The Reluctant Voyagers By Stephen Crane
Two men sat by the sea waves.
“Well, I know I’m not handsome,” said one gloomily. He was poking holes in the sand with a discontented cane.
The companion was watching the waves play. He seemed overcome with perspiring discomfort as a man who is resolved to set another man right.
Suddenly his mouth turned into a straight line.
“To be sure you are not,” he cried vehemently.
“You look like thunder. I do not desire to be unpleasant, but I must assure you that your freckled skin continually reminds spectators of white wall paper with gilt roses on it. The top of your head looks like a little wooden plate. And your figure–heavens!”
For a time they were silent. They stared at the waves that purred near their feet like sleepy sea-kittens.
Finally the first man spoke.
“Well,” said he, defiantly, “what of it?”
“What of it?” exploded the other. “Why, it means that you’d look like blazes in a bathing-suit.”
They were again silent. The freckled man seemed ashamed. His tall companion glowered at the scenery.
“I am decided,” said the freckled man suddenly. He got boldly up from the sand and strode away. The tall man followed, walking sarcastically and glaring down at the round, resolute figure before him.
A bath-clerk was looking at the world with superior eyes through a hole in a board. To him the freckled man made application, waving his hands over his person in illustration of a snug fit. The bath-clerk thought profoundly. Eventually, he handed out a blue bundle with an air of having phenomenally solved the freckled man’s dimensions.
The latter resumed his resolute stride.
“See here,” said the tall man, following him, “I bet you’ve got a regular toga, you know. That fellow couldn’t tell–”
“Yes, he could,” interrupted the freckled man, “I saw correct mathematics in his eyes.”
“Well, supposin’ he has missed your size. Supposin’–”
“Tom,” again interrupted the other, “produce your proud clothes and we’ll go in.”
The tall man swore bitterly. He went to one of a row of little wooden boxes and shut himself in it. His companion repaired to a similar box.
At first he felt like an opulent monk in a too-small cell, and he turned round two or three times to see if he could. He arrived finally into his bathing-dress. Immediately he dropped gasping upon a three-cornered bench. The suit fell in folds about his reclining form. There was silence, save for the caressing calls of the waves without.
Then he heard two shoes drop on the floor in one of the little coops. He began to clamor at the boards like a penitent at an unforgiving door.
“Tom,” called he, “Tom–”
A voice of wrath, muffled by cloth, came through the walls. “You go t’ blazes!”
The freckled man began to groan, taking the occupants of the entire row of coops into his confidence.
“Stop your noise,” angrily cried the tall man from his hidden den. “You rented the bathing-suit, didn’t you? Then–”
“It ain’t a bathing-suit,” shouted the freckled man at the boards. “It’s an auditorium, a ballroom, or something. It isn’t a bathing-suit.”
The tall man came out of his box. His suit looked like blue skin. He walked with grandeur down the alley between the rows of coops. Stopping in front of his friend’s door, he rapped on it with passionate knuckles.
“Come out of there, y’ ol’ fool,” said he, in an enraged whisper. “It’s only your accursed vanity. Wear it anyhow. What difference does it make? I never saw such a vain ol’ idiot!”
As he was storming the door opened, and his friend confronted him. The tall man’s legs gave way, and he fell against the opposite door.
The freckled man regarded him sternly.
“You’re an ass,” he said.
His back curved in scorn. He walked majestically down the alley. There was pride in the way his chubby feet patted the boards. The tall man followed, weakly, his eyes riveted upon the figure ahead.
As a disguise the freckled man had adopted the stomach of importance. He moved with an air of some sort of procession, across a board walk, down some steps, and out upon the sand.
There was a pug dog and three old women on a bench, a man and a maid with a book and a parasol, a seagull drifting high in the wind, and a distant, tremendous meeting of sea and sky. Down on the wet sand stood a girl being wooed by the breakers.
The freckled man moved with stately tread along the beach. The tall man, numb with amazement, came in the rear. They neared the girl.
Suddenly the tall man was seized with convulsions. He laughed, and the girl turned her head.
