Ocean Echoes - Some Facts About Women
( Originally Published 1922 )
AS mate my next ship was bound for the Fijis in the South Seas, and the Captain died on the voyage, and I took the ship to port and home again. I have described this voyage in my book "The Flying Bo'sun."
The critics, who plow not the oceans, received it very kindly, as I hope they will receive this narrative. So I yarn along, and think of past things, and write them down, partly as a sailor who knew all that was hard and rough, and partly as a man recently come to writing who is intoxicated with the new-found use of words to evoke old scenes.
Now "The Flying Bo'sun," though being in-tended to present me fairly to the world, did not mention that I had a girl in the Fijis. Well I did. A real sweetheart. She wasn't black they never were nor yellow; just a sweet and wholesome girl, and as fond of me as I of her.
A sailor not in love is a discontented one, and it was seldom in this respect that I was out of harmony with the world. I hope that I can go on loving till my eyes are closed, and my toes are tied together, like my grandmother's were when she died, when I was a little boy. They tied her toes together, but the knees would not stay down. Finally, to keep them from bending up and scaring everyone, a large stone was put upon them. Somehow the knees jumped up any-way, the stone rolled off, and everyone thought that she must have seen some sight in Heaven to make her jump so.
I'm sure I'll be all the better for the beauties I see in Heaven, as I have been for those I've seen on earth, and so is every other man, regardless of the years that kink and wrinkle and round him into narrowness.
Women that I've met I've often compared with ships that I have sailed on. Some are better in a storm than others. Then there are the cranky ones who throw up their head and balk the tide, and spill you into an ocean of trouble.
Of course, there are instances where the master is at fault. That is where you carry too much sail, and you wait too long to reef her down. Then there is a separation of something. You are either dismantled and left with but a memory of your once-beautiful ship, or you both sink together.
There is another kind of ship that will withstand gales in an open sea, but once you point her landward you have to be careful of submerged reefs, for she's sure to find them.
There are a few ships, not too few, that sailors love, whose compass course will steer them through iceberg-gaps and narrow straits, and on to Isles of Splendor.
My South Sea sweetheart lived in Suva, the capital of the Fijis. Our fondness for each other ripened into more than friendship. Although my stay there was short, my impressions of her still linger, like memories of hawthorn blossoms when the dew lifts and fuses away in the morning Sun. It was two years after that that I sailed there again, and meantime my letters to her were as irregular as the winds of ocean. When I arrived I learned that she was married and living in Australia.
The Fijis held little to interest me after that. I was disheartened and discouraged with everything. But the Sea, my first love, took me back, and in her lanes I found the tonic to cure aches and longings, and make me a lover again, almost before the isles of shadowed pines had faded into a blur of azure light.
Six months had passed, and I was in a home port again. I became engaged to a girl in the State of Washington. I was twenty-seven years old then, and a Captain sailing on coastwise ships. We were married, and I gave up the sea for a while. This marriage proved to be the ship that balks the tide. For six years we held true to our course, then a squall from the desert, for we were living there, arose from the cactus and sage-brush and blew us apart, but left its memories of the wreck.
Five years later I met and married another. She lived in the jungles of Idaho. She was slick and trim, and had memory's likeness to my South Sea girl. Like the ship that handles well in the open sea, she made for the land without compass and struck a reef. That was a total wreck of memories, and a short voyage two months in all. We parted, I going to the sea wailing over me now, in despair of me and she to a man who had many sheep and many fleeces to his credit.
I was married again, but that's another story and, needs atmosphere, so I'll paddle past it and survey the shores below; and some quiet evening when the muskrat's splash spreads a splatter of spry, I'll buck the stream and paddle back, and spin the yarn.
When I first left the sea I went to mining in Goldfield, Nevada. That was in 1903. There was a boom on then, and a few of the mines held high grade ore. There were about ten thousand people in the camp. Being fresh from the sea, and knowing nothing about mines or mining, I thought that the people I met there were about as crazy as anything I had ever seen.
The camp was wide open. There was nothing hatred everything went. Justifiable homicide was the verdict for those who were quick on the trigger, and it behooved the tenderfoot to get acclimated with the utmost speed to those who sniffed the alkali. There was no room for friendliness in that great selfish clamor. Everyone was for himself.
The mountains that had hitherto guarded their secrets from the lust of men were now gouged and cut, and in some places showed their treasure. Burros and pack mules climbed the steep trails, their old and new masters pushing, and cursing, and clubbing them along. Like hungry locusts, these men of no particular nationality, and little love of home, swept the hills as if to raven on the bushes and the dust.
I, like the drift from a wreck, was swept away by a comber of greed, to join the rest in the con-quest of canyon and peak. I bought burros, bacon, beans, and flour, picks and shovels and drilling-steel. I rambled the hills and gophered holes. I staked claims and located town and water sites. I thought of myself as big in a financial way. I talked in millions, as did everyone else there.
But that's the joke the desert plays on the victim who wrestles with her mysteries. I had thought that I owned gold and silver mines, cop-per, cinnabar, and turquoise. They had surface symptoms to lead one on to dig, and dig, and toil and sweat, and spend the last cent to reach the utmost peak of stained illusion. So I mined in Nevada till the last dollar was gone, and I was left with a broken home and lawsuits, typhoid and rheumatism.
There is another side to the mountain ranges and desert sands, but the lust for gold must disappear before one sees the beauty of nature. The men who spend their lives there are as interesting as the little brown brook that bubbles down the mountain-side.
"Desert rats" they are called; and they and their old shaggy burros who nibble the green tops of the sage brush are as much a part of the landscape as the silent cactus-sentinel of the desert which is supposed to shelter the souls of pioneers dead and gone; the "Joshua"