I stood watching until the tiny launch
rounded the point; then, as the light was still fairly
good, it being the end of the month of
May, and as I had no inclination for sleep
as yet, I got into the smallest of the rowing boats
that were tied up alongside the wharf, loosed it and
pulled leisurely up the bay, with the intention of
making myself a little better acquainted with the
only living soul with whom I was within hail, Jake
As I ran the boat into his cove, I
could hear his dog bark warningly.
The door of his barn, for
it was nothing else, was closed, and it
was some time before I heard Meaghan’s deep
voice in answer to my knock, inviting me to come in
and bidding his dog to lie down.
Meaghan was sitting, presumably reading
a newspaper, which was the only kind of “literature”
I ever saw him read. His attitude appeared to
me to be assumed and I had a notion that, when the
dog first barked at my approach, he had been busy
with the contents of a brass-bound, wooden chest which
now lay half under his bunk, in a recess in the far
“Hello! Thought you might
come over. Sit down,” he greeted.
“Saw the boss pull out half an hour ago.
I’m just sittin’ down for my turn at
the newspaper. They leave me a bundle off the
steamer once in a while. This one’s from
the old country; the Liverpool Monitor.
It’s two months old, but what’s the dif, the
news is just as good as if it was yesterday’s
I looked round Jake’s shanty.
Considering it was a single-roomed place and used
for cooking, washing, sleeping and everything else,
it was wonderfully tidy, although, to say truth, there
was little in it after all to occasion untidiness:
a stove, a pot, a frying-pan, an enamelled tin teapot,
some crockery, a table, an oil lamp, three chairs,
the brass-bound trunk, two wheat-flake boxes and Jake’s
bed, with one other addition, a
fifteen-gallon keg with a stopcock in it and set on
a wooden stand close to his bunk.
An odour of shell-fish pervaded the
atmosphere, coming from some kind of soup made from
clams and milk, on which Jake had evidently been dining.
The residue of it still sat in a pot on the stove.
This, I discovered, was Jake’s favourite dish.
He rose, took two breakfast cups from
a shelf and went over to the keg in the corner.
He filled up both of them to the brim.
“Have a drink, George?”
he invited, offering me one of the cups.
“What is it?” I asked,
thinking it might be a cider of some kind.
“What d’ye suppose, man? ginger
beer? It’s good rye whiskey.”
From the odour, I had ascertained
this for myself before he spoke.
“No, thanks, Jake, I don’t drink.”
“Holy mackinaw!” he exclaimed,
almost dropping the cups in his astonishment.
“If you don’t drink, how in the Sam Hill
are you going to make it stick up here? Why,
man, you’ll go batty in the winter time, for
it’s lonely as hell.”
“From all accounts, Jake, hell
is not a very lonely place,” I laughed.
“Aw! you know what I mean,”
he put in.
“I’ll have plenty of work
to do in the store; enough to keep me from feeling
“Not you. Once it’s
goin’, it’ll be easy’s rollin’
off’n a log. What’ll you do o’
nights, ’specially winter nights, if
you don’t drink?”
He sat down and began to empty his
cup of liquor by the gulp.
His dog, which had been lying sullenly
on the floor near the stove, got up and ambled leisurely
to Jake’s feet. It looked up at him as
he drank, then it put its two front paws on Jake’s
knees, as if to attract his attention.
Meaghan stopped his imbibing and stroked the dog’s
“Well, well Mike; and
did I forget you?”
He poured a little liquor in a saucer
and set it down on the floor before the dog, who lapped
it up with all the relish of a seasoned toper.
Then it put its paws back on Jake’s knees, as
if asking for more.
“No! Mike. Nothin’
doin’. You’ve had your whack.
Too much ain’t good for your complexion, old
In a sort of dreamy, contemplative
mood the dog sat down on its haunches between us.
“What’ll you do o’
nights if you don’t drink? You ain’t
told me that, George,” reiterated Jake, sucking
some of the liquor from his drooping moustaches.
“Oh!” I replied, “I’ll
read, and sometimes I’ll sit out and watch the
stars and listen to the sea and the wind.”
“And what after that?” he queried.
“I can always think, when I have nothing else
“And what after that?” he asked again.
“Nothing, Jake, nothing. That’s
“No it ain’t. No
it ain’t, I tell you; after that, it’s
the bughouse for yours. It’s the thinking, it’s
the thinking that does it every time. It’s
the last stage, George. You’ll be clean,
plumb batty inside o’ six months.”
The dog got up, after two unsuccessful attempts.
Never did I see such a strange sight
in any animal. He put out one paw and staggered
to the right. He put out another and staggered
to the left. All the time, his eyes were half
closed. He was quite insensible of our presence,
for he was as drunk as any waterfront loafer.
Staggering, stumbling and balancing, he made his way
back to his place beside the stove, where, in a moment
more, he was in a deep sleep and snoring, as
a Westerner would put it, to beat the cars.
Meaghan noticed my interest in the phenomenon.
he volunteered. “Mike has his drink with
me every night, for the sake o’ company.
Why not? He doesn’t see any fun in lookin’
at the stars and watching the tide come up o’
nights. Worst is, he can’t stand up to
liquor. It kind o’ gets his goat; yet he’s
been tipplin’ for three years now.”
Jake finished off his cup of whisky.
“Good Heavens, man!” I
exclaimed in disgust and dismay, “don’t
you know you will kill yourself drinking that stuff
in that way?”
“Guess nit,” he growled,
but quite good-naturedly. “I ain’t
started. I’ve been drinkin’ more’n
that every night for ten years and I ain’t dead
yet, not by a damn sight. No! nor
I ain’t never been drunk, neither.”
He took up the other cupful of whisky
as he spoke and slowly drained it off before my eyes.
He laid the empty cup on the table with a grunt of
satisfaction, pulling at his long moustaches in lazy
“That’s my nightcap, George.
Better’n seein’ stars, too.”
I could see his end.
“I’d much rather see stars
than snakes,” I remarked. But Jake merely
laughed it off.
I rose in a kind of cold perspiration.
To me, this was horrible; drinking for
no apparent reason.
He came with me to the door.
His voice was as steady as could be; so were his
legs. The effects of the liquor he had consumed
did not show on him except maybe for a bloodshot appearance
in the whites of his baby-blue eyes.
I was worried. I had known such
another as Jake in the little village of Brammerton;
and I knew what the inevitable end had been and what
Jake’s would be also.
“Don’t be sore at me,
George,” he pleaded. “It’s
the only friend I got now.”
“It is not any friend of yours, Jake.”
“Well, maybe it ain’t,
but I think it is and that’s about the only way
we can reckon our friends.
“When you find I ain’t
doin’ my share o’ the work because o’
the booze or when you catch me drunk, I’ll
quit it. Good-night, George.”
I wished him good-night gruffly, hurried
over the beach, scrambled into the boat and rowed
quickly for my new home.
And, as I stood on the veranda for
a long time before turning in, I watched the moon
rise and skim her way behind and above the clouds,
throwing, as she did so, great dark shadows and eerie
lights on the sea.
In the vast, awesome stillness of
the forest behind and the swishing and shuffling of
the incoming tide on the shingles on the beach, I
thought of what my good friend, K. B. Horsfal, had
“Where every prospect pleases and only man is