Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling

Chapter 8

To the end of his days, Harvey will never forget that sight. The sun was just clear of the horizon they had not seen for nearly a week, and his low red light struck into the riding-sails of three fleets of anchored schooners — one to the north, one to the westward, and one to the south. There must have been nearly a hundred of them, of every possible make and build, with, far away, a square-rigged Frenchman, all bowing and courtesying one to the other. From every boat dories were dropping away like bees from a crowded hive, and the clamour of voices, the rattling of ropes and blocks, and the splash of the oars carried for miles across the heaving water. The sails turned all colours, black, pearly-gray, and white, as the sun mounted; and more boats swung up through the mists to the southward.

The dories gathered in clusters, separated, reformed, and broke again, all heading one way; while men hailed and whistled and cat-called and sang, and the water was speckled with rubbish thrown overboard.

“It’s a town,” said Harvey. “Disko was right. It IS a town!”

“I’ve seen smaller,” said Disko. “There’s about a thousand men here; an’ yonder’s the Virgin.” He pointed to a vacant space of greenish sea, where there were no dories.

The ‘We’re Here’ skirted round the northern squadron, Disko waving his hand to friend after friend, and anchored as nearly as a racing yacht at the end of the season. The Bank fleet pass good seamanship in silence; but a bungler is jeered all along the line.

“Jest in time fer the caplin,” cried the Mary Chilton.

“‘Salt ‘most wet?” asked the King Philip.

“Hey, Tom Platt! Come t’ supper to-night?” said the Henry Clay; and so questions and answers flew back and forth. Men had met one another before, dory-fishing in the fog, and there is no place for gossip like the Bank fleet. They all seemed to know about Harvey’s rescue, and asked if he were worth his salt yet. The young bloods jested with Dan, who had a lively tongue of his own, and inquired after their health by the town-nicknames they least liked. Manuel’s countrymen jabbered at him in their own language; and even the silent cook was seen riding the jib-boom and shouting Gaelic to a friend as black as himself. After they had buoyed the cable — all around the Virgin is rocky bottom, and carelessness means chafed ground-tackle and danger from drifting — after they had buoyed the cable, their dories went forth to join the mob of boats anchored about a mile away. The schooners rocked and dipped at a safe distance, like mother ducks watching their brood, while the dories behaved like mannerless ducklings.

As they drove into the confusion, boat banging boat, Harvey’s ears tingled at the comments on his rowing. Every dialect from Labrador to Long Island, with Portuguese, Neapolitan, Lingua Franca, French, and Gaelic, with songs and shoutings and new oaths, rattled round him, and he seemed to be the butt of it all. For the first time in his life he felt shy — perhaps that came from living so long with only the ‘We’re Heres’— among the scores of wild faces that rose and fell with the reeling small craft. A gentle, breathing swell, three furlongs from trough to barrel, would quietly shoulder up a string of variously painted dories. They hung for an instant, a wonderful frieze against the sky-line, and their men pointed and hailed. Next moment the open mouths, waving arms, and bare chests disappeared, while on another swell came up an entirely new line of characters like paper figures in a toy theatre. So Harvey stared. “Watch out!” said Dan, flourishing a dip-net “When I tell you dip, you dip. The caplin’ll school any time from naow on. Where’ll we lay, Tom Platt?”

Pushing, shoving, and hauling, greeting old friends here and warning old enemies there, Commodore Tom Platt led his little fleet well to leeward of the general crowd, and immediately three or four men began to haul on their anchors with intent to lee-bow the ‘We’re Heres’. But a yell of laughter went up as a dory shot from her station with exceeding speed, its occupant pulling madly on the roding.

“Give her slack!” roared twenty voices. “Let him shake it out.”

“What’s the matter?” said Harvey, as the boat flashed away to the southward. “He’s anchored, isn’t he?”

“Anchored, sure enough, but his graound-tackle’s kinder shifty,” said Dan, laughing. “Whale’s fouled it. . . . Dip Harve! Here they come!”

The sea round them clouded and darkened, and then frizzed up in showers of tiny silver fish, and over a space of five or six acres the cod began to leap like trout in May; while behind the cod three or four broad gray-backs broke the water into boils.

