"Captains Courageous": A Story of the Grand Banks
It was the forty-fathom slumber that clears the soul and eye and heart, and sends you to breakfast ravening. They emptied a big tin dish of juicy fragments of fish--the blood-ends the cook had collected overnight. They cleaned up the plates and pans of the elder mess, who were out fishing, sliced pork for the midday meal, swabbed down the fo’c’sle, filled the lamps, drew coal and water for the cook, and investigated the fore-hold, where the boat’s stores were stacked. It was another perfect day--soft, mild, and clear; and Harvey breathed to the very bottom of his lungs.
More schooners had crept up in the night, and the long blue seas were full of sails and dories. Far away on the horizon, the smoke of some liner, her hull invisible, smudged the blue, and to eastward a big ship’s topgallantsails, just lifting, made a square nick in it. Disko Troop was smoking by the roof of the cabin--one eye on the craft around, and the other on the little fly at the mainmast-head.
“When dad kerflummoxes that way,” said Dan, in a whisper, “he’s doin’ some high-line thinkin’ fer all hands. I’ll lay my wage an’ share we’ll make berth soon. Dad he knows the cod, an’ the fleet they know dad knows. ‘See ‘em comin’ up one by one, lookin’ fer nothin’ in particular, o’ course, but scrowgin’ on us all the time? There’s the Prince Leboa; she’s a Chat-ham boat. She’s crep’ up sence last night. An’ see that big one with a patch in her foresail an’ a new jib? She’s the Carrie Pitman from West Chatham. She won’t keep her canvas long on less her luck’s changed since last season. She don’t do much ‘cep’ drift. There ain’t an anchor made’ll hold her ... When the smoke puffs up in little rings like that, dad’s studyin’ the fish. Ef we speak to him now, he’ll git mad. Las’ time I did, he jest took an’ hove a boot at me.”
Disko Troop stared forward, the pipe between his teeth, with eyes that saw nothing. As his son said, he was studying the fish--pitting his knowledge and experience on the Banks against the roving cod in his own sea. He accepted the presence of the inquisitive schooners on the horizon as a compliment to his powers. But now that it was paid, he wished to draw away and make his berth alone, till it was time to go up to the Virgin and fish in the streets of that roaring town upon the waters. So Disko Troop thought of recent weather, and gales, currents, food-supplies, and other domestic arrangements, from the point of view of a twenty-pound cod; was, in fact, for an hour a cod himself, and looked remarkably like one. Then he removed the pipe from his teeth.
“Dad,” said Dan, “we’ve done our chores. Can’t we go overside a piece? It’s good catch-in’ weather.”
“Not in that cherry-coloured rig ner them ha’afbaked brown shoes. Give him suthin’ fit to wear.”
“Dad’s pleased--that settles it,” said Dan, delightedly, dragging Harvey into the cabin, while Troop pitched a key down the steps. “Dad keeps my spare rig where he kin overhaul it, ‘cause ma sez I’m keerless.” He rummaged through a locker, and in less than three minutes Harvey was adorned with fisherman’s rubber boots that came half up his thigh, a heavy blue jersey well darned at the elbows, a pair of flippers, and a sou’wester.
“Naow ye look somethin’ like,” said Dan. “Hurry!”
“Keep nigh an’ handy,” said Troop, “an’ don’t go visitin’ raound the fleet. Ef any one asks you what I’m cal’latin’ to do, speak the truth--fer ye don’t know.”
A little red dory, labelled Hattie S., lay astern of the schooner. Dan hauled in the painter, and dropped lightly on to the bottom boards, while Harvey tumbled clumsily after.
“That’s no way o’ gettin’ into a boat,” said Dan. “Ef there was any sea you’d go to the bottom, sure. You got to learn to meet her.”
Dan fitted the thole-pins, took the forward thwart, and watched Harvey’s work. The boy had rowed, in a ladylike fashion, on the Adirondack ponds; but there is a difference between squeaking pins and well-balanced rowlocks--light sculls and stubby, eight-foot sea-oars. They stuck in the gentle swell, and Harvey grunted.
“Short! Row short!” said Dan. “Ef you cramp your oar in any kind o’ sea you’re liable to turn her over. Ain’t she a daisy? Mine, too.”
