The Rescue


MR. SMUDGE, second mate of the steamship Wallowoo, stood on the starboard wing of the bridge and peered nervously ahead into the smother of mist and driving sleet. He had never been at home upon the sea. In dirty weather, when the vessel was tumbling about in the turmoil of the confused waves, fear would lie heavy within him like ballast in a cranky vessel, and there was no knowing when it would shift, to send him floundering into the depths of despair. He had tried to overcome it; had endeavored always to show a brave face to his shipmates, who reveled in danger and laughed boisterously when the green seas swept across the deck. He knew, for it is part of the code with which all mariners become imbued by their vocation and environment, that fear, though entertained, must never be shown. A timorous sign or action, in the frequent contingencies that are experienced, might mean the total destruction of a vessel, and the lives of some members of the crew.

Peer as he might into the murk ahead, he could not see more than a few hundred yards, and the visibility seemed to be narrowing all the while. From the forward well the deep, sonorous voice of the mate could be heard giving orders to the men, who were squaring up the decks before the full fury of the gale should be encountered. The glare of the steaming lights fell on the wet oilskins of the sailormen stowing the mooring lines on number one hatch, and it was disconcerting, annoying, for the reflections darted about like myriad fireflies, until at times it seemed as if the timid light from a fisherman’s lantern were popping up under the bow. But there was no impact, no staggering of the vessel to the accompaniment of splintering timbers. Mr. Smudge would be reassured, when a dollop of spindrift would rise high into the air to hang perpendicularly like a jeweled gauze ahead of the lights before driving down the wind upon the bridge to make him uneasy again.

The whiff of a cigar fell upon his nostrils, and the Captain was on the bridge beside him. He pulled himself together and looked around.

‘It’s a tough night to be going to sea, sir,’ he remarked cheerfully, for he was happy in the thought that the responsibility had reverted to the other.

Captain Slocum took the cigar from his mouth without taking his gaze from ahead, snorted contemptuously, and spat a curve vigorously in the wind.

‘What the hell else do you expect at this time of the year? A woman’s wind with the linen and frills hanging out to dry? This’ll toughen some of you young fellows up. You need it!’

Captain Slocum was not usually cantankerous and irascible. But he had also been thinking that it was a tough night on which to put to sea — though not on account of the weather, for it was whispered that he could not digest his food or relish his liquor unless it was swished about in his innards by the lurching and heaving of his vessel at the height of a gale. A week-end at home had seemed a possibility until the owners had ordered extra gangs of stevedores on board to whip the cargo out so that the vessel could sail on Saturday afternoon. The disappointment was enough to upset the equanimity of a saint, far more that of a sailor. Now, instead of having a comfortable night on shore, he would have to stay on deck — at any rate, until the sleet and dirt had cleared away.

‘The Deeperoo should make Sunday this trip,’ Mr. Smudge began again. ‘She’ll be coming up in a fair wind.’

‘It’ll be thicker than pea soup to the south’ard of the Cape, I’m thinking,’ Captain Slocum stated. ‘And she’s loaded deep with sugar from Cuba. If Barnes has any sense, he’ll forget Sunday and heave his vessel to until the gale blows out, for she’ll be dirty if running. But he’s a young fellow — one of those home birds — smart, they say, but kind of light in the upper works. But I guess they’re all alike nowadays.’

Mr. Smudge took the implication as a personal snub, so walked over to the lee wing of the bridge, muttering something about ‘an old relic’ when out of earshot of the Captain. He would be on watch until midnight, and come on deck again at 4 A.M., for the third mate had been left behind in Boston; so he might as well be as comfortable as possible, away from the eye of the ‘Old Man.’ It was just his luck to lose the week-end. As he saw it now, he should have taken leave when it was offered to him, instead of turning it over to the third mate. A shiver passed through him as the shrieking wind struck at his face through an aperture between the weather cloth and the sheltering cab, and the pin pricks of sleet stabbed wickedly at his cheeks. A gale of wind with the night still young, he thought, and the third mate would be sitting snug with his girl at the movies. A ‘helluva life’ the sea!

