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