ALBERT RICHARD WETJEN
“Masters and crews of stranded vessels should bear in mind that SUCCESS in landing them in a great measure DEPENDS UPON THEIR COOLNESS .-. The system of signaling must be strictly adhered to; and all women, children, passengers, and helpless persons should be landed before the crew of the ship."—Reed's Seamanship.
HIS oilskins glistening with nodules of water, the tall quartermaster entered the captain’s cabin in response to a sleepy “Hello?”
“Fog, sir,” he said stolidly, standing just inside the brass-topped storm-step. He held the door partly shut behind him with his fingers touching the handle. There was something of uncertainty in his attitude.
The captain sat up in his bunk, a broad, low bunk against the port bulkhead and immediately underneath a big round port. He snorted, rubbed his eyes, ruffled his
short-clipped, white beard with the palm of his hand and peered through the dim light from the overhead electric globes.
“Eh?” he mumbled.
The quartermaster said, “Fog, sir,” again. Then he added. “Sea’s dropped considerable, sir.”
“Is that so?” grunted the captain. Then he hopped out of his bunk, flinging back the warm blankets. He groped for his trousers. “Just a minute, quartermaster,” he called as the oilskinned man allowed the door to swing open and started to back out. The man stopped.
“Sir?” — He awaited further orders. The captain mumbled, “Give me a cigar from that box on my desk.” Then louder, as he straightened up and pulled his trousers on. “Happen to have a match about you? Seems I can never find a blasted light on this ship.”
“Match, sir?” murmured the quartermaster. He stepped forward and took a cigar from the half-empty box on the desk. He unbuttoned his oilskin coat and fumbled in his jacket pockets. Eventually he found a match. He inspected it from under the dripping brim of his sou’wester to see it had a head on it. Then he took it across to the bunk along with the cigar.
“That’ll do,” said the captain, as he puffed the cigar to a glow and flung the burnt-out match away. “And close that blasted door when you go. The fog’s like ice.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Stolidly the quartermaster went from the cabin and
do.sfU the door softly behind him, muffling at once the sighing lap of the restless sea against the Carroway's hull and the mate's voice shouting some order from the bridge.
THERE was a stale smell in the cabin. Cigar smoke and whiskey fumes from the previous night still hung about. There was also a faint odor of oilskins, not from those the quartermaster had worn, but from a long coat that hung on a peg at the head of the bunk and was so new as to still be somewhat sticky.
In the center of the cabin, against the for’ard bulkhead, stood the captain’s heavy mahogany desk a flat-topped affair with many drawers. Over it, screwed to the bulkhead. a big-faced clock ticked loudly. The inkwell on the desk was made of a small skull painted red. Many similar objects about the room indicated the presence of a man not at all superstitious, a man unafraid of death.
The cabin floor was covered with thick red carpet. A narrow plush settee stood against the bulkhead near the door. Small curtains screened the big glass ports, nowmisty with the fog. Lockers stood in odd corners, clothes hung from screwed-in hangers. A jumble of shoes and seaboots filled the corner nearest the bunk.
A strange whirring came from the clock over the desk. Then a tiny hammer beneath the clock lifted and fell four times on a tiny bell. The sound was like glass tinkling. Almost immediately afterwards the sound of the clock in the chart house could be heard. Then the deeptoned ship's bell over the helmsman’s head, on the bridge above, took up the tale. The notes reverberated, muffled through the encircling white.
The captain slipped his suspenders over his shoulders, finished tucking in his shirt. Still rubbing his white beard he shuffled in stockinged feet to the desk and peered at the clock.
"Six. eh?” he mumbed out of lips closed tight over his smoldering cigar. "And still dark. Damn!”
He shuffled back to his bunk, a little wisp of a man with blue eyes as bright as a bird’s. His face was dusky red, still unlined despite his white hair and his age. He moved spryly when he took the trouble to be in a hurry.
From the jumble of foot gear he salvaged a pair of rubber seaboots and pulled them on. He wrapped a huge wool muffler round his throat, pulled on his uniform jacket with the heavy gold-braided sleeve cuffs, and over the whole buttoned on his oilskins. He chewed with his lips on his cigar as he tied the strings of his sou’wester under his chin.
A THOUGHT struck him when he was ready. He hopped briskly into the bathroom, w-etted a towel and wiped out his eyes. Also he wiped his beard and moustache, not taking the trouble to remove his cigar. His hands he dipped into water and then hastily dried them. He pulled on thick'gloves before leaving the bathroom and making for the cabin door.
