by THOMAS RADDALL
It puts me in mind, (says my Uncle Hugh MacAra, yarnin’ away one night in the little old Bluenose port of Pictou) o’ the little old Linda M. Smardon, brigantine out o’ this very town. Back in the 80’s and 90’s there was quite a few brigantines sailin’ out o’ home in the West India and South American trade; two hundred tonners, mostly, just a handy size for the out-ports o’ the island where the big ships didn’t go. Ours was a shipbuilding town and when Ned Smardon got money enough to buy a vessel for himself ’twas only natural to get her built at home.
Ned was a good rough-and-ready sailor but one o’ those easy-goin’ fellers that needs a woman with a sharp tongue at their helm, and Amanda Smardon was just the woman for it. She went to sea with him, like many a Bluenose captain’s wife in those times, and ran the vessel the way she ran Ned. She kept charge o’ the medicine chest, so the men had to come to her with their symptoms, and the way she’d look ’em up in the doctor book and feed ’em pills was a caution. She wrote all the captain’s letters and did most o’ the talkin’ with agents and charterers, for she’d a crackajack head for figgers while Ned couldn’t add two two’s and make four. That’s why she worked up his noon reckonin’s for him, I s’pose. More’n once I’ve seen her out on the deck with Ned’s sextant, takin’ the sun, and checkin’ with the mate. Oh, she was a terror, I tell ye, a li’l, plump, bright-eyed terror with a smile as sweet as sugar.
They had one child, a girl named Linda, born somewhere in the Doldrums aboard the barquentine Pandora, and when the new brigantine was finished in Spooner’s yard — over there where the undertaker’s parlour is now —Amanda Smardon smacked a bottle o’ lime juice (blue ribbon, Amanda was) over the bow and named her Linda M. Smardon. Young Linda was nine then, a li’l carrot-topped thing, all brown eyes and legs and long red pigtails.
The old sailors and longshoremen puckered up their lips when they seen the lime juice, and said the vessel would prove sour. Well, she begun sour enough. When they’d split out the keel blocks and sawed through the launchin’ ways and packin’ spewin’ out from under her like straws, she run her stern smack on the packet-steamer wharf and bust her rudder. Then she swung with the river current and outgoin’ tide and shoved her bowsprit into Johnny Durfee’s sail loft.
That’s the way she began. Well, they got her rigged and went off to Demerara with a load o’ deals, with Captain Ned and Amanda and l’il Linda in the cabin aft. Spooner always said he’d never build another vessel for the Smardon’s on account o’ Amanda interferin’ all the time. I guess it begun with the plans; Amanda wantin’ this changed, and that. She’d been goin’ to sea with Ned ever since she was a young bride and knew more about a vessel than he did, or thought so anyway. And after the plans, she interfered in the buildin’, time and again, till she had Spooner and his carpenters half crazy.
I came to know what sort o’ craft Amanda Smardon had concocted, for I shipped in the Linda M. Smardon afore the mast, along about 1879. She was full about the bows and had a poor run —a great lump o’ wood under the quarter, so when she was goin’ about six knots the water boiled up under her stern with a sound like the Ridge Brook in a spring thaw; and she left a wake as broad as a street. With any wind it took two men to the wheel, and they had a job to hold her within four points o’ the course. She had a nasty trick o’ sneakin’ up into the wind and catchin’ her foreyards aback, and you had to watch her like a hawk, for no matter how you trimmed her canvas you had to be usin’ the wheel the whole time, cornin’ up and failin’ off and cornin’ up again. But she was a good sea-boat, I’ll say that for her, and with just a rag on her would lie-to very nice in a gale. And she carried a surprisin’ cargo for her size and proved a money-maker, like those awkward vessels often did. But us sailors called her The Workhouse on account of her tricks.
Young Linda was a favourite with all hands. There was no fear in her. She’d run about the riggin’ like a monkey, wearin’ a li’l pair o’ duck trousers and a shirt, and her feet bare. When she was fourteen they put her ashore with her Aunt Jane, for to get her schoolin’ and grow into a lady. And some years went by.
