The Captain's Skipper
MARTHA BANNING THOMAS
A gripping tale of fog on Fundy and a girl who lost her heart to a sailorman she should have hated
THE GREY GULL rode high—higher than she’d ever be likely to ride again. Overhanging tree branches scratched her cabin roof. And higher yet, by the wheel, stood a girl, looking uncommonly cool and resolute. She was dressed in dark blue, and wore a tiny scarlet cap on her blowing curls.
The Grey Gull was to be launched at Anchorville. She was a cabin motor launch, long and narrow, and with a sharp bow for cutting through Fundy tides. She had been built in an orchard two miles from the village, where apple-tree boughs waved over her as ringing mallets drove the caulking hard into her seams. Now the launch was being hauled along the road on rollers by three pair of magnificent black oxen. Whips cracked, men yelled. Women held their breaths. "Mom, mom,” a child persisted shrilly, "why is that lady histed way up there?” Another voice answered, "Because her name’s Skipper, sonny, an’ she happens to be Cap’n JonasJawn’s daughter, the seagoingest girl at Anchorville, and her pop built the boat.” Then someone wanted to know if the cap’n himself would be on hand. "He’s waiting at the post office. Plenty men here to manage.”
"Yah, plenty men, and Skipper.” Somebody laughed.
"Gosh-a-Mighty, don’t she look handsome! Make some fisherman a danged good wife. Bet a haddock she’ll run the launch herself.”
"Why, sure! She’ll take her pop out to the merchantmen. Jonas-Jawn is piloting in more boats now that he’s home again.” The voice lowered. "See here, did the cap’n give up his command or was he let go?”
"Some says one thing, some another. However it is, it must grind on him terrible. He’s near as fond of that old Smoky Joe as he is of his wife, Amanda. He’s the best pilot and cap’n round these parts, too. Something uncanny about him. Knows exactly where everything is, night or day, and in fogs so thick you can hack chunks out of ’em!”
"Now you’re talking! Why, I remember one time in fog . . .”
Meanwhile, among the cluster of houses huddled high above the Anchorville fish wharves, people waited expectantly. Soon a howling commotion of dust, noise and glory announced the advance of the cavalcade. Nothing had been seen for years to match it.
Far below, in the tiny harbor formed by two long
breakwaters, dories churned dark water into white. An hour still lacked before high tide. The Grey Gull would be launched on the slack.
A crowd waited at the top of the steep road leading down to the wharves. Here the boat would have to turn to take the hazards of the sudden pitch to the shore. A stranger stood among the people, and Old Mat jerked a thumb in his direction. "Likely looking lad,” he mumbled to a companion. "Seems to me I seen him before somewheres.” He frowned in concentration. "I think that feller used to be master of a big salt banker. Young, but smart. Now and again he’d come to Dorbin to sell fish. Seems like he and Jonas-Jawn had business dealings before the war.” Old Mat spat into the road. "Now I got it! Someone was telling me he’s just out of the Navy.”
The Grey Gull entered the village and pulled up at the post office. Skipper’s hair, of that enchanting color and texture which shimmers between gold and silver, rippled up around her cap. Somebody cheered as Captain Jonas-Jawn emerged from the crowd. He was tall and lean, and moved with deceptive moderation. Now he roared up at his daughter: "You going to ride ’er all the way down the hill, girl?”
"Of course, pop! This may be her roughest passage.”
A short laugh came from the stranger, and at
that instant the girl’s cap shook free, sailing through the air like a poppy petal to settle on the young man’s shoulder. With amazing speed he reached the Grey Gull and nimbly climbed aboard, to stand beside the astonished girl.
"Here’s your cap, miss,” he said.
Skipper blushed a rich flowing red. “Thank you,” she replied.
The stranger had keen eyes, a firm mouth and was extremely self-assured. The girl began to feel a little silly. People were watching and smiling. When Skipper felt silly she grew furious. Now she thrust her own blue glance deep into the teasing eyes of the stranger. "Thank you again, a lot. If you’ll just go away now,” she suggested rudely, "we’ll get on with the launching.”
