Harp Harrigan’s Hour
BERTRAND W. SINCLAIR
FOR ONE brief moment Harp Harrigan felt the ice-pack crush his soul, as it might soon crush the ship under him. But that was only a momentary descent into the dark places where the stoutest heart must sometimes go. Harp's soul was not a thing that could lie crushed. Only he had an abiding hatred of the ice-pack closing, sinister, inexorable, on the White Bear. That was all. He shook his list at the ice, defying it as an enemy.
Then he turned to look down at the skipper and the first officer climbing a ladder to the bridge. He didn't need to tell them anything. They could see. At least Harp knew Matt Smith could see. He wasn't so sure about Captain J. VVaghorn Arbuthnot.
Point Barrow was still eight hours ahead. Over the White Bear’s bluff bow, grey-green sea spread a ruffled surface. To port, the Arctic tundra behind a rocky beach; to starboard, the ice a white world, endless miles of it, moving down from the Polar cap on the breath of a frigid wind, under a slate-colored, forlorn sky.
When the ice-pack made contact with that bleak shore it was like the jaws of a monster vise closing, the walls of an abyss coming together. They were shut off from the beach. The ice-pack had been there once and left a fringe of ff(X?s. A southerly wind had driven the pack back. A nor'easter was bringing it down again, this time to stay. The White Bear had lingered too long between Amundsen Gulf and Mackenzie Bay.
Every man aboard knew' that now. Harr) had known it then and said so. to be put in his place by the skipper -who was making his first Arctic voyage, jack Arbuthnot had a reputation on blue water. The Arctic Ocean is the graveyard of reputations. The seal and the walrus, the ice-pack and the Eskimos do not ask for a man’s certification. They judge him by his deeds. Arbuthnot’s first season, and Harp had bucked Arctic ice since he was seventeen bucked it once too often.
“You’re telling me. mister?” Arbuthnot had drawn
himself up when Harp spoke his piece straight from the heart. “I’m in command. I’ve never lost a ship. Pipe down if you value your mate's berth, Mister Harrigan, w'hich you’re lucky to have.”
And Harp had piped down.
They should have rounded Point Barrow while that southerly wind
blew. Now they steamed a losing race. Harp felt it in his bones. He had lost just such a race as that himself off that grim headland. Point Barrow sticks like a thumb into Beaufort Sea. Between that thumb and the cold fingers of the ice-pack many a ship has been pinched. Harp took a last look at the A. B. fingering the spokes, at the stretch of open sea and the endless field of ice. He went down the ladder to the main deck. They would make it or they wouldn’t make it, and if they were caught, what was it to Harp Harrigan? Nothing. He had no responsibility. He was not in command of the ship. He was third mate, something above a bo’sun. The last time Harp rounded Point Barrow as a master he had walked the bridge of the Harp of Tara, proud of himself and his ship, the ship that had given him his name. Now he was a third mate—although Harp had a master’s papers for any sea and any tonnage—and the Harp of Tara was a broken, looted hulk on the North Siberian coast. If the White Bear went the same way. what did it matter to him? But it mattered to Harp. Master, mate, or deck swabber, he loved a ship and he hated the ice, the great white destroyer. It ruined every seaman who bucked it long enough. Man won petty triumphs by luck and daring, but always the ice was lord of those latitudes. OFF WATCH Harp couldn’t rest. I íe ate, smoked a cigarette leaning moodily on the starboard rail, looking at that white continent which seemed immobile but which lx>re steadily south. Point Barrow was hidden in the dusk when I larp climbed to the bridge again. They were all up there Arbuthnot. master mariner. Matt Smith, first officer, the second, Johnny Riggs, Hendry the chief engineer. No routine watches for them'until that
