"That's so, I guess," said Jones. (Jones had the Yankee "touch.") "Old Burke would dearly love to put a spoke in his wheel, but it'll take some doing. They say that Schenke has got a friend down from Sacramento—gym.-instructor or something to a college up there. He'll be training the 'Dutchy' crew like blazes. They'll give us a hot time, I'll bet!"
Gregson rose to go on deck. "Oh, well," he said, "it won't be so bad if the James Flint only lifts his hook by Saturday. Here's one bloomin' hombre that funks racin' a fancy whaler! . . . An' doesn't care who knows it, either!"
Thursday passed—and now Friday—still there was no sign of the wind changing, and the big Yankee barque lay quietly at anchor over by the Presidio.
When the butcher came off from the shore with the day's stores, we eagerly questioned him about the prospects of the James Flint's sailing. "Huh! I guess yew're nat the only 'citizens' that air concarned 'bout that!" he said. "They're talkin' 'bout nuthin' else on every 'lime-juicer' in the Bay! . . . . An' th' Rickmers! Gee! Schenkie's had his eye glued ter th' long telescope ever since daybreak, watchin' fer th' Flint heavin' up anchor!"
The butcher had varied information to give us. Now it was that Bully Nathan had telegraphed to his New York owners for permission to remain in port over Sunday. Then again, Bully was on the point of being dismissed his ship for not taking full advantage of a puff of nor'-west wind that came and went on Thursday night.
. . . The Flint was short of men! . . . The Flint had a full crew aboard! Rumours and rumours! "All sorts o' talk," said the butcher; "but I know this fer certain—she's got all her stores aboard. Gosh! I guess—she—has! I don't like to wish nobody no harm, byes, but I hope Bully Nathan's first chop 'll choke him, fer th' way he done me over the beef! . . . Scorch 'im!"
In the forenoon we dropped the gig and put out for practice. Old Burke and the mate came after us in the dinghy, the old man shouting instruction and encouragement through his megaphone as we rowed a course or spurted hard for a furious three minutes. Others were out on the same ploy, and the backwaters of the Bay had each a lash of oars to stir their tideless depths. Near us the green boat of the Rickmers thrashed up and down in style. Time and again we drew across—"just for a friendly spurt"—but the "Dutchies" were not giving anything away, and sheered off as we approached. We spent an hour or more at practice and were rowing leisurely back to the ship when the green boat overhauled us, then slowed to her skipper's orders.
"How you vass, Cabtin Burke?" said Schenke, an enormous fair-headed Teuton, powerful-looking, but run sadly to fat in his elder years. "You t'ink you get a chanst now, hein? . . . Now de Yankee is goin' avay!" He pointed over to the Presidio, where the Flint lay at anchor. We followed the line of his fat forefinger. At anchor, yes, but the anchor nearly a-weigh. Her flags were hoisted, the blue peter fluttering at the fore, and the Active tug was passing a hawser aboard, getting ready to tow her out. The smoke from the tugboat's funnel was whirling and blowing over the low forts that guard the Golden Gates. Good luck! A fine nor'-west breeze had come that would lift our dreaded rival far to the south'ard on her way round Cape Horn!
Schenke saw the pleased look with which old Burke regarded the Yankee's preparations for departure.
"Goot bizness, eh?" he said. "You t'ink you fly de flack on de Hilda nex' Sonndag, Cabtin? Veil! Ah wish you goot look, but you dond't got it all de same!"
"Oh, well, Captain Schenke, we can but thry," said the old man. "We can but thry, sorr! . . . Shure, she's a foine boat—that o' yours. . . . An' likely-looking lads, too!" No one could but admire the well-set figures of the German crew as they stroked easily beside us.
"Schweinehunden," said Schenke brutally. We noticed more than one stolid face darkling as they glanced aside. Schenke had the name of a "hard case." "Schweinehunden," he said again. "Dey dond't like de hard vork, Cabtin. . . . Dey dond't like it—but ve takes der Coop, all de same! Dey pulls goot und strong, oder"—he rasped a short sentence in rapid Low German—"Shermans dond't be beat by no durn lime-juicer, nein!"
Old Burke grinned. "Cocky as ever, Captain Schenke! Bedad now, since ye had the luck of ye're last passage there's no limit to ye!"
"Luck! Luck! Alvays de luck mit you, Cabtin!"
"An' whatt ilse? . . . Sure, if I hadn't struck a bilt of calms an' had more than me share of head winds off the Horn, I'd have given ye a day or two mesilf!"
"Ho! Ho! Ho! Das ist gut!" The green boat rocked with Schenke's merriment. He laughed from his feet up—every inch of him shook with emotion. "Ho! Ho! Hoo! Das ist ganz gut. You t'ink you beat de Hedwig Rickmers too, Cabtin? You beat 'm mit dot putty leetle barque? You beat 'm mit de Hilda, nichtwahr?"
"Well, no," said our old man. "I don't exactly say I beat the Rickmers, but if I had the luck o' winds that ye had, bedad, I'd crack th' Hilda out in a hundred an' five days too!"
"Now, dot is not drue, Cabtin! Aber ganz und gar nicht! You know you haf bedder look von de vind as Ah got. Ah sail mein sheep! Ah dond't vait for de fair winds nor not'ings!"
"No," said Burke, "but ye get 'em, all the same. Everybody knows ye've th' divil's own luck, Schenke!"
"Und so you vas! Look now, Cabtin Burke. You t'nk you got so fast a sheep as mein, eh? Veil! Ah gif you a chanst to make money. Ah bet you feefty dollars to tventig, Ah take mein sheep home quicker as you vass!"
"Done wit' ye," said stout old 'Paddy' Burke, though well he know the big German barque could sail round the little Hilda. "Fifty dollars to twenty, Captain Schenke, an' moind y've said it!"
The green boat sheered off and forged ahead, Schenke laughing and waving his hand derisively. When they had pulled out of earshot, the old man turned ruefully to the mate: "Five pounds clean t'rown away, mister! Foine I know the Rickmers can baate us, but I wasn't goin' t' let that ould 'squarehead' have it all his own way! Divil th' fear!"
We swung under the Hilda's stern and hooked on to the gangway. The old man stepped out, climbed a pace or two, then came back.
"Look ye here, byes," he said, "I'll give ye foive dollars a man—an' a day's 'liberty' t' spind it—if ye only baate th' 'Dutchmen.' . . . Let th' Cup go where it will!"
The Bay of San Francisco is certainly one of the finest natural harbours in the world, let Sydney and Rio and Falmouth all contest the claim. Land-locked to every wind that blows, with only a narrow channel open to the sea, the navies of the world could lie peacefully together in its sheltered waters. The coast that environs the harbour abounds in natural beauties, but of all the wooded creeks—fair stretches of undulating downs—or stately curves of winding river, none surpasses the little bay formed by the turn of Benita, the northern postern of the Golden Gates. Here is the little township of Sancilito, with its pretty white houses nestling among the dark green of the deeply wooded slopes. In the bay there is good anchorage for a limited number of vessels, and fortunate were they who manned the tall ships that lay there, swinging ebb and flood, waiting for a burthen of golden grain.
On Saturday the little bay was crowded by a muster of varied craft. The ships at anchor were "dressed" to the mastheads with gaily-coloured flags. Huge ferryboats passed slowly up and down, their tiers of decks crowded with sightseers. Tug-boats and launches darted about, clearing the course, or convoying racing boats to the starting lines. Ships' boats of all kinds were massed together close inshore: gigs and pinnaces, lean whaleboats, squat dinghys, even high-sided ocean lifeboats with their sombre broad belts of ribbed cork. A gay scene of colour and animation. A fine turn-out to see the fortune of the Merchants' Cup.
At two the Regatta began. A race for longshore craft showed that the boarding-house "crimps" were as skillful at boatman's work as at inducing sailormen to desert their ships. Then two outriggers flashed by, contesting a heat for a College race. We in the Hilda's gig lay handily at the starting line and soon were called out. There were nine entries for the Cup, and the judges had decided to run three heats. We were drawn in the first, and, together with the Ardlea's and Compton's gigs, went out to be inspected. The boats had to race in sea-service conditions, no lightening was allowed. At the challenge of the judges we showed our gear. "Spare oar—right! Rowlocks—right! Sea-anchor—right! Bottom boards and stern grating—right. Painter, ten fathoms; hemp. . . . A bit short there, Compton! Eh? . . . Oh—all right," said the official, and we manoeuvred into position, our sterns held in by the guard-boats. Some of the ships' captains had engaged a steam-launch to follow the heats, and old Burke was there with his trumpet, shouting encouragement already.
"Air yew ready?"
A pause: then, pistol shot! We struck water and laid out! Our task was not difficult. The Ardlea's gig was broad-bowed and heavy; they had no chance; but the Compton's gave us a stiff pull to more than midway. Had they been like us, three months at boat-work, we had not pulled so easily up to the mark, but their ship was just in from Liverpool, and they were in poor condition for a mile and a half at pressure. We won easily, and scarce had cheered the losers before the launch came fussing up.
"Come aboard, Takia," shouted old Burke. "Ye come down wit' me an' see what shape the German makes. He's drawn wit' th' Rhondda in this heat!"
Takia bundled aboard the launch and we hauled inshore to watch the race. There was a delay at the start. Schenke, nichts verstehen, as he said, was for sending his boat away without a painter or spare gear. He was pulled up by the judges, and had to borrow.