The little dory was specklessly clean. In her bows lay a tiny anchor, two jugs of water, and some seventy fathoms of thin, brown dory-roding. A tin dinner-horn rested in cleats just under Harvey’s right hand, beside an ugly-looking maul, a short gaff, and a shorter wooden stick. A couple of lines, with very heavy leads and double cod-hooks, all neatly coiled on square reels, were stuck in their place by the gunwale.
“Where’s the sail and mast?” said Harvey, for his hands were beginning to blister.
Dan chuckled. “Ye don’t sail fishin’-dories much. Ye pull; but ye needn’t pull so hard. Don’t you wish you owned her?”
“Well, I guess my father might give me one or two if I asked ‘em,” Harvey replied. He had been too busy to think much of his family till then.
“That’s so. I forgot your dad’s a millionaire. You don’t act millionary any, naow. But a dory an’ craft an’ gear”--Dan spoke as though she were a whale-boat “costs a heap. Think your dad ‘u’d give you one fer--fer a pet like?”
“Shouldn’t wonder. It would be ‘most the only thing I haven’t stuck him for yet.”
“Must be an expensive kinder kid to home. Don’t slitheroo thet way, Harve. Short’s the trick, because no sea’s ever dead still, an’ the swells’ll--”
Crack! The loom of the oar kicked Harvey under the chin and knocked him backward.
“That was what I was goin’ to say. I hed to learn too, but I wasn’t more than eight years old when I got my schoolin’.”
Harvey regained his seat with aching jaws and a frown.
“No good gettin’ mad at things, dad says. It’s our own fault ef we can’t handle ‘em, he says. Le’s try here. Manuel’ll give us the water.”
The “Portugee” was rocking fully a mile away, but when Dan up-ended an oar he waved his left arm three times.
“Thirty fathom,” said Dan, stringing a salt clam on to the hook. “Over with the dough-boys. Bait same’s I do, Harve, an’ don’t snarl your reel.”
Dan’s line was out long before Harvey had mastered the mystery of baiting and heaving out the leads. The dory drifted along easily. It was not worth while to anchor till they were sure of good ground.
“Here we come!” Dan shouted, and a shower of spray rattled on Harvey’s shoulders as a big cod flapped and kicked alongside. “Muckle, Harvey, muckle! Under your hand! Quick!”
Evidently “muckle” could not be the dinner-horn, so Harvey passed over the maul, and Dan scientifically stunned the fish before he pulled it inboard, and wrenched out the hook with the short wooden stick he called a “gob-stick.” Then Harvey felt a tug, and pulled up zealously.
“Why, these are strawberries!” he shouted. “Look!”
The hook had fouled among a bunch of strawberries, red on one side and white on the other--perfect reproductions of the land fruit, except that there were no leaves, and the stem was all pipy and slimy.
“Don’t tech ‘em! Slat ‘em off. Don’t--”
The warning came too late. Harvey had picked them from the hook, and was admiring them.
“Ouch!” he cried, for his fingers throbbed as though he had grasped many nettles.
“Naow ye know what strawberry-bottom means. Nothin’ ‘cep’ fish should be teched with the naked fingers, dad says. Slat ‘em off ag’in’ the gunnel, an’ bait up, Harve. Lookin’ won’t help any. It’s all in the wages.”
Harvey smiled at the thought of his ten and a half dollars a month, and wondered what his mother would say if she could see him hanging over the edge of a fishing-dory in mid-ocean. She suffered agonies whenever he went out on Saranac Lake; and, by the way, Harvey remembered distinctly that he used to laugh at her anxieties. Suddenly the line flashed through his hand, stinging even through the “flippers,” the woolen circlets supposed to protect it.
“He’s a logy. Give him room accordin’ to his strength,” cried Dan. “I’ll help ye.”
“No, you won’t,” Harvey snapped, as he hung on to the line. “It’s my first fish. Is--is it a whale?”
“Halibut, mebbe.” Dan peered down into the water alongside, and flourished the big “muckle,” ready for all chances. Something white and oval flickered and fluttered through the green. “I’ll lay my wage an’ share he’s over a hundred. Are you so everlastin’ anxious to land him alone?” Harvey’s knuckles were raw and bleeding where they had been banged against the gunwale; his face was purple-blue between excitement and exertion; he dripped with sweat, and was half blinded from staring at the circling sunlit ripples about the swiftly moving line. The boys were tired long ere the halibut, who took charge of them and the dory for the next twenty minutes. But the big flat fish was gaffed and hauled in at last.
“Beginner’s luck,” said Dan, wiping his forehead. “He’s all of a hundred.”