The caller remained entirely composed. "My name is Sandy Corkum,” he said.
Skipper suffered a pang of recognition; in this man lay a vitality and purpose to match her own. She did not return his smile—the bright, fierce antagonism which had flared in her wouldn’t let her.
Captain Jonas-Jawn came forward and glanced up questioningly at the little tableau aboard the Grey Gull. Then all who watched saw his features settle into a bleak mask. He had the reputation for being a genial man, but now he became fearsomely polite.
"Cap’n Corkum, this is my daughter, Skipper. She’ll run the launch for me while I’m piloting this winter.” Anchorville hospitality demanded more than an introduction. “I’d be pleased,” he said gruffly, "if you’d come home to dinner when the launching’s over.”
Skipper’s lovely careless hair tossed about her face. She would not add the weight of one word’s encouragemen t.
Sandy Corkum grinned, an ingratiating flash of white teeth in a wide mouth. "Thanks, Cap’n, but I have to be in Dorbin for dinner.” Then, swiftly, easily he was down on the road again.
LATER, when the Grey Gull floated sweetly at J her moorings, Skipper and her father walked the hilly road home. Casually Skipper asked her father if he had seen Cap’n Corkum before.
"Well, yes, in a way. He used to sail in here to sell fish at Dorbin.”
"Where does he hail from? Did he captain his own vessel?”
Her father smiled down at her. "Raised a little interest, ain’t he?” he said. "Yes, he had his own vessel, but he sold ’er when he went into the Navy. Hails from the South Shore. He don’t know these parts any too well—only come in a few times, in fine weather.” Jonas-Jawn looked off to sea. "The wind is making up a mite to the west’ard. Likely a good day tomorrow.”
Their feet sounded hollow on the board bridge above Big Brook. Skipper flashed an anxious side glance at her father. A new urgency seemed to drive him, had been driving him for weeks now. She recalled his pressure on the ship’s carpenters. “Git t’ goin’, men! Weather may break soon. Skipper can make the caulking hammer ring better’n you. Lay into it—we ain’t got much time.”
She said quietly: "The Smoky Joe in dry dock still?”
"Yes, I reckon . . His voice trailed off.
“When you going across the Bay to pick her up?” He looked straight ahead. “Ain’t you heard any of the rumors going round?”
Skipper was stung with a flick of fright. She said nothing.
"Been meaning to tell you. Kind of slipped my mind. Ain’t going.”
Now she saw through him. He’d not dared to ted her!
Her father coughed apologetically. “I give up my command. Young Corkum is cap’n. All fair enough.”
Color drained from Skipper’s cheeks, ihen returned in a bright stain. Wasn’t her father well? Or . . . had young Corkum weaseled the command away from him?
The thought brought a sudden tightness in her chest. But she said, with a fair facsimile of relief in her voice, “I’m glad you’ve given up the Smoky Joe, pop. It’ll mean you’ll be home more now.”
Jonas-Jawn gave her a slow smile. Skipper knew when to stop asking questions; she did not squawk and squeal like other girls.
“We can have a good dose of piloting together, pop.”
' “Yes, yes, that’s it. You and me is chums.” He spoke softly.
Chums, in Anchorville, means having a partner in a dory and in danger. It is a word not used casually.
Amanda, a fine housekeeper, a devoted wife and mother, understood nothing of her husband’s and daughter’s interests.
She was a thorough worrier, also. Besides, Amanda was ailing. She did not complain, but Skipper, who loved her with an almost maternal intensity, watched her grow thinner, more tired as the months passed.
After exertion she was a little short of breath.
One evening soon after the boat launching, Skipper and her father indulged in one of their sparsely worded conversations with more silence than sentences in it. At the end each comprehended that Amanda should be spared fatigue as much as possible. And so, imperceptibly, the homely, half-revealed tangles of daily affairs drew into tightening knots of difficulties.
