“ Let him commute his eternal fear with a temporal suffering, preventing God’s judgment by choosing one of his own.” — JEREMY TAYLOR.
AN August fog was drifting inland from the bay. In thin places the blue Contra Costa hills showed through, and the general grayness was tinged with pearl. San Francisco dripped and steamed along her bristling water front; derricks loomed black, and yards and topmasts reddened, as a fringe of winter woodland colors up at the turn of the year.
Morton Day, a young New Englander who filled the place of “ outside man ” for Bradshaw and Company, was working over some cargo lists in the general office on Sansome Street. The firm of Bradshaw was a shipping and commission house in the South Sea and Oriental trade, the time being nearly twenty years ago, before the decay of the great clipper lines, when the “ moral sense ” of the laboring man of California had not yet rebelled against the importation of coolies.
Young Day looked up. A tall figure had come between him and the light, bringing the smell of the docks, and advertising its owner’s condition in scare heads of shabbiness.
“ What can I do for you ? ” asked Day. Neither his time nor sympathies were on draught that morning.
The answer came coolly, with the accent of an English gentleman.
It is not always safe to place an American by his speech : there are so many variations of us, geographical and racial, and we are so hospitable to slang and the dialects; but an Englishman’s class accent is bred in the bone. He cannot pawn it like his watch, or stake and lose it like his money. Such, at least, had been Day’s experience on the water front of the City of Strangers.
When that rich chest register was heard, emanating from the disguise of a common seaman the night before he ships, Day said to himself, “ Here’s another of them ; another gentleman-woolgatherer, come back shorn.”
He had asked — with his hands in the pockets of his greasy overalls — to speak with “ one of the heads of the firm.”
An ironical pause followed. Day had the advantage of his vis-à-vis, for in himself one could see but an every-day type of the well-equipped young business man, while the other was the sort of quarry a romancer or a reporter would hunt down. White he appeared to be, by his features and his bold, blue, roving eye ; Apache, by his murky skin, over which a recent shave had spread a bloom like a light hoarfrost. His utter destitution, verging on nakedness, in a feebler frame would have been pitiful, but in such a stalwart suppliant, so splendidly set up, it gave him rather an outrageous and truculent air.
“ Very sorry,” said the shipping clerk dryly. “ Mr. Bradshaw is not down yet.”
“ Mr. Felix Bradshaw ? ”
“ Neither of them. Better try again later.”
The other did not move. “ I’ve an appetite for breakfast,” he remarked, “ that is cutting me in two. Could you manage to push my little interview with your chiefs ? Sorry I have n’t a card about me.” He laughed, with a flash of big white teeth lighting his extraordinary mask of tan; and, to point the jest, he stripped open his one upper garment and showed a forty-four-inch chest as bare as the breast of Hermes and the color of manzanita wood in sunshine.
“ Jove ! what a swell he’d be in an outrigger,” thought Day. “He must have peeled a dozen times before he got that lacquer on him ! ” Aloud, he said, “ Trees were scarce where you came from, I take it ? ”
The stranger did not dally with conversation. He clapped both hands upon his empty epigastrium and doubled himself over them expressively. “ I shall turn turtle here in the shop unless somebody fills me up with something ! ”
“We will see about that! ” said Day, and was wiping his pen when Mr. Bradshaw, senior, came in. Now the firm had had a long-suffering acquaintance with interesting dead beats, foreign and domestic. Fathers of wild boys, who knew not else what to do with them, sent them out to their San Francisco agents with firm instructions to put them through the mill; and blamed the miller when their rotten grain made worthless flour, and was thrown upon the heap. Every young remittance man who had overdrawn his home allowance came to them for a temporary loan on the strength of his connections, which the connections seldom made good.
The chief’s welcome, therefore, to this sturdy child of calamity was not effusive.
“ That young man will attend to your business,” he said, indicating Day, and he walked toward his private office.
The stranger stood in his path. “ I beg your pardon, Mr. Bradshaw; my business is with you. I am starving, — Andrew Robert’s son, here in your countingroom, where you have made your thousands out of him ! ”
The chief smiled grimly. “ I have no remembrance of making any thousands out of ‘ Andrew Robert’s son.’ Where do you come from ? ”
“ I shipped from Sydney, last February, in the bark Woolahrá, that foundered off Cape St. Lucas. Don’t you answer letters up here ? I think I have written you by every steamer.”