Then everybody shouted and tried to haul up his anchor to get among the school, and fouled his neighbour’s line and said what was in his heart, and dipped furiously with his dip-net, and shrieked cautions and advice to his companions, while the deep fizzed like freshly opened soda-water, and cod, men, and whales together flung in upon the luckless bait. Harvey was nearly knocked overboard by the handle of Dan’s net. But in all the wild tumult he noticed, and never forgot, the wicked, set little eye — something like a circus elephant’s eye — of a whale that drove along almost level with the water, and, so he said, winked at him. Three boats found their rodings fouled by these reckless mid-sea hunters, and were towed half a mile ere their horses shook the line free.

Then the caplin moved off, and five minutes later there was no sound except the splash of the sinkers overside, the flapping of the cod, and the whack of the muckles as the men stunned them. It was wonderful fishing. Harvey could see the glimmering cod below, swimming slowly in droves, biting as steadily as they swam. Bank law strictly forbids more than one hook on one line when the dories are on the Virgin or the Eastern Shoals; but so close lay the boats that even single hooks snarled, and Harvey found himself in hot argument with a gentle, hairy Newfoundlander on one side and a howling Portuguese on the other.

Worse than any tangle of fishing-lines was the confusion of the dory-rodings below water. Each man had anchored where it seemed good to him, drifting and rowing round his fixed point. As the fish struck on less quickly, each man wanted to haul up and get to better ground; but every third man found himself intimately connected with some four or five neighbours. To cut another’s roding is crime unspeakable on the Banks; yet it was done, and done without detection, three or four times that day. Tom Platt caught a Maine man in the black act and knocked him over the gunwale with an oar, and Manuel served a fellow-countryman in the same way. But Harvey’s anchor-line was cut, and so was Penn’s, and they were turned into relief-boats to carry fish to the ‘We’re Here’ as the dories filled. The caplin schooled once more at twilight, when the mad clamour was repeated; and at dusk they rowed back to dress down by the light of kerosene-lamps on the edge of the pen.

It was a huge pile, and they went to sleep while they were dressing. Next day several boats fished right above the cap of the Virgin; and Harvey, with them, looked down on the very weed of that lonely rock, which rises to within twenty feet of the surface. The cod were there in legions, marching solemnly over the leathery kelp. When they bit, they bit all together; and so when they stopped. There was a slack time at noon, and the dories began to search for amusement. It was Dan who sighted the Hope Of Prague just coming up, and as her boats joined the company they were greeted with the question: “Who’s the meanest man in the Fleet?”

Three hundred voices answered cheerily: “Nick Bra-ady.” It sounded like an organ chant.

“Who stole the lampwicks?” That was Dan’s contribution.

“Nick Bra-ady,” sang the boats.

“Who biled the salt bait fer soup?” This was an unknown backbiter a quarter of a mile away.

Again the joyful chorus. Now, Brady was not especially mean, but he had that reputation, and the Fleet made the most of it. Then they discovered a man from a Truro boat who, six years before, had been convicted of using a tackle with five or six hooks — a “scrowger,” they call it — in the Shoals. Naturally, he had been christened “Scrowger Jim”; and though he had hidden himself on the Georges ever since, he found his honours waiting for him full blown. They took it up in a sort of firecracker chorus: “Jim! O Jim! Jim! O Jim! Sssscrowger Jim!” That pleased everybody. And when a poetical Beverly man — he had been making it up all day, and talked about it for weeks — sang, “The Carrie Pitman’s anchor doesn’t hold her for a cent” the dories felt that they were indeed fortunate. Then they had to ask that Beverly man how he was off for beans, because even poets must not have things all their own way. Every schooner and nearly every man got it in turn. Was there a careless or dirty cook anywhere? The dories sang about him and his food. Was a schooner badly found? The Fleet was told at full length. Had a man hooked tobacco from a mess-mate? He was named in meeting; the name tossed from roller to roller. Disko’s infallible judgments, Long Jack’s market-boat that he had sold years ago, Dan’s sweetheart (oh, but Dan was an angry boy!), Penn’s bad luck with dory-anchors, Salter’s views on manure, Manuel’s little slips from virtue ashore, and Harvey’s ladylike handling of the oar — all were laid before the public; and as the fog fell around them in silvery sheets beneath the sun, the voices sounded like a bench of invisible judges pronouncing sentence.