Now they were ready. The Rickmers outside, Rhondda in the middle berth, and the neat little Slieve Donard inshore. At the start the Rhonddas came fair away from the German boat, but even at the distance we could see that the "Dutchmen" were well in hand. At midway the Rhondda was leading by a length, still going strong, but they had shot their bolt, and the green boat was surely pulling up. The Slieve Donard, after an unsteady course, had given up. Soon we could hear old Schenke roaring oaths and orders, as his launch came flying on in the wake of the speeding boats.
The Germans spurted.
We yelled encouragement to the Rhonddas. "Give 'em beans, old sons! . . ."
"Rhondda! Rhondda! . . . Shake 'er up" Gallantly the white boat strove to keep her place, but the greens were too strong. With a rush, they took the lead and held it to the finish, though two lengths from the line their stroke faltered, the swing was gone, and they were dabbling feebly when the shot rang out.
"A grand race," said every one around. "A grand race"—but old Burke had something to say when he steamed up to put our cox'n among us. "Byes, byes," he said, "if there had been twinty yards more the Rhondda would have won. Now d'ye moind, Takia, ye divil . . . d'ye moind! Keep th' byes in hand till I give ye th' wurrd! . . . An' whin ye get th' wurrd, byes! . . . Oh, Saints! Shake her up when ye get th' wurrd!"
The third heat was closely contested. All three boats, two Liverpool barques and a Nova Scotiaman, came on steadily together. A clean race, rowed from start to finish, and the Tuebrook winning by a short length.
The afternoon was well spent when we stripped for the final, and took up our positions on the line. How big and muscular the Germans looked! How well the green boat sat the water! With what inward quakings we noted the clean fine lines of stem and stern! . . . Of the Tuebrook we had no fear. We knew they could never stand the pace the Germans would set. Could we?
Old Burke, though in a fever of excitement when we came to the line, had little to say. "Keep the byes in hand, Takia—till ye get th' wurrd," was all he muttered. We swung our oar-blades forward.
"Ready?" The starter challenged us.
Suddenly Takia yelped! We struck and lay back as the shot rang out! A stroke gained! Takia had taken the flash; the others the report!
The Jap's clever start gave us confidence and a lead. Big Jones at stroke worked us up to better the advantage. The green boat sheered a little, then steadied and came on, keeping to us, though nearly a length astern. The Tuebrook had made a bad start, but was thrashing away pluckily in the rear.
So we hammered at it for a third of the course, when Takia took charge. Since his famous start he had left us to take stroke as Jones pressed us, but now he saw signs of the waver that comes after the first furious burst—shifting grip or change of foothold.
"'Trok!—'trok!—'trok!" he muttered, and steadied the pace. "'Troke!—'troke!—'troke!" in monotone, good for soothing tension.
Past midway the green boat came away. The ring of the German's rowlocks rose to treble pitch. Slowly they drew up, working at top speed. Now they were level—level! and Takia still droning "'troke!—'troke!—'troke!"—as if the lead was ours!
Wild outcry came from the crowd as the green boat forged ahead! Deep roars from Schenke somewhere in the rear! Now, labouring still to Takia's 'troke!—'troke! we had the foam of the German's stern wash at our blades! "Come away, Hilda's!" . . . "Shake her up, there!" . . . "Hilda-h! Hilda-h!"—Takia took no outward heed of the cries. He was staring stolidly ahead, bending to the pulse of the boat. No outward heed—but 'troke!—'troke! came faster from his lips. We strained, almost holding the Germans' ensign at level with our bow pennant.
Loud over the wild yells of the crowd we heard the voice we knew—old Burke's bull-roar: "Let 'er rip, Taki'! Let 'er rip, bye!"
Takia's eyes gleamed as he sped us up—up—up! 'Troke became a yelp like a wounded dog's. He crouched, standing, in the sternsheets, and lashed us up to a furious thrash of oars! Still quicker! . . . The eyes of him glared at each of us, as if daring us to fail! The yelp became a scream as we drew level—the Germans still at top speed. "Up! Up! Up!" yells Takia, little yellow devil with a white froth at his lips! "Up! Up! Up!" swaying unsteadily to meet the furious urging.
The ring of the German rowlocks deepens—deepens—we see the green bow at our blades again. Her number two falters—jars—recovers again—and pulls stubbornly on. Their "shot" is fired! They can do no more! Done!
And so are we! Takia drops the yoke ropes and leans forward on the gunwale! Oars jar together! Big Jones bends forward with his mouth wide—wide! Done!
But not before a hush—a solitary pistol shot—then roar of voices and shrilling of steamer syrens tell us that the Cup is ours!
A month later there was a stir in the western seaports. No longer the ships lay swinging idly at their moorings. The harvest of grain was ready for the carriers, and every day sail was spread to the free wind outside the Golden Gates, and laden ships went speeding on their homeward voyages. The days of boat-races and pleasant time-passing harbour jobs were gone; it was now work—work—to get the ship ready for her burden, and, swaying the great sails aloft, to rig harness for the power that was to bear us home. From early morning till late evening we were kept hard at it; for Captain Burke and the mate were as keen on getting the Hilda to sea after her long stay in port as they were on jockeying us up to win the Cup. Often, when we turned to in the morning, we would find a new shipmate ready to bear a hand with us. The old man believed in picking up a likely man when he offered. Long experience of Pacific ports had taught him how difficult it is to get a crew at the last moment.
So when at length the cargo was stowed, we were quite ready to go to sea, while many others—the Hedwig Rickmers among them—were waiting for men.
On the day before sailing a number of the ship captains were gathered together in the chandler's store, talking of freights and passages, and speculating on the runs they hoped to make. Burke and Schencke were the loudest talkers, for we were both bound to Falmouth "for orders," and the Rickmers would probably sail three days after we had gone.
"Vat 'bout dot bett you make mit me, Cabtin?" said Schenke. "Dot is all recht, no?"
"Oh, yess," answered the old man, but without enthusiasm. "That stands."
"Hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Tventig dollars to feefty—dot you goes home quicker as me, no?" Schencke turned to the other men. "Vat you tinks, yenthelmen? Ah tinks Ah sbend der tventig dollars now—so sure Ah vass."
The others laughed. "Man, man," said Findlayson of the Rhondda. "You don't tell me Burke's been fool enough to take that bet. Hoo! You haven't the ghost of a chance, Burke."
"Och, ye never know," said the now doleful sportsman. "Ye never know ye're luck."
"Look here, Cabtin," said Schencke (good-humoured by the unspoken tribute to his vessel's sailing powers)—"Ah gif you a chanst. Ah make de bett dis vay—look. Ve goes to Falmouth—you und me, hein? Now, de first who comes on de shore vins de money. Dot vill gif you t'ree days' start, no?"
"That's more like it," said the other captains. "I wish you luck, Burke," said Findlayson. "Good luck—you'll need it too—if you are to be home before the big German."
So the bet was made.
At daybreak next morning we put out to sea. The good luck that the Rhondda wished us came our way from the very first. When the tug left us we set sail to a fine fair wind, and soon were bowling along in style. We found the nor'-east Trades with little seeking; strong Trades, too, that lifted us to the Line almost before the harbour dust was blown from our masts and spars. There calms fell on us for a few days, but we drifted south in the right current, and in less than forty days had run into the "westerlies" and were bearing away for the Horn.
Old Burke was "cracking on" for all the Hilda could carry canvas. Every morning when he came on deck the first question to the mate would be: "Any ships in sight, mister?" . . . "Any ships astern," he meant, for his first glance was always to where the big green four-master might be expected to heave in sight. Then, when nothing was reported, he would begin his day-long strut up and down the poop, whistling "Garryowen" and rubbing his hands.
Nor was the joy at our good progress his alone. We in the half-deck knew of the bet, and were keen that the ship which carried the Merchants' Cup should not be overhauled by the runner-up! We had made a fetish of the trophy so hardly won. The Cup itself was safely stowed in the ship's strong chest, but the old man had let us have custody of the flag. Big Jones had particular charge of it; and it had been a custom while in 'Frisco to exhibit it on the Saturday nights to admiring and envious friends from other ships. This custom we continued when at sea. True, there were no visitors to set us up and swear what lusty chaps we were, but we could frank one another and say, "If you hadn't done this or that, we would never have won the race."
On a breezy Saturday evening we were busy at these rites. The Hilda was doing well before a steady nor'-west wind, but the weather—though nothing misty—was dark as a pall. Thick clouds overcast the sky, and there seemed no dividing line between the darkling sea and the windy banks that shrouded the horizon. A dirty night was in prospect; the weather would thicken later; but that made the modest comforts of the half-deck seem more inviting by comparison; and we came together for our weekly "sing-song"—all but Gregson, whose turn it was to stand the lookout on the fo'c'sle-head.
The flag was brought out and hung up—Jones standing by to see that no pipe-lights were brought near—and we ranted at "Ye Mariners of England" till the mate sent word that further din would mean a "work-up" job for all of us.
Little we thought that we mariners would soon be facing dangers as great as any we so glibly sang about. Even as we sang, the Hilda was speeding on a fatal course! Across her track the almost submerged hull of a derelict lay drifting. Black night veiled the danger from the keenest eyes.
A frenzied order from the poop put a stunning period to our merriment. "Helm up, f'r God's sake! . . . Up!—oh God!—Up! Up!" A furious impact dashed us to the deck. Staggering, bruised, and bleeding, we struggled to our feet. Outside the yells of fear-stricken men mingled with hoarse orders, the crash of spars hurtling from aloft vied with the thunder of canvas, as the doomed barque swung round broadside to the wind and sea.
