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Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

Next day they fell in with more sails, all circling slowly from
the east northerly towards the west. But just when they expected
to make the shoals by the Virgin the fog shut down, and they
anchored, surrounded by the tinklings of invisible bells. There
was not much fishing, but occasionally dory met dory in the fog
and exchanged news.

That night, a little before dawn, Dan and Harvey, who had been
sleeping most of the day, tumbled out to "hook" fried pies. There
was no reason why they should not have taken them openly; but they
tasted better so, and it made the cook angry. The heat and smell
below drove them on deck with their plunder, and they found Disko
at the bell, which he handed over to Harvey.

"Keep her goin'," said he. "I mistrust I hear somethin'. Ef it's
anything, I'm best where I am so's to get at things."

It was a forlorn little jingle; the thick air seemed to pinch it
off; and in the pauses Harvey heard the muffled shriek of a
liner's siren, and he knew enough of the Banks to know what that
meant. It came to him, with horrible distinctness, how a boy in a
cherry-coloured jersey - he despised fancy blazers now with all a
fisherman's contempt - how an ignorant, rowdy boy had once said it
would be "great" if a steamer ran down a fishing-boat. That boy
had a state-room with a hot and cold bath, and spent ten minutes
each morning picking over a gilt-edged bill of fare. And that same
boy - no, his very much older brother -was up at four of the dim
dawn in streaming, crackling oilskins, hammering, literally for
the dear life, on a bell smaller than the steward's breakfast-
bell, while somewhere close at hand a thirty-foot steel stem was
storming along at twenty miles an hour! The bitterest thought of
all was that there were folks asleep in dry, upholstered cabins
who would never learn that they had massacred a boat before
breakfast. So Harvey rang the bell.

"Yes, they slow daown one turn o' their blame propeller," said
Dan, applying himself to Manuel's conch, "fer to keep inside the
law, an' that's consolin' when we're all at the bottom. Hark to
her' She's a humper!"

"Aoooo - whoooo - whupp!" went the siren. "Wingle - tingle -
tink," went the bell. "Graaa - ouch!" went the conch, while sea
and sky were all milled up in milky fog. Then Harvey felt that he
was near a moving body, and found himself looking up and up at the
wet edge of a cliff-like bow, leaping, it seemed, directly over
the schooner. A jaunty little feather of water curled in front of
it, and as it lifted it showed a long ladder of Roman numerals -
XV., XVI., XVII., XVIII., and so forth - on a salmon-coloured,
gleaming side. It tilted forward and downward with a heart-
stilling "Ssssooo"; the ladder disappeared; a line of brass-rimmed
port-holes flashed past; a jet of Steam puffed in Harvey's
helplessly uplifted hands; a spout of hot water roared along the
rail of the "We're Here", and the little schooner staggered and
shook in a rush of screw-torn water, as a liner's stern vanished
in the fog. Harvey got ready to faint or be sick, or both, when he
heard a crack like a trunk thrown on a sidewalk, and, all small in
his ear, a far-away telephone voice drawling: "Heave to! You've
sunk us!"

"Is it us?" he gasped.

"No! Boat out yonder. Ring! We're goin' to look," said Dan,
running out a dory.

In half a minute all except Harvey, Penn, and the cook were
overside and away. Presently a schooner's stump-foremast, snapped
clean across, drifted past the bows. Then an empty green dory came
by, knocking on the 'We're Here's' side, as though she wished to
be taken in. Then followed something, face down, in a blue jersey,
but it was not the whole of a man. Penn changed colour and caught
his breath with a click. Harvey pounded despairingly at the bell,
for he feared they might be sunk at any minute, and he jumped at
Dan's hail as the crew came back.
-
"The Jennie Cushman," said Dan, hysterically, "cut clean in half -
graound up an' trompled on at that! Not a quarter of a mile away.
Dad's got the old man. There ain't any one else, and - there was
his son, too. Oh, Harve, Harve, I can't stand it! I've seen -" He
dropped his head on his arms and sobbed while the others dragged a
grey-headed man aboard.

"What did you pick me up for?" the stranger groaned. "Disko, what
did you pick me up for?"