But there was no time for self-pity. The demands of the storm were urgent, inexorable. A brute of a sea had leaped out of the murk to pounce upon the bluff bow, to stagger the vessel with tremors of agony, then to break across the forward well in a welter of foam that gurgled through the winches and between the hatches, showing pale, nauseous-green teeth in the frenzy of its advance. He could hear the mate yell a warning to his men, and, peering through t he window of the cab, he saw the oilskin-clad figures clinging to the bulwark stanchions and winch ends while the surging water strove to break their hold and carry them, helpless and screaming like land birds on the bosom of a hurricane wind, into the leaping water out alee. A shiver passed through him again and he pressed more closely into the shelter of the cab, as if to find from its protection a staff of strength on which to lean. He gazed through the darkness toward the weather cab, and realized, from the glow of a cigar, that the Captain was coming across the reeling bridge toward him.

‘Get down below on to the forward well and give the mate a hand.’

Mr. Smudge heard the order, but did not move. It was as if an icy hand had laid its weight upon his heart, then squeezed and squeezed until an unmitigable numbness came upon his limbs.

‘Get a move on! What in hell’s the matter with you?’ Captain Slocum shouted, and looked keenly at his subordinate.

It was on the tip of Mr. Smudge’s tongue to retort that it was his place to be on the bridge, but he immediately perceived the futility of such an answer. And anyway, in that moment, a subconscious urge to obey the order came to him. Duty! It was his duty to obey. He was paid to risk his life when the occasion demanded. Without realizing this, almost against his will, he swung to action with alacrity.

‘Nothing, sir. Aye, aye, sir.’

It was as if another voice spoke within him — a voice belonging to the self he often wished that he could be. A surge of enthusiasm, of fearlessness, swept over him as he steadied himself against the lurching of the vessel, then slid, on the slithery planks, toward the ladder that led down to the lower deck. Alone in the sodden gloominess that huddled under the deck head on the lee of the forward house, he hesitated, with one hand holding the oilskins close about him and the other firmly clutching the storm rail on the bulkhead. The clap-clap of the carpenter’s hammer knocking the wedges home into their cleats on the forward hatches told him that most of the work had been done; that, in a little while, the vessel would be snugged down and the sailormen put on their regular watches.


In the lee he hesitated, for the wind, screeching round the corner of the house, was frightsome, and almost tore him away from the security of the bulkhead when he attempted to gain the top of the ladder that led to the forward well. If he had been brought up in sail there would have been no terror in the wild ravings of the storm; no hesitation when he felt the weight of the wind upon him; no fear clutching at his heart like cobwebs in the dark recesses of a dilapidated barn. He would have become inured to them all in the thrill of a vessel winddriven and in the knowledge, which would permeate to the root of his being, that he was a vital part of the vessel on which he sailed. In a steam vessel he had no chance, for never does the spit of smoke and cinders, or the pounding of an engine in a laboring hull of steel, lift a man out of himself. It is as if the mechanical contrivances of man know their superiority and want to remain aloof to flaunt that knowledge in the faces of their makers. Mr. Smudge would have given anything he possessed to be like the sailormen working fearlessly to make the vessel secure against the furies of the gale. But it was a hard fight — like that of a helpless vessel buffeted in the vortex of a hurricane.

‘Smudge! Mr. Smudge!’ Captain Slocum bawled.

Mr. Smudge bent his head against the force of the wind and made for the ladder. His foot was on the top step, when a man coming up bumped into him. He loosed his grasp of the rail. The wind caught him off balance and sent him flat against the lee bulwarks, where he clung breathless and scared. Men hurried past, hastened on their way by the hurricane gusts that flew around the corner of the forward house. The beam of a flash light cut the darkness.

‘What’s the matter?’ shouted the mate.

‘I — I was coming to give you a hand,’ Mr. Smudge replied, spluttering, ‘when I tripped over the steam-pipe casing.’

‘She’s all squared up now!’ the mate shouted boisterously. ‘Am going up to report and to see if the Old Man has a drink in the bottle. It’s bloody wet down on the well deck, and I’m going to turn in.’

