H.M. Tomlinson.

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a fair measure of naval architecture. He could discuss ships' models
as some men would Greek drama. He would enter into the comparative
merits of rig suitable for small cruising craft with a particularity
which, now and then, gave me a feeling almost akin to alarm; because in
a man of Pascoe's years this fond insistence on the best furniture for
one's own little ship went beyond fair interest, and became the
day-dreaming of romantic and rebellious youth. At that point he was
beyond my depth. I had forgotten long ago, though but half Pascoe's
age, what my ship was to be like, when I got her at last. Knowing she
would never be seen at her moorings, I had, in a manner of speaking,
posted her as a missing ship.

One day I met at his door the barge-builder into whose cavernous loft I
had stumbled on my first visit to Pascoe. He said it was a fine
afternoon. He invited me in to inspect a figure-head he had purchased.
"How's the old 'un?" he asked, jerking a thumb towards the bootmaker's.
Then, with some amused winking and crafty tilting of his chin, he
signed to me to follow him along his loft. He led me clean through the
port-light of his cave, and down a length of steps outside to his yard
on the foreshore of the Thames, where, among his barges hauled up for
repairs, he paused by a formless shape covered by tarpaulins.

"I've seen a few things in the way of boats, but this 'ere's a - well,
what do you make of it?" He pulled the tarpaulin back, and disclosed a
vessel whose hull was nearing completion. I did not ask if it was
Pascoe's work. It was such an amusing and pathetic surprise, that,
with the barge-builder's leering face turned to me waiting for my
guess, there was no need to answer. "He reckons," said the
barge-builder, "that he can do a bit of cruising about the mouth of the
Thames in that. 'Bout all she wants now is to have a mast fitted, and
to keep the water out, and she'll do." He chuckled grimly. Her lines
were crude, and she had been built up, you could see, as Pascoe came
across timber that was anywhere near being possible. Her strakes were
a patchwork of various kinds of wood, though when she was tarred their
diversity would be hidden from all but the searching of the elements.
It was astonishing that Pascoe had done so well. It was still more
astonishing that he should think it would serve.

"I've given him a hand with it," remarked the barge-builder, "an' more
advice than the old 'un 'ud take. But I dessay 'e could potter about
with the dam' tub round about as far as Canvey, if 'e keeps it out of
the wash of the steamers. He's been at this job two years now, and I
shan't be sorry to see my yard shut of it. . . . Must humour the old
boy, though. . . . Nigglin' job, mending boots, I reckon. If I mended
boots, I'd 'ave to let orf steam summow. Or go on the booze."

I felt hurt that Pascoe had not taken me into his confidence, and that
his ship, so far as I was concerned, did not exist. One Saturday
evening, when I called, his room was in darkness. Striking a match,
there was his apron shrouding his hobbing foot. This had never
happened before, and I turned into the barge-builder's. The proprietor
there faced me silently for a moment, treasuring a jest he was going to
give me when I was sufficiently impatient for it. "Come to see whether
your boots are done? Well, they ain't. Pascoe's gone. Christened his
boat this morning, and pushed off. Gone for a trial trip. Gone down
river."

"Good Lord," I said, or something of the sort.

"Yes," continued the barge-builder, luxuriating in it, "and I've often
wondered what name he'd give her, and he done it this morning, in gold
leaf. D'yer remember what she looked like? All right. Well, 'er name
is the _Heart's Desire_, and her skipper will be back soon, if she
don't fall apart too far off."

Her skipper was not back soon, nor that day. We had no news of him the
next day. A few women were in his workshop, when I called, hunting
about for footwear that should have been repaired and returned, but was
not. "'Ere they are," cried one. "'Ere's young Bill's boots, and
nothing done to 'em. The silly old fool. Why didn't 'e tell me 'e was
going to sea? 'Ow's young Bill to go to school on Monday now?" The
others found their boots, all urgently wanted, and all as they were
when Pascoe got them. A commination began of light-minded cripples who
took in young and innocent boots, promising them all things, and then
treacherously abandoned them, to do God knew what; and so I left.

