly purchased and read by the simple, God-fearing, sea-faring man.
There is, of course, a tragic side to this question. I mean that, after all, a sublime simplicity of mind is a necessary predicate to the acceptance of this "cheap" fiction. "A penn'orth o' loove," George the Fourth calls a novelette, and there's something very grim to me in that phrase also.
I have already noted the "passionate love of music" in the heroes and heroines of these stories. I made notes, and, in ten consecutive tales, one or more of the characters "was a passionate lover of music." I do not complain against the genius whose heroine elopes with a clean-shaven villain to Brittany and is married in a Gothic church with frescoed chapels. Neither do I any longer cry out when I read that "the light that never was lay over the land." I am grown callous with a course of light fiction such as I have never taken before. And I hope I shall not be misunderstood and numbered with the prigs when I say that never did literature seem to me more lovely and alluring than when I had finished my task and had opened my "Faust" once more, feeling the magic of the master beckoning "to far-off shores with smiles from other skies."
What we clearly comprehend we can clearly express. That, I think, is Boileau, though I cannot remember where I read it. The baffling thing about this fiction is that it expresses nothing, and therefore is not really a part of literature. The features of my colleagues when absorbing a first-rate soporific of this nature remind me of the symptoms of catalepsy enumerated in a treatise of forensic medicine which I once read. The influence is even physical. It is generally associated with a recumbent position, repeated yawning, and excessive languor. Loss of memory, too, is only one of the consequences of reading a dozen novelettes in a week's run.
There is another possibility. I must not forget that in one point I found myself in error. In the case especially of engineers, this intellectual drug-taking has no effect upon their interest in professional literature. When George the Fourth goes up for his "tickut" he will be as keen about the theory of steam and the latest researches in salinometry as any of the aristocratic young gentlemen who haunt the precincts of Great George Street and Storeys Gate. This leads me to imagine that in the future there will be a vast mass of highly trained mechanicians to whom literature will be non-existent, but whose acquaintance with written technics will be enormous. Like our scientific men, perhaps. I am uneasy at the prospect, because this conception of uncultured omniscience, the calm eyes of him shining with the pride of Government-stamped knowledge, is inseparable from an utter lack of reverence for women. Neither Antony nor Pericles, but Alcibiades is his classical prototype. And so the fiction with which he will pass the time between labour and sleep will have none of the subtlety of Meredith, none of the delicate artistry of Flaubert, but rather the fluent obviousness of Guy Boothby, stripped as bare as possible of sex romance.
I am anxious to convince myself of all this, because I want so much to divorce this tremendous flood of machine-made writing from genuine literary activity. That, too, will evolve and evolve and evolve again; but with such a theme I am not genius enough to cope.
I am grown tired of books. It is a fact that protracted manual toil strikes a shrewd blow at one's capacity for thought, and at times I turn from the fierce intellectual life with a weariness I never knew in the old days. How my friend would smile at such a confession. I, who have thumped the supper-table until three in the morning, until our eyelids were leaden with fatigue, growing weary of the strife! Yet it is sometimes true.
After all, though, my real study nowadays is on deck and below, where Shakespeare and the musical glasses are beyond the sky-line, and one can talk to men who have never in their lives speculated upon life, have never imagined that life could possibly be arraigned and called in question, or that morality could ever be anything but "givin' the girl her lines, like a man." My friend the Mate is a compendium of humanism, the Chief provides me with curious researches in natural history. Even the Cook, with whom I have been conversing, presents new phases of life to me, and brings me into touch with the poor, the ignorant, and the prolific. The poor whom we know at home are only poor in purse. These men are poor in everything save courage and the power to propagate their kind. The Cook has received a letter from his sister-in-law to the effect that he is now the father of twins, and he looks at me and smiles grimly. Under the pretence of obtaining hot water for shaving, I am admitted to his sanctum sanctorum abaft the funnel, and we talk. It is hardly necessary to say that the Malthusian doctrine receives cordial approbation from my friend the Cook, when I have expounded it to him.
"Certainly, Mr. McAlnwick," he observes, "but 'ow are you goin' to start?"
"You see," I reply, "it isn't a question of starting, but a question of stopping."
"Well," he says stolidly, rolling a cigarette, "'ow are you goin' to start stoppin'?"
"You," I answer, "might have dispensed with these twins."
