The Seiners
by James B. (James Brendan) Connolly
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While he sat there in the cabin, smoking and meditating, letting us into his thoughts every now and then, the voices of some of our crew were heard on deck.

We all went up and got the word that was being passed around. A coast steamer had just come to anchor in the harbor with the report that just outside—about ten miles to the west'ard—was a vessel, dismasted and clean-swept, and dragging toward the rocks. They could not help her themselves—too rough—a hurricane outside—to launch a boat was out of the question. They didn't mind taking a chance, they said, but to attempt her rescue would be suicide.

It looked like a pretty hard chance going out in that gale, but Clancy didn't wait. "Nobody else seems to be hurrying to get out, and we being the able-est looking craft in the harbor, I callate it's up to us to go." He got the exact location of the distressed vessel from the coaster, and then it was up anchor, make sail, and out we went.

There were people who called Clancy a fool for ordering out his vessel and risking his crew that day—men in that very harbor—and maybe he was. But for myself, I want that kind of a fool for my skipper. The man that will take a chance for a stranger will take a bigger chance for his own by and by.

We saw her while we were yet miles away, down to the west'ard—near Whitehead and with the cruel stretch of rocks under her lee quarter. Even with plenty of sea-room she could not have lasted long, and here with these ledges to catch her she looked to be in for a short shrift. We had a good chance to get a look at her as we bore down. Everything was gone from her deck, even the house and rail. There was not as much loose wood on deck as would make a tooth-pick. Afterwards we learned that two seas hove her down so that they had to cut the spars away to right her, and then just as she was coming up another monster had caught her and swept her clean—not only swept clean, but stove in her planks and started some of her beams so that she began to leak in a fashion that four men to the pumps could just manage to keep up with.

We could just see them—the men to the pumps working desperately—with the others lashed to the stumps of the masts and the stanchions which were left when the rail went. Her big hawser had parted and her chain was only serving to slightly check her way toward the rocks.

With spars and deck gear gone and her hull deep in the water, a vessel is not so easily distinguished. But there was something familiar in this one. We had seen her before. All at once it flashed on half a dozen of us—"the Flamingo!" we said. "God! that's luck!" said Clancy.

She lay in a sort of inlet that was wide open to the gale, rocks on the better part of three sides of her, north, south and west. She was then within all but striking distance of the rocks, and the seas, high and wicked, were sweeping over her. It looked like a bad place to work out of if we should get close in, but Clancy held on.

"Not much lee-room, but plenty of water under her keel anyway," and himself to the wheel, sailed the Johnnie around the Flamingo. He hailed Maurice as he went by, waved his hand to the others, and hove a line aboard. They took the line, hauled in the hawser at the end of it, made that fast to the windlass, and then we started off with her in tow.

We were doing pretty well, what with plenty of wind and the Johnnie buckling down to her work like she was a steamer, till the hawser parted and back toward the rocks went the Flamingo again.

"No use," said Clancy, "sea's too much for any line we got. We'll try it with the seine-boat. Who'll go in the seine-boat and try to take them off? Think quick, but mind what it means."

Every man of the crew of the Johnnie Duncan said, "Here!" The cook even came out of the forec's'le and put in his "And me, too, skipper."

"You're good men," said Clancy,—"damn good men," and looked us up and down. We felt proud, he said it in such a way. "But you're taking your lives in your hands and some of you got wives and children—mothers or something. Who hasn't anybody depending on him? Which of you hasn't any woman somewhere, or little brothers or sisters?"

About twelve of the sixteen men standing on the deck of the Johnnie Duncan said "Me!"

"Three-quarters of you, at least," said Clancy, "are damn liars. Over with the seine-boat and be careful nobody gets hurt."

Somebody did get hurt, though. Andie Howe got his foot smashed and was helped below. Clancy gave the rest of us a scolding in advance. "You're not hurt yet, but some of you will be—like Andie—if you don't watch out. You'd think that some of you were out on some little pond up in the country somewhere launching a canoe off one of those club-house floats. Keep an eye out for those seas when they board. And watch out for that deckload or some of you'll have a head cut off. A man killed or a man washed over the rail—what's the difference—it's a man lost. Look out now—watch, you Steve—damn you, watch out! Over with it!"

And over it went and with it leaped two men before it could sag away, while the rest of us stood by the rail watching our chance.

"Nelson," called Clancy, "come away from that rail! Steve, come away!—come away, I say, and no back talk. Pat, you can go—jump in—watch your chance or it's the last of you. Eddie, you can go, and you Bill, and you Frenchy. Joe! stand away from that rail or I'll put you in the hold and batten the hatches on you. Now, that's better. And that's enough—six men to the oars and one to steer."

"And who'll steer?" asked somebody.

"You'll know in a minute," said Clancy, and he leaped for the seine-boat and made it, and grabbed the steering oar. "Stand by—push off! Fend off in the vessel there! Steve, if anything happens—you know—you're to take the Johnnie home. Give way, fellows. Now! Watch out!—now—now then, around with her—end on, and there she is like a bird! And now drive her!"

