seamen’s forecastle of the British tramp steamer Glencairn
on a foggy night midway on the voyage between New York and Cardiff. An
irregular shaped compartment, the sides of which almost meet at the far
end to form a triangle. Sleeping bunks about six feet long, ranged three
deep with a space of three feet separating the upper from the lower, are
built against the sides. On the right above the bunks three or four
portholes can be seen. In front of the bunks, rough wooden benches. Over
the bunks on the left, a lamp in a bracket. In the left foreground, a
doorway. On the floor near it, a pail with a tin dipper. Oilskins are
hanging from a hook near the doorway.
far side of the forecastle is so narrow that it contains only one series
under the bunks a glimpse can be had of sea chests, suit cases, seaboots,
etc., jammed in indiscriminately.
regular intervals of a minute or so the blast of the steamer’s whistle
can be heard above all the other sounds.
men are sitting on the benches talking. They are dressed in dirty patched
suits of dungaree, flannel shirts, and all are in their stocking feet.
Four of the men are pulling on pipes and the air is heavy with rancid
tobacco smoke. Sitting on the top bunk in the left foreground, a
Norwegian, Paul, is softly playing some folk song on a battered accordion.
He stops from time to time to listen to the conversation.
the lower bunk in the rear a dark-haired, hard-featured man is lying
apparently asleep. One of his arms is stretched limply over the side of
the bunk. His face is very pale, and drops of clammy perspiration glisten
on his forehead.
is nearing the end of the dog watch—about ten minutes to eight in the
weazened runt of a man. He is telling a story. The others are listening
with amused, incredulous faces, interrupting him at the end of each
sentence with loud derisive guffaws.)
Makin’ love to me, she was! It’s Gawd’s truth! A bloomin’
nigger. Greased all over with cocoanut oil, she was. Gawd blimey, I
couldn’t stand ‘Cr. Bloody old cow, I says; and with that I fetched
‘er a buff on the ear wot knocked ‘er silly, an’—(He
is interrupted by a roar of laughter from the others.)
middle-aged man with black hair and mustache)
You’re a liar, Cocky.
dark young fellow)
Ho-ho! Ye werr neverr in New Guinea in yourr life, I’m thinkin’.
with a drooping blonde mustache—with ponderous sarcasm)
Yust tink of it! You say she wass a cannibal, Cocky?
brawny Irishman with the battered features of a prizefighter) How cud
ye doubt ut, Ollie? A quane av the naygurs she musta been surely. Who else
wud think herself aqual to fallin’ in love wid a beauthiful,
divil-may-care rake av a man the loike av Cocky? (a
burst of laughter from the crowd)
COCKY—(indignantly) Gawd strike me dead
if it ain’t true, every bleedin’ word of it. ‘Appened ten year ago
a Christmas dinner she had her eyes on.
been a tough old bird.
lucky for both av ye ye escaped; for the quane av the cannibal isles wad
‘a died av the belly ache the day afther Christmas, divil a doubt av ut.
laughter at this is long and loud.)
COCKY—(sullenly) Blarsted fat ‘eads!
sick man in the lower bunk in the rear groans and moves restlessly. There
is a hushed silence. All the men turn and stare at him.)
a hushed whisper)
We’d best not be talkin’ so loud and him tryin’ to have a bit av
a sleep. (He
tiptoes softly to the side of the bunk.) Yank! You’d be
wantin’ a drink av wather, maybe? (Yank
does not reply. Driscoll bends over and looks at him.)
It’s asleep he is, sure enough. His breath is chokin’ in his
throat loike wather gurglin’ in a poipe. (He
comes back quietly and sits down. All are silent, avoiding each other’s
a pause) Pore devil! It’s
over the side for ‘im, Gawd ‘elp ‘im.
your croakin’! He’s not dead yet and, praise God, he’ll have many a
long day yet before him.
his head doubtfully)
He’s bod, mon, he’s verry bod.
he’s alive. Many a man’s light woulda gone out after a fall like that.
next to him. He and me was goin’ down in number two hold to do some
chippin’. He puts his leg over careless-like and misses the ladder and
plumps straight down to the bottom. I was scared to look over for a
minute, and then I heard him groan and I scuttled down after him. He was
hurt bad inside for the blood was drippin’ from the side of his mouth.
He was groanin’ hard, but he never let a word out of him.
you blokes remember when we ‘auled ‘im in ‘ere? Oh, ‘ell, ‘e
says, oh, ‘ell—like that, and nothink else.
captain know where he iss hurted?
silly ol’ josser! Wot the ‘ell would ‘e know abaht anythink?
