"Shipped his spare one?" Mr. Honna laughs shortly.
"Didn't carry spares in that company, Mr. McAlnwick. No, he made one."
"Made one! How?"
"Out of a block of hornbeam and the plates of one of his bulkheads. Knocked about for a month waitin' for fine weather, tipped the ship, fixed his tin-pot screw on, and started 'slow ahead.' Came in under her own steam, Second Engineer in command, Chief under restraint in his berth. Died over at Landore—D.T."
With which abrupt epitaph the Mate reaches for his pants, while I, knocking out my pipe, go away to turn in.
But I cannot sleep. Something lies at the back of my brain—a dull anxiety, hardly definable to myself. It is possible that I may see her again, when I come home once more. I shall know for certain in the morning. And yet it may so happen that it is indeed finished. Nay, nay, my friend, have patience. I can see you as you read this, storming about the room, dropping red cigarette ash on the carpet, visibly perturbed in your mind at my madness.
Yes, yes, I know I forswore it all in a moment of bitter cynicism. But, mon ami, I am a man—a very irregularly balanced man, too, I often think—and there rises from my soul an exceeding bitter cry sometimes. You see here my life—barmaid society, ship's tittle-tattle, unending rough toil. To have but one hold, one haven, one star to guide—canst blame me, mon ami, if I hold desperately to a tiny hope?
Thinking this out, I walk far out to the pier-head, beneath the harbour light, and look earnestly into the darkness covering the sea. Have pity, at least, old friend, when I write in pain.
"Worth how well, those dark grey eyes, That hair so dark and dear, how worth, That a man should strive and agonise, And taste a very hell on earth For the hope of such a prize!"
To which your much-tried patience replies merely, "Humph!" I suppose? But, old friend, is it not true? Have I not heard your own voice give way a little, your own hand falter with the eternal cigarette as some long-hidden memory swept across your mind? So I believe, and so I understand the terse silence when you rise abruptly from the piano in the middle of some sad, low improvisation, and I lose you in the smoke-laden darkness of the room. Life for us moderns has its difficulties at times, life being, as it were, anything but modern. We have so many gods, not all of them false, either; but the Voice of the Dweller in the Innermost brings their temples crashing about our ears, and we are homeless, godless, atheists indeed.
I do not think this problem has been solved for us yet. It is all very well for the orthodox to say sneeringly, "Why not believe, like us? Why stand outside the pearly gates, while Love and Lovers pace beneath the trees that grow by the River of Life? So easy, mes amis! Only believe. Do not delay, but come. Why not to-night?" We are further from yon purple-crowned heights than you wot of, good friends. Between us and that golden radiance lie many miles of dusty road, lies even the Valley of the Shadow, through which we have passed. And now, as we are emerging from that same Valley, out upon the broad high tablelands of Understanding, we turn and see the distant loveliness, and we halt and stumble, and (sometimes) lose our way.
"She should never have looked on me, If she meant I should not love her! There are plenty—men, you call such, I suppose—she may discover All her soul to, if she pleases, And yet leave much as she found them: But I'm not so, and she knew it When she fixed me, glancing round them."
Chains rattling, winches groaning, sun shining, longshoremen shouting, breezes blowing.
"God's in His heaven— All's right with the world."
And the dock postman (dear old Postie, who cadges sticks of hard tobacco and cigars from us when he brings good news) is standing on the quay while the ship is being moved into her new berth, and he waves a batch of letters when he sees me looking towards him. So! I have been burrowing in our boilers, testing the scale, inspecting stays and furnace crowns, and the joy of working has come back to me. I was solemn last evening, melancholic and somewhat metaphysical it seems; but let it stand. 'Tis morning, and Postie's on the quay.
I breakfast alone. The others are ashore, but they will appear during the day to finish up and to bestow mementoes on the wretched one they leave behind. And so I sit smoking my pipe by the mess-room fire; Postie descends, beaming expectantly. He hands me two letters, one from my friend, one from——
There was a thick mist before my eyes, the fire seemed an infinitely distant red blur, and Postie, several continents away, was burbling about possible promotions, good voyage, fine weather, tobacco, and the like. Forgive me, old man, but your letter lay unopened for a while. I poured tobacco and cigars into Postie's pockets, and sat down to think things out. Was it foolish of me to sit down to think? To set down the problem thus: Here am I, a man of infinite, almost unknowable latent possibilities, suddenly repossessed of the supreme power and glory of life. How can I, by taking thought, bring out those same possibilities, make them actual and patent to the world, apply them to the highest and noblest uses, and so justify myself before men? In some such manner did I put to my own soul the position, trying ever to keep in view the sanctity, the holiness of life, and the preciousness of its holiest of holies, where dwell, as I have said, the power and the glory.
