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Sea StoriesReuben James Able Seaman
This is a story that has oft been told before. But in...
Origins Of Steamships—ocean-steamers Etcetera
When our noble Lifeboat Institution was in its infan...
Having in the previous chapters treated of the subje...
The Merchants' Cup
"Fatty" Reid burst into the half-deck with a whoop of exultation.
"Come out, boys," he yelled. "Come out and see what luck! The _James
Flint_ comin' down the river, loaded and ready for sea! Who-oop! What
price the _Hilda_ now for the Merchants' Cup?"
"Oh, come off," said big Jones. "Come off with your Merchants' Cup.
Th' _James Flint's_ a sure thing, and she wasn't more than half-loaded
when we were up at Crockett on Sunday!"
"Well, there she comes anyway! _James Flint_, sure enough! Grade's
house-flag up, and the Stars and Stripes!"
We hustled on deck and looked over by the Sacramento's mouth. "Fatty"
was right. A big barque was towing down beyond San Pedro. The _James
Flint_! Nothing else in 'Frisco harbour had spars like hers; no ship
was as trim and clean as the big Yankee clipper that Bully Nathan
commanded. The sails were all aloft, the boats aboard. She was ready
to put to sea.
Our cries brought the captain and mate on deck, and the sight of the
outward-bounder made old man Burke's face beam like a nor'west moon.
"A chance for ye now, byes," he shouted. "An open race, bedad! Ye've
nothin' t' be afraid of if th' _James Flint_ goes t' sea by Saturday!"
Great was our joy at the prospect of the Yankee's sailing. The 'Frisco
Merchants' Cup was to be rowed for on Saturday. It was a mile-and-half
race for ships' boats, and three wins held the Cup for good. Twice, on
previous years, the _Hilda's_ trim gig had shot over the line--a
handsome winner. If we won again, the Cup was ours for keeps! But
there were strong opponents to be met this time. The _James Flint_ was
the most formidable. It was open word that Bully Nathan was keen on
winning the trophy. Every one knew that he had deliberately sought out
boatmen when the whalers came in from the north. Those who had seen
the Yankee's crew at work in their snaky carvel-built boat said that no
one else was in it. What chance had we boys in our clinker-built
against the thews and sinews of trained whalemen? It was no wonder
that we slapped our thighs at the prospect of a more open race.
Still, even with the Yankee gone, there were others in the running.
There was the _Rhondda_ that held the Cup for the year, having won when
we were somewhere off the Horn; then the _Hedwig Rickmers_--a Bremen
four-master--which had not before competed, but whose green-painted gig
was out for practice morning and night. We felt easy about the
_Rhondda_ (for had we not, time and again, shown them our stern on the
long pull from Green St. to the outer anchorage?), but the Germans were
different. Try as we might, we could never pull off a spurt with them.
No one knew for certain what they could do, only old Schenke, their
skipper, and he held his tongue wisely.
The _James Flint_ came around the bend, and our eager eyes followed her
as she steered after the tug. She was making for the outer anchorage,
where the laden ships lie in readiness for a good start off.
"Th' wind's 'bout west outside," said Jones. "A 'dead muzzler'!
She'll not put t' sea tonight, even if she has all her 'crowd' aboard."
"No, worse luck! mebbe she'll lie over till Saturday after all. They
say Bully's dead set on getting th' Cup. He might hang back. . . .
Some excuse--short-handed or something!" Gregson was the one for
"No hands?" said Fatty. "Huh! How could he be short-handed when
everybody knows that Daly's boardin'-house is chock-full of fightin'
Dutchmen? No, no! It'll be the sack for Mister Bully B. Nathan if he
lets a capful o' fair wind go by and his anchor down. Gracie's agents
'll watch that!"
"Well! He's here for th' night, anyway. . . . There goes her mudhook!"
We watched her great anchor go hurtling from the bows and heard the
roar of chain cable as she paid out and swung round to the tide.
"Come roun', yo' boys dere! Yo' doan' want no tea, eh?" The nigger
cook, beating tattoo on a saucepan lid, called us back to affairs of
the moment, and we sat down to our scanty meal in high spirits,
talking--all at one time--of our chances of the Cup.
The _Hilda_ had been three months at San Francisco, waiting for the
wheat crop and a profitable charter. We had come up from Australia,
and most of our crew, having little wages due to them, had deserted
soon after our arrival. Only we apprentices and the sail-maker
remained, and we had work enough to set our muscles up in the heavy
harbour jobs. Trimming coal and shovelling ballast may not be
scientific training, but it is grand work for the back and shoulders.
