Captain Joe had straightened up and was screening his eyes with his hand when I reached his side, his gaze rivetted on the loosened sloop, which had now hauled in her tether line and was drifting clear of the buoy. The captain was still incredulous.
"No, he ain't comin'," he said to me. "He's all right,—he'll port his helm in a minute,—but he'd better send up his jib"—and he swept his eye around,—"and that quick, too."
At this instant the sloop wavered and lurched heavily. The outer edge of the insuck had caught her bow.
Men's minds work quickly in times of great danger,—minds like Captain Joe's. In a flash he had taken in the fast-approaching roller, froth-capped by the sudden squall; the surging vessel and the scared face of Baxter, who, having realized his mistake was now clutching wildly at the tiller and shouting orders to his men, none of which could be carried out. Captain Joe knew what would happen,—what had happened before, and what would happen again with fools like Baxter,—now,—in a minute,—before he could reach the edge of the stone pile, hampered as he was in a rubber suit that bound his arms and tied his great legs together. And he understood too the sea's game, and that the only way to outwit it would be to use the beast's own tactics. When it gathered itself for the thrust and started in to hurl the doomed vessel the full length of its mighty arms, the sloop's only safety lay in widening the space. A cushion of backwater would then receive the sloop's forefoot in place of the snarling teeth of low crunching rocks.
He had kicked off both shoes by this time and was shouting out directions to Baxter, who was slowly and surely being sucked into the swirl:—
"Up with your jib! No,—NO! Let that mainsail alone! UP! Do ye want to git her on the stone pile, you? Port your helm! PORT! O GOD!—Look at him!!"
Captain Joe had slid from the platform now and was flopping his great body over the slimy, slippery rocks like a seal, falling into water holes every other step, crawling out on his belly, rolling from one slanting stone to another, shouting to his men, every time he had the breath:—
"Man that yawl and run a line as quick as God'll let ye—out to the buoy! Do ye hear? Pull that fall off the drum of the h'ister and git the end of a line on it! She'll be on top of us in a minute and the mast out of her! QUICK!"
Jimmy sprang for a coil of rope; Billy and the others threw themselves after him; while half a dozen men working around the small eddy in the lee of the diminutive island caught up the oars and made a dash for the yawl.
All this time the sloop, under the uplift of the first big Montauk roller,—the skirmish line of the attack,—surged, bow on, to destruction. Baxter, although shaking with fear, had sense enough left to keep her nose pointed to the stone pile. The mast might come out of her, but that was better than being gashed amidships and sunk in thirty feet of water.
Captain Joe, his rubber suit wet and glistening as a shiny porpoise, his hair matted to his head, had now reached the outermost rock opposite the doomed craft, and stood near enough to catch every expression that crossed Baxter's face, who, white as chalk, was holding the tiller with all his strength, cap off, his blousy hair flying in the increasing gale, his mouth tight shut. Go ashore she must. It would be every man for himself then. No help would come,—no help COULD come. Captain Joe and his men would run for shelter as soon as the blow fell, and leave them to their fate. Men like Baxter are built to think this way.
All these minutes—seconds, really,—Captain Joe stood bending forward, watching where the sloop would strike, his hands outstretched in the attitude of a ball-player awaiting a ball. If her nose should hit the sharp, square edges of one of the ten-ton blocks, God help her! She would split wide open like a melon. If by any chance her forefoot should be thrust into one of the many gaps between the enrockment blocks,—spaces from two to three feet wide,—and her bow timbers thus take the shock, there was a living chance to save her.
A cry from Baxter, who had dropped the tiller and was scrambling over the stone-covered deck to the bowsprit, reached the captain's ears, but he never altered his position. What he was to do must be done surely. Baxter didn't count,—wasn't in the back of his head. There were plenty of willing hands to pick up Baxter and his men.
Then a thing happened which, if I had not seen it, I would never have believed possible. The water cushion of the outsuck helped,—so did the huge roller which, in its blind rage, had underestimated the distance between its lift and the wide-open jaws of the rock,—as a maddened bull often underestimates the length of its thrust, its horns falling short of the matador.
Whatever the cause, Captain Joe watched his chance, sprang to the outermost rock, and, bracing his great snubbing posts of legs against its edge, reversed his body, caught the wavering sloop on his broad shoulders, close under her bowsprit chains, and pushed back with all his might.
Then began a struggle between the strength of the man and the lunge of the sea. With every succeeding onslaught, and before the savage roller could fully lift the staggering craft to hurl her to destruction, Captain Joe, with the help of the outsuck, would shove her back from the waiting rocks. This was repeated again and again,—the men in the rescuing yawl meanwhile bending every muscle to carry out the captain's commands.
Sometimes his head was free enough to shout his orders, and sometimes both man and bow were smothered in suds.
"Keep that fall clear!" would come his order "Stand ready to catch the yawl! Shut that—" here a souse would stop his breath,—"shut that furnace door! Do ye want the steam out of the b'iler?"—etc., etc.
That the slightest misstep on the slimy rocks on which his feet were braced meant sending him under the sloop's bow where he would be caught between her forefoot and the rocks and ground into pulp concerned him as little as did the fact that Baxter and his men had crawled along the bowsprit over his head and had dropped to the island without wetting their shoes. That his diving suit was full of water and he soaking wet to the skin, made not the slightest difference to him—no more than it would to a Newfoundland dog saving a child. His thoughts were on other things,—on the rescuing yawl speeding toward the spar buoy, on the stout hands and knowing ones who were pulling for all they were worth to that anchor of safety;—on two of his own men who, seeing Baxter's cowardly desertion, had sprung like cats at the bowsprit of the sloop in one of her dives, and were then on the stern ready to pay out a line to the yawl when she reached the goal. No,—he'd hold on "till hell froze over."
A hawser now ripped itself clear from out the crest of a roller. This meant that the two cats, despite the increasing gale and thrash of the onrushing sea had succeeded in paying out a stern line to the men in the yawl, who had slipped it through the snatch block fastened in the buoy. It meant, too, that this line had been connected with the line they had brought with them from the island, its far end being around the drum of our hoister.
A shrill cry now came from one of the crew in the yawl alongside the spar buoy, followed instantly by the clear, ringing order, "GO AHEAD!"
