“How many more days have we got, sir?”
“Five; but there’s the return trip for you.”
Sandy’s face flushed. “If they send me home, I’ll be comin’ back!” he cried, clinging to the railing as the ship lurched forward. “I’m goin’ to be an American. I am goin’—” Further declarations as to his future policy were cut short.
From that time on the doctor took an interest in him. He even took up a collection of clothes for him among the officers. His professional services were no longer necessary, for Sandy enjoyed a speedy recovery from his maritime troubles.
“You are luckier than the rest,” he said, one day, stopping on his rounds. “I never had so many steerage patients before.”
The work was so heavy, in fact, that he obtained permission to get a boy to assist him. The happy duty devolved upon Sandy, who promptly embraced not only the opportunity, but the doctor and the profession as well. He entered into his new work with such energy and enthusiasm that by the end of the week he knew every man below the cabin deck. So expeditious did he become that he found many idle moments in which to cultivate acquaintances.
His chosen companion at these times was a boy in the steerage, selected not for congeniality, but for his unlimited knowledge of all things terrestrial, from the easiest way of making a fortune to the best way of spending it. He was a short, heavy-set fellow of some eighteen years. His hair grew straight up from an overhanging forehead, under which two small eyes seemed always to be furtively watching each other over the bridge of his flat snub nose. His lips met with difficulty across large, irregular teeth. Such was Ricks Wilson, the most unprepossessing soul on board the good ship America.
“You see, it’s this way,” explained Ricks as the boys sat behind the smokestack and Sandy became initiated into the mysteries of a wonderful game called “craps.” “I didn’t have no more ’n you’ve got. I lived down South, clean off the track of ever’thing. I puts my foot in my hand and went out and seen the world. I tramps up to New York, works my way over to England, tramps and peddles, and gits enough dough to pay my way back. Say, it’s bum slow over there. Why, they ain’t even on to street-cars in London! I makes more in a week at home than I do in a month in England. Say, where you goin’ at when we land?”
Sandy shook his head ruefully. “I got to go back,” he said.
Ricks glanced around cautiously, then moved closer.
“You ain’t that big a sucker, are you? Any feller that couldn’t hop the twig offen this old boat ain’t much, that’s all I got to say.”
“Oh, it’s not the gettin’ away,” said Sandy, more certain than ever, now that he was sure of an ally.
“Homesick?” asked Ricks, with a sneer.
Sandy gave a short laugh. “Home? Why, I ain’t got any home. I’ve just lived around since I was a young one. It’s a chance to get on that I’m after.”