Read CHAPTER VI - Aboard the Coaster of My Brave and Gallant Gentleman, free online book, by Robert Watson, on ReadCentral.com.

An ordinary seaman, then the second officer of the little steamer passed me on the deck, but both were busy and paid no more attention to my presence than if I had been one of themselves.

I strolled down the narrow companionway, into a cosy, but somewhat cramped, saloon.

After standing for a time in the hope of seeing some signs of life, I pushed open the door of a stateroom on the starboard side. The room had two berths. I tossed my knapsack and clubs into the lower one. As I turned to the door again, I espied a diminutive individual, no more than four and a half feet tall, or, as I should say, small, in the full, gold-braided uniform of a ship’s chief steward.

He was a queer-looking little customer, grizzled, weather-beaten and, apparently, as hard as nails. He was absolutely self-possessed and, despite his stature, there was “nothing small about him,” as an American friend of mine used to put it.

He touched his cap, and smiled. His smile told me at once that he was an Irishman, for only an Irishman could smile as he did. It was a smile with a joke, a drink, a kiss and a touch of the devil himself in it.

“I saw ye come down, sor. Ye’ll be makin’ for Glasgow?”

Glasgow! I cogitated, yes! Glasgow as a starting point would suit me as well as anywhere else.

“Correct first guess,” I answered. “But, tell me, how did you know that that was my destination?”

He showed his teeth.

“Och! because it’s the only port we’re callin’ at, sor. Looks like a fine trip north,” he went on. “The weather’s warm and there’s just enough breeze to make it lively. Nothin’ like the sea, sor, for keepin’ the stomach swate and the mind up to the knocker.”

I yawned, for I was dog-weary.

“When ye get to Glasgow, if ye are on the lookout for a place to slape, try Barney O’Toole’s in Argyle Street. The place is nothin’ to look at, but it’s a hummer inside, sor.”

I yawned drowsily once more, but the hint did not stop him.

“If you’ll excuse my inquisitiveness, sor, or rather, what ye might call my natural insight, I judge you’re on either a moighty short tour, or a devil av a long one got up in a hurry.”

The little clatterbag’s uncanny guessing harried me.

“How do you arrive at your conclusions?” I asked, taking off my jacket and hanging it up.

“Och! shure it’s by the size av your wardrobe. No man goes on a well-planned, long trip with a knapsack and a bag av golfsticks.”

“Well, it is likely to be long enough,” I laughed ruefully.

“Had a row with the old man and clearin’ out?” he sympathised. “Well, good luck to yer enterprise. I did the same meself when I was thirteen; after gettin’ a hidin’ with a bit av harness for doin’ somethin’ I never did at all. I’ve never seen the old man since and never want to. Bad cess to him.

“Would ye like a bite before ye turn in, sor? It’s past supper-time, but I can find ye a scrapin’ av something.”

“A bite and a bath, if I may?” I put in. “I’m sticky all over.”

“A bath! Right ye are. I knew ye was a toff the minute I clapped my blinkers on ye.”

In ten minutes my talkative friend announced that my bath was in readiness. For ten minutes more he rattled on to me at intervals, through the bathroom door, poking into my past and arranging my future like a clairvoyant.

Notwithstanding, he had a nice, steaming-hot supper waiting for me when I returned to my stateroom.

As I fell-to, he stood by, enjoying the relish I displayed in the appeasing of my hunger.

“If I was a young fellow av your age, strong build and qualities, do ye know where I would make for?” he ventured.

“Where?” I asked, uninterestedly.

He lowered his eyebrows. “Out West, Canada,” he said, with a decided nod of his head. “And, the farther west the better. The Pacific Coast has a climate like home, only better. For the main part, ye’re away from the long winters; it’s a new country; a young man’s country: it’s wild and free: and, it’s about as far away as ye can get from from, the trouble ye’re leavin’ behind.”

I looked across at him.

“Oh! bhoy, I’ve been there. I know what I’m talkin’ about.”

He sighed. “But I’m gettin’ old and I’ve been too long on the sea to give it up.”

He pulled himself together suddenly. Owing to his stature, that was not a very difficult task.

“Man! ye’re tired. I’ll be talkin’ no more to you. Tumble in and sleep till we get to Glasgow.”

As he cleared away the dishes, I approached him regarding my fare.

“Look here, steward, I had not time to book my berth or pay my passage. What’s the damage?”

“Ten and six, sor, exclusive av meals,” he answered, taking out his ticket book in a business-like way.

“What name, sor?”

“Name! oh, yes! name!” I stammered. “Why! George Bremner.”

He looked at me and his face fell. I am sure his estimation of me fell with it. I was almost sorry I had not obliged him by calling myself Algernon something-or-other.

I paid him.

“When do you expect to arrive in Glasgow?” I asked.

“Eight o’clock to-morrow morning, sor. And,” he added, “there’s a boat leaves for Canada to-morrow night.”

“The devil it does,” I grunted.

He gave me another of his infectious smiles.

“Would ye like another bath in the mornin’, sor, before breakfast?” he inquired, as he was leaving.

I could not bear to disappoint the little fellow any more.

“Yes,” I replied.

Quarter of an hour later, I was lying on my back in the upper berth, gazing drowsily into the white-enamelled ceiling two feet overhead; happy in the reborn sensations of cleanliness, relaxation and satisfaction; loving my enemies as well, or almost as well, as I loved my friends. I could not get the little steward’s advice out of my head. In a jumbled medley, “Out West, out West, out West,” kept floating before my brain. “The Pacific Coast. Home climate, only better. A new country. A young man’s country. Wild and free. It’s about as far away as ye can get, as ye can get, can get, can get.”

The rumbling of the cargo trucks, the hoarse “lower away” of the quartermaster, the whirr of the steam winch and the lapping of the water against the boat, all intermingled, then died away and still farther away, until only the quietest of these sounds remained, the lapping of the sea and “Canada, Canada, Canada.” They kept up their communications with me, sighing and singing, the merest murmurings of the wind in a sea shell: soothing accompaniments to my unremembered dreams.