Barnegat Macreary

“Put that fellow in the lee rigging and let him chuck the lead awhile,”
said Captain Sanders. “Sink me, but he is a queer one. Where did ye say
he hailed from?”

“Hey, Peter, where did yo’ hatch?” asked the big black mate in a voice
deep and loud enough to be heard half a mile. The man he addressed was
standing near the mast explaining to the wrecking crew gathered about
him how he had once been quartermaster in a man-of-war. He looked aft
at the hail.

“I’m from the Berhammers,” said he.

“Born there?” asked the captain.

“No, I live on the Great Berhammer–I’m a sailor man, sir.”

“Put him in the lee rigging an’ let him sound across the Bank. If he
knows half as much as he says he does, he’ll see us across all right
enough. It’s getting mighty shoal now. Look at that nigger head pokin’
up yander.” And he pointed to a piece of coral that came within a few
feet of the surface of the clear blue water. The bottom was plainly
visible two fathoms below and the wrecking sloop, _Sea-Horse_, needed
at least one to go clear with the rise and fall of the sea.

“Git to lor’ard there, quartermaster, an’ heave the lead,” bawled the
mate, looking the man squarely in the eyes.

“But I shipped as a sailor—-”

“Git thar quick an’ sudden,” roared the black giant, rising from the
cuddy hatch coaming. He had heard the loud tone of the man forward
telling his latest yarn.

A look of amazement and concern came over the face of the man from
“Berhammer,” but he hesitated no longer. Seizing the lead which lay
always ready in a tub of line near the windlass, he made the lee side
and hove it far ahead.

The _Sea-Horse_ was passing over the Great Bahama Bank near its extreme
northern end, and at a part where even the mate had never been. She had
stopped off the island a few hours before to take on the stranger for
pilot and continue her way to a wreck reported on the eastern edge of
the shoal water.

“Plenty o’ water here,” he yelled, as the lead-line came perpendicular.

“How much?” asked Sanders.

The man hove again.

“Not much water here,” he cried, as the line suddenly stopped running
out.

The mate started forward, looking over the side.

“Not much water here,” called the man again.

There was a sudden jar, followed by a grinding, grating sound from
below.

“Deedn’t I tole yo’ so,” sang the fellow in an even tone, heaving the
lead again as though nothing had happened. A sounding slap from the
big mate’s hand finished proceedings in the rigging, and a volley of
oaths from Sanders, coupled with orders to get a kedge anchor out to
windward, put new life in the scene upon the sloop’s deck.

Macreary, still smarting from the big black mate’s blow upon his
stern-sheets, fell to with the rest, and by dint of much heaving upon a
new hawser bent to an anchor carried well to windward, the _Sea-Horse_
was finally hove off the bank. They were materially helped in this by
the gentle heave of the swell, which lifted the wrecking sloop easily
and dropped her with a crash at each sea.

When she floated there were several very discontented men aboard who
looked as though they would make it squally weather for the pilot
before they reached the wreck on the Bank.

The wreck of the _Ramidor_, a small Brazilian bark bound for Rio, lay
upon the edge of the Bahama Bank in about a fathom of water. She had
been driven there in a heavy gale from the eastward and had gone in
upon the shoal about a quarter of a mile, lying upon her bilge where
the sea in calm weather just broke clear of her, the wash of foam
striking against her high black sides and spurting skywards. In a heavy
sea, the break was far to windward of her, and in consequence she was
in no immediate danger of going to pieces with the smash. She had been
sighted by several wreckers, and the _Sea-Horse_ and _Buccaneer_ were
on their way to her, each hurrying with all speed to claim the salvage.
The _Buccaneer_ was at work on the Caicos Bank, and the _Sea-Horse_ at
Cape Florida when the news reached them. The former manned by English
negroes and navigated by a long, lean Yankee skipper, had stood to the
eastward and northward, coming in sight of the wreck about the time the
_Sea-Horse_, picking her way across the shoals, raised the slanting
topmasts of the _Ramidor_ beyond a dry coral bank which forced her to
make a long détour to the southward. She had taken on the pilot to
save time and cut across the shoal places as close as possible, and he
had run them ashore most ignominiously when within ten miles of their
destination.

Macreary finished coiling down the hawser after the kedge was hoisted
aboard, and then he joined the rest who sat upon the hatch. He was much
abashed at heart, but tried not to show it, swaggering with a careless
air among the men who glared at him.

“Blamed fine quartermaster you make,” snarled one; “must have been on
one o’ them ten-foot sand barges wot takes offal to sea an’ dumps it. I
once knowed a fellar like you wot was quartermaster o’ one.”

“Capting, too, hey?” growled a Swede. “Crew were a yaller dawg?”

“Where did yo’ learn pilotin’?” asked a Conch, grinning and spitting
as close to the pilot’s toes as he could without hitting them.

“I’m learning it now,” said Macreary, cheerfully, sitting down and
gazing over the sea to where the tiny speck of the bark’s topmast
showed above the horizon. He was not going to show how absurd and
mean he felt to that crowd, so he sat and gazed apparently calm and
unruffled, without a sign of the burning shame which seemed to stifle
him.

He was now silent and thinking. There was a short cut along a narrow
and tortuous channel which would let the vessel out to sea close to the
point of the dry coral bank, or end of Cay. He thought he might know
it, although he had only been through twice before. The wreck lay only
a few miles beyond, and even now the white glint of the rival wrecker’s
sails showed plainly that he would board the prize first and claim the
salvage. But the memory of the big black mate’s hand was too strong
upon him, and he kept silent. The _Sea-Horse_ was working up behind the
reef and it was noticeable how smooth and sheltered the sea was in its
lee. It would make a fine harbour for a vessel caught working upon the
wreck in a heavy easterly, if she could navigate the channel. But the
master of the _Sea-Horse_ knew nothing of the channel, and he would
have sooner thrown the pilot overboard than trusted him again. He stood
out behind the Cay and made a good offing, reaching well off into the
open ocean in spite of the fact that he would have ten miles further to
go.

But Macreary sat silent and watched the horizon where the black speck
rose. He was not thinking about the wreck. To him it was nothing
whether a Conch or two should make a little money from the disaster
of a sailor. His thoughts were back with the strange men he had left
upon the Cay of the Great Bahama, the little band led by the tall and
muscular Jones, leader of the Sanctified people who sought refuge from
the strife of the world upon the sun-beaten reefs of the Bahama Bank.

Jones had taught him to read. Jones had read to him from the Book of
all Books, the relic of an ancient literature, revised, rewritten and
put together in somewhat disconnected pieces, the Bible of the most
enlightened people upon the face of the world. And in it he had heard
the words of wisdom as set down by men who had gone before, men who
had lived their lives and who had learned from experience. And the
philosophy of these men he believed was true, for they had lived their
lives out and had left behind them the results of years of life. It
was not the one tale of a single man, which must necessarily be narrow
and worthless, but it was the gatherings of the teachings of many who
had been in positions to learn. Yes, what Jones had read him was the
philosophy of ages. And Jones had read to him, “Hide not thy light
under a bushel,” and he had told him that it meant to use what talents
he possessed, to try to do what he thought he was able to–and not hang
back. He felt abashed and ashamed beyond expression at his failure,
for he had believed he was a fit pilot over the Bank. He founded his
belief upon the fact that he had gone fishing many times in a small
skiff in the vicinity of the island and had twice gone southward along
the edge of the Bank; he had noticed many times how the water shoaled
from the deep ocean to the white water of the coral reef. It was hard
to account for his failure, he thought, with men aboard who must have
seen the bottom as plainly as he, himself, could–and then the big
black man’s mortifying stroke—-

The vessels stood toward the wreck under the impetus of the easterly
breeze, the _Buccaneer_, a point free, raced up and let go her anchor
close under the bark’s lee in just enough water to float. Then her
skipper putting forth in a small boat boarded the _Ramidor_ just as
the _Sea-Horse_ came through the breakers on the edge of the Bank. She
cleared the bottom by a few inches, although the wash of the sea swept
her decks and drenched the men standing by to take in the mainsail
and let go the hook. Sanders ran her well in behind the wreck and
rounded to, scraping up the sand with the keel, and anchored behind the
_Buccaneer_. It was close work and a heavy sea would drop both vessels
heavily upon the reef. They must make good use of the smooth water, and
Sanders hailed his lucky rival to get what he could.