Jonas-Jawn had been at some pains to conceal the nature of a certain excursion which was concluded by “papers being passed.” Not even to Skipper had he told all the truth. It all linked up with something which had happened a few years ago, when Amanda had pushed a pet plan into fulfillment. “It’s all right,” she’d said, “for a girl to know how to caulk seams in a boat, and read a sea chart same as a novel, but I want my daughter to be acquainted with other business, just in case . . .”
“In case of what, Amanda?”
Her husband had been gravely attentive.
“In case she won’t always live in a godforsaken fishing village where life grinds down on you from the time you walk until others walk with you . . . to your grave!”
Her unfamiliar look of grey despair shocked him. “Why,
Amanda, of course! Skipper shall do anything you like, if you feel that way!”
So the girl had gone away for a secretarial course in a city.
She’d proved adequate, but came home afterward, glad to take up life where she’d left it.
Her mother appeared satisfied.
The Grey Gull was finollv
readied. Skipper and her father had busy days. No merchantman came through the swift tides of the treacherous Gap without Jonas-Jawn as pilot. Skipper, running the motor launch, could come up to le’ward of a freighter in a glancing curve and get away again, neither craft stopping nor touching. With exact timing her father would leap for the Jacob’s ladder flung over the ship’s side, wave with a free hand, and the two vessels would be instantly separated by a pie-shaped slice of blue water.
Piloting had been an important part of JonasJawn's work before he took command of the Smoky Joe, and Skipper wondered, sometimes, whether he grieved for his lost command. She
could not quite forget Sandy Corkum’s grin, nor the steady light in his grey eyes. She despised him, of course. No one but a schemer would ease her father out of his command. “There’ll come a day !” she thought grimly. “The Fundy always finds you out.” Yet now and then she caught herself shading her eyes, hoping to see Sandy come rocking across the Basin in a dory. There was no earthly reason why he should or could come again. But . . . there it was.
The nights were growing cool, but no heavy weather had come on. Amanda fussed over housekeeping. Captain Jonas-Jawn remained his serene self. Delicately, Continued on page 39
Continued from page 11
indescribably, however, the air was moving about before a sea change.
Occasionally there came to call a brave but embarrassed young fisherman named Gordie. He spent less than a cosy evening. The captain pressed apples on him. Amanda brought a plate of cookies. The visitor did not relax. Skipper did not intend that he should. “Seems like you wasn’t real cordial to Gordie,” her father twinkled at her after one of these unhappy occasions.
“He’s dumb! Know what I saw him do the other day?” And she would describe some marine incident which revealed Gordie’s lack of sense.
“Still and all, that don’t make him a poor dancer.”
“If you mean, am I going to the dance with him tomorrow night, I’m not! He waltzes like a crab in a fit.”
Skipper went to the dance alone. A phantom hope inhabited the back of her head that Sandy might be there. Foolish notion; likely he’d be on his new command by now. In any case, she told herself, she only wished to see him so she could be as rude as possible.
The fiddles sawed merrily. Skipper refused three partners for the Lancers, two for the Paul Jones. At last she consented to be worshipfully steered through a waltz by Gordie. Before the strains had died away that bewitched young fisherman grew giddy under an absolutely new sensation. Skipper gave
every evidence of being overwhelmed by his charms, so that he fairly whimpered with joy. He had entirely failed to notice a newcomer leaning negligently against the side of the door.
“Hey,” one girl nudged her partner, “ain’t that the same feller who come here the day of the launching?” From that moment the party mysteriously took on a fresher, faster tempo. Skipper breezed along, carefully, studiously unaware of the stranger’s presence.
When Gordie released her it was time for refreshments. Instantly she felt a light touch on her elbow. Young Captain Corkum, well-tailored in dark blue serge and immaculate white linen, smiled at her. No grin this time. Choosing to be delightfully startled, she said: “Who’d ever suppose you'd
Sandy remained entirely composed under this treatment, and they soon repaired to a bench. Skipper, in a jonquil-colored dress, looked as crisp and enchanting as a spring flower on a green lawn. “It may be quite a time before I’ll be seeing you again,” Sandy quietly remarked.
The girl’s smudge of dark lashes cast enslaving shadows on her cheeks. “A cruise?” she enquired lightly.