This became serious; for old Pascoe, with his _Heart's Desire_, had
vanished, like his Toltecs. A week went by. The barge-builder, for
whom this had now ceased to be a joke, was vastly troubled by the
complete disappearance of his neighbour, and shook his head over it.
Then a few lines in an evening paper, from a port on the Devon coast,
looked promising, though what they wished to convey was not quite
clear, for it was a humorous paragraph. But the evidence was strong
enough for me, and on behalf of the barge-builder and a few others I
went at once to that west-coast harbour.

It was late at night when I arrived, and bewildering with rain, total
darkness, and an upheaval of cobbles in by-ways that wandered to no
known purpose. But a guide presently brought me to a providential
window, and quarters in the _Turk's Head_. In my room I could hear a
continuous murmuring, no doubt from the saloon bar below, and
occasional rounds of hearty merriment. That would be the place for
news, and I went down to get it. An oil-lamp veiled in tobacco smoke
was hanging from a beam of a sooty ceiling. A congregation of
longshoremen, visible in the blue mist and smoky light chiefly because
of their pink masks, was packed on benches round the walls. They
laughed aloud again as I went in. They were regarding with indulgent
interest and a little shy respect an elegant figure overlooking them,
and posed negligently against the bar, on the other side of which
rested the large bust of a laughing barmaid. She was as amused as the
men. The figure turned to me as I entered, and stopped its discourse
at once. It ran a hand over its white brow and curly hair with a
gesture of mock despair. "Why, here comes another to share our _Hearts
Desire_. We can't keep the beauty to ourselves."

It was young Hopkins, known to every reader of the _Morning Despatch_
for his volatility and omniscience. It was certainly not his business
to allow any place to keep its secrets to itself; indeed, his
reputation including even a capacity for humour, the world was
frequently delighted with more than the place itself knew even in
secret. Other correspondents from London were also in the room. I saw
them vaguely when Hopkins indicated their positions with a few graceful
flourishes of his hand. They were lost in Hopkins's assurance of
occupying superiority. They were looking on. "We all got here
yesterday," explained Hopkins. "It's a fine story, not without its
funny touches. And it has come jolly handy in a dull season when
people want cheering up. We have found the Ancient Mariner. He was
off voyaging again but his ship's magic was washed out by heavy
weather. And while beer is more plentiful than news, we hope to keep
London going with some wonders of the deep."

In the morning, before the correspondents had begun on the next
instalment of their serial story, I saw Pascoe sitting up in a bed at
another inn, his expenses an investment of the newspaper men. He was
unsubdued. He was even exalted. He did not think it strange to see me
there, though it was not difficult to guess that he had his doubts
about the quality of the publicity he had attracted, and of the motive
for the ardent attentions of his new and strange acquaintances from
London. "Don't be hard on me," he begged, "for not telling you more in
London. But you're so cautious and distrustful. I was going to tell
you, but was uncertain what you'd say. Now I've started and you can't
stop me. I've met a man here named Hopkins, who has given me some help
and advice. As soon as my craft is repaired, I'm off again. It was
unlucky to meet that sou'wester in July. But once out of home waters,
I ought to be able to pick up the Portuguese trade wind off Finisterre,
and then I'm good for the Caribbees. I'll do it. She should take no
more than a fortnight to put right."

There was no need to argue with him. The _Heart's Desire_, a centre of
attraction in the place, answered any doubt I had as to Pascoe's
safety. But he was humoured. Hopkins humoured him, even openly
encouraged him. The Heart's Desire was destined for a great adventure.
The world was kept in anticipation of the second departure for this
strange voyage to Guatemala. The _Heart's Desire_ on the edge of a
ship-repairer's yard, was tinkered, patched, refitted, made as right as
she could be. The ship-repairer, the money for the work made certain
for him, did what he was told, but made no comment, except to
interrogate me curiously when I was about.

A spring tide, with a southerly wind, brought us to a natural
conclusion. An unexpected lift of the water washed off the _Heart's
Desire_, rolled her about, and left her broken on the mud. I met the
journalists in a group on their way to the afternoon train, their faces
still reflecting the brightness of an excellent entertainment. Hopkins
took me aside. "I've made it right with old Pascoe. He hasn't lost
anything by it, you can be sure of that." But I was looking for the
cobbler, and all I wished to learn was the place where I was likely to
find him. They did not know that.

