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David W. (David William) Bone.

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Slowly they drew up, working at top speed. Now
they were level level! and Takia still droning
"'trokef ' troke f '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 out-
ward heed of the cries. He was staring stolidly
ahead, ben'ding to the pulse of the boat. No out-
ward heed but 'troke! 'troke! came faster



THE MERCHANTS' CUP 133

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'f Let 'er rip, by el"

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 yel-
low 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 ! Done !

And so are we! Takia drops the yoke ropes
and leans forward on the gunwale! Oars jar to-
gether! 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 I



134 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

IV

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 bur-
den, and, swaying the great sails aloft, to rig har-
ness 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 specu-



THE MERCHANTS' CUP 135

lating on the runs they hoped to make. Burke and
Schenke 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.

u Vat 'bout dot bett you make mit me, Cabtin?"
said Schenke. "Dot iss all recht, no?"

"Oh, yess," answered the old man, but without
enthusiasm. "That stands."

"Hoo ! Hoo ! Hoo ! Tventig dollars to feefty
dot you goes home quicker as me, no?" Schenke
turned to the other men. "Vat you trinks, yentle-
men? Ah tink Ah sbend der tventig dollars now
so sure Ah vass."

The others laughed. "Man, man," said Find-
layson 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'er luck."

"Look here, Cabtin," said Schenke (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, hem? 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."



136 ' BROKEN STOWAGE'

So the bet was made.

At daybreak next morning we put out to sea.
The good luck that the Rhoridda 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 ex-
pected to heave in sight. Then, when nothing was
reported, he would begin his day-long strut up and
down the poop, whistling "Garryowen" and rub-
bing 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



THE MERCHANTS' CUP 137

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 ad-
miring 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 to-
gether for our weekly 'sing-song' all but Greg-
son, whose turn it was to stand the look-out 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



i 3 8 * BROKEN STOWAGE '

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 stun-
ning period to our merriment. "Helm up, f r
God's sake! . . . Up! oh GodlUp! Up!"
A furious impact dashed us to the deck. Stagger-
ing, 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 can-
vas, 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 go-
ing!"

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!



THE MERCHANTS' CUP 139

Sailor work ! No more than ten minutes be-
tween '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, cap-
tain," they said as the canvas swelled. "Keep
heart !" For a time we heard their voices shouting
us Godspeed then silence came I

V

Daybreak!

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



140 'BROKEN STOWAGE *

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 dis-
aster that had come so suddenly on the heels of his
'good luck.' He sat staring stonily ahead, deaf to
our hopes and fears.



THE MERCHANTS' CUP 141

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 phys-
ical 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.

Boo-m-m!

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.



i 4 2 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

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
enthusiasm.

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 furi-
ous 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 weaned 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



THE MERCHANTS' CUP 143

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 Go//. It is all right, no? All
right, Cabtin, now you come on board. Ah know



144 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

all 'bout it! ... Ah pick He o'der 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!
Shure, this ship o' yours can sail. With a bit o'
luck, now, ye'll be in Falmouth under the hun-
dred."

"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 leetle Hilda to vork mein
sheep, Ah dond't t'ink ve comes home so quick as
hundert days, no?"

"God bless us, man. Shure, it's the least they
cud do, now. An' you kaapin' 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 Falk-
lands 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,' dey
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 sheep."

"Oh, now, ye just say that, Schenke, ye just



THE MERCHANTS' CUP 145

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,' hein? 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, shamefaced, 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 Mer-
chants' Cup. Gott! Ah vass verricht ven your
boys come in first. Ach so! Und now de Cup iss
at de bottom of de Pacific." He sighed regret-
fully. "Gott! I vant' 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

s



146 ' BROKEN STOWAGE'

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 arm.

"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 parcel.

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 I



XVIII
BEHIND THE MAY

the broad windy floor of the North Sea
gales spring up without a warning which
landsmen can discern, but the fishermen, by por-
tents which they alone can understand wisps, it
may be, of stringy clouds banking to the south-
east, or a sickly sun, or a tide out of order, or an
unwonted movement among the fish can tell
whether wind will come before daybreak. When
the chill, grey mist, perhaps the most familiar
phenomenon of the North Sea, comes up from the
south, shutting out land and lights, ships and sail,
the old men can tell if a gale is in its train; and on
the East Coast, where the harbours are bar and
tidal and impassable in a breaking sea, their de-
cision must be prompt, for if time and tide are not
reckoned with in running for shelter, their only
safety lies in riding out the storm to leeward of
the nets.