Now a burst of feathery steam plumed skyward, and then the slow "chuggity-chug" of our drum cogs rose in the air. The stern line straightened until it was as rigid as a bar of iron, sagged for an instant under the slump of the staggering sloop, straightened again, and remained rigid. The sloop, held by the stern line, crept slowly back to safety.
Captain Joe looked over his shoulder, noted the widening distance, and leaped back to the inshore rocks.
Late that afternoon, when the tug, with Captain Joe and me on board, reached the tug's moorings in New London harbor, the dock was crowded with anxious faces,—Abram Marrows and his wife among them. It had been an anxious day along the shore road. The squall, which had blown for half an hour and had then slunk away toward Little Gull, grumbling as it went, had sent everything that could seek shelter bowling into New London Harbor under close reefs. It had also started Marrows and his wife on a run to the dock, where they had stood for hours straining their eyes seaward, each incoming vessel, as she swooped past the dock into the inner basin, adding to their anxiety.
"Wouldn't give a keg o' sp'ilt fish for her. Ain't a livin' chance o' savin' her," had bellowed the captain of a fishing smack, as he swept by, within biscuit-toss of the dock, his boom submerged, the water curling over the rail.
"She went slap ag'in them chunks o' cut stone!" shouted the mate of a tug through the window of a pilot house.
"Got her off with her bow split open, but they can't keep her free! Sunk by now, I guess," had yelled one of the crew of a dory making for the shipyard.
As each bulletin was shouted back over the water in answer to the anxious inquiries of Marrows, the wife would clasp her fingers the tighter. She made no moan or outburst. Abram would blame her and say it was her fault,—everything was her fault that went wrong.
When the tug had made fast to a wharf spile Captain Joe cleared the stringpiece, and walked straight to Marrows. He was still soaking wet underneath his clothes, only his outer garments being dry,—a condition which never affected him in the least, "salt water bein' healthy," he would say.
"What did I tell ye, Abram Marrows?" he exploded, in a voice that could be heard to the turnpike. "Didn't I say Baxter warn't fittin', and that he ought ter be grubbin' clams? Go and dig a hole some'er's and cover him up head and ears,—and dig it quick, too, and I'll lend ye a shovel."
"Well, but, Captain Joe,"—protested Marrows.
"Don't you 'well' me. Well, nothin'. You're bad as him. Go and dig a hole and BOTH on ye git in it!"—and he pushed through the crowd on his way to his house, I close at his heels.
The wife, who but that moment had heard the glad news of the rescue from the lips of a deck hand, now hurried after the captain and laid her hand on his arm. Her eyes were red from weeping; strands of gray hair strayed over her forehead and cheeks; her lips were tightly drawn; the anxiety of the last few hours had left its mark.
"Don't go, Captain Joe, till I kin speak to ye," she pleaded, in a trembling voice,—speaking through fingers pressed close to her lips.
"No,—I don't want to hear nothin'. She's all right, I tell ye,—tighter 'n a drum and not a drop of water in her. Got some of my men aboard and we'll unload her to-morrow. You go home, old woman; you needn't worry."
"Yes, but you must listen,—PLEASE listen."
She had followed him up the dock and the two stood apart from the crowd.
"Well, what is it?"
"I want to thank ye,—and I want—"
"No, you don't want to thank nothin'. She's all right, I tell ye."
She had tight hold of his arm now and was looking up into his face, all her gratitude in her eyes.
"But I do,—I must,—please listen. You've helped us so. It's all we have. If we'd lost the sloop I'd 'a' give up."
The captain's rough, hard hand went out and caught the woman's thin fingers. A peculiar cadence came into his voice.
"All ye have? Do you think I don't know it? That's why I was under her bowsprit."
"Here comes Captain Bogart—we'll ask him," said the talkative man.
His listeners were grouped about one of the small tables in the smoking-room of the Moldavia, five days out. The question was when the master of a vessel should leave his ship. In the incident discussed every man had gone ashore—even the life-saving crew had given her up: the master had stuck to his post.
The captain listened gravely.
"Yes—if there's one chance in a thousand of saving her. Regulations are pretty plain; can't forget 'em unless you want to," and he walked on.
That night at dinner I received a message to come to the captain's cabin. He had some coffee that an old Brazilian had sent him. His steward hailed from Rio, and knew how to grind and boil it.
Over the making the talk veered to the inquiry in the smoking-room.
"When ought a commander to abandon his ship, Captain?" I asked.
"When his passengers need him. Passengers first, ship next, are the orders. They're clear and exact—can't mistake 'em."
"You speak as if you had had some experience." A leaf from out the note-book of a live man doing live things is as refreshing as a bucket of cool water from a deep well.
"Experience! Been forty years at sea."
"Some of them pretty exciting, I suppose."
"Yes. Half a dozen of 'em."
He emptied his cup, rose from his seat, and pushing back his chair, began pacing the floor, stepping into the connecting chart-room, bending for an instant over the map, and stepping back again, peering through the small window a-grime with the spray of a north-easter.
My question, I could see, had either revived some unpleasant memory or the anxiety due to the sudden shift of wind—it had been blowing south-west all day—had made him restless.
As my eyes followed his movements I began to realize the enormous size of the man. Walking the deck, head up, body erect, his broad shoulders pulled back, his round, solid girth tightly confined in his simple uniform, he looked the brawny, dominant, forceful commander that he was—big among the biggest passengers. Here, pacing the small cabin, his head almost touching the ceiling, his great frame filled the small narrow room as an elephant would fill a boudoir. Everything seemed too small for him—the table, even the chair which he had now regained, the tiny egg-shell cup which he was still grasping.
Looking closer—his head in full profile against the glow of the electric light—I caught the straight line of the ruddy, seamed neck—a bull's neck in strength, a Greek athlete's in refinement of line—sweeping up into the close-cropped, iron-gray hair. Then came the round of the head; the massive forehead, strong, straight nose; thin, compressed lips, moulded thin and kept compressed by a life of determined effort; square-cut chin and the iron jaw that held the lips and chin in place.
