Ocean Echoes - The Sea Claims Me
( Originally Published 1922 )
LONG before I was seventeen I had some knowledge of the sea. Often I had sailed away in an open boat out of sight of land, and again many coastwise schooners put in to the Lough. I had learned to run aloft and knew many of the sails and ropes in fact I was about ready to leave home and sail away. But my mother held me for another year, hoping vainly to keep me to a course at the university. How miserable I made it for those at home !
School I detested, and, judging from my changes, school detested me. Father thought that he might be able to make a farmer of me. Mother, in spite of her intellectual yearnings, knew differently. She knew that the wild waves and the flapping canvas called me, and that my harvest waited for me in the deep sea.
Winter was over that year, and I was nearing my eighteenth birthday, which was near Saint Patrick's Day (the one day in the year when my father permitted himself to celebrate until he could celebrate no more). The farmers were plowing the fields, and the hawthorn buds were bursting with coming spring. The wild birds were mating and starting to build their nests, and the lark, never forgetful of his praise of the spring, sang his song way up in the sky.
My two dogs were old now. Prince seldom hunted with me in the bogs, and when one stayed behind the other did too. I loved them and hated to leave them. We had a great deal in common, especially Prince and I; our joys and sorrows together had been many. But he was so old and stiff that I felt that if he should go with me it would be only for a little while. He was soon to rove with the dogs who had gone on before him, in the valleys where deer and duck and rabbit and hare are plentiful, and dogs' barks are but memories of their yesterdays.
Mother saw to my going away. She packed my clothes, socks and pulse-heaters. These last were a large part of her creed. One would be immune to any epidemic if he wore them on his wrists. I took them to please her, although my vocation, above all others, called not for pulse-warming. Then she tucked some money in my pocket. I kissed her good-bye, and waved from the hill.
I can see her now, gathering up her white apron to wipe the tears away, a beautiful picture for a boy to remember; one of love and self-sacrifice that only mothers are destined to give. My father, I am now ashamed to say, I did not see. What he said to my mother I can readily guess, for I never saw nor heard from him again.
When I said good-bye to Irish Anne, tears like dew-drops--the kind that cluster on a spider's web in the early morning shone in her big blue Irish eyes. She was nearly a woman then, and religiously inclined. Her days of curving, cobble-stone throwing were over. We parted with friendship's kiss. I learned years afterwards that she was married, and had a large family of boys and girls. Perhaps I may have met some of her children in the highways of my rambles, but how was I to know them?
The night boat for Glasgow used to make the trip in about twelve hours. I took it, and landed in Glasgow the following morning, going straight with a sailor's instinct to a sailor's boarding-house. It was on the Broomielaw.
A Swede ran it. He was married to a Highland woman, and together they made the Scandinavian sailor's boarding-house hum. He was a drunkard who had formerly been bosun on a Black Ball liner. She was endowed with Scotch thrift and business sense, and had always an eke open for a "homeward bounder" with his pocket full of money. Such a one could always sit at the head of her table, and welcome.
The Swede had my pay for one month's board, and assured me a ship by that time. Seeing that I had still some money left, he begged me to put it into his care. Like the young fool that I was, I did this, and of course that was the last of the money. He went out promptly, and got drunk, spending it all.
The boarding-house catered to all creeds and colors; everyone was on an equal footing. When one sang, they all sang. In a fight everybody joined in, and, after the fight, when the broken pieces were swept away, and the scalp-wounds had been plastered, they would all drink together and be friends again.
The second week that I was there the Swede wanted to know if I would go with him down the Clyde on a sloop he had to a place called Broderick. He wanted to load her with sand to haul back to Glasgow to sell. Then he would give me back the money he had taken from me. Once more I "fell" for him, and went along, on a short but perilous trip that was to bring me within plain sight of Davy Jones's Locker.