Even in that dread moment Jones had heed of his precious flag. As we flew to the door, he tore the flag down, stuffing it in his jumper as he joined us at the boats.
There was no time to hoist out the life-boats—it was pinnace and gig or nothing. Already the bows were low in the water. "She goes. She goes!" yelled some one. "Oh, Christ! She's going!"
We bore frantically on the tackles that linked the gig, swung her out, and lowered by the run; the mate had the pinnace in the water, men were swarming into her. As the gig struck water, the barque heeled to the rail awash. We crowded in, old Burke the last to leave her, and pushed off. Our once stately Hilda reeled in a swirl of broken water, and the deep sea took her!
Sailor work! No more than ten minutes between "Ye Mariners" and the foundering of our barque!
We lay awhile with hearts too full for words; then the pinnace drew near, and the mate called the men. All there but one! "Gregson!" . . . No Gregson! The bosun knew. He had seen what was Gregson lying still under the wreck of the topmost spars.
The captain and mate conferred long together. We had no sail in the gig, but the larger boat was fully equipped. "It's the only chance, mister," said Burke at last. "No food—no water! We can't hold out for long. Get sail on your boat and stand an hour or two to the east'ard. Ye may fall in with a ship; she w'was right in th' track whin she s-struck. We can but lie to in th' gig an' pray that a ship comes by."
"Aye, aye, sir." They stepped the mast and hoisted sail. "Good-bye all: God bless ye, captain," they said as the canvas swelled. "Keep heart!" For a time we heard their voices shouting us God-speed—then silence came!
Thank God the bitter night was past. Out of the east the long-looked-for light grew on us, as we lay to sea-anchor, lurching unsteadily in the teeth of wind and driving rain. At the first grey break we scanned the now misty horizon. There was no sign of the pinnace; no God-sent sail in all the dreary round!
We crouched on the bottom boards of the little gig and gave way to gloomy thoughts. What else could be when we were alone and adrift on the broad Pacific, without food or water, in a tiny gig already perilously deep with the burden of eight of us? What a difference to the gay day when we manned the same little boat and set out in pride to the contest! Here was the same spare oar that we held up to the judges—the long oar that Jones was now swaying over the stern, keeping her head to the wind and sea! Out there in the tumbling water the sea-anchor held its place; the ten fathoms of good hemp "painter" was straining at the bows!
The same boat! The same gear! The same crew, but how different! A crew of bent heads and wearied limbs! Listless-eyed, despairing! A ghastly crew, with black care riding in the heaving boat with us!
Poor old Burke had hardly spoken since his last order to the mate to sail the pinnace to the east in search of help. When anything was put to him, he would say, "Aye, aye, b'ye," and take no further heed. He was utterly crushed by the disaster that had come so suddenly on the heels of his "good luck." He sat staring stonily ahead, deaf to our hopes and fears.
Water we had in plenty as the day wore on. The rain-soaked clothes of us were sufficient for the time, but soon hunger came and added a physical pain to the torture of our doubt. Again and again we stood up on the reeling thwarts and looked wildly around the sea-line. No pinnace—no ship—nothing! Nothing, only sea and sky, and circling sea-birds that came to mock at our misery with their plaintive cries.
A bitter night! A no less cruel day! Dark came on us again, chill and windy, and the salt spray cutting at us like a whiplash.
Big Jones stood up in the stern-sheets, swaying unsteadily. "D'ye hear anything there? . . . Like a gun?"
A gun? Gun? . . . Nothing new! . . . We had been hearing guns, seeing sails—in our minds—all the day! All day . . . guns . . . and sail! Boom-m-m-m!
"Gun! Oh God . . . a gun! Capt'n, a gun, d'ye hear! Hay—Hay-H. Out oars, there! A gun!" Hoarse in excitement Jones shook the old man and called at his ear. "Aye, aye, b'ye. Aye, aye," said the broken old man, seeming without understanding.
Jones ceased trying to rouse him, and, running out the steering oar, called on us to haul the sea-anchor aboard. We lay to our oars, listening for a further gunfire.
Whooo-o. . . . Boom-m-m.
A rocket! They were looking for us then! The pinnace must have been picked up! A cheer—what a cheer!—came brokenly from our lips; and we lashed furiously at the oars, steering to where a glare in the mist had come with the last report.
Roused by the thrash of our oars, the old man sat up. "Whatt now, b'ye? Whatt now?"
"Ship firin' rockets, sir," said Jones. "Rockets . . . no mistake." As he spoke, another coloured streamer went flaming through the eastern sky. "Give way, there! We'll miss her if she's running south! Give way, all!" The glare of the rocket put heart into our broken old skipper. "Steady now, b'yes," he said, with something of his old enthusiasm.
We laboured steadily at the oars, but our strength was gone. The sea too, that we had thought moderate when lying to sea-anchor, came at us broadside on and set our light boat to a furious dance. Wave crests broke and lashed aboard, the reeling boat was soon awash, and the spare men had to bale frantically to keep her afloat. But terror of the ship running south from us nerved our wearied arms, and we kept doggedly swinging the oars. Soon we made out the vessel's sidelight—the gleam of her starboard light, that showed that she was hauled to the wind, not running south as we had feared. They could not see on such a night, we had nothing to make a signal, but the faint green flame gave us heart in our distress.
The old man, himself again, was now steering, giving us Big Jones to bear at the oars. As we drew on we made out the loom of the vessel's sails—a big ship under topsails only, and sailing slowly to the west. We pulled down wind to cross her course, shouting together as we rowed. Would they never hear? . . . Again! . . . Again!
Suddenly there came a hail from the ship, a roar of orders, rattle of blocks and gear, the yards swung round and she layed up in the wind, while the ghostly glare of a blue light lit up the sea around.
A crowd of men were gathered at the waist, now shouting and cheering as we laboured painfully into the circle of vivid light. Among them a big man (huge he looked in that uncanny glare) roared encouragement in hoarse gutturals.
Old Schenke? The Hedwig Rickmers?
Aye—Schenke! But a different Schenke to the big, blustering, overbearing "Square-head" we had known in 'Frisco. Schenke as kind as a brother—a brother of the sea indeed. Big, fat, honest Schenke, passing his huge arm through that of our broken old skipper, leading him aft to his own bed, and silencing his faltering story by words of cheer. "Ach, du lieber Gott! It is all right, no? All right, Cabtin, now you come on board. Ah know all 'bout it! . . . Ah pick de oder boat up in de morning, und dey tells me. You come af mit me, Cabtin. . . . Goot, no?"
* * * * * *
"Ninety-six days, Schenke, and here we are at the mouth of the Channel!" Old Burke had a note of regret in the saying. "Ninety-six days! Sure, this ship o' yours can sail. With a bit o' luck, now, ye'll be in Falmouth under the hundred."
"So. If de vind holds goot. Oh, de Hedwig Rickmers is a goot sheep, no? But if Ah dond't get de crew of de poor lettle Hilda to work mein sheep, Ah dond't t'ink ve comes home so quick as hundert days, no?'"
"God bless us, man. Shure, it's the least they cud do, now. An' you kaaping' us in food an' drink an' clothes, bedad—all the time."
"Vat Ah do, Cabtin. Ah leaf you starfe, no?"
"Oh. Some men would have put into the Falklands and landed——"
"Und spoil a goot bassage, eh? Ach nein. More better to go on. You know dese men Ah get in 'Frisco is no goot. Dem "hoodlums," they dond't know de sailorman vork. But your beoble is all recht, eh! Gott! If Ah dond't haf dem here, it is small sail ve can carry on de sheep."
"Och, now, ye just say that, Schenke, ye just say that! But it's glad I am if we're any use t' ye."
"Hundert days to Falmouth, eh?" Schenke grinned as he said it. "Vat 'bout dot bett now, Cabtin?"
"Oh that," said Burke queerly. "You win, of course. I'm not quite broke yet, Captain Schenke. I'll pay the twenty dollars all right."
"No, no. De bett is not von. No? De bett vass—'who is de first on shore come,' Heim? Goot. Ven de sheep comes to Falmouth ve goes on shore, you und me, together. Like dis, eh?" He seized Burke by the arm and made a motion that they two should thus step out together.
Burke, shamefacedly, said: "Aye, aye, b'ye."
"Ah dond't care about de bett," continued the big German. "De bett is noting, but, look here, Cabtin—Ah tell you Ah look to vin dot Merchants' Cup. Gott! Ah vass verrickt ven your boys come in first. Ach so! Und now de Cup iss at de bottom of de Pacific." He sighed regretfully. "Gott! I van't t' be de first Sherman to vin dot Cup too!"
The mate of the Rickmers came on the poop and said something to his captain. Schenke turned to the old man in some wonderment. . . . "Vat dis is, eh? My mate tell me dot your boys is want to speak mit me. Vat it is, Cabtin? No troubles I hope?"
Burke looked as surprised as the other. "Send them up, Heinrich," he said. We, the crew of the Hilda's gig, filed on to the poop, looking as hot and uncomfortable as proper sailorfolk should do when they come on a deputation. Jones headed us, and he carried a parcel under his arm.
"Captain Schenke," he said. "We are all here—the crew of the Hilda's gig, that you picked up when—when—we were in a bad way. All here but poor Gregson."
The big lad's voice broke as he spoke of his lost watchmate. "An, if he was here he would want t' thank ye too for the way you've done by us. I can't say any more, Captain Schenke—but we want you to take a small present from us—the crew of the Hilda's gig." He held out the parcel.
