The crew thought Wagner and the sea didn't mix. A stricken ship, an SOS —and the Captain had a chance to show them
TWO HUNDRED miles due west of Lisbon, Portugal, bound for her hailing port, Halifax, Nova Scotia, the freighter Mary Watson slopped along in a heavy following sea, quite at ease among the roiling greybacks and placidly maintaining her nine knots. The wind was freshening and a sea was running, heavy and ponderous. As the lady rolled with the lumpy combers, the needle of the gramophone in the captain’s cabin would sometimes jump a groove in the records and skip a few bars. It was disconcerting, but you got used to it. It was even more disconcerting when a breaking sea shivered the rusty plates of the ship. When this happened, and while the Mary Watson trembled from the unsuspected blow, the needle on the record would jump a good inch. It was very odd to hear Lawrence Tibbett in the middle of “Wotan’s Farewell'’ suddenly become the eerie and wonderful music of the “Magic Fire.” More than this, it ruined the needle and scratched the record. But you couldn’t do anything about it, except not to play, and if you loved music, you could not do that.
Captain John Lowrie could not do it. anyhow. On other days, when the Mary Watson bucked head seas, when each blow went through her nervously so that you felt the impact through your soles, when the needles of the gramophone jumped all over the place, when the galley slave had to lash his pots and pans on the stove to get hot food. Captain Lowrie, undaunted, would risk a precious record and sit back in the more than ample depth of the old black
leather chair. The springs were showing at the bottom of it, and there was usually sawdust around the legs, but it was a good chair to relax in and to listen.
The trip across had not been very pleasant. With the Spanish Wrar dragging on there was of course the remote chance of submarine trouble, but that was not what rode the surface of the captain’s mind. He had become master of the Mary Waison only a bare month before when the former master, Captain Thomas Morrow, had died on dry land from cirrhosis of the liver, the result of his never having performed a normal function without the warming comfort of a bottle of brandy. The ship was strange, the men were strange. He knew there was talk about him being bandied from the cracked paint of the bridge all the way down to the oily darkness of the engine rooms.
“Y’know what he’s doin’ now?” Mr. Bruno was saying to
the quartermaster at that moment, scowling darkly. “He? He?” said Waldo, the quartermaster. “Who’s he?” “The Old Man, y'lubber, the Old Man.” said Mr. Bruno. “You know what he’s doing now? He’s sittin’ in there, in his cabin, listenin’ to music again. A lot of fiddles screamin’ and shriekin’ in an air as indecent as a nude dance. The needle hoppin’ all over the place, and him just sittin’ there with a dreamy look on his red face. He ain’t my idea o’ sailorin’ ! He oughta be at an opera or a concert or the ilk, instead o’ havin’ a ship like Mary workin’ her heart out for him right under his heels!”
The quartermaster nodded guardedly. “He’s the captain and I take my orders from him,” he said, “but he’s a queer one. I’ve sailed under all kinds and never met his like before.”
“Mind the course,” Mr. Bruno said, pleased that he had an opening. “And as for Mister Lowrie, he’s more than a queer one. He ain’t said a dozen words since he boarded the ship. He comes up for navigation, he comes up for weather, he comes up for inspection and then he goes down and plays music. He plays that music all the time. He don’t take his meals with us. I íe don’t even drink. There’s somethin’ wrong with a man who don’t drink.”
"Of course,” said the quartermaster impudently, “you were set to dislike him from the moment you saw him.” Mr. Bruno’s heavy face, filled with multiple lines from weather and vain thought, grew heavier, “Eh, Waldo? How’s that?”
“You and Captain Morrow was as close as two peas in a pod. And you kind of hoped you’d get the ship yourself.” “ ’Tain’t jealousy,” Mr. Bruno said in a hurt voice. “Even Mr. McNulty will agree the captain is a queer one.”
MR. McNULTY was the ship’s engineer, a Scotsman (all engineers are Scotsmen) who fondled his machinery in the black hole of Calcutta as if it lived and moved and had being. What Bruno had said was quite true. “Ye say the mon plays music?” McNulty had replied when Bruno spoke with him. "What kind?”
“Wagner,” Bruno replied. “I seen the records, engineer, and everything is Wagner.”