A sense of relief came to Mr. Smudge as he followed the mate up the ladder to the bridge. The night would be quiet now until after the Cape had been cleared — and the mate would be on deck. He sighed happily.

‘Is that you, Mr. Smudge?’ Captain Slocum inquired when the bridge had been made.

‘Aye, aye, sir.’

‘Go along to the wireless cabin. A weather report has just come in.’

Mr. Smudge turned away reluctantly, for there was a chance that the Old Man would give him a peg when the mate had one. Set a fellow up on a dirty night. But he heard them talking, and knew that it was useless to wait.

‘It looks like dirty weather ahead,’ the wireless operator remarked, swinging back easily in his chair when the vessel pitched. ‘I don’t envy you on a night like this. How’s it outside? Tough?’

Mr. Smudge gazed superciliously down at him.

‘Oh, it’s not so bad,’ he said. ‘Could be a lot worse. What else do you expect in the winter months?’

He would let the operators know that the deck department were made of sterner stuff than they; there was no discomfort in the cabin. Yet when he felt the sting of the driving sleet on his face he wished that he could have lingered a while longer — to kill the minutes that still remained of his watch. He dwelt on the thought as he struggled from shelter to shelter, from storm rail to stanchion, toward the bridge.

Captain Slocum took the weather report from him.

‘Keep a sharp lookout,’ he ordered, and gave a grunt of disgust as he walked across the bridge toward the wheelhouse. The chart-room light switched on, which blinded Mr. Smudge for a second, so that he hid his eyes in the belly of the weather cloth. When he looked up, the curtains of the ports had been drawn, but a swish of spindrift caught him unawares and covered his face with streaming water.

‘There seems to be a light right ahead! ’

The voice of the lookout man close to his ear startled him. He jerked to attention and endeavored to focus his smarting eyes in the direction indicated.

‘W-w-where?’ he shouted.

‘Just over the jack staff — it is n’t very clear. There it is again!’

Mr. Smudge saw it also — or thought he did.

‘Hard aport!’ he yelled to the man at the wheel.

He heard the grinding of the packing in the glands as the wheel was put hard over; but the vessel seemed to be holding to her course — the light kept ahead.

‘Is she swinging?’ he shouted, almost frantic.

‘She’s gone off two points — and still swinging, sir,’ the man at the wheel answered.

The light in the chart room went out, the door opened, and Captain Slocum hurried on to the bridge.

‘What do you see?’ he asked anxiously.

Mr. Smudge was not sure now that he had seen anything.

‘There was something that looked like a light almost right ahead,’ he answered, paused, then shouted, ‘There it is again!’

Captain Slocum laughed easily.

‘Bring her back to her course,’ he ordered. ‘It’s the reflection of the forward mast headlight on the top of the jack staff. Tell the mate to give the truck a lick of black paint when the weather clears up. The reflection has been bothering us for months. On a night like this it is better to be safe than sorry — you did right to put her off her course.’

Until the Captain spoke Mr. Smudge was not sure that he had been right. His order to the man at the wheel had been involuntary. Instead of praise he had expected a reprimand, for the murk of doubt had not cleared away from his head where it had settled in the emergency.

But Captain Slocum was speaking.

‘It is going to be dirty before morning. The southeast storm warnings are up between the Delaware capes and Eastport, Maine. I am glad the old tub is loaded deep, for we’d be in a tight hole if light, with the cape lying shut in to leeward.’

He spun a yarn of a dirty night on the coast that made the watch pass quickly for Mr. Smudge. At eight bells the mate came on to the bridge to relieve him. Mr. Smudge gave him the course, wrote up the log, and went below to his cabin.


He was aroused almost as soon as he had fallen asleep, it seemed, by the mate drawing back the curtain over the doorway with a tinkle of brass rings and banging on the bulkhead with his fist.

‘Show a leg there, mister,’ he shouted.

Mr. Smudge switched on the light and looked at his watch. It was after four o’clock. The man must have forgotten to call him at one bell. Well, he had sneaked an extra fifteen minutes of sleep, though he felt as if he had never been in his bunk. Watch and watch was no damned good anyway. You always felt on awaking as if you had been drawn through a sewer. The sight of the mate’s ruddy, windbeaten face and the water glistening on his oilskins sent a shiver through him as he swung his legs over the bunk board.