"Lord love yer, mister, I can dispense with 'em easy enough. That's not the question. The question is, 'ow am I to feed 'em, now I've got 'em? An' 'ow am I to avoid 'em, me bein' a man, mind, an' not a lump o' dry wood?"
Like all theorists, I am hard put for an answer. I look round me, and watch my interlocutor preparing to make bread. There is a mammoth pan on the bench beside me containing a coast-line of flour with a lake of water in the middle. Cook is opening the yeast-jar, an expression of serious intent on his face. Some cooks sing when they make bread; the Scotchman I told you of in a previous letter invariably trilled "Stop yer ticklin', Jock," and his bread was invariably below par. But this cook does not warble. He only releases the stopper with a crack like a gun-shot, flings the liquid "doughshifter" over the lake in a devastating shower, and commences to knead, swearing softly. Anon the exorcism changes to a noise like that affected by ostlers as they tend their charges, and the lake has become a parchment-coloured morass. For five pounds a month this man toils from four a.m. to eight p.m., and his wife can find nothing better to do than present him with twins!
I look into the glowing fire and think.
I feel this is delicate ground, even allowing for the natural warmth of a man who has twins, so I am silent.
"Sometimes," Cook continues, growing pensive as the dough grows stiff, "sometimes I feel as though I could jump over the side with a ''ere goes nothink' and a bit of fire-bar in me 'ip-pocket. Same blasted work, day after day. Monday curry an' rice, fresh meat an' two veg., ''arriet lane' and spuds. Toosday, salt meat ditto. Wednesday, bully soup an' pastry. Thursday, similar. Friday, kill a pig an' clean the galley. Sat'day, ''arriet lane' an' spuds, fresh meat, two veg., an' tart. Sunday, similar with eggs an' bacon aft. What good do it do? Who's the better for it all? Not me. ''Ere goes nothink!'"
He stabs the fire savagely through a rivet-hole in the door, and pushes his cauldrons about. To one who knows Cook all this is merely the safety-valve lifting. The ceaseless grind tells on the hardest soul, and you behold the result. In an hour or so he will be smiling again, and telling me how nearly he married a laundryman's daughter in Tooley Street, a favourite topic which he tries to invest with pathos. It appears that, after bidding the fair blanchisseuse good-night, he chanced one evening to take a walk up and down Liverpool Street, where he fell into conversation with a girl of prepossessing appearance. Quite oblivious of the fact that Mademoiselle Soap-Suds had followed him, "just to see if he was as simple as he looked," he enjoyed himself immensely for some twenty minutes, and then ran right into her. He assures me he was "'orror-struck." Like a man, he admitted that he was conversing with "that—that there." I always like this part of the tale. His confession seems to him to have been the uttermost depths of mortal self-abnegation. Alas, the heiress of Soap-Suds Senior had no appreciation of the queenly attribute of forgiveness. She boxed his ears, and he never saw her again. "She was allus a spiteful cat," he observes pensively; "so p'raps the wash 'us 'ud ha' been dear at the price. Still, it was a nice little business, an' no kid."
As I raise my pot of shaving-water a huge head and shoulders fill up the upper half of the galley doorway. The mighty Norseman has come for some "crawfish legs." Like Mr. Peggotty and the crustacea he desires to consume, he has gone into hot water very black, and emerges very red. His flannel shirt only partially drapes his illuminated chest—I see the livid scar plainly. He beams upon me, and asks for a match.
"Well, Donkey," says Cook, "'ow goes it?"; "Donkey" is the mighty Norseman's professional title aboard ship.
"Aw reet, mon," says he with the fiendish aptitude of his race for idiom. "How is the Kuck?"
"Oh, splendid. Stand out o' the way, and let me make thy daily bread."
"Daily!" screams the Donkeyman. "Tell that to the marines. I have one loaf sof' bread three times a week, an' there are seven days to a week. Daily! Tell that——"
"Find another ship, me man, find another ship if the Benvenuto don't suit!" And the Mate passes on to the chart-house, where are many dogs.
"Ay, will I, when we get to Swansea," says the Donkey man to me, beaming. "There are more ships than parish churches, eh? Mister, I want to speak to you. Come out here." I go outside in the moonlight, and the mighty Norseman takes hold of the second button of my patrol-jacket.
"I 'ave had a letter from Marianna," he whispers.
"Ah! And so she is——"
"She is Marianna, always Marianna now. A good letter—two and a half page. See, in German, mister. She write it very well, Marianna." And I behold a letter in German script.