When he opened it a waft of fog drifted in on him and he coughed gruffly. "Brrrrrrr!” he said and thrust his hands into the pockets of his oilskins, pockets he had specially made, for few oilskins had them.
Slamming the door behind him he made his way up the steep companion to the navigation bridge. He trotted across to the binnacle. He peered into the glow-ing compass bowl. Then he turned to the sailor who was steering, a giant Norwegian, stolid-faced, big-boned, ceaselessly chewing Copenhagen snuff.
"You’re off your course, man,” he snarled. The Norwegian grunted, dropped his eyes to the compass, moved the wheel a spoke or two and took no further notice.
The captain trotted to where the mate stood at the tight-hauled dodger, looking for’ard into the whiteness and listening anxiously to the bleating hand-horns that came from the fog ail around.
He turned as the other approached.
"Pretty thick, sir.” he said. “Came down about half an hour back.”
"Is that so?” responded the captain in an aggrieved tone. "Happen to have a match about you? Seems I can never find
The mate held out a box. “Here you are, sir.” Then impatiently, worried, “Hear that liner snorting away?” Above the bleating hand-horns from small fishing schooners came the coughing bellow of a deep sea ship, a monster by the sound. The captain grunted as he removed one glove, lit his cigar and handed the match box back.
"Good matches,” he said. The mate stared away into the murk ail the more obscure because dawn had not yet
"Lookouts?” the captain inquired, replacing his glove and thrusting his hands into his pockets again.
The mate nodded moodily. He was a young man. It was his first voyage as mate. He was inclined to fret
"Yes, sir," he said. “I’ve got one on the fo’c’s’le-head, one in the crow’s nest and one here on the bridge.” He pointed to where the tall quartermaster who had aroused the captain stood in the glass-w-indowed starboard wing of the bridge and stared out on the beam.
The captain squinted at the telegraph near him. It was
at Half Speed. He grunted. Then he trotted to the brass standard and rang for Slow. The engine’s pulse dropped a tone or two. The Carroway barely drifted along the glassy sighing sea.
■V’That liner,” the captain grunted, “too damned near. Probably making twenty knots. Never slow down. I know. Carried mails m’self once. Rules says slow down in fog. Owner says get mail in on time or get fired. I
THE mate, who had caught part of it, said, “Yes, sir,” still more moodily. He had started as a fourth officer on a mail liner himself. He wondered what the fishermen of the fleet of tiny ships around the Carroway were thinking about. Probably uneasily waiting for the great steel bow to tower above them and cut them down. Liners always plowed along full speed regardless. The Great Banks, so near Newfoundland’s “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” where the Carroway now drifted, were famous for ocean tragedies. Many little ships were lost, run over by the liners, and never heard from again.
The captain shouted suddenly, “Hard a starboard!” He jammed the telegraphs Full Astern. One hand he kept in his pocket. His lips still chewed his cigar.
Out of the fog and dark for’ard came a rending blare of the liner’s siren. Her lights gleamed mistily. The wash of her keen prow could be heard, muffled. The loom of her was great, awesome. The Carroway's siren shrilled and coughed warning, spasmodically as the mate hung on the lanyard.
There was a confused shouting. The man in the crow’snest screamed. He had been on the Titanic and anything approaching a collision unnerved him. The man on the fo’c’s’le-head shouted, “Ahead! Ahead, sir! Ship dead ahead!” The quartermaster in the bridge wing faced inboard.
“We get it,” he observed calmly.
The helmsman tore the wheel round with nervous haste. The mate screamed for all hands on deck. Slowly the Carroway answered her helm and began to swing clear. Her propeller being a left-handed one, tending to throw her to port when going astern, and her helm already hard a starboard, her bow veered and slanted to port, well-nigh towards the oncoming liner, so that she would slide and graze rather than hit.
But the liner’s speed was too great. The wash from her started the Carroway rolling. Her wall-like sides grazed midships. Her prow cut into the Carroway's stern and shuddered her from keelson to truck so that she .heeled far over on her beam. On the liner’s great white bridge, so far above the Carroway's bridge, several greatcoated officers looked down, white-faced, alarmed. They shouted, waved. A shrill whistle cut the fog.