Captain Ned was a good sailor and Amanda was chock full o’ business; they begun buyin’ fish and lumber and takin’ it south to sell on their own account, and they made money hand over fist. And I stayed in the brigantine with ’em, I dunno why. I guess ’twas because the Linda M. was like home. Amanda had fixed up the after cabin with hooked rugs, pine needles in the settee cushions, “God Bless Our Home” in the crewel work on one o’ the maple panels, and “The Highlanders at the Alma” on another, and a li’l foot-tread organ in a corner.
Sunday evenin’s at sea we’d get around that organ and sing hymns and old songs like we was back home in the parlour after church. The grub was good, too, for those times. And in a home vessel you were pretty sure o’ seein’ the old town two or three times a year. Anyhow I stayed by the Linda M. and got to be second mate.
Then — it must ha’ been the spring o’ ’91 — Linda Smardon came aboard, in New York. We’d been a long time in the southern trade out o’ New York, and Linda had finished her education and grown into a young woman in the time gone by. So she was a surprise to the rest of us when she walked aboard in the East River docks. I can see her now, wearin’ a green rig that went nice with that chestnut hair, and a li’l fore-and-aft hat and a parasol. New York was full o’ pretty women, those days; but they weren’t a patch on Linda.
We’d shipped a new mate in Trinidad the trip before, young Bob Laurie, lookin’ for a passage home to Nova Scotia. He’d been owner-skipper of a li’l old tern schooner in the salt fish trade, and lost her somewhere along the Spanish Main in a norther, with everything he had. Bob was one o’ those blackhaired blue-eyed fellers from Pictou way, a li’l old timber-drogher at fifty dollars a month. A qualified shipmaster, I mean. But he’d shipped north with us, and Ned and Amanda was tryin’ to persuade him to stay.
Truth was, they figgered to go home for good pretty soon, and build a couple more ships and go into the southern trade the way they knew how, and they wanted a captain with a smart head on him to leave in charge o’ the Linda M. Bob wasn’t a bit interested. He was still pretty down in the mouth and figgered to pay off afore the brigantine sailed south again.
I was standin’ beside him on the half-deck when Linda stepped aboard, and he gave a kind o’ gasp.
“Who’s that?” he says.
“The skipper’s daughter,” I says. “Twenty-three and fancy free.”
Linda was tall as Bob, and taut and springy like a new topmast just set up, but moulded very nice. She had one o’ those complexions you only find in our part o’ the world, barrin’ the Isles o’ Scotland, and when she smiled, her skin seemed to glow. She had her father’s eyes, big and brown and laughin’.
Bob Laurie was bowled end for end. Linda was takin’ a trip south. He gave up his cabin without askin’, for her to use, and took the spare bunk in mine; and he signed for another voyage so eager his hand shook in the shippin’ office. Well, boys, there was all the makin’s of a very fine romance; for Bob Laurie was as fine a man as ever walked a deck, and Linda was — well, Linda.
It didn’t take her long to get back into shipboard ways again. ‘Course she didn’t go shinnin’ up the riggin’ any more. But she was on deck in all kinds o’ weather —especially if t’was the mate’s watch —and she’d walk up and down with him, talkin’ about the sea, and how he came to be there, and everything like that. She’d sit on the main hatch, warm evenin’s in the Trades, and get the darkie cook, who was our chanty-man, singin’ ballad songs; and sometimes she’d sing herself, with Ned and Amanda sittin’ in their rattan chairs on the half-deck, and the watch below cornin’ out quiet just to listen, and Bob Laurie leanin’ ag’in the spokerailin’ with a seegar ’tween his fingers, never takin’ his eyes off her face.
Oh, she had him on his beam ends, I tell ye, and she knew it, and he knew it. ’Twas good as a play to watch ’em. I dunno how long it took Captain Ned to catch on, but Amanda knew, right off. I’d seen her watchin’ ’em with those bright li’l grey eyes behind the spectacles.
