Even the landlubber responds to the lure that causes men to go down to the sea in ships; but the sailor—well, read:
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
THE crowd pressed forward as the lights of the ferry danced over the black water. She bumped into the slip, and chains rattled noisily. Passengers debarked, and a heavy, three-horse dray shook the landing stage. Cars squawked stridently. The crowd shoved ahead again, eager theatre-goers mainly, crossing from the Jersey side to swell the floodtide of traffic setting downtown to Times Square.
Helmstrohm, head and shoulders above, stood in the front of the ferry watching them curiously; bright-eyed, slim-legged girls in flimsy dresses, coats drawn tight around their meagre hips; their blasé boy friends, with concertina trousers and sharply squarecut shoulders; stolid merchants and their talkative wives; the usual leaven of unplaceable humanity.
A dark-eyed girl in a close-fitting red toque glanced up at him appraisingly. She noted the big, square, resolute chin, the weather-tanned face, and strongly cut lips. His hand, resting on the rail, with the scaly red and blue tail of a dragon encircling the thick wrist, was dyed mahogany by the suns of many oceans. He wore a nondescript felt hat pushed back from his brow, showing crisp hair, greying at the temples, and keen, good-humored blue eyes. His jacket was of heavy dark pilot cloth, doublebreasted, with large flat buttons.
The girl looked around, casual, yet furtive; moved closer. He did not see her. His eyes were downstream, on the black hulk of a big tramp steamer anchored in the river off the sugar wharf. His mind for the moment dealt with mild technicalities—riding lights, tide, the necessity of coming alongside in the morning, discharge of cargo—things outside her experience. He dismissed them. He was ashore now to stretch his legs and to think out a decision, and the mate was aboard.
Bells jangled in the ferry’s depths and the water thrashed with the reverse kick of the screw. The lights of the Drive viaduct arched high above 125th street. Beyond, Helmstrohm could see the spidery steel of the subway, spanning the dip between Columbia University and Washington Heights. A thin hand rested on his sleeve. He withdrew his arm hastily, with a muttered apology. The hand persisted.
He looked down into shadowed, inviting eyes. His own narrowed; answered a question unspoken.
“I’ve seen better’n you on Malay street,” he growled.
Noncomprehension clouded her eyes, but she smiled automatically, and accepted the rebuff with a shrug. Looking at the bony little shoulderblades pushing through the worn twill suit coat the seaman felt an instant of pity. He commenced to speak, his hand fumbling in his pocket. Then he thought better of it. He did not want to be misunderstood.
There was a forward stampede as the ferry made fast.
The lights of Broadway beaconed, up the short hill, but he turned right, crossing the tracks, and climbed the steps to Riverside Drive.
THE day had been prematurely hot, and the heat lingered, with a faint mist in the river, and a warm, moist breeze blowing in from the sea. Far downstream an outward-bound steamer blared through the soft spring night. There was a sense of tender, growing things; fresh earth, the bulbs of early crocuses sprouting pale flowers, vague, unattainable yearnings in the air.
Helmstrohm walked along. There were many people out, a ceaseless stream, idling, talking, exercising tiny dogs. Cigarettes glowed from benches placed against the railing. The windows of International House blazed with light. Students leaned out, chatting in soft, polyglot tongues, drinking in the first promising breath of spring. The great dome of Grant’s Tomb bulked in a tranquil arc against the sky.
Beyond, rose the white scaffolding of a new cathedral which hoped to appeal to all mankind. The Drive swept along the river bank in long shining curves, hosing the midtown area with motor traffic.
The seaman sat on a bench, his back to the river, interested in the passers-by; strolling lovers, unabashed, with arms about each other; laughter, catcalls; a group of boys with a mouth organ; an occasional blue jacket with flapping trousers and dinky white hat; girls, kids almost, hastening toward 96th street. He caught a vagrant snatch of their conversation, warm with young desire—“The fleet’s in .¡’’Motor cars ripped the asphalt into sound and disappeared in a quick curve of red taillights down the Drive.