We were in good trim for rowing. The old man had given us every
opportunity, and nothing he could do was wanting to make us fit. Day
and daily we had set our stroke up by the long pull from the anchorage
to the wharves, old Burke coaching and encouraging, checking and
speeding us, till we worked well together. Only last Sunday he had
taken us out of our way, up the creek, to where we could see the flag
at the _Rhondda's_ masthead. The old man said nothing, but well we
knew he was thinking of how the square of blue silk, with Californian
emblem worked in white, would look at his trim little _Hilda's_
fore-truck! This flag accompanied the Cup, and now (if only the Yankee
and his hired whalemen were safely at sea) we had hopes of seeing it at
our masthead again.
Tea over--still excited talk went on. Some one recalled the last time
we had overhauled and passed the _Rhondda's_ gig.
"It's all very well your bucking about beating the _Rhondda_," said
Gregson; "but don't think we're going to have it all our own way!
Mebbe they were 'playing 'possum' when we came by that time!"
"Maybe," said Jones. "There's Peters and H. Dobson in her crew. Good
men! Both rowed in the Worcester boat that left the Conways' at the
start, three years ago. . . . And what about the _Rickmers_? . . . .
No, no! It won't do to be too cocksure! . . . . Eh, Takia?"
Takia was our cox-n, a small wiry Jap. Nothing great in inches, but a
demon for good steering and timing a stroke. He was serving his
apprenticeship with us and had been a year in the _Hilda_. Brute
strength was not one of his points, but none was keener or more active
in the rigging than our little Jap.
He smiled,--he always smiled,--he found it the easiest way of speaking
English. "Oh, yes," he said. "Little cocksu'--good! Too much
We laughed at the wisdom of the East.
"Talk about being cocky," said Gregson; "you should hear Captain
Schenke bragging about the way he brought the _Hedwig Rickmers_ out. I
heard 'em and the old man at it in the ship-chandler's yesterday.
Hot . . . . Look here, you chaps! I don't think the old man cares so
much to win the Cup as to beat Schenke! The big 'squarehead' is always
ramming it down Burke's throat how he brought his barque out from
Liverpool in a hundred and five days, while the _Hilda_ took ten days
more on her last run out!"
"That's so, I guess," said Jones. (Jones had the Yankee "touch.")
"Old Burke would dearly love to put a spoke in his wheel, but it'll
take some doing. They say that Schenke has got a friend down from
Sacramento--gym.-instructor or something to a college up there. He'll
be training the 'Dutchy' crew like blazes. They'll give us a hot time,
Gregson rose to go on deck. "Oh, well," he said, "it won't be so bad
if the _James Flint_ only lifts his hook by Saturday. Here's one
bloomin' _hombre_ that funks racin' a fancy whaler! . . . An' doesn't
care who knows it, either!"
Thursday passed--and now Friday--still there was no sign of the wind
changing, and the big Yankee barque lay quietly at anchor over by the
When the butcher came off from the shore with the day's stores, we
eagerly questioned him about the prospects of the _James Flint's_
sailing. "_Huh_! I guess yew're nat the only 'citizens' that air
concarned 'bout that!" he said. "They're talkin' 'bout nuthin' else on
every 'lime-juicer' in the Bay! . . . . An' th' _Rickmers_! Gee!
Schenkie's had his eye glued ter th' long telescope ever since
daybreak, watchin' fer th' _Flint_ heavin' up anchor!"
The butcher had varied information to give us. Now it was that Bully
Nathan had telegraphed to his New York owners for permission to remain
in port over Sunday. Then again, Bully was on the point of being
dismissed his ship for not taking full advantage of a puff of nor'-west
wind that came and went on Thursday night.
. . . The _Flint_ was short of men! . . . The Flint had a full crew
aboard! Rumours and rumours! "All sorts o' talk," said the butcher;
"but I know this fer certain--she's got all her stores aboard. Gosh!
I guess--she--has! I don't like to wish nobody no harm, byes, but I
hope Bully Nathan's first chop 'll choke him, fer th' way he done me
over the beef! . . . Scorch 'im!"
In the forenoon we dropped the gig and put out for practice. Old Burke
and the mate came after us in the dinghy, the old man shouting
instruction and encouragement through his megaphone as we rowed a
course or spurted hard for a furious three minutes. Others were out on
the same ploy, and the backwaters of the Bay had each a lash of oars to
stir their tideless depths. Near us the green boat of the _Rickmers_
thrashed up and down in style. Time and again we drew across--"just
for a friendly spurt"--but the "Dutchies" were not giving anything
away, and sheered off as we approached. We spent an hour or more at
practice and were rowing leisurely back to the ship when the green boat
overhauled us, then slowed to her skipper's orders.
