OUT OF THE STORM
LADE! you’re not going out there to-day?”
The man of God put a hand on the massive shoulder and a shade of incredulity crept into his voice.
“For why not?” The answer was harsh, almost insolent in the speaker’s faith in himself.
“Man, it’s suicide—and God doesn’t ask for human sacrifice!”
“Quit!” There was imperative command in the bitten off word, even a touch of menace.
“But, Lade, it’s utter madness. No boat in the harbor could live ten minutes in the sea that’s running outside the breakwaters. Look at that!” A great swinging hill of green water, white-capped and frothing, surged up, poised for a shuddering second on the summit of its rise and hurtled against the fifty foot thick wall of masonry, sending a high gout of water thunderously over and making the giant structure shake to its very foundations.
“That? huh!—that’s only one of ’em. I guess men was made to outride little ripples like that. And forbye! You preach in your own house of God that if a man lay down his life for--”
The giant became sullen on the instant.
“Well, what then?” he growled.
“You couldn’t lay down your life for anyone to-day, Lade, and you know it. You would die as well as the poor soul already out there—and one of the deaths is unnecessary. How would you benefit him if you both faced your Maker together?”
Lade’s face became convulsed and he shouted above the storm.
“Can’t you leave all that pratin’ out of it? Must you be alus bletherin’ of what 1 don’t believe? You know what I believe and right down there”—he struck the minister a blow on the heart—“right down there, you believe it, too.”
Lade reached up a magnificent arm, unhooked a lifebelt from the wall of the jetty shelter, and commenced to reeve the tapes through the loops and round his waist.
The minister shook his head sadly.
“You and I will never agree on those points, Em afraid,” he said heavily. “Why are you going out today, Lade?”
“Eh? Why because you cusses says a boat couldn’t live ten minutes in that sea. Who the devil are you to pass an opinion on sailors and boat sailin’, hey?”
“Nobody, Lade, nobody at all,” the minister replied hurriedly, “but J’ve seen real good men go west with the water only half as hungry as it is to-day.”
“Well, ain’t I as good as the best of ’em?”
“Your spirit, Lade, is as magnificent as your great body.”
"But my soul’s adrift to hell, eh?”
The minister bowed his head.
“Well, look’ee here, Mr. Minister. In the little Cornish village where I was born, the parson would have been the first to ship his oar in the
rowlock if he knowed men was wantin’ help for their bodies as well as their souls, even on a day like this.”
THE minister looked up quickly.
“You know as well as I do that there is only one man left on that ketch out there. When the dawn broke this morning, and we made out his faint signal he told us all that; told us how the whole poor little crew had been swept away by the fearful seas breaking over her before they could make the rigging.”
Lade made towards the door.
With his hand on the handle he turned and looked hard at the minister.
“Mr. Minister,” he said, “I only had but one prayer in my life and that was never answered. My prayer was a prayer to the devil, but if ever it is answered, you can have my soul—take it to your God and tell Him it’s His. I’ll do my best to live proper, and I won’t argue the point on religion with you when you come pratin’ about it. But I only tell you that because I know my prayer won’t be answered by your God. The only God likely to answer that is Old Nick, and seemingly he’s just as powerful as yours, Mr. Minister. I prayed that a certain man should never cross my trail agen— —and even Old Nick’s failed me—the swipe! You don’t know what happens in every man’s early life, so what right have you got to come interfering with present-day affairs?
“Mr. Minister, I want to tell you something. Maybe you’ve wondered what drove a great bull of a man like me out to this storm-bittered trading post? Well, there’s a woman at the bottom of most things, ain’t there— and there’s the best woman that ever breathed at the bottom of this. She was Annie Trennoven, my sweetheart; the man was Captain Garrin. Aye! Garrin was the thing that stepped in between us years ago and sent me up here battlin’ blizzards lest I tore his throat out. He was captain of his own two-master, a ketch called the Harvester, and he weaned her from me when she was already mine by right of love. I swore that I’d get him, swore it on such an oath that even if there was no God one would have to create Itself in order to balance eternity, if ever he came my way agen. So I came away out of it. I left the South and headed North into the lands where only men can live. Pah! you can’t fathom how much Annie was to me.
