Jed Morrow’s Bride
The story that won the Three-HundredDollar Second Prize in MacLean's Short Story Contest
BERNARD J. FARMER
IN EVERY port of the world, wherever the Canadian Merchant Marine brings ships and commerce, he was known. Aye, in those places where chief engineers and their satellites gather together to discuss owners, ships, and engines, sooner or later the talk would come round to old Jedidiah Morrow, one of the finest engineers who ever went to sea.
For twenty-five years he had been chief of the Conqueror, 3800 tons, owners, the British Dominion Line; and even as the steel itself, he formed an integral part of her engines
Born one stormy night off Halifax while the old Dunedin was threshing her way into port, he had followed in the steps of his father, and known ships and seamen when other children were playing with their toys—had started as fireman at the age of fifteen—no galley jobs for him, mark you!—risen to the dizzy heights of oiler, fought for his fourth’s ticket, and thence climbed steadily upward till at the age of thirty he was a full-blown chief engineer on the Conqueror,
And there he had remained ever since.
True, he had been tempted by other ships and other lines; but, somehow or other he had always stayed by the Conqueror and the British Dominion—the “B damned ’ell,” as he called them, and a succession of seconds came to know and respect his dry bark as he went off watch:
“Keep her up, mister, keep her up—keep her up . . .” His voice seemed to linger mysteriously long after he had disappeared up the steel companionway.
And keep her up they did. There would be hell-fire and brimstone ladled out next morning if the steam gauge dropped one iota below the sacred mark!
Old Jed had the uncanny habit of thinking engines even when he was presumably sleeping peacefully in his bunk. Only too well the stokehold knew it. Dripping stokers, nearing the end of their four-hour watch, would brace up, wring out their soaking sweat cloths, and give the insatiable fires yet another turn with shovel and slice bar as they thought of the chief. Hardly ever did he hit a man, but his tongue! Ah, there lay his secret!
Rumor had it he could curse and blast his ship through the gates of hell, only to come out in the smooth waters of heaven with his engines turning over a steady seventy-five revolutions a minute.
Aye, a great engineer was old Jed—and this was his last trip. For promotion, real promotion, had come his way. Superintendent Engineer of the Line! He still had five good years to go before he was compelled to retire on a pension, and he meant to get the most out of them. No more heat for him, no more oil and dirt, no more sweating at a cracked cylinder top with the thermometer topping the 120 mark. No, but one more trip and then a white-collar job.
At sea the chief engineer is the overlord, the autocrat, of the flashing, whirling steel and those who control it; but as soon as the ship docks his star pales before the sun that is the Superintendent Engineer.
And soon Jed would be that sun.
When a ship docked at Montreal, worn and weary after the voyage, he would have a stoker wipe off the oily railings, descend to the engine room, and after glaring disparagingly at the engines, exclaim in a loud and sarcastic voice: “My God!”
Would follow, then, an impressive silence during which the chief would fume with impotent rage.
Presently old Jed would find his voice again:
“So you think you can run engines, do you, Mister so-and-so? Why? By the purple gates of Jerusalem, I ask you why? Look at that—and that—and that—” With an unerring finger he would point out the defects while at the same time rigidly cutting down the repair list.
Oh, life would indeed be worth living as Superintendent Engineer of the Line!
ROUND a table in the Harbor Tavern, Jed sat with - his two cronies, Silvester, chief of the Condor and Collins of the Mariner, telling them all about it.
“Well, we’ve suffered enough from McKinley,” said Silvester.
Old Jed growled out a reference to ankle-deep engineers and soda fountain experts.
“An’ I hear, too, as you’re gettin’ married, Jed,” put in Collins, slyly.
Jed nodded, and the dark mahogany tint of his hard features deepened. He relighted his pipe and his eyes roved out of the window to where the funnel of the Conqueror showed above the sheds.
“Yeah, I’m getting spliced up, boys, an’ then I’ll live ashore in comfort. Hell, the sea’s no life for a man. Thirty-nine years I’ve had of it—twenty-five of ’em on the Conqueror—an’ never a good trip yet. P’raps when I’m super I’ll get some satisfaction out of the old hooker, and maybe the new chief’ll get some, too.” Defiantly he glared at the red and white funnel.
