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

cocksu'--no good!"

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,

I'll bet!"

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

lime-juicer, _nein_!"

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

Merchants' Cup.

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

th' wurrd!"

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

wide--wide! Done!

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

for men.

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

ye're luck."

"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

keenest eyes.

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

comes by."

"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

silence came!



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

sail! Boom-m-m-m!

"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

hoarse gutturals.

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!

The Merchantman And The Pirate The Sailor's Wife facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail