A story of à wonderful race, and of a girl who was a wonderful prize.
ARTHUR HUNT CHUTE
ROUGH weather on the North Atlantic had brought the Judique fleet storming in from sea.
About the middle of the morning watch Dinkey Matheson’s Dundee was sighted through the smother of the outer harbor.
All Arichat stood looking on as she tore in toward her moorings.
Arichat, sitting hard against the fishing banks on Isle Madame, off the Nova Scotia coast, bred sailing sharps aplenty.
The Dundee, eating into the wind, started to claw off the Outer Bar. Her sheets were set like iron, while the gale blowing the tops off the seas smothered her in spindrift, and set the breakers crashing into carded wool just underneath her lee.
With splendid abandon the Dundee drove her bows into the lifting seas, and then, having safely skirted the fringe of menace, came ramping into the inner harbor. As she forged onward the talk on the pierhead was suddenly cut short. Straight down upon the pier she came with a steady roar of resisting water, her forefoot foaming, her bowsprit threatening to sweep everything before it.
Upon the wharf, directly in her path, a frantic scramble was made for safety. In the midst of the panic, the old fishermen held their ground and winked at one another. While shore hands waited for the imminent crash, the oncoming menacing bowsprit veered half a point, and grazed her yellow streak along the corner of the wharf.
As the soaring schooner swept by on the opposite tack, from the wharf, Madeline Terrio, looked down upon the skipper.
“Why, he’s only a boy,” she exclaimed.
Dinkey Matheson was saildragger and heart-smasher rolled into one. Oilskins and redjacks could not hide his dandified appearance. A born grandstand artist, his every movement seemed to say, “Now I’ll show you.”
Madeline was just the girl to fall for stuff like that. She was gazing down with adoration, when Dinkey suddenly sighted her and shouted unabashed:
Ravished eyes, and parted lips had been detected unawares. In the next instant, blushing scarlet, Madeline vanished underneath a picture hat.
“I’ll see her again,” Dinkey told himself as he guided his vessel toward the moorings.
THE Dundee was the first to let go her anchor, while the rest of the fleet came storming after. Soon the whole harbor was alive with snowy wings skimming back and forth across the narrow channel.
“Yes, sir,” declared an onlooking clipper captain, “there’s some fine sail handling out yonder; a dozen ninety-tonners under all canvas skyhooting back and forth as if the elbow room was miles instead of inches.” “Aye,” replied an old fisherman, “but don’t ye forget that them ninety-ton toothpicks’ll turn around on a sixpence, and the lads what’s steerin’ ’em ain’t bin making flyin’ sets in all kinds o’ weather without learning how to graze their paint.”
Long after all the others were clubbed down at their
riding hawsers a lone white schooner appeared in the offing under trysail and jib only. Far from exhibiting the bravado of her mates, she gave the ugly lee the widest berth.
Jeers and shouts of laughter broke from the Judique captains as the late arrival passed ignominously down the line, and came to anchor under the stern of an old coal hulk.
“That’s Shon MacLeod, the Whipper-in, slowest captain out of Judique.”
“Why do ye call him the Whipper-in?”
“Because of the way that he is always shortening canvas. He was the first off the banks, and now, by God, he’s the last in port. If it’s rough weather outside, when he’s due to sail, ye’ll see him stickin’ round the harbor until the blow is over. He’s a disgrace to the Judique Fleet. Don’t see how Mr. MacLehose ever gave the likes o’ him a vessel.”
“But he must have some good points?”
“No, sir, not a single thing to recommend him.”
“Aye, ye’re wrong there,” broke in Little Roary.
“He’s got his good points too. He’s careful wi’ the lives of men.”
Shon MacLeod, outwardly,
was one of the ground hogs of the sea, a big, stolid, hulk of a fellow with a red head and a carroty face, young in years, but old in spirit, as though good times had passed him by. Yet, if the truth was only known, this stolid deep-sea toiler was an authentic son of the clan of fire and music. His was the lyric soul and the yearning heart, chained to the body of an ox.