Only half understanding the lad's broken words, Schenke took the parcel and opened it. "Ach Gott Lieber Gott," he said, and turned to show the gift to old Burke. Tears stood in the big "squarehead's" eyes; stood, and rolled unchecked down his fat cheeks. Tears of pleasure! Tears of pity! Stretched between his hands was a weather-beaten flag, its white emblem stained and begrimed by sea-water!
A tattered square of blue silk—the flag of the Merchants' Cup!
A STORM AND A RESCUE
From "The Wreck of the Grosvenor" BY W. CLARK RUSSELL
All that night it blew terribly hard, and raised as wild and raging a sea as ever I remember hearing or seeing described. During my watch—that is, from midnight until four o'clock—the wind veered a couple of points, but had gone back again only to blow harder; just as though it had stepped out of its way a trifle to catch extra breath.
I was quite worn out by the time my turn came to go below; and though the vessel was groaning like a live creature in its death agonies, and the seas thumping against her with such shocks as kept me thinking that she was striking hard ground, I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow, and never moved until routed out by Duckling four hours afterward.
All this time the gale had not bated a jot of its violence, and the ship labored so heavily that I had the utmost difficulty in getting out of the cuddy on to the poop. When I say that the decks fore and aft were streaming wet, I convey no notion of the truth: the main deck was simply afloat, and every time the ship rolled, the water on her deck rushed in a wave against the bulwarks and shot high in the air, to mingle sometimes with fresh and heavy inroads of the sea, both falling back upon the deck with the boom of a gun.
I had already ascertained from Duckling that the well had been sounded and the ship found dry; and therefore, since we were tight below, it mattered little what water was shipped above, as the hatches were securely battened down fore and aft, and the mast-coats unwrung. But still she labored under the serious disadvantage of being overloaded; and the result was, her fore parts were being incessantly swept by seas which at times completely hid her forecastle in spray.
Shortly after breakfast, Captain Coxon sent me forward to dispatch a couple of hands on to the jib-boom to snug the inner jib, which looked to be rather shakily stowed. I managed to dodge the water on the main-deck by waiting until it rolled to the starboard scuppers and then cutting ahead as fast as I could; but just as I got upon the forecastle, I was saluted by a green sea which carried me off my legs, and would have swept me down on the main-deck had I not held on stoutly with both hands to one of the fore-shrouds. The water nearly drowned me, and kept me sneezing and coughing for ten minutes afterward. But it did me no further mischief; for I was incased in good oilskins and sou'-wester, which kept me as dry as a bone inside.
Two ordinary seamen got upon the jib-boom, and I bade them keep a good hold, for the ship sometimes danced her figurehead under water and buried her sprit-sail-yard; and when she sunk her stern, her flying jib-boom stood up like the mizzenmast. I waited until this job of snugging the sail was finished, and then made haste to get off the forecastle, where the seas flew so continuously and heavily that had I not kept a sharp lookout, I should several times have been knocked overboard.
Partly out of curiosity and partly with a wish to hearten the men, I looked into the forecastle before going aft. There were sliding-doors let into the entrance on either side the windlass, but one of them was kept half open to admit air, the forescuttle above being closed. The darkness here was made visible by an oil lamp,—in shape resembling a tin coffee-pot with a wick in the spout,—which burned black and smokily. The deck was up to my ankles in water, which gurgled over the pile of swabs that lay at the open entrance. It took my eye some moments to distinguish objects in the gloom; and then by degrees the strange interior was revealed. A number of hammocks were swung against the upper deck and around the forecastle were two rows of bunks, one atop the other. Here and there were sea-chests lashed to the deck; and these, with the huge windlass, a range of chain cable, lengths of rope, odds and ends of pots and dishes, with here a pair of breeches hanging from a hammock, and there a row of oilskins swinging from a beam,—pretty well made up all the furniture that met my eye.
The whole of the crew were below. Some of the men lay smoking in their bunks, others in their hammocks with their boots over the edge; one was patching a coat, another greasing his boots; others were seated in a group talking; while under the lamp were a couple of men playing at cards upon a chest, three or four watching and holding on by the hammocks over their heads.
A man, lying in his bunk with his face toward me, started up and sent his legs, incased in blanket trousers and brown woolen stockings, flying out.
"Here's Mr. Royle, mates!" he called out. "Let's ask him the name of the port the captain means to touch at for proper food, for we aren't goin' to wait much longer."
"Don't ask me any questions of that kind, my lads," I replied promptly, seeing a general movement of heads in the bunks and hammocks. "I'd give you proper victuals if I had the ordering of them; and I have spoken to Captain Coxon about you, and I am sure he will see this matter put to rights."
I had difficulty in making my voice heard, for the striking of the seas against the ship's bows filled the place with an overwhelming volume of sound; and the hollow, deafening thunder was increased by the uproar of the ship's straining timbers.
"Who the devil thinks," said a voice from a hammock, "that we're going to let ourselves be grinded as we was last night without proper wittles to support us? I'd rather have signed articles for a coal-barge, with drowned rats to eat from Gravesend to Whitstable, than shipped in this here cursed vessel, where the bread's just fit to make savages retch!"
I had not bargained for this, but had merely meant to address them cheerily, with a few words of approval of the smart way in which they had worked the ship in the night. Seeing that my presence would do no good, I turned about and left the forecastle, hearing, as I came away, one of the Dutchmen cry out:—
"Look here, Mister Rile, vill you be pleashed to ssay when we are to hov' something to eat?—for by Gott! ve vill kill te dom pigs in the long-boat if the skipper don't mindt—so look out!"
As ill-luck would have it, Captain Coxon was at the break of the poop, and saw me come out of the forecastle. He waited until he had got me alongside of him, when he asked me what I was doing among the men.
"I looked in to give them a good word for the work they did last night," I answered.
"And who asked you to give them a good word, as you call it?"
"I have never had to wait for orders to encourage a crew."
"Mind what you are about, sir!" he exclaimed, in a voice tremulous with rage. "I see through your game, and I'll put a stopper upon it that you won't like."
"What game, sir? Let me have your meaning."
"An infernal mutinous game!" he roared. "Don't talk to me, sir! I know you! I've had my eye upon you! You'll play false if you can, and are trying to smother up your d—d rebel meanings with genteel airs! Get away, sir!" he bellowed, stamping his foot. "Get away aft! You're a lumping useless incumbrance! But by thunder! I'll give you two for every one you try to give me! So stand by!"
And apparently half mad with his rage, he staggered away in the very direction in which he had told me to go, and stood near the wheel, glaring upon me with a white face, which looked indescribably malevolent in the fur cap and ear-protectors that ornamented it.
I was terribly vexed by this rudeness, which I was powerless to resist, and regretted my indiscretion in entering the forecastle after the politic resolutions I had formed. However, Captain Coxon's ferocity was nothing new to me; truly I believed he was not quite right in his mind, and expected, as in former cases, that he would come round a bit by-and-by when his insane temper had passed. Still his insinuations were highly dangerous, not to speak of their offensiveness. It was no joke to be charged, even by a madman, with striving to arouse the crew to mutiny. Nevertheless I tried to console myself as best I could by reflecting that he could not prove his charges; that I need only to endure his insolence for a few weeks, and that there was always a law to vindicate me and punish him, should his evil temper betray him into any acts of cruelty against me.
The gale, at times the severest that I was ever in, lasted three days; during which the ship drove something like eighty miles to the northwest. The sea on the afternoon of the third day was appalling: had the ship attempted to run, she would have been pooped and smothered in a minute; but lying close, she rode fairly well, though there were moments when I held my breath as she sunk in a hollow like a coal-mine, filled with the astounding noise of boiling water,—really believing that the immense waves which came hurtling towards us with solid, sharp, transparent ridges, out of which the wind tore lumps of water and flung them through the rigging of the ship, must overwhelm the vessel before she could rise to it.
The fury of the tempest and the violence of the sea, which the boldest could not contemplate without feeling that the ship was every moment in more or less peril, kept the crew subdued; and they eat as best they could the provisions, without complaint. However, it needed nothing less than a storm to keep them quiet: for on the second day a sea extinguished the galley fire, and until the gale abated no cooking could be done; so that the men had to put up with cold water and biscuit. Hence all hands were thrown upon the ship's bread for two days; and the badness of it, therefore, was made even more apparent than heretofore, when its wormy moldiness was in some degree qualified by the nauseousness of bad salt pork and beef and the sickly flavor of damaged tea.
As I had anticipated, the captain came round a little a few hours after his insulting attack upon me. I think his temper frightened him when it had reference to me. Like others of his breed, he was a bit of a cur at the bottom. My character was a trifle beyond him; and he was ignorant enough to hate and fear what he could not understand. Be this as it may, he made some rough attempts at a rude kind of politeness when I went below to get some grog, and condescended to say that when I had been to sea as long as he, I would know that the most ungrateful rascals in the world were sailors; that every crew he had sailed with had always taken care to invent some grievance to growl over: either the provisions were bad, or the work too heavy, or the ship unseaworthy; and that long ago he had made up his mind never to pay attention to their complaints, since no sooner would one wrong be redressed than another would be coined and shoved under his nose.
I took this opportunity of assuring him that I had never willingly listened to the complaints of the men, and that I was always annoyed when they spoke to me about the provisions, as I had nothing whatever to do with that matter; and that so far from my wishing to stir up the men into rebellion, my conduct had been uniformly influenced by the desire to conciliate them and represent their conditions as very tolerable, so as to repress any tendency to disaffection which they might foment among themselves.
