From the Life/W. T.
FROM THE LIFE
I DO not know who he is. And neither does old Captain Jim Johnson, who told me about him. We know only his initials. They were tattooed on his right forearm in blue ink and red—a blue anchor with a twist of red rope around the shank, and a red "W" over one fluke and a blue "X" over the other. But what we do know is his remarkable story, and it surely entitles him to a place in these portrait-studies, for it seems to me quite the most distinguished true story that I have run across; and if "W. T." is not himself immortally famous, it is only because he has not met a to do him as another "Wandering Jew," or a second Coleridge to make another "Ancient Mariner" of him.
Moreover, Captain Johnson has begged me: "Put somethin' about him in the papers, an' if any one comes across 'm, tell 'em to write Cap'n Jim Johnson, Port Derby, eh? I'd like to get th' ol' crocodile back here an' look after 'm. I don't sleep well no more. Gettin' old. An' I—I kind o' bother about him at night. You know."
So, if only to keep my promise to the captain—
Imagine an old stooped sailorman coming into Port Derby one summer day in the late 'nineties, with brass rings in his ears and dusty to the waist with walking. Imagine him as bald as a toad—not a hair on his face, not an eyelash, not a bristle—and his scalp as bare as a dried mushroom below the sun-greened cloth cap that he wore on his skull-top. Imagine him wind-cured, sea-scalded, storm-toughened, wrinkling up his forehead to open his eyes, working his lips in a toothless mumble, shuffling along the road with the dust puffing up under his feet, and looking altogether like an old tortoise that had been driven out into the glare of the highway in search of a new "crawl."
And imagine Port Derby a mere cluster of houses at the mouth of Catfish Creek, with orchards and corn-fields behind them, a rotting wharf at the water's edge, some boats drawn up on the sands, and a number of great pound nets, raised on poles in a shore meadow, waiting to be mended. Imagine the little village lying in a hollow so quiet and so hidden that the hills of the shore-line seemed to cuddle it in the crook of an arm, with a haze veiling it against the midday sun and all Lake Erie glittering before it and all Lake Erie's little waves rustling quietly on the beach shingle.
Imagine such a weary old tramp, in the blazing heat of the hill road, looking down on such a peaceful refuge—so cool and so moist—and you will understand what Captain Johnson does not profess to know, namely, why "th' ol' crocodile happened in on Port Derby." As well ask why the alligators happened in on the Everglades of Florida.
The captain, sitting on the veranda of the little hotel, saw him come crawling across the wooden bridge of Catfish Creek. "Well," he says, "I seen at onct he was a sailorman. Rings in his ears, ol'-fashioned sailor ways. He was the color of a smoked ham that's been hung too long. Kind o' dried up an' drawn to the string. Bald as a peeled egg. Been trampin', I c'u'd see that."
And the captain greeted him, "Well, mate, where 're you bound to?"
The man stopped and looked up at him slowly, with a brow-puckered scrutiny, dazed and uncertain. He did not reply.
"Come in out o' the sun," the captain said; and he came into the shade of the veranda and sat down on the steps, with his back turned.
He had no pack. He was coatless, in a gray flannel shirt, a leather belt, and stained overalls. A bare toe showed through a break in his shoe.
Captain Jim tried him with various inquiries: "Come far?" "Purty tired, eh?" "Lookin' fer work?"
No answer. He did not even turn around. He sat looking, apparently, at the pound nets in the meadow across the road.
"Hungry?" the captain asked, and he replied with an unintelligible dumb grunt.
"Well," the captain said, "come along and have a drink first."
He rose painfully and followed into the bar, silent, looking at the floor. The captain decided he was either dumb or had "a button loose somewhere." He would not speak. He would not look at them. He gulped down his whisky straight, turned at once and shuffled back to his place on the steps. The captain ordered a plate of dinner sent out to him. He took it, as silent as a dog, and ate it from his fingers, discarding the knife and fork, his back to them all.
"Give 'm anything he wants," the captain ordered, shook his head—with pity—and went home to his own meal.