She perceived the freckled man in the bathing-suit. An expression of wonderment overspread her charming face. It changed in a moment to a pearly smile.
This smile seemed to smite the freckled man. He obviously tried to swell and fit his suit. Then he turned a shrivelling glance upon his companion, and fled up the beach. The tall man ran after him, pursuing with mocking cries that tingled his flesh like stings of insects. He seemed to be trying to lead the way out of the world. But at last he stopped and faced about.
“Tom Sharp,” said he, between his clenched teeth, “you are an unutterable wretch! I could grind your bones under my heel.”
The tall man was in a trance, with glazed eyes fixed on the bathing- dress. He seemed to be murmuring: “Oh, good Lord! Oh, good Lord! I never saw such a suit!”
The freckled man made the gesture of an assassin.
“Tom Sharp, you–”
The other was still murmuring: “Oh, good Lord! I never saw such a suit! I never–”
The freckled man ran down into the sea.
The cool, swirling waters took his temper from him, and it became a thing that is lost in the ocean. The tall man floundered in, and the two forgot and rollicked in the waves.
The freckled man, in endeavoring to escape from mankind, had left all save a solitary fisherman under a large hat, and three boys in bathing- dress, laughing and splashing upon a raft made of old spars.
The two men swam softly over the ground swells.
The three boys dived from their raft, and turned their jolly faces shorewards. It twisted slowly around and around, and began to move seaward on some unknown voyage. The freckled man laid his face to the water and swam toward the raft with a practised stroke. The tall man followed, his bended arm appearing and disappearing with the precision of machinery.
The craft crept away, slowly and wearily, as if luring. The little wooden plate on the freckled man’s head looked at the shore like a round, brown eye, but his gaze was fixed on the raft that slyly appeared to be waiting. The tall man used the little wooden plate as a beacon.
At length the freckled man reached the raft and climbed aboard. He lay down on his back and puffed. His bathing-dress spread about him like a dead balloon. The tall man came, snorted, shook his tangled locks and lay down by the side of his companion.
They were overcome with a delicious drowsiness. The planks of the raft seemed to fit their tired limbs. They gazed dreamily up into the vast sky of summer.
“This is great,” said the tall man. His companion grunted blissfully.
Gentle hands from the sea rocked their craft and lulled them to peace. Lapping waves sang little rippling sea-songs about them. The two men issued contented groans.
“Tom,” said the freckled man.
“What?” said the other.
“This is great.”
They lay and thought.
A fish-hawk, soaring, suddenly, turned and darted at the waves. The tall man indolently twisted his head and watched the bird plunge its claws into the water. It heavily arose with a silver gleaming fish.
“That bird has got his feet wet again. It’s a shame,” murmured the tall man sleepily. “He must suffer from an endless cold in the head. He should wear rubber boots. They’d look great, too. If I was him, I’d– Great Scott!”
He had partly arisen, and was looking at the shore.
He began to scream. “Ted! Ted! Ted! Look!”
“What’s matter?” dreamily spoke the freckled man. “You remind me of when I put the bird-shot in your leg.” He giggled softly.
The agitated tall man made a gesture of supreme eloquence. His companion up-reared and turned a startled gaze shoreward.
“Lord!” he roared, as if stabbed.
The land was a long, brown streak with a rim of green, in which sparkled the tin roofs of huge hotels. The hands from the sea had pushed them away. The two men sprang erect, and did a little dance of perturbation.
“What shall we do? What shall we do?” moaned the freckled man, wriggling fantastically in his dead balloon.
The changing shore seemed to fascinate the tall man, and for a time he did not speak.
Suddenly he concluded his minuet of horror. He wheeled about and faced the freckled man. He elaborately folded his arms.
“So,” he said, in slow, formidable tones. “So! This all comes from your accursed vanity, your bathing-suit, your idiocy; you have murdered your best friend.”
He turned away. His companion reeled as if stricken by an unexpected arm.
He stretched out his hands. “Tom, Tom,” wailed he, beseechingly, “don’t be such a fool.”
The broad back of his friend was occupied by a contemptuous sneer.