"A bird!" said Clancy—but a wild-looking bird—fifty feet she looked to be going into the air one moment and down out of sight the next, and water slamming aboard her so that we thought she was swamped half a dozen times. Two had to leave the oars and go to bailing, while Clancy with an arm and shoulders and back and swinging waist like—well, like nothing a man ever had before—kept her end to it.

"Good luck!" we called.

"Never fear—we'll bring 'em back!" said Clancy.

"Or stay with them," we thought.

But he didn't stay with them. It was a ticklish job, but Clancy got away with it. He didn't dare to go too near the Flamingo, for that meant that the seas would pitch the seine-boat up and dash it to kindling wood against her hull. What he did do was to go as near the Flamingo as he could and keep her clear, then heave a line aboard and call to her crew one after the other to make it fast around themselves and jump overboard. It took some nerve to make that jump—from the rigging of the Duncan we watched them—saw them shiver and draw up—these were men accustomed to face danger—reckless men—but the shiver was over in a breath, and then over the rail and into that sea—a game fight—and they were hauled into the seine-boat. Some of them we thought would never make it, for it was an awful sea.

As fast as one of the Flamingo's men made the seine-boat he was set to work bailing out or taking a haul at the oars, for it was a difficult matter in that sea to keep the seine-boat at the right distance from the Flamingo. But they got them all—ten of them. Two were hauled in unconscious, but came to after awhile.

To get aboard the Johnnie again was almost as bad as to get into the seine-boat from the Flamingo. But we managed it. Long Steve was swept over while we were at it, but we got him back with the help of Maurice Blake and another of the Flamingo's crowd. By smart clever work they grabbed Steve before he could go down and hauled him into the seine-boat.

When they were all safe aboard the Duncan Clancy shook hands with Maurice. "I call that luck, Maurice—to come out to save a stranger and find you've saved your own. And now whose trick to the wheel—you, Joe? Put her on the off-shore tack till we're well clear of that headland—maybe we c'n make it in one leg. No? Then a short tack and have an eye out for the ledges—not too close. And Maurice, go below—you and Dave and all hands of you, and we'll get out dry clothes for you. Man, but you must be cold and hungry, but the cook's getting coffee and grub ready. And for the Duncan's crew—on deck all hands and put the tops'ls to her. For, Maurice-boy, we're going home—going home, Maurice—where there's people waiting for you. Hang on a while longer, Joe, and I'll take her myself."

No need to tell me to hang on. If I hadn't hung on or been lashed to the wheel I could never have kept my feet, for at this time it was so bad that they had passed a line from my waist to the windward bitt and I was up to my waist with every dive of her.

"Lord, she's a dog, ain't she! If old man Duncan could see her now! Remember Tom O'Donnell singing that song the other night:

'West half-no'the and drive her—we're abreast now of Cape Sable— 'Tis an everlasting hurricane, but here's the craft that's able.'

We're not abreast of Cape Sable yet, but it won't take us too many hours at this clip. And here's the craft that's able. Man, wouldn't it be fine if Tom O'Donnell himself was with us and the pair of us racing home? Let me take the wheel, Joe. And go for'ard and have a mug-up for yourself—and have a care going, Joe, for it's leaping she is now and seas that'd lift you a cable's length to looard if ever they caught you fair. That's it—oh, but if your mother could see you now, Joe, it's never to sea you'd come again."

I made my way for'ard. A dash between the house and windward rail, a shoot for the mainmast and holding on there for awhile. Another dive for the gripes on the dories, another shoot between rail and dories, a grip of the bow gripes, a swing around and I was at the forec's'le hatch. Here I thought I heard him call and looked aft.

He had a leg either side of the wheel, standing full height and sawing the spokes a bit up and down to get the feel of her. The life line was trailing from his waist to the bitt—the clear white sea was up to his middle and racing over the taffrail. He had cast away his mitts the better to grip the spokes, and even as I looked he took off his sou'wester and sent it scaling. The wind taking hold of it must have carried it a quarter a mile to leeward. Watching it go, himself looking out under the boom, he laughed—laughed—such a roar of a laugh—stamped his feet and began to sing:

"Oh, I love old Ocean's smile, I love old Ocean's frowning— My love's for Ocean all the while, My prayer's for death by drowning."

The devil was in him then. "Did you call me, skipper?" I sang out.

"Did I? Did I? Lord, Joe, I don't know. Maybe I did. I feel like calling from here to Gloucester, and if I did I bet they'd hear me. God, Joe, but it's good to be alive, isn't it?—just to be alive. Whew! but I wish I had a few more sou'westers—just to see 'em scale. But what was it I wanted—but is the cook there?"

"He is—I c'n hear him talking."

"Then go below and tell him, Joe—tell him to mouse his pots and kettles, for with sail alow and sail aloft, with her helmsman lashed and her house awash, in a living gale and the devil's own sea, the Johnnie Duncan's going to the west'ard."

And she certainly went.



That trip ended seining for the Duncan that year. Everything went well with our friends, after we got home. It was late in the season, and Maurice Blake was to stay ashore to get married, for one thing. He had made a great season of it and could afford to. So the Johnnie Duncan was fitted out for fresh halibuting and Clancy took her.