That afternoon Shon wandered up and down the long streets, scenting the balmy air with nostrils keen after long breathing of the pungent brine. To step ashore in Arichat is to find a land of far away and long ago. Canso on the mainland is but a few miles distant, but those few miles have been a wall against the changing years. The twin spires of the cathedral rising high above the port, the long streets of silver poplars, the old houses with their dormer windows, the maids with their Norman caps and kirtles, the convent bells, and the Acadian speech, these are reminders of colonial France of the old regime.
In a dumb way Shon MacLeod revelled in the port of long ago. The town was full of roistering fish men. The rum shops were doing a roaring trade. On the long streets youth and beauty vied with one another. In the midst of the merry-making Shon was in it, but not of it. Passing along, detached, aloof, he encountered Madeline Terrio, bringing to that crowded street a perfect reciprocity of smiles. None could withstand the spontaneousness of this little Norman beauty. Like all the rest, Shon smiled back upon her.
At the corner he paused involuntarily. Where was she? Ah, there she was again, all rosy, radiant, with the big baby doll expression on her face and the “I’ve-never-been kissed” light in her eye. Shon almost fell down before her. As she smiled upon him, her manner was so disarming that he astonished himself by pausing to pass the time of day.
“You’re one of the Judique Fleet?” she inquired. “Yea.”
“Have we met before?”
“Well, we’re glad to see you here.”
“We’re gey glad tae come.”
“Because it’s a bonnie toun.”
“What’s your name?”
“That’s a nice name. Mine is Madeline Terrio. Are you coming to the Frolic to-night?”
“I didna’ intend to.”
“Faith and you better then.”
“Can I ha’e a dance wi’ ye?”
“Then I will be there.”
“That’s fine, and I’ll be looking for you, so good-bye till then.”
Madeline started off quickly, as she caught a glimpse of
Dinkey Matheson who tried to intercept her, but she passed him with a sudden shyness. Dinkey was accustomed to conquer all the conquerable, for vanity’s sake, if for nothing else. If the girl eluded him at the start so much better for the chase.
Off and on during the afternoon Madeline encountered her new-found friend MacLeod, greeting him on each occasion like an old friend, while with coy art she still eluded the other. Dinkey was piqued to think that caution could win out in the face of dash. He resented seeing the girl in converse with the stolid skipper of the Airlie.
Later, in the back room of Dwyer’s rum shop, Dinkey Matheson encountered Shon MacLeod seated alone and unoffensive. Dinkey was just then well jingled with “white eye” and the very sight of the other was distasteful to him.
“What’s the matter wi’ ye, MacLeod?”
“Well, what the hell are ye housing yer topmast for aboard the Airlie?”
“I dinna believe in carryin’ too much sail for the winter fishin’.”
“Ye don’t, eh? Well, I’m tellin’ ye ye carried too damned much sail up and down the street this afternoon. What business has a big slob like you got talking to the prettiest face in Arichat?”
“She spoke ta me first.”
“She did, eh? Well, I’ll bet she didn’t know who she was talking to.”
“I told her me name.”
“What name? Did ye say ye was the Whipper-in? Did ye tell her what place yer vessel had when the fleet arrived this morning? Did ye tell her that ye was at the coward’s end o’ the line? Did ye tell her that ye was the joke o’ the Banks, and the shame of Judique? Did ye tell her that?”
MacLeod without come-back, ill at ease, rose to go, but his way was blocked. The crowd sensing a fight gathered with joyous expectation, while the captain of the Dundee glared at his despised rival, heaping insolence on abuse.
“For good sake, Shon, wade in and kill ’im!” admonished an old skipper who had no love for the cocky Matheson.
MacLeod had the body of a Hercules, but it never occurred to him to rise and put forth his strength. Try as he might Dinkey Matheson could not precipitate a fight. Finally, he flung his mug of rum into the other’s face.
MacLeod partially shielded himself with his arm, and blinked impotently.
“Ye ain’t got the spirit of a louse, but, by God, I’ll make ye haul down yer ensign to-night.”
With this parting shot Dinkey burst away in disgust. The Frolic that night took place in one of the ware-
houses of the Caledonia Fish Company. One might travel far to find such exuberance as was present when Gael and Gaul met on the dancing floors of Arichat. The girls spoke French-Canadian patois; their partners were Duncans and Donalds innumerable. The rapprochement of Highland and Acadian in Nova Scotia began with the exiles of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Lost causes perchance created their affinity.