“See ye got a wrack there,” said he, calling to the long Yankee
skipper, who smiled at him from the bark’s quarter-deck.

“Talk like ye never see it afore. Wonder ye didn’t notice it bein’ as
ye were headin’ this way. Strange how these Dagoes pile up thar ships,”
answered the skipper of the _Buccaneer_.

“Don’t suppose ye want to whack up, hey? An’ have us turn to an’ help
with the cargo?”

The long skipper squirted a stream of tobacco juice over the side in
derision.

“I reckon ye think we’re out here fer our health, hey?” he roared.
“What d’ye think we’re doin’ around here anyways? I want to let ye know
right sudden that this wrack is mine–ye keep off. Ye know what will
happen if there’s any monkey business. I won’t stand any foolishness.”

“‘Twouldn’t do fo’ toe nab him, hey?” asked the black mate of the
_Sea-Horse_, turning to his captain. “We kin take him, sho’, an’ make a
divide with it. We got here about the same time he did.”

“I’m afeard we better not,” said Sanders. “Too many witnesses–they’ll
swear they got here first–I’ve a notion to pitch that pilot overboard.”

The beaten sloop lay all that day off the wreck, her crew fuming and
her captain and mate trying to devise some means to get a hold upon the
bark. At dark Sanders rowed over to the _Buccaneer_ and tried every
means from bluff to bribery to get in a claim, but the _Buccaneer’s_
crew held out solidly. Finally they compromised matters by signing on
as labourers at a dollar and a half per day to help the _Buccaneer’s_
crew to work the wreck. It was the best they could do for the present
and they went sullenly to work with the hope something would turn up to
favour them.

Two days passed and the bright summer weather held. The sea was smooth
as glass and the wreckers lay in safety. Far away to the northward the
glint of the dry coral bank showed at low water. Nothing else broke the
eternal blue line of the horizon.

Macreary was not turned to with the rest but kept aboard the
_Sea-Horse_ as ship-keeper. He helped cook the meals and was kept
busy with cleaning. As he was alone a good deal, he spent much time
in gazing over the sea, figuring on the channel which led five or six
miles to the northward to the deep water behind the dry bank. If they
had only let him try it, he might have worked them through in time.
It was crooked, worse than a letter S to sail through, but the bark
was worth several thousand dollars to the salvors–and he had lost. He
would have been well paid if they had made her in time.

The crew of the _Sea-Horse_ took some pains to tell the wreckers how it
was the fault of their pilot that they lost. The Conchs laughed at him
in derision whenever they boarded the sloop at meal times, and he was
so much set upon by both crews that he begged Sanders to put him aboard
the first vessel sighted. The third day two more wrecking vessels came
upon the scene, but as the bark was now pretty well stripped, the
salvors would have none of them. One of the strangers stood away, but
the other came to anchor, leaving her mainsail up ready to go at a
moment’s notice.

“Hey, don’t ye want a pilot?” asked the long skipper of the
_Buccaneer_, calling to the stranger. His hail was the cause of much
amusement to the two working crews. They stopped and looked over at the
little vessel, whose three men sat in a row upon her rail watching the
wreck.

“We’ve the best pilot on the bank,” said Sanders, trying to hide his
sarcasm by a frown. “We thought maybe as ye ware goin’ on ye might want
him.”

“I reckon I’ll take him,” said one of the three. “I ain’t goin’ no
farther’n th’ Bahama, an’ ef he don’t mind he can take us across the
Bank.”

“Git him,” said Sanders, “there he is,” and he pointed to the
_Sea-Horse_ where Macreary sat fishing. Then all hands had a good laugh
and went on with their work, hiding their amusement from the strangers.
It would be a good joke. They would have the pleasure of seeing the
vessel piled up before she drew out of sight.

The three men on the new arrival were in no hurry. They fished a little
while and finally one of them rowed across the twenty fathoms of
intervening water to Macreary, who had heard the conversation and was
ready. As he dropped into the small boat he looked to the southward and
noticed a heavy bank of cloud rising. He said nothing until aboard the
sloop and then asked to look at the glass. It was falling rapidly.

“There’ll be a bit o’ dirty weather comin’,” he said, as he came on
deck and joined the fishermen.

“Is there air harbour round erbouts?” asked Captain James, baiting his
hook. He was in no hurry to get under way.

“There’s good water behind that cay up yander,” said Macreary.

“How fer?”

“‘Bout five mile.”

“All right, we’ll start just afore dark–kin make it in thirty or fo’ty
minutes with a breeze, hey?”

“I reckon,” said Macreary, looking anxiously at the weather to the
southward. Then they hauled up fish for a couple of hours until the
sunshine turned a brassy colour and finally died away as the cloud bank
covered the western sky.

The men aboard the bark began to get nervous. Sanders went aboard
the _Sea-Horse_ with his mate and they hoisted the mainsail close
reefed, making ready to get to sea in case of trouble. The skipper of
the _Buccaneer_ finally knocked off also, and soon the clanking of
windlasses broke the silence of the tropical evening. They were getting
ready to get away at the first shift to the eastward, for the sea would
break heavily where they lay in a strong wind. There was much to carry
away, but they would take no chances. The most valuable part of the
wreck’s belongings were already on deck waiting to be transferred to
the _Buccaneer_, and she would lie by with a man aboard the bark to
watch and take charge.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it blowed,” said Captain James of the
little sloop _Seabird_. “I reckon we’ll stop fishin’ an’ pull out afore
it’s too hot. I wouldn’t keer to be the man left in thet bark, hey?”

“If they abandon her, it’s fair play all over agin to the first man
what gets aboard,” said one of his men. “I don’t believe the wessel is
badly hurt, anyways.”

The heavy bank of cloud rose rapidly. A flash of lightning lit the
gloom of the evening and the edge of the pall swept past overhead. It
was travelling rapidly. To the southward the growing darkness seemed
to melt into the blackness above like a smooth black wall of mist. A
murmur of unrest came over the sea, a weird far-reaching cry vibrating
through the quiet atmosphere, rising and falling like the distant
voices of a vast host.

Sanders, who had signed on his men as helpers, could gain nothing by
staying. He had signed away his future rights, therefore he lost no
time in getting up his anchor and standing out to sea with his canvas
shortened for trouble and everything being made snug.

The _Buccaneer_ crew were struggling with as much gear as they could
carry to get it aboard their ship before the sea began to make if it
blew. All hands were overside hurrying the work, and even the two men
who were to remain aboard to take charge were helping and had left
the bark’s deck when a line of white showed to the southward upon the
black sea. There was a puff of wind, cool and whirling as though it
had dropped from some great height in the realms of snow. The surface
of the heaving swell ruffled, a blinding flash of fire followed by a
crash; then a few moments of silence broken gradually by a deep-toned
roar growing louder and louder. The line of white bore down upon the
vessels, and as it came the darkness grew blacker. There was a fierce
rush of wind, and with a burst as though fired from a gun, the blast of
the squall struck the vessels and bore them prone with its sweep.