It is late in the evening of this most momentous day, and I must put down my pen, but there is one thought which perhaps may serve as answer to the scepticism so often expressed when I asserted my belief in this world after all. I mean if a man, when he experiences some transcendent joy, is prompted to express that joy in terms of nobler effort and sterner consecration to the welfare of others—does not this fact lead him to infer that happiness is, at least, more natural than unhappiness? that the universe does indeed exist, in Emerson's phrase, "hospitably for the weal of souls"? That, in fine, when the majority turn their faces this way, first keeping the houses of their souls swept and garnished for the love they are awaiting, then will the mountain of our misery be levelled, our valleys of despair filled up, and the rough places of life made plain?
So, at least, it seems to me just now as I sit and write. How I long for a talk with my friend!
"You're my friend! What a thing friendship is, world without end!"
I was awakened by something rattling outside my open window-port, wakened to a small tragedy. A circular wire rat-trap, depending from a line held by someone on the poop, and containing two frantic rats, dangled against the opening. Alas! how they ran round and round and round! The cause of all their agony, a piece of decayed fish and a fragment of mouldy cheese, was left untouched as they dangled before me. The voice of my friend the Mate is audible down my ventilator. He is arguing with the Steward, one Nicholas, of whom you have heard. Said Nicholas is protesting in his clickety Graeco-English fashion, that the pelt of a drowned rat (dronded raht, Nicholas loquitur) is worth less than that of one skinned alive. To which horrible doctrine my friend the Mate opposes a blustering Irish humaneness issuing in "Dammit, ye shan't!" Rats, meanwhile dangling, they as well as their fate hanging uncertain. At last they are lowered. (The Mate talking, I think, over his shoulder at Nicholas, who stands, probably in contemplative fashion, legs apart, face serious, brain calculating income derivable from rats skinned alive.) The line rising in a minute, I turn on my elbow to witness the end. Alas! Helas!! Ach Himmel!!! How are the mighty fallen! Two grey shining lumps, each with tapering tail dropped limply through the bottom; fish, cheese, and rodents all on one dead level now, given over to corruption. Up, up—I hear the trap grounded on the poop over my head. I sigh as I climb out and wash. I rather like rats. The Grey One in the tunnel is an old chum of mine. I have never killed one yet, though often even Grey One has been chased up and down, in fun. He, sitting on a stringer and twirling his whiskers, has "views," I think, about Men with Sticks, his conception of the Devil and all his angels.
John Thomas, bursting in with hot water for shaving and information concerning breakfast in the cabin, interrupts my rat-reverie. It is Sunday morning.
"Eight o'clock, sir. Steward say, sir, will you have breakfast with the Chief Officer?"
"No one else aboard?"
"Second Officer's in the galley, sir."
"Galley, sir." A snigger from John Thomas. "Come aboard early, sir."
"Oh! Tell the Steward 'Yes, with pleasure.'"
So! I finish dressing leisurely, donning patrol-jacket and uniform cap, and "turn out." It is a calm Sabbath morning. Not yet have the mists rolled from the heights which frown upon us all around, but the sun glitters on the docked shipping, silent save for the flapping of sea gulls and the clank of some fresh-water pump. With a glance of homage towards the sun, I go below for my inspection. Boilers, fires banked in the donkey-boilers over weekend, bilges, sea-cocks all in order; I am at liberty to enjoy my day of rest. Nicholas, in white drill coat, shining silver buttons, and shore-boots of burnished bronze hue, glides aft with a dish (held high, in the professional manner) covered with a dome of gleaming pewter. Two youths on the quay, fishing hopelessly for insignificant dock carp, watch with open-mouthed awe. My own buttons of yellow metal, linen collar, and badge de rigueur, pass a similar scrutiny as I follow him to the saloon.
The saloon, compared with our own quarters, is sumptuously furnished. Panelled in hard woods, white ceiling with shining nickel rods and brackets, carpeted floor and ruby-plush upholstering—into such a palace I step to take breakfast with my friend the Mate. He is already entrenched behind the pewter dome, Nicholas gliding round giving the final touch of art to the preparations. The subject of skinned rats has vanished to make room for the serious business of his life.