cape and the white enemy lay abaft the beam and anxiety died in their breasts. Jack Arbuthnot glanced at Harp, said nothing. Arbuthnot looked the part of a commander. He loomed half a head above his officers. He had the blue eyes and flaxen hair of a Viking. Harp felt sorry for him, a curious impulse of sympathy as if disaster had already gripped him. A strange feeling to come across his mind, Harp thought. He didn’t like Arbuthnot, nor did the skipper like him. Dark shut down. The wind, chilled by passage across Polar ice and snow, stiffened. The White Bear rolled a little. Spray built a thin coating of ice along her guard. She shivered under full speed ahead, every revolution her engine could turn, wallowing on a compass course, a blind thing in that desolation, her helmsman’s head bent to read the compass by a dim binnacle lamp. Three bells in the second dog watch. Arbuthnot and the chief went below. “She don’t look good to me, Harp,” Matt Smith muttered. “It’s better’n even money we get shut off. His maiden voyage north of seventy degrees is liable to be a record. But not the kind of record he’ll be proud of.” “I spoke my piece,” Harp said. “Why didn’t you put in your oar? He might ’a’ listened to you.” "I did,” Matt Smith grumbled. “Private, in a diplomatic way. Not like you, marin’ out what you thought where half the crew could hear. I le was more polite to me. But he just as good as told me to go chase myself. Harp, till he asked for my advice. This skip|x*r runs on his own schedule.” “So does the ice-pack,” Harp said significantly. "It’s on the knees of the gcxls," Matt Smith murmured. “Time ’ll tell the tale.” It did. And the tale was not a pleasant one. At 2:30 a.m., which is five bells in the graveyard watch, Harp, below decks for a cup of coffee, heard the engine-nxmi gong clang, felt the While Bear shudder as her propeller went full astern. He rost* from the table. A scrajx*, then a bump that staggered him. Then a single bell, and the drum of the engine ceased altogether. The ship lay motionless. When Harrigan put his head above the companion hatch, ahead and astern, to jxjrt and starlxxind, he saw the jxile glimmer of ice. He climbed to the bridge. A voice said in harsh, fretful accents: "Below, Mister Harrigan. You’ll IXJ called if you’re wanted.” Harrigan went down without a word. For a minute he felt glad he was not in the skip|x*r’s lxx)ts. Then the old anxiety him again. The enemy was near at hand and Harrigan’s loyalty was to the ship. Dawn showed the While Bear floating in a patch of open water 300 yards long and scarcely wide enough to turn in, a grey-green blob on a white field that spread to a cloudy horizon. The wind droned in her shrouds like a dirge for a dead ship in a frozen world. Point Barrow lay abeam, dim in the haze. Ironically, two miles over her bow open water showed, maddening to see beyond that barrier of ice. The White Bear’s propeller began to turn. She forged up to the ice, smashed into it, thrust half her length ahead, and stopped, shivering from end to end. Harp, on the foredeck, ran to the bow*, looked over the stemhead. The ship backed the full length of the pond she lay in, and surged ahead once more. Harp Harrigan went up the ladder to the bridge two steps at a time. Matt Smith and Riggs stood by, silent, frowning. Jack Arbuthnot had the helm. “You !" Harp shouted at him. “Do you think this is a Baltic ice-cracker? I )o you want to push her stem back into the cargo hold? Hit that ice twice more an’ she’ll go to the bottom.” ARBUTHNOT turned on Harp, shedding the heavy coat ^ over his uniform. He didn’t speak. His fists spoke for him. Harp Harrigan had fought his way from the fo’cs’le to the bridge, and his best fighting days were behind him. Jack Arbuthnot was fifteen years younger, thirty pounds heavier, wild with a furious anger. He battered Harp the length of the bridge, pinned him against the rail and knocked him down. He had drawn back his boot to kick when his officers stepped in.
in. Continued on page 46
Harp Harrigan’s Hour
Continued from page 15
“Hold everything, skipper,” Matt Smith warned. “There’s a limit to some things. Be yourself.”
Harp hauled himself up by the pipe rail. Blood streamed off his face. Beaten but undismayed, he went on:
“You can smash me but you ain’t smash Polar ice with this ship. She’s a better ship than you are a man, but you got to give her a chance. In your ignorance you’re murderin’ her—an’ us.”