“Sorry!. . . We’ll pick you up!. . . shouted one of them. The liner was gone, shooting into the fog. The sea boiled about her. Only her chaotic milky wake was left. A great jangling of bells came muffled from where she had disappeared. Then the fog swirled into the passage she had made and even the jangling was shut off.
The second and third mates, aroused from their bunks by the shock, came running half-dressed to the bridge as the Carroway settled sloshingly back on an even keel.
“Keep the siren going, Mister,” said the captain calmly to the white-faced mate. Then he turned to the other officers.
To the second mate he said, “Go aft and look at the damage.” To the third mate, “Get the boats swung outboard.”
Both officers raced away, conversing jerkily with each other. At the foot of the companion on the main deck they separated, one to go for’ard and rouse the crew, what were not already aroused, the other to go aft for an inspection.
THE Carroway was wallowing heavily at the stern already. The captain put the telegraph to Stop, and then to Slow Ahead. There was no answering jangle. The ship drifted. The engine pulse had gone. A whistle came from the brass speaking tube to the engine-room. The captain hurried across to it. Came the voice of the second engineer.
“Ma’ ah ask what th’ de’l’s wrong oop on deck?”
The captain mumbled, “Ah, McDee. Collision. Give me a few turns of the screw.”
“We ha’ none,” came the second’s impersonal voice. “Ah’m bringing ma’ men on deck. We’ll keep steam up fer th’ winches and siren.”
The captain said mildly, “Is that so?” He plugged the tube and grunted. He beckoned the carpenter who had just come up the companion with his sounding rod and line in his hand.
“Ah, Chips, I see you’re on the job. Sound the well.... And by the way, happen to have a match about you? Seems I can never find a blasted light on this ship.... Thanks.... Take a boy with you an’ send him back to report.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” said the carpenter as he moved away and repocketed his matches. The helmsman called to the captain.
“She’s not answering.” He twirled the useless wheel
spokes contemptuously and spat tobacco juice aside. The quartermaster who had been in the bridge wing crossed over and tried the wheel. Then he nodded. “That’s so,” he said. The captain rubbed his beard and removed his cigar long enough to spit.
“Run along and help the third mate with the boats,” he said. The wireless operator came on the bridge as the two seamen went down the companion.
The mate, relegating a deck boy to keep the siren going, joined the captain as the wireless operator came up. So loud was the siren’s roar now it had unlimited steam, that the operator had to shout tonnake himself heard.
“What position shall I send out? S.O.S. with it I suppose, sir?”
The mate broke in excitedly, “Oh, I don’t think it matters. That liner that run us down ought to be back any minute.”
The captain grunted.
“Is that so? She’ll never find us in this fog. Went out of earshot ’fore she could stop. Wish I knew her name. I’d report her.... Send out S.O.S. operator. The mate here’ll give you our position by dead reckoning. We must be somewhere near Cape Race, that’s all I know.... By the way, happen to have a match about you? No? All right.”
“Here you are, sir,” said the mate, his hand trembling a little as he handed over his box. He was not exactly afraid but it was his first experience of collision, and excitement was thrilling him. The operator turned away and smashed into the second mate who was running up the companion. Both men apologized simultaneously, laughed, and went on.
“Rudder, chunk of poop, screw and some after railing gone,” said the second mate, panting. The captain nodded as he puffed his cigar to a new glow.
“Thought as much. Help get the boats out. Lower ’em to rail level.... What’s that noise?”
THE mate and the second ran to the dodger and peered over. The mate shouted to the bos’n who was shouting down to the bridge from where he stood on the canvascovered top of number two hatch.
The second mate went back to the captain who was standing idly by the useless wheel and apparently thinking.
“Firemen, sailors and some passengers, sir,” he said. “Lost their heads. Rushing the boats.”
The captain observed, waking with a start, “Is that so? .... Rushing for the boats? Worst of carrying squareheads. Get your gun and go to the third mate.... Mr. Larson!” he called as the second disappeared in the murk. The mate swung from the dodger and came -to his captain.
“My God, they’re rushing the boats, sir,” he stammered. The captain touched his arm gently.
“Calm, Mr. Larson, calm. . . .That’s better. You’ll get used to this stuff if you sail the Western Ocean for long. Don’t get excited .... Rushing the boats? I know. Get your gun in case of trouble. Take a couple of men aft, if you can find any. See'if the sounding machine’s still there. If so take a cast.”