‘Get a hustle on,’ the mate cautioned. ‘The Deeperoo is in trouble, and the Old Man is jumpy and cackling like a wet hen. It looks now as if there was going to be some real sailorizing for you to do.’

He grinned maliciously, dropped the curtain into its place, and went along the alleyway to the deck. The outside door shut with a bang.

Mr. Smudge wished that he had not gone in such a hurry. The parting thrust was disturbing. ‘Sailorizing’ could mean so many things — and, again, it might mean nothing. His hands fumbled nervously with the buttons on his clothing as he hurried into them. He had better keep on the right side of the Old Man, for if there was dirty work to be done it would be given to the mate least in favor.

A biting cold wind swirled about him as he picked his way along the deck. He swore when he barked his right shin against a small bunker hatch that blended into the blackness of the morning. If the third mate had been on board he would be going to his bunk instead of on to the bridge on watch. Some fellows had all the luck. He could not help thinking of the third mate lying snug in a bed on shore.

Captain Slocum was standing in the weather corner of the bridge smoking a cigar as if he had not changed his position throughout the night. Eight hours of watching! Mr. Smudge was not sure now that he wanted to attain the pinnacle of his earlier ambitions and become a master mariner. He knew there was a catch in the life at sea, but he had not perceived it until now.

There was a rip-snorting gale blowing that clawed at his oilskins and sou’wester when he came out of the lee of the chart room and groped his way toward the glow of the cigar. Spray was flying in a constant stream down the wind and driving, with the roll of kettledrums, against the weather cloth and deck houses. The vessel was butting the seas, staggering, trembling, recovering, and flooding herself over the forecastle head. The surging of the green water on the forward well came through the storm noises like the rasp of a saw. The realization came to Mr. Smudge that the vessel was being driven, with all the power behind her engines, into the teeth of the gale.

‘Good morning, sir,’ he shouted.

‘Morning, mister,’ Captain Slocum replied curtly. ‘Bloody awful morning, if you ask me.’

Neither of them spoke again for some time. The mate had gone below before Mr. Smudge had arrived on the bridge, so that he had no further news of the Deeperoo. And he was anxious — terribly anxious.

Captain Slocum must have read his thoughts. He said: —

‘I got an S O S from the Deeperoo two hours ago. She’s lost her rudder and is lying in the trough, drifting toward the shoals. Her number two hatch has been stove in, which is bad. We’ll reach her by daylight, and stand by to take off the crew in case she falls over on her beam ends before the arrival of the tug. One has been dispatched from New York. The coastguard cutters are all away on deep-sea jobs.’

‘Stand by to take off the crew.’ Captain Slocum spoke as if he were bound on a picnic! He would n’t have to go out in the lifeboat, thought Mr. Smudge. To him would fall the easy end of the job — to stand on the bridge and give orders. And on arrival at port he would gather in all the awards for what had been successfully accomplished. One could be calm under these circumstances! But it would be the mate’s duty to go out in the lifeboat! Or would it be his?

He turned toward the Captain.

‘The mate of the Leatherby did a good job, sir, when he went after the crew of the schooner dismasted in the gale last week. Did you read about it in the papers?’

That was a subtle idea, he thought — give the old man a precedent to guide him.

Captain Slocum grunted, but did not speak.

A feeling of apprehension began to settle over Mr. Smudge. In the cold gray hours that heralded the day he died many times, swept to his death by ugly combers that curled and roared over a frail wooden craft that went forth on an errand of mercy. So deep was the fear within him that he resolved to refuse to go should he be ordered away in charge of the lifeboat.

The dawn came slowly, for the light was smothered by the murkiness that pressed close upon the sea and by the clouds that had no shape but hung above the vessel as if too heavy to take their proper altitude in the sky. The wind had eased slightly with the coming of the day. The downward rush of the barometer had stopped. The change that was imminent would bring a stronger wind.