The _Buccaneer’s_ mainsail tore to bits as she lay upon her beam ends,
her anchor parted, and in a moment she was going out to sea, every
man aboard of her struggling with the flying strips of canvas. The
wind had come from the southward and with just enough slant to allow
her to clear the shoal water and make the open ocean. Macreary, with
nothing to do but watch the coming squall, let go the halliards of the
_Seabird’s_ sail, and her crew had managed to get a line around it
before the weight of the wind struck. The captain reached the wheel and
managed to pay her off somehow, dragging the anchor which had been hove
short as though it were a bit of iron hanging to the line. Then handing
the spokes to his pilot, he pointed to the northward, where the dry
bank of the cay had just disappeared in the storm.

“Git in–behind–harbour,” he bawled, and as the words came brokenly
above the roar, Macreary knew he meant to run the crooked channel for
harbour behind the reef.

The two men hove up the anchor while the _Seabird_ tore along ten
knots with nothing save her mast to pull with the wind. Macreary swung
her first this way and then that, blindly, stupidly, and unreasoning,
but with rising hopes as the wind beat down the sea into an almost
level plain of water white as milk. He held her north by west, making
as much westing as he could, blindly hoping to make enough inside the
reef to clear the end of the bank and gain the shelter beyond. All was
blackness ahead and there was no way of telling when he reached the
dry bank; no way of telling when he should round her to and drop both
anchors with every fathom bent on to hold them, but he kept on.

“Hide not thy light under a bushel,” came the words of the tall
preacher! They seemed to flit before his half-blinded vision. He who
must make a living at something would do it at what he thought he could
do best. He must surely know more about those waters than the Conchs
who lived to the southward, for he had fished upon them for two years.
His ideas about piloting were vague and absurd, but he did not know it.
It seemed to him that all he must do was to show the way the best he
could, and it was not in keeping with the teachings to hold back. It
would be more immodest to feign ignorance of the banks than to admit a
knowledge of them. He had known people who were so backward that they
always waited to be sought out by others and pressed to do things,
which by all nature they should have offered to do at once. To him
these people were truly immodest and their very quietness seemed to
savour of a tremendous egotism. They seemed so satisfied and complacent
in their knowledge, so superior that unless they were flattered by
being sought out and offered a handsome reward, they would rather carry
their wisdom to the grave than offer it. It was “hiding a light under a
bushel,” in the sense the tall man of the Sanctified Band of pilgrims
taught it.

The wind drove the little vessel wildly before it. The sea began to
make astern, and as he turned his face to look backward a spurt of
spray and foam half-choked him. The roar of the gale grew louder. The
captain’s voice came brokenly to him through the gloom, and he saw him
standing close to the companion hatch gazing ahead and holding on with
both hands, his face thrust forward and his sou’wester pushed back as
though to aid him to see some mark to steer by to safety.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes flew by. If they missed the shelter of the
reef and the deep water behind it, they would certainly pile up on the
shoals beyond, where the sea would fall with tremendous violence in
less than an hour. Already the lift astern was growing quicker and the
white plain of water was rolling up into a dangerous sea. He swung the
little vessel hard to port, thinking to find better water, and as he
did so she took the ground heavily, throwing her captain with force
against the coamings.

“Keep her off–breakers–windward,” came the cry as from a great
distance.

He rolled the wheel up mechanically and she was tearing away again into
the darkness, going clear as though she had touched soft mud instead of
hard coral rock.

A burst of wind tore over them with a droning roar. The little vessel
lay down to the pressure. Then gathering herself upon a sea she rushed
ahead.

The blackness grew thicker. Macreary could hardly see the loom of the
mast forward. Then a flickering flare of lightning lit the storm and
right ahead showed a strip of dry yellow sand. It was a mile off yet,
but they were going fast. Macreary hove the wheel to port and kept it
there until the little ship buried her starboard deck-strake in the
foam.

“Will–make–” came the voice of the captain.

Macreary did not know whether she would or not, but he would try to,
and setting his teeth hard he gave up all thought of answer. The
minutes flew by. He knew they were going fast. They would go a mile in
five minutes even with the lessened headway of the reaching vessel. How
could he guess the time in that awful turmoil of roaring wind and sea?
He waited and waited. She must be nearly there. The strain was getting
awful. Would he go past? He must be up with the point now–but no, he
would hold her a minute longer. It must be made or lost in one throw
of that wheel, and to lose it meant death to all hands. The blackness
ahead was solid. No eye could penetrate it ten feet. Oh, for another
flash of lightning!

“Will she–” came the voice of the captain, questioning, querulous,
borne back the few intervening feet through the flying atmosphere. He
did not know and it angered him to have such a question asked.

How could he tell?

He was panting with exertion and smothered with drift and spray.
Suddenly he hove the wheel to starboard. The little vessel leaped
forward, straightened out before the gale, then rounded with her head
to the eastward. It was done anyhow. If they were clear, all right. If
they had missed, they would strike within five minutes.

“Get–anchors–all cable,” came the voice of the captain.

Macreary could see nothing forward, but he knew the men were doing what
they could to obey. Minutes passed, the vessel rose and fell, but she
had not struck yet. He held the wheel, and closed his eyes. The sea
seemed smoother. Ahead it was evidently smoother still. The great lift
of the outside sea was growing less and less. Five minutes more and
the _Seabird_ was in another foam-covered plain of water which had no
rolling sea.

“Go,” came a cry. It was echoed by a faint shriek somewhere. A shaking
of the vessel followed as the chain ran out. Suddenly she brought up
and swung right into the eye of the storm, the rush of wind striking
Macreary in the face and forcing his sou’wester back upon his head.
There was a quick but light rise and fall as the _Seabird_ headed the
sea, and Macreary lashed the wheel fast in the beckets.

A form brushed against him and the captain yelled in his face: “She’s
holdin’–both anchors with forty fathoms–can’t get loose unless it
blows the water off the earth,” and then he pushed the hatch-slide and
went below.

In a few minutes all hands were in the little cabin and a light was
struck. It showed four men with streaming oilskins and soaking faces,
whose expressions still bore marks of extreme anxiety. Three of them
looked at each other and then cast glances at Macreary.

“That was a pretty good job, pilot,” said Captain James. “We had a
close call there once–suppose you got mixed with the steering gear,
hey?”

Macreary said nothing. He was like a man who had suddenly awakened from
a horrible nightmare.

“Well, you won’t lose nothin’ by this trip,” went on the captain; “them
fellows will be blown off fifty miles before morning–and there ain’t a
soul aboard the bark–she’s ourn, and that’s a fact.”

Continue Reading

The Mate of the “Sea-Horse”

He stalked in behind the captain of the _Caliban_ to the desk in the
consul’s office at Key West, where the clerk signed on the men. His
six feet three inches of solid frame almost filled the doorway as he
entered, and he scowled sourly at the group already there. His black
face was lined and wrinkled and bore traces of a debauch, but in spite
of his sinister expression his eyes told of a good-natured steadiness
of temper. The bloodshot whites and heavy lids told plainly that he
was a diver, and his peculiar accent, giant frame and general muscular
development proclaimed him a Fortune Islander, a Conch of the Great
Bahama Bank.

“Nationality?” droned the clerk, in a dull monotone, as he came forward.

“American,” he answered, distinctly.

The captain looked at him.

“Where from?” droned the clerk, filling in the blank.

“Jacksonville,” he answered, in a deep tone, fixing his eyes upon the
man’s face.