I went with him. I remember very well that I had no idea of going winter fishing when the seining season ended, but, somehow or other when Clancy came to get a crew together I was looking for a chance.

So we put out, and on the rocks of Cape Ann, near Eastern Point lighthouse, on the day we sailed on our first halibuting trip, were Maurice Blake and Alice Foster, my cousin Nell and Will Somers, to wave us good luck. Clancy hauled the vessel close in to get a better look and they waved us until I suppose they could see us no longer. Of course they should have been able to make us out long after we had lost sight of them, we being a tall-sparred, white-sailed vessel; and Clancy must have had that in mind, for long after all signs of them had been lost to us he kept the glasses pointed to the rocks. He turned at last with a "Well, I suppose they're all happy now, Joe?"

"They ought to be," I said.

"Yes, they ought to be," he repeated, and then again, "they ought to be," and went for'ard.

He stayed for'ard a long time, saying no word, but leaning over the windlass and looking out ahead. Nobody disturbed him. Once or twice when the sheets needed trimming—and in a deep sleep I think Clancy would know that—he turned and gave the word, but the bare word and no more. He had his spells we all knew, when he didn't want anybody near him, and so he wanted to be alone, I suppose. And there he stayed, with what spray came over the bow splashing him, but he paying no attention.

At supper call he moved, but not to go below and eat—only to shift to walking the quarter, and walking the quarter he stayed until near midnight. He went below then after giving a few words of instruction to the watch—went below and got out his pipe. From my bunk, the middle port bunk in the cabin, I watched him rummaging for tobacco in his stateroom and then his coming out with his pipe and his filling and lighting it slowly and thoughtfully, and then his sitting and smoking under the cabin lamp.

Looking over when he had finished that pipeful—I had not drawn my curtain—he caught my eyes on him. He smiled, but said nothing—only lit another pipeful, and kept on smoking.

I fell asleep watching him—fell asleep and woke again. He must have been watching me, for his eyes were on mine when I looked for him again. He smiled and shook his pipe out, and made as though to turn in.

But he didn't turn in. He took off his jersey, loosened the collar of his flannel shirt, cast off his slip-shods—stopped—looked into his bunk, came back, filled and lit another pipeful and began to talk to me. I thought I was sleepy, but in five minutes I didn't think so. Joking, laughing, telling stories—in ten minutes he had me roaring. Before long he had everybody in the cabin awake and roaring, too. Men, coming off watch and into the cabin to warm up, or for one thing or another, listened and stayed. He kept that up all the rest of the night—until after six o'clock in the morning, and only the cook called to breakfast there's no telling when he would have stopped. And not until he was going for'ard to eat did I get a glimpse of what it was he had been thinking of during all those earlier hours of the night. The sun, I remember, was streaking the sky ahead of us—he stopped just as he was about to drop into the forec's'le and pointed it out.

"A sunrise, Joe, on a fine October morning out to sea—beautiful—beautiful—but just one thing wrong about it. And what is it?—you don't see? Well, Joe, it's over the bow. A sunrise, Joe, is most beautiful when it's over the stern—and why? 'Cause then you're going home—of course. Going home, Joe—if you've got a home to go to. Look to it, Joe, that you've got a home of your own to go to before you're much older. Somebody to work for—somebody waiting for you—a wife, Joe—wife and children—or you're in for some awful lonesome times."

That was Clancy—watch-mate, bunk-mate, dory-mate once, and now my skipper—Clancy, who could be any man's friend, the man that everybody jumped to shake hands with, and yet never a bit of use to himself. And I couldn't but half wonder at that, and kept my eyes on him when, with one foot on the top step of the companionway, he turned and looked around again.

"And if you can't get anybody, skipper?"

"Then it's hard—though most likely you've deserved it."

"But you haven't deserved it?"

"Deserved it? Yes, and ten times over."

"That's pretty rough."

"Rough? No, it's right. When you do wrong you've got to make up for it. It's all in the big scheme of the universe. You've got to strike a balance some time—somewhere. And the sooner the better. Be thankful if you have to settle it right away, Joe. If you don't and it drags along—then it's worse again, and the Lord help those that come after you—those that have to take up life where you've left it off. The Lord have mercy on the heirs of your brain and heart and soul, boy. What you hand them they've got to take. Yes, sir, you'll pay for it somewhere—you yourself, or, what's worse, those you care for will have to pay—in this world or another—whatever it is we're coming to, a better or a worse world, it's there and waiting us. Be thankful, as I said, Joe, if you have to settle for it here—settle for it yourself alone."

All around, above and below, ahead and astern, he looked, a long, long look astern—his foot on the step, and singing softly, almost to himself:

"And if I come to you, my love, And my heart free from guile, Will you have a glance for me— Will you on me smile?

Oh, Lord! pipe-dreams—pipe-dreams. Let's go below, Joe, and have a bite to eat."

So below we went; and her sails lit up by the morning sun, her decks wet by the slapping sea, sheets off and sailing free, the Johnnie Duncan clipped her way to the east'ard.


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