With a gulp the mate left and the captain ruffled his beard and swore. He peered up at the black sky, or where the sky would have been but for the fog, and noticed a strange grayness permeating all things. The dawn was near.
The boy the carpenter had taken with him came on the bridge to report.
“Carpenter says, ten feet in the after hold, sir,” he piped. “Number four holds is pretty dry. The chief engineer told me to say—he’s shut the bulkhead doors between four and five holds, sir.”
“All right. Run along,” commented the captain. He added, hastily, “Boy, happen to have a match about you? No? All right.” The boy darted away back to the carpenter. The captain snorted and went into the chart room to see if he could find a light. In the grip of the fierce coast currents, blinded by the fog, the ship drifted.
THE few saloon passengers the Carroway carried, half a dozen women, a dozen men and some children, huddled on the boat deck near the warmth of the fat smokestack. They were dressed in hastily snatched up clothes. They watched with fear-widened, sleep-clogged eyes as the third mate and a handful of seamen hoisted out the boats that rested in their chocks on the fiddley. From the gushing dribbling siren over their heads, against the stack side for’ard, drops of stinging hot water fell on them unnoticed.
The Carroway began to take a decided slant as her after hold filled. Her bulkheads were standing the strain and there was no immediate danger. But the foreign, commoner seamen and the few steerage passengers did not know that. They only knew something had happened, that S.O.S. was being sent out, that the sea was beginning to rise at an alarming rate, and that they were afraid.
Coal-blackened firemen, excited sailors, bearded laborers. Like a torrent they poured up the iron monkey ladders from the main deck to the fiddley. Mouthing, growling, uttering half-inarticulate cries they surged
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forward. The third mate and his men were swept fighting back from the boat they already had clear of the chocks. Bundles of valuables, clothes, even hastily packed seabags were tossed over the gunnels. The boat rapidly filled. Five or six men remained on the deck to lower away.
The second mate came. He gestured the bleeding third mate and his men and led them to the attack anew. The panic stricken seamen fumbling with the boat falls, round the cleats, were torn away. Angrily men leaped back from the boat to rescue their comrades. Another free-forall fight raged over the fiddley top. A few of the male saloon passengers joined halfheartedly with the officers. The fog lighted as the dawn rose.
The noise sounding even above the blaring siren, attracted the captain. Mumbling to himself he went down the bridge companion and entered his cabin. From a drawer in his desk he took an old ugly Colt’s revolver. It was a long barreled thing, dull-steeled. He loaded it carefully, slipped some extra cartridges in the pockets of his oilskin coat. Then he went down to the main deck.
HE WALKED along till he came to the break of the fiddley. He shinned hand-over-hand up the spider ladder. Trotting to the scene of conflict he dragged a burly garlic-breathing Austrian from the outskirts and swatted him across the temple with his revolver barrel. The man went down and out and stayed there. Another man the captain seized and treated similarly.
“Quit!” he snarled to the chaos of struggling bodies, arms, legs and curses. He fought a way to the second mate’s side.
“Guns,” he said. Then he fired in the air. As though a shock had run through the seamen they ceased struggling and looked to see what was happening. They drew back, eyeing the menacing Colt’s muzzle with wide eyes. The second mate’s gun covered them too. Fear they had of the sea but that death at least was more remote. A bull-necked Frenchman did not think so. He rushed to the half-empty boat and reached for the gunnel. The captain’s revolver coughed once more. The Frenchman’s right leg bent under him suddenly, as though struck with an iron bar. He rolled to the deck and groaned. Had he not caught a loose gripe lanyard with spasmodic fingers he would have gone over board.
The fight was over. Those still in the boat crawled sullenly out. The mutinous men slunk away. The third mate gathered together his sailors and went on with his work. The second mate pocketed his revolver and grinned.
“Scum, sir,” he said.
The captain grunted, “Is that so?” Then irritably, “Happen to have a match about you? I never seem to be able to get —Ah, thanks. Stay here with the third mate.”
He moved away to where the saloon passengers stood, tucking his big gun in his pocket, butt first. ' Ruffling his gaudy wet feathers the ship’s mascot and the captain’s pet, a small parrot, was perched on the top of a lifebelt box.
“Pretty Polly,” chuckled the captain, stopping and tickling the bird’s poll.
“Awk!” the parrot said indignantly. “Is that so?”
The captain chuckled again and turned to the passengers.
