“The British army with Kipling trimmings being out of the question, the original issue is still before us. I’ll have to work, Mac, and work like the devil, if I’m to feed myself.”
There being no answer to this, McWhirter contented himself with eyeing me.
“I’m thinking,” I said, “of going to Europe. The sea is calling me, Mac.”
“So was the grave a month ago, but it didn’t get you. Don’t be an ass, boy. How are you going to sea?”
“Before the mast.” This apparently conveying no meaning to McWhirter, I supplemented—“as a common sailor.”
He was indignant at first, offering me his room and a part of his small salary until I got my strength; then he became dubious; and finally, so well did I paint my picture of long, idle days on the ocean, of sweet, cool nights under the stars, with breezes that purred through the sails, rocking the ship to slumber—finally he waxed enthusiastic, and was even for giving up the pharmacy at once and sailing with me.
He had been fitting out the storeroom of a sailing-yacht with drugs, he informed me, and doing it under the personal direction of the owner’s wife.
“I’ve made a hit with her,” he confided. “Since she’s learned I’m a graduate M.D., she’s letting me do the whole thing. I’ve made up some lotions to prevent sunburn, and that seasick prescription of old Larimer’s, and she thinks I’m the whole cheese. I’ll suggest you as ships doctor.”
“How many men in the crew?”
“Eight, I think, or ten. It’s a small boat, and carries a small crew.”
“Then they don’t want a ship’s doctor. If I go, I’ll go as a sailor,” I said firmly. “And I want your word, Mac, not a word about me, except that I am honest.”
“You’ll have to wash decks, probably.”
“I am filled with a wild longing to wash decks,” I asserted, smiling at his disturbed face. “I should probably also have to polish brass. There’s a great deal of brass on the boat.”
“How do you know that?”
When I told him, he was much excited, and, although it was dark and the Ella consisted of three lights, he insisted on the opera-glasses, and was persuaded he saw her. Finally he put down the glasses and came over, to me.
“Perhaps you are right, Leslie,” he said soberly. “You don’t want charity, any more than they want a ship’s doctor. Wherever you go and whatever you do, whether you’re swabbing decks in your bare feet or polishing brass railings with an old sock, you’re a man.”
He was more moved than I had ever seen him, and ate a gum-drop to cover his embarrassment. Soon after that he took his departure, and the following day he telephoned to say that, if the sea was still calling me, he could get a note to the captain recommending me. I asked him to get the note.
Good old Mac! The sea was calling me, true enough, but only dire necessity was driving me to ship before the mast—necessity and perhaps what, for want of a better name, we call destiny. For what is fate but inevitable law, inevitable consequence.