At Sea

VENABLE awoke to a racking headache, a violent nausea and a nerve-shattering need of morphia. His box of white powders was gone. This discovery startled him into immediate wakefulness.

He found his surroundings woefully strange. He was in a bunk that heaved oddly; everything around him seemed to be in the throes of an earthquake. Other men lay in other bunks; in the air was an odor of dirt and whisky and sweat. His bodily misery was acute, and was intensified a thousandfold by the jangle of his tortured nerves.

In vain he searched himself for the white powder. Satisfied that it was gone, he staggered from his bunk and stood for a moment gazing around. He was not a fool, and by the lamp swinging in gimbals he decided that he was aboard a ship; also he knew that he was extremely seasick.

Overcome by nausea, he opened a door before him and reeled out into a passage. He missed the companion ladder, the hatch of which was down, but finally wandered into the galley, where a yellow-skinned cook received him with much Oriental profanity. The cook, however, assisted him in relieving his anguished stomach, in the midst of which operation a rough voice broke in upon them.

“Damn my eyes, if it aint Parson! Hey, Parson! You git below with the change o’ watch, or I’ll be up to drag ye down! Give him some chow, John, so’s he can hold up his end with the black gang.”

Venable recognized the man Stormalong, and with a weak effort he inquired about Garrity.

“Garrity?” rejoined the other jeeringly. “He’s five hundred mile back in Frisco—where you’ll wish you was if you don’t buck up an’ git to work! ”

With this, Stormalong vanished. Venable was too weak and sick to give further heed to anything. How he had come aboard this ship, he neither knew nor cared. He begged the cook for morphine or opium, but the yellow man only shrugged his shoulders.

An hour later, scarce able to crawl for the sickness that was on him, Venable emerged on deck, painfully dragging himself aft. To his amazement he found there was no storm; the steamer was chugging through bright sunlight and sparkling waters; her decks seemed white and deserted, and all around was a horizon of long, rolling billows. She was not a large ship by any means, and Venable halted at sight of the stenciled name on boats and preservers—John Ferguson.

Why, that was Garrity’s ship, surely! Even in his racked condition, Venable remembered the name. And Garrity five hundred miles away, back in Frisco? How did it happen?

PUZZLING over this strange fact, Venable halted to stare around him. No one was in sight, and the ship seemed to be going her business of her own accord. Suddenly he was aware that a man had appeared and was approaching him—a rather small man, wearing a faded cap and faded blue clothes.

“What are you doing here?” said the stranger.

“Looking for the captain,” answered Venable feverishly. “Tell me—”

“I’m the skipper. Oh, you’re Parson, are you?” The other man gave him a keen, searching look. “Well, what d’you want?”

“I—I—for the love of heaven, give me some morphia!” begged Venable with piteous force. “I’m going to pieces—”

“Get below, you old fool,” snapped the skipper, “and clear out of this part of the ship! You’ll get all the stimulant you want in the boiler-room—”

“There’s been a mistake!” broke in Venable. “I—I never meant to be aboard here.”

“You, Stormalong!” The skipper lifted his voice to some one forward. “Get this bum for’ard where he belongs and keep him there! Tryin’ to tell me he was shanghaied, the dopy old fool! Clear him out, now.”

Stormalong appeared, gathered up the protesting but helpless Venable, and dragged him below again in short order.

Thus ended the primary stage of Venable’s sea-education. The secondary stage was one of horror, humiliation and utter torment. Every man aboard ship knew that he was a dope-victim; and every man knew that a dope-victim is the most degraded of men. Only Garrity knew that his friend was a victim of fate, and not of opium products.

To the mind of Venable, at least, the intolerable torture which he now faced consisted of two salient features: he was kept at work shoveling coal, and he could get neither drug nor liquor. For a while he was close to madness. Perhaps Shinski saved him from madness; perhaps it was the steel within himself that saved him. Some men can go through agonies of suffering and labor, and the more they endure, the more spring comes into the steel of their souls; others, made of iron instead of steel, go to pieces and must be slowly welded or not at all. In Venable’s case it was steel, and it was proven.