Kilted and tartaned for the occasion, Little Roary the piper, poured out his soul upon the drones.
Mr. MacLehose, head of the Caledonia Fish Company, lead off the dance. Up went the notes of the bag pipes and away went the dancers, the girls’ feet twinkling beneath their Norman kirtles, the men’s sea boots pounding the wooden floor.
For the first dance, Shon MacLeod had as his partner Madeline Terrio. At first they appeared a most incongruous couple, he all clumsiness, she all daintiness, he dour and doughty, she 1res chic and 1res petite. Then, with the witching strains of the pibroch, another Shon MacLeod appeared. In the lyric rapture of that single dance there came forth the son of fire and music. Then when the piping ceased he was merely the shy, stolid fishman once more.
MacLehose himself introduced Matheson to Madeline Terrio.
“Bye-bye, Shon. I’ll have the next dance with you,” she said, then turned to beam upon her new and more appealing partner.
Dinkey Matheson, who had sailed out of Gloucester, was the best dressed man on the floor. Shon noticed every detail; white collar, silk shirt, blue suit, and patent pumps, the city’s best, then his eye fell to his own attire; shirt and trousers of homespun grey—he wore no coat—while his legs were cased in cowhide knee-boots. Groaning at the contrast he slunk off dejectedly into a corner, where he heard someone exclaim; “That skipper of the Dundee and his girl sure was made to go together.”
With the queen of Arichat for his partner Dinkey was in the limelight again. For him there was no one except himself and Madeline. Madeline at his first assault was swept away completely.
As the pipes died down, Dinkey Matheson came to earth with a start. Continued on page 77
Continued, from page 19
“May I have the next dance too?”
“I promised it to another.”
“Captain Shon MacLeod.”
“What! The Whipper-in? The last man to make port this morning?”
“And who was first?”
Matheson shook his head.
“I know. I saw you from the wharf.” She was beaming upon her new hero when Shon came up awkwardly to claim his second dance.
A proud little lip curled as she refused.
SHON felt a dull pain, but in his heart there was no resentment. Do what she would he could see nothing in her but good.
For Dinkey and Madeline the rest of the Frolic passed like a dream. With her Gallic temperament she yearned for a hero, and he, of course, was just the one to occupy that niche. At first, he feigned reticence, but as she importuned him, he told her of his exploits.
Late in the evening Shon MacLeod brought the girl a box of chocolates. “Thank you,” she said, accepting them; then turning her back on the giver she -opened the chocolates and presented them to her new-found idol.
Without a word Shon MacLeod turned and slunk out into the night. In his heart was a great yearning for love and for romance. Why couldn’t he have the joys of the port like the dashing skipper of the Dundee? Why was his every advance met with rebuff? With heavy step he turned down to join his schooner.
Back at the Frolic Dinkey objected, “You shouldn’t even taken those chocolates from the likes o’ ’im.”
“Because that whipper-in is yellow. He’s a disgrace to the Hielan’ fleet, I tell ye. He’s a coward through and through.”
“But he doesn’t look it. He isn’t nice looking at all, but he’s big and bold and strong.”
All too swiftly the Frolic ended. Down the long quiet stbeet, Dinkey and Madeline walked with arms entwined. The world was bathed in softened silver glow. The moonlight for them wrought a mystic oneness. By the gate they lingered until Madeline tore herself away. When she had gone, he waited until a light shone from her little dormer window.
JOGGING under bank sail the watch of the Airlie descried in the distance the West Point light of Sable Island. To see this warning gleam was to sense a sudden
chill. Standing by the fore-rigging the watch-mates spoke.
“Ain’t no place in all the seas I’d sooner steer clear of than that spot yonder,” observed Murdo Chrisholm.
“Ever been ashore there?”
“Landed from a dory once. It’s a lovely spot on a fine day, lying so peaceful on the lap of the ocean. I liked the place fine, until just as we was leaving we passed the cemetery. They was burying the crew o’ the French schooner Topaze o’ St. Pierre, what drifted in, bottom up, on the north side at number three station. She broke up at once, and eight of the bodies come ashore. Seein’ their funeral cured me o’ Sable Island.”