Tastes differ. I am compelled to believe that passion can flow even through German script—aye, when it is written by a Swedish maiden of uncertain caligraphy. Heavenly powers! I turn the sheet to the light from the galley. Surely no mortal can decipher such a farrago of alphabetical obscurity. And I do so want to know what Marianna says for herself. I love Marianna, for the mighty Norseman says she is small and dainty, and her eyes are grey, and—and—well, the resemblance doesn't end there; so when I tell my friend, he may laugh as much as he pleases. But there had been a quarrel (in German script), and the mighty Norseman had grown mightily misogynistic. His jolly pasty face had been as long as my arm most of the way out, and his sentiments, confided to me each day at seven bells, were discourteous to the sex. But now, behold the cloud lifted: German script has undone its own villainy, and Johann Nicanor Gustaffsen beams.
"I will go 'ome this time, mister," he says, folding up the reconciling hieroglyphics.
"How, Donkey—work it?"
"Not much, you bet. I go to London and take a Swedish boat from Royal Albert Docks to Gothenburg, train from Gothenburg to Marianna. Seventeen knots quadruple twin screw. I will be a passenger for one quid."
"Donkey, did you ever hear of Ibsen—Henrik Ibsen?"
"Ibsen? Noa. What ship is he Chief of, mister?"
"A ship that passes in the night, Donkey."
"What's that, mister?"
How small a thing is literary fame, after all! When one considers the density of the human atmosphere, the darkness in which the millions live, is not Ibsen to them a ship passing in the night indeed, a mysterious light afar off, voyaging they know not where? Perhaps that is what I meant.
"He wrote plays, Donkey—Schauspielschreiber, you know."
"Oa! Ich hatte nicht daran gedacht! 'Ave you a bit of paper and envelope, mister, please? I will write to Marianna."
"Give her my love, Donkey."
"Oh-a-yes, please! I'll watch it! What? You cut me out?" A rumbling laugh comes up from that mighty chest, he beams upon me, and plunges into the galley for his crawfish legs.
Mug of hot water in hand, I pick my way aft among the derrick chains, and descend to my room. Have I yet described it? Nine feet six by seven wide by seven high At the for'ard end a bunk overtopped by two ports looking out upon the main deck. At the after end a settee over which is my book-case. A chest of drawers, a shelf, a mirror, a framed photograph, a bottle-rack, and a shaving-strop adorn the starboard bulkhead. A door, placed midway in the opposite side, is hung with many clothes. A curtain screens my slumbers, and a ventilator in the ceiling chills my toes when turned to the wind. Ceiling and walls are painted dead white, with red wainscotting round the settee. Two engravings grace the only vacant spots on my walls—one a wild piece of wood and moorland, the road shining white after a late-autumn rain, with a gypsy van showing sharp against the lowering sky; the other a wintry lane with a waggon labouring in the snow. A patrol-jacket and a uniform cap hang over a pillow-case half full of dirty clothes. Such is my home at sea.
Look round while I shave. Quite possibly some may wonder that I should affect such commonplace pictures. They cost me threepence each, in Swansea. Well, I am not concerned with their merit as pieces of decorative art. When I look at that wet road and rainy sky, I go back in thought to the days when I lived near Barnet, and the world was mine on Sunday. I recall how I was wont to throw off my morning lethargy, get astride my bicycle, a pipe in one pocket and a book in the other, and plunge into the open country beyond Hadley Heath. It had rained, very likely, in the morning, and the roads were clean and fresh, and the trees were sweet after their bath. And as the afternoon closed in I would sit on a gate in some unfrequented lane and watch the red fog darken over London town. I was happy then, as few lads are, I think. Those long silences, those solitary communings; were mind-building all the time. So, when I came away from home and settled in Chelsea, and heard men talk, I felt that I, too, had something to say.
In like manner my snowscape takes me back to the time when I was a mechanic, engine-building near Aylesbury. We lived half a mile from the works, at an old inn, and we began at six o'clock. In winter time, I remember, we would snuggle into the big back kitchen, with its huge cauldron of pig-meat swinging over the open fire, and its barrels containing evil things like stoats and ferrets, to put on our boots; and when we opened the door, two feet of snow would fall in upon the floor. How well I remember that silent trudge up the bleak Birmingham Road to the works! There were always two broad ruts in the white roadway—the mail-coach had passed silently, at two o'clock. Cold, cold, cold! A white silence, save for our dark figures shuffling softly through the snow. And then a long eleven-hour day.