Three ships fell off the horizon. Landward, the hues were blending. The whistle of a locomotive sounded from an infinite distance as if tooting in heaven.
“Tom! Tom! My dear boy,” quavered the freckled man, “don’t speak that way to me.”
“Oh, no, of course not,” said the other, still facing away and throwing the words over his shoulder. “You suppose I am going to accept all this calmly, don’t you? Not make the slightest objection? Make no protest at all, hey?”
“Well, I–I—-” began the freckled man.
The tall man’s wrath suddenly exploded. “You’ve abducted me! That’s the whole amount of it! You’ve abducted me!”
“I ain’t,” protested the freckled man. “You must think I’m a fool.”
The tall man swore, and sitting down, dangled his legs angrily in the water. Natural law compelled his companion to occupy the other end of the raft.
Over the waters little shoals of fish spluttered, raising tiny tempests. Languid jelly-fish floated near, tremulously waving a thousand legs. A row of porpoises trundled along like a procession of cog-wheels. The sky became greyed save where over the land sunset colors were assembling.
The two voyagers, back to back and at either end of the raft, quarrelled at length.
“What did you want to follow me for?” demanded the freckled man in a voice of indignation.
“If your figure hadn’t been so like a bottle, we wouldn’t be here,” replied the tall man.
The fires in the west blazed away, and solemnity spread over the sea. Electric lights began to blink like eyes. Night menaced the voyagers with a dangerous darkness, and fear came to bind their souls together. They huddled fraternally in the middle of the raft.
“I feel like a molecule,” said the freckled man in subdued tones.
“I’d give two dollars for a cigar,” muttered the tall man.
A V-shaped flock of ducks flew towards Barnegat, between the voyagers and a remnant of yellow sky. Shadows and winds came from the vanished eastern horizon.
“I think I hear voices,” said the freckled man.
“That Dollie Ramsdell was an awfully nice girl,” said the tall man.
When the coldness of the sea night came to them, the freckled man found he could by a peculiar movement of his legs and arms encase himself in his bathing-dress. The tall man was compelled to whistle and shiver. As night settled finally over the sea, red and green lights began to dot the blackness. There were mysterious shadows between the waves.
“I see things comin’,” murmured the freckled man.
“I wish I hadn’t ordered that new dress-suit for the hop to-morrow night,” said the tall man reflectively.
The sea became uneasy and heaved painfully, like a lost bosom, when little forgotten heart-bells try to chime with a pure sound. The voyagers cringed at magnified foam on distant wave crests. A moon came and looked at them.
“Somebody’s here,” whispered the freckled man.
“I wish I had an almanac,” remarked the tall man, regarding the moon.
Presently they fell to staring at the red and green lights that twinkled about them.
“Providence will not leave us,” asserted the freckled man.
“Oh, we’ll be picked up shortly. I owe money,” said the tall man.
He began to thrum on an imaginary banjo.
“I have heard,” said he, suddenly, “that captains with healthy ships beneath their feet will never turn back after having once started on a voyage. In that case we will be rescued by some ship bound for the golden seas of the south. Then, you’ll be up to some of your confounded devilment and we’ll get put off. They’ll maroon us! That’s what they’ll do! They’ll maroon us! On an island with palm trees and sun-kissed maidens and all that. Sun-kissed maidens, eh? Great! They’d–”
He suddenly ceased and turned to stone. At a distance a great, green eye was contemplating the sea wanderers.
They stood up and did another dance. As they watched the eye grew larger.
Directly the form of a phantom-like ship came into view. About the great, green eye there bobbed small yellow dots. The wanderers could hear a far-away creaking of unseen tackle and flapping of shadowy sails. There came the melody of the waters as the ship’s prow thrust its way.
The tall man delivered an oration.
“Ha!” he exclaimed, “here come our rescuers. The brave fellows! How I long to take the manly captain by the hand! You will soon see a white boat with a star on its bow drop from the side of yon ship. Kind sailors in blue and white will help us into the boat and conduct our wasted frames to the quarter-deck, where the handsome, bearded captain, with gold bands all around, will welcome us. Then in the hard-oak cabin, while the wine gurgles and the Havanas glow, we’ll tell our tale of peril and privation.”