We got into San Fernando, Trinidad, which is a kind o’ sheltered bay. Ye run in till your vessel takes ground in the soft mud off-shore, get your anchors over, and discharge right into the water, makin’ the lumber into rafts for the black men to warp ashore. As the cargo comes out, the vessel rises free o’ the mud and rides to her anchors. ’Twas a busy time for the mate. Every now and agin the darkies ’ud get a notion to pole one o’ the rafts ashore, and there’d come a bit o’ wind and they’d be in trouble. I dunno how many times Bob put off in a boat with a warp and kedge and then helped the black fellers heave her in. Bob was a strong feller, not afraid to put his hand to the work in a pinch, and he’d a good quick eye that could see trouble a mile off. I noticed Amanda sizin’ him up and noddin’ to herself and Ned.
After that we went up the coast a ways to load molasses in puncheons that come off-shore in lighters. There was nothin’ ashore but a few plantation houses and a sugar mill, but Amanda insisted on Linda and Bob goin’ off each afternoon and evenin’ for to see the country.
“A bit of a holiday won’t do you any harm,” she says to Bob, and smiles at him the way I’ve seen her smile at a bill o’ ladin’ when she fixed up a good charter. So Bob and Linda went ashore. The planters gave ’em a good time, a carriage to drive about in, just the two of ’em, with a darkie on the box, and music and dancin’ in the evenin’s. On board, they couldn’t hide it from anybody, the way they’d be lookin’ in each other’s eyes, on deck, at the table, everywhere they went, and Captain Ned winkin’ to me, and Amanda smilin’ her fat li’l smile.
When we got home, Captain Ned and Amanda gave the town a double sensation, announcin’ they was cornin’ ashore for good, and that Bob Laurie was goin’ to skipper both Lindas, with his chest stowed in the captain’s cabin and a fine weddin’ in the Methodist church come Tuesday. The whole town turned out for that weddin’, I tell ye. A reg’lar old-fashioned splice it was, too, the bridegroom lookin’ worried to death and the rest o’ the men grinnin’; the bride lookin’ sunny as a May mornin’ and the rest o’ the women weepin’; and everybody chuckin’ rice and old shoes.
Men and girls didn’t go trapesin’ about the province on a honeymoon, those times. Bob and Linda spent their honeymoon takin’ the brigantine to Madeira with a load of pine boards. I was promoted mate and Charlie Stockwell brought his chest aft to be second mate, and we was a happy ship all round. We had a right nice passage out, and Madeira’s a fine place for a young man to show his bride around. We chucked the lumber overboard and the Portuguese swum it in through the surf, a sight to watch. Then we took in beach gravel for ballast, out o’ lighters, and made sail for the West Indies. We come down the trades to Barbados, twenty-one days without clewin’ so much as a royal, a sea-goin’ picnic.
Linda sat in a cane chair they’d bought in Funchal, under the awnin’ on the half-deck, watchin’ Bob with that warm glow in her eyes. And Bob was in a sailor’s heaven — a ship to command, a girl to love, and always fair weather. ’Twas a treat to look at ’em. Just after we’d made out the land Linda calls out, careless-like, “Isn’t it time you got a range of chain over the windlass and your anchors overside?”
“Plenty of time,” Bob says, busy with his telescope.
“There’s nothing like being ready,” says Linda, and sung out to me, for’ard, “Mister McAra, don’t you think you’d better get the anchors ready to let go?” Well, I looked over to Bob, instinctive-like, but he didn’t say a word. She’d put it the way Amanda used to put her orders — “Mister, hadn’t you better do so-and-so?” So I called up a couple o’ hands and got the anchors ready. And that was that.
At Barbados we got orders for Gonaives in the island o’ Haiti, to load logwood. On the way, Linda came on deck one mornin’ and threw a glance aloft like the born sailor she was.
“Charlie,” she says to the second mate, “I think your tops’l yard’s up too sharp, don’t you?”
Bob was cornin’ up the companion behind her. He stuck his head out.
“I don’t think so, Linda.”
“Oh, but it is, Bob. Only look! Charlie, do slack up your lee tops’l brace and check in the weather brace a bit.” Charlie looked at Bob. There was a little flush on Bob’s face but he said nothin’. Charlie called a hand and they checked the braces like she wanted.
That was the way it began, just a li’l order here and there. Nobody minded — Linda could ha’ wiped her shoes on any man aboard, from Bob Laurie down; but in the back o’ my mind was an uneasy feelin’ that Linda was goin’ to be her mother all over again if this went on. Well, it went on. I s’pose Linda was just kind o’ bored with sittin’ around. Anyway, she begun to take more of a hand in the command o’ the vessel —all in a very nice way, y’ understand.
