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care about the towing part, because if I can get aboard and pilot her
in, I can hand the towing over to those who'll take care of me. Dan,
you're a good boy. How'll you do it?"

"No time to tell now," said Dan. "Meet me at Pier 3 in an hour."

"Say," cried Captain Barney, as Dan hurried away; "how much'll it be?
Not too much - "

Dan stopped short.

"Nothing!" he roared. "It's - it's a Christmas present."



The short gray December twilight was creeping over the bay as Dan
pulled out from the Battery basin in a boat which he kept there for
recreative jaunts about the harbor. Hard pulling and cold it was, but
the boatman bent his back and shot up the East River with the strength
of the young giant he was. He could see Captain Barney, muffled to the
ears, stamping impatiently about on the end of the designated pier.
Without a word he swung his boat in such a position that the Captain
could drop into it.

Barney was delighted, so far forgetting himself, indeed, as to attempt
to establish cordial understanding.

"Hello, my boy," he said genially, "we're a-goin' to fix 'em!" Then
noting a blank expression on Dan's face, his jaws closed with a click
and he lowered himself from the pier and into the boat without further
words, while Dan shoved out into the river and started for the pier
above, where Captain Jim Skelly's tug, the _John Quinn_, was lying.
She had steam up and was all ready for her journey to meet the
_Kentigern_. That vessel had been reported east of Fire Island and
would be well across the bar by eight o'clock. She would anchor on the
bar for the night, and it was there that Captain Jim Skelly meant to
board her in order to forestall any possible scheme that wily Captain
Barney might devise to gain the bridge of the freighter.

As Dan paddled noiselessly around the other side of the pier, they
could see the pipe lights of the Quinn's crew. Finally the rowboat
turned straight under the pier, threading its way among the greasy
green piles. Reaching under the seat, Dan drew out a stout inch line.

"When I back in on the _Quinn_," he whispered, "make that line fast to
the rudder post. We'll let her tow us to the _Kentigern_."

"What!" hissed Captain Barney, and his face turned pale. But it was
only for a second, after which he chuckled.

Slowly, gently, quietly, the rowboat slid among the green piles until
the stern of the big tug loomed overhead. When it was within reach
Captain Barney leaned out, made one end of the line fast to the tug's
rudder post and then, paying out about twenty feet, he fastened the
other end to the bitts in the bow of the rowboat.

It seemed an hour's waiting before the _Quinn's_ crew cast off the
lines, but in reality it was not more than ten minutes. As the screw
began to thresh the water and the tug to move swiftly out into the
river, it required rare skill on the part of the young boatman to
manoeuvre the boat so she should not be upset at the start. But Dan
had the skill required and more besides, as he knelt in the stern with
one oar deep in the water to the port side.

In the course of a few minutes they were fairly on their way, and
Captain Jim Skelly was losing no time. He had full speed before the
tug was a hundred yards from the pier, and the spray and the splintered
chips of ice flew back from the sharp bow, smiting the faces of the two
men in the little boat dragging astern with three-quarters of her
length out of water. Dan, kneeling aft, watched with eagle eye each
quirk and turn of the tow-line.

It is the hardest thing a man has to do - to tow behind a tug or
ferryboat, even under fair conditions. In this case, the conditions
were far from fair, for there was the ice, lazily rolling and cracking
in the heavy wake of the tug, grinding against the sides of the
rowboat, until it seemed that they must be crushed. There was great
danger that they would be. There was danger also that the tow-line
might slue both men into the icy waters and upset the boat.

Captain Barney was tingling with fear. Dan knew it, and smiled. It
was not often that any one had the privilege of seeing Captain Barney

As the tug veered to starboard to round Governor's Island the tow-line
slued to port and thence quickly to starboard. The rowboat was snapped
over on her gunwales and the water poured in like a mill-race. A roar
of an oath escaped Captain Barney's lips, but before he had closed them
the boat had righted.

"Shut up, will you?" hissed Dan. "Do you want them to discover and
drown us? Ugh - she skated clean over that ice-cake!"

"You've got me out here to kill me, Dan," whimpered Captain Barney.
"'A Christmas present!' I see - now."

"Will you keep still?" whispered Dan. "If they hear us, you'll find
out who wants to kill you. The root she took that time was nothing.
There'll be worse ones - this boat is not through rooting yet."