"How you vass, Cabtin Burke?" said Schenke, an enormous fair-headed
Teuton, powerful-looking, but run sadly to fat in his elder years.
"You t'ink you get a chanst now, _hein_? . . . Now de Yankee is goin'
avay!" He pointed over to the Presidio, where the _Flint_ lay at
anchor. We followed the line of his fat forefinger. At anchor, yes,
but the anchor nearly a-weigh. Her flags were hoisted, the blue peter
fluttering at the fore, and the _Active_ tug was passing a hawser
aboard, getting ready to tow her out. The smoke from the tugboat's
funnel was whirling and blowing over the low forts that guard the
Golden Gates. Good luck! A fine nor'-west breeze had come that would
lift our dreaded rival far to the south'ard on her way round Cape Horn!
Schenke saw the pleased look with which old Burke regarded the Yankee's
preparations for departure.
"Goot bizness, eh?" he said. "You t'ink you fly de flack on de _Hilda_
nex' _Sonndag_, Cabtin? Veil! Ah wish you goot look, but you dond't
got it all de same!"
"Oh, well, Captain Schenke, we can but thry," said the old man. "We
can but thry, sorr! . . . Shure, she's a foine boat--that o'
yours. . . . An' likely-looking lads, too!" No one could but admire
the well-set figures of the German crew as they stroked easily beside
"_Schweinehunden_," said Schenke brutally. We noticed more than one
stolid face darkling as they glanced aside. Schenke had the name of a
"hard case." "_Schweinehunden_," he said again. "Dey dond't like de
hard vork, Cabtin. . . . Dey dond't like it--but ve takes der Coop,
all de same! Dey pulls goot und strong, oder"--he rasped a short
sentence in rapid Low German--"Shermans dond't be beat by no durn
Old Burke grinned. "Cocky as ever, Captain Schenke! Bedad now, since
ye had the luck of ye're last passage there's no limit to ye!"
"Luck! Luck! Alvays de luck mit you, Cabtin!"
"An' whatt ilse? . . . Sure, if I hadn't struck a bilt of calms an'
had more than me share of head winds off the Horn, I'd have given ye a
day or two mesilf!"
"Ho! Ho! Ho! _Das ist gut_!" The green boat rocked with Schenke's
merriment. He laughed from his feet up--every inch of him shook with
emotion. "Ho! Ho! Hoo! _Das ist ganz gut_. You t'ink you beat de
_Hedwig Rickmers_ too, Cabtin? You beat 'm mit dot putty leetle
barque? You beat 'm mit de _Hilda_, _nichtwahr_?"
"Well, no," said our old man. "I don't exactly say I beat the
_Rickmers_, but if I had the luck o' winds that ye had, bedad, I'd
crack th' _Hilda_ out in a hundred an' five days too!"
"Now, dot is not drue, Cabtin! _Aber ganz und gar nicht_! You know
you haf bedder look von de vind as Ah got. Ah sail mein sheep! Ah
dond't vait for de fair winds nor not'ings!"
"No," said Burke, "but ye get 'em, all the same. Everybody knows ye've
th' divil's own luck, Schenke!"
"Und so you vas! Look now, Cabtin Burke. You t'nk you got so fast a
sheep as mein, eh? Veil! Ah gif you a chanst to make money. Ah bet
you feefty dollars to tventig, Ah take mein sheep home quicker as you
"Done wit' ye," said stout old 'Paddy' Burke, though well he know the
big German barque could sail round the little _Hilda_. "Fifty dollars
to twenty, Captain Schenke, an' moind y've said it!"
The green boat sheered off and forged ahead, Schenke laughing and
waving his hand derisively. When they had pulled out of earshot, the
old man turned ruefully to the mate: "Five pounds clean t'rown away,
mister! Foine I know the _Rickmers_ can baate us, but I wasn't goin'
t' let that ould 'squarehead' have it all his own way! Divil th' fear!"
We swung under the _Hilda's_ stern and hooked on to the gangway. The
old man stepped out, climbed a pace or two, then came back.
"Look ye here, byes," he said, "I'll give ye foive dollars a man--an' a
day's 'liberty' t' spind it--if ye only baate th' 'Dutchmen.' . . .
Let th' Cup go where it will!"
The Bay of San Francisco is certainly one of the finest natural
harbours in the world, let Sydney and Rio and Falmouth all contest the
claim. Land-locked to every wind that blows, with only a narrow
channel open to the sea, the navies of the world could lie peacefully
together in its sheltered waters. The coast that environs the harbour
abounds in natural beauties, but of all the wooded creeks--fair
stretches of undulating downs--or stately curves of winding river, none
surpasses the little bay formed by the turn of Benita, the northern
postern of the Golden Gates. Here is the little township of Sancilito,
with its pretty white houses nestling among the dark green of the
deeply wooded slopes. In the bay there is good anchorage for a limited
number of vessels, and fortunate were they who manned the tall ships
that lay there, swinging ebb and flood, waiting for a burthen of golden
On Saturday the little bay was crowded by a muster of varied craft.
