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at a table of the _Negro Boy_, drawing a diagram on it, and they stood
round.

"There. That was where it was. You see what we had to do. It would not
have been so bad in calm weather, but we were labouring heavily, all the
way from Savannah. Our old man did not think it possible to do it. But
it was no good waiting for something worse to happen."

The matter grew too technical for me. There was cargo jettisoned, and
ballast tanks emptied aft. The stern of the _Torrington_ was lifted so
that her propeller at intervals was clear. Ferguson then went overside
on life-lines. When he was not submerged, he was trying to put his ship
right again; and when he became exhausted, one of his colleagues took his
place, to see whether, while escaping drowning, he could continue the
work of salvation. They all escaped, and the _Torrington_ put back to
Tampa for repairs, which her own engineers accomplished.

The demonstration was over, and Ferguson's story was lapsing into general
gossip. The party of men began to dissolve.

"Who do you think I saw at Tampa?" Ferguson asked Macandrew. "Old Purdy."

"What?" cried Macandrew. "Is he alive?"

Ferguson laughed. "Just about. What's he been doing? I thought he had
chucked the sea. It was in the Customs Office. I'd been there to make a
declaration, and in one of those long corridors there he stood, all
alone, with his hat in his hand, perhaps cooling his head. I hardly knew
him. He's more miserable than ever."

"Did he say anything?" asked Macandrew.

"About as much as usual. I didn't know him at first. He seemed rather
ill. The temples of that high forehead of his were knotted with veins.
It nearly gave me a headache to look at him."

Several of us were impelled to ask a number of questions, but Ferguson
was listening now, with the detachment of youth, to the end of a bawdy
story that two men were laughing over. This had already displaced Purdy
in his mind.

"Didn't he say anything at all? Didn't he mention Hanson?" we asked
Ferguson.

"Eh? What, old Purdy? I don't think so. I don't remember. Now you
mention it, I think I did hear somewhere that Hanson was with Purdy. But
I don't believe he said anything about him. I was just going to ask him
to come and have a drink, when he said good-bye. All I know is I saw him
standing there like a sorrowful saint. Then he walked off slowly down
the corridor. He's a sociable beggar. I couldn't help laughing at him."


5

There was a notice in the window of the _Negro Boy_, and I discovered
that the tavern was under Entirely New Management. The picture sign over
the principal door had been renewed. The mythical little figure which
had given the public-house its name was no longer lost in the soot of
half a century. He was now an obvious negro boy, resplendent in a golden
coat. The reticence of the green window-curtains had become a bright
vacancy of mirrors, and the tavern was modern within. Reform had
destroyed the exclusiveness of the saloon bar; instead of privacy,
distant mirrors astonished you with glimpses of your own head which were
incredible and embarrassing in their novelty. The table-tops were of
white marble supported on gilded iron. The prints and lithographs of
ships had gone from the walls, and were replaced by real pictures
converted to the advertisement of various whiskies - pictures of
battleships, bull-dogs, Scotsmen, and figures in armour tempted from
their ancient posts in baronial halls, after midnight, to finish the
precious drink forgotten by the guests. In accordance with this
transformation the young lady in attendance at the bar was in neat black
and white, with her hair as compact and precise as a resolution at a
public meeting which had been passed even by the women present. She was
severe and decisive, and without recognition of anything there but the
tariff of the house, and sold her refreshments as in a simple yet
exacting ritual which she despised, but knew to be righteous.

It was many months since I had been there. Macandrew was no nearer than
Rotterdam, and perhaps would not see London that voyage. There had been
a long period in which change had been at work at the docks, even to
their improvement, but through it all not one of my old friends had
returned home. They had approached no nearer than Falmouth, the
Hartlepools, or Antwerp, with a slender chance that they would come to
the Thames, and next we heard of them when they were bound outwards once
more, and for a period known not even to their wives. The new _Negro
Boy_ had not the appearance of a place where I could expect to find a
friend, and I was leaving it again, instantly, when a tall figure rose in
a corner waving a reassuring hand. I did not recognize the man, but
thought I knew his smile, which made me look at him in dawning hope. The
grin, evidently knowing its power, was maintained till I saw it
indubitably as Hanson's. He made a remembered gesture with his
spectacles. "I was just about sick of this place," he said. "I've
waited here for an hour hoping somebody would turn up. Where's Macandrew
now?"