“You would be thinking of your own skin, wouldn't you, Mister Harrigan?” Arbuthnot sneered, once more in command of himself. “Get off here! Stand by on deck for orders.”
Harp sUx)d by. Matt Smith had rung down the engine while they fought. Harp had the satisfaction of seeing Arbuthnot pace the bridge, go into a huddle finally with Smith and Riggs, and ease up to the ice again under a slow bell. He wasn’t ramming full speed any more.
The White Hear gained a couple of hundred yards pushing and twisting. There she faced a solid sheet of ice, of heaven knew what thickness. But it was unyielding as a mass of granite.
Then Harp got his orders, and Riggs. They went out on the ice with the crew and boxes of dynamite. They blasted a channel, yard by yard. They kept blasting till dark, gaining a few hundred feet.
In the night the wind backed against the sun, blew strongly from the southwest. Once more the pack reversed its drift, drawing offshore. Jack Arbuthnot lifted his hands and cursed like a madman. Away toward Point Barrow open water appeared close inshore, a clear sea lane. But the While Bear was locked in her narrow channel and moved north with the movement of the pack, toward the great Polar cap that mothered this frozen field in which they were trai>])ed.
The White Bear's wireless sputtered at intervals. What she sent and what word she received Harp learned from Matt Smith now and then. They were three miles inside the pack, imprisoned like a bullock in his stall. Off in the open water a trading schooner stood by, speaking through the air. A whaler was steaming up. In extremis, they could take off the crew, if the pack crushed the Bear. Otherwise they could do no more than hover in the safety of open water for a time. It was the White Bear’s battle.
Day by day they fought the ice until their resources were exhausted as well as their j bodies, until even the dullest man in the crew knew the White Bear was doomed because her skipper had lingered too long loading a record cargo of furs and walrus ! ivory. Eventually they ceased that futile I struggle. Day by day they watched and ! checked the slow shift of that great ice-field, and watched the frost film over that puddle i in which the Bear floated. Each day they broke it up. By night it hardened over, until at last it shut tight against the ship’s sides and began to pinch her. Winter had set his : teeth.
In that time they had drifted 150 miles I eastward, back to the west, made a little : northing, and now were back in sight of land.
! The pack was solid to the shore, a heaped surface where floes had buckled under pressure. Always when it was clear they could see from the bridge with binoculars blue open water in the southwest. That maddened Ilarp most of all. Out there a ship still lingered, would linger as long as Bering Strait was open, keeping ahead of that slow southern shift of ice, speaking by wireless.
There was always the chance of a minor miracle—a sudden, temporary break-up, a stress in the pack that would split it wide open and let them out a lane to freedom. But although there was sometimes a fearful cracking and grinding, and acres of ice here and there Hung up into enormous hummocks, there was never a way out for the j White Bear.
i And finally the pack began to soueeze the
ship so that ominous cracks and squeaks arose in her wooden hull. She was heavytimbered, built for ice. and when the pressure squeezed her bilges hard enough she heaved sidewise out of her frozen cradle until she lay heeled at a thirty-degree angle.
With that and shortening days, storms beating down from the Pole, Jack Arbuthnot gave up. He seemed to cave in, to accept defeat in a sort of irritable panic. Life was more than a ship or gcx>ds and he had seventeen souls all told under his command. In that month he seemed to have aged ten years. He gave orders to abandon ship.
NONE of the seventeen disputed that order—except Harp Harrigan. He thought of the Harp of Tara, abandoned in far worse case, deserted as a total loss—yet the Harp had lived to float her hull and cargo ashore on the Siberian coast the following spring and be looted by natives. Harp Harrigan knew he would have been walking the bridge of the Harp of Tara yet, if he had stayed with her.
