"Captains Courageous": A Story of the Grand Banks
But it was otherwise with the “We’re Here’s” silent cook, for he came up, his kit in a handkerchief, and boarded the “Constance.” Pay was no particular object, and he did not in the least care where he slept. His business, as revealed to him in dreams, was to follow Harvey for the rest of his days. They tried argument and, at last, persuasion; but there is a difference between one Cape Breton and two Alabama negroes, and the matter was referred to Cheyne by the cook and porter. The millionaire only laughed. He presumed Harvey might need a body-servant some day or other, and was sure that one volunteer was worth five hirelings. Let the man stay, therefore; even though he called himself MacDonald and swore in Gaelic. The car could go back to Boston, where, if he were still of the same mind, they would take him West.
With the “Constance,” which in his heart of hearts he loathed, departed the last remnant of Cheyne’s millionairedom, and he gave himself up to an energetic idleness. This Gloucester was a new town in a new land, and he purposed to “take it in,” as of old he had taken in all the cities from Snohomish to San Diego of that world whence he hailed. They made money along the crooked street which was half wharf and half ship’s store: as a leading professional he wished to learn how the noble game was played. Men said that four out of every five fish-balls served at New England’s Sunday breakfast came from Gloucester, and overwhelmed him with figures in proof--statistics of boats, gear, wharf-frontage, capital invested, salting, packing, factories, insurance, wages, repairs, and profits. He talked with the owners of the large fleets whose skippers were little more than hired men, and whose crews were almost all Swedes or Portuguese. Then he conferred with Disko, one of the few who owned their craft, and compared notes in his vast head. He coiled himself away on chain-cables in marine junk-shops, asking questions with cheerful, unslaked Western curiosity, till all the water-front wanted to know “what in thunder that man was after, anyhow.” He prowled into the Mutual Insurance rooms, and demanded explanations of the mysterious remarks chalked up on the blackboard day by day; and that brought down upon him secretaries of every Fisherman’s Widow and Orphan Aid Society within the city limits. They begged shamelessly, each man anxious to beat the other institution’s record, and Cheyne tugged at his beard and handed them all over to Mrs. Cheyne.
She was resting in a boarding-house near Eastern Point--a strange establishment, managed, apparently, by the boarders, where the table-cloths were red-and-white-checkered, and the population, who seemed to have known one another intimately for years, rose up at midnight to make Welsh rare-bits if it felt hungry. On the second morning of her stay Mrs. Cheyne put away her diamond solitaires before she came down to breakfast.
“They’re most delightful people,” she confided to her husband; “so friendly and simple, too, though they are all Boston, nearly.”
“That isn’t simpleness, mama,” he said, looking across the boulders behind the apple-trees where the hammocks were slung. “It’s the other thing, that we--that I haven’t got.”
“It can’t be,” said Mrs. Cheyne, quietly. “There isn’t a woman here owns a dress that cost a hundred dollars. Why, we--”
“I know it, dear. We have--of course we have. I guess it’s only the style they wear East. Are you having a good time?”
“I don’t see very much of Harvey; he’s always with you; but I ain’t near as nervous as I was.”
“I haven’t had such a good time since Willie died. I never rightly understood that I had a son before this. Harve’s got to be a great boy. ‘Anything I can fetch you, dear? ‘Cushion under your head? Well, we’ll go down to the wharf again and look around.”
Harvey was his father’s shadow in those days, and the two strolled along side by side, Cheyne using the grades as an excuse for laying his hand on the boy’s square shoulder. It was then that Harvey noticed and admired what had never struck him before--his father’s curious power of getting at the heart of new matters as learned from men in the street.
“How d’you make ‘em tell you everything without opening your head?” demanded the son, as they came out of a rigger’s loft.
“I’ve dealt with quite a few men in my time, Harve, and one sizes ‘em up somehow, I guess. I know something about myself, too.” Then, after a pause, as they sat down on a wharf-edge: “Men can ‘most always tell when a man has handled things for himself, and then they treat him as one of themselves.”
