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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Skipper and His Ship
By Holger Drachmann (1846–1908)
 
From ‘Paul and Virginia of a Northern Zone’

THE ANNA DOROTHEA, in the North Sea, was pounding along under shortened sail. The weather was thick, the air dense; there was a falling barometer.  1
  It had been a short trip this time. Leroy and Sons, wine merchants of Havre, had made better offers than the old houses in Bordeaux. At each one of his later trips, Captain Spang had said it should be his last. He would “lay up” at home; he was growing too stout and clumsy for the sea, and now he must trust fully to Tönnes, his first mate. The captain’s big broad face was flushed as usual; he always looked as if he were illuminated by a setting October sun; there was no change here—rather, the sunset tint was stronger. But Tönnes noted how the features, which he knew best in moments of simple good-nature and of sullen tumult, had gradually relaxed. He thought that it would indeed soon be time for his old skipper to “lay up”; yet perhaps a few trips might still be made.  2
  “Holloa, Tönnes! let her go about before the next squall strikes her. She lies too dead on this bow.”  3
  The skipper had raised his head above the cabin stairs. As usual, he was in his shirt-sleeves, and his scanty hair fluttered in the wind. When he had warned his mate, he again disappeared in the cabin.  4
  Tönnes gave the order to the man at the helm, and hurried to help at the main-braces. The double-reefed main-topsail swung about, the Anna Dorothea caught the wind somewhat sluggishly, and not without getting considerable water over her; then followed the fore-topsail, the reefed foresail, and the trysail. When the tacking was finished and the sails had again caught the wind, the trysail was torn from the boltropes with a loud crack.  5
  The captain’s head appeared again.  6
  “We must close-reef!” said he.  7
  The last reef was taken in; the storm came down and lashed the sea; the sky grew more and more threatening; the waves dashed over the deck at each plunge of the old bark in the sea. The old vessel, which had carried her captain for a generation, lay heavily on the water—Tönnes thought too heavily.  8
  The second mate—the same who had played the accordion at the inn—came over to Tönnes.  9
  “It was wrong to stow the china-clay at the bottom and the casks on top; she lies horribly dead, and I’m afraid we shall have to use the pumps.”  10
  “Yes, I said so to the old man, but he would have it that way,” answered Tönnes. “We shall have a wet night.”  11
  “We shall, surely,” said the second mate.  12
  Tönnes crawled up to the helm and looked at the compass. Two men were at the helm—lashed fast. Tönnes looked up into the rigging and out to windward; then suddenly he cried, with the full force of his lungs:—  13
  “Look out for breakers!”  14
  Tönnes himself helped at the wheel; but the vessel only half answered the helm. The greater portion of the sea struck the bow, the quarter, and the bulwarks and stanchions amidship, so that they creaked and groaned. One of the men at the helm had grasped Tönnes, who would otherwise have been swept into the lee scupper. When the ship had righted from the terrible blow, the captain stood on the deck in his oilcloth suit.  15
  “Are any men missing?” cried he, through the howling of the wind and the roaring of the water streaming fore and aft, unable to escape quickly enough through the scuppers.  16
  The storm raged with undiminished fury. The crew—and amongst them Prussian, who had been promoted to be ship’s-dog—by-and-by dived forward through the seething salt water and the fragments of wreck that covered the deck.  17
  Now it was that the second mate was missing.  18
  The captain looked at Tönnes, and then out on the wild sea. He scarcely glanced at the crushed long-boat; even if a boat could have been launched, it would have been too late. Tönnes and his skipper were fearless men, who took things as they were. If any help could have been given, they would have given it. But their eyes sought vainly for any dark speck amidst the foaming waves—and it was necessary to care for themselves, the vessel and the crew.  19
  “God save his soul!” murmured Captain Spang.  20
  Tönnes passed his hand across his brow, and went to his duty. Evening set in; the wind increased rather than decreased.  21
  “She is taking in water,” said the captain, who had sounded the pumps.  22
  Tönnes assented.  23
  “We must change her course,” said the captain. “She pitches too heavily in this sea.”  24
  The bark was held up to the wind as closely as possible. The pumps were worked steadily, but often got out of order on account of the china-clay, which mixed with the water down in the hold.  25
  It was plain that the vessel grew heavier and heavier; her movements in climbing a wave were more and more dead.  26
  During the night a cry arose: again one of the crew was washed overboard.  27