When he rose to his feet again I had another surprise. To my astonishment he was not a Colossus at all—not in pounds and inches. On the contrary, he was but little above the average size. What had impressed me had not been his bulk, but his reserve force. Tigers stretched out in cages produce this effect; so do powerful machines that dig, crunch, or pound—dormant until their life-steam sets them going.
The gale increased in violence. We got now the lift of the steamer's bow, staggering under tons of water, and the whir of the screw in mid-air. The captain glanced at the barometer, drew his body to its full height, reached for his storm-coat, slipped it on, and was about to swing back the door opening on the deck, when the chirp of a canary rang through the room. At the sound he turned quickly and walked back to where the cage hung.
"Ho, little man!" he cried in the same tone of voice in which he would have addressed a child; "woke you up, did we? Sorry, old fellow; tuck your head down again and take another nap."
The bird stretched out its bill, fluttered its wings, pecked at the captain's outstretched finger, and burst into song.
"Yours, captain?" I had not noticed the bird before.
"Yes; had him for years."
Instantly the absurdity of the companionship broke upon me. What possible comfort, I thought, could a man like the captain take in so tiny a creature? It was the lion and the mouse over again—the eagle and the tom-tit—the bear and the rabbit. He must have noticed my surprise and amusement, for he added with a smile:
"Must have something. Gets pretty lonesome sometimes when you have no wife nor children, and there are none anywheres for me." He had withdrawn his fingers now, and was buttoning his coat close about his broad chest, his eyes still on the bird that was splitting its little throat in a burst of song.
"But he's so small," I laughed. "I should think you'd have a dog—seems nearer your size."
I once saw a man struck by a spent bullet. I remember the sudden pallor, the half gasp, and the expression of pain that followed. Then the man uttered a cry. The same expression crossed the captain's face, but there was no gasp and no cry; only a straightening of the lips and a tightening-up of the iron jaw. Then, without a word of any kind in answer, he caught up his cap, swung back the door, and with the wind full on his chest, breasted his way to the bridge.
When the door swung open a moment later it closed on the first officer—a square, thick-set, round-headed man, with mild blue eyes set in a face framed by a half-circle of reddish-brown whiskers, the face tanned by twenty-five years of sea service, fifteen of them with Captain Bogart.
"Getting soapy," he said; "wind haulin' to the east'ard. Goin' to have a nasty night." As he spoke he stripped off his tarpaulins, hung them to a hook in the chart-room, and wiping the salt grime from his face with his coat cuff, took the captain's empty seat at the table.
I knew by the captain's silent departure that I had made a break of some kind, but I could not locate it. Perhaps the first officer might explain.
"Captain lost his wife, didn't he?" I asked, moving my chair to make room.
"No—never had one." He leaned forward and filled one of the empty cups. "Why did you think so?"
"Well, more from the tone of his voice than anything else. Some trouble about it, wasn't there?"
"There was. His sweetheart was burned to death ten years ago—lamp got upset." These men are direct in their speech. It comes from their life-long habit of giving short, crisp, meaning orders. He had reached for the sugar now, and was dropping the lumps slowly into his cup.
"That explains it, then," I answered. "We were talking about the bird over there, and he said a man must have something to love, being without wife or children, and then I told him a big man like himself, I should think, would rather have a dog—"
The first officer put down his cup, jerked his body around, and said, his blue eyes looking into mine:
"You didn't say that, did you?"
I nodded my head.
"Mighty sorry. Don't any of us talk to him of his dog. What did he say?"
"Nothing. Turned a little pale, got up, and went out."
"Too bad! You didn't know, of course—wish I'd posted you."
"Then he DID have a dog?"
"Yes, belonged to that poor girl."
"What became of him?"
The first officer leaned over the table and rested his elbows on the cloth, his chin in the palms of his hands. For some time he did not speak. Outside I could hear the thrash of the sea and the slosh of spent waves coursing through the deck gutters.
"You want to hear about that dog, do you?" he asked, straightening up. "Well, I can tell you if any man can, but you're to keep mum about it to the captain."
Again I nodded.
He fumbled in his outside pocket, drew forth a short pipe, rapped out the dead ashes, refilled it slowly from a pouch on the table, lighted it, and settled himself in his chair.
"I'll begin at the beginning, for then you'll understand how I came to be mixed up in it. I saw that dog when he first came aboard, and I want to say right here that the sight of him raised a lump in my throat big as your fist, for he was just the mate of the one I owned when I used to look after my father's sheep on the hills where we lived. Then, again, I took to him because he wasn't the kind of a pet I'd ever seen at sea before—we'd had monkeys and parrots and a bobtail cat, but never a dog—not a real, human dog.
"He was one of those brown-and-white combed-out collies we have up in my country, with a long, pointed nose that could smell a mile and eyes like your mother's—they were so soft and tender. One of those dogs that when he put his cold nose alongside your cheek and snuffed around your whiskers you loved him—you couldn't help it—and you knew he loved you. As for the captain—the dog was never three feet from his heels. Night or day, it was just the same—up on the bridge, followin' him with his eyes every time he turned, or stretched out beside his berth when he was asleep. Hard to understand how such a man can love a dog until you saw that one. Then, again, this dog had another hold upon the captain, for the girl had loved him just the same way.
"And he had the best nose in a fog—seemed as if he could sniff things as they went by or came on dead ahead. After a while the captain would send him out with the bow-watch in thick weather, and there he'd crouch, his nose restin' on the rail, his eyes peerin' ahead. Once he got on to a brigantine comin' bow on minutes before the lookout could see her—smelt her, the men said, just as he used to smell the sheep lost on the hillside at home. It was thick as mud—one of those pasty fogs that choke you like hot steam. We had three men in the cro'nest and two for'ard hangin' over her bow-rail. The dog began to grow restless. Then his ears went up and his tail straightened out, and he began to growl as if he had seen another dog. The captain was listenin' from the bridge, and he suspected somethin' was wrong and rang 'Slow down!' just in time to save us from smashing bow on into that brigantine. Another time he rose on his hind legs and 'let out' a yelp that peeled everybody's eyes. Then the slippery, barnacle-covered bottom of a water-logged derelict went scootin' by a few yards off our starboard quarter. After that the men got to dependin' on him—'Ought to have a first mate's pay,' I used to tell the captain, at which he would laugh and pat the dog on the head.