“Wagner!” said McNulty. Mustache jumping like a grasshopper, he spit in the coal bunkers. “Me, laddy, I’m a Beethoven man maself. Wagner! Cheap horrns tootin’ offstage, wi’ lots o’ sounds in th’ cellarr heavy as steam coal and as dull. Wagner indeed ! All Wagner ! The mon is daft!” He spat again. “That overturre to the ‘Flyin’ Dutchman’—agh! Tubas and tinsel—stormy music intended to impress but not meant to be remembered. Why, mon, I’d take Mozart beforre Wagner, and Mozart is one I dinna ken wi’ strrange intensity. The mon is daft!”
And up in the radio shack, young Sparks, who thought of nothing but radio and the sea, fell right in with Bruno. “Understand,” he said importantly, because he felt his weight a good deal, “I’m not one to tear a man down. But if you’re going to play music, hire an orchestra. And if you’re going to run a ship, be to your business and run the ship. I never took a weather report to his cabin but what he had something on, something noisy and full of screeching. Mind you, Mister Bruno, music is all right, if you like it, but I don’t go for that heavy stuff. Give me a fling of swihg for an evening ashore. That’s all right with me. But board ship, I don’t see it, and there’s something funny about a man who does.”
“I was thinking,” Bruno said, “that maybe we ought to petition the owners that the crew and captain ain’t at peace with each other and maybe it'd be wiser to replace the captain with a man more suitable to the crew, a man who knows the ship and is willing to stay with her.”
“Aha,” Sjiarks grinned. "Thinking of yourself, Bruno? You aren’t thinking maybe the owners would give the Mary Watson to you?”
“And if they did,” Bruno countered, "could you find a better man?”
“You’d do,” Sparks admitted. “I have to say. you’d do.”
TWO HUNDRED miles west of Lisbon, and the night came down. The wind had freshened and the seas had risen. There was a sharp swell running. But the Mary Watson was a steady ship. She seldom complained. She was old, and she knew the sea, and she handled its foibles with stubborn «alm. Her roll was short and shgrp, as a good roll should be. She did not hang off her axis for long breath-taking spells. In a following sea, such as she had. she was easy to handle ; the helmsman just held her on. 11er bow was blunt, strong and buoyant, and her stern always lifted nicely; there never had been a sea to break over her coaming and twist her stanchions there.
At eight-thirty p.m., G.M.T., Mr. Bruno stepped out on deck for a breath of fresh air. 1 íe had a s .u ’wester wrapped around him, and the wind beat the oilskins between his legs. The wind was held strong, and in the sea there were strange blue bursts of fire, and great exploding sounds when the troughs buffeted the jx>rt quarter. It was a beautiful night, translucent and sharp, with great clouds running frightened, streaked with moonlight. Mr. Bruno felt the easy fore and aft motion of the freighter and inhaled deeply.
1 íe turned and w alked along the deck. As he neared the captain's quarters, he heard music and w hen he was abreast the door, he stop(>ed. The stirring crescendo of a full symphonic orchestra, a sound which can be so strong as to overpower one. Bruno stepped to the window and lcx)ked in. He saw the old gramophone playing a well-worn twelve incher, and the needle held the grooves remarkably well despite the motion of the freighter. In the leather chair sat Captain Lowrie. His head was back and his eyes were closed, his rugged face at peace; he might have been asleep except that his lips moved faintly and his lingers beat a tattoo on the arms of the chair in rhythm with the music.
“Wagner indeed,” Bruno said, remembering McNulty’s words and feeling very superior. He could not see the Valkyries riding into the horizon in full armor w ith Brunnehilde shouting her battle cry. He only saw the tired face of an elderly man, half asleep. “Pah!” he said finally, and went to chat with Sparks.
But Sparks was not in a chatting mood. When Mr. Bruno went in, he could tell by the tautness of Sparks’ face that something was wrong. The light over the transmitter had a yellowish bulb, but Sparks was dead white despite the xanthic glow. He leaned over the transmitter, the earphones on his head, and his lips moved faintly above the high vague whine of the receiver and the dit-dit-da of the incoming call. Bruno stirred, and Sparks heard him. “S O S !” he said out of the side of his mouth, biting out the words. “Call up the Old Man!”
SOS! Mr. Bruno stumbled out onto deck again and ran for the captain’s cabin. There it was for you, he thought.