I have occasionally mentioned my friend the Second. A keen, dark-skinned, clean-shaven face, with small blue eyes and regular white teeth. There are no flies on him. His is one of those minds which can grasp every detail of a profession and yet remain very ignorant indeed, a mind which travel has made broader—and shallower. He is a clever, courteous, skilful, well-bred, narrow-minded Broad-Churchman. He is a total abstainer, a non-smoker, and a frequenter of houses of fair reception. If anomaly can go further, I can declare to you that he is engaged to a clergyman's daughter. When he is angered, his face grows as thin as a razor, the small blue eyes diminish to glittering points, and the small white teeth close like a vise. It is then that I am sorry for the clergyman's daughter. We do not understand each other, I fear, because I am so unsentimental. He believes in unpractical things like Money, Success, Empire, Home Life, Football, and Wales for ever. How can a man who puts faith in such visionary matters understand one who builds on the eternal and immovable bedrock of literature and art? He has sober dreams of following in his father's steps and making a fortune for himself, and he considers me weak in the head when I explain that I have made my wealth and am now enjoying it. Would he ever understand, I wonder?
"Yes, there are some from whom our Lady flies, Whose dull, dead souls, rise not at her command, And who, in blindness, press back from their eyes 'The light that never was on sea or land.'"
In fact, I should say he is one of those same mechanicians of whom I spoke, in whose lives literature will have no place, and the desire for a private harem supplant the grande passion. This may sound absurd when one remembers their love of home; but I speak with knowledge. It is easy enough to make a man out to be a patriot, or a humanitarian, or a home-lover, if you pick and choose from his complicated mentality just what suits that particular label. To know a man as he is, you must be shipmates with him, quarrel with him, mess with him week after week until you are sick of the sight of him. Then, if you are sufficiently sensitive to personality, you will divine his spiritual bedrock beneath all the superimposed recencies, and you will know whether he be "a mere phosphatous prop of flesh" or whether he have in him some genuine metallic rock, from which the fabric of the distant world-state may be fashioned.
Once more I am writing "homeward bound." Homeward bound! Outside the Channel fog is coming down to enfold us, the wind is cold, my stock of fruit, laid in at Las Palmas is done, and George the Fourth is growling through the ventilator, "T' Longships, mister!"
Longships—that's twelve hours' run from the Mumble Head, the great white lenticular lenses of which fling wide-sweeping spokes of light across the tumbling waters of the Channel. The Skipper is cautious, has been twenty-two hours on bridge and in chart-room; refuses to go ahead until he can locate Lundy. We heard, in Grand Canary, that the big White Star Satanic is lying near the Lizard, back broken, total loss, heroic passengers all safely landed. Wonderful people, passengers. If they keep hysteria at a distance for a few hours, they are bravoed from one end of the Empire to the other. The Satanic's engineers? The Empire has overlooked them, I suppose, which is their own peculiar glory.
Homeward bound! "Finishing," too, for three of us. Chief, Second, and Fourth are leaving when we get in, and I shall be alone for a few days. That means work, I fear, and no joyful run up to Paddington this time. Well, well, next time I finish, and we shall foregather in the Walk once more. I was thinking, only a day or two back, that Chelsea Embankment must be in its glory now, glory of early spring. That noble line of granite coping and twinkling lights. How often have we walked down past the Barracks from Knightsbridge, taken pot-luck at the coffee-stall at the corner, and then fared homeward between the river and the trees! Ah, me! To do it once again—that is what I long for.
In the meanwhile, the Longships are away astern, the Skipper has found Lundy, a grey hump on the port bow in the morning light, and we are "full ahead" for the Mumbles. Sailors' bags are drying on the cylinder-tops, Chief, Second, and Fourth are fixing up a "blow-out" up town to-morrow night; mess-room steward is polishing the brasswork till it shines like gold; and I am writing to my very good friend. We are all very cheerful, too; no "sailors' gloom" in our faces as we go on watch. George the Fourth (I cannot imagine what the ship will be like without him) is making himself ridiculous by doing everything for "t' last time." "T' last time!" he mutters as he starts the evaporator and adjusts the vapour-cock. He is taking the temperatures for the last time. He is going up to South Shields for his "tickut," by which he means a first-class certificate of competency issued by the Board of Trade. That is George the Fourth's utmost ambition. He is a man then; he is licensed to take any steamer of any tonnage into any sea on the chart. He has, moreover, a certain prestige, has this skylarky youth, when he gets his "chief's tickut." Ladies who preside over saloon bars will try to lure him into matrimony. He will grow (I hope) a little steadier, and fall really and truly in love.
