eighty-three. Ten years ago. From some little port in Madagascar. I was trading.
"You see," he went on, as though addressing his neglected mother across half the girth of the earth, "each year I was going home. So what was the good to write? It was only a year. And each year something happened, and I did not go. But I am mate, now, and when pay off at 'Frisco, maybe with five hundred dollars, I will ship myself on a wind-jammer round the Horn to Liverpool, which will give me more money; and then I will pay my passage from there home. Then she will not do any more work."
"But does she work? now? How old is she?"
"About seventy," he answered. And then, boastingly, "We work from the time we are born until we die, in my country. That's why we live so long. I will live to a hundred."
I shall never forget this conversation. The words were the last I ever heard him utter. Perhaps they were the last he did utter, too. For, going down into the cabin to turn in, I decided that it was too stuffy to sleep below. It was a calm night. We were out of the Trades, and the Ghost was forging ahead barely a knot an hour. So I tucked a blanket and pillow under my arm and went up on deck.
As I passed between Harrison and the binnacle, which was built into the top of the cabin, I noticed that he was this time fully three points off. Thinking that he was asleep, and wishing him to escape reprimand or worse, I spoke to him. But he was not asleep. His eyes were wide and staring. He seemed greatly perturbed, unable to reply to me.
"What's the matter?" I asked. "Are you sick?"