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Shovels And Bricks
by [?]

Mr. John Murphy, boarding master, was on bad terms with himself. He had been kicked off the poop-deck of Captain Williams’s big ship, the Albatross, lying off Tompkinsville, waiting to dock, thence to the gangway, and from there shoved, struck in the face, and further kicked and maltreated until he had flopped into the boat at the foot of the steps. Williams was a six-footer, a graduate “bucko” now in charge of this big skysail-yarder, and he had resented Murphy’s appearance on board with whisky and kind words for his men before he was through with them. Not caring to dock his ship with the help of riggers at five dollars a day, he had called Murphy aft, lectured him on the ethics and proprieties of seafaring, and then had punished him for an indiscreet reference to the rights of boarding masters who must needs solicit boarders in order to make a living. All that Murphy could do under the circumstances was to shout up from the boat his defiance of Captain Williams, and a threat to prevent his getting a new crew when ready to sail–which was clearly within his power as a member of the Association of Boarding and Shipping Masters. But Williams, red-bearded, angry-faced, and victorious, replied with injunctions to descend to the infernal regions and remain there, and Murphy pulled ashore and took the boat to New York, bent upon vengeance.

At the door of his boarding-house in Front Street he met Hennesey, his runner. Hennesey was a small man, sly, shrewd, and persuasive, and so far had given satisfaction in the difficult business of soliciting incoming crews to board at Murphy’s house instead of the Sailors’ Home, the Provident Seamen’s Mission, and other like institutions. But Murphy’s mood was strong upon him, and he asked, peremptorily:

“Well, what did ye git?”

“Nothin’; the Mission launch wuz on hand and the bunch wint in a body.”

“Dom yer soul, what do I pay ye fur, anyhow?” stormed Murphy. “Are ye no good? Tell me thot. Are ye no good at all? What are ye takin’ my money fur?”

“To git sailors to come to yer house on commission,” retorted Hennesey, hotly; “an’ fur fear I’d be makin’ too much, ye sind me to a bloody coaster, whose min are in the union, while you go down to the Albatross, in from deep water.”

“I got no wan from the Albatross.”

“No fault o’ yours or mine. I’d ha’ got ’em.”

“None o’ yer shlack.”

“To hill wi’ ye.”

“Ye’re discharged. Come in an’ I’ll pay ye off.”

“Right ye are. From this on I’ll work fur mesilf and git your business, ye skin.”

Hennesey’s estimate of Murphy was not far wrong, though it might also apply to himself. The profits of a sailors’ boarding-house depend not upon the cash paid in by men with money, who choose their own ship and come and go as they please, but upon the advance or allotment of pay which the law allows to deep-water seamen in order that they may purchase an outfit of clothing before sailing. To get this allotment, Murphy and others of his kind would take in and feed any penniless sailor long enough to run up an inflated bill for board, money lent, and clothing, then find him a ship and walk him to the shipping-office, more or less drugged or drunk. Here the penniless sailor dared not, even if suspicious, contest the claim, for, should he do so, he would find himself not only out of a ship, but out of a boarding-house; so he would sign away his allotment, and go aboard with what clothing his benefactor had allowed him. As deep-water men on shore are invariably drunk, drugged, or penniless, the boarding-masters, to whom the skippers must apply for men, easily control the situation. And, as machinery for such control, nearly all boarding-houses have the front ground floor divided into barroom and clothing-store, while in the rear is the dining-room and upstairs the bedrooms, each with as many beds as there is room for. Thus, a man may be housed, fed, clothed, drugged, and shipped from the same address. The remedy for this has no place in this story.