A C Q. and S O S., and him in there listening to music. And Wagner! He burst in and could not resist saying, “Sorry to be interruptin’ the concert, captain, but Sparks has raised a distress signal.”
“Aye,” Captain Lowrie said faintly. He rose slowly and took the needle off the record and stopped the turntable. He put on his coat and they went back to the radio shack. Sparks, whiter now, handed the Old Man the message. “Torpedoed by unknown submarine—sinking fast— S O S.—S O S.— S.S. Valhalla CEES sinking—”
“Give me more,” said Captain Lowrie quietly. “Tell him we’re standing by and to send his position.”
“His signals are faint,” Sparks said. “Very faint. I’ll send.”
His hand worked the key w'ith wondrous dexterity, and then there was silence while he listened. Captain Lowrie came over to see what he transcribed. “Position—LONG— xx3s—”
They waited in a deathly silence. Sparks looked up. There isn’t any more. It was in his eyes. There isn’t any more. “I can’t raise them. sir. I can’t hear him any more.” “Get me his position,” Captain Lowrie said in a low unhurried voice.
Sparks tried. His face was studded with sweat. Bruno passed his hand over his own face and found it wet and felt his hand trembling. Only the Old Man seemed calm. No sound at all; except the high whine. They waited. Sparks finally looked up and shook his head. “They’ve gone,” he said. “I can’t raise them.” His voice was fiat.
“They might be afloat.” said Captain Lowrie. “Maybe power has failed. His position was garbled. Who’s north of us?”
“The S.S. Tivia out of Liverpool, sir.”
“S.S. Andorra Star at the Azores.”
“Yes, sir. A freighter. The Conch Queen for New York.”
The air in the shack was close.
Captain Lowrie said, “Well,
Brqno. Here’s your ch: nee.
You want to be captain of this ship, don’t you? Speak up, man, you know it’s been on your mind.
You thinking this was your ship and you the man to run her.
Well, let’s see the make o’ seaman you are, Mister Bruno.
Yonder there’s a packet in distress. Go and rescue her.”
BRUNO wet his lips and felt his face burn. “Beggin’ your pardon, captain—”
“Don’t stammer. Here’s your chance. I’ll bargain with you. Find her, save her, and the ship is yours. I'll turn in my ticket and recommend you for the berth.” Captain Lowrie’s voice was quiet and serious.
“She didn’t give no position, sir,” said Bruno.
“But you’re a seaman—a captain. You’ve got to do the best you can without a position. You’ve got to use dead reckoning!”
“Lor’, captain, you can’t find a ship without a position. This is a mighty big ocean, captain.” “I said to use dead reckoning. Dead reckoning, man. It’s a thing you’ve heard of on the seas, haven’t you?”
“Aye, sir. I’ve heard of it and seen it and practiced it! But there’s a difference between dead reckonin’ and divinin’, and you’re askin’ for a prophet. I’m a sailor, sir, but there’s a time when dead reckonin’ will avail you little. A sailor can find his jxjsition by dead reckonin’ and he can sail his ship to port by dead reckonin’. It allows a lee of way. But mind you, sir, that ain't pickin’ out a spot in the Atlantic Ocean, a mite of a spot, sir, to find where a ship went down. I say it can’t be done, I say there’s no point in doing it. and it’s my belief that we should stop the foolish try, sir, and be on our course for home.”
“Ah.” said Captain Lowrie. “You say that, eh? And you’ve never been down in the seas,
have you, man? You’ve never been down on the running swell in a cockleshell of a lifeboat, or mayhap you’ve never tossed in a frowsy wind-whipped crest with a life preserver, and you hoping it would keep you afloat. Have you ever been aboard a doomed ship, Mr. Bruno?”
“No,” Bruno said sullenly. “No, I ain’t sir.”
“I was mate of the Inverra, mister, when she sank off the Virginia Capes seven years ago,” said Captain Lowrie in a quiet voice. “A gale that was, with the wind playing the voices of the Valkyrie, and the seas the roaring thunder of Donmer, and the groaning ship like the burdened Nibelungs of Wagner. A sharp list, growing all the time, and she foundered in a white hell of sea and wind, and I, with the others, to float in the sea on a preserver for eighteen hours before the hulk of a ship came through the sky to find us. Y’see, mister, I know what is in the hearts of those poor1 damned souls out there. I know what they’re feeling, how they’re dying over and over again, and I mean to stop it !” Bruno blustered, “Ain’t a livin’ man can find a ship with no position. She’s sunk, she’s gone down now maybe. The chances—”
“All right,” Lowrie said. “Sparks—you radio the Tivia and ask if she got the position or the SOS.”
