Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/55

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



hausted by his efforts, had dropped her hand from the wheel of creative impulse; had gone to sleep. The younger carpenter had been talking about his strange adventure for a minute or two before his words began to penetrate to Shakspere’s hearing. For that interval, vaguely soothed by his own mental quiet, Shakspere tried not to hear him. Then one detail more acid than the rest broke into that void, roused all his sense of life to sudden ravenous sensitiveness. He listened.

“Aye, Rafe,” he was saying, in answer to his companion’s question; “I be sailor ever since I was lad. Aye, I was one of Sir Jarge Summer’s men. Aye, I took that voyage into the new western sea. Aye, I seen and heard things thou’d not believe, man!”

Rafe was older and dry: a hollow-cheeked, dull-eyed, lantern-jawed yokel—Shakspere knew the type well enough—full of yawning buffoonery and ribald skepticisms. “Aye, Stephen,” he commented, with a burst of laughter. “Well, I know you sailormen and your tales and your lies. I mind me, my wife’s brother went with Raleigh to Ginny. What he told—— We doused him well in the horse-trough one morn, and after that, his tales grew smaller.”

Stephen laughed too—and not ill-naturedly. He could afford to laugh. He was a big, black-browed, thick-bodied lad with a neck like a bull’s. As he tore and lifted, Shakspere saw through his ragged shirt the swift play under the skin of muscles netted with blue and red tattoo. He had a long, sea-cleared gray gaze that now took quiet measure of his fellow. Perhaps it was the certainty that he could have thrown the skeptic over his head that made him answer mildly: “Aye. ’Tis true. Sailormen do oft make romance where the plain truth would seem more strange.” And then he followed this statement by an irritating—but beguiling—silence.

For a moment no sound fell but the splintering of planks, the hammering home of wooden nails.

“Tell thy tale, Stephen,” Rafe suddenly burst out. “For aught I know, ye be the first truthful sailorman that e’er I met. Tell thy tale in peace. I’ll give thee my ears.”

“’Tis strange,” Stephen answered. “’Tis passing strange—this tale of mine. And I ask no man to put his faith on’t.