Ocean Echoes - A Short Chapter
( Originally Published 1922 )
THE cream colored November sun had only a little way to go before night swept in his wake. I walked along the waterfront and watched the ships swinging limply to the undertow. That same evening I found a ship, the barque Ferris S. Thompson, bound for Seattle for coal, and back again for San Francisco.
This good luck was due to a sailor, unknown to me, whom I had befriended when I was master of the bay schooner. I was unloading coal one afternoon in San Francisco. He came on board and asked me if I could give him some work to do.
"I'm sorry," said I; "I can't give you work."
He turned away, and without a murmur walked ashore. I stopped shoveling coal and gazed after him. Then I thought that it wasn't so long ago that I had been just like him with no money, no friends, no home, and the cruel feeling that nobody cared, I knew that I had gold in my pocket, and I wondered how long I should have it. Then I called after him : "Hello ! I want to see you."
"You're broke," said I.
"Yes, and hungry into the bargain."
"Here's ten dollars for you."
He thanked me with his Norwegian accent and walked away, and I went on shoveling coal.
That was five months before, and this evening, from where he stood on the forecastle-head of the barque, he recognized me on the wharf. He was the second mate, and the barque needed one man. I got the job. I was richly paid for the small service I had rendered him.
One usually is richly paid. Kindness to others is not only a pleasure that rich and poor alike can have, but frequently it is more than its own reward. I could cite many instances.
Years later, at a time when I had plenty of money, I was walking one afternoon in Stanley Park, Vancouver. A young man was sitting on a bench looking pale and hungry, and there were lines of sadness in his face.
"What's your trouble?" I asked. "Tell me. I have noticed you sitting here for two hours. Perhaps I can help."
He cleared his throat, and a delicate smile came into his face.
"I'm broke," said he, "and hungry. I've been sleeping in the park for the last three nights, and I'm just about sick."
"How did you get in for this?"
"I put what money I had into a little mine up the country here," waving his hand toward the north. "I thought there was more to it than there was. There was nothing there."
I paid his room and board for a week, and gave him twenty dollars.
Years later I met him again. This time it was I who was down and out, and sick with rheumatism, left from the typhoid fever which had me in its grip when the Goldfield smash stripped me of a fortune.
In the little town of Manhattan, Nevada, I met him. I had been riding on a lumber wagon most of the day trying to get there. Five miles out of town the wagon broke down, and crippled as I was, I had to walk that distance. I didn't know a soul there. Imagine my surprise when I walked into town, sick, broke, and hungry, to find the man I had helped in Stanley Park.
He recognized me at once, and my condition also.
"Now," he said, "taking me kindly by the arm, "it's my turn to help you." He led me to his tent, got a doctor for me, and kept me there until I got well.
Then there was the Chinaman on the Frazer River who ran the fan-tan house at Stevestown. Grateful for my rescue of him from the three fishermen who were beating him up one night as I passed his door,. he never forgot me. Later I met him in Vancouver when I was at a street corner wondering what to do next. Luck had been very bad. I saw him walking along on the other side of the street. He did not seem to see me. He walked by, crossed the street, came up by my side, walked up to me with outstretched hand. "How you do?" said he.
He gave me the usual limp oriental handshake, passed along as if he had never seen me, without waiting for a word, and left in my hand three twenty-dollar gold-pieces.
After such experiences one finds that there is indeed truth in "bread upon the waters." And one is both inspired and made reckless by this sure knowledge of the subconscious rescue work which seems invariably to save us from disaster, through some other person. The crumbs we scat-ter come back to us in well-baked loaves.
As to the barque Ferris S. Thompson, from which I have strayed so far : the voyage was a very long one for so short a distance. The reason for this delay lay with the captain. He was a State of Maine man, and old at that. I believe the only worry he had in his life at sea was due to an inborn fear of steamships. He felt that he was always in danger of being run down by one of them.
He held high regard for sailing-ship masters, but none for the captains of steamers. Even in daylight if he saw a steamer he would alter his course and steer away from the distant smoke.
When night shut in there was misery for everyone on board. If he saw a masthead light, regardless of its position, he would roar :
"Tack ship, stand by headsails, weather fore and main braces. Har-r-r-d a le-e-eee !"
Around we'd go on another tack. He'd stand trembling on the poop until the steamer's light faded into the distance. Three months vanished on that voyage, although the distance roundtrip was a thousand miles.
Finally, after dodging, it seemed, every steamer that plied the coast-line of the North Pacific, we reached San Francisco. What a welcome met us! When the tug-boat breasted the barque alongside the wharf, the managing owner was there.
When we were within hailing distance of the owner his voice reached out to us, and it seemed to me to have about the same effect on all on board as though we were caught aback in a squall.
"Get off that ship, everyone of you. I don't even want you to make her fast to the wharf!" Then, his eyes wandering aft to where the old State of Maine captain stood : "Where have you been, to China? Gone three months instead of six weeks ! ! ! " The language that followed was of that rare order known only to masters, mates and owners.
He paid us all off then and there. There were no good wishes for our future, for to him each and all of us were equally guilty The old captain took his medicine like the rest of us. What did he care for the abuse of an owner, compared to the sharp stem of a steamer?
But just by changing ships he couldn't get away from the steamers. Five years later I was mate on a ship bound north for Seattle, and we passed the barque Oakland. This same old captain commanded her but not that day. He, with the crew, had taken to the boats twenty four hours before. The barque, manless, was left to the mercy of wind and wave.
I pleaded with my captain to let me take her, and sail her into Puget Sound, for she was loaded with lumber, and I felt sure that I could salvage her, although she was water-logged. My captain would not hear of it, and the salvage fell to an ocean-going tug which chanced upon her, towed her to port, and received one hundred and twenty thousand dollars for her. I have often regretted that I did not defy the captain, and sail her to port or die in the attempt.
The Captain and crew were ,picked up off Cape Disappointment, the story being that the barque Oakland was abandoned because she was so leaky. But. I knew, and the .captain knew that other reason-STEAMERS !