“She’s up and she’ll stay up, skipper,” he said eagerly. “We got grub. There’s seal under the ice. The pack’s set. She’ll ride it. We can winter in her, and in the spring—” Arbuthnot’s face flamed. He lifted a clenched fist.
“Harrigan,” he breathed, “you’ll obey orders and no back talk or I’ll break every bone in your body! I’m in command. You hear me?”
Harrigan heard him. His tongue stilled, but his imagination kept visions before his eyes. When they stood on the pack a little way off, hand-sleds loaded with all they needed to make shore over the ice and traverse that inhospitable beach to be picked up by a ship that lay by to rescue, Harrigan broke out again.
“It’s a crime to quit a staunch ship like that,” he mourned aloud.
Arbuthnot made an incoherent splutter and went for Harp like an angry bull. This time Harp, with a fire of protest burning in his hear^, met and matched his captain at that game. They stood toe to toe and slugged until they reeled from sheer exhaustion within that ring of watching eyes. And Jack Arbuthnot in that breathing space remembered that he was still in command, that it was his task to lead them to a safety he had failed to secure for his ship.
“No more of this.” he said harshly. “I’ll deal with you later, Mister Harrigan. I’ve handled trouble-makers like you before. Move along, men.”
Harrigan knew the programme. Ten miles or less to shore. A few miles to the westward an ex-whaler hovered ahead of the ice-pack. Warned by wireless, she was standing by to pick up the White Bear's crew.
When the frost-rimed hull of the White Bear was a dim speck on that waste of ice. formless in a haze of frost-fog, Harp Harrigan, last man in the procession, bearing a pack on his back, turned in his tracks. Fie stood looking at the White Bear. For a full minute. Then he headed back for his ship.
He was half a mile on his way before they missed him. Arbuthnot sent Matt Smith and a seaman after him. Harp broke into a dog trot. Fie kept his distance ahead. When they came up to the White Bear Harrigan defied them over the icy bulwark, a sealing rille in his hands.
“To blazes with you!” he roared. “I’m stayin’ with her. There’s grub and fuel enough for three winters. Tell that dogbarkin’ navigator to run home an’ suck at his nursin’ bottle. I’ll bring his ship out when the ice breaks up next spring.”
And since they could neither reason with him nor come at him —when they tried that, Harp splintered the ice at their feet with bullets —they turned once more to the south.
Harp watched with his binoculars that line of little black dots creeping toward shore. When they faded from view over the hummock ice he stoked a fire in the galley,
cooked food, smoked a cigarette or two. He was happier than he had been for weeks. The short day faded. Night was a tenuous glimmer. The Aurora fluttered in the sky. Flarp lit a lamp in gimbals and read a magazine, alone in that frigid silence. But he was quite content. Though she lay helpless in an icy bed on a field of ice that might open up under pressure to engulf and crush her. such as she was, Harp Harrigan was master of her for that hour. When he turned into his bunk he slept soundly.
EIGHT MONTHS till spring. Perhaps nine or ten months until that ice pack broke up. When the Long Night shut down he would be like a bear in his den. And what of it? If a man, Harp said to himself, could not endure living by and for himself for a few months he deserved to die. Only, men marooned in the Arctic didn’t die. They went mad. And Harp knew he wouldn’t do that. He could keep busy. He did busy himself making certain preparations against the icy loneliness he must endure.
The routine he followed for a week doesn’t matter. It might have mattered except for something that had lurked always in the back of Harp’s mind as a possibility. He looked for no miracle. But men have bucked the Arctic a lifetime without learning half its vagaries.
Harp turned into his berth one night with a howling gale out of the northeast. He felt it tear at the inert hulk in the night, lifted in his bunk to hear it whistle and drone and rise to a scream in the ice-coated rigging. He fell asleep again, to waken at a sound that made his heart pound, made him leap from his bunk. Even as he drew on his clothes something happened to the White Bear. She shifted a little. He breasted that gale on deck. All around he could hear ominous crackings and groanings, as if the ice gnashed its teeth. The deck beneath his feet was filled with intermittent tremors. Suddenly she seemed to be lifting. As he reached for a stay to steady himself, she straightened back to an even keel with a jerk and a crash. All around the stout wooden hull arose sounds Harp knew of old, grinding, bumping. The cold, still world where he and the White Bear dwelt had become filled with noise and confusion. The pack, set for the winter, had broken up again.
