Oh, but Dannie Keating was the happy man that night! Under the light of
the winter stars he drew her to him, and, with her head all but resting
on his shoulder and his arm about her waist, they came down the shady
side of the street together, and cared no more for the whistling wind
than for whatever curious eyes might, from behind drawn blinds, be
peeping. “If anybody’s rubbering, they’re all sore,” said Dannie when
she protested, and again broke the night air with–he simply couldn’t
“O sweetheart mine, I love thee,
And in all the sky above–see!
No heart like thine, no love like mine–
O sweetheart, but I love thee!”
Oh, but the blood was running riot within him. “Don’t I love you, Katie?
Don’t I? And don’t you? And don’t we both?” and in the shadow of the
steps of her home he drew her yet closer to him and kissed her–kissed
her–a thousand times he kissed her before she could draw a free breath
“And in the morning, Katie, I’ll be putting out. You won’t see me, it’ll
be so early. And it’ll be the last trip in that old packet, though maybe
I oughtn’t say that of her that’s earned a good bit of money for
me–earned enough to pay for the new one, Katie–the new one that’ll be
ready for me the next trip in. And then, Katie dear, we’ll see–as good
as anything of her length and beam out the port. And have you picked a
name for her yet? Yes? The _Dannie Keating_, indeed! No, no, I’ve a ten
times better one–and you’d never guess, I’ll bet. And she’ll be a
vessel! Every cent that you saved for me, dear, went into her.”
“You saved it yourself, Dannie.”
“I saved? Lord bless you, Katie, how much would ever I save if I hadn’t
turned it over to you as fast as I made it? How much did I save before I
met you? A whole lot, warn’t it, now? Why, girl, the very oilskins I
used to wear would be drawn against my next trip. But it don’t matter
which of us–every cent the pair of us have saved has gone into her. And
she’ll _be_ a vessel, and then, if any man sailing out of this port
thinks to make me take my mains’l in—-”
“Hush, Dannie, don’t begin by being reckless. And I wish you weren’t
going out in the _Pantheon_ again. She’s so old, Dannie, and not the
vessel for a winter trip to Georges.”
“Well, there _is_ better. But she’s been a good vessel to me, dear, and
that means to you, too. And only one more trip, and then the fast and
the saucy–the handsome _Katie Morrison_.”
He parted from her after that, and from the shadow of the doorway she
looked after him, her heart jumping and herself all but running after
him. Up the street she watched him swing, so straight and strong. Oh,
but the shoulders of him! and the spring to his every stride! Then she
breathed a prayer for him, and went upstairs and to her bed.
But she could not sleep. All night long she tossed, whatever it was
possessed her; and in the dawns she got up to watch by the window until
he should come by on his way to the vessel.
He would come by, she knew. He never yet failed to go that half dozen
streets out of his way so that he might look up at her window. Oh, the
times that she watched from behind the curtains–before she knew him
well, that was–and he never suspecting!
And he came at last. It was but five o’clock then, and dark–a winter
morning. But she needed no light. Long before she could make out his
figure she knew his footfall. How lightly he trod for so big a man–to
his toes at every stride, as a strong man should. No doubt or hesitation
there–a man to go winter fishing that, and enjoy every whistling breath
of it. And he was singing now!
“O sweetheart dear, I love thee!”
When a man sings a love-song at five o’clock of a winter’s morning– She
threw on her mother’s prized cashmere shawl and ran down.
Across the street he leaped, three strides from curb to curb and two
more to the top step. “Katie– Katie–and this cold morning!”
“I couldn’t let you go by without saying good luck again, Dannie.”
“Oh, the girl!” He patted her head and drew her to him till he felt her
lips making warm little circles against his neck.
“I wish you’d stay at home this trip. The _Pantheon_ is old.”
“Old? So she is. Not the vessel the _Katie_’ll be–not by a dozen
ratings. But Lord, Katie, I’ve been through too many blows in her for
you to be worrying now, dear.”
“I know it, Dannie, and yet I wish you weren’t going this trip.”