Mr. Bradshaw looked the youngster over from head to foot, — from the grimy yachting cap on the back of his head to the sickly brogans bulging on his sockless feet, — and he spoke slowly, as to one possibly deficient of understanding.
“Mr. Robert of Auckland is one of our oldest correspondents,” he said, giving the name of the New Zealand banker and capitalist its fullest value. “ Some months ago he advised us to look out for his son, Clunie ” —
“ Clunie is my name,” the boy broke in. “ I’m the only, original ” —
“ To look out for his son, by the Woolahrá, consigned to us from Sydney,” Mr. Bradshaw pursued. “ There were some special instructions which may or may not concern your case. The Woolahrá was wrecked, as you say, and the survivors, as they found their way up the coast, reported to us. Clunie Robert was not among them.”
“ Naturally, — when he was writing you all the while from the Cape ! ”
“ One moment, please ! I was going to say that a person, signing himself Clunie Robert, has been claiming our assistance from the Cape. Granting you may be that person, you must be aware that no business house can honor an unknown signature. Mr. Robert has an account with us, but we cannot permit a stranger, however unfortunate, to draw on it, in the name of his son, unless he were able to give us some proof of his identity.”
“ Great God above ! Did you ever try to prove your own identity, stark naked, sir, on a strip of sand, six thousand miles from home ? I was in the boat that was smashed on Los Tres Hermanos, — the only man of us who ever breathed again. That was my introduction to your blessed continent. And I haven’t acquired much” — he surveyed the rags he stood in — “by way of identity since.”
Mr. Bradshaw felt of his legal side whisker and appeared to consider.
“ May I ask,” inquired the castaway, “ why my signature was not submitted to my father ? Does he know by chance that I’m alive ? ”
“ The Cape letters have all been forwarded,” said Mr. Bradshaw distinctly, “ including a requisition for certain articles in the nature of a lady’s wardrobe, to be procured by us, charged to account of Mr. Robert. The order footed up to some hundreds of dollars, and professed to have reference to an approaching wedding at the Cape.”
“ Mine,” said the scapegrace. “ The bride was the light keeper’s daughter. I ’d been living on the old man, wearing his clothes and smoking his cigars and drinking his mescál, —had to square accounts somehow. The proposition pleased him as long as he thought I had credit up here. But when you gave me the black eye, things were not so pleasant. Did you forward that list to the pater ? ”
“ Certainly,” said Mr. Bradshaw.
A long, low whistle was the comment of its author. “ Well! it was a blazing bluff,” he sighed. “ I was trying for a stay of proceedings. Had to keep the band playing. The curtain would n’t rise. ‘ They were howlin’ for their money at the door ’! ”
Day felt inclined to laugh at these mixed metaphors; but in a moment the situation changed. “ D’ you mean to say you have n’t heard from my father, — not since he got that list! ”
“ Sit down,” said Mr. Bradshaw not unkindly. “ There is no possible way of verifying your claim at present, — and if it were established, we have no authority to assist you to the extent you probably expect. Quite otherwise, in fact. Mr. Robert, the gentleman you refer to as your father, will not be heard from in a long time, I fear. He has gone on a journey, of indefinite duration — with no fixed ” —
“ What are you getting at! Is my father dead ? ” The youngster struck his hands together passionately. Mr. Bradshaw blinked. He disliked all violence, gesturing, and sudden noises, being in his habits not unlike an elderly and well-bred house cat.
“ Did I say he was dead ? ” he retorted irritably. “ He is traveling, — for his health, I presume. You would better get something to eat, sir. It might help you to compose yourself. Go with him, Day,” he turned to the outside man. “ See that he has what he needs. Get him some clothes,” he added in an undertone. “ He’s — really! ”
Clunie had promptly risen at the first allusion to a breakfast. He faced Mr. Bradshaw with an ugly laugh. “ If this is my official reception — well and good. But I am Clunie Robert, and I ’ll swear to it, on the hide of a black man and the blood of an Englishman ; ” the last - named witness burned in his mahogany-colored face as he spoke. “ And you know I am not lying, even if I don’t carry a house flag and can’t show my papers. Papers, by thunder ! ” (Thunder was not the word he used.) He shrugged his shoulders and went out.