Silvester, wrinkled and sere as the skin of a dried-up apple, looked at Collins and slowly dropped his left eyelid.
“ ’Member when you took out the low press piston rod at sea, Jed—didn’t you get no satisfaction out of that?”
“A-a-a-ah! I’m glad to get shut of her! Leave the runnin’ of her to someone that has to, I say, and go to church decent o’ Sundays like the Widow Davis wants.”
“So that’s it . . . Ha! Ha! Ha!” The Chief of the Mariner let out his deep bellowing laugh. “Well, I never met two women yet who could agree over a man, an’ a ship’s more of a woman than many. I don’t blame the Widow Davis for wantin’ to rid you of the crazy old tub.”
“Crazy old tub! Let me tell you, mister, the Conqueror’s the finest freighter in the Line—and you know it!”
“Why, Jed,” he said slowly, “just now you said yourself she was no good.”
Jed glowered, and Collins winked at Silvester and bellowed an order to the waiter. Then when the drinks had come, he lifted his glass: “Here’s to the new super!”
AT TEN p.m. three chief engineers, somewhat under the weather, were to be seen driving up Mount Royal in a cab. At dawn Jed was hauled on board the Conqueror dead to the world. And at eight bells he was cold sober, by what process no one ever knew, and was standing by the engines with one eye on the steam gauge and the other on the telegraph, while a harassed fourth engineer, very new, very young, and very much under the spell of the chief’s reputation, was in the stokehold exhorting the sweating stokers to get her up to 180 and keep her there, By . . . !
The pilot came aboard, two tugs took charge, warping the Conqueror out of Windmill Point Basin, and at three bells she was steaming down the St. Lawrence, bound for Cardiff, with her engines turning over a steady seventy-five and every prospect of a perfect trip.
And so it might have turned out. All the way across the Atlantic she was unswervingly docile. Nothing went wrong. A charm might have been laid over the old hooker. Well loaded down, she was, her hatches snug and tight over rolls of newsprint, and the water calm. In eleven days to the dot she docked at Cardiff, and the new fourth began to doubt the rumors he had heard about the chief.
Why, he had scarcely opened his mouth the whole way over, and as for profanity ! The worst he had said was “Damn,” and that was when the pantry boy had upset his tea over the clean Sunday cloth.
But perforce the fourth had to wait a little, and in the fulness of time he saw.
They loaded up with drums of varnish, and with the holds but three-quarters full, sailed for Montreal.
'"PHE very first day at sea the ship broke her good
record. It seemed as if her previous good behavior had strained her internally, and now she had the devil in her. First, the steam steering-gear broke down utterly and completely, and Old Jed, sweating away with the Fourth and two oilers while the ship steered under handrig, nearly cried as he saw his hopes for a perfect trip fading into the blue.
“By the sufferin’ shades of old Nate, I’ll make her pay for this,” he rasped, as he scraped away at a bearing lining.
The fourth jumped.
“Go and ask Mr. Connor for ten pounds more steam.”
The fourth departed to the engine-room, received the maledictions of the second on his head, but returned with the assurance that there would be ten pounds more steam.
The chief grunted, slipped the distance-pieces under the bearing, and after giving orders for it to be tightened down, returned for’ard to the engine-room himself.
There he found the captain waiting for him at the bridge end of the speaking-tube.
“That the chief—is the steering engine repaired?”
“Steering engine O.K., sir.”
The captain grunted, and old Jed, leaving the second to take the four to eight watch, went off to his bunk hoping that the old hooker had had her fling now and would condescend to dock at Montreal with no more trouble.
But that was not to be.
When they were seven days out, the weather changed for the worse. Steadily, ominously, the glass dropped. The wind rose from quick, uncertain puffs to a shrill demoniacal scream, and the Conqueror pitched and rolled in the rising sea like a helpless, tossing cork of some 5,000 tons of ship and cargo.
More and more she needed nursing. With every violent pitch the propeller came out of the water and the engines raced madly till a skilful hand at the throttle shut them down. Then crash! down came the stern again, and the throttle had to be opened up once more. The engines carried no automatic gear, and if allowed to race each time the screw came out, vibration would soon knock them to pieces.
It was a case of stand by the steam valve all through the watch, with quick dashes to the stokehold to curse savagely for steam, steam, and yet more steam.