Disko dropped a heavy hand on his shoulder, for the man's eyes
were wild and his lips trembled as he stared at the silent crew.
Then up and spoke Pennsylvania Pratt, who was also Haskins or Rich
or McVitty when Uncle Salters forgot; and his face was changed on
him from the face of a fool to the countenance of an old, wise
man, and he said in a strong voice: "The Lord gave, and the Lord
hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord! I was - I am a
minister of the Gospel. Leave him to me."

"Oh, you be, be you?" said the man. "Then pray my son back to me!
Pray back a nine-thousand-dollar boat an' a thousand quintal of
fish. If you'd left me alone my widow could ha' gone on to the
Provident an' worked fer her board, an' never known - an' never
known. Now I'll hev to tell her."

"There ain't nothin' to say," said Disko. "Better lie down a
piece, Jason Olley."

When a man has lost his only son, his summer's work, and his means
of livelihood, in thirty counted seconds, it is hard to give
consolation.

"All Gloucester men, wasn't they," said Tom Platt, fiddling
helplessly with a dory-becket.

"Oh, that don't make no odds," said Jason, wringing the wet from
his beard. "I'll be rowin' summer boarders araound East Gloucester
this fall." He rolled heavily to the rail, singing.

"Happy birds that sing and fly
Round thine altars, O Most High!"

"Come with me. Come below!" said Penn, as though he had a right to
give orders. Their eyes met and fought for a quarter of a minute.

"I dunno who you be, but I'll come," said Jason, submissively.
"Mebbe I'll get back some o' the - some o' the - nine thousand
dollars." Penn led him into the cabin and slid the door behind.

"That ain't Penn," cried Uncle Salters. "It's Jacob Boiler, an' -
he's remembered Johnstown! I never seed such eyes in any livin'
man's head.
What's to do naow? What'll I do naow?"

They could hear Penn's voice and Jason's together. Then Penn's
went on alone, and Salters slipped off his hat, for Penn was
praying. Presently the little man came up the steps, huge drops of
sweat on his face, and looked at the crew. Dan was still sobbing
by the wheel.

"He don't know us," Salters groaned. "It's all to do over again,
checkers and everything - an' what'll he say to me?"

Penn spoke; they could hear that it was to strangers. "I have
prayed," said he. "Our people believe in prayer. I have prayed for
the life of this man's son. Mine were drowned before my eyes - she
and my eldest and - the others. Shall a man be more wise than his
Maker? I prayed never for their lives, but I have prayed for this
man's son, and he will surely be sent him."

Salters looked pleadingly at Penn to see if he remembered.

"How long have I been mad?" Penn asked suddenly. His mouth was
twitching.

"Pshaw, Penn! You weren't never mad," Salters began. "Only a
little distracted like."

"I saw the houses strike the bridge before the fires broke out. I
do not remember any more. How long ago is that?"

"I can't stand it! I can't stand it!" cried Dan, and Harvey
whimpered in sympathy.

"Abaout five year," said Disko, in a shaking voice.

"Then I have been a charge on some one for every day of that time.
Who was the man?"

Disko pointed to Salters.

"Ye hain't - ye hain't!" cried the sea-farmer, twisting his hands
together. "Ye've more'n earned your keep twice-told; "an' there's
money owin' you, Penn, besides ha'af o' my quarter-share in the
boat, which is yours fer value received."

"You are good men. I can see that in your faces. But -"

"Mother av Mercy," whispered Long Jack, "an' he's been wid us all
these trips! He's clean bewitched."

A schooner's bell struck up alongside, and a voice hailed through
the fog: "O Disko! 'Heard abaout the Jennie Cushman?"

"They have found his son," cried Penn. "Stand you still and see
the salvation of the Lord!"

"Got Jason aboard here," Disko answered, but his voice quavered.
"There - warn't any one else?"

"We've f'und one, though. 'Run acrost him snarled up in a mess o'
lumber thet might ha' bin a fo'c'sle. His head's cut some."

"Who is he?"

The "We're Heres'" heart-beats answered one another.

"Guess it's young Olley," the voice drawled.

Penn raised his hands and said something in German. Harvey could
have sworn that a bright sun was shining upon his lifted face; but
the drawl went on: "Sa-ay! You fellers guyed us consid'rable
t'other night."

"We don't feel like guyin' any now," said Disko.

