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THE ATONEMENT OF THE VANGUARD'S SKIPPER

Men of The North Sea : Walter Wood


"Boy!" roared the skipper of the Vanguard, "bring some mugs o' tea, an' cheese an' biscuits ; put the leg o' mutton an' the taties on, an' boil a puddin'. An'mind you mix the bakin' powder in the dough, an' don't sprinkle it on the puddin' when you've boiled it; as you did last time. Then bake some busters, an' clear the cabin up, you lazy little devil. An' be slick about it, if you don't want makin' lively wi' a rope's-end or a marlinspike. But, first of all, bring up my oilies an' sou'-wester, for the rain 'll fall to-day fit to swamp us, an' the wind 'll blow strong enough to rip the mains'!."
The trembling little cabin-boy, cook, and general drudge dived below, and staggered up the 'iron ladder, through the hooded hole they called a hatch, bearing his master's yellow garments. He was clad in ragged trousers
and a cotton shirt, and the growing wind from the east blew keenly on his shivering body.
The skipper, from his seat on the bulwarks, cuffed him playfully on the head as he took over the oilskins, and the boy reeled into the mate, who was at the tiller. The mate, in turn, projected him, with a heavy foot, against the hatch, and asked him savagely what he meant by butting him in the waistcoat like that.
The boy growled like an injured cub, and the mate hurled part of a fish-trunk at his head as he dropped into the cabin without using the ladder.
" If I'd a spoke like that when I was young I should ha' bin skinned alive," said the skipper.
"You see wot comes o' eddicatin' kids above their station. Eddication may 'elp a man to
read the names o' ships, but I don't see how it can teach 'im to catch more fish."


The Vanguard was running home for a week, after two months' fishing with the Short Blue Fleet, and, in anticipation of his periodical debauch ashore, the skipper was in jovial mood.
At present he had one eye only, but very soon it was his intention to assume another, of glass, which he wore when in port, or paying calls of extra ceremony in the fleet. He was also intending to apply soap and water to his features, for the first time since he last sailed from home, so that when he stepped ashore he should do so handsomely. Some of his delight found expression in a little song, which he bellowed hoarsely, marking time approximately with a black and almost stemless pipe of clay.


"Sing ho ! my lads; ye ho! my lads:
The Vanguard's sailin' large an' free;
From regions far she'll cross the bar,
An' leave be'ind the ragin' sea.
"Then cheer, my boys-more beer, my boys;
We're 'eavin' on the mighty main;
No danger crossed, nor tempest-toss'd
Until we sail to sea again."


" Chorus!" commanded the skipper; and by way of leading it he sang the verses over again, the mate joining cheerfully in, although he was under the necessity, being unable to sing at all, of speaking the lines, which he did very effectively, in a rumbling and unbroken bass.
" We're the only smack on the North sea that's bin made po'try of," the skipper said proudly. " They were wrote by that newspaper chap in spectacles that came out wi' us last trip, weren't they? " asked the mate.
"The very man," replied the skipper. " E was a clever un, ' e was, if you like. Fancy working' the Vanguard into a pome, like they work 'Allelujahs into 'ymns."
The skipper put his pipe between his teeth, bowl downward, and waited for the mate, who appeared to be reflecting, to speak. "'E could write pomes," observed the mate, after a pause, giving the tiller-ropes a gentle pull, "but 'e couldn't stand a fishin' -smack. 'E told me 'e' d bin in gales in every ocean in the world, an' never turned a 'air; but that bit of a breeze the first day out rolled 'im up. 'E told me that night, as 'e wrapped 'isself in a sail on deck becoss 'e couldn't sleep below for fleas an' things, that 'e'd 'ad enough o' North Sea smacks to last 'im a lifetime; an' when I tumbled 'im an' 'is portmanty aboard the cutter for Billin's-gate, 'e said 'e thought 'e'd be able to see the romance o' the water a vast deal better from the shore than 'e'd ever seen it on it."


"'E wrote the lines in bed at 'ome," explained the skipper. "Leastways, so 'e told me in a letter he sent, an' which the Mission doctor read
for me. My goodness! 'ow that doctor laffed when I told 'im o' the man's surprise when 'e knew there was no forks or spoons aboard, an' that we didn't use table-cloths. All the same, 'e was very clever-an' very 'ardy. You mind 'ow he used to come on deck them raw mornin's an' get five or six pails o' salt watter chucked over 'im-an' no clothes on. It gave me shivers even to watch 'im."
" Ay," the mate admitted, " 'e was tough an' plucky-an' free-'anded too. You remember 'ow 'e came back from the Mission ship, an' brought us just a stone o' bacca? I've got some o' mine left yet."