“Well, I wish I warn’t myself. I’d like nothing better than to be
staying this month home and watching the new one building–to overhaul
every plank and bolt and thread of oakum that’s put in her. All day long
watch her building, and every night come and tell you how she is getting
on, the pair of us side by side before the fire. That’d beat winter
fishing on Georges–fighting your way out of the shoal water when it
comes a no’the-easter, and chopping ice off her to keep her afloat when
it comes a no’wester. Yes, dear, it cert’nly would be a comfort–home
here with you and watching the _Katie_ building. But we can’t both have
comfort, dear. You to home and me to sea we’ll have to be for many years
yet, dear. I’ll go out this trip as I went out a hundred of others
before. When I’m back–why, ’twill be worth the trip, dear, that coming
back to you.”
“I’ll be at the dock this time, Dannie.”
“Then the old _Pantheon_ won’t be too close to the slip before
somebody’ll be making a flying leap for the cap-log. There, there, dear,
this one trip, and then it’ll be Mrs. Dannie Keating and a month
ashore–hah, what! There’s the girl! But God bless you, dear, and keep
you till I’m home again.”
“Good luck, Dannie. There, but Oh, Dannie?”
“Don’t go yet–just a minute more, dear.”
He patted her cheek and dried her eyes, and when she wouldn’t stop
sobbing, he unbuttoned his coat and made her rest her head on his
breast. Her ear against the blue flannel shirt, she could feel his
heart. And it was a heart–like all of himself, full of strength. A cold
winter’s morning it was, but here all afire. He was right–it would be a
storm indeed when he went under. And yet–she could not help it–she
broke into sobbing again.
“What’s it now?”
“Oh, Dannie, last night after I left you I heard my father telling that
another vessel had been given up for lost. Did you know?”
“I’ve heard, dear.”
“And you never told me. You tell me the danger is small—-”
“And ’tis small, dear. Sea room and sound gear, and a good vessel will
live forever. Of course, accidents will happen–sometimes something
parting at the wrong time, or being run down by a steamer in the
fog–which was what happened, I don’t doubt, to the _Tempest_”
“Well, whether she was run down by a steamer, or caught in the shoals,
or foundered in the heavy seas, isn’t it all the same to the wives and
children of the _Tempest’s_ crew? Think of young Captain Rush’s wife.
What an awful thing for her, Dannie!”
“I know, dear, I know. But hush now–that’s the girl. And don’t worry
for me. Though they come masthead high and toss us like we’re a pine
chip, I’ve only to think of you, Katie, here in the doorway looking down
the street after me–a last look for me before I turn the corner. Only
to think of that, and I’ll laugh–laugh out loud at them. ‘Come on, you
green-backed devils!’ I’ll say–‘come on! You’d overpower us, would you?
Higher yet, high as the clouds, if you want, and the _Pantheon_ she’ll
ride you down.’ And she will, too, Katie–the old _Pantheon’s_ a wonder
hove-to. Yes, Katie, only last trip I hollered like that to ’em one
“Oh, but you mustn’t, Dannie–it’s like boasting.”
“Boasting? No, but seamanship, girl–seamanship. It’s knowing, not
guessing–knowing how to handle her. Just sail enough and wheel enough
and your wake setting so’s to break the backs of them afore they can
come aboard with their shoulders hunched up, spitting foam and roaring
warnings–green-eyed like. ’Tis they boast and threaten, not me. And if
’tis to an anchor—-”
“Well, dear, don’t talk that way again. And go now, while I’m strong to
let you. Good luck, Dannie, and don’t forget—-”
“Forget what, Katie?”
“You know what.”
“Oh, well, tell me just the same–don’t forget what?” And he laughed in
advance to hear her say it. And she whispered it, and he came nigh to
crushing her as he heard.
“And don’t I love you, too, Katie?”
“I know it, Dannie. Only with me, if you don’t come back I can never
love anybody else again–never, never, never. I love you, Dannie.”
“And do I love you, Katie? Do I? Do I catch my breath and walk the deck
on the long black winter nights because I can’t sleep–driving and
fighting, days and nights? Tired out I ought to be, but no more tired
than the roaring sea itself. Thinking of you, Katie, thinking of you.