"I know it; but to tell the honest truth we was kinder - kinder
driftin' when we run ag'in' young Olley."

It was the irrepressible Carrie Pitman, and a roar of unsteady
laughter went up from the deck of the "We're Here".

"Hedn't you 'baout's well send the old man aboard? We're runnin'
in fer more bait an' graound-tackle. 'Guess you won't want him,
anyway, an' this blame windlass work makes us short-handed. We'll
take care of him. He married my woman's aunt."

"I'll give you anything in the boat," said Troop.

"Don't want nothin', 'less, mebbe, an anchor that'll hold. Say!
Young Olley's gittin' kinder baulky an' excited. Send the old man
along."

Penn waked him from his stupor of despair, and Tom Platt rowed him
over. He went away without a word of thanks, not knowing what was
to come; and the fog closed over all.

"And now," said Penn, drawing a deep breath as though about to
preach. "And now" - the erect body sank like a sword driven home
into the scabbard; the light faded from the overbright eyes; the
voice returned to its usual pitiful little titter -" and now,"
said Pennsylvania Pratt, "do you think it's too early for a little
game of checkers, Mr. Salters?"

"The very thing - the very thing I was goin' to say myself," cried
Salters, promptly. "It beats all, Penn, how you git on to what's
in a man's mind."

The little fellow blushed and meekly followed Salters forward.

"Up anchor! Hurry! Let's quit these crazy waters," shouted Disko,
and never was he more swiftly obeyed.

"Now what in creation d'ye suppose is the meanin' o' that all?"
said Long Jack, when they were working through the fog once more,
damp, dripping, and bewildered.

"The way I sense it," said Disko, at the wheel, "is this: The
Jennie Cushman business comin' on an empty stummick -"

"He - we saw one of them go by," sobbed Harvey.

"An' that, o' course, kinder hove him outer water, Julluk runnin'
a craft ashore; hove him right aout, I take it, to rememberin'
Johnstown an' Jacob Boiler an' such-like reminiscences. Well,
consolin' Jason there held him up a piece, same's shorin' up a
boat. Then, bein' weak, them props slipped an' slipped, an' he
slided down the ways, an' naow he's water-borne ag'in. That's haow
I sense it."

They decided that Disko was entirely correct.

"'Twould ha' bruk Salters all up," said Long Jack, "if Penn had
stayed Jacob Bollerin'. Did ye see his face when Penn asked who
he'd been charged on all these years'? How is ut, Salters?"

"Asleep - dead asleep. Turned in like a child," Salters replied,
tiptoeing aft. "There won't be no grub till he wakes, natural. Did
ye ever see sech a gift in prayer? He everlastin'ly hiked young
Olley outer the ocean. Thet's my belief. Jason was tur'ble praoud
of his boy, an' I mistrusted all along 'twas a jedgment on
worshippin' vain idols."

"There's others jest as sot," said Disko.

"That's dif'runt," Salters retorted quickly. "Penn's not all
caulked, an' I ain't only but doin' my duty by him."

They waited, those hungry men, three hours, till Penn reappeared
with a smooth face and a blank mind. He said he believed that he
had been dreaming. Then he wanted to know why they were so silent,
and they could not tell him.

Disko worked all hands mercilessly for the next three or four
days; and when they could not go out, turned them into the hold to
stack the ship's stores into smaller compass, to make more room
for the fish. The packed mass ran from the cabin partition to the
sliding door behind the fo'c'sle stove; and Disko showed how there
is great art in stowing cargo so as to bring a schooner to her
best draft. The crew were thus kept lively till they recovered
their spirits; and Harvey was tickled with a rope's end by Long
Jack for being, as the Galway man said, "sorrowful as a sick cat
over fwhat couldn't be helped." He did a great deal of thinking in
those dreary days; and told Dan what he thought, and Dan agreed
with him - even to the extent of asking for fried pies instead of
hooking them.

But a week later the two nearly upset the Hattie S. in a wild
attempt to stab a shark with an old bayonet tied to a stick. The
grim brute rubbed alongside the dory begging for small fish, and
between the three of them it was a mercy they all got off alive.

At last, after playing blindman's-buff in the fog, there came a
morning when Disko shouted down the fo'c'sle: "Hurry, boys! We're
in taown!"

Rudyard Kipling

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