He fiddles in his mouth wi’ a bit of glass.
DRISCOLL—(angrily) The divil’s own
life ut is to be out on the lonely sea wid nothin’ betune you and a
grave in the ocean but a spindle-shanked, gray-whiskered auld fool the
loike av him. ‘Twas enough to make a saint shwear to see him wid his
gold watch in his hand, tryin’ to look as wise as an owl on a tree, and
all the toime he not knowin’ whether ‘twas cholery or the barber’s
itch was the matther wid Yank.
SCOTTY—(sardonically) He give him a dose of
salts, na doot?
a thing he gave him at all, but looked in the book he had wid him, and
shook his head, and walked out widout sayin’ a word, the second mate
afther him no wiser than himself, God’s curse on the two av thim!
a pause) Yank was a good
shipmate, pore beggar. Lend me four bob in Noo Yark, ‘e did.
A good shipmate he was and is, none betther. Ye said no more than the
truth, Cocky. Five years and more ut is since first I shipped wid him, and
we’ve stuck together iver since through good luck and bad. Fights
we’ve had, God help us, but ‘twas only when we’d a bit av drink
taken, and we always shook hands the nixt mornin’. Whativer was his was
mine, and many’s the toime I’d a been on the beach or worse, but for
him. And now—(His
voice trembles as he fights to control his emotion.)
Divil take me if I’m not startin’ to blubber loike an auld woman,
and he not dead at all, but goin’ to live many a long year yet, maybe.
sleep’ll do him good. He seems better now.
wude eat someting—
ye have him be eatin’ in his condishun? Sure it’s hard enough on the
rest av us wid nothin’ the matther wid our insides to be stomachin’
the skoff on this rusty lime-juicer.
SCOTTY—(indignantly) It’s a starvation
o’ work and no food—and the owners ridin’ around in carriages!
hash! Stew, stew! Marmalade, py damn! (He
swill! Fit only for swine is wot I say.
the dishwather they disguise wid the name av tea! And the putty they call
bread! My belly feels loike I’d swalleyed a dozen rivets at the thought
av ut! And sea-biscuit that’d break the teeth av a lion if he had the
misfortune to take a bite at one! (Unconsciously they have
all raised their voices, forgetting the sick man in their sailor’s
delight at finding something to grumble about.)
his feet Over the side of his bunk, stops playing his accordion, and says
slowly) And rot-ten
starts in playing again. The sick man gives a groan of pain.)
up his hand)
Shut your mouths, all av you. ‘Tis a hell av a thing for us to be
complainin’ about our guts, and a sick man maybe dyin’ listenin’ to
up and shakes his fist at the Norwegian) God stiffen you, ye
square-head scut! Put down that organ av yours or I’ll break your ugly
face for you. Is that banshee schreechin’ fit music for a sick man? (The
Norwegian puts his accordion in the bunk and lies back and closes his
eyes. Driscoll goes over and stands beside Yank. The steamer’s whistle
sounds particularly loud in the silence.)
this fog! (reaches
in under a bunk and yanks out a pair of seaboots, which he pulls on)
My lookout next, too. Must be nearly eight bells, boys. (With
the exception of Olson, all the men sitting up put on oilskins,
sou’westers, seaboots, etc., in preparation for the watch on deck. Olson
crawls into a lower bunk on the right.)
OLSON—(disgustedly) Nothin’ but yust
dirty weather all dis voyage. I yust can’t sleep when weestle blow. (He
turns his back to the light and is soon fast asleep and snoring.)
fog keeps up, I’m tellin’ ye, we’ll no be in Cardiff for a week or
just such a night as this the auld Dover wint down. Just about this toime
ut was, too, and we all sittin’ round in the fo’c’stle, Yank beside
me, whin all av a suddint we heard a great slitherin’ crash, and the
ship heeled over till we was all in a heap on wan side. What came afther I
disremimber exactly, except ‘twas a hard shift to get the boats over the
side before the auld teakittle sank. Yank was in the same boat wid me, and
sivin morthal days we drifted wid scarcely a drop of wather or a bite to
chew on. ‘Twas Yank here that held me down whin I wanted to jump into
the ocean, roarin’ mad wid the thirst. Picked up we were on the same day
wid only Yank in his senses, and him steerin’ the boat.