But I’m off now, dear, and don’t forget– No need to say what, is there?
But tell it again? And sure I will, dear. Whisper”–and he retold it
softly in her ear. And she, loving to love, loving to be loved, could
not see to let him go for another while. “And will I come home again?
Will I? Did I come a hundred times before? Or was it my ghost? Aye, a
healthy ghost. But say a prayer for me just the same. Though what’s to
be is to be. God bless you, Katie Morrison, and good-by.”
* * * * *
There was every promise of a wild night, and a wicked place to be on a
bad night is Georges Bank in shoal water. To the westward, barring
escape to deep water and good sea room when the northeaster blows, is a
ridge of sand with no more than twelve feet of water. Over that the
lightest draught vessel of the Gloucester fleet would not have bumped on
a calm June day. So shoal was it and so heavy the seas in there that
vessels have been known to pitch head first into bottom at times; their
bowsprits have been found so stuck in the sand by fishermen who dared to
cut close in on summer days. A vessel striking there was much worse off
than if she struck in on a bare beach of the mainland, because while in
either case she was sure to be battered to pieces, out there on Georges
was no escape for the crew.
As a matter of fact, in very heavy weather a vessel would hardly live to
strike the clear beach. She would be smothered long before that. In ten
fathoms of water, say, with a big sea and strong tide running, there
were rip waters to send the foam mast-high, to catch the vessel up and
spin her about as if she were a top such as boys whip around in
spring-time. Small wonder fishermen dread shoal water on Georges in a
breeze; small wonder that the smart trawlers hustle dories in and bear
off in a hurry when they find themselves in less than twenty-five
fathoms and a breeze making; small wonder that even the hand-liners
quite often jeopardize their chances for a good trip and up anchor and
away when it looks too bad.
But there is not always time to get away. Sometimes the storm makes too
suddenly. One might say that expert fishermen, above all others, should
be quick to foresee a coming storm. They are quick enough, Lord
knows–years of perilous observation have made them so. But there are
those who won’t leave, come how it will. Every coming storm does not
mean that the one terrible storm of years is at hand; and when it is so
difficult to get back to just the right spot after a storm has scattered
the fleet, why let go for what is only probability, not a certainty, of
disaster?–especially when one is on a good spot. It is only one storm
in a dozen years when good seamanship, fishermen’s instinct, sound gear,
and an able craft do not avail. And what real fishermen would not risk
the one storm in ten years? That is how they put it, and therein have
some of them come to be lost.
This was a case of sudden storm and everybody aware that it was to be a
wild night; but such fishing as they had been having that day was too
tempting to leave. Certainly aboard the _Pantheon_ they had no notion of
leaving it. They only knocked off for the night when the tide got
altogether too strong for them. With sixty fathoms of line in
twenty-five fathoms of water their ten-pound leads struck bottom only
twice before they came swirling to the surface again.
John Gould was the last to haul in his line. “You don’t often see the
tide any stronger than this,” he observed to his skipper.
“That’s a fact, John, you don’t,” answered Dannie, together with John
half turning a shoulder and ducking his head to the drenching sea that
was coming aboard. “And some of the fleet’s takin’ notice, too. There’s
old Marks and Artie Deavitt and McKinnon and Matt Leahy givin’ her more
string. That’s what they think of it already. M-m– Lord, smell that
breeze!” He took another look about. “Better have another look for’ard,
John, there, and see she’s not chafin’ that hawser off. All right?
A moment more and he shook his head, and five minutes later called all
hands. “Might’s well give her a little more string, fellows. Didn’t
intend to give it to her so soon, but this lad up to wind’ard, I see
he’s givin’ her some more, and we’ll have to put out more or he’ll be on
top of us. I cal’late he’s got half a mile of hawser out now. A man that
figures on gettin’ worried so soon ought to keep off by himself
That was at eight o’clock, with the tide racing toward the shoals before
a fifty-mile northeaster. There was not a great deal of sea by then.
There never is when tide and wind run together and it is the first of a
breeze. But when that tide turns!
