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Authors: James Hanley

Winter Song

BOOK: Winter Song
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Winter Song

A Novel

James Hanley

Affectionately to


Chapter 1

There was nothing to be heard in the small office save the clock's tick and the scratching nib. Once or twice Father Twomey had paused to look up, to listen. He thought he had heard heavy lumbering footsteps outside the door, but the sounds had died on the air. He went on writing. Suddenly the door was flung rudely open, and three sailors staggered into the room. The priest swung round and exclaimed somewhat angrily:

‘What is the meaning of this? Couldn't you have knocked first?'

He stared at the three men, one of whom, the tallest, promptly collapsed and lay sprawled in the middle of the room.

‘You're hurt,' he said, rising to his feet. He stood looking down at them, he was a very tall man.

‘S'Apostleship sea?'

‘This is the office of the Apostleship of the Sea.' He studied the men.

They were looking stupidly at him. He saw that two of them were little more than youths—the other was a white-faced trembling old man and, seeing this, he at once pushed a chair forward and said to him, ‘Sit down.'

‘I say sit down,' the priest said, he stood close to him—he thought he must be deaf. He pushed him into the chair.

‘There,' he said, but the old man made no reply.

‘Where have you come from?'

‘Bahia.' This was stuttered out by the tallest one who had now got into a sitting position on the floor.

‘Bahia?' said Father Twomey.

He was a fair-haired youth, no more than twenty, he wore blue dungaree trousers, a jersey and reefer jacket, he was without a hat.

At that moment the old man fell out of the chair. Father Twomey exclaimed: ‘He's drunk, too.'

‘He's sick,' the man on the floor said—‘s'Apostleship sea—?'

The priest pressed a button on his desk.

‘You had better take this old man upstairs,' he said as the caretaker opened the door, ‘he's ill.'

‘Yes, Father.'

The man lifted the old man up and led him out.

‘There's one vacant bunk on the top floor,' called the priest as the door closed.

‘Get up off that floor.' He bent down and dragged the youth to his feet. ‘Come along now, stand up.'

He looked at the other.

‘We stood in the train all night,' this one said; he looked directly at the priest.

‘Where have you come from?'

‘I said where—Bahia.'

‘I'm speaking of the train—and who are you?'

‘We're going home.'

Father Twomey had meanwhile seated the other in the chair.

He sat looking at them for a long time without speaking. He was not unused to this sort of thing. The oceans yielded up all types, all colours, all manner of men. ‘These,' he thought, ‘are derelict.'

Two cups of tea had been brought to them. They drank thirstily.

‘When you have collected yourself,' said the priest, ‘you may offer some explanation.'

The sound of snoring came to his ears; when he glanced round, he found the man in the chair fast asleep.

‘We were in the train all night.'

‘I see.'

‘We came off at King George's.'

‘Of course. Your ship docked at King George the Fifth Dock in London. You came direct from Bahia.'


‘Well then …'

‘He's sick—he's very sick.'

‘Who? The old man?'

‘Yes—he was in the sea twice.'

‘Were you in the sea?'

‘Yes, but only once.'

‘What happened?'


‘What is the name of your ship?'

‘It was the

‘Where was she sunk?'

‘South Atlantic.'

‘And this one,' Father Twomey jerked a thumb towards the sleeping sailor.

‘Same ship as me.'

‘You're not so drunk,' the priest said.

The sailor smiled stupidly and said, ‘No.… Father.'

‘Can you explain a little more? Won't you sit down?'

‘Rather stand. I want to go home.'

‘Of course. How long have you been away?'

‘Eighteen and a half months. We were in hospital at Bahia.'

‘All of you?'


‘Go on.'

‘He's ill, he's very ill,' the sailor said.

‘I can see that—you've already told me that. What happened to him?'

‘He was in the
—she went down in the South Atlantic too. He was took aboard the
and he was in sick bay on her and then in three days he was in the sea again. See his head?'

‘What about his head?'

The sailor suddenly said ‘Nothing—see it.'

‘Tell me, are you Gelton men?'


‘Have the authorities informed your people.…?'