The ships at anchor were "dressed" to the mastheads with gaily-coloured
flags. Huge ferryboats passed slowly up and down, their tiers of decks
crowded with sightseers. Tug-boats and launches darted about, clearing
the course, or convoying racing boats to the starting lines. Ships'
boats of all kinds were massed together close inshore: gigs and
pinnaces, lean whaleboats, squat dinghys, even high-sided ocean
lifeboats with their sombre broad belts of ribbed cork. A gay scene of
colour and animation. A fine turn-out to see the fortune of the
At two the Regatta began. A race for longshore craft showed that the
boarding-house "crimps" were as skillful at boatman's work as at
inducing sailormen to desert their ships. Then two outriggers flashed
by, contesting a heat for a College race. We in the _Hilda's_ gig lay
handily at the starting line and soon were called out. There were nine
entries for the Cup, and the judges had decided to run three heats. We
were drawn in the first, and, together with the _Ardlea's_ and
_Compton's_ gigs, went out to be inspected. The boats had to race in
sea-service conditions, no lightening was allowed. At the challenge of
the judges we showed our gear. "Spare oar--right! Rowlocks--right!
Sea-anchor--right! Bottom boards and stern grating--right. Painter,
ten fathoms; hemp. . . . A bit short there, _Compton_! Eh? . . .
Oh--all right," said the official, and we manoeuvred into position, our
sterns held in by the guard-boats. Some of the ships' captains had
engaged a steam-launch to follow the heats, and old Burke was there
with his trumpet, shouting encouragement already.
"Air yew ready?"
A pause: then, pistol shot! We struck water and laid out! Our task
was not difficult. The _Ardlea's_ gig was broad-bowed and heavy; they
had no chance; but the _Compton's_ gave us a stiff pull to more than
midway. Had they been like us, three months at boat-work, we had not
pulled so easily up to the mark, but their ship was just in from
Liverpool, and they were in poor condition for a mile and a half at
pressure. We won easily, and scarce had cheered the losers before the
launch came fussing up.
"Come aboard, Takia," shouted old Burke. "Ye come down wit' me an' see
what shape the German makes. He's drawn wit' th' _Rhondda_ in this
Takia bundled aboard the launch and we hauled inshore to watch the
race. There was a delay at the start. Schenke, _nichts verstehen_, as
he said, was for sending his boat away without a painter or spare gear.
He was pulled up by the judges, and had to borrow.
Now they were ready. The _Rickmers_ outside, _Rhondda_ in the middle
berth, and the neat little _Slieve Donard_ inshore. At the start the
Rhonddas came fair away from the German boat, but even at the distance
we could see that the "Dutchmen" were well in hand. At midway the
_Rhondda_ was leading by a length, still going strong, but they had
shot their bolt, and the green boat was surely pulling up. The _Slieve
Donard_, after an unsteady course, had given up. Soon we could hear
old Schenke roaring oaths and orders, as his launch came flying on in
the wake of the speeding boats.
The Germans spurted.
We yelled encouragement to the Rhonddas. "Give 'em beans, old
sons! . . ."
"_Rhondda_! _Rhondda_! . . . Shake 'er up" Gallantly the white boat
strove to keep her place, but the greens were too strong. With a rush,
they took the lead and held it to the finish, though two lengths from
the line their stroke faltered, the swing was gone, and they were
dabbling feebly when the shot rang out.
"A grand race," said every one around. "A grand race"--but old Burke
had something to say when he steamed up to put our cox'n among us.
"Byes, byes," he said, "if there had been twinty yards more the
_Rhondda_ would have won. Now d'ye moind, Takia, ye divil . . . d'ye
moind! Keep th' byes in hand till I give ye th' wurrd! . . . An' whin
ye get th' wurrd, byes! . . . Oh, Saints! Shake her up when ye get
The third heat was closely contested. All three boats, two Liverpool
barques and a Nova Scotiaman, came on steadily together. A clean race,
rowed from start to finish, and the _Tuebrook_ winning by a short
The afternoon was well spent when we stripped for the final, and took
up our positions on the line. How big and muscular the Germans looked!
How well the green boat sat the water! With what inward quakings we
noted the clean fine lines of stem and stern! . . . Of the _Tuebrook_
we had no fear. We knew they could never stand the pace the Germans
would set. Could we?