The White Bear floated.
Swinging a lantern overside, Harp went all around the ship. Loose ice all about, pans and floes, grinding and churning. Above these grumbling sounds the roar of a sixtyknot gale tearing with unseen fingers at the uneasy bosom of the Arctic sea.
Harp sounded his bilges. Okay. He kx)ked at his wajeh. Daybreak in three hours. Flarp stoked the galley stove, drank cups of coffee, ate bacon and ship’s biscuit. His eyes glowed. He waited for dawn with the impatience of a lover early at a tryst. The While Bear moved. He could feel her. She was free. The force of the wind shifted her among broken, floating ice.
West of Point Barrow it had happened once or twice to Harp's knowledge that a partial break-up occurred late in the season in the outer fringes of the pack. Lanes of green water opened. Miles of ice broke off and broke up for one last aimless dance before it closed for the winter. It might be —yes, it might be! If it did, he could work her free alone out into Bering Strait. Himself, solus, cook, captain and the whole crew !
In a greying light, with the fury of the wind unabated, Harp saw open water ahead. Fie was drifting southwest in a mass of loose ice that a stout ship under a slowr bell could push her way through.
Harp did a jig step on the frosty deck. His face was cut and bruised, tender still where Jack Arbuthnot’s fists had marked him. For a minute or two he could have sung, or prayed, or even cried; so profound was his emotion. Then he sobered and went down into the engine room, intent upon a
seaman’s business of getting his ship under way.
The White Bear had two pole masts, schooner-rigged. But the power that moved her 400 tons burden was a massive oil engine, a full Diesel. And Harp knew enough about that type of machinery to start the compressor, get his air pressure up, and turn those great pistons till they fired with a slow even beat, whuff—whuff— whuff. He oiled up, adjusted the controls to slow ahead and flew to the steering gear on the bridge.
All the rest of that day Harp was a human Jack-in-the-box, popping down to the engine-room and back up to the bridge. He steered into a blind alley or two. But always he won clear. Mile by mile patches of open water enlarged, lashed by that screaming wind, until at last Harp saw a clear lane open before him. Into that he drove her full speed. In another hour the White Bear rolled in a seaway, yawing, twisting. Harp’s arms ached from lunging on the wheel to avoid chunks of ice as large as his ship.
AS IF IT HAD done its worst or best,
/ \ the gale petered out. But the White Bear forged on, with a lunatic on her bridge. For at sunset Harp could look back at the ice-pack, ahead to a clear sea, with only a few miniature bergs in the foreground, miles apart. It was bitter cold. Harp’s eyes were bloodshot, his arms were weary, but he sang old chanteys in a cracked voice as he swayed to the lurch of his ship running with a dead swell, logging ten knots in open water, a lone mariner on a lone ship in a lonely sea.
His legs were ready to buckle under him by the end of the second dogwatch, but he alternated between bridge and engine-room through the long dark hours. The Bear’s powerful searchlight laid a bright band for a mile before him, picking out like diamonds such bits of ice as lay in his path.
From dawn to dawn, a twenty-four hour trick, he hung over the wheel and nursed his engine. Day showed him a clear sea, land far over the port bow. but neither steam nor sail, fie had put 150 miles between the White Bear and the white enemy.
And his endurance was at an end. He was too exhausted to eat. He set an alarm clock and rolled, all standing, into a bunk, and slept, secure in the sea room he had gained. Tomorrow would be another day.
While Harp slept the swell from that gale rolled itself out. His alarm clock jingled him awake at seven bells in the forenoon watch. For a second Harp sat up dismayed, bewildered by the absence of sound and movement. Then he remembered. A beam of sunshine made a golden shaft through a porthole. Harp stretched himself, smiling.