"Good-mornin', Mr. McAlnwick. Sit there! We are alone to-day, as ye see. Nicholas!"
Nicholas is a believer in ritual. He is tolling his little brass hand-bell just as though everyone was here. In a minute he reappears.
"Is Mr. Hammerton aboard?" A snigger from John Thomas, installed pro tem. in the pantry as the Steward's aide-de-camp.
"'S in de galley, mister."
"Does he want any breakfast?"
"No, sir. 'S 'sleep in de galley." Another snigger.
"What's the matter with that boy?" thunders my friend the Mate, lifting the dome from ham and eggs.
"He is merely cursed with a sense of humour, Mr. Honna," I observe, and we avoid conversational rock and shoals until we are ensconced in his private berth.
"The fact is, Mr. McAlnwick, Mr. Hammerton's a very foolish young feller. Help yourself to some tobacco. Knowin' as I do that when he went ashore last night he had twenty-six pounds ten in his cash pocket, I wonder he isn't lyin' at the bottom o' the dock instead of in the galley. He will not bank his surplus. And he will get drunk."
"What's at the bottom of it all, Mr. Honna?"
"I'll show ye!" With a hoarse whisper he rises, tip-toes swiftly along the corridor to the Second Officer's room, and returns with a photograph.
Baby! Is she another milestone nearer to Alsatia, then? My pipe remains unlit as I gaze at the cheap provincial photograph of a girl with large eyes and a sensuous mouth.
Mr. Honna pushes his cap back and stares at me.
"What! D'ye know her?"
"It's Baby," I answer, laying the thing down. "Baby!"
"He's engaged to her."
"Since—Gawd knows—last Monday, I believe."
I reach for the matches, and recount to the Mate my knowledge of Baby. His nose wrinkles up, his eyes diminish to steel-blue points of fire, and he nods his head slowly to my tale.
"Same old yarn. Oh, Mr. McAlnwick, are there not queer things come in with the tide? Now listen, while I tell ye. 'Tis what they all do. They dangle round bars, all at loose ends, they get their master's tickets, and they marry barmaids. Then when the command comes along, the woman keeps the man down in the mud. 'Twas with me, too. I was engaged to a Nova Scotia girl—two Nova Scotia girls—different times. I'd roll round town, givin' 'em to understand I was master, take 'em out drivin' in a buggy Sunday evenin', makin' a fool o' meself fine. When the crash came—oh, Mr. McAlnwick, make use of your advantages now yer're at sea!—when the crash came, we were just ready to sail, an' I stayed by the ship. But next time 'twould be the same. I couldn't be acquainted with a girl for a week without proposin' matrimony! Mr. McAlnwick, ye mustn't laugh. 'Tis the truth. Even now—but why talk? Ye know my sympathetic nature. But this seems to be serious. So she's the barmaid at the Stormy Petrel, is she? Humph!"
"His brains must be addled," I observe, "not to see——"
"Ah! but ye're young, Mr. McAlnwick! That's no hindrance in the worrld to—to such as him. Oh, dear no!"
"Then such as he have a very low standard of morality."
"Mr. McAlnwick, now listen. When ye've been sent to sea at twelve year old as apprentice, an' ploughed the oceans of the worrld for five years in the foc'sle, when ye've been bullied an' damned by fifty different skippers on fifty different trades as third and second mate, when ye've split yer head studyin' for yer ticket, when ye've got it and ye're glad to go second mate at seven pounds ten a month, when ye see men o' less merit promoted because they marry skippers' daughters while you are walkin' the bridge—what 'ud ye do?"
"I don't know, mister." I am taken aback by the velocity of the question, by the Mate's earnestness.
"Ye'd turn callous or religious, or go mad! Ye see, Mr. McAlnwick, there's a lot ye miss, though ye won't admit it. Ye come to sea and ye meet the cloth, but ye don't realise their trainin'. Ye laugh at us for our queer ways, such as never walkin' on the poop over the Skipper's head, never askin' for another helpin', never arguin' the point, an' such like. But consider that man's trainin'! Ye cannot? Ye've been brought up ashore, ye've had opportunities for studyin' and conversin' with edyecated people, an' ye're frettin' for some young lady, as I can see—don't deny it, I saw Postie bring the letter—and ye wouldn't touch the likes o' this with a pair o' tongs. But with Mr. Hammerton 'tis different, do ye not see?"
