Every Man for Himself Part 43

would surely make it if the wind held true a few years longer. 'Twelve thirty more, Tumm,' says he, 'an' if 'twasn't for the pork I might manage it this season. The longer you lives, Tumm,' says he, 'the more expensive it gets. Cost me four fifty las' season for Dr. Hook's Surecure Egyptian Lumbago Oil, an' one fifty, Tumm, for a pair o' green gla.s.ses t' fend off blindness from the aged. An' I jus' got t' have pork t' keep my ol' bones warm. I don't _want_ no pork,' says he; 'but they isn't no heat in flour, an', anyhow, I got t' build my shoulder muscles up. You take a ol' hulk like mine,' says he, 'an' you'll find it a wonderful expensive craft t' keep in sailin' order.'

"'You stick t' pork,' says I.

"'I was thinkin',' says he, 'o' makin' a small investment in a few bottles o' Hook's Vigor. Clerk o' the _Free for All_,' says he, ''lows 'tis a wonderful nostrum t' make the old feel young.'

"'You stick t' pork,' says I, 'an' be d.a.m.ned t' the clerk o' the _Free for All_.'

"'Maybe I better,' says he, 'an' build up my shoulders. They jus' _got_ t' be humored.'

"Ol' Bill Hulk always 'lowed that if by G.o.d's chance they'd on'y come a fair fishin' season afore his shoulders give out he'd make a self-respectin' haul an' be through. 'Back give out about thirteen year ago,' says he, 'the time I got cotched by a dirty nor'easter on the Bull's Horn grounds. One o' them strings back there sort o' went an'

snapped,' says he, 'jus' as I was pullin' in the Tickle, an' she isn't been o' much use t' me since. Been rowin' with my shoulders for a little bit past,' says he, 'an' doin' very fair in southerly weather; but I got a saucy warnin',' says he, 'that they won't stand nothin' from the nor'east. "No, sir," says they; "nothin' from the nor'east for we, Bill Hulk, an' don't you put us to it!" I'm jus' a bit afeared,' says he, 'that they might get out o' temper in a southerly tumble; an' if they done that, why, I'd jus' have t' stop, dear Lord!' says he, ''ithout bein' through! Isn't got no legs t' speak of,' says he, 'but I don't need none. I got my arms runnin' free,' says he,' an' I got one thumb an' all my fishin' fingers 'ceptin' two. Lungs,' says he, 'is so-so; they wheezes, Tumm, as you knows, an' they labors in a fog, an' aches all the time, but chances is they'll _last_, an' a fair man can't ask no more. As for liver, Tumm,' says he, 'they isn't a liver on these here coasts t' touch the liver I got. Why,' says he, 'I never knowed I had one till I was told!'

"'Liver,' says I, 'is a ticklish business.'

"''Lowin' a man didn't overeat,' says he, 'think he could spurt along for a spell on his liver?'

"'I does,' says I.

"'That's good,' says he; 'for I'm countin' a deal on she.'

"'Never you fear,' says I. '_She'll_ stand you.'

"'Think she will?' says he, jus' like a child. 'Maybe, then,' says he, 'with my own labor, Tumm, I'll buy my own grave at last!'

"But the season bore hard on the ol' man, an' when I balanced un up in the fall o' the year, the twelve thirty he'd been t' leeward o' the twenty-three twenty-five Tom Neverbudge wanted for the plot where the two little graves lay side by side had growed t' fifteen ninety-three.

"'Jus' where I was nine year ago,' says he, 'lackin' thirty-four cents.'

"'Never you fear,' says I

"'My G.o.d! Tumm,' says he, 'I got t' do better nex' season.'"

Tumm paused to gaze at the stars.

"Still there," I ventured.

"Winkin' away," he answered, "the wise little beggars!"

The _Good Samaritan_ dawdled onward.

"Well, now, sir," Tumm continued, "winter tumbled down on Gingerbread Cove, thick an' heavy, with nor'east gales an' mountains o' snow; but ol' Bill Hulk weathered it out on his own hook, an' by March o' that season, I'm told, had got so far along with his shoulder muscles that he went swilin' [sealing] with the Gingerbread men at the first offsh.o.r.e sign. 'Twas a big pack, four mile out on the floe, with rough ice, a drear gray day, an' the wind in a nasty temper. He done very well, I'm told, what with the legs he had, an' was hard at it when the wind changed to a westerly gale an' drove the ice t' sea. They wasn't no hope for Bill, with four mile o' ice atween him an' the sh.o.r.e, an' every chunk an' pan o' the floe in a mad hurry under the wind: _they_ knowed it an' _he_ knowed it. 'Lads,' says he, 'you jus' run along home or you'll miss your supper. As for me,' says he, 'why, I'll jus' keep on swilin'. Might as well make a haul,' says he, 'whatever comes of it.'

The last they seed o' Bill, I'm told, he was still hard at it, gettin'

his swiles on a likely pan; an' they all come safe t' land, every man o'

them, 'ceptin' two young fellers, I'm told, which was lost in a jam off the Madman's Head. Wind blowed westerly all that night, I'm told, but fell jus' after dawn; an' then they nosed poor ol' Bill out o' the floe, where they found un buried t' the neck in his own dead swiles, for the warmth of the life they'd had, but hard put to it t' keep the spark alight in his own chilled breast.

"'Maybe I'm through,' says he, when they'd got un ash.o.r.e; 'but I'll hang on so long as I'm able.'

"'Uncle Billy,' says they, 'you're good for twenty year yet.'

"'No tellin',' says he.

"'Oh, sure!' says they; 'you'll do it.'

"'Anyhow,' says he, 'now that you've fetched me t' _land_,' says he, 'I got t' hang on till the _Quick as Wink_ comes in.'

"'What for?' says they.

"'Nothin' much,' says he; 'but I jus' got to.'

"'You go t' bed,' says they, 'an' we'll stow them swile in the stage.'

"'I'll lie down an' warm up,' says he, 'an' rest for a spell. Jus' a little spurt,' says he, 'jus' a little spurt-o' rest.'

"'You've made a wonderful haul,' says they.

"'At last!' says he.

"'Rest easy,' says they, 'as t' that.'

"'Twas the women that put un t' bed.

"'Seems t' me,' says he, 'that the frost has bit my heart.'

"So ol' Bill Hulk was flat on his back when I made Gingerbread Cove with supplies in the first o' that season-anch.o.r.ed there in bed, sir, at last, with no mortal hope o' makin' the open sea again. Lord! how white an' withered an' cold he was! From what a far-off place in age an' pain an' weariness he looked back at me!

"'I been waitin', Tumm,' says he. 'Does you hear?'

"I bent close t' hear.

"'I'm in a hurry,' says he. 'Isn't got no chance t' pa.s.s the time o'

day. Does you hear?'

"'Ay,' says I.

"'I got hopes,' says he. 'Tom Neverbudge haves come down t' twenty-two seventy-five. You'll find a old sock in the corner locker, Tumm,' says he, 'with my fortune in the toe. Pa.s.s un here. An' hurry, Tumm, hurry, for I isn't got much of a grip left! Now, Tumm,' says he, 'measure the swile oil in the stage an' balance me up for the las' time.'

"'How much you got in that sock?' says I.

"'Nothin' much,' says he. 'Jus' a little left over.'

"'But _how_ much?'

"'I'm not wantin' t' tell,' says he, 'lest you cheat me with kindness.

I'd have you treat me as a man, come what will.'

"'So help me G.o.d! then, Bill Hulk,' says I, 'I'll strike that balance fair.'

"'Tumm!' he called.

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