Helmstrohm was lonely. He sat immobile on his bench, his pipe bowl lit with deep fire, watching the low clouds drift over the Tomb, hearing faint rustles in the clump of burgeoning shrub nearby, as some rodent busied itself in the dark. Somewhere, a bell chimed. Nine o’clock.
The graceful sweep of incandescence rimming the Drive moved him toadmiration.
“Like the Queen’s Necklace at Bombay,” he thought, meaning the lights of the Indian city as seen from the Hanging Gardens on Malabar Hill. Then he clamped impatiently on his pipestem. That was the trouble. In nearly fifty years of fife he had nothing but foreign or sea-going bases for comparison with the things of home. Shore people did not understand. They looked at him queerly, as though he was boasting. But it was all he knew. Now, after a lifetime on deep water, he hated it—and he had been offered a shore job.
It was only this afternoon, and jubilation had broken through his habitual reserve as he confided in the mate.
“It’s a good thing, mister; with a stevedoring company. Good pay, live ashore. No more o’this!”
His big hand indicated contemptuously the oiled and tidy steel decks, the clean paint and polished brightwork of his command. He looked at the bridge, the masts and funnel; the winches, being gone over by a grimy and dungareed fourth engineer against tomorrow’s cargo handling. He thought to himself, no more days of monotony and nights of anxiety at sea; taking the responsibility of a million dollar’s worth of ship and cargo on a shore clerk’s salary.
The three farewell blasts of a deep-water ship, outward bound for the other side of the world, would say good-by to him, standing snug and envied on the stringpiece of the pierhead. He’d wave “Good-by!
. . . A sailor’s farewell !” And every seaman knows what that is.
The mate congratulated him.
“You’re going to take it, sir, of course.”
“I don’t know. I have a day to decide.”
The mate stared at him. Helmstrohm knew what he was thinking. “Ruddy fool if you don’t snap it up !”
Helmstrohm had felt differently when he first went to sea. He supposed most youngsters felt that way; highly colored thoughts hugged to themselves; barely able to wait for sailing day, what with excitement and anticipation. But he’d soon had all that knocked out of him. Gone with “Now I lay me .” and his first little teakwood sea chest, given to him by his father, and carried on his shoulders, pride making a light burden, to a big skys’lyarder lying at a South Street wharf. The chest was fathoms deep, tangled up in the bones of the old Lone Star off the Sumatra coast, now, and fo’castle jeers had soon wiped out the rest. Today, he w"as a master in steam; but a master’s job on a deep-sea tramp chills the most gregarious of men, and stifles all nonsense. And what’s the good of having a feeling for things, if you’ve no one to share it with? An occasional jaw with the mate on the bridge in the long night watches at sea, or a run ashore for dinner with the Chief, is all that’s allowable, if discipline is to be maintained. An economic voyage and a quick turn-round are what owners want, and that doesn’t leave any time for mooning. He had been excited—tremendously though—by things, in those early days. Queer, too, how vague flashes of it returned at times, even yet; especially in early morning, with the loom of the land on the bows, and the pilot coming off, and bat-winged fishing sampans dancing in your wash, with red-cheeked, dull-eyed fishermen in heavy winter kimonos leaning against the tiller, staring up at you, or sluicing cold sea water along the decks, and the distant harbor lights twinkling in the dawn.
Helmstrohm became aware of a dark shape hovering near.
“Got a cigarette, mister?”
The seaman looked up, jerked out of his musings.
“I don’t smoke them.”
The other drifted away and stood by the railing looking over the river. Helmstrohm watched him, a weedy figure in battered shoes, and a baggy suit that emphasized the sharpness of his shoulders and the thinness of his body. A peaked cap, pulled low over the eyes, left nothing visible of the face except an immature chin. He reminded Helmstrohm, somehow, of a lean, hungry young animal.
“Got the time, mister?”
He was back again. A brilliantly illuminated ribbon of advertising downstream on the opposite bank interrupted itself each minute, to announce: “The time is now . . .” It was impossible for the boy not to have seen it. Helmstrohm speculated as he dug for his watch.