In the street, with a man of his own age, he recovered his nonchalance quickly. “Would he own me in private d’ you suppose ? A pocket-handkerchief with my name on it, — a birthmark — would be handy. But my kit is at the bottom of the sea, and personally I’m made like any other man’s son. There’s no patent on me ! No ; thanks ! ” he pleasantly demurred when Day invited him to step into a clothing store in passing. “ Breakfast first! I ’ll eat it off the curbstone, but I can’t wait.”
They walked down Sansome Street to Market, — every man and woman they met staring after them, — the blue-eyed Apache with his head in the air, his collarless throat exposed, sniffing the bakeshop odors and the scent of violets which street hawkers humorously thrust upon him.
“ Buy a bunch for your lady ? Put ’em in your buttonhole ! ” they grinned.
At Winteringham’s, Day had the pleasure of watching him storm his way through a four-course breakfast, casting expressive looks across the cloth at his host. On the last course he began to pick and play a little ; almost he seemed ready to talk. They brought him a finger bowl, and he lay back and gazed at it, and then at his hands. Day had been looking at those hands and marveling greatly.
“ What a pair of flippers, eh ! Pretty things to dabble in a finger glass! Gad, what would n’t I have given for that — not so long ago as the fruit was on the tree ! ” He fished out the slice of lemon awkwardly, for his hands were cramped inward like claws, and held it up between a horny thumb and finger. “ Here’s to the thirst I had in the whale boats off St. Lucas ! ” and he popped it into his mouth, — to the scandal of the waiter, and the open amusement of the neighboring tables.
“ You were in that, were you ? ” Day interposed, trying to tone him down to a conversational level. “ Rattling good sport, they say it is, — offshore whaling?”
“ Oh, ripping — for the boat-steerer. But the man at the oars ” — He gazed at his hands commiseratingly. “That is work they give their peons. Feel of those things ! ” They felt like the foot of an ostrich, and they looked as if he had dug wells with them, or come up from the Cape on all fours.
“ Where did you get them — how did you get them ? ” Day inquired.
The stranger lighted a cigar and crossed his long legs, regardless that he showed a yard of naked tibia, as dark and coarse as a plantation negro’s.
“ I got them — in the tide rip off St. Lucas,” he said, between glorious puffs. “ Seven days a week, and thirteen hours a day, at the business end of an eighteenfoot sweep. It would have put calluses on a shark’s fin! ”
“ By George ! ” said Day, “ they used you pretty hard. I thought they would treat a man white, down there.”
“ As long as he is ‘ white.’ But when he begins to turn a little shady — figuratively speaking, you know. See, what was the last you had from me, up here ? ” By the narrator’s manner, one might have supposed the entire business of the firm had been hanging on his dispatches from the Cape.
“ I think you were ordering the — a — trousseau for your bride,” Day reminded him.
“ Quite so,” he assented affably. “Well, the shadows were falling then. Happen to know anything about those good Samaritans down there ? They would split their last frijol for you or give it you whole, but when you’ve worn out your welcome you had better go, — if you can go. For a month or so, at first, it was ' Don Pépe ’ and ' Don Clunio,’ and ‘ I kiss your hands, señor,’ and ‘ The same to your feet, señorita ! ’ You know how they go on! And not a pair of Christian trousers in the whole shebang. Bags, cotton bags, that flap around your shins, — mine were halfway up my calves, — or goatskin chaps with the hair outside, — make you look like a blooming satyr. Then your governors sweetly ignored me, and that took the wind out of my sails, as I was saying.
“ The Pacific Mail captains swore they delivered my letters ; ’t was no go. It was stay, all the time ! My name to a piece of paper was worth no more than a bird track in the sand ; and for all my father’s connections I had talked of — maybe I talked a bit too much, at first — I was obviously without a friend on earth. Then my stock went very low indeed. They thought if there was a Father of Lies, I was his true and only son. It was then I wrote for the trousseau. They had to pause and consider that. I flourished it before the old man’s horns ; he was a covetous old brute. He did n’t half believe it would come; still, it might. So he pawed up the ground, and waited over another steamer.
“ Poor little Concha, with her bare feet, running like a plover on the beach, and her chemise slipping off her shoulder ! It was a sin. But she had a month of pure felicity expecting that lace parasol, and the slippers with French heels.
“ How should I know your governors had no bowels ! They might have come down for something to save a poor devil’s credit on a foreign shore.