Shinski was a man in his watch. When Venable crawled into his bunk the second night of his deprivation and torment, he was groaning bitterly, half raving. Shinski came to him, an odd little man, tenderly pitiful, speaking accented English, and like an angel of mercy gave Venable a tiny bit of white powder.

There was something to Shinski. Usually silent, once or twice his voice leaped out across “glory-hole” discussions; then it became a flaming, vitriolic voice that burned and bit, the words terrific and pregnant. Twice he lectured the gentry of die watch on radical lines. Shinski was a Red, an anarch. Too tender-hearted to kill a cockroach, Shinski believed in slaughtering the privileged classes, and had done his share of the slaughtering; it was muttered that he had been through the worst of the Russian shambles, a crimsoned figure. Glory-hole gossip made of him a Robespierre, and probably with truth. His presence here was wholly a mystery. He was no opium-victim; yet he had found the powder for Venable.

WHEN Venable went to work again, it was quite obvious that the drug was uplifting him, and about six bells he collapsed. He said nothing, and how the secret became known was untold; but something happened to Shinski. He was shifted to the other watch, so that Venable saw no more of him.

At the end of a week Venable was reacting very well. His brain was clearing out. Stormalong drove him mercilessly, yet not with the brutal fury applied to the other men, for Parson, as he was now known, gave himself to the work and did not slack. Finding that he was indeed at sea and bound for Asia, Venable accepted the situation and made the best of it. Patching together the shreds of his vague memories, he could connect Terence Garrity with his presence here in a very slight manner; besides, was not Garrity his friend? It was inexplicable. How he had come aboard the ship, he could not understand.

Meantime his body throve under punishment and hearty food. The gaunt frame hardened and became a powerful machine, with a vigor it had lacked for years past. Saved only by a narrow margin from mental collapse, Venable had no time for any thought or theorizing. He worked, ate, slept, in a monotonous sequence that filled all his day. His brain lay unused, fallow.

Of this, a fortnight in all. It was not much, as time goes, certainly not enough to pull Eric Venable out of all temptation and make of him a new man; but it was sufficient to clean and renew him in mind and body. And when the time was past, came—Garrity.

It was noon. Stormalong ordered Venable on deck, without explanation, shortly before watches changed. Out in the sunlight, awaiting him, Parson found the copper-thatched Garrity.

“It’s me,” Garrity grinned, hand outstretched. “Ye need not stare so! It’s me.”

“Why!” Venable took the proffered hand, whereat Garrity’s starry blue eyes lighted up. “They told me that you were back in—”

“I know all about it,” intervened the other bluntly. “Listen, now! ’Twas me had ye brought aboard, Parson—had ye shanghaied, no less, and it was for your own good. Ye’ll not love me for it, but that’s the truth: I could not bear to leave ye, goin’ the way you was back there! I know that ye do not want a boost up, but none the less I gave it. Now, if ye hate me for it, I can’t help it none.”

Venable said nothing; he could find no words. A furious, gusty anger leaped up within him as he comprehended. He stood impassive, towering over the engineer, staring down into those stark blue eyes that glimmered from the brick-red face with its broken nose.

Gradually there smote into his brain some realization of the simple, lucid honesty that lay in Garrity’s eyes. A week previously, he might have sprung upon the other in furiously insane passion; now he merely stood and realized the truth. Accustomed to weighing men and their motives, accustomed to viewing the spiritual side of things as the average man sees the practical, he comprehended the real affection for him that was in this man’s heart. And suddenly—just as ship’s bell was striking—his gaunt lined features broke into a smile.

“Eight bells!” he said. “Run along, Garrity—we’ll have a chat to-night, eh? Confound you, you rascal! I believe I’m glad you brought me along with you!”

