American Book of Golden Deeds - James Baldwin

A Lad of the Docks

Do you know Jimmie Dooling, down on Front Street? Ask any sailor or longshoreman in that part of the city and he will tell you all about him.

Jimmie is thirteen years old, although you would not think so. He is a wiry, tough little fellow, used to all kinds of weather and all kinds of poor fare. His clothes are often ragged, and his face is not always clean. He lives with his father and mother in two dingy little rooms in the dingiest part of Manhattan. He has never lived anywhere else, and all the world that he knows is within a mile of his home. But no one knows the piers and docks of lower East River better than he.

"Why," said a longshoreman, "Jimmie's always around there. You can see him first on a pier, then on a tug, and then maybe on the deck of a threemaster. Then the next thing you know he's swimming in some dock. He's just like a fish. You can't drown him, and you can't make him afraid. He's a brave lad, Jimmie is."

"That's a fact," said the policeman, whose beat is along that part of the street. "Why, that lad has saved five or six lives already. He's what some folks call a wharf rat; but if there ever was a hero, Jimmie Dooling's one."

The reporter of a city paper who was gathering news in that section wished to know something more about the lad whom every one was praising.

"Well, here he comes now," said the policemen. "Ask him to tell you about the boy he saved yesterday."

Jimmie has never attended school more than a week or two at a time, and he has never studied lessons in language. But he can tell a story with as much zest as many a boy whose life has been cast in pleasanter places.

"Well, you see it was this way," he says. "The boys were playin' on the old pier up there toward the bridge—the pier that they're tearin' down so as to build a new one.

"I guess there were eight or ten of 'em all together, and they were playin' tag on the pier, and jumpin' over to the old coal barge that's tied up alongside of it. I wasn't playin'. I was gettin' wood for Scanlan, that man that lives next door.

"Well, Scanlan has a little cart, and I was drawin' away the loose wood that they were tearin' off from the old pier. It was mostly sticks and the ends of broken planks. I had been workin' at that wood for two or three hours and had hauled four or five loads to Scanlan's.

"I heard the six o'clock whistles blow, and just then I heard a big splashin' in the water. I looked around and saw a boy in the water just by the planks at the end of the pier. It was Charlie Tague, a little fellow who lives on our street. He is ten years old, and he can't swim a stroke.

"Those other boys, they just stood around and didn't know what to do. But when it comes to drownin', you've got no time to think. A dozen persons might drown while you're thinkin' only once.

"I just jumped in and grabbed the boy as he was comin' up for the last time. I held him by the collar and floated him around to the pier. I got hold of the end of a plank and held on till a man came along and pulled us out. I don't know who the man was, but he was young lookin' and had on nice clothes and said nothin'.

"I tell you I was a sorry-lookin' fellow when they pulled me and Charlie up. The place where I jumped in was full of mud—black mud—and it came up to my waist. That black mud sticks like tar, and it was all over me when they pulled me out. That's why I've got my new pants on, and my new stockin's, and my new shoes.

"No; Charlie wasn't hurt much. As for me, I only banged my knee against the end of a spike nail. If the tide had carried us under the pier, it would have been the end of us; but I understood about that, and so guarded against it.

"As soon as Charlie could walk I led him 'round to his home. Oh, but he was a wet fellow! As soon as I got him in the hallway, I said, 'So long, Charlie!' and sneaked away. I didn't want to bother Mrs. Tague with thankin' me."

Four months after this Jimmie saved the life of Johnnie Hart, who fell from the pier just above the old one that was being rebuilt. He led Johnnie home and then ran to his own lodgings on Front Street.

"Say, pa!" he cried, as he came into the room, "I've saved another boy. What do you think I am now? Don't you think I'm a rattler?"

Who can blame the lad for being proud of his achievements? His highest ambition is to win a medal for saving lives.