Late that evening I was still looking for him, and it had been raining
for hours. The streets of the village were dark and deserted. Passing
one of the many inns, which were the only illumination of the village,
I stumbled over a shadow on the cobbles outside. In the glow of a
match I found Pascoe, drunk, with his necessary stick beside him,
broken.




V. The Master

This master of a ship I remember first as a slim lad, with a shy smile,
and large hands that were lonely beyond his outgrown reefer jacket.
His cap was always too small for him, and the soiled frontal badge of
his line became a coloured button beyond his forelock. He used to come
home occasionally - and it was always when we were on the point of
forgetting him altogether. He came with a huge bolster in a cab, as
though out of the past and nowhere. There is a tradition, a book
tradition, that the boy apprenticed to the sea acquires saucy eyes, and
a self-reliance always ready to dare to that bleak extreme the very
thought of which horrifies those who are lawful and cautious. They
know better who live where the ships are. He used to bring his young
shipmates to see us, and they were like himself. Their eyes were
downcast. They showed no self-reliance. Their shyness and politeness,
when the occasion was quite simple, were absurdly incommensurate even
with modesty. Their sisters, not nearly so polite, used to mock them.

As our own shy lad was never with us for long, his departure being as
abrupt and unannounced as his appearance, we could willingly endure
him. But he was extraneous to the household. He had the impeding
nature of a new and superfluous piece of furniture which is in the way,
yet never knows it, and placidly stays where it is, in its wooden
manner, till it is placed elsewhere. There was a morning when, as he
was leaving the house, during one of his brief visits to his home, I
noticed to my astonishment that he had grown taller than myself. How
had that happened? And where? I had followed him to the door that
morning because, looking down at his cap which he was nervously
handling, he had told me he was going then to an examination. About a
week later he announced, in a casual way, that he had got his masters
ticket. After the first shock of surprise, caused by the fact that
this information was an unexpected warning of our advance in years, we
were amused, and we congratulated him. Naturally he had got his
certificate as master mariner. Why not? Nearly all the mates we knew
got it, sooner or later. That was bound to come. But very soon after
that he gave us a genuine surprise, and made us anxious. He informed
us, as casually, that he had been appointed master to a ship; a very
different matter from merely possessing the licence to command.

We were even alarmed. This was serious. He could not do it. He was
not the man to make a command for anything. A fellow who, not so long
ago, used to walk a mile with a telegram because he had not the
strength of character to face the lady clerk in the post office round
the corner, was hardly the man to overawe a crowd of hard characters
gathered by chance from Tower Hill, socialize them, and direct them
successfully in subduing the conflicting elements of a difficult
enterprise. Not he. But we said nothing to discourage him.

Of course, he was a delightful fellow. He often amused us, and he did
not always know why. He was frank, he was gentle, but that large
vacancy, the sea, where he had spent most of his young life, had made
him - well, slow. You know what I mean. He was curiously innocent of
those dangers of great cities which are nothing to us because we know
they are there. Yet he was always on the alert for thieves and
parasites. I think he enjoyed his belief in their crafty omnipresence
ashore. Proud of his alert and knowing intelligence, he would relate a
long story of the way he had not only frustrated an artful shark, but
had enjoyed the process in perfect safety. That we, who rarely went
out of London, never had such adventures, did not strike him as worth a
thought or two. He never paused in his merriment to consider the
strange fact that to him, alone of our household, such wayside
adventures fell. With a shrewd air he would inform us that he was
about to put the savings of a voyage into an advertised trap which a
country parson would have stepped over without a second contemptuous
glance,

He took his ship away. The affair was not discussed at home, though
each of us gave it some private despondency. We followed him silently,
apprehensively, through the reports in the _Shipping Gazette_. He made
point after point safely - St. Vincent, Gibraltar, Suez, Aden - after him
we went across to Colombo, Singapore, and at length we learned that he
was safe at Batavia. He had got that steamer out all right. He got
her home again, too. After his first adventure as master he made
voyage after voyage with no more excitement in them than you would find
in Sunday walks in a suburb. It was plain luck; or else navigation and
seamanship were greatly overrated arts.