T EIGHT bells—midnight—old Jed came on the watch, relieving Mr. Sutton, the third.
“How’s she goin’, boy?”
The ship rolled heavily to port, and the third engineer took a firmer stance on the slippery, tilting plates.
“High press bearing’s a little hot, sir—I’ve been cooling her down with water.”
Old Jed ran an experienced eye over the firework exhibition round the high pressure cylinder bearing, and his gnarled hand touched the hot metal as a mother might lay her hand on the forehead of a sick child.
“Uhmm—wants relining. Told ’em so, too; but they swore it’ud last another trip. Must think us engineers a bunch of snake charmers. All right, third, go get your sleep.”
Thankfully the third disappeared up the steel ladders that led to coffee and bed, and the chief glanced at the steam gauge, then went along the narrow alley way into the stokehold.
There, half a dozen men, begrimed and naked to the waist save for their dripping sweat cloths, slaved with shovel and slice bar to feed the hungry fires.
The heat was blistering—sickening. It hit like a blow. A furnace door clanged open—crash! And a fierce blast came from the red maw within. Two figures rushed to the bunkers—turned—shot in coal. Then with the mechanical movements of robots they raked, raked, raked with the slice bars while the hot glare played on their great muscles till they shone like polished bronze.
Old Jed stood by the doorway, grim and silent. Inhuman, he seemed, with the red light flickering across his rugged features—some devil guarding the gate of heil.
Fiercely his gray eyes raked back and forth to see if all were working. Finally they centred on a giant negro stoking the port boiler.
Despite the man’s great size, he was always behind his mate; and once when the ship gave a particularly fiendish lurch he leaned against the bunker wall till she had righted herself. He was lazy—and that was unforgivable.
“Hi you, you misbegotten son of a Limehouse coolie—” Jed raked him with biting invective. “You think you’re a —janitor, do you? Well, mister, I’ll show you different. Get to that boiler!” His voice cracked out like a whip lash.
The man turned, and his eyes, red and bloodshot, gleamed with an animal glare.
“Me sick,” he roared. “T’ell with you!”
Jed started toward him, and at that moment the ship canted up at an appalling angle. The negro was hurled against the red hot furnace door and gave a scream of agony as the hot metal seared his bare flesh.
Half crazy with pain, he snatched up his shovel and rushed at the chief.
Then crack! The shovel flew out of his hand and he went down as if he had been pole-axed, while old Jed, half his size, stood over him gently caressing his knuckles.
“Get up, mister,” he said, in steely tones. “Get up and stoke that boiler or I’ll throw you in instead of using good coal!”
The negro groaned, then as his mate sloshed a bucket of dirty water over him, opened his eyes and met the implacable glare of the chief.
Slowly he lurched to his feet—took up the shovel . . .
Jed grunted and glanced at the steam gauge. Furtive eyes followed him. He was a devil—a fiend—and the ship a hell ship. But they worked, aye, they worked— and the pointer on the steam gauge registered a steady 180 pounds. Yes, that was all that mattered. The blasting heat, the working up, was as nothing. Always the ship must go on.
Satisfied, Jed returned to the engine-room and gave all his attention to the throttle and hot bearing, and seemingly oblivious of the wild rolling, calmed the angry sparks to a sizzle.
One bell struck . . . two . . . three . . . Night faded into morning. On top, the storm raged with ever increasing fury, but below, deep in the bowels of the ship, little was heard to break the clank—clank—clank of heavy machinery and the spasmodic groans of the bad bearing, save the moaning of the wind as it came down the engine-room ventilator.
Once the escape valve on the centre boiler blew off, and from far overhead came the mighty booming of the steam. Sudden—volcanic—like the lid blowing off the top of hell. Then abruptly it stopped, and the inferno pressed down again.
Ever and anon Jed’s eye went to the steam gauge and the condenser vacuum. From there to the revolution counter. Periodically he made a notation on the log board. Sixty-five . . . sixty-six . . . Uhmm, not so bad considering . . .
At seven bells—one bell early—he was relieved by the fourth, a little taut round the jaw. Usually, the chief and the fourth took their watches together, but old Jed believed in breaking ’em in young. Nothing like responsibility to make a man. Besides, the second, whose watch it really was, was down with fever contracted on a West Indian run.
