Ocean Echoes - Farewell To An Old Friend Of The Early Days
( Originally Published 1922 )
ONE day, shortly after I left the book business, I was in a small town on the Puget Sound, looking for a ship. Strolling around, I was attracted by a crowd in front of a general store. Policemen were running and women screaming, and with one thing and another there seemed, for a small town, to be no end of excitement.
Always being of a curious nature, I hurried with the rest to the store, elbowing my way through the crowd as I went, in order not to miss the finish, whatever it might be. As I passed the outer noisy strata of human beings, and penetrated the last hushed edge before a clearing on the sidewalk, I saw a tall and skinny policeman stretched out-there bleeding, while triumphantly posed over him, making no effort to get away, and drunk as drunk could be, stood none other than Liverpool Jack.
He was bare-headed, his coat was off, and his shirt was torn to ribbons. His hairy bare arms showed beautiful tattooed ladies, ships, anchors, and flags of many nations. For a moment, at what one might call this "show down" of emotion, I felt the distance I had traveled mentally, and materially since Liverpool Jack and I had been mates. I was no better than I had been, but whether it was a feeling of difference caused by having had money, or whether some real refinement had grown out of what I had known at home anyway, I shrank from the sight of him. Then my loyalty shamed me, and I became alert, as always, to help him out.
Fortunately, I did not have a chance to speak to him then; for three strapping policemen, who were armed to handle him and me, grabbed hold of him, and putting the "twisters" on his wrist, led him off to the lockup. He didn't see me, and I didn't want him to until I had time to find the best way to get him out.
While the crowd helped the policeman to his feet, the man who owned the general store told me about the fight. It seems that the "cop" had imprudently undertaken to arrest Liverpool Jack single-handed when he found him drunk in the street. He was promptly thrown through the window of the general store, where Jack's follow-up work did all possible damage to a loose and innocent display of potatoes, apples, cereals, and tobacco.
The store-keeper was mourning his loss, and damning the inefficient Limb of the Law. Who was to pay him for his goods? he whined. Who, indeed? For, speeding away to the jail, I managed for a two hundred dollars' fine, to get Jack released. And before the poor store-keeper had time to figure the damage we were out of town, and on our way to Tacoma.
There we had to wait a few days for a ship. I was now going to take him to sea with me, as I feared to leave him. But one night he got away from me, and I never again saw him alive. Next day his body was found on the railway track, mutilated by a train, and some one who had been drinking in the saloon where Jack had been testified that he had heard him say that since there seemed to be no one to fight with he guessed he might as well pull a few trains off the track.
Probably this statement was not true, but it was certainly characteristic of the man the poor dead creature had been, and of the savage set to his jaw. Even in death he seemed not to have found peace; I must remember him as he looked then, and be sorry that, at the end, it had to be the terrible scrappiness of him that dominated, and not the real tender-heartedness and manliness that I knew so well lay beneath. Poor, poor, lonesome Liverpool Jack !
With the last of my book-agent money I had him buried, and not in the potter's field. Let us hope that the better part of him found its innocent release, and is going on, sailing oceans, splicing ropes, and tattooing other souls of fighting children of the sea.
For two years now I rambled the oceans, being mate, and sometimes master, of fine ships, almost of my choice for I was seasoned, and knew something of men, and was free from that in my youth which had been unreliable.
Yet something made me weary of the sea, perhaps that very fact that youth was gone, even to Liverpool Jack the connecting link; and that the sea, however much she may still the thirst for change, is no husbander of men's strength against the future, and has no care for their material provision.
The slow saving of a seaman's wages was a process untried by me ever, and my conception of provision for the future was gold. Gold in the hills, waiting somewhere for me. Somewhere opportunity for rest, and a home. More and more my thoughts returned to Ireland : to go back there with even a little stake, to see my mother; to buy a little piece of land near her and work it; to have my dog, and my horse, and my chickens and my pigs and perhaps some day, when the Dead Past should have buried its Dead, some day, a son of my own to raise, fearless of me and of the world.
"Simply a sailor's dream," you, reader, who now perhaps know enough of me to despair of me, will say. Ay, simply a sailor's dream ! Simply a sailor's dream !
For although I knew well enough that thoughts of home were ever bound up in my mother, and although I knew well enough that had I not been stubbornly foolish I could have been back in Ireland this many a year, and prosperous, and a delight to her, yet never had it occurred to me that she might grow other than I had known her years ago-that there might not be plenty of time; that she might be nearing the end of the span.
So the news that she was dead found me digging, and Gold turned hard and lifeless before my eyes, and Love sat there beside me, bleeding. Blinded by sorrow I went a-roving, and the steep braes knew me. I picked and dug and washed, from habit, for good luck meant only food to me now. Often there was no food, nor even water, for that matter, although when thirst gets you, you cannot will to die, however cheaply you may hold your life.
And so six years went by, and the loneliness of the mountains healed me; and I was a, better man, but very solitary.