Jerry, who had never had malaria, did not understand. But in his heart he knew great trouble in that Skipper was in trouble. Skipper did not recognize him, even when he sprang into the bunk, walked across Skipper’s heaving chest, and licked the acrid sweat of fever from Skipper’s face. Instead, Skipper’s wildly-thrashing arms brushed him away and flung him violently against the side of the bunk.
This was roughness that was not love-roughness. Nor was it the roughness of Borckman spurning him away with his foot. It was part of Skipper’s trouble. Jerry did not reason this conclusion. But, and to the point, he acted upon it as if he had reasoned it. In truth, through inadequacy of one of the most adequate languages in the world, it can only be said that Jerry sensed the new difference of this roughness.
He sat up, just out of range of one restless, beating arm, yearned to come closer and lick again the face of the god who knew him not, and who, he knew, loved him well, and palpitatingly shared and suffered all Skipper’s trouble.
“Eh, Clancey,” Skipper babbled. “It’s a fine job this day, and no better crew to clean up after the dubs of motormen. . . . Number three jack, Clancey. Get under the for’ard end.” And, as the spectres of his nightmare metamorphosed: “Hush, darling, talking to your dad like that, telling him the combing of your sweet and golden hair. As if I couldn’t, that have combed it these seven years—better than your mother, darling, better than your mother. I’m the one gold-medal prize-winner in the combing of his lovely daughter’s lovely hair. . . . She’s broken out! Give her the wheel aft there! Jib and fore-topsail halyards! Full and by, there! A good full! . . . Ah, she takes it like the beauty fairy boat that she is upon the sea. . . I’ll just lift that—sure, the limit. Blackey, when you pay as much to see my cards as I’m going to pay to see yours, you’re going to see some cards, believe me!”
And so the farrago of unrelated memories continued to rise vocal on Skipper’s lips to the heave of his body and the beat of his arms, while Jerry, crouched against the side of the bunk mourned and mourned his grief and inability to be of help. All that was occurring was beyond him. He knew no more of poker hands than did he know of getting ships under way, of clearing up surface car wrecks in New York, or of combing the long yellow hair of a loved daughter in a Harlem flat.
“Both dead,” Skipper said in a change of delirium. He said it quietly, as if announcing the time of day, then wailed: “But, oh, the bonnie, bonnie braids of all the golden hair of her!”
He lay motionlessly for a space and sobbed out a breaking heart. This was Jerry’s chance. He crept inside the arm that tossed, snuggled against Skipper’s side, laid his head on Skipper’s shoulder, his cool nose barely touching Skipper’s cheek, and felt the arm curl about him and press him closer. The hand bent from the wrist and caressed him protectingly, and the warm contact of his velvet body put a change in Skipper’s sick dreams, for he began to mutter in cold and bitter ominousness: “Any nigger that as much as bats an eye at that puppy. . .”