Harvey looked at the huge grey-and-mottled creature with unspeakable pride. He had seen halibut many times on marble slabs ashore, but it had never occurred to him to ask how they came inland. Now he knew; and every inch of his body ached with fatigue.
“Ef dad was along,” said Dan, hauling up, “he’d read the signs plain’s print. The fish are runnin’ smaller an’ smaller, an’ you’ve took baout as logy a halibut’s we’re apt to find this trip. Yesterday’s catch--did ye notice it?--was all big fish an’ no halibut. Dad he’d read them signs right off. Dad says everythin’ on the Banks is signs, an’ can be read wrong er right. Dad’s deeper’n the Whale-hole.”
Even as he spoke some one fired a pistol on the “We’re Here”, and a potato-basket was run up in the fore-rigging.
“What did I say, naow? That’s the call fer the whole crowd. Dad’s onter something, er he’d never break fishin’ this time o’ day. Reel up, Harve, an’ we’ll pull back.”
They were to windward of the schooner, just ready to flirt the dory over the still sea, when sounds of woe half a mile off led them to Penn, who was careering around a fixed point, for all the world like a gigantic water-bug. The little man backed away and came down again with enormous energy, but at the end of each manoeuvre his dory swung round and snubbed herself on her rope.
“We’ll hey to help him, else he’ll root an’ seed here,” said Dan.
“What’s the matter?” said Harvey. This was a new world, where he could not lay down the law to his elders, but had to ask questions humbly. And the sea was horribly big and unexcited.
“Anchor’s fouled. Penn’s always losing ‘em. Lost two this trip a’ready, --on sandy bottom, too, --an’ dad says next one he loses, sure’s fish-in’, he’ll give him the kelleg. That ‘u’d break Penn’s heart.”
“What’s a ‘kelleg’?” said Harvey, who had a vague idea it might be some kind of marine torture, like keel-hauling in the story-books.
“Big stone instid of an anchor. You kin see a kelleg ridin’ in the bows fur’s you can see a dory, an’ all the fleet knows what it means. They’d guy him dreadful. Penn couldn’t stand that no more’n a dog with a dipper to his tail. He’s so everlastin’ sensitive. Hello, Penn! Stuck again? Don’t try any more o’ your patents. Come up on her, and keep your rodin’ straight up an’ down.”
“It doesn’t move,” said the little man, panting. “It doesn’t move at all, and indeed I tried everything.”
“What’s all this hurrah’s-nest for’ard?” said Dan, pointing to a wild tangle of spare oars and dory-roding, all matted together by the hand of inexperience.
“Oh, that,” said Penn, proudly, “is a Spanish windlass. Mr. Salters showed me how to make it; but even that doesn’t move her.”
Dan bent low over the gunwale to hide a smile, twitched once or twice on the roding, and, behold, the anchor drew at once.
“Haul up, Penn,” he said, laughing, “er she ‘ll git stuck again.”
They left him regarding the weed-hung flukes of the little anchor with big, pathetic blue eyes, and thanking them profusely.
“Oh, say, while I think of it, Harve,” said Dan, when they were out of ear-shot, “Penn ain’t quite all caulked. He ain’t nowise dangerous, but his mind’s give out. See?”
“Is that so, or is it one of your father’s judgments?” Harvey asked, as he bent to his oars. He felt he was learning to handle them more easily.
“Dad ain’t mistook this time. Penn’s a sure’nuff loony. No, he ain’t thet, exactly, so much ez a harmless ijjit. It was this way (you’re rowin’ quite so, Harve), an’ I tell you ‘cause it’s right you orter know. He was a Moravian preacher once. Jacob Boller wuz his name, dad told me, an’ he lived with his wife an’ four children somewheres out Pennsylvania way. Well, Penn he took his folks along to a Moravian meetin’, --camp-meetin’, most like, --an’ they stayed over jest one night in Johnstown. You’ve heered talk o’ Johnstown?”
Harvey considered. “Yes, I have. But I don’t know why. It sticks in my head same as Ashtabula.”
