“If you let him get at you, you’ll not do it a second time, mate,” said the man. “He’s the nastiest tempered beast I ever saw. I’d have wrung his neck long ago if he hadn’t such a fine coat.”
But John Broom said, as he had said before, “I like him and he’ll like me.”
When the cockatoo bit his finger to the bone, the man roared with laughter, but John Broom did not draw his hand away. He kept it still at the bird’s beak, and with the other he gently scratched him under the crest and wings. And when the white cockatoo began to stretch out his eight long toes, as cats clutch with their claws from pleasure, and chuckled, and sighed, and bit softly without hurting, and laid his head against the bars till his snow and sulphur feathers touched John Broom’s black locks, the man was amazed.
“Look here, mate,” said he, “you’ve the trick with birds, and no mistake. I’ll sell you this one cheap, and you’ll be able to sell him dear.”
“I’ve not a penny in the world,” said John Broom.
“You do look cleaned out too,” said the man, scanning him from head to foot. “I tell you what, you shall come with me a bit and tame the birds, and I’ll find you something to eat.”
Ten minutes before, John Broom would have jumped at this offer, but now he refused it. The sight of the cockatoo had brought back the fever of home-sickness in all its fierceness. He couldn’t stay out here. He would dare anything, do anything, to see the hills about Lingborough once more before him died; and even if he did not live to see them, he might live to sleep in that part of Davy’s Locker which should rock him on the shores of home.
The man gave him a shilling for fastening a ring and chain on to the Cocky’s ankle, and with this he got the best dinner he had eaten since he lost sight of the farm-bailiff’s speckled hat in the mist.
And then he went back to the one-eyed sailor, and shipped as cabin-boy again for the homeward voyage.
When John Broom did get home he did not go to sea again. He lived from hand to mouth in the seaport town, and slept, as he was well accustomed to sleep, in holes and corners.
Every day and every night, through the long months of the voyage, he had dreamed of begging his way barefoot to Miss Betty’s door. But now he did not go. His life was hard, but it was not cruel. He was very idle, and there was plenty to see. He wandered about the country as of old. The ships and shipping too had a fascination for him now that the past was past, and here he could watch them from the shore; and, partly for shame and partly for pride, he could not face the idea of going back. If he had been taunted with being a vagrant boy before, what would be said now if he presented himself, a true tramp, to the farm-bailiff? Besides, Miss Betty and Miss Kitty could not forgive him. It was impossible!