COCKY—(protestingly) Blimey but you’re a
cheerful blighter, Driscoll! Talkin’ abaht shipwrecks in this ‘ere
blushin’ fog. (Yank groans and stirs uneasily, opening his eyes. Driscoll hurries to
ye feelin’ any betther, Yank?
a weak voice) No.
you must be. You look as sthrong as an ox. (appealing
to the others)
Am I tellin’ him a lie?
sleep’s done you good.
be ‘avin your pint of beer in Cardiff this day week.
fish and chips, mon!
YANK—(peevishly) What’re yuh all
lyin’ fur? D’yuh think I’m scared to—(He
hesitates as if frightened by the word he is about to say.)
be thinkin’ such things! (The
ship’s bell is heard heavily sounding eight times. From the forecastle
head above the voice of the lookout rises in a long wail: Aaall’s welll. The
men look uncertainly at Yank as if undecided whether to say good-by or
an agony of fear)
Don’t leave me, Drisc! I’m dyin’, I tell yuh. I won’t stay
here alone with everyone snorin’. I’ll go out on deck. (He
makes a feeble attempt to rise, but sinks back with a sharp groan. His
breath comes in wheezy gasps.)
Don’t leave me, Drisc! (His
face grows white and his head falls back with a jerk.)
be worryin’, Yank. I’ll not move a step out av here—and let that
divil av a bo’sun curse his black head off. You speak a word to the
bo’sun, Cocky. Tell him that Yank is bad took and I’ll be stayin’
wid him a while yet.
Davis and Scotty go out quietly.)
the alleyway) Gawd blimey, the
fog’s thick as soup.
ye satisfied now, Yank? (Receiving no answer,
he bends over the still form.)
He’s fainted, God help him! (He
gets a tin dipper from the bucket and bathes Yank’s forehead with the water.
Yank shudders and opens his eyes.)
YANK—(slowly) I thought I was
goin’ then. Wha’ did yuh wanta wake me up fur?
Is it wishful for heaven ye are?
YANK—(gloomily) Hell, I guess.
For the love av the saints don’t be talkin’ loike that! You’d
give a man the creeps. It’s chippin’ rust on deck you’ll be in a day
or two wid the best av us. (Yank does not answer, but closes his eyes wearily. The seaman who has
been on lookout, Smitty, a young Englishman, comes in and takes off his
dripping oilskins. While he is doing this the man whose turn at the
wheel has been relieved enters. He is a dark burly fellow with a round
stupid face. The Englishman steps softly over to Driscoll. The other
crawls into a lower bunk.)
SMITTY—(whispering) How’s Yank?
Ask him yourself. He’s awake.
YANK—I’m all right, Smitty.
SMITTY—Glad to hear it, Yank. (He crawls to an upper bunk
and is soon asleep.)
seaman who came in after Smitty twists his head in the direction of the
sick man.) You feel
YANK—(wearily) Yes, Ivan.
rolls over on his side and falls asleep immediately.)
pause broken only by snores—with a bitter laugh) Good-by and good luck
to the lot of you!
painin’ you again?
YANK—It hurts like hell—here. (He points to the lower
part of his chest on the left side.)
I guess my old pump’s busted. Ooohh! (A
spasm of pain contracts his pale features. He presses his hand to his side
and writhes on the thin mattress of his bunk. The perspiration stands out
in beads on his forehead.)
DRISCOLL—(terrified) Yank! Yank! What is
ut? (jumping to his feet)
I’ll run for the captain. (He
starts for the doorway.)
up in his bunk, frantic with fear)
Don’t leave me, Drisc! For God’s sake, don’t leave me alone! (He
leans over the side of his bunk and spits. Driscoll comes back to him.)
again! I’d best be gettin’ the captain.
YANK—No, no, don’t leave me! If yuh do
I’ll git up and follow you. I ain’t no coward, but I’m scared to
stay here with all of them asleep and snorin’. (Driscoll,
not knowing what to do, sits down on the bench beside him. He grows calmer
and sinks back on the mattress.)
The captain can’t do me no good, yuh know it yourself. The pain
ain’t so bad now, but I thought it had me then. It was a buzz-saw
cuttin’ into me.
DRISCOLL—(fiercely) God blarst ut!
(The captain and the second
mate of the steamer enter the forecastle. The captain is an old man with
gray mustache and whiskers. The mate is clean-shaven and middle-aged. Both
are dressed in simple blue uniforms.)
out his watch and feeling Yank’s pulse) How do you feel now?
YANK—(feebly) All right, sir.
the pain in your chest?