A day came when he invited me to go with him part of his voyage. I
could leave the ship at Bordeaux. I went. You must remember that we
had never seen his ship. And there he was, walking with me to the dock
from a Welsh railway station, a man in a cheap mackintosh, with an
umbrella I will not describe, and he was carrying a brown paper parcel.
He was appropriately crowned with a bowler hat several sizes too small
for him. Glancing up at his profile, I actually wondered whether the
turmoil was now going on in his mind over that confession which now he
was bound to make; that he was not the master of a ship, and never had
been.

There she was, a bulky modern freighter, full of derricks and
time-saving appliances, and her funnel lording it over the
neighbourhood. The man with the parcel under his arm led me up the
gangway. I was not yet convinced. I was, indeed, less sure than ever
that he could be the master of this huge community of engines and men.
He did not accord with it.

We were no sooner on deck than a man in uniform, grey-haired, with a
seamed and resolute face, which any one would have recognized at once
as a sailor's, approached us. He was introduced as the chief officer.
He had a tale of woe: trouble with the dockmaster, with the stevedores,
with the cargo, with many things. He did not appear to know what to do
with them. He was asking this boy of ours.

The skipper began to speak. At that moment I was gazing at the funnel,
trying to decipher a monogram upon it; but I heard a new voice, rapid
and incisive, sure of its subject, resolving doubts, and making the
crooked straight. It was the man with the brown paper parcel. That
was still under his arm - in fact, the parcel contained pink pyjamas,
and there was hardly enough paper. The respect of the mate was not
lessened by this.

The skipper went to gaze down a hatchway. He walked to the other side
of the ship, and inspected something there. Conned her length, called
up in a friendly but authoritative way to an engineer standing by an
amid-ship rail above. He came back to the mate, and with an easy
precision directed his will on others, through his deputy, up to the
time of sailing. He beckoned to me, who also, apparently, was under
his august orders, and turned, as though perfectly aware that in this
place I should follow him meekly, in full obedience.

Our steamer moved out at midnight, in a drive of wind and rain. There
were bewildering and unrelated lights about us. Peremptory challenges
were shouted to us from nowhere. Sirens blared out of dark voids. And
there was the skipper on the bridge, the lad who caused us amusement at
home, with this confusion in the dark about him, and an immense
insentient mass moving with him at his will; and he had his hands in
his pockets, and turned to tell me what a cold night it was. The
pier-head searchlight showed his face, alert, serene, with his brows
knitted in a little frown, and his underlip projecting as the sign of
the pride of those who look direct into the eyes of an opponent, and
care not at all. In my berth that night I searched for a moral for
this narrative, but went to sleep before I found it.

VI. The Ship-Runners

1

The _Negro Boy_ tavern is known by few people in its own parish, for it
is a house with nothing about it to distinguish its fame to those who do
not know that a man may say to his friend, when their ships go different
ways out of Callao, "I may meet you at the _Negro Boy_ some day." It is
in a road which returns to the same point, or near to it, after a
fatiguing circuit of the Isle of Dogs. No part of the road is better
than the rest. It is merely a long road. That day when I first heard of
Bill Purdy I was going to the tavern hoping to meet Macandrew, Chief of
the _Medea_. His ship was in again. But there was nobody about. There
was nothing in sight but the walls, old, sad, and discreet, of the yards
where ships are repaired. The dock warehouses opposite the tavern
offered me their high backs in a severer and apparently an endless
obduracy. The _Negro Boy_, as usual, was lost and forlorn, but resigned
to its seclusion from the London that lives, having stood there long
enough to learn that nothing can control the ways of changing custom.
Its windows were modest and prim in green curtains. Its only adornment
was the picture, above its principal door, of what once was a negro boy.
This picture now was weathered into a faded plum-coloured suit and a pair
of silver shoe-buckles - there was nothing left of the boy himself but the
whites of his eyes. The tavern is placed where men moving in the new
ways of a busy and adventurous world would not see it, for they would not
be there. Its dog Ching was asleep on the mat of the portico to the
saloon bar; a Chinese animal, in colour and mane resembling a lion whose
dignity has become sullenness through diminution. He could doze there
all day, and never scare away a chance customer. None would come. But
men who had learned to find him there through continuing to trade to the
opposite dock, would address him with some familiar and insulting words,
and stride over him.