The clerk smiled a little, but said nothing. It was not his business to
argue, and he knew the weakness of the reefer. He had signed the giant
on to more than six different vessels within the past two years and
each time he had solemnly sworn he was a native of a different country
from the last one named. He had now become a citizen of the United
States, having reserved this honor for the seventh and last time to
sign.

The age of the giant fluctuated. Once he had had an indistinct
remembrance of being about twenty-five; now he had leaped suddenly to
forty. Something had evidently made him feel aged, and the clerk was
amused, for he felt that it must indeed have been a heavy debauch to
produce such an effect.

The Islander, or rather the American now, glanced uneasily at the
ship’s papers. He was signing on for a cruise in a yacht, and the
United States articles with their red spread-eagle upon their edges
attracted his attention. He could not read the announcement of the
government “whack,” or ration, as prescribed by law, and he had
heretofore signed without looking. Now the papers interested him, and
he bade the clerk read them. His voice was low and gentle, but it had
nothing except command in each word, and this annoyed the clerk. He
read slowly and with bad grace, looking up now and then at the captain,
who stood waiting for his man and giving a glance which told plainly
that here was a pirate who would probably make no end of trouble
aboard his ship. But men like the Conch were extremely rare and he
would have him, so he waited impatiently while the clerk read and the
rest listened, hearing probably for the first time in their lives the
contents of a set of articles which they had always treated with the
high disdain existent in all sailors. When the clerk finished, the
giant took the pen in his fingers and scrawled “Bahama Bill” in large,
wabbly letters to his place on the list as second mate for a voyage to
some port north of New York, three months and discharge.

“S’pose you write William Haskins under that?” said the clerk, sourly.
The giant growled out something, but did as told. Then the papers were
finished.

The captain led the crew down to the vessel, the mainsail was hoisted,
and as the anchor broke clear and the head-sails were run up, the
little gun upon her quarter crashed a salute which echoed and reechoed
over the quiet harbour. Then the _Caliban_ stood out into the Gulf
Stream and was off, leaving the loafing Cubans and listless Conches
upon the docks, gazing after her over the heaving blue surface streaked
and darkened by the breath of the trade-wind.

The _Caliban_ was a well-appointed yacht, and her master was a
yacht-captain. That is, he was not a navigator, but simply a Norwegian
sailor who had had the address to impress the owner favourably, and
consequently, there being no examination for a license necessary, the
owner had placed him in command in the usual manner. The chief mate
was a square-head like the master, the owner allowing the captain the
choice of officers, retaining only the cook and steward as his own
protégés for the comfort of the cabin. Under a schooner rig, the
vessel had cruised through the West Indian waters, and had lost her
second mate and crew the day she touched at Key West, the party making
the “pier-head” jump the day after being paid off. In disgust, the
owner left her and took passage for the fashionable hotel at Miami,
leaving his captain to find a crew and follow as soon as possible.

The morning of the second day out, the yacht swung around Cape Florida,
and stood into Biscayne Bay, rounding to on the edge of the channel
near the large and fashionable hotel, and dropping her hook, the rattle
of her anchor-chain was drowned in the crash of her six-pounder. The
captain went ashore in full uniform, and the first officer turned in,
leaving the second mate in charge leaning easily upon the rail and
gazing after the vanishing form in gold braid.

The uniform of the second mate was a misfit. There were no clothes
among the slops that would fit his frame, but he gloried in a cap with
braid stuck rakishly on his head, and while his legs were incased in
white ducks rolled to the knees, his huge torso was covered by no more
than a course linen shirt. This he wore split up the back and open in
front, and he was comfortably indifferent to the excellent ventilation
it afforded.

It was early in the morning and few people were stirring near the great
hotel. The captain disappeared in the direction of the town, and while
the second mate gazed, he saw a boat pulling rapidly toward him from
the hotel dock.

Soon a man, rowed by a boy, came alongside.

“Is the owner aboard?” he asked, nervously.

“No, sah,” said Bill, squinting at him.

“Who’s in command?” he inquired.

“Me, sah.”

“Well, don’t fire that gun again. You scare all the invalids in the
hotel. We can’t have our people frightened this way.”

“She goes agin at eight bells,” drawled Bill. “Have to raise de colours
by him. If you don’t like dat little gun, jest please move yer shack.”

“Don’t you dare to talk to me like that! Do you know who I am?” bawled
the man, standing up.

“Naw, I don’t know yer–an’ de wust is, yo’ clean forgot me. Now don’t
yo’ git too noisy, Peter Snooks, er whatever yer name is–ef yer do,
I’ll set on yer. If yer don’t like de noise, move yo’ shack. I ain’t
got no orders to pull de hook.”

The man swore and threatened, but the second mate smiled
good-naturedly, until the man rowed away vowing vengeance.

“That’s the dockmaster, sir,” said a sailor standing near. “He’ll make
a lot o’ trouble–I know him.”

“Fergit him,” said the second mate, in a low tone, but in a manner
which closed the incident.

At eight bells the gun crashed a salute, and, either by chance or
otherwise, it pointed directly at the windows of the huge edifice
filled with the rich Northern guests. The glass fairly rattled with the
shock.

The day wore on without incident, until the captain came aboard, a bit
the worse for liquor and with the news that the owner had left for St.
Augustine, leaving orders for the yacht to follow.

It was quiet, and the schooner rode at anchor in a bay of pond-like
smoothness. The men lounged about the decks or gazed over the side at
the bottom, which could be seen through the clear water. They would
stand out at sunrise, but the captain told no one of this intention,
and those ashore expected her to be a fixture of a week or more. The
sun went down in a bank to the westward and the semi-tropical night
came dark and quiet upon the sea.

Through the deepening gloom, a shadow came stealing around the wooded
point of Cape Florida. With her mainsail well off to the gentle
southerly breeze, the wrecking-sloop _Sea-Horse_ slipped noiselessly
through the water, swinging around the channel buoy and standing like
a black phantom for the mouth of the Miami. She came without a sound,
not even a ripple gurgling from her forefoot; and not a ray of light
showed either from her rigging or from her cabin-house. At the wheel,
a figure stood silent in the night, a slight turn of the spokes now
and then being the only movement to show that the image was that of a
man steering. Strung along the deck-house and rail lay six other human
forms, but they were as quiet as though made of wood. Not even the
glow of a pipe relieved the silent gloom. The wrecker drew near the
yacht. The man at the wheel leaned slightly forward over the spokes
and peered long and searchingly at her from under the main-boom. Then
she drifted past, and as she did so eight bells struck, sounding clear
and musical from the forecastle. In the glare from her anchor-light, a
giant form showed upon the yacht’s forecastle-head–the black second
mate, who was taking a look at the anchor-cable before settling himself
for a smoke. The wrecker passed and disappeared around the point, and
the second mate of the _Caliban_ stretched himself along the heel of
the bowsprit and watched the distant loom of the keys whence the low,
murmuring snore of the surf sounded. Two bells struck and aroused him
for a moment. The man on lookout asked permission to go below for a bit
of tobacco, and then after he had watched his figure vanish down the
hatchway, the mate turned toward the shore where the lights sparkled
over the bay.