Old Burke, though in a fever of excitement when we came to the line,
had little to say. "Keep the byes in hand, Takia--till ye get th'
wurrd," was all he muttered. We swung our oar-blades forward.
"Ready?" The starter challenged us.
Suddenly Takia yelped! We struck and lay back as the shot rang out! A
stroke gained! Takia had taken the flash; the others the report!
The Jap's clever start gave us confidence and a lead. Big Jones at
stroke worked us up to better the advantage. The green boat sheered a
little, then steadied and came on, keeping to us, though nearly a
length astern. The _Tuebrook_ had made a bad start, but was thrashing
away pluckily in the rear.
So we hammered at it for a third of the course, when Takia took charge.
Since his famous start he had left us to take stroke as Jones pressed
us, but now he saw signs of the waver that comes after the first
furious burst--shifting grip or change of foothold.
"'_Trok_!--'_trok_!--'_trok_!" he muttered, and steadied the pace.
"'_Troke_!--'_troke_!--'_troke_!" in monotone, good for soothing
Past midway the green boat came away. The ring of the German's
rowlocks rose to treble pitch. Slowly they drew up, working at top
speed. Now they were level--level! and Takia still droning
"'_troke_!--'_troke_!--'_troke_!"--as if the lead was ours!
Wild outcry came from the crowd as the green boat forged ahead! Deep
roars from Schenke somewhere in the rear! Now, labouring still to
Takia's '_troke_!--'_troke_! we had the foam of the German's stern wash
at our blades! "Come away, _Hilda's_!" . . . "_Shake her up,
there_!" . . . "_Hilda-h_! _Hilda-h_!"--Takia took no outward heed of
the cries. He was staring stolidly ahead, bending to the pulse of the
boat. No outward heed--but '_troke_!--'_troke_! came faster from his
lips. We strained, almost holding the Germans' ensign at level with
our bow pennant.
Loud over the wild yells of the crowd we heard the voice we knew--old
Burke's bull-roar: "Let 'er rip, Taki'! Let 'er rip, bye!"
Takia's eyes gleamed as he sped us up--up--up! '_Troke_ became a yelp
like a wounded dog's. He crouched, standing, in the sternsheets, and
lashed us up to a furious thrash of oars! Still quicker! . . . The
eyes of him glared at each of us, as if daring us to fail! The yelp
became a scream as we drew level--the Germans still at top speed.
"_Up_! _Up_! _Up_!" yells Takia, little yellow devil with a white
froth at his lips! "_Up_! _Up_! _Up_!" swaying unsteadily to meet
the furious urging.
The ring of the German rowlocks deepens--deepens--we see the green bow
at our blades again. Her number two falters--jars--recovers again--and
pulls stubbornly on. Their "shot" is fired! They can do no more!
And so are we! Takia drops the yoke ropes and leans forward on the
gunwale! Oars jar together! Big Jones bends forward with his mouth
But not before a hush--a solitary pistol shot--then roar of voices and
shrilling of steamer syrens tell us that the Cup is ours!
A month later there was a stir in the western seaports. No longer the
ships lay swinging idly at their moorings. The harvest of grain was
ready for the carriers, and every day sail was spread to the free wind
outside the Golden Gates, and laden ships went speeding on their
homeward voyages. The days of boat-races and pleasant time-passing
harbour jobs were gone; it was now work--work--to get the ship ready
for her burden, and, swaying the great sails aloft, to rig harness for
the power that was to bear us home. From early morning till late
evening we were kept hard at it; for Captain Burke and the mate were as
keen on getting the _Hilda_ to sea after her long stay in port as they
were on jockeying us up to win the Cup. Often, when we turned to in
the morning, we would find a new shipmate ready to bear a hand with us.
The old man believed in picking up a likely man when he offered. Long
experience of Pacific ports had taught him how difficult it is to get a
crew at the last moment.
So when at length the cargo was stowed, we were quite ready to go to
sea, while many others--the _Hedwig Rickmers_ among them--were waiting
On the day before sailing a number of the ship captains were gathered
together in the chandler's store, talking of freights and passages, and
speculating on the runs they hoped to make. Burke and Schencke were
the loudest talkers, for we were both bound to Falmouth "for orders,"
and the _Rickmers_ would probably sail three days after we had gone.
"Vat 'bout dot bett you make mit me, Cabtin?" said Schenke. "Dot is
all recht, no?"
"Oh, yess," answered the old man, but without enthusiasm. "That
"Hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Tventig dollars to feefty--dot you goes home quicker
as me, no?" Schencke turned to the other men. "Vat you tinks,
yenthelmen? Ah tinks Ah sbend der tventig dollars now--so sure Ah
The others laughed. "Man, man," said Findlayson of the _Rhondda_.