“Short one. Maybe three weeks. That seems long . . . now.” His audacity was unmistakable.
“Guess I’ll just have to try to live until then.”
Sandy laughed. “See here, can’t we be more sort of friendly?”
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She gazed at him with a long, cool glance. “Aren’t we?”
“You know darned well what I’m driving at. I liked you the minute I saw you aloft there, on the Grey Gull. You’re different from most girls. More breeze about you.”
“That’s very nice of you, Cap’n Corkum.”
“Why not sing out a Sandy now and then?”
“Wouldn’t that be disrespectful to the Smoky Joe?”
He turned quickly sober. “You’re not laying anything up against me?”
She wanted terribly to ask certain questions about her father, but pride broke out sudden flags of arrogance. “You mean I care about that filthy old boat? I’m glad pop’s off her. She burns so much oil you don’t even have to see a spar to recognize her; just watch for a volcano on the horizon.” She threw back her curls and gave him a sweet, dazzling smile.
The boy’s face grew strangely older. “Okay, you win. I can smell an easterly making up as well as the next one.” Then in a burst of youthful petulance, “It wasn’t my fault your father left the boat. Shall we dance?”
Sandy’s guiding was smooth and deft. It was very pleasant indeed to be swinging around the floor with him. Envious glances followed them, and Skipper, in spite of every loyal effort, found it hard to keep down little springs of happiness flickering around her heart.
“If ever I have to come in to unload ballast,” Sandy said in her ear, “I hope your father will be the pilot.”
“You’ve been through the Gap before in your own fishing schooner, haven’t you?”
“Just a few times. She’s smaller than the Smoky Joe. And it was fair weather, at that.” Sandy was being generous. And he added, with warm, impulsive candor, “When you’re first home from far away, things don’t bother the way they used to. You’re so glad to be among your own kind of folks.” His face flushed. He looked young again and very earnest.
Skipper felt so drawn to him that, to prevent treason to her father, she sent a short-wave beam at Gordie, who masterfully took her away.
When next Skipper glanced in Sandy’s direction he was gone.
DURING the following weeks JonasJawn and his daughter went out once to meet the Smoky Joe. She was bound for Dorbin with a load of lumber. Naturally Skipper, down in the Grey Gull, saw nothing of the young captain. After this trip her father seemed unusually quiet.
“That cabin on ’er,” he remarked, “is as tidy and snug as ever.”
“What cabin, for mercy’s sakes? You don’t talk sense,” said Amanda.
“Seemed as natural as home. I was into ’er for a little while.”
Amanda gave up. But Skipper understood. He’s fair missing that boat, she thought. He’s missing her awful bad. And she nicked another notch against young Captain Corkum.
It was fine to be an experienced seaman, to have survived the dangers of the Grand Banks fishing grounds, and later to have known war at sea, but Skipper knew that this particular stretch of water required special handling. You had to learn it like a new lesson every day of your life. And then be on guard for surprises.
She was compelled to smother a persistent feeling that she might be unfair to Sandy, since she knew but part of the story. And yet . . .
For the next village dance Skipper dressed with great care. She brushed
her hair to shining glory. She wore her jonquil-colored dress, sheer stockings, and new pumps which made her appear taller than she was. “My, my,” her father sighed in mock dejection, “somehow, I begin to feel right-down sorry for Gordie.”
“Sometimes strangers come.” She’d certainly not meant to say that! Jones-Jawn regarded his daughter with humorous gravity, but wisely spoke no more.
“What are you two having over now?” Amanda demanded in some irritation. Then not waiting a reply, “Your slip shows, Skipper.”
But this time Skipper returned from the dance so furiously hurt that scalding tears wet her pillow for half the night. The stranger had come, as she’d predicted—-two strangers, in fact— Captain Sandy Corkum and a friend who had beautifully arranged curls, eyes to match the color of brook water, geranium-red provocative lips, and the sliding glance which pulled partners to her in flocks.