" It wouldn't be a bad spec' to bring one like 'im with us every trip," the skipper said reflectively. "It pays, an' it expands the mind too. You see, 'e learned a lot about fishin', an' I learned that stuff don't walk into a newspaper office an' put itself into print, as I allus thought it did."
" Aren't you going to get a reef or two in the mains' l?" asked the mate, after looking carefully at the lowering sky. "It's goin' to blow; there'll be a rare smart breeze afore long."
"Reef be damned," the skipper answered, rising and putting on his oilskins and sou'-wester,
for the rain was now beginning to fall heavily. "I'm jint owner an' skipper o' the Vanguard, an' if the canvas goes, so much the better for the sailmakers. As for losses, there are none, for me; an' as for wife or fam'ly, chick or kin, there's never a one o' mine. If the canvas goes" -the skipper swelled with the pride of ownership-" who pays but me? an' if I go with it, who cares? Boy"-he drained his mug-" another pot o' tea, an' put more treacle in it an' less grease. You're b'ilin' that mutton an' taties together, as I told you, an' not wi' the tea, as you did a week since?"


" I'm b'ilin' of 'em just as you said, so as to flavour the taties as you like 'em," replied the boy.
" An' you're bakin' the busters proper?"
The boy nodded. "

Fetch one up, an' let me see," commanded
the skipper suspiciously. "You're such a cunnin' little devil, you'd say anything."
The boy descended to the stove and brought up a cake as a sample. It was streaky with the dirt that he had kneaded into it from the cabin table, and tough and leaden with bad cooking and want of skill; but the skipper looked upon it as a triumph, and gave the boy an approving pat on the head which almost knocked him down.
" Do 'em all like that," shouted the skipper encouragingly, "an' you shall have a piece o" one for tea-an' that's a sight more nor they give you in the work'us' where you come from."


The wind sang through the rigging of the Vanguard, and swept out of the foot of the mainsail in a cold and steady blast. The sky was settling into an unvaried dome of grey, and the colour of the leaden sea was broken only by the angry crests from which the seething foam was whipped. In that drear waste of sea and sky the Vanguard plunged along, now rising until half her hull was clear of the water and showed the perfect symmetry of her lines; now falling until her bowsprit was buried and a deluge of water swept her glistening deck. Every part of her in that hard cold light was perfectly defined, and the figures on her deck stood out in sharp relief.
" It's goin' to be a snarly night," resumed the skipper; "an' there'll be some mischief done afore the sun shines again. But if it blew six times as 'ard as it's going to, I'd carry every rag I've got. This breeze is too fair to let any of it be missed. If we go on as we're goin' now we should be on the safe side of the St. Nicholas afore to-morrow noon. I'm goin below to feed, an' you can come shortly. When I've done I'll see if I can rouse the snorin' beggars by the boiler."

A heavy squall struck the Vanguard as the skipper put his foot on the ladder to descend. The smack went over until her lee bulwarks were under water, but her rigging,' spars, and canvas held staunchly.
" Didn't I tell you it was comin'?" said the skipper, proud of the fulfilment of his prophecy. " But she's the tightest craft afloat, an' things of that sort won't 'urt 'er. Lots o' smacks would ha' gone down under a strain like that. They're pretty strong puffs, so I'll send Joseph up to give you a 'and at the tiller."
He went below, and piloted his way to the spot where the rest of the crew were sleeping on the floor, near the furnace-box of the little vertical boiler. They had cast themselves down in their clothes as soon as they had got the Vanguard clear of the fleet, and were heedless of the frenzied motion of the vessel in the rising gale.


The skipper kicked the sleeper who was nearest to him, one whose curly hair shone Like dull gold in the light from the furnace, and whose strong white teeth showed faintly through his parted lips. He was resting soundly, with his head pillowed on his right arm, but awoke as soon as he heard the skipper's voice.
"All right, guvnor," he said, sitting up and yawning. " I'll go on deck, I'm feelin' peckish; will dinner be ready soon? "
"Lord love 'em, allus thinkin' o' their bellies," said the skipper, addressing an imaginary listener.
"I've touched nothing since breakfast, skipper, and that's a sight of a time since. Dinner was put off so's we could get away for 'ome. It must be three now."
"Never mind; the later you get it the more fashionable," said the skipper. "The Queen doesn't get'ers till bed-time, they say, an' sometimes I don't get mine till the day after-when I'm very fashionable indeed. So 'op on deck."
The skipper was in the mood to dine snugly, and so he shouted to the mate to clap the hatch on, which the mate did. Then the skipper took off his oilskins, and having ordered the boy to wipe for him the space on the floor in front of the fire, he sat down, opened his pocketknife, and, using his fingers as a fork, attacked a heap of potatoes and boiled mutton in a tin dish placed upon his knees.