"One morning about eight bells, some two hundred miles off Rio—we were 'board the Zampa, one of our South American line, with eighteen first-class passengers, half of 'em women, and ten or twelve emigrants—when word came to the bridge that a fire had started in the cargo. We had a lot of light freight on board and some explosives which were to be used in the mines in the mountains off the coast, so fire was the last thing we wanted. Bayard—did I tell you the dog's name was Bayard?—that's what the girl called him—was on the bridge with Captain Bogart. I was asleep in my bunk. First thing I knew I felt the dog's cold nose in my face, and the next thing I was on the dead run for the after-hatch. I've had it big and ugly a good many times in my life; was washed upon a pile of rocks once stickin' up about a cable's length off our coast, and hung to the cracks until I dropped into a lifeboat; and another time I was picked up for dead off Natal and rolled on a barrel till I came to. But that racket aboard the Zampa was the worst yet.
"When I jumped in among the men the smoke was creepin' out between the lids of the hatch. We ripped that off and began diggin' up the cargo—crates of chairs, rolls of mattin', some spruce scantling—runnin' the nozzle of the hose down as far as we could get it. There were no water-tight compartments which we could have flooded in those days as there are now, or we could have smothered it first off. What we had to do was to fight it inch by inch. I knew where the explosives were, and so did the captain and purser, but the crew didn't—didn't even know they were aboard, and I was glad they didn't. We had picked most of 'em up at Rio—or they'd made a rush maybe for the boats, and then we'd had to shoot one or two of 'em to teach the others manners. In addition to every foot of hose we had 'board I started a line of buckets and then rushed a gang below to cut through the bulkhead to see if we could get at the stuff better.
"The men fell to with a will. Fire ain't so bad when you take hold of it in time, and as long as there is plenty of steam pressure—and there was—you can almost always get on top of it, unless something turns up you don't count on.
"That's what happened here. I was standin' on the coamings of the hatch at the time, peerin' down into the smoke and steam, thinking the fire was nearly out, directing the men what to h'ist out and what to leave, when first thing I knew there came a dull, heavy thump, as if we'd struck a rock amidships, and up puffed a cloud of smoke and sparks that keeled me over on my back and nearly blinded me.
"I knew then that the fire had just begun to take hold; that thump might have been a cask of rum or it might have been a box of nitro-glycerine. Whatever it was, there was no time to waste in stoppin' the blaze before it reached the rest of the cargo.
"Captain Bogart had felt the shock and now came runnin' down the deck with the dog at his heels. He knew I'd take care of the fire and he hadn't left the bridge, but the way she shook and heaved under the explosion was another thing.
"By this time the passengers were huddled together on the upper deck, frightened to death, as they always are, the women the coolest in the crowd. All except two little old women, sisters, who lived out of Rio and who had been with us before. Fire was one of the things that scared them to death, and they certainly were scared. They hung to the rail, their arms around each other—the two together didn't weigh a hundred and fifty pounds; always reminded me of two shiverin' little monkeys, these two old women, although maybe it ain't nice for me to say it—and looked down over the rail into the sea, and said they never could go down the ladder, and did all the things badly scared women do, short of pitching themselves overboard, which sometimes occurs. The captain stopped and talked to 'em—told 'em there was no danger—his ears open all the time for another let-go, and the dog nosed round and put out his paw as if to make good what the captain had promised.
"The water was goin' in now pretty lively—all the pumps at work—the light stuff bein' heaved overboard as fast as it came out. By dark we'd got the fire under so that we had steam where before we'd had smoke and flame. The passengers had quieted down and some of 'em had gone back to their staterooms to get their things together, and everything was going quiet and peaceable—this was about nine o'clock—when there came another half-smothered explosion and the stokers began crawlin' up like rats. Then the chief engineer stumbled out—no hat nor coat, his head all blood where a flying bolt had gashed him. Some of her bilge plates was loose, he said, and the water half up to the fire-boxes. Next a column of flame came pouring out of her companionway, which crisped up four of our boats and drove everybody for'ard. We knew then it was all up with us.
"The captain now sent every man to the boats—those that would float—and we began to get the passengers and crew together—about sixty, all told. That's pretty nasty business at any time. They're like a flock of sheep, huddlin' together, some wantin' to stay and some crazy to go; or they are shiverin' with fright and ready to knife each other—anything to get ahead or back or wherever they think it is safest. This time most of 'em had got on to the explosives; they knew something was up, either with the boilers or the cargo, and every one of them expected to be blown up any minute.
"I stood by the rail, of course, and had told off the men I could trust, puttin' 'em in two lines to let 'em through one at a time, women first, then the old men, and so on—same old story; you've seen it, no doubt—and had got four boats overboard and filled—the sea was pretty calm—and three of 'em away and out of range of fallin' pieces if she did take a notion to let go suddenly, when the dog sprang out of the door at the top of the stairs leading down to the main deck, barkin' like mad, runnin' up to the captain, who stood just behind me, pullin' at his trousers, and runnin' back again. Then a yell came from the boat below that one of the old women was missing: it was her sister. One half-crazy man said she'd jumped overboard—he was crowdin' up to the rail and didn't want to stop for anything—and another said she had gone off in the first boat, which I knew was a lie.
"'Have you sent them both down?' asked Captain Bogart.
"'No, sir; only one,' I said—and I hadn't.
"Just then a steward stepped up with a bundle of clothing in his hand.
"'I tried to get her out, but she'd locked herself in the stateroom, sir. It was all afire when I come up.'
"It took about two seconds for Captain Bogart to jump clear of the crowd, run half the length of the deck and plunge through the door leadin' to the main deck, the dog boundin' after him.
"I've been through a good many anxious minutes in my life, but those were the worst I'd had up to date. He and I had been pretty close ever since I went to sea. He's ten years older than I am, but he gave me my first chance. Yes; that kind of thing takes the heart out of you, and they were both in it. Hadn't been for the dog we wouldn't have missed her, maybe, although the captain was keeping tally of the passengers and crew.
