'O let me lie!' he pleaded. 'I'll no' get better anyway.' And then, with a moan that went to my heart, 'O why did I come upon this miserable journey?'

I was reminded of the song which I had heard a little while before in the close, tossing steerage: 'O why left I my hame?'

Meantime Jones, relieved of his immediate charge, had gone off to the galley, where we could see a light. There he found a belated cook scouring pans by the radiance of two lanterns, and one of these he sought to borrow. The scullion was backward. 'Was it one of the crew?' he asked. And when Jones, smitten with my theory, had assured him that it was a fireman, he reluctantly left his scouring and came towards us at an easy pace, with one of the lanterns swinging from his finger. The light, as it reached the spot, showed us an elderly man, thick-set, and grizzled with years; but the shifting and coarse shadows concealed from us the expression and even the design of his face.

So soon as the cook set eyes on him he gave a sort of whistle.

'IT'S ONLY A PASSENGER!' said he; and turning about, made, lantern and all, for the galley.

'He's a man anyway,' cried Jones in indignation.

'Nobody said he was a woman,' said a gruff voice, which I recognised for that of the bo's'un.

All this while there was no word of Blackwood or the doctor; and now the officer came to our side of the ship and asked, over the hurricane-deck rails, if the doctor were not yet come. We told him not.

'No?' he repeated with a breathing of anger; and we saw him hurry aft in person.

Ten minutes after the doctor made his appearance deliberately enough and examined our patient with the lantern. He made little of the case, had the man brought aft to the dispensary, dosed him, and sent him forward to his bunk. Two of his neighbours in the steerage had now come to our assistance, expressing loud sorrow that such 'a fine cheery body' should be sick; and these, claiming a sort of possession, took him entirely under their own care. The drug had probably relieved him, for he struggled no more, and was led along plaintive and patient, but protesting. His heart recoiled at the thought of the steerage. 'O let me lie down upon the bieldy side,' he cried; 'O dinna take me down!' And again: 'O why did ever I come upon this miserable voyage?' And yet once more, with a gasp and a wailing prolongation of the fourth word: 'I had no CALL to come.' But there he was; and by the doctor's orders and the kind force of his two shipmates disappeared down the companion of Steerage No.1 into the den allotted him.

At the foot of our own companion, just where I found Blackwood, Jones and the bo's'un were now engaged in talk. This last was a gruff, cruel-looking seaman, who must have passed near half a century upon the seas; square-headed, goat-bearded, with heavy blond eyebrows, and an eye without radiance, but inflexibly steady and hard. I had not forgotten his rough speech; but I remembered also that he had helped us about the lantern; and now seeing him in conversation with Jones, and being choked with indignation, I proceeded to blow off my steam.

'Well,' said I, 'I make you my compliments upon your steward,' and furiously narrated what had happened.

'I've nothing to do with him,' replied the bo's'un. 'They're all alike. They wouldn't mind if they saw you all lying dead one upon the top of another.'

This was enough. A very little humanity went a long way with me after the experience of the evening. A sympathy grew up at once between the bo's'un and myself; and that night, and during the next few days, I learned to appreciate him better. He was a remarkable type, and not at all the kind of man you find in books. He had been at Sebastopol under English colours; and again in a States ship, 'after the Alabama, and praying God we shouldn't find her.' He was a high Tory and a high Englishman. No manufacturer could have held opinions more hostile to the working man and his strikes. 'The workmen,' he said, 'think nothing of their country.

Essays of Travel Page 19

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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