Sparks called out the Tivia to the north and talked with her. “Sorry, old man,” replied the Tivia, “we heard no distress call at her. Are you certain?”
“Don’t bother with him,” Captain Lowrie said. “Call Lisbon. Maybe they heard. Maybe we can locate her by cross bearings on land stations.”
But it was no good. “Lisbon reports no signals, sir.” Sparks called out the Azores. “Heard S O S. from S.S. Valhalla, ship torpedoed by unknown sub, position unknown, did you hear signals?”
“Heard signals,” the Azores replied. “Very faintly. Position garbled. Standing by, Mary Watson. Keep air clear for possible call.”
“Sorry we can’t oblige,” Captain Lowrie murmured. “All right, Sparks. The Conch Queen. Ask her what she heard. Bruno, you tell Mr. McNulty I want everything he can shake out of this ship. Forced draft and don’t stop for a burned-out bearing.”
Bruno stared. “What for, sir? Where are we going?” “Hold your present course,” the captain replied. “And tell McNulty to give me speed. Look alive, sir! Don’t stand and gape. Mind the orders!”
“The Conch Queen heard her,” Sparks said. “Strong signals. But no position. She’s waiting for another call.” “All right,” said Captain Lowrie. “That’s enough. In the name of heaven, Bruno, will you tell McNulty to give me speed?” ■*
“Aye. sir,” Bruno said, grim, and went out. A few minutes later, when he saw McNulty, he roared, “He’s gone crazy as a bat. Forced draft he wants and no position to speed to!”
“The mon is daft, 1 tell ye,” McNulty replied. “Any mon wi’ a prreferrence for Wagner is a loon, I dinnae doot it! Speed he wants and speed I wi’ give him. We’ll get home so much the quickerr, and not me to answer to the owners for th’ waste o’ fuel.”
TN THE radio shack, Captain Lowrie sat down with the charts of the area. He plotted the Tivia's position, the Conch Queen's position and the Azores station. “It would be a help,” he said, “if you could raise another ship to the west. Sparks.”
“I’ll try, sir.” Sparks called the Azores again and asked
them if they had been in communication with any other ship west of them. The reply was good. There was an I talian passenger liner, the Conte diFerrara, on the southern “lido” route for Gibraltar. Sparks called the Conte and asked if she had heard the signals. “Strong signals,” she replied. “But no position. Clear air for general call in case it comes. Believe ship has foundered with all hands.”
“Your own position, please,” Sparks said. And when it came back. Captain Lowrie plotted the Conte on the charts too. “That’s enough, Sparks. Just keep trying to reach the Valhalla."
Sparks said frankly, “I’m afraid she’s gone, sir.”
“That may be. But she had men on her and lifeboats, and those men haven’t a mind to drift forever in the Atlantic. Now look here: The Azores had faint signals. The Tina, north, had none. We, east, had faint signals. But the Conte and the Conch Queen had strong signals. One west and one southwest—I’ll triangulate that. Those two ships are five hundred miles apart. I ’ll put the Valhalla in the middle of them. But that would be close enough for the Tina to have heard them, presuming a 500-mile range. So on the same straight line between those two, the Conte and the Conch Queen, I’ll push the Valhalla farther west, to put her away from the Tivia's range. About there.” He made a triangle. “She’s in there.”
“But that’s all theory, sir,” Sparks said. “That triangle is fifty miles from point to point. Where in fifty miles is she? Do you realize how many square feet that is to search? And if she’s gone—”
“Aye. It’s a broad field,” Captain Lowrie said. He looked up as Bruno came back. “Change of course, mister,” he said. “Five points southwest and full speed ahead. Hold her on, nothing off.”
“Aye, sir,” Bruno said. And in the deckhouse, with the quartermaster. "Y’our course is two hundred ten true, quartermaster. The old man is gone crazy as a stuck pig, but there’s the course and mind it sharp. It’s an S O S. and we ain’t got the position, but this captain, he’s a diviner, and he can divine where she is.”