“Yes, sir, when this tide turns–if anybody wants to see somethin’
superfine in the way of tide-rips, right here’ll be the place,” remarked
the Skipper, and, seeing that the extra length of hawser was paid out,
dropped below for a mug-up. “There’s no tellin’ when we’ll get a chance
again for a cup of coffee,” he said. “‘Twill be a long night, I’m
thinkin’. But what’ll that mess be, cook, when it’s done cookin’?”
“Tapioca puddin’, Skipper.”
“That’s good.” He helped himself to a mug of coffee, saying no further
word, barely giving ear to John Gould, a miraculous man, who had
survived thirty-five winters on Georges, and was still rugged as oak.
“When our old cook used to make tapioca puddin’, ’twas a sure sign of
heavy weather comin’, warn’t it, Skipper?”
The Skipper barely inclined his head, and John turned to his less
preoccupied mates. “That last big breeze–let’s see. Yes, ten year ago
this month. I’ll never forget that gale. Nobody will, I cal’late, that
was out that night. The Skipper here was in this same vessel–she twenty
year old then, though only the Skipper’s second year as skipper in her.
The glass was down that afternoon, I mind, but the sea smooth–that is,
for that time o’ year. But by ten that night! Lord, what a night that
was! Wind! and sea! Forty vessels and five hundred men in the
hand-linin’ fleet that night, and every third man and vessel gone by the
mornin’. God, how they did smash into each other! And their spars–like
fallin’ trees when they’d come together in the dark.”
John passed from narrative to reflection. “Some widows made that night,
warn’t there, Skipper?”
“Aye, John–and some maids widowed.” The Skipper did not even smile at
his own pun.
“There ought to be a law, I think,” continued John, “to keep vessels
from anchorin’ so close to each other. Take it that night. If the fleet
warn’t bunched up so close there wouldn’t ’a’ been half so many lost.
Yes, sir, there oughter be a law, don’t you think, Skipper?”
“What?” The Skipper came out of his abstraction. “What–oh! a law, eh?
And who’d come out here to see it lived up to? Gover’ment vessels? No,
John, no law would do. Where there’s good fishin’ there men and vessels
will go, and devil take the risk. I know we oughtn’t be huddled in here
like we are. I know that if another such breeze as that one ten years
ago hits in here to-night there’ll be just as many of us lost as there
was that night. Yes, sir, just as many.” He stopped by the companionway
to button his sou’wester under his ear–“Good pie that, cook. I hope the
tapioca’ll taste as well in the mornin’”–drew on his mitts, and went on
Down the companionway soon came his voice. “Everybody up, and give her a
little more string. There’s one or two of them beginnin’ to drift
They heard his voice roll along the deck then. “Aft there, call all
hands to give her more hawser–and the chain with it!”
They did so, noting as the chain rattled out that the wind had increased
perceptibly. “When this tide’s settin’ back there’ll be _some_ sea
kickin’ up here,” they heard their Skipper say. And then his voice
again–from aloft this time: “Give her more yet–another fifty fathom.”
Down he dropped to the deck with, “It’s goin’ to be hell around here
to-night! If ’twas some vessels I’ve been in–or if ’twas the _Katie
Morrison_ now, that’s not finished–it’d be slip cables and out of
here–and in a hurry. But not in this old packet–’twouldn’t do. She’d
most likely split in two tryin’ to beat out, and cert’nly she wouldn’t
get back here in a week if the wind hauled. No, sir. But what’s this?”
He held up a bare palm.
The entire crew began to sniff the air then, and, holding out their
palms, to catch and taste whatever the wind had brought.
Snow! A howling no’the-easter in shoal water on Georges, the vessel
The Skipper made no comment. Even after he had made certain of it, he
said nothing, nor made any new move–only stood by the fore-rigging and
tried to map out in his mind the location of the others of the fleet.
“And now let’s see–we’re pretty nigh the most westerly of the bunch.
Jack Kildare, he’s about east by south. If he does drag he’ll most
likely miss us. Simms–the _Parker_–he’s about east by no’the and maybe
two cable-lengths away. She won’t drag, I’m sure–rides easy as a gull.