To this he made no reply, and soon we parted; but all the next day he was sullen again, and never addressed me save to give an order.
On the evening of the third day the gale broke; the glass had risen since the morning; but until the first dogwatch the wind did not bate one iota of its violence, and the horizon still retained its stormy and threatening aspect. The clouds then broke in the west, and the setting sun shone forth with deep crimson light upon the wilderness of mountainous waters. The wind fell quickly, then went round to the west and blew freshly; but there was a remarkable softness and sweetness in the feel and taste of it.
A couple of reefs were at once shaken out of the main-topsail, and a sail made. By midnight the heavy sea had subsided into a deep, long, rolling swell, still (strangely enough) coming from the south; but the fresh westerly wind held the ship steady, and for the first time for nearly a hundred hours we were able to move about the decks with comparative comfort. Early the next morning the watch were set to wash down and clear up the decks; and when I left my cabin at eight o'clock, I found the weather bright and warm, with a blue sky shining among heavy, white, April-looking clouds, and the ship making seven knots under all plain sail. The decks were dry and comfortable, and the ship had a habitable and civilized look, by reason of the row of clothes hung by the seamen to dry on the forecastle.
It was half past nine o'clock, and I was standing near the taffrail looking at a shoal of porpoises playing some hundreds of feet astern, when the man who was steering asked me to look in the direction to which he pointed—that was, a little to the right of the bowsprit—and say if there was anything to be seen there; for he had caught sight of something black upon the horizon twice, but could not detect it now.
I turned my eyes toward the quarter of the sea indicated, but could discern nothing whatever; and telling him that what he had seen was probably a wave, which, standing higher than his fellows, will sometimes show black a long distance off, walked to the fore part of the poop.
The breeze still held good; and the vessel was slipping easily through the water, though the southerly swell made her roll and at times shook the wind out of the sails. The skipper had gone to lie down,—being pretty well exhausted, I daresay; for he had kept the deck for the greater part of three nights running. Duckling was also below. Most of my watch were on the forecastle, sitting or lying in the sun, which shone very warm upon the decks; the hens under the long-boat were chattering briskly, and the cocks crowing, and the pigs grunting, with the comfort of the warmth.
Suddenly, as the ship rose, I distinctly beheld something black out away upon the horizon, showing just under the foot of the foresail. It vanished instantly; but I was not satisfied, and went for the glass which lay upon the brackets just under the companion. I then told the man who was steering to keep her away a couple of points for a few moments; and resting the glass against the mizzen-royal backstay, pointed it toward the place where I had seen the black object.
For some moments nothing but sea or sky filled the field of the glass as the ship rose and fell; but all at once there leaped into this field the hull of a ship, deep as her main-chains in the water, which came and went before my eye as the long seas lifted or dropped in the foreground. I managed to keep her sufficiently long in view to perceive that she was totally dismasted.
"It's a wreck," said I, turning to the man: "let her come to again and luff a point. There may be living creatures aboard of her."
Knowing what sort of man Captain Coxon was, I do not think that I should have had the hardihood to luff the ship a point out of her course had it involved the bracing of the yards; for the songs of the men would certainly have brought him on deck, and I might have provoked some ugly insolence. But the ship was going free, and would head more westerly without occasioning further change than slightly slackening the weather-braces of the upper yards. This I did quietly; and the dismantled hull was brought right dead on end with our flying jib-boom. The men now caught sight of her, and began to stare and point; but did not sing out, as they saw by the telescope in my hand that I perceived her. The breeze unhappily began to slacken somewhat, owing perhaps to the gathering heat of the sun; our pace fell off: and a full hour passed before we brought the wreck near enough to see her permanently,—for up to this she had been constantly vanishing under the rise of the swell. She was now about two miles off, and I took a long and steady look at her through the telescope. It was a black hull with painted ports. The deck was flush fore and aft, and there was a good-sized house just before where the mainmast should have been. This house was uninjured, though the galley was split up, and to starboard stood up in splinters like the stump of a tree struck by lightning. No boats could be seen aboard of her. Her jib-boom was gone, and so were all three masts,—clean cut off at the deck, as though a hand-saw had done it; but the mizzenmast was alongside, held by the shrouds and backstays, and the port main and fore shrouds streamed like serpents from her chains into the water. I reckoned at once that she must be loaded with timber, for she never could keep afloat at that depth with any other kind of cargo in her.
She made a most mournful and piteous object in the sunlight, sluggishly rolling to the swell which ran in transparent volumes over her sides and foamed around the deck-house. Once when her stern rose, I read the name Cecilia in broad white letters.
I was gazing intently, in the effort to witness some indication of living thing on board, when, to my mingled consternation and horror, I witnessed an arm projecting through the window of the deck-house and frantically waving what resembled a white handkerchief. As none of the men called out, I judged the signal was not perceptible to the naked eye; and in my excitement I shouted, "There's a living man on board of her, my lads!" dropped the glass, and ran aft to call the captain.
I met him coming up the companion ladder. The first thing he said was, "You're out of your course," and looked up at the sails.
"There's a wreck yonder," I cried, pointing eagerly, "with a man on board signaling to us."
"Get me the glass," he said sulkily; and I picked it up and handed it to him.
He looked at the wreck for some moments; and addressing the man at the wheel, exclaimed, making a movement with his hand, "Keep her away! Where in the devil are you steering to?"
"Good heaven!" I ejaculated: "there's a man on board—there may be others!"
"Damnation!" he exclaimed between his teeth: "what do you mean by interfering with me? Keep her away!" he roared out.
During this time we had drawn sufficiently near to the wreck to enable the sharper-sighted among the hands to remark the signal, and they were calling out that there was somebody flying a handkerchief aboard the hull.
"Captain Coxon," said I, with as firm a voice as I could command,—for I was nearly in as great a rage as he, and rendered insensible to all consequences by his inhumanity,—"if you bear away and leave that man yonder to sink with that wreck when he can be saved with very little trouble, you will become as much a murderer as any ruffian who stabs a man asleep."
When I had said this, Coxon turned black in the face with passion. His eyes protruded, his hands and fingers worked as though he were under some electrical process, and I saw for the first time in my life a sight I had always laughed at as a bit of impossible novelist description,—a mouth foaming with rage. He rushed aft, just over Duckling's cabin, and stamped with all his might.
"Now," thought I, "they may try to murder me!" And without a word I pulled off my coat, seized a belaying-pin, and stood ready; resolved that happen what might, I would give the first man who should lay his fingers on me something to remember me by while he had breath in his body.
The men, not quite understanding what was happening, but seeing that a "row" was taking place, came to the forecastle and advanced by degrees along the main-deck. Among them I noticed the cook, muttering to one or the other who stood near.
Mr. Duckling, awakened by the violent clattering over his head, came running up the companion-way with a bewildered, sleepy look in his face. The captain grasped him by the arm, and pointing to me, cried out with an oath that "that villain was breeding a mutiny on board, and he believed wanted to murder him and Duckling."
I at once answered, "Nothing of the kind! There is a man miserably perishing on board that sinking wreck, Mr. Duckling, and he ought to be saved. My lads!" I cried, addressing the men on the main-deck, "is there a sailor among you all who would have the heart to leave that man yonder without an effort to rescue him?"
"No, sir!" shouted one of them. "We'll save the man; and if the skipper refuses, we'll make him!"
"Luff!" I called to the man at the wheel.
"Luff at your peril!" screamed the skipper.
"Aft here, some hands," I cried, "and lay the mainyard aback. Let go the port main-braces!"
The captain came running toward me.
"By the living God!" I cried in a fury, grasping the heavy brass belaying-pin, "if you come within a foot of me, Captain Coxon, I'll dash your brains out!"
My attitude, my enraged face and menacing gesture, produced the desired effect. He stopped dead, turned a ghastly white, and looked round at Duckling.
"What do you mean by this (etc.) conduct, you (etc.) mutinous scoundrels?" roared Duckling, with a volley of foul language.
"Give him one for himself if he says too much, Mr. Royle!" sung out some hoarse voice on the main-deck; "we'll back yer!" And then came cries of "They're a cursed pair o' murderers!" "Who run the smack down?" "Who lets men drown?" "Who starves honest men?" This last exclamation was followed by a roar.
The whole of the crew were now on deck, having been aroused by our voices. Some of them were looking on with a grin, others with an expression of fierce curiosity. It was at once understood that I was making a stand against the captain and chief mate; and a single glance at them assured me that by one word I could set the whole of them on fire to do my bidding, even to shedding blood.
In the meantime, the man at the wheel had luffed until the weather leeches were flat and the ship scarcely moving. And at this moment, that the skipper might know their meaning, a couple of hands jumped aft and let go the weather main-braces. I took care to keep my eyes on Coxon and the mate, fully prepared for any attack that one or both might make on me. Duckling eyed me furiously but in silence, evidently baffled by my resolute air and the position of the men. Then he said something to the captain, who looked exhausted and white and haggard with his useless passion. They walked over to the lee side of the poop; and after a short conference, the captain to my surprise went below, and Duckling came forward.
"There's no objection," he said, "to your saving the man's life, if you want. Lower away the starboard quarter-boat,—and you go along in her," he added to me, uttering the last words in such a thick voice that I thought he was choking.
"Come along, some of you!" I cried out, hastily putting on my coat; and in less than a minute I was in the boat with the rudder and thole-pins shipped, and four hands ready to out oars as soon as we touched the water.
Duckling began to fumble at one end of the boat's falls.