"Yes, I see, a little. But you yourself, now——"
"Me? Oh, 'twas a special providence preserved me, Mr. McAlnwick. I was waitin' for a command at the time, and I was unable to get out o' the bargain. But ye know my wife."
Now, there is no doubt in my mind, after some thought, that the Chief Officer was right in insisting on the unspanned gulf between the old style officer and the men of our sphere. Heavenly powers! What have I not seen, now that the Mate has reminded me? The fatuous ignorance, the bigoted conceit, the nauseous truckling to "the Old Man," the debased intellect. And yet the Second Officer does not always lie in drunken stupor on the galley bench. I call to mind a time when he took a violin and played to me as the sun went down across the foam-flecked sea. Let us remember him by that rather than by his present state, and leave the rest to God.
It is, I think, an inestimable privilege to claim the friendship of a man whose life and letters are a perpetual stimulus to action, an invariable provocative of thought. I have just had a letter from my friend, telling me that he is in despair of the stage. His play is a thing of the past, and he vows that he has done with dramatic art for ever.
Now being, like Goldsmith, a person who spends much time in taverns and coffee-houses, where one can study every conceivable shade of character, I took my friend's letter up town with me, and sat down to muse over it and a tankard of ale. It was a cosy bar, cosier than the Cheshire Cheese, if more modern; I sank back in a deep lounge and watched the world go round.
To commence, I thought to myself, these people here constitute a potential public for a play. Therefore, supposing it were my play, my attitude towards them is a factor in the dramatic problem. What is my definition, my analysis of this potential public?
Well, they are all engaged in a terrific struggle for safety. They have no social instinct apart from the instinct to combine for safety. Their ideal is a tradesman, a pedlar, who has accumulated sufficient wealth to be safe from poverty. Their ideal of religion is one which guarantees safety from hell. They do not believe, and they tell you bluntly they do not believe, any man who claims to be an altruist. They do not believe any man who protests that he does not worship wealth—i.e., safety.
By this time I was puzzled to know how to answer my friend's complaints. All I knew was that, to strike one blow on the metal and drop the hammer because it jarred his fingers, argues sloth, not the "artistic temperament." Oh, mon ami, that "artistic temperament." "Is this all? Up again!" If you are discouraged I can only suggest a course of reading in the lives of dramatists. I recall a few offhand—Lessing, Moliere, Scribe, Wagner, Ibsen, these will suffice. When did they stop and fold their hands in despair? As for the Elizabethan and Restoration playwrights, their facility of invention, their exuberance under difficulties is devastating. That, however, is not your problem. Your drama of to-day is an old bottle with no wine in it. You fail because words have ceased to have any definite meaning. The words in a man's mouth bear as little relation to his emotions as the architecture of his house bears to his ideas. Words like Love, God, Faith, and Soul are mere coloured balloons floating about the modern West End stage. It is easy to be horrified at such a view, but men like me, who deal with things, are not to be humbugged. You put a man in a commonplace predicament, and you make him say tragically, "The die is cast," or "I will see him hanged first," or "All is over between us." That is not drama; it is nonsense. Dies are rarely cast nowadays, public hangings have been abolished, and salaries rule too low to risk breach of promise actions. There's your dilemma. Write me a play in which every word is meant—the drama will look after itself. But, if you will allow a young man to suggest a point, I say that you are all working in the dark; you are groping blindly forward when you might rejoice in the sunlight. And now, with my colleagues as texts, I shall read a homily on the conditions of modern dramatic art.
The division of biped mammalia into merely men and women is of comparatively recent date. In very early times, however, when wisdom was commoner than now, the classification began with gods and goddesses, heroes, men and women, with lower types like fauns and satyrs. I venture to think that this nomenclature might with advantage be revived. From time to time, in the history of the human mind since Anno Domini, one sees efforts to differentiate, generally with scant success. The Roman Catholic Church, with her elaborate canonising machinery, stands as the most prosperous example of this, though with the vital fault of postponing the sanctifying till after death. She, again, is responsible for another attempt, viz., the infallibility of her ministers, a promising enough plan, but ill regulated. The Stuart regime, urging with unpleasant vigour the divinity of kingship and the corresponding caddishness (or decadence) of much of the rest of mankind, is a signal example of how my plan should not be carried out. Carlyle's heroes are mostly supermen; individuals, not types.