He was an old man himself, with a white head of hair and a white fringe of whiskers so fine and so fluffy that he looked like a "four-o'clock"—like a ripe dandelion gone to seed—with his pink scalp glowing through its aureole and his tanned skin brown under his beard. There are babies that look like wise and solemn old men. Captain Jim looked like one of those babies in a beard; and his favorite oath—"By damn"—came wonderingly from a small mouth of red lips that sucked on the stem of his pipe as if the bowl of it were full of modified milk.
He was the postmaster and the customs officer of the port; he owned the fishing-tug and the pound nets; and he employed all the men of the village who would work in his boats. He was building another tug and needed hands to help with her. The old sailor looked as if he might be of some use.
Captain Jim, after dinner, proposed it and was answered by a grunt which he accepted as assenting; and when the men, returning to their work, reappeared in the meadow where the tug's keel had been laid, Captain Jim led the new-comer to join them.
"What's yer name?" he asked, on the way.
He got no answer.
He said: "All right. I'll call you 'Sam.' I s'pose you can swing an adz?"
They came among the oak timbers that were being cut out for the boat's ribs. Captain Jim held out an adz to him. He drew away with a nervous shrinking from the tool, and when the captain asked, sharply, "What's the matter?" he looked down at his hands, held them out, open, and showed a deformity that he had been concealing.
The little finger of each hand was closed down flat on the palm, as if paralyzed.
"Huh!" Captain Jim said. "How'd you do that?"
The question was asked in a tone that was scarcely more than mildly curious, but it had the most amazing effect on the old sailor. He had his hands still out in front of him, and his wrinkled gaze was fixed on them pathetically. They began to tremble in a shuddering palsy that crept up his arms to his neck and set his teeth chattering and fluttered his breath.
The captain caught him by the shoulder. "Sit down," he said. "You're dog-tired. There. That's all right. Now."
The old man sat down weakly on a log and took his head in his hands. He shook as if he had a chill. When the tremor had passed Captain Jim said: "Better, eh? Well. When you feel like work come over an' help us on the steam-box. Know how to warp boards, eh? ... Come away, boys. Don't bother him. He's a bit touched."
They did not bother him. They did not even appear to notice him. And, though they watched him and speculated about him all the afternoon, they did it with that cunning of village curiosity that seems so indifferent and is so secretly keen.
He took his place among them at the steam-box, and his crippled hands did not seem to interfere with his work. But he refused to wield an ax as he had refused the adz; he continued dumb; and when the afternoon was done he took his supper on the hotel veranda at the captain's expense, accepted a corn-cob pipe and a plug of tobacco, and wandered away up the beach in the fading light.
He did not reappear until the morning. Subsequently it was found that he had taken possession of a deserted shack in a hollow behind the captain's farm, where a bend in the shore-line met the trickle of a swamp.
"I seen a man had hands like that afore," Captain Jim said. "He done it handlin' grain-bags. Yeh. When they ust to team it down here an' load it into schooners—afore the railroad was built up yonder. But he 'ain't been a longshoreman. He's been a deep-sea sailor er I'll eat my hat. Wonder what he's doin' away up here, anyway."
Port Derby is hundreds of miles from the ocean and ten miles from a railroad, even. The mail arrived on a buckboard once a day. The fish were taken to a shipping port, on the tug, once a week. Between fishing and farming the little community supported itself in a contented isolation, and if old "Sam" had wished to escape the world he could not have chosen a better hermitage.
If he had wished to escape the notice of his fellow-men he could not have chosen a worse one. He was as much discussed as a murder trial in town. Was he crazy? Was he a criminal in hiding? Was he really dumb? How had he lost his hair? What had happened to his hands? Where did he come from? Why had he left his home?
The belief that he was an imbecile was weakened when it was seen with what ingenuity he fitted up his shack, making himself a sort of bake-oven of stones, taking useless blocks of wood from the boat- building and nailing planks to them for benches, cutting fir branches for a bed, mending his roof with rotted canvas from the wharf and painting it over with tar, unraveling old nets to make himself fishing-lines for rusty hooks that had been thrown away by the village boys, and in everything proceeding as rationally as a Robinson Crusoe. The suspicion that he was a criminal hi hiding could not endure after it was observed that he avoided strangers less than he did the acquaintances of his working-hours and seemed more uneasy with the benevolent Captain Jim than with anybody else. His incredible hairlessness was explained by a young doctor—summoned to the village to set the broken leg of one of the boat-builders—who gave it out that Sam was the victim of a skin disease with a sesquipedalian scientific name. But on the mystery of where he had come from or why he had come nothing happened to throw any light.