The ship came on like a black hurrying animal with froth-filled maw. The two wanderers stood up and clasped hands. Then they howled out a wild duet that rang over the wastes of sea.
The cries seemed to strike the ship.
Men with boots on yelled and ran about the deck. They picked up heavy articles and threw them down. They yelled more. After hideous creakings and flappings, the vessel stood still.
In the meantime the wanderers had been chanting their song for help. Out in the blackness they beckoned to the ship and coaxed.
A voice came to them.
“Hello,” it said.
They puffed out their cheeks and began to shout. “Hello! Hello! Hello!”
“Wot do yeh want?” said the voice.
The two wanderers gazed at each other, and sat suddenly down on the raft. Some pall came sweeping over the sky and quenched their stars.
But almost the tall man got up and brawled miscellaneous information. He stamped his foot, and frowning into the night, swore threateningly.
The vessel seemed fearful of these moaning voices that called from a hidden cavern of the water. And now one voice was filled with a menace. A number of men with enormous limbs that threw vast shadows over the sea as the lanterns flickered, held a debate and made gestures.
Off in the darkness, the tall man began to clamor like a mob. The freckled man sat in astounded silence, with his legs weak.
After a time one of the men of enormous limbs seized a rope that was tugging at the stem and drew a small boat from the shadows. Three giants clambered in and rowed cautiously toward the raft. Silver water flashed in the gloom as the oars dipped.
About fifty feet from the raft the boat stopped. “Who er you?” asked a voice.
The tall man braced himself and explained. He drew vivid pictures, his twirling fingers illustrating like live brushes.
“Oh,” said the three giants.
The voyagers deserted the raft. They looked back, feeling in their hearts a mite of tenderness for the wet planks. Later, they wriggled up the side of the vessel and climbed over the railing.
On deck they met a man.
He held a lantern to their faces. “Got any chewin’ tewbacca?” he inquired.
“No,” said the tall man, “we ain’t.”
The man had a bronze face and solitary whiskers. Peculiar lines about his mouth were shaped into an eternal smile of derision. His feet were bare, and clung handily to crevices.
Fearful trousers were supported by a piece of suspender that went up the wrong side of his chest and came down the right side of his back, dividing him into triangles.
“Ezekiel P. Sanford, capt’in, schooner ‘Mary Jones,’ of N’yack, N. Y., genelmen,” he said.
“Ah!” said the tall man, “delighted, I’m sure.”
There were a few moments of silence. The giants were hovering in the gloom and staring.
Suddenly astonishment exploded the captain.
“Wot th’ devil—-” he shouted. “Wot th’ devil yeh got on?”
“Bathing-suits,” said the tall man.
The schooner went on. The two voyagers sat down and watched. After a time they began to shiver. The soft blackness of the summer night passed away, and grey mists writhed over the sea. Soon lights of early dawn went changing across the sky, and the twin beacons on the highlands grew dim and sparkling faintly, as if a monster were dying. The dawn penetrated the marrow of the two men in bathing-dress.
The captain used to pause opposite them, hitch one hand in his suspender, and laugh.
“Well, I be dog-hanged,” he frequently said.
The tall man grew furious. He snarled in a mad undertone to his companion. “This rescue ain’t right. If I had known–”
He suddenly paused, transfixed by the captain’s suspender. “It’s goin’ to break,” cried he, in an ecstatic whisper. His eyes grew large with excitement as he watched the captain laugh. “It’ll break in a minute, sure.”
But the commander of the schooner recovered, and invited them to drink and eat. They followed him along the deck, and fell down a square black hole into the cabin.
It was a little den, with walls of a vanished whiteness. A lamp shed an orange light. In a sort of recess two little beds were hiding. A wooden table, immovable, as if the craft had been builded around it, sat in the middle of the floor. Overhead the square hole was studded with a dozen stars. A foot-worn ladder led to the heavens.