Waldo shrugged. “Dead reckoning. It’s been done before.”
"Reckoning? Divining!” Bruno stomped out.
Captain Lowrie. meanwhile, had procured Sparks’ code book and looked up CEES. It checked. “She’s the S.S. Valhalla, Cartagena, all right. Call Lisbon and ask them to check on her for you.”
Twenty minutes later, the receiver began to chatter, and Sparks translated into long hand furiously. When the burping ceased, leaving only the ubiquitous sound of the generator, there was quite a message. “S.S. Valhalla sailed Thursday, May 3, from Bilbao for Rio de Janeiro. Speed possible ten to fifteen knots. Cargo of iron ores.”
“Better yet!” Captain Lowrie said with enthusiasm. “If she left last Thursday, let’s presume an average of twelve knots. She wouldn’t run top, and we’ve had heavy seas since the blow on Saturday when we cleared Lisbon. That would give her a day’s run like this. And by adding the days, would put her about here.” He looked up. “Sparks,” he said, “she’s in the triangle.”
“Y’es, sir, but by guesswork. We’ve no assurance.” “Look, Sparks. She leaves Bilbao, no stops. She comes around the Bay of Biscay, eight miles off-shore, skirts the tip of Portugal, and then sets her compass course for Rio, along the southern route. It’s a steamship lane, and she ain’t going wandering. She ain’t afraid of subs. She sticks in the sea lanes with the other ships because she figures that’s quickest. And that, by her average day’s run, puts her here.” He stabbed with a pencil. “A mite closer to us than we planned, and all the better for that, but still in the same triangle I drew before. We’d have found her sooner than we thought. Mr. Bruno is a fool. If she’d been able to tie down her key when they abandoned ship, we could've gone right to her with the radio direction finder. Mister, there’s several ways of finding ships when they haven’t any position. I'll be in my cabin if you want me. We won't come upon them until dawn.”
He left and went back to his gramophone, and soon, as he went by, Mr. Bruno heard the music smashing again, the “Ride of the Valkyries” once more. Bruno grunted and went to the shack.
“The confidence of him.” Sparks said in awe. "We pick her up at dawn tomorrow, he says, just like that, and believing it. All guesswork, no position, and we pick her up. That’s all there is to it. As if nothing could go wrong, as if his calculations were right to the mile.”
“I'll bet him this ship we don’t find her !” Bruno growled. “Picking her out of a sea like this without degrees. A needle in a haystack, that’s what she'll be, and him just shinin’ to show off because he knows we’re on to him. I’ve got to see him.”
HE KNOCKED at the cabin door and went in. “Sit down, mister,” said Captain Lowrie.
Bruno squatted on a chair as though it had tacks on it. “Sir,” he said, “we’re wastin’ coal and time, and the owners ain't goin’ to like it. An S O S. is an S O S., but we’re not Ixjund to assist if there’s no position.”
"But there is a position.” Captain Lowrie replied absently, his ears keyed to the music. “Listen, man, listen here to the tremolo of the violins; you’ll never hear the like of it elsewhere, including Beethoven—”
“Mister Bruno. I want the searchlight ready for action by dawn and the boats on the portside made ready. We’ll make a lee for the starboard when we find them. Have the ladder ready and a line to shoot if need be, which I doubt. What did McNulty say?”
“McNulty said, beggin’ your pardon, sir. that you’re crazy.”
"He would. Liking Beethoven and disliking anything else. Beethoven, mister, is overrated. He did fine in his ‘Fifth’ and his ‘Seventh’ but you should hear his overtures ! Pah! Do you know what this is?”
“Wagner!” said Bruno, making a face.
“Aha. McNulty told you, eh?”
“I knew it myself.”
“Come now. mister, did you? No. McNulty told you. It’s ‘Die Walkure.’ and the gods are riding in full armor to save Valhalla, their home in the heavens. It's as if we were the Valkyries riding across the ribbed sea to save the Valhalla, foundering off there somewhere. Yes. man. this ship shouldn’t be named Mary Watson. She should be named Prunnehilde! Listen, man, listen! Only in Brahms’ ‘First’ can you hear the horns like that.”
