fly JAMES HANLEY
JACOB was a tall broad-shouldered man with hair the colour of bronze. His face, adorned with a short beard of the same colour, had about it that knowledgeable air which one comes to associate with that kind of man. For Jacob was a deep water man. Also he was a Pole, the only member of his family to take to the sea. For his people the pull of the land was greater than the pull of the ocean. He had sailed seven times round the world and had not been home. Now his ship was in an English port. With other seamen he was sitting in a bosun's chair painting the ship's funnel, when suddenly the rope slacked off, and the chair slithered down the newly-painted area of the funnel.
Chair and man landed on the deck with a thump. The other men looked down and laughed. Jacob, entangled in the chair which had got foul of the guy rope, looked up the funnel. The men were still laughing. After much trouble he managed to disentangle himself from the chair. He stood bp, but immediately fell down again. Again the men laughed. The man lying helpless on the deck blushed' from shame. He had broken his leg, but this was a small matter besides the humiliation he now suf- fered. It was catastrophic. How had the rope come to give way like that? His leg pained, but the worry of the slacking rope was greater. He swore to himself. He tried to rise again, bü the leg gave way. The other men lowered themselves down the funnel. Then the bosun came up. He laughed, too, saying Jacob would now get a lu3lidaY. But always that humiliation remained with him. He couldn't understand. His leg was nothing to the mistake he had made. Then they carried him ashore. All along the deck he explained, saying the rope was no good. How could it have given way when he put a double purchase on it. A chorus of laughs greeted these explana- tions, so the pain of the broken leg was forgotten. He gave a last look at the ship as they put him in the ambu- lance.
But an even greater misery was to come. At the hos- pital they said his leg was badly broken. He would have to remain. The people round his bed dressed in spotless white spoke a language he could not understand. Then when the bosun came into the ward everybody went away and left the two men to themselves. First thing Jacob said was that everybody stared at him, he couldn't understand why they did it. Laughing the bosun said he was such a fine-looking man. Maybe they didn't see many sailors about those parts. Still, he would have to put up with that for a while. Besides the ship was leaving for Manchester on the next tide to pick up the remainder Of her cargo. She'd come back here for her clearance papers and they would pick him up, provided, of course, that the leg was all right.
r At once Jacob's face fell. The meaning of the whole affair was clear at once. The bosun shook hands with him and went away. The man lay down in the bed and stared up at the ceiling. Half an hour later a nurse came into the ward. Jacob was still staring at the ceiling. He thought of his ship. There seemed nothing else to think about. He had 'never been in a hospital before. Worse he couldn't understand a single word they said. And everybody in the ward kept staring at him. He felt frightfully alone, a castaway if -ever there was one. Twenty-seven -years he had sailed the seas but this was the first time he had ever been away from his ship. At twelve o'clock his dinner was brought. When the nurse came at two o'clock to clear the tray the meal was still there, untouched. But he must eat. How was he to get better if he didn't ? The nurse smiled down at him. Jacob merely frowned at her. She went away. It wouldn't have been so bad if he had been able to understand their language. He felt more isolated than ever. When a ship's syren blew from the basin he turned his face to the wall. That could only be his ship.
The doctor came. Jacob had nothing to say. Besides these people in white would never understand him anyway. He was a sailorman and how could people on the land understand men like him, even if they spoke Polish. At last the found a doctor in a neighbouring hospital who could speak the language. For the first time Jacob talked, but his misery remained. He couldn't stand being here, he said. Ile wanted to be sent up to Man- chester to his ship. That was his real home. If they would only do this his leg would get better quickly. The doctor laughed. It was all right, he Wasn't to worry'. The ship would call back from Manchester. She'd only gone for a few days. But you mist eat, the doctor said, you must eat. Jacob nodded his head. He asked if they would turn his bed round. From the window he could see the river ? he'd be able to watch her come in. A smile came then when the doctor said he would see to this at once. So they turned Jacob's bed round. Thank you. Thank ■nu. He shook the doctor by the hand. He didn't feel so isolated now, yet the changing of the position of the bed set up an unrest in him. He looked out over the water. She'd come in through the lock, then turn into the basin. His eyes scanned the horizon, his expression tensed, as though at any moment he would see her foremast rounding the pierhead.
The other patients watched him. He was never still, and at night they swore he never slept at all. Time and time again he cursed himself, cursed the rope, cursed everything in the world. He would never forget the humiliation of that morning. Never. How any rope could slack off like that was beyond him. No, he'd never forget it. The days passed. Always he looked out through the window. He ate a little, the leg gradually mended, but the old life had gone out of Jacob. Only his eyes lived as he stared out through the hospital window. This was prison. He couldn't stand it any longer. Came the day when they said he might get up and try his foot on the floor. Bewilderedly he looked at the doctor, the only person who understood what lay in his mind. A single thought. His ship.
Splendid ! Splendid ! the doctor said. In a few days he would be able to try his leg out in the hospital *grounds. Again he shook hands with the doctor. Suddenly he asked the doctor if he would keep watch for his ship. The doctor laughed as Jacob. explained painstakingly every detail of her. appearance. As he was in town each morning would he, the doctor, watch out for him. All he could see from the window was the water and the high wall at the pierhead. The doctor said he would. As soon as ever he set eyes on her he would come and tell him.
The next day Jacob limped across the hospital grounds, a stick in his hand. A nurse held on to his arm. Every now and again he stopped by the railings to look out across the water. Would that ship never come ? The nurse smiled. He was the strangest patient she had ever seen. And now he had made the other patients like himself, restless.
People passing the hospital now stopped to stare up at a strange-looking man. A fierce-looking man, dressed in a. hospital coat. His bronze hair and beard blew in the wind, his strong browned hands gripped the iron railings, his eyes had a wild look in them as he stared out towards the sea. People talked, What a strange- looking fellow he was. Like a pirate. Somebody said he must be a sailor. Everybody else then agreed that it must be so. People who had never stared in their lives before, stared now. The tall broad-shouldered man seemed to live at the railings, and always his demeanour was somewhat frightening, as though at any minute he might tear the rails from their foundation and hurl himself into the street. Patience gave way at last. Even the good-humoured nurses became irritated, as though he had communicated this restlessness to them.. The doctor explained to them. But they did not under- stand. Jacob was different. He didn't belong to them at all, nor to the world. Jacob's home was his ship, his life was there, and would be there always. But he has the whole ward in a ferment, the nurses explained. . Yes. Yes. He understood. But they had to consider the man was a foreigner. Besides he was obviously very lonely. A sailor behind bars.
One morning the doctor came hurrying to his bed., There was no need to explain, Jacob having understood everything at a glance.. At once the man changed. Laughing, he grasped the doctor's hands, gripping them so firmly that the slightly-built man winced, and forced his hands away. Yes. The ship had, returned. And in the waiting room outside the bosun was pacing up and down, waiting to take him back to the only home he had. Jacob went wild with joy. He rubbed his head, stroked his beard, clapped his hands. Then he went round to every bed, shaking each patient by the hand. The spell was broken. He was dumb no more. DANICE ! he said. Danke ! From bed to bed, from nurse, to nurse. He must thank everybody. He dressed quickly and went out with the doctor. Seeing the bosun, he held out his arms, embracing him like a child. The doctor saw them to the door. They went down the steps. A taxi was waiting to take them back to the ship. Jacob turned round and looked up at the windows. Then he looked at the nurses and sister standing on the steps. He cupped his hand and helloed. Danke ! Danke! he called out in a loud voice. Danke I Danke! Danke !