At Gonaives we lay off-shore again, with the log-wood cornin’ off in lighters and Linda puttin’ in a word here and there. The wood came down the mountain junked in short len’ths, aboard donkeys loaded so ye couldn’t see a thing but their head and tail. Linda went right aboard the agent, tellin’ him ’twas cruel on the donkeys, and how he could do it cheaper. Cornin’ north to Boston t’was the same; over-ridin’ Bob’s objections with that lovely warm smile o’ hers and tellin’ the men to go ahead and do what she said. ’Twas gettin’ on Bob’s nerves, and sometimes he’d object when he knew she was right, and o’ course that made her all the more sure he needed her advice.
There was a li’l rat in the fo’c’sle, name of Lumley, that we’d picked off the beach at Berbice a trip or two before. One mornin’ Linda sent him aloft to put some new rovin’s on the t’gallants’l, which had been slattin’ a bit in the night. He came for’ard to get the spunyarn, swearin’. I happened to be standin’ by the fore hatch and asked him the trouble.
“I ain’t used to petticoat rule,” he says.
“Bob Laurie’s the master o’ this vessel,” I says.
“He’s on’y the captain’s mate,” says Lumley with his li’l ratty grin. I swivelled my weather eye towards the half-deck where Linda was, but the foreyard was pretty nigh square and she couldn’t see us for the sail. So I let him have it. I could hit pretty hard, those times, bein’ what the books call nowadays a bucko Bluenose mate, and Lumley didn’t come to for an hour, with lame Sammy sloshin’ buckets o’ water over him. Linda seen Sammy bailin’ up the Gulf Stream with his rope bucket and came for’ard to see what was up. One look was enough. Up came her head with a snap, and the gold specks burnin’ in her brown eyes like sparks.
“Mister MacAra,” — you’d ha’ swore ’twas Amanda talkin’ — “there’s never been any need of bruisin’ aboard this vessel, and there’s none now. Kindly keep your hands to yourself.”
What could I do but swaller me quid and me feelin’s together — and keep me hands to meself?
We discharged our log-wood in Boston and made sail for Nova Scotia, with all hands busy paintin’ and polishin’ to get the Linda M. lookin’ her best. We got in to the river late of a Saturday afternoon, and Captain Bob took the crew up to the li’l old shippin’ office, in the corner o’ Murphy’s bakehouse, and paid ’em off. Him and Linda went ashore after supper and spent the night with Ned and Amanda in their new house back o’ the tannery. And o’ course, Sunday mornin’ they all went to church, and had a big old-fashioned dinner afterwards to celebrate their first voyage and the homecomin’.
Now, in those times lots o’ people had buggies and some o’ the ship-owners and merchants had fine horses and spankin turn-outs in the carriage and surrey line; but once ye reached the town limits the roads ran off through the woods and were tarnation rough. So the chief amusement of a fine Sunday afternoon was to stroll along the waterfront lookin’ at the vessels.
Well, boys, that Sunday afternoon was as fine as silk and there was a big crowd along the docks. All the carpenters and caulkers from the shipyards were there with their wives and families, and the lawyers and the ministers, and the merchants and clerks and Tom, Dick, and Harry. Such a flock o’ bustles and parasols, and hard hats and watch-chains as you never saw in your young lives.
Along about three o’clock down comes the Smardons and Bob and Linda — Linda in a swell new get-up she’d bought in Boston. There was a reg’lar mob on the wharf by our brigantine, and the Smardons and Lauries were proud fit to bust, knowin’ how smart the Linda M. was always kept. Then they noticed the people laughin’ and nudgin’ each other, and pointin’ aloft to the main topmast. And there, plain for the whole town to see, was a red flannel petticoat flyin’ from the mast-head.
Linda was the last to see it. She was twirlin’ her parasol over her shoulder and hangin’ on Bob’s arm, proud as sin, when she followed Bob’s eyes aloft and saw that thing at the mast-head. Her face turned the colour o’ the petticoat. She could feel Bob’s big muscles stiffenin’ under the sleeves o’ his Sunday jacket, and she hung on to him hard. All the people stopped laughin’ when they saw the look on Bob’s face.