He walked slowly away, rolling a trifle in his gait, as though the sidewalk was not quite stable. Helmstrohm was mildly puzzled, then he forgot him; tamped down the tobacco in his pipe with a horny finger and applied a match. The orange flare was sucked into the bowl, released, caught something on the outermost rim of its luminance.
“It’s warm tonight, ain’t it?”
It was the youth. He stood at the end of the bench, not looking at Helmstrohm, not looking at anything in particular; just
gazing vaguely out in the general direction of the river. The seaman grinned at his persistence. He couldn’t help it. A young pan-handler, he thought, cadging for a dime.
“Yes,” he said, curtly.
“Yep—sure is warm,” the other went on, sociably. “So you don’t smoke cigarettes, huh? I don’t either, to tell you the truth.”
Helmstrohm stared, amused.
“What’d you ask me for one for, then?”
“Oh, I dunno. I guess . . .”
Suddenly the older man understood. His eyes crinkled. “Want somebody to jaw to, mebbe. That it?”
“Yes, sir. I guess that’s it.”
“What’s your name?”
“Philip. Stanley’s my other name.”
“Where are you from, Philip Stanley?”
“Oh, just anywheres. I’m a—a sailor.”
“You’re a what?”
Philip Stanley seemed ill at ease. Apology crept into his tone, and with it an unexpected boyish squeak.
“Well, sir, I meant to say, I’m not exactly a sailor yet. That is, I haven’t got a ship yet.” The unbounded confidence of youth caught him on its crest. “But I’ll get one, all right!”
“What kind of ship?”
It was too dark to see his eyes; but Helmstrohm, queerly enough, did not need to see them.
“I want to get on one of those like I heard today, with deep whistles, that go all over the world. There was one with a tall yellow smokestack ...” “Funnel.”
“Eh? Yeh—a funnel—with black and red stripes around it! And there was a lot of little brown men on the deck with bright cloths around ’em, and colored things wrapped on their heads. Her name was the City of Benares.”
“The little brown fellows were Lascars.” “Is that what they were? Say, that’s great!”
He turned, and looked riverward again. “Sit down, son, if you’re not going any place.”
“No, I’m not going any place. But I like to stand and watch the lights. They’re pretty. And there’s a boat in the river about halfway across. It’s got lights, but it’s not moving. I watched it come in this afternoon. Is it a freighter, do you suppose?”
“A freighter—? Oh, I see what you mean. That’s the Falkland Castle. She’s anchored. She’s a deep-water tramp.” “She is?”
He was lost for awhile in contemplation of this marvel.
“Where does she go?”
“She’s just in from South America; but she goes all over. The Baltic Aus-
tralia . . Gold Coast . . . Indian Ocean
The boy walked to the railing. After a time his voice floated back.
“You ain’t just kidding me, mister?” “No. I’m not kidding you.”
Philip came back to the bench; sat on it, and took off his cap and ran his fingers through his mop of red hair.
“Gosh! That’s what I’d like. Travel and . . .”
“You look as though you’d been travelling some already.’
“Yeah—but that was only on freight trains. I had to beat my way east ” “What for?’
“Why, to go to sea, o’ course.”
His tone implied that that could be the only sound reason for anyone wanting to come east.
“Oh, that’s it, eh? Where’s your home, son?”
“I worked in the livery in Apple Valley, Ohio. Then old man Parsons died, and Hector—that’s old man Parsons’ son— turned it into a garage. He give me fifty dollars . . .”
“They’re dead. But I lived with old man Parsons. He was a great guy. Him and me used to read sea books together in the livin’ room in the winter, with the snow deep outside, and the stove all red. We’d eat doughnuts, and I’d make coffee sometimes. He used to call me the sorrel colt, but sometimes he’d call me sailor, for a joke. I liked that. And sometimes he’d fall asleep in his chair, and I’d read till past one o’clock before he woke up. Then he’d make out he was mad, but I knew better. He sure was a good old guy. Then he died. So I beat my way east, after Hector—that’s old man . .” “Seems to me you’ve had adventure enough. How long’d it take you to get here?”