A slight rippling sound attracted his attention, and he looked over
the side. It sounded like a large fish of some kind making its way
clumsily along near the surface. The black water flared in places,
and a continuous flashing of phosphorus shone along the cheek of the
bow when the tide was shoved aside. Something dark showed at a little
distance, but it passed astern and the rippling sound died away.
Haskins, who was half-fish from habit and as watchful as a shark, went
to the taffrail and leaned over. The water seemed like ink in the
gloom, but he scanned it steadily and patiently. Nothing showed upon
the dark surface, and he smoked for half an hour, until his usually
alert senses began to wander. He was getting sleepy. Then the rippling
sound began again on the offshore side. He remained quiet and listened.
This time the rippling sounded like a fish going against the current,
and the glare of the disturbed water showed now and again as the body
approached. Suddenly it seemed as if the creature passed under the
yacht’s bottom. The rippling died away, and the second mate stepped to
the side to see if it would rise again. Nothing showed in the blackness
under her counter, but from down there came a peculiar scraping sound.
It continued, and he peered over to see the cause. The raking stopped
instantly. He remained quiet and it began again, a peculiar scraping as
though something were scratching against the vessel’s bilge.

Suddenly a sound of heavy breathing came from the water. Haskins
started, drew himself down upon the rail and listened intently. Yes, he
recognized it now, distinctly. It was the breathing of a man.

While he lay upon the rail listening, he was thinking rapidly. There
were few men who would swim out in the bay at night, and there was none
who would swim out there without some sinister object. He thought of
the dockmaster and his talk of revenge, but he knew the dockmaster was
not a diver. There could be only one or two men on the Florida Reefs
for wrecking, and these men were among the crew of the _Sea-Horse_, the
sloop in which he had been mate for the past season. Then he remembered
a phantom-like shadow which had drifted past in the earlier hours of
the evening, and he was satisfied he knew his man. It was the captain
of the wrecking-sloop, and his object was plain to the diver. It was an
old game, a game he had indulged in many times himself in the days gone
by. He knew the long, desperate swims through the dangerous waters of
West Indian and Florida reefs; the fierce struggle alongside to hold
the body silent in a tideway while with hook and bar the wrecker worked
at the oakum in the seams just a strake or two below the water-line;
then the inrushing flood and settling ship, and daylight finding a
panic-stricken captain and mutinous and half-dead crew with swollen
arms and aching backs from a night’s hopeless work at the pump-brakes.
He could picture the approaching wrecking-sloop, with her apparently
amazed crew and the vulture-like descent upon the soon-abandoned
vessel whose only damage was really the working out of several pounds
of oakum from seams which were manifestly improperly calked. Then the
investigation and salvage, for even when the marks showed plain of
either bar or hook, there was never the slightest evidence against the
wrecker.

Bahama Bill knew the game well, and he smiled a little as he listened.
Then he took off his cap with the gold braid and laid it upon the deck,
and leaned far out over the side. Suddenly, through the darkness, he
made out a face looking up at him from the water. There was nothing
said. He recognized the captain of the _Sea-Horse_, and he knew him
to be a man who seldom wasted words. There was only the long, hard
scrutiny, the study of man’s mind by man; each trying to fathom the
other’s thought, for the sudden resolve which always comes quickly to
men of action.

While they gazed, a sudden noise from aft attracted attention. It was
the surly mutterings of the drunken yacht-captain, who had come on
deck for a breath of air. The sight of him annoyed the second mate.
It caused a revulsion of feeling within him he could not understand.
The responsibility of his position became apparent for the first time.
Among his kind the rigid law of superiority and control had always
obtained while afloat. Ashore it was different. There restraint was
cast to the winds, and he had often been one of the wildest and most
dangerous men in the seamen’s resorts between Key West and Panama.
Here the sight of the drunken captain made him quiet and thoughtful.
Whatever relations he had intended should exist between himself and
the wrecker, it was now plain to him that he was an officer holding
a responsible position. It came to him suddenly at the sight of the
incapable commander. He would maintain his dignity and responsibility.

This feeling was upon him before he was half aware of it, and he turned
again to the man overside.

“Get away quick,” he said, in a low tone.

The wrecker knew his meaning, and his resolve was taken. He would
follow the game out. He had swum a full half-mile, and the stake he was
playing for was high.

“It’s a half share if you keep your mouth shut,” said the wrecker. “I
thought you had some sense.”

“De dock-marshal tol’ yo’ I was heah,” said Bill, “but he forgot to
tell yo’ I ain’t de mate o’ de _Sea-Horse_. Yo’ clean side-stepped dat.”

“If anything happens to me, the boys know you are aboard. Your friend
the dockmaster saw to that. They burnt a nigger to the stake last
week,” said the wrecker, meaningly.

“Yo’ better go ashore, Cap’n. I ain’t de mate o’ de _Sea-Horse_.” His
tone was low and measured, and it left no further room for argument.

The tipsy yacht-master had gone below again, gurgling the words of a
ribald song. He had seen nothing. The deck was deserted by all save the
second mate.

“Swim out,” said Bill, decisively.

“Well, I’ll rest a minute first,” said the wrecker. He made his way
forward and climbed upon the bobstay, the second mate going on the
forecastle to watch him. The man on the lookout had not come from below
yet, and the wrecker noticed it. He was furious at his former mate, and
his hand felt instinctively for the knife in his belt. The Conch dared
not hurt him, for the crew of the _Sea-Horse_ would surely make him pay
the penalty if he did. A call to the men aboard would put an end to
wrecking operations, but the giant disdained any help. He would settle
the matter quietly, as was best, and the men of the wrecking-sloop
would have no real cause for revenge. The second mate had no desire to
make unnecessary trouble for himself. He would have to return some day
for the reckoning.

The legs of the wrecker shone white below his trunks, and were in sharp
contrast against the black water in which they were half submerged. The
man was thinking quickly, and waiting a few seconds before making the
desperate attack with his knife. Once rid of the mate, all would be
clear for action. Haskins knew his man and suspected something, but he
sat silent upon the knightheads and waited.

Suddenly he saw a long flaming streak in the water. The man on the
bobstay swore furiously. There was a great splash, a hoarse cry, and
the second mate was forward alone.

It was all so sudden, he had hardly time to realize its meaning. Then,
as the man who had gone below rushed up, he seized his sheathed knife
and plunged into the blackness ahead. A thrashing of the water to
starboard located the wrecker, who had been seized by a dog-shark and
was cutting and struggling wildly for liberty. His white legs, lying
motionless and half submerged, had tempted the fish to strike. In
motion and under water, the danger had been slight. Now the scavenger,
who was about five feet long, had seized hold, and with its natural
bulldog tenacity was pulling the wrecker steadily seaward in spite
of his struggles. He had used his knife freely, for the fish made
no attempt to draw him under. The small shark of the reef, for some
reason, fights upon the surface, sinking only after all resistance is
over. It was to this peculiarity that the wrecker owed his life.

The big mate, Haskins, knew what had happened. He knew also the
chances, and he drove ahead through the black water, leaving a flaming
wake behind. The man on lookout, thinking the black giant had gone mad,
dived below with the news that he had plunged overboard and committed
suicide. At first, Haskins could only make out a slight disturbance
in the water, which was rapidly moving toward the entrance. Then, as
his eyes, long used to sea-water, made out the dark lump which was his
former captain’s head, he half rose from the sea and with tremendous
overhand strokes fairly lifted himself forward, his knife grasped with
point in front. In a few moments he was up with the fracas. The wrecker
saw him coming, and called out. He seized him, and then all three went
below the surface with the force of the fish’s tug.

Reaching along the wrecker’s leg, Haskins drove his knife with force
just behind the shark’s jaw-socket. The blow abated the scavenger’s
zeal, and they arose to the surface. A second lunge and the fish let
go and disappeared. Then the wrecker’s body relaxed, and Haskins was
swimming upon the quiet surface of the bay, holding the sinking head
above water.

Far away, the dark outlines of Virginia Key showed, a low black lump
on the horizon. Beyond it, the dull snore of the surf came over the
water. A good hundred yards against the tide, the anchor-light of the
yacht shone. It would be almost impossible to drag the insensible man
to her, even should he dare. There was only one way out of the scrape,
and Haskins with resolute mind saw it and began the struggle at once.
He headed for the mouth of the river, where he knew the _Sea-Horse_ lay
waiting, just behind the point.