This whirlwind was simply introduced as “Krusha, a girl I’ve known a long time.” Sandy danced twice with Skipper, and was polite heyond endurance. He took charge of the conversation, and she felt somehow managed and pushed about. Krusha seemed to share a secret mirth with Sandy; she’d catch his eye half across the hall, they would smile, and later, when they joined one another, they’d plunge into a mutual enjoyment which shut out the rest of the world. Once, as Skipper swung by with Gordie, she heard a smothered peal of merriment as the girl said to Sandy, “Isn’t it all too quaint and wonderful? I never guessed ...”
That did it. Very soon then Skipper spoke a good night so glib with ice that the words fairly skidded off the surface. Refusing Gordie’s agonized plea, she flew home like an arrow, alone. She couldn’t bear to speak; she couldn’t trust herself . she felt a tornado of tears working up from her heart. “After all, why should I care? Why?”
It was rather queer, though, how Sandy found time to get to Anchorville so frequently. “There’ll come a day,” she repeated, hardly knowing what she meant or even wanted.
There came an evening instead. They found Amanda sitting speechless and grey-faced in a chair, drooped in utter exhaustion. Over the telephone, the doctor said: “Bring her to Dorbin Hospital. That will be best.”
A neighbor offered his car. Skipper ran all the way to the wharves to ready the Grey Gull for the trip across the Basin. Jonas-Jawn stayed behind to help Amanda. The stars shone, the water was quiet, the tide suited. Once, as the girl sent the small stones spurting from her heels, she thought: “The
stars don’t care about us. They’d shine as brightly if mother ...” She refused to think further.
Now she climbed down the wharf ladder, stepped nimbly across two fishing dories and into the Grey Gull. She threw the engine switch. There was a faint splutter, a gasp, then silence. She tried again and again. She used the crank. She worked until her arms ached. No luck. She wanted desperately to be ready when they brought her mother down to the boat. Heaven knew how they would manage on the steep road, where no car could go—but somehow it would be done.
Then, miraculously, somebody jumped to the bow and down into the boat. “Here, let me try.” The voice was Sandy’s. In a few moments the engine was purring.
“A little moisture there maybe. All right now.”
She leaned, a little breathless,
against the side of the boat. In the dark she could hardly see Sandy’s face. He just waited there, looking down at her. “Thank you,” she said in a low voice. “Mother is sick. We’re taking her to Dorbin. It’s good of you to help like this.”
The dark water moved among wharf timbers. Reflected stars ravelled themselves out in the ripples. The air grew chill and Skipper shivered.
“Yes, I saw your father at the top of the road,” Sandy told her. “The men are coming down now.” They stood enclosed by the intimate strangeness of the moment. Skipper felt near to Sandy, and comforted by his presence
Then there were voices on the wharf above. Jonas-Jawn and three other men brought Amanda aboard on a mattress. Sandy went back to Dorbin with them; Skipper walked home alone. Somebody had to look out for the fires and straighten things out after the hasty departure. Warmth crept about her heart and she felt lonely no longer. Sandy would have helped anyone in trouble—but just the same, it was her he’d come to help.
In a few day’s time Amanda was better, though she was advised to stay in the hospital for a rest. Skipper and her father felt so happy over her recovery that no work seemed tiresome. And Skipper still carried with her the questioning, not unpleasant, disturbance left over from that moment on the Grey Gull. Sandy, a dim, strong figure, had seemed a little taller than a man, a little more helpful than a friend. Then her thoughts would back up in the old ruts of resentment. “I won’t forget he got pop’s command away from him.” And there was Krusha. She was as gay, as selfassured, as impudent as Sandy himself. Most certainly she must not forget Krusha! Some of the warmth faded; and the comfort of her memory grew thin.
Autumn drew on. Bright days, cool days, days of sudden squalls when the fog would be pushed through spruce trees like skeins of grey yarn. Sandy had left again, and one day Skipper got a post card from him.
“This is a big town, but I’d like to see your lighthouse better,” he wrote. Her lighthouse . . . she was pleased, and despised her pleasure. Her father examined the post card gravely. “I been there too, on the Smoky Joe.” Then he added, “Tain’t likely she’ll be coming in here for a spell now.”