"Don't let him lower away!" roared out one of the men in the boat. "He'll let us go with a run. He'd like to see us drowned!"
Duckling fell back, scowling with fury; and shoving his head over as the boat sunk quietly into the water, he discharged a volley of execrations at us, saying that he would shoot some of us, if he swung for it, before he was done, and especially applying a heap of abusive terms to me.
The fellow pulling the bow oar laughed in his face; and another shouted out, "We'll teach you to say your prayers yet, you ugly old sinner!"
We got away from the ship's side cleverly, and in a short time were rowing fast for the wreck. The excitement under which I labored made me reckless of the issue of this adventure. The sight of the lonely man upon the wreck, coupled with the unmanly, brutal intention of Coxon to leave him to his fate, had goaded me into a state of mind infuriate enough to have done and dared anything to compel Coxon to save him. He might call it mutiny, but I called it humanity; and I was prepared to stand or fall by my theory. The hate the crew had for their captain and chief mate was quite strong enough to guarantee me against any foul play on the part of Coxon; otherwise I might have prepared myself to see the ship fill and stand away, and leave us alone on the sea with the wreck. One of the men in the boat suggested this; but another immediately answered, "They'd pitch the skipper overboard if he gave such an order, and glad o' the chance. There's no love for 'em among us, I can tell you; and by ——! there'll be bloody work done aboard the Grosvenor if things aren't mended soon, as you'll see."
They all four pulled at their oars savagely as these words were spoken; and I never saw such sullen and ferocious expressions on men's faces as came into theirs, as they fixed their eyes as with one accord upon the ship. She, deep as she was, looked a beautiful model on the mighty surface of the water, rolling with marvelous grace to the swell, the strength and volume of which made me feel my littleness and weakness as it lifted the small boat with irresistible power. There was wind enough to keep her sails full upon her graceful, slender masts, and the brass-work upon her deck flashed brilliantly as she rolled from side to side.
Strange contrast, to look from her to the broken and desolate picture ahead! My eyes were riveted upon it now with new and intense emotion, for by this time I could discern that the person who was waving to us was a female,—woman or girl I could not yet make out,—and that her hair was like a veil of gold behind her swaying arm.
"It's a woman!" I cried in my excitement; "it's no man at all. Pull smartly, my lads! pull smartly, for God's sake!"
The men gave way stoutly, and the swell favoring us, we were soon close to the wreck. The girl, as I now perceived she was, waved her handkerchief wildly as we approached; but my attention was occupied in considering how we could best board the wreck without injury to the boat. She lay broadside to us, with her stern on our right, and was not only rolling heavily with wallowing, squelching movements, but was swirling the heavy mizzenmast that lay alongside through the water each time she went over to starboard; so that it was necessary to approach her with the greatest caution to prevent our boat from being stove in. Another element of danger was the great flood of water which she took in over her shattered bulwarks, first on this side, then on that, discharging the torrent again into the sea as she rolled. This water came from her like a cataract, and in a second would fill and sink the boat, unless extreme care were taken to keep clear of it.
I waved my hat to the poor girl, to let her know that we saw her and had come to save her, and steered the boat right around the wreck, that I might observe the most practical point for boarding her.
She appeared to be a vessel of about seven hundred tons. The falling of her masts had crushed her port bulwarks level with the deck, and part of her starboard bulwarks was also smashed to pieces. Her wheel was gone, and the heavy seas that had swept her deck had carried away capstans, binnacle, hatchway gratings, pumps—everything, in short, but the deck-house and the remnants of the galley. I particularly noticed a strong iron boat's-davit twisted up like a corkscrew. She was full of water, and lay as deep as her main-chains; but her bows stood high, and her fore-chains were out of the sea. It was miraculous to see her keep afloat as the long swell rolled over her in a cruel, foaming succession of waves.
Though these plain details impressed themselves upon my memory, I did not seem to notice anything, in the anxiety that possessed me to rescue the lonely creature in the deck-house. It would have been impossible to keep a footing upon the main-deck without a life-line or something to hold on by; and seeing this, and forming my resolutions rapidly, I ordered the man in the bow of the boat to throw in his oar and exchange places with me, and head the boat for the starboard port-chains. As we approached I stood up with one foot planted on the gunwale ready to spring; the broken shrouds were streaming aft and alongside, so that if I missed the jump and fell into the water there was plenty of stuff to catch hold of.
"Gently—'vast rowing—ready to back astern smartly!" I cried as we approached. I waited a moment: the hull rolled toward us, and the succeeding swell threw up our boat; the deck, though all aslant, was on a line with my feet. I sprung with all my strength, and got well upon the deck, but fell heavily as I reached it. However, I was up again in a moment, and ran forward out of the water.
Here was a heap of gear—stay-sail, and jib-halyards, and other ropes, some of the ends swarming overboard. I hauled in one of these ends, but found I could not clear the raffle; but looking round, I perceived a couple of coils of line—spare stun'-sail tacks or halyards I took them to be—lying close against the foot of the bowsprit. I immediately seized the end of one of these coils, and flung it into the boat, telling them to drop clear of the wreck astern; and when they found they had backed as far as the length of the line permitted, I bent on the end of the other coil, and paid that out until the boat was some fathoms astern. I then made my end fast, and sung out to one of the men to get on board by the starboard mizzen-chains, and to bring the end of the line with him. After waiting a few minutes, the boat being hidden, I saw the fellow come scrambling over the side with a red face, his clothes and hair streaming, he having fallen overboard. He shook himself like a dog, and crawled with the line, on his hands and knees, a short distance forward, then hauled the line taut and made it fast.
"Tell them to bring the boat round here," I cried, "and lay off on their oars until we are ready. And you get hold of this line and work yourself up to me."
Saying which, I advanced along the deck, clinging tightly with both hands. It very providentially happened that the door of the deck-house faced the forecastle within a few feet of where the remains of the galley stood. There would be, therefore, less risk in opening it than had it faced beamwise: for the water, as it broke against the sides of the house, disparted clear of the fore and after parts; that is, the great bulk of it ran clear, though of course a foot's depth of it as least surged against the door.
I called out to the girl to open the door quickly, as it slid in grooves like a panel, and was not to be stirred from the outside. The poor creature appeared mad; and I repeated my request three times without inducing her to leave the window. Then, not believing that she understood me, I cried out, "Are you English?"
"Yes," she replied. "For God's sake, save us!"
"I cannot get you through that window," I exclaimed. "Rouse yourself and open that door, and I will save you."
She now seemed to comprehend, and drew in her head. By this time the man out of the boat had succeeded in sliding along the rope to where I stood, though the poor devil was nearly drowned on the road; for when about half-way, the hull took in a lump of swell which swept him right off his legs, and he was swung hard a-starboard, holding on for his life. However, he recovered himself smartly when the water was gone, and came along hand over fist, snorting and cursing in wonderful style.
Meanwhile, though I kept a firm hold of the life-line, I took care to stand where the inroads of water were not heavy, waiting impatiently for the door to open. It shook in the grooves, tried by a feeble hand; then a desperate effort was made, and it slid a couple of inches.
"That will do!" I shouted. "Now then, my lad, catch hold of me with one hand, and the line with the other."
The fellow took a firm grip of my monkey-jacket, and I made for the door. The water washed up to my knees, but I soon inserted my fingers in the crevice of the door and thrust it open.
The house was a single compartment, though I had expected to find it divided into two. In the centre was a table that traveled on stanchions from the roof to the deck, On either side were a couple of bunks. The girl stood near the door. In a bunk to the left of the door lay an old man with white hair. Prostrate on his back, on the deck, with his arms stretched against his ears, was the corpse of a man, well dressed; and in a bunk on the right sat a sailor, who, when he saw me, yelled out and snapped his fingers, making horrible grimaces.
Such, in brief, was the coup d'oeil of that weird interior as it met my eyes.
I seized the girl by the arm.
"You first," said I. "Come; there is no time to be lost."
But she shrunk back, pressing against the door with her hand to prevent me from pulling her, crying in a husky voice, and looking at the old man with the white hair, "My father first! my father first!"
"You shall all be saved, but you must obey me. Quickly now!" I exclaimed passionately; for a heavy sea at that moment flooded the ship, and a rush of water swamped the house through the open door and washed the corpse on the deck up into a corner.
Grasping her firmly, I lifted her off her feet, and went staggering to the life-rope, slinging her light body over my shoulder as I went. Assisted by my man, I gained the bow of the wreck, and hailing the boat, ordered it alongside.
"One of you," cried I, "stand ready to receive this lady when I give the signal."
I then told the man who was with me to jump into the forechains, which he instantly did. The wreck lurched heavily to port. "Stand by, my lads!" I shouted. Over she came again, with the water swooping along the maindeck: The boat rose high, and the forechains were submerged to the height of the man's knees. "Now!" I called, and lifted the girl over. She was seized by the man in the chains, and pushed toward the boat; the fellow standing in the bow of the boat caught her, and at the same moment down sunk the boat, and the wreck rolled wearily over. But the girl was safe.
"Hurrah, my lad!" I sung out. "Up with you,—there are others remaining;" and I went sprawling along the line to the deck-house, there to encounter another rush of water, which washed as high as my thighs, and fetched me such a thump in the stomach that I thought I must have died of suffocation.
I was glad to find that the old man had got out of his bunk, and was standing at the door.
"Is my poor girl safe, sir?" he exclaimed, with the same huskiness of voice that had grated so unpleasantly in the girl's tone.
"Quite safe; come along."