Jim Potter, he’s about right to fetch us–no’the-east–and those two
that dropped in just to the no’the-ard of him at dark to-night–they
might, too. Any of those three’ll get us in short order if they get to
draggin’.” Again he held his palm up. “Gettin’ wetter–and thicker.
There’ll cert’nly be hell to pay round here to-night, and the old
_Pantheon_–but, Lord, she’s been through too many blows to—-”
The vessel leaped under him, sagged back and started to rush forward
again. His quick ear caught the first of the crunching. “Stand clear of
her for’ard!” he warned, and himself jumped to the protection of the
foremast, as through her bow planking they heard her chain go zipping.
A moment of almost a dead stop, a breath of portentous quiet, and she
swung broadside to the sea. “Wa-atch out!” roared the Skipper. Aboard
came the sea in tons. “Hang on! hang on!” called one to another. All
clung grimly to whatever was nearest. It passed on, submerging
everybody, but leaving the vessel still right side up.
“Everybody all right?” called the Skipper.
Each for himself answered–all but one.
“Henry!” called the Skipper. “Henry Norton!”
No answer. And again no answer.
“I cal’late he’s gone, Skipper.”
“He must be. God help him!”
“And his folks, Skipper–he’s the third of his family been lost out
“And there’ll be more before the night’s over,” muttered one at the
“Maybe there will,” snapped the Skipper, “but in God’s name wait till it
happens. Below there– Oh, cook, hand up a torch, and let’s see what’s to
“Chain parted, Skipper.”
“Well, it don’t take any magician to see that. But let’s see what else.”
The chain, before parting, had torn through her iron-bound hawser hole,
and three of the stout stanchions had gone as if they were cardboard.
“_Some_ tide that!” observed old John Gould, and his voice was that of a
connoisseur in tides.
“Yes,” admitted the Skipper. “But go aloft, one of you–you, John–and
see if you can see anybody comin’. There’ll be somebody down on us soon.
And the rest of you stand by to put sail on her. It’ll be too much to
expect that single hawser to hold her. And go aft, you Dick, and take a
Came John’s voice from aloft. “Can’t see half a length away.”
“All right, come down.” He turned toward the stern. “What water?”
“Twenty? Drifting as fast as that? Put sail on her–the big trys’l
first. Jib? No, not yet. Give this one too much headsail and she’ll be
into the hummocks before you could half put the wheel down on her.”
“Nineteen? All right, boy, keep soundin’, and loose your jib now,
“Eighteen fathom, Skipper.”
“Eighteen fathom? Man, I think I hear it roar,” observed one.
“I hear it, too. Is that the surf?” came from another.
“‘Is that the surf?’ Who’s that damn fool? Oh, it’s the new man. Well,
maybe you’re part way excusable. Yes, that’s the surf under your lee. If
’twas light you could see it break. But don’t mind that, boy– I’ve heard
it before and come away.”
“Maybe you have,” commented one unthinkingly, “but there’s not been too
many that’s been near enough to hear it and got home to tell about
it–not too many.”
“For God’s sake, choke that croaker, somebody! And drive her,
fellows–no time to lose now.” The Skipper was all over her deck. “And
stand by with the axe, you Fred, so when we have to, and I give the
word, cut and we’ll run for it.”
“I s’pose she couldn’t stand the mains’l, Skipper?”
“No, John, she couldn’t–not this old hooker in this breeze. Just the
extra weight of that boom outward now and over she’d flop, sure as fate.
She’s thirty year old, this one. Lord, if ’twas only the _Katie_,
wouldn’t we go skippin’ out of here! But go aloft again, John.”
In the whirl and thickness of snow they tried to follow John as he
climbed the rigging, swinging and clinging, fighting his way up.
John’s voice, but too muffled to be understood, came down to them. One
man jumped into the rigging and passed the word along.
“He says a ridin’ light to wind’ard–two of em.”
“To anchor are they? Make sure.”
An exchange of words above. “John says he thinks one of ’em’s
driftin’–only her ridin’ light shows, but the other’s just showed a
side-light–her port light.”
“Port light? That’s bad for us. Look sharp to the wheel. And for’ard,
who’s got the axe–you, Fred? Well, get up the other axe and stand by
with it you, Tim. Slash to it, both of you, when I give the word. Can
you hear me?”