My colleague the Second, he intends to work ashore and sleep at home. The clergyman's daughter, I imagine, will come more and more into the scheme of things, and the mother he loves so well will give him her blessing. So each, you see, has a clearly defined plan, while I drift along, planless, ambitionless, smoking many pipes. I have been trying to think out something practicable. Am I to drift always about the world, a mere piece of flotsam on Swansea tide? Or am I to sit down once more in Chelsea, hand and brain running to seed, while the world spins on outside? I must think out a plan. And I must school myself to cancel all plans beginning "If she will—if only." Why cannot I rise to some decent sense of self-respect, to say, as says the man in "The Last Ride Together":
"Take back the hope you gave,—I claim Only a memory of the same."
That's manly—pre-eminently English, in fact. But, meanwhile, I drift planless.
The mighty Norseman, too, in his own sinewy Hyperborean style, is full of joy. His jolly pasty face beams joyously upon me. He will be "a passenger for one quid" from London to Gothenburg, thence to Stockholm, and Marianna. The engine-room is bulging, in places, with the contraband goods he is bringing home for Marianna. Pieces of silk "for the Signorina," as the handsome old huxter-lady at Canary purrs in our ears; bottles of Florida water, mule canaries, and Herrick's own divine Canary Sack, to which he so often bade "farewell." All these for the dainty maiden who indulges in German Script. God speed you, oh, mighty Norseman! May your frescoed bosom never prove unfaithful to your grey-eyed maiden. I, at least, have been the better for having known you—a ship passing in the night.
And so we come to the Mumble Head.
Paid off, free for the afternoon, with overcoat buttoned up and collar about my ears, I stroll aimlessly through the town. It has often been my ambition to emulate those correct creatures who, when they come to a place, study maps, read guide-books, and "do" the sights one by one. But, so far, I am a dead failure. Even my own dear London is known to me by long-continued pedestrianism. When I reach a town I put up by chance, I see things by chance, leave on an impulse, and carry away precious glimpses of nothing in particular that I can piece together at leisure into a sort of mnemonic mosaic. Well, so I stroll through Swansea, trying to forget the only two facts which I know concerning it—that Beau Nash was born here and Savage died here. They are like bits of grit in the oyster of my content. I will turn aside and see life.
I enter one of my favourite taverns. I am surrounded by maidens, barmaidens, and a fat landlady. Amy, Baby, Starlight, Chubby—all are here, clamorous for the baubles I had promised them four months before. My friend would be shocked at their familiarity; I admit, from a certain point of view, it is scandalous. But, then, all things are still forgiven to sailors. And so, business being slack, I am dragged into the bar-parlour and commanded to disgorge. I produce bottles of perfume, little buckhorns, ostrich feathers, flamingo wings, and bits of silk. The big pocket of my overcoat is discharged of its cargo. I am suffocated with salutes of the boisterous, tom-boy kind, and am commanded to name my poison.
As a reward, Chubby promises to go with me to that iridescent music-hall up the street. Chubby's appearance is deceptive. She is diminutive, with a Kenwigs tail of plaited hair down her straight little back. But she is almost twenty; she is amazingly swift behind the bar, and no man has yet bilked her of a penny. There is a Spartan courage about the small maiden, too, which I cannot but admire. Her parents are dead; her sisters both died the same week a year ago; she must earn her living; but—"No use mopin', is it?" she inquires as she fingers a locket containing photographs which hangs around her neck. That is her philosophy, couched in language that resembles herself. I should be only too delighted to take her. But—there is my incorrigible habit of reading a book or lapsing into intellectual oblivion while at the play. How many comedies have I "seen" without hearing a single word! So, when I go to the iridescent music-hall, something in the programme, or the audience, will set me musing, and Chubby will be neglected. I think I shall buy two tickets, and let Chubby take someone else—George the Fourth, say!
And Baby, fingering the silk I have brought her—Baby personifies for me that terrible problem which women and men treat so callously. Baby has already passed several milestones on the road to Alsatia and we shall meet her some day, somewhere between Hyde Park Corner and Wardour Street.
