John Barleycorn HTML version

Chapter 10
And so I won my manhood's spurs. My status on the water-front and with the oyster
pirates became immediately excellent. I was looked upon as a good fellow, as well as no
coward. And somehow, from the day I achieved that concept sitting on the stringer-piece
of the Oakland City Wharf, I have never cared much for money. No one has ever
considered me a miser since, while my carelessness of money is a source of anxiety and
worry to some that know me.
So completely did I break with my parsimonious past that I sent word home to my mother
to call in the boys of the neighbourhood and give to them all my collections. I never even
cared to learn what boys got what collections. I was a man now, and I made a clean
sweep of everything that bound me to my boyhood.
My reputation grew. When the story went around the water-front of how French Frank
had tried to run me down with his schooner, and of how I had stood on the deck of the
Razzle Dazzle, a cocked double-barrelled shotgun in my hands, steering with my feet and
holding her to her course, and compelled him to put up his wheel and keep away, the
water-front decided that there was something in me despite my youth. And I continued to
show what was in me. There were the times I brought the Razzle Dazzle in with a bigger
load of oysters than any other two-man craft; there was the time when we raided far down
in Lower Bay, and mine was the only craft back at daylight to the anchorage off
Asparagus Island; there was the Thursday night we raced for market and I brought the
Razzle Dazzle in without a rudder, first of the fleet, and skimmed the cream of the Friday
morning trade; and there was the time I brought her in from Upper Bay under a jib, when
Scotty burned my mainsail. (Yes; it was Scotty of the Idler adventure. Irish had followed
Spider on board the Razzle Dazzle, and Scotty, turning up, had taken Irish's place.)
But the things I did on the water only partly counted. What completed everything, and
won for me the title of "Prince of the Oyster Beds," was that I was a good fellow ashore
with my money, buying drinks like a man. I little dreamed that the time would come
when the Oakland water-front, which had shocked me at first would be shocked and
annoyed by the devilry of the things I did.
But always the life was tied up with drinking. The saloons are poor men's clubs. Saloons
are congregating places. We engaged to meet one another in saloons. We celebrated our
good fortune or wept our grief in saloons. We got acquainted in saloons.
Can I ever forget the afternoon I met "Old Scratch," Nelson's father? It was in the Last
Chance. Johnny Heinhold introduced us. That Old Scratch was Nelson's father was
noteworthy enough. But there was more in it than that. He was owner and master of the
scow-schooner Annie Mine, and some day I might ship as a sailor with him. Still more,
he was romance. He was a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, raw-boned Viking, big-bodied and
strong-muscled despite his age. And he had sailed the seas in ships of all nations in the
old savage sailing days.