YANK—It still hurts, sir, worse than ever.
a thermometer from his pocket and putting it into Yank’s mouth)
Here. Be sure and keep this in under your tongue, not over it.
a pause) Isn’t this your
watch on deck, Driscoll?
sorr, but Yank was fearin’ to be alone, and—
at his watch for a moment or so; then takes the thermometer from Yank’s
mouth and goes to the lamp to read it. His expression grows very grave. He
beckons the mate and Driscoll to the corner near the doorway. Yank watches
them furtively. The captain speaks in a low voice to the mate.)
Way up, both of them. (to
Has he been spitting blood again?
much for the hour just past, sorr, but before that—
hasn’t eaten anything?
he drink that medicine I sent him?
sorr, but it didn’t stay down.
I can’t do anything else for him. It’s too serious for me. If this
had only happened a week later we’d be in Cardiff in time to—
help him some way, sorr!
But, my good man, I’m not a doctor. (more
kindly as he sees Driscoll’s grief)
You and he have been shipmates a long time?
years and more, sorr.
see. Well, don’t let him move. Keep him quiet and we’ll hope for the
best. I’ll read the matter up and send him some medicine, something to
ease the pain, anyway. (goes over to Yank)
Keep up your courage! You’ll be better tomorrow. (He breaks down lamely
before Yank’s steady gaze.)
We’ll pull you through all right—and—hm—well—coming,
Robinson? Dammit! (He goes out hurriedly,
followed by the mate.)
to conceal his anxiety)
Didn’t I tell you you wasn’t half as sick as you thought you was?
The Captain’ll have you out on deck cursin’ and swearin’ loike a
trooper before the week is out.
YANK—Don’t lie, Drisc. I head what he
said, and if I didn’t I c’d tell by the way I feel. I know what’s
goin’ to happen. I’m goin’ to—(He
hesitates for a second—then
I’m goin’ to die, that’s what, and the sooner the better!
No, and be damned to you, you’re not. I’ll not let you.
YANK—It ain’t no use, Drisc. I ain’t
got a chance, but I ain’t scared. Gimme a drink of water, will yuh,
Drisc? My throat’s burnin’ up. (Driscoll
brings the dipper full of water and supports his head while he drinks in great gulps.)
vainly for some word of comfort)
Are ye feelin’ more aisy loike now?
YANK—Yes—now—when I know it’s all up.
pause) You mustn’t take it so hard, Drisc. I was just thinkin’ it
ain’t as bad as people think—dyin’. I ain’t never took much stock
in the truck them sky-pilots preach. I ain’t never had religion; but I
know whatever it is what comes after it can’t be no worser’n this. I
don’t like to leave you, Drisc, but—that’s all.
Lad, lad, don’t be talkin’.
YANK—This sailor life ain’t much to cry
about leavin’—just one ship after another, had work, small pay, and
bum grub; and when we git into port, just a drunk endin’ up in a fight,
and all your money gone, and then ship away again. Never meetin’ no nice
people; never gittin’ outa sailor town, hardly, in any port; travelin’
all over the world and never seein’ none of it; without no one to care
whether you’re alive or dead. (with a bitter smile)
There ain’t much in all that that’d make yuh sorry to lose it,
DRISCOLL—(gloomily) It’s a hell av a
life, the sea.
YANK—(musingly) It must be great to
stay on dry land all your life and have a farm with a house of your own
with cows and pigs and chickens, ‘way in the middle of the land where
yuh’d never smell the sea or see a ship. It must be great to have a
wife, and kids to play with at night after supper when your work was done.
It must be great to have a home of your own, Drisc.
a great sigh) It must, surely; but
what’s the use av thinkin’ av ut? Such things are not for the loikes
YANK—Sea-fain’ is all right when you’re
young and don’t care, but we ain’t chickens no more, and somehow, I
dunno, this last year has seemed rotten, and I’ve had a hunch I’d
quit—with you, of course—and we’d save our coin, and go to Canada or
Argentine or some place and git a farm, just a small one, just enough to
live on. I never told yuh this ‘cause I thought you’d laugh at me.
DRISCOLL—(enthusiastically) Laugh at you, is ut?
When I’m havin’ the same thoughts myself, toime afther toime. It’s a
grand idea and we’ll be doin’ ut sure if you’ll stop your crazy
notions—about—about bein’ so sick.
YANK—(sadly) Too late. We
shouldn’ta made this trip, and then— How’d all the fog git in here?
YANK—Everything looks misty. Must be my
eyes gittin’ weak, I guess. What was we talkin’ of a minute ago? Oh,
yes, a farm. It’s too late. (his
Argentine, did I say? D’yuh remember the times we’ve had in Buenos
Aires? The moving pictures in Barracas? Some class to them, d’yuh
I do that; and so does the piany player. He’ll not be forgettin’
the black eye I gave him in a hurry.