Strang Lade, hard-bitten sea-dog, braved man and the devil to snatch his fate from the teeth of a raging tempest. His is the story of a long smouldering resentment as furious — and as futile —as the seas he defied.
“And this is where Old Nick has failed me. That ketch out there is the Harvester! Oh, don’t argue—I know it. That boat is one of the pictures I’ve carried just under my eyelids for the last ten hope-tormented years. I know her—smashed and battered as she is; damme I can recognize her by the top-hamper litterin’ her decks. And I know that the one survivor out there is Garrin; it’s him because he’d stand by his hooker till she spread herself over the tide in a thousand pieees.
“That’s why I’m goin’ out there on a day like this, sonny. I’ve a score to settle—a mighty big one. The Harvester never sailed up here and ran aground on the Barrier Spit for nothing. I jest got to go. Garrin will want a heap of nursin’ before he’s fit to—to do the things a man should do in the circumstances.”
“But, Lade, you surely--”
“Shut up!” the atheist cut in viciously. “See here! I could bust you up as easy as that”—his great knotted fingers flexed round a piece of his cork lifebelt and crushed it to tiny grains—“and you watch out when you start sayin’ a man can’t handle a boat for longer’n ten minutes in that bit of a boilin’ out there. If Garrin’s still alive when I get out to him I’ll bring him back —you watch!”
'TpHE splendid 4 figure lurched past the door and
pulled it to with a vicious bang. The minister stood for a full five minutes right in the middle of the shelter with upflung head and clenched hands, and all the fires of his own impotence burnt and blazed in his eyes. He jerked himself into sudden action and pushed the door open, but, lacking Lade’s great strength, the wind took it and wrenched it off its hinges against the shelter wall. But the minister didn’t notice it; he was running now, running swiftly up the jetty in queer little semi-circular sweeps as the wind took him in its wide, strong embrace and all but pushed him off the concrete surface.
Almost at the far end half a dozen oil-skinned figures were grappling with a veritable giant of a man. One, a burly, bearded old slave of the sea, had him pinioned by the arms while he boomed harsh words into his ear.
“Strang Lade, ye’re mad!” he yelled. “D’ye think for a moment us men ’ud be standin’ here lookin’ at a life goin' out if there was a dog’s chance of hookin’ it back?”
“Let up, damn you!”
“I’ll not—you’re murderin’ yourself, puttin’ to sea in
The others were hanging on to him like parasites. “Strang!” the old voice was booming again, “the best boat in the harbor is the little Tuscan, and she’s only the best ’cos she’s the heaviest; she’d founder on the third
greenback that hit her; she wouldn’t-”
“Will you let up?”
“No, Strang, I--”
Thud! By some miracle of strength Lade had torn one huge arm free and his fist had crashed into the old mouth that was forcing out words for his own salvation. Thereafter he used that arm in the fashion of a sailing ship’s boom, swinging it from side to side in great flailing sweeps, literally cleaving a passage for his other arm as he lugged and heaved on the two men hanging on to it.
■ A rain of awful blows fell on those two men, but they tucked their heads under their arms and tried to get their faces behind Lade's back. There were two more scrambling to their feet with sullen, purposeful eyes on the giant, and he forced his great muscles to the big effort. He brought his seabooted leg round viciously, toppling the men off their balance, and in that same second he hit them; they reeled and fell limply, and Lade turned like a wild beast on the others creeping up, his whole form suddenly pregnant with the strength that crushes and kills.
“Want any?” he growled, and they fell back appalled. Lade grinned devilishly and wheeled about. The minister stood there, hatless, with a little cross tightly clenched in one cold hand.
“Well, what in hell do you want?”
“I want to come with you,” the words were almost quietly spoken, but even across the howling roar of the wind they carried clearly and there was the ring of urgent, assertive sincerity in every syllable.
Lade tapped him on the shoulder. “Look here, sonny,” he said patiently, “it wants men on this job, not blethering boys that don’t know their own minds two minutes together. Just now your God didn’t want human sacrifice —now you’re shoving your own silly carcass on the altar. But you needn’t tremble, sonny, my God don’t want the likes of you—besides you’d only be in the way. Guess you’d push a hell-fire sermon over at me jest as I was tackin’, and then the boom ’ud knock your silly head off and then your God ’ud blame me for taking little boys to sea in a bit of a storm. You run along home and get hot coffee ready,’cos I’m cornin’ back—and remember what I said? If he’s still alive when I get to him I’ll bring him back too—now run away and play.”