“Same as they treat me down at Wouverman’s wharf. I’m one of the crowd now. Disko has told every one I’ve earned my pay.” Harvey spread out his hands and rubbed the palms together. “They’re all soft again,” he said dolefully.
“Keep ‘em that way for the next few years, while you’re getting your education. You can harden ‘em up after.”
“Ye-es, I suppose so,” was the reply, in no delighted voice.
“It rests with you, Harve. You can take cover behind your mama, of course, and put her on to fussing about your nerves and your highstrungness and all that kind of poppycock.”
“Have I ever done that?” said Harvey, uneasily.
His father turned where he sat and thrust out a long hand. “You know as well as I do that I can’t make anything of you if you don’t act straight by me. I can handle you alone if you’ll stay alone, but I don’t pretend to manage both you and mama. Life’s too short, anyway.”
“Don’t make me out much of a fellow, does it?”
“I guess it was my fault a good deal; but if you want the truth, you haven’t been much of anything up to date. Now, have you?”
“Umm! Disko thinks ... Say, what d’you reckon it’s cost you to raise me from the start--first, last, and all over?”
Cheyne smiled. “I’ve never kept track, but I should estimate, in dollars and cents, nearer fifty than forty thousand; maybe sixty. The young generation comes high. It has to have things, and it tires of ‘em, and--the old man foots the bill.”
Harvey whistled, but at heart he was rather pleased to think that his upbringing had cost so much. “And all that’s sunk capital, isn’t it?”
“Invested, Harve. Invested, I hope.”
“Making it only thirty thousand, the thirty I’ve earned is about ten cents on the hundred. That’s a mighty poor catch.” Harvey wagged his head solemnly.
Cheyne laughed till he nearly fell off the pile into the water.
“Disko has got a heap more than that out of Dan since he was ten; and Dan’s at school half the year, too.”
“Oh, that’s what you’re after, is it?”
“No. I’m not after anything. I’m not stuck on myself any just now--that’s all ... I ought to be kicked.”
“I can’t do it, old man; or I would, I presume, if I’d been made that way.”
“Then I’d have remembered it to the last day I lived--and never forgiven you,” said Harvey, his chin on his doubled fists.
“Exactly. That’s about what I’d do. You see?”
“I see. The fault’s with me and no one else. All the samey, something’s got to be done about it.”
Cheyne drew a cigar from his vest-pocket, bit off the end, and fell to smoking. Father and son were very much alike; for the beard hid Cheyne’s mouth, and Harvey had his father’s slightly aquiline nose, close-set black eyes, and narrow, high cheek-bones. With a touch of brown paint he would have made up very picturesquely as a Red Indian of the story-books.
“Now you can go on from here,” said Cheyne, slowly, “costing me between six or eight thousand a year till you’re a voter. Well, we’ll call you a man then. You can go right on from that, living on me to the tune of forty or fifty thousand, besides what your mother will give you, with a valet and a yacht or a fancy-ranch where you can pretend to raise trotting stock and play cards with your own crowd.”
“Like Lorry Tuck?” Harvey put in.
“Yep; or the two De Vitré boys or old man McQuade’s son. California’s full of ‘em, and here’s an Eastern sample while we’re talking.”
A shiny black steam-yacht, with mahogany deck-house, nickel-plated binnacles, and pink-and-white-striped awnings, puffed up the harbour, flying the burgee of some New York club. Two young men, in what they conceived to be sea costumes, were playing cards by the saloon skylight; and a couple of women with red and blue parasols looked on and laughed noisily.
“Shouldn’t care to be caught out in her in any sort of a breeze. No, beam,” said Harvey, critically, as the yacht slowed to pick up her mooring-buoy.
“They’re having what stands them for a good time. I can give you that, and twice as much as that, Harve. How’d you like it?”
“Caesar! That’s no way to get a dinghy over-side,” said Harvey, still intent on the yacht. “If I couldn’t slip a tackle better than that I’d stay ashore ... What if I don’t?”
“Stay ashore--or what?”
“Yacht and ranch and live on ‘the old man,’ and--get behind mama when there’s trouble,” said Harvey, with a twinkle in his eye.
“Why, in that case, you come right in with me, my son.”