"Thanks be to Almighty God!" he ejaculated, and burst into tears.
I seized hold of his thin cold hands, but shifted my fingers to catch him by the coat collar, so as to exert more power over him; and handed him along the deck, telling my companion to lay hold of the seaman and fetch him away smartly. We managed to escape the water, for the poor old gentleman bestirred himself very nimbly, and I helped him over the fore-chains; and when the boat rose, tumbled him into her without ceremony. I saw the daughter leap toward him and clasp him in her arms; but I was soon again scrambling on to the deck, having heard cries from my man, accompanied with several loud curses, mingled with dreadful yells.
"He's bitten me, sir!" cried by companion, hauling himself away from the deck-house. "He's roaring mad."
"It can't be helped," I answered. "We must get him out."
He saw me pushing along the life-line, plucked up heart, and went with myself through a sousing sea to the door. I caught a glimpse of a white face glaring at me from the interior: in a second a figure shot out, fled with incredible speed toward the bow, and leaped into the sea just where our boat lay.
"They'll pick him up," I exclaimed. "Stop a second;" and I entered the house and stooped over the figure of the man on the deck.
I was not familiar with death, and yet I knew it was here. I cannot describe the signs in his face; but such as they were, they told me the truth. I noticed a ring upon his finger, and that his clothes were good. His hair was black, and his features well shaped, though his face had a half-convulsed expression, as if something frightful had appeared to him, and he had died of the sight of it.
"This wreck must be his coffin," I said. "He is a corpse. We can do no more."
We scrambled for the last time along the life-line and got into the fore-chains; but to our consternation, saw the boat rowing away from the wreck. However, the fit of rage and terror that possessed me lasted but a moment or two; for I now saw they were giving chase to the madman, who was swimming steadily away. Two of the men rowed, and the third hung over the bows, ready to grasp the miserable wretch. The Grosvenor stood steady, about a mile off, with her mainyards backed; and just as the fellow over the boat's bows caught hold of the swimmer's hair, the ensign was run up on board the ship and dipped three times.
"Bring him along!" I shouted. "They'll be off without us if we don't bear a hand."
They nearly capsized the boat as they dragged the lunatic, streaming like a drowned rat, out of the water; and one of the sailors tumbled him over on his back, and knelt upon him, while he took some turns with the boat's painter round his body, arms and legs. The boat then came alongside; and watching our opportunity, we jumped into her and shoved off.
I had now leisure to examine the persons whom we had saved.
They—father and daughter, as I judged them by the girl's exclamation on the wreck—sat in the stern-sheets, their hands locked. The old man seemed nearly insensible; leaning backward with his chin on his breast and his eyes partially closed. I feared he was dying; but could do no good until we reached the Grosvenor, as we had no spirits in the boat.
The girl appeared to be about twenty years of age; very fair, her hair of golden straw color, which hung wet and streaky down her back and over her shoulders, though a portion of it was held by a comb. She was deadly pale, and her lips blue; and in her fine eyes was such a look of mingled horror and rapture as she cast them around her,—first glancing at me, then at the wreck, then at the Grosvenor,—that the memory of it will last me to my death. Her dress, of some dark material, was soaked with salt water up to her hips, and she shivered and moaned incessantly, though the sun beat so warmly upon us that the thwarts were hot to the hand.
The mad sailor lay at the bottom of the boat, looking straight into the sky. He was a horrid-looking object, with his streaming hair, pasty features, and red beard, his naked shanks and feet protruding through his soaking, clinging trousers, which figured his shin-bones as though they clothed a skeleton. Now and again he would give himself a wild twirl and yelp out fiercely; but he was well-nigh spent with his swim, and on the whole was quiet enough.
I said to the girl, "How long have you been in this dreadful position?"
"Since yesterday morning," she answered, in a choking voice painful to hear, and gulping after each word. "We have not had a drop of water to drink since the night before last. He is mad with thirst, for he drank the water on the deck;" and she pointed to the man in the bottom of the boat.
"My God!" I cried to the men, "do you hear her? They have not drunk water for two days! For the love of God, give way!"
They bent their backs to the oars, and the boat foamed over the long swell. The wind was astern and helped us. I did not speak again to the poor girl; for it was cruel to make her talk, when the words lacerated her throat as though they were pieces of burning iron.
After twenty minutes, which seemed as many hours, we reached the vessel. The crew pressing round the gangway cheered when they saw we had brought people from the wreck. Duckling and the skipper watched us grimly from the poop.
"Now then, my lads," I cried, "up with this lady first. Some of you on deck get water ready, as these people are dying of thirst."
In a few minutes, both the girl and the old man were handed over the gangway. I cut the boat's painter adrift from the ringbolt so that we could ship the madman without loosening his bonds, and he was hoisted up like a bale of goods. Then four of us got out of the boat, leaving one to drop her under the davits and hook on the falls.
At this moment a horrible scene took place.
The old man, tottering on the arms of two seamen, was being led into the cuddy, followed by the girl, who walked unaided. The madman, in the grasp of the big sailor named Johnson, stood near the gangway; and as I scrambled on deck, one of the men was holding a pannikin full of water to his face. The poor wretch was shrinking away from it, with his eyes half out of their sockets; but suddenly tearing his arm with a violent effort from the rope that bound him, he seized the pannikin and bit clean through the tin; after which, throwing back his head, he swallowed the whole draught dashed the pannikin down, his face turned black and he fell dead on the deck.
The big sailor sprung aside with an oath, forced from him by his terror; and from every looker-on there broke a groan. They all shrunk away and stood staring with blanched faces. Such a piteous sight as it was, lying doubled up, with the rope pinioning the miserable limbs, the teeth locked, and the right arm uptossed!
"Aft here and get the quarter-boat hoisted up!" shouted Duckling, advancing on the poop; and seeing the man dead on the deck, he added, "Get a tarpaulin and cover him up, and let him lie on the fore-hatch."
"Shall I tell the steward to serve out grog to the men who went with me?" I asked him.
He stared at me contemptuously, and walked away without answering.
THE SAILOR'S WIFE
From "An Iceland Fisherman," BY PIERRE LOTI
The Icelanders were all returning now. Two ships came in the second day, four the next, and twelve during the following week. And all through the country joy returned with them; and there was happiness for the wives and mothers, and junkets in the taverns where the beautiful barmaids of Paimpol served out drink to the fishers.
The Leopoldine was among the belated; there were yet another ten expected. They would not be long now; and allowing a week's delay so as not to be disappointed, Gaud waited in happy, passionate joy for Yann, keeping their home bright and tidy for his return. When everything was in good order there was nothing left for her to do; and besides, in her impatience, she could think of nothing else but her husband.
Three more ships appeared; then another five. There were only two lacking now.
"Come, come," they said to her cheerily, "this year the Leopoldine and the Marie-Jeanne will be the last, to pick up all the brooms fallen overboard from the other craft."
Gaud laughed also. She was more animated and beautiful than ever, in her great joy of expectancy.
But the days succeeded one another without result.
She still dressed up every day, and with a joyful look went down to the harbor to gossip with the other wives. She said that this delay was but natural: was it not the same event every year? These were such safe boats, and had such capital sailors.
But when at home alone, at night, a nervous anxious shiver of apprehension would run through her whole frame.
Was it right to be frightened already? Was there even a single reason to be so? but she began to tremble at the mere idea of grounds for being afraid.
The 10th of September came. How swiftly the days flew by!
One morning—a true autumn morning, with cold mist falling over the earth in the rising sun—she sat under the porch of the chapel of the shipwrecked mariners, where the widows go to pray; with eyes fixed and glassy, and throbbing temples tightened as by an iron band.
These sad morning mists had begun two days before; and on this particular day Gaud had awakened with a still more bitter uneasiness, caused by the forecast of advancing winter. Why did this day, this hour, this very moment, seem to her more painful than the preceding? Often ships are delayed a fortnight; even a month, for that matter.
But surely there was something different about this particular morning; for she had come to-day for the first time to sit in the porch of this chapel and read the names of the dead sailors, perished in their prime.
IN MEMORY OF GAOS YVON Lost at Sea
NEAR THE NORDEN-FJORD
Like a great shudder, a gust of wind rose from the sea, and at the same time something fell like rain upon the roof above. It was only the dead leaves, though;—many were blown in at the porch; the old wind-tossed trees of the graveyard were losing their foliage in this rising gale, and winter was marching nearer.
Lost at Sea NEAR THE NORDEN-FJORD In the storm of the 4th and 5th of August, 1880
She read mechanically under the arch of the doorway; her eyes sought to pierce the distance over the sea. That morning it was untraceable under the gray mist, and a dragging drapery of clouds overhung the horizon like a mourning veil.
Another gust of wind, and other leaves danced in whirls. A stronger gust still; as if the western storm which had strewn those dead over the sea wished to deface the very inscriptions which kept their names in memory with the living.
Gaud looked with involuntary persistency at an empty space upon the wall which seemed to yawn expectant. By a terrible impression, she was pursued by the thought of a fresh slab which might soon perhaps be placed there,—with another name which she did not even dare think of in such a spot.
She felt cold, and remained seated on the granite bench, her head reclining against the stone wall.
NEAR THE NORDEN-FJORD In the storm of the 4th and 5th of August, 1880 at the age of 23 years Requiescat in pace!
Then Iceland loomed up before her, with its little cemetery lighted up from below the sea-line by the midnight sun. Suddenly, in the same empty space on the wall, with horrifying clearness she saw the fresh slab she was thinking of; a clear white one, with a skull and crossbones, and in a flash of foresight a name,—the worshiped name of "Yann Gaos"! Then she suddenly and fearfully drew herself up straight and stiff, with a hoarse wild cry in her throat like a mad creature.