“That wasn’t adventure. That was just bummin’. There’s nothing exciting in that. Now when a feller goes to sea
“What way did you come?”
“Eh? Oh, around by Buffalo. But I didn’t stop there more’n a few hours. It was night when I got in there, and I asked two fellers in the railroad yards where was a freight going out for New York, and I told them I was on my way to be a sailor. So they was real nice, and one of them took me up into a signal box, and he said to a fellow there: ‘Herb,’ he says, ‘young Red here’s bound for the rolling main, and that’s off New York somewheres, so give him a kick in the pants when number eight pulls out.’ ”
“And did he?”
“He would have, I guess. He told me to lie on the floor and have a sleep, and he give me a sandwich and a cup of coffee and a piece of lemon pie. But I couldn’t sleep, and after awhile I got up and looked out at the lights in the yard, all red and green like ship’s lights. So I got impatient, and went down into the yard again. After awhile I asked another feller about the freight for New York, and I told him I was going to sea, and he said he’d help me. But watch out for them two dicks, he said—that’s railroad detectives, mister. And he pointed out the two fellers that took me up in the signal box. So I said to the feller, I says: ‘Don’t worry,’ I says, ‘they’re friends of mine—“Say—look! There’s a big boat coming along, all lighted up! Where’s she goin’ bound for, do you suppose?”
A palace of illuminated beauty swept upstream and swung in at the 125th Street dock with a warning blast.
“That’s the Albany night boat, son. She’s a river packet.”
They watched, while the river steamer picked up her passengers and surged away upstream. When her stern light was a faint glimmer under the blackness of the Palisades, Philip sighed.
“Of course, she ain’t an ocean boat, but she was pretty, just the same. I got a picture off a calendar, once. I had it in my room at old man Parsons’ at Apple Valley. It was a picture of a boat—Off Vaiaparisio, I think it was called, and
“Valparaiso,” Helmstrohm murmured. “Yeah—and it was all blue sea, and sky, and white sails. It was wonderful ! I tacked it up where I could see it, after I got in bed, by the light through the transom. But it used to make me feel awful restless. Did you ever see it?” Something stirred in Helmstrohm’s consciousness; recollection released by the boy’s enthusiasm.
“Yes, I’ve seen it. And I saw a real sea picture once, when I wasn’t much older than you. We were running down the coast of Ceylon in the Cape Bismarck with a cargo of rice from Saigon. The sky had been washed clear with the night’s rains, and the sea was like a blue floor all dimpled with the wind. There was a long purple mountain chain rising in back of a dense cocoanut grove that had crimson pagodas rising out of it. The sea inshore was bottle green, with surf boiling over a coral reef and hissing up on to miles o’ blazing yellow sand. We could see naked brown kids playing in the shadows o’ native grass huts on the jungle edge, and hear the brilliant-colored birds screeching in the tree tops. And mark this, son ! Inshore from us, and foaming along with the wind on her quarter, and everything set from stuns’ls to moonraker, was the famous old Cutty Sark, bound for China for a cargo of silk ! I sometimes think that the sight of her that day was worth all the years I’ve been to sea!”
“Then—then you’re a sailor?”
“Yes. I’m a sailor.”
A bus lumbered by, its top deck laden with passengers enjoying the balmy night. People passed. A policeman was swinging his club.
“You wouldn’t kid me, mister?”
“Why should I kid you, son?”
“No, I guess you wouldn’t. But I never met a sailor before. Not a real deep sea water one.”
“Well, now you have. Tell me what happened to you after you left Buffalo.” “Aw, nothin’ very much. I got arrested off a blind baggage outside Syracuse. Place called Wampsville it was. Two o’clock in the morning, too. It was raining—not heavy, but kind of drizzly, and not cold; only I was wet, ’cause the locomotive was scooping water on the fly, and it slopped over the top of the tank and near drowned me. But I guess a feller
gets worse than that at sea, so I didn’t mind it much. Say—you been on many oceans, mister?”