The captain produced ponderous crackers and some cold broiled ham. Then he vanished in the firmament like a fantastic comet.
The freckled man sat quite contentedly like a stout squaw in a blanket. The tall man walked about the cabin and sniffed. He was angered at the crudeness of the rescue, and his shrinking clothes made him feel too large. He contemplated his unhappy state.
Suddenly, he broke out. “I won’t stand this, I tell you! Heavens and earth, look at the–say, what in the blazes did you want to get me in this thing for, anyhow? You’re a fine old duffer, you are! Look at that ham!”
The freckled man grunted. He seemed somewhat blissful. He was seated upon a bench, comfortably enwrapped in his bathing-dress.
The tall man stormed about the cabin.
“This is an outrage! I’ll see the captain! I’ll tell him what I think of–”
He was interrupted by a pair of legs that appeared among the stars. The captain came down the ladder. He brought a coffee pot from the sky.
The tall man bristled forward. He was going to denounce everything.
The captain was intent upon the coffee pot, balancing it carefully, and leaving his unguided feet to find the steps of the ladder.
But the wrath of the tall man faded. He twirled his fingers in excitement, and renewed his ecstatic whisperings to the freckled man.
“It’s going to break! Look, quick, look! It’ll break in a minute!”
He was transfixed with interest, forgetting his wrongs in staring at the perilous passage.
But the captain arrived on the floor with triumphant suspenders.
“Well,” said he, “after yeh have eat, maybe ye’d like t’sleep some! If so, yeh can sleep on them beds.”
The tall man made no reply, save in a strained undertone. “It’ll break in about a minute! Look, Ted, look quick!”
The freckled man glanced in a little bed on which were heaped boots and oilskins. He made a courteous gesture.
“My dear sir, we could not think of depriving you of your beds. No, indeed. Just a couple of blankets if you have them, and we’ll sleep very comfortable on these benches.”
The captain protested, politely twisting his back and bobbing his head. The suspenders tugged and creaked. The tall man partially suppressed a cry, and took a step forward.
The freckled man was sleepily insistent, and shortly the captain gave over his deprecatory contortions. He fetched a pink quilt with yellow dots on it to the freckled man, and a black one with red roses on it to the tall man.
Again he vanished in the firmament. The tall man gazed until the last remnant of trousers disappeared from the sky. Then he wrapped himself up in his quilt and lay down. The freckled man was puffing contentedly, swathed like an infant. The yellow polka-dots rose and fell on the vast pink of his chest.
The wanderers slept. In the quiet could be heard the groanings of timbers as the sea seemed to crunch them together. The lapping of water along the vessel’s side sounded like gaspings. A hundred spirits of the wind had got their wings entangled in the rigging, and, in soft voices, were pleading to be loosened.
The freckled man was awakened by a foreign noise. He opened his eyes and saw his companion standing by his couch.
His comrade’s face was wan with suffering. His eyes glowed in the darkness. He raised his arms, spreading them out like a clergyman at a grave. He groaned deep in his chest.
“Good Lord!” yelled the freckled man, starting up. “Tom, Tom, what’s th’ matter?”
The tall man spoke in a fearful voice. “To New York,” he said, “to New York in our bathing-suits.”
The freckled man sank back. The shadows of the cabin threw mysteries about the figure of the tall man, arrayed like some ancient and potent astrologer in the black quilt with the red roses on it.
Directly the tall man went and lay down and began to groan.
The freckled man felt the miseries of the world upon him. He grew angry at the tall man awakening him. They quarrelled.
“Well,” said the tall man, finally, “we’re in a fix.”
“I know that,” said the other, sharply.
They regarded the ceiling in silence.
“What in the thunder are we going to do?” demanded the tall man, after a time. His companion was still silent. “Say,” repeated he, angrily, “what in the thunder are we going to do?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said the freckled man in a dismal voice.
“Well, think of something,” roared the other. “Think of something, you old fool. You don’t want to make any more idiots of yourself, do you?”
“I ain’t made an idiot of myself.”
“Well, think. Know anybody in the city?”