‘We should pick her up any time now,’ Captain Slocum remarked when he came from the chart room, where he had been laying off some wireless bearings after six bells. ‘She’s making water fast, and Barnes wants me to take off his crew. Her boats have been washed away. Just got a message.’

‘He must have kept running when he should have been hove to,’ Mr. Smudge remarked.

Captain Slocum looked at him intently.

‘Mind your own damned business!' he snorted.

‘ But you said —’

‘Never mind what I said; do as I tell you!’

Mr. Smudge realized immediately that he had gone and put his foot in it, and possibly his entire body as well. And the Old Man had suggested the action himself. ‘Get all hands on deck,’ Captain Slocum ordered. ‘And tell the mate to clear away the starboard lifeboat ready for lowering. You will need four or five lengths of two-and-a-half-inch line, to pull the men from the water in case you cannot get alongside.’


The Old Man had decided! Mr. Smudge knew, as he hastened along the lower deck to carry out the orders, that now was the time to take a firm stand; to make it clear to the Old Man that he would refuse to take charge of a lifeboat should one be lowered into the jaws of the gale. There was still a chance that such an action would be unnecessary. He decided to wait until the condition of the Deeperoo could be definitely ascertained. Not only would he be jeopardizing his position, but he would look such a fool, if he refused a duty that might not be delegated to him. With the coming of daylight the weather had not seemed so bad. The sea was still streaked with wind dogs; the wind still howled through the shrouds. But perhaps the rescue would be accomplished in the lull that would precede the change. He decided to wait.

He had returned to the bridge, after passing the orders to the mate, when the Deeperoo was sighted. She was lying so far over on her beam ends and falling so heavily into the troughs of the seas that, at first, there were times when it seemed as if she had gone for good. Then she would heave up on to the crest of a wave, to be smothered by the spume as the wind-hounded combers raced, pinnacled, and broke over her. It seemed incredible that a living person could find a shelter on that half-tide rock of straining steel. Yet when the Wallowoo hove to to windward there was seen the flutter of a white sheet from the gratings over the forward end of the fiddley. Her wireless had long since ceased to function; her boats were gone; the tatters of a tarpaulin flapped into the air above the topsides like naked brown arms beseeching help; from her fore truck flew the remnants of a hoist of flags.

The crew of the Wallowoo lined the lee rail. Some of them smoked, while others commented on the prospects of a salvage job. ‘Good money if we could tow her into port,’ the bos’n remarked. ‘But only hard graft and a bloody dousing if we go after the crew.’

‘Muster the men on the bridge deck in the lee of the fiddley,’ Captain Slocum said to the mate after he had surveyed the helpless craft through the long glass.

In a few minutes the mate reported the men mustered below.

‘Stay up here, mister,’ Captain Slocum ordered. ‘I’ll be back in a second.’

He went down the ladder, walked slowly along the deck, and stopped, with his back to the bulwark rail, when he was abreast of his crew. For a moment or two he looked from one to the other, all along the line, while the fine spray, carried on the swirling wind, flung like a mist upon them.

‘Men,’ he began quietly, ‘I want a boat’s crew. The Deeperoo cannot last much longer. It will be dangerous work, hard work, and you may all lose your lives. I want volunteers. Step forward, the men who are willing to take a chance.’

The men looked at each other. One stepped forward — another — another — and twelve sailormen stood ready to answer the call.

‘All right, men,’ Captain Slocum shouted. ‘That’s enough.’

He turned to the second mate.

‘Pick your crew, Mr. Smudge. Eight men is all you need.’

He swung toward the men again.

‘Best luck to you, my lads. I’ll aid you all I can.’

Mr. Smudge was speechless. Captain Slocum was on the bridge before he could open his mouth to refuse. He made a step as if to go after him, then hesitated. The eyes of the men were upon him. He must not waver—he must not; to hell with the duty! He took a step toward the bridge.

‘Pick me, sir!’

Mr. Smudge looked round, and saw a little runt of a fellow with an eager fire in his eyes.

‘All right, Smith! You come along! And you, Woodcock. Lamps, Brown, Jerry, Donkey. You’d better remain on board to lower us away, Bos’n. You, Dan — Jorgensen.’