“I’d get below,” he said mildly, growing serious. “Rather cold up here.”
“But-but the danger?” shrilled a woman with a thin face and bony bare arms, wrapping a plaid shawl closer about her.
The captain shrugged. “None. The bulkheads are holding all right. We’ll have another ship along here in an hour or two. Go along below. I’ll call you if anything’s liable to happen.”
HE USHERED them down the monkey ladder as he would have ushered a flock of obstinate sheep, with wáving arms and a succession of soft clucks.
Following the passengers down to the main deck he ran across the harassed saloon stewaïd and talked to him severely for allowing his charges to get panicstricken enough to leave their rooms. Protesting the steward was waved away. The captain went back to the bridge.
The wireless operator came to him, his young face haggard.
“Can’t get any answer, sir,” he said despairingly. “It must be this fog. It does sometimes block signals. I can’t get in touch with a single ship or a land station. What shall we do?.... I’m sorry, sir.”
“Do? Say, do you happen to have a match about you?” The captain removed his glove. . . .“Do? Why you can’t do a damned thing if your instrument’s on the bum. Don’t take it to heart. . Match? Yes Thanks!.... Damn this cigar!.... Run along and keep trying, m’boy.”
“Thank you, sir.” The operator went away with a lighter heart. The mate came on the bridge, wet with perspiration.
“Had a devil of a job, sir,” he said. “Most of the poop’s smashed up. The sounding machine wasn’t damaged too much and I found it workable. But the fairlead was gone and the cant of the deck makes it impossible to take a sounding from where the machine is. I’ve got the bos’n aft now with a man and some spanners getting the machine loose. I think I’ll set it up midships somewhere and run the wire through a block on the end of a boom.”
“Might work,” grunted the captain, ruffling his beard with the palm of his ungloved hand. He pulled on the glove as he spoke again. “This current must be settin’ us down on the coast, Larson. While the bos’n’s busy on the machine you might see the lifebelt boxes are unlocked. Cut the rafts adrift too.... Send a man up here to run messages.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” The mate turned away wiping his brow and feeling easier in his mind. The captain was like a douche of cold water. He stiffened a man. He was as carelessly impersonal as if the Carroway was just steaming into harbor on a fine day with all clear ahead.
An able seaman came on the bridge some few minutes after the mate had gone. He reported for duty.
“Happen to have a match about you?” the captain inquired. The man had. The captain lit a fresh cigar and puffed away. After a moment or two he forgot to puff, as he always forgot, and fell to chewing, with his lips.
THROUGH the fog a dull moaning noise became apparent. Dimly on the port bow, through the lightening fog, a thin line of white appeared. A man shouted from the foredeck. The line of white broadened and spread ahead. The cry was taken up by the men on the fiddley. Knowing that helm and screw was gone, knowing the Carroway was helpless, each man still, in this emergency, appealed to the little graybearded figure on the bridge with a cigar sagging from one corner of his mouth and his hugely gloved hands rubbing at his chin. It was recognition of the leader, the appeal to the highest, just as all men appeal to God in time of mental stress.
“Breakers! Breakers on your port bow. sir!”
“Ahead, sir! Breakers ahead!”
“Gott in himmeV. To der boats!. . . . ” “Man overboard!” came the second mate’s shout above the mingled cries as a man lost his footing and slid overside from the fiddley deck, slippery with continuous sprays. “Shall we lower a boat, sir?” Energetically the captain ruffled his beard.
“Never seem to be able to find a blasted light on this ship,” he murmured as he became aware his cigar had gone out again
He shouted aloud, “No!” Then he added, “Women and children first, Mister, if it comes to that.”
THE Carroway struck on the port beam, broadside on. She shivered back from a shingle bank and then struck again. Her keel rasped. A sea smote her on the starboard side, her weather side, and canted her over. Sprays showered across the deck. With a despairing cry another seaman lost his foothold and his grip on a funnel stay and went overside. The passengers surged on deck from below again, more frightened than before. Women screamed.
As though drawn by a great vacuum cleaner the fog trickled away, rolled back to seaward and left the Carroway naked to the rising sea and the shingly coast.
Another swell canted the ship and this time she stayed canted, her stern deeply aground, her bows still raised a little but also touching bottom. She moved up and down uneasily.
The captain very calmly took in the shore line as he wiped spray from his eyes and chewed his cigar.