"In Rotterdam. I don't think he will be home this voyage."

"And what's happened to this house? Where's the old man?"

"You know all I know about it. I haven't been here for nearly a year.
We must expect progress to make things better than they were. Where have
you come from?"

"I'm running between Liverpool and Baltimore now, in the Planets.
They're comfortable ships, but I don't admire the Western ocean. It's
too savage and cold. How is Macandrew? I came up from Liverpool because
I felt I must see him again. I heard he was here."

From the way he talked, I thought he preferred those subjects requiring
the least effort for a casual occasion. "Now and then," I had to tell
him, "some of us have wondered what happened to the _Cygnet_."

Hanson's smile became effulgent. My remark might have reminded him of a
most enjoyable joke, but he made no sign, while enjoying it privately,
that he intended to share it with me at any time.

"There was a _Cygnet_, wasn't there?" he asked, when my patience had
nearly gone. "I should like somebody to confirm it. The reason I came
to this house tonight, to be candid, was just to see this room again, to
settle a doubt I had. Didn't Macandrew stand over there, and show
concern because a fair, plump woman wasn't quick enough with his beer?"

I admitted this, as an encouragement. "But when I got here tonight,"
continued Hanson, "the change made me feel my mind had lost hold. I must
say it's a relief to see you."

"Has this anything to do with the _Cygnet_?" I asked.

"Everything. I had the time of my life. I wouldn't have missed it for
anything. But somehow, now and then, I want to be quite sure I had it
myself, and not some other fellow." He beamed with the very remembrance
of the experience, and nodded his head at me. He leaned over the table
to me in confidence. "Have you ever been to the tropics? I don't mean
calling at Colombo or Rio. I mean the back of things where there's a
remarkable sun experimenting with low life and hardly anybody looking on.
If ever you get the chance, you take it. It alters all your ideas of
time and space. You begin to learn what stuff life is made of when you
see a tropical forest, and see nothing else for months. On the other
hand," he said, "you become nothing. You see it doesn't matter to others
what happens to you, and you don't care much what happens to others."

"You don't care? It doesn't matter?" I said in doubt to this young
mathematician and philosopher, who had been experimenting with life.
"Isn't that merely romantic?"

"Romance - romance be damned! I got down to the facts."

"Well, get me down to them. I should like the facts. I want to hear
what this strange voyage was like."

"As you know," Hanson assured me, "I went out merely to see what would
happen to myself, in certain circumstances. I knew I was going to be
scared, and I was. There is a place called Tabacol on the river, and we
anchored there after our ocean passage for more than a week. I don't
know why, and it was no use asking Purdy. Probably he didn't know. I
had made up my mind to make the engines move and stop, whenever ordered,
and then see where we are. Anyway, after the racket of the sea voyage,
when the engines stopped at Tabacol the utter silence was as if something
which had been waiting there for you at once pounced. The quiet was of
an awful weight. I could hardly breathe, and chanced to look at the
thermometer. It stood at 132 degrees. I don't know how I got outside,
but when I came to I was on my back on deck, and Jessie was looking after
me. I remember wondering then how a big, fleshy woman like her could
stand it, and felt almost as sorry for her as I did for myself."

"Did she look ill?"

"Jessie? Oh, I don't know. She looked as if she might have been having
a merrier time. Well, we left Tabacol, and I felt we were leaving
everything we knew behind us. I got the idea, in the first day on the
river, that we were quite lost, and were only pushing the old _Cygnet_
along to keep up our spirits. We crawled close under the walls of the
forest. Our vessel looked about as large and important as a leaf adrift.
That place is so immense that I saw we were going to make no impression
on it. It wouldn't matter to anybody but ourselves if it swallowed us
up. On the first day I saw a round head and two yellow eyes in it,
watching us go by. The thought went through my mind: 'a jaguar.' The
watching face vanished on the instant, and I always felt afterwards that
the forest knew all about us, but wouldn't let us know anything. I got
the idea that it wasn't of the least use going on, unless we didn't
intend to treat the job seriously. If we were serious about it then it
was evident we ought to turn back."