“No, likely he won’t.” Skipper said with sadness in her heart.
Jonas-Jawn looked at her quietly. “The young feller was real quick and smart helping with your ma that night. Hardly know how’d we got her histed up the Dorbin slip without him.”
Skipper nodded. Oh, Sandy was handy, all right!
One night after rain a heavy gale made up. The house shuddered; cordwood sticks were blown off the woodpile. “After this, warmer with fog,” said the captain, and he was right. The next day fog piled up on the water like baled cotton. The land remained clear. The lighthouse horn bellowed in melancholy rhythm. Toots, squeals, whistles of various boats kept up a beseeching clamor. There was no wind, but now and then a long-drawn sigh, like a giant turning in his sleep, would whisper along the shore below the rocky cliffs.
Even as Jonas-Jawn split kindling, he kept an ear cocked toward the sea. “If they know what’s good for ’em, they’d all better lay off there and not try to get through the Gap. Never saw it thicker in my life. They know I can’t go out to meet ’em.” He brought in a load of kindling ready for the next morning’s fire. Skipper was flying
around so fast that her curls quivered about her head as if wired with motion. She shoved the dishpan under the sink with a bang.
“What’s the rush?” Her father sat down and prepared his pipe for smoking. His long legs stretched before him on the floor.
“Just feel as if something was going to happen. Maybe they’ll telephone from Dorbin that ma can come home today ”
She went to the window. “Fog’s thicker than ever. How they blat and do go op out there!”
“Yes, they’s a lot of boats. Some working up the Bay, some down. May not be any coming through the Gap. Hope not.”
“Makes me wild to hear them and not know where they are. They sound like lost dogs in a wood.”
Jonas-Jawn took a long puff. “I can tell pretty well where they are,” he said mildly. Soon he left the kitchen. The morning wore away. Skipper felt a curious inner excitement. In a few weeks’ time life seemed to have changed too rapidly for comfort. Her father off the Smoky Joe. Her mother ill and in a hospital, and . . . well, Sandy Corkum. But she would not think of him. There was Krusha.
Now and again she stood perfectly still, listening. Then she’d rush out on the porch. The foghorn laid its rich warning on the air. Two small whistles sounded offshore. A deeper note crept through the mist, a low, hoarse grunt. All sound was somehow pushed out of shape.
“Fog’s not improving,” said JonasJawn at dinner. “Seems like they’s one vessel more lost than the rest. Can’t quite make ’er out. Maybe she’s heading up the Bay and feeling around for the Gap entrance.”
After dinner dishes were washed Skipper announced she was going on an errand to the village. No call had come from Dorbin concerning her mother; she would not be coming home that day.
“Where’s my bos’n’s whistle, girl?” “There beside the barometer. Where you going?”
“We got a heifer still out in the mountain pasture.”
“You’re restless as I am. You got to be doing something outdoors.”
“Well, sort of thought I’d look for ’er.” He hung the heavy whistle cord around his neck. A handy thing in case anything turned up.
Now, just for a moment, these two regarded one another in steady intentness. “You think anything’s wrong, pop?”
He gave her a slow, reassuring smile. ‘Not that I know of, Skipper.”
She watched him out of the gate. She stared down the road, and felt unaccountably forlorn. Then she changed her mind about the errand. She pulled on high-laced boots, a windbreaker and a boy’s cap. She gave a last look about the kitchen, a strange feeling in her that much might happen before she saw its familiar homeliness again.
MEANWHILE Jonas-Jawn walked a mile. He climbed a junipercovered slope. Higher still were dark trees. Behind him ran a long field to the last inch of earth above rocky cliffs. The sea lay below. Off at the right rocks piled up in a point, then curved inland to form a small cove of sorts, ending at the nearer end with jutting heights. Round smooth stones made up the narrow strip of shore.