The tavern is near one of the wicket gates of the irregular intrusion
into the city of a maze of dock basins, a gate giving those who know the
district a short cut home from the ships and quays; the tavern was sited
not altogether without design. And there came Macandrew through that
gate, just as I had decided I must try again soon. His second, Hanson,
was with him. They crossed to the public-house, and we stooped over the
yellow lump of Chinese apathy to talk to him, and went through the swing
doors into the saloon. The saloon was excluded from the gaze of the rest
of the house by little swinging screens of frosted glass above the bar,
for that was where old friends of the landlord met, who had known him all
the time their house-flags had been at home in the neighbouring docks;
and perhaps had even sailed with him when be himself went to sea. A
settee in red plush, salvage from the smoke-room of a liner, ran round
the walls, with the very mahogany tables before it which it knew when
afloat. Some men in dingy uniforms and dungarees were at the tables.
Two men I did not know stood leaning over the bar talking confidentially
across it to a woman who was only a laugh, for she was hidden. One of
the men turned from the counter to see who had come in.

"Hullo Mac," he cried, in a voice hearty with the abandon of one who,
perhaps, had been there long enough; "look here, here's Jessie says she's
going to leave us."

A woman's hand, spoiled by many heavy rings, moved across the counter and
shook his arm in warning. The youngster merely closed his own hand over
it. "Isn't it hard. Really going to forsake us. Won't mix your whiskey
or uncork my lemonade any more. What are we going to do when we come
home now?"

There was an impatient muttering beyond him, and he made public a
soothing and exaggerated apology. All the men in the room, even the
group bent over a diagram of a marine engine they had drawn in chalk on
their table, looked up in surprise, first at the youngster who had raised
his voice, and then to watch the tall shadow of a woman pass quickly down
the counter-screen and vanish. Still laughing, the young man, with his
uniform cap worn a little too carelessly, nodded to the company, and went
out with his companion.

Macandrew stared in contempt at the back of the fellow as he went. "A
nice boy that. Too bright and bonny for my ship. What's that he was
saying about Jessie?" He tried to see where she was, and lowered his
voice. "I know his kind. I saw them together last night, in the Dock
Road. What does she have anything to do with him for? We know her of
course . . . but even then. . . . She's really not a bad sort. She's
like that with all those young dogs. Can't help it, I suppose."

He moved to the bar, a massive figure, beyond the age of a sea-going
engineer, but still as light on his feet as a girl. "Where's she gone?"
He pushed open one of the little glass screens, and put his petulant
face, with its pale eyes set like aquamarines in bronze, into an opening
too small to frame it. "Can you see her, Hanson?"

Hanson winked at me, adjusted the spectacles on his nose, and grinned.
With that grin, and his spectacles, he was as surprising as a handsome
gargoyle. His height compelled him to lean forward and to grin downward,
even when speaking to a big man like Macandrew. He turned to his chief
now, and both hands went up to his spectacles. In the way the corners of
his mouth turned up before he spoke, whimsically wrinkling his nose, and
in his intent and amused regard, there was a suggestion of the mockery of
a low immortal for beings who are fated earnestly to frustrate
themselves. His grin gave you the uncomfortable feeling that it was
useless to pretend you were keeping nothing from him.

"Here goes," said Hanson. "Never mind Jessie. I've got something to
tell you, Chief. I'm leaving you this voyage."

Macandrew was instantly annoyed. "Going? Dammit, you can't. Look at
the crowd I've got now. You mustn't do it."

"I must. They are a thin lot, but you could push the old _Medea_ along
with anything. I've got another ship. My reason is very good, from the
way I look at it."

Hanson turned his grin to me. He was going to enjoy the privilege of
seeing his reasons deemed unreasonable. "Don't think it's a better job
I've got. It's worse. It's a very rummy voyage. We may complete it,
with luck. It's a boat-running lunacy, and some mining gear. She's
called the _Cygnet_. I've been over her, and we shall call her something
different before we see the last of her."

"Then why are you going?" I asked him.

"To see what will happen. . . ."


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