Before sun-up, the Airlie started dropping her dories along their trawls. Rowing down on the watch-buoy, that marked his gear, Murdo Chrisholm saw the paling gleam of the West Point light, and shuddered in the cold uncertain dawn.
“I’ll take me chances anywhere from Middle Ground to the Banks of Newfoundland, but God knows I’d wish that we would keep dear of the sight of that there Island. It ain’t fit place for the eye of man to look on.”
Similar thoughts were in the mind of Shon MacLeod, as he stood to the wheel of his vessel, jogging up and down and keeping a watchful eye on the scattered dories. Shon didn’t like the weather signs that morning.
“ ’Tis a high, evil dawn,” muttered the skipper. “Looks like a March gale coming on behind. We’ll have to watch out sharp.”
As the sun rose, and the day grew brighter, the captain studied the scintillations of an iceberg drifting by. The sun light played across the shimmering mass, causing the peaks to glitter but the thought of a fleet of these monsters drifting down upon him, with the awful “Bend” of Sable Island underneath his lee, caused a sickish dread.
The cook and skipper were the only hands left aboard the schooner; all the others were out underhauling their trawls. Before long the dories began signalling to be lightened of their load. The skipper twirled his wheel and started down the line to pick them up.
The fish were plentiful, and the dory mates were in the best of spirits. When they came aboard for the mid-day meal all except the skipper and Murdo Chrisholm were highly satisfied.
“After nothing but ice and fog for weeks, were onto real fishin’ at last,” sang out the mate.
“Dinna like the look o’ our position,” objected the skipper.
“Leave it to him to get cold feet,” muttered someone.
HEARING voices of dissent, the skipper mildly suggested the dangers that beset them.
“We had a bad sunrise this morning, an’ ye can see yourself the wind is making.”
“Ye’re right, skipper. Watch out. The ‘Bend’ yonder, wi’ ice in the offing, and us between, ain’t no place for loafin’ if she’s coming on to blow.”
“O’ course that damned Jonah’s got to stick his oar in.”
“Trust him to join the croakin’.” “Never should ’a’ shipped that Murdo Chrisholm. The place for him is sipping gruel in the old men’s home.”
Murdo Chrisholm was one of the much-shunned Jonah’s. When other skippers would not give him a berth Shon MacLeod allowed him to join the Airlie. He had been unpopular from the start, but as the skipper remarked, he was no slouch either as dory-mate or ship-mate.
Four times that day the dories were lightened and returned to their trawls. When they were pulling off for the fifth time, the skipper, growing increasingly apprehensive, decided for «prudence.
“Ye can haul up yer gear and come aboard fer good next time. Guess we have done well enough for this berth.” “Well enough!” exclaimed the mate. “Why we just gettin’ started.”
“Better to be safe than sorry.”
“But that ain’t no kind o’ talk for a fisherman.”
“It’s the kind o’ talk that goes here!” said the skipper closing the argument, while the dory-mates went off with open resentment.
The early winter afternoon was beginning to darken as the last of the Airlie’s dories returned to her parent schooner. The gulls, the almost invariable companions of Banks fishermen, had gone. The sea was beginning to make, lifting and heaving with a long uneasy swell. Snow-laden clouds driven to leeward appeared as the advance guard of a storm. All this was noted by the watchful eye of Shon MacLeod. But the others, resentful at abandoning a good berth, saw only wasted oppor• tunity.
The feelings of the disgruntled crew were in no wise improved by the sight of the Dundee with all her dories out, and no sign of their coming in.
“ ’Em’s the lads what makes the big catches,” taunted the mate.
“They’re takin’ big chances,” answered Murdo Chrisholm.
“Aye, and they’ll get the big reward; they’ll go back home wi’ all their water wetted, and we’ll go back wi’ binns half
Having lightened his dories, Dmkey Matheson could not resist the temptation to rub it in to his cautious rival. Coming about he stormed down upon the Airlie with devil-may-care abandon. The Airlie was under trysail and jib, while the Dundee sported single reefed mainsail, whole foresail, and jib with the bonnet out; all the sail she could risk without dipping into the creaming brine. Tearing down upon his rival, Dinkey passed under his counter, then coming about with the wind abeam he shot across the other’s bows, with the ease of a porpoise.