On through the blackness he swam. The first mile seemed endless, and
still the lifeless form of the wrecker dragged helplessly in his wake.
Another, and his teeth were shut like a vise and his breath was panting
loudly over the quiet water. He turned the point, and saw the loom of
the _Sea-Horse_ as she rose at anchor beyond the shadow of the trees
upon the banks.

Suddenly a man hailed in a low tone. The mate made no answer, but
headed for the bobstays and grasped them. Then he rested. Half an hour
later, the captain of the wrecker came to in his bunk and viewed his
bandaged leg. A lamp burned dimly in the cabin, and he made out the
form of the black mate lying in a bunk, snoring loudly. Several of the
crew were sitting around waiting until he could give the details of
the affair, and now they crowded forward. The plot was a failure owing
to Haskins. He told of the huge mate’s interference and of the stroke
of the dog-shark. Then they burst forth with imprecations so loud
that Haskins awoke. Knives glinted in the dim light and a half-dozen
sinister faces formed a crescent above him, but he was very tired. He
gazed for nearly a minute through half-closed lids at the threatening
men. He thought he heard the captain calling weakly for the men to let
him alone. What he had done for him was not entirely lost. Then he
gave a snort of contempt and turned his back to them and slept.

Even the boldest held back. The conscious power of the man and his
disdain for them all were too much even for the most desperate. They
drew away sullenly and listened to their captain, and then as his
words, whispered low, began to have effect, they left the cuddy.
Silently they hoisted the mainsail and carefully drew in fathom after
fathom of the cable. The jib was hoisted and the _Sea-Horse_ stood out
and passed like a dark shadow from the harbour. As the sun rose and
gave colour to the sea, the deep blue of the wind-broken surface told
of the Gulf Stream. The land had disappeared astern.

In the early morning, the yacht-master put sail on the _Caliban_ and
stood out for New York. He had a full crew lacking a second mate,
and they carried the story North how they had shipped a black giant
who had gone mad during the night and plunged to his death over the
knightheads.

Continue Reading

The Wrecker’s Reward

“Ef I wassent er lady, I’d knock yo’ blamed haid off, yo’ black
rascal!” cried Julia. The big mate smiled at her softly, and made
another pass to seize her; but she struggled free, for he would not
hold her fast enough. “Don’t yo’ come ’round heah no mo’; I don’t want
no dealin’s wif no sailor man.”

“What’ the good o’ gettin’ mad over a little squeeze, Sugar-plum?”
grinned the black giant. “I ain’t done yo’ no harm–an’ wouldn’t fo’
nothing Jule. Yo’ knows I ain’t got no gal but yo’self.”

“Youse a rascal, dat yo’ is, ‘n’ ef I wassent a lady, I’d knock yo’
cocoanut off’n yo’ ugly haid!” said the indignant Julia, whose dignity
had been ruffled by the sailor’s amorous but powerful wooing. “I knows
yo’, comin’ around dis house an’ tryin’ to fool a pore gal like me.”

“No, Jule, I means everythin’ I says, an’ a lot mo’ besides. I wants
yo’ to marry me, sho’ ’nuff,” said the big sailor earnestly.

Julia rapidly was soothing herself. There was something so strong and
pleading in the man’s voice that she almost forgot the liberties he had
taken, and looked at him keenly. “Aw, gwine away, yo’ black man; whar
yo’ got money to marry a gal like me?” She was now smiling at him; but
edging away into the doorway of the little cabin which stood by the
coral roadway in Key West. She really did not dislike the sailor; for
Bahama Bill had a reputation for being a good money-getter and a most
excellent spender. As mate of the wrecking sloop _Sea-Horse_, he often
came in with a few English pounds sterling, or a pocketful of good
American dollars, earned in his business along the Great Bahama Bank.
Three days, however, always was the limit of his prosperity.

Now he had been ashore for a week, and consequently was the possessor
of nothing more than a clasp-knife, a dirty pair of trousers and
jumper, and an old clay pipe. Shoes he had left at some friend’s house
for a trivial debt for a handful of cigars, and head-gear he did not
need. He was more or less contented, and was entirely willing to enter
into the married state, feeling with the utmost confidence that money
was a plentiful article and easy for a man of parts to procure. His
wild excesses seemed vain in the sober light of the tropic sunshine,
and it manifestly was the time for him to settle down to a state of
quiet bliss with Julia.

“I kin get plenty o’ money, Jule,” said he softly.

“When yo’ shows me, den yo’ cain talk wif me, an’ not befo’,” said
Julia. “I ain’t doin’ no washin’ ‘n’ ironin’ for no one. I’se near
eighteen now, an’ I ain’t married no one yet.”

“But, Jule, I kin get money easy enough. Come here now an’ let me tell
yo’ how I kin.”

“No, sah, no monkeyin’,” said Julia, edging farther into the
doorway. “Yo’ get de money fust, ‘n’–‘n’–den–well, yo’
knows–’bout–’bout–dat.”

Then she softly but firmly shut the door. He caught a glimpse of her
through the kitchen window, and she smiled and waved her hand so that
he almost was tempted to force an entrance; but he remembered that
the Cuban who owned the house would likely hear him and perhaps fill
him with bird-shot. He gave one longing look, and strode toward the
harbour. The wrecking sloop was to sail that day, sponging to the
northward along the Keys.

The first few days were hard on him. He was solemn and lonesome in
spite of himself, and his quiet behaviour was noticed by his shipmates.
They made the remarks usual among rough men of the forecastle, but Bill
took no notice.

“Here’s a chance for a feller to make good,” cried a Conch to a stout
German sailor called Heldron: “Reward fer old man Sanches’ boy who run
off to sea in one o’ them fruit-ships,” and he read from an old paper
as he lay in his bunk during the watch below.

“I know dot poy: he pad poy; but him fader big sight worse,” said the
German. “He make de worst seegar in Key West.”

“Well, if I was a mate o’ a ship I might make good on that, hey?” said
Sam.

“Blamed sight easier’n spongin’, to catch a little boy,” said another;
“but I hear the old man is going to the eastward–heard of something
down Fortune Island way.”

And the conversation turned to business, while the mate smoked on in
silence. That night they were speeding across the Florida Channel in
spite of the threatening weather and heavy sea. By morning they were
many miles off shore, and gradually had been forced to slow down.
The wind, while now slacking up and becoming heavy with moisture and
warmth, had been strong enough during the night to make the _Sea-Horse_
shorten down to keep from forcing too heavily into the high, rolling
sea.

It was dirty weather in the Gulf Stream. The flying scud streamed
away to the northwest in little whirling bits of vapour. They tore
along with the speed of an express train in a direction which seemed
at a sharp angle to the heavy, steel-blue bank which swept in a
mighty and majestic semicircle across the southern sky. High overhead
the sky had a distant appearance, something peculiar and weird, for
the storm-centre was advancing northward and gathering all straying
moisture in its grasp. It made dark streaks in the heavens at a
distance above the sea, and rays of the morning sun shone upon them
with a brassy glare, as though the whole universe was incased in a
colossal dome which darkened near the horizon. It seemed to absorb
the failing light less and less as the line of vision rose toward the
zenith.

With a line of reef-points tied in from the second hoop on the
mainsail to the cringle on the leach, which raised only a couple of
fathoms in the air, the _Sea-Horse_ lay upon the starboard tack. A bit
of staysail forward hauled to the mast held her steady as she breasted
the sea, staggering to leeward with the heave that, increasing, told of
a mighty power behind it. The combing crests rolled white with a dull,
rattling snore, and the beautiful blue colour of the warm stream was
paling into a dark lead.