But that is far away yet. The glamour of the thing, its risk, its pleasantness, are over her as yet. Officers of the Mercantile Marine are not squeamish in a home port, nor are they scarce. Baby's rings are worth good money. The sordid bickerings of the trade are in the future, the callous calculations, the indispensable whiskey.
Now, while Baby is bending the violet eyes of hers upon a piece of Moorish silk, let me clear my mind of humbug. I am no sentimentalist in this matter. I am not certain, yet, that "my lady" of to-day is the sole repository of every virtue; neither am I dogmatic about "necessary vice," the "irreducible minimum," and such-like large viewpoints. I have, indeed, nursed a theory that our floating population might be induced to receive a certain percentage of these adjuncts to civilisation, one or two on each ship, say, with results satisfactory to all concerned. Everyone knows that, in towns, the demand is grotesquely disproportionate to the supply. The Board of Trade could deal with the question of certificates of competency.
As I sit in this bar-parlour, it seems to me that an inextinguishable howl of horror is rising from the people of England. And as I desire to be honest, I admit that I am overawed by that same tumult—a sort of singing in my ears—and so leave the problem to Mr. H. G. Wells, or someone else who deals habitually in social seismics.
After all, descriptions of sea-port barmaids can scarcely be interesting to my friend. If she lose no time in providing him with hot rum and water (not ungenerous with the sugar), she can rival either Pompadour or La Pelletier—he cares not which. Which is the callous regard of the whole business to which I have referred.
Once more adrift, I wend my way dockwards, pause at the Seamen's Mission, hesitate, and am lost. I enter a workhouse-like room, and a colourless man nods good-afternoon. Conveniences for "writing home," newspapers, magazines, flamboyant almanacks of the Christian Herald type, Pears' Soap art, and "Vessels entered inwards." For the asking I may have back numbers of the Christian Herald. Mrs. Henry Wood's story-books are obtainable by the cubic foot. As the colourless man opens his mouth to address me, I shudder and back out. Give me vice, give me boredom, give me anything in the world but this "practical religion" and smug futility of ignoble minds.
I fear my philosophy has broken away and I am misanthropic. Possibly because I shall not see my friend this home-coming. Moreover, I am due on the ship even now, for the others are going off to their triumphal "finish" up town. Faring back, then, I come to the dock-head at sunset, and it is my hour. Darkness is rushing down upon the shipping as I watch. In the distance hill piled on hill, blue dome upon blue dome, spangled with myriad firefly lights, backed by the smoky red of winter sunset; and here the shipping, ghostly now in the darkness, exquisitely beautiful in the silence. From out at sea comes a faint "ah-oo-oo-oo"—one more toiler coming in to rest. And it is night.
My friend the Chief Officer is putting fresh clothes on his bed. Clean sheets and blankets and a snowy counterpane ("All sorts o' people come in to have a chat, Mr. McAlnwick") are arranged with due care. He is brisk to-night, is my good friend, having no log to modify this time, and nothing else on hand for a day or two. Photos dusted, ports opened, tobacco and whiskey duly placed between us, he climbs into his nest and proceeds to converse. A sort of "Tabagie" or tobacco parliament, such as was once in force at Potsdam.
"Sure," he snorts, "'twas blackmail the baggage was after, ye can take it from me, and—keep the door open when she's sorting the things."
Being a young man, I wait, seated sedately on the settee, to hear more concerning "the baggage," who is, let me explain, an itinerant blanchisseuse des equipages of equivocal repute. The Mate reaches for his pipe.
"Would ye believe it, Mr. McAlnwick? She comes in here, while I'm lying in me bunk, closes the door, and comes up to me. Says she, 'Oh, Mr. Mate, I'm very unhappy!' and puts her arms round me neck, in spite—in spite of all I could do, and falls to screamin'!"
"'Slack back,' says I, 'or ye'll be the most unhappy woman in this town.' An' then Nicholas he puts his head in."
"The Steward!" I ejaculate.
"The same. Ye see, mister, the baggage, she thought the Old Man was aboard, and—she was goin' to make out a case! Says Nicholas, 'Oh, my words! I'll fetch police!' An' away he cuts."
The blue eyes of my friend the Mate are twinkling, his face is screwed up, and his nose is wrinkled all the way up. He is more like my old Headmaster than ever.