One of the men stole up to the shack at night and peeped through a crack in the boarding. He came away with a report that the old man sat for hours by his lantern, looking at his hands. Certainly he used an amount of oil that was not accounted for until the village found that his light burned every night till sunrise. Some small boys, who hid behind the bushes at dusk and pelted his shanty with beach pebbles, were driven off, panic-stricken, by an unearthly bellow close behind them in the trees a hoarse, inhuman noise which they could not describe except in terms of terror. When Captain Jim heard of it he threatened all the boys of the village—and their parents—with all the punishments of his wrath if any youngster so much as hooted at Sam on the street. And thereafter the poor wretch was left to his misery in peace.
Captain Jim gave him clothes and bedding, sent cooked food to his shack while he was away from it, "stood" him drinks in the bar, lent him a boat in which to go fishing for mud-cats up the creek, and paid him, as well, for his work on the boat-building or in the garden. In return for it all he did not get more gratitude than could be expressed in a grunt.
"He's got somethin' on his mind, that's all," Captain Jim decided. "It's got him a bit touched. Knowed 'n old sailor up to Duluth like that—on'y his was religion. He'll come through. He hangs 'round down to the hotel now, 's long 's no one speaks to him. Leave 'm alone."
They were willing to "leave 'm alone." Their curiosity, by this time, had died a natural death. They accepted Sam jocularly as a half-witted old mute who was amusing when he was not too pig-headed.
And then one morning, after the new tug had been launched and the work of calking the deck seams was in progress, Captain Jim, while overseeing the men, stepped back against a loose timber, lost his balance, and fell backward into the creek. Before the others could more than drop their tools Sam screamed, "Cap'n! Cap'n!" and dived overboard. And the men were so amazed at the sound of his voice that they stood staring at the pair in the water as if they had seen a dead man come to life.
The captain had been a good swimmer in his day, but he was dazed by his fall, and for a moment, when he came to the surface, he beat the water feebly with the palms of his hands, gasping. Sam had him by the collar in an instant and held him out of water to the shoulders till he caught his breath. Then they struck out together for the bank.
When they had found bottom and stood up dripping in the water-weeds Captain Jim turned on his rescuer. "Well, by damn!" he cried. "You old mud-turtle!" and thumped him on the back. "It was you, was it? What d'you mean! Get up out o' this. D'you want to kill yerself?" He shoved Sam up the bank before him, calling upon all the men to witness the ancient folly of this reprobated old son of a sea-cook. "What d'you think o' that!" he cried, wiping the trickle of water out of his eyes and grimacing in a doubtful attempt to grin down an emotion that was not acknowledgable. "What d'you think— Th' old— Well, by damn!"
Sam ran his hands down his sides, squeezing the water from his shirt. He stooped to wring out his trousers legs stolidly. He said nothing.
Some of the men came down the plank, with the clumsy inquiries of an awkward solicitude for the captain. He did not understand the way in which they looked at Sam; he had not heard the scream that had betrayed the old sailor's voice.
"Are y' all right, Cap'n?" they asked him.
"All right," he quavered. "O' course I'm all right. Little water. Come on here, Sam. Come on an* have a drink an* get off them wet clothes. Course I'm all right. Go on with yer work."
They went back to the deck, and Captain Jim, still unaware of Sam's return to the use of his tongue, took him to the hotel. It was late in the afternoon; a chill wind had begun to blow, and the captain, for all his jovial and hearty gratitude, shivered so much that after a brief glass he sent Sam to' his shack and hurried home. Very much shaken and chilled through, he went to bed.
"Sophy," he said that evening to his daughter, as he sat up, smoking, among his pillows, "that old boy can't winter it in a shack. He'll freeze stiff. Better give 'm the room over the kitchen. He'll carry wood an' do chores fer you, anyway. Eh?"
"Well," she said, taken aback, "he's pretty feeble, ain't he?"
"No!" the captain cried. "Feeble! I thought it was Johnny had me by the neck. Feeble nothin'! He works 's good 's the best o' them—where he knows how."