CTRANG LADE bent forward on the wind and stamped heavily to the end of the jetty. His clothes were sodden with icy water long before he was half-way there,for the waves were breaking high and falling solidly. One, a great curling monster—a seventh wave— crashed over and picked him up in its rushing stride. An ordinary man would have been flung sheer across the jetty top into the spuming sea on the other side. The wave snored over and swept along into the peace behind the breakwater but it left one brawny arm fastened on to a ringbolt on the edge of the masonry. A minute later a body heaved over the top of the sill, stanced against the next wave breaking over and cursed the careering waters with frightful oaths. Then Lade let go of the ringbolt and started forward.
At the top end of the long finger he halted and scrambled down the stone steps on the lee side.
'“Tuscani" he muttered wrathfully, “who in blazes ’ud
put off in the Tuscan? What they want is a light boat— like mine—one that’ll ride over anything that old Windy cares to send along. I’d back my little Airdrop against a steel-sided, cargo-wallopin’ four-master in this lot.”
The backwash from the mighty seas outside was swirling heavily at the base of the steps and straining hungrily at the mooring rope of the strongly-built skiff twenty fathoms away at the end of the line. Lade took the rope in his hands, twisted his toes against a huge teakwood pile and hauled his boat in. The Airdrop bumped lightly against the steps and Lade sprang in, coiling the line down on the bottom boards as she drifted out into the harbor.
She was only a little seventeen-foot affair, tubby and squat, almost navy-built in her squareness about the nose, but she was strong, as strong as the trees that grew her timbers.
He finished coiling the mooring rope down and left the last half-dozen coils looped into the midship rowlock, the remainder laid out with beautiful precision in the well of the boat. That would be the thin line stretching between the life and death of Garrin, and Lade knew that he would only get the chance to heave his line once and that heave would have to get across. That was why the long rope was coiled down so beautifully and smoothly on the bottom boards, and that was why the odd half-dozen coils were left handy to his grasp in the midship rowlock— everything ready for urgent speed and smooth running when the line had to be thrown.
He slipped a pair of heavy oars into the sculling rowlocks and lashed them so that they wouldn’t drift out and away when he had to attend to the little spritsail, which is a dinghy’s main.
He made his preparations with meticulous care, though at the top of his speed, and then, gauging his distance to the circling breakwaters, headed round to bring him through the fairway in a single tack.
The little knot of hard-bitten fishers and trappers had come to the top of the jetty to watch his passing. Silently they stood, leaning on the wind, oblivious of the booming
seas that broke over them. They gave no cheer, they yelled no word of encouragement, for deep down in their hearts they believed Strang Lade to be gone the way of all men who talk only to themselves and who wrap up their thoughts in a cloak of sour reserve.
They watched the Airdrop shoot like a living thing between the breakwaters and scud away on the outward tack in a series of frightful bumps and thumps that would have smashed a larger boat to a handful of carved planks.
“Mad!” said the one who had clung to his leg when he ■was fighting to get to his boat
“Aye!” said the burly, bearded old slave of the sea, “but a grand sailor-man!”
“Aye! I reckon!”
npHE Harvester was straddled across the Barrier Spit, a great reef of rock that ran out treacherously from the northern shore, farther than the breakwaters themselves. She was right in the shoal water and her back was broken, and Lade knew that with the ebbing tide would come the ghastly see-saw of her keel over the Spit and then the final breakup. He took a single twist of the manilla sail rope round his wrist without even securing it to an iron cleat first, thus taking all the straining pull of the tugging sail on his own tireless arm. It acted as a cushion spring; when a raging flurry of wind rose above the level of the scream of the wind that already hurtled across the water, it just pulled his arm out a few inches (or at times nearly out of its socket), and then Lade eased off his helm a little and allowed her to bear away a couple of points to give that arm a little respite; but always he was gaining a few feet on the shrieking fury of the wind.
Now and then the wind eased for a few seconds in preparation for a renewed outburst of even greater velocity, but Lade edged her in in those few seconds, snatching as much as four points from the wind demon and laughing at it in passing.