The skipper felt that this was luxury indeed. His fire roared cheerfully, the hatch was secured, and a little oil-lamp swung above his head and threw its feeble beams upon him. A mug of tea was beside him, and a buster in the oven was keeping hot for his consumption.
"This," said the skipper, stirring his tea with the blade of his knife, "this 'is wot I call comfort-the wind 'owlin' outside; the water thumpin' on deck, tryin' to get in; the 'atch on; an' the lamp shinin' in the darkness like I don't know wot. Boy," he added suddenly, looking at the cook, who was seated on a locker, watching, with professional pleasure, the relish with which his patron and employer fed upon the victuals he had cooked, "isn't there some po'try wi' a light'ouse in it?"
The boy quoted promptly:

"Let the lower lights be burnin',
Send a gleam across the wave,
Some poor faintin', strugglin' seaman
You may rescue, you may save."

" Ah," said the skipper, poising a potato on the end of his knife, "'e was a fine man wot wrote them lines; they make you feel as if you'd like to sit on the stove itself, so's to get all the comfort you can. It's awful to think o' the sufferin's o' shipwrecked men, wi' the cold seas washin' over' em. We ought to be thankful we're so comfortable and 'appy, boy. Are you 'appier 'ere nor you. were in the work'us'?"
"A sight," said the boy unhesitatingly.
" An' you'll not be runnin' away first minute you touch the quay? "
"No fear," replied the boy. "I've had enough o' the work'us' an' pattin' on the 'ead by red-nosed guardians. There was one on 'em allus used to drag me out as a prize boy, to show visitors 'ow they tamed wild little fellers in that place. 'This is one o' the wickedest imps we've ever 'ad in the 'Ouse,' he said to some ladies as 'e was showin' round; 'but the system's curin' 'im; isn't it, my little man?' I 'ated to be shown off like that, so I threw 'is 'and off my 'ead, an' kicked 'im on the shins." "An' that's why they sent you out to me, isn't it? " queried the skipper.
"Yes," admitted the boy; "they said they'd pack me off to a skipper wot ud either make me do as I was told or break my back."
"Ah," said the skipper, drinking from his mug, "they said that, did they? "

" Yes; an' Red N ase, as we called 'im, said 'e 'oped there'd be a gale that ud carry me off, an' all such varmint."
" 'E was a nice Christian guardian, 'e was," commented the skipper placidly. "I'd just like 'im to be wi' us to-night; it ud knock all notions o' them sort out a' 'is 'ead, if e's got any stomach. So the guardians seemed to think I was a bad lot? "
" Red Nose said you was the cruellest feller un'ung," answered the boy readily and innocently, "an' that 'e'd bet you'd done many a nipper to death in your time wi' rope's-ends an' 'andspikes."
"Red Nose was a liar, then," rejoined the skipper, with a suspician of irritation. " Wot I did was only wot was done by every skipper in the fleet, so it couldn't be wrong. An' it was only done to correct the little nippers wot wouldn't listen to reason an' obey orders. I done nothing wrong to you, 'ave I, boy?"
No; you've treated me fair an' square, as between man an' man; an' only knocked me down a time or two, an' thrown a fish-trunk at me."
" But I've given you a old oily frock, an' let you put treacle in your tea," said the skipper extenuatingly; "an' I've let you go on board the Mission smacks to sing an' pray, although i don't 'old wi' that sort o' thing myself."
"They tell me on the Mission boats you used to be a pretty 'ot 'un, continued the boy, encouraged by his master's amiable mood-" got drunk an the copers, an' sold the gear an' spars from the boss's smack far rum and brandy. An' they say you once set fire to a smack that wasn't yours an' lost 'er-you was drunk."
The skipper found a strange pleasure in listening to these details, as showing that in the past he was a man of spirit and importance in the fleet, a person to be reckoned with and accounted for. For the moment he thought of himself as same other individual in whose doings he chanced to be especially concerned.
"But I've reformed," said the skipper. "I'm nice and gentle now since the Mission started. If I was to go on poundin' kids, I might get nabbed by the perlice, an' sent to prison. The Mission's very watchful after little boys."
"I shall get to be a Mission skipper some day," said the Vanguard's boy, "and wear a brass-buttoned jacket an' a swell cap, an' take ladies an' gentlemen out' to see the fishin', an' sing an' pray wi' the smacksmen."