The sloop would throw her forefoot high in the air as the rolling
crests would strike and sweep from under the now almost logy hulk. The
brown of the copper-painted under-body showed in strong contrast to
the dirty white above. Then she would drop with a sidewise, twisting
motion, a little bow-foremost into the trough, and back her snub nose
away from the onrushing hill before it, which sometimes would burst and
smother her out of sight to the mast in a storm of flying water. Then
she would drop again, sidewise and forward down the incline, the rush
of foam on the decks sweeping through the side ports in the bulwarks,
spurting and pouring over everything, and finally overboard, until the
action was repeated.

Two men in their yellow oilskins were upon the quarter-deck; one lying
prone abaft the rise of the cabin, gazed sullenly at the menacing sky.
The other sat and held on the wheel, which was fast in a becket, with
relieving tackles on the gear heaving it hard down, and he tried to
get puffs of smoke from a pipe. The wind was getting too strong for
smoking, and he went into the companionway and called the mate to
relieve him. Bahama Bill came up, and the Captain went below.

The big mate sat there watching the weather, and his face bore a
good-humoured expression. The conditions suited his frame of mind. Away
from the temptations of the beach, he was a different man from the
fracas-loving ruffian when full of cheap grog. Captain Bull Sanders
turned in for a short rest, knowing that the vessel was in good hands.

Below in the bunks of the cuddy five men lay in all possible positions
to keep from being flung out. One read, or tried to read, the paper
which told of the running away to sea of the rich cigar-maker’s son
and of the reward offered for his safe delivery into the bosom of his
family. Others lay and talked. Another slept, grasping even in his
slumbers at the bunk-boards, and mechanically bracing his knee to
hold himself during the wild plunges. The creaking and racking of the
straining sloop blended with the droning roar overhead, punctuated
now and then by a smashing crash as a sea would fall on deck; but the
resting men paid little attention to either the noise or motion, until
the Captain had finished his pipe.

He suddenly threw down the magazine he had been trying to read for some
minutes, and glanced at the barometer on the bulkhead. “Goin’ down all
the time. I reckon we’ll catch it,” he said.

“Hurricane season began nigh a month ago,” said a man significantly.

“It don’t got here alretty yet, maybe,” said Heldron.

“Must be,” said a Swede.

There was a general movement. All hands reached for oilskins and
without further orders followed the Captain on deck.

“How’s the wind now, Bill?” bawled the Captain.

“Been easterly; but goin’ toe th’ s’uthard fast,” said the mate. “Looks
a bit dirty.”

“Whew! Beginning to blow a bit, hey?” said the Captain, as a fierce
squall struck them and roared past, sending a blinding cloud of spray
and drift over them. The droning cry of the wind in the rigging
increased, and the straining cloth stretched until the blast passing
over it made a dull, booming, rushing sound of such volume that
conversation was deadened in the noise.

It now was blowing with force. The sea was white under the steel-blue
bank, which had risen until a twilight darkness was upon the ocean. The
sky above was turning a dull gray, and the scud was darker against it,
whirling along in torn masses before the squalls, which were becoming
more frequent and violent. The wind was shifting southerly, and the
shifts in the squalls told plainly of the danger of the approaching
spot of low pressure, about which the squalls drew in with the spiral
movement common to tropical hurricanes.

Bull Sanders looked anxiously at the lubber’s mark. The sea was getting
worse, and the sudden hot blasts of wind were more vicious. He was too
old a sailor to be caught with loose gear. Everything already had been
done to snug the sloop down; but there was a limit to the strength of
spars and lines. The mainsail might hold; but some of those hurricane
squalls would blow away anything made of canvas, and he decided to take
no chances. He got out his sea-anchor, or drag, and let it go from
the weather quarter, passing the line forward with difficulty to the
windlass. Then, just after a squall, all hands handed in the bit of
canvas, rolled it up, and made it fast. The _Sea-Horse_ now was going
astern fast, pulling the drag with her which kept her head to the sea.
Nothing more could be done for the time, and Sanders crouched in the
wake of the cabin, watching ahead for the shift which would come.

“What’s that?” he bawled into the mate’s ear, and pointed to the
eastward.

Just as the sloop rose upon a high crest, a dark speck showed for a
moment on the eastern horizon. It was not far away; for it was too
thick to see any great distance.

“Steamer,” bawled the mate, “hove-to and going to the north’ard like
blazes!”

“We’re right in th’ stream–if the wind holds southeast, he’ll be all
right.”

“But it won’t. It’s shifting–be southwest in an hour–he’ll be close
to the bank.”

“Gun Key?”

“We ain’t more’n twenty miles to the south’ard o’ Gun Key–’bout
sou’west-b’-south.”

The squalls became fiercer and more frequent. They were like blasts
from an explosion, the wind roaring past with incredible power. Between
them it was blowing at the rate of sixty miles an hour; but when they
struck it was nearly double that velocity. The wrecking sloop sagged
away to leeward, and the dangerous sea swept upon her during those
rushes in a way that shook every bolt and fastening in the frame.
She was beginning to make water a little, and the bursting sea which
struck now and again sought out every crack and seam in the companion
doors and hatchway. The men on deck were submerged repeatedly. For
an hour and more they watched her making bad weather of it, and then
came a darker colour in the gray above. There was a sudden squall of
tremendous power. The vessel was hove almost on her beam ends as it
took her forward of the beam, and she swung up to the drag barely in
time to take the sea bow on. The lubber’s mark swung slowly from left
to right until it reached southwest.

“It’s goin’ fast,” bawled the mate to Sanders alongside him.

“See that feller now?” asked the Captain.

The mate pointed to the eastward.

The dark smudge of the steamer’s hull showed through the flying drift.
While they looked a flash of white told of a heavy sea boarding her.
She disappeared in the foam.

“Must have trouble with her engines,” said Sanders. “She’s goin’ to
lor’ard as fast as we be.”

Bahama Bill was staring astern into the gray blank where all things
seemed to melt into chaos. Suddenly he called out, and all hands swung
about and stared in the same direction.

“Gun Key light!” screamed Heldron, his eyes staring from their
salt-burned lids.

“Will we go clear?” asked Sam, his voice steady, but his intense look
telling of the tale of life or death he wanted to hear. They stared
into the drift astern, and the squalls broke over them unheeded. The
sea was quick and heavy, and to strike meant certain loss of the
vessel. There was one chance in a thousand for any one to get ashore,
should she fetch up on the coral bank. Yet there she was going to
leeward fast in spite of the drag, and the tower of Gun Key light was
rising under the lee. To the northward was the Beminis. She was getting
jammed, and the chances were growing against her as the minutes flew by.

The steamer was farther to leeward. She had sighted the edge of the
bank, and was trying to drive off into the Gulf Stream with the force
of her crippled engines. A cross-head bolt had started, and under the
terrific strain the starboard engine had broken down. She could not
keep head to the sea with the port wheel, and had placed a tarpaulin
in the mizzen-rigging to help hold; but it had forced her to leeward
also, and she now was close to the edge of the Great Bahama Bank. The
_Sea-Horse_ still had between twelve and fifteen miles between her and
the reef; but the ship had hardly ten, and was dropping back too fast
for any hope to clear unless the wind eased up suddenly.

Squall after squall followed the shift. It blew harder, if anything,
and the Captain of the steamer, seeing that he must go on the bank,
made ready to pile his ship up as high as possible in the hope of
saving some of the passengers and crew. To go upon the submerged part
of the reef meant death to all hands. He must run upon the coral above
the surf, and get as high up as he could. Then if the outer edge was
steep, he might get his bow near enough to dry land to get the people
ashore.