In the wink of an eye he had a crew.

The mate came toward him.

‘The Old Man wants to give you some advice. I ’ll make everything ready.’

Mr. Smudge went on to the bridge. On the way he had thrown off his oilskins and sou’wester, and he stood before the Captain bareheaded and eager. Within him there raged a turmoil of conflicting emotions, but, in the flattery of the crew’s trust, fear was dulled. In later years he whispered to himself that, for one moment or one hour in his life, he was able to forget himself. And for that he was forever thankful. He listened attentively to the advice of the Captain, and perceived that it was advice that was given, and not orders. It thrilled him.

‘Do the job yourself, Smudge, in your own way,’ Captain Slocum concluded. ‘Good luck!’

‘Thank you, sir,’ he heard himself mutter as they shook hands.

The lifeboat had been lowered from the boat deck, and was held, boused in against the bridge-deck stanchions to keep it from being smashed against the side as the vessel rolled, when he stepped on board. A tremor of fear passed through him when his eyes caught sight of the swirling water gurgling under the lee. The oil which the engineers had pumped overboard to smooth the ragged edges from the whitecaps gave a ghastly appearance to the surface of the sea. Like blood from a wound mingling with a disinfectant, he thought.

‘Clearaway!’ Captain Slocum shouted peremptorily.

‘Ready there?’ inquired the mate.

Mr. Smudge pulled himself together.

‘All ready, sir,’ he shouted. ‘Lower away! ’

The bousing lines were cast off. The falls grunted over the sheaves. The water, great smooth swells, heaved up to grasp the boat.

‘Stand by to cut the painter, Lamps! Stand by the releasing gear, Jerry!’ Mr. Smudge shouted as he took into his hands the sweep with which to steer the boat.

‘Get the lee oars out! Have the others handy.’

Men jumped to stations. The pulleys sang. A wave kissed the bottom of the boat — kissed it gently and went past. Mr. Smudge watched anxiously as the boat swung out on its tackles. A wave leaped up!

‘Let go!’

A swing of the releasing lever, and the lower tackle blocks swung free. The lifeboat took the water with a splash.

‘Cut her adrift!’

A slash of the axe! The painter parted with a twang, and the first danger had been cleared. Mr. Smudge lay heavily on the sweep to head the lifeboat away to leeward before the indraught should draw her to destruction against the rolling hull of the vessel. The men bent on their oars, lay back, and, before they had settled to their task, the lifeboat was out of the lee and speeding before the heft of the storm. Seas leaped at them, broke, and covered them with spray. But the boat was lively, buoyant, and took no heavy water. Lamps began to sing a chantey.


Mr. Smudge thought that it was not so bad after all. But he changed his mind when he saw the waves breaking over the heavily listed hull ahead. There was no oil on the water to smooth their landing; there were no men ready to aid them. It was like being driven against the cliffs — with the seething waters eager to engulf their craft.

Nearer and nearer they drew.

Mr. Smudge kept the boat heading for the stern of the helpless hull. He knew that he must keep as near as possible — yet not too near.

He could hear the water breaking now — see the foam reaching far on all sides. He was glad that his men had their backs turned to it all. There was no sign of life on the vessel. She could not be more than fifty feet away. The boat was flying down on her. He had her in too close. She would not clear.

A wave caught the boat on its crest and sent it forward at a great speed.

‘Look out!’ he yelled, and lay heavily on the sweep. ‘Pull like hell!’

The lifeboat was abreast of the stern — lifted to the level of the poop on a sea. He pulled on the sweep. The lifeboat passed to safety, and the men ‘lay to’ on their oars about thirty feet to leeward of the wreck.

Mr. Smudge breathed easily as he surveyed the decks. Men were clinging to the storm rails in the lee of the deck houses. The breaking waves were tumbling over her and falling in an avalanche into the sea.

‘Give way easily,’ he ordered.

When about twenty feet separated the lifeboat from the vessel he told them to stop rowing and keep the boat head to leeward in readiness to pull away should the suction draw them too close. He stood up and cupped his hands to his mouth.