YANK—Remember the time we was there on the
beach and had to go to Tommy Moore’s boarding house to git shipped? And
he sold us rotten oilskins and seaboots full of holes, and shipped us on a
skys’l yarder round the Horn, and took two months’ pay for it. And the
days we used to sit on the park benches along the Paseo Colon with the
vigilantes lookin’ hard at us? And the songs at the Sailor’s Opera
where the guy played ragtime—d’yuh remember them?
La Plata—phew, the stink of the hides! I always liked Argentine—all
except that booze, caña. How drunk we used to git on that, remember?
forget ut? My head pains me at the menshun av that divil’s brew.
YANK—Remember the night I went crazy with
the heat in Singapore? And the time you was pinched by the cops in Port
Said? And the time we was both locked up in Sydney for fightin’?
YANK—And that fight on the dock at Cape
voice betrays great inward perturbation.)
Don’t be thinkin’ av that now. ‘Twas past and gone.
YANK—D’yuh think He’ll hold it up agin
YANK—God. They say He sees everything. He
must know it was done in fair fight, in self-defense, don’t yuh think?
course. Ye stabbed him, and be damned to him, for the skulkin’ swine he
was, afther him tryin’ to stick you in the back, and you not suspectin’.
Let your conscience be aisy. I wisht I had nothin’ blacker than that on
my sowl. I’d not be afraid av the angel Gabriel himself.
shudder) I c’d see him a minute ago with the blood spurtin’ out of
his neck. Ugh!
fever, ut is, that makes you see such things. Give no heed to ut.
YANK—(uncertainly) You don’t think
He’ll hold it up agin me—God, I mean?
there’s justice in hiven, no! (Yank
seems comforted by this assurance.)
We won’t reach Cardiff for a week at least. I’ll be buried at sea.
his hands over his ears)
Ssshh! I won’t listen to you.
if he had not heard him)
It’s as good a place as any other, I s’pose—only I always wanted
to be buried on dry land. But what the hell’ll I care—then? (fretfully)
Why should it be a rotten night like this with that damned whistle
blowin’ and people snorin’ all around? I wish the stars was out, and
the moon, too; I c’d lie out on deck and book at them, and it’d make
it easier to go—somehow.
the love av God don’t be talkin’ loike that!
YANK—Whatever pay’s comin’ to me yuh
can divvy up with the rest of the boys; and you take my watch. It ain’t
worth much, but it’s all I’ve got.
have ye no relations at all to call your own?
YANK—No, not as I know of. One thing I
forgot: You know Fanny the barmaid at the Red Stork in Cardiff?
and who doesn’t?
been good to me. She tried to lend me half a crown when I was broke there
last trip. Buy her the biggest box of candy yuh c’n find in Cardiff. (breaking
down—in a choking voice)
It’s hard to ship on this voyage I’m goin’ on— alone! (Driscoll
reaches out and grasps his hand. There is a pause, during which both fight
to control themselves.) My
throat’s like a furnace. (He
gasps for air.) Gimme a drink of
water, will yuh, Drisc? (Driscoll gets
him a dipper of water.)
I wish this was a pint of beer. Oooohh! (He chokes, his face convulsed with agony, his hands tearing
at his shirt front. The dipper falls from his nerveless fingers.)
the love av God, what is ut, Yank?
with tremendous difficulty)
S’long, Drisc! (He
stares straight in front of him with eyes starting from their sockets.)
YANK—(faintly) A pretty lady dressed
in black. (His
face twitches and his body writhes in a final
spasm, then straightens out rigidly.)
with horror) Yank! Yank! Say a word to me for the love av hiven! (He
shrinks away from the bunk, making the sign of the cross. Then comes back
and puts a trembling hand on Yank’s chest and bends closely over the
the alleyway) Oh, Driscoll! Can you
leave Yank for arf a mo’ and give me a ‘and?
a great sob) Yank! (He
sinks down on his knees beside the bunk, his head on his hands. His lips
move in some half-remembered
his oilskins and sou’wester glistening with drops of water)
The fog’s lifted. (Cocky
sees Driscoll and stands staring at him with open mouth. Driscoll makes
the sign of the cross again.)
COCKY—(mockingly) Sayin’ ‘is
catches sight of the still figure in the bunk and an expression of awed
understanding comes over his face. He takes off his dripping sou’wester
and stands, scratching his head.)
a hushed whisper)