Captains Courageous/Chapter IV
in to bait, Miquelon way."
"He'll run her under," said Long Jack. "That's no rig fer this weather."
"Not he, 'r he'd 'a' done it long ago," Disko replied. "Looks's if he cal'lated to run us under. Ain't she daown by the head more'n natural, Tom Platt?"
"Ef it's his style o' loadin' her she ain't safe," said the sailor, slowly. "Ef she's spewed her oakum he'd better git to his pumps mighty quick."
The creature thrashed up, wore round with a clatter and rattle, and lay head to wind within ear-shot.
A greybeard wagged over the bulwark, and a thick voice yelled something Harvey could not understand. But Disko's face darkened. "He'd resk every stick he hez to carry bad news. Says we're in fer a shift o' wind. He's in fer worse. Abishai! Abishai!" He waved his arm up and down with the gesture of a man at the pumps, and pointed forward. The crew mocked him and laughed.
"Jounce ye, an' strip ye, an' trip ye!" yelled Uncle Abishai. "A livin' gale - a livin' gale. Yah! Cast up fer your last trip, all you Gloucester haddocks. You won't see Gloucester no more, no more!"
"Crazy full - as usual," said Tom Platt. "Wish he hadn't spied us, though."
She drifted out of hearing while the greyhead yelled something about a dance at the Bay of Bulls and a dead man in the fo'c'sle. Harvey shuddered. He had seen the sloven tilled decks and the savage-eyed crew.
"An' that's a fine little floatin' hell fer her draught," said Long Jack. "I wondher what mischief he's been at ashore."
"He's a trawler," Dan explained to Harvey, "an' he runs in fer bait all along the coast. Oh, no, not home, he don't go. He deals along the south an' east shore up yonder." He nodded in the direction of the pitiless Newfoundland beaches. "Dad won't never take me ashore there. They're a mighty tough crowd - an' Abishai's the toughest. You saw his boat? Well, she's nigh seventy year old, they say; the last o' the old Marblehead heel-tappers. They don't make them quarter-decks any more. Abishai don't use Marblehead, though. He ain't wanted there. He jes' drif's araound, in debt, trawlin' an' cussin' like you've heard. Bin a Jonah fer years an' years, he hez. 'Gits liquor frum the Feecamp boats fer makin' spells an' selling winds an' such truck. Crazy, I guess."
"Twon't be any use underrunnin' the trawl to-night," said Tom Platt, with quiet despair. "He come alongside special to cuss us. I'd give my wage an' share to see him at the gangway o' the old Ohio 'fore we quit floggin'. Jest abaout six dozen, an' Sam Mocatta layin' 'em on crisscross!"
The dishevelled "heel-tapper" danced drunkenly down wind, and all eyes followed her. Suddenly the cook cried in his phonograph voice: "It wass his own death made him speak so! He iss fey - fey, I tell you! Look!" She sailed into a patch of watery sunshine three or four miles distant. The patch dulled and faded out, and even as the light passed so did the schooner. She dropped into a hollow and - was not.
"Run under, by the great hook-block!" shouted Disko, jumping aft. "Drunk or sober, we've got to help 'em. Heave short and break her out! Smart!"
Harvey was thrown on the deck by the shock that followed the setting of the jib and foresail, for they hove short on the cable, and to save time, jerked the anchor bodily from the bottom, heaving in as they moved away. This is a bit of brute force seldom resorted to except in matters of life and death, and the little "We're Here" complained like a human. They ran down to where Abishai's craft had vanished; found two or three trawl-tubs, a gin-bottle, and a stove-in dory, but nothing more. "Let 'em go," said Disko, though no one had hinted at picking them up. "I wouldn't hev a match that belonged to Abishai aboard. 'Guess she run clear under. 'Must ha' been spewin' her oakum fer a week, an' they never thought to pump her. That's one more boat gone along o' leavin' port all hands drunk."
"Glory be!" said Long Jack. "We'd ha' been obliged to help 'em if they was top o' water."
"'Thinkin' o' that myself," said Tom Platt.
"Fey! Fey!" said the cook, rolling his eyes. "He hass taken his own luck with him."
"Ver' good thing, I think, to tell the fleet when we see. Eh, wha- at'?" said Manuel. "If you runna that way before the wind, and she work open her seams -" He threw out his hands with an indescribable gesture, while Penn sat down on the house and sobbed at the sheer horror and pity of it all. Harvey could not realise that he had seen death on the open waters, but he felt very sick.
Then Dan went up the crosstrees, and Disko steered them back to within sight of their own trawl-buoys just before the fog blanketed the sea once again.
"We go mighty quick hereabouts when we do go," was all he said to Harvey. "You think on that for a spell, young feller. That was liquor."