" You've got a mighty fine cheek," said the skipper, pausing in the act of raising his mug.
He turned to look at the boy, who, showing dimly in the gloomy light, with his bare feet and arms crossed, and his ample trousers secured above his cotton shirt by a leather strap in the form of a shoulder-belt, looked an unpromising subject for promotion.
The skipper would have pursued the conversation, but another heavy squall struck the Vanguard, and the boy was thrown violently against him from the locker.
" Dash you," said the skipper, as if the boy had collided with him purposely, "why d'ye come in a ' eap like that on me ? You can pick them taters an' mutton up, and make your dinner off 'em. But first rouse up the lazy beggars by the boiler, an' tell 'em to go on deck."
The boy obeyed, and three drowsy oilskinned men filed past and climbed the ladder, the skipper telling them sternly to clap the hatch on, and not disturb his comfort.
" An' now," he said, "before those idle fellers' get their dinners, I'll 'ave a smoke an' a drink o' whisky to keep the cold out."
He smoked long, and he drank hard. The boy had successfully chased and captured the potatoes as they rolled about the floor, and had eaten them with a healthy appetite, accounting himself fortunate in the accident to the skipper's tin, for these vegetables were soaked in gravy, a luxury which he would not, in the ordinary course of things, have known.
Squall after squall attacked the Vanguard, but the skipper kept below, and hugged the fire and his whisky. The boy had wedged himself firmly in a corner on the floor, and was sleeping, but warily, with one eye open.
Once or twice the hatch had been pushed back, and the face of the mate, streaming with rain and sea-water, peered into the warm mephitic depths, and his hoarse voice asked if the skipper meant to close-reef the smack.
"No," roared the skipper, "not a reef, not a' Inch."
"The sticks can't stand it long," protested
the mate.
"Then let 'em go, an' every rope with 'em. I won 't budge if every spar an' bit o' sail goes. I've allus carried on afore, an' I'm not goin' to show the white feather now, not at my time o' life. Leave that to timber ships and foreigners.
If you're afeard, you can give the tiller to CharIey, an' come an' 'ide yourself below."
For answer the mate jammed on the hatch again viciously, and rejoined his comrades astern.
The skipper dropped his pipe, and held on closely to the bottle. Darkness fell, and yet he made no sign of going on deck to see how the Vanguard was behaving and how his hungry crew were faring in the chill October night.
The cook had long since fallen asleep entirely; the potatoes and the mutton were past eating by any but smacks men or sailors of the mercantile marine, and the busters, which had been put in front of the donkey furnace to keep warm, had been caught by the fire, and burned to cinders. Only the tea remained unaltered It was impossible to make that worse.
The skipper was at last awakened by a ringing cry of "Water's comin'! " and he sprang to his feet as the hatch was thrust back, and the mate tried to drop below for shelter, the others struggling with him.
There was a stunning crash on the Vanguard's deck, and an awful shout which rose above the sound of the wave that broke on Board. A deluge of water descended to the cabin. The floor was flooded, and as the Vanguard gave a deep pitch forward, the water rushed against the stove, and with a hissing noise the fire went out.
The mate tumbled into the cabin, with his back broken by the fall of water. The skipper, sober and active now, picked him up in his strong- arms and put him on a locker.
"You done it this time," moaned the mate,
"you was a bit too rash for once, an' would carry on too long. We should ha' been closereefed two hours since. Yes, I'm done for, an' i've a wife an' child at 'ome."
"God 'elping me, I'll see to them," said the skipper, conscience-stricken. "But, look up, Dan; you're only a bit banged. 'Ere, boy, see to Dan while I go on deck; there's nob'dy at the tiller,"
He snatched his oilskin frock, fond hurried into it before going up the ladder. When he reached the deck he saw that the mizzen-mast
had snapped off almost by the board, and was dragging with its wreckage of rigging and sail alongside; and the mainsail was split to ribbons
that were flapping wildly.
"Charlie-Arthur-Joseph!" he shouted but no answer came. The three had been swept overboard by the mass of water which had killed the mate and destroyed the mast. No One knew better than he how hopeless was the thought of rescue. Even if the sea had not crushed out the lives of the men, their oilies, jerseys, stockings, and ponderous boots would have dragged them down into the depths as the trawl-beam drags the net.
The skipper was a man of giant strength and resolute courage. His strength and courage were greater than ever in the face of this great peril. He gripped the tiller, and with a mighty effort lashed it securely for the moment so that the Vanguard would run before the gale.