GARRITY hastened below, overjoyed. For a space Venable stood at the rail, gazing with wide eyes at the blue sky and the blue-gray whorls of water; in that moment it seemed to him that after all, God lived—that in the far, clean depths of sky and sea were typified the vast omniscience of the Creator, governing all things! The brief moment swiftly passed. Venable turned away, his lips set in renewed lines of bitterness. He could see no light ahead, no future, nothing! This was the mental result of the drug, of course.

So vanished the second phase of his seafaring; and now began the third phase. It was one of introspection, of self-battles. The old craving was terrible in its power; he felt all helpless, hopeless, careless of what happened.

He saw much of Garrity now, and was strengthened by the doglike affection of this man who had plucked him from the gutter. He was shamed at thought of what his life in that interlude had been. The sun and the salt air, the hard work, began to tell. Old forgotten oaths came to his lips. He doffed the sanctified mantle that had held him apart from worldly things these many years, being now a new man in a new environment. He could not crowd out of his soul the fact that he had once been called to be a priest of God; but it lay far in the background, not molesting him overmuch.

One night there was pandemonium below—a fight, a wild riot. Venable was caught in it, and he found himself fighting as in the old north-woods days of his youth. Some one laid him out, finally, all but splitting his skull with a firebar; and it was good for him—it helped greatly. It went to make up the combination of little things that were needed. Garrity looked on from afar and said nothing, but his eyes were happy as he observed the change in his friend.

The truth about Venable was that he had both won and lost from that voyage to Tientsin. He won much of himself back again; a share of his dead youth was resurrected and returned to him. He lost much of his unworldly, theological attitude, and gained in practical ways. To illustrate: the night they entered the river and were dodging up toward the Tientsin wharf, Venable had an argument with a Greek stoker; the Greek drew a knife, worn in defiance of American shipping law, and Venable half killed him with three blows. You may draw a large inference from this happening.

So, then, they tied up at the Tientsin wharf. The work was finished. All hands were paid off, and separated presumably for ever. Venable and Terence Garrity walked ashore and to the fate destined them.

IT was late afternoon, and both men had money. Garrity caught a jinrikisha and directed their course to a decent place that he knew, in the French Settlement just across Bristow Road. On their way they passed through Victoria Road and the British Settlement; Venable was astonished at the beauty of the city, at its ultra civilization. Because he had come to China, he had expected pigtails and pagodas on every hand.

“Don’t ye believe it!” said Garrity sagely. “The world’s the world, Parson, and ye can’t get away from it nohow—except only at sea, and there’s more damned rules an’ conventions there than ashore. Ye can’t get away from the world, for a fact!”

Two hours later, having bathed and dined, they sat together in their room. Garrity broached what was uppermost in his mind—their immediate future.

“I’m urgin’ nothin’ on ye, Parson. Say what’s in your brain; that’s all; say what ye want to do, where ye want to go—up, down or roundabout—and I’m with ye while I’m wanted! You’re your own boss now, me lad. If ye want to go to hell again, we’ll go together!”

VENABLE laughed. He was amused by the situation and by the man Garrity. The steel in him was cropping out now.

“I’ve been a tremendous fool,” he said shortly.

“Ye have. And will ye now be a fool again?”

Venable shook his head, a curious steadiness in his deep-set eyes. “I think not.”

“Praise be!” exclaimed Garrity. “What will ye do, now? Go back to preachin’, maybe?”

“No.” Venable stroked his gray hair. “I’m an old man, Garrity, older than my years! This trip has shown me things; this trip across the Pacific has brought back to me things I’ve lost since boyhood. I don’t know just what I’ll do, but for the present—”

He paused. Then, suddenly, he smiled. “Terence Garrity, six months ago I stood high in the world; out of all my friends and brethren, not one but gave me up as a hopeless degenerate. A man who picked me up on the street, at my lowest point, is my best friend on this earth—and as long as he’ll have me, I’ll stick with him and bid the world go hang!”

“Oh!” cried Garrity, shoving forth his fist delightedly. “God love ye, Parson—shake! I was afraid ye’d be done with me. And to-morry we’ll look up a job, eh?”

Venable nodded.