“ Think where I was, Great Scott! In a place where a man will do anything, leave him there long enough. It’s the very doormat and scraper of the continent, where the sea is forever wiping its feet. And not a sign that any soul on earth cared a tuppenny post stamp whether I lived or died ! ”
By this time the young men were largely occupying the attention of the room. Busy clerks were prolonging their luncheons to stare at the Prince of Tramps, with his case-hardened features and drawing-room accent and engaging manner of the family black sheep. Day expected that a reporter would be down upon them shortly. It was a fit interruption when the head waiter — he had been restless for some time — proposed that he move their seats to a side window, intimating that they were obstructing trade at the busiest hour.
The young men took the hint, and went out. Robert, as Day did not scruple to call him, fell into step, with a long, joyful stride, declaring there was no music to compare with the beat of civilized shoe leather on the pavements of the cities of the world. Sick to death he was of treading beach sand, of the pad, pad of bare feet, and the sluff, sluff of sandals. White men for a white man forever ! As for the ladies ! He pretended to require Day’s instant support, overcome by the sight of a pretty girl tacking across street in one of the tricedback overskirts which were the fashion then. He had kissed his hand to her, Day surmised, by the way she looked. In front of Scheifflers’, he stopped and admired his full-length reflection in their plate-glass windows, humming an appropriate verse from “ Poor old Robinson Crusoe ! ”
Day dragged him inside, where he condescendingly pulled over their readymade stock. The needful articles were selected, and the pair boarded a cable car and sailed up the windy sandhills to Day’s lodgings. Here the castaway dressed himself, grumbling like a lord at the fit of his clothes, which made him look, he said, like a discharged convict in a suit presented him by the state.
Whether this was pure animal spirits — the intoxication of a good meal — or a sort of heartsick bravado, or was put on merely to bother Day (who had a certain New England starchiness), cannot be said. He roamed about Day’s room, oppressively big for the place, till his host persuaded him to sit down and finish his story. He then pulled off his coat, which cut him in the armholes, he said, so that he could n’t talk, and sitting in his shirt sleeves by the open window he lighted a pipe and resumed : —
“Well, the Don, you see, had got tired of feeding me. And it was like sand under his eyelids to lose the rich son-in-law he had promised himself. I was ready to do my part. I’d have married anything for three meals a day — for two ! But he did n’t want me as another cipher in the greatest common divisor, if it was on him to furnish the dividend. It was your Dutch uncles up here who stopped the proceedings. If they had sent the cash, or the clothes, or recognized me in any way, there would have been a wedding at the Cape, and I should have had to furnish the bridegroom. Just as well for me ; but it’s a rum thing when you think of it, — my father’s son, all the heir he has got, refused by an old beggar of a Mexican light keeper. Refused with scorn and contumely, and worse ! He took back the precious wardrobe he had loaned me, to the very last stitch. He turned me out in a breechclout, so help me ! Talk of Indian politeness ! For a hat he gave me a rag to tie round my head, and the sun hits hard down there. He sold my time to the whalers : convict labor, or the galleys, — call it what you will, — it’s their little way of foreclosing on an insolvent debtor. If you can’t put up the dinero you pays in the sweat of your brow. I paid in the sweat of my whole person, and the aches of my entire bones. I was baked alive and basted ; my lips were like a piece of pork crackling ; my eyelids were puffed out even with my forehead ; my back was a running sore.
I paid that debt, by—! if I never pay another.”
“ And how about the lady ? ” Day inquired. “ How did you stand on her books ?”
If young Theseus had ever had a conscience about his Ariadne of the Cape, he had compounded with it, like the child of nature he was, for the price of his physical suffering. His moral sense went no deeper than his skin ; hence his pride in a few blisters.
“ Bless you, a woman is a woman, down there ! It is He that made them, not they themselves. (This was the use he made of his prayer book.) I might have opened a fresh account with Don Pépe through Conchita’s pity for me. But I’m not vindictive,” said he, reaching for a match, “ and ” — pausing to relight — “ what would I have done with the girl, footing it up to Ensenada ! It’s a good bit of a walk, y’ know.”
“ So, you did not get your discharge ? ” asked Day.
“ Not in due form. But they were easy on me toward the last. They kept a slack watch. I believe the beggars were honest. They took no more out of me than they thought was their due. It was a good few miles between meal stations, but I fetched it through. And I shipped on the brig Noyo for my grub and passage. Those slops I had on belong to a big Finlander, one of my late shipmates. I mustn’t forget to return them.”