"He won't chop the wood," she said. The whole village had discovered his aversion to the use of an ax.
"No," he reflected. "He's a bit queer about that. He ain't strong in his top story. But he's harmless, girl. An' we've treated him like a dog—leavin' him live in that swamp—"
"He wouldn't let you do anything else."
"That's so. That's right. Well, I'll make him come if I have to move the shack to do it."
The captain's house was a relic of the ante-railroad, days of Port Derby's prosperity. It was a building of some pretensions, with a Colonial pillared porch and a roof-top belvedere. And his daughter was a middle-aged spinster of precise habits who was a neat housekeeper and proud of her house. She did not relish the prospect of admitting this uncanny old outcast to a place in it; the room over her kitchen was her sewing-room, stored with blankets, winter bedding, household linen, and a thousand things that she did not wish to remove. Moreover, one fanciful old man at a time was all she desired under her care—for the captain had his peculiarities.
It was not that she objected to having all the inner door-sills painted twice a year, as if they were aboard a ship, and she let him use a lantern in his bedroom, although a lamp surely would have looked better, but she had noticed of late that he had begun to be careless about his clothes, that he slept heavily in the afternoons, that he depended too much upon the stimulants at the bar. And when she found, treasured up under his bed, a big tin biscuit-box filled with misered plugs of tobacco of which many had gone moldy, she realized that the captain was failing. She would have a happy life as the captain grew worse and Sam was added to her burden!
But the captain had an obstinate temper. It was bad policy to oppose him outright. She had to humor him, to wheedle him, and to get her own way while pretending to give him his. It was for this reason that when the story of how Sam had spoken came to her—from one of the men who called to see how the captain was—she went straight to her father with her indignation. "A nice old man! After all you've done for him! Why, he's been making fools of all of us."
"What's the matter, girl?"
"Why, that old Sam—pretending he couldn't talk."
"What?" The captain sat upright. "Is he talkin'!"
"Yes! All the men heard him."
She told him artfully, working herself into a fine resentment against "the old scamp." And the captain listened, staring at her like a snowy owl.
"I wouldn't trust him!" she cried. "I wouldn't put anything past him. He's no fool. He's bad. Of all the double-faced— I s'pose he's been laughing at us behind our backs all the time. He's done something wrong. That's what he's done. Why, you could tell it by the look of him! I'd be afraid to have him near the place. He might murder us all in our beds. I never heard of such a thing. The old liar—if I do say it." And so endlessly, while the captain listened with a "Huh!" that sounded as if he were really half convinced, but signified merely that there was matter for new thought in the affair and that he was reconsidering it.
He made no reply to her then nor later in the day when he rose for dinner, and she supposed that he had weakened in his kindly feeling for the hypocritical Sam. He did not go down to the boat that afternoon, but sat smoking and thinking and taking "cat-naps" in his chair. Once he remarked that the cold weather would be coming on and inquired about the woodpile. "Ought to get a couple o' loads o' that driftwood fer the fireplace," he said. "Wonder if there's much of it on the beach this year."
She did not know. It was a peculiarity of the beach that there was one spot where the wood came ashore in abundance—great trees that had been uprooted by the rains and carried out into the lake, ships' timbers, the loosened planks of derelicts, and all the wreckage of storms and freshets. The natives of Port Derby went there to gather their winter's firing, saving their own trees.
The captain, after an early supper, while it was still light, filled his pipe and started off across his fields to see the cove where the wood came in. And it was not till he had gone that his daughter remembered that Sam's shack stood near the edge of this same cove. Even so, she was in doubt whether the captain had deceived her with a rather senile cunning or whether the whole thing was an innocent coincidence.
It is probable that the captain did not quite know, himself. But it is certain that when he came upon Sam, sitting on a scoured log at the water's edge, he was not surprised to see him.
"Well, Sam," he said, "they tell me you've found yer voice."
The men at the boat had been nagging the old man in Captain Jim's absence, venting upon him some of that same spleen which the captain's daughter had felt when she learned that they had all been "made fools of"; and Sam was obviously worried and dejected. He did not look up at the sound of the captain's voice. He continued gazing out at the sunset, his elbows on his knees, his chin supported on his cramped hands, smoking sadly.