Neither was she. Ahead the tug loomed, a great dark shape; and the
pulse of her engines was lost in the roiling water rising from the
screw blades and the hiss of it as it raced by the row-boat. There was
a dim blur of light from one of the after-cabin portholes and the
shadow of figures passing to and fro inside could be seen. The decks
were deserted. It was too cold to brave the night wind except under
necessity - a night wind that cut through the pea-jackets and ear-caps
and thick woollen gloves of the two men in the rowboat. Captain Barney
felt a fierce resentment that the _Quinn's_ men should be so warm and
comfortable while he was shivering.

"Christmas Eve!" he exclaimed. "Fine, ain't it?" and he flailed his
arms about to keep the blood in circulation.

"Christmas Eve," said Dan solemnly, as though to himself, "the finest I
ever spent"; and he added apologetically, "even if I am making an
eternal fool of myself."

On they sped. Frequently the tug would hit a large stretch of clear
water, and at such times the jingle-bell would sound in the engine-room
and the _Quinn_ would shoot forward at a rate that fairly lifted the
rowboat out of the water, while Dan, kneeling astern, oar in hand,
muscles tense, and mind alert, was ready to do anything that lay in his
skill to prevent an untoward accident.

Swish! Zip! and the rowboat would suddenly shoot to one side or the
other, compelling Dan to dig his oar way down into the water, bending
all his strength in efforts to keep the bow straight.

"She's rooting every second," he grumbled, opening and shutting his
hand to drive away the stiffness and then casting a vindictive glance
at Captain Barney, the source of all the trouble.

And as for the tugboat-skipper, he sat and watched his companion, and
resolved that, after all, there were a few things he did not know about

Between the shadowy banks of the Narrows shot the _Quinn_. Out of the
harbor in a rowboat! Even professional Battery boatmen do this about
once in a generation. The immense, shadowless darkness smote their
eyes so that they turned to the cabin light for relief.

There was likely to be little ice out there, and the northwest wind had
knocked the sea flat, as Dan knew would be the case when he figured his
chances at the start. It was bad enough though, for there was certain
to be something of a swell - and other things; and now that he was in
the midst of it, he had grave doubts as to what would happen. But his
strange exaltation rose supreme to all fears; no danger seemed too
great, no possibility too ominous, to dampen the ardor of this, his
first big act of self-sacrifice. The song the Salvation woman sang
passed through his mind.

"Gawd is mighty and grateful;
No act of my brother's or mine
Escapes His understandin',
In the good old Christmas time."

"As soon as we get near the _Kentigern_," he said, "we'll cut loose
from the _Quinn_, and while she is warping alongside we'll make a dash,
and you can hail 'em and get 'em to lower a ladder. You can beat
Skelly that way. That's what I'm banking on."

"You just put me alongside and I'll see to the rest," replied the
Captain impatiently. He would have attempted to scale the steel sides
of the vessel themselves, if only to escape from that little boat,
tailing astern of the _Quinn_ in the heart of the darkness, rooting,
twisting, threatening to dive under the water.

"What are you goin' to do after I get aboard?" asked Captain Barney,
rubbing his hands as though the victory were already won. "I declare,
I never thought of you! You can't row back."

Dan raised his head angrily and started to utter a sneering reply, when
the first good swell caught the boat - a great lazy, greasy fellow. The
_Quinn_ went up and then down, and after her shot the rowboat, like a
young colt frisking at the end of her tether, then careening down the
incline on her side as though to ram the stern of the tug ahead, which,
fortunately, was climbing another hill.

What the rowboat had been through before was child's play to this, and
Dan's face grew very stern. Reaching down with one hand, he seized the
other oar and shoved it along to Captain Barney. "Put that down on the
port side. Hang on for your life and keep her steady!" he cried.

Then he gave his attention to his side of the boat while Captain Barney
struggled in the bow. It was a fight that would have thrilled the soul
of whoever could have seen it. But that is always the way in the
bravest, most hopeless fights - no one ever sees them. They are fought
alone, in the dark, on the sea; and sometimes the lion-hearted live to
make a modest tale of it around a winter's fire; but more often the
sequel is, "Found drowned" - if even that.

