The Ship of Shadows by H. Bedford-Jones
2. Garrity the Magnificent


Garrity the Magnificent

ERIC VENABLE came to a drowsy awakening through which he was chiefly conscious of a medley of odors. He found himself lying in a miserable room lighted by a sick-flamed jet of gas; the windows betrayed a gloomy day light, heavy with dark fog.

The odors were many, but were permeated by a general sweetishness which found vague recognition in the nostrils of Venable. Incense! Where, then, was he? A whisky-bottle stood on the table beside his unclean bed; beside the bottle was a small box. At this Venable clutched with eagerness, and was not disappointed.

A moment later he lay back and closed his eyes, all sense of his degradation gone, in the effort to place himself. He smiled inwardly at thought of his fruitless efforts to get the drug in San Francisco; it was not hard for everyone to get, of course, but it was hard for a man of his speech and mien to procure.

Then, somehow, had come a friend. He remembered this much, and no more. Struggling to pierce the veil, he opened his eyes and sat up. It must be morning, he reflected; there was a vile taste in his mouth; a cheap clock in the corner pointed to seven. Another bed, two chairs, and a suitcase, open and piled with a rumpled heap of clothes, completed the garniture of this choice abode, which was upstairs above a Japanese incense-factory.

Venable explored his pockets, found his old pipe and some loose tobacco, and began to smoke. He felt rather cheerful—be cause of the white powder working in his brain like optimistic maggots. He rose and glanced into a mirror; he must have been shaved the previous evening, for he looked fairly well. He had grown used to seeing his eyes like burning flames in black sockets, and the big-boned face of him like parchment stretched tight. As he turned from the glass, the door opened and a man entered.

“Ah! Good morning to ye, Parson!” exclaimed a rich and throaty voice, a voice compelling in its good humor yet vibrant with rough menace. “Looking like a fighting-cock, ye are!”

Disburdening himself of various bundles, which he set upon the table, the speaker held out a hand to Venable. He was a broad-beamed man, stockily built, wide of shoulder, with a coppery thatch of hair, a red mustache, and a broken-nosed, brick-hued face from which gleamed two blue eyes like stars.

Cloaking this ruddily resplendent figure was a suit of startling blue, a necktie of gay pink loosely knotted about a dirty collar, and chrome shoes. A gray derby was cocked jauntily over one large ear.

Venable, smiling hesitantly, gripped the proffered hand, as he was obviously expected to do.

“You must be my good Samaritan,” he said; “but I can’t remember—”

“Small blame to ye!” chuckled the other. “Garrity’s my name, Terence Garrity, and it’s glad I am to meet ye over again, Parson! ’Twas a wonderful night we had last night, and proud was I to have the company of such a man as yourself. We’ve money enough left for another of the same, praise be!”

Another of the same! Venable was unable to meet the suggestion, and so slurred the issue.

“This is your place?” he inquired.

“It is that, until I’m gone—which will be the Friday night. I’ve been out early the morn, as ye may see; here’s milk and some sandwiches and such, beside the fine clothes I got for ye last night.”

“Last night!” said Venable slowly, a flush rising to his brow. “Why, I must have been rather—er—”

“Ye were,” assented Garrity with a grin. Then a soberness fell upon him, and he laid one huge paw upon the shoulder of Venable.

“Parson, if I do say it meself, it’s lucky that ye fell into the hands o’ Terence Garrity! Because why, ye told me all about a number o’ things, Parson—all about ’em, ye did. Have no fear! I remember what happens in liquor, but I’ve a close tongue on me, and I’d have ye know that I think none the worse of ye, sir. What with your learning and all, you’re the wreck of a better man than ever Garrity was nor will be, and I love ye for it! So that’s done with, Parson; now, until I get off to sea again, what I have is yours. First, for our breakfast!”

VENABLE was humbled and speechless. The rags that clothed him were the remains of the old fishing-suit in which he had left home; from the parcels, Garrity disclosed a ready-made suit that fitted fairly and was sober in color. Yet Venable gave little heed to these outward things, or even to the excellent breakfast that soon lay outspread on the table.