The coast was low and hilly. A broad shingle beach ran from the cliffs to the sea. High surf broke where shingle and water met. The Carroway had grounded some three hundred yards from the shallows.
Boat falls shrieked as they were let go in haste. The second and third mate’s profane voices came to the captain. A boat smacked into the water on the side facing the shore, where the water was smooth in the sheltered lee. It was loaded to the gunnels with seamen and steerage passengers.
Oars came out, in ones and twos, all lengths, and in different attitudes. Plain it was that few knew how to handle a boat. The falls were unhooked. Bloodymouthed, bruised of face, the two young mates stood on the edge of the fiddley deck and shook their fists. The second mate raised his revolver and took one shot. The bullet skimmed right over the boat, after striking the water.
“That’ll do,” called the captain mildly. The second mate looked up to the bridg'e, swore, nodded, said, “Yes, sir,” and pocketed his revolver. Then with the third mate he moved along to another boat, a woman carrying a baby plucking at his arm and imploring him to save her child.
The boat carrying the mutineers rode low in the water with its excessive weight. Its oars splashed erratically. But it had fairly smooth sailing for a few yards. Then it got from under the protection of the slanting Carroway's hull and into the first of the surf.
It was tossed skywards, earthwards, sideways. It was twisted. It was tortured. Shouts came against the rising wind. Confusion reigned in the boat as the angry surf smashed the oar butts against the rowers chests. Finally there drifted ashore an upturned boat. A few heads dotted the surf for a while. They disappeared. That was all. The passengers left on the Carroway shuddered and broke the silence they had kept while watching. They raised their eyes to the bridge and whispered to each other, “See what the captain does.”
IT WAS plain no boat would live in the surf. It was also plain the Carroway was dangerous. Already every other sea swept her. Shallow water cascaded across the fiddley. The cook had long since deserted his galley, the last seaman the fo’c’s’le. The engineroom was filling with water, deserted. The fires had been drawn. The siren would cease to bellow when the last of the steam came. Already it was weakening.
The mate mounted to the bridge. He had ceased bothering over the sounding machine. The water depth was now apparent.
“I see there’s someone moving about ashore, sir,” he said hopefully, quite over his excitement.
The captain looked up at the sky, now peering blue with the dawn through the last shreds of the fog. He looked to seaward where the fog was still unpierceable. He looked for’ard and aft where the seas were breaking monotonously over the Carroway's main deck. He sighed. “Is that so?” he said. Then, “Damn that liner.”
“Shall we signal, sir?” asked the mate “See those men moving about? Coastguards. I guess we’ll rigabreeches buoy.” The captain responded again mildly,
“Is that so?” Again he looked around. Then stepping to the glass box he secured a pair of binoculars. He focused them on the beach.
“Yes,” he said at last. “We’ll rig a breeches buoy. That’s the coastguards. I see they’ve a rocket apparatus there. Tell the men to stand by and grab the line when it comes shooting across If we don’t get off this ship in half an hour we needn’t bother.”
“Do you think so, sir? Do you really think so?”
The mate grew nervous again. The captain grunted.
“Sure . . . Happen to have a match about you? Thanks... Remember your signals for receiving rockets?”
The mate gulped. “I think so, sir.” “Run along then.”
The men went down the companion and passed along warning his men and the chief engineer’s men to look out for the rocket line. The able seaman on the bridge hoisted a string of flags to the triatic stay halliards under the captain’s directions. Then he was sent down to help the rest look out for the rocket line. Full daylight came at last.
AGAINST the wind came a faint dull boom. A man separated from the small group on the shingle and waved his arms above his head. Came a whistling noise. Then the rocket shot over the Carroway, a thin line snaking out behind. The rocket fell with a hiss into the crest of a breaking wave on the weather side of the ship. The line fell on the slanting foredeck. A seaman jumped on it with both feet, bent and picked it up and then ran madly for the alleyway under the bridge, lee side, as a sea broke over the weather rail. He retained the line.
The second mate shouted through cupped hands when the sea had subsided. The man with the line reached for his sheath knife and cut it from the rocket. The free end he thus obtained he passed outside of all stanchions against the rail. He carried it to where the second mate leaned over the edge of the fiddley house.
