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The Vagabond



Yesterday the Vagabond got in his car and bounced merrily down to Fairhaven to look at his boat. The day overhead was dark, and occasional drops of rain and mist spread over his windshield as he made his way through the New England manufacturing towns that lie between Boston and New Bedford, and the harbor looked cold and grey to him as he crossed over the bridge to Fairhaven and pulled through winding slum streets to the yacht yard. The yard looked mournful, too: several fishermen from Nantucket, old home of the whalers, were tied up at the quay making repairs before going out onto winter waters, while many a boat that he knew under clouds of white canvas he hardly recognized as they lay all bare of rigging, nestled together in cradles under a tin shed, as if in hibernation.

He climbed into his own boat, and sat down in the cockpit where he had sat time and again before, times when it had blown steadily from the west, and to sit and be borne along through the waves was bliss; and times again when the wind whistled down from the north, when to sit in that cockpit was o wish to be dead, and to go below into the tumbling cabin was like wrestling with the hand of death itself. He mused a bit in the half light of the tin shed, and his eye caught on a splintered piece of the coaming, where a catboat full of roisters, flown with insolence and wine, had rammed him at anchor one moonlight night in Newport harbor. He burned a little, thinking of the language he'd used at them, and then smiled at the recollection of the derisive answer he'd got from a sharp contralto voice on the cat: and how he'd asked them to come aboard for forgiveness and more refreshments. He thought how foolish it had been to waste so much time in Hawaii, when so much time could be made at home in New England.

Suddenly, as he sat in the cockpit, whole scenes of serious sailing lived before him, scenes of the sea that gives New England its character. He saw the shores of the Kennebee River, a wild, fair stream, where the rocks jut right down to the water's edge, and trees, native pines, overhang the channel. Indians, the old Abenakis, paddled this stream in their canoes long before white men came with sloops and schooners, and all the modern devices for safety on the waters. He saw the waterfront of Portland, a city set on an hill, and a commercial center of no mean import, with its huge grain elevators of the Grand Trunk, its docks full of freight steamers of grain and of and lumber, and its fleet of ferryboats plying out to the islands in Casco Bay. It was like a miniature New York.

Then he saw the sea outside Gloucester. Somebody had said something to the gods of wind and wave; they were in a fury. Salt spray was lashing over the deck, the bow dug through green water as it plowed along undecided whether to be a boat or a submarine. One sail had blown to shreds and he struggled to get up a trisail, a little handkerchief of a sail, in its stead. The din of the wind and the water dulled his hearing. Then he saw the wind and waves and water receding as be sneaked into Boston harbor to ride out the gale.

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