From the bridge, an hour later, fed and refreshed, he swept the horizon with his binoculars.
Far off to starboard the glass picked out two spars. Harp watched. Presently the spars lengthened, a buff stack came into view, then a deckhouse. A vessel rising up over the curve of the .sea. Harp grunted satisfaction, went below and started his engine, set her three-quarters speed, and returned to the bridge.
Two hours on a converging course brought them together. Harp bore down on the Twyn Gwyn, a trader south-bound from the north Siberian coast. They lay to within hailing distance, with sunset tinting a smooth sea a delicate rose and gold.
Harp Harrigan bellowed through a megaphone:
“Hey, Teal! Got a wireless man you can lend me for an hour or two?”
“Sure. Be right over,” a voice Harp knew well bawled blasphemous jocularities, asked him if he were lost or just going some place, and if he was giving an imitation of the
Flying Dutchman. Harp grinned, watching a boat go smartly overside from the Gwyn. They hauled alongside the White Bear. Ben Teal, master of the Twyn Gwyn, clawed up over the rail. He pumped Harp’s blistered hand.
“How did you do it. Harp?” he asked. “Boy, the air’s been full of the White Bear's troubles for weeks. Last word was she’d been abandoned and the crew south-bound on the John Tuckett. How come you’re out on blue water alone, Harp?”
Harp told him. Teal nodded comprehension.
“You got a break, Harp,” he said. “But you had the guts to take a desperate chance, too. Looka here. Can you carry on with an engineer, a couple of seamen, an’ Sparks?” “Can I?” Harp snorted. “I can steam from here to Callao with four men.”
“I’ll send ’em right over,” Teal said, “an’ we’ll get under way. These ain’t no waters to linger in this time of year.”
"TEAL DREW OFF in his lifeboat. In a I few minutes three of his crew transferred to the White Bear, ditty-bags slung over their shoulders. Harp showed the engineer his quarters and power plant. He put one seaman at the wheel to follow the Twyn Gwyn. He set the other to work in the galley rustling grub. And then he led Sparks to the wireless room.
“Send this,” Harp told the operator.
“Arctic Fur Traders, .
Via Point Grey Wireless Station. “Stayed with While Bear in disobedience of captain’s orders to abandon ship. Gale broke up pack. Got under way single-handed. Cape Lisbume now abeam. Spoke Twyn Gwyn and borrowed engineer, two seamen, wireless operator. Proceeding south in convoy with Gwyn. Wireless your orders.
“When you pick up that Point Grey station,” Harp told Sparks, “say to make their delivery snappy. And stand by for an answer.”
Harp went up on the bridge. Dark was falling. Harrigan checked the compass course the Twyn Gwyn laid for Bering Strait. He went into the chart room to plot a course for the night watches, in case stress of weather or some chance of navigation separated the two ships. Then he entered his log up to date, smiling as he set down the events of the day in the curt phraseology of the sea.
Harp had just relieved the man at the wheel when Sparks came with a message. Harp read it by the dim glow of the binnacle lamp.
“Schooner White Bear,
“Congratulations Harrigan. Company appreciates effort and risk taken. Carry on with Twyn Gwyn. Am wirelessing S. S. John Tuckett to leave White Bear contingent at Dutch Harbor Aleutians. Call that port and pick up crew. Retain command, replacing J. Arbuthnot. Best wishes smooth passage home port. D. Anson Works.”
Harp straightened up to steady the wheel. A mile ahead the stern light of the Twyn Gwyn gleamed like a star of hope. He looked aft over the darkened waters. Back there the white enemy gnashed icy teeth or brooded in frigid silence. He thought of Jack Arbuthnot, a master without a ship, a haughty skipper whose pride had gone before a fall.
"I’m up an’ he’s down.” Harp muttered. “But Lord knows I’m not crowin’ about it. A thing like this only happens to a man once in his lifetime.”