"You don't tell me Burke's been fool enough to take that bet. Hoo!
You haven't the ghost of a chance, Burke."
"Och, ye never know," said the now doleful sportsman. "Ye never know
"Look here, Cabtin," said Schencke (good-humoured by the unspoken
tribute to his vessel's sailing powers)--"Ah gif you a chanst. Ah make
de bett dis vay--look. Ve goes to Falmouth--you _und_ me, _hein_?
Now, de first who comes on de shore vins de money. Dot vill gif you
t'ree days' start, no?"
"That's more like it," said the other captains. "I wish you luck,
Burke," said Findlayson. "Good luck--you'll need it too--if you are to
be home before the big German."
So the bet was made.
At daybreak next morning we put out to sea. The good luck that the
_Rhondda_ wished us came our way from the very first. When the tug
left us we set sail to a fine fair wind, and soon were bowling along in
style. We found the nor'-east Trades with little seeking; strong
Trades, too, that lifted us to the Line almost before the harbour dust
was blown from our masts and spars. There calms fell on us for a few
days, but we drifted south in the right current, and in less than forty
days had run into the "westerlies" and were bearing away for the Horn.
Old Burke was "cracking on" for all the _Hilda_ could carry canvas.
Every morning when he came on deck the first question to the mate would
be: "Any ships in sight, mister?" . . . "Any ships astern," he meant,
for his first glance was always to where the big green four-master
might be expected to heave in sight. Then, when nothing was reported,
he would begin his day-long strut up and down the poop, whistling
"Garryowen" and rubbing his hands.
Nor was the joy at our good progress his alone. We in the half-deck
knew of the bet, and were keen that the ship which carried the
Merchants' Cup should not be overhauled by the runner-up! We had made
a fetish of the trophy so hardly won. The Cup itself was safely stowed
in the ship's strong chest, but the old man had let us have custody of
the flag. Big Jones had particular charge of it; and it had been a
custom while in 'Frisco to exhibit it on the Saturday nights to
admiring and envious friends from other ships. This custom we
continued when at sea. True, there were no visitors to set us up and
swear what lusty chaps we were, but we could frank one another and say,
"If you hadn't done this or that, we would never have won the race."
On a breezy Saturday evening we were busy at these rites. The _Hilda_
was doing well before a steady nor'-west wind, but the weather--though
nothing misty--was dark as a pall. Thick clouds overcast the sky, and
there seemed no dividing line between the darkling sea and the windy
banks that shrouded the horizon. A dirty night was in prospect; the
weather would thicken later; but that made the modest comforts of the
half-deck seem more inviting by comparison; and we came together for
our weekly "sing-song"--all but Gregson, whose turn it was to stand the
lookout on the fo'c'sle-head.
The flag was brought out and hung up--Jones standing by to see that no
pipe-lights were brought near--and we ranted at "Ye Mariners of
England" till the mate sent word that further din would mean a
"work-up" job for all of us.
Little we thought that we mariners would soon be facing dangers as
great as any we so glibly sang about. Even as we sang, the _Hilda_ was
speeding on a fatal course! Across her track the almost submerged hull
of a derelict lay drifting. Black night veiled the danger from the
A frenzied order from the poop put a stunning period to our merriment.
"Helm up, f'r God's sake! . . . _Up_!--_oh God_!--_Up_! _Up_!" A
furious impact dashed us to the deck. Staggering, bruised, and
bleeding, we struggled to our feet. Outside the yells of fear-stricken
men mingled with hoarse orders, the crash of spars hurtling from aloft
vied with the thunder of canvas, as the doomed barque swung round
broadside to the wind and sea.
Even in that dread moment Jones had heed of his precious flag. As we
flew to the door, he tore the flag down, stuffing it in his jumper as
he joined us at the boats.
There was no time to hoist out the life-boats--it was pinnace and gig
or nothing. Already the bows were low in the water. "She goes. She
goes!" yelled some one. "Oh, Christ! She's going!"
We bore frantically on the tackles that linked the gig, swung her out,
and lowered by the run; the mate had the pinnace in the water, men were
swarming into her. As the gig struck water, the barque heeled to the
rail awash. We crowded in, old Burke the last to leave her, and pushed
off. Our once stately _Hilda_ reeled in a swirl of broken water, and
the deep sea took her!
Sailor work! No more than ten minutes between "Ye Mariners" and the
foundering of our barque!
We lay awhile with hearts too full for words; then the pinnace drew
near, and the mate called the men. All there but one!
"Gregson!" . . . No Gregson! The bosun knew. He had seen what was
Gregson lying still under the wreck of the topmost spars.