Then he shouted to the boy to hand him up a hatchet, and with the weapon he cleared the wreckage from the side, striking resistless blows. Having done this, he released the helm again, and set himself to do, as best he could, the work of a whole crew.
The moon rose, and rode in a wild, hard sky, and the crippled Vanguard scudded onward like some phantom ship, no spark of fire and no light about her or within, The swishing water below had reached and quenched the boiler fire, and the lamp had flickered out for want of oil. In the dog-hole of a cabin, now waist-deep in water, the shivering boy held grimly to his charge, wondering why he kept so still and made no effort on his own behalf; but at last his strength failed; they rolled together to the floor, and the water washed completely over them at every roll. A ray of the moon shone down the hatch, and the light falling on the mates pale face, a nameless horror seized the boy, and he hurried upon deck and clung to the broken mast.
"'Ow's Dan ? " cried the skipper.
"Dead," returned the boy. "'E's killed an' drownded."
"Go below, or you'll be carried overboard," was all the skipper answered." I'll stay 'ere," replied the boy tremblingly. "I daren't be alone with 'im." "Then fetch your oily an' some clothes out o' my locker, an' put 'em on, or you'll be frozen stiff.
"l'd rather stay 'ere, skipper, an' freeze."
"Go an' get 'em "the skipper spoke firmly, but not unkindly - "you needn't be afeard; I'm only a yard or two away, an' Dan'll not 'urt you."

The unwilling boy obeyed, going fearfully below, and getting his own soaked oily frock, and a thick coat, and a heavy jersey from the skipper's private locker.
" Put 'em on, jersey first, an' lash yourself to the stump o' the mast, an' we'll both get safe into Yarmouth Roads, when all's said an' done. I've known worse things nor this 'appen at sea. "
The boy obeyed again, and soon he was fast to the broken mizzen, with the jersey round him, the coat, reaching to his ankles, buttoned up, and the oilskin over all. His feet and head were bare, and the wind sang through the garments' ample folds, but the boy was warm, for him. Being drowsy, he fell asleep, and the skipper kept his watch alone.
All through that night the scarecrow Vanguard ran before the gale, the skipper at the struggling tiller and the boy asleep, feeling not and heeding not the rolling and the pitching of the smack.
When day broke the skipper peered, ahead for sight of land. The air was clear no longer; a thick mist hung about him, and the near horizon showed him nothing but the crests of hurrying waves. At times he heard above the noise of wind and water the sirens of steamers, hoarse and mournful, and once he shot across the bows of a black collier blundering north. It Was an escape by a hair; a moment later and the steamer would have cut him down, but he went his way unmoved, and the collier, with wild leapings, disappeared in the clammy rolling mists.
So far as the skipper could ten, the smack was getting near the Norfolk coast. With clear daylight, shattered though he was, he would have feared nothing, for his strength remained within his bones and sinews, and he held the mastery of the tiller still; but in the growing heaviness that menaced more than any storm, he could do nothing except blindly, hold his course and keep the craft before the wind.
Sea after sea had swept her and poured into her hold and cabin; the hatchway had been shorn level with the deck, the gear had been swept overboard, and the spare trawl-beam had been dashed away, carrying with it the port bulwarks. Only the hold packed with empty fish-trunks kept the smack afloat in that wild turmoil. Each time she, rolled the skipper waited for her groaning sides to rend asunder, and at each long shuddering pitch he expected that the ballast would burst up through the decks. But his resolution never faltered. In his rough, uncultured imagination he likened himself to one who fought against crushing odds, a pigmy warring with the elements, a shattered sodden craft pitted against the hungry waters of the merciless North Sea. The fierce joy of conquest filled him, while the lust of life surged up within. But above all there arose the wish to save the little fellow who throughout the night had slept in heavy stupor near him, at times buried in the seas that came on board. The skipper argued vaguely that he had sinned, that expiation was demanded of him, and that atonement could be made, first by saving the boy, and next by giving up his worldly goods to those who were widowed through his stubbornness. This latter he would do when he had steered the Vanguard over the bar, and had run her into the safety of the sheltering river.
The Vanguard gave a wild leap onward. There was a heavy grinding crash; her bows were crushed in, the jib and foresail, which had
held valiantly throughout the gale, fell limply down as the foremast broke and tumbled forward with its flapping strips of canvas.