“Both was big accidents--thet’s why, Harve. Well, that one single night Penn and his folks was to the hotel Johnstown was wiped out. ‘Dam bu’st an’ flooded her, an’ the houses struck adrift an’ bumped into each other an’ sunk. I’ve seen the pictures, an’ they’re dretful. Penn he saw his folk drowned all ‘n a heap ‘fore he rightly knew what was comin’. His mind give out from that on. He mistrusted somethin’ hed happened up to Johnstown, but for the poor life of him he couldn’t remember what, an’ he jest drifted araound smilin’ an’ wonderin’. He didn’t know what he was, nor yit what he hed bin, an’ thet way he run ag’in’ Uncle Salters, who was visitin’ ‘n Allegheny City. Ha’af my mother’s folks they live scattered inside o’ Pennsylvania, an’ Uncle Salters he visits araound winters. Uncle Salters he kinder adopted Penn, well knowin’ what his trouble wuz; an’ he brought him East, an’ he give him work on his farm.”
“Why, I heard him calling Penn a farmer last night when the boats bumped. Is your Uncle Salters a farmer?”
“Farmer!” shouted Dan. “There ain’t water enough ‘tween here an’ Hatt’rus to wash the furrer-mould off’n his boots. He’s Jest everlastin’ farmer. Why, Harve, I’ve seen thet man hitch up a bucket, long towards sundown, an’ set twiddlin’ the spigot to the scuttle-butt same’s ef ‘twuz a cow’s bag. He’s thet much farmer. Well, Penn an’ he they ran the farm--up Exeter way, ‘twuz. Uncle Salters he sold it this spring to a jay from Boston as wanted to build a summerhaouse, an’ he got a heap for it. Well, them two loonies scratched along till, one day, Penn’s church he’d belonged to--the Moravians--found out where he wuz drifted an’ layin’, an’ wrote to Uncle Salters. ‘Never heerd what they said exactly; but Uncle Salters was mad. He’s a ‘piscopalian mostly--but he jest let ‘em hev it both sides o’ the bow, ‘sif he was a Baptist, an’ sez he warn’t goin’ to give up Penn to any blame Moravian connection in Pennsylvania or anywheres else. Then he come to dad, towin’ Penn, --thet was two trips back, --an’ sez he an’ Penn must fish a trip fer their health. ‘Guess he thought the Moravians wouldn’t hunt the Banks fer Jacob Boller. Dad was agreeable, fer Uncle Salters he’d been fishin’ off an’ on fer thirty years, when he warn’t inventin’ patent manures, an’ he took quarter-share in the ‘We’re Here’; an’ the trip done Penn so much good, dad made a habit o’ takin’ him. Some day, dad sez, he’ll remember his wife an’ kids an’ Johnstown, an’ then, like’s not, he’ll die, dad sez. Don’t yer talk about Johnstown ner such things to Penn, ‘r Uncle Salters he’ll heave ye overboard.”
“Poor Penn!” murmured Harvey. “I shouldn’t ever have thought Uncle Salters cared for him by the look of ‘em together.”
“I like Penn, though; we all do,” said Dan. “We ought to ha’ give him a tow, but I wanted to tell ye first.”
They were close to the schooner now, the other boats a little behind them.
“You needn’t heave in the dories till after dinner,” said Troop, from the deck. “We’ll dress-daown right off. Fix table, boys!”
“Deeper’n the Whale-deep,” said Dan, with a wink, as he set the gear for dressing-down. “Look at them boats that hev edged up sence mornin’. They’re all waitin’ on dad. See ‘em, Harve?”
“They are all alike to me.” And, indeed, to a landsman the nodding schooners around seemed run from the same mould.
“They ain’t, though. That yaller, dirty packet with her bowsprit steeved that way, she’s the ‘Hope of Prague’. Nick Brady’s her skipper, the meanest man on the Banks. We’ll tell him so when we strike the Main Ledge. ‘Way off yander’s the ‘Day’s Eye’. The two Jeraulds own her. She’s from Harwich; fastish, too, an’ hez good luck; but dad he’d find fish in a graveyard. Them other three, side along, they’re the ‘Margie Smith’, ‘Rose’, and ‘Edith S. Walen’, all frum home. ‘Guess we’ll see the ‘Abbie M. Deering’ to-morrer, dad, won’t we? They’re all slippin’ over from the shoal o’ ‘Queereau.”
“You won’t see many boats to-morrow, Danny.” When Troop called his son Danny, it was a sign that the old man was pleased. “Boys, we’re too crowded,” he went on, addressing the crew as they clambered inboard. “We’ll leave ‘em to bait big an’ catch small.” He looked at the catch in the pen, and it was curious to see how little and level the fish ran. Save for Harvey’s halibut, there was nothing over fifteen pounds on deck.
“I’m waitin’ on the weather,” he added.
