John Barleycorn HTML version
We met by appointment, early Monday morning, to complete the deal, in Johnny
Heinhold's "Last Chance "--a saloon, of course, for the transactions of men. I paid the
money over, received the bill of sale, and French Frank treated. This struck me as an
evident custom, and a logical one--the seller, who receives, the money, to wet a piece of
it in the establishment where the trade was consummated. But, to my surprise, French
Frank treated the house. He and I drank, which seemed just; but why should Johnny
Heinhold, who owned the saloon and waited behind the bar, be invited to drink? I figured
it immediately that he made a profit on the very drink he drank. I could, in a way,
considering that they were friends and shipmates, understand Spider and Whisky Bob
being asked to drink; but why should the longshoremen, Bill Kelley and Soup Kennedy,
Then there was Pat, the Queen's brother, making a total of eight of us. It was early
morning, and all ordered whisky. What could I do, here in this company of big men, all
drinking whisky? "Whisky," I said, with the careless air of one who had said it a thousand
times. And such whisky! I tossed it down. A-r-r-r-gh! I can taste it yet.
And I was appalled at the price French Frank had paid--eighty cents. EIGHTY CENTS!
It was an outrage to my thrifty soul. Eighty cents--the equivalent of eight long hours of
my toil at the machine, gone down our throats, and gone like that, in a twinkling, leaving
only a bad taste in the mouth. There was no discussion that French Frank was a waster.
I was anxious to be gone, out into the sunshine, out over the water to my glorious boat.
But all hands lingered. Even Spider, my crew, lingered. No hint broke through my
obtuseness of why they lingered. I have often thought since of how they must have
regarded me, the newcomer being welcomed into their company standing at bar with
them, and not standing for a single round of drinks.
French Frank, who, unknown to me, had swallowed his chagrin since the day before, now
that the money for the Razzle Dazzle was in his pocket, began to behave curiously toward
me. I sensed the change in his attitude, saw the forbidding glitter in his eyes, and
wondered. The more I saw of men, the queerer they became. Johnny Heinhold leaned
across the bar and whispered in my ear s "He's got it in for you. Watch out."
I nodded comprehension of his statement, and acquiescence in it, as a man should nod
who knows all about men. But secretly I was perplexed. Heavens! How was I, who had
worked hard and read books of adventure, and who was only fifteen years old, who had
not dreamed of giving the Queen of the Oyster Pirates a second thought, and who did not
know that French Frank was madly and Latinly in love with her--how was I to guess that
I had done him shame? And how was I to guess that the story of how the Queen had
thrown him down on his own boat, the moment I hove in sight, was already the gleeful
gossip of the water-front? And by the same token, how was I to guess that her brother
Pat's offishness with me was anything else than temperamental gloominess of spirit?