The dories roved and fished and squabbled till a swell underran the sea. Then they drew more apart to save their sides, and some one called that if the swell continued the Virgin would break. A reckless Galway man with his nephew denied this, hauled up anchor, and rowed over the very rock itself. Many voices called them to come away, while others dared them to hold on. As the smooth-backed rollers passed to the southward, they hove the dory high and high into the mist, and dropped her in ugly, sucking, dimpled water, where she spun round her anchor, within a foot or two of the hidden rock. It was playing with death for mere bravado; and the boats looked on in uneasy silence till Long Jack rowed up behind his countrymen and quietly cut their roding.

“Can’t ye hear ut knockin’?” he cried. “Pull for you miserable lives! Pull!”

The men swore and tried to argue as the boat drifted; but the next swell checked a little, like a man tripping on a carpet. There was a deep sob and a gathering roar, and the Virgin flung up a couple of acres of foaming water, white, furious, and ghastly over the shoal sea. Then all the boats greatly applauded Long Jack, and the Galway men held their tongue.

“Ain’t it elegant?” said Dan, bobbing like a young seal at home. “She’ll break about once every ha’af hour now, ‘les the swell piles up good. What’s her reg’lar time when she’s at work, Tom Platt?”

“Once ivry fifteen minutes, to the tick. Harve, you’ve seen the greatest thing on the Banks; an’ but for Long Jack you’d seen some dead men too.”

There came a sound of merriment where the fog lay thicker and the schooners were ringing their bells. A big bark nosed cautiously out of the mist, and was received with shouts and cries of, “Come along, darlin’,” from the Irishry.

“Another Frenchman?” said Harvey.

“Hain’t you eyes? She’s a Baltimore boat; goin’ in fear an’ tremblin’,” said Dan. “We’ll guy the very sticks out of her. Guess it’s the fust time her skipper ever met up with the Fleet this way.”

She was a black, buxom, eight-hundred-ton craft. Her mainsail was looped up, and her topsail flapped undecidedly in what little wind was moving. Now a bark is feminine beyond all other daughters of the sea, and this tall, hesitating creature, with her white and gilt figurehead, looked just like a bewildered woman half lifting her skirts to cross a muddy street under the jeers of bad little boys. That was very much her situation. She knew she was somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Virgin, had caught the roar of it, and was, therefore, asking her way. This is a small part of what she heard from the dancing dories:

“The Virgin? Fwhat are you talkin’ of? ‘This is Le Have on a Sunday mornin’. Go home an’ sober up.”

“Go home, ye tarrapin! Go home an’ tell ’em we’re comin’.”

Half a dozen voices together, in a most tuneful chorus, as her stern went down with a roll and a bubble into the troughs: “Thay-aah-she-strikes!”

“Hard up! Hard up fer your life! You’re on top of her now.”

“Daown! Hard daown! Let go everything!”

“All hands to the pumps!”

“Daown jib an’ pole her!”

Here the skipper lost his temper and said things. Instantly fishing was suspended to answer him, and he heard many curious facts about his boat and her next port of call. They asked him if he were insured; and whence he had stolen his anchor, because, they said, it belonged to the Carrie Pitman; they called his boat a mud-scow, and accused him of dumping garbage to frighten the fish; they offered to tow him and charge it to his wife; and one audacious youth slipped up almost under the counter, smacked it with his open palm, and yelled: “Gid up, Buck!”

The cook emptied a pan of ashes on him, and he replied with cod-heads. The bark’s crew fired small coal from the galley, and the dories threatened to come aboard and “razee” her. They would have warned her at once had she been in real peril; but, seeing her well clear of the Virgin, they made the most of their chances. The fun was spoilt when the rock spoke again, a half-mile to windward, and the tormented bark set everything that would draw and went her ways; but the dories felt that the honours lay with them.

All that night the Virgin roared hoarsely; and next morning, over an angry, white-headed sea, Harvey saw the Fleet with flickering masts waiting for a lead. Not a dory was hove out till ten o’clock, when the two Jeraulds of the Day’s Eye, imagining a lull which did not exist, set the example. In a minute half the boats were out and bobbing in the cockly swells, but Troop kept the ‘We’re Heres’ at work dressing down. He saw no sense in “dares”; and as the storm grew that evening they had the pleasure of receiving wet strangers only too glad to make any refuge in the gale. The boys stood by the dory-tackles with lanterns, the men ready to haul, one eye cocked for the sweeping wave that would make them drop everything and hold on for dear life. Out of the dark would come a yell of “Dory, dory!” They would hook up and haul in a drenched man and a half-sunk boat, till their decks were littered down with nests of dories and the bunks were full. Five times in their watch did Harvey, with Dan, jump at the foregaff where it lay lashed on the boom, and cling with arms, legs, and teeth to rope and spar and sodden canvas as a big wave filled the decks. One dory was smashed to pieces, and the sea pitched the man head first on to the decks, cutting his forehead open; and about dawn, when the racing seas glimmered white all along their cold edges, another man, blue and ghastly, crawled in with a broken hand, asking news of his brother. Seven extra mouths sat down to breakfast: A Swede; a Chatham skipper; a boy from Hancock, Maine; one Duxbury, and three Provincetown men.