"Didn't the skipper ever say what he thought of it?"

"What could Purdy think, or do? There was that river, and the forest on
both sides of it, and the sun over us. Nothing else but the quiet; and
we didn't know where our destination was. We anchored every evening,
close to the bank. One evening, as we anchored, a shower of arrows
clattered about us. There was just one shower, out of the trees, or out
of the clouds."

"What was Jessie doing all this time?" I ventured to ask him.

"Why, what was any one doing? She wasn't an anxiety of my department. I
suppose she was there for the only reason I had - because she asked for
it. It was the same next day, except that instead of more arrows we
found a python in the bunkers. Came aboard over the hawsers, I suppose.
We were a lively lunatic asylum below while killing it with fire-shovels
and crowbars. That was what the voyage was like. The whole lot of it
was the same, and you knew quite well that the farther you went the less
anything mattered. There were slight variations each day of snakes,
mosquitoes, and fevers, to keep you from feeling dead already."

"I've often wondered," I confessed, thinking to bring Hanson to something
I wanted to hear, "what happened to your company. Once we had a word of
Purdy, but never of Jessie or of you."

"Well, now I'm telling you. But you'd have been past wondering if you'd
been with us. Purdy wasn't companionable. He'd tell me it was hot. And
it was. You could feel that yourself. Jessie cooked our meals. Her
galley could have been only a shade better than the engine-room. She
began to look rather faded. At last I was the only one who hadn't been
down with fever. We crawled on and on, and the only question was where
we ourselves would end, for the forest and the river were never going to.
But you didn't care. I'd never been better in my life, and here was the
thing I'd always wanted to see. I could have gone on for ever like that,
wondering what we should see round the next corner.

"Our big troubles were to come. Up to then, we hadn't run into anything
really drastic after turning a corner. I suppose we had had about a
month of it, and God knows where we were, but we had nobody to ask; and
then we ran on a sandbar. The jungle met overhead. We were in what was
only a dark drain through the forest. So this, I thought, is where we
throw in our hand. We might as well have been in another planet for all
the chance we had of getting away from that place. We were aground for
two days; the river then rose a foot, and we came off. The men were
complaining among themselves by then. I heard them talking to each other
about chucking it. It was bound to come. This day they went aft in a
body to Purdy. There stood Purdy, a little object in white against the
gloom of the forest, and he looked about as futile as the last match in a
wind at night. He stood fingering a beard he had grown. One of the men
was beginning to talk truculently at him. Just then Jessie appeared from
below, between me and the group. She had been down with fever for some
days, and she surprised me as much as a ghost. She looked rather like
one, too. She stood watching Purdy, without moving. He didn't look at
her, though he must have known she was there. I'm pretty sure we had to
thank her for what happened to us afterwards, for it was then that Purdy
began shaking his finger at that big stoker who was shouting. I'd never
seen him with such an expression before. As near as he could be wild, he
was. 'We're going on,' said Purdy to them very distinctly. 'This ship
continues her voyage. If you want to leave her here, I'll put you
ashore.' He walked away some paces, and came back to the men. Then he
said something more in his usual voice. 'Do you men tell me you're
afraid of the job? I don't believe it. It can be done. We'll do it.
We'll do it. Mr. Hanson,' he called out, 'we are ready to get under way.
Would you please stand by?'

"The men never said another word. They went for'ard. It was very
curious, but after that they behaved as though they had another skipper.
Yet they were properly frightened by what they thought was ahead of them.
My lot below were always asking me about it, and I handed them the usual
ornamental and soothing lies, in which they believed long enough to keep
the steam up. What more could you ask of human nature? So we kept her
plugging along, getting nearer and nearer nowhere. We turned another of
those dramatic corners, later on, though I forget how much later, and
ahead of us the river was piled high with rocks, and was tumbling from
above. The _Cygnet_ had had her fair share of luck, but luck could not
get her over that. We were all looking at the white water ahead, and
feeling - at least I was - that we were being laughed at, when I heard
Purdy call me, and turned round. He was hurrying towards me round the
gear, and I thought from the look of him that this complete frustration
had turned his mind. He signed for me to follow him, and I did it,
wondering what we should do with a lunatic added to all the rest of it.
I followed him into his cabin. 'What can I do?' he said, and bent over
his berth, 'what can I do?'

