Times were not very brisk in Hull just then. At anyrate, we did not find them so. We had a “runner” at the Home, who was supposed to help us find a ship, but certainly did not. He was a very curious person to look at. He weighed eighteen stone and was a perfect giant of strength, with legs like columns and a neck about twenty inches round. I never found out what his nationality was. He looked like a Russian, but denied that he was one. It was said that he once fought six men in the lane and downed them all in sheer desperation. As a matter of fact, he was rather cowardly, I think, and easily put on, though if he had really got mad something would have had to give. We did not rely on him but looked for ships ourselves in a very casual way. Most of us pretended to look for them and loafed about the neighbouring slums. When sailormen are thrown on their own resources they are pretty helpless creatures. The man who is a lion on a topsail yard in a gale is too often like a wet cat in a backyard when he is ashore. I was lazy enough myself, but as it happened it was I who got something to do for Ginger, for the New Brunswicker and myself.
I had not been living in the highly-desirable neighbourhood of Salthouse Lane for a week before I found myself without a stiver. The rest were in the same condition. Every three days or so I borrowed a penny from the boss and got a shave in order to keep up my spirits. Three days’ beard is almost as depressing as three days’ starvation, and the little shop at the corner, which renewed my self-respect for a penny, seemed to me a most admirable institution. As for drinks, we had none–we were sober sailors indeed. The sun might get over the fore-yard and go down over the cro’-jack but we never touched liquor. Nevertheless we had fights to relieve the monotony of the situation. The Nova Scotian and I took to being hostile. We disbelieved each other’s lies. So one day while we were in the smoking-room he said something which was not at all polite. I could not knock him down with a chair because the careful and provident boss had had them chained to the floor. So I hit him, and hit him rather hard, for what he had said out of pure devilry. He was sitting on the table and I knocked him off. His particular mate was the very thick-headed Englishman. He did his best for the Nova Scotian by holding me very tight while the blue-nose hammered me. This was awkward, to say nothing about the unfairness of it. I got away but presently found myself across a bench with my back in danger of being broken. More by good luck than management I broke loose and got the blue-nose across the bench, I am thankful to say I nearly broke his back. Then we waltzed round the room in the wildest way, till the wife of the boss and the servant girl flew in and broke up the party with the most amazing energy. I was the youngest and the most civilised, and the women naturally said it was the Nova Scotian’s fault. They said so in the most voluble manner, and the Nova Scotian did not like it. He said they took my part because I was not so ugly as he was, and said it wasn’t fair, especially as I had spoilt what little beauty he had. He further asserted that he would knock the stuffing out of me, and we were on hostile terms for twenty-four hours. Two days later he got a job as bo’sun in a barque and his mate shipped with him, and peace was assured for a time.