There was a general sorting out among the Fleet next day; and though no one said anything, all ate with better appetites when boat after boat reported full crews aboard. Only a couple of Portuguese and an old man from Gloucester were drowned, but many were cut or bruised; and two schooners had parted their tackle and been blown to the southward, three days’ sail. A man died on a Frenchman — it was the same bark that had traded tobacco with the ‘We’re Heres’. She slipped away quite quietly one wet, white morning, moved to a patch of deep water, her sails all hanging anyhow, and Harvey saw the funeral through Disko’s spy-glass. It was only an oblong bundle slid overside. They did not seem to have any form of service, but in the night, at anchor, Harvey heard them across the star-powdered black water, singing something that sounded like a hymn. it went to a very slow tune.

“La brigantine
Qui va tourner,
Roule et s’incline
Pour m’entrainer.
Oh, Vierge Marie,
Pour moi priez Dieu!
Adieu, patrie;
Quebec, adieu!”

Tom Platt visited her, because, he said, the dead man was his brother as a Freemason. It came out that a wave had doubled the poor fellow over the heel of the bowsprit and broken his back. The news spread like a flash, for, contrary to general custom, the Frenchman held an auction of the dead man’s kit — he had no friends at St Malo or Miquelon — and everything was spread out on the top of the house, from his red knitted cap to the leather belt with the sheath-knife at the back. Dan and Harvey were out on twenty-fathom water in the Hattie S., and naturally rowed over to join the crowd. It was a long pull, and they stayed some little time while Dan bought the knife, which had a curious brass handle. When they dropped overside and pushed off into a drizzle of rain and a lop of sea, it occurred to them that they might get into trouble for neglecting the lines.

“Guess ‘twon’t hurt us any to be warmed up,” said Dan, shivering under his oilskins, and they rowed on into the heart of a white fog, which, as usual, dropped on them without warning.

“There’s too much blame tide hereabouts to trust to your instinks,” he said. “Heave over the anchor, Harve, and we’ll fish a piece till the thing lifts. Bend on your biggest lead. Three pound ain’t any too much in this water. See how she’s tightened on her rodin’ already.”

There was quite a little bubble at the bows, where some irresponsible Bank current held the dory full stretch on her rope; but they could not see a boat’s length in any direction. Harvey turned up his collar and bunched himself over his reel with the air of a wearied navigator. Fog had no special terrors for him now. They fished a while in silence, and found the cod struck on well. Then Dan drew the sheath-knife and tested the edge of it on the gunwale.

“That’s a daisy,” said Harvey. “How did you get it so cheap?”

“On account o’ their blame Cath’lic superstitions,” said Dan, jabbing with the bright blade. “They don’t fancy takin’ iron from off a dead man, so to speak. ‘See them Arichat Frenchmen step back when I bid?”

“But an auction ain’t taking anythink off a dead man. It’s business.”

“We know it ain’t, but there’s no goin’ in the teeth o’ superstition. That’s one o’ the advantages o’ livin’ in a progressive country.” And Dan began whistling:

“Oh, Double Thatcher, how are you?
Now Eastern Point comes inter view.
The girls an’ boys we soon shall see,
At anchor off Cape Ann!”

“Why didn’t that Eastport man bid, then? He bought his boots. Ain’t Maine progressive?”

“Maine? Pshaw! They don’t know enough, or they hain’t got money enough, to paint their haouses in Maine. I’ve seen ’em. The Eastport man he told me that the knife had been used — so the French captain told him — used up on the French coast last year.”

“Cut a man? Heave ‘s the muckle.” Harvey hauled in his fish, rebaited, and threw over.

“Killed him! Course, when I heard that I was keener’n ever to get it.”

“Christmas! I didn’t know it,” said Harvey, turning round. “I’ll give you a dollar for it when I— get my wages. Say, I’ll give you two dollars.”