‘Whose work is that?” says Bob, quiet and dangerous. Not a word out o’ anybody. Truth was, nobody knew; though everybody knew what it meant. Truth was, Lumley had borrowed it off one o’ the girls at Shanahan’s, and shinned up the mast in the night to hang it there for Sunday. There was no sign o’ Lumley, o’ course. He’d lit out.
“Some of those young devils of boys,” snaps old Ned.
“You’d better get it down, Robert,” says Amanda.
But the crew’d been paid off and there was nobody aboard but Sammy, the black cook, who’d a club foot and couldn’t ha’ got higher’n the topmast cross-trees. Bob was itchin’ to tear it down but he wouldn’t give the crowd the pleasure o’ seein’ him do it; so the Smardons and Lauries marched off up the wharf with their heads in the air and the petticoat still flyin’. I came down to the vessel in the evenin’, saw it there, whipped aloft in a hurry and dropped it in the river.
Well, we loaded white pine boards for Martinique. Ned Smardon had bought the shipment from a mill up the river. On deck we stowed an extra special lot — 100,000 feet o’ clear white pine such as ye couldn’t find to-day if ye searched the whole Dominion. Ned came down and watched every stick put aboard. ’Twas a sample lot, see? Ned and Amanda had high hopes o’ some good business with Martinique on the stren’th of it.
We got the stores aboard, shipped a crew, and begun to fasten the deck-load secure for sea. Now the way we always fastened a lumber deck-load was this: first we laid what’s called lashin’-planks acrost the deck-load from side to side. The ends o’ these planks was cleated to hold the lashin’s in place. The lashin’s was three-inch hemp, rove through eye-bolts in the rail and around the ends o’ the lashin’-planks, and the whole thing frapped to set it up tight. We done it with dry rope, o’ course, so that the first rain, or the first sea over the side, would set it up tighter’n ever.
Linda came along the wharf with her father just as we was gettin’ started with the lashin’-planks.
“Wait a minute, Hugh,” she says to me. “I don’t like those old-fashioned fastenings, do you? They were all right before wire was invented.”
‘What’s your idea?” asks Captain Bob pleasant.
“Use wire,” says Linda, quick and eager — just like her mother. “One wire to each eye-bolt. Bring the ends together on top of the deck-load and set them up tight with a lanyard.”
“There’s quite a weight to hold, in a seaway,” objects Bob.
“But wire cable?” she says. “Oh come, Bob, you men are too set in your ways. No sea could break a good wire cable.”
“She’s right,” chirps old Ned, pleased as punch with his daughter’s brains.
Bob looked like he wanted to say somethin’ more, but Linda called out to me to go up to the riggin’ loft and get some good stout wire cable and some eyes. So that was that. We lashed the deck-load with Linda’s cables and set ’em up tight with lanyards, like she said. And we sailed, with Ned and Amanda down to see us off, and bawlin’ instructions after Bob as far as their tongues could reach.
We had a soldier’s passage till we got south o’ Bermuda. Then we run into a storm and had to lay-to hours under a storm trysail and a small main staysail. Finally the wind shifted and there was a big cross sea. The vessel shipped a couple o’ green ones just afore dark, and Captain Bob called me on deck. He didn’t say a word. He just pointed to those deck-load lashin’s. I stared at ’em a minute while the vessel rolled, and then my eyes begun to pop. That wire cable couldn’t break, maybe, but it could bend. Linda’s patent lashin’s was givin’ to leeward and takin’ up the slack from windward; the whole deck-load was creepin’ down leeward inch by inch, and there wasn’t a dog-gone thing we could do about it.
The further it went, the more the Linda M, listed, and the further she listed, the more purchase the wind got on her windward side. The sensible thing was to cut loose the lashin’s and chuck Ned’s fancy lumber overboard. But just then Linda came on deck in oilskins, the way she liked to do in heavy weather, and I could read Bob’s mind like a book. Linda’s notions had got us into this mess, and it was up to Linda to give the word.