The captain struck a match and sat—to relight his pipe—on the other end of the log. "Well," he said, "I come down to see if there was much wood here fer the whiter. Pick up more logs here in a day than you could cut down in a week. Cold weather's comin', Sam. You'll freeze stiff in that shack. I was tellin' my girl to get a room ready fer you—over the kitchen, where it 'll be warm. You can do her chores fer yer board if you want to."
Sam stopped puffing at his pipe, but he did not turn around.
"We're gettin' old," the captain went on. "Got to have a warm bed when you're old. I ust to be able to sleep on cargo an' never notice it. Well, well. I remember once—" And he rambled off into reminiscences of his rough youth when he had sailed the Great Lakes and been a "terrible feller."
They were reminiscences of the easy love-affairs of an able-bodied seaman, of sailors' fights in water-front "dives," of smuggling adventures in the days when he had run a schooner between the mouth of the Niagara River and the Canadian Port Credit—before the use of the telegraph put an end to that sort of "skylarkin'"—and of "bounty-jumping" in ports along the American shore during the Civil War. If there was a noticeable strain of moral obliquity running through them all, it was not because the captain was unconscious of it. He had been thinking about Sam all day, and these apparently idle recollections were given artfully.
Sam's pipe went out; he sat with it in his hands, staring at the darkening water and listening like a man mesmerized. The sun had set; an early autumn moon rose behind them. Once or twice Sam muttered to himself. And once he began in a dry squeak of a voice, "Cap'n"—but the captain did not pause. Sam sighed and moved uneasily. The captain continued his amiable confessions in a friendly, soothing tone.
"Cap'n," the old man said, hoarsely, "what 'd you 'a' done if—" His voice fell away into silence irresolutely.
"If they'd ketched me?" the captain asked. He was at the end of his story of the bounty-jumping. "Well, I s'pose I'd been rushed to the front on the first train. But they didn't ketch me." He chuckled. "Not them."
Sam shook his head. "If you 'd been out 'n a boat an' the water near all gone, an'—"
The captain leaned forward, intent. "Shipwrecked?"
Sam sank in upon himself again; he fumbled at his forehead with a hand. "Ay, shipwrecked. Me—an'—" He either could not remember or his mind wandered. "In the boat," he said. "An' the water all gone—an' the heat till yer brain 'd ache." He shook his old lizard's head again weakly. "Hot—hot."
The captain signified a professional understanding. "Yeh?"
"An' we had nuthin' but the end o' one keg o' water," he said, staring ahead of him as if he saw in that vast expanse of lake the scene that was in his mind's eye. "It was goin' by thimblefuls. Seven of us. An' our tongues swollen so we couldn't shut our jaws. An' the mate says: 'Boys, it's time to draw lots. There's too many of us. Take yer choice. We'll all die together if we don't,' he says. 'All of us!' An' my mouth so dry I couldn't eat the biscuit no more than it was sand."
The captain waited, listening, with his head on one side, watching him. The moonlight had grown strong enough to make a faint shadow on the beach. When Sam continued silent he said: "Well, in a case like that there, I s'pose there's nothin' else to do. I remember once—"
Sam licked his lips. "So we drawed lots—the long one an' the short one. An' young Tom got the long one—an' then, when it come to me, I got the short one. An' nobody said a word, except one o' the men sort o' laughed."
He turned suddenly. "What would you 'a' done?" he cried. "With the wife home—an' the baby—waitin' fer you? An' young Tom with nobody dependin' to him."
The captain replied, coaxingly, "Well, what 'd you do, Sam?"
"'Mates,' I says, 'I'm a married man. I got a wife, mates,' I says, 'an' a little one. Is it fair,' I says, 'that I go, that's got them dependin' to me, an' Tom here's got no one? Is it right?' I says. An' they didn't say a word. We was all played out. I could scarce speak, my mouth was so. 'Is it right?' I says. 'No! If any one goes, it ought to be Tom,' I says. 'He's got no one. He's near dead now. What good is he? He can't help none. 'Tain't right! I'm a strong man. I got a woman to keep. I got a little one—'"
"Sure, sure!" the captain soothed him. "What 'd they do?"
