Sandy by Alice Hegan Rice
Chapter II. On Shipboard
The days that followed were not rose-strewn. Disgrace sat heavily upon the delinquent, and he did penance by foregoing the joys of society. Menial labor and the knowledge that he would not be allowed to land, but would be sent back by the first steamer, were made all the more unbearable by his first experience with illness. He had accepted his fate and prepared to die when the ship's surgeon found him.
The ship's surgeon was cruel enough to laugh, but he persuaded Sandy to come back to life. He was a small, white, round little man; and when he came rolling down the deck in his white linen suit, his face beaming from its white frame of close-cropped hair and beard, he was not unlike one of his own round white little pills, except that their sweetness stopped on the outside and his went clear through.
He discovered Sandy lying on his face in the passageway, his right hand still dutifully wielding the scrub-brush, but his spirit broken and his courage low.
"Hello!" he exclaimed briskly; "what's your name?"
"Me name is. The rest of me's Irish," groaned Sandy.
"Well, Sandy, my boy, that's no way to scrub. Come out and get some air, and then go back and do it right."
He guided Sandy's dying footsteps to the deck and propped him against the railing. That was when he laughed.
"Not much of a sailor, eh?" he quizzed. "You'll be all right soon; we have been getting the tail-end of a big nor'wester."
"A happy storm it must have been, sir, to wag its tail so gay," said Sandy, trying to smile.
The doctor clapped him on the back. "You're better. Want something to eat?"
Sandy declined with violence. He explained his feelings with all the authority of a first experience, adding in conclusion: "It was Jonah I used to be after feelin' sorry for; it ain't now. It's the whale."
The doctor prevailed upon him to drink some hot tea and eat a sandwich. It was a heroic effort, but Sandy would have done even more to prolong the friendly conversation.
"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."
"Well, what in thunder is takin' you back?"
"I don't know," said Sandy, "'cep'n' it ain't in me to give 'em the slip now I know 'em. Then there's the doctor--"
"That old feather-bed? O Lord! He's so good he gives me a pain. Goes round with his mouth hiked up in a smile, and I bet he's as mean as the--"
Before Hicks could finish he found himself inextricably tangled in Sandy's arms and legs, while that irate youth sat upon him and pommeled him soundly.
"So it's the good doctor ye'd be after blasphemin' and abusin' and makin' game of! By the powers, ye'll take it back! Speak one time more, and I'll make you swaller the lyin' words, if I have to break every bone in your skin!"
There was an ugly look in Ricks's face as he threw the smaller boy off, but further trouble was prevented by the appearance of the second mate.
Sandy hurried away to his duties, but not without an anxious glance at the upper deck. He had never lost an opportunity, since that first day, of looking up; but this was the first time that he was glad she was not there. Only once had he caught sight of a white tam and a tan coat, and that was when they were being conducted hastily below by a sympathetic stewardess.
But Sandy needed no further food for his dreams than he already had. On sunny afternoons, when he had the time, he would seek a secluded corner of the deck, and stretching himself on the boards with the green book in his hand, would float in a sea of sentiment. The fact that he had decided to study medicine and become a ship's surgeon in no wise interfered with his fixed purpose of riding forth into the world on a cream-white charger in search of a damsel in distress.
So thrilled did he become with the vision that he fell to making rhymes, and was surprised to find that the same pair of eyes always rhymed with skies--and they were brown.
Sometimes, at night, a group would gather on the steerage deck and sing. A black-haired Italian, with shirt open at the throat, would strike a pose and fling out a wild serenade; or a fat, placid German would remove his pipe long enough to troll forth a mighty drinking-song. Whenever the air was a familiar one, the entire circle joined in the chorus. At such times Sandy was always on hand, singing with the loudest and telling his story with the best.
"Make de jolly little Irish one to sing by hisself!" called a woman one night from the edge of the crowd. The invitation was taken up and repeated on every side. Sandy, laughing and protesting, was pushed to the front. Being thus suddenly forced into prominence, he suffered an acute attack of stage fright.
"Chirp up there now and give us a tune!" cried some one behind him.
"Can't ye remember none?" asked another.
"Sure," said Sandy, laughing sheepishly; "but they all come wrong end first."
Some one had thrust an old guitar in his hands, and he stood nervously picking at the strings. He might have been standing there still had not the moon come to his rescue. It climbed slowly out of the sea and sent a shimmer of silver and gold over the water, across the deck, and into his eyes. He forgot himself and the crowd. The stream of mystical romance that flows through the veins of every true Irishman was never lacking in Sandy. His heart responded to the beautiful as surely as the echo answers the call.
He seized the guitar, and picking out the notes with clumsy, faltering fingers, sang:
"Ah! The moment was sad when my love and I parted, Savourneen deelish, signan O!"
