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An Ocean Tramp by William McFee

An Ocean Tramp

By William McFee

Garden City New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1924




_Books by William McFee_


TO A---- R----

_"She was lovable, and he loved her. But he was not lovable, and she did not love him."_

--HEINE'S _Reisebilder_


In the original preface to the First Edition, it will be seen that by a perfectly justifiable stroke of artistic manipulation, the writer of the letters, the Ocean Tramp himself, is drowned at sea. Neither author nor publisher had offered any guarantee that the book was a record of cold facts, and it was not deemed necessary at that time to disillusion any of the public who saw fit to send in condolences upon the tragic end of a promising career. Nevertheless, the book was faithful enough in a larger sense, for the young man who wrote it had undoubtedly died and buried himself in its pages. His place, it appeared presently, was taken by a cynical person who voyaged all over the seven seas in various steamers, accumulating immense stocks of local colour, passing through the divers experiences which befall sailor-men, reading a good many books, and gradually assuming the _role_ of an amused spectator. Of this person, however, there is no need to speak just now, and we must go back to the time when the author, in that condition known to the cloth as "out of a ship," arrived in London, the following pages tied up in a piece of bunting, in his dunnage, and took a small suite of chambers over the ancient gate of Cliffords Inn. Now it would be easy enough, and the temptation is great, to convey the impression that the writer had arrived in the Metropolis to make his name and win fame and fortune with his manuscript. So runs the tale in many a novel issued during the last twenty-five years. It is time, therefore, to invent something new. The penniless law-student who writes a best seller and wins the love of a celebrated actress must make way for a sea-going engineer with a year's wages and a volume of essays in his pocket, and who had not succeeded in winning the love of anybody. Indeed the singular moderation of the demands of this young man will be appreciated by any one who has been afflicted with ambition, for he has never at any time desired either to write a play, edit a magazine, or marry a prima-donna. At the particular juncture when he took over the little suite of furnished chambers from a young newspaper man who had received a sudden invitation to visit a rich uncle, his principal preoccupation was to pass his examination for his certificate of competency as a first-class engineer. To this end he began a mysterious existence possible only to the skilled Londoner. For the benefit of those who are not skilled Londoners, the following description may evoke interest.

In the morning on waking, he saw, through the small bowed window which looked out into the Inn, the sunlight shining upon the gilded gothic roof of the Rolls Building and possibly touching the tops of the trees of the grimy enclosure. Stepping through into the front room he could lean out of a mullioned affair below which he could read the date carved in the stone--1472--and looking up a long narrow court he could watch the morning traffic of the Strand passing the farther end like the film of a cinematograph. Down below, a gentleman who sold studs, shoe-laces, and dying pigs on the curb, and who kept his stock in a cupboard under the arch, was preparing to start out for the day. A dying pig, it may be mentioned, was a toy much in demand among stock-broking clerks and other frivolous young gentlemen in the City, and consisted of a bladder shaped like a pig whose snout contained a whistle which gave out on deflation an almost human note of anguish. Should the hour be before eight, which was probable since the author had contracted the habit, at sea, of rising at four, he would be further exhilarated by seeing his landlord, Mr. Honeyball, in a tightly buttoned frock-coat and wide-awake hat, march with an erect and military air to the end of the passage, dart a piercing glance in either direction, and remain, hands behind back and shoulders squared, taking the air. Which meant that Mrs. Honeyball was engaged in the dark and dungeon-like kitchen below the worn flags of the archway, preparing the coffee and bacon for Mr. Honeyball's breakfast.

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