“Honest? D’you like it as much as all that?” said Dan, flushing. “Well, to tell the truth, I kinder got it for you — to give; but I didn’t let on till I saw how you’d take it. It’s yours and welcome, Harve, because we’re dory-mates, and so on and so forth, an’ so followin’. Catch a-holt!”

He held it out, belt and all.

“But look at here. Dan, I don’t see —”

“Take it. ‘Tain’t no use to me. I wish you to hev it.” The temptation was irresistible. “Dan, you’re a white man,” said Harvey. “I’ll keep it as long as I live.”

“That’s good hearin’,” said Dan, with a pleasant laugh; and then, anxious to change the subject: “‘Look’s if your line was fast to somethin’.”

“Fouled, I guess,” said Harve, tugging. Before he pulled up he fastened the belt round him, and with deep delight heard the tip of the sheath click on the thwart. “Concern the thing!” he cried. “She acts as though she were on strawberry-bottom. It’s all sand here, ain’t it?”

Dan reached over and gave a judgmatic tweak. “Hollbut’ll act that way ‘f he’s sulky. Thet’s no strawberry-bottom. Yank her once or twice. She gives, sure. Guess we’d better haul up an’ make certain.”

They pulled together, making fast at each turn on the cleats, and the hidden weight rose sluggishly.

“Prize, oh! Haul!” shouted Dan, but the shout ended in a shrill, double shriek of horror, for out of the sea came the body of the dead Frenchman buried two days before! The hook had caught him under the right armpit, and he swayed, erect and horrible, head and shoulders above water. His arms were tied to his side, and — he had no face. The boys fell over each other in a heap at the bottom of the dory, and there they lay while the thing bobbed alongside, held on the shortened line.

“The tide — the tide brought him!” said Harvey with quivering lips, as he fumbled at the clasp of the belt.

“Oh, Lord! Oh, Harve!” groaned Dan, “be quick. He’s come for it. Let him have it. Take it off.”

“I don’t want it! I don’t want it!” cried Harvey. “I can’t find the bu-buckle.”

“Quick, Harve! He’s on your line!”

Harvey sat up to unfasten the belt, facing the head that had no face under its streaming hair. “He’s fast still,” he whispered to Dan, who slipped out his knife and cut the line, as Harvey flung the belt far overside. The body shot down with a plop, and Dan cautiously rose to his knees, whiter than the fog.

“He come for it. He come for it. I’ve seen a stale one hauled up on a trawl and I didn’t much care, but he come to us special.”

“I wish — I wish I hadn’t taken the knife. Then he’d have come on your line.”

“Dunno as thet would ba’ made any differ. We’re both scared out o’ ten years’ growth. Oh, Harve, did ye see his head?”

“Did I? I’ll never forget it. But look at here, Dan; it couldn’t have been meant. It was only the tide.”

“Tide! He come for it, Harve. Why, they sunk him six miles to south’ard o’ the Fleet, an’ we’re two miles from where she’s lyin’ now. They told me he was weighted with a fathom an’ a half o’ chain-cable.”

“Wonder what he did with the knife — up on the French coast?”

“Something bad. ‘Guess he’s bound to take it with him to the Judgment, an’ so — What are you doin’ with the fish?”

“Heaving ’em overboard,” said Harvey.

“What for? We sha’n’t eat ’em.”

“I don’t care. I had to look at his face while I was takin’ the belt off. You can keep your catch if you like. I’ve no use for mine.”

Dan said nothing, but threw his fish over again.

“Guess it’s best to be on the safe side,” he murmured at last. “I’d give a month’s pay if this fog ‘u’d lift. Things go abaout in a fog that ye don’t see in clear weather — yo-hoes an’ hollerers and such like. I’m sorter relieved he come the way he did instid o’ walkin’. He might ha’ walked.”

“Don’t, Dan! We’re right on top of him now. ‘Wish I was safe aboard, hem’ pounded by Uncle Salters.”

“They’ll be lookin’ fer us in a little. Gimme the tooter.” Dan took the tin dinner-horn, but paused before he blew.

“Go on,” said Harvey. “I don’t want to stay here all night”

“Question is, haow he’d take it. There was a man frum down the coast told me once he was in a schooner where they darsen’t ever blow a horn to the dories, becaze the skipper — not the man he was with, but a captain that had run her five years before — he’d drowned a boy alongside in a drunk fit; an’ ever after, that boy he’d row along-side too and shout, ‘Dory! dory!’ with the rest.”