"It was Tom. Tom did it. He was sick. He didn't care what happened to him. He said he'd sooner go than do it—than shove me off. We'd nothing to do it with but the ax. So we changed lots—Tom an' me. An' he said if we'd do it while he was asleep— That's all he asked—to do it while he was asleep."
"Asleep?" the captain cried. "Do you mean to say he could go to sleep?"
"Asleep. He was sick."
He had begun to tremble. "U-up in the nose o' the boat," he said in a low, shaken voice. "He crawled up there an'—an' laid down. An' after it was dark—"
"Well, Sam," the captain cut in, quickly, "that's the way those things happen. A man's got to fight fer his life sometimes. He ain't accountable. In a boat like that—dyin' o' thirst an' you with a wife an' fam'ly to think o'. It couldn't be helped, I guess. It just had to be. You want to ferget it. It's—"
Sam said: "I couldn't do it. I sat there all night—an' couldn't do it. In the dark. I heard him turn over. He was talkin' crazy to himself—wantin' water. It was hot—hot—an' still. An' no one said a word."
The captain clucked his tongue commiseratingly. "Tut, tut! It's all past an'—"
"An' then a little breeze sprung up, an' it got a little light, an' I thought if I didn't do it mebbe he'd wake up an' go back on what he said. An' so—" He clutched his hands in front of him agonizedly. "I—I—"
"Sam!" the captain cried. "Now never mind! Never mind! I don't want to hear. You don't want to be thinkin' about it. That's what's the matter. You been thinkin' about it too much. You—"
"Listen!" Sam screamed. "Listen! He wasn't cold before they seen a sail. Right against the sun when it come up! A sail! A brig that took us all aboard—him, too—an' me—with the blood onto my hands—" He held them out to the lake, clenched, shaking them fiercely as if they were not a part of him, but something hateful, something criminal, and guilty against himself.
The captain grasped him by the arm. "Stop!" he said. "Stop it! You've got to stop it. You've got to ferget it. Listen to me. It wasn't your fault. Case like that. Man's got to fight fer his life. When he's got a wife an' fam'ly—"
"Ah!" Sam groaned. "Wife an' fani'ly." They didn't think o' that. In the fo'c'sle—they turned against me. Them that 'd been in the boat with me. Yes! From the day they dropped him overboard with their prayers an' their caps off. They didn't think o' that. It makes a might o' difference when yer tongue ain't swelled up like a boot in yer mouth an' achin' so you'd go mad. Yes! Wife an' fam'ly. She turned against me. Her, too. Ev'ry one. All o' them."
"What? Yer wife, too?"
"Ay, an' my wife, too. It was all right the first night I got back. An' then one o' the boys told her." He dropped his voice to a broken breathiness. "He was her brother. Tom was her brother."
"Tom was her brother—an' she took the little one an' went back home without a word. Not a word. An' when I went to tell her—to tell her how it was—her father came out. He was like to killed me."
The captain let him be. He sat, crouched, a figure of despair in the desolate moonlight, his mouth in his hands. The waves broke and broke before him, falling forward in a hissing sprawl on the pebbles.
"I went away," he said, talking to the water. "I shipped an' went away—an' no one knowed about it aboard an' I lay awake nights thinkin' of it—because no one knowed. An' they was hot nights—hot an' still. An' I heard some one turnin' over an' talkin' to himself. An' no one said a word, an' I had to bite into my blanket to keep from— There was a man named Durkin. Him an' me had a watch together. An' I wanted some one to ask. I wanted some one to—to— No one knowed about it. We was frien's—him an' me. An' I told him. I told him. An' there it was again. I could hear them whisperin' behind my back. I could see them lookin' at me when they thought I wasn't takin' notice. An' no one said a word about it. An' the little spot on the back o' my hand kep' spreadin'—bare—till the hair was all off. An' off my arm."
He held his hands out and looked at them.