“I know a fellow up in Harlem,” said the freckled man.
“You know a fellow up in Harlem,” howled the tall man. “Up in Harlem! How the dickens are we to–say, you’re crazy!”
“We can take a cab,” cried the other, waxing indignant.
The tall man grew suddenly calm. “Do you know any one else?” he asked, measuredly.
“I know another fellow somewhere on Park Place.”
“Somewhere on Park Place,” repeated the tall man in an unnatural manner. “Somewhere on Park Place.” With an air of sublime resignation he turned his face to the wall.
The freckled man sat erect and frowned in the direction of his companion. “Well, now, I suppose you are going to sulk. You make me ill! It’s the best we can do, ain’t it? Hire a cab and go look that fellow up on Park–What’s that? You can’t afford it? What nonsense! You are getting–Oh! Well, maybe we can beg some clothes of the captain. Eh? Did I see ‘im? Certainly, I saw ‘im. Yes, it is improbable that a man who wears trousers like that can have clothes to lend. No, I won’t wear oilskins and a sou’-wester. To Athens? Of course not! I don’t know where it is. Do you? I thought not. With all your grumbling about other people, you never know anything important yourself. What? Broadway? I’ll be hanged first. We can get off at Harlem, man alive. There are no cabs in Harlem. I don’t think we can bribe a sailor to take us ashore and bring a cab to the dock, for the very simple reason that we have nothing to bribe him with. What? No, of course not. See here, Tom Sharp, don’t you swear at me like that. I won’t have it. What’s that? I ain’t, either. I ain’t. What? I am not. It’s no such thing. I ain’t. I’ve got more than you have, anyway. Well, you ain’t doing anything so very brilliant yourself–just lying there and cussin’.” At length the tall man feigned prodigiously to snore. The freckled man thought with such vigor that he fell asleep.
After a time he dreamed that he was in a forest where bass drums grew on trees. There came a strong wind that banged the fruit about like empty pods. A frightful din was in his ears.
He awoke to find the captain of the schooner standing over him.
“We’re at New York now,” said the captain, raising his voice above the thumping and banging that was being done on deck, “an’ I s’pose you fellers wanta go ashore.” He chuckled in an exasperating manner. “Jes’ sing out when yeh wanta go,” he added, leering at the freckled man.
The tall man awoke, came over and grasped the captain by the throat.
“If you laugh again I’ll kill you,” he said.
The captain gurgled and waved his legs and arms.
“In the first place,” the tall man continued, “you rescued us in a deucedly shabby manner. It makes me ill to think of it. I’ve a mind to mop you ’round just for that. In the second place, your vessel is bound for Athens, N. Y., and there’s no sense in it. Now, will you or will you not turn this ship about and take us back where our clothes are, or to Philadelphia, where we belong?”
He furiously shook the captain. Then he eased his grip and awaited a reply.
“I can’t,” yelled the captain, “I can’t. This vessel don’t belong to me. I’ve got to–”
“Well, then,” interrupted the tall man, “can you lend us some clothes?”
“Hain’t got none,” replied the captain, promptly. His face was red, and his eyes were glaring.
“Well, then,” said the tall man, “can you lend us some money?”
“Hain’t got none,” replied the captain, promptly. Something overcame him and he laughed.
“Thunderation,” roared the tall man. He seized the captain, who began to have wriggling contortions. The tall man kneaded him as if he were biscuits. “You infernal scoundrel,” he bellowed, “this whole affair is some wretched plot, and you are in it. I am about to kill you.”
The solitary whisker of the captain did acrobatic feats like a strange demon upon his chin. His eyes stood perilously from his head. The suspender wheezed and tugged like the tackle of a sail.
Suddenly the tall man released his hold. Great expectancy sat upon his features. “It’s going to break!” he cried, rubbing his hands.
But the captain howled and vanished in the sky.
The freckled man then came forward. He appeared filled with sarcasm.
“So!” said he. “So, you’ve settled the matter. The captain is the only man in the world who can help us, and I daresay he’ll do anything he can now.”
“That’s all right,” said the tall man. “If you don’t like the way I run things you shouldn’t have come on this trip at all.”