“Blow, you scut!” he chuckled. “Blow and be damned to you! You won’t blow strong enough to rob the devil
Continued on page 43
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of a henchman. I’d beat ye to it if ye blowed strong enough to take the poles off the blisterin’ earth.”
He stooped to bail, securing the rope to an outjutting cleat to leave his hand disengaged, his arm working rhythmically as bowl after bowl of water was flung over the side. His eyes were red-raw from the stinging spindrift, for often the wind cut the tops of the curling waves and strewed them across the waters like driving clouds of grape shot. He eased off a little at the end of the first tack and waited his opportunity.
It came after a couple of minutes, a slight, hardly* noticeable lull in the wind that happened along. Quick as light he let the tiller go, dug the port oar down into the water and jammed his foot on it, his body braced against the backboard and the sail volleying free in the wind.
Round came the Airdrop, straightening out as she slewed, and, before the wind could dismast her in thespitefulsquallthat dashed at her a moment later, she was away and bowling along on the opposite tack; but such was the frantic fury of it that Lade had to jam his foot on the tiller and lean his body out horizontally oyer the Airdrop's side, and then he wished he had built a lead false keel into his boat. In between flurries he took a sly glance over his shoulder at the halfdozen men clustered on the jetty, and wherever he caught sight of their dim outline his salt-bittered lips parted in a sour smile.
“Stick it, old gel,” he grated to his boat. “We’ve got a job on here and no mistake. Wished I took these dratted seaboots off though. ’Bout ’nother half-hour ought to see us headin’ down on the last tack—but I told you we had a job on, didn’t I?
“That there Tuscan of old Sillary’s would have been handed back to the breakwaters by now in little chunks—’arf a tick and I’ll bring you round”—he eased off the sail-rope, kicked the tiller over, sprang across to the opposite side and propped himself out over the gunwale in a trifle over a second.
“Head winds and lumpy seas ain’t no good for Tuscans," he continued. “H’m! how did old Rudyard put it?
“ ‘For what is sunk will hardly swim Not with this wind blowing . . . and in this tide.’
—and I guess he knew what he was talking about. Ah! you tyke!”
He crouched low in the stern and grabbed his baler as a huge one broke on its crest and shattered inboard. The bowl arm was working like a flail, but the Airdrop was terribly slow in coming up by reason of the weight of water she had shipped.
“Strewth!” muttered the sodden figure, letting everything go and using his sou’wester to bale with in his other hand.
That little lapse cost him fifty yards to the bad, and he cursed his own garrulity. It nearly cost him his sail, too, for in tacking again it slapped and volleyed until be thought it would shoot to ribbons.
“Bet old Sillary coughed a bit that that time, old gel—whirroop, there!” He hauled up his tiller and brought her nose up into a perfect tornado that suddenly slashed out of the smoking seas, and he kept her there for a full five minutes until it dropped away again.
“And I bet that parson bloke gripped his cross a little tighter. Come on, come on, old gel; lost best part of a hundred yards that time!” He gripped the baler again and toiled like a galley slave. At the end of the fourth tack he shook his head and gazed resentfully at the Harvester, which still seemed a tremendous way off in the womb of the wind.
“Have to beat right out to sea and come back in one long tack,” he sighed, “else I’ll never get out before she breaks up. Guess the tide’s on its full flood now, and when she turns and starts her capers as well as the wind there’ll be merry hell to pay.”
THE seas were getting worse and worse, for already the tide was in that state of agitated turmoil immediately preceding its turn, and eddies, sucks and boils were swirling around hungrily, almost leering up at him as he looked shrewdly at them whirling by.
“Laugh, you devils!” he scoffed, “laugh and spin yer guts out, and I’d beat ye to it if the Sargasso an’ all was dumped ahead.”
The skiff was scudding away on a long slant ahead and to windward of the Harvester, and the jarring, bumping of the boat’s bottom on the big water lessened a little. Lade seized the opportunity to bale out as thoroughly as the tide-chop and flying spindrift would allow. He bit off a great piece of black plug and settled down to a long battle with the wind for hastily stolen points.