A fiendish lurch of the ship threw the fourth down the last six feet of ladder, and he arrived at the bottom a little breathless to face Jed’s fierce gray eyes.
“Stand by the throttle, Mr. Sheffield, and keep her up all you can—watch that bad bearing—plenty of water on it—and call me if the guts come out of her.” “Aye, aye, sir.”
The fourth stood by while Jed punctiliously stayed out his watch, then he took over. Hang it all ! he thought enviously, it seemed as if the ship knew the difference. The master hand was gone. The cat away—and now the mice would play.
Worse and worse grew the pitching of the screw—a heavy chain fall above the cylinder tops was swinging through incredible arcs. Harsher and harsher the grating of scarred metal, despite the efforts of Sheffield and the four to eight oiler; and in it the fourth seemed to hear the dry bark of old Jed:
“Keep her up—keep her up ...”
His hand went to the check valve, as if to close her down a little, then abruptly he took it away again. Keep her up, it was. By heavens, though, she was getting hot! He redirected the stream of cooling water and hoped for the best.
Baffled for the moment, the ship, womanlike, decided to try something else. Suddenly there was a dull booming sound, and the hull quivered with a vibration that was worse than any engines.
There it was again. The cargo! But three-quarters loaded as she was, and with steel drums at that, the cargo must be taking charge !
High in the air lifted the stern, the propeller came clean out of the water, and 2,800 horsepower screamed madly with the freedom.
The fourth jumped for the throttle— closed it. Then down came the stern again—crash! and the engines shivered on their bed-plates.
“God,” he muttered, “she’ll bust the tail-end if she goes on like this.”
Opening up again, he called the oiler, bade him stand by the hot bearing, and gave his whole attention to the throttle. Boom—Boom—Boom—
The fourth shut off steam and wiped the sweat from his face. Should he call the chief? Soon he must be down anyway. But if he called him . . . He could imagine what would happen—
“By the purple shades of old Nate, Mr. Sheffield, you call me for a little thing like that. What the adjectival something d’you think you’re paid for, mister? Carry on, carry on . . .”
So the fourth carried on, and even as he made his decision it happened.
A terrific crash from the shifting cargo —the screw screaming in the air—then a jar through the shaft that made the engine-room reel.
They had dropped a blade!
Picking himself up from where he had been thrown under the oil lockers, the fourth closed down—stopped the engines dead with a mighty heave on the valve gear. A moment more and hot steel would have been flying all over the engine-room.
But he was just in time.
Slowly the great connecting rods juddered to a halt. Men shouted—crowded out of the stoke-hole door. Others dashed for the ladder leading to the fiddley. Everywhere a confused babel of voices.
Valiantly the fourth cried for order, then his voice was drowned by the booming roar of escaping steam as the centre boiler blew off and was followed by the port and starboard.
At length the uproar died, and in the sudden silence a jet of steam hissed lazily from a loose gland—soft—menacing—the threat of tremendous power.
The voice of the second officer came down from the bridge. “What the h— do you think you’re doing? We’ve got enough trouble with the cargo without you playing the fool.”
“Dropped a blade,” said the fourth shakily, and turned to find old Jed and the third at his elbow, while behind them, huddled in an overcoat, was the second, his face white and strained and streaming with perspiration.
Unconsciously, Sheffield braced his shoulders to receive a blasting condemnation from the chief. His fault? No, but that would matter little. It was his watch—and nothing could save him from the vitriolic tongue of old Jed.
Yet nothing happened.
The chief’s brows were frowning blackly over his fierce old eyes. His mouth was drawn in a grim line. But he was looking at the engines and not at the fourth.
“Blast her,” he growled, “she would do a thing like that.”
The fourth opened his mouth, but Jed cut him short.
“Not your fault,” he said gruffly. “You did your best—bound to happen anyway.”
Then, turning to the speaking-tube, he held parley with the captain while the fourth watched him with shining eyes. He would work his fingers to the bone for a man like that. Just, even when angry. And Jed was furious now.
“Tug!” he burst out suddenly. “You’re going to send for a tug, sir?”
The captain’s reply was inaudible to the fourth, but it seemed to intensify Jed’s rage if possible. His face went white. His last voyage—and towed home by a tug! It was disgrace, utter and absolute.