"Three minutes, they said it was—more like three hours to me—I held the crowd back, wondering how long I ought to wait if he didn't come up, knowing my duty was to stay where I was, when the dog sprang out of the door, half his hair singed off him, barkin' and jumpin' as if he had been let out for a romp; and then came the captain staggerin' along, his face scorched, his coat half burned off him, the woman in his arms in a dead faint and pretty nigh smothered. The old fool had locked herself in her stateroom—he had to break down the door to get at her—cryin' she'd rather die there than be separated from her sister.
"We made room for the two—the half-crazy man fallin' back—and the captain lowered her himself into the boat alongside her sister, and then he sent me down the ladder behind her to catch the others when they came down and see that everything was ready to cast off.
"I could see the captain now from my position in the boat, up against the sky—he was the last man on the ship—holding the dog close to him. Once I thought he was going to bring him down in his arms, he held him so tight.
"Next time I looked he was coming down the ladder slowly, one foot at a time, the dog looking down at him, his big, human eyes peering into the captain's face, his long, pointed nose thrust out, his ears bent forward. If he could have spoken—and he looked as if he was speaking—he would be telling him how glad he felt at savin' the old woman, and how happy he was that they'd all three got clear. My own collie used to talk to me like that—had a kind of low whine when he'd get that way; tell me about his sheep stuck in the snow, and the way the—"
The first officer stopped, cleared his throat, shook the ashes from his pipe and laid it on the table. After a while he went on. His words came slower now, as if they hurt him.
"When the captain got half-way down the ladder I saw him stand still for a moment and look straight tip into the dog's eyes. Then I heard him say:
"'Down, Bayard! Stay where you are.'
"The dog crouched and lay with his paws on the edge of the rail. That's what he'd done all his life—just obeyed orders without question. Again I saw the captain stop. This time he slipped his hand into his side-pocket, half drew out his revolver, put it back again, and kept on his way down the ladder to the boat.
"Then the captain's order rang out:
"'Get ready to shove off!'
"Hardly had the words left his lips when there came another dull, muffled roar, and a sheet of flame licked the whole length of the deck. Then she fell over on her beam.
"'My God!' I cried; 'left that dog to die!'"
For a moment the first officer did not answer. Then he raised his eyes to mine and said in a voice full of emotion:
"Yes; there was nothin' else to do. It's against orders to take animals into life-boats. They take room and must be fed, and we hadn't a foot of space or an ounce of grub and water to spare, and we had two hundred miles to go. I begged the captain. 'I'll give Bayard my place,' I said. I knew he was right; but I couldn't help it. 'Let me go back and get him.' I know now it would have been foolish; but I'd have done it all the same. So would you, maybe, if you'd known that dog and seen his trusting eyes lookin' out of his scorched face and remembered what he'd just done.
"The captain never looked at me when he answered. He couldn't; his eyes were too full.
"'Your place is where you are, sir,' he said, short and crisp. 'Shove off, men.'
"He will never get over it. That dog stood for the girl he'd lost, somehow. That's the captain's bell. I'm wanted on the bridge. Good-night."
Again the cabin door swung free, letting in a blast of raw ice-house air, the kind that chills you to the bone. The gale had increased. Through the opening I could hear the combers sweeping the bow and the down-swash of the overflow striking the deck below.
With the outside roar came the captain, his tarpaulins glistening with spray, his cap pulled tight down to his ears, his storm-beaten face ruddy with the dash and cut of the wind. He looked like a sea Titan that had stepped aboard from the crest of a wave.
If he saw me—I was stretched out on the sofa by this time—he gave no sign. Opening his tarpaulins and thrashing the water from his cap, he walked straight to the cage, peered in, and said softly:
"Ah, my little man! Asleep, are you? I just came down to take a look at the chart and see how you were getting on. We're having some weather on the bridge."
MUGGLES'S SUPREME MOMENT
A most estimable young man was Muggles: a clean-shaven, spick-and-span, well-mannered young man—particular as to the brushing of his hat, the tying of his scarf and the cut of his clothes; more than particular as to their puttings-on and puttings-off—sack-coat and derby for mornings; top hat and frock for afternoons; bobtail and black tie for stags, and full regalia of white choker, white waistcoat and swallowtail for smart dinners and the opera.
He knew, too, all the little niceties of social life—which arm to give to his hostess in escorting her out to dinner; on which side of a hansom to place a lady; the proper hours for calling; the correct thing in canes, umbrellas, stick-pins and cigar-cases; the way to balance a cup of afternoon tea on one knee while he toyed with a lettuce sandwich teetering on the other—all the delicate observances so vital to the initiated and so unimportant to the untutored and ignorant. Then Muggles was a kind and considerate young man—extremely kind and intrusively considerate; always interesting himself in everybody's affairs and taking no end of trouble to straighten them out whether importuned or not—and he seldom was.
This idiosyncrasy had gained for him during his college days the title of "Mixey." This in succeeding years had been merged into "Muddles" and finally to "Muggles," as being more euphonious and less insulting. Of late among his intimates he had been known as "The Goat," due to his constant habit of butting in at any and all times, a sobriquet which clings to him to this day.
His real name—the one he inherited from his progenitors and now borne by his family—was one that stood high in the fashionable world: a family that answered to the more dignified and aristocratic patronymic of Maxwell—a name dating back to the time of Cromwell, with direct lineage from the Earl of Clanworthy—john, Duke of Essex, Lord Beverston—that sort of lineage. No one of the later Maxwells, it is true, had ever been able to fill the gap of a hundred years or more between the Clanworthys and the Maxwells, but a little thing like that never made any difference to Muggles or his immediate connections. Was not the family note-paper emblazoned with the counterfeit presentment of a Stork Rampant caught by the legs and flopping its wings over a flattened fish-basket; and did not Muggles's cigarette-case, cuff-buttons and seal ring bear a similar design? And the wooden mantel in the great locked library, and which was opened and dusted twice a year—the books, not the mantel—did it not support a life-sized portrait of the family bird done in wood, with three diminutive storklets clamoring to be fed, their open mouths out-thrust between their mother's breast and the top edge of the fish-basket, enwreathed by a more than graceful ribbon bearing the inscription, "We feed the hungry"—or words to that effect?