They had another quarrel.
At the end of it they went on deck. The captain stood at the stern addressing the bow with opprobrious language. When he perceived the voyagers he began to fling his fists about in the air.
“I’m goin’ to put yeh off!” he yelled. The wanderers stared at each other.
“Hum,” said the tall man.
The freckled man looked at his companion. “He’s going to put us off, you see,” he said, complacently.
The tall man began to walk about and move his shoulders. “I’d like to see you do it,” he said, defiantly.
The captain tugged at a rope. A boat came at his bidding.
“I’d like to see you do it,” the tall man repeated, continually. An imperturbable man in rubber boots climbed down in the boat and seized the oars. The captain motioned downward. His whisker had a triumphant appearance.
The two wanderers looked at the boat. “I guess we’ll have to get in,” murmured the freckled man.
The tall man was standing like a granite column. “I won’t,” said he. “I won’t! I don’t care what you do, but I won’t!”
“Well, but–” expostulated the other. They held a furious debate.
In the meantime the captain was darting about making sinister gestures, but the back of the tall man held him at bay. The crew, much depleted by the departure of the imperturbable man into the boat, looked on from the bow.
“You’re a fool,” the freckled man concluded his argument.
“So?” inquired the tall man, highly exasperated.
“So! Well, if you think you’re so bright, we’ll go in the boat, and then you’ll see.”
He climbed down into the craft and seated himself in an ominous manner at the stern.
“You’ll see,” he said to his companion, as the latter floundered heavily down. “You’ll see!”
The man in rubber boots calmly rowed the boat toward the shore. As they went, the captain leaned over the railing and laughed. The freckled man was seated very victoriously.
“Well, wasn’t this the right thing after all?” he inquired in a pleasant voice. The tall man made no reply.
As they neared the dock something seemed suddenly to occur to the freckled man.
“Great heavens!” he murmured. He stared at the approaching shore.
“My, what a plight, Tommy!” he quavered.
“Do you think so?” spoke up the tall man. “Why, I really thought you liked it.” He laughed in a hard voice. “Lord, what a figure you’ll cut.”
This laugh jarred the freckled man’s soul. He became mad.
“Thunderation, turn the boat around!” he roared. “Turn ‘er round, quick! Man alive, we can’t–turn ‘er round, d’ye hear!”
The tall man in the stern gazed at his companion with glowing eyes.
“Certainly not,” he said. “We’re going on. You insisted Upon it.” He began to prod his companion with words.
The freckled man stood up and waved his arms.
“Sit down,” said the tall man. “You’ll tip the boat over.”
The other man began to shout.
“Sit down!” said the tall man again.
Words bubbled from the freckled man’s mouth. There was a little torrent of sentences that almost choked him. And he protested passionately with his hands.
But the boat went on to the shadow of the docks. The tall man was intent upon balancing it as it rocked dangerously during his comrade’s oration.
“Sit down,” he continually repeated.
“I won’t,” raged the freckled man. “I won’t do anything.” The boat wobbled with these words.
“Say,” he continued, addressing the oarsman, “just turn this boat round, will you? Where in the thunder are you taking us to, anyhow?”
The oarsman looked at the sky and thought. Finally he spoke. “I’m doin’ what the cap’n sed.”
“Well, what in th’ blazes do I care what the cap’n sed?” demanded the freckled man. He took a violent step. “You just turn this round or–”
The small craft reeled. Over one side water came flashing in. The freckled man cried out in fear, and gave a jump to the other side. The tall man roared orders, and the oarsman made efforts. The boat acted for a moment like an animal on a slackened wire. Then it upset.
“Sit down!” said the tall man, in a final roar as he was plunged into the water. The oarsman dropped his oars to grapple with the gunwale. He went down saying unknown words. The freckled man’s explanation or apology was strangled by the water.
Two or three tugs let off whistles of astonishment, and continued on their paths. A man dozing on a dock aroused and began to caper.