The sound pattern on the Bay had shifted. Jonas-Jawn stood still. Two whistles of smaller vessels had faded; a heavier horn blatted patiently away like a disconsolate ram. That more distant hoarse grunt had grown silent. The pilot felt puzzled and anxious. It
was as if he were receiving an intangible set of signals he could not identify. “Something’s wrong.” He spoke aloud. Suddenly, as if summoned by a gong, he whirled about and loped down the hill. His long legs covered the ground quickly.
Juniper bushes slapped against his rubber boots. He jumped the brook, kept running, and reached the cliff edge. Again he listened. Nothing very much to be heard. Then, with a smothered grunt, he took a steep path to the shore. Here he was enveloped by mists thicker than ever. The fields and woods were left behind, in another world. His own boots were scarcely visible to him as he stood listening intently.
Ah! . . . he leaned forward in order to hear better. And there it was, the dread thing he’d feared, the slipping, soft sound of water moving against itself.
“Gosh-a-Mighty!” Now he began to figure things out loud. “They’s a vessel close to shore, right there . . . and acoming on. Likely her skipper has lost his position . . . can’t hear the groaner on his starboard beam, and shoal water comes fast here.” JonasJawn, a tall man alone on a ghostly shore, sent out sensitive feelers. He judged the vessel no more than 200 feet from shore, less than a boat length. Now he could detect faint voices, but no words; and that chilling sound ot water running away from a ship moving ahead at dead low speed. What was wrong with the ship’s sounding gear? Maybe it failed in shallow water. Maybe the captain had mixed up his echoes, getting them here between the jutting points of rocks as he might have received them from the tall cliffs either side of the Gap.
That was it, by golly! The captain thought he was feeling his way through the Gap! Jonas-Jawn raised his whistle. He blew ear-splitting blasts—one short, two long for the signal, You're standing in danger.
Instantly the boat whistle replied, one short whistle. Signal recognized. The captain on shore followed this up with loud cries and howls at the top of his lungs.
Now a voice yelled back through the fog. “Where am I?”
“Quick, go full astern!” The bellow bridged the gap between ship and shore.
“Go full astern,” came the acknowledgment from the unseen boat bridge.
The engines went into reverse, the propeller blades churned for half a minute. Jonas-Jawn dared to take a full breath. But the hazards were still great. Now was the exact time, the last moment of danger, in which the ship’s stern would swing to port with the chance of grinding itself to splinters on the ledge. Sea room was hardly larger than that of a big hall.
“STOP . . . full ahead . . . hard t’ starboard!”
Jonas-Jawn heard the order echoed from the bridge.
“Now,” yelled the pilot ashore, “go nor’west one minute.”
The command came back to him, faint, distorted.
“Change your course west-sou’west one half mile.” His breath was all but spent. “Then . . . ANCHOR!”
His words returned to him, each one drilling its own narrow tunnel through the fog. Then, to his immense relief, came those sounds which meant the ship was safe.
He smiled, all alone there. Then, strangely, there was a cold emptiness in the pit of his stomach. “Well, now,” he murmured as if in apology, “well, that’s a funny thing!” He moved off, slightly giddy, toward the fallen trunk of a tree. He’d not viewed so much as an inch of the vessel’s superstructure, yet deep within him he felt he’d been especially chosen to save that particu-
Iar ship. He fingered the whistle hung around his neck.
Another sound caught his ear, stones clicking as if someone were coming along the shore; blasted queer a day like this! Few people dared to walk the shore which thinned to a few inches beneath the cliffs. Then he saw a hlurred figure, damp flying curls from under a boy’s cap.
“Pop . . . oh, pop, she’s safe!” The girl was close, grasping both his arms, shaking him a little. “I came along the shore. I heard the ship, I couldn’t forget her. 1 climbed down the old path below home.”
“That’s not good,” his voice rumbled at her, “you might have fallen.”
“1 just had to, pop. I was afraid for the ship. But I was too far away, and I couldn’t judge distances. Then I heard you sing out through the fog. Oh, it was grand ... I heard all your orders. I might have known that somehow you’d do the job!”
“Why, girl . . . why, Skipper!” Jonas-Jawn said her name over and over, peering down through the mists into her face. “You took a risky chance coming along the shore at high tide. You all right?”
