Notes on Life and Letters HTML version
A Friendly Place
Eighteen years have passed since I last set foot in the London Sailors' Home. I
was not staying there then; I had gone in to try to find a man I wanted to see. He
was one of those able seamen who, in a watch, are a perfect blessing to a young
officer. I could perhaps remember here and there among the shadows of my sea-
life a more daring man, or a more agile man, or a man more expert in some
special branch of his calling--such as wire splicing, for instance; but for all-round
competence, he was unequalled. As character he was sterling stuff. His name
was Anderson. He had a fine, quiet face, kindly eyes, and a voice which matched
that something attractive in the whole man. Though he looked yet in the prime of
life, shoulders, chest, limbs untouched by decay, and though his hair and
moustache were only iron-grey, he was on board ship generally called Old Andy
by his fellows. He accepted the name with some complacency.
I made my enquiry at the highly-glazed entry office. The clerk on duty opened an
enormous ledger, and after running his finger down a page, informed me that
Anderson had gone to sea a week before, in a ship bound round the Horn. Then,
smiling at me, he added: "Old Andy. We know him well, here. What a nice
I, who knew what a "good man," in a sailor sense, he was, assented without
reserve. Heaven only knows when, if ever, he came back from that voyage, to
the Sailors' Home of which he was a faithful client.
I went out glad to know he was safely at sea, but sorry not to have seen him;
though, indeed, if I had, we would not have exchanged more than a score of
words, perhaps. He was not a talkative man, Old Andy, whose affectionate ship-
name clung to him even in that Sailors' Home, where the staff understood and
liked the sailors (those men without a home) and did its duty by them with an
unobtrusive tact, with a patient and humorous sense of their idiosyncrasies, to
which I hasten to testify now, when the very existence of that institution is
menaced after so many years of most useful work.
Walking away from it on that day eighteen years ago, I was far from thinking it
was for the last time. Great changes have come since, over land and sea; and if I
were to seek somebody who knew Old Andy it would be (of all people in the
world) Mr. John Galsworthy. For Mr. John Galsworthy, Andy, and myself have
been shipmates together in our different stations, for some forty days in the
Indian Ocean in the early nineties. And, but for us two, Old Andy's very memory
would be gone from this changing earth.
Yes, things have changed--the very sky, the atmosphere, the light of judgment
which falls on the labours of men, either splendid or obscure. Having been asked
to say a word to the public on behalf of the Sailors' Home, I felt immensely
flattered--and troubled. Flattered to have been thought of in that connection;
troubled to find myself in touch again with that past so deeply rooted in my heart.
And the illusion of nearness is so great while I trace these lines that I feel as if I
were speaking in the name of that worthy Sailor-Shade of Old Andy, whose
faithfully hard life seems to my vision a thing of yesterday.