Strong upon him was the sense of his position—he realized that for him the die had been cast beyond any withdrawal; he had gone down into the depths; he was bound there by the absolute misery of his existence; and for him life held only an aching emptiness. The thoughtless but true word used by Garrity—the word “wreck”—lingered bitterly with him. It ate into his brain like a corrosive acid.

How long a time had elapsed since he had left the gray house behind him, since he had set forth for San Francisco, he had no definite idea; a week, perhaps two weeks, he had lived entirely independent of time or calendar. The fact that he had fallen into the ways of vice and drink meant very little to him, after the first sting of shame drawn by Garrity’s words. He was no longer looking upward. But gradually, as he found that Garrity’s attitude was purely one of comradeship, he lost his sensitiveness. He regretted only that his brain was not yet numbed and deadened.

AS for Garrity himself, that genial soul lost no time in setting forth his position beyond mistake. He was a first-class engineer of some kind, Venable gathered vaguely—an engineer against whom there was a conspiracy of prohibition skippers, so that Garrity was forced to take any berth he could get. He was at present engaged with a small tramp steamer which would leave sometime Friday night for the China ports.

For the rest, Garrity put himself, his purse and his friends at the disposal of Eric Venable. He washed down his breakfast with a draft from the whisky bottle, and waxed eloquent.

“Twice I’ve been married,” he stated, “and neither time with any luck to speak of. The first was took with typhus a week after the weddin’, and the second was a slip of a Russian girl in Vladivostok, who was in trouble an’ needed to be an American citizeness, save the mark! So the consul married us, and I said good-by, and went my way—and the divil only knows what become of her, poor lass!”

Venable eyed him a long moment.

“Not every man would do a thing like that,” he said slowly. “Something fine about it—”

“Oh, I was drunk at the time!” Garrity laughed. Then his shrewd, twinkling eyes filled with gravity and a compassionate inquiry. “Tell me, now! Is it a parson ye are this blessed minute?”

“I suppose so—in name,” said Venable. He reached for the whisky. “I suppose so—yes. But not in act, mind—in name only. That’s all behind and done with.”

Garrity stared at him with an insistent gaze, wondering more than a little at the man. Venable drank, and a little color crept up into his cheeks of bleached iron. To the seaman, this anomaly of a man was beyond comprehension—a man anything but weak, indeed, of stronger fiber than most, yet now utterly abandoned to degradation. And a man, besides, of education and godliness! To the wondering Garrity it was a thing for pity and kindness. He had seen no lack of drug-users in his time, but seldom a man who had come so low from a place so high.

“Why did you ask me that?” demanded Venable suddenly. “Do you want to get divorced and married over again?”

“Not me!” said Garrity with a chuckle. “I’ll never marry again, Parson; far’s a wife’s concerned, I’m tied to Mary for life. That was the first, ye mind. The Russian lass—well, that was fifteen year ago and more—nothin’ more than a weddin’ to that, Parson. Still, she was a girl o’ fine spirit, unusual fine. I’ve often wondered what became of her.”

“She was a revolutionist?”

“Heaven knows—I don’t!” Garrity produced an evil black pipe and lighted it. “Not even her name! Well, Parson, let’s go see a picture-show!”

“What—this time of day?”

“Why not? I want to make the most o’ my opportunities. A week from now I’ll be watchin’ gauges and cursin’ firemen, poor devils! Will ye go out? We’ll get a bite o’ lunch and maybe meet one or two pals, spend the afternoon in a show—”

VENABLE’S will-power was practically nil, and he cared little what he did. The two men sallied forth together in the bright morning sunshine, an odd pair. Despite his condition and his ill-fitting black clothes, there clung to Venable some pathetic remnants of dignity, some vestige of untrodden years. He bulked high about Garrity, a gaunt scarecrow of a man, hell alight in his eyes, his face and mien derelict; and yet something held him apart from the street panhandlers. He would lose the barrier with time, but it was not yet lost.

They found a continuous movie-palace which was opening for the day, and bought seats. For two hours they sat, to emerge again into the blinding light of noon. Venable had with him his box of precious powders; but Garrity, out of whom the drink had died, was glum until they had entered a restaurant and secured something to eat. Venable again became conscious that he was living on the other man’s money, but to his ventured protest Garrity returned scorn.