He folded up those foul and gritty lendings as if they had been his evening clothes, and expressed them tenderly, at Day’s expense, to one of the worst waterside dens in the city.
“ And now,” said he, “ we will arise and go to — our Elder Brother. This is the Prodigal who came home when the Old Man was away.” But for all his high jocosity Day could see that he was nervous, that he dreaded the interview on which his status in the city would depend.
“ What is this for ? ” he inquired, when Mr. Bradshaw gravely presented him with a fifty-cent piece. It was explained that he might apply each day and receive the same amount, until he should have found work, which the firm would help him to procure if he could give them some idea of his general qualification. He listened with amusement and contempt. “ I’ve been at work for the past eight months,” said he. “ Not a man you know has worked harder. I feel qualified now for a bit of recreation.”
“ Recreate, then ! ” laughed Mr. Felix, “ if you know how to do it on fifty cents a day.”
“We are acting,” Mr. Bradshaw interposed, “ in obedience to Mr. Robert’s latest instructions concerning his son, — whom we understand you claim to be. We will humor your claim, under the conditions prescribed, until we hear what Mr. Robert himself has to say further in the matter.”
“ You will humor it to the extent of fifty cents a day ! ”
It was pointed out to him how easily he might be an impostor, how difficult it would be to prove he was not, and, incidentally, that his record at the Cape had not helped him much. That he passed over as beside the mark.
“ So this is not my father’s money ? ” He weighed the silver lightly in his hand. “ This is your personal half dollar, which you risk on grounds of humanity ? Well; thanks, gentlemen — thanks awfully! I need it very much,” — he laid the money down, — “ and I shall need it more to-morrow, but I think I ’ll make shift to get on without it.” And, perfectly good-humored, he walked to the door.
“ He could n’t resist getting even with us on a technical scruple,” laughed Mr. Felix ; but he was nettled. Mr. Bradshaw looked grave. “ Go after him,” he said, laying some gold on Morton’s desk. “ Pilot him to a decent lodging, and keep him off alee shore if you can.”
New England overtook New Zealand (both were of unmitigated British descent) on the corner by Lotta’s Fountain, which the queen of opéra bouffe presented to an appreciative city. A row of flower peddlers’ handcarts banked the slippery sidewalk. A heavy fog with twilight was darkening in.
“ Go away, child! ” Day heard him exclaim to a girl who was pestering him with her unsold stock. “ I’ve no one to take flowers to ! ”
“ Get some one, then,” she laughed and threw a piece of myrtle at him, and a hard-voiced woman called her back to her place.
Day proposed that they go somewhere and dine together.
“ Not to-night,” said Clunie. “You’ve had enough of me for one sitting.” But he found no difficulty in accepting a small loan from Day, not knowing its source, or not caring. He was given some advice as to lodgings and eating places, but he made straight for the wharves, and the sea fog took him home.
At the last, he had said, half defensively, as to a friend : —
“ I should n’t mind going to work on any decent invitation ; but hanged if I ’ll be scourged to it, like the ‘ galley slave at night.’ I’ve been galley slave too long ! ”
Day did not press on him his own opinion that he was one still, — and so the young men parted.
On Day’s return, Mr. Felix laid a letter before him. “ This is in your bailiwick,” said he. “ I see you’ve taken a liking to the young scamp. I have myself, rather; but it won’t do to show it. Not at present.”
“Then you think he is young Robert ? ”
“ Oh, by Jove ! every inch of him ! The old man right over again. He was a high-roller himself, in early colony days. He’s no cause to complain. But they are the very worst, when they get it back in their sons. And the mother, you know,” Mr. Felix added, with his free, tolerant smile, “she cut her cables years ago. Roaming the high seas now, a ‘ derelict,’ as somebody says, of the divorce courts. It broke the old man up terribly. You’d take that for the handwriting of an octogenarian. He’s in fact not sixty-five ! ” Day was glancing over the letter of paternal instructions to which Mr. Felix had alluded.
“ Was n’t the Woolahrá rather cheap transportation for a millionaire’s only son ? ” he asked.