The third mate and some more seamen came to the second mate’s aid. Slowly they hauled in on the thin line. One seaman stood apart from the rest, at the after end of the house, and waved his red handkerchief. The man ashore who had waved previously now waved again in answer. The second mate growled an order and the thin line was hauled in hand-over-hand. From the bridge the captain chewed his cigar apd watched appreciatively. Also he tuned his ear to catch the deep sigh as each nearing sea rose to board his ship.
Presently a black dot left the shingled beach and came swaying over and through the surf towards the cCarroway. It was attached to the end of the taut line that the seamen were rapidly hauling in. When it finally came aboard, scraping and clattering over the edge of the fiddley house, it was recognizable as a tail block with an endless fall of stout rope rove through it.
The captain shouted from the bridge, at this point, removing his cold cigar for the purpose.
“Make fast to the Samson post!”
The second mate waved his hand. He panted out orders and aided his men to stagger to the for’ard end of the house. The endless fall and the tail block were not light to handle.
Against the for’ard end of the house a Samson post stood both on the port and starboard side. Each post was a stout cylinder of steel, like a short mast, to which the derricks for handling the cargo out of the midship holds were attached. As the port side was the lee the second mate made the tail block well fast round the port Samson post. When he completed that task he unbent the rocket line and passed it back overside again. Then he waved to the man he had signaling from the after end of the house. That man waved his red handkerchief again. Ashore the signal was answered.
IMMEDIATELY afterwards the endt less fall began to run and whine through the block and the well-greased sheave turned around. The men ashore were hauling a line out to the ship, a stouter line yet, a small hawser. It came presently, bobbing through the high surf, made fast to the fall.
When it finally jammed in the sheave of the block the second mate signaled and the man at the house end waved. Those ashore stopped heaving. The seamen un-
bent the hawser and it was made fast about eighteen inches above the tail block on the Samson post. Then they unbent the stopper they had held the hawser’s weight with while taking their turns round the post.
The signaler waved again from the ship.
Those ashore laid back on the hawser and hauled it taut, making it well fast round a great boulder that stood about half way between the cliffs and the water’s edge. Then they fastened a breeches buoy to the hawser and hauled it to the Carroway by means of the endless fall.
, “All ready, sir!” shouted the second mate. The captain waved and grunted.
“Good work! Women and children first,” he said. “Get them standing by!”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
The saloon passengers and what few were left of the steerage were rounded up near the Samson post. Continuous icy sprays drenched them. They shivered in the bitter wind. There was no warmth in the morning sun. The fiddley house was black with shivering men, firemen, engineers.
The rising sea was battering the Carroway. Her foredeck was already clear of everything moveable. Even the winches were shifting. Number one hatch had caved in and the forehold was half full. This Tended to bring the bow lower down at rest on the shingle. Also it placed a strain on the midship section of the hull.
The continuous swing of the sea caused the Carroway to lunge over on her port beam still more, with an occasional upheaval that made the keel rasp gratingly on the bpttom. This rasping could be felt by every soul aboard. And it was evidently causing leakage, most likely snapping off rivet heads, for the carpenter reported depths in the bunkers and the chief and second engineer, grieving over the enginerooms from the upper gangway gratings, told of water that crept slowly above the eccentrics.
A WOMAN and her young baby got into the breeches buoy. She was frightened and wide eyed, her baby crying piteously. Those ashore hauled away. Down the swaying jumping hawser slid the buoy. It dipped into the surf. It came out again. The Carroway heaved up and shuddered and the hawser tautened fearsomely, threatening to snap. The women screamed and the sound echoed above the roar of the whiteness through which she rocketed. Then her canvas craft touched shingle and a dozen rough hands dragged her to safety. The dripping buoy came bobbing to the ship again.
The captain leaned his elbows on the after bridge rail and watched as load after load went ashore. Occasionally he ruffled his white beard with his gloved hand, but he said nothing. Every moment he expected the ship to go right over. Already she was so low in the sea that two or three extra large breakers had sent water sloshing over the navigation bridge, round the captain’s seaboots. The smokestack and ventilators on the weather side of the fiddley protected the waiting passengers and crew somewhat. But when a full sea should go over the house, smokestack and ventilators all would go by the board. The minutes crept by.
The last passenger had gone. The crew' started to land. The crowd on the beach grew greater. From over the inland hills, misty blue in the morning, from over the cliffs, figures could be seen running to aid. The captain still leaned over the bridge rail and chewed with his lips at his cigar. A bleak look dulled his blue eyes. Sadness swept him. His ship! Finished!