“Ten dollars a month?” Another twinkle.
“Not a cent more until you’re worth it, and you won’t begin to touch that for a few years.”
“I’d sooner begin sweeping out the office--isn’t that how the big bugs start?--and touch something now than--”
“I know it; we all feel that way. But I guess we can hire any sweeping we need. I made the same mistake myself of starting in too soon.”
“Thirty million dollars’ worth o’ mistake, wasn’t it? I’d risk it for that.”
“I lost some; and I gained some. I’ll tell you.”
Cheyne pulled his beard and smiled as he looked over the still water, and spoke away from Harvey, who presently began to be aware that his father was telling the story of his life. He talked in a low, even voice, without gesture and without expression; and it was a history for which a dozen leading journals would cheerfully have paid many dollars--the story of forty years that was at the same time the story of the New West, whose story is yet to be written.
It began with a kinless boy turned loose in Texas, and went on fantastically through a hundred changes and chops of life, the scenes shifting from State after Western State, from cities that sprang up in a month and in a season utterly withered away, to wild ventures in wilder camps that are now laborious, paved municipalities. It covered the building of three railroads and the deliberate wreck of a fourth. It told of steamers, townships, forests, and mines, and the men of every nation under heaven, manning, creating, hewing, and digging these. It touched on chances of gigantic wealth flung before eyes that could not see, or missed by the merest accident of time and travel; and through the mad shift of things, sometimes on horseback, more often afoot, now rich, now poor, in and out, and back and forth, deck-hand, train-hand, contractor, boardinghouse keeper, journalist, engineer, drummer, real-estate agent, politician, dead-beat, rumseller, mine-owner, speculator, cattle-man, or tramp, moved Harvey Cheyne, alert and quiet, seeking his own ends, and, so he said, the glory and advancement of his country.
He told of the faith that never deserted him even when he hung on the ragged edge of despair the faith that comes of knowing men and things. He enlarged, as though he were talking to himself, on his very great courage and resource at all times. The thing was so evident in the man’s mind that he never even changed his tone. He described how he had bested his enemies, or forgiven them, exactly as they had bested or forgiven him in those careless days; how he had entreated, cajoled, and bullied towns, companies, and syndicates, all for their enduring good; crawled round, through, or under mountains and ravines, dragging a string and hoop-iron railroad after him, and in the end, how he had sat still while promiscuous communities tore the last fragments of his character to shreds.
The tale held Harvey almost breathless, his head a little cocked to one side, his eyes fixed on his father’s face, as the twilight deepened and the red cigar-end lit up the furrowed cheeks and heavy eyebrows. It seemed to him like watching a locomotive storming across country in the dark--a mile between each glare of the opened fire-door: but this locomotive could talk, and the words shook and stirred the boy to the core of his soul. At last Cheyne pitched away the cigar-butt, and the two sat in the dark over the lapping water.
“I’ve never told that to any one before,” said the father.
Harvey gasped. “It’s just the greatest thing that ever was!” said he.
“That’s what I got. Now I’m coming to what I didn’t get. It won’t sound much of anything to you, but I don’t wish you to be as old as I am before you find out. I can handle men, of course, and I’m no fool along my own lines, but--but I can’t compete with the man who has been taught! I’ve picked up as I went along, and I guess it sticks out all over me.”
“I’ve never seen it,” said the son, indignantly.
“You will, though, Harve. You will--just as soon as you’re through college. Don’t I know it? Don’t I know the look on men’s faces when they think me a--a ‘mucker,’ as they call it out here? I can break them to little pieces--yes--but I can’t get back at ‘em to hurt ‘em where they live. I don’t say they’re ‘way, ‘way up, but I feel I’m ‘way, ‘way, ‘way off, somehow. Now you’ve got your chance. You’ve got to soak up all the learning that’s around, and you’ll live with a crowd that are doing the same thing. They’ll be doing it for a few thousand dollars a year at most; but remember you’ll be doing it for millions. You’ll learn law enough to look after your own property when I’m out o’ the light, and you’ll have to be solid with the best men in the market (they are useful later); and above all, you’ll have to stow away the plain, common, sit-down-with-your-chin-on-your-elbows book-learning. Nothing pays like that, Harve, and it’s bound to pay more and more each year in our country--in business and in politics. You’ll see.”