“ Part of the scheme of redemption,” Mr. Felix replied. “ He had shut down on the boy all at once, — after giving him his head since he was a kid. Moreover, the old gentleman is canny. Observe how he figures on the penitential allowance. He does n’t propose to butter the bread of idleness. If Clunie wants to eat it, he ’ll eat it dry.”
“ It’s disgusting to make him come for it, in person,” said Day, still reading. “ It seems he’s not to have the cash for two days’ rations in hand at once ! ”
“Oh, it takes an old boy who has been there to reckon with the deceitfulness of youth.”
“ That was why, I suppose, he did not write direct to his father ? ”
“ Exactly. But you see, by that letter, we are forbidden to give him any assistance at long range. The old gentleman is sound on that head. You can’t lead a wild colt with a long halter. So you will just keep track of the festive Clunie as well as you can, but don’t meddle with him. It’s his own fight, now. It would be a pity to interfere when Mother Nature takes him across her knee. She gave him a foretaste down at the Cape, but it’s nothing to what she has in soak for him, if I know this city.” Day listened, and fed his youthful cynicism with thinking on what Mr. Felix was, and had been, and how well he did know the city ! In his case Mother Nature had shown thus far the partiality of the weakest human parent. He had had the luck of a prize scholar, and, except for a tendency to obesity — which he shared with many of the godly, — he appeared to have a constitution to match his theory of life.
A few days later the outside man came across young Robert’s course over in Brooklyn Basin, where a race was on between the ships’ boats of some British vessels anchored there. He promptly borrowed every cent that Day had about him, and staked it on the Rathdown’s boat. The Rathdowns were plunging tremendously, taking any odds that offered ; they seemed to regard the race as already theirs. Clunie explained that the Rathdown had been rough-handled in a hurricane in the south latitudes, had lost one of her port boats, and put into Auckland to replace it. The boat they were entering was the Maorilander. She was a shrewd little crack-a-jack. CIunie’s eyes sparkled as he studied her.
“ She’s of kauri pine,” said he. “ She’s out of an Auckland yard, and they are betting against her on their thundering old British plank ! Man, it’s a walkover ! ”
It was a great little race : Day left their mutual winnings with Clunie, and dined with him and the British shipmasters that evening at the Poodle Dog. Business called him away before the songs and toasts began, but when he left them they were talking of Auckland, — Clunie’s mother Auckland, — and raking all the latitudes for mutual acquaintances.
Thereafter, for a time, he seemed to have friends and money enough. He came to the office, inquiring for letters, in a suit of Dean and Cramseys’, which showed his beautiful, clean build. His hands were gloved. His bleached hair had recovered its life and lustre. The hollows were gone from around his eyes, and the high, hard burnish from his cheek bones. He looked his age, or his youth, once more. Mr. Felix frankly delighted in him: like King Hal, he loved a man. But Morton the wise warned Clunie that neither of them could sit up nights with Mr. Felix. He was one generation nearer than they to that tough old stock whose Plimsoll’s mark was the third bottle ; who bequeathed their nerves and appetites without their sledge-hammer wills and ironclad stomachs. Clunie laughed, and said, “ Sour grapes! ” And, indeed, he had quite cut out Morton with his former patron. The grim old chief, meanwhile, was faithfully urging his friends to give the boy a trial; but business men who saw the company he kept smiled and had no use for him.
Mr. Felix then went to London, and the face of the city changed for Clunie. His sky-rocket life of pleasure, founded on the fancy of an idle man, had gone up like a spark, and he was left with the stick in his hand. There was nothing then in San Francisco that could have been called society: Mr. Felix lived with the notorious set, and laughed at them in certain inner circles, professional and family cliques, to which he presumably belonged. And a few persons in quiet homes were building up the sort of lives that can save any city. But of these Clunie could have known nothing and probably deserved to know nothing.