None of these evidences of wealth and ancestry, it must be said, ever impressed the group of scoffers gathered about the wood fire of the "Ivy" in his college days, or about the smart tables at the "Magnolia Club" in his post-graduate life. To them he was still "Mixey," or "Muddles," or "Muggles," or "The Goat," depending entirely upon the peculiar circumstances connected with the mixing up or the butting in.
To his credit be it said the descendant of earls and high-daddies never lost his temper at these onslaughts. If Bender, or Podvine, or little Billy Salters pitched into him for some act of stupidity—due entirely to his misguided efforts to serve some mutual friend—Muggles would argue, defend and protest, but the discussion would always end with a laugh and his signing the waiter's check and ordering another one for everybody.
"Why the devil, Muggles, did you insist last night on that Boston girl's riding home from the theatre in the omnibus, you goat?" thundered Podvine one morning at the club, "instead of letting her—"
"My dear fellow," protested Muggles, "it was much more comfortable in the omnibus, and—"
"—And broke up her walk home with Bobby, you idiot! He had to take the owl train home, and she won't see him for a month. Didn't you know they were engaged?"
"Of course you didn't, Muggles, but you could have seen it in her face if you'd looked. You always put your foot in it clean up to your pants' pocket!"
"You've been at it again, have you, Muggles?" burst out Bender that same night "Listen to the Goat's last, boys. Jerry wanted to buy that swamp meadow next his place on Long Island and had been dickering with the old fellow who owns it all winter, telling him it would be a good place to raise cranberries if it was dug out and drained, and they had almost agreed on the price—about twice what it was worth—when down goes Muggles to spend the night and Jerry blabs it all out, and just why he wanted it, and the next morning Muggles, to clinch the deal and help Jerry, slips over to the hayseed and tells him how the Sunnybrook Club are going to buy Jerry's place, and how they wanted the swamp for a hatchery—all true—and that the hayseed oughtn't to wait a moment, but send word by HIM that the deal was closed, because the club-house being near by would make all the rest of his land twice as valuable; and the old Skeezicks winked his eye and shifted his tobacco and said he'd think about it, and now you can't buy that sink-hole for twenty times what it's worth, and the Sunnybrook is looking for another site nearer Woodvale. Regular clown you are, Muggles. Exactly like that fellow at the circus who holds up one end of the tent and then, before the supes can reach it, drops it for the other end."
When the results of this last well-intentioned effort with its disastrous consequences became clear to the Goat, that spotless gentleman leaned back in his chair, threw hick his shoulders, shot out his cuffs, readjusted his scarfpin and replied in an offended tone:
"All owing, my dear fellow, to the stupidity of the agricultural class. I told the farmer he would regret it, and he will. As for myself, I was awfully disappointed. I had planned to run all the way back to Jerry's and tell him the good news before he went to sleep that night, and—"
"Disappointed, were you? How do you think Jerry felt? Made a lot of difference to him, I tell you, not selling his place to the club. Been a whole year working it up. It's smothered now under a blanket—about ninety per cent of its value—and the Sunnybrook scheme would have pulled him out with a margin! Now it's deader than last year's shad. What the club wanted was a hatchery built over a spring, and that's why that swamp was necessary to the deal. Oh, you're the limit, Muggles!"
It was while smarting under these criticisms that the steward one morning in June brought him his letters. One was from Monteith—Class of '9l—a senior when Muggles was a freshman—and was postmarked "Wabacog, Canada," where Monteith owned a lumber mill—and where he ran it himself and everything connected with it from stumpage to scantling. "There is a broad stream that runs into the lake, ... and above the mill there are bass weighing ten pounds, ... and back in the primeval forest bears, ... and now and then a moose—" So ran the letter. Muggles had spread it wide open by this time and was reading it aloud—everybody knowing Monteith—and the group never having any secrets of this kind from each other.
"Come up, old chap," the letter continued, "and stay a week—two, if you can work it—and bring Bender, and little Billy and Poddy, and three or four more. The bungalow holds ten. Wire when—I'm now putting things on ice."
Muggles looked around the circle and sent interrogatory Marconigrams with his eyebrows. In response Podvine said he'd go, and so did Billy Salters. Bender thought he could come a day or two later—the earning of their daily bread was not an absorbing task with these young gentlemen—their fathers had done that years before.
Muggles ran over in his mind the list of his engagements: he was due at Gravesend on the tenth for a week, to play golf; at his aunt's country-seat in Westchester on the eleventh for the same length of time, and on the twelfth he was expected to meet a yacht at Cold Spring Harbor for a cruise up the coast. He had accepted these invitations and had fully intended to keep each and every one. Monteith's letter, however, seemed to come at a time when he really needed a more virile and bracing life than was offered by the others. Here was a chance to redeem his reputation. Lumber camps meant big men doing big things—things reeking with danger, such as falling trees, forest fires and log jams. There might also be hair-breadth escapes in the hunting of big game and the tramping of the vast wilderness. This dressing three times a day and spending the intermediate hours hitting wooden balls, or lounging in a straw chair under a deck awning, had become tiresome. What he needed was to get down to Nature and hug the sod, and if there wasn't any sod then he would grapple with whatever took its place.
Muggles dropped his legs to the floor, straightened his back, beckoned to a servant, motioned for a telegraph blank—exertion is tabooed at the Magnolia—untelescoped a gold pencil hooked to his watch-chain and wrote as follows:
"Thanks. Coming Tuesday."
Wabacog covers a shaved place in a primeval forest which slopes to a lake of the same name. Covering this bare spot are huge piles of sawed lumber—Monteith's axe-razors did the shaving—surrounding an enormous mill surmounted by a smokestack of wrought iron topped with a bird-cage spark arrester, the whole flanked by a runway emerging from the lake, up which climb in mournful procession the stately bodies of fallen monarchs awaiting the cutting irony of the saw. Farther along, on another clearing, stands a square building labelled "Office," and still farther on, guarded by sentinel trees and encircled by wide piazzas, sprawls a low-roofed bungalow, its main entrance level with a boardwalk ending in the lake. This was Monteith's home. Here during the winter's logging he housed himself in complete seclusion, and here in summer he kept open house for whoever would answer in person his welcoming letters.