“There’s no sugar my end of the deal,” said Harvey. “Four years at college! Wish I’d chosen the valet and the yacht!”
“Never mind, my son,” Cheyne insisted. “You’re investing your capital where it’ll bring in the best returns; and I guess you won’t find our property shrunk any when you’re ready to take hold. Think it over, and let me know in the morning. Hurry! We’ll be late for supper!”
As this was a business talk, there was no need for Harvey to tell his mother about it; and Cheyne naturally took the same point of view. But Mrs. Cheyne saw and feared, and was a little jealous. Her boy, who rode rough-shod over her, was gone, and in his stead reigned a keen-faced youth, abnormally silent, who addressed most of his conversation to his father. She understood it was business, and therefore a matter beyond her premises. If she had any doubts, they were resolved when Cheyne went to Boston and brought back a new diamond marquise-ring.
“What have you two men been doing now?” she said, with a weak little smile, as she turned it in the light.
“Talking--just talking, mama; there’s nothing mean about Harvey.”
There was not. The boy had made a treaty on his own account. Railroads, he explained gravely, interested him as little as lumber, real estate, or mining. What his soul yearned after was control of his father’s newly purchased sailing-ships. If that could be promised him within what he conceived to be a reasonable time, he, for his part, guaranteed diligence and sobriety at college for four or five years. In vacation he was to be allowed full access to all details connected with the line, --he had asked not more than two thousand questions about it, --from his father’s most private papers in the safe to the tug in San Francisco harbour.
“It’s a deal,” said Cheyne at the last. “You’ll alter your mind twenty times before you leave college, o’ course; but if you take hold of it in proper shape, and if you don’t tie it up before you’re twenty-three, I’ll make the thing over to you. How’s that, Harve?”
“Nope; never pays to split up a going concern There’s too much competition in the world anyway, and Disko says ‘blood-kin hev to stick together.’ His crowd never go back on him. That’s one reason, he says, why they make such big fares. Say, the “We’re Here” goes off to the Georges on Monday. They don’t stay long ashore, do they?”
“Well, we ought to be going, too, I guess. I’ve left my business hung up at loose ends between two oceans, and it’s time to connect again. I just hate to do it, though; haven’t had a holiday like this for twenty years.”
“We can’t go without seeing Disko off,” said Harvey; “and Monday’s Memorial Day. Let’s stay over that, anyway.”
“What is this memorial business? They were talking about it at the boarding-house,” said Cheyne, weakly. He, too, was not anxious to spoil the golden days.
“Well, as far as I can make out, this business is a sort of song-and-dance act, whacked up for the summer boarders. Disko don’t think much of it, he says, because they take up a collection for the widows and orphans. Disko’s independent. Haven’t you noticed that?”
“Well--yes. A little. In spots. Is it a town show, then?”
“The summer convention is. They read out the names of the fellows drowned or gone astray since last time, and they make speeches, and recite, and all. Then, Disko says, the secretaries of the Aid Societies go into the back yard and fight over the catch. The real show, he says, is in the spring. The ministers all take a hand then, and there aren’t any summer boarders around.”
“I see,” said Cheyne, with the brilliant and perfect comprehension of one born into and bred up to city pride. “We’ll stay over for Memorial Day, and get off in the afternoon.”
“Guess I’ll go down to Disko’s and make him bring his crowd up before they sail. I’ll have to stand with them, of course.”
“Oh, that’s it, is it,” said Cheyne. “I’m only a poor summer boarder, and you’re--”
“A Banker--full-blooded Banker,” Harvey called back as he boarded a trolley, and Cheyne went on with his blissful dreams for the future.