He stepped back to the break and tried to catch John’s voice for
himself. Not getting it easily, he jumped into the rigging. “What’s that
last–of that one sailin’—-”
“Another vessel driftin’ down–and another–two draggin’ and two
sailin’, but not makin’ much headway. An awful wind aloft, Skipper.”
“Aye, John–and below, too. But what’s that? Hell!” He dropped to deck
and leaped to the wheel. He was just in time to dodge the side-sweep of
a vessel’s bowsprit as she swirled by his quarter. Another moment and it
caught the stern davits, the dory slung up to them, and then the end of
the _Pantheon’s_ main boom. Cr-s-sh!–cr-s-sh! The bowsprit of the
stranger cracked sharp off, the _Pantheon’s_ dory went to kindlings, and
her boom smashed at the slings. “Hi-i! you blasted loon, where you
“Hi-i!” came back a yet hoarser voice–“couldn’t help it–parted both
Dannie fanned the snow from his eyes. “If that ain’t hell–talkin’ to
men you can’t see and they driftin’ away to be lost! And the dory gone,
though it’s more than a dory we’ll need to-night.”
“Oh, Skipper!” came from aloft again.
“Near’s I can make out, there’s four or five vessels bearin’ down—-”
“Pretty close–yes, sir.”
“Wait– I’ll be with you.” Aloft climbed the Skipper. ’Twas a fight to go
aloft, such was the force of the wind and so wildly swayed the rigging
of the old _Pantheon_.
From the deck the crew gazed after the Skipper till they could see his
swaying shoulders no more. Soon he came flying down, and after him came
John, both by way of the snow-slushed, slippery halyards.
“Cut!” roared the Skipper before he had fairly hit the deck–“and at the
wheel there, let her pay off.”
“Cut–cut!” Away went the twelve-inch rope in stubborn convolutions
through the hawse-holes. Around came the _Pantheon_, and by her bow came
driving a great white shadow. White sail against white snow on a black
night she came driving on, and only a memory of a dim light to mark her
when the shadow of the sails could not be made out.
“Aye, and draggin’ fast as some vessels ever sail.”
Again a shadow, and from out of the night inarticulate voices–voices
that grew in volume, rang loud, louder yet–not so loud, muffled, yet
more muffled, quiet again–voices as if from another world, not to be
clearly distinguished. “Did anybody catch what they said?”
“Nobody? Well, that’s their end.”
“God help ’em, yes.”
“Sixteen fathom, Skipper.”
“Sixteen! We cert’nly can’t be weatherin’ it much.”
“Lord, I should say not. And seas to swallow us alive. Looks bad for us,
too, don’t it, Skipper?”
“Looks bad for who? Dry up! There’s a whole ocean to the east’ard of
us–how’s she pointin’?”
“Su’the-east by east.”
“Su’the-east by east? That the best the old whelp can do? That means
she’ll point no better than no’the by west when we jibe her. Try and
hold her up.”
For a moment the snow lifted and they caught points of light–a red and
a green and several white lights. “Most of ’em still to anchor. I hope
none of ’em get in our way.”
The snow fell again, and once more John Gould went aloft.
“One on the starb’d tack, Skipper.”
“Aye, don’t mind her–only on the port tack.”
“Aye. Here’s one, wherever in the devil she came–hardalee, hardalee!”
“Hardalee!” The Skipper jumped to the wheel and helped to hold it down.
“Where’s she now?”
“I’ve lost her. Thick o’ snow again. Here she is–and another on the
“God in heaven! one on each tack?”
He got no further. A hail came from somewhere aloft, and yet not from
the _Pantheon’s_ masthead–a voice, not John’s, called out something or
other–a dozen voices called–a roar of voices mingled with the shriek
of the wind, and then slipped by another dread shadow.
“Fifteen fathom, Skipper.”