Anything so rude and primeval, or so comforting and inviting, was beyond the experience of Muggles and his friends. This became apparent before they had shed their coats and unpacked their bags. There was a darky who answered to the name of Jackson who could not only crisp trout to a turn, but who could compound cocktails, rub down muscular backs shivering from morning plunges in the lake, make beds, clean guns, wait on the table, and in an emergency row a canoe. There were easy chairs and low-pitched divans overspread with Turkey rugs and heaped with piles of silk cushions; there were wooden lockers, all open, and each one filled with drinkables and smokables—drinkables with white labels, and smokables six inches long with cuffs halfway down their length; there was an ice-chest sampling a larger house in the rear; there was a big, wide, all-embracing fireplace that burst its sides laughing over the good time it was having (the air was cool at night), and outside, redolent with perfume and glistening in the sunshine, there was a bed of mint protected by a curbing of plank which rivalled in its sweet freshness those covering the last resting-places of the most hospitable of Virginians.
And there was Monteith!
Some men are born rich; some inherit a pair of scissors fitted to strong thumbs and forefingers, some have to lie awake nights wondering what they will do next to help their surplus run to waste, and some pass sleepless hours devising plans by which they can catch in their empty pockets the clippings and drippings of all three. Muggles's host was none of these. What he possessed he had worked for—early, late and all the time. His father had stood by and seen the old homestead in his native Southern State topple into ashes, Only the gaunt chimney left; the son had worked his way through college, and then with diploma in one hand and his courage in the other—all he owned—had shaken the dust of civilization from his shoes and had struck out for the Northern wilds: Wabacog was the result.
All these years he had kept in touch with his college chums, and when the day of his success arrived, and he was his own master, with the inborn good-fellowship that marked his race, he had unbuttoned his pocket, shaken out his heart and let loose a hospitality that not only revived the memories of his childhood, but created a new kind of joy in the hearts of his guests. Hence the bungalow—hence Jackson—hence the lockers and the ice-chest, and hence the bed quilt of mint.
"This is your room, Muggles—and, Bender, old man, yours is next Podvine, you are across the hall," was his welcome. "Breakfast is any time you want it; dinner at six. Now come here! See that line of lockers and that ice-chest? Don't forget 'em, please! Step up, Jackson—take a look at him, boys. That darky can mix anything known to man. He never sleeps, and he's never tired. If you don't call on him for every blessed thing you want day or night, there'll be trouble."
They fished and canoed; they hunted bears—a fact known to the bear, who kept out of their way—never was in it, Bender insisted; they went overboard every morning, one after another, in the almost ice-cold water of the lake, out again red as lobsters, back on a run, whooping with the cold to the blazing fire of the bungalow which Jackson had replenished with bundles of dried balsam that cracked and snapped with a roar while it toasted the bare backs and scorched the bare legs of each one in turn (the balsam was gathered the year before for this very purpose). They roamed the woods, getting a crack once in a while at a partridge or a squirrel; they strolled about the mill, listening to the whir of the saws and watching the "cut" as it was rolled away and was made to feed the huge piles of lumber and timber flanking the runway and far enough away from the huge stack to be out of the way of treacherous sparks; and at night they sat around Jackson's constantly replenished fire and told stories of their college days or revived the current gossip of the club and the Street.
Muggles ruminated over each and every experience—all new to him—and kept his eyes open for the psychological moment when he would burst asunder the bonds of conventionality and rise to the full measure of his abilities. The Clanworthys had swung battle-axes and ridden milk-white chargers into the thickest of the fray. His turn would come; he felt it in his knee: then these unbelievers would be silenced.
His host interested him enormously, especially his masterful way of handling his men. He himself had been elected foreman of Hose Carriage No. 1 in the village near his father's country seat, and still held that important office. His cape and fire-boots fitted him to a nicety, and so did his helmet. No. 1 had been called out but once in its history, and then to the relief of a barn which, having lost heart before the rescuers reached it, had sunk to the ground in despair and there covered itself with ashes. He had been criticised, he remembered, much to his chagrin, for the way he had conducted the rescue party; but it would never happen again. After this he would pattern his conduct after Monteith, who seemed to accomplish by a nod and a wave of the hand what he had split his throat in trying to enforce. He did not put these thoughts into words; neither did he whisper them even in the ears of Podvine or Monteith—the two men who understood him best and who guyed him the least—especially Monteith, who never forgot that his college chum was his guest. He confided them instead to Monteith's big, red-faced foreman—half Canadian, part French, and the rest of him Irish—who was another source of wonder. Muggles's inherent good humor and willingness to oblige had made an impression on the lumber-boss and he was always willing to answer any fool question the young New Yorker asked—a privilege which he never extended to his comrades.
"What do I do when somepin' catches fire?" the boss replied to one of Muggles's inquiries—they were sitting in the office alone, Bender and little Billy having gone fishing with Jackson. "I'd blow that big whistle ye see hooked to the safety, first. Ye never heard it?—well, don't! It'll scare the life out o' ye. If the mill catches before we can get the pumps to work it's all up with us. If the piles of lumber git afire we kin save some of 'em if the wind's right; that's why we stack up the sawed stuff in separate piles."
"What do you do first—squirt water on it?"
"No, we ain't got no squirts that'll reach. Best way to handle the piles o' lumber is to start a line of bucket-men from the lake and cover the piles with anything you can catch up—blankets, old carpets, quilts; keep 'em soaked and ye kin fight it for a while; that's when one pile's afire, and ye're tryin' to save the pile next t'it. Light stuff is all over in half an hour—no matter how big the pile is—keep the rags soaked—that's my way."
That night before the blazing coals Muggles broke out on some theories of putting out a conflagration that made Bender sit up straight and little Billy Salters cup his ears in attention. Monteith also craned his neck to listen.
"Who the devil taught you that, Mixey?" asked Bender. "You talk as if you were Chief of the Big Six."
"Why, any fireman knows that. I've been running with a machine for years." The calm way with which Muggles said this, shaking the ashes from his cigar as he spoke, showed a certain self-reliance. "Out in our village I'm foreman of the Hose Company."
The sudden roar that followed this announcement shook the big glasses and bottles on the low table.
"So you'd keep the blankets soaked, would you?" remarked Billy, winking at the others.
"I certainly would." This came with a certain triumphant tone in his voice.