“Just about all of ’em, one time or another. But go on with your yarn.” “I’d ruther talk about ships.”
“Plenty o’ time for them.”
“Well, at this little place called Wampsville they took us off the train. I got handcuffed to a colored boy and they put us all in a shack. They was an awful ragged crown of bums, because they’d been pickin’ them off of trains all night. And there was a little judge with a hard voice and spectacles—gosh, he sounded mean—and a dep’ty holding an umberella over him, and another dep’ty holding a lantern, and they tried us right there and then. And the bums was getting sixty and ninety days. But I got away.”
“How’d you manage that? You mean you escaped?”
“No, sir. But I told one of the dep’ties, the fat one, that I was on my way to go to sea, and that if I got put in jail it’d kind of interrupt my career. And he laughed, and took the handcuffs off me, and said something to the judge. And the judge called my name out next, and he looked kind of funny, as if he was goin’ to laugh. Then he asked me if I’d brought my pap along, and I said ‘no, sir, my pap is dead’; and he kind o’ snorted and he blowed his nose, and give me a half a dollar, and told me to hit the grit.”
“When did you get to New York?” “Last night I got here. I found the river up there a piece, beyond the big gas tank beside the bridge, and I went down to the railroad tracks, where there was a milk depot. A feller showed me an old box car where bums used to sleep and nobody bothered ’em. But the switching engines puffed around all night. I guess they knew bums slept in that old car, and every once in a while they’d give it a bump with the engine for a joke. I was in a corner with my head near the end, and it almost broke my neck. But I guess a boat gets worse bumps when a big wave hits it. But I couldn’t sleep much, anyway, because the floor was covered with little pieces of brick. So I went outside and sat on a dock beside the river, thinking maybe a boat’d come along. But none did, only a couple of tugs. It was pretty cold, though, till the sun came up. Say!” He gave another of his disconcerting jumps. “What’s that thing on your hand?”
Helmstrohm pulled the cloth back from his massive wrist and raised it to the light. The red and blue dragon writhed about the thick muscles of the forearm and disappeared up the sleeve.
“Gosh! Tattooed, eh? Who done it?” “I had it done in Hong Kong, son, a good many years ago. Young fellows are foolish like that.”
“Its’ great! Wish I had one! Hong Kong, eh? That’s in China. Is it a pretty place?”
“I wouldn’t call it that, exactly. It’s interesting, mebbe. There’s lots of shipping there. Big painted junks with bamboo sails, and eyes on the bows, and China coasters with black hulls and bright red boot-topping, and their bridges sandbagged against river pirates, and lots of sampans and British destroyers knocking about. At night, though, it is kind o’ pretty, too, with lots of colored lanterns down in Sampan-Town on the water’s edge, and lights strung up the mountain behind, all the way to the Peak. Now about yourself, son, the best thing you can do is, forget the sea and . . .”
“Yes, sir. Where else you been?” “Voyage before last we put in at Singapore. It’s a pretty hot place, with lots of color and sweat and smells, and big white Dutch mail boats from Borneo and Java.”
The boy sat without speaking for a minute, eyeing the seaman with sidelong glances. He ventured:
“Mister! Do you suppose a feller like me’d have a chance . . .”
Helmstrohm laid a hand on his thin shoulder, gripping harder than he knew, but Philip did not flinch.
“Listen to me, son. You’ve had excite-1 ment enough, getting to New York, to last most people a lifetime. Got any money left?”
“Sure. I still got almost thirty dollars left of the fifty that Hector—that’s old man Parsons’ son—gave me when I left Apple Valley. But I got to be careful because that’s to buy me some oilskins and a —a southwester hat when I get on my ship.”
“Been eating regular?”
“Yes, sir—pretty reg’lar.”