The firm noticed a growing anxiety and constraint in his manner when he made his periodical inquiries for letters, or news of his father. After awhile he ceased to inquire by name ; he would drop in casually, and hearing nothing to his advantage, would feign a rather careworn interest in general topics and depart, carrying the House’s sympathy with him. For there was no longer any reasonable, comforting explanation of his father’s silence. There was no relenting, to the effect of, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
Then, out of the pitiless region of the Unexpected, came a staggering blow. An uncle of Clunie’s in England, his father’s brother whom he had never seen, wrote to the firm, stating that Mr. Robert had arrived among his relatives in a most deplorable condition, mental and physical. He had since improved in health, but his mind had failed to such a degree that medical experts pronounced him unfit for the management of his own affairs ; and the undersigned, together with another brother, had been appointed his guardians and the administrators of his estate. As to the presumptive heir in America, it seemed better not to act in haste. Steps were being taken toward his identification. Large property interests were at stake; and it would require time to sift his claim. Meanwhile, as his conduct appeared to have been not in all ways satisfactory, it might be well, in any case, to continue the policy which Mr. Robert had marked out for his son. In other words, to throw him as far as possible on his own resources, that he might learn the value of money through the need of earning it, and of friends by endeavoring to deserve them.
The chief made this communication as gently as he could, forbearing altogether to rub it in ; but his attitude of sympathy was not well received ; possibly it had come too late.
From this time forth Clunie made no further scruple about accepting the despised allowance. He took it carelessly, asking no questions as to its source. He came for it every day, like a dog to the kitchen door for his bone, with far less shame than Morton had in doling it out to him, — the great, strapping fellow with his homesick eyes ! He was the true Islander, of all provincials the most self-centred and haughty. Their world was not his world; he loved them too little to mind accepting their help, or care what might be their opinion of him.
San Francisco is a city where good food is amazingly cheap ; but fifty cents a day, including a night’s lodging, does not leave much margin for incidentals. A man living at that figure, and gambling on his income, as Clunie probably did, cannot keep himself at the level of the polite occupations ; the mark of the slums is on him. To the slums he must go for employment. But Morton, seeing that the chiefs had done what they could for the prodigal and failed in their sphere of influence, thought that he might try an elder-brotherly experiment of his own.
In a cold-blooded way he informed him that the firm, through their outside man, was paying from sixty to seventyfive dollars per month in boat hire, and proposed that Clunie should rent a boat, till he could afford to buy one, and set up as a harbor boatman.
Day would prefer him to the patronage of the House.
“ Have n’t the capital, y’ know, to start me in business,” was the answer. “ I could n’t rent the dingiest dory in the slips, on tick.”
That obstacle being removed, he fell in with the plan listlessly, with the air of anything-to-oblige-a-friend. But hard and regular exercise and the spell of life on the water soon began to tone him up. His eye brightened, his skin cleared. He picked up his self-respect, the more that his place, humble as it was, by no means wanted him as he needed it. His rivals of the water front put him through a stiff competitive examination. They saw no room for an interloper with what appeared to be a “ pull.”
He fought them between whiles, and raced them, man to man, and captured the reluctant admiration of even those swells in port, the men-o’-wars’ men.
“ You pulls a narsty scull, sir ! ” said one of the gig’s crew of H. M. S. The Royal Arthur, lying out in the bay, on her way to join the Northwest Squadron.
“ Now, why does he give you ‘ sir ’ ? ” asked Day. “ How does he know you are not a professional ? ”
“ It’s easy to know things,” Clunie answered sulkily. “ He could n’t hide the cut of his jib if he was carrying home the wash. It is n’t knowing things, it’s knowing when to keep ’em to yourself — eh, Missus ? Better let sleeping dogs lie ? ”
The “ Missus ” was one of many brevet titles bestowed at random by Clunie on a nameless pup of the undesirable sex which he had lately acquired. She was the butt of his practical jokes, the suffering medium of his high spirits, the text of his errant philosophy. She was a buffer when the two young men in their now almost daily intercourse drifted too close to each other’s moorings. Above all, she was a proof that he was putting out roots on foreign soil. When an Englishman takes a dog to bring up, it is equivalent to a Frenchman’s planting a salad bed.
By the following spring, Clunie, in partnership with Day (who represented the capital invested), was the respected and generally respectable owner of a Whitehall boat, which he christened the Salvation Lassie, in mock deference to the regenerative influence of hard work.
“‘ This is the Way I long have sought, And wept because I found it not,’ ” he would shout, at the top of his brazen head tones, in imitation of a Salvationers’ chorus, and drum with his oars in the oarlocks.
But there were deviations from the Way. When Morton found the boat dirty and neglected, and Clunie in a similar condition, the worse for his chief weakness, broaching acquaintance with every species of water-side vagabond, he would ignore his partner and go out with another man. And Clunie would have to submit to the jeers of his rivals in consequence.
But this was business.
Mary Hallock Foote.