  It was a long night and a wet one, as Tönnes had predicted. Several times the skipper dived down into the cabin—Tönnes knew perfectly well what for, but he said nothing. Few words were spoken on board the Anna Dorothea that night.  28
  In the morning the captain, returning from one of his excursions down below, declared that the cabin was half full of water.  29
  “We must watch for a sail,” he said, abruptly and somewhat huskily.  30
  Tönnes passed the word round amongst the crew. One might read on their faces that they were prepared for this, and that they had ceased to hope, although they had not stopped work at the pumps.  31
  The whole of the weather bulwark, the cook’s cabin and the long-boat, were crushed or washed away; the water could be heard below the hatches. While keeping a sharp lookout for sails, many an eye glanced at the yawl as the last resort. But on board Captain Spang’s vessel the words were not yet spoken which carried with them the doom of the ship: “We are sinking!”  32
  In the gray-white of the dawn a signal was to be hoisted; the bunting was tied together at the middle and raised half-mast high.  33
  Both the captain and Tönnes had lashed themselves aft; for now the bark was but little better than a wreck, over which the billows broke incessantly, as the vessel, reeling like a drunken man, exposed herself to the violent attacks of the sea instead of parrying them.  34
  “A sail to windward, captain!” cried Tönnes.  35
  Captain Spang only nodded.  36
  “She holds her course!” cried one of the crew excitedly.  37
  “No,” said Tönnes, quietly. “She has seen us, and is bearing down upon us!”  38
  The captain again nodded.  39
  “’Tis a brig!” cried one of the crew.  40
  “A schooner-brig!” Tönnes corrected. “She carries her sails finely. I am sure she is a fruit-trader.”  41
  At last the strange vessel was so near that they could see her deck each time she was thrown upon her side in the violent seething sea.  42
  “Yes, ’tis the schooner-brig!” exclaimed Tönnes. “Do you remember, captain, the time when—”  43
  Again Captain Spang nodded. He acted strangely. Tönnes looked sharply at him, and shook his head.  44
  Now Tönnes hailed the vessel:—  45
  “Help us!—We are sinking!”  46
  At this moment two or three of the bark’s crew rushed toward the yawl, although Tönnes warned them back.  47
  Captain Spang seemed changed. Evidently some opposing feelings contended within him. Seeing the insubordination of the men, he only shrugged his shoulders, and let Tönnes take full charge.  48
  The men were in the yawl, still hanging under the iron davits. Now they cut the ropes; the yawl touched the water. The crew of the other vessel gestured warningly; but it was too late. A sea seized the yawl with its small crew, and the next moment crushed it against the main chains of the bark. Their shipmates raised a cry, and rushed to help them; but help was impossible. Boat and crew had disappeared.  49
  “Didn’t I say so?” cried Tönnes, with flaming eyes.  50
  Over there in the schooner-brig all was activity. From the Anna Dorothea they could plainly see how the captain gave his orders. He manœuvred his vessel like a true sailor. To board the wreck in such a sea would be madness. Therefore they unreeved two long lines and attached them to the long-boat, one on each side. Then they laid breeching under the boat, and hauled it up amidships by means of tackle. Taking advantage of a moment when their vessel was athwart the seas, they unloosed the tackle, and the boat swung out over the side; then they cut the breeching, the boat fell on the water aft, and now both lines were eased off quickly; while the brig caught the wind, the boat drifted toward the stern-sheets of the bark.  51
  Tönnes was ready with a boat-hook, and connections were quickly made between the boat and the wreck.  52
  “Quick now!” cried Tönnes. “Every man in the boat. No one takes his clothes with him! We may be thankful if we save our lives.”  53
  The men were quickly over the stern-sheets and down in the boat. Prussian whined, and kept close to Captain Spang, who had not moved one step on the deck.  54
  “Come, captain!” cried Tönnes, taking the skipper by the arm.  55
  “What’s the matter?” asked the old man angrily.  56
  Tönnes looked at him. Prussian barked.  57
  “We must get into the boat, captain. The vessel may sink at any moment. Come!”  58
  The captain pressed his sou’wester down over his forehead, and glanced around his deck.  59
  The men in the boat cried out to them to come.  60
  “Well!” said Captain Spang, but with an air so absent-minded and a bearing so irresolute that Tönnes at last took a firm hold on him.  61
  Prussian showed his teeth at his former master.  62
  “You go first!” exclaimed Tönnes, snatching the dog and throwing him down to the men, who were having hard work to keep the boat from wrecking.  63