“Dory! dory!” a muffled voice cried through the fog. They cowered again, and the horn dropped from Dan’s hand.

“Hold on!” cried Harvey; “it’s the cook.”

“Dunno what made me think o’ thet fool tale, either,” said Dan. “It’s the doctor, sure enough.”

“Dan! Danny! Oooh, Dan! Harve! Harvey! Oooh, Haarveee!”

“We’re here,” sung both boys together. They heard oars, but could see nothing till the cook, shining and dripping, rowed into them.

“What iss happened?” said he. “You will be beaten at home.”

“Thet’s what we want. Thet’s what we’re sufferin’ for” said Dan. “Anything homey’s good enough fer us. We’ve had kinder depressin’ company.” As the cook passed them a line, Dan told him the tale.

“Yess! He come for hiss knife,” was all he said at the end.

Never had the little rocking ‘We’re Here’ looked so deliciously home-like as when the cook, born and bred in fogs, rowed them back to her. There was a warm glow of light from the cabin and a satisfying smell of food forward, and it was heavenly to hear Disko and the others, all quite alive and solid, leaning over the rail and promising them a first-class pounding. But the cook was a black; master of strategy. He did not get the dories aboard till he had given the more striking points of the tale, explaining as he backed and bumped round the counter how Harvey was the mascot to destroy any possible bad luck. So the boys came override as rather uncanny heroes, and every one asked them questions instead of pounding them for making trouble. Little Penn delivered quite a speech on the folly of superstitions; but public opinion was against him and in favour of Long Jack, who told the most excruciating ghost-stories, till nearly midnight. Under that influence no one except Salters and Penn said anything about “idolatry,” when the cook put a lighted candle, a cake of flour and water, and a pinch of salt on a shingle, and floated them out astern to keep the Frenchman quiet in case he was still restless. Dan lit the candle because he had bought the belt, and the cook grunted and muttered charms as long as he could see the ducking point of flame.

Said Harvey to Dan, as they turned in after watch:

“How about progress and Catholic superstitions?”

“Huh! I guess I’m as enlightened and progressive as the next man, but when it comes to a dead St. Malo deck-hand scarin’ a couple o’ pore boys stiff fer the sake of a thirty-cent knife, why, then, the cook can take hold fer all o’ me. I mistrust furriners, livin’ or dead.”

Next morning all, except the cook, were rather ashamed of the ceremonies, and went to work double tides, speaking gruffly to one another.

The ‘We’re Here’ was racing neck and neck for her last few loads against the Parry Norman; and so close was the struggle that the Fleet took side and betted tobacco. All hands worked at the lines or dressing-down till they fell asleep where they stood — beginning before dawn and ending when it was too dark to see. They even used the cook as pitcher, and turned Harvey into the hold to pass salt, while Dan helped to dress down. Luckily a Parry Norman man sprained his ankle falling down the foc’sle, and the ‘We’re Heres’ gained. Harvey could not see how one more fish could be crammed into her, but Disko and Tom Platt stowed and stowed, and planked the mass down with big stones from the ballast, and there was always “jest another day’s work.” Disko did not tell them when all the salt was wetted. He rolled to the lazarette aft the cabin and began hauling out the big mainsail. This was at ten in the morning. The riding-sail was down and the main — and topsail were up by noon, and dories came alongside with letters for home, envying their good fortune. At last she cleared decks, hoisted her flag — as is the right of the first boat off the Banks — up-anchored, and began to move. Disko pretended that he wished to accomodate folk who had not sent in their mail, and so worked her gracefully in and out among the schooners. In reality, that was his little triumphant procession, and for the fifth year running it showed what kind of mariner he was. Dan’s accordion and Tom Platt’s fiddle supplied the music of the magic verse you must not sing till all the salt is wet:

“Hih! Yih! Yoho! Send your letters raound!
All our salt is wetted, an’ the anchor’s off the graound!

Bend, oh, bend your mains’l, we’re back to Yankeeland —
With fifteen hunder’ quintal,
An’ fifteen hunder’ quintal,
‘Teen hunder’ toppin’ quintal,
‘Twix’ old ‘Queereau an’ Grand.”

The last letters pitched on deck wrapped round pieces of coal, and the Gloucester men shouted messages to their wives and womenfolks and owners, while the ‘We’re Here’ finished the musical ride through the Fleet, her headsails quivering like a man’s hand when he raises it to say good-by.