Disko had no use for public functions where appeals were made for charity, but Harvey pleaded that the glory of the day would be lost, so far as he was concerned, if the “We’re Heres” absented themselves. Then Disko made conditions. He had heard--it was astonishing how all the world knew all the world’s business along the waterfront--he had heard that a “Philadelphia actress-woman” was going to take part in the exercises; and he mistrusted that she would deliver “Skipper Ireson’s Ride.” Personally, he had as little use for actresses as for summer boarders; but justice was justice, and though he himself (here Dan giggled) had once slipped up on a matter of judgment, this thing must not be. So Harvey came back to East Gloucester, and spent half a day explaining to an amused actress with a royal reputation on two seaboards the inwardness of the mistake she contemplated; and she admitted that it was justice, even as Disko had said.
Cheyne knew by old experience what would happen; but anything of the nature of a public palaver was meat and drink to the man’s soul. He saw the trolleys hurrying west, in the hot, hazy morning, full of women in light summer dresses, and white-faced straw-hatted men fresh from Boston desks; the stack of bicycles outside the post-office; the come-and-go of busy officials, greeting one another; the slow flick and swash of bunting in the heavy air; and the important man with a hose sluicing the brick sidewalk.
“Mother,” he said suddenly, “don’t you remember--after Seattle was burned out--and they got her going again?”
Mrs. Cheyne nodded, and looked critically down the crooked street. Like her husband, she understood these gatherings, all the West over, and compared them one against another. The fishermen began to mingle with the crowd about the town-hall doors--blue-jowled Portuguese, their women bare-headed or shawled for the most part; clear-eyed Nova Scotians, and men of the Maritime Provinces; French, Italians, Swedes, and Danes, with outside crews of coasting schooners; and everywhere women in black, who saluted one another with a gloomy pride, for this was their day of great days. And there were ministers of many creeds, --pastors of great, gilt-edged congregations, at the seaside for a rest, with shepherds of the regular work, --from the priests of the Church on the Hill to bush-bearded ex-sailor Lutherans, hail-fellow with the men of a score of boats. There were owners of lines of schooners, large contributors to the societies, and small men, their few craft pawned to the mastheads, with bankers and marine-insurance agents, captains of tugs and water-boats, riggers, fitters, lumpers, salters, boat-builders, and coopers, and all the mixed population of the water-front.
They drifted along the line of seats made gay with the dresses of the summer boarders, and one of the town officials patrolled and perspired till he shone all over with pure civic pride. Cheyne had met him for five minutes a few days before, and between the two there was entire understanding.
“Well, Mr. Cheyne, and what d’you think of our city?--Yes, madam, you can sit anywhere you please.--You have this kind of thing out West, I presume?”
“Yes, but we aren’t as old as you.”
“That’s so, of course. You ought to have been at the exercises when we celebrated our two hundred and fiftieth birthday. I tell you, Mr. Cheyne, the old city did herself credit.”
“So I heard. It pays, too. What’s the matter with the town that it don’t have a first-class hotel, though?”
“Right over there to the left, Pedro. Heaps o’ room for you and your crowd.--Why, that’s what I tell ‘em all the time, Mr. Cheyne. There’s big money in it, but I presume that don’t affect you any. What we want is--”
A heavy hand fell on his broadcloth shoulder, and the flushed skipper of a Portland coal-and-ice coaster spun him half round. “What in thunder do you fellows mean by clappin’ the law on the town when all decent men are at sea this way? Heh? Town’s dry’s a bone, an’ smells a sight worse sence I quit. ‘Might ha’ left us one saloon for soft drinks, anyway.”
“Don’t seem to have hindered your nourishment this morning, Carsen. I’ll go into the politics of it later. Sit down by the door and think over your arguments till I come back.”
“What good’s arguments to me? In Miquelon champagne’s eighteen dollars a case, and--” The skipper lurched into his seat as an organ-prelude silenced him.
“Our new organ,” said the official proudly to Cheyne. “Cost us four thousand dollars, too. We’ll have to get back to high-licence next year to pay for it. I wasn’t going to let the ministers have all the religion at their convention. Those are some of our orphans standing up to sing. My wife taught ‘em. See you again later, Mr. Cheyne. I’m wanted on the platform.”
High, clear, and true, children’s voices bore down the last noise of those settling into their places.
“O all ye Works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever!”