The Vagabond


The Vagabond was sitting at the end of a grey stone pier dangling his legs out over the water's edge like a little boy. In mind he was as happy as the blithest child of ten, for free at last of Divisional he had come down to the seashore to watch the last splashes of paint go on his boat before she went over into the water for another season. Clad in a blue Brittany shirt, bleached and streaked with white from long hours in the sun, knee length shorts that showed pock-marks of paint of as many colors as Joseph's coat, and a pair of dirty sncakers, he whittled lazily, contentedly, at a splinter of pine he'd found among the odds and ends at the end of the pier. Whittling, dangling his legs, he fitted and blended into the picture of the sky and the marine yard and the dark blue water of the bay.

On his left as he sat was a small basin, fenced off from the harbor by the breakwater. Within the basin lay a cluster of boats, launched even earlier than his own. On one a group of riggers was working; the mast had been set in from a high derrick on the dock and now one deck-hand was perched in the spreaders trying to un foul a tangle of lines, looking like a bird in a wintry tree. Soon his won craft--that little white creature nestling in the cradle on the shore--would slip down the rails that led into the water and slide over to have her own poles set in and made ready to spread her sails to the wind. Now he could see a man climbing out of a ladder, propped up against his boat, and take the ladder away.

They must be getting ready. Perhaps he should get up now and go in to see her ride down the ways.

He took another splinter from the pile of odds and cuds and sat down again. There was no hurry. It would take them a quarter of an hour yet to get the cradle cleared. He was excited--yes, there was no denying that. Launching, like birth, is a supreme moment.

He whittled away, gazing out over the water to the other side of the harbor. On the shore he could see a variety of piers and warehouses, the steel and concrete state pier, used by fishermen and merchants, the black and sooty landings, piled high, for coaling, the brown and weather beaten stages where sailing ships once docked to discharge their cargo of cotton and whale oil. Somehow this sight always filled him with a feeling that the was a part of the past of New England, a deep-seated feeling that his love of the sea, indulged only like an amateur, was as much a vital part of him as the instinct of hunger or love. Perhaps Herman Manville--who had known this harbor like a home--had felt the same intense experience, perhaps had sat on the self-same breakwater, and had distilled that sensation for all time in the story of Ahab and the white whale.

A sound of grinding chain struck his ears and the Vagabond turned to look at the railway. His boat was setting down stern-first into the water now, easily, smoothly, gently, like a thing alive and yet afraid of violent exertion. The Vagabond rose and walked shoreward, his heart, full of joy. The days of winter were over, his duties done for a spell, his heart and his mind and his senses all keen to go down to the sea.