The crew of the _Sea-Horse_ watched him as he went slowly in. In an
hour after the westerly shift he was so close that the white coral
showed through the blinding clouds of spray thrown up by the sea on the
reef. Then, by hard work, he managed to get some head sail on the ship
and start in for Gun Key.

She ran the half-mile between her and the beach at a tremendous pace.
Lifting upon a sea, she rushed shoreward and struck, swung, lifted
again, and then was hove solidly broadside into the surf. The men on
the wrecker saw her strike. When she stopped a great burst of white
told of a smashing sea going over. The slanting spars and funnel told
how high she had hit, and the huge, bursting clouds of white water
smothering her told of the rending power that she was exposed to
in that surf. The hundred yards between the bow and the sand was a
churning, boiling stretch of whiteness.

“That’s the end of her,” said the mate. “Looks like we’re in fer the
same thing.”

In silence the rest watched the wreck. They were going in themselves;
but the fate of the ship held their attention in spite of the death
that they knew lay in the white line to leeward. It had been blowing
now for four hours with hurricane force, and as they went in within
a mile of the surf the shifting squalls swung more and more to the
westward. Then it began to ease suddenly. Between gusts there was
not more than a stiff gale. It was growing brighter, and they knew
that they had missed the storm-centre, which must have passed to the
eastward.

“Get the mainsail on her–we’ll poke her to the s’uth’ard!” bawled
Sanders.

Led by the mate, the men lay forward, and working for life raised the
balance-reefed mainsail. Bahama Bill lay flat on his stomach, knife in
hand, while they cleared the forestaysail and ran it up. Then he cut
clear the drag. A wave of the hand, and Sanders filled the vessel off
on the starboard tack, and as it went the dull booming thunder of the
surf came up against the gale.

“If the wind keeps goin’ we’ll poke her off yet,” said Sanders as the
mate came aft.

“Ay, we’ll poke her out to sea; but I could swim that surf good an’
easy,” said the mate quietly.

The Captain grinned, and looked at his giant form, its huge proportions
made all the larger by the loose-fitting oilskins.

“Mebbe you’ll git a chance yet,” he said. “If it had blown half an hour
longer, you cud ha’ tried.”

They worked off that afternoon, getting sail up as the wind slacked. At
night they kept the light in sight, and the next morning were standing
back for Gun Key under a single-reefed mainsail with a fine strong
northerly wind and clear sky. The steamship lay over on her side in the
surf, which broke over her in sheets of foam and spray. The sea had
gone down; but there still was enough to tear up the craft. The masts
and funnel and nearly all the superstructure had gone. Even the iron
sides were smashed, twisted and bent, the plates starting and ripping
clear of the rivets under the smashing blows of the sea. No sign of
life showed aboard; but as she was high up on the bank there was no
doubt that men could live. The _Sea-Horse_ ran close enough to give the
crew a chance to read the name _Orion_ on the stern.

“One o’ them new ships,” said Bill. “She was in Key West last time we
ran sponges.”

They ran as close to the surf as they dared, and let go both anchors.
Paying out cable, the sloop soon came within fifty fathoms, and then
stopped; for the sea rose just under the stern, and burst a few fathoms
farther in.

“Gimme a line,” said the mate.

Sam and Heldron brought forth a coil of whale line, and the black man
stripped for the plunge. He went over the side without a splash, and
they paid out fathom after fathom until his black head showed close to
the bow of the ship, which had settled inshore and lower. Then they saw
him disappear around it, and they waited. Five, ten, minutes passed,
and then a form showed upon the high stern. It was the mate, and he
waved to haul line.

Heldron went over the taut line next, followed by a Swede and Sam. Then
the line was slacked off, and the big mate, taking a new one, plunged
to leeward and made his way ashore. Half-fish, the diver went through
the surf without accident and joined the light-keeper and his assistant
on the beach, where they were waiting to do what they could to save
those on the wreck. A line they had sent in on a buoy had parted, and
the man upon it had been drowned.

The mate went back aboard, and managed to get the ten passengers
and rest of the crew ashore without accident. All had gone except
an uncouth-looking lad, the ship’s galley-boy, in whom no one
took interest enough to care whether he got ashore or not. Dirty,
dishevelled and frightened beyond words, the lad crawled out of his
hiding-place and begged the big mate to take him in.

As he had been calling and looking through the ship for disabled men,
the Captain having told him his crew, the mate seized the lad without
further words and plunged over the side. The boy was the last person
unaccounted for.

“Seems to me I seen yo’ befo’, sonny,” said the mate as he drew him
clear of the surf. “Don’t yo’ live in Key West?”

“Oh, yes, I know you,” said the lad, grinning.

The mate held him out at arm’s length. “Ain’t yo’ Jimmy Sanches?”

The grin died away from the lad’s face. “You won’t take me back, will
you, Bill?” he said.

“I reckon I’ll have toe, Jimmy.”

The next day the _Sea-Horse_ sailed for Key West with the first claim
for salvage, and a small boy who tried to run away at the last minute,
causing the mate a chase to the lighthouse before he recaptured him.

“You’ve hit it fair this trip,” said Sanders. “I reckon as ye ain’t
thinkin’ about whackin’ up on thet reward, hey Bill?”

But the mate said nothing, his rheumy eyes looking far away toward the
southern horizon, where he expected to see the spars of the shipping in
Key West rise above the sea. He was thinking, and it caused his heavy
and seamed jaws to set and line up into a deep scowl. Julia worked for
the rich Sanches, and their reception of a ragged and half-sober seaman
had not been hospitable. Yet here was his chance.

The next day the wrecking sloop rode at anchor close to the beach,
and Sanders made ready to get his load of perishable goods ashore and
notify the authorities of the disaster up the bank.

“Don’t take me back!” whispered Jimmy as Bill swung him into the small
boat, and the big mate was silent as the men rowed ashore.

On the way up the street the mate walked slowly, holding the boy by the
hand.

“You know what a feller my stepfather is, Bill. Don’t take me back!”
pleaded Jimmy.

A steamer was clearing at the coal dock, and the mate stopped to look
at it. Then he suddenly looked down at the boy. “Kin yo’ make it,
sonny?” he asked, and he let go of the boy’s hand. Like a flash the
lad ran to the string-piece, balanced a moment, and then sprang to
the rail of the ship astern without those on board noticing him. It
was gathering headway, and in a few moments was steaming out to sea,
leaving the big mate staring after her, and the few men who had cast
off her lines clearing up the rubbish in the wake of her gangway.

“I come back toe tell yo’, Jule, dat I ain’t in the money racket,” said
Bill, half an hour later. “I ain’t no perliceman–I’m a sailor.”

“Whatcher mean, Bill?” asked the damsel, keeping inside the door.

“Nothin’–only if yo’ is sho’ nuff goin’ toe marry me, gal, yo’ll have
toe take yo’ chances–same as me.”

“Chances? Whatcher mean by chances, man?”

“What I says,” said Bill, solemnly.

She saw that he was not in liquor. He sat silent and solemn for a long
time, until finally she opened the door a little wider.

“I reckon I ain’t scared o’ takin’–usual risks–Bill.”

“I would like to borrow five dollars from ye, Bill,” said Sanders when
the mate got back aboard.

The giant black scowled at him.

“Didn’t ye git the money yet?”

“I ain’t naterally quarrelsome,” said Bill; “but if I hears any mo’
erbout dat money, dere’s likely toe be some daid men ‘roun’.”

Continue Reading