Captain Barney, frightened into desperate courage, and Dan, in grim
realization that the measure of his good deed this night was the
measure of the soul he was getting to know, fought sternly. They were
on the open sea with all its mystery and lurking fate, and the dark was
all about. There was not even the impression of distance; the swells
arose as though at their elbows, tossed them with great, slimy ease,
let them down again, plucked them this way and that, while the humming
tow-line ran out to the vague, phantom, reeling tug ahead.

There was a suspicion of snow in the veiled sky, and the wind stabbed
like a knife. Twice the tug cut through a field of ice making out on
an offshore current, and the thumping the little row-boat received
seemed likely to rend her into drift-wood. But that was only one of
the chances; and the two men went on into the icy blast with jaws so
tightly clenched that their cheek muscles stood out in great knots.

The silence, the danger, the vagueness hung heavily. As Dan cast his
eyes gloomily into the wake of the tug, he saw a dark object shoot out
of the foam and dart down upon them like a torpedo; in fact a torpedo
could not have worked more serious effect upon the boat than did that
heavy, water-soaked log.

"Starboard your oar!" shouted Dan, at the same time digging his own oar
deep down on the port side and pulling upon it with all the magnificent
strength of his arms until it bent like a reed. There was just time to
avert the direct impact, not to escape altogether.

It was a glancing blow just above the water line; it punched a great,
jagged hole and gouged out the paint clear to the stern. Dan drew a
long breath and murmured in a half-sick voice, "They might as well kill
a man as scare him to death," while Captain Barney's face made a gray
streak in the darkness.

The _Quinn_ was now past the point of Sandy Hook and was skirting the
shore. The muffled beat of the breakers could be heard through the
gloom, which was riven every second by the great, swinging search-light
in the Navesink. Not a mile ahead was the bar; and the masthead light
of the _Kentigern_ could be seen, twinkling like a planet.

In twenty minutes the dark hull of the _Kentigern_ came looming out of
the night. A hail shot from the _Quinn_, and a faint reply came back.
Dark figures could now be seen, outlined by the cabin lights in the
forward section of the tramp.

"Hello, what tug is that?" sounded from the bridge. "Is that you,
Captain Barney?"

"No, it's the _Quinn_, Cap'n Jim Skelly. Hodge is laid up to-night;
I'll take you into dock."

"All right; come aboard," and after a minute's scurrying of figures on
the deck a flimsy companion-ladder rattled down over the side of the

Dan heard it and ground his teeth in disappointment.

"Gripes!" he exclaimed. "They've that ladder down an hour before I
thought they would. Now we're up against it, sure."

With a growl Captain Barney whipped out his knife and made a pass at
the tow-line. He missed it and dropped back in the stern as Dan struck
at him with his oar.

"Wait!" hissed the young boatman. "We'd have no chance at all. We've
got to get nearer. The tug 'd beat us a mile. Sit tight, you old

Captain Barney recognized the wisdom of the words with a groan. He was
far past the arguing point. The tide was boiling past the side of the
vessel, swashing like a mill-race. All they could do under present
conditions was to cast off when the tug was very near the freighter,
cut in across, and get under the ladder before the tug could properly
warp alongside.

Nearer lumbered the _Quinn_. When within twenty feet of the
_Kentigern_ she swung broadside on, ceasing all headway and drifting
into position on the tide.

"Now, then," cried Dan, suddenly leaping into the thwarts and manning
the oars. "Haul on the line. Bring her right under the Quinn's stern
and then cut, quick!"

Hand over hand hauled Captain Barney and the rowboat came under the
stern with a jump. Then he cut the line. Dan dug his oars into the
water and the slim boat shot for the ladder, while the great tug came
down, more slowly, on the side. Ten, twenty strokes; and then, as Dan
with a great sigh unshipped his oars, Captain Barney chuckled, seized
the sides of the ladder, and hauling himself on the bottom rung,
skipped up with the agility of a monkey.

With a swish and a splash up pounded the _Quinn_.

"Look out!" roared Dan, "there's a boat here!"

It saved him; for a bell clanged in the engine-room, and the tug began
to make sternway. It saved him for but a minute, though.

Thoughtless, selfish, and for once an utter fool, the exultant skipper
of the _Three Sisters_ sought to gloat over his rival.

"On board the _Quinn_," yelled Barney. "Say, Jim Skelly, this is
Barney Hodge talkin'. You didn't know he had friends in the rowboat
business, did you?"

A curse rang from the Quinn's pilot-house, and Dan did not wait for
anything else. Well he knew what would happen next, and he bent all
his strength to his oars. He heard the jingle of a bell, and the tug
started right for him.