“Nonsense! It’s glad I am of your company, Parson; and what’s mine is my friends’ while I have it. Would ye not accept a bit of hospitality in the spirit it’s given?”

Venable assented. He was beginning to go to pieces physically and mentally, although he did not realize it. He was moving in a haze of events, scarce conscious what was passing around him. After the noon meal there were a few drinks, and quite a number of men who drank amazing quantities of raw liquor and who talked loudly about things that had to do with the sea.

Quite vaguely, Venable gathered that his friend Garrity was being commiserated for being tied to the John Ferguson, which appeared to be the name of Garrity’s steamer. It seemed that the Ferguson was chartered to Japanese, who were sending general merchandise to Dairen and Tientsin by her. At the latter port she was to take over certain Japanese officers, and Garrity firmly announced his intention of leaving her on the spot if this were done.

“Thank the good Lord,” quoth he, “they’ll not be able to do me out o’ me wages, either! ’Twas at Tientsin I signed on, and it’s there I’ll end, most like!”

There was talk of ports from Africa to Falmouth, and it was not the sort of talk that Eric Venable had been used to hearing from traveled people. It went deeper, this talk; it reached into the hard ground-pan of life—tales of meat and drink, of women and men, of gross things and great things. Through all of it ran a strong and rank individualism—the deeds of such an one, the way a man had done such a thing, the impressions of the first person alone. It was primitive stuff. Venable did not understand it altogether, but he drank it in avidly none the less. It took him back to his younger days, when among the woodsmen he had gained the iron physique which still marked him out among men.

Afterward, Garrity dragged him forth to view San Francisco. They tramped Market Street, viewed the Fairmont and Palace hotels from the outside, and finally took a car out to Golden Gate Park. There they spent hours, ranging from the band concert to the animals, and toward the heel of the afternoon started for home again, worn out.

AS they neared the park gates they passed a jam of automobiles, held up by a car with a stalled engine. A woman in one of the automobiles caught sight of the two men as they went past, and she leaned forward, staring at them. Her face, although muffled in rich furs, showed itself as a strong, womanly face, starred by sea-gray eyes and slightly marked by a faint red weal across the left cheek.

Garrity sensed the stare, turned and saw the woman. He saw that she was devouring the figure of Venable with her gaze; so fiercely eager were her eyes that he knew his companion had been recognized.

“There’s a woman back there looking as if she knew ye,” he said to Venable, a moment later. “Want to stop? In an auto, she is.”

Venable shivered a trifle, then quickened his pace.

“No,” he answered. “Of course not! What did she look like?”

Garrity described her with some accuracy, but the image conveyed little to Venable’s mind. He had entirely forgotten the strange woman who had called upon him the day before he left home. His disclaimer drew a puzzled frown from Garrity.

On their way downtown the engineer was silent, occasionally giving Venable odd sidelong glances of which the latter was unconscious. Indeed, he hardly spoke until they were downtown, when he proffered a request.

“Will ye have a drink, and then step around to the shippin’ office with me? There’s a bit o’ paper there I’d like to have ye sign, if ye don’t mind. After that, supper! We’ll meet a couple o’ the boys to-night, I expect. To-morry’s Friday, and me last day, bad luck to it! Praise be, we’d not be leavin’ until after the midnight, which will take off the curse.”

Venable assented. Garrity took him to Pisco John’s, and they had not one drink but three of subtle Peruvian punch; after that, Venable’s recollections were very hazy. He went to a dingy little office with his companion, sat through a lot of talk, listened to some droned reading, and shakily affixed his signature to a paper.

He did remember meeting a queer man that night, a hulking fellow named Stormalong, or at least with that title—a black-browed giant who hailed Garrity as an old comrade. And there lingered in his brain something he heard Garrity telling this Stormalong:

“Mind ye, now, I don’t want to be seein’ him for a week out at least, maybe more! But I’ll want ye to handle him gentle. Mind that! If ye have no bowels o’ mercy, then by heaven I’ll make the old ship a livin’ hell for ye, man! I mean what I’m sayin’, Stormalong.”

The hulking giant gave Garrity a merry grin, and nodded as he lifted his glass.

“To the Parson’s health!” he cried. “Drink deep!”

Venable did not understand at all.