‘Don't know,' the sailor said. Suddenly he was sick.

‘This is a fine how d'ye do,' Father Twomey said, he rang the bell again, waited.

‘I want you to get both of these men upstairs, they're not in a fit condition for questioning. They are shipwrecked men. They have come from the other side of the world.'

He helped the man to get them out of the office.

‘Is the old man all right?'

‘He's fast asleep'—he stared at the two young men—‘poor devils,' he thought.

There was some difficulty in getting this dead weight to the upper floor, but they managed to put them into two beds in the same room.

‘They are all drunk, they had better sleep it off. It's really disgraceful the manner in which these derelict sailors are sent home—and after what must have been quite frightful experiences. A parcel in the post has more consideration.'

‘It's a shame,' the caretaker said—they went downstairs, they parted.

As the caretaker was shutting the door Father Twomey said ‘Whatever papers …'

‘All the papers found on them are already on your desk, Father. There were no papers on the old man. But he's a Catholic—he's a medal round his neck and he has some tattoo marks on him—they may help.'

‘Thank you, Delahane,' said the priest. He sat down to look through the papers.

They had dragged the old man with them half-across the world. The moment they were discharged in Bahia they got drunk. They got the old man drunk. They sailed for New York. They were drunk when they arrived there. In the West St Bethel the old man's screams upset everybody. They were drunk from New York to London. They dragged the old man behind them. They carried to the train enough liquor to keep them drunk and singing all through the five hours that the train lurched towards Gelton, and the three of them reeled from one side of the corridor to the other. For the last hour the old man had lain in a heap just outside the lavatory door and he was quite unconscious of the continuous movement, the continuous passage of bodies. Once or twice he screamed in his sleep, but this was almost unheard owing to the roar of the train and the loud singing of the two youths. They held whisky bottles in their hands, every passer-by was hailed loudly, truculently, was invited to have a drink. Finally, they slithered down to the floor, lay sprawled there, the empty bottles rolled from side to side, they slept deeply and did not wake until the train pulled into the main Gelton Station. Somehow they managed to drag themselves to their feet, somehow managed to support the shaking old man and together they lurched out of the station. A policeman stopped them. He questioned them. He gathered that they were looking for Father Twomey of the Apostleship of the Sea. They had travelled light, in only the clothes they stood in; he saw at once that they were shipwrecked sailors—he called a taxi and paid their fare. So they arrived, so they flung themselves into this quiet, white-walled room; they were home from the sea.

‘The old man is the problem here,' Father Twomey said to himself, ‘there is no name, no address. The other two only live a mile or so from here. I must question them again.'

Glancing at his watch he saw it was getting on to noon. He left the office and went upstairs. He went straight to the room where the two men lay. They were asleep. He shut the door, and went along to where the old man lay. When he went in he saw that the old man was awake, his eyes were wide open—he was staring up at the ceiling. Father Twomey pulled a chair after him and sat down by the bed.

‘Are you … you are awake?' he said.

There was no reply. The old man breathed heavily, he took a good look at him. A man of medium height, probably in the late sixties. Grey ashen features, greenish-grey eyes, the forehead was furrowed with deep lines. He looked at the hands lying helplessly on the coverlet. They were broken, misshapen, the nails smashed, he noticed a tattooed five-pointed star just below the back of the thumb. The neck was thin, he had obviously not shaved for some days. He saw then a great livid scar which ran from the back of his head down to the nape of his neck. It was so livid it reminded him of a raw wound.

‘Poor old man,' he thought, ‘I wonder what he's been through? Far too old for the hazards of the sea, and in wartime. Far too old.'

His glance came back to the eyes again and again, too bright, too staring.

‘Can you hear me?' said the priest, and then the old man's head slowly turned, he looked at the priest.

‘You have no papers. Please tell me your name.'

The eyes closed—after a momentary silence, he heard the old man say, ‘Gelton.'

‘Gelton! You mean you belong to Gelton. What is your name?'

There was another pause.

‘Fury,' … and then … ‘Dennis.'

BOOK: Winter Song
5.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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