The captain and mate conferred long together. We had no sail in the
gig, but the larger boat was fully equipped. "It's the only chance,
mister," said Burke at last. "No food--no water! We can't hold out
for long. Get sail on your boat and stand an hour or two to the
east'ard. Ye may fall in with a ship; she w'was right in th' track
whin she s-struck. We can but lie to in th' gig an' pray that a ship
"Aye, aye, sir." They stepped the mast and hoisted sail. "Good-bye
all: God bless ye, captain," they said as the canvas swelled. "Keep
heart!" For a time we heard their voices shouting us God-speed--then
Thank God the bitter night was past. Out of the east the
long-looked-for light grew on us, as we lay to sea-anchor, lurching
unsteadily in the teeth of wind and driving rain. At the first grey
break we scanned the now misty horizon. There was no sign of the
pinnace; no God-sent sail in all the dreary round!
We crouched on the bottom boards of the little gig and gave way to
gloomy thoughts. What else could be when we were alone and adrift on
the broad Pacific, without food or water, in a tiny gig already
perilously deep with the burden of eight of us? What a difference to
the gay day when we manned the same little boat and set out in pride to
the contest! Here was the same spare oar that we held up to the
judges--the long oar that Jones was now swaying over the stern, keeping
her head to the wind and sea! Out there in the tumbling water the
sea-anchor held its place; the ten fathoms of good hemp "painter" was
straining at the bows!
The same boat! The same gear! The same crew, but how different! A
crew of bent heads and wearied limbs! Listless-eyed, despairing! A
ghastly crew, with black care riding in the heaving boat with us!
Poor old Burke had hardly spoken since his last order to the mate to
sail the pinnace to the east in search of help. When anything was put
to him, he would say, "Aye, aye, b'ye," and take no further heed. He
was utterly crushed by the disaster that had come so suddenly on the
heels of his "good luck." He sat staring stonily ahead, deaf to our
hopes and fears.
Water we had in plenty as the day wore on. The rain-soaked clothes of
us were sufficient for the time, but soon hunger came and added a
physical pain to the torture of our doubt. Again and again we stood up
on the reeling thwarts and looked wildly around the sea-line. No
pinnace--no ship--nothing! Nothing, only sea and sky, and circling
sea-birds that came to mock at our misery with their plaintive cries.
A bitter night! A no less cruel day! Dark came on us again, chill and
windy, and the salt spray cutting at us like a whiplash.
Big Jones stood up in the stern-sheets, swaying unsteadily. "D'ye hear
anything there? . . . Like a gun?"
A gun? Gun? . . . Nothing new! . . . We had been hearing guns,
seeing sails--in our minds--all the day! All day . . . guns . . . and
"Gun! Oh God . . . a gun! Capt'n, a gun, d'ye hear! Hay--Hay-H. Out
oars, there! A gun!" Hoarse in excitement Jones shook the old man and
called at his ear. "Aye, aye, b'ye. Aye, aye," said the broken old
man, seeming without understanding.
Jones ceased trying to rouse him, and, running out the steering oar,
called on us to haul the sea-anchor aboard. We lay to our oars,
listening for a further gunfire.
Whooo-o. . . . Boom-m-m.
A rocket! They were looking for us then! The pinnace must have been
picked up! A cheer--what a cheer!--came brokenly from our lips; and we
lashed furiously at the oars, steering to where a glare in the mist had
come with the last report.
Roused by the thrash of our oars, the old man sat up. "Whatt now,
b'ye? Whatt now?"
"Ship firin' rockets, sir," said Jones. "Rockets . . . no mistake."
As he spoke, another coloured streamer went flaming through the eastern
sky. "Give way, there! We'll miss her if she's running south! Give
way, all!" The glare of the rocket put heart into our broken old
skipper. "Steady now, b'yes," he said, with something of his old
We laboured steadily at the oars, but our strength was gone. The sea
too, that we had thought moderate when lying to sea-anchor, came at us
broadside on and set our light boat to a furious dance. Wave crests
broke and lashed aboard, the reeling boat was soon awash, and the spare
men had to bale frantically to keep her afloat. But terror of the ship
running south from us nerved our wearied arms, and we kept doggedly
swinging the oars. Soon we made out the vessel's sidelight--the gleam
of her starboard light, that showed that she was hauled to the wind,
not running south as we had feared. They could not see on such a
night, we had nothing to make a signal, but the faint green flame gave
us heart in our distress.
The old man, himself again, was now steering, giving us Big Jones to
bear at the oars. As we drew on we made out the loom of the vessel's
sails--a big ship under topsails only, and sailing slowly to the west.
We pulled down wind to cross her course, shouting together as we rowed.
Would they never hear? . . . Again! . . . Again!