Now, I suggest to you that we agree to classify my colleagues, the masters of the mighty vapour, the beings who are the real cloud-compellers of our day, as heroes. If I mistake not, I have a prior claim to the word, too, in that Hero's engine is the type of all our modern prime movers, the supreme type to which we are ever striving to approximate. Masters of the vapour-driven sphere! Not men, but heroes, having their own thoughts, their own joys and sorrows, their own gods; more than men, in that they need less than men, less than gods, in that they owe allegiance to them.
Well, then, here is your dramatic problem. Until you recognise the fact that such beings as I have indicated do actually inhabit the earth and cover the sea with their handiwork, until you consider the tremendous fact that your world's work is done by heroes, and not by politicians and commercial travellers, that, in short, your intellectual Frankensteins have made a million-brained monster whom you cannot, dare not destroy, your drama will not be a living force. I hold out no hope that the problem is easy of solution; I only know it exists. You will first of all become as little children, and learn, as best you may, what makes the wheels go round. Learn, that you may teach, by your creative art. Above all, remember, when you rise to protest that I am forgetting Nature, that together with "the way of an eagle in the air, and the way of a serpent upon a rock," the Hebrew poet has joined "the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid."
I have been up town "to meeting," as my father used to say. The air was clear and warm when my friend the Mate appeared on deck in all the splendour of "shore gear." He affects a material which never wears out. "Mr. McAlnwick, these here are the pants I was married in!" He reserves his serious thoughts for underwear, of which he carries a portentous quantity to last a voyage. Smart young cadets, who never wear the same collar twice, and sport white shirts and soiled souls in seamen's missions, are the Mate's aversion. He has severe censures for "gallivantin'" and "dressin' for show." He approves of my own staid habits of life, after the fashion of those elderly folk who admire in others what they so sadly lacked in their own spring-time. He forgets that perhaps even I have trembled with rage because there was a spot on my collar, that even I may have spent precious moments folding and pressing a favourite pair of trousers.
The Mate does not often go ashore nowadays, even to missions, and so the lavendery smell which exhales from the historic pants scarcely has time to dissipate before they are back in the chest. Different now, from his young days, when the vessel lay alongside the Quai de la Bourse in Rouen City, and my friend stepped across each evening to the Cafe Victor to drink creme de menthe and feel that listening to the band was rather wicked and altogether Continental. Indeed, his attachment to the ship is now proverbial, the prevailing feeling having been brilliantly epitomised by himself. "If I wash me face," he snapped to me one day; "If I wash me face, they think I'm goin' ashore!" But now the decent double-breasted blue serge, the trim beard and black bowler hat are in evidence; my friend the Mate is about to attend divine service at the Seamen's Mission. My own appearance in mufti causes excitement.
"Ye're comin', Mr. McAlnwick?"
"As far as the door," I reply.
The Chief Officer's blue eyes glint as he wrinkles his nose.
"'Tis my opinion, Mr. McAlnwick, that ye've a young woman in the town yerself."
And we go forth into the town. At the door of the Mission I bid the Mate farewell, and I catch a last glimpse of him as he removes his hat and wipes his boots with the diffidence apparently interwoven in the fibre of all mariners ashore. He is not of a proselytising disposition. Strong Orangeman, an Ulster Protestant, and—the rest. So, thinking of him, I fare onward, watching the show. Men and maidens idly saunter along, or hasten to the house of God. Why, I wonder, do girls of religious disposition allow themselves so little time to dress? Two or three have passed me; one had a button loose at the back of her dress; another's "stole" of equivocal lace was unsymmetrically adjusted to her shoulders; and so on. I know that God looketh not on the outward semblance, but I am also painfully aware that young men are not fashioned after their Creator in that respect, and my desire to see everybody married is outraged by these omissions. And looking into the faces of my fellow-passengers this Sunday evening, I am led to think that, as a class, girls are not very beautiful objects when they lack refinement. I see much raw material around me which might possibly be hewn into lovely shape—but——To my friend, with his intellectual Toryism, this hiatus is quite reasonable. These lower classes, he will observe sublimely, have their functions; refinement is not for all. And the St. James's Gazette rustles comfortably as he sinks back into the saddle-bags again!