"'Twas so, Mr. McAlnwick—'twas so. Ye see, my besettin' sin is sympathy. I feel sorry for the baggage. She has a har-rd time of it, and the ends don't meet—won't meet, nohow. But, as I said, 'Consider the situation, Mrs. Ambree.' 'Oh, Mr. Mate,' says she, 'will he fetch the police?' 'Possibly,' says I, 'if he finds one on the quay.' And she began cryin' fit to break me heart."
To my surprise, the nose is still wrinkled; he breathes through his nose in a way that means "Ye don't know what's comin'."
"'Oh, I hope he won't be so cruel, Mr. Mate,' says she, cryin' as I said. 'For why?' says I, speakin' stern. 'You are an immoral wumman, Mrs. Ambree.' 'Yes,' says she, 'I know that, Mr. Mate, I know that; but it would be har-rd on me if he was to fetch Jim aboard for me.' 'Jim?' says I. 'Who in thunder's Jim, Mrs. Ambree?' ''Tis my husband,' she sobs. 'He's on night duty in this dock, an' I'm a ruined soul if he finds out.' And she set down there, Mr. McAlnwick, just where you're settin' and burst into floods o' tears."
"Dear me!" I observe. And the nose is one mass of humoursome corrugations.
"Aye, 'tis so," continues the Chief Officer, pouring out "Black and White" for two. "An' at that moment in comes Nicholas, his face serious-like, and says he, 'Mrs. Ambree, ye're wanted.' An' she goes out wi' him, like Mary Queen o' Scots to the block!"
"Mr. Honna, I'm surprised!"
"Not a bit of it, McAlnwick, not a bit of it! At first I thought Nicholas had been a fool and fetched a policeman, but Nicholas is no fool, as ye've no doubt observed. Still, I got out an' put on me pants and went into the cabin. Passin' the Steward's door I heard voices. Enterin' the Steward's room, I saw him an' the baggage splittin' a Guinness and carryin' on! 'Twas scandalous, Mr. McAlnwick. To be done by a wire-haired, leather-skinned old reprobate like Nicholas. 'Twas a clear case, for his wife does all his washin' up at Bridgend."
"I am shocked, Mr. Honna."
"Ye may well be. I was too. Pass the water-bottle, Mr. McAlnwick."
"I hear," I observe, "I hear Alexander the Great is to have the Petruchio next time she comes in."
"That's the rumour, Mr. McAlnwick. I think there's something in it, for me wife tells me that Mrs. Alexander was lookin' at a house in Cathay only last week. 'A house,' says she, 'that will be not less than thirty pounds a year.' That means Petruchio, a big ship."
The above personage, you see, is the Chief, the man who wore elevators in his boots.
"But why should he move into a larger house, Mr. Honna?"
"To keep up his position in the world, Mr. McAlnwick. 'Tis a big responsibility, ye see. His youngster will now go to a—a scholastic academy while mine remain on the rates."
"How are they, Mr. Honna?"
"Fine, Mr. McAlnwick, fine! Jacko passed I don't know how many exams., and he's teaching the curate to play the organ. Hallo!"
There is a knock at the door, and I rise to lift the hook which holds it. A stout man with a short moustache and a double chin—Tenniel's Bismarck to the life—touches his cap. It is the night watchman.
"Beg pardon, sir, Mr. Honna, but I don't feel well, sir, and I wanted to know, sir, if you'd mind my goin' to get a drop o' brandy, sir?"
"Away ye go, then."
"Thank you, sir. Shan't be long, sir. Only——"
"Have ye any money?"
"Oh, yes, sir. Thank you all the same, sir."
I close the door, Bismarck hastens away for brandy, and the Mate's nose is covered with wrinkles. Whereby I am at liberty to conclude that there is bunkum in the air. I cough.
"See that man?" he says. I nod.
"Skipper of a three-masted bark once."
"What brought him down to night watchman at thirty shillings a week?"
"Bad health. He was always feelin' unwell, and he was tradin' between Liverpool and Bordeaux."
The Mate nods at me to emphasise his words, while I look at him gravely.
"An' now," adds my friend the Mate, "I must turn out and see he comes back."
"I'll do that—don't bother. So he's one of the derelicts?"
"His brother was another. Died mad, over at Landore. Ever hear of Mad Robin? Well, he was Chief of a boat carryin' cotton to Liverpool. Comin' home from Savannah, dropped her propeller in mid-ocean."