Having administered this spectacular rebuke to caution, Dinkey Matheson doffed his sou-wester, with a contemptous fling, and started beating back to his
In that moment Shon MacLeod knew that his crew were black with shame. His vessel had received the worst dressingdown that one banker could get from another. They had been made the laughing stock of the fleet. Shon knew that later this episode would become a taunting fling to greet him in the Outports, but, as usual, his face showed no emotion.
For the next hour there was scant chance for grumbling aboard the Airlie, as the skipper drove them to it, dressing down the catch. When the last fish had been split and salted, the checker-boards were taken up, and all hands were set to work nesting dories in the chocks, and making everything doubly secure. Extra lashings were put on spare spars and gear, while a reef was taken in the tiny trysail.
WITHOUT warning there came a shrieking, whistling sound in the rigging, and the ill-intentioned winter’s day went black with gloom. As sometimes happens at that treacherous season, a nor-easter had leaped upon them with the suddenness of a roaring lion.
Up to windward, the Dundee vanished in the smother. Her tiny dories still out at their trawls were blotted out like candles snuffed in darkness.
Down, down, the Airlie rolled, before the blast, with every man aboard clutching for life lines, ring-bolts, and stanchions. Forrard, the lookout strove in vain to pierce the blinding snow and sleet.
“Dinkey and his cook alone wi’ all that sail cracked on!”
“By Saint Michael, I’d sooner take me chances wi’ them what’s in the dories!” The talk of the lookout was suddenly cut short.
Something struck the Airlie on the port broadside.
“Sain us, it’s a dory!”
One of the dory mates made a wild leap for the vessel’s rail and tumbled inboard, upon the icy deck.
Out of the darkness astern there came a piercing shriek; the other dory-mate had caught the after rail for a moment, only to lose it again and vanish into the seething gloom.
The old man who had come in over the port broadside, was stricken with a shivering palsy, and had to be assisted to the cabin.
“Why should ye take it so badly, mate?”
“That was me boy,” he said brokenly. When the first fierce squall had passed, the lookout descried another dory
fighting for life. After coming to his rescue, Shon MacLeod swung off and proceeded to pick up the rest. Owing to the breaking seas, the rescue of the dories was accomplished with utmost difficulty. None but fishermen accustomed to making flying sets in all weather could have picked up boats in such a gale.
MEANWHILE conditions were hopeless aboard the Dundee. Caught unawares, carrying on without his crew, Dinkey Matheson was utterly at the mercy of the elements. His mainboom had been broken in the first onslaught.
The tremendous press of sail on the heavily-laden vessel caused her to work her underwater seams, until the oakum was trailing after her in yards.
Plunging and rolling in the vicious squalls, the Dundee went on racking and tearing herself asunder. Leaking like a sieve, stricken, helpless and hopeless, the proudest schooner of the fleet was drifting in toward the Nor-East Bar. Forrard of her main hatch it was unliveable with bursting seas, while an increasing heaviness by the head told that she was slowly settling.
Dinkey Matheson was paralyzed before the terror of that headlong tide and gale. Lashed to the after bitt, he gazed wildeyed at the swooping seas. The cook who still retained his self-mastery started to send up rockets of distress. The signals were seen by the Sable Island coastguard on his lonely patrol, but it was impossible to launch a lifeboat through the surf on such a night.
By this time Shon MacLeod had just started at the last minute to work out of the Bend, when the sight of that lurid trail of light caused him to hesitate. It was ascertained by soundings that they were drifting into shoal water. Somewhere to windward in this dark and howling night was a field of ice that any moment might come crashing down upon them. Under their lee was the Nor-east Bar of Sable Island, the most hopeless lee shore on all the seas.
Caught with headlong gale and tide, between the driving ice and the lee shore, who would not hesitate? But another rocket shooting up into the night forced Shon MacLeod into quick decision.
“Get ready to come about,” he bellowed.
The mate stood aghast. The Whipperin, the auld woman of the fleet, ordering his vessel into almost certain death! It was incredible. Had the cautious one gone daft? Here was a slap-dash chancing, a chucking the devil under the chin such as no sane man could stand for.