Yet what could he do? With one blade gone, the unequal load would tear the engines to pieces in a minute. And get home they must. They were still a day and a half from the Straits of Belle Isle.
Suddenly Jed whirled on the second.
“Get soundings on the ballast tanks, mister, and you, third, inspect the tunnel and find out the damage to the tail-end —if any.”
The second pulled his fever-shaken frame together and went for his soundings, while the third took a flash-light down the propeller tunnel.
Jed turned to the fourth.
“Come with me, lad.”
Together they went on top and met a wild commotion on the well deck. A spare winch drum, wrenched free from its lashings by the rolling of the ship, had taken charge and was banging savagely from side to side, smashing all that came in its way.
For’ard, the mates were doing all they knew to secure the cargo, and the drum rolled on unchecked, clearing a path through the stokers every time they tried to get near.
Swiftly Jed took charge.
“Rope!” he roared. A heavy sling was thrust in his hand, then the drum charged down and the men scattered.
But not old Jed. He stood his ground till the drum was almost on him—seemed certain to crush him—then at the last moment he stepped aside, slipped the end of the sling over the shaft, and the drum boomed past.
Back it came again with the roll of the ship—but he had it now. The fourth roped the other end and the men took hold.
Jed turned away unconcernedly and went for’ard —there to meet the harassed questions of the officers. The captain, yes, he was the ultimate star of their destiny, but now the trouble was in the engineroom, and there Jed was the overlord— the autocrat—the chief engineer.
Reassuring them with a gruff word, he went to the chart house, saw the captain, and returned aft.
Already the pitching of the ship was noticeably less violent, the scream of the wind dying down. Momentarily behind, shone the early morning sun, low over the horizon, then was obscured again by the racing clouds. But to old Jed it told one thing. The weather was clearing.
Leaning over the stern, he stared at where the propeller wash should be, but where only the waves broke fitfully as the Conqueror rolled in the trough of the sea.
“Fair out o’ the water already,” he muttered.
“Yes, sir,” said the fourth, not knowing what was coming.
The chief grunted. “We’ll do it, boy.” “Do what, sir?”
“Ship a new blade.”
“What—now?” The fourth stared incredulously at the thing so many engineers have heard about, yet never seen done— the shipping of a new propeller blade at sea.
But already Jed was away for’ard again, talking to the mate.
“It’s sheer dam suicide,” said the first officer explosively. “And anyway, the skipper’s wirelessed for a tug.”
Jed’s face darkened.
“To h— with the tug! I’ll get her home myself. Sea’s going down. While you’re restowing the cargo, we’ll pump the for’ard ballast tanks full, lift the stern, then rig a new blade over the side.”
“Yes, and drown half the watch,” said the mate sarcastically.
The chief walked off, received the reports of the second and third, and issued his orders.
“Take a gang, Mr. Connor, and unship a spare blade from the fo’c’sle head— you, fourth, take down the high press bearing. Third an’ I’ll work over the side on the studs. We’ll race you on the job.” The second’s eyes gleamed—with something more than fever. For he was a true engineer, and here was a chance to make marine history.
The chief took two stokers and the fourth, too, leaving Jed to collect every man that could be spared from restowing the cargo; then for three days and nights they labored almost continuously, rigging flood lights over the stern when it was too dark to see.
Tired? Aye, they were tired, but always they carried on. The chief had no sleep — and scarcely any had his men. Rum and tobacco took the place of rest; that, and the indomitable will that was Jed.
As the ballast tanks were pumped full and the stern lifted, the propeller came half out of the water. The engines were turned over slowly till the broken studs were uppermost and a block and tackle rigged.
Then Jed and the third were lowered over the side and the studs drawn out— new ones put in—the spare blade rigged.
Once the huge three-ton casting slipped, and the men on deck above held their breath as it literally shaved the chief by a hairsbreadth. Then miraculously it held in the slings again, and old Jed never even turned his head.
The hours went by—gone without a thought. The third was relieved by the fourth, who had finished the job on the high press bearing, but never old Jed. He would not be. She was his ship.
Twice the second, sick with fever as he was, tried to relieve him as he came up for a quick meal and a tot of rum; but each time the chief brushed him aside.
“Keep the job goin’ above, mister,” he said brusquely, “an’ I’ll manage below.”