The passengers on a ferry-boat all ran to the near railing. A miraculous person in a small boat was bobbing on the waves near the piers. He sculled hastily toward the scene. It was a swirl of waters in the midst of which the dark bottom of the boat appeared, whale-like.
Two heads suddenly came up.
“839,” said the freckled man, chokingly. “That’s it! 839!”
“What is?” said the tall man.
“That’s the number of that feller on Park Place. I just remembered.”
“You’re the bloomingest–” the tall man said.
“It wasn’t my fault,” interrupted his companion. “If you hadn’t–” He tried to gesticulate, but one hand held to the keel of the boat, and the other was supporting the form of the oarsman. The latter had fought a battle with his immense rubber boots and had been conquered.
The rescuer in the other small boat came fiercely. As his craft glided up, he reached out and grasped the tall man by the collar and dragged him into the boat, interrupting what was, under the circumstances, a very brilliant flow of rhetoric directed at the freckled man. The oarsman of the wrecked craft was taken tenderly over the gunwale and laid in the bottom of the boat. Puffing and blowing, the freckled man climbed in.
“You’ll upset this one before we can get ashore,” the other voyager remarked.
As they turned toward the land they saw that the nearest dock was lined with people. The freckled man gave a little moan.
But the staring eyes of the crowd were fixed on the limp form of the man in rubber boots. A hundred hands reached down to help lift the body up. On the dock some men grabbed it and began to beat it and roll it. A policeman tossed the spectators about. Each individual in the heaving crowd sought to fasten his eyes on the blue-tinted face of the man in the rubber boots. They surged to and fro, while the policeman beat them indiscriminately.
The wanderers came modestly up the dock and gazed shrinkingly at the throng. They stood for a moment, holding their breath to see the first finger of amazement levelled at them.
But the crowd bended and surged in absorbing anxiety to view the man in rubber boots, whose face fascinated them. The sea-wanderers were as though they were not there.
They stood without the jam and whispered hurriedly.
“839,” said the freckled man.
“All right,” said the tall man.
Under the pommeling hands the oarsman showed signs of life. The voyagers watched him make a protesting kick at the leg of the crowd, the while uttering angry groans.
“He’s better,” said the tall man, softly; “let’s make off.”
Together they stole noiselessly up the dock. Directly in front of it they found a row of six cabs.
The drivers on top were filled with a mighty curiosity. They had driven hurriedly from the adjacent ferry-house when they had seen the first running sign of an accident. They were straining on their toes and gazing at the tossing backs of the men in the crowd.
The wanderers made a little detour, and then went rapidly towards a cab. They stopped in front of it and looked up.
“Driver,” called the tall man, softly.
The man was intent.
“Driver,” breathed the freckled man. They stood for a moment and gazed imploringly.
The cabman suddenly moved his feet. “By Jimmy, I bet he’s a gonner,” he said, in an ecstacy, and he again relapsed into a statue.
The freckled man groaned and wrung his hands. The tall man climbed into the cab.
“Come in here,” he said to his companion. The freckled man climbed in, and the tall man reached over and pulled the door shut. Then he put his head out the window.
“Driver,” he roared, sternly, “839 Park Place–and quick.”
The driver looked down and met the eye of the tall man. “Eh?–Oh–839? Park Place? Yessir.” He reluctantly gave his horse a clump on the back. As the conveyance rattled off the wanderers huddled back among the dingy cushions and heaved great breaths of relief.
“Well, it’s all over,” said the freckled man, finally. “We’re about out of it. And quicker than I expected. Much quicker. It looked to me sometimes that we were doomed. I am thankful to find it not so. I am rejoiced. And I hope and trust that you–well, I don’t wish to–perhaps it is not the proper time to–that is, I don’t wish to intrude a moral at an inopportune moment, but, my dear, dear fellow, I think the time is ripe to point out to you that your obstinacy, your selfishness, your villainous temper, and your various other faults can make it just as unpleasant for your ownself, my dear boy, as they frequently do for other people. You can see what you brought us to, and I most sincerely hope, my dear, dear fellow, that I shall soon see those signs in you which shall lead me to believe that you have become a wiser man.”