Ocean Echoes - Back To Glasgow
( Originally Published 1922 )
THERE is always some silvery lining to most everyone's dark clouds. Coming down the beach and heading for the wreck strolled an Englishman. He looked cosy and comfortable in his Scotch tweeds and long homespun stockings.
The Swede and the wreckmaster were busy over the salvage question, and I told the Englishman all about our experience getting ashore. He felt deeply for us, or rather for me, and putting his hand into his trousers pocket handed me a gold sovereign. My, but that coin looked good to me!
The Swede's ear, ever attuned, caught the jingle, and he wanted me to share it with him.
"Oh, no," said I, "every dog for himself now. I'm through with you."
Someone paid the sailor's fare and mine back to Glasgow, maybe the wreckmaster, in lieu of paying for the wreck. The Swede stayed behind either to attend to business, as he said, or because he was afraid to face his wife.
Why the sailor and I should have gone back to the boarding-house on the Broomielaw is a question for psychologists to answer. It is something I never have understood, any more than I can understand why other sailors constantly did the same thing, returning persistently to places where they were sure to be robbed and abused.
But we did, and the reception that we received from the Swede's wife and her brother is one to be remembered. The news of the wreck had reached Glasgow ahead of us, and when I walked into the boarding-house she knocked me down.
When I got up she knocked me down again, and it seemed that I was the cause of the disaster in that I had given her husband my money.
Then it was the turn of the sailors who were stopping there, They voiced their opinion of the kind of sailor I was. The great trouble, it seemed, was that the sloop was not insured—as if I had anything to do with that. The blame was on me, fully.
I made up my mind that night that if I were to become a sailor I should have also to become a fighter, because I could see that without this qualification one could never be a success on the high seas.
The trail of my next venture of Love led into the Swede sailor's boarding-house in Glasgow. Jessie, the waitress who served the meals, seemed to admire me, or perhaps it was the suits that I wore. She was the type of a seaport girl. She admired new faces and dressy young men. While she led me to believe I was her first choice, she was madly in love with a fireman on a steamer. He was to arrive home shortly from a Mediterranean port, and I was to find out where I stood with the giddy Scotch lassie.
He did arrive, and came to the boarding-house in his go-ashore clothes. Tall and lanky he was, and baked white from the heat of the stoke-hole. The coal-dust was yet in his ears, his eye-lashes were cemented black from the slack of the slag. His eyes were small and glassy, and he looked rather vicious as he rolled into the boarding-house and demanded to know where his Jessie was. She not being there, he bought a pitcher of beer and sat down to drink and talk with the other sailors. They, being creative gossips and ready to humor and cater to the homeward-bounder, told him of the faithlessness of his Jessie, how she seemed to be very much in love with another man, and they doubted by this time if she had any regard for him at all.
"Who is he?" he cried, and I trembled where I sat, at the sight of his gnarly fists.
But I need not have been afraid No danger that they would betray me. Agreeable as a fight always was to them, beer was more agreeable still, and a homeward-bounder silenced is a homeward-bounder lost forever. They dodged the question.
He got very angry and swore that women were all alike, and not to be trusted. He bought more beer all round, to the satisfaction of the sailors, and gulped down his with oaths of revenge.
"I'll show her she can't trifle with my bloody 'earn" he shouted.
Just then the door to the dining-room opened and Jessie walked in. She exclaimed as she ran toward him, "Ah, me bright laddie's home at last !"
"Keep away from me, Jessie," he stuttered, "I've been hearing about you since I've been away. Now I'm going to get me another girl."
Jessie appeared crushed, crying : "Oh, Harry ! Don't leave me like this ! I have been true to you.
"Well, by God ! It's off between you and met" said Harry, waving her aside as he got up from the table.
At the top of her voice Jessie screamed that if he did this she should drown herself in the Clyde.
"Go to it," cried Harry, as he staggered out of the boarding-house.
True to her word, she went shrieking out of the house, and ran across the street with her hair flying in the breeze, to the Clyde's rim. The sailors came shouting after her from the boarding house, urging the bystanders with their shouts not to "let 'er drown 'er bloomin' self." I ran with them, and Harry ran too.
Barefooted women, with children in arms, joined in the chase. Jew pedlers dropped their packs and wrung their hands as they ran to the Clyde. A longshoreman was coiling down rope on the wharf. He stopped flaking it long enough to speak to Jessie.
"Well, lass; you're at it again. Who is it this time?"
Jessie stopped when she came to the stringer at the bottom of the wharf.
"I'm going over this time," she shouted venge-fully to the longshoreman, "and no mistake."
"Over ye go, then, I'll no stop ye," and he smiled to himself.
"Stop, Jessie, don't jump over." And the bold, ale-laden fireman thrust his way up to her, and took her in his arms.
The longshoreman, grinning openly, went on coiling down his rope. The sentimental boarding-house sailors swallowed hard as if they were eating sea-biscuit, and bashfully stalled an approaching tear. The pedlers walked back to their packs with their hands behind their backs this time; the mothers gave their babies the breast and wondered what it was all about; and I slunk away to where the broken shadows from the tall ships lay humped over the hydraulic capstans.
This was the city of Glasgow in those days, and a fitting place for a jilt from a boarding-house waitress to a green, gawky, country boy. My romance of that period ended there. There were many more; and, doubtless, if I can remember them all I shall touch on them as I rove along, and I'll not spare myself.
For that matter I am not ashamed of my dealings with women; and I may say of the average sailor of the old school as well as of myself, that his dealings with women are based on a light-hearted attitude but a thorough respect for the sex.
When they are married, and their wives get the drift of them, they dominate them like the gales that squeeze them to the rigging. Their wish is to be bossed by someone who is feminine and has their interests at heart; and also it is rarely that a sailor's wife is jealous of her husband, for she realizes that in all conscience he is only human. Long months of idleness and hard-ship end in landing on shores where a smile or a wink from a woman awakes in his lonesome heart a new fondness for the wife he left behind. If he seeks pleasure in foreign lands, it is not disrespectful to the wife he loves. The craving for home and dear ones conies first with the old-time sailor.
Where my sea trails have led me to cities, I have often wondered how men I have known could kiss their wives good-bye, knowing full well that their wives were only a blind for society, and then after reveling all night with the bird in the gilded cage, go home with the blackest of lies on their lips. To daughters, too. How about the other man's daughter? The bird in the gilded cage?
I once refused command of a yacht, for no other reason than this.