‘You’ll have to jump into the sea!’ he shouted. ‘We’ll float lines with toggles attached. Make for them, and we’ll pull you on board. Not too many at a time — but hurry, for there’s a shift of wind coming!’

The lines were floated. Men jumped — disappeared beneath the water, to bob up near the toggles. It was hot work hauling the men on board and attending to the oars. The rescued lent a hand, but with the additional weight the lifeboat floated lifelessly on the water.

A deluge of rain came as the captain was hauled out of the sea. He was haggard and worn, and did not speak. Instead he nodded to Mr. Smudge, who beamed back at him.

‘We were just in time, sir!’ he shouted.

It had all seemed so easy.

A long blast on the whistle of the Wallowoo brought him back to the work in hand. He looked around, and saw a flag being jerked up and down on the foremast. He also saw a black squall banking up to the westward. The sky was hardening — a dark line lay on the horizon.

‘Give way together!’ he shouted. ‘There’s a shift coming!’

The wind fell light as the men laid back on their oars. A cool breath came away. A warning!

‘Double-bank the oars!’ he yelled, sculling with the sweep to aid the speed of the boat.

Captain Slocum had taken the Wallowoo to leeward of the Deeperoo after the lifeboat had left. She was now in position, waiting to receive them on board.

Mr. Smudge could see the squall advancing. The sea had become confused.

‘More weight on the oars!’ he screamed.


He had worked the lifeboat alongside the Wallowoo before the squall broke. More than half of the rescued had clambered, or been hauled, to safety. The wind blew in fierce gusts, driving the rain into his face. The lifeboat was flung heavily against the hull. The blow jarred her — split the planking. He could see the water seeping in and hear it swishing about ominously. The men were clutching at the lines. They were dangling in space. The west wind had swung the Wallowoo across the sea, and the waves were leaping upon him. The painter, by which the lifeboat was held, tautened with a twang, but did not part! Only a few men were left.

‘Blast your souls!’ he screamed. ‘Jump, or we’ll all be drowned!’

A line flung by a sailorman on deck hit him on the face. He grabbed it blindly and held on. The boat was rising violently. It brought up with a jerk that sent him tumbling. He heard the painter part — heard the warning cries of the men on deck. But he could not help himself. The boat fell from under him. The water went over his head, rushed past, and carried him with it. The line in his hands tightened with a jerk. He grit his teeth and held on like a drowning man to a straw. He came out of the water and swung like a pendulum into the bosom of the succeeding wave. His back flopped against the hull, and he felt himself being hauled up hand over hand.

But at that moment he did not care what was happening to him. A great weariness had come over him. If he could only die, what a relief it would be! He was afraid of the safety that might hold such another experience — and he was afraid to let go of the line.

‘Take him along to the saloon,’ he heard Captain Slocum say as from a great distance.

They were carrying him along the deck. A blast of warm air that carried the odor of food nauseated him. If they would only leave him on deck!

He struggled weakly, and they set him on his feet. He leaned wearily against the cross bunker hatch and slowly opened his eyes.

‘Here! Drink this, mister,’ Captain Slocum said. ‘It will steady you.’

A glass of whiskey was held out. He took it in his hand, but when he raised it to his lips the smell was too rank, and only increased the twanging of his nerves, which seemed to be playing a tune within his head.

‘ You’d better go and turn in, mister,’ Captain Slocum said. ‘Never mind about your watch. I’ll use the officers of the Deeperoo, Here, steward! Give Mister Smudge a hand to get his wet clothing off and into his bunk.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ he heard himself saying.

‘Thank me, be damned! You’re a hero, mister,’ Captain Slocum shouted. ‘And there’s fifty men on board here that know it.’

The men cheered as he went along the deck to his cabin. He did not raise his eyes to them. If he did, they would see him as he really was, he thought.

The Captain had called him a hero. He wanted to laugh, but the weariness was overpowering.

A hero! He played with the thought as the wet clothing slipped to the deck and he tumbled into bed. The light was switched out and the door banged shut as the steward went away.

A hero! Perhaps after all there were other men such as he. He yawned wearily, snuggled under the blankets on his bunk, and was soon fast asleep.