"Learned that practising on his head," whispered Podvine.
"Right you are, Poddy; but Muggles, suppose the mill caught first," chipped in Monteith. The mill was the apple of his eye. Fire was what he dreaded—he never could insure the mill fully against fire. "What would you protect first—the mill or the piles of lumber?"
"The lumber, of course—the mill can use its pumps if the engine-room escapes."
"Better save the mill," rejoined Monteith thoughtfully. "Trade is pretty dull." Then he rose from his seat, reached for his hat and strolled out on the portico to take a look around before he turned in.
Muggles's masterful grasp of a science of which his companions knew as little as they did of the Patagonian dialects came as a distinct surprise. What else had the beggar been picking up in the way of knowledge? Maybe Muggles wasn't such a goat, after all. That Monteith had approved of his tactics only increased their respect for their companion. Muggles caught the meaning of the look in their faces and his waistcoat began to pinch him across his chest. This life was what he needed, he said to himself. Here were big men—the lumber-boss was one—and he was another—doing big things. Nothing like getting down to primeval Nature for an inspiration! "Hugging the sod," as he named it, had had its effect not only on himself, but on his fellows. They would never have felt that way toward him at the Magnolia. The week at Wabacog had widened their horizon—widened everybody's horizon—as for himself he felt like a Western prairie with limitless possibilities ending in mountains of accomplishment.
That night, an hour after midnight, Muggles found himself sitting bolt upright in bed. Outside, filling the air of the wilderness, bellowed and roared the deep tones of the steam siren. Then came a babel of voices gaining in distinctness and volume:
"Fire, FIRE, FIRE!"
Muggles sprang through the door and ran full tilt into Jackson and Bender, who had vaulted from their beds but a second before. The next instant every man in the bungalow, Monteith at their head, came tumbling out, one after the other.
"Fire! Fire! Fire!" rang the cry, repeated by a hundred mill hands rushing toward the mill. A spark had worked its way through the arrester, some one said, had fallen into the sawed stuff, been nursed into a blaze by the night wind, and a roaring flame was in full charge of one pile of lumber and likely to take possession of another.
Muggles looked about him.
HIS SUPREME MOMENT HAD COME!
The blood of the Clanworthys rose in his veins. The Pass lay before him—so did the Bridge. A full suit of dove-colored pajamas and a pair of turned-up Turkish slippers was not exactly the kind of uniform that either Leonidas or Horatius would have chosen to fight his way to glory, but there was no time to change them.
With a whoop to Bender, who had really begun to believe in him, and a commanding order to Jackson, the three stripped the costly Turkish rugs from the lounges, and blankets from the beds, and, following his lead, dashed through the woods to the relief of the endangered pile of lumber. On the way they passed a gang of Canucks, carrying buckets. It was but the work of a moment to arrange these into a posse of relays with Bender on the lake end of the line and Jackson next the pile, the gang passing the buckets from hand to hand.
This done Muggles snatched a ladder from an adjacent building, threw it against the threatened lumber, skipped up its rungs like a squirrel and stood in silhouette against the flaring blaze, his dove-gray flannels flapping about his thin legs, his attenuated arms gyrating orders to the relief party, who had spread the rugs and blankets on the fire-endangered side of the pile of lumber and who were now soaking them with water under Muggles's direction. Now and then, as some part of the burning mass would collapse, a shower of sparks and smoke would obscure Muggles; then he could be seen brushing the live coals from his pajamas, darting here and there, shouting: "More water! More water! Here, on this end! All together now!" fighting his way with hand raised to keep the heat from blistering his face, a very Casabianca on the burning deck.
Soon the tongues of flame mounting skyward grew less in number; columns of black smoke took the place of the shower of sparks; the light flickering on the frightened tree-trunks began to pale; from the rugs and blankets the hot steam no longer rose in clouds. The crisis had passed! The pile was saved! Muggles had won!
During all this time neither Monteith nor the big lumber-boss had put in an appearance; nor had Podvine nor little Billy Salters lent a hand. Bender had stuck to his post and so had Jackson, oblivious of the whereabouts of any other member of the coterie except Muggles, whose clothespin of a figure came into relief now and then against the flare of the flames. Then Bender made his way back to the bungalow.
The last man to leave the deck was Muggles.
Backing slowly down the ladder one rung at a time, his face blistered, his pajamas burnt into holes, he examined the surrounding lumber; saw that all his orders had been carried out, gave some parting instructions to the men to watch out for sparks, especially those around the edge of the saved pile, and then slowly, and with great dignity, made his way to the bungalow—his destiny fulfilled, his honor maintained and his position assured among his fellows. He had now only to await the plaudits of his comrades!
As he pushed open the door and looked about him the color rose in his cheeks and a kind of a hotness came from inside his pajamas. Grouped about the low table, heaped with specimens of cut glass, a squatty bottle, a siphon and a bowl of cracked ice, sat every member of the coterie—Bender among them—Monteith in the easy chair at their head. If any other occupation had engrossed their attention since the alarm sounded there was no evidence of it either in their appearance or in the tones of their voices.
"Lo, the Conquering Hero," broke out Podvine. "Get up Billy and put a wreath of laurel over his scorched and blistered brow."
Muggles, for a moment, did not reply. The shock had taken his breath away. He supposed every man had worked himself into exhaustion. The only thing that had really dimmed his own triumph was the fear that on reaching the bungalow he might find the blackened remains of one or more of his comrades stretched out on the floor.
"Didn't you fellows try to save anything?" he exploded.
"Wasn't anything to save—mill was in no danger."
"Why, the whole place would have gone if I hadn't—"
"You're quite right, Muggles," said Monteith. "Let up on him, boys. You worked like a beaver, old man. Sorry about the rugs—one was an old Bokhara—but that's all right—of course you didn't stop to think."
"Well, but, Monteith—what's a rug or two when you have to save a pile of—what's the lumber worth, anyhow?"
"Oh, well, never mind—let it go, old man."
Bender, who was still soaking wet from splashing buckets, and since his return to the bungalow had been boiling mad clear through, sprang to his feet.
"I'll tell you—I've just found out. As the pile now stands it's worth four thousand dollars. If it had burned up it would have been worth six. It's insured, you goat!"