His boyish voice rang out clear and true, softening on the refrain to an indescribable tenderness that steeped the old song in the very essence of mystery and love.
"As I kiss'd off her tears, I was nigh broken-hearted!-- Savourneen deelish, signan O!"
He could remember his mother singing him to sleep by it, and the bright red of her lips as they framed the words:
"Wan was her cheek which hung on my shoulder; Chill was her hand, no marble was colder; I felt that again I should never behold her; Savourneen deelish, signan O!"
As the song trembled to a close, a slight burst of applause came from the cabin deck. Sandy looked up, frowned, and bit his lip. He did not know why, but he was sorry he had sung.
The next morning the America sailed into New York harbor, band playing and flags flying. She was bringing home a record and a jubilant crew. On the upper decks passengers were making merry over what is probably the most joyful parting in the world. In the steerage all was bustle and confusion and anticipation of the disembarking.
Eagerly, wistfully watching it all, stood Sandy, as alert and distressed as a young hound restrained from the hunt. It is something to accept punishment gracefully, but to accept punishment when it can be avoided is nothing short of heroism. Sandy had to shut his eyes and grip the railing to keep from planning an escape. Spread before him in brave array across the water lay the promised land--and, like Moses, he was not to reach it.
"That's the greatest city in America," said the ship's surgeon as he came up to where he was standing. "What do you think of it?"
"I never seen one stand on end afore!" exclaimed Sandy, amazed.
"Would you like to go ashore long enough to look about?" asked the doctor, with a smile running around the fat folds of his cheeks.
"And would I?" asked Sandy, his eyes flying open. "It's me word of honor I'd give you that I'd come back."
"The word of a stowaway, eh?" asked the doctor, still smiling.
In a moment Sandy's face was crimson. "Whatever I be, sir, I ain't a liar!"
The doctor pursed up his lips in comical dismay: "Not so hot, my man; not so hot! So you still want to be a doctor?"
Sandy cooled down sufficiently to say that it was the one ambition of his life.
"I know the physician in charge of the City Hospital here in New York. He's a good fellow. He'd put you through--give you work and put you in the way of going to the Medical School. You'd like that?"
"But," cried Sandy, bewildered but hopeful, "I have to go back!"
The doctor shook his head. "No, you don't. I've paid your passage."
Sandy waited a moment until the full import of the words was taken in, then he grabbed the stout little doctor and almost lifted him off his feet.
"Oh! But ain't you a brick!" he cried fervently, adding earnestly: "It ain't a present you're makin' me, though! I'll pay it back, so help me bob!"
At the pier the crowd of immigrants pushed and crowded impatiently as they waited for the cabin passengers to go ashore. Among them was Sandy, bareheaded and in motley garb, laughing and shoving with the best of them, hanging over the railing, and keeping up a fire of merriment at the expense of the crowd below. In his hand was a letter of recommendation to the physician in charge at the City Hospital, and in his inside pocket a ten-dollar bill was buttoned over a heart that had not a care in the world. In the great stream of life Sandy was one of the bubbles that are apt to come to the top.
"You better come down to Kentucky with me," urged Ricks Wilson, resuming an old argument. "I'm goin' to peddle my way back home, then git a payin' job at the racetrack."
"Wasn't I tellin' ye that it was a doctor I'm goin' to be?" asked Sandy, impatiently. Already Ricks's friendship was proving irksome.
On the gang-plank above him the passengers were leaving the ship. Some delay had arisen, and for a moment the procession halted. Suddenly Sandy caught his breath. There, just above him, stood "the damsel passing fair." Instead of the tam-o'-shanter she wore a big drooping hat of brown, which just matched the curls that were loosely tied at the back of her neck.
Sandy stood motionless and humbly adored her. He was a born lover, lavishing his affection, without discrimination or calculation, upon whatever touched his heart. It surely was no harm just to stand aside and look. He liked the way she carried her head; he liked the way her eyes went up a little at the outer corners, and the round, soft curve of her chin. She was gazing steadfastly ahead of her down the gang-plank, and he ventured a step nearer and continued his observations. As he did so, he made a discovery. The soft white of her cheek was gradually becoming pinker and pinker; the color which began under her lace collar stole up and up until it reached her eyes, which still gazed determinedly before her.
Sandy admired it as a traveler admires a sunrise, and with as little idea of having caused it.
The line of passengers moved slowly forward, and his heart sank. Suddenly his eyes fell upon the little hand-bag which she carried. On one end, in small white letters, was: "Ruth Nelson, Kentucky, U.S.A." He watched her until she was lost to view, then he turned eagerly back into the crowd. Elbowing his way forward, he seized Ricks by the arm.
"Hi, there!" he cried; "I've changed me mind. I'm goin' with you to Kentucky!"
So this impetuous knight errant enlisted under the will-o'-the-wisp love, and started joyously forth upon his quest.