“I cannot see your face,” he screamed, “but meseems your voice is a voice I know. What is your name?”
In a torn sob the answer came across the water:
“Keeling—Abel Keeling.... Oh, my God!”
And Abel Keeling’s cry of triumph, that mounted to a victorious “Huzza!” was lost in the downward plunge of the Mary of the Tower, that left the strait empty save for the sun’s fiery blaze and the last smoke-like evaporation of the mists.
For all I ever knew to the contrary, it was his own name; and something about him, name or man or both, always put me in mind, I can’t tell you how, of negroes. As regards the name, I dare say it was something huggermugger in the mere sound—something that I classed, for no particular reason, with the dark and ignorant sort of words, such as “Obi” and “Hoodoo.” I only know that after I learned that his name was Rooum, I couldn’t for the life of me have thought of him as being called anything else.
The first impression that you got of his head was that it was a patchwork of black and white—black bushy hair and short white beard, or else the other way about. As a matter of fact, both hair and beard were piebald, so that if you saw him in the gloom a dim patch of white showed down one side of his head, and dark tufts cropped up here and there in his beard. His eyebrows alone were entirely black, with a little sprouting of hair almost joining them. And perhaps his skin helped to make me think of negroes, for it was very dark, of the dark brown that always seems to have more than a hint of green behind it. His forehead was low, and scored across with deep horizontal furrows.
We never knew when he was going to turn up on a job. We might not have seen him for weeks, but his face was always as likely as not to appear over the edge of a crane-platform just when that marvellous mechanical intuition of his was badly needed. He wasn’t certificated. He wasn’t even trained, as the rest of us understood training; and he scoffed at the drawing-office, and laughed outright at logarithms and our laborious methods of getting out quantities. But he could set sheers and tackle in a way that made the rest of us look silly. I remember once how, through the parting of a chain, a sixty-foot girder had come down and lay under a ruck of other stuff, as the bottom chip lies under a pile of spellikins—a hopeless-looking smash. Myself, I’m certificated twice or three times over; but I can only assure you that I wanted to kick myself when, after I’d spent a day and a sleepless night over the job, I saw the game of tit-tat-toe that Rooum made of it in an hour or two. Certificated or not, a man isn’t a fool who can do that sort of thing. And he was one of these fellows, too, who can “find water”—tell you where water is and what amount of getting it is likely to take, by just walking over the place. We aren’t certificated up to that yet.