  When the dog was no longer on the deck, it seemed as if Captain Spang’s resistance was broken. Tönnes did not let go his hold on him; but the young mate had to use almost superhuman strength to get the heavy old man down over the vessel’s side and placed on a seat in the boat.  64
  As soon as they had observed from the brig that this had been done, they hauled in both lines. The boat moved back again; but it was a dangerous voyage, and all were obliged to lash themselves fast to the thwarts with ropes placed there for that purpose.  65
  Captain Spang was like a child. Tönnes had to lash him to the seat. The old man sat with his face hidden in his hands, his back turned toward his ship, inactive, and seemingly unconscious of what took place around him.  66
  At last, when after a hard struggle all were on the deck of the schooner-brig, her captain came forward, placed his hand on his old friend’s shoulder, and said:—  67
  “It is the second time, you see! Well, we all cling to life, and the vessel over there is pretty old.”  68
  Captain Spang started. He scarcely returned his friend’s hand-shaking.  69
  “My vessel, I say! My papers! All that I have is in the vessel. I must go aboard, do you hear? I must go aboard. How could I forget?”  70
  The other skipper and Tönnes looked at each other.  71
  Captain Spang wrung his hands and stamped on the deck, his eyes fixed on his sinking vessel. She was still afloat; what did he care for the gale and the heavy sea? He belonged to the old school of skippers; he was bound to his vessel by ties longer than any life-line, heavier than any hawser; he had left his ship in a bewildered state, and had taken nothing with him that might serve to prove what he possessed and how long he had possessed it. His good old vessel was still floating on the water. He must, he would go there; if nobody would go with him, he would go alone.  72
  All remonstrances were in vain.  73
  Tönnes pressed the other skipper’s hand.  74
  “There is nothing else to be done. I know him,” said he.  75
  “So do I,” was the answer.  76
  Captain Spang and his mate were again in the boat. As they were on the point of starting, a loud whine and violent barking sounded from the deck, and Prussian showed his one eye over the railing.  77
  “Stay where you are!” cried Tönnes. “We shall be back soon.”  78
  But the dog did not understand him. Perhaps he had his doubts; no one can say. He sprang overboard; Tönnes seized him by the ear, and hauled him into the boat.  79
  And then the two men and the dog ventured back to the abandoned vessel.  80
  This time the old man climbed on board without assistance.  81
  Prussian whined in the boat.  82
  “Throw that dog up to me!” cried the master.  83
  Tönnes did so.  84
  “Shall I come up and help you?” he called out.  85
  “No, I can find my own way.”  86
  “But hurry, captain! do you understand?” said Tönnes, who anxiously noticed that the motions of the vessel were becoming more and more dangerous, while he needed all his strength to keep the boat clear of the wreck.  87
  An answer came from the bark, but he could not catch it. In this moment Tönnes recalled the day when he rowed the captain out on the bay to the brig. His next thought was of Nanna. Oh, if she knew where they were!  88
  And at this thought the mate’s breast was filled with conflicting emotions. The dear blessed girl!—Oh, if her father would only come!  89
  “Captain!” cried Tönnes; “Captain Spang! for God’s sake, come! Leave those papers alone. The vessel is sinking. We may at any moment—”  90
  He paused.  91
  The captain stood at the stern-sheets. At his side was Prussian, squinting down into the boat. There was an entirely strange expression in Andreas Spang’s face; a double expression—one moment hard and defiant, the next almost solemn.  92
  The sou’wester had fallen from his old head. His scanty hairs fluttered in the wind. He held in his hand a parcel of papers and a coil of rope. He pointed toward the brig.  93
  “There!” he cried, throwing the package and the rope down to Tönnes. “Give the skipper this new line for his trouble. He has used plenty of rope for us. You go back. I stay here. Give—my—love—to the girl at home.—You and she—You two—God bless you!”  94
  “Captain!” cried Tönnes in affright; “you are sick; come, let me—”  95
  He prepared to climb on board.  96
  Captain Spang lifted his hand threateningly, and Prussian barked furiously.  97
  “Stay down there, boy, I say! The vessel and I, we belong together. You shall take care of the girl. Good-by!”  98
  The Anna Dorothea rolled heavily over on one side, righted again, and then began to plunge her head downwards, like a whale that, tired of the surface, seeks rest at the bottom. The crew of the brig hauled in the lines of the boat. Tossed on the turbid sea, Tönnes saw his old skipper leaning against the helm, the dog at his side. His gray hairs fluttered in the wind as if they wafted a last farewell; and down with vessel and dog went the old skipper—down into the wild sea that so long had borne him on its waves.  99
 
 
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