Then down he went again, chewing savagely on a plug of black twist.
Time and again waves swept over him, half drowning him, all but washing him from his perilous position behind the rudder post, but still he worked on.
Three days it was before the job was done, and then they had to hoist him over the side like a child. His face was gray with fatigue and his mouth a mere twisted line.
“Set—her goin’, boy,” he muttered thickly.
“Aye, aye, sir,” said the third reverently. Then as old Jed turned with numbed slowness to go for’ard, a black speck was sighted to starboard.
Nearer and nearer it came, traveling at high speed. It was the tug, wirelessed for by the captain. Old Jed was to have his chance, yes, but the safety of the ship must be considered first—and long chances do not always come off.
Jed moved to the side and waited, and the engine-room crew crowded round him. The tug came up—stood by—the skipper bellowed through a megaphone. Two hands on her deck waited by the towing post, ready to draw a hawser aboard . . .
Then bruised and bloody, incredibly dirty and weary, old Jed cupped his hands and sent forth a mighty paean of triumph: “Get to H— out of it, you blasted bunch of scavengers!”
The skipper of the tug roared back a vitriolic reply, but the chief never answered—never even heard. He was fast asleep on the deck.
"pOUR and a half days later, the
Conqueror steamed past Our Lady of Bonsecours and was warped into her berth.
Below, in the engine-room, Old Jed was standing by his engines, sharing the watch with the fourth; and both of them were working with the smooth precision of veterans, obeying the bewildering succession of signals that go to the docking of a ship.
Sharply the telegraph rang. “Half Speed Astern.”
Jed swung back the valve lever and opened the throttle, while the fourth acknowledged the signal, went to the log board, and chalked it up.
“Stop”—“Slow Speed Ahead”—“Half Speed Ahead”—“Stop”—“Half Speed Astern”—“Full Speed Astern”—“Stop.” The clank of machinery died.
“Finished With Engines.”
Jed tightened up the auxiliary valves, the fourth made a final notation on the log board, and the voyage was over.
One after the other the stokers went up the ladder to the fiddley, leaving only one below to keep up steam for the winches. “All right, boy,” said Jed, and after an awkward farewell, the fourth went, too.
Jed was alone—alone with his engines.
Well, he had beaten them. They had done their worst, and he had brought his ship in under steam. But ... he was tired ... he felt . . .
Wearily he leaned on the log desk, his head on his arms. Thank God he could rest at last. For the first time in his life he felt an old man. Thirty-nine years at sea age a man—the heat—the work—the worry—•
Ah, but that was over now. Wasn’t he Super? And hadn’t the Widow Davis promised to marry him as soon as he got his job ashore? He would get the things he had always envied—a home—comfort— perhaps even kiddies. They would bring hack his lost youth. Fifty-five—not
A lone jet of steam hissed suddenly from a loose gland. Not menacing now, but soft—caressing—like the voice of a lover.
Old Jed started up as if he had been struck and glared fiercely at the engines.
“Aye, you can soft soap me now,” he said bitterly. “The devil in you all the trip, an’ now you want me for another. But I won’t come. I’ve done with you. D’ye hear? Done with you. You’d take a man and twist and break him till he’s naught but a living shell. But you won’t with me. I’m Super now, and, by heaven! I’ll make you sweat. I’ve got the whip hand of you now, my fine lady. I’ll have you run till you’re scrap, and never a kick you’ll get back on me !
Softly the steam hissed on . . .
Jed glared defiantly for a moment, then abruptly he buried his head in his hands.
Footsteps roused him, and he straightened up as the superintendent came below.
“Well, Jed, I’ve heard all about it. Shipped a new blade at sea, eh? You’ve set the whole port by the ears.”
“Yeah,” muttered Jed dully, “we shipped a new blade.”
The super put out his hand.
“Shake, Jed. I’m proud to hand over my job to you. I’m a has-been now; but you’ve still got five good years—and you’ll do well.”
Mechanically Jed took the outstretched hand, but he made no reply.
Softly the steam hissed on—gentlecaressing. How gentle and caressing!
Suddenly, old Jed found his voice and his hard face broke like a starred glass.
“Give the job to someone else,” he burst out harshly. “I can’t take it. I—I can’t leave the old woman.”