“Ye’ll have to make it yourself, Disko, for there’s no sign I can see,” said Long Jack, sweeping the clear horizon.
And yet, half an hour later, as they were dressing-down, the Bank fog dropped on them, “between fish and fish,” as they say. It drove steadily and in wreaths, curling and smoking along the colourless water. The men stopped dressing-down without a word. Long Jack and Uncle Salters slipped the windlass-brakes into their sockets, and began to heave up the anchor, the windlass jarring as the wet hempen cable strained on the barrel. Manuel and Tom Platt gave a hand at the last. The anchor came up with a sob, and the riding-sail bellied as Troop steadied her at the wheel. “Up jib and foresail,” said he.
“Slip ‘em in the smother,” shouted Long Jack, making fast the jib-sheet, while the others raised the clacking, rattling rings of the foresail; and the fore-boom creaked as the “We’re Here” looked up into the wind and dived off into blank, whirling white.
“There’s wind behind this fog,” said Troop.
It was all wonderful beyond words to Harvey; and the most wonderful part was that he heard no orders except an occasional grunt from Troop, ending with, “That’s good, my son!”
“‘Never seen anchor weighed before?” said Tom Platt, to Harvey gaping at the damp canvas of the foresail.
“No. Where are we going?”
“Fish and make berth, as you’ll find out ‘fore you’ve bin a week aboard. It’s all new to you, but we never know what may come to us. Now, take me--Tom Platt--I’d never ha’ thought--”
“It’s better than fourteen dollars a month an’ a bullet in your belly,” said Troop, from the wheel. “Ease your jumbo a grind.”
“Dollars an’ cents better,” returned the man-o’-war’s man, doing something to a big jib with a wooden spar tied to it. “But we didn’t think o’ that when we manned the windlass-brakes on the ‘Miss Jim Buck’,  outside Beaufort Harbor, with Fort Macon heavin’ hot shot at our stern, an’ a livin’ gale atop of all. Where was you then, Disko?”
“Jest here, or hereabouts,” Disko replied, “earnin’ my bread on the deep waters, and dodgin’ Reb privateers. ‘Sorry I can’t accommodate you with red-hot shot, Tom Platt; but I guess we’ll come aout all right on wind ‘fore we see Eastern Point.”
There was an incessant slapping and chatter at the bows now, varied by a solid thud and a little spout of spray that clattered down on the fo’c’sle. The rigging dripped clammy drops, and the men lounged along the lee of the house--all save Uncle Salters, who sat stiffly on the main-hatch nursing his stung hands.
 The Gemsbok, U. S. N.?
“‘Guess she’d carry stays’l,” said Disko, rolling one eye at his brother.
“Guess she wouldn’t to any sorter profit. What’s the sense o’ wastin’ canvas?” the farmer-sailor replied.
The wheel twitched almost imperceptibly in Disko’s hands. A few seconds later a hissing wave-top slashed diagonally across the boat, smote Uncle Salters between the shoulders, and drenched him from head to foot. He rose sputtering, and went forward, only to catch another.
“See dad chase him, all around the deck,” said Dan. “Uncle Salters he thinks his quarter-share’s our canvas. Dad’s put this duckin’ act up on him two trips runnin’. Hi! That found him where he feeds.” Uncle Salters had taken refuge by the foremast, but a wave slapped him over the knees. Disko’s face was as blank as the circle of the wheel.
“‘Guess she’d lie easier under stays’l, Salters,” said Disko, as though he had seen nothing.
“Set your old kite, then,” roared the victim, through a cloud of spray; “only don’t lay it to me if anything happens. Penn, you go below right off an’ git your coffee. You ought to hev more sense than to bum araound on deck this weather.”
“Now they’ll swill coffee an’ play checkers till the cows come home,” said Dan, as Uncle Salters hustled Penn into the fore-cabin. “‘Looks to me like’s if we’d all be doin’ so fer a spell. There’s nothin’ in creation deader-limpsey-idler’n a Banker when she ain’t on fish.”
“I’m glad ye spoke, Danny,” cried Long Jack, who had been casting round in search of amusement. “I’d clean forgot we’d a passenger under that T-wharf hat. There’s no idleness for thim that don’t know their ropes. Pass him along, Tom Platt, an’ we’ll l’arn him.”
“‘Tain’t my trick this time,” grinned Dan. “You’ve got to go it alone. Dad learned me with a rope’s end.”