Mr. Bruno rose wearily. “Your permission to leave, sir.” “Aye.” said Captain Lowrie with a faint smile, “and orders for a change of course.”
“Y'es, sir?” Bruno said eagerly.
“Figure the wind drift from time of the distress call up to our final position as we go. The Valhalla, or even her boats, will be blown in these winds. Figure the drift for nine hours, which is when we'll reach the spot where the call went out, and change course to comf>ensate the error. It might be only a little, but it might work into five or ten miles, and we could miss them.”
Bruno’s face dropped. “Aye, sir,” he said and went out wearily, thinking what a mad world the freighter had become.
AT THREE in the morning, Captain ■ Lowrie appeared on the bridge. The second mate, Mr. Franklin, was standing the watch, but Mr. Bruno stood by too. Mirano, a hand, was at the helm. Nothing was said. The lights of the bridge were dark, with just enough glow behind the dials to illumine the compass and other instruments. It was quiet, so quiet that the wind seemed to roar past the comers of the wing tips of the bridge, so dark that the sea and night beyond them was much brighter than where they stood. The moon had gone, but the air was crystal clear and visibility was unlimited. The seas had grown with the wind and were breaking here and there, staccato bursts of rushing sound in the night.
Captain Lowrie said suddenly, “I'm afraid we won’t find anything.”
Bruno grunted. He knew they wouldn’t find anything, but it surprised him for a moment to hear Lowrie say so. He pondered it. The second mate said to Mirano, “How does she go?”
“She goes well, sir,” said Mirano. “This lady always did like a high following sea. She never broached one yet.”
Deep silence again, while the men stood, arms locked behind their backs, peering into the dark, swaying to and fro with the motion of the freighter.
“I’m afraid we won’t find anything,” Captain Lowrie said. “If the seas had stayed down, we would have, but they’re running too heavy and hard for men to live in them. The good book says the vessel’s tonnage was only two thousand, and she was old. Her lifeboats were not the most modem, I imagine. Too bad.”
Bruno squirmed and looked smug. Welshing. The old boy was welshing on his grandiose statements and absurd plotting of the chart. Backtracking now because they were close to the theoretical position. Oh, Captain Lowrie, you’ll hear about it; the owners will tell you plenty about it, and the whole crew to say how crazy you were. You sense backtracking now because you're caught right and you know it.
"A shame,”Captain Lowrie ruminated. “We would have saved them if the seas had quieted. But the wind goes harder and the seas rougher, and I doubt that any boats survive. There’ll be no live men when we arrive.”
Later they took star shots and Mr. Bruno plotted their position on the charts. When he had finished, Bruno said smugly, “Well, captain, it puts us twenty miles or so from your calculations.”
"And what of yours, mister?” Captain Lowrie asked.
“I corrected course,” Bruno replied. “The drift was about twenty-five miles. I compensated, sir. And we are arriving at the compensated position.”
Mr. McNulty came in. It was seldom the bridge men saw him. He never came
that far topside, only his voice through the speaking tube. But here he was. “Captain, sor,” he panted, “must we keep wi’ this extrremc speed, sor? Ma shafts do a fling like a hi'lan’ jig when th’ serrew surrfaces on the forre thrust, captain. The speed is shakin’ the life out o’ her,and wi’ these fearrful seas it dinna do her good to rrun so, sor.”
“Maintain full speed,” Captain Lowrie said. "There may be some alive. We can’t tell until we see.”
“Aye, sor,” McNulty said, looking chagrined. And he went out muttering, “Wagner, indeed!" under his mustache. “Some o’ them alive no doot, but where?” At quarter of four, Lowrie ordered Bruno to the searchlight. He telegraphed to the engine room. Dead slow. “This is it, sir,” said Franklin, the second mate. “This is your calculated position of the sinking.” “Not of the sinking, mister, of the survivors,” Captain Lowrie said. “The searchlight, Mr. Bruno. Play it around in an arc and all hands keep your ears awake for sounds.”
The sea was empty. Devoid of life and even death. Just the long solid lines of frowsy rolling combers, the scud, the flying clouds, and the contralto moan of the wind. Bruno swung the searchlight, smiling smugly from ear to ear.
“See anything, men?”
