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The Renegade
by [?]


It was two o’clock in the afternoon, and from her uneasy anchorage in the pass the German man-of-war struck the time, four bells. Overhead the sun shone fiercely through a mist of fire; below, the bay gave back a dancing glare; on the outer reef the long breakers foamed and tumbled, white as far as the eye could reach. From his perch beneath the bows of the Northern Light a sailor, paint brush in hand, was slowly wearing out the day–a brown-bearded, straight-nosed, handsome man of thirty, his red shirt open to the waist, his bare arms stained with the drippings of his brush. Astride of his plank, which hung suspended in midair by a block and tackle at either end, the seaman faced the task that seemed to have no end. For a week he had been at it, patch by patch, working his way round the bark, while the bells had struck on the man-of-war and the sun had risen and set.

As he swept his brush across the blistered wall in front of him, he wondered moodily whether fate had nothing more in store for him than this. Was he to finish as he had begun, a common sailor, doing forever what others bade him?–painting other people’s ships, pulling other people’s ropes, clinging at night on other people’s yards to take in other people’s sails, facing tempests and squalls, reefs, lee shores, and all the vicissitudes of the deep–for others! He laid down the brush beside him, and in a somber reverie looked toward Apia. His eyes scarcely took in the bigger buildings that were dotted here and there round the circumference of the beach: the stone cathedral, the great yellow warehouses of the Firm, the two hotels, the consulates, churches, and stores. What attracted him, what held him in a sort of spell, were the lesser roofs showing through the green of trees and gardens, the tiny cottages on the outskirts of the town, or others still farther back, scattered and solitary on the wooded hills. Was he, then, never to possess a house of his own nor a yard of earth? Was the sea, the accursed sea, to claim him till he died? What had he done, he asked himself, that others drew all the prizes and left him but the blanks–that they should stay ashore and prosper–that they should marry and have children round them, while he drudged at sea alone? Those traders, clerks, saloon-keepers, those mechanics, carpenters, shipwrights, smiths, and stevedores, how he envied them! envied their houses, their wives, their children, their gardens, their soft and comfortable lives, everything that made them so different from himself; he, the outcast, with no home but his musty bunk; they, the poorest, kings beside him.

It was the sea, he said to himself–the sea, that took all and gave nothing; the sea, mother of all injustice and misery; the sea, whose service was to tie oneself to the devil’s tail and whisk forever about the world, sweating in doldrums, freezing in snow squalls, hanging on to lashing yards, blinded, soaked, benumbed, the gale above, death below. And yet even here there were some, no better indeed than he, who grasped the meager prizes that even the sea itself could not withhold; prizes that he could never hope to touch–the command of ships, the right to tread the quarter-deck, the handle to one’s name. How did they do it, these favored ones of fortune? How did Hansen, that stinking Dutchman, ever rise to be the master of the Northern Light ?–and that swine Bates, the mate, who already had the promise of a ship?–and Knight, the second mate, a boy but twenty-two, yet whose foot was even now on the upward ladder.

“Jack Wilson,” said the sailor to himself, “Jack Wilson, you’re a fool!”

Having several times delivered himself of this sentiment, always with an increasing heartiness of self-contempt, he slapped on some more paint and began to whistle. But the whistle died away again, for a little house was peeping through the trees at him, and he remembered how he had seen it from the road, embowered in flowers, with the river flowing at its foot, a cool, snug, inviting little house, with green blinds, a pigeon cote, and a flight of steps descending to the bathing pool. How happy, no doubt, that fellar that owned it–a fellar with a regular job; a wife, maybe, and kids to swing in that there contraption under the mango; a fellar, as like as not, no better than himself; and yet—-!