“Hmmph! You don’t look it. Now then. You take your money and buy yourself a ticket back home. If you haven’t got enough I’ll make up the rest.” “Yeah, but I got to go to . .
“Never mind the sea! Forget the sea. Forget all about it! You climb aboard a train and go straight back to Apple Valley where you belong! D’ye hear? You can get a job there, I suppose . . .?”
“Yes,” said Philip, “I guess I could. Sure! . You ever been in the Red Sea, mister?”
Such singlemindedness in so frail a body was startling. The cold wind of discouragement only fanned his determination into a blaze. Helmstrohm determined to quench it.
“Yes,” he said slowly, “I’ve been in the Red Sea. No, it’s not really red. It’s sort of brown and scummy, and hot as an evangelist’s gehenna; the air like the inside of a boiler, with the steel deck plates sizzling till you can’t stand on ’em, and the sun waiting to crack you one if you so much as scratch your head. It’s a flat, brassy sea, and a bare, ragged, heat-baked coastline, with nothing to look at but hills and sand, and mebbe a few prayer flags over some Arab’s tomb. And when you feel like drowning yourself in an ice bath, the cook serves up steaming hot beans, and vegetables, and fried salt meat and boiled suet pudding. Where’s the attraction in that, eh?”
“Sure! I guess it’s pretty tough all right, said Philip. “Go on . . .”
It was getting late. Traffic had slackened along the Drive and pedestrians were disappearing homeward. Absorbed in their talk, the two had not noticed the passage of time. The air had cooled and the mist thickened in the river. It rose to the tops of the banks and welled over, wreathing cold grey fingers about the lights and making gold concentric halos. Grant’s Tomb was a round, grey shadow, the broad steps deserted and still. A tug with a long string of lighters in tow hooted intermittently, its muffled warning echoed by a crossing ferry.
“Fog making—blowing up from the Atlantic,” said Helmstrohm abruptly, determined to be firm and to see that the kid did not make a fool of himself. “There’s misery for you—and grief for coasters as well as deep-water ships. Think how it’d be now, if you were outside Fire Island Light at the end of an eight mouths’ voyage, and itching to get home to your folks or have a gay night ashore with some decent grub inside of you. Then this comes down, and you have to anchor outside for maybe a day or more, with traffic thick as bees, and the chance of some whacking big liner knifing up and dropping you into ninety fathom of icy water. That’s romance for you!” “You bet!” said Philip, and breathed deep. “Sea fog . . real sea fog!” he murmured happily. “I’ve always wondered what it was like, and now I know. It makes you think of things. Not just common things, but things like rain, and spray, and cold wind in your face, and the wash of waves, and strange ships sailin’ through the mist. It’s kind o’ weird— and fascinatin’, too.”
“Not forgetting the nasty tricks it’ll play you if it gets the chance,” said Helmstrohm, driving home his lesson. “I mind one time we were pounding up the coast o’ Korea in the old Broomielaw, out o’ Glasgow. It was winter, but dead flat calm. Then we drove into fog so thick you couldn’t see your nose i» front of you. I kept the whistle going, and suddenly I got an echo back—You getting cold, son?”
“It stood my hair right up on its roots, and I jumped for the engine-room telegraph. The last ripple died under the bows and we lay still. Not a sound. You could have heard a feather drop. Then the fog lifted. We were in a bowl as smooth as a mirror, and not more than a quarter of a mile across, and the sides of the bowl were steep, granite cliffs that rose sheer, three hundred feet above the water. The gap we’d slipped through, blind, was narrow enough to toss a biscuit over. It was a cold day, son, but I sweat! I sure did! And if it had been night, or I hadn’t heard that echo—well, figure it out! That’s fog for you. And that’s life at sea in calm weather, when shore folks are warm and snug in their beds. So you just heave all o’ those foolish notions of yours over the side, and go home to Ohio.”
“Yes, sir. I used to lie in bed and think what it would be like to be in a gale at sea. I guess it’s pretty exciting, eh?”