“Ye don’t mean for us to go back into the Bend, do ye, skipper?”
“But he’s a gonner. He’s as good as dead already. If we go after him we will be a gonner too.”
“I’m goin’ to try,” replied the skipper. “Why, ye’re crazy, ye ain’t fit—” Handing the wheel over to a watchmate, Shon MacLeod, all his strength at last aroused, leaped upon the mutinous mate, smashing him down. The mate crashed into the scuppers.
“Now then, up wi’ ye and carry out me orders!”
Shon MacLeod spoke with his usual colourless tone, but there was no mistaking the kick behind his words.
MURDO CHRISHOLM stood to the
wheel, and the skipper guided him toward the sinking schooner. Kerosene flares were lit aboard the Airlie to signal the approach, while a flood of answering rockets came back as a cry for them to hasten.
Every eye was straining to get a glimpse of the Dundee. Shon MacLeod saw her first, a dim shape to starboard. As the two schooners came together, the flares cast a ghost-like reflection across the black and howling waste.
With death creeping for her the Dundee plunged and yawed. Her sails torn to tatters, her rigging awry, cascades of roaring water swept across her settling bows. Captain and cook, lashed to the after bitts, waved frantically.
Shon MacLeod was deliberate as ever. He had formed his plans, he knew exactly what he intended to do. Far up in the fore cross-trees of the Airlie a man waited with a heaving line. Just as the schooners were abeam a long thin snake of rope came shooting down upon the | Dundee’s poop. Dinkey Matheson made a wild lunge to catch it. But in the fatal l moment he fumbled, and his hope of life
went trailing off into the sea. After another futile effort it was apparent that those aboard the derelict were too far gone to help themselves.
“No use,” muttered MacLeod, “we’ll have to take ’em off.” Cupping hands to mouth he bawled:
“Stand by top dory!”
There was a rush for the slings. “Ready?”
“Lower away top dory!”
As the dory lighted, a cresting sea lifted her on high, and plunging downward, smashed the frail sides like matchwood.
Handing over the wheel, Shon MacLeod sprang into the waist.
“Can’t order no man out on a day like this. Who’ll come with me?”
Murdo Chrisholm without hesitation signified his readiness. Six others also volunteered. The skipper chose Chrisholm. Before launching the second dory, the crew got busy with bags of oil, to prevent the waves from breaking against the schooner’s side. Watching the seas, the skipper stood like a panther, tensed, waiting for the chance to spring.
“All right, let her go.”
The instant the dory was floated the skipper and Chrisholm leaped aboard, and casting clear, started away before the gale. Those aboard the Airlie saw them lifted upon a mountainous crest, then swallowed up into a tumbling valley. Only giants could have kept their tiny craft afloat against such onslaught of . wind and tide.
IN THE wildest moments, with the very skies tumbling in upon them, Murdo Chrisholm shuddered expectant of the final blow. Once, with a roaring greyhead breaking just above, he screamed out to Saint Michael, but Shon MacLeod only grunted at the oars, while underneath the lashings of his sou-wester his face remained imperturbable as granite.
After a half hour’s wrestling they came up under the lee. Because of the breaking seas it was not possible for them to lie alongside. Dinkey Matheson, crazed with fear, was utterly helpless, but the cook had presence of mind enough to throw them a line with a cask at the end. Once the line was made fast by the dory the cook jumped overboard, and was hauled in. Aboard the derelict Dinkey Matheson still hesitated, hanging by the sinking vessel, as though afraid to commit himself for the plunge. Finally, he jumped into the sea, and more dead than alive was fished into the dory.
After the two survivors had been taken aboard, it was out of the question to make progress against that head-long tide. Realizing their predicament, the Airlie came down to pick them up. As the schooner ranged alongside, Dinkey Matheson, over anxious, stood up and made a grab for her lee rail. As he did so a sudden roller turned the dory completely over, plunging them into the sea.
MacLeod, Matheson, and the cook managed to scramble inboard with a rising wave, but Murdo Chrisholm was missing. A moment later he appeared far astern sweeping on with the current. They saw him rise to the surface, struggle faintly, then, beyond help, disappear into the night.