“Aye,” breathed the Skipper. He made out the shadow, not altogether with
his eyes–the deeper senses do the work on such nights–and let her pay
off. “But we can’t run this way long–we’d be smothered in the shoal
water.” Again he tacked, again in a shadow of sails. “She’s in the same
fix,” he muttered, and tacked again. No shadow pressed and he drew
breath, but hardly a whole breath, when again voices, from aloft as well
as from across the water. All about him he looked to make out. When he
did make out anything there were two of them–one to each side. There
was nothing to do, then, but try to outrun them both. He eased off his
sheets and away went the old _Pantheon_.
“Running to perdition if I hold this long.” He could hear the roar quite
plainly now, and, hearing it, groaned. “But I’ve got to keep clear. God!
why don’t they hold up?”
And then it came–from straight ahead and so suddenly that no human
power could avert, no quickness of hand or eye or trick of seamanship or
weatherliness of vessel could avail. Head on to the old _Pantheon_ it
was–a phantom of white above and a band of black below showed through
the driving snow. One awful wait that was worse than the actual
collision, and then it came. The _Pantheon_ cut into the other’s topside
planking, her bowsprit bore through the other’s rigging and
foresail–cr-s-sh!–cr-s-sh!–the smash of breaking timbers, the tearing
of stiff canvas, and above all the howl of the wild gale.
Men hailed out questions, oaths, and words that no man could understand.
They held so, the bow of one into the waist of the other, long enough
for men from the _Pantheon_ to leap aboard the other and then to leap
back. “Man, she’s worse than we are!” shouted one, as back he came. The
sea poured in by way of the great gashes. A moment more and it poured
unchecked over the _Pantheon’s_ rails. Then the spars of the stranger
went over the side and across the _Pantheon’s_ deck. Somebody moaned
that he was hurt, but there was no time to find out who. The stranger’s
dory bobbing up alongside, one man made a wild leap for it, fell short,
and that ended him, though that mattered not much–he had no chance
either way. Others–wraith-like voices–were heard calling from the sea
before they went under smothering. One man called to a mate, “Take hold,
boy,” and both rode grimly to their death, cresting high the great seas,
astraddle the _Pantheon’s_ chain-box.
Dannie clung to the wheel, hoping that the wind and sea would carry the
_Pantheon_ clear, and that, being ready, he might force her off. But not
so. They did come apart, but apart they settled even more rapidly. The
stranger went down stern first; the _Pantheon_ stern hove high, pointed
her bow after the stranger, and began to settle that way, bow first.
The Skipper was alone at the wheel when she made her plunge, and
defiantly clung to her till he was carried far under. He rose to the
surface and caught his breath. And that breath he gave to the _Pantheon_
as he saw her mast-heads plunging. “You were a good vessel to me,” he
murmured, even as the sea tossed him far away. He reached for something
in the swash and found he had the wheel-box. He grasped it, but it was
all smooth-sided–no place for his hands to get a grip, and the
terrible tide rips tore him loose. One sea, and another, now high where
the heavens touched the crests almost, and again in the depths and
roarings he was cast like the flying spume itself.
Enveloped in foam so thick that even when his head was above the surface
he could not breathe fairly, he still tried to justify that last
catastrophe. “And yet you were a good vessel to me.”
There is always a last sea, and that last sea caught him fair and
overbore him. He knew it when it came. The physical agony was by then
and the soul surmounting all. Not till then did he indulge himself so
far as to let his heart dwell on the memory of her as he last saw her,
standing in the doorway when he turned the corner. For the last time he
had turned that corner. Ah, but she was beautiful–and was it to lose
her he came to sea?
The roar of Georges Shoals was in his soul. He began to hear the voices
then, voices of his own men–he knew them–and voices he had never heard
before–voices, no doubt, of men lost in these long years of toil in
waters where the sands below are white with lost men’s bones. Her voice
he heard, too–heard it above all. “Dannie, Dannie,” it whispered, plain
as could be. By that he knew that she needed no newspaper to tell
her–even at that moment she knew–knew, and was suffering. And all her
life she would have to suffer. And so it was “God help you, Katie
Morrison!” that parted his foam-drenched lips at the last.
* * * * *
The _Katie Morrison_ was launched and rigged, but ’twas another young
and hopeful skipper that sailed her out to sea.