Ocean Echoes - Concerning Who's Who And Why
( Originally Published 1922 )
One often wonders whether the the desire to wander is not something more than the fidgeting of a restless soul. I shall not even try to analyse this thing better leave it to the mystery-writers who are sure of their occult settings, and to the theorists who have never smelled the salt. Nevertheless, there is within, me something which says that to halt is to decay.
Although my hair is graying and my stride shortening, my sympathy with adventure is as fresh within me as was the spirit to dare the day I capsized a sail-boat in a squall, and the doctor was called to give aid to my mother. She had fainted at the sight of me sitting on the bottom of the overturned boat. When I was finally rescued my father whipped me, the schoolmaster whipped me, and the good Padre gave much wise counsel to a bitter little boy.
I was then, in the year 1885, ten years old, and that is close on forty years ago.
That day was a never-to-be-forgotten one. Then, for the first time, I experienced the joys of isolation and the dangers that make adventure romantic. The sea and I have been friends; we have understood each other's thoughts. The sullen moods, the tranquil, and the boisterous, each in its own tone, have blended together in harmony, so that the Soul of the Sea is forever en rapport with the heart of its lover. I love the sea, and shall continue to, as long as I have eyes to see its indigo and emerald coloring, and ears to hear its rumbling echoes on crest and crag.
My life, until I was eighteen years old, was spent on my father's large farm on the shores of Strangford Lough, in the northeastern part of Ireland. The last of the eighteen years were happy for me, but sad enough for family and friends. I was wild, if that conveys anything to the reader I mean wild in the sense of seeking danger. My mother was constantly praying for me, while my father laid heavy the lash.
There was another to be reckoned with the village schoolmaster. Short and stubby he was, with a black beard and a pug nose, and eyes that were always searching for the bad that might be in a boy. I branded him one time with a glass ink-bottle over his heathery eye-brows. He's dead now, and I suppose I've for-given him for the welts he made on my young hide.
There were four in our family, two boys and two girls. My brother was older than I by two years. He was a quiet and unassuming boy, always with his head deep in some book. He was never much of an adventurer. I mean that when the hounds and huntsmen went scurrying after a fox or a deer, he would be self-contained with his lessons, while I would jump through the school-room window and run all day with the horses and dogs.
The family, I thought, loved him far better than they did me. They were always holding him up to me as the model of behavior; and surely he was to be admired, for he took adventure like a gentleman, as he did everything; and was a midshipman in Her Majesty's navy when I was a wildling on the high seas. He died while still in his youth, in South America, and his death has ever remained a grief to me, for I loved him quite as much as the others did.
What I regret infinitely in my life is the worry I caused my mother. I feel that I was responsible for the gray in her hair, that for many years longer should have been black as an eclipsed thunder-cloud. She was the one, when I had been out hunting ducks in the bogs all night, to open the door at three or four o'clock in the morning, whispering softly : "Don't wake your father. He thinks that you went to bed early." That was the mother who stayed by me then, as her memory ever has, kind, loving, and most long-suffering. The principles of forbearance which she taught me are cruel enough when one has to tackle, as I did, a world of selfish and intolerant people, who laugh when you laugh, and when the bumper is empty, yawn, and long for another day when the sea may break a prize more worthy. Nevertheless, they have stayed in my heart from her example, and I do not think that I am unkind, unloving, or impatient, beyond my Celtic nature and the training of the sea.
Mother didn't know that a world existed outside the County Down. She's dead, now, these many years, and I wonder if her soul's imagination has not, from its infinite viewpoint, seen the world somewhat as I see it. If I am at fault she'll forgive, yes, she'll forgive as she did when I turned the boat over, and carried the gun without a license. Mothers always for give, on, I think, into the Beyond. As I drift with the current of tide and time, I can see in every man the generative forces for good left there by his mother. Without them the world's highways would crowd with wrecks of debauchery, and hulks of men would pile high the ocean shores where kelp once grew.
Our home overlooked the sea, and, within easy view, ships passed on their way to lands beyond the horizon. To a boy of ten with a romantic soul, those strange visitors with white sails and dark hulls spoke their message as they glided by on into haze and adventure. Left on the beach, I gazed with desire into a nothingness of lonesomeness, and longed to be a man that I might wrestle with the Devil or the Deep, and defy each. But I had to await the passing of slowly rolling years, which brought me a good that I did not appreciate a well-nourished, strongly-proportioned young frame, fit for fight- and endurance, an eye more than usually steady, and an unusual knowledge of that most difficult seamanship, navigation of small boats along a rocky coast.
I often long for a glimpse of my old home. I mean some day to go back there when Ireland is more as I remember it, and yet my memories seem but as those of yesterday, fleeting like scud across my story, leaving pictures of startling brightness here and there. Land glimpses, often, of horses and cows, of flax and grist-mills, hawthorn hedges blooming, hogs and wild ducks. Particularly of two dogs whose instincts were super-animal, who shared my joys and sorrows, and were whipped when I was whipped, dragging in with me late at night, after I had worn out their poor little legs trailing me through the bogs hour after hour without food
There are pictures, too, of a loving little boy combing his mother's hair, making her tea for her when she was sick, and waiting on her like a woman; then the wheatfield, when the wheat was in flower and the hawthorn blossoms open to the bumble-bee, and the thrush and the meadow lark alternated their song for the day; then "Paddy," the Irish hunter, whose soft, nimble lips could fumble any gate until it opened, and whose horse-conscience allowed much gleaning in forbidden pastures, in defiance of our stupidity.
Paddy died from old age, and not from lack of care. My father may not have had all the fatherly instincts, but his animals were royally entertained, and woe betide the groom who neglected the many variations of their diet, or failed to give them a light clean bed of the proper depth!
While I remained at home my father's main worry was to keep me out of sail-boats. In this he was never successful. He was afraid of the sea, and had a horror that he would be drowned some day while trying to rescue me.
Father, too, is resting in a little crowded graveyard, beside those of his own, and the many who played together when he and they were boys.