Well, let me be honest in this matter. My mind is still in a fluid state concerning theories of society. I can only generalise. I believe, with Emerson, that the world exists ultimately for the weal of souls; I believe, also, the spiritually correlative truth, the ultimate probity of those same souls, but—I have not yet discovered why I abhor contact with those who hold the same political faith. Am I misanthropic? Or unsocial? Why, when I sit resolutely down to hear my own beliefs preached, do I silently contest each point, adopt the contrary view? Why do I avoid "active propaganda," "working for the cause," and such like? Is it because I disbelieve utterly in preaching? I do that, anyway. I often think how much farther ahead we should be if no one ever preached. I do not condemn lecturing by any means. I dislike the packed audience of the conventional preacher, socialistic or otherwise. My ideal is the heterogeneous assembly, hearkening to the words of a man skilled in oratory, profound in thought, a genius in the art of the suggestive phrase. The audience in all probability would be far from clear as to his intentions; they would grow clearer as time went on and the suggestions ripened into independent speculation. If they could understand at once what he intends, they would stand in no need of his ministry.
You will perceive how unfitted I was for the meeting I attended to-night. The uppermost thought in mind as I left was, "I do not believe in bloodless revolutions." You cannot have a revolution of society without turning part of it upside down. And I am half afraid that a good deal of what I value most in this world will be turned upside down by a socialistic revolution. Add the sad, indisputable fact that if everyone were a Socialist I should, by natural law, be a Tory, and you will see, more or less accurately, how I stand. You will see, too, the cause of my belief in heroes and gods, which latter you call natural laws. I look upon myself as a man working among gods and heroes, and I am beginning to think that the question of revolutions rests always ultimately with them, while I, a man, can but look on and marvel.
Well, I am tired with my jaunt. One's feet are not inured to walking after months at sea. And I hear my friend the Mate overhead.
"Mr. McAlnwick, ye should have been there! The elite o' the Mission was on show. An' we had an anthem. 'Twas good!"
I slip ashore with my letter before turning in.
Though I had no intention of buying many books, the dreary loneliness of the tavern where I supped drove me out upon the streets, and insensibly I drifted towards my favourite second-hand book-shop, where the little maiden behind the mountains of Welsh theology reminds me of someone I know. My Welsh Divinity I call her, hovering bright-winged above the dust-clouds of old literature, with clear grey eyes and nervous mouth. Not "the heir of all the ages," I fear, though the potentiality in her must be infinite and beyond my ken. "What do you, oh, young man?" So I seem to read the query in her eyes. "Are you only a hodman in this book-yard, then? Where is she? What is she? Who is she?" As I stand and thumb the serried ranks of corpses, I feel her gaze upon me. Quite inarticulate, both of us, you understand—I as shy as she.
I must seem extraordinarily sensitive to you, I think. Merely the presence of this child stirs my soul to nobler ideals. I feel invigorated and refreshed. So my lady stirs me; so even the mere presence of some men we know. In like manner, I imagine, is my friend influenced by superb music. They affect me like an essay by Pater, a Watts portrait, or a Dulwich Cuyp, a feeling which I can only call a passionate intellectualism, a loosening of corporeal encumbrances. My friend will not carp because I seem to place my love for my mistress in a category with a Dutch landscape and an aesthetic essay—he will understand.
I have no desire to be proud, but I confess I have never appreciated that amorousness which prompts the lovers to exchange hats as well as vows. Indeed, I scarcely understand what the older poets mean by vows even. What are these vows? By whom are they kept? Of what avail are they when they are most needed? Nearly as useless as marriage vows, these of the trysting-place, I fancy. You hold up your hands in horror at this, not because you disagree, but because of my audacity in applying general modernisms to myself. Well, I am tired of people who pose as advanced thinkers and remain as conventional as ever. We have outgrown so much of the sentimentalism of Love that muddle-headed moderns imagine that we have outgrown Love itself. The keynote of everything worthy in modern life and art and philosophy is—restraint. I decline to regard ranting as eloquence because the Elizabethan ranted well, and I decline also to accept the Shakesperian conception of Love, viz., physical satiety, as the very latest thing in ideals.
Restraint, then! A marriage is doubtless, as Chesterton so admirably puts it, a passionate compromise, but it does not follow that love is therefore a compromising debauchery. It may be that I, who have my ways far from feminine influence, tend to place women in a rarer and purer atmosphere than most of them breathe, and that this tendency unfits me for judging them accurately. Let it be so. Let my Welsh Divinity watch me from beyond the dust-clouds of learning with her grey eyes, while I pray never to lose my reverence for the quiet loveliness of which she is, so unconsciously, the type.