But she didn’t notice the lashin’s! I guess she thought ’twas the wind alone that pressed the vessel over so. She stood near the wheel, which was lashed, with a hand standin’ by. I was at the for’ard end o’ the half-deck, and Bob was on the deck cargo near the foremast. I heard someone yell “Look out!” and I crouched down and grabbed a ring-bolt just as a big sea came over the whole len’th of her. Bob jumped for the foremast riggin’ and began to run up the under side o’ the ratlines; but that sea was higher than he could climb in the time he had.
The sea pitched him off the riggin’, flung him slap through the main staysail, and took him overboard on the lee side in one tremenjus rush o’ water. It took the storm trysail clean. It smashed to kindlin’ the small boat on the fore hatch. It busted the fo’c’sle slide and poured a stream inside the full size o’ the door; a fine mess, sea chests washin’ and smashin’ about, the cook’s kitten drowned in its basket in his bunk; and a bar’l o’ sauer kraut, that we’d no room for in the lazareete, spewin scraps o’ salt cabbage over everything.
I’ll never forget Linda’s scream. Ye could hear it above the noise o’ the water and the wind. I came to me feet yelling, “Man overboard!” The deck-load was slanted like the pitch of a roof now. I slid down to loo’ard. I could see Bob swimmin’ hard in the smother sixty or seventy yards off the port quarter. I knew he couldn’t hold up long in his seaboots and oilskins. All the lee runnin’ riggin’ was covered on its pins by the deck cargo, which had slid down hard ag’in the standin’ riggin; so there wasn’t a rope-end to throw.
The sea had staggered the brigantine and took her way off; she was driftin’ to loo’ard the same as Bob. Then I noticed the rags o’ the staysail — the one Bob went through — blowin’ out to loo’ard like streamers. Me and the helmsman caught hold of ’em and let ’em down into the sea so Bob could catch a hold. He got a good grip on ’em, and we pretty nigh had him in reach when we heard Linda scream again and saw another big green wall cornin’ over the starboard side.
The helmsman and me grabbed the fore t’gallant and fore royal backstays while that sea went thunderin’ over us. It pretty nigh took our arm out o’ the sockets and it knocked the breath out of us, but we hung on. The sea tore Bob loose of his hold on the rags o’ the sail. We saw him to loo’ard ag’in, but not so far oft, and swimmin’ like a good ’un. Once again we worked the strips o’ canvas down to him, then worked him alongside. We got out on the fore chains and each slipped a hand under his armpits and swung him aboard. And like a flash there was Linda flingin’ her arms about him, laughin’ and cryin’ and sayin’ “Darling, darling, darling”, like that. I’d a job to get ’em both out o’ harm’s way aft.
Soon as he got his breath, Bob says: “We’ve got to put the ol’ hooker before it, somehow.” All our storm canvas was gone. The men was coming out o’ the fo’c’sle now like wet rats. Bob sent a couple aloft to goose-wing the lower topsail. That squared her off before the wind, and the Linda M. begun to move again, all hunched over to port. Then came a lull. The wind died, flat, and the brigantine rolled and pitched in the big greasy seas. ’Twas hot. We were all gaspin’ for air that didn’t seem to be there. The glass had dropped like a stone. Then it came to me what was in Bob’s mind, back home, when Linda sprung her notion about the lashin’s. ’Twas the hurricane season. And we’d walked straight into a West Indy buster.
There wasn’t time now to sling the deck-load overside —a slow job with a small crew, board by board. There was other things to do. We got another storm trysail bent and stowed on the boom. We put the helm down hard and lashed it there. We battened the fo’c’sle hatch with boards and canvas, and all hands came aft. Bob sent Linda below, promisin’ to come down every hour or so after the wind begun to blow again, so she could see he was all right. Finally we rigged a life-line acrost the half-deck and stood there, waitin’ for the big blow.
It was a long time cornin’, but then it came in a rush, first a hard squall, then the main wind. What went before was nothin’. This was the real thing. The sound it made would frighten ye out o’ your boots. It beat that big lumpy sea down flat — flat as a floor —in ten minutes, tearin’ off the tops and whippin’ the water away in spray. ’Twas like a nor’east blizzard back home, only blowin’ three times as hard, and spray flyin’ thick instead o’ snow. Ye couldn’t see for-ard from aft. The brigantine lay over to it, further and further, till the fore yard-arms were in the water and we thought it was all up with us.