The Vanguard was aground upon the Crosby Sands and the seas were sweeping in procession over her. . The skipper was dashed to the deck by the impact, and for a moment he lay stunned. When he recovered he saw that the boy had been aroused by the shock.
The smack was steadier now, and being em bedded in the sand forward, she rose and fell mostly at the stern. A high wave had carried her well on the bank, and the seas spent most of their power before they reached her.
The run before the gale was ended, and there was a respite so long as the strained timbers held together.
Undaunted still, the skipper set to work to see if he could save his craft and his companion. The water from the hold and cabin was streamming from the Vanguard's yawning planks forward, and soon it was but waist-deep below. The skipper descended the ladder, groped his way to his locker, and drew forth an unopened and undamaged bottle of brandy.
He broke the neck by knocking it against a beam, and took a long draught of the raw spirit. Then he went on deck, and poured some down the boys throat, and rubbed some on his hands and face..
"Cheer up," he shouted,: "the fog'll lift soon, an' they'll see us from the shore."
The boy, reviving, answered :" They see us now," and he pointed landward,


The fog had lifted suddenly, and the skipper saw that ashore they were launching the lifeboat. The wind too was faIling.
"Fog an' sea goin'," said the skipper cheerily, "why, boy, we'll live to save the Vanguard yet,
The lifeboat 'II take us off, an' we'll get a tug to-morrer to tow 'er round to the 'arbour."
"I'm frozen stiff, skipper; won't you unlash me ?" said the boy.
The skipper set him free. The boy, numb and cold, fell to the deck, unable to move.
Bless me," exclaimed the skipper, "'e's like a carcase 'of New Zealand mutton: 'E wants rub bin' back to life."
He seized the boy, and rubbed and kneaded him into a semblance of a glow. Then he seated himself on the deck, and hugged the boy close to him with one arm, and clung to the stump of the mizzen with the other. The boy was overcome again by his stupor, and fell asleep.

The lifeboat thrashed her way out to the Vanguard, sent along by fishermen themselves, who knew just what had happened to her, and the sort of night that those on board had spent She went as close up to the Vanguard as she dare, keeping off the dangerous fringe of the sands.
"Smack ahoy! " shouted the coxswain, raising his burly figure in the boat, each leg held in a comrade's unyielding embrace. "Catch the line, one o' you come aboard quick; then we'll Cast again for t'other."
He threw a rope with unerring aim, and the skipper caught it,
" Quick" the coxswain roared, "afore you drop to bits-you're in a bad way. What's the smack-Vanguard, ain't it? We can 'ardly tell. "
"Ay," shouted the skipper. "'Aul in when I say `Ready.' "
He made the rope fast round the boy's waist, ' When I say' Go' you've got to tumble overboard, an' they'll 'ave you in the lifeboat in a Jiffy. Then they'll send for me."
"All right; skipper; I'm not afeard."
"Sharp ! there's a 'eavy sea a-comin'," the 'coxwain shouted warningly.
"Ready ! " sang the skipper.-" Go!" he added to the boy.
He pushed him overboard,
and the boatmen dragged the little figure through the creamy seas, and the coxswain's strong arms drew him breathless into the boat.

The skipper looked seaward, and saw the deadly liquid wall advancing-the last mad charge of his relentless foe.
He had seen too many hills of death like that to misconstrue its meaning. He rose to his full height, majestic in his last stand, and steadied himself against the jagged mast.
" Tell 'em ashore to give the insurance money to the widders, and the ten pun in the bank to the boy."
The crew heard him, but did not understand till afterwards.
" But we'll bring you off when this sea's past," shouted the coxswain, as the lifeboat met. the wave, bows on.
She rose up almost vertically as she headed into it, then ran down the other side in a smother of spray.
They did not see the skipper wave his last good-bye, nor did they hear him say, "I done wrong, but I'm not afeard now; I'm payin' for it.
Don't bother about me; see to the widders an' the boy."
The sea came on. It broke in a towering cloud above the Vanguard's stern, and crumbled around the dissolving smack. The strained timbers were rent asunder once for all, and the skipper was carried into deep water.
When the wave had spent itself the rescuers gazed for a moment at the wreckage; then, knowing what had happened, they bent to their oars, and the lifeboat swept across the bar and entered peaceful waters.