“ ’Bout six miles,” he observed, spitting speculatively at a great green monster that went roaring by. “Aye, six miles out to do it, and I guess we just got to do it, old gel. Old Sillary ’ud laugh his beard off if we muffed it now, so it’s up to you as much as me. Bet a thousand that swipe Garrin don’t know who it is bumpin’ out to say ‘How do!’ ”
The breakwaters were far astern now, and the Harvester herself only became visible when the Airdrop shot to the crest of a big one. The wind hadn’t dropped by so much as a point and the seas came booming down out of the lowering north in sullen, gigantic squadrons. A driving rain squall, black and grey in its very intensity, commenced to smother along with the searing wind.
Lade pulled his Balaclava further over his eyes and sailed his boat another point into the wind. With the blanketing squall driving along in straight, whipping lines, he could gauge the tiny deflections of the wind to perfection, and every little while he would chuckle grimly to himself and press on the tiller a little.
“Good!” he grated. “You’re doin’ your damnedest, old Windy— but there’s a breakin’ point even in the scale of opposition; past that point your nasty spite
]comes back on the rickashee and double crosses ye! Your health, old Windy”—he spat contemptuously over the side-— “and I thanks you for the rain!”
He put about and recommenced the long, bitter struggle against wind and tide, back on the homeward tack to the battered ketch. For twenty minutes he hung on to his course desperately, poaching on the wind as it squalled and dropped and squalled again, and heartily cursed old Windy when the rain eased off. For, while the rain was streaming down, the sweeping alterations in its line of descent ahead signalled to him the onrushing variations in the wind eddies and he could allow for them in advance.
Twice he almost caught a high-step that made him let go everything and heave to, to save his mast being blown cut, and four times he was pressed gunnels under by kink flurries that set him cursing and baling by turns.
He beat his hands on his knees to restore some of the warmth to his numbed fingers and winced at the pain his returning circulation brought, for his wrists and finger-joints were opened to the bone and calloused by the strain of the tugging sailrope. His whole body was a mass of tingling, shivering ache and pain, and his sodden clothes hung on him as harsh and comfortless as coarse sackcloth. But his spirit was as great and well-founded as his body, and when another furious gust all but swamped him, he spat his tobacco at it and wished it luck when it reached the breakwaters. Sea-water was running out of the tops of his sea-boots, so he eased his body down till he could twist a foot between the thwart and the heel of the mast.
“Never ought to have left the blame things on,” he_ grated petulantly, as he lugged and strained. Presently thesucking grip of the leather gave out, and he withdrew his water-sore foot from the boot’s embrace. He was repeating the manoeuvre with the other when sound hit him like a blow from a sledge-hammer.
“Ease her! Ease her!” it yelled shrilly.
Lade looked up incredulously, his foot still outstretched to the mast. The man on the ketch was standing against the lee rail, with his hands cupped, shouting his warning down wind. And it was necessary too, for Lade had been so deeply engrossed in his task of steering an almost impossible course on the wind that he hadn’t noticed the Harvester for a good five minutes. He let up his helm and came careering in on the_ bosom of the storm. He could see the white figure that stood muffled to the teeth on the deck of the grinding Harvester and he reached forward and took the halfdozen coils of the long mooring-line from the midship rowlock. Standing up in the tossing boat, he half-lowered the sprit sail and yelled to the figure to stand by.
“Hi, you!” he boomed. “Catch this ’ere heavin’-line when I fling it-—muff it and you’re a dead ’un—I’ll be aground myself if I have to coil the line again. Make it fast round your middle and jump overboard. You’ll have to haul yourself aboard while I keep my boat in your lee —get me?”
THE still figure waved a sombre hand in reply, and stood by to catch the line as the Airdrop came plunging up. Even as she came, a vast hill of water took the skiff in its stride and carried it up, up to the level of the Harvester's deck. And as she passed, on the height of its upfling the water hill seemed to halt and sway, and for one great pulsing second the two solitary humans out there in the vortex ol the storm faced one another eye to eye with less than a dozen feet between them.
Lade stared helplessly. “Annie!” he breathed and hung on the mast as though paralyzed.
“Strang!” the word was a clarion call from the grinding deck of the Harvester, stinging Lade into violent life and action.