Once more I am out at sea. I have stowed away my "shore gear," slipped the movable bar across my book-shelf, screwed up my windows, and made all snug against the wind blowing up-channel. There is a gentle roll; she is in ballast, for the Western Ocean, and the Mate does not smile when we discuss the probable weather. He would like a little more ballast, I know, and he thinks she "draws too much forrard." Well, I am minded to go on deck for a smoke before I turn in. And the Third Officer is on watch.
I call him the Innovation. There is to be much tallying on this charter, and there is a happy rumour that the Benvenuto will pay in future. "I hear," said my friend the Mate, "I hear, Mr. McAlnwick, that she has been reconstructed." By which he means that certain financial props have been introduced into her economy, and she is no longer in liquidation. The Mate glories in a four-hour watch, and the Innovation takes the eight to twelve.
He walks across the bridge with a dozen swift strides. Then a peculiar slew of his active little frame, and he whirls back to starboard. His keen, clean-shaven face, hardened prematurely into an expression of relentless ferocity, looks out from the peak of his badge-cap, the strap cramming the crown against his bullet head. He is twenty-two, and pure Liverpool. He served his apprenticeship in sail on the Australian and Western American coasts. A middle class education is submerged beneath seven years at sea, seven years of unbridled lust, seven years of the seven deadly sins, seven years of joyous and impenitent animalism.
There is no break in his voice when he speaks of "his old lady"—she is religious. His "old man" is "a hard case," another name for a Liverpool skipper. He met his brother this time at home—"didn't know him, mister. Hadn't seen him for six years." His knowledge of some things extends from Sydney and Melbourne to Marseilles and Hamburg, from Amsterdam to Valparaiso; he drinks Irish neat, and his conversation is blistered from end to end with blasphemous invocations of the name of the Son of God.
I do not overdraw this picture of one who is only a type of thousands. It is impossible to give any adequate specification of him. He takes me, metaphorically, by the throat, and I am helpless. With vivid strokes he paints me scene after scene, episode after episode, of his life in "a windbag," and I see that he exaggerates not at all. He candidly admits that, in his opinion, Marseilles is heaven and Georgia the other extreme. He passed for second mate a month ago, collected half a dozen shipmates, and terminated the orgies in the police-court.
The psychology of such a soul fascinates me. I hold to my cardinal doctrine of the illimitable virtue latent in all men; and I am right. The unspeakable anathemas he pronounces on a certain skipper, who let one of his apprentices die in a West Coast "hospital," his own terrific descent into the Chilean "common grave," groping for the body among the rotten corpses, feeling for the poor lad's breast, where hung a broken rouble, token of some bygone Black Sea passion—all this tells me that I am right. Stark materialist though he is, he looks with scared awe upon the mysteries of religion, and the denunciations of the Dream on Patmos make him hope and pray that his own end may come in a deep sleep.
We are out beyond the Scillies now, and the Atlantic stretches before us in a grey, ominous immensity. The wind is rising steadily as I turn in, and the ship is rolling deep. The waves loom up, white-crested, snap sullenly, and surge away aft. A deeper roll, the sea crashes against my ports, and I screw them tighter. I think we are to have a bad night of it. As I draw my curtain I catch sight of a letter on my drawer-top, and I sink back with a sigh of content. "A grey eye or so!"
I feel strangely to-night, and I cannot sleep. As I woke, Six Bells, eleven o'clock, was striking, half carried away by the wind. For the storm is rising, and a beam sea sends wave after wave against my ports. Now and then, in the lulls, I feel the race of the propeller as she rises from the water, sending vast tremors through the frame of the empty ship. How she rolls! In my thwart-ship bunk I slide up and down, and the green seas thunder over my head repeatedly. As I turn out I feel excited. North Atlantic, light ship.
The mess-room is silent, dark. To and fro on the floor there washes a few inches of water. The stove-pipe has been carried away, and the sea has flooded the stove. The solid teak door at the top of the companion groans as the tons of water are hurled against it. The brass lamp glimmers in the darkness, creaking as it swings. Against the white wall the Steward's whiter apron sways like a ghost, fluttering in some eddy of draught. In the tiny pantry the cups clink softly on their hooks. And outside the storm-wind whistles in demoniac fury.