The wind freshened. The sea grew. The jumping and the straining of the hawser became more acute. Full were the after holds, full the foreholds, half full the bunkers and the engineroom. Number two hatch was smashed in. A sea had taken half the ventilators from the fiddley and had canted the smokestack. Another had shifted the chart house several feet from its rightful position. The captain did not move, though he was very wet and cold.
The mate came along from midships dragging the protesting young wireless operator by the arm.
“I think I picked someone up with the emergency set,” he said. “I think. . ”
“Shut up!” the harassed mate snarled. “Get up on the fiddley. You for the shore.”
He forced the operator up the monkey
ladder The captain’s lips twitched as the young man shot to the shingle. For youth this was adventure. For him, tragedy.
The third mate was next, with the cook. The chief steward and the chief engineer went together. Only the second mate, the mate, a couple of seamen and the captain was left. The siren had long since ceased bellowing. The boy who had pulled the lanyard had long since landed.
The second mate and the two seamen went.
“Come on, sir,” shouted the mate, getting into the drenched canvas buoy. He shuddered as the Carroway lurched and the hawser groaned. It would not stand much longer. It might snap while the buoy was over the surf.
THE captain grunted and came slowly down from the bridge bringing with him the ship’s papers and the log book. He had to dodge a sea when he started for the fiddley house. He managed the distance at last and clambered up the monkey ladder, his cigar still drooping from his mouth. He stood by the buoy. He ruffled his beard, peering for’ard and then aft. Also he looked at the sky, at the rising sea, at the shore. There was no hope. The Carroway was finished. He sighed.
“Come on, sir,” said the mate, his nervousness increasing. “She’ll go soon.”
The captain grunted. His bright eye caught a movement under one of the boxes of lifebelts that the sea had left. He moved from the fuming mate and raked under the box. He brought the halfdrowned bedraggled ship’s parrot to light. The bird had been forgotten in the excitement.
“Pretty Polly,” he crooned. “Did they forget urn?”
“Awk!” moaned the parrot feebly.
The captain handed the sorry looking pet to the mate and climbed into the buoys.
“Hate to leave her,” he mumbled, looking at the stricken ship and meaning her. He gulped and swore.
“Haul away!” yelled the mate franticcally as the hawser cracked and stretched and the Carroway shuddered to her very trucks under the lean of a monster swell, glass-bodied, white-capped, foaming, growing.
Hastily the buoys shot down to the shingle, the shingle that looked so far
away when viewed from the little swaying canvas sack above the creaming welter of tortured water.
There was a crack, muffled by the thunder of the surf, as the hawser parted. The men ashore rushed into the shallows of the backwash with cries of horror. The endless fall and buoy plunged into the whiteness. There was a swirl of drenched canvas, oilskins, a sou’wester. There was a fleck of color from a parrot’s wing.
The men ashore formed a chain, hand clasping hand. Far into the surf they waded, the strongest first. Currents sucked and buffeted at their legs, spray filled their eyes and nostrils. They persisted.
The mate came first, half-drowned, fighting for breath, lunging out with both hands. He was passed ashore. Friendly arms received him and laid him on the shingle. Of the captain there was no sign. The men of the chain looked at each other and then at the boiling surf. They shook their heads. Slowly they drew back to the beach. Then someone cried aloud. He pointed. The men turned and gaped.
Some twenty yards down the beach a figure staggered from the sucking backwash. It fell repeatedly, was washed seawards. It rolled over, was tossed about. But always it rose and staggered on. It was a figure in a ripped oilskin coat, without any sou’wester. It was a little figure, slender, white-bearded, in sodden sea boots. It held a drooping cigar in one corner of its mouth. In one hand, by one leg and wing, it held a feebly kicking parrot.
The rescued seamen and the rescuing coastguards rushed forward. They surrounded the captain. The leader of the coastguards shook his hand and swore in his excitement. He was a big man, healthy-looking, gray-eyed, black-bearded.
The captain coughed, spat water, snorted, shook himself. He looked at the parrot reprovingly and sighed. Then he faced the coastguard leader.
“Happen to have a match about you?” he said and ruffled his wet beard with his free hand. He would have fallen had not the coastguard leader caught him. He muttered feebly, “Seems I can never find a light on this blasted ship.”
“Awk!” croaked the parrot, suddenly reviving and ruffling its drenched plumage. “Is that so?”