"There, on the back—like where there'd been—there'd been blood—a little round spot, it began. Greasy." He clapped his hands to his face again, as if to cover his eyes against the sight of them. "An' they seen it!" he cried. "They seen it an' knowed what it was. An' I went ashore an' got away an' I didn't come back. But I knowed it!" He threw out his arms. "I knowed it. I had it. Ev'rywhere I went I had it. I had to ask. I had to tell. I couldn't ferget it. I was marked. Head an' hands." He tore off his cap and raised his leprous skull to the light. "Look at me," he wailed as if to the night and the heaven and the indifferent waves. "Look at me! Head an' hands an' face an' body—marked! Marked! An' ev'ry one seen it. Ev'ry one knowed it. Ev'rywhere!"
The captain wiped his neck and wrists in his handkerchief and swore feebly. Sam had collapsed upon himself, huddled on the log.
"Sam," he said, "part of what happened—it—it's happened. There's no more to be said about it. It's past an' done. But part of it's nothin' but yer own damn imagination. There's somethin' wrong with yer skin. It's a—a disease. Any doctor 'll tell you the name of it. Cure it mebbe. An' yer fingers you hurt handlin' heavy weights. You've been roustaboutin'—workin' on the docks, 'ain't you?"
Sam said, sepulchrally: "I been ev'rywhere. All over the world, I've been. Doin' ev'rythin'. An' ev'rywhere I went there was some one that wouldn't let me be till he'd found out. An' then—"
"Well," the captain put in, guiltily, "that's what I say. That's what it is. Now here's where the thing ends. I don't say a word to no one—an' you don't. Not a word. You've had this thing on yer mind, an' now you've got rid of it. I'll see that no one bothers you. You needn't speak to a soul if you're afraid o' what you might tell. Just keep quiet an' mind yer bus'ness an' ferget all this—this stuff."
He patted Sam on the shoulder. "It weren't your fault. It might 'a' happened to any one. It might 'a' happened to me. An' here we are, now, a pair of old hulks together—me an' you—on'y I've got into a snug harbor an' you've been batterin' around crazy-fashion. You come up to my house an' I'll see you have enough t' eat, a warm bed, an' ev'rythin' to make you comfort'ble. No one 'll bother you. No one 'll speak to you 'less you want it. An' 'n a little while you'll ferget about this bus'ness, an' ev'rythin' 'll be all right again. Eh?"
He picked up Sam's cap and put it on him, found him his pipe in the sand, and coaxed him to his feet. "Come on, now. We'll make you snug's an ol' cricket. You'll be settin' by yer fire, come winter, with a glass o' grog in yer hand, happy 's—happy 's a cat. Come on. Eh?"
Sam was holding back. "Wait," he said, hoarsely. "Wait till to-morr'. I'll—"
"Will you come then?"
The captain remembered his daughter. "Well, then, all right. P'raps that's best. The girl'll have to get yer room ready. That 'll give her time. Now you go to bed, Sam, an' have a good sleep. In the mornin' you'll feel better. This 's where this thing ends. You're going to be all right after this."
"G'night," Sam said, and staggered off through the sands toward his shack.
The captain watched him go—through the serene moonlight toward the shade of the willows that draped black along the edge of the swamp. There, suddenly, he threw his hands up over his head—and at the same instant disappeared in the shadows. The captain, having stood a moment gazing after him, turned and went home to his bed.
In the morning, after a scene of anger with his daughter, he posted down to the boat and found that Sam had not appeared for work. He waited an hour, and then hurried off to the shack. The door was open. The place was in disorder—the lantern thrown upon the floor, the bedding dragged aside, the bench overturned under the table—and Sam had gone.
Sam had gone. And all the efforts of the captain to learn in what direction he had gone, to find any one who had seen him on his way, or to hear anything of him in any of the neighboring villages—all were unavailing. He had gone. He had told his story again—and he had not waited.
"It was my fault," the captain says. "I oughtn't to made him tell it. But there it is. That can't be helped. He says himself he tells it ev'rywhere he goes. No use pretendin' he's dumb. Any one can see he's got somethin' on his mind an' they pump it out of 'm. No use beatin' around the way he's doin'. Get him back to me here. I'll look after him. Put somethin' in the papers about him, an' tell 'em to write Cap'n Jim Johnson if they've see 'm. Cap'n Jim Johnson, Port Derby. Eh? They'll know him by that 'W. T.' right here on the inside of his arm. A blue anchor fouled with a 'W' over one fluke an' a 'T' over th' other. Don't ferget that, now. That was his name—'W. T.'"