"Look out!" yelled Dan, working the oars like a madman. But not a word
came from the tug, moving silently, inexorably upon him like, some
black, implacable monster.

Suddenly Dan cast aside his oars and dived over the side. The next
instant the sharp, copper-bound nose of the tug struck the rowboat
fairly amidships, grinding it against the steel side of the freighter,
crushing it into matchwood.

A great numbness passed over the man. He was dazed; and as wave after
wave splashed over his head, he struggled dumbly to reach the ladder.
Then under the reaction from the icy shock, an electric thrill of
energy and vitality passed through his body.

He saw that he had been carried to about amidships, and the ladder was
well toward the bow. With lusty strokes he struck out along the steel
sides, rising over the waves like a duck. Five minutes elapsed, and
then with a sudden fear, Dan realized, in glancing at the bow, that he
had not made ten feet in all that time and effort.

It was the current, which was ripping along the hull at the rate that
would have affected the speed of a powerful steam launch. Dan had not
noticed it before. He struggled desperately, but to no avail, and then
he uttered his first cry for help. He could not see the deck, being so
close to the hull; and for the same reason he could not have been seen
had his cry been heard. Again he called for assistance, but there was
no answer, no sound, save that of the water buffeting past the vessel.

He ceased to waste his strength in fruitless cries, devoting all that
remained to his struggle to reach the ladder. But his strokes were
weaker than before and he found he was being carried back upon the
current instead of making headway against it. Fight as he would, he
could feel that sliding, hopeless drag against which he was powerless
to combat. His strength vanished ounce by ounce. His arms grew so
numb with fatigue and cold that he could do nothing but move them up
and down, dog fashion. On he went, down toward the stern of the vessel.

He was moving as swiftly as the current was, whirling, twisting like a
piece of wood. His mind dulled. He longed for death now.
Instinctively he wished to get out of all the worry and struggle
against dissolution. His one dominant idea was to throw up his hands
and go down, down the deep descent. With a great cry of relief he
yielded to the alluring thought. Up flew his arms above his head - and
he felt so warm and cheerful! Something struck his outstretched hand
and the fingers closed upon it. For a minute they gripped the swinging
piece of rope. Then he opened his eyes to find he was hanging to a
flimsy Jacob's ladder, suspended from the stern. With a new strength
born of hope he flung up his feet, shooting them through the hempen
rungs; and there he stayed for a while - it seemed almost an eternity.
Then laboriously climbing the ladder, he made the deck and there
dropped as insensate as a log.

It was the happiest Christmas Day that Dan had ever known, and he told
himself so as he walked slowly down South Street. Unschooled in the
ethics of self-sacrifice as he was, he yet knew he had done something
for a fellow man, for a man he despised; and something indefinable yet
unmistakable told him it was very good. He felt bigger, broader, felt
as though he had attained new stature in something that was not
physical. And always, vaguely, he had been as anxious to feel this as
he had been to get on in a material way. He had lost his rowboat in
the act. And yet withal there was a certain fierce satisfaction in his
loss - he had caught the spirit of Christmas. How much wiser, how much
stronger he was to-day than on the previous afternoon.

So deep were his thoughts that he almost ran into Captain Barney.

"Hey, there!" snarled the tugboatman, most ungraciously, "I just left a
new rowboat down in the Battery basin for you." And that was all he

And Dan, as he trembled with rage, knew that Captain Barney might have
said the right word and made Christmas Day all the more glorious. But
he had said the wrong thing, done the wrong thing, and he had by his
words and in his act taken much from Dan's Christmas happiness. Dan
knew it well; something told him so. He gazed at the tugboatman
silently for a minute, - and then he knocked Captain Barney to the



Before the Winter passed, Dan had taken his master's examination with
flying colors and was made Captain of the _Fledgling_, owned by the
Phoenix Towboat Company. She was a new boat, rugged, powerful, one
hundred and twenty-five feet water line, designed and built to go
anywhere and do anything.

The Phoenix Company was known as a venturesome organization, as willing
to send its fleet ramping out through the fog to the assistance of a
distressed liner as to transport arms to West Indian or Central
American revolutionists. Before Dan had commanded the _Fledgling_ many
months he had done both, and was beginning to be known up and down the
coast as a captain to be called upon in emergencies verging upon the
extraordinary, not to say extra-hazardous.