After dinner it was calm enough to fish from the decks, - Penn and Uncle Salters were very zealous this time, - and the catch was large and large fish.
"Abishai has shorely took his luck with him," said Salters. "The wind hain't backed ner riz ner nothin'. How abaout the trawl? I despise superstition, anyway."
Tom Platt insisted that they had much better haul the thing and make a new berth. But the cook said: "The luck iss in two pieces. You will find it so when you look. I know." This so tickled Long Jack that he overbore Tom Platt, and the two went out together.
Underrunning a trawl means pulling it in on one side of the dory, picking off the fish, rebaiting the hooks, and passing them back to the sea again something like pinning and unpinning linen on a wash-line. It is a lengthy business and rather dangerous, for the long, sagging line may twitch a boat under in a flash. But when they heard, "And naow to thee, O Capting," booming out of the fog, the crew of the "We're Here" took heart. The dory swirled alongside well loaded, Tom Platt yelling for Manuel to act as relief-boat. - "The luck's cut square in two pieces," said Long Jack, forking in the fish, while Harvey stood open-mouthed at the skill with which the plunging dory was saved from destruction. "One half was jest punkins. Tom Platt wanted to haul her an' ha' done wid ut; but I said, 'I'll back the doctor that has the second sight,' an' the other half come up sagging full o' big uns. Hurry, Man'nle, an' bring's a tub o' bait. There's luck afloat tonight."
The fish bit at the newly baited hooks from which their brethren had just been taken, and Tom Platt and Long Jack moved methodically up and down the length of the trawl, the boat's nose surging under the wet line of hooks, stripping the sea-cucumbers that they called pumpkins, slatting off the fresh-caught cod against the gunwale, rebaiting, and loading Manuel's dory till dusk.
"I'll take no risks," said Disko, then - "not with him floatin' around so near. Abishai won't sink fer a week. Heave in the dories, an' we'll dressdaown after supper."
That was a mighty dressing-down, attended by three or four blowing grampuses. It lasted till nine o'clock, and Disko was thrice heard to chuckle as Harvey pitched the split fish into the hold.
"Say, you're haulin' ahead dretful fast," said Dan, when they ground the knives after the men had turned in. "There's somethin' of a sea tonight, an' I hain't heard you make no remarks on it."
"Too busy," Harvey replied, testing a blade's edge. "Come to think of it, she is a high-kicker."
The little schooner was gambolling all around her anchor among the silver-tipped waves. Backing with a start of affected surprise at the sight of the strained cable, she pounced on it like a kitten, while the spray of her descent burst through the hawse-holes with the report of a gun. Shaking her head, she would say: "Well, I'm sorry I can't stay any longer with you. I'm going North," and would sidle off, halting suddenly with a dramatic rattle of her rigging. "As I was just going to observe," she would begin, as gravely as a drunken man addressing a lamp-post. The rest of the sentence (she acted her words in dumb-show, of course) was lost in a fit of the fidgets, when she behaved like a puppy chewing a string, a clumsy woman in a side-saddle, a hen with her head cut off, or a cow stung by a hornet, exactly as the whims of the sea took her.
"See her sayin' her piece. She's Patrick Henry naow," said Dan.
She swung sideways on a roller, and gesticulated with her jib-boom from port to starboard.
"But-ez---fer-me, give me liberty - er give me-death!"
Wop! She sat down in the moon-path on the water, courtesying with a flourish of pride impressive enough had not the wheel-gear sniggered mockingly in its box.
Harvey laughed aloud. "Why, it's just as if she was alive," he said.
"She's as stiddy as a haouse an' as dry as a herrin'," said Dan, enthusiastically, as he was stung across the deck in a batter of spray. "Fends 'em off an 'fends 'em off, an' 'Don't ye come anigh me,' she sez. Look at her -jest look at her! Sakes! You should see one o' them toothpicks h'istin' up her anchor on her spike outer fifteen- fathom water."
"What's a toothpick, Dan?"
"Them new haddockers an' herrin'-boats. Fine's a yacht forward, with yacht sterns to 'em, an' spike bowsprits, an' a haouse that u'd take our hold. I've heard that Burgess himself he made the models fer three or four of 'em, Dad's sot ag'in' 'em on account o' their pitchin' an' joltin', but there's heaps o' money in 'em. Dad can find fish, but he ain't no ways progressive - he don't go with the march o' the times. They're chock-full o' labour-savin' jigs an' sech all. 'Ever seed the Elector o' Gloucester? She's a daisy, ef she is a toothpick."
"What do they cost, Dan?"
"Hills o' dollars. Fifteen thousand, p'haps; more, mebbe. There's gold-leaf an' everything you kin think of." Then to himself, half under his breath "Guess I'd call her Hattie S., too."