Harvey very soon discovered that the ‘We’re Here’, with her riding-sail, strolling from berth to berth, and the ‘We’re Here’ headed west by south under home canvas, were two very different boats. There was a bite and kick to the wheel even in “boy’s” weather; he could feel the dead weight in the hold flung forward mightily across the surges, and the streaming line of bubbles overside made his eyes dizzy.

Disko kept them busy fiddling with the sails; and when those were flattened like a racing yacht’s, Dan had to wait on the big topsail, which was put over by hand every time she went about. In spare moments they pumped, for the packed fish dripped brine, which does not improve a cargo. But since there was no fishing, Harvey had time to look at the sea from another point of view. The low-sided schooner was naturally on most intimate terms with her surroundings. They saw little of the horizon save when she topped a swell; and usually she was elbowing, fidgeting, and coasting her steadfast way through gray, gray-blue, or black hollows laced across and across with streaks of shivering foam; or rubbing herself caressingly along the flank of some bigger water-hill. It was as if she said: “You wouldn’t hurt me, surely? I’m only the little ‘We’re Here’.” Then she would slide away chuckling softly to herself till she was brought up by some fresh obstacle. The dullest of folk cannot see this kind of thing hour after hour through long days without noticing it; and Harvey, being anything but dull, began to comprehend and enjoy the dry chorus of wave-tops turning over with a sound of incessant tearing; the hurry of the winds working across open spaces and herding the purple-blue cloud-shadows; the splendid upheaval of the red sunrise; the folding and packing away of the morning mists, wall after wall withdrawn across the white floors; the salty glare and blaze of noon; the kiss of rain falling over thousands of dead, flat square miles; the chilly blackening of everything at the day’s end; and the million wrinkles of the sea under the moonlight, when the jib-boom solemnly poked at the low stars, and Harvey went down to get a doughnut from the cook.

But the best fun was when the boys were put on the wheel together, Tom Platt within hail, and she cuddled her lee-rail down to the crashing blue, and kept a little home-made rainbow arching unbroken over her windlass. Then the jaws of the booms whined against the masts, and the sheets creaked, and the sails filled with roaring; and when she slid into a hollow she trampled like a woman tripped in her own silk dress, and came out, her jib wet half-way up, yearning and peering for the tall twin-lights of Thatcher’s Island.

They left the cold gray of the Bank sea, saw the lumber-ships making for Quebec by the Straits of St. Lawrence, with the Jersey salt-brigs from Spain and Sicily; found a friendly northeaster off Artimon Bank that drove them within view of the East light of Sable Island — a sight Disko did not linger over — and stayed with them past Western and Le Have, to the northern fringe of George’s. From there they picked up the deeper water, and let her go merrily.

“Hattie’s pulling on the string,” Dan confided to Harvey. “Hattie an’ Ma. Next Sunday you’ll be hirin’ a boy to throw water on the windows to make ye go to sleep. ‘Guess you’ll keep with us till your folks come. Do you know the best of gettin’ ashore again?”

“Hot bath?” said Harvey. His eyebrows were all white with dried spray.

“That’s good, but a night-shirt’s better. I’ve been dreamin’ o’ night-shirts ever since we bent our mainsail. Ye can wiggle your toes then. Ma’ll hev a new one fer me, all washed soft. It’s home, Harve. It’s home! Ye can sense it in the air. We’re runnin’ into the aidge of a hot wave naow, an’ I can smell the bayberries. Wonder if we’ll get in fer supper. Port a trifle.”

The hesitating sails flapped and lurched in the close air as the deep smoothed out, blue and oily, round them. When they whistled for a wind only the rain came in spiky rods, bubbling and drumming, and behind the rain the thunder and the lightning of mid-August. They lay on the deck with bare feet and arms, telling one another what they would order at their first meal ashore; for now the land was in plain sight. A Gloucester swordfish-boat drifted alongside, a man in the little pulpit on the bowsprit flourished his harpoon, his bare head plastered down with the wet. “And all’s well!” he sang cheerily, as though he were watch on a big liner. “Wouverman’s waiting fer you, Disko. What’s the news o’ the Fleet?”