All of which he accepted joyously, as the portion of youth in search of
experience that life has to offer. He was sufficiently introspective
to rate the temper of his spirit at something approaching its real
value, and he knew it was to be cherished, guarded, lest the fine edge
be lost. As the world reckons things it was a humble calling upon
which he had entered, a calling hardly qualified to enlist the pride of
the family whose name he bore.

As a matter of fact, the pride of his few relations was not enlisted.
He had been made to feel that. He did not complain. He appreciated
their attitude. But that did not curb a high-hearted ambition to lift
his vocation to the ideals he had formulated concerning it - and the
future lay before him.

But he was not thinking of these things now. The face of the sea was
gray in sullen fury. From a blue horizon, dulled and almost
obliterated by long, jagged layers of steely clouds, came the ceaseless
rush of deep-chested waves, as even, as fascinating as the
vermiculations of a serpent. And the wind, tearing along the floor of
the sea, whipped off the wave crests and sent them shivering,
shimmering ahead, like the plumes of hard-riding cavalry.

The storm had passed. The effects remained, and Dan Merrithew shifted
his wheel several spokes east of north and took the brunt bow on. She
bore it well, did the stout _Fledgling_; she did that - she split the
waves or crashed through them, or laughed over them, as a stout tug
should when coaxed by hands of skill, guided by an iron will. The Long
Island coast lay to port, a narrow band of ochre, and all about lay the
heaving gray of mighty waters, in which the _Fledgling_ was a black

Dan's hat was off and his red-gold hair was flying wild; his teeth were
bared. He was always thus in a fight. This was one; a dandy - a
clinker! He gave the wheel another spoke and the _Fledgling_ slued
across a sea and smashed down hard. From below came a sliding rattle,
a great crash of crockery, and then a series of imprecations. The next
instant Arthur M'Gill, the steward, dashed up the companionway and
burst into the pilot-house.

"Doggone it all, Cap'n!" yelled the angry man, "why in hell don't ye
let me know when ye're goin' to sling 'er across seas? Here I had the
table all set fur breakfast, an' ye put 'er inter a grayback afore I
could hold on to anything; and smash goes the hull mess on the
floor - plates, forks, vittles. Holee mackerel!" he exclaimed under
increasing impulse of anger, "what am I? - a steward, or a - or a monkey?"

Dan, clutching grimly at the wheel, turned a genial smile upon his cook.

"Sorry, old man. Fact is, I forgot. But never mind. Pick up the best
you can." He smiled again. "Just a little bit dusty out here, eh,

"That's what it is, Cap'n," replied Arthur, mollified by Dan's words of

The steward looked at Dan admiringly. In a way he was the skipper's
father confessor, not alone because he had a glib, advising tongue, but
because he was possessed of a certain amount of raw, psychological
instinct and knew his Shakespeare and could quote from Young's "Night
Thoughts." Arthur had something of a fishy look and a slick way with
him; but he was a good cook.

"It seems funny to call such a kid 'Cap'n,'" he said. And then he
added apologetically, "It's 'cause I've sailed under so many grayheads,
ye know."

"Oh, I'll be gray enough before long," laughed Dan, and his momentary
inattention to his duties at the wheel was promptly seized upon by the
wily sea, which smacked the rudder hard and nearly spun the wheel out
of his grip. "Stop talking, will you!" roared Dan, wrestling at the
spokes. "Do you want me to put you all into the trough?"

Mulhatton, the mate, stumbled into the pilot-house and glared at the

"Artie," he cried, "you go below, or I'll just gently heft you down! I
went in to git grub just now and 't was all on the floor. Go on
now - git!" And Arthur went, grumbling and sighing that a man's stomach
should govern his temper.

"Take the wheel a while, Cap'n?" said the mate; and as Dan nodded he
stepped in close, braced his feet, and took the strain as Dan's hands
left the spokes.

"We'll both be on the wheel together before long," remarked Dan,
sitting heavily on the chart locker and opening and shutting his
stiffened fingers.

"Where is she and what's ashore?" asked Mulhatton. "You jumped us out
in such a hurry this morning, I ain't had time to ask you."

"It's an old lumber hooker, and she's ashore on Jones Inlet bar;

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Online LibraryLawrence PerryDan Merrithew → online text (page 2 of 12)