For a time Helmstrohm did not reply. He did not know how to convey the picture that his mind was looking back upon; a salt-rimed, storm-battered tramp, with a shifted cargo and a deadly list, fighting a north Pacific hurricane under the Aleutians, with all boats stove or swept away, inches of ice on decks and rigging, two hands down with smashed limbs, and the mate with a broken back, galley swamped, and a youthful captain named Helmstrohm keeping weary vigil on the waveswept bridge. He answered, soberly, “There’s not much fun in it.”
Youth’s intuition is swift and deeply piercing. Philip stood up.
“No, sir; not much fun in it, maybe. But it seems to me if you can go through danger and not be too scared, it’d be worth something to a—a man. Didn’t you ever find anything about the sea that kinda made up for other things? Anything interestin’ or pleasant, I mean?”
The question went home. Helmstrohm felt, suddenly, that he had not been quite fair. The boy’s unfailing interest, his grimly stubborn refusal to accept discouragement or to be deviated in the slightest from his aim, struck a responsive chord in the big seaman’s hard fibre. He had been more wrapped up in his reminiscences than he had realized. He thought, with a start, that he had been talking less to the boy beside him, than to that other boy stepping so proudly along the South Street wharves so many years ago.
“You’re right, Philip,” he said. “The sea’s not all dirt. It’s kind of pleasant, when you’re running through the tropics or past the Islands, to drag your mattress out on deck at night, lie down and watch the masthead light swinging in circles against the stars, hear the water washing alongside, and see the plume o’ black smoke from the funnel crown go billowing off to lee’ard, or to watch the coast slip by in the sunlight, with the smell o’ the land over the ship, heavy with the scent of flowers, and jungle, and wood fires. And you have men for shipmates, too; real men, most of ’em.”
“It makes you feel peaceful like . . ?”
“Yes, peaceful; and it’s beautiful, too! I used to write home about it all, when I was a boy; but of late years, I don’t know, it’s been different, somehow. Things lose their edge, if you’ve nobody to share them with. Look here—you’re shivering son, and it’s late. Time I was getting back aboard, and you were looking up that train back home.”
Helmstrohm arose and stretched. He was in a lighter mood. The glamor of what he had resurrected worked within him, and warmed him like wine. Funny how just talking to the kid had revived interest in his calling, and actually had recolored things for himself. The boy’s attention and interest had gone under his rough shell, and found some nacreous gleam beneath.
The boy had no overcoat. He was cold; but he lingered.
“You said,” he began hesitatingly, “you was going back aboard. You mean you got a ship now?”
“Yes. I’m master o’ that tramp, down in the river—the Falkland Castle.”
“Master . . .? That means ‘captain,’ don’t it?”
“Yes. I’m the captain.”
The reply thrust the boy leagues away,
He became self-conscious; ill at ease once more.
“A sea captain. And I been talkin’ to you like . ! Well I guess I’ll be
rolling on, now. Good-by, mister. Thanks for telling me things. I hope you didn’t mind my talkin’ to you like I did. Maybe we’ll be shipmates some day.”
Helmstrohm wheeled sharply.
“Why—you’re going home, aren’t you?’ “No, sir. I’m going down to the yards. To the box car.” Tears sprang to his eyes; tears of determination baffled, but not overcome. “And tomorrow I’m going to get me a ship.”
“Wait a minute !”
Helmstrohm thought, hard and fast. He thought again of the boy on South Street, and of the little teakwood sea chest, long rotted in the sunken ribs of the old Lone Star: and he thought also, but with a sudden shining sense of relief, of a shore job that someone, somewhere, had offered him.
“Philip, son, how’d you like to sail along with me? We discharge tomorrow and the day after, then load, and on Friday morning we’ll be outward bound.” “Outward bound . ?”
“Buenos Aires, then to Cape Town for orders. The Falkland Castle’s only a tramp. But if you’ve made up your mind . .”
“You—you wouldn’t kid me, mister?” They walked together through the fog toward the ferry landing, the tall, sturdy figure rolling a bit on his sea-bowed legs, and his lesser shadow,