Swift as the wind itself he hurled his line, nor waited, in his supreme confidence in himself, to follow the success or failure of his cast. With a great light shining in his eyes he slammed the tiller over and let his sail slither down the mast in a wet, sodden mass.
The Airdrop pulled up lurchingly, for the water was high and vicious even in the Harvester’s sheltering lee, and when he next looked up the figure on the Harvester was poised against the shattered rail, oilskins gone and almost nude, with her tawdry undergarments billowing about her, the free end of the mooring line knotted round her waist.
“Jump! Annie, jump!” Lade shouted. With a little frightened cry she flung herself out and down into the seething flux below. Lade hauled in like a maniac, the woman helping him with a strong overarm stroke. While she struggled aboard over the stern, Lade ran his sail up and headed round for the distant black streaks of the breakwaters. He pulled off his lifebelt and seacoat and passed them behind him; the woman uttered a short, nervous laugh and took them, and five minutes later Lade was sitting beside her on the tiller seat heading home for the breakwaters with a booming, roaring wind behind and a straight course all the way.
FOR ten minutes he said no word, merely kept his boat steady while the breakwaters loomed larger and larger ahead, but his arm was around her shoulders and she-she was nestling contentedly into the wet warmth of his embrace. Lade had no need of speech just then and, after all, speech is a vain, empty thing when the mystery of ages is rekindling old fires in human breasts.
An aeon passed and then“Annie,” he said, “where’s Garrin?”
She looked at him queerly.
“Garrin?” she said in a strange voice. “Garrin died years ago—less than a month after you went away—out of my life.” Her voice broke utterly. “Oh, Strang! Strang! why did you go?” she sobbed.
Lade stared at her dully.
“Died? Garrin dead? Oh, heaven save my soul! Why, Annie—I thought you— I thought he had—wasn’t it all fixed up
between you and-”
The woman turned on him in a blaze of fierce resentment.
“Oh, stop!” she cried. “How can you think such things? Was I—ever anyone else’s but yours?”
Her chin was trembling and she was struggling hard to keep back the flood of tears that were in her eyes.
“Oh, Strang! how could you be so blind? Garrin and I were born in the same village street in Devon. I only saw him but twice when he was grown a man-—that was when he sailed in to our little Cornish village where we lived, master of his own ship. Was that what all the trouble was about? Oh, why didn’t--”
“Sh! sh! Annie, ’tis better so. Accidents happen and misunderstandings arise, and sometimes men get hold of the wrong end of the life-line. Oh, my lassie, men in love are jealous fools and jealousy is a blinding iron. Sufficient, lassie, that you are here; how you came to be in the Harvester doesn’t matter.”
She gazed up at him with all a woman’s love shining through the tears that dimmed her eyes.
“I got word from a Cornishman home from Labrador, over a year ago, that you were up here, Strang,” she whispered, “and I’ve been working my way up here ever since. I picked up the Harvester at Newfoundland-—she was making out for Hudson’s Bay and belonged to a company, th bought it when Garrin died. I paid passage and was to be put ashore here as we passed; we were heading in when the storm caught us in the night and we were flung on the reef. I was the only soul not on deck when we struck; that’s why I wasn’t picked up by the great breakers that swept across the decks all night.” She pressed closer to him. .
Lade cursed himself mentally for the blind fool he had been, and when he did speak he spoke very quietly, hardly loud enough to be heard above the screaming exultation of the wind.
‘Annie—there’s a parson ahead there, waiting on the jetty, and there’s a lot of things I’ve got to ask him. I’ve got to ask his pardon for one thing, for he’s a man of men besides a man of God. And I’ve to ask his help in getting the biggest pardon of all, too, for I’ve been a bitter fool these last few years. May I-—can I —ask him something else, lassie?”
The wet, salt-whitened arm crept up round his neck,
“Why else did you think I came out to find you?” she asked softly.
They swept in through the great breakwaters to the sound of a roar from the men on the, top, but it was the minister who heaved them a line as they passed and made his end fast to a bollard.
“Have you brought your.man home?” he asked, dreading in his soul what the answer would be.
“Aye!” answered the giant thankfully. “A mad, hopeless fool went out, but I’ve brought my man back”—he looked down at Annie—“and my girl, too, thank God!”