Bob opened the companion and yelled for Linda to come on deck. Up she came, white, but clear grit for all that, a real Bluenose girl. He put a lashin’ on the binnacle and slipped the loop over her shoulders. She had an oilcoat on but no hat, and her long chestnut hair blew out o’ the combs and streamed out like a banner. She didn’t take her eyes off Bob. He yelled in my ear, “Get a couple of axes. We’ll cut the deck-load away!” So I fetched up a sharp axe for each of us. Bob wouldn’t trust the job to anyone else — and Linda cried out “No, Bob! No!” when she saw what we were goin’ to do. He thought she was worryin’ about the old man’s prize lumber, but Bob was the only thing in her mind, then or after. He gave his head an angry shake.
Ye couldn’t stand up in that wind without support, and ye couldn’t swing an axe, for the wind would ha’ taken it out o’ your hands. We had to crawl on our bellies, hangin’ on any way we could, till we got to the rope lanyards that bound the wire end together. We begun amidships; Bob was to cut for’ard and I was to cut aft. That ’ud give us a chance to jump clear afore the boards begun to go. It took a long time, sawin’ the axe blades back and forth acrost the lanyards till they let go. When my last lashin’ was cut I jumped for the life-line on the half-deck, and saw Bob crouchin’ ag’in the fo’c’sle, watchin’ the boards go.
That was a sight! The wind lifted ’em in tiers of ten or twelve, the way ye’d flip a few cards off a pack, and they went sailin’ over the lee forebraces, high in the air, and vanished in the smother to loo’ard. The lower tiers didn’t go so fast, for the vessel was cornin’ up as the weight went off her port side; but in less’n fifteen minutes not a board was left o’ that fine pine lumber for Martinique. The Linda M. righted herself as far as she could with that wind bio win’. We set the storm trysail — that’s a story in itself — and rode out the hurricane handsome.
A big sea came up when the wind begun to slack, but we didn’t care for a sea any more, not after what we’d come through. Altogether the storm lasted thirty-six hours on end, and when we got a chance to drop we lay around the deck like dead men.
When we got into Martinique the place was rim-racked, all the palm trees down and the clay huts o’ the black people blown into the gullies o’ the hillside. But the queerest sight was a barque, dismasted and capsized, high and dry on the beach with her keel to the sky. To a seafarin’ man there was somethin’ awful about that. I saw Linda starin’ at it with her brown eyes very wide, and not saying a word.
Well, we sailed for home with rum and molasses and had a good passage north. Bob made a fine landfall — Black Point, just thirty mile from home. Twas a Saturday and all hands were pleased to be gettin’ home for Sunday, but it come up thick in the night and Bob held her off the river mouth till mornin’.
Him and Linda came on deck together as we squared the brigantine away for the river bar. He saw all hands grinnin’ and looked aloft. There was a pair of his own white duck trousers flying from the main top. They was nailed there. Bob jumped round on us, fightin’ mad, liftin’ those big fists o’ his.
“Who did that?” he snaps.
“I did,” Linda says. “Last night in the fog. I still know how to climb rigging.”
“What’s the idea?” snorts Bob.
“A number o’ things,” Linda says, gettin’ pink and lookin’ past his shoulders somewheres. “For one thing I want to give those sniggering dockside loafers something to open their eyes. For another thing,” Linda says, still dodgin’ his eyes, “it means I’m goin’ to live ashore after this and make a home for you and the boys.” “Boys!” he says.
“Boys,” she says, and gives him a look. “There’s to be no more sea-farin’ women in this family, just you keep that in mind, Bob Laurie.” And away she runs below afore he can catch and kiss her.
“Shall I send a hand aloft to tear those things down?” I asks, solemn.
Bob looks aloft, then he looks over towards the town, towards the Smardon house on the Argyle road, and his eyes narrow a bit.
“No,” he says, slow, “leave ’em stay till they rot and blow away.” And he grins at me. “It ain’t a bad house-flag, that, for a family o’ boys.”