Across the room a narrow slit of light shows where the Fourth's room is hooked ajar. I go across and peer in. He is on watch, of course, and there is no one there. But all round I see littered the belongings of George's successor. A quiet, likeable Glasgow laddie, as I know him yet. He has put up his bunk curtains, and as they sway I catch a glimpse of a portrait. And so? Who can blame me if I look searchingly into the eyes of the girl with ribbon in her hair and a silver cross on her breast? And just beneath the narrow gold frame, swinging on a screw, there is a coloured paper design, which I know emanates from the Order of the Sacred Heart. It is an indulgence for one hundred days, and it has been blessed by the Vicar of Christ. Yes, and the laddie will have one on his breast, next the skin, as he stands by the throttle down below. And when we are half a world away from the parish church, he will be mindful of the tonsured man who gave him these; he will read the little red Prayer Book, and he will be ill at ease on Friday when we pass him the salt fish.
Glancing at an old cigar-box full of letters, I go out softly and hook the door.
For all the darkness and the rushing water it is close, and I go up and struggle desperately with the teak door, biding my time until the waters surge back to the rail. The door crashes to again, and I struggle on to the poop. To my amazement there are men here, four of them at the wheel. And my friend the Mate, in oilskins and sou'wester, walking back and for'ard. I cry his name, but my voice is swept into the void. He sees me, but does not speak, only walks to and fro. To me, strung up to a tautness of sensation that almost frightens me, this silence of the Mate is horrible. I feel a pain in my chest like the pressure of a heavy weight as I look at him. And the four men toil at the wheel, for the steering chains have been carried away.
Looking for'ard, I see on the well-deck the white wreckage of a boat, and I begin to tremble with excitement. If the Mate would only speak! A thought strikes me—that he will never speak to me again; then the sea comes. As she rolls to starboard, the great wave lifts his head and springs like a wild beast at the rail. A hoarse roar, a rending, splitting sound of gear going adrift, and the sea strikes the poop with terrific impact. Then the water soughs away through the scuppers. And athwart the blackened sky there darts a dazzling flash of lightning. As I hold to my stanchion, soaked to the skin, I watch the wrath of God on the face of the waters.
Making a rush, I gain the shelter of the canvas screen round the cabin companion, and I bump into the Innovation. From beneath the dripping sou'wester his small, keen face peers up at me, and he utters his inevitable blasphemy. He hugs his left hand to his side. "Mister!" he hisses in my ear, "for the love of Christ get me a scarf out o' me berth. It's a blue one, in the top drawer." Then, darting out for a moment, he yells "Ai!" boiling over into asterisks. He darts in again, hugging his hand. My foot is in the door, and together we wrench it open. I drop down the companion and turn into his berth for the scarf.
It is while coming back that I see into the cabin, and I halt. The Skipper is standing under the lamp holding out his hand for a cup of coffee. And Nicholas, the fears and imaginings of a volatile race blanching his wizened features, rocks unsteadily across the floor. The big man with the white hair, red face, and cold blue eyes, towers over him, those same eyes snapping with something that has nought to do with money-making or Brixton, something not mentioned in any Board of Trade regulations. And Nicholas, holding by the table, looks like a rat in a trap, shaking with the fear of sudden death. A word from the Skipper, and he turns and runs a zig-zag course for the door. He cannot see me in the darkness, but I hear him whinnying a song to steady his nerves:
"Ess, a young maid's broken-'earted When a ship is outward bound."
His face is pinched and drawn, his beady eyes move unceasingly, and I think of one who said, "His nose was as sharp as a pen, and 'e babbled of green fields."
* * * * *
As I go below to my berth again, striving with the door as with a strong man, there crackles and hisses a forked glare of lightning, an enormous whip driving the great white horses of the sea to madness. Onward they spring, phalanx after phalanx, while above the riot of their disintegration glints the faint yellow light of Fastnet. Far off to nor'ard, guarding Cape Clear, hidden at times by the mountainous water, veiled almost to obscurity by the flying spume, it flashes, a coastwise light. And on the eastern horizon—O wondrous sight to me!—the black pall has lifted a little from the tumbling waters, leaving a band of yellow moonlight with one green-flashing star.
Reaching my berth once more, the terror and delight of that last glimpse is upon me. In that strange yellow rift at midnight, backing the world of dark chaos, that star of palest green, I feel a thrill of the superhuman sense which renders Turner inexplicable to Balham, and stabs the soul with demoniac joy in the Steersman's Song.
One Bell, and the pen drops from my fingers. And so, until the day break and the shadows flee away, I shall be at my post. And in the morning there will be more to tell.
Minor changes have been made to correct typesetter errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.