“Keep on dead slow,” Captain Lowrie said. “Helmsman. Make an arc and as we go, keep circling broad and broader until orders change. Play that light, Mr. Bruno, and look alive! Mr. Franklin—all hands on deck and keep a weather eye peeled for survivors.”
HALF HOUR passed. The hands *■ down on the well deck muttered in the cold and threw poisonous glances up at the bridge above them. Mr. Bruno’s hands were cold and he was getting tired of the game, but he’d hang on to the bitter end, all the better to make a fool of the Old Man. He’ll eat bitter crow, Bruno thought. By Harry, he’ll eat crow.
“I don’t think we’ll find anything,” Captain Lowrie said at last. “I was afraid of these seas, and I think they’ve done their work.”
The men stared at him and looked their contempt. Mr. Bruno chuckled at last. He kept playing the light, but it was an automatic action at best. His hands were very cold. Without warning, there was a bellow from the well deck. “Ahoy!” “Hold the light!” snapped Captain Lowrie. He stepped outside. “Aye?”
“I saw a lifeboat—” came the cry from one of the crew in the well deck. “Three points abaft the port beam. Hold the light on her!”
“Swing that light, Mr. Bruno!”
The pencil of light picked its way across the pocked sea. Three points abaft the port beam, and suddenly a flash of white came into its range. Bright white and too much of it.
A lifeboat, overturned, its keel riding up easily in the swells, its white paint shiny with the wet of the sea.
“Approach dead slow, helmsman,” said Captain Lowrie. “Mr. Franklin, grapple irons for the crew, but no man to risk his life in the taking of her with these seas.” “Dangerous to try and pull it aboard, sir,” Franklin said.
“Aye, it is that. We’ll not try. Come in close on her, helmsman, and hold the light, Bruno.”
They were twenty-five yards off. On her bow, upside down, they could all see it suddenly, in clear black letters against the shiny white paint. V ALHALLA “No one clinging to her,” said Captain Lowrie. "Ah well, it’s as I feared. These seas—helmsman, come about. Circle the area. Eyes peeled for floating men!”
After an hour they knew it was hopeless. The sea gave up no more than the single lifeboat. It grew colder and the night was slowly dying. “Ah well,” said Captain Lowrie, “it’s as I feared. Helmsman, come about. The course is due northwest, nothing off! Mr. Franklin, half speed on the telegraph. Mr. Bruno, douse the light.” Mr. Bruno turned off the light and came over. “Captain, sir—”
But Bruno couldn’t speak.
“Tum in, mister,” said the captain. “We all need a wink of sleep after this night. And tell Sparks to radio Lisbon we’re abandoning the search. It’s probable she sank with all hands. Good night.” He went out.
Bruno went down to the radio shack and told Sparks. Then he went down and told McNulty, but McNulty already knew. The captain had telephoned down and thanked him for his efforts and praised him for his handling of the engine.
Bruno could not sleep. He went back to the radio shack. Under his heels he could feel the Mary Watson bite in steadily and without strain now as she took her course for the northwest and Halifax. He sat in a chair and tipped it back and watched Sparks send. He began to whistle.
Sparks said. “What are you whistling? It has a fine swing.”
“That,” Bruno said warmly, “is the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ by Mister Wagner, and I tell you. Sparks, you won’t find horns like the horns in it anywhere, except maybe in Brahms’ ‘First.’ ”
Down in the engine room, Mr. McNulty was telling his assistant, Mr. MacAdoo, “When I sail in a ship, I like to sail wi’ a man who knows the seas he sails upon, and Mac, he’s a one for that, and a one after ma hearrt. Perrsonally, I’m a Beethoven mon, but if ye can overrlook that ‘Flyin’ Dutchman’ overrture, which is not good to ma thinkin’, it is a fact, Mac, that the Venusberrg music o’ ‘Tannhäuser’ is verra verra fine indeed, and that Misterr Wagner mayhap bearrs a betterr look than I ’ve had a mind t’ give ’im in th’ past.” Captain Lowrie did not sleep at once. He played himself some excerpts from Götterdämmerung, the “Twilight of the Gods,” and dropped off remembering that the gods, for all their efforts, were not able to save Valhalla from destruction. The themes were still unfolding when he fell asleep, and after awhile, the motor ran down and the disc stopped revolving, as the cold and sunless dawn came up out of the sea behind them, in the east.