Suddenly there came a hail from the ship, a roar of orders, rattle of
blocks and gear, the yards swung round and she layed up in the wind,
while the ghostly glare of a blue light lit up the sea around.
A crowd of men were gathered at the waist, now shouting and cheering as
we laboured painfully into the circle of vivid light. Among them a big
man (huge he looked in that uncanny glare) roared encouragement in
Old Schenke? The _Hedwig Rickmers_?
Aye--Schenke! But a different Schenke to the big, blustering,
overbearing "Square-head" we had known in 'Frisco. Schenke as kind as
a brother--a brother of the sea indeed. Big, fat, honest Schenke,
passing his huge arm through that of our broken old skipper, leading
him aft to his own bed, and silencing his faltering story by words of
cheer. "_Ach, du lieber Gott_! It is all right, no? All right,
Cabtin, now you come on board. Ah know all 'bout it! . . . Ah pick de
oder boat up in de morning, und dey tells me. You come af mit me,
Cabtin. . . . Goot, no?"
* * * * * *
"Ninety-six days, Schenke, and here we are at the mouth of the
Channel!" Old Burke had a note of regret in the saying. "Ninety-six
days! Sure, this ship o' yours can sail. With a bit o' luck, now,
ye'll be in Falmouth under the hundred."
"So. If de vind holds goot. Oh, de _Hedwig Rickmers_ is a goot sheep,
no? But if Ah dond't get de crew of de poor lettle _Hilda_ to work
mein sheep, Ah dond't t'ink ve comes home so quick as hundert days,
"God bless us, man. Shure, it's the least they cud do, now. An' you
kaaping' us in food an' drink an' clothes, bedad--all the time."
"Vat Ah do, Cabtin. Ah leaf you starfe, no?"
"Oh. Some men would have put into the Falklands and landed----"
"Und spoil a goot bassage, eh? Ach nein. More better to go on. You
know dese men Ah get in 'Frisco is no goot. Dem "hoodlums," they
dond't know de sailorman vork. But your beoble is all recht, eh!
Gott! If Ah dond't haf dem here, it is small sail ve can carry on de
"Och, now, ye just say that, Schenke, ye just say that! But it's glad
I am if we're any use t' ye."
"Hundert days to Falmouth, eh?" Schenke grinned as he said it. "Vat
'bout dot bett now, Cabtin?"
"Oh that," said Burke queerly. "You win, of course. I'm not quite
broke yet, Captain Schenke. I'll pay the twenty dollars all right."
"No, no. De bett is not von. No? De bett vass--'who is de first on
shore come,' _Heim_? Goot. Ven de sheep comes to Falmouth ve goes on
shore, you und me, together. Like dis, eh?" He seized Burke by the
arm and made a motion that they two should thus step out together.
Burke, shamefacedly, said: "Aye, aye, b'ye."
"Ah dond't care about de bett," continued the big German. "De bett is
noting, but, look here, Cabtin--Ah tell you Ah look to vin dot
Merchants' Cup. _Gott_! Ah vass _verrickt_ ven your boys come in
first. Ach so! Und now de Cup iss at de bottom of de Pacific." He
sighed regretfully. "_Gott_! I van't t' be de first Sherman to vin
dot Cup too!"
The mate of the _Rickmers_ came on the poop and said something to his
captain. Schenke turned to the old man in some wonderment. . . . "Vat
dis is, eh? My mate tell me dot your boys is want to speak mit me.
Vat it is, Cabtin? No troubles I hope?"
Burke looked as surprised as the other. "Send them up, Heinrich," he
said. We, the crew of the _Hilda's_ gig, filed on to the poop, looking
as hot and uncomfortable as proper sailorfolk should do when they come
on a deputation. Jones headed us, and he carried a parcel under his
"Captain Schenke," he said. "We are all here--the crew of the
_Hilda's_ gig, that you picked up when--when--we were in a bad way.
All here but poor Gregson."
The big lad's voice broke as he spoke of his lost watchmate. "An, if
he was here he would want t' thank ye too for the way you've done by
us. I can't say any more, Captain Schenke--but we want you to take a
small present from us--the crew of the _Hilda's_ gig." He held out the
Only half understanding the lad's broken words, Schenke took the parcel
and opened it. "_Ach Gott_ _Lieber Gott_," he said, and turned to show
the gift to old Burke. Tears stood in the big "squarehead's" eyes;
stood, and rolled unchecked down his fat cheeks. Tears of pleasure!
Tears of pity! Stretched between his hands was a weather-beaten flag,
its white emblem stained and begrimed by sea-water!
A tattered square of blue silk--the flag of the Merchants' Cup!
Next: A Storm And A Rescue
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