Aboard the Airlie there was scant chance for sorrow. Leaping across the plunging deck, Shon MacLeod took his place at the wheel and put the vessel on the port tack, in order to work off shore.
The set of the wind and the rush of the tide gave warning that it was no place to tarry. Sufficient sail was made to wear the vessel around on the port tack, after which she began to drift down along the bar. The booming of the surf told that their lives were in the balance.
A FEELING of helplessness settled on the watch-mates. In the ominous note of the surf they seem to hear their own death sentence.
“It’s all up wi’ us,” wailed Matheson. ^‘Ain’t one chance in a hundred.”
But Shon MacLeod had fixed his heart on that one chance. Ten miles to weather, the bar swept upward like a bow forming thus the dreaded Bend. With a nor-easter roaring down upon them, the only hope aboard the Airlie was to harden their hearts for a thrash to windward to test the very core of man and ship.
Once decided upon this course, the skipper began to put the canvas to his vessel. Between squalls he piled it on, gauging and venturing always to the utmost. Under double-reefed, singlereefed, and whole mainsail, reefs in and reefs out, with keen and watchful eye he drove his vessel across the long, fierce, sweeping combers. They were in a pocket where inches counted.
Once in a lull between the reefings the gasping mate paused to look back at the skipper lashed to the wheel, fighting tooth and nail against the iron lee-shore. Others might slacken, or cry out for quarter, but there was no quarter with him.
“Punish her! Punish her!” was his continual shout, as the crew piled on the canvas, or hauled away on sheets and halliards, until the sails were flat as boards.
With the lives of men dependent on his headlong chancing, Shon the cautious had metamorphosed into Shon the reckless.
“Aye, yon’s a man!” exclaimed the mate with a sudden burst of fervour, “an’ sure, I never kenned that it was in him.” Little by little, the skipper’s desperate spirit was imparted to his crew until they were all upon their toes. He had been watching his chance to give a final desperate order. Several times the words trembled upon his lips. Each time the fierceness of the squalls caused him to hesitate. At last the time came.
“Get the staysail on her!”
With the vessel already buried to her hatches this last order was too much.
“Ye’ll rip the sticks clean out o’ her,” screamed someone.
“Rip ’em out!” shouted back the skipper. “Better die crackin’ on than runnin’ off!”
Down, down went the Airlie under the incredible pressure while her lee-side fairly smoked as she ate into the wind. Her blocks shrieked and groaned, while her main-boom sounded a continual gun-fire. Every minute now, for every mother’s son aboard, was nerve-straining, back-breaking, man-killing. It had become a veritable game with death, a game of naked fists against a naked ocean.
It was blowing a living gale, and by this time the roaring breakers were just under their lee. But in the fierceness of the struggle none so much as heard the approaching note of doom.
The whole gang were bearing on the after sheet to get it flat, the skipper driving them to it, while the Airlie was outraged in every groaning spar and twanging stay. The vessel screamed against such treatment, while the voice of Shon MacLeod still answered:
“Punish her! Punish her!”
“Haul away for yer lives.”
Suddenly there came a sickening tremor. The gang began to falter.
“Christ’s cross be o’er us, something’s goinr.”
The Airlie strained too far, paused, and shuddered, then—
“Stand from under!’’
With a ripping tearing note, down from aloft crashed a slatting mass of spars and canvas.
“Top hamper’s gone.”
There was a moment’s agonized waiting, waiting for the worst that did not? happen.
Then someone yelled, “We’re safe!” “Look back! Look back!”
Behind them in the uncertain gloom was the farthest jutting out point of the bar, before them the open sea.
BACK at Ariehat, Madeline Terrio waited for the Judique fleet. She was standing one afternoon gazing out beyond the harbour, when a great white schooner loomed up in the offing. With her Gallic heart aflame, Madeline danced upon the wharf, in unfeigned delight.
“I know who that will be. Of course he had to come in first!”
As the schooner bore in past Jerseyman’s Island, the looked-for dash and debonair was missing. She carried her topmasts housed, and held to her course with caution.
Madeline stood there unwilling to believe her eyes, then as the identity of the white schooner dawned upon her, she burst away with a pout upon her pretty lips.
“Pooh, it’s only that Whipper-in!”