Ocean Echoes - More Psychology And Some Action
( Originally Published 1922 )
WE were bound for Redondo, southern California. It was the month of January, and cold and snappy. Having possession of the sounding-rod, I was in a position to encourage the crew, though they received my well meant promptings with sarcasm and scorn. They pumped, I pumped, the Captain pumped, and even the cook, in intervals of cooking; we pumped, and pumped, and pumped. We did manage to keep her down to about three feet of water in the hold.
Finally there came a night when the storm-bound sun, set with yellow streamers, crammed into the ocean, and by the time the sidelights were lighted and fastened into the screens, the wind had a vicious whip to it, and the waves from out the evening shadows rushed in upon the defenseless ship like a strange army of humpy creatures.
It was interesting to one with a nautical eye to watch the maneuvers of the Captain and the Irishman.
"Reef her down!" roared the Captain, now entirely renouncing his superstitious fears for real action, as a real sailor will do every time.
"The curse of God on the day I iver rounded the Horn," shouted the Irishman. "Here we are, mind yez, in a hurricane, and in an auld ship that opens up her sames to let the ocean in. It's a good mind I have not to do a hand's turn, jist let her sink and drownd yez like rats !"
"You'll drown no rats on her this trip!" I shouted to him, for the pure mischief of it.
His raging reply was drowned out by a little stubby Swede who had also heard, and now breasted the wind and walked up to me.
"Did you say there ban no rats in her?"
"Yes," said I. "They left her this trip at Garden City."
"Oh, by Yiminy Mike," he shouted to the Irishman, "the rats ban gone !"
It was pitch dark now, and the spray from the waves threw shadows of light across the deck-load, but not enough to show the expression of Mike's face when the Swede told him that the rats had left the ship. There is something about an Irishman in a crisis that is different from most people. When hope is gone he doesn't want to be told about it. He may feel more the danger of dying, due perhaps to training and superstition, but to say to him, "This is the end, let us make our peace with God," would surely make him fight you before the end did come.
When the Swede told Mike that the rats had gone, and the other sailors heard the news, there was a human nucleus of silence in the rising storm, while each took stock of himself after his fashion. The situation was really serious enough without the added dread caused by the deserting rats.
No one felt the solemnity of it all more than Mike. But when the Swede spoke up : "Well, by Yiminy, this is the last of us," Mike flew at him.
"Ah to Hell wit yez, Shure it's wailin' like a Banshee ye are. What does an auld rat amount to annyway? Shure they left the auld hooker because they were all shtarved to death, that's what they did, and who would blame thim?
Let's reef her down, me byes, she's a foine little ship, so she is."
We reefed her down, and hove her to, and all the time Mike sang songs of love and songs of hate, but never a song of fear.
The Captain, feeling temporary relief from anxiety, returned to his superstition and asked Mike to stop singing, thinking that his high notes caused the apexes of wind, which certainly did accompany them.
"It's bad enough as it is," whined the squirming Captain, "without tantalizing the elements."
The wind, like the night, came stronger. The ship rolled, groaned, and flung herself carelessly at the humpy ocean. When an extra daring sea would leap to the high deckload and find its level on the heads of the pumpers, the Swede would cry out, "Another like that ban the last of us," and Mike would roar :
"Keep yer clapper closed. Shure it'll be the likes of you that'll be drivin' me from the say, and not the storms at all, at all."
The night was gloomy, and to look at the Captain made it gloomier still. Ile kept running from the barometer to the pump exclaiming :
"Didn't I know that it would come to this?" When he'd look at the compass, the binnacle light shining in his face would show wrinkles of pain there, made by the agonies of the ship. Morning came, and the topaz sky cast an angry glare on the agitated sea. The wind whipped and bit at the ship, and in her leakiness she would shiver at the violence of the waves. The part of her hull that wasn't submerged would rise up to their taunts like a black-finned mammoth from the deep, writhing in torture.
Towards noon the weather grew better, we gave her more sail, and headed her away on her course. For nineteen days we pumped to keep her afloat until we made Redondo. Sleep we' hardly had at all, and our aching muscles hardened, and grew to monstrous size.
The port had neither harbor nor tug-boats, and the open sea washed in against the wharves, running far out from the shore. When we came to anchor, and the ship brought strain on the cable, it snapped, and the long ground swells made a total wreck of her on the sandy beach. That was the end of her, whether the rats had anything to do with it or not.
It was a great relief to have my feet finally touch the sand. I was happy too. I had a red-headed sweetheart in that town, and I set about finding her. She was there all right, but there was no love in her eyes for a ship-wrecked sailor. Shortly after that she was married to a young customs house inspector, and I scratched another red-haired lady from my memory.
We were paid off at Redondo, and with money in our pockets we headed for Murphy's saloon and drank one another's health. The Captain and I left Mike and the Swede with their arms around each other singing, "Rolling Home Across the Sea," as we started by rail for San Francisco.
The owners were glad to see us, and happy that we didn't bring their old rotten ship into port again. If we had had to go down in her it would have been regrettable, though after all our risk; but they were just as well pleased that we should live to pump another day. But we had a different greeting from the insurance company. One would have thought that we were murderers from the gruelling they gave us. We stuck to the truth, try as they might to shake us, and in the end the owners received a large sum of money for their worthless, unseaworthy ship.
The Captain and I, like a river with two channels, parted, never to meet on this earth again. He told me that he was tired of the sea, and intended to put his savings into a little place ashore. We shook hands; and, as we parted, I am sure that we were both thinking of rats, rotten ships, and storms.