“Yes.” She hesitated, then blurted out, “It was the Smoky Joe you saved !”
Her father nodded soberly. “I kind of surmised, even from the first. Though she wasn’t expected right now.” He smiled at her. “I didn’t let on to Sandy Corkum that I recognized his voice. Might make him feel right-down bad, things being as they are. I been fooled plenty times myself by echoes.” He gave a short chuckle. “You and me can keep a secret for the sake of the Smoky Joe, can’t we?”
The next day was clear. That evening Captain Corkum came over from Dorbin. Skipper was so outrageously glad to see him that she gave him a stiff, cool welcome, softened a little by a plate of fresh doughnuts. Sandy ate two appreciatively, then he said, “Had the darndest experience yesterday.”
“How’s that?” Jonas-Jawn filled his pipe and drew on the stem.
Sandy, in awed tones, then related what his listeners already knew of his terrible predicament. “You see, a heavy breeze had helped me up here sooner than I expected. Then the fog. Never saw it worse in my life. Lost my position, sounding gear went haywire in shallow water, got my echoes mixed; thought I’d reached the Gap entrance!”
Jonas-Jawn was exceedingly mindful not to glance at his daughter.
“I tell you.” the caller waved an earnest arm about, “I was saved t>y a miracle.” He described the miracle. “In two more minutes I’d been on the rocks. Worst of all, Krusha was with me.”
“Oh,” Skipper gasped. She had forgotten Krusha entirely.
“Shipped her aboard as stewardess.”
“Have another doughnut,” said Jonas-Jawn.
Sandy took one and disposed of it. The room seemed suddenly to have become a shell holding all sorts of unknown possibilities ready to burst forth. Skipper thought of nothing, very hard. One hand was clenched beside her skirt as she sat.
Sandy smiled. “Krusha’s got a beau in Dorbin she was bound she’d see. They’re going to be married next month. A sister,” he added, smiling straight at Skipper, “can be a confounded nuisance.”
The stars shone. They seemed not far away, but friendly. Skipper and Sandy walked the road together. “Say, it’s just crashed in! Was it your father who called to me? I didn’t recognize his voice, but tonight while we talked . . . there was something ...”
“Yes, it was pop.” She spoke with pride.
“And once I thought I heard a girl screeching.”
“You did. I went down to the shore. That was me.”
“You?” Warm pleasure poured through his words, “But why?”
“I was scared you might be in danger.”
Sandy took her elbows and turned her about to face him. “See here, will you sign on as stewardess sometime . . . and marry me? I’m fair crazy in love with you. Skipper . . . darlin’ . . . say yes!”
She looked up at him under the dim light of the stars, unsmiling.
“I went to see your mother in the hospital, dear. I asked her how would she like another seafaring man in the family. She said she supposed she’d have to stand it.”
Skipper replied slowly, honestly. “I wanted you to have trouble. I wanted you to find out that no matter how smart you were the Fundy would get you.”
“Why, for heaven’s sake?” He was thoroughly astonished.
“Because you had the command ot the Smoky Joe instead ot pop. But when it really happened, what I thought I was wishing for, and you were in danger . . . oh, Sandy . .
She bent her head to his chest.
He held her close. “The prettiest hair,” he murmured, and kissed the top of her head. “Krusha thinks you’re lovely. She wouldn’t believe a thing I said, and had to come to prove it to herself.”
“Oh!” Skipper gave a funny smothered sob from the regions ot his V-neck sweater.
“Listen, honey. Your pop gave up his command. That’s why 1 got it.”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s the only reason I got it, because he didn’t want it. And he saved the whole ship today. Saved it for me.”
Skipper raised her head. “I couldn’t leave pop and mom. They need me.”
“I think you can. I think that’s why your pop gave up the Smoky Joe, just so you could leave if you wanted to. We had a little talk. I asked him about you too.”
“In the cabin of the Smoky Joe?”
“Yes, darlin’, when he was bringing me in.”
Skipper raised her head and looked at the sky. “Sandy,” she whispered, “the stars are near us after all.”