"Jessie was curled up on her side in his berth, and there was nothing
anyone could do. I didn't know she was alive. But she half opened her
eyes, without looking up, and her hand began moving towards Purdy. 'That
you, Bill?' she said. Purdy flopped down beside her. I got out.

"So I took over for a bit - the mate was no good - and waited for the next
thing. That affair disheartened the men a lot, and I took it for
granted, from their faces as they stood round that figure in a tarpaulin
under a tree in the forest, that we were witnessing the end. There was
Purdy, too . . . you couldn't expect much from him after a funeral."

Hanson bent over the table, and began tapping it with a finger, and spoke
slowly through a surprise he still felt. "Old Purdy came to me the
following morning, and told me what he intended to do. What do you
think? He reckoned that, though we were still a hundred miles from the
headquarters of the consignees, an outpost was probably no farther than
just above the falls. He himself was going to prospect, for there should
be a native trail through the woods, past the rapids; and he left me in
charge.

"Macandrew was all wrong about that fellow. In two days he was back. He
had found an outpost, four miles above, but nobody was there, so we could
get no help. He was going to land our cargo of a ton and a half of
machinery, and place it on the company's territory above the falls. 'You
can see for yourself,' Purdy said to me pathetically, 'that I can't
deliver the _Cygnet_ there. But I think I am right in making her secure
and leaving her here, and reporting it. What else can I do? They ought
to give me a clean receipt.'

"It was funny enough, that anxiety about a ship and machinery where there
was nothing but monkeys and parrots, but I agreed with him, and we got to
work landing those packages of mining gear, which only an expert could
understand, in a place where nothing was likely to happen till the Last
Day. The way we sweated over it! And then warped the stuff with snatch
blocks through four miles of jungle. Yes; and buried two men of our
company on the way. But we did get the cargo on to the company's damned
land at last, and a nice lot of half-naked scarecrows we looked, with
nothing to fill our hollow cheeks but whiskers. There the name of the
place was all right, 'Tres Irmaos,' painted over a shed. The shed was
falling to pieces. There was nobody about. Nothing but a little open
space, and the forest around, and the sun blazing down at us.

"We pushed on for headquarters, Purdy leading us. A hundred miles to go!
I don't know how we did it. Three more died, including the mate, but we
didn't bury those. Purdy kept on the move. He told me, after an
eternity, that it was just ahead of us, and at last we did come to some
other men. They were Colombians. We astonished them, but nothing could
astonish us any more. Purdy learned that he had got to our ultimate
destination all right. Then some fellow appeared, in a gaudy uniform and
a sword, who spoke English. When Purdy asked to be taken to the manager
of the company, this gay chap laughed fiercely, and kept looking at Purdy
in triumph. 'Him?' he shouted, when he had got enough fun out of it,
'im? He's dead. We execute him. All those people - they go. No more
company. All finish. No good.' He was very bright about it.

"Purdy never said a word. All he did was to turn to me, and then stare
beyond me with big eyes at something which couldn't possibly have been
there."




VII. Not in the Almanac

It was an unlucky Friday morning; "and, what's more," the chief officer
stopped on the gangway to call down to me on the quay, "a black cat
crossed my path when I left home this morning, and a very nice black
cat it was." The gangway was hauled up. The tugs began to move the
big steamer away from us, a process so slow that the daylight between
us and the ship increased imperceptibly.

On my way home I paused by the shop which sells such antiques as old
spring mattresses, china dogs, portable baths, dumb-bells, and even the
kind of bedroom furniture which one would never have supposed was
purchasable at second-hand. But lower, much lower in the shopkeeper's
estimate than even such commodities - thrown into a bin because they
were rubbish, and yet not quite valueless - was a mass of odd volumes.
_The First Principles of Algebra_, _Acts Relating to Pawnbrokers_, and
_Jessica's First Prayer_, were discovered in that order. The next was
_Superstitions of the Sea_.