Outside, the gray mist of the dawn fell over the land, and the dead leaves were again blown dancingly into the porch.
Steps on the footpath! Somebody was coming? She rose, and quickly smoothed down her cap and composed her face. Nearer drew the steps. She assumed the air of one who might be there by chance; for above all, she did not wish to appear yet like the widow of a shipwrecked mariner.
It happened to be Fante Floury, the wife of the second mate of the Leopoldine. She understood immediately what Gaud was doing there: it was useless to dissemble with her. At first each woman stood speechless before the other. They were angry and almost hated each other for having met holding a like sentiment of apprehension.
"All the men of Treguier and Saint-Brieuc have been back for a week," said Fante at last, in an unfeeling, muffled, half-irritated voice.
She carried a blessed taper in her hand, to offer up a prayer. Gaud did not wish yet to resort to that extreme resource of despairing wives. Yet silently she entered the chapel behind Fante, and they knelt down together side by side like two sisters.
To the Star of the Sea they offered ardent imploring prayers, with their whole soul in them. A sound of sobbing was alone heard, as their rapid tears swiftly fell upon the floor. They rose together, more confident and softened. Fante held up Gaud, who staggered; and taking her in her arms, kissed her.
Wiping their eyes and smoothing their disheveled hair, they brushed off the salt dust from the flag-stones which had soiled their gowns, and went away in opposite directions without another word.
This end of September was like another summer, only a little less lively. The weather was so beautiful that had it not been for the dead leaves which fell upon the roads, one might have thought that June had come back again. Husbands and sweethearts had all returned, and everywhere was the joy of a second springtime of love.
At last, one day, one of the missing ships was signaled. Which one was it?
The groups of speechless and anxious women had rapidly formed on the cliff. Gaud, pale and trembling, was there, by the side of her Yann's father.
"I'm almost sure," said the old fisher, "I'm almost sure it's them. A red rail and a topsail that clews up,—it's very like them, anyhow. What do you make it, Gaud?"
"No, it isn't," he went on, with sudden discouragement: "we've made a mistake again; the boom isn't the same, and ours has a jigger-sail. Well, well, it isn't our boat this time, it's only the Marie-Jeanne. Never mind, my lass, surely they'll not be long now."
But day followed day, and night succeeded night, with uninterrupted serenity.
Gaud continued to dress up every day; like a poor crazed woman, always in fear of being taken for the widow of a shipwrecked sailor, feeling exasperated when others looked furtively and compassionately at her, and glancing aside so that she might not meet those glances which froze her very blood.
She had fallen into the habit of going at the early morning right to the end of the headland, on the high cliffs of Pors-Even; passing behind Yann's old home, so as not to be seen by his mother or little sisters. She went to the extreme point of the Ploubazlanec land, which is outlined in the shape of a reindeer's horn upon the gray waters of the Channel, and sat there all day long at the foot of the lonely cross which rises high above the immense waste of the ocean. There are many of these crosses hereabout; they are set up on the most advanced cliffs of the sea-bound land, as if to implore mercy, and to calm that restless mysterious power which draws men away, never to give them back, and in preference retains the bravest and noblest.
Around this cross stretches the evergreen waste, strewn with short rushes. At this great height the sea air was very pure; it scarcely retained the briny odor of the weeds, but was perfumed with all the exquisite ripeness of September flowers.
Far away, all the bays and inlets of the coast were firmly outlined, rising one above another; the land of Brittany terminated in jagged edges, which spread out far into the tranquil surface.
Near at hand the reefs were numerous; but out beyond, nothing broke its polished mirror, from which arose a soft caressing ripple, light and intensified from the depths of its many bays. Its horizon seemed so calm, and its depths so soft! The great blue sepulchre of many Gaoses hid its inscrutable mystery; whilst the breezes, faint as human breath, wafted to and fro the perfume of the stunted gorse, which had bloomed again in the latest autumn sun.
At regular hours the sea retreated, and great spaces were left uncovered everywhere, as if the Channel was slowly drying up; then with the same lazy slowness the waters rose again, and continued their everlasting coming without any heed of the dead.
At the foot of the cross Gaud remained, surrounded by these tranquil mysteries, gazing ever before her until the night fell and she could see no more.
September had passed. The sorrowing wife took scarcely any nourishment, and could no longer sleep.
She remained at home now, crouching low with her hands between her knees, her head thrown back and resting against the wall behind. What was the good of getting up or going to bed now? When she was thoroughly exhausted she threw herself, dressed, upon her bed. Otherwise she remained in the same position, chilled and benumbed; in her quiescent state, only her teeth chattered with the cold; she had that continual impression of a band of iron round her brows; her cheeks looked wasted; her mouth was dry, with a feverish taste, and at times a painful hoarse cry rose from her throat and was repeated in spasms, whilst her head beat backwards against the granite wall. Or else she called Yann by his name in a low, tender voice, as if he were quite close to her; whispering words of love to her.
Sometimes she occupied her brain with thoughts of quite insignificant things; for instance, she amused herself by watching the shadow of the china Virgin lengthen slowly over the high woodwork of the bed, as the sun went down. And then the agonized thoughts returned more horribly; and her wailing cry broke out again as she beat her head against the wall.
All the hours of the day passed; and all the hours of evening, and of night; and then the hours of the morning. When she reckoned the time he ought to have been back, she was seized with a still greater terror; she wished to forget all dates and the very names of the days.
Generally, there is some information concerning the wrecks off Iceland; those who return have seen the tragedy from afar, or else have found some wreckage or bodies, or have an indication to guess the rest. But of the Leopoldine nothing had been seen, and nothing was known. The Marie-Jeanne men—the last to have seen it on the 2d of August—said that she was to have gone on fishing farther towards the north; and beyond that the secret was unfathomable.
Waiting, always waiting, and knowing nothing! When would the time come when she need wait no longer? She did not even know that; and now she almost wished that it might be soon. Oh! if he were dead, let them at least have pity enough to tell her so!
Oh to see her darling, as he was at this very moment,—that is, what was left of him! If only the much-implored Virgin, or some other power, would do her the blessing to show her by second-sight her beloved! either living and working hard to return a rich man, or else as a corpse surrendered by the sea, so that she might at least know a certainty.
Sometimes she was seized with the thought of a ship appearing suddenly upon the horizon: the Leopoldine hastening home. Then she would suddenly make an instinctive movement to rise, and rush to look out at the ocean, to see whether it were true.
But she would fall back. Alas! where was this Leopoldine now? Where could she be? Out afar, at that awful distance of Iceland,—forsaken, crushed, and lost.
All ended by a never-fading vision appearing to her,—an empty, sea-tossed wreck, slowly and gently rocked by the silent gray and rose-streaked sea; almost with soft mockery, in the midst of the vast calm of deadened waters.
Two o'clock in the morning.
It was at night especially that she kept attentive to approaching footsteps; at the slightest rumor or unaccustomed noise her temples vibrated: by dint of being strained to outward things, they had become fearfully sensitive.
Two o'clock in the morning. On this night as on others, with her hands clasped and her eyes wide open in the dark, she listened to the wind sweeping in never-ending tumult over the heath.
Suddenly a man's footsteps hurried along the path! At this hour who would pass now? She drew herself up, stirred to the very soul, her heart ceasing to beat.
Some one stopped before the door, and came up the small stone steps.
He!—O God!—he! Some one had knocked,—it could be no other than he! She was up now, barefooted; she, so feeble for the last few days, had sprung up as nimbly as a kitten, with her arms outstretched to wind round her darling. Of course the Leopoldine had arrived at night, and anchored in Pors-Even Bay, and he had rushed home; she arranged all this in her mind with the swiftness of lightning. She tore the flesh off her fingers in her excitement to draw the bolt, which had stuck.
She slowly moved backward, as if crushed, her head falling on her bosom. Her beautiful insane dream was over. She could just grasp that it was not her husband, her Yann, and that nothing of him, substantial or spiritual, had passed through the air; she felt plunged again into her deep abyss, to the lowest depths of her terrible despair.
Poor Fantec—for it was he—stammered many excuses: his wife was very ill, and their child was choking in its cot, suddenly attacked with a malignant sore throat; so he had run over to beg for assistance on the road to fetch the doctor from Paimpol.
What did all this matter to her? She had gone mad in her own distress, and could give no thoughts to the troubles of others. Huddled on a bench, she remained before him with fixed glazed eyes, like a dead woman's; without listening to him, or even answering at random or looking at him. What to her was the speech the man was making?
He understood it all, and guessed why the door had been opened so quickly to him; and feeling pity for the pain he had unwittingly caused, he stammered out an excuse.
"Just so: he never ought to have disturbed her—her in particular."
"I!" ejaculated Gaud quickly, "why should I not be disturbed particularly, Fantec?"
Life had suddenly come back to her; for she did not wish to appear in despair before others. Besides, she pitied him now; she dressed to accompany him, and found the strength to go and see to his little child.
At four o'clock in the morning, when she returned to throw herself on the bed, sleep subdued her, for she was tired out. But that moment of excessive joy had left an impression on her mind, which in spite of all was permanent; she awoke soon with a shudder, rising a little and partially recollecting—she knew not what. News had come to her about her Yann. In the midst of her confusion of ideas, she sought rapidly in her mind what it could be; but there was nothing save Fantec's interruption.