Disko shouted it and passed on, while the wild summer storm pounded overhead and the lightning flickered along the capes from four different quarters at once. It gave the low circle of hills round Gloucester Harbor, Ten Pound Island, the fish-sheds, with the broken line of house-roofs, and each spar and buoy on the water, in blinding photographs that came and went a dozen times to the minute as the ‘We’re Here’ crawled in on half-flood, and the whistling-buoy moaned and mourned behind her. Then the storm died out in long, separated, vicious dags of blue-white flame, followed by a single roar like the roar of a mortar-battery, and the shaken air tingled under the stars as it got back to silence.

“The flag, the flag!” said Disko, suddenly, pointing upward.

“What is ut?” said Long Jack.

“Otto! Ha’af mast. They can see us frum shore now.”

“I’d clean forgot He’s no folk to Gloucester, has he?”

“Girl he was goin’ to be married to this fall.”

“Mary pity her!” said Long Jack, and lowered the little flag half-mast for the sake of Otto, swept overboard in a gale off Le Have three months before.

Disko wiped the wet from his eyes and led the ‘We’re Here’ to Wouverman’s wharf, giving his orders in whispers, while she swung round moored tugs and night-watchmen hailed her from the ends of inky-black piers. Over and above the darkness and the mystery of the procession, Harvey could feel the land close round him once more, with all its thousands of people asleep, and the smell of earth after rain, and the familiar noise of a switching-engine coughing to herself in a freight-yard; and all those things made his heart beat and his throat dry up as he stood by the foresheet. They heard the anchor-watch snoring on a lighthouse-tug, nosed into a pocket of darkness where a lantern glimmered on either side; somebody waked with a grunt, threw them a rope, and they made fast to a silent wharf flanked with great iron-roofed sheds fall of warm emptiness, and lay there without a sound.

Then Harvey sat down by the wheel, and sobbed and sobbed as though his heart would break, and a tall woman who had been sitting on a weigh-scale dropped down into the schooner and kissed Dan once on the cheek; for she was his mother, and she had seen the ‘We’re Here’ by the lightning flashes. She took no notice of Harvey till he had recovered himself a little and Disko had told her his story. Then they went to Disko’s house together as the dawn was breaking; and until the telegraph office was open and he could wire his folk, Harvey Cheyne was perhaps the loneliest boy in all America. But the curious thing was that Disko and Dan seemed to think none the worse of him for crying.

Wouverman was not ready for Disko’s prices till Disko, sure that the ‘We’re Here’ was at least a week ahead of any other Gloucester boat, had given him a few days to swallow them; so all hands played about the streets, and Long Jack stopped the Rocky Neck trolley, on principle, as he said, till the conductor let him ride free. But Dan went about with his freckled nose in the air, bung-full of mystery and most haughty to his family.

“Dan, I’ll hev to lay inter you ef you act this way,” said Troop, pensively. “Sence we’ve come ashore this time you’ve bin a heap too fresh.”

“I’d lay into him naow ef he was mine,” said Uncle Salters, sourly. He and Penn boarded with the Troops.

“Oho!” said Dan, shuffling with the accordion round the backyard, ready to leap the fence if the enemy advanced. “Dan, you’re welcome to your own judgment, but remember I’ve warned ye. Your own flesh an’ blood ha’ warned ye! ‘Tain’t any o’ my fault ef you’re mistook, but I’ll be on deck to watch ye. An’ ez fer yeou, Uncle Salters, Pharaoh’s chief butler ain’t in it ‘longside o’ you! You watch aout an’ wait. You’ll be plowed under like your own blamed clover; but me — Dan Troop — I’ll flourish like a green bay-tree because I warn’t stuck on my own opinion.”

Disko was smoking in all his shore dignity and a pair of beautiful carpet-slippers. “You’re gettin’ ez crazy as poor Harve. You two go araound gigglin’ an’ squinchin’ an’ kickin’ each other under the table till there’s no peace in the haouse,” said he.

“There’s goin’ to be a heap less — fer some folks,” Dan replied. “You wait an’ see.”

He and Harvey went out on the trolley to East Gloucester, where they tramped through the bayberry bushes to the lighthouse, and lay down on the big red boulders and laughed themselves hungry. Harvey had shown Dan a telegram, and the two swore to keep silence till the shell burst.

“Harve’s folk?” said Dan, with an unruffled face after supper. “Well, I guess they don’t amount to much of anything, or we’d ha’ heard from ’em by naow. His pop keeps a kind o’ store out West. Maybe he’ll give you ‘s much as five dollars, Dad.”

“What did I tell ye?” said Salters. “Don’t sputter over your vittles, Dan.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/captains/chapter8.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38