I am not superstitious. I have never met a man who was. And look at
the ships in dock today, without figure-heads, with masts that are only
the support of derricks and the aerials of wireless, and with science
and an official certificate of competency even in the galley! Could
anything happen in such ships to bring one to awe and wonder? The dark
of the human mind is now lighted, one may say, with electricity. We
have no shadows to make us hesitate. That book of sea superstitions
was on my table, some weeks later, and a sailor, who gave up trading to
the East to patrol mine-fields for three years, and who has never been
known to lose any time when in doubt through wasting it on a secret
propitiatory gesture, picked up the book, smiling a little
superciliously, lost his smile when examining it, and then asked if he
might borrow it.

We are not superstitious, now we are sure a matter may be mysterious
only when we have not had the leisure to test it in the right way, but
we have our private reservations. There is a ship's doctor, who has
been called a hard case by those who know him, for he has grown grey
and serious in watching humanity from the Guinea Coast to the South
Seas. He only smiles now when listening to a religious or a political
discussion, and might not be supposed to have any more regard for the
mysteries than you would find in the _Cold Storage Gazette_. When he
is home again we go to the British Museum. He always takes me there.
It is one of his weaknesses. I invited him, when last we were there,
to let us search out a certain exhibit from Egypt about which curious
stories are whispered. "No you don't," he exclaimed peremptorily. He
gave me no argument, but I gathered that it is very well to be funny
about such coincidences, yet that one never certainly knows, and that
it is better to regard the unexplored dark with a well-simulated
respect till one can see through it. He had, he said, known of affairs
in the East, and they were not provided for in the books; he had tried
to see through them from all points, but not with the satisfaction he
desired. For that reason he never invited trouble unless he knew it
was not there.

Another man, very like him, a master mariner, and one who knew me well
enough for secrets, was bringing me from the French Coast for Barry at
full speed, in a fog. He was a clever, but an indiscreet navigator. I
was mildly rebuking him by the door of his chart-room for his
foolhardiness, but he laughed quietly, said he intended to make a good
passage, which his owners expected, and that when the problem was
straightforward he used science, but that when it was all a fog he
trusted mainly to his instinct, or whatever it might be, to inform him
in time. I was not to be alarmed. We should have the Lizard eight
miles on the starboard beam in another hour and a half. By this time
we were continuing our talk in the chart-room. An old cap of his was
on the floor, upside down. I faced him there, in rebuke of this
reliance on instinct, but he was staring at the cap, a little startled.
Then he dashed past me without a word for the bridge. While following
him at leisure I heard the telegraph ring. Outside I could see nothing
but the pallor of a blind world. The flat sea was but the fugitive
lustre of what might have been water; but all melted into nothing at a
distance which could have been anywhere. The tremor of the ship
lessened, and the noise of the wash fell, for the speed had slackened.
We might have become hushed, and were waiting, listening and anxious,
for something that was invisible, but threatening. Then I heard the
skippers voice, quick but quiet, and arrived on the bridge in time to
see the man at the wheel putting it hard over. Something had been
sighted ahead of us, and now was growing broad on the starboard bow - a
faint presentment of land, high and unrelated, for there was a luminous
void below it. It was a filmy and coloured ghost in the sky, with a
thin shine upon it of a sun we could not see. It grew more material as
we watched it, and brighter, a near and indubitable coast. "I know
where I am now," said the skipper. "Another minute or two, and we
should have been on the Manacles."

Smiling a little awkwardly, he explained that he had seen that old cap
on the floor before, without knowing how it could have got there, and
at the same time he had felt very nervous, without knowing why. The
last time was when, homeward bound in charge of a fine steamer, he
hoped Finisterre was distant, but not too far off. Just about _there_,
as it were; and that his dead reckoning was correct. The weather had
been dirty, the seas heavy, and the sun invisible. He went on, to find
nothing but worse weather. He did sight, however, two other steamers,
on the same course as himself, evidently having calculated to pass
Ushant in the morning; his own calculation. He would be off Ushant


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