There are, however, one or two places acces-
sible in all weathers, where shelter may be had in
easterly gales. Inchkeith, though far from the
fishing grounds, is one, and a few acres of com-
paratively calm water lie to leeward of May Is-

147



i 4 8 * BROKEN STOWAGE'

?

lan'd, 'behind the May,' as the fishermen call it.
Even by full-powered steam vessels, which can
usually make a better anchorage, the May is not
despised, for it offers a convenient spot where they
can lie-to until the fury of the gale has spent itself,
and they can proceed on their voyage in safety.

On an evening in November in a gale of easterly
wind we made the Tay bar, but finding a tre-
mendous sea breaking on the flats and the leading
lights obscured by driving mist we thought it pru-
dent to put out again until the sea on the bar had
gone down. With the weather 'thickening' and
threatening snow, we had no liking to lose our
land-fall, so we sounded across Fife Ness and the
Carrs and anchored 'close-to' to leeward of the
May. Few vessels as yet had taken advantage of
the shelter, for, as the tide was high and the wind
north of east, the northern harbours were still ac-
cessible. But with the ebb the opportunity passed,
and presently the vessels which had happened on
the falling tide were groping their way in the mist
and darkness to the lee of the friendly rock, the
one quiet spot amid the turbulence and tumult of
a North Sea gale. Hard squalls blew on with a
cold bite in them that told of snow and a wind well
north. Ahead of us, as we lay with cable strained
to weight of wind, the lighthouse flashed its beams
at timely intervals, and the raucous wail of the
syren voiced a pregnant warning though but a
weakling whisper in the fury of the storm. 'High



BEHIND THE MAY 149

. . . low. High . . . low.' Was ;ever a warn-
ing more mournful or discordant?

As the squalls became more frequent and in-
creased in force the mist gave way to sleet, and
then to snow, driving in large light flakes, the fore-
runners of a heavy fall. Steam trawlers and small
coasting craft crept out of the pall about us warily
and sounding long notes on their steam whistles,
and soon what had been empty sea behind a lonely
rock became a rendezvous of importance, crowded
by ships from all airts, and, even in the mist and
'darkness, presenting in animated sight and sound a
spectacle at sea riding and navigating lights now
in sight, now shut in; clatter of bells and hoot of
steam whistles; hiss of escaping steam and clank
of cable and windlass. Fishermen, steam and sail,
coasters, and North Country colliers, a topsail
schooner and a few rough cobles from the Dunbar
coast; a jumble of maritime types blown together
like paper in odd corners of a city street. Lights
studded the tiny anchorage, where a short time ago
was a darkness, broken only by the flashing periods
of the May light. Close in under the island, where
fishermen were mending broken trawls or nets, the
gleam of the working flares lit up the rugged cliff,
and the echo of their cries and hails, thrown back
by the land, could be heard faintly in the lulling
of the storm. Most of the fishers kept under
weigh, and only the larger vessels anchored. Near
to the north point of the island, where the water



150 'BROKEN STOWAGE

was smoothest anH the shelter best, the smaller
craft kept elbowing one another out of choice po-
sitions, and the rapidly-changing lights, red to
green and green to red, showed collision to be
skilfully averted.

In the early hours of the morning the squalls
became less frequent and the snow ceased. The
sky cleared in parts, and a dim moon, low to the
eastward, shed a faint light on the ships, uncom-
fortably berthed together within the small shelter
afforded by the island. Beyond, huge seas, with
the sweep of the leagues of the German Ocean be-
hind them, thundered 'up Firth' to where Scotland
stood, gaunt and forbidding, a barrier to their
advance. In the clearing, the coast lights showed
up around us; St. Abbs and Barnsness, Fidra and
the loom of the Bass, and the Carr Lightship, rid-
ing out the storm to the nor'ard, cast a bright, un-
daunted beam. Towards daybreak the wind,
which till now had blown steady from the nor'east,
began to veer, the first sign of the breaking of the
gale. At times a blast from the south end of the
island would strike us, and the accompanying seas
would rush in among the assembled craft, as if in
triumph at finding them within reach. Inside there
was no weight of wind to back them up, and they
spent themselves in a long swell, jostling the
smaller craft into heaving confusion.

Faint and low, scarce pitched above the tenor of
the gale, we heard a sound of gunfire to the nor'-



BEHIND THE MAY 151

arid. Presently it was repeated, and we knew a
call of the helpless at sea. A blaze of coloured fire
over the North Carr Lightship showed her to be
throwing rockets, signals for the lifeboat; and al-


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Online LibraryDavid W. (David William) BoneBroken stowage → online text (page 8 of 16)